Author: Shade
Story Title: Thorns & Roses
Characters: Xena/Gabrielle, (Ephiny/Solari)
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Gabrielle tries to escape Xena's abuse. But can she when Amazon law is involved?
This rating is for explicit f/f sex, domestic violence, sexual violence and rape (snuff).

Xena, Gabrielle, Argo & friends belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance. This is a non-profit fan fiction story and no copyright infringement is intended. However the tale is mine and all copyright there to. It is intended to be for entertainment purposes and not for sale.

Domestic violence warning: Although this story is fictitious, domestic violence is far from that. It is very real and ever present in our society, unfortunately there is no "divine intervention" to protect you. It can happen to or involve anyone from all walks of life there are no class barriers.

Domestic abuse happens through intimidation and control. Abusive partners intimidate and isolate their victims so they can maintain that control and force their victims will. This is also commonly used in a sexual assault. If you suffer from violence from your partner, know this. . .You are not alone. It is never too late to get out. There are people who will help you. Look in your local directories or advisory centers. You owe it to yourself.

Author's note: I would like to take this opportunity to thank my dear friend and confidant Lyssa, for all her advice and expert guidance, because without her, none of this would have been possible. She is an inspiration to me and to us all.

Sexual content warning: This story contains graphic and explicit scenes of non consensual sex and rape in its raw form and extreme violence and sexual violence. Some people may find it disturbing. Therefore it is recommended for readers over 21 only.

On a lighter note, If you have any constructive thoughts on this story I would be more than delighted to hear from you, however, keep all negative comments to yourself. Send feedback to

_____ *** _____

Thorns & Roses
by Shade
Copyright: April/24/99

***Chapter One***

Gabrielle couldn't have been more delighted when Xena finally agreed to stop for the night and set up camp. She was so weary she could hardly find the energy to gather logs for the fire she was now trying to make while Xena settled Argo for the night. Gabrielle's organizing skills left nothing to be desired. The little bard took care of everything, even making sure their supplies were ample before they left the last town.

Xena quietly scolded herself for taking her friend for granted. She knew she had been a little hard on Gabrielle lately and wondered what she'd ever do without her.

'I really don't know how she puts up with me.' She thought, guilt ridden. 'But I'm sure glad she does! I'll get us to the next town and we can stay at the inn for a few days, she'd love that. Chances are there may be a market too. Yup! that's what we'll do,' she thought, deciding to make it up to her bard for the long days on the road.

With the fire going nicely, Gabrielle had just begun preparing a nourishing little supper for them both just as Xena returned.

The warrior hesitated momentarily in the shadows, captivated by her lover Gabrielle. Her very innocence as she puttered about in the firelight filled her with a warmth like she never knew. 'Gods, how I love her,' she thought, as an all too familiar needy sensation flooded down her body.

"It's just me, Gabrielle," Xena announced quietly, so as not to startle the girl.

"You were a long time, Xena." There was question in her tone that was not echoed in her words.

"Why, did you miss me?" Xena smiled seductively pulling Gabrielle into her embrace, smothering her lips with her own, in a deep, lingering, passionate kiss that never failed to throw the girl's emotions into a turmoil.

"Wow!" Gabrielle gasped as she broke away. "You can take longer next time if that's the response I get!" Gabrielle looked deeply into her lover's eyes with a long contented sigh. "Promise me it will always be this good between us, Xena?"

"Gabrielle," Xena said, squeezing her tightly about the waist. "You never cease to amaze me. If I could find words as easily as you do, I couldn't even then tell you how much you mean to me, for I am nothing without you." Xena captured Gabrielle's mouth in a boisterous kiss as she swung her around in her arms.

"I'll take that as a 'yes,' then shall I?" Gabrielle teased breathlessly.

Xena smacked Gabrielle playfully on her backside. "Hey! Come on let's have this supper."

Later Xena decided to go through some sword drills while Gabrielle cleaned away the rest of the night's supper. She always liked to release some tension after the stress of the day. 'Besides, kissing Gabrielle like that just takes my breath away,' Xena mused, as she moved through her parrying sequences, still thinking to herself. 'Sometimes I'm almost scared to make love to her with the urgency of it all.'

Xena's movements as she worked her way through the intricate patterns were both awesome and breathtaking at the same time. She was truly a sight to behold, if anyone had been watching her.

She felt the hair on her neck stand up, along with the familiar tingling sensation. "Show yourself, Ares," the warrior sneered icily, turning swiftly on her heel to confront the war god himself.

"That's quite a show there, Xena. You do me proud." Ares smiled as he moved toward her.

"Tell it to someone who cares. I have better things to attend to," Xena answered, replacing her sword in the sheath on her back, before turning to walk away.

"Oh, you mean your pathetic little side kick!" Ares snarled, barring her way, his arms folded. The war god was close to her now and grabbed her roughly, smothering her mouth with his own in a smouldering kiss.

Breaking free from his hold, she turned on him. "Forget it Ares! I know who I want and you're not it! You got that?"

"Come on, Xena. You know you want me too. I can see it in your eyes," Ares insisted, pulling her back into him.

"Just what part of 'no' don't you understand?" Irritated now the warrior jerked from him and walked away.

"Xena, you know you'll come back to me. We belong together. Don't fight it. That little blonde bitch can't give you what I can. DO YOU HEAR ME?" Ares roared after her.

"Save it for someone who gives a shit!" She called out over her shoulder, as she returned to the camp and her waiting bard.

"Damn her to Tartarus!" growled the furious war god. "I'll show her! That little inadequate bitch of a side kick won't keep me from what's mine! I'll fix it so I'm rid of her once and for all!" Rage distorted his handsome features as his full temper engulfed him. Vengeance and jealousy poisoned his already corrupt mind as the war god vanished in a turbulent swirl of fury.

Xena shrugged off Ares' attempts to win her back. Annoyed with herself for letting him get to her like that, until she saw her little bard stretched out on her bed roll waiting. Now more enticing thoughts filled her mind.

Concealed in the shadows outside of the warrior's perception Ares sneered angrily, "Zeus! You make me sick! We'll see how you like this, my proverbial thorn in my side." A quick wave of his hand, he laughed, disappearing in a shower of sparks, disturbing the warrior with the strange uneasiness that he had placed over her.

"What is it, Xena?" Gabrielle asked concerned, feeling the warrior tense.

"Oh, nothing," Xena answered. "Thought I heard something is all." The warrior shuddered as she looked around her, then snuggled into the bard for comfort.

***Chapter Two***

The Warrior had groaned in her sleep, sated and exhausted from endless candlemarks of pure, unadulterated sex. The vast amount of alcohol she had consumed last night only added to her condition, making her totally oblivious to the restrained whimpers of the distraught girl laying beside her.

Gabrielle tried desperately to muffle the sounds of her pain and discomfort, in fear of disturbing her sleeping lover. She brushed her hand over her own breasts, now raw and aching from the onslaught of her lover's recent assault, brooding quietly over the events of the night. 'How had it come to this? When did it all spiral out of control?' A thousand questions raced through her tormented mind, as she rose painfully from the bed. The warrior stirred momentarily, and she froze, scarcely daring to breathe, until the familiar sounds of her sleeping lover's deep breathing continued.

The trip over to the water pitcher table was easier than she thought it would be, and she thanked the gods for that small favor. She poured water from the blue ceramic pitcher into the brass bowl and started to bathe. Gingerly, she tried to wash some of the blood and pain from between her legs. A tear fell into the water bowl, as she rinsed her cloth to wipe another tear from her already closed eye.

The black and purple bruise had come out almost immediately, after Xena hit her. She never even saw it coming. 'But wasn't that to be expected from the Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations?' she wondered sadly. 'Guess it was.'

The bard sighed. 'Is this it for me now?'

The cool water stung in all those tender and private places between her legs. 'Has my life come to this agony? Is this my chosen path, the bed that I will lay on for the rest of my days?' So many unanswered questions racked her mind, as the aching bard wondered despairingly, if all this would ever end. Grimacing, she tried to press the healing salve into places it was never meant to go.

Xena had seemed to change slowly at first, for things were so good after their Amazon Joining Ceremony. Gabrielle felt as though the gods had smiled down on her that day and all the many moons that followed. She couldn't believe how happy she felt, but then she started to notice things changing between them. Xena didn't seem as tolerant with her anymore like she used to be.

Gabrielle knew she had always had an 'opinion' and Xena had often encouraged it from her too, wanting the bard's point of view. But now she seemed to make all the wrong decisions irregardless of what she might say. Now the always angry warrior would snap at her with snide comments like, "If you can't say something sensible, don't say nothing at all!"

Then there was always a problem with her stories. She used to love the bard's tales about her, only now she would scold her for "never getting it right." And when it came to story telling in the taverns, well, it was becoming a dreaded event, instead of the joy it had been.

Gabrielle was becoming apprehensive of any interaction with the patrons, for Xena would fix that ice-blue stare upon her from the back of the tavern watching her, making her uneasy. She'd try to talk to her, to explain that it was just part of the show, but Xena would have none of it, she would accuse her of all sorts of things, flirting with anything in a skirt - or trousers for that matter. It caused endless arguments every night back in their room. In fact, that had been the first time Xena had struck her.

It happened the night a group of passing Amazons had stayed at the same inn, sheltering from heavy weather. They were delighted to see Gabrielle and Xena, and she had spent the best part of the night chatting with them about Ephiny and Solari and all the news back at the Amazon village. But when Xena had got her back in the room she was livid. She accused her of trying to "get off" with one, if not all of them, Gabrielle was furious and let her know and before she knew what hit her, Xena had backhanded her so hard she knocked her across the bed with the force of her blow. Gabrielle was stunned. She raised her hand to her mouth, which was already bleeding, and felt the blood on her lips.

Xena had run to her then. "Gods, I'm so sorry Gabrielle," she cried, trying to soothe the panic stricken bard. "I don't know what came over me." Hugging and squeezing Gabrielle, begging her forgiveness. But things kept getting worse from that point on. The accusations became more frequent and the apologies became less and less. So much so that Gabrielle's day was now taken up with figuring out ways not to provoke the brooding warrior. Her writing had slowed to a stop, she couldn't even think straight anymore, let alone pen her scrolls. And story telling, that was out altogether. Xena just wouldn't allow it anymore and the bard could do little about it for the consequences were too great.

Gabrielle thought that it was all her fault. How could she have ever thought that Xena with her dark past and personality could ever really change completely? She cursed herself for being so naive.

The cool water continued to sting her raw and bruised flesh and she bit down on her fist to silence her moans. She could scarcely believe how at first she was drawn and attracted to the warrior's dark side, how she wanted to live on the edge with this unpredictable woman. 'Well yes she was... is attracted to her... oh... I just don't know what to think anymore.' Gabrielle ran her fingers through her hair. 'This was not the way it was meant to be. How can I deal with this?' She wondered. 'I can't confront a warlord! I'm a bard for Zeus' sake!'

She had almost finished, as the cool water and salve did their work she felt a little better. She thought of her joining to the woman and the vows she had made. 'I have promised to love her. I do with my very soul. Honor her. I always have and always will. Obey her. Well, that's for sure. For better or for worse, eternally. Those were the vows I said. I chose them myself from the oldest Amazon traditions and laws. I found them in the old scrolls. Ties made, never to be broken, not even in death. Ephiny pleaded with me to choose something less dramatic, but oh no, not me. An Amazon Princess will set the example for her sisters! I had said. Gabrielle clamped a hand over her mouth, and glanced hastily at Xena, realizing suddenly that she had been whispering her thoughts out loud. But Xena appeared to be still lost in the land of dreams, much to her relief. She couldn't have withstood another confrontation with that woman right now.

Gabrielle returned to her muddled musing, whispering to herself, remembering her joining day that seemed so long ago now. 'I remember having said something like for I just loved this woman with my whole heart, and I wanted everyone to know it. Somehow I've made this my own living Tartarus, better or worse, but how worse will this get?' she found herself wondering, as a million thoughts raced through her mind. She sniffed and wiped away the last of the tears and bathed her eye. She couldn't think clearly anymore. She didn't know whether this was because of the pain all through her battered body or the pain in her heart. She only knew she was hurting.

***Chapter Three***

It was near dawn when the first strands of daylight flickered through the shuttered window brightening up the room. Gabrielle felt a little better now, with a warm mug of tea clasped loosely in her hand.

"Gabrielle!" Xena shouted suddenly from the bed, causing the bard to jump and her smirk to widen. "What are you doing?"

"Xena, I'm just drinking a little tea, I couldn't sleep," she replied, shifting uncomfortably on the wooden chair. "I'm hurting a little is all," she whispered almost under her breath.

Sometimes Xena could be somewhat remorseful given the events of the night before, but more times than not, she wouldn't.

"Come here!"

Gabrielle noted at once that it was not a request but rather a command and warily, she shuffled over to her partner. As a distraction she offered the tea that she was holding and sat lightly on the edge of the bed.

Xena stretched her full toned muscular body, groaning with the pleasure of it and readily took the tea from Gabrielle's outstretched hand. She quickly took in the bard's face and bruises as she sipped her tea.

Gabrielle, head held down, fidgeted uneasily in anticipation of what might come next. She could feel those deep blue eyes crawling all over her body, in a lustful, penetrating way. She responded to the bold scrutiny with a natural inborn stubbornness that would not allow her to give the eye contact she knew Xena desired. It was her own little secret act of defiance.

Finally the warrior spoke. "Gabrielle, what am I going to do with you?"

She cupped the bard's chin in her hand and forced her to look deep into her eyes. In that fleeting moment Gabrielle recalled times gone by, when she would've gladly melt in those deep blues. She felt a surge of great love and utter devotion flood through her mind and flicker momentarily, then just as quickly it went out.

"Did you hear me, Gabrielle?"

"," she stuttered. "I'm sorry... I just..."

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! That's all you seem to say lately. Just look at your eye! Why do you deliberately try to provoke me, Gabrielle?"

"I'm sorry!" She offered again, petulantly. It was really the best she could offer under the circumstances, because what she really wanted to do at this moment was scream at Xena. She wanted to tell her off, really tell her exactly what she thought, tell her she wouldn't put up with it anymore. But the bruise on her eye throbbed in reminder of the consequences such words would bring and she thought better of it. Instead she answered the warrior with, "I shouldn't have questioned you last night, Xena. I'm sorry, I just didn't think."

Xena nodded, finishing off her tea, while slowly looking over the girl's body, devouring it with her eyes.

Gabrielle recognized the look and screamed internally. 'Oh please gods, not again, not now.'

The warrior raised her hand and ran her finger down the bard's cheek, slipping her hand through Gabrielle's hair to hold the back of her head, pulling into her. A strong claiming mouth covered the bard's already bruised lips. Gabrielle tensed noticeably as Xena's tongue filled her mouth.

"Do you deny me, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, pulling roughly back on Gabrielle's hair for added emphasis.

"No, Xena," Gabrielle answered. "It's just ..."

"Just what?!"

"I'm hurting, Xena. It just hurts right now, that's all."

Without thought or consideration, Xena very swiftly swung Gabrielle around onto the bed, pinning her arms above her. She straddled the bard, and with her nose touching Gabrielle's, she menacingly whispered, "Gabrielle, you know better than that. You knew when you joined with me, let me see, what were your words again? Eh? What were they? For better or worse, baby. Isn't that it? Hmm? Only sometimes it gets a little rough, girl. But you like that, don't you?"

Gabrielle didn't answer as she struggled to free herself.

Xena yanked harder on Gabrielle's hair, her breath hot and heavy as she spoke. "Don't you, Gabrielle?"

Defeated and under Xena's full control, Gabrielle knew she had nowhere to go, yet she continued to struggle in a vain, desperate attempt to free herself.

"Oh, I love it when you fight me, baby," Xena admonished fiercely, nuzzling at the bard's neck.

Gabrielle knew she was going to have sex again, and now thought it best to make it as easy on herself as she could.

"Now answer me, Gabrielle. You like it a little rough, don't you girl?" When Gabrielle failed to reply, Xena got angry and yanked hard on Gabrielle's hair and spat, "I said don't you?" A devilish smirk pulled at the corners of her mouth when Gabrielle flinched, just as she raised her other hand to backhand her one.

***Chapter Four***

"XENA! WARRIOR PRINCESS!" A male voice called out suddenly from the other side of their door.

"What is it?" Xena snapped back over her shoulder while still holding the bard to the bed.

"The village elders would talk to you, Xena. There are sheep rustlers on our borders and we seek your assistance."

"Shit!" Xena was totally pissed to be interrupted at this stage. "Damn! And Damn again!" she growled.

Placing her hands on her hips, still looking at the bard, she raised herself up onto her knees, still straddling Gabrielle's thighs, and called back loudly, "I'll be right with you."

Her irritation at the interruption plainly heard in her voice. Smugly dropping heavily back down on the bard's stomach as she heard the villager's footsteps scuttling away, and with a sadistic grin, she reached behind her to put her hand under the night shift then quickly jammed two fingers between Gabrielle's legs, finding the silky wetness she craved. Satisfied by what she found, she vowed huskily, "I'll get back to this later, little one."

Gabrielle thanked the gods silently for the interruption and hurried to get Xena's gear ready.

"What will you do today?" Xena asked, as Gabrielle helped her pull on her boots.

Struggling with the bracers, Gabrielle replied, "Well, we're low on supplies and if we're still heading out in a few days like you said, I thought I'd go to the market and get what things we need." The warrior instantly caught Gabrielle's eye as she was tested for reaction.

"Is there anything that you want?" Gabrielle added to ease the suggestion.

Xena put on her remaining armor and with its trademark swirl, replaced her sword in the sheath behind her back, never once losing eye contact with the bard. "What I want Gabrielle," she said firmly, "is for you to go to the market and do just that! And not flirt with half the population on the way!"

Gabrielle saw her only chance to have some fun outside of the inn fading fast, and before she could help herself, knowing it was already too late, she countered Xena's command by saying, "Xena, it's called being friendly! Being polite, chatting. You remember. It's what normal people do!" Her hand flew to cover her mouth, she couldn't believe what she just said, and realized too late that she shouldn't have said it.

Xena's reaction was that swift. Gabrielle hit the near side wall before she knew what had happened. Instantly Xena was upon her, hoisting her up by the front of her night shift. Gabrielle tasted the familiar coppery liquid in her mouth, and felt it spill onto her chin. Her teeth had just burst through her top lip with the force of the warrior's blow.

Looking straight into Gabrielle's eyes with deadly earnest, Xena made certain that she had her partner's attention before she spoke. "Gabrielle," Xena said very quietly. "You are either incredibly brave all of a sudden, or very, very, stupid! Now which is it?"

"Xena... please, I didn't think..." Gabrielle softly answered through her painfully swollen lips.

"Which is it? I said!"

Gabrielle could not hold it any longer, she was already near choking from the pressure Xena had on her neck. She spluttered out the words, "stupid...Xena."...gasping...she struggled for breath, "I didn't think."

"That's just it, Gabrielle! You never think, do you?"

Suddenly she relaxed her hold on the bard and started towards the door, turning to look back at Gabrielle. She fixed Gabrielle with an icy stare, "I'll give you fair warning, Gabrielle. Don't force issues with me, cause you'll lose." With that she slammed the door behind her, leaving Gabrielle standing there, her head in hands and those forever tears streaming down her ravaged face.

Slowly Gabrielle let herself slide down the wall. Pulling her knees up to her chest, she wrapped her arms around her legs and squeezed them tightly, as her sobbing echoed around the room.

Almost a candlemark later, totally drained, Gabrielle dressed herself and brushed her hair. Then, using the water still crimson from her first wash at dawn, she rinsed the blood from her lips and covered the bruise as best she could, and prepared to meet the day.

***Chapter Five***

The elders of the village were very pleased with Xena's impatient urgency to catch the sheep rustlers. They rewarded her well by promising her and her bard room and board for as long as they needed to stay.

'Zeus knew they need the money,' Xena thought. Since she'd banned the bard from story telling things were really tight right now. Thinking about Gabrielle on tavern stages sent her mind reeling in a different direction. 'Bringing attention to herself, brazenly flirting with anything that moved!' Oh, Gabrielle denied it, but Xena knew better. 'Flaunting herself like a little slut! Right under my nose!' It had been what caused most of their arguments. 'She won't do that again in a hurry,' Xena thought confidently.

She decided to make short work of the robbers. This interruption caused her to miss out fucking Gabrielle this morning, and she didn't like that one bit. Thinking of taking Gabrielle again sent an all too familiar ache in her belly, and she knew she needed it so bad right now she was duly frustrated.

Deep in thought, Xena tracked her way through the forest, dismounting Argo from time to time to read the ground. 'Gabrielle, Gabrielle,' she thought. 'What's happening lately? Seems you don't love me like before. The fire in your eyes is just not there. But I won't let you go. Just need to keep a tight rein on, that's all. Yeah, then it will work out.'

She thought of their lovemaking. 'Well, Tartarus, it wasn't even that anymore either. It was pure sex, and crappy sex at that!' She sighed. Gabrielle never wanted it like she did, not like at first, back then she couldn't get enough of Xena, even surprising herself sometimes. But now everything was a problem. 'Damn the bitch! I will show her! I will keep her in line! I own her and if I can't have her... no one will!' Xena proclaimed in a harsh mumble, as she sneaked cat-like into the forest, commencing her search for her quarry. Unaware that a silent dark figure, hidden in the undergrowth, watched.

Xena came across the sheep thieves sooner than she expected, for their youth and inexperience made tracking them easy. And true to her word she would make short work of them. Before they knew what hit them the warrior was upon them. She gave her trademark battle yell, as she somersaulted into their camp.

The young men stood frozen in startled awe of the warrior.

Felling the would-be-thieves at random with every swing of her sword, Xena ruthlessly cut them down. Those that chose to flee knew not who they were dealing with.

One, who appeared to be the leader, realized the power of this warrior woman too late. In cowering desperation, he slumped to his knees throwing his arms into the air. But if he sought mercy in those steel blue eyes that bore down on him, he would be disappointed. For it was pure fury towering above him, muscular legs splayed wide, both hands raised, clasping her sword above her head. Xena looked down on him, a gloating smile filled her face as she delighted in the look of sheer terror in his youthful eyes. Swirling the heavy weapon around her, she brought it down with such force that she skewered the boy to the ground with a sickening squelch where he lay. Then without a second of respite, Xena casually placed her boot on the dead boy's chest and callously withdrew her sword.

By the time the village elders arrived at the scene, Xena had killed or maimed everyone of the boys, save one whom she held at sword point. Shocked at the carnage they beheld, one old man cried out as he sprinted toward the warrior before she could claim another life.

"Xena! Hold off!" The elder gasped as he grabbed at her forearm. "We never meant for you to kill them, Xena! But merely teach the young bucks a lesson."

Raising one eyebrow, Xena eyed the old man, wiping her sword clean on his shirt, before she answered him coldly, "Well, I guess they learnt that much anyway, eh?" With one final swirl of her sword, she replaced it in its sheath.

The life-weary men exchanged questioning glances with each other, trying to comprehend such an off-hand remark. Then a shrill whistle pierced the uneasy silence, bringing Argo dutifully to her side. Xena casually took the reins and vaulted into the saddle, calling out to the old man as she settled into the saddle. "Old man, does my reward still stand? Or you gonna turn chicken shit on that too?"

Bringing himself to his full height he proudly answered, "Still stands, Xena. I'm a man of my word."

With that she turned and lead Argo back into the forest, and down toward the village.

Ares sniggered. "Hmm, this is going better than I had ever hoped . . . Go get 'em girl!" He laughed to himself as he disappeared in a flashy shower of orange flames.

***Chapter Six***

A cold but fresh autumn morning greeted Gabrielle as she made her way over to the market, although she couldn't much appreciate it. It was a small quiet village most days, but this being market day it was bustling.

One of the village elder's young sons spotted the bard as she rummaged dreamily among some parchments and scrolls. She pondered making a purchase, but it would only give cause for Xena to go off at her again. She replaced the scrolls and started toward the medicines to look for some more salve. 'Gods' she thought. 'I'm even preparing for the next time!'

She used to enjoy her little market trips when Xena was away, for Gabrielle loved to haggle. She thought about how Xena used to give her that special smile of hers. And oh how her lovely blue eyes twinkled when she told her how she coaxed a good deal from this trader and the next. But not anymore. Now things were different.

Gabrielle had already picked up Xena's whisky from the Tavern, when the young man approached her.

"Hello there!" he called out.

'He couldn't be more than a few summers younger than myself,' thought Gabrielle, as she warmed to his smile. "Hello yourself. What can I do for you?" she said, grinning back at him.

"You're with her, aren't you? The Warrior Princess? You're the bard!" he blurted out, thoroughly beside himself with his discovery.

Gabrielle thought briefly how proud she used to be when asked this in the past. 'So proud, to be with my warrior, my lover, the envy of all.'

"You're Gabrielle!" He declared, almost shouting.

"Well, yes I am," Gabrielle answered, feeling somewhat flattered that he knew her.

"I just wanted to thank her and you for helping our village. Xena, she's so very kind, you must be very proud of her?" The young man could not help noticing the bruises on Gabrielle's face.

Gabrielle faltered, as fresh tears stung her eyes. "Yes . . . yes, I am very proud of her." But her voice betrayed her and barely mumbling her excuses, she fled from the market.

She kept running, and running faster and faster as tears splashed onto her cheeks. Running until she could run no more, she collapsed on to the ground panting and sobbing. Gabrielle cried for herself and her pain. She cried for her lover, long gone. Then cried for comfort and guidance. "Oh, sweet Artemis, look down on me this day." Gabrielle lamented to the Goddess, her heart still lost in the river of her own despair.

Unlike the warrior, Gabrielle didn't notice the sudden change in temperature that fell around her, or the snow-like silence that followed. But she did see a flickering light slowly turning into a warm glow only a few feet away from her. She was stunned when a beautiful figure emerged from the light to stand before her.

"You need not fear me, Gabrielle, for you are my chosen and I am deeply saddened by your plight."

"You know . . . about me? About what Xena can be like?" Gabrielle asked, rising to her knees in front of the goddess Artemis.

"I know only too well what Xena can be like, Gabrielle. Believe me when I tell you, she will pay dearly for this affront. But first things first." Artemis rested her hand comfortingly on Gabrielle's shoulder. "You must flee, Gabrielle, for I cannot guarantee your safety here. You must go to the Amazons."

"How can I?" Gabrielle cried out, throwing her arms around Artemis's legs sobbing. "She will never allow it."

The Goddess held Gabrielle away from her and looked sternly into the tortured green eyes of her chosen one. "You must go now in her absence. I have sent word to Ephiny of your situation and even as we speak, Ephiny, along with Eponin and Solari, have set out to meet you. But you must hurry, Gabrielle, as they are almost two moons away. Ares is already on to this and he revels in the way Xena treats you. He urges her on, Gabrielle, and you know how he feels about you. The warrior is a loose cannon at any time and she already borders a thin line. Together with Ares they make a formidable team.

A forlorn Gabrielle could only nod her agreement with Artemis's words.

"One more thing, Gabrielle," Artemis said firmly, aiding the still kneeling girl to her feet. "Don't underestimate the warrior, for if she learns of your flight, there will be no stopping her. Go then, Gabrielle. My spirit goes with you." The trees around Gabrielle rustled gently with Artemis's departure.

After her somewhat frightening conversation with Artemis, Gabrielle decided to return to the village to acquire a horse. Whatever chance she had, she had to take it now, for she knew she would have none at all on foot against the warrior. Cursing her self for coming this far into the forest now, she was losing precious time as she struggled back to town still clutching her market bags.

"Just great!" she sighed. "A fine time to lose direction!"

As she made her way along the faint path she was aware suddenly of someone approaching. Traveling with the warrior had taught her much about survival in the woods. She waited quietly hidden in the undergrowth, until she could see who approached her. The face, she recognized easily, as he came into view, was that of the young man from the market place.

"Well, hello again!" he smiled.

But before he could say another word, Gabrielle had grabbed both his hands pleading with him. "You've got to help me! I have wasted too much time already. I must have taken a wrong turn or something. But I must get back to the inn at once!"

"OK, OK, calm down. It's no problem. You're almost there as it is!"

"Thank the gods!" was Gabrielle's grateful reply.

"I'm heading homeward myself," the boy added politely, with a backward nod to a fine pair of trout hung over his shoulder.

The wan smile Gabrielle returned told him that this young bard clearly had other things on her mind than his latest fishing exploits.

*** Chapter Seven ***

Xena had been in the tavern now for at least two and a half candlemarks and was still drinking steadily. She was livid when she found Gabrielle not in their room. She would of searched for her straight away, but so bad was the rage within her she decided on a drink first and then one followed another in steady procession.

"Damn you Gabrielle! Where are you!" she growled, banging the tankard down onto the bar surface. The commotion raised a few heads in the half empty tavern. Xena turned and gave "the look" to anyone with question. Smirking when there were no takers.

"Another whisky !" She shouted to the barkeep as she knocked the empty tankard over.

Picking it up promptly the inn keeper wiped the table down and said. "Don't you think you've had enough for now? There'll be plenty more come morning?" Seeing the warrior's face, he realized his mistake too late. Xena was standing now, both hands flat on the counter, one eyebrow raised at the man's audacity to even suggest such a thing as her having too much to drink. A second later, she swiftly vaulted the bar, grabbed him by his scrawny little neck and slammed him hard up against the wall until his feet could barely touch the ground. Quietly, she said to him, "About that whiskey? I'd like it now!"

The man gasped for air and tried to answer but couldn't, sheer terror had frozen his words in his mouth.

"You got a problem with that?" she added.

"Nnno . . . ppproblem . . . at . . . at . . . all," the man finally squeaked out.

Xena let him drop and was about to leap back over the bar again when something outside caused her to turn towards the window, dumbfounded by what she saw there.

_____ *** _____

Gabrielle thanked the boy kindly for his efforts getting her back in good time.

"My pleasure," he answered, stepping back in a mock gentlemanly way, delivering a sweeping hand gesture complete with waist bow, causing Gabrielle to laugh at his attempted chivalry.

Suddenly the young man lurched forward, catching Gabrielle completely off guard, and in total innocence, kissed her on her lips! "You are so beautiful I just couldn't miss up on my chance!" Was his coy excuse.

A surprised Gabrielle light-heartedly punched his shoulder and laughed along with him.

Then kicking his heels as he went, the young man headed home. Gabrielle shook her head with lingering amusement over the boy's boldness, yet very grateful that Xena had not been there to witness that little action of his or there would have been Tartarus to pay. She now headed for the stables behind the tavern, with more serious things on her mind, and she knew she had to hurry.

_____ *** _____

There were no words to describe the raging fury that began to boil in the warrior's blood as she witnessed the scene before her. It was as if a red mist descended down around her. Even before the barkeep returned with the whiskey, she had already jumped back over the counter and was headed out of the door.

Xena caught up with the young boy as he took a shortcut through a back alley.

"Hey! wait up!" she called to him, careful not to scare him. The smile sprang to his face when he saw her. The Warrior Princess calling out to him. But that was all he saw.

The first punch mercifully felled him, shattering his jaw, leaving him totally unconscious. Xena had lost all sense of reasoning as she laid into him, repeatedly punching him about the head and face, breaking his nose so badly that his blood splashed freely down her leathers. Furious that he denied her his conscious state. She stood over the quivering mess, her breath coming in short rasping sounds, before she let go with one last kick. Her foot connected full strength on the left side of his temple, with such force she thought his head would surely come off, but it didn't, it just bobbed there obscenely from side to side, as his neck broke.

As things would have it on that fateful day, having secured the horse outside the tavern, Gabrielle thought she would quickly grab a few things she needed for the journey. Thanks to the boy, she had made good time, but it was a decision that would soon cost her dearly.

Already noticing the horse, Xena quietly stepped into the open doorway and leaned against it. Her frame filled the entrance, as she quietly folded her arms and spoke. "Going somewhere, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle spun round, the blood draining visibly from her face, and the fear she felt at that moment in time was nothing she ever knew or wanted to know again.

Xena smiled at her. "Little bard lost for words, eh?

Words formed on Gabrielle's lips but she failed to make them sound. Gabrielle had often wondered what it would be like to face the "Warlord" one day, and she had even fantasized about the idea sexually, but nothing could prepare her for what stood before her now. She froze, mouth agape, at Xena, who was now in a full warlord haze.

Xena stood straight, moving away from the door frame and without turning around, she closed and locked the door behind her. Slowly she started towards Gabrielle.

Sheer terror shot through the bard as she stepped backwards matching Xena's step. She could see the blood stains on her leathers and knuckles and as if in recognition Xena looked mockingly at her hands and smiled. "Oh look! Your little boyfriend went and bled all over me!"

Gabrielle closed her eyes and shuddered at the unknown fate of the boy.

"Xena, please listen to me," Gabrielle stopped suddenly in her tracks for she'd backed herself up against the side wall. "Nothing happened. It was not like you think, he's just a boy."

"Was," Xena answered knowingly. She was up against Gabrielle now, her breast plates almost touching Gabrielle's chin.

Gabrielle tried desperately to reason with her. "Xena, please? There has never been anyone else. It's always been you!"

Xena coldly stared at her. Frightened, Gabrielle could stand it no longer. "Please Xena, what are you going to do?"

Taking the bard slowly by her neck, Xena whispered in her ear as she firmly pressed her muscular thigh in between the bard's legs, forcing them apart.

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do, Gabrielle, I'm going to fuck you until you scream and come. And seeing as you don't do that a lot lately, I reckon we're in for a long night! But as an incentive, my little bard," Xena added, crudely licking her tongue along the side of Gabrielle's face, "if you do come, you will be rewarded. I promise, I'll fuck you again!"

Gabrielle could not contain the fear within her. With a last desperate plea to reach her lover, she collapsed to her knees. There was no pride or self respect anymore, that was lost a long time ago. Gabrielle begged the warrior, "Xena, please don't do this, please? Xena I beg you. I love you." She sobbed openly.

With both hands placed on the wall above, Xena looked down at the bard beneath her and savored the moment as the fire between her legs seared at her insides. She bent down and pulled the bard up, and waved a finger in her face, as she sneered. "Don't be so hasty Gabrielle, you'll be down there soon enough!"

Xena noticed the market bag on the floor near the bed. She bent forward and picked it up, delighted to find the whisky inside. "Least you done something right today!" she snapped at the bard. She drank liberally, feeling the hot liquid warm her belly as the effects of the day's alcohol kicked in. "Get onto the bed, Gabrielle," Xena commanded, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, staggering slightly.

It was the last thing Gabrielle wanted to hear. She knew if she was to survive this night she must make her escape. So she made her way to the bed, as if to obey the warrior, and pretended to undress.

Xena noticed the passive move and smiled to herself as she started to take off her armor.

Foolishly, yet desperately, Gabrielle threw herself at the warrior, knocking her over and catching her off guard in her half state of undress. Gabrielle quickly lunged at the door and reached it, but so did Xena.

The angry warrior grabbed Gabrielle's hand from the door, swinging her around. She pulled her into her and held her tightly by both shoulders, viciously head butting the bard square in the face.

Gabrielle heard a loud crack somewhere in the distance as her head snapped back with the force of it, but could feel little else. Until the warm feeling covering her face entered into her mouth. She coughed and spluttered and swallowed blood. When she couldn't breathe easily, she knew her nose was broken.

Furious for being caught off guard like that, Xena wasted no more time. She threw Gabrielle onto the bed and and dived on top of her, knocking the wind out of the bard as she connected with her body.

Gabrielle, still reeling from the blow and slipping in and out of consciousness, could barely comprehend what was happening.

Pinning both Gabrielle's hands - in what had become by now familiar fashion above her head, Xena, with her free hand, ripped the green fabric that held Gabrielle's full breasts from her view and tossed it away. A surge of renewed energy flowed through her as she shifted her hips to slide between the girl's legs. Next she reached down between Gabrielle's legs and tore at her britches, ripping them from her. Then frustrated with the skirt fasteners she wrenched it from Gabrielle's hips. Still holding Gabrielle firmly despite her struggles, Xena quickly got free of her own britches and with an animal-like groan she pressed her wet smouldering sex against the bard's, grinding her hips as she moaned into Gabrielle's tender breasts, sucking savagely and biting at her already raw nipples.

Gabrielle was held firmly in position by the warrior's full weight as the rape began.

When Gabrielle came to again, she was very much aware of the suffocating weight upon her. Xena being over six foot tall, was all but smothering her body.

"Is this what you wanted, Gabrielle? Or have you already had it with your fucking little boyfriend?!" Xena asked waspishly, as she shifted her weight and ran her hands roughly over the bard's body, squeezing her breasts and pinching at her nipples, before suddenly dropping her hand down between Gabrielle's legs. She found the object of her desire. She grabbed the soft, strawberry curls in her fist.

Gabrielle screamed in pain. "Oh gods, Xena, please, don't do..." But before she could finish, Xena growled at her.

"Don't what, Gabrielle? Don't do this!" Xena abruptly shoved four fingers into the bard!

Gabrielle screamed in agony at the intrusion. But it fell on deaf ears, as the pure blood lust that coursed through the warrior's veins drove her on, fueled by the kill of the innocent young man. She pumped into the bard with a rhythm so hard her arm would surely ache come morning.

Xena ignored the bard's pleas for mercy, as she moved her hips behind her hand to give even more force to the assault, all the time holding the bard's two hands in dead lock above her head with her left hand. Then with one more powerful thrust she had forced her whole fist into the girls stretched center, her fist tearing its way inside her. Gabrielle screamed so loud in total shock that Xena thought it might bring inquiries from other rooms. She grabbed what remained of the bards britches and stuffed them into Gabrielle's mouth to silence the girl.

Now her arm slid in and out freely, as the torn bleeding flesh eased the friction. Finally Xena felt herself rising to her own dark edges. She ended it for both of them with a final series of frenzied thrusts, as she threw her head back in ecstasy, feeling her hair fall down on her sweat covered back. She felt every muscle in her body flex, and she howled into the night as wave after wave of pure pleasure swept over her.

Spent, the warrior collapsed on top of the bard, as she waited for her breath to return. With her hand still inside Gabrielle, she relished the hot silken feel of her, and she drained every last sensation from her even though she still felt the aftershocks surge through her. A deep contented sigh escaped her lips when she finally pulled her hand from the bard's torn entrance with a disgusting, squelching sound. Xena raised herself up on one elbow. "How was it for you, babe?" She grinned, as one by one, she sucked and savored the blood and juices of what was Gabrielle, from her fingers.

Xena rolled off the bard and reached for the whisky flask, gulping large mouthfuls, before wiping her chin with the back of her hand. She placed what was left down by the bed for later. Then with a sexual stamina that would shame centaurs and men alike she turned back to the groaning bard again, and pulled her from the bed.

"Please. . . gods . . . Xena . . . Noooooo," Gabrielle stammered protestingly.

But Xena would hear none of it as she had Gabrielle firmly around the waist and was pulling the table over with her free hand, then slammed Gabrielle face down onto it. Holding her down by the back of her neck, she fumbled in the saddle bags and found the contraption she was looking for.

Keeping the struggling bard firmly in place, she fastened the straps to hips. Stroking the length of the leather phallus lovingly, she leaned over Gabrielle and whispered by her ear, "Wouldn't want to leave anything out, now would we?"

Gabrielle's body visibly tensed, as she felt the offending instrument brush against the back of her thighs.

Steadying herself for the assault, Xena spread Gabrielle's legs wide with her knees, exposing the girl's most private place.

She growled at Gabrielle. "Isn't this what you wanted with that boy, huh?" Xena asked belligerently, pressing the hard leather phallus against the tight forbidden entrance. "Isn't this what you craved from your fucking boyfriend? Isn't it, you little slut?" Xena demanded, slapping Gabrielle hard across the back of the head. Then with an evil smirk Xena spat into her hand and rubbed it around the bard's tight orifice in a lewd attempt to lubricate the opening.

Gabrielle was stricken dumb with fear, knowing now that Xena's full warlord persona had taken over. She knew what was coming next, and she screamed one last plea for Xena to stop, but the warrior was already over the edge.

Holding the tip of the phallus hard against the straining opening, Xena hesitated slightly as she readied her position, then rammed the phallus into the helpless bard in one complete thrust.

Gabrielle's pitiful screams bounced off the walls of the little room.

Full, deep strokes filled the girl's belly, stretching and tearing in their wake. Slow at first, as the warrior found her rhythm, then gaining momentum. Xena relentlessly pounded into her lover in a frenzied assault. Finally her precipice approached, though it was taking longer than usual. Xena attributed it to the alcohol's effects. She had to hang onto the table for support as her legs grew unsteady, still managing to grip the sobbing bard with her arm tightly around her waist.

With a blast of obscenities and other unintelligible sounds, she cried out Gabrielle's name at the top of her lungs, gasping and grunting as the spasms wracked through her body, flinching with each aftershock she slumped forward on top of the girl to steady herself.

Raising slightly, she pulled the blood soaked phallus abruptly from the torn orifice. Then without any regard for Gabrielle, she picked the girl up from the table and unceremoniously threw her back onto the bed, making her cry out again, from the added pain.

Slumped in the chair, legs stretched out in front of her, Xena drank greedily from the whisky and watched Gabrielle toss and turn on the bed, and finally settle into a fetal position, her body shaking with unrestrained sobs.

Swigging more whisky, Xena rose up from the chair and staggered with its effects, then walked back over to the bed, turning the bard to face her and said, "Had enough yet, Gabrielle?"

When the girl didn't answer Xena knelt onto the bed and, lifting her leg over, she once again straddled the bard. Noticing she had passed out momentarily, she started to slap each side of Gabrielle's face to bring her round.

"Come on, Gabrielle, the night is young!" She grabbed the whisky again and took a swig of it, and rudely spat into the bard's face.

"Wake up damn you!" She demanded, frustrated by the lack of response, she continued slapping Gabrielle hard across her face.

Gabrielle coughed... and spit out the whiskey and blood that still lingered in her mouth. Trying to focus, she realized suddenly that the warrior was upon her again. Gabrielle tried to move, to somehow throw her off, but her attempts were both weak and futile.

It amused the warrior and stirred yet again the thick coated wetness between her legs. Xena slowly moved her hips over Gabrielle's belly, and felt her wetness as she felt it seep out of her onto the bard's stomach. "Feel that, Gabrielle?" she whispered. "Feel what you do to me."

Gabrielle turned her head to one side in disgust.

"Don't turn away from me, bitch!" Xena almost hissed in anger, then slapped Gabrielle again.

Gabrielle brought both hands up to shield herself, but the sting of the slap startled the bard, and in a total defensive reflex, she drew back and smacked the warrior straight back! She didn't have time to think where such courage came from, for Xena grabbed her hands and shifted her position, moving further up her body to sit on her chest and placing both her knees on Gabrielle's arms, pinned her there, returning the slap twice as hard.

"Wanna play rough, eh?" Xena grinned, goading her victim.

Gabrielle could hardly breathe with the weight of the warrior, but could clearly see Xena's splayed sex in front of her and smell the strong musky scent of her obvious arousal.

Xena looked down at Gabrielle, smiling. She was toying with her, exercising her dominance, she would slap her into submission at any show of defiance, instilling a fear so deep within Gabrielle, she would never want to leave her.

"What say you now, bard?"

With her cheek burning from the last slap, Gabrielle turned her head firmly to one side in silent defiance, and for the first time she despised her warrior, hated her for what she was doing to her. She refused to answer her, she wouldn't give Xena even that satisfaction.

But Xena was enjoying watching the bard struggle with her emotions. She slapped her again, even harder, forcing a reaction.

Gabrielle could stand it no longer, tears of hurt and frustration stung at her eyes.

Xena screamed at the helpless woman. "I told you before, Gabrielle, don't force issues with me!" the warrior reminded her.

Gabrielle bit down on her bottom lip, defeated. She knew she was no match for the warrior, yet she fought back with the only thing she had left: her voice.

"YOU'RE A BASTARD, XENA!" She screamed so loudly enraged veins stood out on the tormented girl's neck. "FUCK YOU! LEAVE ME ALONE!"

But Xena was not impressed. She backhanded Gabrielle instantly for the reproach, opening her split lip again. "It seems, bard, that you have forgotten who you're talking to!"

Gabrielle tasted blood for the umpteenth time this night and could just not take anymore, through her tears she knew Xena's tone was deadly serious and could not risk provoking her again, so with heart wrenching sobs the little bard just couldn't hold back, totally defeated she gave in to her lover, and still sobbing gave her the answer she wanted to hear. "I'm sorry Xena," she pleaded with her lover. "I'm really sorry, Xena, please . . . just leave me be."

Xena smiled and nodded knowingly. A deep satisfying sigh escaped from her throat as she relished her victory. Then to add insult to injury, now that she had the bard's attention, she raised herself up on her knees, placed both hands on her hips and looked down at the vanquished girl beneath her. Smiling evilly, she indicated her seeping sex and ordered Gabrielle to service her. "Suck it sweetly, Gabrielle." she said, as she lowered herself over the girl's face.

Gabrielle, totally subdued, her proud, Amazon spirit broken, could only comply. As always, Xena had the last word.

"Oh, baby. What a sweet surrender," Xena said, with obvious victorious glee.

_____ *** _____

Storms raged around Mount Olympus as the gods witnessed Gabrielle's demise at the hands of her lover, The Warrior Princess. Artemis covered her face with both hands and wept openly. Aphrodite held Cupid close to her, needing his warmth for comfort, for although immortal, they could not comprehend Xena's treatment of the little bard.

Deep in the lower depths of the underworld, even Hades shook his head in disbelief saying, "Well Xena, you are some baby."

While Ares, on the other hand, could scarcely contain himself, as many of his own congratulated him on winning the infamous Warrior back into his fold. He demanded that Hades take the bard now and be done with it, for her life would not be worth living anyway. Not with Xena back in full Warlord form, he would finally be rid of the irritating little shit once and for all!

Zeus, father and great one, with his big hand planted firmly under his chin, observed his children closely and pondered the outcome.

_____ *** _____

Gabrielle lay where she was, her now sleeping lover beside her. She could neither move nor feel any movement in her bruised and battered body, as another dawn peeped wearily into the room.

The events of the night were no more than a blur to her now and seemed almost like Illusia. But reality of it still slept soundly beside her.

She thought of how she must spend her life now, at the will of this woman. And although if her body could compete, her mind could not. It was at this moment that Gabrielle-- Bard of Poteidaia-- lost her will to live.

Now turning to her lover, she painstakingly raised her pain wracked body to look at Xena one last time. She pressed her battered and bruised lips against the sleeping warrior's mouth, whispering, "I love you, Xena, with all of my heart." Wearily, she lay back slowly, raised the warrior's well-toned arm, and put it around her. She nestled her head into Xena's shoulder, flinching with the pain, she snuggled further into the warrior, raising her knee over her leg, reminiscent of a happier time gone by. Gabrielle hugged her lover, her partner, her wife for the last time, then slipped quietly into oblivion.

***Chapter Eight***

Ephiny cursed the bad weather that delayed them. "Gabrielle should have met up with us before now," she said quietly to Solari, as the Amazons moved quickly through the undergrowth. "I don't like this one bit."

Suddenly, Ephiny stopped dead in her tracks. "What is it?" Eponin asked.

The hair on the back of Ephiny's neck stood up. "Oh, gods no!"

"WHAT?" shouted Eponin, catching the Regent as her legs went from under her.

"Oh, sweet Artemis. We are too late." Solari's face drained white as she looked from the kneeling Regent to Eponin.

"What are you saying?" said the normally stoic warrior as tears burned at the back of her eyes.

But as if to confirm the tragic message, Ephiny felt it again. The realization flowed through her like a sixth sense, she threw her hands to her head and howled. "OH GODS NOOOO!!!!"

Having run the rest of the way, they entered the village just as the first early risers stirred. The Amazons began their search immediately.

"Quickly," ordered Ephiny. "She must still be at the inn." They searched every room as they went, unmindful of complaints from the disturbed guests.

But, it was Solari that found them first. Not knowing or caring, as she kicked open the door, about what would greet her. "Over here!" She called out to her fellow warriors, as she barged headlong into the room, sword drawn, followed closely by her sisters. She didn't know what to make of things, as she and the Amazons circled the room, their swords all pointing at a clearly sleeping Xena. And there snuggled neatly into the crook of her arms lay Gabrielle!

The wary Amazons stood fast, as they waited for Ephiny's order.

"She's faking it," whispered Solari, indicating Xena.

"I don't think she is," Ephiny said, as she cautiously approached the bed. Bending over the warrior, Ephiny waved a hand in front of her face, and Solari braced herself.

"She's in some kind of trance," revealed Ephiny. Taking no chances with the seemingly catatonic warrior, Ephiny ordered, "Amazons ready," before she walked around to Gabrielle's side of the bed. Ephiny shuddered inwardly, before she even reached the other side, fearing her worst fears were about to be confirmed.

Kneeling down beside Gabrielle, she could see her pale color, as she slowly removed the covers from her face. Her eyes darted to and from the warrior as she worked. Ephiny's heart skipped a beat as the bruised and battered face of her Queen was revealed. A loud intake of breath filled the room.

A deep foreboding seeped into Ephiny's heart as she felt quickly for a pulse. She squeezed her eyes tight and groaned when she found none. Solari still standing at ready, bit down on her lip to fight back the tears. Eponin, just stood there, unable to take it in. All of the Amazons exchanged uncertain looks, fear plainly visible on their strained pale faces.

From where she was kneeling, Ephiny could see that Gabrielle was naked. Very slowly she pulled back the covers from Gabrielle bit by bit. Her muscles visibly flinched, as her eyes took in every bruise, every bite, and every ugly mark that covered her Queen's body. Finally, Ephiny's eyes rested on the blood congealed curls that covered what remained of the girls torn and ravaged center. The blood stained rivulets that had continued down the inside of Gabrielle's legs had also dried. The other superficial wounds and bruises were obviously taken as the brave bard put up some kind of a fight. Too frightened to turn her, Ephiny could only assume it would be the same on her other side.

Tears flowed freely over Ephiny's cheeks, and her battle-hard sisters stood frozen as they fought back the tears with the enormity of it all. One of the younger inexperienced Amazons faltered at the sight of her broken Queen. Her sword suddenly became too heavy for her, and it clattered noisily to the floor, breaking the silence. The Regent glared at her, but allowed the slight under the circumstances. The girl ran outside and promptly tasted her last meal again.

The inspection over, Ephiny quickly issued orders that prepared their Queen for the journey home. Strangely, the warrior remained sleeping throughout.

Eponin, who stood impassive through the whole ordeal, now fully tensed, jumped forward.

"I want to kill the fucking bitch, Ephiny! How could she do this to her? The dirty bastard!"

Ephiny too, struggled with the same thoughts, but knew better than to give in to her outrage. "No! Not now Eponin! We all have many questions, but we'll do this right. Xena will pay dearly for her crime, but first let's take our Queen home." The Regent stood between Eponin and the sleeping Warrior.

_____ *** _____

"Father, I implore you, spare the young girl. She has so much love to give!" Aphrodite pleaded with Zeus, her father.

"What point is there to this intervention, my child? When you can easily see that the warrior has returned to the darkness. No sooner than I wake Gabrielle and she would willingly place herself in harm's way again!"

"This is true, father!" Ares interrupted angrily, as he made his way forward. "Xena was mine from the start. Why does everyone try so hard to keep her from where she belongs?!"

"You stay out of this, Ares. You have done enough damage!" Artemis blurted out, furious with the war god's smug attitude. It was unusual for Artemis to argue before Zeus, and it did not go unnoticed.

"Enough!" The great father roared. "You all play these childish games with these mortals and expect me to clean up your mess!"

"Aphrodite." Zeus turned to his golden-haired favorite. "I cannot change what has already happened. But tell me, how could the bard forgive the warrior for such an assault?"

"Well, father, there are not many who could. But so full of love and compassion is this woman, it is only she who could forgive such an act."

Artemis intervened. "Father, she is my "chosen one". I have searched far and wide for such a woman. I have so many plans for her and I know she will fulfill them. Her life would credit us all."

Zeus motioned tiredly for Aphrodite and Artemis to approach him. "I will say this. If the young girl can forgive the warrior as you say, then so be it. But remember the warrior will wake and she will know Gabrielle is gone. She will not be changed or remorseful. She will gladly seek Gabrielle out and make her pay dearly for daring to leave her. So Artemis, your "chosen" must face her warrior yet again, and find it in her heart to forgive her or she will suffer again at her warrior's hand and her agony only prolonged."

"But father, you cannot expect such compassion for these deeds were too great," Artemis pleaded in protest, tears streaming down her beautiful yet angry face. "Take the warrior instead for all the misery she has caused."

Zeus stepped forward and took her hand in his, then softly replied, "My dear, sweet Artemis. I am aware of the great atrocities the warrior has inflicted on the innocents of this world, but you know as well as I do that the implications would be far worse for all mortals, if I separate them. Together they have much good to achieve. And Ares? You need not look so glum, for it is a grim task the young girl must face. Think about it. What I ask is this, would even you face the raging Warrior Princess in all her glory?"

Ares, with an elbow resting on his crossed arm, was stroking his chin thoughtfully, then locked eyes with Zeus and smiled slowly.

Zeus winked conspiratorially and turned back to his daughters, speaking firmly. "I have spoken now. Let that be an end to it."

***Chapter Nine***

"Ephiny! Solari!" Eponin came bursting back into the room. "A pulse Ephiny!"

"It's Gabrielle! She has a pulse! I was just trying to fix her clothes for the journey and I felt it!"

The Regent ran outside to the travois and fell down beside Gabrielle, putting her hand to her neck. She felt it. It was very slow and very weak but it was there!

In an unprecedented outburst of affection, Ephiny jumped at the weaponsmaster, grabbed her around the neck, smothered her in kisses. A rather embarrassed warrior backed away from the Regent, shyly straightening out her clothes.

All rank was forgotten that moment, as Amazons hugged each other as women, not warriors, and thanked the gods for their young Queen's life.

The Regent wasted no time getting the Queen back to the village. She needed to get her to the healers immediately. She decided in her wisdom to leave the "sleeping warrior" to save time. It would have been an operation in itself to attempt to bring Xena back under guard, for she had no way of knowing the mood of the woman when she woke. Right now she had enough to deal with getting Gabrielle home, without worrying about a psychotic warlord on the loose! They would be safer in the Amazon village. Besides, she already knew that when Xena did wake, she'd come looking for them soon enough.

_____ *** _____

Groggily the warrior stirred in the bed, her head pounding from the effects of the alcohol. Stretching her long muscular body the full length of the bed she yawned contentedly. Raising herself up on both elbows she took in the room around her and tried to recollect the events of the night.

Her first thought registered, and she reached for Gabrielle under the crumpled covers. "Damn! Where is she now?" she scowled. Her right arm ached, and she smiled, knowing what caused it. Reaching for the whisky and finding it empty, she threw it across the room.

"GABRIELLE!" She roared.

When the bard still failed to appear, she got up from the bed and grabbed her under shift from the floor. Pulling it over her head she went out back to relieve herself. A smirk formed on her lips, when she noticed some dried blood stains on the tops of her legs.

Always wary of changes in her surroundings, Xena saw evidence of the Amazons' presence and burst back into the room. She looked around frantically for more clues. Then she found, right on the table beside her, a note addressed to her in Ephiny's perfect handwriting.


Words do not come easy to me now, for what I have to say to you. I have taken Gabrielle, Queen of Amazons home, and away from you.

Never will I forget the abuse she has suffered at your hand. I have no doubt you will come, but I warn you, you are not welcome here. You will not be permitted to see Gabrielle. I will kill you myself first, before I let that happen. I will protect her from you, Xena, even if it costs me my life so be it. May the gods forgive you Xena, for I never will.

Ephiny. Regent Royal, Amazon Nation.

"Well, well, well! The little bard has run home to Mommy!" Xena said sarcastically, screwing the note up tightly in her fist. Her deep blue eyes narrowed to slits. "We'll see about this!" Throwing the note away she bolted out the door to find Argo.

_____ *** _____

Back at the Amazon village the healers had already set to work on their Queen. Ephiny had sent word ahead about the situation and the Amazons had readily prepared things she had ordered. Gabrielle now being tended to by the healers, though still not fully conscious, was at least safe for the moment, and Ephiny could now set her mind to the other serious matter at hand.

The guards were doubled and posted on full armed alert all along the perimeter of the compound. The healers' hut was moved temporarily into the Queens quarters, as it was bigger and more comfortable. Ephiny had ordered some of her things moved into what was once Xena's adjoining room, before she joined with Gabrielle and became her consort. She felt that Gabrielle would need someone to lean on in the coming weeks. The Regent also silently reminded herself to discuss that ceremony when Gabrielle was feeling up to it.

Ephiny surveyed the village from the watch tower, content that all was done that could be done, even as she braced herself for the Warrior's indubitable arrival.

Xena had spotted the guard's moments before they saw her. Swiftly they glided down from the trees above her and surrounded her.

"Stand fast! Xena Warrior Princess!" Eponin showed herself, sword drawn.

"Full title, Eponin." Xena smiled at her. "I'm flattered."

"Don't be," came the curt reply. "There are no compliments here, Xena. On the Regent's orders, you will turn around and go back where you came from, warrior, for you are not welcome here!"

Xena eyed the Amazons around her. A dozen or more she guessed, probably two archers in the trees. Fixing her gaze firmly upon the weaponsmaster she very quietly replied, "To Tartarus with your Regent, Eponin, and to Tartarus with you too!"

Before Eponin could take it further Solari intervened. "Xena, if you insist on entering the village you will do so under guard, where you will be escorted to the Regent herself." Ephiny had already anticipated this would happen.

"Why, thank you, Solari." Xena smiled in mock gratitude, pushing the weaponsmaster with her shoulder as she brushed passed her, and followed the Amazons down to the village.

Ephiny had settled her Queen into the warm bed when the healers had finished their work for the day. Gabrielle was conscious now, although still not speaking, she did return Ephiny's smile with gratitude. Ephiny gently caressed Gabrielle's forehead and crossed into the adjoining rooms to study the scrolls on her desk.

The commotion outside told her "she" was here before the guard could even knock on the door. The Regent straightened up her clothes, took a deep breath, and stepped outside.

The Warrior stood proudly at full height with long black hair flowing gently in the breeze. She held Argo's reins loosely in her hand. Ephiny noticed she was still armed with both her chakram and sword. She guessed that to request her to surrender them would have been futile.

Xena looked directly at Ephiny. "You know why I'm here, Ephiny," her slitted eyes never blinking as she spoke.

"Xena, Gabrielle is in no state to see anyone, least of all you. I will not allow it," Ephiny said firmly.

The words stung at Xena, who's muscles along her jaw bone were visibly twitching. "I haven't come to see her, Ephiny, I've come to take her with me!" She glared at the Regent, who was struggling to appear confident in front of her sisters. Xena knew she could easily take the slight woman, and smiled inwardly, for it was clear Ephiny knew it too.

"It's out of the question! Gabrielle will remain here and that's my final word!"

Xena was furious, simply not used to being spoken to that way. She could see the Regent was trying to remain in control of the situation and she knew she was completely out numbered. Not being stupid enough to take them all on, she coughed lightly to hide her amusement over what she had to say next. Then skillfully played her ace.

"Hear this, Royal Regent Ephiny!" She smiled as she mocked the Amazon leader.

The Regent had to raise her hand to restrain her sisters as they motioned forward at the insult.

Xena's steel blue eyes shifted casually over the angry Amazons as she continued. "As Royal Consort and Champion to your Queen, I hereby demand the return of my 'wife,' on the grounds of holding her to chosen vows taken from Sacred Amazon law!"

A stunned silence settled around the village as Ephiny's mouth dropped open. She had been ready to fight this woman to the death if need be, anything to protect her young Queen, but she was totally unprepared for this approach.

Before she could even attempt a reply, Xena had mounted her horse and slowly walked her towards Ephiny. Xena leaned down to her, whispering, so that only Ephiny could hear. "How do you like them apples, babe?!" Raising herself upright, Xena confidently announced, "Ephiny, I have a few things that I must do. I will return in a couple of days to take Gabrielle with me. So you make sure and tell her highness for me, to have her sweet bard ass ready!! Ya got that?"

Turning Argo around, and with tongue in cheek, Xena arrogantly rode the horse slowly out of the Amazon compound.

The Royal Regent was struck dumb by the disclosure. Solari nudged her back to reality. "Ephiny, what the fuck is going on?!"

She turned to her partner and soul mate and said very slowly, "Solari. That woman has just rendered the entire Amazon Nation powerless!"

Almost as an afterthought, she quickly dismissed the somewhat puzzled and confused army and ordered the Queen's council to her rooms immediately.

Solari stared open mouthed at Ephiny's back as she hastened away.

_____ *** _____

Xena was ecstatic! The look on Ephiny's face made her almost come in her britches! She could hardly contain her jubilation.

"Yee Hah! She slapped Argo's backside forcing her into a racing gallop! Riding her hard through the open country she mused on the day the bard had told her about the vows she wanted to take at the joining. She had told her then it wasn't necessary to do it, for she loved her so much anyway. Things were kinda different back then, she thought. But the bard had insisted, and she pledged her love and allegiance to the warrior for eternity!

"Oh baby! I LOVE IT!" She shouted to the wind.

_____ *** _____

The Regent dismissed the guard at Gabrielle's side, who also quickly informed her of the Queen's uneasiness as she slept. Gently wiping the sweat from Gabrielle's forehead, she thought sadly that her young Queen must be so terrified of her lover to be aware of her presence even in her sleep.

As the council sat around the large oak table looking through the scrolls, scrutinizing every sorry detail, Ephiny spoke up. "It's no use. I already know about the vows. They come from the 'old world.' I begged her not to take them but she wouldn't listen."

"What does it mean?" Eponin asked.

"It means, my dear friend, that Gabrielle pledged not only her love to the warrior but her life eternal as well. They cannot be separated even in death, and that is that."

Solari, not known for her diplomacy, approached the table as her temper got the better of her. "Well, this is just fucking great! Which smart ass Amazon bitch, in her infinite fucking wisdom, thought this one up?"

Ephiny turned on her lover, embarrassed at the outburst. "That's enough Solari! Do you forget who's in the next room?"

Solari's eyes narrowed as she held her lover's stare and fought to control herself before reluctantly slumping into a chair sulking. Even though Ephiny knew Solari wouldn't challenge her rank here in front of the council, she knew she would face her own lover's wrath later in their rooms.

With no time to spare before Xena would return, Ephiny had chosen her moment to speak with Gabrielle and break the devastating news. The young Queen was making good progress and the new day found her sitting up taking her own food.

"How are you feeling, Gabrielle?" Ephiny put her hand to her young Queen's face, pulling back loose strands of hair that had fallen onto her.

"Ephiny, I feel better. So much better thanks to you." She reached out to hug her friend as tears started to fill her eyes. "Ephiny," the young Queen continued, "I don't know how I could have got through this without you." Gabrielle clasped her hand in Ephiny's.

Ephiny sat down on the bed and struggled for words as to what she must say.

"Ephiny, what is it?" Gabrielle could clearly see her friend's distress. "Tell me, Ephiny! What is it?" alarm now entering the young Queen's voice.

Ephiny drew a long deep breath and looked sincerely into her young Queen's eyes. "Gabrielle, what I have to say to you hurts me more than I will ever know, and I need you to be very strong."

"Ephiny, you are scaring me, pleas...."

"Sshhhsh!" The Regent silenced her with fingers to her lips.

"It's Xena, Gabrielle, she was here yesterday. Gabrielle's face went white. Staring now, Ephiny noticed the pressure, as Gabrielle squeezed her hand for support.

"She's coming back, isn't she?" Gabrielle's eyes widened. "Isn't she, Ephiny!"

"Yes, Gabrielle, she is. She'll be here at first light."

"I don't understand." Gabrielle looked confused. "Why didn't you put her under guard? Why Ephiny? What's going on?" She was panicking now.

"Listen to me, Gabrielle." Ephiny fought with herself inside. How could she tell her? How could she tell her it was all her own doing? She braced herself, deciding that complete honesty was needed now. "Do you remember your joining, Gabrielle?"

"What?" Gabrielle snapped, surprised at the question. "The woman beats me half to death and you want to talk about my wedding day! What about it, Ephiny? Tell me."

"For Gods sake, Gabrielle, will you let me finish!" Ephiny shouted. Instantly, though, she was sorry for shouting at Gabrielle, and quietly added. "It's those damn vows, you know? The ones you took from the old scrolls. Remember?"

Somewhere in the corners of her tormented mind, the reality of Ephiny's words dawned on the young Queen, and the cold hand of fear gripped tightly around her heart. Gabrielle's mouth dropped open. "The vows? The vows. Oh gods no?" She stared at Ephiny in disbelief. "Ephiny, please, say it's not true." She started to cry. "Ephiny, please help me. Don't let it be true. Oh, Ephiny, talk to me."

But the Regent, with tears now streaming down her cheeks, could only look on helplessly as the full impact of the situation sank in on Gabrielle. All she could do was cradle her young Queen in her arms as the sobs wracked through her body. A full candlemark had past as the two women, still holding each other, sat pensive upon the bed.

Ephiny broke the spell first, lifting the girl up, she gently kissed her forehead. "Come on Gabrielle, we need to talk about this."

Gabrielle knew she was right, and wiped her eyes and her nose and sat up to face her.

"Ephiny, this all means I will have to go back to her, doesn't it?" She needed to hear herself say it outloud.

"Yes, Gabrielle, it does."

"So, when she comes here in the morning, it's to take me with her, right?" continued the young Queen still disbelieving.

"Yes, Gabrielle. I'm so sorry."

Still struggling to come to terms with the enormity of it all, Gabrielle broke down again. "I can't do it, Ephiny, I can't go back to her. Please help me?"

A knock on the door startled both of them. "What is it?" Ephiny sharply inquired.

Opening the door, Solari peeked in. "It's only me, my Queen," and nodding to Ephiny, she entered the room. "I take it you told her?" she indicated to Gabrielle with her head. Ephiny nodded.

Looking at the girl, Solari could not remember a time when, battle hardened warrior that she was, she had felt so completely and utterly helpless. Looking back at Ephiny, Solari informed her, "I have seen to it that all the preparations have been carried out as you instructed, Regent. We can but wait now for the warrior's return.

"Thank you, Solari," the Regent softly replied, as her lover left the room.

Through the best part of the night Ephiny sat with Gabrielle and the rest of the council, as they went over and over the old scrolls trying in vain to find a loop hole or something that would prevent this absurd folly.

"Ephiny, I am the Queen for gods sake! Can't I change the stupid rules?"

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle, but these are not just rules. These are laws and traditions of which the Amazon Nation are based upon, no one can alter them."

A very weary young Queen held her head in her hands, then looked up at her friends and sisters, and hoarsely said, "You do realize she is going to kill me, don't you? Do you think she is going to ride in here and take me away to play happy families? I won't go! I'll run away! Don't make me go, Ephiny," she pleaded.

"Gabrielle, where is there to hide from the Warrior Princess? She would easily find you. Besides, it's my duty to see that . . ."

"YOUR DUTY? Is it your duty, Ephiny, to hand me over to a demented warrior who will surely take my life! Well? Is it?"

Ephiny struggled to find a reason. "Gabrielle, I know only too well the implications, but try to understand my position."

"Oh, well excuse me for living, Ephiny, but may I remind you that it's me that's at risk here! Not your god damn position! So why don't you just go!?"

"Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I never meant it like that. It's just that if you'd only listened to me and not chosen those vows . . ."

"Well thank you, Ephiny, for reminding me that this is my own stupid fault! I really needed to hear that right now!"

Ephiny wished she had cut off her tongue. The situation was getting to everyone now. That night an almost eerie silence fell over the Amazon village, as the women waited, in almost morbid anticipation of the coming of the day.

***Chapter Ten***

Xena entered the perimeter boundaries of the village right on cue. She rode Argo down into the square. A thousand eyes upon her as she rode in slowly and confidently, coming up to the familiar building that she knew were the Queen's rooms. She pulled Argo to a halt outside and waited.

Ephiny stepped out into the cool morning air that hung heavy on the atmosphere and faced her. The two warriors stared defiantly at each other.

"I'm waiting, Ephiny." Xena broke the silence that separated them.

The Regent reluctantly gave the order to escort the Queen from her rooms. While still holding the warrior's stare, Ephiny suddenly stepped forward.

"Hold fast, Warrior Princess! I have something to say!"

Xena thought silently. 'I knew it was going too smoothly.'

Solari and Eponin exchanged puzzled glances.

"I, Ephiny, challenge your right, Warrior, as royal consort and champion!"

A loud gasp was heard through the crowd.

Xena's eyes narrowed and a feral smile came to her lips.

"Are you crazy?" Solari stepped in front of Ephiny and put her hands on Ephiny's shoulders.

"Let me be, Solari. I can't do this to Gabrielle. I can't do it! I have to try something." Ephiny squeezed Solari's hand lovingly and stepped aside of her.

Xena, who had remained on Argo throughout, slowly dismounted. "So be it, Ephiny. I accept your challenge."

A large circle was immediately formed, as the two warriors squared up to each other.

Ephiny had thought about nothing else all night. She had to do something. Gabrielle was right. 'Was it really her duty to hand her over to this woman?' She knew also, that she couldn't win, but if she could just keep clear enough, Xena might become over confident, and she only needed one lucky chance, just one. It was an incredible risk to take, but she could never live with herself if she would forsake Gabrielle like this. It was a risk she had to take.

Xena couldn't believe her luck! Not only does she get the bard back, but a chance to sort Ephiny out for taking her in the first place, and in front of the whole goddamn nation to boot!

As the challenge was issued to Xena, she had choice of weapons. And much to Ephiny's regret, she chose swords. The warrior grinned at her as they moved cat-like around the circle.

Xena struck first, with such force it almost knocked the sword from her hand as steel clashed together. Solari could hardly bare to look, for fear of the outcome.

They continued for several moments. Suddenly Xena realized that there was no pattern to the fight, Ephiny was biding time! Furious now seeing Ephiny's plan, Xena flared into action. With one final clash of steel both swords locked at the hilt bringing the warriors face to face.

"Thought you'd get lucky with me, Ephiny?" Xena whispered as fear looked back at her from Ephiny's eyes. "In your dreams, baby!"

With an almighty push Xena threw the Regent from her to break the lock, and with one vicious swipe, hit her full on with the hilt of the sword across the side of her head. Ephiny went down.

Solari rushed to her side but was stopped by the guards making the circle.

Bending over her, Xena could see from the wound that it was a fair smack Ephiny took, and she almost felt sorry for her. Then without further regard for her one time friend, she roughly grabbed the Regent's hair with her left hand, pulled her to her knees and held her there.

Ephiny, semi-conscious, arms hanging limply at her sides, could do nothing to prevent the warrior from taking her life.

Hesitantly, Xena looked around her with her sword held firmly in her right hand, thought briefly that she'd never get out of here alive for killing the bitch. Then gave Solari a sadistic smile, swung her sword overhead in a deadly arc-like movement.


The Warrior's name rang clear and crisp around the women, as all eyes turned to Gabrielle, standing in the Queen's doorway.

Their eyes locked. It was the first time they'd seen each other since that night, and each had their own memories.

"Spare her, Xena. There is no need for this. I will come with you."

"Well, Gabrielle." Xena smiled at her. "I'm touched."

"Please Xena? It's me that you want."

"It's my right, Gabrielle," Xena answered coldly, still holding Ephiny, whose face was now covered in blood.

"Yes Xena, it is your right, but you know if you do this you won't get out alive." She indicated to the army that surrounded her.

She was right, the crazy bitches would swing for her if she killed Ephiny, Xena thought reluctantly, and in one last act of defiance she swiftly raised her knee, smashing it into the helpless Regent's face.

"You BASTARD!" cried Solari as she struggled to free herself from the guards to get at her tormentor.

_____ *** _____

"FATHER ! You can not allow this, Father please?" Aphrodite pleaded tearfully with the great one.

"Hush now, my child. Let us see what this little one is really made of."

_____ *** _____

Gabrielle walked up to her warrior, her lover and soul mate. She steeled herself in Xena's presence, knowing full well the consequences of her actions. Steady green eyes looked up at the warrior and she spoke very quietly. "I'm ready to go with you now, Xena."

Xena's eyes glistened triumphantly and she was about to say something to Gabrielle but couldn't quite remember what. Something stirred in her, from a time long forgotten, but she couldn't quite grasp.

Trying desperately to shake off the feeling, she ordered, "Gabrielle, you ready? We are leaving. Now!"

"Yes, Xena. I'm ready."

The young Queen, staff in hand, stood bravely in front of her warrior. She looked up at Xena and quietly said, "Xena, I love you with all my heart. Although it has been so very, very, hard for me lately. I always will love you. I'll go with you now, of my own free will. I pray one day you will find peace. I forgive you, Xena, for what you have done to me and what you might still do yet. I speak as an Amazon Queen bound by my own vows. So this be my fate."

Solari, Eponin, and great warriors alike, stood numb and humbled, as they witnessed what their proud young Queen had sacrificed in order to save the life of their Regent and Nation.

Well, they say there is a first time for everything in this known world. Normally Xena is the exception to this rule, but at this suspended moment in time the great Warrior Princess faltered.

Xena's eyes never left Gabrielle's, as she struggled with the impact of Gabrielle's speech. "You? Forgive me?"

Gabrielle's head tilted slightly in confusion.

Xena seemed more and more flustered as she spoke. "You can forgive me for all that I have done to you?"

Xena was clearly unsteady now on her feet and Gabrielle rushed instantly to try and support her. Failing miserably to hold the weight of the warrior, they slipped down to the dirt-covered ground on their knees, in full view of an entire Amazon Nation.

The puzzled young Queen cradled the head of her now sobbing lover.

It was if the Warrior's pain had been released from hidden depths of darkness itself.

Xena turned to her once lover and friend, her own tears washing her cheeks. She took her little bard's face in her hands and said, "Oh Gabrielle, how can you ever forgive me?" The great warrior sobbed, like no one had ever seen before. "I am so desperately sorry," she gasped, rising up on one knee. The warrior drew her sword from it's sheath and placed it on the ground at Gabrielle's feet, putting her right closed fist across her breast, she bowed to the young Amazon Queen.

"Gabrielle, I pledge my sword, my life, my love, all that I am and all that I ever will be, I give to you now. Forgive me, Gabrielle, as only you could."

A Queen and her Nation stood silent and Gabrielle closed her eyes and thanked the gods for returning her one great love that she thought was lost forever.

_____ *** _____

Artemis held her breath in silent relief and thanked her father for his divine intervention.

Aphrodite jested with him. "Father, did you know this would happen?"

"No, my child, they needed to work this one out together. But before I released the warrior from Ares' hold, I had to see for myself if the little one had the courage and strength you and Artemis said, in order to forgive the warrior."

Turning to Artemis, the great father said smiling, "Tis wisely you have chosen, Artemis, for your young Queen is indeed filled with a great love and goodness that will benefit us all. But then you must know it is a rocky path she walks with her warrior and this will not be the last time her tears will be yours."

"Yes father, I know." Artemis lowered her head in thought.

The god of war snarled in disgust, as he promptly disappeared into his own darkness. 'She will return to me one day. I'll show them.'

_____ *** _____

The Queen and her Consort stayed that night at the Amazon village but left early the next morning for the tension was too great between the warrior and the tribe. Time was needed to heal the physical and emotional wounds.

Ephiny, Royal Regent, was recovering nicely from her ordeal at the hands of the warrior, and although pleased for her Queen and the final outcome, she would always hold close the memories of that day and the events that led up to it. Deep in her own heart she doubted she would ever forgive Xena, the best she could hope for was tolerance.

Solari and Eponin were warriors alike, and like the great Warrior Princess, they would never forget their common enemy. For there was only a young Bard from Poteidaia that stood between them. With a love so strong, who can stand against it?

The End

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