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Disclaimer:  Most of the characters depicted in this story belong  to the people at MCA/Universal,  however Micha and Karis are mine. It was written for enjoyment for myself and the readers and is not
intended for profit.

Sex:    This story contains scenes of two women in love in intimate situations but there is nothing graphic. Kissing, hugging and such.  You know No Big Whoop.   Still, if this offends you, or if it is illegal at your age in the place you live, please don't read my story.  There are plenty of other stories to choose from.

Violence:  It is fairly tame through the whole story UNTIL the end then someone says something nasty about Gabrielle and The Conqueror well sort of freaks out on him (graphic guts and stuff) consider yourself warned.

BIG THANKS :  The story Gabrielle tells the children is based on 'The Babysitter' by Wordwarior.  "The Babysitter" is (c)copyright 1997 by All Rights Reserved.

To the Goddess of Spelling I offer my humblest apologies if I have offended her in anyway.
The Goddess of Grammar, however, can Bite Me!

Special thanks to Kym and Ken for Beta Reading so quickly.  Their encouragement, suggestions and ramblings really helped.

Feed Back: Yes please.

Negotiations  pt 1
by Gin

The amazon scout could barely contain her emotions as she approached the largest hut in the village.  Her mission had kept her away for weeks and the contents of her final report were not good.  In fact, they were bad.  Very bad.  She ran her fingers through her light brown curls in anticipation of the meeting.  Both guards watched her traverse the center commons and uncrossed their staffs to allow her entrance.  Hesitantly she stepped into her Queen's quarters.

The hut's interior was a clear reflection of the woman who lived here.  The quarters seemed sparse, mostly due to the large open area in front and to the left of the throne.  These were the only living quarters in the village with a space big enough for an informal council session or an impromptu sparring session.   To the right of the throne the furniture and decorations were as elegant in placement as in quality.  She knew the scrolls on the tall set of shelves were carefully organized by date, the scrolls
on the large desk were also neatly arranged.  Several fighting staffs leaned near the headboard of the oversize bed.  Wood was stacked in symmetrical piles by the fireplace. Her eyes flickered over the large black fur in front of the hearth.  The most elegant sight in the room, however, was directly in front of her, the Queen herself.  She was so unlike the other amazons, shorter  definitely but there was a aura...around her. Sometimes she seemed to glow with it.  Sitting on the throne, reading a scroll, sparring with her staff it didn't matter she always radiated a sense of..... goodness..... that made a person feel..... warm......comfortable in her presence.  Her natural ability to love combined with laughing green eyes, honey-red hair and a set of the most perfect abs she had ever seen made the
scout reaffirm her thought.  The same thought she had every time she saw her. 'By the Gods....She is beautiful.'    Right now the Queen seemed lost in a scroll so the scout stood and waited to be acknowledged.  After a few minutes, she rose gracefully and placed the scroll she had been examining in an empty spot on the desk.  She crossed back to the throne, not as ornate as the one in the council hall but just as powerful a symbol.  Anyone who saw the chair would know instantly, the person that sat there was Queen.  Absently she  brushed a lock of errant hair from her eyes and gestured for the scout to approach.

Letting out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding, the scout quickly moved to the base of the throne and kneeled on one knee.  "I have news, my Queen."  Her lips twitched at the title and the beratement she knew was coming.

The queen sighed, "I have told you before Ephiny you don't have to call me that. name.... is Gabrielle.  Remember?  The one you trained to be an amazon?"  She rubbed her neck to relieve some of the frustration she felt.  Unfortunately she knew what the news would probably be and it wasn't going to be good.  Sighing again at the amazon's complete stubbornness on this point she decided it was best to just act like the queen.  She put on her best royal pose, "Report." softening the command with a smile.

Ephiny cleared her throat hesitantly.  'Uh oh.' Gabrielle thought, 'It's worse than I thought.'  She watched as Ephiny swallowed hard and began, "My Que....Gabrielle.  I have confirmed the reports,  a massive army buildup is being housed on the western borders.  The Amazon Nation will be  outnumbered almost 10 to 1...."  Ephiny paused to let Gabrielle think about the magnitude of the force that had been gathered then continued, "There is something else you should know...."  She waited until
her queen shook off the thoughts running through her mind and could focus on her next words.  When she saw the green eyes focus on her, Ephiny spoke the two words that had been imprinted on her
brain, two words that terrified and thrilled her, two words she didn't think her queen wanted to hear but had to know. "She's there."  Green eyes opened wider and both eyebrows rose in...what? Ephiny knew many emotions could fill the situation, shock, surprise, terror, but to her surprise the expression in her queen's eyes looked for all the world like..........hope?

"I have to think about this for a while Ephiny.  Find Eponin and Solari.  Tell them to gather the council for a dinner meeting." Gabrielle sat on the throne and cradled her chin in her hand. They were not going to like what she was thinking but unless they had any better ideas, this was how it was going to be. If she had sent her army with an unknown general to do her dirty work they didn't stand a chance but now.......maybe.

Ephiny heard her queen sigh as she left to carry out her orders. She hated to see Gabrielle upset but knew that the fate of the entire Amazon Nation depended on the decisions made in the next few hours.  She still trembled at the thought   'Sweet Artemis.....The Conqueror is leading the army herself.....what
can we do to stop that!'


Gabrielle explained her plan to them in her usual pacing style.  She stopped near Eponin when she was finished outlining the simple but extremely risky plan, invite The Conqueror to the village and negotiate for peace.  She stood quietly waiting for them to protest. The council stared at their queen with unabashed astonishment.  They were all thinking the same thing 'Impossible.'  and Gabrielle could tell they all thought she was crazy.  She smiled at their reaction, knowing it was going to happen, and casually suggested if they could think of any better idea to please let her know.

"But it won't work." Eponin was the first to find her voice.

"What can it hurt to try?" Gabrielle reasonably countered.

"What can it hurt?  It can hurt the entire Amazon Nation, that's what."  Ephiny was trying to make sense of the incredible statement her queen had just made. 'What makes her think this will work?'

"How?"  Gabrielle was curious to their reasoning.

"How?"  Eponin looked at the others in disbelief. "How, she asks." Focusing back on the queen. "You can't just let her stroll through the main village and then let her leave.  She will be inside our perimeter.  She will see our defenses.  It will put us in a much worse position if it fails."  Eponin was trying,
without much success, to explain the working of a warrior's mind.

"But if it works, no one will be hurt."  Gabrielle never liked to pull rank.  She worked hard to show the amazons that they could count on her as a friend, but she was Queen.  Returning to her seat, that happened to be the throne, reinforced that fact in the council's mind.  "I have an obligation to the Nation to try this.  If I didn't I wouldn't be much of a Queen."

They all looked at each other rather guiltily.  It was true.  The queen should do anything she felt was necessary to secure the safety of the Nation, but this was above and beyond, this was, as far as they were concerned, suicide.

Gabrielle spoke quietly, "I need someone to deliver the message."

Silence filled the room, until Ephiny's quiet voice was heard. "I'll do it."  Gabrielle closed her eyes in gratitude and sorrow as she heard Eponin's gasp.

Taking a deep breath Gabrielle thanked them and asked Ephiny to wait a moment.  Eponin remained just outside, waiting for the curly haired scout.  After a tense moment Gabrielle spoke softly,
"Thank you."

Ephiny looked surprised at the gratitude, "For what?  You are my Queen."

Gabrielle thought about her matter of fact statement. 'I am her Queen.'  She tried to recall her life before the Amazons. Amazingly only fuzzy snippets of memories came to mind.  The only thing she could remember with perfect clarity was most of that one day when she was five... and the day the hunting party saved her, so many years later.  'Have I really only been an amazon for three years?'  Pulling herself out of the reverie she looked at Ephiny again, "Thank you anyway.  The message will be ready to go at first light."  Gabrielle nodded and Ephiny quietly left the council hall to join a waiting Eponin.  It broke her heart to watch the scout and warrior's fingers lace as they walked toward their shared quarters.  'They think it will be the last night for them.'  Gabrielle sighed. 'They may be right.'  The Conqueror was known to kill the messenger, sometimes even before the message was read.  She rubbed her face and hoped the walk back to her hut would keep her awake long enough to compose the message.  'It has to be firm but not insulting.  This is one messenger that will at least have a fighting chance.'


Ephiny walked with dignity behind the Conqueror's guard, her hands were tied securely in front of her and a rope led from her bindings to the hand of the man in front of her.  The amazon seethed with fury. 'She was an amazon damnit, no two dinar, scum sucking, son of a Baccae guard was going get the best of her.'  She bored her eyes into the back of his head.  So intent on burning a hole through his helmet with her vision she almost ran into him when he stopped.  She looked at the tent they had stopped in front of, it was larger by far than all the others.  She took several deep breaths to calm herself, not quite
succeeding before the guard pulled the rope and drew her through the cloth entrance.

Instantly her senses dismissed the man that brought her here.  Every fiber of her body was now aware of the dangerous woman  watching her from the darkness.  Waiting for her eyes to adjust from the midday sun to the dim interior of the tent, Ephiny recalled the time when a large black cat had been spotted in the hunting grounds.  During the hunt for the predator, Ephiny had felt it's eyes watching them.  'God' feels the same.'  That memory reassured her, however, because the pelt of that
animal was now in her Queen's quarters.  Not because she invoked royal privilege, or received it as a gift, the Queen had made the kill, the pelt was rightfully hers.  Calmer now, Ephiny stood waiting.

"So. You're an amazon."  The velvet voice rolled out of the darkness.  Ephiny knew if that black cat had the ability to talk, this is what it would have sounded like.  She barely controlled the shudder that ran through her.  She forced herself to remain still as the purring voice resumed, "You may leave Darfus."  He tied his end of the rope to a post and bowed to the darkness before he left.  Now Ephiny was having an even harder time controlling the tremors coursing through her. 'Sweet Artemis....I'm alone with her.'  Movement in the shadows alerted her. Unable to stop her trained muscles, she assumed a decent defensive position, despite her bindings.

"You're trying to defend yourself against me?"  The Conqueror seemed amused at this concept.  She stepped into the lighter area of the tent to give Ephiny a good look at her captor.  "Against ME!"  This time she spread out her arms and turned gracefully, the sleeves of her robe trailing the path her arms made.  The purple silky robe fell open to reveal well worn warrior's leathers.  Seeing the amazon's eyes widen at the glimpse of her warrior's apparel she tossed the robe aside, all the time laughing at the audacity of the amazon tied in front of her.

Ephiny stood, there was no point in arguing, as long as her hands were bound, she was helpless and they both knew it.  She found herself staring at the figure of the most dangerous woman in the world.  It was impossible to stop once she started, the deep black leather drew her eyes to the muscular form.  Every inch of the Conqueror was a new inspiration for the word beauty. Black silk hair, smooth skin and then there were her eyes, those blue eyes were enough to drown in. 'I think Ares took one of those cats and turned it human.'

Xena grew impatient.  This new game wasn't very interesting.  "I am told you have a message for me."  She reclined on a large sofa just inside Ephiny's field of vision. "Let's hear it."  Xena affected her usual bored attitude reserved for when the leader of whatever land she was about to take over came to beg for mercy.  She became suddenly very interested when the woman, despite her bindings,  pulled a piece of parchment from under her left bracer.

"I don't know what it says, only that I was to give it to you." Ephiny offered the message to the seated woman.  She wasn't sure if she wanted the woman close enough to take it from her hands but she surely wasn't going to throw it at her either.

She suspected it was the Warrior Princess in her that caused her to cross the room and take the message.  The Conqueror saw the intricate seal and rewarded the messenger with one raised eyebrow, 'Maybe this new game won't be boring after all.'  She thought.   "If it was written, why didn't you just give it to one of my men?"  She was beginning to think she underestimated the woman tied before her.

"That is not what my Queen commanded."  Ephiny's simple statement left Xena with a lot to think about.

The Conqueror walked back to her comfy sofa and read the message once to herself then aloud for the benefit of her captive:


"Greetings Conqueror

My scouts inform me that you are preparing an army to invade our land.
This is most disturbing to me and I would like to discuss it with you.
Perhaps we can come to an arrangement that will satisfy both of us.
In hopes of a productive meeting I grant you safe passage to and from the main village.
If you feel the need, three of your guards, preferably female, will also be allowed into Amazon territory but I assure you with the messenger as your escort your safety is guaranteed.
Signed by Queen Gabrielle.


Gabrielle, that's not an amazon name is it?"  Xena looked up at her prisoner.  Something stirred in
the back of Xena's mind.

"It is now."  She winced as the Conqueror growled her displeasure at the terse answer.

"Explain that."  Xena was angry at the implication she would be afraid to come to Amazon territory without a guard.

"Three years ago slavers took her from her home village.  On their way to be sold they were freed by a hunting party of Amazons.  One of them was an Amazon princess.  During the rescue the princess was wounded and Gabrielle tried to save her.  On her deathbed the princess bestowed her rite-of-caste on Gabrielle. Several months later the Queen was killed in a hunting accident. Gabrielle has been Queen for almost two and a half years."  Ephiny finished her story, she had told it to herself over and over on the trip here.  The recitation was just as Gabrielle instructed.

Xena sat for a moment thinking about the ramifications of the story.  'Not really an amazon?  That explains the attempt at peace then.  >From the stories I have heard no self respecting Amazon would even make the effort, they would just fight.  A former villager that had been captured by slavers would be very susceptible to my particular form of intimidation.  She will be young, slavers don't take the old ones and she has only been Queen a short time. Hmmmm a new game may prove interesting.' Having made her decision she advanced quickly toward the captive amazon.

Ephiny was amazed at the fluid motion of the woman approaching her.  It was like watching water  roll down a hill.  She was mesmerized by the rippling muscles in the woman's thighs until the glint of steel caught her eye  'Where did that dagger come from?'  She felt a surge of adrenaline as she realized who held the dagger and exactly how much danger she was in.  Her hazel eyes closed refusing to let The Conqueror see the sadness she knew was there.  Images of her son and Eponin floated across the
darkness.  'I will miss you.'  She thought.

The Conqueror watched the amazon's eyes close at her approach. She laughed to herself, 'Probably praying to the Gods that I don't kill her.  Huh, I guess maybe it worked.'  The look of relief on the amazons face, when she discovered her bindings cut, was just too funny. She couldn't help the cold laughter in her voice when she called for Darfus to come in.  The fact that he hadn't gone far and the look of disappointment on his face increased her amusement. 'He always wants to hear them scream.'
The Warrior Princess in her was not amused at all, but she knew now was not the time to challenge The Conqueror.

"I am going to meet the Amazon Queen.  Take care of things until I return."  She turned to get her armor and weapons from deeper in the tent.

"You can't go without an escort."  He protested.  He wanted to be there when she killed the Queen of the Amazons.

The word 'can't' raised her eyebrow significantly.  She casually gestured to Ephiny, "This messenger will take me.  Her Queen" The Conqueror sneered, "has assured me she is capable of protecting me from danger."

"Who will protect you from her?"  The minute he said it he knew it was a mistake.

 The Conqueror's glanced at the scout then back to the terrified man.  The brief contact was enough for Ephiny to think, 'She's going to pounce.'  Xena's voice was low and dangerous, "Are you saying I can't protect myself from her?"

"No. No no.  I just.....I only......Your protection is always my first concern."  He was desperate now.  Images of his own body lying on the floor of the tent were threatening his ability to reason. He tried to let the matter drop, hoping she would to. "How long will you be gone?"

Xena looked expectantly at the captive turned escort.  She noted the red marks around the woman's wrists.  The fact that the amazon did nothing to acknowledge the painful rope burns spoke
volumes about amazons in general and this one in particular.

Ephiny cleared her throat, "Three days to get there....." she lied. "...three days to return and however long you think you will need to talk to the Queen."  The amazon left the exact number up to Xena.

The smile on Xena's face again reminded Ephiny of the cat.  "In that case, I'll be gone seven days."  Xena buckled the last fastening on her armor and inwardly laughed at Ephiny's glare. Allowing such a short amount of time speak with Gabrielle was rude almost to the point of insult.


The unlikely pair traveled only a short time before a wide feral grin crossed the Conqueror's face, "So how long will it really take to get to the village?"

Ephiny's step faltered then she resumed her steady pace, not looking at Xena when she replied, "We will be in the village before sundown this evening."

The Conqueror laughed, out loud for once.  She loved it when she was one step ahead of everyone else in the game.  'This may be the easiest conquest I have ever made.' She thought.  'Why was Ares so worried about the Amazons.'   Remembering her last discussion with the God of War and his insistence on leaving the Amazons alone.  She assumed it was because of some deal he made with Artemis.  'Well I haven't made any deals with her so she can kiss her precious amazons goodbye. Of course, if she wanted to she could try to persuade me to the contrary.  I wonder if I could withstand a Goddess' persuasion.  I certainly can Ares' What would the amazons do if they found I was suddenly their
patron Goddess' consort.  What if I just told them I was, and I only agreed to this meeting because of Artemis.'  The possibilities of her involvement with the goddess kept her silent and intrigued.

Ephiny was thankful for the reprieve.  She wasn't much for talking, that was Gabrielle's department.


"APHRODITE!"  The goddess' bellow could be heard all over Olympus.  She was furious.

A shimmer of light was followed by the laughing voice of the Goddess of Love.  "Chill, Babe. Your gonna wake up Bliss."  She indicated the baby in her arms.

"Geez, 'Dite, can't you get someone else to babysit.  You are constantly taking care of that kid!"  rtemis was quieter now but no less furious.

The doting grandmother, who didn't look anything like a grandmother, snorted, "Yeah right, like who.....Discord..or.....Strife, maybe?"  She shifted the sleeping infant, careful not to bend his wings and looked through the window to the mortal world. "Who ya watchin?"

Her innocent question brought Artemis' thoughts back to the reason she had called her.  She explained the Conqueror's current plans to take over the amazon's territory and her rather rude comments about how Artemis could possibly 'persuade' her to change her mind.  Then she requested that Aphrodite put a love spell on Xena to make her fall for Gabrielle. It was a hard decision, Gabrielle was one of her favorites and Xena was hardly her first choice for her Chosen.

Aphrodite looked through the window a while longer then back at the Goddess of the Hunt.  "It's a good idea Arti but I don't have to do anything.  Those two are already connected. Big Time."  She paused to settle the baby in her arms and looked back at the confused Goddess. "See for yourself." She indicated the window and passed her hand in front of it.

The view shifted to a general overview of the Amazon territory.  It seemed to be crisscrossed with fine strands of silk, but it wasn't silk it was light.  Artemis understood, each person in the range of the window had thin strands of light emanating from them connecting them with the people they loved.  The intensity of light surrounding the Queen startled her.  'Great Zeus....she has a strand for everyone.' Another startling discovery for the Goddess was a large ray of light from her Chosen connected
directly to Xena.  While the others were thin, wispy strands of cobweb thickness that pulsed occasionally with waves of feeling, this was entirely different.  It was thick, intense, constant
almost.......solid.  It was the only thing coming to or from Xena.  Her voice was full of feeling when she spoke, "Have you ever seen anything like that before?"

The Goddess of Love shook her head, "It is rare and NEVER in two people that only met once when they were children.  Gabrielle has the largest capacity for love and forgiveness I have ever seen.
If you hadn't Chosen her.....I would have."  She looked at the Goddess' awed face once more and waved her hand across the window again.  The lines disappeared and the view was normal again.
"Everything will work out fine there.  Trust me."  She tugged on the worried Goddess' arm. "Com'on  Bliss is about to wake up. Maybe you can give him few archery lessons."

Artemis reluctantly let herself be dragged off.  'Oh well' she thought 'I can always play it back later.'


Gabrielle sat at her desk reviewing a scroll.  It must have been over a year ago that she completed this particular report.  Now she hoped her suspicions and speculations were correct.  Her sharp ears
picked up the sentries whistle code.  Almost here. Then it struck her, 'I never had any doubt she would come.'  She quickly scanned the room.  Everything seemed in place.  The only addition was a low table jutting out from the far wall and two comfortable cushions so that the evening meal could be enjoyed here instead of the communal dining hall.  She sighed resigned now to the course of action she had set in motion. 'I hope I'm right.' Looking at the formal leathers laid out on the bed she sighed again and began dressing for her guest.


Xena grinned at the back of her escort, confident enough to let a little of her knowledge be known. "It's not true, you know."  Her blue eyes flashed at the hesitation her voice caused in the woman.

"What....What's not true."  The amazon's hazel eyes flicked briefly to the Conqueror.

"Your signal to the sentries." She replied matter of factly and repeated the message only this time not in whistles, "Two women, no danger."  She smiled as the scout's eyes widened at her admission  to knowing the code. She dropped her voice to it's lowest register and allowed a wicked grin to touch her eyes. "I am dangerous."

Ephiny took a deep breath and turned to continue toward the village.  "Yes, I know." 'Gods...I'm going to have to leave her alone with Gabrielle.'


Every sense The Conqueror had was telling her this was stupid. She was alone in a camp of people she was about to invade.  'Why did I agree to this.'  She walked, outwardly calm, following her escort toward a large hut on the edge of the village circle. The guards at the door saw them approach and per their Queen's instructions let their staffs fall to the ground beside them. They knocked twice on the door and when Ephiny was close enough they opened it for the women to enter.  Xena was impressed with
the discipline they exhibited.  She doubted her guards would drop their weapons like that, especially since she still had her sword at her back and her chakrum hanging from her waist.  Xena was definitely glad she was going to meet the woman that commanded so much loyalty.....before she killed her.

Gabrielle heard the staffs fall before the knock at the door. Her heart skipped a beat then settled.  'This is it.'  She sat as regally as she could on the throne and waited.  Her first sight of Ephiny followed by the imposing figure of the Conqueror almost made her lose her composure.   She forced herself to focus on the amazon, keenly aware of the internal buzzing Xena's presence was having on her.  The scout turned messenger approached the throne and kneeled on the customary one knee.   The sentries reports said she was OK but usually Gabrielle relied on her own eyes for reassurance of her friends condition.  She frowned briefly as her eyes stopped at the woman's red wrists. "Report."

Ephiny looked up to see a flash of anger in her Queen's green eyes and a flicker toward her wrists.   "The Conqueror has accepted your offer for a meeting."  Hazel eyes begged the Queen to drop the subject of her injuries.

"Rise."  Gabrielle couldn't quite keep the twinkle out of her eyes at the use of such a formal command toward her friend.  "We have already been supplied with dinner but I believe later we will  require some more wine.  Have the healer check your wrists and then see to it OK."  Gabrielle heard a voice outside the door. "I believe someone wants to see you now." The Queen smiled and her voice became  mockingly stern, "The wine can wait and your wrists can too but please go and reassure Eponin before she takes out my guards."  She waited until the woman was almost even with Xena before adding, "and give Phantes a hug from me too."  She saw Ephiny's flickering glance at Xena then her short nod before she took the two steps needed to propel her out the door, into the waiting arms of Eponin.


Xena stopped two steps inside the door.  She waited for her vision to adjust to the new light level and watched her escort kneel to the Queen.

Xena had several individual personalities, Ruthless and cold Xena: The Conqueror was dominant most of the time.  Xena: The Warrior Princess was a noble fighter for the greater good.  The Destroyer of Nations was the strategist.  The Conqueror as the dominant personality kept the others neatly stored and in some cases locked in their own little rooms of Xena's mind.  The innkeeper's daughter, the village girl, little sister, big sister, and even to a small extent mother were content to stay there, hardly ever even voicing an opinion. Others such as the Warrior Princess would break free at times and try for control. Even the Conqueror tried to keep her darkest part, Ares Chosen, under tight guard.  She was simply too difficult to restrain once unleashed.

One look at the Amazon Queen caused The Conqueror a distinct slip of control.  In a brief second she found herself in an unexpected internal battle with a very determined, too long suppressed, Warrior Princess. Xena pushed the rage filled Conqueror to the back corner cell of her mind.  Ignoring the screams of rage from the imprisoned Conqueror,  Xena's eyes were drawn to the woman sitting on the throne. 'By the God's.....She is beautiful.'  The Conqueror was subdued for a moment by the warmth that flowed from the warrior to the leader of the amazons.

Xena knew that the battle was over but the war between she and The Conqueror had just begun.  At the moment though, none of that mattered.   She was lost in the vision of the Amazon Queen.  She
ached to hear her voice,  Xena suddenly had to hear her speak, not just terse commands.  The Warrior Princess closed her eyes at the sound of Gabrielle speaking to the scout.  'God's I have my eyes closed and I can tell......' she opened her eyes and saw the Queen smiling '.......she's smiling.'  Her escort was leaving now and the Queen's voice called out again, so intent on the sound Xena almost didn't hear the words.  It was the scout's hateful glance that shook her out of her sense overloaded stupor. 'Phantes?  That sounded like a male name.  Males weren't allowed on Amazon Land, were they?'

"You may come in.  I did invite you, you know."  The Queen's melodic voice drew her two steps closer before she even acknowledged she was going to move.   Xena's sudden stop however had less to do with regaining control of her muscles than it did the sight of the Queen rising gracefully from the throne.  Xena was mesmerized by the ripple of muscles in Gabrielle's abdomen and thighs.  She watched as the amazon gracefully settled on one of the cushions at the low table. As fortune would have it, rays of light from the fading sun bathed the seated woman.  Xena couldn't remember any sunset that would rival the sight before her.  For all she knew Apollo took his inspiration for sunsets
from her.  'No.' she thought. 'One look at this woman's sea green eyes surrounded by her honey-fire hair and the Sun God would give up painting sunsets forever, knowing he could never create
anything as beautiful.'

Gabrielle seated herself and looked up at the standing woman, she tried to keep the amusement off her face as she gestured toward the corner cushion. "Please. Join me." She knew her voice had dropped to almost its lowest register and  mentally berated herself.  'Don't go there.'  Too late, now it was the Queen's turn to watch muscles ripple as Xena crossed to sit on the other cushion.  It was placed so when she sat, Xena's back was to a corner and she could see the entire room.

Xena took the opportunity to scan the room again, It was sparse but neat.  The scrolls on the large desk were neatly arranged, wood was stacked in perfect orderly piles by the fireplace. Her eyes flickered over the black fur in front of the hearth then were drawn to the large bed that occupied the corner opposite them. Xena quickly began to examine the table in front of her and the wonderful dinner it promised.  With only minor difficulty, she regained control of her racing heart.

Gabrielle had been watching her guest and knew exactly where she was looking when the pulse point in her neck doubled its rhythm. She cleared her throat and forced herself to speak in a conversational tone.  "My warriors tell me that sitting with their back in a corner facing the door is preferable.   I told
them I thought I would feel cornered if I found myself in that position, but they assure me it is better to know that no one is coming at you from behind."  Gabrielle let her voice trail off as if unconvinced of the logic.

"It's true."  Xena casually examined the table's contents again and continued. "With your back to the corner no one can sneak up on you ...." she gestured toward the wall behind her " least you're sitting with your back to a wall."  She was startled to see Gabrielle smiling at her.

The Queen leaned across the narrow table conspiratorially, "Don't tell me you are concerned with my safety, too."  She let a hint of exasperation creep into her voice.

Xena barely controlled the shudder that went through her at the woman's proximity.  She tried to take a deep breath to calm herself only to find her senses under triple assault from leather, lilacs, and another that only took her a minute to realize was Gabrielle herself.  She found her voice barely a whisper, partially to keep up the conspiracy, partially that was all she could manage at the moment. "All right, I won't."  Even though, from this moment on, the Queen's safety was a major concern to her.

"I guess I would feel safe too if I had all those weapons." Gabrielle sat back and gestured in Xena's general direction, knowing there were probably as many weapons hidden as seen.

Xena laughed "You didn't say I couldn't have weapons."

The Amazon Queen smiled "That would have been foolish on my part, wouldn't it"

Xena nodded but suddenly felt very large and threatening toward the other woman.  "Yeah.....but I guess I am a little overdressed for an informal dinner.  Do you mind if I take off my sword?"  At
Gabrielle's negative gesture Xena snaked an arm behind her and quickly undid the bindings of her scabbard.  She propped the sword up in the corner behind her then hesitated.  Xena glanced at Gabrielle and then removed the chakrum from it's belt loop and hung it from the hilt of her sword.  Favoring the amazon with another grin she pulled a dagger from each boot and a small knife
from her left gauntlet and placed them carefully in the corner. Two small throwing knives came out of their belt holders at her back and joined the others.

The Queen sat with her elbows on the table resting her chin on interlaced fingers.  She watched the display intently.  "My, my. You're just a walking armory aren't you."  Gabrielle's teasing grin widened when Xena produced a small breast dagger and placed it with the other weapons.  This made the Queen laugh out loud. "Like your breasts aren't dangerous enough."

The thought of Gabrielle even thinking about her breasts was enough to send a blush creeping up her neck.  'Gods I haven't blushed in years.'  The Conqueror seethed, 'Blushing!  The Warrior Princess will be sorry she ever tried this little stunt.' She was quickly reaching her boiling point.

"I am very hungry."  The laughing amazon settled back into her cushion.  "Let's eat."  Gabrielle turned two tumblers right side up on the table and poured a portion of wine into each of them. She grinned at the warrior "Do you want to choose?"  Gabrielle indicated the cups and waited.  Her eyebrows rose when Xena picked one and immediately took a drink.  'That's a surprise.  I didn't think she would trust me that fast.'  Grabbing the other tumbler quickly she drank deeply.  "This was a good pressing."

Xena agreed, "I have invaded countries for less."  The Conqueror laughed from her cell.  It was one of her favorite phrases.  Xena silenced her evil counterpart. Enjoying good food and good wine with such a beautiful woman actually made her forget, for a moment,  why she was here.

Gabrielle's smile vanished, her tone turned sad, "The vines would burn before you got them."

"Hey, I only meant that you were right. It is very good wine." Xena was desperate to bring her smile back.  A small smile tugged at the corners of Gabrielle's mouth and as the beat of her heart eased closer to normal, another lock was added to The Conqueror's restraints.

"Can I ask you something."  Gabrielle looked at her with twinkling green eyes.

"Sure."  Xena didn't care what the question was the voice asking it was the important part. She felt her heart once again increasing speed.

She dropped her eyes to the table shyly.  "Well I was wondering......Since this isn't really a formal
negotiation....if.....I could....." Gabrielle looked into her guests startling blue eyes and smiled, " you Xena?"

Xena no longer had to worry about her heart beating out of control.  The Queen's smile, along with her own name falling from those perfect lips, stopped it completely.  She reminded herself to breathe. Once her goal in life was to rule the world.  'Well now I do, so I need a new goal.'  She thought wryly, 'I think
I'll try to hear my name from those lips as many times as possible, before I die'  Confident her new goal was a good one, she smiled at the amazon, "Only if I can call you, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle felt her heart leap at that voice saying her name.  She wanted to reach out, to touch the woman across from her and wished the table didn't separate them.  She knew it was a bad idea to startle a warrior, especially this one, but they were making a deal right.  Gabrielle tentatively reached her hand toward Xena, "Agreed."

Xena accepted the hand as a binding contract.  She was amazed at the softness of the Queen's hands, despite the staff callus'.  Staff not sword.  Interesting.....Xena continued to think about the softness of the Queen's hands and imagined what it would be like for them to touch her someplace other than her
hand............A bar was firmly put into place across The Conqueror's cell door.

Gabrielle knew many amazon warriors.  She had shaken hands with them on all sorts of formal  occasions but this was different. She knew that swords, staffs, chobos and even bows each created
different callus patterns on a proficient users hands.  This woman's hands had the distinct and recognizable pattern of all the weapons she knew and, she realized, some she didn't.  All she wanted to do was feel those hands on her.  She pulled her closer in another conspiring whisper.  "It might be wise to keep it formal in front of our guards though.  They may get the wrong idea." Her eyes flickered briefly toward the opposite corner. She felt Xena's pulse quicken and knew that Xena felt her own
heart matching the pace.  She reluctantly released her grip and began eating the feast that was before them.

Xena had assumed that the large amount of food laid out was simply for display.  A way to show her what the lands had to offer and allow her a few bites of each for her approval.  She was quickly discovering that was not the case.  Gabrielle seemed intent on eating everything on the table and she realized she had better hurry before it was all gone.

They ate in companionable silence, broken only with Gabrielle's urgings for Xena to try this or helpful suggestions to try dipping that in this sauce.  It was a very pleasant meal.  One of the few Xena could remember.  They remained on the low cushions relaxing, sipping wine and to Xena's surprise dozing off.  The warrior was startled awake by her own wine dripping into her lap. Her reaction to straighten the cup overcompensated and flung the balance of the contents onto Gabrielle.  The amazon looked at her wine-stained chest then to Xena's lap then to Xena's expression. Xena looked from her  wine-stained leg to Gabrielle's chest to the expression on Gabrielle's face.  Both of them burst out laughing so loud the guards at the door entered quickly.  The guards were perplexed at the sight of their Queen rolling on the floor laughing with such a dangerous woman.  They noticed the weapons that were stacked in the corner.  Gabrielle waved them out, "It's OK really.  It was an accident."  She took a deep breath to control her hysterics. "I don't want anymore interruptions unless it's my son with more wine."  The guards nodded.

Xena got her own hysterics under control only to have other emotions take over.  The mention of a son made her irrationally jealous.  She suddenly wanted to know who the father was so that she could personally make him regret touching Gabrielle.  She watched Gabrielle glide across the room toward the bed. 'Gods even I couldn't do anything to make a person regret that!'  She continued staring as Gabrielle walked through a narrow door on the other side of the fireplace.  She returned with two towels, two washrags, a bowl and a warmed waterskin.

She smiled apologetically, "Sorry I only have one washing bowl. Do you mind sharing?"

Xena shook her head negative and took the rag and towel offered. Gabrielle reclaimed her cushion and pushed the small table out from between them setting the bowl between them on the floor. She poured the warmed water into the bowl and began to wash her chest clear of the sticky purple stain.

'Lucky washrag'  Xena thought as she diligently began cleaning up her own mess.  Xena began in a conversational tone, "Gabrielle, you mentioned a son to the guards....." Xena saw that all the Queen's attention was on her now. "...and earlier you told the scout to hug 'Phantes'  is he your son? I mean I didn't think males were allowed on Amazon territory, much less in the main village..."  Finished with the cleaning Xena began to absently dry her leg and looked up into see a wave of remembered pain wash
across her face and then it was replaced with a warm smile.

"No Phantes is Ephiny's son.  His father was killed in battle two years ago. His home village is..was not far from here.  My son is adopted, his father was killed long ago and his...uncle was killed in another battle not long after Phantes father.  They are both exceptions to the rule."  Gabrielle saw the distant look in Xena's blue eyes and waited only a moment. "Do you have any children?"

"If I did it would be very dangerous for them if anyone ever found out they were mine."  Xena paused.  The Conqueror was telling her it was too dangerous to give the Queen any personal information. 'She will use it against you.'  Her protests were dismissed by Xena's simple reply, 'I trust her.' Gabrielle's
nodded understanding of the danger prompted Xena to continue. "Yes, I once had a child.  He was stolen from me by his father."

"Where is he now?" Gabrielle tried not to sound to nosy but she needed to know, badly.

"The father or the child?"  Xena tried to smile.

"Both."  This was too important to waste time on word games.

"The father is dead."  She held up a hand to stop the next question, "He was killed against my orders."  'Well that seemed to relax her.'  "As for the boy, I assume he was killed as an infant.  I don't know who his father gave him to.  If he was spared, then it is better that he be raised by people who love him. If word spread that I ever had a son, every ten year old in the world would be placed in jeopardy.  If he is alive he would be found and used against me.  I wouldn't want to see him, or any child, hurt."  Xena thought about that logic.  "Yeah, It is better for him not to know me."  The Conqueror laughed at Xena's

"When Phantes died Ephiny was so distraught I made an exception for her son.  Shortly after that I found my son and he stayed too.  Ephiny and Eponin are the caretakers for my son.  He and Phantes are like brothers.  They were both raised in a centaur villages, before they came here." Gabrielle was watching Xena closely.  When the warrior began to speak the Queen let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding.

The Conqueror plotted from her captivity.  'I can't break free right now but I do have a little control.  I remember that battle, that name.  Let's see how long Xena can stand up to me without the little Queen's eye's being all goo goo for her.'   A laugh of evil glee escaped the confines of her mind and Xena
shuddered.  For a moment she lost control of her speech function as The Conqueror began the story.  "Once I battled a group of centaurs and men......." She began slowly. "......they fought well, almost too well.  In the end there were only two people left,  me and one very determined centaur.  He was strong
but....I finally defeated him...I had him down on all fours.  I think I expected him to beg me for his life...I wanted him to..." Xena watched Gabrielle's face closely dreading the look of horror she always found in people's eyes.  A distant laugh from her dark prisoner echoed in her head.   "....but he didn't....he simply closed his eyes and said, 'Ephiny, forgive me.'"  She saw Gabrielle's eyes close and closed her eyes as well.  Her prisoner waited as one of the locks on the door dropped away.  Slowly she continued. ".....If he had not received so many wounds during the fight, I think I would have spared him, by the force of that statement alone, but I knew he would never survive any one of the injuries sustained, much less all of them.  So I..........."  Xena's voice trailed off.  She took a deep breath, steeled herself to the hatred she was going to face and opened her eyes. She gasped at the unexpected sight and another lock dropped from the Conqueror's door.  Gabrielle was crying.  Her face was buried
in the towel she had been using to clean up with.  'God's I've made her cry.'  Another lock fell away, the Conqueror laughed.

Gabrielle looked up at her gasp.  Xena saw her liquid green eyes were filled with tears and...gratitude?  Xena was totally perplexed, "Hey, I didn't mean to make you cry."    Truthfully Xena didn't know why she had told the story, her prisoner's influence was unconcious.  Now, seeing the result, she was
kicking herself.  The Conqueror prepared herself for the bar to drop from her cell.  Xena pushed the washing bowl under the table and tentatively reached out to hold the sobbing woman.

The amazon took a ragged breath and accepted the embrace quickly, "Thank you."

"For making you cry?"  Xena was trying to reconcile the woman's actions with her words.  The fact that she was holding her in her arms was doing nothing for her concentration.  The Conqueror was
pounding on the door now, sensing possible defeat.

Gabrielle curled around the warrior's forearm and rested her cheek on the cool bracer.  "For telling me.   I have been trying to find out how he died.  It hasn't been easy since everyone there was killed."  Another ragged breath escaped her. "Ephiny deserves to know and little Phantes will want to know when he is older."

"You mean that centaur and Ephiny......"  Xena was confused.  "I saw a scar on her stomach....but I thought.......Gods"  She had definitely underestimated the curly haired messenger.

Gabrielle sat up, now very close to Xena, still in the embrace actually.  She smiled, "Yeah, he is as stubborn as she is.  I guess he decided he didn't want to make an appearance.  Our healer had other ideas."  Her expression turned sad.  "They were very much in love."

There was really no reply to that quiet statement.  Xena looked at the amazon in her arms.  She lightly traced the imprint of her bracer on the reddened cheek.    She felt Gabrielle's still form and suddenly realized exactly what she was doing. 'Gods she's scared stiff.'  Xena dropped her arms and moved back to her corner. The Conqueror was screaming for release which Xena stubbornly denied.  She watched Gabrielle pick up the washbowl and carry it back to the washing room.  'She can't even stand to look at me now.  Stupid. Stupid.'

Gabrielle could still feel the light touch on her cheek.  'Why didn't I just kiss her? Stupid. Stupid.  She can probably hear my heart pounding from in here.  Gods.....'  She put the bowl down and went out to her desk, retrieving a large folded piece of parchment.  She gestured for Xena to join her by the fireplace. Settling cross-legged at the end of the black fur rug, she felt her left side pleasantly warmed by the fire.  Xena stretched out the entire length of her body along the fur, receiving heat mostly on her upper torso and face.

"This is nice."  Xena stroked the soft fur. "Predatory cat?"

"Yeah," Gabrielle watched Xena's hand absently petting the rug. "It was spotted in the hunting grounds several months ago."

"They aren't easy to kill." Xena had hunted the large cats once. It wasn't something she really wanted to repeat.  Several of her hunting party had been killed by the beast before they had finally subdued it.  That pelt had been destroyed in the process. "Especially hard to keep the pelt intact."

"Yeah, I got lucky."  Gabrielle thought about the hunt and how scared she had been.

"You killed it?"  Xena was surprised.  The woman didn't seem to have the....fierceness it would take to kill an animal like this.

"It threatened the Nation."  Gabrielle stated and unfolded the parchment in front of them.

Xena ignored the map, "It threatened the Nation, so you killed it."  Xena couldn't help make the comparison, "I am a threat to the nation." She changed her tone to a teasing lilt. "Are you going to kill me too?"  The shock in Gabrielle's eye's answered but not fully.

"I don't kill people."  It was a flat statement.

"Never?"  Xena was trying to wrap her mind around the concept.

"Never."  Gabrielle confirmed.

To never have killed anyone, what must that feel like?  Xena tried to think back to her childhood.  Before the first battle, when she was happy to hang out with her friends.  'Did I even have friends?'  The Warrior Princess tried to catch the elusive memories of those days to no avail.  'Why can't I remember.'  She shook her head and tried to focus on the map.

It was a shock to see the detailed map before her.  Xena had always assumed the Amazon Nation was quite a bit smaller that what the map indicated.  Each faction was clearly marked with a dark border.  Many had buffer zones between them.  It looked sort of like a mirror that had been shattered and glued back together. The Conqueror quietly studied the map.

"This is how the Nation looked when I first became an amazon."  Gabrielle indicated the individual tribe's territories. "Each faction had their own Queen.  Many times they would fight among each other."  Gabrielle held her breath.  Just showing her the map was risky but telling her the rest would almost be considered treason.  "This is the Nation as it is today."  She turned the parchment over.

Again Xena was shocked, but for a different reason. It was carefully, almost lovingly sketched with the orchards, vineyards, and farms carefully plotted and marked with each individual crop.  Xena was impressed.  "Whoever drew this is an artist."  She stretched out her hand and lightly traced the border of the hunting grounds with her index finger.

A slight smile pulled the corners of Gabrielle's lips, "Thank you."

"You?"  Xena wondered if she would ever cease to be amazed by the woman.

"Yes."  Gabrielle forced herself to breathe. Risking the Nation was hard enough without blacking out in the process.

"You left out the faction borders."  Xena teased. "How will you know who holds what?"  The Conqueror began throwing herself at her door, berating the Warrior Princess in the process. 'I don't
care who holds what you fool.  LOOK AT IT!  I can win.  They will never defeat my army in that terrain.'  She rejoiced when she felt the wood give and continued her assault with renewed energy.

'Breathe, Gabrielle, Breathe.'  " attacking the centaurs....I had just been made Queen of this tribe."  She hesitated.

'That confirms the story Ephiny told back at camp.' Xena nodded, urging her to continue the story.  Ignoring the pounding in her head.

"I.....we....the other queens and I, decided that the only way to win against you, when you came after us,  was to stand together."  Gabrielle saw the confused look on Xena's face and smiled, "It took many months of negotiations but what you see on the map is true.  We are no longer a group of warring factions.  We stand together as one."  Gabrielle looked directly into the widening blue eyes.

"'re......" Xena didn't quite believe what the woman was telling her.  She wasn't sure she trusted her logical powers just now and wanted verification.

"I am not an amazon Queen."  Gabrielle took a deep breath and confirmed. "I am THE Amazon Queen."

The Conqueror threw herself at her prison door once more and was free.  'This is it.  This is the opportunity to take it all.  Cut off the head and the body withers and dies.  All you have to do is kill her and the Amazon Nation is yours.'  'NO, I WON'T LET YOU KILL HER!'  The internal struggle was taking it's toll. Xena's trembling voice sounded strange even to her. "You're taking an awful risk telling me this."  She looked into the trusting, 'Gods..trusting?' green eyes.  Xena locked The Conqueror back in her cell.

The amazon leaned close to the warrior, never breaking eye-contact.  "You won't kill me, Xena." She whispered.

"How do you know?" Xena asked and the The Conqueror sneered.

Breathless words escaped the Queen, "Because I love you."  She closed the distance between them and brushed Xena's lips with her own."and because I think you love me."

The softness of Gabrielle's lips nearly brought Xena to tears. The Conqueror's cell door became steel.  She had lost. Big time. "I think you're right."  When their lips met again, both women thought Zeus had thrown a bolt from above.  Xena struggled to rise to her knees only to have her armor catch on the edge of the fur.

Breaking off the kiss, Gabrielle tried to catch her breath and asked, "Do you really need that armor in here?"

Xena didn't answer, she simply reclaimed the lips she had been denied and simultaneously began undoing the clasps and buckles that held the hateful armor.

The only thing Gabrielle could do to help was lace her fingers behind Xena's neck to hold her in place while she squirmed to undo the final clasp.  They swallowed each others moans as the metal barrier dropped to the floor.

A sudden thought occurred to Xena.  She broke off the kiss, not without protest from the Queen.  "How long until your son brings more wine?"  She didn't want to rush things.  This was too important.  This was NOT a game.

Gabrielle smiled regretfully, "Soon."

Sighing heavily, Xena bent to pickup her armor pieces.  She placed them in the corner with her  weapons.  Glancing back at Gabrielle, she indicated the nearly empty wineskin.  At the Queen's enthusiastic nod, she grabbed their cups and as an afterthought a small loaf of bread and a container of honey from their dinner.

Gabrielle quickly folded the map and replaced it on the desk. "We wouldn't want to spill anything on it."

"Oh, I don't know, " Xena grinned, "Maybe some wine on the vineyards, a little honey dripped on the hives and some bread crumbs on the wheat fields. Then it would taste as good as it looks.  Whadda ya think?"

Xena suddenly found herself being poked in the chest. "You said it was a work of art." The amazon accused playfully.

"So I did."  Xena captured the Queen's hand firmly, "And so it is."  She looked deeply into a sea of green and dropped a kiss into the palm of her new possession, before releasing it.  "Not fair poking me when I only have one hand to defend myself with." She shook the other hand, still holding the desert makings.

"I think you defended yourself fairly well."  She took the wineskin and cups back to the end of the fur.  Settling in almost the exact same spot as before.  She divided the contents of the skin into the cups and handed Xena the one with the larger quantity.

The warrior resumed her position as well and arranged the bread and honey on the fur.  She took the offered cup.  One eyebrow raised at the level of liquid. "Trying to get me drunk?"

"I believe your tolerance for wine is greater than mine." Low chuckles took the royal dignity right out of that statement.

Xena narrowed her eyes at the Queen, "All right.....but if I think for one minute you are trying to take advantage of me....."  She left the threat hanging but in her heart she knew 'I'd love every minute of it.'

Gabrielle laughed, "I would never...." Trying for indignant, not managing the feat.

"Uh huh."  Xena didn't sound convinced.  She broke a piece of the bread from the loaf and drizzled some honey on it.  She tore a small bite from the preparation and offered it to Gabrielle.

The woman leaned forward and took the offering between her teeth. She smiled at the raised eyebrow.  "From that expression it looks like my virtue may be at risk."

"You are a very wise Queen."  Xena reached for her cup, smiling at the blush creeping up the amazon's neck.

Gabrielle cleared her throat. "If that is the case, I think you should know something....."

"What's that?"  Xena took a bite of the honey bread and chewed while waiting for the response.

"I........"  'Gods why is this so hard'  Gabrielle could feel her blush deepening.  "I......."  She heard a faint noise from outside. "I think our wine is here."  Suddenly she was extremely nervous, this did not effect the Nation, this time the danger was to her personally....emotionally.  Now she could only pray to the
Gods that Xena meant what she said earlier.  Gabrielle looked up to see her son standing in the  doorway.  'He needs another haircut.'  She grinned at the first and only Amazon Prince.

He stood motionless in the doorway, stunned was not the word for what he was feeling but it was close.  When Ephiny told him his mother had a guest and that he should take her some wine later, he
hadn't been surprised.  When he found out who the guest was he nearly choked.  The Conqueror, alone with his mother!  It took all of two minutes to find a wineskin and pelt to her hut.  He didn't know what he thought he would see inside but he definitely didn't expect to see the Ruler of the Known World lounging on the floor eating bread and honey. He cleared his throat, "I brought more wine Mother."

Gabrielle gestured for him to bring it and glanced at Xena.  She was staring at the boy so hard Gabrielle could tell it was beginning to frighten him..  She grinned as he circled wide around the warrior, never taking his eyes off of her.  Gabrielle took the wineskin and settled him in the depression formed by her
crossed legs.  She wrapped both arms around him and whispered in his ear.

He relaxed slightly and looked up at her. "Promise?"

Xena found herself on the receiving end of a wide grin, "Promise."  Gabrielle made the affirmation as solemn as possible. She squeezed him tightly and began the introductions, "Honey, this is Xena.  Xena this is my son.... " 'Breathe.' "....Solan."

Xena found herself caught in a flood of memories.  'Gods he looks just like Lyceus.'  It was impossible not to stare at the mother and child in front of her.  She thought she could have watched them all night.  Suddenly the child's expression shifted.  His eyes turned angry.  She flinched and turned away.

Gabrielle saw Xena's flinch and looked down at Solan.  "Hey, what's up?"

"Her army killed Phantes' father, and my father, and my uncle." He was getting angrier by the minute.

Gabrielle hugged him tighter, "Solan, remember what I told you?"

"It was war."  he said reluctantly.

"That's right."  She smoothed the boys hair back from his shoulder and put her chin on it.  "And what have I, and every other warrior in this village, told you about war?"

He let the back of his head rest on her shoulder, "In war, people get killed."

She kissed his cheek, "I think you owe Xena an apology."

"If I 'pologize will you tell a story?"  Solan's eyes twinkled.

"Solan I have a guest.  I can't just leave to go tell a story." Gabrielle was trying desperately to figure a way to grant the child's wish.  It was a rare occasion indeed when she won a battle waged by the youngster.

"I'll bring them here then, please mother."  He grinned and pulled his hero card. "You promised."

"I am sure Xena doesn't want to take time out from negotiations to be invaded by a bunch of amazon children."  Gabrielle was almost to the point no return.  She didn't want to leave Xena alone.  There were too many amazons that would be glad to see her dead.  Neither did she want to subject Xena to 10-12 amazon children all clamoring for a story.

Xena couldn't help be amused at the exchange from mother to son. He was so much like Lyceus it was difficult not to tell him a story herself.  Really the only reason she didn't was the fact that she knew for sure none of the stories she knew were suitable for a child his age.  She decided that the Queen needed help. "Gabrielle."  The warrior's lips quirked at Solan's reaction to that. "Maybe if you just told them a short story with the promise of a longer one later..."  She let her thought trail off.

"Are you sure?"  Gabrielle wasn't sure Xena understood what exactly was going to happen.

"I wouldn't want you to break your promise."  It was important to her that the boy knew promises were something to be kept.

"Well Ok then." Gabrielle relented.  "Go ahead Solan, I'll be ready in a few minutes."  She gave him a fierce motherly hug and sent him out the door.  Her expression softened considerably when she noticed he no longer took the wide way around Xena.  She picked up the wineskin and the desert.  Moving everything back to the corner table, she noticed the weapons and armor. 'How will I handle this?'

Xena was busily pouring molten iron around The Conqueror's door, chanting in a sing song voice,  'My son's alive.  My son's alive.' when she noticed Gabrielle staring at her personal armory.  A flash of empathy possessed her. Her welding task temporarily forgotten she grinned and rose from the fur quietly.

"Gabrielle."  The Queen jumped at the voice so close to her ear. Xena put her hand over the amazon's mouth before she could scream. Her other arm circling in front of the woman's shoulders. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you that badly.  Do you see my point about people sneaking up behind you now?"  The warrior felt Gabrielle's head nod and dropped her hand also circling the woman.  "I won't let the children near my weapons."

Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief.  She leaned back against the warrior's chest, softer now that the armor was gone, and relaxed for a moment in the warmth of her arms.  "Do you want to put them
in the clothes chest?"

"I don't think you have that much room in there" Xena quipped. She reluctantly broke the embrace. "No, I think it would be best if I just stayed over here next to them.  I assume you will gather in front of the fire."  Xena doubted any of the children would come near her, if Solan's initial reaction was anything to
judge by.

Gabrielle nodded.  "Usually, or on the bed. Depending on the number and the season."  The Queen scanned the room once more and looked apologetically at Xena. "I'll be right back."  She crossed
over to the other side of the hearth and went through the narrow door.

Xena understood and waited a little nervously.  It simply hadn't occurred to her earlier but now that the idea was planted in her head the only thing she could think about was how much wine she had been drinking.  She didn't miss the twinkle in the amazon's eyes as she exited the facilities.  Xena grinned and entered the washroom quickly.

The guards were startled when Gabrielle poked her head out the door.  She instructed them to be sure the children were properly subdued.  She commented."I don't want The Conqueror startled.  I would hate to wake the healer at this hour." Both guards understood perfectly.  They were often on duty during a storytelling session.  Gabrielle chuckled as she moved her staffs to the other side of the headboard, out of the path of grabby hands.

"What's up?" Xena shut the narrow door behind her and smiled at the chuckling Queen.

"Just taking some preventative measures."   She tilted her head. 'Not a moment to soon'  "They are coming."

Xena nodded and took her place in the corner.  She grinned and winked at Gabrielle, before crossing her arms over her chest and putting on her best Warrior Princess scowl.

Gabrielle chuckled and shook her head.  She stood between Xena and the door.  Directing the children to the bed.  She grinned when they got their first glimpse of the corner occupant.  Only six others plus Solan and Phantes.  Gabrielle glanced at Xena when Phantes appeared.  She saw the muscles working in the warrior's jaw but otherwise no outward reaction.

She fearlessly positioned herself at the head of the bed, once again placing Solan on her lap.  "My son has reminded me that I promised you a story." She waited for their enthusiasm to subside. "It will have to be a short one...." Their groans of protests were overridden. "....My guest and I have a lot to
discuss."  Gabrielle bit her lip to stop from laughing as every head slowly turned to look at Xena. "She has been gracious enough to allow a short story so everyone thank Xena."

No choir in the Realm was more polished than these eight, six she amended, amazons.  The fact that Solan and Phantes refrained from the thank you pack didn't bother her a bit.  In fact, it probably
would have bothered her if they did say thanks.  Xena nodded her 'Your welcome.' Not trusting herself to speak.  She narrowed her eyes at Gabrielle's wink and simply raised her hand to signal she should continue with the story.

Solan felt the familiar muscle spasms of his mother's laughter. He looked up to ask her what was so funny and he saw her wink. 'She winked!  At her!  What's going on here?'  He had seen Ephiny
and Eponin act this way but his mother had never, not once, been this friendly toward anyone else.    He wasn't sure he liked that narrow eye thing or the way Xena imperiously waved at her.  He
looked over at the corner and gave her a narrow eye look of his own.

Everyone jumped at Micha's squeal.  "You look just like her." Solan did not like being compared to the Conqueror and turned his new found expression on the squealing girl.  To his annoyance all it did was start a round of giggles in the group.  Rolling his eyes he said, "Can we get on with the story now?"

Gabrielle shook him slightly to get his attention. "Remember this the next time you want a story."  She grinned at the prince.

He mumbled grumpily, "She won't be here next time."  He shot a dark glance at the corner.

Xena had heard the mumbled reply and endured the dark look stoically.  She was curious, however, as to what the woman whispered in her son's ear to make his eyes turn thoughtful. She didn't wonder long because as soon as the Queen began to speak she was as caught up as the children were but for an
entirely different reason, at first.   They wanted to hear a story, she wanted to hear that voice.

"This is the story of a day in the life of a little village
girl.  Just for the sake of argument let's say her name is
Gabrielle.  Once when Gabrielle was about five, her parents took
her with them on the merchant's caravan.  One day they stopped
in a small village that was preparing for a festival.  They
needed to set up their tables so a local tavern owner said that
her daughter would be happy to babysit.  Just for the sake of
argument let's say her name was .... Xena."

The girls giggled as the Queen delighted them with the adventures of little Gabrielle and  her sworn protector for the day, Xena.

 continued in part 2