Disclaimer: This story was written for two very special young women, my daughter Danielle and her best friend Azra. I have used without consent, characters owned by Renpic, MCA, and borrowed situations (such as the conception of a child in a certain tree house) and characters from all of my favorite bards, especially Merwolf. From B.L. Miller, I took Saras, I relied on DJWP for some Amazon protocols, and when technical problems swamped me, she swooped in, corrected, augmented and sent my first chapters. Simple thank you's are not sufficient. In the midst of her own writing, Gin kept me going when I was going nuts, and my Beta Reader MyWarrior deserves traditional undying gratitude for her constant encouragement.Of course, I would never have written this if Lunacy had not created her listings. All in all, it's an amazing support system, I can only encourage others to dive into the pool.

Violence: No more than the show

Sex: Some of the persons depicted are in loving consensual relationships. A baby is born. Couples are sometimes the same sex, and if that bothers anyone, I personally think they need more exposure to it, but if you're under 18 or live under primitive legal statutes, move on or move. If I occasionally blushed while reading it aloud, it must be PG 13

THE JOINING By Kamouraskan

1

Cedar...?

PPhlaaah! Cedar and DIRT, in her mouth? What the...? Robin closed her eyes and tried to focus on only the sounds she was hearing. Birds chirping. Leaves rustling. Forest? She opened her eyes and found herself looking at a fern in front of her prone body. She was lying on hard, very real ground, not in a dream, and sure as hell not in her bed which was where she last remembered being. She stared at the fern. It was ...different. Not alien, but the veins dividing the leaves were like none she had ever seen before, but then, the bird calls were not familiar and even the air had scents that she knew were foreign.

She tried to slow her heartbeat. Where the hell was she?

She raised her head and propped herself up on one arm to look around. Definitely

woodland, but the trees were like the fern, subtly different from what she was used to. It was

only then she noticed that she wasn't alone, there was another recumbent figure lying apart

from her in this mystery glade.

Almost accustomed to awakening in strange places, James had come to, a moment

before Robin, though he was still unaware of her. His mind was racing: wondering why he

hadn't heard the familiar pop when he was transported, trying to analyze why this felt different from his usual trips, searching through his memory for what he called the case file, finding nothing. Then he realized that he had company. His response was to move to a defensive crouch until he identified his companion. Then he relaxed and his face broke into a grin.

"Robin! I..." he started, until he saw her expression.

Robin's eyes widened at the sight of the familiar figure. Average height, reddish blonde hair and mustache, son of a...

"Where the hell are we? What have you done, you asshole?" she had

only begun, but stopped, surprised that his welcoming grin had vanished and he literally

seemed to deflate. 'What the hell?' It was bad enough that this creep must have been stalking her for weeks; now he was upset that she didn't enjoy being kidnapped?

'Dammitall,' he thought. 'We're back, and she still doesn't remember. What the hell am

I supposed to tell her?'

This time he wasn't at fault, he was sure. Somebody else was responsible. Right. That'll help a lot. He just had to convince her of that. Simple, enough. Just because he was probably the last person in this or any other world she would listen to. But hey, wait until she heard his explanations.

"First off, I didn't bring you here." They were now both standing and Robin was unsuccessfully trying to brush off the forest floor grit from her clothes, when she finally noticed

she was dressed in garments she had never seen before. Some sort of peasant skirt and blouse. She turned blazing eyes to James, who realized that this, this could be very difficult.

Just keeps getting better, he noted.

"I didn't dress you, I swear I didn't bring you here, and I swear on my mothers grave I'll

try to get you home, but you've got to give me some time to figure out exactly where we are."

Robin's face told him exactly how much she believed him. Even so, she was so, damn

it, cute. Short cropped black hair, those green eyes that he remembered had blazed with every

known emotion, that had showed no pretense or evasion, and were now hiding none of her anger towards him. She was furious, and she hated him. Perfect. 'I love my job', he thought for the thousandth time.

Robin took a deep breath. 'All I wanted', she thought, 'were a few guitar lessons'. That was all. He had seemed OK, hardly at all psychotic.

Another deep breath. Panic will not get you out of this, she told herself. Start again.

"Where are we? How did we get here? How do we get back?"

Good, he thought. She was trying to be rational. Unfortunately the answers he had,

were guaranteed to change that for the worse. He knew by the rough weave on his almost

familiar peasant coat when they were, but it was only after spotting the stone marker beside where he had been lying, that he guessed where.

"What do you know about Amazons?"

2.

"Amazons?"

How the hell did that answer her questions? She noticed for the first time that he had a

rather large knife attached to the leather belt at his waist.

'Answer the question,' she told herself quietly.

"You mean the jungles or the women?"

He wasn't even looking at her now. He was looking up at the trees, for God's sake! What kind of crazy was he?

James listened to the bird calls for a moment while scanning the upper branches.

"Definitely the women." He looked at her. He was still waiting for an answer to his question.

"Woman warriors," she stammered. "Uh... Wonder Woman, Cut off their breasts to

shoot arrows? Why? Is this important?"

"Crucial." he said wryly. He seemed to steady himself. "I think we've got a few minutes

to talk because it looks like this is the outer boundary. But if I'm wrong, there are three things

you must believe, no matter how much you distrust me, no matter what ever you think of me,

please try to , to, " he struggled, "to accept what I have to tell you. First and most important, no

matter how weird or strange this all may seem, it is NOT a dream. There are real PHYSICAL,"

he emphasized "consequences to being here."

She looked at his knife, and he noticed it for the first time.

"Not from me! " and she saw he seemed shocked at the suspicion. "If you hadn't

noticed, you have a dagger as well." He pointed to her right side. Her hand moved casually to

grasp the hilt .

"What I mean by consequences," he continued, ignoring the hand gripping the knife, "is that if you were to cut yourself here", he indicated the general area around him with his hands, "you will still have the cut when you get back," now pointing to a tree behind him with his thumb.

She looked at the tree, and then at James, her face expressionless.

"I mean... Back.. Home." He almost yelled.

This wasn't going well, he thought. Running his hands through what he thought of as his

rapidly thinning hair, he tried again.

"Look, what I'm trying to say is, no matter how weird it gets here, no matter how strange

it may seem, this is REAL, and if we get hurt or even killed here, I believe it would be permanent. The last time you were here..."

Robin broke her silence. "The LAST time I was here?"

His mouth opened, then closed. "Ah... well, you see, that's point number two.., you've been here before, but you ..." he almost stopped upon seeing her expression, but plowed on nonetheless. "...don't remember it." He put up both hands, "but that's actually the good news."

"Uh huh." She looked about ready to tell him just how good she felt about this whole story so far.

"...Because you're amongst friends who know you."

"Right." Expressionless. " What's point number three."

"Well, point three," he gritted his teeth, "is that this is ,uh sort of, or at least like, uh," he closed his eyes," Ancient Greece."

"Sort of, like, ANCIENT GREECE?" Her voice rose.

"Well, there are, what you might call inconsistencies,"

"Like the fact I'm here?"

"No, more that everyone seems to be speaking North American English..."

"And you call that an INCONSISTENCY?"

"I'm not doing this very well, but" he flashed a resentful look at her, "but last time you

were a lot easier to explain things to."

"Right. The LAST time..."

"Look. Whenever I travel like this, everyone seems to be speaking English, the signs

are in English, the books are in English, but when I return home, suddenly, I can read Russian,

or olde English or whatever. So I think there may be some sort of translation going on..."

"So now we're at point four? That you're a time-traveler who keeps busy by giving guitar lessons on the side? And you want me to call that reality?"

He ignored her sharpness "Remember that poem I showed you?"

"You mean the love poetry you tried to get me to read after I told you to leave me alone?"

Oh yeah, she remembered that.

"That was a test. It was after you were here. It was a fragment of a poem from around six hundred BC..."

"And that makes my guitar teacher showing it to me any less creepy?"

"It was in the original language, and yet you read it without any problem."

"That's bull, it was in English." No trace of doubt in her voice.

"It was in ancient Greek, and you read the first lines like it was a note from school..."

She merely crossed her arms and clamped her mouth tight

"Look. Don't believe me. I don't even care, because soon you're going to have to, or else

figure you're going nuts. Now, just let me work out which way to go..."

"I thought you were beginning to figure out where we were."

"Well, that marker says we're on the outskirts of the village where, I think we're supposed to go to, but I don't know which way it's facing. So, I don't know what direction anything is. OK?"

She rolled her eyes. "What, Mr. Big Time Traveler can't tell by looking up at the sun?"

"It would help if I knew the time of day or what month it is."

"What do you mean? It's May."

"You can almost accept that we've traveled over two thousand years through time, but

you figure it's still the same month?"

"Well, excuse me!"

James looked around at the countryside. Robin waited impatiently, until a thought struck

her. "Wait a minute. You said you didn't know how we got here, but then you implied you do this

all the time?"

"This time it's different, I'm not sure how we got here or why."

"So, why can't you use your regular magic powers to get us back?"

He stared at her. She stared right back.

"Well, I don't really understand how I usually travel...." he trailed off, "...but this time I

know it's different. In fact, I'm sort of hoping that this is the holiday of sorts I was offered a while ago, and that two friends of mine have arranged for us to attend... a sort of party." He finished falteringly.

Her eyes bulged for a split second, but quickly hardened.

"A party. Of course. Would these friends of yours have magic powers? Ones that they

can like, USE?

He gritted his teeth again. "Considering the fact that you are a stranger in a strange land,

you're being pretty damn sarcastic. And no, they don't have magic powers, but they know...people.. that do."

'Which of the Gods?', James was frantically thinking. Gabrielle would never ask a favour of Ares, and whoever it was would have to be at the same level in the pantheon to pull off something like this. Not Artemis. She wouldn't have to leave us at the boundary of the Amazon territories, and it would have to be someone unreliable, or...(oh no), flaky,... or else Xena and Gabrielle would know when we were arriving and be waiting for us. And, he sighed, it had to be someone who would want to snatch this particular woman from her warm bed.

"So why am I here?" Was she reading his mind?

"I think I just figured that out..."

She stopped. "Well...?"

"I think you're my date."

3

"Your Date!" If it hadn't hurt so much, he would have laughed at her reaction..

"No, but that may be what Aphro...,what she...our ride, thought. I mean, you probably

had a your own invite to this, but..." Robin heard a whizzing sound and James suddenly froze.

"Throw down your knife." he ordered.

"What? No way!" She began to protest. "I just got this thing and..."

She noticed that he had already tossed his down beside what seemed to be an arrow

still quivering in the ground between his legs.

"Shit," he moaned gibberish to her, "I don't know what the bird calls are or any

passwords, Damn it!...do I have the pendant... yes! Wait...OK, put your hands up above your head, palms out like this."

Shrugging, she had just begun to comply when they seemed to be under attack by giant,

feathered spiders that began to suddenly drop from the trees.

She had time for a broken shriek before they were surrounded by very pointed spears,

held by what she now realized were women. 'This is not happening,' she told herself, `you are

not about to become shish kabob in some ancient forest. Just imagine you're on a ride at Disneyland,' and she waited for her heart to stop pounding. None of the feathered women moved; both they and James appeared to be waiting for someone, and sure enough a mounted Amazon soon emerged from the trees in front of them. 'OK, Alice', she thought, 'just how much curiouser can this get?'. The mounted woman was fairly impressive, she judged, and the voice was appropriately deep.

"Male, you are trespassing on the lands of the Amazon, why should we not just kill you

now?"

This was the final straw for Robin, and finally unable to take any of this seriously, stage

whispered to James, "Someone else you've dated?"

James ignored her, and decide to go on his hunch.

"We have been brought here by the Goddess Aphrodite," he intoned, "To witness the

joining of your Queen and her Champion."

The impression these words might have had was somewhat lost by Robin's sarcastic

'Oh. Right!'

The spears remained in place.

"What proofs do you offer of this?" the mounted warrior demanded.

James pulled the pendant from his neck and showing it to the Amazon, stated "I

received this during a tribal initiation ceremony from your Regent, Ephiny, as a sign of free

passage, and it carries the marks of your Queen and her Champion." Robin looked at it and saw only an ornate circle crossed by a feather.

"You think that this trinket allows you, Male, to enter onto our sacred grounds?"

Ignorance having made her fearless, Robin had gotten bored with all this attitude, and with a slight cough, called up to the treetops with a British accent, "Is there anyone else up there we can talk to?"

Maybe it was partly because of the tension, and James knew it was the wrong thing to

do, but he dropped his eyes and a chuckle escaped.

That was enough. The horsewoman shouted out, "perhaps your deaths will seem as

amusing to you, as Amazon honour seems to be."

Cursing his loss of control, and quickly collecting himself, James stood his ground

responding "It is you, who are not respectful of Amazon honour. For what you call a trinket, I received with the greatest of pride, and I would fight for what it represents with my honour and...my...life."

"Good answer," called out a voice from behind them as a tall blonde rode forward,

carrying the reins of another horse trotting alongside. "Stand down" she ordered. "Raza... "

nodding to the other mounted Amazon.

The spears were withdrawn and the warriors drew back a pace. James's shoulders

relaxed. "Solari. Really, REALLY, good to see you."

"Sorry, but we weren't sure when you would arrive, and I stopped to pick up your horse,"

offering the reins to Robin.

This floored her.

"MY horse? I haven't ridden since I was twelve."

Now it was Solari who was puzzled. "What are you talking about? Robin, you rode every

day for weeks when you were in Amphipolis."

James began to explain. "She doesn't remember anything about her last visit. It's a complete blank...."

By now Robin had seen the horse. "Titan!" the horse's name sprang to her lips as she

pushed aside the armed warriors.

Solari looked at James questioningly. He shrugged. "She forgets me, traveling through

time, of course, the warrior Princess, right ? But she remembers her horse."

4

Robin had frozen in the act of hugging the steed, and was now turning towards him with

fear dawning in her eyes. "This isn't... real, because, I don't..." He ran over to her.

"You told me last time that you hadn't read much philosophy, but you did read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."

"WHAT?" She said angrily.

"We had a talk about reality. In that book there was the discussion by David Hume, that reality could not be proved because we only feel the sensations of the objects we perceive and not the objects."

"This is NOT helping..."

"Hume said that we could feel the weight or the cold of an iron bar, but not the bar itself."

"Not helping At All..."

James was in full lecture mode now. "Immanuel Kant, amongst other things, said that we can prove reality by its continuity through time and space. If you walk around a tree, it has continuity, because you see it from each side, the sun and shadows change as you would expect. But in dreams and moments of insanity, there is no continuity. As much as things appear real, there is a jump or leap from position to position that doesn't occur when we are really perceiving things. Now look around," he said drawing her head up. "As weird as all this is, if you get up on that horse, you will see everything as it was, but from a new angle, your perspective will shift in a manner consistent with..."

She interrupted, shaking her head to clear it. "OK, I get it, this isn't a dream, because dreams are weird in a different way."

"...OK...."

"If there's a next time, just tell me to pinch myself, pain has continuity too."

"Right."

"Now what?" She stood, hands at her hips.

"I remind you you're amongst friends.."

"Oh, yeah..."

"And then I get on this horse with Solari. But stay close ..."

"I know. Whatever else you are, you're still my ride home."

Quiet now, they separated, and with a lift from Solari, James managed to get aboard her mount. Once they were settled, they made their way towards the Amazon's village.
 
 
 
 

There was no small talk between the travelers or their escorts. James gave a few worried glances towards Robin, but she seemed to be enjoying the ride and was keeping her

eyes on the ground ahead of her mount.

He tapped Solari on the shoulder. "I was only guessing about the Joining and Aphrodite. What sort of deal did Gabrielle have to make?"

James worried that if it had been Aphrodite who had brought them here, though she could be quite helpful if it suited her, uh, goals, none of the Gods were known for doing something for nothing. As Solari confirmed.

"She did it for an invite, because even though the joining will be on the border for non-Amazons, apparently Artemis is keeping strict tabs on who attends from Mount Olympus".

"So we won't have Ares giving away one of the brides, I take it."

Solari snorted, "No."

James hoped that Robin couldn't hear any of the conversation. If she was already feeling disconnected from reality, she did not need to learn about or meet with, the Valley Girl Goddess of Love right away. Maybe later. Much, much later.

"So, are we special, or is everybody getting such a warm welcome?"

Even from his position, James could see the scouts muscles tighten.

"I don't know. Normally when both the Queen and tall, dark and deadly are here, most of the featherheads are on their best behavior. This time it's different. There's been a lot of rumours about another challenge..."

James was shocked. "Again? And now?"

They came to another clearing, and here they saw a fairly large encampment, with a few smoking fires surrounded by various men, who drew the first mounted Amazon's stony stare.

"The centaurs have set up camp at the east entrance, and here," Solari raised her voice deliberately, "this is where we drop off the riffraff."

"Are Hercules and Iolous here?" asked James.

"Iolous, yeah, but Hercules has another one of those beads."

"But I thought there was only one per..."

"Well, his comes from Hypollyta, you know the Golden... well you don't want to go there."

Noticing his expression, Solari added quickly, "it doesn't make yours any less special..."

James rolled his eyes. "No, it's not that, it's just that I think Robin overheard that last bit..."

"Hercules?" said Robin, bringing her horse around, "You mean like the cartoon? Disney? God wannabe?"

"Not quite, " James noticed a stocky, tousled blonde emerge from the shadows accompanied by a tall darker type who seemed somewhat familiar to Robin. "But I think here's the guy to ask."

"Iolous? " questioned James, receiving an answering grin in response. "James." He reached down and gripped the smaller blonde man's elbow as Iolous did the same. "I wanted to thank you for what you did for Xena and Gabrielle, especially since they, ahh, aren't in a, position to ... appreciate what you had to ..., go through to, ah...help them." Iolous, by this time was blushing more than James, and while Robin was trying to figure out exactly what this was all about, the tall, dark and handsome type, had approached her from the side.

"Robin!", he said, staring directly up into her eyes," what a delightful surprise to have you grace our humble camp. I don't suppose you could stay and brighten our...."

"Autolycus," James interrupted, "Robin has a slight problem with remembering her last visit."

Iolous interjected "That's perfect for Autolycus. He's great with introductions, it's just

after that he just sort of," and he made a downward motion with the flat of his palm.

"Ignore the rabble, sweet lady, I am, Autolycus," and with a motion of his finger along beneath his mustache, "The King... of Thieves."

Something about the gesture was so familiar, that Robin began to chase the memory

down. "I remember you!"

Autolycus responded with "of course" and James, now a tad bitter rejoined with "yeah, you and her horse" as he dismounted, to which Autolycus graciously stroked Titan murmuring "and a fine animal she is", until Robin announced that she had seized the elusive memory,

"Yes, you were being held against a wall by someone terribly strong and you were

begging for your life."

At both James and Iolous derisory laughs, Autolycus responded, "Pleading possibly, dear lady, but never begging. Anyways..." he turned to look at James, "I take it you're another one with those protective Amazon collars ? Are they any good against fleas?"

James, threatened by yet another pass at Robin, (as if she wanted his protection, he reminded himself), returned "You tell me. Feeling somewhat queasy? Or just jealous?"

"Jealous! If the Amazons are creating some kind of petting zoo in there, I consider it a privilege to be out here with the rest of the men."

"Manly men."

"That's right."

"Well Auto, you can go and sleep with all the men you want, it's fine with me."

Pointedly ignoring him, James turned to Iolous and asked "How long have you been

here and when are the festivities?"

"Been here two, three days to go, but we've managed to build that platform" pointing

towards the hillock," on what is supposed to be the inner boundary, and now Salmoneous is

working with Cyrene to open some kind of outdoor tavern this afternoon. Jessan and Elaini got here today, she was supposed to go on but she refused."

Not sure exactly how much Iolous knew about the forest dwellers and their Bond, and for his own personal reasons, James only commented "She would, wouldn't she. How's the big guy?"

"Bored. No one will let him do anything. I think he's about to go crazy without any emergencies. I keep telling him to relax, enjoy the holiday, but..." he shrugged.

"Is there any thing I can do for you or have sent once I'm inside?"

"No. Gabrielle makes sure that there are runners going back and forth regularly."

"I should have known she would have thought of that."

"Yeah," Robin wasn't sure who this Gabrielle character was, but she knew she didn't like the doe-eyed looks that had come over all three of the men at the thought of her.

"Shouldn't we be going somewhere?" she pointed at the impatiently waiting Amazons.

"Right."

Again, with the help of a strong arm from Solari, James was again astride the war-horse and they continued their trek.

5

Robin's first thought was that the village looked like a live action version of Celesteville from the Babar books. The same thatched huts, arranged in neat rows, though in back and front of each were the nitty gritty of real life; latrines, drying tables, fire pits, while the sounds of a warrior camp mixed with those of a child filled town.

She was interrupted in her examinations by James's loud cry of "What the hell is that!" and she saw he was pointing at a large unfinished stone structure that was already dominating the rise above the village.

Solari's eyes followed his finger. "I think it's supposed to be some sort of therapy for Xena", she grinned.

"Therapy? Why? Did she always want to have a pyramid when she was a child?"

"No, uh," Now Solari seemed to be almost blushing. "Amazon tradition dictates that a

couple must be, well, separate for a week before the ceremony, and Xena has, well, some excess energy...."

"A WEEK! What's Gabrielle doing, writing epic plays?"

"At first, yeah, but now it's five, six times a day staff demonstrations." She pointed down to a large clearing, where to Robin's horror she could see three heavily armored, six foot Amazon warriors holding swords, surrounding a small strawberry blonde grasping only a pole. In contrast to the attackers she was clad only in a skirt and what looked to be a hideous green sports bra. What was even worse, was there seemed to be a line of warriors waiting impatiently to join in.

Instead of riding down to her defense, James only called out to the potential victim, and was rewarded by a enthusiastic wave. Robin wasn't sure what happened next, but the blonde was suddenly a blur of movement, using the staff to pole-vault behind two of her attackers, unleashing a complex series of strikes with the pole, leaving both of them lying on the ground while the third was staring stupidly at her hand where the sword had been. After what seemed, to Robin's amazement, to be a quick apology to one of the fallen, she was racing up the hill towards them.

'So this is the famous Gabrielle, who turns strong men to mush', Robin thought. She

was pre-disposed not to like this woman, but as the woman approached calling out a glad

"Robin! James!" she was hard pressed to feel threatened by her. She was only a little older than Robin, the same small build, and Robin couldn't get over the welcome that was clearly radiating from those green eyes. But then she stopped suddenly, and was looking at Robin with caution tinged with worry. James noticed her hesitation even while dismounting, and after an exchange of heartfelt hugs led Gabrielle over to Robin.

"Robin seems to be having some difficulty remembering most of her time here," he

explained quietly.

Robin saw sadness? grief flash through those eyes for a moment, before being replaced with concern after a sympathetic look towards James. She held out her hand.

"I'm the resident expert on lost memories, so I know something of what you're going

through." She gave Robin a quirky grin, before becoming more serious. "Just so you know,

whether you recover your memories or not, you are among friends, who are grateful for what you did when you were last here. If you get scared, or worried, I hope you will feel you can talk to me about it."

Robin couldn't deny the sincerity that seemed to flow from this woman, and mumbled a thank you.

"I told her that," grumbled James, "and all she did was bark at me."

"You're not the Queen of the Amazon Nation," said Gabrielle playfully.

"True." said James catching at the finger that prodded his shoulder.

"Let me walk you to where you'll be staying."

Robin followed, still stunned. This little girl, Queen? Commander of these fierce warriors?

"Oh Tarterus," said the Queen.

"What the problem?" James asked.

"It's just that with the Joining and all the guests, we're pretty tight for beds, so naturally we put," and Robin noticed she reached over to hold James hand to comfort? him, "both of you in the same hut. Separate pallets, but there's no space left, really..."

They had now reached one of the thatched huts. Both of them looked at Robin, awaiting her decision. The problem was, that as unfair as she was now suspecting it to be, she still saw James as the creepy stalker she had been trying to rid herself of for two months. And now fate and the Queen of the Amazons were conspiring to have them room together. Finally she sighed.

"We're both adults, right? Any unwelcome attention..."

"The next day, two hundred Amazon warriors would be wearing small parts of my anatomy as fanny packs." James completed, and Robin noticed that Gabrielle was still grasping his hand in support.

"Then, it's fine with me."

But Robin was not ready for what greeted her when she stepped in the door. Completely filling this primitive thatch hut was an enormous, heart shaped, pink bed, complete with four posters, canopies, piles of pink pillows, and a mirror mounted on top, as if transported directly from a sleazy 20th century motel. Robin stopped dead.

"Oh no, I don't think so, Not At All." she said, and strode off in the direction she had last seen her horse.

Gabrielle and James stood in the doorway and stared at the bed, and then each other.

James pursed his lips. "When you asked Aphrodite for that favour, she was allowed to come onto Amazon territory, right?"

"Uh huh."

"You didn't happen to mention where you were going to put us up, did you?"

Gabrielle scanned the massive pink bed with a straight face.

"I'm thinking that it might have come up."

"Hmmm." was all James could manage.

"Oh, James, I am sorry," but her words lost some of their sincerity when giggles began to erupt from her clenched teeth, and soon they were both laughing and crying. "I really am sorry, James, but this bed, it's just so, so..."

"Hideous, I know, but we both better shut up, or She will take this as an invitation to visit again."

They both calmed down, and the little Queen tilted her head to one side and asked, "this memory loss, it's not new, is it?"

He confirmed with a sad nod.

"When you got back, it was as if you'd never met?"

He nodded again. "What was worse, was that I couldn't act like I didn't know her, and then the more I tried to ... How could I explain any of this?" He gestured at the room and the world in general. " And then," he paused. "And then, I saw she was becoming... afraid of me. She thought..." Quickly, there was that hand in his. "I knew that I should fight for us, I knew that we have this connection, but that fear.... I just couldn't face that. So I tried to let go. And now, " he gave her a broken smile, "here we are, all together again. And here I am telling you my problems, when this is supposed to be your celebration."

"Hey, you two are important to me, and anyways, I'm going nuts waiting for this celebration."

"Yeah, I heard. Nice muscle tone though."

"You think?" She pirouetted gracefully before returning his smile.

"Pretty good for an old mom. How is Lycea?"

"Gods, over three moons old, and already crawling everywhere. Oh, don't get me started. I'll make sure you see her when she gets up. Aunty Ephiny is with her now." She caught herself and rolled her eyes.

"Vanity and my baby. Nice try at changing the subject. OK. Let me get this out. You DO have a connection; whatever else, you know that. She'll probably get back her memory. And whatever happens, you're going to make new ones while you're here. How's that?"

"And what if she forgets again when we go back?"

"You'll just have to drop another tankard on your foot. Now, for a real problem, how in Tarterus are we going to move this bed?"

Looking at the object that had dispatched Robin, James growled, "Axes or fire?"

"Pretty extreme"

"So`s the bed."

Gabrielle laughed. "I suppose you would see it as a potential timeline endangering

anachronism."

James stepped back. "You write your scrolls with that vocabulary?"

The bard blushed. "Ever since Xena told me about an alternate reality she was in, I've been wondering about a few things.." She gave him a measuring look before turning back to the bed. "But I find it hard to imagine a time in human history where this would be appropriate."

"3:00 to 5:00 AM?" he guessed.

"Hmmm?"

"Between the bars closing and dawn"

"Nope."

6

Telling him she had warriors waiting, Gabrielle sent James off to explore the village, hoping he would find Robin. Instead he came across a very stone-faced demi-god.

"Hercules, drinking alone?"

Looking up from his mug, and managing a polite smile, Hercules pointed to the empty space on the bench beside him," Please, sit down. Relax. Have a vacation. That's what I've been told to do. Several times."

"Who's the girl watching you so carefully?"

Without glancing over to her, he said, "That's Stalia. You'll be assigned one soon."

"Assigned?"

"Amazon law allows for men to walk on their ground, but not unescorted. Apparently the original phrase is something about having a constant knife at the throat."

"And that's your knife at the throat?" Looking at the anxious girl, he figured her age to be around twelve.

"Ephiny and Gabrielle are interpreting the law rather loosely. She gets points towards some training exercise if she keeps me in sight for the whole shift."

"I notice that the passing glances you get seem to be rather mixed. Sort of a Love or

Hate thing going on."

"A few of the Amazons aren't too happy about men wandering around the tribal grounds. Now that there are two of us, we should really bring out the best in them."

"Well. I'm in good company, at least."

James was rewarded by the first real smile he had seen on the demi-gods face, and he poured them both a fresh drink.

Robin was watching all of this, debating whether to approach James or not, when her

attention was caught by the meanest looking , (though still one of the most gorgeous,) woman

she had ever seen, who was being followed by Gabrielle. She was carrying what appeared to be another of Gabrielle's victims, if the Queen's abject expression was any indicator. The warrior was at least six feet tall, and her armor and leathers were different from any other she had seen in the village. Her hair was darker than, well, hell, it was black. She was carrying a massive Amazon with almost no effort, and she seemed to be struggling with herself not to kill an older woman who was barring her entrance to what seemed to be a clinic of some kind. Meanwhile, a group of the village children were clustering around, all of them somehow ignoring the violence laden looks she was parceling out. The warrior spotted the Fabio type guy seated with James and yelled at him.

"You! You wanted something to do, right?" Yelling, her voice sounded like raw silk. She shifted the injured warrior and pointed at the older woman "Pound this relic into the ground like a tent post, please? You know I`d do it myself, but..."

There was a backward glance towards Gabrielle. Then she saw James.

"And YOU, you could take these children and bore them to death!! .OK? Like now?"

She pushed past the older woman, ignoring her cursing, and still carrying the wounded

Amazon, strode inside. Hercules and James noticed Robin staring after her in shock.

"That was Xena." explained James.

"She's our friend." added Hercules.

Hercules leaned over to James. "Would it be too much to ask exactly what that is about? Am I really expected to pound the head healer into the ground?"

James sighed. "Actually, the answer is sort of yes. I don't know all of it, but I think Saras can't believe that a blood stained maniac like Xena is allowed to get within 50 leagues of the Queen, much less joined, and Xena knows that Saras is related somehow to Valasca, and every time there's an injury they get into a turf fight over who's in charge...."

Hercules held up his hand and picked up what appeared to be a really dense tumbleweed, and looked over to the kids.

"I have an idea I've been kicking around for a while. How about if I deal with the kids,

and YOU pound Saras?"

"Sounds like a plan." Hercules gave him a look at the familiar phrase.

"Sounds like you've been hanging around them for a little toooo long."

Returning his smile, James got up, and Robin followed discretely.

Robin realized that she had been right. This was some sort of infirmary. Gabrielle was stooping over to talk to each of the patients, and as she listened to her conversations Robin realized that most of the infirm were here because of the Queen's staff demonstrations. Picking her way through the tables, apologizing to each patient, she was forgiven by each with the same soft doe-eyed look she had first noticed on Iolous and James.

Meanwhile James was making his way to the main bout, Xena versus the head healer Saras. He was welcomed by Xena's patented look that seemed to say 'Oh Good. More people I have to kill before I can relax.'

To Robin's amazement, he ignored Xena and brought the older woman aside.

"Saras, how many years has this gone on? You and Xena, fighting over patients? Two, almost three years? And it looks to me, like it's getting worse. Would you be willing to try a possible solution, no matter how dumb it sounded, as long as it worked?"

Saras' suggestion of what the solution might be was imaginative, but obscene.

James spoke softly over his shoulder, knowing that with Xena's hearing she would have been following the conversation.

"What?" she growled.

"A solution, are you interested?"

There was no answer, so he took that as a yes.

"Saras, you have to admit that Xena knows more about some types of combat injuries right?" Silence was again taken as assent.

"And Xena, you know that Saras is in charge here, right?"

Again silence.

"So Saras, if Xena would just ask permission, before bringing in a patient, do you think you could swear that you would always let her in?"

"What?" exploded from both women.

James continued as if they hadn't spoken.

"Now, Xena. If Saras swore that she would always let you in, if you'd ask, could you swear that you would always ask?"

"This is nonsense." Grumbled an angry warrior princess.

"Let's try it. Xena. Please ask Saras if you can use her hospice to treat a patient."

Robin watched in amazement as James coaxed the words slowly out of the warrior.

Saras was next. And when she was done, he turned to the two and said, "and unless you both enjoy arguing, while sick and injured people go untreated, you can now swear to do this every time."

Robin watched disbelieving, as they did just that. Then he left the two women, both staring daggers into his back. Outside, she was astonished to see that Hercules had organized large group of the kids into teams kicking his tumbleweed about the common. Clearly deputizing a few of the older kids as coaches, he rejoined Robin and James at the benches.

"Just don't start having them wear numbers," James suggested.

"What? Oh, that's another one of those things I'll get in two thousand years, I'm guessing."

"Right."

Hercules sat down with a satisfied sigh and reached for his drink. Then looked up to see a dark storm cloud now looming above him.

"I believe," said Xena in a deceptively calm and deliberate manner, "that I asked YOU to pound someone into the ground? As my guest, it was just a small request," at this point she smiled sweetly," and I so seldom ask for these little favours."

Hercules gave her a lazy shrug, saying, "I think you're just upset because for someone who conquered half of Greece, you can't admit to giving out the wrong assignments." He looked pointedly to James, and then to where the kids were playing.

James took a sip of his ale and added "It's called proper use of your resources." Both men nodded at each other.

Xena stared at them. Robin began to wonder where the steam would come out, and moved to safety down the bench away from the men.

Xena clenched her teeth for a moment, and finally spat out "Resources?" and then stalking away, continued to growl." I'll tell what proper use of THESE resources would be...."

James looked at the cringing Robin.

"See, she's really just a pussycat."

Taking another sip he said "Good ale eh?"

Smiled Hercules. "Tastes a bit better now, for some reason."

7

It was about half an hour and several ales later that Xena returned with a malevolent grin. Clearing a space across from Hercules, she set three sets of five mugs of the high proof port in front of the two of them. Knowing that Xena seldom drank excessively, at least excessively for her, Hercules raised his eyebrows but accepted the challenge. A look to James followed, and he too leaned forward and grasped a tankard. Robin decided it was time for her visit to Gabrielle.

She found the Queen's hut with some help, but hesitated at the door. There were two Amazon guards at the door, but before they could step aside, she was seized by a series of memories, so compressed that she almost fell. One of the guards steadied her, and she waved them away to concentrate on the images.
 
 

She was standing with James in front of two similarly garbed

Amazons, also guarding the Queen. She knew that they were in a

village called Amphipolis, and James was arguing with one of them,

a curly haired blonde who was obviously in charge that he was calling

Ephiny.

"I know that she's ill, that's why I'm here. She must have

told you who I am, she tells you everything."

Ephiny did not seem surprised that he knew her, Gabrielle had

implied that this strange healer seemed to know all about them

without having met them. But the Queen was in some kind of coma,

in her ninth month, and Xena was off on some terrible search

instituted by Gabrielle in a moment of fever. As desperate as

things were, miles from home, was this man going to make things

better or worse?

"I know I can reach her, I swear I won't give her any drugs or

harm her in any way. Please, for her sake and the baby."

Robin watched the indecision flash over the woman's face.

In the end she had no choice, desperation was at hand, and

someone offered hope. She ordered the guards to let them both in.

Robin watched as James quickly shed his cloak and ran over to the

pale pregnant woman. He touched her hands tenderly and with the

other hand lifted her head and began speaking gently into her

ear.

"Gabrielle... Gabrielle? It's James. Listen to me, Gabrielle,

Xena and I need you. Xena needs you. Gabrielle, you have got to

come back."

There was no change, but he never reduced the care and

emphasis, never let his voice grow softer or less insistent and

after a quarter of a candlemark had passed they were rewarded by a

movement and then a flutter of the eyes.

In relief, James turned to Ephiny and asked for information of

Xena. She began to explain why Xena had gone but he interrupted, "I

already know the why, I need to know where."

Ephiny quickly went outside, and moments later a scout was

galloping off.

Gabrielle opened red-rimmed eyes and looked about the room

anxiously. "Xena, where's Xena?" she entreated.

"We've sent someone to find Xena. You've got to relax. One

problem at a time. We need to talk, Gabrielle."

"James?" her eyes cleared a little as she saw who was with

her. " Oh Gods, James, I've been so scared. I'm afraid it's all

happening again, and... I don't think I could survive that." The sick

woman clutched him convulsively. He reached over and gave her

some fresh water from a wine skin, and waited until she had finished.

"I know. It's not that, I swear. Let me tell you what's

going on, OK?" There was a slight nod. "For months you've known that

Toris wasn't the father, but you kept trying to convince yourself

that maybe you were wrong about the dates, right? But now when

it's almost time, you couldn't fool yourself anymore and the strain

and worry was too much and you made yourself sick. But it's going to

be OK. I promise."

"Xena?"

He looked down and then into her eyes. "When you were in the

fever, you told Xena you had to know who the father was, and your

warrior was crazed enough to follow your instructions. Xena's out

interrogating potential males."

"Oh, Gods!"

"The irony of it is, is that you already know who the father

is. And when your child was conceived. You just can't believe it."

Gabrielle became very still. "Because it can't be....and if that

is true... than that could be...the worst thing..."

"No. You remember what you experienced at Dahok's temple?" He felt

her shudder and move away from him. "What were the emotions

of your heart?"

He could barely hear the words, but they came. "Fear,

Anger...Hate."

"And in the tree house?"

There was another shudder, but this one different. "Trust...

peace... Love."

"So the million dinar question is, Gabrielle, if you can know

that hate can conceive a child, why can't you believe the same of

Love?"

Gabrielle swallowed, and pulled her hands up to grip his face.

"How do I know that you're not Ares, or that this is not just

another horrible trick?"

Words said so softly, Robin had to strain to hear them.

"Because `Ri, you already know in your heart and your soul, that

Xena is the father. I'm just here to confirm it for you."

He reached over to brush away a tear and felt her do the same

for him. Robin was holding her breath; this was so intimate and

yet...

"If it helps," he added casually," I've already seen the kid."

Gabrielle stopped breathing for a second. He continued "You

know I don't always visit in sequence, I tried to explain that to

you last time..."

"You've seen my, our baby?" she said , her voice growing

stronger, moving one hand to protectively hold her stomach.

"Yes, but one thing did worry me,... but then you explained

it..."

Gabrielle reached up and pinched his ear, hard. "Ouch, jeez, who

do you think I am, Joxer?`

Gabrielle stared at him, unrepentant.

"The kid had white hair, OK?"

Gabrielle gave him a smile, that as weak as it was, seemed to

light up the room, and released him.

"My hair was white for over a year, my mother told me. It turned

darker as I got older."

"Well I don't want to ruin all the surprises, so you get only

one more question, eye color or sex?"

Now the glint was in her eyes, Ephiny could see the old

Gabrielle was back.

"Well," she drawled, "since you've mentioned eye colour, I

have to assume that's what you want to tell me."

"But is it more important than whether we're talking about

the potential heir to the Amazon throne?"

"Talk, you son of a Cyclops, what colour?"

"Blue of course. And not just blue, ice blue."

She gave a great sigh, and smiled the brightest smile Ephiny

had seen in months.

"Now, you go find Xena." She commanded.

"Yes, my Queen."

But then the thought struck her, "You realize that Xena won't

see you as a friend come to help, but more likely another potential

father?"

"Then I better think of a good explanation in thirty seconds

or less." Their laughter only further confused Robin.

"Of course," he added," on the positive side, Xena may already

have come across Joxer." Gabrielle raised her eyes in mock censure, but

laughed in spite of herself.

He gave her a kiss and left, pulling a very baffled Robin out.

"What is the big deal?" She asked once they were outside. "Why

is this Xena guy so sure he's not the Father?"

Ephiny and Steven stared at her for a moment, blinked, and then

Ephiny pulled him aside, ignoring Robin like a piece of wood,

demanding:

"She may need to know the colour of eyes, but I want to know

about the future of our tribe!"

"Relax Ephiny. We're talking healthy, bouncing, all ten

fingers and toes, female."

"Praise Artemis."

"Well, that's a possibility, but the votes aren't in yet. Now

how the hell am I supposed to track down your scout?"

"We have a horse here, Titan, but there's no one to ride him

and still have someone stay with the queen."

"I can ride." Robin startled them both. She was tired of being

a stooge, and she was damned if she was going to tell them it had

been eight years since she had been on a horse.

"Titan isn't just a big name, are you sure you can handle

him?"

"Just show me how the bridles work, and point me in the right

direction." Robin realized that Ephiny was used to confident women

and took her at face value, meanwhile little voices were screaming

in her head, "Are you crazy?"

It was already past sundown, but the road was clear. As they

rode along, James was trying to adjust his balls so that they might

have a future some day, but he was having his doubts he could

succeed. Each slam along the road was taking him to a new place in

pain, and he was still too shy to hold onto Robin tightly enough.

Finally Robin called back to him. "James, if you don't hold onto me

tighter, you're going to fall off. I'm not made of glass and my job

is to get you there." He complied.

'I could get to like this confident thing,' she thought to

herself.

They met the scout who directed them to an inn in the next

town. When they got there, James dismounted like an old man, and

while Robin took care of the horse, he carefully walked up the

stairs into the bar.

When Robin had ensured that Titan was all right and watered,

she went to join him inside, and was immediately caught up in the

most bizarre sight she had ever seen. A gorgeous woman, and it

really did seem to be a woman, was holding a tall, rather handsome

man against one of the walls, hoisting him above her with only one hand

around his throat.

Though somewhat constrained, he was attempting to speak.

"Not that Gabrielle isn't a wonderful woman, a wonderful,

wonderful, woman, but I would never, ever..." It was difficult to tell

exactly how long this had been going on, but to judge by the colour of

the man's face, it would end soon. To Robin's amazement, James

moved quickly to the middle of the room, and called out "Xena!"

'That's Xena?' thought Robin.' We just convinced some half-

crazed prego that this was the father of her child?'

Xena dropped Autolycus like a sack of potatoes, and turned to

James. He couldn't help but be shocked by the madness in her eyes.

He managed not to move as she seemed to fly through the air

silently, landing directly in front of him, and struck a quick blow to

his neck. He collapsed instantly.

"You know everything, so you must know the drill." Xena

snarled, leaning over him.

"I didn't know how painful this was..." he gasped.

Robin launched herself at Xena, and was flung away with one

arm, without the warrior even breaking her gaze.

"Talk. You know what I want to hear."

James stared into her hate and pain filled eyes, and said only

one thing. "Gabrielle sent me."

The seconds ticked by, James felt the blood begin to flow from

his nose, and still they stared at one another.

Watching the eyes, James knew when the decision had been

reached, and the removal of the pinch was almost anti-climatic.

He gulped in the fresh air and waited for the headache to subside.

Xena looked at him. "Now what?"

"What else, we sit down and we talk."

Something passed over her eyes for a moment.

"How was Gabrielle?"

"After our talk she was laughing and smiling, and I'm going to

try for two for two, OK?"

With an angry and bruised Robin on one side and Xena on the other,

ignoring the other bar patrons, they helped James over to the far

corner of the room.

Robin tried to read the older woman's expression, but it was a mask.

Xena waved away both the waitress and Autolycus before sitting

down herself. They waited.

"I'm not the father," he began." And you don't need to be out

'interviewing' poor Autolycus because both you and Gabrielle know

who the father is already."

"What nonsense have you sold Gabrielle?" the warrior growled.

"Look, I know when MY daughter was conceived, and I didn't

have half the bond with her mother, you two have I have to assume you

know when and where Gabrielle became pregnant."

"So I'm to believe that some God gave me my greatest wish, and

then didn't ask for something in return, didn't even take credit

for it!" she gave a bitter laugh.

"All I had to do, was ask Gabrielle if she accepted that if hate

could produce a child, why not love? The truth was enough for her.

But for you, I'll tell you my theory." He paused to massage his

throat. "Xena, I don't have to tell you about Yin and Yang.

Your whole life has been about balance. You know

what Gabrielle is for you, and that night can't exist without day. I

don't think that Dahok could exist without his opposing force, for

lack of a better term. I also know three other things.

"As a favour to you I asked Hercules and Iolous to follow

you nine months ago, Herc from Olympus, and Iolous on the ground.

I'm sure you noticed Iolous cropping up at the strangest times?"

No reaction.

"Any ways, they report no strange God-like activities, at least

from the Olympian Gods."

He stopped. "Do you think that I could get a drink?"

There was a motion of the hand, and a full mug was immediately

placed in front. Xena's eyes were still focused on James'.

"Two." she barked.

"Two, how did I know when to watch?" Xena nodded almost

imperceptibly. "Because I've seen the kid. Held her in my arms."

Robin thought the warrior's mask was about to crack at this, but

instead she only nodded. James continued. "Knowing when the kid

was born made it easier to tell them when to look.

"And three, why don't you just ask your friend Jessan? He can See it.

He'll tell you the child is a product of your Bond, and nothing else."

This last part completely lost Robin, but she could see the effect that

this had on the woman. But she shook her head, denying it.

"The problem, Xena, is in your own words, your greatest wish

has been granted! You still can't believe that the little girl

from Potadiea would stay with you. You can't believe that she would

eventually love you... so you know you can't deserve this, right?

You assume it has to be the another punishment for all you've

been.

"Well, maybe you're right. Maybe a child made from your

love is the perfect and final justice you've been waiting for."

Xena gave only a grunt, but she was definitely listening.

"Now I'm not talking about just a simple case of you trying to

raise a miniature you. No, you live life too large for that to be

sufficient. All the regular parent type stuff, the sleepless nights, and the worrying,

the sicknesses, the spitting up, and the arguments. That wouldn't be

sufficient penalty for the Warrior Princess. No. So, I want you to

think about what was accomplished by a certain young girl, who started out

with nothing, and lost everything she had that was important, and

still became the conqueror of half of Greece.

"Now, consider another little girl, Princess of the Amazons,

with hundreds of warriors at her command from the moment she's

born. With one of the greatest warriors and tacticians the world

has ever known as her devoted parent, and one of the most loved

rulers, and the best negotiators I've ever seen as her other parent,

and you tell me, you don't think you'd have Ares creaming in his

leathers?

"You want interference from the Gods? They'll be standing in

line for her, from Artemis to Athena. Is that enough punishment for you

yet?"

As James had began to describe the future, Robin was sure there

was some movement on the stone face. But it was only when she

heard the break in the voice that she knew she was accepting all this.

"What will she look like, was she healthy, strong?"

Those were tears in the crystal eyes now. James now moved

forward to touch the warrior "I saw her as a baby, but she will

have Gabrielle's hair, and your eyes."

She pulled at her nose in a compulsive gesture, and mumbled,

"all babies have blue eyes."

"I didn't say blue, I said your eyes. With the darkest

eyebrows I've ever seen on a blonde."

Now there was a storm about to break, but Xena surprised them

by rising quickly," then I should be getting..." she pointed vaguely in

the direction of Amphipolis.

"Yeah, I think so." Robin thought that she was going to shake

James' hand when she startled them both again by grabbing him in

an almost crushing hug. Still, she wouldn't meet his eyes,

and moving awkwardly for such a normally graceful woman,

she quickly stumbled out leaving them alone.

"Tell Gabrielle we'll be along soon," James yelled at the

closed door. At this point the waitress dropped a bill on their

table. It clearly itemized breakage to the establishment as well

as Autolycus' bar tab.

"Now this," James said pointing to the bill," Is the kind of

job satisfaction you just don't get from your nine-to-five

employment."

Robin had just begun to congratulate herself on how well she was

handling each shock, when she was again proved wrong with a

shimmer of gold dust. Out of nowhere, there stood a beautiful, half

dressed? undressed woman, and worse, James seemed completely

non-plussed.

"Wow, like, you do good work." The apparition certainly seemed

friendly." but I am a little bugged to find out Herc was just

spying on us. I really figured he wanted a little quality family

time." Now she was pouting.

Robin's body was rigid. She felt her lips moving but no words

came out.

James figured there should be introductions. "Aphrodite, this

is Robin. Robin, the Goddess of Love."

"I like this one, a little quiet, though, isn't she?"

"She's had a busy day. Listen, I would hesitate to put this as

a favour, and you know that Xena would never ask for a God's

protection, but..."

"Yeah..."

"But it does seem to me that they are sort of a walking ad for

Love Conquers All, and it might be in your best interest to,

make sure they have a level playing ground when certain family

members become involved?"

"A walking ad for Love, huh? Yeah, I can see that. I'll think on

it. Anyways, just dropped in to say congrats and ask if you

two..." pointing now at Robin quizzically.

"No, no." James said quickly. "Don't need any help, just working

together temporarily."

"Whatever." said the Goddess as she swept the heavy tankard

off the table on to James' toes. Simultaneously both Robin and

James grabbed their suddenly identically bruised feet.

"Just something I thought you should know." She smiled at the

stunned and goggled eyed Robin.

"I like her. Very respectful. Don't get enough of that

anymore. Ciao!" There was a flash and the Goddess vanished.

8

"Robin?"

She opened her eyes to sparking green. Gabrielle was in front of her on her knees. Ephiny was behind her holding a struggling child.

"Robin, are you all right? We sort of lost you."

"I met Aphrodite?"

"What? When? How did she..."

"No, in Amphipolis, I just remembered meeting you the first time...."

Gabrielle face began to hope but then she looked deeper into Robin's eyes and her face fell again. "But you only remember parts of it, right?"

Robin began to feel uneasy. "Is there something I should know about us, something..."

Gabrielle laughed, "Yes. No! Nothing like that, it's..., I'm being selfish. It's just that there

are certain experiences, that are so...important... that when the people you shared them with are gone, or lost, you lose a part of yourself, do you know what I mean?"

Robin nodded.

"Don't let me put anymore pressure on you than you already have."

Robin looked up. "Is that...?"

Gabrielle grinned. "Yup, this is Lycea."

"She's gorgeous."

Her mother cocked her head and examined the golden haired child with a smile. "We think so. Would you like to hold her?"

Ephiny cautiously passed over the future ruler of her tribe, while Gabrielle remained with Robin kneeling on the floor.

"Gabrielle?"

"Uh huh."

"I have this memory, that there is a strange kind of connection between James and I, but..."

Gabrielle became still.

"Yeah. That's something else we should probably talk about. Does it scare you?" "What do you expect? I don't know him. I mean, we haven't even been on a date, and suddenly..."

"Nobody is 'expecting' anything. James is a good person to have as friend. He wouldn't rush you, so don't you go rushing yourself."

"What's really weird to me," she said rocking Lycea in her arms, "is that I'm calmly accepting all this. I met Aphrodite, for God's sake! What is it about this place?"

"Well, from what James was willing to tell me about where you guys come from, I think I'd consider that most of what you think as normal, is just as amazing." The little Queen pointed out. Robin just shook her head and began making cooing noises to the bundle in her arms.

"And Robin?" Gabrielle hesitated. "About the bed in your hut? That was a gift from Aphrodite. James and I knew nothing about it...James said he figures she passed some sort of Notell Motel?, whatever that is, on the way to pick you guys up, and liked it. We would have told you earlier, but James was afraid you might find the idea of Goddesses with bad taste a little more than you could handle right away."

Robin laughed. "He was right, but can you get it out of there?"

A galvanized Gabrielle leaped up. "I've got a few ideas. 'Cause you see, it's too big for the door, so I figure we can lift up the hut with these levers Xena uses. But then I was thinking, that if we put some wheels here and here..." she put some drawings in front of Robin.

"But don't you need something to attach them to, up above?"

Gabrielle wasn't phased. "Well that's where this tower comes in..." and she reached for some other sketches.

"What does Xena say?"

"She says sleep in the bed."

9

Meanwhile, the drinking had long since past the point of being casual. Hercules had already kicked back more than he could remember in his life. 'It really was nice', he thought, 'to have a place where no monsters or Gods could spring out at you. I wonder if Xena really appreciates being with the Amazons?' He squinted across the table. She was relaxed, smiling. 'Gods', he thought, 'she must be pissed'. No, he smiled. It wasn't just the alcohol, and he wondered again at the change from the hate filled woman he had once known. Not that she had lost any of the fire within, it was just...directed, he thought. He remembered when he had first heard that she was traveling with a young girl...who would have ever imagined...?

James had switched to tea, when he discovered that he was too drunk to stand to go to the toilet. At one point, the weapons master, Eponin had been playing some incredibly dangerous knife drinking game with Xena, but had then disappeared. James vaguely hoped she was all right. What was bothering him was that he suddenly seemed to have at his command, all of the tribal laws of the Amazons, and he knew he had to bring the subject up.

He turned to his companions, concentrated on basic tongue function, and said "I think I may have received a case file."

Xena was immediately serious. "For here?"

"Definitely. But..."

Hercules moved closer. "What's a case file?"

Figuring that Xena knew as much as he did, and was more able to communicate, he made a gesture of invitation to her and drank his tea.

Xena had questioned James carefully about his assignments. She now trusted the traveler as much as she could, considering he seemed to be the pawn of unseen powers. Regardless of their proven good intent, Xena never trusted anything to do with powerful outside forces.

"When James arrives at a.." she searched her vocabulary unsuccessfully"...job,"

"Assignment" James interrupted.

Xena gave him a glare, which he ignored. "An assignment, he always has a complete scroll in his mind of all the information and profiles of the people he might need to bother..."

"...help, is the word."

"Yeah, right. Help, so he can do whatever he's there for."

"And what does he do, exactly?"

Considering the grin on Xena's face, James decided to field that one.

"I'm usually sent to someone in emotional pain. Actually, all I do normally, is talk to them. And then, if I'm successful in helping them deal with it, I pop back home, and for me, it's as if no time has passed."

Xena added, "James is an empath, he finds these people by their pain. Emotional, not physical pain. He links with them," a glance passed between the two that Hercules just caught, "some, more than others."

Now James was really rolling "But this trip, 'cause ARP, Aphro, APHROdite... brought me, us, and it wasn't a , anassig , a job, of course I had no file."

"Of course."

"Until just now. This minute. But I'm wondering if it's really a case or..." He belched.

"Or what?"

"You see, Robin and I have this connection, a bond, but somehow it disappeared when we got home, along with her memories of the whole trip. It was bad enough at home, but now we're back here..."

He stopped and sipped at his mug.

"So, here I am, loving her, but totally useless. AND, she hates me. I'm jealous of everyone she talks with. Surrounded by hundreds of women any of who, whom, could kick my ass in a second. Plus, in this corner, we have the Yin and the Yang of sexual attractiveness; the warrior Princess and the Amazon Queen, and if she doesn't swing that way, we have Iolous, Furking Autolycus, and, if that wasn't enough," waving his hand in frustration towards the demi-god "Fricking HERCULES!"

"I prefer the mighty Hercules, but never mind." that worthy responded amiably.

"Sorry, mighty. Anyways, I've got to wonder whether this is a real file, or I needed something to impress the girl?"

"Tell us about the file." suggested Hercules.

"I suddenly seem to know all of the tribal laws of the Amazons."

Neither of his companions seemed impressed.

"Look, while we've been drinking, I've been thinking. About the way we were greeted. About some of the stares Herc and I have been getting, and I'll tell you, some have been not too friendly. I saw maybe half of the troops loyal to Gabrielle in the infirmary having been Gabwacked... He stopped and sipped the tea. "So a while ago, I went and talked to one of the guards. Bam!" Xena ducked as he waved his hand, "I got a blast about feeble Amazons partying every night, children being assigned to watch men, and how this is supposed to be a warrior camp..., I mean no one came out and gave me the line about Valasca being right, or that Gabrielle isn't a real Amazon, but now I suddenly have all these regulations in my head..."

"And?"

James faced Xena directly. "Did you know that as the Queen's champion, there are still certain challenges that you must leave the Queen to take?"

"So..."

"But as Consort, those loopholes close."

Hercules watched as the gears began moving in Xena's finely tuned brain.

"So if anyone wanted to try a Queen's Challenge directly against Gabrielle, their time is about run out, right? Tell me, what kinds of challenges?"

"Well, Here's a good one. Civil war. With the majority of the ACTIVE warriors supporting the contestant, the challenger can even choose weapons. Gabrielle wouldn't be able to use her staff. That's the one I would worry about."

Hercules interrupted. "Wait, Civil War? Everybody loves Gabrielle."

Xena was grim faced "Maybe, but are they convinced she's what the Amazon's need? All these peace treaties, her refusal to kill..."

"Valasca had a lot of supporters, and they weren't all banished, and with the lack of discipline of the past few days..." James added.

"Well, we can fix that fast enough. "

Instantly sober at the thought of a threat to Gabrielle, Xena stood up. "Where's Eponin? We need to roust some of these soft butts."

"And get some real Knives at the throat." James suggested.

Hercules was still confused. "Why would we want that?"

"Because as the only men here, we're focuses of anger, especially you. Because, if there's a fight, they know where you'll stand. Me, I may need someone with a horse who can act if I get another hunch about what's going on. And, oh yes," asked James nonchalantly, "what are you going to tell the Queen?"

"I'll tell her whatever we know, not what we're guessing, which right now is nothing."

"Here's a prediction from this oracle. You're going to get yelled at."

"I'm a big girl. So where in Tarterus is Epinon?" Xena rumbled. "We need to get the watches out, security has to be checked out..."

From out of the dark came a complaining voice. "I told you all this days ago. But you were too busy building your fricking palace."

"Eponin? Where are you?"

"Where you furking left me, under the table with a knife pinning my arm to the chair!"

"Oh right..." Xena smiled. "You lost."

10

Leaving the planning of security in the hands of the experts, James decided to try to

sober up with a stroll to the Queen's hut to visit the now and future Queens of the Amazon

Nation. He was almost there when he was struck by an anxiety attack that he recognized as coming from Gabrielle. He broke into a run, but just before reaching the hut he was passed by a blur he knew would be the Warrior Princess.

"What's wrong? "he managed to gasp out when he finally got there.

Gabrielle was pointing to Lycea, standing alone in the centre of the room. Both Ephiny and Robin were tense, but Gabrielle was hyperventilating.

"Lycea, she's, she's walking!"

Seeing that Xena did not appreciate her fear, she emphasized

"She's less than four moons old! And she's walking!"

Figuring that he knew why Xena still didn't understand, James moved behind Gabrielle.

"Relax `Ri. Xena, when did you start to walk?"

With a shrug Xena answered "Three, four moons. Why?" This last said with a hint of asperity.

Gabrielle looked across to the child and the warrior to see two pairs of identically

confused blue eyes. She sighed, and reached for her baby. James whispered in sepachrul

tones, "I take it back, Be Afraid, Gabrielle, Be Very...Afraid."

Batting at him with one hand, Gabrielle kissed her child and then handed her over to her other mother and said to them;

"She's walking, so that's going to mean You Know Who will be getting ready, sooner than

we thought. So, I think we might consider Robin being here a Godsend. Maybe someone should talk to her and ask if she'll help with the plan?" indicating a strawberry blonde hairpiece on a shelf. And with that cryptic remark, she grabbed her staff and asked James "Would you like to go for a walk? I think I'd like to talk to Cyrene."

Hearing that Cyrene was still involved in the decorating of the wedding site, or more

likely being roped into working at Salmoneous' tavern, the two had a pleasant stroll through the

village to the border, being stopped occasionally by various young Amazons. When they came to the boundary, James was surprised to see Eponin carrying her ale as well as new guard patrol assignments, trying to explain her latest wound to Iolous. It clearly wasn't his first mug of the day either, and both seemed rather relaxed.

"Hey there," grinned Iolaus, as he stood for Gabrielle. She waved him back down, saying

"We're just looking for Cyrene, I have a few questions for her."

"She went to check out some supplies, and she'll be right back." said Iolous.

"Questions? said Eponin, "Like what?"

"It was just brought home to me that Lycea may be more like Xena than I thought, and I

think I should ask the expert."

Iolous and Eponin looked at each other. Then at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle was not amused by their expressions. Eponin ventured out first.

"You're going to ask Xena's mother... for advice about child rearing?"

"Yes, " Gabrielle responded patiently.

"Xena's Mom?" Iolaus repeated in a strangled tone.

"Ye-es. Does that seem STRANGE to you?" Still being patient, but a little colder.

"Well, of course not." said Iolous.

"Certainly." agreed Eponin.

"Wouldn't want the child to grow up..." Iolous searched.

"Unfriendly..." put in Eponin.

"Naughty...added Iolaus

"Occasionally moody.."

"Dangerously psychotic..."

Gabrielle was tapping her foot by now.

Then of course," Iolous considered, "of course, you want to avoid any problems

with normal sexual orientation..." and froze.

Gabrielle's foot was no longer tapping. He looked up to see the Queen of the Amazons

smiling a cold smile.

"I've always found Xena's orientation, to be quite..." she searched for the

right word," ...unerring." Pleased, she turned, and taking James' arm she regally walked away.

Behind them they heard Iolaus and Eponin say together "Unerring?"

Night fell. Head aching, still buzzed from the afternoon and having learned more than he wanted to know about Xena's childhood, James made his way back to his hut under the stars. There was a light burning inside, so he was cautious as he opened the door. The giant bed was still there filling the entire room, but sitting in the middle was Robin reading what he knew to be one of Gabrielle's scrolls. She looked up and to his relief, smiled.

"Have you read any of these? They are incredible. How much of it is true? Did Xena really do these things? And the story telling...."

"You have to hear the storyteller herself, the scrolls are only a part of the performance.

I've seen whole rooms of troglodytes crying in their beer when she gets going." And the scrolls really are only part of the story, he thought. He fell silent for a moment. This wasn't the time for a serious talk. The combination of the events of the day and the after effects of the marathon drinking had him running on empty for some time. He could barely keep his eyes open. Robin didn't seem to notice.

"Some of them are hilarious. Who is this poor sap Joxer? Is he here?"

He leaned over to see what she was reading, trying to ignore her proximity. It was Been There, Done That. He shook his head to try to clear it.

"Yeah, he's not only here, but I think I lost some sort of bet while drinking with Xena today, and now I have to have a talk with him."

"About...?"

"He has always had a thing for Gabrielle, and apparently he didn't see this coming. Xena

wants him to feel better." He rolled his eyes.

"Xena cares about this guy?"

"She cares about all her friends. Loyalty is very big with her."

"So you have to make Joxer feel better about Gabrielle being Gay, or not with him or

what?"

"You think Gabrielle`s gay?" he thought he mumbled before finally passing out onto the bed.

11

Pain.

He was struggling to open his eyes, because it was important that he wake up. There

was this terrible ache in his stomach and he wasn't alone. Everyone around him was groaning

and he couldn't stay standing on any of his legs. Legs? He woke up.

Robin was gone. On their last visit she would disappear for hours with Titan, so he figured she probably still wasn't back from her late night ride.

The dream was important, he knew, but he was losing it rapidly. He tried to focus. He had been a horse? no human...Centaurs! What had Solari said? The Centaurs are securing the ...eastern entrance. Now, he thought, how sure am I that I know what it means? And where is a good Knife when you need one?

"Hello? Who's on duty?" hoping to the Gods that it was someone took their job

seriously, not another sweet kid.

"What by Narcissus' Nuts do you want?" came a familiar voice outside the door.

"Shit, is that you, Pony? What are you doing? Shouldn't you be sleeping it off, or in the infirmary or both?"

The door opened and the big weapons master shambled in and bumped into the point of the foot of the bed. She swore at it.

"I'll have you know that drinking helps me stay awake. Also, I took this duty because

I would rather be on site, than dragged out of my bed if something happens. So," Eponin perched on the edge of the ludicrous bed, "Is something happening?"

"Would you believe, I'd like you to try to put the whole village on as close to alert status

as possible, but not wake anyone up."

She sighed loudly. "More information."

"I think we could be in big trouble, but I don't want to bother anyone in case I'm wrong."

She rolled her eyes in disgust. "Civilians. Let me get Xena."

Outside they both heard the sound of an approaching horse. James turned to Eponin.

"You do what you can to prepare for an attack from the east side, but if that's Robin, I'm

going to hitch a ride and check out the Centaur camp. Soon as you can, you follow us, OK?"

"Wait, what kind of attack! What's wrong with the Centaurs?"

"If I knew, I'd have you roust everyone, but all I've got right now is a bad feeling about the

Centaur encampment. Tell Xena, and do what you can with whoever is already up. And get everything ready for whatever you do when there's an attack."

"Thanks for all the technical instruction."

The approaching rider was Robin on Titan.

"Is he rested enough to go for a quick ride?" He asked her.

"Another midnight ride?" Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright.

Realizing this meant she had recovered at least part of their previous excursion, he grinned back.

"Getting hooked on adventure?" he grunted as she pulled him up.

"There are worse things. Where are we going?"

"Whatever looks east. It's June, so the line should be right along the sunset, ride away

from the sunset." The sun rise, shit, he thought. He yelled back to Eponin "My vague hunch is

now centred around dawn. Does that help any?"

"Apparently not" he mumbled into Robin's shoulder as they galloped away from the

Weapon Master's cursing.
 
 

"I hope you have some better directions once we start through the woods." She called

back to him as they left the village.

"What? Can't tell the direction from the stars? Oh, Miss Big Amazon in Training?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" She yelled over the hoof beats.

"You asked Gabrielle about some sort of staff training, so she signed you up for the

whole nine yards. As of this afternoon, you are a member of the tribe for as long as we stay. You

already swore your oath last time you were here, so you join the rest of the trainees tomorrow.

Unless you don't want to?"

"Are you kidding?" She made a credible Amazon cry and Titan moved into overdrive.

"Are you all right back there?"

"Bruises on top of my bruises but keep it up!"

"Yeeeaaahhh" yelled the Amazon in training.

All James had to direct her with was his gut, the sense of wrongness that had woken

him early, but within a half hour they approached the silent camp. No guards or sentries were

visible. They hastily dismounted and approached the larger of the tents. Sprawled out front were

two centaurs.

"They're still breathing," Robin told the relieved James after a quick examination.

"Of course. Whoever did this didn't want to make any permanent enemies. Not here,

and not yet, at least. Give me a second to think." He looked up at the range of mountain cliffs

that ringed the eastern gate.

"OK. You've got to ride back and take a message. Let's see, One, describe the

conditions here. Two, say that it`s got to be an attack at dawn when the sun will be in the eyes

of anyone coming from the village. Now, we still don't know what kind of attack, who or what

we're facing, but they are probably working with people inside the nation. So" he made his

decision. "Three. Tell Xena to get the wedding present I left with Ephiny the last time I was here.

Make sure Gabrielle has it and points it ..." he followed the ridge with his eyes. "There, right

where that tree stands alone in the cleft. Can you see it well enough to describe it to someone

so they can find it?" She nodded.

"Are you sure? Now repeat what I said."

When they were sure she had it down, she mounted again, and hesitating, surprised

him with a quick kiss before riding off. He stood watching her for a moment, and then started to

make his way to the base of the cliffs.

12

Xena was not one for subtle alerts. When Eponin rousted her, she had immediately

begun waking up the rest of the warriors she and Pony trusted. As they waited, already

mounted, watching the preparations, the weapons master brought up her concerns.

"You know, that by bringing only loyalists to what is probably a trap, we're doing exactly

what whoever planned this wants us to do."

"I know, but if the choice is to ride into an attack with friends or traitors, I pick friends."

Gabrielle had been wakened without the usual struggle. Sleeping without Xena had not

been conducive to deep sleep. So she was dressed and ready to take her position on Argo while

many of the warriors were still putting on their leathers. Ephiny looked as though she might

object when she saw Gabrielle on Xena`s horse, but she was satisfied with a reminder that

neither was to leave Amazon territory. She was the first to see Robin, and they rode to meet her.

"Wedding gift? Ride halfway? " Sputtered Eponin. "I mean, I like him, for a guy hes OK, but he's got all the military smarts of a carrot. I'd rather Argo was plotting this defense."

"We go with the man in the field until he makes a mistake." decided Xena.

Robin would not wait, and had already begun the ride back hoping

that Titan still had one more trip left in him. The present was found with a parchment

attached, and so with Argo in the lead, they began a slow march towards the eastern gate.

Aware of Ephiny watching her like a chaperone, Gabrielle dropped the arm that had

been holding Xena and unwrapped the gift. She was able to read the parchment in the

moonlight. It was mainly a series of warnings.

My dearest friends,

I hope you realize what you and your joining means to me. We

three all know that my visits could end at any time, and if I never

see you again, I need to give you one last gift to keep you both

alive and together. I am breaking every rule I've told you about

not changing the past by giving you what is inside, but I have to

balance my honour with my love for you both, and I know that my trust

in your honour is merited. What is in this bag will not come into

use for over one thousand years. In this form, maybe two thousand.

The possibilities for altering the future are endless, especially

in your hands.

Xena, this could allow you to truly conquer the world.

Gabrielle, it could allow you to control it. I have designed it so

it can be hidden and carried safely without its true use being

discovered. Arrangements must be made for its destruction upon

your deaths. Please Xena, use it as a defensive weapon, Gabrielle,

please use the information gained for your own use, and may the

Gods forgive me.

I love you both,

James.

`When we see him again, I'll tell him curtains would have been fine,' Gabrielle thought.

'What has he got in here?' Gingerly she unwrapped the heavy package revealing a what looked

like one of her regular leather scroll cases. By this time, Xena had finished the note.

` "If it's some new kind of black powder, I'm all for destroying it now."

"It looks like a scroll case so far." She unsnapped the clips and almost dropped the two

clear glass disks that slid out. "So that's what he had the glass blower make, at least that

explains why he needed all those dinars. Wow! They're flawless!

"OK, there's more instructions. They snap in at either end apparently..." There was a click as they fit in position. "Now we pull on the ends..." and she watched as the scroll case extended until it was triple its original size. " Oh, that's clever, there's a series of smaller covers inside. Now what? 'Gabrielle', that would be me I guess,' Look through the smaller end,' that would be this one, 'and point the other at the moon.' OK, I can do tha....GREAT APOLLO IN THE

MORNING!!"

"What?" Xena quickly brought Argo to a halt. She looked at her partner who was shaking.

"The moon is round." the bard said quietly.

"What?"

"The MOON is ROUND."

"I know the moon is round."

"No round, all the way around."

"Is that what this gift is, the gift of insanity?"

"No, you dumb warrior, look through the small end and look at the hillside."

Then there was silence. Long and complete.

Xena began to rant, forgetting entirely the impending crisis.

"Do you know what I could have done with this? Do you know how many men I could have saved by knowing where to attack ahead of another force? I could have moved armies like pieces on a chess board! The signals I could have sent over ten times the distance of any other

army, the..."

"Do you realize the secrets I could discover?" Gabrielle blurted." Things no one is

supposed to guess at, I could prove!"

Silence. Then simultaneously, "We can't keep it."

More thinking.

"On the other hand, it could be a defensive weapon. We could do reconnaissance from

a distance instead of risking our lives every time." Ignoring her Regent, Gabrielle moved up to

behind Xena's ear and whispered, "we could finally not worry 'bout being surprised while on the

road... we could... relax sometimes, hmmm?"

13

Crawling up a cliff in the dark had left James with several more scrapes and bruises, but

he noted that nothing seemed to be bleeding seriously. He was in position, and watched the

camp below him prepare for the attack. There was light enough now, and he shifted from time to

time to watch the horizon where he hoped the Amazon forces would halt before approaching

further. He figured that the renegades were waiting to capture or kill the dawn courier. When she

failed to report, a small hand picked force would be sent out from the village to investigate, only to be slaughtered. Then the Queen's slack reign would be blamed for the losses, the loss of loyalists. Simple enough, but who were the leaders? Not this group below him. What were clearly the banished Valasca Amazons were pointedly avoiding a dozen or more greasy males. It would still be an hour before the sun was fully over the horizon, what would they do when the courier never came?

It was then that he caught the sight of what he was hoping were horses moving in his

direction, but was it only his imagination that saw the flash that might be glass? Please, he

prayed, let them stop, as he watched the renegade Amazon archers move into position below

him. And please, let Gabrielle have the telescope. The Warrior Princess might have many skills,

but one of them was not Charades. He stood up, and sheltered by the outcropping from the

army below, began waving.

"I see him!" Gabrielle cried out excitedly. She pulled her eye away from the lens and

marveled again at the change in perspective. She adjusted the lens and continued to view,

calling out to Xena in front.

"He's got his hand in front... he's motioning to stop."

"Great." groused Eponin sidling over on her mount. "We've already stopped. What's the

next bit of strategic brilliance?"

"He's doing something with his head, and neck..."

"Oh, God's..."

"No, it's head dresses and necklaces.... Amazons?"

""Banished Valasca supporters." Xena said. "How many?"

"He's holding out his palm... five." She watched as James mimed an imaginary drawstring. "With bows...now he's pointing... they're ringed around to his right...."

"We would have ridden right into that," Xena called back to the waiting mounted

warriors. "Dismount!"

"Now he's rubbing his finger and thumbs..."

"Now Eponin was amazed, "You can see that?" she said staring at the cliff face.

"He's giving something to someone, paying them..."

"Mercenaries," Xena was already off Argo gathering the commanders together. "How

many and where?"

"Five, ten, fifteen,.." Both Xena and Eponin tensed as the count continued and relaxed

when it stopped. "Twenty. All grouped directly behind the archers."

"No back-up, no sentries?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "Why would they think they'd need them? Wait, he's indicating we split into two and circle behind them..."

"Gee, thanks James. Maybe we'll just try that." Eponin said sarcastically.

"Now he's pointing, there's someone approaching. He wants to know who it is? Oh

God's, it's Robin!"

Xena already had split the forces into two groups of twenty-five and given command of

them to Ephiny when she heard Gabrielle. She grabbed the telescope and grunted in dismay.

"She's too far ahead for us to stop her, but James has left his position and is going

down towards her. If we move fast on foot, we'll still be too late, but since we can't cross the

border to fight, at least we'll be able to help them."

Tying off their horses the three crouched low and began to run.

Continued in Part 2


Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse