"Aaaarrrggghhh!" Gabrielle crumpled the parchment in her fist
and shook it. "Thats a myth, a stupid myth!"
"Yeth, what ith?"
Gabrielle gave Xena a dark look. "Go on, chortle
at your own wit. Xena, look at this!" She smoothed the lined paper
against her flat stomach, then thrust it beneath her partners
chin, one finger tapping the page rapidly.
"Want me to read it or eat it?" Xena snatched
the page and scanned it idly. Then her face brightened. "Gabrielle,
hey! This is wonderful! Youre listed as a featured performer at
Potadeias harvest festival! And they spelled you right, look --
"Gabrielle, Our Own Little Bard of Potadeia!"
Gabrielle made an unladylike retching noise. "They make me sound
like a talking baby lamb! Little Bard, honestly . . . "
Xena wisely resisted the urge to point out that "baby
lamb" was redundant. She kept silent, letting Gabrielle stalk a
few steps down the trail, muttering to herself. Argo whickered behind
them, and the tall warrior threw a cautioning look over her shoulder.
The bard had traveled with them long enough to recognize horse laughter.
Gabrielle turned back, waving the flyer at Xena as
though it were a hopelessly dented frying pan. "I am not short,
Xena, and this is all your fault. The entire civilized world thinks
I am a short person, and I am not. I never have been short, I am not
now, I do not plan ever to BE short -- "
"Gabrielle, cool off." Xena gave up trying
to hide her smile as she drew abreast of her partner. She slung a long
arm around the irritated bards shoulders and urged her on down
the path. "Short of stature doesnt mean short of intelligence,
or competence, or kindness -- "
"Or temper," Gabrielle warned. She ducked
out from under Xenas arm and side-stepped, looking up at the warriors
height with annoyance. "You try walking beside the Colossus of
Amphipolis for four years, theyll call you a shrimp too."
"Im certain they will," Xena agreed
It took a moment, but Gabrielle finally cracked a smile
and slapped the wrinkled paper against Xena's thigh. They walked on
in a comfortable silence, the kind that appeared and held more often
between them as the years passed. Gabrielles once endless chatter
had given way to lengthening periods of peace, as the bard learned to
share Xenas joy of listening to the world.
They were making good time. They should reach the Amazon
village by moonrise. Gabrielle had missed Ephiny fiercely this past
season, and though she was less willing to admit it, so had Xena. Gabrielle
blended happily, with a sense of relief, into the company of the women
she ruled. There was a distance imposed by her rank that all were aware
of -- except for a close circle of friends that included Eponin and
Solari, few Amazons treated Gabrielle with the relaxed warmth she wanted
to share with all her clan. But shed grown to love her difficult
sisters, and relish her brief sojourns among them.
Xenas anticipation was more ambivalent. She would
be happy enough to greet old friends, and she looked forward to trading
stories around a nightfire. But the incessant combat drills the Amazons
practiced were sure to draw her in. Shed be asked to demonstrate
a particular kick, and then spend the rest of the day fending off one
playful challenge after another. Amazons had a competitive streak ten
layers deep, and a renowned warrior in their midst was too much to resist.
Xena knew shed receive at least one challenge intended to provoke
a true match. It was wearing.
"Amazons think Im short, too," Gabrielle
sighed. She may have learned to enjoy silence, but she still shook any
topic that interested her in her teeth like a terrier. "Ah gods,
you're right, I'm short."
"I never said -- "
"Queens are supposed to be towering and majestic.
Youd make a good queen." She looked up at Xena pensively.
"How am I supposed to command Amazons Im squinting up at,
its just not -- "
"Try glowering up at them, and youre about
to get some practice." Xena stopped Gabrielle with a hand on her
arm and nodded up the trail. "Arent those two yours?"
Gabrielle saw two women running down the path toward
them. They were dressed in the unmistakable feathers of Ephinys
clan, but her pleased recognition soon gave way to low-grade alarm.
The two Amazons were young, hardly fully adult, and
theyd obviously been running for a long time. Both loped with
an exhausted, stumbling gait, and even spying Xena and Gabrielle couldnt
galvanize their pace. The warrior and the bard jogged to meet them,
Argo trotting behind, and the two women collapsed on the ground and
let them come.
They struggled to sit upright as Gabrielle knelt before
them, and two fists thudded into two heaving chests, and then extended
palm down to the young queen.
"Yeah, yeah," Gabrielle said, patting the
hands once each to lower them. "Look, concentrate on breathing,
you can revere me later." She looked over her shoulder. "Xena?"
"On my way." The warrior was unlacing a waterskin
from Argos girthbelt.
"Queen Gabrielle," the red-haired Amazon
gasped. She was the taller of the two, and she swept one haphazard arm
out to point back up the trail. "Ephiny . . . Pendrites . . . "
"Hold on, you cant talk unless you can breathe,"
Gabrielle interrupted. She swept the dark hair back off the second Amazons
damp brow to see her eyes. They both seemed all right, physically, just
spent. To Gabrielles surprise, the young Amazon she was touching
"Im Kella, shes Jesstin," the
smaller Amazon got out, before heaving for air. "Theres a
band -- of Pendrite -- before nightfall -- "
"Listen to your queen, girl." Xena crouched
beside Gabrielle and handed the dripping waterskin to the taller Amazon.
Jesstin took it, looking up at Xena with a dazed expression. "Youre
both wasting time. Gabrielle needs your message short, concise, and
accurate. Now shut up and get your breath back, as she ordered."
The young Amazons had never met Xena, but they were
discovering the descriptions of the warriors imposing presence
were quite accurate. They shut up entirely, studied each other instead,
and obediently pulled for breath.
Gabrielle sat back on her heels and quirked a bemused
eyebrow at her lover. "You know, I have to admit theres some
advantage in having a queens champion whos taller than your
"Dont call me that, Gabrielle, you know
I hate that," Xena sighed. She watched Jesstin hand the waterskin
to Kella instead of drinking first herself, and figured there was a
champion-wannabe in their midst.
"I didnt make up the title." But Gabrielle's
smile faded as she turned to her two subjects. Their mission was obviously
urgent, and another flicker of disquiet sounded in her belly. "Are
you guys coherent, now?"
The one named Jesstin nodded, contrite, as she scrubbed
water from her lips. "Finally, Lady." She straightened her
back, and looked directly into Gabrielles green eyes. "Theres
a band of Pendrite sorcerers advancing on our camp. Pendrites swore
vengeance on all Amazons after one of our exiled warriors knifed the
kings son -- "
"Its a long story and we already know it,
thats okay, go on," Gabrielle coaxed gently.
"Ephiny thinks they want Amazons for slaves."
Jesstin's brown eyes flashed. "Kella and I were with the war party
she led to intercept them. But Gabrielle, there are hundreds!"
"She sent us to find you." Kella, the small,
dark-haired Amazon took up the report. "Ephiny wants you to organize
our main camp for battle." She looked a little frightened. "I
dont think we can avoid this one, Lady."
"You might be right, Kella." Gabrielle let
out a long breath, staring over the two womens heads. Silently,
she blessed Ephiny for sending these two out of harm's way. They were
doubtless the youngest, and least seasoned, of her regent's patrol.
She touched both Amazons shoulders. "All right. Xena and
I will ride for the camp. We can make it before dusk if we push."
Xena rose, and jumped lightly onto Argos back.
This was Amazon business, and she would follow her partner's lead. "We
might not meet Ephiny on the trail, but we can make the village before
Gabrielle nodded agreement without turning her head.
"You two follow us as quickly as you can, but dont kill yourselves
getting there. Save your strength, you might walk in on a fight. Are
The two voices spoke in ceremonial tandem, and Gabrielle
blinked at them, then grinned and ruffled Kellas dark hair before
Xena held one wrist down for Gabrielles grasp.
The young queen swung easily up behind her, the movement as natural
as breathing, and clasped the dark warriors waist. "Get something
to eat on the trail," she called down to her subjects, sounding
like a stern mother, "and watch your backs."
The two Amazons thumped and saluted again, and Argo
skipped into a fast gallop, pelting them with gritty dust.
_____ *** _____
It was a bitter battle, and hellishly long for an impulsive clash, but
the small number of lethal casualties inflicted was nigh onto miraculous.
Few Amazons fell because Ephiny and Eponin had trained them hard and
long for combat, and most of their clan were seasoned fighters. More
were saved because Gabrielle was wise enough to rely on the counsel
of her most trusted advisers, Xena chief among them, and the Amazons
battle strategies proved effective.
Thered been no time for greetings. Ephiny fought
far from the warrior and the bard, and it wasnt until the Pendrites
were in full retreat that the separate cadres gathered in the center
of the Amazon village.
Gabrielle was exhausted, and covered with grime. A
shallow cut above her left elbow still bled, sluggishly -- a dagger-swipe
that had been too fast to evade -- but that was her only injury. Xena
had been equally lucky, and now she helped Gabrielle patch up the most
dangerous wounds others had earned in the fray. Gabrielle was bringing
fresh water when Ephiny finally caught her.
"Gabrielle, we need you." Ephinys expression
was grim, and the tired pleasure that lit Gabrielles green eyes
at the sight of her regent turned to concern.
"Hey." She touched Ephinys arm. "Are
you all right?"
"Its not me." Ephiny gestured toward
the far side of the camp, and nodded for Gabrielle to follow her. She
lowered her voice as they walked, so her words were heard only by the
young bard. "I dont think youve ever done this before,
Gabrielle, but follow your instincts. You remember the Queens
"Ah, gods." Gabrielles voice lowered
with dread. "Who is it, Ephiny?"
"One of my scouting patrol." Grief was heavy
in the beautiful regents voice. "We cant save her,
Gabrielle. Ease her passage if you can."
"Ill do my -- " Then Gabrielle stopped
short, dismay sweeping through her in a sick fog. "Ah, sweet Artemis,
Jesstin lay sprawled in Kellas arms in the sparse
grass. A horrific gash in her chest had stopped bleeding, but only because
a womans body couldnt possibly hold more blood than that
which saturated both young warriors. Kella was rocking her, crooning
a comforting chant in a voice that was high and thin.
"Ephiny, get Xena," Gabrielle said quietly.
She knelt in front of the two young women, and her green eyes were bleak.
"Kella, are you wounded?"
Kella shook her head. "She took that sword strike
for me, Lady." She looked at Gabrielle pleadingly as she rocked
Jesstin. "Please, we cant let her die."
Jesstins eyes were closed, and her face was shockingly
white. Her dark brows drew together as she fought the agony of an injury
that would surely prove mortal. She lay still in Kellas embrace,
but her entire body shook, and Gabrielles throat constricted with
The bard looked up as long fingers brushed the top
of her shoulder. Xena stood behind her, her blue eyes anguished. The
warrior's gaze measured Jesstin, and then she glanced down at Gabrielle
and shook her head. Gabrielle just nodded -- one look had told her the
girl was past help.
Xena crouched, and quickly jabbed two fingers into
the joints of Jesstin's shoulders. The dazed warrior cried out, but
then seemed to relax. Her trembling lessened, as stunned nerves shut
off the flow of pain. Xena stood again, and her knees warmed Gabrielle's
"Im sorry, Kella." The queen bent over
Jesstin, and her fingers sifted through Kellas damp hair, as they
had when they first met. "Jesstin's injuries are beyond our ability
to heal. We cant keep her with us. We should honor her by letting
her pass on, peacefully."
Kella moaned, and lowered her forehead to Jesstins
Jesstins eyes opened, and she focused blearily
on Gabrielles green ones, which were filling with tears. "Lady?"
Gabrielle lifted the dying Amazons hand and cradled
it in her lap. "Yes, Jess, it's me."
"Im glad I got to meet you." Jesstin
smiled with the shy delight of a child, and tears rose in the eyes of
all the Amazons who circled them, watching.
Ephiny and Xena rarely allowed themselves to touch
each other. Their attraction was mutual, and had been since the day
they met, but it would never be voiced. Both women gifted their primary
loyalty to the young queen who knelt at their feet. But as Jesstin struggled
to breathe, Ephiny let her head rest back against Xenas supporting
shoulder, and closed her eyes.
"I'm glad we met too, Jesstin." Gabrielle
found she could still speak, and she hoped Jesstin heard the genuine
love in her voice. It wasnt the affection two young women might
form for each other at first meeting -- it was the mature love of an
Amazon queen for a warrior fallen in her service. "Are you ready,
little sister? Its time to go."
Jesstins eyes dimmed, and she tried to lift her
head to see Kella. "Im sorry, Kel," she gasped, and
then she had to lower her head into her lap again. "I really love
you. Ill wait for you at the next bend. Okay?"
Kella had to hitch in a long breath before she could
answer, but when she did, her eyes were rich with love as well as tears.
"At the next bend, Jess." She bent and rested her lips against
"Good girl," Gabrielle murmured, and smiled
through her tears. She looked down at the bloody hand she still clasped,
and felt it growing cold.
Gabrielle had heard one Queens Blessing; Ephiny
had given hers to an older Amazon who died of pneumonia during one of
their visits. Every Blessing was different, and Gabrielles for
Jesstin was simple and beautiful and uniquely the bards.
"Your sisters are right here, Jesstin, to tell you goodbye. And
to thank you -- you fought bravely and well for your clan. You can pass
over now. Youll find no pain on the other side, and youll
be strong again there. Your older sisters are waiting for you, around
a huge nightfire. Theres venison and mead, and they know many
stories of our mothers. Youll see us again. Well join you
there, someday. Good night, Jesstin, we love you so much."
Rocked in her lovers arms, surrounded by grieving
friends, the young Amazon died between one breath and the next.
Sometime later, Gabrielle felt Xenas hands on
her shoulders, and she nodded silently and got to her feet. Two Amazons
lifted their hands to volunteer -- one to offer Kella what comfort she
could accept, the other to take the body away when Kella was ready.
The rest of the Amazons drifted quietly from the dark young woman, and
the dead warrior she still cradled, sobbing.
_____ *** _____
"That was lovely, Bri." Xenas low voice
was warm as she led Gabrielle to their tent, her arm draped over the
bards slumped shoulders. "You gave the girl a worthy Blessing.
Your first, and after a night like this. Im proud of you."
Ordinarily those words would have sounded a deep chord
in Gabrielle, but tonight she was too deep in despair to feel it. And
numb with exhaustion, after organizing the care of the wounded, the
burial ceremonies of the six dead, and seeing to it that everyone fed
and rested. It was nearly dawn.
She let Xena lift the flap of their open-air tent and
push her gently inside. Their shelter was a quickly-built but efficient
one, consisting largely of four long blankets erected as walls in a
square surrounding them. Gabrielle sat cross-legged on the cool grass,
while the warrior built a small fire to warm their sleep. There was
no conversation as they ate the stew one of the older Amazons brought,
but the silence felt soothing. Neither of them needed words to request
what came next -- they were both drained, but they craved physical comfort
more than sleep.
Gabrielle lay back in Xenas arms, and rested
her head on the strong swell of her shoulder. They were naked, a rare
indulgence when they were among the Amazons, but skin to skin contact
was clearly needed that night.
Xena stared up at the deep blue blanket of stars above
them. Her long fingers sifted through Gabrielles short, soft hair.
"None of this was your fault, Gabrielle."
"I know that." Gabrielle's hand ran lightly
across Xenas lean side. "I didnt start this stupid
"Doesnt matter," Xena sighed, and shifted
stiffly beneath the bard's sweet weight. "A leader always shoulders
the pain of a battle, the loss of her warriors. I know I did. An Amazon
queen feels guilt for every single death, because her women die for
the clan. And the queen is the clan."
Gabrielle said nothing for a moment, tickling a circle
on Xenas warm skin. "You know, Jesstin was probably two years
younger than me," she murmured finally. "And Ive been
Kella, so many times. In my head, mostly. A couple of times Ive
really held you like that, though, when youve been hurt."
Xena shifted again. "Those times were just as
hard for me, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle closed her eyes. "I doubt it."
"Well, Ive been on the other side of things,
too. Im not the one who leap-frogged into a lava pit -- "
"Xena, Im terrified that Im going
to watch you die right in front of me, someday."
"Oh, please." Xenas blue eyes glittered
in the darkness. "That doesnt even bear talking about. Weve
both done it, okay, weve both lived through it."
Gabrielle was silent.
New images, very different ones, were rising behind
the bards closed eyelids, and they unsettled her.
Gabrielle wanted blood. She despised the Pendrites
who murdered her sisters. She was going to gut every last one of them,
personally. She planned to enjoy it. In the dark, Gabrielles smile
turned feral. Then she shuddered, hard.
Xena opened one eye and peered down at the blond head,
puzzled. She reached out and pulled the thick fur up over Gabrielles
bare shoulder, wondering if she was chilled. The warrior rested her
lips in the lush hair, still trying to get used to it's shaggy length.
"Try to sleep, Bri. Dawn comes early."
But Xena was wrong, for once. Dawn didnt come
_____ *** _____
Xena stirred, and then came awake with the adrenalin-fueled abruptness
that sometimes gave her bedmate cardiac arrest. It might have been Gabrielle's
absence that alerted the warrior -- she hadn't heard the bard leave,
which was unusual in itself -- but the sky unsettled Xena far more.
It was just before dawn. The forest was filled with
the pleasant blue light that heralded the rising of the sun, still an
hour away. The air was fresh, and slightly cold. Ordinarily this was
Xena's favorite time of day, but not this odd morning.
Xena knew her body, and she knew she'd slept a good
seven hours -- she was fully rested. It should be cresting noon, at
least. The warrior's blue eyes widened as she stared up at the canopy
of faint stars above her, and she struggled against a surge of superstitious
dread. Where was the sun?
She needed to see Gabrielle. It felt that way, sometimes,
for both of them, their eyes thirsted for the sight of the other.
Xena dressed quickly and ducked out of the tent. She
straightened, and was struck by the stillness of the village. Nightfires
still burned, or at least their coals still smoldered. The cooking fires
had not yet been lit. Exhausted by the battle the night before, few
Amazons were stirring. Only the women standing watch were commendably
alert, pacing the perimeters of the camp.
Xena turned and ran smack into Ephiny, whose brown
eyes were shooting sparks.
"Do you always sleep through your wife's periodic lapses of sanity,
Xena scanned the camp for Gabrielle. "What are
you talking about?"
"She's not here. She's taken Kella, and gone after
Xena stared at the regent. "What?"
Ephiny nodded. "The watch says the two of them
rode out hours ago. To slaughter the cowards who murdered Jesstin."
"Slaughter . . . "
"The queen's word, not mine." Ephiny perched
her hands on her hips, her anger masking real worry. "Gabrielle's
snapped, Xena, I mean it. She forbade Corday to alert either of us.
Corday has covered nightwatch for years, and she said she's never seen
an Amazon more hell-bent on vengeance. She was afraid of her."
"Of Gabrielle." The warrior's tone dripped
disbelief. She stalked off toward the stables, Ephiny on her heels.
"Yes, of Gabrielle!" The regent grabbed Xena's
arm and spun her back around -- not the most prudent way to get the
warrior's attention, but she let it pass. "Xena! Haven't you noticed
we seem to be under a -- sun hex, or something, here? Time has stopped."
"I've noticed." Xena moved on toward the
"Just one." Xena waited until Ephiny caught
up with her. "Pendrite sorcerers led the attack against us last
night, right? Sorcerers, that's what Jesstin told us."
Xena nodded toward the pre-dawn sky. "This look
like sorcerer's work to you?"
Ephiny followed her gaze, and frowned. "It might,
"Well, Gabrielle suddenly screaming for blood
certainly does." Xena let loose a piercing whistle, and a moment
later Argo came loping out of the stable. Then the warrior winced as
Ephiny whistled, equally sharply, and petulantly close to Xena's ear.
The regent's mount, a small bay, trotted out behind Argo.
Xena vaulted aboard her towering horse. "When
are Amazons going to stop riding sheep?"
"The day they can't run your elephant into the
ground." Ephiny clicked at her mare, all the instruction an Amazon-trained
mount needed, and the two horses cantered out of the sleeping village.
_____ *** _____
It took longer than it should have for two skilled trackers to trace
the path of the Amazon queen. Gabrielle had learned much from Xena,
and she obviously did not want to be found. They trailed her to a distant
grove on the border of Pendria by what should have been dusk, but everything
in nature still insisted it was an hour before dawn.
The warrior and the regent quit their horses a safe
distance from the circle of trees, and made their way silently toward
it. Ephiny peered cautiously between two stunted maples, and she saw
Gabrielle first. She stared, and then leaned back against one of the
"Ephiny?" Xena whispered.
"It's bad, Xena. Something's got them both."
Xena scowled to cover her fear, and then crouched to
look between the two trees. Her sea-blue eyes widened.
Gabrielle was naked, and she was torturing a female
prisoner. Kella was naked too, and she was helping her.
An Amazon ceremony was being held in the grove, but
not one Xena had ever witnessed, or even heard described. A bonfire
roared high, illuminating the macabre scene with gold light. A crude
scaffold had been erected -- two tall posts, laced together into a X
shape, the ends pounded deep into the earth. A Pendrite warrior was
roped to this rack, her arms tied behind the upper posts, her ankles
lashed to the base of the lower ones. She had been stripped -- her tattered
uniform lay on the grass to one side. The woman was middle-aged and
powerful, with silver dusting the dark wings of hair framing her face.
Xena steeled herself as they crept nearer to the sinister
arena. Gabrielle's nudity was distracting her in a crude, carnal way
that had never stabbed at the dark woman so sharply. The sight of the
bard at that moment struck far too close to Xena's most private fantasies.
Ephiny motioned Xena down, and they crouched side by
side in the brush. "They're making an offering to Artemis,"
"Artemis is a huntress," Xena protested.
"She doesn't accept blood sacrifice."
"Tell Gabrielle that."
Tendrils of blond hair clung to Gabrielle's throat
as she stalked back and forth in front of her prisoner. Her green eyes
pulsed with a greedy light, and her lips were pulled back from her white
teeth in a rictus of hatred. She carried a leather bullwhip -- Xena's
bullwhip -- and cracked it every few steps, with ominous skill.
Gabrielle wore nothing but the ornate wolf-claw necklace
an Amazon queen donned only for high rituals. She was waiting, Xena
realized, for the bound woman to recover from the lashes already administered
-- the Pendrite's small breasts were marked with vivid red stripes.
Xena shivered. Her gentle wife was exhibiting the horrific patience
of an experienced torturer.
Xena spied Kella, crouching at the prisoner's feet,
and her heart sank. The young Amazon seemed possessed by the same fury
that infested her queen, and she was venting it with equal fervor. Kella's
lovely face contorted with a cruel smile as she reached up between the
tied woman's spread legs, and punched one finger abruptly into her vagina.
Three more fingers followed in quick succession, and then Kella drove
her entire hand up into the woman, with a chilling snarl. The prisoner
jerked at the rough invasion, groaning.
Gabrielle looked on her subject's efforts with approval, snapping the
bullwhip again with relish as she paced and watched. "Remember
that it was this woman's hand that spilled Jesstin's blood, Kella."
Her voice was a snarling parody of Gabrielle's melodious tone. "Dig
into her . . . possess her utterly, and avenge your lifemate."
"Damn you to the darkest pit of Tartarus, bitch,"
Kella hissed, and began pumping in and out of the woman's shuddering
Gabrielle smiled down at Kella with maternal pride,
and raised the bullwhip again. Xena commanded her frozen muscles to
move, but she was transfixed. The firelight licked redly over Gabrielle's
strong curves, the muscles in her forearm flexing as she hurled the
whip forward. She found the young queen's nakedness impossibly seductive,
and Xena felt heat course through her groin. She shook herself and launched
into the air, but the whip cracked across the prisoner's bare breasts
before she reached Gabrielle.
"That's enough!" Xena tackled her partner
with a force that brought them both to the ground. The whip dropped
from Gabrielle's hand, but she fought Xena's restraining arms with immediate
rage, spitting and twisting in grass wet with dew. "Gabrielle!
Stop it, now!"
Xena felt Kella leap onto her back in defense of her
queen, and her fists pummeled Xena's bare shoulders. Two thrashing,
raving Amazons were a handful even for the warrior princess, burdened
as she was by the desire not to hurt either of them. With relief, she
felt Ephiny haul Kella off her back, and she concentrated on subduing
her crazed wife.
"Get your cursed hands off me," Gabrielle
cried. Her green eyes flashed up at Xena with a scathing light, but
virtually no recognition -- the bard obviously didn't know her. "You
don't wear the girdle of Artemis, woman!"
"Amazon or not, Gabrielle, I'm not going to let
you brutalize a helpless captive." Xena struggled to still the
girl's flailing arms.
"Forgive me, Kella," Ephiny gasped.
Xena couldn't see the regent or the Amazon she grappled
with, but she heard the hilt of Ephiny's sword thud against a skull.
There was a sighing sound, and then the rustle of a body slumping into
"You have no right to stop this, warrior,"
Gabrielle panted. "Amazon justice won't be denied -- "
"This isn't justice, Gabrielle, it's revenge."
Xena finally had Gabrielle's back pinned against her chest. "Snap
out of this, Bri! This isn't you -- you would never abuse anyone --
Except her lover, perhaps. Gabrielle's elbow pounded
hard into Xena's stomach, and the breath rushed out of the warrior.
With a remorseful oath, Xena stiffened her forefingers and twisted them
into the base of Gabrielle's neck. The blond woman sagged against her,
her eyelids fluttering as consciousness faded.
Xena cradled Gabrielle in the eerie blue light. She
looked down at the nude body sprawled in her arms -- the wolf-claw necklace,
the full breasts flushed and heaving, the sculpted plane of the flat
belly, the curves of her thighs, the red-gold triangle quivering between
them. Xena grit her teeth and closed her eyes, tightly.
Ephiny was tending Kella, crossing the young woman's
hands over her waist. She looked up, worried at the lasting silence.
"Xena, is Gabrielle all right?"
"Of course she's not," Xena spat. Her voice
was tight with tears. "She's a rabid maniac, Ephiny. What's happened
to her, to both of them? What turned the most gentle soul I've ever
known into this -- "
"Her soul is more than gentle, warrior, and she
is more than your wife."
Xena felt an iron hand grip the scruff of her neck,
and suddenly she was flying across the grove. She smacked hard into
thick shrubbery and slid, half-dazed, to the grass, fumbling for her
chakram. Her wild blue eyes darted to the woman standing calmly beside
Gabrielle's crumpled form. Xena heard Ephiny make a soft sound.
It was the Pendrite prisoner. Xena's gaze flew to the
empty scaffold, then back to the woman's serene eyes, watching her.
She snatched her chakram from her belt and held it ready. "Get
away from her, Pendrite, or -- "
"Yes?" The woman smiled pleasantly, folding
her arms over her welted breasts.
"Xena!" Ephiny hissed. Loudly. Xena darted
a glance her way, and was amazed to see the beautiful regent on one
knee, her eyes lowered, her closed fist resting on her heart. "Xena,
stand down! It's Artemis!"
Xena blinked. She saw the woman lift an eyebrow, as
expressively as Xena did on occassion. The prisoner's small, compact
figure, the dark hair sprinkled with gray, were the same -- but then
her image wavered, shimmering. When the lines of her body solidified
again, the woman was dressed in trim, practical hunter's garb of green
and brown, a beautiful cherrywood bow across her back. Her dark eyes
were large and deep, and they carried the unmistakable gleam of divinity.
"Get up, daughter." Artemis went to Ephiny
as she rose. "I'm not Ares, my ego doesn't require groveling."
The goddess touched her lips fondly to Ephiny's forehead.
She had to stand on her toes to do it, but it was a graceful gesture
nonetheless. Ephiny's face flooded with color.
Xena, never known for her reverence toward immortals,
climbed out of the shrubbery and stalked back to the unconscious bard.
"What did you mean, Artemis -- that Gabrielle's soul is more than
Artemis turned to her. "Your wife may be young,
Xena of Amphipolis, but she's no child."
Xena stared at Gabrielle's lush body on the grass at
her feet. "That much is obvious," she muttered.
"Not to you," Artemis countered. "Not
The goddess looked down at the motionless blond woman,
and Xena saw her face soften. It was a good face, Xena noted randomly
-- sun-weathered and lined, not particularly attractive by Greek goddess
standards -- but an unexpectedly kind face.
"Gabrielle is my daughter, Xena, just as Ephiny
is." Artemis strolled to the warrior's side. "And in one way,
I know her better than you do. I know the Amazon queen."
"Then tell me how to help her, Artemis."
Xena's throat tightened as she looked at the goddess. "Please."
"To begin with," Artemis sighed, "you
were correct in assuming that sorcery is behind this."
Ephiny spoke with deference. "You mean this strange
dawn, Lady, that never comes?"
"Well, no." Artemis dimpled. "Actually,
that's my doing. When you defeated the Pendrites, Ephiny, the sorcerers
who led them cast a curse on your village. They swore that the sun would
never rise again on free Amazons. They hoped to use dark magic to drive
your sisters mad, and then enslave the clan like beasts."
"And the queen is the clan," Xena murmured.
"Yes. Gabrielle was the first to suffer the effects
of the sorcerers' spell. I couldn't prevent that." There was genuine
regret in Artemis's tone. "But, I could delay dawn, to give the
two of you time to find your queen, and unravel the curse." The
goddess smiled. "Helios owes me more than one favor, so convincing
him to hold his chariot was easy enough."
"And then you allowed Gabrielle and Kella to capture
you?" Ephiny asked.
Artemis nodded. "Knowing Gabrielle's nature, I
thought it best to spare her the memory of torturing a mortal body.
Neither of these women will remember me at all -- if you succeed."
"Lady, what about Kella?" Ephiny looked toward
the fallen girl.
"Ah, Kella." The goddess walked over to the
young Amazon, who still lay stunned in the grass. "Your little
sister is maddened by grief alone, Ephiny. Grief can be more powerful
than any curse, if the love that causes it is strong enough."
Xena rested her hand on Gabrielle's hair. "And
can love, itself, overpower a curse? If it's strong enough?"
"It can, warrior." Artemis looked at Xena,
not without compassion. "But remember who you love. Not a child.
Not a maiden. Your lifemate is Amazon, and the High Queen of strong,
passionate -- at times brutal -- women. And she is capable of all of
those things, in defense of her clan. Tell me. Do you want Gabrielle
"Yes," Xena whispered.
"Then take her."
"Shed one drop of her blood, and I'll annihilate
you, of course," Artemis added sweetly. "Ephiny. Remember,
your queen is not in her right mind. Help this warrior do what she must
to save her."
Ephiny placed her fist over her heart. "Your will,
"Artemis, wait." Xena got to her feet. Warrior
princess and goddess of Amazons studied each other. The corner of Xena's
mouth lifted. "The legends are wrong about you, Artemis. They call
you distant and cold, like the moon you rule."
"Well." Artemis smiled, and the corners of
her eyes crinkled. "They also call me the Virgin Goddess. Care
for my daughter well, Xena."
Artemis dropped Ephiny a wink, and vanished.
Gabrielle stirred sluggishly, and Ephiny knelt at the
blond woman's head. Then the regent met Xena's gaze, and a rush of disquiet
hit her belly.
The tall warrior was looking down at Gabrielle, and
the color of her eyes was changing. Gabrielle had confided to Ephiny,
seasons ago, that her lover's eyes had this ability. Ephiny had dismissed
the notion as sweet, but unlikely -- now she was watching it happen.
The sky blue of Xena's eyes was deepening, and filling with storm.
Xena unbuckled her breastplate and dropped it to the
grass. Then she unlaced her leathers, her strange eyes still on the
queen. "You understand what will happen now, Ephiny?"
Ephiny swallowed. "Yes, I understand."
Xena nodded, and peeled the leather off her broad shoulders.
She stripped completely, then stepped free of the garments tangled at
her feet, and stood naked in the light of the bonfire.
Ephiny stared at the warrior openly. She had seen Xena's
body before -- modesty wasn't a common feature in any Amazon camp --
but she had never seen her queen's champion in a context so blatantly
sexual. Gold light glinted off the muscular swells of the tall woman's
arms and legs. Her black hair was touseled and wild around her face.
A flush of color suffused her firm breasts, and the nipples were erect
and hard. Ephiny felt her own quicken and rise beneath her vest.
Xena walked toward them, her step as silent and feline
as a dark panther stalking prey. She stopped at Gabrielle's feet, and
her eyes crawled slowly over the queen's nakedness. Almost as if she
felt her gaze, Gabrielle stirred again, and her eyelids fluttered.
"Pin her hands," Xena ordered softly. "At
either side of her head."
Ephiny obeyed at once. Her goddess had commanded her
compliance with this act, and in spite of the complicated history all
three women shared, Ephiny trusted Xena. She held Gabrielle's wrists
against the grass.
"She's stronger than she looks." Xena's tongue
brushed across her lower lip. "Hold her tightly."
Ephiny gripped Gabrielle's wrists harder, and the girl
seemed to react to the change in pressure. The green eyes opened slowly,
and focused, dazed, on Ephiny's face above her. Then Gabrielle's gaze
moved to Xena, and madness filled her again, almost visibly. The bard
snarled in Ephiny's grasp, and kicked viciously at Xena, who stood just
beyond her reach. Ephiny wasn't sure whether she was dealing with one
madwoman, or two, but she held on.
Xena threw herself full-length on top of Gabrielle.
She slapped her hands under the young woman's knees, and wrestled them
up against her flat belly. The warrior's groin ground against the spread
lips of the bard's vagina in small, digging circles, as her long fingers
clapped down hard over each full breast. Gabrielle screamed, and her
back arched as she fought futiley to free her pinned hands.
"They can't have you," Xena growled, her
sparking eyes fixed on Gabrielle's white face. "Sorcerer, Pentrite,
Amazon -- I will destroy anyone who touches you, girl. You belong to
no one but me." Her strong hands clenched the taut globes of Gabrielle's
breasts cruelly, and the creamy flesh bulged between her fingers.
"I forbid this," Gabrielle gasped. She shook
her hair out of her eyes with a furious snap, and then clenched her
teeth as the lewd scrubbing between her wide-spread legs intensified.
"The touch of any woman not full Amazon is vile to me -- "
"Oh, it's going to get viler," Xena breathed,
staring at Gabrielle's exposed throat, the tendons in the smooth flesh
standing out as the young woman struggled. Xena's hands slid off the
huddling breasts and clasped the trim waist. Then her dark head plunged,
and her lips opened to suck in the exquisitely sensitive tip of Gabrielle's
left breast. Xena began to feed like a beast, with groans of enjoyment.
Ephiny's eyes were fixed and staring, and tears rose
in them slowly as she watched. The tension roiling in her grew as the
warrior began to mouth the bulging globe, sucking in small sections
and swirling her tongue over them, her teeth working gently but busily.
The regent felt no contrition; instinctively, she recognized
Gabrielle's squirmings beginning to change, transforming from genuine
resistance to voluptuous pleasure. But Ephiny was seeing two women she
loved -- in very different ways -- enter extremities of passion she
herself had not experienced in years. As Xena turned her crude attentions
to the other breast, and as Gabrielle screamed hoarsely again in her
grip, Ephiny began to tremble.
Nor was the regent's pulse quieted by what followed
next. After Xena had fed thoroughly on both of Gabrielle's wet globes,
she reached up suddenly and snatched Ephiny's vest open, the thong holding
it shredding with one yank. The Amazon's small breasts were exposed,
bouncing in the firelight, and Ephiny drew in a sharp breath.
Xena's eyes held for a moment on the regent's large,
quivering nipples, and then moved to Ephiny's face. They exchanged a
look so fleeting, but so rich with simple lust, that neither ever forgot
"Bite her nipples," Xena rasped. She slithered
down Gabrielle's twitching body, pulling the muscular legs down with
her, and then she sat up and spread them widely, exposing Gabrielle's
"Two pieces of you," Xena panted, staring
at the oozing slit, "are the parts I call mine. Your heart is one,
Gabrielle lifted her head, her lips trembling as she
met Xena's eyes. She followed the warrior's gaze back down to the shuddering,
furred mound between her achingly spread legs.
"This is the other," Xena whispered. Then
she looked at Ephiny, and snapped a curt nod.
Ephiny bent over Gabrielle at once, and fastened her
teeth over the tip of her right breast. She chewed, gently but firmly,
struggling to hold her queen's wrists flat as she gasped for breath
beneath her. The regent's naked breasts brushed over Gabrielle's face
repeatedly, and finally the young queen's tongue snaked out and swirled
around one nipple.
Xena made herself remain motionless as she watched
Ephiny work feverishly over Gabrielle. She knew she was dangerously
close to losing control. The twisting body before her was no restorative
of sanity, so she clenched her eyes shut.
One part of Xena remained distant and calm, however;
the part that was able to pull the poisoned arrow from Gabrielle's shoulder
long ago, without screaming herself. Her bard was fully a woman, Xena
would never question that again -- but she would never be a large woman.
The warrior checked her smooth nails, and then tightened her long fingers
carefully into a narrow skewer.
"Don't stop, Ephiny."
At calmer times, Xena strummed Gabrielle like a harp
when they reached this phase, plying and plucking her clit until the
girl nearly swooned with arousal. But the warrior hadn't the control
left for such pleasantries, and her supposed victim had no need for
them -- Gabrielle was floodingly wet. Xena's four fingers edged between
her nether lips, and then wormed through the ridged, circular opening
of her cunt. Gabrielle's hips bucked up in both shock and welcome.
Xena hissed out a long, hot breath as she leaned forward,
pushing her narrowed hand further into Gabrielle's wet cavern. Gabrielle
emitted a gutteral groan, which sent a surge of fire through Xena, and
she plunged deeper.
Ephiny rested her forearms on Gabrielle's bare shoulders
to hold her down; she needed the leverage to continue ravishing the
plump breasts with her mouth. She raked the edges of her teeth across
each nipple in turn, hearing her queen's breathless cries, her own need
"Come back to me." Xena's voice was husky
now, as she pulled her hand and wrist partially out of the dripping,
straining opening, and then surged forward, drilling in deeply again.
"I'll make you come back, Gabrielle."
The warrior kept fucking the young woman in a pattern
so tireless and relentless Aphrodite herself could have designed it.
The walls of Gabrielle's inner reaches had allowed Xena full entry,
and now they snugged closely around her wrist as it pistoned in and
out of her. A fiery heat swirled through the queen's loins, igniting
in burning concentration at the tip of her clit.
Xena bent her head, and closed her teeth over the twitching,
nerve-rich bud in a gentle, wiggling bite.
Gabrielle had no voice left. When the crest hit her,
she slammed the back of her head into the grass and arched her back
with grinding force. Her mouth dropped open, but no sound emerged. Both
Ephiny and Xena cried out at that moment, their own needs unsatisfied,
but joining Gabrielle in a paroxym of bone-deep pleasure as she exploded.
When it was finished, the grove was still for a long
time, save for the crackling of the bonfire. Then the three woman all
stilled at a sound that, at first, seemed more common than portentious
-- the distant crowing of a rooster, greeting the dawn.
"Let go of me, Ephiny."
Ephiny looked warily at Gabrielle. Calm green eyes
gazed up at her, and the full lips smiled. They both realized that Gabrielle
was Ephiny's queen again, in full command of her senses, and she expected
her regent's obedience. Ephiny smiled back, and released Gabrielle's
Gabrielle sat up smoothly, and folded Xena at once
in her arms. She held the warrior tightly, her eyes closed, and every
line in her naked body relaxed. She rested her touseled head on the
swell of Xena's shoulder, and whispered, "Thank you."
"My pleasure," Xena murmured, her hand gentle
on the back of Gabrielle's neck, her tired arm against the small of
her back. They rocked each other, and then Gabrielle sat back and looked
up into Xena's eyes. She smiled, and the corners of her green eyes crinkled
in a way that reminded Xena warmly of Artemis.
Xena got her hand halfway up to touch Gabrielle's face,
but then the bard took the initiative. She took Xena's damp face in
her hands, and drew her head forward -- slowly, but insistently. The
bard's lips were tender, though, full and soft against the warrior's
mouth. Xena's eyes closed in stages. Memories swirled.
_____ *** _____
Gabrielle loved to lay fully on top of her, after they
quieted for the night. She drew the fur up over her sleek back and lay
down again, her damp body draped lazily over the firm, panting one beneath
"You should thank me," Gabrielle whispered,
then lifted her head from Xena's shoulder to spit a strand of hair out
of her mouth.
"I thought I just did," Xena panted.
"We hit a new longevity record tonight. Not that
I'm counting. I'm keeping you young, Xena."
Xena lifted her head, and then let it drop weakly.
"Or making me old before my time, Gabrielle."
_____ *** _____
This afterglow followed very different circumstances, and held no privacy,
but they both relished it. Gabrielle's hands moved gently over Xena's
face as they kissed, her fingers softly exploring her cheeks and forehead.
Xena finally ended it, because she was slightly more breathless than
her partner. She'd had far more physical labor, after all.
Ephiny began to motion to them, but then Xena and Gabrielle
heard it, too -- Kella's muffled moan. They looked toward the young
woman who lay on her side in the grass. Kella's arms were wrapped around
her waist as she sobbed, harsh, biting tears of loss.
Xena looked at the girl, stricken. She felt Gabrielle's
touch on her shoulder, and she turned her head and nodded.
Gabrielle got up, leaning for a moment on Ephiny's
shoulder for support. She walked unevenly over to Kella, and knelt in
the grass beside her. She bent and slid her arms around the Amazon's
limp body, and pulled her into her lap. Her kind green eyes studied
the girl's tear-ravaged face. Gabrielle tightened her arms around Kella
as she began to struggle.
Kella cried out, a despairing howl that tore at their
hearts, and then she was fighting the bard in earnest, twisting and
snarling in her embrace. As Xena had noted, Gabrielle was stronger than
she looked, and she held her grip on the thrashing Amazon.
"You have to let her go, Kella." Gabrielle's
voice was firm, because nothing else would reach the girl, but it was
loving as well. "Jesstin is gone, and there's nothing you can do
to bring her back. She died saving you, so your life is her gift to
you. And if we could ask her now, I swear to you, little sister, Jess
would take that strike again. She loved you that much. You have to accept
the choice she made."
Kella was quiet for a moment, and then she released
a wrenching sob that, ultimately, proved as cathartic and cleansing
as Gabrielle's climax had been. Gabrielle let her body absorb the force
of that last spasm, her sorrowing eyes on Kella's face. Then she held
the young warrior as she wept -- copious tears, but less scalding ones
Xena watched the queen comfort her warrior, and her
vision blurred for a moment. It could have been Lila she cradled, her
much-loved younger sister, who she still missed fiercely. Gabrielle
was more than her wife, indeed. Queen, bard, partner, sister, lover,
friend -- Gabrielle was all women to Xena, and always would be.
Finally, Kella slumped, spent, in Gabrielle's arms.
The sun chose that moment to rise over a distant ridge, and the naked
Amazon queen and the young warrior she embraced were bathed in the sweet
light of first dawn. Theatrical it might have been -- but if a certain
Italian sculptor of another age had happened to witness it, the Pieta
would have turned out very differently.
Gabrielle stroked Kella's bare back with maternal affection,
and looked up at Xena and Ephiny. She seemed puzzled at their rapt expressions,
and then she smiled, as she realized she was gloriously illuminated.
"Good morning," Gabrielle called softly.
_____ *** _____
"Lets go, Your Highness. Time to move on."
"Dont call me that, Xena," Gabrielle
sighed, "you know I hate that."
The bard was walking backwards, waving a last time
to Ephiny before she turned and caught up to Xena.
They had told Gabrielle everything, of course. She
deserved to know, and she accepted her actions in the grove with an
equanimity that surprised all but the queen's champion and her regent.
Gabrielle sighed again, and kicked a pebble from their
path. The warrior reached out and ruffled the her short hair, and Gabrielle
ducked. "Cut that out, already, Im starting to feel like
"Geeze, youre crabby today."
"I know." Gabrielle scuffed her feet again.
"I just cant believe you got to meet her, and I didnt."
"Or Artsie, as she asked me to call her."
Xena ignored her young wife's glare. "Im sure youll
meet her someday, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle snorted. "Well, I just hope Im
not buck-naked, sex-crazed and raging with bloodlust at the time."
Xena grinned, and tugged the reins to distract Argo
from a clump of grass. The big mare whickered, and clopped contentedly
behind them. They walked silently for awhile, enjoying the morning and
each others company. Then Gabrielles eyes grew somber, and
Xena knew she was remembering.
"You think shell be all right?" Gabrielle
"Not for awhile," Xena said quietly. "Maybe
not for a long time. You helped her, Gabrielle, but Kella has to endure
a kind of grief I dont think I could survive."
"Dont say that, Xe," Gabrielle murmured.
She wound her arm through Xenas, and rubbed the warriors
forearm with her free hand. "I appreciate the sentiment, but I'd
rather you survive, at all costs."
"Kella has Ephiny, and two hundred other Amazons,
vying to take care of her." Xena nudged the bard gently with her
shoulder. "Shes strong, shell heal."
"I hope so."
"Hey," Xena said. "Theres something
Ive been waiting to tell you about Artemis."
Gabrielle smiled conspiratorily, her green eyes sparkling
as she looked up at her tall wife. "Whats that?"
"Artsies a shrimp, Gabrielle."
"Shes short. Shorter than you."
"I love you," Gabrielle laughed, and hugged
"No, I mean it," Xena protested. "Shes
"Right, Xena, the Goddess of the Amazons is a
pipsqueak." Gabrielle giggled again. "You can be so sweet,
you know that?"
"Gabrielle, I am not sw -- look, ask Ephiny, Artemis
is -- "
"Yeah, yeah." Gabrielle reached up and ruffled
Xena's dark hair, as if she was a poodle. "You cutie."
Xena sighed, and they moved on.