Xena watched Gabrielle preside over the Amazon festivities from across the common ground. Though it was technically her duty, Gabrielle seemed to be enjoying herself. Xena enjoyed watching the bard interact with the amazons, admired her easy charm and their obvious adoration.
"She's lovely isn't she, our new Queen?"
Xena turned towards the voice that had suddenly addressed her. As she took in the owner of the voice she realized several things at once. This woman was a very experienced amazon for Xena had not heard her approach. Also, Xena was familiar with most of the amazons and she had never met this woman. She would certainly remember if she had. The amazon had dark auburn hair long past her shoulders that picked up the light from the fires. Her skin was fair and flawless and her light brown eyes shown with intelligence. She was nearly as tall as Xena and her finely toned body exuded obvious strength. Her attire suggested that she was an Amazon Warrior, but there were markings interwoven into the material that were unfamiliar to Xena.
"Yes, she is." Xena replied, her eyes never leaving the warrior's.
"You would have to be Xena, am I right?"
"Yes, and you would be?.?"
"Forgive me," the warrior apologized. "I am Kierra."
"Kierra??where are you from, Kierra?" Xena asked.
"I'm from this village," Kierra said. "But I've been away for more than a year. There have been many changes while I was gone."
"Why were you away for so long, Kierra?"
"I led a party of six amazons exploring across this vast country. Queen Melosa wanted the amazons to learn and grow with the world around them. It was our job to bring back the knowledge to teach them. But when we returned, Queen Melosa was dead."
Xena had been glancing occasionally at Gabrielle during the conversation. Something in Kierra's voice caused her to turn back to the amazon. She thought she saw a fleeting touch of pain leaving the warrior's eyes as she spoke of Melosa.
"We heard a great many stories about you during our travels, Xena." Kierra went on. "Tales of dominance and destruction, but also of great heroics and selflessness. An amazing combination of attributes to find in one woman."
Not being comfortable with the turn of topics, Xena asked, "How did Melosa pick you to be the leader of such a highly evolved enterprise?"
"I volunteered." Kierra replied. "I would have done anything for my queen. My only regret was that I was not here when she was challenged."
Sensing a subtle change in Kierra's tone, Xena asked gently. "Would that have made any difference in the outcome?"
"Yes." Kierra said flatly. "I would have killed Velasca before she ever had a chance to harm my queen."
"But surely that would have meant a death sentence for interfering in Amazon law."
"Yes." Kierra replied again, but with more conviction in her voice. "But for Queen Melosa, I would have gladly traded my life to keep her safe from harm. I'm sure I don't have to explain the feeling to you, Xena."
Xena nodded as she looked back across the way at Gabrielle. She knew the feeling all too well. She couldn't say that she would have behaved any differently if the queen challenged had indeed been Gabrielle.
"Queen Melosa was an amazing woman, Xena. She ruled with wisdom and fairness. She was ingenious and brave. I have never met another woman with her kind of power and strength, with her dignity and grace???until now."
At those last two words, Xena turned from watching Gabrielle and looked into Kierra's eyes. Had Kierra really said what she thought she heard?
Kierra held her gaze for a brief moment, smiled slightly and said. "Good night, Warrior Princess." Then she turned and walked away without waiting for a response from Xena.
Xena watched her cross the common ground, past the celebrants, toward the huts. 'What an unusual woman' was all she could think.
Unnoticed by Xena, Gabrielle also watched the amazon warrior walk away. She had watched them occasionally as they talked and it seemed to her to be an intimate kind of conversation. She instantly chided herself for feeling that way. Hadn't she determined after the fiasco in China that she would never again allow herself to become embroiled in jealousy where Xena was concerned? What was wrong with her anyway? Couldn't Xena even talk to a beautiful woman without her feeling sick in the pit of her stomach?
As the festivities came to an end, Xena approached Gabrielle. The bard bade goodnight to the last of the amazons who remained and turned to accompany Xena to her hut. Although there were empty huts available, it had never occurred to either of them not to share their living quarters while in Amazonia. Once inside, Gabrielle sat on the bed and started to untie the laces of her boots. Xena crossed to the fireplace to stoke the fire and add more logs.
"What a night!" Gabrielle sighed. "I'm tired, but I think things went well."
When Xena did not reply, Gabrielle asked. "Who was the warrior you were speaking to earlier this evening? I didn't recognize her." Although she wanted the question to sound casual, somehow to her own ears it sounded sharper than she intended.
"Her name is Kierra." Xena said turning away from the fire to look at Gabrielle. "She was away for more than a year on an exploration expedition for Melosa."
"She's lovely," was all Gabrielle could say as she stood to unlace the ties to her ceremonial attire.
"Funny, that's what she said about you." Xena smiled. "Here, let me help you."
"I don't know how they expect me to get in and out of this fancy dress alone."
"I don't expect they expect you to be alone."
Gabrielle looked at Xena. Why was she always doing that? Always intimating that people thought their relationship was more than friendship. She knew about the many relationships between the women here that were of a loving and passionate nature. She also knew that her brief marriage to Perdicus had come nowhere near what these women had found when they joined. Suddenly she felt irritable and frustrated.
"There." Xena said. "Free at last."
With her back still turned, Gabrielle slipped out of the intricate bodice and skirt and into a sleeping shift. She climbed into the bed and curled onto her side.
Xena could sense the mood shift in the bard. But she decided not to pursue the cause tonight. She slipped out of her leathers and into a sleeping shift. Once in bed, she curled up behind Gabrielle, pulling her close. At first the bard tensed as if she might move away. But soon she relaxed and allowed the familiar arms and body to instill the sense of peace and safety that always came over her whenever Xena was this close.
The next morning, as Gabrielle worked on her scrolls, her daytime guard knocked and entered.
"Queen Gabrielle," the guard said. "Kierra, decorated Amazon Warrior and Honored Teacher."
The guard stood aside and allowed Kierra to enter. She stood before Gabrielle every bit as stunning in the morning sunlight as she had been the night before.
"You sent for me, Queen Gabrielle?"
"Yes, Kierra. Please sit down and call me Gabrielle."
Now that she was here, Gabrielle wondered if the only reason she had summoned the amazon was to discuss her travels.
"I wanted to meet you and hear about your learning travels. I'd welcome your opinion on the success of the teachings brought back and if you feel that another expedition might be warranted in the future."
Kierra sat opposite the queen and considered her for a moment. There was certainly more to the new queen than she had thought at first. Not really the inconsequential young woman Kierra felt could not possibly take Melosa's place. True she was young, with a soft and gentle nature. But she could sense an innate dignity and strength of character that she would not have suspected. And she was beautiful. No wonder Xena loved her so.
"I will tell you anything you wish to know." Kierra said aloud, with a slight bow.
Later, as Xena returned from a turn at perimeter watch, she saw Kierra leaving the queen's hut. She wondered what Kierra would have wanted with Gabrielle.
"Kierra!" Xena called out.
Kierra turned and smiled at Xena as she approached.
"I wanted to ask you if you might be up to some sparring."
"With the great Warrior Princess?" Kierra laughed. "Am I being set up?"
Xena responded to the dazzling smile with one of her own.
"We'll see who's setting up who. I've asked around about you and I've been told you are the best warrior the amazons have."
For a moment, Kierra blushed. It pleased her that Xena had inquired about her and that her amazon sisters had felt to praise her so. As Xena waited for her to answer, Kierra felt herself being pulled into the intensity of those deep blue eyes. Xena's magnetism and power drew her in whether she wanted to be drawn in or not.
"I'll spar with you on one condition." Kierra said. "The winner is granted one request from the loser."
With one eyebrow cocked in what Kierra found to be an alluring expression, Xena said. "Then there's no way I can be unhappy with the outcome, is there?"
Ephiny stuck her head around Gabrielle's door. "You wanted to see me, Gabrielle?"
"Yes Ephiny, do you have a few minutes?"
Ephiny stepped into the hut and pulled up a chair across from Gabrielle. The young queen looked as if she had something on her mind. "What is it?"
"Will you tell me about Kierra and Melosa?" Gabrielle asked quietly.
Ephiny supposed she should have seen this coming. Gabrielle was her friend and her queen. And she knew that Kierra meeting Xena had not been a coincidence. How much did Gabrielle really want to know?
"I've known Kierra and Melosa all my life." Ephiny began. "Kierra and I share our childhood. Melosa was 10 years older. Melosa became queen at a young age and we all admired and respected her from the first. But Kierra's devotion became more serious. She was in love with Melosa even as a young amazon. She worked hard at her skills as a warrior and a scholar so Melosa would be proud of her. No one could have imagined she would grow up to be so beautiful. In time, Melosa did notice her and eventually Kierra earned her favor."
Gabrielle looked down at her hands folded on the table. She felt as if she was prying into something she had no business pursuing. Yet she had to know.
"Did Melosa love her?"
"I suppose she did?.. in her own way." Ephiny replied.
"Than why didn't they join?" Gabrielle was having trouble grasping the nature of the relationship.
"Melosa was first and foremost the Amazon Queen." Ephiny said. "She had many responsibilities. I don't think that joining with another was something she would have considered for herself. Kierra understood that. When she and Melosa spent time together, I believe they were as intimate as any of us who choose to join."
Gabrielle pondered this for a moment. "Then why did Melosa send her away on the learning expedition?"
"Ah, but that was Melosa, Gabrielle." said Ephiny. "She knew that the leader of the unit would have to be intelligent and a fine warrior. They would be going into many unknown lands and situations. To be successful and to keep the amazons safe, she would need the best. We all knew who that had to be. Kierra volunteered. Melosa sent her."
"How painful that must have been for them both."
"Yes." Ephiny sighed. "It was difficult for them. But Kierra would have done anything for Melosa and Melosa would have made any personal sacrifice for her amazons. Though she never said, I know that Melosa missed Kierra very much. And when Kierra returned, Melosa was gone."
"I wonder how different things would have been had Kierra stayed."
"Oh, I can tell you that, Gabrielle." Ephiny said with conviction. "Melosa would be alive today. And Velasca and Kierra would be dead."
"Why?" Gabrielle was somewhat taken aback at Ephiny's certitude.
"Because Kierra would have killed Velasca rather than allow her to hurt Melosa in the challenge. And Kierra would have been tried and executed for murder and for interfering with Amazon law."
Gabrielle experienced an acute sense of loss as she considered the tragedy that had befallen what should have been a wonderful love story. The bard in her longed to rewrite the ending even though she knew she couldn't.
"Gabrielle," Ephiny interrupted Gabrielle's contemplation. "May I speak frankly and as a friend?"
"Of course Ephiny, always."
"You must know that Xena loves you. She always has."
Gabrielle felt a slight increase in her heart rate. She suddenly had an idea of where Ephiny was going with this speech and she began to realize what the real motives for her own questions might be.
Gabrielle could only nod.
"If you love her in the same way, I think you should tell her." Ephiny went on. "If you don't, and feel that friendship is as far as your love will reach?.?." Ephiny hesitated.
"What is it Ephiny?" Gabrielle forced herself to ask. "What are you trying to say?"
With a sigh, Ephiny said, "Gabrielle, as long as I've known Kierra, she was always in love with Melosa. There was no other woman who interested her before or since. But I think she has become quite taken with Xena. And if she feels Xena respond and believes her to be free from involvement, I think Kierra would go to great lengths to win Xena's heart."
That sick feeling in the pit of her stomach had returned to Gabrielle. She instantly knew what Ephiny said was true. What little she had seen transpire between the two warriors was enough to frighten her. The thought of losing Xena was more than she could fathom.
Ephiny saw Gabrielle pale slightly and knew she had clearly made her point. She only wished it was not so difficult for her friend to come to terms with. Actually, she couldn't even imagine Xena and Gabrielle apart. It seemed to her that they were destined to be together by the Fates and maybe even by the gods, Artemis and Aphrodite. But she had said enough. The rest was up to Gabrielle, Xena, and Kierra.
"Hey, enough of this serious talk." Ephiny said to trying to lighten Gabrielle's mood. "Let's get some fresh air and maybe spar a little."
Gabrielle couldn't help but smile. Ephiny was so dear to her, yet she would always look forward to a chance to knock her on her butt.
They left the hut and walked to the sparring area, each woman lost in her own thoughts. As they approached, they could hear the sounds of swordplay and cheers of encouragement from what sounded like a fairly large group of amazons. When they arrived at the arena, it was clear to them why.
In the center arena surrounded by enthusiastic amazons, were Xena and Kierra. They had obviously been working out for some time as both warriors had a fine sheen of sweat on their bodies. As intense and alert as they both were, Gabrielle could tell that Xena was enjoying herself immensely.
Xena was circling Kierra, looking for an opening. Kierra was absolutely the best warrior, man or woman, she had ever fought. Although she did not have Xena's extraordinary strength and agility skills, Kierra was quick, smart and in superb condition.
As Gabrielle and Ephiny moved to the front of the crowd to Xena's right, Xena sensed that they were there. She was distracted for a mere moment as her eyes flicked to her right to find Gabrielle. It was the opening that Kierra had been looking for. As she'd been sparring, it had occurred to her that she could not possibly win against the Warrior Princess on her skills alone. Even though she was the best of the amazons, Xena was her superior in every way. She was beginning to tire when she realized that eventually Gabrielle would come to see the spectacle of a match between she and Xena. When she did, Xena might be distracted long enough for her to press her advantage.
That little piece of ingenuity and timing cost Xena the match. As Gabrielle's entrance allowed a split second of lesser intensity from the Warrior Princess, Kierra parried unexpectedly and Xena's sword flew out of her hand and landed several yards away.
A stunned look danced across Xena's face and was gone. She grinned at Kierra and bowed.
"Your match, Amazon Warrior," she said with admiration in her voice. "Well done, Kierra."
The amazon crowd erupted in cheers and catcalls enough to make Kierra blush.
'Gabrielle's right,' thought Xena. 'She is lovely.'
As a group of amazons crowded around Kierra to congratulate her on a well fought match, Xena retrieved her sword and walked over to where Gabrielle and Ephiny were standing.
Anyone who didn't know Xena as well as Gabrielle did would not have understood the reason for Xena's loss. But Gabrielle knew that Xena being distracted by her presence had been the deciding factor. As Xena stopped in front of them, Gabrielle spoke softly.
Xena smiled, put her hand gently on Gabrielle's shoulder and gave it an affectionate squeeze. 'By the gods,' Xena thought. 'Is there ever going to be a time when being near this woman doesn't fill me with warmth and joy?' When Xena looked at Gabrielle she saw the fulfillment of all her desires. She wanted her body, her mind, her heart, and even her very soul. Gabrielle was like a candle flame and Xena felt like the proverbial moth.
"It's not your fault that I can't stop looking for you." Xena admitted.
And at that moment Gabrielle realized that she never wanted Xena to stop looking for her. She never wanted Xena to stop loving her, to stop traveling with her, to go on without her. Ephiny was right. If she wanted to be with Xena for the rest of her life, she had to tell her so.
Kierra finally extradited herself from her well wishing amazon sisters and joined Xena, Gabrielle and Ephiny. Ephiny gave her a big hug.
"You'll have bragging rights forever, Kierra." she laughed.
Kierra smiled at her and then her gaze shifted to Gabrielle. Gabrielle could feel her intensity and had to admit that it was intoxicating.
"A fine a display of skill and ingenuity as I have ever seen, Kierra." she said.
Kierra smiled, bowed slightly and thanked her. So, she thought, Gabrielle did know how she had gotten her advantage over Xena. And if she knew that, then she would also know that Kierra wanted the Warrior Princess. Why Gabrielle had not joined with Xena before now was a mystery to her. She didn't think that it was because Gabrielle had devoted herself to amazon duty as Melosa had. At least that was something she could understand. Kierra could only conclude that she was not with Xena because she didn't want to be.
Ephiny observed all the emotions of these women she knew so well. She knew how she would resolve it all if it were up to her. Xena and Gabrielle would be happily joined and Kierra would finally open her eyes to someone else besides Melosa. It hurt her deeply, but would never be revealed, that when Kierra finally looked beyond Melosa's shadow, all she could be drawn to was another impossibly unattainable relationship. Yes, she was a fine one to give Gabrielle a lecture on declaring one's love, Ephiny admonished herself. She was asking Gabrielle to do something she could never do herself. To tell Kierra that she had loved her for many years and always would. What a mess.
At dinner that evening, Gabrielle decided that she would have a serious talk with Xena when they retired for the evening. The dining hall was still a buzz with details of the extraordinary match that most had witnessed and recounted for those who hadn't. As the meal was ending, Kierra approached Xena and said.
"Walk with me, Xena. We still have a score to settle, remember?"
"Of course," Xena replied. "I always honor my wagers."
Gabrielle did not like the sound of this wager that she knew nothing about. She turned to Ephiny, who had been listening, only to see her shrug her shoulders, as much in the dark as Gabrielle. As Xena and Kierra left the hall, both Gabrielle and Ephiny had uneasy feelings about how this night would end.
Xena and Kierra walked a short distance to one of the rivers running across Amazonia. It was a warm and quiet night, with a sky that seemed overwhelmed with stars. They stopped at the river's edge listening to the movement of the water and to their own thoughts.
Kierra's heart was beginning to pound in her chest. She had never actually thought she would beat Xena and consequently have her request granted. But here she was, alone with Xena, on a beautiful spring night, about to ask the Warrior Princess to kiss her.
Xena turned from the sky and looked at Kierra.
"What is your request of me, Kierra?" Xena quietly asked.
"I want you to kiss me, Xena."
At that, Xena smiled.
"Is that all?" she asked. "For winning such a spectacular match? Just a simple kiss?"
"No, Xena." Kierra said, gathering her courage. "I don't want a simple kiss. I want a spectacular kiss worthy of winning such a contest."
Finally, Xena realized the seriousness of the situation. Where as she would have no trouble at all kissing a woman as desirable as Kierra, (had, if fact, fantasized about it while on perimeter watch today) she was unsure of the consequences of such an action. Yes, she had been flirting with Kierra when they'd made this wager. And she would grant any such request that Kierra made of her. But at that moment, before such an intimacy, she at once thought of Gabrielle. She knew that in her heart, she would always want to be kissing Gabrielle, no matter how attractive the woman in her arms at the moment might be. But what would the kiss mean to Kierra? She knew now that Kierra probably had plans for her to replace Melosa. A sad heart missing it's only love as surely as Xena would miss Gabrielle if she were suddenly and irreversibly gone.
She looked into Kierra's soft, brown eyes and knew the feelings running through her. She gently brought her hands up to cradle Kierra's face. She ran her thumbs tenderly over Kierra's lips and felt how soft they were. Her hands slid into Kierra's thick auburn hair and she pulled her close.
Kierra couldn't move. She was frozen to this spot by Xena's sensitive hands holding her face. Those piercing blue eyes and the thumbs that traced her lips rendered her incapable of rational thought. As Xena's strong fingers slid into her hair and stroked her neck, she felt herself being pulled like a magnet towards Xena's mouth. The meeting of lips, gentle and testing at first, let loose raging feelings in both women. It was not that they were in love with or even really lusting after each other. But they both had been denied the physical expressions of their true passions for too long. The building up of what each had lost or never had, was enough to create a need, a want, and an explosion.
The kiss deepened and they began a search of each other's mouths. Kierra's arms automatically went around Xena's neck. Xena slipped her hands down from Kierra's neck, over her body until she could slide her arms around Kierra's back and pull her close for full body contact. The kiss went on longer then they would have imagined. Slow and sensuous, lingering and revealing. When it was over, both women knew more about themselves than they had before their desires unveiled the truths.
Gabrielle looked up as Ephiny called her name. She had been so deep in thought that she felt as if she'd been in a trance.
"It's late, Gabrielle." Ephiny said. "Come, I'll walk you to your hut."
They left the dinning hall and headed towards Gabrielle's hut.
"You're worried about Xena and Kierra," confirmed Ephiny.
Gabrielle sighed. "I'm just afraid that I may have lost my chance to tell Xena how I really feel. You were right, Ephiny, I should have sorted out my feelings long ago and let Xena know how much I love her and want to be with her."
As they reached the door to Gabrielle's hut, Ephiny said. "Don't worry Gabrielle. I know that Xena loves you. And I don't think that she will toy with Kierra's affections as long as there is any possibility of being with you. That's our only hope."
Gabrielle stepped inside her hut and closed the door. As she leaned back against it, Ephiny's last words came back to her. She opened the door and called to Ephiny who turned back when she heard her.
"Ephiny, what did you mean by our only hope?"
Ephiny sighed, suddenly tired. "I meant that I wouldn't want Kierra to be with Xena any more than you would want Xena to be with Kierra."
"If you love Kierra, why haven't you told her?" Gabrielle asked, confused at the apparent double standard between the advice Ephiny had given her and the regent's own actions.
"Because I'm not Melosa."
Then Ephiny turned and walked away.
Kierra had been unprepared for her reaction after Xena kissed her. When she opened her eyes and searched the vast blueness of Xena's eyes, she'd been disappointed with what she saw. Kierra had been attracted to Xena's incredible good looks and her dynamic presence. But she was virtually a stranger who didn't really know her or truly care about her in the way that she had been craving. She couldn't have Xena because Xena was already in love with someone else, unrequited or not. And Xena was not Melosa. It scared and saddened her to think that if the great Warrior Princess, desired by so many, could not take away her longing for love, for Melosa, then maybe no one could. And before she realized it, she was crying in Xena's arms.
Xena had been somewhat surprised as Kierra dissolved into tears in her arms. She could detect a sense of heartache and fear in the woman she now held in her arms for an entirely different reason than she had a few moments before. Heartache and fear she could easily understand if Kierra had felt about Melosa as Xena did about Gabrielle. Hadn't she experienced much the same emotions the few times it appeared that Gabrielle would be lost forever? Actually, losing Gabrielle was the only thing she could think of that she truly feared. She held Kierra tighter and tried to soothe her as she cried.
A short time later, Kierra and Xena sat together on the bank of the river.
"I don't think that you will ever find Melosa in any other woman, Kierra." Xena said. "She was a very special woman. And that you still grieve for her is to be expected. She was your first and only love and she will always be with you in your heart. But I think she would wish you to go on and accept happiness should the right woman come along."
Kierra knew that what Xena was saying was true. She'd been afraid of her grief and unwilling to let Melosa go. She had shunned any and all opportunities to find love anywhere else but in Melosa's arms. Not at all sure that she could really let go, Kierra knew she had at least made her first attempt. She smiled at Xena. "Guess you got a little more than you bargained for, eh, Warrior Princess?"
At that, Xena laughed softly. "I'm beginning to think that will always the case with you, Kierra. Come on, we should go before the troops are sent out to find us."
Kierra and Xena arrived at the door of the hut that Xena shared with Gabrielle. The guard outside seeing Xena approached nodded to them and left for the night.
"I have much to think about, Xena. Thank you."
"I just have similar feelings, Kierra. Understanding you is like understanding myself. Good night."
Kierra smiled, reached up, and kissed Xena's cheek. "Good night, Warrior Princess."
Xena opened the door to the hut and looked for Gabrielle. She was lying on the bed and had not heard Xena come in. She instantly became alarmed. Gabrielle was crying.
Kierra was restless and did not feel like being alone. As she passed Ephiny's hut, she could tell that candlelight still burned behind the drawn shade. Even though it was late, she hoped that Ephiny would still be awake and willing to sit and talk for a while. She knocked lightly on Ehpiny's door.
"Come in." said Ehpiny looking up from a chair in front of the fire. She was somewhat surprised to see Kierra enter her hut. Ehpiny could not have said if she was relieved that Kierra was alone or not. She'd been thinking a lot since leaving Gabrielle. And she didn't like the way she felt, so her reaction to Kierra was uncharacteristically cool.
Kierra crossed the hut to the fireplace and pulled a chair up next to Ephiny. Ephiny had not smiled at her when she'd come in. And Kierra realized that she had always known that Ephiny was glad to see her. But now she wondered about tonight.
"Is this a bad time, Ephiny, are you tired?"
"No, Kierra, I'm fine. What's on your mind?"
Kierra relayed the events of the evening with Xena. She was so sure that Ehpiny would understand how she felt and have some constructive comment to make that would help her see things more clearly. Ephiny had always been there for her and Kierra waited for some response from her friend.
Ephiny sighed. Ephiny wanted Kierra, Kierra wanted Xena, and Xena wanted Gabrielle. Now if only Gabrielle had wanted her, the circle would have been complete. It would actually have been comical if she hadn't felt so much like crying. Ephiny was feeling such an emptiness. There was nothing she could think of to say to Kierra.
Kierra sensed a change in Ehpiny. She had just recounted the first time since Melosa that she had made an overt attempt to become involved with another woman. Though unsuccessful, she considered this major news in light of her history. And yet Ephiny, the woman who had been her closest friend, seemed to have nothing at all to say about it. Kierra was getting annoyed.
"Don't you have any thoughts on the subject?" she asked pointedly.
"Just what do you want me to say, Kierra?" The years of disappointment, a lifetime of loving this woman in silence, erupted as anger in Ephiny. "Am I supposed to congratulate you for making a pass at one of the most desirable women we know, who happens to be in love with someone else, our queen, if you recall? Am I supposed to applaud you for finally looking outside your own sorrow and grief to a woman you barely know for the answers to your dreams and desires?"
Kierra was stunned. Ephiny had never spoken to her this way before. All their lives Ehpiny had been her rock, the person she had always depended on to help her sort out her problems and feelings. Through all the years she had longed for Melosa, it was Ehpiny's gentle shoulder she had leaned on. When she'd finally achieved a relationship with Melosa, some had actually been jealous. But Ehpiny had been truly happy for her. After Melosa was gone, Ehpiny had been the one to comfort her and to keep her sane.
Ephiny could tell by the shocked look on Kierra's face that she had let her inner demons get the best of her. She had not meant to take out her frustrations on Kierra. It wasn't Kierra's fault that they were only friends, or that Ephiny had always wanted so much more.
"I'm sorry, Kierra." Ehpiny said, trying to calm her voice. "I'm not myself tonight, and I didn't mean to take it out on you. Can we talk about this some other time?"
Now Kierra was worried. What was wrong with Ehpiny? Was she ill, hurt, upset? Any or all of the above frightened Kierra suddenly. What would she do if anything ever happened to Ehpiny? She would be truly lost. Ehpiny was a big part of her entire history and she could not imagine her life without Ephiny in it.
"Is there something wrong, Ephiny?" Kierra asked. "Have I done anything to upset you?"
Maybe it was the feeling that everything was finally over for her, that nothing more could be lost or gained that prompted Ephiny to speak. She had always told herself that Kierra hadn't considered her as a mate because of her obsession with Melosa. And then it was because she was overwhelmed with the grief of losing Melosa. Now she finally had to admit that Kierra saw her as a lifelong friend and would never consider anything more between them. What could it hurt to tell Kierra how she felt now? Then it would truly be the end of hope, a fantasy no more.
"Kierra, I have loved you for as long as I can remember." Ephiny said sadly. "And I have always wanted for your happiness. No one was more pleased than I to see you capture Melosa's heart, even though I knew it would be a union burdened with Melosa's responsibilities. I have watched you grieve inconsolably, and have always tried to be there when you needed someone. But I realized tonight that you are ready to go on with your life and seek out another companion. And that companion is not tonight, nor ever will be me. I will forever be your friend, Kierra, but it's time I let go of the hope for anything more. Now please go, Kierra, I'm weary and would really rather be alone right now."
Kierra couldn't move. "Ephiny."
"Kierra, please?..just go now?? Please?"
Ephiny had turned back to the fire. She did not see the look of dismay on Kierra's face as she got up to leave. She didn't know that by the time Kierra arrived at her own hut, she was feeling as lost as she had ever felt in her life. How could this day have gone so wrong?
Xena was beside Gabrielle's bed in two strides of her long legs.
"Gabrielle, what is it? What's wrong? Are you hurt, sick?"
The questions came out fast and urgent. Xena turned Gabrielle over so she could see her face. Gabrielle looked so distraught that Xena was certain that something in Gabrielle's world had crumbled. Xena pulled Gabrielle into her arms and slowly started to rock and soothe her. She gently stroked and kissed her hair waiting for Gabrielle to calm.
"Tell me, Gabrielle, I'm here now."
Gabrielle snuggled up closer to Xena and wrapped her arms around the Warrior Princess. She rested her head under Xena's chin, so relieved that Xena had come back tonight. She had not gone to Kierra's hut to spend the night, she had come back to her.
"You came back." Gabrielle whispered into Xena's chest and hugged her tighter.
Xena was somewhat confused. "Of course I came back. Where else would I go, Gabrielle?"
Xena colored slightly realizing that Gabrielle was aware of the interaction between she and Kierra. But Xena knew she had done nothing to feel guilty about. She and Gabrielle were not lovers and Kierra was similarly unattached as far as she knew. What was going on here?
Gabrielle released Xena, got up from the bed and sat at the table facing Xena. "You're not aware of the things that changed tonight, are you?"
"Ephiny has been in love with Kierra for a long time."
Xena paled a little. If she'd had any idea that Ephiny had feelings for Kierra, she would never have entertained the slightest flirtation with the amazon. Ephiny was a fine woman and had been a loyal friend to Gabrielle and to her. Now she was glad that the walk with Kierra had ended as it had.
"Why did you leave with Kierra tonight?" asked Gabrielle.
The question brought Xena out of her reverie. "She asked me to go for a walk down to the river."
Again Xena seemed uncomfortable answering Gabrielle. It really wasn't any of Gabrielle's business where she went and with whom. She wasn't going to answer at first, but the look on Gabrielle's face told her this was important.
"I had to settle a wager from the match I lost to her today."
"And what was the payment for losing, Xena?"
"A kiss." Xena answered quietly.
"Was that as far as it went?" Gabrielle had to know.
"Yes, Gabrielle, that's as far as it went. Kierra became upset and we talked for a while. Now would you mind telling me why this concerns you so? Is it because of Ephiny?"
"Yes, partly because of Ephiny." Gabrielle answered. "But mostly because of me."
Xena cocked an eyebrow at that.
"I love you, Xena."
"I love you too, Gabrielle."
'This should not be so difficult,' thought Gabrielle. To Xena, she said. "I know you do. I know how much and in how many ways you do love me, Xena. And I have made you wait a long time while I sorted out my feelings about us. But I've finally come to terms with how I feel about you and with what I want for us. I wanted to talk to you tonight, but then you left with Kierra. I was afraid that I had lost you before I got the chance to tell you how I feel."
"Which is how, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle got up from the table and knelt down in front of Xena. "I love you, Xena. I love you with all my heart and my soul. I want to share my life, my dreams, my hopes, my body with you. Will you join with me, Xena, and be my partner for all the rest of our days?"
Xena could hardly believe what she was hearing. Had the woman she had grown to love so deeply and want so badly just asked her to become one with her in an Amazon Joining Ceremony? She was thrilled, disbelieving, relieved, all at the same time. Gabrielle would belong with her, just as she had always dreamed.
Xena stood pulling Gabrielle up with her. She cupped Gabrielle's face in her hands. So similar a gesture to earlier in the evening, but with such a different effect on her. When she looked down into those incredibly clear, soft, trusting green eyes, Xena experienced such a joy, such magic, a feeling of finally being complete.
Gabrielle knew that everything she had hoped for and dreamed about was falling into place as the woman she loved drew her close. There would never be another decision in her life that would feel so right and effect her so deeply. She would be forever grateful to the fates or gods who had brought Xena into her life.
That first kiss of their acknowledgment of love was slow and soft. Actually just a touching of lips, seeking relief that this was finally happening between them and that it felt so right. Xena slid her hands through Gabrielle's hair and down her back. As if by instinct, Gabrielle brought her hands up around Xena's neck. When their bodies pulled together for complete contact, the kissing begin to change. They began feeling, searching,
communicating a need for each other that was growing by the minute. Each woman marveled at how the other tasted and moved. Gabrielle touched her tongue over Xena's lips seeking entry. Xena began to feel heat between her legs as she gently sucked Gabrielle in. After they had exchanged positions several times, Gabrielle moaned, separated, then hugged Xena tightly to her.
"You didn't answer me," she whispered to the warrior's shoulder.
Xena was tracing her lips over Gabrielle's earlobe and down her neck. Learning, memorizing. "Yes," she murmured into Gabrielle's ear. "Yes."
"Love me, Xena."
Xena stopped her wandering and looked at Gabrielle. She seemed so vulnerable, so young, yet at the same time so sensual. Xena held Gabrielle's gaze as she untied the laces to her top. She opened it and immediately cupped Gabrielle's breasts in her hands, caressing the nipples in her palms. Gabrielle tried to concentrate on the deep pools of blue that held her eyes as surely as those wonderful hands held her breasts. But she was feeling such warmth in her heart and between her legs, that she didn't think she could stand much longer. She wanted to lay down with Xena.
As if sensing her needs, Xena slipped off her top and dropped her hands to the belt holding Gabrielle's skirt. She quickly untied it and the belt, skirt, and breeches fell to the floor. Xena stepped back slightly and took Gabrielle in as she stood before her completely nude. By the gods how she wanted this woman. Xena then turned Gabrielle towards the bed and gently laid her down.
Gabrielle felt exposed in her nakedness. But she could see how her being so was arousing Xena. So she stretched back onto the bed, put her arms behind her head, and let her eyes travel up and down Xena's body.
"Off," she commanded.
"Yes, my queen." Xena smiled.
She sat down in a chair near the bed where Gabrielle could easily see her every move and removed each boot. Then she stood and slowly approached the bed taking off her bracers and armor as she went. At the side of the bed, close enough for Gabrielle to touch her if she had wanted to, she stopped and slowly pulled off her leathers. She was well aware that she was basically stripping for her and that Gabrielle was definitely enjoying the show. She realized from the hunger in Gabrielle's eyes that loving her was going to be passionate and playful. She pulled off her shift and breeches and stood before Gabrielle.
Gabrielle knew what Xena's body looked like. She had seen it many times in the three years that they had been together. She knew that Xena was magnificent, powerful, gorgeous. But to see Xena standing before her like this, about to offer her body to her was overwhelming. She had powerful shoulders, muscular arms, soft breasts, a taut abdomen, lovely hips, and long, strong legs. And this woman loved her, belonged with her. Gabrielle could hardly believe it.
"You're so beautiful," was all she could say.
Xena smiled and climbed onto the bed next to Gabrielle. She lay on her side and propped herself up with her left arm. Gabrielle had not moved and Xena began to run her right hand over her body. She touched her face, her neck, her chest and brushed her hand over her breasts. Her fingers wandered down over Gabrielle's side and her hip, over the soft blonde curls of her sex and over beautiful legs made strong by miles of walking. She could have spent much more time running her hand and her eyes over Gabrielle's body, but she was interrupted by a soft "Come here."
She rolled over on top of Gabrielle, looked into her eyes briefly and then began kissing her with a built up and long awaited passion. Gabrielle responded and their dance of sexual expression began. Gabrielle ran her hands down Xena's back and cupped her hips. As she fell into the deep kisses from Xena, she fondled her firm butt. She wanted to feel Xena everywhere, but she couldn't think with Xena's tongue caressing her.
"Xena, please?. touch me."
Xena's lips and hands moved lower. She stroked Gabrielle's breasts, feeling their softness. She rolled the nipples in the palms of her hands and felt them harden with the contact. Gabrielle's nipples were rose colored. It was an unconscious observation that Xena made just before she pulled one into her mouth. Gabrielle felt delicious sensations as Xena sucked on one nipple and played with the other with her fingers. Xena switched breasts several times so that neither would feel neglected.
Gabrielle was already feeling so much more excitement than she had on her one night with Perdicus. She knew that he had tried his best to be kind and gentle. But she'd been nervous and had been unable to become aroused. The pain that came with losing her virginity just added to her dissatisfaction with the whole experience. These thoughts were fleeting as Xena slid one hand down Gabrielle's abdomen and gently parted her legs. She wanted Xena to enjoy her body. She wanted to please her and at the same time feel the exploding orgasms she had heard about, but not experienced during her short sexual encounter.
"Don't be nervous, Gabrielle." Xena said. "This will feel so good and I'm enjoying every moment."
'By the gods,' thought Gabrielle, 'she can read my mind. Then she must know how much I want her, how much I need her.'
Gabrielle would've probably had more thoughts, but Xena had found her sexual center and was coating her long fingers in Gabrielle's wetness. Xena's lips were caressing Gabrielle's ear again. "I do believe that my queen is aroused." Xena whispered. "You are so smooth and wet, Gabrielle, I want more." Had she been able to speak, Gabrielle would've said that she too wanted more.
Xena began another descent down Gabrielle's body. Kissing, licking her way down across Gabrielle's breasts, her abdomen. When she arrived between Gabrielle's legs, she pushed them wider apart so that she could lay between them.
Again Gabrielle felt vulnerable and exposed. No one had ever been this intimate with her. Xena gently pushed Gabrielle's knees toward her chest and placed each foot so that they rested on her shoulders. Then she spread Gabrielle's knees as wide apart as was comfortable for her. This position unveiled all of Gabrielle's most private areas. And Xena relished the view. For the last time Gabrielle thought about her wedding night. Perdicus had not explored her this way. She was certain she wouldn't have allowed it even if he'd asked. There was an intense level of trust involved in surrendering this much and Gabrielle knew that for her to trust so strongly, it could only be with Xena.
All thoughts of her previous sexual experience vanished from her mind as Xena parted the curling blonde hair covering her sex. She watched in fascination as Xena's fingers slipped along the sides of her sensitive clitoral shaft and circled the entrance to her vagina. Her legs were spread so widely apart that she was completely at Xena's mercy. It was absolutely delicious. She never knew she could feel this excited.
Xena's thoughts were in a slightly different vein. Gabrielle was so willing, so open to her. She wanted to memorize her, explore her, make her feel new emotions and pleasure at her touch. She knew that she was asking a lot of Gabrielle to submit to her intimate examinations on their first sexual encounter. But she couldn't help it. She wanted all of Gabrielle and she had waited so long.
Gabrielle was getting so wet and excited as Xena continued to play with her that she almost couldn't distinguish where Xena's fingers were feeling her. Xena circled Gabrielle's entrance and easily slipped a fingertip inside her. Gabrielle's hips involuntarily tilted up towards Xena in response. Xena then traced her fingertip lower following the wetness that was dripping down Gabrielle's cleft. She found that tight, puckered anal opening and rubbed it gently. When Gabrielle's hips again tilted in response, she added a slight bit of pressure against the reluctant opening. Gabrielle gasped at the sensation. Xena smiled and backed away. Another time, she thought, and returned her attention to Gabrielle's other erotic zones. She was getting hungry for the taste of Gabrielle. Xena let Gabrielle's feet slide down her back so that her legs, while still spread widely apart, were now resting over her back with her feet braced on the bed. She wanted Gabrielle to able to move her hips to the rhythm that Xena would be setting with her mouth and her fingers. She found the smooth skin covering Gabrielle's clitoris and kissed her there. She explored Gabrielle with her lips, nibbling at the shaft, briefly sucking on the sensitive nub. She dropped lower kissing and playing at Gabrielle's entrance. When she couldn't stand waiting anymore, Xena's talented tongue darted out and into Gabrielle's vaginal opening. Like before, Gabrielle gasped at the quick and unexpected invasion.
From the moment that Xena began to softly stroke her, she knew she was no longer in control of her body or her feelings. Everything Xena was doing to her just felt so good. Although she was surprised when Xena started kissing her lips and clitoris, she reveled in the sensations. When she felt Xena's tongue quickly enter her, all of her preconceived ideas of sex flew out the window. 'By the gods,' thought Gabrielle, as Xena's tongue withdrew and she felt Xena enter her with a long finger.
Xena continued to lick and stroke Gabrielle in subtle and sensual ways. She wanted this first time with her to last and be memorable. Although they had never discussed it, Xena felt that Gabrielle's sexual experience on her wedding night had been somewhat of a disappointment. Xena intended to make sure that never happened again. Gabrielle's hips started to rock in a slow rhythm that Xena easily matched. As her mouth was otherwise engaged, Xena wasn't able to tell Gabrielle how much she was enjoying herself.
She slipped another finger inside Gabrielle and continued to rub her inner walls in a spot that caused a very positive reaction in Gabrielle.
'How does she know?' thought Gabrielle. 'Everything she does drives me to a higher intensity. She feels so good, and I want to feel that explosion from her fingers and lips.'
Gabrielle's hips were in perfect rhythm with Xena. She could feel that incredible heat and desire building in her as Xena continued to excite her. Everything was beginning to spin faster and faster. Her hips, Xena's tongue and fingers, her emotions. She was sure she was going to explode when Xena brought her to orgasm. 'By the gods!'?..she thought.
"Xena! Oh Xena, please!"
Gabrielle was calling out her name, needing Xena to release her, to make her climax. So Xena's fingers picked up speed as they plunged into Gabrielle over and over. Her tongue found just the right spot to center on, increasing Gabrielle's level of intense pleasure.
So completely under Xena's control, Gabrielle felt like she was a pile of kindling and Xena was a spark. She was about to catch fire and feel a roaring blaze of emotion and enjoyment sweep through her body. Just as her mind grasped the idea, it happened. She climbed to an overwhelmingly high peak, balanced on the precipice for several moments before bursting into hot embers. With her heart still pounding and her inner core contracting around Xena's fingers, Gabrielle realized what a gift Xena was to her life. Never had she felt such joy, such deep emotion, felt so cared for.
As Gabrielle came down from the powerful orgasm, Xena climbed up her body and cuddled her while she calmed. Xena kept her hand over Gabrielle's sex with a finger still inside Gabrielle enjoying the spasms of her inner muscles that felt like gentle sucking. Xena kissed Gabrielle's face, her hair, her eyes. 'What a woman,' thought Xena, 'what an incredible woman.'
The bard in Gabrielle could not have put the experience she had just had into words even if she'd had the energy. She would never have believed that sex with the right person could be so perfect. The stories she had heard were true. Xena had taken her for an extraordinary ride. What a joy to be touched by her, to be watched by her, to feel her fingers and mouth exploring every intimate aspect of her. When she felt Xena slip her fingers out from inside her, she looked into Xena's eyes.
"I don't know what to say."
Xena smiled. "Say you enjoyed that as much as I did and I'll be happy."
"Oh Xena," Gabrielle sighed. "You couldn't possibly have enjoyed that as much as I did. That was amazing. I never knew?.. never thought??"
"I know." Xena said. "It's all right. Don't worry about the past. We're together now and this is the kind of sexual experience you get from now on. And no one could possibly love you more than I do."
Gabrielle rested and drifted. She was in Xena's arms, sexually sated, irreversibly in love. She wanted Xena to feel this way too. But she had no experience in making love with another woman. Xena had seemed to know exactly how to love her. How could she possibly make her feel as much joy as she had just felt?
"You've loved women before." It was not a question.
"Yes," Xena said. "I've had relations with both men and women in my past. Does that bother you?"
Gabrielle didn't have to reflect on the answer. "No," she said, "As long as I'm your only 'relation' from now on." She looked up into Xena's eyes and smiled.
"That's a promise." Xena returned the smile and Gabrielle could feel herself melting.
"I want to touch you, Xena." she whispered into Xena's neck as she started to place small kisses there. "Will you show me how?"
Gabrielle could probably have talked Xena into an orgasm, she was so ready. She would tell Gabrielle later that making love to her, was one of the best forms of foreplay she could think of.
"Just think of things that you would like to do to me, Gabrielle." Xena whispered. "Or do the things that felt good to you. I promise to help."
With free rein to do as she pleased, Gabrielle continued to kiss and nuzzle Xena's neck. She worked her way up to her mouth where she could taste herself on Xena's lips. It gave her a jolt between her legs to think where those beautiful lips had just been. While kissing Xena soundly, she let her hand wander down over Xena's body. Her breasts were so soft, molding easily to fit her hand. The instant hardening of Xena's nipples confirmed that she was on the right track. She rolled her palm over Xena's nipples fondling them. She caught them gently between her fingers. With a hungry look and a quick kiss, Gabrielle left Xena's mouth and immediately took the first nipple she could reach into her mouth. Xena's breast was soft and smooth while the nipple was erect and hard. She alternated between breasts, flicking her tongue over the sensitive nubs, sucking and fingering them in turn. Xena began to arch toward Gabrielle's active mouth. Gabrielle looked up at Xena and asked, "How'm I doin'?"
If Gabrielle had dropped her hand a little lower, Xena would not have had to answer her.
"Amazingly well." Xena replied. Gabrielle was as apt student with an eye for detail and a creative streak that Xena was sure she was going to enjoy. She continued to encourage Gabrielle with her body movements. While still sucking on a nipple, Gabrielle slid a hand down to the soft dark hair between Xena's legs. She stopped and moved up to Xena's ear, nuzzling and whispering.
"Will you spread your legs for me, Xena?"
That soft voice in her ear and that insistent little hand covering her sex was testing Xena's endurance. She wanted Gabrielle to play and enjoy making love with her. But everything Gabrielle did was driving her so close to climaxing. She wanted Gabrielle's fingers inside her now. She didn't know how much longer she could hold off the impending orgasm.
"You do want me, don't you, Xena?" Gabrielle asked while still nibbling her ear.
"YES!" Xena hissed and then it hit her. It was Gabrielle's voice in combination with everything else she was doing that was exciting her so much. She had never made love with a bard before and was amazed at how Gabrielle's monologue was effecting her.
"I can't believe it," she said.
"What can't you believe?" asked Gabrielle sensuously in her ear, still nibbling, while her hand was gently, but firmly, pushing Xena's legs apart.
"Your voice, you talking to me, it's driving me over the edge."
Gabrielle smiled at this. Xena would never be able to tease her again about talking too much. She slipped her fingers down into Xena's wetness now that her spread legs allowed her entrance. While she had felt her own sex and wetness during the rare times that she masturbated, Xena felt so different to her. She began to explore the smooth skin covering her clitoris and the soft lips at the entrance to her inner core. She was so wet.
"I love knowing that I'm creating this raging fire in you." she said, caressing Xena's sensitive hearing with her whispering breath. "I want to watch you and talk to you while you come for me."
Xena locked her eyes on Gabrielle's. "Then stroke me, Gabrielle, talk to me, I'm so ready for you."
This was so exciting for Gabrielle. The power she held in her voice and hands to bring this extraordinary woman to an exploding orgasm was intoxicating. She began stroking Xena up and down her clitoral shaft, sliding her fingers in and out of Xena as she went.
Xena was struggling to maintain some semblance of control as Gabrielle spoke to her softly. She was explaining in detail how it felt to touch Xena. She murmured things she wanted to do to her. But interspersed with the driving sexual encouragement, Gabrielle also whispered of her love and devotion to the Warrior Princess. Xena could not distinguish which line of seduction was effecting her the most.
Gabrielle could sense that Xena was coming ever closer to release. Her thrusting hips were picking up speed as Gabrielle continued to talk and rub her clitoris and her inner walls. Suddenly Xena cried out, "Now Gabrielle! Your fingers!"
Gabrielle quickly thrust three fingers into Xena. Xena seemed to open up inside as she came. Her inner walls smooth and soft one minute, then strong and throbbing the next. As Xena's hips slowed, she put her hand on Gabrielle's to stop her thrusting. Gabrielle began to pull her fingers out of Xena's still pulsating vagina. But Xena stopped her.
"No?..stay?..please." she sighed. "I want to feel you there."
Gabrielle watched Xena calm. She relished the spasms against her fingers buried deep inside Xena. Gabrielle was overwhelmed by feelings of tenderness and love for this woman who had just shared such an intimate moment with her.
When all had calmed, Xena said. "You can come out now."
"Do I have to?" Gabrielle sighed close to Xena's ear.
"Eventually, yes." Xena smiled and shook her head slightly. She'd created a monster.
Gabrielle slipped her fingers out of Xena and rolled partially on top of her. She brought her hand up to her lips and traced them with her tongue. "I didn't get to taste you." Gabrielle said to Xena's cocked eyebrow. "I wanted to know what I was missing."
'What a quick study,' thought Xena. She grasped Gabrielle's wrists and quickly turned her on her back. With her arms pinned to the bed and a leg thrown over her lower body, Xena silenced her with soft, repetitive kisses. Gabrielle responded in kind and they blanketed themselves in love and affection.
Sometime later, Gabrielle turned onto her side and felt the familiar body spoon her from behind. They had never slept together in the nude and Gabrielle sighed at the softness of Xena's breasts against her back. After a few moments, she chuckled and wiggled her butt seductively into Xena's lap.
"Are you trying to start something again?" Xena asked as she kissed Gabrielle's bare shoulder.
"Not really," she answered. "It's just that your hair is tickling my butt." She turned her head to look at Xena. "I'm not complaining."
Xena gave her a quick kiss and settled down behind her. She threaded her leg between Gabrielle's and reached an arm around her to cup a breast in her hand. "I've always wanted to sleep with you like this." She said and proceeded to fall contentedly into sleep.
Gabrielle smiled as she began to drift too. It amazed her that Xena would fall asleep so easily just by being able to wrap her leg through Gabrielle's and hold one her breasts in her palm. Filled with tenderness for her Warrior Princess, she too fell asleep.
The next morning, Ephiny was just finishing packing her bag when there was a knock on her door. "Come in," she said, hoping that it wasn't Kierra.
Xena entered and noticed the traveling sack. "Going somewhere, Ephiny?" she asked.
"Why Xena! You look absolutely radiant this morning," she teased. "Even more so than usual." She saw Xena color slightly and knew that she needn't worry about Gabrielle's happiness anymore.
Xena recovered and asked again. "Where are you going?"
Ephiny looked at Xena and thought that she really did deserve the happiness that she'd found with Gabrielle. But she said, "I need to get away for awhile, Xena. I'm going up into the higher mountains for a few days. I was hoping that you and Gabrielle would stay at least until I return."
"Of course Ephiny, if that's what you want," said Xena. "Is there anything we can do?"
Ephiny merely shook her head and heard Xena say softly. "I'm sorry about Kierra, Ephiny. If I had known?."
"It's ok, Xena." Ephiny interrupted. "I needed to open my eyes and accept reality. Kierra was never destined to be my partner. We both need to get on with our lives."
Xena nodded and turned to open the door. Before she left, she turned back to Ephiny and said, "I would never hurt you, Ephiny."
Ephiny smiled sadly as Xena closed the door. She knew that she had lifelong friendships with both Gabrielle and Xena. She loved her queen and the Warrior Princess who she was sure would soon be her queen's mate. She picked up her sack and headed towards the stables.
"What do you mean she's gone?" demanded Kierra. "Where did she go? How long will she be gone?"
The guard being peppered with questions by the agitated amazon warrior was at a loss. She was sure to be on the receiving end of a solid punch any minute. Just when it seemed that the moment had arrived, a voice interrupted the tirade.
"Kierra, calm down. Let's take a walk, ok?" Gabrielle's voice was soft, but commanding enough to capture Kierra's attention. She turned and followed her queen with a parting glare at the relieved guard.
They walked a bit in silence down the same path that Kierra and Xena had taken the night before. If Gabrielle knew this, she did not say.
"Why are you so upset, Kierra?" Gabrielle asked. "Ephiny won't be gone long, I'm sure."
"But I saw her last night and she didn't say anything about going away. She always tells me what she's doing." Kierra could hear the petulant tone in her voice, but she couldn't help it.
"Maybe your relationship with Ephiny is changing." Gabrielle suggested gently.
Kierra had wanted to avoid thinking the same thing. She'd been up most of the night trying to sort out her feelings. She liked the Warrior Princess, she even found herself liking her new queen. She still missed Melosa, acutely at times, but realized that after more than a year's time, she was beginning to let go. It was her longtime relationship with Ephiny that seemed to be the most perplexing and indeed, the one in jeopardy. She loved Ephiny dearly. They'd been close as long as she had memories. But she had to admit that in her long pursuit of Melosa, she'd put Ephiny in the background. Ephiny had always been there for her and now she felt as if she had taken her for granted.
"Kierra." Gabrielle's voice brought Kierra out of her reverie. "I know what it's like to be so close to someone that you don't notice how important they are to you until you think you've lost them. It's a painful lesson to learn. You have the opportunity here to go in any direction you want. But your future depends on making some decisions. For the sake of Ephiny's happiness and yours, decide what you want from Ephiny, tell her, and get on with your life. Sitting on the fence will only give you splinters."
Kierra had been listening intently to Gabrielle's advice, so it took a moment for the last thing she said to sink into Kierra's brain. She actually laughed out loud. So, her queen had a sense of humor to go along with all her other attributes.
"Ephiny is the most important person in my life now." Kierra confessed. "I've loved her all my life, but I think I may have taken her lifelong loyalty for granted. She's always been there for me and I can't even imagine my life without her in it."
"That certainly sounds familiar." Gabrielle responded. "It seems that's how I felt about Xena. I'd loved her for so long and never realized when the direction of that love changed until it was almost too late."
Kierra blushed. "I'm sorry about that, Gabrielle."
"Don't be, Kierra." Gabrielle quickly dismissed her embarrassment. "I was going to tell Xena last night how I felt. Her walk with you just reaffirmed that I would be lost without her. It was Ephiny's advice that allowed me to see beyond the Warrior Princess to my best friend and the woman I love."
"Yes." Kierra acknowledged. "Ephiny certainly has the ability to put things into perspective."
"Tell me, Kierra," asked Gabrielle. "What was it about Melosa that made you fall so in love with her?"
Kierra thought for several moments. "She was strong, brave, fiercely loyal to her Amazons, smart, fair, a wonderful leader. She had dignity and grace, and could be tender and loving. She was a fine warrior, beautiful in battle."
Gabrielle couldn't help chuckling to herself.
"What?" Kierra asked.
"You've just described Ephiny." And with that Gabrielle turned and headed back up the path.
It was almost a week later before word arrived at the village that Ephiny was returning. She acknowledged the guards as she passed them and rode directly to the stables. It had been good for her to spend some time alone at the quiet lake high up in Amazon country. She had taken the time to really review her life and what she wanted. She felt refreshed and ready to take on the duties as Gabrielle's regent. She was unsaddling and didn't hear the door to the stables open.
Kierra was purposely quiet, yet strode with determination towards Ephiny. As Ephiny stored the saddle and turned, she was immediately swept up into someone's strong arms. Before she knew what was happening she was being soundly kissed. Ephiny started to offer resistance, but the lips, arms and body that held her prisoner had a vague familiarity. Besides, it felt too good to resist.
When the woman released her, she opened her eyes and found herself face to face with Kierra. She was somewhat shocked at this reception and slightly confused. What in the world had happened while she was gone?
"That's for not telling me where you were going and when you'd be back." Kierra said with a touch of anger in her voice. "If you'd been gone any longer, there would've been serious consequences. In fact, I'm still considering them."
Ephiny couldn't believe her ears. Was Kierra sexually bantering with her? "What's come over you, Kierra?"
"Self-realization." Kierra snapped. "Now finish with that horse and meet me at my hut. We need to talk." And with that she turned and walked briskly out the door.
Ephiny was stunned. She had often imagined what it would be like to kiss Kierra in such a passionate way. But imagination didn't come close to the real thing. Ephiny could still feel Kierra's lips on hers. Her mind might have wanted her to keep a distance from Kierra, for them to go their separate ways. But obviously her body, betrayer that it was, had different ideas. She might as well go see what had gotten Kierra so worked up.
Kierra practically marched back to her hut. If she had needed any reassurance for the feelings she'd come to accept over this last week, she had it now. The moment she'd touched Ephiny, kissed her, she had felt the fire. And unlike when Xena had kissed her, when she opened her eyes and looked into Ephiny's soft, brown eyes, she had seen everything that she needed to see. There was desire, love, companionship, all the missing components in her life. How could she have been so blind? Would Ephiny still want her?
Ephiny knocked and entered Kierra's hut. Kierra was standing by the fireplace full of restless energy. Ephiny could feel it from across the room. She knew Kierra so well and she usually got this way before a good fight. "You look like you're about ready to do battle, Kierra." Ephiny said as she approached her. "Who are you taking on?"
"You." Kierra answered.
"You, Ephiny." Kierra repeated. "You went off on your own after dropping a bomb on me, leaving me here to try to sort out my feelings alone." Kierra's tone soften. "You've always been there for me. How could you tell me that you love me and then just walk away?"
Ephiny could now feel the hurt under Kierra's anger. It hadn't occurred to her that Kierra might have a response to her declaration of love. She had just assumed that Kierra would have nothing to say. "You're right. I'm sorry, Kierra. I didn't realize that you'd want to talk about it."
"Of course, I want to talk about it." Kierra said, some of the fire returning. "But not right now."
She closed the distance between her and Ephiny and took Ephiny's face in her hands. "Later," she whispered and started kissing Ephiny softly.
Again Ephiny was stunned. Her senses were telling her that this was Kierra kissing her. This was Kierra softly nibbling and tasting her lips. Kierra's tongue seeking entry into her mouth. Even as her mind refused to take in all the appropriate information, her body didn't hesitate. She slipped her arms up and around Kierra's neck, eagerly returning the growing passion in those kisses. All the reflecting she had done at the lake meant nothing with Kierra in her arms. They would indeed have to talk, but Kierra was right. Later, much later.
"Ephiny's back, want to go see her?" asked Gabrielle.
"Not now." Xena replied. "She's probably busy."
"What makes you say that?" Gabrielle wondered why Xena looked so smug.
"Because, Miss Matchmaker, I saw her heading for Kierra's hut."
"Oh." Gabrielle was about to turn away from the window when she felt Xena come up behind her, embracing her in powerful arms. "Xena, it's the middle of the afternoon."
"I know." Xena started to nibble on Gabrielle's ear because she knew that was one way to melt her resolve. "If it's a good enough time for the Regent of the Amazons, then surely it's a good enough time for the Amazon Queen."
Gabrielle had to laugh. This week had been sexually incredible. They had made love every night, sometimes all night. Xena seemed insatiable. In their short time together, she had learned more about her own sexual desires and Xena's then she could have thought possible. Xena was intense, playful, and so generous when they made love. For Gabrielle, the power and joy she experienced touching and being touched by Xena was addicting. Maybe she was the one who was insatiable. Their drives were so perfectly matched. It was becoming impossible to imagine a time when they had not been lovers.
She knew that eventually they would have to slow down, especially during their travels. Now that Ephiny was back, they could plan for their joining ceremony. Xena had been patiently waiting for her for so long. It would be a shame to make her wait until nightfall. "Ok," she conceded, trying to sound reluctant, but hiding a willing smile. "Just this once." Xena grinned and Gabrielle walked her to their bed, unlacing her halter top as she went.
Ephiny and Kierra's Night
Ephiny had spent the last week deciding that she and Kierra could not be so close anymore. She had lived many years with a building desire for Kierra. It had to stop. But now with Kierra kissing her, holding her, all those thoughts were but a memory. This is where she had wanted to be all her adult life. And now that she was here, she was never going to let Kierra go.
Kierra had also had the same week to evaluate her feelings. She'd been in turmoil, not knowing what Ephiny would want to do when she returned. She hadn't even known how she would feel when she finally took Ephiny into her arms. They had been though so much together and apart. Did they belong together now?
Kierra had known Ephiny all her life. They had become fast friends at a very early age. Kierra had been a tall, thin girl with very red hair and sometimes the other village children would tease her. She'd been shy and hated the attention her looks drew. But soon after she'd met Ephiny, the teasing had stopped. No one would have dared to take on the little blonde dynamo who always seem to come to Kierra's defense. Ephiny had an intensity about her even as a child. And for a girl who lacked confidence, but who was smart and loyal, Ephiny was a perfect match.
No one could have predicted the beauty Kierra would grow up to be. Her hair darkened considerably into a rich auburn as she reached her late teens and her body filled out to fit her tall frame. As she grew into her features, the loveliness radiated from her inner strength and character. Only Ephiny did not treat her any differently as she matured. Always a steadfast and loyal friend, Ephiny continued to be at her side throughout her life. Even when she'd expressed her desire for Melosa, Ephiny had been there, helping her in any way she could.
But when she'd returned from her travels, she had found Melosa dead and Ephiny acting regent for a queen she had never met. She was inconsolable, angry, devastated. It was Ephiny who had held her night after night while she cried, who had nursed her through the bout of depression that had followed. In her grief and sorrow, Kierra had never noticed or asked what had happened in Ephiny's life while she'd been gone. Finally, as she began to awaken from her withdrawn state, she noticed that Ephiny often went to the Centaur village. Yet Ephiny had never said anything about having business there. One day she asked Eponin why Ephiny kept going to the village. She was stunned when Eponin replied. "To see her son."
"I know Melosa's death hurt you deeply, Kierra." Eponin said gently. "But there are others here who have also suffered greatly."
"Please Eponin," Kierra requested. "Please tell me what Ephiny obviously didn't."
It was then that Kierra learned all that had occurred in her absence.
Ephiny had been so lonely after Kierra had left. She was devastated and angry when Terrais was killed. Ephiny had been instrumental in preventing a war with the Centaurs and in protecting her newfound friend and new amazon princess, Gabrielle. But after Xena and Gabrielle had left, Ephiny had felt the loneliness creep into her heart again. She turned to Phantes, a former enemy and now a friend. He was a good and kind man. It was almost easier to be around him because he was so different from Kierra. Ephiny found that she enjoyed his company and they became close friends. Phantes finally confessed that he had fallen in love with Ephiny and that he desperately wanted a son. Ephiny could easily sympathize with him, though she did not love him in that way. She knew he would be a wonderful father. She agreed to marry him and bear him a child, but only if they could leave Amazonia. Although he agreed, he would never know the real reason Ephiny wanted to leave her homeland.
Ephiny asked Melosa for permission to marry and leave Amazonia. Melosa had listened to her words, but knew that Ephiny would go regardless of her answer. The last thing that Melosa said to Ephiny before she left was, "Just remember, Ephiny, wherever you go she will always be with you in your heart." Ephiny had been to stunned to respond.
Eponin related all of this to Kierra. She told her all about the war in Thessaly and the loss of Phantes. She told her of Xena's heroics in saving the lives of Gabrielle, Ephiny and her son. She told Kierra of the young centaur, Xenan, who Ephiny entrusted to the care of his grandfather, of Velsaca's return and the events that preceded and followed Melosa's death.
Kierra was speechless. It was like a story told about someone she didn't know.
The next time Ephiny prepared to visit the Centaur's village, Kierra stopped her.
"May I go with you, Ephiny?"
"I want to meet your son." Kierra stated quietly.
Ephiny smiled slightly, nodded and they had left for the village.
Xenan was always delighted to see his mother. Although he loved his grandfather and the father he had never known, he adored Ephiny. Kierra would have known he was Ephiny's son in an instant. He looked so much like her, blonde and intense, but with his father's sparkling blue eyes. She liked him as immediately as he liked her. Afterwards, Kierra always went with Ephiny when she visited and quickly became a favorite of not only Xenan, but of all the centurion children. Soon she was teaching the children of both villages. As the months passed, Kierra and Ephiny's lives became intertwined again.
But then Xena and Gabrielle returned, and everything had changed.
Kierra realized what a fool she'd been to turn to Xena when Ephiny was the woman who meant so much to her. She knew she loved Ephiny and her son. They had become her life without her even being aware of it. Now the only question in her mind was, would Ephiny want to be her lover, her partner?
That question was quickly being answered as they continued to kiss and explore each other. Ephiny was the first to move toward a meeting of their bodies. She slowly backed Kierra closer to her bed and her fingers deftly started to untie the laces of her top. Kierra felt the strong, agile fingers work through the ties of her halter and free her. Ephiny stopped kissing Kierra long enough to behold the lovely breasts in her hands. She had never seen Kierra completely naked and she yearned to do so now. Kierra let her lead, pulling off her top as Ephiny worked her skirt loose and the breeches underneath. As her clothes dropped to the floor, her confidence rose by the hunger in Ephiny's eyes. She'd been told that she was beautiful throughout her adult life. It was a fact that she couldn't dispute, but only took notice of when her face and body pleased someone who was important to her. And she could tell that Ephiny was very pleased with what she was seeing and touching.
Ephiny lay Kierra down on the bed. She removed her boots and ran her hands up Kierra's long legs. The urges of her body were racing and her mind was desperately trying to catch up. Here was a dream about to come true. She was so overwhelmed with the emotions that she was feeling, that she couldn't say the things that she wanted Kierra to hear. Kierra seemed to just surrender, offering her body for Ephiny to enjoy in whatever way she chose. Fortunately, Ephiny was an experienced and skilled lover. Her hands and mouth already devising a plan to delight Kierra whether her mind was ready or not.
As Ephiny ran her eyes and hands seductively over Kierra's body, she heard her ask quietly, "Please, let me see you." It didn't take long for Ephiny to remove her clothes and straddle Kierra's hips. Kierra reached up to fondle the tanned breasts that hung above her. She had seen Ephiny's breasts just once before. Ephiny's shoulder had been hit with an arrow in battle. Kierra had gone to the healers hut while Ephiny was being treated, but was too distraught over Ephiny's injury to take notice. She softly fingered the small scar above her right breast and shuddered slightly at the memory.
Feeling the momentary tremor, Ephiny lowered herself down onto Kierra. "Are you having second thoughts, Kierra?" she asked gently.
"No, not at all." Kierra responded wrapping her arms around Ephiny. "It's just hard to believe that you're really here."
"Oh, I'm really here, Kierra." smiled Ephiny. "Here, let me show you."
Ephiny slid to Kierra's side while kissing her softly, gently. She brought her hand up to Kierra's ample breasts. Her lips seem to wander in a random pattern over Kierra's lips, chin, jaw, and to her earlobe. Here Ephiny nibbled, licked and whispered words of affection and passion into Kierra's ear.
Kierra felt as is she was being caressed by waves of feeling. Her breasts responded quickly to Ephiny's touch. Her nipples ached as they puckered and hardened under Ephiny's fondling. She didn't realized that her body was already moving to the rhythm that Ephiny was beginning to set for her. All she could think of was how much she wanted to please Ephiny and how right it felt to give her body to this incredible woman.
Ephiny began to work her way down to Kierra's beautiful breasts. Full and responsive, Ephiny felt as if she could spend hours sucking the pale pink nipples and trying to capture all of the generous mounds with her mouth and hands. As hard as it was to leave Kierra's breasts alone, she was feeling a need to venture lower. She could detect the scent of Kierra's arousal and it drove her to slip down between Kierra's legs.
Kierra was feeling such a warmth throughout her body. It seemed everything Ephiny did swept her along like being caught in a tide. Her mouth and hands seem to know where Kierra was most sensitive and ravenous. As she parted her legs to accommodate Ephiny, she stopped thinking altogether. It felt too good.
When her fingers first parted Kierra's folds, Ephiny was captivated by the velvet skin covering Kierra's sexual node. Surrounded by the auburn curls, she pressed her mouth to that most private area. She kissed, nibbled and sucked while Kierra responded with an increasing rocking motion of her hips. To further distract and delight her, Ehpiny slid her fingers around and finally into Kierra's opening. Ephiny loved the way Kierra felt inside. Soft, smooth walls that welcomed her in and asked for more.
Kierra was trying to concentrate on all the sensations that Ephiny was creating. But her lips, her tongue and her fingers were creating such a raging current that Kierra could hardly keep up. 'How can she possibly know my body so well?' Kierra thought. She had the feeling that she was walking a shoreline, that she was soon to be swept up and devoured by a huge climactic wave.
The orgasm came upon Kierra just like that. It started with a gentle swirling around Ephiny's tongue, increasing in intensity while Ehpiny's fingers thrust faster and faster into her vagina. The wave built ever stronger until it reached out and grabbed Kierra, sweeping her out into a raging sea of pleasure. She repeatedly called Ephiny's name and rode it out as Ephiny continued to enjoy her. As the wave finally released her and sent her back to earth, Ephiny slowed and then stopped her ministrations. She left her stilled fingers inside Kierra, softly kissed her clitoris and climbed up Kierra's body to look into her eyes. Those lovely brown eyes were dazed with emotion and sexual contentment. If Ephiny could have frozen time, she would have been content to look into that lovely face forever. Kierra was so still, only the occasional spasm inside her against Ephiny's fingers gave away their previous activity.
For Kierra, it felt like a homecoming. This was where she belonged, with this extraordinary woman who had just loved her so immensely. She closed her eyes and as she felt Ephiny gently slip her fingers from her depths, she wrapped her arms around Ephiny, holding on and enjoying her tenderness.
"Oh Ephiny." Kierra sighed. "How was that possible?.the first time?"
Ephiny smiled. "Because I have loved you for so long and know you so well??.. I would do anything to pleasure you. Oh Kierra, you have no idea how many times I've dreamed of loving you like this."
Kierra tried to grasp the concept. When she had first been with Melosa, she knew that Melosa wanted her. But as much as she had loved her queen, she was still Melosa, Queen of the Amazons. Kierra had been somewhat intimidated. It had taken quite a few times before Kierra could let go. Melosa had been a fine lover, but she was still a woman who was always in control of everything around her, including the sexual encounters in her bed. It had just never occurred to Kierra that it might be any other way. Melosa was all she had ever known.
Now here was Ephiny, her dearest friend, her lover (how strange that still sounded to her) able to shatter her emotions the very first time she touched her.
"What can I do for you, Ephiny?" she asked, unsure of what Ephiny would allow her to do.
Kierra looked into Ephiny smiling face. Could she really do anything, everything she wanted to do? She had never taken the initiative before and she was unused to the role. But Ephiny seemed so open, so trusting and Kierra could see the desire in her eyes.
"I'm not sure?." Kierra started to say.
"Kierra." Ephiny interrupted her. "You are a bright, beautiful, creative woman. And no matter how you love me, I will never be able to get enough of you."
She ran her eyes over Ephiny's body. Although not perfect, she was lovely to look at. Kierra moved over on top of Ephiny and settled astride her hips. She brought her hands to Ephiny's wild blonde hair, down her cheek and felt her lips with her fingers. She wanted to know what moved Ephiny, what actions would ignite the passion that surely simmered inside her. Her hands descended down Ephiny's neck to her strong shoulders. Kierra thought that Ephiny must have spent a good part of the week that she was away basking in the sun by that solitary lake. She was lightly tanned all over and Kierra reveled in the contrast to the fair skin of her own hands.
She continued her exploration of Ephiny's body, running her hands over Ephiny's breasts, across her abdomen and ribs. She ran her fingers lightly over the faint birthing scar that Xena had made. It occurred to her that Ephiny's body and heart carried all the events that she had missed. Now she could finally be a part of Ephiny's life that she had not had a chance to share.
Ephiny gazed up at the exquisite woman sitting across her hips. Being so close for so long, she sometimes forgot to notice how truly lovely Kierra was. That had never been her focus as she grew up with Kierra. She had loved her long before she became such a magnificent looking amazon. She had always admired her intelligence, her creativity, her courage. Of course she knew that Kierra was very likely the most desirable woman in this amazon village. Seeing her this way, her eyes dancing with growing desire, her very capable hands roaming across her body, her auburn hair cascading down caressing her smooth fair skin, was creating a need to have Kierra feel her more intimately.
"Love me, Kierra?..please touch me?.I can't wait any longer?.."
Kierra smiled at Ephiny's soft plea. Being in control was an intoxicating feeling. She lightly stroked Ephiny's breast catching the light brown nipples between her fingers. Ephiny groaned at the pulling sensation. Kierra then bent over and alternately kissed the tips she'd been toying with. She flicked her tongue over them, suckled them, nipped at them. Ephiny held her tightly to her breasts with her hands buried in Kierra's luxurious hair. As she played, Kierra's hands continued their exploration of the sensual body beneath her.
Soon Ephiny was driving her hips into the radiant woman atop her. Kierra could sense the needs overwhelming Ephiny. She slipped down between Ephiny's legs, inhaling the sweet scent. She was slick with desire and Kierra had to fight the urge to taste before looking. But she wanted to enjoy this unique view of Ephiny's legs spread, hips undulating, vagina overflowing with wetness. She parted her hair, massaged her clitoral shaft, and exposed the ravenous bud directing Ephiny's need. Kierra thought her beautiful.
Ephiny was operating on pure emotion and craving. This passion was way beyond anything she had ever experienced or could have imagined. But she didn't know how much more stimulation she could take. Just then, she felt Kierra's fingers slide into her overheated vagina and her tongue stroking the needful bud in earnest. Ephiny's body surged almost immediately into a shattering orgasm. She held herself there feeling the pleasure erupting. Thinking the storm was subsiding, Kierra started to slow her ministrations.
"Don't stop Kierra?.. Please?.. I need more of you."
To her surprise, Kierra realized that Ephiny was still rocking her hips. She moved up Ephiny's body and increased the penetration of her fingers into Ephiny's depths. Her palm rubbed up against Ephiny's clitoris with each thrust. She looked into the face of this woman that she loved so much, relishing the intensity, the concentration and the challenge in her eyes as she climaxed a second time?? and then a third.
Finally, Ephiny slowed, relaxed, and seemed spent. Kierra was again astonished at the power of this first time sexual experience with Ephiny. When Ephiny opened her eyes and gazed up at Kierra, she could tell that Kierra was amazed at her sexual prowess.
"It just takes practice, Kierra." Ephiny said with a smile. "And a very fine lover."
At that Kierra blushed, "That was so wonderful?.I'm not sure I could ever do that."
Ephiny pulled Kierra down toward her lips and just before she kissed her, she said.
"You can??and as long as you allow me to love you??..you will."
The ceremony had been as beautiful as anything Gabrielle could have imagined. The spoken vows poignant and heartfelt. Xena was magnificent in a tunic with highlights that matched Gabrielle's Amazon Queen attire. It seemed that the entire Amazon Nation had turned out to see their Amazon Queen wed the Warrior Princess. It was now quite late and still the celebrating continued. Well, if it was one thing the amazons did well, it was enjoy a good party. She was smiling at her subjects antics when she felt Xena's eyes on her. When she turned to look, she was unnerved by the intensity of desire in those diamond sharp blue eyes.
"You'd like to retire now, my princess?" she asked.
Xena's smile was almost predatory as she answered. "Why yes, however did you know?"
Gabrielle just shook her head and smiled in return. She allowed Xena to pull her to her feet and lead her away from the central area. As they left, Gabrielle stopped to give Ephiny a huge hug. This ceremony, this wedding, all of this had been mostly Ephiny's doing. With Kierra's help, she had made Gabrielle and Xena realize their love for one another. For this alone, Gabrielle would be forever grateful. And if she had played a small part in helping Ephiny find her own heart's desire in Kierra, all the better.
Kierra and Xena watched the warm embrace and then met each other's eyes. The understanding that passed between them spoke volumes about what might have been. But both acknowledging that the path they had taken was the true road to each other's happiness. A mutual smile was all that needed to be conveyed.
As they turned to leave, Gabrielle asked Xena, but in a voice loud enough for Ephiny and Kierra to hear. "Do you think we will be in the area when Ephiny and Kierra join?"
"Oh?. so subtle, Gabrielle," whispered Xena.
They didn't have to turn around to know that Kierra was most likely blushing to the roots of her beautiful auburn hair. And that Ephiny was no doubt shooting one of those intense "if looks could kill" stares in their direction. They both chuckled as they headed back to their hut for more entertaining activities.
Ephiny turned to Kierra in time to see the blush just fading from her lovely face.
"They do that on purpose, you know," she announced as if to alleviate any discomfort Kierra might be feeling at the insinuation.
"Is it really that obvious?" Kierra tentatively asked. "How we feel about each other?"
"Definitely to them." Ephiny replied nodding her head in the direction of the departing tormentors. "Maybe not so much to the rest of entire amazon nation. Why? Does that bother you?"
Kierra thought for a moment. She and Ephiny had been lovers now for almost a month. They had not slept apart since the day of Ephiny's return from the mountains. Loving Ephiny was not new to her. Hopelessly in love with her was. During the time it had taken for the planning of the Amazon Queen to join with the Warrior Princess, Kierra and Ephiny had become a couple without her even realizing it. She'd noticed the usual propositions she got (both subtle and overt) had subsided, as if she were spoken for. But she and Ephiny had never said anything about a future joined together. She wondered why that was.
To Ephiny she said. "No, of course not. It's just that joining was something we've never talked about."
Ephiny wondered what was going on inside that quick thinking mind of Kierra's. Was she uncomfortable with the thought of joining with the Regent of the Amazons? Was she not as completely in love as Ephiny knew herself to be? Was she still grieving somewhere inside her heart for Melosa? All these questions bounced around in Ephiny mind and she felt a slight jolt of panic at the concept of any of those thoughts being true.
Kierra could read the turmoil on Ephiny's face. With one hand, Kierra lifted Ephiny's chin up and kissed her softly. Kierra didn't want any erroneous ideas to take root. She needn't have worried. The moment their lips touched, everything Ephiny had been thinking about was gone. Touching Kierra did that to her. It emptied her mind so that all she could think of was loving Kierra.
"Let's go." Kierra whispered into the lips she was caressing.
Ephiny didn't need a second invitation. She took Kierra's hand and headed for their nearest hut.
Ephiny closed the door and turned towards Kierra. Sometimes when she did, all she could do was stand and stare at this incredible woman who had been her lifelong love and more recently her lover. Kierra knew that she sometimes stopped Ephiny dead in her tracks. It was gratifying to know that she affected the usually self assured regent in such a way.
Ephiny slowly approached Kierra, her eyes never leaving her face. When she got close enough, she reached up and put her hand gently on the side of Kierra's face.
"I love you, Kierra." She confessed in a soft voice. "I always have, and I always will. Will you join with me?"
Now it was Kierra's turn to be stunned by what she saw in Ephiny's eyes and heard in her voice. She had had so many proposals in her life. Some were heartfelt, some vulgar, some merely a shot in the dark. But she had always kept her heart guarded and only given it away once before, to Melosa. And yet, as much as she had loved Melosa, there had never been any question of their joining. It was a thorn in their relationship that Kierra had understood and accepted, yet still resented.
Now here was the center of her childhood, the woman of her adulthood, whom she'd come to love so dearly, asking her to join with her. How she had ached to hear those words. How she longed to be with this woman whom she felt to be a part her heart.
"Oh?. Ephiny?.." Kierra said as she slipped her arms around Ephiny and pulled her close. "You have always been my soulmate. I can't even imagine a future without you by my side."
"Is that a yes?" Ephiny asked nuzzling Kierra's neck.
"It is most definitely a yes, my Regent, my best friend, my love??most definitely a yes."
As love and affection continued to be displayed between the newly betrothed women, the village settled down into a night of romance that often followed a joining ceremony. Kierra and Ephiny celebrated their engagement. Gabrielle and Xena consummated their joining. And although the amazons could not have known all that was happening in the village that night, there was definitely magic in the air. It's not often that an Amazon Queen joins with a Warrior Princess. Nor on the same night does a Regent of the Amazons propose to the lover of the former Amazon Queen. Aphrodite and Artemis would have been very proud.