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DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny etc. are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this story.
All other characters and the story itself belong to the author and may not be used without permission. The lyrics to the song "Indian Strings" by Suede and "Leave" by R.E.M. are used without permission and again, no copyright infringement is intended.
VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: 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.
SEXUAL VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: There are vague references to sexual violence in this story, but nothing graphic.
LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts love/sexual relationships between consenting adults of the same sex. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read something other than this story.
AUTHORīS NOTES: This story can be said to take place at the end of the fourth season, but have practically nothing to do with any events of that season and therefore stands on its own. Iīve shamelessly messed up Greek history and geography with my own imagination to use for my own personal benefit, but since the show does that constantly, I guess itīs all right. I want to thank, MyWarrior, for all the time and patience sheīs invested in this project. Her encouragement and comments have been invaluable. This is my first attempt at fan fiction and I hope youīll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. Comments/feedback are more than welcome at email@example.com.
This oneīs for Susan, whoīs always in my heart.
The Amazonsī Boy
Copyright © 1999 by Day.
It worked! I donīt believe it. This shit actually worked!
The words kept running through Lykeasī head again and again as he moved quietly through the thick, black forest, avoiding branches and shielding Rarjan from thorns.
But then again, it always works with her.
He let the entire events of the last three hours run through his mind again, his eyes never leaving the shadows moving noiselessly ahead of him.
Xenaīs plan had been far fetched, to say the least, but apparently just crazy enough to work. When night had arrived and with it darkness, Xena had left their small makeshift camp and, with the use of one of her countless skills, sneaked into the camp without being detected. Then she had picked out four of the largest tents furthest to the East and away from the hill and paid each of them a visit. As she had expected, the tents were all used for storing equipment and were all abandoned, except for one unfortunate resident, who learned the last lesson of his life; never to turn your back on a warrior princess at work. In each tent, she prepared a small fire next to the canvas. Close enough so that it would eventually catch fire, but with enough distance to delay the fire from eating its way through the canvas before she was ready. Then she had soaked the rough cloth with the contents of a skin she had taken from yet another unfortunate soul on her way to the first tent, the smell of alcohol so strong that Xena was glad she didnīt have to drink the stuff. Satisfied with her work, she had brought a small flame to life in each tent, and as she slipped away through the darkness, she had prayed, more for the Hades of it than actually asking for help, that her timing had been correct.
It had been. Like always
By the time she returned to their camp, everything had been prepared and they had waited in tense silence at the top of the hill, watching the plain below them with nervous anticipation. First it was only a small flicker of a flame, a faint light barely visible to the three pairs of eyes staring intensely in its direction. Then in the exact moment as Xena motioned them to follow, bright, roaring flames began to swallow up the tents whole. As they began to move forward toward the western side of the camp, people coming from all kinds of directions made their way to the East. The four burning tents lit up the sky and sparks flew through the air, endangering the work for the men, who tried to subdue it. For the shortest of moments, they had stopped, captivated by the sight of the dark silhouettes moving aimlessly around in front of the orange wall of fire. Then, almost simultaneously, they had broken the spell and mounted the quiet, but edgy horses. First they had moved slowly, constantly prepared to flight at the slightest hint of detection, but as they finally reached the outskirts of the camp, they had put the horses into a gallop, the cloth tied around the hooves efficiently reducing the thuds on the dry grass. A few minutes later they had been embraced by the forest, hearts hammering and muscles aching.
That was almost an hour ago and ever since then, Xena had let them in a merciless tempo along the fastest path to the Amazons.
I can feel them.
Theyīre watching... They know weīre coming.
Does she know Iīm coming?
Xena halted abruptly in front of him and raised her hands in an old, familiar greeting and Lykeas felt his throat constrict.
They are here.
Three Amazons stepped out from the darkness so soundlessly that even Xena was impressed. She had been aware of their presence for quite a while, but had decided to let the Amazons take the initiative and reveal themselves when it suited them. The leader of the three, a slender looking woman let her eyes run over Xena and Lykeas before they came to a halt upon Gabrielle. She knelt in the grass with the two other Amazons behind her following suit.
She looked up and removed her mask, revealing smiling blue eyes and long blond hair held in place with a woven band.
"My name is Callias, and this is Phila and Areia." She gestured towards the two other Amazons, who were still wearing their masks, bending their heads.
"As representatives of the Royal Guard we were granted the honour by our Regent to escort you to the village."
"Thank you," Gabrielle smiled at the Amazon. "So Ephiny knows weīre coming?"
"Yes, my Queen. We became aware of your presence the moment you put your foot upon our lands. We have been watching you to make sure you werenīt followed."
Xena snorted audibly and received a warning glance from Gabrielle. If they had indeed been followed, she would have been the first to notice. Callias ignored the looks exchanged between her Queen and the warrior and slowly rose to her feet.
My Queen, we should get going. I know our Regent is waiting impatiently to see you again, and..." She paused, looking first at Gabrielle then Xena.
"There are serious matters to discuss."
"We know," Xena remarked. "We just spent the last hours trying to avoid those matters."
Callias nodded. "Yes, and when you have the time, you must tell me how you managed to get pass the soldiers, but first..."
Her eyes turned to the figure, half hidden in the shadows.
"First we need to decide what to do about him."
"Heīs coming with us," Xena said evenly, her tone clearly indicating that this wasnīt something up for discussion, and after receiving an affirmative look from her Queen, Callias nodded again.
"Very well, but he must be removed all of his weapons and blindfolded."
When she caught the expression in Xenaīs eyes, she quickly added. "Itīs by the Regentīs orders. No man is to enter an Amazon village unless blindfolded and unarmed."
Xena took a step closer to the Amazon.
"Does...Ephiny know heīs coming?"
Callias looked at her with confusion.
"Well, of course. As I said, we knew of your presence the moment you entered the forest."
"No," Xenaīs low voice replied. "Thatīs not what I meant. Does Ephiny know, who the man is, who have been travelling with your Queen?"
Calliasī brow furrowed, "I donīt know what you mean. She hasnīt mentioned anything if thatīs what youīre asking."
Xena eyed the woman in front of her, a thoughtful expression on her face. Then she tilted her head to look at the man in question.
"You can blindfold me if you want to, but Iīm not handing over my weapons.
He crossed his arms over his chest and stared stubbornly at first Callias then Xena.
"I earned the right to carry arms on Amazon territory a long time ago."
"What!" Callias began and took a step towards him, but was abruptly halted by Xenaīs hand on her arm.
"Iīll handle this."
She walked over to Lykeas and together they moved a few feet away from the four pairs of eyes looking questioningly at them. Gabrielle watched the two warriors stand face two face, their heads almost level, Lykeas being only a few inches taller than Xena. They spoke quietly, and even Phila, who was known for her excellent hearing, couldnīt make out what they were saying. The body language, however, was clear enough, both warriors using more and more urgent gestures in their attempts to persuade the other. Finally Lykeasī hands dropped to his side and he gave Xena a small relenting nod. She, in return, patted him gently on the shoulder and whispered something more. He nodded again and began to remove his sword and then bow. He handed the weapons to Xena, who fastened them to Rarjanīs back before she returned to retrieve his daggers and knifes. She looked at the blades in her hands, then raised her head to look into his eyes.
One is missing.
He returned her gaze defiantly at first, but then his expression changed and Xena felt her body stir with conflicting emotions. Her mind suddenly filling with the memories of a young, black-haired man walking towards her smiling... A hand reaching down to pull her up... Laughing eyes looking at her over a campfire.
She forcefully shook the memories away and stared into his eyes, trying to see inside of him, trying to read him and understand him like she had once before, so many years ago.
Donīt make me regret this.
Callias came over and gave Xena a piece of cloth, which she gently band around his head, covering his eyes and abandoning him to a different kind of darkness than the night surrounding them.
With Callias in the lead, followed by Phila and Gabrielle, then Xena next to Lykeas, her hand on his arm guiding him forward and finally Areia leading the horses, they made their way toward the village. Rarjan had begun to panic when the brown-haired Amazon reached for the reins, and it had taken Lykeas several minutes of soft spoken words and affectionate caresses to calm the horse down enough to enable Areia to grab hold of the reins. Every once in a while she threw a suspicious glance back at the horse behind her, fully expecting to feel his teeth in the back of her neck any second, but nothing happened and they arrived at the village without further incidents.
In spite of the worry she was feeling, Gabrielle felt her heart fill with a quiet sense of peacefulness. A peacefulness she always associated with the Amazons, with her home.
Yes, this truly is my home now.
Her face lit up into a brilliant smile when she saw Ephiny standing in the centre of the village, a huge grin plastered all over her face. The Royal Guards stepped forward, gently, but firmly clearing a way through the crowd for the Queen. Ephiny closed the distance between them, enveloping Gabrielle into a warm, loving embrace, the crowd around them cheering enthusiastically.
"Welcome home, Gabrielle."
"Itīs good to be back, Ephiny."
They let go of each other, clasping their hands together instead.
"A warm welcome to you, too, Xena." Ephiny spoke, smiling at the warrior. "Itīs always good to see you."
Xena gave her a warm smile in return.
"Itīs nice to see you, too, Ephiny. Itīs been a while."
"It most certainly has. Much too long in my opinion," she replied, gently nudging Gabrielle in the ribs before turning to the Captain of the Royal Guard.
"Callias, I trust there were no difficulties?"
Callias stepped forward. "No, Your Highness, no trouble at all. Her Majesty hadnīt been followed and the man agreed to your terms and came along peacefully."
"Ah yes, the man." Ephiny smiled wickedly.
"Since when does the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Queen need a man to help them win their battles."
She turned and the playful smile froze upon her lip, as her disbelieving eyes took in the sight of the man standing next to Phila.
"Remove the blindfold! Now!"
Phila hurried to fulfil her Regentīs command and brown eyes widened in shock as she saw black eyes blink a few times, before focusing and staring directly at her.
For a moment time stood still, an uncomfortable silence filling the square, before eagerly whispering voices in the crowd, brought Ephiny back to reality.
"Lykeas," she spoke quietly.
The Regent had to force her eyes away and look at Gabrielle, painful confusion evident in her eyes.
"Gabrielle, what is this... I donīt understand."
Gabrielle had been shocked and dismayed by the scene unfolding in front of her, and, although she didnīt know the reasons behind it, she was pained by the distressed expression on her friendīs face. Xena began to step forward, but the bard shook her head, halting the warrior in mid-stride.
"Iīm sorry, Ephiny. I didnīt know..."
She glanced at Lykeas, her gaze almost hostile.
"Letīs talk about this in your hut."
She began to lead the dazed Amazon away, giving Xena a meaningful look on the way. Xena saw them disappear into the Regentīs hut, before speaking out loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Okay folks, the showīs over. Itīs the middle of the night, go to bed."
Even the most dense Amazon, understood that disagreeing with the warrior could most seriously endanger their health, and one by one they slipped away until only Xena, Lykeas and Callias were left. The blond Amazonīs eyes darting from one face to another, her posture communicating both confusion and a thinly veiled threat.
"Is there something I should know?"
Xena returned her gaze without blinking.
"My friend needs a place to sleep. Is there a hut he can use?"
Callias opened her mouth then closed it again, suddenly remembering her responsibilities. She straightened up and indicated a direction with her head.
"The guess hut next to the smithy is available. Iīll make sure itīs prepared for you."
She gave Xena a small nod, sent an angry stare at Lykeas and walked away.
"Lykeas..." Xena began.
He shook his head slowly.
"Where are the stables?"
She pointed out the direction.
"Do you want me to stable Argo for you?"
"Thatīd be nice, thank you."
"Okay," he said, taking the reins from both Argo and Rarjan. "Iīll see you in the morning."
And then he was gone.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and smiled at the feel of the strong arms around her, a warm body pressed up against her own. Closing her eyes again, she heard the sounds of the village slowly coming to life as people began moving around outside, voices speaking quietly, occasionally interrupted by laughter and shouted greetings. It all felt so familiar and she was filled with such a longing it surprised her. She was so happy here, surrounded by people, who loved and respected her, and whom she loved and respected in return. She felt Xena shift slightly behind her, drawing her closer and for a moment the bard felt guilty, wondering if Xena had somehow read her mind. She always tried not to think too much about the future, having decided long ago there was no reason to drive herself crazy and was content to live just one day at a time.
To avoid thinking more about it, her thoughts turned to the conversation she had had with Ephiny last night. Or perhaps she couldnīt quite call it a conversation, but more her asking a lot of questions and Ephiny answering hardly any. She had of course, due to her talk with Xena and Lykeasī reaction when she mentioned the Amazon, understood that things between the warrior and the Regent were far from idyllic, but still she had been surprised at the strong reaction from Ephiny. Not that Ephiny had wanted to talk about it, she had just vaguely replied that she and Lykeas didnīt get along very well, that they never had and that they practically hadnīt seen each other for years. At Gabrielleīs question whether she had known Lykeas was an old friend of Xenaīs, she had told that, yes, she did indeed know that, but hadnīt thought they still had anything to do with each other. When Gabrielle had asked her why, Ephiny had dismissed the question with a small shrug and instead asked why they were travelling with him. Gabrielle had briefly begun to tell the Regent about everything that had happened the last month and a half, but had been interrupted by a disbelieving Ephiny.
"Whatīs that supposed to mean?"
"Like I said, I donīt fight anymore."
"But...but thatīs crazy! Youīre an Amazon...and Queen for that matter! You canīt just... I mean, the Amazons are warriors for Artemisī sake! We fight when we have to, we may not like it, but we do it nonetheless, because protecting the Nation in whatever way possible is every Amazonīs top priority. Itīs her duty!"
"Iīll just have to protect the Nation in my own way, Ephiny."
"Itīs a Queenīs duty to lead her warriors into battle, Gabrielle. And, although, itīs an old law and not called upon if we can avoid it, itīs still there and will be practised if necessary. To every Amazon and that includes the Queen, the Nation comes first, then her fellow Amazons and not until then, herself.
"I have to do what my conscience tells me."
"Iīm sorry to hear that."
That had put an abrupt end to the discussion and after saying goodnight, Gabrielle had returned to the Royal hut only to find it empty. Their things had been there and Gabrielle could see that Xena had been there to change out of her armour, but now there was no sight of the warrior. Totally exhausted, physically and emotionally, she had gone to bed, but sleep had abandoned her and instead an overwhelming sense of restlessness had taken hold of her. Her mind had been filled with fragments of conversations and images, almost driving her out of bed. All the things she had avoided thinking about for so many weeks, came to her now, mercilessly probing and nagging, demanding answers. Sheīd had none.
After almost two hours of tossing and turning, she had finally fallen asleep. At what time Xena had arrived and joined her, she had no idea.
"Morning." A warm breath caressed her ear.
"Morning," Gabrielle answered smiling, before turning and slightly pulling away so she could look at the warrior.
"When did you get to bed last night?"
"Oh, way too late," Xena answered closing her eyes and stretching lazily. "And I wouldnīt mind sleeping a bit more."
"So why donīt you?" Gabrielle leaned down and kissed the soft lips below her, then returned to her former position on her elbow.
"Or do you have a better suggestion?"
Blues eyes opened slowly, a feral smile forming on the lips. The next second Gabrielle found herself pinned on her back with a very awake warrior on top. Dark hair caressed her face as the warrior bent down to capture her lips. The kiss was wild and passionate with an almost desperate urgency that took both their breaths away, before Xena slowly pulled away, reluctantly letting go of the bardīs lower lip.
"Unfortunately, we have to meet the council in 20 minutes."
"What?" The bardīs voice was raw with desire and she reached out to pull the warriorīs head down again.
Xena resisted temptation and managed to get out of bed and begin dressing in spite of Gabrielleīs protests.
"You gotta be kidding."
The dark-haired woman had to smile at the sight of her frustrated lover and her almost pouting expression.
"I wish, but Iīm afraid itīs true. I spoke to Ephiny last night and it was decided to have a meeting early this morning."
Her expression grew serious and the playfulness disappeared from her voice.
"There is a lot to discuss."
Gabrielle tried to read Xenaīs face, but couldnīt.
"Yeah, she mentioned it."
"Do you think she-."
"Letīs not talk about this now, Gabrielle," the warrior interrupted, her voice tired and distant.
"There are more serious matters to discuss. Like what to do about that little army threatening your people for instance."
She finished dressing in silence, feeling Gabrielleīs eyes at her back. She turned and looked at the bard.
"Are you coming?"
"Tell, Ephiny, Iīll be right there."
"Okay, Iīll see you then."
Xena walked out of the door and Gabrielle heard her exchange a few words with the guards outside before she continued and walked in the direction of the council. Without exactly knowing why she grabbed the nearest pillow and threw it forcefully against the wall.
It took Gabrielle slightly longer to reach the counsilīs hut than expected, due to all the Amazons wanting to greet their Queen and express their joy of having her in their village again. But Gabrielle loved every minute of it and pleased several Amazons by calling them by their names, which earned her some even warmer smiles in return. When she finally arrived at the hut, she paused to look at the village now buzzing with life, and she felt her heart swell with pride.
I wonīt let thm down.
Gabrielle turned to see Callias, who had quietly come to stand next to her, a question on her face.
Gabrielle gave her a warm smile and for a second the Head of the Royal Guard looked startled, but then returned the smile.
"They are waiting."
"I know... I just wanted to-." She stopped herself, not sure of what she was trying to say.
The soldier nodded solemnly.
"I know what you mean, my Queen. I feel that, too, sometimes."
Gabrielle exchanged another smile with the blond Amazon and was about to enter the hut, when a movement caught her eye. She turned and felt Callias tense slightly next to her. Lykeas was walking towards them, unarmed and escorted by a soldier in the Royal Guard. She recognized the graceful, brown-haired Amazon as Areia, one of the warriors, who had met them in the forest the day before. All over the village heads turned to watch the dark man walking casually towards their Queen, the younger Amazons staring with good-natured curiosity, while some of the elder followed Lykeas with obvious hostility. They came to a halt in front of the hut and Areia gave Gabrielle a small bow before turning to her Captain.
"I brought the man as requested, sir."
"Where there any problems?" Callias asked her soldier, her tone of voice almost expectant.
"No, sir. He came along peacefully."
"Good. I want you to station two guards outside the hut as long as the Queen and Regent are inside."
The soldier nodded and left.
All during the exchange, Gabrielle had felt Lykeasī eyes staring at her, but not until Areia had disappeared in the crowd did she meet his gaze. To her great surprise he smiled at her.
"Good morning, Gabrielle. I hope you slept well."
"Itīs Her Majesty to you!" The Captain growled before Gabrielle could speak and she reached out to reassuringly touch the soldierīs arm.
"No, itīs okay, Callias."
"But-." The Amazon began, but was stopped by her Queen.
"Itīs okay. I prefer people to call me Gabrielle anyway, and I hope youīll do the same."
The Captain was quiet for a moment, an almost invisible blush grazing the beautiful face.
"Oh, I donīt know, Your Majesty... I think Iīll rather use your title if thatīs all right with you."
Gabrielle nodded, then smiled at the woman. "As you wish."
Then she entered the hut, closely followed by Lykeas, who had a very determined Amazon Captain on his heels.
They were met by several pairs of impatient eyes and Gabrielle hurried to take her place at the end of the oval table across from Ephiny, whom she noticed didnīt look like she had closed an eye last night. To Gabrielleīs right was Xena and then Lykeas, who was politely, but coldly led to his seat by Callias, before the Captain herself went around the table to take the seat between the Queen and Erinya, the villageīs weapons master. Lykeas turned to look at the brown-haired woman sitting between him and Ephiny, and couldnīt help but wonder if she hadnīt been seated there on purpose. The woman noticed his gaze and pale brown eyes stared directly into his.
"My name is Zelei, Iīm the Captain of the regular army."
Her entire manner radiated pride and arrogance and out of the corner of his eye, Lykeas saw Calliasī jaw clench slightly. He stored the information away for later use and turned his attention to Ephiny, who had just cleared her throat and with a quick glance at Lykeas begun to speak.
"Well, we better get started. We have a lot to discuss."
"Before we begin, Iīd like to know, who this man is and what business he has at a council meeting."
Zelei crossed her arms and looked directly at the Regent.
"Actually, Iīd like to know what heīs doing in our village in the first place."
"His name is Lykeas," Ephiny began, her tone calm and controlled. "And heīs here because together with Xena, he helped the Queen get here unharmed."
"I donīt have to remind you that we have an army practically lurking in our backyard, do I, Zelei? We donīt have time for this!"
"I still donīt see, why he has to be here. Heīs done his duty and weīre all grateful, but that doesnīt mean he has to stay here," Zelei continued stubbornly. "We donīt need him."
"You need all the help you can get."
Xenaīs voice was low, but held a dangerous edge.
"Iīve seen the army. Hades, I practically took a stroll through it and these men are not only well-trained, but also extremely well-equipped."
"Well, you managed to fool them, didnīt you?" Zelei looked defiantly at the warrior.
"Well, youīre not me are you?"
The two warriors stared at each other, before Xena dismissed the soldier with a small shrug and turned her attention to the Regent.
"The point is that if the army attacked now it would be able to do considerable damage to the village, but probably not defeat it completely."
"Which means that unless they intend to camp out there endlessly doing nothing, there is a reason why they havenīt attacked you yet."
"And what reason would that be?" Zelei asked, hostility oozing from every pore.
"Reinforcements." Callias cut in before Xena could answer. "They are waiting for the reinforcements to arrive."
"So are we just going to sit and wait till it suits them to attack us?" The disbelief in the Captainīs voice clear.
Xena sighed and closed her eyes briefly. They had been discussing this for the last couple of hours, and frankly sheīd had enough.
"No, Callias, thatīs not what I said. What I said was that we have to wait and see what happens, and not rush out doing something thatīll only get us all killed."
"But if we wait any longer their reinforcements will have arrived and then what? Then weīll be really in trouble."
Xena ignored the exasperated soldier and turned to look at Ephiny.
"I believe we have sent out for reinforcements of our own?"
The Regent nodded, her face tired and pale.
"Yes, an envoy has been sent to the nearest village to request for assistance. If all goes well, we should have their reply within the next three days."
"They wouldnīt refuse, would they?" Gabrielle worridly looked first at Xena then Ephiny. "I mean, the safety of the village is at stake."
"No, they wonīt refuse." Ephiny ran a hand through her blond hair and it became apparent to everyone in the room just how exhausted the Regent was.
"But theyīll only be able to part with a certain amount of warriors. There has to be enough left in their village to put up a decent defence in case..." She trailed off before continuing, looking straight at her Queen. "One village is important, yes, but the survival of the entire Nation more so and if necessary an Amazon will rather retreat than fight a losing battle."
Both Captains simultaneously snorted and Ephiny gave them both a sharp glance.
"If sacrificing one village will preserve the rest, itīs a sacrifice that every Amazon must be willing to make. It may not be very heroic and it may not appeal to you, but thatīs the only thing that prevented the Nation from being totally exterminated in the past, and itīs the only thing thatīs going to prevent it from being it in the future. What do you think would have happened if the conflict with the Centaurs had spread to include more than a few villages? What would have happened if we had mobilized all our troops and the Centaurs done the same?"
"We would have destroyed them!" Zelei proudly exclaimed..
"Or they would have destroyed us," came the quiet reply from Ephiny. "Itīs a risk Iīm not willing to take."
"Whatīs going to prevent the soldiers from trying to conquer the next village if they manage to grab hold on the first?" Callaisī voice had lost its frustrated edge and now sounded more resigned than anything else.
"Nothing, thatīs why we have to make sure they donīt succeed the first time, no matter what it takes."
The sorrowful reply lingered in the air for several heartbeats.
"Perhaps if you could trick them into entering the forest before the reinforcements arrive?"
All eyes came to rest upon Lykeas.
"You probably wonīt be able to get the entire army moving, but if you can get a couple of units lured onto Amazon territory, you shouldnīt have a problem with disposing them. After all..." He paused, smiling to no one in particular. "Itīs no secret that Amazons are deadlier in forest than any other force."
"That means the soldiers are probably aware of that as well." The sarcasm in Zeleiīs voice was unmistakable.
"True, but soldiers are soldiers and...well, we all know what soldiers are like after weeks of inactivity, away from their homes and no uh...diversions in sight."
"Itīll only work once," Xena said, an interested glint in her eyes.
"Yes, but if we do it properly..."
"It could be enough."
"If we attack them again before they recover..."
"The reinforcements will be too late."
"Theyīll definitely think twice before attacking."
"Their confidence will have been broken"
"Their morals low."
"And every dead soldier from their army..."
"Will be an extra one in ours."
The two warriors exchanged a smile that made the other occupants of the room feel like they had just witnessed two wolves circling in on their prey.
"Do you got a plan?" Ephinyīs voice broke the silence and it was clear she didnīt know whether to direct the question at Xena or Lykeas.
Xena looked at Lykeas, who shrugged and the blue eyes went back to the Regent.
"Yes. Yes, I think we do."
Although, the celebration that night was a very quiet affair compared to normal Amazon standards, nothing, not even a serious threat hanging over their heads, was going to prevent the Amazons from welcoming their Queen home in a proper manner. The centre of the village was filled with people, but Gabrielle noticed a considerable lack of regular soldiers, and a surprisingly high amount of warriors dressed in the blue colours of the Royal Guard. The guards at the outskirts of the village had been doubled, and the warriors patrolling the forest tripled. Callias had practically not left her side since the ending of the meeting, insisting that she should have an escort. Gabrielle had barely managed to talk her out of the four soldiers she had shown up with, and only grudgingly had the Captain accepted to number the escort down to one. A task she personally had decided to take upon herself. Gabrielle knew Xena would have found the entire scene amusing, that is, if the warrior had been there to witness it. But Xena had disappeared together with Lykeas shortly after the meeting, only stopping long enough to grab a bite to eat. That had been hours ago and there was still no sign of the warriors. She suspected they had gone into the forest to inspect the guards there, and probably check out the enemy camp as well.
Ephiny came to stand next to her, dismissing her own escort, also on the Captainīs insistence, with a small gesture and together they watched the dancing. Callias stepped away from them, but remained close by, her eyes never leaving the Queen. Gabrielle found herself tapping her foot, following the rhythm of the drums and Ephiny smiled at her.
"Itīs infectious isnīt it?"
"Yes, it is."
For a while they just let the music flow through their bodies and chase away all worries from their minds.
"Ephiny, we have to talk."
The Regent sighed, "I know."
She put her hand on Gabrielleīs arm and began to lead her away from the celebration.
Ephiny glanced back at Callias, who wasnīt looking too happy at the turn of events.
"Itīs okay, Callias. I think, Gabrielle and I can go for a walk without being attacked."
The Captain looked as if she was about to argue, but then capitulated.
"Promise me, you wonīt leave the village, and call for assistance if you see anything unusual."
"We promise, mother," the Queen giggled in a very un-regal manner.
The Captain turned crimson and Gabrielle suddenly felt bad. She reached out and took the soldierīs hand.
"Iīm sorry, Callias. That was uncalled for, I promise you weīll be careful."
The crimson didnīt disappear and Gabrielle could tell the Captain was feeling very embarrassed, but why she should feel that way, she didnīt understand.
She squeezed the blond Amazonīs hand.
"You take high pride in your responsibility and so you should. You do an excellent job."
"Itīs my duty," Callias said, dismissing the praise, but Gabrielle could see she was pleased by the words.
"If weīre not back in an hour, you come and get us, okay?"
That earned her a smile from the Captain, who nodded and then returned to watch the dancing.
They began to stroll through the village, both enjoying the warm night and the peaceful atmosphere lingering in the air. They arrived at a quiet corner, as far away from the celebration they could get and Ephiny gestured towards a bit of grass between two huts.
"Letīs sit there."
"You donīt want to go to your hut?"
"No, itīs been so long since I last sat in the grass that I hardly remember how it feels."
They settled down and Ephiny took off her boots, relishing the feel of the grass against her bare feet. After a look, Gabrielle did the same.
"Are you happy, Ephiny?"
The Regent looked up startled. This wasnīt the question she had expected.
"Well, of course, why wouldnīt I be?"
"Itīs just, you looked so sad there for a moment, and you had the same expression on your face back when we were discussing the army."
"Well, itīs not exactly an ideal situation, is it?" She gave Gabrielle a pale smile that didnīt quite reach the brown eyes. "I have a lot of things to think about, thatīs all."
They sat in silence for a long time, the faint sound of drums filling the night.
Gabrielle searched her mind for something to say. She wanted to explain to her friend why she wouldnīt pick up a weapon anymore. She wanted to tell her that she loved the Amazons and would do anything within her powers to prevent them from being hurt. She wanted Ephiny to understand that she wasnīt alone with all the serious decisions, that she could lean on her for support, and that nobody would think anything less of their Regent if she didnīt have all the answers. When the blond Amazon finally spoke, her question caught Gabrielle by surprise.
"What do you think of Lykeas?"
"What?" Was all the bard managed to say.
"I mean, what do you think about him? Do you like him?"
Gabrielle tried to gather her thoughts and come up with an answer, but couldnīt think of any that would properly express her feelings.
"Well, itīs hard to say," she paused, her brow furrowing. "Heīs...sometimes he just...I used to think...
Oh, he can be so frustrating sometimes."
"I know," Ephiny smiled sadly.
"Heīs hard to figure out," the bard elaborated, searching for the right words. "He can be so nice and considerate and...well, almost funny when the mood strikes him, but at other times he just looks at you with that uncanny expression in the eyes and you canīt help but wonder if heīs considering whether to cut your head off or not."
Ephiny chuckled quietly. "Yeah, I remember."
Gabrielle turned her head to look into the brown eyes.
"He means a lot to Xena, though, and thatīs why Iīm willing to put up with his moods and his attitudes.
I donīt know why she never mentioned him before, and I donīt know why they went their separate ways all those years ago, but I do know that she was very happy to see him again. And, truth be told, right now thatīs all that matters to me."
"They had a disagreement."
"What?" Gabrielle stared at Ephiny.
"I donīt know what about," the Regent hurried to say. "I just know they had a major fight over something and when they couldnīt agree, Lykeas left."
"How do you know?"
The answer was barely more than a whisper.
"Xena, told me."
"She told you?"
"Well, sort of... The subject came up once and she mentioned it...but thatīs all I know."
"Well, itīs more than she ever told me." Gabrielle said in annoyance. "She practically hasnīt mentioned anything, and refuses to answer whenever I question her."
Ephiny pushed herself backwards, to lean against the hut.
"She..." The Regent began hesitantly, "she probably has her reasons."
Gabrielle sighed. "Xena always has her reasons."
That brought out a grin on the Amazonīs face and Gabrielle could feel the corners of her mouth curl up. She was still feeling frustrated with the warrior, but had resigned herself to the fact that eventually Xena would come around and tell her what she wanted to know.
At least, she always has before. Why should this be any different?
"Why have you never told me about Lemea?"
"Itīs not something the Amazons like to be reminded of."
Gabrielle tried to catch Ephinyīs eye, but the Regent avoided her look, staring down at the grass instead.
Ephiny took a deep breath and finally looked up.
"A lot of shameful things happened in that village. It was a disgrace to Artemis and every living Amazon."
"I thought it changed for the better. Lykeas, said-."
"It did," the Regent interrupted. "For a while."
"What happened?" The bard could tell her friend was very uncomfortable by the line of conversation, but she desperately wanted answers.
"They returned to their old ways and ended up destroying themselves. There was a fire... We never heard of any survivors."
A sudden outburst of laughter caused them both to look up startled, and they saw two closely intertwined Amazons walking past them a couple of yards away. Ephiny smiled.
"If Iīm not quite mistaken that was Phila and Areia."
"Usually, that is, when they are not at each otherīs throats."
"They make a cute couple."
"Yes, yes they do."
They sat in their own thoughts for a while, a comfortable silence resting between.
"How about you, Ephiny? Do you have anybody?"
The Regent shook her head. "No, Iīve been so busy lately and itīs hard...being the Regent and all. I have to be sure that... And thereīs always so much to do, so many things to decide."
"Itīs okay to be happy, Ephiny, even for a Regent."
"Yeah, but letīs first get all this over with and then maybe... I must admit there is a certain black-haired scout, whoīs rather cute."
They smiled at each other, and Gabrielle felt a bit of the worry she had felt for her friend fade away.
"Did...Lykeas, ever mention his mother?"
Again Gabrielle was surprised by the sudden change of subject.
"Oh, only briefly. Why?"
"She was my mother, too." The voice filled with sadness.
"I know. She and your mother were joined."
Ephiny nodded. "You know, itīs funny, but Lykeas is the spitting image of her. The same black hair, the same black eyes."
"You remember her?"
A pained expression briefly showed on the Amazonīs face.
"Images, voices. I remember her laughter. She always made me laugh. Every time I had gotten into trouble and my mother would scold me, Lykeia would show up and make us both laugh and forget everything."
"She sounds like a wonderful woman."
"She was," Ephiny sighed. "I loved her very much...and so did my mother. She was never the same after the banishment."
"Did Lykeas ever meet your mother?"
Gabrielle waited for further elaboration, but noticed a warning glance in the Regents eyes and decided to let it go.
In a cheerful voice she said, "Well, speaking of Lykeas. I wonder when it pleases him to return my warrior to me. I havenīt seen her for hours."
"They spend a lot of time together, donīt they?"
"Yes, they do. Xena is quite good at handling him whenever he gets into one of his moods. Most be some kind of warrior thing."
"Perhaps you shouldnīt... Perhaps it would be better..." Ephiny began, not certain if she should speak her mind. Then reaching a decision, she continued, "Iīm not sure heīs good for her."
"What...what do you mean?"
Seeing the worry in the green eyes made her reach out and take the bardīs hand into hers.
"Nothing, donīt worry. Iīm talking nonsense, itīs been a long day."
She began to get to her feet, pulling Gabrielle up with her.
"We better get back to the celebration before Callias comes and personally drags us back by the ears."
"Please, Gabrielle, can we just go now?"
The bard nodded reluctantly, wondering why it was she never seemed to be able to finish a conversation anymore.
They had returned to the celebration and spent a few hours there just relaxing and enjoying the festivities. Several Amazons, some more shyly than others, had come to ask their Queen to dance, but each time Gabrielle had tactfully declined, her heart still waiting for the warrior to show up. But, when a black-haired, slender Amazon named Terisa had managed to lure the Regent into joining her, Gabrielle had found herself feeling surprisingly lonely, and had turned to ask a very startled Amazon Captain for a dance.
"Uh, I donīt know, Your Majesty. Iīm not sure if that-."
"Oh, nonsense, Callias. Donīt you want to dance with me?"
"Well, yes. Of course, but-."
"Well, then, whatīs stopping you? You donīt want to disobey your Queen now, do you?"
Grinning, Gabrielle had pulled the soldier after her and together they had joined the dancing.
The blond Amazon had been a very rhythmic and graceful dancer, once she recovered from her embarrassment, and Gabrielle had found herself following the Captainīs every move without hesitation. They had made a very beautiful sight and several pairs of eyes had followed them throughout the dance. It wasnīt till the musicians grew tired, and people slowly began to leave and head home that they stopped, both with flushed cheeks and shining eyes.
"Youīre a wonderful dancer, Callias. It was a pleasure dancing with you."
"I think it takes two, my Queen, and youīre very skilled yourself."
"Thank you, thatīs nice of you to say."
"I mean it."
They had looked at each other in silence.
"Do you want me to escort you to your hut?"
"No, thanks, Callias. Iīll be fine."
"Okay, my Queen, then Iīll bid you a goodnight."
"Goodnight, Callias, Iīll see you in the morning."
Walking the short distance back to the Royal Hut, Gabrielle had been lost in thoughts and barely managed to suppress a small scream when a figure suddenly emerged from the darkness to walk beside her.
"Lykeas! You startled me."
"Iīm sorry, I didnīt mean to."
"Is Xena back as well?"
"Well, where is she?"
"I donīt know. I left her a while ago to check on Rarjan."
They had arrived at the hut and for some indefinable reason, they had both stopped outside, neither showing any intention of leaving.
"Why are you still here, Lykeas?"
"If youīd wanted to you could have left."
"Maybe I donīt want to."
Heīd just given her his trademark look, followed by a small shrug. Gabrielle had felt an enormous wave of frustration wash over her, and had to resist a sudden urge to reach out and strangle him. Reading her face, Lykeas had only smiled.
"Are we friends, Lykeas?"
"Do you want us to be?"
"Yes...yes, I would."
"Because of Xena?"
"Yes, partly, but also because... Not always, but most times, I like you."
Brows had furrowed.
"Yes, I like you."
"When I make a friend itīs forever. You sure youīre up for that?"
"I wouldnīt have it any other way."
Although he tried to hide it, the most truly felt smile she had ever witnessed from him briefly graced the dark features.
"Friends it is then."
For a while they had just stood there, looking at each other. Then Gabrielle had leaned forward to plant a light kiss on his cheek, and to her great delight he hadnīt flinched, well...only a little. Then she had turned and walked to stand in front of the door leading into the hut, before looking at him again.
"Can I ask you something?"
The answer had come hesitantly.
"When you think back at your time with Xena...back when you rode together, the things that you did..."
"How does that make you feel?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what do you feel when... Do you feel..."
"Yes. Do you feel guilty? Do you feel the same pain that Xena has to live with every day?"
Gabrielle had stared at him, a mixture of emotions showing on her face.
"No... Iīve never felt guilt in my life. Iīve never regretted anything Iīve done."
"I donīt believe you."
His eyes had become cold at the statement.
"Iīm not Xena, Gabrielle. Iīm not looking for forgiveness or searching for redemption."
"Are you trying to frighten me?"
His eyes had lost their cold, and for a second, she thought he would say something, but then he began to walk away.
He had turned to look at her, a question on his face.
"What is it you want to know, Gabrielle? What is it that fascinates you so much? What is it you want me to say?"
He had stared at her, waiting for an answer. Sheīd had none.
"Goodnight, Gabrielle. Get some sleep."
Then he had disappeared into the darkness once again.
The next two days passed in a blur. Xena was busy with preparations for battle and Gabrielle hardly saw the warrior. She went to bed alone and when she woke up in the morning, Xena had already left to meet with the Captains and Lykeas. Gabrielle, herself, was tied up with work from early morning to late evening, and she had reluctantly acknowledged that being Queen wasnīt only about partying and issuing orders to have work done for you. She was filled with a noticeable, but satisfying exhaustion and it pleased her no ends to be able to relieve Ephiny of some of her burdens. They hadnīt experienced any trouble with the waiting army, no soldiers had entered the forest, and the third day, the reinforcements from the other village arrived.
25 strong, fully armed warriors had quickly been stationed to various parts of the forest and village. There had been quite a rowdy disagreement between, Callias and Zelei, about who was to be in command of the new warriors, until Xena had cut through and said, she would take charge of them. Zelei had been fuming, but Callias had accepted without protests. A nervous anxiety filled the air and took hold of every person in the village. The attack was to take place the next day, and everywhere warriors were cleaning and sharpening their weapons, while the healer together with her helpers were busy making preparations for the inevitable aftermath of battle. The plan was to lure as many of the soldiers onto Amazon land early the next evening, and then quickly take care of them with hopefully no casualties on their side. If they were successful that attack was to be immediately followed up with another, later that night, and if all went well, the sun would rise to shine on an empty plain, bereft of any enemy soldiers.
At least, no living enemy soldiers. Xena had quietly added in her mind, when she, in one of their rare moments together, had gone over the plan with Gabrielle.
Secrets are hard to keep in any village and it didnīt take long before everyone there was aware of who Lykeas was and of his connection to their Regent. Most of the younger Amazons treated him with a casual indifference or innocent curiosity, while those who were old enough to remember his mother and the scandal that had taken place all those years ago, either gave him the cold shoulder or sympathetic looks, neither of which Lykeas paid any attention. He spent most of his time with Xena, planning and preparing the attack or trying to convince Callias to return his weapons. Even when Xena had tried to reason with the Captain and later Ephiny, it hadnīt worked. The Regent had curtly said, he would be allowed to carry arms when the attack was to take place and only then. Xena had delivered the reply to him, but he had only given her a dismissive grin and said that he probably should consider himself lucky they would allow him to carry arms into battle at all. Initially Xena had felt rather guilty about dragging Lykeas to the village, and had decided to make it up to him by never leaving him alone for long, always aiming to keep him entertained, always judging his mood, trying to make him smile. That way, she quietly admitted to herself, she could also keep an eye on him and prevent anything from happening. She was prepared to step in if any situation should arise, well aware of some of the less than friendly eyes following him around. Lykeas behaved himself admirably, but she could tell by the occasional tightening of his jaw and half veiled gaze that even the smallest provocation was all it would take. She soon found that she enjoyed spending all this time with him. They rarely spoke about the past, both knowing it inevitably would lead to subjects neither were ready to discuss, but she realized that just being with him, talking about the upcoming fight, discussing weapons, tactics, horses or what ever came up, provided her with a quiet sense of joy she hadnīt felt for a long time. She knew, she should find more time to be with Gabrielle, but kept pushing the thoughts away, always taking refuge in the excuse that she couldnīt leave Lykeas alone.
Besides, she promised herself, Weīll have plenty of time to be together after this is over.
So Gabrielle spent most of her hours with the Regent going over a never ending flow of documents, while Xena spent hers never leaving Lykeas out of sight. As far as the warrior knew, Lykeas and Ephiny hadnīt spoken since the night of their arrival, and she had come to the conclusion that probably was the best solution for all people involved.
As she arrived at the practice field, she noticed Lykeas sitting on the fence surrounding the field, watching the training. She let out a breath she hadnīt been aware she was holding. It had been an hour since she last saw him, and she had begun to feel slightly worried.
Iīm acting like a broody hen. Itīs not like he canīt take care of himself.
Her eyes caught the sight of two staffs lying carelessly on the ground, and with a controlled tilt of her foot, she caught one, than another in her hands.
This is gonna be fun.
She lifted the staff in her right hand and delivered a swift blow against his head.
A hand shot backwards, a body turned and the staff was caught in an iron grip inches before his face.
"Are you enjoying yourself, Xena?" He gave her a self-satisfied smirk.
She arched an eyebrow in return before giving him a grin of her own.
He jumped down from the fence and watched as Xena in one graceful movement flew over the fence.
She just grinned and tossed him a staff, "I think Iīve heard that one before."
They made their way toward a deserted corner of the field, the staffs rotating lazily in their hands. They stopped, moved a few stances away from each other and were about to begin when a voice interrupted.
"Can we join you?"
The turned to see Callias stand next to a short, but surprisingly well-muscled woman. The womanīs hair was a fiery red and her green eye looked at them with an expectant, but friendly gaze. Xena recognized the woman as Erinya, the villageīs weapons master, who also conducted the training of the younger Amazons.
Xena looked at Lykeas, who shrugged, "Sure, why not?" He looked at them, studying their physique and their hold on the staffs.
"All against all? Or do you wanna pair up?"
"I think," Erinya began in a beautiful contralto, "I think it should be me and Callias against the two of you."
The two warriors nodded, not really caring either way. Xena led Lykeas a few feet away, till they had their backs to the Amazons.
"I should take Erinya and you Callias."
Lykeas just looked at her, a teasing smile on his lips.
"Oh, and whyīs that?"
"Callias is a very good soldier, but thereīs no doubt that Erinya is better skilled with the staff."
Lykeas tilted his head, a bigger grin spreading on his face.
"And, who exactly is the more skilled with the staff when it comes to us?"
Xena frowned, but returned his grin.
"Weīre not getting into that old argument now:"
Lykeas let the staff spin faster and faster between his fingers, his arm never moving.
"Xena... I thought we settled this years ago. Youīre better with the sword, and unless Iīm having a very good day I wonīt defeat you. Just like you wonīt beat me at archery, and then again, I have no chance in Tartarus to even figure out how that shiny ring of yours works, but when it comes to the staff..."
He let the sentence hang in the air, increasing the speed of the staff till it was nothing more than a blur.
"When it comes to the staff, Iīm your superior. After all, Iīve practically been fighting with a staff since before I could walk."
Xena opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again, shaking her head in good-natured exasperation.
"Whatever you say, Lykeas. Whatever you say."
Lykeas bit his lip, trying to suppress a smile, "Besides, I think Callias wants to fight you."
"Oh?" Xena looked past him at the Captain, who was talking quietly to Erinya. "Why do you think that?"
Lykeas looked at her in surprise, but when he noticed Xenaīs genuine confusion, his face became expressionless again.
"Well," he said, dismissing the question. "Donīt they all want to fight the Warrior Princess?"
When Gabrielle and Ephiny finally decided to take a break, they didnīt waste any time getting out of the crowded and stuffy hut, where they had spent most of the afternoon. Walking through the village, they couldnīt fail to notice that something was going on down at the practice field. Pushing herself through the crowd, Gabrielle paused in front of the fence surrounding the field. Ephiny soon joined her and the loudly cheering crowd closed behind them. The sight that greeted her was breathtaking. Four warriors were fighting in the centre of the field. Their moves were swift and precise, hard and merciless. They circled and countered, retreating only enough to block, before delivering another furious blow against whatever exposed limb that was within reach. Their skin was glistening with sweat, clothes clung to their bodies and damp hair swirled in their faces. And there was absolutely no doubt in Gabrielleīs mind that they were all having a blast. Especially Xena. The smile never left her face as she jumped to avoid a blow aimed at her legs, regained her balance and forced her staff down hard against the Amazon Captainīs right shoulder. Callias cried out in pain, but never loosened her grip around the staff and with an impossibly quick motion, managed to bring it back up and block the next blow. Xena couldnīt help but feel just the slightest hint of admiration for the blond Amazon, and was about to say so, when she noticed the determined look in the blue eyes staring directly into hers. She frowned, not sure if she had read the look correctly and that distraction was all Callias needed to deliver a direct hit into Xenaīs abdomen. Xena felt all air leave her lungs and she staggered a few steps backward. The Captain felt victory within reach and moved forward to deliver the final blow. She raised her staff, but suddenly felt her legs disappear from underneath her and she landed flat own her back with a triumphant Warrior Princess staring down at her.
"I think thatīs enough for today. We all need our strength for the battle tomorrow."
She reached down and for a second she thought Callias would refuse, but the Captain grudgingly accepted her hand.
"You fight well," the blonde began, but was interrupted by the sound of two bodies heavily hitting the ground. Lykeas was sitting on top of Erinya, his staff pressing hard against her throat. The weapons master struggled and wriggled, but Lykeas pushed harder, locking his thighs around her hips.
"You give?" He managed to say, panting heavily.
The Amazon struggled some more, more for appearances sakes than anything else, before she went limp, grinning wildly.
"I give! I give!"
Lykeas rolled off her, a big grin of his own spreading across his face. He reached down and pulled the Amazon to her feet, and for a while they just stood in front of each other, panting and grinning.
"What kind of move was that?" The weapons master finally managed to say, dusting off her hands. "Iīve never seen anything like it!"
"Well," Lykeas smiled, "I didnīt want to stay out here the entire day, so I had to put an end to it."
"Okay, that makes sense, but that move?"
"Well," Lykeas said again, the black eyes shimmering with mischief. "I didnīt make you step on my staff, did I? You did that all by yourself."
The Amazon shook her head and gave him a warm smile.
"Youīll have to teach me that one day."
They suddenly became aware of all the eyes following them and managed to compose themselves. Callias stepped over to Erinya and together they began to walk off the field. Xena looked at Lykeas, a crooked smile on her lips.
"The Double Grasshopper Move?"
"She had it coming." He smirked, enjoying himself tremendously. "Blew her right off her feet."
Xena raised an eyebrow and put an arm around his shoulder. "It most certainly did."
Lykeas was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. His back was hurting slightly after the powerful dive he had made with Erinya earlier the day, but that aside he felt good. He could feel the familiar anticipation of battle enter his limbs, and he knew he wouldnīt get much, if any, sleep that night. Outside the hut, the village was quiet, most people having gone to bed hours ago. Suddenly he heard the sound of quiet footsteps walking outside and come to rest in front of his door. A gentle knock followed. He sat up and moved back to lean against the wall.
The person outside hesitated for a moment before slowly opening the door and coming inside.
The surprise on Lykeasī face was quickly replaced by something else. "What do you want?"
The Regent stood for a moment, her eyes darting from one side of the hut to the other.
"I... I thought we should talk."
"I thought you said you never wanted to see me again, much less talk to me."
"That...that was a long time ago, Lykeas. Perhaps we could...perhaps we could move on."
The black eyes narrowed dangerously and Ephiny involuntarily took a step back.
"I have," the Regent began, swallowing hard. "I have no family left beside you and I thought-."
"Iīm not your family!" The dark man rose from the bed slowly, his movements almost feline. "Didnīt we establish that once already?"
Ephiny felt the need to step away once more, to put some distance between them, but she remained standing, her eyes now staring defiantly into his.
"Youīre my brother, Lykeas, whether you like it or not. Our mothers were joined and I know they would want-."
Her head flew back from the impact of the blow. He raised his hand to strike again and she closed her eyes, bracing herself for the second blow. But nothing happened. She opened her eyes and for an endless moment, they looked at each other. He lowered his hand to his side before putting it behind his back. First then he broke eye contact and looked down at his feet.
"You better go."
Ephiny was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of loss and she had to take a few breaths before she could speak.
"Is that all you have to say?" The question lingered in the air for a few heartbeats.
She turned and walked to the door.
"Yes?" She answered, without turning around.
"Iīm sorry I hit you." The words were spoken in a surprisingly soft tone.
"Iīm sorry you hit me, too."
She walked out and closed the door behind her.
She almost ran into Gabrielle, who had to grab onto the Regentīs shoulder not to fall.
"Ephiny! Are you all right?"
The Amazon removed a few blond strands from her eyes and gave Gabrielle an unconvincing smile.
"Iīm fine, Gabrielle. Lykeas and I just had a small disagreement, nothing to worry about."
Gabrielle threw a glance at the closed door and then at her friendīs face.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Ephiny shook her head.
"No, right now, all I want to do is sleep." She gave Gabrielleīs hand a gentle squeeze. "Iīll see you in the morning."
Gabrielle watched as the Regent disappeared in the darkness before she turned to look at the door again.
No, not tonight. I canīt deal with him tonight.
She walked to her own hut and noticed to her dismay it was still empty. Although she knew it was stupid, she couldnīt help but feel just a bit hurt by Xenaīs continuing absence, and she wondered briefly where she could be. All plans for the attack had, to her knowledge, been made and she couldnīt think of anything else the warrior might be doing.
Unless, of course...
She smiled to herself and began to walk towards the stables. Xena was probably having a quiet chat with her beloved horse, and she better go get her, before the warrior forgot that other living creatures might want her attentions as well. As she passed the practice field, she noticed a shadow leaning against the fence, facing away from her. She stepped a few steps closer.
The shadow spun around and the moon revealed the beautiful face of the Amazon Captain.
"Your Majesty! What are you doing out here on your own and at such a late hour?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Probably the same as you, Captain. Enjoying the peace and quiet of the night."
She took a quick decision and climbed up to sit on the fence, and after a momentīs hesitation, Callias joined her.
"Canīt you sleep?"
The smile left Gabrielleīs face.
"No, I canīt stop thinking about whatīs going to happen tomorrow. What if something goes wrong? What if everything fails and people get killed for no reason? What if-."
Her words were cut off by Callias, who tentatively reached out to take the Queenīs hand.
"Donīt think like that, my Queen. Youīll only drive yourself crazy. Weīll fight because we have to and we all know that we might die tomorrow, but there isnīt a single Amazon here, who isnīt willing to die for her people, for her Queen...including me."
Gabrielle squeezed the hand holding hers and gave Callias a weak smile.
"Letīs hope it doesnīt come to that, Callias. I wouldnīt want a single Amazon to die for me...including you."
A strange expression showed on the Captainīs face and she looked away.
"I would die for you, my Queen," she said in such a quiet voice that Gabrielle almost didnīt hear her.
Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came. She eased herself down from the fence to stand in front of the Amazon Captain.
Callias, I..." She stopped, not sure if she should say something.
The Amazon jumped down from the fence, landing elegantly next to the Queen. The soldier slowly raised her head to meet Gabrielleīs gaze. Gabrielle saw the emotion surfacing in the intense blue eyes, and for the slightest of moments, she was captivated and unable to move away. Callias leaned forward, inch for inch bringing her face closer to the Queenīs.
"Callias, no..." Gabrielle breathed, feeling the heat radiating from the woman in front of her, and then she felt nothing, but the soft lips pressing gently against hers. For a second, Gabrielleīs mind went black, she just stood and let herself be overwhelmed by the powerful feelings the blond warrior invoked in her. She felt her heartbeat increase as the kiss intensified, and the Amazon gingerly began to explore her mouth with her tongue, her hands enveloping Gabrielleīs waist, pulling her closer. That awoke Gabrielle from her state of paralysis and she pushed the Captain away.
A mortified expression showed on the Amazonīs face and she took a few steps backwards.
"Iīm... Iīm sorry, I didnīt mean..."
Then suddenly she turned and ran.
But the Amazon Captain had vanished into the darkness.
"Damn! Damn! Damn!" Gabrielle whispered to herself, kicking the fence in frustration.
"Why did this have to happen now?"
She let out a frustrated sigh and began to walk back to the Royal hut. She needed to be alone right now, to gather her thoughts and find a way to straighten things out with Callias. She was too engulfed in her thoughts to notice the dark silhouette standing in the doorway of the stable and the cold azure eyes narrowing, as they followed the lithe figure of the Queen be embraced by the night and disappear.
30 Warriors moved soundlessly through the thick forest. Another 20 were positioned in the trees only a small distance from the more open, bushy area that worked as a natural border between forest and plain. Further in, 50 warriors were waiting among the trees, invisible to anybody who would have passed. Lykeas and Xena were standing impatiently with these warriors, all quiet, all straining to hear what happened, all waiting for the signal to move. The remains of the Amazon force were camped closer to the village, but still inside the forest, waiting for the command to attack the surviving soldiers on the plain. The afternoon sun was warm and shining with an ever increasing red light, but none of the rays penetrated the dense roof of leaves, and the warriors shivered in the darkness. The forest was still, not a single bird or animal was heard and a feeling of nervous dread hung in the air, blending in with the strong anticipation of battle emanating from everybody in hiding. Lykeas absently caressed the hilt of the sword, subconsciously comforted by its presence at his side again. He turned to look at Xena and they exchanged a quiet smile before both returned their attention to the clearing ahead. Callias and her soldiers had arrived at the borderland. She ducked under a low hanging branch and took cover behind a tree. She raised a hand to halt the warriors behind her, and knew, without looking back that they had all melted into their surroundings. She carefully moved to look past the tree and study the scene in front of her. The enemy camp was calm and not a lot of activity was to be seen. Small groups of soldiers were scattered all over the area, some sitting around a fire eating, others talking or playing dice. However, groups of 5 were constantly patrolling the area, circling the camp and guards were positioned at the outskirts. The Captain noticed that every soldier, even those who were eating and gambling, all had their weapons within reach, ready to jump up and fight if necessary. She moved behind the tree again as a patrol walked by only a few yards away. When it had passed, she raised her hand again, signalling her soldiers to be ready. She took a deep breath and the shrill cry of hawk cut through the air, and instantly, as if one being, 30 Amazons moved and stormed through the bushes. Ear shattering war-cries followed and confusion in the enemy camp was total. Xena felt all her muscles tense by the sound and she had to force herself to remain standing in the shadows. She couldnīt see anything, but she could clearly hear the sounds of battle. Metal hitting hard against metal, the eerie sound of swords sliding down another and the groans and shouts of the soldiers. She more felt than heard the impacts of the blows, felt how the sharp blades sliced their way through armour and leather to enter soft yielding flesh. She could feel arms pausing, before pulling back, releasing streams of blood to mar the ground in the deadly colour of war. Then she heard Callias shout.
"Retreat! Retreat! Now!"
Her sword was in her hand before the Captain had finished the sentence and she began to move forward. Suddenly her vision was filled with Amazons rushing past her, and she stepped aside, taking refuge behind a tree. Then the warriors were gone and for a single second nothing was heard, then the angry shouts of men rang in her ears.
The accent was foreign, but the words werenīt.
"Come On! Letīs get them! Theyīre running!"
Another voice shouted.
"No! Donīt! Itīs against our orders! Weīre not to enter the forest!," but the voice was drowned out by furious shouts and immediately followed by the sound of heavy boots entering the forest. Xena braced herself for what was about to happen, a predatory smile on her lips. Between 40-50 soldiers came rushing into sight, determined at first, but then slowly coming to a halt, looking hesitantly around.
"Where did they go?"
"Damn! Donīt say those fucking bitches got away?"
On the contrary, weīre right here.
The grin on Xenaīs face broadened and she tightened the grip on her sword.
She heard a whisper in the trees and, for a moment, she felt almost sorry for the men.
From everywhere arrows flew through the air, finding their targets with deadly accuracy. The shouted curses where quickly replaced by screams of anger and fear as the soldiers saw their comrades fall to the ground around them. Another wave of arrows followed, mercilessly continuing the bloody harvest of men.
From behind every tree and every bush, Amazons emerged with grim determination written on their faces. Warriors lowered themselves from trees, and arriving at the clearing was a unit of 50 soldiers with a savagely grinning Lykeas in the lead. The fight was bloody but short. 10 minutes later no enemy soldiers were left alive.
"Okay!" Xena shouted, bringing everybodyīs attention to her. "We give it an hour to see what happens and if nothing does, then we attack the camp."
Small cheers were quickly silenced by a look from the warrior.
"This is not over yet!"
Without a sound they retreated back into the forest.
The moon rose to reveal a village that was quiet but yet alive with activity. Everyone there who had been left behind, whether being too old or too young to fight, had spent an anxious afternoon, then evening and finally night waiting for news of the attack. Gabrielle had been pacing the Royal hut till she couldnīt take it any longer and had gone outside, She immediately realized, she wasnīt the only one who couldnīt stand the confines of their huts as the village was full of people. Some were walking around talking quietly, others were standing at the outskirt, eyes filled with worry searching the forest. She found Ephiny among the latter, the Regentīs face unnatural pale in the moonlight.
"I should be there." She spoke quietly, not looking at Gabrielle. "I shouldnīt have let Xena talk me out of it."
"She needs you here," Gabrielle tried to reassure her friend. "She needs to know there is a strong leader ready to take over if anything should happen, and..." She felt her throat constrict at the next words. "And Xena knows Iīm not capable of that."
Ephiny spun around.
"Thatīs not true, Gabrielle! Youīre more than capable to reign this village and the Nation, and we both know that, and so does Xena."
Gabrielle gave her a sad smile, "In times of peace maybe, but when it comes to war and fighting, Iīm afraid Iīm terribly inadequate. I donīt-."
All over the village, faces turned toward the forest and soon after, shadows slowly began to emerge.
Ephiny recognized the slow, staggering movements and let out a small sigh.
"The wounded are being brought in."
"Kelife!" She shouted, "Get your people ready. The wounded are coming!"
"How many?" The healer shouted back, running towards her Regent.
A rasping voice answered, "Itīs not that bad, only about 15-20 and most arenīt hurt that badly, only a few..." The voice broke and Gabrielle recognized Areia. The brown-haired Amazon was bleeding from a deep cut above her right ear and her sword arm was wrapped in a makeshift bandage, but what frightened the Queen the most was the total lack of life in the brown eyes. Ephiny took a step forward, searching the soldierīs face.
"Phila...?" She managed to whisper.
Areia could only nod, tears filling her eyes. "She...she saved my life... She..."
The Regent put her arm around the soldier and gently led her away. Gabrielle felt like she was going to throw up, she took a few deep breaths, then the healer arrived at her side.
"About 15-20 and most shouldnīt be hurt that badly." She repeated in a desolate voice.
"Any casualties?" The healer asked in a controlled and businesslike tone.
"A few;" Gabrielle whispered, then she pulled herself together. "I donīt know how many."
The healer nodded, "Okay, have the most seriously wounded sent to my hut and the others to Erinyaīs. Weīll need all the room we can get."
Gabrielle nodded and the healer began to move away before Gabrielleīs voice stopped her.
"What about the dead?"
The healer turned and for a second a sorrowful smile replaced the mask of professionalism.
"The dead can wait, Your Majesty, the living canīt."
Slowly the Amazon army returned to the village. Some could walk by themselves, others were half supported, half carried back. Gabrielle watched in silence as the endless flow of warriors passed her, and although one part of her mind told her that they had won, that they escaped with as small a casualty as possible, another part kept seeing the shocked, tearstained face of Areia. Some of the soldiers gave her small exhausted smiles as they passed while others acknowledged her presence by nodding briefly. Her eyes desperately searched for the sight of one warrior. At times she had to restrain herself from not running forward when she thought she saw a familiar figure, but every time her hope was crushed.
She almost ran to him and flung her arms around him. He stiffened immediately, but didnīt pull away. She released him from her grip, but held onto his arms. He was pale and his face was smeared with dirt and blood, but otherwise he appeared unharmed.
"Xena? Whereīs Xena?"
"Sheīs all right, Gabrielle." His voice was hoarse and he cleared his throat. "Sheīs still at the camp."
"Why? What is she doing there? I thought the battle was over."
"It is, sheīs going through some documents we found. She wants to know who they are...or were."
The last statement was accompanied by a smile resembling a sneer, and Gabrielle let go off his arms.
"So...Xena wasnīt hurt?"
"No, sheīs fine."
Relief washed over Gabrielle and she suddenly felt very tired.
Lykeas gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder and started to walk away.
"How many died?"
He looked at her, his brow furrowing.
"Oh... Only a few, about four or five, I think."
"Anyone...anyone I know?"
"Uhm, I donīt know... Phila and...and a small black-haired one, Terisa I believe it was. And then one or two from the other village, donīt know their names... and..." He wiped a drop of blood away from his nose, his brow furrowing some more. "And Callias, I think."
Gabrielle pushed herself forcefully through the crowd hovering outside the healerīs hut. A tall woman stood in the door blocking the way, but when she noticed it was the Queen, she stepped aside and let her in. The hut was buzzing with a hasty but controlled activity. People were kneeling besides pallets, washing away blood, bandaging wounds and whispering words of comfort. An almost perceptible quiet existed and only hushed voices and splashing water were heard. Kelife looked up from her position next to a pallet, the ground around it, coloured with blood. She barely acknowledged the presence of her Queen before returning to her task. Gabrielle let her eyes roam the bodies lying on the pallets, but didnīt find what she was looking for. Almost reluctantly her eyes came to rest on the person in Kelifeīs care. Callias was deadly pale, her face white as a sheet against the blood covering her body. A steady stream of blood was seeping from a deep cut in her side.
"Leda! I need more bandages!"
A young Amazon rushed to the healerīs side, handing her the bandages. Kelife tore away Calliasī tunic to get more access to the wound, before pressing the cloth against it. Instantly the bandages were soaked and the healer let out a low curse.
"Leda! Do we have any tar?"
"No, we were supposed to get some more next month, remember?"
Another string of curses followed.
"Okay, Leda, you now what to do."
The helper rushed past the Queen and out of the hut.
Kelife looked up and her eyes searched the hut, but all of the helpers were occupied. She turned to look at her Queen.
"Your Majesty, I need your help."
It wasnīt a request, it was a command and Gabrielle obeyed without a second thought. She knelt down on the floor, on the opposite side of the pallet. She stared at the white, dirty face and couldnīt stop herself from reaching out and gently push a lock of blood stained hair away from the Captainīs forehead. Calliasīs face was captured in a silent expression of pain. Her eyes were narrow slits and her jaw was clenched tightly together, pale lips baring white teeth biting down hard.
"I need to remove something from the wound. You must keep it free from blood, so I can see what Iīm doing."
"There...thereīs something in the wound?"
"Yes, I think itīs the tip of a dagger. It must have broken off inside of her."
Gabrielle swallowed and steadied herself.
The healer began to feel her way inside the wound while Gabrielle fought to wash away the blood that began flowing once again.
"I...I think...I got it!"
With a triumphant cry Kelife pulled out a long metal tip and immediately the wound began to bleed more strongly. Gabrielle looked for more bandages, but couldnīt find any. She tore a piece of cloth from her skirt and began pressing it against the bleeding. The healer looked at her, a respectful look in the grey eyes. Wordlessly, she got up and then returned with more cloth.
"Try and halt the bleeding as much as you can. Leda should be here shortly, weīll have to seal the wound."
Gabrielle nodded without taking her eyes away from her task. Her knees were hurting and her arms were aching from the strain, but she didnīt give in. In her mind she kept seeing gentle, blue eyes looking at her in an unspoken question. She saw the shy smile of an embarrassed Amazon Captain before pulling her out to dance, and she saw the horrified expression of a young woman realizing what sheīd done.
"Please, my Queen. I need you to step aside."
Gabrielle was awakened from her state of reverie and in a haze moved away from the pallet, allowing Leda to kneel in her place. She barely acknowledged the red glowing pair of tongs the helper held in her hand, before the hand was lowered and a sickening seething sound followed. A low guttural groan was heard for only a moment and then it silenced. The smell of burned fleshed mingled with the harsh smell of blood and urine and Gabrielle felt her head spin. She turned and ran out of the hut, through the people waiting outside, paying no attention to the concerned voices calling her name. She paused at the outskirts of the village, panting heavily. A nagging sense of shame claimed her now and she had to blink a few tears away.
Gods! How did I ever think I could be more than a bard? Iīm not a warrior, Iīm not a Queen. Iīm not even strong enough to help them in the only way I can.
She straightened up and dried her eyes.
No! I can do this! I may not fight with them on the battlefield, but Iīll be damned if Iīm not going to help them when they are wounded.
A new determination entered her body and she turned to walk back to the hut.
She froze on the spot, the tears flowing freely again.
She turned to see the most beautiful sight she had ever witnessed. A pale, tired and very exhausted warrior walking towards her. Her heart cried out at the sight of the dark blues eyes devouring her and the small smile showing on the full lips.
She ran forward and was immediately caught up in strong, powerful arms.
The Amazonsī Boy continues here