Disclaimer: Most of the characters depicted in this story belong to the people at MCA/Universal, (You know which one's they are) however the ones you don't recognize are mine. This story was written for enjoyment for myself and the readers and is not intended for profit.
Sex: This story contains scenes of two women in love in intimate
situations but there is nothing graphic. Kissing, hugging and such. You know No Big
Whoop. Still, if this offends you, or if it is illegal at your age in the
place you live, please don't read my story. There are plenty of other
stories to choose from.
Violence: It is fairly tame actually. Yes. People get beat up, smacked across the face, put on crosses, and some even get killed but no more than a typical beat em up type episode. Nothing especially graphic.
Language: Nothing more than what you would hear on ... oh let's say that Comedy channel.. around 9:00 or 10:00 on Wednesday night.
NOTE: This story picks up the morning after the events in my first story Negotiations. I strongly suggest reading that one before you begin this one. There are several references that will make much more sense if you do.
ANOTHER NOTE: In my Xenaverse, Callisto succeeded in her mission to kill Hercules' mother. Thus paving the way for Xena to become The Conqueror as seen in the episode Armegeddon Now. However, in my 'verse, Iolaus ALSO succeeded in his mission to kill the Goddess Callisto when he followed her to Cirra. What happens to the characters after that is up to them and I'll do my best to write it all down for you.
To the Goddess of Spelling I offer my humblest apologies if I have offended her in any
The Goddess of Grammar, however, can Bite Me!
Special thanks to Ken, Kym, Janet and all my readers for Beta Reading so quickly. Their encouragement, suggestions and ramblings really helped.
Feed Back: Yes please. I am an email junkie. All comments are
welcome. Nice ones will be responded to and nasty ones will be thoroughly
laughed at before being trashed.
<<I really have no tolerance for intolerant people! HA!>>
SEND IT TO: email@example.com
Complications pt. 1
The seventh day after the full moon. Brenin was up early. She bathed quickly and arranged her brown hair in a complicated braid, smiling at the memory of the Queen's compliment on the style, and blushing at the memory of Gabrielle's hand reaching out to touch the pattern. She noticed her hands shaking when she reached for her box of supplies and berated herself, "Get a grip Bren. You go see The Queen on this day every month . You're the best scribe in the Nation. Gabrielle said so." She smiled wistfully at the memory of that day. That was also the day The Queen had told her to call her Gabrielle. Brenin had struggled against the necessity of her absence last month but she was after all an amazon so she took her rounds on border patrol just like the rest of them. It would be good to see what treaties and proclamations had occured since she had been gone. The northern border was fairly isolated and she wasn't up to speed on current events. 'I'll bet Gabrielle has been working every day.' She made her way through the predawn light. 'Darn. I'll probably have to spend all day with her.' Brenin smiled at the thought and continued sarcastically. 'Wouldn't that be awful.' Her smile abruptly ended when she saw the Royal Guard at the door of the hut. They were standing with their staffs crossed in front of the door. 'What the.... ' Her thought trailed off until she recognized Karis as one of the guards and smiled again "What's up, captain?" Brenin pointed to the crossed staffs.
Karis smiled at the scribe's use of the title. It was often directed at her in jest because she was so young. The youngest actually. 'Ironic' Karis thought. 'She doesn't know that now I really am the leader of the guard.' Her recent appointment as head of the Royal Guard had not come without opposition but that had been half-hearted at best and was quickly silenced by the queen herself. Karis laughed. "Not them." A thumb indicated the hut behind her. "You'll have to wait." The other guard, Bekka, chuckled quietly and mumbled, "or come back later."
For a reason Bren couldn't begin to grasp both guards chuckled at that. "I'll wait." She walked to the nearby bench. It was built under the large tree near the entrace to the hut. 'Solan must have spent the night with his mother last night. The little brat!' She thought. Putting as much confidence in her voice as possible she said. "Gabrielle will want to see me."
Using the Queen's given name made Bekka bristle but Karis just smiled, "I doubt that Gabrielle, will be seeing anyone outside the hut today." Her own use of the queen's name was not lost on Brenin. "But you are welcome to wait."
The red tinge of sunrise was just fading when Solan walked toward the hut with a huge tray of breakfast. Brenin was startled. She had assumed he was inside. His appearance started her mind whirling. 'But Karis said them. If Solan is out here....Then who.....' Her thought trailed off. The sudden realization gripped her heart. 'Gabrielle has a lover!' She shook off her griefstricken daze in time to hear part of Solan and Karis' conversation.
"I don't want her startled...." Karis was quietly trying to talk Solan out of entering the hut. "You know how difficult it is to wake the healer at this hour of the morning."
Her mention of the healer only upset Solan more. "She won't hurt me. I will be very quiet and I won't even go near the bed." He indicated the tray he held. "I still have another one of these plus the pitchers. No one was around to help me carry this morning." Ephiny and Eponin had taken Phantes on a camping trip two days ago. Solan was not looking forward to two more trips to the communal kitchen. He turned his most charming smile on Karis, "Mother says breakfast is the most important meal of the day."
All three amazons listening knew that for their Queen EVERY meal was the most important meal of the day. No one in the Nation could understand how Gabrielle could eat the amounts she did and still have such a perfect body. Karis relented and Solan slipped quietly into the hut.
Now Brenin was hurt and confused. Gabrielle had a lover. Solan not only knew about it but was OK with it too. She quickly ran through the potential candidates in her mind. 'Not Ephiny, or Eponin they were solid together. Not Solari, she was the one who relieved her border duty. She was told Velasca had been sent on a scouting mission. Obviously it wasn't Karis or Bekka so who could possibly have won Gabrielle's heart.' It was becoming urgent for her to know. 'I wish I could get in there and see who it is.'
Karis watched the play of emotions across Bren's face and decided the woman needed to be taken down a peg or two. 'Be careful what you wish for, Bren.' She thought. Solan was exiting now and she caught his arm. "Why don't you get Brenin to help you carry?" She indicated the seated woman. "Your mom usually sees her today anyway."
Solan nodded and gestured to Bren to follow him. He didn't want to speak at the moment. He was only 11 almost 12 but his voice was already starting to break into it's adult register. Having Karis holding his arm did nothing but aggravate the situation. She was the only guard that treated him normally. The only one that understood Gabrielle's adoption of him had less to do with the technical reason for his being allowed to stay on amazon land, as it had to do with the fact that the amazing woman who was now their queen, loved him. The woman walking next to him however was completely opposite. He knew that she was one of the people who opposed his claim as a centaur prince. Even though his uncle, Kaleipus had been the leader of their village and technically he fell under the law as written by his mother. 'Zeus...' He thought. 'She probably copied that declaration fifty times. She should know it as well as anyone.' He knew that Brenin didn't hold any love for him which was fine with him. He had seen too many wistful looks from the woman in his mothers direction for him to be comfortable in her company. 'Is she ever going to be surprised.' He chuckled and then nearly missed the step up into the kitchen. 'Wow. Karis knows that.' His appreciation for the young guard rose a notch.
Brenin was surprised at the activity in the kitchen. Usually only oatmeal was served in the mornings, but today the entire staff seemed to be concentrating on a breakfast fit for a Queen. Fruits were sliced neatly and arranged in decorative shapes, sausages, eggs, and a large stack of the flat fried cakes that Gabrielle loved along with several small jars of flavored sweet syrup were placed on a tray. She grabbed the three pitchers Solan indicated and followed him back toward the hut. 'Citrus juice, milk, and water' Brenin thought about the large tray Solan had already delivered and snorted. "How many people are we feeding?"
Solan shot the woman a look. "Three or maybe four." His emphasis on maybe indicated that she may possibly be allowed to join them but he doubted it. He saw Karis and Bekka uncross the staffs at their approach and gave Karis a wink and a smile before he glanced sideways at Brenin.
The scribe saw Karis wink at the boy and took a deep breath before following him into the hut. She stopped just inside the doorway to let her eyes adjust from the morning sun. The queen's quarters were just as she remembered them. Except there was now a small table in the far corner and at the foot of the bed there was a chest she had never seen before.
Solan immediately deposited his tray on the table next to the first one he had
delivered and went back to the door to relieve her of her burden. Once they were
safely on the table, he began to push her back out the door. Before he could
accomplish his task however he heard her gasp.
Turning he saw his mother entering the main room from the washroom. He could only imagine what the woman was thinking but mother or not he knew Gabrielle was beautiful.
'Gods...' Brenin thought. She watched as Gabrielle's smile collected the light in the room and concentrated it in her eyes. 'How does she do that.' The scribe took in the sight of her Queen in all her radiance. Her silken strawberry blonde hair contrasting with the equally silky white robe only served to bring her that much closer to Godhood in the awestruck amazons' eyes. It was almost too much for the woman's heart to take when Gabrielle's melodic voice spoke her name.
"Brenin? I didn't think you would be back until tomorrow." The scribe was one of the people that Gabrielle interacted with on a regular basis and she considered her a friend. She crossed the room quickly and hugged the woman as a friend would do if they hadn't seen each other in a while. "All's quiet on the northern border I take it."
Brenin looked around cautiously. She didn't see anyone else. 'Maybe she left while we were getting breakfast.' She thought. The sight of the ruffled bed covers made her laugh nervously, "I think Solari can handle it ......." Her voice trailed off when she saw the woman leaning casually against the doorway of the washroom. Brenin watched as the exact opposite of Gabrielle raised one eyebrow and glided into the room. Her long black hair blending with the silk robe so perfectly it looked like she was surrounded by shadows. Indeed, just as Gabrielle seemed to radiate light, this woman was cloaked in darkness. Her skin was deeply tanned so the only color on her whole body seemed to be the pink tint on her perfect lips and the blue in her eyes that matched the lilac she held in her hand.
Gabrielle could tell that Xena was walking up behind her. Not that she could hear her, Artemis knew the woman was silent as a cat, but the expression on Brenin's face and the grin on Solan's gave it away. She smiled as the black robed arms circled her and laughed when she saw the offering. Xena knew that lilac was her favorite.
Xena bent to kiss Gabrielle's cheek then lifted her gaze to Brenin. "Aren't you going to introduce me, love?" The warrior's sharp eyes didn't miss the slight widening of the amazon's eyes at the endearment.
She snorted and reached up to hold the arms circling her. "Like you need an introduction." Gabrielle looked over her shoulder at her infamous partner, green eyes twinkling with her widening smile. "You're a legend."
Xena laughed and winked at Solan. "Well that may be but I'm a hungry legend and I would like to know who brought us our breakfast." She didn't miss the smug look on Solan's face when he realized that the newcomer wasn't going to join them for breakfast. 'Interesting.'
Gabrielle chuckled as the mention of breakfast set her stomach to rumbling. "OK. OK. Geez, you don't have to bribe me with food." The amazon queen took a deep breath and continued. "Xena, this is Brenin. The best scribe the amazons have." She smiled at the nervous scribe. Taking another breath she continued. "Brenin this is Xena...." A quick inquiring glance over her shoulder asked for confirmation. "...The Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle still wasn't sure about the designation Xena had so many different personalities it was hard to tell which one was dominate at any given time. During her last visit the Warrior Princess and the Conquerer had quite a struggle for power. Gabrielle fervently hoped that the intervening weeks had brought about some kind of balance. From the smile on Xena's face and a few revelations from last night she thought an acceptable balance had been achieved.
She tilted her head, "Yeah, or the Conquerer, the Destroyer of Nations, there are too many to name..." Some of which she didn't want uttered in Solan's presence. "... but all would apply at the moment."
Brenin's heart nearly gave out. "X...Xe....Xena?" She couldn't believe that Gabrielle would ever get involved with such an evil woman? Every story she had ever heard about The Conquerer was cold and heartless. She knew that reports were coming in from the western border right before she went north about a small force gathering there but surely Xena wouldn't have gotten involved in that herself and that was only two months ago. This monster was acting like she had been with Gabrielle forever! She watched as Xena lowered her head to whisper in Gabrielle's ear and then released the embrace. For a brief moment Brenin thought about how difficult it must be to actually let go of Gabrielle. She had dreamed about having the Queen in her arms the way Xena seemed to take for granted and knew if it ever happened she would never let her go. The warrior draped one arm around Solan's shoulder and led him over to the table. He seemed at ease in the presence of the legend. That disturbed Brenin even more. She had never been able to get past her amazon trained responses to men. The boy wasn't supposed to be here and she was sure that if it hadn't been for him Gabrielle would be sharing breakfast with her, not this wanton killer.
Gabrielle reached out to touch the scribes arm. "Bren.." She jerked her hand back at the jump her touch caused. She assumed the woman was embarrased to have been caught staring at the corner table. "I know this is our day to go over the treaties but right now is not a good time. Can you come back this afternoon?"
"Sure no problem. I should go check on Micha anyway." Brenin tried to sound casual as she turned towards the door and Gabrielle walked over to the table. The scribe looked back through the closing door just in time to see Xena rise to meet the Queen and pull her into her lap. 'They look like a family.' She thought. She was only dimly aware of the trip to the nursery. Micha had been staying there while she was on patrol. Most of her brain was still trying to grasp the concept of Gabrielle having a lover much less that person being Xena. She hoped Micha would provide enough distraction to get her mind off of the royal couple until she had to go back this afternoon. She didn't notice Karis watching her departure.
Xena was content to sit and watch Gabrielle and Solan work off their breakfast with a lively round of staff practice. Fortunately no one else was in the hut with them, because the best seat to observe the sparring was the throne and Xena had no qualms about sitting in it. She found herself amazed at the grace the amazon queen displayed during the fights. Solan was young still but she could see Gabrielle's training beginning to emerge in his technique. She smiled inwardly when he used a move that she knew she would use in the same situation. 'Maybe he gets some of it from me after all.' She thought. It was still a little overwhelming to think of all the things Gabrielle had done for her over the years. The best of which was rescuing her son from the fire ravaged village. She tried not to remember it was her army that caused the devastation. Xena had not even remembered their first meeting until a few nights ago. It was amazing to think that the beautiful amazon queen had been watching her and keeping track of her all these years. She wished she could go home and thank her mother for forcing her to babysit the annoying merchants daughter that day. Xena chuckled, 'She was fiesty even at five.' She was pulled out of her musing by Solan's voice.
"We are leaving after lunch today." He had been excited about the trip until Xena's arrival. He would rather stay here with the warrior and his mother than go off camping with a bunch of children.
Gabrielle dodged his swing and smiled, "I am very proud of you for helping out on this trip." She knew that he didn't want to go. She called a halt to the session and put her weapon in it's customary place by the head of the bed.
"Where are you going Solan." Xena wasn't sure she liked the idea of him being off somewhere unknown. The maternal instinct surprised her.
"We are taking the nursery children on a campout. I'll only be gone a few days." Solan smiled. He was fishing to see if Xena would be here when he got back. Last time she stayed for six days.
"Oh." She was noncommittal in her response. "Be careful."
Gabrielle watched Xena talking to her son. 'She doesn't want to tell him she won't be here when he gets back.' The thought of Xena leaving was too depressing to dwell on and Gabrielle tried to think of something pleasant instead. "Solan." She gestured him over to her and she whispered in his ear. He nodded and waved at Xena before he left the hut.
"Where is he going all of a sudden?" Xena's narrow eyes fell on the grinning Queen.
"To order lunch of course." Gabrielle rolled her eyes at Xena's laughter and became playfully defensive. "Hours of staff practice makes me hungry." She rotated her shoulder and grimaced. "And stiff."
Xena started to rise from the throne but to Gabrielle's surprise launched herself into a flip that landed her only inches away from the amazed queen. She cupped the woman's face in her hands and laughed. "Everything makes you hungry." Glancing at the fire, she linked elbows with the now laughing amazon and led her toward the washroom. "Solan is taking care of the hungry part so I get to make the stiffness go away." She reached up as she entered and pulled a small lever. The large tub began filling with water, heated as it ran past the fireplace. "A warm bath and massage should get the job done don't you think?"
Gabrielle thought that was probably the best idea she had ever heard.
Her hair was just dry when Solan returned with their meal. She had assembled her favorite outfit and laughed when Xena opted to stay in her black robe.
"Hey, I'm on vacation here." Xena was playfully defensive.
Gabrielle smiled and Solan looked puzzled, "Vacation?"
"Sure." She looked at the little prince. "You don't think ruling the world is easy do you. Even I need a break every once in a while."
"Ruling the..... Wow. I forgot." Solan's face turned pink at the admission. His blushed deepened when he heard his mothers laughter but then almost disappeared at her words.
"It's easy to forget when she's here. We are very isolated from the rest of the world. We always have been." Gabrielle had at one time been opposed to the strict isolation the Amazon Nation observed. It was a tradition that the young village girl had thought was past due for a change. As queen she knew that isolation from the outside world was the only way the Nation would survive and it was that very isolation that gave Xena the opportunity to rest and relax. "The last time she was here, I forgot too." She smiled at her son and turned to catch Xena's blue eyes watching her.
"I did too. " Xena's quiet admission startled the boy. She held the sea-green eyes a moment longer and then ruffled Solan's hair. "Let's eat."
Brenin arrived back at the Queen's hut just after the noon meal. Her mind was whirling with the information she had gotten from various acquaintances as well as her own daughters account of Xena's dramatic return during last nights story time. Brenin had barely managed to control her outrage at her daughters wistful "Isn't it romantic." comment. Karis and Bekka had long since gotten off duty so one of the new guards knocked on the door to announce Brenin's arrival. Solan answered the door and held it for her to enter before he left. She almost forgot this mornings encounter when she saw Gabrielle sitting on the throne. She wore amazon casual leathers. Those were the kind the queen preferred, as they showed off her abs better than the formal outfit. Brenin preferred them as well.
Xena watched from the bed as Brenin entered and approached Gabrielle. 'The woman has to be suicidal to look at Gabrielle like that in my presence.' Xena watched the scribes body language carefully and didn't much like what she saw. The Conquerer in her argued that the woman should die out of hand, but the warrior princess countered with a wait and see attitude that gained Brenin at least a few more days of life. It was still a new experience for Xena to have her personalities merged like this. Before she met Gabrielle five weeks ago the woman would have been subjected to the decision of whichever part of her was in control at the time, usually the Conquerer. Now each part had her say and Xena as a whole determined the appropriate course of action. Gabrielle's love had bound the shattered parts of Xena's mind into one mostly balanced individual. Simply stated, Gabrielle made her whole.
"I really only have one pressing item this time, Bren." Gabrielle handed her a scroll. "The standard twenty-five copies will be fine. Then have them sent to the main outlying villages."
Brenin's eyes widened slightly. 'A proclamation or a treaty?' She wondered. "That's all?" Her eyes trailed to her left past the fireplace, to the large desk the queen worked at most of the time. Many times Brenin had used that desk herself to copy the odd scroll or two.
"Well..." Gabrielle took a breath to add a few more things when Xena's soft voice purred from the bed.
"Gabrielle. Is this going to take all afternoon?" Xena's tone left no doubt in Gabrielle's mind as to what she had planned for this afternoon. A royal decision was made; It wasn't going to take all afternoon but she was going to drag it out just to tease the warrior.
Brenin looked toward the sound of Xena's voice and was momentarily confused because she couldn't see anyone there, only shadows. Then the warrior bent her knee and the black robe fell open to reveal an exceptionally long length of tan leg. She followed the line of tan past the point it disappeared and saw the gleam of white teeth and two blue eyes piercing the shadows.
Gabrielle's resolve to stretch the appointment nearly faded when the leg appeared. She chuckled and chided Xena. "I am not going to neglect the Nation for you. Not again."
"Why not?" Xena's playful pout was replaced with a sensual smile as she dropped her voice to it's most seductive register. "I'm neglecting the world for you." The warrior smiled. She knew from Gabrielle's reaction this wasn't going to take much longer at all.
Gabrielle closed her eyes as Xena's sultry voice reached inside her. She linked her elbow with Brenin's and led the scribe to the door. "We'll get together in a few days and finish up the odds and ends." She walked all the way out the door with her. The guards were aware of the Queen's presence and stood at attention. She patted Bren's forearm and said "Thanks" before turning to reenter the hut. She gave the guards a significant look and as soon as the door was closed the staffs were firmly crossed. They had guarded the Queen often enough to know the 'no visitors' look when they saw it.
Gabrielle headed for the bed, the last place she had seen Xena, and stopped short. She was gone. Gabrielle checked the washroom. No Xena. A smile crossed her face and she climbed up and stood on her toes to look out the window towards the small bed of lilacs. Not there either. Re-entering the main room she was on the verge of a panic attack until she saw Xena's sword leaning next to the headboard. 'So she is still here.' She cried out more in relief than surprise when arms circled her from behind.
"Looking for me?" Xena put as much innocence in her voice as possible. Not an easy feat for her. She placed a quick kiss on Gabrielle's cheek and dropped her arms.
Gabrielle spun to grab the warrior but she was nowhere to be seen, again. "How do you do that?" Gabrielle addressed the, as far as she could tell, empty room. Spinning at the sound of Xena's voice from the bed.
"Easy. I just stand where you aren't looking and when you start to look there I move." Xena gestured. "Com'ere."
"You're not going to disappear when I get there are you?" Gabrielle narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
"No." Xena laughed. "Why on earth would I do that." She dropped her voice and locked eyes with her love. "This is where I want to be."
Gabrielle was on the bed, in Xena's embrace before she realized she had moved. Her arms found their way under the robe and she basked in the warmth of the warrior's bare skin. It was all she could do to pull away from the haven. She cut off Xena's protests by reaching around to undo the fasteners on her top. "This is my favorite outfit. I'll not have it fall victim to your insidious campaign of conquest." The potential casualty of war was discarded in a heap next to the bed. Only to be covered a moment later by Xena's robe.
"Conquest? No, No my Queen this attack is a simple loot and pillage operation." Xena pinned the smaller woman down on the bed. Her wrists securely held above her head. "Now what shall I take first?" Xena hovered over the woman for a moment before dropping her head for a gentle kiss. Gabrielle groaned at the contact and strained against the hold on her wrists. Xena deepened the kiss and accepting the royal invitation explored her first purloined treasure. Breaking off, Xena chuckled. "That was nice." She trailed kisses up the captive amazons' jaw. Whispering in a low voice she sounded surprised to find the ear hidden behind a lock of honey red hair. "Well, what do we have here?" The warrior investigated her new find thoroughly.
Gabrielle understood and prepared herself to be taken part by part until she was entirely possessed by the pillaging warlord. "How long does it usually take to loot and pillage?" Gabrielle cursed her curiosity when the warrior stopped her attack and looked up.
"It depends on the quality of the loot. Sometimes everything of value is easily obtained and it's over quick. But other times..." Xena resumed her attack heading down her loves throat. "there are so many riches to be gathered..." Xena released the amazon's wrists and found delicate hands immediately tangled in her hair. " it could take hours."
Brenin looked at the treaty again. "This is insane." Her words echoed in the empty council chamber. "I can't believe.... the way this is written Xena is practically an amazon now." The treaty had been negotiated during Xena's last visit, while Brenin was away. The date indicated it was just over a month ago. "and now she is sharing Gabrielle's bed." The scribe had talked to some of the guards and understood the situation better. Xena had amassed a huge army on the western border a little over a month ago. Gabrielle had invited Xena to the village and negotiated for the dissolution of the troops on the border. The second clause in the treaty indicated unnamed services to be performed by the Amazon Nation for Xena. To Brenin it was clear that Gabrielle was using herself to keep the Conquerer from invading the Nation. 'That has to be it.' She thought. 'That is the only logical explaination for the Queen's sudden uncharacteristic actions with the evil woman.' She wanted to make Xena pay for forcing Gabrielle into this situation and for taking the Queen from her.
Karis watched the scribe begin to copy the treaty then slipped quietly away from the window. 'That is trouble brewing.' She thought. 'I need to talk to the queen about it.' She saw the crossed staffs of the guards on duty and chuckled. "Later."
Xena woke to find herself wrapped in and around a dream. For a moment she couldn't tell where she stopped and Gabrielle began. Then she smiled. Did it really matter? To her surprise the answer was, No, it didn't. A sigh escaped her and the green-eyed beauty shifted and continued sleeping. The warrior did not want to wake her contented love but they needed to talk.
Xena gently shook the amazon. "Come on Gabrielle, Time to get up." Shaking only served to remind her exactly how much skin was in contact with her own. 'Ok,' Xena thought, 'new tactic' Trying to move as little as possible she tried to wake the queen again. "Gabrielle." She grinned as the sleeping woman nipples became taut at the sound of her name. 'Gods, You're not making this easy.' "You're going to miss supper."
"Don't care." Came the mumbled response. Impossibly, she moved closer to the warrior. "Say my name again. I love the way you feel when you say my name."
Xena chuckled softly, "I love the way YOU feel when I say your name." She grinned. "Gabrielle."
"Mmmmmmm... yeah just like that....all the way to my toes." Gabrielle sighed at the sensation and the fact that Xena was right. It was time to get up.
Xena went to the trunk at the foot of the bed and drew a knee length, short sleeved
burgandy tunic from it. Gabrielle simply retreived her favorite outfit from the
floor. Since they were both dressed, a minor miracle in Gabrielle's estimation, a
thought occured to her. "Do you want to take a walk?"
She knew Xena had been out to get the flowers but didn't know how much of the village she had seen or if she even wanted to see it.
"That sounds nice." Xena focused her blue eyes on Gabrielle's. "We need to talk anyway." She saw the green eyes turn sad and quickly embraced the woman. "Let's walk." They left the hut arm in arm. The fact that the guard followed right behind them was incidental, both women were used to having one or two guards hovering about.
Karis saw the strolling couple and decided it was time to say something. She changed her path and kneeled before Gabrielle. "My queen, I need to speak with you."
"Karis, I told you. You can call me Gabrielle. Please. Get up." Gabrielle held out her hands to assist the woman up. "Is there a problem?"
"Possibly." She looked apolegetic as she rose without taking the offered hands. She glanced at Xena and back to Gabrielle. "It's Brenin." Another nervous glance at Xena then she continued. " I think she is in love with you Gabrielle." Karis quickly explained her observations and the woman's comments she had overheard in the council chamber. "I thought you should know." The guard realized that at some point during her recital Xena had begun to growl.
Gabrielle's arms circled the warrior's waist, "Don't worry love. We'll take care of it." She turned to Karis. "Thank you for telling us, captain. Tell Brenin I would like to see her this evening, after the meal."
Xena looked closer at the girl when her title was used. Noticing for the first time the insignia cluster on her shoulder. "Good choice."
Karis took those two words as the highest praise she could get. She was right to do so. "I'm sorry to interrupt your walk but it was important." She looked at Gabrielle. "You may want to talk to Solan about Brenin too. She has never liked him you know." Karis smiled at the couple and bowed before leaving to find the scribe.
"She's right you know. Brenin loves you." She squeezed the amazon playfully, "Not that I blame her." Sunset brought out the red highlights in Gabrielle's hair and her green eyes twinkled. 'Gods...How could I blame anyone for that?' Xena sighed, "It does make leaving a lot more difficult though."
Gabrielle tensed at the mention of Xena's leaving. "How long can you stay?" She held her breath.
"Not long. I should probably leave tonight but I think I'll wait and see what the little scribe has to say before I go." Xena stopped walking and held Gabrielle's eyes for a moment. "Let's not talk about this now."
It was a reprieve that she was willing to take. "OK. Later." She smiled a mischievious smile and questioned the warrior. "Where do you think we are now?"
She inhaled deeply and smiled, "The dining hall, naturally. I knew you must have had an alterior motive for wanting to walk with me." Her chuckle was quickly cut off by Gabrielle's hurt expression.
"You are all the motive I need for doing anything, my warrior." Finding herself on the step to the kitchen she was thrilled to be nearly eye to eye with the warrior. "Remember that." She closed the distance between their now almost even lips and seared the lesson into Xena's brain.
Something was lost in the translation however and the only thought in Xena's mind was how wonderful steps were.
Brenin walked out of the main entrace of the dining hall and looked to her right. She saw Gabrielle standing on the step kissing Xena. It was nearly enough to make her lose her recent meal. She didn't hear when Karis approached her.
"They make a beautiful couple don't they." Karis watched the lovers until they disappeard into the kitchen and the guards stationed themselves outside the door.
"I guess so." Brenin didn't realize she was frowning
Karis looked at the hurt and disappointment in the woman's eyes. "The Queen requests your presence after the evening meal."
She was no longer frowning. It was all she could do to refrain from jumping for joy. "Great. I'll go over in about an hour." She smiled at Karis and walked toward her hut with a spring in her step.
The royal guard just shook her head. She had seen when the disappointment had turned into hope. 'That is going to be one major broken heart.' Karis sighed. She went to talk to the guards at the kitchen door.
All activity in the kitchen stopped when the Queen and her consort entered. Xena was feeling playful and decided to have a little fun. She left Gabrielle standing by the door and stalked into the room. Her low growl could be heard clearly in the silence. "Who was responsible for our noon meal?" She turned her gaze on the nearest cook who immediately began backing away, denying any involvement at all.
Gabrielle knew that lunch had been superb. Xena had actually commented on it. She also knew the girl that had cooked it, Rayna. It was her special recipe. She signaled the young cook with some quick hand gestures and placed herself between the girl and the menacing woman, trying to keep a straight face. "Now, Xena..." She held out her hands to ward off the warrior.
Xena whirled at Gabrielle's voice and seeing the frightened child behind her advanced on the duo. "Don't you dare try and protect her Gabrielle." The amazons were amazed when she grabbed their queen by the waist and spun her out of the way. "She is going to get exactly what she deserves for that meal." There was not a closed mouth in the place when Xena grabbed the girl in a great bear hug and swung her around. They looked from the astonished girl to the queen's twinkling green eyes and back. "That was the best lunch I have ever had!" Xena steadied the girl for a moment before releasing her. "Truely if I didn't have Gabrielle to answer to, you would be part of my permanent entourage." She pulled Gabrielle to her side. "You see what I give up for you, love?"
Rayna had been frightened despite the Queen's reassurance. It was a great relief to read the compliment as it formed on the warrior's smiling lips.
"Ha! Now I know why you came back. I guess I don't compare to Rayna's cooking, huh?" Gabrielle affected a hurt expression complete with protruding lower lip.
Xena ducked to capture the target presented. After a moment of sweet torture, she released her captive and murmered. "No. No comparison at all." She looked around at the silent kitchen and tried to be gruff. "What's to eat around here anyway. We can't have a starving Queen on our hands now can we?" Activity suddenly began with renewed vigor and in short order a sumptuous dinner was presented to the head table.
It was a wonderful dinner. Good food and Xena was Gabrielle's idea of Elysia. Rumor spread quickly that Xena was eating with the Queen in the dining hall. Nearly everyone in the village stopped in to see the couple. Most of the doubters were pleasantly surprised to see their Queen happily feeding Xena or even more surprising being fed by Xena. Even Brenin couldn't stop herself from returning to the hall to watch the couple for a moment but she was not feeling very pleasant. Karis had also returned but instead of watching the couple, she was watched Brenin very closely.
Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief when they entered her hut. Dinner had been excellent but near the end she had started to become nervous at all the people watching them She was glad to be alone in Xena's arms again. She suddenly felt dread at the conversation they were going to have. She knew Xena was going to leave. "How long will you be gone?"
"I don't know." Xena sighed and rested her chin on top of Gabrielle's
head. "I have to go to..."
"China." Gabrielle finished for her. "Yes I know." She thought about the report that had been received from her eastern scout. She started slowly. "The boy you captured in order to take over, he was next in line to rule. Correct?"
"You already know that." Xena's heart began to pound, knowing the direction the questioning was going to take. "I'm sure your scouts have reported the whole story."
"You didn't kill him though." Gabrielle had been relieved to hear that the child had not been hurt by Xena.
"No. I killed his father...." Xena wasn't sure how to explain her actions.
"And left his mother in charge." Gabrielle supplied.
"Yes." Xena dropped her head to place tiny kisses on Gabrielle's shoulder.
"Did you love her?" Gabrielle was having trouble concentrating as Xena dropped to her knees and continued her assault on the queen's exposed middle.
"I thought I did." Xena looked up into Gabrielle's eyes. "but I was wrong." Xena rose to her feet, sweeping her love up in the same motion. "I love you, Gabrielle." She lowered the amazon to her bed.
"I love you, Xena." She manuvered her arms under the warrior's tunic, marveling at the warmth and softness of the woman whose reputation was so cold and hard.
Both women groaned when a knock on the door interrupted them. "Be right there." Gabrielle called sweetly. "That will be Brenin. Promise me you won't kill her." At Xena's silence she took a frustrated breath. "Xena promise me. I think all we have to do is convince her that I'm not doing this against my will and we will be fine."
"She thinks I would..... She thinks you....." Xena was ready to kill her now.
"Xena listen. She is just a scribe. She takes her border duty but beyond that she doesn't know anything about the scouts or their purpose. I am sure when she saw the services clause in the treaty she got the wrong idea. Just like Darphus did." Gabrielle saw the shudder at the mention of the man's name. "I don't want her to end up like him."
Karis had told her that the man made a rude comment about an amazon queens services and Xena had killed him. It was a gruesome story and Gabrielle would rather not think about Xena being that protective of her.
"I've got that part under control now too." Xena admitted. She didn't like having the dark sleeper in her mind but now that she wasn't a shattered soul, the sleeper only woke when she wanted her to or when the necessity arose.
Gabrielle double checked the fasteners on her outfit grinning when she found four of them loose and went to let Brenin in.
Xena elected to remain on the bed propped up on her elbows, her hands under her back and her ankles crossed. It was the only position she could think of that would make her stop for a second before killing the woman. When she saw Brenin's face as she entered the room her hands unconciously moved out from under her.
Gabrielle saw the hateful look Brenin gave Xena and Xena's movement to a better position. She realized that Xena had never promised not to kill the scribe and tried to diffuse the situation. She settled herself into the comfortable throne. "Brenin I want to know how you feel about the treaty I gave you to copy."
That was not what the scribe had expected Gabrielle to say. Brenin looked at the queen, puzzled.
"I realize that you were gone during Xena's last visit and may not understand the seeming sudden start of our relationship." Gabrielle watched Brenin's head nod absently and continued. "The thing is, most people don't know me very well and while some are concerned at my choice," She smiled at Xena. "they aren't particularly worried about my actions." She had Brenin's focused attention now. " You work with me on a regular basis and know that I don't, haven't, interacted with anyone on anything other than a professional or formal basis. So based on the fact that we are friends, if you have any questions for me. Please ask them now."
"I just want you to be happy." Brenin looked up at Gabrielle.
"I am happy, Bren." Gabrielle looked at Xena. "Xena makes me happier than I ever thought possible."
Xena had been listening to Gabrielle she didn't often speak as a Queen to her subjects and it was facinating to hear the royal tone in her lovers voice. Her heart melted when she heard Gabrielle tell the woman that she was happy. 'I make her happy?' Xena thought. 'Making her happy for one moment is enough to make my life worthwhile.'
Brenin heard the words Gabrielle was saying but couldn't in her heart believe them. Xena was not the person for Gabrielle, she was and she would prove it, somehow. Xena wasn't going to be around forever. She knew there were constant assasination attempts by rebels in the Realm. Fighters against this evil woman's tyranny. 'When she is gone.' Brenin thought. 'Gabrielle will turn to me.'
"Brenin, do you understand?" Gabrielle was a little concerned at the woman's silence.
"It is your choice. Your decision." Brenin forced herself to smile.
"Great! I don't like it when my friends are upset." Gabrielle stood and linked elbows with the scribe, leading her to the door. She patted her arm before opening the door for her. "I'm glad you understand."
Brenin took a deep breath, smiled and nodded before exiting the hut. She couldn't trust herself to speak at the moment. 'Friends. Right. ' Brenin's thoughts turned dark. 'As soon as I figure a way to get Xena out of the picture, we will be much more than friends.' She didn't see Karis hiding in the shadows or know that the guard had correctly interpreted the scowl on her face.
'There will be three guards posted at the queen's door from now on.' Karis thought. She silently followed the angry scribe. 'This one is definitely trouble in the making.'
"You handled that well, my love." Xena stood and stretched the muscles that had tensed in the scribes presence. "I don't think she is convinced though."
"I know." Gabrielle sighed. "But it's a start." She watched Xena stretching and couldn't help reaching out to touch the flexing arms. Stilling their action, she reached up to caress Xena's face. "You are so beautiful."
Xena held Gabrielle in a full embrace for several minutes. "Gods... I am going to miss you." She hated the necessity of going to China. It was a long trip and she didn't know how long it would take to clear things up once she got there.
'Months.' Gabrielle thought. 'She is going to be gone for months.' Her grip tightened around her newfound love and she began to shake. Holding back tears had never been easy for her.
"Hey, What's wrong?" Xena's heart broke to see Gabrielle upset. She felt even worse knowing she was the reason for the tears.
"I miss you already." Gabrielle tried to laugh at he irony of missing the woman she held in her arms but it just wasn't funny.
"Hey, I'm right here." The warrior firmly held the crying queen in her
arms. "I'm right here." For the thousandth time she wished she didn't have
to go. "Damn those spice traders." She muttered.
"I wish I knew what they were up to."
Gabrielle laughed at Xena's comment. "Your wish is my command." She said and
crossed to her desk, retrieving a parchment and handing it to Xena. "Preliminary
report from our eastern scouts."
She explained and watched Xena, reading the message, slowly sink to the edge of the bed and arch both eyebrows. "I have always had a few scouts in the east but after you left I sent one with specific instructions to find out about the spice traders alliance. She is the best scout I have. I can send word for her to meet you. You're going by ship right? She can meet you in India if you like."
"How will I know it is her?" Xena was grateful for the information. Her own spy network had not come up with anything nearly as useful as the information this preliminary message held. She could only imagine what had been learned since this report was sent.
"She will give you a code word. She is tall, thin, gray eyes, brown hair. She will contact you when she can." Gabrielle sat next to Xena on the bed. "She is the best, Xena."
Xena could no longer concentrate on the message in her hand. Gabrielle's proximity and the fact that she was going to be gone for so long made the report irrelevant in her mind for the moment. She let the parchment drop to the floor and turned to Gabrielle. Gently brushing fire gold hair from her eyes she traced the queen's jawline with her fingertips, brushing her lips with the tip of her thumb. "So soft." She murmured.
Gabrielle closed her eyes at the sensation of Xena's fingertips tracing every curve and angle of her face. She opened her eyes when she felt the fingers begin their explorations on her throat and then lower. "What are you doing?" She whispered. She reached to tangle her fingers in Xena's hair. "Trying to memorize me by heart?"
Xena's soft breath caressed her lovers ear "I already know you by heart."
Gabrielle's intention of spending the rest of the night creating memories to carry her through the impending seperation passed quickly as she melted into Xena's touch. She knew the memory of this long, lovely night would last her forever.
Xena woke before even predawn light touched the sky. She dreaded leaving but had to go. She rose quietly and began dressing. Her green tunic with matching leggings and boots made her almost invisible in the trees. It would be easy to get back to her camp undetected. She chuckled at the thought of slipping past the amazon sentries and heard her mirth echoed from the bed.
Green eye's peered out of the shadows and watched her every move. "They see you when you leave. You know that don't you?"
"What?" Xena was puzzled for a moment. 'I only thought that didn't I?'
"You were thinking about slipping past the sentries. You don't. They let you go." Gabrielle was smiling at Xena's confusion. "Xena. You have every right to be here. The treaty makes it so. If you want to make a game of it and try to slip past them you can but I'm telling you, they see you leave the territory."
"Prove it." Xena didn't think Gabrielle had any way to prove her outlandish statement.
Gabrielle crawled across the bed toward Xena. She reached out and took her right hand. "When you get out of the trees. Hold up two fingers." She manipulated the warrior's fingers so that the index and middle fingers were straight and her thumb held the other two close to her palm. "The sentries will whistle the code for two." She kissed the tips of the straightened fingers. "Then you'll know."
Xena was quickly becoming facinated with Gabrielle's hands on her own but one word penetrated her distracted brain. Code. "The scout that you're sending to meet me in India. What is her code word?"
The Queen didn't stop her assault on the warrior's hand and dropped a kiss on her palm. "Her name is Velasca." She began a small loot and pillage operation involving each of Xena's fingers. "And..." Taste of index finger. "her...." Middle finger is just as good. "code word....," Ring finger delicious. "is......" Pinky finger, the best for last. "....... Ambrosia."
Solan returned from his camping expedition in a halfway decent mood, despite his exhaustion. The head of the nursery had shown him the report on his exceptional handling of the children. He snorted and thought to himself 'All I did was tell a few stories.' He slowed his approach to his mother's hut when the flickering torchlight revealed three guards at the door instead of the usual two. He decided to take the back way in and changed his path to take him around the hut. He climbed to the small washroom window and entered quietly. He had been doing this since the first day he arrived in the village and Gabrielle never said a word about it. No one else, except Xena, seemed to even notice. Of course no one else but Xena would be able to access the window either. He entered the main room cautiously, trying not to startle his mom.
Despite the dim light of the candlelit room, Gabrielle was sitting at her desk reading a scroll. Well, trying to read it anyway. She just couldn't seem to get past the first few lines without thinking about Xena. She sighed and tried again, failing miserably. "Focus Gabrielle." She berated herself. "Get a grip. It's not like you haven't been alone before."
"You're not alone." Solan smiled as his mother turned in her chair toward his voice. He noticed the tunic she was wearing. It was way too big for her and he remembered Xena wearing it the first time she was here.
"Solan you're back." Gabrielle thought her face would crack from the enormous smile she felt. "Com'ere." She hugged him fiercely and pulled him over to the fur in front of the fireplace. "Tell me all about your trip. Did you have fun? Was there any trouble? Were the girls OK?" She knew the head of the nursery would give her a report but she wanted to hear it from him.
He laughed at his mother's enthusiasm. "Yeah, I had fun. No, there wasn't any trouble to speak of and the girls were scared of the dark.." He rolled his eyes and smiled at her. "...Until I told them some of your stories." That was old news to him though. He really wanted to know what was going on with her. "There are three guards outside. What's up with that? And where is Xena?" He twitched the fabric of the tunic she was wearing.
She felt her smile disappear. "Xena had to go to China. She will be gone for a while." She tried to smile when he seemed depressed by the news, "but hey she'll be back. It's not like she will be gone forever." She waited for his expression to lighten before she continued. Trying to decide how much to tell him, she was vague on the reason for the guard. "The guards were Karis' idea. She thinks that someone may be after me and wants me to be safe." She smiled and leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper. "I think she just wants to impress Xena by keeping me totally safe while she's away."
Solan shook his head. "Not if the person she is afraid of is Brenin." The shock on Gabrielle's face confirmed his suspicion. "I don't like the way she looks at you." It was obvious to Solan that she didn't know what he was talking about. "She looks at you like Xena does, only it's OK for Xena."
Gabrielle had no idea her son had caught the lustful looks Brenin had been hiding so well from her. In the few days since Xena had left it had only gotten worse. Everywhere she went Brenin was right there. In the dining hall, outside the council chamber, in the bathing pools, picking up Micha after storytime. Everywhere. "It will work itself out." She told him. "Karis will make sure no one gets hurt." She patted his knee. "Are you going to stay here tonight? Ephiny and Eponin won't be home." She didn't want to tell him she was a little frightened for him to be alone. Gabrielle remembered that the scribe was one of the people opposed to his remaining in the territory. She was sure Brenin wouldn't hurt her but she wasn't at all sure she wouldn't go after Solan.
"Are they still gone?" Solan was almost worried. "Man, I didn't think Eph would keep Phantes out this long. He hates camping."
Gabrielle bit her lip and then decided to let him in on the secret, well part of it anyway. "They aren't camping. They are on a scouting mission." She thought she would lose it when both his eyebrows arched just like Xena's.
"What kind of mission?" Solan was sure Ephiny wouldn't put Phantes in harms way but this sounded like an important assignment. He was a little jealous of his friend's opportunity for adventure. He never got to go anywhere, especially outside the territory.
"Just some information gathering." Gabrielle tried to sound casual but she was actually worried about this particular expedition. It was one of those rare times when it was possible for a mission to succeed and fail at the same time.
He realized he wasn't going to get any more information about his caretaker's absence right now so he turned his thoughts to the other question at hand. "Hmm.. I don't know I haven't been home in a while." Solan began thinking about the potential threat to his mother and realized the scribe may threaten him too. He saw the fear in Gabrielle's eyes, looked at the low fire, noticed the condition of his clothes, grinned and continued his thought. "But a warm bath would feel pretty good right now." It was hard for him to remember specifics of living in the outside world. The centaurs and men that lived in his village often made crude jokes referring to their Amazon neighbors so he knew that many men in the world would love to be the only man in an amazon village but for him, just on the verge of manhood, the communal bathing pools could become quite embarrassing. He was glad his mother was queen and she had her own private bathing facilities.
She smiled and immediately got up to stoke the fire. Gabrielle loved that as long as there was a fire she could have a warm bath. Her engineer's ingenuity never ceased to amaze her. They had set up a system to pass the water through the back of the fireplace before it went into the tub. All she had to do was pull one lever and the water was automatically routed past the fire and warmed before going into the tub. It was much better than having to heat the water one bucket at a time. Of course the warm mineral springs that fed the communal bathing pools were nice too. "Do you want me to send a runner to get you some clean clothes?" She wasn't sure the one's he was shedding now would ever be fit to wear again.
"Nah, I think there is something here I can wear. What about that green tunic you said was too small for you. I like that one." He thought it would be neat to wear because it was the about the same color as the one Xena was wearing when she appeared during storytime a few days ago.
Gabrielle thought for a moment. "Yeah, I know the one. It is too small for me." Checking the fire again she went to the washroom door and pulled a small lever just over her head. Hearing the water begin to fill the tub she went to find the clothing in question. She found it just as she heard the water stop, a loud splash and a long drawn out sigh from her tired son. It had only been a few days but it was good to have him back.
Karis saw the children return from their trip. She smiled at the exhausted look on Solan's face and the condition of his clothes. She knew the experience was not entirely restful for the boy. Brenin took Micha home for the evening so Karis was free to follow Solan back to the Queen's hut. Her smile widened when he noticed the guards and went around back. 'Scamp.' She thought. 'I wonder if he has eaten yet?' It was perfectly logical for her to be concerned about the boy. 'I am the head of the royal guard.' She told herself. ' It's my job to look out for The Queen and The Prince.' She went into the kitchen and requested a snack be prepared for the queen and her son. She stopped by the nursery and picked up the report about the camping trip. It wasn't sealed so she read it on the way to Gabrielle's. Smiling again at the glowing recommendations the nursery head gave Solan.
The guards snapped to attention when they saw her approach and knocked on the door of the hut. She shifted her burden slightly gesturing the designated runner over. "Go to Brenin's and make sure she is still there. Don't let her see you. Just let me know if she isn't there, OK" The woman nodded and left quickly. The entire royal guard had been briefed on the situation and were always on the lookout for the Queen's stalker. Most of them thought the woman should be put in prison but Gabrielle herself had insistently denied that request. Karis remembered the queen's quiet words. "She hasn't done anything wrong. She hasn't broken any laws. We can't ... I won't... do anything until she steps over the line." It was a very brave philosophy for Gabrielle to take but Karis sighed, it sure did make her job a lot tougher ......... but not impossible.
Gabrielle was pleasantly surprised to find the captain waiting and whisked her inside. "Karis, What brings you here at this late hour." She went into Amazon Queen mode and studied the woman. 'She hasn't been sleeping enough.' She thought. 'This Brenin thing is really bothering her.' The scribe followed her everywhere but Gabrielle had a hard time believing she was in any danger from the woman. She was about to question the guard about her overprotectiveness when Solan entered the room. His hair was still wet from the bath, making darker patches of green on the shoulders of her old tunic. Seeing the look in Karis' eyes when she saw Solan raised both Gabrielle's eyebrows considerably. "Oh." Now the queen understood but for the moment she wasn't sure she approved. Her son was still very young.
Karis blushed when she heard the queen's exclamation and realized she had been caught staring at the boy. "I brought you the report on the camping trip." She held out the parchment. "And I thought you might like a late night snack." Indicating the large pack at her side. "They said there wasn't time to eat during the trip back." The fact that she found out about the missed meal after she had gathered the snack wasn't something she thought the queen should know.
Solan's eye's brightened when he saw Karis. He had missed her. "Great, I'm starved." He pulled her and the pack over to the small table in the corner, pushed her into one of the chairs and began unpacking the welcome meal. He sat in a chair right next to her and looked up as Gabrielle stood at the end of the table. "Come on dig in." He leaned over to nudged the guard with his shoulder. "Karis brought plenty, look" He indicated the small feast. "All my favorites."
"I see that." Gabrielle's tone was undecipherable. Her green eyes fixed on the rising blush in Karis' face. Without a hint of a smile, Gabrielle held out her had to Karis, offering to help her up. She saw Karis swallow hard before accepting the hand and rising. Her motion toward the door was halted however by the steel grip of the queen. Gabrielle led Karis instead to the chair Xena preferred. "Warriors.." Now Gabrielle smiled at the guard, "..and guards. Like to sit with their back to a corner and facing the door. Right Karis?"
Karis recognized the tone in Gabrielle's voice as a mother teaching her young son a lesson. It not only impressed upon the guard the boys age it also reminded her who his mother was. She swallowed nervously. "Right." She tried to take the same older teacher, younger student tone. "It's better to be able to see the door and to know that no one is sneaking up behind you."
Solan groaned. "Aww Mom, now you've got her doing it."
Gabrielle looked shocked, "Doing what?"
He raised his hands in a helpless gesture. "Treating me like a baby. I'm not a baby anymore. I'm nearly a man." His voice cracked on the last word and he thought he has lost his argument.
That shift in his voice had however struck Gabrielle fairly hard in the gut. "You're right. " She said softly. "You are nearly a man." She glanced at Karis and saw the guard had caught the emphasis on nearly. "Can you forgive your old mother?"
He nearly knocked her over with a sudden hug. Her admission of his impending manhood, especially in front of Karis, was all he needed to wipe away the last of the exhaustion he felt from the camping trip. He released her and looked in her eyes, only a hint of exasperation showing in his face. "Can we eat now?"
"I could eat." Gabrielle said thoughtfully and quickly pointed a finger at him to silence his retort. "Don't say it." Her appetite was a great joke in the nation and she wasn't above poking a little fun at herself every now and then. "I guess we should have someone bring breakfast by in the morning, since you will be staying here tonight." She saw Karis' head nod approvingly at the sleeping arrangements.
"I'll send it over." Karis spoke up. She hadn't wanted to joke about the queen's eating habits or make a comment on Solan's progress toward manhood. Breakfast seemed to be a safe subject.
They finished the snack in companionable silence and Karis rose to leave for the evening. Gabrielle glanced at Solan with a grin. "Be sure to bring enough breakfast for all of us." Sparkling green eyes didn't miss Solan's smile or the widening of the guards eyes. They walked to the door and as Solan opened it, Gabrielle caught the guards face in a gentle touch, forcing eye contact. "Get some sleep, Karis." It was a royal order and a suggestion from a friend at the same time.
Karis reached up to pat the hand at her face. "Sure, I just have to check on one thing then, Morpheus can take me." She walked out of the hut thinking about how great the snack had been and the upcoming breakfast when she saw Brenin in the treeline watching her. She motioned to the runner and when she was close enough whispered, "I thought I told you to tell me if she was out of her hut tonight." Karis was angry now. Her orders were not to be ignored. She was aware of the runners anxiety when she stammered her reply. "I..I...I.. J..ju...just saw her th..th..there. We w..w..were about to knock when you c..c..ame out. " Karis gripped the woman's shoulder and shook it slightly. "OK. Sorry. I've just been on edge lately." She realized the door had been open when Gabrielle had forced the eye contact. Maybe she could use that to her advantage. "Brenin may follow me for awhile but if she comes back here let me know... and do not..under any circumstances..leave the queen with less than two guards.. or let Brenin anywhere near the Queen or Solan. I want both the Queen and the Prince protected at all times. You got that. " The orders were just loud enough for all three guards to hear. Karis waited for acknowledging nods before she turned toward her own hut. She smiled grimly as Brenin's eyes followed her progress. 'Sorry Gabrielle but I don't know how much sleep I'm gonna get tonight.' The radical nebulous thought that had raced through Karis' mind earlier came back and this time it took form and stayed awhile. 'Gabrielle is not going to like that.' She thought. ' but it just might work.' The leader of the guard doubled back and settled into a good position to watch the obsessed woman and finish formulating her plan.
Time passed slowly for Gabrielle but not entirely unpleasantly. Solan and Karis shared meals with her normally in her hut but occasionally at the head table in the dining hall. She smiled grimly at the memory of the guard at the head table sitting so stiffly in the chair Xena sat so casually in. Knowing the tension was due to the ever present Brenin. It seemed like forever since she had seen Xena and she hoped everything in China was going OK. She smoothed the fabric of the oversized tunic she was wearing. 'Has it really only been a month?' She thought about how long it seemed and wondered if Ephiny and Eponin were all right. 'They should be back soon too.' Then the thought hit her. 'Oh Gods.... today's the day.' The seventh day after the full moon. Her regular appointment with Brenin. It gnawed at her nerves to think about the scribe waiting so late in the day to arrive. 'She is usually here before dawn for the appointment.' Gabrielle thought. 'It's not like she isn't nearby. Gods... she is probably out there right now.' She was beginning to feel like a prisoner in her own hut. So far it had been fairly easy to avoid the woman, claiming nation business, but today, today she had to see her. Luckily there were several scrolls she needed copied. Gabrielle piled the scrolls on the corner of her desk. She didn't want to do anything to upset the scribe or her normal routine and having no work for Brenin would qualify as disturbing both. She also reminded herself that nothing said she had to be alone for the visit and if she knew a certain royal guard as well as she thought she did, she wouldn't be alone with the obsessed woman for a moment. 'Bless you Karis.' The guard was a gift from the Gods and Gabrielle knew it.
The knock on the door startled her and she said "Come in." Before she could stop herself. Grabbing the scrolls she needed copied, Gabrielle quickly headed for the throne. When her heart jumped at Brenin's form in the doorway she berated herself. 'You can take care of yourself. ' Her reassurance turned logical. 'Get a grip Gabrielle, your the best staff fighter in the nation. It's not like you can't defend yourself against one untrained woman.' She looked at the practice staff leaning against the wall next to the throne. It was usually an annoying reminder of the situation when she looked around the room to see staffs within easy reach of any location she might be. Now however she felt better able to protect herself and was glad Karis suggested the placements. She was just entering Queen mode when Karis appeared right behind Brenin. Gabrielle gave a small sigh of relief when the guard brushed past the scribe and approached the throne.
Kneeling on the customary one knee, Karis spoke respectfully. "A message for you, My Queen." She handed a small piece of parchment up to her curious and relieved ruler.
Gabrielle read the message. Both eyes widening at the scrap and gazed down at the guard. "Wait over there." She directed her towards the corner table and the remains of her late afternoon meal. "I'll have a reply for this as soon as my business is finished." She watched Karis bow and withdraw to the corner seat, now in a position to watch every move the scribe made.
Brenin walked forward at Gabrielle's gesture, she was disappointed that Gabrielle was not wearing her favorite outfit. She thought the oversized tunic hid far too much and cursed under her breath when she realized it was Xena's. She saw the small pile of scrolls and wasn't sure what to think. It was obvious the Queen was ignoring her but if she had work for her then maybe Gabrielle did want her around after all. She suspected that Karis was part of the reason Gabrielle didn't pay any attention to her. She glanced at the corner. Since Xena left the guard had practically never left the Queen's side. It seemed like everytime she saw Gabrielle, Karis was with her, and Solan too. 'I wish she wouldn't look at me like that.' Brenin thought. 'She's always looking at me like that. I need to focus on Gabrielle. She is the one I want, even though Karis is quite good looking.' The scribe shook off her thoughts of the guard and refocused on Gabrielle.
Gabrielle forced her voice into a regal tone. "This is all we have today. The standard copies and distribution will be fine." She handed the scrolls to Brenin. Remaining expressionless when the scribe unnecessarily brushed her hands in the exchange.
"Is that all?" Brenin could still feel the tingle where her hands had made contact with Gabrielle. Many times that simple question had garnered a few more items. Some of which only needed one or two copies and were done right here at Gabrielle's own desk. It was hours of work that Brenin treasured.
Gabrielle's eyes were green ice when she replied simply, "Yes. That will be all."
'Cold.' Brenin thought. 'How can she be so cold? I love her.' She looked over at the corner. 'Karis doesn't look cold.' She took in the guards deep brown eyes and continued her thought as she walked out the door. 'Karis doesn't look cold at all.'
Karis couldn't see the Queen's face but the stark 'yes' had sent a chill down her spine. She saw Brenin shudder at the coldness of the response as well as the fact that it was a dismissal. Karis could however see the disappointment in the scribes face at not being allowed to stay and work in the Queen's quarters. The look Brenin gave her was enough to set the guard's mind working. 'Good.' She thought and groaned to herself. 'Gabrielle, is not going to like this at all.' It shocked Karis to realize how often she called the Queen by her given name in her thoughts, if not out loud. She chuckled at the closing door and poured a glass of juice for Gabrielle. Rising to take it to the throne only to find the Queen joining her at the table.
"Thank you." Gabrielle accepted the juice and gestured for the guard to
pour one for herself. She knew Karis understood her thank you was more for being here
during the interview than for the drink. She studied the guards face carefully. 'She
still isn't sleeping well. She probably guarded Solan's hut all night.'
Gabrielle was grateful for the woman's concern for her son. "How's Solan?"
She thanked Artemis that she had swallowed her sip of juice. Choking in front of the Queen was not something the head of the royal guard should do. "Fine." She said cautiously. "I have two guards assigned to him."
Gabrielle smiled, "But he doesn't know that does he?" She nodded approval at Karis' slow negative nod. "Good. Now about this message....." She brandished the blank parchment under the guards nose and saw Karis' smile slowly creep out. "....What's up with that."
Now Karis laughed outright, She wondered where Solan had picked up his favorite phrase. "I'm sorry but I didn't want to take the chance of her seeing it." She let her laugh work itself out before her look turned serious. "I do have a message for you though." She pulled a larger piece of parchment from under her bracer and handed it over. "It's from Ephiny."
It amazed Gabrielle that the simpleness of the written words could grip her heart so tightly.
We have arrived safely and are looking into buying some land in the area. This is a great village. For the moment we are renting a room at the local inn/tavern. The woman who owns it seems very nice. I think she might be sick though. More on that later. I hope everything is going well at home. Tell my nephew I love him. I will write more later. Love from us all.
signed Ephiny, Eponin and Phantes.
"Not exactly the standard scout report." Karis was noncommittal at the casual letter. "Of course, many scouts use false stories to get the information they need." She knew the pretext of buying land was a great way to ask questions about the area and it's inhabitants without causing too much suspicion.
Gabrielle barely heard the guard's statement. 'Sick? How sick?' If it was serious there was only one thing Gabrielle could do and she knew that no one in the Nation would protest more than the woman sitting across from her...unless.... "Yes, false stories and the ability to back them up are essential to a successful scout." She was suddenly filled with worry about too many things, Xena, Solan, Brenin and now this. It was a nervous energy that needed to be released. She looked at Karis wickedly, "Feel like sparring?" Laughing when she could almost see the 'Uh Oh.' in the guards eyes, Gabrielle reached for her favorite staff.
Xena watched from her elevated position with satisfaction as her camp was setup. India was nearly the half-way mark to their destination. It was the perfect place to take a break from the long sea voyage. 'And this is where Gabrielle said her scout would meet me.' She closed her eyes at the image and sensations the thought invoked. Her fingers tingled from the memory of the amazon's little loot and pillage operation.
She heard two people approaching and opened her eyes. Appraising the approaching figures she inwardly reaffirmed her love for Gabrielle. 'She is good.' The Conqueror thought. Xena merely crossed her arms and waited.
"Empress Xena." The short guard presented his companion. "This is a messenger from Lao Ma."
Xena looked at the messenger and remembered Gabrielle's description. 'She is tall, thin, gray eyes, brown hair.' Xena's only reaction was a slight raise in eyebrows. 'Well that certainly fits. Let's see if she knows the code word.'
"How is Lao Ma?" She kept her tone neutral.
The tall messenger smiled. "She rules like water over the land."
'Like water...' Xena thought. 'Soft, yet hard at the same time.' Keeping her expression noncommittal she replied. "Water can be poisoned."
"True." Twinkling gray eyes looked up at The Conqueror. "But to a man dying of thirst even poisoned water can taste like ambrosia." She offered the intimidating warrior her message scroll.
Uncrossing her arms to accept the scroll, Xena dismissed the guard with an absent gesture. "Leave us." Turning her cool gaze to the messenger, she continued. "Walk with me." It was not even remotely a request. Unrolling the scroll, she scanned it's contents, both eyebrows raising. "This says the leader of the Chinese spice traders is coming here." She glanced at the messenger, who nodded.
"He was coming west with a trade caravan anyway." Velasca was all business. She didn't want Xena to know that it had been Gabrielle's idea to persuade the trader to meet Xena in India or how disappointed Lao Ma was when she heard Xena didn't have to make the entire trip.
"Uh huh." Xena looked again at the parchment. "This is a different name than my sources gave me. Are you sure he is the leader?" The look leveled on the messenger harbored bad tidings for anyone that lied.
"Yes, I'm sure." Was the only response the amazon gave, the only one she could give, it was the truth.
They were near the main food preparation tent. Xena could smell her favorites being prepared. 'I have been in a bad mood if they are going to that trouble.' The Conqueror's chuckle echoed in her head. Silencing her dark sister Xena addressed the scout. "Will you be staying with us for a while." It would be difficult to explain the messenger's continued presence but she was willing to take on the challenge if the woman wanted to.
"No." Velasca declined. "I have strict orders and other duties." The scout's steel gray eyes looked into the cool blue gaze. "My leader is a determined taskmaster."
"Then you should not neglect the duties she has assigned you." Xena gestured to the tent. "Take what supplies you need for your journey." Inclining her head toward the amazon, she continued. "And tell your leader I will see her soon." All the voices in her head sang in chorus. 'It had better be soon.' Surprisingly, The Conqueror's voice was the loudest among them.
A slight smile crossed Velasca's face. "If I see her first, I'll tell her."
Xena thought about that reply, as she watched the scout disappear into the tent. 'Her next mission must be a long one. Otherwise, how could I see Gabrielle first?' She walked quickly to her own tent and proceeded to look over the message scroll with intricate detail. 'Hopefully the traders will be cooperative. I don't want this to take any longer than it has to.' She had been separated from her love for too long already.
Solan entered his mother's hut hours into the sparring match. He waved at the women when they paused long enough to acknowledge his arrival. He laid on his stomach, the soft bed giving him a good view of the action, not as good as the throne but more comfortable, and cupped his chin in his hands. 'This is great.' He thought. 'Watching mother fight is almost as good as sparring with her myself.' He chuckled to himself when he noticed Gabrielle was still wearing Xena's tunic until he realized that he had automatically put on the green tunic Gabrielle had given him. He quickly forgot about clothing choices and prepared to watch his mother in action.
Gabrielle had worked off most of her excess energy by the time Solan arrived. Her muscle's protests were a clear indication she should back off. She did a few drills at a marked slower pace and cooled down before calling a halt to the session, claiming exhaustion. The relief in Karis' eyes made her realize the demanding pace she had set. Her eyes widened at the guard. "Not many people can keep up that pace, captain." She saw the tips of Karis' ears turn pink. "Xena was right. You were a good choice." Now the woman's entire face was red.
Solan had recognized his mother's cool down routine and was silently disappointed. He had started out watching Gabrielle's attack but instead found himself enthralled with Karis' defense. The way the muscles in her arms flexed when she deflected a strike, the way her thighs and calves tensed as she braced against the overhead blows, he was fascinated by her rippling stomach muscles and realized that during the fight was the only time they were apparent, usually she looked just as soft as any regular amazon. 'No. ' He thought to himself. 'Softer.' That thought made him gasp. 'Whoa. What's up with that.' He watched Karis as she ran her hands through her damp brown hair and smiled at him. 'Oh.' The phrase 'What's up with that' suddenly began to take on a whole new meaning for the young man.
Gabrielle felt her hair sticking to her face and decided she could use a bath. "I think I'll go the bathing pools this evening." Her own tub was nice but the mineral waters were soothing and she needed to be around people. Concern for her safety had begun to tap into her normal routine. She hardly ever took meals in the dining hall and when she did there were at least five guards plus Karis. Everywhere she went she had a contingent of guards and the ever watchful Karis, but she was grateful because there was also Brenin. Not always close but always there, always watching her. It was kind of creepy to think that she could look out the door or over her shoulder at any time day or night and see the woman standing there.
Karis sighed. She knew she couldn't keep Gabrielle cooped up in the hut forever. Pulling her fingers through her hair she asked. "Mind if I join you?" Grinning at Gabrielle's rolled eyes.
"Like I have a choice. There probably won't be space left in any of the pools once all the guards arrive." She was very tired of all the security and wished for it all to go away.
The exasperation in her voice was evident and it solidified Karis' plan. "No." She smiled. "No guards except me." It had been a radical idea but the last few weeks had laid the ground work and the strain on Gabrielle was now unacceptable to the guard. When she saw the look Brenin gave her as she left this afternoon, Karis knew her plan was working and the baths would finish it.
Gabrielle called to Solan, "Do you want to join us in the baths?" She saw the blush creeping up on his face an mentally berated herself. She tried to give him a way out. "Or would you rather read for a while?"
"I think I'll stay here and read if that's OK." He often read the
stories his mother had written or remembered and transcribed. It was a great thrill
to read the stories about far off lands and it was kind of nice to read about simple
village life too. He thought again about Phantes out on a scouting mission with his mother
and Eponin. 'Lucky guy.'
"Sure." She smiled at her son indulgently. "But only the stories OK. I don't want to come back and find that you have been bored to tears by all the dull treaties I am forced to keep in the archives."
He turned up his nose at the thought of reading the treaties. He avidly avoided the scrolls with the endcaps marked as treaties. "Those things? Come on, I'm surprised you can even stay awake long enough to write them. I think I'll re-read the Xena baby-sitting little Gabrielle story. Now that I know it's really you and Xena it's kind of funny." Solan laughing at the thought of Xena in a normal situation reached for the scroll. His laughter faded as he was caught up in the writing on the scroll he retrieved.
As they walked out the door the guard started to fall in behind them. Karis waved them off and pointed to the hut. "Solan is still in there. I'll take care of Gabrielle. We are just going to the baths." She motioned to the two guards she had assigned as Solan's personal protectors and spoke to them quietly. They nodded and left. She then gave the third guard her orders. "Go around back and watch the washroom window. If Solan leaves, follow him but don't let him see you." Finished with her orders Karis turned to rejoin Gabrielle on their trek to the bathing pools. She was very glad Solan had opted not to join them.
"You are very organized." Gabrielle was impressed with the woman's leadership of the royal guard.
"You're surprised.." Karis grinned at her queen." ... Because I'm so young." It always struck her as funny when people commented on her rank and age. Eighteen years seemed like an awfully long time to her.
"I guess so. It just seems like you are older most of the time and then something happens to remind me you're younger than me." Gabrielle had looked through the records and discovered that at twenty one she was actually the youngest Queen ever.
Karis smiled and took the comment as a compliment. "My mother was head of the royal guard for many years." Her voice took on a respectful tone. "And while I don't think she had time to teach me everything she knew. She surely has taught me everything I know. " She saw the sadness in Gabrielle's eyes. "I think one of the things she taught me may just help us out of this Brenin situation." She saw hope flicker in the sad green eyes.
They had arrived at the bathing pools so Gabrielle didn't have time to extract the details. Karis looked around the cavern and took note of who was there. Several off duty royal guards, a few scouts and surprisingly enough, Rayna, she signed hello to the little deaf cook. She nodded OK to Gabrielle and they quickly shed their clothes and immersed themselves in a currently unoccupied warm mineral pool. Modesty was not an issue for amazons and even if it was neither Karis nor Gabrielle had anything to be ashamed of.
Karis counted forty seven heartbeats before Brenin walked in the cavern. The guard gave herself a grim chuckle. 'I win.' She thought. Her bet with herself had been that the woman would show up in less than fifty. Karis was thankful she had a plan because this situation was obviously escalating. 'Gods she hasn't taken her eyes off of Gabrielle since she walked in.' She dropped her arm under the water and found Gabrielle's shaking hand giving it a slight reassuring squeeze and a sign. Nearly everyone in the room watched as Brenin walked straight to the pool the Queen was in, stripped and got in the water. A glance to one of the off duty guards got a boisterous distraction for the rest of the room and let Karis concentrate on Gabrielle's safety.
Gabrielle was almost relaxed when she felt the entire cavern hold it's breath. She looked up to see Brenin walking straight toward her. She felt Karis' hand squeezing hers, recognized the hand signal for 'Don't Move' and suddenly wondered what the guard was going to do as Brenin entered their pool. It was too quiet for Gabrielle, her nerves were about to go. Suddenly a rowdy water fight broke out in one of the other pools so everyone, except Rayna, forgot about the Queen, the guard and the scribe. She noticed Karis wasn't surprised by the outburst and wondered if it was part of the plan.
Brenin could hardly believe it when she saw Gabrielle walk into the cavern. This was too good. This was even better than the casual leathers. This was Gabrielle with nothing on. It was pure lust that guided her to the edge of the pool. She didn't remember taking off her clothes or actually getting in the water until Karis' face came into view.
Karis purposely moved between Gabrielle and her stalker never taking her eyes off Brenin. She lazily reached for the soap and moved back to her original position. It took concentration but she held the scribes eyes on her for a full minute before she looked back at the queen. When the contact was broken Karis again moved in front of Gabrielle, to replace the soap, but re-established eye contact with the increasingly confused woman. This time she stayed on the side of the pool with the soaps, shampoos, and towels but moved slightly closer to Brenin. The guards sharp eyes picked up on the increase in her pulse and breathing. 'Thank you mother.' She thought and continuing her assault, moved in for the kill. Dropping her voice to it's most provocative she purred, "Brenin, Would you like anything." She raised her hand to gesture to the soaps and things, also bringing her breast to the top of the water. She saw the look in the scribe's eye and thought, 'Gotcha.' Karis knew the obsessed woman would be severely frustrated by now. The agony of having the object of your affection be unavailable was a feeling Karis knew all to well. Holding the woman's gaze she picked up two large towels and rose out of the water. She held out her hand to help Brenin up and wrapped one of the towels around the scribe. Using the other towel for herself Karis led the woman out of the cavern, without even a backward glance at Gabrielle.
The squeeze and signal on her hand was the only thing that held Gabrielle silent during the display. When she realized what Karis was doing it nearly broke her heart. 'Gods... Don't do this Karis... not for me... ' Watching Karis lead the woman out of the cavern was one of the most difficult things she had ever done. She dug her nails into her palms to keep herself from interrupting the guards plan. When the women were gone she heard one of the older guards chuckle.
"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." The woman's eyes widened when she realized she had spoken out loud.
Gabrielle was wasn't sure if her stomach was queasy from the intense anger she felt or the idea of what Karis was doing at the moment. She cleared her throat and fully entered Queen mode. "Explain that." Gabrielle leveled her royal green gaze at the amused woman. Her tone and expression conveyed the fact that she didn't find any of this the least bit funny.
The woman cleared her throat nervously, "It was one of her mother's favorite sayings." She glanced at the other guards they were all nodding in agreement. None of them liked the idea but they knew the reasons for it and admired their leader even more. She went to the entrance and looked out. "It's safe to leave now my queen. If you are ready to go we can give you an escort back to your hut."
Not bothering to dry off and not trusting herself to speak, Gabrielle rose from the water, grabbed her tunic and pulled it over her head in one fluid motion. She didn't care if they followed her or not. The one and only threat to her was currently occupied. She managed to clear her mind enough to make it back to her hut and she even smiled slightly when Solan looked up from the scroll he was reading.
"Hi .....Mom." He smiled and looked behind her. "Where's Karis?"
Gabrielle barely made it to the washroom in time. Solan heard the violent retching and ran for a guard to bring the healer.
Karis led Brenin to her hut. The guard didn't know whether to be thrilled or repulsed. Her plan was working perfectly. She held the scribe as closely as she could and still walk unimpeded. The lust emanating from the woman frightened her for a moment. Suddenly she heard her mother's voice whispering to her softly. 'It will only help your plan. You are doing great. Now just relax and follow the plan. You can do it.' Karis took strength from her mother's memory and held the door for the woman to enter. She didn't bother lighting candles or a fire, this part of the plan didn't require light. She let her towel drop to the floor and soundlessly added the scribes to the heap.
Brenin was confused by the turn of events. 'It's the Queen I want.' She thought and looked at the woman walking next to her. 'Isn't it?' It was difficult to tell anymore. She loved Gabrielle. For Brenin it was a fact, but the lust she felt for the queen seemed to spill over to Karis. 'Gabrielle was so cold.' The scribe shuddered at the memory and at the removal of her towel. 'Karis is anything but cold.' She found herself lowering onto the bed, the warm firm body above her. The guard's encouragement wasn't lost on Brenin and she gave in to her long pent-up lust.
'You have her now. Find your opportunity and finish it.' Her mother's voice was comforting and correct. Brenin was exactly where Karis wanted her. She held her own growing desire barely in check as she felt Brenin tense on the verge of release. Kissing the scribe's jawline lightly, she followed it to her ear tugged gently on the lobe and, sending a quiet prayer to Artemis, whispered, "Oh..Gabrielle" The sudden stillness in the form under her was the best indication she could have gotten and she prepared herself for the onslaught.
In the dark, imagining the guards brown hair as the queen's reddish blonde locks was easy. The illusion was just getting good when the soft voice in her ear shattered her world. She pushed the woman off of her and screamed, "YOU BITCH. YOU CAN'T HAVE HER! SHE'S MINE."
"No." Karis' quiet voice barely penetrated Brenin's rage. "She belongs to someone else. You will never have her."
The scribe was furious, speaking loudly but no longer screaming. "I will have her or I'll make sure no one else does."
"How. How will you stop us?" Karis readied herself.
"I'll kill you. I'll kill anyone who touches her." Brenin was searching the dark unfamiliar room for anything she could recognize as a weapon.
'Almost.' Karis thought. She continued her verbal assault. "You can't kill everyone."
"Then I'll kill her. I'll kill Gabrielle and then no one can have her." Brenin's face twisted with glee at the thought of keeping her Gabrielle safe from unwanted admirers.
'Gotcha, again.' Karis moved faster than the scribe thought possible and had her prisoner held securely when the door opened to reveal Solan's personal guards. She looked up at their flushed faces, "You heard?" She locked her jaw to prevent a smile when they nodded. Grabbing the first set of leathers her searching hands found in her clothes chest, she quickly dressed. Nodding approvingly when the guards roughly dressed the prisoner in an old tunic they had brought with them. "Lock her up." Her hard voice left the guards with no choice but to obey. She didn't wait for their acknowledgment and nearly ran to the Queen's hut. 'Gabrielle will need reassurance.'
Solan had been frantic waiting for the healer. He had never seen anyone be so violently ill for no apparent reason. It took forever for the healer to get there and now it had been another eternity since she disappeared into the washroom. When Karis walked through the door he had never been so glad to see anyone in all his life. He rushed up to her and hugged her tightly. "Mother is sick." Keeping his arms around her he looked her in the eye, "Please help her."
Her plan had gone off without a hitch but this was an unexpected complication. She never thought about seeing Solan so soon after. It was all she could do to suppress the recently awakened desire and pull away from the young man's embrace. "I will." She promised; her voice rough with feeling. She allowed herself the luxury of wiping away his tears before heading toward the washroom.
The sight of Gabrielle in a heap on the floor nearly made her regret her actions ..... nearly. The healer was glad to give up responsibility for the patient. The queen kept saying, "I'm not sick." over and over anyway. Karis knelt beside the sobbing woman and tried to comfort her. "It's OK, Gabrielle. Everything is fine." The words were meant to comfort the queen but they had a soothing effect on herself as well. A smile at the realization that it really was over crossed her face.
The voice she heard soothing her nerves was not the healer's. Looking up Gabrielle saw Karis' smiling face. "Karis?" She hadn't counted on seeing the young woman at all tonight. When Gabrielle thought about the reason why her guest was so unexpected she began sobbing again. "Oh Gods ....... Karis ....... you shouldn't have ....... not for me."
"Shhh.... It's OK now. Brenin won't bother you anymore." Karis was surprised she could speak at all as tightly as Gabrielle was holding her. From this position it was marvelously easy to stroke the sobbing woman's hair. The guard could feel the tears warming her chest. 'Sweet Artemis. Give me strength.' She tried to reassure Gabrielle. "It's over now."
It took several minutes to calm the sobbing queen. Karis was becoming uncomfortable with the touches Gabrielle needed to reassure herself that the guard was there. Karis held the crying woman's hands still. "Gabrielle, please don't." Hiding the lust in her eyes was impossible and Karis knew Gabrielle saw it. "I think you better leave now." Pausing for only a moment she continued her quiet request. "And don't let him come in here either." She bowed her head at the admission. Karis was sure Gabrielle would never let her near the prince again.
Gabrielle nodded slowly, leaving the guard kneeling in the middle of the room, she went to let Solan know she was OK. Before walking out the door, she reached up and pulled the lever above her head. Sparing a final grateful look at the guard she closed the door.
The sound of running water penetrated her senses. Karis looked up at the filling tub and the closing door. She was moved by the gesture. Submerging into the steaming water, immediately took away the worst of Karis' tension. 'Great.' She thought. 'Now if I can just stay here long enough I'll be fine.' Searching the extent of her feelings she sighed. 'Five years ought to do it.'
Gabrielle slipped into full Queen mode. Her grip on Solan's hand was steel and she forced herself to stay detached, to stay the Queen. She walked purposefully to the door. "Bring me someone who knows what happened." It was not a friendly request but a royal order. The guards identified it as such immediately and the runner took off to obey the command. Gabrielle sat on the throne with Solan on her lap. She almost felt sick again when she realized that he was going to have to hear the whole story. He would find out eventually anyway. She hoped Karis understood it was better for him to hear it now, rather than later. She shifted his weight slightly when the guard approached the throne and swallowed hard before she gave the one word command. "Report."
The woman only gave Solan one startled glance before the look in Gabrielle's eyes convinced her to talk or else. She proceeded to layout Karis' plan for the royal audience. She kept it fairly clinical for the prince's sake. "Basically, Karis seduced Brenin. During the last few weeks she had been watching the stalker and trying to establish a relationship with her, eye contact, casual touches, etc. By being close by when she was watching you, Karis put herself into the path of Brenin's lust until the scribe couldn't take it anymore." The guard knew Gabrielle had witnessed the scene at the bathing pools so she didn't go into that but continued her story. "And then Karis made her angry enough to threaten your life." She looked up at the throne. "That is a serious offense and we locked her up."
Gabrielle had felt the tension in Solan's muscles as the story was told. 'This is harder on him than I anticipated.' She sent a quiet thank you to Artemis when the informant skipped the bath scene. She dismissed the woman with a gesture and a grateful look and telling Solan to stay on the throne, walked to her desk. She quickly wrote a letter and went to speak to the guard outside. Speaking quietly she gave the wide eyed woman her instructions and the parchment with her seal closing the edges. She turned to walk back inside and saw Solan curled up on the throne, sleeping. The days events had caught up with him. 'He looks so small.' She thought. Suddenly the activities of the day hit her too and she was extremely tired. She used the last of her strength to carry her not so young child to the bed and curled up next to him, asleep an instant later.
Karis cautiously entered the main room. She had soaked in the tub until the water was cool and figured Solan had gone home by now. She looked at the scene on the bed as Gabrielle held the boy in her protective arms. It was touching to see the Queen in Xena's tunic and Solan in his mother's. She looked down at her own garment, a subconscious choice. 'One of mother's.' She thought. 'It does help keep you connected to the one's you love.' She looked at the sleeping boy again and wondered who his parents were. 'I wonder if he looks like them?' She thought Gabrielle knew but Karis didn't imagine she would ever find out. 'It would be nice if he had green eyes like Gabrielle's.' She looked at her Queen's green eyes and froze. 'Whoa.. She's awake.'
Gabrielle heard Karis enter the room. She felt her stop next to the bed and look at them. Opening her eyes she saw not the lust she had seen earlier but unadulterated love. She knew it when she saw it because it was the same look Xena leveled at her time and time again. In her own mind, Karis was now part of the family. When the guard froze, Gabrielle smiled and mouthed silently, "Report tomorrow." She didn't wait for a reply and simply closed her eyes. She heard the door close before sleep overtook her again.
Ephiny looked at the exhausted face of her son. She was very proud of the young
centaur. He had not complained once during the rushed trip home. Poni was worried
they were pushing the boy too hard but the vagueness of Gabrielle's letter and their own
news pushed the trio faster than even they thought possible. The journey that had
taken the messenger and healer more than a week to get there was shortened to only four
days on the return. They would be home in a few hours and then she would question
her queen thoroughly on her cryptic message. She recalled the note vividly.
Please return home at once. I need your help with a family emergency.
It was bad enough to recall them off the mission and urgent enough to use the royal seal, although no one outside the Nation would recognize Gabrielle's insignia, it let the women know whatever the situation was, it was serious. Ephiny hoped they would be in time to help. Two weeks was a long time by any standard, much less if there was a crisis going on.
Cold blue eyes stared in amazement at the men arguing before them. They had been fighting all day stopping only for meals, now as the dishes were cleared and the torches were lit they began anew. Had they been paying the least bit of attention each of them would have known exactly how close to death they were.
Xena hated this. She hated the whole situation. She hated tents. She hated travel. She hated being away from Gabrielle. At least now she was talking to the right people, thanks to the information Velasca had provided. The leaders of the Egyptian, Indian, and Chinese spice traders were still fighting amongst themselves. The part of her that was the Conqueror was screaming to just get it over with. 'These are the leaders of this whole thing. Just kill them and we can go back to Gabrielle.' It was a very persuasive argument, very tempting. It had been months now since she had seen her love. The longest months of her life. She began to remember the feel of Gabrielle wrapped in her arms, she could almost smell the lilac/leather/Gabrielle combination when the men's voices penetrated her daydream. For that alone she nearly killed them. 'That's it!' She thought. 'I don't have to take this. I am Xena, dammit, I rule the world.' She took a deep breath and projected her voice to every corner of the negotiation tent and beyond. "CEASE!" Everyone in the tent stopped everything they were doing, including breathing. All three men dropped to their knees, as Xena rose from her elevated throne.
She would have preferred any of the more comfortable robes, Egyptian, Indian or Chinese and it rankled her that politics forced her to wear a neutral style. Of course she had chosen the most intimidating outfit she could find, the ornate black leather armor she used to wear when she was still plundering small villages. Glimpses of tan muscular legs could be seen through the long black skirt. Her warrior boots landed heavily as she advanced on the cowering men. The tone of her voice was grating and decisive. "Get up." She looked at the guard by the door. "Tell the cross maker, three." He bobbed his blonde curly head once and left. 'Let's get this over with.' She thought. She towered over the men and looked each one of them in the eye. "Those crosses will be filled unless you come to an agreement by noon tomorrow. If not I believe your second in command's will be sufficiently motivated to do what it seems you cannot." She returned to her throne and gestured. "Now go." The guards ushered them out without much problem. She closed her eyes and sighed. 'Fools.' She began her daydream again, it took several minutes before she could clear her mind adequately. She was almost to the point of feeling Gabrielle's soft lips pressing against hers when she heard the guards bring in a group of people. She didn't want to lose the vision so she kept her eyes closed. "Report." Her tone was bored and frustrated at the same time.
"We were looking for wood to make the crosses when we found these four camped outside the compound. They claim to be travelers and are willing to work. We thought you would want to decide." The guard figured they would be killed but he didn't know if Xena would want to do it or not. The last thing he wanted to do was upset the Empress. Xena had not been in the best of moods since their journey east began. She opened her eyes and saw four figures in traveling cloaks. All of them had their hoods on but one stood slightly ahead of the others. Xena addressed the apparent leader of the group. "What kind of work?" It was almost a sneer.
The leader snaked an arm around the figure closest to her and threw back both their hoods. Brilliant green eyes twinkled up at the stunned Conqueror. "I have been told that I am a good storyteller." She held Solan tightly against her both for her sake and for his. Gabrielle had warned him that Xena may have to make some comments he may not want to hear. 'I may not either.' She thought and continued to look at their captor. 'Gods it's good to see her.'
The shining blue eyes closed once and reopened to see the same thing as before, 'Gods it's good to see her.' She forced herself to laugh a cold grating laugh while her eyes drank in the sight of her love standing before her, defiant and beautiful. Xena smiled a wicked smile and could see the 'Uh Oh.' in Gabrielle's eyes. She put as much ice in her voice as possible, "I don't listen to children's stories woman." She laughed again and the curly haired guard laughed too. "What about them?" She indicated the other two captives. Not surprised when Karis threw back the hood of her cloak but slightly taken back when the other figure was revealed as Rayna. "My sister." Gabrielle indicated Rayna. "Is an excellent cook. She is however stone deaf and requires my other sister to interpret and communicate for her." Gabrielle had fought against the necessity of bringing Rayna. The young woman was not a scout or a warrior but she had performed admirably so far and was necessary to explain Karis' presence which was automatic when Solan was involved.
"A cook I can use." Xena said thoughtfully. She gestured to a guard. "Take them to the kitchen but watch them closely." She returned her attention to Gabrielle. "If she is as good as you say they can stay." Xena rose from the throne and advanced on the remaining pair. She negligently shoved Solan aside, praying he would play along and remain silent. "But as for you, bard...." She circled Gabrielle, appraisingly. "Storytelling is not in very high on my list right now."
"Please." Gabrielle caught Xena's gaze and held it. "I'll do anything." Green eyes peered out from honey-fire bangs. The corners of her mouth twitched as Xena's eyebrow arched higher than she had ever seen.
"You hear that boys?" Xena spoke loudly to her guards, never taking her eyes off of the teasing amazon. She repeated the word in a long sultry purr. "Anything." Her deep chuckle joined her guards as they caught the drift of her thoughts. "Bring her." She began to walk out of the tent toward her own living space when one of the guards spoke up.
"What about the boy?" They knew what was going to happen to the woman but the boy's fate was anything but certain. The guard dragged Solan over to Xena, for her inspection.
She stopped her exit from the tent and looked at the struggling child. 'If he bruises from that handling this guard is going to hurt badly.' She thought. Holding the boy's chin with her fingers Xena scrutinized his face. "How old are you boy?" Giving him an almost imperceptible approving look when he was silent and defiant, she put as much venom in her voice as she dared. "I said. How old?" It almost killed her to do it but she raised her hand as if to strike him.
"Twelve." He flinched back trying to avoid the potential hit.
"Twelve huh?" She seemed to ponder the age for a moment and then shrugged. "Bring him too." Noticing the looks on the guards faces she raised both eyebrows. "It's never to early to start training slaves." She walked out of the tent without a backward glance.
Continued in Part 2
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