Saras arrived at dawn with a tray of food for the women. She watched with concern as Gabrielle pushed hers aside, uninterested.
Dark circles rimmed the young womans eyes. She looked pale and sickly. Days of worry had left their mark.
"You should try to eat a little," the healer suggested.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Thanks, but Im really not hungry."
"One critically ill patient is enough for me. You need to eat."
The healers patience broke. "Youre just as stubborn as the warrior when it comes to listening to reason. Although, I have to say even Xena would have the sense to eat."
Saras was barely able to contain her temper. "If you need anything, let me know." She stomped angrily toward the door. "I, for one, will be having breakfast."
Temira smiled and took a seat at the table across from the queen. "Funny, she hasnt changed much." The warlord lifted her fork and began eating with relish. "Its not half bad."
Gabrielle silently stared across the room at the unconscious warrior.
"Saras is right, you know. You need to keep up your strength. It wont help Xena if you get sick." Temira pushed the plate back in front of the young woman.
The queen glanced at her quizzically. The warlord shrugged.
"I like my slaves with a little meat on their bones." Temira winked. "So much softer that way."
"Im not your slave yet."
"No " The warlord smiled. "But hopefully soon."
Gabrielle looked again to Xena. "Yes, hopefully soon." The irony of her comment did not escape her.
"Tell me, are you concerned that Xena hasnt regained conscious yet?"
"Very," Temira said frankly. "I thought shed respond quickly. She always was a fast healer."
"Do you think something went wrong?"
"No, the procedure went well. It could be a lot of things. Most importantly, she has to want to live."
"She does." The bard insisted. "Xena has a very strong will."
"Yes, I remember. But, theyre not exactly the same thing."
"I dont understand."
"Youd be surprised." The warlord said matter-of-factly. "People in her condition are generally in such a peaceful state that theyre extremely reluctant to pull themselves out of it."
"What do you mean?" She asked, concern evident in her voice.
"Those who recover say they found the sound of the outside world irritating. So rather than sort through the noise and chaos around them, they block it out. It takes a lot of energy to fight their way back, more than most want to expend. The few that do make it have something compelling to live for."
"And you think Xena doesnt?"
"Youd know better than I. Is there a reason she wouldnt want to come back?"
The young woman looked away guiltily.
Temira pressed her. "What arent you telling me?"
Gabrielle took a shaky breath. "Xena was hurt saving my life." Her voice wavered. "She tried to leave me that day. But, I... I confronted her forced myself on her."
The warlord laughed lightly.
Gabrielle glanced down miserably, immediately regretting her confession.
Temira watched the young queens reaction with interest, then smiled. "Kind of hard to imagine you overpowering Xena, forcing her to be your lover." She paused, her eyes sparkling slyly. "Now her forcing you I have no trouble visualizing that."
"She would never not against my will."
The warlord looked at her doubtfully. "A persons basic nature doesnt change. Xena was never hesitant to take what she wanted." She looked out the window at the village and spoke under her breath. "At any rate, shes far too bullheaded for anyone to force her to do anything."
For some time, both women were quiet. After a while, Temira turned back to face the queen. "Its not difficult for me to see where Xena would find your innocence tempting," she admitted.
Her cat-like eyes lingered, appraising the young woman thoughtfully. "But you I cant quite figure out your angle. I find it hard to believe her passion for kinky sex drew you to her."
Gabrielles face flushed.
Temira smiled. "What then? You have to admit you make an odd couple."
Gabrielle hesitated before replying. From the beginning, something utterly compelling had drawn her to Xena. Warmth spread across her skin, as she remembered how the warrior had taken her. There was no denying that Xenas commanding presence was part... maybe even a large part of the sexual attraction she had for her, but there was so much more than the physical.
"Before I met Xena Id just been going through the motions of living. Traveling with her, I felt a sense of belonging for the first time in my life. Shes my best friend. I cant explain it. Xena fills a void in me she makes me feel whole. When I look in her eyes I see my destiny."
Temira smirked at her romanticism and looked out once again at the passing Amazons. "Theres much more to Xena than the noble warrior image she shows you."
"I know. Even though she tries to hide it from me, Ive seen her darker side."
"And youre comfortable with it?" Temira questioned, disbelieving.
"At times its frightening, but I I love her. All of her."
Temira turned away from the window, her tone serious. "Xenas passions run deep. She thrives on power, danger and rough sex. Maybe she needs more than youre able to give her."
"What are you saying?" Gabrielle questioned angrily. "You think Ive kept her from her destiny and now she doesnt have the motivation she needs to fight her way back?"
"You tell me."
"Xenas happy with her life."
"If you say so."
"She cares for me," Gabrielle replied defensively. "Shes proven her love over and over again. Shed do anything to protect me."
Temira shrugged. "Then you shouldnt have anything to worry about."
Gabrielle sat for a long time before speaking.
"What if its not enough?" She said, the desperation in her voice clear.
"I think were about to find out."
The young woman sat, her hands trembling in her lap.
Temira walked over to her. "You need to get out of this room, ...find a bed and get some rest. Ill stay with her."
"Thanks but I..."
"Ill watch over her. I know you dont have reason to trust me... but shell be safe." She looked to the Amazon warriors standing on either side of the door. "The guards will ensure that."
Gabrielle regarded the warlord curiously. "Thats the real reason you came, isnt it... to help her."
Temira rolled her eyes. "Dont expect to find good in everyone you meet or youll spend the largest share of your life being disappointed."
"Not so far," Gabrielle said firmly.
Temira smiled. "Well, youre young yet."
The bard managed a small smile. "I may be young, but I dont think you would have let Xena die without trying to save her."
"Let her die? Tartarus! Years ago there were times I would have killed her myself."
"You expect me to believe youre doing all of this just so that you can have me as your slave?"
"Your warrior has always had exceptional taste in lovers. You piqued my interest. Corrupting innocence is very tempting to someone like me. Besides, its a lovely way to torment Xena."
"Right, you must really hate her." The bards voice dripped with sarcasm. "First, you risk your life coming to Amazon territory then you go to the trouble of trying to save her life all just to make her suffer. Why not just let her die?"
Temiras expression became hauntingly serious. "Sometimes death is an easier way out."
Gabrielles eyes regarded her with interest.
When the warlord noticed, she cast her an agitated glance. "Lets get back to our original discussion."
Temira shook her head in frustration. "You arent going to leave this room no matter what I say, are you?"
Gabrielle smiled softly. "No. I appreciate the offer, but I cant leave her." She sat on the edge of the bed and took Xenas hand in her own. "I keep wondering whats it like for her if she dreams... if she can hear us."
The glow of the sunlight through the window softened Temiras features, making her look oddly vulnerable. "I think sometimes they can. Ephinys sister, Kyra, lingered in a trance-like state for days before she died. There were times I thought I felt her reach out. I " She looked up at Gabrielle and shrugged. "Who knows."
"Was she wounded in battle?"
The warlord nodded and for a moment Gabrielle thought she saw sorrow flicker in the depths of her startling brown eyes.
"I never should have let her come with us. She had so much spirit that it blinded me to her physical frailty. Any of my other fighters would have easily recovered from the injury that killed her. Infection set in. There was nothing to be done."
The warlord took a long breath. "Kyra wasnt cut out for war. She wasnt drawn to the power or enticed by the glory of the battle like the others. She envisioned this great Amazon Nation that would bring peace to the region. Ky was a romantic, and a dreamer like "
Temiras voice trailed off and her body language suddenly changed, much like Xenas did when she was no longer comfortable with a discussion.
Gabrielle took her cue and changed the subject. "When did you meet Xena?"
"Years later, I heard of her exploits." She smiled. "I have to say, I was rather surprised to find a warrior more ruthless than myself. Together we were practically unstoppable."
"Whyd you go your separate ways?"
The warlord shrugged. "Ironically, I think we were too much alike." Temira turned and glanced down at the warrior, her expression grave.
"Gabrielle, about Xenas condition her body can only go about seven days without water. Ive had some success in using a leather tube to give patients water. But food is another matter. At best, she can last maybe a moon without it. Its a slow way to die... the body gradually starving."
The young blonde looked suddenly frail, her skin frighteningly pale.
"If we dont see a change soon, youll have some tough decisions to make."
"Have you given up on her?" the bard said weakly.
"No, not yet, but you should start thinking about what she would want. At some point you may need to consider ending her suffering."
The blood drained from the young womans face, making her appear much older than her years. "Hhh how?" She stammered.
Temira took a breath before responding. "There are poisons, but even the fastest acting ones, take time."
"If it were you," the bards eyes questioned, "as a warrior, what would you want?"
"Breaking her neck would be quickest," she said simply.
The warlords words brought a vivid memory back. For a moment Gabrielle thought she might be
They had been on their way to Potadiea, when they heard unearthly screams. Xena had run toward the sound, telling her to stay back. But something had made her follow. As she broke through the woods, she saw Xena approach a downed mare. The horses leg was broken, twisted beneath her. Horrific wails pierced the air as the animal rocked back and forth, attempting to stand.
It was almost more than she could bear. Gabrielle tried to look away but couldnt. Her eyes were riveted to the suffering animal. She pressed her hands to her ears, trying to block out the tortured cries, but it was useless.
Paralyzed, she watched as Xena knelt beside the horse, cradling the thrashing head in her arms as if to console it. Slowly the warrior adjusted her weight. Exhaling in a loud growl, she wrenched the mares head to the side, cleanly breaking its neck.
Even though the horse lay dead, Gabrielles ears continued to pick up echoes of its screams. It took several moments for her to realize that Xena had taken her arm and gently led her away.
Gabrielle leaned weakly against a tree.
She nodded sadly. "You?"
Xena let out a long sigh. "Shame about the horse."
"What you did I dont know if I could have..." The bard couldnt finish. She couldnt get the echo of the horses cries, the terrible snap of the horses neck out of her mind.
"It needed to be done," Xena replied flatly.
"I admire that in you... doing what you have to."
"I cant afford to be sentimental, thats all."
Gabrielle paused before speaking. "Do you think Im weak, too sentimental?" When she finally summoned the courage to look up at her friend, she was startled by the expression on the warriors face.
Xena gazed at her tenderly. "Empathy is a strength. Sometimes its better to act from the heart. Its one of the things I... like most about you."
Gabrielle eyes sparked. "You mean theres more than one?"
"Yeah, a few." The warriors smile was genuine. ------
"Gabrielle?" Temiras voice brought her back from her memories.
"Im sorry. What did you say?" the bard asked.
"I said if thats what you decide to do, I can take care of her."
After the warlord was taken to her cell, Gabrielle crawled through the frame and curled her body against the warriors side. As she inhaled the scent of her lovers hair, she felt tears well in her eyes.
"Xena, forgive me. I I just cant let you go. I dont want you to suffer, but I cant give up. I just cant." Warm tears slid down her cheeks. "Theres so much I didnt share with you. So many things I never told you. If only I had " She struggled to keep her voice steady.
"I should have told you how you changed my life. I I was afraid you didnt want to hear it but the truth is Im not the same person I was when we first met. You have touched my life in the most beautiful way."
"You took me in and shared your world. It was you that helped me find purpose. I I dont have words to explain how much being with you has meant to me. You helped me believe in myself. Im so sorry I never thanked you." She swallowed hard and closed her eyes against the burning tears.
"You always made the hard times easier by lending me your strength. I know, better than anyone, how hard you struggled with your past. Yet, through it all, you helped me find my way, even when it was so different from your own. I need you to know how proud I am to be your friend." Gabrielles voice faltered with emotion but she continued.
"You worried so about corrupting the goodness in me, but it was you who taught me what love truly is.
That first time we kissed... the feel of your mouth on me... I... I knew I was born to love you. Xena, you awakened my heart and set my soul free. You made my dreams come true." The bard opened her eyes and softly kissed the warriors lips.
"Ill always be thankful I chose to follow you that day."
"Im so sorry that I didnt open my heart sooner to let you know how very much you mean to me. If I had, maybe it would have helped you find your way back. Please give me another chance. I I need you."
Gabrielle waited for some indication that Xena had heard her plea, but the warrior remained motionless. She ran her hand lightly over Xenas arm. The skin was cool and lifeless beneath her fingers.
"I... I dont know how to go on without you."
An immense wave of sorrow broke deep inside her, so thoroughly devastating that it threatened to consume every last shred of hope. She buried her face in the warriors hair and let her tears fall unrestrained. The young woman had never felt more alone.
She pressed her lips to Xenas cheek and jumped as she felt a ripple on the surface of the warriors skin. Raising her head, she watched in awe as the warriors fingers twitch. She couldnt believe her eyes. Clutching the dark-haired womans hand, she squeezed.
As she lightly touched the warriors cheek, she was rewarded with fluttering eyelids. Tears streamed down her face as she watched the blue eyes open.
The bards heart raced. "Xena? Can you hear me?"
The warrior stared forward as if in a trance. Gabrielle waved her hand before her face, snapping her fingers but there was no reaction.
She called urgently to the Amazon outside her door. "Bring Temira, quickly!"
After a short time, the warlord entered, flanked on either side by guards.
Gabrielle stood up excitedly. "Look! Her eyes theyre open."
Temira hurried to the bed and held the candle near Xenas face. Although the pupils reacted to the light, she remained unresponsive.
"This is a good sign right? Shes waking up," Gabrielle said hopefully.
"Its a step in the right direction. But I cant be sure shell progress any farther than this. I need to examine her thoroughly and consult Saras immediately. Get her quickly. Fill her in on all the details on the way."
Gabrielle nodded eagerly and hurried out of the hut to find the healer, leaving the warlord under the supervision of the guards.
After she had gone, Temira moved to the end of the bed and began chanting. Slowly, she turned to face the guards, a sparkling crystal in her hand.
The Amazons stood transfixed; eyes focused on the mysterious shard. When she saw their blank stares, Temira smiled and walked around to the side of the bed.
"Xena, its Temira, but then you knew that, didnt you." She ran her fingertip down the length of the warriors arm.
"I heard about your accident and thought Id come by and check out your little friend. Weve been spending quite a bit of time together while youve been away. I think she may even be starting to trust me. So easy to deceive that one, she wants so much to see the good in people. I have to say, its not difficult to see why youre attracted to her. Her innocence is so enticing. Shes so virginal, so pure."
Temira bent over the warrior, looking directly into her eyes.
" And so devoted. I think shed do just about anything for you. She even agreed to be my slave in return for my saving your life." Temira looked down, thoughtful, at the warrior. "Just imagine her spreading those gorgeous legs every time I command it."
She laughed lightly. "But thats not really my style. As you know, its never been my way to ask. Not when I can so easily take what I want. And I do want her, Xena." The warlord paused, watching closely for movement.
"Im betting shell prove to be quite an entertaining conquest. Unlike you, Im not at all hesitant to make her scream. Think of the fun Ill have watching her hot body squirm under my lash."
Xenas leg jerked beneath her restraints.
Temira smiled. "I think it will take me a while to tire of this one." She drew her fingertip across the warriors lip. "But dont you worry, when Im finished toying with her, Ill kill her quickly. I owe you that much." She shrugged and smiled sinisterly.
"Well, its just about time to say good-bye." Temira reached up and carefully untied the restraints that held the warriors head. Placing a hand firmly above either ear, she turned Xenas head slowly to the side.
"What are you doing?!" Gabrielle stood frozen in the doorway, her heart in her throat. Temiras grip on the warriors head brought vivid images of Xena and the injured horse to mind.
Slowly Temira turned the warriors head back and strapped it in place "Just checking the wound." she replied casually.
Raising hands in front of the warriors face, she clapped loudly. "See, no change." Gabrielle and Saras were too intent on Xena to noticed the guards blink and adjust their stances.
"I I " The bard flushed, stuttering with embarrassment at her misinterpretation of Temiras actions.
"The wound is healing nicely."
The warlord turned to Saras. "There are a few things Id like to confer with you on."
While Temira and Saras spoke, Gabrielle sat on the bed holding Xenas hand. She smiled down at the warrior and lightly brushed her lips against her cheek. "Its so good to see your eyes again."
Xenas right arm spasmed violently against the restraints. Gabrielle called excitedly to Temira. "Did you see that?"
"Yes Its beginning to look like shell live, after all. But you need to remember; if she should come out of it when Im not around, its important that you dont let her move, regardless of what she says. Shell be confused when she first wakes up. Its vital that you keep her tied down for at least the first day so she doesnt injure herself."
Gabrielle released a sigh of relief and ran her fingers through Xenas bangs. She lightly kissed her forehead. "This is a miracle." She turned to Temira. "I dont know how to thank you."
The warlord smiled back sweetly. "If you try hard, youll think of a way." She paused. "I fulfilled my part of our bargain."
The sudden change in her manner startled the bard. "Of course. I..."
"Ill expect you in my cell later, then." Temira winked. "Do try to get some rest I guarantee youll need it." The warlord smiled and glanced at Saras, who was eyeing them both curiously.
"After all, theres so much I want to discuss. Plan for a late evening; I intend to be very thorough."
Gabrielle understood the warlords true intentions all too well. She spoke up nervously. "I I want to be sure Xenas really okay first, as we agreed."
Temira noted the queens obvious apprehension and frowned. "Mmmm That is disappointing, but I guess we can put it off until tomorrow. Youve had a rather long day and Id prefer you were at your very best when we do get together."
Gabrielle averted her eyes shyly.
The warlord merely smiled and walked to Xenas side. She stroked the warriors arm softly. "Theres no hurry, no hurry at all. Well have plenty of time to get acquainted while Xenas recovering." She turned abruptly.
"Now, if youll have the guards take me back to my cell, Ill give you and the warrior some time alone. Oh, and in case shes able to understand, you might try stimulating her a bit by explaining just how things will be when she awakens." Again the hidden meaning behind her words was perfectly clear.
Gabrielle quickly motioned to the Amazons to take Temira. As the warlord exited the room, Xenas arm began twitching.
The queen sat at Xenas side, anxiously watching for changes. As she looked lovingly into the warriors eyes, she couldnt bring herself to follow the warlords instructions. How could she lie to Xena about falling in love with Temira, knowing how it would wound her? It was something Gabrielle wasnt ready to face, not yet anyway. Instead she remained quiet, thinking her situation through.
Regardless of her dread arrangement with Temira, a weight had been lifted from her heart. There was hope for Xena, and in the end that was all that truly mattered.
Suddenly, thudding footfalls rushed by her door. Just as she stood to look out the window, Solari and Saras entered the room. "Temiras escaped! The guards were found unconscious in her cell."
Gabrielles brow furrowed in disbelief. "I dont understand. Why would she do this now?"
"A contingent of soldiers were spotted on the outskirts of the western border. It looks like shes signaled her army."
"Wheres Ephiny?" she asked anxiously.
"We cant find her anywhere. No one has seen her."
"Has the councils defense plan been put into effect?"
"Yes, were ready if they attack."
Though loath to leave the warrior, Gabrielle had no choice. "Saras, can you stay with Xena?"
"Of course. Where are you going?"
"To find Temira." She grabbed her staff and hurried out of the hut. If she had looked back at the warrior before she left, she would have seen her arms strain violently beneath the bonds that held her.
As Solari and Eponin put the defense plan into action, Gabrielle rushed to the stables. She felt certain Temiras first action would be to retrieve her horse in order to hasten her escape.
The unconscious stable girl was the first sight to greet the queen when she entered. The girl sat, propped neatly against a pile of hay. A letter rested on her chest with one word scrawled across the front, Ephiny.
Gabrielle carefully unfolded the well-worn parchment and read. The text ended abruptly, mid-sentence. She ran her fingers over the jagged edge where it had obviously been torn. Quickly tucking the letter in her belt, she hurried to saddle Argo.
Trusting her instincts, she rode hard west, in the direction the army had been spotted. The warlord hadnt gotten much of a head start. Hoping to narrow her lead, she urged Argo forward at a dangerous speed.
Temira was a few miles outside the village when she heard the sound of rushing hooves. Immediately recognizing her pursuer, she dismounted and waited for the young queen to close the distance between them.
Gabrielle rode up to her and slid gracefully to the ground, staff in hand. "Out for a ride?" she asked, her tone bitterly sarcastic.
"You might say that." Temira smiled. "Tell me, youve come to fulfill your part of our bargain and not to attempt to capture me single-handed."
The queen ignored her flippant comment. "A group of soldiers were spotted at the western border. Everyones guessing that theyre yours."
"Everyone except you."
Gabrielle shook her head. "You never had any intention of attacking the Amazons, any more than you wanted me for a slave. You came to help Xena."
Temira laughed. "Sorry to disappoint you, but my motives were never that pure. The notion of you as my slave is very appealing."
"But youre leaving."
The warlord nodded. "Initially, I had hopes of getting Xena back on her feet and convincing her to join me, but I knew she would never agree until you were out of the way. So I was ready to use whatever means at my disposal to accomplish that."
"Then why the change of plans?"
Temira sighed. "It became obvious to me that she would never be the warrior she once was."
Gabrielle took an anxious step toward her. "You you dont think shell recover?"
Temira pushed her roughly aside. A loud twang reverberated through the air as an arrow lodged in the tree near where they had been standing.
Ephiny stepped into view, holding a bow. "Move away from her, Gabrielle."
"Dont do this, Ephiny." The bard stepped in front of Temira, blocking the regents shot.
"Shes going to die for her crimes against the Amazons for her crimes against my family."
"Theres more to this she "
Ephiny angrily cut the bard off. "It was her doing that my sister died alone on a god-forsaken battlefield. Shes a cold-blooded killer, responsible for the deaths of many Amazons." She tossed her bow down and drew her sword.
"I intend to avenge their deaths now!"
Temira stepped out from behind the bard. "Lets do it, then."
The regent carefully advanced. "Draw your sword."
"Wait!" Gabrielle cried. "Theres something you dont know." The regent ignored her, continuing her steady advance.
"Kyra left you a letter."
The sound of her sisters name stopped the regent in her tracks. "Kyra?"
Gabrielle turned to Temira. "She didnt die alone. Did she?"
"What are you talking about?" Ephiny asked heatedly.
"Kyra wrote you a letter from her deathbed." The bard held the parchment out in shaky hands. "She wasnt alone when she died; she was with Temira."
"Youre lying," the warlord replied. "The letter doesnt say that."
"Maybe not, but part of its missing. What are you hiding?"
Temira turned to the regent and drew her sword in a quick fluid motion. "It doesnt matter now. Does it, Ephiny? It ends here."
The regent rushed her, swinging her sword.
Temira assumed a defensive pose as their swords clashed loudly.
Gabrielle watched the warlord move with incredible grace, every maneuver executed with an eerie precision. Although she appeared a less powerful fighter than Xena, she moved like a dancer, each swing, each step perfectly orchestrated. She was a seasoned swordswoman, with years of battle experience, maybe even more than Xena. It was clear the regent was outmatched. Temira was toying with her.
Gabrielle stepped forward, desperate to intervene and stop the battle.
"Dont do this." Gabrielle pleaded. "It wont bring your sister back."
"Get back," Ephiny commanded.
Fury burned in the regents eyes as she swung viciously at the warlord. Fortified by anger, she poured her strength into each and every blow. Temira blocked them all.
Gradually Ephiny was tiring, her moves becoming less and less effective with each swing. Horrified, Gabrielle watched her friend carelessly leave her left side vulnerable to the warlords sword. She opened her mouth to cry out a warning, but her voice died in her throat. Temira pulled back, letting the opportunity pass. Ephiny lunged at her once again.
Now out of position, Temira turned awkwardly to avoid the edge of her blade and stumbled on a downed branch. The regent rammed her hard, knocking her down.
Ephiny stood breathless, holding the tip of her sword to the hollow of Temiras throat. Through her labored breathing, she spoke. "This is for my sister."
"Stop!" Gabrielle screamed.
Ephiny hesitated. "If you kill her, youll never know your sisters last words to you."
The regent pressed the sharp point cruelly into Temiras flesh, drawing a trickle of blood. "Read it!"
Gabrielle held the letter before her and began to read aloud.
Im deeply saddened that I will not live long enough to see you grow into a young woman.
Pulling one of our injured from the field, I was wounded by a boy no older than you. I urge you to forgive him, as I have. Dont allow your gentle soul to be tainted by anger and hatred. Youll find no peace in revenge.
As your older sister, I always tried to live my life as an example to you. And though I accomplished little good in my life, maybe when all is said and done, you will find a worthwhile lesson in it.
I was not meant to be a warrior. I havent the heart for it. There is no glory in war. No good can come of the death and suffering it brings.
The tip of Ephinys sword trembled at Temiras throat.
It is my fondest wish that you lead a long and happy life, surrounded by the love of those you hold dear. Listen to your heart. There are many things important in life but none of them more so than love. Look for the best in people and you will find it. Dont mourn my death. I dont regret the path I chose, for I found
Throat tight with emotion, Gabrielle looked to the regent. "The rest is missing."
Ephiny turned the tip of her sword, drawing more blood. "What did it say?" The regent demanded.
"It wont serve anything for you to know." She glanced with eerie calm at the sword pressed to her throat. "Just finish it and be done."
Seeing the muscles in Ephinys forearm twitch, Gabrielle spoke up quickly. "It was love that sustained her through the horrors of war wasnt it? And when she was dying, you stayed with her You abandoned your soldiers on the battlefield to be with her. Didnt you?"
Ephiny glared at her enemy. "No I dont believe it."
Gabrielle placed a hand on her friends shoulder. "Its the only thing that explains why Kyra would leave her home for a cause she never believed in. Think about it."
The bard glared at Temira. "Damn it! I dont care what kind of death wish you have. You owe her the truth. Kyra was your lover wasnt she?"
The regent eased the tip of her sword back to allow her to speak.
Temira took a deep breath. "It doesnt change anything. Ephiny, you were right. Im still responsible for her death and many more. I left my soldiers to certain defeat when I walked away. If I had been there to lead them, they would have survived to return home to defend the village. I " Temiras voice was thick with emotion. "I I led her to her death."
Gabrielle gently pressed the letter into her friends hand. "Let it be over."
Ephiny held the sword loosely to Temiras throat. "Wheres the rest of it?" she demanded, her voice trembling.
Temira reached into her belt pouch and pulled out a small scrap of parchment. The regent held them together with trembling fingers as her eyes fell to the words scripted in her sisters hand.
I dont regret the path I chose, for I found love and in that love great joy and happiness. Please welcome Temira into our family. She is of my heart. The one I would have as my mate. It would give me peace to know you were caring for each other.
I will miss you so. When you visit our spot on the river, I hope you will think of me.
Ephiny lowered her weapon and walked into the woods.
Temira got to her feet and sheathed her sword. She looked tired, years older than she had only moments before. "Why did you force it?" she questioned hotly.
"Ephiny needed to understand why her sister really left home." She met the warlords angry stare. "I think maybe you needed to remember why, too." Temira looked away.
"You dont deserve to die for loving her, for staying. It was a cruel twist of fate."
"Youre deluding yourself again, looking for goodness in everyone."
"Then why didnt you kill Ephiny when you had the chance? I saw the opening. Why didnt you take it?"
Temira smiled wryly. "What opening?"
"Is it so tough to admit to having a little goodness and mercy in your heart? They arent character flaws, you know."
"Maybe not, but they can be a warriors undoing."
"Or the making of a great leader," Gabrielle replied.
She looked to the warlord anxiously. "Wont you stay? Please there must be something more you can do to help Xena."
"Im quite sure shell be fine," Temira replied confidently.
"But you said shed never be the warrior she once was."
"And I meant it After hanging around you, I think shed make a better leader." Temira cleared her throat.
"Anyway theres nothing more I can do." Her eyes sparkled playfully. "For my own sake I think Id rather not be around when she wakes up."
"Im sure shell be grateful for everything youve done."
"Shes liable to run me through with her sword and ask questions later."
"Because of what happened in Amphipolis?"
"No, I think telling her that I intended to take you as my sex slave and kill you when I grew tired of it all probably didnt sit well with her."
"You told her." Instantly Gabrielle understood. "You gave her the will to fight."
"No, you did that. Her desire to protect you is very strong, just like you said. I pressed the right buttons, thats all."
"The spasms... shes fighting to come back, isnt she?"
"That would be my guess."
Gabrielle could have cried with relief. "And the bonds, are they to protect her or to keep her from coming after you?"
The warlord laughed. "I didnt make it this far by taking unnecessary chances." The bard smiled and shook her head.
"Im fairly certain she has no damage to her spine. She was moving quite a bit after our little talk. Wait until youre sure shes calm to release her."
"Xena would have died without your help. I... I dont know what to say. Im in your debt."
Temira smiled slyly. "Its probably not to your advantage to remind me of that," she winked.
Gabrielle laughed and reached out her hand.
Temira clasped it tightly, her eyes studying the young blonde. With firm, respectful pressure, she held the bards hand, then released it abruptly.
"How did you know about Kyra and me?"
"Things you mentioned. She and I are a lot alike. I understand her. If Xena had taken a darker path, I still would have followed her, hoping that somehow I could make her life easier and maybe guide her in the right direction."
Temira nodded. She turned toward her horse, then stopped.
"You should know... there hasnt been anything between Xena and me since her warlord days."
Temira ran her hands anxiously through her hair. "I summoned Xena to Amphipolis to seduce her, to get her to join me. Trust me I can be very persuasive. " She raised a brow in a gesture that reminded the bard of Xena.
"But your warrior made it quite clear that for her there was no going back. I believe she really has changed. Xenas no longer the ruthless woman she once was."
The warlord took a deep breath and smiled softly. "Ill bet love has ended more warriors careers than all the wars in history."
Although her expression hid it well, Gabrielle saw a flash of sadness in her eyes.
"As far as Xenas health is concerned. Id stake my dinars on a speedy recovery. Shed be a fool not to fight her way back to you. Xenas no fool."
"Ill take comfort in that, since youre never wrong," the bard teased.
The warlord mounted her horse and glanced back at the queen. "No ones right all the time Ill be the first to admit I was wrong about you."
"Yes, youre far from tame. Theres fire in your eyes and courage in your heart."
She watched Gabrielles face flush. "Im releasing you from our little deal. Im afraid I would be getting more than I bargained for." She smiled. "I think you are not a lamb, after all, but a fox." The warlord paused, then winked. "They nearly always outsmart the wolves."
Urging her horse into a gallop, she headed into the sunset.
After saying goodbye to Temira, Gabrielle quickly returned to the village and took her place once again at Xenas side. Holding the warriors hand protectively between her own, she remained quiet, allowing her companion to concentrate on her struggle.
Occasionally the warrior gave her fingers a forceful squeeze. Her valiant effort filled the bard with hope. There was little doubt that she was desperately fighting her way back.
She watched in awe as Xenas inner battle gradually escalated, eventually becoming so intense that she strained almost continually at her bindings.
Suddenly, a low, raspy cry strangled from the warriors throat. "Gabrielle!"
The sweet sound of the warriors voice sent waves of joy through the bard.
"Im here, Xena. Im right here." She lovingly pressed her lips to the warriors forehead, her hands trembling as she stroked Xenas hair. "Can you hear me?"
Panicked blue eyes darted back and forth as signals from each of her awakening senses brutally overwhelmed her with sensation. After near-total isolation, the sudden immersion in the world of the living was completely disorienting. Gabrielles voice boomed painfully loud. The warriors entire body ached, as each and every muscle made itself known. She blinked against the brightness of the candles, frantically trying to focus.
"Its okay," the bard assured her.
"Danger..." Xena croaked, trying to sit up. Her head felt oddly heavy, weighted down.
"No... Youre safe now," the bard promised. "You were hurt. We had to tie you down to keep you immobile. Youve been unconscious for days." She spoke in soothing tones, trying to calm her. "Everythings going to be okay."
As the door to the hut opened, Gabrielle looked up anxiously. Saras entered and immediately came to an abrupt stop. "By the gods... Is she awake?"
"Yes." Gabrielle answered, crying and smiling at the same time.
The healer hurried to the bed to examine her. "Xena, we werent sure if your spine was damaged in the fall. Can you move your fingers?"
The warrior wiggled the fingers of both hands. "And your toes?" Again she did as Saras asked.
The healer meticulously poked and prodded Xenas body. Satisfied by her patients reactions, she turned to the queen. "This is good... very good."
Gabrielles eyes beamed with happiness. Carefully, she untied the straps holding the warriors head. "Do you think you could drink a little water?"
Xena slowly nodded.
The bard gently tilted her forward, taking great care to support her neck, and poured a small amount of the cool liquid into the warriors mouth.
Xena nearly moaned from the joy of it. She looked to Gabrielle for more.
"I think youre going to be fine," Saras offered. "But you need to rest as much as possible."
"My hands..." the warrior whispered as she weakly tried to lift her arms. Gabrielle untied the straps that held her in place and motioned for the guards to remove the wooden frame from the hut.
Xena gingerly flexed her limbs, taking care that her hand remained gently cradled between Gabrielles.
"Are you in any pain?"
"My head." She closed her eyes against the dull thudding.
The young woman looked with concern to Saras. "Is there something you can give her?"
"Ill fix an herbal tea to ease the pain and help her rest."
"No!" Xena rasped, her voice desperate. "Temira!"
"Easy " The bard lightly stroked her cheek. "Temiras not going to hurt me. She lied to bring you out your coma. Believe me, were safe."
Xena looked about the room anxiously. Her fear for the bard was so deeply ingrained that the young womans words failed to calm her.
Gabrielle got up and moved purposely toward the door.
"Dont go!" Xena cried in distress.
"Im not going anywhere." The bard assured her. Quickly retrieving the warriors sword from the corner, she returned and placed the weapon the on the bed next to Xena.
The warrior released a heavy breath and closed her hand around the hilt.
As Gabrielle gently stroked the exhausted womans hair, Xenas body visibly began to release its tension.
Saras handed the queen a warm cup of tea. "See that she drinks this. It will help."
"Ill be in my hut if you need me."
The bard nodded and turned her attention back to Xena. After only a few sips of tea, the warrior drifted off.
Setting the mug down, Gabrielle carefully lay down beside her. For the first time in days she allowed herself to relax. Hugging Xenas arm to her chest, she felt a comforting warmth radiate off the warriors skin. In no time she too was fast asleep.
Sunlight streamed across Xenas face, rousing her from slumber. Gradually, her eyes adjusted to the brightness flooding the hut. As the room slowly came into focus, she was filled with a sense of peace unlike any she had ever known. Beside her lay her beloved bard. The young womans presence was like a balm to her soul. Gabrielles love had guided her out of the darkness and across the void between life and death. She was home.
As if subconsciously sensing that her companion had awakened, the bard stirred and slowly opened her eyes. The dark-haired woman was studying her intently. The sight was so wonderful that for a moment she couldnt speak. "Are you feeling okay?"
Xena nodded, her eyes taking in the full length of the bards body. "Youve lost weight."
Gabrielle smiled at the warriors unexpected comment. "Not as much as you If I prop you up, do you think you can drink some broth?"
"If youll join me."
"Thats a deal." The bard positioned several pillows at the head of the bed and pulled Xena onto them. Her shoulder seized and she bit back a wince.
Observant as ever, Xenas brow furrowed. "Are you hurt?"
"No, Im just a little sore. I dislocated my arm trying to climb out of the cavern."
"Yeah, when the ground collapsed, we fell into an underground cavern." Gabrielle looked at her friend anxiously. "Cant you remember?"
Xena closed her eyes and rubbed the temples. "How long was I out?"
"Six days." As the bard recalled the ordeal, she had to tighten her grip on the cup to mask her trembling fingers.
Again, the warrior instantly noticed the young womans anxiety.
"You really had me scared," the bard explained, as she lifted the cup to Xenas lips.
"Dont worry. Ill be fine. Im just a little weak." She looked at the bards gaunt face and gently pushed the cup of broth toward her. "Its good--try it."
Gabrielle smiled softly. Even from her sickbed, Xena continued to look after her.
As usual, the dark-haired woman was right. The salty liquid was the best thing she had tasted in days. Shifting nervously in her chair, she looked into the mug thoughtfully and carefully chose her words. "Ive been wondering if you remembered anything before the accident."
The warrior hesitated in her reply, making the bard regret her question. "We... we dont have to talk about this now. I know youre tired. Maybe I should go to my own hut and let you to get some rest." She stood, intending to leave, but Xenas voice stopped her.
"Gabrielle.... Wait. I remember. I I remember riding Argo into the woods..." She paused uncomfortably. "And I remember you falling "
"Anything in-between?" Gabrielle asked hopefully.
Xena reached out, lightly touching her cheek. "Everything I remember everything in-between the way your hair glows in the sunlight the sweet scent of your skin when youre aroused the indescribable softness of your body against mine the taste of your lips the sound of your pleasure." She smiled softly and released a sigh. "How could I ever forget?"
Gabrielle blushed shyly.
"Ill always remember the way you gave yourself to me." Xena lifted the young womans hand and lightly pressed the trembling fingers to her lips. "I dont want you to go to your own hut."
"I I dont want to go," the bard replied and slowly bent to kiss the warriors lips. As she pulled back, her green eyes sparkled with joy.
"How would you like some company in there?"
The dark-haired woman smiled and lifted the covers. Happily, the blonde climbed into bed and curled up against her. In moments they both drifted back to sleep.
Although Xena was still extremely weak, she was making gradual steps toward a rather remarkable recovery. Unfortunately, it wasnt fast enough for the warrior. Unaccustomed to her temporary physical limitations, she was having a difficult time adjusting.
Gabrielle sympathized with her companions impatience and tried to encourage her when she became frustrated with her progress. With the bards help, she worked tirelessly doing exercises to regain her range of motion and loosen her stiff muscles.
Gabrielle spent nearly all of her time with the warrior. After coming so close to losing Xena, she found comfort in simply being near her. She had never been happier and was relieved to have the worst behind them. Always the optimist, she viewed the warriors convalescence as an opportunity to get to know her better.
She was pleased to find that Xenas forced rest left her much more receptive to conversation. The warrior had begun to open up and share things with her little things the bard found endearing.
But Xena still seemed hesitant to discuss larger issues. The warrior carefully avoided the topic of Temira. In fact, every time her name came up she quickly changed the subject. The other glaring omission from their conversations was the change in their relationship and what it would mean. Gabrielle decided it best not to force her to face these things until she was ready.
The bard looked up briefly from her writing. The noises coming from outside the hut seemed to be making Xena especially edgy today.
With the aid of the bards staff, the warrior maneuvered to the window and watched the commotion outside. The Amazons were preparing for this evenings joining ceremony. Xena noted her companions disinterest with some anxiety. "Isnt tonight Spring Festival?" the warrior questioned.
"Yeah. I guess it is."
"Well shouldnt you be getting ready? Youre presiding over the ceremonies."
"No, Ephinys standing in for me. Im staying with you."
The warrior shifted her stance nervously. "Gabrielle, that was the reason we traveled here. You were excited about it. And now youre not going because you dont want to leave me alone?"
"I enjoy being with you. I want to keep you company. I know its hard for you being cooped up."
"You dont need to stay. Ill be fine for the evening."
The bard looked at her reluctantly. "Are you sure?"
"Positive, I want you to go."
"I can ask Saras to come over," she offered.
"Gabrielle Ill be fine," Xena insisted, frustration edging into her voice. "I havent needed anyone to babysit me since I was five."
The bard smiled. "Hmmm maybe that was the problem not enough supervision."
Setting her parchment aside, she walked over to the warrior and kissed her softly. "All right, you win. Ill go get ready."
Xena visibly relaxed and motioned her toward the door.
Although the bard was moved by the couples vows to each other, she couldnt help being distracted. Steeped in ritual, the Amazon ceremony was very long, and although she tried to keep focused, her mind continually drifted. She just couldnt stop thinking about Xena, couldnt stop wishing that the warrior was with her.
At last, it was nearly time for the closing ceremony. Each woman had presented her chosen partner with a necklace to symbolize her commitment. Soon the music would begin and they would dance in celebration of their union.
Drums pounded rhythmically in the background with a hauntingly erotic beat. Inside a large ring of fire, the women gathered before the queen.
As the music heightened in intensity, Gabrielle experienced a pulling deep within her. She watched the young lovers clasp hands before her and longed to be with Xena. More than anything, she wanted to share this bond with the warrior and nervously wondered if the warrior would ever be able to commit to her this fully.
Suddenly the crowd began to murmur and the line of couples slowly parted. The air seemed charged with energy. Gabrielles pulse raced. Without looking up, she knew who it was and gasped as Xena passed through the flames, defying them to keep her out.
Her heart swelled with love as the dark-haired woman, supported by her staff, walked slowly toward her. Intent on helping, the queen began to rise, but the warrior motioned her back.
Dressed in the full amazon costume, the queen was stunning. Xena stood before her in reverent silence, then slowly lowered herself to one knee. Gabrielles breath caught in anticipation as the warrior lifted an ornate chain of silver from her neck and held it out in trembling hands. Woven into the small links were long silky strands of Xenas ebony hair.
The queen was so overcome with emotion that she couldnt speak.
"Gabrielle, you are my heart. As long as I go on, you will be a part of me, the best part. Please accept this as a symbol of my love a symbol of my commitment to you. I want to share my life with you. I want to grow old with you and lie beside you when our time has ended. Would you ." The warriors voice broke with emotion.
The queens eyes brimmed with tears as she stood and guided the warrior lovingly to her feet. Smiling tenderly, she nodded.
As Xena placed the necklace over her chosens head, the crowd cheered and the music started up once again. The dance had begun.
For Gabrielle, there was nothing but the vibrant blue eyes before her, eyes that told her she understood the significance of the ceremony and embraced it.
They swayed gently to the beat, moving as one, their eyes locked. The power of the moment was staggering. Slowly, Xena bent down and brushed her lips to the queens cheek, sending shivers of sensation through her. Light-headed, the bard gripped the warrior tightly, reveling in their closeness.
For both women, time had stopped. It was a moment they would remember forever.
After the dance, still brimming with emotion, they slowly made their way back to the queens hut. The effort Xena had expended tired her and she pressed into the staff for support.
The shift in her weight did not go unnoticed. Gabrielle stopped and slid her arm around Xenas waist.
"Here, you can lean on me."
The warrior smiled lovingly at her companion. "I know."
Gabrielle could not take her eyes from Xenas lips. Soft and moist, they were parted in what seemed a sensual invitation. She ran her fingers through silky dark hair and pulled the warrior to her.
As their lips met, a soft moan escaped Xenas throat. The bards tongue pressed into her with such tenderness that the warrior trembled beneath her touch.
A warm wetness against her cheek made Gabrielle pull back. Xena was crying.
The young womans heart thudded in alarm. "Did I hurt you?"
The warrior shook her head, gently caressing the young womans cheek. "I never thought that... that I could have this... I..."
"Oh, Xena..." Gabrielle drew the warrior into a warm embrace. "I love you with all my heart."
The dark-haired woman closed her eyes and took a deep breath before opening them again. "I can feel it. I " The bard watched as Xena struggled to control her emotions. "That you would give yourself to Temira so that I could have a chance, I "
Gabrielles voice was tremulous as she spoke. "I I thought Id lost you. I would have done anything in my power to bring you back. If it hadnt been for Temira, I "
Xena shifted anxiously, suddenly filled with guilt. "Gabrielle, I theres something you should know."
She swallowed hard before continuing. "I I lied to you about Amphipolis. There werent any raiders. I went there to meet Temira."
Gabrielle gently squeezed her hand. "It doesnt matter now. She brought you back to me, thats all I care about."
"Please I need you to understand I ." The warrior drew a deep breath. "I agreed to meet her before I knew how you felt. I thought I needed to see her... to be with her, but I couldnt. It wasnt her I wanted. It was you. It was always you."
"I know." Gabrielle lightly touched her cheek and smiled. "I can feel it too." As their lips met, Xenas kiss expressed her love more effectively than her words ever could.
The bard slipped her arm securely around the warriors waist. Slowly, but steadily they made their way back to the royal hut that they would now officially share.
For the first time in a long while, Gabrielle left Xena by herself. She needed to talk with Ephiny. Not finding the regent in any of the usual places, she walked to the woods and followed the river for nearly a candlemark.
Ephiny stood on the bank looking dreamily over the meadow. She turned as Gabrielle approached.
"I hope Im not intruding," the bard apologized.
"No, I was just thinking about Kyra and the time we used to spend here." She cast her friend a sad glance. "She was so young too young to die. I wish wed had more time "
The bard brushed Ephinys arm with the tips of her fingers. "Im sorry I never knew her."
The regent nodded. "Im sorry I didnt know her better that she couldnt confide in me." She sighed heavily. "I guess I was too young back then to understand."
Gabrielle sighed. "I hope someday that my family will come to understand that it was my conscious choice to go with Xena."
"You owe it to them to try to explain."
Gabrielle nodded uneasily.
"They may surprise you. If you give them the chance."
"Im sure youre right."
Ephiny leaned back wearily against a tree. "Kyra always was one to follow her heart. I should have figured it out long ago." She took a deep breath and looked at her friend. "Youre so much like her."
Gabrielle smiled softly.
The regent eyes filled with regret. "I let my hatred blind me. I want to thank you for stopping me I would have killed Temira."
"Your anger was understandable."
Ephiny laid a hand on the blondes shoulder. "Youve been a good friend to me, Gabrielle."
"And you to me." The bard paused. "Ill always be grateful to you for standing by me through this. I dont know if I could have made it without your strength and compassion. Youre a natural leader. Kyra would be proud to see the woman youve become."
The regent sighed. "I hope so."
"I know so," Gabrielle smiled.
"Youre quite a woman yourself, you know. Xenas very lucky."
The bard inhaled deeply. "I think we both are."
"Youre really good for her, you know."
"Shes good for me too. In more ways than I can say."
"Hows she handling the long recuperation?"
"About as well as youd expect."
"That bad, huh?"
The bard raised her eyebrows playfully and nodded.
As much as Xena enjoyed the bards company she was glad for some time alone. Finally, she was feeling stronger. And although she knew Gabrielle would object, she felt it was time to start putting her body to the test.
Once the bard had gone, she changed into her leathers. Although they were looser than she remembered, the familiar sensation against her skin was comforting. Walking to her side of the bed, she retrieved her chakram from the table and slid her sword into its sheath. It was time for a real workout.
As she approached the sparring area, she spotted Solari doing drills.
The Amazon stopped and greeted her. "Hi, Xena."
"Solari," the warrior nodded.
"Its good to see you up and around."
"Yeah... Im feeling quite a bit stronger."
"Im glad to hear it." The fighter paused awkwardly. "About what happened I... that is... I just wanted to apologize. I jumped to all the wrong conclusions. Im sorry I doubted your loyalty to the Amazons " She glanced away sheepishly, but continued. "And as far as you and Gabrielle, I... well..." She blushed. "Congratulations." She extended her hand.
The warrior grasped it warmly. "Theres no need to apologize. You were protecting Gabrielle. I respect and appreciate that No hard feelings."
The Amazon smiled. "You come here for a workout?"
"Yeah, but do me a favor and dont mention it to Gabrielle. She can be a little overprotective."
"A little!" Solari laughed at her understatement. "Dont worry " She used her index finger to make a cross over her heart. "Gabrielle wont hear a word from me."
Now Xena was the one to look sheepish. "If she does, well both be in trouble."
"I hear you. So you ready?"
"Yeah, but itll have to be a short one."
"No problem. Im used to taking it easy on you."
Xena smiled and raised her sword.
Eponin watched the women spar from a distance. After Xena left, she made her way to the field.
Solari looked up as the Amazon approached.
"Looks like Xenas recovering nicely."
"Yeah. Even convalescing, she beat the crap out of me."
Eponin smiled. "Look Solari, I... Im sorry if I said anything to... well... what I mean is I hope well always be friends. Nothing will change that... for me."
"Same here. We both did what we had to."
"Yeah, Im just glad everything worked out."
Solari nodded. "I must admit you surprised me a little with your theory about what happened in the closet." She smiled playfully at her fellow Amazon.
Eponin laughed and looked into her friends eyes. "And after all these years I thought nothing surprised you."
"Lately, it seems almost everything surprises me," Solari admitted.
"So whats wrong with that?"
Solari shrugged. "Maybe, Im getting old."
"Nah, just acting that way. You need to get out more." She smiled. "Why dont you come over to my hut for a game of cards."
"Because you always beat me."
Eponin smiled. "Yeah, but theres a first time for everything."
Solari feigned hesitation. "You still making the same rot-gut in that still of yours?"
"Yep. Why do you think I always win?" the Amazon grinned.
"All right, youre on." She put her arm around Eponins waist and they left the field.
The workout with Solari had really tired her. Unwilling to show the Amazon her weakness, Xena had fought longer and harder than she should have. At the time, it seemed the natural thing to do. It had felt terrific to let loose and go for it. Unfortunately, she compounded her mistake by going for a long walk with the bard, knowing that if she refused, an explanation would be in order.
Now she was feeling the effects of her stubborn pride. Her weary muscles demanded rest. So as soon as she dared, the warrior began preparing for bed.
Gabrielle glanced up from her scrolls to watch her companion. It surprised her how quickly Xena had regained her strength. In a relatively short amount of time, the warrior had made an amazing recovery.
Still, at times Gabrielle worried that her partner pushed herself too hard. Xena looked a little weary after they returned from their long walk, and the bard sensed that the warrior had overdone. "You look a little tired tonight," she commented casually.
"Im fine," Xena assured her, as she slipped out of her clothes and into a clean shift. "Its just getting late. Are you coming to bed?"
The bard watched her intently, her eyes tracing the graceful lines of the tall womans body.
Xena felt the heat of her lovers stare and silently cursed herself for her overzealous workout. Lifting the covers, she quickly slipped into bed.
Gabrielle put down her quill and walked toward the warrior.
The bards breasts shifted beneath the thin cotton covering. Xenas body surged with desire as she approached. In the soft candlelight the young womans eyes seemed to echo her own longing. The warrior took a moment to mentally gauge her stamina and smiled. Just maybe
As Gabrielle snuggled her warm body next to her, the warrior nearly moaned aloud. The bard was truly irresistible. Xena suddenly found herself hoping her young lover had not come to bed just to sleep.
Curled alongside the warrior, Gabrielle imagined she could feel the sexual energy radiating from her companion. She felt her body instantly respond, as a pleasant fluttering stirred deep in her belly. The bard quickly pushed back the thought, refusing to let her desire drive the warrior farther than she was ready to go. She knew how important it was to take things slowly. Saras had warned her on several occasions that it would take time for Xena to fully recover.
The warriors pulse quickened as Gabrielle turned to face her. Taking a hopeful breath, she reached out.
The bard lifted her partners hand to her lips and lightly kissed her fingers. "Good night, Xena."
The dark-haired womans heart sank as she watched the bards eyes close to sleep. She released a heavy sigh, reluctantly acknowledging that it was best not to push herself. For several long moments, she lay staring at the ceiling. There would be no sparring tomorrow. She intended to save her energy for more important things.
The next afternoon, Gabrielle mustered her courage and went to see Saras. She took a deep breath and knocked on the healers door.
"Hi, I hope Im not disturbing you."
"Not at all. Can I get you a cup of tea?"
"No, thanks, I just wanted to stop by and thank you for everything youve done for Xena and me."
Saras shrugged and filled her own mug. "Neither of you made it easy, thats for sure."
"Yeah," Gabrielle said sheepishly. "Im sorry about that."
Saras gave her a playful grin. "Well, it certainly made the job more interesting."
The bard smiled back with some relief.
"By the way, congratulations on your joining."
"I must admit, I saw it coming. Cant imagine what took you so long."
Gabrielle laughed at her bold comment. "Well, sometimes its hard to see the forest for the trees." She paused before continuing awkwardly. "So about Xena. Do you think shes coming along okay?"
"Mmhmm, she seems to be doing nicely."
"Then youre pleased with her recovery?"
"Yes, shes a very quick healer." Saras gave her a puzzled look. "Why? Has Xena had trouble?"
"No, its not that. I I was just wondering "
"Yes?" Never one to beat around the bush, Saras eyed her impatiently.
"Well its just I know her condition was quite serious and I . I wouldnt want to do anything that would set her back."
Saras brows furrowed. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
Gabrielle stammered on in an attempt to explain. "What I mean is how long might it be before we could..." she bit her lip nervously. "I mean..."
The bard blushed furiously, and suddenly the old healer understood. Her face broke into a knowing smile. "Why dont you ask her if shes ready."
"Do you think its safe for her?"
"Yes, but maybe you should take your cue from Xena."
"Im sorry. I feel silly. I didnt mean to bother you about this. I just want it to be right for her."
"Gabrielle, Ive seen many young women get together in my time. Some work out and some dont. But its obvious, even to these tired eyes, that you and Xena have something special. Your love for each other has helped you through some hard times. Trust your instincts and things will be fine."
The bard smiled and got up to leave.
"For what its worth, I think that your concerns about rushing Xena are unfounded." She raised a mischievous brow. "Why, just yesterday I caught the end of her sparring match with Solari. Wore me out just watching her."
The bard shook her head in disbelief.
"Didnt she tell you?" Saras asked, feigning surprise.
"Ah I guess she forgot to mention it." Gabrielle winked. "Did she win?"
The healer grinned. "What do you think?"
The bard left Saras hut much more light-hearted than when she went in.
After having lunch with Xena, the bard suggested they take Argo out for a ride. Anxious to escape the confines of the village, the warrior eagerly agreed.
Gabrielle encouraged her partner to ride deep into the woods, before finally asking her to stop.
Xena was immediately suspicious. "So tell me. Why did you bring me all the way out here?"
"Well Youve been cooped up in the village for a while now. I just thought you might like to get away from all the people. I know how important your privacy is."
"Just a little solitude, huh?"
"Well, that and since you seem to be feeling better, I thought you might be up to a little staff practice?"
Xena smiled. "And you think I need practice?"
She winked. "Definitely. Even a warrior princess can get out of shape,"
Gabrielle searched the ground for a branch appropriate for use as a staff and tossed it to Xena. "You up for it?"
The warrior nodded and they began lightly sparring. Suddenly the bard stopped. Xena gave her a quizzical look.
"Just checking to make sure youre okay."
"Im fine. Ive hardly even worked up a sweat."
"Yeah, but I know how working out tends to get you a little "
"A little what?"
"Well, I know youre still healing and I dont want to do anything that might tempt you to do something youre not ready for thats all."
"Im not tempted."
"Youre not?" Gabrielle said, disappointment evident in her voice.
Xena smiled and looked suspiciously at the bard. "Are you trying to seduce me?"
Gabrielle donned a hurt expression. "Do you think Im the kind of person who would take advantage of you when youre in a weakened condition?" She pressed an accusing finger to the warriors chest.
Xena was immediately sorry for her glib remark. "No of course not. I... I..."
The bard let her finger drift slowly to the edge of Xenas cleavage. "Well, I am trying to seduce you," she admitted wickedly. "So tell me... Was the seduction thing working?"
No answer was necessary. She could see Xenas erect nipples straining beneath her tunic. The edges of the warriors mouth turned up in a crooked smile as she nodded.
"Kind of exciting to find out you dont know me quite as well as you thought you did, isnt it?"
Xena was at a loss for words as the bards fingers slid along her thigh. Unaccustomed to having Gabrielle take the lead, she stepped back nervously.
"Honestly, I dont mean to rush you," the bard explained. "But Ive been seeing signs that your body might be ready."
"Oh?" Xena said, her mouth suddenly dry. "What signs?"
"Well, for one your eyes change when you get excited. They become vibrant and very intense."
Xena glanced away self-consciously.
"Yeah... just like that."
Gabrielle smiled at the warriors surprising shyness and took a step forward. "And when were close, your skin flushes beautifully."
Moving still closer, she set out to prove her point. As they stood nearly touching, she watched the shade of warriors skin deepen.
"See what I mean?"
Xena didnt need a mirror to know the heat rushing over the surface of her skin was also coloring it.
"Youve really been paying attention," she managed.
"Its part of the bard thing... noticing small details. Theres more. Do you want me to go on?"
Xena nodded, completely captivated with the bards powers of observation.
"Your breathing changes too... it becomes shallow... and faintly audible."
Xena swallowed and met the bards glance.
"And I can feel your body temperature rise."
"Really?" Xena said skeptically.
"Its true. Right now I can sense it." Her finger traced a path up the warriors thigh, stopping at the edge of her breeches. "Cant you feel it?" She asked playfully.
"Oh, yeah." Xenas voice dropped a notch. "Anything else?"
Gabrielle grinned wickedly. "Besides the lower tone of your voice, you mean?"
Xenas felt the muscles in her abdomen curl pleasurably. She merely nodded.
"Lets see..." The bard paused, studying her carefully. "As your skin temperature rises, a subtle scent rises... spicy and sweet."
Xena felt moisture build between her legs and wondered if the bard was aware of that too. As if in answer to her unspoken question, Gabrielle ran her finger along the bottom edge of the warriors breeches to the inside of her thigh. Xena inhaled sharply.
The bard continued. "These past few nights when youre sleeping, Ive felt your hips rock softly against me. Are you trying to tell me something?"
The warrior smiled and reached toward the bards roving fingers.
Gabrielle quickly captured the warriors wrist and carefully examined the strong hand before her. "Did I ever tell you how incredibly sexy I think your hands are?"
"Nnno." Xena spread her fingers, locking them through the bards.
"Its true. They have been the focus of many a fantasy."
Xena smiled. "Youre full of surprises."
"You dont know the half of it." The bard winked. "Have you ever thought of my hands that way?"
"You will," the bard whispered.
Xenas heart hammered violently in her chest as she struggled to maintain her composure.
The blonde stepped back and carefully surveyed the branches. Finding the perfect ones, she lodged her staff horizontally between the limbs as Xena had done, then tapped it suggestively.
"I want to see how long you can hold on."
"Not up to the challenge?" she teased.
"Its not that. Its just..."
The warrior paused. How could she tell her young lover that she wasnt capable of dominating her sexually, that the bard was incapable of generating the feeling of helplessness this game required. Xena was far too strong for it ever to work.
"Well?" Gabrielle prodded.
Humoring her, the warrior walked up to the staff. "Hon, this isnt going to work on me."
The bard smiled at the term of endearment. "Well see."
The certainty in Gabrielles voice made her pulse quicken. Xena began to raise her arms to the staff.
"First, the clothes will have to go. Unless of course youd like me to cut them off."
The warrior rolled her eyes. With efficient detachment, she slid out of her tunic and breeches.
Gabrielles breath caught for a moment as she gazed at her lovers perfect body. Xenas head tilted back slightly, causing her dark hair to cascade over her shoulders. Unconsciously, the bard wet her lips and looked at her approvingly. "I think were ready."
Xena shook her head doubtfully as she wrapped her long fingers around the staff.
"Now, hold on. And keep your eyes closed." Xena complied indifferently.
Gabrielle walked behind her and rummaged deep inside her saddlebag. As she pulled out the warriors toy, she allowed her fingers to caress the long marble rod. It felt smooth, cool against her fingertips. For its size, the weight was substantial. Taking a deep breath, she slipped it behind her, under her belt, and walked around to face the warrior. "You can open your eyes now."
Xena watched her suspiciously, then fidgeted impatiently.
"Are you comfortable?"
"Yes... too much so. The staff isnt high enough for me."
The corners of the bards mouth turned up playfully. "Oh, I think itll be just the right height." She stepped back to examine the warrior more closely. "Spread your legs."
Xena complied, broadening her stance until her feet were a little less than shoulder-width apart.
"Mmmm... almost... I want them wide."
The warrior cast her a wary glance and obeyed.
Gabrielle smiled with satisfaction, then stepped forward. Without warning, she ran her fingers lightly across the warriors sex. Xena inhaled sharply at the unexpected caress.
"Mmmm, youre so wet. I hoped you would be."
The warrior feigned an unshakeable confidence that she no longer felt. "I can hold on to this staff forever," she assured the cocky bard as she struggled to recover from the intimate touch.
Gabrielle smiled and stepped forward. The uneasy timbre of Xenas voice betrayed her calm exterior.
The bard leaned against her, brushing her erect nipples across the surface of Xenas skin. "Im sure thats true," the blonde agreed. Her fingers glided smoothly across the warriors sex, spreading Xenas moist lips. "But thats not the only staff I want you to hold on to..." In a fluid motion, she brought the warriors toy from behind her back and pressed the long piece of marble deep inside.
Xena gasped in surprise as the smooth, thick, and delightfully warm rod filled her. Her head rolled back and she released a long moan, her body trembling.
Gabrielle moved the heavy marble back and forth, torturously slow, pushing, pulling, guiding, teasing, then plunged deeply as the dark-haired woman groaned in pleasure.
When the entire length of the marble was buried inside the warrior, she smiled with satisfaction and released it. Immediately, Xena felt its full weight.
"If you let go... I will stop," the bard warned.
The warriors heart raced as the force of gravity put her strength to the test. Her muscles tensed with effort. With her legs spread this wide it took a great deal of concentration to hold the marble in place. Reflexively, she began to adjust her stance to ease her burden.
"I dont think so..." the blonde corrected, patting the inside of her lovers thigh in warning.
Xena obeyed, inhaling deeply.
"I want you to keep your legs spread wide unless, of course, you dont think you can handle it."
Xenas eyes flashed with the same primal lust the bard had seen when she had surprised the warrior with her aggression at the sparring match.
Gabrielle was thrilled by Xenas reaction. Her confidence soared. Until that moment, she had not been sure she was capable of pushing the warrior to her limits. But it was clear she had succeeded in kindling a fire. There was no mistaking Xenas raw excitement.
The bards eyes drank in each and every sign of the powerful womans arousal. She intended to conquer her completely to bring her to her knees in the most pleasurable way. This was only the beginning
She stepped back to admire her work.
The warriors entire being radiated desire. Her lips parted as she seductively moistened them, running the tip of her tongue over the surface.
Gabrielles eyes wandered hungrily down Xenas body. Her beauty was unparalleled. The tight, sculpted muscles of the warriors abdomen twitched from the effort of containing the rod. Her strength and raw sexuality were mesmerizing. As her chest rose and fell, a strand of Xenas dark, silky hair curled invitingly around an erect nipple.
The warrior issued a sensual growl, her voice husky and seductive. "Come to me."
And as if in a trance, Gabrielle did, reaching for her. Fortunately, the moment the tips of her fingers made contact with Xenas heated skin, the dark-haired woman moaned, reminding of the bard of her role in this game.
Gabrielle shook her head and stepped back. "Oh, no not this time."
She reached out and took Xenas face in her hands. This was a battle she intended to win. Asserting her control, she leaned in and kissed her hotly, pulling her in, then slowly released her.
The warriors shallow breaths gave evidence to her mounting excitement.
Gabrielle slid the sandals from her feet and curled her toes in the warm grass. Poising her fingers at the tie on her short suede skirt, she focused on the warrior as she slowly loosened the bow.
Xenas eyes burned with desire as they locked on her hands.
Gabrielle slowly slid the skirt over her thighs, letting her hands caress the gently sloping curves. She took her time undressing, her eyes never leaving the warrior.
At last she stood completely naked before the dark-haired woman, the afternoon sun giving her skin a warm glow.
Xenas growing excitement made the walls of her sex deliciously slippery. Instantly, her need became pressing as she felt the marble shift inside her. Accustomed to taking what she wanted, the warrior spoke assertively. "Dont make me wait."
"Dont make me wait... Please." The bard teased.
"Please," Xena conceded.
Gabrielle smiled as she came forward. "Theres an incredible rush that comes from taking control. Isnt there?"
Xena swallowed hard.
The bard raised her arm and lightly ran her hand over the warriors fingers. Instinctively, they tightened on the staff. She continued her assault, lightly tracing patterns on the sensitive skin of the warriors arms. Xena shivered but managed to hold the marble piece securely in place.
Gabrielle turned her attention to the warriors shoulders next. Pressing the tips of her fingers gently into the hard flesh, she massaged the taut muscles. "Youre sooo tense," she purred sympathetically.
Xena stiffened and attempted to maintain her firm grip on the squirming rod inside her.
"I I..." She struggled breathlessly.
The bard placed a silencing finger to her lips. "I know it must be getting so heavy."
She leaned in, her tongue tickling the rim of Xenas ear. "Try for me. Pleeease."
Gabrielle watched with delight as her lovers firm nipples seemed to stretch toward her. She slowly ran her hands down Xenas sides in admiration. "Your breasts are beautiful. Ive watched them when youre practicing with your sword. Your nipples get so hard that I can see them pressing against your leathers."
She wet her lips in anticipation. "I cant tell you how much Ive longed to take them in my mouth."
Xenas body trembled as the heat of the bards breath softly caressed the tips.
"Ive heard that if a womans breasts are stimulated enough she will produce milk. Is it true?"
Without waiting for a reply, she leaned in, closing her mouth on the warriors aching nipple.
Xena jerked suddenly, stunned by the delightful touch of Gabrielle's tongue as it began to circle the sensitive point. Before she could adjust to the whirlwind of sensation, her young lover stilled her tongue and drew from the erect tip.
The warrior groaned in pleasure, arching forward.
Her nipple throbbed within the warm recesses of her lovers mouth. Every motion of Gabrielles tongue sent small bursts of pleasure through her body. The bards hunger seemed insatiable as she drank from her lover.
Xena was lost in sensation. Her breast tingled warmly, as if filling with the sustenance Gabrielle demanded. The warrior moaned uncontrollably, praying her young lover would never stop.
But all too soon she did, flicking the tip teasingly with her tongue before releasing it.
Xena felt a jolt to her very core. The muscles of her sex involuntarily tightened, then relaxed. The rod inside her slipped and it was only the sheer force of her will that allowed her to stop its progression. She closed her eyes and groaned. Her mind waged a fierce internal battle as she struggled against the desire to let go of both staves and take control.
The marble was a constant torment. It felt unbearably heavy as her muscles strained to hold on to it. Xena was on fire, so keenly aroused that she could feel a warm wetness trickle down her inner thigh. Her sex pulsed.
Suddenly the bards mouth drank once again from her breast, pulling from her very being. Xenas body was swimming in a riot of sensation as her young lover drew from her over and over again.
Her chest heaved as she gasped for air. The determined bard rode out each rise and fall, never losing her hold.
Slowly, she slid her hands down Xenas back and gently kneaded the warriors tense bottom. The dark-haired womans body began to tremble as her overtaxed muscles fought to resist the tender ministrations of the bards hands, struggling to keep the rod inside. It was exquisite torture.
Reluctantly Gabrielle released the warriors quivering bottom and slid her hands between Xenas legs to check the marbles progress. It had slipped only slightly; most was still firmly seated, deep inside. "Mmmm, you are so very strong," the bard purred as she tapped rhythmically against the flat base.
A series of shock waves pulsed through the warrior. Her muscles clenched desperately as she felt the smooth rod vibrate inside her with each strum of the bards finger. The sensations she provoked were both pleasurable and tormenting. The smell of her own essence flooded her senses. Her excitement had risen beyond measure. She was so wet, so ready between her legs that it was impossible to imagine maintaining her hold on the rod.
Sweat trickled down her back. The marble was impossibly heavy. It took every bit of her control not to release the slippery invader. Despite her valiant attempts, the rod slowly began to slide from her grip, defying all her efforts to hold it inside.
"Ahhhhh," she moaned as she strained with all her strength to pull it back. The relief she felt as the marble slowly glided up into the heart of her was immeasurable.
Gabrielle watched in amazement as the rod disappeared into the warriors depths. Unable to contain need, the bard dropped to her knees, the soft skin of her cheek brushing Xena's inner thigh. "I want to taste you."
"Yesss." The warriors breath left her lungs in an audible whoosh as she felt the blonde settle between her legs. She thrust her hips forward. Xena moaned loudly as the bards warm breath caressed her sex.
"Tell me what you need, and Ill give it to you."
The warriors mouth moved but she was unable to form words.
"I know how badly you want it," the bard whispered. "Soon, very soon."
Xena cried out as Gabrielle's sweet mouth descended, gently making contact. A deep animalistic groan escaped her throat as the bard lightly licked at her sex.
It was Elyssia.
Any doubts she had ever had about the young womans sexual proclivity were wiped away by the innate skill of the bards adventurous tongue.
Her first tentative strokes were torturously light, then she grew bolder, caressing the small shaft with short sharp strokes, over and over and over again. Xenas body stiffened and pressed against her young lovers mouth.
Instinctively Gabrielle knew the warrior was close to release and eased off.
Xena groaned miserably.
The bard lovingly swirled her tongue over the folds of the warriors sex. Xenas hips rolled in a frantic effort to renew contact. Need surged through her. Desperate for her lovers touch, she moaned open-mouthed, surrendering to the hot flush of emotion rushing through her. "Gods . Pleeease."
Gabrielle smiled. Intent on giving the warrior exactly what she desired, she focused on the point where all of Xenas senses converged and drew the warriors clit into her mouth, creating a soft suction. Her lips gently milked the swollen bud, making her writhe in pleasure.
As Gabrielle brought her higher and higher, Xenas need became overwhelming. Her body trembled helplessly as she breathlessly chanted two words over and over...
"Don't stop...dont stop...dont stop...dont..."
Abruptly she went silent. Her body arched and she issued a long groan as a series of contractions broke inside her like waves, one after another. Time halted for an endless moment before the powerful orgasm came crashing down upon her, unstoppable. Her muscles spasmed furiously. A tremor ran through her and she cried out in defeat as she succumbed to the weight of the unyielding marble.
As she tumbled over the edge, releasing the heated rod, Gabrielle caught the end and smoothly guided it back inside. Xena groaned in ecstasy as the marble filled and emptied her again and again, not allowing the orgasm to stop. She came in a riot of soft, muffled cries, her hips jerking forward, all thought dissolved in her frenzy.
As the storm inside her subsided, Xenas hands released the staff and she melted into Gabrielle's arms. Exhausted little noises escaped her throat as spasms slowly rolled through her.
Her young lover guided her to the soft ground and pressed her hand to the warriors mound as contractions continued to ripple through her body. She was astounded by the intensity of Xenas explosive climax.
It was long moments before blue eyes slowly focused on her young lover. The warrior smiled. Gabrielle had been right after all. Their love had seen them through. They were perfectly suited for one other in every way. The undisguised love she saw reflected in her partners eyes took her breath away. She managed a single word. "Mercy."
Gabrielle smiled broadly. "Are you willingly surrendering to me?"
Xena lightly stroked her cheek and took a deep breath. "Mmmm, completely. Believe me Ill never doubt your abilities with a staff again." She wrapped her arms around the bard and hugged her close, her body releasing a final shudder.
"I hope I didnt set your recovery back," she whispered and tenderly kissed the warriors yielding lips.
"Mmmm, not a chance," the warrior declared.
Lifting her palm from her lovers heated mound, the bard slowly removed the marble piece. Xena trembled, her muscles reflexively clutching the warm, smooth object as it receded. She groaned and pulled Gabrielle's thigh against her.
"I don't think I want to know how you came up with that idea."
"Bards are very good at improvising." She winked. "One of my many skills."
"Indeed." Xenas voice was full of heat and satisfaction.
"I came upon your toy when I was going through our things. I was anxious to try it out." The bard confessed.
"You were, huh?"
"Well on you I mean." Heat rose to the young womans face.
"Ah, huh." Xena lifted a brow teasingly. "Did you find any of my other toys interesting?"
Gabrielle blushed. "Err nothing I could figure out so easily. I "
Xena smiled, enchanted by the young womans innocence. "I'd be happy to show you how they work... one at a time."
"I bet you would," the bard grinned. She looked with disappointment at the western sky. The sun was setting. "I guess we should head back."
The warrior stalled, nipping lightly at the base of her neck.
"After the last time, they they might get worried about us being gone so long." Gabrielle warned.
The warrior refused to relent. Her lips moved slowly down her lovers torso.
"They could send out trackers to locate us," the bard insisted.
"Let them." Xena replied casually, refusing to release her companion.
Gabrielle glanced at her playfully. "Are you looking to give the Amazon search party a thrill?"
Xenas fingers closed around the marble rod, still warm from the heat of her body. She agilely rolled on top of the bard and winked.
"No... Just their queen."
I welcome comments or constructive criticism at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Started 11-98/Finished 8-99
Copyrighted August 1999 by Friction
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