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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the (c) copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As always, I really appreciate comments and feedback about my stories. Please let me know what you think!
Xena: Warrior Princess
By: Fu Bard
Chapter 1: MEMORIES
It had been a long, hard walk over the range of mountains that day, and Gabrielle's legs were killing her. Sometimes she wished that she had a horse of her own, so that her legs would be spared some of the wear and tear they received in her travels with the Warrior Princess. On the other hand, when she did ride on Argo with Xena, another part of her anatomy tended to be sore - sometimes for days. "No," she thought to herself, "At least I can walk the soreness out of my legs the next day."
She unrolled her sleeping blanket and stretched it out beside the fire, next to Xena's - which Gabrielle had already laid out. She had gotten into the habit of preparing Xena's bedroll for her a long time ago. It was one of the many small things that she did for the woman that she loved so much. The young Bard paused as she thought about that for a moment. "I do love her. She's my closest friend, my surrogate family, my..." She got an annoyed look on her face, as she straightened Xena's bedroll - making sure that all of the twigs and stones were removed from beneath it and that all the wrinkles were smoothed out. "I'm not fooling myself one bit," she thought. "I am in love with her - body and soul."
She glanced over toward Argo, where Xena was giving her steed a handful of grain. "She lavishes attention on that horse, while I do most of the chores around camp - like a good little...wife." She thought about that for a moment, sitting back with her legs folded under her and watching Xena as she began to brush down Argo's coat. "Yes...wife. Sometimes that's how I feel with Xena. It reminds me of how mother takes care of father - making sure his meals are ready when he finishes a day of work, cleaning the house, and mending his clothes for him. Only, when their day is over, and they retire for the evening, they can go to bed and..."
She broke from her thoughts - embarrassing herself by the image she had started to form of her parents in bed together. Still, she couldn't help but wish that she and Xena could have that kind of relationship. She had wanted to from the very first day that she saw the beautiful warrior.
Gabrielle had always known that she was different from the other girls in Poteidaea, but had not figured out exactly how until late in her teenage years. As the other girls became aware of the differences in themselves and boys, and began to respond to the new feelings they had, Gabrielle realized that she could never have the same feelings that they did. She loved to look at, and wanted to be with, women. Men seemed awkward and unappealing company compared to the grace and beauty she saw in women. She had always thought that she was just weird - a one of a kind aberration doomed to a life alone... until Breanne and her father moved to town.
Gabrielle had met Breanne at the market soon after she and her father settled into their house near the smithy's shop. Her father was the new blacksmith in town, and Breanne was his only child. Her mother had died giving birth to her, and the smith had never re-married. Breanne grew up taking care of her father, who she loved very much, but she was even more of a loner than Gabrielle - never getting too close to others.
Gabrielle had gotten to know Breanne quickly at social events, and had immediately taken a liking to the attractive, dark-haired girl. Even though Breanne was several years older than she was, Gabrielle felt that she had found an almost kindred spirit, at last. They became good friends at once, and could be found together at any gathering, or whenever they had spare time. Gabrielle knew that her friend thought more like her than any other girl she had known - but never knew how much until that day at the pond.
The other young men and women of the village and their parents had all gone to the festival in a neighboring town, but Gabrielle and Breanne's fathers had not been able to get away from pressing matters at home, so their families stayed behind. The two friends had decided to take advantage of the time without many chores to do and enjoy a swim at their favorite swimming hole. They carried some food and a blanket so that they could have a little picnic after they swam. Having walked through the woods and gotten all hot and sweaty, the two wanted to get in the water and cool off immediately.
They tossed aside the picnic basket and blanket. Without the young men around, they didn't worry about clothes - so Gabrielle couldn't help but notice how nice Breanne's body looked, as she stood naked in the sunshine. Her slim body was firm and muscular - from helping her father at the forge, no doubt - and she had full, ripe breasts and rounded hips. Gabrielle was still undressing - her skirt in place and her top only partially undone. She had let her guard down, and was admiring her friend's figure - when she noticed that Breanne was looking back at her. Gabrielle immediately looked away, turning the other direction - a bit too quickly. "Oh, no," she thought. "I can't believe I let Breanne see me watching her. Now she'll probably think I'm weird and hate me. Oh, gods - I'm going to lose my best friend..."
Breanne put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and turned her young companion to face her. "I'm sorry I was staring", Gabrielle started, "But, I was...I, uh..." She was at a loss - what could she say? She thought of her friend hating her now - finding her strange and disgusting. Tears began to fall from her eyes...
Then Breanne had lifted Gabrielle's chin up and wiped away her tears. She didn't say anything. She just smiled and leaned forward - pressing her lips against Gabrielle's and giving her a soft, lingering kiss. Gabrielle was shocked! She was unable to move, and just stood there as Breanne kissed her. Her friend pulled back and smiled at her.
"You silly thing," Breanne said, laughing softly. "I thought that, by now, you would have figured out how I feel about women - and you."
"You...like women too?" Gabrielle asked, in a quivering voice.
"You know Gabrielle, for such a smart girl, sometimes you can be so dense. I've wanted this to happen from the first day we met," Breanne said, as she leaned forward to give the dumbfounded girl another kiss. This time, however, Gabrielle let herself respond. She kissed Breanne back, and when her friend's tongue pushed at her lips, she willingly opened her mouth and let it slide inside. Breanne held Gabrielle by her hips as they kissed, and then ran her hands up the younger girl's stomach - reaching into her partially undone top to caress her breasts. Gabrielle shuddered as feelings of passion began to overwhelm her. She put her arms around her friend's waist and reached down to feel the smooth roundness of her behind. She had wanted to do that for so long!
After the two young women kissed and explored each other's bodies for a few minutes, Breanne pulled away from Gabrielle. "Let's get a little more comfortable," she said. "First, you need to get out of this top." She finished undoing the shirt and pulled it over Gabrielle's head, revealing her pert, young breasts and their hardened, pink nipples - then she helped her remove her skirt. Breanne grabbed the blanket and spread it out in a shady spot under a huge, old, oak tree. She lay down on it and held her hand out to Gabrielle. "Come on down here. I think we've waited long enough, haven't we?"
"I never thought that I would find someone...Y'know - like me," Gabrielle said, "and I sure never thought I would meet someone as beautiful as you are." She couldn't believe that she was saying that to another woman. She had wanted this forever, it seemed. She took Breanne's hand and lay down on the blanket beside her.
"In the city, there are many women like us, Gabrielle. Before we moved here, I had several girlfriends - though none were as attractive as you are." Breanne smiled at her, and gave her a quick kiss.
Gabrielle blushed. "You're the one that's beautiful," she said, "so strong and sure of yourself. I wish I could be that way."
"Well, I've had some experience before", Breanne responded, "That makes a lot of difference. My first time, I was as nervous as you are now." She laughed sweetly and began kissing Gabrielle on her neck, and nibbling on her earlobe. Gabrielle felt a stirring deep within her as Breanne's lips brushed the soft skin of her throat, and her tongue explored the recesses of the younger girl's ear.
"Is it that obvious?" Gabrielle asked, moaning softly.
"Yes, but I can help you with that. Experience is the best way to get over being nervous." Breanne pulled Gabrielle to her, and they kissed passionately, while rubbing and caressing each other's bodies...
They made love for a long time. Breanne taught Gabrielle many things that day about pleasuring another woman, and she learned quickly how to please her new lover. When they were finally too tired to go on, they took a dip in the pond, got dressed and began walking back to the village - arm in arm.
They made love every chance they could get, after that day, and the whole summer was a season of love and happiness for them both. Gabrielle finally felt like a complete person. She had found how she fit into the world, and she knew that she was falling in love with Breanne.
She was so happy - until the day that Breanne came to her house crying. They went to her room and closed the door, chasing Lila away so they could talk in private. As Gabrielle sat, stunned, listening to her friend talk, Breanne said that her father had taken a job in Athens. It was a great opportunity for him, as he would be working for the king himself. They would be moving in two weeks. Gabrielle was crushed, and held her lover as they both cried together. How would she go on without Breanne...
Chapter 2: DENIAL
"Are you OK, Gabrielle?" Xena had come up beside her and put a hand on the bard's shoulder, looking down at her with concern. "You look so sad. What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," she replied. She knew Xena would see right through that, however, so... "My legs are just really hurting," she finished - not quite lying, anyway.
"Well, lay down and I'll massage them for you." Xena had a worried look in her eyes. She knew Gabrielle was not being totally truthful with her, but she decided not to push the issue. Gabrielle lay down on her blanket, with her legs toward Xena. The warrior sat down and gently moved Gabrielle's legs over the top of her own, outstretched limbs. She began to rub the bard's right thigh, with a kneading, circular rhythm - pushing down until she felt her friend tense, then relaxing the pressure a little. After a while, she switched to the other leg and rubbed it with the same gentle, circular motions, until she felt the muscles in it relax as well.
"Turn over on your stomach, and I'll do your calves," she said. Gabrielle rolled over, cradling her head on her forearms. Xena moved to the side, straddling her young friend's body as she got on her knees, facing the bard's feet. Reaching down, she unlaced both of the younger woman's boots, and slipped them off. She lowered her bottom down to rest some of her weight on Gabrielle's behind, then leaned forward and began to massage her friend's tight, muscular calves. "I'm not too heavy for you, am I?" she asked.
"No, I'm fine," Gabrielle replied. She was anything but fine! The way Xena was massaging her legs felt so wonderful, and the feel of her warm bottom sitting on Gabrielle's was almost more than the young woman could take. She always yearned for her friend's touch, but with the memories of Breanne in her head, and her desire for Xena foremost in her mind, the sensation of the warrior's hands on her was more than she could take. She began to cry, quietly, burying her face in her arms so that Xena wouldn't notice.
Xena was doing her best to try and alleviate her friend's pain. She used the techniques that Lao Ma had taught her to try and work the soreness and tension from Gabrielle's muscles. Lao Ma - Now there was someone she had not thought of for a while. Xena's past mentor, and lover, had taught her so much - including how to love, and make love to, a woman. The two of them had experienced such ecstasy together. Xena had been with many men since then, but had not been able to bring herself to be with another woman. She had not found another woman that she really wanted anyway - until she had found Gabrielle.
>From the moment she had first seen her young friend offer herself to Draco's men, to try and protect her sister from enslavement, Xena had been attracted to her - though, at the time, she wouldn't admit it to herself. Over the last few years, she had become more and more enamored with Gabrielle, but she couldn't let her friend know it. Although the bard knew that Xena had loved Lao Ma very much - even betraying Xena to Ming Tien because of her jealousy of Lao - Xena had never told her young friend that she and Lao had been lovers. For all Xena knew, Gabrielle would find the thought of two women making love repulsive - and there was no way she would risk their friendship for a chance at a physical relationship. No, she would continue to love her friend as best she could - traveling with her and protecting her from danger. Her desire she would keep to herself - though it burned in her like a raging...
"FIRE!" Gabrielle yelled, pointing down into the valley below them. Xena looked toward the area where she knew a small village was, though it was mostly invisible on this cloudy, moonless night. A large building was burning - illuminating the nearby structures. As they watched, a blast of fire seemed to fall from the sky, and another building began to burn. Now they could hear screams of fear and pain coming from the town below. Xena jumped up and whistled for Argo, who had been grazing nearby. Gabrielle began putting her boots back on, quickly.
The warrior grabbed her weapons and Gabrielle picked up her staff. "Let's go see what's happening," Xena said. They ran to meet Argo, Xena jumped up on her back, then reached down to pull Gabrielle up behind her. As they mounted the horse, another blast of fire came from nowhere, and another building went up in flames. They could see people running in panic through the town now, illuminated by the hellish inferno around them. Xena urged Argo ahead, and they took off rapidly, moving downhill toward the town - Gabrielle holding tightly to Xena as they jumped rocks and dodged trees in their rush to reach the stricken village...
Chapter 3: VILLAGE OF FEAR
Argo ran quickly from the woods and carried them to the edge of town, where Xena stopped the winded animal. Gabrielle dismounted, as did Xena. The Warrior Princess whispered something in her steed's ear and Argo immediately turned and trotted back into the forest. "There's no sense in risking her until we know what's going on here. Come on, Gabrielle." She started moving quickly toward the center of town, past a burning barn and an already burnt down mill. Several women and children rounded the corner ahead of them - running as fast as they could go!
The younger woman carried a small child in her arms, and he appeared to be horribly burnt - his skin black and peeling away in several places. She saw the warrior and bard coming toward them. "Run! Run for your lives!" she shouted, as tears streamed down her face. The other women appeared to be in shock and the children were all crying - fear in their eyes.
"What's happening?" Xena asked them. When they met the group in front of a burning tavern, the woman collapsed, and Xena took the pathetic child from her - gently laying him on the ground. She felt for a pulse on the young boy's neck, but found nothing. He had already succumbed to the terrible burns. "How is he?" the woman asked, grief filling her eyes.
"I'm sorry," Xena replied. "He's already crossed over. There's nothing I can do."
"Noooo...Oh, no! Tercias, oh gods...NOOO..." The woman was becoming hysterical, overwhelmed with grief. Gabrielle took her by the arm and led her away from the pathetic, blackened figure - trying to calm her down. Xena stared for a moment at the boy, then reached up and took a shawl from around one of the other women's neck and covered the small body from view.
"How did this happen?" Xena asked. "What started all of these fires?"
Suddenly, a loud whooshing sound passed overhead and a house across the street burst into flames. Pieces of burning thatch sprayed all around and Xena quickly knocked some from the shoulder of one of the little girls before her dress could ignite.
"Gods above protect us. It's back! RUN!" The woman who had shouted this turned and ran toward the woods from where Xena and Gabrielle had come. The children all screamed and followed her, as fast as their little legs could carry them. Now another group of people came running from the center of town, many of them burned and all of them had fear in their eyes. As they streamed past the warrior, she reached out and caught the only man she saw by the collar, jerking him to a stop. His eyes were crazed with terror, and he swung his only fist at Xena. His right arm was missing - probably an old war wound. She held on to him, and slapped him, hard, across the face - several times!
"Stop it! Get a grip on yourself," she said. He finally stopped struggling, and the glazed appearance cleared from his eyes. "Good man," Xena said. "Now, tell me. What's going on? Who's doing this?" The man struggled to form words, but his mind was obviously muddled with fear.
"It...It attacked the town...no warning, just fire and death..." he stammered, his voice cracking with fright.
"What could cause so much terror in all these people?" Xena thought. She pulled the man to her and looked right into his eyes. "Tell me what's doing this," she said. Suddenly, another loud whooshing sound passed overhead and the fields behind the tavern began to burn. A horrible, screeching roar sounded from the direction of the burning crops! The man yelled in fear, and he pulled away from Xena, ripping his shirt in his mad struggle to escape. He ran, screaming wildly, in the direction the others had gone!
Xena moved quickly to where Gabrielle was tending the mother whose child lay dead in the street. The entire town seemed to be on fire now, and night was as day from the light of the blazing inferno. The woman had passed out, and Gabrielle gently lay her head on the sand, raising up as Xena approached.
"What's going on, Xena?" she asked. "What could cause this kind of fear and destruction?"
"Let's go find out," she replied. She turned and began walking toward the center of town. Gabrielle readied her staff and followed the warrior through the blazing nightmare. The two were approaching the square, having seen no other living people, but many blackened and scorched bodies along the way. Looking ahead, they saw someone sitting in the center of the street. They ran over to where the person - a little girl of perhaps ten seasons - sat cross-legged, rocking back and forth. She held a torn and charred doll in her hands, and she hummed quietly to herself. Gabrielle put her hand on the child's shoulder, asking her name, while Xena checked her for injuries and then brushed the hair from her eyes. They were glassy and the pupils were dilated.
"She's in shock - probably from fear," Xena said.
"Xena, what could do this?" Gabrielle asked.
To their surprise, the little girl began to speak in a singsong voice, as she continued rocking...
"I fly in the sky,
Way up so high.
On leathery wings,
Quite wonderful things.
I can cook my own food,
When I'm in the mood.
If you hear my roar,
You won't be seen anymore.
Who am I?"
The girl giggled, as if sharing a private joke with herself.
"I've heard that before, Xena," said Gabrielle. "It's a child's riddle. She's talking about..."
"A dragon," Xena finished. She stared into the black sky, searching for movement, and Gabrielle followed her gaze. The night suddenly seemed much darker...
Chapter 4: A WARRIORS PLEDGE
Xena and Gabrielle had spent the night moving through the village, helping those who were still alive. The dragon did not return and, by morning, many of the frightened villagers were beginning to come back and assess the damage. The scene was grim, as many had been burned and many killed by the savage attack. Xena noticed that almost all of the victims - and the survivors too - were women and children. She was speaking to one of the only men in town - a wizened, old man of seventy seasons. He leaned heavily on a crutch and watched Gabrielle binding the burns on his young granddaughter's leg, as tears fell from his eyes.
"Where are all the men of your village?" Xena asked.
He wiped the tears from his face and replied, his voice heavy with grief, "They've all been drafted into the king's army - all but the crippled, the very old, and the very young. He had no choice, as those foul creatures wiped out our entire army months ago."
"What triggered the attacks?" she asked. "Dragons usually don't attack people for no reason. Most that I have met are not wanton killers of men."
"No one knows," he said. "We've always known that dragons lived in the hills around our kingdom, but they had never caused any problems - until last year. That's when the attacks on our villages started, and when our army was destroyed. It's always been said that our former king had dragons as allies, at one time. They were supposed to have helped him in battles against our enemies years ago, but now I begin to doubt that those stories were ever true."
"You said 'the former king'. What happened to him?" Xena asked.
"He was among the first to die when the attacks began," the old man replied. "He died with his army when it was utterly wiped out by the dragons about a year ago. Some say that it was his very allies who turned against him. Now, his brother rules our kingdom, and is trying to fight the dragons to save it." He looked around at the ruins of the village - and beyond it to the graveyard. Women and young boys were busy digging new graves for the many dead of the night's attack. "But how can anyone fight such horrible creatures? I fear even our new army will not be any good against dragons."
Xena gripped the old man's shoulder. "I swear to you, I and my friend will find out what's going on, and we'll put a stop to this. No more of your children will be burned or killed."
The aged man reached out and patted her on the arm. "I've heard of your reputation as a warrior, Xena, but I fear even you will only find death if you try to fight these beasts." He hobbled over and took his granddaughter's hand, trying to give the hurting child some comfort, as Gabrielle rose to stand by Xena.
"How can we fight dragons, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"I'll find a way," Xena said. She had a grim look in her eyes as she watched another burial precession go by, carrying primitive, wooden coffins - many of them child-size. "I will not let any more of these innocent people die."
Xena called Argo back from the woods, and she and Gabrielle rode to their camp of the previous night. They packed up all their things and put them on Argo and in their packs. Xena got up on her steed, and Gabrielle reached up to be helped on.
"I'm going to ride on to see the king," Xena said. "I want you to go back to the village and help with the wounded, for now. I'll be back this evening to get you, and we'll go from there."
"Xena, if you're trying to keep me out of danger," Gabrielle started, "I..."
"I'm not," Xena replied, cutting her off. "I just need to ride quickly, so that I can get back by this evening. Besides, if angry dragons are prowling the area, one place is not any safer than another - so be careful." She reached down and took Gabrielle's hand, giving it a lingering squeeze. She really wished that she could bend down and give her a long, slow kiss, but...
Gabrielle felt an almost electric tingle in her hand, as the Warrior Princess squeezed it firmly. She loved it when Xena showed this kind of affection for her. If only it could be more...
Xena released her friend's hand and rode off to the north, toward where the old man had told her the king's castle was. As she rode, she thought about the look Gabrielle had given her as she had held her hand. "It almost looked like she was thinking the same thing I was. Maybe she..." No, she had to be imagining things - just seeing what she wanted to see. She urged Argo on, feeling foolish that she had given in to her fantasies...
Gabrielle began to walk down the hillside, back toward town. She was thinking how wonderful it was when Xena paid intimate attention to her - even something so innocent as that small squeeze of her hand. "Maybe Xena would be interested in me as a lover after all," she thought. "How wonderful that would be. The two of us traveling together, fighting bad guys and monsters by day, and making love at night." She sighed. "I should quit thinking such ridiculous thoughts, and just accept the love that she's willing to give." She kicked at a small stone, frustrated and angry with herself for even considering such impossible ideas...
Chapter 5: A ROYAL MEETING
Xena approached the castle gates, which were heavily guarded. The whole castle gave the appearance of being under siege. Men stood on all the walls, many of them with bows and crossbows, and the drawbridge on the other side of the gatehouse was raised. The guards eyed her warily as she approached, then raised their weapons. "Halt, who goes there?" one of them called out. She stopped and dismounted.
"My name is Xena, and I need to speak with the king," she said. "It's a matter of the utmost urgency."
"Xena", he said. "I've heard of you." He shouted up to the walls to have someone tell the king. After a few minutes, the drawbridge lowered, and a guard hollered for her to pass on through. She mounted Argo and rode across the bridge to the inner courtyard, where she dismounted again, and tied her steed to a hitching post. Several guards escorted her up to the king's hall.
King Zantes greeted her warmly as she entered the throneroom. "Welcome Xena. I heard that you were in the area, and hoped I would get the chance to meet you." He locked wrists with her and placed his left hand on her wrist as he gripped it with his right. "You are most welcome. Please, sit down and join me. I was just about to have lunch." A huge meal was laid out on the table, and Xena felt her stomach begin to rumble at the sight.
"Thank you, Your Highness, I will." She sat and they began to eat. While they did, Xena described the events of the night to him, telling of the dragon attack and all of the dead children. As she recounted the events, she found that her appetite was disappearing.
"Sadly, yours is only one of many tales of horror that I hear almost daily now," the king replied. "Since my brother was killed by the treacherous beasts, they have taken to burning villages and fields at will. Nowhere is safe with them around."
"Treacherous...They turned on him? So the stories of your brother having dragons as allies are true?" Xena asked.
"Oh, yes," he replied. "For many years he cultivated friendships with them, though I warned him not to. The beasts are traitorous by nature, and are inherently unpredictable killers."
"My experiences with them in the past have shown most to be honorable creatures, that only attack men when threatened," Xena responded.
"Perhaps some are. But these two - they are vile, murderous beasts. You saw how they attacked defenseless villagers - women and children - with your own eyes." The king rose from his chair, his face angry. "I say they must be wiped out - before any more innocents pay the price for my brother's foolishness. As soon as my army is big enough, I intend to..."
"Your brother's army was no match for them," Xena said, "What makes you think yours will do any better?"
"We will destroy these foul creatures, I tell you. They are an abomination, and must be eliminated as soon as we can do so. I will lose no more of my subjects to their attacks." Zantes face was red, and he was clearly very angry.
"Do you know where they live?" Xena asked. "I know that dragons always lair in deep caves or other dark places."
"Sadly, no. If I did know, my army would be gathered at once, to wipe them out." He sat back down and continued eating.
"Well, I must be getting back to my friend in the southern village. Thank you for the meal, and the information," she said. "I intend to seek out these creatures, and help you to get rid of them. I don't want to see any more dead children either." She turned to leave, but then she spotted a loaf on the table. "May I take some food back for my friend?"
"Of course - Help yourself to all you need." The king motioned to a servant, who quickly brought a bag out and handed it to Xena. She put some dried meat, fresh fruits, and the whole loaf in the bag, then tied it shut. She turned and walked out of the throneroom, making her way back down to Argo. After she rode through the gates, the guards raised the drawbridge once more, and assumed their positions.
Xena rode quickly back toward the village. As she did, she thought of Gabrielle and hoped that she had not eaten when Xena returned. She knew how much her friend liked surprises. Xena smiled as she thought of the look on Gabrielle's face when she handed her an entire loaf of nutbread...
Chapter 6: A BARD DINNER
Gabrielle had helped the people as much as she could with the wounded, and then she sat down in the dining room of the inn. She thought about eating, but was too tired to do so. The owner's wife - he was away in the army - offered to let her take a nap in one of the rooms, and Gabrielle willingly accepted. She closed the door and lay down on the soft, feather bed. In minutes, the exhausted bard was asleep.
She awoke to the sound of splintering wood. As she jumped from the bed, the door burst open and armed men surged into the room! Several strong men grabbed her before she could reach her staff, which was propped against the wall. They carried her, struggling and fighting, out of the room and down the stairs to the street below! The townspeople were all gathered, and a group of soldiers were arranged in a circle before the inn. Their leader addressed the crowd.
"I tell you, these two strangers have brought down the wrath of the dragons on this village," he said. "Think about it. Your village was never attacked - until these women showed up. I say they are in league with the foul creatures - or maybe the gods are angry with them, and sent the dragons to get them, killing our people in the process. Either way, they must pay!"
"That's not true!" Gabrielle shouted, "We were just camped near your village, when we saw the fires. We came to help you." Several people nodded their heads in agreement.
"They helped us when we needed it," a voice said. The old man Xena had spoken to hobbled out to the front of the crowd - his granddaughter by his side. "They treated our wounded, including my little one here. I say they are not evil."
One of the soldiers walked up to him - and kicked his crutch out from under his arm! The old man fell, and his granddaughter bent down, hugging him protectively. "Shut up, you old fool," the soldier said, "Or we may sacrifice your scrawny bones as well."
"Sacrifice," Gabrielle said. "You are going to sacrifice someone to the dragons? Who..." She stopped speaking as the realization hit her - at the same time the man behind her slammed the hilt of his sword into the back of her head. She fell forward. The last thing she saw was the little girl crying as she hugged her grandfather - then blackness enveloped her...
Gabrielle awoke to a throbbing headache and a cool breeze on her face. She opened her eyes - and had to repress a scream! She was suspended over a huge, dark pit - hanging by her wrists, which were also bound together. Looking over toward the edge, she saw the same group of soldiers that had captured her - standing on the rim. Their leader smiled at her.
"Good - you're awake," he said. "I want you screaming when you go in - it will be sure to attract the beast's attention." He and his men laughed. "This pit is the lair of the dragons - and you're going to pay them a visit."
"You don't have to do this," Gabrielle said. "My friend and I can help you against the dragons. She's Xena, the Warrior Princess, and she can find a way to stop the burning and the killing. Let us help you."
The men all started laughing, and then their leader spoke again. "We don't want the burning and the killing to stop." He laughed again, and raised his axe to cut the rope holding her up.
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked, as he drew the axe back. "Wait..."
"When you see Charon," the leader said, "Tell him I said hello." He chopped downward and cut the rope. Gabrielle fell down into the darkness, her screams echoing off of the stone walls as she went. The soldiers all laughed, then turned and mounted their horses - riding back toward the village...
Gabrielle fell for a long time, then hit a pool of water - sending up a tremendous splash and sinking deep down. She kicked with her legs, struggling to swim upward. Her arms being tied, it took her a long time - but finally her head broke the surface, and she took in huge gulps of the cool, damp air. She was barely able to keep her head above the water, but her leg muscles - strengthened by all of her hiking - paid off. She was able to kick her way over to the edge - grabbing on with her bound hands. "I'll never complain about walking again," she thought.
She was able to pull herself up onto a rock shelf, then collapsed - breathing heavily. She lay there for a long time, then got up and tried to figure out what to do next. "What would Xena do?" she thought. "First things first, Xena always says." Gabrielle looked around until she found what she wanted - a shattered boulder. She moved her hands up and down on the sharp edge of the rock, using it to saw through the tough rope binding her wrists. After a few minutes, it cut through and her hands were free. Rubbing them to restore some circulation, she began to explore the bottom of the pit.
She was making her way around the edge, looking for some way out - a tunnel or maybe some vines she could climb up. "Hello, what do we have here?" She saw what appeared to be a tunnel, sloping down, away from the pit. A hint of light flickered in the distance. She began to grope her way through the darkness toward the glow. "Well, maybe this is the way ou... AAAhhhhhhh"
Gabrielle screamed as she fell down the slope, tumbling and bouncing along, banging against rocks as she went. "Ooommpphh" - she came to a jarring stop. She reached up and rubbed a lump, already raising on her head. She felt several more injuries and was just about to check herself over in the dim light, when the ground under her suddenly began to move. She reached down to steady herself. The rock felt strange - moist and oddly supple for stone. It felt almost - leathery... Gabrielle froze as she saw the dragon's immense neck bend around and two huge, red eyes open - looking down at her! The gigantic, reptilian head had two large horns on it, and dagger-like fangs protruded from its mouth. Its jaws began to open...
Gabrielle was paralyzed with fear. "Oh, no!" she uttered...
Chapter 7: ULTIMATE LOSS
Xena rode into town late in the afternoon. She headed toward the Inn, figuring that Gabrielle might have gotten a room by now. "I'm getting ready for a nap myself," she thought. "Maybe we can have some supper, then get a few hours sleep." The thought of getting to sleep next to her friend always appealed to Xena - even if it frustrated her as well. "It's so hard to lie next to her and not be able to have her," Xena thought, as she dismounted in front of the inn, "But I wouldn't trade it for all of Midas' money."
Suddenly, men charged out from all around her. Several ran from inside the inn, some came rushing out from the alleys on either side of it, and more streamed out of the shops and ruined buildings on the other side of the street. They all had their weapons drawn, and quickly surrounded her, as she stood there holding Argo's bit.
"Here's the other one," the apparent leader said. "Xena: Warrior Princess - Hah! She was easier to catch than her friend was."
"What did you do to my friend?" Xena asked, giving him a cold stare.
"Don't worry," he laughed, as did the other men, "You'll be joining her soon. GET HER!" The circle of men closed in on Xena, weapons raised.
"Argo - NOW!" Xena yelled, as she gripped the horse's bit tightly. Her faithful steed began to whirl in a tight circle, as Xena held on. The Warrior Princess was lifted up and outward by the centrifugal force of the horse's spin. As the men closed in, she began kicking out toward them, striking each one in the face, in turn. Men went flying backward, several smashing into the wall of the inn, and slumping to the ground.
Xena let out her war cry as Argo continued to spin, allowing the warrior to strike more and more of the men, knocking them down. When they had all been knocked to the ground, she let go of Argo's bit, and flipped through the air - landing on top of the leader's chest. She drew her sword and pointed it down toward his throat.
"You men drop your weapons, and start moving out of town," Xena snarled. "I want to see you cresting that hill beyond the stream in five minutes, or your leader is going to develop a nasty gap between his head and his shoulders."
"Do what she says," he shouted, as her sword tip began to push on his throat. The men all threw down their weapons and ran quickly toward the far end of town, disappearing from view as they went past the square. Xena watched them go, then looked down at their leader.
"Now - what did you do with my friend?" she asked, pushing down a little harder with her sword.
"You're too late," he said. "By now, she is filling the belly of one of those beasts."
"What did you do?" Xena leaned down close to him. "By the god's you tell me where she is, or I will make you suffer like you can't even begin to imagine!"
Suddenly, he struck upward with the dagger he had concealed beneath him, stabbing it deep into her thigh! She had been so concerned for Gabrielle that she had let her guard slip a little. Still - she was Xena. As he withdrew the blade, she didn't even flinch; she just leaned heavily on her sword - impaling him through the neck. As he died, choking on his own blood, she spoke to him.
"If something did happen to Gabrielle, you're one of the lucky ones - to die so easily. The rest of your murdering friends won't be so fortunate." She withdrew her blade and walked toward the doorway of the inn. From up the street, a voice called to her.
"Xena - over here."
She looked up the street and saw the old man and his granddaughter walking toward her. He leaned on his crutch as he walked, and the girl carried a heavy staff - it was Gabrielle's!
"What happened to Gabrielle?" she asked as he walked up to her. The little girl handed her the staff, and Xena leaned on it, favoring her injured leg.
"Those men took her to the pit this morning," he replied. "They said she was to be sacrificed, to try to appease the dragons. I tried to stop them, but..." The old man began to cry. "She was such a sweet girl...I tried, but I couldn't..."
"It's OK," Xena said, gripping his shoulder. "I know you did what you could. Now tell me - Where is this pit?"
"It's at the base of dragon's tooth peak." He pointed toward a sharp crag, which bore an uncanny resemblance to its name. "But they took her hours ago, by this time she must be..." He stopped speaking, and cast his eyes downward.
"Can you get me a long rope?" she asked him. "I'll need a couple of torches too."
"Yes, of course," he replied. He and the girl walked toward his home. Xena reached into her saddlebag, removing a piece of cloth. She tore a strip off, and used it to bind her leg - stanching some of the flow of blood from her injury. When she finished, the old man had returned. He handed her a long coil of rope, and the girl gave her two torches. Xena strapped them on Argo's back, along with Gabrielle's staff, then mounted her horse and turned her toward the spire.
"May the god's protect you," the old man said.
"I hope they protect my friend more," she replied. "Thank you for your help." She urged Argo onward, and they moved swiftly in the direction of the pit. She imagined Gabrielle in the darkness, maybe injured, maybe... No, Gabrielle couldn't be dead. Xena couldn't bear to think of that. She urged her mount on even faster, as a tear ran slowly down her cheek.
In about half an hour, she approached the base of the jagged peak, and saw the outline of a huge sinkhole. She steered Argo toward it, and stopped at the edge, near a wooden beam that reached out over the rim. A frayed length of rope was attached to the base of it. She dismounted, and peered over the side, straining to see into the blackness below. All she could see was darkness. Quickly, she unhooked the rope from Argo's back, and tied one end to the beam, then tossed the rope over the edge and watched it uncoil as it fell. She took the torches and tied them together with a length of leather cord, then slung them over her shoulder.
"You go wait in the woods for me, girl," she said to Argo. The horse obeyed, and trotted off to the concealment of the forest. Xena wrapped the rope around her waist, and backed over the edge - rappelling down into the blackness below. She went down for a long time, and the wall fell away so that she was suspended in mid-air. Finally, she began to see the dim outlines of the bottom. Underneath her was a large pool of water, and to the side, a wide ledge. She continued down, and then ran out of rope, while still about twenty feet from the bottom. She thought for a moment, then began to swing back and forth in a widening arc. After a moment, she timed it - then jumped. She flipped through the air and landed on the rocky ledge below.
Xena untied the torches, laying one aside, and tying the other to her once more. She took out a flint and used her dagger to strike a spark, igniting the torch she had set aside. It flared to life, and illuminated the cavern dimly. Directly in front of her, in a patch of mud, she saw a footprint. She bent to examine it closer - it was Gabrielle's! At least she had survived the fall. Xena began to follow the prints toward a dark recess in the pit wall. She moved into it, until it dropped away steeply downward. Now she had to climb down carefully, making her way along the slanting surface for a good fifty yards, before it leveled off. She was at the edge of a twenty-foot drop now, into what appeared to be a huge cavern. She judged the distance carefully, then leapt down to the rocky floor below.
The cavern stretched away into the distance, and she thought she could see a glimmer of light somewhere off to one side. Stalactites hung, here and there, from the ceiling - though a few appeared to have been snapped off. She noticed that all of the stalagmites on the cavern floor were just broken stumps - as if something very large had cleared them away! Then she saw a small object on the floor of the cave. She moved toward it. As she walked up to it, cautiously, she immediately recognized what it was. It was one of Gabrielle's boots - ripped and covered with blood!
Xena dropped her torch and picked up the boot, turning it over and over in her hands, as if looking at it carefully would change what it was. She finally clutched it to her bosom, tears beginning to stream down her face. Her chest began to convulse in heaving sobs, as she imagined her beloved friend, surprised by the dragon - being ripped apart and devoured...
"Gabrielle...Oh, gods - noooooooo", Xena's chest continued to heave with sobs, as her body shook with the grief of terrible loss. She clutched the boot and cried, not caring that she might be the next victim of the killer. She thought of all the wonderful memories that she and Gabrielle had shared, and all the bad times they had gotten through together. In her mind she saw the girl's lovely face - an eternal smile on it. She saw Gabrielle helping others and doing good - the thing she did best in the whole world. Xena thought of all the times she had snuggled up to her friend in the night, wishing that she could tell her how she truly felt - how she wanted her so. But now that would never be...
She became aware of a noise now - nearby. She dropped the boot and drew her sword, moving toward what she could tell was the breathing of some huge creature. There it was - against the far wall of the cavern, near a small side cave, from which the light she had noticed earlier seemed to emanate. She moved slowly in the direction of the gigantic head, which she could now see. The dragon was apparently asleep - its head lying on the ground about ten feet away. Xena's mind filled with an overpowering rage. She would kill this creature that had deprived her of her beloved Gabrielle, or die trying - she didn't care which! At least if she died now, she would rejoin her love in the next life.
She crept up to the sleeping behemoth, reversing her grip on the sword as she grabbed it with both hands. She raised the blade over her head - the tip pointed down between the dragon's eyes. She gathered all of her strength, and channeled it into one mighty thrust. Either it would kill the beast, or she would be joining Gabrielle in the afterlife.
"YOU MURDERING MONSTER!" she cried, her voice filled with righteous anger. Then she plunged the sword downward...
Chapter 8: TOBIAS, THE MIGHTY?
"XENA...NO!" Gabrielle yelled, as she walked from the lighted tunnel.
Xena was so shocked by the sight, that she froze the deathblow of her sword in mid-strike. Gabrielle stood, outlined by the light, her left boot missing from her foot. No vision of the god's could have looked lovelier to Xena. Gabrielle was alive! The Warrior Princess felt her heart fill with joy. She was so ecstatic, that she forgot the dragon - until it began to stir before her!
"RUN, GABRIELLE!" Xena raised the sword again, as two huge, red eyes opened in front of her. Before she could strike the deathblow, two soft hands grabbed hers from behind.
"No, Xena. He won't hurt us!" Gabrielle said.
The dragon's eyes focused on Xena - and the sword poised above its head. Two sets of huge claws snapped forward - and covered the creature's eyes, as it cowered down before her blade. The dragon's whole body seemed to shake with fear, as it hid its face behind its clawed hands. Gabrielle released Xena's hands and walked up to the obviously frightened beast. She stroked it on the head, speaking calmly to it.
"It's OK, Tobias," Gabrielle said. "She won't hurt you. This is my friend Xena that I told you about. She would never harm anyone - who didn't deserve it. This is all just a big misunderstanding."
Now the dragon spoke. "Are you sure she's not a dragonslayer, sent by the king, to kill me?" Two of the huge claws parted, slightly, and a red eye looked up at Xena from between them - then they closed as the beast hid again behind it's taloned hands, still shaking with fright.
Xena couldn't believe her eyes! This pitiful, cowering creature was the raging dragon that burned villages and destroyed an entire army? What was going on here?
"I promise," the bard said. "She won't harm you - will you Xena?" She looked over at the warrior, motioning for her to put her sword away. Xena reached over her back and sheathed the weapon, still unable to believe what she was seeing.
"No, ummm - Tobias. I promise that I won't hurt you." Xena could barely repress the laugh building in her throat. She was promising not to hurt this gigantic, terrifying-looking creature - which could squash her like an insect! This was definitely one for the scrolls...
The dragon peaked out from between his talons once more, then slowly uncovered his face, returning to a crouching position. He still watched Xena warily, however.
As Gabrielle turned to face Xena, the Warrior Princess grabbed her in a powerful hug. Xena held the bard to her so tightly, that Gabrielle had trouble breathing. She saw tears streaming down the lovely warrior's cheeks as Xena held her and stroked her hair. "I thought you were dead," Xena said, holding Gabrielle out at arm's length and staring into her eyes. She pulled the bard to her once more, and moved her lips toward Gabrielle's, then - at the last second - shifted her aim slightly and kissed her on the cheek. She then hugged her again...
After Xena released her, Gabrielle suggested that they go into the lighted cavern next door, where they could catch up on events of the day. Gabrielle retrieved her boot from the cavern floor - which is what she had been on her way to do when she saw Xena about to strike Tobias. Xena followed her through the entrance into the small side cave. It was well lit by a huge hole in the ceiling, which was about fifty feet over their heads. A small pool of water was in one corner, and a table and some chairs were in the center of the room. Sconces for torches were here and there on the walls, and several were burning to augment the light coming from above. Some oil barrels were in one corner, and there were even a few weapons on a rack along one wall. They sat down and began to discuss what had happened to them in the previous few hours, while Gabrielle tried to stitch her boot...
"I didn't think I'd be able to get out of the pool, but I did," Gabrielle said. "Then I followed the glow of this cave down from the sinkhole, and wound up here with Tobias."
"But, your bloody boot - How do you explain that?" Xena asked.
"Did you see that steep slope on the way in here from the pool?" Gabrielle inquired.
"Yes, I did," Xena answered.
"Well, I didn't," the bard replied - laughing. "I fell down it and bumped my head - and I tore my boot and gashed my leg pretty badly." Xena looked down at her friend's injured leg, as Gabrielle continued. "That's where the blood came from. I fell right onto Tobias' back. I thought he was going to eat me, at first - and then I thought he was going to have a heart attack, the poor thing. It took me an hour to convince him that I wasn't an assassin, sent here to kill him." They both laughed, until Tobias stuck his head - the only part of him that would fit - into the room.
"I heard that," he said, giving them the dragon equivalent of a smile.
"We're sorry," Gabrielle said, stifling her laughter. "Xena, Tobias has a...ummm...well, let's say a problem with his assertiveness."
"You truly have a way with words, Gabrielle. Thank you." The dragon looked over at Xena. "Actually, I am a craven coward."
"But why?" Xena asked him. "You're as big as a house - two houses - and you have huge claws and teeth and can breathe fire. How can you possibly be afraid of anything?"
"Bravery comes not from the weapons one has," he answered. "True bravery comes from the heart - more specifically, from the soul... and my soul is incomplete."
"What do you mean?" Xena asked, as she leaned back in her chair.
"What do you know of dragons?" he inquired.
"Only what I've heard in stories, and what little your kind has told me, when I've met them - not much, I guess," she answered.
"Well, dragons are beings of the soul - much more so than other creatures. We draw our courage, our strength, and even our very essence from our souls. When we mate, we share our souls with our partner - drawing from them that which we lack ourselves. I was always very cowardly as a young dragon, until I met Pyrena, and we became mated. She was so brave - an inner bravery - one, which I lack. She was also brash, and undisciplined. I, on the other hand, was afraid, but very cautious - I thought about things before I did them. We were exact opposites, but when we became partners each of us could draw on the strengths of the other, to make up for our weaknesses. I gained some of her bravery and wild nature, while she acquired a bit of my caution and ability to think things through. Can you imagine someone who makes up for your weaknesses with her strengths - Someone who is the source of all your courage, and the one that gives your life meaning and purpose? We were more than partners, more than mated. We were soulmates - dependent on each other's souls to complete our own. I doubt if you two can understand what I'm talking about..."
Gabrielle reached over and took Xena's hand as tears ran down her face. She squeezed the warrior's hand tightly - and was surprised to see that Xena's eyes looked a little misty too. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Xena spoke.
"I think we know exactly what you mean," she said.
Tobias looked from one to the other - then when Gabrielle looked over at him, he gave her a wink...
"Where is Pyrena?" Xena asked - she had not seen the wink.
"She's dead," the dragon replied - his voice suddenly very sad. "That's why I am such a coward now. When she died, I lost all the bravery and strength that I had gained from her soul." Huge tears began to roll down the dragon's scaly face, and form a pool on the cavern floor.
"What happened to her?" Xena was moved by so much grief in such a vicious looking creature.
"I don't know. All I know is that she died one day, about a year ago, while she was gone and I slept here in the cave. I felt her die," he replied, "and my life has been empty ever since."
"A year ago," Xena said. "That's when king Zantes said that his brother was killed and his army wiped out. Could Pyrena have been fighting with him in a battle somewhere?"
"I don't know," Tobias replied. "It's possible. She never was one to tell me her plans, at least not fully."
"I think I know how you felt," Gabrielle said, looking at Xena and remembering all the times the warrior had kept the bard in the dark about her intricate schemes.
"There's one main thing we need to figure out," Xena said. "Since it's not you burning the villages and ravaging the countryside. Who is it? Are there any other dragons around here?"
"No," he answered. "I would sense their presence if there were. Pyrena and I were the only dragons anywhere in this area."
"Then someone is trying to frame you for the attacks," Xena said, "Perhaps to get you out of the way. It may be whoever is responsible for Pyrena's death, trying to finish the job - or have the king do it for them."
Gabrielle broke in now. "Xena, the men who threw me in the pit said that they didn't want the attacks to stop."
"Then they must be in on this," Xena replied. "That's probably why they attacked me in the village as well." She looked over at the dragon. "We need to find out who they are working for. Tobias, can you fly around tonight, and look for anything unusual happening in the kingdom?"
"I...I don't think I can. It sounds dangerous," the dragon stammered.
"Think of Pyrena," Xena said. "Try to remember how she gave you courage. You can help us avenge her death. All I want you to do is fly around, and come tell me if you see anything unusual - OK?"
"Alright - I'll try," he said.
Suddenly, a loud growl split the air! Xena and Tobias looked over toward Gabrielle.
"Sorry," she said. "I haven't eaten since yesterday."
They all laughed together - the sound floating up through the air and out of the cave into the darkening night...
Chapter 9: COULD IT BE?
Xena told Tobias that she needed to get some things from Argo, on the surface. Since Tobias said the only way out - other than flying - was a long, tight crawlway, he simply let Xena mount his back, and flew her up to the surface. She called Argo, took the bag of food, some medicines, herbs, and Gabrielle's staff, then the dragon flew her back down. Having seen to their needs, Tobias reluctantly began his flight to survey the kingdom from the air. Xena and Gabrielle were sitting at the wooden table together. The warrior began to pile dried meat and various fruits on the table, and Gabrielle immediately started eating.
"Mmmmm... This spiced meat is wonderful," she said, as she took another bite. "Cherries too! Oh, Xena - You know exactly what I like." She stuffed a few of the small, red fruits in with the mouthful of meat she already had, and continued chewing. Xena stood, the mostly empty bag still in her hands, and walked behind Gabrielle.
"By the way, you might want to save some room for this too," she said, as she reached into the bag, and then handed Gabrielle the nutbread. The bard's eyes lit up, as she took the sweet-smelling loaf from Xena.
"Nutbread! Xena - You're so good to me! Thank you." She turned in her chair and reached around Xena's waist, giving her a hug - then continued eating.
"You're welcome," Xena replied, and then added silently, "My love." She ran her hand over Gabrielle's hair as the hungry bard ate. Xena was so relieved that her beloved friend was OK. As she continued to stroke Gabrielle's hair, Xena recalled the moments of devastating grief she had endured just hours ago, when she thought that the bard was dead. She moved her hands down, unconsciously, and began to massage Gabrielle's neck. The contact with Gabrielle's warm, supple skin was causing Xena's fingers and palms to tingle. She began to rub Gabrielle's muscular, yet soft shoulders, as she thought of how wonderful it would be to reach down even further toward the young girl's breasts, which Xena had a tantalizing view of from this angle...
"Oh, gods... Xena, that feels wonderful," Gabrielle said, moaning softly.
Xena broke from her fantasizing, and quickly took her hands from Gabrielle's body. She realized that, during the massage, she had actually begun moving her fingers down the front of the bard's shoulders, toward her breasts. She turned and began digging through the bag of herbs and medicines. "I can't believe what I almost did!" she thought - angry with herself. "From now on I will not allow myself to get distracted like that. I pledged to myself long ago to protect Gabrielle from any dangers - and that includes me!" She began to mix the herbs and medicines together for a paste to treat Gabrielle's cut leg, and for her own injured thigh.
Gabrielle had been thoroughly enjoying the feel of Xena's hands on her. She had even stopped eating - concentrating only on how incredible the warrior's strong hands felt on her body. Then, unable to restrain herself any longer, she had spoken - voicing her inner feelings. "As soon as I said something," Gabrielle thought, "Xena stopped. She must have sensed that I was enjoying it too much. Maybe she's beginning to realize that I am..." Gabrielle fought to stop the tears she felt building behind her eyes. "I'll have to be more careful. I won't lose my best friend because I can't control my feelings." She forced herself to continue eating, even though her appetite had gone...
When Gabrielle had finished eating, Xena moved over and sat on the floor, next to the bard. "I need to treat that gash on your leg," she said. "It looks pretty deep, and I don't want to let it go any longer." She had a small bowl of a greenish paste that she'd mixed, and she sat it on the floor beside her. Looking at Gabrielle's leg, she saw a jagged cut extending from the girl's mid-calf, to the middle of her thigh - starting in the front and running around the rear. Xena began smearing the paste into the wound, working her way from the bottom up. "It doesn't look deep enough to need any stitching", she said, smiling up at Gabrielle. She continued rubbing in the medicine. Xena couldn't help noticing how soft and inviting the bard's warm, smooth skin felt - or how lovely the girl's strong, muscular legs looked. How she longed to let her hands rove around all over them! She wanted to lean in and kiss them all over, rub her face against them, nibble on them... "STOP IT!" she told herself. "I'm doing it again. What's wrong with me tonight? I always have these feelings. Why can't I keep them under control - like normal? It must be because I thought I had lost her." She finished applying the herbal paste and got up, moving toward the pool to wash her hands. "That's it," she said.
Gabrielle was having a very hard time restraining herself, as Xena smeared the medicine on her leg. The lovely warrior's touch was driving her to the brink of losing what little control she seemed to have tonight. It was all Gabrielle could do to keep from writhing with pleasure as her friend's fingertips traveled up from her calf and across the rear of her knee - and when they reached the back of her thigh, the bard had to struggle hard not to emit a moan of ecstasy! When Xena finally stood, and turned her back to wash up, Gabrielle let out the breath she had been holding for so long. She breathed deeply for a moment, gathering her wits about her again.
"Now you come here and sit down," she said. "I need to put some of that on your thigh too." She motioned for Xena to sit in the chair, while she took Xena's place on the floor.
"I can do it myself," Xena replied.
Gabrielle gave her as stern a look as she could muster. "Now look here," she began, "You may be a rough, tough warrior, but you need attention at times too. Now get over here and sit down!" She pointed to the chair.
Xena laughed at the serious look on her friend's face. Then Gabrielle cracked a smile - which dissolved into laughter as well. "Yes Ma'am," Xena said, as she sat in the chair.
Gabrielle untied the bloody strip of cloth from around Xena's thigh. The wound was dirty, so she stood and got another cloth from the table, then walked over and dipped it in the pool of water. She came back, sat down, and began to gently wash away the dirt and dried blood. She draped her left hand over the warrior's thigh to steady it as she cleaned the injury. Then, she scooped out some of the paste, gently pushing it into the wound and smearing it around the edges. "I think this is going to need to be sewn," she said, as blood began to ooze from the opening.
"Yes," Xena said, "I already had a needle and thread ready. Thank you for treating it, but I'd better..."
"I can sew it for you," Gabrielle replied, cutting her off, as she took the needle from Xena's hands. "I promise to do a good job." She began to gently stitch the jagged edges back together. "There's no way I would do any less," she thought. "I don't want these gorgeous legs to have any more scars than they already do." She was very conscious of the smoothness of the beautiful warrior's thighs under her hands, and the heat emanating from them. She had to concentrate hard to not be distracted from what she was doing. Being this close to Xena, in this position, brought back memories of Breanne - and the times that she had sat, naked, while Gabrielle pulled her lovely girlfriend's hips toward her face and...
"Ooww!" Xena said, smiling down at Gabrielle, as the bard poked the needle in a little too deep.
"Oh, Xena - I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to." Gabrielle dismissed the image she had formed in her mind - an image of her face, buried between the beautiful warrior's thighs - and concentrated hard on what she was doing.
Xena watched Gabrielle finish sewing her wound. She was admiring her friend's long, beautiful hair and the face beneath it. She looked down at Gabrielle's shapely, full legs and followed them up to her waist - that slim, firm stomach - bare and rippled with muscle. Xena had such a desire to plant kisses all over it and run her tongue across it - down into her navel. Then, she would grab those full hips and move her tongue down to taste the sweet nectar that..."What am I thinking! I'm doing it again! Gabrielle doesn't want some emotionally repressed, ex-warlord - especially a female one! She only has feelings of friendship for me. It could never be..." Still, she couldn't help but look down at Gabrielle's lovely face and imagine what it would be like...
Gabrielle finished sewing Xena's wound, and used her teeth to nip the thread - carefully. She had a wild thought, for just an instant, of how nice it would be to nip the lovely leg in front of her. "Xena's not like that," she thought. "She likes strong, male warriors - not some little farm girl from nowhere who can't even use a sword." She couldn't just dismiss her dreams, though. She looked up at Xena. "All done," she said. Then she noticed that Xena was already staring down at her, a strange look on her face. No, not strange. She would swear that she had seen that look before - on Breanne's face! It was a look of desire. No, it couldn't be. She must be imagining things. Yet, she was so sure. Oh, gods - could it be? She couldn't help herself anymore! Her face moved, seemingly beyond her control, up toward Xena's own...
Xena watched Gabrielle cut the thread with her teeth, and had a vivid image of those teeth nibbling certain parts of her anatomy. Oh, how she wished it could be true! She felt the stirrings within her - stirrings that she had previously known only with Lao-Ma. As Gabrielle looked up at her, Xena wasn't even aware of what the young bard was saying. To her, it seemed that Gabrielle was staring right into her soul. A look of such need and desire was in the girl's eyes. She moved her face up toward Xena. No, it was too good to be true! Xena bent down toward Gabrielle, her heart beginning to pound...
"Hey, Xena - I think I saw something!" Tobias yelled, as he stuck his head through the cavern entrance.
Xena jerked back from Gabrielle, and then quickly stood, moving toward the dragon. "What in Hades was I doing!" she thought. "I almost ruined things again." She chided herself and again swore to control her imagination...
Gabrielle almost jumped out of her skin, as the dragon yelled at them. She pulled back and stood, moving to get a drink to wet her dry mouth. "I must be insane," she thought. "Xena was probably just bending down to check the lump on my head, or something. Oh, great Zeus above - how can I be so stupid?" She gulped down some water, then turned and walked toward the dragon...
Chapter 10: FIGHTING FIRE, WITH FIRE
"Ummm... Did I interrupt something?" Tobias asked, looking at the two women as they approached him.
"No, of course not," Xena replied. "We were just tending each other's wounds." She quickly changed the subject. "What did you see?"
"Well, as I was flying over a village just west of here, I saw a large group of men. They seemed to be pushing some kind of machines on wheels, toward the village. They weren't using the roads, either - they were pushing them through the forest, which wouldn't be easy to do."
"But if you don't want to be seen," Xena added, "it makes perfect sense. We need to get there as soon as possible." She looked at Tobias. "You will have to fly us there."
"But, but...that could be dangerous!" he said. Somehow, the ferocious looking beast was able to convey a look of such utter terror, that Xena was almost unable to keep from laughing at the ludicrous sight.
"Tobias, you have to," Gabrielle said, as she retrieved her staff from the corner. "Those poor, defenseless villagers could be slaughtered if we don't do something. Wouldn't Pyrena want you to do something to stop that? You told me that she was a very noble dragon, and that she had helped many people in the past. Try to think of her and summon some of her courage. The dead can hear our thoughts when we think of them, you know."
Tobias closed his eyes... "OK," he said, after a moment. "I'll try." He still looked afraid, but seemed to be less so now.
"Well, let's go then," Xena said. Tobias pulled his head out of the small cavern, and the two women walked into the larger chamber and climbed up onto him. They sat down, between the spines lining his back. "We're ready," Xena said.
"I hope," Gabrielle added - quietly. She gripped Xena's waist very tightly with one arm, and held her staff in the other, as the warrior clung to the dragon's spines. Tobias crawled up through the passageway, emerging at the edge of the pool. "Hold on," he said. He suddenly jumped into the air, and began flapping his powerful wings, gaining altitude rapidly. In seconds they shot from the sinkhole and began climbing quickly into the night sky.
Xena was enjoying the exhilarating rush of flying on the huge creature's back. Below them, the nearby town already seemed as small as a child's dollhouse. The air blew in her face, whipping her dark hair around as they continued to climb. Tobias banked to the left and began to head west toward the other village. Xena felt Gabrielle's arms tighten around her.
"Isn't this great!" Xena exclaimed, loudly.
"Oh, yeah - wonderful," Gabrielle replied, not too convincingly.
Xena turned her head and looked behind her. "Are you OK?" The bard's face was definitely a little green around the gills.
"Do you think it's possible to get seasick in the air?" Gabrielle asked. "Because the last time I felt this way was on a ship. I feel like I...I'm going to..." She suddenly turned her head and began to lose the meal she had just eaten - bits of meat, cherries, and nutbread streaming all over the dragon's side. Xena held her friend's hair back, keeping it from getting dirtied, as Gabrielle continued to be sick. Tobias bent his neck around, looking at his soiled scales.
"Hey - you're going to have to clean that up later," he said, giving her a toothy grin. "I had just bathed today." He and Xena both chuckled.
"I'll get you two for this!" Gabrielle said. "If it's the last thing I do, I'll.... Uulllhhpppp." She began to heave again, as they flew on toward the town...
After only ten minutes, they began to descend over a forested area. Up ahead, they could see a small village, by the light of the stars. A few windows were visible, lit from within by fires and candles. Xena was scanning the forested area, but it was Tobias who spotted them first.
"Look there," he said. "To the right of the town, behind that line of trees."
Xena looked where the dragon indicated. Sure enough, she could see a group of men, several campfires and torches burning around the area, and some large objects that she couldn't quite make out... Catapults - three of them! She could see them clearly now, as the dragon circled quietly overhead - invisible to the men on this moonless night. As they watched, several of the men were putting something onto the arm of one of the weapons. One of them held a torch to it, and it began to burn. Immediately, the weapon was fired - and a blazing ball of flame shot toward the town, making a loud whooshing noise as it flew through the air. It struck one of the buildings and burst in a spray of fire that caused the house, and the one beside it to start burning at once. The men began reloading the catapult, and arming the other two, as well.
"Greek fire!" Xena said. "That's how they're doing this. Without anyone seeing the catapults, Greek fire could easily be mistaken for dragon breath. Tobias, take us down there. We have to stop them before these villagers are all killed!"
"But, they have weapons," he said, "and I can't..."
"If you won't help us, then just drop Gabrielle and I near that closest catapult...We'll stop them." The three catapults were in a rough line, about a hundred yards apart - each one having a group of men tending them. Xena pointed down at a clearing near the weapon she had indicated. As they spoke, they heard a terrifying growl from below. It came from a large horn-like device that a man was blowing into beneath them. "That's the sound we heard at the last village. They're mimicking a dragon's cry - to frame you. Take us down - Now!"
The dragon dropped rapidly and landed in the clearing. Xena jumped off even before he had hit the ground, running in the direction of the nearest weapon. Gabrielle waited until Tobias was completely still, then slid off and hugged the ground - before she ran after Xena. Tobias stood there, wanting to help them - but he was so afraid...
Xena slipped through the woods, moving silently up to the edge of the clearing where the men were busily reloading the catapult. She could hear screams coming from the village now, and saw the glow of fires burning in the distance. Gabrielle came up behind her, and stopped. "What's the plan?" she asked, quietly.
"We take out this one first - and then give the others a dose of their own medicine," she replied. She motioned for Gabrielle to move around the other side, and then she began to creep up on the nearest man, drawing her sword as she went...
Flavius was watching his crew load the catapult for another shot at the village. He liked this job, as killing helpless peasants appealed to his murderous nature. Getting paid to do it - well, that just made it all the sweeter. He laughed, as he watched the next fireball start on its way. "Give them another roar, Maxis. Let's really scare them good," he said... "Maxis?" He looked over where the man had been a moment ago. He was nowhere to be seen. "Where is that worthless cur?" He walked over to the edge of the clearing to look for the missing mercenary - and saw his boots sticking out of the bushes. Flavius was drawing his weapon, when the world went black - as Xena's sword hilt slammed into the side of his head.
"Now don't you go anywhere," Xena said, as she moved toward the catapult.
Gabrielle crept silently up behind the man nearest her position. She was almost in range, and prepared to smack him with her staff - when she stepped on a twig, and it snapped loudly! The soldier spun, drawing his sword! "Look out!" he shouted, then Gabrielle clobbered him and he went down and lay still. Two more men rushed her, swords drawn.
Xena was just about to incapacitate the man firing the catapult when the soldier saw Gabrielle and shouted. Since surprise was lost, Xena dropped the subtlety and rammed her fist into his face as he spun around. He fell back - blood streaming from his nose and mouth. Another man rushed her and swung his sword high overhead. Xena drew her sword and blocked his swing, then spun her blade in a small arc, trying to disarm him. He was better than that though, and held on to his weapon, managing to get in a thrust of his own. Xena dodged his strike and countered with a vicious thrust toward his crotch! He leapt back, and smacked into the catapult. Xena pushed her advantage and swung her sword at his chest, from the right. He managed to block her, but he was now open to attack, as Xena had pinned his sword to the frame of the catapult. She kicked upward and smashed her foot into his stomach! He doubled over in agony, and she brought her elbow down on his neck - snapping it! His lifeless body slumped to the ground.
Gabrielle parried the thrust of one of her opponents, then spun around quickly - striking his legs and knocking them out from under him. The other man swung at her with his sword. She blocked it with her staff, then spun it in a circle before her, tangling his sword in it and disarming him. She dropped to one knee and swung her staff, hard, at his midsection. The staff struck just under his ribcage, and knocked his breath from him. As he gasped for air, she stood and cracked him over the head! He dropped down and didn't rise. Suddenly, her foot was yanked out from under her! She fell, heavily, as the first man she had knocked down rose and held his sword high, preparing to impale her on the blade! She raised her staff to try to fend off the blow, but it never came. He slumped to the ground - Xena's breast dagger protruding from his back!
Xena walked over and pulled out the dagger, wiping it on his clothes before returning it to it's proper place. She helped Gabrielle to her feet. "Come on," she said. "Now let's give these guys some of what they have been dishing out." They began to push on the catapult, turning it to face the others in the distance...
The crew of the middle weapon had just loaded the catapult and one man held a torch to the Greek fire, igniting it. "Fire", the sergeant said - just as a loud whooshing sound drowned out his command. A huge fireball slammed into the side of the weapon, turning it, and scattering flames in all directions! Men ran away, burning and screaming! The flash blinded the sergeant, temporarily. When he could finally see, he saw that the catapult was facing him - its elevation now at the lowest setting. The rope holding the arm down burned through at that moment. The last thing that the man saw, was the arm flying forward - and then he was engulfed and hurled backward by the mass of burning tar and sulphur...
Xena and Gabrielle adjusted the aim once more, then reloaded the catapult. The bard held a torch to the mass of tar in the weapon, igniting it, then Xena pulled the rope to release the arm. A burning glob of Greek fire arced toward the last catapult - and hit near it, engulfing several men! The two women quickly reloaded the weapon as men began to rush toward them from the direction of the third catapult, and the woods behind it. Apparently, the main body of soldiers was camped in that area. They fired the weapon once more, and the glob of burning material hit the mark - igniting the last catapult and scattering the crew. A mass of men ran toward them, weapons ready and screaming war cries as they came. Xena drew her sword as Gabrielle raised her staff... and the men stopped in their tracks!
"Our reputation as fighters must be greater than I realized," Xena thought. "There must be a hundred men facing us."
Suddenly, a shattering roar came from behind them, and the men all turned and ran away - many of them screaming in fear as they did. Xena and Gabrielle looked to their rear - to see Tobias standing there, with his wings unfurled and his mouth open wide, revealing his huge teeth! He was a terrible sight to behold! No wonder the men had stopped, and then run away. Xena looked more closely at the dragon. That's when she noticed that his eyes were tightly shut, and his body was shaking with fear!
"Are they gone?" he asked, his eyes still closed.
"Yes, they are," Xena replied, laughing aloud. "You can open your eyes now."
"Whew," Tobias let out a breath, and slowly opened his eyes. "I don't think I've ever been that scared. How did I do?"
"You were great!" Gabrielle said, as she reached up and hugged his neck - well, as much of it as she could reach around. "Pyrena would be so proud!"
"You really think so?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah," Xena replied, "And so are we." She gave him a pat on the cheek. "Now, lets go get these guy's leader. I want to ask him a few questions, once we see how the villagers are. They retrieved the still unconscious man, tied him up, threw him across Tobias' back, then walked toward the town...
Chapter 11: DISCOVERY AND DESIRE
The trio was walking through the fields, when Xena stopped them - beyond the sight of the townsfolk. She looked up at Tobias. "You had better not come with us," she said. "The site of you would probably panic the people before we could explain."
"OK," he replied. "I'll just stay here then."
Xena pulled the now conscious mercenary off of the dragon's back, and she and Gabrielle went on into town - forcing the man to walk in front of them. The village was not too badly damaged, and only a couple of buildings were still on fire. They moved toward a group of people that were throwing buckets of water onto one of the houses.
"Is everyone OK here?" Xena asked.
An older man detached himself from the bucket brigade of mostly women and children, and spoke to them. "Yes, thank the god's. No one was killed, and only two people slightly burned before the dragon left, this time."
"It was no dragon," Xena replied. "It was this man and his mercenaries. They used catapults and Greek fire to ignite your houses, and made loud roaring sounds to fool you into believing a dragon did this - just like they have at all the other burned villages. We stopped them - this time." She looked back at Flavius. "Isn't that right?" she asked.
"This woman is insane," he said. "She's in league with the beasts. My men and I were on our way to help you, when she and the dragon ahhhhhh..."
Xena had struck out with her fingers, hitting Flavius in the base of his neck. "Now, I suggest you tell the truth," she said. "I just cut the flow of blood to your brain. You either tell these people what really happened, or you will die a very nasty death in about thirty seconds."
"Ahhh...ahhh...I...OK...OK! We did it... We attacked...the town. Now release...me." His face was very red, and blood was dripping from his nose. Xena jammed two fingers into his neck, and he fell, gasping, to the ground.
"That's better," Xena said. "Now, tell me who is responsible for the attacks."
"I can't. He'll have me killed if I tell you," Flavius replied.
Xena drew back her fingers once more. "Well, if you don't tell us, I'll kill you myself - or just take you back to the women and children of the last village you attacked, and let them decide what to do to you. I don't think you'd like what they would come up with."
His eyes filled with fear, and then he spoke. "OK... It was king Zantes. He's been paying us to do it."
"What!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "He paid you to kill his own people - Why?"
Flavius seemed as if he were not going to answer, but when Xena motioned toward him with her fingers, he began to spit out the entire story.
"He wanted the throne for himself, so he arranged for his brother to be ambushed, while on a journey of peace to Laotia - with only his personal guards. Then Zantes told the main army that it was the Laotians who did it. The army is camped in the hills to the north, preparing to attack Laotia - once the king has all the able bodied men drafted into it. No one even knows that they are still alive - he told the people that the dragons wiped them all out. He wanted us to attack the villages, so that people would be willing to join the army - and hate the dragons. He's going to tell them that he discovered that the dragons were helping the Laotians, so that the people would agree to his war."
"What a great guy," Xena snarled. "He kills his own brother, then has innocent women and children burned alive to satisfy his lust for power. What about the other dragon?" she asked. "Did he have her killed too?"
"I don't know about the other dragon," he replied. "The king said there was only one around anymore, but that it wouldn't trouble us."
"Where will the king be tomorrow?" Xena asked.
"He plans to meet with the army tomorrow morning," Flavius replied, "to give them a speech about how the dragons are devastating all the men's families, at the urging of the Laotians. He knows it will inspire them to attack with no mercy."
"Once Zantes has control of Laotia," Xena said, looking toward Gabrielle, "there will be no stopping him. We've got to stop this attack."
Xena looked over at the old man, and pointed to Flavius. "Can you keep him locked up, until we can get this resolved? Don't tell anyone else what you've heard either."
"Of course," he replied. He pulled the still bound Flavius to his feet, and moved off toward the jail with him.
"Let's get back to Tobias," Xena said. "We can fly back to the cave, get some sleep, and then plan out what we'll do about this."
"Do we have to fly?" Gabrielle asked. "I think I hate it worse than sailing on a ship."
"Sorry," Xena replied, "It's the only way that's fast enough. We don't have a lot of time, and we should get some sleep tonight too. We have a busy day ahead tomorrow."
"OK, OK," Gabrielle said. "But I bet that Tobias' other side will need to be washed by the time we get back."
Xena laughed, as they began walking out of town. "Well, if so, I'll help you do it." She put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder, and they walked quickly back to their waiting friend.
Despite her fears, Gabrielle didn't get sick on the return flight, though she didn't feel too well during it. They landed on the rim of the sinkhole, where Tobias bid them goodnight, then flapped down to get some rest.
"We had better get some sleep too," Xena said. She whistled for Argo, who came trotting from the direction of a nearby stream. She and Gabrielle got their things from the horses back and began to set up a camp for the night. Xena collected some wood and started a fire, while Gabrielle prepared their blankets - putting them side by side, of course. Once the fire was burning, the two women lay down together - each under their own blanket.
Gabrielle was tired, but she kept thinking about Tobias, sleeping all alone below them. "How sad that he has no one to be with him," she thought. "Even if our relationship is not all I would like, at least I do have Xena as a friend and companion." She inched a little closer to the warrior as she thought of how she would like things to be.
Xena wasn't able to fall asleep either. She listened to the crackling of the fire and stared up at the stars, wishing that she could expend some of her excess energy somehow, so that she could sleep. "I know how I'd like to use that energy," she thought, as she looked over toward the blond hair sticking from beneath Gabrielle's blanket. She rolled over on her side, telling herself that this position was more comfortable, but knowing full well it was just so she could be closer to her love. "I wish I could find an excuse to hold her," she thought.
Gabrielle couldn't stand it anymore. She wanted to at least feel Xena's body next to her, even if she could never have any more than that. She pulled the edges of the blanket tight around her, curling up for effect. "Xena, I'm cold," she said.
The warrior Princess had found her opening! "Well, we could sleep together under both blankets," she suggested. "It would be much warmer. Let me take my armor off, though, or it will be uncomfortable for us both." She began to unbuckle the straps and cast her metal outerwear to the side.
"OK," Gabrielle said, trying not to sound too excited by the idea - though her heart raced with joy at the prospect. She moved over and lay next to Xena, turning away from her to be discrete. She would have much preferred to be facing the one she loved.
Xena finished removing her armor, and lay down behind Gabrielle, pulling both blankets over them as she did. She moved right up next to the bard, unable to resist the temptation to softly nuzzle her hair. "Gods," she thought, "just the scent of this girl is enough to drive me wild." She pressed close to Gabrielle, and draped her arm across her young friend's waist. Though she still felt the excess energy in her body, she began to relax, and enjoy her companion's pleasant scent in her nostrils - and the feel of Gabrielle's warm body next to her own...
Gabrielle felt the warrior's heat begin to warm her up, and she was thoroughly enjoying the feel of Xena's breasts, as her hard nipples pressed against the bard's back. "Hard?" she thought. "Could it be because... No, it's from the cold, that's all." Still, the effect was no less pleasant. She was much happier, now that she felt her love's body against her own. As she began to drift off, she moved her hand to rest in Xena's, and was pleased when she felt the warrior's hand close around it...
Chapter 12: THE AMBUSH
Xena awoke early, just as the dim glow of dawn began to show beyond the far mountain peaks. She was very pleased to discover that Gabrielle was snuggled up against her - the bard's face was buried in Xena's bosom. Gabrielle snored softly, and Xena lay there for a long time, enjoying the feel of the woman she loved, as she held her in her arms. They had much to do today, so Xena finally rose from the blankets, careful to not wake her sleeping friend. "I'll let her sleep just a little longer," she thought, as she bent down and stroked Gabrielle's hair.
She went to the edge of the sinkhole, and shouted down to Tobias. In a moment, she heard noises from below, and then the dragon flapped up from the pit, landing near their campsite. The downdraft from his wings blew the blankets off of Gabrielle, who rolled over - shivering.
"Hey, I'm cold," she snapped. "Be careful with your wind you big, overgrown lizard." She opened her eyes, still groggy with sleep, and gave Tobias a smile.
"Serves you right," he said. "I had to bathe before I went to sleep last night - thanks to you. Who knew nutbread was so hard to get off of your scales - Yuck!"
Gabrielle and Xena got dressed, ate some cold meat for breakfast, and then the three of them began to figure out how they would stop the king's evil plan from unfolding. They decided that an ambush in a swampy area, just south of where Flavius had said the army was, would be the best choice.
"He won't have too many men with him," Xena said. "Even if he has half of his men from the castle, that won't be more than one hundred."
"Only one hundred men," Gabrielle said, "that's no problem - seeing as how there are three of us, and one of us is a fire-breathing dragon." She smiled up at Tobias.
"Oh, no." Tobias had a look of fear in his eyes again. "I can't fight them. I would be too afraid..."
"You won't have to fight them," Xena replied. "Just one look at you should frighten most of them away, like it did yesterday - remember?"
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I was pretty scary-looking, huh?"
"I would have run away, for sure," Gabrielle said, as she patted his neck.
"Thanks, Gabrielle - you are sweet to say that." Tobias nuzzled her side, almost knocking her down in the process. She grabbed one of his fangs for support, and leaned against his head as the three of them continued their planning. After about half an hour, the two women mounted Tobias' back, and they flew away toward the north...
King Zantes and his men were only a few miles from the area where his army was encamped. The king was riding in his personal coach, which was in a caravan of several wagons, guarded by over one hundred of his best troops. They had made good time, so far - though this cursed swamp was slowing them down somewhat. They were almost through the wet ground now, and only had to cross the river bridge up ahead. Zantes rubbed his hands together in anticipation. Soon, his plans would reach fruition, and he would become the most powerful ruler in the entire region - then, who knows, maybe in all of Greece someday. He smiled to himself, as he thought of the possibilities...
The advance guards were just about to cross the bridge, and the point man was walking along wearily. He was still sleepy, as he and his buddies had been up late the night before, throwing dice till two in the morning. He yawned as he began to step onto the bridge, and then stopped. A huge, scaly head rose from the river! Gigantic jaws opened and the dragon emitted a bellowing roar!
Xena and Gabrielle jumped up from the pit they had been concealed in. Gabrielle wiped at the mud encrusting her body, while they ran toward the king's coach. "Why do we always seem to pick muddy, stinking holes to hide in?" she thought, as she readied her staff.
Xena had waited until she heard Tobias' roar, then she jumped from the pit, and ran. If they could reach the king while the dragon frightened the men, this would be over very quickly. She drew her chakram, and hurled the razor sharp circle toward the king's coach. It flew through the air toward the driver - and cut the reins in his hand, which dropped to the ground between the horses. "That should keep them from going anywhere," Xena thought, as she caught the returning weapon.
Tobias roared again. His eyes were closed, but he smiled as he imagined the men running away from him, like they did the day before. "This time, I want to see them," he thought, and he opened his eyes. "RAAHHHHGGHHH" he roared some more, for good effect! "RAAAHHHRRRHHGHG...RAAHHHGG...RAA...Huh?" Tobias stopped roaring. Something was not quite right. The men weren't running - they were readying weapons!
"The beast is just trying to scare us," the captain of the guard shouted to his men. "Remember what Zantes said. This one is a complete coward." The men had all drawn bows and crossbows, and two of the wagons had opened up, revealing giant, wicked looking ballistas - with several huge, lance-like arrows protruding from each one!
"FIRE!" the captain shouted.
The men all released their arrows, and the ballistas fired, releasing half a dozen giant spears each. All the missiles streaked toward Tobias...
"OH, NO!" the dragon shouted, as he dove under the water, narrowly avoiding the hail of spears and arrows. "Xena was wrong - they weren't afraid." He swam away, under the water, as fast as he could go. Then, when he was far enough from the soldiers, he jumped from the river, and took to the air - flapping madly to gain altitude...
Xena and Gabrielle ran toward the king's wagon, but stopped when they saw the flaps open on the sides of two of them. They saw all the soldiers draw bows and crossbows, and saw the ballistas - as well as all the men - fire at Tobias.
Once the dragon had disappeared under the water, king Zantes shouted to his men. "Xena is attacking from the side." All the men reloaded their bows, and turned to face the two women. They were caught in the open, with no cover, and had over one hundred bows and crossbows pointed at them, plus the two huge ballistas were almost re-loaded now.
"Surrender, Xena," Zantes said, as he laughed aloud, "or you and your little friend will die!"
Xena put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Drop you staff," she said, as she threw down her own weapons. She turned and glared at Zantes. "Why did you do it?" she shouted at him. "Why did you murder your own brother?"
The king laughed. "Why else?" he answered. "I did it for the power. That's what the world is all about, Xena - power. "Those who wield it rule, and those who don't - serve. My brother was a fool. He had power and the best army in the region, but he chose the ways of peace. I have no such foolish notions. I intend to conquer Laotia and, who knows, maybe all of Greece."
"You had your mercenaries burn your own subjects - helpless women and children - just to gain power. You're no king. You're just a cold-blooded murderer!" Xena shouted.
"They were only peasants," he replied. "I would burn them all, if it would bring me the power I deserve! I killed my brother - and his dragon friend too - and I will kill any that stand in my way. Unfortunately for you, that means you and your little friend. Goodbye, Xena. You were not as much of an opponent as I had expected - a pity." He looked at the captain of the guard. "Prepare to fire," he shouted.
Xena pulled Gabrielle to her. She wrapped her arms around her friend and held the bard's face down against her bosom. "Don't look," she said, as she hugged Gabrielle tightly. She wished that she had found the time - and a way - to tell her how she felt. Now, she would have to tell her on the other side.
"I love you, Xena," Gabrielle said, as she looked up into the warrior's eyes.
"I love you too," Xena replied.
"FIRE!" Zantes shouted.
The men all released their bowstrings, and the ballistas were discharged. A huge mass of arrows and spears flew toward the two women as they shared their last embrace...
Chapter 13: SOULMATES RE-JOINED
"NOOOOOOOOOO..." Tobias screamed, as he hurtled from the sky, diving down between the archers and the two women! All the arrows and spears imbedded themselves deep into the dragon's side, and blood began to pour from the wounds! He turned toward the archers and launched himself at them. Tobias was a horrible sight to behold, as he ripped into the men, his claws tearing them apart and his jaws biting men in two! His giant tail swung from side to side - bashing men to the ground, breaking bones, and hurling corpses through the air. He was like a force of nature - unstoppable - and men were ripped apart and hurled in all directions from the fury of the dragon's assault! In moments, the men were all dead - their bloody corpses littering the ground.
The soldiers in the wagons struggled to reload the ballistas, while the dragon finished off their doomed comrades. One of them got his weapon reloaded, and drew a bead on Tobias, aiming for the heart. "Gotcha now," he said, smiling. He pulled the trigger - just as Xena's chakram cut the bowstring, and then sliced off the top of his head! He collapsed backward - his brains oozing onto the floor of the wagon.
Tobias' tail smashed the other ballista cart like a child's toy, killing both men inside, and then he turned to face the king. Gabrielle and Xena watched, as the dragon walked toward Zantes, who was the only one left alive now.
"This is for all the dead children - and Pyrena!" Tobias shouted. He raised himself to full height, towering over the cringing ruler. He drew in a deep breath and then opened his mouth, discharging a huge gout of flame! The fire engulfed the king, burning his hair from his body, charring his clothes, and roasting the very flesh from his bones - then his blackened corpse tumbled over the edge of the flaming cart...
Tobias closed his mouth... and then he crumpled to the ground. Xena and Gabrielle ran quickly to where the dragon lay. Blood poured down his sides from the massive wounds, and he was gasping for breath from his punctured lungs. It was amazing that he had even been able to fight at all, much less destroy the king and his men. Xena knew that there was nothing she could do for him.
Gabrielle was stroking the dragon's head and looking into his eye, as she began to cry. "Oh, Tobias - You will be alright. Xena can..."
"There is nothing to be done, Gabrielle," he said, "I'm dying."
Gabrielle looked over at Xena, who just shook her head. "Tobias...Oh, nooo..." the bard sobbed. She pressed her face against the side of the dragon's own, and her tears ran down his scaly cheek.
"It's OK, Gabrielle," Tobias said, as he nuzzled her softly. "I will be going to see Pyrena now - I hope." He laughed, coughing up blood as he did. "At least I wasn't a coward, this time, was I?"
"No," Gabrielle said, trying to choke back her tears, as she smiled into his huge, red eye. "You were very brave, and you saved our lives. Pyrena would be so proud of you!"
The dragon's eyes were beginning to cloud, and his breathing was very raspy and getting slower. "Gabrielle... I want to... ask you... something...come close..." His voice was barely audible now, so Gabrielle leaned down, putting her ear right next to his mouth. He muttered something that Xena couldn't hear, and then Gabrielle stood.
"I promise," she said, as tears fell from her eyes.
His mouth stretched into a toothy grin, he winked at her, and then his eye closed again, slowly - and didn't open. Xena knew the great creature had finally succumbed to his wounds.
"Noooo!" Gabrielle screamed, as she turned and buried her face in Xena's shoulder, her tears running down the warrior's breasts as she cried. Xena stroked her friend's hair, and held her - trying to comfort the young woman as best she could. Xena realized that a tear was rolling down her cheek too, as she held Gabrielle and looked at their gigantic friend's body. They stood for a long time, holding each other, before Xena finally turned them away from the dragon, and began to walk back toward the town.
As they walked away, Xena began to hear a strange sound. It was a humming noise, which seemed to be coming from behind them. They both turned to look - Gabrielle raising her tear-stained face from Xena's shoulder as they did. A bright shaft of light was streaming down from the heavens, illuminating the dead dragon's body! From nowhere, a beautiful voice filled the air around them.
"Tobias... Tobias, my love - arise and join me." A swirling, colorful pattern of light appeared in the brilliant shaft. It churned and boiled, changing colors and pulsating as they watched - and then it began to take on the form of a dragon. Even though they were human, Xena and Gabrielle were struck by the beauty of the spirit creature that appeared in the beam of light. It looked like Tobias, but definitely had a feminine appearance. As they looked on, Tobias' body began to shimmer and sparkle - then it started to fade. It finally dissolved into nothingness - re-appearing as a spirit image, like the one above.
"PYRENA!" Tobias shouted. His spirit rushed up through the shaft of light to meet his mate's. They came together, and began to intertwine their ethereal bodies - wrapping their tails together, and each twisting their necks around the other's. Their foreclaws interlocked, just as two humans' hands would. Then they began to nuzzle each other, rubbing snouts and staring into each other's eyes.
"I've missed you so much," Tobias said.
"And I missed you, my love," Pyrena responded. "My soul has been incomplete for far too long."
Xena and Gabrielle stood, transfixed, as they saw a glow beginning to emanate from the region of both creature's hearts. The swirling energies from each began to move toward the other, and merge...
Gabrielle shouted, "Xena, their souls are rejoining! Can you feel it? Oh, it's so wonderful!" The bard's eyes were filled with tears again - only, this time, they were tears of joy!
"Yes, I feel it too," Xena replied. She reached over and took Gabrielle's hand, as they watched the beautiful sight above them. Gabrielle leaned her head on Xena's shoulder and they both had tears running down their cheeks, as feelings of great happiness overwhelmed them - emanating from the merging going on above them.
The dragons' souls had merged completely now, and the two spirits began to rise into the sky together, following the shaft of light. They heard Tobias' voice call to them, from above - well, to Gabrielle. "Joining with a soulmate is the most wonderful experience any being can have," he said, looking down toward Gabrielle. "Remember your promise." He winked at her.
"I will!" she shouted back up to him. There was a bright flash, and the two dragons had gone...
"What is this promise he talked about?" Xena asked, after a moment.
Gabrielle held Xena's hand, tightly, and looked up into her eyes. "Well, when I was in the cave with Tobias, before you arrived, we had a long discussion. He told me about Pyrena, and of his love for her. I told him about my love, and how I was unable to tell them how I truly feel."
"Yes, I guess you never really got to show Perdicus how much you loved him, did you?" She looked down at the ground, as feelings of jealousy began to overwhelm her.
"Yes, I did love him, Xena. We were the best of friends, as kids - and he was my betrothed from the time I was young. I loved him as much as I could love any man - but I've come to realize that I married him out of sympathy for his suffering, and guilt for running out on him. It's not him that I'm talking about."
Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes. "It's not? I never knew you had another man before him. Who was it?"
Gabrielle laughed at the look of confusion on her friend's face. She remembered Breanne's words to her from so long ago and raised Xena's hand to her lips, kissing it gently. "You know, my Warrior Princess, for someone so smart, you sure can be dense sometimes." Gabrielle pressed her lips to Xena's, and gave the warrior a passionate kiss, pulling Xena's head down as she did. She drew back, after a moment, and stared deep into Xena's eyes, as she interlaced her fingers with the dumbstruck warrior's. "It's you that I love," she said, "more than anyone or anything in the world. I have loved you and wanted to make love with you since the day we met. You are the most beautiful, desirable person I have ever known. I don't know if you can ever feel the same way for me, and I hope this doesn't ruin our friendship, but I had to tell you. That was the promise..."
Xena was shocked! She couldn't believe what Gabrielle had said to her. All of her hopes and her dreams had just come true! She looked down at her young friend, and said "Oh, Gabrielle - I have wanted you too! From the first time I saw you, I knew you were the one I wanted to be with. I tried to deny it. I knew a life with me would be no good for you, even if you wanted it - and I never thought there was any real chance that you did. You are the kindest, most loving, most attractive woman I have ever known. You have made me see things in a whole new way, and changed my life so much. I have been in love with you for a long, long time."
She bent down and pulled Gabrielle to her, sweeping the girl into her arms and pressing her lips against the bard's own warm, willing ones. They kissed passionately, each lost in the miracle that had happened for them both. Xena ran her hands up and down Gabrielle's back, caressing the one she loved - and who loved her too. Gabrielle ran her fingers through Xena's hair, and then rubbed her hands lightly across the beautiful warrior's face as the kiss went on, and on. Finally, they broke away, and then held each other tightly - both of them crying tears of joy, and thinking about the new world that had just opened up for them.
They clasped hands and began walking back toward the pit, to get Argo, and see that the good king's rightful heir was informed of what had happened. After that, they would find someplace to camp for the night ahead...
Chapter 14: SOULMATES JOINED
Xena and Gabrielle had made sure that the rightful heir was informed of his sudden ascent to the throne. By all his subjects' assessment, the young nephew of Zantes would make a good and just ruler. His first act had been to order the army away from the Laotian border, and dismiss all the men who had been forcibly drafted by the dead ruler. The warrior and bard had then collected Argo, and started south toward their original destination.
Xena was looking for a good place to camp for the night - a very special place - for this very special night. She glanced down at the lovely young bard, who was walking along beside Argo. Gabrielle looked up, saw Xena staring at her, and smiled up at her love. Both women were eager to camp, so that they could begin to explore the new relationship that they both had sought for so long - though neither had known of the other's desires.
Xena laughed, inwardly, as she thought of all the nights that she, and no doubt Gabrielle, had lay next to each other - wanting each other, but afraid to act on their feelings. "No longer," she thought to herself. Then, she saw what she was looking for. On the side of the hill they were approaching, was a small waterfall, with a clear stream leading away from it. Just above the falls was a flat area, at the peak of the small hill. It was sheltered by boulders on two sides, for protection against the wind, and would have a beautiful view of the sunset, sunrise, and the stars tonight. The falls would be a perfect place to get cleaned up after... well, after whatever the two women decided to do. She headed Argo toward the hill.
While she and Gabrielle set up camp, Xena noticed that the bard was unusually quiet, as she prepared the bedrolls - no, bedroll... Gabrielle was making only one. The warrior smiled, as she thought of all the nights to come in the future - each with only the single, shared, bedroll. Xena had the fire burning, and had collected enough wood for an entire night, if need be.
Gabrielle had cleared the rocks and twigs away from Xena's - no - their bedroll, as she always did. She took great care to make sure that all was ready for this special night, even putting a skin of water near the blankets - in case they got thirsty while... She sat with her legs folded under her and thought about what was to come. "Will Xena be happy with me as a lover?" she thought. "After all, I have only had two lovers in my whole life, and one was a man. Xena has had so many - I wonder if I'll be able to please her?"
"Hey, why the long face?" Xena asked, as she walked up, and began to stroke Gabrielle's hair. "Are you having second thoughts about us?" She knelt down beside her young friend, and looked into her eyes.
"No, Xena - Never!" Gabrielle reached over, locked her fingers with Xena's, and gave the warrior a soft kiss. "I just don't want to disappoint you. I'm not very experienced, and..."
"Gabrielle, I love you," Xena replied, cutting her friend off. "I know you will make me happy, so don't worry about it." She leaned over and pressed her lips against Gabrielle's. They kissed softly, at first, but then their lips began to press harder, as their passion increased. Xena ran her tongue along Gabrielle's teeth, seeking permission - and her young lover opened her mouth to let Xena begin to explore the inside.
As they kissed, Gabrielle began to unbuckle Xena's armor. The warrior responded by untying Gabrielle's top, and slowly unlacing the leather cords that held it shut. Xena's breastplate was loose now, so she pulled back from Gabrielle and tossed it to the side. She began to unbuckle her greaves, as Gabrielle helped her remove her boots, running her hands along Xena's calves as she did. The warrior was clad only in her shift, after a moment.
Xena returned to undoing Gabrielle's top, as the bard slipped her red boots off. Her top came free, and Xena pulled it over the young girl's arms, laying it to the side. Though Xena had seen Gabrielle's breasts many times before, they had never looked so beautiful as now. She smiled at the bard, and then lowered her mouth down to take one of those lovely, pink nipples into her mouth - sucking on it gently. Gabrielle moaned, as the feel of her lover's mouth on her breast sent electric shocks surging through her nerves. She reached under Xena's shift and began to rub the warrior's breasts - noticing that her nipples were hard, just as they were the previous night. The two women played around like that for a long time. They explored each other's bodies, stroking each other's skin, and kissing - lots of kissing. Both were beginning to sweat, despite the coolness of the night air, as their desire began to demand more...
Both women had removed what was left of their clothes, by this time, and they sat staring at, and caressing, each other. Xena pushed Gabrielle, gently, onto her back. She moved up and began to run her tongue over the bard's firm, muscular stomach - as she had wanted to do for so long. As she did so, she moved her fingers over the young woman's opening, testing it for dampness. Xena smiled, inwardly, as she noticed that the girl was already running with juices - she was obviously very turned on! Xena slid her finger, carefully, inside Gabrielle - at the same time as she began to probe her lover's navel with her tongue. Gabrielle's back arched, and she grabbed Xena's head, gasping softly. As Xena continued to probe the bard with her fingers, she shifted her face down lower, exploring Gabrielle's wetness with her tongue.
"Oh, Xena... That feels so wonderful." Gabrielle was moaning loudly with pleasure now. Xena began to push her tongue deep into the bard, licking and sucking the girl's sweet juices, as she felt her building toward a height of ecstasy. Gabrielle wrapped her strong legs around Xena's back, as she felt the pleasure begin to concentrate in the center of her being. She tensed, while Xena continued to press her tongue inside - then, Xena shifted her attention to the bard's swollen button. She sucked it into her mouth, and began gently nipping it with her teeth. Gabrielle could hold back no more! "XENA...OH GOD'S...XENAAA!" she screamed out her delight, as her back arched uncontrollably, and her strong legs clamped even tighter around Xena. She leapt and bucked while Xena held her hips and continued to give her pleasure, until the bard collapsed, finally, spent and numb from her fantastic orgasm. Xena lay beside her lover, holding her in her arms, and stroking Gabrielle's hair.
After a few minutes, Gabrielle raised up to a sitting position, and looked down into her lover's eyes. "That was incredible," she said. "I've never felt anything like it - with Perdicus or Breanne." She ran her hand over her lover's legs, winding up with it over the center of Xena's womanhood. She began to rub there, in a gentle, circling motion. Xena moaned softly, as Gabrielle continued. The bard moved over, and gently pushed Xena's legs apart, lying on her stomach between them. Without hesitation, the bard pressed her face between Xena's hips, and began to give her lover pleasure with her mouth. She tried to recall all that Breanne had taught her, as she used her fingers and tongue to give Xena as much stimulation as was possible.
Gabrielle loved the sweet, musky taste that filled her mouth and nose. She couldn't believe she was finally where she had longed to be! She continued for a long time, using the techniques that Breanne had shown her, to bring Xena almost to ecstasy, then slow down. She repeated this over and over, until Xena's body was covered in sweat, and it shook, uncontrollably. Then, she began to nibble the warrior's pleasure center, much as Xena had done for her, and suddenly, Xena was crying out - her body jerking to and fro, as she had a very powerful, seemingly endless orgasm.
"Gabrielle...Oh, my love...Oh, gods, oh, gods...GABRIEEELLE!" Xena screamed out her name over, and over again - as she writhed in ecstasy. The Warrior Princess finally slowed her movements, and then lay still - breathing very heavily. Gabrielle smiled with satisfaction, then moved up to lie beside the woman that she loved. Xena put her arm around Gabrielle's neck and pulled her close, hugging her tightly. The bard nuzzled her lover's neck and Xena wrapped her long legs around Gabrielle's. They lay there holding each other for a long time, before Xena finally spoke.
"And you were worried about not being able to please me," Xena said, laughing softly, as she kissed Gabrielle on the forehead. "By the god's, girl - for a moment there, I thought I had crossed over to the other side. If we ever see Breanne, I will have to thank her. She must have been some lover - and teacher."
Gabrielle beamed with joy. She was so happy that Xena was pleased with her. She began to kiss Xena again...
They spent many hours exploring their new relationship, and giving each other pleasure. The crescent moon had long since set when they finally gave in to exhaustion, bathed under the falls, and then settled down to sleep - holding each other as they did. Xena had begun to snore already, but Gabrielle found herself unable to sleep. She was so happy. She thought of how wonderful their lives would be together now, as she looked up at the stars...
"I don't believe it!" she said, sitting up quickly.
Xena jerked awake, looking around for danger. "What is it, Gabrielle?" she asked.
"Oh, I'm sorry I woke you, Xena. It was just a really pretty shooting star - that's all. Go back to sleep."
Xena pulled her lover close, as she began to drift back into the land of dreams. "Gabrielle is always so excited by little things," she thought. "I hope she never changes." Then Xena fell asleep again - smiling.
Gabrielle stared into the heavens, looking at the constellation that men knew as the Dragon. She hadn't told Xena the truth. As she had been looking at the group of stars, it had suddenly seemed to come to life. She would swear that, just for a moment, it had given her a toothy grin - and then winked at her...
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