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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, A Journey of Love and Home and A Bonding of Hearts. Hope you enjoy!

COMMENTS: I welcome comments and can be reached at

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Building Our World
By Annmaray
July 1999


Chapter One

Pondering whom her mighty Warrior could be thinking of the feisty redhead was not too sure she liked this little game of questions. Smiling across the table at the woman who captured her heart the first day they met, the young warrior asked the next question. "Is it someone you fought in battle?"

"No, we never fought."

Picking at the food left on her plate Amarice was ready to give up. *Stupid game. Why do we have to play this anyway, I never get any of the answers right!*

Eponin smiled at her young lover. "Are you going to finish the food on your plate?"

Shaking her head no the dark hair Warrior reached over and picked up Amarice’s plate dumping the contents on to her own. Tossing a piece of fruit in her mouth Eponin chuckled softly at her partner. "You really should eat. Keeping you healthy is important." Xena suggested this little game would be one way to help build her relationship with Amarice. Eponin remembers asking Xena if she really liked this game or was it because Gabrielle enjoyed it. The Warrior told her that at first it was only because of Gabrielle but now she actually enjoyed the silly game. So Eponin introduced the game on their way back to the Amazon Village after Xena and Gabrielle’s wedding.

"Was it someone you made love too."

The Warrior almost choked on her food. "What kind of questions is that?"

Before Amarice could pursue the question further a lone sentry came bolting into the dining hut screaming at the top of her lungs. "AMAZONS – TROUBLE ON THE WESTERN BORDERS." Without questions or hesitation the dining hut emptied into the compound in front of the Queen’s newly built hut. The Regent Shulaba was already standing on the small platform located to the left of the hut. The only thought entering Eponin was that the Romans changed their minds and would no longer honor the peace treaty. Climbing the platform to stand next to her Regent and Teklai the Warrior could see the concern marking Shulaba’s face. Within moments every Amazon available was in the compound waiting for their Regent to speak.

"Immediately any Amazon under the age of sixteen winters will be pulled from the surrounding borders. I want absolutely no young Amazon on the perimeters. No exceptions will be entertained." This command drew several questions from the crowd and even Eponin was slightly surprised. Currently, the young Amazon’s patrolling the borders were considered the best in the age class and the most prepared. "Furthermore no one may travel outside of our territory without proper escort. Absolutely NO ONE will travel alone. Captain Teklai is to be informed of anyone who wishes to travel." The whispering and mumbling between the women increased and Shulaba understood she would need to explain her reasons. "Listen – Amazons! We have a sniper on our western boundaries taking shots at our sentries. So far no one has been killed but last night there were three Amazon’s injured. They are being brought back to the village, as we speak. Teklai and Eponin will organize a party to find the sniper and they will also ask several of you to begin patrolling our perimeters." A random question was shouted from the crowd and Shulaba responded. "I do not know how many snipers are out there. For now it appears to be only one and he or she are using arrows. At present the arrows do not appear to be poisonous." Finding she needed to say no more the Regent dismissed the crowd and like many times before the women of the village understood the responsibilities necessary to keep their home safe.

"Shulaba, is this something random?" Eponin still was not pleased with Shulaba’s facial expressions. They’ve had snipers before and neither the Regent or the Queen had pulled the young ones off the patrols.

"Let’s talk in my hut." Once again Shulaba led her friends to her own hut rather than the Queen’s hut. She still refused to use the hut in Gabrielle’s absence. Once inside Shulaba turned to Eponin and Amarice. "Here read this." The Regent handed Eponin a folded piece of parchment. Opening the note Amarice leaned in to read the message.

Your Amazons will begin to die one by one. The injured are the first warning. Soon the warnings will stop. The killings can only stop once your nation delivers to me Queen Gabrielle. Anytime you dispatch a messenger in hopes of reasoning or appealing to my human side I will kill that woman. Deliver the Queen to me or suffer death.

The four Amazons could do nothing more than stare at each other and reread the note several times. Finally Eponin looked at her friends. "It has to be Maris."

"That is what I was afraid you might say." The Regent and Teklai came to the same assumption. They thought that if Eponin also believed it to be Maris, then it probably was. "She is crazy. Let’s talk to Stella and Pippa. Maybe one of them might know where Maris could be hiding."

"Shouldn’t we send word to Gabrielle and Xena? They don’t need to walk into this." The young redhead could feel her anxiety rise over the thought of once again loosing her Queen.

"No, not yet. Let’s talk to the prisoners and try and find Maris and whoever is helping her. I do not want to pull them away from the cave and their time together celebrating their marriage until I have no other choice."

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

On the sixth day after their wedding, Xena and Gabrielle were surprised to find Argo and the chestnut mare stabled in the section near the front of the cave. The Warrior always believed it to be a perfect area to stable several horses and had thought maybe one day this would actually become a reality. That morning as the newly-weds laid wrapped in each other’s arms the sound of the horse’s whinnies caught the attention of the Warrior’s ears. At first, Xena thought someone had stumbled on to the cave and she quickly bolted to her feet grabbing her sword. Her lover was right behind her staff poised ready to do battle. After investigating the source of the noise the two horses were discovered. Assuming that Artemis probably had them transported the women greeted the horses with soft conversation and two apples. Over a morning meal Xena told Gabrielle that there must be an easier trail out of the mountain than the one they followed the last time. Artemis would never have left the horses, if riding them out of the mountains were not possible. So far the eastern side beyond the stream had not been thoroughly explored by the pair. In fact since they arrived the majority of their time was spent in each other’s arms. Therefore, Gabrielle agreed with her soulmate and the lovers decided to venture outside of the cave for the day.

The decision to walk over riding was easily made and the lovers followed the stream north for over a candlemark until the water dumped into a small mountain lake. On the opposite side of the shore they were standing on, a rocky profile jutted straight from the water to a height neither was able to guess at. Surveying the area Xena realized they could circle around the lake and get closer to this strange cliff-like formation.

"Look!" The Warrior pointed to a trail between the rock formation and the mountain. Sure enough there was a small pathway that would allow one horse, at a time, to pass through. The women followed the trail for less than a candlemark on foot and found it opening into rolling hills and the valley below. Taking this trail would allow the women to ride the horses. "The trail will take us out through a northern route. We will probably be closer to Amazon territory this way." Pleased with their discovery the women went back to the lake deciding a swim and some food would be wonderful.

The lake water was cool and loaded with fish. This fact alone made the Warrior happy. The lovers spent time swimming and playing in the water. For no other reason than honing her skills Xena caught several fish by hand and released them immediately. Swimming to shore where Gabrielle had been watching the Warrior could see the smile across her face. "Are you happy my little Bard?" Xena plopped her wet body next to her lover’s dry one and pulled her into a hug.

Without any complaints Gabrielle slid onto Xena’s lap and pushed her to the blanket. "Yes, I’m very happy. I love you Xena." There was no way the Warrior would escape or wanted to escape from the kisses Gabrielle began planting all over her face and neck. Abruptly the Bard sat straight up while fiddling with the beautiful ring her Warrior gave her at their wedding. The inscription read ‘Hold My Heart’ and Gabrielle understood the significance those simple words held. "Do you have any idea how much I treasure your love for me."

A smile flashed across Xena’s face and she remembered how Gabrielle’s tears would not stop on their wedding night after reading the inside of her band. Her Bard finally tugged on Xena’s ring and the Warrior slipped it off to find Gabrielle had the words ‘All of Me is Yours’ engraved. Her blue eyes produced tears immediately upon reading those words from Gabrielle’s heart. Now reflecting back at that wonderful day and night the Warrior understood the power of their love; it was unstoppable. Breaking her away from her musings quiet kisses, from the only lips the Warrior ever wanted touching her intimately, were once again smothering her face and neck. "Mmm, you are so easy to love Gabrielle. No one has ever loved me like you." Xena wrapped her arms around her lover and was soon lost in the unconditional passion Gabrielle gave her so willingly.

The remainder of the day was spent at the lake falling in love with each other all over again.

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

"Shulaba!" Abruptly interrupting the Regents evening meal Amarice was all out of breath. "A seventh woman has been hit with an arrow. The healer does not think she’ll survive." Leaving her meal Shulaba and Teklai followed Amarice to the healer’s hut. Two more days had passed since the first attack. Maris had been ruthless and wasted no time injuring some of her best Amazons. She also seemed to attack from different parts of the territory. Shulaba assumed there was more than just one sniper.

The healer, Lillioka, just finished tending to the wound and upon seeing Shulaba enter she just shook her head sadly. The young Amazon was just eighteen winters and the arrow came too close to the heart and the girl lost too much blood. Placing her hand on the Regent’s shoulder Lillioka whispered. "She never regained consciousness. She will be dead before the sun sets."

"Okay...let’s send word to Gabrielle. Send two guards to inform Artemis. The Goddess will be able to contact our Queen." The Regent was not pleased with this. First it had only been nine days since the wedding and Shulaba wanted to give the lovers time together. She had hoped this incident might be settled before dragging her Queen into danger but now Maris was fulfilling her promise to kill the Amazons. The scouts had absolutely no luck in tracking the rebel. With great expertise Maris hid among the trees and on the ground leaving no tracks. This made things even more difficult, as Shulaba was reluctant to send out scouts too far for fear they would be killed.

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

Leandra sharpened her sword listening to Scorpios argue with Maris about his needs to take one or two Amazons for his own sexual pleasure. "Maris...part of the reason I agreed to this little escapade of yours was so I could have a little fun with some of these women. I’m tired of waiting. The next one I shoot is mine."

Lacking fear and only determination Maris glared the archer down. "You my little man will do as I say and when I say it. You will get your opportunity but not until I say so. Gabrielle has yet to arrive in the village. For now I want death to draw her here. Knowing that little bitch, she will not be able to resist helping her Amazons. I do not want her killed until we have our fun with her." The rebel’s laughter was straight from depths deeper than Tartarus. "Then I will let her death be slow and painful. Caesar will look like a grandmother compared to what I have planned."

Satisfied for the moment Scorpios sat down across the fire from Leandra and continued shaping the obsidian he found close to the Amazon territory. Chipping at the obsidian with his hammerstone this killer was known for creating dangerous arrowheads.

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

Storms covered the mountains that evening after Xena and Gabrielle returned from the lake. There were several periods of time, when the lighting and thunder became so severe that controlling Argo and the chestnut became formidable. Eventually Xena decided to let them loose and the horses could choose where they would feel safest. Much to her satisfaction both horses elected to stay under the shelter. Gabrielle brewed some hot tea and encouraged Xena to leave the horses and sit with her before the fire. With a few kisses the Warrior was easily persuaded. As the rain continued to fall, the thunder rolled through the valley below and into the mountains while the lovers snuggled in front of the fire drinking their tea. Eventually Gabrielle placed her cup to the side and curled up between Xena’s legs so she could burrow her face into her soulmate’s neck. To Xena this was heaven; there was nothing more she delighted in than when Gabrielle cuddled with her. Chuckling silently she stroked the beautiful blonde hair fiddling with the several braids that her Bard liked to wear.


"Yesss baby?"

*Oooo...another mushy word. This one sounds sexy.* Lifting her head to smile at her soulmate the Bard quickly kissed her Warrior under the chin. "How long can we stay here?"

Looking into eyes of green Xena smiled realizing the kiss was acceptance of the new little word she used describing her lover. "Well, forever is okay with me but I know we promised Artemis we would say our vows in front of the Amazons. And, there is the matter of Stella and Pippa. And, we have to get to Iason’s before the summer solitise and we need to visit your mothers grave and there is a small matter of your father." Knowing full well that she was pushing the limit with her ‘ands’ the Warrior decided to slip the topics in to see what kind of response she would get. On and off since they found out Hecuba had died the Warrior helped Gabrielle deal with her shock and grief. However, the time was coming where Gabrielle would need to visit the grave and hopefully complete the cycle of grief she would need to go through in order to move forward. Her father was a separate issue and the Warrior had not pushed her about him before now. Lila had informed Xena that Gabrielle did not want her to know anything about the abuse and the Warrior had left the topic alone. Since they married, every time Xena made love to her soulmate, sadness would pass through her heart for a brief moment over the possibility that anyone could harm Gabrielle physically. The thought that Gabrielle’s father abused her only continued to anger the Warrior. The message sent by Herodotus also replayed over and over in Xena’s mind. Herodotus seems to indicate that Gabrielle may not be his true daughter. If not, why tell her now and then why not tell her who is.

Quickly her emotions turned to sorrow. The loss of her mother had devastated Gabrielle bringing with it a great deal of guilt. She felt somewhat responsible for her mother’s death and when the message from her father was received, he had managed to increase her guilt with his accusations. While she wanted to visit her mother’s grave, Gabrielle was also afraid of running into her father. At least the man she believed to be her father. Knowing Xena would protect her from harm the Bard was also fearful that her Warrior would lose her temper and strike out at the man. "Our promise to Artemis is important. Let’s go there."

"Gabrielle....." As she thought, her soulmate had no intentions of responding to her comments about returning to Poteidaia. Before she could go any further Gabrielle kissed her quickly on the lips and stood.

"I think I’m going to turn in. I’m tired and have a small headache. The rain makes me sleepy and....well, I don’t want to talk about any of this."

Scooting to her knees the Warrior observed her soulmate slip off her tunic, slide into a nightshirt and crawl under the blankets. The last time Gabrielle went to bed without Xena was the night the Warrior got drunk with Hercules and Iolaus. Silently cursing herself for mentioning Poteidaia, the Warrior decided to check on the horses one last time before joining her soulmate. "Argo, I blew it. Had to open my big mouth about her mother and father. I don’t know what to do anymore. She has to face this or it will only fester inside and cause bigger problems for her."

"Well Warrior, you’ll just have to take her there."

As far as Xena was aware, Argo had not learned to talk so she quickly spun around to see Ephiny standing behind her. "Ephiny! Ease dropping again?" Stretching her arm out to greet her spirit friend the Regent accepted.

"You have to take her to Poteidaia. Tell her you are going and she can either choose to come or not. Gabrielle is just scared. The reality of her mother’s death will become very real, when she visits the grave. Herodotus is a whole other issue. Just don’t kill him Xena."

"Yea, I thought of telling her that I was going to visit the grave. But what if she says - fine go, I will wait for you to return. Then what do I do? I can’t tie her up and force her." Crossing her arms Xena gazed outside the entrance into the rain and darkness. "By the way does Artemis know you are here?"

"No, she gives me more freedom to float around. Anyway she is busy teaching Solari those wonderful do and don’t rules spirits have to follow."

The Warrior and her Amazon friend talked awhile longer until Ephiny heard her name being called and had to leave. Returning to the interior of her home, Xena noticed Gabrielle was missing from bed. Walking toward the back she found her lover meditating in the altar room. The desire to join her tugged at the Warrior’s heart. Rather than distracting Gabrielle, Xena sat down behind her soulmate and closed her eyes. Her success at visualizing peace within was more difficult alone than when she had her soulmate guiding her active mind to a state of calmness.

Unsure how much time passed the Warrior opened her eyes and realized she actually had some success silencing her thoughts. While they were not completely quiet, they were at least peaceful. Her soulmate was still sitting in front of her only her head was lowered and her arms were relaxed. " okay?" Her body started to tremble slightly and the Warrior could hear the sobs escaping from her lover. Quickly Xena hustled up behind Gabrielle squeezing her into an embrace. "Sssssh....hey – baby. Oh, we’ll get through this, okay. I won’t let anything happen to you." The Warrior held her allowing Gabrielle to cry. Finally encouraging her to stand Xena lifted her and carried her to bed.

That night was filled with dreams for the Bard. Almost impossible to stay sleeping Gabrielle would wake frequently screaming for her mother or crying in fear from the memories of her father’s abuse. It was a mixture of fear and sadness for Gabrielle and a combination of anger and sorrow for the Warrior. *Tomorrow my love we will have to talk about going to Poteidaia. My God I ask for your help with this.* A sudden unexplained calm spread through her body and she continued holding a now sleeping soulmate.

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

The flames that lit up the night sky over Poteidaia brought the villagers from their home with buckets of water in an attempt to squelch the fire consuming the barn and house. The chief elder of the village council eventually stopped the people from their battle. It was too powerful and he did not want anyone getting injured. As chief elder, Vanaska surveyed the flames leaping high into the sky with several of his council members. "No one as seen Herodotus. Think he might have gotten trapped in the house?"

Not especially fond of Herodotus, the elder still hoped the old man was not trapped. "Hard to say. We’ll have to wait until the fire dies down and cools off before we can search. I have an odd feeling that we will not find him in there." Vanaska wiped the soot from his face on the back of his sleeve. "Silias, send several of the men to search the perimeters of the land. Maybe Herodotus is lying somewhere out there. If they come back empty handed, we will just have to wait until daylight."

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

The following morning the rain continued to drizzle and the mountain was blanketed in a mist. Hesitating about getting out of bed, the Warrior did not want to leave Gabrielle. She had finally fallen asleep less than two candlemarks ago and had gripped tightly to Xena. Now that she was asleep her grip relaxed. Unfortunately her body functions won the battle and the Warrior slipped out of bed. Dashing out of the cave, she was quick and returned without stopping to pet either horse. Tossing several pieces of wood on the burning embers the fire was quickly re-ignited and the Warrior was startled by her soulmate wrapping her arms around her waist from behind. Spinning around Xena held Gabrielle tightly. "Did I wake you. I’m sorry...why don’t you go back and get some sleep."

"No. I’m awake. Anyway sleeping is not very enjoyable right now."

The couple stood next to the fire for a short time holding each other. "How about some tea and a few biscuits?" Concerned that her soulmate would stop eating the Warrior was pleased, when Gabrielle agreed. Although they ate in relative silence the Bard smiled, when Xena spoke about the horses and then about her mother and that awful betting. She retold the story of how Cyrene won the bet about Eponin and Amarice. "By the way, my beautiful Bard, how was it my mother won our bet and you did not?"

Gabrielle placed her teacup down and crawled over to Xena’s lap avoiding the question. "Make love to me Xena. Don’t stop...just keep loving me."

While normally Xena would have been immediately aroused and more than willing to take her young lover, there was a desperation in Gabrielle’s voice and a despondency in her eyes. *She is loosing hope. I can’t let her mask that with physical love.* Running her long fingers through the beautiful blonde hair the Warrior kissed her soulmate on the nose. "Is that what you really want or are you hoping it will help you forget?"

Gabrielle became instantly irritated and pulled away from Xena’s embrace. Standing up she went to the chest, which was added to their cave since their wedding. Artemis had all their belongs waiting for them at the cave. Pulling out the new leathers she purchased in Amphipolis the Bard spread them out on the bed. The Warrior was extremely pleased with this new outfit Gabrielle had purchased. The skirt was made from deerskin and the soft brown coloring gave one the impression that the body underneath was just as soft. While Xena knew her lover was extremely soft to touch and love, the muscles in her small frame had become quite lethal over the past few seasons. Even Xena did not wish to fight her. Like the Bard’s previous wrap around, it allowed her thighs exposure to everyone’s eyesight, when she walked, knelt or sat down. This skirt was also shorter in length. Held in place by a wide leather sash that tied in the front with leather strips, the Bard now carried two small daggers opposite each other and almost to the back. This allowed Gabrielle to either reach directly back with her hands or else cross her arms over her waist to reach the daggers. Either way the positioning of her new weapons could be easily accessed. Xena was not pleased with the fact that her soulmate was carrying daggers but she decided not to argue the point. Things had changed since their rebirth and the Warrior understood that Gabrielle would no longer run from a fight. After she killed the Romans trying to protect Xena, the dark hair beauty accepted that her peaceful Gabrielle bloomed into the best friend she could ever hope to have. Looking back up from her musings Xena watched, as Gabrielle pulled the halter-top over her athletic frame. *By the gods you are a beauty.* Her new top was a soft leather and fit snugly over her breasts. The straps were about the same width, however the front of the halter crisscrossed at the breasts and clipped to the sides almost under her arms. Unwilling to wear armor Gabrielle agreed to wear leather guards on her wrists. Around her neck she wore a thin leather choker adorned with one ivory bead engraved with the symbol indicating her status, as Queen. Covering her feet were brown leather boots that laced up the side. Slipped outside her left boot a small pouch holding four streamlined darts was easily available. In the Warrior’s mind this also made her soulmate an extremely dangerous adversary. For now Gabrielle refused to carry a sword and Xena was grateful. Her chosen weapon continued to be her staff. Completely caught up in the vision of her lover the Warrior almost forgot Gabrielle pulled away irritated from her arms. Quickly she stood and placed herself closely behind Gabrielle blocking the entrance. There was no way she could get by Xena without acknowledging her and the Warrior decided to force the issue. "Where are you going?"

Spinning around to face her soulmate Gabrielle was visibly upset. "It’s time for us to leave. I’m going to the Amazon Village. What are you planning to do?" As soon as the words came out of her mouth, Gabrielle regretted the harshness of them. Covering her eyes with her hands she took a deep breath and felt Xena’s arms wrap around her firmly.

"Honey, don’t be angry with me. I’m on your side, remember?" Xena bent down hoping her soulmate would look at her. Instead Gabrielle buried her face into Xena’s chest slipping her arms around the Warrior’s waist.

"I know. I’m sorry Xena. I’m just scared and confused. I know I have to go back to Poteidaia. I’m just not ready."

Loading the top of Gabrielle’s head with kisses Xena rubbed her back. "Listen, why don’t we go to the Amazons, make Artemis happy and then we go to Poteidaia. I will be with you through everything. I promise not to leave your side." Xena tilted Gabrielle’s head and gently kissed her Bard’s sensuous lips. "Mmmm....there is no way I will ever let you go. And..." Unclipping Gabrielle’s halter top the Warrior placed tender nibbles along her lover’s neck. "Mmmm...whenever you want me to make love to you....don’t put your clothes on." A number of quick, soft moans slid easily from her Bard’s lips and the urgency in Xena to taste her wife increased rapidly. With the halter gone the Warrior shoved Gabrielle gently onto the bed and latched on to her exposed breasts. The nipples were already hard and firm waiting for the Warrior’s tongue and lips. Within a matter of moments the skirt and boots were gone and Gabrielle squirmed under the sophisticated touch of her lover. No one could ever compete with Xena is this arena. The young Amazon Queen was convinced that she married the best lover in the universe. This woman fulfilled all her fantasies and Gabrielle had no curiosity or desire to seek love from anyone else. Slowing her pace the Warrior made love to her soulmate gently, exotically and completely. By the time both had exhausted the other it was midday and the rain had stopped. Snuggling in Xena’s protective arms Gabrielle found a more contented sleep. This time Xena did not move, musing that they would not be leaving today. No further than a few winks of an eye passed, when the Warrior joined her lover in the land of Morpheus.

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

It took until late the following day before the village council could enter the burnt out home of Herodotus. Searching through the ruins most everything was destroyed. The fire burned fast, although not as hot as other fires Vanaska had seen. There was not much remaining; a few pieces of metal objects that did not melt but otherwise most everything looked lost. Since Hecuba died the place went to shambles and Vanaska wondered if the fire was started carelessly. The council was pleased that no bodies lay among the ruins. After checking the barn it was just as empty.

"Vanaska!" The elder’s friend, Silias, advanced as he left the skeleton of what was once a home. "There is no sign of the old man. Do you want to continue searching?"

"No, it is probably better that he is gone. We will send word to Lila in Amphipolis and let her decide what she wants to do with the rubble and the property. It is hers to sell, as long as the old man is not around."

Silias agreed, as did the remaining council members. "What of Gabrielle? Should we send word to the Amazons?"

The elder council member nodded his head in agreement and added that it would be the proper and respectful thing to do. "Silias, let them both know that we did search for their father."

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

Late that evening the two Amazons were snuggling under the blankets listening to the rain that started once again. The redhead glanced up to see that the eyes of her strong Warrior were closed and her heart melted easily at the thought that Eponin finally surrendered to her love. Amarice’s thoughts moved to Gabrielle. Accepting her Queen’s suggestions about encouraging a warrior’s surrender was perfect. They had all worked and Amarice would have to remember to thank Gabrielle once again. "Eponin, shouldn’t we at least ride out to the edge of the territory and escort Gabrielle and Xena to the village."

Holding her young lover in her arms Eponin ran her fingers through the long red hair that she found extremely seductive and soft. " Artemis will send Ephiny and Solari for them. We don’t need to move."

Since they returned to the village Amarice had not yet moved her few possessions in with Eponin. Instead she left them in the communal hut she shared with five other young Amazons. Her mighty Warrior never asked her to share a hut so Amarice decided not to say anything. Her biggest fear was that Eponin would tire of her after a while. This caused Amarice to cry at the worse times. Several times Eponin caught her crying and was shaken by her tears. When asked why, Amarice made up some excuse like a headache or she was thinking about her adopted mom and how she missed her. Her Warrior never pushed her or questioned whether she was being truthful. Even though several days had passed since they were interrupted from playing that stupid question game, Amarice could not help but remember the last question. ‘Eponin, was it someone you made love too?’ The Warrior choked on the food in her mouth and the young redhead did not miss that. Instead Eponin responded in turn by asking Amarice what kind of question that was. *Are you hiding something my strong Warrior. I know it would be foolish of me to believe you never had lovers but was it someone special enough for you to choke on your food.* Understanding that she was feeling a bit insecure and jealous Amarice decided to pursue the question once again. Before doing so she lifted her body on top of the Warrior’s and kissed her deeply eliciting several wonderful groans from her lover. "Oh, you remember the game we were playing and I asked you if that person you were thinking of was an old lover? Well I’m still waiting for my answer."

*Hades, I guess there is no pretending I’m asleep now.* Caressing Amarice’s cheek with her hand the Amazon looked into the flirtatious hazel eyes of her partner. "Why do you ask me a question like that? I’m with you...I’m not interested in anyone else. Leave the past alone. Okay. And no I’m not thinking of a previous lover." By the end of her statement, Eponin was annoyed and pushed Amarice back gently, as she jumped out of bed. She began to put her clothes on and the young redhead once again questioned her.

"Where are you going – it is pouring rain out there!"

"To check the village perimeters. Don’t wait up for me I’ll be back........whenever!" Knocking two chairs over, as she bolted through the door, Eponin wondered what in Hades was wrong with her. *I wonder if Xena went through these feelings of guilt with Gabrielle.* Stomping through the mud puddles across the compound toward the sentry tower on the south end of the village, Eponin reflected back over the question that Amarice just asked her. Yes, the Warrior had many lovers over the course of her life. Some were exciting most were not. Either way, none were as loyal and arousing as Amarice. She gave her body and heart completely to Eponin and it melted this old Warrior into nothing. That feisty little redhead owned Eponin heart and soul, the Warrior was just not ready to let her know that yet. As she climbed the tower to relieve the sentry posted, she wished Xena were around to talk with.

Amarice was crushed over Eponin’s reaction. Quickly getting dressed the young Amazon slipped out the door into the rain and headed to the stables. Saddling her horse she galloped out heading west. Her tears were falling as heavy as the rain and she prayed her horse would keep its footing and just take her away. This late at night the stables were unattended and no one saw the heartbroken young Amazon.

By the time Eponin reached the tower platform and argued with the sentry to stand down Amarice was already out of the village and lost in the darkness and rain.

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

The woman standing before Maris with her arms crossed would never consider grasping forearms in greeting. Elmira had no qualms about ending a life and it did not matter if that life belonged to a woman, man or child. Although her preference was only to injure and then rob that victim of all their possessions, Elmira would kill, if the victim fought. What made her unique was her knowledge of pressure points. This talent would allow Maris to match Xena at her own game. The renegade realized the Warrior would not be willing to give up her precious Gabrielle that easily thus bringing Elmira in, as a combatant opponent, would keep Xena occupied.

"Well Maris, I’ve come a long way. Your message said the Queen is the target."

Raising her mug of ale to her lips, Maris would delay her response, as a show of authority. Waving to the barmaid for a refill the rebel tapped her fingers on the table until she had a full mug in front of her. "The Queen is the target, I however, want you to take care of Xena. She will not be willing to let Gabrielle walk into danger. You my comrade will sneak into the village and take the Warrior out before she has a chance to move."

"Are they in the village?"

Maris peered into the blue eyes of the woman sitting across from her. Not much taller than Maris, this woman wore her black hair in a single braid that hung down her back to her waist. Wearing billowy robes rather than tighter clothing for battle, Elmira believed it concealed her own pressure points making it difficult for any opponent to accurately strike the first time. Under her left eye she wore a tattoo of a badger. Maris mused that this woman would indeed be capable of killing the Warrior Princess. "No, not yet. They will be soon. I plan on killing a few more Amazon’s tonight. With this weather they will not venture far beyond the village perimeter. I plan on sending in Leandra and Scorpios to take at least two more lives."

"Leandra.....hmm, interesting choice." A smile crossed Elmira’s face, as she remembered the last time she rode with the tall and lean Leandra. "Is she still as evil?" About four seasons ago, the pair helped the warlord Hexis take several villages on the Island of Crete. Elmira remembered how Leandra ruthlessly executed a number of women after raping each. Although Elmira was disgusted by the evil in this woman, she knew better than to cross her and did nothing to stop the torture.

"Yes, she is still without a soul."

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

"Scorpios are you absolutely out of your mind! Do you have any idea who you just tied to that tree?" Leandra was angry at the young man’s boldness in taking the young Amazon. While she could care less that the man wanted to relieve his sexual needs with an Amazon or two, she agreed with Maris that prisoners would be too much of a burden and any good Amazon left alive would only slow their movement around the territory.

Running his tongue up and down the cheek of the young Amazon, the assassin fondled her breasts until Leandra slapped him in the back of the head. Stepping away he winked at the Amazon who only spit in his face. Filled instantly with rage he punched her, which only served to knock her unconscious. "Bitch! I will teach you how to respect someone like me."

Shaking her head Leandra was frustrated. Grabbing Scorpios from behind the rebel held a knife to his throat. "Touch her again and I will kill you myself. Do you understand me?"

Laughing in spite of the knife Scorpios pushed Leandra’s hand away and turned to face her. "Oh come on Le – you can’t tell me you actually plan on following through with Maris’ plans? And anyway, she is just one puny Amazon, what do you care. I’ll share her with you when I’m done."

This statement caused the Amazon rebel to snicker. "Yeah, well you’re wrong there. I have every intentions of killing the Queen." With that being said Leandra walked over to the young Amazon.

"Who is she Leandra?"

Checking the ropes to make sure the prisoner was tied securely to the tree Leandra smiled at Scorpios. "Her name is Amarice. All I know is she is one of the Queen’s favorites. Wonder what she was doing wandering around in the rain and dark." Realizing it did not matter, Leandra returned to the small burning ember they started due to the cold and rain. Rethinking the situation the rebel began to wonder if the young redhead might actually come in handy, as bait.

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

Deciding to stay a few more days at the cave the newly married couple wanted to get the horses out for some exercise. The downpour of rain turned to sprinkles and both were anxious for some fresh air. Gabrielle did not yet have a saddle and Xena cursed her foolishness for not thinking of it sooner. The extra rein in Argo’s saddlebag allowed Gabrielle to at least control the chestnut mare easier. "Gabrielle ride with me okay. It’s too muddy out there. If that horse slips you could fall and get hurt."

Grabbing her Warrior by the cheeks Gabrielle gave her a huge kiss. "You worry too much. And if you’ll remember, the horse was your idea. Anyway my legs are strong enough to hang on."

"Oh yea...don’t I know what it’s like to have those powerful legs wrapped around my....."

The Bard slapped her Warrior in the shoulder before she could finish the statement. "Yea well you’d better just remember that the next time you’re in......mmmm......that position." With an extremely seductive smile Gabrielle jumped onto her horse, pulled her cape over her head and led the mare out of the cave.

Mounting Argo, the Warrior draped her cape over her shoulders and head and growled lovingly. "Don’t expect to stay on that horse too long." Xena had every intentions of testing those leg muscles out soon. *Me and my big mouth – should have never talked her into that horse.*

Riding the horses cut their travel time to the lake and the small hidden trail behind the towering rocky face. As the Bard turned the mare around to head back to the lake, the Warrior brought Argo alongside. Xena had enough of this solo riding and catching her soulmate off guard lifted her from the mare and sat her in front on Argo. "Told you not to expect to stay on your horse for too long." Gabrielle spun around in the saddle facing her lover playfully kissing her until the heat increased and two sets of lips became one. Deciding she would take lead of their lovemaking on the top of Argo, Gabrielle slid her arms under the Warrior cape and started unfastening the leather shoulder straps. She wanted to taste the firm breasts of her soulmate. Just as Gabrielle tilted her head to capture a harden nipple the Warrior pushed her away roughly. "What are you doing Xena?" The Warrior was smiling at someone and Gabrielle looked over her shoulder to see Artemis.

Both women almost fell off Argo and Artemis had to call upon all her resources to stop from laughing. Once both were standing on the ground Artemis cleared her throat and approached the soulmates. "Having a good time I see. Sorry to interrupt."

"My Goddess, is something wrong?" Not too sure why Artemis would appear to them, as she typically did not, Gabrielle intuitively realized there was a problem. "Are the Amazon’s okay?"

"My little Chosen One, there is danger. I must transport you back to the village." Artemis placed her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder intentionally ignoring the Warrior.

"Not without Xena you won’t."

*Oh, baby – be careful. You don’t want to anger Artemis.* Concerned over her soulmates defensive stance with a goddess, Xena flashed her best smile at Artemis. Hoping that Artemis would not retaliate in anger the Warrior loved it, when Gabrielle became her protector. As she hoped, Artemis was all hot air. Gabrielle could probably do anything to Artemis and the Goddess would find a way to accept her actions.

"Hmpf...okay Gabrielle, she can come too. Might need her help anyway." Artemis was secretly pleased with her Chosen One’s boldness. It was a trait Gabrielle would need to defeat enemies and protect a nation. The goddess had decided Gabrielle would have to handle this situation without her help. While Artemis could step in and easily destroy the source, she would not interfere. Her Chosen One had to deal with this and her bond with Xena was a part of her strength.

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

It was not until midday, when the sun chased away the rain clouds that Eponin left her post. Hoping Amarice would forgive her for running out, the Warrior was amused that she was willing to crawl and beg, if necessary. A sudden flash of light filled the center of the Amazon Village. As the women rushed to see the source of this phenomenon, they discovered the Queen, her Warrior and their horses.

"Hades, I hate it when she does that. She’s been hanging around Aphrodite too long." Nothing irritated Xena more than a god who showed off. Hearing her soulmate giggle she shot Gabrielle a raised eyebrow and a sly smirk.

" that a promise for later, my love." Knowing full well that Artemis’ display of godhood was to annoy her Warrior, Gabrielle could not resist teasing her a bit.

As the Amazons surrounded the soulmates with greetings and cheers, both women realized this was the first time many of them had seen their Queen alive since they returned to life. While some had attended the reunion celebration in Amphipolis, the majority of the women had only heard the stories. Jumping off of Argo, Xena held out her arms for Gabrielle knowing full well that her partner was capable of dismounting alone. This had just become a routine over the past season and Xena had no intentions of changing it. It gave her one more opportunity to touch and hold her lover.

Sliding off of the chestnut and into her lover’s embrace was always easy for Gabrielle. Intentionally keeping her arms around the Warrior’s neck, she smiled sensually into blue eyes and kissed her Warrior passionately without concern for the watching eyes around them. This pleased the Amazons who roared and howled encouraging the kiss to continue.

Attempting to gain some composure before she seduced Gabrielle in front of everyone, Xena pulled her lips away. With a smile and a few random kisses on Gabrielle’s lips the Warrior pressed her forehead to her soulmates. "You my love are very good at centering the attention around me, when I am at my weakest." Receiving raised eyebrows and a sensual smile from her soulmate, the Warrior tugged on Gabrielle’s arms causing them to release from her neck. " and me....Queen’s hut." Inclining her head to peer into the already glazed over green eyes, Xena smiled knowing that not only did Gabrielle have control of her but she also had Gabrielle at her mercy.

With that one inviting sexual promise of the evening to come Gabrielle’s knees became weak and if it wasn’t for Shulaba grabbing her from behind in a big hug the Bard would have collapsed. Xena was an expert in seduction and on many occasions Gabrielle would get beat at her own game, as the Warrior would turn the tables and become the pursuer. Anything Xena wanted from her, Gabrielle would give her. *Oh, the games...yes my I love to play.*

"Thank Artemis you are both here!" The Queen spun around to face Shulaba giving her a hug in return. "I’m so sorry we had to interrupt your....well, you know." The Regent blushed slightly, as she noticed the smile across Gabrielle’s lips and the one raised eyebrow and half smirk crossing Xena’s face. Without hesitation Shulaba handed her Queen the note sent several days sooner. The Warrior wrapped one arm around Gabrielle and leaned over her shoulder to read the message.

Handing the parchment to Xena, the Queen rubbed her temples and closed her eyes. Only a moment passed, when she spoke to her Regent. "How many many are hurt or..."

"Ten have been injured and will survive. Two have been killed."

Eponin patted Xena on the shoulder and the Warrior spun around to greet her friend with a hug. "Xena, why don’t we go into the council hut and talk about this." Everyone agreed with Eponin’s suggestion and the group politely left the Amazons who were huddling around their Queen. For the next candlemark Shulaba and Eponin filled the soulmates in on the details of what they knew about the threat, who had been injured and killed, along with the procedures they have been following to ensure safety.

"Shulaba...." Just as Gabrielle was about to question her Regent, the Captain of the Royal Guard, Teklai bolted through the front door out of breath.

"My Queen...welcome home." Nodding her head respectfully to Xena, the Amazon handed a small piece of parchment to Gabrielle. "It was left pinned to a tree with this dart. No one saw who left it." Teklai handed the dart to Xena. "It had to happen, when everyone was welcoming you home, my Queen."

Opening the folded parchment Gabrielle read the contents to her friends. ‘Amarice is ours. We will trade. Bring Queen Gabrielle to the Point. We will give you Amarice, alive. We know she is in the village. If we do not have the Queen by sundown tomorrow the Amazon dies.’

Before the message was completely read, Eponin bolted through the door knocking over an undetermined number of Amazons on her way to check her hut for the redhead. That was the last place she saw Amarice, when she left last night.

"Follow her Teklai, make sure she does not leave the village." Gabrielle was quick issuing this order.

"I know who this dart belongs too." The Warrior twirled the dart between her fingers. Moving over to stand by her soulmate Xena squeezed Gabrielle’s shoulder. "An assassin named Scorpios. He is extremely dangerous and very accurate with both darts and arrows. He is your sniper. We take him out and we have a chance to beat Maris."

Slipping one arm around Xena’s waist Gabrielle laid her head on the strong shoulder of her soulmate. "I won’t risk your life Xena and I won’t risk Amarice. We will make the trade."

Both Xena and Shulaba shouted together. "NO."

Spinning her soulmate around so she could look her directly in the eyes the Warrior would never allow Gabrielle to become a target like that. "No, Gabrielle, we can figure a way out of this. You will not risk your life and that is the end of this conversation. Do not argue with me." Realizing that she would never win the argument Gabrielle relented and instead hugged her soulmate.

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

Laughing unbelievably, Maris was actually pleased, when she discovered Amarice tied to a tree and heard the demand that Scorpios and Leandra sent to the Queen. "This is actually beautiful." Standing close to Amarice she yanked on the red hair. "You my little one will not only deliver the Queen to me, you will bring me Xena and probably the Regent."

"They will never come Maris. You’re wasting your time." The young redhead was frightened but she was also angry with herself for running out into the darkness without thinking. If that horse had not slipped on the muddy ground, she would not have fallen and hit her head.

Maris would do nothing more than laugh at her captive. "We move her tonight, when it is dark. Stake her to the ground at the Point. She can lay there until her heroes come along." Her voice dripped with sarcasm, as her companions joined Maris in laughter. "Then we split up and take them all."

"What about killing a few more Amazons tonight?" Elmira was quick in reminding Maris of her earlier promise.

"No, they will not wander from the village tonight. They know we have the redhead. They will be much more alert. We will focus on moving to the Point and then I will explain the changes to my plan."

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

The fair-haired Stella who’s home is the prison within the Amazon village, was not unaware of the events that transpired. Although she was kept separate from Pippa, the two were allowed four candlemarks each day to spend with each other. Over that time frame, Stella told her daughter the truth. At first Pippa refused to believe her, until Stella began explaining certain events and people in Pippa’s life. Eventually the young girl believed and was now attempting to accept Stella, as her mother. The Queen did nothing to hide the most recent message, as Xena thought it might be a good idea to spread the word and see if there were any additional traitors hiding in the village.

"Stella, you asked to see me?" The Warrior walked through the prison door to find Stella looking through the bars of her window.

"Yes, Xena thank you for coming." Stella approached the Warrior extended her hand in friendship. Xena accepted. "I have an idea that might save both the Queen and the young Amarice. Will you hear me out?"

The thought that this woman appeared concerned had Xena’s curiosity. At this point, since she was not yet sure what she would do, so decided to listen.

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

Teklai was able to stop Eponin from leaving the compound, when she told her it would only be foolish. She would only place Amarice in more danger. Deciding she would find Xena, the Amazon saw the Warrior leaving the prison and ran to catch up with her. "Xena....what do we do?" Both anxiety and anger was apparent in Eponin and the Warrior understood the helpless feeling her friend was having. So often Gabrielle had been in trouble and the pain cut through Xena like a knife.

"I’ve been talking with Stella. She actually has a plan that just might work. Let’s find Gabrielle and Shulaba. The two Warriors found the women in the dining hut consuming a loaf of nutbread the cook baked, when she heard the Queen was in the village. Sitting down next to her lover, Gabrielle was happy to see her and gave Xena a sweet kiss. "Mmm, you taste like nutbread."

"Are you complaining?"

Grabbing Gabrielle by the waist Xena guided her to her lap. "No, not at all. In fact I think I might just like to taste that ag......" Before she could finish her request the Queen locked her lips to Xena’s and the game of who was in charge began.

After several moments of heated kissing, Eponin slammed her fist on the table. "Look you two, the woman I love is out there some where, do you mind concentrating on how we are going to get to her!!" The Warrior would not normally react so poorly and so boldly with the Queen, in front of a dining hut filled with Amazons, but at this point, she cared for no one but Amarice.

Both women stared at Eponin and could see the fear and the tears pooling in the large brown eyes. Xena spoke before Gabrielle had an opportunity. "Sorry Eponin. Okay, I spoke with Stella, who actually came up with a plan that might work." As the Warrior told her friends the plans, all the women agreed it actually might work.

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

That night Maris, Leandra, Scorpios and Elmira dragged Amarice to the Point and staked her on her back to the ground. Falling back under the cover of the forest Maris told her rebels of the plan. Believing that the Amazons would never give up their Queen, Maris would leave Elmira and Scorpios behind tomorrow morning to kill whomever attempted to rescue Amarice and hopefully Xena would be with them. Then they could do what they wanted to the young redhead.

"So you really do not think Gabrielle will come?" Elmira was rather curious, as to why Maris would believe this.

The rebel chuckled believing she would outsmart the Queen and her Warrior. "They think I’m stupid. They will send a decoy. It might look like Gabrielle from a distance but it won’t be. And Xena will probably be with them to make it appear real. That’s when I want you to take her out." Looking out at the stars in the sky Maris was grateful that the night was dry. "They will leave Gabrielle back in the village with her precious Captain of the Guards. Leandra and I will leave now, which will put us in place before sunrise. That’s when we will strike."

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

Late that evening Stella was brought to the Queen’s hut. Immediately dropping to one knee showing respect for her Queen she heard the familiar gentle voice. "Please stand Stella." The Amazon stood proudly. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes, my Queen. I am yours to command." The plan was simple; Stella would stay in the Queen’s hut pretending to be Gabrielle. She believed that Maris and Leandra would use Amarice, as a decoy, and Maris was smart enough to predict Xena would never place Gabrielle in harms way and thus send out a decoy. The ex-rebel, Stella, felt Maris would circle back and strike the village early. It was just her style.

Eponin came into the hut. "Everything is ready. The guards are in position and the sentries are gathered throughout the treetops." Xena approached Stella and offered her forearm in thanks. "Stella, as far as I’m concerned you’ve redeemed your honor in my eyes. Thank you." The Amazon smiled. "Just catch them Xena."

Gabrielle stood next to Xena and tenderly slipped her fingers into the hand of her Warrior. Without hesitation Xena squeezed her soulmate’s hand. They would travel through the night so they could be in position before midday. This would allow Xena to survey the area around the Point before the meeting. Teklai and Shulaba would remain behind with several well-trained royal guards. Eponin would accompany Gabrielle and Xena. If all went well, the fact that the Captain of the Royal Guard stayed behind would give Maris the impression that Gabrielle would still be in the village. Stella explained to Xena that Maris would never believe that the Warrior would bring Gabrielle on to a possible battlefield. The fair-haired Stella would wear Gabrielle’s clothing and stay in the Queen’s hut for the entire day and evening. By the time Maris realizes it is not Gabrielle it will be too late.

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

Riding in the dark was difficult without the aid of torches. The half moon was hidden by clouds, which also blocked most of the stars. Eponin insisted on leading and no one argued with her. Xena understood her need to keep busy and how difficult is was to not know what your lover might be going through. There were too many times, when Gabrielle was missing and the pain that drove through Xena’s heart was horrible. The trio rode single file, which allowed Eponin to choose the safest path. Gabrielle was placed between them on her chestnut mare. A saddle was given, as a gift, to Gabrielle by the seven Amazon blacksmiths of the village. As usual, her soulmate was pleased and overwhelmed by the generosity of the women and her young Bard gave both tears and hugs to each Amazon. Rubbing her thumb over the ring Gabrielle had given her, the Warrior needed to touch her soulmate. Guiding Argo alongside the chestnut mare caught the Queen’s attention and she smiled. All Xena had to do was reach out with her arms and Gabrielle allowed her Warrior’s strength to pull her onto Argo’s saddle. Choosing to ride sidesaddle in front of Xena, the Bard slipped one arm around the Warrior’s waist and laid her head on the muscular shoulder. Falling in behind Eponin, the Warrior held onto the chestnut’s rein and led the horse. Several kisses burned sweetly on her neck and the Warrior responded by kissing the top of Gabrielle’s head. Understanding that silence was important no words were exchanged or required.

A trip to the Point during daylight would only take about two candlemarks. It took the trio three candlemarks to reach the area Xena had planned. Stopping at the edge of the forest the women dismounted quietly. At sunrise Xena would be able to survey the field that separated them from the Point.

"Why wait until morning. Let me crawl out there and find Amarice." The master of the staff was anxious and afraid for her lover.

Placing her hand on Eponin’s shoulder the Warrior understood. "My friend, no. They will anticipate a move like this. And we don’t know if Amarice is even out there. If you want to do something tie off the horses and then climb a tree and watch. We have about three to four candlemarks before sunrise."

Reluctantly Eponin nodded her agreement and moved the horses to a secure area. Before climbing a tree, the Warrior handed Gabrielle a blanket. "You should get some rest, my Queen."

Without warning Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Eponin and hugged her tightly. She was pleased, when she felt Eponin reciprocate the hug. "Amarice is strong. She will be okay. Just keep remembering that." Moments later the dark hair Amazon was hidden among the treetops.

"She’s right Gabrielle. You should get some rest." Taking the blanket the Warrior spread it out in front of a tree. Sitting on the blanket she motioned for Gabrielle to join her. Snuggling with Xena was one of the best feelings in the world. The Warrior’s arms were so strong that she was able to support Gabrielle easily. Xena also had an extremely warm body and as Gabrielle burrowed into her soulmates chest, the heat took away the chill of the night air. To Gabrielle cuddling with the Warrior was like a mini climax. It always filled her heart and soul with an overwhelming feeling of being loved. Looking up into those absolutely gorgeous blue eyes Gabrielle found Xena’s lips. Always ready and willing to be kissed by Gabrielle, the Warrior demanded entry into the heated passion of the young woman and instantly found Gabrielle ready to explore and give as much love as she was receiving. Both understood they would not take their love further than the kiss so simultaneously broke the kiss before they could no longer control their desires.

Laying her head on the Warrior’s chest Gabrielle sighed with pleasure. "I love you Xena."

Hugging her soulmate tighter, Xena rested her head on top of Gabrielle’s. "I love you too, baby. Gods, how I love you."

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

During the night Maris and Leandra left the Point and circling around the field heading back to the Amazon Village. Their direction was one of constant coverage by the heavy forest, thus there would be no way they could possibly run into the trio camped on the eastern side of the field, which was more opened.

That morning the trio decided rather than play cat and mouse, they would ride out onto the field, yet stay out of arrow range. Xena’s knowledge of Scorpios and her experience at battle allowed her to determine what safe distance would be. Gabrielle would wear the mask of the Queen, when they rode out onto the field. Not knowing how many people Maris had under her command, Xena assumed that at least Scorpios would recognize Gabrielle, therefore the mask would give the trio a slight advantage. It would allow them to stall for time, hopefully giving the Warrior enough time to draw out everyone Maris may have left behind. Remembering Stella’s words regarding Maris, the rebel would already be on her way back to the village.

The Point was nothing more than an unusual conglomeration of boulders located on the far side of an open field. About two candlemarks after sunrise the women started across the field. Gabrielle rode between the Warrior and Eponin until they caught sight of the Point. They were not there long before they could see a body on the ground. At first, no one else was in view. Within moments a lone woman in robes stepped out from around the boulders.

Eponin was obviously ready to charge and the Warrior spoke firmly. "Eponin – don’t you dare bolt out there!"

"Hades, Xena that is Amarice on the ground."

"I know and if you want to keep her alive you do as I tell you."

Sliding off of Argo the Warrior started walking across the field. "Xena!"

Looking over her shoulder she understood the face under the mask and heard the fear in Gabrielle’s voice. Returning to her lover the Warrior rubbed Gabrielle’s leg, as she and Eponin remained on their horses. "Baby, it’ll be okay. I will be back for you. I love you." Bringing Gabrielle’s hand to her lips Xena kissed it tenderly. Not giving the Bard a chance to react Xena ran into the field toward the boulders. As she got closer, it was obvious that Amarice was conscious and fearful. Xena did not recognize the woman standing next to her. "Amarice are you okay?"

"XENA. Watch it - this bitch is..." Elmira kicked Amarice in the chest pushing the air from her lungs. "I see you brought us the Queen?"

"Let Amarice go. That was the agreement."

"Oh, no that was your agreement with Maris and she is not here. And anyway, we all know that the woman with the mask is not really your Queen."

Xena raised her arm signaling Eponin and Gabrielle. The Amazon whispered to her Queen. "Rebels think you are a fake. Let’s go." Slowly the pair jumped from their horses and walked toward Xena stopping about twenty paces behind.

"Oh....please, take that mask off." Elmira moved away from Amarice so that her back was to the sun forcing the Warrior to look into the bright rays. "Just so you know there is an arrow pointing directly to the young redhead’s heart. Now please take that mask off. I already know you are not the Queen. In fact with any luck your precious Queen is being raped, as we speak."

Just then the Warrior noticed Scorpios perched on top of one of the boulders. This placed him above and behind Xena, as well as directly over Amarice. The Warrior knew his aim would be accurate. "Come on Elmira get on with it. My hand is getting tired....I might decide to let go."

"Shut up Scorpios!" Elmira was irritated that the stupid archer mentioned her name and the smirk that crossed Xena’s face told Elmira that the Warrior now knew who she was. Thus the element of surprise was taken away. Originally planning to provoke Xena into a physical fight, she would then force her finger into the Warrior’s heart killing her instantly. Drawing a short sword hidden among her robes Elmira screamed at the Queen. "I SAID REMOVE YOUR MASK!"

Xena nodded her head without looking back and Gabrielle lifted the mask dropping it to the ground. "Hades, Elmira, it is the Queen!!" Scorpios recognized the woman immediately and moved his aim from Amarice to Gabrielle. "You Amazon." Motioning to Eponin. "On your knees."

Unable to contain her anger any longer Eponin gave a warrior’s cry setting events in motion. Flipping across the distance between herself and Scorpios the assassin found his mark in her thigh. The chain of events caused Elmira to react and she charged directly toward Xena who ripped through the woman’s stomach with her chakram killing her instantly. Spinning around she watched Scorpios reload his bow and released her chakram severing the man’s head from his body. Gabrielle was already holding Eponin in her arms when Scorpios lost his head. Xena quickly released Amarice and helped the young woman to her feet. Ignoring the stiffness and pain from being slapped, punched and kicked she rushed to Eponin knocking her backwards. Lying on top of the injured Warrior, Amarice poured kisses, tears and hugs all over her lover. All Eponin could do was cry and embrace her little love one tightly.

Gabrielle moved back so the two Amazons could have some privacy and watched her Warrior scanning the surroundings for any other possible attackers. Musing that there were no others Xena approached Gabrielle whose eyes were focused directly at her. Unable to stand still the young blonde ran to her soulmate’s waiting arms. The Warrior became instantly demanding and Gabrielle gave in to Xena’s need. In heated emotions the kiss turned fast, forceful and needy. Both became consumed and lost in each other. Eponin’s yell for someone to pull the arrow out of her leg broke the soulmates apart. Apologizing repeatedly Xena lifted Eponin and whistled for Argo. The mare stood still obediently, while Xena lifted Eponin on to the horse and retreated to the protection of the forest. Once safely hidden, the Warrior started a small fire and prepared to treat Eponin’s leg. With great expertise and seasons of practice the Warrior removed the arrow, applied a poultice and a bandage was wrapped around the wound. While the Warrior did this, Gabrielle took care of the bumps, scratches and bruises that covered Amarice. The feisty redhead was fortunate and her injuries were only minor. With the young one on the move to be with Eponin, Gabrielle brewed some tea and added several medicinal herbs to help ease the pain for both her friends.

Amarice demanded that Eponin rest in her arms. While the tears slip from her soft hazel eyes she kissed her big old Warrior continuously. "Eponin, I’m so sorry I...."

"Ssshh little one. Everything is okay. I should never have left the hut." Running her strong fingers through the red hair the Amazon Warrior smiled up at her young lover. "I sure would like it, if you would move into the hut with me." Amarice kissed her Warrior tenderly whispering that she would. Pushing Amarice back gently the huge brown eyes of the Amazon darted over the beautiful sweet face of the young woman that captured her heart so easily. "There is no one in this world for me but you. don’t ever think otherwise."

The Warrior walked back out into the field to retrieve the Queen’s mask that was left on the ground. She found herself staring at the dead bodies and realized this was her first kill since rebirth. Normally Xena would have welcomed a battle but this time she refused to play the game and her kills were quick and swift. A warm hand touched her back and Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist. "You okay, Xena?"

Hugging her soulmate with one arm Xena kissed Gabrielle on the nose. "Yes, honey. I am doing okay. That one woman would have been a challenge. She knew pressure points. I recognized her name; a very dangerous woman." Turning away the couple walked hand in hand back to the forest. "Gabrielle, I love you."

"I know Xena. I love you too."

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

Allowing Eponin and Amarice to rest for the majority of the day, the women returned to the Amazon village before sunset. Just outside the village a sentry party greeted them. The plan had worked and Maris walked right into the trap. She was now currently sitting in the village prison chained to the walls. Leandra managed to get away, as she never entered the village.

The entire village was electrified, as their Queen entered the village. Excited Amazons surrounded the four women before they could dismount. Quickly she ordered several of them to get Eponin to Lillioka’s hut so the healer may look at her leg, as well as Amarice’s injuries. The commotion brought the Regent and Teklai from the dining hut and hugs and laughter went all around.

"It worked. Maris walked right into the village carrying nothing more than a breast dagger. She claimed she had a message for the Queen from Herodotus......oh, Gabrielle...I’m sor....." The excitement that had control over Shulaba was quickly squashed, when she realized what she was saying.

Instantly raising her hand, Gabrielle rubbed the side of Shulaba’s cheek. "It is okay Shulaba. I have to deal with that man soon. Please go on and tell us what happened." Two strong arms came up behind Gabrielle and circled her waist pulling her to a warm body. Xena’s heart ached for her soulmate.

"Well, the guards let her in the door, as planned. Teklai and four others were hiding and grabbed Maris immediately. She was in such shock, when Stella spun around to face her that she was easily apprehended."

"Did Leandra get away?" Xena was not pleased about this possibility because it meant the assassin was loose and eventually would be a threat.

"She never entered the village. I don’t think she was even near the village. The sentries posted in the trees never saw her. Stella said the two women fought all the time. Leandra thought all of Maris’ plans were stupid."

Gabrielle leaned her head against Xena’s shoulder and could feel her Warrior’s lips brushing her hair. "Where is Stella? Was she hurt?"

"No, my Queen. She insisted on returning to her cell." Shulaba lowered her eyes for a moment. "I tried to tell her she did not have too."

"Shulaba, I want her brought to the dining hut. She will join me at my table." The Regent smiled at her Queen with pride. "Oh, and bring Pippa too." Spinning around to face her Warrior, she found tears in the blue eyes. "Are you okay Xena?"

Capturing Gabrielle’s face with her hands, Xena kissed her lover and whispered. "You overwhelm me baby. I can’t get enough of you." With their arms wrapped around each other the couple made their way to the dining hut and eventually to the Queen’s table. Food and drinks were served immediately and the soulmates found they were hungry. Many of the Amazons stopped at the table to pay their respects to both Gabrielle and Xena. Straddling the bench the Warrior scooted close to her soulmate and kept her hand around Gabrielle’s waist. Totally in love with this young woman it amazed Xena how often she found herself falling in love all over again.

It was only a matter of time before Stella and Pippa were brought before Gabrielle. The Warrior stood immediately and offered her forearm in greeting and friendship. Stella accepted grateful for the friendship of the Warrior Princess. The Regent intuitively knew what her Queen was about to do and ordered that the hut quiet down. All eyes watched the Queen, as she moved from behind her table to stand next to Stella and Pippa. Her Warrior immediately stood by her side. Looking directly at Stella and no one else, Gabrielle placed her hand on the Amazon’s shoulder. "You have risked your life for your Queen and this nation. You are pardoned from all crimes anyone may accuse you of. I hope both you and your daughter, Pippa, will continue to live within this village and continue to live the way of an Amazon."

Stella fell to her knees in tears and was quickly followed by her daughter. In her great love for people, Gabrielle followed Stella and embraced her in a hug. The Amazons began shouting their agreement of Gabrielle’s decision and soon all were once again laughing and celebrating the day. Teklai bent over placing her hand on Stella’s back. "I sure could use a good lieutenant. Interested in the job Stella?" The fair hair Amazon was overwhelmed by the love and kindness she was receiving and not only thanked her Queen but accepted Teklai’s offer. Before the evening was over, Pippa was enrolled as a warrior in training under the guidance of Eponin and both women would move into the community hut, until a private hut could be built. Gabrielle ordered several seasons ago that every mother and child should have a home of her own.

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

"The Warrior did an excellent job tending to your wound, Eponin." Turning to Amarice the healer could only smile at the young redhead who was turning into a fine Amazon. "Your Warrior will need to be off that leg for awhile. Think you can handle that?" Lillioka had no doubt that the young Amazon would be able to keep Eponin on her back and had to chuckle slightly, when she saw the smirk cross Amarice’s face.

"Lillioka, I’m sure I will have no problems finding ways to keep my Warrior occupied while she is resting." The seduction in Amarice’s voice sent fevered waves of passion through Eponin and she could feel the wetness between her legs.

*Oh..yea, my little one. I know what I need.....and it is you.* Allowing several Amazons to help her to her feet, the Warrior could not get to her hut fast enough. That night the only medicine that Eponin needed was to touch, taste and smell her lover.

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

As the festivities progressed, Xena and Gabrielle were inseparable. Any Amazon wanting the attention of their Queen was required to also spend the time with Xena. The Warrior would not move from her side and kept in constant physical touch with Gabrielle. The two women continued to share hugs, kisses and held hands. Xena became extremely protective and Gabrielle welcomed the security from her mate. Xena was just reaching in to capture Gabrielle’s willing lips once more, when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Ready to take off that hand, Xena glared over her shoulder at the intruder. "Yes Teklai?"

Teklai smiled, knowing all too well how Xena was feeling at that moment. There were so many times, when she had to stand to the side while the Regent spent time with the women of the village. In fact, she almost wanted to tell the Warrior to be prepared to feel that way all the time, when it meant she’d have to share her lover. Instead Teklai bent down to whisper in Xena’s ear. "It’s time you two leave. The Regent can handle anything that comes up. So go, make love to your soulmate."

Out of respect for what the Bard termed "warrior bonding" she focused her attentions on the crowd while Teklai spoke with Xena. Soon she felt Xena pulling her close and kissing her cheek. With a slight tug on her hand Gabrielle allowed Xena to draw her away from the bench. The Bard knew what Xena wanted. She wanted this too, so she let the Warrior lead her through the crowd and out of the hut.

They walked with their arms around each other’s waist until they came to the door of the hut they shared. Xena looked at Gabrielle. "I can’t share you anymore tonight. Is that okay?"

Gabrielle reached up circling her arms around the Warrior’s neck. "Warrior, you are very demanding. I am Queen you know. I require a certain amount of attention. Think you are up for it?"

How she loved, when her soulmate wanted to play. Raising her eyebrows the Warrior let a smirk cross her lips and she picked Gabrielle off the ground. Kicking the door open with her foot she carried Gabrielle into their hut setting her down on the bed. The Warrior returned to close the door and immediately removed her sword and armor on the way. Sitting in the chair next to the bed Xena removed her boots. Gabrielle did nothing but watch her soulmate. Kneeling in front of Gabrielle, the Warrior decided to play the game. "My Queen, what is your wish?"

"Take my boots off Warrior." Seductively Xena ran her fingers up Gabrielle’s legs and while her lips worked on the knees she pulled each boot off. The fact that Xena’s eyes were immediately drawn to Gabrielle’s muscular thighs exposed by the draping split of her leathers increased her need to take this woman quickly. Licking with her tongue up the firm and tender thighs of her soulmate Xena felt a hand holding her head from climbing further.

Passion dripped from Gabrielle’s voice and Xena could feel her mound throbbing with need. "Are you hungry Warrior? I have something you might like to taste." The game was over. Xena growled with excitement and pushed Gabrielle back on the bed. Pulling Gabrielle’s leathers and undergarments off in one tug she spread the young blonde’s legs and latched on to the wet hot essences of her soulmate. This produced instant groaning and panting from Gabrielle and as Xena plunged her tongue into the fevered cavern of her lover, she licked and sucked furiously. There would be no simple caressing this time. Xena’s needs were too great. Within moments Gabrielle was shaking and reached the peak of her orgasm. The Warrior would not let go and continued to suck and lick bringing her lover to a second and third climax. Eventually she could no longer contain her own need and pulled her lips from Gabrielle’s throbbing mound. Gabrielle understood her soulmate’s need and she quickly tugged the leathers off and pulled Xena up her own body until the Warrior was sitting over her face and probing tongue. As Xena rotated her hips, Gabrielle showed no mercy and forcefully and quickly took control of her Warrior. Eventually the Warrior could take no more and she collapsed on top of her soulmate. Together the two lovers cuddled and fondled each other until sleep came to both.

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


Chapter Two

The following morning came quickly and the Warrior was not anxious to get out of bed. Some time in the early morning just prior to sunrise her soulmate woke up and began rubbing her hands over the Warrior’s body. Before Xena was fully awake Gabrielle was once again licking the essence between her thighs. *You are so wonderful my beautiful wife and so very passionate. Sometimes I think you have a fever the way you come after me.* Kissing Gabrielle on the forehead, the Warrior wanted to hold her longer and smell the scent that was only Gabrielle.

A loud knock reverberated on the door of the Queen’s hut startling Xena from her thoughts. The knock also served to scare Gabrielle awake jolting her from her cuddling position to sit straight up. Xena quickly grabbed her around the waist. "It’s okay, just a knock on the door." Giving Gabrielle a smile and a quick kiss on the lips Xena got out of bed, grabbing a blanket to wrap around her, as she headed to the door. The Warrior glanced back to see her lover fall back down snatching the pillow Xena was laying on and pulling it tightly to her body. *Yes, definitely fevered.* Xena knew she loved this side of Gabrielle tremendously. Attempting to put her Warrior face on Xena opened the door.

Teklai and two additional guards stood respectfully and obviously on duty. Xena gave Teklai the ‘do you want me to kick your ass across the compound for this disruption’ look. Then in her sweetest voice she smiled at her friend. "Yes Teklai?"

"I’m sorry Xena." Teklai paused fully aware of the Warrior’s glaring look and respectfully bowed her head to the Warrior. "I must speak with the Queen."

The bow acknowledging her respect of the Warrior humored Xena, as she realized that if the two other guards were not present Teklai would not be so formal. Xena had a great deal of respect for Teklai and her position. "Gabr...I mean the Queen is not available at the moment, can it wait?"

Teklai knowing she may end up with Xena’s fist in her face bravely closed the distance between the two of them. "Xena, a message came for Gabrielle a few moments ago. It is from Poteidaia."

"Has anyone read it yet?" Remembering the last message that was delivered from Poteidaia caused great concern in the Warrior, as it obviously had in Teklai. "Does anyone else know?"

"Only Shulaba knows of the message. It is still sealed, Xena. The messenger was a simple peasant and left almost as fast as he arrived. No one has read the contents. I just remember the last time Gabrielle received....."

Xena was impressed with Teklai’s loyalty and ability to handle the situation and interrupted the Captain. "Yes, I know. Do you have the message with you?"

"Shulaba has it. She is in the council hut."

"We will meet you there within a candlemark. Have Eponin and Amarice meet us also." The Amazon departed and Xena tried to figure out how she was going to tell Gabrielle about the message. A chill ran up her spine, as she remembered the last message Herodotus had sent with a messenger that tried to kill her soulmate. *I won’t loose you Gabrielle, I promise you I will protect you and our love.*

Looking down at Gabrielle the Warrior ran her fingers through the blonde hair. "Mmmm...Xena come to bed." The plea was soft and sensual, an invitation to make love.

Dropping her blanket Xena crawled under the covers and pulled Gabrielle close. "Sweetie, we have to get up. A message came for you. We need to meet with Shulaba."

This caught Gabrielle’s attention and she leaned on her elbows attempting to focus extremely sleepy eyes at her soulmate. "What is the message about?"

"I don’t know. It is from Poteidaia." Anticipating the worst, Gabrielle closed her eyes and buried her head into the pillow. Rolling to her side the Warrior rubbed Gabrielle’s back and shoulders. "Honey, it is safe. There is no messenger this time." Hoping that if she got out of bed, Gabrielle might follow her did not work right away. The young woman was not willing to move extremely fast. While she pulled her boots on Xena glanced up to find that finally her soulmate was at least sitting on the edge of the bed. "Baby, it will be okay. We will get through this together."

Watching Gabrielle slip the leather skirt around her waist Xena could not help but remember the gash on Gabrielle’s arm and the bruises she suffered in Amphipolis. Knowing she did not need an invitation the Warrior stood in front of Gabrielle and took the leather ties from her hands. Tying the leather sash that would hold the skirt in place, Xena was pleasantly surprised, when Gabrielle reached up and gave her a quick kiss. "I love you Xena. Always remember that."

The Warrior wrapped her arms around Gabrielle’s waist and pulled her tightly to her chest. "Gabrielle, I love you too. Whatever is in that message I do not want you to keep it from me."

Looking up into those deep baby blues Gabrielle saw the concern, the fear and the love Xena held for her. No, she would only hurt and scare Xena by not sharing the message. "I promise I will not keep anything from you my love."

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

The Queen and her Warrior found the Regent, Teklai, Eponin and Amarice waiting for them in the council hut. Outside of the friendly greetings and questions, as to how Eponin and Amarice were doing, no one mentioned the message. Finally Gabrielle sat down next to Shulaba and the Regent pushed the sealed scroll in front of her Queen. Rolling the scroll back and forth between her hand and the table Gabrielle was not ready to open it.

"Is Maris talking at all about the attack on the Amazons?" Everyone knew Gabrielle was avoiding the scroll. Shulaba quickly looked past Gabrielle to Xena, who was sitting next to her. The Warrior smiled and nodded her head.

"No, she is not talking. She is demanding a trial."

"I suppose that is the right thing to do. Set it for tomorrow at midday." Continuing to stare at the scroll Gabrielle moved her hands away. "Who will represent her?"

"Normally the priestess Helena is willing to do this." Shulaba placed her hand on Gabrielle’s back. "Are you going to read the message?"

Everyone could see the isolated tears slide down the Queen’s cheeks. With great gentleness Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and kissed her on the cheek. "Gabrielle, I know this is hard but you have to look at it."

Nodding her head weakly Gabrielle picked up the scroll and handed it to Xena. "You read it, I can’t."

Without hesitation Xena broke the seal and opened the scroll reading the contents. Looking to her soulmate and then to her friends the Warrior read the contents.

‘Gabrielle, The Village Council of Poteidaia regrets to inform you that the house and barn owned by your parents burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Your father was not in either building. We searched the grounds for Herodotus and regret that no one could find him. We can neither confirm he is alive or deceased. A message was also sent to Lila in Amphipolis. The property belongs to the both of you. Please let us know what your plans will be regarding the land.’

"Gabrielle, it is signed by Vanaska, Chief Council Elder. Do you know the man?" Making sure the message was not another ploy on Herodotus’ part, Xena had to be sure.

Simply nodding her head yes Gabrielle pushed her chair away from the table and stood. "I have to speak with Helena regarding Maris before the trial."

A strong hand grabbed hers and the Bard knew it was Xena. "Shulaba can fill you in on the procedures for Maris. Why don’t........"

Jerking her hand away unexpectedly Gabrielle instantly became the Queen to hide her confusion and sorrow. "Xena, I must do this myself. I am the one who will have to determine her punishment." Unable to look in the eyes of her soulmate, Gabrielle realized she would fall apart, if she accepted the tenderness Xena was offering. Authoritatively she looked at Teklai. "Captain have my horse saddled immediately and be ready to accompany me to the temple." Without speaking or looking at anyone else Gabrielle walked quickly from the hut, followed by Teklai who was looking back and shrugging her shoulders with surprise.

Eponin grabbed Xena by the shoulders before she could chase after Gabrielle. "Let her go Xena."

Yanking her shoulder away from Eponin the tears were apparent in the Warrior. "I can’t. She is hurting. This bastard of a man is slowly killing her. I have to go after her."

The Regent stepped between the Warrior and the door. "Xena, with your permission, I am going to send a few scouts to Poteidaia to see if this message is true."

Wiping the tears with the back of her hand the Warrior agreed to Shulaba’s idea and faced Eponin who was tugging on her arm. "She will be okay Xena. Gabrielle has you and you have her. Come, I will ride out with you to the temple."

Xena tried to smile at her friend. "No, you need to take care of that leg. Shulaba can ride with me. I want both you and Amarice well enough to dance at our Amazon wedding." Agreeing to Artemis’ wishes that they exchange vows in front of the Amazon nation was easy. Gabrielle had brought the best emotions out in Xena. Emotions the Warrior thought she would never be blessed with.

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

No words were necessary, as Gabrielle and Teklai rode from the Amazon village to Artemis’ temple. The young Queen had no desire to speak. Thankfully Teklai did not attempt to force a conversation. *I am so stupid! Oh, Xena....why does my father bring out the worst in me. I pushed you away and hurt your feelings. HADES!!! Sometimes I don’t think I deserve you my beautiful Warrior. * Glancing over at her riding companion and escort brought a smile to Gabrielle. "Teklai, I’m sorry, if I was a bit bossy back there."

Unable to suppress a smile the Captain of the Royal Guard looked into the gorgeous green eyes of her Queen. "My Queen, you are suppose to be bossy. You are ruler of a nation." A small giggle escaped Gabrielle so Teklai continued. "You should see how bossy Shulaba is, when you are not around. But don’t tell her I told you that."

Several tears slipped from Gabrielle’s eyes. She understood that Teklai was attempting to make her feel better. "Thank you my friend."

Teklai could hear the approaching horses and stopped her horse and Gabrielle’s in order to access whether the riders were friendly or foe. Both women quickly saw Xena and Shulaba heading directly towards them and waited. As the Warrior came up alongside of Gabrielle, she could see the redness in Xena’s eyes and the reality that her Warrior Princess had been crying struck a dagger through her heart. The Regent and Teklai guided the horses a respectful distance away giving their friend privacy.

"Xena, I’m sorry. My father just makes me crazy...I never meant to hurt you." Argo and the chestnut somehow managed to move right next to each other and for a second Gabrielle wondered, if the two horses were talking. Extremely close to her soulmate, Gabrielle circled her hand around the base of the Warrior’s neck and stood in the stirrups to kiss Xena. As she hoped, Xena pulled her from the horse onto the front of Argo’s saddle and enthusiastically claimed Gabrielle’s lips. The kiss was a renewal, the kiss spoke of their love and the few purrs that escaped both women talked of their passion.

Aware of the desire running through her body, Xena pulled away, while Gabrielle continued to leave tiny kisses on her face. "Hey...we better get to the temple. I want this Maris incident over quickly. We have a wedding, remember?"

This caught Gabrielle’s attention and she looked into the blue eyes, which held her happily as a prisoner. "That’s right. Which means, we can have a second wedding night."

Remembering the lustful fire that burned through them both on their wedding night caused Xena to shudder slightly. Her desires for Gabrielle caused a flame to build rapidly between her legs. Xena knew that soon it would be uncontrollable and she would take her lover on the back of Argo. "Uh...maybe you should ride the chestnut the rest of the way or we might not make the temple."

Loving the thought that Xena was unable to resist her, she let her hand slide down and rubbed the dampness between her Warrior’s legs. This sneaky maneuver caused the Warrior to jump slightly, moan and then quickly regain her surroundings. "Oh no you don’t." Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s hand tightly. "Tonight, my sweet wife, I will possess you until you scream."

As each looked deeply into the eyes of the other, Gabrielle watched the eyebrows rise on her Warrior and could not help but giggle over the continuing game of love they enjoyed playing. Soon Xena joined her giggles with laughter and grabbing the reins of the chestnut mare she nudged Argo to catch up with Shulaba and Teklai.

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

"Lila, I don’t want you going to Poteidaia! I am firm about that." The innkeeper was pacing the floor of her kitchen fairly rapidly. The message arrived yesterday and Cyrene was concerned that Herodotus was not found because he chose to hide. Ever since he sent Gabrielle that cruel message she refused to trust the man. "Look, I’m sure Vanaska would have sent a message to your sister. It probably went to the Amazons. Why don’t we take a trip there and see what Gabrielle has to say."

The young brunette tapped her fingers on the table and watched, as the woman who took her into her home was pacing the floor and visibly concerned. "Cyrene, I want to go to Poteidaia. If my father is there, he won’t hurt me. It’s Gabby he hates."

The innkeeper spun around and stared at the young brunette and wanted to slap her. While she was aware that Herodotus abused Gabrielle, Lila never indicated the problems with such harsh words before. "Hate is a powerful word Lila. Why? Why does your father hate her so much? And why and how can you possibly continue to love that man?"

Shrugging her shoulders Lila decided she said too much already. "Cyrene, I love you and I know you worry about me. But I need to go. If you want you can come with me. I have friends in Poteidaia, so I won’t be totally alone. I just need to see what is going on. I am not going to wait for my sister to make up her mind whether she wants to go or not."

The innkeeper was not fooled by Lila’s sudden show of strength. Something else was going on and Lila was not going to tell her. "Okay, Lila. I will go with you but I’m also sending word to the Amazons." Leaning onto the table and peering directly into the big brown eyes of the young woman, Cyrene wanted her to understand that whatever she was hiding would soon be discovered. "You, however, had better start telling me why your father hates Gabrielle so much. You may not know all the reasons but I have a feeling you have pieces that might help find answers. It’s time to grow up young lady and stop acting so fanciful. Your father has been extremely cruel to Gabrielle!"

Lila nodded her head and the innkeeper sat next to the younger sister of Gabrielle. For several candlemarks Lila spoke of a number of incidents where she was witness to the abuse. She had not been witness to all of them and was told by her father that Gabrielle had troubles with her mind. She was dangerous and needed to be controlled. The stories were one way she could control people – make them believe they were happy or sad.

"WAIT – you believed all of this crap? What did you mother say?" The innkeeper’s heart hurt horribly, as she heard the sickness that must have been running through Herodotus’ mind. "Lila, stories don’t control people."

"No...well...maybe. I don’t know Cyrene. I just know, when Hope came and pretended to be Gabrielle and then that evil monster attacked our home...and.."

"And nothing! Lila....oh Lila....what am I going to do with you?" Shaking her head back and forth the innkeeper was exhausted just hearing about the foolishness of people.

"Mother loved Gabby a lot. I sometimes think Gabby was always her little girl and I was fathers." The young brunette walked over to the window and stared at absolutely nothing. She just had to move. "Cyrene, I love Gabby more than anything....she just scares me sometimes. Our mother was just too weak to fight father. I can remember times, when she would beg father to stop hitting Gabby....and he would stop. Father loved mother and he would stop."

Uncharacteristic of the innkeeper she became furious and with surprising strength lifted the table tipping it over. "ENOUGH!" Holding her hands out in front the innkeeper had enough of the sickness and insanity that Lila was willing to believe. "I will have Uncle Tensandi escort you to Poteidaia. When you are ready to return, I will still welcome you and love you." Turning away from Lila who made no attempt to talk, Cyrene decided to find Tensandi.

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

The day spent with Helena at the temple was helpful for Gabrielle. It took her mind off of the message from Poteidaia and gave her an opportunity to learn more of Amazon history, culture and laws. In the late afternoon Artemis appeared and claimed the attention of her Chosen One until sunset. While Gabrielle was with Artemis the Warrior sent Shulaba and Teklai back to the village with the instructions from Helena to prepare Maris for her trial. Then the Warrior waited outside the temple for her soulmate.

"Warrior!" Jumping to her feet Xena spun around to see Artemis with her arm draped around Gabrielle’s shoulder. Xena was surprised to actually see Artemis smile at her. "You protect my Chosen One well. You better continue. She is happy with you, why I do not know. But as long as my little one is happy, then I will continue to be available for you both. I anticipate an Amazon wedding within a few days. Do we understand one another Warrior?"

*Goddess, they have such egos.* The Warrior boldly took the temple steps three at a time and grabbed Gabrielle’s hand pulling her from Artemis’ grasp. "Do not ever doubt my love for Gabrielle. And you know fully well that I will give my life to protect her. So, let’s stop all the cryptic chitchat. Once this Maris incident is over I will marry your Chosen One in Amazon tradition. And then we are leaving. We do have a life Artemis, that I would like us to live without the gods constantly interfering."

Crossing her arms, acting as if she was irritated at the Warrior’s offensive position toward her, Artemis began laughing. "Warrior, remember my words to you. And do not forget to be at Iason’s before the summer solitise."

"What exactly does Iason want....." With a flash of light and a slight rumbling of the ground Artemis disappeared. She had no intentions of answering the Warrior. Looking around, as if she was not paying attention, Gabrielle tried to suppress her giggles. Wrapping her arms around her soulmate, the Warrior knew that Gabrielle found humor, when Xena argued with any of the gods. " you think this is funny do you."

"Yes, I do. And there isn’t a thing you can do about it."

"Oh, isn’t there?" Lifting Gabrielle in her arms Xena hopped the temple steps passing right by Helena toward one of the back rooms. Before slipping through the beaded curtain separating this room from the main temple Xena glanced at the grinning priestess. "Excuse us Helena. Gabrielle issued a challenge....and well...."

With laughter shaking her body Helena held up her hand to stop the Warrior from speaking. "Say no more Warrior. You will not be disturbed." As the stars filled the heavens, Helena was thankful for the door on her room. Kneeling at the small altar she lit the candles and prayed to a new God, one that Artemis instructed her to include. Normally Helena questioned Artemis about any new gods that were born but she did not question her about this God. Helena knew this one God was the most powerful one and it was also the one that brought Gabrielle and Xena back to life. Tonight Helena would pray to this God asking for guidance in her life and that of the Chosen One and her Warrior.

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

Early the next morning Helena accompanied Xena and Gabrielle back to the Amazon village. The Queen insisted that Helena ride her horse, while she rode double with Xena. "Does your horse have a name Gabrielle?" The priestess thought the chestnut was a beautiful color and was amazed to hear the horse was a gift from Hermes, as the god does not typically give gifts to anyone much less a mortal.

"No, not yet." The Bard was sitting behind Xena and had her arms wrapped tightly around the Warrior. "I suppose I should name her. Just did not think I was going to keep her." A warm hand squeezed hers and Gabrielle kissed an exposed shoulder.

"Are you ready for today my Queen?" The goddess knew that due to the nature of Maris’ crimes it would be hard for Gabrielle to do anything other than issue a punishment of death.

While she understood what Helena was referring too, Gabrielle spent most of the night awake, while Xena slept cuddling in her embrace. A sentence of death was what the law mandated and Gabrielle searched the scrolls trying to find a way around it. Protecting Xena and herself from death by killing was one thing but she did not know if she could order the death of another. The young Queen also listened to Artemis’ counsel, yet if she could find a way around this she would. It would depend a great deal on Maris. Realizing both Helena and probably Xena were waiting for her to answer the question, Gabrielle spoke honestly. "I am having a difficult time with this. I know what I will probably have to do...and I don’t know if I can do it. I stayed awake all night trying to figure a way around this."

Unaware that her soulmate stayed awake all night disturbed the Warrior. She was just so exhausted from the past several days that she fell asleep quickly. Now her soulmate was again struggling with what would be right and wrong for her path of peace and Xena knew she could not give her the answer.

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

The trial was held in public view outside of the council hut. A small platform was built which would hold the Queen and the Regent. Helena would stand next to Maris and attempt to represent the rebel. The women of the village would form a half circle around the proceedings maintaining a respectable distance from the accused. At midday Maris was brought before the Queen and Regent in shackles. Two guards remained standing on either side of the prisoner. The rebel was rather lucky, as Gabrielle had ordered that the woman not be touched or beaten. Thus other than the several bruises she suffered during her capture the rebel was in good physical condition.

The Regent would take charge of the trial, as required by Amazon law. "Maris, do you understand the charges against you?"

Spitting on the ground in front of her, the rebel sarcastically responded. "Yeah, so what if there are a few dead Amazons around, who cares."

"The priestess, Helena, is here to represent you and assure you a fair trial."

Looking over at the priestess Maris spit in her face. "You can go to Tartarus bitch. I don’t want anyone to talk for me."

Wiping the saliva from her cheek Helena smirked at the rebel and stepped to the side of the platform withdrawing her representation. This was extremely easy for the priestess to do, as she too had a difficult time sleeping last night. Silently Helena thanked the high God for guidance.

Shulaba unrolled the scroll listing the names of the dead Amazons, the injured Amazons, the kidnapping of Amarice, the injuries of Amarice, the injuries of Eponin and the attempts made on the Queen’s life. Basically Maris’ entire history from the day she was banished to her capture was retold in the scroll. Without emotion, Shulaba asked, if any Amazon could prove the charges were false. The silence in the village became the answer the Regent anticipated. "Maris, do you have anything to say in your defense about these charges?"

The rebel glared directly past the Regent to the Queen. "No, what could I possible say. You deserve to die my Queen." The sarcasm dripped from Maris’ voice and Xena struggled to maintain control. She saw the deadly stare Maris was giving her soulmate and then she realized Eponin’s hand was on her shoulder.

Shulaba handed the scroll to Gabrielle. "My Queen, do you have any questions for the prisoner?"

Tossing the scroll to the ground Gabrielle stepped off the platform stopping only several paces away from Maris. Immediately Teklai and four guards surrounded the Queen in protection. "You’re pretty brave, when you have protection. Are you as brave, when you don’t?" Aware that Maris was challenging her, Gabrielle raised her hand and motioned for the guards to retreat. The Warrior hated it, when her soulmate accepted challenges like this. Thoughts of how Gabrielle ran out to give water to the Horde came flashing back through her mind.

Taking several steps forward, Gabrielle was within arm length of the prisoner. "Maris, do you regret any of the charges? Are you in the least bit sorry for any of them?"

The prisoner began chuckling. "You got to be kidding. You really want me to answer that?" Gabrielle simply nodded her head yes. Looking to the right and then the left, Maris then looked directly at Gabrielle and spit in her face.

Wiping the spit from her face Gabrielle turned around. Without warning and with total surprise to everyone the Queen swung around and backhanded Maris across the face so hard she sent her flying through the air landing at the perimeter of the Amazon circle. She did not look back and she did not look anywhere else. Instead Gabrielle took her place back on the platform. The women of the village started talking among themselves and Shulaba placed her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. "You okay?" A simple nod of the head spoke volumes to Shulaba. Her Queen had taken a stand of power in front of her nation and anyone who would dare go against tradition. The Regent understood that Gabrielle’s actions were appropriate and would be highly respected by all Amazons but she also could see the pain in those green eyes at the need for violence. This was very difficult for her emotional Queen.

Looking past Gabrielle, the Regent could see the anxiety in Xena’s body and face. Eponin and Amarice both had a grip on the Warrior’s arms and Shulaba nodded her head at the Warrior hoping it would offer comfort.

The prisoner was forced to her feet and made to stand in the same spot she was just tossed from. Blood dripped from her mouth and she spit out several teeth. The power and hit startled the prisoner and this managed to subdue Maris for the first time in her life.

"My Queen, do you wish to announce the punishment now or later?"

So many thoughts and memories flashed through Gabrielle’s mind and heart at this very moment and it took all her concentration and will power to not break down in tears. Rubbing her eyes with her hands Gabrielle looked directly into the pure brown eyes of her Regent. "Now, there is no use putting it off."

Raising her hand in the air without speaking the Regent drew the attention of the village and all were quiet. "Maris you have been found guilty of all charges."

With that being announced Gabrielle stood by her Regent. "For the nature of your crimes Amazon law dictates death, as punishment. As Queen of the Amazon Nation, I will honor that law and sentence you to death. It is to be carried out at sunset today." Incapable of saying anything more Gabrielle turned away and was caught by Shulaba. She understood that she did not mention the method of death. "Shulaba choose the appropriate method, I can do no more than I’ve already done." Stepping off the platform an internally shaken young woman walked away toward the Queen’s hut escorted by Teklai and two other guards.

The Warrior wanted immediately to run to her but knew better. The show of power was necessary and she did not want to risk taking that away from her soulmate. Shulaba ordered her death by hanging. It would be quick and swift. Originally Shulaba wanted her to suffer a more painful death but knowing Gabrielle would have to be present to watch, she did not want her Queen to be subject to anymore guilt. Once the sentence was announced, Eponin and Amarice let go of Xena’s arms.

The hut Xena shared with her soulmate was dark. The shades had been pulled and it seemed too quiet. Adjusting her eyes to the lack of light, at first she wondered if Gabrielle actually returned to the hut. Then she heard the muffled crying. Racing across the room she found Gabrielle on the far side of the hut on the floor in a corner. In one fluid movement Xena swept Gabrielle in her arms and took her to their bed. Leaning against the headboard the Warrior embraced her tightly and tried to sooth the crying Queen. Between rocking and telling Gabrielle that she loved her, the Bard cried for a long time before she eventually drifted off to sleep from exhaustion. Refusing to move Xena slid down the bed bringing her soulmate with her. Stroking and running her fingers through the blonde hair the Warrior finally allowed her own tears to flow. "Oh baby, everything will be okay. I’ll make sure you get through this. Please, please don’t blame yourself for any of this." Kissing Gabrielle on the forehead several times, Xena closed her eyes and exhaustion claimed her body, heart and spirit.

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

Just before the sun was due to set a knock came to the Queen’s door. Sliding out from underneath Gabrielle, who was still sleeping, the Warrior answered the door. "Xena, it is time." The Regent was standing with Teklai and both were obviously nervous.

"Come on in. I have to wake Gabrielle." Returning to the bed, the Warrior sat on the edge and began rubbing Gabrielle’s back in hopes of waking her gently. After several moments and no movement from her soulmate, Xena bent over and kissed her several times on the cheek. "Hey,’s time."

A few groans of discontent slipped from the Queen and she rolled over to her back looking directly into the sapphire blue eyes of her lover. ", I can’t."

Lifting her to a sitting position Xena kissed her gently on the lips. "Yes, you can. I will be right by you."

Glancing toward the center of the room Gabrielle realized Shulaba and Teklai were there. She simply nodded and with Xena’s assistance she got out of bed. Attempting to straighten her clothing and hair she became frustrated and yelled a series of words that made no sense. It was very apparent to all that she was deeply stressed about the decision she was forced to make. The table next to the bed had her hairbrush and Gabrielle started running the brush through her hair. Finding a snarl she tugged at the hair and eventually screamed throwing the brush into the wall. Xena was up behind her immediately and spun her around. "Gabrielle, calm down. This is not good for you."

"CALM DOWN, ARE YOU CRAZY. I’M ORDERING SOMEONE TO DIE AND...." Unable to complete her sentence the Queen realized it made no sense. Maris had in cold-blood killed and injured many. She held absolutely no remorse or regret for her actions. The woman was dangerous and needed to be stopped. Covering her face with her hands she began mumbling apologies and soon found she was pressed firmly against her Warrior.

Moment’s later Shulaba was brushing the snarls from her Queen’s hair. "You are only doing what the law dictates. Maris is an evil woman. She will not stop killing, if someone does not stop her."

Gabrielle could hear the words from her Regent and knew deep down that Shulaba was right. Lifting her head to look into the blue eyes of her soulmate, Gabrielle could see the pain and fear her Warrior was feeling. "I am so selfish...Xena, are you okay? By the gods, I am so caught up in my pain that I failed to notice yours. I’m....."

Placing her fingers to her lover’s lips the Warrior did not want Gabrielle to worry. "Ssshh...I am doing okay. I’m just so worried about you. Let me help you with all of this. Please...don’t push me away. Let me carry at least some of this burden."

The love Xena had for her overwhelmed Gabrielle so frequently. She thought immediately to the engraving on her ring and the shared tattoo placed there by their God. "Okay...lets go and get this over with." Standing on her toes Gabrielle quickly kissed Xena’s lips. "I want to marry you again in front of this nation."

Together the four women left the Queen’s hut and walked to the oak tree just south of the village. A hangman’s noose was in position and Maris was sitting on a horse with her hands tied behind her back. It then dawned on Gabrielle that she had no idea the type of punishment that Shulaba had chosen until now. *This will probably be the quickest for you Maris. I know you probably desire worse.* Musing that her Regent made a wise choice Gabrielle took her position opposite the oak tree. The Regent was to her right but stood a step behind the Queen. Teklai and Xena were behind the Regent. Eponin and Amarice soon joined the group and stood behind Gabrielle and off to the left. Without looking Gabrielle extended her arm and hand behind her hoping to find Xena. She immediately felt the warmth of her soulmate’s hand accepting hers. With a slight tug Xena was standing by her side. Whispering so only those close to the couple could hear the Bard circled her arm around Xena’s waist. "Please stay close. I need you." Easily Xena slipped her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder pulling her close. Without a doubt the entire Amazon Nation knew that Xena was their Queen’s Champion in all ways. Even though Amazon law had not formally joined them, there was not one woman who would dare question or challenge any direction or command issued by Xena. The nation had come to depend and trust in this Warrior for too many seasons. Therefore, when the Queen commanded that Xena stand by her side, as an equal, the Warrior’s word was as good as the Queens.

The Amazon guard, who would be responsible for forcing the horse to run, asked Maris if she had any last words, before the sentence of death was fulfilled. Staring at no one else but Gabrielle the rebel’s laughter was pure evil. "I will haunt you Gabrielle! You little miss peace maker will be a murderer with my death. Oh and don’t forget Leandra is still out there."

The Warrior could feel her soulmate’s body tremble over the command she must issue. *I can’t let you do this Gabrielle.* Standing by the side of the Queen meant the pair was as one under Amazon law and Xena depended on the women respecting this without question. The Warrior realized if she spoke to Gabrielle, it would be a sign of weakness in their oneness. Therefore without words, the Warrior gave Gabrielle’s shoulder a squeeze and raised her hand to the executioner. With absolutely no expression and a simple dropping of her hand the Amazon swatted the backside of the horse and before you could blow the flame of a candle out, the rebel was hanging at the end of the noose. Absolutely no one questioned Xena’s authority to issue the command.

Feeling as if she was frozen in place, the Warrior tugged at Gabrielle’s hand and without knowledge of where she was the Bard allowed her soulmate and friends to guide her back to her hut in a respectful manner. No one attempted to stop the Queen’s party, as Amazon law forbid speaking with the Queen after an execution of an Amazon. The nation believed that even the most evil of Amazons was at one time good. Out of respect for the ‘lost good’ the nation would remain silent for the next four candlemarks.

Once Gabrielle was in her hut she walked to the rear window and just stared out at what remained of the setting sun. Amarice stood behind her but said nothing. Eponin turned to Xena. "I’m going to order her tub to be filled. A nice hot bath may help her."

Nodding her head in agreement Xena turned to Shulaba. "I think you should get Lillioka to brew something to help her sleep. And then I want the wedding preparations to start. We need to move from this quickly." Rubbing Xena on the back, the Regent was in agreement.

In a matter of moments Xena and Gabrielle were alone. "Xena."

Walking up and wrapping her arms around her soulmate from behind the Warrior burrowed her nose into the silky blonde hair. "Yes, Gabrielle?"

"Thank you for ordering her...." Covering her face with her hands, the Bard understood that her soulmate took a great deal of pain from her by commanding Maris’ death. "Will you just hold me."

Increasing the embrace she already had on her soulmate, the two watched the sun disappear, as darkness conquered the sky. By the time the stars began to twinkle, the tub was filled and the Warrior guided her soulmate to the hot waters. After a hot bath and plenty of tender loving care from the Warrior, Gabrielle drank the tea the healer had delivered knowing full well that it would make her sleep. She did not care, as tonight Gabrielle did not want to dream. Not long after the tea was gone the Bard crawled into bed and cuddled with her Warrior. Sleep quickly claimed the Queen and the Warrior remained on guard.


Continues here...

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