The Amazons' Boy
By Day

Part 2
 

CHAPTER VIII
 
 
 
 

Although, the celebration that night was a very quiet affair compared to normal Amazon standards, nothing, not even a serious threat hanging over their heads, was going to prevent the Amazons from welcoming their Queen home in a proper manner. The centre of the village was filled with people, but Gabrielle noticed a considerable lack of regular soldiers, and a surprisingly high amount of warriors dressed in the blue colours of the Royal Guard. The guards at the outskirts of the village had been doubled, and the warriors patrolling the forest tripled. Callias had practically not left her side since the ending of the meeting, insisting that she should have an escort. Gabrielle had barely managed to talk her out of the four soldiers she had shown up with, and only grudgingly had the Captain accepted to number the escort down to one. A task she personally had decided to take upon herself. Gabrielle knew Xena would have found the entire scene amusing, that is, if the warrior had been there to witness it. But Xena had disappeared together with Lykeas shortly after the meeting, only stopping long enough to grab a bite to eat. That had been hours ago and there was still no sign of the warriors. She suspected they had gone into the forest to inspect the guards there, and probably check out the enemy camp as well.

Ephiny came to stand next to her, dismissing her own escort, also on the Captain´s insistence, with a small gesture and together they watched the dancing. Callias stepped away from them, but remained close by, her eyes never leaving the Queen. Gabrielle found herself tapping her foot, following the rhythm of the drums and Ephiny smiled at her.

"It´s infectious isn´t it?"

"Yes, it is."

For a while they just let the music flow through their bodies and chase away all worries from their minds.

"Ephiny, we have to talk."

The Regent sighed, "I know."

She put her hand on Gabrielle´s arm and began to lead her away from the celebration.

"Your Highness?"

Ephiny glanced back at Callias, who wasn´t looking too happy at the turn of events.

"It´s okay, Callias. I think, Gabrielle and I can go for a walk without being attacked."

The Captain looked as if she was about to argue, but then capitulated.

"Promise me, you won´t leave the village, and call for assistance if you see anything unusual."

"We promise, mother," the Queen giggled in a very un-regal manner.

The Captain turned crimson and Gabrielle suddenly felt bad. She reached out and took the soldier´s hand.

"I´m sorry, Callias. That was uncalled for, I promise you we´ll be careful."

The crimson didn´t disappear and Gabrielle could tell the Captain was feeling very embarrassed, but why she should feel that way, she didn´t understand.

She squeezed the blond Amazon´s hand.

"You take high pride in your responsibility and so you should. You do an excellent job."

"It´s my duty," Callias said, dismissing the praise, but Gabrielle could see she was pleased by the words.

"If we´re not back in an hour, you come and get us, okay?"

That earned her a smile from the Captain, who nodded and then returned to watch the dancing.

They began to stroll through the village, both enjoying the warm night and the peaceful atmosphere lingering in the air. They arrived at a quiet corner, as far away from the celebration they could get and Ephiny gestured towards a bit of grass between two huts.

"Let´s sit there."

"You don´t want to go to your hut?"

"No, it´s been so long since I last sat in the grass that I hardly remember how it feels."

They settled down and Ephiny took off her boots, relishing the feel of the grass against her bare feet. After a look, Gabrielle did the same.

"Are you happy, Ephiny?"

The Regent looked up startled. This wasn´t the question she had expected.

"Well, of course, why wouldn´t I be?"

"It´s just, you looked so sad there for a moment, and you had the same expression on your face back when we were discussing the army."

"Well, it´s not exactly an ideal situation, is it?" She gave Gabrielle a pale smile that didn´t quite reach the brown eyes. "I have a lot of things to think about, that´s all."

They sat in silence for a long time, the faint sound of drums filling the night.

Gabrielle searched her mind for something to say. She wanted to explain to her friend why she wouldn´t pick up a weapon anymore. She wanted to tell her that she loved the Amazons and would do anything within her powers to prevent them from being hurt. She wanted Ephiny to understand that she wasn´t alone with all the serious decisions, that she could lean on her for support, and that nobody would think anything less of their Regent if she didn´t have all the answers. When the blond Amazon finally spoke, her question caught Gabrielle by surprise.

"What do you think of Lykeas?"

"What?" Was all the bard managed to say.

"I mean, what do you think about him? Do you like him?"

Gabrielle tried to gather her thoughts and come up with an answer, but couldn´t think of any that would properly express her feelings.

"Well, it´s hard to say," she paused, her brow furrowing. "He´s…sometimes he just…I used to think…

Oh, he can be so frustrating sometimes."

"I know," Ephiny smiled sadly.

"He´s hard to figure out," the bard elaborated, searching for the right words. "He can be so nice and considerate and…well, almost funny when the mood strikes him, but at other times he just looks at you with that uncanny expression in the eyes and you can´t help but wonder if he´s considering whether to cut your head off or not."

Ephiny chuckled quietly. "Yeah, I remember."

Gabrielle turned her head to look into the brown eyes.

"He means a lot to Xena, though, and that´s why I´m willing to put up with his moods and his attitudes.

I don´t know why she never mentioned him before, and I don´t know why they went their separate ways all those years ago, but I do know that she was very happy to see him again. And, truth be told, right now that´s all that matters to me."

"They had a disagreement."

"What?" Gabrielle stared at Ephiny.

"I don´t know what about," the Regent hurried to say. "I just know they had a major fight over something and when they couldn´t agree, Lykeas left."

"How do you know?"

The answer was barely more than a whisper.

"Xena, told me."
 
 
 
 
 
 

"She told you?"

"Well, sort of… The subject came up once and she mentioned it…but that´s all I know."

"Well, it´s more than she ever told me." Gabrielle said in annoyance. "She practically hasn´t mentioned anything, and refuses to answer whenever I question her."

Ephiny pushed herself backwards, to lean against the hut.

"She…" The Regent began hesitantly, "she probably has her reasons."

Gabrielle sighed. "Xena always has her reasons."

That brought out a grin on the Amazon´s face and Gabrielle could feel the corners of her mouth curl up. She was still feeling frustrated with the warrior, but had resigned herself to the fact that eventually Xena would come around and tell her what she wanted to know.

At least, she always has before. Why should this be any different?

"Why have you never told me about Lemea?"

"It´s not something the Amazons like to be reminded of."

Gabrielle tried to catch Ephiny´s eye, but the Regent avoided her look, staring down at the grass instead.

"Why?"

Ephiny took a deep breath and finally looked up.

"A lot of shameful things happened in that village. It was a disgrace to Artemis and every living Amazon."

"I thought it changed for the better. Lykeas, said-."

"It did," the Regent interrupted. "For a while."

"What happened?" The bard could tell her friend was very uncomfortable by the line of conversation, but she desperately wanted answers.

"They returned to their old ways and ended up destroying themselves. There was a fire… We never heard of any survivors."

"I see."

A sudden outburst of laughter caused them both to look up startled, and they saw two closely intertwined Amazons walking past them a couple of yards away. Ephiny smiled.

"If I´m not quite mistaken that was Phila and Areia."

"They´re together?"

"Usually, that is, when they are not at each other´s throats."

"They make a cute couple."

"Yes, yes they do."

They sat in their own thoughts for a while, a comfortable silence resting between.

"How about you, Ephiny? Do you have anybody?"

The Regent shook her head. "No, I´ve been so busy lately and it´s hard…being the Regent and all. I have to be sure that… And there´s always so much to do, so many things to decide."

"It´s okay to be happy, Ephiny, even for a Regent."

"Yeah, but let´s first get all this over with and then maybe… I must admit there is a certain black-haired scout, who´s rather cute."

They smiled at each other, and Gabrielle felt a bit of the worry she had felt for her friend fade away.

"Did…Lykeas, ever mention his mother?"

Again Gabrielle was surprised by the sudden change of subject.

"Oh, only briefly. Why?"

"She was my mother, too." The voice filled with sadness.

"I know. She and your mother were joined."

Ephiny nodded. "You know, it´s funny, but Lykeas is the spitting image of her. The same black hair, the same black eyes."

"You remember her?"

A pained expression briefly showed on the Amazon´s face.

"Images, voices. I remember her laughter. She always made me laugh. Every time I had gotten into trouble and my mother would scold me, Lykeia would show up and make us both laugh and forget everything."

"She sounds like a wonderful woman."

"She was," Ephiny sighed. "I loved her very much…and so did my mother. She was never the same after the banishment."

"Did Lykeas ever meet your mother?"

"Once."

Gabrielle waited for further elaboration, but noticed a warning glance in the Regents eyes and decided to let it go.

In a cheerful voice she said, "Well, speaking of Lykeas. I wonder when it pleases him to return my warrior to me. I haven´t seen her for hours."

"They spend a lot of time together, don´t they?"

"Yes, they do. Xena is quite good at handling him whenever he gets into one of his moods. Most be some kind of warrior thing."

"Perhaps you shouldn´t… Perhaps it would be better..." Ephiny began, not certain if she should speak her mind. Then reaching a decision, she continued, "I´m not sure he´s good for her."

"What…what do you mean?"

Seeing the worry in the green eyes made her reach out and take the bard´s hand into hers.

"Nothing, don´t worry. I´m talking nonsense, it´s been a long day."

She began to get to her feet, pulling Gabrielle up with her.

"We better get back to the celebration before Callias comes and personally drags us back by the ears."

"But-."

"Please, Gabrielle, can we just go now?"

The bard nodded reluctantly, wondering why it was she never seemed to be able to finish a conversation anymore.
 
 
 
 
 
 

They had returned to the celebration and spent a few hours there just relaxing and enjoying the festivities. Several Amazons, some more shyly than others, had come to ask their Queen to dance, but each time Gabrielle had tactfully declined, her heart still waiting for the warrior to show up. But, when a black-haired, slender Amazon named Terisa had managed to lure the Regent into joining her, Gabrielle had found herself feeling surprisingly lonely, and had turned to ask a very startled Amazon Captain for a dance.

"Uh, I don´t know, Your Majesty. I´m not sure if that-."

"Oh, nonsense, Callias. Don´t you want to dance with me?"

"Well, yes. Of course, but-."

"Well, then, what´s stopping you? You don´t want to disobey your Queen now, do you?"

Grinning, Gabrielle had pulled the soldier after her and together they had joined the dancing.

The blond Amazon had been a very rhythmic and graceful dancer, once she recovered from her embarrassment, and Gabrielle had found herself following the Captain´s every move without hesitation. They had made a very beautiful sight and several pairs of eyes had followed them throughout the dance. It wasn´t till the musicians grew tired, and people slowly began to leave and head home that they stopped, both with flushed cheeks and shining eyes.

"You´re a wonderful dancer, Callias. It was a pleasure dancing with you."

"I think it takes two, my Queen, and you´re very skilled yourself."

"Thank you, that´s nice of you to say."

"I mean it."

"Thank you."

They had looked at each other in silence.

"Do you want me to escort you to your hut?"

"No, thanks, Callias. I´ll be fine."

"Okay, my Queen, then I´ll bid you a goodnight."

"Goodnight, Callias, I´ll see you in the morning."

Walking the short distance back to the Royal Hut, Gabrielle had been lost in thoughts and barely managed to suppress a small scream when a figure suddenly emerged from the darkness to walk beside her.

"Lykeas! You startled me."

"I´m sorry, I didn´t mean to."

"Is Xena back as well?"

"Yes."

"Well, where is she?"

"I don´t know. I left her a while ago to check on Rarjan."

They had arrived at the hut and for some indefinable reason, they had both stopped outside, neither showing any intention of leaving.

"Why are you still here, Lykeas?"

"Why not?"

"If you´d wanted to you could have left."

"Maybe I don´t want to."

"Why not?"

He´d just given her his trademark look, followed by a small shrug. Gabrielle had felt an enormous wave of frustration wash over her, and had to resist a sudden urge to reach out and strangle him. Reading her face, Lykeas had only smiled.

"Are we friends, Lykeas?"

"Do you want us to be?"

"Yes…yes, I would."

"Because of Xena?"

"Yes, partly, but also because… Not always, but most times, I like you."

Brows had furrowed.

"You…like me?"

"Yes, I like you."

"Oh."

"So…friends?"

"When I make a friend it´s forever. You sure you´re up for that?"

"I wouldn´t have it any other way."

Although he tried to hide it, the most truly felt smile she had ever witnessed from him briefly graced the dark features.

"Friends it is then."

For a while they had just stood there, looking at each other. Then Gabrielle had leaned forward to plant a light kiss on his cheek, and to her great delight he hadn´t flinched, well…only a little. Then she had turned and walked to stand in front of the door leading into the hut, before looking at him again.

"Can I ask you something?"

The answer had come hesitantly.

"Sure."

"When you think back at your time with Xena…back when you rode together, the things that you did…"

"Yes?"

"How does that make you feel?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what do you feel when… Do you feel…"

"Guilty?"

Silence then.

"Yes. Do you feel guilty? Do you feel the same pain that Xena has to live with every day?"

"No."

Gabrielle had stared at him, a mixture of emotions showing on her face.

"No?"

"No… I´ve never felt guilt in my life. I´ve never regretted anything I´ve done."

"I don´t believe you."

His eyes had become cold at the statement.

"I´m not Xena, Gabrielle. I´m not looking for forgiveness or searching for redemption."

"Are you trying to frighten me?"

"No."

His eyes had lost their cold, and for a second, she thought he would say something, but then he began to walk away.

"Lykeas?"

He had turned to look at her, a question on his face.

"What is it you want to know, Gabrielle? What is it that fascinates you so much? What is it you want me to say?"

He had stared at her, waiting for an answer. She´d had none.

"Goodnight, Gabrielle. Get some sleep."

Then he had disappeared into the darkness once again.
 
 
 
 
 
 

The next two days passed in a blur. Xena was busy with preparations for battle and Gabrielle hardly saw the warrior. She went to bed alone and when she woke up in the morning, Xena had already left to meet with the Captains and Lykeas. Gabrielle, herself, was tied up with work from early morning to late evening, and she had reluctantly acknowledged that being Queen wasn´t only about partying and issuing orders to have work done for you. She was filled with a noticeable, but satisfying exhaustion and it pleased her no ends to be able to relieve Ephiny of some of her burdens. They hadn´t experienced any trouble with the waiting army, no soldiers had entered the forest, and the third day, the reinforcements from the other village arrived.

25 strong, fully armed warriors had quickly been stationed to various parts of the forest and village. There had been quite a rowdy disagreement between, Callias and Zelei, about who was to be in command of the new warriors, until Xena had cut through and said, she would take charge of them. Zelei had been fuming, but Callias had accepted without protests. A nervous anxiety filled the air and took hold of every person in the village. The attack was to take place the next day, and everywhere warriors were cleaning and sharpening their weapons, while the healer together with her helpers were busy making preparations for the inevitable aftermath of battle. The plan was to lure as many of the soldiers onto Amazon land early the next evening, and then quickly take care of them with hopefully no casualties on their side. If they were successful that attack was to be immediately followed up with another, later that night, and if all went well, the sun would rise to shine on an empty plain, bereft of any enemy soldiers.

At least, no living enemy soldiers. Xena had quietly added in her mind, when she, in one of their rare moments together, had gone over the plan with Gabrielle.

Secrets are hard to keep in any village and it didn´t take long before everyone there was aware of who Lykeas was and of his connection to their Regent. Most of the younger Amazons treated him with a casual indifference or innocent curiosity, while those who were old enough to remember his mother and the scandal that had taken place all those years ago, either gave him the cold shoulder or sympathetic looks, neither of which Lykeas paid any attention. He spent most of his time with Xena, planning and preparing the attack or trying to convince Callias to return his weapons. Even when Xena had tried to reason with the Captain and later Ephiny, it hadn´t worked. The Regent had curtly said, he would be allowed to carry arms when the attack was to take place and only then. Xena had delivered the reply to him, but he had only given her a dismissive grin and said that he probably should consider himself lucky they would allow him to carry arms into battle at all. Initially Xena had felt rather guilty about dragging Lykeas to the village, and had decided to make it up to him by never leaving him alone for long, always aiming to keep him entertained, always judging his mood, trying to make him smile. That way, she quietly admitted to herself, she could also keep an eye on him and prevent anything from happening. She was prepared to step in if any situation should arise, well aware of some of the less than friendly eyes following him around. Lykeas behaved himself admirably, but she could tell by the occasional tightening of his jaw and half veiled gaze that even the smallest provocation was all it would take. She soon found that she enjoyed spending all this time with him. They rarely spoke about the past, both knowing it inevitably would lead to subjects neither were ready to discuss, but she realized that just being with him, talking about the upcoming fight, discussing weapons, tactics, horses or what ever came up, provided her with a quiet sense of joy she hadn´t felt for a long time. She knew, she should find more time to be with Gabrielle, but kept pushing the thoughts away, always taking refuge in the excuse that she couldn´t leave Lykeas alone.

Besides, she promised herself, We´ll have plenty of time to be together after this is over.

So Gabrielle spent most of her hours with the Regent going over a never ending flow of documents, while Xena spent hers never leaving Lykeas out of sight. As far as the warrior knew, Lykeas and Ephiny hadn´t spoken since the night of their arrival, and she had come to the conclusion that probably was the best solution for all people involved.

As she arrived at the practice field, she noticed Lykeas sitting on the fence surrounding the field, watching the training. She let out a breath she hadn´t been aware she was holding. It had been an hour since she last saw him, and she had begun to feel slightly worried.

I´m acting like a broody hen. It´s not like he can´t take care of himself.

Her eyes caught the sight of two staffs lying carelessly on the ground, and with a controlled tilt of her foot, she caught one, than another in her hands.

This is gonna be fun.

She lifted the staff in her right hand and delivered a swift blow against his head.

A hand shot backwards, a body turned and the staff was caught in an iron grip inches before his face.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Xena?" He gave her a self-satisfied smirk.

She arched an eyebrow in return before giving him a grin of her own.

"Wanna spar?"

"Sure."

He jumped down from the fence and watched as Xena in one graceful movement flew over the fence.

"Show off."

She just grinned and tossed him a staff, "I think I´ve heard that one before."

They made their way toward a deserted corner of the field, the staffs rotating lazily in their hands. They stopped, moved a few stances away from each other and were about to begin when a voice interrupted.

"Can we join you?"

The turned to see Callias stand next to a short, but surprisingly well-muscled woman. The woman´s hair was a fiery red and her green eye looked at them with an expectant, but friendly gaze. Xena recognized the woman as Erinya, the village´s weapons master, who also conducted the training of the younger Amazons.

"Well?"

Xena looked at Lykeas, who shrugged, "Sure, why not?" He looked at them, studying their physique and their hold on the staffs.

"All against all? Or do you wanna pair up?"

"I think," Erinya began in a beautiful contralto, "I think it should be me and Callias against the two of you."

The two warriors nodded, not really caring either way. Xena led Lykeas a few feet away, till they had their backs to the Amazons.

"I should take Erinya and you Callias."

Lykeas just looked at her, a teasing smile on his lips.

"Oh, and why´s that?"

"Callias is a very good soldier, but there´s no doubt that Erinya is better skilled with the staff."

Lykeas tilted his head, a bigger grin spreading on his face.

"And, who exactly is the more skilled with the staff when it comes to us?"

Xena frowned, but returned his grin.

"We´re not getting into that old argument now:"

Lykeas let the staff spin faster and faster between his fingers, his arm never moving.

"Xena… I thought we settled this years ago. You´re better with the sword, and unless I´m having a very good day I won´t defeat you. Just like you won´t beat me at archery, and then again, I have no chance in Tartarus to even figure out how that shiny ring of yours works, but when it comes to the staff…"

He let the sentence hang in the air, increasing the speed of the staff till it was nothing more than a blur.

"When it comes to the staff, I´m your superior. After all, I´ve practically been fighting with a staff since before I could walk."

Xena opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again, shaking her head in good-natured exasperation.

"Whatever you say, Lykeas. Whatever you say."

Lykeas bit his lip, trying to suppress a smile, "Besides, I think Callias wants to fight you."

"Oh?" Xena looked past him at the Captain, who was talking quietly to Erinya. "Why do you think that?"

Lykeas looked at her in surprise, but when he noticed Xena´s genuine confusion, his face became expressionless again.

"Well," he said, dismissing the question. "Don´t they all want to fight the Warrior Princess?"
 
 

When Gabrielle and Ephiny finally decided to take a break, they didn´t waste any time getting out of the crowded and stuffy hut, where they had spent most of the afternoon. Walking through the village, they couldn´t fail to notice that something was going on down at the practice field. Pushing herself through the crowd, Gabrielle paused in front of the fence surrounding the field. Ephiny soon joined her and the loudly cheering crowd closed behind them. The sight that greeted her was breathtaking. Four warriors were fighting in the centre of the field. Their moves were swift and precise, hard and merciless. They circled and countered, retreating only enough to block, before delivering another furious blow against whatever exposed limb that was within reach. Their skin was glistening with sweat, clothes clung to their bodies and damp hair swirled in their faces. And there was absolutely no doubt in Gabrielle´s mind that they were all having a blast. Especially Xena. The smile never left her face as she jumped to avoid a blow aimed at her legs, regained her balance and forced her staff down hard against the Amazon Captain´s right shoulder. Callias cried out in pain, but never loosened her grip around the staff and with an impossibly quick motion, managed to bring it back up and block the next blow. Xena couldn´t help but feel just the slightest hint of admiration for the blond Amazon, and was about to say so, when she noticed the determined look in the blue eyes staring directly into hers. She frowned, not sure if she had read the look correctly and that distraction was all Callias needed to deliver a direct hit into Xena´s abdomen. Xena felt all air leave her lungs and she staggered a few steps backward. The Captain felt victory within reach and moved forward to deliver the final blow. She raised her staff, but suddenly felt her legs disappear from underneath her and she landed flat own her back with a triumphant Warrior Princess staring down at her.

"I think that´s enough for today. We all need our strength for the battle tomorrow."

She reached down and for a second she thought Callias would refuse, but the Captain grudgingly accepted her hand.

"You fight well," the blonde began, but was interrupted by the sound of two bodies heavily hitting the ground. Lykeas was sitting on top of Erinya, his staff pressing hard against her throat. The weapons master struggled and wriggled, but Lykeas pushed harder, locking his thighs around her hips.

"You give?" He managed to say, panting heavily.

The Amazon struggled some more, more for appearances sakes than anything else, before she went limp, grinning wildly.

"I give! I give!"

Lykeas rolled off her, a big grin of his own spreading across his face. He reached down and pulled the Amazon to her feet, and for a while they just stood in front of each other, panting and grinning.

"What kind of move was that?" The weapons master finally managed to say, dusting off her hands. "I´ve never seen anything like it!"

"Well," Lykeas smiled, "I didn´t want to stay out here the entire day, so I had to put an end to it."

"Okay, that makes sense, but that move?"

"Well," Lykeas said again, the black eyes shimmering with mischief. "I didn´t make you step on my staff, did I? You did that all by yourself."

The Amazon shook her head and gave him a warm smile.

"You´ll have to teach me that one day."

They suddenly became aware of all the eyes following them and managed to compose themselves. Callias stepped over to Erinya and together they began to walk off the field. Xena looked at Lykeas, a crooked smile on her lips.

"The Double Grasshopper Move?"

"She had it coming." He smirked, enjoying himself tremendously. "Blew her right off her feet."

Xena raised an eyebrow and put an arm around his shoulder. "It most certainly did."
 
 
 
 
 
 

CHAPTER IX
 
 
 
 

Lykeas was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. His back was hurting slightly after the powerful dive he had made with Erinya earlier the day, but that aside he felt good. He could feel the familiar anticipation of battle enter his limbs, and he knew he wouldn´t get much, if any, sleep that night. Outside the hut, the village was quiet, most people having gone to bed hours ago. Suddenly he heard the sound of quiet footsteps walking outside and come to rest in front of his door. A gentle knock followed. He sat up and moved back to lean against the wall.

"Come in."

The person outside hesitated for a moment before slowly opening the door and coming inside.

"Ephiny?"

The surprise on Lykeas´ face was quickly replaced by something else. "What do you want?"

The Regent stood for a moment, her eyes darting from one side of the hut to the other.

"I… I thought we should talk."

"I thought you said you never wanted to see me again, much less talk to me."

"That…that was a long time ago, Lykeas. Perhaps we could…perhaps we could move on."

"Move…on?"

The black eyes narrowed dangerously and Ephiny involuntarily took a step back.

"I have," the Regent began, swallowing hard. "I have no family left beside you and I thought-."

"I´m not your family!" The dark man rose from the bed slowly, his movements almost feline. "Didn´t we establish that once already?"

Ephiny felt the need to step away once more, to put some distance between them, but she remained standing, her eyes now staring defiantly into his.

"You´re my brother, Lykeas, whether you like it or not. Our mothers were joined and I know they would want-."

Her head flew back from the impact of the blow. He raised his hand to strike again and she closed her eyes, bracing herself for the second blow. But nothing happened. She opened her eyes and for an endless moment, they looked at each other. He lowered his hand to his side before putting it behind his back. First then he broke eye contact and looked down at his feet.

"You better go."

Ephiny was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of loss and she had to take a few breaths before she could speak.

"Is that all you have to say?" The question lingered in the air for a few heartbeats.

"Yes."

She turned and walked to the door.

"Ephiny?"

"Yes?" She answered, without turning around.

"I´m sorry I hit you." The words were spoken in a surprisingly soft tone.

"I´m sorry you hit me, too."

She walked out and closed the door behind her.

She almost ran into Gabrielle, who had to grab onto the Regent´s shoulder not to fall.

"Ephiny! Are you all right?"

The Amazon removed a few blond strands from her eyes and gave Gabrielle an unconvincing smile.

"I´m fine, Gabrielle. Lykeas and I just had a small disagreement, nothing to worry about."

Gabrielle threw a glance at the closed door and then at her friend´s face.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Ephiny shook her head.

"No, right now, all I want to do is sleep." She gave Gabrielle´s hand a gentle squeeze. "I´ll see you in the morning."

Gabrielle watched as the Regent disappeared in the darkness before she turned to look at the door again.

No, not tonight. I can´t deal with him tonight.

She walked to her own hut and noticed to her dismay it was still empty. Although she knew it was stupid, she couldn´t help but feel just a bit hurt by Xena´s continuing absence, and she wondered briefly where she could be. All plans for the attack had, to her knowledge, been made and she couldn´t think of anything else the warrior might be doing.

Unless, of course…

She smiled to herself and began to walk towards the stables. Xena was probably having a quiet chat with her beloved horse, and she better go get her, before the warrior forgot that other living creatures might want her attentions as well. As she passed the practice field, she noticed a shadow leaning against the fence, facing away from her. She stepped a few steps closer.

"Callias?"

The shadow spun around and the moon revealed the beautiful face of the Amazon Captain.

"Your Majesty! What are you doing out here on your own and at such a late hour?"

Gabrielle smiled. "Probably the same as you, Captain. Enjoying the peace and quiet of the night."

She took a quick decision and climbed up to sit on the fence, and after a moment´s hesitation, Callias joined her.

"Can´t you sleep?"

The smile left Gabrielle´s face.

"No, I can´t stop thinking about what´s going to happen tomorrow. What if something goes wrong? What if everything fails and people get killed for no reason? What if-."

Her words were cut off by Callias, who tentatively reached out to take the Queen´s hand.

"Don´t think like that, my Queen. You´ll only drive yourself crazy. We´ll fight because we have to and we all know that we might die tomorrow, but there isn´t a single Amazon here, who isn´t willing to die for her people, for her Queen…including me."

Gabrielle squeezed the hand holding hers and gave Callias a weak smile.

"Let´s hope it doesn´t come to that, Callias. I wouldn´t want a single Amazon to die for me…including you."

A strange expression showed on the Captain´s face and she looked away.

"I would die for you, my Queen," she said in such a quiet voice that Gabrielle almost didn´t hear her.

Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came. She eased herself down from the fence to stand in front of the Amazon Captain.

Callias, I…" She stopped, not sure if she should say something.

The Amazon jumped down from the fence, landing elegantly next to the Queen. The soldier slowly raised her head to meet Gabrielle´s gaze. Gabrielle saw the emotion surfacing in the intense blue eyes, and for the slightest of moments, she was captivated and unable to move away. Callias leaned forward, inch for inch bringing her face closer to the Queen´s.

"Callias, no…" Gabrielle breathed, feeling the heat radiating from the woman in front of her, and then she felt nothing, but the soft lips pressing gently against hers. For a second, Gabrielle´s mind went black, she just stood and let herself be overwhelmed by the powerful feelings the blond warrior invoked in her. She felt her heartbeat increase as the kiss intensified, and the Amazon gingerly began to explore her mouth with her tongue, her hands enveloping Gabrielle´s waist, pulling her closer. That awoke Gabrielle from her state of paralysis and she pushed the Captain away.

"Callias, no!"

A mortified expression showed on the Amazon´s face and she took a few steps backwards.

"I´m… I´m sorry, I didn´t mean…"

Then suddenly she turned and ran.

"Callias! Wait!"

But the Amazon Captain had vanished into the darkness.

"Damn! Damn! Damn!" Gabrielle whispered to herself, kicking the fence in frustration.

"Why did this have to happen now?"

She let out a frustrated sigh and began to walk back to the Royal hut. She needed to be alone right now, to gather her thoughts and find a way to straighten things out with Callias. She was too engulfed in her thoughts to notice the dark silhouette standing in the doorway of the stable and the cold azure eyes narrowing, as they followed the lithe figure of the Queen be embraced by the night and disappear.
 
 
 
 
 
 

30 Warriors moved soundlessly through the thick forest. Another 20 were positioned in the trees only a small distance from the more open, bushy area that worked as a natural border between forest and plain. Further in, 50 warriors were waiting among the trees, invisible to anybody who would have passed. Lykeas and Xena were standing impatiently with these warriors, all quiet, all straining to hear what happened, all waiting for the signal to move. The remains of the Amazon force were camped closer to the village, but still inside the forest, waiting for the command to attack the surviving soldiers on the plain. The afternoon sun was warm and shining with an ever increasing red light, but none of the rays penetrated the dense roof of leaves, and the warriors shivered in the darkness. The forest was still, not a single bird or animal was heard and a feeling of nervous dread hung in the air, blending in with the strong anticipation of battle emanating from everybody in hiding. Lykeas absently caressed the hilt of the sword, subconsciously comforted by its presence at his side again. He turned to look at Xena and they exchanged a quiet smile before both returned their attention to the clearing ahead. Callias and her soldiers had arrived at the borderland. She ducked under a low hanging branch and took cover behind a tree. She raised a hand to halt the warriors behind her, and knew, without looking back that they had all melted into their surroundings. She carefully moved to look past the tree and study the scene in front of her. The enemy camp was calm and not a lot of activity was to be seen. Small groups of soldiers were scattered all over the area, some sitting around a fire eating, others talking or playing dice. However, groups of 5 were constantly patrolling the area, circling the camp and guards were positioned at the outskirts. The Captain noticed that every soldier, even those who were eating and gambling, all had their weapons within reach, ready to jump up and fight if necessary. She moved behind the tree again as a patrol walked by only a few yards away. When it had passed, she raised her hand again, signalling her soldiers to be ready. She took a deep breath and the shrill cry of hawk cut through the air, and instantly, as if one being, 30 Amazons moved and stormed through the bushes. Ear shattering war-cries followed and confusion in the enemy camp was total. Xena felt all her muscles tense by the sound and she had to force herself to remain standing in the shadows. She couldn´t see anything, but she could clearly hear the sounds of battle. Metal hitting hard against metal, the eerie sound of swords sliding down another and the groans and shouts of the soldiers. She more felt than heard the impacts of the blows, felt how the sharp blades sliced their way through armour and leather to enter soft yielding flesh. She could feel arms pausing, before pulling back, releasing streams of blood to mar the ground in the deadly colour of war. Then she heard Callias shout.

"Retreat! Retreat! Now!"

Her sword was in her hand before the Captain had finished the sentence and she began to move forward. Suddenly her vision was filled with Amazons rushing past her, and she stepped aside, taking refuge behind a tree. Then the warriors were gone and for a single second nothing was heard, then the angry shouts of men rang in her ears.

The accent was foreign, but the words weren´t.

"Come On! Let´s get them! They´re running!"

Another voice shouted.

"No! Don´t! It´s against our orders! We´re not to enter the forest!," but the voice was drowned out by furious shouts and immediately followed by the sound of heavy boots entering the forest. Xena braced herself for what was about to happen, a predatory smile on her lips. Between 40-50 soldiers came rushing into sight, determined at first, but then slowly coming to a halt, looking hesitantly around.

"Where did they go?"

"Damn! Don´t say those fucking bitches got away?"

On the contrary, we´re right here.

The grin on Xena´s face broadened and she tightened the grip on her sword.

She heard a whisper in the trees and, for a moment, she felt almost sorry for the men.

"Fire!"

From everywhere arrows flew through the air, finding their targets with deadly accuracy. The shouted curses where quickly replaced by screams of anger and fear as the soldiers saw their comrades fall to the ground around them. Another wave of arrows followed, mercilessly continuing the bloody harvest of men.

"Attack!"

From behind every tree and every bush, Amazons emerged with grim determination written on their faces. Warriors lowered themselves from trees, and arriving at the clearing was a unit of 50 soldiers with a savagely grinning Lykeas in the lead. The fight was bloody but short. 10 minutes later no enemy soldiers were left alive.

"Okay!" Xena shouted, bringing everybody´s attention to her. "We give it an hour to see what happens and if nothing does, then we attack the camp."

Small cheers were quickly silenced by a look from the warrior.

"This is not over yet!"

Without a sound they retreated back into the forest.
 
 
 
 
 
 

The moon rose to reveal a village that was quiet but yet alive with activity. Everyone there who had been left behind, whether being too old or too young to fight, had spent an anxious afternoon, then evening and finally night waiting for news of the attack. Gabrielle had been pacing the Royal hut till she couldn´t take it any longer and had gone outside, She immediately realized, she wasn´t the only one who couldn´t stand the confines of their huts as the village was full of people. Some were walking around talking quietly, others were standing at the outskirt, eyes filled with worry searching the forest. She found Ephiny among the latter, the Regent´s face unnatural pale in the moonlight.

"I should be there." She spoke quietly, not looking at Gabrielle. "I shouldn´t have let Xena talk me out of it."

"She needs you here," Gabrielle tried to reassure her friend. "She needs to know there is a strong leader ready to take over if anything should happen, and…" She felt her throat constrict at the next words. "And Xena knows I´m not capable of that."

Ephiny spun around.

"That´s not true, Gabrielle! You´re more than capable to reign this village and the Nation, and we both know that, and so does Xena."

Gabrielle gave her a sad smile, "In times of peace maybe, but when it comes to war and fighting, I´m afraid I´m terribly inadequate. I don´t-."

"Someone´s coming!"

All over the village, faces turned toward the forest and soon after, shadows slowly began to emerge.

Ephiny recognized the slow, staggering movements and let out a small sigh.

"The wounded are being brought in."

"Kelife!" She shouted, "Get your people ready. The wounded are coming!"

"How many?" The healer shouted back, running towards her Regent.

A rasping voice answered, "It´s not that bad, only about 15-20 and most aren´t hurt that badly, only a few…" The voice broke and Gabrielle recognized Areia. The brown-haired Amazon was bleeding from a deep cut above her right ear and her sword arm was wrapped in a makeshift bandage, but what frightened the Queen the most was the total lack of life in the brown eyes. Ephiny took a step forward, searching the soldier´s face.

"Phila…?" She managed to whisper.

Areia could only nod, tears filling her eyes. "She…she saved my life… She…"

The Regent put her arm around the soldier and gently led her away. Gabrielle felt like she was going to throw up, she took a few deep breaths, then the healer arrived at her side.

"Your Majesty?"

"About 15-20 and most shouldn´t be hurt that badly." She repeated in a desolate voice.

"Any casualties?" The healer asked in a controlled and businesslike tone.

"A few;" Gabrielle whispered, then she pulled herself together. "I don´t know how many."

The healer nodded, "Okay, have the most seriously wounded sent to my hut and the others to Erinya´s. We´ll need all the room we can get."

Gabrielle nodded and the healer began to move away before Gabrielle´s voice stopped her.

"What about the dead?"

The healer turned and for a second a sorrowful smile replaced the mask of professionalism.

"The dead can wait, Your Majesty, the living can´t."

Slowly the Amazon army returned to the village. Some could walk by themselves, others were half supported, half carried back. Gabrielle watched in silence as the endless flow of warriors passed her, and although one part of her mind told her that they had won, that they escaped with as small a casualty as possible, another part kept seeing the shocked, tearstained face of Areia. Some of the soldiers gave her small exhausted smiles as they passed while others acknowledged her presence by nodding briefly. Her eyes desperately searched for the sight of one warrior. At times she had to restrain herself from not running forward when she thought she saw a familiar figure, but every time her hope was crushed.

"Lykeas!"

She almost ran to him and flung her arms around him. He stiffened immediately, but didn´t pull away. She released him from her grip, but held onto his arms. He was pale and his face was smeared with dirt and blood, but otherwise he appeared unharmed.

"Xena? Where´s Xena?"

"She´s all right, Gabrielle." His voice was hoarse and he cleared his throat. "She´s still at the camp."

"Why? What is she doing there? I thought the battle was over."

"It is, she´s going through some documents we found. She wants to know who they are…or were."

The last statement was accompanied by a smile resembling a sneer, and Gabrielle let go off his arms.

"So…Xena wasn´t hurt?"

"No, she´s fine."

Relief washed over Gabrielle and she suddenly felt very tired.

Lykeas gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder and started to walk away.

"Lykeas?"

"Yes?"

"How many died?"

He looked at her, his brow furrowing.

"Oh… Only a few, about four or five, I think."

"Anyone…anyone I know?"

"Uhm, I don´t know… Phila and…and a small black-haired one, Terisa I believe it was. And then one or two from the other village, don´t know their names… and…" He wiped a drop of blood away from his nose, his brow furrowing some more. "And Callias, I think."
 
 

Gabrielle pushed herself forcefully through the crowd hovering outside the healer´s hut. A tall woman stood in the door blocking the way, but when she noticed it was the Queen, she stepped aside and let her in. The hut was buzzing with a hasty but controlled activity. People were kneeling besides pallets, washing away blood, bandaging wounds and whispering words of comfort. An almost perceptible quiet existed and only hushed voices and splashing water were heard. Kelife looked up from her position next to a pallet, the ground around it, coloured with blood. She barely acknowledged the presence of her Queen before returning to her task. Gabrielle let her eyes roam the bodies lying on the pallets, but didn´t find what she was looking for. Almost reluctantly her eyes came to rest on the person in Kelife´s care. Callias was deadly pale, her face white as a sheet against the blood covering her body. A steady stream of blood was seeping from a deep cut in her side.

"Leda! I need more bandages!"

A young Amazon rushed to the healer´s side, handing her the bandages. Kelife tore away Callias´ tunic to get more access to the wound, before pressing the cloth against it. Instantly the bandages were soaked and the healer let out a low curse.

"Leda! Do we have any tar?"

"No, we were supposed to get some more next month, remember?"

Another string of curses followed.

"Okay, Leda, you now what to do."

The helper rushed past the Queen and out of the hut.

Kelife looked up and her eyes searched the hut, but all of the helpers were occupied. She turned to look at her Queen.

"Your Majesty, I need your help."

It wasn´t a request, it was a command and Gabrielle obeyed without a second thought. She knelt down on the floor, on the opposite side of the pallet. She stared at the white, dirty face and couldn´t stop herself from reaching out and gently push a lock of blood stained hair away from the Captain´s forehead. Callias´s face was captured in a silent expression of pain. Her eyes were narrow slits and her jaw was clenched tightly together, pale lips baring white teeth biting down hard.

"I need to remove something from the wound. You must keep it free from blood, so I can see what I´m doing."

"There…there´s something in the wound?"

"Yes, I think it´s the tip of a dagger. It must have broken off inside of her."

Gabrielle swallowed and steadied herself.

The healer began to feel her way inside the wound while Gabrielle fought to wash away the blood that began flowing once again.

"I…I think…I got it!"

With a triumphant cry Kelife pulled out a long metal tip and immediately the wound began to bleed more strongly. Gabrielle looked for more bandages, but couldn´t find any. She tore a piece of cloth from her skirt and began pressing it against the bleeding. The healer looked at her, a respectful look in the grey eyes. Wordlessly, she got up and then returned with more cloth.

"Try and halt the bleeding as much as you can. Leda should be here shortly, we´ll have to seal the wound."

Gabrielle nodded without taking her eyes away from her task. Her knees were hurting and her arms were aching from the strain, but she didn´t give in. In her mind she kept seeing gentle, blue eyes looking at her in an unspoken question. She saw the shy smile of an embarrassed Amazon Captain before pulling her out to dance, and she saw the horrified expression of a young woman realizing what she´d done.

"Please, my Queen. I need you to step aside."

Gabrielle was awakened from her state of reverie and in a haze moved away from the pallet, allowing Leda to kneel in her place. She barely acknowledged the red glowing pair of tongs the helper held in her hand, before the hand was lowered and a sickening seething sound followed. A low guttural groan was heard for only a moment and then it silenced. The smell of burned fleshed mingled with the harsh smell of blood and urine and Gabrielle felt her head spin. She turned and ran out of the hut, through the people waiting outside, paying no attention to the concerned voices calling her name. She paused at the outskirts of the village, panting heavily. A nagging sense of shame claimed her now and she had to blink a few tears away.

Gods! How did I ever think I could be more than a bard? I´m not a warrior, I´m not a Queen. I´m not even strong enough to help them in the only way I can.

She straightened up and dried her eyes.

No! I can do this! I may not fight with them on the battlefield, but I´ll be damned if I´m not going to help them when they are wounded.

A new determination entered her body and she turned to walk back to the hut.

"Gabrielle."

She froze on the spot, the tears flowing freely again.

"Xena?"

She turned to see the most beautiful sight she had ever witnessed. A pale, tired and very exhausted warrior walking towards her. Her heart cried out at the sight of the dark blues eyes devouring her and the small smile showing on the full lips.

"Gabrielle?"

She ran forward and was immediately caught up in strong, powerful arms.
 
 
 
 
 
 

CHAPTER X
 
 

The following night five funeral pyres were lit. Two warriors from the village, together with two from the neighbouring village had died on the battlefield, and in the early hours of dawn another soldier succumbed to her injuries. Callias fought a long, hard battle against death, each ragged breath threatening to be her last, but when the pale morning sun rose to drive out the remaining shadows, the healer raised her head and gave Gabrielle an exhausted smile.

"She survived the night. She´ll be all right now."

The pyres burned through the night and everyone in the village who were capable, were there to honour the dead. Ephiny held a quiet eulogy for each warrior, outlining each soldier´s courage and skills. Her voice only breaking once, when she began speaking about Terisa, the young scout, who had been stabbed from behind. It was a night of sorrow, but also a night of joy. The joy of the victorious and the joy of being alive. It was decided to have a small celebration when the injured were strong enough to participate, and life slowly returned to normal. Xena had requested that the warriors from the other village stay for at least a fortnight before returning, and Ephiny had agreed. In spite of the recent victory the thought of what might follow was never far from the Regent´s mind. The documents they had found had only been used to keep track of the soldiers pay, and hadn´t been able to put some light on who they were, or where they came from. Several Greek names had been among the more foreign sounding ones, and Xena had felt her body fill with rage. It was one thing when the city states forgot all the solemn promises of brotherhood they had exchanged, and began waging war on each other, but Greek men entering foreign service to fight Greek was something entirely different. Secretly she was glad none of the soldiers had survived, although she would have liked to have had the opportunity to question one about their targets. Gabrielle had spent most of her time tending to the injured, and every Amazon who might have felt displeased with their Queen and her refusal to fight, now felt a strong sense of pride. Without complaint the Queen knelt down on the stained floor, exchanged bloody bandages, washed dirt and gore from battered bodies and always she had kind, comforting words for anyone who might need it. Xena had guards posted on the borderland, so she could be immediately notified of any movement on the plain, and spent the majority of her time going over the attack with Lykeas or sparring with the soldiers.

Stretching her back, Gabrielle rose from the chair next to Callias´ pallet. The Captain had been drifting in and out of consciousness for most of the day, her body raging with fever. Kelife came to stand beside her and gently put a hand on the patients forehead.

"The fever has broken."

Gabrielle nodded, "I know."

"Why don´t you go home and get some sleep, my Queen? You have been on your feet for two days without rest."

Gabrielle´s entire body was aching and her eyelids felt heavy and swollen, but she shook her head.

"I can´t, not yet. The wounded need me here."

The healer reached out and lifted her Queen´s head so she could see her face.

"The wounded have been taken care of. All they need know is to rest and the same goes for you, my Queen."

When she saw Gabrielle was about to protest she smiled. "It´s by the healer´s order," she said and gently pushed the exhausted woman towards the door.

"Go, get some sleep. I don´t want to see you again for the next 10-12 hours."

Gabrielle gave her a tired smile, the strain of the last days clearly showing on her face. She stepped outside and was surprised to discover it was night. She had been inside the hut all day and hadn´t noticed the hours slip away. On her way through the deserted village, she noticed Ephiny walking towards Lykeas´ hut carrying his arms.

"Ephiny?"

The Regent almost jumped.

"Oh, it´s you. I didn´t hear you coming. How are the wounded?"

"They are fine, it´ll take time for some, but they´ll all recover."

"Ah, that´s good… I know, I should have checked on them myself, but I been so busy with the funerals, and rearranging the army and… I haven´t…" She trailed off, taking a deep breath to compose herself. "I haven´t even said goodbye to Terisa yet."

Her eyes went to the South of the village where the memorial grounds were.

"I…I meant to bring her some flowers tonight and tell her… But I have to return these weapons to Lykeas first. I know he´d want them back, and after the way he fought for us it would be petty to refuse."

She silenced, but made no move to leave. Gabrielle reached out and took the weapons from the Regent.

"I´ll do that. You have somewhere else to be right now."

Ephiny gave her a grateful smile.

"Thank you, Gabrielle, you´re a true friend and a true Queen. You may not think so yourself, but you have proven to everybody in this village that you´re worthy of ruling the Nation… As if we didn´t know that already."

And with these as her parting words, the blond Amazon disappeared in the direction of the memorial grounds. Gabrielle walked the last way to Lykeas´ hut and knocked on the door.

"Just a sec." She heard him answer as he moved around inside.

"Okay, come in."

He was sitting on the bed with nothing but a blanket wrapped around him, his wet clothes hanging on a chair close to the fireplace.

"I´ve put off washing for too long." He explained at her inquiring look. "Thought I might as well get it over with while I had the time."

Gabrielle nodded and gave him a tired smile.

"I know what you mean… I have your weapons with me, Ephiny thought you should have them back."

His face lit up by her words and Gabrielle groaned inwardly.

Warriors! It really doesn´t take much to make them happy. They can be stoic and brooding for days, but the moment you return them their toys, they begin purring like kittens.

"Just put them against the wall."

Gabrielle complied and placed the sword, bow and quiver against the wall.

"Where do you want your daggers and knives?"

"Oh, I guess you can put those on the floor, I won´t be able to dress for a while."

She did as she was told, but as she raised her head, Lykeas shifted on the bed and the movement caused the blanket to open slightly and expose a tanned, muscled thigh to the hip. Gabrielle stared in astonishment. His left thigh was covered in an intricate pattern of thin white scars, circling and weaving into each other, and she knew with a freezing clarity that those patterns hadn´t been caused by any accidental strike. They had been carved into the flesh.

"Who did that?"

He looked at her for a second, unsure of what she was referring to, then realization hit and he followed her gaze to his thigh.

"I did."

"What?" Gabrielle exhaled softly.

"I did… I had to prove a point once."

Gabrielle looked into the clouded black eyes, then she slowly walked out of the door, closing it as she left. Lykeas stared at the closed door, but he didn´t see it. In its place he saw bloodshot, grey eyes looking at him with drunken malice, a hand moving to reveal a knife.

"Prove it."

"I don´t-."

"Prove it!"

The woman threw the knife and it embedded itself in the wall behind the young boy.

"You said there was nothing I could do to you, you couldn´t do yourself. So prove it!"

A small bronze hand reached for the knife…

With a groan Lykeas got up and began dressing in his still damp clothes. He wouldn´t get any sleep that night.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Gabrielle entered the Royal hut and was pleasantly surprised to see that Xena was there, but her feeling of joy quickly evaporated when she noticed the sullen expression in the blue eyes.

Seems like somebody´s had a bad day.

"Where have you been?"

Oh yeah, definitely a bad day.

Gabrielle closed the door behind her and almost fell down on the bed. Her body was aching all over and she felt like she could sleep for weeks. Xena was standing at the wall staring at her. She had indeed had a bad day. She had woken up that morning with a terrible headache and she could still feel it throbbing in the back of her head. Then even before she´d had the change to eat breakfast, she had had a major argument with Zelei about something so stupid, she had forgotten all about it the moment it finished. But the aggravation hadn´t left her body and that, together with the restlessness she had begun to feel, her temper had been ready to explode since noon. To make matters worse, she had been sparring with Lykeas and he had beaten her rather convincingly because her thoughts had kept drifting to other subjects, and her chest still hurt from the blow she´d received because she hadn´t been paying attention. Zelei had witnessed it and it was her luck that Erinya had had the good sense to pull the Captain away, before she had said something that would have left her a head shorter. After that she had gone in search of Gabrielle, only to find that the Queen was still attending to the wounded and probably wouldn´t be home for hours.

Yeah right, I wonder why.

"So?" The question was followed by a raised eyebrow.

Gabrielle slowly pulled herself up in a sitting position on the bed.

"You know where I have been, Xena. I´ve been with the wounded."

"I thought they were all out of danger?"

Gabrielle sighed and began to pull off her boots.

"They are, but that doesn´t mean they still don´t need to be cared for."

Blue eyes narrowed.

"Yeah, I bet."

Gabrielle raised her head a looked at the warrior, a frown on her face.

"What´s that supposed to mean?"

Xena crossed her arms over her chest.

"Don´t you think it´s funny that the Amazon Queen herself so vigorously spends all her time with the wounded, tending to their every need, when the healer and her helpers are more than capable of that?"

"I´m just trying to do my part."

"Oh, is that so?"

Gabrielle let out an exasperated sigh.

"Xena, what are you talking about? I´m too tired to play games with you tonight."

"What I´m talking about is that maybe there is a reason, why you´re so keen on spending every minute of your time changing bandages, cleaning wounds or holding hands with the wounded. Or I should say one particularly wounded? A certain blond Captain perhaps?"

Gabrielle shot up from the bed.

"Xena, that´s ridiculous!"

But the memory of Callias´s passionate kiss entered her mind and a faint colour rose to her cheeks. If possible, the blue eyes narrowed even more.

"Touched a nerve, did I?"

Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak, but was too late, the warrior had already stormed out of the hut. Totally exhausted she flung herself down on the bed.

I´ll deal with this tomorrow. I have to sleep first, and then I´ll deal with it…Tomorrow.

Xena rushed through the village till she found what she was looking for. She grabbed Lykeas´ arm and pulled him with her, almost causing him to stumble from the force.

"Hey! What are you doing?"

"We´re going hunting!"

"We are?"

"Yes!"

Lykeas knew better than to argue.
 
 

The two warriors glided through the dark forest. They moved soundlessly between the trees, never within sight, but always keenly aware of the other´s location. Lykeas suddenly inhaled a familiar harsh smell.

"Xena?"

"I know," a voice spoke out of the darkness. "Boar."

"Wanna go for it?"

Rattling of leaves was all the answer he received.

"Guess you do."

He followed her trail, muttering to himself.

"I hope you know how crazy this is, without spears and everything."

"It´s all part of the challenge." She answered, somewhere ahead of him.

"Have I ever told you how annoying that hearing of yours is?"

"Shh…"

They arrived at a small clearing and came to a halt. Xena sniffed the air.

"It´s coming."

Lykeas pulled out an arrow and prepared his bow. He threw a glance at Xena.

"Aren´t you gonna use your chakram?"

Xena reached for the hilt of her sword, a wolfish grin playing on her lips.

"No."

"Okaaay…"

They waited and soon they heard a heavy animal moving through the bushes. The sound was accompanied by snorting and grunting, and Xena could feel her heart rate increase, anticipation filling her body. Suddenly the grunting stopped and Lykeas involuntarily tensed. A pair of yellow eyes were starring at them from the opposite of the clearing. He raised his bow.

"Not yet."

"But Xena-."

"Not yet."

He sighed and lowered the bow again, keeping the arrow ready. When Xena was in one of her moods, it was better to just play along and see where it would take them. He couldn´t help but wonder if this would take them both to Tartarus a lot earlier than expected. In that instant the boar charged. The underbrush was torn apart and a huge black animal ran directly towards them. Xena slowly unsheathed her sword. The animal thundered through the clearing, small grunts of rage filling the night. Xena could smell the animal strongly now, and briefly closed her eyes.

Come here… Come here…That´s right, I´m waiting…

She could feel the tension in Lykeas´ body, but he didn´t move a muscle and remained at her side. Just like she knew he would. She sensed the boar close the distance between them and she opened her eyes. The arrow flew from Lykeas´ bow and he immediately pulled out another. The arrow embedded itself deeply into the animal´s throat, but it didn´t even halt it´s approach. It´s attention shifted from Xena to Lykeas and it lowered it´s head, intending to tear his legs with its fangs. A second arrow left the bow and found its target and this time the boar staggered, before resuming its pace.

"Hey you! That´s right, piggy, you! Come here!"

Xena´s voice caused several birds to take off from the trees and the boar turned its sole attention to her. It thrust itself against her, and Lykeas watched in horror as Xena fell to the ground, taking the boar with her. Franticly he dropped the bow and drew his sword. With all his might he brought the sword down against the animal´s neck, through hard sinew and muscles, blood immediately smearing the blade. For a second the animal struggled then it went limp. He dragged the boar away, steadying himself for the sight of Xena´s mutilated body. Instead he was met with sparkling blue eyes and the sound of roaring laughter.

"Gods, Lykeas! If you could see yourself!"

He extended a hand down and pulled her up.

"I´m glad you find this so amusing. I thought you´d been killed."

Xena brushed earth and leaves off her leathers and aside from a few cuts and scrapes on her legs she appeared unharmed.

"Ah, Lykeas, you should know me better than that. It impaled itself on my sword when we went down, didn´t you see?"

"If I had, I definitely wouldn´t have been so busy stabbing it from behind, would I?" He grumbled, but a grin was slowly spreading on his face.

"Gee, Xena. I´d forgotten how it was to go hunting with you."

Xena returned his grin, "Just like the old days."

"Yeah… What now? I don´t really feel like carrying it all the way back to the village."

Xena poked the animal with her foot. "Who said anything about going back?"
 
 
 
 
 
 

The smell of roasted meat made Lykeas´ stomach rumble and Xena threw him an amused glance.

"I take it we´re feeling a bit hungry."

He smiled sheepishly, "Perhaps, just a little."

They were sitting comfortably resting their backs against a tree, a blazing fire burning in front of them. A sharpened branch with several chunks of meat had been placed just above the flames. For a while the only thing heard was the occasional seething from the fire when the juices of the meat came in contact with the flames. Lykeas lazily stretched his body with such an enthusiasm that all his bones cried out in complaint.

"Getting old?"

"´Fraid so."

They began to eat, burning their tongues and fingers on the hot meat, juices running down their chins.

"We make quite a sight," Lykeas grinned and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his tunic. "And I´d just washed this."

When sated, Xena leaned back against the tree, enjoying the feel of her body slowly beginning to unwind and relax. She closed her eyes and inhaled a few deep breaths of air. The night was slightly colder than the ones before, but she didn´t mind. The cold air was slowly clearing her mind, and she felt the throbbing in the back of her head lessening and then disappear completely

"So... Are you gonna tell me why we´re here?"

"Like I said, I wanted to go hunting."

"Uh huh."

Xena opened her eyes and turned to look at the man beside her, half hidden in shadows.

"It´s no big deal… I just made a terrible fool of myself tonight."

"So what else is new?"

She gave him a friendly slap.

"Watch it!"

They both knew that taking this conversation any further would lead to a discussion of more personal matters, something that neither was comfortable with, so Lykeas changed the subject.

"When do you think the reinforcements will arrive?"

Xena picked up a twig and threw it at the fire.

"I don´t know."

"You think they will come?"

"Yes, it´s only a question of time."

"I wonder who they are…"

"Me too."

They fell silent and soon the calm, even breathing told Xena, Lykeas had fallen asleep. She was pleased for him, she didn´t think he had gotten a lot of sleep the last couple of nights. Neither had she for that matter, but perhaps a trip to the forest, hunting boar was all it took, because she soon felt her eyelids grow heavy and a warm, soothing sensation enter her limbs. Still, she resisted falling asleep right away, enjoying her state between sleep and awareness far too much. Unbidden images came to her mind and it didn´t take long before she found herself at another fire, in a different forest, many years ago.

The fire had almost died, but neither had made a move to throw more wood on. They had been alone, sitting close to each other, the remains of the army camping further away.

"I´d wish you´d stop doing that, it drives me crazy."

"What?" Lykeas said, looking up from the knife resting in his hands.

"That knife," Xena elaborated. "I´d wish you stop playing with it all the time, it makes me nervous."

"Oh, sorry." But he hadn´t put it away, but begun staring at it instead.

"You know, it´s funny…"

"What´s funny?"

"This was my father´s knife."

Xena´s brow furrowed.

"Really? I thought… I mean, you said your father-."

"I know," he interrupted. "He forgot it when he left. My mother brought it with her… I don´t know why, perhaps as a reminder or something."

He looked up and Xena was surprised to feel a shiver run down her back, but the expression in his eyes…

Do you know what the funny part is?"

"No."

"He didn´t recognize it."

"What do you mean?"

"I showed it to him just before I killed him, but he didn´t recognize it."

"You killed him?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"How? What do you mean how?"

Xena shook her head, "No, I mean how did you find him? How did you know who he was."

"He told her his name, remember?"

When he noticed her confusion he continued, "He told her not to forget her name and she never did."

"But how-."

"Lisisis was so kind to tell me. She didn´t want me to go through life without knowing, who my father was."

"I see."

Xena wasn´t sure whether she should encourage him to continue or try to change the subject. So she decided to wait and see what happened. She could see in his eyes that his mind was far, far away.

"Remember when we were in Athens? Before we shipped out?"

"Yeah."

"I looked him up. He wasn´t hard to find… He had become respectable, rich, with slaves and everything. He was married."

"Oh," Xena commented, well aware that he wasn´t listening.

"A slave fetched him for me… He was pretty annoyed, I think he´d just been woken up. He asked me what I wanted and I showed him the knife."

"What did he say?" Xena found that she was becoming intrigued by the story. This definitely beat the drunken tales of her men, she was otherwise subjected to.

"He just looked at me and asked if I was crazy. Apparently, his memory wasn´t worth much."

The dark-haired man sighed, "At least not till I shoved him up against the wall… but it wasn´t the knife he remembered… It was my eyes, or perhaps I should say my mother´s."

He looked up and Xena felt him staring right through her.

"I told him, I was glad he remembered."

He pulled himself out of the haze that had entered his mind, and tilted his head slightly to look at Xena, a faint smile showing on his lips.

"What then?"

"Then I killed him."

She awoke with a start. For a while she took in the sight of the black sky and the white stars, before she turned to look at Lykeas. He was still sleeping, a peaceful, almost vulnerable expression on his face. She shook her head to remove the last traces of sleep and began rebuilding the fire.
 
 
 
 
 
 

CHAPTER XI
 
 
 
 

Gabrielle awoke from a restless sleep. She wasn´t surprised to find the bed empty and tried to ignore it, but after a while she had had enough and got up and dressed. It was early dawn outside and she knew she should be exhausted and try to sleep a couple of hours more, but she knew her body well enough to tell that sleep wouldn´t return. Besides she felt relatively rested and the heaviness had left her head. She stepped outside into the grey light of the morning. A faint mist lingered between the huts and the air felt damp against her skin. She took a deep breath and looked around, unsure of what to do. The village was still sleeping and no activity was seen or heard. Without really acknowledging it, she began to walk towards the healer´s hut. She paused outside the door and debated with herself whether to go in or not. She knew it wasn´t really necessary for her to be there, and that Xena probably would resent it when she found out. The last thought was also the deciding one. She felt a small fire of anger ignite inside of her.

How can she even think something like that? Doesn´t she know I love her? Doesn´t she trust me?

Gabrielle realized that because of the warrior´s unreasonable behaviour, she was suddenly more determined than ever to enter the hut. There was no way in Tartarus that Xena was going to tell what she could and couldn´t do. She wasn´t a naive village girl any longer, she was a grown woman, an Amazon Queen for Gods´ sake. A Queen with responsibilities to fulfil and a duty to be there for her people in whatever way she could. The fact that Callias was one of the wounded had nothing to do with her resolve.

Touched a nerve, did I?

Xena´s last comment came to mind, but she pushed it away and entered the hut. The hut was dark and the by now familiar smell of dried blood and something she suspected was vomit filled her nostrils. The floor had been cleared of all pallets except one, the other injured apparently well enough to be allowed home to recover under the care of friends and families. Kelife was sitting on a chair next to Callias´ pallet, her head resting against the wall behind her. The healer was fast asleep. Gabrielle gently shook her awake.

"Kelife, wake up! It´s time to go home."

The pale eyes were bloodshot and the face grey with exhaustion.

"Wh-What! Your Majesty? What are you doing here? Didn´t I tell you to get some sleep."

"Yes, you did and I have. Now it´s your turn, go home, go to bed. There´s no need for you to run yourself down."

We may need your skills later…

Kelife opened her mouth to protest, but Gabrielle silenced her.

"It´s by the Queen´s order."

The healer frowned at having her own words thrown back at her, but then she rose from the chair, a tired

smile on her lips.

"I guess, I could use a bit of sleep. I don´t think there should be any problems," she gestured towards the

patient. "But in case something does happen, you just go get me, okay? No matter what."

Gabrielle nodded and ushered Kelife out of the door.

"We´ll be fine, go home and sleep. I don´t want to see you for the next 10-12 hours."

For a second Gabrielle thought the healer was about to stick her tongue out at her, but Kelife just gave her an

little mischievous smile.

"As you wish, my Queen." Then her expression turned serious. "You have a good heart, Gabrielle. I´m

honoured to have you as my Queen."

Gabrielle stood in a stunned silence and watched the healer walk away. Kelife´s words slowly made their

way to her brain, and a beautiful smile showed on the young woman´s face. She closed the door again and

sat down on the chair beside Callias. She studied the Captain´s face and was relieved to see that a bit of

colour had returned to her cheeks. She hadn´t spoken to her since the night at the practice field and to be

honest, she didn´t know what to say, when the moment arrived. She desperately wanted Callias to know that

it was okay what had happened, that she didn´t need to feel ashamed. It just couldn´t happen again. A little

voice in her head that she had been able to silence till now suddenly began to make itself heard.

Oh, come on, Gabrielle. Why don´t you admit it? You enjoyed it when she kissed you. You´re not fooling

anybody. And don´t pretend you didn´t know how she was feeling, nobody is that blind.

"But I didn´t," Gabrielle whispered to the empty room. "At least not at first."

Really? What took you so long? Was it the way she she looked at you when she thought you didn´t notice?

Was it the dancing or the fact that she was willing to die for you and almost did?

"I love Xena, there´s nobody else for me," Gabrielle once again whispered to the room.

Oh, and where is your precious warrior now? She ran off as usual, didn´t she? They way she always does

when the going gets tough. Where´s her faith in you? Where´s her faith in your love?

Gabrielle pressed her hands hard against her head, willing the voice to go away and it did, but only to be

replaced by another.

"My Queen?"

Callias was awake.
 
 
 
 
 
 

The afternoon had begun to change into evening when Lykeas and Xena finally arrived back at the village. They had spent a relaxing day with hunting and frustrating the Hades out of the Amazon guards in the forest. Xena had begun by betting with Lykeas that he wouldn´t be able to sneak up on one and soon the innocent little wager had turned into an exciting little game they both enjoyed thoroughly, much to the guards´ dismay. So it was with a rare feel of satisfaction and peace, Xena bid Lykeas goodbye and went inside the Royal hut only to be greeted by a fuming Gabrielle.

"Where have you been?"

Xena vaguely recalled having used the same words the night before, and that opening hadn´t turned out very well. This time she sat down on the bed while Gabrielle stared at her, standing in the middle of the hut.

"Hunting." The warrior meekly replied, hoping they could get this argument over with soon.

"You disappear for the entire night and half a day without telling anybody, and that´s all you have to say?"

"I can take care of myself," Xena replied, beginning to feel just the slightest hint of annoyance.

"You didn´t ever consider I might be worried about you, did you?"

Gabrielle was clearly not happy and Xena sighed, this wasn´t going well. She knew she shouldn´t say this, but she couldn´t stop herself.

"I thought you´d be too busy to even notice I was gone. Don´t think I´m not aware of your little walk on the wild side, Gabrielle. I saw you kiss her."

For a moment all words left Gabrielle and she could just stare at the warrior, disbelief mingled with guilt written on her face.

"She kissed me." Gabrielle finally managed to say.

"Oh, really? You didn´t look like you minded it very much. Frankly, to me it looked like you were having a jolly good time with her tongue in your mouth."

Gabrielle paled at the words, but at the same time felt the fury she had been holding inside her all day begin to build.

"I meant to tell you."

"When? You´ve had plenty of time to tell me"

Speaking the thoughts that had been on her mind for days, added to the anger filling Xena´s body and she was helpless to control it. She didn´t want to control it.

"Perhaps if you didn´t run off all the time, I would have had the change to actually tell you," Gabrielle replied harshly. "But that has always been at trademark of yours hasn´t it, Xena? To run off whenever something gets too complicated for you to deal with."

Xena rose from the bed, the blue eyes glaring dangerously.

"I wouldn´t begin talking about running if I where you, Who is it, who´s practically taken any opportunity that came along to try and leave me."

Gabrielle began to reply, but stopped herself, taking a deep breath. This wasn´t going anywhere. She wasn´t sure where Xena´s last statement had come from, but she knew the warrior well enough not to take it lightly.

"Xena, I would never leave you."

"You have before," the warrior growled.

Gabrielle felt her temper flare again.

"If you´re so keen on spending time with me, how come I practically haven´t seen you for the last two weeks? It seems to me you´ve spent more time avoiding me than being me with."

"In case you haven´t noticed, " Xena retorted and took a step forward. "I´ve been busy fighting a war! I´ve spent every day of the last week, trying to come up with a plan to save your precious Amazons´ necks when the reinforcements arrive. You and everybody else might have forgotten, Gabrielle, but I haven´t. They will arrive and when they do, they will attack."

"You don´t know that!"

"Oh yes, I do, because that´s exactly what I would do. A strong leader can´t allow his men to see him in defeat."

"And you´d know all about that, wouldn´t you?"

Their faces were inches apart and the air between them almost sparkling with electricity.

"Just because you aren´t capable of leadership doesn´t mean I not," Xena spat out and immediately regretted her words, but whatever apology she was about to make disappeared from her lips, as Gabrielle slapped her in the face.

"Don´t you ever say that again!"

Xena didn´t even flinch, just stared at her in utter disbelief. Her initial reaction had been to fling Gabrielle through the room, but she clenched her jaw and forced the thought away.

Never! I´ll never hurt her!

Rage ran in her veins and her breathing was ragged.

Out! I have to get out of here!

She spun on her heels and for the second night in a row, the Warrior Princess stormed out of the hut. Gabrielle stared blindly at the door.

This can´t be happening… This can´t be happening…

She wanted to scream in rage and frustration, she wanted to cry to release the immense pain she was feeling in her chest and she wanted to run after the warrior, grab her and never let her go, but instead she sank listlessly down on the bed.
 
 

Xena spent the next week avoiding Gabrielle. Not that she ever openly acknowledged it to herself, she just found other things to do and other places to be. Fortunately for her, there was a lot to do. Warriors from three other villages had arrived, and hours of heated discussion followed between Xena and Zelei about which steps to take when the army arrived. Zelei openly doubted that any more soldiers would show up, and accused Xena of being a control freak with a severe case of paranoia. Xena´s response was to disappear into the forest for hours with Lykeas, and if Zelei had thought about it, she would have known that those trips probably saved her from being hurled against the nearest wall. Gabrielle didn´t understand Xena´s behaviour and had gone over their argument in her head countless times to find out what had triggered it all. She was hurt by the warrior´s lack of trust and still angry for having her abilities as Queen questioned. It had taken her a long time to feel comfortable in her role as leader of the Amazons, always doubting herself or having her capability doubted by others. Xena had stood by her all that time, but now when she had finally gained her confidence and was respected and loved by her subjects, the one person who should always be there for her had abandoned her. In her heart she knew Xena was proud of her, but her anger and misery together with the nagging sense of guilt she carried with her, prevented her from reaching out. At times she would curse Xena for doubting her, and at other, she would curse herself for getting into this mess in the first place. She felt guilty for hurting Callias first emotionally, then physically. Although in her right mind she knew that she wasn´t to blame for the latter, and that in war soldiers get wounded, she couldn´t lose the thought she somehow was to blame. So she spent a lot of time with the Captain trying to be her friend, knowing full well that Xena would get the wrong impression, and the fact that she actually enjoyed being with the blond Amazon did nothing to improve the situation. As the days passed it became harder and harder to be the one to make the first step, particularly because neither really knew where it had gone wrong. Gabrielle thought Xena was behaving unreasonably and childish, and Xena, who´d rather die than admit it, had been deeply shaken by what she´d witnessed at the practice field, and was hurt and not just a little angry, Gabrielle had chosen not to mention it. They still shared a hut, but Xena spent most of her nights in the forest either patrolling the border or hunting with Lykeas, and when Gabrielle didn´t have work to do, she spent hers reading scrolls, eager to learn everything she could about the history and culture of her people. She also spent a considerable amount of time with the Amazon Captain, who had recovered enough to leave the healer´s hut and begin walking around supported by crutches. It gave Gabrielle a cruel sense of satisfaction, the rare moments she noticed Xena seeing her talking with Callias, and although she instantly regretted it afterwards, she couldn´t help it. Ephiny was too tied up in work to be of any real help, although she did try to talk to Gabrielle about it and Lykeas remained neutral, never indicating that he was even aware of any problems. Not being very comfortable with emotional issues himself, he found the entire story somewhat tiresome and was beginning to look forward for some action that would put an end to Xena´s bad mood.

The third week after the battle, the celebration to honour the dead and celebrate victory was held. In spite of the Regent´s words of caution, a lot of Amazons felt the need to wash away all thoughts of the past and all worries about the future, and the drinking steadily increased through out the night. There was plenty of food and wine since three fifths of the soldiers were on duty, some patrolling the border, others the forest and the rest guarding the village. However, there was no danger of the celebration being dull since everybody else had decided to participate in the festivities with twice as much enthusiasm as usual, and soon roaring laughter and music was all the sullen guards in the forest could hear. Xena had first considered skipping the party, but Lykeas had stubbornly refused to go with her, and she hadn´t felt like going into the forest on her own with nobody to distract her from her thoughts, so she had stayed. To her surprise she realized that she was actually having a good time, and in the back of her mind she knew it probably had something to do with the countless glasses of wine she had consumed, but the company wasn´t bad either. Lykeas had found somewhat of a friend in Erinya, and together the three warriors enjoyed themselves tremendously, telling preposterous stories and bragging about their skills and courage as fighters. Gabrielle was sitting further away, closer to the dancing and once in a while she turned to look at Xena, but to her silent annoyance the warrior didn´t even indicate that she had noticed her presence. Soon several more soldiers joined the warriors and Gabrielle lost sight of Xena who, until then, actually had thrown several glances in the Queen´s direction, but her eyes had never rested long on her, but always come to a halt staring at the blond Amazon beside her. Once the two pair of blue eyes had met and Xena had lost all sense of what was going on around her, concentrating only on the challenging, but gentle eyes staring back. Xena looked away first.
 
 
 
 
 
 

"…And ever since then, we never had any problems with getting him to bathe regularly!" Lykeas finished his anecdote to a roar of laughter and he smiled briefly. He was feeling quite at ease, in spite of being surrounded by Amazons, something he´d have sworn would never happen. Xena emptied another glass of wine and reached for the wineskin. She remembered the incident Lykeas had just told about very well, since it was of one her men, who´d been subjected to Lykeas´ rather unusual idea of an education. She caught his eye and gave him a big grin.

"Kleipion was never the same again after that little lesson."

Lykeas returned her grin with a smug smile, "Well, that was sorta the idea behind it all, wasn´t it?"

He raised his glass and they toasted, their eyes meeting in a quiet understanding. One of the soldiers from the regular army began to tell an anecdote of her own, but Xena was unable to pay attention for long. She was beginning to feel restless. The wine, the stress of the last couple of days and the never ceasing rhythm of the drums had blended together into a fiery, intoxicating cocktail running through her veins. All her senses were keenly alert and she felt her entire body fill with an energy that made it almost impossible for her to remain seated. She closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing and fight the impulse to get up and run till she dropped from exhaustion. As she opened her eyes she found herself staring directly into a pair of dark brown eyes, openly admiring what they saw. Xena returned the gaze, a sultry smile playing on her lips. The woman across from her was slender, but the short leather skirt and top didn´t nothing to hide the firm muscles playing under the tanned skin every time she reached for her glass or turned to say something to the soldier beside her. Xena didn´t recall ever having seen the warrior before and came to the conclusion that she was from one of the other villages. The woman leaned forward to reach for the wine skin, thereby giving Xena an uninhibited view of her cleavage, and there was no doubt in the warrior´s mind that that exactly was the sole purpose behind the movement. For a moment her gaze lingered on the soft flesh before she returned to look at the woman, who gave her a seductive smile, obviously not minding the appreciative look in the blue eyes one bit. Xena suddenly found herself wondering what it would feel like to bury her head in the warrior´s long chestnut coloured hair, nudging her thigh between the firm legs, her hands slowly sliding down to… She brought herself back to reality with a small shake of the head, but the movement together with the look in the dark warrior´s eyes hadn´t gone unnoticed by the Amazon, who gracefully rose from her seat. Without a word she extended a hand to Xena, who took it, suddenly feeling terribly nervous. She knew she hadn´t thought this through. She had responded to an attractive woman without thought or consideration of the consequences. It was a game she had played countless times for so many years as a warlord, and it was so deeply integrated in her that she was helpless to respond. But things had changed and now, in spite of all her skills, she felt like a player, who had entered a somewhat familiar, but still foreign game without knowing all the rules. She was about to mutter some kind of excuse and then disappear, when her eyes fell on Gabrielle leaning close to Callias, whispering something in the Captain´s ear oblivious to the blues eyes watching them. Xena turned to the woman still holding her hand.

"Let´s dance."

Callias smiled at her Queen again and was about to speak when something caught her eye. Gabrielle noticed the Captain´s nonplussed expression and followed her gaze to the dancers. It took her a few seconds before she realized that she actually was seeing was her disbelieving mind told her she couldn´t be. Xena was dancing with another woman, their bodies so close together that not even air could pass between them. The warrior´s hands were on the Amazon´s hips, whose own hands were tightly around Xena´s neck, occasional sliding one down her back, caressing the dark hair. They swayed together in a sensuous rhythm, practically not moving from the spot. As if feeling Gabrielle´s gaze, Xena raised her head and looked straight at her, the blues eyes both challenging and inviting. Still with their eyes locked, Xena let her hands slide down to cup the Amazon´s rear pulling her closer against her body. Gabrielle´s eyes widened for a second before narrowing. She rose from her seat and without a word or a second glance at Xena, left the celebration. She entered the Royal hut and within seconds felt a presence behind her. Arms encircled her from behind and calloused hands reached for her breasts. Gabrielle pulled herself forcefully out of the embrace and turned to face the warrior.

"How dare you humiliate me like that in front of the entire village!"

Xena didn´t answer, but stepped forward and Gabrielle suddenly found herself with her back against the wall of the hut. She tried to move away, but Xena´s arms came down on either side of her body holding her in place.

Lowering her head till their faces were only inches apart Xena drawled, "I´m not the one who´s been publicly flirting with one of her subjects all night."

There was a dangerous edge to the warrior´s tone and a shiver ran down Gabrielle´s back, but she didn´t have time to respond as Xena lowered her mouth to hers and forcefully thrust her tongue inside her mouth. With one hand Xena began to unlace Gabrielle´s brown leather top while the other went down to slip up under her skirt. Gabrielle´s senses railed against the sensual onslaught, her body just wanting to give in to the warrior, while her mind was furious about the way she was treated. Xena´s tongue was everywhere in her mouth, demanding and fierce, leaving the young woman breathless. She felt a hand move inside her top and couldn´t help but release a moan when the rough fingers found an erect nipple. Xena pressed her harder against the wall, trying to get Gabrielle to put her legs around her waist. Gabrielle´s mind finally surrendered to her body and she returned Xena´s kiss with a passion matching the warrior´s, her hands going around the bronze neck to pull her head further down. Xena broke the kiss and obligingly moved down to take a nipple into her mouth, eliciting another moan from the blond woman. Gabrielle felt a hand push her legs apart and she closed her eyes to give in to the sensation.

"I bet Callias never made you feel like this."

Gabrielle´s eyes snapped open, a cold fury burning through the haze of desire and arousal. She shoved the warrior hard in the chest, causing her to stagger and take a few steps back.

"So is that what this is all about? You see this as some kind of competition where the winner gets to fuck the Queen!"

Xena´s face was flushed, her eyes dark with the desire. She stepped forward and tried to push Gabrielle back against the wall, but Gabrielle swiftly evaded her hands and moved away.

"So tell me, Xena! Is it?" Her voice loaded with anger. "Not that you really have to worry about losing, since Callias is still recovering and nowhere capable of shoving me against the wall and take me. So I guess that means you win."

"Gabrielle…" Xena growled and closed the distance between them, but Gabrielle avoided her again.

Xena´s expression hardened.

"If you´re not gonna give me what I want, I´ll go find somebody who will."

"Then I suggest you do that," Gabrielle spat out, green eyes flashing, "Because there´s no way you´ll be fucking me tonight."

For endless moments they just stared at each other, faces flushed and breathing laboured. Xena was feeling consumed by anger and desire and had to force herself to remain still and not reach for Gabrielle again. The tension in the hut was unbearable and for a moment Gabrielle felt a small tingle of fear, but then Xena turned on her heels and marched out. With the warrior´s departure Gabrielle felt all strength leave her legs and she slowly sank to the floor, burying her head in her hands.

Part 3


Taiko's Scrolls Of The Xenaverse