Author: J.A. Bard
Story Title: Journey Through Shadow Land: Part One
Characters: Xena/Gabrielle, f (Mediea)/ f (Alex)
Rating: NC-17
Summary: While traveling back to Gabrielle, Xena is overcome by a disquieting passion.
This rating is for explicit f/f sex and bdsm.

Warnings and Disclaimers written by Wildcat, © Wildcat, 1997.

Warnings/Disclaimers are included with stories to enable readers to judge whether each piece is of interest to them. They are intended to be taken seriously as a warning about the nature of the story. In many cases it can be presumed that one of the lead story characters (Xena: Warrior Princess or Gabrielle) is involved in the action of the story and to that end, after reading Warnings/Disclaimers, it is the sole responsibility of each reader to decide whether they wish to read a particular story.

Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.

This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

J.A. Bard's stories can also be found at Tom's Xena FanFic Archive and The Athenaeum

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Journey Through Shadow Land: Part One
By J.A. Bard

Chapter 1

A Captive Audience

Selene's white mares disappeared into the western sky taking the remnants of the night's sparkling canopy of stars with them, while Helios and his chargers started their ascent dragging the fiery sun ball into the dawning sky. Dark gray peaks of snow capped mountains were enflamed by the fiery orb's touch as it rose above the snowy ridge scattering tongues of its flame on anything that it could reach. Nighttime creatures circled their bedding before lying down with a contented sigh that their duties have finished for another night. Day creatures began their day with a stretch and a call to neighbors and their surroundings announcing that they would soon be on the prowl for a meal.

An imposing figure dressed in dark tan leathers with a sword slung over her back stood on the top of the cliffs that overlooked a small fishing village nestled in the cove. The sun's first rays found her, sending sparks of light off her sword hilt, then as she turned to look at the source of light, holding onto the ends of her hair, the light caught the copper swirls of her armored breastplate and armbands flashing her presence. Turning again to face the ocean, she dropped her hands to her sides. Aeolous' strong winds that coursed over the cliffs, sent her dark tresses back into twisting steams as she leaned forward to keep her balance. The ship that dropped her and her golden warhorse off was almost out of sight around the jetty with its sails filled and leaning low in the water as it curved around the rocks.

It was there again, just out of focus. She avoided willing it into a sharper image, as she found it only gave her a splitting headache. It started with a slight disorientated feeling, then she felt another's presence, as if someone else was looking out through her eyes. She blinked a few times to rid herself of the mental discomfort. Her mouth tightened into a grim line and her eyes hardened into cold chips of ice. She hadn't been able to figure out what the feeling was about...yet. Shaking her head in resignation she slapped her thigh as if to bring her thoughts back to the present. She needed to get moving. She turned back to face Argo, who was happily pulling tuffs of grass for a quick snack while waiting for her mistress.

Her change of direction caused her hair to whip into her face. She paused at the saddlebags on Argo's back to pull out a thin leather thong to bind the fluttering hair back. She didn't want her vision blocked. For a moment, she ran the leather through her fingers, as if remembering something. Shaking her head she returned her thoughts to the present. The need to join Gabrielle was becoming more intense and she worried that it may have something to do with this disquieting feeling she had been experiencing the last few weeks, to say nothing of the other images that were imposing themselves on her nighttime dreams. Xena's usual stoic expression didn't change but an inward smile made its way to her eyes as she thought of more pleasant reasons to return to her Bard. An image of waking from sleep to find Gabrielle draped over her possessively brought a brief smirk to her lips.

Xena had taken longer than she had planned in what she had felt was to be a very simple job of checking out the security of a small kingdom on one of the smaller islands across from Acron. The young Queen's consort wanted Xena to go over his security setup. Xena had accepted the job in lieu of attending the seasonal initiation ceremony in the Amazon Village for the new crop of warriors.

Gabrielle was attending the ceremony as their Queen so at the cross-roads about two weeks ago they parted company. Xena was relieved they had met a small party of Amazons returning to participate in the celebrations and a few returning from their sojourn to Lesbos. The experience of Gabrielle traveling alone usually was as eventful as when Xena traveled with her...busy and oftentimes...dangerous.

Xena nodded to herself thinking of how busy Gabrielle would be on the road dragging out all the story material possible from the young girls about their life on Lesbos. Xena grinned, thinking of the relief she would have felt, had she gone along, that Gabrielle would be creating stories about someone else for a change. And if the normal happened, they would probably have some trouble on the road. It was amazing that someone as kind-hearted as Gabrielle attracted more trouble than most ordinary people did. This brought a chuckle to Xena as she knew, Gabrielle was not ordinary in any sense of the word.

The Amazon's, who weren't familiar with her would think that she would not be able to defend herself and being their Queen, would overprotect her and Gabrielle, in her usual manner, would let them have it after the danger was over. This brought a big grin to Xena's face. Gabrielle was quite formidable when her ire was raised.

The ceremony Gabrielle and the Amazons were attending was a rite of passage, which stretched out for two weeks. It was comprised of friendly competitions, tests and nightly parties held by the patrons and sponsors of the initiates. The parties were usually brag parties and ended up being an outlet to get rid of excessive energy from being cooped up from the seasonal rainy weather, unless you liked mud. It was very entertaining watching scantly clad and naked women wrestling in the mud. Xena's grin continued as she thought of the muddied ring, contestants and oftentimes, the spectators, who would start mud fights. The idea was to test the young warriors in difficult weather conditions and it followed that the older warriors for want of something better to do, joined in the practice to properly demonstrate...techniques. Xena understood the practicality of working in all weather conditions, for when she was a warlord she had her own troops out in the foulest weather drilling. It was necessary to be able to fight in all weather conditions. However, Xena had never thought of having her own soldiers drill without armor or clothing in the mud since the idea was to get use to the discomfort of having the stuff in uncomfortable places and still concentrate on fighting.

Xena easily vaulted onto Argo's back, landing lightly. Argo picked up a fast pace without being directed to. She didn't like the wind behind her, for small bits of gravel bit at her fetlocks and buttocks. Xena could feel the same biting stings on her bare shoulders and decided putting on a cloak would only mean she would be fighting the ends of the cloak in the wind. It wasn't worth the effort since once she was away from the coast the strong chilly winds would cease.

Looking up at the sky overhead she found it clear, however further west Zephyrus, god of the west winds, was blowing in dark clouds. By the looks of the clouds any unfortunate traveler in the west would be wet and cold. Xena sniffed the air around her and could not detect the smell of any coming rain, which didn't mean anything with the crosscurrents in this area. The air was heavy with the scent of ocean spray and hinted of some late blooms that were hiding in the crevices along the cliff. She also caught bits of different herb fragrances as the warmth of the sun's rays heated the leaves.

Xena turned her attention back to the East where she was headed. The sky looked clear and it was still early enough in the morning to enjoy the beginning of Helios' ascent into the heavens. Xena liked early mornings for the fresh sharp smells of plants that released their fragrances with the heat of the first sun rays, and the way the light gradually started to awaken the day creatures. It was the different clamor on the senses that the sudden dramatic appearance of light brought to the environment that she delighted in. She frowned for a moment thinking of how she also enjoyed the shift of consciousness the night brought to her. It was a different awareness as it was like being alive in shadows and yet seeing, hearing and feeling with an acuteness that would blind her in the day's light. She shook her head at the comparison. That's something for a Bard to describe...her job was simply to experience it. She grinned feeling a better mood descend on her at the thought of reuniting with her lover and partner in adventures.

Argo had a lot of ground to cover before they could find safe cover for the night...if she had a mind to stop to sleep. She would probably push Argo as much as she dared. Xena squinted into the raising sun, wishing for hat to block out some of the morning glare. She turned in her saddle and reached back into her bags. Hmmm. Goop. Where did I put that stuff? Her fingers finally found the small jar of black goop she used for putting under her eyes, on her cheek bones, to cut down on the glare. Satisfied she settled in the saddle and glanced around her remembering the last time she had been in this area.

In her younger days she passed by here with her army...she was in a hurry after receiving a message from Marcus. She didn't pull back from the rush of feelings that engulfed her...the pounding in her with blood lust for battle and the sexual energy that further ignited her passion for the battle she was heading for. For a moment Xena's eyes burned with a fire that was reminiscent of her warlord days as the memory washed across her. She let the feeling pass without holding on to it. Some memories she was learning to just let go without attaching the remorse or the pain of introspection to them. Silently she sent Marcus a loving thought, knowing that he could hear her in the Elysium Fields. She didn't bother to compare her love for him and Gabrielle, or feel any pangs of regret. They were two different people from different times in her life.

As they moved further inland the wind decreased dramatically and Argo and her mistress were able to relax more as they fell into their familiar travel rhythm. Xena sniffed the changing air as they moved into the forest of gray tree shapes bare of leaves, ready for the winter. Small wind currents alternated between warm and cold as smells she associated with autumn, the forest and the wooded inhabitants whiffed by her. She could hear the wind moving through the few leaves that were still clinging on the near bare branches. Her posture seemed to be relaxed as she casually glanced about her, but her heightened senses reached far ahead and around her as Argo continued her easy canter. She noted the change in sound of Argo's hooves as the ground underneath changed composition between hard packed earth to patches covered with a blanket of colorful fallen leaves. Her eyes swept across the road reading the signs of passage of various animals that had been before them. She heard birds chatter in the overhead trees, alert for any change in their tone that would warn her of a stranger or friend within their domain.

Argo had accompanied Xena on the ship and did not like the rolling and pitching of the ocean trip, so she was enjoying the feel of the solid ground beneath her hooves. They had taken the ship to cut time by having a merchant ship drop them off at the small fishing village. It took two days off their travel time, though Xena was now taking a coastal route to the Amazon's Village rather than the winding inland road. The Queen's consort, who dreamed of being King, had gladly paid their fare since it was his foolishness that caused her delay. She had stayed five days instead of the two days she planned. Xena shook her head as the irritation began to bring a scowl to her face and deepen her blue eyes to a hardness that scared most sensible people.

"Ah, ah. Now stop." She chided herself. "It's the Queen's problem. She's not blind to his foolishness. Let it alone." Argo's ears flipped back at the mumbling from her rider, snorting at the last sentence she shook her head and continued on with her own business, watching the ruts in the road so her agile feet would not twist in them, tossing her precious cargo over her head.

Xena sighed and turned her thoughts to memories of the last time Gabrielle and her had attended an initiation celebration. Challenges, that no one had the courage to make against her, partying at night for the winner's mentors and finally after two weeks, the women that passed their initiation were presented with their own masks made by their sponsors or mentors. She didn't mind missing that part, which by Amazon law, she could not attend. She admitted to herself it was the mud fights she had been interested in. A large smile finally made its way to her face as she remembered a certain part of the celebration. Queen Gabrielle, had been squirming in her chair as she watched various members tease each other over silly inconsequential things then break out into mud slinging fights which turned into wrestling. Xena was amused at the ritual of insults that were not just colorful but imaginative. The insults could be as entertaining as the mud fights. Xena could tell that Gabrielle wanted to join in the mud tossing and if the mud hadn't hit her on the chin Xena was sure she would have figured out some reason to jump into the fray.

Gabrielle, ankle deep in mud with a mischievous smile, and a smug look on Xena's face would have tipped anyone off of the impending trouble. Gabrielle knew Xena could have prevented the mud from hitting her. The Queen decided to take the smug look off of her champion's face with a hand-full of the wet stuff. Instead, her Majesty ended up flat on her back as her feet slipped out from under her when another victim of the mud, entangled her legs. Due to the fact that the Queen had jumped in seemed to signal that everyone was to join the melee, and anyone not covered with mud became a target. Xena had chosen that time to disappear. With all the fun going on she didn't want someone thinking they would get away with trying to dump her in, namely Gabrielle, though she wouldn't have been able to...Xena didn't want to risk any stray mud sullying her reputation. After all, she had an image to keep up. She watched the rest of the fun from a safe distance with Ephiny, sipping ale and commenting on the antics, the new collection of warriors and exchanged rancorous jokes until Ephiny passed out.

A different smell breezed by Xena and caused her to shift her attention quickly. It was from the left of her. She pulled Argo into a slow trot then into a walk as she focused on what was familiar about that fragrance. It was their special occasion oil. Gabrielle had found out that the fragrance had a very strong effect on her lover's carnal appetite and decided to keep some on hand for special times. Those special occasions were after arguments, when Gabrielle thought they were distant long enough, or when Xena became too pensive for Gabrielle's sensibilities. Just thinking about smelling it on the nape of Gabrielle's neck and other well chosen spots on her body, caused a small fire of anticipation to start in her center. Someone else apparently liked the scent too.

Hmmm. Could be something worth investigating. "It should only take a mere candle mark or two to investigate." She murmured to Argo's twitching ears.

She directed Argo down a faint trail leading in the general direction the wind was blowing from. It led further into the forest heading north. The tall trees with their many bare branches stretched out above her giving strange shadows over the ground that was littered with deadened leaves. The Ivy that connected the trees, blanketing them with their ever green leaves became thicker as she moved further into the forest. She strained her senses attempting to catch more of the smell or the voices. She thought she caught a voice that sounded like Gabrielle's now and again.

Xena reviewed the last two weeks quickly going over the weird experiences she had been having since two days after parting from Gabrielle and her Amazon subjects. She was suspicious this was related. It would be better to clear it up before she got back to Gabrielle. The intensity to return to Gabrielle that started a few days ago, was not the usual feeling she felt when separated from her.

Yep, this needs clearing up before I see Gabrielle, especially if it has anything to do with those...dreams "Best see if this is all related, Argo. No such thing as coincidences, Girl."

She couldn't press Argo any faster as the trail was overrun with brush and it was more of a small animal trail than a passageway for horse and rider. Xena finally pulled Argo up, and tested the air again. The breeze was blowing in a different direction now and she could not hear or smell anything that would give her an idea of the direction of her mystery. Well, she knew what direction not to go in, and the last direction the wind blew was from the North.

Thinking of Gabrielle brought a clear image of the Amazon Queen to her mind. She saw her leaning on her staff with her usual smiling face and green shining eyes that sparkled as if she was up to something. She was wearing her Amazon regalia, feathers in her air fluttering in the wind. Thinking of Gabrielle brought the usual warmth that filled up her heart and moved out to the rest of her body. Suddenly the energy changed, just like it had been doing for about the last week and a half. She involuntarily gasped, as her body reacted from the fire that started between her legs and spread a heat that pounded and coursed through her entire body momentarily clouding her sight. It wasn't the same feeling of lust that she experienced following a battle nor the usual sexual desire she felt for Gabrielle. None of these new experiences were near the usual. Xena shook her head to clear it and willed her thoughts elsewhere. She needed to keep her attention focused on her environment.

Argo continued to tread her way through the brush with her mistress studying the small tracks and translating the stories they told of the creatures that had been by. She felt the pounding heart of a small rabbit, sensed a few birds hiding in the swaying branches above her, and the other usual wildlife for that area. Xena dismounted from Argo with a flip over her head in order to walk in front of the golden horse. She wanted to get a better connection to Gaia's domain through her own contact with the earth.

Aeolus, shifted his winds and a chill swept down from the top of the nearby snow peaked mountain. Xena wasn't paying the weather too much attention, as she was preoccupied with what was going on in Gaia's neighborhood. Dark clouds that suddenly swept from over the peaks, covering the sun brought her eyes up to study the sky. Surprised she found clouds much like those in the west moving quickly toward her, already covering the view of the mountaintop. Lightening flashed in the distance. They needed to find some sort of shelter. Sniffing the air again that was starting to push rather stiffly against her and Argo, she caught the musty smell of damp moss and an herb she knew that was usually found around caves. Turning into the wind Xena lead Argo around trees and through the brush, cutting what was too thick aside so they could both pass. The rain's arrival was announced with a rumble above them and then a heavy downpour. Visibility was but an arm's length away.

A loud crack, bright light and flying bits of a tree split asunder located three strides from them sent Argo back peddling and squealing in terror. Xena was trying to not duck from the pounding rain and falling debris as she concentrated on coaxing some of the wild fear out of Argo's eyes. Argo was a warhorse that was use to battle forays not Zeus's wild displays of a light show so close by.

Xena was able to get her to stop backing up. She stroked her nose watching the nostrils flare out and the eyes wildly looking about her to see if there was anything else that was going to hit her. There was not much to see in the gray down pour.

Zeus, in his preoccupation with leveling the trees around that area, struck another nearby tree, which again pelted them with chunks of splintered wood. This proved to be too much for Argo. Instinctively Xena spun around and blocked a branch that was descending on her. It caused her to release her hold on Argo's reins, as she needed both hands. Argo took off and Xena fell to the ground from the impact of the branch. Rolling to her feet once clear of the branch she sprinted in the direction Argo had fled. The pelting cold rain did not slack off but she found that Argo's hoof prints made deep indentations in some places. The rain filled up the prints quickly making tiny lakes out of them. As Xena ran on, she could feel her irritation with the weather and Argo's unusual display of running this far from her, leave.

Maybe this is exactly what I need to rid me my recalcitrant disposition of late, she thought wryly.

Argo's tracks were taking her into a valley. As Xena followed a muddy trail near the side of the small hill her ears picked up the sound of a soft nicker. She stopped suddenly and had her sword out in a blurred motion, the blade smoothly slicing through the rain. She faced the direction from where she heard the sound, cautiously climbing up the slippery incline keeping her sword and eyes sweeping around her. Argo's prints disappeared behind a wall of vines hugging the side of the hill. Dead flowers were piled about too deep to be buried in the mud. Xena narrowed her ice blue eyes to study the area. Moving closer she could see that part of the wall of vines moved more vigorously than its neighbors.

An opening? Cautiously Xena moved forward, focusing her attention on what was before her, yet not totally heedless to what was going on around her. She used the tip of her sword to part the curtain of vines. It was too dark inside to see how deep the cave was but the unmistakable stagnant smell of a closed area was evident with the strong smell of a wet horse.

Another crack of lightning that struck near by caused her to move into the cave without any more delay. Trust Argo to find a safe respite from the weather.

For a brief moment the lightning lit up the cave and Xena could make out the dark form that was extending a whiskered nose toward her.

"Hey, Girl. So you went off and found yourself a nice and dry place, huh? Willing to share? She remarked softly as Argo nudged her nose into her mistress's dripping form. Xena's hand curled around Argo's under lip then moved to scratch the wet horse's neck, while scanning the small area. Her eyes needed to adjust to the darkness. Xena tested the air. She could pick up the faint smell that had drawn her off her original course along with the smell of stale air. As her sharp vision adjusted quickly to the darkness she could make out the sides of the cave. The gray light from outside didn't filter much light through the leaves so Xena didn't expect to get a much better view until the next lighting bolt.

She began to make out small holes in the walls of the cave, which might be storage places for ...hopefully...lamps, candles or something useful. To the right were steps leading to a higher level. Argo's warm breath on her arm reminded Xena she needed to set up a fire to dry off and to get some warm tea in her. Leaving Argo's warm side Xena went to check the dark shadows along the wall and noticed the holes were like storage places as she had guessed. A quick flash of worry hit her as she hoped it wasn't a burial cave. The scent that had been distracting her again made a fleeting pass by her nose.

"Who in Tartarus is here?" She quickly looked around the dark cave. Another rumble of thunder accompanied a flash of light... revealing nothing really to see from where she was standing. Xena returned her attention to the small repositories looking for something she could use to light. If someone used this cave there had to be a candle, lamp, short torch, anything. She finally found something as her hand hit a pottery object causing it to clink against other objects. She was in luck. By the feel of the objects she had found a cache of lamps and they felt full. She also could feel the wicks that were gathering dust next to them. Pulling two of the lamps out she placed them on the floor of the cave and fitted them with wicks. She went back to Argo to get her flint. Her leathers were awkward wet and were dripping trails of water down her legs and on the dusty floor of the cave. She could track her own movements in the cave by the wet trail she left.

She loosened Argo's girth and pulled the saddle and bags off her to let her dry. They weren't going anywhere anytime soon. She felt in the bag for her small packet. Xena could feel Argo's breath on the back of her shoulders as she knelt next to the lamps working with the flint. Her cold hands were the first to benefit from the spark that caught onto the wick.

She lifted one of the lit lamps and studied the steps looking for any traps. She couldn't detect anything, above, to sides, or below the stairs. Cautiously she moved up the stairs moving the lamp from side to side to peer into corners. At the top of the stairs the floor of the cave leveled off. In one corner was a rack for hanging armor and weaponry, a sleeping pallet and a small trunk at the foot of the pallet. The room it revealed was the inside of someone's hide-away. She moved the lamp to get a better view of the center of the cave. There was a circle of stones about ten strides in from the stairs. She walked up to it and found wood in the cleaned pit with spare wood neatly stacked to the side. Someone must have visited here often, at one time. She could tell it hadn't been recently for the floor was covered with dust and only showed her presence. That part had a mixture of relief and foreboding, for where was the fragrance coming from? Xena was able to get a fire going in little time. Looking back at the cave entrance she noted that the fire pit was high enough not to let out any light through the leaves.

She returned to Argo patting her on the neck. She ran her hand over her withers to see how much she dried off. Xena gave Argo an apple from her pack and brought the packs back to the fire ring. She removed tea to heat up, a dry cloth and a change of cloths for herself. She had a small pan that she filled with rainwater. While that was getting hot she turned her attention to drying herself off. She struggled with the buckles and wet clasps on her armor. This is where she really missed Gabrielle's assistance. She set her leathers and armor on the supplied rack, draping the soaked thin tunic she wore between her skin and leathers on a corner. She dropped a dry winter tunic over her head then dried her hair as much as she could with the cloth. The fire was quickly warming the interior of the cave. With the added light from the fire she could study their quarters better. It obviously was someone's safe haven and that person wore armor. She lifted the lid to the trunk and found dusty bedding and dry cloths. They had been there for a while. No personal effects aside from the cloths. Xena turned back to inspecting the walls closer in this part of the cave. Another small opening had old candles stored. As she moved to one side of the back of the cave the flame in the lamp started to dance around wildly. There was also a subtle change in the air. A dark thick line ran down the back wall of the cave where the light from the fire didn't reach.

An opening into the depths of the mountain? Maybe where the smell is coming from. She inspected it with the lamp and found it was wide enough for her to slide through without her armor.

"Well, Argo. What do you make of this?" Xena asked her friend who was quietly dozing in her part of the cave.

The water started to boil. Turning back to the fire she threw some herbs in the steaming water swishing them around then putting the pan to the side to seep a little. The intense need to reunite with Gabrielle started up again. Xena put her head in her hands and let the feeling run its course. This feeling only started two days ago, but she was sure it had something to do with the dreams...and the unwelcomed presence. She took a deep breath and let her more practical mind take over. This little side trip saved her and Argo an unpleasant time in the storm. It wasn't as if Gabrielle was in trouble. She knew that anxious gut twisting feeling well. If it had been she would have not allowed herself to be sidetracked or to hole up comfortably in a dry cave while a full scale storm played itself out.

Her thoughts again returned to the image of her friend with the ready smile and laughing green eyes. She also started to think of how she wanted to hold her against her and feel her skin against her own. Sighing she shook her head. The erotic dreams for the past two weeks were driving her crazy and did not do her morning disposition any good, which normally wouldn't have made any difference among strangers. She was surprised Queen Deanna put up with her testiness most of the mornings. Her night sword drills increased in duration as she became more reluctant to sleep and the Queens close presence in the daytime didn't help any. The young woman was not subtle when she was alone around Xena about her desire to see Xena in her royal bed. Xena was at first amused by the attention then had to become blunt about her not being interested, which was difficult when her dreams at night were leaving her very horny. It was also rather difficult to tell someone that was rubbing up against you that you were not interested when your body was twitching and easily getting aroused giving the observant Queen a different message.

When the dreams first started she had thought they were from her own intense desires that she hadn't acknowledged or from the sexual energy the young Queen was generating, like a mare in season. But as the week progressed her suspicion changed. The content of the dreams were...Xena sighed...well, if they were from Gabrielle it was certainly a side of Gabrielle she didn't know about. But the coincidence that the dreams and the feeling of another's presence, which was not Gabrielle's, occurred at about the same time, giving her an uneasy feeling that it was all related.

Xena had taken the security job mostly out of curiosity for she knew the young Queen from one of the villages she had helped rebuild after a band of disgruntled soldiers thought to ransack it. The young woman had been visiting her mother's family and then was not at all the type of person she had become. It's amazing what three years could do to a person. Xena's lips twitched into a smile as she thought about the young Queen's interest in her. Her consort would have to content himself with her wandering eye for both genders or leave her. Xena had heard rumors about her and was curious how much was true. She didn't want to personally find out about her sexual proclivity just about other things, like the ability to pick winners or attract good luck. It turned out the young woman had a very good sense for business and an eye for interesting bed partners.

That brought an amusing memory to Xena. Two seasons ago, Xena had been invited to visit Lesbos and had taken Gabrielle if she would have been able to leave her behind ...Xena had spent half a day being charmed and engaged with various women when she finally escaped to look for Gabrielle. First place she looked was the library. Gabrielle was alone in the large room, engrossed in a scroll that she was holding up and moving to view from various angles and sometimes blushing furiously. When Gabrielle realized Xena was in the room she had quickly rolled it up and tucked it back in its storage space. When Xena asked her what she was looking at Gabrielle reported sheepishly that they were love poems. Xena had already glimpsed what the contents were. It was a collection of erotic love poems with diagrams of the various poses the poem was on. It was one of the many guides on love making that Sappho collected. It had been about seven moons before they became lovers, now that she thought about it.

"Oh, my lovely Bard," She thought, "you are in for a tryst with little sleep for days and nights in payment for these two long weeks...even if you are not the one responsible for those dreams!" She smiled to herself, "and if you are, we are going to talk about NOT repeating the experience."

She poured the tea into a small cup and sipped it letting its mixture warm her. She dug into her pack for some trail bars of dried fruit, nuts and oats. She lost herself in thought as she chewed and stared into the flames aware of the continuing storm outside of the cave.


Xena jumped up, sword before her, legs bent, extending all her senses to search out the area to even the darkest corners. She saw nothing and could only feel Argo's presence. Looking down near the entrance she could see Argo's shadow. Argo hadn't even raised an inquisitive ear toward the call.

"Hey Girl, didn't you hear anything?" Xena asked her friend softly.

Argo merely looked up at her idly twitching her tail.

Xena backed down the stairs to the entrance of the cave and parted the vine covering keeping a wary eye at the interior of the cave. It was still pouring outside and from the looks of it the clouds and rain were going to stay a while.

Xena faced the inside of the cave again. She normally could sense danger, it was so insidious or heavy but there was nothing here. The fragrance again passed her face stronger this time. Images of Gabrielle filled her mind and they were along the erotic line. She sighed. She needed to get to the bottom of this.

"Too many odd things are happening, Argo. I can feel a connection but..." She climbed back up the stairs looking around as she sat back down near the fire, carefully laying her sword near her side. She continued to sip her tea while staring into the flames. Sighing, while one hand put her cup down the other lifted her sword as she rose to her feet and returned to Argo. Brushing Argo helped her sort her thoughts and this was what she needed to do.

The rain outside made it impossible to travel so she wasn't feeling so guilty about taking some time out from what had been a hurried return to Gabrielle's side. She mentally ticked off on her fingers why she was going to investigate the opening in the cave wall. One was because it was there, two was because the fragrance that just so happened to be special to Gabrielle and her was coming from there, not to mention what pulled her off the road, and three all the other things that have been happening in the last two weeks.

"It shouldn't take long, Argo, then I'll be back to attend to my armor and leathers."

Finishing with Argo she put the brushes away. Without using the stairs Xena leaped easily to the next level. She picked up her chakram, attaching it to the belt wrapped around her tunic. The scabbard she would put on after she squeezed though the narrow opening.

Taking one last look at Argo she stashed a few of the candles in her small pouch at her waist that also contained her flint. She picked up one of the lamps and swished it around to gauge how much oil still remained. Enough. She extinguished the other to prevent anyone from seeing its light from behind the vines and then made sure the fire was below the stones that ringed it.

"Well, let's go see what's going on." She told herself.

She didn't feel the draft until she stood off to the side. Squeezing through the opening she tried to shield the flame to the lamp. The draft became more noticeable as she stepped over what felt like was a doorway, sending the small flame frantically waving about. She pulled her scabbard after her, using her body to shield the wavering light.

The change of feeling around her was dramatic and immediate as she moved into the dark tunnel. The smells here were muted, as was sound around her. She no longer heard the flame sputtering in the lamp, or the air moving about her. Her senses felt blunted. She calmed herself as the feeling of being closed in attempted to panic her.

Laying the lamp at her feet she fitted the scabbard into its comfortable position on her back, adjusting the straps to the more bulky clothing then her form fitting leathers.

Picking the lamp back up she held it high above her head to see around her. It was a tunnel whose ceiling was high enough that if she lifted her sword it would barely touch the roof. The width between the walls would accommodate two people walking abreast. The sides of the cave did not show that they were hewn with tools but rather more of an old water channel for there were traces of old water levels. Her face didn't change when she noted that she was not throwing any shadows.

"Athena, did I get myself into something that is better left alone?" She asked exasperated. She had enough challenges with everyday life, and for that matter being around Gabrielle, without messing in the eerie. She shook her head mentally. She wanted to solve this problem and felt it was all buckle up and get on with it, she firmly chided herself.

The annoying disorientated feeling started again but she didn't do anything until it unhurriedly made its way to her consciousness. It was that same feeling she experienced on the bluff and for the last week. She had walked about twenty paces away from the opening when she turned quickly pulling her sword out smoothly and almost put the wavering flame out with her quick movement. There was a figure before her, just out of reach of her sword point, whose resemblance to Gabrielle was close, but Xena knew it was not she. What was different? Her heart was steady as she faced the image of her lover.

"Who are you?" Xena asked in a curt voice.

"I'm not your enemy." Came a young seductive voice that didn't even come close to sounding like Gabrielle, but was provocative enough to send goose bumps up and down her arms.

"Come closer." The voice enticed, this time sending shivers down Xena's spine. She shook her head to clear the sound that was threatening to overcome her sensibilities. She wondered if this was another version of the Sirens.

Not good, Xena told herself sardonically, with the way things have been going for the last two weeks, if they don't lighten up, I'm going to be like dog after a bitch in heat by the time I see Gabrielle! Mentally Xena corrected the image to a stallion after a mare in season, somehow thinking Gabrielle would appreciate that image over the dog image. Though, why, since both…Xena impatiently shook her head. Aphrodite's girth! This is ridiculous!

The image of Gabrielle was blocking her exit...if she wanted to go back to the cave. Then the beat of a war drum started somewhere in the back of her head. This is not good, at all. Xena kept her sword pointing in front of her listening to the beat that was picked up by her heart, just as in the old days, reminding her of the blood lust that was part of the passion the war drums invoked.

"Pegasus's droppings! This is going to be another one of those 'shouldn't have done that,' trips." She muttered.

"Please, hold meee." The voice implored. The image had her arms out and was moving in a suggestive way toward Xena. The lamp was sputtering terribly and causing small sparks to fall on Xena's hand.

"Ohhhh." The image stopped and giggled as she watched with fascination, as the lamp struggled to not go out. The flame danced around and the image started to waver, then it disappeared. The feeling of the presence left just as suddenly.

Xena retraced her steps to check for prints from her visitor. She reached where she believed she had entered and stopped. The lamp was sputtering again sending sparks onto her hand. There was still enough oil in the lamp as she could feel it swishing around in the base. She used her sword tip to lightly touch the wall that was where she felt the opening in the wall should be. Nothing indicated an opening. She bent to one knee bringing the lamp down to see if there were footprints. To her amazement there were plenty with hers over the lot. She studied the prints noting the various sizes. None of them were recent but her own. She continued looking around the sides of the wall.

Her face became grim when she noted that her own prints showed a start from the wall that she had been prodding with the point of her sword. An illusion? No. Illusions have a feeling to them, though subtle. She felt no illusion here, in fact she felt nothing here. Her senses were quite dull. So, what now? She heard laughter again, this time it was followed by others. One of those voices really did sound like Gabrielle's! How could she hear voices but not the sound from the sputtering lamp?

The only way she was going to get out of this was to find out where the old footprints led to and where the laughter was coming from. She needed to continue on.

Slowly she started back into the depths of the dark tunnel letting the flickering lamp light a small area in front of her. The fragrance was becoming stronger. Her feet could feel the change in the ground below her. It was softer as if she were no longer walking on stone. The oil in the lamp was getting low. She raised the lamp higher to see what dark shape was taking form above her.

"How handy." She smirked to herself as she reached up and pulled the torch from its resting-place. Using the lamp's flame she set the touch alight and put it back in its holder. As it lit up the area she could see that she had entered a chamber that had seven torches set around the room. She lit three more to get a better view of where she was. It appeared to be a tomb.

"Hades! This is not a place I want to be meeting anyone, unless its Persephone on her way out." She muttered to herself. Which is not likely to happen, as this is the season she visits Hades. Xena certainly didn't want to wait around until it was time for her to return to her mother, Demeter. She looked around for some type of clue as to why she was led here.

In the center of the room was an elaborate sarcophagus with real flowers encircling it. The fragrance from the flowers was the same as the oil that Gabrielle used for their special occasions. After this, that may change, she thought grimly. Stepping toward the sarcophagus she reached down to pick up some of the petals. She rubbed the soft lips between her thumbs and sniffed the odor from the bruising she released. Yep, that was the smell. Returning her attention to the sarcophagus she noticed the old lettering on the sides and chiseled across the draped stone cloth. It was an old language from one of the islands off the Aegean Sea. As she looked at the face that was carved to represent the deceased Xena jumped back with her sword up.

"All right! Show your self!" Xena's voice was coldly incensed. The face on the stone was one half of Xena's face and the other Gabrielle's.

A small figure appeared near her elbow but Xena's reflexes had distance between them quickly. She realized as she stood there with her sword pointed at this wisp of a young woman the sword was of no use. Taking a deep breath she sheathed the sword and frowned at the small shade that appeared before her.

"Hi, Xena." The shy young woman with Gabrielle's face smiled with her eyes barely able to meet her icy stare.

"Who are you?"

"Not your enemy." Came the return. For a brief moment the young woman's eyes looked into hers and Xena had to hold herself steady. The eyes that looked back at her were like Gabrielle's.

"And?" Xena got out between clenched teeth.

"I need your help." She pleaded.

"If you show me who you really are then we'll talk." Xena returned firmly.

The youthful figure thoughtfully studied the tall older woman, dressed in a tunic with a scabbard tied to her back who was also breath-takingly beautiful. The dark hair was wild looking and still damp. Her glance traveled to the shoulders that spoke of power. Her long legs were chiseled muscles that promised stamina and strength. The thoughtful green eyes looked up at the cold blue eyes that could scare even the hound of Hades. She smiled in appreciation of the warrior that was before her.

"I am Alex."

The look in the cool blue eyes told her that this was not making any impression.

"I need a champion." She said, changing tactics.

Xena raised an eyebrow and waited.

"Yes, a champion." The green eyes twinkled as Gabrielle's would.

"Do you have to..."

"Oh, you wish for another?" Quickly the form changed to Callisto. Xena's sword was out before even a heart beat could complete its thump. "Oh." Quickly the form changed into another image and the images quickly changed with people from Xena's past and present.

"Stop!" Xena growled.

The changing form stopped at her mother's image.

"Why can't you just appear as yourself." Xena demanded.

"I have no image."

Xena's patience was beginning to reach the intolerable level.

"What are you?"

"Nothing now." The shaped changed back to the young woman who resembled Gabrielle.

"All right!" Xena snarled her patience at an end.

"I was once...well, not quite like you,... I mean..."

"Never mind that!" Xena impatiently interrupted. "So what is this all about? Why do you need a champion and for what?"

"Then you will be my champion!" The little voice shouted happily clapping her hands just as a delighted child would.

"Will you just get to the point!" Xena's voice was low, doing her dangerous warlord imitation that usually had men of sound mind feel otherwise.

The girl smiled for a moment and seemed to be listening for something.

"What do you want to know?" And the form changed again, this time to that of an old woman.

"Can you stop changing forms and just stick to one? Like this one. It's fine." Xena grumbled darkly.

The old face looked at her with eyes that were faded gray. As Xena looked into her eyes she suddenly felt herself being pulled in. She stepped back and averted her eyes.

"By the River Styx, you'll be meeting with Charon, with an obol shoved where the sun doesn't shine if you continue with this game!" Xena had taken a swish at the figure with her sword point, not expecting to do any damage but her energy was explosive and the form did recede back.

The old face smiled as the tall warrior flexed her will and muscles. She was strong! She could feel the passion and fire that could be used if she needed it. Ares had certainly put his mark on her, however, she could feel another influence that was greater, and a mere mortal caused that. Her smile widened. Yes, she was indeed perfect. Xena and Gabrielle had come highly recommended for this task.

The old woman blinked her eyes a few times and Xena's eyes were caught up in them. She bent forward as if pulled by a magnet to stare into the old woman's eyes. Again she averted her eyes and stared instead into the jewel that was above the old woman's forehead, and was captured by its sparkle. Her mind became stilled.

"That's better, my mighty warrior. You have been chosen to be our tall and beautiful champion. You will do just fine." She cooed softly. "Now we need your other half and then we will be ready to get down to business."

Far away Xena could hear what she was saying. She tried struggling to break the hold but whatever held her was not even touched by her struggle. She felt as if she was looking at herself from far away. It was discomforting to see her bending painfully low to look into the eyes of a figure that was about up to her knee. Was the figure a dwarf? No the hands weren't large, nor were there any similarities except height.

Then there was a peaceful blackness that descended on her mind.

Chapter 2


It was a three-day journey from the cross-roads, where Xena parted company with her, to the Amazon Village on foot. At first the five Amazon warriors and the two young girls who were to compete in the ceremony, had been uncomfortable traveling with her and only saw her as their Queen. However...Gabrielle grinned to only took two stories to put them at ease. The second story was an amusing story of Hercules and his experience with a pig who wished to see what it was like to be human. Ilonius had told her that one. Naturally she embellished it a bit to add her own mark to it.

Gabrielle used their two nights around a campfire to learn about them and what was happening in the Amazon Nation she was responsible in large part for. She made mental notes on what was said and not said, who they liked, what they didn't like and other things that she found useful in gauging the atmosphere of the Village. Ephiny, her Regent, did not have it easy with the various factions that attempted to have things run their way. By the stories the women told her, Ephiny was doing well, though a few did not particularly like Ephiny's methods, but they did respect her and to Gabrielle that was a good indication that the Amazon's were doing well under Ephiny's guidance.

On the third day, about mid morning they had arrived at the Village and to Gabrielle's relief Ephiny had a warm tub of water waiting for her with food, a massage and information to bring her up on what was happening along their borders and on internal management. Gabrielle wanted to tire herself out by nightfall so she would be too mentally tired to miss Xena's presence. However, the nighttime did not bode well for the Queen, for a glance at the large soft empty bed was her undoing. Instead of sleeping she took a walk around the Amazon's village following the pale path around the outer parameter.

Gabrielle took a deep breath of the night air. She could smell the rain in the cold breeze that fluttered the cloak she had pulled around her form. She needed physical exercise and right now pounding someone with her staff wasn't what she was looking for. Besides, it would wake up the others. She sighed as she looked up at the moon that was nearly gone. They had missed the Harvest Festival, for they had spent it elsewhere but the celebration three weeks after Gabrielle was rue to miss. The initiation, welcoming in the new warriors, would be on the new moon when it was completely dark. That was a week and a half away. Hopefully Xena would be back by then, though Xena had doubted it. But, Xena liked to surprise her with the unexpected. Gabrielle was hoping and fervently wishing, this was going to be one of those times.

Gabrielle knew her partner felt uncomfortable being present for something that was personal to the Amazon Clan. The initiations were an integral part of the social structure and visitors were permitted to only view the contests and not the final moment when those that had shown the aptitude and skills to be a warrior received their masks. On their previous visit, Xena had gone hunting and Gabrielle had been distracted from her duties as she wished she had not gone from her side. It was rather ridiculous considering she was gone for only a day.

Gabrielle looked up at the stars between the gray cloud shadows that were moving across the night sky. The glittering canopy of stars reminded her of nights when Xena and her would gaze at the stars and entertain each other with what shapes each one found in them. An ache started to curl around her heart as she thought about the comforting arms that she was so use to and weren't here. The thought of returning to an empty bed was too upsetting right now. She continued with her walk aware of her guard that followed at a safe but discrete distance. If her guard had a hard time staying awake she wouldn't now, she thought with a wan smile. Gabrielle had taken two walks around the compound and would have taken more if she hadn't heard the steps stumble a few too many times behind her.

Back in her quarters, Gabrielle prepared for bed. Why was she missing her so much? They spent days apart and even a few times they had been apart for a week and Gabrielle had always found something to do that kept her mentally occupied. Why is this different? Maybe it's because of the young Queen they had heard rumors about. Was she jealous? Gabrielle sighed. This was silly. She was very sure of Xena's feelings for her, so why did she feel so lonely? As she lay on her side squeezing the extra pillow close to her, she let her tears fall thinking of her missing love. Suddenly she felt a warm presence around her and small pressure on her neck as if lips were pressed against her skin. She stifled a gasp as she felt a tingle that traveled down her body. She turned quickly to stare only at darkness. Xena? It had to be! How did she do that? Oh, Warrior of many skills, broadening her abilities, is she? She lay on her back and closed her eyes. Two can play this game. She imagined Xena in her leathers standing in front of an open window looking out wondering what her bard was doing. The form that appeared before her was Xena in a black silky shift. Gabrielle stepped back and nodded. "Well, that's a nice touch."

She then imagined herself standing behind her with her hands around her waist and body pressed against her, her head nestled comfortably between her shoulder blades. She felt Xena respond by leaning into her. Good thing it wasn't with all her weight or Gabrielle would have fallen over with her tall tree tightly clasped close to her heart. Gabrielle ran her hands down Xena's body slowly, feeling the softness of the thin material and the curves of the muscles beneath the fabric. When she reached the muscular bare legs she caught her breath. Xena's legs tightened from the contact of her hands on her bare skin. She could feel a ripple under hands as her lover's muscles trembled.

"Come to bed, my love." Gabrielle whispered. Xena moved her head slightly as if hearing it. Sighing, Xena walked dreamlike to the bed. Her body was breathtaking in the night's light. Xena fell into bed.

"Oh, sweet Love. You look so tired. I'll give you a massage to help you sleep." She whispered as she watched Xena roll onto her back. Xena stared up at the ceiling taut with tension.

"Xena turn over on your back!" Gabrielle instructed impatiently. This dream image was not being all too cooperative, Gabrielle thought disappointedly. She would have to improvise. If Xena was going to stare at the ceiling...well...she was just going to have to give her a front massage. An impish grin appeared on Gabrielle face as she lay on her back in her own bed far away.

She imaged her naked body straddling Xena at her hips. She could feel the heat from Xena as her own hot spot that was moist enough with desire to soak through Xena's shift. It left a wet spot on Xena's stomach. She felt Xena's sharp intake of breath as if she could feel the wetness. Gabrielle leaned over her and kissed her forehead then her eyes to close them.

"Close your eyes, Love. Just relax." She whispered as she seductively ran her tongue around Xena's ear lobe then sucked on it. She could feel Xena under her move, as she became aroused. Gabrielle nipped her ear and worked her way to her neck and felt a shot of warm liquid fire flow out of her and onto Xena's body. Xena groaned as she tried to turn away.

"Oh, no my Love. I want to play this out. I want you to feel me, hear me, know that I am here with you." She whispered in the other ear. She stuck her tongue in her ear and teased her ear for a while. Xena hated to have Gabrielle put her tongue in her ear as it tickled her. Gabrielle felt another thrill as Xena's body continued to move beneath her.

"Gabrielle!" She whispered desperately to her lover wherever she was. "Please, stop!"

"Please, stop, Lover? Do you really want me to stop?" She whispered wickedly as she planted kisses down her throat and continued down her cleavage. She buried her face for a moment between her breasts breathing in the smell of her body.

It was amazing that even though she was wearing a shift, Gabrielle could feel her skin as if she was really touching it! And it was so blissful! She paused at Xena's breasts whose nipples were hard and standing out under the material. Gabrielle took one in her mouth and the other she caressed between her fingers. She squeezed the nipple until Xena let out a hiss of air and arched her back at the pleasure that shot through her.

"Do you really want me to stop?" Gabrielle's lips moved near the nipple she teased with her tongue. She returned to nipple and sucked on it a little more then started to leave a trail of kisses as she moved to a place where she knew would be hot, swollen and wanting her.

Xena groaned and rolled her head on the bed as she felt a hot passion burn her swollen lips. She wanted so badly to feel Gabrielle's lips on her soaking mound, she thought she was going to scream. She could feel kisses move down her body setting fires that radiated throughout her. Xena pulled a pillow from behind her head and put it over her face as she groaned into it. The lips and tongue slipped into her grove and found the swollen nub that was throbbing so hard Xena thought it would hurt if she herself did not touch it to relieve the pressure. But Gabrielle wanted to finish what she had started. She imagined her hand sliding over Xena's thigh loving the wonderful feel of the hard muscles that were tight from the strain. She massaged her thighs with her hands, pulling them further apart, as she brought her mouth back to Xena's wet center and almost wept from the pleasure of being able to taste the sweet nectar. The feel of tension from the bulb that was throbbing under her tongue sent pleasure shivers down to her own hot swollen lips. She slid two fingers into Xena and felt the woman raise her hips from the bed in excitement. With her free hand she pushed her body back down gently and began an assault on her lover's pleasure points with her tongue and fingers. She could hear Xena's muffled moans behind the pillow as her hips moved to the rhythm that Gabrielle set. It was even more amazing that she could stroke her faster in this dream than in real time. She felt Xena's body rise from the bed as her climax overcame her and she screamed her name into the pillow.

Gabrielle was going to bring her body to rest on top of Xena but she could feel herself being pulled quickly back to her own bed.

"No!" She shouted as she tried to recapture the moment.

"Queen Gabrielle, are you okay?" A voice from the other side of her door called concerned. The door opened and her guard stood in the room looking around quickly to make sure her Queen was alone.

"Yes." She managed to get out. "I...was just having a dream. Sorry I scared you." She tried to control her panting as her heart continued to beat wildly.

The Guard knew as the others that their Queen suffered from nightmares and was sorry that Xena, her Champion, wasn't around to keep them away.

"Would you like me to stay a while until you fall back to sleep?" She asked hesitantly.

"No. No. I'm all right. Thank you for the offer." She attempted to suppress a giggle, thinking of how word would spread if another woman spent the night with her. Xena would certainly find that interesting especially after what just occurred!

The Guard nodded wondering what she had said that caused that reaction. Sighing Gabrielle closed her eyes and tried to reconnect with Xena.

"Have mercy on her. Let her get some sleep." Startled, Gabrielle sat up suddenly looking around her for the source of the voice. Nothing. Tiredly she sank her head back into the pillow.

The next morning Gabrielle was tired but she had a smile on her face as she was thinking about visiting with Xena again that night. Throughout the day many noticed the small smile on her face as she moved through her duties as their Queen. Ephiny was pleased that it was a smile and not the unhappy face she had seen when she arrived. Through out the day Gabrielle stopped to watch the young contestants between her reviewing Ephiny's plans for expansion of their present village. More young women and older women with usable skills were asking for membership both for protection and comradely. Ephiny was saying that they needed more warriors to protect their borders and rights to exist as a sovereign nation and the younger women were proving to be up to the challenge.

That night Gabrielle was soaking in a tub wondering what treat she could give Xena when she felt familiar fingers kneading the knots out of her shoulders. "Hmm, Xena. You know what I wassss..." Gabrielle's feet would have slid out from under her if she had not gripped the edge of the tub. Slowly she looked around her and noted that there was no one there. A nervous giggle started to escape her lips so she clamped her hands over her mouth to try to muffle it.

Two are playing the game, she thought with merriment. Okay, she would relax and see what Xena had in mind for her. But the hands did not return. Disappointedly, as the water was getting cold, Gabrielle got out of the tub and dried herself. She was tired from the day's activities and loss of sleep from the night before. Her eyes closed as soon as her head hit the pillow. She dreamed of the same room she had seen Xena in the night before but there was no Xena. Her belongings were there. The bedroll was neatly sitting on top of a chest with her saddle packs. Gabrielle idly stood in the window that Xena had been standing in the previous night, wondering where her love was when she heard the commotion below. She heard Xena's short retort to another. She couldn't hear what was being said. Minutes later she could see Xena practicing her sword drills, moving in a blur, as she usually did. The few torches that were lit made her figure more menacing appearing than it would in the early morning light. She was going to be up for quite a while. Gabrielle would have liked to stay to watch but her eyes were closing in her dream figure, and she was whisked back to her own bed and dreamed of other things.

Soft nibbles on her neck brought her awake the next morning. She could feel a weight on her side as if Xena was lying across her and nuzzling her to get her up. Gabrielle waved her arms in the empty air laughing softly at the feeling she was getting from the wake up call. It was when she realized that Xena was not with her that she sat up wide-awake. It was raining outside and she could hear the splashing of a runner as she went by trying to keep her balance in what was turning into mud. Gabrielle rolled over on her side and tried to recapture the feeling of Xena near her. She gave up when she heard others laughing outside of her door. It must be late if so many people were up. Resigned she did get up and start another day without Xena's presence.

That night Gabrielle didn't even have a chance to think about what she would like to do to Xena in her imagination for as soon as she laid on her back she could feel familiar hands stroking her face tenderly. Gabrielle closed her eyes as she felt tears gather. As they trickled down the side of her face she felt caressing fingers wipe them away. Soft lips touched her eyelids, which brought a warm feeling inside her as the kisses moved to her mouth. She felt the passion and longing in the kiss as she opened her mouth to her shadowy lover. She moved to wrap her arms around herself but she felt hands grab her wrists and pin her arms above her head. She felt a weight on her as kisses that started on her neck moved along her collar bone and then to her breasts. Her wrists were moved to one hand while she felt the other hand cup a breast pinching the nipple, while a tongue played with the other nipple.

"Hmm." Gabrielle groaned. "Harder." She whispered hoarsely.

The lips sucked and bit harder on her nipple as she tried not to cry out from the pleasure that shot straight down to her quickly dampening mound. There is a definite disadvantage to this, she thought with dismay. It was like their relationship before they finally admitted to each other that they wanted more than a friendship. All those lustful dreams with only her own hand to satisfy her instead of the mouth, lips, fingers and whatever else the one who the dreams were of, were enough to make a grown woman cry, which she had on many occasions. She had forgotten how frustrating that was until now. She was going to have to put less of the erotic twist and more of the hugging type into these dreams, but for now...

Her hips rose from the bed as she felt a tongue move over her swollen lips and into her wet center then the rolling around with a pause to suck on her hardened nub. She put a pillow over her face and muffled the groans that escaped from her mouth as she rode the wave of passion to a climax. She lay panting and shuddering from the aftermath, wishing for the comforting arms that normally held her at this time.

This is not going to do us any good, she thought exhausted as she rolled over hugging the pillow. She struggled to keep her thoughts on other things as an image of Xena lying in a tub came to her mind. She had her head back and was gripping the edge of the tub with a grim smile on her face. The vision ended.

The next morning, Gabrielle was not in a good mood. The rain had stopped and the sun was actually out, though it wasn't warm. She was eating breakfast trying to figure out why she was so irritable when she felt the beginning of cramps. "Oh, oh." Since she had been working out more and walking long distances regularly, she was finding she was missing her regular moon times and happily they didn't last very long when she did have them. She wasn't quite like Xena who could miss up to four months and bleed for a few days without any symptoms. Well, this certainly explained her low mood for the last few days, Gabrielle thought. She certainly could use Xena and her tea as well as the massages that relieved the cramps.

She had returned to her room and took the needed precautions. She was straightening up when she heard a rap on her door.

"Enter!" She called, laying down her pack on the floor near the bed.

One of the guards from the temple entered.

She bowed respectfully to Queen Gabrielle. "The Priestess Antiope has requested your presence. It is urgent."

Gabrielle frowned. Something to do with the initiation no doubt. Hopefully it wasn't going to be something that required a whole lot of energy from her for she was really tired. Just the thought of being tired brought an image of Xena. Her warm blue eyes were looking directly at her, then the image was gone. Well, it was better than the other images, she thought smiling. She laughed to herself. At one time, before they had become physical lovers, she drove herself nearly crazy with erotic thoughts of Xena. She certainly learned a lot about her body during that time, she smirked. But then, Xena taught her a lot more, she giggled. Now that they were lovers, she didn't feel they needed to drive each other crazy when they were parted but here they were like new lovers. Hopefully it won't be every night, or she knew for sure she would get on a horse and hunt Xena down with a passionate vengeance. She would have to make sure when she caught her it was in a very private grotto where...Gabrielle shook her head. Nighttime was enough to be filled with such distracting thoughts. She didn't need to drag them into daytime. She hid a sudden smile at the thought of day dreaming the image of Xena biting her neck while she was talking to Ephiny on some boring business matter. Gabrielle had to look around to distract herself from continuing on with such thoughts. Her guards noted that their Queen was amused by something, though each had their own ideas on what.

Gabrielle glanced around the open compound and noted that the young soon-to-be warriors were already on their third round of competitions, as the green waving flags above the ring indicated. She watched as they moved around each other with cautious steps as the footing was getting to be unstable in the well worked mud. She smiled, as she remembered the last time Xena and her had seen the competitions in the mud. Gabrielle had been asked to preside over the trials and it was a wonderful respite from their travels during that autumn. Her smile deepened as she thought about the mud fight that was a great release, though Xena managed to disappear just when she had a good shot at her. It seemed that warriors made it a practice to train in all kinds of weather conditions and the Amazons used the autumn's usual muddied conditions to see how the new warriors handled themselves.

Gabrielle followed the guard through the temple door, with her own trailing after them.

"Queen Gabrielle." A soft voice from the small alcove greeted her. "We are over here." She changed her direction. Antiope was not alone for Ephiny, Eponin and Sepha were there too and all with worried expressions on their faces.

"Oh, oh. Someone must have really did something against tradition, and since Xena's not here..." She was thinking.

Gabrielle had not been in this part of the Temple before. As Queen, she usually was in the front or at the entrance.

They were gathered around a seer's dish. It was like a bird bath that came waist high, only it was made of polished obsidian. Gabrielle felt the hairs raising on the back of her neck.

"What's going on?" She asked frowning.

"Come see." The high priestesses soft voice encouraged her.

Gabrielle could feel the tension in the three that were surrounding the dish. She was not going to step up there. Something was definitely not right. And it was in Artemis' Temple! She thought distractedly, for a golden light from one of the window openings reflected behind Antiope's head.

"Oh, oh. Looks like some kind of show is about to begin." A voice softly spoke near her ear.

Gabrielle spun around to see whose voice was near her ear.

Suddenly the others started talking.

"By the goddess!"

"What's going on?" Demanded their young Queen.

"That's what we wanted to ask you." Priestess Antiope spoke quietly making a sign in the air as if to ward off something they had all felt.

"I wouldn't be asking you if I knew." Gabrielle returned sharply. She quickly put up her hand in apology. "Sorry. I seem to be sharp tongued this morning."

The Priestess nodded to her. "It comes with moon-time." She said off-handedly.

Now how did she know she was on her moon time? Argo was usually the only one besides her that knew when she was on her moon time, but animals were sensitive to that. She smirked. It certainly helped so that when she was crabby Xena figured it out by watching Argo make her funny faces when Gabrielle was around her. Then Xena simply mixed her an herbal tea that eased her cramps, her disposition and usually gave her more energy. She suppressed the sigh as she again wished for Xena's presence.

"So, what are you seeing in the Seer's Dish?" Gabrielle asked directly.

"An unknown disturbance that is reaching out...toward you." The Priestess Antiope informed her in her soft voice.

Gabrielle thought about it for a moment. She was new to this connection she was having with Xena so she was wondering if that had anything to do with it.

"When did you notice it?"

"On your first night here."

Whoops. Gabrielle thought to herself guiltily. Her face flushed as she thought about what it could be.

"What?" Ephiny asked watching her young Queen's face.

"Well, it's like this..." She explained to the others the link she had with Xena but she left out just what the content of the connection was about.

The Priestess frowned. She knew the feel of Xena. As most Seers she could feel the presence of a person as to whether they were bad news or otherwise. She felt an unrecognizable power in Xena, but not evil, which some of the Amazon's would disagree with. Then there was the fact that Artemis also liked Xena after she had reopened the door for her Amazons to pass through into her afterworld, even though she had been responsible for it being closed. And most certainly if there were any danger to their Queen, for Queen Gabrielle was very dear to Artemis, the Amazon's patron, she would have made it known to the Priestess. She was going to have to keep an eye on this energy. She sighed inwardly.

"If the content changes to something that you think we need to know about," Eponin gave Gabrielle a wink, "let us know."

Gabrielle's face flushed. Now how did she know what the content was? Well, there goes her secret, Gabrielle thought.

Gabrielle nodded to the others and left the Temple to catch up on the work that Ephiny left for her to go over. She needed to know what had transpired since her last visit, after all she was their Queen, though sometimes, she thought guiltily, an errant one.

At various times the Amazon Queen would go out and watch the contestants, cheering good hits and groaning when one would land in the mud, favoring no one, then return back to her arduous scroll work.

As the week progressed the dreams continued, occurring sometimes in the early morning and sometimes at night. By the eighth day Gabrielle was determined to talk to Xena about this link. It was driving her crazy. That was something she never thought she would say about her lustful dreams of Xena. Maybe it was because it reminded her too much of the painful relationship they had before they first dared to touch each other as lovers. She shook her head. It wasn't painful, just uncomfortable, she corrected herself. To be driven crazy with want and to be so close to having it, but fearful of losing everything was a very exhausting existence. They were past that part of their relationship, thank Aphrodite!

A voice clearing next to her caused her heart to leap. She had been reading droll reports on trade goods.

"I said, your Majesty, would you like to have a massage? You are so darn up tight!"

Gabrielle blushed. Her shoulders were tight.

"I do seem to be..."

"Frustrated! Maybe you two should stop this long distance communication of yours." Ephiny suggested softly and wisely.

"I wish I could. They just come unbidden." Gabrielle admitted tiredly.

"Is this Xena's doing?" She asked hesitantly.

"I don't know. It seems so unlike her. She doesn't like distractions when she's doing her warrior princess thing." Or maybe Gabrielle didn't really know her. What was she thinking when Gabrielle was walking ahead of her or behind her on the trail? And what was going on in her mind when Gabrielle sometimes rode up on Argo with her? Gabrielle blushed again when she thought of what she was usually thinking.

The two women headed to the hot spring that was across one of the muddiest paths in the village.

As Ephiny gave Gabrielle a much needed shoulder massage they discussed the dreams without going into detail. Gabrielle admitted that they were not just lustful but were composed of things that they had not done before. It was quite surprising some of the things that Xena was excited by and for that matter, herself. If anything else, it was a great lesson in the diversity of sex games Xena came up with and with what Gabrielle remembered from a document she had studied in Sappho's library. Gabrielle chuckled when she remembered that Xena had caught her studying the positions and descriptions of things she thought she would never have thought possible. It was before they became lovers and it certainly added variety to her fantasies about Xena. Gabrielle blushed again as she remembered her fantasy of tying Xena to...Oh..oh. Don't go there, Gabrielle! she told herself firmly, remembering it didn't take much for the dreams images to become quite vivid.

"You mean, some of these trysts you are imagining you've never seen before?" Ephiny laughed amused at the changes she witnessed each visit their Queen made back to their Village. Gabrielle, had a face and manner that seemed to be naïve yet had seen more than she had in her longer life, and cared to see, for that matter. And now this sexual connection with her mate that was causing her loss of sleep and peace of mind. It was certainly a different side of her young Queen.

"Well, let me put it this way, Sappho has a scroll in her library on various techniques and positions in love making and some of the stuff I've been imagining I can't remember being in there. I am surprising, no shocking, myself in my inventiveness." Gabrielle blushed with the confession. She shook her head.

"It's not like I think of myself as sexually naïve, it's just that..." She let the air of her lungs and just looked out over the tall trees surrounding the village.

Ephiny decided she would have to visit the library herself and see what made the young Amazon Queen blush so furiously. Gabrielle was scheduled to return in the Spring for the Festival welcoming in the new life. It would be a good time for her to make that trip hopefully with someone she had been thinking of a lot lately. She wondered if Xena would stay the three weeks. She could always visit her own home town a few days from here.

"The most painful part of this," Gabrielle went on, "is that that I don't want to do this in dreams. Goddess! I want her here! I want the real thing!" She let out explosively in frustration. Then she smiled embarrassed at Ephiny. "Some of those fantasies can stay as fantasies but...I am going crazy with these dreams."

Ephiny nodded and made up her mind to have another talk with the Priestess Antiope.

The cloud that was over the village finally let a light drizzle fall on the two in the warm water.

"Let's get out of here before it really starts to rain. I don't fancy running back through mud puddles after a nice warm soak." Ephiny told her.

"Me neither." Sighed Gabrielle. She pulled herself out of the pool and dried herself off under the covered area adjacent to the pool. Her own guard and Eponin were in deep conversation about the quality of new warriors that were demonstrating their competency and skills. Other Amazon villages had sent some of their young women to compete and their mentors had demonstrated in the mud wrestling that they were to be respected. It was a friendly but serious rivalry between different Amazon Nations.

Chapter 3

A Decision Is Made

Gabrielle didn't want to go to sleep. It had been eleven days and nights now and she didn't want any more dreams that drove her crazy with desire and where she could not touch Xena and have Xena touch her in the physical. The erotic content was getting more ardent as if the dark passion that sometimes overtook Xena was all that was being tapped now. Gabrielle was excited by the occasional roughness, but she also liked the tender moments too and those were no longer occurring. She laid her head on the table where she was writing a new story to try to keep her mind off Xena. This was to be about the Amazons and Ephiny, as their Queen. That should raise a few eyebrows, she giggled softly.

"Hmm. Let's see. I could tell the story of Ephiny's..." Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes. She felt Xena's presence. She could feel her worry about...she was pacing. She too didn't want to go to sleep. Gabrielle couldn't help herself as she felt herself drawn to the tired pacing figure.

"Xena, I'm so sorry. I don't know what it is but..." Xena paused in her pacing and glanced over to the bed. Instead of the bed she pulled her bedroll out and lay tiredly on the hard floor. Gabrielle could feel the now very familiar feeling creep up her.

"No!" She groaned as she struggled to pull herself back. "Nooooo!" She could feel the hot flash that threatened to send waves of fire to her hardening bud. It was now a nightly routine.

Gabrielle was gripping the sides of the table as she resisted. She could feel Xena struggling also but she didn't want to think of her, but as much as she tried she could not think of anything else but her desire for the tall muscular dark haired woman until....she felt the sting of a slap across her face.

Gabrielle's eyes flew open as the shock from the slap distracted her. Ephiny, Eponin and Priestess Antiope were standing before her with worried looks. The Priestess withdrew her hand.

"Your Majesty." She quietly spoke.

"Gads!" Gabrielle choked. Her breathing and heart beat returned to a normal rhythm.

"We've got to talk." Ephiny told her seriously. "First off, I want to confess that I sent a messenger out to another Temple of Artemis at the Priestess Antiope's suggestion without your knowledge. This was the same day we first talked of these...feelings or dreams of yours. I also sent another runner to Lesbos to find out if Sappho knew anything of this type of link. It's sort of down her alley." Ephiny remarked dryly.

Gabrielle waved her hand tiredly. "What did you find out?" She whispered tiredly.

Gabrielle then gestured to the chairs suddenly remembering they would not sit unless she invited them. As the women settled in another Amazon came in with steaming tea and food.

Just what I need, Gabrielle thought gratefully. She hadn't been eating very much lately and nibbling on something right now sounded good.

"The runner came back a few hours ago from the Temple of Artemis." The Priestess Antiope reported. "It took me a while to read what was written on the parchment, and to look up some of the symbols that were mentioned." She looked closely at Gabrielle. "I wanted to be sure what I was reading was what I understood it to mean."

"Well? Let's have it." Gabrielle said quietly, not really knowing what she should prepare for.

Ephiny sighed and shook her head at the Priestess. "It seems, as the story goes, that every thirty years at the new moon, a pair of lovers is selected to challenge a curse that was placed on another young couple that had gotten on the wrong side of one of the Gods of that time. It doesn't say which one, unfortunately, or we could just petition for the curse to be lifted for the couple. Anyway, the curse obviously hasn't been broken because," Ephiny took a deep breath, "we think you and Xena have been chosen to be the next couple."

Gabrielle looked from one face to the other. "Chosen? How do you know this?"

"The Temple of Artemis in Heliotrope has a diary of one of their young guards and her lover whose sudden heated passions had everyone talking. They disappeared and left behind the diary explaining about taking up a challenge willingly for a young couple that had angered a guardian of a forest in parts unknown. Sounds like Pan's mischief, but the diary does not mention Pan." The Priestess continued.

"What has all these dreams to do with it?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously.

"Well, passion does have its own energy and source of power." The Priestess Antiope explained. "Add love to it and you have a power that is strong enough to break a curse."

"So...what now?" Gabrielle asked, thinking in the back of her mind what their love for each other had done for both of them. Yea, she could easily believe that the power of love was very strong. Stronger than death.

Eponin pulled out a map. They were prepared.

Ephiny pointed to a small mark on the map. "This is where Priestess Antiope feels the energy is originating from."

"It's not from Xena?"

"Oh, it's from her alright!" The Priestess Antiope laughed. "And from you, but the power that is linking and priming you two is coming from here somewhere." Her cupped hand circled a small area on the map.

"If my guess is right," Ephiny looked into Gabrielle's eyes. "Xena is feeling the pull to go here."

"Why Xena?"

"I don't know, but one of the messengers said she had seen Xena boarding a Merchant ship with her horse heading toward this area. Granted, it would cut days off her trip here, but my bag of dinars is on that she is going here." Eponin pointed.

It was near the spot on the map the Priestess had pointed to. "So, I will need to get started," Gabrielle stated matter-of-factly, "in the morning."

"Well, you and a few Warriors." Ephiny held up her hands to stop Gabrielle's refusal.

"It's only to make sure you get there. Areita told me of the bandits that attacked you on your way here. That road is usually not a problem. Need I go on about your penchant for drawing trouble?"

After getting a pained expression from Gabrielle she went on. "I've made some inquires and two of the Warriors are familiar with the general area. They came from a small fishing village about a day's ride from there."

"I don't suppose you have any clue as to what the challenge is?"

The three shook their heads. "Whatever it is, the others had failed."

"How long has this curse been going on?" Gabrielle asked nervously.

"It's only mentioned twice. But you know how libraries are always one of the first things burned down when one warlord conquers another. I haven't received word back from Sappho yet. She may have something in her library since this is grist for her poems and stories."

"Amber and Constance are from the village and Tiera is familiar with the shortcuts there." Eponin informed Gabrielle. "They will be ready early dawn."

"Shortcuts?" Gabrielle asked. It suddenly dawned on her that if this happens on a regular basis then there must be a specific time when the challenge is taken up. This intrigued her romantic and story telling nature, and realized that symbolically it would have to take place at the new moon, a few days away.

"At the new moon is our estimate." The Priestess Antiope told her.

Gabrielle had a sinking feeling it was going to involve riding horses at a very fast clip. She didn't particularly like riding horses unless....ah ah ah. Don't go there Gabrielle, she told herself as she glanced away to regain her composure. Thoughts of her riding in front of Xena threatened to overwhelm her.

"Let's do it!" She spoke huskily.

The others nodded. Ephiny glanced at her from the doorway, as she was the last to leave. "I could ask the healer to give you a tea that will prevent you from dreaming."

"Ah! The possibility of a quiet night!" Gabrielle's eyes flashed. Then she shook her head. "If this is part of the link, I would rather not interfere with it when I don't know what it will do."

Ephiny nodded. "I knew that you would want to help."

Gabrielle laughed. "I don't really know how not to. It's such a strong...desire. It...defies explaining." She muttered. And she had a way with words!

Ephiny nodded again. "That's what the diary said, the women never questioned whether or not they would take up the challenge. They just left."

"I wish whoever is calling us would just appear and ask and not add!"

"Maybe, like Priestess Antiope was saying, they need to prime you to raise your energy before drawing from it."

"Great!" Gabrielle muttered as she walked over to the covered window and pulled up the flap impatiently. She didn't hear Ephiny leave as she became focused on the familiar feeling that started to makes it way back to her consciousness. Closing her eyes she breathed in deeply the night air that was damp from the light falling rain.

Without flinching Gabrielle let the fire of carnal passion surge through her body. She bowed her head as she felt the pounding in her body that left her legs weak. She slid to the floor silently leaning against the wall for support.

The memory started with the events that lead up to her riding in front of Xena on Argo. On this particular occasion it was a nice sunny day with fingers of the morning sun filtering through the forest's canopy of spring greenery. Gabrielle had spent a terrible night miserable with jealously over a misunderstanding. Gabrielle was still adjusting to their new physical relationship and when someone else touched her usually unapproachable lover, she saw red. Gabrielle had tasted her first jealous experience that sprung up from an innocent -- hmmm.

"It wasn't that innocent looking." Gabrielle muttered to Xena.

"But it was an innocent touch," the blue eyes smiled at her steadily, " and it's a compliment that you...ahhh...thought everyone was after my body at the party." Xena had told her the next morning as Gabrielle had finally relented and admitted to Xena who had been trying to find out why she was so...upset, what she had thought she had seen. She had jumped to conclusions. By morning, after tossing and turning for most of the night, to where Xena had finally given her the entire bed, Gabrielle had realized that she should trust Xena more since she had never known her to deceive her...hmmm...well, not on personal matters anyway.

They had lost a day since Gabrielle wanted to make up to Xena and now .... Xena wanted to make up for the lost time in traveling. She had coaxed Gabrielle to ride up on Argo's tall broad back.

Xena's strong arm pulled her up easily behind her. Gabrielle was fine in the back until she started to doze and the scabbard's hard leather ties kept poking her awake as her cheek rested on swords leather cover.

"Xena, this is not going to work." She mumbled irritably.

"What?" Xena asked, her voice sounding from far off.

'She must be dreaming of galloping across open fields or beating up bad warlords,' Gabrielle thought. "I said, I would rather walk. I'm going to get a nice big bruise on my face from your scabbard."

Xena glanced back to look at her Bard. Blue eyes were distant when they first set on Gabrielle's puffy face, probably from lack of sleep, but her eyebrows rose and her eyes suddenly focused on Gabrielle's face.

"You do have the beginnings of a bruise under your cheek." She murmured concerned. "But you don't have to walk. We really need to make it to the next village before nightfall. You can sit up front instead and I'll hold you so you don't fall when you catch up on your beauty sleep." She chuckled.

In a nice practiced move she pivoted in her saddle wrapping one arm around Gabrielle's waist and turning she pulled her from her back position to the front. Gabrielle moved her legs over the horse's snorting head to avoid kicking Argo in the ear.

"Better?" Xena asked in a low voice as she kissed Gabrielle's head.

"Well, it's a different view." Gabrielle admitted as she shifted around for a more comfortable position between the pommel of the saddle and Xena's body. Her legs were just about as stretched out here as in the back, but now she had the pommel rubbing up against her...Oh, oh. Aphrodite's flower! . Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

"Are you comfortable?" Xena's voice was amused, sitting firmly and unyielding in her place as her passenger tried to squirm her way into comfort. The feel of the wiggling body against hers started a warm rush though the warrior's body. She smiled to herself wondering if the rise in the saddle at the base of the pommel was the source of Gabrielle's moving around.

"Yea...fine." This is going to be...interesting, she thought as she subtly pushed herself up closer to the Warrior's body and off the rise in the saddle. She shivered with pleasure as she felt the hard metal dig into her back and the arm tightened around her waist. With her legs parted wide against the base of the pommel she closed her eyes as a delicious sensual haze settled around her.

Xena guided Argo with her knees as both her arms encircled Gabrielle's waist savoring the feelings that were rolling off the woman in her embrace.

Gabrielle was aware of the feel of her bare legs brushing against Xena's. The hairs on the back of her neck rose and her eyes fluttered as her breath deepened from the heightened awareness of the body she was sharing space with.

Gabrielle felt the muscles in Xena's thighs flex slightly as she signaled Argo into her smooth rocking canter. Her own body relaxed into the gait as she felt the rubbing of the metal swirls against her back and the pressure from the pommel in the front. She moved her hands to rest on Xena's thighs behind her, feeling the play of muscles under her fingertips as they moved with Argo rocking gait. It was erotic and it sent shivers through her body.

Xena moved one hand down Gabrielle's stomach and between her legs letting the saddle that had been moving against the bard push her hand up tight against the damp mound. Her other hand reached up to Gabrielle's linen top caressing a hardened nipple that was begging to be touched. Her lips nuzzled Gabrielle's exposed neck as she bowed her head with a groan. Gabrielle gasped as the long strong fingers slid between the fabric of her under pants and into her molten center. She groaned as she rocked with Argo's gait on the fingers that were inside of her, bringing pleasure. Xena's tongue played with her ear then lips went back to her neck sucking then biting their way to her shoulders. The groan that escaped someone's throat excited both women. Between the movement in the saddle and Xena's hand and lips ministrations Gabrielle was ready to pull Argo off the trail and find a nice quiet place to throw Xena down and tear her armor and leathers off...but, she didn't.

After Gabrielle had groaned and bucked against the fingers she impaled herself onto, shuddering through enough climaxes to have her begging Xena to stop, she leaned against the comforting body relaxed but exhausted.

When they had reached the village Xena was in a hurry to reach for the night, Gabrielle made sure she returned the delicious torture she endured on Argo's back in the hot tub before they retired for the night.

As the last of the memory faded Gabrielle was trembling. Taking a deep breath, she picked herself up from the floor and tiredly dropped herself into bed. If there were to be anymore dreams, she probably would not wake up for she was not just tired but weary! At least this one was based on an actual happening. One of the rare times Xena took her attention off what was happening around them while on the road.

The guard woke her up too early, in Gabrielle's opinion. She was not a morning person and had little interest in changing that fact. Midmorning, yes. However, much to her surprise, now that she knew there was another reason for the erotic memories and dreams, she didn't feel as irritable in the morning.

The others were waiting by their horses with a smaller one for Gabrielle. Well, at least she wouldn't have far to fall and its back wasn't as wide as Argo's.

Ephiny and Eponin were waiting. The High Priestess was nowhere about. The weather was threatening to be wet, Gabrielle noted as she settled in for the two-day ride.

Chapter 4

And So...

"There's slashing around here!" Amber called to the others.

Tiera and Constance brought their horses around and Gabrielle wearily joined them. This was the second day of hard ridding and she was ready to abandon her horse and just walk.

"Looks recent."

"Let's go." Gabrielle spoke to the others hoarsely. She could also feel a pull that was so intense it was making what was around her a blur.

"Goddess! Look at this!"

The damage from the lightning was impressive. Maybe Xena pissed a God or two off. It wouldn't be the first time, Gabrielle thought. They followed a faint path that wound up a hill.

A nickering horse that was grazing near by caught Gabrielle's attention.

"Argo!" Gabrielle called excitedly. At the sight of her she could feel some energy coming back.

Argo lifted her head to send out another greeting and pranced over to where the three women stood. Gabrielle gratefully slid off her own mount and wobbled over to Argo. She hugged her head and rubbed her nose affectionately. "Where is our mistress, my friend?" She asked worried.

The others did not dismount. They had been instructed to deliver their Queen to this place then leave as quickly as possible. They were to wait for four days in the sea village then return to where they left their Amazon Queen.

"We must leave you now." Tiera told her gently.

Gabrielle nodded. She turned and followed Argo's prints back toward the well hidden cave entrance. Argo accompanied her occasionally brushing her nose against Gabrielle's shoulder as if glad to see her. Argo moved into what Gabrielle had thought was a wall, parting the veins as she forced her way in.

Gabrielle followed, stepping into the darkness. She stood for a few moments letting her eyes adjust to the dark interior. Light that was showing through the leaves revealed stairs that led to a higher floor of the cave. She walked up without hesitation. There was a soft light coming from a small fire in the center of the room. It looked more like a room than a cave. She sniffed the air and caught the fragrance that was their special mixture. Her heart caught in her throat as she saw the armor on the rack near a pallet. In the dim light she could see a sleeping figure on the pallet.

"Xena!" She cried as she recognized the armor.

Gabrielle rushed to the side of the pallet and sat on the edge looking for what may have befallen her Warrior. Xena's breathing was that of a person in a deep sleep, which was unusual for Xena. Leaning over her sleeping form Gabrielle pressed her lips against the sleeping warrior's forehead.

She felt Xena's body shudder and a hand painfully gripped her arm.

"Xena, you're hurting me." She whispered. She didn't dare tear her arm away knowing that resistance would bring a reflex reprisal.

She watched the blue eyes that were now opened staring at her without seeing then close again. Worried Gabrielle pulled the covers back hindered by the steel grip that still had her right arm. Xena was dressed in her winter shift with no weapons on her. That was unusual. Gabrielle turned to look at the armor rack. All her weapons were neatly stacked and stored. Xena would not do this. Her sword was too far from her and her knives and chakram.

Gabrielle leaned close to Xena's ear and whispered, "I'm here Xena. We'll do it together." Xena dropped her hand that was cutting the circulation off in Gabrielle's arm.

Gabrielle stroked her face tenderly, wondering what she needed to do. "Dreams. Everything happened in dreams." She whispered to herself.

Gabrielle removed her boots and slid next to Xena on the pallet. Taking a deep breath she draped her arm over Xena, and snuggled into her usual sleep position. Sleep came quickly.

Chapter 5

The Curse

Xena was balancing on a water slicked rock where she could see the sheet of water pouring down from the water fall above her into the pool below that was hidden by surrounding vegetation, but the mist that rose from it blanketed the area. The thundering sound from the falling water and vibration in the rocks from the power of the water's plunge was invigorating, and the view was breathtaking! Her leg muscles were taught as she balanced on the irregular shaped rock preparing for another leap. The late afternoon breeze blew the spray from the flowing water her way cooling her warm body. She had run from the entrance of the forest to get to the rock before sunset. She needed to remind her friend Gabrielle that sunset was near. She knew she was sitting up at the top of the falls, probably so absorbed in her composing stories she forgot about the time. She said she would only be gone for one candle mark and it was almost the end of the day!

Gabrielle had a good view of Xena between the flowered bushes that grew along the edge of the falls. She watched her upward progress as she hopped from one slippery rock to another taking a brief moment to enjoy the scenery. Trust Xena to not take the conventional or usual course anywhere if she felt she could get more enjoyment out of another way, regardless of the effort. Gabrielle enjoyed watching her graceful and effortless movements. She made it look deceivingly easy but it was a steady up hill climb and the rocks were not easy to get good footing on if not impossible - for normal people, Gabrielle's mouth moved to a big smile.

Xena disappeared from her sight and Gabrielle waited for her head to reappear. When it didn't and more time passed, Gabrielle became curious and leaned from behind the brush she was sitting behind.

Xena's hand reached out and pulled her over the brush and down into the grassy area below her perch laughing. "Hey, what's keeping you? Are you composing another love poem?" Xena teased. "I can tell you a story or two if you are stuck."

Gabrielle looked into the golden brown eyes and saw the thinly veiled desire as well as laughter of the woman she wanted as her lover. "Well, I can think of other ways to get more material too." She teased back. She unconsciously flipped her bright red hair back out of her face. "But, now that you are here," She hinted giving Xena a coquettish look, "perhaps you would like to join me for a picnic."

"A picnic? Out here? It is nearly dusk! You know the Guardians don't want us here after dusk!" Xena's returned sharply, not believing what she was hearing.

"Well if you hadn't taken so long to get here it wouldn't be close to dusk." Gabrielle returned playfully. "We have enough time to eat." She begged her companion.

"Why are you tempting fates all the time?" Xena asked perplexed.

"I like the challenge." Her friend returned shortly looking up for a moment to reveal a wide grin. "Here, have some bread."

"Alex!" Xena could feel something was not right with what she was seeing.

Gabrielle continued to set out the food and picked an especially fat grape and tossed it over to her friend, knowing she had a trick of catching grapes in her mouth in mid air.

Xena caught the grape neatly, nervously looking over at her friend as she chewed the grape. She lifted her eyebrows as if an idea suddenly occurred to her.

"Are you seducing me, Alex?" She asked softly.

A smirk appeared on her friend's face. "It has been the plan for the last few moons."

Xena took a deep breath as a warm feeling washed over her. She wasted all this time resisting her impulse to take her friend into her arms and tell her she loved her more than a friend did and...this was a very familiar line.

"Why didn't you just say so?" She asked puzzled, feeling her pulse quicken.

"I did. You just didn't hear me." Alex looked into the brown eyes that showed her momentarily confusion. Alex's smile broadened, the seer was right.

Xena took a deep breath as she watched Alex's face. She was right. She had thought it was too good to be true or she thought she was misreading what she was saying...and she had been too fearful to ask.

Mediea leaned toward Alex and pulled her face to hers. She brushed her lips against the lips that were open and waiting for her, then felt Alex's hand slip around her wrist, pulling her closer. For a long moment they savored and explored each other's lips and mouth, forgetting time. Their first passionate kiss was inspiring. When they broke the kiss and gazed into each other's eyes, Mediea smiled and Alex couldn't help giggling at the idea that her plan actually worked.

"Now, I think we need to get going and finish this conversation later." Mediea returned to the more important issue.

Alex looked about her and jumped up fearful that her challenge to the Guardians this time may be too close to comfort.

"Leave the stuff!" Mediea grabbed Alex's hand and both ran to the path that was a lot safer than the slippery rocks.

They were almost out of the forest when Mediea pulled up. Alex tugged at her hand. "Come on!"

"I thought I heard Helena's voice back there."

"I didn't hear any voice." Alex was a little annoyed because she had thought Helena was a rival whom Mediea was more interested in than her, until Helena got engaged to Jocamo.

This time they both heard the laughter. "Doesn't she know better? Why must I be around women who like to challenge the guardians!" Mediea asked exasperated.

Alex's smile faded suspecting that Mediea still had feelings for Helena. "Well since you like her so much, why don't you go and remind her!" She returned hurt.

Mediea's expression told Alex she had made a mistake.

"I have always considered Helena a friend, Alex." With that Mediea turned around and ran in the direction of the laughter, hoping to beat the dusk deadline.

"Please, Mediea!" Alex called after the receding figure. She looked about her. It was dusk! "Of all the times for my plan to come to fruition!" She remarked aggravated. Alex followed the nearly hidden path that she knew would lead to the grotto near the small orchard. It was not a good place to be after dusk much less any other time. No wonder Mediea was worried about her - friend. It was the grove the Guardian's held very sacred.

When Mediea reached the grotto Helena was in Jocamo's arms partially clad. She was furious that Jocamo and Helena didn't pay attention to the rules the guardians had given them about the use of their territory. And of all places for them to fool around at, the grotto where the Guardians met for their gatherings.


Both turned toward her angrily. However, the faces that Mediea saw went from irritation to horror. Mediea sank to one knee and spun around barely saving herself from being impaled by a spear. The green form holding the spear could have froze her heart if she hadn't known who it was.

The rumble in the voice was low and it vibrated in her chest as a drum beat would. "You have violated our trust!" A Guardian told her as she gazed into the dark eyes.

Alex came running into the clearing to see a menacing figure leaning over Mediea with a spear. "Noooooo!" She screamed as she threw her figure toward the Guardian's body. The Guardian easily intercepted her and hurled her form onto the ground with such force that Alex was knocked unconscious. Mediea took that opportunity to roll away from the hulking form of the Guardian toward Alex's still form. Mediea could only see a shadowed form of Alex for it quickly grows dark in the forest once the sun is behind the trees. Taking her hand she could feel a slow pulse. Mediea had never even considered Alex to follow her back into the forest. Why had she followed her back into the forest when she was safe? They had finally opened their hearts to each other and already they were doomed because of this mess.

"Leave her!" The deep voice rumbled.

"I will not!" Mediea whispered between clinched teeth. Media felt pressure around her forehead increase as if a band was wrapped around it and was being tightened.

"You have defied me twice!"

As the pressure increased around Mediea's head she felt herself leaning forward until her forehead touched the ground.

Helena and Jocomo had been inching away as the attention from the Guardian was directed toward Mediea. This was not unnoticed by Mediea who was angry at their disregard for the rules. They had been caught disobeying a rule by the Guardian's of the forest and it was only right that they take responsibility for it.

The pressure around Mediea continued. "You...made....your....point." She panted. The pressure only increased until Mediea toppled over the unconscious form of Alex, with herself falling into a dark oblivion.

The dark figure stared at the two inert forms then turned to watch in the direction that Helena and Jocomo had left. They would be back, he thought, and if not them, then their children. He could be patient.

Alex woke to an unaccustomed weight across her body but the beating of another's heartbeat, though slow, gave her hope that it was Mediea's. It smelled like her. The darkness was so impenetrable around her she could not tell if her own eyes were open or closed. She wrapped her arms around the form that was draped over her and hugged her painfully close.

Alex's memories were mixed up with the joy of finally getting Mediea to see her as something more than a tag-along, and the pain of her jealous outburst. She wanted to tell Mediea how awful she had been. Tears fell from her eyes as she thought dismally of the beginning of a new relationship with Mediea that took an unfortunate turn. The seer had told her that Mediea would be with her for the rest of their lives if she gave her a picnic at the high point of the falls. This was not the romantic ending she was expecting.

Alex kissed the top of Mediea's head and held onto her tighter as she felt Mediea's heart beat pick up.

Mediea's consciousness was slowly returning. She felt the pounding heart beneath her and the arms tighten around her. She could smell Alex and was aware her head was resting below her chin. She stirred in Alex's arms and was rewarded with a kiss on her forehead.

Mediea lifted her weight off of Alex and tried to get up. "Ummmmph!" Her head started to pound and she merely rolled over onto her back. Her limbs felt numb. Taking slow deep breaths the headache receded but her arms and legs were useless to move around.

"So, you two are finally awake." The deep voice spoke.

There was only the darkness and an oppressive feeling that surrounded them. Mediea could feel Alex tremble as both of them fought their feelings of panic and fear of being slowly squeezed to death.

"What are you going to do to us?" Alex asked in a small shaky voice. It seemed to break some of the tension.

There was silence for a moment, as if their captor was thinking about this for the first time.

"We are undecided." The voice rumbled, "We have given you permission to enter our lands, share our space, with only a few rules to obey, yet you have broken those simple rules. Were they not simple to follow?" The low voice asked reasonably.

"Yes." Mediea replied meekly.

"No!" Alex responded heatedly.

Mediea's heart sank. Alex had many times mentioned how romantic various areas of the forest were at dusk and early morning viewing and wanted to do something about extending their use of the forest. Mediea was thinking that this time was as good as any other time to talk about it but it was not a time she would have chosen.

"Hmmm. And what is not simple about our rules?"

Mediea's hand was wrapped around Alex's and she could feel her young friend's heart beat faster through her fingertips.

"Here in the forest are the most beautiful and peaceful places," She started.

"They are that way because we have protected them from your wanton destruction! We have seen what you have done to the forest on the other side of your village! Do you not deny that you have burned and cut the trees, thus destroying the grottos and the river and streams that once flowed though there!" The anger bore down on the brow of both women and tightened like a vice.

"We...don't....we...made...a...terrible...mistake." Alex tried to speak.

"Stop!" Mediea cried.

The pressure lessened but the darkness and oppressive feeling around them continued.

"If it became a sacred place for those seeking beauty," Alex continued with a struggle. "Like an open air temple..."

"You are talking about your people. It is special for us already. We are protecting it for us!" The two women could see a darker form than the darkness loom over them. "We have tried to share it with you. If you had not betrayed our trust perhaps you would have been able to stay longer. But the sacred times of dawn and dusk as well as the night is ours!"

"What are you going to do with us then?" Mediea asked wanting this pointless argument to end. She knew that some of the villagers were discussing cutting down some of the wood in the forest or hunting where they were told not to. It wasn't like they needed to, they just felt it was closer to their homes which were spreading out. The village had prospered under the protection of the Guardian's and forgot that their prosperity was from the protection of the first beings that lived here. The village was forgetting a lot lately in their too complacent lives.

"Do you deny you have done wrong?"

"No." Mediea replied hoping that Alex would not say anything.

"I...", began Alex but the squeeze on her hand by Mediea caused her to hesitate.

"Yessss." This time there was no added pressure.

"I was just going to say, it was because of the beauty of the forest that we stayed so long."

"You were almost out and you returned." The voice pointed out.

"Yes." Mediea returned. She didn't think it was worth the effort to explain that she had returned to get the two lovers out of the grotto, for no matter how it was looked at, they had all knowingly stayed past dusk.

This time Alex said nothing.

"Your village is setting fire to our forest." The voice informed them quietly.

"NO!" Alex cried out genuinely horrified. "The beauty, the creatures that live here... No! We have to stop them! Please, let us go to stop them!"

"It is too late. They have been jealous of our lands for a long time. Do you think we cannot feel this darkness when it infests our land? There is more to this world than what you see. For this attack, we shall close this land, and the land surrounding. None shall find life or peace here."

"No! You just can't close off the falls, the plants, the rainbows, the view of the mountain peaks though the trees and the animals that live there!" Alex pleaded. "Please. Give us a chance. Surely there is some way we can restore the sacredness of the place and go back to sharing? We can replant the trees...something. Please!"

There was silence for a long moment. "Your time has passed. But, perhaps there is a way." The voice said slowly as if still weighing whether to make the offer or not. "If you can find two people who will take up your cause and go through a series of tests we put forth, you will have your wish - under new conditions."

"With the condition that those who have the proper attitude can stay past dusk." Alex quickly added.


"You have taught us that it is attitude that gives energy to form..." Alex started to argue

"You dare to argue?" The Guardian thundered.

"Yes!" Alex returned angrily. "We have nothing to lose." Alex added softer.

There was silence. Mediea was startled when she thought the form was laughing.

"You are correct."

"If this is true, then it makes sense that by attracting the right people energy it will strengthen the forest to be what you...and I, would like to feel within it."

"You will have seven tries to chose a pair of champions." The voice

"Wait a moment here!" Mediea confused. "What do you mean our time has passed? Why can't we..."

The dark form laughed.

"You are but wisps of spirit. You have passed from dense form to a lighter life force."

That hit Mediea in the pit of the stomach. She was expecting death to be something else but to live as a spirit?

"It's a deal!" Alex spoke for both of them squeezing Mediea's hand.

"What other alternative is there?" Mediea asked hesitantly.

"You shall wander this blighted land your kind has caused as specters! Your senses deadened as the land that you wander." The voice angrily rumbled.

"Goddess!" Mediea breathed. How could their small infraction be dealt with so harshly?

"It's okay, Mediea." Alex whispered. "We'll be together."

When the dark form's presence was no longer felt, Mediea realized she could see her friend, as she had remembered her. "If we're wisps of spirit, how come I can see you?" She asked her friend.

Alex shook her head distracted. Looking out over what she saw as darkness she thought about her family and those that were gone. Alex's matriarchal clan and her father's clan had been worshipers of the Great Spirit of the Valley for longer than most of the villagers recalled. Her clan had lived in partnership with the Guardians in caring for their lush valley until the wandering groups of people that began to settle where ever they wanted, created an imbalance and thought little of anything beyond their immediate needs. This attitude wasn't necessary since the valley was abundant with life and resources if managed properly. Alex thought to rebalance the energy of the village by teaching the children through stories of the importance of working with the Guardians to keep a balance with their environment and not over harvesting or over hunting certain species. But she had failed in that respect. Now, she and Mediea were being offered a part in maintaining the sacredness of the valley, though not in physical form. They had to find two people who were willing to undo the negative energy that the villagers had blighted the area with. They had to face the fear that made people unwilling to open themselves to experiencing partnerships with the life around them and with themselves.

Continue on to Part Two

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