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Disclaimers: Characters Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Callisto, Ares, Draco, etc. are the property of Universal/Renaissance Pictures/Studios USA. I merely borrowed them for the purpose of this story. Characters Charis, Allmar, and Sanshee are my own.

This story contains explicit scenes of two consenting adult women making love. If you find this offensive, I recommend that you refrain from reading any further (and also that you at least consider seeking some form of professional guidance). This story also contains a rape scene, graphic violence, as well as mature situations and some language. If you’re under 18 or if this sort of material is illegal where you live and you read this anyway, don’t blame me if the dung hits the fan. You’ve been advised.

This is my first attempt at fiction, not to mention fan fiction. I hope you enjoy it. Please send any comments to: Much appreciation to my partner, Crimson Blade, for her creative input and editorial assistance.

(c) 1999 Not intended to infringe on the rights of the owners of "Xena: Warrior Princess."

The story is meant to take place following the episode, "Maternal Instincts."


When Friends Collide
by AztecAmazon

Part I Part II Part III Part IV

Part I

The warrior had no idea how many days had passed since she had ascended the mountain. Motionless, she focused on the sky, now transforming into a beautiful tapestry of pinks and blues. Her hair dancing with the wind. Her teeth clinched so tightly she wasn’t certain she could speak if she tried. How could this have happened? What went wrong? And, most importantly, what now?

"I can help you with your dilemma, Xena," Ares’ voice cut through the air, interrupting the calmness. The warrior, though momentarily startled, remained perfectly still. "Your son is dead. Your dear Gabrielle is responsible and this is the best you can do? Frankly, Xena, I’m disappointed. Everyone you’ve ever counted on has double-crossed you. Why? Because you keep placing your bets on the wrong horse. You know what I can give you. You recognize the splendor of what we had and what we could have again and yet you choose to sit there and do nothing. The gods have given you the gift of rancor, Xena. Use it. Use that anger, that fire, for your own gain. Reach inside yourself and claim it. Thrive on it. Because it’s the very essence of your being. And we both know it’s what you need." If the warrior had heard his words, she offered no indication as she continued to stare blankly ahead. The God of War, obviously annoyed

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny, carrying the bard’s dinner, entered the hut. "I brought you something to eat. You haven’t been eating enough and you need to keep up your strength."

"Why?" Gabrielle sluggishly crawled out of bed. "After what I’ve done, I don’t deserve to eat...I’m not even sure I deserve to breathe."

"Gabrielle, you have to forgive yourself. You did what you thought was right. You handled the situation as your way demanded you should." Ephiny placed her hand on the bard’s cheek, pulling her closer to her. "There’s no way to change what’s happened. You have to accept that. And condemning yourself isn’t going to solve anything."

"Xena blames me, Ephiny. She’ll never forgive me..."

"Xena has to handle this her way," the Amazon interrupted. "She has chosen not to forgive you and you’ll have to learn to live with that. But it doesn’t have to mean the end of the world...for either of you. I know how much Xena means to much you’ve meant to each other..."

"Do you?"

"Yes, Gabrielle. It’s obvious. And, believe it or not, she loves you as much as you love her. And a love like that doesn’t die easily."

"She loves me but it’s not the same...," Gabrielle’s words disintegrated. "I never got to tell her, Ephiny. She never knew how ..."

"She knew, Gabrielle." She looked into her eyes, her heart sinking at the sight of her queen consumed by such anguish.

The bard’s tears overcame her as she collapsed into Ephiny’s arms, her body shaking as she began to sob.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"I have a mission for you boys." Ares began to speak to the men who were, by now, wondering why they had been summoned here by the God of War. "As most of you already know, I have a vested interest in the Warrior Princess..."

"Xena?" one eager warlord chimed.

"Yes, Xena." Ares continued, "I went to visit our old friend recently. She’s allowed the death of her son to transform her into a pathetic mound of quivering madness. What a waste." He hesitated before adding, "and that’s where you come in. You see, I want her back. I am not referring to the Xena who travels from village to village in search of some retribution which doesn’t exist. No, I want Xena as she once was--a mighty warlord. And might I add, the greatest warlord this land has ever seen."

"What does this have to do with us, Ares?," Draco, becoming impatient and obviously offended by the god’s last statement, interjected. One of the most feared warlords in the land, Draco had never been one to waste time nor did he take kindly to being referred to as second best.

"Patience, gentlemen." Ares paced back and forth across the room sizing up his newly acquired assistants before pausing, his arms folded across his chest. "You all know that Xena’s son is dead, but do you know who is to blame?" A snide expression spread across his face as he continued, "Seems Xena’s dearest friend, unintentional though it may have been, orchestrated the death of her only son. Needless to say, the warrior isn’t very happy with her irritating blonde these days." He made his way over to the window and stared out at the night sky, contemplating his next words. "Gabrielle has been staying in the Amazon village on the north side of the river. Your mission is to bring her to me."

"And then what, Ares?," the warlord Allmar blurted out. "What’s in it for us?"

The muscles in the god’s face began to shift, settling into a haughty grin. "I’m going to offer Gabrielle to Xena. Once she casts her eyes on the woman who destroyed her life, killed her son, betrayed her trust...she’ll want to annihilate her. And, once she does that, my warrior will return. She just needs a little coaxing to help her get in touch with her dark side again. With Xena on our side, there won’t be a village we can’t take. After all, what good is a God of War without a worthy war? As for all of you, the riches of the land and the power that comes with them will be yours for the taking."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny, delighted to see Gabrielle somewhere besides lying in bed, gently took the bard’s hand. "Here. This is the place."

"It’s breathtaking. I haven’t seen anything so beautiful since..."

"Gabrielle...I brought you here so you could relax and clear your mind," Ephiny gently reminded her companion. It seemed so long since the bard had returned to the village, mourning the death of Solan, the loss of her daughter, and the end of her relationship with the warrior princess.

"Thank you so much for not giving up on me. I almost gave up on myself...but I know that I have to go on...with or without Xena." The bard’s words were music to the Amazon’s ears. She’d waited so long to be with the woman she loved and now, after all this time, she might get the chance. She loved both Xena and Gabrielle...but Gabrielle. The bard was everything she’d always wanted. Kind, loving, funny, talented, brave, strong, and utterly beautiful. For so long she had put her own feelings aside out of respect for the bard, for the warrior, and for the love the two shared. She had assumed that they were lovers all along, but now she understood that the depth of Gabrielle’s love for the Warrior Princess remained unknown to Xena...and now it seemed she would never know. Happy in her newly found hope, yet saddened in the realization that it was interwoven with such despair, Ephiny tightened her grip on the bard’s hand.

The two women sat closely together on the most comfortable rock they could find, staring out over the valley, each lost in her own thoughts. Visions of her time with Xena played over and over in Gabrielle’s mind, while Ephiny focused on the bard and the future she hoped to have with her. "Ephiny?," Gabrielle spoke through a sheepish grin. "I’m really hungry. Did you bring any food?" The Amazon began to chuckle, partially because she found the bard’s voracious appetite amusing but also because she was elated to see the bard’s smile again. Placing her hands on Gabrielle’s shoulders, the Amazon playfully pushed her onto her back on the grassy patch next to them exclaiming, "You’re always hungry!" After a few moments, the laughter diminished, and the two women lay still on the ground. Gabrielle, forsaking her stomach pangs, made her way into Ephiny’s arms.

The Amazon’s mind began to wander as the bard slept peacefully, the sun glistening on the ends of her long blonde hair. Feeling Gabrielle’s body shift on top of her own, Ephiny struggled to control her desire. This became increasingly difficult as the bard made her way across her chest and placed her lips against her own. The kiss was the sweetest she had ever experienced and just as she began to hope it would never end, the bard hastily pulled away. Gabrielle, now awake, jumped to her feet repeating the words, "I’m sorry, Ephiny."

"It’’s alright, Gabrielle. We must have both been dreaming," the Amazon, clearly bewildered, uttered in an attempt to hide her deliberate compliance, not to mention her true feelings for the bard.

"Yeah..I guess I was dreaming about Xena. Who were you..."

"I don’t remember," Ephiny replied nervously, interrupting the bard’s inquiry. "Let’s head back. It’s getting late."

After dinner, the two women made their way toward their huts. "Goodnight, Gabrielle," the Amazon said as she leaned forward and planted a kiss on the bard’s cheek.

"Come on, Ephiny! You can do better than that!," she declared, grinning from ear to ear.

"Get some sleep, Gabrielle," she chuckled as she turned toward her hut, her face turning red at the bard’s reference to the kiss they had inadvertently shared earlier.

The bard fell asleep quickly but was soon awakened by her own dreams. She’d been having nightmares about Solan’s death since it happened. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again, she found comfort in her scrolls and a mug of cider. After a while, she noticed the candle still burning in Ephiny’s window.

She opened the door slowly and, without a sound, made her way toward the Amazon’s bed. Still in a playful mood despite her restless slumber, she ripped the blanket from the Regent’s body and, upon seeing her friend, blurted out in surprise, "Oh gods!...Ephiny! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to....I didn’t know you were...Oh gods!" She bolted through the door and scampered toward her own hut. The mortified Amazon made her way to the window and peered outside where she saw the bard running at full speed, dragging her blanket behind her, saying the words "knock first, then enter" over and over again to herself.

Ephiny had been dwelling on the afternoon’s events and the way Gabrielle’s tongue had felt as it clumsily made its way around her mouth but she certainly never meant for the bard to witness her yearning first hand. Stark naked and extremely frustrated, she covered her face with her hands in an attempt to quash her embarrassment.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The five warlords were nearing the Amazon village when Draco gave the command. "Don’t go any further. We’ll make camp here and tomorrow, just before sunrise, we’ll nab the wench and deliver her to Ares."

"What do we want with this useless girl?" Santel said loudly as he moved toward Draco.

Allmar, blocking Santel’s path, drew his sword and placed it’s point against the warlord’s chest. "We’re doing this as much for ourselves as for Ares," he reminded the his comrade.

Santel hastily shoved the sword away and began collecting his belongings, strapping them to his horse again. "I’m not wasting my time traipsing around some Amazon village looking for some woman just to appease the God of War. Do what you want, but I’m out of here." Digging his heals into his horse’s ribs, he shouted a final, "Yah!" and disappeared from sight, followed by two more who shared his sentiment concerning the seemingly fruitless mission.

"All the more glory for us!" Draco shouted as he turned to the one remaining warlord. "We don’t need any more reinforcement. The two of us will be more than enough to handle the blonde. Be ready in the morning."

"Count on it," Allmar replied as he unpacked his gear and began to set up camp.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Xena, her eyes still fixed on the sky, remembered nights like this spent under the stars with her bard. The way Gabrielle’s face beamed with excitement as she wove her tales. The way they would place their bedrolls side by side and lay next to each other discussing the constellations and reminiscing their adventures. For the first time since her arrival on the mountain, a tear escaped the warrior’s eye, digging a trench in her cheek as it made its way toward her chin. And for the first time in days, she spoke, crying out though no one was there to hear it, "Damn your soul to Tartarus, Gabrielle!"

She still couldn’t seem to come to terms with what had happened between her and the bard. The love of her life had crushed her heart, her dreams, her soul. Yet she wondered whether or not things would be different, whether or not Solan might still be alive, if only she had told Gabrielle of her feelings for her. Collapsing to her knees, she released yet another cry, again condemning the bard. She remained there most of the night, cursing her lost love and writhing in her torment.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny reached for a sample of everything on the table, placing each item of food neatly on two trays as she had every morning since Gabrielle began getting out of bed again. She knew the bard would be along soon. She was always one of the first arrivals for breakfast. "Sweet Aphrodite," she thought to herself, "how is she going to react to me after last night? How am I going to look her in the eyes?" She found a place to sit and waited, picking at the food on her tray and rehearsing the words she would say when the bard arrived. Before she knew it, she had eaten almost everything in front of her. After waiting a few more moments, she decided to find out what was keeping Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle?" she called out, poking her head through the door only to discover that the Queen wasn’t inside. It took only seconds for her to notice that something was terribly wrong. The scroll the bard had been working the night before was ripped to shreds and strewn across the floor and, most telling, traces of blood could be seen on several of the tattered pieces of parchment. "Amazons!" her voice rang out. "Amazons!" Before she could shout a third time, at least fifty women were in or around the hut. The Regent began frantically explaining and pointing to the tattered scroll and the newly spilled drops of blood as more Amazons arrived on the scene.

Not knowing whether the blood belonged to Gabrielle or to someone...or something else, she knew that time was of the essence. Frightened that her love might be lying somewhere injured or dead, she quickly designated a search party consisting of those most skilled with their weapons. She mounted her horse and took the lead, trailed by the best the Amazon Nation had to offer. They followed the trail of blood until it disappeared into the earth. "The trail’s gone cold," Ephiny began, "we need to split up. Shara, take your party and head east. Talin, take your party west. Eponin, head south. Charis, come with me. The rest of us will continue to follow the river north. Send word to me if you find her." With that, the Amazons scattered, dust filling the air as their horses charged in all directions.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The bard, slipping in and out of consciousness, raised her head in an effort to focus on the form before her. "What do we have here?" the voice grew louder as the form moved closer. "Poor, poor Gabrielle, bard in distress. Where’s your warrior in shining armor? Oh yes. That’s right--you two are having some sort of family feud these days, hmmm?" Gabrielle, recognizing the voice immediately, assumed she was hallucinating. She began to drift into unconsciousness again when the hallucination backhanded her across her left cheek. Jolted from the blow, she opened her eyes wide exclaiming "Callisto!" as she reached for her staff, only to discover that, not only did she not have her staff, but her wrists and ankles were in shackles connected to the corners of the board on which she lay. "Now, now. Don’t fret, Gabrielle. I’m not going to hurt you...yet," Callisto said through a smirk.

It didn’t take the bard long to realize that she’d been injured and she was pretty certain she’d also been drugged. The worst of the pain was emanating from her right arm, although she wasn’t able to move it far enough to see why. The inventory of her injuries was soon interrupted by two husky voices, growing louder until they were in the cabin with her. "Long time, no see, Gabrielle," Draco addressed her as he removed a key from his leather vest and began unlocking the shackles one by one.

"What do you want with me, Draco? I don’t know where Xena is and she doesn’t care where I am or what you do to me," Gabrielle informed the warlord, assuming her abduction must have something to do with Xena.

"Believe me, I have no interest in you. Cupid removed that spell long ago," Draco responded.

"The Amazons will come for me. I am their queen, you know."

"More women?" Allmar joined the conversation. "Bring them on, bard. They’re no match for us and they’re certainly no match for Ares."

"Ares!" Gabrielle was beginning to understand. Ares wanted to use her to get to Xena again, the ransom being Xena’s compliance with some plan of battle concocted by the God of War. "Take me to Ares. He’ll only set me free once I explain that Xena and I are no longer together. But then...wouldn’t he know that already?," she began to think aloud.

"Ares is aware of what happened to Xena’s son. Word has it you’re to blame," Draco scoffed. "But you’re right about one thing. This does have something to do with Xena."

"What?," Gabrielle asked, both concerned and puzzled. "How is Xena involved?"

"You’ll find out soon enough," he told her as he pulled at her wrists, lifting her to a sitting position, aggravating her injured arm.

"I’m thirsty and my arm is killing me," she resounded, trying to conceal her fear.

"Allmar, get blondie some water," the warlord demanded before turning once again to Gabrielle. "If I give you some water, I expect your silence in return. Your voice irritates me," he snarled.

Allmar returned with a small cup filled with water which he handed to the bard as he began to speak. "You’re not a bad looking Amazon. Maybe we’ll skip the meeting with Ares and keep you for ourselves." Without warning, Gabrielle slammed the tin cup into the side of Draco’s head and ran for the door. But her attempt was soon stifled. The warlords stopped her before she reached the door and carried her back to the wooden slab. Draco began to clasp the shackles around her wrists when Allmar interrupted, "The shackles won’t be necessary right now. I have plans for the little lady." He grabbed the bard’s arms and loosened his whip from his waist. Before she knew what was happening, he had tied her hands together behind her back. "Since Ares hasn’t arrived yet, I assume he’s in no hurry to claim his prize so...," he focused his eyes on Gabrielle as a smirk surfaced on his face, "let

"I like the way you think," Draco responded as he reached toward Gabrielle, taking her in his arms and forcing her mouth against his own. Her screams were soon muffled as Allmar stuffed an old piece of cloth in her mouth, tying the ends behind her head. Draco placed the point of his sword against her neck, removing her tunic with one swift stroke of his blade while Allmar cut the back of her skirt with his dagger. Now flat on her back on the floor, the bard struggled to prevent it, but soon found her body being invaded by Draco while Allmar held her legs. When he was finished with her, she had only enough time for a fleeting gasp for air before Allmar took his place. Again and again they took turns with her before tiring of it and moving on to torturing her with their weapons. Though the wounds weren’t severe enough to kill her, she soon wished they had been.

Ares arrived in time to see the two men sitting outside the cabin, guzzling from their water skins while Gabrielle, inside and shackled, was choking on her own vomit as the gag in her mouth forced her to swallow what her stomach expelled. "What in Tartarus is this?," Ares’ angry voice rumbled like thunder as he angrily yanked the cloth out of the bard’s mouth. Draco, pouring water from his skin over his face, addressed the god’s question with one of his own. "Is there harm in finding a creative way to kill time?" Obviously pleased with his handiwork, he added, "We did what you asked. Take her. She’s yours."

"She’s no use to me now, you fools. Even in her present state, Xena wouldn’t kill her now." Ares, growing increasingly enraged, added, "I should kill you both. I refrain only because I might need you again soon. Be prepared." With these words, the god disappeared as quickly as he had arrived, leaving the two warlords and the bard to fend for themselves.

"I’ve had enough of the Amazon," Allmar informed the warlord, "I’m leaving. Leave her here or take her with you. The choice is yours."

"If I never see her again, it’ll be too soon," Draco snapped as he readied his horse.

Not long after Allmar rode out of sight, Draco hastily removed the shackles from Gabrielle’s wrists and ankles before departing, leaving the once again unconscious bard alone inside the cabin.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Gabrielle woke to the sounds of pounding hooves mingled with voices...female voices. Stripped and bleeding, she began to crawl toward the door which led outside, only it swung open before she could reach it. She burst into tears at the sight of Ephiny’s face. The Amazon quickly scooped her up in her arms as her own tears surfaced. "Gabrielle, who did this to you?," the Regent whispered in her ear. Though she tried to speak, the Amazon was unable to decipher the bard’s words through the sobs. "Gabrielle, it’s going to be alright," Ephiny’s voice along with her embrace soon calmed the bard.

The Regent called for Charis who had been waiting, as instructed, outside with the rest of the search party. Charis entered and her eyes filled with tears at the sight of her battered queen. "What can I do to help?," she asked, placing her hand on Ephiny’s shoulder.

By the time Charis returned with the blanket the Regent had requested, Gabrielle had managed to tell the Amazon that Draco and Allmar were responsible and that Ares had played a part in the attack. As she wrapped the blanket around the bard, Ephiny instructed Charis to take the other Amazons and head home, leaving four women behind to help her get Gabrielle back to the village. "You’ll need more supplies. Get them and regroup. Organize a search party, including our best archers, and find the warlords Draco and Allmar. When you do, kill them," the Regent ordered through tears and clenched teeth.

Getting the bard home proved to be a difficult task. Her injuries prevented her from walking and travel by horseback was no better. She had to be carried back to the village where she was placed on Ephiny’s bed. After the bard consumed nearly an entire skin of water, Ephiny began to cleanse and dress the Queen’s wounds, surprised that she needed only a few stitches in her arm. Knowing her friend well and, judging the look on her face, the Amazon began to suspect that there was more to this story than she’d been told. "Gabrielle?," she began to speak. "Is there something you’re not telling me?"

"No... I...I don’t...," the bard’s words were lost as she began to crumble before the Regent’s eyes.

"I’m here, Gabrielle. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you again," the Regent, fighting back her own tears, struggled to get the words out.

"Ephiny...I...," she attempted, her words again stifled by her grief.

"Gabrielle, it’s ok. You don’t have to talk now."

The bard woke with the morning light relieved to find Ephiny beside her. The Amazon had been awake for some time, watching her queen as she slept, grateful that she was alive, yet enraged at the men who had done this to her.

Charis, delivering a tray of food to the two women, informed the Regent that the search party had returned and that there had been no sign of Draco or Allmar. Upon vowing to kill them both herself if she had to, Ephiny returned her attention to the wounded Queen.

The bard sat up and planted her feet on the floor only to realize that she was unable to walk on her own. After carefully inspecting Gabrielle’s legs and back, Ephiny looked puzzled. "There are no broken bones," she thought aloud before growing momentarily silent. "Gabrielle?" She hesitated before continuing, "What did they do to you?" The look on the bard’s face told her everything she needed to know. "Did they...the gods, Gabrielle." She wrapped her arms around the bard, holding her as tightly as she could without hurting her. "Ephiny...," Gabrielle managed to force the words through ragged breaths, "I need Xena."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The Amazon trembled as she mounted her horse and headed for the mountains, but she knew this was something she had to do. If Gabrielle’s heart ached for Xena the way her own heart ached for the bard, she had to at least try. As she rode, she thought only of her queen. The way she scoffed down her meals and threw her head back when she laughed. The way she told stories that captured her soul. The way she kissed her in her sleep that afternoon in the valley. She couldn’t help but wonder whether she would ever share a kiss like that with the woman she loved again.

She knew her future with the bard depended on the outcome of this journey. She hadn’t told Gabrielle where she was going or what she planned to do, only that she needed to travel to the Centaur village across the river to check on her son and that she would return as soon as she could. Leaving her at a time when she was so frail was hard on the Amazon, but she was confident that Charis would take good care of her. And she knew that what she was doing for her now could help her heal more completely than anything else ever could.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"You have company, dear." Callisto’s voice cut through Xena like a double-edged sword. The warrior jumped to her feet and, for the first time in weeks, filled the air with her warcry. "Ayiyiyiyiyi!" Her voice rang out, bouncing off the mountain tops.

"You should have told me you were coming. I might have bothered to bathe," Xena growled.

"Now, Xena. Tsk. Tsk. Must you always be so testy?"

"Cut to the chase, Callisto, what do you want?" The warrior, in no mood for the antics of the pseudo-goddess, rose to her feet and began walking toward her antagonist, leaving her sense of humor behind.

"Well..., " a colossal smile appeared on Callisto’s face. "Now that your precious Gabrielle’s gone and since Solan’s taken up residence with Hades...I thought maybe I could be your new sidekick. Doesn’t that sound delicious?" The air began to hiss as the warrior’s chakram sliced it in two, lopping off the goddess’ head.

"No need to lose your head," Xena smirked. Callisto, not amused, conjured up her usual fiery remedy and stood, whole again, before her.

"And I was trying so hard to keep myself together, " the goddess spoke through a toothy smile. "But then you always did have a way of making me fall all to pieces."

"Don’t you have huts to burn or animals to slaughter?"

"Yes, I suppose the day would be a complete loss if I didn’t destroy..something. Besides, I wasn’t referring to myself when I said you had a visitor."

The goddess had barely made her flaming exit when the Amazon arrived, trudging uphill leading her horse by the reins. Not knowing what to expect, she stopped short of reaching the warrior and called out, "Xena?"

"What are you doing here? If this is about Gabrielle, I’m not interested," the warrior said as she began to sharpen her blade for the first time in weeks. The Amazon moved closer, " is about Gabrielle. Something has happened..."

"I don’t want to hear it, Ephiny. Don’t you get it? My son is dead because of her, because she..."

The warrior’s next words fell on deaf ears as the Amazon’s mind wandered to thoughts of her own son, safe in the Centaur village with his father’s family. As she stood there staring at Xena, she couldn’t help but ask herself how she would have reacted if Hope had taken her son’s life as she had taken Solan’s.

" don’t expect me to stand here and listen to you talk about Gabrielle." Ephiny’s mind returned to the moment just as Xena finished her last sentence.

Determined to complete her mission, the Amazon retorted, "I’m going to say what I’ve come here to say. Whether or not you listen is for you to decide."

"Ephiny," the warrior’s eyes began to narrow as she raised her sword, "I’d suggest you just go home."

Before the Amazon could make a move, Xena was behind her pressing her blade to her throat. Looking back over her shoulder and into the warrior’s eyes, Ephiny began to speak. "I’m not going anywhere yet. Kill me if you want but know that I will continue to speak as the last drop of blood leaves my body." The warrior released her grip on the Amazon, giving her a shove. "Talk, " she demanded.

"Something has happened to Gabrielle."

"Thanks for letting me know," Xena interrupted her. "Will that be all?"

"Xena, you don’t understand. She’s..."

"Is she dead?"

"No, she’s not dead. She..."

"She’s not dead which must mean she’s still alive. Deal with her yourself. She’s your queen and, frankly, I don’t want to be responsible for her anymore."

"She was abducted from the village and...," Ephiny grew impatient as she struggled to get the words out.

"Do you know where she is now?"

"Yes, she’s been returned. We found her but..."

"She’s back? Great. Glad to hear it. Now, goodbye," Xena snapped, growing increasingly annoyed.

Ephiny, in her frustration and desperation, released the words, hurling them at the warrior. "Xena, she was raped and beaten by Draco and Allmar!"

She stood in silence studying the expression on the warrior’s face. Xena’s blood ran cold as she turned her back to Ephiny, her heart pounding as though it were trying to escape from her chest. "There’s something else you need to know...," the Amazon’s tone grew cautious. "Xena...Gabrielle was a virgin."

"But Perdicus?," confused, Xena spoke in a whisper as her mind began to wage war against itself, pitting thought against thought, emotion against emotion. As she stood there, every moment she and the bard had ever shared flashed before her eyes. Spinning around inside her mind, making her dizzy, relentlessly clawing at her soul. She placed both of her hands on the tree in front of her in an attempt to steady herself as sweat began to trickle down her face.

Ephiny, now moving toward the tormented warrior, stopped in her tracks when Xena began to speak. "Solan?," her eyes glistened as she made her way to the edge of the cliff. The Amazon’s heart raced as her legs took control of the rest of her body, carrying her up the hill, pushing her toward the warrior. She had just reached the top when Xena jumped, hurling herself over the side of the mountain. "No Xena! Don’t!" Ephiny’s voice rang out to no avail.

The Amazon, still lying on the ground where she had fallen in her attempt to grab the warrior, crawled toward the edge of the cliff and looked over. Xena was gone. And she would have to deliver the news to her queen.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny reached the Amazon village early in the morning just before sunrise. Unable to sleep and desperately worried about Gabrielle, she had decided to travel by night, stopping only long enough to allow her horse to feed and rest. After closing the door to the stables, she slowly made her way to her hut. "Gabrielle?," she said her name so softly she could barely hear herself speak. But the bard wasn’t there.

Upon opening the door to Gabrielle’s hut, she found her queen sleeping peacefully. Exhausted, she sank to the floor, resting her back against the bard’s bed. She sat in the dark agonizing over the task she would soon be forced to undertake until, finally, she drifted into sleep.

Sensing the warmth on her neck, Ephiny opened her eyes. The bard leaned over the side of the bed, wrapping her arms around her friend’s shoulders. "I’m glad you’re back," she said, a barely visible smile adorning her face.

"How are you feeling?" Ephiny asked, trying to ignore the sweat pouring from the palms of her own hands.

"I’m starting to feel better. I can walk on my own now. That’s an accomplishment," the bard made a half-hearted attempt to recapture her sense of humor.

"Gabrielle," the Amazon’s voice began to shake. "I need to talk to you."

"About what?," her tone grew cautious.

Though she tried, Ephiny was unable to tell her what had happened on the mountain. Ravaged by the guilt which had already begun to paint her soul black, she uttered the only words she was able to muster. "We’ll meet in my hut later, after I’ve had a chance to bathe and change my clothes. Let me take a look at your wounds before I go."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Gabrielle arrived at Ephiny’s hut to find her friend on her knees, her head bowed, whispering something that she couldn’t quite make out. "Ephiny?" She placed her hand on the Amazon’s shoulder, gently caressing her soft muscular skin.

"Artemis...I was talking to Artemis." Her words were gentle and her demeanor unusually humble as she looked up at her love, longing to deliver her from what was soon to be her darkest hour. As she confided in the moon goddess, she came to accept that it was her burden to tell the bard of the events that had occurred on the mountain and the role she had played in the death of the Warrior Princess.

Burning inside her, clawing at her soul, the questions tormented her mind. Had she betrayed Gabrielle, casting her trust aside, falsely convincing herself that her intentions were pure--that her purpose was to reunite the bard and the warrior? Had she truly wished to return with Xena or against her? Had she hoped against hope that the warrior would deny her queen at the time when she needed her most? Was it possible that she had secretly longed to tell Gabrielle of the warrior’s heartless response in the face of her anguish, expelling Xena from the bard’s soul, leaving a void to be filled...a pathway through which she could claim Gabrielle for herself? She wondered if she had subconsciously conspired to destroy her love, breaking her into pieces so that she could put her together her own discretion.

"What did you want to talk to me about?," the bard’s words interrupted the battle ensuing in her mind. The Amazon, rising from her knees, placed her hands on the Queen’s shoulders and gazed into her eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of her soul. She stood before her love, her own heart breaking at the thought of causing her more pain, her mouth determined to hold the words captive. Tears began to swell in her eyes as she placed her fingertips on the bard’s bruised face before wrapping her in her arms, pulling her close. "I love you so much," Ephiny’s words came in a whisper, settling in the softness of the bard’s hair. "I love you too, Ephiny," Gabrielle sighed, tightening her arms around the Amazon’s waist, "I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here with me."

"I’ll always be with you," she spoke as her hands made their way down the bard’s arms before taking her hands in her own.

"I can tell something’s bothering you. You’ve done so much for me. Let me help you." A tear escaped the Amazon’s eye as the words fell on her ears.

"I’ve always admired your strength, you know. After all you’ve been through, somehow you find it within yourself to want to help someone else. I wish you could see yourself as others see you, love yourself as others love you."

"Speaking of loving oneself...," the long-lost devilish grin momentarily returned to the bard’s face.

"Don’t go there, Gabrielle," the Amazon blushed, a vague smile forcing its way through her tears.

The two women, now lost in their embrace, nearly snapped their own necks when they abruptly turned their heads, diverting their eyes toward the door as it began to swing open. The Amazon instinctively picked up her sword and moved in front of the unarmed bard. "Xena?," the two women spoke in unison. The warrior’s eyes locked on Gabrielle as Ephiny’s weapon slipped from her trembling hands.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The god and the goddess hovered over each other, evidence of their powers revealed in the icy blue weapons they held in the palm of their hands. "Callisto, the gods despise you as mortals do. You’re a wanna-be. A makeshift goddess with no real purpose," Ares snarled.

"You were hating me that afternoon when I was in Xena’s body? Pity everyone doesn’t hate the way you do." The goddess held her hand over her head prepared to strike as she flashed her trademark smile.

"The Warrior Princess is in the Amazon village, Callisto. Are you able to comprehend what that could mean?"

"Ah, yes. She’s gone back to claim her precious Gabrielle..."

"My goal is for her to return to me, not to Gabrielle. And you...," the god, obviously annoyed, paused before continuing. "If you advocate Xena’s happiness, then let her reunite with her worthless bard. See where it gets you. Bask in the glow of the warrior’s bliss if you will, but I refuse to let her go."

The goddess lowered her arm, the fiery blue ball vanishing from her hand, and made her way across the grass until she stood face to face with the God of War. Placing her arms around his waist and her lips within inches of his, she asked, "So, Ares my darling, what are we to do about it?" Visions of the passion he and the goddess had once shared overcame the god as their mouths came together, each seeking to devour the other.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The warrior was obviously overwhelmed by the sight of the bruises and cuts on the bard’s face. She looked down for a moment, collecting herself before she started to speak. "Ephiny, can I speak with you outside?"

"Ye...uh...yes, sure," the Amazon, still stunned, managed. "Gabrielle, will you be alright?" The bard, also flustered, nodded in approval. Ephiny and Xena made their way outside, leaving Gabrielle alone to wrestle with her thoughts. Uncertain whether the warrior would even speak to her before she rode away again, she began to formulate the words she might say in case she did. What could she say, if anything, to atone for her mistakes--mistakes which had cost Xena’s son his life? And how could she face her after what had happened with Draco and Allmar? But, most of all, what would she do if the warrior turned and walked away from her once more? Her tears began to flow as she reflected on the recent past. How could she have allowed this to happen? How could she have caused her love such pain?

Outside the hut, Xena addressed the Amazon. "Ephiny, I’m sorry about the way I treated you. I let my rage get the best of me. I let my pain overpower me..."

"Xena," the Regent stopped her before she could get any further. "I understand the love a mother has for her child. And, honestly, I don’t know that I would have handled myself much differently than you did if I’d been in your position." Her mind drifted as she spoke, recalling the day Xenon was born. The warrior had brought him into the world, freeing him from her womb when he was unable to free himself. She remembered Xena’s concern and the smile on her face as she placed the newborn safely in his mother’s arms.

"I...I came to be with Gabrielle. How is she?," the warrior continued.

"Her body is beginning to heal, but her mind...well, that’s another story."

"Do you think she’ll want to see me?"

"I know she will."

"I hurt her so badly, Ephiny. I can’t tell you how deeply I regret that."

"Go to her. Tell her. She needs you right now," the Amazon wrapped her arms tightly around the warrior, holding her close for a moment, before loosening her grip. "Xena? How did you survive that fall?," the lines on her forehead became more pronounced, revealing her astonishment.

"Solan. Ephiny, he came to me," the warrior’s eyes widened and her voice became more zealous as she spoke. "He helped me to see things...," she paused, tears forming in her eyes. "He gave me the ability to understand...I have to face Gabrielle."

"I’ll spend tonight in Gabrielle’s hut. You two take your time. If there’s anything I can do, Xena...," the Amazon offered a warm smile before she turned and walked away.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Your plan has potential. Mine is better...but I’m feeling unusually cooperative today so we’ll go with yours. You’ll get your warrior and I’ll get satisfaction," Callisto’s delight was evident in her voice. "I can hear her heart breaking now. Sweet music to my ears!"

"You’ve got to do your part as planned," the God of War reminded her. "Xena mustn’t know what’s going on and, if I’m right, Gabrielle isn’t going to tell her. Don’t underestimate her. Timing is everything, my dear."

"Come on, Ares. She’s good, but she’s not that good!," the goddess blurted out.

"If she wasn’t that good, I wouldn’t be so adamant about having her on my side."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The bard lifted her head as the warrior entered the hut. "Gabrielle?"

"Xena...," the only word she could manage before gentle sobs transformed into uncontrollable weeping. The warrior, hesitating only because she was afraid the bard would deny her, cautiously moved across the room, kneeling beside her on the floor. "Gabrielle?," she repeated. "Look at me...please."

The bard lifted her eyes to meet the warrior’s, terrified that she would demand an explanation for the bruises on her face. But Xena took her in her arms without uttering a word. Holding her love as close as she could, the bard found the ability to speak. "I’m so sorry, Xena. I never wanted to hurt you...," her gasps for air, the result of her intense crying, brought her words to a halt.

"Gabrielle, I’m sorry I left you...sorry that I wasn’t here when you needed me," the warrior’s tears mingled with the bard’s as she placed her cheek next to hers, gently kissing her bruised face.

The two women stayed up talking until Gabrielle, exhausted from the day’s events, fell asleep in her chair. After relocating the weary bard to the bed, the warrior settled into her bedroll on the floor, thankful to be reunited with the one who had held her heart for so long.

It was nearly noon the next day and Ephiny hadn’t seen Gabrielle or the warrior. She knew Xena was still in the village as she had checked the stables earlier and Argo was still there. Not knowing whether or not either of them was awake, she placed the tray of food on the ground before gently tapping on the door and heading off to soak in the hot springs and sort her thoughts. Though she was happy that the woman she loved would be whole again, she began to mourn the death of her own dreams of having a future with the bard. She would always love her, but the fates had other plans for Gabrielle...plans that didn’t include least, not as she had hoped. She thanked Artemis for watching over her queen, for sending someone who could restore the bard’s soul, for sparing her the task of telling Gabrielle of the warrior’s demise.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Inside Ephiny’s hut, the bard opened her eyes and struggled to free herself from the blankets, before frantically leaping out of bed. The warrior, obviously startled, jumped up from her bedroll. "What’s the matter, Gabrielle?"

"Xena. Thank the gods. I was afraid you weren’t really here...that yesterday was only a dream," again the bard’s tears found their way to her eyes.

"I’m right here, Gabrielle," Xena’s voice and loving embrace chased away her tears.

"Is that food on the table?," the bard asked through a crooked smile.

"Yep, that’s food. I found it outside the door," she answered, clearly pleased to know that Gabrielle’s appetite was still healthy.

"Ephiny...," the bard thought aloud upon seeing the variety of delectables, her affection for the Amazon reflected in her voice. "She’s taken good care of me, Xena."

"I know," she responded, flashing a warm smile, before popping a piece of apple into Gabrielle’s mouth. "Eat. I’ll put fresh bandages on your wounds when you finish." The warrior cringed at her last statement, knowing that Gabrielle was trying to avoid discussing the rape. Visibly troubled, the bard merely glanced at her as she continued to pick at her food.

Xena finished dressing the bard’s arm and tending to the other visible cuts on her body before reluctantly asking, "Are there more?" Gabrielle looked at the floor, biting her bottom lip, trying not to cry. "Gabrielle," she felt a wave of apprehension wash over her body as she spoke. "I know what happened," she admitted.

"Ephiny told you?!," the bard’s elevated tone surprised the warrior. "She shouldn’t have told you, Xena. I didn’t want you to know."

"Ephiny’s the reason I’m here, Gabrielle. She found me on the mountain and..."

"I wasn’t going to tell you!," the Queen screamed, her tears beginning to flow freely.

"It wasn’t your fault. You know that...don’t you?," she asked as she reached for her.

"Don’t touch me!" Confused by the bard’s reaction, the warrior backed away from her.


"I don’t want anyone near me right now, Xena. Please...just leave me alone."

The bard had been alone in the hut most of the day. She reached for the candle on the table as the sun would be setting soon. Before she laid a hand on it, the flame appeared on its own. Bewildered, she moved closer, mesmerized by the flame.

"Boo!," the voice arrived ahead of its owner. Just as Gabrielle was certain that the furies had cursed her with madness, Callisto made her appearance. "Now listen to my story "bout Gabrielle," the goddess began to chant. "Irritating bitch with the banged-up outer shell. It’s such a big disgrace. Her story’s kinda crass. They marred her perfect breasts while they took her perfect... ," her laughter roared through the room as she vanished, taking the light of the candle with her.

"Gabrielle?," Xena’s voice soon replaced the visitor’s as she, Ephiny, and Charis hovered over the bard, now on her knees screaming so loudly that her throat felt raw. "Gabrielle, what happened?," Xena probed while the two Amazons looked on in silence, Ephiny’s eyes growing glassy. "Eph...Ephiny. me get her up," the warrior stammered as she spoke.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"The fish just don’t like me, Xena," the bard declared as she pulled her line out of the water and sat down on a log next to the warrior.

"It’s not that they don’t like you. They just sense that you don’t really want to catch them," the warrior teased, making reference to Gabrielle’s tendency to apologize to the fish as she removed them from the end of her line.

"Well, I’m going to take great pleasure in cutting the heads off those suckers today," the bard insisted. "I’ve been here all morning and all I’ve managed to get is wet. Besides, I’ve found that fish is always better when you catch it," she focused her eyes on the approaching Amazon as she spoke.

"Catch anything?," Ephiny asked, returning her queen’s enthusiastic embrace. Xena looked on, taking notice of how comfortable Gabrielle appeared to be in the Amazon’s arms. For the past couple of weeks, the warrior sensed that the bard, who at one time settled easily into her embrace, had become wary of her touch. Her heart grew heavy with the thought of Gabrielle pulling away from her. It seemed to begin shortly after she told her that she knew what Draco and Allmar had done to her. And though she tried, she couldn’t quite figure out why she seemed to be withdrawing from her during the most difficult time in her life.

The warrior’s thoughts soon turned to the conversation she was having with Ephiny concerning the art of fishing as Gabrielle excused herself, making her way to the river’s edge. Cooling her feet in the water, she focused on her reflection shimmering in the sunlight. From behind her, the warrior tossed a large rock into the water just in front of her feet. Xena and the Amazon laughed as the impact of the rock sent water into the air, soaking the Queen. "You’ll pay for that later," Gabrielle warned before shifting her eyes back to her rippling reflection. She watched in amazement as the tiny waves calmed themselves only to emerge again. After the cycle had repeated itself several times, she noticed that her reflection seemed to be distorted by more than the impact of the rock. Kneeling to take a closer look, she realized that the image in the water no longer belonged to her. She found herself staring into the eyes of Draco as the familiar sound of Callisto

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The glow from the fire bounced off their faces, as the warrior and the Amazon sat next to each other, not far from the Queen’s hut where Gabrielle slept. Ephiny had taken up residency in the hut shortly after the bard gave her the honor of leading her village in her absence. The Regent had hoped that her queen would resume her duties upon returning to the village. Though the bard had been considering reclaiming the mask, in light of her recent trials, she had yet to do so. Ephiny knew that Xena’s return would likely mean that she would continue to rule in Gabrielle’s absence for it was doubtful that the two would choose to settle in the village, or settle in any one place, for that matter.

"I want to help her get through this, but she won’t let me. This is one of the few times in my life that I don’t have a solution," the warrior’s frustration was evident in her voice as she addressed the Regent.

"She’s having a hard time getting over what those bastards did to her," the Amazon’s face grew cold as she spoke. "I sent a search party to find kill them...but they failed to locate them. Gabrielle doesn’t know this but I’ve since sent another. Their orders are to bring them back alive so that they can be tried according to Amazon law. I suppose even worthless scum deserve justice."

"Justice? I’ll show them justice. After what they did to Gabrielle, their justice will be to bleed to death at the end of my sword," the warrior spoke without moving her mouth, her jaw beginning to tighten as the rage swept through her body.

"I sent the best we have, Xena. They’ll find them," she assured her, knowing that in her heart she hoped the warrior would find them first.

Xena’s blood began to boil at the thought of those swine violating her bard, the pit of her stomach churning with repulsion as she longed for the day when Gabrielle would be well enough for her to leave the village long enough to take care of Draco and Allmar. She kept reaching out, searching for the Gabrielle she once knew, her hatred for the warlords augmenting each time the bard pushed her away. "Ephiny?," the warrior focused her eyes on the Amazon.

"You said Gabrielle was a virgin. How..."

"She spoke to me about her wedding night while we were preparing for...," the Amazon paused as she considered the peculiarity of what she was about to say. "While we were preparing for your funeral," she continued. "She told me that she and Perdicus never made love that night. She said she was too nervous and that, when she explained that to him, he suggested that they spend their first night together talking. She said he was very understanding and that he told her there would be plenty of time for them to consummate their marriage. She told him stories until the sun came up...," the Amazon’s words suddenly faded. It wasn’t her place to tell Xena that the Warrior Princess was the subject of the stories she told her husband that night.

"Then Callisto killed Perdicus...," the warrior thought aloud, wishing that Gabrielle loved her the way she had loved Perdicus. For so long she had kept her love for the bard to herself, longing to reveal her feelings yet fearing she would somehow lose what they had if she did. To be with her bard was enough for the warrior. Though she wanted so much more, she’d give up anything just to continue to walk beside her. "Has she told you anything about what happened to her?," she asked as she emerged from her thoughts.

"No. She hasn’t. I’ve tried to help her deal with this, but she insists on fighting this battle alone."

"There must be some way to bring her back...," the warrior paused briefly, concentrating on the incident that had taken place by the river earlier. "What do you make of these episodes she’s been having? I asked her what triggered the one this afternoon but, as usual, she wouldn’t tell me anything."

"She won’t discuss it with me either...but something is setting her off."

"Ephiny? Does she let you get close to her?"

"What do you mean?," the Amazon’s heart skipped a beat as she wondered if the warrior had detected her feelings for Gabrielle.

"Does she...," her words were delayed as she contemplated the best way to express her thoughts without giving herself away. "Does she let you get near her...physically?," she managed, nearly choking on her words as the image of the embrace she had witnessed between the Amazon and the bard played on her mind.

"Well...yes, I guess she does," she answered, her stomach slowly making it’s way to her throat, as she added, "Why do you ask?"

"I don’t know. Lately she...," Xena chose her words cautiously. "She’s been...distant. Especially since I told her that I knew about the rape. It’s like she doesn’t want me to get too close to her. It’s almost as though she’s afraid of me."

"She’s been through a lot. She just needs time to heal," the Amazon assured her.

"Maybe...," she wasn’t entirely convinced that it was that simple. "Thank you for taking care of her, Ephiny. I can never repay you for all you did for her while I was..."

"I love her, Xena." Hoping she hadn’t been conspicuous, the Amazon quickly added, "I’d lay down my life for my queen."

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Who’s there?," the bard asked as she cautiously crawled out of bed and made her way across the dark room. Once her staff was in her hands, her voice grew more severe. "Show yourself!" The figure appeared as a silhouette, a man standing against the wall. "What’s your purpose?," the silhouette asked, revealing itself as the God of War.

"Ares?," the bard looked perplexed. "What do you want? Didn’t your goons do enough damage?"

"I asked you a question. What’s your purpose? Specifically, what is it about yourself that makes you think you’re deserving of Xena’s loyalty? And, while I’m asking, what makes you believe that she’ll ever love you the way you love her?"

"How is that your business? Are you handling Aphrodite’s affairs now?," the bard’s adopted a sarcastic tone.

"You’re obviously in a nasty mood, so I’ll make this short and to the point." The god moved closer to her, so close she could feel his breath on her face as he spoke. "You have nothing to offer Xena. My men robbed you of the only worthwhile thing you ever had to give to her. I didn’t require them to do what they did. They did it on their own. is important that you realize the consequences of their actions. They defiled you, reduced you to nothing more than a filthy harlot. Xena deserves better. But already know that."

"Go to Tartarus!," the bard shouted at the god, thrusting her staff into his gut just as he disappeared from her sight. Glancing out the window, she noticed Xena heading for the hut. Not wanting her to know about the God of War’s visit, she quickly climbed into bed, pulling the blankets over her head.

Xena prepared her bedroll before leaning over to kiss the bard’s cheek, whispering a gentle, "I love you." Pretending to be asleep, Gabrielle fought the urge to ask the warrior to sleep in the bed next to her. Although she longed to feel the warmth of her embrace, she found herself unable to utter the words.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Xena, may I have a word with you?," the Amazon called out from the edge of the trees as she dismounted her horse. The warrior made her way over to Ephiny, leaving the eight Amazons she had been working with to finish stacking the wood for the funeral fire. Charis’ sister, Larah, had left the village just before Winter Solstice to return to Athens to care for an ailing friend. The disease turned out to be both contagious and fatal, killing her friend before rapidly sweeping through her own body, taking out her organs one by one. Ephiny sent for her corpse and, upon its return, scheduled the funeral for the this evening.

"Yes?," the warrior addressed the Amazon.

"My search party has returned. Xena...," Ephiny hesitated. "They brought Draco and Allmar with them."

"Where are they?," the warrior snarled, her eyes narrowing. "And does Gabrielle know they’re here?"

"No, she doesn’t know yet. I thought we would tell her after Larah’s funeral. Xena, they’re to be dealt with according to Amazon law. I’d like to rip them to shreds myself and, without a doubt, their punishment will be death. But, out of respect for Larah, I’ve scheduled the trial for tomorrow. The funeral will be at dusk today. The warlords will receive their punishment tomorrow at noon," the Amazon asserted.

Xena verbally agreed to Ephiny’s terms. She knew there was no use arguing with her over the matter. Yet she was mindful of the fact that the funeral would distract the Amazons long enough for her to take care of Draco and Allmar herself.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The warrior sat outside the bard’s hut, sharpening her sword as she waited for the sun to set. "Xena, you never sharpen your sword this early in the evening," Gabrielle observed.

"I was just looking for something to do to kill time." The warrior was growing restless as she awaited the opportunity to rid the Amazons--and the bard of the two warlords currently held captive in the hut at the north edge of the village.

"I feel so bad for Charis. She loved her sister so much," Gabrielle said pensively.

"I heard her ask Ephiny to sing in her place tonight," the warrior mentioned matter-of-factly, attempting to find out where the Amazon would be so that she could be certain to maneuver around her.

"Yes, I think she did...," the bard’s words dissolved as she thought about the last funeral fire she had observed. The way she and the warrior had stood side by side, yet so far apart there seemed to be an immense gorge separating their souls from one another. Each in agony, watching the body of her only child swallowed up by the hungry flames. "It’s almost time, Xena. You coming?"

"You go ahead. I’ll be right behind you," the warrior answered, feeling bad for lying to the bard. With that, the Queen headed toward the center of the village to take her place among her Amazons.

The sounds of drums and chanting filled the air as the smoke from the fire wafted through the night sky. Xena’s dagger ripped through the back side of the hut creating a passage more than large enough for her to crawl through. Before the prisoners detected her presence, she reached through the bars on the cage that held them, thrusting the tainted darts into their backs, sending the two into a deep sleep. "You two are coming with me," she growled through a wicked grin as she secured ropes around the bars. Upon ensuring that the ropes would hold long enough for her to get the warlords away from the village, she climbed on Argo, giving the horse the command. "Yah!," her blended with the sounds emanating from the center of the village. Dragging the cage behind her horse, the warrior rode into the night.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"So, Xena thinks she can solve her problem by taking out Draco and Allmar," Ares smirked. "I must admit, blood on the hands of the warrior inspires me, no matter what the reason behind it."

"I’d me more inspired if the blood was her own," Callisto spitefully noted. "But then I do believe I hear the faint sound of Xena’s heart beginning to crack. Her precious Gabrielle can’t keep her mind off...what were their names? Oh, yes. Draco and Allmar. What a pair. Anyway, our gentle reminders seem to be working and that’s all that matters."

"I do think we’ve managed to cheapen the bard’s opinion of herself. It won’t be long now before she realizes she’s not worthy of Xena...or anyone else for that matter. And when she does, the warrior will have no one to turn to but me," the God of War boasted.

"Do you suppose dear Gabrielle might decide to take her own life?," Callisto sounded hopeful.

"The bard is, without a doubt, nearing the edge. Now all we have to do is push her over," the god’s words echoed in the air as he took his leave.

"You could at least say goodbye!" Her hands on her hips, the goddess directed the comment to the empty space where the god had been standing.

To be continued...

Part I Part II Part III Part IV

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