Disclaimer: I don't own them, except for, Mysia and her group, they are mine from the story, Fusion, but the others I'm just borrowing for a bit without the permission of... um... well I'm not quite sure who owns them now, but no copyright infringements are intended.
Reason for insanity: I've noticed that a majority of fan fiction writers submit at least one Xena and Gabrielle story, so here is my contribution. I'm using the conqueror genre because the thought of Xena ruling all that she surveys leaves a lot of room for things to happen on a grand scale.
Caution Ahead: This story is kind of long. That's what I get for trying to include as many characters from the series as I could. There will be scenes of love, violence and a few displays of godly powers. Just as the TV show did, I have changed history's timeline. Don't hold it against me. If you are still interested at this point, then please to enjoy. JAZ..... © May 2007
The Conqueror sat on her throne waiting for the next petitioner to be brought in. So far most of the request had been met with unfavorable results.
The headless body that was being removed from the room was the most recent target of the ruler's ire. The bloody corps was all that was left of a representative from a village that wanted to keep most of their crops, claiming that they'd had a bad harvest and couldn't contribute the standard half profit that the Realm required.
Through informants, Xena discovered that the village Elders, this man being one of them, kept the crop overage, planning to sell it themselves for profit to less successful growers.
She ordered his head taken off and his remains returned to his village, she also sent word to General Darnel to have the man's partners in crime treated to the same fate and have their bodies left on display in the middle of town as a reminder to those who dare steal from her what their end would be.
After three springs of living under her rule, the nobles and village elders still thought they could manipulate and out smart her, believing that her version of dispensing justice was only reserved for the peasants.
They still didn't realize that if it took her beheading or crucifying each and every one of them to make a point.... she would do just that, with no remorse.
She didn't discriminate when dispensing out punishments to anyone that challenged her authority or her absolute right rule, Greece, commoners as well as nobility would suffer equally.
Becoming bored with the entire process she waved a negligent hand, signaling the guard to escort the next potential victim forward.
As the new petitioner was led in she couldn't help but notice the crimson stains on the marble floor at the foot of the dais that the throne sat upon and wondered if her blood would soon be mixed with the thick remains.
She was dressed in Amazon leathers and wore an impressively carved mask over her face, in one fluid motion, she bowed her head and raised her mask so that it would rest on top of her head.
When she lifted her head the electric blue of the Conqueror's eyes held her in place as, Xena observed the woman that stood before her.
Blonde curls fell from beneath her mask and when she raised her head, hazel eyes looked at her with respect, but they held no fear, her stance was that of a warrior, but that wasn't odd, most Amazons were warriors.
When, Xena nodded her head, the guard that had led the woman in pushed her forward. "State your business, Amazon."
It took all of the warrior's discipline not to strike out at the guard, instead, she focused on the reason that she was in this viper's nest.
"Conqueror, I am Ephiny, Emissary of the Amazon Nation, I am here to deliver a request to you from our queen."
Before the queen sent, Ephiny to Corinth, it was decided that her being the nation's Regent would not be mentioned, for fear of her being held against her will.
The queen didn't want to send her second in command, but after hearing Ephiny's argument about not trusting any of the other Amazons to deliver the message without losing control and getting themselves killed when faced with the dangerous woman's erratic behavior, she gave in.
Now she stood in front of the most feared person in Greece, hoping beyond hope that her queen's attempt to form an alliance would be accepted.
Xena, wasn't surprised by the visit, she had been expecting something like this for a while, she knew that there were Amazon spies lurking about sending their findings back to their territory.
And once the information of an impending attack on their nation leaked out, she knew it was just a matter of time before their queen would want to negotiate.
The problem was the Amazons didn't have a choice, if Xena wanted their lands, she would take it, if she wanted their warriors, she would take them and they could serve, die, or become slaves, she didn't care which.
She laughed to herself when a thought crossed her mind. 'Those stubborn women would probably rather die than submit.'
A wicked smiled creased the woman's beautiful face, as she thought. 'Well, if that is the path they choose, it will be fun trying to break them.'
She held out a strong hand and a scroll was placed in her palm, long fingers broke the wax seal and she started to read the message.
It took her a few seconds to focus on the words, because for some reason the writing on the parchment seemed familiar to her, the elegant lines and confident strokes spoke to a part of her being that the written words didn't reach immediately.
Greetings Lord Conqueror,
I am sending my Emissary with this personal request, asking that you will allow a meeting between the two of us in hopes of forming an alliance between the Amazon Nation and the Realm.
If you are willing to consider this request, please send the details back with Ephiny and if you are not willing to consider this request, please........ Just send Ephiny back.
The delicate signature on the bottom read simply. I await your decision, Queen Gabrielle.
Xena, laughed out loud at the last part, she noticed that the request held just enough submission to show respect, but not so much that the Amazon Queen would appear weak, ending the note with a plea laced in humor also showed that the queen was a woman that didn't use force to get what she wanted, instead she used intellect.
All in all the Conqueror was impressed, so she did something that was totally out of her character, she quickly wrote out a response agreeing to the meeting, sealed it and handed it to the Emissary.
"Tell your queen she chose her words wisely."
The smile that Ephiny saw was more predatory than humorous and knew that she was lucky to be leaving Corinth with all of her limbs still in place.
When Ephiny returned to Euboreas, she was immediately escorted to the queen's hut, Amarice and Chilapa were the two Royal Guards that were stationed at the entrance when the Regent approached, when she stepped up on the porch they uncrossed their staffs and allowed her entry.
Gabrielle, was sitting at her desk doing what she had been doing for the last two moons, going over scrolls that laid out treaty and negotiation protocol.
The only problems that she ran into was the scrolls of the past hadn't dealt with anyone like the Conqueror, the woman was ruthless and ruled with absolute power, rarely listening to her advisors.
She was also savvy, and from all accounts could be very charming, Gabrielle knew that this could be a very dangerous combination.
Her spies had informed her that the ruler used all of her many skills, to obtain what she wanted and her charms were just one of the components that helped her achieve her ultimate goal.
A few of the spies had even tried to gain the Conqueror's trust by getting into her bed, but the former Destroyer of Nations, didn't seem to be in need of carnal pleasures and never entertained them.
>From the reports Gabrielle had received, it seemed that Xena hadn't shared her bed with anyone in the three springs that she had ruled, Greece.
The Amazon Queen found this information a little strange, there were several stories floating around about the woman's proclivities and her numerous bed partners during her quest to conqueror Greece, most of them being the men and women that she led into battle.
As Ephiny approached her queen, she dropped to one knee and bowed her head.
"I bring a response to your request, my Queen."
Gabrielle, rolled her eyes. "Ephiny, how many times do I need to tell you to drop the 'My Queen crap,' especially when we are alone?"
The curly-haired Regent stood and smiled. "We must stay disciplined, Gabrielle."
"So, what's the word?"
Ephiny, laughed out loud at the queen's relaxed way of communicating, she handed the blonde woman the sealed scroll, Gabrielle opened it and started to read out loud.
"You request is granted, you may come to Corinth with four escorts in seven days time."
That was all that was written.
"Okay, seems that I need to make plans to leave the day after tomorrow if I am to be there in the time allotted."
It had taken Ephiny three of the seven days to return to the territory, leaving one day to prepare and three days to make the trip.
"It seems that Xena has given me just enough time to receive her message, pack, and leave."
Gabrielle, stood and walked into her sleeping quarters with Ephiny close on her heels.
When Gabrielle reached the side of her bed, she reached down and placed a packed bag on top of the covers.
"Uhm.... Gabrielle, why do you have a travel bag already packed?"
As the queen checked her pack, she looked at her Regent. "I had a feeling that if Xena agreed to meet with me she wouldn't give me a lot of time get there."
"Do you know who you will take with you?"
"Of course. Eponin, Solari, Meslena and Tara."
Ephiny, shook her head from side to side causing her blonde curls swing.
"Are you sure you want to take Tara, you know she has a bit of hero worship where Xena is concerned."
"I know, but she is brave, skilled and smart, maybe if she meets the Conqueror she will see how misplaced that adoration is."
Ephiny, rubbed the back of her neck. "I hope she doesn't learn that lesson at the end of the Conqueror's sword."
"So do I, she is a little over zealous in her attempts to prove her skills." Gabrielle, thought back to when she first encountered the girl.
She and the Amazons had stopped in a town to rest while on their way back to Euboreas after attending a local carnival where they sold their jewelry and leather goods.
As they took their seats at a large table in the back of the tavern, a dark-haired girl looked at the women warriors with admiration.
After a long observation she determined that Gabrielle was their leader, she thought if she wanted to impress the women and possibly have a chance to join them she would need to challenge their leader and from the looks of the small blonde that wouldn't be hard.
Her first mistake was approaching the table and heading in Gabrielle's direction with menace, ten warriors stood to defend their queen before the stranger even got close. Gabrielle, ordered the women to stand down before the girl accidentally got hurt. Tara's second mistake was to challenge the queen.
Gabrielle, accepted the challenge and proceeded to teach the girl a lesson in staff maneuvers that she wouldn't soon forget.
After her defeat, Tara thought all hope was lost, but Gabrielle surprised her by inviting her back to the nation and after many moons of training the girl proved to be an asset and was now one of its finest fighters.
That was two summers ago and Tara had blossomed into a very skilled warrior, her abilities with knives were unsurpassed and if she would work more on her discipline, she would become an excellent Amazon.
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in." Was yelled from the queen's sleeping area.
They both recognized the sound of the rushed, heavy footsteps that crossed the floor and wasn't surprised when they saw a familiar figure appear in the doorway.
Eponin, crossed the threshold and wrapped Ephiny in a tight embrace as she spoke.
"I was worried sick."
Ephiny, rubbed her lover's back. "I know love, but I had to make my report before I could come to our hut."
"When word came that you had returned I waited as long as I could."
Gabrielle, smiled at her friends, the two women had known each other since childhood and their devotion to one another was obvious to all who knew them.
When it had been decided that Ephiny would be the one to deliver the message to Corinth, Eponin was livid, the women argued for two days before the Weapon's Master finally gave in to her lover's decision.
After being able to make physical contact with the hazel-eyed woman, Eponin released the Regent and became all business.
"Well, what's our next move?"
Gabrielle, nodded her head in Ephiny's direction, giving her permission to inform the stocky Amazon of the conditions given that would allow her an audience with, the Conqueror.
"The Conqueror, has given our queen seven days to reach Corinth, she has also been instructed to bring no more than four escorts with her.
It has taken me three of the seven days to return, so she and the warriors that she chooses to take with her will be leaving the territory day after tomorrow.
Eponin, stood tall and offered her services. "I volunteer to be one of your escorts, my queen."
Both women laughed, this was expected from the dedicated Amazon, it had been Ephiny, Eponin and Solari that had taken Gabrielle under their wing when she first arrived in the nation five winters before.
And it had been those same three that supported her right to claim the Queen's Mask a full season later, after Velasca had defeated Queen Melosa in a Royal challenge.
"Eponin, I want you to gather Solari, Meslena and Tara. I don't know how long we will be away, so have them pack enough supplies for seven days."
The stocky woman looked confused for a moment. "My Queen, are you sure that you want to take Tara, you know she may get to Corinth and desert the Amazons in favor of joining the Conqueror's army."
The queen and the regent laughed out loud. "You may be right Eponin, but I need her skills and as for the rest.... Well, we'll just have to play it by ear.'
Xena, was in the war room looking over a map of the new Amazon territory. What her scouts had discovered surprised her. In the four winters that the new queen had ruled, their holdings had increased. Their farm lands had expanded and their hunting grounds now extended into the Tanagra forest.
To Xena's strategic mind this could only mean one thing, the Amazon Nation had grown much larger than she had realized and if it continued they could possibly become a major enemy within the Grecian boarders, their presence in Tanagra proved that.
The Conqueror had never paid any real attention to the small area of Tanagra, she knew that because of the men joining her army that there were many small villages along the Skyros river that were populated by a majority of women.
But she never fathomed that they would join with the Amazons that lived near those villages or that the closed nation would allow the merger.
She was becoming more and more impressed with the Amazon Queen "Well Queenie, I'll be sure to thank you for the new lands when you arrive."
Palaemon, opened the doors to the room and approached the ruler with caution. "You sent for me my Liege?"
"Yes Palaemon, I want you to have General Glaphyra gather two hundred of her best soldiers and prepare them. We will be marching into Amazon territory in ten days time."
The General hesitated. "Highness, I thought you had decided to negotiate with the residents of Euboreas."
Palaemon, was the only person in her military that Xena allowed to question her, from the moment she met the cocky young man he had always challenged her and never showed any fear... she had liked him from the start.
Palaemon's loyalty to the Conqueror was born from his respect of not only her fighting skills, which she easily proved to him several seasons before upon their first meeting, but also, because he thought the woman was brilliant.
Her battle strategies were something that should be studied by the leaders of other nations and her uncanny ability to predict an enemy's next move never ceased to amaze the young General.
Xena, decided that she would give the faithful soldier an answer without her usual quizzing. "I agreed to allow their queen to come to Corinth, I never said that I would negotiate with her."
The General found this behavior odd. Xena never spoke personally with any leader after her mind was set on invading their lands.
She would correspond with them through messengers, giving a false sense of hope, but that was the extent of her communication.
When she had determined what lands she was going to take over, she would just take it, they never saw her until the attack and as far as he knew the Conqueror had decided that the Amazon territory would be hers.
"Then why invite her to, Corinth?"
This was the question that Xena had struggled with since the Amazon Emissary had left the day before and she still didn't have an answer, so instead of trying to explain to Palaemon something she didn't understand herself she tried humor.
"Well General, there is a first time for everything.... consider this a lesson in.... flexibility."
The General raised a blonde brow, thinking. 'Since when have you been flexible?'
The tall ruler's gaze bore into the large man with hard blue eyes, daring him to voice his thoughts, Palaemon had survived with Xena as long as he had because he wasn't a stupid man, he held his tongue and bowed to leave the room and carry out her order.
"By your will, my Liege."
Seven days after the Amazon Emissary left Corinth with her answer from the Conqueror, the Amazon Queen arrived in the Capital city with her four escorts.
Xena, was in her private rooms when her guards announced that she had two visitors.
"Let them in."
Salmoneus and Jace entered the volatile woman's receiving room with caution and lowered their heads in respect.
"My Empress, we have been informed that the Amazons have arrived, we wanted to make one last plea to you, hoping that you will give permission to hold a banquet in honor of your guest."
This had been an on going request since the two men learned of the impending arrival of the Amazon Queen.
Jace, found his voice and added to Salmoneus' plea. "Lord Conqueror, it would break protocol to have the leader of a nation visit the palace and not give them a proper welcome."
Xena, listened to the same arguments that she had been hearing for the past seven days and she was becoming very weary of the subject, so she finally threw her hands in the air in defeat.
"Fine! Put something together, nothing fancy, just enough to look good."
Both men immediately became giddy, Jace mentally laid out his plans for the entertainment and Salmoneus was thrilled that the drawings he had commissioned showing the seal of the Realm and the seal of Euboreas intertwined in unity could now be sold at the booths in the agora.
They thanked the ruler and bowed out of the door, just as the door was closing, Xena heard Jace say. "The nobles will be very pleased that her Highness is extending this branch of goodwill."
That almost.... almost made her change her mind, she made it a habit to do very little that the nobles desired, the bastards still plotted and schemed behind her back, they didn't think she knew about their little plots to overthrow her, but very little went on in her Realm without her knowledge.
They did not accept her as their supreme ruler, at least not in private, in public they appeared to be perfectly loyal subjects, but she knew that privately they held a deep hate for her, it wasn't her fault that they couldn't accept that she ruled because she was the strongest.
She was pulled out of her negative thoughts when she heard Jace and Sal's voices raise in excitement in the distance.
"Why I give in to them, I'll never know."
The Conqueror sat on her throne waiting for her guest to enter, she was a little nervous and was filled with anticipation.
She didn't care for these feelings, never had the stoic woman looked forward to meeting anyone, let alone been nervous about it, but for some reason every since she cracked the seal on the Amazon Queen's request, she had been filled with anticipation.... as if something huge were headed her way.
Finally, the doors to the throne room opened, and the Amazon Queen's arrival was announced.
Xena, was immediately impressed when four masked Amazon warriors entered the room and scanned it for any threat that may await their queen.
When the women felt that the area was secure, they aligned themselves on both sides of the double doors, two to a side and waited for the queen's entrance.
Xena, sat mesmerized as a small woman entered the room wearing what was obviously royal leathers, gauntlets, and a mask more intricately carved than any that she had seen previously.
'So this is the Amazon Queen, she looks too small to lead a nation of warriors, if this is who they follow the battle will be over in half a days time.'
The woman approached the dais and straightened her back just a little more than it already was, so as to add just a bit more height to her regal stance.
This caused the Conqueror to experience a small bought of internal laughter, the woman must have been at least a head shorter than the ruler.
Before Xena could bring her focus back to the small woman that was standing in front of her, the patiently waiting queen spoke.
"Thank you, Lord Conqueror for agreeing to this meeting."
As Gabrielle lifted her mask from her head, Solari was by her side before the motion was completed, the escort took possession of the mask and then returned to her post.
What was revealed when the mask came off took Xena's breath away.
The small woman's long blonde hair fell around her shoulders and down her back, an angelic face with intelligent green eyes looked at the tall woman and held her in place, leaving the Conqueror momentarily dazed.
Gabrielle, was experiencing similar feelings as she stood before the ruler of Greece in a temporary trance, she knew that the Conqueror was rumored to be beautiful, but she wasn't prepared for the goddess that sat before her.
The midnight hair framed a face that was flawless, she realized why it was rumored that so many had fallen at her feet, the blue eyes that looked at her were a color that she had never seen before, to say that they were the color of a cloudless sky didn't even begin to describe their brilliance.
Even sitting, she could see that the woman was tall, taller than most men, the tight leather pants that covered her long legs showed every muscle in her thighs with each small movement that she made.
The two women were caught in a timeless moment, Xena's eyes traveled from the beautiful face down to an ample bosom and from there, down to where the leather top stopped to reveal a stomach that was so well defined it would make the most physically fit man jealous.
When her eyes reached the impressively muscled thighs and strong calves, they started back up the perfect body as she took her time to admire the landscape once more.
When their eyes met again she found herself standing up, still in a haze, before she realized what she was doing she was walking down the three steps from the dais with every intention of taking the blonde into her arms and kissing her.
Before she could follow through, she caught a small movement from the corner of her eye and realized that it was Palaemon settling the weapon that rested on his side, that was enough to shake the cobwebs from her head and return her to reality.
So instead of kissing Gabrielle senseless, she took the shorter woman's hand in her own, raised it to her mouth and softly brushed the smooth knuckles on the back of the small hand with her lips.
"It is an honor to have you here, Queen Gabrielle."
Everyone in the room was shocked by the Conqueror's actions, especially Gabrielle. 'Oh my, for a moment there, I thought that she was going kiss me.' To the small queen's amazement, she felt disappointed that the dark woman hadn't done just that.
Never had Xena shown anyone this type of respect, Palaemon smiled and shook his head as he thought to himself, 'I don't think we'll be invading, Euboreas.'
Xena, guided Gabrielle to a cushioned bench that ran along one of the walls of the throne room and waited for her to sit down before she joined her.
She was suddenly filled with guilt for making the small queen travel on such short notice. "Queen Gabrielle, I hope the journey wasn't too much of burden on you."
Gabrielle, graciously accepted the veiled apology. "Not at all, Lord Conqueror."
Then she smiled in a way that made her nose crinkle on the sides, Xena immediately thought that it looked adorable.
The blonde woman placed her small hand on the ruler's forearm. "If we are to be allies, please, call me, Gabrielle."
Xena, never allowed anyone to touch her without permission, but she found herself welcoming this woman's gentle touch.
Then she did something totally out of character, she covered the small hand with her much larger one and smiled. "Then you must call me, Xena."
The blonde head dropped a little as a smile crossed her lips. "As you wish.... Xena."
No one used Xena's given name.... ever, but hearing it come from this beautiful woman's lips, made her knees weak, she was silently grateful that she was seated because she didn't think that she would have been able to continue standing on her own.
Xena, looked into clear green eyes and was relieved that she had given in to Jace and Salmoneus' request to hold a welcoming dinner.
"Gabrielle, we have planned a banquet in your honor, it is scheduled for later this evening, that is if you aren't too tired from your trip."
Gabrielle, saw the nervousness that the tall woman tried to hide and somehow knew that this was out of character for the self assured ruler.
"That will not present a problem, Xena."
Then she leaned in to speak more intimately to the Conqueror. "We Amazons are very strong of body, a few days of hurried travel wouldn't begin to tax our physical resources."
Xena, couldn't stop the small shiver from coursing through her body, the woman's close proximity and the thought of what it might take for the small woman to reach her physical limits made her nerve endings spark.
Gabrielle, was momentarily shocked as she thought. 'Sweet Artemis, am I flirting with this woman?'
The ruler stood and reached down to help the queen from her seat, she then instructed the servants that appeared from no where to show her guest to their rooms.
Xena, felt like she needed to be alone for a few candle marks so that she could try and understand her reaction to her first meeting with the Queen of the Amazons.
Xena, was in her bed chambers pacing back and forth, trying to get a hold of her emotions, for the first time in several seasons, she found herself.... feeling.
She sat down in a high back chair to relax a little and allowed her mind to take her back to the beginning....
Xena, was a naive village girl of sixteen winters when she left her home in Amphipolis, it was right after a warlord had invaded her village. She was smart, had great fighting skills and was determined to keep her home safe from being attacked again.
In the beginning it had shocked the young woman how easy it was for her to gather an army, it was even more shocking when she was later able to acquire a ship and set out to patrol the waters of the Ionian Sea with the intentions of keeping the western boarders of Greece safe.
It was a full season later, while in her seventeenth winter, that she had the misfortune of having her men bring aboard her vessel a prisoner named, Julius Caesar.
By the time he was finished with her she had no ship, no crew and barely had the use of her legs, her feelings for him had cost her everything.
The experience was so life changing that except for the short time she had spent in Chin with Lao Ma, Xena hadn't allowed herself to feel anything since she was seventeen winters old.
That was how old she was when she returned to Greece filled with a cold detached determination, her only focus... conquering its lands.
It took her six springs and many hard fought battles, but now here she stood, twenty-six winters old and in her third spring as the Sovereign ruler of all that she surveyed.
And she had achieved it all, because she refused to feel.
Now, after a brief meeting with the beautiful Amazon Queen, she found herself staring into the depths of a black hole that was threatening to pull her into uncharted territories.
When she was in the small blonde's presence, she started to feel things that she didn't know was inside of her, things that she didn't want to know was inside of her.
The few times in her life that she had thought that she was experiencing deep feelings, didn't begin to touch what she was battling now.
She didn't much care for the behavior that she exhibited when she was around the small woman, she found herself acting before she thought and that just wasn't acceptable.
She stood and started to pace around the room again as she debated with herself. "Come on Xena, you have been attracted to women before, Hades, you've had a couple of very impressive men and women over the years, this woman isn't any different.
Then she stopped mid-stride and snapped her fingers. "The problem is, it's been too long since you've shared your bed with anyone.... you just need to ......."
Before the thought could fully enter her mind and take root, she discarded it and allowed a little truth to seep in.
'You know it's more than that, Xena.'
Then she inhaled. You better be very careful Conqueror, you may be in some trouble here.'
As the Conqueror was trying to understand her reaction to the Amazon Queen, Gabrielle was fighting her own internal battle.
"Okay Gabrielle, get a grip on yourself, so what, she's gorgeous, big deal, power rolls off of her, again, so what, you live in a nation full of gorgeous, powerful women."
It was then that a small voice made its presence known. 'And you've never felt an attraction to them.'
"Shut-up! I'm not attracted to, Xena!"
Just speaking her name out loud, caused the blonde woman to pause.
Her small voice laughed at her. 'If you say so.... but we both know better.'
A sudden knock at the door stopped her mental debate and she was shocked when her mind wondered if it was, Xena. She rubbed her face with both hands.
"Oh Gods.... I may be in trouble here.... Come in!"
Jace, slowly opened the door and lowered his head in respect, when he raised his head to speak to the Amazon he was momentarily taken aback.
This wasn't the ruler that he had envisioned, this golden beauty was more suited to pursue artistic endeavors, not lead a nation of women warriors.
"Queen Gabrielle, I am Jace, one of the Conqueror's entertainment organizers, I am here to inform you that if you find it acceptable, the banquet that is to be held in your honor will begin in three candle marks."
The small woman was immediately taken in by the man's gentle demeanor and she couldn't stop the genuine smile that pulled at her mouth.
"Thank you for your concern, Jace, but that will be more than enough time for us to prepare."
Jace, couldn't stop the excitement from showing on his face, it had been many moons since the Conqueror had hosted a celebration, at times it was extremely difficult to arrange a celebration of any kind within the palace walls.
It seemed that without fail, someone would somehow do something to infuriate the tense ruler and she would commit an act of violence, thereby ending the festivities immediately.
He looked at the green-eyed woman in front of him and hoped that tonight would be different. As he was leaving, he bowed graciously before he spoke. "We look forward to your presence, your Majesty."
As he backed out of the door, Gabrielle wondered how someone so lively and exuberant could serve happily in the palace of the ruthless former warlord.
As was her habit, Xena entered the banquet hall early and waited for her guest to arrive, she sat at the head of the table and watched as the nobles and the heads of her army took their seats.
The chair to her immediate right remained empty, waiting for the Amazon Queen to fill it, her most trusted Generals were sitting along the sides of the table to her left and to her right.
Palaemon, Meleager, Darnel and Glaphyra had taken their places, Palaemon headed her Royal Guard, Glaphyra led her first army, Darnel led her third army and Meleager, because of his experience, but advanced age, trained her troops.
While they were sitting and talking quietly amongst themselves, essentially blocking out the nobles that were seated around them, the doors to the banquet hall were suddenly pulled open and the guard announced the arrival of the Amazon Queen.
As the small woman entered the room flanked by her escorts, Xena had to stop herself from once again rising from her seat in the queen's presence. There was something about the blonde woman that made her feel like she should always bow to her.
As, Gabrielle made her way to the head of the table, her bearing was regal and she was surrounded with an air of confidence.
Xena, took notice of the admiring glances that the seated guest bestowed upon the queen, and for some strange reason, she was filled with pride by the small woman's impressive entrance.
But the more admiring the glances became and the longer the eyes rested on the Amazon leader as she moved forward, the more Xena started to feel the darkness in her rise and briefly she stopped to wonder why.
When she saw the way that Glaphyra was looking at Gabrielle, she started thinking up extra drills that she would add to the Generals training exercises.
When Gabrielle reached her seat the female General put on her most charming smile and stood to pull out the chair for the beautiful blonde.
Gabrielle, took her seat and smiled at the polite gesture. "Thank you.... uhm.?"
The General bowed from her waist before she spoke. "I'm the General of the Conqueror's first army, my name is, Glaphyra."
A slight blush started to rise up Gabrielle's neck because of the chivalrous treatment she was receiving, knowing it was because of the woman's obvious interest in her.
"Thank you, Glaphyra."
Palaemon, noticed the extra attention that the General was showing the newly arrived guest, so when she returned to her seat the head of the Royal Guard leaned over to speak with his comrade quietly.
"I think you should back away from this challenge, Glaphyra."
The General raised an eyebrow. "And why is that, Pal-o-mine?"
Palaemon, rolled his eyes and nodded his head in Xena's direction before he answered. "If I'm not mistaken, I believe that our ruler's interest has been piqued by the small queen."
When, Glaphyra looked in the Conqueror's direction she knew that her friend was speaking the truth, Xena's blue eyes had a storm raging behind them and from the way that she was looking at the first army's General, she knew that she was the cause.
Xena's blood started to boil when she saw the pink tint rise on Gabrielle's neck, she didn't like what she was feeling or seeing, Glaphyra would be reprimanded for.... for.... the ruler stopped to think.
'What? She hasn't done anything.' The dark woman took a moment to calm herself. When she felt more grounded a simple thought crossed her mind. 'I must be losing it.'
After being on the receiving end of that look, the General immediately erased the queen from her mind as a possible conquest, after all, there were other women at the table that would be more than willing to have her attentions for an evening.
The queen settled herself in her chair and Xena signaled for the food to be served, then she took the opportunity to speak to the small leader.
"Gabrielle, I hope your rooms are to your liking."
Green eyes twinkled as she answered the ruler. "Yes Xena, your accommodations are more lavish than I could have ever imagined."
For some reason, the reply pleased Xena greatly, she waved her hand for the servants with wine pitchers to start pouring.
When her goblet was filled, Gabrielle raised it to her mouth and was rewarded with the best honey mead she had ever tasted.
"Uhm, Xena this is delicious, where does it come from?"
Xena, hesitated just an instant before she answered.
Because Gabrielle was looking into the other woman's eyes, she didn't miss the tiny flicker of pain in them, she didn't know what it meant, but for some reason, it made her feel the need to make physical contact with, Xena.
She reached over and touched the large hand that rested on top of the table and in an attempt to lighten up the strange mood that had fallen upon the ruler, she tried a bit of jesting.
"Don't worry, Xena, I won't try to steal your supplier from you."
The attempt at humor worked. "No, no, I wouldn't mind if you had the mead delivered to the territory, it's just a little out of the way. I have the mead dispatched from Amphipolis, the inn keeper there makes the best honey mead and port that I've ever tasted."
Gabrielle, could have sworn she saw that quick flash of pain pass through the other woman's eyes again before she put a wall up to hide behind.
"Well, that is a bit further north than I would like to do trade with."
Xena's mouth took over before her brain could stop it. "I can order extra in my next delivery and have it sent to you.... that is if you want it."
The small Amazon didn't miss the deer caught in the torch light look the Conqueror was giving her after speaking without thought.
"That would be fine, Xena, but you don't need to have it delivered, my Pilsner can have a couple of her apprentices come and pick it up."
The ruler tilted her head to the side. "Your Pilsner and her apprentices?"
Gabrielle, leaned in and spoke into the Conqueror's ear. "You see, we Amazon's like to get together and share the occasional drink without having to plan an entire celebration around it, so instead of making everyone wait for the festival seasons to come around, I had a hut built along the western tree line of the village, it serves ale, mead, and wine for the first five marks after the sun sets."
Xena, had to get control of her body's reaction to the smaller woman's hot breath in her ear, as she turned to look at the queen, her eyes fell upon the blonde woman's pink lips and all Xena wanted to do was press her mouth against them until she felt the need for air. Instead, she took a sip from her goblet before she spoke.
"You mean like a tavern?"
Gabrielle, propped her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her palm. "I guess it's kinda like a tavern, we don't need anything on that grand of a scale and there is no cooked food, only smoked meats, but I guess the idea is the same."
Before Xena could ask another question, Palaemon, jumped into the conversation. "Queen Gabrielle, is this your first visit to the Capital?"
Gabrielle, remembered the blonde man with the facial scar from earlier, she found it interesting that the scar didn't detract from his looks, on the contrary, it gave him a strong rugged look.
"Yes...." She looked at him, waiting for an introduction.
"My name is Palaemon, your Majesty, I'm the General in charge of the Conqueror's Royal Guard." The bright smile that followed the statement, warmed her heart.
"Yes, Palaemon, this is my first visit, but please call me, Gabrielle."
She scanned the table with twinkling green eyes. "Please, all of you call me, Gabrielle."
Every member of the military and even a few of the nobles looked like she had asked them to shove knives under their fingernails.
Then she realized where they were all looking and it definitely wasn't at her, although the Conqueror hadn't said a word, her message to the seated guest came across loud and clear.
Palaemon, cleared his throat. "Thank you, your Majesty, but that will not necessary."
She noticed the nodding heads and murmured consensus of agreement coming from around the table.
Then it dawned on her, Xena wouldn't tolerate such familiar interactions coming from her military leaders or from the members of her court, she chose not to upset the applecart by insisting that they drop her title, so she didn't pursue the subject any further.
Instead, she inspected the food on her plate before she took a bite, she swallowed a piece of the roasted fowl and the small queen's senses were overwhelmed by flavors that she had never experienced before.
"Oh Xena, this meat has the most wonderful flavor, I've never tasted anything like it, you must have the best cooks in all of, Greece."
Before the ruler could respond, Falsted, one of the nobles from northern Achaia spoke up, he didn't see any reason to show this harlot any respect, after all in less than a fortnight, the Conqueror would be invading her lands, essentially making her a commoner. He just couldn't sit through another moment of forced politeness.
"I don't doubt that you've never tasted any food like this or slept in such luxurious accommodations, after all, aren't the Amazons just a group of uncivilized women that refuse to bow to the will of a man, live out in the wilderness and commit Sapphic acts on each other?"
The room became so quiet you could hear a quill drop, Palaemon and Glaphyra seized the hilt of their swords in anticipation of the Conqueror's order, knowing that she would have the man detained.
Jace and Salmoneus exhaled loudly and flung their hands into the air as they turned to leave the hall, from experience they knew that the evening would be over in a matter of moments.
Jace, ran his fingers through his brown curls as he spoke to Sal. "Why did he say those things to that gentle woman? He had to have known that the Conqueror wouldn't tolerate it."
Salmoneus, just patted his friend on the back as they left the hall. "Just because they're nobles, doesn't mean that they have common sense."
Gabrielle, heard what sounded like a growl coming from the woman beside her and turned just as Xena started to rise from her chair with every intention of ripping the stupid man's tongue out.
Eponin, Solari, Meslena and Tara, dropped their utensils before the food that was piled on them could reach their mouths and stood so quickly that their chairs fell over behind them.
Xena, spoke through gritted teeth. "Falsted, you arrogant bastard, you'll pay for your disrespect."
Gabrielle, knew she had only a couple of heartbeats to defuse what was rapidly escalating into a situation that was, without a doubt going to have a deadly outcome.
She gently wrapped her fingers around Xena's wrist and stopped her movement, the instantaneous flow of warmth that came from the tender touch made Xena look down at the firm hand that held her in its grasp.
Then her eyes traveled up and were pulled into the most beautiful pool of green that she had ever seen, the combination of the warm touch and the soothing eyes relaxed the angry woman.
The queen then focused on her escorts and using her free hand, gave the discreet signals that told them to retake their seats.
Being the disciplined warriors that they were, they immediately obeyed their queen, they picked-up their chairs and settled back into them.
The Amazon Queen then fixed her gaze on the dark-haired, older man that sat midway down the long table.
"Falsted, is it?"
The noble just stared at her and didn't offer any response, so she continued.
"Lord Falsted, you are correct in a few of your assumptions, it is true that I've never slept on a bed as soft as the one that is in the rooms that I am now occupying, and if this evenings meal is an example of the Conqueror's usual fair, then it is also true that the cooks in, Euboreas can't hold a candle to whoever prepares the meals here in the palace."
She finally released the hold she had on her dinner companion's wrist, pushed her chair away from the table and stood up with every intention of leaving.
"But, even without the breeding that you so obviously feel we lack, know this, there is not a person that lives in the Amazon territories that would show such disrespect towards a visitor to our nation."
She then addressed the people that had been sitting closes to her. "It was a pleasure to meet all of you and I hope that you will enjoy the rest of your meal."
Then she turned to the Conqueror. "Xena, regardless of how the evening has ended, I would like to thank you for a delicious meal, at least what I've sampled of it and your very pleasant company."
She ended her statement with a small smile so that the ruler would know that all was fine.
She then gave a subtle hand signal to her escorts while walking towards the doors of the banquet hall, as she approached them, the warriors stood in unison, placed their right fist over their hearts and then raised them in a salute as their queen walked passed them with her head held high.
When she cleared the last warrior, they all fell in behind her in a perfect double line formation and followed her out of the room.
The military personnel at the table were very impressed by the women warrior's discipline, precision and obvious devotion to their queen.
The other occupants of the table begrudgingly felt a small amount of respect for the dignified way that the small queen had kept control of the situation and had stopped the Conqueror from committing what was guaranteed to be a bloody act of violence.
After the Amazons left the hall, the Conqueror stood to her full height and slammed her fist on the top of the table causing plates and goblets to rattle all the way down the length of the wood.
"You will pay for that, Falsted. Since when is it your job to insult my guest? This time you have over stepped your place greatly and your insolence will be rewarded in kind."
She called for two of the palace guards to step forward. "Escort, Lord Falsted to a room in the palace that has no windows, one sleeping cot and a chamber pot."
The two guards stood behind the nobleman's chair and waited for him to rise and come with them.
When the man made no move to stand, the ruler purred in a dangerously low voice.
"You can go with them under your own power or I can personally see to it that you have to be carried to your new room."
As the fated man stood to follow his escorts, the Conqueror's advisor quickly approached the ruler.
"Your Majesty, you can't possible be planning to incarcerate, Lord Falsted."
"Oh, he is most definitely going to be detained until I decide what his punishment will be."
"But Majesty, Lord Falsted only spoke his mind to the leader of a nation that you will be attacking before the next new moon."
The already angry woman was quickly losing her patience. "Look Tellus, if you don't want to share his fate, I advise you to take your seat and finish your meal."
The panicked man didn't see the danger that he was in, all he could think about was keeping Lord Falsted in unrestricted quarters. The noble was one of his main backers in his plan to remove Xena from the throne and replace her with one of their own.
Every since Xena and her army had stormed into Corinth three springs before and took control of the country using brute force and barbaric tactics, the privileged class had been desperate to find a way to remove the vile woman from the throne.
And now, with the possibility of Falsted becoming unavailable it would set them back indefinitely and Tellus felt like they were too close to have it all fall apart now.
"Your Majesty, all I ask is that you recon...."
The advisor's air supply was suddenly cut off and he felt his feet leave the floor. In one swift motion, the dark woman had grabbed the man around his throat and lifted him off of the flat surface.
"If you utter one more word about what I should do with one of my subjects, I'll see to it that you become a part of the next shipment of fertilizer sent to the outer villages, do you understand me Tellus?"
Spots were forming before the man's eyes, and darkness was closing in from the side of his vision, he barely had enough air to speak, but he was able to force out an answer.
"Yes.... your.... Ma.... jesty."
She released the man and took pleasure in watching him crumple to floor while rubbing his now raw throat.
She rounded the table, and started for the open doors, but in mid stride, she stopped and turned to face the now dour noble before he was escorted out.
"And Falsted, in case you have forgotten.... your ruler is a woman that bows down to no man, a woman that spent many seasons sleeping out in the wilderness while mounting a campaign to rule Greece."
Then a wicked smile spread across her face. "And a woman who has participated in her fair share of Sapphic acts."
With those final words, Xena left the hall, hoping to catch the blonde woman before she reached her rooms.
The four Amazons that followed their queen were livid. Eponin spoke first.
"When I get my hands on that man, Cybela will be serving a different kind of smoked meat in the, Brewer's Hut when we return to the territory."
Gabrielle, couldn't stop the laugh from erupting from her chest at the threat.
"Did you see the Conqueror's Generals ready their hands for battle?" Solari added.
"General Glaphyra had her hand in position before any of the others could take a breath." She continued.
Meslena, was taking a moment to remember how the muscles in Palaemon's arms bulged when he gripped the sword hilt.
The tall Amazon knew she was attracted to the head of the Royal Guard when she first saw him in the throne room, she had felt a pull towards him when they arrived, she hoped that while they were in Corinth she would have a chance to get to know the man better.
"I thought the Conqueror was going to take the man's head off," Tara said.
Then she continued in a dreamy voice. "That is until the queen touched her, then she just stopped moving and you could almost see the anger leave her body."
Gabrielle, stopped walking and turned to face her escorts. "Is that what happened?"
Tara's face lit-up. "Oh yes, my Queen, as soon as you touched her she relaxed and you could feel the dangerous energy start to recede, it was... I don't know... It was like magic or something."
"Is that what the rest of you saw?"
"I didn't see anything.... Magical," Eponin said. Then she glared at Tara. "My focus was on the person that was insulting my queen."
Solari, added, "I didn't notice either, I was surveying the room, making sure there were no other threats near by."
Gabrielle, was filled with pride, she knew that these two warriors would always be the ones that put her safety first, that was one of the reasons that she chose them for this journey.
Tara, chimed in and taunted Solari. "Yeah, you surveyed the room after you stopped looking at General Glaphyra."
Solari, bristled at the statement. "My eyes only went to the first hand that could raise a weapon against our queen."
Meslena, blushed in embarrassment before she answered. "I uhm.... saw it, my queen, the Conqueror did release her tension when you touched her."
Before Gabrielle could ask another question, they heard the sound of heavy boots rushing towards them, from the loud echo it seemed that there was more than one person approaching.
The four escorts immediately formed a wall in front of their queen and waited, readying themselves to defend their leader at all cost.
As Xena rounded the corner, she was shocked to see the Amazons in a battle stance with their weapons drawn, it was then that she realized there were ten palace guards behind her and they must have sounded like an army approaching.
The tall woman stopped and addressed her guest. "Please, lower your weapons, we have no intentions of causing you any harm."
Then she focused on the queen. "Gabrielle, if I may speak with you for a moment." She looked around the crowded hallway. "In private, I would be very grateful."
The Amazons didn't move, Xena realized that it was up to her to initiate a gesture of trust, so she dismissed her guards, after they were on their way back to their post, Gabrielle stepped around her protectors.
"Eponin, make sure everyone returns to their rooms safely."
She was standing with her back to them, so when she didn't hear them move, she turned to face them.
"Is there a problem?" She asked with a raised brow.
Solari, spoke for the group. "No, my queen, it's just that we want to make sure that you get back to your quarters .... uhm.... unrestrained."
Again Gabrielle heard that low growling sound and for some odd reason she thought that it was very comforting, it made her feel safe, she looked at Xena and then back to her warriors.
"I think I'll be okay.... Right, Xena?"
The ruler's face stilled and her features became like stone. "I promise you, that as long as you are with me, I'll never let any harm come to you."
The two rulers stood staring at each other for a long moment, they both were a little frightened by the intensity of the statement, both women felt that there was a deeper meaning to the declaration.
Eponin, cleared her throat and broke the silence. "If it is your wish that we leave you in the hands of the Conqueror, my queen, then it will be done."
Gabrielle, turned to face them again. "That is my wish."
The four women then made an about-face and headed to their own individual rooms, when they were out of sight, Gabrielle heard Tara speak in a loud whisper.
"I think they would make a beautiful couple."
The next sound she heard was what Gabrielle knew was Eponin smacking the young woman in the back of the head.
"Stay focused, Tara, we didn't come here looking for dates, we are here to try and form an alliance with the Realm, you would do well to remember that."
As the voices faded into the distance both women heard Tara's reply. "Yeah, that's easy for you to say, you've got a wife waiting for you back home."
When there were no more sounds, Gabrielle turned to face her new escort. "Please ignore, Tara, she's a little young and very starry-eyed."
The ruler smiled, showing straight white teeth. "And what about you, Gabrielle, are you still young and starry-eyed."
The blonde woman returned Xena's smile with one of her own as they started walking in the direction of Gabrielle's assigned rooms.
"Young.... no at twenty-three summers, I don't consider myself young, but starry-eyed?" She laughed softly.
"Most definitely, I think that was one of the reasons that I wanted to be a bard, my imagination was too big to keep the stories that I made-up inside my head."
"So, not only are you a queen, but a bard as well.... it seems you are multi talented."
Gabrielle, couldn't stop the smile from coming to her face. "Well, I don't see it as a big deal, I mean most people can do more than one thing at a time."
Instead of walking to Gabrielle's room, Xena turned them in the opposite direction, the blonde woman was surprised when she found herself standing outside on a balcony overlooking a beautiful garden.
"Xena, this is beautiful." She tilted her head and looked up into the taller woman's eyes.
"Did you have this planted?"
The ruler felt a bit of shyness rise inside of her and lowered her eyes. "Uhm.... well, yes."
The two women stepped closer to the wall and looked down to see the moonlight shine down on the aromatic blossoms.
Gabrielle inhaled deeply. "I've never seen so many different flowers growing together.... it's so.... peaceful."
Xena, turned her back on the foliage and leaned against the stone wall. "I've been to many places, some good.... some not so good, but everywhere I went I saw the most beautiful plant life.
When I moved into the palace, I decided that I wanted to bring some of that here, so what you see is a culmination of my travels."
The queen couldn't see all of the vegetation because most of it was hidden in the shadows, but she didn't doubt that what was unseen was just as stunning as what was revealed by the bright moon light.
She mirrored Xena and leaned against the wall also. "I would love to see it in the daylight."
"Feel free to visit anywhere on the grounds that may interest you." She responded with a small smile.
Xena, looked at the blonde woman and was left breathless, she was petite, but her body was strong, never in her life had she seen such strength residing in a gentle soul.
Lao Ma, had been both strong and gentle, but there was always something that lived just beneath the surface that made Xena wonder about her true intentions, causing the wild child to never fully give in to her lover's teachings.
But there was something different about, Gabrielle, it was like she wasn't of this world and when the moon broke through a cloud shinning its light down on her, it nearly took Xena's breath away.
The golden woman was surrounded by its pale light, making her seem delicate, ethereal, almost translucent, something so fragile that you had to handle it with care, so that it wouldn't break.
For a moment the ex-warlord felt like she was in the presence of a celestial being, until a cloud passed across the moon and dimmed its light for a moment, leaving in its place a small, but strong woman that was more than capable of leading a nation of warriors.
So caught up in the duality that a subtle change of moonlight cast upon her companion, Xena missed what was being said to her.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle, what did you say?"
"I said that I hoped I could convince you to give me a tour of the gardens before I leave."
"I'm sure that can be arranged."
Before the conversation could continue, one of the palace guards approached the two women. "Forgive my intrusion, Lord Conqueror, but Lord Falsted has asked if you would be willing to come and see him."
Xena's temper rose at the mention of the man's name, Gabrielle felt the tension that was rolling of off the ruler's body and placed a calming hand on the small of her back.
The guard was shocked by the gesture, he knew that no one touched the volatile woman without permission, he was even more surprised when the ruler not only allowed the contact, but seemed to be grounded by it.
"Tell, Falsted that I'll see him tomorrow."
Before the guard got too far away Xena called to him. "And see to it that food trays are delivered to the rooms that are being occupied by the Amazon escorts and their queen."
"By your will, Lord Conqueror." The guard bowed and left the two women alone, just a little bewildered by what he had witnessed.
Xena, reached behind her and took the small hand within her own and started walking them back into the palace in the direction of the queen's rooms.
When they reached, Gabrielle's door, a moment of strained silence enveloped them, then Xena cleared her throat.
"Gabrielle, I have some business that I need to attend to, if it's all right with you, I'll bid you a goodnight."
The blonde woman was a little disappointed that their visit was over, but knew that there would be time to get to know this woman later.
"I understand, Xena, after all, you do have all of Greece to rule." She lowered her head slightly and just stood there, what she was waiting for she didn't know, she just knew that something was being left unfinished.
She then felt her hand being lifted and when she looked up she was greeted by smiling blue eyes, the taller woman raised Gabrielle's hand to her lips and gave it a soft kiss.
Xena, desperately wanted to kiss the smaller woman's lips, but she held herself back, not sure if it would be reciprocated.
"Until tomorrow then?"
Gabrielle, smiled and nodded her head, Xena released the hand that she was holding and turned to walk away, leaving the other woman standing at her door.
A knowing smile crossed Gabrielle's face as she entered the dimly lit room. "Oh my, Gabrielle, I think you might be smitten by the ruthless one," she said out loud as she entered the bathing chamber.
That night Gabrielle dreamed of a life she hadn't thought of in many, many seasons.......
She and a few of the girls from her village were out picking berries for the pies they were going to sell at the fall harvest festival, the young men in the village were going to bid on the pies and the winner would spend an evening with the girl that had baked it.
As, Gabrielle picked the berries she found her mind drifting off, thinking about the predicament that she was in.
The young blonde was reluctant to participate because she knew that out of respect, no one would attempt to out bid Perdicus, her betrothed.
She liked Perdicus, even loved him, but as nothing more than a friend, she had shared a few stolen kisses and brief embraces with the young man, but she knew that her heart wasn't meant for him.
When she was much younger a traveling oracle had told the girl not to give her heart away until it was reunited with its mate.
When the blonde girl asked how she would know that she had met her hearts mate, the oracle said.
"Once you make contact with your hearts desire, the ache that you will feel in your chest when they are absent will tell you who it is."
The oracle also told her that when she found her true love, her purpose would be revealed to her and they would set out on a path together that would change the world.
Gabrielle, told her parents about the oracle's prediction, hoping they would change the arrangement that had been made with Perdicus' parents, but that didn't happen.
They couldn't imagine that Gabrielle, a peasant girl from a small farming village would ever do anything to change the world, so... she remained betrothed.
But the aspiring bard didn't let the situation keep her down, she now knew that being a farmer's wife was not her destiny.
She wanted to tell stories and travel the land, experiencing life and write about what she saw, she wanted adventure and to explore life outside of tiny Potidaea.
Gabrielle, knew that she couldn't put off the inevitable for much longer, it was by some tiny miracle that she had been able to stall for two summers.
Now that she was eighteen summers old, way past the normal age of marriage, it was just a matter of time before she would be forced to honor the contract.
She glanced up at her sister, at sixteen, Lila was already being fitted for a wedding garment in anticipation of her marriage to the stable owner's son, Tylissus and she couldn't wait to be joined with the young man.
Gabrielle, smiled at the thought of her younger sister being married off before her and knew that the ceremony would only serve to light a fire under her father to force into her own wedding.
Gabrielle's musings were interrupted by the sound of quickly approaching hoof beats in the distance, the village girls raised their heads at the sound and found themselves greeted by a nightmare.
Several men had surrounded the small clearing, some on horses, some on foot, but what frightened them the most was the cage that was mounted on the back of the only wagon in their possession, its presence left no doubt as to their identity, they were slave traders.
The young women were circled and forced into a tight group before they knew it, as the leader approached them, Gabrielle stepped forward and stopped his progress.
"Take me and leave the others."
The band of slavers laughed before their leader spoke. "We'll take you and the rest of 'em too."
After forcing the girls into the cage, the men set off intending to set-up camp for the night in a place as far away from the small village as they could get, the captured girls were frightened, especially after hearing the men talk about the many ways that they planned on using the village maidens for their evening entertainment.
As the sun began to set, the slavers found a spot away from the road, deep in the woods to rest for the night, they pulled the girls from the cage and lined them up for a better look.
The leader walked down the line of panicked girls and pulled each one to him roughly, the man smelled awful. His dirty clothes were stained with the food and drink he had consumed over the past several days and it was obvious that he hadn't bothered to wash during that time.
When he pulled the girls against him, his huge belly pressed into them, causing them to try and pull away, this action only made him laugh.
When he reached Gabrielle and pulled her close, she met him with unwavering green eyes, he knew immediately that she would be his pick, he loved to break down the defiant ones.
As he stared down into her face, he smiled, showing a row rotting teeth. "I'll have you for the night, I think you'll be a wild one."
The laugh that followed caused his rancid breath to fill the blonde woman's nostrils, when she turned her head in an effort to take in a clean breath, he mistook the move as her showing the beginnings of fear.
He wrapped a beefy hand around her wrist and started to pull her away from the group, the other men took this as their signal to grab one of the remaining prisoners for themselves.
Gabrielle, started to resist as soon as the man began pulling her away from the group, the action caused her to fall to the ground, that was when the other captives seemed to come out of their haze and started to resist also.
Their actions caused the men to punch and slap them into submission, the leader backhanded Gabrielle and knocked her further into the dirt.
"You can make this easy, or you can make this hard, it's your choice."
Then he bent over and breathed his horrible breath on her again. "I'm hoping you pick the hard way, it'll be more fun for me."
Gabrielle's mind started racing, trying to think of a way out of this, but nothing was coming to her, just as she was about to reconcile herself to her fate, her hand came upon a thick branch that was to be used in the fire.
She wrapped her hand around it and as she stood up, she swung it around and hit the man on the side of his head, making contact just below his ear.
He dropped to his knees and the small woman started to back away with the intentions of attacking the other men in an effort to free the other girls.
When the men heard the blow and saw their leader go down, they were temporarily paralyzed in shock, before any of them could regain their senses, the camp was swarmed with masked women, screaming and brandishing swords, there were only five of them, but they fought like they were an army.
But the women were out numbered two to one and eventually started to waver in their attack, so Gabrielle did what she could by using her branch to get in a few well placed hits.
As she was about to deliver a blow to the back of one of the captor's head, her eyes drifted across the camp site to a man holding a crossbow that was aimed at the female fighter that was slightly behind her.
Without thought, she dropped her weapon and ran towards the woman, she reached her just as the bolt sunk into her chest, when Gabrielle made contact with the woman her momentum carried them both to the ground.
Gabrielle, saw right-a-way, how grave the situation was, the bolt was embedded deep in the woman's chest, and with each breath that she took blood poured out of the wound, Gabrielle knew there was nothing that could be done for her.
With shacking hands, Gabrielle pulled the mask from the woman's face and looked into pain filled brown eyes, she reached down and stripped a piece of material from her skirt and tried to slow the bleeding.
The other woman held her wrist in a surprisingly strong grip, Gabrielle looked at her and pleaded.
"Please, let me help you."
The woman spoke with shallow breaths. "It's too late for me." She pulled in a painful breath. "What is your name?"
"Gabrielle, I am Terreis, what you just did were the actions worthy of an Amazon."
In the background, the fighting was coming to an end, there were six men dead, including the leader and the others were scrambling, trying to retreat to the woods.
Two of the women saw their injured sister and ran to her side, the first woman pulled off her mask to reveal soft blonde curls, she picked up the injured woman's free hand and started to rub it.
"Terreis, hold on, we'll get you back to Euboreas and Malaga will tend to your wounds." The injured woman looked at her and smiled knowingly.
"We both know that's not going to happen, Ephiny." She turned her dimming eyes back to Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, I want you to take my right-of-caste."
Ephiny's head jerked up and she looked at Solari. "Terreis, this village girl isn't an Amazon, you can't do that."
Terreis, was becoming more impaired. "She has the heart of an Amazon, please Ephiny, I'm growing weaker, don't make me argue with you."
Hazel eyes dropped in shame as Terreis addressed the small village woman. "Gabrielle, will you accept my right-of-caste?"
The blonde woman had no idea what the dying woman was offering her, but if it eased her mind in her final moments, she would accept the gift.
A small smile pulled at the corners of the dying woman's lips. "Then it is done."
Terreis, exhaled her last breath and it was over, Solari reached across the body of her friend and closed unseeing eyes, Ephiny brushed her hand through her own unruly curls and closed her eyes.
"How are we going to explain this to, Queen Melosa?"
Early the next morning, Gabrielle was awakened by the sound of clashing swords, she got out of bed and pulled on her robe as she went out on the balcony to see what was going on.
In the distance, she saw the Conqueror's soldiers on the practice field being drilled by the ruler, the tall woman seemed to be making easy work of them, as one by one they fell under her blade.
After quickly dispatching her final attackers, the tall woman was about to leave the grounds, when the handsome General of her Royal Guard approached her, ready to spar with the legendary warrior.
The roughish smile that covered his face was contagious. "Ready for a challenge, Lord Conqueror?"
Xena's even white teeth appeared from behind sensuous lips as she started to twirl her sword. "You think you're man enough, Palaemon?"
The General pulled his own sword and mirrored the Conqueror's moves. "Only one way to find out."
Xena, started fighting him with the same laid back style she had used with the others, but Palaemon proved to be a formidable opponent.
After he had gotten around her defenses a few times, she kicked up her attack a notch, still, the General met her, blow for blow.
When he had Xena retreating, Gabrielle thought that the ruler had met her match in the blonde man, but then, right before her eyes, the fight shifted.
Xena, planted her feet, and her powerful wrist started moving her sword in a flurry of moves so fast, that the queen could hardly see the blade's progression.
Palaemon, started backing up, no longer on the attack, but now trying to save his life by blocking the blows that were coming at him faster than he had ever seen.
Then, as if she had grown tired of the game, Xena sprang into the air and flipped over the man's head.
She turned in mid-air, and when she landed behind him, she quickly kicked the man in the middle of his broad back, sending him face first into the dirt, she then used one of her booted feet to turn him over as she placed her sword at his throat.
The scene was so intense, that Gabrielle thought the tall woman was going to run the man through, she found herself releasing a held breath when the Conqueror's face split into a smile and she held her hand out, offering to help the man up.
When, Palaemon was on his feet, she patted him on his back as she walked with him. "Good match General, I am once again reminded why you lead my Royal Guard."
Palaemon, smiled like a small boy that had been praised by his hero, just then, Xena felt a prickly sensation on the back of her neck as the hairs started to rise.
She swung around looking for an adversary before her eyes tracked above her to the balcony that faced the practice field, what she saw caused the strength to drain from her body and it took all of her willpower to continue to stand.
There stood, the Amazon Queen wrapped in a white robe, as a gentle breeze lightly blew her golden tresses behind her.
The two women's eyes connected and held, then totally without her permission, Xena smiled and raised her hand to wave at the vision that stood above her.
Gabrielle's heart started to pound in her chest as she returned the greeting, the bard was still trying to understand her reaction to the dark woman, she knew that the answers rested somewhere in the recesses of her mind, she just was wasn't ready to bring them forward for examination.
When, Xena heard her General laugh under his breath, the spell was broken, she turned and started to walk away.
"Be careful not to go too far, Palaemon, I would hate to have to train a new General to lead my Royal Guard."
The humor left the man immediately, there were times when he had to remind himself just who this woman was and how dangerous she could be, this was one of those times.
"My apologies, my Liege, please excuse the slip."
When, Xena walked out of sight with the blonde man beside her, Gabrielle walked back into her room and sat on the side of the bed as she rubbed her face.
"What in the name of Artemis am I going to do?"
Before her thoughts could go any further, there was a knock at her door.
Two servants entered and started to set the table with her morning meal, after completing their duties, they left the room to return to the kitchen, never saying a word.
While savoring the first bite of her morning meal, Gabrielle thought to herself. 'I really need to talk to our cooks when we return home.'
After watching the Conqueror workout with her soldiers on the practice field, it gave Gabrielle the idea to do the same.
'When this meal is over, I'm gonna gather the warriors and maybe we can work out some kinks too.'
Xena, was sitting behind her desk in her private study when her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come!" she yelled.
Tellus, entered with caution, as he got closer, Xena could see the dark bruises that circled his throat, it was a sight that pleased the dark woman.
"What do you want, Tellus?"
The advisor cleared his throat before he spoke, but it didn't help the gravely sound that was now his voice.
"Forgive the intrusion, Majesty, but I was wondering if you wanted to postpone the public judgments until the Amazons left the Capital?"
Xena, raised a dark brow. "Why would I want to do that?"
"I... I just thought that your plan centered on using your time with the, Amazon Queen... um... as a way of building her trust, if she were to witness the public judgments there is the possibility that her defenses would rise, causing her to become suspicious of your motives."
The dark ruler was truly confused. "What are you talking about, Tellus?"
"If the queen thinks she's building a friendship with you.... she will not be expecting the attack when it comes, so they will be caught off guard., but if she witnesses the public judgments she may be reminded of your.... Methods and go on the defense."
Any other time, the advisor's assumption would be correct, but this time.... this time the theory didn't sit well with the ruler.
The reason for the Amazon's visit had been temporarily forgotten by the tall woman, she realized that she had some decisions to make.
"Yes Tellus, cancel the judgments until after the Amazon party leaves." Xena, leaned back in her chair and asked where their guest were.
"At the moment, the Amazons are on the practice field."
This information piqued the Conqueror's interest. "Is that a fact, is it just the escorts, or did their queen join them as well?"
"All five of the women are down there sparring, your Majesty."
The tall woman pushed aside the scrolls she had been reading and stood-up abruptly, as she walked towards the door, she told the advisor that if she were needed, she would be out on the east field.
The older man smiled to himself as he rubbed his still sore throat, it raised his confidence level to think that the Conqueror was still taking his advice.
As he closed the door to the study, he headed in the direction of the room that Falsted was being held in, after his meeting with Xena, he knew that they had much to discuss.
Xena, leaned against the wall that surrounded the sparring arena, watching the Amazons practice, she knew from experience that the female warriors were formidable fighters.
The exhibition that was now taking place, had caught the attention of many of the soldiers that were nearby, and now they were scattered around the area, watching the women practice with various weapons.
As, Meslena and Tara finished their match, Xena was surprised to see the queen enter the field, followed by her dark haired, muscular escort.
At first the two women stood facing each other, then the Conqueror was shocked when the dark Amazon pulled her sword and started attacking her queen without warning.
She was even more startled when the small woman ducked and then swiftly reached down and pulled a pair of sais from the sides of her boots.... Xena was excited to see what the out come would be.
Gabrielle, readied her weapons to deflect the blow from Eponin's sword, as the long blade cut through the air, the blonde woman met the edge with her smaller knives, preventing contact.
Then she quickly flipped them in her hands and struck the stocky woman twice in the torso with the pommels of the weapons before flipping them back into the attack position as she was backing off.
Xena, was amazed by the queens proficiency with the small weapons, she had seen them used before, but never by a Grecian native and rarely with such skill.
As the match progressed, Gabrielle positioned herself, so that she was inside of Eponin's defenses, making it impossible for her to use the full length of her sword during their match.
Gabrielle, was able to meet each parry, lower on her opponent's weapon, preventing the muscular Amazon from getting the correct angle, needed to place a death blow.
The smaller woman met the swords attack with such force, that the dark Amazon found herself stumbling backwards from the contact.
It was then, that Xena took notice of the queen's small, but powerful body, her calf and thigh muscles bulged with each movement and her sturdy back and shoulder muscles rippled as her weapon met with that of her opponent.
Xena, was so caught up in her appreciation of the queen's body that she almost missed the move that ended the match.
Eponin, spun away from the smaller woman, to put some distance between them, she raised her sword high over her head and brought down her blade in an arc.
Gabrielle, anticipated the move and turned her back to her opponent, as the blade descended, the queen raised her weapons in the air and caught the edge of the other woman's blade in-between the hilt of her sais, and the prongs that ran parallel to the blades.
Before Eponin could react, Gabrielle did a short somersault into the air and dislodging the blade from the escort's hand leaving her without a weapon.
As the queen rolled in the air, she used her sais to toss the sword skyward, before it came down, Gabrielle had landed, re-sheathed her sais in their boot holders and raised her hand in time to catch her opponent's blade and place the tip to her escort's throat.
Eponin, raised her hands in defeat at the sound of applause reverberating from around the arena.
"Well done, my queen."
Gabrielle, dropped the sharp edge from Eponin's neck and returned her weapon to her, both women turned as they heard approaching foot steps.
The Conqueror stood in front of the smaller woman and couldn't stop her cheerful mood from showing in her blue eyes.
"Very impressive, Queen Gabrielle."
Green eyes twinkled as the blonde woman titled her head to the side.
"I thought we agreed on just, Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle it is then." Xena, looked around the practice field in hopes of hiding the amused smile that tugged at her lips.
"Gabrielle, are you as proficient with the sword as you are with the sais?"
"Xena, I don't like swords, you see, I choose not to kill... and a sword would only make me a target to those that are in the killing business."
"You can't expect to always get close enough to an enemy for the sais to consistently be effective."
Gabrielle, stared into the blue depths above her. "My weapon of choice is the staff."
Xena, thought about this for a moment, the staff was an excellent choice of protection for a woman that didn't want to kill.
A playful look entered the ruler's eyes before she spoke. "Could I interest you in a staff match... that is if you're not too tired."
Gabrielle, gave a challenging smile of her own. "I'm barely breathing hard Xena, please retrieve your weapon."
Xena, turned to her soldiers. "Vercinix, get me a staff."
The man retrieved one of Xena's personal staves from the weapons rack and quickly placed it in the Conqueror's hands.
Eponin, stood at the queen's side, waiting with Gabrielle's own fighting staff, both women twirled their staves in their hands, weighing, and balancing them.
Xena, decided that she would approach this match the same way that the escort had, she started attacking the small queen without hesitation or warning.
The first blow was so powerful, it nearly buckled Gabrielle's knees, it was only through sheer willpower that she remained standing. 'Okay, this is going to be more difficult than I thought,' she said to herself.
After absorbing the blow, she took a step back, in order to regain her composure, she then slowly twirled her staff as she circled the tall woman.
"Your staff is heavier than I'm used to defending against."
Xena, followed the other woman's movements. "I'm sure it is, the usual weight doesn't settle comfortably in my hands."
A few more blows were exchanged before Xena spoke again. "While you're here visiting maybe I'll let you hold my sword, it's heavier than normal also."
The Conqueror, was confused for a moment as she thought to herself. 'Am I insane, no one touches my sword... ever!'
Her smaller opponent used the laps in concentration to mount an attack of combinations so quick that Xena had to defend herself as if she were in a real battle.
The Amazon Queen, slowed her advances and responded to the tall woman's offer. "I'd like that."
Xena, swung high and then swiftly reversed her movement to take the queen's legs out from under her, but Gabrielle was prepared and jumped over the length of the wood, as she landed on the ground she raised her weapon over her head, stopping the attack coming from above.
Both women backed off, in order to re-group. "You're very good, Gabrielle."
The blonde smiled her appreciation. "Coming from you, that's truly a compliment."
The longer the women sparred, the more frequently they found themselves with their weapons braced against one other, putting their faces so close that they could feel the heat from each other's breaths blowing on their faces.
They were both having a very difficult time pushing down the reactions that their bodies were experiencing every time they came into close proximity. The combination of their mutual attraction and the primal urges that sparring raised in them was causing a problem with their concentration.
As both women stood in the middle of the practice field, trading blows, the only sound that could be heard was the echo of the wood as the weapons continuously connected, end to end.
They came together again, the staves braced against each other forming an X, as their eyes held each other through the opening at the top of the weapons, Xena knew that this time... this time she wasn't going to stop herself, she was going to give in to her need and kiss the pink lips that were only inches away from her own.
As their labored breaths mingled, the taller woman started to lean forward, Gabrielle saw the intent clearly in the blue eyes that were getting closer and to her surprise, she realized that she wanted the contact with the other woman.
The blonde Amazon Queen found herself moving forward to meet the Conqueror's approaching lips, the first touch was soft, and hesitant, then they moved closer to each other and made a firmer connection.
The reaction was immediate, their heart beats increased and they tried to pull as much air into their lungs as they could through their flaring nostrils.
When the smaller woman opened her mouth and invited the tall ruler in, it was as if all of the air around them had been sucked away and they were in a vacuum, where the only thing that existed was the two of them and the only air that circulated was the breaths that they shared.
When their warm tongues reached out and touched, both women moaned, the sound being swallowed up by their connected mouths, when the need to breathe was no longer being satisfied through their noses, they finally came apart.
Both sets of knuckles had turned white from gripping the weapons that held them upright, their faces were only a breath apart and they were breathing in one another's exhaled air.
As they stared at one another, Xena spoke first. "I think we need to talk."
Gabrielle, nodded mutely. "I'd say that was an understatement."
The two rulers stood tall and stepped back a few paces from each other before they looked at the people standing around the field.
Most of the men were trying to look anywhere but at the two women, except Palaemon, he stood their with a silly grin on his face.
And the Amazons, well...... their looks ranged from, Tara looking dreamy-eyed to Eponin showing no emotion at all.
The one thing that couldn't be denied or ignored by anyone that was present, was the energy that surrounded the two rulers. The heat that they shared was so intense that soldiers and Amazons alike felt like if they had moved closer to women as they kissed, they would have been burned.
"Gabrielle, may I come to your rooms later, to.... to speak with you about what just happened?"
"Of course Xena, I think that would be the best course of action."
They stood a few moments, just staring into each other's eyes and then Xena forced herself to look away, she cleared her throat and started walking towards the palace.
Gabrielle, walked to where her escorts were waiting, and looked at each one of them in the eye.
"Not a word, not one word from any of you."
She walked passed the small group and headed to her rooms, when she was out of hearing distance, the four women released the laughter that they were holding in.
As they followed their Queen, Eponin looked at Solari. "I would have never thought in a million lifetimes that Xena, Destroyer of Nations, Warrior Princess, Conqueror of Greece, would show an interest in our queen.
Solari just shrugged her shoulders. "I would have never thought that the first woman our queen decided to kiss would be Xena, the Conqueror."
Tara, shook her head from side to side. "I know a few Amazons that are gonna be real disappointed by this news."
Meslena, piped in. "It just goes to show, you can't assume to know the knitting of the fates loom."
Xena, had to put aside her swirling emotions regarding the blonde queen, in order to prepare for her meeting with, Falsted.
As the ruler approached the closed door, the two guards stepped aside to let her enter, when she entered the dim room, she was assaulted by the smell of the un-emptied chamber pot.
Xena, waved her hand in front of her face trying to move the air around. "My, my, Falsted..... what did you eat last night?"
Then she placed a long finger against her temple, as if she were trying to remember something.
"Oh, that's right I forgot, you were sent to bed without dinner last night."
The noble tried to stare holes into the vulgar woman, he wasn't going to speak unless necessary.
Xena, opened the door and told one of the guards to remove the rancid smelling pot, when they were alone again, she faced the angry man.
"So, Lord Falsted, what have you got to say for yourself?"
The man straightened his back and used his hands to press out as many wrinkles as her could from the robe he still wore from the previous night.
"I don't know what you want to hear, Lord Conqueror."
Xena, clasped her hands behind her back and started pacing back and forth.
"Well, let's start with why you thought it necessary to insult a guest in my palace."
"I didn't realize that you considered the harlo...."
Xena, cut him off by waving her index finger from side to side. "Uh, uh, uh.... there will be no derogatory name calling when referring to the Amazon Queen, so let's try again."
Falsted, was turning red from trying to remain respectful to the capricious woman. "I didn't realize that you considered the woman a true guest."
"Okay, since when do you decide who is, or isn't a TRUE guest within these walls?"
The older man lowered his eyes so that Xena couldn't see the contempt in them. "If what I said offended you, then I was mistaken, Lord Conqueror."
"Oh, it wasn't me that you offended Falsted, it was Queen Gabrielle and that is why you will go to her, bow down before her and then beg her pardon."
That was it, the noble had dealt with all the humiliation he was willing to put up with, this is where he drew the line.
"I will do no such thing, there is no way in Zeus' green world that I will bow to that savage!"
Xena, crossed her arms over her broad chest. "Is that your final word?"
Falsted, raised his head in defiance. "It is."
Xena, strolled to door, preparing to leave the small room. "If that's how you want it, that's how it will be."
When the door closed behind her, Falsted sat on the narrow cot and rested his face in his hands as he thought.
'What is that crazy bitch going to do now?'
Gabrielle, was exiting the bathing chamber, wrapped in a silk robe, drying the last bit of moisture from her hair with a thick towel, when someone knocked on her door.
She thought it would be one of the palace servants bringing the mid-day meal, so she was shocked when the tall form of the Conqueror entered her rooms.
"Oh, Xena, I um... I wasn't expecting you until this evening."
Xena, stepped in and closed the door behind her, but didn't come any further into the room. "If you would rather I came back later.... I can do that."
"No, no, please have a seat, I just hope you don't mind me being... underdressed."
As the tall woman sat on one of the comfortable chairs in the room, all she could think was that, a wet Gabrielle, was just as beautiful as a dry one."
The blonde queen walked over to her travel bag and retrieved a hair brush, she then took a seat at the dressing table that was in the room and stared at her refection in the mirror.
"Xena, I hope you don't mind if I brush my hair while we speak."
She turned to look at the other woman. "If I don't brush it right a way, it tangles and then it takes me several marks to loosen it again."
The tall woman was so entranced by the beauty before her, that she didn't respond immediately.
Gabrielle, couldn't stop the blush that started up neck when she noticed the look in the other woman's eyes.
"Uhm, Xena, did you hear me?"
The Conqueror, felt the heat burning her ears, when she realized that Gabrielle had caught her staring.
"I'm.... I'm sorry Gabrielle, by all means, please continue with your normal routine, I would hate for you to have knots in your hair because of me."
Gabrielle, turned her attention back to the mirror and tossed her thick hair to one side as she started to brush out the tangles.
Xena's sudden presence in her room was throwing Gabrielle a little off balance, she decided that she would concentrate on each stroke of the brush as it passed through her hair and try to block out the other woman's nearness until she could regain her footing.
When, Gabrielle finished one side and flipped her hair over the opposite shoulder, the move exposed the right side of her neck exposing skin from the top of her shoulder, up to her small ear.
Xena, was mesmerized, everything, every speech, every move, every word that she had planned to use in her bid to win over the small queen was forgotten with that one move.
What was seated before her was a vision and the siren song that, Gabrielle was emitting called to, Xena and she was helpless to resist it.
Before she even realized what she doing, Xena had risen from her chair and found herself walking across the room towards her destiny.
Gabrielle, was so immersed in her mission to think about anything other than the tall beautiful woman behind her that she didn't notice, Xena's approach.
When she felt the weight of the strong hands resting on her shoulders, she paused momentarily in her brushing, as a shiver coursed through her body.
'When did she move from her seat?' Gabrielle thought as she waited to see what the ruler's next course of action would be.
The heat that was radiating from the queen's shoulders sent warmth throughout the Conqueror's body, leaving her almost lightheaded in its wake.
Letting her heart take control of her actions, Xena leaned down and gently kissed the exposed skin of the elegant neck that called to her.
Gabrielle, inhaled sharply at the contact and released her hold on the brush that was still in her hand, then she relaxed, enjoying the soft moist lips on her skin. She had never felt anything like this before in her life.
When, Xena wasn't met with any resistance from the other woman, she extended her tongue and used the tip to lightly taste the smooth skin that her lips were gliding across. Gabrielle, had the sweetest skin that she had ever tasted and she knew that the addiction was immediate.
The move caused, Gabrielle's eyes to close and a moan to rise from her chest, then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to do, she reached up with her hand and buried her fingers in the dark tresses of the tall ruler, holding her in place.
All of Xena's senses became overloaded, the small sounds that were coming from the other woman and the strong grip in her hair sent her mind spiraling.
She moved her hands from the strong shoulders and slid her fingers a little closer to the pounding pulse point in the Amazon's throat.
As her lips grazed across a soft ear and her teeth gently nibbled on the sweet flesh of Gabrielle's pink lobe, Xena, repeated one word over and over into the warm skin under her mouth.
"Gabrielle.... Gabrielle.... Gabrielle."
Gabrielle, tightened her grip in Xena's hair and pulled the moist lips from her neck, so that she could take possession of them with her own.
They both wanted more contact, so without breaking the kiss, Xena pulled Gabrielle out of the chair that she was sitting in and pulled her into an embrace.
The shorter woman's arms immediately went around Xena's neck and she pulled herself closer to the taller woman.
Xena, moaned as her lips pressed into the shorter woman's mouth and she dropped her hands to rest on Gabrielle's hips.
The kiss deepened when the Amazon opened her mouth and asked Xena to enter, the Conqueror didn't hesitate to accept the invitation.
Gabrielle, had no idea what had come over her, never in her life had she felt this way, she knew that she was spiraling out of control and it scared her a little, but she couldn't stop, this just felt too good.
Just as she thought it couldn't get any better, large hands dropped from her hips and held her rear end in a firm grip.
To Gabrielle's shock and surprise, the strength that she felt coursing through those hands caused a bit of moisture to run down her inner thighs.
Her body was assaulted by a need that she never knew existed and just as she started to press herself into the other woman's body to make firmer contact, Xena stopped.
The tall woman rested her forehead against the shorter woman's and tried to catch her breath.
"Gabrielle, I think we should slow this down and talk."
Gabrielle, let out a frustrated breath and attempted to recapture the other woman's lips.
"I don't want to talk Xena, I'm tired of always evaluating everything that I do, I just want to live in this moment and deal with the consequences later."
When, Xena tried to take a step back, she realized that she was still holding Gabrielle's round backside and pulled her hands away immediately.
She raised her hands and held both of Gabrielle's together in an attempt to get her full attention, when the smaller woman dropped her head and pulled in a long breath, Xena knew that she was trying to center herself.
After a moment, frustrated green eyes raised up to stare into patient blue. "Okay Xena, I'm ready, let's talk."
When, Xena started walking towards the sitting area, Gabrielle tugged her hand and pulled her in the opposite direction, so that they could sit on her large bed.
"All right, Lord Conqueror, what is it that you think is so vital that we needed to stop what we were doing and talk?"
Xena, suddenly felt a wave of self-consciousness flow over her and again, it dawned on her that, never in her life had she ever felt so unsure of herself as she did when she was around this small woman.
While, Gabrielle sat patiently waiting for the silent woman to speak, Xena was attempting to pinpoint the source of her anxiety.
The answer that came to the perplexed ruler bewildered her even more. 'I don't want to disappoint her.'
Xena, couldn't believe what she was about to say, she held the aspiring bard's small hands in her own and looked into her vibrant green eyes.
"Gabrielle, it has been several seasons since I've.... well.... since I've shared intimacies with anyone and I can only imagine what living in the Amazon Nation must be like for you, I mean, not only are you their ruler, but the sex that you have been exposed to, must have been.... well... memorable.
Gabrielle, looked at Xena with confusion. "I'm not following you here, Xena."
The Conqueror, straightened her shoulders and pressed on. "What I'm trying to say.... quite terribly I must add, is that I don't know if I can live up to what you are used to in the bedchamber."
There, it was out, she had said it, Xena, Conqueror of Greece, rumored to have the skills of, Aphrodite was now unsure of her abilities to please this small Amazon in the bedchamber.
The tall woman wasn't sure how she should react when the blonde queen fell backwards on the bed overtaken by a bout of belly laughs.
Xena, was warring with herself about, whether to stay, leave or take the small woman by her shoulders and shake her until she was quiet.
When, Gabrielle regained some composure, she sat back up and saw a storm raging behind intense blue eyes that had gone pale with what ever emotions the ruler was dealing with at the time.
Knowing that she was the reason for the woman's mood, Gabrielle stopped her giggling and grasped Xena's biceps.
Xena, I'm so sorry, I'm not laughing at you.... honest."
The gentle touch on her arm calmed the raging sea that was starting to roil inside of the dark woman and the soft words made her feel less foolish.
"Then what's so funny, Gabrielle, why are you laughing?"
The bard rose up and sat on her knees as she faced the other woman, then she cupped Xena's face in her hands.
"Xena, you could never disappoint me in the bedchamber.... or anyplace else."
She had to take a moment to allow the red tint that had suddenly crawled up her neck, fade away before she continued, she cleared her throat and spoke so softly that Xena could hardly hear her.
"I've uhm.... you see.... I've uhm, never been with anyone before."
When, Gabrielle raised her head and looked at Xena, she thought the woman's eyes were going to jump out of her head and roll across the floor.
"Xena.... Xena, are you alright?"
The Conqueror, couldn't move or say a word, all she could do was repeat two words over and over in her head.
'She's untouched, she's untouched, she's untouched.'
Gabrielle, felt the taller woman start to pull away from her, but held her tighter. "Xena, don't, please don't withdraw from me."
It was in that moment, as Xena looked into Gabrielle's pleading green eyes that she knew with absolute certainty.
'Whatever Gabrielle wants, I will move mountains to make sure she gets it.'
When the ruler stopped her retreat, Gabrielle relaxed her hold on the muscular arm, but didn't release it.
"Xena, I know that you have been with more people than I can imagine and I can't for the life of me understand why you would be remotely interested a village girl, turned Amazon Queen, but I want you, I've never wanted anyone.... ever.... but, I want you."
The dark woman could see the truth of the statement in the clear eyes that stared back at her, her dark brows dropped over her nose in bewilderment as she asked her next question.
"Why me, Gabrielle you've known me a day and you've known about me and how I rule for the last three springs, why would you want to give something so precious to me?"
The short woman stood up and started pacing in front of the seated woman, she tried to run her hands through her hair until she met with resistance, then she remembered that she hadn't finished brushing it out.
"On my way here, I was ready to encounter, Xena, Conqueror of Greece, Destroyer of Nations, a woman rumored to eat small children at banquets."
The queen let an incredulous laugh slip out at that last description.
"And then I was ushered into your throne room and was greeted by the gentlest, most compassionate blue eyes I have ever seen."
She stopped walking and moved to stand between the seated woman's parted knees, she raised her hand and brushed her thumb across the tanned woman's high cheekbone.
"And when I looked into those endless pools of blue, I knew.... I just knew that everything that was being said about you.... just couldn't be true."
Xena, covered the hand that was caressing her face with her own and then turned it over to place a kiss on the palm before she released it.
"That's where you're wrong, Gabrielle, I am that monster that you have heard about, most of the things that you have heard about me are true."
Gabrielle, raised a fair brow before she spoke. "So you do feast on small children at banquets?"
Xena, couldn't stop the laughter that escaped her mouth. "No Little Queen, I insist that we use small boar in their place."
The humor broke the tension in the room and both women relaxed a little.
Gabrielle, placed her hands on Xena's shoulders and looked her in the eye. "I know that you have done things that I can only imagine in a nightmare, but for reasons that I can't explain, I don't believe that's the real you."
Before the Conqueror could dispute the other woman's opinion, Gabrielle leaned down and captured her lips once again. "No more talking."
Without her permission, Xena's hands gripped the small waist in front of her and held on as once again, the sweetest lips she had ever kissed took possession of her own.
When a demanding tongue asked for entrance, the Ruler of Greece was helpless to deny the request, she opened her mouth and accepted the warm muscle.
She felt herself being pushed back onto the bed and did nothing to stop the small woman from climbing on top of her.
Her hands started a journey up the sides of the woman's cloth covered waist and she felt like the hands belonged to someone else, it all seemed like a very pleasant dream.
But when determined smaller hands started to unbutton the silk shirt that she wore, all of her senses returned and she threw caution to the wind and became a full participant in the dance.
With every button now released, her upper body was exposed and the blonde woman sat up and straddled the body beneath her, so that she could look upon the Conqueror's bare chest.
She took note that the skin under the clothes was as tan as the skin that was exposed to the sun, it took only a heart beat to realize how that was possible and then she inhaled sharply at the thought of laying out in the fields of, Euboreas with a naked, Conqueror beside her.
The Conqueror, was exquisite, she had seen many naked women in the Amazon village, but not one of them compared to what her eyes feasted on now.
She was surprised by the fullness of the dark tipped breast, for some reason she thought that the muscular body would be less feminine under her clothes.
As her eyes traveled down to the firm stomach, she felt a wave a desire run through her like she had never known as the taunt muscles flexed under her gaze.
Without thought, she slid back a little and lowered her head to kiss the rippling muscles, this move elicited a groan from the prone woman.
After that, all restraint was lost for both of them, before either woman could stop and allow an argument to enter their mind as to why they shouldn't, they found themselves naked, with Xena's long body resting on top of a naked, Amazon Queen.
The first touch of skin on skin filled them both with such desire, that a flood of moisture soaked the sheets beneath them.
All, Xena wanted to do was devoir the blonde woman, a need that she had never known before took control of her mind and body, and she had to feed it.
Gabrielle, wanted the dark woman, she wanted her more than she had ever wanted anything in her twenty-three summers and she was determined to have her.
They moved against each other, their bodies already acting as if they familiar with the dance, Xena's hot mouth suckled on a neck that was strained by arousal, when she pulled in the soft skin, she knew that she was leaving a mark, but there was no protest or indication of pain.
Gabrielle's hands ran up and down the powerful back that her fingers were pressed into and when the tall woman sucked on her neck, blunt nails left a red trail down the tanned skin as she moaned with pleasure.
When, Xena moved from the smooth skin under the small ear, she worked her way down to the pink tipped nipples, she held their weight on one large hand as she took the soft mound into her mouth.
After satisfying that urge she pulled back a little to lick the hard points using just the tip of her tongue to make a small swipe, but her bedmate had other ideas and before she realized what was happening, the tall woman's opened mouth was forced to swallow more of the pale flesh.
Gabrielle, could hardly form coherent speech, she never knew that this kind of pleasure existed, when she felt long fingers brush through her wet curls, she almost lost her control.
The few times that she had felt the need to touch herself, never felt like this, if this is what being with another person was like, maybe she should have tried it sooner.
As soon as the thought entered her mind, she knew that it would have never been like this with anyone else, her heart knew that only Xena could make her feel this way.
When she felt the dampness of the ruler's passion rest on her thigh, she was overcome with need, the need to touch Xena the way that she was being touched.
She reached down and ran her fingers across lips that were swollen with desire and the sound that escaped from the dark woman's throat was something between a moan and a growl.
The two bodies started to move against each other and soon they fell into a rhythm, the giving and the taking being equally shared.
Xena, moved up from the now moist breast and rested her head beside the smaller woman's ear.
"Gabrielle, I want to feel you, I want to feel you wrap yourself around my fingers."
It only took a moment before the novice realized what her lover's request meant and the knowledge of the plea made her even wetter.
She pulled back so that she could look into Xena's blue eyes, they had turned a deep indigo, it was a color that she had come recognize as desire.
"Yes Xena, but I want to feel you too."
With a slight nod from the tall woman, they continued to hold each others gaze as their hands slowly approached their mutual goal.
Xena, leisurely circled the queen's opening and then gently entered her with one finger tip, she kept her stokes slow as she gradually entered more of the warm opening.
Gabrielle, shuddered at the first feel of being entered and then had to concentrate as she mirrored the other woman's actions.
By now they were both lost, panting and writhing against each other, Xena held the green eyes with her own as she pushed further into the unexplored depths of the woman beneath her.
Passion rushed through their veins, making their nerve endings sing and their bodies strain for release, the desire that they both felt was creating an energy that could not be contained much longer.
When Xena's finger met with resistance, she asked if Gabrielle was sure, when the blonde woman nodded her head, giving permission, a long finger entered her fully.
It took all of her effort for Gabrielle not to close her eyes, the momentary sting she felt when the thin veil was pierced, was immediately followed by a feeling of pleasure that she had never known.
Following her partner's lead, the blonde entered the other woman and felt her finger squeezed by the tight muscles that engulfed them.
Never losing eye contact Xena added a second finger and soon felt another added to her pleasure, as Gabrielle moved against the long fingers that were buried in her, she felt the heel of the ruler's palm press against her sensitive nub.
All was lost as she closed her eyes and started to ride out her desire, when she felt Xena press herself firmly against her hand and start to move her hips faster, she started to fall.
The release of all the built up energy was so great, that Gabrielle saw flashes of blue and green lights swirl behind her eyes and then the colors joined together to became one.
At the same moment, Xena followed the bard over the edge, she had the same vision, and felt her desire mount, never had she experienced anything like this.
Somewhere far away, they heard a chorus of screams, neither seemed to realize that the sounds were coming from their mouths, as they were gently returned to earth, the queens door sprung open and Eponin stood there in shock.
The Weapon's Master had been walking down the hallway with the other escorts with the intentions of seeing if their queen wanted to tour the palace, when she heard two voices scream out, she was close enough to the queens quarters to determine that was where the sound was coming from.
Without hesitation or forethought, she threw open the door, expecting to find the queen in harms way, to her shock, when she rushed in she was met with a scene that she hadn't anticipated.
Her queen was in bed, naked, with a just as naked Conqueror on top of her, by this time the escorts had been joined by a few Palace Guards and Palaemon, all of them, standing in the open door.
Xena, pulled the wrinkled sheets up, trying to cover the now completely flushed woman beneath her, as well as herself, she turned her head, and blue fire sparked from her eyes.
The threat in the powerfully delivered order didn't go unnoticed by the military trained fighters from both sides, so they backed out of the room closing the door behind them without a word.
Both women hadn't enough time to catch their breaths before the intrusion and were now lying beside each other trying to pull in as much air as possible.
Xena, reached over and pushed sweat dampened bangs away from her lover's forehead, knowing that this wasn't the perfect ending to their first encounter that she had hoped.
"I'm sorry about that, Gabrielle they couldn't have picked a worse time to enter without knocking."
Finally feeling the embarrassment leave her, Gabrielle decided to see the humor in the incident, instead of shame.
"Well, I guess this just means that the Nation will know that their queen is not only experienced in the art of negotiating, but she now has first hand knowledge of things more carnal in nature.
Gabrielle, ran her hand down the saturated skin of her lover's face before she moved to leave the bed.
Xena, reached out a hand to stop the woman's movements. "Where are you going?"
Gabrielle, leaned in and kissed the soft lips below her. "If you stop and listen, you'll hear voices, still in the hallway, I have to talk to my warriors and let them know that all is well."
Xena, looked at her lover with concern. "Is all well, Gabrielle?"
The Amazon Queen stroked the other woman's jaw lovingly. "Yes, My Conqueror, all is well."
The ruler watched her lover leave the bed and wrap a sheet around her body as she headed for the door, it took all of her self restraint to stay in the bed and let Gabrielle handle the group that waited on the other side of the door.
On Mount Olympus, in the observation hall, Aphrodite, Artemis and Athena stood around the pedestal that held the reflecting waters, gazing down into the bowl, they witnessed the coupling of the Conqueror and the Amazon Queen.
At the moment of their release, the Goddess of Love glowed with a bright white light until the mortal's bodies calmed and settled down, then she looked to her sisters.
"It has begun."
Palaemon and Eponin were the first to notice the door opening and everyone that was in the hallway, dropped their heads and blushed at the sight of the small blonde covered with nothing but a sheet.
"Eponin, as you can see, I am not in any way being harmed, so you and the other escorts can continue on with what ever your intended destination was."
The stocky Amazon was calling forth every bit of discipline that she had, in an effort not to laugh at the sight of her queen.
If they hadn't rushed in on the queen's activities, her appearance alone, would have made it obvious as to what she had been doing behind closed doors.
"As you wish, my queen, but we were going to ask if you wanted to join us in a tour of the palace."
Eponin, couldn't hold it in any longer and laughed outright at the sight of the disheveled little woman.
"But, it seems that you have found more interesting things to explore than the decor of the Royal Residence."
Gabrielle, refused to be embarrassed in front of her escorts and called upon every bit of dignity that she could muster as she dismissed them to go on their way.
Eponin, bowed to her ruler before she took her leave, but she insisted that an Amazon stand guard, now that the Conqueror was in her quarters.
"Fine, leave one person and the rest of you, be on your way."
Meslena, volunteered and was secretly pleased when Palaemon chose to stand guard with her, in protection of his, Liege.
Gabrielle, closed the door to the sounds of her escorts muted laughter before she returned to the woman waiting in her bed.
"Well, that's going to be memorable."
She snuggled up to the warm body that was resting in the bed and kissed the soft skin of the dark woman's shoulder before resting her head on the muscled area.
"Meslena and Palaemon are now standing guard at the door, I only hope that they don't hear anything more than they already have."
Xena, pulled the fair queen on top of her and purred into a delicate ear.
"It's always good to have hope."
After many candle marks of sharing their passion, Gabrielle propped herself up on her elbow and rested her face in her hand, as she slowly brushed the fingers of her free hand across her lover's bare chest as she made a request.
"Xena, tell me about yourself."
The ruler turned her head and was once again pulled into the clear green pools of her lover's eyes, knowing that she would do anything that the honey-blonde asked of her.
"What do you want to know?"
Gabrielle, leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on the slightly swollen lips beneath her.
"I don't know... anything.... tell me about your life."
The Conqueror repositioned herself on the bed so that her back was propped against the headboard, then she opened her arms in an invitation for the other woman to rest on her.
Gabrielle, immediately moved into the offered space and laid her arm across the tall woman's waist, while she rested her head on a broad shoulder.
"Let's see, where do I begin.... Twenty-six winters ago I was born in a small village named, Amphipolis."
Gabrielle, remembered the name as being the location where Xena had her mead shipped from, but she didn't interrupt the other woman's story.
"My mother ran or I guess I should say still runs the inn/tavern there."
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place, still she remained silent.
"I don't remember my father, he left when I was still very young, I had two brothers, one older and one younger, when I was sixteen winters old, a warlord attacked our village, I convinced the people that we should defend ourselves against them,
when we did, a lot of men and boys lost their lives, including my younger brother, my mother blamed me for his death and turned her back on me."
Gabrielle, saw the pain reflected in the woman's eyes and told her that it wasn't necessary for her to continue, but Xena kissed the top of her golden head and told her that she was okay.
"That night, I packed what little I owned and left my home for good, an angry and lonely girl, as I walked away, I decided that even if the people of my village didn't want me around, I would still make sure that they were protected.
I patrolled the boarders of Amphipolis and fought anyone that set his mind on attacking it."
The woman disappeared into herself the further along she got into her story.
"It was amazing, the men that I defeated didn't leave, instead they became allies in my mission, after a while, I was being followed by not only the men that had been my enemies, but random people started to join us,
word of mouth got around and suddenly, we were given a ship to patrol the waterways, it was during the time that we were sailing the Ionian sea, protecting Greece's western shore, that my men captured a Roman."
Xena's eyes went pale, Gabrielle had learned fairly quickly to associate that color with intense anger, Xena felt a soft hand rubbing her cheek and leaned into its warmth.
"Xena, I see what this is doing to you, it's not important, you don't need to go on."
The ruler pulled the small woman closer to her and released a frustrated breath.
"No, I want you to know, I've.... I've never felt the need to tell anyone about my life."
She captured Gabrielle's eyes with her own. "I trust you."
Gabrielle, could feel the sting of tears at the back of her eyes, this fierce warrior was willing to lay herself bare before her, the magnitude of the gift that was being given to her, was overwhelming.
"Okay love, go on."
The endearment took the ruler by surprise. "Am.... am I your love, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle, had spoken without thought, but now that she examined her words, she knew them to be the truth.
"Yes Xena, you are my love."
A brilliant childlike smile broke out on the Conqueror's face as she kissed the other woman's lips. "Good, cause you're my love too," she said with glee.
Xena, allowed herself one more kiss before she proceeded to tell the Amazon Queen about how she was crucified and had her legs broken by Caesar's order, her meeting Borias and the short reprieve that Lao Ma offered.
When she got to the part of the story where Borias wanted to go to Jappa and rescue a noble's daughter from her kidnaper's, only to try and ransom her themselves, night had fallen.
Both women left the bed after acknowledging their hunger and need to bathe, they shared a long hot bath and then consumed the evening meal that had been delivered to the room.
"So, you didn't want to travel further east and let Borias leave on his own?"
Xena, placed a piece of soft cheese on a thick slice of bread and took a bite before answering.
"Yep, after he left, I boarded the first ship that I could find back to, Greece and never saw him again."
A deep sadness filled the Conqueror's blue eyes before she spoke again.
"Upon my return, I was given my second chance at redemption, but just as I had done with Lao Ma.... I turned it away, and chose violence instead."
Gabrielle, didn't need to ask Xena what happened next, her betrayal of Queen Cyan was well known among the Amazons.
They had all heard the story of how, after the kind queen had taught her their fighting skills and tree maneuvers, Xena had chosen to kill all of the northern leaders.
She also knew of Xena's association with the evil shamaness Alti, what she didn't know, was why she had parted ways with the former Amazon witch.
The queen moved her food around her plate, trying to think of a way to broach the subject without sounding like she was judging the woman.
Xena, could tell that her companion had something on her mind and decided to ask her what it was, so she reached over and stopped the hand that was moving the food around the plate.
"Gabrielle, is there something that you want to ask of me?"
When the small blonde looked at her, Xena could see the war that was being waged behind the green eyes.
"Trust me when I say that you can ask me anything."
Gabrielle, dropped her utensil and leaned back in her chair, she decided to throw caution to the wind ask the question that was on her mind.
"Why did you end your association with, Alti?"
Xena was only mildly surprised that the queen knew about Alti, after all, she was an Amazon, Xena's history with them had to be recorded somewhere.
"Welll.... Alti always relayed vague premonitions to me and when something would happen, I made myself find a part of her predictions in whatever the event was, after all, she had foreseen that I was to be The Destroyer of Nations."
The title was spoken with a bit of venom laced in the delivery.
"After fighting many battles and coming no closer to ruling Greece, I started to question her abilities, the end of our.... liaison came about when I knew without a doubt that she was a fraud."
The Conqueror laughed with disgust before she spoke again.
"She came to me in my tent on night and told me that I was with child."
Gabrielle, tilted a curious head at the statement and Xena laughed at the queen's expression before she continued.
"Gabrielle, by this time I was only interested in sharing my bed with women, her apprentice being the last one before she was killed during a battle, so you see, there was no way that I could have been carrying a child."
Gabrielle, was confused. "Uhm, Xena, I don't mean to sound vulgar, but your sexual conquest are well known throughout, Greece."
The bard was a bit taken aback when the dark woman let loose with a loud laugh, when Xena calmed and noted the mild irritation on the Amazon's face, she proceeded to explain her reaction.
"Gabrielle, in my twenty-six winters, I have had six bed mates and one lover."
Gabrielle, wasn't sure that she liked the distinction between bed mates and lover, who would standout as a lover in Xena's mind?
When, Xena realized that Gabrielle wasn't going to say anything, she pressed on.
"Before I left my village, I shared myself for the first time with my childhood friend, Sebella, after her there was Caesar, Borias, Lao Ma, Alti's apprentice and a woman in a tavern the night before my army marched into Corinth."
Gabrielle, was even more confused by the admission. "But.... but it's common knowledge that you bed the men and women that are in your army."
Xena, saw the seriousness in her lover's face and knew that she had to explain the rumors.
"Gabrielle, what kind of leader would bed her troops?"
Gabrielle, still looked unsure.
"Okay, let me explain it another way. I worked too hard, fought and defeated more men and women than I can count in one sitting in order to build the most formidable army Greece has ever seen.
Why would I risk loosing the reputation I had so meticulously built as a strategist, leader and fierce fighter by bedding the very people that I had trained to see me, not as a woman, but as their supreme commander?"
A dark shadow covered her features. "When, Caesar bedded me then betrayed me he taught me a valuable lesson... One that I'll never forget.
Sex and aspirations of world domination don't make for compatible bedfellows. I only needed one demonstration before the lesson was driven home permanently."
The blonde took a moment to let the truth of the statement wash over her and saw the logic of it.
"Then why does everyone think that you have bedded half of, Greece?"
Xena, reached across the table and covered the bard's hand. "Gabrielle, not too far from here, there is a village, in that village there is a tavern.... well more of a brothel,
working in that brothel is a woman that looks exactly like me, her name is Meg, when I heard of her existence I didn't believe it,
so one evening, I went to the establishment to see for myself and let's just say that I was shocked when I came face to face with my mirror image, I thought that everything about her was exactly like me, that is until she opened her mouth."
Xena, rolled her eyes. "When she spoke, I wanted to cringe, she had the most annoying voice that I had ever heard and.... well, she wasn't the sharpest spear in the arsenal."
Gabrielle, smiled at the Conqueror's description of her double.
"We went to a private room and she thanked me for the huge profit that she had turned, it seems that quite a few of my troops and many of the villagers were seeking out her company because she looked so much like me, it seems that she was somehow fulfilling some fantasy they all had about bedding the legendary, Xena."
Gabrielle, couldn't stop her mouth from dropping open in surprise. "Xena, you want me to believe that there is someone that looks so much like you that people brag that they have spent an evening with the Conqueror?"
Xena, threw her hands in the air in exasperation. "It's true, if you don't believe me, ask Glaphyra, from what I've heard she's spent time with the woman.... more than once."
Then and there, Gabrielle decided that she would find the General and question her about the existence of this.... Meg, herself.
Wanting to save this conversation for another time, Gabrielle decided to change the subject and ask Xena something that had piqued her interest after the dark woman had said it.
She couldn't believe that she was about to ask the next question, but her curiosity got the best of her, she had to know who Xena had considered a lover and not just a bed partner.
"Okay, I want to change subjects for a moment, that is if you don't mind."
The ruler was more than happy to move away from her supposedly notorious sex life. "Fine."
Gabrielle, steeled her nerves and pushed forward. "You said that you have had six bed mates and one lover.... I want to know who it was that you considered a lover."
There, it was out, maybe she could find out what qualities it took in a person to make Xena consider them special.
The Ruler of all of Greece stood up and rounded the table that separated them, when she was standing in front of the small queen, she dropped to her knees and pulled the other woman's hands into her own.
"Why Gabrielle, I would have thought that you had figured that out on your own."
Then she saw it, the Conqueror's eyes were now a deep blue.... and from that moment on, she would always associate that color with the woman's deep unbridled love.
She swallowed, but her mouth had gone dry and only a clicking sound was emitted from her throat, she knew Xena's answer before she gave it voice.
"Gabrielle, you are the only lover that I've ever had."
'Oh my.... she said it.... oh my gods, it's me.'
The Conqueror pushed the seated woman's chair from under the table and turned it to face her, her next move shocked the Amazon Queen, Xena laid her head in the bard's lap and wrapped her arms around the woman's small waist.
As she tightened her hold on the woman, she spoke into her lap, it had only been a short while, but she knew, they both knew, this was what they had been waiting for.... they were each other's destiny.
"Gabrielle, no one has ever touched me the way that you do, you make me feel like summers long ago, when everything seemed possible and days went by slow."
She raised her head and tried to communicate her feelings through her eyes before she spoke again.
"Can't you see all that you do for me, being with you is like finally being.... free."
The tears couldn't be stopped, they flowed freely down the bard's cheeks unchecked, the words that were spoken were not coming from the parsonage of The Conqueror, or The Destroyer of Nations.
These words were being spoken by a village girl that wanted to be who she might have been if fate hadn't stepped in and changed her course.
After, Xena spoke her heart, she laid her head back down on her lover's lap, dwelling in the only place that she would ever feel truly free.
Gabrielle, ran her hands through the dark hair that covered the bowed head and tried to communicate through her finger tips that she felt the same way.
After a few moments, the seated woman found her voice and spoke from her heart.
"I think of myself as a bard, I use words to paint a picture, hoping that I can bring people into the world that I see."
She shifted her hands and raised Xena's face so that she could look into the damp blue eyes of the other woman.
"But you my love, have composed a story that I haven't even begun to write.... when I looked into your eyes on our first meeting, I felt something stir within me that I couldn't get a hold of .... now I know that it was a love so deep that it cannot be defined."
The bard reached down and wiped away the tears that were cascading down Xena's cheeks.
"You have touched my heart in a way that makes me feel like I could soar as high as the birds in the sky."
The new lovers were lying in bed, wrapped around each other, when Xena awakened suddenly, remembering something.
She gently removed herself from Gabrielle's embrace and covered her nude lover's body with a quilt before she left the bed.
She wrapped herself in a sheet and hurried to the door of the bed chamber where she knew the General of her Royal Guard was standing post with one of the Amazon escorts.
The unexpected opening of the door immediately put Palaemon and Meslena on alert, when the tall man realized that it was Xena, he relaxed his stance.
He took in the sheet covered ruler's appearance and suppressed the smile that wanted to make itself known.
"Is there a problem, My Liege?"
Xena, didn't miss the easy companionship that the two guards shared, but chose to address that at a later time, she stepped into the corridor and walked a few paces away from the tall blonde Amazon so that she could speak to her General in private.
Xena, had been aroused from sleep in a slight panic, today marked the ninth day of the Amazon Emissary's departure from, Corinth and Xena had just remembered her order to attack the Amazon Nation ten days from that date.
Glaphyra, being the disciplined soldier that she was, would without question, lead her troops to Euboreas and attack them, following the ruler's orders.
"Palaemon, I need you to find Glaphyra and tell her that the planned invasion of the Amazons has been called off."
Palaemon, wasn't surprised by the ruler's order, he had known from the moment that the two leaders met that there would be no action taken, he was only shocked that it had taken so long for the Conqueror to change her orders.
But once he looked at the barely dressed and obviously well loved ruler, he understood how she could have forgotten her previous command.
"And Palaemon, I want you to find her and tell her personally that this is my order."
"By your will, My Liege."
The General of the Royal Guard, bowed and hurried down the corridor with thoughts of returning as soon as possible to continue his talk with the tall Amazon.
Xena made her way back to the chamber door and just before she entered the room, she made a comment to, Meslena.
"He's a good man, treat him well." Then she closed the door, leaving the escort bewildered.
"Artemis help me, the woman must be a seer."
On the fifth day of the Amazon contingents visit, the queen received an urgent message from her regent.
Gabrielle, opened the scroll as she sat with Xena in the ruler's outer chamber having their morning meal, her things had been moved into Xena's rooms after their first night together and she had spent every evening with the ruler since.
The queen had been enjoying every luxury that the Conqueror's chambers offered, from the sunken marble tub in the bath chamber to the huge canopied bed, she blushed just remembering how she had been spending her nights in that bed.... and her mornings.... and her midday.... there was no doubt, the tall ruler had awakened something in her that she never knew existed.
As, Gabrielle read the scroll, her brow furrowed a little.
A wave of protectiveness washed over Xena at the bard's expression.
"What's wrong, Gabrielle?"
The blonde woman finished reading the communication before she answered.
"Well, it seems that Delium has been under constant attack for the past five moons and their resources are nearly depleted, causing the village to be near demise."
"Why are they contacting you?"
Gabrielle continued to eat as she spoke. "Delium is one of the villages near Euboreas that is populated by women and children and they want to know if we will negotiate with them the way that we did with Tanagra, and make them a part of the nation."
For just a half of a heartbeat, Xena felt challenged and then it was gone, she knew that Gabrielle had no desire to rule, Greece.
Xena, knew that she had only accepted the Queen's Mask to prevent an unorthodox Amazon named Velasca from taking over.
What she didn't know was that after the Amazon and her followers had been banished, Gabrielle had tried to give the mask to her regent, but the woman wouldn't take it, saying she was a fighter, not a ruler.
She looked at the small woman that had been sharing her rooms for the past four days and knew that Gabrielle would never do anything to purposefully harm her.
"What are you going to do?"
"I guess I'll have to return to Euboreas, sit down with my advisors and discuss what to do, I'm sure I'll end up making a trip to Delium to see what has been going on."
Xena, didn't like the sound of that, she didn't want Gabrielle going to a village that had been under constant attack, just the thought of the blonde woman being harmed caused a rage to rise in her that was almost palpable.
Gabrielle, saw the change in the ruler and reached across the table to place a gentle hand on the tense arm.
"What's wrong, love?"
The soft touch reminded her that Gabrielle was still there and wasn't in any danger, she pulled herself together and asked a question.
"Are you going to take your warriors with you?"
The question was perplexing. "Yes, a few, why?"
"Because you shouldn't go into a village that has come to the attention of a warlord unprotected, you never know when they might return."
Gabrielle wondered if this was something that Xena knew from experience, but she knew now was not the time to ask.
The fair head tilted to the side in mischief. "Are you worried about me, Xena?"
The ruler popped a piece of fruit into her mouth and took on an air of indifference.
"Nah, just curious." As hard as she tried, she couldn't stop the smile from twitching at the corner of her mouth.
"Uh huh, if you say so, Lord Conqueror." The queen replied with a smirk of her own.
As, Xena was about to ask her next question, she felt an unfamiliar panic seize her heart, but didn't let it show.
"When will you be leaving?"
Xena, wasn't very successful in hiding her anxiety, Gabrielle heard the trepidation in her voice.
"I think that I should leave as soon as possible, like tomorrow, considering how much they need our help."
She immediately saw the sadness that shadowed the blue eyes, she got up and sat on the tall woman's lap, and rested her head on her shoulder.
"You know I don't want to leave you right?"
She felt Xena nod her head.
"And you know I'll come back to you as soon as I can, right?"
She placed a soft kiss on the long neck that she was snuggled against. "So what do you say we worry about tomorrow, tomorrow and enjoy today."
Without a word, Xena stood from her chair and carried a very willing queen back into her bedchambers, she knew exactly how she wanted to spend what time she had left with her love and she wasn't going to waste a moment.
The Amazon's had their packs ready and their horses waiting, it was time to leave. There were sad good-byes being shared all around by soldiers and warriors alike.
As the leaders looked about, seeing Palaemon and Meslena share a long embrace didn't come as a surprise, but when Solari and Glaphyra shared a personal farewell, the two rulers were shocked.
Xena, stood with Gabrielle beside her horse as they observed the two female fighters and Gabrielle tilted her head in their direction.
"When did that happen?"
Xena, could only laugh. "Your guess is as good as mine."
They stood silently looking into each others eyes, their tearful good-byes had already been shared in the palace and they both knew that the time had come for them to part. The Amazons were on their horses waiting for their queen to join them.
"Well, I guess it's time."
Gabrielle, turned, prepared to mount her horse when she felt a warm hand on her shoulder stopping her movement.
Xena, turned her back around and bent her head, covering the willing mouth with her own sharing on last kiss that made them both feel like they never wanted it to end. When she pulled back, the ruler held the small woman in a tight embrace and whispered in her ear.
"I love you, Gabrielle, come back to me soon."
Gabrielle, rested her head on the broad chest in front of her and spoke from her heart.
"Not even death could keep me away from you."
She then pulled away from the other woman and looked into her eyes one last time.
"I love you, Xena, never forget that."
She quickly mounted her horse and road off, surrounded by her escorts, as the ride put more and more distance between the Queen and the Conqueror, Gabrielle's heart started to feel like it was breaking.
It was then that she remembered the seer's words and she knew that she was leaving her heart's desire behind.
Ares, sat in his temple trying to control his rage, everything that he had worked for was now on a path of destruction.
The God of War knew that he had to come up with a plan, even if the prophecy was starting to unfold, he had to do something to try and change it.
Xena, had conquered Greece in his name and he would not allow that power to be threatened without a challenge.
A sinister smile graced his dark features as a plan came to mind. "Yes, that's what I'll do, it's a risk, but I will not let my rule be taken away without a fight."
Then he laughed out loud. "After all.... that is what I do."
When the Amazons returned to the territory, Gabrielle knew that she only had a very short time before she would need to visit, Delium.
After a nights rest, she called a meeting of the elders in the council hall, she sat at the head of the table surrounded by Ephiny, Solari, Neela, Serita and the others that made up the Amazon Elders.
Mysia, was also present, although she wasn't an elder, she was the leader of Artemis' Protectors, so her input was very much needed for the negotiations.
The woman had been around longer than any of them could remember, but she still had a youthful appearance. Her long body was very muscular, her hair was a color so light that it was almost white and her eyes were as blue as the Aegean, but they held an ancient wisdom that was in total contrast to her appearance.
For a couple of centuries, long before Gabrielle's mother's mother was a glint in her father's eye, Artemis' followers were guarded by the protectors.
Mysia, and her defenders had been a presence in the Amazon Nation long before the queen had been born, she and fifty of her shape changers had lived with the Amazons for more seasons than she could count.
She was not only their leader, but she was also the goddess' most favored, the shape changers had fought in many battles side by side with the Amazons, and Mysia's opinions were well respected.
Gabrielle, banged the wooden paddle on the table. "Okay, this meeting is officially called to order. Early tomorrow, we will be traveling to Delium to meet with the villagers, we know what the situation is, so there is no need to discuss that topic, what I want is suggestions on how we should handle the problem."
Neela, spoke first. "My Queen, I think upon arrival, someone should scout the area and see if there are really no men in residence, if it is truly populated by only women and children, then we need to find out how many and if any have fighting skills."
The suggestion was met with positive murmurs around the table.
"All right, it sounds like everyone agrees with that point." Every head nodded.
"At least fifty warriors and ten protectors should be taken along," Serita added.
Gabrielle, felt a warmth spread through her when Serita suggested the same thoughts that Xena had expressed and she took a moment to think about her lover.
'Xena, I miss you so.'
Then she had to mentally shake loose her thoughts of the tall beauty and continue with the meeting.
"Are there any other ideas before we leave in the morning?"
The day that Gabrielle left the capital, Tellus informed Xena that court would be held after the midday meal, he knew that with the Conqueror's attention being dominated by the visiting queen, Falsted's punishment would not been given much thought until the Amazons left, Corinth.
He hoped that after going so many springs without physical pleasure, that the ruler had been softened by the blonde woman's attentions and she would free the noble.
Because court had not been held for so long, the dungeons were full, so the judgments had to take place outside in the town square instead of the Great Hall, allowing more citizens than usual to witness the Conqueror's decisions.
The Conqueror sat high on her dais, wearing a dark blue robe and a golden headdress, the first criminals that were presented were thieves.
Most of them were poor and stole just so they could feed their families, Xena sentenced them with time served and left them with a warning to never do it again.
Xena's actions filled, Tellus with the confidence that Falsted would be set free, the brutal woman had never let a crime go unpunished in the past, so her change of heart was encouraging.
The ruler's mind started to drift and she was trying to fight her boredom, but her thoughts continuously drifted down one path and it always led to one thing.... Gabrielle.
Her musings were interrupted when Dimitri, the junior advisor announced that Lord Falsted was the next to be judged, Xena sat up straight and a wicked smile crossed her face. She had every intention of freeing the arrogant man, but subjecting him to a little public humiliation first couldn't hurt
"Ah, now it gets interesting."
As, Dimitri read the charges against the noble out loud, Tellus stood beside the ruler with an air of confidence surrounding him, it took all of his breeding and discipline not to show his excitement, soon their plan would be back on track.
"Lord Falsted, you have been charged with speaking against the Realm, how do you plead?"
The charge shocked both Tellus, and Falsted.
"I plead not guilty, I never spoke against the, Realm."
Tellus, leaned down and whispered in Xena's ear.
"Lord Conqueror, there must be some mistake, Lord Falsted never spoke in that manner."
Xena, waved the man away and addressed the accused.
"So, you don't think you're guilty, ay?"
Falsted, stood in the dirt below the Conqueror, looking up at the demon as she stared at him with arrogance. His time in confinement had not tempered his outrage, it only caused his anger to grow.
He was tired, dirty and he still wore the clothes that he had on the night of the banquet, to say that he was seething was an understatement, he looked at her with fire in his eyes.
"Yes, as I just stated, I plead, not guilty," he said in a voice loud enough to carry across the large crowd.
His obvious defiance made the people gasp in surprise.
Xena, leaned forward and met the man's combative stare with eyes that had lost their color in her fury. This wasn't going the way that she had planned, the idiot was supposed to acknowledge his mistake, apologize and she could move on to the next criminal.
Instead he chose to challenge her in front of the citizenry, thereby guaranteeing that he receive a punishment of some kind.
"What is your defense Falsted?" She asked as venom dripped with each word.
Tellus, noticed the danger right away and hoped that Falsted did as well, but many days spent in squalid surroundings made the noble oblivious to anything except his continued humiliation.
"I am being judged because I spoke the truth about a savage whore, nowhere could that be seen as inappropriate, the Amazon Queen is no more than a commoner amongst the nobles of Greece, so punishment is unwarranted."
As soon as the words left the condemned man's mouth, Tellus started looking around in hopes of finding a new ally, in Falsted's absence he had witnessed the ruler's affection towards the small queen and knew that the statement had sealed the noble's fate.
His gaze fell upon, Dimitri and then he dismissed the thought, the man was as loyal to Xena as her troops were, when his eyes caught a brief glimpse of a familiar face in the crowd, new plans started to form in his head while he listened with half an ear to his former cohort's judgment.
Falsted's words angered Xena and they cut her deeper than they had the night that he had made a similar statement. Things were different now, she was in love and this fool had just insulted the most important person in the world to her in front of a huge section of the population.
"So that's how you see it, Falsted, you only spoke the truth?"
He raised his head in defiance, after all, what could Xena do, he was a valued citizen of Greece. His family were members of the Royal Court long before this barbarian's ancestors had the ability to raise themselves out of the pig sty that he was sure they evolved from.
He knew that the families that held power in, Corinth would never allow this beast to take his life, of that he had no doubt, so he stood there with his head held high, waiting for her to do her worst.
The Conqueror stood and walked down the steps of the dais, when she reached the last rise, she bent down and held the man's unflinching eyes with her own.
"The woman you spoke against, not once but twice is a part of me, so when you spoke against her, you spoke against me and as know... I am the Realm. That alone gives me the right to take your life and we both know there would be nothing that your friends could do about, but I'll spare you... this time."
An insolent smile tugged at the corner's of his mouth when she turned away from him, 'I knew that bitch didn't have the guts to kill me, not in front of all of these people,' he thought.
She walked away from him heading back to her throne and without turning around waved her hand in the air as she gave the order.
"Cut out his tongue!"
Guards were immediately at his sides prepared to gladly take him to the executioner's platform, like their leader, they had also grown found of the gentle queen.
During her stay in the palace the beautiful blonde had started each morning out on the practice field working out with the Conqueror and her escorts, while out there the soldiers had grown to respect the skills she showed as a warrior and later were just as impressed when she would stand in the dining hall and entertain them with a story after she finished her meal. Those things endeared the Amazon Queen to the Soldiers of the Realm, but the thing that garnered their loyalty to her was the balance that she bought to their leader's life.
Most of them had known, Xena from the beginning of her quest to rule the country and they knew her well as a fierce fighter and brilliant strategist, but to finally see her share her heart with someone was something they never thought would happen, so taking the self-important weasel to the hot coals would be a pleasure.
As they pulled Falsted away, the closer he got to the executioner's platform and could see the smoke rising from the coals, the more frantic he became and started to struggle, trying to free himself from their grasp, as he loosened an arm, he turned to the dark woman and yelled out to her.
"What have I done wrong?"
Xena, sat on her throne and gave him a predatory smile.
When the Amazon's reached Delium, they were greeted by two portly women, they bowed before Gabrielle, assuming that her regal bearing meant that she was the queen. The older of the two spoke first. "Thank you for acknowledging our plea."
Gabrielle, never being comfortable with people acting subservient around her, insisted that they rise, and stand tall.
"Please, don't bow to me, we are all equals here."
The women stood erect and gazed upon the blonde beauty before them, she radiated a kindness and gentility that was a rare trait in a ruler, and they were instantly put at ease.
"I would appreciate it if you would call me, Gabrielle."
Then she swept her hands behind her. "And these are the warriors of the Amazon Nation."
As the new arrivals looked around, they noticed that the streets were filled with woman ranging in age from the very young to the crones. Gabrielle, gave a hand signal for the scouts to leave and seek out any men that may be in hiding.
The visitors were led to a large hut that would serve as the meeting hall, it held a large table with many chairs surrounding it, and extras placed down the side walls.
When everyone was seated, someone was sent out to bring in refreshments, the journey had taken a day and a half of hard riding, and the women were thirsty and hungry from their trip.
The older woman addressed the queen after everyone had been served with a drink and a plate of food.
"Queen Gabrielle, I am Eustess, it was decided that Stasha and I would handle the negotiations when you arrived."
Gabrielle, smiled at the older woman and then acknowledged the shorter woman beside her.
"After your meal, we would like to escort you and your warriors to your huts so that you may rest from your journey."
The small queen had to admit that a full stomach and a soft bed was just what she needed.
"If you are willing, we think that it is best that you have a good nights sleep and then we can start our talks in the morning."
>From the sounds that the Amazons were making, Gabrielle thought that the woman must be reading their minds and agreed with the plan without hesitation.
"Eustess, we accept your generous offer and will be more than happy to meet you and the other villagers tomorrow."
As the women were led to their huts, Gabrielle noticed that a few of the women's stomachs showed the signs of being in the early stages of pregnancy.
'That's odd, I thought that there were no men in this village, I'll have to ask Eustess about that tomorrow.'
When, Gabrielle entered the hut that she would be sleeping in, she was grateful to see a pitcher of water and a wash basin.
After being left alone, she undressed and washed the road grim from her body, when she was done with that, she slipped into a sleeping shift, then took a moment to inhale the scent that the material held, she had taken one of Xena's sleeping shifts before she left Corinth, so she would feel like the woman was with her, even when they were apart.
Feeling more refreshed, she moved to the only table and chair in the room and sat down, she grabbed her travel pack and pulled out one of the scrolls that she had brought with her and started working on the negotiation that would make Delium a part of Euboreas.
It had been decided that the terms would be the same as the treaty with Tanagra, in exchange for a portion of the crops, meat from the annual slaughter and access to their hunting grounds, the Amazon Nation would provide twenty warriors to patrol the interior and exterior boarders of the village in the day and Mysia would provide four protectors to patrol the outer boarders in wolf form at night.
Of course, no one would be told that the four women were shape changers, it still amazed Gabrielle that after a couple of centuries, no one knew of the existence of Artemis' guardians, living in a nation of women, that secret being kept was a small miracle.
Shaking those thoughts from her head, Gabrielle continued to write out the document that would not only protect the women and children of Delium, but would also increase the lands of the Amazon nation.
As the sun began to set, Gabrielle had to light a lamp, so that she could continue working on the scroll, she placed the quill to the parchment and let her mind wondered for a moment with thoughts of her love.
A small wave of unease flowed through her and she spoke out loud. "Xena, please don't do anything foolish while we are apart."
Then she had to remind herself. "She has ruled Greece for three springs without your help, don't think that she is going to do anything any differently just because you're in her life now."
She went back to working on the scroll, just before she started to write she sent out her love to her absent partner.
"I love you, Xena please be safe."
The Conqueror was once again having a sleepless night without the queen, she had to do something, this couldn't go on, she needed to see, Gabrielle.
She rose from her bed and put on a robe, she went into her outer room, opened the door to the hallway and was impressed when the guards on duty stood at attention.
"Is there something I can do for you my Liege?" One of them asked.
"Go find, Palaemon."
The order was barely given, before he was on the move.
When the knock came at the door her plan was ready to be set into action. "Enter."
The blonde general came in, trying his best not to look like he had just woken up. "You sent for me, my Liege?"
"Yes, I want you to find, Glaphyra and tell her to gather one hundred soldiers and have them ready to leave at first light."
The request took the tall man by surprise. "Are you going somewhere, Conqueror?"
"Yes general, we will be leaving for Delium with the rising of the sun."
Palaemon, was nervous, the Amazon Queen had left Corinth, six days before and the volatile ruler had been very unpredictable, after having Falsted's tongue removed, she had ordered that two convicted rapist have their manhood carved off with a dull blade and sent out into the wilderness to live or die on their own.
She had always been ruthless, but her punishments of late, were particularly brutal, the only criminals that had escaped her wrath, were the ones that were sentenced before, Falsted.
After him, everyone had paid a high price for their infractions. "My Liege, is there any... uhm reason that you are leading troops into, Delium?"
Xena's irritation showed in her hand gestures as she spoke. "If you must know Palaemon, Gabrielle was supposed to take a few warriors into Delium while she worked out a policy with them to join the nation, I just want to go and make sure that everything is going smoothly"
The General of the Royal Guard breathed a sigh of relief, this was just a way for Xena to see the blonde queen again under the pretense of helping.
"Lord Conqueror, I request permission to gather twenty of the Royal Guard to accompany you on your journey."
Xena, smiled to herself, she knew that Palaemon always put her safety first, but this time she thought that maybe a tall, blonde Amazon escort might be a motivating factor in his request to travel with her.
After pretending to think about it, Xena told the general that it was a good idea. "Make it so."
A broad smile covered the man's face as he turned to leave.
"By your will, my Liege."
After a restful nights sleep, Gabrielle was awakened by a knock at the door, she left the bed wearing only her oversized sleep shift to see who was there.
When she opened the door, she was pleased to see a girl of about fourteen standing there, holding a tray of food.
"Please forgive my intrusion your Majesty, but I was told to bring you your morning meal."
Gabrielle, stepped aside and invited the shy girl inside, as she placed the tray on the edge of table the girl carefully moved the scattered scrolls to one side so that she could make room for the food.
The queen noticed that shy gray eyes would sneak peaks at her when the girl thought she wasn't looking. Reaching out to help with the food, Gabrielle decided to introduce herself.
"Hi, my name is, Gabrielle what's yours?"
The girl was taller than Gabrielle with dark red hair and when the queen addressed her she blushed immediately.
"M... my name is Alset, Queen Gabrielle."
Gabrielle, raised a blonde brow in an attempt to mimic her lover's favorite facial expression.
"I'm sorry, I mean, Gabrielle."
"That's more like it, Alset would you like to share a mug of juice with me?"
"Oh no Gabrielle, I couldn't do that you are royalty and I would never insult you with my company."
Gabrielle, exhaled and dropped her head. "Alset, it's true that I am Queen of the Amazons, but five summers ago I was just like you, a regular village girl, so please join me for a mug of juice."
Looking around the room, Gabrielle realized that there was only one chair, so she suggested that they pull the table over to the bed and she would sit there while Alset sat in the chair.
After rearranging the furniture, the blonde woman tucked into her food and started to question the girl while she ate.
"So, Alset, how long have the men been absent from your village?"
The redhead sipped her juice and answered the question without looking up.
"About three winters now."
Gabrielle, remembered seeing the pregnant women and wasn't sure that she believed the girl, something wasn't right.
She nonchalantly bit into a fig and casually asked her next question. "That's strange, because when we arrived yesterday, I saw a few women that were obviously with child, how do you explain that?"
When the girl's head snapped up, there was an enormous amount of pain in her gray eyes.
Gabrielle, stopped eating and touched Alset's hand. "What's wrong?"
Alset's eyes started to tear up and her voice was choked. "One of the women you saw was my mother."
She tried to pull herself together before she spoke again. "The first time the raiders came, it was a nightmare, there looked to be at least one hundred of them, we didn't even have a chance to try and defend ourselves."
She sipped more of her juice before she started again. "The village was filled with them before we heard orders being given to take all the food and weapons that could be found, my mother became frightened because she didn't know what their intentions were."
She looked into Gabrielle's green eyes. "After all, we are a village of women and children, so she grabbed me and my younger sister and hid us under the hay in the barn.
They stayed for two days, during that time our mother would sneak into the barn and feed us. When she came her face and arms were bruised, as if she had been beaten."
Alset, wiped a few stray tears from her face. "When the men left, our mother came and got us and took us back home... it wasn't until a moon later, that our mother and a few other of the women realized that they were with child."
The girl's strength gave out as she sobbed uncontrollably, Gabrielle went to hold her in her arms trying to comfort her.
When there were no more tears the small blonde went to the wash basin and soaked a cloth in the water before using it to wipe Alset's face.
"Gabrielle, when you and the Amazons leave will you take me with you?"
The queen was shocked, she couldn't believe that Alset would leave her mother and sister behind, then she saw a steel determination enter into the girl's gray eyes.
"They have been attacking us for five moons and our mothers hide us every time, the next time they come I want to know how to fight so that I can protect my mother from more abuse."
Now she understood, the girl wasn't abandoning her family, looking out for her own safety, she wanted to learn how to defend them.
"Alset, I'm going to introduce you to two members of my Royal Guard, their names are Chilapa and Amarice, while we are here I'm going to have them train you and anyone else that's interested in learning how to defend yourselves."
A squeak came from the girl's throat. "And then, if you decide to leave with us I'll ask your mother for permission."
For the first time, in a long time, Alset's face broke out in a wide smile, she jumped up from her seat and almost danced in place.
"I know at least five of us that would be more than willing to learn... all we want to do is protect our village and make it safe again."
While the girl celebrated the prospect of learning to fight, Gabrielle's thoughts went to a certain tall, dark ruler and couldn't help but wonder.
'Is this how it started for you, Xena, is this how you became the Destroyer of Nations?'
Glaphyra, approached the tall ruler with caution, she was acting in a way that the general wasn't accustomed to, she was almost... excited.
"Conqueror, the troops are ready to pull out whenever you give the word."
Xena, stood beside her golden palomino and looked out at the men and women ready to follow wherever she led.
"Let's not waist any more time, Glaphyra give the order."
They all mounted their horses ready for their two day trip to Delium.
It was the second day of negotiations when, Stasha suggested that it was time to break for the midday meal.
Gabrielle was more than willing to stop and fill her empty stomach, pleased with the progress that had been made.
The day before the mothers of the five girls were happy to give their consent to let the girls learn how to defend themselves and after a few marks of testing, Chilapa, Amarice and Eponin were very pleased with the young women's potential and felt confident in their ability to learn quickly.
Unlike Euboreas, Delium didn't have a communal eating hut, so large tables were set up in the village square to serve food to their guest.
Everyone was enjoying their meal when an alarm rang out, four women, about twenty summers in age, ran into the square announcing the raiders approach.
Eponin and Mysia, gave the order to gather there fighters for battle and when the intruders entered the village they were surprised by the warriors that awaited them... the shock cost them fifty fighters in short order.
Most of the downed men were not the best fighters, so their loss wasn't detrimental to the raiders fighting numbers. There were at least one hundred and seventy five skilled fighters that swarmed into the village and they were starting to take their toll.
Xena, and her army were in their second day of travel and Delium was just over the next ridge, she couldn't wait to see her love, maybe have a hot bath and then... who knows.
When the small army reached the crest, she was met by a sight that sent chills down her spine, there appeared to be about sixty amazons and what looked like four very large dogs, engaging a group of more than one hundred men in battle.
Fear coursed through her soul when she saw what was very obviously Gabrielle's blonde head in the midst of the fighting and for the first time in years she knew true fear.
On Mount Olympus, the goddess Artemis, was with her sisters when the battle started in Delium, with the arrival of the Conqueror and her troops, the goddess' body glowed with a deep green hue, like that of the forest, when she was released, she looked to Athena and Aphrodite.
"They will be tested."
She was defending herself against a sword wielding solider while using her fighting staff, the small queen was desperately looking for an opening so that she could disable him.
Before the opportunity could present itself, Gabrielle became aware of another man approaching from the side and quickly took a step back to give herself more room to fight two opponents.
Before the second man could land his first blow, a battle cry sounded throughout the village that she had only read about in the Amazon history scrolls, but had never heard for herself, at this moment it was the sweetest sound she had never heard.
The second man continued his forward movement, but was stopped dead in his tracks when Xena's chakram seemed to magically appear in the center of his chest.
The sudden arrival of the Conqueror distracted the first man long enough for Gabrielle to take his legs out from under him with her staff.
When, Xena saw her beloved in harms way, the darkness filled her and she let her chakram loose, even before it hit its mark, she and her army were rushing into the melee.
As she galloped into the center of the village, she vaulted off of her horse landing beside the small queen, immediately becoming engaged by in a sword fight.
Her opponent seemed to be the only woman in the army of raiders, she was almost as tall as Xena, but much skinnier, she had wild blonde hair and crazed brown eyes with fighting skills that matched those of the Conqueror.
"Ah, Xena the Conqueror," she purred. "I'm so happy that you've joined the party."
They exchanged blows as the strange woman continued her dialog. "I knew that if I made myself a big enough nuisance you would eventually make an appearance."
Xena, pressed forward and forced the slim woman back a few steps. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, you know who I am, but your identity is a mystery."
The woman's smile seemed odd, it looked like she was only pulling her lips back to reveal her teeth leaving her dark eyes empty, but dangerous, making her insanity obvious.
"Weeell, we can't have that now, can we?"
Xena, had to admit, although she seemed quite unbalanced, the woman was a fighting skills were undeniable and she was being challenged in a way that was exhilarating in dangerous sort of way.
"I think that a person as formidable on the battlefield as you are should know the name of the warrior that ended your evil life."
"Many have tried, but as you can see, none have succeeded."
"That's because they didn't have the incentive that I do, I am going to make you pay for the destruction of an entire village, Xena and then I'll take your place on the throne."
Xena, laughed out right at the declaration and started her attack full force. "Then stop talking and come and get some."
The scream that came from the women was primitive and it seemed to empower her, her strokes were coming faster and harder, causing Xena to back up.
But the dark woman was more than just a skilled fighter, she was a smart one, her opponent was fighting with her anger and that would always leave an opening in a person's defenses.
When that opening showed itself, Xena smiled. "It's been fun, but I have better things to do, say hello to Hades for me."
Her blade was coming around in a half circle, she knew that the blow would sever the woman's head from her shoulders and she would be rid of this lunatic.
"Do you remember, Cirra, Xena?"
The long sword stopped before it reached its target and Xena stood motionless, it had been many seasons since she had heard that name, her army had gone into the village without her permission and burned it to the ground, killing everyone, even the women and children.
"Ah, it does ring a bell for you, huh? Well it should. The death and destruction that your army left in its wake will live in my memories forever."
For a brief moment the woman could still hear the cries of agony and smell the stench of burning flesh as the home and the people she had known her entire life died around her.
"My name is, Callisto, the only survivor of that massacre and this day all of those lost souls will finally be avenged." She raised her weapon to make the death blow.
Gabrielle, was relieved when her lover landed beside her, joining in the fight, she didn't know how she got there and with a small army no less, but she thanked, Artemis.
The battle was now turning in their favor and the raiders were falling one by one, she never looked to her left, because she was busy with an attacker, but she could see Xena's movements in her periphery.
When the warrior suddenly stopped moving, Gabrielle saw it from the corner of her eye, Xena was just standing there with her sword held in mid air, as if she were waiting for the blonde woman to take her life, with no intentions of blocking her attempt.
Gabrielle, stepped to the side and slammed her adversary in the side of the head, knocking him unconscious, her intention was to go and assist her lover, but another raider attacked before she could get to her.
The queen watched in horror as the warlord screamed like a banshee and raised her sword up over her head bringing it down in a motion meant to split the Conqueror in two.
There was no time to think with her head, so, Gabrielle's heart took over and she quickly reached down and pulled one of her sais from her boot and sent it flying.
Callisto's joy over the dark woman's impending death was short lived. Her head tilted to one side and she looked truly confused. Her downward stroke suddenly stopped midway and she didn't understand why.
She dropped her weapon as pain started to throb in her upper body, that's when she saw it, a small sword of some sort was buried deep in her chest up to its tiny hilt.
Her eyes softened and a smile parted her lips, 'finally, it's over, sweet release,' she thought, as her body hit the hard dirt.
Before death took her, her mind filled with images of her family and the love she felt for them. 'Now, we can be together again.'
The fighting came to an end when the surviving members of Callisto's army were taken into custody and put in the meeting hut with guards from both Euboreas and the Realm watching them.
Xena, made her way to Gabrielle's side as quickly as she could, the vacant look in her lover's eyes worried her, the bard had given orders on how things should be handled, but there was an air of disconnect attached to each instruction.
Xena, embraced her in a tight hug and rested her cheek on top of the damp blonde head. "I was terrified, I thought that you were going to be killed."
Gabrielle's face was pressed into Xena's chest, making her response sound muffled. "I am so happy to see you."
Something wasn't right, the words had no emotion behind them, she held Gabrielle at arms length and tried to make eye contact.
When she was finally able to see the green eyes, her heart broke, it was then that she remembered that the compassionate queen had never taken a life because she didn't believe in killing.
'Here's another life I've ruined, first I'm confronted by a victim that survived one of my raids during my warlord days and now the love of my life has killed another human being in my defense.'
She spotted the muscular escort and motioned her over. "What's your name warrior?"
Eponin, bristled from the commanding tone, then answered. "Eponin, Conqueror, Weapons Master of Euboreas."
"Eponin, where are your queens quarters, she's in need of rest."
It was the first time that Eponin noticed Gabrielle's quiet state, she pointed in the direction of the small hut that Gabrielle had been assigned to and called over Chilapa and Amarice.
"After the Conqueror gets the queen settled, see to it that food is sent to her hut and post two guards outside."
The women rushed off to carry out their orders, as Xena led Gabrielle towards her sleeping quarters. Both women remained silent as Xena undressed Gabrielle, washed the grime off of her and put a clean shift on her.
A meal tray had been delivered for them but they were sitting across from each other just picking over their food. Xena, couldn't take the silence any longer so she took a deep breath before she started to speak.
"Gabrielle, I'm so sorry that you had to go against your principles because I froze up in the middle of a fight."
Hearing the sorrow and pain, laced with regret in the powerful woman's deep voice brought the queen back to herself.
She covered the large battle scarred hand with her own and gently rubbed her thumb across the bruised knuckles.
"Xena, you have nothing to feel sorry about, when in battle choices have to be made, I made mine, end of story."
The dark warrior knew better, the blonde queen was trying to relieve her of her guilt, she said the right words, but her eyes told a different story.
Gabrielle, knew that she wasn't convincing Xena, but it was the best that she could until she came to terms with taking a life.
As the Amazon Queen struggled with not only accepting her actions, but trying to understand how she could have gone against everything that she believed and taken a life without hesitation... once again, a goddess began to glow on Mount Olympus.
Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was illuminated with a bright blue light while Aphrodite and Artemis waited patiently for their sister to be released from the force.
"I have been called."
Both women sat in silent despair, each overcome with guilt for actions that were not the fault of either one, if they didn't come to terms with the days events, their destiny could be altered.
All of a sudden the room crackled with energy and Xena grabbed her sword as three women appeared in the small hut.
"Drop your weapon warrior, we have a purpose," Athena said.
Xena's only experience with the gods was with the God of War and if he and his tactics were a representation of their ... purpose, she didn't want anything to do with them.
Artemis, read her thoughts and tried to put her at ease. "Not all of us are like our brother, Conqueror some of us serve a purpose that's not so... destructive.
Aphrodite, walked over to Gabrielle and caressed her cheek in an effort to relax her and convey to her that there was no harmful intent.
"Don't worry little one, things aren't always as they seem."
The appearance of the goddess, left Gabrielle speechless, before her stood the Amazon's patron, Artemis and if she was seeing correctly, the goddess was smiling at her.
Xena, moved closer to Gabrielle and stood between her and the immortals ready to protect her love. "What do you want?"
"As I said, Xena we have a purpose." The Goddess of Wisdom, ignored the warrior and approached the seated bard.
"You suffer unnecessarily, Gabrielle I have come to ease your troubled mind."
Gabrielle, looked at the goddess in bewilderment. "I've taken a life. How can you help me understand that?"
Intelligent gray eyes looked into pained green. "Gabrielle, I'm here to give you the gift of knowledge and the first thing that you must accept is life is about balance."
Feeling a bit insulted, Gabrielle sat up straight and held Athena's gaze. "I understand balance perfectly. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction."
The goddess smiled at the miffed queen indulgently. "You're partially right, Gabrielle, but balance comes in threes not twos."
The queen bowed her head, ready for her reprimand. "I don't understand."
Athena, reached out to lift the blonde head as, Xena stepped forward to stop any harm that might befall the small woman.
"Stand down warrior. I told you I don't mean either of you any harm."
She turned her attention back to Gabrielle and spoke to her in soft tones. "I want to make this easy for you, so listen well," The Goddess of Wisdom said.
"Okay," was Gabrielle's only response.
"I'm going to ask you three questions and I want you to answer them honestly."
Gabrielle, felt excitement well up in her chest, she knew something very important was about to be imparted to her... From the Goddess of Wisdom, herself.
Athena began, "Do you believe that there are things worth living for?"
The blonde head nodded, yes.
"Do you believe that there are things worth dying for?"
The queen looked at Xena and her heart was filled with the love that she felt for the tall woman as she whispered her answer.
Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite formed a circle around the women before the goddess spoke again.
"Do you know what my third question will be?"
They saw the battle that was being waged behind the clear green eyes and waited until the small queen could sort out her thoughts.
"I always thought there could only be two options. Once an action had been met by a responding counteraction things should then reach their natural conclusion" Gabrielle said in a voice filled with wonder.
"No little one, just because two opposing views are debated doesn't mean that a balanced conclusion has been achieved... not until the third component is introduced... wisdom," Aphrodite added.
Artemis, approached her queen. "Gabrielle, if you were in a battle and were seriously wounded during the fight, if Xena begged you to stay alive would you try?"
She answered without hesitation. "Yes."
"If Xena were about to be impaled by an enemy's arrow, would you throw yourself in its path to stop it from reaching its destination, risking your own life to save hers?" Athena asked.
Just the thought of that happening made Gabrielle's insides twist. "Without question, I absolutely would."
Artemis, spoke again. "And if Xena were incapacitated and couldn't defend herself, would you kill someone if it were the only way to stop them from killing her?"
"Of course...!" She stopped talking mid-sentence.
Athena, gentled her voice again. "Gabrielle, if you are willing to live for her and willing to die for her, then you must accept and understand that you are willing to kill for her... this is balance."
"And what is the common thread in all of this?" Artemis asked.
Gabrielle's first thought was, Xena, then she searched deeper and her eyes traveled over to where the Goddess of Love was standing.
"Love, it would all be done for love."
Xena, had remained silent throughout the entire conversation, but now she had a question.
"You said that you were here for a purpose, what is it?"
Gray eyes turned to look upon her with a twinkle in their depths. "Patience, Conqueror, maybe we just wanted to help the queen understand and accept her actions."
The Goddess of Wisdom knew that, Xena wouldn't accept that explanation at face value and knew that she would only have to wait a breath before the sarcastic voice of the Conqueror was heard.
"Yeah right, people have bouts of consciousness daily and they are never visited by one goddess, let alone three."
Aphrodite, laughed, "She's got ya there sis."
Athena, rolled her eyes at her sister. "The two of you have a destiny to fulfill and Gabrielle must be strong in her convictions if you are to succeed.
Xena, felt her hackles rise. "Gabrielle is the strongest woman I know."
Artemis, stepped in. "We know that and you know that." She looked to her queen, searching her eyes for confirmation before she continued.
"And now, she knows it too."
Xena, walked behind her seated mate and rested her hands on her shoulders. "I'm going to ask you again, why are you three here and what is this destiny that we must fulfill?"
All eyes turned to the Goddess of Wisdom. "We are here because the two of you had to be balanced, in mind, body and soul before you could start on the path that will lead you to that destiny."
Xena, was at the end of her patience. "Why do the immortals always speak in riddles, why can't you just tell us what is going on?"
"Because Xena, there are rules to this existence, rules that we all must live by and sometimes those rules mean that one must go on faith and learn as they go along, making the journey more meaningful, instead of being told what the end will be one can travel the road, smell the flowers or gaze up into a clear sky and when they reach the end they will understand the entire story, not just how it started and how ended."
Xena, glared at Athena, if she thought that they were going to put their faith in the word of the gods, then she was sadly mistaken.
Athena, you and your sisters have obviously mistaken me for one that follows blindly, I wouldn't be the ruler of Greece if I had believed everything that I was told."
The three goddess smiled at each other. "We know that warrior, but you are not in this alone and with Gabrielle's help, you will come to understand the importance of... trust."
Gabrielle, stood up for the first time. "What makes you think that I would ever go against what, Xena thinks is best?"
Aphrodite, held both women in her gaze. "Do you love, Xena Gabrielle?"
An incredulous twitch started at the queen's lips before she answered. "With all my heart."
"Conqueror, do you love, Gabrielle?"
Loving eyes looked deeply into adoring green. "With everything that I am."
The three of them stepped back as one, but before they could speak, Solari opened the door just in time to see tiny flashes of white, blue and green lights disappear from the room.
The two women heard a faint voice before all went silent. "You are one soul and now that you are in sync, it can no longer be one way or the other, there will have to be balance."
"What in Hades was that?" Solari asked while putting away her weapon.
Gabrielle, turned and stepped into Xena's arms. "Well, that message was as clear as mud."
Xena, kissed the top of her mate's head. "Yeah, as clear as the gods would ever dare to be."
They both turned to the Amazon, waiting to hear her reason for intruding. "My Queen, the villagers have gathered in the meeting hall waiting for you to tell them what our next move will be."