Subtext Reports
Those crazy posts about the episodes originally posted to the nutforum and saved here for posterity in their error riddled entirety (since they were written 'on the fly'). 
Homecoming Series
A series of five (not so short) stories about Xena and Gabrielle building their life together as a couple. 
Magic Series
Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas find love as they uncover more writings of Gabrielle about her warrior princess. 
Conversations by Campfire Series
Set during Season Four, parts of the episodes are worked into chats between Xena and Gab, particularly the subject of Najara and the bard. 
Changes of Heart Series
My take on what happened after Gabby got Chakram'ed upside the head by Xena in the Season Five ender. 
Bonding of Souls Series
This series picks up where 'Changes of Heart' ends with Xena and Gabby back together. Each 'episode' is an expansion of the episodes of Season Six.
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
How DID Ares get stuck in that tomb from the Xena Scrolls? This story answers that question. 
The Play
Xena and Gabrielle have to play the leads in a performance for a ruthless king to save Salmoneus' neck. Unexpected consequences and confessions are the result. 
The Queen, the Regent, the Warrior
Xena leaves Gabrielle in the care of the amazons, only to have Ephiny and Gabby fall in love. Xena does return and chaos and secret confessions follow.
The Contest
Ares and Aphrodite battle over Xena's spirit. 
Loss of Virginity
Romantic musings from one of our gals. 
Moment of Truth
Gabrielle does anything it takes to keep Xena out of a battle that's foretold to take the warrior princess' life. 
Thank the Gods For Henbane
At an Amazon festival Gabrielle has one too many henbane brownies, which results in a funny and sexy night for Xena. 
As It Should Be
The Queen gets taken by the Warrior Princess at the Amazon Village.
Family Ties
Xena takes Gabrielle back to home to spend a little time with the 'in-laws'. 
Dueling Cousins
Xena's look-alike cousin, Sappho, has always been competitive but now the Tenth Muse wants the ultimate prize - Gabrielle. 
The End
Alternate 'demise' of Xena and Gabrielle based on the Season Four crucifixion. 
Truth or Dare
Sexy romp between Callisto and Gabrielle set during 'A Necessary Evil' 
November 29th, 1942
A little romance fic between Janice and Mel. 
Inside Outside
Set after the events of 'A Family Affair', it's a scene told through the eyes of four people - Gabrielle's Father, Mother, Gabrielle herself and Xena.
Something To Talk About
Xena and Gabrielle's friends are all surprised that the pair aren't lovers so they consider why not.
Henbane, Horsenappings and Other Obstacles
A 'murphy's law' comedy where everything that can go wrong for Xena and Gabby but, of course, they still end up saving the day.
All That Matters
During Gabrielle's birthday party in' Takes One To Know One', Xena reflects on her love for the bard.  
Warlord
What if Gabrielle was actually the one behind all the folks who influenced Xena's journey toward good? 
Have Yourself a Merry Little Solstice
A little Winter Solstice tale that's available in general (not lovers) and alternative (lovers). .
Little Moments: A Day in the Desert
A tale told through the eyes of Janice and then Mel while on a dig.  
Candy or Chaos
'Classic Xena' general Halloween story with Xena and Gabby return for the Potiedaia Harvest Festival.
Conquering Heroine
Gabrielle is the Conqueror in this piece. How exactly? Give it a read and find out. 
Watching and Waiting
Set after FIN II, Xena watches from afar as Gabrielle moves on with her life. 
1971
Police Office Carol and Protestor Erin clash but find they're fighting for the same things. A short story based on my novel, 'One Belief Away'. 
March 26, 1943
Sequel to November 29, 1942. This time it's Janice's birthday and Mel has some sexy plans for her lover. 
The 10th Muse
In this traditional subtext story that's part French farce; part musical, Gabrielle has a Doppelganger, the Poetess Sappho. It's up to Gabby, Xena and Sappho's friend Aphrodite to guard Sappho during the 10th Muse Competition...Of course they must also try to repair Sappho's damaged relationship with her lover (a woman, and bandmate, who's the spitting image of Xena).

Title: Coming Home Part 2

Author: CN Winters

Fandom: Xena Fanfiction, Xena fanfic, Xena fan fiction, Xena and Gabrielle fanfiction, Xena fiction

Rating: R

Disclaimers: As always Xena, Gabby and the gang arenít mine. They belong to MCA/Universal. This story is however mine and itís just for recreation. If the idea of two women in love (who show their affection explicitly and use some Ďnaughtyí words in the process) offends you please move on. Same rule applies if love is illegal where you live or if youíre too young.

Author Note: Please keep in mind this is the second story in the ĎHomecomingí series. Itís not necessary to read it the first story, but you may enjoy it and gain greater insight on my take of the Xena/Gabrielle love thang. A special thanks to Janet G for offering a godly idea for this story. I hope I live up to your expectations Janet.

Synopsis: After getting married on Lesbos, Xena and Gabrielle return to the mainland to visit family and the amazons, but not everyone is pleased with their new union.  

Feedback: I love feedback so if you felt moved by these words (either positive or negative) drop me a line at: cnwinters71@yahoo.com. I look forward to non-homophobic constructive comments. Thanks for reading.

Coming Home Part 2 of 2

CHAPTER XV

"She should have never taken the mask," Xena whispered hostile.

Xena wasnít the only one with fine hearing. The regent picked up on it. "Well, I didnít see you stop her," Ephiny shot back.

"Sorry," Xena replied sarcastically. "I had my own troubles. I was a little bit dead at the time."

The five women stood, sat or paced in the royal hut - Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Solari and Lila. There had to be something that could be done. Xena was never one to give up but a day had passed with no solution. They debated back and forth, trying to keep their voices down. Hearing argument now between their leaders would do no good to the already shaken villagers.

"Tell me again why I canít give the mask away?" Gabrielle replied after another exchange.

"You heard Artemis," Ephiny answered. "She has chosen you. No one else. If you give the mask away who knows what she would do to you and this village."

Xena grinned inward. Gabrielle was ready to give up her throne for her, if need be. Her admiring thoughts, however, were broken by Gabrielleís voice.

"Would everyone please leave?" she asked softly. "I need to speak with Xena."

The regent and her guard looked at one another as Lila rose.

"Sure," her sister replied, making her way outside the hut.

Ephiny added, "Weíll be outside if you need us." Gabrielle simply nodded, studying the look on Xenaís face.

Xena sighed uneasily. Gabrielle made a motion for the warrior, but stopped herself. She was beginning to remember the physical pain the shock would bring as their bodies touched.

"Iím not sure how to say this," Gabrielle began with the weep heavy in her voice. "I never thought I would say this... "

At first, Xena was unsure what the bard was conveying, but realization began to take hold of her. 

"No, Gabrielle. Donít say it. Weíll find a way around this curse - together. We can Ė"

"I canít Xena...  because this is no longer about just us. The lives of every one of those women out there is in my hands... Please leave," the last words were spoken just above a whisper.

"And go where?!" Xena cried angrily. "And do what?!"

"I donít know!" Gabrielle replied just as fiercely. "All I know is if you stay here I run the risk of Artemis striking out at these women...  The longer we wait, the sooner Artemis will return... You saw what happened to Ephiny."

"Youíre walking out on us? Just like that?" Xena asked, her eyes moist now with unshed tears.

Gabrielle met Xena eye to eye. 

"No. Iím saving my people," she whispered. "Iím not asking you to leave forever just... " Gabrielle didnít really know how long she would need so she changed her train of thought. "Just go home," she finally added.

Xena closed her eyes and the tears sitting there began to roll down her beautiful cheeks. 

"But you are my home," Xena answered. "Just like Iím yours."

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her chest and began to sob loudly. She wanted to reach out and touch the aching warrior. She wanted to show this woman just how much she did truly mean to her life. 

"Please Xena," Gabrielle cried. "Oh Gods, donít make this harder than it already is."

Xena was angry - no - hurt. As she roughly grabbed her saddle bag and began loading her belongs. She stopped and looked at Gabrielle. The bard began to speak. 

"I know youíre mad Ė."

"No," Xena cut her off, now crying as well. "Iím not mad. Not at you... Iím... Iím... heartbroken...  My rage is with Artemis, not with you. I can see why youíre doing this, but I donít agree with it... Weíve handled everything together... everything... "

Xena trailed off as she stuffed her last night shirt in the bag, flinging it over her shoulder. Slowly, she took a few deep sighs, gathering her nerves together before she faced the pack of curious amazonís outside. She waved casually to Gabrielle. 

"Iíll see ya around," she whispered, trying to be a carefree as possible.

Gabrielle raced over. To Hades with Artemisí curse. She pulled the warrior to her and planted her lips firmly on Xenaís lips. Both women summed up all of their strength to induce the torturous pain the shock was sending through their bodies. When they broke away, they took a moment to regain their breath.

"Come back home soon," Gabrielle whispered. "Iíll be waiting for you."

"Will you?" Xena asked. "I donít want to see you waste your life Gabri Ė."

"Finding a solution to this problem will never be a waste, even if it takes my entire lifetime. Please come back. Promise me?"

Xena looked into the bardís eyes. The womanís love was true; the most genuine thing she saw in all her travels. 

"I promise," Xena whispered, beginning to tear up again. "I better go."

Without waiting for Gabrielleís reaction, she left the hut. A few amazons watched as she strolled quickly to the stables. Minutes later, she emerged upon the mare and was galloping out of the city. All three women who had been in the queenís hut earlier watched as the warrior left.

"Iíll go talk to her," Lila offered.

"No," Ephiny insisted. "Let me. Solari could you please see Lila to the tailor for her new attire?"

"Certainly," Solari nodded. "This way Princess Lila," Solari nodded.

Lila had to grin. It was the first time anyone called her by a title. After a brief discussion the day when the trio arrived, it was decided that since Lila was blood to the queen, she was a princess.

Once the two women were on their way, Ephiny walked over and knocked on the Queenís door.

"Who is it?" Gabrielle asked softly.

"Ephiny. Could I please come in and speak with you Gabrielle? Please?"

Gabrielle could tell by the tone in Ephinyís voice that Ephiny was worried, perhaps sorrowful. Gabrielle knew at that moment that Xena had done as she was asked. The warrior princess left.

When Gabrielle opened the door and Ephiny walked in, the bard burst into tears all over again. All Ephiny could do was hold her and rock her. She knew what it felt like - losing a soulmate - and she knew she had no words to take it away. So the regent held her queen close to her chest and tried to squeeze some of the pain from her heart.

CHAPTER XVI

"If I may be so bold princess, Iíd say you look quite beautiful," the tailor replied, finishing a few stitches on the skirt.

"Thank you." Lila blushed. She turned and faced her escort. "What do you think, Solari?"

The question totally caught the always alert guard Ďoff-guardí and she found herself fumbling. "I... I... I think... sheís right. I think you look beautiful." Now Solari felt herself blush and she quick reprimanded herself. Amazons donít blush. We are brave warriors. We donít allow emotions to interfere with our duties. Slowly, Solariís eyes traveled the length of Lilaís body coming to rest at the deep blue eyes. Oh Hades, who am I kidding? Sheís gorgeous.

"All set," the tailor interrupted. Both women broke eye contact to see the tailor.

"Thank you," Lila replied. "Should we go now?" she asked Solari.

"Certainly, my princess," Solari answered giving a small bow.

Lila giggled. "Please donít call me that," she said shyly. "For some reason, when you say that it feels... I donít know... funny."

"What would you prefer?" Solari asked.

"Lila is fine or hey you." She grinned. "Iíll answer to just about anything."

"Anything?" Solari teased. The warrior suddenly felt a level of comfort and confidence with her young princess. The tailor shot the warrior a knowing grin before going to busy herself in the back room.

"I said just about anything," Lila replied with a coy grin.

Solari felt a boldness strike her deeply and she found herself closing the distance between herself and Lila. "Gorgeous? Would you answer to Gorgeous?"

Lila could feel a fear of the unknown creeping over her body. The warrior was getting closer by the second. She didnít want to do anything to scare Solari and she didnít want to put her foot in her mouth either.

"It depends on who was saying it - a drunk in a bar or a dark, beautiful warrior?"

Solari felt herself grinning now too. 

"How about a dark, beautiful, drunk warrior in bar?" she said trying to lighten the air surrounding them. Lila picked up on it, but she didnít want this little seduction to end.

"Would you happen to be the warrior?" Lila replied boldly, surprising herself and her village chaperon. She watched Solariís eyes widened briefly before gathering her warrior strength.

"Would that make a difference?" Solari asked honestly, hanging impatiently for a reply.

Lila moved a little closer, locking eyes with the ebony-haired amazon. "Yes," she whispered huskily. "It would."

"Well," Solari began, "Since weíre finished here, maybe I could take you to the orchards. We could get some fruits for your sister - a small token of some kind. And perhaps later, I could escort you to dinner tonight?"

"That sounds like a wonderful idea." Lila grinned.

The gesture didnít last long and it was mostly for show. She wanted to know that although she did enjoy the idea of Solariís proposal, she felt guilty for feeling so happy at this moment when just across the village her sister was more than likely in tears. Solari noted the change that swept through Lila.

"Are you sure?" Solari questioned. "I wouldnít want to impose on your time here. You look a bit undeceive."

"Itís not that," Lila reassured touching Solariís arm. Suddenly, she felt distracted by the texture of the smooth skin and the harden muscles underneath. She removed her hand, almost in a jerking motion when she felt it lingering too long. "Iím worried about Gabrielle, thatís all."

Solari smiled. "They are both very resourceful," the warrior complimented Xena and her queen. "Iím sure they will find some resolve to this problem. Theyíve faced worse, after all."

"What do you mean?" Lila asked.

Solari realized it would be best if she kept her mouth closed. She wasnít sure just how well Lila knew her sister and her many exploits with Xena. Thatís it, Solari said silently as she deduced an answer.

"Life on the road is, at best, difficult," Solari offered. "Theyíve faced many... battles...  Iím positive they will find a solution."

That answer pleased Lila and Solari sighed inwardly. "Well, maybe we should head to the orchard," Lila replied.

"Certainly," Solari said with a bow.

Lila scolded Solari with her eyes for the royal gesture. Solari quickly apologized and they both left the hut with a smile. 

Upon traveling to the orchard, Solari grabbed a bushel basket and they heading into the trees. They picked cherries, apples and pears for their queen, making sure to grab only the freshest ones. The chatted about their lives - Solari spoke of her early childhood amazon customs and Lila told Solari about life in Poteidaia. Suddenly in mid-sentence, Lila stopped and clutched her hand as she yelped.

Solari, who was a few feet away, rushed to her princessí side.

 "Whatís the matter?" she asked concerned.

Lila showed Solari her right index finger. "Something bite me," she winced.

Solari examined the Ďwoundí. And she grew concerned. 

"You havenít been bitten," Solari replied, gently holding Lilaís hand. "Youíve been stung... Have you been stung before?"

Solari watched a friend in childhood die from such an infliction unable to breathe. A warrior also died two summers ago and she was grown. Some people could fight the poison of the bee, others could not. And she was worried.

"Yes," Lila replied. "When I was a child, Gabrielle was playing in the yard when my mom made me fetch her for dinner. Damn thing bite me on the back of the neck."

Solari sighed and took Lilaís hand more firmly. "I have to get the stinger and the poison out, okay? This may hurt a little," she warned.

Lila nodded quickly and held her breath. Solari maneuvered Lilaís hand into the dwindling sunlight. As fast as possible, she captured the singer between her fingernails and pulled it out. Lila groaned, but kept her hand still. Next, Solari raised the injured finger to her lips and sucked on the tip, trying to draw any poison that had settled there.

Solariís suction on her flesh, sent a shot to Lilaís sex like quicksilver. She tried to focus on breathing again, but the feel of the warriorís wet lips on her finger did nothing to help. The young princessí eyes were fixed on Solari and even when the warrior turned her head to spit out the poison, it looked sexy. Oh Lila, the young princess told herself. You are in big trouble if you find even that arousing. Lila began to wonder what those lips would feel like on her shoulders, her lips, her breasts... her...  other lips. The princess shook her head to get her attention back. The motion caught Solariís eye.

"Are you okay?" the dark-haired warrior asked. She still had hold of the princessí hand and lightly began to message the injured finger. Lila could feel her pulse raising as fast as her illicit thoughts.

"Yes," she croaked. She had to clear her throat before she continued. "Iím fine... Itís just... " She was unsure of how much to reveal at this moment. What the Tarturus, she thought. "That feels really good. Maybe too good. Maybe you should stop now."

Solari grinned at the honesty. "Do you want me to stop?" Solari whispered. "You are my princess, you know? I do as you order me."

Lila felt herself back into the apple tree as the warrior crept closer.

 "You do, huh?" the Ďnew amazoní asked, trying to sound conversational.

"Oh yes," Solari answered huskily. She didnít want Lila misunderstanding her intent. "What would you like me to do?" Solari teased. "Should I work on extracting some more poison?" she asked. Without waiting for a reply, Solari took the fingertip in her mouth once more. But instead of sucking she let her tongue roll around the digit. Lila closed her eyelids and could feel her eyes rolling into the back of her head.

Now Lila wasnít a tramp. But she was no stranger to love either. There were a couple boys in the village she had dated since Gabrielleís departure. All the kisses and pecks sheíd received felt nothing like this moment. So this is what Gabrielle meant by curling toes, Lila thought. She grinned at the conversation she had with her sister about why she loved Xena so much. Solari took the smile as encouragement to continue in her task.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, my princess?"

It sounded more like a beg than a question. Lila opened her eyes to find Solariís eyes locked on her face, studying her lips. The warrior's fingers came up and began to trace them. Something odd began to happen. Lila could feel herself grow wet and she had the overwhelming desire to feel contact, any contact, against the wetness. She moaned, trying to block herself from lowering her hand to her center.

"Oh gods," Lila whispered. "Whatís happening to me?"

Solari smiled at her innocence. "Itís called desire," Solari replied softly. "Itís called passion... Itís called want."

Lila closed her eyes again and moaned, "Yes... Want."

"Want what?" Solari asked coyly.

Lila moaned again. "You," she whispered. "I want you to kiss me."

Solari pulled the young woman closer by the waist, crushing her against her. Lila eyes shot open, but quickly closed again when Solari captured her lips. When Solariís tongue pierced through, stroking the inside of her mouth, the young woman seriously thought she was going to swoon. The warrior noticed the sway of her loveís legs and offered her support. Lila took it by placing her hands on Solariís shoulders. Of course, this gesture only left her weaker to stand as the desire between her legs grew stronger.

Solariís hands caressed Lilaís sides gently, protectively. Lila, however, had other plans for the warriorís hands. She took Solariís forearm and guided her southward. She let her hand float down Solariís arm to her fingers. Both women moaned when Solariís fingers made contact with Lilaís wetness.

The young amazon broke the kiss first and set to work on the warriorís neck. Solari tilted her head, offering her flesh to the hungry young woman. Her princess. The sister of her queen. With that thought Solari tensed and Lila felt it.

"Whatís wrong?" Lila asked breathlessly.

Solari disengaged herself from Lila as easily as possible. "I think we should slow things down a bit," the warrior answered sounding just as winded as her princess.

Lila looked at her feet, far away from Solariís eyes. "Did I do something wrong?" she asked quietly.

Solari looked surprised at first, but she didnít want Lila to see that reaction. Once in check, she lifted Lilaís chin with her fingertips. "You did nothing wrong." Solari smiled. "If anything, you did everything too right," she chuckled. "I donít know about you, but Iíd much rather make love some place more... romantic... or at least less dangerous. We could be spending the evening picking stingers out of each otherís behinds."

Lila giggled and agreed. "Yes, I could think of a better way to spend the night with you." The grin began to fade and the look of ardent desire returned.

"Oh no," Solari said holding up her hands. "Donít start looking at me like that. I just made a promise to take things slow here. You keep looking at me like that and youíll make a liar out of me," she added with a smile.

Lila smiled again too. "Come on," she said taking Solariís hand in hers. "Letís get these to Gabrielle. What do you say?"

"Anything you wish, your highness." Solari grinned. "Anything you wish."

CHAPTER XVII

Argo was tiring. Xena could feel the animal growing sluggish. She pulled the reins close to her bringing her mare to a sliding stop. Feeling the distress of her mistress, the horse tried to change direction, heading back from where she just came, but Xena tightened her hold.

"Itís okay, Argo," Xena reassured. She could hear her voice betraying her words though. "Itís okay," she whispered again.

Xena began to sob loudly and the palomino whinnied in response. The horse understood things were not okay. Her mistress was in tears and the short woman she had come to expect wasnít with them. She began to prance, growing upset herself.

Xena gave up. She dismounted and stroked the cream hued mane. "Letís take a break, huh girl? Does that sound like a good idea?" the warrior whispered. "Go on," she added pointing at a near by meadow.

She watched the mare take a spot, nibbling on some grass. The warrior was jealous. The animal could calm itself so easily. After a few moments, she fell to her knees and cried in agony. She ached, literally, for Gabrielle. Her stomach hurt, her head hurt, her lungs hurt. She felt like sheíd been in another fight with a harpy... and lost. She started to wipe her tears away slowly but she suddenly shot to her feet, sword in hand.

"I told you this would happen, but ya just couldnít listen could ya, Xena," the God of War began.

"Get away from me, Ares," Xena balked. "I donít have time for this."

He stood for a moment, studying the warrior. "YOU are a mess. Look at you. Youíre not a warrior... Any self respecting warrior of mine wouldnít waste this much time over a broken heart. Get over it, Xena."

"First of all, Iím not your warrior anymore . And second the only waste of my time is conversing with you."

"Oh come on," Ares egged. "Youíre more mine now than ever. Think about it. You want Artemisí head on a platter right now. Youíd kill her in a flash if you thought you could succeed... What if I told you I could help make that happen?"

Xena smiled. "You never give up... I will say this about you, Ares. You are persistent...  Thanks, but no thanks."

Xena began to walk to Argo. "Youíre just going to go back to Amphipolis then?" The warrior ignored his comments. "Fine. Run back to Mommy. Sheíll make it all better, right? What you need is revenge, Xena! Donít let Artemis take away the only thing that truly mattered to you!"

Xena stopped and turned to face him. "How do you know what Ďtruly mattersí to me? Youíve never known me, Ares - Not the real me. Take a good look because here I am. I am Gabrielleís soulmate - not a destroyer of nations, not a warrior of justice. My one and only purpose in life is Gabrielle."

Ares grinned. "Yeah, I heard your little declaration on Lesbos...  To be honest, I DO understand at least ONE thing that you see in her." Xena noticed his eyes wander off with his racing thoughts. She snapped her fingers to get his attention back.

"That happens to be MY wife youíre daydreaming about," Xena warned.

Ares grinned. "Donít worry. You were in it too."

"Comforting to know." Xena smirked as she walked toward Argo.

Ares watched Xena for another moment before materialized beside her as she mounted the horse. The two warriors locked eyes. "You were my best," he said quietly. "Iím never going to get you back though, am I?"

Xena shook her head lightly but the conviction was strong behind it. "No," she replied in a similar relaxed tone.

Ares nodded. "Okay," he began. "Iíll do you a favor." Xena began to argue, but Ares raised his hand to stop her. "For old times sake," he continued.

"No way, Ares. I know that help from the Gods comes with a price. Iím not buying whatever youíre selling."

"Trust me," he said forcefully. "The answer to getting Gabrielle back lies in Amphipolis."

"Why should I trust you?" Xena replied getting annoyed.

"I asked you to trust me in Britannia and you didnít. Look at the price you paid for not listening."

"Jeez, Ares," Xena said sarcastically. "I didnít think you cared."

"Okay. I guess I deserved that one," he admitted. "But know this Xena: If you want Gabrielle, do as she said. Go home."

Xena was torn. She wanted to believe Ares just this once. Maybe the answered did lie in her hometown. Then again, Ares was... well Ares... and it could just be another elaborate game he had planned. The God of War could feel Xenaís conflicting thoughts and emotions.

"Whatís the worse thing that will happen? Youíll see your mom and have to tell her the honeymoonís over. Give it a thought," he answered as he began to vaporize.

"Wait! Why? Why are you telling me this?" Xena insisted.

Ares returned to his brief form for a moment. "Itís called a favor. I never repaid you and Gabrielle for giving me back my Godhood... Of course if it wasnít for the airhead of Olympus and that little do-gooder of yours with her scroll it would have never happened but... anyway... Just Go!"

With that the god vanished. "Come on girl," Xena said in better spirits to the mare. "Weíre going home - tonight," she nudged Argo and the two galloped away, leaving a trail of dust in their wake.

CHAPTER XVIII

Ephiny crept into the hut to find Gabrielle lying on the bed, her back to the door. "Gabrielle?" she whispered.

The queen rose up and faced her regent. "What is it?" she asked in a monotone.

"Iíve brought you some dinner," Ephiny replied, closing the distance, holding out the tray.

"Iím not hungry," Gabrielle answered, still devoid of emotion.

"You have to eat," Ephiny gently begged.

Gabrielle lashed out, striking the tray out of Ephinyís hands and across the floor. "I donít want it!" Gabrielle screamed.

Ephiny flinched and held her breath. Gabrielle looked at the food and dishes scattered across the hut before she met her regentsí eyes. Ephiny looked shocked perhaps even a bit fearful. Gabrielle hung her head low.

"Gods, Iím sorry," Gabrielle cried sincerely. "I know youíre only trying to help. And I Ė"

"Itís alright," Ephiny answered, not letting her finish. "Youíre hurt and angry."

Gabrielle shook her head forcefully. "No. Thatís no excuse for treating you like that and I apologize."

Ephiny smiled sympathetically and pulled the crying woman into her arms.

"Apology accepted...  Iíll just have to learn that no means no." she teased. "I was just lucky you werenít hold your staff at the time. Iíd be rubbing my backside for a week." That made the queen grin and Ephiny felt more relieved.

Gabrielle took a deep breath, gaining her composure again. "So how are things out there?" she asked.

"Would you like to come out?" the regent asked carefully. "We could go for a walk around the village."

Gabrielle shook her head. "Donít think Iím up to it tonight. Maybe tomorrow?"

Ephiny smiled. "Okay. When youíre ready," she answered, stroking the bardsí hair behind her ear.

Gabrielle grinned. "My mother used to do that when I was upset," the bard replied regarding the physical gesture. "Speaking of family, howís Lila holding up? I saw her and Solari earlier today. They brought me some fruits."

Ephiny smiled wide, but tried to make it disappear quickly. Gabrielle quirked her eyebrow at the response.

"Sheís doing fine," Ephiny answered. The smile began to come back to the regent's lips.

"I have the overwhelming feeling Iím missing something here." Gabrielle grinned.

Ephiny chuckled. "Wellllll," the regent dodged.

"Out with it," Gabrielle ordered.

Ephiny moved to the bed with a pounce and patted the mattress. She waited until Gabrielle took a seat. "Rumor has it that Lila and Solari have been spending a lot of time together since her arrival two days ago. In fact, I hear they are inseparable."

Gabrielle felt her jaw hanging, her eyes widening. "Youíre kidding, right?"

Ephiny kept her lips tight and shook her head. "As a matter of fact, they spent the evening meal together and planned on taking a walk to the river afterward. Theyíre probably on their way right now."

Gabrielle shot up off the bed. "I want Lila brought here now. Alone."

Ephiny smiled. "Gabri Ė."

"I mean it Ephiny. Right now. And before you ask, yes Iím pulling rank."

Ephiny realized her queen was quite serious. She swiftly went to the guards outside. A moment later, she returned. 

"Iíve sent for her," Ephiny said with apprehension in her voice. "But why?"

Gabrielle considered the question. Why did she send for her sister? What would she say once she had her? "Look," Gabrielle replied. "Iím not sure my sister knows everything about the amazons and I KNOW that Solari does. Catch my drift?"

Ephiny grinned. "Yes. But Solari is a very honorable amazon. She would never force herself on anyone."

Gabrielle sighed in frustration. What in particular frustrated her at this moment she couldnít tell. "I believe you," Gabrielle answered. "I have a very high regard for Solari. I just think my sister should know more about the birds and the bees before she taking moonlight walks with a woman like Solari."

Ephiny wasnít sure why but she suddenly felt defensive about her best friend. "What do you mean a woman like Solari?"

"Oh Eph," Gabrielle answered the frustration rising again. "All I mean is Solari is an amazon - in every sense of the word - I just think that Lila should know what sheís doing. This could be just an experiment to her and I donít want to see anyone get hurt. Not her. Not Solari. Not anyone . . Understand?"

Ephiny smiled. Gabrielleís own love life - oh Hades, her own Ďlifeí - was going to Tartarus in a hand basket, but she still wanted to Ďprotectí others around her. Ephiny admired Gabrielle in that single moment, more than ever.

"I understand," the regent whispered. The regent was going to continue, but the guard arrived.

"Queen Gabrielle. Your sister has arrived," one replied formerly.

"Send her in," she replied regally.

As the guard, left Ephiny added, "Iíll be outside, my queen."

Lila walked in and the first thing she noticed were Gabrielleís blood-shot eyes. 

"Are you okay?" she asked concerned. "They said you sent for me."

"Have a seat," Gabrielle said patting the quilt on her bed. "I asked them to bring you here for... you... not me... According to Regent Ephiny,youíve been spending a lot of your time with Solari since youíve been here."

Lila was a bit taken back by Gabrielleís tone. She sounded so Ďqueenlyí. This wasnít like the late-night discussions when they cuddled together in one bed gossiping about boys and chores and village life. She didnít know how to respond so she simply nodded her head.

Gabrielle nodded in like fashion. "I like Solari. I trust her. And I trust you... I know you weíre very curious about my life with Xena." Even as Gabrielle said the name it brought the familiar ache to the surface again. She paused a moment to regroup and Lila gave her that time in silence. "Anyway, Iím curious about your relationship with Solari. Is there anything youíd like to talk about?... Anything youíd like to ask?"

Lila smiled and giggled. "Come on Gabs can we just cut the royal stuff for a minute?" The regal tone of the conversation was getting to the bardís sister.

"No," Gabrielle said firmly. "Because you are the princess of this village. Everything you say, everything you do, will be closely watched by everyone. I donít mind that youíre keeping company with Solari, but you do have to realize, my dear sister, all eyes are on you now."

That was a fact Lila hadnít really considered. "Everyone is talking about me and Solari?"

Gabrielle grinned and nodded slowly. "Yep. Now do you see why I wanted you to understand how important your actions are?" Lila nodded without comment. "Good." Gabrielle smiled. "Now we can cut the Ďroyal stuffí...  and you can give me the scoop!"

Lila smiled and the two sisters climbed under the covers, giggling. After two hours of laughing; crying; Lila telling Gabrielle how she loved Solariís blue eyes; Gabrielle telling Lila how much she missed Xenaís, the pair fell asleep in each others arms. Gabrielle was restless, but she felt much better with Lila next to her once more. Thanks to her sister, Gabrielle managed to survive her first night without Xena.

 

CHAPTER XIX

Xena opened one eye when she heard someone grab the handle of the barn door. As it creaked she moved to her elbows, slightly turning her head from the light.

"Xena?! What are you doing here? Whereís Gabrielle?"

"Is mom up?" she asked ignoring the questions.

"Yeah. Sheís preparing breakfast," Toris answered. "Gabrielleís okay, isnít she?"

Xena understood that Ďokayí really meant Ďaliveí. 

"Sheís with the amazons... Iíve got to talk to mother."

Toris simply nodded and watched his sister walk toward the tavern. Once in the kitchen she found her mother making some sugarcakes, a favorite of Gabrielleís, and the warrior could feel herself choking up with the thought. Everything, it seemed, reminded her of the bard.

Cyrene felt the presence behind her. "Toris?" she asked.

"No mother," Xena replied.

Cyrene turned sharply to find Xena standing alone. Her eyes were darkened for lack of sleep. Her hair was still wind blown from the ride in; her shoulders and back slumped in exhaustion. She looked like Tartarus, but the fact that she was alone stood out more than anything.

"What happened?" her mother whispered. "Whereís Gabrielle?"

Xena lost what little composure she had left as the tears began to cascade down her cheeks.

"Oh Gods," Cyrene said rushing to Xena, taking her in her arms. "Oh little one, what happened?"

Xena started to explain the story in between sobs; the words coming out like one long hiccup after another. Cyrene did her best to decipher just what Xena was saying. She understood that Gabrielle was alive and with the Amazon. There was also something about Artemis and Ares but she couldnít make that out.

"Here." Cyrene led Xena. "Have a seat. Iíll get you some tea. Once you calm down, weíll start at the beginning, okay?"

Xena nodded like a small child and Cyrene couldnít resist kissing her on the forehead. After all, she was a child - Cyreneís child and the older woman knew she would Ďmotherí this warrior for the rest of her life.

Once Xena calmed down, blew her nose and drank some tea, she began to relax enough so the conversation could be understood. Xena told about the events at the banquet and Artemisí curse. As she finished she looked into her motherís eyes.

"What do I do?" Xena plead.

Cyrene was angry. Xena could tell. The older woman took a deep breath and held up her finger. She went to the front door and shouted toward the barn for her son.

"Toris?"

Upon hearing his name, he darted from the barn, sprinting to his mother. Knowing his sister was so distraught earlier, he didnít waste a second getting to his mom.

"What is it?" he asked breathless, once he was in front of her.

"I know you were on your way back to Athens today, but could you stay and run the inn for a few more days. I have to go to Arborea with Xena."

"Sure... Is she going to be okay?" he asked concerned.

The older woman grinned, looking back at Xena who was listening to the exchange. "Yes. Come Hades or high water."

CHAPTER XX

A full day had passed since Xenaís arrival back in Amphipolis. They were near the amazon border when Xena couldnít take it any longer.

"Thatís it," she sighed. "Why are we back here, Mom?"

"I told you. Iím going to have a little chat with Artemis. I think itís wrong what sheís doing and Iím going to tell her."

"What do you think this little chat is going to solve?" Xena asked.

"Donít worry dear... I have many skills." Her mom grinned.

Before Cyrene could add more, the ropes fell from the trees. Solari once again was on duty.

"Xena! Youíre back already?!" Solari exclaimed. "I mean not that itís a bad thing. But itís only been two days. Did you find the answer?"

"No," Xena replied. Solari knew the warrior wasnít going to be adding more. "Solari, this is my mom. Mom - Solari. Sheís a friend to me and Gabrielle."

Both women nodded to each other in respect before Solari motioned the runner.

Ephiny had finally talked Gabrielle into a walk around the village. They were approaching the practice field when they saw the runner approaching.

"My queen," the runner said falling to one knee. "Xena and her mother are here." Just as she finished the sentence, Gabrielle could see them appear on top the small hill. Ephiny couldnít contain her smile and neither could Gabrielle, who broke into a strong run.

Xena smiled when she saw Gabrielle take off. Cyrene watched her daughtersí reaction and encouraged her.

"Go get her," her mother said, gently patting Xenaís back, leading Argo. "Go on."

Xena gave her mother an appreciative gaze before taking off. The queen and the warrior ran a full speed and when they were close enough to see each otherís facial features they slowed down almost coming to a halt. They moved gingerly toward each other, each woman wanting to feel the other.

Gabrielle grinned mischievously. "Are you ready?" she asked.

Xena smiled wickedly.

"Bring it on," she said opening her arms.

The pain was instant and constant, but neither woman refused to break the lip lock until both were satisfied. The moans of pain sounded so similar to the moans of passion they expressed to each other. When they finally were willing to separate, they took a few moments to regain their breathing back to normal. By this time, their traveling companions had arrived. After introductions to Ephiny and Cyrene, the four women traveled to the village square.

"Well, letís get this over with," Cyrene said moving to the middle of the square.

Gabrielle, Ephiny and Xena stood holding hands. Ephiny offered herself as a link/translator between them. Each time Gabrielle squeezed Ephinyís hand, Ephiny would squeeze Xenaís. The loving, helpful gesture was warmly accepted by the bard and her warrior. A few amazons surrounding them stopped to take notice as Cyrene took the platform stage.

"Artemis!" she yelled at the top of her lungs, her hands clinched in fists at her side. The amazons who werenít watching as she took the stage were certainly watching now. A large circle began to form. "Artemis, Iím calliní you out!"

Nothing. Amazons from the huts now began to emerge - the cooks, the washers, and the carpenters. Every soul in the village had their attention on Xenaís mother.

"Where are you, Artemis? What are you afraid of?" she taunted. Amazonís turned to each other gossiping about the Ďcrazyí woman challenging their God. Their attention, however, still manage to stay focused on Cyrene too.

"Youíre a double-face, back-stabbing, piss-poor excuse for a goddess. You make Aphrodite look like Ė"

Cyrene didnít have the chance to finish. The flash of blue light circled Cyrene, stopping dead in front of her. Artemis materialized in front of the older woman who refused to look intimidated.

"Who do you think you are?!" Artemis demanded.

Xena was ready to charge the stage. Both out of protection of her mother and her anger with the goddess. Ephiny held tight and shook her head. "Sheís got a plan, Xena," Ephiny whispered. "Let her follow it through."

The regent felt Xena relax and she lightened her grip on the warriors well-muscled arm.

Cyrene paced around the goddess. "My name is Cyrene. My mother was Agena... Ring any bells?" she said sarcastically.

"Melosaís Aunt?" Artemis asked. Cyrene only nodded. "Cyrene? Cyrene?... " the goddess said searching her memory banks. Artemis suddenly grinned, "Cyrene! Youíre... old... "

Cyrene smiled and nodded. "Yeah, it happens to us mortal... if weíre lucky."

"Youíve returned to the village?" she asked hopefully.

"No. Iím here for my daughter... my daughter, Xena."

Cyrene didnít add anymore.

Artemis looked to where Cyrene pointed. "Xena is your daughter?" the goddess asked.

"Yes. And she seeks the hand of your queen. And yes, she is of amazon blood. Royal amazon blood, in fact."

Everyone in the village square fell silent. Artemis considered the situation. Gabrielle was all smiles. Xena was all shock.

"You left the village before she was conceived," Artemis argued.

"Once of amazon blood, always of amazon blood. You know that, Artemis. Regardless of my marriage, me and my daughter are both amazon."

Cyrene turned to walk around the platform when a villager caught her eye. Before she could utter a syllable, the amazon she admired turned, making her way from the stage and through the crowd that had formed. Cyrene was on the verge of following, but she stopped and turned to Artemis.

"What do you have against my daughter? What would please you so she could have Gabrielleís hand?" Cyrene asked.

Artemis rested her bow down and met Cyreneís eyes. "Sheís a weak woman. She maybe an amazon, but I refuse to have my queen bond with someone as weak as Xena."

That was it. Xena couldnít be contained this time. "Iím weak?! Iím weak?!" she shouted as she took the stage steps two at a time. "I would challenge any one of your warriorís for Gabrielleís hand! Iíve fought Hades to come back to her! Tell me how I am weak!"

Suddenly, Xena dropped to her knees and clutched her throat. Cyrene rushed to her side and held her. 

"What are you trying to prove?!" the warriorís mother yelled furiously.

"Just how weak she is," Artemis replied casually.

"Sheís not weak!" Cyrene insisted. "Sheís mortal!"

Xena fought unconsciousness with all her being, yet knowing she was losing. Artemis bent over and whispered, "Pick a God. Thereís only one that can save you now and itís certainly not me."

Ephiny could have sworn she saw the warrior give the smallest of grins.

"Ah.... Ah," Xena said trying to say the name but only managing a croak.

Artemis released her grip. "Say it!" she screamed. "Who do you call on?!"

Xena took a deep breath while she could, settling her shoulders to yell. "Athena!" she screamed.

Artemis got wide-eyed and forgot about the grip she was going to restore on the warriorís throat.

A bolt of purple light flashed, knocking Artemis off balanced.

"Iíd ask whatís going on, but I already know," Athena said scowling at Artemis. She was a lovely woman with flowing white robes, looking older than Artemis and not nearly as physically fit. "You are way out of line Artie," she added. Athena offered her hand to Xena, which the warrior took. "Youíll be okay," she told the warrior.

Artemis was going to start to protest and explain her actions.

"I know you donít want your queen with someone who deals with Ares. And to be honest I donít blame you. But by harming this mortal, Iím forced to inform Zeus." Athena was disgusted and she had to take a moment to regain her composure. "Letís just say youíve got your answer, Artemis. Xena belongs to no one, but herself. All she seeks now is wisdom and truth. Give your queenís hand to her. Sheís earned it... and besides...  I KNOW itís the right thing to do."

Artemis watched the other goddess and looked at her people. They seemed to be in agreement with Athena too.

"Alright," Artemis whispered in a voice so tiny, even those next to her barely heard her.

"I donít think they heard you in the back," Athena boasted sarcastically, pointing toward the mob.

"I said OKAY," Artemis replied throwing her hands up in frustration. "Xena can bond with my queen."

Xena and Gabrielle grinned ear to ear and rushed toward each other. The first time since the curse they didnít feel the sting of touching each other. And they enjoyed every moment of it. A group settled around them and congratulated them. Xena turned back to thank her mother and watched her slip off toward the mess hall. She didnít follow - in truth she couldnít - they were too closed in. But sheís whispered in Gabrielleís ear. "Letís get outta here as quickly and politely as possible."

"What did you have in mind?" Gabrielle asked seductively.

"Finding mom," Xena replied.

Gabrielle lost the playful grin and nodded in agreement. Yes, Gabrielle considered. Looks like Cyrene has so explaining to do.

CHAPTER XXI

Cyrene crept into the mess hall where an older amazon was picking up lunch trays. Slowly, the warriorís mother approached her.

"Taria?" she asked softly.

"Hello, Cyrene," the woman answered just as quietly. She refused to turn and face her.

Cyrene paused a moment, but decided to press the reunion. She walked in front of the women. After a few resistant moments, the warriorís mother was reward by seeing the warmest brown eyes sheíd ever seen.

"How have you been?" Cyrene asked cautiously.

"Surviving," Taria replied coldly. She began to take the tray back to the kitchen area.

"Here," Cyrene offered. "Let me help you."

Taria pulled them away forcefully. "I donít want your help... I donít want anything to do with you... You made your choice years ago... Now go. Leave me!" she added as she raced away.

Cyrene sighed despondently. When she watched her daughter at the door. She knew Xena caught the tail end of the conversation.

 "Who is she?" Xena asked quietly.

Cyrene ran her fingers through her hair, hoping to tease the tension. Her mind grasped for an explanation. 

"Guess I should start at the beginning?" she asked walking over.

At that moment, Gabrielle came in with Ephiny. The queen asked her regent to post a guard outside, not letting anyone inside. Ephiny nodded and went back out. The bard studied the warrior and Cyrene.

"Anytime youíre ready," Xena instructed. Cyrene took a set at the nearest bench table. Xena and Gabrielle sat down next to each other and locked hands, waiting for Cyrene to begin. The older woman sighed and took a deep breath.

"It was during one of our Ďraidsí that I met your father. He was in an army in the northwest pasture that was resting after traveling. That night we Ďattackedí. I spent hours talking to him and I realized I could love the Ďenemyí...  Your father asked me to stay with him that evening - leave the amazons - but I told him no; I had to return. When I realized my mission was complete and I was with child, I thought of him often. I was worried too... If I had a boy then... I would have to leave the child. And I couldnít bare the thought of leaving my son to die.

Taria and I were to be bonded that summer. She was convinced I carried a girl. I told her I wasnít sure that I could give the baby up if it were a boy. I was also honest about my feelings for your father. A few weeks later I accidentally ran into your father. He begged me to go home with him to his mothers inn. I told him I would consider it. After that I returned to Arborea. I spoke with Taria about my feelings...  We made an agreement. I would go to Amphipolis and have the child. If it were a girl Iíd return to Taria and we would raise her together. If it was a boy... then...  Needless to say the child was Toris. And I never came back... until today.

Taria hates me and I donít blame her...  I did love her. I did... but I couldnít choose her over my child... I considered coming back after...  well you know... but I knew they wouldnít accept me. Besides, I still had Toris and Lyceus. Things werenít the same back then as they are now. Ephiny would have never been able to keep in contact with her son. She wouldnít have been accepted back into the tribe after her departure, let alone become the village regent. Funny how times change. Even within a lifetime."

The table fell silent. Xena covered her motherís fidgeting hands.

"You never said anything," Xena observed. "When Gabrielle got the right of caste, when I told you about my friendship with Ephiny, you never said one word... Why?"

"Ashamed. Embarrassed. Uncertain." Cyrene grinned bitter-sweetly. "There never seemed to be a very good time to tell you... Besides, it was a part of my life I spent years trying to put behind me... We all have things that we look back on and say, 'I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that'."

Gabrielle and Xena both knew exactly what the old Ďamazoní was saying. They too had issues, moments, decisions they would have changed if given the chance. But what was in the past was in the past. There was nothing they could do and they tried not to dwell on it.

"What did you do here Cyrene?" the bard asked. "What position did you hold if you donít mind me asking?"

Cyrene smiled. The bard was always so gentle and compassionate. Not at all as forceful as her daughter, but just as effective.

"I was an instructor. I taught the younger amazons how to use a staff." She grinned knowingly at the bard.

Xena grinned too. "And the subject of being an amazon never came up," Xena teased.

"Okay," Cyrene confessed. "Maybe I had a few times I could have mentioned it... like every time Gabrielle walks in my door... but it was so long ago... And I have a lot of feelings about it all that Iíve never resolved."

"Like Taria?" the bard inquired.

"Yes. Like Taria," Cyrene whispered.

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. 

"Well, thereís no time like the present I feel... I should write that down," the bard added making a mental note. "I mean itís like you said the past is over and that canít be changed. And you donít know what the future will hold. All you have is right here and right now."

Cyrene grinned. "Sheís bright," the woman complimented.

"She is," Xena beamed. "Itís one of the things I love about her."

"Me too," Cyrene agreed nodding. "I think maybe Iíll find Taria... Resolve this issue, once and for all."

As Cyrene began to stand, so did Xena and Gabrielle. The three moved out from the table and joined in an embrace. "Go on," Cyrene insisted. "You two have a joining ceremony to plan."

Xena and Gabrielle watched Cyrene walk back toward the kitchen where Taria had darted to.

"Good luck," Xena called out with deep sincerity. "And thank you."

Cyrene looked back and gave a small nod. Xena wished there was something she could do to help her mother heal, but she knew the road to healing ones heart was different than the body. For one, the heart can only be healed by the person who owned it. And two, the heart took much longer to heal. Xena silently prayed to Athena to give her mother the wisdom she needed for her healing. The warrior understood it was a long time coming.

She took Gabrielle by the hand and they left the mess hall. The guards began to walk with their queen and her betrothed until Xena stopped. She looked at them. Thatís all. She just looked at them and the pair began to walk again.

Xena turned her head just a tad and listened. They no longer followed, taking the subtle hint from the warrior. Xena grinned. That intimidation thing still comes in hand, she thought to herself as they walked from the village into the nearby forest.

"Are you alright?" Gabrielle asked, noticing the uncharacteristic silence of the warrior.

The bard briefly reflected on a time when hours would pass with maybe five words spoken from the towering woman. In the last few months, it seemed she was making up for lost time, chattering more than the bard at times. Gabrielle didnít mind, in fact, she loved the change in Xena. She squeezed the hand that held hers, letting her admiration flow from her fingertips.

"Yes. Iím okay," the warrior answered, giving a squeeze of her own. "Iím a lot better now - especially since I can do this," she replied, holding up their locked hands.

"I mean your mother, Xena. Are you Ė?"

"Upset that she deceived me for years? That I had more in common with her than I realized?... Yes and no... Iím glad she told me, but I wish it would have been sooner... But I understand why she didnít. The most important thing is that weíre together now."

Gabrielle smiled at the warriorís openness with her. "I never want to be away from you again, warrior mine," the bard said stopping, pulling Xena closer by the waist. "I never thought I could love like this and when I thought there was no hope... 

Xena put her fingers under Gabrielleís chin to pull the amazonís wondering eyes up to meet her steady blue. 

"Listen to me. As long as we believe in each other, trust each other and promise to do right by each other we can conquer anything... Do you hear me?... Anything."

Gabrielle pulled the warriors head down to hers. She kissed Xena softly, tasting the sweet and salty lips of the beautiful woman. The more connections her lips made the more forceful the kisses became. Soon she found herself twining around the warrior, her leg wrapped around Xena, her arm gripping her shoulder; her fingers buried in the ebony hair.

Xena wasnít without her explorations. Her tongue prodded into the bards mouth; her hands gently cupping and squeezing the amazonís shapely behind. Xena was very near taking the bard right then and there. The little whimpers Gabrielle was giving did nothing to help Xenaís self-control.

Gabrielle was enjoying the taste and feel of her warrior when she suddenly felt Xena tense and pull back.

"What is it?" Gabrielle whispered as she watched her lover examine the trees over head.

"Shhh," she answered stepping back, placing her finger over her lips.

Suddenly a groups of young, Ďyoungí amazons fell from the trees giggling. Xena figured them to be in their early teens, probably training to replace Solari and her crew someday.

"Who was on the right side?" Xena asked strictly. The harshness showed on her face. All four girls came to attention in front of the dark, dreaded warrior.

"Us maíam," a weak voice announced.

"Stand up straight!" Xena answered. All the girls made the effort to stand taller. Slowly, Xena walked over to where the young amazon stood. She tried, with all of her reserve not to smile. With Gabrielle grinning behind her, it didnít make it very easy. She didnít see the bard grin, but she could sure Ďfeelí it.

"Whatís your name, warrior?" Xena asked formally.

"Icies maíma," the girl responded. "This is Ceterus," she added with a quick nod.

"You two were on the right?" the warrior asked.

The girl gulp nervously. "Yes maíma."

"My name isnít maíma," Xena said proudly and intimidating. "Itís Xena. Xena: Warrior Princess."

"Yes maíma. I mean warrior princess," Icies answered.

"Well, Icies I have to admit you did a pretty good job. I didnít know you were there until you fell... Your friends on the left however are as silent as a stampede," the warrior teased.

Gabrielle couldnít hold it in any longer and she could bear to see the young girls trying so hard Ďnotí to begin shaking in fear. "Okay," she interrupted. "Youíve scared four children today, Xena. Thatís one over your limit. I think you should call it a day."

"Ya think so," Xena asked turning back to the smiling bard. Seeing her Ďlightí beam at her made Xena smile as well. "I guess your right," she sighed. "Youíre dismissed," she told the young girls. "And by the way," she added to them making them stop. "You did a wonderful job, even I almost couldnít tell you were there... almost." Xena smiled at the young women and watched relief float over their faces.

As the jogged away, Xena could hear them chatting.

"Told ya she was totally cool," one said.

"Yeah!" another agreed.

"Queen Gabrielle sure is lucky to have a woman like that. Xena could be my personal guard any day," another commented.

Gabrielle could hear the exchange as well and rested her hand on Xenaís shoulder. "I think you have a few young admirers," Gabrielle teased.

"Yeah. Who knows in another 10 years or so... " the warrior teased back, filling the bard with the illusion have perhaps have a dance card filled with beautiful young women.

"Donít EVEN think about it. Youíre my warrior. Got that?" Gabrielle threatened just as falsely.

Xena kissed the top of Gabriele's head as she chuckled. 

CHAPTER XXII

Taria was cleaning some trays when Cyrene tiptoed into the kitchen.

"Can I please talk to you?" Cyrene said softly.

Taria stopped her duties and turned to face the ex-amazon. "There isnít anything you could possibly say. You promised if you had a daughter youíd return and you lied to me Cyrene." Taria turned around again, going back to her work.

"Taria," Cyrene began, moving closer to her former lover. "My first child WAS a boy - Toris. Xena was my second child... I had a third child Lyceus, but he died many years ago after Corteseís men attacked our village."

Taria turned to meet Cyrene again. "Xena is your second?"

Cyrene nodded. "My husband was going to kill her when she was a child and I... stopped him... with an ax... I considered returning, but I still had my boys... "

Cyrene paused to take a deep breath before she continued. "I know I made the right decision. My only regret was... you... "

"Iíd hate to be the cause of regret for anyone," Taria said sarcastically, going back to her job at hand. "Iím sorry knowing me has caused you pain."

Cyrene bridged the rest of the distance between them and put her hands on the womanís shoulders. "My pain is not in KNOWING you... My pain came from being WITHOUT you...  I truly loved you. But I also knew I couldnít leave a child I carried to die... That night when Toris was conceived, I told you my reservations. Remember?"

"Yes, I remember," Taria turned yet again to meet those deep blue eyes, her fingertips stroked the soft skin of Cyreneís cheek. "I also remember how you told me you fell in love with Xenaís father," she added pulling away again, recoiling into herself.

"Thatís true," Cyrene confessed. "But the love I had for him doesnít compare to the love I had for you... He was like... a best friend Ė"

"And me?" Taria asked getting short. "What about me?"

Cyreneís blue eyes locked with Tariaís brown. "You were the love of my life," she whispered.

Taria wept openly at the words, closing her eyes. She felt Cyreneís arms encompass her, drawing her near. It felt so warm, so natural as she let her arms slip around Cyreneís waist pulling her closer, burying her face in the thick, dark hair.

Cyrene stroked Tariaís ash blond hair and she began to cry as well. The memories bombarded her as her fingers worked down the strains repeatedly. She remembered washing that long hair tenderly down at the river, brushing it at the dorms; feeling it cascading down her young, well-toned naked body. Tariaís thoughts were as equally powerful and similar.

"I loved you too," Taria whispered. "Iíve spent years missing you."

Cyreneís lips found Tariaís earlobe and captured it softly once. Then twice. Then three times.

"Taria? Can I kiss you?" Cyrene pleaded softly in Tariaís ear, continuing with her short pecks.

Cyrene never got a vocal response. Taria seized Cyreneís lips with her own, muffling any further begging from the warriorís mother. After a few moments of delicate kisses, they became deeper and richer - their tongues searching each otherís, fighting for control. With a labored breath Taria pulled back, the earlier look of desire chased from her face.

"Youíre going to leave me again," Taria realized, studying the older woman. "Iím sorry I did that."

"Iím not," Cyrene teased. "Youíre the best kisser in the world."

Taria grinned at the compliment, but it didnít last long. Cyrene took the amazonís hand in hers.

"Yes," Cyrene admitted. "I am going home to Amphipolis, but Iíd like to take you with me. I know I still feel the same way as I did then. You are the love of my life. Thereís nothing stopping us from being together."

"I canít leave the village," Taria argued.

"Says who?" Cyrene countered. "Do you have a bondmate?"

"No, I donít," Taria grinned for a moment. "Itís just that... this is my home. Like Amphipolis is your home. I just canít leave."

Cyrene stroked Taria hair behind her ear and caressed her cheek. "We finally have the chance to be together after all these years... please... Iím begging you. At least consider the possibility... Please?"

Taria grinned again. "Weíre different people now Cyrene Ė."

"Did you feel your heart jump in your throat when you saw me today?í Cyrene asked. Taria giggled and smiled. "You did, didnít you?" she teased before she looked extremely serious. "I did too," she whispered. "Weíre not that different."

Cyrene picked up Tariaís chin with her fingertips and laid a searing kiss on the womanís lips that made her whimper. She pulled away and waited for Taria to open her eyes again. When she did Cyrene whispered. "Think about it. Thatís all I ask."

Without adding more or waiting for a response, Cyrene walked out of the kitchen. Taria watched as her former lover strolled calmly and confidently outside. Maybe, Taria considered inwardly. Maybe.

CHAPTER XXIII

After meeting in the royal hut, Ephiny, Gabrielle and Xena discussed the bonding ceremony. The sooner the better they all agreed. Ephiny and Gabrielle left to make preparation for the bonding feast as Solari and Xena went in search of materials for the wedding - royal attire, joining gifts and various odds and ends.

It was late evening by the time Xena and Gabrielle were together again. Xena entered the hut to find Gabrielle working on one of her scrolls. 

"Whatícha writing?" the warrior asked, beginning to rid her body of her armor.

"A story," Gabrielle answered not looking up.

"What kind of story?" the warrior asked.

Gabrielle shot Xena her, Donít bother me. Canít you see Iím working? look.

"Okay," Xena whispered, placing her finger over her lips with a promise she would be quiet until Gabrielle finished her train of thought. Xena smiled mischievously as she studied the bard.

Gabrielle was lying on her stomach on the width of the bed. Xena couldnít help but admire how beautiful Gabrielleís breasts looked when the bard was on her forearms. Slowly she walked behind Gabrielle. As she pulled the leathers from her body she examined those long, well-muscles legs. Her eyes traveled from the bards ankles to the hem of the bardsí skirt, which given her ever shifting position on the bed, was hiked up more than usual, barely covering her backside.

Carefully and quietly the warrior pulled her boots from her own feet. Not that the noise would break the bardsí concentration. She was too wrapped up in her writing to notice her partners movements. Xena moved to her knees and started by kissing Gabrielleís ankles. It was only when Xena had reached the spot behind Gabrielleís knee, that the bard noticed what Xena was doing.

"Please, Xena," the bard insisted. "Iím almost done," she added returning to the scroll.

Xena grinned and continued to kiss her way up the bardís leg. When she reached the hem of the skirt, the warrior pulled it up exposing the bard to her hungry eyes. But the sight that met the warrior surprised her. The bard didnít have on her underclothes. That fact fueled the warriorís desire even more. Her fingers wasted no time in finding the bardís center, searching for any wetness. The warrior was reward with a deep moan and a sweet slickness covering her fingers.

Gabrielle continued to lay on her stomach but she turned back just in time to watch the naked warrior, enjoying the delicacy on her fingertips.

"Delicious," Xena replied, going back for more. As the warriors fingers made contact again, Gabrielleís eyes closed and she moaned once more. The feel of Xenaís fingers, the knowledge that her warrior was naked brought a second wave of wetness that dripped from her sex, soaking the front of her skirt.

After Xena had licked her fingers clean once more, she moved to her knees. Gabrielle began to move too but Xena put a loving yet forceful hold on the bardís shoulder. "Stay put," Xena whispered huskily. Gabrielle did as Xena commanded and settled back onto her stomach.

She could feel the warriorsí hand still pinning her to the mattress. She wasnít sure what the warrior had in store for her but she shuttered with anticipation. She pushed the quill and the scroll away, letting them fall to the floor.

"I thought that was really important," Xena teased, the passion refusing to leave her voice.

"Not as important as this," Gabrielle answered with her own voice taunt with longing.

Xena loved the bards voice like this; so much richer and deeper than usual. All of the bards emotions could be found in the tone as she uttered her words. Xenaís free hand made itís way to the bards triangle; this time entering her fully. Gabrielle tried to rise put Xena kept her down. Gabrielle realized what Xena wanted to do. She wanted to take her, control her.

They had done this once before since leaving Lesbos and they both enjoyed it thoroughly. Gabrielle remembered how the more she Ďfoughtí Xena the more passionate the warrior became. Xenaís fingers were now building a steady rhythm and Gabrielle found it difficult to fight against the luxurious feeling of Xena buried deep within her but she gave an attempt.

Xena realized Gabrielle had picked up on the game. "Remember Ė."

"Thatís enough?" the bard asked, clarifying the codeword.

"Right," the warrior purred.

Gabrielle knocked Xenaís hand off her shoulder and tried to push herself off the bed but the warrior was far too quick. She pinned her with ease, quickly going back to the task of working on her sex. Gods, she so wet, Xena thought as she continued to stroke the young woman.

"Please donít," Gabrielle whispered, letting herself get lost in Xenaís little role-playing. "Donít touch me."

Xenaís pace quickened below and her grip got stronger on Gabrielleís shoulder. The bard moaned into the feel of being totally captured. "Oh gods," she whispered passionately. She tried to shake how wonderful it felt to be possessed by this beautiful blue eyed goddess behind her.

"Please stop. Let me go," Gabrielle said trying to fight again.

She didnít get very far. Actually, she ended up lying back into Xena. The warrior saw a wonderful opportunity. Gabrielle saw it too and tried to hide her grin. After all, she was supposed to be reluctant, right?

"Youíre not going anywhere," Xena threatened, pulling the bard beside her on the bed.

The warrior ripped open the green top, exposing the perfect cream colored breasts. She pushed them together and took both nipples into her mouth at once. Gabrielle pushed on Xenaís shoulders but the warrior was too big to move. Gabrielle discovered the more she pushed, the greater Xenaís suction became. This I can handle, Gabrielle admitted silently as she continued to fight harder all the while enjoy the effects.

Xena could feel her arousal, slipping from her own sex, coating the bards upper thigh. Her skin was on fire and she could feel her bangs growing damp. Gabrielle really enjoyed these little games. She couldnít blame her. She remembered how it felt when she submitted to Gabrielle and how liberating it was for her being the submissive one.

Gabrielleís thrashing was making the bardsí thigh rub rhythmically against her clit. The feeling was too good to pass up and both women found their bodies straining against each other. All legs spread; both hips rocking. Gabrielle gave up her fight and gave into the pleasure of Xenaís body. The warrior grabbed Gabrielle by the hips as their grinding against each other quickened. Soon they were slapping against each other forcefully enough to make the bedposts creak.

The warriorís eyelids grew heavy. Gabrielle knew that look well. It was only a matter of moments before the warrior would tumble to bed in a heap of spent passion.

"Oh gods, yes Xena... Come for me... come for me... Come... Come," Gabrielle repeated the words over and over in a whisper.

When the sensations rose deep within herself she was taken aback for a moment. She was sure the warrior would peak first but let the shockwaves ride through her body and into her soul. "Oh, Xena. Yes... Yes... Yes... "

Watching and hearing Gabrielle, put her over the top. Xenaís back ached as the waves of pleasure swept over her body. She studied Gabrielleís own quaking body - the beautiful sights and sounds filling her eyes and ears.

"Gabrielllllllllle!" she yelled, her fingertips glued onto the bards hips striving for all the fire she could possess. After a few moments she collapsed, next to the strawberry blonde; eyes closed and a huge grin.

Gabrielle giggled and stroked Xenaís face. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time," Gabrielle commented snuggling into Xenaís shoulder.

"Look whoís talkiní," Xena answered kissing the bardsí forehead.

After a few lazy moments, the bard shot up. Xena tired to rise as well, to see what startled Gabrielle but the bard tackled her to the mattress.

"Itís my turn," Gabrielle demanded, the hunger and the intent evident in her voice. "You WILL see to my wishes."

Thank the gods, Xena thought with a devilish grin. Itís going to be a long night.

CHAPTER XXIV

"Rise and shine everybody! Rise and Shine!"

Xena sat up with a jerk and eyed the regent, trying her best to look intimidating. The bard rolled over and reached for Xena and when she came up empty she noticed the warrior was sitting up.

"Whatís... " Gabrielle asked in a sleep voice. She looked at the entrance to see Ephiny smiling at the pair.

"Making up for lost time, I see," Ephiny teased the naked women. "Whatís it been three, maybe four, days apart?"

Xena ignored the comment and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Hand me my robe, would ya?í the warrior asked motioning behind the amazon.

Ephiny reached back and tossed the garment to the warrior who promptly put it on. "I figured you would be hungry my queen so the kitchen is bringing something over," the regent remarked.

"What about me?" Xena asked trying to sound offended. "Iíd like to eat to you know."

"We are going to the dining facility so don your warrior attire. You two are to be separated until the bonding ceremony tonight... Actually, you were supposed to be separated last night, but I couldnít be that cruel." Ephiny answer batting her eyelashes. "Iíll be outside waiting for you, Xena. Donít take too long."

Ephiny walked out and Xena pulled Gabrielle up by the forearms.

"Thank you for last night." The warrior smiled pulling the bard into a kiss.

"Thank YOU," Gabrielle replied, pulling away. "We should spend a few days apart more often." She grinned.

Xena studied the bards face intensely as she stroked her cheek. "I had doubts that Iíd ever be able to touch you again. Thatís something Iíll never take for granted."

"Nor will I," Gabrielle muttered as she began to nuzzle Xenaís neck. "Let me touch you some more," she added mischievously pulling the warrior on top of her. The first kiss was slow, delicate but seconds later it deepened, with both women moaning simultaneously. Gabrielleís hands had managed to work the robe free from Xenaís shoulders. The bard was about to move it down the length of the warriorsí body when they heard a stirring at the door.

"Ahemm," Ephiny began in a mock attempt at clearing her throat. "Today, Xena. Please?" she prodded, tapping her foot.

Xena pulled away from the bard but not before Gabrielle followed the warriorsí journey on the way up. Her arms latched around the warriors neck as the bard continued to kiss and nibble on Xenaís face and ears. The sheet fell, giving the regent a full view of her queens body. She felt mesmerized as she watched Gabrielle hanging on the warrior. Damn, that Xena is one lucky lady, the regent thought silently. At least, she thought, she said it silently. Xena and Gabrielle looked at Ephiny with surprise and then at each other before they busted out laughing.

Ephiny felt her cheeks flame up. "Did I just say... what I thought I said?" she asked in a weak voice. She couldnít contain her grin of embarrassment.

"Well, Iíll tell you what," Xena began as she began to get into her leathers. "If you come to me tonight and tell me about some amazon custom that involves the consort sharing the queen with the regent Iíd seriously doubt the validity of such a custom... but not the motivation behind it."

Ephiny felt herself relax when Xena winked at her. She leaned over and kissed Gabrielle softly; affectionately on the lips. "Iíll see you tonight," Xena whispered with a huge smile.

"You better not stand me up," Gabrielle warned, waving her finger.

Xena kissed the finger tenderly. "You know Iíll be there."

Ephiny still was unable to take her eyes off Gabrielle. Xena continued to smile and faced the bard once she was at the Ephinyís side.

"For Gods sake, Gabrielle," the warrior joked, "cover yourself or get dressed. Youíre driving your regent to distraction. Isnít that right, Eph?"

Ephiny realized she was being spoken to. "Huh?" she asked.

"See. Wadda tell ya?" the warrior teased the bard. "Come on Eph," she added putting her arm around the regent. "What do you say we get something to eat?".

"Great idea," the regent sighed walking out of the hut, avoid eye contact or conversation with Gabrielle. Xena blew Gabrielle a kiss. "See ya tonight, Beautiful," she whispered.

Once outside in the sunlight, Xena stretched and yawned trying to get more awake as she walked with Ephiny. She had to be honest - Gabrielle had worn her out. Xena didnít say anything and Ephiny wasnít sure what to make of the silence.

"Xena," the regent began. "Iím sorry about back there. I just Ė"

"Been awhile?" Xena asked.

Ephiny knew what that meant. Her sex life. Did she seem like a deprived woman? She wasnít sure.

"Come to think of it... yeah," Ephiny replied. "I spend so much time keeping the nation in order, I donít have time to really think about it. Except, of course, when the occasion does arise like this morning... Iím really sorry."

"No Ephí. Youíre really horny," Xena teased. "Do us all a favor? Find a young, beautiful amazon. Throw your royal weight around. Impress her with your tales of battle... then bed her Ďtil you canít see straight."

Ephiny slapped Xenaís arm. "Xena!" she exclaimed in disbelieve.

"Donít think of it as doing something for you. Think of it as doing something for your people. After all, a relaxed ruler is an effective ruler." Xena grinned.

Ephiny laughed as they walked into the hall.

"Seriously," Xena continued. "Look at all these beautiful women in here. Which one would you chose?"

Ephiny shook her head. "This is ridiculous!" she whispered.

"Na ah," Xena replied, shaking her finger in disapproval as the cooks filled her breakfast plate. "You tell me. Is there anyone in this village you have noticed in your Ďspare timeí?"

Ephiny couldnít meet Xenaís eyes, "Yes... her nameís Diteria. She an archer."

Xena smiled slyly as they took a seat. Ephiny looked up to see that smile.

"Oh no!" Ephiny replied, shaking her head. "You wouldnít?!"

"Is she here now?" Xena asked, the smile getting slyer by the moment.

"Xena," Ephiny begged, not offering any information.

"Well, thereís one way to find out," Xena said beginning to rise and clear her throat.

Ephiny grabbed Xena by the arm, pulling her down to the bench seat. "Okay! Okay! Yes, sheís here," she whispered. "Two benches back, directly behind me."

"The blonde or the brunette?" Xena asked looking over Ephinyís shoulder.

"The blonde," Ephiny whispered. Xena was still studying the women at the table until Ephiny reached over and slapped the warriors arm. "Would you stop looking over there?" Xena jumped just tad as Ephinyís hand made contact.

"So whoís going to do it?"

"What?" Ephiny asked totally confused.

"Whoís going to go over there? You or me?"

Ephiny dropped her grilled bread into her eggs. "Youíre serious!" she replied, absolutely stunned.

"Yep," Xena nodded confidently. "Itís either you or me baby. So whatís it going to be?"

"I donít believe this. I-I donít believe this."

"Whatís not to believe?" Xena prodded. "You need a date tonight, right?"

Ephiny knew there was no way out now. She knew she had to go over and talk to the young amazon. "I hate you," Ephiny giggled.

"I bet later tonight youíll be thanking me. If things go real well you might not thank me until the morning," Xena replied, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. "Seriously, Ephiny... you are an intelligent, brave and beautiful woman. Any warrior in this village would be blessed to have you in their company. Now go and ask her."

Ephiny smiled and took a deep breath. She rose quickly but took her time getting to the table. Xena watched as Ephiny asked if she could sit down. Xena couldnít contain her smile. The young amazon seemed in awe of Ephiny and Xena had to giggle at the look of pure surprise on the archerís face as Ephiny asked about the young ladyís plans for the evening. Soon both women wore huge grins and Xena knew it spelled success.

Casually, Ephiny strolled back and took her seat across from Xena.

"Donít say it," Ephiny warned pointing her fork. Xena watched the regent a few moments longer with the same sappy grin on her face as Ephiny began to eat. Ephiny finally looked up and gave a grin of her own. "Thank you," she whispered to Xena.

"Youíre very welcome."

CHAPTER XXV

"How are you doing? Nervous?" Ephiny asked as the handmaidens readied the warrior for the joining ceremony.

"Okay," Xena responded in a shaky sigh. "Howís Gabrielle?"

"Sheís doing good," Ephiny nodded. "Looks like youíre all set," she added as she adjusted the amazon shoulder armor before resting her hand on it. "Youíll do fine."

Xena smiled and placed her hand over Ephinyís. "I wanted to thank you again."

"Hmm?" Ephiny asked.

Xenaís eyes met the regents. "After Solan died... and I came back... You could have marshaled me for what happened, but you didnít... Thank you. You have no idea how sorry I am. I Ė"

"I know exactly how sorrowful you are. Like I said then - All is forgiven. No permanent damage. See?" the amazon answered moving her arm around. "Come on, warrior princess. Your amazon queen awaits."

Xena was positioned by the hut doors. Ephiny smiled before she left and made her way to the center of the square. The regentsí two personal guards accompanied her trip up the runway to the stage area, where Solari waited.

"Amazons," she spoke loudly for all to hear. "The village will now witness the joining of your queen, Gabrielle, with her soulmate, Xena. Please rise."

As the amazons rose, both hut doors were opened. Xena was met by the vision of Gabrielle dressed in crimson and gold. She was perhaps 200 steps away in the hut directly across from her, but she could still she the jade of her eyes and the reddish tones in the honey hair. It reminded Xena of the outfit Gabrielle wore the day she took the mask of queenhood. But she never looked as beautiful then as she did on this day.

The guard nodded to Xena and the warrior began walking to the queen, who had begun her journey as well. When the were a few steps shy of touching, Xena unsheathed her sword and dropped to one knee as earlier instructed. She held the sword flat on her palms and offered it up to Gabrielle. The queen took the sword and cradled it across her forearm. Xena rose to her feet again and arm in arm they walked the runner to the stage. Once upon the stage, Xena bowed on one knee again. This time to the regent.

"Is this the warrior you have chosen as your consort, Queen Gabrielle?"

The playful banter that Ephiny gave during the joining announcement was no longer presence. She was strictly business and absolutely regal. Not that she feared Artemisí return. It was more for the respect she had for the institute Gabrielle and Xena were entering into, as well as Gabrielle and Xena themselves. She was honored they asked her to do the ceremony. And being an honorable women, she wanted to do her best.

"She is," Gabrielle answered proudly, handing the blade to Ephiny.

The regent never held Xenaís sword before and she was surprised by the weight of it, but she tried not to let it show. She handed the blade to Solari, who was at her left, next to Xena.

"Do you choose our queen as your consort?" Ephiny asked Xena.

"I do," Xena said softly, looking over at her bard.

Ephiny held out her hands and Gabrielle and Xena each gave one of theirs to the regent. Solari pricked each womanís finger drawing a tiny amount of blood. She took a royal robe and got a dab from each woman. Then she ran the cloth up and then down Xenaís sword.

Gabrielle glanced at her lover for a moment before turning away from Xenaís admiring gaze. It still amazed Gabrielle how much Xena could convey by just a simple look - whether it be an enemy or a lover. Gabrielle had witnessed that look through both relationships and she was extremely grateful that the gaze she was receiving now was the latter of the two. She was also convinced it would stay that way forever. Nothing could drive them apart. Nothing. Not even in death, Gabrielle reflected briefly with a grin, remembering how comforting it was having Xena so close in her time of need.

As Gabrielle eyeís briefly caressed the warriorís once more, she could see all the love and devotion the warrior held in her heart. And the warrior could tell her bard felt the same way. My bard. Xena considered that fact as she watched the woman she loved. Not an amazon queen. Not a small town girl. But Her Bard. Gabrielle was a storyteller above all else, except of course, for the fact that she was Xenaís.

But even as Xena considered that, she realized she didnít possess Gabrielle. If anything, the young woman had her. Anything this woman asked for, Xena knew she would strive to do. The moon. The stars. No problem. The warrior would climb the highest mountain and bring them to earth if thatís what Gabrielle wanted. All she had to do was ask and Xena knew it would be done. Xena couldnít contain the grin as she thought ĎYeah. You really are hooked warrior... And you know thatís exactly where you want to be.í

"Please rise," Ephiny motioned to Xena breaking her private thoughts. "And lock arms." The two women did as Ephiny asked joining both forearms as they faced each other. As Ephiny laced their arms with the joining ribbon she spoke. "Artemis has given her consent. Athena has given her wisdom. By the power of these beautiful goddesses, I present to you Queen Gabrielle and her amazon consort, Xena of Amphipolis."

Xena and Gabrielle looked at Ephiny who grinned and nodded. She leaned over and whispered. "I know itís been ten whole hours and you canít stand it any longer... Go ahead and kiss her."

Xena was going to make some comment to Ephiny, but Gabrielle pulled Xenaís chin so they met eye to eye. "Argue later," Gabrielle whispered. "I got other plans for those lips now."

The kiss was passionate... and long... at least by conventional joining standards and the amazons made sure to provoke its duration even more with the whistles and cries of approval. Some cheered on Xena. Some cheered on Gabrielle. But both women knew they need air and they reluctantly pulled away.

They unbound their hands and Gabrielle gave Ephiny the joining ribbon. As the couple turned to make their way, Solari sheathed Xenaís sword carefully behind her back. Cyrene and Taria stood in the front row, both women all smiles. Lila stood next to them as well looking equally proud; every once in a while stealing glances of Solari up on the stage.

Afterward, Gabrielle and Xena greeted the amazons one by one, the tables were set and the feast was brought out. Finally, after what seemed like hours, they had a moment alone.

"It feels complete now," Gabrielle whispered affectionately. "It feels like weíre truly joined, doesnít it?"

"Yes. It does," Xena agreed whole-heartedly. "And ya know what?"

"What?"

"Ephiny was right. Iím the luckiest lady in the world."

CHAPTER XXVI

It was late now, but the bond-fire still roared and the wine still flowed. Gabrielle decided that another glass of wine couldnít hurt her this wonderful evening and Xena agreed. Right now, Gabrielle would have the time of her life. Come tomorrow morning that would be a different story. By dawn the petite woman would feel the effects of too much celebration, like she did on Lesbos only a few months before. Xena had to grin at the woman she loved. Will she ever learn? she wondered. Probably not... and probably for the best... I love her the way she is.

Gabrielle was talking about the finer point of story telling with one of the royal guards - all the while doing it with a hardly noticeable slur. Xena watched Ephiny in the distance with her young, admiring archer. The young woman leaned against a tree, with Ephiny leaning in close. The regentís arm rested on the tree over the smaller womanís head. They made a nice couple although neither woman looked TOO comfortable. First date jitters, Xena figured with an appreciating grin.

"I must admit I was surprised when you asked me to accompany you to the queenís joining," Diteria confessed, meeting Ephinyís eyes for brief moments at a time.

"So am I," Ephiny quickly responded before back tracking. "I mean I didnít plan on asking you - no wait. Thatís not what I meant either Ė."

"Look," the younger amazon said putting her hands on Ephinyís shoulders to steady her. "Take a breath and start over, okay?"

Ephiny smiled at the young woman. "I realize Iím not very impressive right now," Ephiny answered giving into her growing self-doubt and allowing a nervous giggle.

"Youíre wrong," Diteria whispered. Her hands moved from the regents shoulders to cup her face. "Youíre the most impressive person Iíve ever saw. And on horseback youíre beyond impressive... Youíre godly."

Ephiny grinned. "You flatter me."

"No," Diteria counter. "Iím only telling you what I see. But anyway... getting back to asking me out Ė."

"Xena put me up to it. I mean she didnít make me. She just - encouraged me. I donít think I would have had the guts to walk up to you if she didnít insist that I try."

"Iíll have to thank her tomorrow," Diteria smiled seductively.

"Yeah," Ephiny replied, her voice soft and gentle. The regent could feel the young amazon tenderly tugging her face toward her. "Me too," she added in a whisper as their lips met with feathery softness.

Ephiny tried to keep her composure although the electricity was shooting through her body uncontrollably. She let Diteria lead and was slightly surprised when Diteria deepened the kiss. Ephiny pulled back and studied the young woman. When she did, Diteria took a moment to play with one of Ephinyís long, blonde curls.

"I love your hair," she replied twirling it around her finger. "Iíd be lying if I said I havenít fantasized what it would feel like traveling down my body."

Ephiny took the young womanís hand. "Listen... I love spending time with you and Iíd be lying if I said I didnít wonder the same things, but...  Iím not sure if Iím ready to make a deep commitment to anyone right now."

Diteria grinned. "Again, Ephiny...  Iím just being honest."

"Could you be just a little less honest? My heart is pounding in my eardrums and I can barely stand," she giggled.

Diteria joined her amusement. "Okay," she agreed. "But promise me this. Promise me we could meet again. I want to know the woman behind my infatuation. Who knows? It could turn into love."

"You got a deal," Ephiny said putting her forehead on the young amazons before raising her eyebrow. "And thereís no backing out."

Diteria licked her lips and studied Ephinyís bright blue eyes, "I wonít dream of it," she whispered.

CHAPTER XXVII

Taria was in the kitchen, starting to clean up what she could. Cyrene walked in carrying some more plates. As she sat them down on the counter, she moved behind Taria and put her hands on her shoulders.

"Donít think Iím prying Tarí but have you made any decisions?" Cyrene asked softly.

Taria grinned and turned to Cyrene. "The answerís yes. Yes, Iíll leave with you."

Cyrene pulled Taria to her and kissed her gently on the lips. "Thank you... I donít know what to say... What made you decided?"

"The last day weíve spent together," Taria smiled. "Itís almost as if you never left. Thereís something between us I canít explain. Almost as if we were destine to be together. All the space. All the years between us. It hasnít changed. Iíd still give my life for you... Those beautiful, blue eyes donít hurt either," she teased.

Cyrene laughed and pulled her close again. Taria pulled back slowly was the kitchen doors opened. Cyrene turned to meet the intruder.

"Thought Iíd bring these in for ya," Xena said making her way to the counter.

Taria looked at mother and daughter. "I think Iíll go round up some more," Taria offered. "Can you start some cleaning?" she asked the pair.

"Sure." Cyrene smiled.

Taria left quietly as Cyrene turned to her daughter. "It was a lovely ceremony. Whereís your consort by the way?"

"Passed out on a table," Xena said nonchalantly.

Cyrene chuckled at the news. "Is she okay?" she asked.

"Okay? Yes. But far from sober." Xena grinned.

"How much did she drink tonight?" Cyrene asked concerned.

"Three glass of wine."

"Thatís it!"

Xena nodded as she began to scrub a pan. "Yeah. Sheís got a really low tolerance."

"I never would have guessed it." Cyrene smiled.

Xena started to chuckle, almost out of nowhere. Before Cyrene could ask, Xena offered her thoughts.

"She got loaded on nutbread once that was tainted with henbane," Xena remarked as she giggled. "She was in a cave and the rocks were talking to her. She said they told her to come find me even though I told her to stay put... She was so young then," Xena reflected with a bit of melancholy in her voice.

Cyrene put her hand on her daughters shoulder. "I knew you loved her for a long time."

Xena simply grinned. "Speaking of love, whatís going on with Taria?"

"Sheís decided to come with me," Cyrene said flashing a similar smile.

"Thatís great!" Xena replied. "Thatís... great!"

Cyrene stepped closer. "You seem a bit... unnerved."

"No!" Xena answered sharply. "Itís...  wonderful... really... wonderful."

"Out with it now, Xena. Whatís the problem?"

Xena sighed. "Have you considered that maybe youíre moving a little too quick. I mean Iím happy that youíre... happy... But have you thought this through."

Cyrene grinned. 

"Let me set a little scenario for you, if I may. Letís say that Perdicus didnít die. He and Gabrielle moved back to a little farm community and you didnít see her for years... Then for some reason fate brings you together again. Sheís no longer married. Youíre also alone. And when you look at her, you donít see the gray hairs or the wrinkles or the extra pounds. What you do see is the heart you fell in love with years ago... Now I ask you, if you had the chance to be with her again, how quick would you move?"

Xena nodded. "Not fast enough," she whispered.

Mother and daughter studied each other a few moments. "This feels sooooo right," Cyrene commented softly.

"Well, then," Xena replied taking a deep breath. "You have my blessing. Not that you ever needed it," she added with a grin.

"I need it more than you realize, little one. Respect and admiration go both ways."

"Címere," Xena said pulling her mother into a warm embrace. "Iím glad youíre happy. After all these years, thereís no one who deserves it more... No one."

CHAPTER XXVIII

"Gabrielle?" Lila asked, leaning her head on the table to look at her sister. "Are you okay?"

"She passed out about an hour ago. Xena went in the kitchen and asked me to keep watch over her," a royal guard explained. "Is there something I could do for you, Princess Lila?"

"Maybe we should put her to bed," Solari interjected.

The guard shook her head. "You better ask the queenís consort. If she comes out here and Gabrielleís gone I might met the business end of her chakrum... No, thank you. But sheíll be fine until Xena comes back."

Solari smiled and took Lilaís hand. "Come on. Iím sure sheíll be okay."

The pair began to leave the outlined area of the huts and traveled to the river. There was a chill in the air by the waters edge and Solari gave Lila her cloak as well so the princess would have double the warmth.

"Are you going back with Xenaís mother tomorrow?" Solari asked breaking the silence.

"More than likely," Lila answered meeting Solariís eyes briefly before returning her focus on the water.

Solari played with the pebble that was in her hand for a few moments. "Iíll miss you greatly," she admitted with a firm nod. "Iíve gotten kinda used to having you around."

"I wish I could say I got used to being here, but I havenít. Thereís so much to the amazons; I havenít even begun to scratch the surface," she giggled nervously.

"Like what?" Solari asked to keep the conversation rolling.

The two young women locked eyes. Do it now, Lila told herself. The chance might never come again. With that thought the princess pulled Solari to her, kissing her softly yet passionately. All her longing and quest for knowledge seeped into the kiss.

"Are you sure?" Solari asked, knowing what the young woman was silently asking. Lila positioned herself on Solariís lap so she was facing her.

"Yes," Lila whispered. "Make love to me, Solari. I want you to be my first."

"Iím not sure if Iím worthy of this gift," Solari answered, staring into Lilaís hazel eyes.

"Who should I share this with?" Lila prodded. "A husband I may grow to despise? Or perhaps a young man who will promise me heaven then drag me through Hades on my knees?... No... I trust YOU, Solari. I want this first time to be joyful and safe. I feel both those things when Iím in your arms... Please say yes."

Solariís hands traveled the length of Lilaís arms a number of times. Finally, the amazon guard pulled Lilaís eager mouth to hers, kissing her with gentleness and passion.

"Yes," Solari conceded as she pulled Lila with her to the earth below. "Yes."

CHAPTER XXIX

"Are you all set?" Ephiny asked as she entered the royal hut.

Gabrielle was dressed but she was still on the bed. At the sound of the regents overly loud and obnoxious voice she stuffed her head in a pillow and waved her arms.

Xena put a finger over her lips, "Shhh," she instructed in a faint whisper. "Herbs havenít kicked in yet."

Ephiny started to laugh, but promptly stopped herself. Xena motioned the regent outside and the two women left.

"Give her about a quarter candlemark and a few grapes. Then sheíll be good as new." Xena smiled. "Anyway, how did it go last night? Did ya get lucky?" she added wiggling her eyebrow up and down.

"Yes and no," Ephiny answered evasively.

"And that means... ?" Xena prompted.

"I think I met someone I could really fall for. I havenít felt this happy since Phantes," the regent paused. "It doesnít hurt to say his name anymore... I think Iím ready, Xena. Iím ready to move on... So, yes I got lucky... However, if youíre inquiring about my sex life that hasnít changed... at least not yet," Ephiny added giving a tiny grin.

Xena smiled at her friend. "Iím happy for you, Ephí."

"Iím happy for both of us, Xena...  I think weíve both grown up in the last few years... Take care of the lush," she teased pointing to the hut as she began to walk away. "Oh and when youíre getting ready to leave let me know, Iíll round up some amazons to help you load Tariaís wagon."

Xena smiled. "What about you? Arenít you going to help?"

Ephiny gave Xena a cocky smile. "Itís good to be the queen," she smirked, Ďpolishingí her fingernails on her tunic before examining them in mock conceit. Finally, she dropped the faÁade and waved, "Iíll see ya later."

Xena offered her farewell and went back into the hut. Gabrielle was up and moving, packing away her scrolls. 

"How you feeling?" Xena asked softly.

"Much better, thank you," Gabrielle responded in a normal voice. "Did you finish the packing already?"

"Yeah. I got an early start this morning."

"Name a morning that you donít have an earlier start," Gabrielle observed.

"Well, there were a few mornings on Lesbos that I slept in... Of course I donít know if that would count as sleeping in. I didnít get to bed UNTIL sunrise!"

"Are you complaining Xena?"

Xena pulled the bard close, planting a passionate kiss on her consortsí lips. "Not in the least," she muttered.

Gabrielle rested in Xenaís arms; her head on the warriorís shoulder. She reflected on how perfect they fit together.

"Itís going to be a wonderful honeymoon," Gabrielle sighed.

"Oh yeah," Xena agreed in a slow, seductive draw. "You... and me... and mother...  and Taria... and Lila Ė"

"Cut it out!" Gabrielle said swatting at the muscular arm she was recently holding tenderly. "Come on. Letís get going."

When they arrived at Taria and Cyreneís hut they were surprised to see the wagon already loaded with Ephiny standing by. Lila and Solari were locked in a tight embrace, oblivious to the world around them. Casually, Xena strolled up to Ephiny.

"Whatís this?" she asked.

"Told you Iíd help," she grinned. "I didnít do it all myself. I had help," she replied pointing to ten amazon, who now stood at attention.

"Thank you," Xena replied, hugging Ephiny. "Weíll be back soon. I promise."

"Good," Ephiny answered as Gabrielle walked over. "Now you keep this warrior out of trouble understand?" the regent remarked as she pulled Gabrielle into a tight embrace. "Iíll miss you," Ephiny added with a whisper, her eyes beginning to tear up. The bard knew she meant every word.

"Iíll miss you too," Gabrielle replied in a like tone.

"Okay. Enough of the mushy stuff," Xena said lightening the farewell. "Take care, Ephiny," she said offering her forearm. Ephiny took hold of it soundly with her own.

"You too, Xena," she added giving a shake.

Xena turned and looked at her traveling party. "Okay everybody! Weíre moviní out. Letís go!"

Taria said the last goodbyes to her friends and Gabrielle walked over to Solari and Lila.

"Gabrielle," Solari said with a nod. "Take care."

"You too, Solari. Thank you for looking after Lila," she replied with a knowing smile.

Solari nodded. "My pleasure... I wanted to ask if it would be alright if I visit Lila soon. I have to do some traveling and Iíll be near Poteidaia. Iíd like to have your approval."

Gabrielle looked at Lila and she could see the expression of hope in her sister's eyes at seeing Solari again soon. 

"Sure. That sounds like a wonderful idea." She nodded.

Solari and Lila hugged once more and Solari kissed her tenderly on the lips. 

"Iím not going to say goodbye," Solari said. "Because Iíll be through in the next few moons. So Iíll say Iíll see you later, okay?"

Lila stroked Solariís face tenderly, much like after their love making the night before. "Iíll wait."

Solari smiled and pulled Lila closer once more. "Go on," she motioned. "Theyíre waiting."

Lila made her way to the wagon and stopped to see Solari one last time, but she had vanished - there one moment and gone the next. Much like their first meeting when she had suddenly appeared from the trees.

Lila hopped up next to Gabrielle who sat next to Xena. Taria and Cyrene took to the back of the wagon with Tariaís last 30 years packed inside.

"Everybody ready?" Xena called out. "We didnít forget anyone did we?" she teased. "Everyoneís with their designated buddy, right? We donít want to leave anyone behind."

Xena felt a pillow smack the back of her head and turned to see her motherís lover wearing a guilty smirk.

"Iíll take that as a yes," Xena replied dryly.

As she put the wagon in motion, with Argo and Tariaís mare in the lead, the villagers waved goodbye.

Once on the road, Gabrielle rested her head on Xenaís shoulder. "What are we going to do for a honeymoon? Any ideas on where to go?"

"Oh yes," Xena smiled.

"Where?" Gabrielle asked. After a few seconds she could tell the warrior wasnít going to give any details voluntarily. "Are you going to tell me?"

"Oh no," Xena smiled again.

"Come on!" Gabrielle insisted. "At least give me a clue."

Xena looked at Gabrielle. "Letís play questions," Xena answered.

Gabrielle scolded Xena with her eyes but she began to play their favorite game just the same. After five turns and no luck, Xena turned seriously to Gabrielle.

"Give it up, Gabrielle," Xena replied. "Youíre not going to get it," she replied with a tiny smile.

"What I wouldnít give to be able to do that pinch thing right now?" Gabrielle muttered under her breath.

"Whatís that?" Xena asked. She heard the bard loud and clear but she liked the feel of annoying Gabrielle just a little.

"I know you heard me," Gabrielle answered with a smile. "You canít play dumb with me, Warrior Mine."

Xena reflected. No, I canít. You understand me like no one ever has or will. You owned my heart for the longest time. And now you own my soul.

"Youíre right, Beautiful," Xena replied as they traveled into the sunrise. One hand on the reins and one hand on her bardsí thigh. "Youíre absolutely right."

The End

 

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