~ The Conqueror's Destiny ~
by J. A. Zollicoffer
They spent another three days in Delium, signing treaties and establishing an Amazon presence in the village. After the arrival of the warriors and protectors that would be left in the small community, the Amazon warriors and the soldiers of the Realm, left the small village, heading for, Euboreas.
The group was half a days ride from the Amazon Nation, when Gabrielle turned in her saddle to face, Xena before asking the question that had been on her mind since their journey back had begun.
"Xena, how long will you be able to stay in the nation before you have to return to, Corinth?"
It had only been five days and the Conqueror was in no hurry to leave her lover's side to return to the Capital. She'd had a difficult time the last time they were separated and she wasn't ready to repeat hat experience any time soon.
"I've sent word to, Dimitri, so he knows that I'll be away until further notice. In other words, you have me until I'm needed elsewhere."
The smile that lit up the queen's face made the dark ruler feel giddy, after the despair that the blonde woman had shown after killing Callisto, this look of joy felt like the warmth of the sun.
"Does that please you, Gabrielle?"
"You know that it does, Xena. There is so much that I want to show you when we reach, Euboreas."
Ephiny, met them as they entered the village, she was momentarily shocked by the presence of the Conqueror and her army and was about to voice her objections, when, Eponin dismounted her horse and pulled her into an embrace.
"I've missed you, love."
All thoughts of confrontation evaporated when she felt the strong arms of her mate envelop her.
"I've missed you too." She pulled back and looked into loving brown eyes. "But you are going to tell me what this is all about. Right?"
"In do time, love, in do time."
After settling the Conqueror's male troops in a field outside of the village, Gabrielle took Xena to the Queen's Quarters.
A hot bath had been drawn in her bathing room and she started to remove her clothes as she walked towards the open door.
When she realized that she wasn't being followed, she stopped disrobing and turned to her lover with a question glance.
"Don't you want to wash the road grime from your body?"
Xena, hung her head and a pink tint started rise on her face. "I didn't want to assume that I was welcome in your bath."
Gabrielle, released a frustrated breath. "Xena, you are always welcome in my bath... just as I assume that I am always welcome in yours."
"Of course, I would never turn you away,"
"Well, now that we've settled that... get undressed and join me."
The water temperature was just right and the small blonde sunk down in the large tub until the water rested beneath her chin.
"This feels wonderful."
Xena's back rested against the opposite wall of the tub and she stretched out her legs, relieving the tension that had built up from the long ride.
"This is, Elysium."
Gabrielle, floated towards the dark woman until she was almost straddling her lap and slowly ran her hands over the wet skin that covered the powerful woman's broad chest.
Knowing that she was the only person that could take such liberties with the ruler filled her with a lust that she had never known.
She wrapped her legs around Xena's slim hips and laid her head on her shoulder. "Being here with you like this makes me feel complete."
Strong hands ran up and down the soft skin of the blonde woman's back. "I've never felt this way before, Gabrielle."
The Amazon Queen, buried her face in the crook of the other woman's neck. "I love you so much."
Moist lips started to lay a trail down the corded muscles of the Conqueror's neck as a determined hand made its way to the dark curls that covered, Xena's womanhood.
"I want you, I want you to make love to me, right here, right now."
The thought of resisting her lover's request never entered her mind. Xena, pulled the smaller woman closer and took possession her lips as she lowered her fingers to the queen's need.
The slick wetness that she encountered only fueled her desire. Long fingers ran the length of the Amazon Queen's sex before she centered her focus on the heated opening, she pushed two fingers into the blonde and covered her mouth in a hard kiss.
They sat motionless for a moment, then Gabrielle returned the favor. Movement started again and they were lost to their passion.
Water flowed over the sides of the tub as they thrust into each other, the fire that had been stoked burst into a full flame when the coil of release started to swirl in their bellies.
"I'm so close, Xena, just a little longer."
The warrior didn't change her position, she stayed with her lover as the small woman road her fingers, squeezing her thighs together, she trapped Gabrielle's hand between her legs for more contact where she needed it most.
The pressure that Gabrielle's hand relieved was quickly sending the tall woman to her destination. "Almost there, just a little more."
Their shared orgasms burst forth, filling the bathing room with sounds of pleasure. Their voices reached the center of the village, letting it be known that the rumors were true... the Amazon Queen, did indeed, have a lover.
Gabrielle, sat at her desk writing in her scrolls while Xena lounged on the big bed. After four days of being in the Amazon village, the Conqueror was bored.
She got up and crossed the room until she was standing behind the blonde queen. She ran her hands through Gabrielle's hair and leaned down, circling her tongue around an exposed ear.
Gabrielle, swiped at her ear and continued to write. Xena refused to be ignored and wiggled her fingers under Gabrielle's nose to get her attention.
Just before the tip of her finger entered the queen's nostril, a quick hand stopped its progress. "What's going on with you?"
The tall woman shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, I guess I need something to do."
Realizing that they hadn't spent any real time outside of her hut since their arrival, Gabrielle rolled up her scrolls and stored them in an empty case, she then grabbed Xena by the hand and led her out the door.
"Where are we going?"
She picked up her staff and pulled the confused leader behind her. "We're going for a walk.
After they left the compound, Gabrielle took Xena on a tour of the Amazon lands. The Conqueror was impressed by the tranquil atmosphere and the feeling of oneness that the women had cultivated as part of their land.
They sat on the shores that lined the eastern banks of the nation and relaxed, just taking in the surroundings.
"Why did the Amazons call their lands, Euboreas?"
"There are a few reasons, one of them being the constant breeze that blows during the spring and fall seasons."
Gabrielle laid back on the cool sand and looked up into the clear sky as she inhaled the perfume of the flowers and the olive trees.
"It makes the wheat fields sway like golden dancers and when the weather allows I sit in the fields and write some of my most inspired poetry.
But there are strategic reasons also. The village is located north of our hunting grounds and when the wind blows, it prevents our prey from smelling our presence, but it also allows us to pick up the scent of any intruders that may be laying in wait."
She turned and looked at her companion. "The winds are truly good to us... hence the name... Euboreas, meaning, good winds"
Their days were spent taking long walks getting to know each other, making their bond stronger. Xena had been away from Corinth, for a fortnight when Gabrielle decided to take her on a tour of the forest.
Xena, was about to ask her escort what was the purpose of the walk when a strong hand stopped them and held her in place.
"When you look around you, Xena, what do you see?"
The dark head turned and her blue eyes scanned the scenery. "I see trees and foliage that make a forest."
Gabrielle, released a long breath. If the conqueror of Greece didn't see what was right in front of her face then surely their enemies wouldn't notice the obvious change in the tree's structure.
"Four summers ago I approached our best landscapers and challenged them to create tree dwellings that would be undetectable to the eye."
Xena, looked skyward, but still didn't see anything that was out of the ordinary. "I guess they were successful, because all I see is a forest of trees."
Gabrielle, walked around the back of the tree that they were standing in front of and pulled out a vine that was cleverly concealed in the deep crease of the tree trunk.
She grabbed a hold of the climbing plant and then proceeded to move upwards with great expertise. Not waiting for an invitation, Xena, followed close behind the agile queen, so close in fact, that she had the opportunity to give a few quick pinches to the firm backside that was hovering above her.
Gabrielle, reached back and swatted the large hands that were tormenting her. "Stop, or I'll cut you off."
Xena, didn't need an explanation. She understood the threat and continued to follow her lover while keeping her hands to herself.
"If you behave yourself I'll show you a whole other world."
The Conqueror, followed the Amazon Queen up into the tree without further incidence. Knowing that the threat was real, she also knew that and after spending every night in the queen's bed it was a sentence that she couldn't serve.
When they came to a stop, she was surprised to see, Gabrielle slide a hidden board to the side and climb into a spacious room.
After entering the small dwelling, blue eyes took in the room. There was a pallet, a small fireplace for cooking and warmth and the top was covered with a roof that stood just high enough for a tall Conqueror to stand in.
Xena, looked out of the small window and realized that she was faced with a small village that existed high above the ground.
There were large branches that extended from one tree to the other, that were obviously being used as a walkway that connected each small hut to the other.
Placed in the center of the tree dwelling was a dais whose purpose was likely used for a large gathering when needed.
She turned to her lover in question with wide eyes. "How?"
Gabrielle, laughed. She was proud that Xena was not only impressed, but bewildered by their small hidden township.
"We smoothed down the tops of the large branches and rigged walk lines so that we could travel from one hut to the other."
After climbing down, looking back up, even though she knew it was there, Xena still couldn't see the huts or walkways.
Xena, was amazed. None of this could be seen from the ground and she wondered who possessed the strategic mind that could come up with such an extraordinary plan.
"Who envisioned such a place as this? I could never imagine anything so brilliantly deceptive as a village in the sky."
"Over the years the Amazon landscapers have taken young branches and twined them together so that their growth would create a natural camouflage."
Gabrielle, felt shame for the next words that she would speak, but hoped that, Xena would understand the reason behind them.
"The plan was, if we were ever under attack and the villagers were scattered, there would be a sanctuary for the young and the very old to escape to."
Xena, tilted her head in wonder. "Gabrielle, the Amazons are protected by fierce, mighty warriors. There aren't many that could invade this land without detection. Why take such desperate measures?"
Solemn green eyes tracked confused blue until realization dawned on the tall ruler. "The person that created this place did it to protect the helpless from me. Right?"
Visions of, Callisto and her indictment that her army had destroyed her village filled Xena's mind and she felt unworthy to be in the presence of the gentle queen. She dropped her head and spoke softly, but Gabrielle heard the one word.
The blonde woman didn't hesitate as she reached out to the forlorn leader. "Xena, no. I mean... Yes. We knew of the destruction of Cirra, but I had this built long before I knew you."
Xena, moved away from her lover, feeling like she was tainting the golden woman with her presence. "I'm a monster, Gabrielle. There's no getting around that. You shouldn't be with me."
The small woman grabbed her powerful lover by her biceps and forced the sorrowful blue eyes to look at her.
"The person that did those things was a Xena, that I don't know. The woman that I know now would never allow such an atrocity to go unpunished."
"Are you sure, Gabrielle? You don't know what I have done since your absence from, Corinth."
The Amazon Queen rubbed her hands up and down the regretful sovereign's arms. "You are a different person. You could never again sit by while such an act of violence was committed."
Xena, shook her head from side to side in agony. "That's not true."
Mournfully she held her lover's sympathetic green eyes as she told her about having Falsted's tongue removed and the castration of the rapists during the public judgment.
Gabrielle, was mortified by what she had heard, but there was no place for those feelings now. Now, she had to bring her lover back to the person that she was when they were together.
She had to make, Xena see that she was more than the barbarian that she had let rule her actions for the last ten winters.
"Was every ruling as harsh as the ones that you have told me about?"
A glimmer of hope shined in the blue eyes before she answered. "Well... No. Before Falsted came before me, I... I tried to be as lenient as I could with the accused...
But when he refused to acknowledge his mistake... Well I... I couldn't tolerate it and I sentenced him to a punishment that I thought was worthy of his actions."
Gabrielle, stroked the dark locks as she spoke to the confused woman. "What were his actions, Xena?"
Clear blue eyes basked in understanding green before she answered. "He continued to disrespect your status and I couldn't allow that."
She fell to her knees and held the understanding woman's hands in her own. "You are a part of me, Gabrielle. I tried to make him see that, but he wouldn't. When his stubbornness made him continue to speak out against you... I had to silence him."
Xena, inhaled deeply and decided to take a leap of faith. "You see, I had decided to ask you to become my, Queen.
And if by some divine intervention you found it in your heart to accept my proposal... I couldn't have someone in my court that wouldn't show you the respect that you deserved."
The Conqueror's words left the bard lightheaded. She couldn't believe that the ruler of Greece wanted her to be her, Queen.
"Xena. Are you asking me to marry you?"
The potentate of all of Greece bowed her head and humbled herself to ask the Amazon Queen if she would become her wife.
"If you will have me, Gabrielle. Yes, I am asking you to take my hand and become the Queen of all of Greece."
Gabrielle, took Xena's hand started walking back towards the village. "Know what's funny?"
Very aware that she hadn't received an answer, Xena nervously shook her head from side to side, afraid that if she tried to speak the sound would never leave her throat.
"I was going to ask you if you would consider being my consort, but it seems you've beat me to dais on this one... mmph."
Her mouth was captured mid sentence and cut off the rest of her statement. Instead of pulling away, she gave in to the sensation, wrapping her arms around her lover's neck pulling them closer together just before she parted her lips and added her tongue to the gentle exploration.
Finally pulling apart, Gabrielle stared into shimmering blue eyes that were about to spill over with tears of joy.
"So I'm guessing your answer is yes. Right?"
"You bet. My answer is yes."
The tall woman lifted the smaller woman up and swung her around before placing her back on the ground.
Let's stop in at the Brewer's Hut when we get back. I think a celebratory mug of ale is in order," Xena, suggested as they walked back to the village hand in hand.
As the newly betrothed couple entered the village, they heard the sound of raised voices. When Gabrielle saw who the participants were, she rolled her eyes.
"Not again," she said as she approached the three tall women that were standing in a tight circle.
The arguing abruptly stopped when they saw Gabrielle walking in their direction. One of the women with a head of silver hair stopped the queen from advancing by meeting her halfway.
"Greetings, My Queen."
"Good day, Hyalo. What seems to be the problem?"
Eyes that matched the silver colored hair dropped before the woman spoke.
"The same as always, Your Majesty. Stria, played a trick on Nodus and she failed to see the humor of her actions."
A very wet and angry, Nodus decided it was time to explain her state of annoyance. "What's so funny about sneaking up behind me and dowsing me with a bucket of water?"
Xena, couldn't help but smile when she saw an auburn-haired woman that appeared to be the youngest of the three, almost double over with laughter when she looked at her soaked friend.
Then something struck Xena as odd. Not only were the women equal in height, nearly as tall as, Xena, but their hair color and eye shade matched perfectly.
Hyalo, had silver hair and eyes, Nodus, who appeared to be the oldest of the three, had black hair and eyes that were just as dark, and the prankster, Stria, had auburn colored eyes that were an exact duplicate of her hair.
"Come on, Queen Gabrielle. You know how stuffy, Nodus can be." Stria paused for effect. Then shrugged her shoulders. "I just wanted to loosen her up a bit."
It took every ounce of restraint that, Stria possessed not to laugh hysterically at the dark woman when she turned fiery black eyes in her direction.
Hyalo, gave the younger woman a visual reprimand before addressing the queen again. "Don't worry yourself with these two adolescence, My Queen. I have everything under control."
Gabrielle, nodded her head and took Xena by the hand, bypassing the Brewer's Hut and going to her own quarters instead.
When the door closed behind them, Gabrielle broke out in a gale of laughter. "Those three will never change. Stria will always find ways to torment, Nordus and Hyalo will continue to try and keep the peace."
Xena, took a seat at the table and started to pull off her bracers. "Gabrielle, who are those women?" There is something very unusual about them."
The queen stopped her laughter and joined her lover at the table. She poured two mugs of juice from a pitcher that had been left for her and began her story.
"Well, it's like this..." She went on to tell the ruler about Artemis' centuries old arrangement with the alchemist, Lycos, to create a race of part human part wolf protectors for her Amazons.
The dark woman leaned back in her chair with an audible thud. "Are you telling me that they are the decedents of Lycos' race of mix breeds?"
Gabrielle, stared at her bewildered lover. "This shocks you, doesn't it?"
A dark brow rose in question. "It shouldn't? Up until now, I thought that the stories that I heard about shape changers were just cradle tales told for children's amusement. But to find out that the myth is true is... it kinda throws me off balance a little."
The blonde reached across the table and held the confused woman's hand. At first touch blue eyes went wide as a thought entered her head.
"In Delium, those weren't dogs attacking the marauders. It was them. Right?"
"Not them exactly, but a few of their sisters."
"How many are there?"
"I couldn't begin to tell you. I mean after, I don't know how many centuries, their numbers are probably quite high. There are clusters of them living amongst other Amazon tribes, but their commander lives in this village with us."
"Why is that so special?"
Gabrielle, leaned in conspiratorially and lowered her voice. "Mysia. That's her name, is the most favored of her kind," Gabrielle, paused for a moment, smiling as her original thought changed its course.
"Let me rephrase that, she is the most favored of all kind by our patron goddess. It's said that the protector's ability to regenerate is a gift that was first given to, Mysia after Artemis convinced Athena to heal her after a fatal injury."
Xena, held a large hand to stop the bard-queen from talking. "Are you telling me that not only can they change form, but the can grow new parts?"
"That's what I'm saying. I would never have believed it if I hadn't witnessed it for myself."
"By the gods. If I had followed through with my plan to invade Euboreas, my army would have been met by a nearly unstoppable force."
Realizing that she had spoken her thoughts out loud, Xena turned apologetic blue eyes in her future bride's direction.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I never wanted you to find out about that."
The giggle that filled the room made the remorseful ruler smile. "Don't be silly, Xena. Do you really think that we had no clue as to your plans of invasion?"
The golden woman walked around the table and planted a kiss on top of her lover's dark head before heading for the bathing chamber.
A leather halter was thrown out of the door opening, landing on Xena's head blocking her view. When a matching skirt joined the discarded top a sultry voice broke the Conqueror's paralysis.
"Are you waiting for and invitation? Or should I get started without you?"
Needing no more encouragement. Xena, started swiftly shedding her own leathers and shift as she answered the queen's question.
"Nope. That won't be necessary."
She entered the steamy chamber just in time to her lover submerge her body into the hot water. "If you knew what I had planned why didn't you tell me?"
Gabrielle, started rubbing soap into a sponge while slowly making her way across the tub. "The moment I looked into those beautiful blue eyes, I saw everything. I knew that there was nothing to fear."
Xena, relieved her bath mate of her now foamy sponge and turned her around so that she could clean the smaller woman's back.
She leaned down and whispered in a pink ear. "What did you see?"
Gabrielle, closed her eyes and reached behind her, grabbing a hand full of sable colored hair, pulling her companion's face around so that she could look into those blue eyes again.
"I saw my own reflection."
Early the following day, Gabrielle and Xena left the queen's quarter's to share the morning meal with Ephiny, Eponin and Mysia in the dinning hut.
Xena, took the opportunity to observe the chieftain of the protectors. She was tall, just like Hyalo, Stria and
Nordus, but unlike them, her blonde, nearly white hair was different than her eyes.
Her eyes were a blue the likes of which, Xena had never seen. The color was rich and deep, appearing to be molten liquid instead of solid orbs.
When looking into them, Xena could have sworn she saw swirling currents in their depths that quickly regained their firmness after only a few heartbeats of being scrutinized.
She was a very attractive woman and had the look of one too young to lead. Then she remembered who the queen of these warriors were and had to change the direction of her thinking.
Mysia, didn't miss the ruler's subtle inspection of her and chose to open the door to a discussion.
"Is there something you would like to ask me, Conqueror?"
"Now that you mention it, yes."
The table became silent. No one knowing where this particular exchange would lead. Although, Mysia was soft spoken and avoided confrontation whenever possible, they also knew that when she reached her limit they all took cover and if anyone could raise her ire, they knew it was the capricious ruler of, Greece.
Xena, chewed on a piece of fried pork fat and laid her arm across the back of Gabrielle's chair. "How long have you been the shape changers leader?"
Attempts at muffling the sound of snickers could be heard all around, but were unsuccessful and Xena wondered what was going on and said as much.
"Don't be annoyed, Conqueror. They aren't laughing at you. They are laughing because my answer will surprise you."
Still a little heated, Xena waited for her answer. Gabrielle, could see how close to the surface her lover's temper was, so she leaned over and kissed her sweetly on the cheek.
That was all it took. Xena's mood changed in the blink of an eye and she was now waiting patiently for the protector to respond.
"I have led this particular troop of fighters for the last eighty or so springs."
Xena, opened her mouth prepared to challenge the answer when loud click-clack noises started to sound throughout the village.
The entire room started to empty out and they all followed, Gabrielle to village center. A runner reached the queen out of breath and delivered the message.
"My Queen, one of the Conqueror's female carriers is approaching our boarders."
Without hesitation, Gabrielle gave the signal to let the woman enter. More click-clack sounds were made and Gabrielle told the crowd to disperse and go about their daily routine.
"Gabrielle, what were those sounds?"
Distractedly, the small woman answered. "That's how we signal one another from our boarders and outer lands. The click-clack sound is so close to that of the tree peckers that our enemies never pay it any attention."
Xena, was stunned. She was sure that the Amazons used a series of distinctive whistles for their non-verbal communication.
Her lover saw the confusion on Xena's face and answered her unasked question. "Two summers ago, Esponza joined our nation.
She is from the Pyrenees region between Iberia and Gaul. She is what's referred to as a Basque. When she arrived she was malnourished and in very poor condition. She spoke a language that none of us understood and communicating with her was difficult.
After many moons we were finally able to understand a few words and phrases. Eventually she was able to tell us about her land and some of her culture.
One of the things she showed us was what she called 'castaneas,' she said they were used for entertainment, but after hearing it's tone and cadence, I came up with the idea to use them instead of whistles to alert us of outside intruders."
Walking towards the meeting hut, Gabrielle pulled the tool she was speaking of from her belt and showed Xena how it worked.
She held what looked like two hollowed out seashells that were made of wood. Two holes had been tooled into the top of each shell with a string running through them, joining the two sides together.
Gabrielle, held them in the palm of her hand, then she hooked the string around her thumb. Bringing the two halves together she started to produce a rapid series of clicks and rhythmic accents that did indeed replicate the sounds that were heard in the woods.
The hut was filling up as the council members took their seats, waiting for the messenger to arrive. So the queen leaned closer to her lover and lowered her voice as she finished telling Xena the last bit of recent Amazon history.
"Over the seasons our adversaries have figured out a way to decipher the messages in our whistles, so I thought it was time for a change."
Xena, nodded her understanding. She was one of the outsiders that had broken the whistle code, and once again, the small woman impressed the ruler with her insights and forethought. The more time she spent with Gabrielle, the more she was convinced that this woman was meant to rule by her side.
Simply put, she was brilliant. Couple that with her compassion, fighting skills and well... obvious beauty made her the perfect match for the unpredictable sovereign.
The room quieted down as a woman was led into the hut by two Amazon escorts. When she saw the tall ruler sitting among the women fighters as if she belonged there, Rebia knew that the hushed words that were spoken in private amongst the servants was true... the Conqueror was indeed in love with the Amazon Queen.
Xena, looked to Gabrielle for permission before she questioned the woman. Gabrielle nodded her approval, pleased that her lover had shown her the proper respect in front of her Amazons.
"What brings you this far from Corinth, Rebia?"
"Forgive the intrusion, My Liege, but I bring word from Dimitri."
Xena, accepted the scroll that was handed to her and quickly scanned the parchment. After absorbing it's meaning, she handed the message to, Gabrielle.
The queen read it and informed the council that it was of no concern to the nation and they could go about their other duties. The room cleared and, Xena headed for, Gabrielle's quarters.
Gabrielle, had to jog for a few paces to catch up with her lover before the taller woman reached the queen's hut. Upon entering, Xena started to pack a travel bag, so, Gabrielle followed suit.
When, Xena realized what Gabrielle was doing she stopped shoving clothes into her bag. "What are you doing?"
"I'm coming with you."
Green eyes held a look of determination that Xena had come to accept as her own defeat, she knew that there would be no changing Gabrielle's mind at this point.
"Fine, but hurry. We are leaving in the next four marks."
Ephiny, sent word that along with Tara, Eponin, Solari and Meslena, she would be joining them on this trip with a small contingent of Amazon warriors, leaving, Chilapa behind to act as their temporary regent.
Seeing Hyalo, Nodus and Stria, waiting for them in the middle of the village didn't surprise, Gabrielle, she'd had a feeling that, Mysia would see to it that a few protectors accompanied the queen on her journey.
When, Xena spotted the three bickering shape changers waiting to leave with them she bent her head and whispered into Gabrielle's ear.
"If we run into trouble are they going to be of any use to us?"
Remembering Xena's first meeting with the women she understood the ruler's trepidation. "Believe it or not, they are the best that the protectors have to offer and if that doesn't make you feel better, I see a few other protectors in the group that will be joining us."
"How many are there exactly?"
"As a race, we have no idea, they have been around for many centuries, but in this tribe, counting the ten that patrol, Tanagra, and the ten we left in, Delium, I'd say there are a little over seventy."
Xena, couldn't help but feel thankful that her heart was lost to the small queen the moment she entered the throne room, because if she had invaded, Euboreas, the casualties would have been great... for the Realm.
The trip back to Corinth was uneventful, until they reached the palace gates. Word was sent that the Conqueror had returned and they were surrounded by a whirlwind of activity.
The Amazon's and their protectors had to be settled into their rooms, Xena made arrangements for Gabrielle's bags to be taken to her private chambers and word was sent to, Dimitri that they would receive him after a short rest and a light meal.
After they bathed and shared a simple meal, Xena summoned Dimitri to her outer chamber. "What's been going on in my absence, Dimitri?"
The young man stood tall as he related the changes that had occurred while the ruler was away from the Capital.
"I'm sorry to have called you back from your trip, Lord Conqueror, but as I stated in the message, something is amiss."
Xena, waited patiently for the junior advisor to continue. "The nobles have been behaving strangely during your time away. They are acting as if they are in charge.
Public judgments have been held with at least one of them presiding over the sentencing, saying that they speak for you."
Xena, stood abruptly and the Conqueror in her came out in full force, filling the room with a dark energy that made the advisor take a step back.
"Who has appointed themselves as my voice in my absence?"
Dimitri, steeled his nerves and gave the woman the information that she requested. After listening carefully to his words, Xena dismissed him and started to pace around the room.
"So, they think the time is drawing near to overthrow me? That is the only reason they would be so bold as to take punishments into their own hands."
Gabrielle, had remained silent throughout, but now she felt it was time to speak her thoughts.
"So you think they have been planning a coup?"
Xena, sat beside her lover and rested her arm across the queen's shoulders. "I know they have, I just didn't do anything about it, hoping to catch everyone involved.
But they are forcing my hand. Whatever plan they have conceived will be halted. I'm sure they didn't think far enough ahead. They must have thought that my time spent in, Euboreas gave them the perfect opportunity to take control, but they were sadly mistaken."
For the first time since they met, Gabrielle felt fear for her lover's safety and wanted to let her know that she had the support of the entire Amazon Nation.
"I am here for you, Xena. Just tell me what you want from me and it's yours. The Amazon Nation is at your disposal"
The goddess' words rang out in her mind and she knew that she needed to be strong if they were going to defeat whatever force threatened their future.
On Mount Olympus, Athena, Aphrodite and Artemis smiled at one another at the blonde woman's words just before appearing before the Conqueror and the Amazon Queen.
Multicolored lights twinkled in the Conqueror's outer chamber moments before three immortals stood in front of the couple.
Xena, threw her hands up and growled at their presence. "What do you want now?!"
Athena spoke for her sisters. "You can't stay in Corinth, Conqueror."
"Because the battle that awaits you is not in the Capital City, Xena. Your path lays further north."
"I don't have time for your double speak." An evil glint entered her eyes. "There are nobles to be dealt with."
Gabrielle, stood and focused her attention on the goddess as she placed her hands on her hips. "This is the second time you've come to us. If you have no intentions of giving us clearer answers then leave us alone."
Athena, was pleased by the united front that the couple exhibited.
"Relax, little one. All will be revealed in due time," Aphrodite said.
Xena, had reached her limit. "One of you had better start talking or your manipulations will have been for naught."
Artemis' anger was evident as she moved towards the tall ruler with malice. No mortal should be allowed to speak to a god with such disrespect, even if that mortal was half of the key needed to maintain balance in the world.
Athena, stopped her sister with one word. "Later."
The Amazon patron acquiesced to her sibling's wisdom in this matter and stepped back, waiting for her to inform the women of their journey.
"We know of the intrigue that abounds in your house, Xena, but that issue will resolve itself after your odyssey," Athena said.
Gabrielle, stood beside Xena and wrapped her arms around the taller woman's waist. "What is this odyssey that you speak of?"
The Goddess of Wisdom continued, "You must set out in three days time for Mount Althos. There you will find a cave and be faced with your destiny. If you pay attention, along the way you will be given signs showing you that we speak the truth. The threat to your rule is very real, Xena, but its genesis wasn't born in the minds of the nobles that you so despise and the challenge will not be made in, Corinth."
The dark woman still didn't trust the immortal's words, but she had to acknowledge the fact that although the gods were manipulative, they didn't lie.
"Why three days? Why can't we address the current situation now and put an end to it before leaving the capital?"
"Because to wait any longer would delay your confrontation with your true enemy. One that will not only take control of Corinth, but all of, Greece."
As much as she hated to admit it, Xena knew that she had no choice. They would have to set out for Mount Althos, with Palaemon and Glaphyra leaving, Darnel and Meleager in charge to deal with the coup.
After much contemplation she finally agreed. She felt confident that, Dimitri could guide the two generals if anything of a diplomatic nature came about.
"Fine, I'll gather a trusted number of soldiers to accompany us then we'll head out in three days."
She looked to her partner for confirmation, when the blonde head nodded in agreement the goddess disappeared without another word.
Gabrielle, turned in her lover's arms and gave her a full body hug. "Why do I feel like this is going to be a long and dangerous undertaking?"
Xena, kissed the top of her mate's head before answering, "Because, if the gods are involved it most likely will be."
A feral glint entered, Xena's eyes when her senior advisor crossed the threshold of her private sitting area. The man had been bold in her absence and she couldn't wait to hear the reasons he had concocted to justify the noble's actions.
"You requested my presence, Lord Conqueror?"
Tellus, looked nervous. He knew that their decision to move on their plans to takeover court proceedings in the Conqueror's absence was a dangerous move,
but he had agreed to the choice, believing that he could talk his way out of any situation that the unpredictable woman put before him.
His eyes quickly shifted to the small woman sitting in one of the cushioned chairs behind, Xena's pacing form and had to control the muscles in his face to stop the sneer that was twitching at his lips from making an appearance on his face.
"Yes, Tellus. I did call for you. I need you to explain to me why the nobles have been presiding over public judgments without my permission."
The advisor cleared his throat and started to repeat a speech that he had been practicing for the last seven days.
"They, or should I saw, we, felt like there wasn't a choice. In your absence, crime and disorder began to rise, so a meeting was called where the nobles decided that it was prudent to hold court in a show of support and loyalty to your reign."
Feeling confident that his explanation sounded valid, he stood silent, waiting for the Conqueror to express her reaction to his reasoning.
Xena, stopped her pacing and stood in front of the shorter man with her hands behind her back. "So, you and the upper crust thought it was in the best interest of the Realm to take my laws into your own hands and mead out my punishments?"
"Yes, Lord Conqueror. We felt it best to show the citizens that even without your presence, they should know that your power still rang supreme."
Xena, could see that Tellus thought his little speech had fooled her, but it hadn't. She knew that the nobles were a conniving pack of vermin, but somewhat intelligent.
But they lacked one quality that would always lead to their defeat. They weren't ruthless. They had no idea what it took to become the one ruler of, Greece.
Sure, they played the games of intrigue and espionage, ready to sit on the dais and hand down punishments that she had set into place, but when it came time for a more hands on approach to ruling, when you had to hold a man up by his hair and cut his throat in front of the populace to pay for his crimes, she knew that they didn't have the testicular fortitude to follow through... But she did.
"Ah, I see. This was done in deference to me, as a way to show that even if I'm not here... my methods would still be used to keep them in line."
"Yes, My Lord. They needed to be made to understand that."
The tall woman walked to a side door and stepped aside as, Darnel, Meleager and Dimitri entered the chamber.
The shock that appeared on the Senior Advisor's face didn't go unnoticed. "I'm going to reward your preemptive measures to keep the peace, Tellus," Xena, said.
"Because of your hard work and loyalty to the throne, I'm going to honor you with a vacation."
Tellus, opened his mouth to protest, but Xena raised her hand to stop him. "No, let me finish. Starting this very day you are relieved of your duties and before you voice any concerns about the vacant Senior Advisor seat let me help put your worries aside."
She motioned the Junior Advisor forward and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Dimitri, I am promoting you, you are now the Realm's Senior Advisor."
The young man was overjoyed and confused all at once. "Th... Thank you, Lord Conqueror. I hope to serve you well."
"I have no doubt in your abilities. See, Tellus. I have taken the necessary steps to ensure your peace of mind during your sabbatical, now you can mingle and plot with the nobles without fear of neglecting your duties."
She then addressed her two generals and her new Senior Advisor, as Tellus stood in muted surprise.
"I will be leaving, Corinth in three days to address an important matter that has come to my attention in the north. While I am away I will be leaving the three of you in charge."
She looked at each of them before she spoke again, "When I return I expect things to be as I left them, do you understand?"
They all spoke as one, "Yes, Lord Conqueror."
"Good. You are dismissed."
As the room emptied, Xena noticed the hate filled eyes of her former advisor and gave him her most innocent smile.
"Not even a thank you, Tellus? I'm giving you all the free time that you need and you can't show me the proper appreciation?"
He bowed his head and through gritted teeth he forced out his gratitude. "My apologies. Thank you, My Liege for your interest in my wellbeing."
When the door shut behind him, Gabrielle leaned forward in the chair that she was sitting in and broke out in laughter.
"That was cruel, my love, but much deserved."
Xena, kneeled down in front of the golden queen and laid her head in her lap. "I may have just put us in more danger," Then she chuckled a little. "Who knows, now that he was nothing else to do he may come after me himself."
Love filled green stared into sorrowful blue. "No worries, my heart, come what may, we'll see it through together.
Tellus, shoved people to the side as he quickly made his way back to his rooms. After satisfying his rage by throwing every item he could get his hands on across the room he sat on the side of the bed breathing heavily.
"If I ever felt any remorse for what we have planned for that evil bitch, it's gone now. How dare she replace me with that ass kissing upstart."
Then an idea came to him that made him walk swiftly towards the exit. He grabbed a hooded cloak from a peg and slammed the door behind him.
Navigated his way through the seeder side of Corinth, in search of the man he called his 'equalizer,' Tellus, repeated the information that he knew to be true.
"She'll be leaving in three days. That gives me plenty of time to set things into motion," he said out loud.
His pace picked up a bit when he thought about the extra bonus that had been handed to him. "Having that arrogant little, Savage Queen with her when the time comes will only add to her misery. I only wish that I could be there at the end."
On the day, Falsted had been maimed he thought that a temporary end had come to their plans, until he spotted the familiar face in the crowd.
He had heard many rumors about the man's skills and thought it must have been divine intervention when he had showed up to witness the public judgments.
>From that day on he had been in constant contact with the man. Now he stood knocking on the door of a rundown shack, waiting for someone to answer.
When the worn wood was pulled open the two men stood staring at one another in silence. "What do you want?" the man asked without warmth.
Tellus, pushed his way passed the man and ordered him to close the door. "Our plans have been changed, but in a good way.
She will be leaving soon on a mission in the north. This will give you several opportunities to catch her off guard."
The man returned to his seat at the small table and finished his mug of ale. "This sudden change will cost you extra."
Tellus, loosened a bag of coins from his belt and threw it on the table. "That should be satisfactory compensation."
The man picked up the small sack and judged its weight in his hand before dropping it back on the wooden surface. "That will do."
They sat and hatched out the time frame and logistics that would be necessary long into the night before they felt confident that they had covered all the possible variables.
The mercenary escorted, Tellus to the door and closed it with a thud behind him before pulling a knife from his tunic and twirling it around.
"This is going to be the easiest coin I've ever made. Not to mention the added thrill of being able to exact revenge on the one person responsible for the death of my father," he thought out loud.
Jett, tapped his cheek with the point of his blade. "I'll get you, Xena and your little blonde too, but the best part is you'll never see it coming."
Ares, sat on his throne and called the meeting to order. Kal and Seth didn't care for their placement at the foot of the Grecian War God, but now was not the time for protest. There were more important issues at hand.
"If you think that the threat to our power grows closer when do we start? My patience is growing thin," Kal said.
Ares, smiled at the Etrurian War God. He knew that he could count on him to execute his part exactly as planned, it was, Seth, the Egyptian God of Chaos that had him worried.
The immortal was unpredictable, but he was the only Egyptian God willing to work with a foreign deity and his ability to influence, Cleopatra to send her navy was needed if this was going to work.
Kal, was all set to start planting the seed of invasion in, Caesar's mind, so it was just a matter of finding the right time to implement their planned actions.
Ares', plan was simple. Have Roman and Egypt join in talks to attack Greek's western boarder. This would be done while, Xena was preoccupied with her trek to Mount Althos. It would give him the time needed to gather an army and train a replacement for the, Conqueror.
Kal, interrupted the dark god's thoughts with mirth, "I still can't believe that you would allow a foreigner to rule, Greece."
"Well buddy, desperate times call for desperate measures and these are desperate times."
He turned to, Seth to see if he was paying attention. The god had thrown his leg over the arm of his chair and had leaned his head back with a look of glee on his face.
Ares, thought he was probably imagining all of the confusion he could cause during the battle, but there was no time for second thoughts now.
"It's already too late for me to stop what's going to happen. Once the two of them met and consummated their bond the success of their mission was inevitable.
The only hope we have now is to make sure that the new ruler's loyalty to us is so ingrained in his soul that any outside forces that try to sway him in another direction won't be able to tempt him."
Seth, came out of his fantasies long enough to ask a question. "Why didn't you just kill her after, Caesar had her legs broken? She was defenseless then"
Ares, stroked his beard and cocked his head to the side. "You wouldn't understand. Xena, has a fire in her that when coupled with her will, makes her an awesome warrior. I knew that she could conqueror all of Greece in my name... and she did."
Seth, chuckled deep in his chest. "I see now. You trained her to be a fearsome fighter, then you bedded her. If she's good enough to make a god go against his best interest maybe I'll take a poke at her before she dies."
Ares, quick anger shocked the other gods. Yes, he had lusted after, Xena, even tried to charm her into his bed, but the willful woman never gave in to his advances.
"You will not touch her!" he bellowed. "Xena, has never been one of my conquests."
His eyes narrowed as he looked at, Seth. "Caesar, saw to that. After he was done with her she never let anyone into her bed that could separate her emotions from her judgment."
Then in a whisper he added, "Until now."
Seth, was intrigued by the war god's reaction and wondered out loud. "If you care so much for her, why are you so willing to destroy her?"
Ares, scrubbed his face with his hands. "The battles that she has won, the fact that she rules, Greece. None of it means a thing if I lose my influence over her. So I'm willing to place a lesser skilled fighter in her place in order to maintain my place among the most powerful of the Olympian Gods."
Seth, waved off his explanation and returned to his private thoughts, thinking that the Grecian War God's infatuation with the Conqueror could be a source of fun after things got started, but the conversation left, Kal unsure of Ares' commitment.
"So, I am to believe that this threat is so formidable that you are willing to put your feelings aside, destroy your greatest creation, share your throne and your power with no remorse?"
Ares, exhaled his frustration. This conversation was taking a turn that he had not anticipated. Then he looked at the relaxing chaos god and knew its source. Seth's rebellious energy was making them a little agitated.
He didn't answer right a way, instead his thoughts went to finding the hinds tooth. If his plan didn't work out, he was willing to rule with, Seth and Kal... for a while. After that he would eliminate them, one by one.
"If that's what it takes to maintain our power, yes, I'll do it. The menace that we are about to face is so strong that egos have to be put aside."
Kal, was still apprehensive, but he had to agree. If this move could make him powerful enough to leave, Etruria, he could take control of, Rome from Mars and crown himself the new War God.
At that moment, Seth was having similar thoughts. This would be his opportunity to regain his status amongst the Egyptian Gods and become the 'Chief God' once again hearing the citizens of his country call him 'His Majesty.'
That thought alone was enough to garner his help. The pandemonium that he could cause along the way was just another source of motivation.
Neither, Kal nor, Seth knew of Ares' plan to have, Caesar fall in battle. If it all worked out, things would remain the same, if not, it didn't matter. If Caesar didn't die in battle his new protégée would take over, Ares was confident that he had covered all the possibilities and would remain on his throne as the one War God of Greece.
In the end, if it meant sacrificing the only mortal that had ever been able to hold her own against his sword and ending the reign of the most skilled warrior that, Greece would ever know... then so be it. His place on Olympus, would not, could not be threatened... damned the cost.
On the morning of their departure, Xena and Gabrielle had the leaders of their armies join them in Xena's private chambers to break their fast together and go over their travel plans.
Palaemon and Glaphyra sat at the table surrounded by the Amazon Regent, Ephiny, her partner, the weapons expert, Eponin and Hyalo, a strange woman that neither, Glaphyra or Palaemon had been given any history on.
The only information that had been passed on to the Conqueror's generals was that they were headed for Mount Althos on a mission from the gods.
As the meeting progressed, Ephiny, took notice of the way, Xena didn't seem to mind when, Gabrielle would interrupt her and in some cases she would listen to Gabrielle's suggestions and implement them.
Ephiny, was relieved to see that the Amazon Queen had as much input into the decisions that would affect the Realm in this quest as, Xena seemed to have on the issues that would affect the workings of, Euboreas in their absence.
She leaned into her mate and whispered in, Eponin's ear. "It wasn't until this moment that I genuinely believed that, Xena, The Conqueror was truly in love with our, queen.
The gods know the woman is incapable of respecting anyone's opinion, let alone listening to their advice and acting on it, but I see that, Gabrielle is obviously the exception to that personality flaw."
Eponin, pulled back and looked at her lover in question. Ephiny patted the weapon master's thigh and held her gaze while reminding her about that first meeting with the leader.
"You didn't see the carnage that she had presided over on my visit. The man's blood was still staining the floor when I entered the throne room. It was brutal.
When she road in with, Gabrielle from her visit to, Delium, I was dubious as to her reasons. That bloody scene was still fresh in my mind.
Even when we heard, Gabrielle's screams of passion, I still wasn't sure that it wasn't a plot to infiltrate the nation, but seeing Xena give Gabrielle an equal word in our mission lets me know that their bond is true, because she would never allow another voice to carry authority in her kingdom."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you, sweetness. As strange as it may seem, Xena, The Destroyer of Nations has been conquered by our bard-queen, and I have a feeling that when this all comes to an end, Gabrielle will fill the library with scrolls that will tell the stories of this journey."
Seeing, Xena kiss the blonde woman before taking another bite of fruit reassured, Ephiny that Eponin's words were probably prophetic.
'Maybe, just maybe this is preordained and all will come out well,' the regent thought as she returned her attention to the conversations that going on around her.
The troops were waiting to be given instructions to mount up and head out. Xena, looked around one last time before settling herself on top of, Argo.
She knew that it would be several moons before she saw the Capital again and exhaled with the hope that it would still be hers when, or if she returned.
Holding her hand out to her beloved, who sat beside her on her own horse, she squeezed the small woman's hand and smiled.
"Are you ready, love?"
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," she said with as much confidence as she could muster. "Let's get this over with, we have a joining ceremony to plan and a life to live."
Xena, raised her free hand and signaled the troops to mount and head out.
"ONWARD!" she yelled, motioning the entourage start on their journey.
After two days travel, the compliment of Amazons and soldiers stopped at a tavern to eat and rest for evening, most of them ready to sleep indoors instead of in the tents and eat something that they hadn't killed and cooked themselves.
When they were settled a waitress came over to take their orders. When Gabrielle, heard a whiny voice she looked up to see who was making the annoying sound. She was left motionless and speechless when she came face to face with her lover's likeness.
"Hi ya doing, Conqueror? Long time, no see."
Xena, smirked at Gabrielle's reaction and her lips twitched with a smile as she addressed the, queen. "Told ya, Gabrielle."
She savored the moment as she introduced her blonde companion to the waitress. "Gabrielle, this is, Meg."
The tall waitress held out her hand and grasped Gabrielle's limp appendage in greeting. "Glad to meet cha. What brings y'all to my place?"
Trying to give her mate time to recuperate, Xena answered, Meg's question. "We're on our way to the northern boarders and decided to stop for a rest."
"Well, I'm glad to have ya."
Looking around the room, she saw several familiar faces sitting around the tables that were occupied by soldiers and warriors alike. But one in particular caught her eye.
"How's it going, Glaphyra? I haven't seen you since last spring."
The general ducked her head and tried to block out the glare she was receiving from, Solari and the laughter of her fellow soldier's. "I've ... um been kinda busy."
Palaemon saw his lover turn in his direction and raised his hands up in a defensive gesture before, Meslena could make an accusation.
"Hey, don't look at me like that, I've never shared an evening with, Meg. She looks so much like the Conqueror it makes my flesh quiver just thinking about it."
Meg, turned her attention back to her double and her mate, and asked for their order. After giving it, Xena asked about the tavern.
"You say this is your establishment?"
"Yeah, I told ya I was saving my coins and after many... romantic appointments..." she lifted her arms and spread them out to her sides.
"This is what I bought with them. "What do ya think?"
The Conqueror, laughed and placed her arm across the back of Gabrielle's chair. "I think it's wonderful."
Meg, nodded her head in appreciation before returning to the kitchen to place their orders. They could hear her yelling out them out as she entered the preparation area.
"By the gods, Xena, she looks exactly like you," Gabrielle, said with astonishment.
"Now do you believe me?"
"Oh, yeah. Without a doubt... I believe you."
They were met with another shock a few moments later when, Meg's husband delivered the meal. Xena, found herself speechless as Gabrielle, held onto her arm for support.
"What is this, doubles day?" The equally shocked queen asked. "He is the mirror image of, Jace."
As, Xena looked the man over, Athena's words came to her, 'along the way you will be given signs,' the man's presence was a small confirmation, and it was then that she decided to give in to their purpose fully... whatever it was.
"Here is your food, Conqueror, is there anything else that you require?" the man asked.
"No, this will be all... but if you have a moment, I'd like you to sit with us for a while," the ruler requested.
Overjoyed to have been invited to sit at the Conqueror's table, the man took a seat and without being asked started to ramble on about himself.
They learned that his name was, Joxer, and he was the son of a warlord, before meeting and marrying, Meg, he had thought of himself as a fairly competent warrior.
Xena, held up her hand to put an end to the non-stop monolog so that she could ask a question. "Do you have a brother? I ask this because I have an event planner in my employ that looks exactly you."
"Please excuse my forgetfulness, Lord Conqueror. I am one of three identical brothers. As I have stated before, I am a warrior, my brother, Jett is... well he is an assassin and my other brother, Jace..."
Here, his face started to color and he dropped his eyes before continuing. "Jace, is a... a... I guess you could call him a bit of a pansy."
The Conqueror's dark brows narrowed at the description. When he noticed the change in the ruler, Joxer hurried to explain himself.
"Don't get me wrong. I love, Jace, it's just that he was always a little... delicate. He loved to sing and dance a lot while we were growing up. But that type of behavior had no place in a warlord's household, so when he was old enough, he left and I haven't seen him since."
Gabrielle, saw that her lover was still annoyed by, Joxer's description of, Jace, so she jumped into the conversation.
"Relax, Joxer, we understand." She patted, Xena's strong thigh under the table while she informed the man of his brother's whereabouts.
"Jace, is a member of the Conqueror's household. He serves as one of her entertainment organizers, and does a commendable job."
Joxer's brown eyes lit up with joy. "So he's okay?"
"Yes, Jace is well and very happy. On my first visit to the palace he arranged a banquet in my honor that was the most fabulous that I've ever attended."
Joxer, couldn't contain his happiness any longer, he couldn't wait to tell, Meg the good news of his long missing brother.
He stood to take his leave and allow their visitor's to enjoy their meal in peace. "I'll leave you to your meal, Lord Conqueror. If you have need of anything else, please, just inform one of the servers."
Before a response could be given, the man was gone. Gabrielle, looked to her companion and tilted her head a bit.
"Is it just me, or has the plot thickened?"
"No, my love, it's not just you. Whatever is going on, I just hope that we aren't killed in the process."
After spending a pleasant night in their surprisingly comfortable room, the couple sat in the tavern eating their morning meal before they rounded up their troops in preparation to leave.
As they were about to step out of the door, Joxer came running up to them dressed in what could only be described as odd pieces of junk metal and kitchen tools, put together to resemble body armor.
Xena, raised a brow and put her hands on her hips. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Forgive my presumptions, Lord Conqueror, but I woke up this morning with oddest feeling."
Gabrielle, was intrigued. "Go on."
"Deep inside of me I felt like you may need my assistance on this campaign."
"Oh really?" Xena asked. "What makes you think that this is a campaign and not a pleasure trip?"
The tavern owner bolstered all of his courage and stood tall before the sovereign before answering her.
"Seeing that you are being accompanied by not only a full compliment of soldiers from the Realm, but there seems to be an impressive number of Amazon warriors with you."
He continued "This leads me to believe that this trip is not a leisurely tour of your kingdom, but something more, something of great importance."
The three of them stood in silence until, Gabrielle broke the stand off. "Let him come, love. Who knows, he may be right. This whole journey is being made on faith. He could very well be a part of this."
Xena, ran the back of her hand over the Amazon Queen's soft cheek and gave her a smile that was meant only for her.
"If it is your wish, Gabrielle, then so be it."
Joxer, was euphoric and couldn't contain himself as he started to babble incessantly with joy over finally being able to prove his fighting prowess in front of the legendary, Xena.
"You won't regret your decision, Lord Conqueror." He stuck out his chest with pride. "I'll serve you honorably."
Joxer, had already said his goodbyes to, Meg and was ready to set out on what he knew would be the adventure of a life time.
After ten days of travel they reached the secluded town of Pambra, located at the foot of Mount Elnause. The first thing that they noticed was the air of tension that surrounded the small village, and the citizens that walked about seemed to be subdued.
They entered a tavern that was located below an inn and made arrangements for the night. The fact that the place wasn't filled with the sounds of laughter and drunken bawdiness was odd.
Adding to the bizarre mood was a bard telling his stories with a less than enthusiastic delivery. And instead of engaging his listeners, his eyes constantly shifted towards the door as he sang the songs of the greatness of the Minotaur.
The town was located in the barren lands, in a part of, Greece where the legend of the Minotaur should not be known, let alone regaled.
To Xena's knowledge the Minotaur had never left, Crete after escaping the labyrinth. But unbeknownst to the, Conqueror, the part man part bull had indeed left the island and now dwelled in, Pambra.
Gabrielle, was intrigued by the tales and thought it might be interesting to add the stories to her own list when she returned to, Euboreas.
In her excitement she asked her lover if she had ever seen one of the creatures. Settling at their table, Xena told the bard-queen about her days as a warlord, and her encounter with the fighters when she entered their labyrinth in an attempt to gain control of the island of, Crete.
She explained how their physical strength and determination to never stop fighting caused her to call a retreat of her troops, never attempting to take, Crete again.
"Gabrielle, if Minotaurs are in this village, I think we should move on. We don't have enough bodies to fight them if it comes to that."
The bard found the confession to be out of character for her always battle ready lover, but she trusted Xena's instincts.
"Okay, but let's eat first and restock our supplies before moving on to the next town."
In the middle of their meal, four Minotaurs entered the establishment and sat at the bar, causing the storyteller to inject more excitement into his tale.
Soldiers and Amazon warriors gazed upon the new arrivals with shocked curiosity. None of them had ever seen the creatures before and were stunned by their appearance.
The Amazon protectors only gave them a momentary glance before continuing to eat their meal, not at all surprised by their existence.
The visitors tried to consume their meals quickly, so that they could take their leave of this strange and confusing place. But that was not to be.
After ingesting a few drinks, the four Minotaurs started looking around the room and spotted the tables that were occupied by the newcomers.
It was then that their leader approached, Xena and Gabrielle's table, singling them out as the obvious commanders of the group.
"Who are you?"
Xena, was instantly angered by the disrespect shown to her in front of her troops. Seeing the change in the blue eyes that went from blue to silver, Gabrielle intervened before her dark lover could start a brawl.
"We are just passing through on our way to..." She had to think for a moment before she could come up with an answer. "Potidaea."
The man-beast looked at the small blonde with lustful eyes before he addressed her in a sensual voice. "You can stay as long as you like."
Gabrielle, felt monetarily disconcerted by the lascivious look that appeared on the face that looked so much like the bulls they had on her father's farm.
The dark eyes were glazed over from the ale that he had consumed and his intentions were obvious to everyone in the room.
One of the other Minotaurs that was still seated at the bar called out to his friend. "Leoness, leave those people alone and come have another tankard."
"Shut up, Heron, can't you see I'm trying to talk to this beautiful lady?"
Xena, had reached her limit. There was no way she was going to let this... this abomination flirt with, Gabrielle, right in front of her.
"I suggest you go back and sit with your friends," she said between gritted teeth.
"And who are you to tell me what to do?" the inebriated creature responded.
Xena, stood up and it was evident that she was in full Conqueror mode. "I am, Xena, Lord Conqueror of, Greece, and this is, Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazon Nation."
A feral smile crossed her face as she spoke her next word. "And if you don't leave right now... you won't live to regret your error."
Leoness, waved the tall woman off with an action meant to show her insignificance to him. "Obviously Conqueror, you don't know where you are. Pambra is the home of the Minotaur and your word carries no authority here."
As if to prove his point, Leoness reached out to touch, Gabrielle's face. His hand was captured in a steel grip before he could make contact.
"My word carries authority throughout this land, and if you try to touch her again I'll break your arm."
Ten tables of fighters rose up when the ruler made her threat and, Gabrielle knew that she had to do something.
"Xena, let's leave. I'm full and our supplies have been replenished."
"You'd better listen to your woman, Conqueror," Leoness said with a sneer on his bristled lips. "If you think that this handful of fighters can protect you, you have greatly misjudged the situation."
Moisture could be seen gathering on, Xena's brow and her mouth twisted as her body became ready for battle.
Leoness, continued, "You are in the land of the Minotaur, and we rule with impunity, so save your threats for the cowards that so easily bow to your..."
He stopped to look her over. "Unimpressive, non-intimidating bullying. No one here fears you."
He returned his attention to, Gabrielle and tried to grab her upper arm. "You will spend the night pleasuring me little queen."
Gabrielle, reached for sais, but before she could pull them out, Xena took hold of, Leoness' wrist and bicep and twisted the limb quickly. A loud pop was heard throughout the silent tavern and the Minotaur held his broken arm as he backed away.
"You'll pay for that."
Without taking her eyes off of the beast, Xena extended her hand to her mate and pulled, Gabrielle from her seat.
"I'm sure you think so, but I believe you are mistaken."
She signaled the troops to follow her to the stairway, deciding that it would be more strategic to stay the night, instead of risking a moonlit ambush.
The fighters surrounded their leaders and protected their backs as Xena, escorted Gabrielle, to the room that had been secured for them. She wanted to wait for daylight, knowing that it would give them a better chance to defend themselves when the attack came.
Xena, secured her weapons near the bed so that she would be ready if an intruder tried to enter their room during the night.
Gabrielle, started to speak as she bent over to remove her boots. "I have to admit, I'm a little off balance. Nothing seems to faze them, it's as if they have no concept of fear or retreat."
Before, Xena could respond, a knock sounded at the door. Knowing that, Palaemon and Meslena were standing guard, she didn't feel threatened, but she was still cautious.
She grabbed her sword and stood behind the door with her hand on the hilt. "Who is it?"
She heard, Palaemon's voice. "A barmaid, my Liege."
Xena, slowly opened the door and looked down the corridor in both directions before she let the girl in. She pulled the young woman into the room and closed the door.
"Who are you?"
"My name is, Naomi, Highness, and I bring you refreshments to take with you in the morning." Seeing the skeptical look in the tall woman's blue eyes, she quickly added. "Your guards have sampled my tray."
Xena, nodded her head and waited for the maid to put the platter down on the table. Naomi finished her task and turned to look upon the two strong women with fear in her eyes.
"You have made an awesome enemy, Conqueror. The minotaur will not let this go, especially after you broke, Leoness' arm."
Xena, waved off the warning and pulled off a piece of bread and cheese, not waiting for the sun to rise before partaking of the unexpected treat. Gabrielle, approached the young maid and touched her arm in a show of compassion.
"What are they doing here?" she asked.
Naomi, began her sad story. "Several seasons ago they entered our village in the dead of night. They killed everyone that resisted them and their takeover was fast and bloody."
Gabrielle, didn't miss the terror in the woman's voice and poured her a cup of water. Naomi, took a few sips before she continued.
"I wasn't born then, but the stories have been passed down in secret about how the man-bulls took control of, Pambra and started to mate with the women by force. Now their numbers are great and their rule goes unchallenged."
She went on to tell them a story so horrific that, Gabrielle found herself wiping tears from her eyes a few times before the tale was over.
They talked with, Naomi a little longer before she took her leave, and as they lay in their bed, Gabrielle expressed her desire to help these people if they could.
Xena, was strung tight, not only because of, Leoness' attempt to take her mate, but also by the server's words.
"Don't worry, love. When we complete our journey we will return to, Pambra and free the citizens from the minotaur's rule."
They fell asleep wrapped in each other's arms, knowing that the next part of their odyssey would be met with resistance from an opponent with a strength, the likes they had never come up against before.
They rose the next day and left, Pambra quickly, not even taking the time to allow the fighters to eat their morning meal. After three marks of traveling, they heard the approach that they had been anticipating.
Xena, turned to the troops as her voice carried down the path. "We were expecting this, so ready your arms and prepare to fight."
She looked at the men and women that were escorting them and prayed to any god that was listening to help them to survive.
Leoness, with his army of Minotaurs and men rounded the bend and didn't slow their approach, their numbers didn't match those of the Conqueror, but their physical strength would make up the difference.
Amazon arrows dropped a few of their attackers before they got close enough to engage the small army but it didn't slow their momentum.
The fighters that got passed the arrows pounced on the travelers without mercy. Xena, cut down several of them with her sword as Gabrielle, held off her attackers with her staff.
Only a few of the men that had joined the Minotaur lay dead on the road when an inhuman roar sounded above the fray.
The Conqueror, was done, she had reached her limit. It was time to do or die. The primal sound seemed to energize enemy and warriors alike as the sound of battle was carried on the morning breeze.
But just as it seemed that their defeat was imminent, seven Amazon protectors changed form and became lycans.
This became the turn in the fight. Long teeth and razor sharp talons made quick work of the man-bulls. Their attack was flawless. Every swipe of their claws and tear of their teeth was fatal.
Before long, thirty Minotaur and forty men lay dead at their feet. The silence that followed left Xena, standing in the middle of the road amazed.
She was relieved to see that the members of their army were only wounded, and none of them had been killed. Palaemon, limped towards his leader and asked permission to tend to the wounded.
Xena, still seemed a bit disconnected, but was able to give the order. "Yes, let's set up camp in the woods and rest before we move on."
"What about the bodies on the road?" Palaemon asked.
"Leave them for the buzzards." Was the response he was given.
An Amazon grabbed seven bags from her horse and looped them over the protector's heads before the shape changers disappeared into the forest to shift form and get cleaned up.
Noticing her mate's stillness, Gabrielle approached the statue like woman and ran her hand down, Xena's powerful arm.
"What's wrong, love?"
The soft voice broke through the haze that she was in and blue eyes tracked to green. "You said there were a little over ninety of them under your command, right?"
Knowing that she was talking about the protectors, Gabrielle didn't need to ask. "Yes."
Xena, pulled the shorter woman to her side and laughed as they followed their troops into the woods. "I said it before, and I'll say it again...
I am so lucky that I fell in love with you instead of attacking, Euboreas. I've never seen such a display of total annihilation executed by seven warriors...they were pure precession.
They eliminated the Minotaurs like it was nothing. They did what my entire army couldn't do."
Her next words were introspective. "The Amazons could have defeated me and taken over, Greece."
The small queen wrapped her arm around the tall woman's waist and leaned over to kiss an exposed bicep before smiling brightly.
"For all you know, the Amazons may still take, Greece over."
If anyone else had made such a statement, Xena would have immediately started plotting their death, but having the words come from Gabrielle, she saw the possibility, and didn't feel threatened.
On the contrary, it made her feel hope. Hope that with this precious woman by her side maybe she could become a great and compassionate ruler.
She stopped their progress and turned to face the one person that she trusted above all others. "Who knows, my love?"
She bent down and captured the blonde woman's inviting lips. "You may be right."
It had been a little more than a moon since their journey had begun and Xena, had kept in constant contact with Dimitri, through messengers.
The new senior advisor reassured his leader that the Realm was running smoothly, and the nobles had made no further attempts to carry out judgments in her absences.
What she didn't know was that, Tellus and his cohorts were laying low, biding their time until they received word of her death.
Jett, had also been in constant contact with the former advisor and kept him abreast of, Xena's actions, informing, Tellus of the Minotaur's attack and the existence of the shape changers.
This new information disturbed the traitor, but the assassin reassured him that their presence would not prevent him from carrying out their plan. He was the best at what he did and this assignment would be as successful as the others.
But, he didn't pass along all of the information he had gathered, choosing to keep certain details to himself. He didn't pass on the presence of his brother or his observations of the ruler's devotion to the small queen.
It wouldn't be the first time he used a person's love one to reach his goal. He knew without a doubt that the blonde woman was the key to bringing, Xena down.
But after spending many days observing the blonde woman's interactions with the men and women that followed them, he realized that there was more to her than met the eye.
She was the leader of a nation of warriors, and the lover of a heartless ruler, but she was also an innocent. A person with a pure soul. A person that should have never been placed in a position where she would have to order the taking of a life, or perhaps take one herself.
After much contemplation he knew that he could never harm her just because she had been unfortunate enough to get involved with the wrong woman.
Even a soul as dark as his couldn't find a good enough reason to extinguish her light. So he decided that when the time came, he would use her as a bargaining tool... nothing more.
The opportunity presented itself two days before the group reached, Amphipolis. Gabrielle, and Larissa, one of her Amazon Guard, left the campsite, headed for the river to clean the dirty dishes after the evening meal.
Jett, had already taken up a position in the woods, hidden from sight, so when the women knelt down on the riverbank and started a quiet conversation as they went about their task, he ran from his hiding place with his crossbow at the ready.
Never slowing his pace on his path to, Gabrielle, he shot, Larissa in the chest as she stood to defend her queen.
Before, Gabrielle could remove her sais from their boot straps, he was upon her. To her shock and dismay, she was once again met with the image of, Jace and now Joxer. 'This is getting ridiculous,' she thought to herself as she calmed in the man's presence.
Looking at him she realized that this man wasn't at all like the other two. His eyes didn't have the compassion of, Jace or the loyalty of, Joxer. His dark eyes were filled with nothing but menace.
She was pulled from her observations when she heard, Larissa moan in pain and it caused her to react without thought.
With the intentions of checking the guard's wound, the small woman was about to kneel down beside the Amazon to tend to her.
But their attacker grabbed her by the arm and turned her around placing her back against his chest, pinning her arms behind her. His sweaty hand covered her mouth as he whispered in her ear.
"Shut up and start walking."
She followed his instructions, hoping, Larissa could hold on until she could think of a way out their present circumstances.
She let herself be led back to their camp without resistance, and when the firelight revealed her to the other occupants, their greetings were cut short as another body appeared behind her, obviously holding her captive.
Xena, stood quickly, with every intention of ending the life of the man that dared to touch her beloved. But when she was close enough to make out his face... she was stunned.
Her stupor only lasted a heart beat before she took more cautious steps forward. "Who are you, and what do you want?"
Jett, just smiled. He was almost disappointed when the powerful woman hesitated in her advance, that one action proving that his theory was true. She would do anything to ensure the small woman's safety. Her defeat would come too easy.
Jett, released, Gabrielle's arms and dropped his hands to her waist, in a more intimate hold. The change didn't go unnoticed by, Xena and the Conqueror in her began to stir, causing her right hand to seek out her chakram.
Jett, removed one hand and pulled out a dagger, placing it at, Gabrielle's throat. "Now, now, Xena. Don't be too hasty. I'd hate to accidentally leave a mark on her unscarred skin."
Just to add to the dark woman's displeasure, Jett placed a delicate kiss on the side of, Gabrielle's head, taking a moment to enjoy the sweet smelling hair that covered it.
And in that instant, he wished that his life had been different, if only to have had the opportunity to lie in this golden woman's embrace.
Reading the man's intentions, the Amazons and the protectors moved forward, ready to save their queen at the first opening that was presented to them.
"Stay back or I'll kill her," the assassin said as he pulled his prisoner closer. "I am aware of the wolf women that travel with you, and if one of them tries anything, your queen will be dead before they can raise a claw."
He looked around him and felt disgust when he recognized a few familiar faces. They were the same warriors that had fought by his father's side in his attempt to defeat, Xena, The Destroyer of Nations.
Now they stood firm, prepared to defend the one that had killed, Thalamus, willing to give their lives for her if necessary.
He zeroed in on one of the men and his lip curled with hatred. "Brygus, I guess she made you an offer that you couldn't refuse."
Unwilling to be pulled into an argument with the assassin, Brygus, just shrugged his shoulders and gripped the hilt of his sword tighter.
The temporary paralysis that had set in when, Joxer recognized his brother was lifted as the confused tavern keep stepped forward from the shadows to confront the assassin.
The dangerous glint in his brother's eyes and the tension in his body alerted the tavern owner to the fine line that Jett, walked and he didn't want to make any sudden moves, for fear of setting off the unpredictable nature that drove, Jett. So he slowly moved into, the assassin's line of sight, hoping to take the man's focus off of his captive.
"Jett, what are you doing?"
"Hello, Joxer, it's been a long time. Under different circumstances I would say it was good to see you, but considering the fact that you are traveling with the whore that killed our father..." He let the rest of his statement drift off, knowing that, Joxer understood his meaning.
"What are you talking about? Our, Lord Conqueror didn't kill, Thalamus. His failed attempt at defeating her army ended his life."
"You have always been short sighted little brother. If she had not been so set on taking over, Greece, our father would never have tried to stop her quest for dominance.
Things would have gone on as they were, warlords claiming a parcel of land here and there without the interference of one person trying to rule us all.
But, no. She wanted it all. It wasn't enough for her to control the western waters and the lands east of it. She had to have it all and lord over the whole country."
His words brought back memories of her youth and for a moment Xena, recalled her bloodthirsty days and her single minded efforts to become the, Destroyer of Nations, not caring about the ruined lives that she left in her wake.
Gabrielle, saw her lover's focus go inward and knew that, Xena was remembering her past, and from the sadness that she witnessed in the pale blue eyes, she knew that the memories were laced with regret, but now wasn't the time, she had to get, Xena's head back in the game.
So she spoke quickly. "Joxer, you are a warrior, were you with, Thalamus when he engaged, Xena's army?"
The man dropped his head in shame, causing, Jett to call up memories of the erstwhile fighter's pain when he showed a lack of skill during battle.
"No, Queen Gabrielle. Our father never thought me much of a fighter, so long before he faced the, Destroyer of Nations, I had gone out on my own, hoping to prove myself before returning."
He raised his head and looked at his brother. "I was engaged in a few skirmishes along the way, then I met, Meg on one of my visits to a local brothel and fell for her.
After five seasons of sharing her company whenever I was in the area I asked her to marry me and we became a tavern owners four moons ago. After that I never looked back to the life that I had led... until now."
He stood tall and held the gaze of eyes that looked so much like his own, determined to make a connection with his sibling, he spoke from his heart. "I've missed you, Jett."
Everyone saw the assassin's hold on the queen relax and prepared to attack whenever the opportunity presented itself for the small woman to make an escape.
Blue eyes that were now fully aware of the situation never lost contact with confident green. Xena, knew that whenever she made her move, Gabrielle would react in perfect synchronicity.
Joxer, saw the difference in his brother's body language and decided that the best chance for, Jett's survival was to continue filling his head with memories of their family.
"I hear that, Jace is doing well."
He winced when brown eyes went dark at the mention of, Jace's name. He had forgotten how just the thought of their brother could send, Jett into a tirade.
"Don't speak that weak sister's name in my presence. Not only does he disgrace the family with the life that he has chosen to live, he serves in this bitch's court as nothing more than a well paid jester."
His outburst brought the armed troops closer, making him bring his knife closer to, Gabrielle's throat.
"Don't come any closer. All of you, turn around!"
Xena, told her forces to hold and, Gabrielle did the same with slight movements of her hand.
"Now, I want all of you to start walking until I tell you to stop."
Again, their leaders told them to comply, and the small army of soldiers and Amazons started to move forward.
Once the desired distance had been reached between, Jett and the ruler's fighters, he walked, Gabrielle to, Xena's side and released her as he pulled a loaded crossbow from its shoulder harness.
"I want the two of you to walk no more than three paces ahead of me. I'll tell you to stop when we reach the area that I've designated for your burial, Xena."
Feeling guilty about the turn of events, Joxer, tried one last time to reason with his rogue brother. "You know that you can't walk away from this, don't you?"
"There goes that short sight again. Of course I know I won't live through this, but I will die knowing that I have made my father proud."
Jett, then motioned with his arm and told his sibling to join the women as they walked in front of him. Soldiers, Amazons and Protectors walked ahead of their rulers, frequently looking back to keep an eye on the assassin's moves.
It was during one of these moments that, Joxer turned to his brother and saw, Jett raise his crossbow, aiming it at the, Conqueror's back.
Everything happened in slow motion. Joxer, saw his brother's intentions and screamed, "Nooo!" as he rushed to stop him.
The bow was released and the bolt lodged itself in the approaching man's shoulder. Joxer's momentum carried him forward causing his body to crash into the assassin's, taking them both down.
The yell made, Xena turn around with her hand placed on her chakram ready to launch it, but all movement ceased when she saw the tavern keeper tackle his brother and send them both to the ground.
The troops rushed forward and surrounded the prone bodies, ready to defend any action that was directed towards their rulers.
Unfortunately for, Jett one of the many knives that were hidden on his body had pierced his chest. The black leather vest that he wore was quickly being soaked with his blood as a feeble hand tried to dislodge the blade.
Gabrielle, ran to them and rolled, Joxer off of his brother as she tore cloth from her clothes, pressing the material into the wound, attempting to stop the flow of blood.
They all gathered around the man, seeing the amount of blood that he was losing, they knew that it was just a matter of time.
Dark brown eyes looked into sorrowful green as the assassin struggled for his next breath. His eyes then wondered over the small blonde's shoulder and was surprised to see regret in the blue orbs that greeted him.
"I... I would think that you would have a look of triumph as you gaze down on me in victory."
Gabrielle, turned her head and looked at the despair on her lover's face, making her heart clench at the grief stricken sight. She knew that, Xena took no pleasure in this man's death.
The dark woman moved closer to the dying man and looked upon him with compassion. "No, Jett. Your death will not be greeted with celebration, but with remorse.
You felt justified in your actions. You thought that you were righting a wrong. I send your body to Hades with no ill will."
The honesty that he saw in her eyes and heard in her voice prompted him to do one last noble act before he left the land of the living.
He pulled, Gabrielle's hand close to his chest and took a chance that she would believe him. "I... I would have never harmed you."
The golden woman smiled at him in an effort to give him comfort. "Thank you for saying that."
He looked around the circle of honorable warriors that surrounded him and let the part of him that he shared with, Joxer and Jace reveal itself.
"I wish I had met you all sooner, maybe things would have been different for me."
His eyes settled on his brother and he was filled with remorse. Joxer's, wound was being tended to and brown eyes that were the mirror of his own glistened with unshed tears.
"Don't be sad, Joxer. All things serve the loom. Then his eyes sifted to address the, Conqueror. "I must tell you who sent me on this mission."
He then proceeded to tell, Xena about, Tellus and every noble that was behind this failed plot. As he finished they all heard the fluid as it filled his lungs, making him cough.
The small clearing went quiet just before, Jett spoke his last words. "Joxer, tell, Jace that my final thoughts were of him and that I was sorry for the distance that I created between us."
As he took his last breath and gave his life over to the fates, Xena reached into her purse and placed a coin in the dead man's palm to pay for his passage.
"I'll gladly pay your debt to, Charon for your ride across the river Styx. Your last words were unselfish and will never be forgotten."
Joxer, became inconsolable and, Gabrielle felt the need to comfort him. "Don't be sorry, Joxer.
She turned and swept her hands around the campsite. "All of us have a destiny to fulfill. That is why you followed us. Maybe this moment was predetermined. Maybe it was meant for you to be present when your brother took his last breath, as a way to finalize the last chapter of his life with a family member present to witness his passing."
Devastated brown eyes closed as the tavern keeper took in the queen's words. He wept over his brother's body, sending out a prayer to accompany his spirit as he crossed over.
They waited in silence as the assassin passed over. They buried his body and placed a marker on the grave before turning their attention back to journey at hand.
Every person present, now realized that they were playing a part in a story that had been written centuries before their birth, and prayed to the gods that they wouldn't meet the same end as the repentant assassin.
When they were one days ride from Amphipolis, Xena started to withdraw into herself. After they stopped for the evening the Conqueror's tent was raised so they could settle in for what they knew would be an easy night.
As she changed into a sleep shift, Gabrielle looked to her companion. Xena, was sitting on the side of their bunk, lost in her own thoughts.
"Xena, what's on your mind?"
Never wanting to keep anything from her lover, Xena patted the side of the bed, inviting, Gabrielle to sit beside her.
"Tomorrow we will cross into, Amphipolis."
"I know," the blonde woman said. "That's where your mead comes from."
Xena, became a little agitated before she spoke her next words. "That's not all. The mead that is shipped from here is..."
She held, Gabrielle's hands before she continued. "Is brewed by the local innkeeper, her name is, Cyrene and... she's my mother."
The only indication that the information registered with the bard-queen was the widening of her green eyes. Seeing that, Xena didn't know how to proceed with the new information, Gabrielle asked her a question.
"When was the last time you spoke with your mother?"
The tall woman laid back on top of the covers and stared at the cloth covered ceiling of their tent. "I haven't seen, Cyrene since I was sixteen winters old."
Gabrielle, remembered her lover telling her why she had left her village ten seasons before and found it hard to believe that during all of her travels, Xena had never found the time to go back to her home for a visit.
Even though her own father had turned his back on her, over the last five seasons, Gabrielle had made a few visits to, Potidaea in an effort to maintain a connection with her family.
Knowing that it wasn't the time to reflect on her own parental problems, Gabrielle returned her attention to her troubled lover.
"Why so long, love?"
Xena, turned on the side and caressed the small woman's thigh as she thought about her answer. "The last time I saw my mother, she made it clear that she held me responsible for the death of my brother.
I left, Amphipolis, vowing to never return until I redeemed myself. Before I could accomplish my goal, Caesar entered my life and everything became dark. And within a blink of an eye, many seasons had passed and I had become... a monster, only adding to my mother's shame."
"Xena, you are no longer that person. I see the changes in you everyday that we spend together."
The dark woman stood so abruptly from the bed that her mate was unprepared. "Gabrielle, you have no idea of what I am capable of."
The golden woman approached her tortured lover and pressed her body against the taller woman's back as her arms circled her waist.
"Tell me, love I want to hear the worst of it."
The sting that, Xena felt at the back of her eyes surprised her, and when, Gabrielle changed her position so that she could look into her mate's face, Xena pulled the woman closer and sobbed into her honey colored hair.
"I... I have had men drawn and quartered for disobeying my orders. I have lined the streets with the heads of my enemies staked on top of post, just to put fear in the hearts of those that would defy me."
A tear streaked face looked upon the only judge that could sentence her to eternal damnation. "I've sat silent as men demoralized women in every way possible, for their own pleasure."
Gabrielle, tried to pull away from her lover's embrace, but Xena held her tight. "I didn't know any better then. If it helps, I'll tell you that after the first incidence of a woman being treated with brutality, I never sat silent again.
>From that moment on I didn't let the men that we came upon continue with their treatment of women. They were punished in a way that never allowed them to commit such acts again."
The small woman released a breath and tried to regain some composure. The revelations were more than she had expected. She knew that, Xena had a ruthless past, but hearing the confessions from her lover's own mouth was harder to take than she had ever imagined.
Taking, Gabrielle's silence as condemnation, the ruler bowed her head and folded her hands in her lap. "I'm so sorry, my love... please don't hate me."
The Amazon Queen knew that she had to control of her reactions. If she made an incorrect move, this moment could very well lead to a disastrous outcome, changing their course once again.
"I understand, my love. You did what you felt was necessary to maintain control. When you knew better, you did better. "
Feeling a glimmer of hope start to shine in her heart, Xena grabbed on to her lover with both hands. "Yes, that's true."
She implored her lover's understanding with pleading blue eyes. "Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. I can't tell you how sorry I am for what I've done in the past, but I promise you, from this day forward I'll be better. Just please, please don't hate me."
Unable to listen to her lover's anguished pleas any longer, Gabrielle tried to sooth the dark woman's fears with gentle caresses.
"Never, Xena. I will never hate you. I may become angry with you, but hate will never be an emotion that comes between us."
Feeling energized, and needing reassurance, Xena's hands started to roam over her lover's body, in an expression of need that could only be satisfied by their coming together physically.
"I need to be close to you, Gabrielle."
The desire that she saw reflected in her mate's blue eyes ignited the Amazon Queen's own need and she welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with the lover that she had come to know. The blonde woman rose from the bed and started to remove her clothes.
"Your wish is my command, Conqueror."
The lust filled words moved Xena, into action and with a few quick movements she stood naked. She then laid her long body out on the bed as the smaller woman came to rest on top of her.
Then they started to move together in a dance that had become very familiar. It wasn't long before the campgrounds were filled with the cries of passionate release that sealed a bond that had become fortified by the revelations of a tortured soul's repentance to her only confessor.
The travelers entered, Amphipolis hungry and tired. Gabrielle, pulled her mount beside, Xena's and touched her lover's arm.
"Are you okay, my love?"
Xena, didn't answer verbally, instead she nodded her head. Knowing that her mate needed some time to gain control of her emotions before seeing her mother for the first time in ten summers, Gabrielle dismounted and instructed the troops to stable the horses and make arrangements at the inn.
"Can you do this, Xena?"
Nervous blue eyes turned to gaze upon the only love that she had ever known. "With you by my side, I can do anything."
Gabrielle, smiled. "Who knows, maybe this will be the first steps to getting your family back."
Xena, captured her lover's lips in a kiss of pure devotion. "You are my family, Gabrielle. As long as I have you nothing else matters."
When they entered the inn it was filled to capacity, so they headed to a table occupied by the Amazons where two seats were left vacant.
A server took their order and left them. When the food was delivered, Xena was so caught up in the conversations that surrounded her, she didn't notice who placed the food in front of her.
"Conqueror, I hope you find your meal adequate."
Xena, looked at her mother for the first time since she was a young girl and took note of the changes that had occurred over the seasons.
Her auburn hair held only a few strands of gray, but her waist was a little thicker and her face looked tired from the seasons of hard work it took to run an inn.
She stared at the woman, looking for the hurt and blame that was present in her eyes the last time she saw her, but all she saw was a guarded expression and... regret?
Taking a chance, she pushed her chair away from the table and stood to her full height, looking down on the woman that had given her life.
Everyone in the room was shocked when the, Conqueror of Greece, bowed her in supplication to the innkeeper, everyone except, Gabrielle.
"I am not your, Conqueror mother, I'm your child."
Meslena, looked at Palaemon and whispered. "She has a mother?"
The general rolled his eyes at his lover and answered her sarcastically. "No... she was born of wolves. Of course she has a mother."
Meslena, responded with a little heat. "Don't be a jester. You know what I mean."
Palaemon, understood, Meslena's reaction, he just hated the fact that no one saw his leader's humanity. Then his eyes tracked to the small blonde standing by her side. No one but her.
Cyrene, was taken aback by, Xena's act of deference, and her heart soared with the possibilities it may bring. She reached up and lifted the mature face so that she could see her clearly.
When the sad blue eyes became visible, she took a step back. What she saw wasn't possible. Those eyes, the ones that had always looked at her with trust and love were the same.
Over time, Cyrene had come to realize her error in blaming, Xena for her younger brother's death. She had gained a broader perspective on life, and when, Toris, her oldest, had returned, she was finally able to understand that the sacrifice of few had saved the lives of many.
If, Xena had run for the hills the way her older brother had, Amphipolis would have been lost, and the citizens would have been enslaved.
She knew of, Xena's exploits since leaving their village, and more often than not she would wake up in the night, hearing the sound of her hand hitting her daughter's face in accusation, wondering if her rejection had sat her on her path of destruction.
There were times that she thought to seek her daughter out and embrace her, letting her know that all was forgiven, but when, Xena became the Conqueror, she thought that it was too late.
But now, standing in front of her was a lost child, a child that needed her mother's love and acceptance once again. But she didn't know what to do. Seeing that the two women were at an impasse, Gabrielle made her presence known by introducing herself.
"Hello, Cyrene. I am, Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazon Nation."
She then hooked her hand in, Xena's elbow. "And mate of our Lord Conqueror."
The sweet sound of, Gabrielle's voice brought, Xena back to herself, and she looked lovingly into clear green eyes before officially introducing them.
"Forgive me, my love."
She removed, Gabrielle's hand from her elbow and kissed it before resting her arm across her mate's shoulders.
"Gabrielle, this is my mother, Cyrene of Amphipolis. Mother, this is, Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons and future, Queen of Greece."
The title took, Gabrielle by surprise. She never thought about the change in status that would come when she joined with, Xena, and to hear it said out loud was a bit of a shock.
Taking in the presence of the small blonde, Cyrene felt the compassion that radiated from her. Instinctively, she knew that this woman would guide, Xena away from the path of darkness that she had unintentionally set her daughter on with her grief stricken words spoken so long ago.
Maybe... just maybe they would be given a second chance, and mother and daughter could re-establish a relationship that had been severed before it was able to take took root.
"It is an honor to meet you, Cyrene."
"And you, Queen Gabrielle."
"Please, just, Gabrielle."
This made the auburn haired woman smile. "Gabrielle, it is."
Noticing that, Xena was now speechless, Gabrielle invited, Cyrene to join them. The other occupants sensed the need for privacy and excused themselves, taking their chairs with them to join their comrades at another table.
The three women sat, staring at one another before, Gabrielle broke the silence. "I have had the pleasure of tasting the mead that you make, and I must congratulate you. It is outstanding."
Cyrene's face showed her gratitude. "Thank you, Qu... I mean, Gabrielle. It is a recipe that I have used since, Xena was in knaps."
She turned to her daughter. "Do you remember the time I caught you and, Lyceus sneaking a taste from the barrel?"
Blue eyes went soft in memory. "Yeah, but the thing I remember most was the paddling you gave us afterwards."
She addressed, Gabrielle. "Mother, told us if we were grown up enough to drink it, then we were grown up enough to make a wage and pay for it."
Gabrielle, rested her cheek on her propped up hand. "Sounds reasonable."
"It does, except for the fact that we were five and eight, respectively."
Gabrielle, laughed. "Well I guess that would make a difference."
Xena, was surprised that the memory didn't lead to accusations. It only seemed to fill her mother's features with melancholy.
"You know, Gabrielle, those two were inseparable. If, Xena decided to go exploring, he was right behind her. If she decided to campout in the woods, he had his things packed before she could gather her own. No matter how many times I forbade him to follow her, he would find a way. There was no stopping him."
She turned to her daughter and hesitantly covered her large hands with her own, as she looked into her pained blue eyes. "He made his own choices. Lyceus, was determined to go his own way."
Xena's eyes went wide. "What are you saying?" she asked in strangled whisper.
"I'm saying that I was wrong, daughter. I was wrong to blame you. I knew it then, but by the time I was able to voice it, it was too late. You were gone."
Cyrene, reached up and wiped away the tears that were flowing from her daughter's eyes. "Xena, can you forgive me? My harsh words and slap to your face were my grief speaking. If I had been thinking clearly I would never have done those things."
She wiped tears from her own face. "And I would not have sent you out into the wilderness to make your own way. You were a young girl and should have never been put in that position. I..."
Xena, stopped her mother's words of self-deprecation. "No, mother. It wasn't your fault. I should never have left. You had a right to your grief. One son was dead and the other had run off. I should have stayed and helped you through it instead of leaving you alone."
"You were a child, Xena. I was the adult."
She removed the last tears from her face and regained her composure. "Besides, I haven't been alone the entire time. A season after the attack, Toris returned and has been helping me run this place ever since."
Xena's spirits were lifted. "Toris, is here?"
"Yes, daughter. He is in the cellar bringing up a barrel of that mead, Gabrielle seems to like so much."
Seeing an opportunity to lift the blanket of sadness that had fallen over them, Gabrielle interjected some humor.
"I hope he's quick about it, I'm as dry as a bone."
Everyone laughed. "Excuse her, mother, but, Gabrielle has become a convert. The only mead she will drink now has to come from, Amphipolis."
Cyrene, stood to take her leave. "Then I guess it's a good thing she's here where the supply is endless."
The older woman looked down on her child and decided to take a chance by listening to her heart. She bent down and placed a kiss on the cheek of the most feared person in, Greece.
"I'm so very glad to see you, daughter. Never stay away this long again... welcome home."
Several days were spent in, Amphipolis, giving, Joxer and Larissa time to heal from their injuries. On one of these days, spent doing nothing, the soldiers of the Realm and the Amazon warriors decided to have a weapon's contest, as a way to pass the time, and practice their skills.
The Amazons had taunted the soldiers, saying they were more ready for battle because they were trained from childhood to be proficient with, not one weapon, but two.
Hearing a challenge in their boasts, it was decided that a contest would be held to determine whose skills were greater.
There would be no sparring, instead different skills would be tested by accuracy. Throwing knives, shooting arrows and dagger twirling to test dexterity.
Stations were set up in a field behind the inn to host the competition. Word spread of the activities, and villagers started to gather, placing blankets and bringing baskets of food to witness the competition.
The excitement was such that even, Toris was anxious to witness the events. He had been angry with his sister for so long that when she returned, he had made every effort to avoid her.
He glanced over at the blonde woman that was sitting beside his sister and felt a smile crease his face, remembering the stern talking to the woman had given him not long after they arrived.
Seeing how her brother's treatment was affecting, Xena, Gabrielle pulled, Toris aside and asked him what his problem was.
"I would think you'd be happy to have your sister come for a visit after all this time. But that's not how you're acting. What's wrong with you?"
The tall man tried to walk away from the annoying woman, but he was stopped in his tracks when she grabbed him by the arm.
"Let go of me."
"No, I won't. Not until you tell me why you are treating her this way."
Blue eyes that resembled her mate's looked down on her, and when he saw that she was expecting an answer he stopped trying to walk away and took in a deep breath.
"You wouldn't understand."
"Try me. I just might surprise you."
"I doubt it. You could never understand what it's like to watch your younger sister take on an invading warlord as you..."
He had to stop and gather himself before continuing. "As you ran for to safety."
Ah, now she got it. Toris, wasn't upset that, Xena had talked the villagers into fighting, he was upset that he had not done it himself.
She gentled her voice and patted the arm that she still held. "You don't hate her for who she is, you are angry because she makes you see who you are not."
The impact of her words made his knees go weak. He wasn't ready to face this. One sentence from this small woman had brought out all of his insecurities.
He felt tears sting his eyes as he spoke his shame. "When I came back to the village, and it was still here. I...I was humiliated. Then I found out that my brother had been killed while fighting beside our sister, and I couldn't take it... so I left."
Then word spread about her campaign to keep the village safe, and I hated her. Now look at her. She rules the land."
Gabrielle, spoke her next words with caution. "Do you think that should have been you?"
Toris, thought for a moment, and pulled away from her touch. "Maybe at one point I thought that, but over the seasons I have come to realize that, Xena is one of a kind. I would have been long dead if I had tried to do what she has done."
He saw forgivness in her eyes and he was finally able to forgive himself for his cowardice. "Don't hold her strength against her, Toris. See it for what it is. She was meant for greatness. Her path has been winding, but with the love of those that know her she can find her way and become all that she was meant to be."
After that little intervention, Toris made it a point to engage his sister, and talk to her, and after a time he was confronted with the village girl that he had known in his youth.
She still had that quirky sense of humor that would infuriate him when they were children. And after an evening spent drinking ale and talking about old times, he had to admit that he missed the tomboy that he had grown up with.
Now seeing her playfully ruffle her mate's blonde hair, his smile became even bigger as, Xena stood from her seat and got everyone's attention.
"Since you knuckleheads think that you have something to prove, I'm going to announce the start of this... these games of skill."
She sat back down and, Gabrielle squeezed her thigh. "Well done, love."
Solari's skills with the bow and arrow, Eponin's prowess with the crossbow, Meslena's experience with the labris, and Minya's undefeated usage of the battle axe, won the events with ease.
Never one to concede defeat, Xena suggested other forms of competition to test skills. Gabrielle, raised a fair brow in question.
"Are you adding to the events?"
The smile on, Xena's face alerted the blonde queen that her mate had something in mind.
"How about non-weapon events?"
"Like?" The queen asked.
"Oh... I don't know, say a foot race, or maybe a wrestling match, or even a competition using the horses."
"Okay. When do we start?"
Xena, jumped from her chair with enthusiasm. "As soon as we can mark off a distance for running and build a few low fences for the horses to jump over. I'd say that shouldn't take more than three marks."
Gabrielle, stood to make her way to her warriors. "Fine. I'll tell the ladies about the new challenge, and let them prepare."
When everyone was in place, Xena, once again called for the start of the games. It seemed as if more villagers were in attendance than before, and the air was filled with excitement.
The first event was the wrestling competition. The stocky Amazon, Minya crouched down in front of, Lemar, one of, Xena's strongest fighters in hand to hand combat.
For a few moments they just circled one another, looking for an opening. Then, suddenly, Minya dropped to her knees and grabbed, Lamar around his legs, bringing the big man down with a thud.
The Amazons let out a yell of encouragement, then became silent when, Lamar reached back and grabbed her waist to reverse their position.
Minya, was strong, but didn't have the lower body strength that, Lamar did. After bucking her hips and twisting her body for several beats, the Amazon had to relax her shoulders and give in to defeat.
The soldier's voices raised up in victory as, Xena announced the first event being won by the soldiers of the Realm.
She cut her eyes over to her mate with a smirk on her face. "Don't look so smug, Conqueror, that was just the first event."
Unfortunately for the Amazons it was a pattern that repeated itself in the following challenges. Palaemon's strong strokes had no problem outdistancing, Solari across the pond and back, and when, Meslena found herself looking at the back of, Glaphyra's head as the solider crossed the finish line two steps ahead of her in the foot race, Xena could no longer hold back the smile that wanted to crease her face.
Gabrielle, admitted defeat by smacking her lover's leather covered stomach. "Okay, so you have us three to zero, but there is still the horse competition."
Xena, tried to look hopeful, but it was a difficult task. She was an excellent equestrian, and had taught her soldiers how to handle their mounts in battle, so she had confidence in their victory.
Gabrielle, sat and looked on in amazement as, Roan maneuvered his horse around the field. The equine seemed to respond to the slightest of movement that he dictated.
She watched as the soldier made his horse sidestep, kneel and rear up on his hind legs using his front hooves to swipe at the air as if the horse was boxing.
When it came time for the jumping events, Gabrielle just covered her eyes and waited for the sound of triumph from, Xena's army to die down.
The Amazons were well trained in multiple weapons, but the soldiers of the Realm were not only great fighters, they were a group of well-rounded defenders. Then and there she decided that upon their return to, Euboreas the Amazon warriors would start a regimen of training that included, swimming, running and horse maneuvers. There was no way she going to have her fighters be second best to anyone.
After the competition was over the atmosphere became festive, and barmaids brought out pitchers of ale for the participants.
The villagers were seated around the field, relaxing on blankets and eating from baskets that had been brought from home. This gave, Xena an idea.
The two rulers were resting on a blanket that had been laid out for them, sharing a private moment as the festivities went on around them.
"I've been thinking," Xena, said.
Green eyes rolled as the queen took a sip of her mead. "That's dangerous."
"Ha-ha. But seriously. Look around. The people seem to have enjoyed today's events... don't you think?"
Gabrielle, looked around at the happy faces and heard the laughter as the children played. "Yes, it seems so."
"I have an idea. What do you think about holding these types of competitions for the surrounding villages, you know, as a way to give them a constructive outlet for their physical abilities?"
The smile was immediate. This was an excellent idea. "Sounds good. Who knows, maybe it will keep down the fighting."
"My thoughts exactly."
"How often will they be held?"
"I don't know... maybe once a season, that way the people that want to compete can have a full season to practice their skills, and the villages can send their best competitors to participate."
The fair haired woman's face softened and her green eyes were filled with love for her dark mate. She wouldn't tell her, not yet, but this was the first thing, Xena had ever thought to do for the people's pleasure.
It wasn't a plot or an act of force to keep them in line, it was something just for them, a day of competition and celebration. She was proud of, Xena, and the kiss that she gave her showed it.
Xena, looked confused. "What was that for?"
"Because I love you, because I think you are remarkable, and because your idea is just what the people need."
On the day of their departure, Cyrene and Toris stood with then young rulers before they took their leave. "Here, I made up a travel meal for the two of you, so you don't go hungry." Cyrene, said with sadness in her voice.
Xena, accepted the food bag as she enveloped her mother in an embrace and kissed her cheek. "Thank you, mother. Thank you for everything."
Cyrene, tried to stop the tears from falling, but she was unsuccessful. "I'll miss you, daughter. Don't be a stranger. This will always be your home."
The heart felt words touched, Xena in a place that had long been in need of healing, but when her eyes fell upon her mate, she knew that she had already found her home.
"Count on it, mother. You'll grow tired of me before all is said and done, but know that the two of you will always be welcome if you decide to visit the palace."
She gave her brother a warrior's embrace, then mounted her horse. She looked around her home village one last time before giving the signal to ride out. Their next destination... Potidaea.
"ONWARD!" she yelled, then gave her mother a parting glance. 'I will return, mother. Never doubt it.'
Gabrielle, laid tucked under her lover's chin as they waited for sleep to find them. They had left, Amphipolis two days before, and the bard-queen was feeling unsure about her reception when she reached her parent's home.
"I want you to promise me, no matter what my father mat say, you won't react to it."
The request stunned the naked woman. Gabrielle, had never expressed the possibility of a negative encounter when she returned to the small farming village.
"Why would your father say something to insight me, love? They are well aware of what your life has been since the slaver's failed attempt... aren't they?"
Gabrielle, changed her position so that she could look into her lover's eyes. "Yes, but my father has been... shall I say less than accepting."
Green eyes dropped in shame as the blonde woman told her lover about her father's disappointment because she never returned to, Potidaea to marry, Perdicus.
"Every time I came to visit, my father refused to see me. He said that I had abandoned the family, leaving them in shame by choosing to live with the Amazons, turning my back on the contract that he had made on my behalf."
Xena, understood. "Don't worry, love. If, Cyrene and Toris can put my past behind them, I'm sure that, Herodotus can do the same. But on a lighter note. Aren't you excited to see, Lila and your niece and nephew?"
The change was immediate. "Yes. Myron is four and Aspasia should have reached her second season by now."
"Then I say let's concentrate on your reunion with your sister and her offspring, and deal with your father when the time comes."
Gabrielle, returned to her nest on, Xena's shoulder. "You always seem to make things better."
Xena, kissed the blonde head under her chin. "And it will always be so."
The caravan that entered, Potidaea was met with curious stares. Gabrielle, directed the entourage to the only inn in the small village and stood outside as, Palaemon and Meslena made arraignments.
"Relax, my love. Whatever happens, know that I will never leave your side." Xena, said to her nervous companion.
She placed her hands on her mate's slight shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Gabrielle, do you want to go to your family's farm now, or do you want to wait until tomorrow when you've had time to rest?"
'I'm always her main priority,' the queen thought as she considered her options. "I want to get this over with. Let's rest a little, then take a small contingent out to the farm."
Xena, looped her future queen's hand into the crook of her elbow and walked them towards the inn. "As you wish."
Gabrielle, stood motionless on the porch of her family home, trying to gain the courage to knock on the door. Xena, stood behind her, hoping that her presence would give the small woman the strength that was needed to take this final step.
The Potidaean looked behind her and saw the men and women that waited, ready, willing and able to come to her defense if necessary. But it wasn't their presence that steeled her resolve to move forward, it was the wall of protection that pressed itself against her back, filling her being with warmth and security that prompted her to take that last step.
She knocked on the door and waited for it to be opened. It was a pleasant surprise when, Lila opened the door and stood motionless, staring at her long absent sister.
"Gabrielle!!!" she shrieked, before embracing the smaller woman in a heartfelt hug.
Ignoring the other people that filled the front yard, Lila pulled her sister into their childhood home as she called for their mother.
"Mother, come see. Gabrielle, has come home!"
Hecuba, couldn't believe what she was hearing and excited the kitchen as she wiped away the flour from her hands.
When she saw that, Lila spoke the truth, she rushed to, Gabrielle and pulled her close, repeating words of thanks, over and over.
It was then that, Herodotus entered through the back door and questioned the number of horses in the front yard. "Why has my farm been overrun with soldiers?"
Xena, stepped forward, and for the first time, Hecuba and Lila were aware of another presence. "That's my fault, sir. It seems that I can no longer travel without a phalanx of troops behind me."
Herodotus, knew who this woman was immediately and tensed at her presence. "Why are you here, Conqueror?"
Hecuba and Lila were filled with apprehension when, Herodotus addressed the ruler. They were well aware of his displeasure of her rule and feared that he would express his views, only to bring the woman's infamous wrath down on them.
"Don't look so frightened, Hecuba. This is still my house and a man should be able to speak his mind in his own home... she hasn't taken that right away... yet."
Before another word could be spoken, two small children ran up and grabbed, Lila around her legs. The older of the two spoke up and innocently dissipated the highly charged energy in the room.
"Mommy, who are these people?"
Lila, picked up the small boy and turned him to face her sister. "Don't you remember your, aunt Gabrielle? She has come for a visit." Then she turned to, Xena. "And this is her..."
She looked to, Gabrielle for approval before continuing. "This is her friend, Xena. She rules all of, Greece. They have come to see you."
The boy wiggled down from his mother's arms and stood in front of his sister in a show of protection. Seeing such bravery in one so young made, Xena think what a fine man, Myron would one day become.
Then her thoughts stopped traveling along those lines and redirected themselves to the obvious. This child was protecting his sister from her... but why?
The one thing, Myron's grandfather had told him through stories since he could retain memory was how ruthless, Xena the Conqueror was, and if she was here to hurt them it was his job to keep, Aspasia from the meanest person he had ever heard stories about.
He spread his legs apart and placed his small fists on his hips as he confronted the ruler. "Xena the Conqueror, you will not harm my sister, if you do I will kill you."
Everyone in the room was shocked, except for, Herodotus. His chest stuck out a little in pride. He had trained the boy well.
Xena, couldn't believe that a boy, not even fully trained to use a chamber pot on his own knew of her reputation and was ready to face her down if need be. Then she saw the twitch of a barely contained smug on, Herodotus' face and knew the source.
Gabrielle, saw the despair on her lover's face and interceded. "Hello, Myron. The last time I saw you, you were no older than your sister."
She knelt down to gain his full attention. "This is my good friend, Xena. I see you have heard of her, but if you give me a chance, I'll tell you a story that you've never heard before."
The small boy loved stories. He loved to hear them and he loved to make them up to entertain, Aspasia, so being offered the chance to learn a new one was very appealing.
He relaxed a little. "Okay."
Gabrielle, let the bard in her come forth and spun a tale to children about a brave and noble warrior that fought to save her village, and then fought to protect her country. She told of how the warrior's adventures took her to the highest heights and lowest of lows, becoming the ruler of, Greece, but how in the end the brave warrior rediscovered her true self and set her foot on a path of redemption.
When she ended the tale, Myron and Aspasia were so awestruck that all they could do was look up at the dark woman with a newness glowing in their eyes.
"Wow, Xena, you're a hero," he said when his aunt stopped talking. Aspasia, just nodded her head, caught up in her older brother's excitement. At two seasons old, all of her reactions stemmed from her brother's responses to the outside world.
Herodotus', displeasure was expressed immediately, the man slammed his fist down on the table in anger. "How dare you come here and fill my grandson's head with lies. That demon is not a hero, she is a blight on our lives. And if you are defending her you must be just as bad."
Xena, bristled at the accusation and was about to correct the man's false statement, but, Gabrielle beat her to it.
"After all of these seasons you are still bitter. Why, father? We have come in the spirit of family. Why can't you be happy to see me?"
The man's face turned so red they thought his head would pop off of his shoulders. "You stopped being a member of this family when you chose to live with those unnatural women in the woods."
Hecuba, spoke for the first time since her husband entered the house. "Can't you forgive, Herodotus? Haven't these children have been through enough?"
Her plea was not only meant for their daughters, but their grandchildren also. A season before, Lila's husband, Tylissus had been killed when a horse that he was stabling became frightened in the stall and kicked the man in the head, killing him instantly.
Myron, loved both of his grandparents, and hearing the distress in his grandmother's voice prompted him to take action. Something told him that his aunt's words were true, and maybe, Xena wasn't as bad as he had been taught to believe.
The small boy walked up to the tall woman and tilted his head back so that he could look into her blue eyes. He was too young to know the words to define what he saw, but his heart understood. She was sorry for all of the bad things that she had done. And it made him want to be nice to her.
"Grandfather said that you were bad, but I think he is wrong." He looked at the happiness in his aunt's eyes.
"You make, Aunt Gabrielle shine like the sun when she tells your story. No bad person could do that."
He moved quickly and hugged her long legs. "You are good, Xena the Conqueror."
With those words the village girl from, Amphipolis regained her nobility and it made her smile, but the smile faded when she looked at, Herodotus. Unlike his grandson, Gabrielle's father's opinion of her had not changed. It made her sad that her future in-law would never accept her into his family.
Then the strategist in her reared up. She had come up against foes more sophisticated than, Herodotus of Potidaea. A full frontal attack to make him see her in a different light would never work, so she chose to bid her time and slowly reveal her true nature to the man. Then maybe, just maybe he would come around.
During their stay in, Potidaea, Gabrielle informed her family of her future status as, Queen of Greece. Lila and Hecuba were happy for her, but, Herodotus became agitated.
The women had been allowed to stay on the property with their escorts, and to everyone's shock, Lila formed an instant friendship with the Amazon, Minya. The dark haired Amazon was stocky and her thickly muscled arms could swing a flanged mace with great accuracy.
The friendship seemed harmless enough, especially when the other fighters unexpectedly walked into the barn, catching, Lila directing the oddly costumed, Minya in what appeared to a play that the young Potidaean had written.
For marks after that, Minya had to take the constant taunting from both the Amazons and the soldiers, until, Gabrielle brought an end to it with threats of two moons of boarder duty for the Amazons if the teasing didn't stop.
When she saw the shape shifting prankster, Stria headed in, Minya's direction, she stopped her in her tracks. "That goes for you too, fuzzy bottom."
She walked away mumbling under her breath. "There is nothing to do here."
Gabrielle, yelled over her shoulder as she left the barn. "Try going hunting. We could use more meat on the table."
As soon as the door closed behind, the queen, the other shape changers started pelting their tall companion with hay and horse turds.
"Thanks a lot troublemaker, now our nights have to be spent out in the woods looking for prey," Hyalo said.
Covering her head as best as she could, Stria rolled into a ball. "If you guys don't stop I'm..."
"What?" Nordus asked. "Run and tell on us?"
Stria, let her fangs come out a little. "No, I'll just deliver one of you to the, queen's table. I'm sure any four legged beastie will do."
Nothing else was said. They knew she had a point.
Xena had taken every opportunity she found to engage the farmer in conversation. Each encounter was used to expose a little more of her softer side.
She didn't know it yet, but, Herodotus was slowly starting to gain a small amount of respect for her. When she asked him his thoughts on how much of season's harvest should be left to the villages, the man nearly swallowed his tongue.
He had heard the rumors of village elders going to, Corinth and never returning because of a short count on the harvest's profits. But having her ask him with nothing but honesty showing in those compelling blue eyes, he thought that she was sincere.
Days spent with, the Conqueror of Greece working beside him in the fields, getting as dirty and sweaty as he was started to have an affect on him. He knew that he could never truly open his heart to her, but their time together showed him a more human side to, the Lord Conqueror.
When she insisted that her soldiers help them in the backbreaking work, he saw the potential in her to be a great a leader of the people. He just wasn't able to reconcile the caring, friendly woman that dug in the dirt every morning, with the woman that had committed the atrocities of her past.
The answer came to him the night before their departure. While sitting at the table enjoying the evening meal, Gabrielle accidentally cut her finger while slicing a piece of meat.
Before his daughter could tend to her injury, Xena grabbed a cloth from the table and started to lightly dab at the cut. When the bleeding stopped she raised the digit to her lips and placed a healing kiss to the affected area, seemingly unaware of the other people at the table.
"There, it's all better now," she said.
Gabrielle, caressed the side of her face. "You fixed my boo boo."
Xena, blushed hard when she heard their table companion's soft laughter. "Yeah, well someone has to watch out for you."
Herodotus, knew that she was a ruthless dictator, but in that moment all he saw was a young woman in love, and realized, just as, Cyrene had earlier, that, Gabrielle was the key. With his daughter by her side to calm her volatile impulses, they may all have a chance at happiness.
The next morning they left, Potidaea with promises of more visits, and invited them to, Corinth after the harvest was brought in. Feeling pleased by their ready acceptance of the invite, the two rulers left the small village with a feeling of new beginnings.
Over the weeks, Larissa and Joxer slowly recovered from their injuries. Although she was still having problems breathing, the Amazon insisted on continuing with the journey, refusing to stay in, Potidaea and wait for their return. Live or die, she would do it at her queen's side.
When they reached the foot of, Mount Althos and had set up camp. Xena, addressed the troops. "When we reach the cave only a few of you will enter with us, the rest will remain outside to keep our path clear. Get your rest tonight and be prepared to head out at first light."
Knowing that her instructions would be carried out, she turned to escort her lover into their tent. The couple were about to undress when three celestial beings appeared. Xena was livid.
"You can't continue to come to us whenever you please."
A lustful smirk pulled at her lips. "One of these times you may see something that is very private."
Aphrodite, waved away the protest. "Do you really believe that we've never seen the two of you go at it? The sounds alone peaks our curiosity."
Gabrielle's face flushed with embarrassment. "You... you've watched us?"
The goddess of love moved closer to the blonde woman. "Don't be ashamed, little one. What the two of you share is the essence of my existence."
The words struck, Gabrielle as odd, but before she could question the goddess, Artemis interrupted.
"There will be time for that later. Now we need to warn you of a threat that approaches."
Xena, rolled her eyes. "You've already warned us. We know that someone is trying to stop us."
Athena, stepped forward. "That is not the threat we speak of, Xena. In the morning you will be challenged by a two people, one is a stranger to you both, the other is well known by, Gabrielle."
"More riddles," Xena said. She was growing tired. "Look, we followed your instructions. We are here. Tomorrow we will go into the cave and hopefully bring an end to these pop-ins you three seem to thrive on. Are you here trying to have a last bit of fun with us before this journey comes to its completion? Because if you are, I have to tell you I have grown very weary your games."
"We aren't playing games, Xena. There really is a threat. It's something that we didn't anticipate, but something that you will need to deal with swiftly before you can enter the cave."
"This isn't the time for debates, love," Gabrielle said. "We are too close, let's listen to them and prepare ourselves so that this whole epical adventure can end."
"Hear your mate well, Conqueror," Artemis said. "Her words will never guide you in the wrong direction."
Trusting, Gabrielle's instincts, Xena stood silent as, Athena quietly spoke to them.
Early the next morning they broke camp and started on their last leg of a journey that had taken them away from their homes for moons.
"Gabrielle, I've been thinking. Can we trust them? Maybe there is no mission. Maybe this is just a way for the gods to test us."
"Yes, I do trust them. I believe everything that they have said from the beginning, including this last warning. What's coming is a distraction. Our true purpose awaits us in the cave."
Xena, could see the opening of the cave just ahead of them and felt her confidence waiver. "Are you sure? We are almost there and we haven't been confronted by anyone. Since we left, Potidaea we haven't even run across a band of well organized villagers to challenge us, let alone an army with enough skilled fighters to stop us."
No sooner had the words left her mouth they found themselves under attack. A war cry that sounded very Amazonian in its cadence was heard, and suddenly an army of what looked like Amazons and regular fighters were descending upon them.
Eponin, Ephiny, Glaphyra and Palaemon pushed their leaders forward as they formed a barrier between them and the intruders.
Xena, pulled her sword and fell into a battle stance. Gabrielle, looked towards the cave and was beckoned by a bright light.
She grabbed her lover's arm and tried to pull her closer to the opening. Xena, felt the tug on her arm and looked at her lover, trying to understand her lack of a battle stance.
"Gabrielle, what are you doing? We are under attack!"
"This isn't our fight. We need to go forward."
Just as, Xena was about to follow her lover, a voice rang out above the battle. "Run you spineless fraud! I always knew that you were not worthy of the mask!"
Gabrielle, turned around and saw a face that she hadn't seen since she took the Queen's Mask... Velasca.
"Oh my, gods."
"What is it, Gabrielle. Who is she?"
"She is an exiled Amazon that thought she should wear the mask."
Gabrielle, knew that there was no time to go into detail, so she addressed the tall redhead. "Why are you here, Velasca?"
Ignoring the fight around them, the former Amazon moved closer to the, queen. "You know that you don't deserve the mask, Gabrielle. Only a true Amazon should be, queen."
"I have the right of caste. If you were a true Amazon you would accept that."
"Terreis, was dying and, Melosa was bereaved. You were never meant to be, queen."
Then, a blonde warrior, wearing blue armor stepped up beside the exiled Amazon to address, Xena. "I am, Najara. The Jin have sent me to end your barbaric rule, Conqueror. Today you will meet, Hades."
If the situation wasn't so ridiculous, Xena would have laughed. Imagine. Two women showing up at the same time to challenge, both the Realm and the Amazon Nation's rulers just before they entered a cave that the gods had led them to. The bards couldn't have written a better story.
Najara, was unknown to the, Greeks, but, Ares was well aware of her existence. She would have been next in line if her mind wasn't fragmented by the voices she called, the Jin.
Her moments of insight when, the Jin spoke to her were inspiring, but not clearly thought out, making her unstable, but still useful to the god of war.
He knew that once, Xena and Gabrielle found each other he couldn't stop them from entering the cave because of their destiny, but he knew that he could cause a few diversions to give himself time to place, Agnon at the head of a mighty army that would rule, Greece in his name.
So he filtered his voice into that of, Najara's guides and told her to travel to Mount Althos where along the way she would join forces with a person that sought to right a wrong.
He also told her that when she reached her destination she would meet a kindred spirit that was being misled and manipulated and her purpose would be to rescue the light from the darkness.
When the strange woman stood beside, Velasca and gazed upon, Gabrielle she saw a glow, and she knew that this golden woman was the one that would join her in her fight to bring mankind to the light.
Xena, didn't like the way that this, Najara was looking at her bard and attacked the woman without warning. Najara's blade was met with a power like she had never come up against before.
But, the Jin was guiding her actions, so she countered each thrust with equal strength. She was eventually able to get passed, Xena's defenses and slice into her side, feeling victorious, she wasn't prepared when, Palaemon made his presence known.
When the general saw that his liege was in need of help he rushed to her aid and placed himself between, the Conqueror and her attacker giving, Xena enough time to regain her footing before pushing her towards the cave's opening.
"Go, Conqueror. And do what you must. We will hold the line!"
Xena, grabbed, Gabrielle with one hand and covered her injury with the other as she pulled the queen into the dark portal.
After they crossed the threshold it was sealed immediately, leaving them in dark silence. Then suddenly, the room came to life with a light and energy that filled the cavern, illuminating the room with a palpable force before a voice was heard.
"Welcome young guardians. Your journey is over. Your destiny will now be fulfilled."
Both women spun around and took a defensive stance with their weapons held at the ready.
"Put away your weapons, there is nothing to fear in this place."
Keeping her sword held high, Xena spoke first. Where are you?"
There came a gentle laugh. "I am everywhere, Conqueror."
Gabrielle, stood beside her lover and instructed her to lower her blade. "Who are you?"
"I thought you would have figured that out by now, fair queen."
Gabrielle, was at a loss. "I'm sorry, but I don't know you.
The light in the room changed and blinded them with the intensity of the sun before it took on the glow of a full moon before the voice spoke again. It was as if the light and the voice were one as it answered.
"I am, Gaia. I created all from the void."
The women were immediately humbled as they were filled with a myriad of emotions, ranging from joy to sorrow, from fear to awe.
The two rulers lowered their heads in reflex, feeling honored to be in the presence of, the Great Mother, as the voice spoke in the first language.
"I am Sanay, Sanee and Sanah." (past, present and future) In the blink of an eye, there appeared a table laden with food, two chairs and a bed.
"Eat and rest brave warrior and wise queen. On the morrow we have much to discuss."
In a haze, the women ate their fill in silence and fell into the soft bed, falling into a deep dreamless sleep.
The next morning, feeling well rested, they awoke, surrounded by calm. "Where are we?" Gabrielle asked.
"You are in the place where the creation of humans began," The voice said. "The place of human birth and rebirth. In this place the human soul is born and returns after death to ease the memories of a past life so that it can be filled with new possibilities for the next incarnation."
"Why are we here?" Xena, asked. "Why did the goddess' lead us to this place?"
"Ah, Conqueror, I see that you waste no time when seeking answers."
Xena, remained quite, waiting for, the Great Mother to continue.
"I will answer your question by telling you a story." As, Gaia spoke the sound of her voice formed pictures in their minds.
"Long seasons past, when the world was new, all of life's energies lived here. Mankind roamed free and all were welcome to visit this place.
It was, if you will for lack of a better description, a viewing place, where people could come and witness the light energy of the orbs that drove their existence.
It was quite beautiful then. Even the black and purple orbs that represented man's darkest emotions was an incredible sight to see.
Mortals visited the cave for many centuries without incident. Then their came the time of, Atum. Atum, was a simple man with simple desires. Unfortunately, one of his desires was to love, and be loved by a woman that didn't return his affections.
Because of her rejection his love turned to hate, causing him to embrace the darkness of the black and purple orbs. He then devised a plan to set out on a mission, a mission that would end the influence of the love that had been denied to him. He thought that by destroying the orbs that fueled the love that he so desperately wanted could bring him peace.
His plan set in place, he traveled to Mount Althos intent on separating the energies that was causing him the pain that was his constant companion.
He knew that he couldn't end love's power, but he thought if he could split the orb in half, maybe its power could be weakened, giving him some relief.
His plan was to take one half and throw it into a lava pit, causing an eternal parting. I was aware of this and took action to stop him.
I cloaked the energies that dwelled in the cave and chose to separate love's influence myself by binding its energy with the soul of one that would become two. When he reached the cave and saw that it was dark and bare, he became enraged.
I spoke to him, trying to ease his hurt by telling him that it was too late, I had already bound the energies to soul mates, in an effort to join the orbs with mankind.
I thought that this information would cause him to retreat, but I was wrong. Atum, set out on a new path, one that would lead to the death of many innocent people.
He dedicated his life to finding the souls that were the guardians of the orbs, with the intentions of killing the carrier, and dimming the force.
During his crusade he traveled the land seeking out the guardians. He killed many innocents, but was successful a time or two in finding one of the guardians, weakening love for a generation.
Before his death, his only regret was never being able to find both guardians at the same time. When he died I summoned the three sisters, Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite, giving them the task of leading the soul mates to, Mount Althos so that the orbs could be returned to their home and reunited.
Now for the first time since their separation the one soul that became two has been born in the same place, at the same time, allowing the chance for a rejoining."
Gabrielle, spoke for the first time since the story began. "Are you saying that, Xena and I carry the orbs within us?"
The gentle voice answered. "Yes, young one. And because you have finally found one another, lover's power can be fully restored."
Xena, held up her hand, bewildered. "Wait. I thought that the gods embodied those energies. "
"No, Conqueror. The gods are a physical manifestation of those energies. They have powers and give mankind something to believe in and worship, but they don't carry the essence."
"Why?" Gabrielle, asked.
Gaia, laughed. "Because, wise queen, if I allowed the deities to posses the full power of their physical representations their would be chaos. You must understand a basic fact. Absolute power, corrupts absolutely, and I think there are more than a few Grecian gods that are corrupt enough."
"If, Xena and I carry love's energy, why has she taken such a dark path?" Green eyes turned lovingly to her tall mate as she patted her stomach, offering comfort and letting her know that she wasn't being judged.
"That is the dark influence that I spoke of while telling the tale of, Atum. There is one that seeks to rule all of, Olympus."
Xena, gritted her teeth. "Ares."
"Yes, Conqueror. Ares."
The voice was soothing as it addressed the dark fighter. "Your journey has been a long and winding road, Xena. You were born with certain gifts that made you a formidable fighter, unfortunately, that was why you caught the attention, Ares.
He sought you out, determined to make you his chosen. When he discovered that you were a guardian he devised a plan to turn your love into hate."
Gabrielle, whispered. "Just like, Atum."
Yes, Gabrielle, just like, Atum."
He used your love of your village to fight against the warlord that he sent to invade, Amphipolis. He caused your brother's death and the loss of your mother's love to make you leave her home.
He then sent, Caesar to your ship to use his betrayal to harden you heart, bringing you closer to him. But love's light didn't go out until..."
Xena, whispered. "M'Lila."
"Yes, M'Lila. When she sacrificed her life to save you it was then that, Ares knew his time had come. It was his voice that sent young, Xena to, Borias, and then on to, Chin where, Lao Ma could heal her without, Athena's blessing."
Xena, was confused. "I don't understand, Lao Ma, tried to teach me a better way, but I turned from her wisdom."
"Lao Ma's purpose was not to guide you to your destiny."
"But, if I had listened to her I could have changed."
"That's true, but, Lao Ma in all her wisdom and gentle guidance had the intentions of using your loyalty and your battle skills to lead her army in an effort to keep her lands under her control. That was not to be.
When you returned to, Greece and met, Queen Cyane her teachings were also true, but again, your abilities would have been used to empower her nation."
Xena, didn't know what to believe. For seasons she had thought that she had thrown away every opportunity she'd had at redemption. Now she was being told that it was all just the result of her being manipulated into taking the long way around, so that Ares' could take control of her life.
Sensing, Xena's dilemma, Gaia intervened. "Xena, you have only one true path, and it was always meant to be walked with, Gabrielle. She is the only one that could have brought you to it.
Her love has the purity of the just. She desires nothing from you. Your love is all that she requires. It is that unselfish love that has led you both here. to realize your destiny."
"And what is that destiny?" Xena, asked.
"To the return the orbs back to their rightful place among the other energies, and to use your amazing abilities to fight for what's right for everyone, not just the privileged or the strong, but to be protector of the weak. To fight for the greater good."
Gabrielle, couldn't help herself. She pulled, Xena into a fierce hug. "Just the way you started out, love."
"Listen to her, Conqueror. With, Gabrielle by your side you will learn that there is more power to be held in uplifting people, instead of crushing them with your will."
Gaia's words didn't have the effect on, Xena that she expected. Instead of showing acceptance and understanding the warrior became furious.
Gaia's, spirit mentally rolled her eyes, and not for the first time wondered why she had allowed mankind to have freewill.
"I don't accept this!" Xena said. "I refuse to be a pawn in some game of hind and find the orb, played amongst the gods!"
All went still and the energy that rose in the cave seemed to pulsate in anger. "Hold your tongue young guardian!"
Gaia's voice filled every surface of the cavern. "Or you may well lose it. Lest you forget, let me remind you. I am not a god, and I don't indulge in games played by children still wet behind the ears. I am all that is. I entrusted you with one of my greatest gifts, don't make me regret that choice."
Gabrielle, squeezed, Xena's arm as fear rolled through her. To her surprise she felt a slight tremor run through her mate's body.
Gabrielle, spoke softly. "I... I don't think, the Great Mother participates in the god's pastime of how can the mortals entertain us."
"Listen to your soul's mate, Xena, she will never lead you wrong."
Xena, pulled in a calming breath and apologized to the creator. "Forgive me, Gaia. Sometimes my emotions overpower my thoughts."
A melodic laugh filled the room before, Gaia spoke again. "Apology accepted, strong ruler. Now, the time has come to return that which is most precious to me. We must reunite the orb so that love's power can never be weakened again."
The two women were instructed to lie back on the bed that had been provided for them the day before. With the rejoining, Xena's half of the orb that had been dulled by, Ares would be able to feed from its lighter mate in, Gabrielle, becoming healed and health.
As they laid on their backs, they joined hands and felt an invisible blanket of warmth cover them. Then, Gaia's voice filled their minds.
"Fear not, young guardians." Words were spoken in a language that was unknown as, Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite appeared before them.
Xena, felt helpless by her inability to move, and her mind started to scream for release. Her eyes darted around the room before they finally came to rest in the calming green of her mate's.
Her body relaxed, and she smiled at the blonde woman as she spoke her heart. "You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, Gabrielle."
Love filled eyes smiled back at her as the small woman responded with four simple words, spoken with conviction. "I love you, Xena."
Artemis, moved aside as her sisters approached the reclining rulers. The goddesses tilted the women's heads back and placed a cup to their lips. Filling their mouths with its contents.
The mixture was a combination of sweet and spicy herbs that immediately warmed them from the inside out as it traveled through their entire being.
They suddenly went into convulsions before slowly succumbing to darkness. Before totally giving in to oblivion, their bodies instinctively sought each other out and their limbs intertwined together forming a barrier of protection.
Suddenly the cave was filled with voices singing a song of welcome. Sparks of light glittered all around as two spears slowly rose from the sleeping women's bodies, answering the call home.
When they were fully released from their bounds they bounced around the large room in an expression of long awaited freedom, exploring every surface of their long missed home.
Finally they floated towards each other and hovered inches apart in what looked like a moment of silent communication. Then without warning an incredible amount of energy gathered around them just before the spheres came together with a force so great the walls began to crumble around them.
The two entities seemed to absorb one another as they became one. The orb started to stretch and pull to its limits as the blue and green colors reacquaint themselves by taking the time to mix and swirl in a dance of rediscovery.
Unexpectedly the colors snapped together, forming one translucent circle of blue and green. The colors joined in a way that maintained their distinctive personalities of vibrant blue and tranquil green, but was still able to radiate the oneness that their fusion had reestablished.
Aphrodite's tears were expected, but when the goddess of love saw the same emotional reaction from her sisters the tears flowed faster.
Xena, and Gabrielle found themselves waking up to a light show that was astounding. They eased off of the bed and backed away from the anomaly so that they could observe the phenomenon from a distance.
"Xena, it's beautiful," Gabrielle said in awe.
The Conqueror, pulled her mate closer to her and spoke in a voice that was little more than a whisper. "I can't believe something so precious and pure lived inside of me."
Gabrielle, immediately felt the guilt and self loathing that had consumed her love and rose up to kiss her cheek.
"It doesn't surprise me at all. Your capacity to love has always been there."
Xena, hung her head in disbelief. "I'm a monster, Gabrielle. So much of my life has been spent doing evil. I... I don't know how something so untainted could have survived inside of me."
Gabrielle, stood in front of the troubled woman and waited for her to raise her eyes. "You were manipulated, love. Didn't you hear anything that, Gaia said?"
Xena, tilted her head, trusting... knowing that, Gabrielle would help her to understand. The small woman raised her hand and pointed to the reunited orb.
"Ares, used that great power against you." She ran her hands through, Xena's dark tresses. "If he had found me first, our roles may have reversed, and you would be trying to make me see things in a different light."
Xena, tried to turn away in disbelief, but, Gabrielle held her in place. "Think back, love. Think back to the beginning. Remember the light of your youth."
Xena, started to recall her childhood, and as her mind remembered each pleasant memory the tension left her body.
Gabrielle, looked into her eyes and saw the truth start to take root. "That's it, my heart, see the you that was meant to be."
Xena, let go and released the guilt as she wept in the only arms that would ever give her permission to face the crimes she had committed against the love that lived inside of her without judgment.
When the tears stopped and the women settled their emotions, the voice of, the Great Mother spoke to them. "Forgive yourself, Xena, for I have already returned your spirit to its beginning. What you do from this day on will be your measure. It is your choice."
"Thank you, Mother. Your trust in me will not be forsaken, I will set my path anew, keeping your gift close to my heart."
Gaia's voice then spoke with warning. "Make hast in your return to, Corinth, Conqueror. There is a battle brewing. Ares, has already chosen your replacement. But there is something that you must do. There is one that awaits your departure from this place. Her heart is true, just misguided. When you leave the one called, Najara will need to be convinced that her path lies with your Realm."
This didn't sit well with the dark woman and, Gaia sensed it. "This woman is unstable, Great Mother. She is guided by something she calls the, Jin."
"I know, but she will play an important part in the threat that awaits you."
"I don't know," Xena said with trepidation. "From our last encounter I know that she hates me. How can I convince her to join with me?"
"You can't. But, Gabrielle can. Let your mate spend time with her. Najara, already feels a kinship with the Amazon Queen, it's that perceived connection that will make her a powerful ally."
Xena, didn't like the words, but trusted in its source. "As you wish."
"Now go, and do as you must. If you are victorious your life will be filled with joy and laughter. If not, your last moments will be filled with a love like no one has ever known."
Before leaving, Gabrielle whispers something into, Xena's ear. After hearing the request, Xena smiles and nods her head in agreement. "You ask her," Xena says to her mate.
Gabrielle, clears her throat and bows her head before she speaks. "Great Mother. Although we are not worthy, we humbly request that if you could see in your heart to grant this wish we would be forever grateful."
Already knowing what the blonde queen had in mind, Gaia waited for her desire to be voiced.
"We... Xena and I have already decided to commit ourselves to each other, but... but if you could find it in your infinite grace to bless our union, there could be no higher endorsement."
The Great mother's laughter was shared with those of the three goddesses. "It would be my pleasure, young guardians. That is a small request. I would be honored to join the soul mates that delivered back to me that which has been absent."
The ceremony was short, witnessed by the three goddesses in the place of birth and rebirth, surrounded by the presence of the orbs of life, this made it the most life affirming commitment that had ever been held.
Gaia, joined them by speaking very simple, but profound words. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always preservers. This is a time for everything, and a season for every activity. A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time for war and a time for peace. Go now and find your time. Together you are one, and nothing shall come between you."
As they joined hands and left the cave, both, Xena and Gabrielle knew that even in death, they would never be apart. Now it was time to face the world.
They never heard the instructions that, Gaia gave the three goddess, there would be time for that later.
Najara, Velasca and their followers were subdued and bound when the couple emerged from the cave. Palaemon, saw the difference immediately, but chose the wiser road of keeping his mouth shut. His time with the, Conqueror had taught him to respect her privacy, and this seemed like one of those times.
He approached them and saluted his leader. "Report," Xena commanded.
"The prisoners have been restrained and under guard since yesterday. We await your orders, My Liege."
The rulers stood above the seated leaders of the attack. Gabrielle, watched them with sad curiosity before she spoke.
"What did you hope to accomplish here, Velasca?"
Wild gray eyes flashed on the small queen as the tall Amazon fought against the ropes holding her hands together as she tried to stand and confront, Gabrielle.
Xena, kicked out a foot with negligent ease, keeping the woman in place. "Don't be in such a hurry to meet, Hades. Because if you lay one feathered hand upon her, your passage will be paid before you ever realize you are on, Charon's boat."
Velasca, glared at, Xena. "You have no say in this, Conqueror. This is Amazon business."
A wicked gleam sparked in the sky blue eyes. "You see. That's where you're wrong." She reached out and pulled, Gabrielle to her side.
"We were joined not a quarter mark ago, and just as, Gabrielle has a voice in what happens in the Realm..."
She looked to her spouse for confirmation, when the blonde head nodded with agreement she continued. "I now have an interest in the workings of the Amazon Nation."
There was an audible intake of air from every person present. Xena smiled and looked to her troops. "This is your, Queen."
They bowed their heads in respect. Gabrielle, turned to the Amazons. "And this is the nation's, Consort."
The warriors placed their hands over their hearts in salute to their queen's mate. Palaemon, shook his head. "I knew something was different." Meslena, asked her lover if he had said something. "No, just thinking out loud."
Xena, turned her attention back to the rebel. But, Velasca would not be deterred. "That changes nothing. You can't be the consort to a bogus queen."
"What is she babbling about, Gabrielle?"
"This is, Velasca. She believes that because she was, Queen Melosa's adopted daughter, and a true Amazon by birth, she should be the queen, not me."
Xena, waved her hands in the air. "Pish posh. She has no rights here."
Gabrielle, smiled. "I know that, but she refuses to accept the facts."
"That's right. I'm the rightful, Queen of the Amazons. This village girl can't lead us!"
Xena, squatted down in front of the woman. "You see. That's where you're wrong again. Gabrielle, does lead them. Has been leading them for many seasons. I advise you to let go of these thoughts and find yourself another cause, one that you can win."
She stood and turned away from the fuming woman with the intentions of questioning her silent cohort, but was stopped by the woman's next words.
"I demand a challenge!"
All went still until Xena's, voice rose in anger. "You what!"
The woman's face became smug. She clearly remembered the naïve village girl from summers before, and knew that the small woman didn't possess the skills necessary to defend the mask... but she did.
"I'm issuing a challenge to..." Her mouth twisted in disgust. "Queen Gabrielle."
Xena, leaned towards the woman with harmful intent before a voice stopped her. "I accept."
Ephiny, was by, Gabrielle's side before she knew it. "What are you doing? You can't beat her."
Gabrielle, patted her friend's arm. "Don't worry. I've got it under control."
Hazel eyes bore into green, then she smiled with understanding. "You're going to name a champion."
Gabrielle, smiled back. "No."
Ephiny's face fell. "No? Are you insane?"
Gabrielle, gentled her voice. "It's okay. I can handle this."
"No you can't! I won't let this happen!"
"You have no choice." Ephiny, saw the determination in her queen's green eyes and lowered her head.
"Well, I have a choice, and I will not stand aside and watch you fight a warrior to the death, Gabrielle." Xena, towered over her new spouse with an immovable determination that would not be challenged by anyone.
Anyone that is, except the small blonde that stood looking up at her. Gabrielle, took the large hands in her own and pulled her mate off to the side.
"I can do this, love."
Blue eyes became misty with worry. "I don't want you to take that chance. I just found you. I can't risk losing you."
Xena, was afraid. She was afraid of losing her spouse. She was afraid of missing out on the future they would have together, and she was afraid of that whisper of, Ares' influence that still lived in her, a whisper that could become a loud roar if her peace, her heart, her soul was taken away from her... she was afraid.
Gabrielle, rose up on her toes and kissed her mate. "It'll be okay. Trust me." Then she smiled and tapped, Xena's waste where her chakram rested. "Besides, if things get too out of control I have faith in your abilities to bring them back into perspective."
Feeling like the sun had just broken through a cloudy sky, the Conqueror's face beamed with understanding. If, Velasca worked her way into a position to deliver a death blow, Xena had permission to intervene in whatever way she found necessary to keep the queen alive.
The tall ruler turned to the troops, sounding almost jubilant. "Make room. A challenge has been made."
The Amazons didn't know what had transpired between their queen and her consort, but if the, Conqueror's smile was any indication, all was well. They suddenly found themselves filled with enthusiastic anticipation for the fight that was about to take place.
Velasca, was freed and given her weapon, a sharp sword that from its condition was obviously well use in battle. Xena, almost changed her mind when she saw her small mate check the weight of the staff she intended to use in her defense, then she remembered how effective the woman was with the weapon and stood on the sidelines with her hand on her hip, ready to throw her chakram if the opportunity presented itself.
The first few rounds were spent gauging each other's strengths and weaknesses, but eventually they engaged each other in an all out battle.
The echo of blade against wood resonated all around them, and more than once, Xena's fingers itched to dislodge her weapon and end the fight every time she saw her love's knees buckle under the power of, Velasca's blows, but Gabrielle's, skill and spirit would not be defeated.
The bard-queen over powered her opponent with a flurry of quick, well aimed maneuvers, and had the rebel on her back with the tip of her staff placed at her throat. She held, Velasca's gray eyes, and hardened her own.
"It ends here. I will not take your life, but if you ever challenge me again I will show you no mercy."
She pulled her tired body off of her opponent and with a weary smile tugging at her lips, walked towards her spouse. When she saw, Xena's face contort into an angry sneer, she didn't need to turn around to know what was happening.
She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath as she stood still, waiting to hear the thump that would signal the round disk lodging itself into the exiled Amazon's body.
She had hoped that she was mistaken, but she knew, she knew without a doubt that when she turned her back on, Velasca, the woman would attack her from behind. But that was her choice. She had given the warrior every opportunity to leave with her life, but she chose otherwise.
Xena, saw the pain in her mate's delicate features as she came closer, but she also saw the strength in her stature, the strength that ruler projected in times of battle, and instead of pulling her love into a comforting embrace, she extended her arm and greeted her like a warrior.
Before any words could be exchanged, Eponin, Meslena and Tara were by their side. "What should we do with her body, My Queen?" Eponin asked with pride and respect.
"Build a pyre and send her to the afterlife as an Amazon sister."
The newly joined couple rested in the Conqueror's tent, relaxing after on a soft pallet after their bath. Gabrielle, was using, Xena's body as a mattress. There was no need to discuss the fight, it was in the past, so they talked about what to do with, Najara.
Xena, ran her fingers through, Gabrielle's damp hair, and waited for her spouse to respond to her question.
Gabrielle, thought for a few heart beats. "Gaia, said we would need her, so we'll have to find a way to convince her to help us instead of fighting us." Gabrielle's body rose with each intake of, Xena's breath. "The question is, how? How do we get a zealot to change her mind and fight on the side of her perceived enemy?
Xena, snorted. "Especially when that zealot follows the advice of voices that she can only hear." Long fingers ran a path down a warm soft cheek. "This is no way to spend the night of our joining. I'm sorry, Gabrielle. When I thought of how it would be I never envisioned this."
The bard slid off of her lover's body and laid on her side, kissing the smooth skin of her wife's neck. "You've thought about this night?"
"Since the day I asked you to join with me."
Gabrielle, snuggled closer to the long body, pleased by the admission. "No worries, love. We have a lifetime ahead of us for romantic notions. Now we must deal with the threat that approaches, and after that..." She dropped her hand and ran her fingers through dark soft curls. "We'll celebrate in every way that we have BOTH fantasized about.
They rode into, Corinth, a little travel worn, and ready for a few days of relaxation. On their way back, they had settled things in, Pambra, ending the minotaur's oppressive reign, they left, Joxer in, Meg's care, after giving in to the tavern keep's request that they include him when the time came to march into battle, and Gabrielle had made it a point to sit and talk with, Najara.
Every evening the two women would spend time around a small fire circle. Najara, sharing what she believed to be her purpose. It all sounded so... plausible. until it came to the part where the woman thought the, Jin could tell her who a true convert to the light was, and who wasn't, those deemed to be false converts were executed, Najara's feeling being that they would go to the light either way. Her thoughts centering around the means justifying the ends as long it resulted in introducing a soul to the light. Needless to say there were many evenings when the queen left the zealot feeling confused and disturbed by the woman's belief system.
Gabrielle, had decide to stay in, Corinth so she sent a messenger to, Euboreas to alert the Amazons of the pending battle and instructed them to be prepared at a moments notice.
One of her reasons for wanting to stay in, Corinth was so that she could familiarize herself with the palace staff and the court proceedings that she would now be apart of as, Queen of the Realm.
Their arrival was met with relief by, Dimitri, and curious stares by some of the nobles. Xena, took note of the men that reacted with surprise by her return, and gave herself a mental slap on the back when her suspicions were confirmed as to who stood with, Tellus... She had plans for them all.
A week after their return, Gabrielle watched Xena drill her army in mock battles. Seeing them train, she realized that the Amazons would need to become familiar with, Xena's fighting strategies and sent for the warriors of, Euboreas so that a relationship could be established between the Realm's army and the warriors of the Amazon Nation, forming an elite, cohesive fighting force.
Five days later, both, Xena and Gabrielle were surprised when, Mysia arrived with the warriors, bringing a regiment of protectors that were unknown to, Gabrielle.
When she was presented to the royal couple, Mysia, bowed before them in a manner of respect that she had never shown before. She then volunteered the services of a select group of shape changers that, Artemis herself had trained.
Gabrielle, stood in front of Artemis' most favored and raised the woman's fair head. "There is no need to bow to me, Mysia. It is I who should bow to you."
Mysia, held, Gabrielle's hand in her own. "Artemis, has told me of your success at, Mount Althos, and of, Gaia's blessing. I cannot call myself a true believer if I don't make myself, and our best fighters available to you..." Her swirling blue eyes then tracked to, Xena. "And your mate. Especially at a time when we are needed the most."
Gabrielle, had to admit, seeing the line of one hundred, well trained protectors, standing at the ready, filled her with pride. "Then let me show you to your quarters in the palace where all of your needs will be met."
A moon had passed when a visitor was brought before the, Conqueror and her Queen. The nobles grumbled about the Amazon's presence on the dais beside the ruler, but remained silent. A fortnight after returning to, Corinth, by, Xena's request, Salmoneus and Jace had planned an elaborate wedding that was witnessed by all that chose to attend, leaving no doubt to the outsider's right to rule beside the dark menace.
A tall dark man, with a roguish demeanor was escorted in by two of the Royal Guard, and two Amazon Warriors.
"State your business." Xena, said.
The man had a cocky air about him and didn't try to hide the fact that he found the Amazon Queen's physical attributes appealing. He twirled the end of his dark mustache, and gave her a rakish grin. "I am, Autolycus, King of Thieves, and I bring you news of great importance."
Xena, didn't like this man's obvious attraction to her mate, and as she stood from her throne, she let her chakram loose in the large room.
After bouncing off of the walls, the weapon sheared the hair that was held between the man's fingers and his upper lip, leaving him holding the remnants of an extremely close shave between his forefinger and thumb, before returning to her hand.
"Do I have your full attention now?"
Autolycus, quickly realized his mistake and addressed the annoyed ruler. "Yes, Lord Conqueror. I have news of an impending battle."
Xena, looked bored by the information. "We know this. Tell me something I don't know."
Autolycus' smug demeanor returned. "Do you know that, Cleopatra and Caesar have joined forces to attack, Greece? She has given the support of her navy to, Roman."
Xena, leaned forward and her blue eyes went cold. "Tell me."
Autolycus, proceeded to tell the, Conqueror of his dalliance with, Cleopatra's handmaiden, and the pillow talk that followed, informing him of the queen's plan to join, Rome in its attack on, Greece.
Xena, was confused as to why the, Egyptian Queen would betray her with the, Romans. She thought that they had formed a peaceful relationship after, Xena had met with the sovereign, and reassured her that her sights were set on, Greece and no other lands.
But now the thief was telling her that, Cleopatra was choosing to join the, Romans. How strange. Then she remembered hearing the rumors of, Caesar fathering the, Egyptian Queen's child. She decided, then and there, if, Greece was successful and won the battle, Egypt and Rome would come under, Grecian Rule... friendship be dammed.
Autolycus, presented, Xena with a map that his lover had copied for him, showing the navy's placement along the eastern seaboard. Xena, was grateful for the man's loyalty and asked him what he wanted in return.
His eyes tracked to, Gabrielle, but after seeing the, Conqueror's hand grab the weapon on her side, he thought better. Instead, he asked for a sack of gold with enough coins to support him in his travels as he roamed the land, proving his boast as being the, King of Thieves.
After, Autolycus' departure, the new information caused, Xena to go into strategy mode. She called for, Archimedes, a mathematician, sometimes inventor. Rumor had it that the old man had invented a device he called a ballista.
Supposedly the weapon could launch projectiles of a much lighter weight further than the boulders that the catapults were loaded with. If this were true, she had a plan.
The next morning she and, Gabrielle were awakened by a knock on their door. Xena, covered herself with a robe and opened the door to be greeted by, Palaemon and the ever present, Meslena by his side.
"Conqueror, the inventor, Archimedes has been brought to the palace and is waiting for you in the Throne Room."
Xena, was surprised by the early arrival, but didn't let it show. "I'll be down after I've had my tea."
"As you wish." The blonde man bowed and waited for the door to close before leaving.
Xena, entered the bed chamber just as, Gabrielle was tying the belt on her robe. "Who was that?"
Xena, walked over to the sleep rumpled woman and pulled her into an embrace. "Good morning, my queen."
Gabrielle, wrapped her arms around her spouse and exhaled just before kissing the skin left exposed at the tall woman's throat. "Good morning, my conqueror." She raised her head and asked again. "Who was that?"
"That was, Palaemon and Meslena informing me that the inventor had arrived."
Gabrielle, headed for the bathing chamber. "Where are you going?" Xena asked. She stopped in the doorway and dropped her robe. "You don't think you're meeting him alone do you?"
Looking at all of, Gabrielle's exposed creamy skin, Xena had other plans. "It never crossed my mind."
Xena, followed her mate into the chamber, tea was forgotten. By the time the royal couple were ready to meet with their guest, Jace had served the man a morning meal to make up for the time that he had been left waiting.
The morning was spent in private talks with the old man. His description of his ballista was intriguing. It sounded like the weapon was a giant crossbow, and its use in battle would be something new. But when, Archimedes told the, Conqueror about his apprentice, Kallinikos' creative use of, Greek fire, the ruler's heart started to pound.
"Are you saying that this man has found a way to... to project fire as one would and arrow?"
"Yes, Conqueror, but there is great danger in using fire in this manner."
Xena, raised a dark brow, waiting for the man to continue. "If the pressure is too great, the fire could reverse its path and incinerate the men at the pump station."
Xena, thought about this. "I want to see a demonstration."
The man bowed his head. "As you wish."
The generals of, Xena's army, the heads of the Amazon warriors, and Mysia joined the rulers on their trip to the river where the demonstration would take place.
Xena, was met by, Archimedes and a man of about thirty seasons. He had long brown hair and intelligent dark eyes.
"Conqueror," Archimedes turned to, Gabrielle. "Queen Gabrielle. This is Kallinikos."
Xena, nodded her head without speaking, acknowledging the nervous man. Gabrielle, smiled and held out her hand.
"I'm happy to meet you, Kallinikos."
The man's dark eyes searched the landscape as if he were looking for an escape route. He had no intentions of shaking the queen's hand with familiarity, especially with the, Conqueror's bright blue eyes staring holes into him. Deciding to take the hand offered to him in both of his own, he bowed over them in respect.
"It is an honor, My Queen."
Gabrielle, looked at her mate with a raised eyebrow. Xena, shrugged her shoulders. "What can I say? It's good to be queen. "
Xena, cleared the tension by asking the apprentice about his invention. This seemed to calm the young man.
"If you will follow me, I'll start the demonstration."
They followed the man to a boat that was no more than a raft with a system of pump handles, pipes and barrels mounted on it.
There were four men standing on the contraption, waiting for their orders. When, Kallinikos gave the word two of the men, positioned on opposite sides of the raft started to paddle until the platform was about forty lengths from a wood pile that was sitting stationary in the middle of the river.
They waited for, Kallinikos to give the word. The apprentice yelled. "Now!" and before they knew was happening, the barrel mounted at the end of the long pipe, was shooting out a stream of fire that was constant and so intense that when they stopped, all that was left of then wood pile was a flaming pyre.
The display was so great that the well disciplined fighters from both nations released an audible gasp in response.
Xena, was impressed, as was her spouse. "Great, Zeus!" Xena, said out loud.
"My thoughts exactly," Gabrielle added.
Xena, pointed to, Kallinikos and, Palaemon called the man over. "I am pleased," she said.
Kallinikos, felt his bones turn into liquid by the praise, but said nothing. Xena, addressed, Archimedes.
"Build two of your ballistas, and two more fire vessels. We will use them when the time comes."
The old man lowered his head so that the tall ruler couldn't see the smile on his face. "The ballistas have already been built. We just need enough time to perfect the fire raft."
"How long will that be?" Xena, asked.
Archimedes, looked to his apprentice for an answer. The young man fidgeted a little before giving a time. "Um... maybe... two moons."
The Conqueror, considered the time frame. "Two moons it is, but if, Caesar's approach comes sooner, you will have to make do."
She mounted her horse and pulled, Gabrielle up behind her. The troops followed their leaders back to the palace, anticipating sharing their discovery with their comrades.
Another moon passed with, Autolycus sending several messages of the enemies approach. Each time his, Egyptian connection informed him of, Rome's plans he sent word to, Xena.
Nerves were on edge and, Gabrielle couldn't stand watching her lover's pacing another moment. She grabbed her spouse around the waist, making her still her motion.
"Take me for a walk through the gardens."
Bewildered blue eyes squinted in question. "You want to take a walk?"
"Yes. I want you to take my hand and spend some time with me surrounded by the beauty of, Gaia's gift of nature."
Looking into the green eyes that compelled her to do their bidding, Xena gave in without further protest. They walked around the garden, holding hands in silence. There were no words, none were necessary. In this quite place of being, its silent beauty was enough to speak the emotions that, Gabrielle wanted to convey.
Xena, broke the silence by voicing her concerns. "The time is upon us, love. Soon we will go into battle."
Gabrielle, rested her head on the broad shoulder of her spouse. "I know." She stopped their progress and stood, looking up into concerned blue eyes.
"Xena, are you afraid?"
The tall woman struggled with her answer. Admitting her fear had never been an option, but looking into the haven of green that had brought down so many of her barriers, she relented.
"Yes, love. I am afraid."
"What are you afraid of?"
The tall woman exhaled and let her fear of exposure drift away with the wind. "I am afraid of being separated from you."
The blonde head tilted to the side. "You will never be separated from me."
Xena, struggled to find the words that would express her feelings. "If one of us should fall in this battle, we would be separated."
Gabrielle, reached up and held her mate's face between her hands, making the dark woman focus on her. "I'll always be with you, Xena, just as you will always be with me. Nothing can come between us. Even in death I will never leave you."
The truth of her wife's words was plain to see, and, Xena... believed. "By your word, Queen Gabrielle. Nothing will ever come between us."
Ten days later they gathered the troops that would defend, Greece and headed out for the western coast. Although, Gabrielle felt like she had convinced, Najara that they were fighting for the greater good, she still had her suspicions about the woman's loyalty.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she still fostered the notion that the zealot would turn on her lover during the battle, succeeding where their enemy may fail. But there was no time for second guessing... now they had to move forward... "Gaia be with us," she thought.
The trek to the western shores had been a long one. Many volunteers had been picked up along the way. After receiving word that a foreign enemy was approaching, Greece intent on taking over their country, the brave men and women from villages across the county side answered the call to arms, determined to follow their leader into battle.
Xena, may be a tyrant, but better to live under the rule of one of their own than a non-Greek dictator. Their issues with, Xena would have to be set aside until they were able to secure their boarders. Now was the time of unity.
Before heading out on the last leg of their journey, Xena sat upon her mount and spoke to the large mass of fighters that were willing to follow her into battle.
"It fills me with pride to see the soldiers and warriors that have dedicated their lives to battle joined by the men and women, free to make a choice.
I am pleased that the citizens of, Greece have chosen to put aside our differences and take a stand against our enemy. Your loyalty will be rewarded!"
A roar went up in appreciation of the, Conqueror's acknowledgment.
"Hold tight to your convictions. The battle will not be an easy one. Many lives will be lost, but know that their sacrifice will not be in vain. We will be triumphant!"
She turned and smiled at her queen, and in that moment, Gabrielle knew what it felt like to believe in someone so much that you were willing to follow them to your death. This was why, Xena was the Conqueror. She was a true leader, and Gabrielle knew that she would ride into battle regardless of the outcome, just from the dark woman's call.
"ONWARD!" Xena, yelled, and the regiment headed out. The end was unknown, but their determination was firmly in place, so they followed.
Live or die, they would do it fighting to protect the land that they loved.
Tents were set up on a hilltop out of range of attack from land and water, but allowing a view of the battlefield. Icos, the Realm's healer, along with, Malaga, the Amazon healer, stocked the hospice tent with cots and supplies.
A tent for, Xena and Gabrielle was erected, and by the, Conqueror's order a separate tent was raised for, Mysia. Both rulers felt that the leader of the shape changers should be respected as a third voice in the campaign and wanted to treat her as such.
>From their position, the royal couple watched the enemy build their camp. When they saw Roman banners placed around the perimeter, Xena and Gabrielle turned away, returning to their temporary quarters.
Gabrielle, spoke first. "Their numbers are great. Can they be defeated?"
Xena, didn't respond immediately. She wanted to give the question the thought that it deserved. "Yes. We have something that they don't."
Gabrielle, was curious. "What, Shape changers?"
Xena, laughed. "Yes, my love. That and something else. They have come to take our home from us. It's almost like a thief trying to steal a baby from its mother's arms."
Xena's mind went back to her warlord days. She could see vividly the determination and readiness to die when the mothers of a village thought that harm would come to their children in her troop's efforts to take supplies.
"If the, Romans win this battle, they will be left with only soil to rule because most of the Greek citizens will choose to die before giving in to a foreign ruler."
Kal, had been visiting, Caesar, telling him of, Ares' plan to remove, Xena from power. He also told the Roman about the former lead god of the Egyptian deities, Seth and how the chaos god would use his powers during the battle.
"Now I just need you to agree to join us and use your influence over, Cleopatra to convince her to help us by providing the support of her navy during the battle."
Caesar, was reluctant to send his troops to, Greece. Even with the support of the Egyptian navy he didn't want any part of this campaign... it just didn't feel right.
"Why don't you gather an army in, Etruria and send them out to defeat, Xena if you are so certain of the outcome?"
This wasn't going the way that, Kal had planned. Ares had been very specific, if this plan was going to work, Caesar had to be involved.
"What's wrong, Caesar, are you afraid of the, Conqueror?"
The Roman slammed his hands down on his desk, causing scrolls to scatter. "She is no, Conqueror! She's just an angry woman with a stubborn streak."
"Then what's the problem? Afraid she can separate your mind from your emotions?"
Realizing that his outburst was being used against him, Caesar settled down and plucked a grape from a bowl of fruit, giving off an air of indifference.
"Not at all. I don't trust, Ares."
"I have his guarantee that he will not interfere during the attack, and after it is over he will not protest, Rome's right to occupy, Greece. That is as long as his new chosen is given shared authority."
"And you believe him?"
Whether I believe him or not doesn't matter. After, Xena has been defeated, and Roman troops are in place his chosen will meet with an... unfortunate accident, leaving, Ares powerless."
The thought of getting the best of, Xena was a tempting offer, but still...
Kal, saw that he was losing his argument, so he pulled out his last weapon. "Well, if you're not interested, I can always recruit, Pompey. I'm sure he'll jump at the chance to rule over a country."
That was all it took. Caesar, would go up against, Ares on his own before he would watch that arrogant ass gain leadership as the sovereign of a nation in, Rome's name.
"When do we start?"
... Meanwhile, Ares was having a sit-down with his new chosen, Agnon.
"Lord Ares, I don't understand why we need the help of the, Roman army and the, Egyptian navy to remove, Xena from power."
The blue eyed blonde had not been surprised when the war god offered him the position of his chosen. In his mind it should have always been his... from birth.
He knew that, Xena was an excellent fighter, her skills were never in doubt. He just felt like he was better, and now with this change he could prove it.
"When we win, Caesar and Cleopatra will undoubtedly try to split, Greece into two shared proveniences. Where will that leave us in this partnership, Lord Ares?"
Ares, sat patiently as the man voiced his opinions, waiting for him to finish. "Don't worry about, Rome or Egypt. I have plans for them. They will never rule on, Grecian soil."
"Then why involve them?"
Ares' handsome face broke out in a smile. "Because there is more at work here than you could ever understand. Let's suffice it to say, Xena, has the help of three gods behind her and I need equal god power to combat their effect. I knew that there wasn't a god on Olympus that would join me, so I sought out others."
Agnon, looked skeptical. "Trust me, chosen. I know what I'm doing. All you have to do is have the army that I assembled for you on the western shores, ready for battle when the time comes."
Feeling a rush of pride by the moniker the war god used, Agnon was filled with confidence. "As you wish, Lord Ares."
Caesar and Brutus were escorted into the, Conqueror's tent after the Roman's request to talk to her was granted. Upon entering the tent, he couldn't help but notice the finery that surrounded his former conquest.
"Well, Xena. It seems you've come a long way from being a ship's captain."
Seeing her nemesis for the first time in many seasons, it took all of, Xena's willpower not to rush forward and tackle the man where he stood, but with the help of a gentle touch on her arm, she remained calm and stayed seated.
"Have a seat, Caesar." She looked to his second. "You too, Brutus."
The men joined the two women at the table, Xena poured four mugs of wine, then leaned back in her chair. "What do you want?"
"Now, Xena, there is no need for unpleasantness. I thought that we could sit down negotiate this before a war started that you can't possibly win."
He leaned forward and with a seductive smile, softened his voice. "I know you. I know how you think. I know your anger..." He moaned, "And I know your passion. Tell me; are you still as sweet as you were all those seasons ago? Because if I remember correctly, you were an exquisite fuc..."
His words were cut short when a mug of wine stained a trunk just behind his head, and, Xena's small companion stood radiating fury. "You will watch your tongue, Roman and show the respect that is demanded by her position!"
The room went still as everyone sat in shock. No one was more shocked than, Xena. Gabrielle's actions were out of character, and her aggression was surprising.
Xena, was now put in the position of calming, Gabrielle's ire, a position that she had never been in before, but a position that filled her with pride.
"It's okay, love. He can't use my past against me. I'm a different woman now."
Seeing the love and respect in the, Conqueror's blue eyes, Gabrielle's anger drained away, and she returned to her seat.
"Oh my. Who is your pretty defender?" Caesar, asked.
"This is, Gabrielle. Queen of the Amazon Nation." Her spouses' title as, Queen of the Realm wasn't information that, Rome needed to have.
"Ah, a beautiful ally. A strategy that I've used well in the past. From her spirited defense of your... virtues, I'll assume that she's your latest bed warmer. I see you've moved up in the world. No longer bedding your troops?"
Feeling, Gabrielle's anger rise again from the false accusation, Xena rubbed her lover's back. "This is useless. Go back to your camp."
Ignoring the dark woman, Caesar continued. "Tell me, Xena will you betray her and break her legs?"
Xena, stood so abruptly, her chair fell behind her. "Gather your men, Caesar. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die."
The words were said with calm conviction and the, Roman felt his heart constrict with fear. He could see it in her eyes. She meant every word.
But his belief in his destiny overcame his fears and as the escorts that she had called for led him out of the tent, he spoke his own truth.
"Hold her close, and love her well, Xena. After tomorrow I'll see to it that it is my bed that she shares until I tire of her."
The day of the battle dawned with the gentle rising of the sun. If not for the carnage that laid ahead, it would have been a perfect day for a stroll along the shores of western, Greece.
But, that was not what this day was about. This day would end with bloodshed and mangled bodies. Xena, dressed in her brown battle leathers and brass armor as, Gabrielle covered herself in a red halter and battle skirt.
Xena, checked her sword before sheathing it on her back, and secured her chakram on her hip. Gabrielle, placed her sais in their bootstraps and harnessed her staff on her back, copying the way that, Xena carried her sword.
"Are you ready, love?" asked her mate.
Realizing that this could be the last time that they saw each other alive, or uninjured, Gabrielle wanted her words to have meaning.
"I'm ready, my heart." She molded her body to her spouses' and tried to convey her feelings through her touch, and with her words, hoping that it would carry them into the afterlife if that became a reality.
"I love you, Xena."
That was all that was necessary. Those four words carried a strong, eternal message.
Xena, stared into the eyes of her savior. "You are the best thing in my life."
Nothing else needed to be said. They walked out of their tent, ready to seize the day. By nightfall they would know where their future lay. They only hoped that it would be a future where they would be together... in this life or the next.
The troops were lined up, ready to follow their leader's battle cry. Xena and Gabrielle sat atop their mounts. Xena, was prepared to give the speech that would fuel her troop's courage into battle.
When the, Conqueror raised her sword, the fighters stood at attention. Those on foot raised their weapons, knowing that they would be the first to encounter the enemy.
Gabrielle, looked over the masses and saw a strange sight. Tellus, and a group of nobles with their sons were covered in armor and pushed forward to stand at the front of the line.
She turned to her spouse in question. Xena, smiled and explained their presence. "If they want to rule. They should know, first hand what it takes. After today they will either respect my efforts, and abide by my word, or die, knowing that they were ill-equipped to sit on the throne."
Xena, steered her horse, and trotted back and forth, making sure she had their full attention before she spoke. The soldiers on horseback pressed their knees into their mounts to hold them steady to listen to what could only be interpreted as a prayer.
"For all who have thought, and have not thought. All we have to have said, and have not said. All we have done, and have not done. I pray thee to the gods for forgiveness."
Xena, was surprised, but remained silent as, Gabrielle joined in. "Lo, there do I see my father, lo, there do I see my mother and my sister. Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, do they call to me. They bid me take my place among them."
Xena, took up the strain. "In the halls of Mount Olympus, where the brave are forever honored, we send the warriors that may fall."
The Conqueror of Greece, then addressed the warriors that stood ready to fight. "Warriors of, Greece, the Amazon Nation. Sons and daughters of, Lycos, and the free citizens of the Realm. We are now faced with a challenge that can only be won by our uniting!
Today our homeland is being threatened by a force that is intent on enslaving us all. But we will not go into battle with the fear of the already defeated. No, the courage of each one of us will be our strength.
This day, we will send a message, loud and clear to all that think we are weak that there is no force in the known world that is strong enough, or powerful enough to take this land from us!
Hold in your hearts that we will fight with the wisdom of, Athena, the skill of, Artemis, and the compassion of, Aphrodite.
This battle is larger than any one of us. When we fight today, know that we are fighting for the greater good. Look to your sides and remember the faces of the men and women that you see because one day you will tell your sons and daughters that you fought with them, side by side in the campaign that kept, Greece free!"
The roar that went up was deafening. To the enemy, it almost felt like a living thing, and not a few of them wanted to turn tail and run.
As the battle began, the warriors that fought that day swore with their dying breath that when they looked up to the sky, they saw three translucent beings watching over them.
The first attacker was brought down by the, Conqueror's sword. As he fell from his horse, Gabrielle swung her staff and removed a second attacker from his perch.
Before, Xena moved on, she turned to her mate. "I love you, and if I should fall, know that I'll see you on the other side." Without speaking another word, she galloped into the fray, not knowing what the day would bring.
As the battle raged, thrust, kicks, slashes, and moans were the only sounds on the battlefield. Eventually the horses were left to their own survival as the enemy swarmed.
Now they were fighting on foot, warrior against warrior. Candle marks later a horn sounded, signaling the end of the day.
Xena, had come close to, Caesar, but never had the chance to engage him. Hopefully, tomorrow would be a better day. Until then, the evening would be spent removing the dead from the battlefield, and preparing for the next day.
Malaga, guided the couple to a cot in the hospice to clean their wounds. "Let me tend to your wounds, my queen." When, Gabrielle raised her fair brow, the healer realized her oversight.
"As well as yours, Lord Conqueror."
After having their cuts stitched and their scraps cleaned, Xena and Gabrielle returned to their tent. Gabrielle, joined her mate on their bed.
Seeing, Tellus and the other nobles on the battlefield I was reminded of the lesson that I had learned after the fight at, Delium. I realize that I lead a nation of warriors, and although in the past I chose not to kill, our survival is sustained by women that have no hesitation when killing is necessary. I feel like a hypocrite."
Xena, turned on her side. "I'm sorry I brought that into your life."
"Don't be. Life isn't about just the light and dark of things. Those are the extremes. We live somewhere in between, and sometimes decisions have to be made that pulls us to one side or the other. I can live with that."
They snuggled close and let the day's events wash away. Before falling asleep they wrapped themselves around each other and took comfort in their bond.
The next day was going to be a long one. Hopefully they would be victorious, if not, then come what may, they would this.
The fight started as it had the previous day, but instead of depending on the ground troops to gain the advantage, Caesar, signaled what he thought would be a surprise attack, calling on the, Egyptian navy to launch their catapults.
Xena, had placed, Archimedes' ballistas in position. When the giant flaming arrows were launched, they unfortunately missed their mark by several lengths, landing in the water, never hitting a ship.
But, she had a back up plan. During the night the fire platforms were secretly sent out to sea and strategically placed behind the six naval ships where they would go unnoticed.
The problem was having only three fire platforms to take out six ships. That meant that each raft would be responsible for two ships, but it was a chance they would have to take.
Xena regrouped, and the battle continued. The boulders were falling, but the, Conqueror ignored them. She had but one focus. Find, Caesar.
Suddenly, and without warning, a strange energy filled the battlefield and the fighters became confused. They stopped fighting each other and started flailing at the air, unable to defend themselves against their opponents. Chaos ruled.
Xena, didn't understand what was happening to the fighters. It took all of her willpower to resist the emptiness that tried to gain control of her senses. She tried to call her fighters to arms, but they wouldn't or couldn't obey.
As, Xena worked to get her troops' heads back in the fight, Seth, sat unseen with, Ares and Kal near the tree line. Pleased by the scene unfolding in front of him, the chaos god was ecstatic.
"This is what I live for," he said.
Just as he was about to turn his focus on, Xena, a banshee yell went up, followed by the sound of trumpets and he felt his influence on the fighters slipping away.
Without warning, a woman holding a gold shield and covered by a gold breastplate stormed down from the mountains riding on the back of a light chariot.
Because of the flaming red hair and Keltic markings on her face, Xena, recognized her immediately. It was, Boadicea. Suddenly the fighters regained their focus and started to lay down the enemy at will.
The tattooed warrior had left her chariot, and found herself fighting beside, Xena, she smiled. "Bet I'm the last person you expected to see."
Xena, cut down an attacker as she responded. "What brings you?"
She only had a moment to acknowledge to herself that this was an odd conversation to be having in the midst of war.
"We got word about the invasion, and I decided that I hated, Rome more than I hated you. She sliced off her attackers head before continuing.
"And it's a good thing I did. The chaos god, Seth is here. We felt his presence long before we came in sight of the battlefield.
Lucky for you I always come prepared. If you look up on the hilltop, you will see our, druids sitting on a large rock."
Xena, took a quick moment to look in the direction the, Kelts had come from and saw three druid priest leaned over the flat top of a boulder, chanting and moving around their runes."
Xena, fought off her adversaries as she kept up, her dialog with the, Keltic Queen. "What dose that matter to me?"
"Sometimes you are so dense, Xena. The runes have blocked his power, now he has been rendered helpless."
Before, Xena could thank the woman for her help, Boadicea disappeared into the mass of fighters, and Xena, found herself face to face with, Caesar.
"Finally, I have you where I want you."
Xena's predatory smile took over her features. "And where is that?"
"On a field of battle where I can show the world who is the supreme leader."
Between sword stokes, they antagonized each other with words meant to cut deep. "You were never supreme, Caesar, just more conning."
Caesar, laughed. "Conning enough ton defeat you once, and I'll do it again."
Xena, deflected his thrust, and pushed him back with a flurry of swipes that were too fast to see.
"Ah, I see you have been practicing."
It was, Xena's turn to laugh. "More than that. I have surpassed you."
Caesar, continued to defend himself, feeling the power behind the dark woman's attack he realized how formidable she had become, and that surprised him, but he still felt like he had the upper hand.
Seeing the hate in her eyes, he knew that she was vulnerable. "Do you still miss, M'Lila? After all, she did give her life for you. Will the Amazon Queen meet the same fate?"
The anger rose in, Xena so fast she couldn't control it. Every emotion and regret that she felt over her friend's death came rushing back to her as if it just happened yesterday, and once again she wanted blood.
When she started to attack him with unfocused furry, he saw his opportunity. He pushed he blade away and when an opening presented itself he moved in for the kill.
But, just as he was about to end her life, several loud explosions sounded out in the water. He turned to see all of the, Egyptian navy going up in flames.
The crew was jumping ship in an attempt to save their lives. The distraction gave the, Greeks the chance that they had been waiting for, and they started to strike down the enemy at will.
That was all, Caesar could say before her felt a blade puncture his chest. He looked down and saw a sword embedded in his armor.
Thinking that he would see, Xena standing at the end of the weapon, he was instead met with the presence of a blonde woman.
"I send you to the light," she said.
Before his knees hit the ground he saw the blonde woman's eyes grow large as, Brutus' blade pierced her from behind.
They both fell to grown, death only moments away. Xena, ignored, Caesar, and knelt beside the fallen zealot.
"Why? Why did you don that? I could have killed him."
Gasping for air, Najara smiled as blood leaked from her mouth. "It wasn't your destiny to kill him."
Xena, was beside herself. "I... I don't understand!"
"The beginning has been rewritten. Now, his part in your darkness has been eased. You are free to live your life."
Gabrielle, rushed to the scene and knelt down beside the dying woman. The battle around them was coming to an end. The, Greeks were victorious.
Ephiny, had, Brutus in custody, giving her queen the chance to question her mate without fear of attack. "What happened here, Xena?"
"She... she saved me."
Gabrielle, didn't understand. During the battle she had been very aware of her lover's standoff with, Caesar. As she fought off her own attackers, she had kept an eye on her partner's progress, and from what she saw, Xena was only a sword's thrust away from ending the Roman's life.
"You had him. After the explosion he was open to your blade. Why did she intervene?"
The woman's, labored, shallow breaths brought, Gabrielle's attention back to her. "I did it so that the guardians of love could live in the light."
Gabrielle, was confused. "What?!"
All around them, bodies were being taken back to their camps, and the shape changers were running off into the woods with their packs around their necks.
But, none of this mattered to the small group that had gathered around the, Conqueror. Palaemon and Eponin had assembled a group of fighters to stand guard around their sovereigns, and they listened to the last words of a strange woman that had been forced to join them.
Najara, held, Gabrielle's hand in a weak embrace. "Ares, knew that if he could tap into the vengeance that had brought, Xena to him, he could have her again as his chosen. He knew that once love had been returned to the Great Mother, Xena would be vulnerable. With her soul being cleansed, there was now an opportunity to start again, but this time there would be no hope of redemption."
Gabrielle, looked to her mate with tear filled eyes. The woman was in a state. Her lack of communication, and the tears that fell unchecked down her cheeks were an obvious sign.
She turned, Najara over to the Amazons and instructed them to take her to the hospice where she would be made as comfortable as possible.
She took her lover by the hand as they followed the warriors that carried the zealot back to their camp. Gabrielle, stopped their progress before reaching their destination.
"What's going on in your head?"
Xena, had to physically shake herself to bring things back into perspective. "I was so close, Gabrielle. I was so close to repeating the one act that caused the darkness to overtake me."
Gabrielle, watched as their escorts moved passed them, but she wasn't surprised by the ones that remained, be it a few paces behind.
Palaemon, Meslena, Ephiny, Eponin, Solari, Glaphyra, and Tara made no attempts to hide their purpose. They stayed at a respectful distance, but it was obvious that they had no intentions of leaving their leaders unguarded. The gesture filled the queen with pride and security.
Gabrielle, responded to her mate's confession. "But, it didn't happen. Gaia, saw the future, that's why she sent, Najara to us. In the end all of our destinies were fulfilled. We returned the orbs, Ares was defeated, and Najara, will live in the light that she dedicated her life to. All in all, I'd say that this was a good day."
A moon after the battle, Xena's rule was looked upon with respect. The Conqueror, had changed. True to her word, the leader of, Greece had allowed the populace to give voice to their grievances without reprimand.
The queen that ruled by her side was regarded as a gods send to the citizens, and they adored her. After long days of holding court without protest from the nobles, court days went smoothly.
Tellus, and his cohorts had died in battle, along with their offspring. The remaining nobles had the good scene to see the positive changes in the Realm and gave their full support to the throne without challenge.
At the days end, the Conqueror retired to her chambers, leaving word that she and her queen should not be disturbed unless the palace walls were coming down around them. After sharing a bath, the royals settled down into the comfort of their bed.
Light touches slowly became firmer, and as things progressed, they found themselves sliding together, with, Xena lying on top of the smaller woman.
Xena's sex was saturated, and she raised, Gabrielle's legs high, placing their sensitive flesh in more intimate contact. As they rubbed their velvet mounds together, their juices intermingled.
Xena, lowered her body so that they were in full body contact. Gabrielle's legs wrapped around her mate's waist, bringing them even closer as they moved together in a dance they had danced many times before.
As their excitement mounted, they were not aware of the three goddesses that witnessed their coupling. When they reached their climax, and their essence joined, the goddesses infused their fluids with the gift of life.
Later. After the women had fallen asleep, Artemis, Athena and Aphrodite stood at the foot of the bed watching them.
Aphrodite spoke first. "Their child will be compassionate."
Athena, and Artemis rolled their eyes. "She will be a great Amazon leader," Artemis said.
Athena, was indignant. "Sorry to disappoint you, but their daughter will be wise beyond her years."
The goddesses looked at one another in bewilderment before speaking at the same time. "Gaia, told me to gift them with a child!"
Athena, couldn't believe her ears. "Gaia, said that WE should gift them with a child."
He sisters agreed. "And we did," Artemis said.
Aphrodite, giggled, and it didn't sit well with the goddess of wisdom. "What's so funny?"
"I think that in nine moon's time the little one will give birth to three children instead of one."
Before they disappeared, Artemis, turned to, Athena. "You're the wise one. You should have told us that, Gaia meant for us to make one child together, not three separately."
Athena, shrugged her shoulders. "What's done is done."
Gabrielle, mumbled, still asleep. "Do you feel something strange?"
Xena, pulled her closer. "No, I think all is as it should be."
"... And that is how I met your, mema, and we were gifted with, Solan, Hope, and Eve."
The three children applauded happily as, Hope's voice sounded over the cheers. "Again, mommy! Tell us again."
They all turned when they heard a throaty laugh coming from the entrance to the royal gardens. Xena, stood gazing at her family.
The children were now five winters old, and they seemed to never tire of hearing their mother tell them of their beginning.
Solan, jumped and ran to his mema. When the children were first learning to talk they couldn't pronounce, Xena, so it came out, mema, and to them that's who she would always be.
When the small boy jumped into her arms, she was reminded, not for the first time, just how much the dark haired, blued eyed boy looked like her.
She settled him on her hip and waited for, Hope and Eve to join them. Hope's green eyes and blonde hair made it obvious that the child was, Gabrielle's progeny, and probably a gift from, Artemis.
They had discussed their children's origin many times and come to the conclusion that, Solan was Aphrodite's gift, Hope was from, Artemis, and Eve, with her chestnut hair and blue-green eyes was the product of. Athena's influence.
Xena, held a child on each hip with, Eve attached to her leg as she made her way over to the queen. When she reached the small blonde, she leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her wife's lips.
"I see you're doing the bard thing."
Gabrielle, shrugged her shoulders. "It seems to keep them occupied for a few marks."
Xena, put the children down and kissed the tops of three little heads before patting them on their rears, sending them off to play.
Sitting on the bench beside her mate, Xena pulled the smaller woman onto her lap and kissed her neck. "How was your day, love?"
"Uneventful. After sending a message to, Ephiny, informing her of our arrival, I spent most of the morning packing for trip to, Euboreas."
It had been established early in their union that they would split their time between, Corinth and Euboreas. The first half of the calendar would be spent at the palace, the second half with the Amazons.
It all seemed to work out fine, and because, Xena and the children's birthdays came during the winter festival season, there was always a big celebration in the nation that usually ended with many of the Amazons, their protectors, and female soldiers of the Realm in need of headache powder the next day... life was good.
After the big war there had been a few mild skirmishes to deal with. Occasionally some warlord thought he or she would be the one to take over the, Conqueror's rule, but with very little effort each uprising was put down without much incident.
Gabrielle, pulled a little so that she could see, Xena's eyes. "I received word that, Cyrene would be arriving this evening so that she can accompany us to the nation."
The news pleased, Xena. Her relationship with her mother and brother had grown strong over the seasons, and she always looked forward to their visits.
Xena, wiggled her eyebrows. "Will she be bringing barrels of mead?"
Gabrielle, slapped the tall woman's shoulder, knowing that the comment was meant to tease her because of her love of the libation.
"Yes, she is." She leaned over and rubbed noses with the ruler. "Is that a problem?"
Xena, snaked out her tongue and licked the soft lips that were so close to her own. "Not at all. It's like I always say. Whatever, Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle, gets."
The golden woman lowered her voice to a sultry timbre and whispered into the dark woman's ear. "Right now, Gabrielle wants her big bad, warrior to take her upstairs and remind her why she is called the, Conqueror."
Needing no more prompting, Xena stood with the queen in her arms and made haste to their chambers, informing the guards not to disturb them for several marks.
Gabrielle, walked down the line inspecting each body before giving her approval. "Are all of you ready?" Each head nodded in unison.
"This is a very important day. It marks the beginning of a new reign, not only for the Realm, but for, Euboreas as well as, Rome and Egypt." Again, heads nodded.
She turned to her children and addressed them directly. "I know you realize how important it is that the three of you stand strong, but make sure that you show your, mema and me the proper respect."
They responded as one. "Yes, mom."
She walked over to her spouse and swiped away an imaginary speck of lint from her proud shoulders. "And you, Conqueror, are you positive that you are ready to hand over power to your heirs?"
She looked at their three children, standing tall, and was filled with pride. "Absolutely."
"Well then, let's get this ceremony under way!"
The royal family stood on the dais, high above the crowd. The grounds were filled with nobles, citizens, Amazons, soldiers, and anyone that could make the trip to, Corinth to witness this historic event.
Xena, and Gabrielle stepped forward, and as Xena raised her hand, the crowd fell silent. "Citizens of, Greece and Euboreas. Today a new journey begins."
She out beside her and pulled, Gabrielle closer. "The stewardship of our country will pass into the hands of a new generation."
She looked to her mate, and Gabrielle knew that it was her cue to finish it. Xena, had decided that it would be her queen's voice that would usher in the change of leadership.
They had ruled, Greece and Euboreas, first separately and then together for a total of last twenty-five seasons, and now, twenty-one seasons after the birth of their children they felt like it was time step back and let them take the county in whatever direction they saw fit.
Gabrielle's voice was loud and strong. "Today marks the beginning of great change. A new way of ruling starts now. The Amazon Nation will continue to have one ruler, but no longer will, Greece and our foreign holdings be governed by just one sovereign, now there will be two."
She and, Xena moved sideways, making enough room for their children to stand in between them. "I give you, Solan, Regent to, Rome and Egypt.
Solan, stepped forward, his sable colored hair stopping just below his collar, and his blue eyes shining with anticipation.
"Hope. The new queen of the Amazons."
Hope, moved beside her brother, golden strands of hair capturing the sunlight as green eyes glowed with pride.
"And, Eve. The next ruler of, Greece."
Eve, joined her siblings with confidence. Her chestnut hair cascading over her powerful shoulders, and vibrant blue-green eyes lookin over the people with compassion.
Xena and Gabrielle moved forward, flanking their offspring. As a warm summer breeze began to blow, the gentle wind tossed five heads of hair back from their heads. Enhancing an already powerful picture.
Their regal stature filled the people with a sense of wellbeing. They trusted that with the continued leadership of this family their homeland would always be prosperous and protected.
The courtyard was filled with the deafening sounds of cheers and applause as they welcomed their new leaders.
Xena and Gabrielle's line would rule for the next century. Greek historians would always refer to that time as their county's Golden Age.
All because the, Conqueror met a blonde Amazon Queen, and put all of her trust in their love, setting them on a path to fulfill her destiny.
The vows spoken in the cave are from, I Corinthians 13:4-7 and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, also the first six lines from the battle prayer in chapter 36 are from the 13th Warrior.