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|DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. are ©copyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I don't own them, I just play with them for a while and, like the good girl I am, I put them back when I'm done...okay, they get a little worn, but hey...I play hard! Absolutely no Copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. It's intended as flattery toward the creators and actors of the characters. All other characters that appear are ©copyright Devlin@xenafan.com This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way (unless, of course, Lucy, Renee, Rob, et al want to make my dream come true and hire me, hah!). Copies may be made for private use only and I'd appreciate if you included all copyright notices and this disclaimer.|
Their options were dwindling in a hurry. The group could simply start on their way inland, according to Kirren's instructions and Xena could battle Kirren. Ephiny reminded Xena that the former assassin wouldn't be challenging the Warrior Princess unless she were fairly confident she had the ability to beat her. And, they still had Ares to contend with, so they were pretty sure this wouldn't be a fair fight. The way Xena left it with Ares, it was a sure bet he wasn't just going to let the warrior walk off with Gabrielle once she defeated Kirren. The only thing they could do was to hope to find Gabrielle before the match and rescue her from where ever Kirren's stronghold was.
Xena was convinced Gabrielle would have hidden some kind of message as to where to find her, in the scroll. Of course, Kirren would read it so it had to be part of the bard's message.
"Gabrielle is smart that way...she'd find some way." Xena said.
They had spent nearly two candlemarks, Eponin, Ephiny, and Xena, all trying to decipher what the bard might have meant in her note to Xena.
"Okay she tells you she's okay and Kirren hasn't hurt her...nothing much there. What about this last line...I haven't been this nervous since the day I entered Academy in Athens?" Eponin asked.
"That must be it...it's the only line that means something to you and nobody else," Ephiny added.
Xena looked at the parchment as if she could gather her memory from the bard's handwriting. "It must mean something because I don't remember her being nervous. I mean, she was excited; we were a little sad at separating. Just a little sad, warrior? Do you remember the feeling in the pit of your stomach when she said she'd be away four or five years?
"Gabrielle told me about the competition at the Academy," Ephiny smiled, remembering the time Gabrielle had confessed that she had to lie to get enrolled in the first place. "If I remember, she said you went off to fight a Cyclops in a neighboring town and she went to the Academy."
Xena looked up at the two Amazons. The warrior certainly wasn't used to revealing her feelings to anyone but Gabrielle, especially not feelings that were about Gabrielle. She needed their input, however, if she was going to figure out the riddle that her bard had left her.
"Well, the truth is...I guess I was having a little bit of a hard time letting Gabrielle walk out of my life. I kept telling myself I had to let her follow her dreams, but...I didn't tell Gabrielle I was in love with her back then. I wasn't sure what I felt was real." Xena was afraid to look either of the women in the eye.
As for Ephiny and Eponin, the two Amazons had never heard Xena string so many words together at one time in their presence. They were awed and honored at the same time.
"Xena," Eponin said placing a hand on the warrior's shoulder. We're not here to judge you about the past. Why don't you just tell us the story and see if anything new comes back to you."
Xena gave the best effort at a smile she could under the circumstances, and launched into what she could remember.
"I look back on it now and remember acting like an idiot. I wanted to tell Gabrielle how much I cared for her, but the best I could do was tell her I thought of her as a sister."
Eponin rolled her eyes.
"I thought you weren't going to judge," Xena said.
"Sorry," Eponin replied.
"Well, I figured I had to let her do what was right for her so I offered to go with her to Athens. We went around with that a little, I think, but I finally talked her into having me travel to the city with her. I think it took us about three days to get there and that was it."
"That's it? But, the scroll says the day she entered the Academy. What happened the day you arrived in Athens?" Ephiny interjected.
"We didn't actually enter Athens together." Gabrielle, when I get you home, marry you, and finally have you in my arms safe and sound you are gonna owe me so big for this humiliation.
"What, you both went into the city from different directions?" Eponin asked, not following Xena's logic.
"Actually, yes." Xena began to fidget uncomfortably. "Gabrielle doesn't think I went into Athens with her," she finally blurted out. "I left her at the gate, but I--I couldn't do it. So, I followed her all over Athens until she won the competition and decided to catch up with me outside Karamos. It's a good thing I had Argo or she would have beaten me there. I did almost blow it when some nutcase attacked one of the instructors...turns out it was all part of the class."
Actually forgetting why they were hearing this story, Ephiny laughed gently at the warrior's plight. "Xena, what were you going to do if she'd stayed at the Academy; sneak around behind her for five years?"
Xena had temporarily forgotten the reason too as she joined in the other woman's laughter. "To tell you the truth, I hadn't really thought that far ahead."
"Okay so let's start back at the day you followed Gabrielle into Athens...start at the beginning of that day and let's see what we've got that Gabrielle might be pointing us to." Ephiny said.
"Allright," Xena began again, wearily. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize their last day together before Gabrielle left. "I figured this was going to be the last time that I'd see her for a while, so I kind of made it her day. We were camped just on the outskirts of Athens. I woke up early and went fishing for breakfast, as usual Gabrielle was still asleep when I got back so I put the fish on a spit and started some sword drills. Gabrielle woke up and we ate breakfast. We puttered around through the morning and we found a stream that had these freshwater crabs that Gabrielle loves. We made a fire, cooked the crabs up and had lunch. I think we went swimming after lunch...yea, because we were lying out on these great big rocks and Gabrielle fell asleep. I went and caught a few of those disgusting eels she likes and we had an early dinner. That evening she was headed into Athens."
Nearly half a day had gone by and still the three women tried to decipher the message.
"One more time, Xena" Eponin said.
"I can't remember anything else. If I keep repeating it I'm afraid I'll start imaging details that didn't happen!" Xena rubbed her fingers against her temples, trying to fight off the headache that hung on the fringes of her awareness. "I just don't remember. Maybe the note doesn't mean anything...maybe I'm just pushing it because I want something to be there that isn't," she said, her voice heavy with defeat.
The two Amazons saw a side of Xena that few had ever seen before. Her head hung low as tears of frustration started to form in her eyes.
"You know what we're doing, don't you?" Eponin asked with a sudden shake of her head. "We're trying to figure this out as ourselves looking at something Gabrielle gave us. What we should be doing is putting ourselves in Gabrielle's place...think like she thinks."
"Good point, Ep. What would Gabrielle write a clue about?" Ephiny asked.
"She'd write about what she knows," Xena said, warming to this new point of view. "What does Gabrielle equate everything in life to?" The warrior asked aloud.
"Food!" All three women answered good-naturedly. They laughed at themselves, but Xena's eyes narrowed as she thought about this new turn. It seemed as if the other two women had the same thought at the same time.
"Fish for breakfast," Xena said first.
"Crab for lunch," Ephiny added.
"Eel for dinner." Eponin finished.
"She's around fish?" Eponin asked.
"No, she smells fish," Ephiny countered.
Xena smiled as it all fell into place...how could she have been so blind!
"She smells more than fish...she smells the ocean!" The warrior slapped her hands together. "That's my girl! Eph, what's on the other side of this mountain?"
"The Aegean, but how would they have gotten there already? It would take 10 days at best to go around this mountain."
"It would be faster if you went through the mountain," Xena said, jumping to her feet. "I knew there was something bugging me about those tracks. They didn't just up and disappear. They were all facing toward the cliff. There was an opening and they walked in!"
Xena and the Amazons spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on hands and knees, looking for any small piece of twig or rock that was a release for the entrance to the tunnel.
"How do we know it's a trap door thingy and not Ares just opening a hole for them to walk through?" Eponin asked.
"Because, Devlin was adamant about us not following her, and if she wasn't back in what sounded like a day or two, Kirren would kill Gabrielle. I think she used another entrance to this tunnel that leads through the mountain and down to the sea. Somehow I don't picture Ares waiting around to be at everybody's beckon call."
"What about this Devlin? She didn't exactly seem the type to be working for someone like this Kirren." Ephiny went on.
Xena's eyes flashed with jealousy at the mention of Devlin's name.
"I don't know what her story is where Kirren's concerned, but it did seem like she was trying to protect Gabrielle," Xena said reluctantly.
Xena was abruptly thrown from the rock she had crawled across while grasping at a tree branch that looked old and rotten. The branch had been the lever and a thunderous sound filled the air. The Amazons scattered from the rock face and simply stood staring at the enormous tunnel before them.
"Good Gods!" Eponin exclaimed.
Xena smiled an evil sort of smile as she turned back to the Regent.
"We've got some plans to make." Xena said as she continued to smile.
"Well, I have to say, you feed your captives well around here," Gabrielle said to Devlin, green eyes flashing with laughter.
The warrior had arrived back at the castle to find that the bard had taken her advice and kept a low profile. They had just finished an enormous meal, the tall warrior was amazed at the amount of food the young woman was able to secret away.
Devlin looked under the table, a suspicious glint in her eye.
"What?" Gabrielle said, finally leaning back in her chair to relax.
"Just wondering if you had a dog under there," Devlin deadpanned.
Gabrielle's quick laughter attacked Devlin's senses and felt like nothing the warrior had ever experienced before. Again, she thought of the dark-haired warrior and what magic could possibly be invoked to make a heart such as Gabrielle's bind with the heart of a warrior with such a dark past.
Gabrielle felt the weight of Devlin's stare and took another sip of her wine, a slow blush spread across her cheeks. She wasn't a stranger to leering looks, but the blue gaze that held her now felt so much like her own warrior's. She thought of Xena and her eyes closed, the corners of her mouth curling upward.
"A dinar for your thoughts," the warrior interrupted.
Gabrielle abruptly opened her eyes and the warrior watched the blush deepen.
"Ah, let me guess," Devlin said, pouring another cup of wine. "Your Warrior Princess."
When Gabrielle nodded, the warrior's eyes took on a serious expression. Leaning her elbows on the table to move in closer to the young woman seated across from her, Devlin finally asked the question aloud.
"What is it, Gabrielle? What is it that makes a woman like you able to love a warrior whose past is as black as pitch?"
Gabrielle didn't know at first whether to be flattered or offended at the warrior's question. She was always flattered when someone thought it was she who was the special one in her relationship with Xena. Her natural defenses went up, however when someone brought up the past that Xena was trying so hard to redeem herself of.
The young Queen looked up into Devlin's azure gaze and suddenly realized the double meaning of the question. She had wondered only briefly at the blonde-haired warrior's own past; at the kind of memories the gentle warrior was tormented by. Now she knew the warrior was not only inquiring as to her relationship with Xena, but also what kind of hope there was for her own heart.
"Two bodies, one soul," Gabrielle said as she launched into the tale of Soulmates, for her audience of one.
"We'll have to go on foot," Xena explained, "I don't like the time it will cost us, but we'll be too easy to hear coming through there on horseback." The warrior, along with the Amazon leaders, looked at a map of the terrain between Amphipolis and the Aegean. "If Kirren's stronghold is by the water, then I figure two to three days as the crow flies between this point and the Aegean." Xena finished by pointing to where they were, and across the mountain to the sea.
"I'm more concerned with everyone's physical shape. We're going to have to keep up a pretty fast pace in there. Eph, do you think this bunch is in good enough shape? We've been pushing kind of hard the last few days." Xena questioned, noticing the dark circles under the Regent's eyes.
Ephiny looked up from the map, a tired but determined look on her face. Suddenly the Regent broke out into a smile, "Well, if we're not...they sure are!"
No less that thirty Amazon warriors broke through the clearing, led by Solari. Ephiny took notice of the astonishment on Xena's face.
"I sent for them when we left Amphipolis. I didn't know when they'd get here, but we have our fresh warriors." She finished with a smile.
"Then we go in two groups," Xena said, her own heart lifting at the sight of the women. "The freshest warriors first, we'll make better time. Eph, I'll want you to lead the second group."
Ephiny saw the logic in the warrior's words and nodded. "As long as you take Eponin and Solari in the first group. I'd feel better that way."
Xena nodded and they began to form two groups. The first would start along at a run, Ephiny's group, comprised of the original warriors, would follow at a slower pace, giving them a little time to rest. Xena cautioned the Amazons about noise and demonstrated how she wanted their weapons fastened down so as not to make any clanging sounds as they ran. Torches were lit and the first group stood at the massive entrance to the tunnel.
"Well, Ep...got your running boots on?" Xena said with a determined smile.
"Five dinars I get there first!" The warrior returned, as they led the way into the dark passage at a quick jog.
Devlin was entranced by the young Queen's ability to tell a tale. She had heard bards all over the known world, but none could compare to the woman seated across from her
Suddenly the door to the warrior's quarters flew open and Kirren strode quickly through the entrance. Her eyes flashed angrily as Devlin stood to intercept the woman. Kirren stopped in front of the taller warrior and pulled her arm back. She hit Devlin across the face with an open handed slap that would have thrown Gabrielle across the room. Devlin, the young Queen noticed, had her hands clenched into fists, her arms seemingly shaking under her control. She whipped her head back toward Kirren, but not before Gabrielle saw the electric blue fire that raged in her eyes. Still, the warrior never raised a hand to the angry woman before her.
"You were followed," Kirren spat out.
"That is impossible," the warrior said between clenched teeth.
"Well, the scouts in the tunnel were attacked by a bunch of Amazons! The one that made it back alive said they were in the main passage, a day away."
"They didn't get there by following me," the warrior repeated.
Impatiently, Kirren looked around the room and seemed to see Gabrielle for the first time. The young Queen thought about returning the look with a haughty stare of her own, but thought better considering the mood Kirren was in. Gabrielle lowered her eyes, but could still feel the weight of the woman's scrutiny.
Looking back at Devlin, Kirren said harshly, "Come with me!"
Once outside the door to Devlin's quarters, Kirren slammed the door shut and turned to the warrior.
"This speeds everything up. Have the army ready by dawn; we'll leave for the meeting place before they even get here. I want every available soldier to go with us. I'll not only kill Xena, but her precious Amazon friends too!"
"You still plan on battling Xena alone, then?" Devlin asked.
"Yes," Kirren answered looking as if she were lost in thought. "Except I think I might just want to give her a little more incentive to fight her hardest. We're going to get Xena on that battlefield alone to make the exchange for her little bard. I want you at the top of the rise with the Amazon brat, far enough away so no one can get to you, but close enough so Xena can see you and Gabrielle. When I give you the signal...I want you to slit her throat."
At first Devlin thought she had heard Kirren incorrectly, but then she looked at the woman's face. Kirren's evil grin and the bloodlust in her eye made the warrior's heart go ice cold. Not Gabrielle...please, not this.
"But...I thought you said you only wanted the Warrior Princess...you said--"
"I changed my mind!" Kirren snapped. "I don't need to remind you, who will pay the price if you disobey me, do I Devlin?"
"No, mistress," the warrior answered with a sigh of defeat.
Gabrielle watched as the warrior walked back into the room. Devlin went directly to the table; the two had been seated at earlier, and downed her cup of wine in two gulps. She seated herself rather wearily and ran a tired hand through her short hair.
Gabrielle felt her future within the warrior's actions. She wasn't going to comment on what had just transpired, but the young Queen felt she had nothing further to lose.
"From what I know of warriors, they don't submit to another's will very easily." Gabrielle commented.
"No, as a rule they don't." Devlin said heavily.
Gabrielle decided to wade right in. "Then what does Kirren use to control you?"
Devlin had suddenly become too tired for games and innuendo. Her mind strayed to the sleepy little fishing village she grew up in.
"She keeps a garrison of soldiers outside my home village of Tarynth. In exchange for ten years of my life, she lets them live. If I refuse or disobey she'll slaughter the entire village. My mother, sisters, my friends...the people I grew up with..." Devlin trailed off.
"She plans on killing me, doesn't she?" Gabrielle asked, fearing the answer.
Devlin looked into the green depths of Gabrielle's eyes and realized there would be no redemption for her now; not after this. "Yes," the warrior answered.
"And, you'll do it?" The young Queen sounded surprised.
"What would you have me do, Gabrielle? You, a woman whose heart is filled with a light that soldiers like me can only dream of, what would you have me do? You speak of the greater good. Do I release you in exchange for the fifty lives of my people? Does your life outweigh theirs?" The warrior asked a hint of desperation in her voice.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior whose choices in life seemed more than any mortal should have to bear. Once again, Devlin reminded the young woman of her own warrior. Wasn't there a time when Xena had questioned what she had become? When she attempted to break free of the cycle of violence and hate that she felt she was trapped in? What would have happened to Xena if the young bard hadn't entered her life? Was it fair to condemn Devlin when she had no one to trust and believe in her...to love her as Gabrielle had done for her dark-haired warrior?
"No, Devlin," Gabrielle looked up at the warrior, tears burning into her own eyes, "I won't have innocent people lose their lives in my place."
The warrior continued to stare at the young woman for a long time after that until she rose from her chair and left the room, knowing the action she took would mean another innocent life she would have to pay for.
"Arrrgghhhh," the soldier gasped as the life began to leave his body. "They're gone..."
Xena watched as a thin trickle of blood made it's way from the soldier's nose. Another twenty seconds.
"When and where?" Xena asked, not believing the castle was virtually empty. Ten seconds.
"Y-Y-Yesterday morning...dawn...to the old...battlefield...please, I-I..." Xena jabbed at the fallen man's neck, releasing the pressure point. Two seconds to spare.
Xena and the other Amazons slumped to the floor in exhaustion. They had run for nearly two straight days to get to Kirren's hidden fortress, only to find that Gabrielle's captors were again a day ahead of them.
"We'll wait for Ephiny to catch up," was all Xena said aloud as she leaned her head against the coolness of the brick wall, closing her eyes before tears of anger and frustration could spill out.
Walking through the field sent chills up the bard's spine, even on horseback. The grassy plains were still littered with the bones of dead soldiers; most of their weapons and armor left untouched by mercenaries. When Xena had started out as a Warlord it was her intent to protect her homeland, and after nearly ten years the battlefield still stood as a reminder that the people of Amphipolis would not be conquered easily.
Gabrielle had become resigned to her fate, with the grace and dignity of a Queen, she merely requested some writing supplies from the blonde warrior who still acted as protector. Devlin's tent sat slightly apart from the rest of the encampment, another sign that she would never truly be one of them. Her eyes no longer held the sparkle of amusement when they looked at the bard, but rather the sad determination of a warrior on a slow path toward Tartaurus. Gabrielle stayed in the large tent alone when the warrior was away, spending her hours filling scrolls that Devlin had given her word to see delivered upon the Queen's death.
It had become a waiting game now and the whole camp hummed with nervous tension as they awaited the Warrior Princess and her Amazon Army.
Xena led the Amazons along the ridge overlooking the old battlefield. The only thing that this field haunted was the warrior's memories. Xena had not wished to walk among the bones of the Romans she had killed, she preferred to keep her eyes straight ahead and focus on Gabrielle. That task became difficult, however when she saw the tattered battle standard wave in the breeze. It was a hard mark to miss, the black and purple mark of the Destroyer of Nations.
So it was, that three candlemarks after the Amazons had set up camp, a rider came forward with instructions for the Warrior Princess.
"Xena this is crazy...you can't go alone." Ephiny paced back and forth inside the command tent.
"If I don't do everything exactly the way Kirren wants, she'll kill Gabrielle. I think we just need to focus on that right now." Xena said adjusting her armor as she stood.
"And if Ares makes good on his threat to go ahead and kill Gabrielle?" Ephiny asked.
Xena's brow furrowed and the blue of her eyes turned cold and pale. "Then there won't be a safe enough place for him to hide from me. I'll track him down until the halls of Mount Olympus run red with his blood!" The warrior hissed between clenched teeth.
There was no other way to get to where Kirren sat astride her horse, soldiers on either flank. Xena made her way through the sprawled out bones of the men she had taken down that day. The warrior raised an eyebrow at Kirren's childish tactics. If Kirren thought she could wage a war of nerves with the Warrior Princess, she was mistaken.
"Well, Xena...glad to see you made it. I thought maybe you didn't want your little Amazon very much. Bet it was quite a surprise when you got to the castle and there was nobody home?" She said smirking.
Xena simply glared at the woman until she fidgeted uncomfortably in her saddle.
Kirren made a motion with her left hand and pointed in the direction of the rise about 200 feet to Xena's left.
Devlin and Gabrielle made their way up the hill on horseback. As soon as Gabrielle looked down and saw Xena looking up, the young woman's heart stopped. If this was to be the last vision of her warrior it was fitting. This is how she would always remember her lover.
Xena sat astride Argo, her head and back erect as she threw stares filled with intimidation at those around her, a powerful figure in her leather and armor. Looking up to the rise, the Warrior Princess cast an ice blue gaze up the hill. It was as if the power between the two women was a physical entity, the warrior's cold, and forbidding stare locking on her bard. Then, in only a heartbeat's time, the iciness of the warrior's eyes began to melt. It was as if a fire of enormous proportions burned out of control and the pale blue ice melted into deep azure pools.
Gabrielle was lost in the sensations and never felt the small pin prick in the back of her neck.
"There's your little Amazon, Xena," Kirren said pulling Xena's focus toward her again.
"I'll fight you...let her go," Xena commanded.
"Well, there's just one problem with that...I want to fight you at dawn tomorrow and I just don't think I can trust you till then. So here's the deal. Gabrielle gets to walk down that hill to her precious Amazons as long as you give up your weapons and stay here for the night."
"This wasn't part of the deal," Xena snapped.
"The deal is whatever I say it is!" Kirren shot back. "Now do you want your bard back or do I have her skinned alive right now?"
Xena looked around her and weighed her chances against the surrounding soldiers, judging the distance between herself and Gabrielle.
"Look Xena...I only want to fight you...no tricks, a fight to the death. I'm certain I'll be victorious, but I give you my word...I won't lay a hand on Gabrielle." Kirren said sincerely.
Xena slid from Argo's saddle and hit the mare solidly on the rump; the mount quickly galloping off in the direction she came from. Never taking her eyes off Kirren, the warrior surrender her weapons and allowed the men to tie her solidly to a stone column in the middle of the field.
Gabrielle had wanted to scream to Xena that it was all just a trap. Devlin would still kill her, but at least Xena would have a chance at escape. The bard opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't be sure her mouth even opened. Her tongue felt thick and uncooperative. Her muscles began to feel numb, her legs became rubbery and weak, and if not for Devlin's arm around her waist, she would have sunk to the ground.
"Now, that's not so bad is it?" Kirren started to turn her horse away from the immobile warrior.
"What about Gabrielle?" Xena reminded.
"Oh, yes, your little plaything. We almost forgot about her, didn't we?" Kirren leaned out of her saddle toward the bound warrior, "Here's my way of ensuring that you really do try your damnedest to kill me tomorrow and don't just slack off like you did the last time."
Kirren finished and the look in her eye sent a trickle of sweat down the middle of the warrior's back, giving Xena an extremely uncomfortable feeling of foreboding. Kirren raised her hand to her own throat, making an imaginary slicing motion. Xena looked from Kirren, up the rise to Gabrielle.
Devlin stood behind Gabrielle, the smaller woman's body pressed against the warrior's. The dagger was already in the blond warrior's hand, her free hand lifting the bard's chin up to expose her delicate neck. It was fast, but the warrior tied to the column saw it slowly and in extreme detail, details that would play over and over again in her nightmares for many years to come. Devlin's hand sliced the blade across Gabrielle's neck and blood flew from the blade of the dagger as the warrior swept her hand away. The front of Gabrielle's chest quickly covered in the red fluid as the bard slumped to the ground in a heap at Devlin's feet.
The tortured screams that tore through the air sent the horses skittering around nervously. Xena wished she could stop the gut wrenching sounds, until she realized the screams were her own. The warrior bunched her muscles and pulled with the strength of a dozen men on the ropes that held her. Some of the bonds began to pull loose and the soldiers scurried around the madwoman to secure her with more rope.
"Looks like that ought to guarantee you're good and mad," Kirren said, pulling back in her saddle as the warrior attempted to lunge at her, even though the ropes held the thrashing woman's body securely. "I only promised you that I wouldn't lay a hand on her," Kirren said as she spurred her horse away.
Darkness had fallen; the dark-haired warrior slumped over the ties that held her to the single stone column. She was neither unconscious nor awake; her mind swirled in a haze of pain she had previously thought could never reach such heights. Neither Light nor Dark was capable of filling her soul...there was only emptiness.
A stinging slap jerked the warrior's head to one side.
Vacant eyes opened and focused as an animalistic growl was wrenched from deep within the warrior's chest.
Another resounding slap, this time hard enough to rock the warrior's head back against the stone column.
Xena strained against her bonds to reach her tormentor, the cause of all her pain.
"Good, at least you recognize me," Devlin said to the warrior. "Xena listen to me," the warrior quickly glanced around, stepping over the dead body's of the men responsible for guarding the Warrior Princess through the night.
"Gabrielle is not dead." Devlin said slowly, trying to see if the warrior understood her words. "I'm going to free you as a show of good faith, Xena...I prefer you didn't kill me right off. What you saw on that hill was a ruse...Gabrielle is very much alive."
Devlin raised her sword and easily sliced through the ropes that held the woman. Stepping back to prepare herself for an attack from the half-crazed warrior she watched as Xena dropped to one knee, seemingly in pain. Devlin reached for the fallen warrior and felt Xena's fingers shoot out and close around her throat. The warrior wasn't in any hurry; she slowly tightened her grip until Devlin was on her knees, her free hand clutching at the warrior.
"Sh-she's...not...not, dead," Devlin repeated. "Xe-Xena...I still...have...my sword..."
Xena looked down and saw the blonde warrior's sword in her hand, dangerously close to Xena's belly, but Devlin hadn't made a move to use it. The mane of raven hair was thrown back as Xena stood, cascading down her shoulders, as she released the warrior below her.
"I...I gave...her...emetia," Devlin coughed, slowly standing. Xena's eyes held pain and mistrust, but Devlin continued on. "I sealed her body in a basket myself, Kirren's soldiers should be delivering it to the Amazon camp shortly.
Xena didn't need the warrior to explain the effects of emetia to her. A sort of paralyzing substance that slowed the heart down to a point where life was barely sustained. If anyone checked the bard's pulse, she would appear dead.
Scant heartbeats earlier Xena's life had felt over, now this warrior was telling her it was a trick. She didn't want to believe, but a small spark full of hope began to burn in the warrior's heart.
Devlin pulled herself up on the black gelding and offered a hand toward the Warrior Princess. Xena let the small spark take flame as she reached out and hoisted herself upon the horses back.
The timing had been perfect. Devlin and Xena rode into the Amazon camp just after Kirren's two soldiers deposited their basket in front of a stunned Regent. The soldier's bodies were riddled with Amazon arrows, shot after they told the Regent what the basket contained.
The two warriors rode up to Ephiny, Xena vaulting from the horse's back before they had stopped, tearing frantically at the seal on the basket.
"Get a healer," Xena shouted to anyone who would listen, "tell her to bring some valeriana root."
"Gabrielle," Xena moaned, gently lifting the still body from the basket and cradling her lover in her arms.
A sharp intake of breath by Ephiny prompted Devlin's voice.
"It's okay...it's not her blood," she said as she handed the kneeling warrior a damp cloth.
Xena began to wipe the dried blood off of Gabrielle's neck and chest, lovingly caressing her fingers over the bard's neckline, which in reality hadn't a scratch on it.
A young Amazon that Xena had never met knelt on the ground beside the warrior, following Xena's instructions, finally handing her a slice of the musky smelling herb. The warrior put the slice of the root into her mouth, chewing it into a fibrous paste, and carefully spitting the saliva out of her mouth. Cradling the bard's head in her lap, she opened Gabrielle's mouth and inserted the herb between the young woman's cheek and gum, massaging Gabrielle's throat to encourage her to swallow.
Heartbeats went by, but to Xena it felt like days. Emetia wasn't a substance to be taken lightly. Every moment longer than necessary under its influence, was one less chance to recover from its body-altering effects.
"Come on, Brie...swallow for me...come on, baby," Xena felt tears running down her face as she held and rocked the young Queen in her arms on the ground in the middle of the Amazon camp.
A sudden, convulsive intake of breath wracked the young woman's body and her eyes snapped open, not yet focusing on her surroundings. Quickly the warrior pulled the valeriana root from the bard's mouth.
"Gabrielle...Gabrielle?" Xena cradled the young Queen's face in her hands searching for eye contact to assure the warrior that her lover was back.
"Xena...Xe?" Gabrielle started and then unsuccessfully choked back a sob as she recognized the woman who held her.
Gabrielle sobbed as Xena enveloped her in strong arms and rocked her gently; pressing her body hard against the young woman's, praying this wasn't a dream. Xena looked up into the firelight and caught Devlin's misty gaze.
"Thank you," Xena said to the warrior, in a voice hoarse with emotion, "thank you..."
It had been an emotionally charged day for warrior and bard, they lay on a pallet inside Xena's tent, the rest of the evening filled with soft touches and promises of love until Morpheus claimed them both. Physical exhaustion lay heavy on both women and they slept without waking, lying so close to their hearts desire. Even in sleep, Xena's arms stayed wrapped protectively around her young lover.
Apollo's chariot was just beginning its flight, bright shafts of sunlight catching the dark-haired woman's armor and reflecting it back toward the sky. Xena stood with her arms folded as she contemplated the scene in the valley below her. Kirren had over two hundred soldiers preparing for battle on the field where the Destroyer of Nations had pushed Rome back so many seasons ago. This time, like then, the village of Amphipolis was to be the prize.
Kirren had not been amused when she found Devlin and Xena both gone. At dawn her screams could be heard from the hill where the warrior now stood. Xena had gone into 'Warlord Mode', as Gabrielle would call it, calculating the odds and developing strategies for a battle where she was seriously outnumbered. They had perhaps 75 Amazons, not counting herself or Gabrielle. She was determined to keep Gabrielle away from the fighting; it had been too close this last time.
She guessed from the way Kirren set the battleground she would try to attack the Amazon camp in waves, rather than in one prolonged battle. Short bursts of attack were an advantage to the army with the largest numbers. It gave them time to regroup while some could keep fighting. The smaller army didn't have that luxury. Everyone fought or they rested, there weren't enough fighters to keep both going.
Xena tilted her head slightly as she heard the tall warrior dismount.
"Good news for a change," Devlin smiled wryly. "There's a man that just rode into camp, said he's your brother Toris. He had about forty men with him from the villages around Amphipolis, all halfway decent with a sword by the look of them."
"That is good news," Xena said abruptly, moving past the warrior to make her way back to camp. She hadn't known what to say to the woman who had saved their lives, but asked for nothing in return. She owed this woman her life, but she also saw the way Devlin looked at Gabrielle and a feeling of jealousy rose in her again.
"We better finish getting prepared," Xena said stiffly, turning back to Devlin. "It's going to be a long day."
"Xena, I am fine," Gabrielle argued, much like the warrior expected her to.
"Gabrielle, it's not safe, and--" the warrior raised her fingers to the bard's lips to prevent her from responding, "--I'm not just talking about for you, I'm thinking of the warriors who'll fight next to you too. You need a little more time to make sure your body is over the effects of the emetia. You put everyone around you at risk if you're not one hundred percent."
Xena appealed with the only argument she knew would stop the bard, the thought of putting others in jeopardy.
Gabrielle looked angry, then thoughtful, then raised eyes filled with love at her warrior.
"You don't fight fair," she said with a half smile.
Xena relaxed a little and allowed herself a smile. Pulling the bard into her embrace, she kissed the top of the young woman's head.
"I have to fight dirty with you, love...you're too quick for me...otherwise I'd lose every argument." The warrior explained squeezing the woman tighter. "Besides, with all these youngsters," Xena said referring to the Amazons around them, "I really need you back here. That young healer is still just Sartori's apprentice. I doubt she's ever treated anything worse than a hangnail. I'll need you to help her, Brie."
"I really hate it when you make so much sense, you know. It makes it hard to come up with a good argument." Gabrielle said, kissing the warrior's smiling lips.
The first wave of the attack lasted about 3 candlemarks, as it was mostly a test of defense and strategies on the part of the leaders. There were no losses from the Amazon camp, but a number of minor injuries, another reason why short, repeated attacks gave a large army the advantage.
Walking around the encampment again, Xena realized she needed to protect this base camp for the sake of the wounded that would eventually fill the tents Ephiny had ordered erected. Showing a number of warriors what she had in mind, Xena stood back and watched as large spiked poles were interlocked to form a fence like structure around the camp.
Xena walked into the makeshift infirmary and stopped short as she saw a seated Devlin with blood running down her arm, Gabrielle trying to make the uncooperative warrior sit still.
"Gabrielle...it's not that bad," the warrior pleaded.
"It may not be, but it needs stitches, and you might as well let me do it while I have time." Gabrielle commanded.
Devlin resigned herself to the chair and watched the bard clean the long gash on her forearm, just above the bracer. The young woman's touch was gentle, yet powerful at the same time, and the lightheaded feeling that came over the warrior had, she suspected, little to do with the small amount of blood loss.
"Not bad," Devlin remarked, inspecting the small even stitches.
"I get a lot of practice," Gabrielle laughed, tenderly cradling the warrior's arm as she began to wrap a bandage around the wound.
Xena watched the two and the feeling rose in her again. Gabrielle's eyes sparkled as she laughed with the warrior leaving the dark-haired woman to wonder what had really transpired between the two for so many days. This is ridiculous! Gabrielle would never betray our love. The warrior couldn't get the thought out of her head, however. The familiar way the bard touched the wounded warrior set Xena's brain racing faster than her common sense. Would Gabrielle be seduced by a gentle speaking warrior with eyes the color of Xena's own? Could Gabrielle have let another woman turn a small spark of desire into a roaring flame? Would she...could she...had she?
Gabrielle began to feel the weight of a stare and felt a familiar warmth flood her face. She slowly looked up and ran right into the thoughtful frown of her lover, staring hard at the bard, but seemingly lost in her own thoughts. The young Queen knew exactly what that frown indicated in her warrior. After all, hadn't she carried the same look every time a pretty barmaid lingered a little too long while serving the Warrior Princess a drink? Gabrielle quickly looked back at Devlin, looking at her, and was positive that what affected her warrior was simple jealousy.
Xena's gaze remained locked on the bard's, the young woman conveying all she felt within her green eyes. Xena saw it all then. No, Gabrielle would never...could never...she had never. This was the ingredient that had been missing in every relationship the warrior had ever had, before Gabrielle, trust. Trust in their love and in one another. When Xena looked into the young Queen's eyes she saw all of this...trust, love, want, need, and desire. All of this meant only for her and no other. She smiled. The sparkling smile that she reserved only for this beautiful young woman. The smile went straight to the bard's heart.
Xena's smile caught Gabrielle off guard, and she felt her body shiver slightly at the range of emotions this woman could make her feel with only a look and a smile. By the Gods, what she does to me.
Xena walked over to the two women and Gabrielle easily slipped an arm around the warrior's waist, Xena placing her own across her lover's shoulder.
"I know it's a little late, but you two haven't really been properly introduced yet," Gabrielle said squeezing Xena's waist slightly.
"Xena of Amphipolis meet Devlin of Tarynth." She said with formality.
The two warriors clasped arms in a friendly gesture.
"I owe you a debt," Xena said. "If you ever need anything, and it's in my power to grant it, then all you have to do is ask."
Devlin laughed an easy and relaxed laugh. "I just may take you up on that some day, warrior."
"You know, now that it's all over, how about telling me how you made it look to everyone like you were cutting my throat?" Gabrielle asked suddenly.
"Actually, very easy. I hit you with the emetia a few moments ahead of time so you would hit the ground at the appropriate time. The blood was just a small bladder I filled with pig's blood. I pressed it between my thumb and the blade of the dagger and whoosh." Devlin said making a slicing motion across her own neck.
"Pigs blood...lovely," Gabrielle said with a sour look on her face. "I'll never wear that top again!"
Devlin and Xena had finished the last of the defenses to protect the small camp and prepared to once again meet Kirren's forces.
"What is it?" Devlin asked.
"What is what?" Xena replied as she followed Devlin's gaze behind them to where Gabrielle stood, giving directions and talking to the warriors.
"What is it that makes women like that able to love warriors like us?" Devlin asked again.
Xena understood the question that came from the tall warrior. Hadn't she always asked herself the same thing? What could a woman with a heart as pure as goodness itself, possibly see in a warrior whose past was as dark as night. Xena also understood that Devlin asked the question, wondering if the same thing could happen for her.
Xena watched as Gabrielle continued to help roll bandages, answering questions, and trying to put peoples minds at ease before the next wave of the battle. She moved from person to person and gave them a little touch or a smile, and Xena knew, that in a million years, she would never be able to answer Devlin's question.
"It's a gift from the gods, my friend," Xena said as she watched the young woman who held her very soul, "it's a gift from the Gods."
"Gabrielle," Xena's tone was low and cautioning.
"Xena," Gabrielle replied. The young Queen wore bracers and shoulder armor; her staff held in one hand the point on the ground.
"Xe, I can't stay back here when I'm healthy and we need every one who can fight out there." Gabrielle said, knowing what Xena would say. "These women would die for me...I need to show them that I would do the same for them."
The warrior's brow furrowed together as she tried to come up with something to say to combat the bard's logic, but there was nothing. These women were Gabrielle's people, subjects that had willingly crossed many miles, who were preparing to face death on the battlefield all for the love of their Queen. Could Xena ask her bard to be less than she was? Would Gabrielle ask it of her?
Taking her lover's face in her hands, she caressed the young woman's cheeks with her thumbs, pulling her in for a kiss that would show this young woman all that was in her warrior's heart.
"I just get afraid for you...I don't know what I would do if I lost you, Brie." Xena whispered in the bard's ear.
"I know, love...I feel the same way every time you end up fighting. This is something we have to do and pray that Artemis watches over us. I promise I won't take stupid chances and I won't fight on the front line" Gabrielle replied.
Tenderly kissing the young Queen's forehead, the warrior again whispered, "I love you, my bard."
"And I you, my warrior...be safe." Gabrielle said as she kissed the palm of the warrior's hand.
"They're coming!" The warriors on the point shouted as the first lines swept into the noisy battlefield.
"Ayah!" Xena grunted as another of Kirren's soldiers went down in front of her, his belly sliced open despite the leather armor. The warrior was knee deep in the fray unable to spare even a moment to search the field for her bard.
"Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyiy," Xena shouted her battle cry, somersaulting and turning to land behind three soldiers that looked around as if she'd taken flight and disappeared. It was then that Xena caught a glimpse of Gabrielle, her staff flying through the air, she hit two soldiers with an uppercut at the same time. The warrior breathed a sigh of relief, if such an act is possible in the middle of a battle, when she saw Devlin at Gabrielle's back, a long sword and a short blade in her hands, cutting through the limbs of screaming soldiers in an untiring frenzy.
Xena dispatched two more soldiers with one blade stroke and threw her chakram, hearing it slice through the ax handle that was about to come down on one Amazon warrior's back. The Amazon plunged her blade into the gut of the soldier behind her without even looking, giving Xena a smile of thanks.
Ephiny and two members of the Royal Guard surrounded their Queen, but even as Xena glanced up, one of the guards fell to her death, an arrow through her heart. Xena tried to work her way closer to her bard, but for every soldier she cut down, two more took their place. Finally the pace began to slow and Xena could see the soldiers in the valley below beginning to drag wounded backward in a retreat.
"Gabrielle!" Ephiny screamed, trying to pull the Queen out of the path of the arrow that seemed to be headed straight for the young woman.
Ephiny yanked hard on Gabrielle's arm and lost her footing on the slick, blood covered grass; the Amazon fell to the ground, pulling Gabrielle down on top of her. The arrow sailed past where the bard was just standing as Devlin turned her head to help the Queen. The shaft of the arrow buried itself in the warrior's neck as she sank to her knees.
By the time Xena was able to turn, all she saw was the tall warrior clutching her throat, her body falling the rest of the way to the ground.
"NOOOOO!" Gabrielle screamed, crawling to where the blonde warrior lay, eyes closed tight against the pain.
Xena dropped to the ground next to the fallen warrior, her hands quickly examining the arrow in Devlin's neck.
"Xe...help her," Gabrielle sobbed.
Xena's eyes met Devlin's. An understanding was passed and Xena could see the blonde warrior nod slightly. She had to be sure this was what Devlin wanted...she needed Gabrielle to know.
"Dev, can you understand what I'm saying?" Xena asked.
"Yes," The warrior nodded, wincing at the pain of having to speak. Devlin raised a weak hand as if to pull the arrow from her neck. She grabbed Xena's hand and pulled the dark-haired warrior's hand up to the arrow.
"Dev, you know where the arrow is...it's in your jugular." Xena took a deep breath and looked at Gabrielle with the warrior's head in her lap, before she continued. "If I leave the arrow in, you'll slowly bleed to death...it'll take a while... I can't fix this," Xena's voice broke as she explained.
"If I pull it out...it'll be over in a few minutes at the most." Xena finished.
Devlin closed her eyes and gripped the warrior's hand tightly, pulling Xena's face to within inches of the injured warrior's. Painfully the blonde-haired warrior whispered to Xena and the dark-haired woman looked up at Gabrielle.
Unshed tears filled Xena's eyes as she looked at her bard.
"She wants to call in the debt I owe her," Xena repeated Devlin's words to Gabrielle. "She wants you to hold her when she dies."
Gabrielle's sobs grew stronger as she drew questioning eyes to her own warrior. Xena nodded and helped ease the fallen woman into the bard's arms. Bracing one hand against Devlin's shoulder, Xena wiped her hands clean on a piece of cloth Ephiny handed her. Placing her fingers around the shaft of the arrow, Xena looked into the eyes of the woman who had given so much for her. Devlin put on a lopsided grin just as Xena pulled with all her strength, and in one swift motion, the arrow was free.
Blood spurted forcefully from the jagged wound, saturating the people and the ground surrounding the fallen warrior.
Xena let the tears fall down her own face as she gripped the warrior's hand. How could she refuse this last dying request from a warrior who had given up everything to return Xena's whole life? To be held in Gabrielle's arms, the young Amazon Queen, Devlin had fallen so much in love with. Wouldn't it be what Xena herself would desire?
"Nooo," Gabrielle moaned, placing her hand over the wound, pressing down hard against the warrior's neck. Blood continued to rush through the bard's fingers.
Devlin reached up a weak hand and pulled Gabrielle's hand from her neck, shaking her head to the bard. The warrior smiled one last time and closed her eyes.
"Gabrielle?" Xena stood just inside the tent that she and Gabrielle were using, the young woman had just fastened a leather halter top on.
Xena walked into the tent, moving past the pile of bloody clothes her bard had just discarded.
"Brie?" Xena had given Gabrielle the space she thought she needed, but now she was starting to get a little worried about the young woman.
"I know...I need to get to the infirmary--," Gabrielle brushed past the warrior, "--and then I have to check on the supplies, and--"
"Brie, stop," Xena commanded catching the woman with an arm around her waist, pulling her tightly against her body. "It's okay to just let go," Xena said softly.
Gabrielle turned in the warrior's arms and held onto her lover as she sobbed uncontrollably. Xena could do nothing but hold the young woman and whisper soft words of love and comfort in her ear. The warrior told herself time and again the battlefield was no place for Gabrielle, she had no warrior defenses built around her to weather the loss of friends and family. Her bard felt each consequent loss as strongly as the very first.
Xena sat in a chair and pulled the young woman into her lap, letting her cry until she had no tears left.
"Thank you, Xe," Gabrielle whispered.
Eponin burst into the tent, "forgive me, your highness...they're on the move again, and it looks like Kirren's with them too."
Gabrielle stood and watched as Xena rose from the chair. The warrior thought of a million arguments to use to keep Gabrielle from this battle, which would surely be the last. When she looked at the woman who stood beside her, however, dressed in Amazon leathers and armor, she didn't see the little girl from Potidaea that needed the Warrior Princess to rescue her. Xena saw a strong woman and a competent leader, someone who would live and die to protect her people, her friends, and her integrity. An Amazon Queen.
The warrior saw the young Queen's staff leaning against the tent wall, near the entrance. She picked up the stave and tossed it back to her companion.
"Be safe," Xena said.
"Right back at ya," Gabrielle replied with determination.
The tide had turned and those left among Kirren's soldiers who weren't dead or dying began to flee. There were perhaps fifty men that refused to give up, and they all seemed to converge on the Warrior Princess at once.
"Ayah...Ayah!" Xena grunted and cried out with each slash and hack her sword made as it tore into the human flesh around her. The field was slick with the blood of men and Amazons alike; the warrior growing weary of straining to hold on to the hilt of her blood drenched sword.
Soon she saw nothing...felt nothing...thought nothing...heard no sounds of the battle around her; there was only the sound of her own blood pounding in her ears. Only the lightening quick movement of her blade as it sent soul after soul to Hades judgment.
She was beyond feeling or caring, empty of everything but the skills that drove her to conquer. Her eyes lost a little of their blue tint with each blow she struck, until the clouded haze of battlelust stole the color from her irises completely. Any man who fought her and lived swore he had looked into the eyes of death that day.
"Remember me?" Gabrielle shouted over the sounds of the battle. Kirren turned at the sound and the young Queen twisted her body hard, throwing all the weight she could into the sweeping right cross of her staff.
Kirren took the blow well, considering it had broken more than one soldier's jaw today. Her sword went flying and she fell to her knees, but rolled as soon as she hit the ground, pulling a dagger from her boot, lunging at the bard with a look like astonishment on her face.
Gabrielle was too exhausted to deflect the entire weight of the woman's body; she fell underneath Kirren as they both wrestled for the dagger in the warrior's hand.
"You may have done it once, but there's no cheating Hades a second time!" Kirren screamed maniacally, raising the dagger above her head.
Gabrielle knew she was too weak to keep the warrior's dagger from her heart, looking into the vacant, insane stare of the woman on top of her. The bard held her breath and waited for the inevitable.
A gurgling noise came from Kirren's throat as pinkish bubbles of blood formed on her lips. The dagger slipped heavily from her hand as the warrior looked, first at Gabrielle, then down at her chest at the point of a metal blade poking through her sternum. A large red stain slowly spread across Kirren's chest, the slicing sound of metal against bone, and the blade's tip disappeared.
Ephiny pushed Kirren's body off of Gabrielle before the evil warrior even knew she was dead. She clutched weakly at Gabrielle's wrist as she fell to one side, gasping for breath.
"Bite me," Gabrielle hissed, pushing the dying woman the rest of the way to the ground. By the time Kirren's flesh hit the blood stained grass, Hades was waiting for her.
Sweat rolled into the warrior's eyes, blood and dirt covering her body as she swirled around to face her next attacker. She blinked hard, her eyes darting back and forth; her lungs on fire as they pulled in much need air. Xena realized there were no more. She had defeated the enemy, and now sank to one knee in an attempt to defeat the enemy within.
The warrior leaned her head against her forearm, which rested heavily on the hilt of her sword, the tip of the blade buried in the red stained earth.
"Xena?" Eponin cautiously reached a hand out to her friend.
"Don't touch me!" Xena hissed, her jaw clenching spasmodically.
"Xena, are you hurt?" The Amazon asked.
"It's not my blood," Xena said quietly.
"Gabrielle?" Xena looked up at the warrior, sudden panic in her eyes.
"She's allright, she's back at the camp treating the wounded in the infirmary. Kirren is dead." Eponin added.
"I don't want Gabrielle to see me this way," Xena said rising to her feet. The warrior still looked slightly wild eyed, her hair matted with blood, gore covering her frame. "I need to get to my tent...keep Gabrielle out."
Eponin helped the warrior into the camp and to her tent, standing resolutely as guard at the tent's entrance.
Gabrielle looked calmer than she had moments before. She heard that Xena returned to the camp unharmed and the young Queen silently thanked Artemis, making her way to their tent.
"Gods, why me?" Eponin muttered to herself, seeing Gabrielle walk toward her.
Gabrielle tried to move past the Amazon, the warrior placing her body in front of the young woman.
"My Queen," Eponin said nervously, "It would be better if you didn't go in."
"Is Xena hurt?" Gabrielle asked, fearing she had not been told the truth.
"Actually, its Xena's order...Gabrielle, she's not exactly...herself yet." Eponin added softly.
Gabrielle looked stung by the Amazon's words. The young Queen tried to imagine a reason, something that would explain Xena's behavior. She's not exactly herself.
It had been so long since she and the warrior had been through a battle like this one; this was the first since they'd become lovers. Gabrielle had grown less and less suspicious of the time the warrior had spent by herself after a large battle, presumably to find some sort of physical or sexual release. They were lovers now, however, and Gabrielle knew that if they didn't start here, it would be even harder the next time.
"Move aside, Eponin," Gabrielle commanded.
"Gabrielle..." Eponin wavered.
"Eponin, perhaps you should refresh my memory...is Xena the Queen of the Amazon Nation?" Gabrielle asked, surprising her friend.
"No, my Queen,"
"Then do I need to remind you who you serve?"
"No, my Queen," Eponin answered, stepping aside.
"Ep?" Gabrielle laid a hand on the warrior's shoulder. "If it sounds like my life is in danger...then you can protect me. Some things...even the ones we don't like to face, Xena and I need to work out for ourselves."
Eponin pulled the tent flap back for Gabrielle to enter; thinking her friend never looked more like a Queen than she did at this moment.
Gabrielle entered the tent and was immediately surrounded by an enigmatic energy that flowed from her warrior, crackling within the air of the canvas shelter. Xena was at the far end of the tent, her battle armor still on; she stood in a small washtub. Next to her was a large tub of steaming water. The warrior's arms held a wooden bucket high over her head, the warm water pouring over her face, hair, and body. Her back was to Gabrielle and she didn't appear to notice when the young Queen entered the tent. Xena bent to lift another bucket of water repeating the process. The bard saw bits of bone, blood, and other gore rinse away from the warrior's body and off her armor, falling into the basin she stood in.
Once the majority of the battle had been rinsed from her body, Xena stood, cradling the empty bucket in shaking arms. Her head went up and tilted slightly as she sniffed the air. Her senses were astounding in ordinary circumstance, but held in the passion of her battlelust as she still was, they were otherworldly.
"Gab-ri-elle," she cautioned, "get out."
The Queen didn't move and Xena threw the bucket to the floor, and stepped from the washtub, turning to face her. Water dripped from the warrior's body and she continued to bleed from a number of minor nicks and cuts too small to stitch closed. Gabrielle barely saw these, focusing on the warrior's eyes, as she strode slowly across the tent toward the Queen.
Reaching out, Xena roughly grabbed the bard's arm and pulled her closer, a low growl emanating from the depths of Xena's chest. Their eyes met and Gabrielle saw that the warrior's still held the passionate haze of the battlefield. That struggle with life and death that, when she was victorious, gave the warrior powerful feelings and sensations that she could, indeed needed, to conquer anyone and everyone; to celebrate every physical aspect of being alive. This was battlelust and Gabrielle had never seen it directed at her from her lover's eyes before. Perhaps once...with the Horde, but she didn't really know what battlelust was back then. Warriors all conquered the battlelust with different methods. For the Warrior Princess it had always been sex. In the days when sex for her was wielded as power, the two became inextricably entwined.
Had anyone ever asked the young Queen if she thought Xena would ever consciously hurt her, the answer would have always been an unequivocal no. Now, the bard saw a woman in front of her that was not completely cognizant of who she was or even where she was. It took every fiber of courage she had, for the Amazon Queen to look back into those eyes, glazed over with carnality, and not express that fear to her lover.
Xena's whole body began to tremble and shake in her attempt to push down the sensations that flooded her body and brain. Her effort at controlling her desires was winning until Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on the warrior's forearm.
The sparkling blue eyes cleared momentarily, searching her lover's green depths.
"Please...Gabrielle...leave," she said with between clenched teeth.
Gabrielle's eyes were bright with their own fire. "I'm your lover, Xena...I won't leave you to release yourself by your own hand." She removed her warrior's grasp from her arm and tenderly placed the palm of her lover's hand over the pendant around her neck.
"I belong to you...I'm the woman, and no other, whose bed you're to come to for pleasure or release." Gabrielle said softly.
Xena pressed her palm over the pendant that lay atop her bard's heart as if to garner some form of calm from the piece. Being so close to the object of her desire, Xena leaned against the bard and breathed in the powerfully arousing scent of Gabrielle. Nothing would have pleased her battle-clouded libido more than ravishing her lover right there, but still she held back.
"I'm afraid, Brie..." she whispered near the bard's ear. "...Afraid...I'll hurt you. I don't know if I can control myself once I start."
Gabrielle's answer was to entangle her fingers in Xena's wet, ebony locks and pull the warrior's mouth firmly to her own, and when Xena's tongue slid tentatively into the bard's open mouth, the warrior had her assurances. As Xena slipped her tongue between Gabrielle's soft lips, the bard moaned, the familiar taste of her lover filling her mouth.
Pulling apart to breathe, the bard whispered the words that spent what little control the warrior had left.
"I need to know all of you, Xena...the woman and the warrior!" The Amazon Queen pleaded.
Xena's demeanor changed before Gabrielle's eyes, the warrior's demon called battlelust rising and treading just beneath the surface. With one deep sigh the warrior breathed life into the beast and set it free to roam.
Xena drew the younger woman to her, bruising her smaller body against the wet armor. Her fingers splayed through Gabrielle's hair, grabbing the golden locks aggressively in one hand, pulling the bard's lips roughly to her own. The kiss was frantic and full of need, powerful and urgent. The bard's mouth captured the fierce growl the warrior let loose.
Gabrielle began to pull at the buckles that held the warriors breastplate and shoulder armor. Xena had priorities of her own. The warrior backed the young woman against the table, feverishly grinding her hips against her lover, drawing moans of pleasure from the bard. Lifting the smaller woman slightly so her buttocks sat on the edge of the table, Xena backed up to shrug off the loosened breastplate and nearly threw the heavy armor halfway across the tent. She removed her own breeches unceremoniously, clutching at the bard's belt and pulling the skirt away in one motion. Tugging once, then twice on Gabrielle's undergarment, she ripped the breeches off. The warrior thrust her knee against the young woman's heated center, grinding against the abundant wetness there.
Once again the warrior grabbed Gabrielle's hair jerking her head back to expose her neck. She kissed and bit the length of the bard's neck, sucking on the flesh until she tasted blood. Straddling her lover's thigh, Xena was lost to anything but her wet sex rubbing along the bard's leg. Sliding both hands up the bard's back, Xena firmly grasped the leather halter and tore it in two, slipping the covering off her shoulders almost reverently compared to the way in which she rent the tanned hide.
Xena released the bard's shoulders, pulling her lover's hands from around the warrior's neck, drawing them firmly behind the smaller woman's back. All the while Xena's hips drove against her lover's thigh. The warrior felt the bard's hips move up and against her, she shifted the bard's wrists to her left hand and whispered, letting her lips caress the bard's right ear.
"Is this what you want?" Sliding her fingers into the hot wetness between Gabrielle's legs.
Gabrielle cried out in a voice hoarse with passion, her hips trying to rise from the table to draw the warrior's hand inside her.
"Xena, please..." the Queen pleaded, "I need to feel you...I need to know all of you."
Xena plunged into the bard with her hand, driving into her with a force she'd never used before. Gabrielle's response amazed the warrior, as the young woman began to thrust herself with abandon against the warrior's whole hand, which was slick with the bard's wetness.
Gabrielle's groans of pleasure cut through the warrior's libidinous haze, searing jolts of desire beginning to swirl around her center. She continued to propel her right hand into her lover, releasing the young woman's wrists and reaching up with her left hand, she covered the pendant over Gabrielle's heart with her own palm.
"Mine," the warrior said with a throaty growl. "You belong to me, Gabrielle...only me..."
"Only you, my love," Gabrielle moaned, her own desire pushing her toward the edges of a powerful orgasm.
Her bard's words captured the warrior's passions and sliced through to her very soul. She let herself fall into the whirlpool that swirled energetically around them, losing her focus on everything but the fire in her center and the motion of her arm that carried Gabrielle along with her.
Each woman cried out the other's name as they fell into the center of the vortex together, feeling the air come alive with power and light.
Clinging to one another and gasping for much needed air, the warrior turned her body to lean on the table, cradling the bard into her strong embrace. Long moments passed until they were both able to control their breathing, then Xena began rubbing her hands lightly over the exposed flesh of the bard's small frame, all the while covering her mouth in affectionate kisses.
To Gabrielle, her warrior's eyes still burned with an unspoken fire.
"What is it, love?" The Queen asked between kisses.
"Gabrielle...I need..." Xena whispered in a voice still raw with emotion.
"Anything, Xe...anything." The bard replied tenderly.
"I need to feel you...inside me..."
Gabrielle slowly pulled the warrior toward the bath, and moving behind her, she loosened the laces of the warrior's leathers. The young Queen removed the warrior's boots, and then pulled the leathers down and off of Xena's body, taking her hand and leading her into the still heated water. She ran the soap across their bodies, cleaning off the last vestiges of the battle, massaging tension filled muscles until the warrior felt as liquid as the water surrounding the two lovers.
Xena leaned against the wall of the tub, Gabrielle straddling the warrior's hips. Leaning forward to capture the bard's lips, the warrior moaned into the kiss as she felt the young woman's torso press firmly against her own, strong legs wrapping around the warrior's waist, the bard's warm center pressing against her belly, just above her own curls.
Sliding her hand between them, Gabrielle continued on past the dark curls between the warrior's legs. Xena leaned back her head and growled passionately when the bard entered her with two fingers.
Xena delighted in the bard's easy strokes, now unhurried and tender. Pressing her own hand firmly against the bard's sex, she tenderly stroked the swollen flesh. Gently, she caressed the length of her, avoiding the hardened bundle of nerves that soon begged for attention. Wrapped around one another, the Queen and her warrior went about bringing each other toward a leisurely, mutual climax that left them both feeling, not only satiated, but also contented.
Lying gratified in each other's arms, the warrior gingerly lifted her bard's chin, situating a well-deserved kiss upon Gabrielle's lips.
It was a tearful reunion as Cyrene greeted her children, thanking the Gods who had listened to her prayers. At first the inn was a somber place as the injured Amazons were nursed back to health, and all involved in the battle confronted their own personal demons. Soon, however, the merriment returned to their eyes.
It seemed as if everyone fed off the warrior and her bard. They had, at first, been quiet and keeping to themselves, dinners in their room; long talks into the night. As with everything in life, they were eventually able to put everything in its place, and look at life with a renewed perspective.
They were all grouped around a large table in the tavern, having just listened to one of Gabrielle's tales.
"You know, Eph," Gabrielle started, "I never did find out how all of you got here so fast...what was going on?"
Xena's head shot up as she glared around the table. Ephiny actually began to make little stammering noises; the looks she was getting from the Warrior Princess were starting to unnerve her. In the meantime, Gabrielle leaned forward innocently awaiting the Regents answer, everyone else at the table finding things extremely interesting at the bottom of their mugs.
"I, um...I...uh" Ephiny stared hard at Xena, mentally screaming at the warrior. Do something, Xena...do anything...now, now now!
It was then that Xena did the only thing she could think of doing.
She proceeded to dump the entire contents of her mug down the front of Gabrielle's chest and into the bard's lap.
"Good, Gods," Gabrielle exclaimed jumping up as the port soaked through her top and skirt.
"I'm so sorry, Brie. You better soak that right away...here let me help you," Xena said as she pulled the bard by the hand toward their room.
"Xena, are you sure you're feeling allright?" Gabrielle asked as she washed the port from her body with a damp cloth.
"Sure...just a little clumsy I guess," Xena answered as she put the bard's clothes in a bucket of water to soak for the night.
The warrior turned back to the bard, a very naked bard and felt a deep jolt of heat attack her body. Moving behind the young woman, Xena began to whisper into the bard's ear all the reasons she could possibly think of for not returning downstairs. By the time the bard was pulling off her warrior's leathers, Xena felt in the back of her mind that there was a reason she had not wanted Gabrielle to go back downstairs, but aside from the obvious, damn if she could think of it right now.
Just as Xena had anticipated, she threw up.
My stomach hasn't been this nervous since I was a little kid. The warrior washed her mouth out, chewing on a handful of mint leaves to settle her stomach. I don't think I've thrown up since I was five! Xena would have felt a lot less ill if only she could be certain this was what Gabrielle wanted. What if she turns me down...right in front of everybody?
"You look great," Eponin lied.
"Right." Xena replied.
"I'd feel a lot better if I only knew what her answer will be." Xena said shakily. "She talks to you, Ep...what's she gonna say?"
"Xena, I can't tell you what Gabrielle and I talk about in private...urghhh! Thena...leth go ov my faith!"
The warrior held onto the Amazon's face, squeezing Eponin's cheeks until her face began to turn blue.
"Let me put it to you this way, Ep...tell me or I'll--kill--you!" Xena hissed.
"Yeth...her anther will be yeth!" Eponin pulled away stretching and massaging her facial muscles to ease the soreness.
Xena turned terrified eyes toward the Amazon. "She really does love me, doesn't she Ep?" Xena asked already knowing the answer.
Eponin smiled, shaking her head at the normally stoic reserved warrior. "Yea, Xena...she really does love you."
Xena smiled at that, her body language indicating the change in her emotions. "Um, by the way, Ep...that 'killing you' thing...well, that was just a joke. No hard feelings?"
"Right," the warrior replied, rubbing her sore jaw.
"Your highness," Ephiny addressed Gabrielle formally.
"Eph?" Gabrielle questioned. It was midday and the bard had just finished telling a bunch of schoolchildren a few stories. She sat at a small table, sharing a cup of tea with Cyrene, wondering why the midday meal crowd hadn't begun to filter in yet.
"You have a visitor that brings a petition to the Amazon Nation and a formal request to the Queen." Ephiny stated cryptically.
"Okay," Gabrielle rose to follow the Regent.
"You'll need to wear formal attire," Ephiny said.
"Well it'll take me a few minutes to get into my leathers..." Gabrielle started.
"Actually, you have about two candlemarks till they get here," Ephiny took Gabrielle's arm and began to steer the Queen upstairs, "I'll help you."
"Me too," Cyrene said jumping up from the table. "A nice hot bath might be just the thing to relax you," she said pulling on Gabrielle's other arm.
"But I'm already relaxed," Gabrielle protested as the two women practically dragged her upstairs.
Gabrielle had to admit that she did feel better after the bath. Cyrene had helped her pull her hair up and off her shoulders and the Regent stood behind the young Queen adjusting her shoulder armor.
"Eph, who is presenting this petition?" Gabrielle asked.
"Uhm...a Princess," Ephiny answered warily.
"What does she want?"
"Uh...to form an alliance," Ephiny smiled.
Gabrielle adjusted her boots one final time. "What do you think...is the alliance a good idea?"
"Well, I think that should really be up to you to decide. I mean, listen to the petition and see if it would be something you could live with."
"You must have an opinion?" Gabrielle asked.
"Actually, my personal opinion is that I think it could, quite possibly, be a very mutually beneficial alliance."
"Ready to go?" Ephiny asked, trying to avoid any further questions from her Queen.
Ephiny led Gabrielle outside to the front porch of the inn. There were 4 steps to the top of the porch and it was agreed it would make a perfect dais. As Gabrielle walked out the front door of the inn the roadway was lined with Amazons on each side, who all dropped to one knee at their Queen's approach. Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Gods, I hate when they do that!
A round of drums began and the kneeling Amazons stood at attention as a processional made it's way up the roadway. Eponin led ten mounted Amazons; all of the riders had a small band of purple silk tied around their upper arms. Slowly the procession entered and the warrior dismounted. Eponin unrolled a scroll and began to read.
"People of the Amazon Nation. Today a petition is presented to our Nation. For the first time since she has become our Queen, a proposal of Marriage is being sought after from outside our village. What say you Amazons? Do we allow the petitioner to state their case to our Queen?" Eponin finished.
"Aye," nearly 70 Amazon voices said in unison.
If Gabrielle's jaw had dropped any lower it would have been sitting on the ground. Marriage?! Are they insane?
Eponin came to stand in front of Gabrielle and knelt down on one knee, leaving the scroll at her feet.
"My Queen, the Amazon Nation has given their permission for an outsider to request that you join with them in a Bonding ceremony. Will you allow the petitioner to plead their case?"
Gabrielle searched the faces of her friends and subjects, suddenly wondering where Xena was. It hadn't occurred to her at first that her lover wasn't here. It can't be! She wouldn't...couldn't...Xena would fall on her own sword before she'd get up in front of this many people...even for me!
Still the Queen had to know, and when she dumbly nodded her head, a new processional entered the roadway. Gabrielle's breath caught in her throat and she had to keep reminding herself to breathe. You can do it...breathe, in...out.
Twenty Amazons surrounded the petitioner, breaking formation as they neared the inn to allow Xena to ride to the front of the group. The dark-haired warrior wore her hair loose, softly falling around the edges of her face, cascading down her back and across her broad shoulders. Rather than her usual armor, she wore tight black pants, tucked into knee high black leather boots, with silver trim. Instead of her usual leather tunic, the warrior wore a billowing, silk shirt, its long sleeves and purple color slightly hidden under the black leather vest that buckled down the front. The procession finally stopped and Xena dismounted.
Gabrielle's senses were definitely on overload. When Xena stood still, her blue gaze captured the Queen's, the tightness of her pants, and the way the leather of the vest fit against her, left no doubt she was most definitely a woman. If at all possible, she actually looked more feminine in this attire, than her revealing leathers, but every bit as powerful.
"Your Highness," Xena bowed deeply. Realizing the warrior was waiting for some sort of acknowledgment before continuing, Gabrielle nodded.
Xena turned to face the Amazons and, taking a deep breath, spoke in a loud clear voice.
"People of the Amazon Nation, I give you my thanks for allowing me this petition." Then the warrior bowed again.
Xena walked toward the Queen, slowly, each step filled with grace and power. Dropping down to one knee the warrior pulled her chakram from her belt, and slid her sword free from the scabbard that was strapped to her back.
"Queen Gabrielle, I am Xena of Amphipolis. I am only a warrior. I have neither wealth to tempt you with nor kingdoms to ally yourself with. Actually, I have very little to offer you."
Xena laid her weapons at the Queen's feet. "What little I do have I gladly give to you. I offer you my sword; to protect you and your people until I no longer have a breath left. I offer you my body, for your comfort, security, and pleasure until we no longer remain in this mortal realm. I cannot at this time give you my heart, however."
A low murmur rose through the crowd and Gabrielle held up her hand to silence it, never releasing the warrior's gaze. When silence again reigned, the warrior continued.
"As I said, I cannot at this time give you my heart, for after all, if you look closely you will realize that you already own it. You have held my heart from the very first moment I saw you."
Xena rose and moved up the steps of the inn. Getting on her knees in front of the young Queen, she took the young woman's hand in her own.
"Gabrielle, you are the only woman I have ever, will ever ask this question...will you marry me?"
Gabrielle had never felt so special, so loved before in her entire life. She had given up the hope that Xena would ever want to commit her life so completely, and, in her wildest fantasies, she never dreamed her warrior would make this big a production out of it. It thrilled her and frightened her all at once. She was speechless. Gabrielle was a bard, however, and the spectacular presentation and the love she felt for this woman before her, prompted her to display her own vocal abilities.
"You say that you have very little to offer me. I think you underestimate your own worth," Gabrielle said, beginning to warm to the subject at hand.
"But, I'll take what you offer, warrior. I'll accept your weapons and expect you to be the Champion to my throne and the defender of my honor. I'll take your body as well," she continued, raising an eyebrow suggestively. "Expecting you to serve only my needs and no other. And your heart...I'll keep your heart and give you another in exchange. I now give you my heart, which you stole so many seasons ago."
Gabrielle turned to Xena's mother. "Cyrene, do you still have it?"
Cyrene smiled and pulled the leather packet from her pouch."Yes, Xena of Amphipolis, I will marry you," she said her tears matching the ones in the warrior's eyes.
Gabrielle held up the necklace that she had made for her warrior, for all to see.
"Xena, please take this necklace as my token of good faith, my pledge of sincerity, and a symbol of my love for you."
Gabrielle leaned down and placed a warm kiss on the lips of the warrior as she placed the necklace over Xena's head.
The air was immediately filled with clapping and shouting as the Amazon Queen pulled the warrior to her feet and did what the warrior had thought she might someday...she kissed her thoroughly, right in front of her mother.
"Wow," Xena said when the two finally pulled themselves apart.
"The finest warrior in Greece, and the best you can come up with is, wow?" Gabrielle teased.
"I don't know...I thought that kinda said it all." Xena said with a smile.
Watch for the next story in the "Queen" series: "The Heart of a Queen"
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