Spoiler Alert: Spoiler Alert: This story takes place during the 5th season, after the visit to the town of Spamona, without Xena becoming pregnant, and without Gabrielle adopting a horse.
My thanks to Ink Warrior, a great bard in her own right, for BETA reading my story and providing me with wonderful feedback and support.
Part 1: "Another Second Chance"
Part 2: "In the Company of Warriors"
Part 3: "The Drums Beat For You"
Part 4: "Blood of an Amazon"
Part 5: "The Next Amazon Queen"
Xena rapidly pulled on her warrior leathers and reached for her chakram and sword. Gabrielle stood by, weeping silently. Both women were torn apart over the disappearance of their daughter and Amarice. Xena felt the only way to deal with the kidnapping situation was to challenge Ares as a warrior. Gabrielle was searching for reasons as to why Ares would bother with a baby who was just one moon old. She feared for Xena, sensing the anger boiling inside her warrior at this moment. Facing Ares in this state would be to Xena's disadvantage.
Saren and Leah brought a still shaken Kameiro into the royal home and helped her to sit at the table. Gabrielle went to her and asked if she was all right. "I will be fine, my queen. I wish I could have done more," the healer said, feeling the lump beginning to form on the back of her head and seeing blood on her fingers.
"There is nothing you can do, Kameiro," Xena muttered. "This is between Ares and me." Xena was sharpening her sword with agitated movements, trying to work out a strategy for confronting the god who stole her child.
"I think there is something I can do," Kameiro said quietly. "I should have told you before. I just wanted to be sure."
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked shakily. Xena looked up at the odd tone in the healer's voice. Saren and Leah looked on as if they already knew what Kameiro had to say.
"My queen, I am born of a long line of healers," Kameiro began. "But more than the healing skill was passed along my lineage."
"I don't understand," said Gabrielle.
"I have the gift of vision. My mother and my mother's mother had it also. I have seen the plan Ares has for your child." Kameiro grimaced and got to her feet. Walking over to Xena, she placed her hands on the warrior's shoulders and looked in her eyes. "This is not between you and Ares. It is more than that," she said.
"Go on," Xena said, with interest. She could see the intense look in the healer's eyes and knew this woman was speaking the truth.
"My grandmother spoke of a time when the Amazons would unite. No longer warring between each other, no longer warring for sport. The nation would come together and become powerful. My mother continued to speak of these visions. She told me to watch for the signs. The time has come, my queen," Kameiro said, turning to Gabrielle. "You and your warrior have started a chain of events that will change the world. Ares wants to break the chain, for the changes do not suit his needs."
"Kameiro, I still don't know what you mean. Why does Ares want Briena? Why did he take Amarice?" Gabrielle looked anxiously at the healer, tears running down her cheeks.
Kameiro held out her hand to Leah and her younger sister handed her a worn scroll. Unrolling the yellowed paper, the healer began to read the words. "Two children will come to the land. Both will be a mixture of light and darkness. One will lead with might. The other will lead with love. Together the pair will be an insurmountable force. Each child will bear the mark of an arrowhead, the warrior's sign. The Amazon Nation will flourish and the people will learn new ways. It will be the dawn of a new age."
Lowering the scroll, Kameiro gazed at Xena and Gabrielle with her soft brown eyes. "Your child is the first, born of light and darkness. You are the giver of light, my queen. And warrior, you know much of darkness."
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other and then back at Kameiro. "So what does this have to do with Amarice? And as for markings, Briena has none," Xena asked.
"I don't know about the markings, warrior, but your daughter is the first and Amarice's child is the second. When she spoke of the father and his color, I knew."
"Arman was a black man," said Gabrielle. "That is the darkness?"
"Yes, my queen. For your child, the prophecy speaks metaphorically. For Amarice's, it speaks physically. I wasn't sure at first. That is why I have kept silent. Now that Ares has acted, I know it is the truth."
"It's starting to make more sense now," Xena said. "But I still have to go after him." Sliding her sword into its scabbard, Xena walked over and pulled Gabrielle into her arms. "I'll do everything I can, love. We'll get Briena back."
Kameiro placed a warm hand on the warrior's arm. "Do what you can for Amarice," she asked, the emotion in her voice evident. Xena looked at the healer and nodded.
A blinding flash of light ripped through the room. The three women, connected by touch, were thrown into a whirling abyss of color and flashing lights. They tumbled apart, falling through some sort of passageway to another dimension. Voices of past conversations swirled around them. Visions of a lifetime twisted and contorted in and out of view.
The confusing trip ended abruptly. Each woman found herself landing with a hard thump on the floor of a cavern filled with magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. Xena was the first to come to her senses. Springing to her feet, she glanced around in a wary crouch. She saw Kameiro and Gabrielle coughing from the dust disturbed by their landing. Moving to the pair, Xena knelt next to Gabrielle. "Are you all right?" the warrior asked.
"Where are we?" Gabrielle whispered.
"It's a maze. Underground. My dreams have shown me this place. We have to find our way to your child and Amarice," Kameiro said, looking at the many tunnels leading away from the chamber in which they sat.
"Do you know the way?" Xena asked, observing the mystical look on the healer's face.
"I think I can 'feel' the way. It's hard to explain. I feel as if I'm being drawn to something," Kameiro said mysteriously, getting to her feet and walking toward a tunnel. Hesitating at the entrance, she looked to her left and walked to a second tunnel. "We start here," she said.
The three women gathered together and peered down the gloomy passage. Gabrielle shivered from the dampness and felt goose bumps prickle her skin. There was just enough light to make their way through the shadows. Xena could not tell where the light was coming from but it gave her a bad feeling. She thought the source was most definitely unnatural.
Xena took up the lead, sword drawn, and proceeded into the semi-darkness. The sound of their breathing intensified and echoed in the confines of the passageway. Gabrielle's mind flashed with memories of Bacchae. As they worked their way along, the women found the tunnel so narrow, that at times they would have to squeeze through sideways or crawl through small holes on hands and knees. Soon all three were scraped and bruised from their efforts.
After about a candle mark of such travel, the women were sweating and covered with grime. For all their work, Xena could sense they had not gone far. But all three could hear something new ahead. They recognized it as the sound of rushing water.
Slithering on their bellies through one final opening, the trio stood to look down upon a deep ravine, at the bottom of which raced a frothing river. The noise of the rapidly moving water was deafening and the women had to shout to make themselves heard.
"Where do we go from here?" Gabrielle asked, her voice cracking. She was trying with extreme effort to control her anxiety. Her whole being wanted to scream out in frustration and desperation for her lost child.
Xena looked up and down the ravine. There was no obvious way across. She could see more tunnels on the far side. Kameiro sat against a large rock and closed her eyes, swaying as if dizzy. "What is it, Kameiro?" Xena asked, noticing the movement.
"I have the strangest feeling," the healer said. "It is like a voice in my head. It keeps saying one word over and over."
"What does it tell you?" the warrior princess asked.
"It says 'jump'. That's all. Over and over." Kameiro stood and looked over the edge of the cliff, then stepped back shaking her head. "I must of hit harder than I thought when Ares threw me. This is all crazy. Perhaps you should lead us, warrior."
"No, Kameiro. We will listen to your voice." Xena walked to the rim of the ravine, looked back at Gabrielle and jumped.
"XENA!" screamed Gabrielle, falling to her knees at the cliff's edge. Kameiro knelt too, and looked for the warrior. Gabrielle fell into the arms of the healer and sobbed uncontrollably. She truly felt as if her soul had just been shattered.
"Gods, Kameiro! I can't take anymore. First my baby, and now Xena," the queen cried. The women held each other, exhausted and confused, not sure what to do next.
A flash of gold and silver spun up from the depths of the ravine. It circled over their heads and disappeared into the darkness surrounding the cliff wall. "It's Xena's chakram," Gabrielle gasped. "She's alive!"
Kameiro crawled back to the edge and peered over. It was too dark to see anything clearly. The shadows were very deceptive. The healer thought she could hear something over the din of the rushing river. "I hear her, my queen. She calls to us."
"Is she all right?" Gabrielle asked, taking in a deep, shuddering breath.
"I hear only one word. Jump."
"Oh Zeus, Kameiro. Can't you hear something better than that?" Gabrielle said, managing a shaky smile. Kameiro smiled wearily back at her queen and stood up, offering her hand. The two women joined hands and jumped from the spot in which they had last seen Xena.
Both women set their minds for a long, dizzy drop. They were surprised when their leap ended quite suddenly, not far from where they started. Landing hard, the two were still for a moment while they gathered their thoughts. Gabrielle's first sight was of Xena kneeling next to her. The blonde wrapped her arms around her dark companion and held her tightly. Xena put her face against her wife's hair and kissed her head.
"Xena, I thought I'd lost you," Gabrielle said, still holding her mate firmly.
"I'm all right, Gab. Kameiro's voice was right. I felt it. You could not see this ledge from above because of the shadows. There is another passage way into the cliff wall." Xena stood up and went over to Kameiro. "You ok?"
"It's been a busy day, but I think I'll be fine," the healer quipped. Kameiro got up and dusted off her clothes. Walking over to the opening in the wall, she stood and focused her thoughts. Gabrielle and Xena joined her, quietly waiting for any information she might have to share.
"This is the way," she finally said, stepping into the entrance.
"But this takes us back the way we came," exclaimed Gabrielle, with disappointment.
"Ares is playing with us," growled Xena. "Wait until I get my hands on him." Dark anger clouded the beautiful woman's features and her blue eyes glittered savagely.
"This is the way," the healer repeated.
The women began the next leg of their journey, finding it very similar to the first. Crawling, squeezing, slithering, the three fought for every inch of ground. As soon as they were away from the river, the Amazons could once again talk in normal tones.
"Did you hear something?" Gabrielle asked, stopping in mid stride. Xena stopped to listen surprised that Gabrielle would hear anything before her own keen ears picked up on it. Straining, the warrior did catch the echo of a cry, a baby's cry.
"God's Xena! It's Brie!" Gabrielle pushed past the warrior and furiously started to claw her way through the next tight passage. Xena was right behind her, Kameiro bringing up the rear. The cry became clearer as they made progress. Gabrielle began to shed silent tears for her child and felt her breasts fill with milk at her cries. Xena was cursing at Ares and every other god when the women saw the passageway open up into a small cave. A pool of bubbling magma stretched from one side of the cave to the other. The tunnel could be seen continuing on into darkness at the far side of the molten fluid.
"Damn you, Ares," Xena yelled furiously, looking for some way to cross the cave. All three women could hear an evil chuckle roll through the cavern, echoing sinisterly.
"What now?" Gabrielle said wearily. The other two could hear the resignation creeping into the queen's voice. Xena tried scaling the side wall, but found no purchase. Kameiro stood staring fixedly at the orange, bubbling mass before her.
"It's not real," the healer murmured.
"What?" Gabrielle asked.
"This pool, it is not real. It is not really there." Kameiro took a step toward the pool's edge.
"Wait, Kameiro," yelled Xena, reaching out to grab the healer's arm. But the woman was just beyond her grasp and continued forward. Gabrielle screamed for her to stop, not wanting to watch as the healer took the next step into the pool.
Kameiro waded into the deadly magma until it was up to her knees. Turning, she looked back confidently at Xena and Gabrielle. At the same moment, the pool disappeared and the brave woman found herself standing on the dry floor of a dusty cave.
"Gods, Kameiro! Do you have to be so dramatic?" Xena asked, heaving a sigh of relief.
"This from the warrior who jumps off cliffs," Kameiro retorted with a small smile. Gabrielle went to Kameiro and hugged her. Xena took the lead and the three entered the passage on the other side of the cavern. The baby's cries were plain, now. They could tell they were getting close to the source.
The final passage way was more of the same, but not as long as the other two. The trio could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel and came out at last to find themselves facing a steep cliff wall. Judging from the cries, the baby was at the top of the cliff. Now the three could also hear an unrestrained cursing that could only be conjured up by the brash Amarice, countered with sharp replies from a deep male voice that had to be Ares. She was certainly giving him a piece of her mind, although the women could not hear the actual words.
"I'll go." Xena said, looking at her two battered and bruised companions. Finding a hold, the warrior hauled herself up onto the rock face. She was not very high when she looked back to find Kameiro and Gabrielle coming up behind her. "Gabrielle, I can do this," Xena grunted angrily.
"So can I. I did not come all this way to wait at the bottom of this cliff. I'm not staying down here," Gabrielle replied stubbornly. Xena recognized the tone of voice and let out a breath that fluffed the bangs from her forehead. Turning back to the wall, she began to climb again.
"Be careful. You're tired, hurt and anxious. Keep your focus. There can be no small mistakes. You too, Kameiro," the warrior called down to them. Both women nodded and continued climbing, brows furrowed with concentration.
Xena was the first to reach the top, Gabrielle not far behind. The dark warrior wondered at the deep resources of strength she had witnessed in her wife today. Pulling herself over the top, Xena looked quickly around to get her bearings. She stayed at the edge, waiting to give Gabrielle an arm up.
She could see Ares, proud and foreboding, perched on a stone throne adorned with skulls, staring down at her from across a large underground room. To the left of him was a small cave blocked with wooden bars. Xena could just spy a very pregnant, angry Amarice. The young woman was cradling a frustrated and hungry Briena.
Amarice's eyes lit up at the appearance of the warrior princess. "Let him have it, Xena. He is a scum sucking piece of?" Amarice caught a slap of god power in the face at the flick of Ares' wrist. She fell to her knees with the blow, silenced for the moment.
Xena flinched at the scene but was relieved to see that the two captives seemed to be relatively uninjured. "So bored you're picking on pregnant women these days, Ares? That's quite a challenge, I imagine." Xena taunted her old nemesis. She leaned over the edge of the cliff, felt Gabrielle grasp her hand and pulled her up. Gabrielle immediately kneeled and reached back over the edge to help Kameiro.
"I am surprised at how quickly you two made it through my little adventure land. Well done. Some will wander for days. Most never show up at all." Ares chuckled, with a dark look. His face took on a more curious aspect upon seeing Kameiro's head clear the edge of the cliff. "So, you had help. I should have guessed."
"You are not supposed to be here," he cried in anger at the healer trying to get a leg over the edge. The impulsive god threw a bolt of light at the struggling woman. It struck the ground to which she clung and Kameiro could fell it crumbling in her fingers. Losing her grip, she fell back over the edge. Gabrielle could not hold onto her and cried out to her falling friend. More of the edge crumbled away, raining debris after her.
"Ares, you son of a bitch!" cried Xena. Pulling her sword, she started for the god, only to find her way blocked by some sort of invisible force. "Let me through, I will give you a fight to remember," she yelled, banging on the unseen wall with her sword. Ares just laughed at the threats and watched the women with their struggles.
Gabrielle, meanwhile, was on her belly looking as far over the cliff's edge as she could. The Amazon queen could see a white knuckled hand gripping a rock not far below her. "Hang on, Kameiro, I'll get you. Xena, give me a hand," she called to her frustrated mate. Xena came back and saw Kameiro's hand.
"Lower me by my feet, Xena," Gabrielle said.
"Come on Gabrielle, you're not strong enough to haul her up," Xena replied. "I'll go down and get her."
"No, lower me down. I'll hold on to her. You pull us up," Gabrielle insisted.
Xena nodded, realizing this was the better of the two plans. Gabrielle soon found herself crawling along the cliff face upside down, with complete confidence in Xena's strength. Xena strained to keep her hold steady, feeling the toll of the day's exertions. Reaching Kameiro, Gabrielle grabbed her forearm with both hands in a death grip. She could see the healer's face was bloodied from the falling debris and the woman's other arm hung useless at her side.
"I've got you Kameiro," Gabrielle whispered. "Help us with your feet if you can."
Xena pulled with all her might, backing up inch by inch as she worked to bring up the women. Kameiro was dazed, but managed to find footholds along the way to make things a little easier for the warrior. Once Gabrielle was on top again, Xena let her down and reached over to pull up Kameiro. All three collapsed in an exhausted pile at the edge of the cliff.
"Bravo, quite the show," Ares clapped from his throne. "Ok, after that bit of entertainment, I will allow her to stay. But she cannot participate in the upcoming event." Ares waved his arm at the injured healer who suddenly found herself sitting in the enclosed cave with Amarice and the baby. Amarice bent over Kameiro and used the baby's blanket to stem the flow of blood coming from her forehead.
"All right Ares, no more games. We're all here now. What do you want?" Xena growled. It was obvious she had no more patience.
"You are wrong, Xena. There is one more game. I call it 'The Parent Trap'. It is specially designed with you and your 'wife' in mind." He sniffed at the word wife. "Here's how it works. You are both parents to this child," he waved in the direction of Briena. "But I am curious as to who is the real mother. Who loves the child more, is what I want to know. I will award the child to the winner." Ares' look was so dark and evil, Gabrielle shivered. The leather-clad god stood and descended the steps from his throne. Walking toward Xena and Gabrielle, he looked at them with a mixture of pleasure and hatred.
"You two have always made a mess of things for me. I don't know why I have put up with you. Except you're both so beautiful in so many ways. I've always had a soft heart for lovely women warriors." Ares threw his arms out dramatically and the women turned at a noise behind them. Xena and Gabrielle saw a narrow plank bridge spread across the chasm from the cliff's edge to the opposite wall.
"But things are about to change. They have to. I cannot allow your brat to grow up with the both of you. But I seem to be unable to choose which one has to go, so I will let you do it. Being a sportsman, I know that pairing you two would not be a fair fight, so to even the odds, I will give Gabrielle the advantage. The staff is your preferred weapon of choice, is it not?" Ares snapped his fingers and the two women found sturdy staffs in their hands.
"If you think we are going to fight over our child, then you truly have lost it, Ares," Xena snarled.
"Oh, but you will. You see, you will have no memories of each other, just of your child. You will only know that you have to defeat the woman before you in order to save your daughter. Interesting little twist, don't you think?" Ares laughed deeply and waved his hand toward the women. Each felt a momentary darkness pass over them and when they opened their eyes, they were both standing on the plank bridge holding the staffs.
Amarice and Kameiro watched in horror as they saw the blank looks on the royal couple's faces. Xena and Gabrielle obviously did not know one another. Kameiro quickly kneeled in the cage, cradling her injured arm and closed her eyes. Her lips began a silent, rhythmic chant. Baby Brie began to cry out with hunger again. At the baby's cry, both women on the bridge became more aware.
"Whoever causes the other to fall, may have the child," Ares announced. Xena and Gabrielle took up defensive stances at these words and eyed each other cautiously.
"I don't know who you are," said Gabrielle, "but that child is going home with me." Advancing, she took the offensive, faking a swing for the head and following up with a sweep at Xena's feet. Any doubts about this petite woman's abilities went flying from Xena's mind, as the little tigress descended upon her with a flurry of swings. Xena used all of her skill and remaining strength to dodge the blows and maintain her balance on the bridge.
"You're not going anywhere with that baby," Xena grunted. Catching Gabrielle slightly off balance, the warrior delivered a blow to the woman's collarbone and heard it crack. Pain immediately registered across Gabrielle's face and Xena dropped her guard. Gabrielle countered with a swing to the face that Xena pulled away from, but not before it sliced a cut across her forehead. Blood poured into her eyes, blinding her.
Kameiro continued her chanting and each of the struggling warriors began to have flashes of memories cut into their concentration. Images of the two of them together, fighting, walking, laughing, and sharing. Shaking her head in confusion, Gabrielle looked up to see the bloodied face of her mate. Her hesitation gave Xena one last chance to connect and Gabrielle felt her feet go out from under her. She gripped the edge of the bridge, dangling, seconds from death. "Xena," she gasped, unable to hold on due to her injured collarbone. Fingers slipping, Gabrielle began to fall.
At the emotional plea from Gabrielle, Xena came to her senses just in time to see her love lose her grip and fall. "Gabrielle," she cried. The warrior dropped her staff and dove after her plummeting wife. Xena managed to grasp Gabrielle's hand in her own and the two waited for the final impact. An instant before they hit, a warm glow surrounded them and the shaken women felt themselves being lifted out of the chasm.
The two were deposited gently at the top. They could see a very startled Ares turning to confront an extremely angry Artemis. "You promised to leave my Amazons alone, Ares. You will pay for this," the huntress said, with a menacing look.
"I did not hurt the baby. Besides, these two came to challenge me. I can't let that go," Ares said, in a weak defense.
"You will meddle no more in the affairs of these women," Artemis ordered. Xena and Gabrielle were surprised to see Ares looking as if he might be trembling before this stern Goddess of the Moon. "You know what Zeus said the punishment would be."
"Yeah, well you always were Daddy's little girl, weren't you? All right. Take them. What will be, will be," Ares conceded angrily. Snapping his fingers he disappeared from sight.
"Yes, what will be, will be. My women will learn new ways. The future will be bright. Your warriors will not dominate forever," Artemis promised, knowing the God of War could still hear her. "But that would be why you started this whole thing, wouldn't it?" Artemis waved her hand toward the caged women and baby, making the bars disappear. Amarice helped Kameiro to stand and the two slowly made their way to Artemis, dropping to their knees before her.
"Kameiro, always my faithful one. I heard your prayers today," Artemis said. "You have been through much in your life. Your time of happiness is near. Be patient." The goddess reached out and touched the battered woman before her. Kameiro felt a pleasant tingle flow through her body and all of her pain disappeared. She flexed her broken arm in amazement.
"Thank you, goddess," Kameiro said with genuine emotion, unable to look Artemis in the face.
"You're welcome, gentle soul. And you, defiant one," Artemis looked down upon Amarice who offered her little finger to the baby in an effort to quiet her. "I hear of your desire to become an Amazon. Your trial today is enough. I accept you as one of mine. It is not often I hear Ares on the defensive when it comes to cursing." The shimmering goddess smiled and pulled a golden bracelet from out of the air, and slipped it around Amarice's upper arm.
"Wow thanks, Artemis!" Amarice gushed. Kameiro shook her head slightly at the breech in etiquette.
Artemis chuckled pleasantly. "You have much to give, young one. Your time is near, also. Learn what you can from the strong warriors around you. You will need the knowledge to mother your child appropriately." The goddess waved her hands toward Xena and Gabrielle who were holding each other, injured and exhausted. The two were transported to a spot next to Amarice.
Placing a hand on each of their heads, Artemis said, "May your pain be gone." Xena rose to her feet and wiped a hand across her now healed forehead. Gabrielle stayed on her knees and took Briena from Amarice's arms. The child grew agitated knowing she was so near her food, but Gabrielle hesitated to feed her, glancing shyly up at Artemis.
"Feed your child, my chosen queen," the goddess directed. Gabrielle sighed her thanks and the crying was quickly silenced. Xena smiled at her wife and baby, standing before Artemis with her head slightly bowed. "Always the stubborn one, warrior princess?" Artemis teased, noticing that Xena was the only woman not kneeling. "That's all right, I like my people to be strong. You are respectful to those who deserve it."
"Thank you Artemis, for everything. Especially this child," Xena said sincerely, stroking Briena's black curls. The infant made contented noises at finally being fed and looked at Gabrielle with relief, her blue green eyes still full of tears.
"This child is blessed. That is why Ares could not hurt her. So he decided to try and change her destiny. I don't think he'll be bothering you again any time soon. I only ask that you delay her naming ceremony until the second child is ready." At this, Artemis gestured at Amarice's belly. "They should be named together." The goddess waved her arm and a watery wall of light appeared in the room. "Walk through this and you will be home. Continue the paths you are on, for they honor me and will honor all Amazons." With a nod toward the women, Artemis disappeared in an explosion of sparkling colors.
"I've always liked her style," Xena admitted, noticing that not only were the women free of injury, they were clean as well. "Let's go everyone, it's been a long day." The women got up and started toward the portal. Gabrielle, the baby and Xena stepped through first, coming out right into the great room of their own home. Kameiro placed a hand on Amarice's shoulder and the two prepared to step into the lighted doorway. Just as they did, a flash of light came from Ares' throne and caught Amarice in the lower back, pushing her forward with some force. The two women were already in the royal home when the evil laughter echoed through the cavern they had left behind.
Thrown off balance, Amarice came stumbling into the room on the heels of the royal couple. Xena turned around just in time to catch the woman in her arms. Kameiro appeared soon after and came to Amarice's side.
"What happened?" Xena asked, noticing the pained look on Amarice's face.
"Something hit her as we stepped through. I had my hand on her shoulder, and felt a shock pass through her, then she fell forward," Kameiro replied. "Are you all right, Amarice?" she asked with concern.
Amarice straightened up and thought about that question. "Uh, yeah. I think so. I felt something hit me in the back and lost my balance. But I guess I'm ok." The new Amazon checked out her gold armband. "Pretty neat, huh?" she asked with a contagious grin.
"Definitely pretty neat, Amarice. It's not too often that a new Amazon is adopted directly by Artemis herself," Gabrielle smiled and adjusted her nursing daughter onto the other breast. "We will have a special night to honor our newest Amazon."
A look of discomfort passed across the pregnant woman's face. "Sounds good, Gab, but we may have to wait on that," Amarice gasped.
"She's in labor," Kameiro said with a frown, feeling Amarice's abdomen. "I knew something was wrong."
"Ares. He had to have the last word," muttered Xena.
"It's too early, Kameiro," Amarice said, grasping the healer's hand in fear.
Xena secured Gabrielle and the baby safely in bed and alerted the royal guards as to their return. Saren appeared and the two warriors helped Amarice to Kameiro's hut. Leah joined them along the way.
"It's a long story. We'll tell it later," said Xena, with a stern look that silenced everybody's unasked questions at once. Seeing Amarice settled into bed, Xena left her in the talented hands of Leah and Kameiro. "Everything will be ok, Amarice," Xena offered. "You couldn't be in better care."
Amarice nodded back, her large brown eyes full of fear. Kameiro sat on the side of the bed and took the young woman's hand as Xena turned to leave. She nodded to Saren who stood outside the hut. "Watch over them, Saren. Bring us news when the child comes." Saren nodded and watched the warrior princess head back to the royal home, stopping briefly at the stables and then for a plate of food from the cook's hut.
Rejoining Gabrielle in the bedroom, Xena saw that Briena was finished eating. The baby was sitting in her mother's lap having her back patted. She was such a beautiful child, dark hair, light eyes and an engaging personality, even at such a young age. "Did she get enough to eat?" Xena asked, leaning over to chuck Briena under the chin. The chubby girl responded with a lopsided grin.
"I'll say. She was starved. I feel better, too. But I can't get her to burp," Gabrielle said, continuing to pat the baby's back.
"Let me try," Xena said. Picking up her daughter, the warrior placed her against a shoulder. Rubbing the child's back, Xena walked back and forth in the bedroom, talking to her. "That mean, old Ares won't be bothering you anymore, sweetheart. Your mom and I took care of everything, with a little help from some friends. Everything's ok, now. Just give us a burp and you can take a nice nap." Gabrielle smiled and felt her heart swell at the sight of the awesome warrior princess soothing her baby. It brought tears to her eyes.
Baby Brie let out a belch that made both women laugh. The noise even startled the child, who lifted her head on a wobbly neck and looked at Xena in surprise, her blue green eyes framed with long dark lashes. Dropping back onto the warrior's shoulder, the baby snuggled into Xena and yawned. The warrior chuckled and hugged her daughter gently. "Wonder where she gets her appetite from?" Xena teased, placing the sleepy baby in her cradle.
"I wonder," said Gabrielle, helping herself to the plate of food Xena had placed on the side table. "How is Amarice? I feel like I should go and help."
"Kameiro is worried. It is a bit early for the baby but Amarice is not even sure how many moons have passed, so everything may be ok. She's strong, healthy and could not have a better midwife, as you know firsthand. Saren is with them. There is nothing you could do. I asked them to send word." Xena undressed and pulled on her nightshirt, as Gabrielle finished eating. Crawling into bed, the warrior arched an eyebrow and suggestively asked, "What's for dinner?"
Gabrielle popped a bite of apple into her mate's mouth and watched the warrior work it with her strong white teeth. "Mmm, that's good, but not what I had in mind," Xena said, swallowing her food. Gabrielle then offered a bit of chicken, which Xena chewed and swallowed, licking her lips. "Nope, that's not it, either."
"You are so hard to please," Gabrielle teased, feeding Xena a piece of fresh baked bread. Noticing the emotion that darkened the warrior's eyes, Gabrielle knew very well what kind of an appetite Xena had but the queen still jumped slightly at the touch of a hand on her thigh.
"I'm not sure it is my stomach that hungers, love. The food is good, but my appetite only grows." Xena's eyes glowed with passion, as she continued to let her hand wander across her wife's thigh.
Gabrielle was aware of Xena's heightened sexual appetite after especially stressful battles. Battle lust, it was called. The condition was mentioned in stories she had read, of course always referring to men. Today certainly qualified as stressful. Having recuperated from giving birth and after her special healing from Artemis, Gabrielle felt herself responding quickly to Xena's touch and moved to stretch out on the bed next to her. She might just enjoy some battle lust herself. Xena let out a throaty growl and rolled on top of her wife.
The two women kissed deeply. Each kiss grew a bit rougher and Gabrielle felt Xena's hands clutching at her rear, pulling her up against the warrior's center. Xena's increasing passion was contagious. Gabrielle pulled off her mate's nightshirt and groaned with pleasure at the sight of the muscular, naked body lying over her. Securing a firm breast, the ardent queen bit Xena's nipple teasingly before moving to the other one. The warrior princess ground her hips against Gabrielle and arched into her, enjoying the attention being paid to her breasts. Stopping suddenly, Xena rolled over on her back and pulled Gabrielle on top of her. "Take off your clothes," Xena said, her voice dripping with lust.
Rocking slowly against the warrior beneath her, Gabrielle unlaced her leather shirt and pulled it from her body. Xena let her eyes feast on the flushed blonde, from her impassioned face to her full breasts, and down to her belly that was quickly regaining its original firmness. Rolling Gabrielle onto her back again, Xena pulled off the woman's leggings, and lay back down on top of her.
The warrior's hands were relentless and rough. She crushed her lips against Gabrielle's mouth, plunging her tongue deep inside, receiving similar treatment in return. Xena pinched her lover's sensitive nipples before sending her hand into the moist heat between Gabrielle's legs. Hearing her sharp intake of breath, Xena did not wait to plunge two fingers into that wetness, causing Gabrielle to buck and moan with pleasure.
Xena continued her movements and latched on to a nipple, sucking forcefully. That almost put Gabrielle over right then, but a shifting thigh caught Xena firmly between her legs, causing a loss of concentration for a moment. Both women let out a groan, Gabrielle at the feel of her warrior's wetness against her and Xena at the delicious contact she had made.
Gabrielle began to rock more forcefully against her lover, feeling so close to climaxing. She was shocked when she felt Xena withdraw her fingers. Opening her eyes, she looked into those icy blues just watching her and wondered how she could love anyone more. Reaching up, she wrapped an arm around Xena's neck and pulled her in for another deep kiss.
Xena was caught off guard when Gabrielle suddenly rolled her over and straddled her hips. Taking the warrior's hands in hers, the Amazon queen pushed them back over Xena's head. This movement caused her to lie over Xena's body and put her face close to her mate. "I love you, Xena," she whispered. Gabrielle could hold back no longer and ground herself into the warrior princess. Bracing her hands on the bed, the blonde pushed up slightly and threw her head back, uttering one long moan. Xena sucked in a ragged breath and moved against her wife, feeling an incredible wave of pleasure rush through her at her wife's fierce passion.
The women continued this way until they could take no more. Surrendering to her ecstasy, Gabrielle felt Xena's arms wrap around her waist, pulling her even closer. The woman cried out in release and felt Xena tremble beneath her before calling Gabrielle's name to the night. The frenzied movements slowed and Gabrielle let her body down on top of her lover. Laying her head on the warrior's chest, she heard the rapid beating of Xena's heart. A short time later, Gabrielle slid into the crook of Xena's arm, as the warrior turned slightly on her side. In this position, the lovers fell asleep.
Briena woke her parents near dawn, and Xena changed the baby before bringing her to the bed to eat. The women lay with the baby between them, Gabrielle suckling the child while lying on her side. Brie had begun to reach for her mother while eating and Xena smiled as she watched the two play a little game of chin tag. The warrior kissed the child's soft curls and pulled a blanket over them all. Laying an arm across her daughter and wife, Xena drifted back off to sleep. Gabrielle took the opportunity to really look at Xena and was pleased with the peace and happiness she found complimenting the warrior's features.
As soon as Gabrielle was up and dressed, she insisted on going to see how Amarice was faring. Xena nodded and volunteered to stay with Briena, preferring to stay on the sidelines for this birth. The queen ate her breakfast as she walked to Kameiro's hut, feeling a bit guilty at not having made more of a presence, but knowing realistically that too many people hanging around could make things even more difficult.
She was not too surprised to find three exhausted women, weary from a long night. Amarice had rested fitfully throughout the night, her labor progressing at a painfully slow pace. Kameiro had obviously been by her side the whole time. Gabrielle sent Leah off to take a break and get some food, assuring her that she could assist the healer in any way needed. Amarice was snoozing, as the queen went to Kameiro and rubbed the weary woman's shoulders. "Why don't you rest? I'll sit with Amarice," Gabrielle offered.
"I don't think it will be much longer, my queen," the healer said with a tired smile. "Her pains took a while to become regular, but her womb is ready to deliver now. When the contractions start again, she will want to push. I want her to rest for now, but if nature does not take its course, I will give her an herbal tea to make her pains stronger. I use it as a last resort. Her waters broke only a short time ago, so I am not worried yet."
As if on cue, Amarice opened her eyes in pain. "Oh my gods, Gabrielle. Why didn't you tell me it would hurt so much?" Amarice clenched her teeth and pushed instinctively. Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed and held the young woman's hand.
"Kameiro says you are doing such a good job. I'll stay with you, if you want me to, Amarice."
"Don't leave," Amarice said, a tear falling down her cheek. "I? I am so scared."
"Giving birth is a scary thing. But you are not alone," the queen reassured her friend. "We are here. You and your baby will be fine."
Kameiro was pleased to see the relaxing affect the queen had on the laboring woman. She admired Gabrielle for many reasons but thought her ability to understand other people's needs was one of her best qualities. "Amarice, it is time to work on pushing. With your next contraction, I want you to draw in a breath, hold it, and push hard for a count of ten. Ok?" the gentle healer tenderly smoothed the frightened woman's hair away from her face and Gabrielle helped Amarice to sit up and rest her back against the pillows.
Gabrielle's presence seemed to give Amarice a renewed strength and after three strong contractions, the queen congratulated her newest Amazon for her efforts. "Oh Amarice, you are doing very well. I'm proud of you. No wonder Artemis adopted you herself." Gabrielle meant it, but also knew how to play Amarice's emotions. Her words had the desired affect.
With hardly a sound, the panting woman pushed out her baby's head upon the next contraction. The child was small, both Gabrielle and Kameiro could see, but not so small that there would be no chance of survival. "You are almost done, Amarice," Gabrielle comforted the woman, surprised that this normally very vocal girl was giving birth so stoically. She was expecting a blue streak that would make a sailor blush, from her friend, but none was forthcoming.
Kameiro delivered the baby with the next two pushes and placed it on the bed. Frowning, she leaned over the infant. "What is it?" Amarice asked impatiently. "Why isn't it crying? What's wrong?" Kameiro rubbed the baby's chest vigorously and looked at Gabrielle with worried eyes. The queen could see the bluish tinge to the child's skin and knew it was not breathing. The healer turned the baby over her arm and patted its back firmly with no result. Amarice, aware now of the situation, was growing distraught. "No, sweet Artemis, no! I can't lose this baby!" The young mother fell back onto the bed, weeping hysterically.
Gabrielle had never seen Kameiro look so flustered and frightened. Reaching for the child, Gabrielle brought the infant to her face and breathed a gentle breath into its mouth. Perhaps an old lifesaving trick of Xena's could help her friend's baby. It was worth a try. Kameiro looked on in wonder. Gabrielle continued to deliver short puffs into the newborn's mouth.
After a short time, the women heard a strangled gasp come from the baby. Gabrielle gave one more breath and the child sucked in its first lungful on its own. Letting out a rather pitiful cry, the baby began to move and react, as it normally should. Amarice stopped sobbing and tried to see the child. Kameiro cut the cord, wrapped the baby in a towel and placed the newborn in her mother's arms. "It's a girl, Amarice," the healer said with tears in her eyes. "I guess it is never too late for an old healer to learn new tricks. Thank you, so much, my queen," Kameiro added, looking with admiration at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle smiled at the healer and moved back up to Amarice. "She is beautiful. Looks like she'll have dark hair when it fills in." The queen watched the baby open her eyes and look briefly at her mother. "Oh Amarice, she has your lovely, brown eyes." Gabrielle's eyes widened slightly when she noticed a triangular shaped birthmark on the newborn's upper left arm.
Amarice just cuddled her child and kissed her, tears streaming down her face. "Thanks, Gab. I'll never be able to repay you."
"There's nothing to repay. You took good care of my child when she needed you. It's the least I could do," the queen said. Leah returned and helped to finish up with things. Gabrielle stayed long enough to see the new mother's first attempts at nursing. The tiny infant did not quite have the idea yet, but it was a touching scene nonetheless. "What will you name her?" she asked the new mom.
"I would like to honor her father," Amarice said, allowing Kameiro to take the baby. "I think I'll call her Armanda. Mandy for short." Another tear slid down her cheek at this, which she quickly wiped away.
"Mandy. He'd like that, Amarice," Gabrielle smiled. "You get some rest, now. I'll visit again later." Nodding to Kameiro, who was cleaning the baby, the queen left to find her family. On a hunch, she stopped by the stables and sure enough, that's where her girls were.
"Well, Amarice has a daughter," she announced to her warrior. Xena was sitting with Brie next to Argo's stall, helping her to reach out and touch the new foal. The frisky colt snuffled against the baby's fingers and shook his head. Argo nickered a greeting to Gabrielle, who stroked the mare's forehead.
"Is everything all right?" Xena asked, getting up and standing next to her wife. Brie saw her mom and gurgled a smile.
"Hey sweetness," Gabrielle smiled back, giving the little girl a kiss on the cheek. "The baby is small. She did not want to breathe right away, but I think she'll be ok. Amarice named her Armanda? Mandy. And Xena, she has a mark, on her arm. Looks kind of like an arrowhead."
"Hmm, that's interesting. I want to learn more from Kameiro about this prophecy. The name is fitting. It must be hard for Amarice, not having Arman here. Is she ok?"
"She was such a trooper. I think she labored longer than I did, but she hardly made a peep. I remember yelling pretty good a couple of times. With her mouth, I was not sure what to expect, but she just pushed the baby out and that was it," Gabrielle said with respect.
"That is a surprise. I think Amarice is stronger than any of us suspect. She will make a good Amazon, you know."
"Artemis certainly knew it, and Kameiro, too. That healer never ceases to amaze me. How old do you think she is, Xena?" Taking the baby, Gabrielle turned and began to walk back to the house with her family.
"Who, Kameiro? Hmm, never really thought about it. Probably about my age, I'd guess, though she seems older at times. Why?"
"Just something she said," Gabrielle replied. "I hope she and Amarice can find?"
"Gabrielle, what have I told you about playing matchmaker?" Xena warned. Gabrielle just smiled innocently and the trio went home for lunch.
One moon later the village prepared for a dual naming ceremony. Queen Gabrielle had told and retold the story of "Ares Caverns", leaving nothing to the imagination. The Amazons held their new sister with high esteem and Amarice recuperated from her enforced childbirth surrounded by support. She and her daughter were the recipients of special gifts and visits from tribal members. The new mother never thought she would have the sense of belonging that she found with these women and looked forward to becoming an essential part of the village.
Baby Mandy was still on the small side, but was past any danger. Her skin had darkened slightly, and her eyes had lightened since birth, giving her an exotic look. No doubt about it, the baby was a beauty. She was delicate and fragile looking but seemed to have her mother's temper. The brown-eyed infant was quick to let people know when she was unhappy. Kameiro doted on this child, carrying her everywhere, letting her sleep in her arms. The healer felt an unusual connection to the baby and could not shake the memory of how close she had come to losing her.
The Amazons gathered beneath a beautiful full moon to name the new children. A special altar for Artemis had been prepared in the village commons. Xena stood with Gabrielle, who held Briena. Kameiro stood with Amarice, who held Mandy. The healer was obviously delighted and honored at having been asked to stand as a parent in the naming ceremony. Gabrielle gave Xena a sly grin regarding this fact, at which the warrior rolled her eyes.
Two massive candles sat at each end of the altar. Throughout the day, rich offerings of food, jewelry and other tokens of worship had been placed between the candles by each member of the tribe, to honor Artemis. The village priestess stepped to the altar. Her feathered mask shimmered in the firelight.
"These candles celebrate the births of two children, new lights in their parents' hearts and in this village." The priestess lit each candle as she spoke the words, her hands moving gracefully from one flame to the other. "These candles celebrate the emergence of these children from the darkness of the womb into the light of the world." The priestess nodded at the two mothers. Gabrielle and Amarice stepped forward with their babies and knelt at the altar. Xena and Kameiro stepped up to stand behind them.
The priestess brought forth a tray, which held five carved, wooden cups. Holding the tray toward Xena and Kameiro, the priestess continued the ceremony. "Given water, each child will feel the cleansing force of life." At these words, Xena and the healer each dipped a finger in the cup that held water and put the moisture to the lips of their babies.
"Tasting the oil of palm, the children will know the coming of calm in periods of travail." Xena and Kameiro repeated the process as before, this time dipping a finger into the cup containing palm oil.
"Salt and sugar improve our tastes, and therefore bring a pleasantness to life." Gabrielle and Amarice watched their daughters smack their lips in curiosity as these flavors were offered to them.
"The juice of the cola nut represents longevity, for the fruit does not fall from the tree until fully ripe." The babies received a taste of this as well.
"Ginger is the spice of good health and meat stands for the providence of our goddess, Artemis." The priestess took a pinch of spice from the fifth cup and sprinkled it over a piece of meat on the altar. Taking a tiny bit of meat for each girl, the priestess fed it to the infants.
Stepping back from the altar, the masked woman raised her arms to the moon and prayed aloud, "We pray to Artemis, Goddess of the Moon, Goddess of the Hunt. Hear the names of your newest Amazons, so that they may be blessed and grow to be worthy of your tribe. Hear the name, Briena, daughter of our Queen Gabrielle and Xena, Warrior Princess. Hear the name Armanda, daughter of Amarice, your own adopted Amazon and Kameiro, our beloved healer." The villagers began a slow rhythmic chanting of the girls' names. Drums picked up the beat and the Amazons began to dance.
Xena and Kameiro took the babies from their mothers and they all walked toward the blazing fire to watch the dancers. The Amazons spun gracefully past the women and their daughters, each dancer touching the children as she passed, accepting them into the village. The evening continued with feasting and happy socializing.
As the night grew late and Briena began to fuss, Xena prepared to take her family home. Walking past the campfire, Brie in her arms, the warrior princess was stopped dead in her tracks by the sudden appearance of Ares. "Enjoy your little party, Xena?" the God of War sneered.
"Ares, don't you have a life? What is it with you, lately?" Xena turned her body slightly, facing the baby away from the god.
"Oh, don't worry. I won't harm her. I can't, as I'm sure you heard Artemis announce. But I did want to let you know that I have a child, too. Just born tonight, by the way." Ares paused to see the affect of his words and was disappointed by Xena's deadpan face. "Well, aren't you going to congratulate me?"
"A bastard for the King of Bastards? congratulations, Ares," Xena said, with mock sincerity.
"You will regret your tone, Xena. My child will haunt you and your daughter. He will finish what I cannot. I thought it only fair to warn you." Sinister laughter filled the air and the god disappeared in a flash, throwing up a shower of sparks from the nearby campfire. Briena let out a piercing cry and Xena looked down to see that a bright ember had landed on the baby's arm.
"Damn you, Ares," Xena cried, brushing the hot coal from her daughter, but it was too late, the child had been burned.
Back at the royal home, Kameiro treated the burn with ointment while Gabrielle calmed the baby by nursing her. "Despite this final problem with Ares, the ceremony was beautiful, my queen," the healer said, dabbing at the burn with a piece of clean cloth.
"Yes, it was, Kameiro. I am glad you were part of it," replied Gabrielle, responding to a warning look from Xena with an innocent smile. "Xena and I have learned over the years that Ares bark is worse than is bite. He just has to stir things up every so often. I don't think there is anything to his threat. Do you, Xena?"
"I hope not, Gab. We will have to be careful, but then we would be anyway," Xena responded.
"There, that should do it. We'll treat it again in the morning. The burn is not too deep, but I am afraid it may leave a scar." The healer stood up and all three women looked down at the baby's left arm. Gabrielle could not suppress a gasp and the other two women agreed? the burn mark had raised and become swollen. It was in the shape of an arrowhead.