Spoiler Alert: Spoiler Alert: This story takes place during the 5th season, after the visit to the town of Spamona, without Xena becoming pregnant, and without Gabrielle adopting a horse.
My thanks to Ink Warrior, a great bard in her own right, for BETA reading my story and providing me with wonderful feedback and support.
Part 1: "Another Second Chance"
Part 2: "In the Company of Warriors"
Part 3: "The Drums Beat For You"
Summer turned to fall, and the village continued to flourish. The crops were harvested and even the oldest Amazon could not remember a more bountiful year. The Amazons held an elaborate fall Moon Festival to honor Artemis and to give thanks for the bounty as well as the healthy births of three girl babies. Contrary to popular Amazon myths, the Amazons did not keep male slaves and boy children were not killed, but were raised by the father's family. The fathers of Amazon babies were usually living in a nearby town. A few had ongoing relationships with their children's mothers, most happily offered their services to Amazon couples wishing to have a child. This year, more than one villager was heard to joke that the fields and the village were as fertile as their queen.
Queen Gabrielle was in her element. Now in her second stage of pregnancy, she radiated health and happiness. Her responsible regimen of a sensible diet and daily exercise had caused her to blossom, and also helped her injured leg to heal to such a degree that a slight limp was noticeable only now and then, usually when she was tired. The happy mother-to-be spent her days reestablishing connections with surrounding towns, using the village's excessive harvest as a way to firm up old trade agreements and to negotiate new ones.
Soon after she assumed her duties as queen, Gabrielle called the village together to tell the story that was only whispered among the Amazons. The captured audience listened spellbound as the rusty bard oiled her words and spun out a tale that chilled their hearts. Xena's eyes filled with tears at the suffering they endured in Rome. Gabrielle knew it would be a difficult task, but needed to put things to rest and dissolve the rumors and questions that were circulating the village as to whether they really had been crucified or not. In the end, both women found the story to be quite cathartic, a great release for the pain they still held and the Amazons responded with a mixture of awe for the resurrection and rage for the torture and murder of their queen.
Xena fell into a pleasant routine of hunting, scouting and training, never straying far from the village. She discovered to her surprise that she especially enjoyed training the "First Years". Amazon girls were introduced to basic weaponry as children, but were not allowed to engage in combat or learn fighting techniques until they were blessed with their first moon cycle.
This year's group consisted of five young girls in their thirteenth or fourteenth summers.
The warrior princess gained satisfaction from her training of these eager Amazons. They hung on her every word and would defend her to the end if someone dared say naught against her. In a word, they idolized their teacher. Xena was not hung up on the being worshipped part of things, though. What she liked was the fact that the girls all did as they were told, always trying their best, listening attentively to the seasoned warrior's advice and never, NEVER arguing with her. The last part caught her fancy the most.
One fine morning, Xena found herself attempting to teach one of the girls a basic spinning drop kick while the other four practiced blocking techniques. The willing pupil had the spin down nicely, but could not get enough height in her kick to connect with Xena's shoulder high hands.
Xena patiently encouraged the Amazon, "That's it Hesta, put more sped into the spin and use the momentum to place your kick." The warrior princess suddenly found her attention distracted by the appearance of the queen on the training field nearby, accompanied by Eponin. Xena's eyes softened as she took in the vision her wife had become. Gabrielle's pregnancy was just beginning to show. Xena imagined she could see the slightly rounded belly of her wife beneath the sleeveless, loose-fitting top she had recently adopted. The dark haired beauty remembered with a small grin, that just this morning she had been kissing Gabrielle's soft flowing curve of abdomen that held their growing child, before moving further down to place her kisses elsewhere.
Smack! Xena's reminiscing was sent flying, along with the rest of her.
"Oh, gods, teacher!" gasped Hesta, "I thought you were ready for my next kick. Please forgive me," the flustered girl begged, as Xena got up and dusted herself off.
"It's all right, Hesta," Xena said rubbing her shoulder where the young warrior had made contact. "Look how high you kicked! You did fine. It was my fault for not paying attention," Xena added, silently noting to continue encouraging the talented girl to work on this skill. "Go on and practice with the others. I'll be back soon."
Xena made her way toward the queen and her chief trainer. It was not unusual to see Gabrielle on the fields, for she worked out almost every day. But today, Xena saw the appearance of staffs and stepped up her pace toward the pair as they began a series of practice parries.
"Gabrielle", she called, noticing that the bard was using her new staff, a wedding gift from Saren. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, hi Xena!" Gabrielle greeted her. "I asked Eponin to spar with me today. I felt like breaking in this new staff and had a little extra energy. " She managed to grunt each word in time with her blows and did not miss a step in the sparring routine. "I have to have fun while I can, for I hear my energy will be focused elsewhere very soon," she panted, ducking under a swipe from Eponin.
"That's what I mean. Can this be safe for you? Eponin, I am warning you? if you so much as ruffle a hair on her head? I'll?," Xena tried to think of an appropriate threat but was too occupied watching her wife dodge and block the warrior's swings with great skill. "Gabrielle, be careful," she pleaded.
"Relax warrior," said Eponin. "I know how to give a good staff workout without making contact. The queen was restless and needed some fresh air. Now go back to your First Years."
Gabrielle nodded her agreement and flashed a happy grin. Xena watched for a moment and then turned away, but instead of heading back to her trainees, she walked toward the cook's hut.
A short time later, she reappeared at the field, just as the queen and her trainer were finishing their session. "Eponin, do me a favor and finish with my First Years. I feel the queen needs some refreshment after her work out," Xena asked this with an intense look that Eponin could not possibly say no to. Nodding, the muscular Amazon trotted off.
"My queen, come with me," Xena said, offering her arm.
"What's this?" Gabrielle asked, noticing Xena retrieving a basket as the two walked along the path.
"Eponin said you were restless and needed some fresh air. I have just the ticket. How do a swim and a picnic sound?"
"Mmmm, great! But I bet the pond will be crowded this time of day."
"Took care of that. Your royal guard is already there, securing the area."
"Oh Xena, I feel guilty making people leave the pond, just because I want to swim."
"Your Amazons would do anything for you, Gabrielle. Besides, it's just for a short time, and we may want some privacy." Xena lowered her voice suggestively and circled her arm around Gabrielle's waist.
"Since you put it that way," laughed the bard, "How could I refuse?" Clasping the hand about her waist, Gabrielle slid it down until it rested on the gentle swell of her belly. Xena glanced over at this movement and found the woman's contented smile to be quite contagious.
The two ate their picnic lunch on a blanket beneath a great oak tree. The woods were quiet, although both women knew that four royal guards were within hearing distance. They were accustomed to this now and went about their lives unaffected.
"You looked pretty good with that staff out there," Xena complimented, shedding her skins in preparation for a swim. "Almost like you never stopped."
"I don't know what it is, Xena, but it feels so natural for me to twirl a staff. I think I missed it. It felt good and that new staff is wonderfully balanced," she added, slipping her top off and removing her boots and leggings. Gabrielle tested the water with her toe. "Brrr, you can tell summer is over," she commented.
"I'll warm you up," Xena promised, back paddling into the pond with a 'come hither' look. Gabrielle did a breaststroke out to the warrior and the two met in the middle of the pond, treading water. The warmth of their bodies in the cool water was intoxicating. Gabrielle wrapped her legs around Xena's waist and kissed her deeply.
Both women sank under the water with the kiss, before Gabrielle broke away and glided to some rocks near the pond's edge. Gasping and grinning, she watched Xena surface, her eyes searching for her missing lover. Sinking beneath the surface again, she pushed off the rocks and tried to swim past Xena toward the other side of the pond.
Xena grabbed a shapely ankle as it flashed by and pulled her way up the queen's body. Both women broke the water's surface with a spluttering laugh.
"Got you," Xena exclaimed.
"You most certainly have, my warrior. And I pray my thanks for it every day." Wrapping her arms around Xena's neck Gabrielle renewed their first kiss. Xena stood on the soft muddy bottom of the pond, supporting Gabrielle's behind, while the bard clung to her with muscular legs.
The warrior princess found a tender spot on her wife's neck and started nibbling, massaging Gabrielle's bottom at the same time. The nibbles turned to more passionate bites and the queen knew she would be carrying her love's mark for a day or two. Xena's mouth traveled down to Gabrielle's breasts. The full, round globes bobbed, breaking the surface of the water. An exploring tongue snaked out to tease a rosy nipple that had darkened with pregnancy, eliciting a deep moan of pleasure from Gabrielle.
"Mmm, Gabrielle, I love my new pool toys," Xena murmured, playfully nipping and sucking the dark pink tips of the queen's breasts, commenting on the growth that had recently occurred. "Not that I didn't enjoy them before."
Gabrielle arched her back slightly to give Xena more access, continuing to moan and urging Xena on with throaty whispers. She was aware of her breasts' increased volume and change in color but what pleased her most was the incredible sensitivity they had gained. As Xena suckled and teased her, the bard felt she might come from that alone.
Sliding her legs down to stand with Xena, Gabrielle breathed, "Xena, let's go to the blanket," unable to bear the teasing any longer,
The two dripped their way to the blanket to lie down. Xena pulled a second blanket over them and drew Gabrielle close to her, feeling a shiver pass through the bard's body. Within a few moments, the energy from their heavy petting raised the temperature enough that the blanket was cast from them. Xena rolled over onto her back, pulling Gabrielle to lie on top of her. The lovers each knew how to pleasure each other. Their sensations were so intense, it seemed that what one felt the other would also feel. This being the case, the women always knew when it was time to quit foreplay and get down to business.
Today, they pleasured each other slowly, running mutual fingers through moistness, exploring, kissing. Gabrielle's sexual appetite seemed to increase with the size of her belly. The amorous queen quaked in a shuddering climax, barely catching her breath before rubbing against her warrior's powerful thigh, while increasing the motion of her fingers in Xena's hot depths. Xena's arching body placed more pressure against Gabrielle's center and soon both women were calling out in their passion, Gabrielle resting her blonde head on Xena's chest as she worked to return her breathing to normal.
"I love you, Xena," she said softly, her breath tickling the warrior's breasts. "I never dreamed I could be this happy, content." Gabrielle snuggled against Xena and pulled the blanket back over them, feeling the faint fall chill, now that their heated interlude had passed.
"I love you, too, Gabrielle. Nothing ever felt so right to me," Xena responded, taking her wife protectively into her arms. Xena jumped at Gabrielle's sudden sharp intake of breath.
"Sweet goddess," the bard whispered.
"What is it, Gabrielle?" Xena turned on her side and got an elbow under her in time to spy a look of wonder passing over the lovely woman's face. Gabrielle just smiled and took Xena's hand, laying it on her belly, pressing it firmly to her body. The dark warrior kept still for a moment, eyes searching Gabrielle's expectant face, before feeling the barest flutter of a kick tickle the palm of her hand. Gabrielle's face broke into an elated grin as she recognized what Xena also felt.
"Your child is kicking me, warrior," breathed the young woman in amazement.
"So I see. Is this baby going to become 'my child' when she draws her mother's ire?" Xena chuckled, grinning at the touch of another movement.
"I am afraid that I will have my hands full with the both of you, and I would not have it any other way," Gabrielle pulled Xena to her for a loving kiss, hugging her with arms and heart.
A distinct rustling in the trees overhead let both women know that they were no longer alone. Gabrielle knew the noise was purposeful, to call her attention without being intrusive.
"What is it?" she called to the noise.
Xena and Gabrielle sat up to watch a lithe, brown figure drop gracefully to the ground from a nearby tree. The armed royal guard approached the couple and knelt with head bowed a short distance from them.
"My queen," the guard offered, "Saren sends word that a prisoner has been brought to the village by two of our border sentries. She requests the presence of you and your champion." Reaching the end of her message the Amazon stood and awaited orders with downcast eyes.
"Tell Saren we are on our way," the queen replied. As the guard disappeared into the trees as effortlessly as she had come, Gabrielle and Xena each silently felt their magical moment slip away with the haunting feeling that this simple message was the beginning of something much bigger.
A short time later, five women were seated around the table in the queen's council room. Xena and Gabrielle were receiving a full report of events that occurred near the western borders. By the end of Shalaba's recounting, Saren and Eponin were seething, ready for blood.
"The sentries saw signs of a distant camp, fair sized. Two warriors went to observe the area. They were surprised to find a camp of slavers dressed similarly to the men we battled several moons ago. These men had prisoners, mostly women. We are told that the slavers abused these women to such a degree, that it left our warriors ill, but there was nothing they could do, being outnumbered, so they held their position.
"The slavers pulled out the next day, moving west. Our warriors waited for a man to fall behind, and it was in this way, that they captured a prisoner themselves. A man dropped out of the traveling group and returned to the campsite to retrieve something left behind. He was quickly restrained by our guards and has spent the last two days traveling in chains to our village," Shalaba met eyes with the queen to gauge her reaction to the story.
"Has the man been questioned?" Gabrielle asked.
"He has been most uncooperative, my queen. He has not offered any useful information," Shalaba replied.
"I want to see him," the Amazon Queen said quietly.
"Now wait a minute, Gabrielle," Xena jumped in. "If all you want is information, Saren and I could take care of that. There is no reason for you to?"
"I want to see him," Gabrielle said firmly, with an icy stare that the warriors all knew meant business.
The Amazons made their way to the prisoner's hut. Gabrielle motioned for the guards to bring out the prisoner. They could hear the man cursing and shouting before they saw him. The two guards reappeared with the chained man who looked to be in his early thirties, battered and bruised, greasy and in desperate need of a bath. The women didn't think it possible, but found that his mouth was even filthier than his body.
"Get your damned hands off me you stinkin' Amazon whores," the ugly man swore at them and spit, struggling in his chains.
"On your knees, pig," growled one of the guards, shoving the man down. "You will watch your tongue and show some respect to our queen, or we will take care of that tongue for you," she threatened.
"I bet you'd like the feel of my tongue on you. Dying for a man's touch are you Amazon?" The sneering man found his curled lips receiving a swift kick, as the offended guard caught him sharply in the mouth with the toe of her boot.
"Enough," ordered Gabrielle. "Tell us who you are and who has sent you." The queen never enjoyed displays such as this.
The man drew a grimy forearm across his bloodied mouth as far as his chains would allow and raised his face to look up at the petite blonde woman speaking with authority. The women noticed a crimson scar running from the man's left eye, down his cheek to his jaw.
"Well, well, well," he began, "the big, queen mama. You are quite the vision, I must say. I could sell you for top dollar. 'Course I would have to beat that sucker out of you first." Gabrielle blanched visibly. Xena's blood boiled at this statement, and she launched herself onto the despicable scum, her eyes flaming. He was down on his back, taking a sound beating before Saren and Eponin reluctantly pulled her off at the queen's orders.
"I'll kill you for that," Xena snarled, her chest heaving, shrugging out of the arms that restrained her. It had been quite some time since Gabrielle had seen this look of anger and hatred filling her warrior's face with fury. She did not like it.
"You're gonna kill me anyways, bitch. Might as well get it over with and have a little fun before then." The man continued his bravado, not endearing himself to the women in the slightest. Gabrielle nodded for the guards to take the prisoner away, and retreated to a nearby table, her entourage following behind.
"Like I said, he's been less than cooperative," Shalaba said, making the understatement of the year. Saren had been unusually silent during this whole ordeal, and Gabrielle, always sensitive, picked up on it.
"There is something else, isn't there, Saren?" Gabrielle asked. All eyes turned to watch the tall warrior struggle to maintain her composure as her an angry red flush crept up her face.
"My queen, it is something my wife told me, but we are not sure," the Amazon said hesitantly.
"Go on, tell us," Gabrielle insisted.
"Leah saw the prisoner as he was brought in. She was to make sure he had no life threatening injuries, because Kameiro was busy with a villager. When she saw the scar and heard his voice, she was pretty sure. But she has blocked most of those memories." Saren clenched her fists and jaws.
"Sure about what?" Xena asked.
"That this prisoner was one of the slavers that attacked the Northern Amazons. He raped Leah. Beat her terribly. When she and Kameiro escaped the camp with the help of the surviving warriors, this man was one that hunted them down and slaughtered them. He killed Kameiro's mate, who took the sword in order for Kameiro and Leah to get away, but not before she gave him that mark." Saren drew her finger down her cheek, tracing the location of the man's scar.
Gabrielle pondered this information silently. She knew the basic story of the healer and her sister's difficult journey to the village, but never heard much of the horror that went with it. The sisters were two of the kindest, gentlest souls she'd ever met. This explained the haunted looks the queen occasionally caught on the women's faces when they thought no one was looking. It explained Saren's overprotective ways with Leah when Gabrielle saw the two of them together, the proud warrior almost stumbling over herself to make her wife happy. Leah loses herself in her love for Saren and Kameiro deals with her pain through humor, thought Gabrielle, admiring the sisters all the more.
"Xena, Saren, you are to get whatever useful information from the prisoner you can, however you are able. And before you say anything, I insist on being present. When we are finished with him, he will be put on trial for crimes against the Amazon Nation." The chill in the queen's voice could not be missed, but it was the hard look on her face that caught the attention of her warriors.
Later that afternoon, the prisoner was on his knees gasping, blood trickling from his nose. "Tell us, or you will die. There is no blood flowing to your brain. You don't have much time," Xena snarled, gripping the man firmly by the front of his tattered leathers. The prisoner had lost his cockiness. The Amazons literally beat it out of him. The pain of this new torture was unbearable and he felt death waiting nearby.
"We took our captives back to Rome. But we knew a part of our team came south, looking for another Amazon village," the man spit out, blinking hard and seeing stars spinning before his eyes. "We came here to find them, but saw no trace of our men or Amazons. Our leader said we would forget it, head west, and go to a town he said he knew would be a pushover, then return to Rome," the man mumbled, slumping over, more than halfway through death's door.
"What town? Tell us and we will release the pinch." demanded Gabrielle, who had been unusually stoic during an extremely unpleasant afternoon.
"Po? Pota? Potato-something. I can't remember," the man cried.
"Poteidaia?" Gabrielle suggested.
Gabrielle went white, but managed to nod a silent order for Xena to release the deadly pinch. Xena complied with extreme force, and the man collapsed unconscious at their feet.
"We must assemble the warriors, my queen," Eponin said.
"Gabrielle, there's no way I can agree to this," Xena argued impatiently. "We've been over it all evening and any way you slice it, it is not safe."
The two were lying in bed discussing the prisoner's revelations and what their next move should be. Gabrielle was all for sending a force of warriors led by Xena and Saren to squelch the remaining slavers. The problem was she wanted to come, too.
"Xena, there must be a compromise. I have to make sure my family is all right," Gabrielle insisted wearily.
"Family? You have not seen them in over a year. They know nothing of our joining, the baby. They probably think we're dead. Everyone else in these parts did, until we proved them wrong," countered the warrior princess.
"Please, Xena, think of some way," Gabrielle pleaded, beginning to weep, finally breaking under the day's strain.
Xena completely melted under this tearful plea. "Ok, look? how about I take you and your royal guards to our valley? We could make it our base camp. It's easily defendable. The house should be well under way, and we need to see it before winter. Then you could stay there, while the warriors and I go to see what has happened in Poteidaia. If all is clear, we'll come back to get you and take you to see your family."
"Thank you, Xena. Let's leave tomorrow." The relieved queen stroked Xena's cheek before giving her a small kiss of gratitude. The exhausted woman quickly fell asleep, while her worried warrior lay awake, fretting over their agreement.
In the morning, the queen presided over a short hearing for the prisoner. The evidence against him was insurmountable. He denied nothing, knowing that he would most likely be killed anyway and perhaps if he did nothing to help his case, the Amazons would kill him quickly out of anger. Easily found guilty, Queen Gabrielle handed down the only sentence available to her in a situation where someone was convicted of murdering an Amazon. Death.
She grimly stayed to watch the sentence carried out, something the old Gabrielle would never have done. Several of the Amazons noticed this and wondered at the change. But Gabrielle had decided that if she was truly going to take her place as the Amazon Queen, she would need to show that she could handle all situations, even the most unpleasant. The man was unchained and made to stand before Saren and Leah. Gabrielle could see Kameiro nearby, shedding silent tears of pain. When offered a chance for final words, the disgusting man began to say some filth about his encounter with Leah, but before he could get the offensive words out of his mouth, Saren cut his throat with her dagger, using so much force she almost decapitated him.
With that nasty business finished, the village efficiently prepared to send off a party of warriors. Bags were packed, supplies gathered, horses, readied. Gabrielle found Xena leading Argo to the stables from the pasture.
The queen overheard the warrior talking to the mare.
"Can't take you on this one, old girl. I think you could still travel, but I don't know how rough things will get. You just stay here and take care of that baby and I'll be home soon." Gabrielle flinched at the odd similarity between this conversation and the one she and Xena had the night before.
The trip to the valley was uneventful. The Amazons traveled swiftly, the journey taking them two days. Xena and Gabrielle were pleased with the progress of the house. The first phase was done. A beautiful cabin-style home was rising from the clearing, consisting so far of a main room, bedroom and kitchen. Xena knew that the builder was probably trying to contact her, as agreed, for confirmation of plans before beginning phase two: guest room, stables, barn, and now, with the baby coming, another bedroom.
While Xena unpacked their bedrolls and laid them on the bare floor in front of the fireplace, Gabrielle readied the dinner that was just sent to them from the campfire. Xena rolled out her plan while she worked, "You can stay in the cabin with Kameiro and two royal guards, and the other two guards can stay in the cave. We'll leave two more at the base of the hill when we leave. The weather should hold for another month or so. If for some reason we get held up or have to trail these men for a ways, I have given orders to your guards that you are to return to the village at the first sign of snow. There are not enough supplies here to last a winter." Xena said this with clear understanding that she would not argue about the arrangements.
"Ok, Xena. But for tonight, can it be just you and me in the cabin? I want to be with you alone, in our new house. It may be a while before I see you again," Gabrielle said a bit wistfully.
"Of course, that was my idea all along," Xena said, gathering her wife into her arms and breathing in the fresh scent of her hair. "Gods, Gabrielle, what would I do without you?" she murmured, hugging her tightly.
"Come back to me as soon as you can and you won't have to find out," Gabrielle said softly, a tear sliding down her cheek.
Xena left to make sure everything was set for the night. The party of 20 Amazon Warriors, six royal guards and the healer were settling down for the evening, knowing they would be getting an early start in the morning. It was quite something to see the women's camp spread out along the edge of the river, definitely a sight Xena would never have expected. She felt anxious about their journey, but did not think it was anything more than the usual jitters before an adventure such as this. It was the separation from Gabrielle that worried her the most. The queen would not be due to have her baby until late winter, still three or four moons away, but Xena just did not feel good about leaving her. That was why she insisted on Kameiro staying with Gabrielle. Returning with a load of firewood, Xena started a fire in the new fireplace, having noticed ashes from it being tested previously.
"Let's fire this up and see how it works, love," Xena smiled as the kindling started to take and the smoke curled its way lazily up the elaborate stone chimney. A merry blaze was soon crackling away, and the warmth and light of it brought a homey atmosphere to the bare room. Xena laid a blanket on the floor before the hearth. The two women sat together and ate their dinner, enjoying the smell of the fresh cut logs surrounding them.
"It's a beautiful home, Xena. Your builder is skilled. I am going to love it here," Gabrielle sighed, lying down to place her head on Xena's thigh as the warrior sat and watched the flames. Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle's head and stroked her hair.
"When the baby is strong enough, we'll bring her here. Maybe next spring or summer. In the meantime, I'll arrange to have furniture and other necessities delivered. This will be our summer home. The village has already agreed to it," Xena added, moving to lie down next to the woman she loved.
The couple found themselves holding each other tightly, each desperately wanting to share their love through the embrace. Xena pulled back when she felt a drop of wetness touch her cheek. Seeing moisture in Gabrielle's eyes, Xena kissed her tenderly and said, "Don't worry, Gabrielle. This will all work out. I'm sure your family is ok."
"I know. I just miss you so much already," the blonde whispered, pulling Xena back for another kiss. Breaking away, Gabrielle gazed at Xena intensely, and the warrior felt a shiver of passion run through her body and a fire begin to burn between her legs. "Take these off," she ordered softly, plucking at the warrior leathers Xena was sporting.
Xena never broke eye contact with the green jewels sparkling with the firelight, until she pulled her top over her head. Before she could bring her arms down, she felt hands fondling her breasts. Shrugging out of the rest of her outfit, Xena fully revealed her athletic physique. Gabrielle spent quite some time running her hands over the warrior's smooth bronze skin, kissing her way across the scars that adorned the muscular body.
Xena slipped her hands under Gabrielle's top and up her back, massaging her, finally pulling the shirt from Gabrielle's body. Then Xena lay back and watched Gabrielle, take a moment to remove her leggings. The queen stood up gracefully, unlacing her leggings and letting them drop to the floor. Silhouetted in the firelight, Gabrielle's movements were cat-like. Removing her boots and leggings from her feet, the bard curled up, purring, beside Xena.
Gabrielle's pink tongue darted out to moisten her full lips. Rolling to her back she whispered, "Show me how much you'll miss me, warrior." Xena inhaled deeply, taking in the musk of her wife's passion. The sight of this beautiful woman stretched out unabashedly naked before the roaring fire enflamed her.
She began by feeling the miraculous swell of Gabrielle's abdomen, first with her hand, then with her lips. Gabrielle loved it when Xena touched her there. It made her heart swell with pleasure and happiness. Then Xena made her way up to the full breasts, kissing her way between them, nipping her way around them. Gabrielle placed her hands in Xena's long black hair and guided the warrior's hungry mouth to a hardened nipple that ached for attention. Xena lavished it with amorous kisses, causing moans and slight undulations from the woman beneath her. She smiled at the throaty whisper from her wife, 'the other one is getting jealous', before trailing her tongue over to the second nipple and repeating her ministrations.
Gabrielle closed her eyes as her breathing deepened. She could feel her hips beginning to move with a mind of their own, and sounds were coming from her mouth that she was not aware she was making.
"Xena," she managed in a long drawn-out sigh.
Not breaking her stride, the talented warrior reclaimed the full lips of her wife and tasted them with her tongue, one hand running through the silky golden tresses crowning the lovely woman's head. Slipping a thigh between her lover's legs, Xena groaned at the heat and moistness that greeted her.
Gabrielle trembled slightly when she felt Xena's body shift, and her kisses move lower. Reaching her goal, Xena, moved Gabrielle's legs apart with her hands, dipping an experimental finger into the moistness she found there. A sensual moan was the response. Xena turned her body around and felt Gabrielle grasping at her hips. The warrior enjoyed the hot kisses moving up her thighs as she settled herself close to Gabrielle's mouth. Fingers firmly grasped her buttocks, pulling her down that much faster.
Xena returned to her dessert, spreading Gabrielle's blonde curls to send a tongue inside the swollen lower lips. Both women made contact at about the same time. The pleasure they felt was made evident by slow rocking and mutual muffled murmurings. Xena's tongue continued to flick out and taste the saltiness offered her, the flavor of it making her senses reel. Each woman increased the tempo of her assault and the rocking of their bodies continued.
Xena inserted two fingers into the slick depths beneath her and felt, rather than heard Gabrielle gasp. Pushing the fingers in and out, the warrior was rewarded with a low groan. Her concentration was diverted slightly when she felt her wife begin to mimic her movements.
"Gods, Gabrielle, don't stop," she whispered, feeling her mind begin to swirl and returning to nibble at the aroused bud she had been enjoying. Switching to a rapid licking, Xena could feel Gabrielle's body stiffen, and heard a sharp intake of breath. Fingers dug into the warrior's rear, and she knew she would be sitting in the saddle with bruises come morning. Gabrielle worked her other fingers firmly and arched into Xena's mouth. Xena latched onto the pleasure nub, sucking firmly, and sent Gabrielle over the edge.
Hearing Gabrielle call out her name and tremble beneath her was the push that sent Xena tumbling into her own orgasm. Both women bucked against the other, enjoying the juices that flowed freely. Eventually, the tremors subsided and the lovers returned to lying contentedly in each other's arms.
Gabrielle managed a regal good bye, saving her tears for Kameiro's shoulder after the warriors left. Xena and Saren led the way down the mountain toward Poteidaia. The trip would take them two days at most, less if they saw signs of trouble and pushed it. The warrior princess felt that the slavers would not be moving as quickly as the Amazons and was not worried at the head start they had, except for the fact that she wanted to get to Gabrielle's home village before they did.
On the second morning, the Amazons finally picked up the trail of the slavers, noticing with dismay that it headed straight for Poteidaia. Saren and Xena had already informed the warriors that there would be no prisoners and no survivors allowed. All the slavers must die. Xena knew that if word got back to Rome to whoever was in charge of these pigs, more men would be sent to hunt for the Amazons. And she refused to put Gabrielle in the position of having to pass judgment on anymore of these animals. This would end here.
Xena picked three warriors to ride ahead with her, leaving Saren to bring up the rear. Traveling hard, the four Amazons approached the outskirts of the village at dusk. Smelling smoke and hearing swords, Xena knew they arrived at a decisive moment. Sending the three warriors to circle around, Xena headed into the village, drawing her sword.
She was surprised to see a good number of bad guys, dead from arrow wounds, at the head of the main street. Their rider-less horses milled aimlessly. No villagers were in sight. Apparently the folks had known they were going to have visitors. "Good for them," thought Xena, as she stole silently down the street, staying in the shadows.
Approaching the battle scene, the warrior princess was so startled by what she saw, that she stood watching for a few seconds, rather than leaping into the fray. Herodotus, Gabrielle's father, was part of a circle of village men, surrounding their women and children, battling desperately with the remaining slavers. The village stable was aflame, casting an orange glow on the surreal scene.
The villagers were outnumbered but were fighting well, not killing the slavers, but holding them off with their wise defensive ring. Xena could see that the civilians were tiring. Tossing her warrior cry to the four winds, the dark princess flipped into the village square, causing a sudden lull in the battle with her unexpected appearance. Herodotus used this moment's distraction to spear his opponent, quickly withdrawing his bloody sword, waiting for another to take the slaver's place.
Xena felt the presence of her Amazon companions on the other side of the circle and hoped that this would even the battle somewhat. The warrior princess quickly downed two men. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw two village-men drop and the screaming from the terrified women and children increased.
"Xena!" The warrior princess heard an anguished cry from Gabrielle's mother and saw that Herodotus was losing his sword fight. Switching her sword to her left hand, Xena unhooked her chakram and sent it flying at the man attacking Gabrielle's father. She had time to see it connect with its target and catch it on its return flight, before feeling a piercing heat in her left shoulder. Spinning around she faced a dagger-throwing thug as he charged at her with raised sword. A furious duel ensued as the injured Xena tried to fend off the talented swordsman with restricted movements.
More slavers broke off from the circle to approach Xena. She felt herself moving away, on the defensive. Suddenly, she felt someone behind her and heard a welcome voice.
"Need a hand? I can use both of mine now," quipped Saren, backing up to the injured warrior and taking on two slavers approaching her from behind. "Amazons, attack," she cried, eagerly diving into the battle, slicing her way effectively through her two adversaries. The battle cry of many warriors echoed through the village as the Amazons poured into the square, dropping slavers left and right. Turning quickly, Saren saw Xena go down on one knee, trying to block a mighty sword blow with a raised forearm. Saren launched her sword firmly, skewering the slaver through the belly.
"Thanks Saren," Xena said, using the arm offered to help herself up. "That guy was a real? pain," she grimaced shrugging her pierced shoulder. Quickly shoving Saren aside, Xena plucked a speeding dagger from the space Saren's head had just occupied. Flipping the weapon around in her hand, Xena sped it back to its very surprised owner who caught it with his neck. Saren nodded her thanks and admiration at the feat. "Missed the first one," Xena admitted. "Glad I got that one."
"Me too," Saren nodded.
Looking around, they saw that the Amazon force was quickly finishing the battle. The slavers were no match for the fresh warriors, either in numbers or skill. The Amazons made short work of it. Saren ordered the warriors to wrap up the job and sent several to scout for any possible escapees and some to help the villagers with the fire. "Come on Xena, let's get that knife out of you," she offered.
"In a minute," she grunted. Xena walked slowly over to Herodotus, who now had his arms protectively around Hecuba and Lila, Gabrielle's mother and sister, watching the Amazons clean up after the slavers and tend to their wounded.
"Xena," Herodotus greeted her without a smile, but also without the usual frown, "Where did you come from? Where is Gabrielle?"
"We've been trailing these slavers, knew they were coming here. Glad we got here when we did. Gabrielle is fine. She is in a safe place, two day's ride from here. We did not want her traveling here in her condition, until we knew it was safe." Xena replied, allowing Hecuba to inspect the dagger wound and fuss over her a bit, while Lila watched.
"What condition? We heard you were dead. Is she all right?" Hecuba asked with a worried tone, pulling the bleeding warrior over to a house porch to have a seat. Lila waited to hear the answer before heading off to gather medical supplies.
"It is a long story, but we are fine. I wanted to tell you now, before she visits? Gabrielle and I are joined. She is with child. My child. Like I said, it's a long story." Xena sat leaning against the porch railing, watching for the reactions she knew would follow. Various emotions mixed with confusion passed across the parents' faces.
"You need to know this, for I won't allow her to visit if you plan to upset her with your anger toward me. We are happy. She has taken her position as Queen of the Amazons and is doing a damn good job leading them. Us," she added, acknowledging her new family.
The mother and father locked eyes for a brief moment before coming to some kind of a silent mutual agreement. "We don't need to discuss this, now," Herodotus said firmly. "We have work to do and you need medical attention." He waved Saren over, who had been respectfully waiting a short distance away. "Fix this warrior up," he commanded. "Take her to my house, there." The stern man pointed at a home at the end of the road.
Saren shot an amused glance at Xena who raised an eyebrow at her. The two warriors chuckled something about 'must be where Gabrielle gets it from' as they headed down the path.
"You know, Herodotus," Xena grunted, as she felt the dagger being yanked out from below her shoulder blade, "That was some good defense out there. Who took out the slavers with the arrows?" Xena was lying on Gabrielle's former bed, being treated by Saren and Hecuba, with Lila waiting to assist when needed.
"Our scout came in to warn us of their approach. We had time to position our best hunters near the village entrance, while we armed ourselves and gathered everyone together," he replied, impressed with the warrior's ability to carry on a conversation with someone digging around in her back.
"Scout, huh? Since when did you have scouts?" Xena jumped as Saren poured a stinging liquid into the open wound. She secretly wondered if the woman wasn't being just a bit too liberal with the stuff.
"Warrior, you and I may not always see eye to eye, but that does not mean I can't learn something from my daughter's stories. I listened."
"It paid off. Gabrielle will be so happy to see you. She is very worried."
"Xena, Kameiro will need to treat this. A piece of the dagger's tip is still in your shoulder. I am not skilled enough to remove it without possibly causing you further injury. I will close the wound. I hope it will not pain you too much." Saren finished stitching the wound and wrapped Xena's shoulder with bandages. "This will do until Kameiro can see it. I am going to check on our other wounded," Saren said. The fierce looking woman nodded to the family and made an imposing exit.
"She looks like a tough nut," muttered Herodotus.
"Nah, she's a pussycat, as long as she likes you," chuckled the warrior princess. "Since you're the queen's parents, I don't think you have much to worry about."
Gabrielle's family visited with Xena for a short time, hearing bits and pieces of the last year, but not the whole story. Xena would leave that for Gabrielle, if she chose to tell them. Xena felt that she had made it across a great barrier with these people, never being accepted in the past, barely tolerated as a matter of fact. The couple seemed resigned to the fact that the warrior was a part of their lives and were going to try to make the most of it. It would be the only way for them to get their daughter back. It took them a while, but they finally saw the light.
Xena and the Amazons stayed in Poteidaia for two more days, helping to bury the slavers and return the town to a sense of normalcy. Xena was forced into submission by the relentless teamwork of Herodotus and Saren, neither of them allowing her out of bed to help in the activities. Hecuba and Lila fluttered around her until she found herself feigning sleep just to get some relief.
The village had suffered several losses, and the funeral pyres were lit. Xena's haunting voice sang out the sad song of loss. The seasoned warrior found that her past losses became fresh memories each time she sang this mournful tune. Overall, the news was good. The wounded villagers and Amazons would recover. There were no Amazon deaths. Xena's injury was the most serious, and with Kameiro's help, it was one that would heal with time. Surviving the slavers attack was a great victory and the village had a right to be proud.
Wanting to return for Gabrielle, Xena and Saren set out with five warriors and the three other wounded Amazons for the valley. The rest were left to continue their work and make sure the village and surrounding area remained clear of trouble. Xena was hurting, but vainly tried not to show it. Her shoulder was swollen and the motion of the horse jarred the injury with every step. Saren attempted to talk Xena into letting her retrieve Gabrielle, but the proud warrior would have none of it.
"I told her I would come back for her and I will. She would go crazy with worry if you showed up and told her I was too wounded to make the trip," Xena said stubbornly. Saren agreed somewhat with this logic, but shook her head sadly at the weary figure slumped in the saddle ahead of her.
"Amazons, prepare to camp," she suddenly called out, making up her mind that Xena would rest. She did not know which would be worse, Xena's wrath at stopping early or the queen's anger for letting a wounded Xena push herself too hard. Saren sighed, catching the surprised and not too happy glance from the warrior princess who turned in her saddle to look back at her. It was a damned difficult position to be in. "Rather be back sword fighting with slavers," she muttered to herself, meeting Xena's stare with a defiant one of her own.
Saren finally enforced a slow trip on the party, saying it was for the good of the other wounded, so that by the time they returned to the valley, they had been gone for a little over a week. Gabrielle was elated to see them and hear of their good news. She took Xena into the cabin for Kameiro to inspect. The healer reopened the wound and skillfully found and removed the piece of dagger that had become lodged in a piece of Xena's shoulder bone. There did not seem to be an infection, just irritation, so Kameiro closed the incision and bandaged it. Making a comment about 'another scar for Xena's collection', she left to tend the others.
The other wounded Amazons were treated and sent back to the Amazon village with the returning warriors. Saren and Xena, along with the royal guards and Kameiro prepared to take Gabrielle to visit her family. Gabrielle insisted on walking once they were down the mountain. She was enjoying the cool fall weather, keeping time with her staff, her sais tucked in her boots. Xena sent the guards ahead so that she could walk alone with her wife, Saren and Kameiro brought up the rear on horseback, leading the other two horses.
"Just like old times, huh Xena?" Gabrielle said, grinning broadly, throwing her arms out to encompass their walk.
"Almost," Xena said, eying the happy blonde. Her gaze rested on the slight mound of belly just visible through the loose top.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't think you have ever been this beautiful before," Xena said sincerely, taking Gabrielle's hand in hers as they walked. The smile she was rewarded with was worth all the dinars she had ever earned.
"I bet you say that to all the girls," Gabrielle laughed.
Xena stopped hard, snapping her head up. Gabrielle immediately went into a crouch, bringing her staff up defensively. Saren and Kameiro stopped too, confused by the behavior, unable to see a need for concern. They soon became aware as they focused their senses.
Sounds of a battle rang out ahead. The forward guards were having a problem of some sort. The two women remounted their horses and the four Amazons raced ahead. Coming over a hill, they found the six royal guards clashing with a group of bandits. Xena somersaulted from her still moving horse and joined in the battle, pulling her sword in mid air. Saren joined the battle, following after the warrior princess.
Kameiro's horse continued to run forward. When the woman pulled back on the reins to stop it, the mount startled and reared, confused by the loose horses and the loud battle. Caught by surprise, the healer was thrown to the ground in the path of one of the bandits. The man turned his sword from the battle and approached the downed woman with a sinister look. Before anyone could stop her, Gabrielle swung off her horse and sprang toward the man, placing herself in front of the unarmed Kameiro.
Gabrielle swung her staff at the man who ducked and thrust his sword. Gabrielle blocked the blow and spun around to swipe his feet. The agile man leapt over the staff and swung again at the queen. Xena caught sight of the fact that Gabrielle was in the middle of things and yelled to Saren, who moved toward the queen. The warrior princess dispatched the man she was fighting with a reverse thrust to the gut. Now the odds were even. One man left per Amazon fighting. Saren's progress was slowed when she suddenly found herself face to face with an ugly thug who had more scars than teeth.
Xena flipped over the head of the next man approaching her, trying to reach Gabrielle's side. The Amazon Queen was a remarkable sight to see, staying on the offensive with the strong man fighting her. Saren put her man down and followed Xena. The man battling with Gabrielle found his concentration broken by the approaching pair. Gabrielle used this mistake to her advantage, swinging her staff up and under the man's sword arm, catching the butt of the sword. The weapon flipped out of his grasp and flew up into the air. The queen caught it on the way down and plunged it into the man's chest. His eyes bulged with surprise as he dropped to his knees.
Xena and Saren were almost frantic with worry. Their concern for the queen was their only thought. Before they could say a word, Gabrielle quickly reached into her boots, withdrew her sais and threw them. The warriors ducked as the sharp swords sped past their heads. Trading astonished glances, the pair turned to find two approaching bandits falling to the ground behind them, sais in their chests. Xena came to her senses and checked the rest of the area. The other warriors had beaten their opponents and soon all was quiet except for the heavy breathing of the puffing Amazons.
"Gods, Gabrielle! What were you thinking?" Xena said sharply, as the queen knelt to assist Kameiro, who was slightly shaken from her fall.
"My queen, you should have stayed on the horse. We cannot risk having you in battle," added Saren.
"Next time, you?" Xena began.
"I will not sit on my horse and watch one of my people killed. Not if there is anything I can do about it. I don't want to hear anymore about it. From EITHER of you," she added, effectively closing the mouth of Saren who was about to reply.
Xena and Saren shared another look and turned to the other warriors. A quick study of the situation made them come to the conclusion that these men were not associated with the slavers, but were one of many marauding bands of thieves plaguing the country. Unfortunately for these men, they chose the wrong day to be on this road.
The group decided to make camp early after this unpleasant bit of adventure. Saren and Xena left the other guards in charge while they went to scout the area and find a secure campsite.
That night, Xena found herself the uncomfortable object of Gabrielle's indifference. The queen was angry about the way she was being patronized and Xena knew it. The warrior sat near the campfire, watching her wife do a variety of unnecessary tasks. Xena was sure Gabrielle was keeping busy to avoid having to talk with her. Gabrielle quickly broke off any eye contact Xena managed to make and found something else to occupy her time.
Saren watched this silent interaction with amusement. Her respect for the queen was immense and had only become stronger after today. "That is one tough woman," Saren thought with admiration. "Gods help that poor warrior. If I ever had any doubts, I don't anymore. Born to our village or not, Amazon blood flows in their veins."
Xena finally had enough of the cold shoulder treatment. Approaching Gabrielle, she took her by the arm and said, "Come walk with me." The other Amazons glanced up from the fire and quickly looked back down after catching the intense look on the warrior's face. Gabrielle quietly joined the warrior princess and the two headed for the edge of the woods, not wanting to stray too far from the light of the campfire. Saren silently motioned for two guards to head into the trees. They did so immediately.
Xena glimpsed the queen's firmly set jaw and knew there was only one way out of this. Grovel. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle," she apologized, reaching out a calloused hand to stroke the blonde's cheek. "I must be making you crazy, hovering over you like I have been. I'd promise to stop, but I don't think I can," Xena smiled and ducked down to look directly into Gabrielle's emerald eyes. "Please forgive me," she pleaded. "My obnoxiousness is out of my love for you." This comment and the playful sparkle in Xena's eyes brought a slight grin to Gabrielle's face and Xena encouraged it with a nudge. The two fell into each other's arms, the tension from the day melting away.
"I never could stay mad at you for very long," Gabrielle murmured, burying her face in the magnificent mane of black hair that flowed down the warrior's shoulders.
"Lucky for me," Xena replied, breathing a sigh of relief.
A sudden rustle, drew their attention and they watched an Amazon drop from the tree above them. "My queen, there are three approaching the camp from the west," the royal guard informed them. Xena took the guard with her for a look, sending Gabrielle back to the protection of the camp.
About a half league away from camp, the guard showed Xena what she had seen from the trees. Xena could make out three struggling forms coming up the road in the dark. They did not look threatening. Indeed, they looked as if they were in trouble. Xena motioned for the guard to cover her and made her way through the brush, coming alongside the threesome, but remaining hidden. She was surprised when the trio suddenly halted and one of them jumped directly into the bushes on top of Xena, knocking her flat on her back.
Xena quickly reversed the position, rolling on top of the person (female, she discovered), pinning her to the ground. The struggling form spun out a few obscenities and Xena stopped her battle quickly upon recognizing the voice.
"Amarice?" the warrior princess asked.
"Xena, thank the gods, we've found you," Amarice managed as Xena helped the young woman to her feet, feeling her stagger as she rose.
"Amarice, what is it? Who's with you?" Xena questioned with concern.
"Joxer and his wife, Dahlia. Can you help us Xena?" The warrior princess was shocked to find this fireball of a woman collapsing in her arms. She appeared to be exhausted.
With the help of the guards, Xena quickly had the three back at camp. Gabrielle was shocked to see who the people were and even more shocked to see their condition. Joxer was badly hurt, suffering from a nasty sword wound to the belly. His pasty face managed a smile when he recognized his old friends. "Take care of Dahlia, girls. I'm a bit out of it," he managed before lapsing into unconsciousness.
Gabrielle and Xena remembered Dahlia as the waitress who had taken a fancy to Joxer back in the town of Spamona. The petite brunette did not have any obvious injuries other than scrapes and bruises. She was hungry and cold to the bone, her clothes hanging on her in tatters. While Xena and Kameiro tended to Joxer, Gabrielle led his wife to the other side of the fire, to offer her a chance to clean up, eat and get a change of clothes. Amarice sat by the fire sipping a cup of broth watching the Amazons care for her companions. She had deep circles under her eyes.
As Gabrielle helped Dahlia to change into something warmer, she was shocked to find that the young woman was obviously pregnant, looking to be almost as far along as Gabrielle was herself. The poor thing was close to dropping. She was so tired. Reassuring the worried woman that they would do everything they could for her husband, Gabrielle got her to eat a little bit before leading her to a bedroll to sleep. Going back to Joxer, Gabrielle kneeled and stroked his sweaty forehead.
"How is he?" she asked Kameiro, glancing at Xena. Kameiro hesitated, looking at the warrior princess for direction.
"His injury is serious. I have done what I can. It is up to the gods, now. It's amazing he was able to move at all. I'm sorry my queen," Kameiro said, lowering her eyes in respect to the queen's obvious distress.
Gabrielle stifled a sob and got up. Xena joined her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. The two moved to where Amarice was still seated at the fire, seemingly in an exhausted trance.
"Amarice, we know you're tired, but can you tell us what happened?" Gabrielle sat next to her friend and took her hand.
Amarice let a rare tear slide down her cheek. "So much pain," she whispered, taking another sip of broth.
"Who did this to you?" Xena demanded gently.
"Slavers. The four of us left Spamona two weeks ago. We were traveling to visit you and tell you our news," Amarice drew in a shuddering breath and let it out slowly. "We were heading to Amazon Territory. That's where we guessed you'd be. Two or three more days and we would have made it."
"They must have run into the slavers before the attack on Poteidaia," Xena said.
Gabrielle nodded her agreement. "Four of you?" she asked.
"Arman was with us. He went down while we were escaping. I tried to help him, but Joxer was hurt, and Dahlia?," Amarice sobbed and fell into Gabrielle's arms. The queen looked over the woman's head at the sympathetic face of Xena.
"Gods, Amarice, I'm so sorry." Gabrielle soothed her friend, stroking her hair.
"What were you coming to tell us?" Xena asked, curious.
Amarice choked out a weak laugh. "It seems so stupid, now. We were so dumb to think we could get away with it. I should have known better," she mumbled.
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle pressed.
"The night after you left Spamona, the four of us sat around getting drunk, sharing stories about how great you are, how much you love each other. We got into an argument about whether or not you were? together, you know, as a couple? I said I was sure you were not, but would be if you could only admit your love for each other. The rest thought I was nuts." Amarice blushed a bit, but continued with an encouraging smile from Gabrielle.
"Well, one thing led to another and before we knew it we were all daring each other to admit our true feelings? and by morning we found ourselves married. That poor reverend will never be the same," Amarice admitted with a sad grin.
"You married Arman?" Gabrielle said with a tone of surprise.
"And Joxer married Dahlia," Xena finished. "Must have been quite the ceremony," she chuckled, shaking her head.
"We were happy, you know. It wasn't just a drunken mistake." Amarice tried to go on, but her exhaustion was deep.
"We'll take care of you, Amarice," Gabrielle reassured her. "Let's get you to sleep."
The next day, the women prepared to continue their trip to Poteidaia. Making a stretcher for Joxer, the group made their way slowly west.
Gabrielle's family greeted her with open arms. Her father, stiff as usual managed a semblance of congratulations. She was not sure if he meant her marriage or the baby. Gabrielle stared in amazement as her father clapped Xena on the back (although it was her injured shoulder) and took her out to see the stable that was being rebuilt. Xena managed a stunned look in her wife's direction before obediently following after the man.
"Do you love my daughter?" he asked the warrior, looking intently into her brilliant blue eyes, as they went outdoors.
"More than my life. She is my life," Xena responded, returning his gaze.
"I see," he said simply, before turning and walking toward the stable.
Xena realized this was as close to acceptance as she was going to get from this man and joined him in his walk.
There was no way the family could overlook Xena's devotion to their daughter. The two made no attempt to hide their loving relationship. Once the family got over the initial shock of seeing Xena and Gabrielle together as a couple, along with the fact that everyone else around them felt it was the way things should be, the idea of it came more easily.
Gabrielle made no excuses for her choices and her parents seemed to realize that if they brought up their old arguments, it would cause permanent damage. Besides, their daughter looked so happy and healthy, she positively glowed. So she must be doing something right. Gabrielle's mother tried to show her support by bringing out a small chest of Gabrielle's old baby clothes and blanket to give as a gift to her future grandchild. That gesture meant so much to Gabrielle. She felt a weight lift from her, knowing that she could again open her heart to her family.
The remaining warriors were sent back to the Amazon village with Saren. Kameiro and the royal guards stayed for the next week, pitching in around the village when needed. Joxer turned the corner for the better, and the healer was more hopeful as to his recovery. Dahlia and Amarice slowly regained their strength, with Kameiro's excellent care.
Xena and Gabrielle shared their future plans with the family, inviting them to visit the valley next summer to see the baby. Gabrielle would have stayed longer, but Xena was worried about an early winter and still did not think Gabrielle should be traveling even though she was the picture of health. Her family was sorry to see her preparing to leave, but felt that the door was now open for more frequent visits.
Dahlia was offered a job waiting tables at the local tavern and Gabrielle's parents asked her to stay with them, offering to care for Joxer until he was well and could get them a place of their own. Xena and Gabrielle were pleased with this arrangement and felt Poteidaia would be a good place for Joxer and Dahlia to have their child.
Amarice avoided Xena and Gabrielle as much as she could that week, staying near Kameiro most of the time. Gabrielle noticed this, of course, and gave the spirited girl some space, figuring she was grieving and did not want to talk. The queen knew from experience that Kameiro was a good shoulder to lean on, realizing Amarice and the healer had both suffered the loss of their mate to the slavers. But as the time approached for the Amazons to leave, Amarice became more and more agitated.
"What is up with her?" Xena asked at dinner, during their last evening in Poteidaia. "I asked if she planned to return to the Amazon village with us and she about choked before running off."
"She's always been high strung, but I think there is more to it than that. Since she won't talk to us, I'll speak to Kameiro and see if she knows anything. The two of them have spent a lot of time together this week." Gabrielle replied. Xena nodded her agreement, happy to let her wife handle domestic affairs such as this.
That evening, Gabrielle sent for Kameiro. The healer entered Gabrielle's childhood home with a worried look. "Are you ill, my queen?" she asked.
"No, Kameiro, I'm fine. I wanted to talk to you about Amarice." Gabrielle caught a flicker of something pass over the healer's face, but it was quickly contained. "Has she said anything to you of her plans when we leave tomorrow?"
"Yes," Kameiro said quietly, not making eye contact.
"Kameiro, Amarice is an old friend. If there is something wrong, I want to know. I want to help. Tell me," Gabrielle pressured gently.
"My queen, I would not make her business mine, except that I have come to feel strongly for the girl. She has such spirit even after all she has endured. She reminds me of?" Kameiro again looked down, uncomfortable with the discussion, her skilled hands clasped tightly in her lap.
"She reminds you of your mate?" Gabrielle caught the startled look at this perceptive conclusion. "Kameiro, it is ok to allow yourself to feel again. It is a wonderful way to heal your pain. I know," Gabrielle said with the voice of experience. "I like what I see when the two of you are together," the queen added.
"The woman is grieving, my queen. There is nothing between us beyond my role as her healer," Kameiro said unconvincingly.
"Uh huh," Gabrielle said. "Well, we'll get back to that later. What has she said of her plans?"
"She wishes to live in our village," Kameiro said with a hint of something more in her voice.
"But?" Gabrielle urged.
"She is afraid to tell you. I feel I am breaking a confidence if I do," the healer said, shifting uncomfortably.
"Kameiro, don't make me pull rank on you. I need to know. I'm worried about her," Gabrielle insisted.
"She's not an Amazon," Kameiro admitted. "She told me that you think she is."
Gabrielle tried not to show her shock at this bit of news. Amarice was always the perfect picture of a young Amazon warrior. It was hard to believe it was all an act.
"She did not mean it as an act of deception," Kameiro hurried to Amarice's defense. "She needed so much to find a place to belong. You and Xena opened the door for her. Amarice cares for the two of you very much. She told me of the horror of watching your execution," Kameiro continued. Gabrielle nodded, knowing the critical role the young woman played during those horrible days.
"My queen, I know it is not my place, but may I ask a favor?" Kameiro said, finally looking into Gabrielle's face.
"What do you wish, Kameiro?"
"If Amarice accepts, I would like to offer her a place in my home. She could stay in the village and learn our ways. If she chooses, she could ask to be adopted, but not until after the child is born," the healer added.
"That sounds fine, I have no problem with that. I don't think that anyone will. But why would we have to wait until after my baby is born?" Gabrielle asked in confusion.
"Not your baby? hers," Kameiro clarified.
Stay Tuned for Part Five
"The Next Amazon Queen"