Eponin and Cyrene were having a nice cup of tea when Amarice walked in and plopped her self in the chair next to the Amazon Warrior. Refusing tea the young redhead would only accept water from Cyrene. With one elbow on the table and her head leaning into her hand Amarice watched Eponin.
"Amarice will you go find something to do. Go take care of the horses."
"Well then go chop some wood for Cyrene."
"Okay go sharpen your sword."
"Taken care of."
Cyrene was enjoying this exchange immensely. *Oh my Amazon friend, this young pup is not going to let you get off that easy.* Clearing her throat to stop from laughing only gained a raised eyebrow from Eponin.
"Amarice go help Lila with her chores."
"Chores are done. Eponin, are you trying to get rid of me?" The innocence of Amarices question sent Cyrene over the edge and she started laughing under her breath.
Eponin could not miss the shaking shoulders of the innkeeper and her strain at keeping her lips sealed together. "Cyrene this is really not very funny you know that, right?"
The innkeeper could do nothing but close her eyes, nod her head and continue suppressing her laughter that now included several squeaks slipping from her lips.
"OKAY IM OUT OF HERE." Eponin knocked the chair to the floor as she attempted to stand. Turning around to pick up the chair she slammed her shins into the chair legs. "HADES Amarice find something to do in a place where I will not be!!!" With that being said the Amazon stormed out of the kitchen.
At that point, Cyrene was in tears and the laughter no longer needed to be suppressed. "Oh my sweet young child, that Warrior will definitely be a challenge for you."
Amarice was also amused. Taking Cyrenes hands in hers and with a big smile she asked, "Do you think I stand a chance? I mean was Xena this bad?"
"Oh yes my dear you sure do stand a chance. And yes, Xena was horribly confused and clumsy and flustered before she admitted her love to Gabrielle."
The young Amazon kissed Cyrenes hands and got up to leave.
"Where are you going Amarice?" Cyrene could not let her leave without knowing.
Blowing the older woman a kiss as she ran out of the kitchen, the young woman shouted back, "Im going to find my Amazon."
The bath was uneventful compared to many others the couple had taken together. Gabrielle washed Xenas hair and scrubbed her back. She also allowed Xena to reciprocate but then quickly took the sponge, washed her body and stepped out of the tub. The normal soak, cuddle and play that often accompanied their bath time were missing. The Warrior made a promise to herself that she would give her soulmate another day before she would confront Gabrielle about the loss of her mother. She was starting to worry that pushing her might be the only way Gabrielle would grieve.
Walking toward the kitchen hoping her mom would take pity and cook something for the two of them Xena offered, "You still have one more question left."
Gabrielle knew she had been too quiet and upon hearing the uncertainty in her lovers voice Gabrielle went along with the game they had started days ago. "Okay does this person this female have anything at all to do with family?"
"Well .yea sort of."
"Xena, yes or no is all you can say. You cant tell me sort of."
While she was thinking how to answer, the Warrior tilted her head back and forth pretending to concentrate eventually flashing a smile at Gabrielle. "Yes, this female is family."
Gabrielle was stumped. She had hoped Xena would have said no but she said yes. Before Gabrielle could think any deeper Amarice was shouting at them from the opened front door. "Xena, Gabrielle come out here!"
Eponin was thrilled with the impact registering in Xenas face, as she stepped through the front door to see her pale warhorse.
"ARGO!!!" The Warrior rushed to the mare swinging her arms around Argos neck hugging, patting and rubbing the horse. She was rewarded with a few warm whinnies and a shake of the head. "Oh..girl Ive missed you so much."
Xena could hear Gabrielle, "Oh, no .thats it, isnt it Xena the answer is Argo." The Warrior answered her soulmate with a laugh and a grin. Gabrielle shook her head in submission that her Warrior once again won the game. She would have never guessed it was Argo without this reunion. The Bard joined her partner giving Argo a couple of strong pats on the neck and nose. She had to admit she too missed the horse. But right now, Gabrielle was contented to see Xena so very happy and childlike. Somewhere tucked away in her heart Gabrielle was afraid her inability to share her sorrow would become a burden. And with that burden her Warrior would leave.
On the rooftop of the inn an owl perched observing and listening to the inner voice of her Chosen One. "My beautiful Amazon Queen your pain is breeding a mask of deception and unrealistic fears." Leaving the rooftop for the blue sky Artemis prayed to a greater god that the Warrior would stay strong and protect her Chosen One.
The Warrior turned to Eponin who quickly explained that the horse came to Cyrene and she in turned asked Eponin to care for Argo. Both women soon became recipients of powerful hugs and thanks. Returning to Argo with a tremendous amount of excitement, "Come on girl you want to go for a ride?" Not waiting or expecting an answer Xena jumped onto Argos back with a single leap and then the thought hit her like a battle-ax. Xena did not want to leave Gabrielle and therefore she reached out for the Bard to take her hand. Gabrielle rested her hands on the Warriors knee and lovingly massaged the knee and leg tenderly. Xena did not miss this display of affection and instantly melted into the Gabrielles eyes. Bending down from the saddle to get closer to her soulmate the Warrior said, "Come with me Gabrielle."
"Not this time Warrior. You go on and enjoy your time with Argo."
Xenas heart sank slightly, "But, I want ." Unexpectedly the Warrior was pulled into a kiss, which was sensitive and sweet. Sooner than she desired the Bard also ended the kiss and whispered, "Go, my Warrior. You can take me for a ride later."
Staying upright in the saddle was proving to be difficult. The kiss and Gabrielles tenderness made Xenas muscles feel like mush. "Okay, but Im going to keep you to that promise. I wont be gone long." The dark-hair Warrior tugged on Argos rein and with untamed laughter she kicked Argos flanks directing the horse in a full canter out of the village. Cyrene just sighed aware that she would probably owe several villagers who were now vaulting out of Xenas way, an apology.
Once Xena was out of view the women entered the inn. From the window of Alexos Tavern, Stella absorbed every unvoiced gesture and every face surrounding the Queen. She also took note that Eponin and Amarice were in Amphipolis. *Umpf .I wonder what they are up too. No matter Amazons you can not stop the fate of your Queen.*
Lila laid claim on her sister as soon as they entered the inn. There were only a few customers at the bar and for the most part the inn was quiet, thus making Lila believe that Cyrene would not mind if she spent time with Gabrielle.
"Eponin, can I see you in the kitchen." Both women headed toward the kitchen with a tail behind them.
The Amazon stopped abruptly forcing the little redhead into her back. Without turning around she said, "Amarice, I did not hear your name mentioned. Go practice being nice to Gabrielle and Lila."
The innkeeper did everything in her power to suppress the grin creeping up to her face. *Very interesting Eponin .you fight her too hard.* Continuing on into the kitchen with Eponin by her side the temptation to pursue this was too great. "You like her, dont you Eponin?" There was no response, which only confirmed what Cyrene believed. Internally smiling she mused, *Looks like denial to me. And it reminds me of some other warrior I know who was just as stubborn.*
Once in the kitchen Cyrene motioned for Eponin to sit. Pouring the Amazon a mug of ale and one for herself Cyrene sat across from her warrior friend. "Eponin, be honest with me, why are you and Amarice in Amphipolis? And why did you follow Xena to the beach? Oh, and how did you hear about Xena and Gabrielle being alive?" Pausing to take a sip of her ale the Warrior Mom added, " and dont beat around the bush. I know when someone is avoiding the truth."
Admiring her spunk Eponin explained the incident at the Amazon village, Maris threat and Shulabas instructions to track and spy on Maris and her little group. At first she hesitated telling Cyrene about her meeting with Ephiny in the mist but quickly agreed that the truth would be important, so she relayed her encounter with the doe and Ephiny.
"What did Maris mean with her threat to Shulaba?"
"We are not sure. That is why I was tracking her until Ephiny told me to come here. I had no idea Xena and Gabrielle were alive until Gabrielle knocked Amarice to her back." Emptying her mug of ale the Amazon stated. "I have not told Xena about Maris yet."
Refilling Eponins mug Cyrenes curiosity asked, "Before we talk further, just why did Gabrielle knock that pretty young girl down?"
The Amazon started to laugh. "Cyrene, that pretty girl is not that helpless. I suppose it is not really that funny but when Gabrielle saw Amarice, she attacked her mumbling something about her being a coward and running." Eponin reached across the table to affectionately pat the innkeepers hand. "Cyrene I will tell Xena about Maris when she returns and then I will let her decide whether Gabrielle needs to know." The Amazon noticed Cyrenes mug of ale was almost empty and she reciprocated pouring the innkeeper another mug. "I have already sent word to Shulaba about Gabrielle and Xena being alive. Shulaba is a good woman and she will want to know."
Before either woman could finish their ale Amarice was standing by the table. Playing with one of the feathers in her hair, the Amazon was apparently frustrated. "Whats wrong my child." Intentionally Cyrene sounded motherly.
Amarice liked Xenas mom so she allowed the reference to the word child. "Look, I tried okay! But Lila talks way too much. And she never stays on one topic she bounces all over the place and I think shes driving Gabrielle crazy. All that peasant rambles on about is how her father beat up on Gabrielle and how Gabrielle took Lilas beatings for her ..and when Gabrielle left, her mother stepped in to take the abuse so Lila would not have too." Amarice started waving her arms around to emphasis her point and irritation. "I think Lila is a spoiled brat."
Sitting back in her chair desperately holding her temper over what she was hearing, Eponin refilled her mug again. "Amarice, go back out there and talk to Gabrielle. Interrupt Lila if you have too. Talk about the Amazons. You do have that in common with Gabrielle. Maybe Lila will calm down once she knows you are talking to her sister."
Just as Eponin was bringing the mug to her lips Amarice grabbed it from her hand causing some of the ale to spill over Eponins hand. Taking a drink from the same mug that touched Eponins lips was exactly what Amarice wanted. "Cant talk to Gabrielle now, shes gone."
Fear struck deeply into Cyrenes heart. "What do you mean she is gone where!!!!"
The dark-hair Amazon was out of her seat in lightening speed and almost knocked Lila over on the way into the main room. Grabbing a disheveled Lila by the shoulders Eponin sternly questioned. "Where did your sister go?"
"She said she was tired and was going to lay down."
Eponin, Cyrene and Amarice bolted down the hallway towards the bedroom. Stopping just short of ramming into the door the trio piled up on each other. Cyrene knocked on the door. Not hearing a response she opened it slowly. Gabrielle was not there.
"HADES, where could she have gone." Eponin slammed her fist into the wall. "Cyrene check the grounds around the building. Amarice check the beach and the eastern side of the village, Ill cover the remaining area." Everyone was in agreement and each set out in search of the Bard.
In their haste to get out of the inn Eponin and Amarice found themselves competing, as to whom would get through the door of the inn first. Eponin won and Amarice found herself flat on her back. Xena was just entering the village when she witnessed the struggle through the door of her mothers inn. *Yes my friend, you have it bad for that little redhead.* Xena dismounted from Argo and as she got closer to Eponin, she could see the concern in the dark brown eyes of her friend.
"Xena, we are looking for Gabrielle have you seen her."
Xena knew her soulmate was faltering on the edge of collapsing and immediately cursed herself for not insisting the Bard ride Argo with her. The mare was quickly abandoned, as the Warrior bolted into the inn. A quick check of their bedroom confirmed Amarices echoes that Gabrielle was not in there. Breathing hard just to keep up with her increasing heart rate the Warrior halted when she reached the garden and saw Gabrielle sitting under a tree with her mom close by. Cyrene immediately saw Xena. Before the Warrior could get to them both women were standing and walking to her.
Cyrene forced the conversation so Xena would have a moment to calm down. "Xena, did you have a good time with Argo. Gabrielle and I were just having a little conversation about Lila." The innkeeper gave Gabrielle a motherly hug around her shoulders.
The Warrior took one of Gabrielles hands. "Hey, you okay? Everything okay with Lila?"
The Bard merely nodded her head and offered Xena a weak but pleasant smile. "Xena, Im kind of tired. I ..I guess everything is just catching up with me." The Bards face was pale and began to perspire. Xena could feel Gabrielles hand tremble ever so lightly, her voice was lacking in strength and her eyes began to roll back. The Warrior realized her soulmate was in trouble just in time to catch her, as she lost consciousness.
Gabrielle slept through the remainder of the day and evening, waking only occasionally, when Xena massaged her body with a cool wet cloth or attempted to get her to drink fluids. The Bard really had no clue what was going on and would quickly fall back into a deep state of sleep. The Warrior refused to sleep that night. Instead she paced the floor and spent time talking with her mother and Eponin who took turns keeping her company and tried to reassure her that Gabrielle would be okay. Eponin was able to tell Xena about the banished Amazons, which unfortunately only added to the Warriors concerns. Lila stopped in to see her sister only twice. Both times she was brief and tearful. Xena could not bring herself to ask Lila any questions. Before dawn the Warrior finally fell asleep with her arms wrapped around Gabrielle. Waking by late afternoon Xena placed a light kiss to her lovers lips and left Gabrielle to sleep a little longer. The Warrior went in search of her mother. Departing the inn she was thoroughly amused to find Amarice helping Lila wait on tables and serving meals to the late afternoon crowd. Cyrene was found sitting on the bench outside the inn with Eponin, as her companion. The innkeeper and the Amazon were happy to see Xena. In spite of the fact that she still appeared tired, there was something about the way she held her muscular frame that told the women the Warrior was up to something. "What my dear warrior daughter is running through that beautiful head of yours?"
"A celebration! Mom, I want us to have a private celebration right here at the inn. Invite only close family and friends basically people who will be supportive and uplifting no talk of death. I want lots of food and drink, music, dancing, story telling the whole works!"
"Xena, do you really think this is a good idea. Gabrielle needs to face her grief. Arent you worried this, small private celebration might help her cover her grief up."
Falling to her knees Xena held on to her mothers hands. "Mother, dont you see. Gabrielle cant shake this numbness that has taken over. She wont talk about it, she eats extremely little and she passed out because she is shutting down. Look how long shes been sleeping. Mother, she avoids anything intimate beyond a simple kiss on the cheek. That woman walking around in Gabrielles body is not my need-to-touch and feel sentimental Bard."
Laughing loudly at Xenas last statement the dark hair Amazon interjected, "Gee Xena that kiss she gave you yesterday when you were on Argo looked pretty intimate and inviting."
Xena found herself blushing slightly. "Dont you see, that was the only time since she heard of her mothers death that she even acted remotely intimate with me and then she backed away. Hades we are suppose to get married and its like " Both Cyrene and Eponin could hear the fear of loss in the Warriors voice. Xena was desperately trying to hold on to Gabrielle and herself. Without a need to converse the women glanced toward each other and their eyes agreed that there has been too many drastic events over the recent moons. " .I need to shake her up without hurting her. If she can at least focus on the good in her life, then maybe it will help. Right how it is like nothing matters to her anymore. And anyway by the time Gabrielle and I get back ."
"Where are you going Xena?"
"Mother, I am taking my future wife to the temple overlooking Kolpos Bluff."
"Xena, that is one of Aphrodites temple. Why there?" Cyrenes motherly instinct took over and she needed to know what her daughter was up too.
"Mom, trust me. What better place can I possible take Gabrielle than a temple devoted to love." Xena took her mothers hand and placed her other reassuringly on Eponins shoulder. "Look, I cant explain why I need to do this. When I was sitting on Argo this white owl took a dive at me. It almost knocked me out of the saddle. Then the thought came to me about taking Gabrielle to a temple. Im praying that without distractions, especially from Lila - I just might get Gabrielle to talk to me."
A huge smile crossed the brown-eyed Amazons face and she uttered a single word. "Artemis!"
The Warrior laughed, "Yes, that is what I thought also. Aphrodites temple is the closest and somehow I cant imagine Artemis being upset with love. And the celebration well Im hoping it will ease her back into life. You both know how she loves parties and people. I want to give her something she likes."
"Okay Xena, okay. I will help you on one condition." Cyrene agreed somewhat with her daughter but was not entirely convinced this would work. "You have to tell Gabrielle why you are doing this." Xenas face had the look of rebellion. Shaking her finger at her daughter in a scolding manner. "Dont you give me that look. Im your mother. You do as I asked."
Eponin was attempting to look distracted and actually started to whistle, as if she was no longer a part of the conversation. Xena reached over and slapped Eponin in the side of the head. "YOU my friend get those Amazons in here. They are always loud and they love parties. I want this celebration in four days."
"And what will we tell everyone we are celebrating?" Cyrene had to ask if for no other reason than to see what Xena would say.
Xena gave her mother a big hug and sloppy wet kiss on the cheek. "Make something up mother. I dont care what we celebrate. I just want my Bard to be happy .I want her to heal." As the Warrior was leaving to go after Gabrielle, she turned back to her mother and friend. "Have Amarice saddle up Argo for me and have Lila pack some food and drink for us."
Eponin jumped to her feet and stopped Xena. "My friend, I hate to say this but Maris is out there roaming around. With the threat to Shulaba, if she hears Gabrielle is alive ..and Im sure she will just like the rest of Greece, then Gabrielle is no longer safe."
The innkeeper understood Eponins concern and was not pleased that Xena and Gabrielle would ride alone. The temple was a good two candlemarks away, therefore the Warrior Mom sternly stated, "Eponin you and Amarice need to escort my daughter and Gabrielle. I will not loose either one of them again." Looking to her raven-hair daughter who grew into a wise beautiful woman she concluded her demand with, " .and you will not argue Xena. They can camp outside the temple!"
The first messenger arrived in the Amazon village late in the day. The sentries escorted the messenger directly to the Queen. Hearing that Eponin sent the messenger from Amphipolis Shulaba anxiously broke the seal on the scroll and began dancing with any member of her royal guard that she could catch. Calling an immediate meeting of the village Shulaba announced the news of their Queens rebirth and that of her Warrior. The rest of the day the Amazons celebrated the wonderful news. Shulaba ordered that early the next morning an Amazon party would leave for Amphipolis to greet their lost Queen.
Teklai, Captain of the Royal Guard, caught Shulaba before she retired to her hut. "My Queen are you okay with the news of Queen Gabrielle?"
Shulaba was indeed pleased and she wasted no time in telling her childhood friend. "My beautiful Teklai I am so happy to have Gabrielle back. She has always been the rightful Queen and Artemis Chosen One. If she would have me as Regent I would be honored but the choice must be hers. Teklai my duty and loyalty has always belonged to Gabrielle."
"Breath Xena come on you are a Warrior. You can do this. You are stronger than she is. You love her. This is for her own good."
Amarice heard Xena standing outside her bedroom door talking to herself. "Xena, Argo is saddled and Eponin and I are ready." The Warrior simply nodded her head thanks. The young redhead was entertained by Xenas fear of Gabrielle. *Just like Eponin you big tough warrior-types always fall to us little ones.* Shaking her head and chuckling Amarice left Xena alone.
Wasting no more time Xena opened the door and knew she had to be quick yet gentle. She did not want to hurt Gabrielle and she also did not want to give her a chance to fight. With a quick prayer *Artemis help me see this through,* the Warrior approached the bed. Gabrielle did not stir as the Warrior took her in her arms. Very cautiously she carried her soulmate through the inn to a waiting Argo and friends. Carefully Eponin took Gabrielle so Xena could get up on Argo. Once settled in the saddle, Eponin lifted the Bard to Xenas waiting arms. Through all the movement the young blonde did nothing more than mumble a few indistinguishable words.
The journey to Aphrodites temple took slightly longer than two candlemarks. Xena kept the pace slower than normal. Partly because she did not want Gabrielle to wake up scared and because she needed more time to think about how she would convince her soulmate to open up about her sorrow. Through the entire ride Eponin and Amarice acted as royal guards to their Queen and her companion. There was no sign of trouble and they met no one along the way. This particular temple of Aphrodites was a smaller temple situated tightly in the cliffs overlooking the sea. The tight location was accessible only by horse or foot and was easily protected. Finally back on foot, Xena entered the temple carrying her Bard. It was agreed that Eponin and Amarice would not disturb them unless there was danger.
Once inside the temple the Warrior heard an all too familiar voice. "Warrior!" Xena turned to find herself face to face with both Artemis and Aphrodite. The Goddess of the Amazons motioned for Xena to place Gabrielle on a pallet covered with plush blankets and furs. Xena obeyed and discovered the Bard was starting to moan indicating she was beginning to wake. Artemis moved closer to the Warrior peering directly into her eyes. "Do not disappoint me Xena. You will not be pleased with my temper should Gabrielle .."
"Yea, yea, yea come on Art lighten up - Warrior Babe will take care of blondie." Over time Aphrodite grew fond of the couple and she could trust and depend on both Xena and Gabrielle for assistance. Artemis was just being a little too demanding and she was not shy telling her. "You know she loves Gabrielle now leave her alone. I agreed you could use my temple .not run it!!"
Calming down somewhat Artemis advanced closer to the Warrior. "Dont wait too long to marry my Chosen One. I might get tired of waiting and find her another warrior." White light surrounded the Goddess and she disappeared.
"Gee get a grip Art!" Aphrodite flashed one of her many flirtatious grins at Xena. "You are protected Xena as long as you are in my temple. Now if you dont mind Im out of here. Looks like I can have a tiny bit of fun with your two Amazon friends waiting outside." The Goddess of Love strolled toward the entrance disappearing before she hit the door. Xena could hear her giggling about her new challenge of love camping outside her temple. The Warrior could only think, *Good luck Eponin you are going to need it.*
Focusing all her attention back to her precious soulmate the Warrior knelt down next to Gabrielle and whispered softly, "Gabrielle, wake up .its time to wake up." All Xena received were several murmurs of words she could not understand. Kissing her gently on the lips, "Come on Gabrielle, wake up I need you to open your eyes." She wanted to get the Bards eyes opened and looking at her before she did anything more. Placing several more kisses on Gabrielles lips and eyes her soulmate began waking.
Struggling to open her eyes the Bard tried to focus and felt Xena holding her. "Xena?"
That was the recognition the Warrior needed to hear and countered it, "I love you Gabrielle. No matter what happens, I love you."
Not fully awake or comprehending her location Gabrielles heart intuitively forced her to concentrated on the words of love she heard from her soulmate. Looking up she saw the penetrating blue eyes that belonged only to Xena. With fear so close to her heart Gabrielle also noticed the strange surrounding and immediately lost focus on Xena. Feeling trapped she bolted to a sitting position and attempted to stand. Xena was there to stop her from running. "Gabrielle, sit back down." Reaching for the waterbag Xena was able to get Gabrielle to drink.
"Xena, where are we and what is going on."
The Warrior knew this was her opportunity and she acted. "We are in a temple outside of Amphipolis. Here drink some more water."
Gabrielle pushed the waterbag away. "I dont want anymore. Why are we here."
"You have to talk to me about your mom."
Boiling under the surface of the young woman was a monster that had been growing. The monster fed off of all the emotional losses the Bard experienced over a short period of time. Xenas paralysis by Callisto, Xenas death on the cross, fear of Xena abandoning her when the Warrior found out about the abuse, the death of her mother and her own guilt over her mothers death. Gabrielle was no longer able to control the monster and the hidden beast came out. "MY MOTHER IS DEAD. THERE IS NOTHING TO TALK ABOUT." Unexpectedly the Bard shoved Xena back causing her to loose her balance and fall backwards.
The Warrior was quick to stand and grabbed a now running Gabrielle by the upper arms. "Oh, no you are going to talk to me. You have to get this out before it kills you."
Green eyes scowled directly into the Warriors. "LET ME GO!" For reasons unknown to Xena, she released her grip. The Bard turned her back to Xena.
"You must talk about this Gabrielle .you cant go on like this .I dont want to loos .." Before Xena could complete her plea Gabrielle swung around with her fist aiming for the Warriors face. True to her nature the Warrior captured the angry fist before it struck. Thats when her soulmate snapped. Those same green eyes so enraged a moment ago began filling with tears, the luscious pink lips began quivering, her fingers reached out to touch the cheek she was ready to strike and the words "please forgive me" emerged from the depths of her soul. Collapsing in tears that were held back for days Gabrielle felt Xenas protective arms catching her, holding her, comforting her and loving her. The Warrior took Gabrielle back to the blankets and together the real healing process began. The tears continued for close to a candlemark before Gabrielle could calm down enough to string more than a few words together. Xena released her hold on the Bard to retrieve the waterbag for both women to drink. Joining her lover back on the blankets the two women sat so they could look into each others eyes.
Xena caressed Gabrielles cheek tenderly. "Can you talk to me."
"I dont know where to start."
Pausing to search for the best words the Warrior drew upon her experiences when tragedy struck. "Tell me how you feel right now .only for right now." Xena remembered saying similar words to Gabrielle when the two of them were striving for reconciliation and healing in Illusia. Gabrielle also recognized the words and between tears and moments of being unable to get her voice to speak the Bard told Xena how she was feeling over the loss of her mother and the guilt associated with it. To Xenas surprise Gabrielle also spoke to the loss she felt when Xena was hurt, watching her Warriors suffer in pain and die. Nothing was mentioned about the extent or history of Gabrielles abuse by her father other than she was afraid Xena would think she was shameful and her fears of loosing the Warriors love. The raven-hair Warrior encouraged her soulmate to voice everything that needed to be said, even if it only meant a few words. Hidden in-between the words and occasionally drink of water Xena made sure she was physically touching Gabrielle at all times. Xena craved this contact and hoped it would ease the pain her soulmate was feeling. Eventually Gabrielle came to a point where she could not talk anymore and she closed her eyes which were now stinging from the constant tears.
The healer in Xena came from the warrior body. "Your eyes burning?" The Bard sighed and nodded her head. Xena went to her satchel to remove a soft piece of fabric and poured water onto the cloth soaking it. Returning to Gabrielle, she tilted the young womans head and dabbed the cool cloth on her eyes. After a few seconds Xena softly asked. "How does that feel?" Before Gabrielle could respond Xenas desire to reassure her of her devotion came out. "Gabrielle, I want you to listen to me. There is nothing in this life that could ever make me be ashamed of you or hate you or want to leave you. I love you sweetie .I want.." The biggest grin crossed Gabrielles face prompting Xena to stop speaking. "Whats so funny?"
Gabrielle pulled the wet cloth from her eyes. "You called me sweetie. Do you realize what you are saying?"
"Aaaa I I didnt think you noticed." The Warrior had intentionally called her sweetie on a few occasions. It was just how she was feeling and she actually enjoyed the mushy little word. "Would you rather I did not?"
Gabrielle inched closer so she could crawl into Xenas lap. The Warrior welcomed her and placed several tender kisses on her head. "I love when you say all those mushy words." Gabrielle looked up into the deep blue eyes that told her of the Warriors love and the Warriors needs. Slowly the Bard reached up sliding her hands around Xenas neck and let her lips caress the Warriors.
Backing away from the lips she wanted so desperately Xena asked. "Are you sure?"
"Mmmm .yes I need to show you how much I love you. I want you to let me touch you and make love to you." Gabrielle nibbled Xenas lower lip and was pleased with the soft needy moan she received.
Keeping hold of her thoughts for anything other than Gabrielles passion was soon going to be impossible for Xena and she had to tell her soulmate one thing. "I want to marry you, Gabrielle. I dont want to wait much longer. I dont want us leaving Amphipolis without .."
Placing her fingers to Xena lips she knew exactly what her soulmate was asking. "I love you Warrior and I will marry you before we leave. Now kiss me."
After candlemarks of tears and words, touching and healing, the magic that makes up the bond between the Warrior and the Bard found renewal. Exhaustion was unimportant, as the soulmates were consumed by their passion for one another and their deep need to feel alive. Unknown to Xena and Gabrielle two goddesses stood witness to the healing and the beginnings of the passion. "Okay Aphrodite, time for us to leave them alone."
"Oh come on Art just a little bit longer."
Artemis grabbed Aphrodite by the ear. "No they dont need your help or mine in this area. I think they know exactly what to do and I might add they do it wonderfully."
Aphrodite gave a squeal of delight. As the two goddesses left the temple Aphrodite told Artemis of an old temple priest who lived in the mountains north of Amphipolis. Artemis laughter roared in agreement with Aphrodites wise choice.
After Xena, Gabrielle and the Amazons left for Aphrodites temple Cyrene and Lila kept themselves busy coordinating and planning Xenas demand for a private celebration. Laughing to herself Cyrene knew her daughters demand was actually a plea for help and was for her as much as it was for Gabrielle. Uncle Tensandis son knew several musicians and they agreed to play for all the free ale they could consume at the celebration. Cyrene sent a second messenger to Shulaba instructing her to bring the Amazons for a celebration. While Eponin had already sent a messenger out about finding Xena and Gabrielle, Cyrene did not think a second message could hurt. The innkeeper also sent out messengers to close friends of the soulmates. Locally Cyrenes list of close friends and family members grew beyond the private celebration Xena had envisioned.
"Cyrene dont you think forty-two villagers, six messages, and the gods only know how many Amazons is a little more than Xena wanted?" Lila was slightly concerned that the innkeeper was asking too many people.
"Yes, Lila I am sure it is much more than Xena anticipates. But, she put me in charge and Im her mom. She wont get too mad." The innkeeper laughed devilishly. The more she went around the village looking for messengers, ordering food and drink the more her friends would ask her what the celebration was for. Well, one thing led to another how could she ask Aunt Petrina without including her children and their families. Then the village healer Memnos overheard and .well he tended to Xenas illnesses throughout her childhood. So eventually the list grew from small and private to large and private. Enlisting the help of her employees and the various businesses donating food and drink, Cyrene was confident that everything would be ready in time.
By the end of the day both women were exhausted. Cyrene eventually settled into her favorite rocking chair in front of the fire with a hot cup of tea. Shortly after Lila joined her.
"Cyrene, what does Xena want really want to celebrate?"
Cyrene pointed to the footstool inviting Lila to sit closer. "Lila, trust my daughter. She loves your sister so very much. Xena hoped this little party would help Gabrielle."
Lila crossed her arms and leaned on her already bent knees. "Gabby is really happy with Xena, isnt she?"
"Does that bother you dear?"
"Well at first it did. But now ." Lila paused for a moment trying to find the right words. "As long as no one else hurts my sister I am fine with whoever she chooses. And I really do like Xena, although I use to be jealous of her."
Cyrene reached for Lilas hands pulling the young brunette to her lap. Lila rested her head in Cyrenes lap accepting the love this innkeeper was so willing to give. "Lila, why dont we just celebrate life and love. What do you think?"
"Yea, I like that idea."
Stella and Pippa arrived at the crossroads close to midnight. Maris was pleased with the information they were able to gather while in Amphipolis. The rebel explained to her companions how she watched as Xena and Gabrielle left the village with the Amazons and how she stayed behind to follow the old woman that seemed to be making demands of the Warrior.
Maris was irritated that Stella did not follow Gabrielle and interrupted Stella. "Are you STUPID why didnt you follow them!!!"
At that point Stella thought about killing Maris rather than Gabrielle. "I had every reason to believe the foursome would return because Gabrielle seemed to be sick or something and their horses were not packed for a journey. Turns out I was SMART to stay. The old woman is Xenas mother and in less than four days they are throwing a celebration. This is our opportunity to strike undercover."
The leader of the rebel Amazons was pleased with this information. They would set out for Amphipolis tomorrow in order to scout the village and prepare for the assassination of the Amazon Queen.
That night as Pippa laid in her bedroll, she could not sleep because her thoughts troubled her greatly. Rubbing the recent bruise on her cheek Pippa wondered if this is the life that she really wanted to live.
The rumors about Xena and Gabrielle being seen alive trickled throughout Greece. First because they appeared to have cheated death at the hands of the mighty Caesar and second because it was Xena her reputation, as being a cruel warlord turn good, was news worth following for any Greek citizen. It did not take long for Poteidaia to also hear of the news. The village elder almost broke the door of the tavern down trying to reached Herodotus farm.
After the elder left, Herodotus entered his now empty home. The house began to deteriorate after his wifes death and Lilas departure. Angry and drunk he assumed Lila would seek out Cyrene or Minya. Herodotus was convinced Xena took his entire family away from him. The insanity controlling his mind continued to deny that he was solely responsible for his own loss. If he had been honest with himself, the old man would realize that Gabrielle was lost to him ages ago, when she was just a little girl of three or four. Spitting on the floor he poured himself another mug of ale. Talking to his drink, "Well my precious little Gabrielle it would seem you cheated death. I wonder just what you would do, if you knew it was the news of your death that caused your mother to die. My dear daughter you will replace her even if I have to kill that warrior of yours. Then maybe, I will forgive you." Staggering to the kitchen cupboard Herodotus pulled out a piece of parchment. Eventually finding a quill and some ink the angry old man sat down at his table to compose a letter to Gabrielle. Again talking to no one but his drink Herodotus laughed over the anguish he would cause his wayward daughter and the Warrior. "This should bring you home my daughter."
Finishing his cruel task Herodotus set out to find a messenger that would deliver it into only Gabrielles hands. The old man wanted someone who would also deliver the parchment for free. It had to be someone who could enjoy bringing pain to the Warrior without a price. In his drunken stupor the old man still knew any pain he brought to Gabrielle would cause twice as much pain for Xena. Realizing it would take several days to find that type of messenger Herodotus shoved several dinars in his fist and headed to the tavern. He would wait there - after all he had all the time in the world.
Lightening broke the early morning sky followed by the clapping of thunder. The violence of the thunder startled the sleeping soulmates causing Gabrielle to bolt into a sitting position. The Warrior could see Gabrielle was visibly shaken and sat up to hold her. "Gabrielle its okay, just thunder." Rubbing the Bards back hoping it would calm her down Xena suddenly remembered the two Amazons sitting out in the open. The bluff offered very little protection. "I have to tell Eponin and Amarice to get in the temple. They do not need to be out there in this storm."
"Why are they here Xena. I thought only you and I were here?" The Bard looked puzzled and the Warrior knew she would have to explain about Maris and the groups banishment by Shulaba.
"Ill explain everything once I get them out of the storm." Throwing a blanket over her shoulder the Warrior reached back down to give Gabrielle a quick kiss on the lips before leaving the temple.
Gabrielle wrapped a blanket around her body and decided she was actually hungry. It did not take long for the Warrior to return with Eponin and Amarice in tow. With a piece of nutbread in her hands the Bard greeted the two Amazons with a smile and a quick hello. Xena was pleased to see Gabrielle rummaging through the food Lila prepared for them and was not at all surprised nutbread was her first choice. Together the foursome consumed a morning meal, as the rain began to fall and the thunder rolled through the sky. As promised, the Warrior told Gabrielle why the Amazons had accompanied them to the temple and the story of Maris disrespect for the Amazon nation and her subsequent banishment.
Eponin also filled in the missing parts of how Amarice returned to the village, Brutus offer of peace and the grief of the nation and especially Artemis. The brown-eyed Amazon explained that the news of all their deaths triggered her return home from the land of the pyramids and sand. For the moment, Eponin did not tell Gabrielle of the visit to Poteidaia, which resulted in Herodotus attempted attack on the Amazons party. And no one talked about Hecubas death. When Xena had gone outside to bring Eponin and Amarice into the temple she mentioned to both that Gabrielle was finally able to talk about her grief over a number of topics, however she circled away from details surrounding her fathers abuse. Therefore although both warriors felt anger about the cruelty of Herodotus a quick glance between each other in an almost unwritten warrior code confirmed that the subject should not be brought up.
Unexpectedly Gabrielle stood up to move away from her three companions. She looked tired and on the verge of tears. Just before turning away she spoke, "Amarice I .I just want you to know Im sorry. I had no right to call you a coward and to attack you. I dont know why I did that .please forgive me."
"My Queen, I do not find fault with your actions or reasons. You actually did me a favor .I too thought I was a coward. I am so sorry for abandoning you and Xena. I only ask that both of you forgive me." Amarice stood up and bowed her head respectfully. "Please excuse me, it sounds as if the storm has passed and I must see to the horses." Before anyone could stop her, the young redhead was gone.
Eponin was extremely proud of the response Amarice gave Gabrielle. "Gee, maybe there is hope for her yet." Looking to Xena and Gabrielle the Amazon smiled, "I think I will help her with the horses. When will we be leaving Xena?"
The Warrior looked to her soulmate who had already returned to the pallet and was getting dressed. "Eponin lets leave later in the day so we can make Amphipolis before nightfall. I want to give Gabrielle a little more time."
With a smirk playing across her face Eponin reminded the Warrior, "Xena, dont forget to tell her about the celebration."
"Oh yeah. Well maybe later."
Eponin caught up with Amarice who was trying to regain the fierce little attitude she was becoming well known for. Although she was brushing her horse down after the rain, Eponin could tell she was not serious about the task. Going against the hard-nose warrior grain Eponin addressed her young companion. "Amarice are you okay?"
"Yea, sure Im fine." Not looking at Eponin was a struggle. She was so attracted to her and yet she knew Eponin was only acting like Shulaba ordered a mentor. Had their relationship been different Amarice would have reached out in tears for Eponin. She was so tired of acting like a tough brat. Deep inside Amarice knew it was a charade.
"Im proud of you Amarice. I know what you said took a lot of courage and "
Partly fearing the affectionate words from Eponin and partly her own need to be loved she turned to face her mentor. "Let it go Eponin it was no big deal." Before the Amazon Warrior could react or reach out Amarice dropped the horsebrush and walked away. Eponin could not help but notice the redness in her eyes and not knowing what else to do she let her go.
Once Eponin left the temple Xena approached her soulmate. She could tell it was difficult for Gabrielle to focus on what Eponin was explaining. Xena believed it would be tough on her Bard for awhile but at least now she was talking. Standing behind Gabrielle the Warrior reached out placing her hand gently on the Bards shoulder. "Gabrielle you okay. I know it is hard "
Gabrielle turned around wiping the few tears that were falling. "Xena, I..I just feel so bad about attacking Amarice. And I feel horrible for how Ive treated you."
The Warrior would not let her finish and pulled her soulmate into a strong embrace. "No Gabrielle, dont do this, okay. I love you through good and bad. Nothing can change that. You are my soulmate forever in every life and in destiny. Too much has happened since your birthday and you are being much to tough on yourself." Xena paused to kiss the tip of her lovers nose. "If I remember we made a promise to follow our paths side by side. What I have seen over and over again is the beautiful emotional woman that I fell so deeply in love with. If you want to show me you care - then please dont ever shut me out deal?"
The Bard gazed into her lovers blue eyes. They had the color of protection and love the color of the bluest sky. "Xena, I love you and .yes it is a deal."
The lovers needed no words to show their commitment to each other. Together they shared a physical, emotional and spiritual love that penetrated and filled their souls and hearts. Accepting the need to grieve was the first step to healing. Xena knew Gabrielle had taken that step here in Aphrodites temple with her help. To the Warrior that trust Gabrielle gave to her meant the world to Xena. They would be okay.
"Gabrielle, would you like to try and meditate together?"
Normally it was Gabrielle trying to talk the Warrior into joint meditation so the Bards soul began to beat quickly at the offer. "Yes I would like to try .it has been difficult for me to focus .but, yes I would like to try."
The Warrior gave her soulmate a quick kiss and they moved to the center of the temple. "Gabrielle, think of our ocean remember the ocean of belief."
"Yessss, I do remember. It was such a beautiful place and so peaceful."
Like well-orchestrated music the soulmates clasped hands and slid into their complimentary positions. Their bodies created a meditative arrangement that spoke volumes of their spiritual and soulful bond. When both women were completely at peace their essence mingled and their souls mated as one. The peak reached with this joint meditation was the unexplainable power they could feel enter their spirits. Both women assumed it was from their Creator and a promised rainbow .and it felt as if they were receiving total unconditional love.
Later the women shared their physical love slowly and sensually. Eventually Gabrielle drifted off to sleep in her Warriors arms. Xena followed shortly after. When they woke the sun that popped out after the storm was now hanging low in the western sky. The couple packed their satchels between moments of kisses and comforting words and left the temple in search of the Amazons.
Eponin and Amarice were waiting for them on opposite sides of the temple grounds. The young redhead was standing on a boulder overlooking the sea and Eponin was sitting on a rock facing away from the temple. Xena could see Eponin throwing her dagger into the ground between her feet repeatedly. Observing the body language of both women Gabrielle asked her soulmate a question. "Xena did I miss something?"
The Warrior wrapped her arm around Gabrielles waist pulling her close. "Looks familiar doesnt it."
Gabrielle reached up leaving a small kiss on the Warriors lips. "Yes, I guess it does. Any bets on how long it will take Amarice to wear Eponin down?"
"Bets?" Xena laughed, "Lets hope Eponin does not have to die first to find out shes hopelessly in love with Amarice." Memories flooded back to both women about the time Xena kissed Gabrielle while in control of Autolycus body. Suddenly the Warrior reflected back to Gabrielles comment of taking bets. "My Bard what do you mean when you say bets?"
Gabrielle giggled innocently before answering. "Ephiny, Solari, Eponin, Shulaba, Teklai, your mother and I all had bets on when you would fall my Warrior." Surprising Xena with another kiss she continued, "When you would fall into my arms and surrender."
Shock registered on Xenas face. "MY MOTHER???"
Before Gabrielle could respond Eponin turned to see the lovers on the temple steps and stood up quickly. This movement distracted Xena and she did not have a chance to question Gabrielle further on the bet or her mother. However, she made a mental note to speak with her later about this. The Warrior was not too sure she liked everyone betting on her day of surrender even if it was for Gabrielle.
Consumed with her thoughts of Amarice the Amazon at first did not hear Xena and Gabrielle approach. When she faced them Eponin was visibly shaken. Xena took the opportunity to rib her friend. "Slipping Eponin. Must be pretty important. Could it possibly be someone has occupied your heart." Walking right to the Amazon she added. "Normally a warrior only looses sight of their surrounding, when their heart is in control instead of their mind."
Eponin blushed and could see Gabrielles attempt to stop giggling. "Oh, very funny. Im just tired, thats all."
As Xena and Gabrielle walked passed Eponin toward Argo, Gabrielle could not resist joining in on the teasing. "Give it up Eponin surrendering is so much more fun."
By the time the foursome arrived in Amphipolis the sun was already asleep and the stars now took control of the heavens. Cyrene and Lila were extremely happy to see the women home and wasted no time showering Gabrielle was kisses, hugs and words of love. Quickly Cyrene shoved the women to the kitchen and began placing a great amount of food and drink in front of the four adventurers. No one mentioned Gabrielles pain over the last few days. Cyrene explained gently and motherly that Lila needed to let go and to give her sister a chance to heal. The innkeeper was pleased how well Lila responded. Both Xena and the Bard were grateful. Xena knew it would take time for her soulmate to work through the pain and over time it would lessen. While they were eating Lila blurted her excitement about the upcoming celebration.
"What celebration?" Totally in the dark about the celebration Gabrielle asked with curiosity.
"Xena didnt you tell Gabrielle about the celebration!" Shaking her head pretending to be irritated Cyrene slapped her daughter in the head.
Gabrielle looked to Xena for an answer. "Im sorry I meant too, I just well we just "
"Oh come on Warrior you were a coward." Eponin was now enjoying how the tables were turning. "I cant believe this beautiful little blonde still scares you. I thought when you surrendered - the fear went away."
Xena knew Eponin was thoroughly enjoying this whole situation. Turning to face Gabrielle, who was actually smiling Xena, decided to use charm. "Sweetie I.."
"SWEETIE." Everyone roared with laughter and surprise over the mighty Xena Warrior Princess Destroyer of Nations using the endearing term sweetie. Of course, between laughter Eponin could not let this opportunity go by. "Oh boy does she have you around her little finger."
Xena was dismayed to find everyone else laughing and agreeing with Eponin. Placing her elbows on the table and her hands up to cover her face the Warrior just shook her head not too sure what to do. Within seconds Gabrielle had her arm around her lovers waist pulling her strong hands from her face. Kissing her on the cheek reassuringly the Bard looked at the four laughing women. Then decided quickly to focus on one Amazon Warrior. "Oh Eponin might I remind you of one tiny little thing." Gabrielle was holding her fingers in a position to indicate the size of tiny. The Amazons laughter stopped abruptly and she knew this was the end. She was in big, big trouble now. She should have known Gabrielle would come to Xenas rescue. Sitting back in her chair she closed her eyes waiting for the attack. With a huge smirk crossing her face Gabrielle said, "Eponin, keep one thing in mind your dagger will not keep you warm at night."
With that statement the eruption of laughter from the women became uncontrollable. Eponins eyes burst open wide! Looking at a smiling Gabrielle she began shaking her finger, as if threatening to get her back. The Amazon knew, however, she could never hope to out master a Bard with words and instead began to join the laugher. "Xena, you are indeed fortunate my friend so when is the wedding?"
The Warrior looked to her soulmate. "As soon as I can find someone who will perform the marriage."
Gabrielle took Xenas hand to hold nodding her agreement about their marriage and then added, "Xena, I love you, but you are avoiding the original question. Why dont I know about this celebration?"
"I thought a small private celebration might be helpful. We have so many people that care about us and rather than spend our time traveling all over Greece well I thought bringing them here might be a good idea. You and I can use a celebration. Please dont be mad I was so worried about you."
Gabrielle gave Xena a huge bear hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Its okay Xena. I understand. So when is this celebration and who is coming?"
Cyrene took this opportunity to speak up. "The celebration is the day after tomorrow and since yesterday I think we are up to fifty-eight villagers, six messages were sent out and who knows how many Amazons will show up. Although I already know Toris, Hercules and Iolaus are too far away to make it in time. But they should be here in time for the wedding."
"MOTHER I said small private."
"Yes dear, and you also promised me to tell Gabrielle. So I guess we are now even." Cyrene was rather pleased with her justification.
The day before the celebration the Amazons started to arrive. From Alexos Tavern, the four rebels, dressed in peasant clothes watched Shulaba leading the Amazons into Amphipolis. Leandra mused there must be at least fifty of them, including Teklai. Maris was not too concerned and felt they could easily mix in among the villagers, friends and family. They would not be looking for the rebels, especially dressed as peasants and Leandra added that because there were so many to protect Gabrielle and Shulaba they would get careless.
Shulaba and the Amazons were excited and loud when Gabrielle and Xena walked out of the inn to greet them. Both looked tired and while Gabrielle did not seem to be quite her normal playful self she took on the roll of a true Amazon Queen. While her soulmate went around to talk with each and every Amazon, Xena was able to pull both Shulaba and Teklai aside and fill them in on the death of Gabrielles mother and the abuse by her father. Even though Shulaba knew of the abuse she said nothing to the Warrior. She also briefly mentioned Caesar and their rebirth but did not expand on the events. Cyrene insisted Shulaba and Teklai stay at the inn while the rest of the Amazons would camp near the stable owned by the innkeeper. The villagers all came out of their shops and homes to watch the Amazons enter Amphipolis. Many stopped them to shake hands and welcome the women. The village was always supportive of the Amazons.
Amarice took it upon herself to follow Gabrielle around, as she spoke with the Amazons individually or in small groups. *You really are a good Queen. I really underestimated you Gabrielle.* The young redhead noted after several candlemarks of constant conversation and demands of the Amazons that her young Queen was appearing slightly shaken. While never close enough to hear the topics and certainly not close enough for Gabrielle to realize she was following her around, Amarice noticed the change in her Queens posture and her eyes seem to be having a difficult time focusing. Looking around she wondered where Xena was. It was obvious that Gabrielle would need rescuing any minute now. Suddenly Gabrielle appeared to loose her balance and Amarice bolted to her side taking her by the arm offering support. "My Queen " looking directly into Gabrielles eyes Amarice continued without causing embarrassment to Gabrielle in front of the Amazons, "Cyrene said the noon meal is ready and she is looking for you."
Knowing full well that this young redhead was aware of her weaken state, she simply answered. "Yes, thank you Amarice." Turning to the women she was talking with, "Youll have to excuse me, when Cyrene calls well shes a mom and means business." The Amazons laughed and nodded respectfully as Amarice led Gabrielle away. Walking toward the inn Gabrielle thanked Amarice and asked her if shed like to join several other Amazons and herself later on that afternoon. Amarice was receptive and thought it might give her a chance to talk to Gabrielle about Eponin. The Queen was happy that Amarice agreed and asked if she would not mine coming to get her, when the other Amazons were settled and had eaten a noon meal.
All the women except Xena began consuming much more ale than needed. Eventually the subject of Maris and her companions came up, as well as Shulabas request for Xena and Gabrielle to come to the Amazon village. Gabrielle needed to take her rightful place as Queen, in front of the nation. Xena agreed to do so but not until Gabrielle was feeling better and they were married. The Warrior wanted to give Gabrielle longer to rest and heal before facing the demands of an Amazon Queen. Here in Amphipolis the women would not demand the attention or bring problems to Gabrielle as they would, if on Amazon territory. Missing Gabrielle terribly and realizing that she had been outside with the Amazons in the heat for much too long the Warrior excused herself to find her lover. She was pleased that Amarice took the responsibility of watching out for her lover, as it was important for Xena to talk with Shulaba. In the process of moving to the door Gabrielle and Amarice came through the entrance. It was very apparent to Xena that Gabrielle was not feeling well and Amarice had a strong grip on her. Xena rushed to help Amarice and pulled her lover into an embrace.
"Gabrielle, what happened, you okay?" Xena was concerned and began to feel a bit guilty.
Allowing herself to fall into Xenas embrace, she answered in a low voice. "Yes, Im just tired and a bit hungry." Looking over to Amarice she reached for the young womans hand. "Thank you Amarice. I owe you one."
"No you dont my Queen for you I am here, always." Amarice turned and walked out the door followed from a distance by Eponin. The Amazon Warrior needed to find a way to talk to Amarice .and so far her stubbornness would not allow her to surrender even a little bit.
Shulaba came up to Gabrielle and Xena. "So how is it going between the stubborn warrior and the little redhead? Have any bets been placed yet?"
Both women shook their heads and laughed. Gabrielle said, "Shulaba you are a wonderful Queen and no the bets have not been placed ..yet."
"Mmmm, I think Ill get the bets started. Oh and Gabrielle I might add you are the Queen thank the gods!"
"Shulaba, I ."
"No my Queen do not refuse your destiny."
"You will remain as Regent then please." Gabrielle was happy that Shulaba agreed and reached out to hug her. Returning her gaze to Xena. "Come on Warrior, help me to the kitchen I need to eat, spend time with you .and catch up on all the kisses and hugs Ive missed over the past several candlemarks." Xena had no problem with this request and led her lover to the kitchen.
After sharing a midday meal with her soulmate along with tender displays of affection, Gabrielle regained her strength and was actually feeling better. Cyrene, Lila, employees and Amazons wandered in and out of the kitchen but no one disturbed the two lovers sitting at the corner table enjoying time spent without interruption. Cyrene was especially pleased that Gabrielle was pulling herself out of her sadness with the help of Xena. *That was all she needed to talk about the pain.*
Eventually the peacefulness was disrupted by an arriving Joxer tripping through the entrance of the kitchen, followed by Minya and Autolycus. The Warrior and her Bard gladly greeted the trio of misfits and Xena focused the topic of conversation on their three friends. A protective Xena just did not want too many questions directed at Gabrielle. Since they returned from the temple her Bard mentioned nothing about her mother or father. Keeping her arm around Gabrielles waist the Warrior took joy in her soulmates happy reaction to their friends. *My sweet Gabrielle, be happy right now. I know we must visit the gravesite of your mother. I just need you too * Just then Xena realized Joxer was pulling on Gabrielles arm in his typical Joxer-type outburst. Before she could do anything to stop Joxer someone grabbed him by his ear and pulled him back causing him to trip and fall.
The young redhead who had pulled Joxer by force looked at Xena. "What is that?"
Xena raised her eyebrows. "Its a Joxer."
Lila rushed to Joxer and helped him off the floor. As he was rubbing his ear screaming ouch, Lila was dragging him into the front room. She had such a crush on him. Thanking Amarice with a Warrior smile and nod of the head Xena asked, "Do you need to see me for something?"
"No." Amarice turned her eyes to Gabrielle and extended her hand. "My Queen are you ready."
Gabrielle turned to Xena giving her a hug and a kiss filled with promises to come. "See you later okay!"
Xena hung on to Gabrielles tunic. "Whoa my Bard -just a minute. Where exactly are you going?"
"Staff practice. Some of the Amazons have been practicing and we thought a demonstration at the celebration might be fun."
"Okay. Ill find Eponin and we will watch."
The Bard placed her hand out to stop the Warrior. "Oh no you dont my love. This is a closed practice. I want it to be a surprise. Why dont you go talk to Eponin about a certain little redhead."
Not sure whether to be happy over the suggestion that she should torture Eponin for a while or jealous that her soulmate was spending time with a bunch of Amazons, the Warrior relinquished, "Well, since you wont let me watch, I guess Ill go grab Eponin for sword practice .and a bit of torture." As Xena watched her soulmate skip off with Amarice, a part of her was contended that the two women appeared to be building a friendship. But most of the Warriors happiness was to see Gabrielle beginning to bounce back from sadness.
Minya interrupted the Warrior from her musing with a slap to the back. "See Xena ..I told you she was yours."
Before the sun rose over the village of Amphipolis the Warrior was awake. Not disturbing her soulmate she just wanted to soak in the warmth of Gabrielles body snuggling with her. Gabrielle had been very aggressive in their love making last night. Nothing cruel or forceful she just seemed to have an awful abundance of energy. *Just what did you do in that staff practice my Bard. You were very difficult to settle down last night not that I minded.* Xena could not resist and slid her hand over the thigh Gabrielle had draped over the Warriors hip. Caressing the softness of the skin and the strength of Gabrielles muscles the craving within the Warrior beckoned her to crawl up her lovers thighs to the treasure that always waited for her to claim. Her hand reached around her lovers waist gently pulling Gabrielle on top of her. Lifting Gabrielles head that was now resting just below the Warriors chin, she pressed her lips to her soulmates. The kiss caused Gabrielle to automatically respond and she opened her mouth slipping her tongue out for Xena to take. Deep sleepy groans slipped through Gabrielle, as her body started to respond before her eyes would open. The Warrior felt Gabrielles hands massage her breasts and Xena pulled her kiss away.
"Oh no my love .I want you and I wont take no for an answer." Gabrielle opened her eyes to find a very seductive pair of deep blue eyes digging deeply into her heart. Xena again claimed the lips of her soulmate with passion. She explored and tasted - feeling secure in the love they shared. Slowly Xena began to pull Gabrielle over her head stopping to give caressing attention to each breast. The same perfectly shaped mounds that use to drive her to perimeter checks years ago for want of tasting and holding them. Her sucking and licking caused several sharp gasps and cries of ecstasy from Gabrielle. Sliding underneath the athletic body of her lover Xena pushed Gabrielle upward until her curly golden center of pleasure was resting over Xenas tongue. The first lick caused uncontrollable shutters and tremors from Gabrielle. The Warrior had her heart and soul. Gabrielle with complete trust allowed Xena to own her. Xena increased the pattern and motion of her tongue and lips - pleasuring her future wife. The taste and wetness drove the Warrior mad with desire and she could feel her own need growing. Without asking Xena felt Gabrielle arch her back and slide her hands down to the Warriors wetness. Passionately the Bard rubbed her fingers in Xenas velvet wetness causing the Warrior to rotate her hips to meet the dancing fingers and hand of her lover. Both were very close to the edge this morning and as Gabrielle increased the circular rubbing of Xenas wet center, the Warrior increased the same motion with her tongue over Gabrielles swollen folds. The rotation of hips matched each other in speed and direction. The Bard cried out for Xena to take her and together they rode their orgasms as one body, one soul and one heart.
Collapsing in her lovers arms the Bard peeked up at Xena. "I love it when you wake me up like that!" The soulmates giggled for awhile remembering all the mornings they shared together and all the different ways they woke each other up.
The knock on the door came sooner than they hoped. Cyrenes voice bellowed good morning from the other side, as she passed by their room. "Mom sure likes to do that. Knock and leave."
Deciding it was indeed time to get up both wanted to eat a morning meal and spend time with Cyrene before their guests started waking up for the celebration. The Warrior was pleased with the shopping they did yesterday after Gabrielle was finished with staff practice. Xena was able to pick out a black leather tunic similar to her last one. This time there was no metal clasps holding the shoulder straps. Instead leather ties held the straps in place. The tunic length was slightly longer but not by much. The leather ties holding the tunic together were now across her breasts. The Warrior also purchased upper arm and wrist bracers made of black leather stamped with circular designs reminding her of the chakram. Over the top of her leathers she chose a gold breastplate similar to the last one only this plate lacked the shoulder guards. A sturdy leather strap fastened to the back of the plate allowing her to carry the sheathed sword, as before. Today, however, Xena would leave the sword behind. The black leather boots had upper side fasteners and pulled on fairly easy stopping just below her knees. For now she decided against the knee guards. Xena included a black leather belt around her waist with a hook for her chakram and a pouch for a small dagger. The chakram would also be left in her room for todays celebration. The Warrior decided only the dagger would remain at her side.
"By the gods Gabrielle it feels so good to be back in leather!" Turning to face her soulmate the Warrior could not speak, as her eyes filled with so much of her soulmate. "GABRIELLE there is no way Im letting you out of this room until you put some clothes on!"
Totally pleased with the reaction she received Gabrielle responded. "Xena, I do have clothes on."
Xena walked up to her Bard taking her by the arm and turning Gabrielle to face her. "Gabrielle, Im serious. This was not the clothing we bought for you yesterday."
"I know that. This is the new Amazon clothing Shulaba gave me as a gift. I need to wear it today. Especially since Im the Queen. I dont want to hurt Shulabas feelings or allow the Amazons to think I do not wish to be apart of their culture."
"You dont want their feelings hurt!!! Well what about mine?? I do not want everyone drooling all over you!!."
Gabrielle pulled her arm away from Xenas grasp. "Listen no one will touch me but you. I love you Xena, remember? I am marrying you remember??? Now help me with the bracers." The Warrior made no attempt to move so the Bard pulled on Xenas arm and reached up to kiss her lover.
*Im so weak oh Gabrielle how do you get me to cave in so easily.* Xena increased the passion of their kiss and in return could feel the love radiating from Gabrielle. The Warriors heart and soul told her inner fears to calm down this Bard was indeed all hers.
Later in the morning Cyrene and Amarice helped Gabrielle braid portions of her hair with strips of leather, beads and owl feathers. Even after the passion of their kiss the soulmates got into a dispute over Gabrielles Amazon skirt and the Warrior eventually threw her arms in the air and left. Gabrielle had not seen her since. The Bard was angered by Xenas jealousy and allowed her own temper to fuel the argument. Once Gabrielle calmed down she understood that it was not a lack of trust, rather it was Xenas fear of loosing her soulmate. Death had damaged their self-confidence and Gabrielle realized her Warrior was still blaming herself for the pain Gabrielle went through and that her obsession with Caesar is what eventually killed the Bard.
"My Queen, did you hear what Cyrene just said? She asked if you would like some lemon tea." Amarice noticed how suddenly Gabrielle drifted off and she also was aware there had been a small fight between the lovers. It did not take an oracle to read the Warriors anger, as she paced the kitchen earlier refusing to speak with anyone.
"Oh yes. Im sorry Cyrene my mind was just drifting."
The innkeeper smiled at Gabrielle and set off to make the tea. Cyrene was amazed how this young Amazon Queen truly regulated the mood of those around her without even attempting to do so. Cyrenes employees became suddenly formal around Gabrielle. When the blonde Amazon first entered the kitchen, Uncle Tensandi who agreed to help Cyrene tend bar bowed respectfully. The innkeeper smirked and whispered to Gabrielle that Uncle Tensandi never bowed for anyone. Upon hearing this Gabrielle immediately bowed her head acknowledging his sign of respect. Uncle Tensandi left the kitchen with a small bounce to his step and the three women broke apart with laughter.
By midday Gabrielles hair, which was now hanging just above her shoulders was completed. Cyrene and Amarice entered the main room followed by the Amazon Queen. Xena saw her immediately. The beauty and power illuminating from her soulmate brought tears to her eyes. The Warrior was not the only one who was captivated by Gabrielle. The inn was filled with several Amazons but the majority was villagers. Everyone stopped to watch this gorgeous woman enter. Whether it was just the mystique of her rank as Queen or the awe of the Queen being Gabrielle either way it did not matter for she stopped everyones heart. The clothing she wore was made of deer hide and beaten until it was soft and pliable exposing every curve and muscle. The skirt was a short wrap-around with slits up the sides exposing more of Gabrielles muscular thighs than Xena wanted. Even after Gabrielle reassured the Warrior of her love, they argued about the amount of thigh Gabrielle was exposing and Xena eventually stormed out of their room angry. Once she cooled off she was feeling rather foolish in her jealousy. When Xena decided to talk to her soulmate about her reoccurring underlying fear that Gabrielle would leave her, the Bard was already in the kitchen with her mother. Now as she observed her soulmate, Xena was relieved to see that several leather ties were in place stopping the slit where the Warrior had originally demanded upper mid thighs. A beautiful leather belt composed of a complex design woven with various color beads wrapped around the Queens waist holding the skirt in place. Thin strips of leather adorned with delicate seashells gracefully hung down from the belt dancing in front, as Gabrielle walked. Her top was a halter style with an extremely low cut held together by six tiny golden clasps. The halter very generously revealed Gabrielles tight abdomen, bewitching breasts and powerful shoulder blades. There was not a whole lot left to the imagination except the fantasy of bedding this beauty. On her wrists the Queen wore leather bracers to match her clothing. Her feet were protected with the finest brown leather boots. Each boot had leather ties half way above the ankle to secure the footwear to her calf with the length cutting just below the knees. Around her neck she wore the traditional rawhide necklace with a single bear tooth and several small sparrow feathers.
Gabrielle entered the room, slowing down when she realized everyone was watching her. There were numerous whistles and groans of appreciation, as she moved further into the room. She was searching for Xena and finally caught sight of her standing by the fireplace. Remembering their argument Gabrielle could instantly tell by the look on Xenas face that her Warrior was feeling slightly overwhelmed and fearful of the type of attention she was receiving, as Amazon Queen. The whistles increased in number and Gabrielle saw Xena lower her head. With complete control and pride Gabrielle instantly became the Amazon Queen. Her walk became determined and her eyes honed in on their target. People began moving out of the way, as Gabrielle made her way straight for Xena. Looking up just in time, the Warrior saw the emerald eyes of her lover. Gabrielle winked which instantly sent Xena a message. The Warrior reached down pulling Gabrielle up to meet her lips. In this single kiss Gabrielle allowed Xena to mark her territory, laying claim as the Queens Champion. When the kiss ended, Xena led Gabrielle to a corner table where the patrons already sitting there moved quickly and respectfully leaving the table available for the Queen. The crowd followed the two women with their eyes. Xena sat down in a chair and motioned for Gabrielle to sit in the chair next to her. The Queen had other plans and instead sat on the Warriors lap straddling her thighs facing Xena. Interweaving her fingers with the long black raven hair Gabrielle pulled her Champion in for a passionate kiss. The kiss did what Gabrielle hoped for the crowd quieted down and went back to private conversations.
The Warrior was consumed in the love her soulmate was pouring on her. Severing the kiss for the rich luscious skin within her reach Xena trailed her lips to Gabrielles neck sucking and biting lightly. The Queens breasts were right in front of her and the Warrior tilted her head to kiss the warm flesh. Running and sliding her tongue into the exposed cleavage elicited sensual moans from her Bard.
"Ahem excuse me Xena." With a slanted eyebrow and a smirk across her face Cyrene placed two mugs of ale in front of them, followed by plates of food. "You two need to calm down. Here EAT please!"
Glancing at each other Gabrielle moved to the next chair and the soulmates laughed over Cyrenes interference, as they enjoyed their meal. Eventually Eponin, Amarice, Shulaba and Teklai joined the couple and raved about the rumors spreading through the inn on how the Warrior conquered the Queen. Leaning over Xena whispered in her lovers ear. "Sweetie we both know it is you who conquered me. But thank you again for letting it look the other way."
By late afternoon the celebration was in full swing and everyone was becoming anxious for the special Amazon staff demonstration. Knowing full well what the type of performance the people of Amphipolis were going to see Shulaba deferred her right to introduce the Amazons to the village council. After the council bickered, straws were drawn and Memnos, the village healer won the honor to introduce the women.
Memnos stepped up on the wooden platform constructed especially for this performance and addressed the participants of the celebration, which by now became the entire village. "Folks thanks to Cyrene," Memnos bowed to the innkeeper, "we have a wonderful celebration today - a celebration about life. Thanks to Queen Gabrielle and Regent Shulaba our guests have a special Amazon drill team which will entertain us with a special staff demonstration. Ive seen these beautiful women in practice and " Memnos wiped his brow, " if any of you find your heart rate increasing - dont bother me until after the performance." This comment elicited a huge roar of laughter from the crowd.
Approximately two hundred paces away sitting outside of the inn were Xena, Eponin, Cyrene, Lila and Shulaba. Close by Autolycus, Minya and Joxer were mingling with the villagers and Amazons. Eponin was not too sure to liked what Memnos was insinuating and turned to Xena. "What exactly did he mean by that!!"
Xena shrugged her shoulder. Neither she nor Eponin were allowed into the private practice so they had no idea what style this demonstration would take on. "Dont worry Eponin, the old mans heart probably increases whenever he comes near an Amazon. After all it was only a staff demonstration." Although the Warrior had not been happy with Gabrielles choice in clothing for the day, she assumed a staff demonstration was all business. Her Bard always took practice serious. Now, however, she began wondering what other mischief her little Bard might have created. Pulled from her thoughts by Gabrielle, Amarice and the Amazons stepping on the platform, the Warrior sighed at the sight of her lover looking so beautiful. Feeling proud that Gabrielle chose her above everyone else in the world Xena thanked the Creator first and then all the gods one by one.
Five Amazons began a steady slow pulsing thump on a deep bass drum reminding the audience of a heartbeat. Twelve Amazons, including Gabrielle, moved through various warm-up swings and stretches with their staffs. Next they formed three rows in offsetting positions so all twelve women could be seen. Matching the cadence of the drums the Amazons began to tap the end of their staffs to the wooden platform. Soon three more drums joined the rhythm adding a deeper tempo to the already arousing beat. Without warning the drill team began to slowly sway their hips and shoulders back and forth keeping pace with the drumbeats. This enticing movement from the scantly clothed Amazons sparked several howls of appreciation from both men and women in the audience. Several metal drums joined causing the acceleration of the rhythm and giving the musical impression of lungs matching a heartbeat. Picking up their staffs the women took several pivotal steps forward before dropping to their knees. Above their heads the staffs were held high. Immediately four Amazons playing massie cymbals could be heard causing the pace of the drums to increase. From their knees the drill team performed a series of intricate revolutions and acrobatic maneuvers with the staffs. Abruptly all the music stopped. The Amazons jumped to their feet and paired off, giving the impression that a battle would follow. Each couple began executing complex jabs and thrusts against their partner. All that the listeners could hear were the slapping and banging of wood against wood. Each timed to precision not a beat was missed. From the silence the five bass drums emerged once again setting the cadence with a hypnotic deep thumping and pounding. The team maneuvered like wild animals back into their original rows. Everyone watching started to clap hands with the vibrating pulse of the drum. As before, the Amazons made repeated taps with their staffs to the platform floor. This time more force was applied and the crowd could witness the strength and flexing of muscles on each Amazon body holding a staff. Slowly and intentionally each woman proceeded to rotate her hips sexually. Before the bellowing whistles from the crowd could die down each member of the drill team held their staff vertically with their body. The bottom tip of the staff touching the platform remained stationary, as each woman began lowering the top portion at an angle forcing them to seductively crawl, in small steps a determined path up the slanted staffs. At no time did their bodies actually touch the staff, however the suggestive gyration of their hips and the arching of their backs, shaking of their shoulders and closing of their eyes sent a seriously sexual messaged to the crowd watching. To make the atmosphere more erotic the music turned very seductive forcing wolf howls and propositions from the audience to the Amazons on stage. The clapping crowd helped the drums keep cadence to the staff crawl. The drill team had total control of their audience - men and women. As the crawl ended team members dropped their staffs to the platform and continued to maintain a straddling position. The masse cymbals and all drums now joined together controlling the rhythm once again. Each Amazon laced their fingers seductively through her hair and feathers shaking and rocking her head in coordination with the gyration of her hips and shoulders. In unison the team continued the dance of seduction adding in several slow hops to the steps and pelvis thrusts, as they backed down the length of the fallen staffs. Ultimately each Amazon picked up their staff pounding the end twice to the platform and the music abruptly stopped.
Villagers and non-performing Amazons were totally aroused and out of control with excitement and enthusiasm. Many shouted and screamed for the team to repeat the performance, several villagers rushed the platform. The drill team disbanded with laughter at the overwhelming acceptance they received. Gabrielle and Amarice almost fell to the ground while hugging each other like happy little girls. Everyone was so positive and the compliments, as well as propositions, became overwhelming for the drill team.
Clapping and whistling with fascination over the wonderful performance Shulaba, Cyrene and Lila turned to speak with Xena and Eponin. Both warriors stood frozen in place. Their mouths were dropped wide open and both had eyes as big as the moon. Cyrene knew her daughter well enough to realize this reaction was not good. * Well I have two choices. I can rub it in and tease Xena a bit or I can settle her down so she does not kill anyone.* It only took a moment for the innkeeper to choose the first option. *Oh well, people around Xena will just have to duck, when her fist comes close to them.* The innkeeper positioned herself right in front of her daughter and Eponin. "Dear, the performance is over, you can close your mouth now." Cyrene could not resist laughing at the reaction she was witnessing in both warriors. "Wasnt it wonderful Gabrielle and Amarice were just ..just so very ..sexy!" Cyrene knew full well she was stepping out on a limb and at that moment she did not care. This was just too much fun for the innkeeper.
Neither warrior could respond to Cyrenes comments. They both heard her but neither could find a voice to answer. Xena could not believe what she saw. Her Gabrielle dancing seductively and erotically with a bunch of Amazons for all of Amphipolis to see ..and with a staff ..and everyone including her own mother thought it was perfectly okay. Men and women howled at her Bard and they offered Gabrielle a night of suggestive entertainment. Xena wanted to clobber Eponin for teaching Gabrielle the staff but when she looked at her friend, she was just as shocked.
Both Lila and Shulaba loved the demonstration and motioned for Cyrene to join them in congratulating all the women. Xena began to unfreeze and continued to look around at the reactions from the villagers and other Amazons. A short distance behind Xena was Joxer who had passed out and was now face down kissing the dirt. Seconds later Minya bolted by Xena mumbling something about staff lessons. Autolycus was right behind Minya and as he passed by Xena he quickly volunteered his services should Xena ever need anyone to father a child for Gabrielle. If the Warrior was not so shocked, so jealous, so angry and if she could move faster she would have kill Autolycus for the suggestion.
Uncle Tensandi finally tapped Xena and Eponin on the shoulders. "Great performance you two going to go congratulate them. I cant believe they really pulled that off."
The Warrior with teeth gritting turned to her uncle. "What do you mean pull it off."
Laughing and a bit surprised at his nieces reaction Tensandi explained. "I let them use my barn for practice, they swore me to secrecy. I thought the villagers might find it a bit too .well you know. But the council loved it. It would seem the whole village loved the performance!"
The two warriors stormed to the inn only to be greeted by the Captain of the Royal Guard who was blocking their entrance.
"Get out of the way Teklai!" Eponin ordered.
Teklai just grinned at the two warriors and crossed her arms. "Now if that was my woman on that platform dancing seductively, invitingly and I might add executing superb staff maneuvers, I would first be extremely proud that she was my woman. Second I would make sure I told her how proud I was and third I would be right at her side making sure no one else tried to claim her. And last but not least I would ask for a private performance. Lets face it warriors .it can only get better! But a word of warning dont wait too long or your beds might be cold tonight .and probably for some time."
Staring at the boldness of the Captain who dare cross rank to confront them, both immediately realized the wisdom in her words. Simultaneously they turned around to notice how the crowd was already swallowing Gabrielle and Amarice. The village musicians joined in with the Amazons to play what was now known as the Staff Song. Everyone began dancing, bumping and grinding being silly, loud and having fun. No one cared who his or her partner was. Others began eating and drinking the food and ale donated by every business in town. The Warrior patted her friend on the back. "Teklai is right. And Gabrielle has been hurt enough. I sure dont need to add to her pain by my own jealousy."
Eponin was not sure she was in complete agreement and questioned the Warrior. "Xena, they seduced this village with their ..bodies .and and and "
"Youre stuttering Eponin. Listen, if you want to loose a chance with Amarice then that is your business. I do not plan to loose Gabrielle." The Warrior glanced at her friend who looked puzzled. "Come on Eponin, youll catch on after awhile. It took me two years to admit I love Gabrielle. Do Amarice a favor and yourself, move faster."
Maris and Leandra were also amused with the performance. "Maris before we kill Gabrielle I want time with her."
The rebel leader slapped her companion on the back confirming she had no trouble with that request. "When you are done then I will also have a turn."
Stella was already located among the crowd close to the inn preparing to cause a distraction for Xena and Eponin. Pippa was standing behind Maris and Leandra listening to them changing their plans. The problem now became larger. Not only were they going to murder this woman, they now planned to kidnap and rape the beautiful Queen. In her heart the good started to surface over the desire to be needed, which was the only reason, she stayed with Maris and her gang. The littlest Amazon decided she would find a way to warn Gabrielle.
The crowd of people around Gabrielle and Amarice were too many for Leandra to just stroll in and take the young blonde. Plus as long as Amarice stayed close, she for sure would recognize Leandra. No longer contended with just killing her, the assassin would need to make a few adjustments to the plan they spoke of earlier today.
After some pushing, shoving and hearing way too many suggestive comments about their women the two warriors finally stood face to face with Gabrielle and Amarice. Both were somewhat out of breath and appeared frustrated. The Warrior discovered that the closer she got to Gabrielle the more fear she had of loosing her to someone else. Now that she was standing in front of her soulmate Xena froze unable to touch her.
Gabrielle was extremely happy to see Xena. She began to worry, when Xena appeared to be walking away. The Bard actually grabbed Amarice and had intended on chasing after her. The last thing Gabrielle wished for was to have Xena mad at her for the demonstration. Now her lover was standing in front of her appearing to stop short, as if she was holding back from touching Gabrielle. It did not take long for Gabrielle to realize the Warrior seemed upset and confused. "Xena, whats wrong?" Not getting any response, the Bard moved closer to her soulmate reached up and pulled Xena in for a kiss. The Warrior welcomed the warm and tender lips of her soulmate and sighed with relief. Gabrielle heard the sigh and she stopped the kiss allowing several groans of disapproval slip from Xena. "What is wrong Xena. Are you angry at me?"
"By the gods I love you. Dont ever leave me." Xena petitioned Gabrielles lips with force and the Bard reciprocated, as their bodies pressed tightly sealing any chance of even air coming between them.
Neither one was watching the interaction between Eponin and Amarice. Only Shulaba and Cyrene noticed, as the two stood and looked deeply into the others eyes. "They are both stubborn Cyrene I dont know about this."
"Have faith Shulaba. Have faith." Cyrene patted her Amazon friend on the shoulder and the two walked back to the inn for some food and drink.
About half way back Teklai came running up to them. "Shulaba where is Gabrielle. Maris is in the village." The trio ran back to where they had just left the four women.
Calm and completely in control of her emotions, as only the Captain of the Royal Guard should be, Teklai nudged the Warrior on the shoulder interrupting a kiss. "Xena we have a problem. Maris is in the village, and weve captured two of the rebels."
Not wanting to break away the Warrior looked down at her lover. "We better get back to the inn. You are not safe out here." Gabrielle placed one more kiss on Xenas lips and allowed her soulmate to lead her to safety. Eponin and Amarice followed closely behind. Eponin cursed slightly at the disruption because she was beginning to get brave enough to at least ask Amarice, if she could hold her hand.
At the inn, Pippa was sitting on a bench in the corner with her hands tied while four Amazons guarded the young rebel. Stella had ropes binding her wrists and ankles and was sitting on the floor outside of the kitchen surrounded by six Amazon guards and Uncle Tensandi. Teklai explained how Pippa came to the inn trying to find Gabrielle and she immediately recognized the young rebel and ordered her arrest. Soon after, Stella came rushing in only to see we already had hold of the little one. She tried to fight and Uncle Tensandi quickly took her down from the behind.
Being the tender emotional woman that made her a good Queen, Gabrielle walked over to the young rebel. The expression across this childs face was fear and loss and the Bard saw these emotions. As Gabrielle sat down across from the child, she could see that her face was bruised, her arms and legs had marks from punches and scratches. And Gabrielle could relate to the fear, loss and the pain of abuse. As Gabrielle attempted to maintain control of her emotions, it was difficult for her not to react as the memories of her own pain began to creep back in. The Bard covered her face with her hands to hold back tears and regroup. Xena, Shulaba and Cyrene witnessed the emotional drain that swept over Gabrielle and they presumed her memories of abuse were flooding her heart. Without words the Warrior sat on the bench next to her soulmate and wrapped her arm around Gabrielles waist. Soon Shulaba sat on the opposite side and Cyrene sat next to her daughter. Symbolically the Bard understood the support she was receiving from the three women.
Lowering her hands she took a deep breath and searched for Xenas free hand to hold hers. Once the Warrior had a tight grip on them Gabrielle spoke very softly to the young rebel. "Teklai tells me your name is Pippa. Do you know who I am?"
The young rebel nodded her head and said, "Youre youre the Queen. Everyone thought you were dead."
Gabrielle smiled, "Well, Im not, although a lot of people thought so. Can I ask you why you are with the woman tied up in the corner?"
"Stella shes not so bad. It is the other two Maris and Leandra. They want to kill you and more."
The Warrior and Shulaba were both ready to jump in and pull the information out of this little girl, but Cyrene had a grip on Xenas tunic and Shulaba new intervention would only lead to a reprimand later. She had not yet become as bold around Gabrielle as Ephiny had been. Gabrielle paused only a moment and asked, "What do you mean Pippa, when you say more. Did they plan to kill others?"
The young rebel was beginning to feel comfortable with this Queen. She was soft and gentle, she was pretty and she did not hit her. "They talked about killing Shulaba too. And I think they still want too, but they wanted to hurt you more."
The protective nature in the Warrior was now running out of patience and she spoke up without giving Gabrielle an opportunity to ask more. "Pippa do you like your Queen?" Xena motioned to Gabrielle. The young girl nodded her head yes. "Then will you please tell us what we need to hear to help protect her and Shulaba." The Warrior felt her soulmate squeeze her hand and even though she knew she spoke out of turn Gabrielle did not disapprove.
"They want to kidnap the Queen and they each want to .to " Pippa lowered her head in shame. "Im sorry my Queen I never wanted you to be harmed. I never wanted Shulaba to be killed. I came to warn you. Even if they kill me .I had to tell you."
Once again Gabrielles heart controlled her actions and she reached out and untied the ropes holding Pippas hands in place. No one questioned the mercy Gabrielle was showing the young rebel. "Pippa, no one will hurt you. I will make sure you are safe, okay. Do you trust me?" The young girl nodded her head yes. "Then please tell me everything. My friends cant protect me or Shulaba, if you dont tell them." The Warrior tightened her hold on Gabrielles waist and pulled her closer.
Pippa took a second to organize her thoughts. "At first Maris and Leandra were after Lila. They were going to kill her and blame it on Shulaba. Then when they found out you were alive, my Queen, they decided to kill you and Shulaba." The Regent handed the rebel a cup of water. After taking a long drink she nodded her thanks and continued her explanation. "Then, when we found out about the celebration Maris thought they could kill you both here and still get away by hiding in the crowd. But, when .when they saw you dance." Pippa lowered her head and fiddled with her clothing. "Well they both decided they would kidnap you and and ra rape you many times. And then when they were done .well, they would kill you."
Shulaba excused herself and went over to relay the information to Eponin and Amarice who were attempting to question Stella. At first Gabrielle said absolutely nothing and then she asked Pippa, if she was hungry - which she was. The Queen directed the guard to isolate her and give her something to eat. Her orders included that the child was not to be harmed in any way. Once Pippa was led away Gabrielle turned to face Xena and Cyrene. "Im really not ready to talk to the other rebel. I I need some time to think."
Without hesitation the Warrior walked Gabrielle to their room. No sooner was the door closed and Gabrielle began to sob. Xena lifted her and carried her to the bed where she leaned her back against the headboard holding her soulmate on her lap. The Warrior knew exactly why Gabrielle was upset. It was partly for the pain Pippa had been through and the rest was for the horrible memories that were triggered by the young rebels abuse. Xena was angry with the rebels for threatening her lover with rape and death and the Warrior was angry with the Bards father. The pair stayed entwined until Gabrielle from shear exhaustion fell asleep. The Warrior refused to move and stayed holding her soulmate until there was a knock on the door. Sliding Gabrielle off her lap the Warrior discovered Eponin on the other side.
"Is Gabrielle all right? Xena, I know you dont want to, but she is going to have to come and help us. The older rebel, Stella, is demanding to see her. She wont talk to anyone else."
In a concern voice the Warrior asked, "Eponin, did anyone beat her?"
Before Eponin could answer the Bard was standing next to Xena. "I will be extremely upset Eponin, if ANYONE beat that woman!"
The Amazon Warrior bowed respectfully to her Queen. "No I made sure no one touched her. Any bruises she may have were not caused by any Amazon."
The couple thanked Eponin and asked that she give them a moment to organize their thoughts. Once Eponin was gone the Warrior turned to find Gabrielle who was at the wash basin splashing cool water on her face. "Sweetie, why dont you rest. I will talk to this rebel .and I promise no one will touch her."
Doing only what comes natural for someone like Gabrielle, she slipped her wet arms around her soulmate and with a sweetness that tugged on Xenas heart, Gabrielle pressed her lips to the woman she loved more than life. "Thank you my love - for holding me, protecting me and most of all for loving me so deeply. Lets talk to this rebel together. The nap helped and you just being with me helped."
Stella was moved to the storage room off the kitchen and the couple found she was still tied up sitting on the hard dirt floor. Standing tall and proud Gabrielle was still dressed in her Amazon leathers. The feathers from a white owl marking the wisdom of a queen were braided intricately in her blonde hair. Xena could not help but be proud of her soulmate. *You have come so far my love .so far.*
The fair-hair rebel raised her head to look up at the face of the Amazon Queen. "You are beautiful."
Not at all happy with the forwardness of the rebel Xena stepped in front of Gabrielle with her hands balled tightly closed in anger. "Keep you tongue quiet or I am liable to cut it out!" The Warrior felt a soft small hand tugging on one fist. The gentleness caused Xenas hand to open and instinctively the strong warlike fingers curled with the fingers of peace.
Not missing the physical exchange between the young woman and the harden warrior, Stella let smirk cross her face. She was well aware of Xenas reputation and was amused by the power the Queen had over her. "I will speak to the Queen alone Xena!"
Before Xena could object the Bard spoke up. "Then you have nothing to tell me." Gabrielle turned to walk away.
"My Queen, I will talk to no one else." Stella began to feel panic run through her veins.
Gabrielle heard fear and pain in Stellas voice so she faced her once again. "Lets get one thing clear rebel." Squatting down at eye level with the fair-haired woman, Gabrielle continued. "I am in charge not you. If I say Xena stays .then you better get use to it. Now do you still have something to tell me or not?"
Glaring up at Xena the rebel found the Warrior smiling proudly and tenderly at Gabrielle. Looking back at the Amazon Queen whose penetrating and commanding green eyes never left Stella, the rebel spoke. "Is Pippa okay?"
"Yes, she is being protected and fed. Who beat her?"
A small tear formed in Stellas eyes taking both Gabrielle and Xena by surprise. "Maris mostly. I have never beaten or slapped her. I .I love her and Im worried."
It only took one look from Gabrielle to Xena and the Warrior knew what her lover was requesting. Xena bent over and untied the ropes from Stellas hands and ankles. Shocked by this action Stella stayed on the ground and did not move. The next thing she could see was the Queens hand reaching out with an offer for Stella to accept. She hesitated and said, "My Queen, I can not accept your hand. Ive betrayed you."
"Didnt I already tell you I was in charge." Stella nodded her head. "Then take my hand Stella and tell me about this young child that you love."
Once standing Xena offered Stella water, which she took with thanks. "Pippa is my daughter."
"Stella, do you know about the murder attempt on the Queen and Regent." Stella nodded yes so Xena continued. "And do you know Maris and Leandra planned to kidnap and rape Gabrielle before killing her."
The Amazon rebel took two steps forward. She wanted to look directly into Xenas eyes. It was important to Stella that the Warrior believes she would not lie. "I swear on the life of my daughter no, I did not know of that plan. I only know they wanted to kill the Queen and I was to provide a distraction. Maris promised to let Pippa and I go when it was over." Stellas body slumped and she sat back on the ground with her hands covering her face. "I let my stupidity and stubbornness get in the way and .I only wanted to be with Pippa." Several tears fell from Stellas eyes. "You see she Pippa does not know I am her mother. I just so wanted to be with her .and make up for abandoning her .I was so young. Im sorry my Queen for betraying you."
Memories of Solan flooded the Warrior and she lowered her head. Quickly Gabrielle moved to stand in front of Xena wrapping her arms around the Warriors waist. The time spent in Illusia helped Xena heal the shame she felt for abandoning Solan. Now most of her sadness was caught up in scattered memories. Lifting Gabrielles chin the Warrior smiled and kissed her soulmates lips thanking her and softly whispered, "Im okay really. She just caught me off guard." Xena focused her attention back to the rebel. "Stella do you have any reason to think Maris and Leandra will stay around now that youve been captured?"
"No Xena. Maris is determined and Leandra is just an assassin. Their hate runs deep for the Amazons. They will do has they planned it may just take them longer. They also believe that Amazon custom will execute any one of us that gets caught."
Gabrielle reached over and patted Stella on the arm. "I have to hold you prisoner. You know that, dont you." Stella lowered her head and mumbled she understood. "I will arrange for you to see your daughter. Then I will have both of you taken back to the Amazon village. Stella, I can not guarantee the outcome of your trial, but I will do my best as long as you cooperate and do as I say."
"Thank you my Queen."
Gabrielle and Xena left the storage room to find Shulaba and Eponin. The first person to greet them was Cyrene. One look at Gabrielles face spoke volumes to Cyrenes heart. She opened her arms hoping the Bard would accept her warmth and love. Gabrielle happily fell into them. At this moment, Gabrielle craved the love only a mom can give and she welcomed Warrior Moms offer to hold her and hug her. The Warrior stepped around behind her mother and ran her fingers through Gabrielles hair. "Gabrielle, Im going to give instructions to Teklai about Stella and Pippa. Is that okay with you."
Peeking up over Cyrenes shoulder Gabrielle blew a friendly little kiss to Xena. "Yes please." The innkeeper with Gabrielle in tow moved to the window seat and continued holding and hugging the young blonde for sometime.
Later that evening as the villagers and Amazons awoke from late afternoon naps, the celebration continued. The village musicians and the Amazons by now played and sounded beautiful together. The dancing and eating and drinking continued on pass the midnight candlemark. Xena sat on the bench in front of her mothers inn with Gabrielle leaning up against her. The days activities finally caught up with Cyrene and bidding her daughters goodnight she shuffled off to bed. Joxer was passed out from consuming too much port and was laying somewhere under the platform where the Amazons performed earlier that day. The couple could hear Minya deep in conversation with Shulaba and Teklai about becoming an Amazon. And no one knew where Autolycus was. Gabrielle assumed he found the company of several willing Amazons. After the capture of Stella and Pippa, members of the royal guard were sent throughout and around the boundaries of Amphipolis in search of Maris and Leandra. They came back with word that several villagers saw two women riding horses extremely fast out of the community stables almost running a child over. Sentry patrols were then sent out to pick up the trail. The trail eventually went cold, as the rebels headed into the mountains west of Amphipolis.
Completely enjoying the firm yet soft body she was cuddling up to the Bard realized that Eponin and Amarice had been missing for sometime now. "Xena, have you seen either Eponin or Amarice lately?"
With her eyes still closed the Warrior continued to soak in the pleasure of her lovers body so close to her own. "Now that you mention it no I have not seen either for awhile."
The Bard sat up and looked to Xena. "Really you think just maybe?"
Peeking through one eye Xena let her hand caress Gabrielles cheek. "After that performance the two of you gave well lets just say Eponin was extremely shocked and jealous. She definitely has it bad for Amarice."
Feeling impish Gabrielle coyly asked. "Warrior, were you shocked and jealous?"
Clearing her throat it dawned on Xena that she just walked straight into a trap and with Gabrielles traps the only way out was honesty. "Well .yeah I guess I was surprised .and jealous." Opening her eyes completely Xena smiled at her soulmate. "Listen once the shock wore off and I could move from my frozen state .well I was really proud of you, and ." Releasing a deep throaty growl of pleasure, " and lets just say your body stimulates poetry in my heart."
"Really mmmm poetry?" The Bard was elated that not only did Xena notice, she even got a little bit jealous. Gabrielle would never admit that to Xena but it always made her spirit sparkle, when her Warrior became so possessive. * .And you are becoming so very mushy, my lover.*
Observing that her Bard suddenly got lost in thought Xena added to her response. "Yessss, I noticed and so did everyone else in the village!" Lifting Gabrielles hand to her lips the Warrior covered her hand with several tiny kisses and then sensually peered into those sea green eyes. *So, you are feeling a bit playful, my love.* Capturing the Bards face the Warrior pulled her close, as if she was going to kiss her soulmate but stopped short and whispered a seductive request. "But do you give private demonstrations?"
Gabrielle fell hopelessly into her lovers arms and the Warrior watched, as her soulmates playful eyes turned to that deep glazed-over green that meant Gabrielle was surrendering her body to Xena. "Mmmm only for you my Warrior only for you."
The day after the celebration the village was quiet. The Amazons were packing to return home with Stella and Pippa. Joxer left earlier with a horrible hangover mumbling something about visiting his grandmother for a cure. Cyrene managed to talk Minya into staying longer. The innkeeper openly admired the woman who not only stood up to Xena but continued to carry her daughters whip. Shulaba and Teklai decided to stay and wait for the wedding. Although Xena still had not found anyone to marry them, she knew once things settled down somewhat she would find someone. Everyone assumed Eponin and Amarice would stay although no one had seen them since last night. The only one left was Autolycus who was now sporting a black eye.
"Well Cyrene, once again thank you for an absolutely fantastic party."
The innkeeper shoved away Autolycus offer to kiss her hand and pulled the King of Thieves into a big bear hug and kiss. "Dont forget to come back for the wedding."
"Aaaaah, yes. Well send out word. I wont be too far." The King of Thieves cautiously shook hands with Xena and tilted his head in respect to Gabrielle.
Looking down into her lovers smiling face Xena knew exactly what she was going to ask. "Yessss."
"Who punched Autolycus in the right eye?"
Shulaba, Teklai, and Cyrene started giggling. Teklai could not resist squealing on the Warriors jealous temper. "Xena punched him. It was really a great hit too! Poor guy never saw it coming." Giggles turned into laughter.
"And just when and why did you hit poor Autolycus?"
Realizing she was in big, big trouble Xena attempted to justify her reasoning. "Look - he had it coming. And I punched him, when you were with mom." Xena could see Gabrielles raised eyebrow and that look. The look that told the Warrior she would be sleeping alone, if she did not explain. Xena turned and held her soulmates hands. "Gabrielle, after that dance Autolycus was bold enough and stupid enough to tell me if I was ever looking for someone to be with you, so we could have children well he wanted the job."
"Children!" Gabrielle was caught off guard by the topic. Tenderly she slipped into the Warriors waiting arms and the giggling women stopped, realizing there would be no fireworks and left the couple alone. "Xena, you know we cant have children without a man."
"Gabrielle, I dont care. Well no, wait. I do care. We will just have to adopt or go on with our life without children." The Warrior kissed Gabrielle on the lips tenderly. "I will not allow anyone else to touch you intimately and please dont ask that of me!"
The thought of children never really crossed Gabrielles mind. After the loss of Solan and Hope, the Bard just assumed as long as they remained lovers - children would not be possible. Then after they died and were reborn Gabrielle understood that each of them would just move up the karmic ladder popping into different lives where the Creator destined them to be. She did not question the foolishness of her thoughts or the wisdom of the Creator. Gabrielle felt complete knowing she was Xenas soulmate for all eternity. Memories of all the messengers, the various religious doctrines, the prophets and the gods came flooding back to Gabrielle. After four winters of trying to understand and find a place in her heart for all of them, Gabrielle finally concluded that there was indeed only one Creator running the show and the rest were all just a part of that Creator. Pulled from her thoughts she felt her soulmate running those strong fingers through her hair.
"Hey, where did you go Gabrielle? You okay?"
A smile grew over the Bards beautiful face. "Yes my Warrior. I will not ask you to do something that would cause you pain. When the time or desire comes for children then we can decide. Right now more than anything I just want us to bond in front of people who love us."
Relieved that she was not upset the Warrior led her soulmate outside. Pointing to the mountain north of Amphipolis Xena explained. "See the outcrop to the left of that mountain. Well there is an old temple priest up there. Before he retired he was the priest at Aphrodites temple the one at Kolpos Bluff. Im going to take Eponin and Shulaba with me and see if that old man will marry us."
"Why cant I go with you?"
Taking both of Gabrielles arms the Warrior bent over to look directly at Gabrielle. Xena did not want the Bard coming with her because she planned on making a special side trip to pick up a gift for her soulmate. It was something she ordered prior to their deaths and hoped that one day she would be able to give this to Gabrielle. A tender kiss grazed her lips pulling Xena from her thoughts. "Gabrielle, if you come with me, then there is no one left behind to monitor mother. You know in her excitement she will slowly twist out of control without even realizing. I want this marriage ceremony to be about you and me. Only people close to us will understand what we have."
No longer able to contain her craving Gabrielle seized Xenas lips in a forceful and searing kiss that only served to confirm that her soulmate was in full agreement. Demanding entrance into the warm moisture of her lovers mouth Gabrielle could feel her body tremble, when the Warrior surrendered to her demands.
From the platform in the village Artemis, Aphrodite and Ephiny watched the interaction between the lovers. All three were privileged to both the conversation and thoughts exchanged between Xena and Gabrielle. Artemis placed her hand on Ephinys shoulder. "Well my Amazon, you better tell that old priest to pack a satchel. Oh and where exactly are Eponin and Amarice?"
The Goddess of Love looked to both Artemis and Ephiny. "Well Im working on them. Eponin is pretty stubborn." Almost immediately laughter broke out among the trio, as they remembered the stubbornness of one other particular Warrior.
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