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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 IV

The bard sat up and placed her hands on the warrior’s shoulders, gently guiding her mouth to hers. She kissed her as she repositioned her onto her back. Xena moaned as the bard’s hand found its way between her legs, her fingers gently beginning to explore her. When the warrior began to move with her hand, the bard made her way inside her, provoking a louder moan this time. "Gods, Gabrielle," Xena gasped as she moved in unison with her probing fingers. The bard placed her mouth over the warrior’s breast, sucking on her nipple as Xena’s thrusts became more pronounced.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Teasing the Regent’s erect nipple with one hand, Charis placed her free hand under the back of Ephiny’s skirt. The Regent, still leaning against the wall, willingly parted her feet, granting her access. Charis moved her hand inside Ephiny’s undergarment and entered her. Aware of the intensity of her need, she pushed deep inside her. Ephiny’s breaths came in quick gasps as she began to bear down on Charis’ hand. "Come back to your hut with me," Charis whispered in her ear.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Gabri...elle...," the warrior managed. "Will you do something for me?," she spoke softly. "Anything," the bard nodded. "Get on your knees." Gabrielle complied as the warrior shifted her position, sliding her head under the bard.

"Gods, Xena," her love gasped as she pulled her onto her mouth. The bard moved her hips, creating friction between herself and the warrior’s tongue. "Yes, Xena. Gods, yes," she spoke as Xena pushed her tongue inside her, her cries of pleasure making the warrior delirious.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Charis had the Regent’s clothes off of her before she was able to make it through the door of the Queen’s hut. The two desperately made their way to the bed, exchanging urgent kisses all the way. Ephiny cried out as Charis entered her again, this time taking her with her entire hand. She knelt by the bed, the Regent’s feet still on the floor and again and again, she moved in and out of her, Ephiny’s hips thrusting to meet her each time. "Charis," she managed to speak as she gasped for air. "Come here." The Amazon slowly withdrew from her and crawled onto the bed. Ephiny kissed her again as she removed her clothing piece by piece. "Gods, I’ve carried an image of this...around in my head for so long and now...I realize that my memory doesn’t do your body justice," the Regent said as she gazed at her perfect form.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Xena lay next to the bard, her hand moving over her. "Xena, it’s ok. I want you to," Gabrielle whispered. Carefully, the warrior entered her. She was terrified of hurting her. "Deeper," the bard whispered in her ear. Cautiously, the warrior began to move her hand until, finally, Gabrielle began to move with her. "Yes. Gods,yes, Xena," she gasped as she started to move faster. The warrior was pleasantly surprised when the bard rose to her knees, still pressing herself against her hand. Gabrielle reached for her, pulling her up, and the two sat on their knees facing each other, the warrior now deep inside her. Wrapping her arms around her, sending an electrifying pulse through Xena as their breasts touched, the bard’s thrusts became more intense. "Don’t stop," she begged, digging her fingernails into the warrior’s buttocks. Her head spinning, Xena gave her everything she had as she pul

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny coaxed Charis onto her stomach. "I remember how to please you," she whispered as she ran her tongue over her shoulder blades and down the small of her back, her hands massaging her supple backside. "I...," Charis attempted to respond, but was cut short when the Regent placed her hand between her legs, driving her crazy. Ephiny watched her buttocks rise and fall as Charis moved on her hand, soft groans of pleasure emerging from her throat.

Without warning, the Regent stood and walked across the room, leaving Charis lying on the bed panting. "What’s the matter?," the frustrated Amazon asked. "Nothing," Ephiny assured her as she reached inside a drawer.

"You kept it?," Charis couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw what the Regent held in her hands.

"Of course," Ephiny nodded. "Aren’t you glad?," she revealed a devilish grin as she climbed back onto the bed.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Much to the warrior’s delight, the bard was moving against her so wildly that Xena was barely able to keep up with her. Gabrielle’s cries grew louder and Xena could feel her body stiffen in her arms. The bard began to shudder as her thrusts became deeper and slower. "Xenaaa!," she exclaimed as she reached her peak. The warrior held her tightly as her body continued to quake. "Gods, Gabrielle," she whispered, overcome by the bard’s heat. The bard let out one final cry before collapsing into Xena’s arms. The warrior was overwhelmed, fighting back her tears, as she felt her love’s breasts rise and fall against her own as she tried to catch her breath.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The Regent buried her head between Charis’ thighs, her mind flooding with images of the many times they had made love. Charis’ groans of approval encouraged her now as they had in their youth. She opened her mouth, taking her in, swallowing her desire as she fastened the clasps, securing the leather straps. "Do you want me to do this?," Ephiny softly asked as she kissed her lips. "Yes. Yes. Please," her answer came in shallow breaths.

Charis cried out as Ephiny moved on top of her, penetrating her with the firm leather. Within moments, she rolled her lover onto her back, positioning herself on top of her, moving her hips in a rhythm that hypnotized the Regent. "No one’s ever been inside me but you," Charis confessed as she began to come down harder on her. Ephiny, clearly taken aback by the disclosure, clung to her as she matched her eager thrusts.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"I’ve been dying to do this," the bard was still struggling to breathe as she spoke. "Please," Xena pleaded as Gabrielle made her way between her legs. She moved her mouth over her, exploring her every detail. The warrior writhed under her, raising her hips to her mouth. "Gab..," she started to call out her name, but her powerful orgasm rendered her speechless. The bard raised her eyes and watched as Xena’s eyes closed when she threw her head back, her thighs beginning to tremble. Her cries of delight excited the bard as she took her into her mouth, ravaging her passion as it liberated itself from her body.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Again and again, Charis descended on the Regent, pushing the leather deeper and deeper inside herself. Both women began to moan as Charis massaged Ephiny’s breasts with her hands. As their movement intensified, the Regent felt herself beginning to give. Charis, recognizing the look on her lover’s face, let go. Surrendering themselves completely, each whispered the other’s name as they climaxed together, their mouths united in a frenzied kiss.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Gabrielle opened her eyes as she felt the warrior’s warm breath against her cheek when she kissed her. "Good morning," Xena whispered, tenderly stroking the bard’s face with her hand.

"Good morning," the bard offered her a sleepy smile before planting a kiss on her that left the warrior breathless.

"Breakfast?," Xena asked. The bard answered with an enthusiastic nod of approval as she climbed out of bed and put her arms around her love.

The two talked about virtually every subject imaginable while they ate, laughing more than either of them had managed to for quite some time. "You look radiant," the warrior seemed stunned, as though she was looking at the bard for the first time.

"And you...," Gabrielle moved onto her lap. "You look like you’re still hungry," she grinned as she grabbed her hand and coaxed her back into bed.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Ephiny, feeling something tickling the insides of her thighs, opened her eyes to find Charis between her legs. "Morning," she mumbled as plunged her tongue inside the Regent.

Once she had fulfilled her, Charis crawled into Ephiny’s arms. "Wow...," the Regent, now spent, sighed. "That was...quick," she chuckled.

"I think you were dreaming. And from the sound of it, it was a pretty good dream," Charis informed her. "I couldn’t resist," she confessed.

"Thank the gods!," the Regent exclaimed, disappearing under the covers. "I want you to know," her voice was muffled by the blankets. "I was dreaming about you," she responded as she settled between Charis’ thighs and offered her mouth to her.

"Ephiny, you’re not obligated to...," Charis attempted, though she thought she might die if the Regent stopped now.

Ephiny momentarily peered out from under the blankets and looked her in the eyes. "I have no regrets. There’s nothing I want more right now than to make love to you," she assured her.

"And there’s nothing I want more than to give myself to you," Charis whispered, moving her hips in time with the Regent’s attentive tongue.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Gabrielle. H...hello," Ephiny choked on her words as her heart skipped a beat at the unexpected sight of the bard.

"Hey," was all the bard could manage as she hugged the Regent. She was surprised at her own uneasiness. She had expected to be a little nervous, but this. This was bordering on sheer panic.

"What are you doing in here?," the curious Amazon asked. She had actually been trying to avoid the bard and the last place she had expected to run into her was in the stables.

"I just finished brushing Argo," she answered, not telling her that she had come there to think about how to act the next time she saw the Amazon. She loved Ephiny as she loved her own sister. Though she was ecstatic that she and Xena had finally made love, she knew it had to hurt the Regent. And the night she and Ephiny had shared together, meaningful as it was, made things even more complicated.

"Oh, good for Argo," the Amazon cringed at her own lame remark. The truth was that she didn’t know what to say or how to act. And, to top it all off, she felt as though the words "I just had sex with Charis" were branded across her forehead. "It looks like it’s going to rain today." In her mind, she was slapping herself as yet another tired statement escaped her lips.

"Yep. Looks like rain," the bard wasn’t doing much better.

"So, uh...what did you have for breakfast?," the Amazon grimaced at the sound of her own question.

"You’ve got it bad," Gabrielle raised an eyebrow as she spoke in a low growl.

"This is ridiculous, isn’t it?," the Regent laughed.

"How’s Charis this morning anyway?," the bard hinted that she knew more than Ephiny assumed.

"Good. She’s good. Just fine," her voice began to shake as she wondered why Gabrielle chose to ask that question at this moment.

As nervous laughter escaped her, the bard admitted, "I know, Ephiny. There’s no reason for you to feel uncomfortable...and I also know that you’re aware of what happened between me and Xena last night."

"How...," the flustered Regent began.

"I saw you outside the window...both of you," Gabrielle informed her.

"Oh...shit," Ephiny, now utterly mortified, turned her back to the bard and hid her face behind her hands.

"No big deal," the Queen said matter-of-factly as she threw her hand in the air as though she was brushing the incident aside.

"Gods, Gabrielle. I..."

"Nope. Don’t try to explain. I mean it, Ephiny. I get it. I really do. It’s ok," she started to chuckle.

"I...umm...ok. Ok, I’m going to drop it before I end up with both boots in my mouth," the Amazon laughed. "I...," she hesitated. "I need to get back...she’s waiting for me," she spoke cautiously, not wanting to say the wrong thing.

"I know," the look on her face reflected her insight. "Xena’s probably wondering where I am too," she added, reaching out to hug the Amazon. The two embraced, holding onto each other as tears filled their eyes. Ephiny pulled her as close to her as she could as her emotions overwhelmed her. Gabrielle reciprocated, gently massaging the small of the Regent’s back with her hands.

Xena’s left cheek protruded slightly as she pushed on the inside of her cheek with her tongue. Looking down at the ground and then up again at the two women, she placed a hand on her hip. "What’s happening here?," she sounded exasperated, her eyes cutting through them as she drew in a deep breath.

"I...we...," the bard wiped the tears from her face as she tried to speak.

"Ahh, don’t get your tunics in a bunch. I was only kidding," the warrior let them off the hook, giving the bard a brief kiss and the Amazon a peck on the cheek. She understood what was happening between the two women. She had known all along that this wasn’t going to be an uncomplicated situation. She trusted them both and, moreover, her heart went out to the Amazon. "Actually, Ephiny, Gabrielle and I were wondering if you and Charis would like to join us for dinner in Gabrielle’s hut--just the four of us," she inquired.

"Ye...uh...we...," Ephiny stuttered.

"Umm, Ephiny...I know about the whole eavesdropping thing. We both know," Xena acknowledged.

"You saw us too?!," the Amazon exclaimed.

"Yep. That’s right," Xena grinned.

"Shit!," Ephiny blurted out again, sending Gabrielle into a fit of laughter.

"Don’t laugh at the woman!," the warrior gave the bard a playful shove as she tried to suppress her own amusement.

"Dinner sounds great. We’ll be there," the Amazon, now laughing at her predicament along with them, finally responded.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Charis?," the Regent woke the sleeping Amazon from her nap.

"Mmmm. I like waking up this way," she uttered as Ephiny’s lips met hers.

"I need to talk to you," a hint of concern tainted the Regent’s voice.

Charis collected her bearings, poured two cups of water, and sat down across the table from Ephiny. "You have my undivided attention," she told her as she tried to her hide her worry. She honestly didn’t know what the Regent was about to say, though she hoped she would say the words she so desperately needed to hear.

"Charis," she reluctantly began. "Do you...would you...what I’m trying to ask you is...," she inhaled deeply. "If you could, would you change what happened between us last night?," she bit her lip, holding her breath as she awaited her response.

"Yes," Charis said flatly. "I would," she could see the hurt emerging in the Regent’s eyes.

" would?," Ephiny swallowed hard.

"Yes, I would," Charis repeated. "I...," she paused as she tried to summon the courage to continue. "I would have told you that I love you. I’ve never stopped loving you," she revealed, on the verge of tears. The Regent, her face suddenly colorless, walked slowly toward the window, where she stood silently staring out. Charis felt her heart sink as she looked at her, trying to figure out what was going on inside her mind. As she watched her standing there with her head bowed, she noticed that she was crying. "Did I say something wrong?," she spoke softly to the Regent, her fear welling up inside her.

"No," Ephiny’s response was barely audible through her sobs. "But there is something I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time," she raised her head, choking back her tears.

"What is it, sweetheart?," a look of deep concern painted Charis’ face.

The Regent was visibly moved by the tender words. Charis had a habit of calling her sweetheart. But that was long ago, when they were still young, before...

"Why did you leave me when I loved you so much?," Ephiny finally asked.

Charis’ mind regressed to the time when she decided to leave the village...and her love. She couldn’t believe so many years had passed since that fateful day. "I never meant to hurt you," her voice was filled with regret. "I adored you. You have to believe that," she placed her hand on Ephiny’s cheek.

"Then why?," the Amazon withdrew from her, crushing Charis under the weight of the pain she still harbored.

"Do you remember the conversation we had a couple of weeks before I left?," Charis asked.

"I remember many conversations. Most of them ended with ‘I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Don’t ever leave me.’ Things like that," Ephiny sounded bitter.

"The one I’m talking about concerned our plans for the future. Remember?," she coaxed.

The Regent searched her memories, trying to remember. "Are you talking about that time we climbed the tree? We sat in the branches for hours...," Ephiny’s mind drifted back.

"Yes. That’s what I’m referring to. I asked you what you wanted out of life. Can you recall what you said?," Charis attempted to jog her memory.

"Ye...yes, I remember," she looked deep in thought. "I said I only wanted three things in life: the Queen’s mask, children...and you."

"That’s right," Charis’ tone suggested that the Regent should have her answer by now.

"I don’t get it. What are you trying to say?," Ephiny wracked her brain, searching for the solution to the riddle before her.

"You wanted children, Ephiny," Charis reiterated. "And that was something I couldn’t give you."

"It’s not like Amazons don’t procreate every day, Charis. Procreation and love aren’t necessarily the same thing. You know that. You knew it then," she grew defensive. "I could’ve...we could’ve raised children together."

"You’re missing my point, Ephiny. I’m aware that Amazons mate for the purpose of procreation but...I...," she suddenly grew silent.

"But what?"

"I couldn’t resign myself to sharing you like that, ok?," she declared. "I couldn’t bring myself to stomach the idea of someone else...touching you. No matter what the purpose. Call me selfish. Call me a fool if you want, but I just couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t stand in the way of your dreams and I couldn’t bear to say goodbye to you. So I just left. I didn’t see any other way. And I stayed away until I knew I was strong enough to be near you without falling apart every time I saw your face. Besides, when I returned, nothing more was said of our relationship. You had moved on and, later met Phantes and had Xenan. There wasn’t any room for me in your life. I just wanted you to be happy and, I thought the only way to make sure you were was for me to step aside," she expelled a deep sigh of relief as she slumped back into the chair. She had kept this locked deep inside herself for so long. And now, after bar

"So, now I’m an Amazon Regent and I have a beautiful son...the only thing I don’t have is someone to share it with," Ephiny quietly lamented.

"Do you remember the three things I told you I wanted most?," Charis stood and moved closer to her, putting her arm around her hips.

"You said you wanted a set of chobos, me, and me," she said fondly. Charis played with the ends of Ephiny’s hair as she focused her eyes on the floor, determined not to let her see the tears forming in her eyes. "And now?," Ephiny reluctantly asked.

"Nothing’s changed," her eyes betrayed her and released her tears.

"All this time and you never said anything?," Ephiny reached out to hold her.

"I thought it was better that way...for you," she buried her face in the Regent’s shoulder.

"I wanted you back. I’ve always wanted you back, but I thought you didn’t love me, didn’t need me, didn’t want me. So I left you alone...did my best to salvage what I could of our relationship...decided I’d rather have you in my life as my friend than not have you in my life at all," she admitted.

"And Gabrielle?," Charis needed to know where she stood.

"I love Gabrielle. But you...we have a past, a history, a bond like no other I’ve ever known. If I had known how you felt, I would’ve never searched for love outside of your arms. You were everything I ever wanted...everything I’d ever dreamed of having. I only looked elsewhere because I thought I couldn’t have you," Ephiny held Charis tight as she unveiled her truths.

"Ephiny?," her voice transformed into a whisper. "Do you still love me? The way you used to?," she moved away from the Regent as she braced herself for the blow she was certain she was about to receive.

"Gods, yes, Charis. I always have. I only put my feelings aside because I thought they were in vain," she walked over to her, pressing her body against her back as she wrapped her in her arms.

The two women stood there listening to the silence surrounding them, taking in the warmth of each other as the moments passed. Slowly, Charis turned to face the Regent, their lips meeting in a tender, yet passionate kiss.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The bard scurried around the hut, meticulously placing flowers and trays of food around the room while the warrior made the bed, which had been occupied by the two women throughout most of the afternoon. "What do you think of Charis?," Gabrielle asked Xena.

"I don’t know her very well, but she seems like a decent woman," the warrior answered.

"I like her. I think she’ll be good for Ephiny. Shouldn’t they be here soon? I’m getting hungry."

"Yep," Xena said, swatting the bard on her derriere.

"Hey!," she responded, returning the warrior’s kiss. "Xena!," she exclaimed as her love began to fondle her breasts. "Haven’t Ephiny and Charis seen enough already?," she jested. "They’ll be here any minute."

"Hmmm. Guess you’re right, but...," without warning, she lifted the bard’s tunic, revealing her breasts, and started to smother them with kisses. A knock at the door stifled her efforts as the bard abruptly turned toward the door, whispering a reprimanding, "I told you so!" before turning the latch to greet their guests. "Ephiny! Charis! Come in," she welcomed them with a huge smile.

"Uh...hi, uh...Ga...Gabrielle," Charis’ mouth was hanging open as she stared at the bard’s chest. Ephiny gestured at the Queen with her eyes as she tugged at her own tunic in a futile attempt to be discreet. Gabrielle’s eyes widened when she looked down at her chest and discovered that her tunic was twisted and her entire left breast was exposed. She spun around, her back facing the two women who were still standing outside the door. After quickly making the necessary adjustments, she turned back around, laughing nervously. She invited them in with a motion of her arm, her face now cherry-red. "They have a mind of their own," she stated as she swiftly made her way across the room and whacked the unsuspecting warrior in the back of the head with the cloth napkin she held in her hand, grumbling something that only she could understand.

"Welcome to our peaceful home," Xena winked at Ephiny who was now attempting to hide the grin on her face from the mortified bard.

"Everything looks beautiful, Gabrielle," Ephiny chuckled behind the bard’s back, immediately stifling herself when Gabrielle turned to face her.

"Thank you," the Queen attempted to restore her dignity.

"We really appreciate you two inviting us. In honor of your upcoming ceremony," Charis offered them a skin full of wine.

"Thank you," Xena accepted the gift. "Shall we?," she motioned toward the table.

"Yes, I’m starving!," Gabrielle exclaimed, Xena and the Regent exchanging a knowing look.

The conversation was lively as the women leisurely feasted on the food and drink. The bard, not one to be shy when food is involved, gorged herself on the fresh fruits and bread, not to mention the fish and the deer meat. "I never seem to get enough bread," she noted as she popped the last piece into her mouth. No one in the room dared tell her that she had eaten all of the bread on her own. Charis had tried several times to obtain a piece, but somehow the bard had managed to intercept each of her attempts.

Ephiny caught Gabrielle smiling affectionately at her as she sat in Charis’ lap, wrapped in her lover’s arms. The bard recognized the warmth in the Regent’s eyes as she returned her smile. The sight of the two women together comforted the Queen. "Ephiny?," Xena addressed her. "You want to take a walk with me?"

"Yeah, sure," she agreed, kissing Charis’ cheek as she crawled off her lap.

"We won’t be too long," Xena informed the bard as the two headed out the door.

They walked slowly away from the cabin to the edge of the woods where they planted themselves on a rock. "I want to ask you something, Ephiny. And I want you to tell me the truth," Xena looked concerned.

"What is it, Xena?," the Amazon was curious.

"Are you happy?," the warrior asked frankly.

Ephiny looked pensive as she quietly pondered the question. "I don’t think I could be any happier if I tried," she finally said through a distant smile, images of the events of her life filling her head.

"I’m glad," Xena was sincere as she reached for her hand. As the two sat in the dark, Ephiny told her the story of her experiences with Charis. The warrior listened attentively as the Amazon began to weave her tale.

"Now I understand," Xena said, obviously moved, when Ephiny finished speaking. "I just wanted to be sure."

"How about you, Xena?," the Regent asked, as Solan crossed her mind.

"I’m ridiculously happy," she answered. "He lives on in my heart," she had read the Amazon’s mind.

Ephiny squeezed Xena’s hand. "I think that’s a good way to look at it," her admiration for the warrior was apparent.

"We’d better get back before Gabrielle eats the furniture," Xena grinned.

"I hear you!," the Regent laughed.

Hand in hand, the two made their way back to the hut and to the women who held their hearts. When they had reached their destination, Xena reached for the Amazon. Their embraced lingered until it was interrupted when the door opened. "What do we have here?," the bard’s question was tinged with sarcasm.

"Oh, this?," Xena playfully pulled Ephiny closer to her. Raising her eyebrows, she proceeded to dip the Amazon. Ephiny caught on fast and the two were soon faking the mother of all kisses.

"Get your filthy hands off my woman," Gabrielle, obviously affected by the wine she had consumed, adopted a deep voice as she began to strut around outside the hut, pretending to spit and show off her muscles.

The merriment continued into the night until Charis and Ephiny decided it was time to take their leave. "We had a great time," Charis insisted. "Thank you again for the invitation."

"I’ll see you in the morning," the Regent gave the bard a peck on the cheek before turning to Xena. "I hope the day is everything you always dreamed it would be," the Amazon said, placing an arm around the warrior’s waist. "Enjoy your retreat. Are you sure you don’t want to stay here in the village with Eponin? Or you could use Charis’ hut?," she asked.

"No, I’ll be fine. I like roughing it," Xena insisted. Amazon custom prohibited her from seeing the bard during the three days before their ceremony. The warrior had decided to take Argo and set up camp in the forest, returning shortly before the ceremony on the day the union was to take place. Gabrielle would remain in the village where she would take part in the customary rituals and preparations.

Upon saying their good-byes, Ephiny and Charis headed toward the Queen’s hut, leaving Xena and Gabrielle to enjoy their final night together before the ceremony.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"I’ve missed you so much," the Regent whispered to Charis as she held her in her arms. She had savored every moment as she made love to her, concentrating on each touch, each sensation, engraving them in her memory so she could call on them later.

"Not half as much as I’ve missed you," Charis snuggled closer to her as she whispered in her ear.

"You make me feel as though I’m loved more than anyone has ever been loved," Ephiny sighed.

"You are," she lifted her head to kiss the Regent.

"I’ve been wanting to ask you something," Ephiny confessed as she rolled onto her side to face her love.


"Last said no one’s ever been inside you but me...," her words trailed off.

"It’s true," Charis closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. "Ephiny...I’ve never made love to anyone but you," she revealed.

"But...all those years?," the Regent looked astonished.

"When...when I left..," a hint of remorse revealed itself on her face as she was reminded of the pain she had caused her love. "I was just never able to give myself to anyone else. How could I? I was still in love with you. I deceived you. I fooled everyone around me. But I couldn’t lie to myself," she admitted. "Can you ever forgive me for what I did to you?," she asked regretfully.

"I already have," Ephiny softly assured her as she took her into her arms.

"Make love to me again," her love pleaded. The Regent willingly complied.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Xena sat with her elbows on the table, resting her chin in her hands. "Are you pouting?," Gabrielle seemed mildly amused.

"No," she grumbled. "I’m not pouting," she poked her bottom lip out, trying to look as pitiful as possible. "I don’t want to go!," she shouted, banging her fists on the table.

The bard, laughing at the warrior’s feigned tantrum, patted her on the top of her head. "There, there. It’ll be alright," she teased.

"Take care of yourself while I’m gone," Xena’s tone was now serious as she pulled the bard onto her lap. "Send someone for me if you need me. You know where I’ll be, right?"

"I know where you’ll be and I will," she assured her as she tried to suppress the grin which was attempting to reveal itself.

"What’s so funny?," Xena pryed.

"You’re just so cute sometimes," the bard playfully pinched the warrior’s cheek.

"Cute? Cute?!," Xena exclaimed. "Gabrielle, I’m a lot of things, but cute is not one of them," she actually sounded offended. "Now what are you laughing at?," she asked, noticing the smirk emerging on the bard’s face.

"You’re just...," she paused and stood up. "So--cute--when--you’re--irritated!," she teased, saying the words as fast as she could before taking off like a shot across the room.

"I’ll show you cute," Xena snarled, getting up from her chair. When she reached the bard, she took her in her arms and planted a monumental kiss on her lips.

"Ok, not cute," Gabrielle gasped, her love’s kiss leaving her breathless. "Do we have time? Please say we have time," she pleaded, her yearning for the warrior taking over.

"I’m afraid we don’t," she managed, though she wanted nothing more at that moment than to ravage the her love’s body.

Her words disappointed the desirous bard. "Couldn’t we...just real know...Come on! You have many skills! Think of something!," her response simultaneously flattered and amused the warrior.

"I really should go. I’d hate to be accused of defiling the Amazon routine," she joked. "But...should you decide to relieve yourself while I’m away, please do it alone," she teased.

"Xena!," the bard couldn’t believe the warrior had just said that.

"You know I’m kidding," she assured her, taking her into her arms. "Enjoy your time. I’ll be back before you know it," she whispered, leaning down to kiss her love.

"I love you," the bard spoke softly when their lips parted.

"I love you too, Gabrielle," she answered. "I can’t wait to give you my life...officially, I mean."

"I promise to cherish it always," she gazed into her soulmate’s eyes before escorting her to the door.

Gabrielle watched as Xena headed toward the stables. Her heart skipped a beat as she realized that the next time she saw her, she would be offering her the eternal promise of her love.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Well, Argo, you win again," the warrior tossed her cards onto the rock in front of her. "What would you like to do next?," she addressed her horse who was more interested in chewing on the fringes on Xena’s skirt.

"You miss her too, don’t you?," she handed Argo a chunk of apple. Though the expedition she had just completed left her exhausted, she still found herself with plenty of time to kill. She had done everything she could think of to pass the time. Hunting. Fishing. Trimming trees with her sword. She had even attempted to play "Hide the Chakram" with Argo, but the horse wouldn’t cooperate. Nothing seemed to work. This time of the evening seemed to be when she missed the bard most. As she sharpened her sword, she longed to hear one of Gabrielle’s animated readings from her scrolls.

"Hello, Xena," Callisto emerged next to her.

"No life yet?," the warrior said, shrugging her shoulders as she continued to work on her blade.

"You think I’m the one without a life? Let’s see how you feel in two days. I can’t wait to see you trudging around dragging your ball and chain."

"If you’re referring to Gabrielle, I assure you that’s one ball and chain I’ll be more than happy to bear," she informed her.

"We’ll see," the goddess smirked. "I heard you finally bagged her. How was she, anyway?," she was now in the warrior’s face.

"Better than Ares, I’m sure," Xena sneered.

"Ever made it with a goddess?," she inquired, moving even closer to her.

"Made what?," Xena remarked.

"Apple pie, Xena," she quipped, growing exasperated by the warrior’s casual sarcasm. "Seems as though your little love bug hasn’t only been gnawing on your heart. I think it might have taken a bite or two out of your brain as well. Perhaps an evaluation is in order. I’ll say a word and you tell me the first thought that pops into your little mind. First word...let’s make it easy...sword."

"Your heart," Xena snarled.

"Ok. Next word...Ares."

"Depraved," the warrior answered as she sliced an apple in two.

"Interesting. Let’s see...Draco," the goddess taunted.

"Draco, huh?," Xena appeared nonchalant, though she suddenly began to feel nauseated. "Actually, that word reminds me of a song I heard once..."

"Sounds delicious," Callisto’s curiosity peaked. "Do tell."

"I’ll do even better. I’ll actually sing it for you. Now...," the warrior burst into song. "Listen to my story ‘bout Calli-sto..."

"I’ve already heard that one, thank you, " the goddess cut her off. "This is far from over, Xena," she growled, snuffing out the campfire as she departed.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The two women sat on the bed in the queen’s hut, the Regent brushing Gabrielle’s long tresses. "Have you and Xena discussed where you’ll go after the ceremony?," she asked the bard.

"No, not really," she sounded distant.

"What are you thinking about?," Ephiny probed, noting the bard’s pensive state.

"Actually...," she paused before continuing. "I was thinking about you and Charis. Tell me about her, Ephiny."

The Amazon hadn’t really talked to Gabrielle much about her love. She wasn’t sure whether or not she wanted to hear it. "Well...," she began. "I told you that we were lovers when we were younger...," she continued on, revealing the details of her relationship with her Charis. The bard listened, forming images of her descriptions in her mind.

"That would be a great story to include in my scrolls. Would you mind?," Gabrielle asked her when she finished talking.

"No, I wouldn’t mind at all. In fact, I’d be honored if you wrote about me," the Regent smiled warmly.

"Actually, I already have," she confessed as she climbed off the bed and crossed the room. Digging around in her satchel, she talked to herself. "I know it’s here somewhere...Oh! Here it is!," her hand emerged clutching a scroll which she immediately handed over to the Amazon. "I hope you like it," she spoke in a humble tone.

Ephiny reclined on the bed, propping her head up on the pillow, and began to read. The bard watched, pleased by the Amazon’s apparent engrossment as she read. She had always loved it when people took an interest in her work, though she didn’t allow just anyone to peruse her scrolls. The light of the candle was reflected in her glassy eyes as she read the final sentences aloud. "The Amazon with an exterior as tough as stone and a heart as soft as down, handed me her fighting staff. My hand brushed hers as I accepted the gift and I know, at that moment, part of my soul left me for her. Running to her. Clinging to her. Needing to remain there under her watchful eye."

"It’s beautiful, Gabrielle. I love it," she whispered, a single tear trickling down her cheek as she spoke.

"I’m glad," the bard sat next to her on the bed.

"I want you to understand something," the Regent looked deep into her queen’s eyes. "If it wasn’t for you--for your understanding, your compassion, your friendship--I would’ve never found it within myself to love again. You’ve shown me things about myself--things I’d long forgotten. In fact, it’s because of you that I’m able to put my faith in Charis. It’s because of you that I’m able to find happiness with her and with my life. I’ll always be indebted to you for opening my eyes. And I want you to know that I’ll never forget all that you’ve taught me. About love. About life. And about myself. You’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had and you’ll always hold a special place in my heart. Don’t ever forget that. Promise me that, no matter where the fates leave us, we’ll always find the time to stay in touch because my life wouldn’t be the same

"You don’t have to worry about that, Ephiny. Xena and I will be knocking on your door so often you’ll beg us to go away!," she managed to joke despite the fact that the Amazon’s words had left a lump in her throat.

"Know that you’ll always be welcome in my matter where that may be...," her voice dissipated.

"Ephiny?," the bard’s eyes widened. "Are you thinking about leaving the village?"

"I don’t know yet," she sighed. "Charis and I haven’t discussed it, but Xenan...Gabrielle, I need to be with him more than I am."

"You miss him, don’t you?," the bard sounded sad as her mind briefly shifted to thoughts of her lost Hope. Though she knew Xena was right. Hope was merely a vessel, a breeding ground for Dahak’s evil. But still, thoughts of the child she had carried and given birth to, the child that eventually killed Xena’s only son, managed to cross her mind from time to time.

"Yeah, I don’t think I can stand to be away from him much longer," the Regent’s response interrupted the bard’s introspection.

"He’s a wonderful child, Ephiny. I miss him too, to tell you the truth. I’ve grown attached to him," she managed a feeble smile as she picked up the brush from the bed and started to brush the Amazon’s hair.

"Gods, I’m going to miss you!," Ephiny suddenly exclaimed.

"And I’m going to miss you," the bard returned her sentiment. She moved further onto the bed and rested her back against the wall before coaxing the Amazon into her arms. Ephiny settled between the bard’s outstretched legs, her back against her queen.

"Gabrielle?," she ran her hands over the bard’s arms as she spoke. "I want you to know that I’ll never forget everything we’ve shared."

"I know," Gabrielle whispered. "Neither will I," she assured her. The two women talked for some time before finally falling asleep.

"Hi," Charis said to Ephiny in a hushed tone, rousing her from her slumber.

" late is it?," she asked, attempting to get up without waking the bard.

"It’s the middle of the night. I’ve been out checking the parameters with Eponin. Sorry I took so long. We also had some things to discuss regarding the ceremony. Don’t get up. You’ll wake her," she gestured toward the sleeping queen. "Just move over," she said as she removed her boots and climbed into bed.

Gabrielle woke to find herself wedged in between the two women. She moved her eyes back and forth, first looking at Ephiny, then at Charis. "This is certainly different," she thought to herself. "How am I going to explain to Xena that I slept with not one, but two Amazons while she was away?," she chuckled to herself.

"Ouch!," Charis was startled from sleep when the bard accidentally fell on her as she tried to crawl out of bed.

"Sorry," Gabrielle whispered, her feet at last on the floor. Today was going to be a busy day as there was much to do before the ceremony. "Xena’s coming back tomorrow," she thought to herself. Instantly in a chipper mood, she poured a cup of cider and walked outside. Taking a seat on the steps, she gazed at the colorful sunrise, content in the knowledge that the warrior was somewhere nearby staring up at the same magnificent sky.

"Good morning," Charis’ voice interrupted her thoughts. "Sleep well?"

"Yeah, I did actually. Sorry I invaded your bed."

"I didn’t mind. Besides, you’re the Queen so the bed is rightfully yours."

"Well, if you want to get technical," the bard grinned.

"You have a big day ahead of you."

"Yes, I do. But I’m excited about it," the Queen said, sipping her cider.

"I respect Xena. I can’t think of a better partner for my queen," she offered her approval.

"She’s a remarkable woman, that’s for sure," Gabrielle smiled. "So is Ephiny, you know," she added.

"Yes...she is. She means everything to me," she sighed.

"I know," the bard briefly placed her hand on the Amazon’s before returning to her cider.

"Gabrielle?," Charis spoke uneasily. "Ephiny talked to me about...about all that’s happened between the two of you over the past months and...," she noticed the bard holding her breath. "And I want you to know that I don’t resent you for any reason--not that I should. I just wanted to be sure there aren’t any misunderstandings between us," she assured her.

"Charis...," the sun glanced off the Queen’s golden hair as she turned to face the Amazon. "I’m glad you and Ephiny are together. I couldn’t be happier," she was sincere as she spoke. "I know how much you mean to each other. You’re good together and, from what Ephiny’s told me, you always have been," she gave her an affectionate look. "There’s nothing to worry about. Unless, of course, you ever hurt her. Then I’ll be forced to track you down and kick your butt," she grinned, only half-joking.

"And I’d expect you to, but I don’t anticipate that there will be any need for a butt-kicking as far as that’s concerned," she chuckled. "I intend to see to it that she and Xenan have a good life."

"I trust that you will," the bard smiled warmly. "Well...," she stood to stretch her muscles. "I’d better get some breakfast. I’m sure I’ll be too busy to eat soon."

"Actually, I need to see you after you eat. Would you mind going with me to make sure that your mask is the way you want it?," she requested.

"Absolutely! Can’t have a faulty mask now, can we?," she gleefully responded, the mere idea of the ceremony making her giddy.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Charis and Gabrielle entered the hut, the shade offering solace from the hot summer sun. The busy Amazons stopped what they were doing, reverently bowing their heads as the Queen made her entrance. "As you were," the bard stated, still not used to the royal treatment bestowed on her. "This way," Salir lead the two women to the back of the hut where two Amazons proceeded to unveil the ceremonial mask. "Is this suitable?," she asked.

"The gods!," Gabrielle seemed mesmerized. "It’s brilliant!," she exclaimed as she examined the lavish work of art before her, each detail flawlessly executed.

"I’m glad you approve," Salir smiled, delighted by her queen’s approval.

"What’s next?," the bard asked Charis as the two made their way across the village.

"We’re going to see Ephiny. She’s been busy all morning making certain that the clothes you picked out are as you specified. I’m sure she’ll want you to try them on in case there are any final adjustments to be made." Remembering that she still needed to meet with the Eponin about the food for the feast to follow the ceremony, she picked up her pace as she spoke.

"How’s it going, sweetheart?," Charis asked as she planted a kiss on Ephiny’s cheek. Several Amazons raised their eyebrows, trading knowing glances in response to the exchange between the two women.

"Better, now that you’re here," she smiled at her love. "Gabrielle! The outfit you picked out is right over here," she was enthusiastic as she guided her toward the bed, where several Amazons sat, diligently working at stitching beads. "Oh, Ephiny...," the bard’s eyes widened. "I love it."

"Want to try it on?," the Regent asked.

"Can I?," she asked, her expression very much like that of a child on Solstace morning.

"Well, yes. It is yours," Ephiny chuckled at her queen’s girlish enthusiasm. "Amazons, clear out," the Regent ordered.

"What do you think?," Gabrielle asked, modeling her attire for Charis and the Regent.

"The gods...," Ephiny, dumfounded by her queen’s beauty, spoke in hushed tone. "You look stunning."

"Gorgeous!," Charis exclaimed.

"Do you think Xena will like it?," Gabrielle asked sheepishly.

"If she doesn’t, I’d suggest she have her eyes examined!," Charis declared.

"She’s going to love it," Ephiny placed an arm around her friend’s shoulders. "How does it feel?"

"It’s perfect," the bard assured her, obviously smitten with the ensemble.

"You’d better get changed. Nahem is waiting for you in the medicine hut," Charis informed the Queen.

Gabrielle sat on the floor of the darkened hut with her legs crossed. Her eyes closed, she breathed deeply as she listened to Nahem’s soothing voice. The renewal ritual was meant to prepare her for the new life she would lead once the ceremony had taken place. Nahem chanted in an attempt to encourage the bard to extricate the opposing forces of her past and thus forge a new path for herself and her love. A path free of past inequity which could corrupt their union if not eliminated.

One by one, the bard let go of her transgressions--those she had committed and those committed against her. Nahem’s voice grew louder as the Queen wept, descending again as her tears disappeared. Gabrielle took in one final deep breath and opened her eyes, a tranquil look emerging on her face. "You are ready, my Queen," Nahem affirmed.

The bard walked slowly toward the center of the village, weary from the day’s events, the sounds emanating from her stomach persistently reminding her that it had been several hours since her last meal. This would be the last night she would spend without the warrior. And tomorrow, amid the song and dance, she and Xena would profess their love, joining their lives forever.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The warrior carefully placed the leather case in her satchel, a smile washing over her face as she tried to picture the look on the bard’s face when she presents her with the gift. She had sent word to Sappho ahead of time and, immediately upon leaving the village, she traveled to the Isle of Lesbos. Sappho, who had been awaiting her arrival, graciously welcomed her. "For Artemis’ chosen one," she had said to the warrior when she handed her the leather case containing her first quill and a short note which read: From one slave of the scroll to another. May your spirit live on in your words. Highest regards, Sappho.

Gabrielle had always had a deep appreciation for Sappho’s writings. Xena knew the bard would, without a doubt, love the gift. But she also hoped that, by giving it to her, she could make up for all the times she had failed to pay adequate attention to her work. She had never meant to slight her and she was certainly aware of her talent. But one of the things she had regretted most when she thought she would never see Gabrielle again was that she had failed to read all of her scrolls. And, as soon as she had the chance, she intended to delve into each and every one of them, savoring each exquisite morsel of her love’s labor.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Huh uh," Ephiny muttered, swiping the tray of food the bard was about to dive into.

"Hey!," she blurted out.

"You’re supposed to be fasting, remember?," the Regent reminded her.

"Oh...yeah. Guess I’m so preoccupied about tomorrow that I forgot about the ritual fast," she attempted to excuse herself.

"Mmm hmm," Ephiny uttered, not entirely convinced. "Of all things, the fast slips your mind," she teased. "You’ll have plenty to eat at the celebration tomorrow. Now, come on. We still have a few more things to do before nightfall," she took the bard’s hand, nearly dragging her away from the table.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"You will be staying here with me and Charis tonight, right?," the Regent asked as she removed the bandages from the bard’s right shoulder blade.

"Uh huh," Gabrielle nodded in agreement. "How does it look?," she eagerly inquired.

"See for yourself," Ephiny answered, shifting the mirrors into position to allow the Queen to view the masterpiece created by the Regent herself.

"Wow...," Gabrielle was clearly pleased with the tattoo which depicted a chakram overlapping a scroll, signifying the merging of her life with Xena’s. "She’s going to love it! Thank you, Ephiny," she gave her an appreciative hug.

"I’m so glad you like it," she smiled. "Now...I have a few things to do for tomorrow. Is there anything else you need before I get started?"

"No. Thanks. I have everything I need. Actually, I’m exhausted. I thought I’d turn in early tonight," she yawned.

"Goodnight then. And Gabrielle?," her fondness for her queen shown in her eyes. "I hope tomorrow is everything you’ve always dreamed it would be."

"Thank you for everything you’ve done for us, Ephiny. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to us. Goodnight," she said as she headed for the bed. The bard fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

The Regent sat at the table, engrossed in the parchment before her. "Perfect," she whispered to herself when she had finished reading the words. She rolled the scroll carefully and placed it in a drawer for safe keeping before quietly crossing the room. She stood next to the bed, gazing down on the sleeping Queen, offering a silent prayer to the Moon Goddess.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The warrior arrived in the village at dawn, settling Argo in the stables before making her way to the field. Eponin, Ephiny, and several other Amazons were awaiting her arrival. "Xena," the Regent spoke her name as she greeted her with open arms. "How did everything go?," she asked, particularly referring to her trip to Lesbos.

"As planned," the warrior sounded nervous as she spoke.

"Jitters?," Ephiny chuckled, noticing her tenseness.

"Oh yeah," Xena sighed, her hands visibly trembling.

"Let’s talk," the Regent led her away from the crowd. "Spill it," she insisted once the two were out of earshot of the others.

"’s just that...," she tried in vain to form a sentence. "How’s Gabrielle?," she finally blurted out.

"Zeus! You’ve got it bad, don’t you?," she guided the warrior toward a pile of stacked fire wood, gesturing for her to sit. "You’re a bundle of nerves," she pointed out as she rubbed Xena’s shoulders and neck in an attempt to eliminate the tightness in her muscles. "Gabrielle’s just fine. Now what’s going on in your head?"

"I’ve had a lot of time to think," she began again, relinquishing herself to the Amazon’s soothing caresses. "I’ve put Gabrielle in danger so many times...," she paused in thought. "Ephiny, I can’t stand the thought of anything bad happening to her."

"Xena, if there’s one thing I know about Gabrielle, it’s that she loves to travel with you. In the time that I’ve known her, she’s never been one to turn her back on a challenging experience. She enjoys your expeditions. She needs diversity in her life. She’d be bored senseless without it. You know that," she attempted to reassure her friend.

"Yeah, I guess you’re right," the warrior sighed. "This love thing has a way of transforming you, doesn’t it?," she chuckled.

"Yep, it does. But I’ve found that most of the changes it brings are positive," she reminded her. "Xena, it’s only natural that you worry about Gabrielle’s well-being. But you can’t allow that concern to stifle her or yourself. Gabrielle knows what she’s getting into...the question is, do you?," she jested.

The warrior managed to laugh before saying, "I know you’re right. I just want her to have a good life. I need to know that I’m the best that I can be for her, you know?"

"Yes, believe me, I know," Charis crossed her mind. "She loves you, Xena. The two of you share something that doesn’t come along every day. Everything’s going to be fine," she assured her.

"Thank you, Ephiny," she said, turning her head from side to side, stretching the muscles in her neck. "I’m ready now," she smiled, her uneasiness now extinguished.

"Let’s go," she directed the warrior back to the clearing, where the group of women were still gathered. "I need to get back to the Queen’s hut to be with Gabrielle. I just wanted to see you before the ceremony. I know she’s going to ask about you, so I figured I’d better make sure I saw you ahead of time. Eponin’s going to handle the warrior ritual. Enjoy yourself."

"Tell her I love her and that I can’t wait," the warrior requested.

"You got it," Ephiny promised as she headed off to meet the bard.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Is she here? How is she? Where is she? What’s she doing?," the bard rambled on as she greeted the Regent at the door.

"Yes, she’s here. She’s fine. She’s with Eponin and the others, carrying out the warrior ritual," she was tickled by her friend’s wide-eyed welcome. "She asked me to tell you that she loves you and that she’s looking forward to the ceremony."

"She’s so wonderful," the bard swooned. "So...what am I supposed to do next?," she asked.

"Actually, you’re going to love this," the Amazon told her. "It’s time for the bathing ritual," she said as several Amazons made their way up the stairs leading inside the hut.

"I have to go naked through the village?," the nude bard covertly whispered to the Regent.

"No!," she chuckled. "Here," she said handing her a ceremonial robe.

"Wo!," the queen exclaimed as six statuesque women lifted the ornate pallet on which she was seated. "I’m getting seasick," she whispered to the Regent who was walking beside her, grateful that her mask hid the unrepressed grin on her face.

The procession made its way through the village to the hot springs where the Amazons gently lowered the pallet onto a platform that had recently been erected for the occasion. Ephiny removed her mask before commencing with her speech. Upon its conclusion, the Queen was assisted to her feet and off with her robe. Gabrielle walked between two robed Amazons as the Regent looked on while the rest of the women fell to their knees, their heads solemnly lowered. When they reached the water’s edge, her two escorts removed their masks. They led the bard into the water which was covered with floating rose petals. Once seated in the warm springs, the Queen gave herself over as the women proceeded to wash her body. "If Xena saw this, she’d say ‘To Tartarus with Amazon rituals! Get your hands off her!,’" she thought to herself, trying not to upset the seriousness of the moment.

Ephiny could tell Gabrielle was thinking something mischievous by the look on her face. She fought to maintain her stoic appearance as she imagined what might be running through the bard’s mind. Standing at the edge of the springs, the Regent watched as the rite was carried out.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Xena stood, sword in hand, in the center of the circle of Amazon warriors. "Amazons, proceed!," Eponin, perched on a platform high above the activity, gave the command to begin the ritual. The sounds of drumbeats and melodic chanting invaded the air as the circle of weapon-wielding women started to move on every side of the warrior.

Salir, donning the mask of the Amazon warrior, entered the ring and raised her sword, challenging her to a demonstrative contest. When their swords clashed, the drums instantly fell silent. All grew still, saving that which was taking place inside the circle. The exhibition continued until Eponin called for its end. "Desist!," her voice resounded across the field. Salir lowered her head respectfully in the direction of the warrior before turning around and rejoining the circle. Xena held her sword over her head with both hands before driving it into the earth. On cue, she clasped her hands above her head displaying the Amazon sign of peace, the women surrounding her returning her gesture. "We welcome you as our sister," Eponin’s announcement sparked an outburst of applause and cheers of approval. Xena retrieved her sword and soon found herself lost in a sea of well-wishing Amazons.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The sun shining overhead, the warrior watched the dancers, her heart beating in time with the pounding rhythm of the drums. She stood in the midst of the activity wearing her usual attire, sans weapons, waiting for her love to appear.

Ephiny’s feet were planted firmly on the sun-baked ground when she gave the order, "Amazons, fall back!" The performers instantly came to rest, the silence nearly deafening as it fell on Xena’s ears. A slow, steady drumbeat ensued, bringing the participants to their knees, including the warrior. The Queen walked slowly, hidden from view by the group of masked Amazon’s who were escorting her. Behind her own mask, Gabrielle was smiling at the striking sight of her love as she knelt in front of the Regent.

"Royal Guard, dismissed!," Ephiny’s voice rang out again. Gabrielle’s escorts removed her mask and stepped aside, allowing Xena to get her first look at her love.

Xena nearly keeled over at the sight of her. "That outfit. Those eyes. Those legs. Those abs," she thought to herself. "The gods, she’s trying to kill me."

"Stand," the Regent gave the order, bringing the audience to their feet. "You are not only asking for the hand of one of our sisters. You are asking for the hand of our queen," Ephiny’s tone was impressive as she addressed the warrior. "What can you offer her?"

Eponin stepped forward, holding the leather case containing Sappho’s quill. "I hold in my hand her gift to our queen," she announced, handing the case to the warrior.

"Proceed," the Regent nodded.

Xena turned to her love and began to speak. "Gabrielle, I give you this gift as a token of my devotion to you and our life together," her voice quaked. The bard accepted the box, tears filling her eyes when she saw what was inside. Amazon custom dictating that she wasn’t to speak, as she looked at the warrior, her eyes spoke volumes.

"My queen," Ephiny addressed the bard. "Do you have a gift for Xena?"

Gabrielle carefully handed the leather case to Eponin and placed her arms by her sides. Charis approached her, positioning her with her back toward the warrior. Xena’s eyes grew glassy as the Amazon pulled the back of Gabrielle’s top over her shoulder, exposing her tattoo. The Queen’s clothing was then restored and she and the warrior turned to face the Regent, but not before Gabrielle took in a glimpse of Xena’s glowing expression. The bard was thrilled to know that the warrior was pleased with her gift.

"Xena and Gabrielle," Ephiny’s affection for the two was expressed in her voice as she glanced down at the scroll she held in her hands. "We come together with you today to witness your joining. One queen. One warrior. One who institutes peace and another who fights to preserve it. Both seeking the same. A hand to hold in times of joy and in times of sorrow. In times of harmony and in times of war. In times of well-being and in times of illness. Casting all others aside, you stand before us seeking to commit yourselves to each other. One queen. One warrior. Each harboring half of the other’s soul. We delight in your devotion. We rejoice in your decision. We grant you your desire in proclaiming that, from this moment on, you are bonded together, joined in your love. Now...," she lovingly looked at the two women. "We give you the opportunity to profess your love for each other," she nodded at Gabrielle.

"Xena," the bard began. "Today, before Artemis, before my sisters, before the Amazon Nation, I declare my love for you. ...," she fought back her tears. "I promise to love you always, to stand by you no matter what the fates may bring. I give you all that I am, all that I’ll ever be. I offer you my body, my soul, my life with the hope that you’ll have me," she tried to compose herself as she turned to face the Regent, who then swallowed the lump in her throat and motioned for the warrior to speak.

"Gabrielle," she gazed deeply into her loves eyes. "The day I met you, I knew you would somehow find your way inside my heart. Our time together has been priceless and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it. Now, as I look toward the future, I realize that I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life loving you. I pledge to you my love, my devotion, my heart and my soul with the hope that you’ll have me," a warm smile appeared on her lips, nearly melting the bard.

" queen," the Regent spoke tenderly. "Will you have Xena as your life partner, denying all others?"

"I will," the bard gazed at her love as she spoke.

"Xena," Ephiny addressed the warrior. "Will you have Gabrielle as your life partner, denying all others?"

"I will," the warrior answered though, as she focused her eyes on the bard, she wanted to shout out, "Tartarus, yeah! Do you think I’m crazy?! Of course I accept her!"

"Gabrielle and Xena, I declare that you are bonded for life. Amazons," she suddenly raised her voice. "Your queen requests your approval!" Amidst the roar of the crowd, the Regent shouted out to her friends, "A kiss would be greatly appreciated!" The tribe’s enthusiasm increased as the couple sealed their union.

"Gods, I love you," Xena whispered between kisses. "Thank you for the gift," she said softly, pausing with her hand on the bard’s cheek, the crowd still raving.

"Thank you," Gabrielle’s tears began to flow again as she meshed with her love in an intense embrace. "I love you, Xena." After a few moments, she asked, "How in did you manage to get Sappho’s quill?"

"Her first quill," Xena clarified.

"Wow...," the bard sighed as Ephiny stepped forward, her face dampened by her emotion. She grabbed them both at the same time, pulling them close. "Congratulations, you two! I’m so happy for you both."

"You did a wonderful job, Ephiny," Xena complimented her.

"We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect ceremony," the bard shared the warrior’s sentiment. "Thank you so much."

"You’re both welcome," the Regent watched with delight as the newly-bonded couple greeted their guests.

"Nice job, sweetheart," Charis came from behind, wrapping her arms around Ephiny’s waist.

"Thanks," she suddenly lost herself in blue eyes, butterflies dive-bombing her stomach. Unable to resist her, she leaned over and gave her a mind-boggling kiss.

"Remind me to compliment you more often," Charis, reeling from the kiss, sighed. "You’re stuck with each other now!," she teased Xena and Gabrielle once she was finally able to get close enough to them.

"You got that right!," Xena responded, holding on tightly to her love.

"How do you like the tattoo?," Charis asked.

"Oh, Gabrielle! Let me see it again," she requested with enthusiasm as she tugged at the back of the bard’s top. "I love it. Look at it," she said to Charis. "It’s fabulous."

"Oh, I’ve seen it. I was there when Ephiny was working on it. But, yes, it is great, isn’t it?," Charis responded.

"Ephiny? You did this?," Xena addressed the Regent.

"Guilty," Ephiny responded, raising a hand.

"It’s wonderful," the warrior said warmly. "I love it," she smiled at her friend.

"I’m glad," she returned her smile. "I was hoping you would."

"Where’s Gabrielle?," Xena noticed that she was no longer by her side.

"See those tables?," Ephiny pointed across the way. "There’s food on every one of them and Gabrielle hasn’t eaten for quite some time," she grinned.

"Ahh," the warrior nodded. Excusing herself, she began to make her way through the crowd toward the area where the feast was already getting underway.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"A toast," the Regent raised her mug. "To the newly-bonded couple, Xena and Gabrielle. My sisters. My friends. My family." The guests, all gathered around the tables, joined in the salute.

"Before you lower your mugs," Charis stood and addressed the crowd. "I’d like to make an announcement," she cleared her throat. "The Regent, Ephiny, and I would like to inform you all that we will soon hold yet another bonding ceremony. In a private ceremony tomorrow at noon, Ephiny and I will make a life commitment to each other." The Amazons raised their mugs and their voices in euphoric approval. Most of them had been around back when the couple first fell for each other and many had never stopped hoping that one day, the two would reunite.

"Ephiny!," the bard slapped the Regent on the shoulder. "You didn’t tell me! I should slap you again!," and she proceeded to do just that before wrapping her in her arms. "I’ve never been happier," she whispered in her ear.

"That makes two of us," the Amazon sighed, pulling her closer to her. "Xenan’s returning in the morning," she anxiously informed her. Gabrielle’s eyes got even wider at the news. "Ephiny, that’s wonderful...Charis, congratulations!," she turned her attention to the approaching Amazon, offering her a hug.

"Gabrielle, we have you to thank," Charis said.

"We all have each other to thank," she responded, putting her arms around Xena’s waist.

"I’m happy for you both," the warrior congratulated Ephiny and Charis.

"Of course, we want you both to be at the ceremony," the Regent insisted. "It’ll just be the two of you and Xenan. Eponin’s presiding."

"Absolutely," Xena accepted.

"We wouldn’t miss it for the world!," the bard chimed, now chomping away on a slice of bread.

The two couples and their Amazon sisters celebrated the union and the imminent ceremony until well past sunset. The bard ate and drank everything in sight while Xena watched in amazement, wondering how it was that such a petite stomach could hold that much food. Her heart sang as she watched her love talking and laughing, making sure she spoke to each and every guest. Never in her wildest dreams had the warrior thought that someday she would know such contentment. And, now that it was hers, she would safeguard it with every fiber of her being.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The Regent and her love lay next to each other under the blankets, listening to the calming sounds of the forest drifting through the window. "You’re going to be a mother tomorrow," Ephiny snuggled closer.

Charis looked up at the ceiling, a concerned expression moving over her face, "How do you suppose Xenan’s going to feel about that?" She had been praying to Artemis that the boy would grow to love her.

"Are you kidding? Two mothers catering to his every whim? He’s going to be thrilled!," the Regent chuckled.

Charis grew silent as she tried to picture their future. She and Xenan had always gotten along. In fact, he seemed to really enjoy himself when they were together. She had taken him hunting with her more than once and he did love to hear her tell a story. But even so, she hadn’t been around him all that much. She only hoped that he would accept her union with Ephiny, that he wouldn’t resent being forced to share his doting mother with someone else. "I wanted to give him something to welcome him...," she pondered aloud. "Is there something he would really like to have?"

"Well...," the Regent thought about it. "He’s been wanting his own weapon--I mean a real weapon, as he says. He has a dagger--with a very blunt edge," she clarified. "But I haven’t actually given him a weapon of his very own yet. I think it’s time though. I can’t be over-protective forever. After all, we had our first weapons by the time we were his age," she recognized.

"Aren’t you afraid he’ll hurt himself?," she sounded disquieted.

"Oh gods, Charis! Are you going to be worse than I am?," she teased, secretly glad to see that she was already becoming watchful over him. "And I thought I was bad?!"

"This may sound strange, but I already think of him as my son, Ephiny" she admitted. "Does...does that bother you?," her brow furrowed as she tentatively raised the question.

"No. No, Charis," the Regent raised her head from the warmth of her love’s chest and looked into her eyes. "I’m glad you feel that way," she spoke quietly, yet assuredly. "He is your child too," she heard herself utter words she thought she would never say after Phantes was killed.

"I want to be a good parent," Charis sighed.

"You will be. You’re already off to a good start," she offered her support, resting her head on Charis’ shoulder and closing her eyes as sleep beckoned.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The warrior writhed in ecstasy, the cool floor against her back, as the bard cast her spell over her. "The gods, Gabrielle," she nearly screamed when she reached her limit. "Do you have any idea what you do to me?," she whispered, the bard resting her head on her thigh.

"I hope it’s the same thing you do to me," Gabrielle made her way into Xena’s arms.

"Even better," the warrior growled, suddenly flipping the bard onto her back and climbing on top of her, the sweat dripping from her hair landing in puddles on Gabrielle’s body. She began to move against her, driven by the feel of her skin against her own. Their lips met, sparking a fire. "Can we do this all night?," she begged, sweeping her tongue over the bard’s shoulders.

"Mmm hmm," Gabrielle moaned, pressing the warrior’s mouth to her breast. Again and again, the two women surrendered themselves in the dark, each taking delight in the other’s gratification.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The Regent knocked lightly on the door, not wanting to disturb the Queen and her partner. "Ephiny...hi," Xena peered outside, her hair standing on end. "Come in. Gabrielle’s still asleep" she whispered, trying not to wake the bard. The warrior, having been awakened by the knock, was wearing only a blanket which she clutched around her bare body.

"Xena, I know it’s early, but I need to speak to Gabrielle," Ephiny’s tone was apologetic.

"I’ll wake her," she moved toward the bed. "Gabrielle. Gabrielle," she shook her gently.

"Just a few more minutes, Mom," the bard mumbled, still sound asleep. Xena and the Regent tried not to laugh.

"Gabrielle!," Xena’s voice startled the bard.

"Wha’?," she sat straight up in the bed. "Mmm, Xena," she yawned.

"Gabrielle," the warrior persisted. "Ephiny’s here. She needs to talk to you."

"M’kay. I’m coming," she groaned, pulling on her tunic.

"When is Xenan due to arrive?," the warrior asked while the two waited for the Queen to collect herself.

"His cousin, Zolloff, is escorting him to the edge of the hunting grounds. I have to meet them there soon...Can I see you outside for a moment?," she suddenly requested.

"Yeah," the tired warrior shook her head in an attempt to remain awake. "Mind if I just wear my blanket?"

"It’s still dark outside, so I don’t think it’ll matter much," Ephiny grinned.

The bard sat next to the window, looking out at the two shadows. "Wonder what they’re talking about?," she asked herself, noting the serious expressions as what was left of the moon illuminated their faces. "Gods, I must have eaten way too much last night," she belched loudly as she continued her one-sided conversation.

"What in Tartarus was that?!," Xena laughed as she and Ephiny returned inside having concluded their private meeting.

"I have gas," Gabrielle grinned.

"And you’re proud of that?," the warrior asked.

"Yep. Very proud," she burped even louder.

"This is what you have to look forward to," Xena raised an eyebrow as she spoke to the Regent.

"Umm, I need to speak to my queen here. Do you suppose you can contain your bodily emissions long enough for me to ask you an official question?," she chuckled.

"Sh..sure, my loyal su..subject," her attempt at sarcasm was now interceded by a severe case of the hiccups.

"The things you eat obviously disagree with your body. We gotta come up with some kind of regimen for you," the Regent continued to trifle with her.

"E..E...Ephiny, g..get to the p...point," she struggled to get the words out.

"Well, as you know, our ceremony is this afternoon. And Charis and I have realized that, in our haste, we somehow forgot to ask you if we could skip the customary rituals in light of the circumstances, with Xenan’s return and everything..."

"Ephi...Ephiny," the hiccuping bard interrupted. "Are ki...kidding me?"

"Well, no. You are the Queen...and I am a stickler for following custom," she reminded her. "So, in this case, the Amazon code demands that Charis and I get your permission before omitting the customary rituals."

"Hmfff," the bard tried to speak without opening her mouth as she held her breath in an attempt to cure herself.

"Look, Gabrielle! It’s Joxer!," the warrior suddenly erupted.

"Where?!," the Queen’s response revealed her panic.

"Still got the hiccups?," Xena grinned, seemingly pleased with herself.

"Xena! That’s not even funny! Hey...wait a minute. They’re gone. Thanks! Now, where was I? Oh, yeah," she rambled on. "Ephiny, if it will make you feel better, I officially waive the rituals. Now, go get your son and get bonded already," she smiled, shivering beneath her blanket.

The Regent said her ‘thank you’s’ and ‘good-byes’ before merrily heading off on her horse. "Gods, it’s been so long. Wonder how much he’s grown since I saw him last?," she said to herself as she entered the forest, the air whistling in her ears as it moved past her.

The closer she got to the meeting place, the faster she demanded her horse to move. "Xenan!," she called out at the sight of her son. Eagerly, she dismounted her horse and ran toward the young Centaur. "I’ve missed you," she told him as she held him in her arms.

"Not half as much as I’ve missed you," her son clamped his arms around her neck.

"Did you have fun? What did you do? How’s your grandfather?," she flooded him with questions.

"He’s fine. We did lots of neat things," the boy offered a brief reply.

"Thank you, Zolloff," she embraced the Centaur, keeping a watchful eye on Xenan who was pretending that the stick he held in his hand was a sword. "Thank you for taking care of Xenan and for giving me your blessing." She had managed to meet with him by the river previously, where she told him of her plans to bond with Charis. She had hoped the news wouldn’t cause a rift between her and Phantes’ relatives as she didn’t want there to be a barrier between Xenan and his father’s family.

"I wish you the best, Ephiny. We all do," he said earnestly.

"Did you get a chance to tell him?," she wondered whether or not Xenan knew about her and Charis.

"Yes, I did. He took it very well...said he really likes her," the Centaur smiled.

"Thank the gods," the Regent sighed in relief. She would’ve told Xenan herself but she knew the presence of a male, no matter how young or what his relationship to the Regent, would only be tolerated in the Amazon village for a short while. And the "no males" policy was one she had never wished to challenge. Furthermore, she certainly didn’t want her son to receive first-word of it on the morning of the ceremony. She had wanted him to have an opportunity to digest the news before his return.

"Take care of yourself, Ephiny. And, please...bring the boy to visit us soon," Zolloff requested.

"I will. You have my word," she assured him as she climbed onto her horse. "Xenan! Are you ready?," she called out.

"Yep," he smiled, moving to her side.

"I have something that I want to talk to you about," she spoke softly, her stomach starting to churn. "What did Zolloff say to you about Charis?"

"He said you love her and she loves you. He said we’re all going to be together forever," he looked up at her with doe eyes.

"That’s right," she reaffirmed. "And how do you feel about that?," she tried to keep her voice from shaking as she asked the question.

"Good," he said simply before adding, "I like Charis. We have fun together...Mom?," he waited for her response.

"Yes?," she held her breath.

"Are you happy?," he studied her face.

"Yes, son. I’m very happy," she smiled, reaching down to muss his hair before exclaiming, "I’ll race you back!"

"And I’ll beat you like I always do!," he informed her as he ran ahead of her.

"Yah!," the Amazon nudged her horse with her heals. The truth was, she usually let her son win their races, but not by much. This time, however, he was winning on his own. Granted, the head start she gave him and the fact that he was lower to the ground put him at an advantage. Still, she marveled at his agility as he raced through the trees.

"No way, Mom!," he shouted as she came up on his heels. "Gotcha!," he exclaimed as he crossed over the river and entered the Amazon hunting grounds.

"Yep. You got me," she conceded.

"Xenan!," Gabrielle called out from a distance. "Come here," she approached him. "Let me look at you. You’re getting so big," she smiled at the child.

"Mom says so too," he bashfully returned her smile.

"Ephiny, is there anything I can do to help you get ready for...," Gabrielle stopped herself, afraid she might be about to say something she shouldn’t.

"Get ready for the ceremony?," Xenan asked. The bard, not knowing how she should respond, looked to Ephiny.

"That’s right, Xenan. For the ceremony," the Amazon confirmed, winking at her queen.

"Is there anything I can do?," Gabrielle asked again.

"Just be there at noon. Your presence--that’s all I need," Ephiny’s words were warm. "We’re on our way to the hut to see Charis," she bit her lip as she spoke.

"Yeah! Charis!," Xenan excitedly shouted. "Hurry up, Mom! Bye, Gabrielle!," he called as he ran ahead of the Regent again.

"Things seem to be going well so far," the bard seemed pleased.

"Yes, they really are. I’m so relieved!," Ephiny admitted.

"Good luck...with everything. We’ll be there just before noon," she said before the two parted.

Ephiny watched as Xenan neared the Queen’s hut. She knew Charis was inside gnawing on her fingernails, terrified of the reunion that was about to take place.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Wait, Xenan!," Ephiny tried not to sound like she was in a panic as she instructed the child to let her catch up before entering the hut. Her hands trembled as she secured her horse to a post. "It’s now or never," she thought to herself, placing her hand on her son’s back as she gradually pushed the door open.

"Charis, look who’s here," the Regent announced, trying to smile through her anxiety.

"Hi, Xenan," Charis spoke softly, her body shaking so adamantly that she nearly tipped her chair over as she stood to greet the boy.

Much to Ephiny’s dismay, her son immediately hid behind her. "Xenan?," her heart began to sink as tears threatened Charis’ eyes. "Shhh," the Regent heard the whisper coming from behind her back. "We’re playing a game," he said in a hushed tone.

"Oh!," Charis began to breathe easier. "It’s brown and black!," she blurted out. Ephiny still didn’t have the slightest clue what they were doing.

"Wrong!," Xenan moved from behind his mother. "It’s brown and white! See!," he scurried over to Charis, pointing toward his forehead.

The Regent realized that her mouth was hanging open as Charis began to explain. "His headband. He’s wearing a brown and white headband today," she smiled. "So, Xenan...did you have a nice time in the Centaur village?," she placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Yeah! It was great! I got to use a real bow and arrow!," he proudly claimed.

"You did?" Charis sounded enthusiastic as Ephiny struggled to keep from crying. Losing the battle, she excused herself and walked outside onto the steps.

"Ephiny?," Eponin made her way toward the weeping Regent.

"Eponin!," she threw her arms around the unsuspecting Amazon’s neck.

"What’s going on?," Eponin was clearly concerned.

"He likes her!," Ephiny jumped up and down in place, her hands clutching her friend’s shoulders.

"Who likes who?," Eponin looked confused as she realized that the Regent was laughing and crying at the same time.

"Xenan! He likes Charis!"

"Gods, I thought something was wrong!," Eponin exclaimed. "That’s great, Ephiny. I’m so glad," she smiled warmly, knowing how worried the Regent had been. "Hey--I’m headed toward the stables. I’ll take your horse back if you’d like?," she asked, noticing the animal tied to the post.

"I’d appreciate it."

"No problem," she said as she untied the horse. "I’ll be back in plenty of time for the ceremony," she told her as she rode away.

The Regent dried her eyes and made her way back inside where she found Charis and Xenan playing cards. "Would you like to play?," Charis asked Ephiny.

"I think I’ll sit this one out," she answered, content in watching the two interact. In an effort to look nonchalant, she poured herself a mug of cider and pretended to be interested in reading the blank scroll in front of her. Peering out of the corner of her eye, she listened attentively to the conversation ensuing between her son and Charis as they passed cards back and forth between them.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"What are you two scheming?," the bard asked Xena and Ephiny upon finding them engaged in yet another mysterious discussion.

"Oh, nothing," Ephiny diverted her eyes.

"Nothing, huh? Is that why you were whispering?," Gabrielle persisted.

"You’re so nosy!," Xena laughed.

"Hey, guys," Charis and Xenan’s entrance interrupted the exchange.

"Hiya, Xenan," the warrior smiled.

"Do you have a hug for your Aunt Xena?," Ephiny addressed her son.

Xenan gladly complied. "That’s neat!," he said, in awe of the warrior’s chakram.

"Xenan?," Charis gained his attention. "What’s that sticking out from behind the bed?," she glanced at the Regent.

"Wow!," the young Centaur stared in amazement at the bow he held in his hand.

"It’s yours," Charis informed him. "You understand that this is a weapon and not a toy?"

"I understand," he pledged. "Toys are for fun. Weapons are for hunting and self-defense," he professed, his incisiveness clearly impressing everyone in the room.

"That’s right. And you’ll need these," she said as she handed him three arrows. "But you have to promise me and your mother that you won’t use it unless one of us is with you. Promise?," she looked down at him.

"I promise!," he happily agreed. "Hey! These are Centaur arrows!," he noted, carefully inspecting them.

"Right again," Charis replied, initiating a discussion about weapons which soon had the two lost in their own little world.

"She’s really good with him," the Regent sighed as she addressed Xena and Gabrielle.

"Yes, she is," the bard agreed.

"Looks like it’s time," Xena peered out the window at Eponin who was making her way toward the hut.

"Come in, Eponin," Ephiny greeted her at the door.

"You two ready?," Eponin inquired.

"Never more ready," Ephiny answered.

The warrior and the Queen stood next to their friends as Charis and the Regent pledged their love. Xenan listened attentively as the ceremony progressed, his focus shifting from one woman to the other as he watched his mother seal their fate. "You forgot something!," he unexpectedly blurted out at the conclusion of the ceremony. Ephiny and Charis, mid-kiss, turned their heads toward him, a curious expression spanning both of their faces.

"Hmmm?," the Regent replied, reluctantly tearing herself away from the kiss.

"She forgot to tell you to kiss me," he puckered his lips.

"He’s so cute!," the bard whispered to the warrior as she and Xena discreetly covered their smiles with their hands.

"I beg your pardon," Eponin announced, successfully managing to hide her amusement. "You are now free to kiss your son," she corrected herself.

"Alright! That’s enough!," Xenan, pinned between the two women, blushed as each of them claimed one of his cheeks, smothering his face with kisses.

"You sure?," Ephiny asked. "There are plenty more where those came from."

"One more from you," her instructed and his mother complied. "And one more for you," he turned to Charis who promptly placed her lips on his cheek and blew as hard as she could sending the child into a fit of laughter.

The group remained together in the hut long enough to have a meal consisting of leftovers from the previous day’s feast. After the newly-betrothed couple thanked Eponin for her services, she and the Regent disappeared. The two sat outside talking for quite some time.

"You’ll be fine," Ephiny assured the Amazon at the close of their discussion.

"I hate to see you go," Eponin said in a somber tone, reaching out to hug her friend.

"I’m counting on you," she whispered as she held her.


"Goodbye, my friend," Ephiny slowly turned away and headed back inside the hut.

Gabrielle sat next to Xenan, her jaws becoming more and more full as she shoved bite after bite of cold bread into her mouth. "We have to make some more of this stuff!," she suggested to the Regent, her eyes losing their glow when she realized that she and Ephiny would be parting soon. Her mind began to replay the memories that she and her friend had made during their time together. She knew this day would come, but now that it had arrived, she couldn’t fathom actually telling her goodbye.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"Do we have everything?," the warrior asked Gabrielle upon returning from the stables with Argo.

"Yeah, I think so," the bard looked distant as she gathered the last of their things and made her way outside carrying her satchel over her shoulder, closing the door behind her for the last time. Though she looked forward to traveling with Xena again, she knew she was going to miss the Regent terribly. Leaving was especially hard now that she had seen Xenan again. She hated the idea of missing out on his youth. Although she managed to find some comfort in knowing that she and the warrior would visit more often than they had in the past, she felt uneasy not knowing where Ephiny and Charis were headed. Now she would have to wait for them to send word before she even knew their whereabouts and that could take forever.

"Gabrielle?," the warrior interrupted her thoughts. "We did forget a couple of things," she insisted.

"What?," the bard looked puzzled.

"Them," Xena smiled as she pointed toward the center of the village.

"Xena? Are they...," she was definitely surprised.

"Yep...That is, if you don’t object?"

"Object? Object?!," she shouted. "Are you crazy?! Of course I don’t object!"

"Everyone ready to go?," the Regent said coolly as she climbed down from her horse.

"Ephiny!," Gabrielle shouted as she ran toward her friend, throwing her arms around her, knocking her off her feet.

"Ouch, my butt!," the Regent exclaimed, both Charis and Xenan giggling at her.

"You’re really coming with us?," Gabrielle sat on Ephiny’s stomach, pinning her to the ground, one leg on either side of her friend.

"Not if your going to sit on me the entire time," the Regent joked before her tone grew serious. "We’ve decided to settle in Athens," she told the bard. "Xena tells me that you two will end up there before long, so we thought we would travel with you for a while. Doesn’t matter if we take the long road. We aren’t in a big hurry," she smiled.

"I’m so happy!," she finally got to her feet, freeing the trapped Amazon. "But...Ephiny?," she suddenly sounded worried. "You’re the Regent? Both of us can’t leave the village?"

"I’ve already appointed Eponin. She’ll act as queen in my absence just as I assumed the position in yours," she explained. " that acceptable?," she humbly asked.

"Eponin would have been my choice. But then, you knew that, didn’t you?"

"I guessed, " the Regent smiled as she climbed back onto her horse.

"You kept this from me?," Gabrielle asked Xena who was standing next to Argo.

"Yep. I did a good job of it too, didn’t I?," the warrior laid a huge kiss on her. Ephiny and Charis gave each other a look while Xenan giggled as the kiss lingered on and on.

"Alright, ladies!," Charis intruded. "Save something for later," she laughed.

"Oh, sorry," the bard looked as if she had forgotten that she and Xena weren’t alone.

"I understand," Ephiny assured her. "Xena’s a great kisser," she winked at the warrior who was, by now, perched on Argo’s back.

Xena and Ephiny moved ahead, taking the lead, Xenan walking between them. Gabrielle and Charis were trailing behind when the bard asked Charis, "What did she mean, Xena’s a great kisser? How would she know unless...," her words dissipated as her mind raced.

"You got me," Charis was stumped. "Come on," she reached down and pulled Gabrielle onto the back of her horse. "Hey! We want to ask you two something!," she shouted as she and the bard attempted to catch up to the women who seemed to be pulling further and further ahead of them.

"Should we explain it to them?," the Regent asked Xena as they forged ahead.

"Nah. Let ‘em wonder," Xena chuckled.


Part I Part II Part III Part IV

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