The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer from the TV show 'Xena Warrior Princess' belong to Studio USA/Renaissance Pictures/Universal or whoever actually owns them now. No infringement on their rights is intended. Ares and Aphrodite are mythological characters, and therefore doesn't really belong to anyone. All other characters are created by myself, and belong to me - however, feel free to use them if you want.
This story depicts scenes of war-type violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a loving relationship and hints at sexual relationships between consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
Korkyra - thank you very much for giving me a helping hand, and for providing tips and ideas for my debut story. I really appreciate it!
Five months. Gabrielle couldn't believe five months had passed already since that fateful day in Jappa.
She sighed and looked around in the small cabin for the hundredth time since they left Alexandria. The Egyptian skipper she had hired knew his stuff, and the cargo ship didn't rock as much as it could have done, but she still felt queasy.
She was lying on a lumpy, ancient mattress on a rickety old berth, fully dressed and prepared for anything. The Chakram was as usual tied to her belt, but the Katana she had used in Jappa held too many bad memories for her, so she had left it there. Instead she had bought a brand new blade in Egypt, made of the finest steel. Xena would've loved it.
"Miss, are you dressed?" the captain said.
She chuckled quietly, and sat up.
"Yes. Come in."
The captain opened the door and took his old, greasy cap off.
"We'll be in Piraeus very soon, miss."
He opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something more, but didn't. Instead he nodded to Gabrielle and closed the door behind him.
Gabrielle sighed again. Home sweet home...
She stood in the bow when the ship approached the docks. As soon as a dock worker caught the rope thrown at him by a sailor, she was off the ship and walked briskly towards the inner city. It was early May when she and Xena had left Greece, but now it was January, and quite chilly. Gabrielle had bought an old cape from the captain, and as the cold wind tore through the docks she was glad she had.
Piraeus had grown considerably since she had been there last. Gabrielle briefly remembered the play she and Joxer were trying to put up. When was that? It felt like a lifetime ago. She walked past many seedy taverns filled with rowdy sailors and whores, drinking ale and applying their trade. She took a right turn after a particularly run down building, and found herself face to face with a thuggish looking man.
"Oh hello, gorgeous! Looky here, Antius, ain't she perdy?"
Another man walked up behind her and blocked her exit.
"Oh yeah. Real perdy."
The first man grabbed hold of her traveling bag, but she held on, and she was stronger than him.
"Hey! Let go o' the bag, or I'll hurt you, little girl!" he said, his breath stinking of low grade ale. He drew an ugly looking dagger and let the morning sun gleam off the blade.
"No," Gabrielle said.
"Oooh, the kitten has claws!", the thug said right in her face. Antius, who was still standing behind her, grabbed her cape and tore it off her. Gabrielle snapped, and drew her sword.
In one fluid motion she killed them both. Within a matter of seconds they were on the ground, drawing their last breaths.
She looked around, but no one had noticed the fight. She picked up her cape and continued down the alley, heading for the horse traders.
After she had walked away from the two dead men, a familiar figure appeared in a blue cloud.
The God of War was dressed in his usual metal-studded outfit made of black leather. He stroked his goatee and looked after the retreating woman.
"Hmmm..." he said to himself, before disappearing.
Gabrielle packed her meager belongings into the new saddlebag. She thoroughly checked the reins on the horse she had just bought, and climbed up. She rearranged the sword so she could draw it quickly if it was needed - and she was sure it would be.
With a final look on Piraeus, she set off to find the Amazon lands.
Two days later.
Gabrielle relaxed her stance. On the ground were four dead bodies, thugs who had foolishly attacked her believing she was an easy target. Blood was dripping from the Chakram.
"Why does it have to be this way!" she shouted angrily to the four dead men. Gabrielle's voice broke on the last words, and she wiped some tears away with her hand.
Aphrodite appeared, invisible to the warrior.
"Oh, little one..." she said, horrified over the carnage in front of her.
Gabrielle sighed deeply and wiped off the bloody Chakram with a piece of cloth. She closed the saddle bag and climbed up on her horse.
With a "YAH!", she nudged the horse into a fast canter.
Aphrodite covered her mouth with her hands and started to fade out, but before she had the time to disappear completely, Ares showed up.
"She's good, isn't she?" he asked, and kicked one of the corpses.
"I wish you'd stay away from her, bro. She'll never be one of your lackeys."
"Lackey? Oh, she's so much more already. Sis, didn't you see what she did here? It was beautiful. Swoosh, chop, four men killed. Beautiful."
"Don't you understand how much she misses Xena?" Aphrodite said angrily.
"Oh, but I do. And it's that loss that'll make her my greatest warrior. Better than Xena ever was."
"Don't even think about it, Ares! Don't even think about corrupting her!"
"I don't need to. She's halfway there already. It only takes a little... push, and she'll belong to me entirely," Ares said, and snapped his fingers. The four bodies dissolved into thin air.
"This was your work?!"
"Mmmm, a small test. She passed," Ares said, and winked at his sister before disappearing.
Aphrodite clenched her fists. She had to do *something*. The thought of losing Gabrielle to Ares was unbearable. She *had* to do something...
That same evening. Gabrielle was sitting by a campfire, watching the rabbit she had killed roast slowly.
She pulled out her quill and the scroll she had started writing on yesterday evening.
The second day has brought the same as the first. Once again I was attacked by thugs. Once again I killed them all. Three yesterday, four today. I pray to Aphrodite this won't continue.
Word of my arrival must have spread faster than I thought it would, but even so, I can't understand why they're all after me. I don't even know who these men are.
I haven't seen any signs of my Sisters yet. I'm beginning to worry they're not even here anymore. I've decided that if I haven't found them after a week of searching, I will head home to Potaideia. By then, I'll be halfway there anyway.
The rabbit was done, and Gabrielle put the scroll away. As she ate, she looked at the stars, like she and Xena had done many a time, but now they held no magic for her. Her hand involuntarily found the small gray urn, remembering happier times.
Suddenly her nape hairs stood up. She jumped up and drew the sword. Not a sound was out of place, but she had heard... no, felt something out of the ordinary.
A large pink flash heralded Aphrodite's arrival, scaring Gabrielle's horse, making it bolt from the camp.
"Oops... didn't mean to do that... ...I'm so sorry, little one," the goddess said, and motioned to hug Gabrielle. For once, Aphrodite wasn't dressed in her usual pink negligee, instead she was wearing the same black dress she wore when Xena had killed her husband, Haephestus.
"Hello Aphrodite," Gabrielle said and hugged the goddess.
"If I could've helped you, I would, Gabrielle, you have to believe that..."
"I believe you, Aphrodite. There was nothing to be done. You know how Xena was. Once her mind was made up, not friend nor goddess could change it."
"No. She wa... was strong-willed, all right."
Gabrielle nodded and sat down on a log and took a long swig from a water-skin.
"But I'm being foolish, really," Gabrielle said with a bitter voice,
"I'm hardly the first woman in history to lose her partner."
Aphrodite looked at the warrior's pale skin, and dull lifeless eyes. She was more determined than ever to put things right. She noticed the small urn.
"Oh, is that..." she said, and pointed to it.
"Yes. It's Xena's ashes. That's all I have left of her, now. And the Chakram, of course."
"I have to tell you something, little one. All those thugs you've killed on the road in the last two days..."
Gabrielle looked up, startled.
"... weren't men. They were Ares' creations. He's testing you. He wants you to be his."
A stunned silence filled the camp.
Gabrielle let out a long sigh, her breath forming a cloud of vapor in the frosty air. Slowly, she shook her head.
Disgusted, she threw the remaining piece of rabbit into the fire where it sizzled for a few seconds before it became charred.
"Aphrodite, are there still Amazons here?"
"Yes, well, not here exactly, they're further north."
"Will you take me there?"
"I have to catch my horse first, but yes..."
"I can arrange that," the goddess said, snapped her fingers, and disappeared. A few seconds later she returned holding the reins to Gabrielle's horse.
"Can you get Xena back by snapping your fingers, too?" Gabrielle asked while she was putting the scroll back in its case.
"...no. Well, partially I could, but she'd be an empty shell. I could never recreate her spirit."
"Yeah. Well, I'm ready. Put me down half a day's journey from the Amazon village," Gabrielle said.
"Why not all the way there?"
"Because I don't want to appear inside their outer defense lines. It'll make them suspicious of me, and all I want now is peace and quiet."
"Ooh, good thinking. Here we go," Aphrodite said and snapped her fingers again.
"The village is that-a-way. Are you sure there's nothing more I can do for you, Gabrielle?" Aphrodite asked concerned.
"I'm sure. Thank you. I'll call you when I need to talk... some time. OK?"
"I'd like that, I'd really like that, little one," the goddess said before she left the small clearing she had made herself and Gabrielle reappear in.
Gabrielle looked east. Dawn couldn't be far away, and she guessed she would run into the Amazon scouts pretty soon. She climbed up on the horse and nudged it into a walk. There was no point in trying to sleep.
It didn't take long for the scouts to find her. Gabrielle had already heard the bird calls for close to ten minutes when two enormous and heavily armed Amazons popped out of the undergrowth. Both were masked, and both were pointing fierce looking spears at her.
"Halt! What's your business here?" The first one said sharply, in a strange accent.
"I'm queen Gabrielle of the Amazons. I need to see your ruler." One Amazon addressed the other, speaking in a language Gabrielle couldn't understand. The second warrior nodded, and they took their masks off.
"Welcome, queen Gabrielle. We have heard of you, and we're honored to finally meet you. I'm Latonia, and this is Zaia. You have to pardon her manners. She speaks very poor Greek. Come, we'll take you to queen Vivella," the first Amazon said and stretched out her hand.
Gabrielle took it, and they shook hands.
"You're not from around here, are you?" Gabrielle asked as they travelled through the forest, heading for the village.
"No. We're from a country far north of here, we're from the great plains. We're Huns. The Romans hunted us to near extinction. We had to move here."
"Damn Romans..." Gabrielle said quietly.
"You've fought them, haven't you?" Latonia asked.
"Yes," was Gabrielle's only reply.
As they approached the settlement, Gabrielle noticed immediately that this looked more like a military camp than a typical Amazon village. A sturdy palisade had been erected in a giant circle around the village, and the main gate itself was heavily reinforced.
After the two Amazons had explained to the guards who their visitor was, they were let in. Gabrielle couldn't believe her eyes - all the Amazons in the camp were huge, athletic women, and it looked like they were getting ready for war. So much for peace and quiet.
A horsewrangler came over to see to the beasts. Gabrielle took her saddlebags, and walked towards what she suspected was the queen's hut.
"Queen Gabrielle, our queen is not in her hut right now. Come with me," Latonia said, and led Gabrielle towards a smaller hut in the center of the village.
Again Latonia spoke in a foreign language, and a voice from the inside replied.
"She's ready to see you now," Latonia said, and opened the door. Gabrielle walked in and quickly saw it was a bathing hut, built over a hot spring. In the center a large hole had been carved from the rock, and there were benches all around.
Queen Vivella was as powerfully built as her warriors. Probably in her early thirties, she was tall and muscular, with hazel eyes and light brown hair, cropped very short. She was busy drying herself off with what looked to be a bearskin.
After the years spent with Xena, Gabrielle was no stranger to nudity, but she was still slightly embarrassed when Vivella turned to face her without bothering to get dressed.
"Hello, queen Gabrielle. I'm queen Vivella. I'm glad to see you," the powerful woman said, carrying the same, flat accent as her warriors.
"Queen Vivella. I'm glad to see you, too," Gabrielle said, and couldn't help but smirk at the buck-naked woman.
Vivella went over to the bench and picked up a halter top and a pair of trousers, both made of dark brown leather. She stepped into the trousers, and swept the top around her torso, tying several laces on the front. Gabrielle noticed the top looked quite like the one she had used decades ago, back when Xena was pregnant with Eve, except hers had been brown and orange.
"What brings you here, queen Gabrielle?"
"Honestly, I was hoping to find some peace. I've... recently lost my partner, and..." Gabrielle stopped, unable to find the words.
Vivella looked at her.
"I know what that feels like, Gabrielle. I lost most of my family to the Romans."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Vivella. I really am."
The tall woman nodded.
"But I've made my fair share of Roman children orphans, so I guess it all evens out in the end. Your partner's name was Xena, right? I've heard of her. You had already left when we arrived, but I've had some of your scrolls translated. If only half those stories are true, Xena was the greatest warrior that ever lived," Vivella said, and opened the door to the bathing hut.
"She was a great warrior, but she was so much more than that," Gabrielle added quietly.
"I understand. Let's go to my hut. I'll send for some refreshments, and we'll find you a hut worthy of a queen."
The queen's hut was spacious, with two windows. A large bed stood off to one side of the round hut, and a table and two chairs were in the middle.
"You said some of my scrolls had been translated? By whom?" Gabrielle said, drinking from a water skin brought to her by a warrior.
"An old woman that came to our camp last fall. Her name's Margrann. Do you know her?" Vivella said.
"Well, she had some of your scrolls with her. Over the winter she proved herself to be a capable story teller, and an even better healer. I'll send for her. Sareena!"
One of the two warriors guarding the door entered the hut. Sareena was as huge as all the others, and her flaming red hair made her stand out in a crowd.
"Get Margrann. Queen Gabrielle wishes to see her."
"As you wish, my queen," the warrior said and bowed before leaving.
"I must say, Vivella, all your warriors are extraordinary women..." Gabrielle said and shook her head.
"That's the way we're built where we come from," Vivella said and laughed.
After a little while, Sareena came back with the healer. She was an elderly woman in her early 50s, her hair was graying and she walked with a cane, but one look at her eyes revealed she had lost none of her wits.
"Do you mind if I take a seat, queen Vivella? My old bones don't like standing too much."
"Sit down, Margrann. I can't afford to lose you now," Vivella said and laughed.
Gabrielle studied the old woman. There was something familiar about her, but she couldn't pinpoint what it was.
Margrann noticed, and her eyes twinkled.
"Are you trying to remember where you've seen me, queen Gabrielle? Because we have met before, you know," the healer said.
"Actually, I am. But I'm sorry, Margrann, I can't remember..."
"Well, cast your mind back to a time when you were but a wee young girl. When you entered Amazon lands for the first time. When you tried to save Terreis."
Gabrielle's jaw dropped.
"You were there?"
"I was a warrior-in-training in Melosa's tribe. You see, Gabrielle, we're the same age, you and I," Margrann said and chuckled.
"Oh come now, healer. Even I know that's impossible!" Vivella said.
"Impossible, yes, but not with a god's intervention, queen Vivella," Margrann said in return.
"It's a very long story, but Ares put Xena and me in an ice cave for 25 years. I guess he did it out of respect for Xena. She always was his favorite mortal," Gabrielle explained.
"Queen Gabrielle, how shall I put this... I think nearly everything from your past is a 'very long story'... no?" Vivella said and winked at the blonde woman.
"Well, I suppose you're right about that," Gabrielle said, a sad smile forming on her face.
"Now, if you will excuse me, I have to brief the patrols. Margrann, see to it that our guest finds a comfortable hut," Vivella said, and stood up, effectively signaling the end of the meeting.
On Mount Olympus, Aphrodite was standing by a small window overlooking the mortal world. She hadn't stopped thinking about finding ways to resurrect Xena, but all her thoughts had come to naught - she had even tried to recreate Xena in clay, like the Titan Prometheus had done when he created the first humans, but the result had been horrible.
The brutal irony was that it was so easy for Aphrodite to get Xena back. As she had told Gabrielle, all she needed to do was to snap her fingers.
Out of sheer frustration she did it again, and 'Xena' appeared before her. Physically identical, but a creature without a soul. Aphrodite slammed her fist down on the window sill. There was a missing link, but what the Hades was it?
She walked around the woman-like creature and looked it in the eye. The lights were on, but nobody was home. Aphrodite waved her hand, and the creature dissolved.
She sighed and threw herself onto her favorite couch. She shielded her eyes with her arm. She had never been the greatest thinker, that had always been Athena's job. But Athena was gone, it was all down to Aphrodite herself to come up with the solution.
Suddenly she jumped up. A thought had flashed through her mind, but it had left as soon as it came. Something to do with... dust? No, not dust... ash! The urn!
If she could get hold of the urn, conjure up a Xena-like creature and then use the ashes as part of some sort of... something. A spell, perhaps. Yeah, a love spell - but one that couldn't be broken... Hmmm...
Aphrodite let out a loud "Squeeeee!", and disappeared from the couch in a cloud of pink rose petals.
A few days later.
An Amazon hunting party was sneaking through the forest, searching for deer. Gabrielle led the left flank, and Vivella the right. Some distance behind them were Sareena and Latonia, ready to finish off any animals that got past. They had already killed four deer, but a camp the size of Vivella's needed a lot of food.
Even though her new Sisters weren't used to hunting in forests, Gabrielle was very impressed by their skills. Despite their large sizes, they were silent and seemed to slip through the forest as if they were ghosts. Gabrielle knew Vivella was only twenty paces or so away from her, yet she was often out of sight, blending in completely with the background. Occasionally Gabrielle would get a glimpse of the tall woman and her brown and green hunting cape. There was no doubt these Amazons were cut from a different cloth than so many others she and Xena had encountered over the years.
A sudden rustle in a bush brought Gabrielle back to the present. It was too small to be a deer, but it might be a badger. Gabrielle raised her bow and stepped forward carefully.
Out of nowhere a large wild boar suddenly rushed her! It jumped up and forced the blonde woman to the ground with a crash, its deadly fangs barely inches away from Gabrielle's face. She had to use all her strength to prevent the animal from biting her, and in the insane struggle her face and hands were scratched by the claws.
She didn't feel fear, instead she felt white hot anger coursing through her, and it gave her extra strength. She managed to reach her hunting dagger, and thrust it repeatedly into the body and neck of the boar. Finally, the animal relented and staggered off, only to collapse in a heap a few feet away.
Gabrielle was panting heavily, and sweat was streaming off her. She looked down at herself and saw she was lying in a pool of the animal's blood. Disgusted, she got up and tried to wipe off the foul stinking liquid from her outfit, without much success.
She found her bow, but it was broken in two, so she threw it away. Where in Hades were Vivella and the others? Surely they must've heard the commotion.
Her question was answered when she heard someone clapping at her. She only knew one man who had the gall to do that.
And sure enough, Ares appeared next to her. She wiped off more blood from her face to see more clearly.
"Well done, Gabrielle. Oh, let me help you with that..." he said, and waved his hand. The blood and scratches disappeared from Gabrielle's face and body.
"Much better, don't you think?" he said and smiled at her - in a nasty sort of way.
"Put it back, Ares. I don't want to owe you any favors," Gabrielle said.
Ares raised an eyebrow, but complied with a smirk. The blood returned.
"Was this another of your tests, Ares?" Gabrielle said, suddenly feeling very tired.
"You might say that. And you passed, Gabrielle. In fact, I'd say you're almost ready. *Almost*, but not quite," he said and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Stay away from me, Ares. I'm not interested," Gabrielle said surly and walked away from him.
"This doesn't have anything to do with interest, and everything to do with who you are. When that beast attacked you, you didn't go all 'boo-hoo-hoo save me', no... you fought it with all your might, and you killed it. And that's who you are, Gabrielle," Ares said as he caught up with her.
Gabrielle stopped dead in her tracks and turned to face him.
"And I'll bet you know it, too... my young apprentice," Ares said, and disappeared.
A few seconds later, Vivella, Latonia and Sareena came running into the small clearing where Gabrielle had fought the boar.
"What happened, queen Gabri... wow!" Vivella said as she saw the dead boar and the sorry state of Gabrielle's once pristine hunting outfit.
"You killed a wild boar all by yourself?" she continued. Gabrielle nodded, and tried once again to get some of the blood out of her hair.
Sareena said something to Vivella in their own language.
"Did you know that where we come from, the wild boar is the symbol of the god of war?" Vivella asked.
"Figures," Gabrielle said and looked at her clothes, soaked with blood.
When Vivella had offered Gabrielle the use of the hot spring to get clean, she had gladly accepted, and now she was sitting chest-deep in gloriously hot water. The warmth relaxed her strained muscles, and she was on the verge of falling asleep when somebody knocked on the door.
"Queen Gabrielle? It's me, Margrann. I'm bringing you new clothes and some herbs for your cuts."
"Wait a second," Gabrielle said, and reached for the bear skin.
A few minutes later, Gabrielle was sitting on a chair wrapped in the bear skin, and watching Margrann with interest as the healer mixed and pounded herbs into a cup.
The healer looked at Gabrielle, and asked the question that had been burning in her mind ever since she saw Gabrielle here alone.
"Queen Gabrielle... if I may be so bold... where's Xena?"
There was a long, pregnant pause, and Margrann was sure she had overstepped the line.
"I've lost her, Margrann. She's dead," Gabrielle said quietly.
"I'm so sorry. What happened?"
Gabrielle was torn. She wanted to keep this story private, but on the other hand, she knew it would be good for her to share what had happened in Jappa. And that Margrann would understand.
As Margrann gently applied some of the grounded herbs to a cut on Gabrielle's shoulder, the Amazon queen started to tell the sad story.
"It all started one night where Xena got a message from someone she had known years before in Jappa, a land to the far East of here, even beyond Ch'in..."
Ares sat sprawled across his chair in the Halls Of War, and was in deep thought. This business with Gabrielle was going much better than he had anticipated. That wild boar really was an impressive display of her strength and anger - and he hadn't even set it up. Ironies of nature, Ares thought, and chuckled.
He had felt Gabrielle's burning rage so strongly that he had dropped everything he was working on to go to her. She only needed the tiniest of pushes, and she'd be his.
Ares created a small globe of energy in his hand. He looked at scenes from earlier in Gabrielle's life - scenes where, looking back, the signs of her future skills were already clear to see, except he hadn't been watching her at the time.
He extinguished the globe of energy, and created a new one. One that displayed scenes from a time and a life yet to be. Of Gabrielle, conquering the Known World in his name. He chuckled again. He had done well with Xena in the past, but the world hadn't seen anything yet. Gabrielle would be the perfect leader of his armies.
Later that afternoon, queen Vivella had her warriors doing their daily fight drills, sixteen fierce women squaring off against each other with staffs, Roman shortblades and some of them even fought hand to hand.
After hearing the heartbreaking story, Margrann had ordered Gabrielle to get some rest, so she had gone to her hut to try to get some sleep - in vain. The familiar sound of two staffs hitting one another piqued her interest, and she walked to the training grounds. The new clothes Margrann had brought for her were a perfect fit, and were in fact very similar to the old ceremonial Amazon outfit she had worn from time to time decades ago - a light brown top and skirt, made of suede, and with golden swirls covering the top.
Like the days before, she was mightily impressed by the fighting skills of Vivella's warriors. It seemed that in this camp, everyone fought, except for the elderly.
She looked intently at two young girls, no more than 12-13 years old, fighting with staffs.
"They are good, no?" Vivella said.
"They are very impressive. And so young..."
"Back in the old country, everyone learns to ride a horse when they reach eight years of age, but unfortunately there aren't enough horses here, so we have them learn something else instead. These two girls have been practicing since they were ten," Vivella said, and told the two young girls something in their own language. They smiled and bowed at Gabrielle.
"Come, let me show you my warriors," Vivella said, and pointed at her adult fighters.
The drills had almost come to an end when Gabrielle saw Zaia, one of the Amazons who had met her when she arrived. She had finished her fights, and was looking at the remaining few who were still in the ring.
When Gabrielle came to the circle of warriors, Zaia said a couple of words in her native language, clearly pointed at her. Some of the others laughed, and some looked at her in shock.
Vivella said a string of very harsh words to Zaia.
"What did she say?" Gabrielle asked.
"Nothing," Vivella replied.
"She said something, what was it," Gabrielle asked again, more sternly.
"Nothing, she's just a young warrior strutting her feathers. Forget it."
"Pretty girl," Zaia said from the other side of the ring, with a thick accent, and a nasty smile.
Vivella rubbed her forehead. Great. As one, the other Amazons spread out to get away from the fight that was sure to happen.
Latonia leaned in to Zaia's ear, and whispered,
"Dumb move, Sister."
Gabrielle had kept quiet. Instead of talking she picked up a staff and made a few maneuvers to warm up her muscles.
"Look, queen Gabrielle, Zaia's just a bigmouth, and I'll put her on latrine duty for a month, but don't fight her. She's one of the best staff fighters I have..." Vivella said, but to no avail.
Gabrielle stepped into the ring, and motioned to Zaia that she should do the same.
"Latonia, get Margrann. Someone's gonna bleed before this match is over," Vivella said, and rolled her eyes.
Gabrielle found herself in a similar situation to when she had fought Varia not so long ago. This time there would be no holding back from her side.
Zaia came at her like a bull, and Gabrielle easily sidestepped the angry woman, taunting her by slapping her butt with the staff as she flew past. For the next pass, Zaia had calmed down a bit, and they circled each other for a minute or so, each planning the best strategy.
Invisible to all of them, Ares appeared next to the ring. This was one fight he didn't want to miss.
Zaia lunged first, thrusting the staff at Gabrielle's head, but she deflected the hit. She swung the other end of the staff round and collected Zaia squarely in the ribs. The air left the warrior's lungs in a whoosh, and Gabrielle stepped back, she was in no rush.
Coughing, Zaia stood up straight and they began circling each other again. She faked a swing to the left and Gabrielle fell for it, Zaia quickly turned her staff the other way and hit the blonde woman on her hip.
One or two of the onlookers cheered, but Vivella cleared her throat, and the crowd fell silent again.
Gabrielle wasn't really in pain, although it did sting a bit. Zaia was good, no doubt about that... but she was better. She squatted down slightly and moved her staff to the side, almost inviting an attack. She looked Zaia square in the eye, and subconsciously did something she had seen Xena do countless times, she sneered. She noticed a flicker of something in the taller woman's eyes, it might have been fear.
The blonde woman uncoiled like a spring and attacked Zaia with a whirlwind of staff hits. Knees, ribs, chest, face; she pounded mercilessly on the other warrior whose eyes were glazed over even before Gabrielle hit her on the side of her head. Zaia keeled over like a fallen oak, and Gabrielle went in for the...
"Kill her!" Ares shouted to Gabrielle.
"Kill her and you're mine!"
"Don't kill her! Please, Gabrielle!" someone else said, and the voice seemed to come from a million miles away.
Margrann stepped into the ring and put her hands on Gabrielle's arms, who were pressing the staff hard down on Zaia's throat.
Slowly, very slowly, the battle haze left Gabrielle and she looked at the battered woman below her... and then up at the elderly healer.
Vivella helped Gabrielle up, and motioned for Sareena and Latonia to carry Zaia to the healer's hut.
"And that should settle that once and for all," Vivella said loudly, directed at the other warriors. The crowd scattered in small groups, talking quietly amongst themselves. They all knew how good Zaia was.
A little later, in Margrann's hut.
Queen Vivella stood with her hands on her hips and shook her head at the sorry mess in front of her.
"Zaia, you fool... you damned fool..."
"I'm going to run out of healing herbs soon if your warriors keep this up!" Margrann said to Vivella.
Gabrielle joined them, and looked sadly at the still unconscious Zaia.
"Please tell her I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt her so much."
"I will, queen Gabrielle. But in reality it was her own fault," Vivella said.
"No. I lost my temper. It was my doing."
Margrann raised her eyebrow, and pointed a crooked finger at the blonde woman.
"You, young lady, didn't I tell you to get some rest?" she said sternly.
"I know, I know."
Sleep came even more fitfully than usual for Gabrielle that night. Not only did Xena haunt her dreams, now the image of the battered and bloody Zaia did too - except that in her dreams, Gabrielle actually did kill the warrior.
Exhausted, she sat up and rested her head in her hands. No point in sleeping. The dreams were worse than the reality was.
She reached for the urn holding Xena's ashes, always placed on the table next to the bunk.
"You know, it's funny, but I could've sworn you told me you would never leave me, even in death...?"
"Yeah, well, I'm sick and tired of it, let me tell you. Some nights I wonder if I shouldn't just go somewhere quiet and slit my throat... but The Fates have laughed at us so much already that I just know they'll send me to another afterlife to wherever the Hades you are!" Gabrielle said angrily and slammed the urn onto the table.
Outside, the two guards looked at each other and shrugged. The door was flung open, and they quickly stood erect.
"I'm going for a walk!" Gabrielle said sharply and left them behind.
Inside the hut, Aphrodite appeared silently. She stared at the urn, and began pacing back and forth, debating with herself if she should take the urn or not.
Several times she reached out for it, only to change her mind at the last second. Finally, she grabbed the urn and left.
Half an hour later, Gabrielle returned after a long walk through the frosty night. She said goodnight to the two guards and closed the door.
Two heartbeats later she let out a blood-curdling cry that echoed throughout the camp, sending Amazons scrambling out of bed left and right.
Two days later.
Some distance away from the Amazon lands, a large army had made camp. Numbered in the hundreds, they all wore their identical black uniforms with pride - this wasn't some ragtag unit made up of pig farmers and out of work bums, no, this was the real deal. Their commander, Callanus, a hard man in his middle forties, was studying the maps when Ares appeared in his tent.
Callanus kneeled before him.
"Lord Ares, your army is ready."
"So I see. And a fine army it is. Yes, this should be enough to beat the Amazons into oblivion," Ares said.
"I'm certain of it. They will stand no chance against our men."
"Oh, don't count them out too soon, Callanus. After all, they're protecting their homeland... don't forget that. They will put up a fight."
"They might do so, Lord Ares, but we will kill them just the same."
"I like your attitude, General."
Ares was proudly inspecting his new army, walking up and down the lines and looking at the professional soldiers.
He was looking forward to this battle like a little kid. He couldn't remember the last time when he had been this excited. This war would be something else, either his army wiped out the Amazons, solving that problem for all eternity, or his new apprentice would finally commit fully to his side, and then she'd be damn near unstoppable.
"Your troops are excellent, general Callanus. Inform them they're leaving tomorrow at dawn. Destination: the Amazon lands."
"As you wish, Lord Ares."
As the general addressed his men, Ares couldn't help wondering what would happen when Gabrielle and her pesky friends faced an army of such a caliber. He hoped it would be spectacular. He disappeared with his trademark evil chuckle that lingered in the air even after he'd gone.
"Enter!" Vivella roared, visibly irritated over being disturbed for the fifth time in the last fifteen minutes.
"My queen, the scouts are back," Sareena said.
"Well, about damn time," Vivella said and left her hut. Gabrielle was still in her own hut, tended to by Margrann. She had burned off so much energy the first night searching for the missing urn that she had collapsed when she returned. Margrann had forced her to stay in her bunk ever since, and to make matters worse, Gabrielle had now developed a fever.
"So?" Vivella asked the scouts.
"Nothing. We've done a sweep of the entire area, no footprints, no hoof-marks, no nothing. No one entered or left the camp on the night, either. Whoever it was must've flown in and out," the scout said and bowed.
"Damn. All right, return to your posts," Vivella said and went over to Gabrielle's hut.
Margrann looked at her as she ducked through the doorway. Vivella shook her head, and the healer sighed.
"How is she now?" Vivella asked.
"Still hot. Even hotter than yesterday. She's delirious, she keeps calling for Xena."
"...not much we can do for her there, I'm afraid."
"Queen Vivella, I've read many of her scrolls to you. One figure kept on creating havoc for them... I think we both know who stole the urn," Margrann said and dabbed Gabrielle's forehead with a damp cloth.
Aphrodite had run out of vases to throw after yet another experiment had failed.
She was at her wits' end. This demanded a much higher power than she could muster, but she had to do something! She had heard Gabrielle's anguished cry clear up to Mount Olympus, and the sound had driven a dagger through her heart.
She sat down on the couch and stared at the small pedestal where the urn was placed.
"Do you have any ideas...?" she asked the soul-less creature still standing as still as an alabaster statue in the middle of her room.
"Oh, shut up!" Aphrodite said in frustration as the statue didn't respond to her request.
She went over to the portal and looked at the scene in Gabrielle's hut. Aphrodite felt responsible for Gabrielle's current state... well, she was responsible for it, of course... and she promised her mortal friend that if she didn't come up with a solution very soon, she would return the urn to her.
Aphrodite just hoped Gabrielle wouldn't call on her to talk while this was going on. Even though she was just another mortal, only one of hundreds the goddess had befriended through the millennia, Aphrodite still cherished their friendship... and she knew she couldn't lie to Gabrielle.
As evening turned to night later the same day, Gabrielle's fever broke. She was still weak, and her skin was the same color as the sky on an overcast day, but she felt better... except, the urn was still missing. She had been too ill to follow the conversation between Vivella and Margrann earlier that day, but had connected the dots herself along the way. Ares. Really, there was no other logical explanation. The question was, however, what would he need the ashes for. Would he be crazy enough to try to resurrect Xena in his image?
Gabrielle noticed someone snoring in a makeshift bunk set up in her hut. She lit a candle using a flint and looked at the sleeping Margrann. Gabrielle chuckled. Margrann had turned into more of a mother to her than even her real mother had been when Gabrielle was a little girl.
A bowl of water stood on the small table and Gabrielle reached for it. Unfortunately, she hadn't considered how much her hands trembled, so she managed to get more water down her nightshift than she did in her mouth. She cursed under her breath as the cold water hit her.
The sounds made Margrann stir.
"What are you doing, Gabrielle? You're much too weak to do something like that yourself!" Margrann chided her in a low voice.
"I'm feeling better now, I didn't want to disturb you just to get some water," Gabrielle said, and coughed slightly.
"Yeah, and look where that got you," Margrann said.
"Sit still while I'll get you a new nightshift. You don't want to be even more sick than you already are, do you?"
"No, I guess not."
"No," Margrann snorted and limped over to a small cupboard.
"Here," she said as she handed Gabrielle a dry shirt.
"Can you get yourself dressed, or shall I help?" she said and winked at the blonde woman.
"I can manage. Thank you," Gabrielle replied with a slight cough.
The next morning Gabrielle was feeling much better, if not entirely back to normal. Her back was stiff and sore from being on the bunk for so long, and she badly needed some fresh air, so after donning an extra cape on the insistence of Margrann, she ventured outside of the hut and into the camp for the first time in days.
The activity seemed to be even more hectic than usual. Warriors were running to and fro with spears, and orders were barked out by Vivella's lieutenants.
"What's the meaning of this, Margrann?" Gabrielle asked the healer who had come with her.
"I'm not sure, queen Gabrielle, but it looks to me like they're preparing for war."
Latonia ran past, but Gabrielle flagged her down.
"What's going on, Latonia?" she asked.
"We've heard from traders that there's an army moving this way, so queen Vivella ordered us to be prepared for anything."
"Where's your queen, maybe I can help?" Gabrielle asked.
"She's in her hut, but she's real busy right now. So am I, so pardon me, queen Gabrielle," Latonia said, bowed slightly, and then ran on.
"Time to be a queen again, Margrann," Gabrielle said and shook hands with the elderly healer.
"Please take good care of yourself, child. If you feel tired, go and rest. Better rest now than being half-dead of fever when the attack comes," Margrann said, and put a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder.
"Tried that once. Can't recommend it. I will, Margrann, don't worry."
Gabrielle entered the queen's hut and looked around in amazement at the beehive of activity.
"Good to see you up, queen Gabrielle. I could sure use your experience in this matter... if you're up to it, of course," Vivella said, hunched over a stack of maps.
"First I need to hear who we're dealing with. Latonia told me there's an army bearing down on us, but who are they? Romans?" Gabrielle said, as she went over to the table, getting down to business. She didn't want to admit it, but a part of her was actually looking forward to a fight.
"No, they're not Romans. I don't know who they are, but the traders told me they're well armed and well organized."
"Can we trust the traders?" Gabrielle asked.
"They haven't given us any problems so far."
"Hmm. How far away are this army?"
"Don't know yet. The traders met them several days ago and immediately sent the message back with a fast horse. That was around here..." Vivella said and pointed at one of the maps. Gabrielle estimated that to be around two days from the camp.
"I've sent every available scout out after them. We'll know shortly," Vivella added.
"A great deal, again according to the traders."
"Hades," Gabrielle growled.
"Oh, we can fight, queen Gabrielle, don't you worry about that," Vivella said decisively.
"I'm not. I'm just wondering what's behind all this. All of a sudden an army appears out of nowhere and heads this way? It stinks, Vivella. Do we know who their commanding officer is?"
Gabrielle walked away from the table, and crossed her arms over her chest. Her head had started to pound, and she rubbed her forehead. A nagging fear had begun to stir in her stomach, but she couldn't tell Vivella. Was if Ares had used the urn to resurrect Xena... the old, evil warlord Xena... and she was marching towards them right now? Gabrielle wouldn't put it past him.
"I'm sorry Vivella, I need some rest. Will you excuse me?"
"Sure... I'll send someone over with food later. Oh, by the way, I thought you'd like to know - Zaia has left the camp."
"Did you throw her out?" Gabrielle asked, somewhat surprised.
"No, she used the darkness last night to slip away. I guess she couldn't face her Sisters after the lesson she was taught," Vivella said and looked at the blonde woman.
"Do you think I was too rough on her?"
"No. She deserved every last hit."
Gabrielle nodded, and left queen Vivella's hut.
Even though it was barely past midday she was still weak after her illness, so Gabrielle took off her boots and eased herself down on her bunk. She needed to talk, and even though Margrann was a very sweet woman, she didn't know much about Gabrielle's past, only what had been saved in the few scrolls she had collected.
"Aphrodite?" Gabrielle said quietly, and waited for the goddess to appear.
"Oh well, she must be busy," Gabrielle said, and turned over onto her left side to get some sleep.
Soon she started dreaming, the same type of dream she had had for many nights now - images from the all too brief years she had shared with Xena. They weren't always happy images, they had seen their fair share of death and despair, after all... but they were always together.
This time the dreams were particularly vivid, everything seemed so real. Gabrielle started tossing and turning as the images flashed faster and faster through her mind.
Aphrodite had heard Gabrielle's words, she just couldn't face the mortal right now. She had done everything she could to restore Xena to life, and it wasn't enough. Gabrielle's soulmate would stay dead because Aphrodite was a lousy excuse for a goddess.
She didn't often get mad, but now she was furious. Ranting and raving she broke vases faster than she could conjure them up. Abruptly she stopped, and looked at the urn. There was one thing she hadn't tried. One last thing, and if that didn't work either, she would return the urn to Gabrielle and tell her everything... and probably lose her friendship forever.
Aphrodite snapped her fingers and yet another woman-like creature, identical to Xena but as usual without her soul, appeared on the couch.
The goddess kneeled next to the creature and held the urn to her bosom. She leaned down and placed the tiniest of kisses on the lips of the dark haired woman. Nothing.
'Come on, you're the goddess of love, for Zeus' sake. That was pathetic!' she thought, and leaned in to give the other woman a proper kiss. She put all her considerable lifeforce into it, and suddenly she felt the other woman responding!
Aphrodite's eyes popped open but she shut them tight again when a loud thunderclap roared through the halls.
Out of nowhere, pink and red lightning surrounded the goddess and the other woman, and Aphrodite was suddenly blown clear across the room by an enormous explosion in all possible shades of pink.
"...like, wooooow, dude..." Aphrodite said and coughed as she re-emerged from behind a desk. Little red hearts rained down everywhere and she dusted herself off as she stood up. As soon as she looked at the couch, her eyes became as wide as saucers.
"Where's Gabrielle?" the dark-haired woman said in a hoarse voice, sitting on the couch and looking rather disoriented.
The images kept on coming faster and faster until they were a blur. Then, slowly, they centered on a silhouette of a single figure, just out of focus.
"...Xena!" Gabrielle shouted, and woke up from the sound of her own voice. Completely confused, she needed several minutes to get her bearings. When she realized this had only been a dream, she broke down and cried.
"By the Gods, Xena... is it really you?" Aphrodite said.
"I think so... I'm a little stiff, but... yes, it's me," the warrior said, and stretched her arms above her head. Her muscles protested, but all in all, she felt good.
"What?" the warrior said, still a little dazed after being out of her body for so long.
"I think I better get you some clothes..." Aphrodite said sheepishly, peeking through her fingers.
"You better. I need to get to Gabrielle. Where is she?"
"She's with the Amazons. She's safe for now. Now, let me get you your old leathers back... are you ready?"
Aphrodite snapped her fingers, but the only thing that happened was that she became dizzy and had to lean on the desk.
"Oh boy... I don't feel too good."
Xena was by her side in an instant, holding her up.
"I think I... That kiss drained my powers... I think I'm gonna...", the goddess said and fainted in Xena's arms.
"Just great..." the warrior grumbled, picked up the Goddess and gently put her down on the couch.
Dusk was approaching fast. It was getting on Gabrielle's nerves to be constantly watched, so she had told the two Amazons standing guard to leave her alone. She lit a candle and sat down at her desk to update her journal.
I fear I'm losing my sanity.
The urn is missing. When I found out, it felt like my heart was ripped from my body. Xena had been taken from me once more.
That was three days ago, and now today I had the strangest dream I've ever had. I dreamt of Xena, as I always do, but everything was so REAL. It was like she was actually here with me - alas, I know that can never be again.
I'm afraid of going back to sleep. I'm afraid of having that dream again, only to have my hopes crushed when I wake up.
Gabrielle re-read her words and sighed. She let the ink dry for a few minutes, and then she folded it up and put it in the scroll case.
The candle had almost burned down when queen Vivella knocked on the door.
"Queen Gabrielle, I have important news. May I enter?"
"Of course you may, this is your village," Gabrielle said and chuckled.
Vivella came in and sat down on a chair. Her face was a mask of concern.
"You look gloomy. Bad news?" Gabrielle said.
"We have received word from the scouts. The army is only a day away... day and a half, tops. Everything points to an attack at dawn on the day after tomorrow," Vivella said and sighed.
Gabrielle shook her head.
"If we could only figure out why this was happening..." Vivella said, and ran her fingers through her short hair in frustration.
"... but anyway, I've sent an urgent request for reinforcements from my sister's tribe. I doubt they'll get here in time, but..."
"Your sister - by blood?"
"Yes. My younger sister Katchia commands a tribe further north. They were supposed to follow us here, but they took another route down from the motherland, and found a particularly rich spot near the coast," Vivella said.
Queen Vivella leaned forward and looked the blonde woman straight in the eyes.
"Gabrielle, you're free to leave anytime you want. This isn't your fight. I'll give you a fast horse, and you'll be out of danger in no time."
"I guess there were a couple of scrolls you didn't read, huh? I didn't come here to fight, true... but if that's what it takes, then that's what we have to do. And those are my final words on that offer."
Vivella got up, and walked towards the door.
"It was a tradition in my old country to have a small ceremony called the Celebration of Life before a fight. I'm going to continue that here, tomorrow afternoon," she said.
"Well, I guess it's more precise to call it a party. You're welcome to join us, if you feel like it," Vivella said.
"At a party full of rowdy Amazons? I might," Gabrielle said and smiled.
"Come on, Aphrodite, I don't have time to be standing here in my birthday suit!" Xena said to the dazed Goddess.
"I don't think I can, Xena... I feel realllllly weird..."
Xena rolled her eyes.
"Where are we, anyway?"
"Mount Olympus," the goddess said and giggled.
"And where's Gabrielle?"
"You're not helping here, where is she?"
"She's with the Amazons."
"... and? You told me that already,"
Aphrodite's head lulled back, and she giggled some more.
"Tee-hee, Xena, did you know you have a wrinkle on your forehead when you sulk like that?"
"No, I didn't. Look, Aphrodite, I'd really like to find Gabrielle, where is she... please?"
"Oh all right, you killjoy. Go over to my portal, that should still work. It was tuned in to her the last time I looked," Aphrodite said and waved her hand in the general direction of the window.
Xena moved closer to the portal and looked through the small window. What she saw made her heart skip a beat. Gabrielle was in a small hut, talking to... Ares!
She couldn't hear what was said, but she could imagine it all too well. She knew him enough to know he was busy making a pass at Gabrielle - physically or metaphorically.
A loud noise filled the room, and Xena turned around.
The goddess was lying on the couch, flat on her back and with her mouth agape - snoring like a sawmill.
Xena turned back to the portal. Ares was still there. She tapped her fingers on the window sill. Dressed in her birthday suit or not, she had to get to Gabrielle.
With determined steps, Xena walked towards the nearest door, leaving the snoring goddess behind.
After digesting the information Vivella had given her, Gabrielle had pulled out her journal again and amended it.
I find myself trapped in the middle of someone else's war. I'm free to leave, but I would betray my Sisters by doing so. Inevitably I'm reminded of the slaughter on the beach at Helicon. These new Sisters are all very brave women. How many will be alive afterwards?
Suddenly, the flame on the candle she was sitting by froze. She leaned back in her seat and waited for the inevitable, and sure enough, Ares appeared. He stroked his goatee while looking at her.
"Why didn't you kill that pathetic Amazon the other day? Didn't I make myself clear enough?" he asked.
"You did, and that's why I didn't do it," Gabrielle replied.
"But you've killed so many already, what could one more possibly hurt?"
"Why are you doing this to me?" Gabrielle said, and threw her quill onto the desk.
"I'm doing this to you because you're the One, my young apprentice. It's really quite simple," Ares said and moved closer to her.
"Have you forgotten how it feels to have unlimited power? Because I'm quite sure I showed you once...?" he said, in a low, almost seductive tone.
"Yes, you did... and I hated it!"
"Oh... now that's not quite true, Gabrielle," Ares said, and formed a purple ball of energy in his hand. With a flick of his wrist it engulfed Gabrielle. She was no longer in the hut, instead she found herself floating through a strange universe where she saw many different images of herself - at the head of a vast army; on a throne of some kind; standing by an endless row of wooden crosses, as a conqueror, a queen, a dictator...
"Give in to the temptation, Gabrielle. This is already within you. It's really quite simple..." Ares whispered in her ear before disappearing.
The flame started flickering again.
Gabrielle felt sick. A single tear ran down her cheek, quickly followed by many more. She needed Xena so badly it hurt.
Xena had no problems finding something to wear once she found her way down from Mount Olympus, she just stole them from a clothes line - and a horse was presented to her for free when a ruffian stupidly tried to mug her.
She didn't know where Gabrielle was exactly, but she let her heart and the unexplainable bond between them guide her.
After a brief hesitation, she headed south, towards the Amazon lands.
Later that night, at the army's bivouac.
Many tents had been put up, and several soldiers were standing guard, holding torches. In the middle of the temporary camp a tent had been erected that looked more important than the others.
A young Lieutenant ducked through the tent opening and saluted as his commanding officer turned around to watch him.
"General Callanus, we've captured a prisoner. An Amazon," the Lieutenant said.
"An Amazon? Sounds interesting. Bring her here."
"Yes, Sir. Sergeant!"
The woman was pushed through the opening of the tent by a sergeant and another soldier. The prisoner was Zaia.
"She was unarmed. She says she has information for us," the Lieutenant said.
"I see. Tie her to the chair and leave us, men," the General said to the soldiers.
Zaia briefly tried to resist, but she couldn't stop the soldier from doing as he was told.
"What kind of information?" General Callanus asked the renegade Amazon.
"I know where tribe is, and I know how many Amazons," she said in her thick accent.
"Really? And what will this information cost me?" The General said.
"One thousand dinars."
The General looked at her like she had sprouted a second head. After a few seconds he laughed, slowly and menacingly.
"How about we give you two hundred dinars, and let you live?"
Zaia was about to complain when she realized he wasn't bluffing.
"Agree. Two hundred," she said.
"Good. Now tell me the information."
"I will show you on map," she said, and moved her wrists against the ropes.
He walked over to the table and picked up the maps.
"No. I know what an Amazon can do. I'll point, you say where."
Zaia cursed in her own language, which made the General chuckle.
"I'll bet this wasn't what you had in mind when you decided to betray your Sisters?"
"Not my Sisters, another tribe!" Zaia said angrily.
"Does it really make any difference once I have their heads on pikes? Tell me where they are!"
"A day's journey West. Maybe more for you. Single person quicker."
"I work my men hard, don't you worry about that. Who's their queen?"
"A Hun called Vivella. They have Greek queen as guest. Gabrielle," Zaia said and spit on the floor.
The General laughed again.
"And does she have anything to do with these old injuries on your face, mmmm?" he said, and touched a fading black eye.
Zaia pulled her face away from his touch with another curse.
"I take that as a 'yes'. This Vivella, how large is her tribe?"
"Close to hundred Hun Amazons. All strong like me," Zaia said.
"And the Greek queen, does she have warriors with her?" the General said.
"No. She alone. She different."
"She think too much," Zaia said.
This time the General really laughed.
"And how would you know what that word means, you savage? Sergeant!"
The soldier entered the tent.
"Throw this piece of trash into the cage. Oh, and give her two hundred dinars for her assistance. She's been most helpful," General Callanus said, and dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
"But... the cage... No... You ugly pig!" Zaia was kicking and screaming as she was dragged out of the General's tent and across a small courtyard towards a cart with an evil looking wooden cage built onto it.
The sergeant hit her on the back of her head with the hilt of his sword, and her knees buckled. As another soldier opened the hatch to the cage, the sergeant unceremoniously picked her up and threw her inside.
When dawn broke, Gabrielle was already out in a field practicing her sword and staff moves. With the impending battle, she thought it was best to knock some of the rust off.
She worked herself through increasingly difficult drills, twirling the staff with such a speed that it was reduced to a blur. After a while she traded it for the new sword she had bought in Egypt, and continued the drills.
As a natural extension of the sword drills, she included some of the martial arts she had learned the last time she and Xena were in Ch'in. She kicked, punched and made the most impossible flips she had ever done. By the end of it, she was panting wildly and completely covered in sweat.
As she was relaxing her muscles, she felt someone watching her. She had her eyes closed, but she didn't need to see to know who it was.
"Did you get what you came for, Ares?" she said, using a rug to dry her hair.
"I certainly did, my young apprentice. I like it when my warriors stay fit."
"I'm not your warrior, Ares, and I never will be," Gabrielle said as she sat down on a blanket, and tried to work her mind into a meditative state.
"Well, let's see. You'll never know what might happen. Speaking of that, where's your little buddy Zaia?" Ares said and rested his head on one hand.
"Has she now."
This got Gabrielle's attention.
"If you want to tell me something, spit it out."
"Mmmm. I love feisty women... Anyway, she's betrayed all of you. She's in the army camp right now, getting cozy, and singing like a bird."
"You're lying!" Gabrielle said, her meditation forgotten.
"Now, why would I lie to you? Aren't we supposed to be chums, Gabrielle?" Ares said and smiled. He winked at her, and disappeared.
Gabrielle looked up towards the heavens and shook her head.
"Never a dull moment," she said and packed her things together before heading back to the village with the news.
As Gabrielle returned to the camp, the other Amazons were just waking up, and there was a changing of the guards at the palisade.
She walked directly to queen Vivella's hut, and briefly wondered why it wasn't guarded. She knocked once and opened the door without waiting for a reply.
"Queen Vivella, I... oops... pardon me..." she said and turned around rather quickly, her cheeks flushing pink.
Instead Gabrielle walked towards Margrann's hut. She could see smoke rising from the chimney, but even so, she knocked twice before going in.
"Come in, Gabrielle!" The elderly healer said. A large pot was suspended over a fire, and Margrann was busy preparing several roots and leaves.
"How did you know it was me?" Gabrielle said as she entered the hut.
"You're the only one who ever bothers with knocking on the door," Margrann said and laughed.
"Yeah... I..." Gabrielle said and smirked.
"And I also happened to look out the window, where I saw you leave Vivella's hut faster than you went in. Did you see something you haven't seen before?" Margrann said and winked at her.
"Ah, well, not exactly, but... they deserve some privacy... how long have Vivella and Sareena been together?"
"A long time, I believe. What did you want with her? She'll be out and about shortly."
"Very shortly, in fact," Vivella said, having quietly slipped into the healer's hut.
"Good morning, queen Vivella," Margrann said.
"Well, it was about to be, Margrann," the queen replied in a slightly stingy tone, still tying the laces of her halter top.
"Yeah, sorry about that..." Gabrielle said and blushed again.
"Never mind. It happens."
"I'm afraid I have some bad news, queen Vivella. Zaia's betrayed us."
"What?! How do you know that?" Vivella said sharply.
Margrann forgot all about cutting up the herbs and turned around to hear the news.
"Ares told me," Gabrielle said and shrugged, before sitting down on a chair.
"Ares, the God of War? Gabrielle, you know better than to trust him," Margrann said and went back to the pot.
"He's not lying this time."
"Hah, 'this time'... Don't forget I've read a lot of your scrolls, every time you and Xena thought he was playing it straight with you, he's stabbed you in the back." Margrann said and snorted in disgust.
"True, but I think it's different this time," Gabrielle said and ran her fingers through her still damp hair.
"Oh, you and the God Of War are close, then? I think there's a great deal you haven't told me, Gabrielle. This is my tribe, and my Sisters. We have a right to know what's going on," Vivella said angrily.
Gabrielle sighed and nodded to the angry queen.
"Yes you do. I don't have all the facts, but... I'll tell you what I know..."
Xena had only stopped twice, both times to change horses. She was tired, but she could feel in her heart that she was getting closer to Gabrielle. She looked up at the sun, almost midday already. Sooner or later she'd have to stop for something to eat. The nuts and berries she had picked earlier didn't last long, and she didn't want to waste any time building a campfire so she could roast some meat.
This horse was getting tired, too, so she let it drink from a stream they passed. She scooped up some water for herself, drank most of it, and poured the rest of it down her neck to cool off.
Couldn't be much further to go now...
That same afternoon.
The ceremony part of the Celebration of Life was over in five minutes, and the rest was hard partying. These Amazons were all veterans of many conflicts, and they all knew the coming fight would be bloody and no doubt claim lives - so mugs of ale were emptied, songs were sung, debts were squared and kisses were stolen.
A large tarp had been tied to the roofs of four huts in the central area of the village and tree trunks had been brought in to act as tables and benches. Gabrielle was sitting quietly at queen Vivella's right hand side, observing the other women.
These Amazons really were different from any other she had known. Not quiet and dignified like her dear friend Ephiny, nor full of youthful exuberance and impatience like Varia.
Gabrielle looked at the faces of the warriors seated around the table. Over the last few days she had come to know several of them, but many were still strangers to her, most often because they didn't speak any Greek. Latonia, the expert archer who had met her on the first day... Sareena, the red-headed giant whose eyes twinkled every time she looked at Vivella... and then the queen herself. Tall and muscular, but with a big heart when it came to the well-being of her Sisters.
A young Amazon Gabrielle didn't know got up on one of the tables and started singing a song in her own language. Apparently it was rather bawdy because the other women soon started to whistle and cheer her on, even Vivella.
Gabrielle's thoughts turned to the coming battle. A recon patrol had returned just after noon but it had not given them as much information as they had hoped it would. It seemed the leader of Ares' army was new to these lands, which was both good and bad. Good, because that presented a chance to maybe outfox him - and bad because no one knew how well he kept his head under fire.
The song finished and the Amazons responded by yelling something Gabrielle couldn't understand, and then they all emptied their mugs.
"I'm sorry?" Gabrielle said, suddenly noticing that queen Vivella had asked her a question.
"I said, why aren't you drinking anything?"
"I prefer to keep a clear head when I'm going into a battle."
"That's not until tomorrow. Have a drink!" Vivella said and pushed a large mug of ale into her hand.
"Well, I guess one couldn't hurt..."
A murmur of voices rippled through the village. Gabrielle looked up but was unable to see above the crowd. The watch commander entered the party area, bowing quickly.
"I'm sorry for the disturbance, queen Vivella, queen Gabrielle... but... you better come and see for yourself..."
'Now what,' Gabrielle thought, put down the untouched mug, and picked up her sword.
The news traveled quickly so a large throng of warriors stood by the gate, blocking Gabrielle's view.
"Come on, let me through," she said, and pushed a few Amazons aside. As she got a clear view, the blood in her veins froze over and she came to a dead stop.
Standing before her... was Xena. Her soulmate, her lover, the woman who had pledged to never leave her, and yet did exactly that. Gabrielle's eyes slowly ran up the woman's figure. The other woman was wearing an unfamiliar outfit, apparently made of a rough cloth. She seemed paler than Xena used to be. The ice blue eyes were the same as they always had been, as was the long, flowing black hair.
A circle of Amazons had been formed, with only the two women standing inside it.
"Hello, Gabrielle..." Xena said quietly, holding the horse's reins.
Gabrielle drew her sword and rapidly closed the distance between them. She held the sword at "Xena's" throat.
"Nice try, Ares," Gabrielle hissed through clenched teeth.
The Amazons surrounding them raised their spears and staffs and began to spread out as they sensed something was about to happen.
"Gabrielle, it is me... Aphrodi..." Xena started to say, but she was cut off by Gabrielle forcing her sword even harder against Xena's throat. She was horrified to see the look in Gabrielle's eyes. So hard, so cold... so distant.
"Oh, sure it is. So, is this your final test of my skills? You want to see if I can fight Xena?" Gabrielle growled.
She suddenly stepped back and swung the sword aimed directly at Xena's neck! Even though she was a bit out of practice, Xena ducked and rolled out of the way. The blade swooshed through the air where she had stood a second before.
"How dare you soil her image, Ares? How dare you!" Gabrielle roared and swung her sword again. Xena flipped over Gabrielle's head and landed behind her, however the Amazon queen was ready and kicked the legs out from under her opponent. Gabrielle dropped down and straddled Xena's body. She raised her sword high in the air.
"This is where it ends... One way or the other..." she said, and pulled back, ready to bury the sword in the body below her.
"Gabrielle, listen to me! Please! It's really me... Aphrodite has brought me back, I can't explain how, but she did..."
The Amazon queen sighed and shook her head, but lowered the sword.
"Prove it," she said.
"Let me get up from here."
"All right, but the slightest wrong move, and you lose your head," Gabrielle threatened. She jumped off, and Vivella helped Xena up.
As soon as she stood up, Xena reached behind Gabrielle's head and pulled her close. Their lips touched in an endless kiss that left the Amazon village reeling from the sight. Vivella's eyebrows shot skywards.
An eternity passed before they reluctantly broke contact, both women panting, trying to regain their composure.
"I still love you so much, Gabrielle..." Xena whispered to the queen, who was resting her head on Xena's shoulder.
Gabrielle looked up, white as a sheet.
"I..." was all she had time to say before her knees buckled under her and she passed out.
A little while later, inside Gabrielle's hut.
Margrann wiped off her hands after tending to Gabrielle, soundly asleep in her bunk.
"She's all right. I've given her a mixture of herbs that'll make her sleep. She was ill recently, so the shock of seeing you probably did her in," the elderly healer told Xena.
"She was ill?"
"The days after your urn was stolen, she had a fever."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I'm sure Aphrodite didn't mean to harm her."
"What you did was wrong," Margrann said sharply.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm not having this conversation in here. Let's go to my hut. Then we'll talk."
"No. I want to be here when Gabrielle wakes up."
"She won't for a while. We need to talk," the healer said, and left the hut.
After a few seconds, Xena followed her.
The warrior ducked inside the healer's hut, where the elderly Amazon was busy re-stocking the herbs.
"So you think I'm wrong in coming back?" Xena asked.
"You know what I'm talking about. Gabrielle has told me all about your little trip to Jappa."
"'Oh'. Did you even consider for a second what it would do to a sensitive soul like her to find your corpse? She's so angry and bitter now... her soul has been destroyed, Xena. By you."
"Now just wait a minute..."
"You don't remember me, but I remember her... like she was. I was a warrior in Melosa's village when Gabrielle came there for the first time. Remember, Xena? Remember how Gabrielle used to be? Look at her now. So angry she's but one step away from being an ally of Ares."
Margrann sat down at a table.
"You shouldn't have left her, Xena."
"I know that now. I was duped and it won't happen again. I know I made a mistake, but I thought I was doing the right thing. But I'm back, and I'm not leaving Gabrielle behind again - ever."
The elderly Amazon nodded and rubbed her eyes.
"We care a great deal for queen Gabrielle, you know," she said.
"So do I," Xena replied and left the hut.
After Xena's surprise arrival, the Celebration had fizzled out a bit, but now it was back to full strength and the Amazons were becoming noisier by the minute.
All this drunken rowdiness was getting on Xena's nerves - all she wanted to do was to hold Gabrielle in her arms. She went up to the queen's hut, gave the Amazon guard one of her trademark Glares, and was quickly allowed inside.
Once in, Xena went to Gabrielle's bunk and kneeled down. She picked up her partner's hand and held it lightly. She looked with great sadness at the sleeping woman, and felt very guilty over how things had evolved. How could she have been so stupid? How could she have chosen some ghost from the past over her partner? But all of that didn't matter now. She was back, and things would return to normal. Or so she hoped.
Xena felt so damn tired. She hadn't had any rest on the long trip here, and it had drained her more than she thought it would. Making a quick decision, she shed the itchy clothes she had stolen and climbed into the bunk. When her skin made contact with Gabrielle for the first time in months, a wave of electricity surged through her.
'Oh Gabrielle, how I have missed you...', she thought.
Once settled under the blanket, next to her partner, it didn't take more than a few seconds before she fell into a deep sleep. She never even felt a still sleeping Gabrielle subconsciously putting her arm across Xena's stomach, like she had done countless times in the past - and she didn't see a smile slowly spreading out over the blonde woman's face.
Afternoon became evening, and evening became night. The full moon shone brightly over the Amazon village, bathing everything in a ghostly light.
Silence had descended on the village. With a torch in her hand, Vivella walked around quietly, observing her warriors preparing for the battle. As she looked at the faces of the women polishing their swords or sharpening their spears, she knew some of them wouldn't live to see tomorrow's sunset, but she hoped that through their strength and skill the number of casualties would be limited.
On her way to the palisade, Vivella walked past queen Gabrielle's hut and nodded to the guard outside.
"My queen, Xena is with queen Gabrielle," the guard said quietly.
"All right. They deserve some time together. You're dismissed, go get some sleep," Vivella said.
"Thank you, My queen," the guard replied, and walked away from the hut.
Vivella watched the guard disappear into the darkness before she continued to the gate. She and the watch commander walked up the stairs to the top of the tower, where they stood silently and looked at the carpet of stars stretching out all across the heavens.
A few hours later, Gabrielle slowly stirred, and instinctively recognized the warm body next to her in the bunk. She inhaled the scent of the Warrior Princess' hair - still the same, even in her new body. Gabrielle opened her eyes and lovingly looked at the other woman's face. Gently, she caressed Xena's chin with her hand.
Xena woke up, still slightly dazed from the previous night's ordeal. She turned over to her left side so she was face to face with Gabrielle, with only inches between them.
"By the gods, I swear you get more beautiful each time I see you..." she whispered to Gabrielle, who choked up and started sobbing. Xena ran her hand through Gabrielle's hair to comfort the crying woman.
"Shhh. Don't cry, Gabrielle. Everything's going to be all right..." Xena whispered.
"I... I'm so afraid to wake up and find this all a dream," Gabrielle said, with horrible images of Jappa flashing through her mind.
"Don't worry. I'm here for good," Xena replied, and wrapped her free arm around her partner and drew her close. Gabrielle buried her head in the nook of Xena's chin, and started crying for real. An eternal moment passed with the two of them finding comfort in each other's arms before her sobs receded.
Xena kissed Gabrielle's forehead, and used her thumb to wipe away an errant tear on Gabrielle's cheek. A huge smile spread out on the blonde woman's face.
"But how is it possible... even for Aphrodite?" she said between sobs.
"I can't say. One second I was nowhere, and the next I was in her room on Mount Olympus. You'll have to ask her yourself the next time we see her. I do know it took a lot out of her. When I left her, she was higher than you were all those years ago when you ate the laced nutbread," Xena said and chuckled.
Gabrielle laughed, and the twinkle in her eyes slowly returned, even if it was through a veil of tears.
"It warms my heart to see you smile, Gabrielle... to hear you laugh again. When I saw you this afternoon, I was... scared," Xena whispered.
"Well, it hasn't been easy. I've always said you make me whole, Xena." Most unusually, Xena's cheek were tinted in the cutest shade of pink. Gabrielle kissed the tip of her partner's nose.
"Oh, there's something I have to talk to Aphrodite about."
"I don't think I've ever seen you blush before," Gabrielle said and giggled.
Underneath the covers, she let her hand roam and was slightly surprised to feel Xena was naked. She pushed Xena on to her back and removed the covers.
The temptation proved too hard to resist, and Gabrielle's hand cupped a full breast on its own accord, earning a sharp intake of breath from her partner. Gabrielle moved even closer, and started nibbling on Xena's earlobe. From there she worked her way forward, putting down a line of small kisses on Xena's jawline, heading for the inviting mouth.
She stopped an inch before their lips touched, just to tease her partner.
"Are you sure you're up to the challenge in this new body of yours?" Gabrielle whispered mischievously, and put two fingers across Xena's lips.
Xena answered by growling and moving Gabrielle's hand away from her mouth. In a single fluid motion, she rose up from the bunk, reached behind her partner and untied the laces of the suede top, and claimed Gabrielle's lips in a ferocious kiss.
In the east, the first pink and golden rays of sunlight heralded the arrival of a new day.
"My Lord Ares, I hope you will accompany me on the battle field today," Callanus said as he stood in front of his army. In the last hour before dawn they had finished their preparations, and were now lined up in a perfect formation in the middle of a green meadow, ready to get the marching orders that would take them to the Amazon village.
"Oh, I'll be there. Count on it. But you won't see me all the time, I like to move around," Ares said to the General.
"I understand. I hope you'll be present when I deliver the killing blow to their queen," Callanus said, and laughed.
"I wouldn't miss that particular fight for anything in the world," Ares replied with a smug grin.
"Lieutenant, give the order," the General said.
"Yes, Sir. Sergeants, move out!" the younger officer said to the two soldiers, who turned around and barked the command at their troops. "FORWARD... MARCH!"
The large army moved forward as one, heading for the edge of the forest, about 150 yards away.
In the forest, a scout set off running back to the main group of Amazons with the word of the impending attack.
Vivella had given Latonia command over a group of archers, and they had been hiding in the trees for the last few hours, waiting for the soldiers to make a move. With their longbows aimed at the first line of advancing men, they were awaiting Latonia's orders.
A few hundred yards further back, Sareena was trying to control her eager warhorse. She was the leader of the main cavalry, counting nearly 60 warriors on heavily armored horses. All the Amazons were wielding either spears or warhammers with metal spikes.
Vivella, Xena and Gabrielle were waiting next to Sareena's warriors. They would follow Sareena's cavalry, or head back to the village to be the last line of defense, depending on how the battle would flow.
The scout came running into the clearing and waved her arms. Vivella moved her horse next to Sareena's and said several words to her in their own language. They held hands for a brief moment before the warrior nudged her horse into action.
Vivella's face was a dark mask of concern as she watched the many riders move through the clearing, heading for the battle.
"What did you say to her?" Gabrielle said.
" 'Please stay safe, I don't want to lose you,' " Vivella said, still looking after the riders.
"And that goes for the two of you, too," she added after turning to face the two Greek women.
"We'll try, Vivella. Fight well," Xena said and clasped hands with the warrior.
"See you after the battle, queen Vivella," Gabrielle said and smiled.
"One way or the other! YAH!!" Vivella said, and set off in a gallop.
Latonia felt the ground shake from the many horses coming up behind her. When they were very close to her, she shouted to her archers,
15 arrows flew through the air and hit the soldiers marching in the first line. They had only just come within firing range, so not all were killed, but most were.
The unexpected attack caused the soldiers to waver, but they were soon forced ahead by the sergeants pushing them forward. The soldiers stepped over their dead and dying comrades and continued towards the cluster of trees.
Suddenly Sareena's cavalry was upon them, carving a path through the lines like a dagger through butter, mowing down soldiers left and right. It took a few seconds for the soldiers to get organized, but when they did, they started to fight back using their spears which were lethal weapons at such close quarters. Several Amazons went down before Sareena decided to fall back and regroup.
She swung her heavy warhammer in wild patterns, crushing heads on impact. Sareena yelled an order to retreat and she and the remaining Amazons turned around and left the fray.
General Callanus was at the rear of the lines, protected by a group of men, hand picked by himself for their skill.
Ares appeared next to him.
"My Lord Ares, the fight isn't going well, I've lost more soldiers than my enemy has," he said to the God.
"Patience, Callanus. This battle's far from over."
Xena and Gabrielle thundered across the meadow on their horses, trying to outflank the army on the left, while Vivella and several of the cavalry did the same on the right.
Xena pointed out the way to Gabrielle, and the two warriors turned their horses and went head-first into the melee. As they charged with full force into the flank, Xena let out her battle cry.
Ares spun around when he heard the familiar wail.
"Well, well, well..." he said, and started laughing. He definitely wanted to experience the Warrior Princess in full battle mode, so he quickly made himself invisible and popped over to be next to Xena and Gabrielle.
In the center, Sareena attacked again, this time with less success than her first charge. By now the soldiers were prepared for the Amazons, and they trapped her and three others in a pocket. Two of the Amazons were quickly killed, and Sareena found herself thrown from her horse when the soldiers managed to trip it up. She had dropped her warhammer when she hit the ground, but there were several discarded swords nearby on the ground, so she picked one up and attacked the soldiers, roaring an old Amazon curse as she did so.
Vivella was busy on the right flank setting the carts with supplies alight using torches. Suddenly she faced a group of men holding crossbows. The Amazon to her right was hit in the chest by a dart and fell from her horse. Vivella turned around as fast as she could, but was not quick enough to evade the darts. One became embedded in her thigh and one bounced off her back, plowing a furrow across her right shoulderblade. She screamed in pain, but kept going.
Xena and Gabrielle were creeping closer to the center of the lines when Xena's horse was suddenly struck down by a spear. She fell heavily, and was momentarily dazed. Gabrielle jumped off her horse and defended Xena for the brief seconds it took her to get back on her feet.
"Thank you..." she said, while furiously blocking a sword with her own.
"Anytime... let's get to the center!" Gabrielle said.
"Watch out!" Xena shouted and deflected a spear headed for Gabrielle's head.
The blonde woman had already ducked, but was still grateful for the assistance.
"We can't stay here! We have to get to the center!" Gabrielle said, and ran a soldier through with her sword.
"Can't argue with that!" Xena said, and kicked a particularly ugly looking officer in the face.
"These are not Amazons, but demons from Tartarus! Get me a horse!" General Callanus said to the Lieutenant standing next to him, but the young man was obviously panicking so he didn't respond.
"Never mind, you fool!" The General said, and pushed him aside. He ran towards a riderless horse, hopping over the bodies of the men who were supposed to protect him. All fools!
He climbed on it, but stayed low so the Amazons couldn't see him over the heads of the still fighting soldiers. Everything appeared lost. Dead soldiers were everywhere, the carts with supplies were burning and now even Ares had abandoned him.
To Hades with that coward, Callanus thought, and kicked the horse in the sides. Instead of riding off, the horse reared and threw him off. He hit his head on a helmet and it caused him to see stars.
Cursing and swearing he got up, only to look into a pair of angry blue eyes.
"Stay!" Xena said, and punched him in the face, bloodying his nose. Lights out.
Ares appeared at Xena's side.
"Well, how about that. Marvelous to see you, Xena. You look fantastic for a dead woman," he said.
"Save it for someone who cares, Ares," she replied, rather coldly, and looked around to see where Gabrielle had gone.
She was busy fighting two of Callanus' officers who wouldn't accept the defeat. One of them swung his sword wildly at her arm, but she expertly rolled out of the way. Still on the ground, she kicked the first man in the gut, causing him to double over right into the path of the other officer. Gabrielle used the hurting man as a launch pad, and gave the last standing man a vicious kick to the chin. His eyes rolled back in his head and he fell down, out cold.
"Ain't she great? You've taught her well. She's mine now, of course," he said nonchalantly.
"Forget it, Ares. She'll never be yours," Xena said angrily, and went over to Gabrielle.
"We'll see... We'll see," Ares said, and followed her.
"It's so nice to see the dynamic duo back together. It was great when it was just one of you, but both of you... ooooh yeah."
"Will you just leave us alone, you pitiful bastard!" Gabrielle roared.
"Have I ever told you how much I love feisty women? Yes, I think I have... I'll leave for now, but rest assured, my young apprentice... I'll be watching your every move," Ares said, and smiled broadly in a nasty sort of way at both Xena and Gabrielle.
He stretched out his arms and turned around so he could see the entire battlefield.
"Isn't war glorious?" he said, before disappearing with an evil chuckle.
The battle around them had slowly begun to ebb out. With the General captured, the soldiers standing close by lost the will to fight, and it quickly spread out through the remaining few pockets of resistance.
Xena grabbed hold of the general's collar and pulled him up. He was still unconscious. She slapped him in the face a few times before he woke up.
"You're a prisoner of war, general," Xena said.
"Are you queen Vivella?" he said, blood seeping from his battered nose.
"No. I'm just your typical friendly Warrior Princess," Xena replied.
"I'm Queen Gabrielle of the Greek Amazons. Why did you attack us?" Gabrielle said.
"Why? Because of your gem stones, of course," Callanus said and tried to wipe some of the blood away.
"Ares has told me all about your emerald mine, so don't act so ignorant with me, Amazon!" Callanus said, earning him a punch in the gut by Xena.
"Here's some news for you, General. Ares lied to you. The only thing we have of any value is a hot spring!" Gabrielle said, right in his face.
"But... it can't be!" the General said.
"You were just a pawn in Ares' game," was Xena's stinging reply.
The general couldn't believe it, and he looked from one woman to the other several times with a lost look in his eyes.
"One more thing, what did you do with the Amazon that came to you?" Gabrielle asked.
"The Amazon...? She's here somewhere. In the cart with the wooden cage on it. It's probably burned to the ground by now," Callanus said, and wiped his face again.
Some of the Amazons had gathered around them, including Latonia's archers, and none were looking particularly friendly at the General,
"Latonia, make sure he gets safely back to the camp. No 'accidents', you hear me?" Gabrielle said to the Amazon, who would be in charge of the prisoners.
"I understand, queen Gabrielle," she said and bowed.
"Have you seen queen Vivella?" Gabrielle asked.
"No, queen Gabrielle, I haven't," Latonia said with a worried expression on her face.
Queen Vivella was on the other side of the battlefield, searching for survivors among the fallen Amazons. She had tried to get the dart in her thigh out, but hadn't been able to move it. It still bled quite a lot, and she was feeling weak. Her horse was long gone, so she hobbled around, nursing her injured leg. She had found many dead Amazons and a few injured survivors, but not the one that mattered the most.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw an Amazon with flaming red hair lying on her back in a pool of mud and blood in the center of a circle of dead soldiers. She walked over to her fallen partner who was motionless and covered in blood. Vivella sighed and closed her eyes.
She was about to leave Sareena behind, when a faint cough was heard from the stricken warrior.
As gingerly as she could, Vivella dropped to her knees. The dart in her thigh was killing her, but she ignored the pain.
"Sareena? Please, Sareena, can you hear me?" she said.
The redheaded warrior coughed a few times, but nodded.
"Yeah..." she added croakily.
"Where are you hurt?" Vivella said.
"I can't move my left arm..." Sareena said, and tried to sit up. The pain overwhelmed her, and she fell back.
Vivella gently moved Sareena's arm, and reeled at the extent of her partner's injuries. A sword had cut open the warrior's entire upper arm, from the armpit to the elbow.
The queen looked around for help. Several Amazons were being helped or carried to carts, waiting to take them back to the village.
Suddenly two familiar figures ran toward her.
"Queen Gabrielle! Quickly, I need your help!" Vivella said, and waved at the two women.
Xena quickly asserted the damage to Sareena's arm.
"...I don't know if we can save her arm..." she said. In the mean time, Sareena had passed out from the pain, and Vivella didn't look too good either.
"All right... as long as we save her," Vivella said, white as a sheet.
"We'll try. Margrann's very good from what I hear," Xena said, and grabbed Vivella's hands.
Gabrielle waved at a group of Amazons carrying stretchers.
"Let's get you back to the camp, queen Vivella. Xena and I will finish off here," the blonde woman said.
Vivella nodded, and didn't resist at all when she was helped down on the stretcher.
"By the Gods!" Gabrielle croaked, and turned around so she couldn't see the horrible sight of Zaia's charred corpse. The prison cart had indeed been burned down, and Zaia had still been inside when it happened.
"I don't think she was burned alive, Gabrielle. Remains of an arrow shaft is sticking out of her chest. It looks like a fatal wound," Xena said.
"An Amazon arrow?"
"Can't say. Could be," Xena said and put her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, leading her away from the carnage.
"Amazons don't take kindly to betrayal," Gabrielle said quietly.
In little more than an hour, the peaceful meadow had been turned into something that resembled a slaughterhouse. Six carts were burning merrily; bodies of soldiers, Amazons and horses were everywhere, and it had all been for naught.
A steady flow of Amazons carried injured warriors back to the village, while others were taking care of the dead.
It was Latonia's job to add up the numbers. 24 Amazons had been killed, and nearly 40 more had been wounded. The dead were all from Sareena's cavalry, and most of the wounded were too. Latonia's own archers had only suffered minor injuries, cuts and bruises, and one broken hand.
Latonia sighed before continuing the gruesome task of writing down the names of the fallen Amazons.
With the battlefield cleared, Xena and Gabrielle were walking back to the village, their horses had long since vanished in the melee.
"This battle was even worse than the times we fought the Romans..." Gabrielle said, disbelieving.
"Yeah. This was a bad one, I'll agree," Xena said and looked down at herself. Her Amazon clothes were stained with blood, but none of it was hers. Neither her nor Gabrielle had been touched by the enemy. How many had they killed? Too many to count.
"Few Amazons will sleep tonight," Gabrielle said in a solemn voice.
"Us included. Margrann's going to need our medical skills," Xena added. Gabrielle nodded. She wouldn't have it any other way. She moved closer to Xena and put an arm around the taller woman's waist.
"I know I should mourn my dead Sisters, but all I can think of is that I'm so grateful I didn't lose you again. If something had happened to you, I..." she said, and choked up.
Gabrielle gave Xena a squeeze. In return, Xena mussed her partner's golden locks.
"I understand, Gabrielle," she whispered, as they continued to walk back to the village.
When Xena and Gabrielle returned an hour later, the area where the Celebration of Life had been held the day before had now been transformed into a hospital. Walking wounded were everywhere, and Margrann was barking orders left and right.
It was a chaos at face value, but the elderly healer was no stranger to such difficult working conditions, and the warriors were treated surprisingly quickly.
A section for the critically injured had been set up near the hut with the hot spring, and that's where Xena and Gabrielle found Sareena and Vivella.
"I'll go over to Margrann to see what I can do to help," Xena said.
"All right, I'll be there shortly," Gabrielle said and watched her partner as she walked over to the healer's hut.
The dart had been removed from Vivella's thigh, and the wound on her back had been dressed, but she was still pale.
"How is she?" Gabrielle asked, as she kneeled down next to the queen, who was sitting on the ground by the injured warrior's bunk.
Vivella shook her head.
"Bad. Margrann cleaned and stitched her wound, and gave her the strongest herbs she had, but Sareena's still in pain. She's slipping in and out of unconsciousness."
Gabrielle put her hand on Vivella's shoulder and squeezed it slightly.
"Did you hear how many we lost?" Vivella asked.
"26 Amazons by last count. 24 out there, and two died of blood loss here," Vivella said and ran a trembling hand through her short-cropped hair.
"I'm so sorry to hear that, Vivella. I know exactly how that feels," Gabrielle said.
"Zaia's dead. We found her remains," Gabrielle said after a little while. Vivella just nodded. Gabrielle squeezed her shoulder again, and walked away.
Gabrielle ducked through the animal skin hung up to separate the bunks from Margrann's workplace. The elderly healer was covered in blood from head to toe, but she still managed a smile when she saw the blonde woman.
"Welcome back, Gabrielle. I'm so glad to see you're all right. I can really use your help. Xena's just gone out, she's helping an injured Amazon back to the bunks," she said.
"I'm happy to help, Margrann," Gabrielle said and looked around the cramped area and at all the blood on the ground.
"But you need to know one thing, I'm in command in here," the healer said, and wiped some sweat off her brow.
"I understand. I'll go get the next one," Gabrielle replied.
Hours later, as the shadows lengthened and dusk was approaching, queen Katchia's warriors finally arrived.
Queen Vivella had joined Xena and Gabrielle in helping Margrann. Sareena was still unconscious, and Vivella had needed to work to keep her mind off the bad situation. By now, only the Amazons with the smallest injuries remained untreated, and the four women were sitting on chairs, resting. Suddenly one of the guards from the palisade came into the hospital area.
"Queen Vivella, your sister's here, she's waiting by the gate," the guard said.
"All right. I'll be there," the queen said, and got up - achingly.
"Would you mind if Xena and I came along?" Gabrielle said.
"No, of course not."
"That is, if it's all right with you, Margrann?"
"Sure. I can deal with the last few myself. They're just cuts and bruises, anyway. They need a mother hen more than anything," the elderly healer said, chuckling.
Katchia was a few years younger than her sister, but there was a strong family resemblance. The shared the same hazel eyes and the same light brown hair, though Katchia kept hers long.
The two sisters hugged as they met each other. Katchia quickly spotted Vivella was walking with a limp.
"It's so good to see you alive, Vivella. Were you hurt?," she asked in an accent that was slightly thicker than the one her older sister had.
"Yes. Dart from a crossbow," Vivella said, and presented Xena and Gabrielle.
"Katchia, this is Gabrielle, Queen of the Greek Amazons. Gabrielle, my sister."
"Honored to meet you," Gabrielle said and clasped hands with the other Amazon.
"Likewise... but I thought Varia was Queen of the Greek Amazons...?" Katchia said, slightly confused.
"You know Varia?"
"Well, not personally, but we're trading with her tribe. They live not far from where we do, far north of here, near the coast."
"Well, it's a long story," Gabrielle said, and grinned at Vivella.
"And this is Xena, Gabrielle's partner. She fought with us today," Vivella said.
"Honored to meet you, Xena. I wish it could have been under better circumstances. So, you travel with Gabrielle?" Katchia asked as they clasped hands.
"You might say that," Xena said and smiled.
"And that's actually an even longer story, Katchia. I'll tell you all about it later. First things first, how many warriors did you bring?" Vivella said.
"20. What do you want us to do?"
"Guard the prisoners. I need all my fit warriors to go on patrols."
"Sounds fine with me. I'll go tell them right away," Katchia said and hugged her sister again.
"Gabrielle, Xena... come with me please, we have some unpleasant business to do," Vivella said, after Katchia had left to get their horses seen to.
A few minutes later they entered a remote corner of the village, lit by torches. They stood silently by the seemingly endless rows of dead Amazons. Tears were running down Vivella's cheeks.
"We're going to have to start building funeral pyres for them. Fortunately the cold will preserve them a little better, but... I won't allow them to lose their dignity. We can't wait too long," Vivella said.
"Vivella, let Gabrielle and me handle this. Go back to Sareena. She needs you to be there when she wakes up. Trust me on that one," Xena said.
The queen looked at the dark haired warrior.
"Xena's right. We only need a few helpers, and we'll be fine," Gabrielle said.
"I thank you. The axes are..."
"We'll find them, go back to Sareena," Gabrielle interrupted her, and put a hand on Vivella's arm to reassure her.
"By sunrise tomorrow, I'm declaring a week of mourning," Vivella said, and dried her eyes before walking back to the hospital.
Before long, the forest echoed of the sound of axes chopping down the many trees needed to build the funeral pyres.
The next few days saw the funeral pyres burning from dawn to dusk, ensuring a safe passage to the Amazon Land of the Dead for the warriors who lost their life in the battle. Many tears were shed over the loss of their fallen Sisters, but by the end of the week of mourning, everybody felt the need to move on.
Even though there were calls to execute the prisoners, queen Vivella decided, with the help of Xena and Gabrielle, to release General Callanus and his few remaining men. They had been given a tour of the village, proving the Amazons didn't have anything of value, except their fighting spirit - the General had already been on the receiving end of that, of course, and he was in no rush to try it again.
After two days, Sareena regained consciousness to the great delight of queen Vivella. The fierce warrior had lost some movement in her left arm, but with the hands-on care of queen Vivella, she had been getting stronger every day since. It came as no surprise to anyone in the village when the two warriors announced they were getting officially Joined in a grand ceremony to be held not long after the mourning period ended.
In queen Gabrielle's hut, she and Xena were snuggled up in each other's arms, enjoying the quiet of the early morning. They weren't talking, or even kissing, they were just together, listening to each other's heartbeats. Suddenly Aphrodite decided it was time to pop in.
Xena jumped a foot in the air as the goddess materialized right behind her in a cloud of rose petals.
"Oooooh it's so good to see you together!" the goddess said and clapped her hands.
Xena tried to calm down again, and turned over onto her back... unfortunately, the blanket followed her, exposing Gabrielle.
"Oh, Xena, the blanket... Aphrodite, do you mind..." Gabrielle said, trying in vain to keep herself covered.
"No, I don't mind," the goddess giggled.
Gabrielle sighed and gave up the one-sided struggle with the blanket. She settled for rolling her eyes.
Xena wiggled her eyebrows, earning her a tickle on the stomach from Gabrielle, making the Warrior Princess squirm.
"Listen, I've come for two things. First, I want to apologize for stealing the urn. I know it was a rotten thing to do, but I had to do something..."
"I understand, Aphrodite. And I'm eternally grateful for your efforts in bringing Xena back to me. I forgive you," Gabrielle said and smiled.
"Thank you, my dear friend. I was so worried I might lose your friendship, and..."
"No chance of that," Gabrielle said.
"Good. All right, second. I heard there's to be a Joining here, and I thought... Aphrodite, your favorite mortals are back together, and, like, at least one of them has nothing to wear, and..."
"Is there a point hidden somewhere among all those words?" Xena asked.
"Yes, I'm getting to it. Anyway, to cut a long story short... voila!" the goddess said, and snapped her fingers. On the table, a brand new set of Xena's leathers appeared, complete with the brass breastplate, the sheath for a sword, the gauntlets, the skirt and the knee-high boots.
"Oh!" Xena said excitedly, and jumped out of bed.
She quickly wormed her way into the familiar outfit. When she attached the gauntlets to her wrists a huge smile spread across her face, and she hugged Aphrodite thoroughly.
Gabrielle had wrapped the blanket around her and sat on the bed admiring the view with a big grin.
"Oh yeah, that's my Warrior Princess," she said.
"Yeah. And now for the best part," Aphrodite said.
"What's that?" Gabrielle asked.
"Now you get to take it off of her..." the goddess whispered to her, and danced a little happy shimmy.
"Have fun!" she said, and disappeared with a wave.
"Xena, I've been thinking..." Gabrielle said, still sitting on the bed.
"I'm going to tell Vivella that we're going to leave after her Joining, and..."
"Now you want to stay?" Xena said, slightly confused.
"No, it's not that... no no, but I was thinking, we're Joined in all but name anyway, so... how about we make it official? I mean, the ceremony's already going to be there, and..." she said, and her voice tapered off.
Xena walked over to the bed, and kneeled in front of her partner.
"Gabrielle, are you asking me if I want to be Joined with you?" she said, and caressed Gabrielle's cheek.
"Yeah, I guess I am..." Gabrielle said sheepishly, and tugged the blanket she was wearing. She looked down, unable to hold the Ice Blue gaze of her partner.
"I know it's probably silly, I mean, we've been together for so long, but I..." Gabrielle said, but stopped talking when Xena grabbed her hands and held them tight.
"I will," Xena said, and placed a gentle kiss on Gabrielle's lips.
A few days later, Xena had just about had it with all the preparations. Gabrielle had been so busy that they hadn't been able to spend much time together, and Xena was secretly contemplating how she could kidnap Gabrielle and get her out of the camp unseen...
She found herself sitting alone on a wooden bench at a table outside of Margrann's hut, waiting for Gabrielle who was in yet another meeting with the Amazons.
"Look, I know it's an Amazon tradition, but no, I don't want feathers in my hair!" an exasperated Xena said to a young girl holding an armful of feathers.
"But..." the young Amazon said.
"End of discussion," Xena growled.
"Pay no attention to her, Seela, the warrior's just grumpy. It happens," Margrann said, chuckling, as she came out of her hut with a bowl of herbs to cut and grind.
"Don't you have a cauldron somewhere that needs your undivided attention, Margrann?"
"Har har," the healer replied, and sat down on the bench opposite Xena. She spread the herbs out on the table and started sorting the small plants.
"I wish time would go faster so we could get this ceremony over and done with..." Xena said, and sighed.
"Tonight'll come around fast enough, don't you worry 'bout that. And Xena... when the moment comes, and you and Gabrielle stand up there in front of the altar... I'll bet you half a deer that you'll wish that moment would last forever," Margrann said and smiled.
"Any news from the scouts?" Vivella said to Latonia. The queen was in a hurry to get back to the preparations for tonight's feast, but she reluctantly admitted to herself that the weekly gathering of the senior Amazons was one of the things that needed to be done.
"Yes, my queen. They report that all is quiet. Callanus and his men have left the area, heading East. A patrol followed them for half a day, but there were no signs of the soldiers planning to start trouble," Latonia said.
"Have the traders returned, Latonia? We need to thank them for alerting us to Callanus' presence," Gabrielle said.
"We haven't seen them yet, queen Gabrielle. But they'll probably be here shortly."
"I think that's all. This meeting is adj..."
"I have something I want to say, queen Vivella," Gabrielle said and smiled at the Amazon.
"... oh, all right," Vivella said somewhat disappointed, eager to get back to her hut and the red-headed warrior waiting for her there.
"After tonight's ceremony, Xena and I will leave. We're very grateful for the home you've given us for the last couple of weeks, but both Xena and I are happiest when we're on the road. Many people still need our help, and many thugs need to be taught a lesson the hard way, so... we're leaving," Gabrielle said.
Vivella nodded, and reached out to clasp hands with the blonde woman.
"I understand, Gabrielle. Just remember we'll be here if you're ever in need of a home base," she said, and looked Gabrielle squarely in the eye.
"Thank you, Vivella."
"... and NOW the meeting's adjourned!" Vivella said and quickly got up from her chair, to the great amusement of the other Amazons.
The air was humming with excitement. A Joining usually only happened once or twice a year, so to have two in one night made it a big occasion. Like in the Celebration of Life, the large tarp had been attached to the huts, only this time the wooden benches were lined up facing an altar that had been erected at the far end of the area.
Katchia's warriors proved to be even more rowdy than those of her big sister, so the Amazon camp was pretty wild in the hours leading up to the ceremony.
Vivella and Sareena were to go first, and in the mean time, Xena and Gabrielle were seated next to each other on a wooden bench.
Gabrielle's heart was beating like crazy, and she was sure Xena could hear it. She glanced at the warrior at her side. Xena looked as stoic as usual, even a little bored. Gabrielle took Xena's arm and put it around her shoulder.
"Excited?" she asked, after leaning into Xena's ear to get heard above the racket.
"Well..." Xena replied, and shrugged.
"Well... yes," Xena said and mussed Gabrielle's golden locks.
Margrann entered the area, and walked up to stand behind the altar. The warriors went quiet, and she started speaking in the Amazons' native language - which Xena understood perfectly, much to Gabrielle's surprise.
"You can understand their language?"
"Oh yes. It's the same one Borias spoke," Xena said.
"Huh! That's typical, miss 'many skills'" Gabrielle said, and poked Xena in the ribs with her elbow.
Margrann continued speaking for a few minutes before Vivella and Sareena came to her at the altar. When the ritual ended, the two Amazons kissed, and the other warriors cheered so loudly that Xena was worried the tarp might collapse.
As Vivella and Sareena were ushered back to their bench by two guards, Latonia stood up and shouted a greeting after them in their own language. Once again everyone cheered, and Gabrielle looked to Xena for the translation.
"'Don't do anything I wouldn't do'," Xena said, and grinned.
"Queen Gabrielle, Xena of Amphipolis!" Margrann said in a clear voice.
They looked at each other for a second or two, and then walked hand in hand to the altar.
On their way there, both of them couldn't help but admire their partner.
Xena was wearing her new, black leathers, with freshly polished brass bits and a borrowed sword in the sheath on her back - and Gabrielle had even managed to talk her into having some of her hair braided.
Gabrielle wore the standard Amazon outfit for ceremonies, a suede two-piece with silver highlights on the top, and silver armbands. Her hair was still too short to have anything done with it, but she proudly wore an eagle feather - and both of them thought their partner had never looked better.
Margrann cleared her throat, and started to speak.
"Gabrielle and Xena, this ritual is as old as the Amazon Nation itself, but the words are just as valid today as they were a thousand generations ago. Through this ceremony you will make a pledge to forever love and honor your partner, to respect her, and to protect her against all adversity, until death do you part," Margrann said - 'and beyond...' she thought.
"Please kneel, and put your hands on top of each other on this sacred stone."
They did so, and Margrann continued:
"Queen Gabrielle, what say thee?"
"Xena of Amphipolis, what say thee?"
"I will. For all eternity!" she said in a strong voice, and squeezed Gabrielle's hand underneath her own.
"And so it shall be. Now seal the Joining with a kiss," Margrann said.
When they kissed, the crowd of warriors erupted again, but neither of them heard it. For Xena and Gabrielle, everything but the two of them faded into oblivion. They had kissed many, many times before, but this was special - this really meant something. Neither of them wanted to lose the intimate contact, but eventually they had to get some air.
"Well, that has got to be some kind of record..." Margrann said after the kiss, which had lasted for the better part of a minute and a half.
Xena and Gabrielle slowly regained their bearings, and looked at the cheering crowd with huge smiles on their faces. The warriors cheered like mad again, and Gabrielle couldn't help but laugh out loud.
"And now it's time for the party!" Margrann said with her hands in the air.
The tent was literally rocking when a sudden crackle of ozone filled the air.
"Squeeeee!" Aphrodite said and clapped her hands joyfully. She wore a suede Amazon two-piece outfit with feathers and all the trimmings... and all of it was pink!
"Whassup, dudettes?" she said, and looked around at the stunned Amazons.
"Oh, hey, don't stop the party for my sakes, I'll just find a nice, comfy seat and watch you do the wiggle-wiggle," she said while making a few twisting dance moves.
"Hello Aphrodite!" Gabrielle said, and waved so the goddess could spot them in the semi-darkness.
"Yo!" she replied and made her way over to the bench where Xena and Gabrielle sat.
"Congratulations! Oh, it's so wonderful to see you finally tie the knot, you know? I can't tell you how much I've longed for this day!" Aphrodite said, and held up a small pink hankie to dab her eyes with.
"Thank you," Xena and Gabrielle said together, smiling at the goddess' antics.
"What are you drinking?" The goddess reached for Xena's mug and sniffed the contents.
"Yuck! Let me get you something worthwhile," she said, and snapped her fingers. Three drinks, halved coconuts with little umbrellas in them, came out of nowhere to materialize on the table.
"One for you, one for you, one for me..." she said and pushed the drinks over to Xena and Gabrielle.
"Thanks," Gabrielle said, and reached for her coconut.
"Ah, you better watch out little one, that's potent stuff!"
"I'll be careful," Gabrielle said and sipped a tiny amount from the drink. The liquid was outrageously sweet, and, of course, pink. She was surprised to find the taste was actually to her liking.
"What's in it?" she asked.
"Oh, a little of this, a little of that. I call it the Pink Goddess," Aphrodite said and giggled.
"No kidding..." Xena said, and looked down into her own coconut.
A small scuffle broke out on the other side of the tent. Two amazons had engaged each other in something that looked like wrestling.
Confused, Aphrodite looked at Xena.
"Are they fighting?" the goddess asked.
"Foreplay," came the knowing response.
"Oh... Well, to each their own, I guess," Aphrodite said and emptied her drink in one gulp.
"Come on, you've got to tell old 'Dite aaaall about the Ceremony!" she said excitedly.
The party was still in full swing when Xena and Gabrielle quietly slipped out of the tent and walked to their hut. Unseen by either of them, Margrann was sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air. She looked at the two women as they entered the hut, and couldn't help but think about the old scrolls she had read. She had always considered them to be exaggerated, but with the events of the last few weeks, she now believed that Gabrielle had actually left things out of them.
Vivella came out to join her.
"My queen," Margrann said, and wanted to get up.
"Keep sitting," Vivella said and waved dismissively at her.
"Have Xena and Gabrielle left?" the queen asked.
"Yes, I just happened to see them enter their hut, Vivella."
"All right. It's strange... it almost feels like they're... no, it's nonsense," Vivella said.
"What?" Margrann asked, her interest piqued.
"Well, it almost feels like they're not like us, you know? You must have noticed that, Margrann, you talked a lot with Gabrielle. It's like... their bodies may be young, but their souls are ancient."
"I think I know what you mean, queen Vivella. When I read them the words of the ritual, I couldn't shake the feeling that every word had been written to describe them. Heh, maybe Gabrielle wrote it," Margrann said, and chuckled.
Vivella's eyebrows went skywards.
"Yeah, they were here before us, and they'll be around long after we're gone... And not only that, it's almost like they can't function without the other one being near - they're meant to be together," Margrann said thoughtfully.
"Yeah..." Queen Vivella said, and fell silent.
Dawn wasn't far off when Gabrielle closed the door to her hut for the last time. Queen Vivella had kindly given them two horses, and Xena was busy adjusting the saddles and checking the reins.
As a goodbye gift, Margrann had left some heavy winter coats in their hut, and they were glad she had, because it was most decidedly cold now and there was a hint of snow in the air.
Their breaths were visible as plumes of vapor as they finished up.
"Ready?" Xena asked.
"Yes," Gabrielle said, and looked around the village.
"You know, when I came here, I thought I'd find peace and quiet... but..."
"But the Gods wanted differently," Xena added.
"Mmmm. Story of our lives, really... Anyway, peace and quiet can't compete with getting you back," Gabrielle said, and stood up on tiptoes to kiss Xena's cheek.
"Well, I'm glad you feel that way. I was concerned you might have gone for a younger model," Xena said, grinning.
They got up on their horses and set off in a slow pace towards the gate.
Once the gate had closed behind them, they started the long trek North towards Potaideia. Everything felt right in the world for both women. Now they could go anywhere, do anything, help anyone they wanted to... and they were together.
"You know, there's one little thing we haven't talked about..." Xena said.
"Who gets the Chakram?"
"I do," Xena said.
"I do," Gabrielle echoed.
Another pause - and then both Xena and Gabrielle started laughing out loud, and they didn't stop until they were well out of sight from the Amazon village.