Spoiler Alert: You really need to read the pre-quels: "Another Second Chance" and "In the Company of Warriors" for this story to make sense. 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 for BETA reading my story and providing me with wonderful feedback and support.
Xena blinked her eyes at the bright sunshine and wiped her brow, smearing paint and sweat across her forehead. She was dizzy from lack of food and knew the ceremonial drink she had been given contained some kind of hallucinatory drug. The weary warrior was aware that the Amazon adoption ritual would not be easy. She had begun to think that maybe she should have waited another moon, until she fully recovered from her arrow wound, before attempting this.
"I could not wait any longer," she thought to herself as she jogged along the path through the woods. She thought back over the past several weeks, her proposal to Gabrielle, the promise of a house in her valley, their joining on the Isle of Lesbos, and then almost being killed at the edge of Amazon Territory by slavers. "We have been pretty busy," she admitted to herself.
Xena was more than halfway through the Trial of Adoption. She'd asked for this privilege in order to ensure that Gabrielle would be able to stay at the village, assuming her role as queen without any problems because of Xena. The magnificent, dark haired woman had come to terms with the fact that she owed this and more to her soul mate, knowing that she could not protect Gabrielle properly if they continued traveling the way they had in the past. Now, Gabrielle could stay at the village with plenty of guards, and Xena would be able go take care of whatever business that arose. With or without the help of the other Amazons, it did not matter to her. Xena felt this would be a good arrangement for both of them.
The warrior had already endured a purification ritual, which included a day of fasting, and passed the required warrior skills test with ease (no surprise there). Then she was stripped of all her possessions. Even the jade necklace, a wedding gift from the queen, was taken from her. A plain leather wrap and breechcloth had been presented for her to don, and then her face was painted with red and yellow paint in a ritualistic pattern that looked quite barbaric. Her hair unrestrained during the morning's exertions, looked like a wild black mane. No doubt about it, Xena made an awesome savage.
Gabrielle, still recuperating from her recent leg injury, had not assumed the full responsibilities of Amazon queen yet, and felt it more suitable for Shalaba to take charge of the adoption proceedings anyway. But the bard watched every step along the way, not allowed any communication with Xena once the rites had begun. She observed hesitant, yet interested, for the woman knew what Xena would be put through. It was hard to contain her emotions, but Gabrielle knew this was also a test for the queen and that the people of the village would be watching her as well.
The second evening, Xena partook of the ceremonial drink, and almost instantly felt the effects of it clouding her senses. The drug was meant to disorient its user, and for Xena, that was an unpleasant feeling. She joined seven of the most skilled Amazon warriors in the "Dance of the Warrior" around the fire in the center of the village commons. The flames took on mystical shapes, Xena pounding gracefully around them. She could feel the drug sending her movements into slow motion and almost felt as if she were watching the scene from above.
Xena wondered about Saren's absence from the ceremony. The dark princess knew that Saren's goal would be to delay Xena as much as possible. Saren was a control freak and loyal to the end. In her mind, she would be fighting for the queen's best interests. She would have to relinquish some decision making power if Xena became a full fledged Amazon and knew that decisions involving the queen would be what Xena thought best not what she might want. She would keep Xena from succeeding during the trial if she could, not that she did not want Xena around. If Xena failed her trial, she would still be able to live in the village, but without the rights and privileges of an Amazon. This would put all responsibilities for Gabrielle under Eponin's and Saren's control. It would also destroy the possibility of a recognized joining between Xena and the queen, something Xena was not willing to let happen.
As the drummers ceased to play, the seven Amazons took up staffs and formed a gauntlet along the path into the forest. Xena knew she would have to fight her way past them to start her journey. Ordinarily, getting past the warriors, even without a weapon, would have been a pleasurable workout for the skilled fighter; but the effects of the drink put her at a definite disadvantage.
The first woman in line was Eponin. The Amazon twirled her staff with a flourish, as Xena approached. There was no need to show off, for everyone present knew that Eponin, the trainer of staffs, was a master at her craft. The two women eyed each other carefully. Xena was resigned to the fact that she was not going to get by this woman without a few hard knocks, so she swallowed hard, and without warning, jumped toward her. Using this element of surprise, Xena managed to drop kick her once. The Amazon countered with a sharp blow to the shoulder, and a sweep of the legs that left Xena aching and eating dirt before being allowed to pass. A similar scene played out six more times as the drugged warrior fought her way to the end of the gauntlet. The Amazons were not trying to kill her, just attempting to make her path difficult and they were successful.
Xena grinned ruefully and rubbed her bruised shoulder as she thought that a few of them had not held back very much. She did gain some satisfaction in the fact that each of those seven women would be very aware of the conflict for a few days to come. Trotting off into the forest, Xena began the night's journey, avoiding booby traps of various kinds, following a difficult trail marked with feathers. Her ultimate goal was the Temple of Artemis.
With the morning light the warrior brought her thoughts to the task at hand. She had until sundown to find the temple. The effect of the drug was beginning to wear off, and Xena was regaining her sense of direction. She realized that she had been following a circular trail, laid out along the most difficult terrain possible. She knew this was not by accident. Shalaba and Saren told her that she would have to prove herself worthy beyond a doubt, and no expense was spared in making this trial full of hardships. Xena glanced at the brilliant pheasant feathers tied to a thong at her waist. She had found six of them during the night, each of them attached to a clever trap. She was bruised, tired, hungry, and thirsty and could not help but feel that whoever had planned this trial had quite a sadistic sense of humor.
Xena discovered the seventh feather innocently attached to a bush. She knew that there was a trap of some sort, but could not spot it. Her physical condition was deteriorating and she found it hard to think clearly. Shaking her head to rid herself of the drug, Xena sat down and studied the bush. Finally she spotted a skillfully hidden, simple snare, the type she used for hunting. Smiling, she pushed herself to her feet, with a grunt and carefully walked to the bush, avoiding the snare.
As her eager fingers grasped at the brilliant plumage, she heard a crackling from below and felt the ground give way beneath her feet. Throwing out her hands, the falling warrior scrabbled vainly for a hold as she plummeted down a deep shaft of some sort, perhaps an old well.
Xena hit the bottom hard, feet first, ending up on her butt. The air came flying out of her in rush. Dust and leaves circled their way lazily down the shaft after her, coating her with fine grit.
The shaken warrior sneezed, disgusted with herself at falling for such an old trick. "This just shows how out of it I am," she thought, heaving herself to her feet. "I've got to get my head together."
Xena looked up the shaft at the circle of sunlight above her. Giving a loud yell, she crouched down, flexed her powerful thighs and pushed upward in a mighty leap. Hands clawing up the walls, she found herself only half way out of the pit before beginning her descent.
"Son of a Bacchae!" she cursed, when she hit the bottom again. Xena looked around the small confines to see what she might put to use. Finding two stout sticks that had joined her during the cave-in, Xena repeated her previous leap. This time she jammed the sticks into opposite sides of the shaft walls as hard as she could. Successful in her efforts, the dusty warrior found herself dangling half way down the pit.
"Could be half way up. Depends on how you look at it," she grunted as she pulled one stick out of the wall. Bracing with her feet, she reached up as far as possible, and jammed it in again, pulling herself that much higher. Repeating this painstaking process several times, Xena eventually found herself spitting dirt and gripping the top edge of the hole.
Crawling out on hands and knees, Xena sat back to catch her breath and observe what just took place. She spied the pheasant feather fluttering in its original position and snapped it up, still angry with herself. Seven feathers, that meant there was only one more. Then she could go to the temple. She must complete her task, visit the temple and return to the village before moonrise that night.
"At least I am making progress. As long as I don't fall into any more pits, I just might make it," she thought, kneeling for a quick drink from a stream and trying to keep her mind off the temple. It was the only part of the trial she was concerned about.
She snapped her head up, trying to focus her slightly fogged senses. Xena knew she was being watched, but could not pinpoint the source. Jogging across the stream, she headed east. Coming over a rise in a small clearing, Xena could just spy the top of the temple, on a hill less than half a league away. Dropping back down the other side of the rise into a patch of woods, a surprised Xena found herself face to face with an unarmed Saren.
Stepping silently from behind a tree, the imposing Amazon stared with no emotion at the fatigued woman who stopped suddenly before her. Saren held up the eighth feather and said, "This won't be easy, Warrior Princess."
Xena was surprised when the skilled Amazon was not part of the gauntlet the previous night. She figured Saren would be happy to have an excuse to knock her around a bit. The two had always been very competitive. Apparently, she was right. Saren just wanted to pick the time and place herself. She was the only Amazon warrior in the village who came close to Xena's abilities, matching her in size if not in weight. With Xena's exhaustion, it might be quite a duel if the two were to go toe to toe.
Xena sighed. It was impossible to hide her weakened condition from Saren. The woman knew first hand of Xena's recent injuries and would probably use them to her advantage.
"Fancy meeting you here," Xena growled, assuming a wary crouch.
Saren tucked the prized feather in her belt and said, "You know how things have to be, Xena." You said yourself you failed the queen. It is my duty to make sure it does not happen again," Saren replied, the two women circling, waiting for an opening.
"I appreciate your concern, Saren, but you know what I meant. I ask for your help in guarding the queen. This does not have to happen," Xena tried to offer Saren a way out, but knew the proud warrior would not walk away from this match. Saren was a stickler for the rules and Xena had always been one to bend them.
"Not a chance, Xena," Saren responded, suddenly spinning to deliver a forceful kick that caught the warrior princess full in the face. Before Xena regained her balance, the Amazon followed up with another kick to Xena's mid section, close to her still healing wound. Xena felt her rib crack and went down on one knee, gasping, spitting blood from her mouth.
"You never were one to strike a deal," grunted Xena. She waited for Saren's next kick, ducked under it and grabbed the woman's ankle, flipping her to the ground. Both warriors quickly reassumed crouches, ready for the next round.
Xena had one thing on her side that Saren did not, experience. Not just battle time, for Saren had proven herself very worthy in that area, but people experience. Because of her youth, Saren's head was easily filled with the lust of fighting and the desire for a quick win. For a patient opponent, it could be the Amazon's downfall. Xena carefully warded off the continued assault, waiting for the right moment, taking several more blows in the process.
The warrior princess was struggling; struggling for breath, struggling to persevere. She grimaced as she grasped her injured side during a momentary lull in the action, keeping an eye on the persistent adversary before her. "Concede, Xena," commanded her opponent. "Concede and we will end this. I do not wish to cause you more pain."
Xena believed Saren. She did not know the woman to be cruel, but loyal to her cause, which made her just as dangerous. The Amazon delivered another mighty blow to Xena's side, spinning her around and knocking the injured woman to her knees. Xena felt herself being pulled to her feet, an arm curling around her neck from behind. Pressure was being applied to her neck that would cause her to lose consciousness.
Saren felt the body in her arms go limp and loosened the chokehold.
"Bad move," muttered Xena, her head flying back and smacking Saren in the forehead with a powerful butt. At the same time, the warrior princess, gripped the strong arm squeezing her throat, twisted it around and heard it snap, as she spun clear of the dazed Amazon, who hit the dirt soundly. Xena approached the downed warrior and plucked the feather from the Amazon's belt. "You serve the queen well. But I make the decisions regarding her welfare. Remember that," she warned before shakily trotting off in the direction of the temple.
Xena found the last few yards to the temple endless. Stumbling up the steps, she fell against the door; the weight of her body pushing it open. Making her way to the altar, she unlaced the eight feathers from the thong and laid them down. The warrior princess knelt, gasping and pillowed her head in her arms against the altar. She was vaguely aware of the presence of a priestess at the rear of the room, but did not care at this point.
"Artemis, you know me," the warrior prayed, mumbling into her arms. "You know my opinions on gods. I will not try to deceive you." Xena grasped for the words. This was the part of the trial she was less than confident about. "You are the one god that I have found to be consistent and fair. You do not meddle in the affairs of mortals for sport. The Amazons have chosen a strong deity to follow. You let them live their lives and help them to become strong warriors." Xena paused, feeling her emotions taking over. She was too exhausted to hold back.
"I am to give a sacrifice to show that I am worthy to be one with your people. I have nothing to offer except myself. I pledge to try and follow the right path for a warrior and to do everything within my power to make things right for your chosen queen. Although I cannot promise that I will not be stubborn or willful." Xena was surprised to find tears in her eyes and her voice shook as she continued, "I know you can see into my heart, so I tell you truthfully, I ask to become an Amazon for Gabrielle's sake not mine. My only wish is that I be allowed take a part in helping Gabrielle to achieve her heart's deepest desires."
Xena awoke some time later at the base of the altar. She struggled painfully to her feet and went to the door of the temple. The sun was setting. She knew it was not far to the village, but could barely walk without staggering as she began the final leg of her trial. Grabbing her injured ribs, she found a pace that allowed her to keep from breathing too deeply and stuck with it. Xena lost herself to the methodical motion of putting one foot relentlessly after the other.
The battered woman began to hear drums beating a pulsing rhythm and like a marathon runner sighting the finish line, felt adrenalin release into her system for one last push. At last, Xena ran through the village gates falling to her knees in the village common, oblivious to her surroundings except for the three masked figures on the raised dais before her. Her lungs painfully heaving, Xena watched as the figure on the left rose and walked to the edge of the platform.
"Who is this that approaches the council?" the figure called out from behind her exotic mask of feathers.
Xena slowly became aware of the crowd that was quietly assembling behind her. Raising her head, she gathered her remaining strength into her voice. "Xena of Amphipolis," she managed to say forcefully.
"What is your desire?" questioned the woman.
"I desire to become one with your people," Xena responded. She knew she would not last much longer, and let her head fall forward again, reaching deep inside for the ability to hold out a few moments more.
"What have you to offer the people of this tribe?" The masked woman on the right stepped forward as she asked this question.
Xena glanced up at the new voice and could not restrain a small smirk at the fact that the speaker had her arm in a sling. "My skills as a warrior, my loyalty and love for your queen," Xena said with emotion. She watched as the figure in the middle rose and with a slight limp, approached the edge of the stage.
"Has this warrior passed the Trial of Adoption?" the magnificently adorned woman called to the back of the crowd. Xena turned her head, following the direction of the woman's gaze, to see the temple priestess, clutching eight feathers, nod before bowing deeply.
The figure removed her ornate mask, and descended the platform stairs carefully, yet with regal grace. Xena looked into Gabrielle's glittering green eyes and felt the queen clasp a heavy bracelet around her left biceps. The warrior looked down at the decorative gold band glistening against her bronze skin, and involuntarily flexed her muscle, causing the bracelet to jump slightly.
The queen smiled at this movement and addressed the crowd, "I give you, Xena, your new sister." Helping Xena to her feet, she supported the tired new Amazon with her shoulder, as a cacophony of warrior cries rose from the crowded commons. The noise was quickly drowned out by the beat of the drums picking up a fast and furious cadence. Gabrielle put her arm around Xena and turned her to watch as a frenzied dance began around the blazing fire.
"They dance in happiness for the new life that has come to the village," she whispered in Xena's ear. "The drums beat for you, my love. I have never been so proud." They stood for a moment mesmerized by the writhing movements of the dancers, before the queen turned and lead the warrior home.
Gabrielle fussed over Xena for the next few days. She was every bit the nervous bride to be. "Xena maybe we should wait until next moon. Your bruises won't even be gone for our joining. Besides, our wedding night won't be much fun if you're all beaten up," she said, watching Xena sympathetically, as the sore new Amazon gingerly lowered herself into a hot bath. Bruises dotted her tawny physique like spots on a leopard. Still Gabrielle could not help but admire the magnificent musculature this woman's body possessed and the power of which it spoke.
"Ahhh," Xena blew out as she let the stiffness begin to soak from her body. "So that's what really worries you, my little nymph," Xena teased. "My ability to perform on our wedding night?"
"Well, it did cross my mind once or twice," the lovely blonde admitted, unable to control the color rising in her cheeks. "But really, Xena. You have been pushing yourself so hard. Why not rest for a few weeks?" The concern in Gabrielle's voice was evident.
"I'll be fine, love. You know I bounce back quickly. We've waited long enough, Gabrielle. The tribe will see us joined in two days, and I will meet the challenge to be your champion," Xena said emphatically.
"Uh Xena, about the challenge," Gabrielle began.
"Well, after everyone saw the condition in which Saren returned to the village during your trial? Well," Gabrielle hesitated, unsure how to present her information to Xena.
"Come on, Gabrielle, don't get tongue tied on me now. What is it?"
"No one wants to meet the challenge. Not even Eponin. It would only be for show anyway. No one feels that the job should belong to anyone but you," the blonde said in a rush.
"So what does this mean?" Xena wondered at this turn of events.
"My council met with the heads of each family group and it was agreed that with the bravery, strength and skill exhibited during the Trial of Adoption, you would be allowed to become my champion unchallenged. For now," she added.
"The choice will be left to Saren. She may chose to challenge you anytime after her, uh, recovery." At this Gabrielle could not help but give a small grin. "Xena, did you have to break her arm?"
"It was me or her, Gabs. She would not let me pass. Stubborn woman was bound and determined she was going to get the better of me. Loyal to the bitter end."
"I wouldn't have my Chief Counselor of Warriors any other way. But I'm glad you did get by," Gabrielle said, rubbing Xena's shoulders and bending down for a kiss.
"A little more of that, and I'll be feeling a lot better," Xena murmured, closing her eyes and leaning her head back.
"Sorry sweetheart," Gabrielle whispered, running her finger along her warrior's collarbone and enjoying the shiver it caused the bathing beauty. "Today is my first full day back on the job and I owe my full attention to Shalaba. She has done so well, but really could use my help." Gabrielle gave Xena another kiss, lingering long enough that Xena thought she might change her mind about leaving. To her dismay, the young woman stood up and said, "By the way, an attendant will come to fit you with leathers for the ceremony. Be nice." Turning, Gabrielle made for the door before Xena could reply.
Xena groaned and sank back into the water. "At least I won't have to kick anyone's butt over the champion business, yet," she sighed, secretly relieved.
The ceremony took place as requested, two nights later. Under the full moon, the temple priestess joined Xena and Gabrielle. The wedding couple each wore a new set of leathers. Gabrielle's outfit consisted of a white wrap that stopped short of her shapely abdomen, and fringed leggings with intricate beadwork. Wearing the necklace and headdress of the Amazon Queen, she was quite the vision of loveliness. Xena was clad in full Amazon warrior regalia including a band of braided gold across her forehead to hold her hair back. The headband had been an early wedding gift for Xena from Saren, to show that there were no hard feelings. New leather gauntlets and a soft pair of boots finished the ensemble. Xena radiated an exotic combination of power and beauty. An effect that did not go unnoticed by many of the Amazons.
The queen had asked for the joining to be simple, just enough to cover traditional requirements, but did allow free rein in the planning of the party that followed, for with the queen's return, Xena's adoption and their subsequent joining, there was much to celebrate. Things had been quite festive beginning the moment Xena kissed the Amazon Queen to seal their vows.
The happy newlyweds retired to the queen's table to eat, watch the dancers and receive visitors. The heads of each work unit presented the couple with a gift: the potters offered a set of matching mugs, the weavers delivered a new blanket for the bed, and Kameiro, the healer, jokingly placed a pouch with bandages, needles and thread before Xena, saying she hoped she wouldn't need them anytime soon. And still the gifts continued. Gabrielle made each person feel special with the unique quality she possessed that was hers and hers alone. Her gracious attitude made even the most nervous Amazon feel at ease.
"In my heart, we were already married," Gabrielle leaned over to whisper to Xena, who was enjoying a plate of roasted wild pig. "This was a big step for you. I love you all the more for it, you know." Xena flashed one of her incredible smiles, displaying impossibly white teeth. Gabrielle smiled back, noticing that Xena was avoiding any alcohol that was offered. "Not drinking tonight, love?" she asked, knowing full well that the warrior had ulterior motives.
"My wife was worried about her wedding night," the hungry warrior grinned, "so I am making sure it will live up to her expectations."
"Oh I see," Gabrielle replied, taking a bit of honeyed fruit and tucking it suggestively into her mouth. "I must say you have a very lucky wife." Selecting another piece of fruit, the queen placed it against her champion's lips. Xena slid her tongue out and pulled the fruit into her mouth, along with Gabrielle's two fingers. The warrior slowly pulled the fingers out, licking them sensuously as they were removed. Gabrielle shivered and placed a hand on Xena's thigh feeling the instant heat it created. The two locked eyes for a moment before they were interrupted.
"Ahem, excuse us, my queen."
Gabrielle looked up to see Saren and Leah kneeling before the table. "Please, get up. There is no need for that," the queen motioned for the couple to rise.
"My wife and I wish to offer you and Xena a gift," began Saren, her good arm around Leah's waist her left arm still in a sling.
"You already gave me this headband, Saren. It was more than generous," Xena said sincerely.
"Well, this is really more for the queen," Saren said, bending and picking up a staff that she had placed on the ground in front of the table. The staff was of a dark wood Gabrielle had never seen before. It was intricately carved, and looked to be the perfect length for her. Saren placed it on the table for the queen to inspect. Gabrielle picked it up admiringly, twisted it apart, put it back together and found a sparkling emerald set in the top.
"This is so beautiful. It would be a shame to use it in a fight," Gabrielle said in awe of the hours of craftsmanship that must have gone into such a piece of weaponry. "I cannot thank you enough."
"I think it has good balance. I have actually been making this for you since I heard that you other staff was? misplaced. I hoped it would please you." Saren flashed a rare smile at the queen's pleasure with her gift.
"Perhaps our mates will find better things to do with their time, now that you are joined," suggested Leah, motioning to the almost identical shiners that were still visible on Xena and Saren's faces. "I wish you much happiness, my queen, and offer you advice on how to handle a warrior anytime you need it," she added playfully, drawing Saren to her and placing a quick kiss on her cheek.
"Women!" Saren shook her head in exasperation, giving Xena a nod. "I'll meet with you soon, Xena. We have things to discuss. Enjoy your evening." The couple left, continuing to tease each other. Gabrielle watched them as they made their way to the dance area and proceeded to join the other dancers with an erotic step that did not leave much to the imagination.
"They move so well together," Gabrielle sighed. "I wish we could dance like that tonight," she added, rubbing the leg injury that would not allow her very much freedom in the dance arena.
"That's just what I was thinking," Xena said, pushing her chair back and getting up. She pulled Gabrielle to her feet and placed her arms about her waist. "How about you and I go back home and get better acquainted?" Xena asked, moving gently against her wife with the rhythm of the beating drums. Gabrielle sank into her warrior 's arms and swayed along with the music, resting her head on Xena's chest.
They soon found themselves back in the royal quarters, making rapid progress toward the bedroom. Xena quickly stripped and climbed onto the bed, sitting with her back against the headboard.
"Well, aren't you the romantic?" Gabrielle giggled, glancing up at Xena's expectant face as she took off her headdress and necklace.
"I want to watch you," the warrior responded. Gabrielle could hear the lust in her voice and felt her blood turn hot from the sound of it. "Everyday I see you, I find you growing more beautiful, but tonight?I have no words for how I feel, Gabrielle." Xena watched with growing passion as Gabrielle sensuously began removing her leathers. She gracefully slid out of her wrap with her back to Xena, keeping her breasts, from the warrior's view. Bending over, she removed her boots, flashing her shapely rump held snuggly in the leggings, at her audience in the bed.
Gabrielle enjoyed the power she held over the warrior at this moment. Xena was hanging on her every movement. The muscular blonde turned around letting Xena's gaze rove from her firm breasts to her sculpted belly. Xena's eyes positively sparkled with desire. Removing her leggings, Gabrielle joined her love on the bed, sitting in her lap and wrapping her legs around Xena's waist.
"You feel so good," she murmured, running her fingers through Xena's long ebony hair, and moving her hips slowly against Xena's belly. The two kissed passionately only stopping when they were forced to come up for air. Xena placed her hands on her lover's behind and pulled her toward her center until they were joined. Their breathing became more erratic.
"Gabrielle, I want you," she moaned, arching her neck back as she felt kisses traveling to her chest. The blonde suckled eagerly at Xena's breasts, causing the warrior to rock more excitedly against her. The moistness between them created an incredible feeling of pleasure for each woman, and the two lovers lost the ability to think coherently, as their bodies pressed hungrily together.
Gabrielle clutched at Xena's shoulders, throwing her head back, eyes closed. She cried out in ecstasy, holding tightly to the warrior who climaxed with her. In their moment of rapture, the two women did not notice a bright blue light appear in the room, pass through their bodies, and disappear with a flash.
Things settled down over the next week and there began a comfortable routine for the new couple. Their delight with each other in bed was apparent from the looks they shared throughout the day. The other Amazons were amused, if not slightly jealous. Saren and Xena met to discuss the issue of the slavers that had ventured near Amazon territory. Saren felt the need to send out a scouting party to check the borders and did not want to wait until her arm was better. She could send Eponin, but wanted to give the task to Xena.
Xena agreed to take the scouts, much to Gabrielle's displeasure. She knew Xena needed to go and was pleased that Saren had asked, but did not look forward to a separation so soon after their new joining.
"It will only be for two weeks at the most," promised Xena, running a hand through her wife's hair. "We need to make sure that the men who attacked us were stragglers, not part of a force that will cause us trouble. Besides, Argo needs the exercise. I don't want her getting fat and lazy in these Amazon pastures. In another few months, she'll be too heavy with foal to travel anywhere," Xena said with a grin, patting the mare lovingly. Gabrielle nodded her understanding and watched Xena mount the horse. It had been a while since she'd seen Xena in fighting leathers, complete with sword and chakram. The glorious sight of this proud fighter brought tears to the queen's eyes.
To no one's surprise, Xena proved to be a skilled leader of the Amazon scouts. They traveled efficiently, working well together. The warrior princess felt good to be on the road again, looking for adventure, but could not ignore the emptiness in her heart. Not finding any suspicious activity, within the area they were searching, Xena made the expedition a training session, setting up scenarios for the scouts to execute. Ultimately, it was a pleasurable venture, yet when they completed their circuit of the Amazon territory and the towns surrounding it, Xena was longing to return home to Gabrielle.
"Home?" she thought to herself, and grinned, knowing that home was wherever she could find herself in her soul mate's arms.
The party of Amazons pushed for the village on the final night, not wanting to make camp. They arrived well after midnight, without any fanfare, each quietly disappearing to their loved ones. Xena made sure Argo was cared for and quickly headed for the royal home. She had been gone for twelve days and ached to hold her love against her.
Nodding at the royal guard outside the queen's quarters, she slipped inside and removed her armor. Crawling into bed, she snuggled up against the slumbering blonde. Gabrielle settled herself into Xena's arms with a sigh, not even waking. Xena cradled her wife tenderly and kissed her forehead before dropping into a peaceful sleep.
It was early morning, not quite true dawn, when Xena awoke with empty arms. She called out Gabrielle's name, sitting up in bed. Getting up, Xena padded into the bathing room and saw a candle lit by the door to the chamber pots. Unmistakable sounds of retching issued forth.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?" Xena asked with concern.
"I'll be out in a minute," Gabrielle gasped, before heaving again.
Xena paced nervously for a moment, finally getting a wet cloth ready for Gabrielle to use when she came out. A pale, slightly sweating young woman emerged a short time later and let Xena hold her quietly and place the cloth on her forehead. Gabrielle shakily drank a cup of water.
"I'm so glad you're home, Xena. How did things go?" she asked getting back into bed with her worried warrior.
"Fine, Gabrielle. It was a good trip. But what about you? Why are you sick? Did you eat something that disagreed with you?" Xena lay with Gabrielle's back against her, curling her arms protectively around the tired bard.
"I have been like this for a few days. Kameiro says it might have been bad fish, but no one else is ill. I'll be all right. It is only like this in the morning. Once I eat, I feel fine. It's probably just a bug," she said reassuringly. "Let's snooze for a bit, Xena, I am still sleepy," she added, pulling Xena's arms more tightly around her. Xena nodded agreeably still weary from the late-night trip. She soon drifted into a light sleep.
The dark warrior opened her eyes to find the goddess Artemis standing in all her armored splendor, watching the couple as they lay in bed. Xena could sense that Gabrielle was also awake and aware. Both women knew that they were unable to move or talk, but it was not a feeling that caused any fear. Artemis shimmered before the bed and raised a hand to the women.
"You have been blessed. Your wish has been granted, warrior," the Goddess of the Hunt simply said. The vision dissolved into a thousand sparkling pieces that shimmered brightly before disappearing.
Xena awoke a short time later to find the sun casting its rays through the window and onto the bed. She felt Gabrielle stir and watched her turn over to give a beautiful smile.
"How are you feeling, love?" Xena asked quietly, stroking Gabrielle's cheek.
"I'll be fine after I eat something. Tianna will be bringing breakfast soon, I imagine." Gabrielle paused before continuing with, "Xena, I just had the strangest dream. You and I were here in bed, like we are now..."
"And Artemis appeared before us?" the warrior cut in with a catch in her voice.
"Yes, how did you know?"
"I had the same dream, only I think it was more of a vision," Xena said.
"She said we were blessed?"
"And that my wish was granted," finished Xena.
"What wish is that?" asked the queen, propping herself up on an elbow and gazing at Xena's incredible eyes.
"During my trial, I prayed at the temple," began Xena. Gabrielle nodded, knowing that Xena did not pray easily. "I wished that I could help you achieve your heart's deepest desire."
"Oh, Xena! You are so wonderful. Well, it worked. Look at how happy we are, things couldn't be better for us." Gabrielle kissed her love on the cheek and smiled at her. "That must be what Artemis meant when she said we were blessed."
"Gabrielle," Xena said hesitantly, "you went to the temple on the day of our joining didn't you?"
"Yes, I go almost everyday, it is only proper for the Amazon Queen to do so," Gabrielle replied.
"But on that day, did you ask for anything special? unusual?" questioned Xena, digging for more details.
"No, Xena. I just gave thanks for all of the happiness I have received and promised to do my best to please Artemis with my service as queen. Why?" she asked the warrior, noticing Xena's brow wrinkling as her thoughts chewed on this information.
"Was there anything else, maybe even something you were thinking, but did not say? Something you want more than anything else?" Xena pushed.
"Well," Gabrielle began.
"What? Tell me Gabrielle, it's important," Xena urged.
"I wished I could have your baby," she said under her breath, embarrassed by the admission. "But I didn't ask it, Xena. I know we can't? I just? Gods, I feel stupid," she muttered and buried her head in Xena's chest.
"It's all right, Gabrielle. I think I understand now."
Gabrielle looked up at the lightened tone of voice and saw an odd look on Xena's face. "Understand what?" she asked.
"When was your last moon cycle?" Xena asked, answering a question with a question.
"It was? uh? during my time of recuperation from my leg injury, before your trial. What is this about, Xena?" The light of awareness suddenly came over the blonde's face. "Oh come on, you don't really think?"
"Did you have a moon cycle, while I was gone? Because I did. It began soon after we started the journey," Xena stated.
"No, I didn't," Gabrielle said quietly. The two women absorbed this fact, knowing that their cycles had synchronized early on in their travels.
"Gabrielle, I wished I could help you achieve your heart's deepest desire. You wished to have my child. You've missed a moon cycle. You have been vomiting in the morning. We don't need more clues than that do we?" Xena's face was a mixture of happiness and confusion. "You're pregnant. And if I understand Artemis correctly, the baby is mine."
Gabrielle took in all of this information carefully. "There are stories in which gods have blessed mortals with babies. Even women who were all alone," she added awestruck, rolling onto her back and placing a hand on her abdomen. "Could it really be true?"
Xena ran her hand across the bard's belly and looked down at her with affection. "If we are right about this, we will soon see more signs."
"I'm sorry, Xena. I did not know this would happen. It was just that I wanted so much to give you a family," Gabrielle sobbed, suddenly beginning to weep.
"Gabrielle, shhhh. Don't apologize. Your wish was out of your love for me. How can there be anything wrong with that? I'm not angry with you," Xena said convincingly, placing a kiss just below Gabrielle's navel before resting her cheek on the bard's belly. Gabrielle sniffled and placed her fingers in the dark hair of this woman who had stolen her heart.
"But what if we're wrong?" Gabrielle whispered, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
"Then we're wrong, but I know better," Xena said, secretly adding surging emotions to the list of symptoms. "Look, I'll go out and get your breakfast, then we'll go visit Kameiro for a second opinion, ok?"
Kameiro greeted the couple and seated them inside the healer's hut. "It is good to see that you and the scouts have returned, Xena. Are you here due to an injury you received during your journey?" she asked, looking Xena up and down.
"No, Kameiro. I managed to make it back in one piece. We are here because we want your opinion about how the queen has been feeling lately," the warrior princess said, putting her arm around a red faced Gabrielle.
"My best guess is seven or eight moons," the healer said, busy at straightening a tray of supplies.
"What?" Gabrielle and Xena asked simultaneously.
"The baby. We can expect it in seven or eight moons. That is what you wanted to know isn't it?" Kameiro turned and looked frankly at the startled pair.
"But you said it was the fis?," began Gabrielle.
"I wanted to give you some time to put the pieces together. With your warrior to help, of course. I knew you wouldn't take too long," she winked at Xena.
"But how did you??" the queen managed.
"The temple priestess told me of a vision she had after your wedding night. She said that Artemis would bless you and this village with a child who would be destined to become a great leader. The priestess was afraid to tell you, but felt I should know, so that I could watch for signs," Kameiro confessed. "Don't be cross with her, she has never handled a blessed birth before. Neither have I, for that matter. It will look great on my list of work achievements," she added, smiling playfully.
"I don't know what to say," Gabrielle said, taking Xena's hand. "What should I do?"
"There isn't much for us to do, Gabrielle, except wait. Thanks, Kameiro," Xena said, getting to her feet and nodding to the healer. "I tried to tell her myself, but she wouldn't listen."
"Just eat well and get plenty of rest, my queen. If something does not feel good, don't do it. Otherwise, you have no restrictions. I am at your service if you need me. Oh, and by the way warrior, congratulations! Artemis said you are the daddy," Kameiro added as the two exited the hut.
Xena stopped short and turned to see the door rapidly closing. Gabrielle giggled, "How do you like that, you're going to be a 'daddy'!"
"Don't push it, Gabrielle. We'll think of something more appropriate before she is born."
"Most definitely, she. I'm sure Artemis would not have it any other way." Xena sighed and put her arm around Gabrielle walking slowly back to the queen's quarters, "You know, Gabs, this is one time I don't mind a little godly interference. This is a good thing. I can feel it."
"Hmmm, how about papa? Poppi? Maybe, father. No, too serious?," Gabrielle laughed.
"Gabrielle!" warned Xena, mockingly roughing the queen up, causing continued giggles that soon turned into more serious sounds of love as the couple closed the door to their home.