DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny etc. are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this story.

All other characters and the story itself belong to the author and may not be used without permission. The lyrics to the song "Indian Strings" by Suede and "Leave" by R.E.M. are used without permission and again, no copyright infringement is intended.

VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of 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.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: There are vague references to sexual violence in this story, but nothing graphic.

LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts love/sexual relationships between consenting adults of the same sex. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read something other than this story.
 
 

AUTHOR´S NOTES: This story can be said to take place at the end of the fourth season, but have practically nothing to do with any events of that season and therefore stands on its own. I´ve shamelessly messed up Greek history and geography with my own imagination to use for my own personal benefit, but since the show does that constantly, I guess it´s all right. I want to thank, MyWarrior, for all the time and patience she´s invested in this project. Her encouragement and comments have been invaluable. This is my first attempt at fan fiction and I hope you´ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. Comments/feedback are more than welcome at dayze11@hotmail.com.
 
 
 
 

This one´s for Susan, who´s always in my heart.
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Amazons´ Boy
 
 


Copyright Ó 1999 by Day.


 












CHAPTER I
 
 

"It is a lovely thing to live with courage, and die leaving an everlasting fame."

- Alexander the Great, 356-323 BC
 
 
 
 

The young man stood in the darkness of the night watching the funeral pyre. His handsome face was almost hidden in the shadows and only, when a particularly bright flame flickered and ate its way through another piece of wood, did it illuminate the dark eyes staring straight into the fire without blinking. A hand rested absently on the hilt of a sword strapped to his waist while the other was by his side curled into a fist, clenching and unclenching without the conscious knowledge of its owner.

The wind shifted and, as his eyes began to water, he recognized the distinct smell of human flesh burning, in spite of all the herbs and dried flowers the Amazons had decorated the pyre with. Suddenly he felt dizzy and he grabbed onto the wall of the hut he was standing next to, the rough straws digging into his hand. A beautiful voice filled the night followed by a single flute and, for a moment, it was as if not only all the muffled cries of the shadows closer to the fire silenced, but the air itself seemed to halt and waver as if unsure how to react. The young man tried to breathe, but the air felt hot and sticky and he was choking. Suddenly he sensed a hand on his shoulder.

"Lykeas, are you all right?"

He swallowed slightly and nodded, feeling the air return to his lungs.

"Yeah…just got a bit dizzy. That´s all."

He spoke in curt, abrupt sentences, a habit he had whenever he was unsure of something or lost in thought. The person next to him recognized it for what it was, and took a step closer, awkwardly putting her arm around his shoulder. She felt him stiffen just for a second before forcing himself to relax into the touch.

They stood together in silence, listening to the song, watching the pyre succumb to the flames. As the song finished the woman noticed a small figure leave the circle around the now dying fire and disappear into the forest that surrounded the village. Blues eyes locked onto black ones and the faintest hint of a smile showed on the man´s face.

"You´d better go to her. She needs you."

"You´ll be okay?"

The voice was hesitant, but the eyes had already left his face and were searching the forest, looking for a familiar figure.

"Yeah, I´ll be fine."

The woman gave his shoulder one last squeeze before leaving him, crossing the clearing where the pyre had been in a few long strides and disappeared into the forest.

For a few heartbeats Lykeas watched the spot where the lean, graceful form of Xena had melted into the darkness, before he returned his gaze to the place where only an hour before the beautiful pyre of one Amazon Regent had been. Now there were only faint glowing embers left. One by one figures disappeared from the scene, some huddled close together, others lingering by themselves for just a moment before they, too walked away, leaving Lykeas alone. Having made certain there was no one left, he stepped closer till he stood directly above the embers, feeling the still surprisingly powerful heat against his skin. Small snakes of smoke dancing in a suddenly chill breeze made his already irritated eyes water again, and he had to blink a few times to focus. Then slowly, almost mechanically, he pulled out a small knife from his boot and began to cut off a few locks of his pitch black hair. When satisfied with the amount of hair in his hand, he returned the knife to the boot and looked back down at the embers. As he opened his hand and saw the hair floating for a second in the breeze before falling down upon the embers, he spoke quietly, more releasing a breath then speaking actual words.

"I´m sorry, Ephiny."

Then without hesitating or lingering, he turned, walked out of the circle and was gone, leaving the fire to die in solitude.
 
 


***************


 












THREE MONTHS EARLIER

Xena was happy to feel Greek soil under her feet once again. The trip to India had put a lot of strain on both her and Gabrielle in more ways than one, and just breathing the familiar scent of the Greek night made her feel considerably better than she had for weeks. She looked to her left and couldn´t help smiling at the sight of Gabrielle walking next to her with an unmistakably sleepy expression in her eyes. They had been pushing themselves rather hard all day, but Xena had been very anxious to get back to more familiar territory and Gabrielle hadn´t seemed to mind as long as she didn´t have to ride. The landscape they had been travelling for most of the day had been rather open and hilly with only an occasional tree or bush to offer shadow or protection. Xena would´ve liked to find a more protected and secluded place to camp, but another glance at the bard told her they´d better stop now.

She reached out and gently touched the bard´s shoulder.

"Let´s stop and settle for the night. You look like you´re about to drop."

"That sounds great," Gabrielle replied with a smile.

"I think I´ve been more or less sleepwalking for the last couple of miles."

"No kidding."

Xena chuckled and led the bard over to a small gathering of bushes. It wouldn´t offer any kind of real protection, but at least she wouldn´t feel compelled to check her back every other second. It didn´t take long before they had a small fire going and the bedrolls put out next to each other on the ground. Gabrielle lay down on her stomach, hands under her chin, watching the fire. Xena came over from where she had been grooming Argo and sat down next to the bard with an audible sigh of contentment. Gabrielle turned her head slightly and looked at her.

"You´re real happy to be back aren´t you?"

Xena nodded and reached out to caress the bard´s hair.

"It´s been an eventful trip."

"You could say that again," Gabrielle said quietly and looked back to the fire.

"For both of us."

Xena started to say something, but changed her mind and instead reached down to pull Gabrielle up into her arms. With a small sigh Gabrielle nestled comfortably in Xena´s embrace and rested her head against the warrior´s shoulder. Xena knew she should go out hunting for dinner or at least get some dried meat from one of the saddlebags for them to eat, but right now moving was the last thing she felt like doing.

A few moments later the bard was asleep in Xena´s arms and the last lingering thoughts about getting up disappeared from her mind.

Too tired to even eat. That´s gotta be some kind of record.

She felt a bit guilty about pushing the bard so hard, but pushed the thought away.

I´ll make it up to her in the morning.

Startled, Xena looked out into the night. She must have fallen asleep holding, Gabrielle. And now for some reason she was awake again.

Yeah, some reason, she thought as her keen hearing picked up the faintest noise of somebody moving carefully through the bushes higher up the slope.

I gotta be more careful. I should know better than to fall asleep like this.

She carefully eased herself away from Gabrielle and gently lowered her down onto the bedroll. She considered for a second if she should wake her up, but decided against it. Judging from the noise there was only one person moving, and Gabrielle needed all the rest she could get. Besides, if she couldn´t take care of one person anymore without help, she had some serious soul searching to do.

Yeah right, like that would ever happen.

She moved quietly out to the left, away from the camp. Although there were hardly any embers left of the fire it wouldn´t escape the stranger´s notice, unless he was both stupid and blind. And since Xena didn´t really feel like a gambling woman when it came to Gabrielle´s safety, she decided to be the one who made the first move. The stranger was moving quietly, if a bit carelessly, and Xena couldn´t help but grin. This was going to be easy. Suddenly all noise disappeared and only the sounds of the night were heard. Xena felt a sudden urge to kill all the cicadas of the world as she strained to hear anything that would give away the stranger´s location. It annoyed and confused her that she couldn´t hear him until she realized what was happening. The stranger was listening as well. He had somehow heard her coming, although, she couldn´t quite believe how that could be possible, and now he was waiting for her to make a sound and reveal herself. For the next few minutes the silence of the night was only broken by the occasional sound of an animal sneaking through bushes and the damned cicadas that simply didn´t know when to shut up.

This is ridiculous. I´m not standing here the entire night listening until one of us drops from exhaustion.

A part of her was rather impressed by the stranger´s skill, but another part, and a much bigger one for that, just wanted to grab him and throw him down the slope. Hard! Just as she had decided to make her move a quiet voice broke the silence.

"Xena… Is that you?"

The voice froze Xena to the spot for just a second.

"Lykeas?"
 
 

Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and then immediately closed them again. It was only dawn and there was really no reason she could think of why she should get up before it was absolutely necessary. Besides, Xena loved those early hours and the peace and solitude it gave her, so she might as well sleep a little more. She subconsciously began to listen for the small sounds of Xena´s morning rituals. How she would remain on the bedroll for a few seconds, with her eyes still closed before she would get up noiselessly and stretch her body, releasing a quiet sigh. Then she would get into her leathers and walk carefully, so not to wake her, to where Argo was and…

Wait a minute!

Gabrielle suddenly realized that she wasn´t hearing anything of the sort and sat up quickly looking around the camp. There was no sign of Xena, nor any indication that she had slept there at all. Gabrielle distinctly remembered falling asleep in Xena´s arms and fought to ignore the small sting of fear she felt in her stomach.

Calm down, calm down. It isn´t as if it´s the first time she hasn´t gone to sleep or wandered off somewhere. She probably was too exhausted to sleep, and besides she knows how to take care of herself. She probably just went for a walk or something.

In spite of her own reasoning, Gabrielle couldn´t help worrying as she got to her feet and noticed that the fire was out and had been for hours.

That´s not like Xena, she´s always so concerned whether I´m too cold. Not that that was a likely scenario to ever happen. Gabrielle smiled, in spite of herself.

She noticed Argo a few feet away nibbling on a bit of grass she had found underneath a bush.

Well, at least she can´t be too far away.

Just as she had decided in which direction to go searching for the warrior, she heard her voice coming from the other side, and she turned around to face her. A perfect look of reproach and mock annoyance on her face.

"Xena, why do you always have to…"

She stopped dead in her tracks as she realized that the warrior wasn´t alone. Standing next to her was a young man, perhaps only a few years younger than Xena. He was dressed in black leathers and armour with a deadly looking sword strapped to his waist. In his right hand he was holding an unstrung longbow and a quiver full with arrows could just be seen behind his right shoulder. Gabrielle let her eyes fall to his boots which were made out of soft leather and continued her gaze up his bare legs till the knees where his leather tunic began. She didn´t stop there, but continued upwards the lean, muscular body till her eyes met the stranger´s and she found herself looking into the blackest pair of eyes she had ever seen. It was difficult to make out where the pupils stopped and the irises began. His bronze face was framed by tossed black hair and in spite of a long thin scar running from just below the chin down the throat, Gabrielle couldn´t help but think.

Gods, this man is beautiful! I wonder if I´m still dreaming.

"Gabrielle," Xena´s voice interrupted the bard´s musings.

"I want you to meet an old friend of mine, this is Lykeas. Lykeas, this is Gabrielle."

"My pleasure," the stranger said in a low, melodic voice as he reached out and took her hand.

"So, you´re the one who´s responsible for all the great tales involving Xena."

Gabrielle could only nod at first, but then she found her voice again.

"Oh, it´s so nice to meet you. I don´t get to meet many of Xena´s past friends. Usually people from her past are more interested in trying to kill her then walking down memory lane."

The last comment resulted in two dangerously high raised eyebrows and a small chuckle from Lykeas. "Yeah, I could imagine."

Xena, finding the line of conversation rather unnecessary, began gently but firmly to push her two friends towards the camp.

"Let´s get another fire started and breakfast ready before we go down any kind of lane if you don´t mind." "Good idea," Gabrielle said as if she suddenly remembered something.

"I´m starving!"

Xena went for the saddlebags and Gabrielle began to make the fire, but felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Let me do that."

Without really knowing why Gabrielle complied and took a few steps away and faster than she had ever thought possible the fire was burning brightly again.

"You´re good at that," she said with admiration in her voice. "How do you do it so fast?"

"Well," Lykeas said smiling, "I guess I just don´t like being cold."

Xena came back with some dried meat and fruit and sat down next to Gabrielle, who had gotten herself as comfortably close to the fire as she could get without getting burned. Lykeas sat opposite them at a slightly more bearable distance to the fire.

"I´m sorry that I can´t contribute with anything for breakfast," Lykeas began, looking at Xena. "But Rarjan disappeared from me yesterday with all my belongings."

To Gabrielle´s surprised Xena laughed out loud.

"Do you still have that beast of a horse!? I was sure he would´ve gotten you killed long ago."

"Well," Lykeas smiled a bit sheepishly. "He´s not the same horse that you knew. This one is the son of the old one. I´ve had him for a couple of years now."

Xena shook her head in disbelief.

"I´ll never understand why you kept the old one in the first place. He was more trouble than he was worth. I can´t recall all the times he ran off or tried to throw you."

"Yeah well," Lykeas said. "He had a lot of good qualities too. He was the fastest and most endurable horse I´d ever seen. And his son has those qualities in equal measure.

Unfortunately," he paused and caught Gabrielle´s eye, "he also got all the bad ones and they seem to have tripled in him."

Gabrielle couldn´t help but laugh at the image of a big, bad horse throwing off the dark warrior in front of her.

"I hope I get to meet him soon. Perhaps I can teach him some manners."

"That´s probably too late by now," Lykeas replied dryly. "I´m quite sure he´s a lost cause."

"Don´t be too sure about that," Gabrielle said, giving Xena a look.

"I´m very good at reforming old, stubborn, war-crazy…uhh… horses."

Xena leaned over slightly, giving Gabrielle her best stare.

"So I´m a horse now am I?"

"Oh no...no. That´s not what I meant," Gabrielle exclaimed, pretending to be worried by Xena´s menacing glare.

"All I meant was that when it comes to certain things I have a real good touch."

"That you do for sure."

Xena leaned closer and looked Gabrielle straight in the eye. Gabrielle could feel a blush appear on her cheeks and was for once speechless. Lykeas watched the playful banter in front of him with a slightly amused, if not puzzled smile. Remembering they weren´t alone Gabrielle pushed Xena away and turned her attention back to Lykeas.

"So how did the two of you meet?"

Lykeas glanced quickly at Xena, who was suddenly fully engaged in a piece of dried meat.

"I used to ride with her."

"Ride?"

For a second Gabrielle didn´t comprehend, then realization hit her.

"You mean you…" She trailed off.

"Yeah, I was in her army." Lykeas´ eyes locked on Xena.

"I used to ride under the banners of the Warrior Princess."
 
 

For a moment the air was heavy with silence. Then Xena cleared her throat.

"But that´s a long time ago. He left my army even before I did."

Gabrielle´s gaze went from Lykeas to Xena and back again.

"Hey, it´s okay. It´s not a problem," she began.

"I´d sort of guessed it already. I mean…it´s not like you look like a fisherman or anything."

"Nah," Lykeas replied. "That´s more Xena´s department."

The tension that had been forming between them disappeared again by this last remark and the trio ate their breakfast in silence, one caught up in thoughts and the two others in memories. When they had finished their meal, Gabrielle began to gather their belongings and put them back into the saddlebags before fastening them to Argo´s back. Lykeas slowly rose to his feet and started dusting himself off. Suddenly he felt a familiar stare at his back and he turned around to see Xena watching him with a speculative look in her eyes.

"So… Where were you heading before we ran into each other last night?"

Lykeas just shrugged.

"Nowhere really… I´d thought about perhaps visiting Pella, but nothing definite…Why?"

"Nothing, just curious."

They stood a moment in silence in front of each other.

"And you… Where are you heading?"

"We´ve been thinking about either going to visit our families or…" Xena faltered, "or the Amazons."

Lykeas nodded to himself.

"That´s right. I´d heard that they had gotten a new Queen…. It´s quite a travelling companion you have there," he continued and looked at Gabrielle, busy with feeding Argo an apple.

"Bard, queen and tamer of horses all in one."

"Yeah, she´s quite something."

Xena´s smile lit up her face and Lykeas couldn´t help but return it.

"What´s so funny?"

Gabrielle had turned towards them and was looking at the two warriors with questioning eyes.

"Did I miss something?"

They shook their heads simultaneously.

"No, just walking down memory lane. And speaking of walking," Xena looked back to Lykeas. "When do you think that monster of yours that you call a horse intends to return?"

"Oh, well," Lykeas scratched his cheek. "Probably sometime tonight. He usually doesn´t stay away too long."

"Uhum," Xena replied, raising an eyebrow. "If you say so. Though, I seem to recall a certain day when-."

"That´s was his father!" Lykeas interrupted, "And he just got lost… It happens."

"Yeah, sure," Xena went over to Argo and nuzzled the horse between her ears.

"You wouldn´t do something like that, would ya girl?"

Gabrielle had watched the entire exchange with quiet amusement. It was nice to see Xena relax and make fun again, and she realized with a rueful smile that it´d been quite a while since she last experienced this playful side of the warrior. Lykeas, feigning hurt, looked resigned towards the sky.

"Rarjan loves me very much. Really he does…He just has a lot of…of personality."

"That goes without saying."

Xena gave Argo one last caress before she put one foot into the stirrup and swung herself up. She shifted in the saddle and looked down at him.

"You wanna join us for a while? Just till Rarjan shows up?"

Lykeas found himself the target of both the expectant gazes of Xena and Gabrielle, and after a few seconds he relented.

"Sure, why not? Guess it´s not gonna hurt anyone."

He looked at Gabrielle.

"Need a hand to get up?"

"Oh no, I´d much rather walk, and frankly it´ll be nice to have someone to talk to, who isn´t either three miles ahead of me or three miles behind me. Or three miles above me," she added with a playful smile at Xena.

"Gabrielle gets dizzy stepping over a bump in the road," Xena retorted.

"It´s her luck she isn´t any taller than she is, or else she´d be constantly staggering around, falling over whatever came in her way."

Lykeas starred at the two women till they both returned their attention to him and a smile flickered across his face.

"As much as I´m enjoying this little war of…words. Do you think we could get going now? After all, I have a horse to find."
 
 
 
 
 
 

CHAPTER II
 
 
 
 

It was midday and the scorching heat from the sun was slowly but surely draining all energy from the three travellers. They had tried to take it slow and remain in shadow as much as possible, but it´d still be awhile before the landscape changed into actual forest, and there was no protection along the dusty road. Xena looked up at the blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Her leathers clung to her hot and sweaty body, and not for the first time that day she wondered why it was she loved wearing them so much. She had removed most of her armour an hour ago, realizing that she wouldn´t be much good in a fight anyway if she passed out from heat stroke first. Her main concern, however, was their lack of water. They only had one water skin left and it was less than half full. It would hardly have been enough for just her and Gabrielle, and even with Lykeas drinking just enough to prevent from dropping, they would run out soon. The only spring which location she knew for certain was at least 20 miles further ahead. It would take too long.

She turned in the saddle and her heart cringed at the sight of Gabrielle stumbling only to be caught in the last second by Lykeas. She desperately let her eyes search their surroundings for any sight of shadow. Her eyes came to rest on a rock hovering slightly over the road further ahead. It wasn´t much, but it was something.

"Lykeas," she turned to look at her friend

"You and Gabrielle are going to stay here by that rock," her head indicating the direction and Lykeas eyes followed slowly, squinting against the sun.

"I´m gonna ride ahead to the spring and refill the skins. It shouldn´t take too long."

It´d better not, she added to herself, looking at Gabrielle.

"It wont provide much shadow," Lykeas managed, his voice hardly more than a hoarse whisper.

"Not for now," Xena agreed. "But when the sun begins to descend it´ll get better and if you move around the rock following its shadow, it should be okay."

Lykeas only nodded, there wasn´t really anything he could say. Xena dismounted and without a word swept the bard into her arms, and carried her the last of the way to the rock. Carefully she put the bard down against the hard rock, its shadow barely covering half of her face. Gabrielle smiled weakly at her.

"Gods, I´m thirsty. I think I´d even settle for that horrible port of yours."

Xena leaned downward and let her lips brush the bard´s forehead. The skin felt hot and moist and she could taste the salt on her lips.

"I´m afraid you´ll have to make do with water for now," she said, feigning a cheerfulness she didn´t feel. "I doubt that any spring in this area provide anything else than that, but I´ll have a look around."

"Come back soon, will you?"

Xena felt the silent plea go straight to her heart.

"Of course," she leaned forward and kissed the bard again, "nothing could keep me away."

"Good," Gabrielle smiled and leaned back against the rock, closing her eyes.

Walking back to Argo where Lykeas had been standing holding the reins, she took the last skin and handed it to him.

"Make sure she drinks."

Then she mounted and looked down at her friend.

"I don´t know how long it´ll be before I get back, but it won´t be before dark."

"Xena," Lykeas´ voice was quiet. "You don´t actually think I´m gonna let you ride non stop for hours in this heat without any water. You wouldn´t last a mile."

"Lykeas…" Xena´s voice did nothing to hide the aggravation she was feeling. "I don´t have much of a choice do I? Look at her!"

They both turned their gaze to the reclining bard.

"She needs it more than I do."

The words were spoken softly and Lykeas looked at her with understanding in his eyes. He reached up and touched her leg just beneath the knee.

"You know very well that Gabrielle and I will last much longer without water than you will. We won´t be moving and we have a decent bit of shadow that´ll only improve in time."

He patted her leg.

"Don´t make me get rough on you."

Xena opened her mouth to give an angry retort, but slowly closed it again. She knew he was right. She didn´t have to like it, and she most certainly didnt, but he was right. Grudgingly, she accepted the skin he handed up and returned it to its place in the saddlebag. For a moment she held his gaze and then, nothing more than a whisper.

"Take care of her."

"I will."

With one last look at the bard, Xena dug her heels into Argo´s side, the horse jumped forward and they soon disappeared in the dust of the road.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lykeas watched the last clouds of dust settle and dissolve before he turned and walked back to the rock. He removed the quiver from his back, and took off his armour before he sat down next to the bard. Gabrielle was pale, her face covered in sweat and she hadn´t opened her eyes or in any other way indicated that she was aware of his presence.

"Hey, Gabrielle?"

She opened her eyes and turned her head towards him. She blinked a few times and then gave him a weak smile.

"Thanks."

"What for?"

"Insisting that she take the water. She can be so stubborn sometimes."

Lykeas let a hand run through his damp hair and turned his gaze to where Xena had disappeared down the road.

"I know."

They sat in silence, their breaths subconsciously falling in to the same laboured rhythm. A wave of nausea suddenly washed through Lykeas´ body and he had to control himself so as not to throw up. A hand touched his shoulder.

"I bet you feel just as bad as you look right now."

She was rewarded with a small smile.

"Yeah well, green doesn´t really go with my eyes."

"Oh, I wouldn´t say that, but perhaps a less sickly looking colour would be better."

"I´ll remember that the next time."

The nausea finally passed and Lykeas leaned back against the rock, relief evident on his face. Gabrielle was feeling both tired and thirsty. She didn´t remember ever being so thirsty before in her life. Her throat was feeling like a piece of parchment, and she didn´t even have any saliva left to moisten her tongue. Her head was heavy and her eyes burning, but most of all she wished that the world would stop spinning. It was making her rather dizzy. She closed her eyes.

"Hey, I´m not sure you should sleep right now."

Lykeas´ voice brought her back to reality.

"You´re right…it´s just… I´m so tired."

"You could tell me a story. That would keep us both awake."

Gabrielle tried to gather her thoughts and come up with a suitable story, but her mind was in turmoil and she couldn´t concentrate.

"I´m afraid I´m not really capable of telling a story right now," she paused and looked at Lykeas. "But what about you?"

"Oh, I´m not really a storyteller. I have no imagination, I´m much more of a listener myself."

"It doesn´t have to be a story. Tell me something about yourself. Tell me…tell me how you and Xena met, we didn´t get to finish the topic last time."

Gabrielle could feel Lykeas´ eyes search her face, and again she had to marvel at their blackness. It was almost uncanny. Whether he found what he was looking for or not she couldn´t tell, but after a while he turned his gaze to his right boot, and picked out a small knife. He played with it for another few seconds before looking back at Gabrielle.

"I met her shortly after the attack on Amphipolis. She was on her way to Athens with some of the kids who had decided to follow her and I just tagged along."

Gabrielle looked at him with amusement..

"You were right. You´re not much of a storyteller."

He shrugged.

"Told you so."

Gabrielle decided she wasn´t going to pass down an opportunity to learn more about Xena´s past, particularly when her source of information was an old friend, and not an old mortal enemy which was the way it usually worked.

"Come on. You can do better than that. What were you doing before you followed her? What about your family? They just let you leave? You can´t have been very old at the time?"

"I was fourteen."

Gabrielle digested the new information for just a second, her curiosity soaring to new heights.

"That´s even younger than when I left home. Did your parents really allow you to go? I mean… Mine were less than happy when I told them. And why did you want to go in the first place? Although, I can kinda understand that," she trailed off, a distant expression in her eyes.

"Well, I didn´t really have a family at the time and I had nowhere else to go so…"

He was playing with the knife again.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Gabrielle reached out and put her hand on his. She was about to speak when she noticed him staring at the small bracelet she hand on her right wrist.

"That´s Artemis´ Bracelet isn´t it? The one that only the Queen is allowed to wear. The one that signifies you as her chosen."

Gabrielle removed her hand in surprise.

"Yes, that´s right. How did you know? I mean, not a lot of outsiders know about that and, no offence, but least of all men."

Silence, then.

"My mother was an Amazon."
 
 

"Really?"

Gabrielle didn´t know what to think about this last revelation. Usually when an Amazon gave birth to a boy, he was given away to a farmer and his wife to raise as their own. They usually didn´t tell them about their origins, and they were certainly not taught any Amazon customs or traditions. Something wasn´t right. As if sensing her confusion Lykeas continued, his eyes never leaving the knife.

"I wasn´t given away or raised by the Centaurs…but that´s a long story… And it´s a long time ago."

"You don´t have to tell me if you don´t want to."

Gabrielle´s voice was soft and soothing, and Lykeas found himself slowly raising his head to look at her.

"There isn´t much to tell."

"Tell me." The voice was a plea, a whisper and a command, and Lykeas couldn´t help but comply.

So that´s what Xena sees in her… She´s so much stronger than she appears.

He tried to hold her gaze, but soon his eyes flickered back to the knife in his hand.

"My mother was an Amazon. From your village, actually. I guess it´s true when they say it´s a small world."

"Go on."

"Well, apparently, and this is something I´ve been told so I don´t know what´s true and what´s not, but apparently, my mother and her lover became involved with another woman. This other woman was in love with Naiari, that was the name of my mother´s lover, and Naiari wasn´t quite oblivious to the woman´s attentions."

Gabrielle closed her eyes for a second. Lovers´ quarrels between Amazons wasn´t news to her and usually everything worked out in the end, but sometimes…Well…sometimes things got ugly.

She opened her eyes again.

"We´re they joined? Your mother and this Naiari?"

Lykeas nodded.

"Yeah. So I´ve been told."

"What happened?" The question was barely audible, Gabrielle feeling she wasn´t going to like the answer.

"It came to a fight. My mother almost killed the other woman and she was banned from Amazon lands for life. Naiari wanted to follow her, but my mother wouldn´t let her, besides she had a young daughter to think of so…"

For a moment his hand stilled, then he began playing with the knife again, this time digging it into the ground.

"My mother loved the Amazons and she was heartbroken that she could no longer live among them, so she did the only thing she could think of. She went to Lemea."

"Lemea?" Gabrielle wiped a drop of sweat from her left temple.

"What´s that? A city?"

"Well, it was more of a small village. It was founded by a group of exiles from the Nation, who couldn´t bear to live their lives as anything but Amazons. And through the years it grew, more exiles came and a small community was created."

"I´ve never heard about that village before."

"You wouldn´t have. It doesn´t exist anymore… Besides is not really a subject that comes up around Amazon campfires very often."

"What happened then?"

For the time being all thoughts about being thirsty had disappeared from Gabrielle´s mind.

"On her way to Lemea, my mother ran into a troop of soldiers on their way back to Athens. They just passed, but later that night one came back and…and raped her… That man was later to become my father."

Gabrielle felt her heart ache for the dark warrior next to her and she reached out to touch his shoulder. He looked up, confusion in his eyes. She thought he was going to move, but instead he just dropped his eyes back to the knife.

"Anyway, after he was…done, he told her never to forget his name, never to forget how it was to be with a real man and not some unnatural harlot."

Gabrielle could feel him tense at the last words, and she gave his shoulder gentle squeeze. She felt she should say something, offer comfort, but she couldn´t find the words.

Lykeas continued, his voice even and void of any emotion.

"When she came to Lemea she was allowed to settle down and make herself a home. They never turned anyone away… Perhaps they should have."

He looked up at the sun.

"We should move?"

"W…what?"

Gabrielle´s mind had been far away and hadn´t quite returned to reality.

"The sun has moved and so have the shadows. If we move around the rock to the right there´ll be more shadow."

"Of course…of course, you´re right."

They got up and moved themselves and their belongings a few feet to the right. When they were settled, Gabrielle reached out again and took the knife from Lykeas´ motionless fingers. She put it down on the dry grass in front of them, then turned her gaze to him, trying to make eye contact.

"Are you going to tell me the rest?"

He didn´t look up.

"Are you sure you wanna hear the rest? I mean…it isn´t really that interesting…and as I said before it´s a long time ago."

"Tell me."

"Okay…if you really want to… "

His hand went out to pick up the knife again, and Gabrielle didn´t try to stop him.

"In spite of Lemea being founded by Amazons it wasn´t like the villages you know. You have to remember that most of the exiles were there for a reason, and not just because they wanted to live somewhere else. They honoured the Amazon traditions and regulations, but mostly in name only and I think they all felt more or less abandoned by Artemis. Although, I guess it should be the other way around."

His throat was burning and he desperately wished he had something to drink.

"Lisisis, the self-appointed leader of the village, took a liking to my mother and decided she should live with her. At that time my mother was only a few weeks away from giving birth and didn´t have the strength to go hunting for herself, and since nobody else was going to do so, she agreed and moved in with her. Lisisis was not a…a kind woman, but to give her credit, I think she really loved my mother in her own way. At least that´s the only reason I can think of for her to…" He trailed off for a moment, then continued.

"The night my mother gave birth, something went… something went wrong. I tore something inside her on my way out and they couldn´t stop the bleeding. She died a few hours later."

"What was her name?"

Gabrielle suddenly felt compelled to know the name of the woman, who´d experienced so much pain in such a short time.

Lykeas looked up into her eyes.

"Lykeia." A small smile flickered across his face, then disappeared.

"They named me after her."
 
 

CHAPTER III
 
 
 
 

For a few moments they were both silent as Gabrielle tried to absorb all she had heard. She knew that even though she was the Queen of the Amazons there were still a lot of things she didn´t know much about, Amazon history being one of them. She couldn´t help but wonder why nobody had ever mentioned Lemea before, why it had never come up in one of the many conversations about customs, traditions and simply living your life as an Amazon she had had with Ephiny.

"Tell me the rest."

Lykeas, who had been chewing on a nail, looked at her with weariness in his eyes.

"I´m usually not this talkative."

She just looked at him and he gave in with a small shrug.

"My mother´s death changed Lisisis. She had been cold before, but now she turned outright…well… unpleasant. I´ve been told that first she wanted to kill me right after the birth, but for some reason she spared my life, and because of the rather unusual circumstances regarding Lemea, I was permitted to stay. Not that I think anybody gave a damn anyway, but still."

He paused and was silent for several minutes, and Gabrielle knew by instinct that she shouldn´t push it. After all, living side by side with an ex-warlord for four years had given her quite some insight into the human mind. Still, she was surprised when he spoke again.

"I spent the next fourteen years of my life in Lemea. I soon learned to fight for myself, and I guess that´s something I´ll always be grateful to Lisisis for. She taught me a lot about…about life. She taught me that if you don´t control your life somebody else will, and if you´re strong enough you can treat anybody the way it pleases you. She was very good at proving…proving a point."

He leaned back and tried to become more comfortable against the rock.

"When I was about twelve things had started to change in Lemea. The village was slowly being divided into two fractions. One wanted to live more like they had before. They wanted to live by the laws and regulations followed in the Nation, and they said they wanted to be the children of Artemis once again. The other half, however, wasn´t interested in changing things and that group was led by Lisisis. Small confrontations kept erupting, but nobody was really able to get the upper hand. Things sort of stayed like that for two years, and probably would´ve for a lot longer if something hadn´t happened."

He raised his head and blacked locked onto green.

"I was on my way home from hunting. I don´t recall what I´d shot,… guess it doesn´t matter anyway. When I reached the village centre Lisisis jumped me. I don´t know why, she was drunk, but she usually didn´t…bother me in public. But that day she did. When she wasn´t having fun anymore, she stopped and walked towards the tavern. I remember a small crowd had gathered; crowds gathered easily in Lemea."

Lykeas´voice had dropped an octave or two.

"I don´t know what went through my head in that moment. What exactly made me get up and follow her. It wasn´t the first time something like that happened… Perhaps it was because everybody saw it…. One thing is being humiliated in private, it´s quite another thing to be so in public."

His brow furrowed as if contemplating an interesting dilemma.

"Anyway, I jumped her from behind and broke her neck. She was dead before she hit the ground."

His voice was so matter-of-fact that Gabrielle at first didn´t think she had heard him right.

"You mean…you killed her?"

"Uh huh. I thought that they would´ve had me executed on the spot for killing an Amazon, but apparently Lisisis´ death was all it took for the other fraction to gain control of the village, and I was allowed to speak for myself at the first public hearing Lemea had ever witnessed. I didn´t really have much to say, but a few others spoke out on my behalf, and since nobody had had any love for Lisisis, I was permitted to leave the village with my belongings under the condition that I never put a foot on Lemean ground again. As if I wanted to… Well, I travelled on my own for a week or two, before I eventually ran into Xena, and that´s how we met."

Gabrielle averted her eyes for a moment, she couldn´t look at Lykeas right now. Her mind was trying to come to terms with all she had learned, and another part of her simply didn´t want to believe that any Amazon would deliberately hurt an innocent just for the fun of it. The name Velasca suddenly popped into her head and she forced the thought away.

She looked up at him again and was surprised to see him smile at her. He reached out and gently tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

"It´s a long time ago, Gabrielle."

She opened her mouth to speak, but Lykeas raised his hand to silence her.

"Shh, do you hear that?"

"Hear, hear what?"

Gabrielle could only hear the wind in the bushes and the few birds the sun hadn´t chased away.

"It´s a horse and it´s coming this way."

Gabrielle suddenly heard the faintest noise of hooves coming from what sounded to be the direction they had been travelling earlier that day.

"That´s not Xena. Is it?"

"Nope." A smile lit up Lykeas´ face.

"That´s Rarjan."
 
 

The red sun was slowly setting to the West as rider and horse hurried down the dusty road. The red light was making the landscape shimmer in a supernatural glow, battling with the shadows for domination, but the warrior had no interest in admiring the sight. Even the singing of the cicadas which had increased in volume steadily for the last hour, failed to get her attention. The cool air of the night was slowly, but efficiently driving the heat of the day away, and an occasional shiver would run through the warrior´s body as it adjusted to the new temperatures. Her damp hair and leathers felt uncomfortable against her skin, but as she recognized a certain sharp curve of the road ahead, all thoughts of discomfort left her mind. She was almost there. When she finally arrived at the rock, the sun had lost its battle with the shadows and gone into hiding for the night. Almost before Argo had stopped moving, she jumped out of the saddle and ran toward the small flicker of a fire. The sight that greeted her made her pause and stare for a few seconds. Gabrielle was lying curled up on her side with her face towards the fire. A grey wool blanket covered her body and Xena could just make out the shape of a bedroll underneath her. She was sleeping peacefully, eyelids moving ever so slightly as if dreaming. Shadows danced across her face, and golden highlights played in her hair making it seem like a small fire of its own. It was the most beautiful sight Xena had ever seen. She stepped closer, careful not to wake her and sat down next to the sleeping form on the ground.

"I´ve taken care of Argo."

Xena looked up, and as he stepped closer, the fire revealed the dark silhouette of Lykeas.

"She and Rarjan are just getting to know each other."

"Thanks."

She took the saddlebags he handed to her.

"So Rarjan finally showed up?"

"Yep," he smiled, revealing a row of white teeth. "Couldn´t be without me any longer."

"What about the water?"

Lykeas pointed towards a water skin almost hidden behind Gabrielle.

"I had one in Rarjan´s saddlebag and there was just enough left, so…"

He paused.

"But I sure am glad that you´re back with some more."

She handed him one of the water skins and he took a few deep draughts before he returned it.

"Gabrielle, she´s all right?"

Lykeas nodded and leaned back against Rarjan´s saddle.

"Yeah, just pretty exhausted."

Silence as the fire crackled in symphony with the cicadas.

"She means a lot to you, doesn´t she?"

"She dictates the beats of my heart."

Lykeas looked up in surprise, an indefinable expression on his face.

Xena just shrugged and smiled a bit sheepishly.

"She does that to me."

Then to avoid his gaze, she got out their bedrolls and tossed one together with a blanket to him, before she put out the other behind Gabrielle and covered them both with a blanket. With a small sigh she put her arms around the bard and pulled her close. Gabrielle turned in her sleep and buried her head in Xena´s hair.

"Goodnight;" Xena whispered, feeling the familiar joy of just being close to the bard.

"Goodnight," Lykeas answered, rolling out the bedroll and then returning to his comfortable position against the saddle. Soon the quiet breathing told him that Xena had fallen asleep, but it wasn´t till the black eyes had watched the last of the fire disappear and die that he himself found some rest.
 
 

They had travelled a good time past noon when they were attacked. The day had begun peacefully enough with breakfast and pleasant conversation, and when they had been ready to leave, as in an unspoken agreement, Lykeas had joined them. Xena had been riding a few feet ahead of Gabrielle and Lykeas walking next to each other, the latter holding Rarjan´s reins in a firm grip. Nothing significant had happened during the first early hours, and they had all been pleased to see the landscape turn more vigorous and rich for each mile they travelled. But now they suddenly found themselves more or less surrounded by six men.

Xena knew she hadn´t been paying attention. For the last mile or so, she had felt an all too familiar uneasiness, but she had been reluctant to allow her instincts to take over and spoil her good mood. However, now she wasn´t left much of a choice. As the men began to circle them, a ferocious smile crossed her lips and she threw a glance backwards to see her smile mirrored by Lykeas.

"Don´t get any closer boys. I´m not in the mood for a fight today."

The men didn´t even halter their approach and a huge, savage looking man holding a battleaxe in his left hand, turned his head and gave his comrades a toothless grin.

"Too bad that we are, ehh boys? Or perhaps you two ladies could get in the mood for something else, while we get rid or your little friend thereuugh…"

He didn´t get to finish the sentence and stared in disbelief at the still vibrating arrow sticking out of his throat before he fell heavily to the ground.

"Nice shoot," Xena commented as she released her chakram and took out the man to her right.

"Likewise," Lykeas replied as he threw his bow to the ground and drew his sword.

"To your left!"

Xena´s foot connected squarely with the jaw of a third bandit, who had been intent on stabbing her from behind, and he dropped with a groan.

"Thanks, but I´d have gotten him anyway."

"I know," Lykeas grinned. "Just speeding things up a bit."

All while the fighting had been going on, Gabrielle had slowly been backing away till she suddenly felt her back come up against a hard, smelly surface. She turned and saw a thin, lanky man reach out for her with a triumphant grin on his face.

"I got ya now, missy."

She dodged his hands and took a few steps away from him.

"I don´t want to fight you."

"That just makes it easier for me, missy."

Behind her, Gabrielle heard the sound of another body hitting the ground, closely followed by a second.

The man pointed his sword at her and took a step closer.

"Now come here, little girl, why not make it easier for us all. I´m not gonna hurt ya...much"

"I told you, I don´t want to-," a body flew through the air and landed heavily on the man´s chest, bringing them both to the ground, "-fight you."

Xena brought her elbow down against the man´s head and he went out cold. She got back on her feet and dusted a bit of sand from her hands and clothing.

"You okay?"

Gabrielle nodded, though she was experiencing an unpleasant sensation run through her body. She couldn´t quite find the exact word to describe it, but it was something in the range of…uselessness."

"Thanks for your help."

Xena gave her a little smile.

"Hey, that´s what I´m here for."

Then she turned serious, her eyes searching the bard´s face.

"But it would be nice if you´d…"

She interrupted herself before she said something she might regret.

"Nevermind," she reached out a patted Gabrielle´s shoulder. "I´m just glad you weren´t hurt."

Then she turned and walked back to Lykeas, who was busy cleaning his sword.

"How many dead?"

"Four," he answered. "And the rest won´t wake up for a while."

"Good," she said and got back into the saddle.

"Let´s move on."

She looked back at Gabrielle, who hadn´t moved from the spot.

"Gabrielle? Are you coming?"

The bard looked up, a strange expression in her eyes.

"Oh, sorry, just lost myself for a while there."

"Uh huh."

In a matter of seconds they were back on the road.
 
 
 
 

CHAPTER IV
 
 
 
 

By the time they reached the outskirts of the first forest they had seen for days, it was decided without much discussion to stop and make camp. Although it was still early evening, everybody felt like they deserved to relax and enjoy themselves for a while. As Xena took care of the horses and Gabrielle prepared camp, Lykeas went out in search for water. They still had plenty of water to drink, but all of them felt in great need of a bath. They were covered by dust and sweat and their clothes clung to their bodies, making them all feel uncomfortable and dirty. Lykeas left his sword and armour with the others, but brought his bow along with him in case he should come across some game, since he was getting increasingly tired of dried meat. Ten minutes later and a mile further into the forest, three rabbits hung from his shoulder and the hunter was feeling rather pleased with himself. That had been easy. He wondered if he should shoot another since Gabrielle seemed to be capable of eating quite a lot, but decided against it. He was too exhausted and unless it jumped right into his arms, he didn´t want to bother with catching another.

Suddenly he noticed the ground under his feet become softer and less dense. The almost invisible path he had been following broadened and he found himself at the bank of a small lake. It was surrounded by tall trees all the way round, and only a few rays of light penetrated the moist, green darkness. Lykeas dropped his bow and quiver, removed several knives and daggers from various places on his body, put the rabbits on the ground, took a deep breath and jumped into the lake fully clothed. The water was cool and felt wonderful against his skin. Unfortunately, it was also full of water lilies and duckweed so it wouldn´t do for them to drink, but for the horses it would be just fine. He swam around for a few minutes, avoiding duckweed whenever possible and not until he had thoroughly removed the last traces of dust and sweat did he return to the camp dripping wet. Xena heard him approach and looked up.

"Looks like you found some water."

"Yep, too dirty to drink, but very nice for a swim."

He sat down next to the fire in his still wet clothes and placed the three rabbits next to him on the ground.

"It´s only about a mile south from here, you can´t miss it."

"Sounds wonderful!" Gabrielle exclaimed grabbing a towel. "I´ve wanted a bath for the last week!"

"And needed it too," Xena smirked, finding a towel for herself.

Gabrielle just rolled her eyes and disappeared into the forest. Xena waited for a second then looked at Lykeas.

"We may be a while."

Lykeas looked up from the rabbit he had started to clean.

"Sure, just take your time. I´ll start dinner while the two of you…get cleaned."

He smiled innocently at Xena, who couldn´t help but blush just a little.

Then she returned his smile with one of her own and headed in the direction of the lake.

It didn´t take her long to find the small lake and see that Gabrielle had already taken residence in it. For a second she considered whether she should follow the same procedure as Lykeas and jump in with her clothes on, but the sight of Gabrielle´s clothes lying discarded on the ground quickly drove the thought from her mind. In no time she was out of her leathers and made a perfect header into the lake. Diving under the water, she didn´t surface till she was right next to the bard, who looked at her with mild amusement.

"Show off."

Xena wrapped her arms around the bard, pleased that she could reach the bottom with her feet so she didn´t have to tread water.

"Do you mind?" She leaned forward and took an earlobe into her mouth, biting slightly.

"Uh huh, not really," Gabrielle said, feeling quite distracted by the warm lips, now slowly travelling down her jaw. "But what if Lykeas shows up?"

"He wont," Xena said, continuing her journey to the other tasty earlobe. "Besides, you can hide behind me if he does."

"How noble," Gabrielle smiled, putting her arms around Xena´s neck. "But what about you?"

"Oh," Xena replied, feeling a rapid beating pulse against her lips. "He´s already seen me naked."

"He what…?" Gabrielle began, but her words were cut off by a hot mouth and then tongue demanding entry. As her mouth complied and Xena´s skilled tongue and hands drove her last coherent thoughts away, she made a mental note of returning to that particular topic in a not so distant future.
 
 
 
 
 
 

"This is good!"

Lykeas looked at the bard, "Thanks, but it really isn´t that hard to make."

"No, but really," she continued, her eyes looking appreciatively at the stew in her bowl. "This really is good! Until now I thought it was against the laws of nature for a warrior to be able to cook."

Xena arched an eyebrow, but decided not to begin fighting a losing battle.

"She´s right, Lykeas. It tastes great."

He put his own bowl down on the ground and tried to appear indifferent, but couldn´t hide the pleased expression showing on his face for just a second.

"Well, I guess I just don´t like to go hungry, and dried meat does tend to get to me after a while so…," he trailed off, hoping they would change the subject.

Xena, recognizing his mood, decided a change of conversation was in order and began searching her mind for something to say, when she was beaten to it by Gabrielle.

"So, I hear you´ve seen Xena naked?"

Xena felt the water she´d been drinking go down the wrong pipe and began coughing violently. Gabrielle just looked innocently at her.

"Did I say something wrong?"

Lykeas looked down for a moment, grinning to himself.

"You sure know how to become the centre of attention," he then said, and turned his eyes to Xena, who was still coughing.

"Well, I am a bard after all… So? Have you?"

Xena finally calming down enough to speak, looked at the bard with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

"Oh yeah, all the time. We used to be all over each other, tearing each other´s clothes off with our teeth. People used to call us the busy bongo bunnies."

This caused Lykeas to laugh out loud and Xena had a very hard time not cracking up, seeing the bard´s rather stunned expression.

Lykeas had to dry his eyes and clear his throat a few times before he could look at Xena again, and even then the corners of his mouth kept curling up.

"Yeah right! No don´t worry, Gabrielle. It´s nothing of the sort. I just used to take care of Xena´s wounds whenever necessary and she took care of mine. After a while you don´t even notice it anymore."

He looked at Xena and they exchanged a quiet smile, making Gabrielle feel a bit left out.

"I´ve pulled more arrows out of that body, and sewn more gashes than I care to remember."

"Yeah, me too," Xena replied and they looked at each other again, sharing another enigmatic smile.

They were all silent for a moment. Then Gabrielle decided to change the subject once again.

"So, back then, you were a regular member of Xena´s army?"

"Naah," Lykeas chased away a mosquito. "Not really. I would ride with them for a couple of months, and then I would leave for a couple of months, and then, I would come back again for a couple months. It was sort of an on and off thing."

"Why didn´t you stay?"

"I´m not much of a…a people´s person. I tend to get restless after a while, particularly if I´m constantly surrounded by tons of people. It just gets…it gets too…too crowded."

Xena looked at Lykeas with interest, she remembered well when this particular restlessness took hold of him and the consequences of it. Even then, when he had tried to explain to her why he had to leave…again, she hadn´t quite understood. But she had always let him go, knowing that he would eventually return, and that she couldn´t stop him even if she wanted to. It had been one of the few things she had actually looked forward to back in those days, Lykeas returning from wherever he had been.

As if suddenly feeling uncomfortable, Lykeas got to his feet.

"I´ll go check on the horses."

Gabrielle looked at Xena with confusion in her eyes.

"I didn´t offend him did I?"

"No," Xena got to her feet as well. "It´s just, he usually doesn´t talk this much. Or at least he didn´t."

She smiled at the bard.

"It does take a bit of getting used to."

She started to walk in the direction of the horses, then looked back at Gabrielle.

"I think I´ll check on the horses as well, shouldn´t take long."

Gabrielle nodded, wondering if she had missed something important.

Lykeas was slowly grooming Rarjan when Xena arrived, and for a while they stood in complete silence, bestowing each horse with gentle affection. Xena was the first to break the silence.

"Gabrielle and I have decided to pay a visit to the Amazons."

The only indication that he had heard the words was a slight pause of the hand ruffling Rarjan´s mane.

"It should take us about a month to get there if everything goes well."

Still no response.

"I´ve heard that the area before Amazon lands has been quite harried by robbers and troublemakers lately."

Lykeas nodded, he´d heard that too.

"It´d be nice in case of a fight that there´d be two to fight them instead of one."

"What about Gabrielle?" The voice was even, betraying no emotion. "Doesn´t she know how to fight?"

Xena sighed, "She did… I mean, she still does, but she doesn´t want to use a weapon anymore. Not even in self defence."

This caused Lykeas to turn his head and look at her.

"You´re kidding?"

"No, but sometimes I´d wish I were."

Xena absently ran a hand through her hair, then looked straight at her friend.

"If something happens on the way, if we´re suddenly surrounded… I can take care of myself, but I can´t also look out for Gabrielle at the same time, especially when she doesn´t want to defend herself," she paused, breaking eye contact.

"If something were to happen to her…"

The words hung in the air and Lykeas studied his feet for what felt like an eternity, before returning his gaze to Xena.

"I´ll accompany you as far as the border, but that´s it."

Xena nodded to herself, "I understand that."

"Do you?"

Their eyes locked, each searching the other´s face for something that neither found.

"Goodnight, Xena."

Xena watched in silence as Lykeas made his way back to the camp.

The huge dark grey stallion began nervously to shake his head and roll his eyes. His hind legs moved uncertainly a few steps to one side, then the other before trying once more to back out of the stable. Lykeas reached out again to recapture the reins which had been pulled out of his hands by the last panicked movement by the horse.

"Shh, it´s okay, it´s okay, Rarjan. Nothing´s gonna hurt you. It´s just me, calm down, it´s just me."

He continued to speak quiet, reassuring nonsense to Rarjan while stroking the horse´s mane gently, and slowly the horse stopped shivering and pushed his muzzle against Lykeas´ neck.

"That´s right, boy. No reason to be afraid."

Carefully he led the horse to the end of the stable and into a stall. The terrified stable boy, who had run for cover when the grey stallion suddenly went crazy, anxiously peeked trough the stable door.

"You shouldn´t have touched him," Lykeas said, without turning around. "He´s nervous around strangers."

"Won´t happen again!" The boy exclaimed and tentatively stepped a bit closer.

"You got that right."

Lykeas removed saddle and bridle and then turned to look at the boy.

"I´ll take care of him later, so there´s no need for you to get near him again."

The boy was visibly relieved by those words and the colour began to return to his freckled face.

"Okay, that´s probably for the best," he paused and let his eyes admiringly run over Rarjan.

"He´s a beauty though, too bad he´s so jumpy. He must be real hard to keep in check?"

Lykeas looked up, "Nope, we´re one of a kind," and with that he gave Rarjan one last pat and walked out of the stable. The boy eyed the horse nervously and then returned his attention to the other horse that had been stabled, and which, to his great relief, behaved much more amiably.

"What took you so long?"

Lykeas eased himself down onto the bench next to Xena.

"Rarjan had one of his moods, I had to calm him down again."

"Argo´s all right?"

"Oh yeah, just fine, behaved like an angel."

Lykeas looked around him and slowly took in the surroundings. They were in a tavern that looked and smelled like any other tavern he´d ever been in. Tables and chairs scattered around the room, dark wooden floor and walls, and more or less inebriated patrons talking and shouting while finishing one ale after the other. Gabrielle returned to their table in the back of the room and pulled a chair close to Xena.

"The food´s on its way."

"What did the owner said about you telling a few stories tonight?"

"Well," Gabrielle shrugged. "He said that personally he would love it, but that some of the people tonight tended to be very…uh unruly and he´d better not risk it."

"We´d protect you," Lykeas interposed and scrutinised the crowd once again. "Shouldn´t be a problem."

Gabrielle smiled at him, "That´s all right, Lykeas. I think, I´m too tired to tell stories tonight anyway, besides, it kinda ruins my concentration having to duck chairs and mugs all the time."

"That only happened once!" Xena emphasized. "And I got them to behave didn´t I?"

"That you did."

They smiled at each other and Gabrielle moved her chair a bit closer.

The food arrived together with three mugs of ale, and they ate quickly and in silence, all being too hungry to talk.

When they were finished, Lykeas and Xena quietly discussed which route to take to the Amazons, while Gabrielle let her thoughts wander.

She couldn´t really say that she´d been surprised when Xena had announced that Lykeas would join them for the rest of the way, but she wasn´t quite sure what to think of it. She liked the dark, reticent warrior with the captivating eyes and didn´t mind him accompanying them. It was Xena´s motives she was questioning. She knew that ever since she had decided not to fight anymore, it had put more strain on Xena´s skills than she would like to admit. The feeling of uselessness she´d experienced the other day hadn´t disappeared and together with that came a feeling of guilt. Was it fair towards Xena? Gabrielle sighed and shook her head, she´d been down that path of thoughts before and knew it wouldn´t supply her with any answers.

"Everything okay?"

Xena looked at her with questioning eyes.

"Yeah, just tired."

"Well, it is getting late, we might as well turn in for the night. It´s going to be a long day tomorrow."

Xena rose to her feet and held out a hand to Gabrielle, who also got up.

They looked at Lykeas and he smiled.

"I told you, I´ll be fine. There´s no reason for us to spend the money for two rooms, when I can just as well sleep in the stable… Actually, I think, I might prefer that."

He shoved them toward the stairs.

"Go ahead, get some sleep. I´ll see you in the morning."

They said their goodnights and disappeared up the stairs, leaving Lykeas alone in the tavern.

He began to make his way towards the bar, when a woman stepped out in front of him. She was not quite young, but still beautiful with dark blond hair and grey eyes appraising him from head to toe without showing the least bit of embarrassment.

"Hey stranger, looking for some company?"

A smile curled at the edge of his mouth and he was just about to speak when he noticed the grey eyes looking invitingly at him. A feeling he´d thought long forgotten hit him with full force and he couldn´t suppress a shiver.

"No, I´d rather not."

He stepped around her and hurried towards the door, leaving the woman to stare at his retreating back in confusion.
 
 

CHAPTER V
 
 
 
 

Xena stretched her long frame out on the bed and sighed. Usually she would prefer to sleep outdoors under the stars, but she had to admit that it did hold a certain attraction to sleep in a nice, warm bed once in a while.

Must be getting old.

She turned to look at the bard busy brushing her hair.

"Let me do that."

Gabrielle smiled in reply and sat down on the bed with her back to Xena. Xena got up into a sitting position herself, leaning against the headboard. She reached out and pulled Gabrielle closer till their thighs were touching and took the brush offered. For long moments they were silent, both enjoying the feeling of closeness and the gentle ministrations of the brush.

Gabrielle sighed in contentment and let her fingers draw idle patterns on Xena´s leg.

"I could get used to this."

"Me too."

They fell silent again and Gabrielle let her eyes wander out of the window towards the dark sky, sprinkled with shining, white stars.

"It´s beautiful outside tonight."

Xena looked up and followed the direction of the bard´s gaze.

"Yeah, I guess it is."

Gabrielle smiled at the usual prosaic response from the warrior, some things never changed.

"Do you think Lykeas is all right? I feel a bit guilty about him sleeping in the stable."

"Well, if that´s the case, why don´t you get out there and get him. I´m sure he won´t mind taking your place in the bed with me."

Xena´s voice was low and teasing and Gabrielle gave the warrior´s thigh an affectionate slap.

"Better watch your mouth or I might just do that."

Xena chuckled quietly and continued to brush the bard´s hair. It didn´t really need brushing anymore, but neither woman felt the need to break the spell of the moment, it had been too long since they last were able to relax like this.

"It must be strange…," Gabrielle trailed off, lost in thoughts.

"What?"

"To be all alone in the world like that, not having any family at all. To be the only one."

It took Xena a second before she realized Gabrielle was talking about Lykeas, and before she could stop herself she blurted out.

"But he does have some family left."

Gabrielle shifted and turned to look at the warrior, who had gotten a strange, almost guilty expression on her face.

"What do you mean? I thought he…," once again she stopped herself, a thoughtful look in her eyes.

"His father?" She asked hesitantly.

Xena shook her head, her expression darkening.

"No, he´s dead."

When she didn´t elaborate, Gabrielle began to go over in her head all the things she knew about Lykeas and his past life. Then it hit her.

"Naiari´s daughter! Lykeas´ mother and Naiari were joined and that would…according to Amazon law…that would make that girl Lykeas´ sister!"

Xena looked at Gabrielle in surprise. She hadn´t thought that Gabrielle knew anything about Lykeas´ background.

Or at least not that part.

He must have told her, but he usually doesn´t talk much and especially not about his past…but then again…Gabrielle can be very persuasive when she wants to.

She nodded, mentally kicking herself for starting this conversation in the first place.

"Yeah, Lykeas has a sister."

"Who is it?! Anybody I know?!"

Gabrielle´s eyes looked eagerly at her and Xena could already imagine the ideas going through the bard´s head. Ideas of a happy family reunion, tears and laughter, happiness and joy. Unfortunately, Xena knew better. She wondered if there was any way out of this. If she could somehow avoid answering the question, but one look at the bard´s determined face shattered that hope. She looked into the green eyes.

"Yes, you do know her… It´s Ephiny. Ephiny is Lykeas´ sister."
 
 

For minutes the bard just looked at her. Her stunned expression would have amused the warrior if the circumstances had been different, but they weren´t and Xena didn´t really feel like laughing in that particular moment.

"Does he…does she…I mean, do they know?"

At this, Xena couldn´t help but let out a joyless laugh.

"Oh, yeah. They do."

"How come… Why hasn´t Ephiny ever mentioned this? Or Lykeas for that matter? He must know that Ephiny is a friend of mine."

Xena shrugged, not really knowing how to phrase her next sentence.

"Well, they don´t really have much to say to each other so…"

"What´s that supposed to mean?"

The bard looked incredulously at her.

"And how come you´ve never mentioned this before? You seem to know so much about it!"

"I´d hoped it wouldn´t come up."

Xena´s voice was flat and even and Gabrielle instantly recognised the warning signs, but couldn´t let it go that easily.

"Gee, Xena," the unforeseen turn of events and the warrior´s reluctance to elaborate further was slowly getting to her, and she didn´t bother to hide the exasperation in her voice.

"It´s not like is something that would just pop up in a conversation is it? Particularly, when you consider that I at most times have to pull every single word out of you, and even then, that hardly qualifies as a conversation!"

She saw the warrior cringe at her words and instantly softened. She reached out and took Xena´s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

"You could have told me, you know. Perhaps we could have done something to bring them together, perhaps when we get to the Amazons we could…"

Her words were cut off by Xena, putting a finger gently to her lips.

"Listen to me, Gabrielle. I know you just want to help and I love you for it, but some things are better left alone. Whatever relationship there exists between Lykeas and Ephiny, it´s how they have decided it should be… And is not up to either of us to change that."

She removed her finger and instead began playing with the bard´s hair, enjoying the feel of it between her fingers.

"I know you just want the best for both of them and under other circumstances I might agree, but Lykeas…Lykeas, well… he can be… he can be difficult. He´s had a rough life and tends to act accordingly."

Xena paused, not knowing how she could make Gabrielle understand without saying more than she wanted to.

"But…"

"Shhh," Xena silenced the bard once again and looked into her eyes, the blues irises shining in intensity.

"I want you to promise me that you won´t mention this to Lykeas, and when we get to the Amazons, I want you to promise me not to push him. Can you do that?"

"But Xena, I-."

"Please, Gabrielle, can you promise me that? Promise me that you won´t push him?"

Please…

It was more Xena´s tone of voice than the actual words that told the bard this wasn´t a point to be argued, and she leaned forward and gave the warrior a kiss on the forehead.

"I promise."

Their earlier good spirits had disappeared and they got ready for bed in silence, Xena battling with her conscience and Gabrielle with her increasingly insistent curiosity that wouldn´t let the matter go. As the lay in the bed, they didn´t talk, but just held each other till sleep came and claimed them both.
 
 

The man leaned against the wall in the alley and did his best not to lose his dinner. After a few deep breaths the dizziness and nausea disappeared, and he began to feel more like himself again. A certain edginess he knew all too well entered his body, and he wondered if there was any chance he´d find release that night. As he searched his pockets for money, he noticed a graceful shape hurrying down the alley towards him. He moved closer to the wall, trying to melt into the shadows. When the figure reached his part of the alley, it stopped and looked hesitantly around, the moonlight revealing the face of a dark blond woman.

Oh yeah, most definitely a woman!

She looked nervously around again, before suddenly hurrying, almost running, down the alley once more. Without thinking, the man stepped out from the shadows, pulled a knife and after a few running steps caught up with her. He hooked his arm roughly around the woman´s neck and with the other, pressed his knife to her throat.

"Not a word, lady or it´ll be your last."

The woman let out a small shriek, but quickly silenced when she felt the knife press harder against her skin. The man looked around, but couldn´t find a more suitable spot, so he took a quick decision and pushed the woman against the wall. He´d just have to hurry then. The woman looked at him in silence, tears running down her cheeks, her breaths coming fast and shallow. The look in her eyes excited the man beyond anything he´d felt before, and he cursed having to use one hand only to open his trousers, the other holding the knife firmly against the woman. Finally his belt relented and the trousers fell to the ground around his ankles. With his free hand, he began to lift the woman´s skirt, ripping the cloth in his eagerness to feel her skin.

If he´d paid attention, he dould have noticed the woman´s eyes widening and her sharp intake of breath, but he was too caught up, having finally reached her undergarments. Suddenly he felt a hand around his neck, the touch was soft, almost caressing and in his arousal and confusion he didn´t respond instantly. Then the grip changed and he felt how his windpipe was in the immediate danger of being crushed. A warm breath in his ear, a soft voice speaking quietly.

"Let´s drop the knife, shall we?"

The lack of oxygen to his head was beginning to make his vision fade, and the excruciating pain in his back from what he first now realized must be a dagger drawing blood, made it impossible for him to gather his thoughts, and the knife fell from his numb fingers. He felt himself being pulled away from the woman, dagger and hand never easing their pressure. The woman began to slide to the ground, but the soft voice spoke again.

"Don´t ! Get out of here, now!"

She obeyed immediately and took a few steps away, before she stopped and turned to look at her rescuer.

"I..I.. Thank you, if you hadn´t…I…"

"Just get out of here!"

She shrank back from the force in his voice, then she turned and ran blindly down the alley.

"Well, what are we going to do about you?"

The voice had returned to its soft, caressing tone.

"I..uugh!"

"Did I tell you to speak? Nah, I didn´t think so."

Suddenly the man found himself with his back against the wall, his eyes for the first time taking in the sight of the voice´s owner. Dark eyes met his own frightened gaze, and he felt another wave of fear wash over him, when he saw them narrow and an eerie smile form upon the man´s lips, and he knew with an ice cold certainty that he wouldn´t live to see the sun again. The dagger was now pressed against his throat, while the man´s other hand was absently tucking a lock of black hair behind an ear.

"You now, I don´t like rape. I actually think it´s one of the most monstrous thing you can do to another person…To take control of somebody like that…To bend their wills…To take away their independence, to force them into submission… It just can´t be forgiven."

The dark eyes staring at him seemed if possibly even darker by those last words, and the man swallowed, feeling his Adam´s apple move against the dagger. The last thought to ever enter his mind, before he felt the dagger break skin and slice his throat, was that the man had never raised his voice and somehow he found that amusing

Lykeas looked down at the man collapsed at his feet, then he bent down and cleaned his dagger in the man´s shirt. When satisfied with the result, he returned it to his belt and walked quietly out of the alley.
 
 

CHAPTER VI
 
 
 
 

The first three quarters of their journey to the Amazons went peacefully with nothing out of the extraordinary happening. Every once in a while, they came across a small group of thugs foolish enough to attack them, but Xena and Lykeas never had any problems disposing them, and all in all it was a quiet and relaxing trip. It was not until they were within 70-80 miles of Amazon lands, they began to come across tracks belonging to considerably larger bands. When they came across a particularly heavily trampled down area, Lykeas and Xena simultaneously dismounted their horses, leaving Gabrielle to peek down at them from Argo´s back. They knelt together on the grass and studied the tracks.

"At least 200 men have been here, but only a few with horses."

Xena nodded and looked around. They were still out in the open country, surrounded by grassy hills and small gatherings of trees. They wouldn´t reach forest for the next couple of hours.

"They are headed toward Amazon lands."

"Yeah, " Xena nodded again. "I was afraid of that."

"Perhaps they´re just passing," Lykeas offered, not really believing it himself.

Xena gave him a weak smile.

"That would probably be too much to hope for."

"Probably."

They sat in silence, each running different scenarios through their minds.

"Are we in trouble?"

They both rose and turned to look at Gabrielle, who´d climbed down from Argo and was now looking at them with worry in her eyes.

"We´re not, at least not for the time being, but the Amazons may be," Lykeas answered, rolling his head from left to right, trying to loosen up his neck. "Have your Amazons done anything to piss anybody off lately?"

"That´s usually not the way it works, Lykeas," Gabrielle replied angrily.

"It´s the Amazons, who can´t be left alone. All they want is to live in peace, undisturbed by intruders."

"If you say so."

"Okay, quit it," Xena interrupted. "That´s not helping and we need to decide what to do now."

"Xena," Gabrielle stepped closer and put her hand on the warriors arm. "If the Amazons are in danger I have to be there. I have to help them."

"Oh yeah, and what exactly would you do? Tell the soldiers to kindly go away because you don´t want to fight them? I´m sure they´ll all have a good laugh before cutting you down."

"Cut it, Lykeas!"

Xena´s voice held a very clear warning and for a moment the eyes of the two warriors met, neither willing to back down or look away. The tension between them was almost perceptible and Gabrielle subconsciously backed off a few steps. Lykeas´ eyes narrowed, then he looked away.

"I´m sorry, Gabrielle."

"It´s okay," Gabrielle hurried to say. "I guess we´re all a bit tense."

She turned to look at Xena and could see the warrior forcing herself to relax..

Fow a while the three of them just stood there, neither saying a word and Lykeas avoiding eye contact with both of them.

Gabrielle cleared her throat.

"I know, I probably won´t make much of a difference, but if the Amazons are in danger I want to be there with them. It´s my duty to be there."

Her words were meant for both of the warriors, but her eyes never left Xena´s face as she desperately tried to read her mind. Xena´s face was a mask and not a single movement betrayed the turmoil she was feeling inside. One part of her perfectly understood Gabrielle´s decision and wouldn´t have expected anything less from her, but another part just wanted to grab the bard and get the Hades out of there, before anything could happen. Gabrielle gave Lykeas an imploring look and he looked away again.

"I´ll help you get there if you want me to," then he walked back to the horses, leaving the two women alone.

"Xena?" The bard reached out again, but somehow didn´t dare to touch the warrior.

"Gabrielle,…I…"

She looked down at the grass, scorched by the sun.

"I don´t know if…"

She finally raised her head and met the bard´s inquiring gaze.

"You sure about this?"

"I am sure, Xena, and you know that."

This time she didn´t hesitate, but reached up to cup the warriors face in her hands.

"Trust me."

Xena looked into her eyes for only a second, before she gently, but swiftly moved away from the bard´s touch.

"Okay, let´s go then."

As the bard watched the warrior´s retreating back, she felt a small tingle of fear, but this time it wasn´t for the Amazons.
 
 
 
 
 
 

They rode quickly now, the horses thundering through the landscape, the wind playing with their hair and clothes. Xena was in the lead with Gabrielle hanging on for dear life. Lykeas was right behind them, Rarjan never more than a few yards away. Only when the last rays of the sun had disappeared and the first bright stars become visible on the sky, they slowed and then finally stopped completely, both horses shaking with exhaustion and steam coming out of their mouths. Xena slid down from the saddle and reached up a hand to help Gabrielle down. Lykeas had already dismounted and was checking Rarjan´s hooves.

"We´ll camp here tonight, it should be safe, but no fire."

Gabrielle nodded and began to remove the saddlebags from Argo. When finished, Xena took Argo´s reins and led the horse over to Lykeas.

They were in a small clearing of something that hardly had enough trees to be called a forest, but it was the last cover they would have before reaching the Amazon border, so Xena didn´t complain. Everything was better than being out in the open. If was bad enough they would have to travel open country for an hour or so tomorrow with all the soldiers running around. She hadn´t lost track of the soldiers till the very end of the ride, when they apparently had decided to take a slightly different route.

As if reading her mind Lykeas said, "they´ve gone more to the east."

"I noticed."

They led their horses to the outskirts of the clearing and began to brush them down.

"It´s easier for an army to travel the eastern route. It`s more open, not so many trees."

"I know," Xena looked at him. "I guess there´s no doubt now, where they´re heading."

"No, guess not… What are your plans for tomorrow?"

Xena took a deep breath and shook her head slightly.

"I don´t know yet, it depends on what that army decides to do."

"Any idea who they are?"

"No, at first I thought it was just some warlord out for new territories, but from what I can tell from the tracks they leave behind it´s not. This is so much more organized. This is a real army, disciplined and efficient."

"Yeah, I thought so, too… I wonder why it´s so small though, 200 soldiers and a handful of horses are not a lot."

"Perhaps they think, they don´t need more."

They both stopped brushing and looked at each other, Xena´s face blank and Lykeas´ expression unreadable.

"Is it a threat to the Amazons?"

Xena didn´t answer right away, going over what she remembered from her visits there in her mind.

"Yes and no," she finally said. "It´s not a threat to the entire Nation, but it´s most certainly a threat, and a serious one for that, to a single village."

"Too bad, the villages are so far apart."

"Yeah, too bad."

They fell silent for a few minutes, caught up in their own thoughts while continuing to care for the horses.

"I guess that means they have their eyes on one particular village and not the entire Nation,…at least not for now."

"That sounds likely."

"So… What are you going to do about it?"

"I´ll find out when I get there," and with that the discussion was closed and they didn´t bring up the subject again for the rest of the evening, in spite of Gabrielle´s many questions.
 
 

The next morning the warriors´ moods hadn´t changed and Gabrielle was feeling more and more frustrated for each shrug and vague reply she was subjected to. From what she could put together of the sparse information she did receive, she realized that at least one village would be in a very serious situation if attacked, and from the worried glances exchanged, she also knew which village they thought it likely to be. It also became clear to her that neither Xena nor Lykeas had any idea what to do about it, a fact that either warrior would rather die than to admit.

They rode in silence and soon headed out into open country. Their pace was swift, but controlled, eyes constantly searching the land for any sign of movement. Around midday they reached the foot of the last grassy hill before the border, and they dismounted, beginning a slow climb to the top, leading the horses behind them. Just before they reached the top, Xena halted and let go of Argo´s reins.

"We better stay down from here. Lykeas, will Rarjan be able to wait here with Argo?"

Lykeas looked at his horse and nodded.

"Yes, I think so. He´s been quite relaxed for a while."

"Good."

They more crawled than walked the last way to the top, the dry grass and thistles scratching bare skin. Xena lay down on her stomach and separated the high grass in front of her to look down at the plain below them. The plain was alive with movement. Men were moving around, talking, sparring, eating and cleaning weapons. Tents had been put up in two parallel lines and a small paddock for about 20 horses had been built. Xena sighed to herself. She hadn´t had any doubts before, but seeing it with her own eyes made it unpleasantly real. These men were preparing for battle. She looked past the plain to the other side, to the dark, almost threatening looking forest that marked the beginning of Amazon territory. Just a few miles in, an hour´s walk tops, lay Gabrielle´s village. She turned her head to look at the woman next to her, and could tell from the pale face that Gabrielle had realized that as well. Her gaze went from the bard to Lykeas, who managed to shrug even lying down.

"It´s up to you now."

Gabrielle gave him an angry look.

"How can you say that? It´s my people that are in danger. They need all the help they can get."

"I´m not sure they would accept my help even if I were to offer it," he replied dryly.

Gabrielle stared at him in disbelief.

"I don´t get you. Don´t you care at all? Your sister´s is in danger for Zeus´ sake! Doesn´t that mean anything to you!"

Instantly the warrior next to her froze and his eyes narrowed dangerously. Xena immediately reached out and put a protective hand on the bard´s shoulder.

Lykeas´ own hand went up to angrily smooth out an eyebrow, repeating the motion over and over, his eyes never leaving Gabrielle´s face.

"What means something to me…and what doesn´t…is none of your business."

He voice was low and restrained and Gabrielle felt a shiver run down her back.

"I told you, I´d follow you as far as the border, and I´ve done that. I´ve done my part."

Gabrielle began to speak again, but Xena grabbed her arm and started to pull her back down toward the horses. Gabrielle could feel the tension radiate from the warrior´s body and her arm was held in an iron grip. She almost stumbled over a tussock from being pulled so fast after Xena, and she felt her own temper beginning to flare. Reaching the horses, she pulled her arm abruptly from Xena´s grip, her green eyes darkening.

"What in Tartarus do you think you´re doing?"

"No! What do you think you´re doing! I told you never to bring that up!"

The anger in Xena´s voice silenced Gabrielle instantly, but only for a second.

"I know what I promised and I don´t care! It´s my people, my friends, we´re talking about. They need our help and we need to be there with them. We can´t do anything for them by just watching from afar. Lykeas knows that and so do you!"

"I know that, but what do you want me to do! Tell the soldiers to move so we can come through and assist their enemy. Or, as Lykeas so accurately put it, ask them to kindly go away!"

"You don´t have to patronize me."

Gabrielle´s voice was low, the frustration and hurt in it clear to them both..

"I know we can´t do that, I´m not stupid. But I also know that we need to get to the village and warn them."

Xena took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down, but she could still feel the anger running through her veins and her voiced sounded strained and dry.

"They probably know already. It´s hard to sneak up on an Amazon, particularly a whole village full of them."

That earned her a pale smile from Gabrielle.

"There´s no use in fighting about this either that won´t help anybody."

Suddenly Xena spun around, and a few yards away was Lykeas, staring at them with unreadable black eyes. His gaze went pass Gabrielle to lock onto Xena, who returned it without blinking. The two warriors stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity, before Xena looked away. Almost immediately, Lykeas turned and began to walk towards Rarjan, who was dancing nervously having sensed the tension.

"Lykeas, wait!"

Xena´s voice sounded strange to Gabrielle´s ears, almost pleading.

"We need your help…I need your help."

He paused in his step, but didn´t turn around.

"Please."

Gabrielle watched in bewilderment as Xena closed the distance between them, and hesitantly put a hand on his shoulder.

"Please," this time her voice was so low that only Lykeas heard the word.

"I need your help."

"Don´t say that."

"Lykeas…" Xena could almost feel the conflicting emotions running through his body.

"After this is over I´ll never ask anything from you again. You´ll never have to see me again, if you don´t want to. I´ll leave you alone."

"You know that´s not want I want."

He turned to look at her.

"You know what I want."

Xena met his eyes which were shining with a fire she knew all too well, and to her surprise she suddenly felt the same fire engulf her body. She shook her head to clear her mind and to avoid looking into those burning eyes.

"You know I can´t do that. I won´t do that, not anymore."

"I know." His voice held a sadness and frustration that made Xena look at him again.

"Will you help us?"

His hand began to reach up to his eyebrow again, before he stopped himself.

"Okay… I´ll help you get to the village, but I can´t…"

He paused, looking towards the hill as if his eyes could see through it and behold the forest on the other side.

"But I can´t guarantee what will happen once we get there."

Side by side, but never within reach, they walked back to Gabrielle.
 
 
 
 
 
 

"That´s insane! You´re insane! There´s no way that´s going to work."

"Got a better suggestion?"

"No, but-."

"Well, that´s settled then."

Xena gave Lykeas a triumphant smirk and after shaking his head to himself several times, he gave her a small grin in return."

"You´re crazy, you know that?"

Xena got up from her comfortable spot in the grass, a wicked grin on her face.

"Where´s your sense of adventure, Lykeas? This is nothing compared to some of the things we did in the old days."

"Yeah, well, but somehow that seemed a little less serious if you know what I mean?"

"I know," Xena replied, her face suddenly severe again. "But this is going to work, it has to."

Gabrielle rose slowly from the grass and stood next to Xena, keeping a little distance between her and Lykeas.

"Let me see if I have understood this correctly. You want us to wait till dark, then climb down the hill with the horses, then sneak through the camp, across the plain till we reach the forest without getting caught?"

"Uh huh," Xena replied, a smug grin on her face. "Of course we´ll have to create a little diversion first, but eotherwise you got it right."

Gabrielle shook her head, but like Lykeas before couldn´t stop herself from smiling at the warrior´s confidence.

"He´s right, you are crazy."

Xena arched an eyebrow. "

It´ll work."

Then she looked up at the sky

"It´ll be dark enough in two hours time, so make sure you´re ready by then."

She turned and left them alone. Lykeas started to follow, but Gabrielle held out an hand to stop him, letting it linger in the air an inch away from actually touching him.

"Lykeas, about Ephiny…," the bard trailed off, hoping for some kind of response from the man next to her. When she didn´t receive any she continued, "I´m sorry about the things I said, I was out of line. It´s just, I´m so worried about them."

Lykeas´ gaze slipped pass Gabrielle to rest on Xena methodically going through Argo´s saddlebags.

"She shouldn´t have told you."

"I know and she really didn´t mean to." The bard switched her weight from one foot to the other.

"It´s my fault, I sort of coaxed it out of her. We usually don´t keep any secrets from each other."

"Is that so?"

He looked at her and, for a second, she thought she saw a derisive glint in the black eyes, but before she could say for sure it was gone, and replaced with the by now so familiar unreadable and contemplating gaze.
 
 

CHAPTER VII
 
 
 
 

It worked! I don´t believe it. This shit actually worked!

The words kept running through Lykeas´ head again and again as he moved quietly through the thick, black forest, avoiding branches and shielding Rarjan from thorns.

But then again, it always works with her.

He let the entire events of the last three hours run through his mind again, his eyes never leaving the shadows moving noiselessly ahead of him.

Xena´s plan had been far fetched, to say the least, but apparently just crazy enough to work. When night had arrived and with it darkness, Xena had left their small makeshift camp and, with the use of one of her countless skills, sneaked into the camp without being detected. Then she had picked out four of the largest tents furthest to the East and away from the hill and paid each of them a visit. As she had expected, the tents were all used for storing equipment and were all abandoned, except for one unfortunate resident, who learned the last lesson of his life; never to turn your back on a warrior princess at work. In each tent, she prepared a small fire next to the canvas. Close enough so that it would eventually catch fire, but with enough distance to delay the fire from eating its way through the canvas before she was ready. Then she had soaked the rough cloth with the contents of a skin she had taken from yet another unfortunate soul on her way to the first tent, the smell of alcohol so strong that Xena was glad she didn´t have to drink the stuff. Satisfied with her work, she had brought a small flame to life in each tent, and as she slipped away through the darkness, she had prayed, more for the Hades of it than actually asking for help, that her timing had been correct.

It had been. Like always

By the time she returned to their camp, everything had been prepared and they had waited in tense silence at the top of the hill, watching the plain below them with nervous anticipation. First it was only a small flicker of a flame, a faint light barely visible to the three pairs of eyes staring intensely in its direction. Then in the exact moment as Xena motioned them to follow, bright, roaring flames began to swallow up the tents whole. As they began to move forward toward the western side of the camp, people coming from all kinds of directions made their way to the East. The four burning tents lit up the sky and sparks flew through the air, endangering the work for the men, who tried to subdue it. For the shortest of moments, they had stopped, captivated by the sight of the dark silhouettes moving aimlessly around in front of the orange wall of fire. Then, almost simultaneously, they had broken the spell and mounted the quiet, but edgy horses. First they had moved slowly, constantly prepared to flight at the slightest hint of detection, but as they finally reached the outskirts of the camp, they had put the horses into a gallop, the cloth tied around the hooves efficiently reducing the thuds on the dry grass. A few minutes later they had been embraced by the forest, hearts hammering and muscles aching.

That was almost an hour ago and ever since then, Xena had let them in a merciless tempo along the fastest path to the Amazons.

I can feel them.

They´re watching… They know we´re coming.

Does she know I´m coming?

Xena halted abruptly in front of him and raised her hands in an old, familiar greeting and Lykeas felt his throat constrict.

They are here.
 
 

Three Amazons stepped out from the darkness so soundlessly that even Xena was impressed. She had been aware of their presence for quite a while, but had decided to let the Amazons take the initiative and reveal themselves when it suited them. The leader of the three, a slender looking woman let her eyes run over Xena and Lykeas before they came to a halt upon Gabrielle. She knelt in the grass with the two other Amazons behind her following suit.

"My Queen."

She looked up and removed her mask, revealing smiling blue eyes and long blond hair held in place with a woven band.

"My name is Callias, and this is Phila and Areia." She gestured towards the two other Amazons, who were still wearing their masks, bending their heads.

"As representatives of the Royal Guard we were granted the honour by our Regent to escort you to the village."

"Thank you," Gabrielle smiled at the Amazon. "So Ephiny knows we´re coming?"

"Yes, my Queen. We became aware of your presence the moment you put your foot upon our lands. We have been watching you to make sure you weren´t followed."

Xena snorted audibly and received a warning glance from Gabrielle. If they had indeed been followed, she would have been the first to notice. Callias ignored the looks exchanged between her Queen and the warrior and slowly rose to her feet.

My Queen, we should get going. I know our Regent is waiting impatiently to see you again, and…" She paused, looking first at Gabrielle then Xena.

"There are serious matters to discuss."

"We know," Xena remarked. "We just spent the last hours trying to avoid those matters."

Callias nodded. "Yes, and when you have the time, you must tell me how you managed to get pass the soldiers, but first…"

Her eyes turned to the figure, half hidden in the shadows.

"First we need to decide what to do about him."

"He´s coming with us," Xena said evenly, her tone clearly indicating that this wasn´t something up for discussion, and after receiving an affirmative look from her Queen, Callias nodded again.

"Very well, but he must be removed all of his weapons and blindfolded."

When she caught the expression in Xena´s eyes, she quickly added. "It´s by the Regent´s orders. No man is to enter an Amazon village unless blindfolded and unarmed."

Xena took a step closer to the Amazon.

"Does…Ephiny know he´s coming?"

Callias looked at her with confusion.

"Well, of course. As I said, we knew of your presence the moment you entered the forest."

"No," Xena´s low voice replied. "That´s not what I meant. Does Ephiny know, who the man is, who have been travelling with your Queen?"

Callias´ brow furrowed, "I don´t know what you mean. She hasn´t mentioned anything if that´s what you´re asking."

Xena eyed the woman in front of her, a thoughtful expression on her face. Then she tilted her head to look at the man in question.

"Lykeas?"

"You can blindfold me if you want to, but I´m not handing over my weapons.

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared stubbornly at first Callias then Xena.

"I earned the right to carry arms on Amazon territory a long time ago."

"What!" Callias began and took a step towards him, but was abruptly halted by Xena´s hand on her arm.

"I´ll handle this."

She walked over to Lykeas and together they moved a few feet away from the four pairs of eyes looking questioningly at them. Gabrielle watched the two warriors stand face two face, their heads almost level, Lykeas being only a few inches taller than Xena. They spoke quietly, and even Phila, who was known for her excellent hearing, couldn´t make out what they were saying. The body language, however, was clear enough, both warriors using more and more urgent gestures in their attempts to persuade the other. Finally Lykeas´ hands dropped to his side and he gave Xena a small relenting nod. She, in return, patted him gently on the shoulder and whispered something more. He nodded again and began to remove his sword and then bow. He handed the weapons to Xena, who fastened them to Rarjan´s back before she returned to retrieve his daggers and knifes. She looked at the blades in her hands, then raised her head to look into his eyes.

One is missing.

He returned her gaze defiantly at first, but then his expression changed and Xena felt her body stir with conflicting emotions. Her mind suddenly filling with the memories of a young, black-haired man walking towards her smiling… A hand reaching down to pull her up… Laughing eyes looking at her over a campfire.

She forcefully shook the memories away and stared into his eyes, trying to see inside of him, trying to read him and understand him like she had once before, so many years ago.

Don´t make me regret this.

"We´re ready."

Callias came over and gave Xena a piece of cloth, which she gently band around his head, covering his eyes and abandoning him to a different kind of darkness than the night surrounding them.
 
 
 
 

With Callias in the lead, followed by Phila and Gabrielle, then Xena next to Lykeas, her hand on his arm guiding him forward and finally Areia leading the horses, they made their way toward the village. Rarjan had begun to panic when the brown-haired Amazon reached for the reins, and it had taken Lykeas several minutes of soft spoken words and affectionate caresses to calm the horse down enough to enable Areia to grab hold of the reins. Every once in a while she threw a suspicious glance back at the horse behind her, fully expecting to feel his teeth in the back of her neck any second, but nothing happened and they arrived at the village without further incidents.

In spite of the worry she was feeling, Gabrielle felt her heart fill with a quiet sense of peacefulness. A peacefulness she always associated with the Amazons, with her home.

Yes, this truly is my home now.

Her face lit up into a brilliant smile when she saw Ephiny standing in the centre of the village, a huge grin plastered all over her face. The Royal Guards stepped forward, gently, but firmly clearing a way through the crowd for the Queen. Ephiny closed the distance between them, enveloping Gabrielle into a warm, loving embrace, the crowd around them cheering enthusiastically.

"Welcome home, Gabrielle."

"It´s good to be back, Ephiny."

They let go of each other, clasping their hands together instead.

"A warm welcome to you, too, Xena." Ephiny spoke, smiling at the warrior. "It´s always good to see you."

Xena gave her a warm smile in return.

"It´s nice to see you, too, Ephiny. It´s been a while."

"It most certainly has. Much too long in my opinion," she replied, gently nudging Gabrielle in the ribs before turning to the Captain of the Royal Guard.

"Callias, I trust there were no difficulties?"

Callias stepped forward. "No, Your Highness, no trouble at all. Her Majesty hadn´t been followed and the man agreed to your terms and came along peacefully."

"Ah yes, the man." Ephiny smiled wickedly.

"Since when does the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Queen need a man to help them win their battles."

She turned and the playful smile froze upon her lip, as her disbelieving eyes took in the sight of the man standing next to Phila.

"Remove the blindfold! Now!"

Phila hurried to fulfil her Regent´s command and brown eyes widened in shock as she saw black eyes blink a few times, before focusing and staring directly at her.

For a moment time stood still, an uncomfortable silence filling the square, before eagerly whispering voices in the crowd, brought Ephiny back to reality.

"Lykeas," she spoke quietly.

"Ephiny."

The Regent had to force her eyes away and look at Gabrielle, painful confusion evident in her eyes.

"Gabrielle, what is this… I don´t understand."

Gabrielle had been shocked and dismayed by the scene unfolding in front of her, and, although she didn´t know the reasons behind it, she was pained by the distressed expression on her friend´s face. Xena began to step forward, but the bard shook her head, halting the warrior in mid-stride.

"I´m sorry, Ephiny. I didn´t know…"

She glanced at Lykeas, her gaze almost hostile.

"Let´s talk about this in your hut."

She began to lead the dazed Amazon away, giving Xena a meaningful look on the way. Xena saw them disappear into the Regent´s hut, before speaking out loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Okay folks, the show´s over. It´s the middle of the night, go to bed."

Even the most dense Amazon, understood that disagreeing with the warrior could most seriously endanger their health, and one by one they slipped away until only Xena, Lykeas and Callias were left. The blond Amazon´s eyes darting from one face to another, her posture communicating both confusion and a thinly veiled threat.

"Is there something I should know?"

Xena returned her gaze without blinking.

"My friend needs a place to sleep. Is there a hut he can use?"

Callias opened her mouth then closed it again, suddenly remembering her responsibilities. She straightened up and indicated a direction with her head.

"The guess hut next to the smithy is available. I´ll make sure it´s prepared for you."

She gave Xena a small nod, sent an angry stare at Lykeas and walked away.

"Lykeas…" Xena began.

He shook his head slowly.

"Where are the stables?"

She pointed out the direction.

"Do you want me to stable Argo for you?"

"That´d be nice, thank you."

"Okay," he said, taking the reins from both Argo and Rarjan. "I´ll see you in the morning."

And then he was gone.
 
 

Gabrielle opened her eyes and smiled at the feel of the strong arms around her, a warm body pressed up against her own. Closing her eyes again, she heard the sounds of the village slowly coming to life as people began moving around outside, voices speaking quietly, occasionally interrupted by laughter and shouted greetings. It all felt so familiar and she was filled with such a longing it surprised her. She was so happy here, surrounded by people, who loved and respected her, and whom she loved and respected in return. She felt Xena shift slightly behind her, drawing her closer and for a moment the bard felt guilty, wondering if Xena had somehow read her mind. She always tried not to think too much about the future, having decided long ago there was no reason to drive herself crazy and was content to live just one day at a time.

But sometimes…

To avoid thinking more about it, her thoughts turned to the conversation she had had with Ephiny last night. Or perhaps she couldn´t quite call it a conversation, but more her asking a lot of questions and Ephiny answering hardly any. She had of course, due to her talk with Xena and Lykeas´ reaction when she mentioned the Amazon, understood that things between the warrior and the Regent were far from idyllic, but still she had been surprised at the strong reaction from Ephiny. Not that Ephiny had wanted to talk about it, she had just vaguely replied that she and Lykeas didn´t get along very well, that they never had and that they practically hadn´t seen each other for years. At Gabrielle´s question whether she had known Lykeas was an old friend of Xena´s, she had told that, yes, she did indeed know that, but hadn´t thought they still had anything to do with each other. When Gabrielle had asked her why, Ephiny had dismissed the question with a small shrug and instead asked why they were travelling with him. Gabrielle had briefly begun to tell the Regent about everything that had happened the last month and a half, but had been interrupted by a disbelieving Ephiny.

"What´s that supposed to mean?"

"Like I said, I don´t fight anymore."

"But…but that´s crazy! You´re an Amazon…and Queen for that matter! You can´t just… I mean, the Amazons are warriors for Artemis´ sake! We fight when we have to, we may not like it, but we do it nonetheless, because protecting the Nation in whatever way possible is every Amazon´s top priority. It´s her duty!"

"I´ll just have to protect the Nation in my own way, Ephiny."

"It´s a Queen´s duty to lead her warriors into battle, Gabrielle. And, although, it´s an old law and not called upon if we can avoid it, it´s still there and will be practised if necessary. To every Amazon and that includes the Queen, the Nation comes first, then her fellow Amazons and not until then, herself.

"I have to do what my conscience tells me."

"I´m sorry to hear that."

That had put an abrupt end to the discussion and after saying goodnight, Gabrielle had returned to the Royal hut only to find it empty. Their things had been there and Gabrielle could see that Xena had been there to change out of her armour, but now there was no sight of the warrior. Totally exhausted, physically and emotionally, she had gone to bed, but sleep had abandoned her and instead an overwhelming sense of restlessness had taken hold of her. Her mind had been filled with fragments of conversations and images, almost driving her out of bed. All the things she had avoided thinking about for so many weeks, came to her now, mercilessly probing and nagging, demanding answers. She´d had none.

After almost two hours of tossing and turning, she had finally fallen asleep. At what time Xena had arrived and joined her, she had no idea.

"Morning." A warm breath caressed her ear.

"Morning," Gabrielle answered smiling, before turning and slightly pulling away so she could look at the warrior.

"When did you get to bed last night?"

"Oh, way too late," Xena answered closing her eyes and stretching lazily. "And I wouldn´t mind sleeping a bit more."

"So why don´t you?" Gabrielle leaned down and kissed the soft lips below her, then returned to her former position on her elbow.

"Or do you have a better suggestion?"

Blues eyes opened slowly, a feral smile forming on the lips. The next second Gabrielle found herself pinned on her back with a very awake warrior on top. Dark hair caressed her face as the warrior bent down to capture her lips. The kiss was wild and passionate with an almost desperate urgency that took both their breaths away, before Xena slowly pulled away, reluctantly letting go of the bard´s lower lip.

"Unfortunately, we have to meet the council in 20 minutes."

"What?" The bard´s voice was raw with desire and she reached out to pull the warrior´s head down again.

Xena resisted temptation and managed to get out of bed and begin dressing in spite of Gabrielle´s protests.

"You gotta be kidding."

The dark-haired woman had to smile at the sight of her frustrated lover and her almost pouting expression.

"I wish, but I´m afraid it´s true. I spoke to Ephiny last night and it was decided to have a meeting early this morning."

Her expression grew serious and the playfulness disappeared from her voice.

"There is a lot to discuss."

Gabrielle tried to read Xena´s face, but couldn´t.

"Did Ephiny…?"

"Yeah, she mentioned it."

"Do you think she-."

"Let´s not talk about this now, Gabrielle," the warrior interrupted, her voice tired and distant.

"There are more serious matters to discuss. Like what to do about that little army threatening your people for instance."

She finished dressing in silence, feeling Gabrielle´s eyes at her back. She turned and looked at the bard.

"Are you coming?"

"Tell, Ephiny, I´ll be right there."

"Okay, I´ll see you then."

Xena walked out of the door and Gabrielle heard her exchange a few words with the guards outside before she continued and walked in the direction of the council. Without exactly knowing why she grabbed the nearest pillow and threw it forcefully against the wall.
 
 
 
 
 
 

It took Gabrielle slightly longer to reach the counsil´s hut than expected, due to all the Amazons wanting to greet their Queen and express their joy of having her in their village again. But Gabrielle loved every minute of it and pleased several Amazons by calling them by their names, which earned her some even warmer smiles in return. When she finally arrived at the hut, she paused to look at the village now buzzing with life, and she felt her heart swell with pride.

I won´t let thm down.

"My Queen?"

Gabrielle turned to see Callias, who had quietly come to stand next to her, a question on her face.

Gabrielle gave her a warm smile and for a second the Head of the Royal Guard looked startled, but then returned the smile.

"They are waiting."

"I know… I just wanted to-." She stopped herself, not sure of what she was trying to say.

The soldier nodded solemnly.

"I know what you mean, my Queen. I feel that, too, sometimes."

Gabrielle exchanged another smile with the blond Amazon and was about to enter the hut, when a movement caught her eye. She turned and felt Callias tense slightly next to her. Lykeas was walking towards them, unarmed and escorted by a soldier in the Royal Guard. She recognized the graceful, brown-haired Amazon as Areia, one of the warriors, who had met them in the forest the day before. All over the village heads turned to watch the dark man walking casually towards their Queen, the younger Amazons staring with good-natured curiosity, while some of the elder followed Lykeas with obvious hostility. They came to a halt in front of the hut and Areia gave Gabrielle a small bow before turning to her Captain.

"I brought the man as requested, sir."

"Where there any problems?" Callias asked her soldier, her tone of voice almost expectant.

"No, sir. He came along peacefully."

"Good. I want you to station two guards outside the hut as long as the Queen and Regent are inside."

The soldier nodded and left.

All during the exchange, Gabrielle had felt Lykeas´ eyes staring at her, but not until Areia had disappeared in the crowd did she meet his gaze. To her great surprise he smiled at her.

"Good morning, Gabrielle. I hope you slept well."

"It´s Her Majesty to you!" The Captain growled before Gabrielle could speak and she reached out to reassuringly touch the soldier´s arm.

"No, it´s okay, Callias."

"But-." The Amazon began, but was stopped by her Queen.

"It´s okay. I prefer people to call me Gabrielle anyway, and I hope you´ll do the same."

The Captain was quiet for a moment, an almost invisible blush grazing the beautiful face.

"Oh, I don´t know, Your Majesty… I think I´ll rather use your title if that´s all right with you."

Gabrielle nodded, then smiled at the woman. "As you wish."

Then she entered the hut, closely followed by Lykeas, who had a very determined Amazon Captain on his heels.

They were met by several pairs of impatient eyes and Gabrielle hurried to take her place at the end of the oval table across from Ephiny, whom she noticed didn´t look like she had closed an eye last night. To Gabrielle´s right was Xena and then Lykeas, who was politely, but coldly led to his seat by Callias, before the Captain herself went around the table to take the seat between the Queen and Erinya, the village´s weapons master. Lykeas turned to look at the brown-haired woman sitting between him and Ephiny, and couldn´t help but wonder if she hadn´t been seated there on purpose. The woman noticed his gaze and pale brown eyes stared directly into his.

"My name is Zelei, I´m the Captain of the regular army."

Her entire manner radiated pride and arrogance and out of the corner of his eye, Lykeas saw Callias´ jaw clench slightly. He stored the information away for later use and turned his attention to Ephiny, who had just cleared her throat and with a quick glance at Lykeas begun to speak.

"Well, we better get started. We have a lot to discuss."

"Before we begin, I´d like to know, who this man is and what business he has at a council meeting."

Zelei crossed her arms and looked directly at the Regent.

"Actually, I´d like to know what he´s doing in our village in the first place."

"His name is Lykeas," Ephiny began, her tone calm and controlled. "And he´s here because together with Xena, he helped the Queen get here unharmed."

"But-."

"I don´t have to remind you that we have an army practically lurking in our backyard, do I, Zelei? We don´t have time for this!"

"I still don´t see, why he has to be here. He´s done his duty and we´re all grateful, but that doesn´t mean he has to stay here," Zelei continued stubbornly. "We don´t need him."

"You need all the help you can get."

Xena´s voice was low, but held a dangerous edge.

"I´ve seen the army. Hades, I practically took a stroll through it and these men are not only well-trained, but also extremely well-equipped."

"Well, you managed to fool them, didn´t you?" Zelei looked defiantly at the warrior.

"Well, you´re not me are you?"

The two warriors stared at each other, before Xena dismissed the soldier with a small shrug and turned her attention to the Regent.

"The point is that if the army attacked now it would be able to do considerable damage to the village, but probably not defeat it completely."

"Which means?"

"Which means that unless they intend to camp out there endlessly doing nothing, there is a reason why they haven´t attacked you yet."

"And what reason would that be?" Zelei asked, hostility oozing from every pore.

"Reinforcements." Callias cut in before Xena could answer. "They are waiting for the reinforcements to arrive."
 
 
 
 
 
 

"So are we just going to sit and wait till it suits them to attack us?" The disbelief in the Captain´s voice clear.

Xena sighed and closed her eyes briefly. They had been discussing this for the last couple of hours, and frankly she´d had enough.

"No, Callias, that´s not what I said. What I said was that we have to wait and see what happens, and not rush out doing something that´ll only get us all killed."

"But if we wait any longer their reinforcements will have arrived and then what? Then we´ll be really in trouble."

Xena ignored the exasperated soldier and turned to look at Ephiny.

"I believe we have sent out for reinforcements of our own?"

The Regent nodded, her face tired and pale.

"Yes, an envoy has been sent to the nearest village to request for assistance. If all goes well, we should have their reply within the next three days."

"They wouldn´t refuse, would they?" Gabrielle worridly looked first at Xena then Ephiny. "I mean, the safety of the village is at stake."

"No, they won´t refuse." Ephiny ran a hand through her blond hair and it became apparent to everyone in the room just how exhausted the Regent was.

"But they´ll only be able to part with a certain amount of warriors. There has to be enough left in their village to put up a decent defence in case…" She trailed off before continuing, looking straight at her Queen. "One village is important, yes, but the survival of the entire Nation more so and if necessary an Amazon will rather retreat than fight a losing battle."

Both Captains simultaneously snorted and Ephiny gave them both a sharp glance.

"If sacrificing one village will preserve the rest, it´s a sacrifice that every Amazon must be willing to make. It may not be very heroic and it may not appeal to you, but that´s the only thing that prevented the Nation from being totally exterminated in the past, and it´s the only thing that´s going to prevent it from being it in the future. What do you think would have happened if the conflict with the Centaurs had spread to include more than a few villages? What would have happened if we had mobilized all our troops and the Centaurs done the same?"

"We would have destroyed them!" Zelei proudly exclaimed..

"Or they would have destroyed us," came the quiet reply from Ephiny. "It´s a risk I´m not willing to take."

"What´s going to prevent the soldiers from trying to conquer the next village if they manage to grab hold on the first?" Callais´ voice had lost its frustrated edge and now sounded more resigned than anything else.

"Nothing, that´s why we have to make sure they don´t succeed the first time, no matter what it takes."

The sorrowful reply lingered in the air for several heartbeats.

"Perhaps if you could trick them into entering the forest before the reinforcements arrive?"

All eyes came to rest upon Lykeas.

"You probably won´t be able to get the entire army moving, but if you can get a couple of units lured onto Amazon territory, you shouldn´t have a problem with disposing them. After all…" He paused, smiling to no one in particular. "It´s no secret that Amazons are deadlier in forest than any other force."

"That means the soldiers are probably aware of that as well." The sarcasm in Zelei´s voice was unmistakable.

"True, but soldiers are soldiers and…well, we all know what soldiers are like after weeks of inactivity, away from their homes and no uh…diversions in sight."

"It´ll only work once," Xena said, an interested glint in her eyes.

"Yes, but if we do it properly…"

"It could be enough."

"If we attack them again before they recover…"

"The reinforcements will be too late."

"They´ll definitely think twice before attacking."

"Their confidence will have been broken"

"Their morals low."

"And every dead soldier from their army…"

"Will be an extra one in ours."

"Exactly."

The two warriors exchanged a smile that made the other occupants of the room feel like they had just witnessed two wolves circling in on their prey.

"Do you got a plan?" Ephiny´s voice broke the silence and it was clear she didn´t know whether to direct the question at Xena or Lykeas.

Xena looked at Lykeas, who shrugged and the blue eyes went back to the Regent.

"Yes. Yes, I think we do."
 
 
 

Part 2


Taiko's Scrolls Of The Xenaverse