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Disclaimer: The characters all belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal Pictures and Xena Warrior Princess. No copyright infringement is intended. There is absolutely no profit for me in this - I’m just having a good time. Any characters mentioned that are not in the syndicated television show are of my own creation, as is the story line. If you wish to borrow any of them, please let me know.

Content Warning: This story contains references and descriptions of intimate activity. If you do not wish to read about this type of relationship or are under 18, please feel free to go elsewhere.

Violence: Some, not much.

Hurt/Comfort: Yes; appropriate for the story line.

Spoiler Warning: At this point – none.

NOTE: This story follows my on-going fan fiction series, which started with The Mist of Pieria and A Journey of Love and Home. Hope you enjoy!

COMMENTS: I welcome comments and can be reached at

A Bonding of Hearts
By Annmaray
June 1999

Chapter 1

Spitting on the ground outside of the rundown village tavern one man most people would run away from sniffed at the air surrounding the entrance. Obviously this was the tavern his comrade’s spoke of – said it would smell of pigs and sheep and was located on the south end of the Poteidaia. Pushing the door open the man entered the dark tavern pushing past several drunks to get to the bar.

"Who wanted a messenger?"

The barkeep glanced up at the gruff voice questioning him. A tall stranger he did not recognize stood at the bar. His head was shaven and covered with tattoos depicting demons and evil. The barkeep knew better than to anger the stranger. "Yea, the old man down the road about quarter candlemark. Can’t miss it - the crops are all dead and the house smells like sheep and death. The old man’s name is Herodotus."

Not interested in drinking – only in delivering whatever pain possible to Xena, the stranger immediately set out to find the old man and farm of death. Musing to himself, *Umpf...a house that smells like death, I think I’m going to like this job.*

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

Even though Gabrielle tried to smile, her eyes gave way to her sadness and that eventually led to tears. Saying goodbye to Gabrielle was difficult. I tried to convince both of us that it would be best, if she stayed in Amphipolis with mother, Amarice and Teklai to prepare for our upcoming marriage. I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision. I actually had some concern about my mother’s excitement over our upcoming marriage and a part of me feared she would invite the entire village and half of Greece. Gabrielle would prevent that. We both desired a small intimate ceremony. My other reason to keep my soulmate behind was so I could stop in Mavrotha to collect the gift I had commissioned a craftsman to create for her prior to our deaths. I had intended to ask Gabrielle to marry me after her birthday but our world fell apart much too soon. This would be my gift of commitment to her. This would be my symbol to Gabrielle that would represent my belief in our eternal bond, our marriage and most of all our love. My hopes were that she would only need look at it and understand my devotion to her without question. Looking off into the horizon peeking between the trees the Warrior watched the setting sun and left Argo to lead her safely along the mountain pass. *By the gods I miss you Gabrielle, so much.*

The dark-hair Amazon Warrior led the trio composed of herself, Xena and Shulaba into the mountains north of Amphipolis. Although her concentration should have been on the trail, she found her musings wandering to a certain young redhead Amazon. *Hades – this is too hard. I’m better off alone.* Eponin realized during the celebration in Amphipolis that she had falling hard for Amarice and as much as she tried not too, that little vixen managed to worm her way right into this Warrior’s heart. *Who am I trying to fool.......I can’t believe I’m in love with that girl.*

"HELLO UP FRONT – ANYONE AWAKE!!!!!" The Regent dragged both Xena and Eponin from their thoughts.

"What is it Shulaba!" Snapped Eponin and she pulled her mare to a halt. Xena gave Eponin the mare Gabrielle and she purchased for 100 dinars from a blacksmith in Therma. Although the Amazon insisted on paying for the horse Xena refused her offer. The Warrior explained to Eponin that it was a gift – the least she could do for taking care of Argo.

"Don’t get snippy with me Eponin just because you miss Amarice or did you screw that up!" Shulaba led her gray mare forward stopping alongside of both Warriors. "And you – Xena. Snap out of it. I realize you miss your partner but we are moving way too slow. Gabrielle will be an old woman by the time you get back to marry her." Shulaba paused momentarily realizing what she was about to add would cause some teasing and ribbing from her two friends. "And.....I’d like to get back to Teklai before she forgets who I am."

"WHAT???" The two warriors looked at each other and Shulaba could see the huge smirks crossing their faces, as they jerked their heads to peer into the Regents eyes.

*I should have kept my big mouth shut.* Shulaba shook her head and raised her hand to indicate that neither one of them had better start with her. It did not matter......there was no way Xena or Eponin were going to let this rest.

"So, Shulaba....and how long has this relationship been.....uh....let’s just say...." Xena tried hard to find the right words but found laughter interrupting her ability to speak. To make matters worse Eponin was thoroughly enjoying the question Xena was asking.

"Let’s just say – for awhile and leave it at that." The Regent guided her horse in front of her two laughing companions. "Look you two we need to focus on the trip at hand. We are already into the second day and we are behind schedule."

Knowing all too well that Xena was the source behind this journey she spoke up. "I’m sorry, if I’ve been preoccupied and you are right Shulaba. If we push the horses and eat in the saddle, we can make Rhea Pass by nightfall." Without further need for discussion the trio nudged their horses and the pace was increased.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

As the second day came to a close, Cyrene found Gabrielle sitting on the bench in front of the inn gazing at the stars. Tears were noticeable as Cyrene joined her Amazon daughter pulling her into an embrace, which was happily accepted. "You miss her terribly, don’t you?"

Attempting to find her voice was difficult and Cyrene gladly gave her time. "Yes....I never thought it could hurt this much to miss someone."

Cyrene turned to face Gabrielle and lifted her chin. "Honey, she will be back. She loves you so deeply. You’ve had too many losses lately. And it looks to me like you’ve not had very much sleep either." Gabrielle inclined into Cyrene’s arms and her Warrior Mom just held her allowing her the freedom to cry. After awhile Gabrielle seem to calm down. "How would you like a nice hot cup of tea with an old woman like me. Come on, we can talk about the marriage.....I have a few ideas, if you would like to hear them."

The Bard was indeed interested in hearing the innkeeper’s ideas and she also enjoyed spending time with her. A mixture of emotions filled Gabrielle’s heart as she followed the innkeeper. Ever since Cyrene held her a few days ago it has been hard for Gabrielle to be around Xena’s mother without missing her own mom terribly. She realized it would be necessary to travel to Poteidaia and visit her mom’s graveside. However, Gabrielle decided to put it off until she and Xena were married. There was not anything that could be done to bring her mother back to life, therefore Gabrielle hoped not rushing to the grave would give her longer to heal and grieve, thus making the journey easier. In the meantime, she would just have to find a means to enjoy the love Cyrene gave her so willingly and not confuse the innkeeper with her lost mother.

While Cyrene put the hot water on to boil, Gabrielle watch Lila and Amarice along with Cyrene’s two employees waiting on the evening crowd at the inn. Since the celebration the innkeeper discovered a new group of people enjoyed coming to her inn for a meal or drinks. She assumed the presence of the Amazons and especially Gabrielle kept the folks interested. She was very proud of Gabrielle, as the young woman always maintained a décor of respect and kindness to both her patrons and the villagers. After dropping several plates and mugs into the basin to be washed, Amarice came over to join Gabrielle. She saw the young Queen sitting alone and the sadness in her eyes. "Hi, you okay my Queen?"

"Amarice, please call me Gabrielle....especially since I’m not doing anything that requires rank." Patting the seat next to her Amarice joined Gabrielle. "I’m okay Amarice. I’m lonely for Xena. I wish she would have taken me with her." Pausing to reach for the young Amazon’s hand to squeeze, Gabrielle was pleased when Amarice did not pull away. "How are you and Eponin getting along?"

Observing Amarice sitting next to Gabrielle, Cyrene brought along a third cup of tea. The innkeeper was secretly hoping she would talk about Eponin. Everything seemed to remain a mystery regarding their disappearance after the celebration. Evidently neither Xena nor Gabrielle were able to catch one of the women in private to inquire about their relationship. Upon approaching the two lovesick puppies, Cyrene was please to find them gesturing for her to sit with them. She sat in the chair at the head of the table to the left of Gabrielle and immediately reached out to place her free hand over the top of her future daughter-in-law. The beautiful blonde with the ever-changing green eyes lifted her hand and placed a loving kiss on the back and then caressed it against her cheek. *You continually amaze me Gabrielle, it is no small wonder that my daughter is so in love with you.* Cyrene smiled and a tear slipped from her eye. The moment was interrupted, when Uncle Tensandi entering the kitchen in his normal boisterous manner.

" favorite women all sitting together!" Uncle Tensandi plopped himself in the chair opposite the three women.

"What do you need Tensandi?" The innkeeper was not fooled by Tensandi’s charm. She’s known him long enough to understand when he was fishing for a favor or information.

"Now, Cyrene...." Patting her on the shoulder, he realized that this was one sister-in-law he would never be able to fool. "I just wanted to talk about the marriage of your daughter and this gorgeous Amazon Queen sitting across from me."

Gabrielle found herself blushing slightly remembering back to the very bold dance and outfit she wore a few days ago. Now that she thought about it further she was amazed by her own audacity. No wonder her Warrior was so upset. At the time, Gabrielle did not think beyond pleasing anyone else but Xena. While the outfit was indeed a gift from Shulaba, the performance was directed toward her Warrior - just a little harmless flirting and teasing. Obviously the Warrior saw it a bit differently. Smiling to herself Gabrielle lovingly remembered that night, when she gave her Warrior a private performance. Becoming aroused just with the thoughts, Gabrielle recalled how Xena possessed her heart, mind, soul and body that evening. *By the gods I miss you so much my safe and come back soon.*

"Gabrielle....did you hear Uncle Tensandi – isn’t it wonderful!!!!" Knowing full well Gabrielle had drifted off when the old man began speaking, Cyrene could not resist pulling her out of her musings that she assumed by the sensual smile crossing her face were about Xena. Caught not paying attention Gabrielle was at first embarrassed and then thankful when Cyrene bailed her out. "That land is absolutely beautiful and the location is perfect. The mountain range expands from the north and west and the sea is to the southeast. The fields are surrounded by forest and the ground is wonderful for raising and breeding horses. Gabrielle there is a gorgeous waterfall and a stream.....oh and isn’t there already a stone farm house Tensandi?" The old man just laughed and nodded his head. "That land is absolutely the most romantic place you could hope to settle down in and raise a family."

The redhead was not totally clue less to the events that just transpired. She too saw her Queen drift off into memories. "Where is the land located Uncle?" Tensandi had accepted Amarice with open arms as a member of the family. Her spunk and loyalty to both Xena and Gabrielle was a quality he admired in women and men alike. The fact that she was such a cute young thing made him think of the daughter he lost so long ago. Therefore, prior to the celebration he insisted she call him Uncle.

"Well, my sweet Amarice, about three candlemarks north east of here. In fact it is just over the next range." Turning his attention back to Gabrielle. "I hope you will consider accepting this as a wedding gift. I have no need of the land or the house. I remember when Xena was little, she loved that area and use to babble for candlemarks on end how she would love to raise horses." Glancing over to Cyrene the old man flashed a quick smile and wink.

With tears forming in her eyes Gabrielle reached over to hold Uncle Tensandi’s big rough hands. "Your gift is more than I can accept, Uncle. And somehow I’m not sure that Xena and I will ever settle in one place for too long. Nor do I think we will ever have......children." Gabrielle discovered she was becoming overwhelmed with the amount of love and support both her and Xena were receiving. She only wished it could have been this way with her own family. *Thank the gods at least Lila remained supportive.*

Happily standing Tensandi slammed his hands on the table. "Nonsense my little Amazon Queen. The land is yours and Xena’s. Please do not refuse an old man like me." Gabrielle stood up and went into Uncle Tensandi’s waiting arms to thank him. She was not so sure Xena would be pleased with this but she refused to hurt this man’s feelings. Tensandi quickly hugged the young woman and left waving goodbye.

Cyrene turned her attention to Amarice to get the subject off of the land Tensandi just gave away. She heard loudly Gabrielle’s sadness over not settling in one place, as well as her comment regarding children. " why don’t you share with this old woman how the mighty Eponin is doing?"

Amarice shook her head and leaned back in her chair. "Are all the bets in yet?"

Both women replied in unison, "Yessssssss."

The young Amazon stood, walked out to the bar and came back with a bottle of port. Cyrene was quick and had three mugs ready to be filled. "Are we celebrating?" Gabrielle questioned. She did not really want to drink the port. She found it bitter and it always gave her a terrible headache but she also did not want to hurt Amarice’s feelings, as it appeared she might have something to celebrate.

"Well, yes and no." The young Amazon sat down across from Gabrielle with Cyrene to her right. "First the bet was that I could get Eponin to kiss me. Right?"

The innkeeper enjoyed these ‘Amazon’ bets and the women always included her in on as many as possible, especially when she knew the women the bets were about. She had won the bet over her daughter and Gabrielle in spite of the protests from the Amazons that she was privileged to information that none of them had, thus giving Cyrene better odds. But it was all done in good fun and the innkeeper thought she would stand a good chance at winning this bet too. "Now – Amarice, the kiss had to be intimate."

"Yea..yea, I know." Amarice took several sips of her port. "Well – she did not kiss me yet, but she was nice to me and she held my hand on the way back to Amphipolis."

Gabrielle and Cyrene were screaming and giggling, squirming around in their seats and begging for the details. They both started firing questions at Amarice so fast she could not hear any of them. The words sounded like a bunch of jumbled up phrases and squeals. Without realizing it all three lifted their mugs in a toast and guzzled down the port. Gabrielle immediately regretted her actions but refused to spoil the moment for Amarice. She remembered all too well the first time Xena held her hand. These thoughts caused both a smile and a few tears. "Amarice, can you tell us what happened? You and Eponin were gone a long time." The Bard was happy for the young redhead and decided she would probably cry the entire time Xena was gone, so she may as well get use to it.

Her tears did not go unnoticed by Cyrene or Amarice. "You okay, Gabrielle?" The young Amazon grew very fond of her Queen and hated to see her so sad. Too much had happened to her and Amarice was angry over most of it. When Gabrielle nodded her head to indicate she would be fine, the young Amazon explained. "It started after the situation with Stella and Pippa. Anyway, I was drinking some ale with a bunch of the local girls and one of them gave me big old hug and kiss right on the lips. She did not mean anything by it. We were just laughing and telling stories and this girl had too much ale. Well, apparently that big old warrior was watching. She came out of no where and pulled that girl by the hair to move her away from me. Then she asked if I’d like to go for a walk. And that is all we did."

"Well where did you go and when did she take your hand?" The innkeeper was now pouring a third mug of port for herself and Amarice. She realized Gabrielle had not yet finished her second and decided not to push her.

"We walked up and down the shoreline, climbing the rocks and kicking sand. That was it. We sat under the stars, told stories and that was about it. Somewhere along the way we both fell asleep lying on the beach. The sunrise woke us both. As I was standing up she offered me her hand. I accepted figuring she would let go when I was standing........well she never let go until we got outside of the village."

The three women continued talking of love and crying over love until the early hours of the morning.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

Herodotus’ orders were simple. Deliver the message to Amphipolis to a woman named Gabrielle. He could find her at an inn owned by a woman named Cyrene. Once he delivered his message the man would only need to sit back and watch the pain ferment in Xena until she erupted. The messenger was not to touch or harm Gabrielle but he could do whatever he pleased to the Warrior Princess.

Before the messenger mounted a second horse on the journey from Poteidaia to Amphipolis he made sure he lifted the dinars from the man he killed in order to take the horse. Driving his own horse to exhaustion he rode it until it died underneath him. With the parchment containing a message he could not read stuffed into his shirt, he really did not give a Tartarus what this old man Herodotus wanted. He would do as he pleased. Absolutely no one gave him orders. As he pushed this second horse through the night, his thoughts turned to his plans in destroying the Warrior Princess. This was his opportunity to step up in rank among his comrades, which were nothing more than a renegade band of assassins. As long as he did not stop to rest, the tattooed man knew he would arrive in Amphipolis by midday tomorrow.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

That second night Xena and her companions camped along Rhea Pass. All were exhausted from pushing the horses in order to make up for loss time. No one was in the mood to talk and as each warrior attempted to find some comfort on the hard ground, the stars filled the sky. Sleep soon overtook the Regent and Eponin. Left alone with her thoughts and the stars Xena could think of no one else but Gabrielle. Her thoughts brought her back to the last time they were separated. Her obsession with Caesar cost her Gabrielle’s life, as well as her own. An owl hooting off in the forest reminded her of Artemis and she wondered if the goddess was close by. Sitting on the blanket Xena scanned the camp perimeter looking one last time for any signs of disturbance. Satisfied there was absolutely nothing out there but small forest creatures she laid down. Fondly Xena remembered how Ephiny appeared to them as a doe and she wondered how many other small animals out there were really spirits acting as guardians. All of these musings brought the Warrior full circle and she once again focused on the love one young woman had for her. *How I love you my Bard. I can’t believe how being around you has changed me in so many ways. Your light has been such a wonder for me.* From deep within she remembered Carrier’s words. ‘There is a place within both of you, which holds love, truth, light and peace. This bonds you not be afraid of being either weak or strong.’ How true the apparition’s words were for Xena. Rolling on her side the Warrior felt a slight chill invade her body. Tugging the blanket over her shoulder she missed the warmth and love of Gabrielle. Several tears burned hot in her eyes. *Be safe my safe.*

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

Hercules and Iolaus were camping for the night on the beach outside of Iraklio. They elected to camp on the beach rather than in the village in order to save dinars.

"I still can’t believe Gabrielle agreed to marry Xena."

"Iolaus – why. She is in love with Xena. You jealous?" Hercules was not at all surprised to receive the message from Cyrene that indicated the two men should come to Amphipolis. Cyrene realized the men would not be able to make the village celebration but she indicated that her daughter and Gabrielle would be married before the next moon. So she encouraged them to come.

"No I’m not jealous. Just...just surprised." The husky blond sidekick threw a few more sticks on the campfire and sat on the sand.

Hercules was rather surprised at his friend’s reaction. "Why, because they are women."

"Herc – I can’t believe you would think something like that would bother me. Actually my concern was because Xena is...well a warrior and Gabrielle is a bard. Hardly compatible."

The son of Zeus laughed at his friends reasoning. "Look Iolaus, from what I heard Gabrielle was an excellent warrior and took out a number of Romans to protect Xena."

For several more candlemarks the two friends chatted back and forth about a mixed marriage between a warrior and a bard. Hercules finally gave up and fell asleep. His buddy was just too old fashion.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

Mavrotha was a small village nestled tightly in the mountains north of Amphipolis. It boasted of craftsmen and proved to have some of the best in all of Greece. The winter seasons were cruel for this village and the residents depended greatly on the trade during the warmer seasons in order to purchase food and supplies to last the cold snowfalls. There were many periods when Rhea Pass was covered with avalanches caused by ice and snow. Shulaba elected to secure them a room at the local inn while Eponin stabled the horses and Xena proceeded to find the craftsman and take possession of her gift. The women would only stay the night and head out at first light for the temple. The Warrior estimated it would take at least one full day to get there and hopefully talking the priest into performing the marriage would be easy. If he refused, Xena did not know what she would do. She tried to be positive and assumed the priest would agree. Because he was an old man, the Warrior realized they could not travel as fast back to Amphipolis and the journey might take another four days. *I miss you Gabrielle. Never again will I leave you for so long.*

The shop the Warrior headed for belonged to an old man named Mikos. The man came highly recommended for the quality of his work, as well as the fairness of his prices and the honesty of how he obtained the gems, stones and other material he worked with. Mikos refused to deal with stolen goods or pirates. The traders and craftsmen he ordered and purchased his material from had to prove their honesty to this man. Many times Mikos would travel abroad to procure his supplies.

The Warrior saved dinars for over eight moons to purchase this gift. Xena insisted on paying up front when ordering the gift for Gabrielle. The craftsman was hesitant to accept her dinars but Xena convinced him otherwise. She did not want to carry that many dinars around and continue to hide them from Gabrielle. Mikos was impressed with her level of trust for a stranger and thus swore allegiance to Xena. He would craft the gift and keep it until she returned for it. As he sat on his stool with a chisel in his hand, the old man would twitched his gray mustache back and forth hiding the small grin crossing his lips, as he watched the Warrior enter his shop. " is good to see you."

"Mikos, I’ve come for Gabrielle’s gift. Sorry it took so long...I was delayed."

"Mmmm, yes so I’ve heard." Mikos like all of Greece heard of Xena’s death and sudden rebirth. He admired this warrior woman and was pleased that she would chose him above all other craftsmen in Greece to create a gift for the one she loved so deeply. "Your gift is ready my friend." The Warrior followed Mikos to his back room where he kept a strong box under a hidden board.

Within a moment the box was sitting on a table and out of the box the craftsman pulled a leather pouch. The Warrior accepted the pouch, pulled the leather ties to open it and emptied the content into her hand. " the gods, it is beautiful. I don’t know what to say.....can I pay you more?"

The old craftsman laughed and patted the Warrior on the back. "No Xena. Please – I enjoyed creating it for you. Your young woman I’m sure will love it."

Holding the ring to the light shining through the window the Warrior was indeed pleased. "Yes Mikos, yes I think she will....I think she will." The band was pure silver and recessed with an inlay of gold. The front part of the band contained one gem, a blue sapphire surrounded on two sides by pearls. On the inside of the band the words ‘Hold My Heart’ were engraved. The ring was absolutely everything Xena had hoped it would be. The Warrior placed the ring back in the pouch and slid it between her breasts for safekeeping. Patting Mikos on the shoulder the Warrior gave him her best smile. "Thank you my friend."

"Good luck Warrior." And with that Mikos went back to his stool and chisel to complete his current project.

Eponin met Xena on the way back to the inn. "Well, you going to show me what you got for Gabrielle?"

The Warrior raised her eyebrows and smirked at her Amazon friend. "Nope – I want Gabrielle to be the first to see it."

"You mean you’re not going to even show it to your mother!"

"That’s right. She has to wait just like everyone else." The Warrior slapped her friend on the back, as they walked to the inn. "You may want to consider Mikos, when you need to give Amarice a gift."

The two friends spoke of love on the way toward the inn. Eponin was having difficulty surrendering to Amarice completely and the Warrior assured her that surrendering was not all that bad. At the inn, Shulaba already had a table with hot food and three mugs of ale waiting. As the three women enjoyed the food, drink and company they continued conversing of love. The Regent finally shared that while Teklai and her grew up together they did not really find a romantic interest in each other until after Ephiny died. As the evening came to a close, both Eponin and Shulaba looked to Xena for some advice.

"Come on Xena, you’ve been doing this love-relationship thing longer. What is the secret – what can I tell Amarice to make her happy." The Amazon was rather serious in her question. The longer she was away from the redhead the more concerned she became that she did not at least kiss her before leaving. "What if she finds someone else while I’m gone??"

Leaning her chair up against the wall the Warrior took a sip of her ale before answering. "Well, you got to tell her you love her. That is a must. Then of course, you better kiss her, when you see her again." Xena pointed her finger directly at Eponin and then Shulaba. "And I mean really kiss her. Take her in your arms, but move slowly and be gentle. Just brush her lips lightly before taking them completely. Maybe let your tongue caress her lips a bit. If she got her." Laying her head up against the wall Xena thought about her love for Gabrielle. "Oh yea...and talk mushy. Not a lot, just a little bit every now and then."

"Yea, well what about talking – you know sharing your feelings." Shulaba was having a hard time sharing her emotions and she figured Eponin was also.

"That’s tough." Resting her chair back on the floor Xena finished her ale. "If it is in your heart and she is standing in front of you – well, let your heart talk. I use to be afraid Gabrielle would laugh at me or think I was weak. But I was wrong. I actually became a better warrior and a stronger warrior. And I make Gabrielle happy, when I tell her what is deep inside of me."

For another candlemark the three friends shared their hopes and fears with one another. How people change, when love becomes the most important thing in the world.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

The sun peeked through the window shining unkindly into Cyrene’s eyes. Disrupted by the bright light she rolled over only to feel a slight pounding in her head. Suddenly startled by the presence of another body, the innkeeper pulled the covers back to see the tousled blonde hair. Memories of the last night flooded back. Gabrielle decided to go to bed before Amarice and the innkeeper. When Cyrene finally dragged herself toward her bedroom she spotted Gabrielle in the rocking chair by the fireplace. Unable to sleep for a number of reasons Cyrene smiled and ran her fingers through the soft blonde hair remembering Gabrielle’s’ words to her. "I dream too much...mixed up crazy dreams, I have a headache from the port, I’m lonely – I can’t seem to sleep well without her." I offered Gabrielle my hand and demanded that she spend the night with me.

A knock on the door disrupted Cyrene’s thoughts and she assumed Lila was on the other side. "Yes, come in Lila." The young brunette peeked into the bedroom before entering. She had a huge smile on her face and seemed happier than she had been for some time.

"Morning – oh hi Gabby." Lila’s knocking awoke Gabrielle who bolted upright slightly disoriented. Realizing where she was the Bard fell back to the pillow and smiled. "It’s almost midday and it is beautiful outside. Teklai was looking for everyone so I thought I would wake you."

Cyrene jumped from bed too quickly for her throbbing head. Groaning horribly she held it between her hands to stop the spinning. "Okay...Lila, thank you. I’ll be right there." Turning to Gabrielle, she requested. "Next time you see me drink that much port – stop me – please!"

Pushing with her hands to sit upright, the Bard slid her legs off the bed and planted her feet firmly to the floor. Looking towards Cyrene with a grin Gabrielle slowly rose to a standing position. "Here is the trick mom – move slower."

"Oh, very funny, my dear."

Gabrielle walked over and gave Cyrene a kiss on the forehead. Continually amazed how much this woman loved her and supported her she wrapped her arms around the innkeeper giving her a hug. "Thank you for last night. I really love" Attempting to smile the innkeeper waved her hand in the air motioning that she understood. Her head just hurt too much to talk. Gabrielle backed away but not before whispering. "I’m going to bathe, I’ll have Lila heat up some tea for you."

The Bard eventually joined Teklai, Cyrene and Amarice of which the latter two were both suffering from too much port. "Gee, my Queen what did you do to them?" Finding it humorous only because it did not affect her as badly and they both looked so ridiculously sad with their droopy faces the Bard just shrugged her shoulder and continued sipping her tea.

Lila rushed into the kitchen - fear was obvious in her face and all four women jumped to their feet. Hangovers were suddenly unimportant. "Gabby....there...there is a man out there and he asked to see only you."

Teklai stood protectively in front of her Queen. Placing her hand on the Amazon’s shoulder Gabrielle had a calming affect on her. "Lila what does this man want?"

Her sister was trembling slightly and Cyrene moved over to hold the young woman. "He says he has a message and will deliver it only to you."

Maybe it was because she felt safe in Cyrene’s home or possibly because Teklai and Amarice were there to protect her. Either way, she did not give thought of a messenger as someone who could be harmful. Yet, Lila seemed fearful of the stranger. "Oh no......." Gabrielle’s thoughts immediately turned to Xena. Fear overrode her common sense and she pushed passed Lila and Cyrene to the main room. Her concern that something may have happened to Xena erased all fear she should have felt around this messenger. Approaching the man directly she abruptly questioned. "What do you want?"

The messenger was taken back slightly at the boldness of the young blonde standing only a few steps away. After seeing this young beauty his only regret was that he would not have the opportunity to rape her first. "Are you Gabrielle?"

"Yes." The Bard began to notice how filthy the man was. He smelled foul and his body and clothing appeared stained with blood and dirt. A sword was strapped to his back and his belt held a dagger.

"I have a message for you." He handed Gabrielle the folded up parchment.

Gabrielle opened the parchment to read the message. Cyrene, Lila, the Amazons and even the few patrons seated around the main room watched in horror at Gabrielle without warning collapsed to her knees crushing the parchment in her hands. Arching her back directing her closed eyes toward the ceiling Gabrielle began repeatedly screaming ‘no’ in agonizing pain at the top of her lungs. Tears streamed down her cheeks and her body recoiled into a ball on the floor. Everything happened too fast.

Abruptly and aggressively the messenger pulled his sword from his sheath and with three steps he held it posed and ready to lunge into Gabrielle’s back through her shoulder blades. Amarice’s reflexes were quick, as she picked up a chair and threw it at the man. The chair hit the sword causing him to drop it while forcing the man back several steps. The distraction was just enough to direct his attention at his assailant, which gave the Bard the time she needed. The messenger was an experienced killer and therefore quickly regrouped. Replacing his empty sword hand with the dagger from his belt.

Before anyone else could react, the young Amazon Queen from her position on the floor rolled forward crossing over the sword grasping it in her right hand, as she passed it. Coming up to her knees and with pure rage masking her fear she plunged the sword up through the messenger’s lower torso into his stomach and up through his chest. Shock raced through the killer causing his adrenaline to rise and he swung up and out cutting his attacker across the upper arm, as the sword was entering his body. Screaming in terror Gabrielle pushed the sword through until it would move no more. This motion propelled her to stand. With her hands still clutching the grip she continued to push upward demanding the blade to do more. Teklai was the first to reach her Queen and from the side pried her hands away and pulled her back. In uncontrollable anger and strength Gabrielle turned around punching Teklai in the jaw sending her over two tables and several chairs. Spinning back around to face the stranger who was now on his knees, Gabrielle side kicked the butt end of the sword protruding from the body causing the already dead man to fall to his side. Amarice stepped up to face her Queen and was forcefully shoved aside. Terror, concern and love caused Cyrene to move between Gabrielle and the dead man. The shock of Cyrene backhanding her across the face with such brut force confused Gabrielle ripping her from the fury that had a hold over her. Tears immediately clouded her vision and she placed her hands out to stop everyone from coming near her. Mumbling words of apologies she ran from the inn. She knew the way of peace was one she would never follow again and this terrified her.

It was impossible for anyone near the inn not to miss the adversity. Many villagers heard the fighting and screaming of more than just Gabrielle’s voice. Uncle Tensandi saw the man pass his shop and stood by the window watching his direction. When he entered the inn Tensandi sensed danger so he picked up his sword, as he went out the door. Cursing himself for not reacting quicker, Tensandi was almost to the door of the inn, when the Amazon Queen came racing outside. Clearly visible was the blood dripping from her arm. As he got closer, he noticed the blood splattered over her clothing and hands. Dropping his sword the big man grabbed her by the lower arms close to the elbows to stop her retreat. "Gabrielle, slow down. What is going on.........hey...stop it." Gabrielle was attempting to fight him in an effort to get away. Realizing he could not let her run Tensandi grabbed her arms pinning them behind her back while pulling her tight to his large frame. He had to get her attention and rationalized that forcefully restraining her would help.

Amarice yelled at Tensandi to let Gabrielle go before he hurt her more than she already was. Cyrene knew better. She knew that if Gabrielle were not stopped, she would either hurt herself or become the monster she once watched Xena become. "NO - hang on to her Tensandi. She must calm down." With the crumpled up parchment in her grasp she reached her trembling hand out to Amarice indicating she should read it. Teklai and Lila moved next to Amarice so the three of them could read the message. It smelled of ale and sweat and the words were calculating and cruel. ‘My dearest Gabrielle, I know you believe you are my daughter – you are not. You belong to another. How does it feel to murder your mother?’ It was simply signed, Herodotus.

"By the gods......" Teklai rubbed her jaw where Gabrielle punched her. "No wonder she went crazy."

The innkeeper wiped her tears away and stepped up next to Tensandi and Gabrielle. Taking several deep breaths she spoke to Gabrielle in a low soothing voice. "Gabrielle....can you hear me?" Cyrene ran her fingers across the young woman’s cheek wiping away the tears and hoping the touch would get her attention. She was still struggling to free herself, however her strength was waning. How she wished Xena were here. "Sweetheart please look at me.....we can get through this." Sliding around behind the distraught woman Cyrene clutched Gabrielle’s hands while Tensandi still had her arms pinned. The innkeeper pressed her small frame close to the back of Gabrielle. Looking directly at Tensandi she nodded her head and he slowly released his hold and slid his arms away from the Bard.

A tender voice managed to permeate her mind and soon reached her heart. The struggle stopped, when Gabrielle realized it was a friendly voice she was hearing and not the monster within her. As she became slowly aware of her surroundings, Gabrielle felt someone holding her hands firmly yet gently. Circling around to face Gabrielle, the innkeeper released her grip. Feeling like her world had just crumbled under her, Gabrielle was seriously afraid – she could not remember immediately where she was or what she was doing. Lowering her gaze to the ground Gabrielle felt the warm hands of unconditional love lift her head, wipe her tears and place a gentle kiss on her quivering lips. Words came from the older woman standing in front of her and at first they were difficult to hear. Trying her best to focus on the soft eyes in front of her, the words suddenly had sound to them and they were loving, caring and protective. Gabrielle could feel her legs giving way and before she lost consciousness the young woman could feel many hands and arms surrounding her to prevent her fall.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

Just after midday, the Warrior felt an unusual ache throughout her body. Stopping Argo, she slid off to stretch her muscles and attempted to look at her left arm. "What’s wrong Xena?"

"Mmpf....I don’t know Shulaba. Just all of a sudden I felt really achy and my left arm is sore. I must have slept wrong or something. Don’t remember feeling like this earlier."

Eponin dismounted and suggested they walk for awhile. It was possible that Xena’s muscles just cramped up and the walk might loosen them for her. The Warrior agreed, however, something else was wrong and she could not quite decide what it was.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

"Why do you spirits insist on disturbing me, when I am in prayer?" The old temple priest who was kneeling in prayer sat back on his heels. "Well, don’t just stand there looking at me like I’m some old crazy fool, help me up."

Ephiny moved swiftly to assist Iason to his feet. "Sorry Iason, I’m here to take you to.......hey wait - how do you know I’m a spirit?"

Walking away from Ephiny to the altar, Iason bent over to kiss the top of the altar. "I know many things Amazon and I know you are Ephiny the Amazon Regent. I know I am to perform a marriage – among other small favors."

"Yea, well there is also a small problem, so I am taking you......wait one candledrip." Ephiny placed her hands on her hips, as if she was just taken on a bad bet. "How did you know who I am and about the marriage?."

Iason turned to face the Amazon spirit. "What, you think only gods and spirits know things!!!!" Closing the distance between himself and Ephiny, the old man poked her in the shoulder. "You my new spirit have a lot to learn. Call it a mystic-priesthood thing. I’m old, older than you think Amazon."

Not sure she really wanted to know the whole story, as she was still trying to get use to this ‘what you can do and can’t do’ spirit world, Ephiny decided to accept the priest, as he appeared. "Okay, well I still have to get you to...."

"Mavrotha. Yes, I know that your Queen is injured." Iason walked over to his pallet located on the side of the small temple he was caretaker of and grabbed a small satchel and his staff.

" need to help Gabrielle. I’m taking you to Amphipolis."

"Hmmm, and did you make this decision all on your own?"

The Regent realized she was taking a chance by going against Artemis instructions to bring the old priest to meet up with Xena. Her hopes were that this old man might be able to help Gabrielle. "Iason, please. Gabrielle is hurt.......and she killed a man. She moved from her path."

The old priest stood in front of Ephiny. "Let’s go Ephiny. I must trade places with the Queen’s Warrior Princess. You will take Xena back to Amphipolis." Iason placed his hand on the Regent’s shoulder and smiled. "You must remember and learn that everyone falls from their path. Do not be so sure that this kill was not meant to be. I will explain on the way."

The Amazon was somewhat puzzled by the old man’s words but accepted them for now. She was slightly nervous, as this would be the first time Artemis gave her permission to physically transport someone through the ethereal plain from one location to the next. Iason superior ‘know everything attitude’ wasn’t helping matters any. "What is wrong Ephiny? First time? Figures, Artemis and Aphrodite send me an amateur."

"Now wait just one...."

Before Ephiny could object any further the old priest flashed a big smile at her. "Hold my staff Ephiny, I’ll show you how this is done." As the two disappeared from the temple grounds, Iason’s laughter hung in the stale air of the temple.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

It was early evening by the time Xena, Eponin and Shulaba arrived at a particularly dangerous section of the mountain pass on their way to the temple. The trio agreed to camp for the night once they crossed over this section. A steep bend in the trail would allow only one person and horse to walk through. Xena led the way and cautiously followed the trail only to find an old man stood in their way. He appeared to be totally oblivious to their presence – lost in a trance or prayer. "Old man, are you hurt or lost?"

The old man looked up from his prayer and smiled at the Warrior. "No, I am not lost or hurt. You must be Xena. I am waiting for you."

Shaking her head Xena glanced back at her companions who both shrugged their heads. Looking back to the old man she walked closer. "Do I know you old man?"

"The name is Iason – not old man." The priest adjusted his posture to lean more on his staff. "I believe you need someone to marry you to a pretty young woman – Gabrielle isn’t it?"

As soon as the man said his name, Xena recognized that this was Aphrodite’s old temple priest. "Yes...but I thought we were....and how did you get here......and how...."

"You Warriors and Amazons are all alike. Interrupt when a man tries to pray and can never seem to get a complete sentence out." Suddenly with a wave of his arm Ephiny appeared from nothing. By now Eponin and Shulaba had abandoned their horses to squeeze in behind Xena. This was the first time Shulaba had seen Ephiny’s spirit form since her death. With her hands covering her mouth in a mixture of excitement and sadness over the memories she held from the Regent’s death, Shulaba found tears running down her face.

The three women greeted Ephiny but Iason interrupted them all before they could enter into any type of conversation. "You women are wasting time. Warrior, I will take your place on that huge horse and you will go with this arrogant curly hair Amazon."

"I don’t think I’ll be trading places with anyone without some explanation." The Warrior stood firm and crossed her arms indicating she was determined to stand her ground until someone could give her a good reason to do different.

Iason moved closely to Xena and peered right into her eyes. "Feeling a bit stiff? Does your arm hurt? Oh and how is your jaw?" He raised his hand indicating she should not bother to answer and backed away. "There is a reason why you feel that ache in your body. You have a soulmate.....and your bond amazes even me. Now you will not ask me anymore questions." The old priest motioned for Ephiny to step forward. "The Amazon will transport you to your soulmate and she will explain on the way."

Eponin interjected. "Can you do that Ephiny......transport people?"

Laughter from the old priest filled the air. "Yes, she can at least get the Warrior closer than she is now."

Without warning Ephiny reached over and grabbed onto Xena’s arm. A light surrounded the couple and just before they vanished, Ephiny stuck her tongue out at the old priest. This brought laugher to Eponin and Shulaba. Iason shook his head and questioned the two Amazons not really anticipating an answer. "Was she always this disrespectful and rebellious?" Both women continued laughing and decided this was going to be an interesting return trip to Amphipolis.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

The day of Gabrielle’s battle with the messenger passed quickly. It was well into the evening before she regained consciousness. Loyal friends stood by her during the day. These were the people who were now her family. Each took turns waiting by her side so she would not awaken to an empty room. As they cared for Gabrielle, she appeared to have several disturbing dreams and both Xena and her mother’s names were mentioned. Cyrene and Lila washed the blood from her body and destroyed the blue tunic Gabrielle had been wearing that day. Lila cleaned Gabrielle’s boots and both women washed the blood from her hair. Amarice and Teklai helped Uncle Tensandi and several men bury the body and clean the main room bringing it back to its original appearance before the conflict. The old healer, Memnos, treated her injuries of which the worse was the dagger cut on her upper left arm just below the shoulder. It took five stitches on the muscle and eleven smaller stitches to close the skin to Memnos satisfaction. Gabrielle would regain full use but it would hurt for sometime. Memnos was pleased that he managed to treat the wound before infection had an opportunity to set in. Other injuries consisted of a bruised cheek and jaw where Cyrene backhanded her and several bruised fingers, as a result her punching Teklai. The young woman also suffered with numerous bruises along her arms, breasts and ribs from the force Uncle Tensandi used, as he attempted to restrain her. Had she ceased her struggle the bruising would have been minimal, if any. Either way the old healer informed the women that Gabrielle would hurt for awhile. Before she could properly focus her eyes she sensed the presence of someone leaning over her and heard the gentle voice of the woman who she knew loved and cared for her. "Gabrielle, can you hear me....try and open your eyes, I want you to drink this."

Forcing her eyes open Gabrielle found Cyrene partially supporting her from behind so she could tilt her head enough to drink whatever it was the innkeeper requested. Immediately Gabrielle could taste the warm tea flavored with honey to mask the slight bitterness of what she assumed with some type of drug. The innkeeper released her hold so the Bard could lay her head back on the pillow. The sensation of Cyrene’s fingers gently running through her bangs and hair was extremely comforting to the young woman. Although she said nothing, Gabrielle could see the worry, as well as the love in her Warrior Mom’s eyes. Slowly the memories of what happened with the messenger came back and the more mentally aware Gabrielle became, the more the injuries she sustained started to hurt. Whatever drug was in her tea thankfully took control and as she began to slip into a state of rest, Gabrielle desperately needed to talk with Cyrene. Very faintly the words came. "I’m...I am so sorry.... I..."

Before she could finish her words Gabrielle heard her Warrior Mom reply. "Ssshhh, it is okay Gabrielle. Everything will be fine. You are safe and we all love you.....just rest, we can talk later."

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

Transporting humans from one place to another was a bit more complex than Ephiny originally thought. She decided she might owe Iason an apology. While she had been trained properly and learned quickly the spirit Regent realized it required a great deal of strength. Transporting Iason was not as difficult because he was not totally what people thought he was – therefore he helped Ephiny. But Xena was another matter entirely. She had managed to explain the events that took place with Gabrielle, including her injuries and her kill. As anticipated, Xena became extremely enraged at Gabrielle’s father and the messenger who tried to kill her soulmate. These emotions then mixed with guilt for not protecting Gabrielle and surprise that it was her Bard who killed first in this new life. Sadness followed close behind over the pain, loss and guilt her soulmate must be going through. All of these factored into Ephiny’s ability to transport the Warrior. The more a human struggled emotionally, the more strength it required of the spirit moving the person between the invisible lines of time and space.

Unable to take Xena all the way to Amphipolis, Ephiny settled both herself and the Warrior in a field approximately two candlemarks northwest of Amphipolis. A lone horse without saddle or rein was racing through the field. It was a beautiful chestnut mare. The Warrior was amazed at the beauty, grace and strength this young horse displayed. Without words or gestures the mare settled and walked directly to Xena, lowering its head and nudging her shoulder.

"Xena, the horse is yours to take and keep. Consider it a wedding gift from Hermes. Now go – take care of Gabrielle. The old priest will see to it that Eponin and Shulaba return safely."

With amazing strength Xena vaulted on the horse and grabbed the mane. Quickly she thanked Ephiny and kicked the horse commanding it into a gallop. As the spirit Regent watched her friend disappear, Artemis appeared by her side. Placing her arm around the Regent’s shoulder the Goddess helped her student regain her strength.

Ephiny smiled at Artemis. "What my Goddess are you training me for?"

The Goddess of the Amazons let a proud smile cross her face. "When the time is right. You will know."

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

Chapter 2

Cleaning and changing the Bard’s injured arm was just enough of a disturbance to wake her up. Gabrielle found her eyes staring into the healer. He wanted to change the bandages and check for infection before he turned in for the night. While her arm had been warm and at other times hot to the touch no real infection seem to set in. Well aware of the green eyes watching him, the older healer smiled. "How are you feeling Gabrielle?"

Attempting to find her voice was a bit of a strain. "I’m okay....sore." Gabrielle turned her head to look away and saw the woman sworn to protect her and the friend she had punched. The bruise on her cheek was very obvious. "Oh...gods, I’m so sorry Teklai. I never meant to hurt you."

"My Queen – you pack quite a punch. I’m actually proud of your strength and ability." Teklai flashed a lopsided grin. "Hey...I understand, it’s okay. Just get well, my Queen."

"Memnos, I want to get up." The old healer could not resist those sad green eyes and agreed, only if Gabrielle followed his terms and conditions. Memnos asked Teklai to get Cyrene.

By the time the innkeeper entered the bedroom Gabrielle was sitting on the edge of the bed. Amarice and Lila followed Cyrene and the Bard’s questioning green eyes immediately drew attention. Wasting no time, Cyrene sat on the bed next to the young blonde and cautiously draped her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder. "So, you want to move around a bit?" The innkeeper looked to Memnos for an answer.

"You really need to rest Gabrielle but I suppose it is okay if you try to walk. For some unknown reasons you are healing at a rate much faster than you should be." Pointing his finger directly at her the healer added. "But only to the outhouse and the kitchen. Maybe the walk will help ease the stiffness and a cup of hot tea will do you some good and try to eat – it will help you build your strength back." With instructions to wake him if needed, the old healer bid goodnight to the women and left the inn destined for his home and a warm bed.

"I’m sorry for everything." Gabrielle looked directly at Cyrene, Amarice, Lila and Teklai. "I just don’t know why I....I should know better and....oh gods...please forgive me." The four women reassured Gabrielle over and over that she had nothing what so ever to feel sorry or bad about. The important thing would be that she heals.

Cyrene and Lila helped Gabrielle into a soft clean nightshirt, brushed her hair and led her to the outhouse and then the kitchen. It fatigued her somewhat but she insisted on continuing. Cyrene could tell the young woman was in pain, however, she denied it, when asked. Teklai brought the big rocking chair from the main dining room and placed it near the fireplace in the kitchen. Cyrene ordered the inn to close for the night. The evening meals were well over with for Cyrene’s customers and she did not wish for any distractions or prying eyes from the drinking patrons for the village gossip circle. Cyrene was pleased that her customers accepted her early closing and left quietly. Teklai reheated some lamb stew for Gabrielle, as well as a cup of hot tea. Lila placed fresh sheets and blankets on Gabrielle’s bed. The young redhead scooted a chair next to her Queen. Gabrielle reached for her hand which Amarice willing gave her. Together the two friends sat without conversation until Teklai brought them each a cup of tea. After accepting the tea Gabrielle looked at her young redheaded friend. "Thank you Amarice for throwing that chair. I...I owe you my life, do you realize that?"

Amarice did not think of it in those terms. After the incident, Cyrene and Teklai pointed out that her quick reflexes saved Gabrielle. The young feisty Amazon could only remember how she failed to protect her Queen from Caesar. "My Queen, I did not do enough and I am sorry."

Placing her mug of tea on the floor, Gabrielle reached out to hug the young redhead who accepted the embrace. With her injuries and her head swimming over the events of the day, with her heart hurting terribly over the words her father wrote and the aching she felt from missing Xena, Gabrielle could still sense the Amazon’s overwhelming guilt. "You did more than enough, Amarice. Let go of the past. Okay." All the young warrior could do was nod her head and allow Gabrielle to hold her for a while.

After a while Cyrene interrupted. "Gabrielle, you need to eat – remember, it was one of Memnos requirements." The Bard was not hungry and she asked Cyrene if she could put it off awhile. The innkeeper relented for the time. Lila came in to say goodnight and the three remaining friends pulled chairs up close to Gabrielle and began talking about her upcoming marriage. They tried to keep it light and spent most of the time wondering which guests would be able to arrive on time. Gabrielle’s body was stiff but her arm was throbbing and hurt. For the most part she remained quiet and listened to the three women chatting. Occasionally Gabrielle would close her eyes and drift to sleep. The three women never moved and continued talking. Several times Cyrene noted that Gabrielle was running a slight fever but did not feel it was necessary to call Memnos. She would just add a bit of the drug Memnos left in her tea before going back to bed so it would help fight the fever.

A little more than two candlemarks passed, when the Warrior came bolting through the front door of the inn and straight into the kitchen. The only thought running through her heart was to visibly see her soulmate. Gabrielle was overwhelmed to find Xena rushing across the room to greet her. The travelers were not anticipated back for several days so this became a wonderful and healing surprise. Dropping to her knees in front of Gabrielle, the Warrior did not touch her at first. Other than the obvious bandage on her arm and the bruise across her cheek and jaw, Xena was not sure where her other injuries were, although she had a good idea. Not wishing to harm Gabrielle further the Warrior laid her head in her soulmates lap and was overtaken by sadness. She felt totally helpless once again over the pain her soulmate suffered.

As fast as the Warrior was reacting to Gabrielle, the young blonde could feel her lover’s anguish. Lifting Xena’s head gently from her lap, Gabrielle slowly circled her arms around Xena’s neck and scooted her body to the edge of the rocker so she could melt into the body of her soulmate. With tears sliding from her eyes all she could do was whisper to her lover. "You’re back.......I’ve missed you so much."

Cyrene, Amarice and Teklai backed away to give the couple privacy. The smile and reaction Xena received from Gabrielle caused a wonderful fevered ache in her heart. "By the gods Gabrielle, do you have any idea how your smile and excitement for me conquers my heart – I love you so much." Reflexes became automatic and Xena tenderly wrapped her arms around her lover’s waist pulling her tighter. At that point, Gabrielle let her left arm drop to cradle in Xena’s arm. "Your arms hurts, just keep it lowered. Gabrielle.....I am so sorry. I should have taken you with me....I...."

"Sssshhh, my Warrior. You can’t constantly protect me." Gabrielle let her nose press up against Xena’s and she whispered. "Are you going to kiss me or talk to me?" Xena claimed her lover’s soft requesting lips brushing them gently with hers. Even with the pain running through her body Gabrielle could not help but feel the heat rising in her loins and a small moan of pleasure slipped through. Smiling to herself, Xena heightened the pressure and demand of the kiss until both became breathless and lost in each other.

Tapping her daughter on the shoulder the lover’s broke their embrace to find Cyrene, Amarice and Teklai standing next to them. "How my wonderful dear daughter did you get back so quickly. How did you know there was trouble? Where are Eponin and Shulaba? Who does that strange horse belong too? And maybe you can talk Gabrielle into eating."

Raising her eyebrow flirtatiously, as only Xena could do, she looked at the three women standing next to her. "Mother, you have some questions?"

Warrior Mom slapped her daughter in the back of the head. "Don’t you get fresh with me young lady. Now talk." Everyone including Gabrielle began laughing at the playful teasing between mother and daughter. Unfortunately laughter meant a body that would be shaking and that led to several twinges of pain. The pain produced a few tears and everyone promptly noticed them. Xena delicately kissed Gabrielle’s tears away.

Accepting the bowl of stew being handed to her by Amarice, the Warrior looked to Gabrielle, who was now leaning back in the chair. She looked exhausted and in pain. "Sweetie, eat some of this. It will help." Suddenly just engulfed in emotions Gabrielle shook her head no. The Warrior refused to give in, however, and reached to brush her soulmates bangs from the front of her face. "Honey, please. You have to eat something. Eat for me – okay?" Taking a chance that Gabrielle would not refuse that request Xena lifted a spoon full of the stew broth to the young woman’s lips. The Bard accepted the food and allowed Xena to give her two more spoons before she took the spoon in her own hand. Together – with Xena holding the bowl and cutting the meat and vegetables into smaller pieces the Bard was able to eat the majority. As she helped Gabrielle with the stew, Xena explained what happened and answered all of her mother’s questions. What amazed everyone the most was that Xena somehow felt the pain close to the time Gabrielle was battling with the messenger.

A candlemark passed, when Xena tenderly suggested that Gabrielle go back to bed and rest. She had felt the slight fever radiating from Gabrielle’s body. "Mom, could you brew up some......."

Before Xena could finish her question Cyrene had the tea with the added fever-reducing drug ready for Gabrielle. "You carry her and I’ll follow with the tea."

Flashing her mom a big smile, Xena turned to her soulmate. "Let’s go honey. I want you to rest." Xena bent over to pick her lover up and saying goodnight to Amarice and Teklai, the women went back to their room. Leaving the tea on the table, Warrior Mom kissed both women goodnight leaving them alone.

Once behind closed doors Xena removed her armor and leathers, poured some cool water into the basin and washed. Gabrielle was sitting on top of the bed sipping at her tea and observing the body of her Warrior. "Do you know how beautiful you are Xena?" Completing her task Xena grabbed her nightshirt and slipped it over her lithe frame.

"Just drink your tea – all of it, and don’t think about my body." A typical Warrior raised eyebrow and half-grin followed Xena’s comments. Finishing her tea immediately, the Warrior placed the cup on the table and sat on the bed next to her soulmate. "Will you let me see the rest of your bruises, please. I need to see all of them so I can take care of you."

The Bard began to protest. "Xena, I was foolish to fight...." Pausing for a moment to sort the words she needed to say to Xena, she could feel her soulmates hand rubbing her back gently. "I killed him Xena." Gabrielle lowered her head and the Warrior pulled it to her shoulder and stroked her blonde hair. "I don’t know what happened – I suddenly.....I wanted to kill my father for all the pain. Then I realized it was not my father and just a man delivering a message. When Amarice threw the chair and the sword fell; I just reacted. And then I got I fell into some type of abyss."

"That man was a monster....he deserved...." The Warrior felt her heart race with rage and her muscles stiffened. She wanted to go dig up his body and kill him once again for the pain he brought not only Gabrielle but the entire family. "And, we will deal with your father. Tomorrow I want you to let me read that message."

Not wishing to let her Warrior spin out of control the Bard tilted her head and lightly brushed her lips to Xena’s. "I’ve missed you terribly. Make love to me Xena."

This was a request Xena could not refuse. Fairly quickly both had their nightshirts off. The Warrior noted the slight fever still running the length of Gabrielle’s naked body and stopped her kisses. Gabrielle groaned voicing her need for the Warrior to continue. Grabbing Xena’s face between her hands she told her lover not to stop. Against her better judgment the Warrior gave in to the desires of her lover. Xena knew that if the situation were reversed, she would not care how much pain she was in – she would want Gabrielle to make love to her. Carefully she slowed down, staying away from the injured arm and silently cried, as she made love to Gabrielle witnessing the bruises from her battle. She gave extra attention to the shared tattoo on her Bard’s hip, as she was crawling down to the exotic smell and taste of her soulmate. The tattoo served to remind Xena of the special bond the Creator blessed them with. Her thoughts flashed back to the power of their rebirth. Instantly the Warrior was overtaken with a feeling of peace and love. Releasing the inner anger gripping her heart she believed in the heavenly gift of their bond. Yes there was a plan for them and satisfied that questions need not be asked the Warrior continued her touching and tasting of Gabrielle. For now the women slowly and tenderly made love both giving and receiving. Both found this reunion to be arousing and emotionally bonding. Eventually the drugged tea took control of Gabrielle and she could no longer fight the affect. Gabrielle lay on her back while Xena burrowed her face sweetly into the young woman’s neck. With their legs twisted together, they held the other protectively and Gabrielle drifted off to sleep. A short time after Xena joined her soulmate and slept.

From the open window a doe lifted her head peeking over the sill. A white owl landed quietly on a tree branch that hung down close to the open window. "You don’t have to stand guard Ephiny. They will be okay." The doe glanced up to the owl and returned her gaze to the sleeping couple. "I know, but I’m staying anyway." Together the doe and the owl stood watch for the remainder of the night.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

The journey back down through the mountain pass actually went much faster than anticipated. The priest riding Argo actually led the group at quite a surprising fast pace. They traveled much further and longer then either Amazon thought they would. Iason insisted they eat their meals astride their animals and only stopped for short breaks to rest and water the beasts.

"Pssst...Shulaba, why is this priest pushing us so hard? You’d think he was a warrior not a priest." While Eponin was anxious to get back and see Amarice, she just could not understand the old man’s logic.

"I don’t know. I just wish he would tell us why he sent Xena with Ephiny. Something is going on and it sounds like it has to do with Gabrielle. I hope Maris and Leandra did not return while we were gone."

"Warriors must you whisper behind my back!" Eponin and Shulaba yelled apologies, and Iason continued. "I will explain everything tonight. Right now concentrate on staying on your horses."

The old priest was true to his word.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

The tavern was located just north of Sounion, a port typically filled with mercenaries and pirates from all walks of life. If one was not ready to fight to the death, this seaport village was one to stay away from. Poseidon had a huge temple just south of Sounion and the god enjoyed sinking ships and boats off these shores. Leandra finished her second mug of ale and waited impatiently stabbing her knife into the wooden table. Still angry over the failed attempt on Gabrielle’s life, the rebel parted ways with Maris agreeing to contact several assassins to assist them in fulfilling their mission. As soon as possible, they would meet in the mountains west of the Amazon Village. Maris planned to draw Gabrielle back to Amazon land by attacking the sentries patrolling the region. By killing them off one by one the Queen would surely return and then both Maris and Leandra would have their fun.

Her musings almost cost Leandra a finger, as a dart pierced the table directly next to her sword hand. With a satisfying smirk the rebel Amazon looked up at the tormentor standing in front of her. "You’re late Scorpios. Surely you know how I hate that." A man of averaged height and weight slammed his mug of ale on the tabletop and sat across from the Amazon. Leandra’s history with Scorpios was comprised of assassinations. While the young man had an attractive smile, a dimple in his chin and childlike blond hair, Leandra was aware of how dangerous he was. Scorpios’ green eyes peered across the table undressing the rebel. He was just too beautiful to be a killer. This was her key; this man would make her plans to capture Gabrielle happen. Scorpios was an expert not only with a bow but also with darts. Flagging the waitress for another ale, Leandra rubbed the scar crisscrossing her left arm. "Interested in the Amazons?"

The young assassin placed his bow on the table nodded his head and responded. "Amazons, what an interesting target." Fully aware that these mysterious women enjoyed traveling among the trees, as well as on land, he ventured that this mission would meet many of his needs.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

The following day the village healer found his patient sitting at the kitchen table next to her partner with Cyrene and the two Amazons all eating a midday meal. "Well, Warrior glad to see you are back." As he entered the kitchen, disrupting the conversation he went directly to the Bard. "Just came by to check on Gabrielle. You look a bit tired little one. Xena keeping you from resting?"

The women erupted with laughter. Xena was discovering that since her rebirth she had softened and allowing herself to become more vulnerable than ever before. Thus everyone took great joy in lovingly teasing the mighty Warrior Princess who at one time they would have shied away from. Her soulmate was attempting not to laugh too hard and Xena knew this uncovered side of her emotions was a result of the years she traveled with a certain Bard. That Bard had softened her up.

"I’d like to change your bandage." The Warrior switched chairs with Memnos so he could change Gabrielle’s bandage. While he was tending to the wound, Gabrielle leaned up against her Warrior who moved closer in order to hold her around the waist. "How are the bruises, Gabrielle? Your jaw appears to be healing nicely." Gabrielle just nodded and indicated that the bruises were disappearing. "Your fever seems to have disappeared little one. Might the Warrior be the cause of that cure?"

Tilting her head slightly so she could look into the blue eyes of her soulmate, Gabrielle responded with several soft sighs. "Yes, Memnos....she is quite a healer." Quickly, so the Warrior would not protest, Gabrielle’s lips found Xena’s.

"Ahem....ladies...." The healer gave them a moment and interrupted. "I need your attention this way for another few candledrips."

Memnos was pleased with the speed in which Gabrielle was recovering. The Warrior was rather anxious to see the damaged caused by the dagger but had not pushed to change the bandage, when they awoke. She assumed Memnos would be visiting and decided to wait. When Xena leaned over to see the cut, it became enough of a stimulus to make her boil internally. Believing she was able to hide this anger, her soulmate rested her head back on Xena’s shoulder. She knew Xena was upset. Tipping her head to the Warriors cheek she gave her a small kiss. "I’m okay. Please, don’t do this to yourself." Xena returned Gabrielle’s soft kiss increasing the hold around her Bard’s waist so that the two women were almost one.

As the healer applied an ointment to assist the skin in healing, Cyrene broke the tension that was beginning to take over the room. "Xena – why don’t you take Gabrielle to the beach today. The sun and sand might do her some good."

"Would you like that, honey?" No one laughed anymore when the Warrior spoke in an extra sensitive way and Gabrielle decided instantly that she liked this new mushy word, which the Warrior had already used the previous night. "Can I take her out of the house, Memnos."

"Yes you can my friend. But not too much sun, Gabrielle is healing faster than I anticipated and I do not want any setbacks. I will leave you with some bandages and ointment. Her stitches need to come out in about five more days. I’d like to leave them in a bit longer since I had to stitch up the muscle." Memnos wrapped a fresh bandage on Gabrielle’s arm. "I think Gabrielle is under the best care she could ever hope for."

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

"Hades, Hercules....who could have done this?" Iolaus covered his eyes with one hand and cursed the killer of the poor man on the ground drained of his life’s blood.

"I don’t know." Hercules knelt by the middle-aged man feeling rather hopeless. "Look at how his throat is slit. A professional." Not more than ten paces away a horse with its front legs broken lie dead. Still supporting a saddle minus personal belongings, the flies and insects were already claiming the horse as a source of nutrition.

It took three candlemarks to bury the man and burn the horse carcass. Grabbing his sidekick by the shoulders Hercules was disgusted and angry over what appeared to be a senseless killing. The man was unarmed and apparently never knew what hit him. "Iolaus, we’ll report this when we get to Amphipolis."

The two best friends continued their journey walking in silence for the time being.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

The old Warrior was devastated when he heard the news of Gabrielle’s death by Caesar’s orders. Looking at the message in his hands the bearded old man allowed a few tears to burn a trail down his weathered face. Loosing Gabrielle almost drove Meleager back to drinking. A vice he had managed to conquer thanks to the young woman from Poteidaia. Kicking his horse in the flanks the old Warrior turned toward Amphipolis. While he had heard rumors that Gabrielle and Xena had both defeated death at the crosses he could not be sure until he received the message from Cyrene. The white hair old man already had the message memorized. ‘Meleager, Please attend the wedding of my daughter and Gabrielle. I know how fond Gabrielle is of you. Your adventures, when told by this beautiful Bard excite everyone. Although we have never met, I look forward to that day. Sincerely, Cyrene of Amphipolis’.

Like so many Meleager loved the young blonde Bard and he respected the dark hair Warrior. Memories of long ago flooded his heart and joy sprung from sorrow, as he thought of Gabrielle. He would be proud to be at the marriage of Gabrielle and Xena. Yelling in excitement at the top of his lungs Meleager thanked all the gods for bringing Gabrielle back.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

There was a fairly secluded spot located on the very eastern end of the beach. While it was not totally free from public view, it did offer shade from direct sunlight due to the surrounding rocks and boulders. Rather than walk Xena insisted they ride Argo. She agreed with Memnos about Gabrielle appearing tired and silently scolded herself for making love to her soulmate. It was just so difficult to refuse her partner, when she asked the Warrior to love her. The beach had several young children and mothers swimming in the surf and enjoying the sand. The couple did not go unnoticed and everyone remained respectful and simply greeted or waved to Xena and Gabrielle. Arriving at the spot Xena had in mind, she slid off the back of Argo and insisted on helping her soulmate to the ground. Collecting a blanket, the waterbag and the food Lila packed for them, Xena left Argo to graze and taking her lover’s hand the two made their way closer to the water’s edge. Spreading the blanket in front of a fairly large rock Xena sat down and took her boots off. Leaning up against the rock she smiled up at her lover. "Can I hold you?"

A huge smile spread across Gabrielle and she sat down in front of her partner, removed her boots and rested her back up against Xena’s chest. "I love you so much, Xena." Wrapping her arms around Gabrielle she was happy when her soulmate squeezed her arms and let a sigh of contentment slip through. There did not seem to be any need for conversation, as the physical touching and cuddling was enough to satisfy both women. Within a few moments Xena could sense Gabrielle’s breathing slow down to a steady rhythm and she nestled her face into the soft blonde hair. Her soulmate had drifted off to sleep and Xena had no intentions of waking her. Allowing her thoughts to drift the Warrior decided she would stay awake and protect Gabrielle, as she slept.

It amazed Xena how so many simple things were now becoming more important than roaming the countryside attempting to right the wrongs she committed. On their trip to India, Xena had learned a great deal about her path as a Warrior. Before she died on Caesar’s cross the horrible burden of guilt she carried over her past exploits washed away. On her quest for atonement the Warrior managed to learn the concept of letting go. While realizing she would never be able to correct her deeds as a warlord, Xena welcomed the concept offered by many different people on her quest, that her willingness to correct her wrongs was the beginning of her freedom. Her deplorable past would always be a part of her and those demons would surely arise, however, now Xena had a way of accepting them. She prayed that her methods would be less destructive. Ares would never get her back. She now belonged to the Creator – the one god she could trust.

Tugged from her musings by her soulmate rolling to her side and burrowing her face under Xena’s neck, the Warrior could not help but kiss Gabrielle’s forehead and sleeping eyes. This caused a few sighs to escape from her Bard and soon those beautiful green eyes were searching for blue eyes. "Hi sleepyhead. Would you like something to eat?" Gabrielle inclined into Xena’s lips and kissed her softly. Responding to this beautiful woman was easy for the Warrior and she had absolutely no defense against her. The two lovers spent several moments lost in each other’s lips - teasing and tasting until the kissing became more playful and Gabrielle started to giggle. Soon both women were giggling over absolutely nothing more than the fact that they were in love with each other.

The day was spent exactly how both women had hoped. There was no need for painful conversation, talk of Gabrielle’s father or the man she killed. The day was a chance for them to just express their love for each other and talk about their upcoming marriage. Xena explained in greater detail about Iason and the chestnut mare. She wanted Gabrielle to take the mare, as her own horse but the Bard would not agree. When Xena asked her why, Gabrielle at first would not respond and just shrugged her shoulders.

"A second horse is a bigger expense for us and more to worry about."

While this was partially true the Warrior sensed that something else was behind Gabrielle’s reasoning. Many times prior to their death, Xena tried to talk her Bard into getting a horse and Gabrielle always justified why they should not. "Gabrielle, I know you well enough to realize that there has to be more than what you are telling me." Her soulmate looked into the sky at the seagulls flying over the shoreline. *Yup, she is avoiding me.* Xena scooted to her knees cutting off Gabrielle’s view of the birds. "Honey, what is it. Tell me, please."

The vision she now had were the rays from the setting sun bouncing off her gorgeous Warrior giving her a glow, a softness so tempting that Gabrielle thought she was looking at a spirit. "By the gods I love you, Xena." Receiving a small kiss on the lips, Gabrielle also saw the half-grin and wrinkles forming on Xena’s forehead from the determined look crossing her face. "Okay, but don’t laugh. If I have my own horse, then I won’t be able to ride with you."

Sitting cross-legged in front of Gabrielle, she took her soulmates hands and kissed them. "Do you have any idea how good that makes me feel. You are so loving.....I’m not sure why or how the Creator saw fit to bring you into my life but I am so eternally grateful." Pulling Gabrielle forward onto her lap, Xena wrapped her arms around her gently and laid her head on Gabrielle’s shoulder. "I guarantee you a second horse would never prevent you from riding with me. Please accept the horse from Hermes. If it doesn’t work out we can leave it with my mother." As Xena reached up to capture her lover’s lips, she could hear Gabrielle whispering that she would use Hermes gift, but.....Gabrielle’s buts were soon extinguished by the passion of Xena’s kiss.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

When the soulmates arrived back at Cyrene’s inn, they discovered the four women together with Uncle Tensandi, Minya, Joxer and Salmoneus all sitting around the bar consuming ale and laughing over stories old and new. Minya and Joxer both decided to return realizing the wedding would happen soon and along the way ran into Salmoneus, who had also received an invitation from Cyrene. Oddly enough Joxer did not rush to Gabrielle, as he normally would.

"When is the big day, Xena??" Minya wasted no time asking questions of the Warrior before she even had a chance to sit down.

"Well, uh...." Xena turned to her partner and both women realized that while they talked about getting married, how they wanted to be married, who they wanted at the wedding and where they would go after; neither actually set a day. "We don’t know."

Their entire group of friends all began talking at the same time questioning the Warrior and Gabrielle. As they surrounded the couple, everything became too loud and overwhelming for Gabrielle whose arm was hurting and whose emotions started interpreting the people closing in around her as a threat. She backed up close to Xena who was standing behind her and lowering her head she slammed her hands over her ears. Amarice rushed right to Gabrielle and began waving her hands in the air and yelling for everyone to shut up. Xena realized immediately what was happening and turned her Bard around so she could bury her face into the Warrior’s body for protection. Everyone became quiet and Xena spoke to her friends. "Look, as soon as the old priest gets here and has a chance to rest we will have the wedding." Without apologies or justification Xena led her soulmate from the crowd and to their room. As she walked away, she called for Amarice.

"Listen, thank you. Please see that no one disturbs us until tomorrow."

The young Amazon smiled and was ready to leave, when she felt Gabrielle grabbing her hand. Her friend and her teacher of peace leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. Amarice smiled and went back to the main room rubbing the small kiss into her skin so that it would never fall off.

~~ ~ ~~~~~~~ ~ ~~

Late that evening as Hercules and Iolaus settled under the Grecian night sky, they agreed to stop arguing over who knew first about the love Xena and Gabrielle had for each other. Hercules was actually the one who saw the new love in Xena’s eyes, when they joined forces to free Prometheus almost four winters ago. Hercules had only kissed Xena out of friendship. In fact, when the two of them watched Iolaus kissing Gabrielle under the tree, the Warrior had to turn away and try hard to contain her anger. The big guy actually remembers telling Xena that her soulmate might be right in front of her. Unfortunately it took the stubborn woman a while to stop denying her feelings.

*Stubborn half-god!* The stocky, curly hair blond rolled over on his side trying to get comfortable. *Herc, you are so wrong about when Xena fell in love with Gabrielle. It was not until Xena died. With me standing right there, Gabrielle told Xena how she loved her.* Iolaus continued to toss back and forth for awhile wondering if this marriage between a warrior and a bard would work. True Gabrielle stepped up and protected Xena and true they seemed to be destined and favored by the gods but he was having a hard time believing that love would seal any difference in their beliefs. Before drifting off to sleep Iolaus decided he would pray hard for them, as he really did love both women.

Less than a half candlemark away Maris rested high in a tree. She followed Hercules and his stupid sidekick for most of the evening. Both were too busy arguing to pay any attention to their surroundings. Maris had no quarrel with Hercules nor did she wish too. Once the men stopped traveling and started a campfire she was careful not to be seen by either man and backed off settling in a tree for the night. Although she would sleep lightly tonight, Maris mused over the early arguments of the two men. So Xena was indeed marrying the Amazon Queen. While she had heard this mentioned before, Maris had not given it much attention or thought. In Maris’ mind Gabrielle should have already been dead. That plan unfortunately went astray when that little brat Pippa squealed on them. *Umpf...Pippa, don’t get too comfortable in that Amazon jail cell. I will be coming for you.* At this point, Maris was not sure how much Stella talked when she was captured. Figuring the bitch probably spilled her guts to save that retched unwanted daughter of hers, Maris added Stella to her list of people she would kill. *You are so stupid, Stella, that brat has no idea you are her mother. Anyone who risks their life for a child deserves to die.*


A Bonding of Hearts continues here

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