THE AMAZON QUEEN

Part V: THE UNVEILED TRUTH

by L. M. Townsend (AKA Queen Laes╬)

e-mail: QueenLaese@aol.com

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Argo, Solan, Toris, Cyren═, Ephiny, Joxer, Virgil, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.) are the property of MCA and Renaissance Pictures and anyone else who has a legal claim, and I thank them for their creation and for allowing me to live in their world for a little bit. (Melys╬ and The Amazons belong to

themselves and I dare any man to say different!) The stories are mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.

SUBTEXT: Subtext? Well, yeah. There is. Some of it obviously implied, some blatant, though nothing graphic, and some of it's in the eye of the reader; WHILE THERE ARE NO GRAPHIC SEXUAL SCENES OF ANY KIND, if you read anything into any of the words or situations these characters find themselves in, then you have only yourself to thank/blame (depending upon your point of view!) If you have a problem with people of any persuasion loving each other and sharing their lives, then I pity you. I won't apologise for them, though, so if you have a problem with any of these stories, it's up to you to go and read something else. Remember, no one's holding a sword

(or a chakram) to your throat!

JOXER ALERT: Okay, except for TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, I don't normally cry over TV shows (IDES OF MARCH doesn't count!) And (SPOILER FOR ENDGAME!), killing off the Leaders of Gabrielle's Tribe - especially EPHINY (yeah, okay, I cried at the end of that one, too) - was bad enough, but JOXER, too?! Goddess! I never thought X:WP would bring tears to my eyes (again, IDES doesn't count!), but the body count is rising, oh great PTB! I just saw the preview for THE HAUNTING OF AMPHIPOLIS - enough, already! Please, oh, please, don't be foreshadowing for

the series finale! If X & G get killed off at the end, I don't think I could stand it.

Anyway, those who are less than fond of Joxer may want to skip a certain paragraph near the beginning of this story. It's my epitaph to "The Mighty One" - I rather liked the guy, you see. (And thanks to Ted Raimi for playing him as an all around really good guy.)

OTHER: This one's a little "Gab Lite" - I promise to make it up to you next time.

*Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show.

Feedback is very welcome. Please let me know if you like my stories. Anything mean or nasty will be ignored (especially about the Joxer thing). You can e-mail me at QueenLaese@aol.com. Thank-you for reading.

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The Amazon Queen Melys╬ sat quietly, staring into the fire Xena had built in the fireplace of the queen's cottage. Xena, the Warrior Princess and the Amazons' Warrior Queen of this Tribe had gone to drill the troops leaving Melys╬, the Priestess-Queen here in their cottage. She had taken Melys╬'s eldest daughter, Aryn╬, her proteg╚e, with her as adjutant. Melys╬'s younger daughter, Selen╬, was off playing with some of her age-mates and the baby, Neiromei, was asleep in

her cradle for now.

Melys╬ stared into the flames, feeling her heart squeeze tighter as the moments passed. She could have started the fire herself, using her "magic", but she just wasn't up for it. A daughter of Zeus and an Amazon warrior queen named Lyss╬, she had powers which her priestess training had disciplined and refined, but since her daughter had been born, Melys╬ had been gripped with such a

sadness that her friends and family wanted to do as much for her as they could to help alleviate the darkness around her heart. She wanted to be alone with her sadness, but somehow the solitude frightened her. It was too easy to get lost in her thoughts, thoughts and feelings she shoved aside whenever possible. It was easier to bury the sadness when others were around, distracting her.

Still recovering from her youngest daughter's birth, Melys╬ had no royal duties to attend to for the time being. When she became pregnant with Neiromei, Melys╬ had asked Gabrielle to become the Tribe's Regent Queen so that she, the Priestess Queen, could devote more time to her Temple duties. In truth, the Tribe had been growing, and Melys╬ was finding herself overwhelmed more often than not. In the years since Xena had accepted the position of Warrior Queen, fewer wars had been

fought by the Tribe. Xena's reputation was well-known and very few were stupid enough to attack the Tribe which called her "Queen".

With less time required for war and battle, the Amazons were finding themselves more prosperous than ever before. More energy was put into cultivating crops and orchards. Craftswomen cropped up as more village women were drawn to the Amazons' way of life and asked for acceptance and Initiation into the Tribe and the Amazon Nation. There was so much she could do with all the Amazons' potential. They were thriving and Gabrielle was happy administrating them and chronicling their history and legends.

She was happy, too, that Virgil had sent word he and their sons were coming. Melys╬ had ordered a house built for them - which Gabrielle had insisted on calling "The Lodge", she couldn't say why - just outside the boundaries of Aemetzain═ and it was now complete. Virgil and Gabrielle would live there with their children - except for Ephiny, their eldest daughter. Ephiny had taken the first oath of Initiation and would stay in the House of Maidens. But Gabrielle would be closer to her now, and closer to Xena and the Amazons.

In a society of warrior-women, orphans were inevitable. Despite the fact Melys╬ had made law that no nursing mother was permitted on the battlefield unless defence of their home and children were involved, she could not be another woman's conscience. Those warriors who had borne daughters to the Tribe and Nation could march into battle after their children were weaned, knowing that if

they did not return, their daughters would be loved and well-cared for in the House of Maidens, and their sons sent back to their fathers or to loving, caring foster-families outside the Tribe.

Seated on the wooden floor of her cottage, Melys╬ rested her chin on her knees and sighed, a lone tear trickling down her fair cheek unnoticed. No Amazon could keep her son within the Tribal lands. That was the most ancient law of the Amazons and no matter what the reason it was instituted, Melys╬ could not - really, would not, if she could - overturn it. Even if it meant....

Don't go there, her mind warned her. But too late. Melys╬ lowered her head and wept quietly until Neiromei woke and cried to be fed. Melys╬ held the child close to her, rocking her as the baby ate. She crooned to the infant.

"You are my last, Little One," she said. "You are the only thing keeping me from falling completely apart right now, did you know? Not fair to you, I know, but I thank you, Sweetheart. I love you and your sisters so much. But I miss your brother - Oh, Iksander, please forgive me! You are in the very best place you can be. I did my best for you, you must know that. I just wish I knew you

were happy there in Amphipolis and not...not missing me and 'Ryn, and Selen╬. And this new little sister you haven't even met..."

Melys╬, allowed the tears to silently fall from her dark green eyes unimpeded while her daughter ate and fell back to sleep. Melys╬ just sat, rocking the baby until her tears dried onto her cheeks.

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

"Xena, what's wrong with Mother?" Aryn╬ asked her godsmother, as they broke from drill for the noon meal.

Xena sighed, wondering how much to tell the girl. "Sometimes, after a woman has a baby, their bodies do...strange things to their minds. They get really sad for a while, but it doesn't last forever. Just until their bodies recover from carrying the child and giving birth," she replied.

"Why would anyone be sad about having a baby?" asked Aryn╬, wrinkling her forehead, then her nose. "Unless, of course, it's a boy."

Xena sighed again, and put an arm around her heart-daughter, pulling her close into a hug. "That is another problem," she said, staring towards the cottage over Aryn╬'s head.

"You mean Mother misses Jox," said Aryn╬.

"Yeah - but don't let her hear you call him that," said Xena.

Aryn╬ giggled. "I know - I read tanti Gabrielle's scrolls," she said. "And Mother said she named him after Virgil's father, after all."

"Yes, she did," said Xena. "And if you'd read all of Gabrielle's scrolls, you would know that the reason she named your brother for Joxer was to honour him. Joxer was a kind and decent man. He was very loyal, and even though he didn't necessarily know the blade from the hilt, he was very brave in his way. He never backed down from danger, in fact he'd rush in, without thinking twice to

help a friend. And I am very proud to have been his friend. And proud to claim him as my family. He always put others first and that is the road to the Greater Good. Joxer was a very dear friend and he died a hero."

"He had honour - like an Amazon," said Aryn╬, quietly."I'm sorry, Tanti, I didn't mean to..."

"No, it's alright," said Xena, softly. "I know you didn't mean anything bad."

"Tanti - did you sing for Joxer?" asked Aryn╬.

"Yes, I did," said Xena.

"Wow," said Aryn╬, pulling out of the hug. "Xena, how we can help Mother? She's so sad."

"Sweetheart, we just have to wait," said Xena. "Only time is going to help."

"I hate that," said Aryn╬.

"Yeah, me too," said Xena, still gazing at the cottage.

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Melys╬ arose and laid Neiromei back down in her cradle. She stirred about the cottage, aimlessly, not knowing what to do with herself. She tried to read and couldn't concentrate. She tried to meditate, but couldn't quiet the raging emotions in her heart and mind. So she prayed, a constant but silent conversation with her Goddess and finally, feeling Her presence, she was comforted a little.

Melys╬ decided to go out for a while, just to walk around. She called one of the mothers from the House of Maidens to stay with the baby, then donned her woolen cloak, for the air this Leaf-Fall was crisp and cold. Raising the hood over her long, dark curls, the queen left the cottage and headed for the forest, her favourite place. Wandering among the trees, the queen was lost in thought. She thought of her son, Iksander - or "Jox" as her girls called him, though they didn't think she knew. He was just three birth-seasons when Xena's brother, Toris, came and took him to Amphipolis. He had cried for her and screamed her name all the way out of the Amazon lands. Melys╬ still heard him in her heart.

There was nothing else she could have done. Gabrielle and Virgil had offered to take and raise him, but they already had five children at the time and Melys╬ couldn't burden them further.

"I should have given him up as soon as he was weaned," she said to herself, shaking her head. "I just couldn't, though...and anyway, I already loved him. But maybe that would have been easier for him. Ah, I was selfish and my son was hurt because of it. Goddess, please, ease my heart! I can't go on like this! My people, my children, my family - I have so much to be happy for. Yet my

heart aches for my sweet little boy."

Unbidden, the thought came to her, Go see him.

Melys╬ started. She thought she heard a voice, but...perhaps her own heart had cried out. She shook her head again. "It would be too cruel," she whispered. "He has Toris for a father and Cyren═, Xena's mother, who simply dotes on him. It would be...too cruel."

For him...or for you?

Suddenly, Melys╬ couldn't bear being alone another moment. Her mind was playing a cruel jest. She ran back into the village, doubling over and trying to catch her breath.

"Majesty, are you alright?" asked the frightened sentry.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," said Melys╬ waving her away. "Just a little too much too soon, I'm afraid." Then the queen collapsed. She awoke in her own bed, Xena sitting beside her.

"You ok?" asked the warrior, raising one eyebrow.

"Yes, fine," said Melys╬, struggling to sit up.

"No, stay there," said Xena, handing her a cup. "Here, drink. It'll help. I don't know what you were doing, but you're not a woman who gives birth easily.You should give yourself more time to recover before you go haring off into the woods."

"I know," said Melys╬ contritely, sipping at the herbal brew and wrinkling her nose at the bitter taste.

"All of it," commanded Xena. "You scared that poor sentry half to death." And me, she thought. The sentry had stayed by the queen while her partner left their post to get help. The poor girl had been terrified of the Warrior Queen - not only leaving her post, but bearing the news that the Priestess Queen had collapsed on her watch! Xena had left the drill to Aryn╬, and had come running, taking Melys╬ to the cottage, rather than the Healer's hut. Xena had many more

skills than fighting and healing was foremost among them. As soon as she knew Melys╬ was alright, she relaxed. With everything that 'Lys╬ has been going through, it's no wonder this happened, thought Xena.

"I just fainted," said Melys╬, crossly, downing the contents of the cup swiftly.

"Yeah, well...don't do it again," said Xena, frowning, then rising and taking the cup from Melys╬. "You sure you're ok?" Melys╬ was silently gazing at ceiling. "Hey, are you ok?" said Xena, concerned.

"Xena, if I asked you to do something for me, would you?"

"You know I would," said Xena, re-seating herself on the side of the bed. "What do you want me to do?"

"Take me to Amphipolis," said Melys╬, tears spilling down the sides of her face.

"Oh, 'Lys╬," said Xena. "Oh, gods, I don't know..."

"Xena, please," entreated Melys╬, meeting her friend's eyes. "Please, take me to Amphipolis - take me to see my son. Please."

Xena looked at her friend's tears and heard the broken-hearted entreaty with her own heart. "On one condition," she relented.

"What?" asked Melys╬, allowing herself to feel a little hope.

"You rest until you've regained your strength first," said Xena. "Then, I'll take you to Amphipolis."

Melys╬ reached up and hugged her friend. "Thank-you, Xena," she said.

Looking forward to the journey, Melys╬ now recovered her strength quickly. She was happier and the sadness which had so firmly gripped her heart before was replaced with a tentative hopefulness. She smiled now and seemed much more herself. She played with her girls and cared for the baby.

Gabrielle was delighted to remain with Amazons and lead in the other queens' absence, regretting only that she wasn't going to visit Xena's mother and brother and her little godson.

The day of the journey arrived and Melys╬ was up and ready, Neiromei strapped onto her back.

"Mother, why can't I go, too?" whined Selen╬, wrapping her little arms around Melys╬'s neck. "I miss Jox, too. And I wanna go see primeia - Xena's mama - and tandos Toris. Please, Meia?"

"Selen╬, another time," promised Xena, firmly, feeling Melys╬'s resolve waver. The trip would be difficult enough with a nursing infant, let alone a small child, too. She looked at Gabrielle, who gathered the little girl in her arms.

"Selen╬, I think Ephiny wants nutbread," she said. "What do you say the three of us start a batch? And I have a new story for you, too."

"Can 'Ryn help? She likes stories, too," asked the little girl, already being distracted. Melys╬ and Xena left quickly and without further incident.

They rode until just before sunset and Xena found a campsite by small stream. They set up camp and Xena went to see if there were any fish to be caught there. They wanted to save the trail rations as long as possible in case game became hard to find. Melys╬ set out the bedrolls and made a fire. The air was cool, but it would get cold as soon as the sun was down. Melys╬ adjusted the baby carrier so that Neiromei rested against her chest. The baby would be warmer and could nurse at will there. Melys╬ settled down before the fire to wait for Xena.

Xena returned, carrying four small trout, wet from the shoulders down. Melys╬ jumped up and wrapped a blanket around her friend. "You're going to freeze!" she exclaimed.

"Nah," said Xena grinning. "It's...refreshing."

"Yeah, well, your teeth are so 'refreshed' they're clacking together," said Melys╬, taking the string of fish and quickly cleaning them and getting them into the pan over the fire while Xena dried off and changed into warm, dry clothes.

"Smells great," remarked the warrior.

"Yes, thanks for catching them," said Melys╬, sitting beside her fellow queen. "And thank-you for this trip. You don't know what it means to me."

"Sure I do," said Xena, smiling, gently. "I had a son, too, remember?"

"Solan," said Melys╬. "And you had to give him up, too, didn't you?"

"Yes," said Xena. "I knew he was better off. I knew he was loved and had everything I could ever want for any child of mine, but still, it hurt. Still does. I know how you feel, Melys╬. I think this will be good for both of you."

"Hm," said Melys╬. "I'm a little worried. What if...if he cries for me again? Or what if he doesn't remember me? Or what if - "

"Don't worry so much," said Xena, kindly. "But if you want a little un-asked-for advice, if by some strange chance he doesn't remember, don't be afraid to let him know you're his mother. My son died without knowing the truth. He knows now, in the Elysian Fields, but I wish I had told him while he was here."

"That could have put him in danger, though, Xena," said Melys╬. "Your enemies could have used him - did use him - to get to you. I can understand the necessity of keeping that a secret."

"Yes, but I still regret not telling him," sighed Xena. "At the time, it seemed the right thing to do, though - the only thing I could do."

"It was," said Melys╬. But with Iksander, if I had only given him up sooner, he wouldn't have cried for me the way he did. I can still hear him... Melys╬ thought.

"Hey, don't burn those trout - there's not too many more to catch in that stream," said Xena, jumped up to turn the fish.

"Sorry," Melys╬ grinned, sheepishly.

"It's alright - they didn't burn," said Xena.

The two friends ate in comfortable silence. After being together for nearly a decade and a half, the two Amazon queens didn't always need conversation for companionship.

Sure is different than traveling with Gabrielle, mused Xena to herself, smiling. Gabrielle had talked almost without ceasing when the two soulmates had first started travelling together. It had nearly driven Xena crazy, but over the years, Xena had grown to enjoy the chatter. Too, as Gabrielle had matured, the chattering had decreased, but Xena missed it sometimes. Not tonight, though. Thoughts of her own son, murdered so long ago, filled her mind. His happy smile filled her heart. Knowing he could hear her thoughts, her mind whispered, I love you, Solan. Then she drifted off to sleep.

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Cyren═ puttered about the tavern. The place was efficiently run by the staff, overseen by her son, Toris. There wasn't much she could do anymore. Her vision was fading. Everyday the film covered more of her eyes and everything was dark and blurry. She sat in the kitchen and sighed, an untouched cup of ale before her on the table.

"Primeia!" she smiled at the piping little voice.

"Iksander," she said, holding out her arms in the direction of the little voice. The little boy climbed into her lap for a cuddle.

"Primeia, what are you doing?" asked the child.

"Oh, just resting these old bones, Little One," replied the innkeeper.

"You're not old," protested the child.

"Oh, yes I am," chuckled Cyren═, holding him closer. "But I don't feel it so much when you're around, Little Man. Where is your father?"

"Oh, a messenger bird came for him," said Iksander. "He's at the c┘te, picking it up now. Then he's coming to get me and we're going for a ride to the river. Papa said he'd teach me how to fish."

"Hm, well, I hope you catch plenty for dinner," said Cyren═, letting him down off of her lap.

"That might have to be an awful lot if the tavern is full tonight, Primeia," said Iksander, solemnly.

"That's true," said Cyren═. "Has the tavern been full, Iksander?"

"Most every night," said the child, nodding his dark head. Just then, Toris came into the kitchen. "Papa!"

"Jox, run up to your room and get your warm cloak," said Toris. "It'll be cold by the water.

"Okay, Papa," said Iksander, obeying.

"What was the message?" asked Cyren═, concerned.

"Xena's coming," said Toris, sitting at the table and lifting his mother's untouched cup to his lips. His dark hair was distinguished by silver at both temples. Otherwise, he looked young for his age and still resembled his sister very much, especially the piercing sapphire eyes.

"Xena! Why that's wonderful," exclaimed Cyren═.

"Hm, maybe," said Toris, staring darkly into the cup.

"Why, what's wrong?" asked Cyren═.

"She's bringing Melys╬," replied Toris.

"You don't think she wants..." began Cyren═.

"I don't know," said Toris. "Be hard to let him go, though. Must have been really hard on her."

"Well, she can't have him," declared Cyren═, firmly.

"Mother, she has the right," sighed Toris. "She's his mother."

"And she gave him up," said Cyren═, panic creeping into her voice. "You're his father, now. She can't have him. I won't let her, Toris. It's not fair."

"Mother, let's just see what she wants before we assume..." began Toris, patiently.

"Ready, Papa!" called Iksander, bouncing into the kitchen, his dark woolen cloak setting off his fair skin, dark curls and bright blue eyes. Toris arose and took his son outside.

"We'll talk about this later, Toris," Cyren═ called after him, then the tears began to ooze out of her nearly sightless eyes.

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It was easy to settle into the pattern of the journey. Neiromei was a good baby who rarely cried and laughed and cooed often. Melys╬ approached Amphipolis with a growing sense of apprehension. It was getting colder and inns were few between Aemetzain═ and Amphipolis. With the baby along, Xena had to hunt for more sheltered campsites.

They got through the Strymon Pass and camped in a cave just a few leagues from Amphipolis.

"We'll be at Mother's Tavern tomorrow night," said Xena, cheerfully, as Melys╬ handed her the last of the journey-bread.

"Good," said Melys╬, sighing.

"What's wrong?" asked Xena. "You're not having second thoughts are you?"

"Oh, no," said Melys╬, smiling a bit as Neiromei snuggled closer to her chest, snug and warmer than her mother. "Just...thinking."

"Worrying, is more like it," said Xena.

"Maybe a little," said Melys╬. "I expect Iksander to be angry with me."

"For what?" asked Xena.

"Giving him away," Melys╬ whispered, looking down.

"Hey, you didn't just 'give him away'," said Xena, gently. "You gave him a family - and a damn good one, if you ask me."

"No argument here,' chuckled Melys╬. "I just hope he understands."

"He's awfully young," said Xena. "Understanding the reasons for what you did - I don't know if you can expect that from him yet."

"I just want him to know that I love him," said Melys╬. "And that I will always love him - no matter what."

"I think he's capable of that," said Xena smiling. "Are you going to be able to handle it if he...?"

"I'll have to, won't I?" said Melys╬. "But I won't stop coming to see him and telling him I love him in every way I possibly can."

"He'll get the message the first time," said Xena, smiling. "After all, he is your son. Understanding and wisdom run in his family."

"Thanks," said Melys╬. "And tomorrow we'll sleep warm."

"Hm, and eat well," chuckled Xena, munching on the cold, flat journey-bread.

The next morning, they could smell snow coming. They travelled as fast as the horses could carry them and arrived in Amphipolis after sunset. Xena led them to her mother's tavern.

"Place has gotten bigger since the last time I was here," she commented. "Come on, I sent word to Toris that we'd need a room. I'll see to Argo and Cheia. You go on in."

"No, we'll wait for you," said Melys╬, nervously.

"'Lys╬, go on in," said Xena. "Get us a table, if you can find one, and order dinner - and a cup of mulled wine for me. Go on, get the baby out of this cold."

So Melys╬, walked up the steps of the Tavern and pushed open the door. The place was nearly full, but everyone seemed well-mannered and polite.

"Come on over here, dear," said an older woman, leading her to a table. "You can sit with me. You're an Amazon, aren't you?"

"Yes, my friend is stabling the horses," said Melys╬. "She'll be right in."

"Very well, we'll make room for her. Are you hungry?" said the kind old woman.

"Starving," Melys╬ admitted. "And freezing. Oh, she asked me to get her some mulled wine with dinner."

"No problem," said the woman, relaying the order to a serving girl. "Have you had a long journey, Dear?"

"Oh, yes," said Melys╬, unstrapping Neiromei before sitting down.

"Oh, and a baby, too? And so tiny!"

"Would you like to hold her?" said Melys╬, smiling.

"Absolutely," said the woman, taking the baby, who cooed and kicked her feet, grabbing the woman's finger in one strong little fist. "Oh, my! She's a little warrior, isn't she?"

"A little warrior princess," agreed Xena, beaming proudly as she entered the Tavern. "Hello, Mother."

"Xena! We weren't expecting you for...Oh!" Cyren═ quickly handed Neiromei back to Melys╬. "I'll just see to your dinner."

"What...?" asked Melys╬ looking at Xena, her brow furrowed.

"I don't know, but I'm going to find out," said Xena, striding into the kitchen after her mother.

"Toris, I don't care, that Amazon is out there and..." Cyren═ was saying.

"Mother, what's going on? Hello, Toris," asked Xena

"'Lo, Sis'," replied her brother.

"She's not taking him, Xena, I don't care what - ," said Cyren═, her back to Xena as she spooned up some venison stew into bowls and cut bread.

"No, she isn't," said Xena, leaning back against the wall, folding her arms in front of her

"What?" said Cyren═, startled. She turned and looked towards her tall daughter.

"Mother!" Xena cried in alarm. In the dimly lit main room of the tavern, she hadn't seen the cataracts, but in the bright kitchen, she saw her mother was almost blind.

Cyren═ waved a hand at her. "Old news, Xena," she said. "I'm adjusting. Now, what did you mean before - about that Amazon? She's not here to take Iksander away?"

"'That Amazon', as you call her, is the Priestess-Queen of her Tribe," said Xena, dryly. "In order to raise Iksander herself, she would have to leave the Tribal lands and live apart with him. She's not going to do that - she can't. She just wanted to see him. She misses him. She had a bad case of the 'birth-blues' after Neiromei was born and the only way I could get her out of it was to bring her here."

"Oh, Xena, I'm so sorry," said Cyren═. "That poor girl! Of course she misses him! And I was thinking such terrible things! I must go apologise!"

Xena stopped her. "Mother, she doesn't know what you were thinking," said Xena, with a grin. "But I doubt it's anything worse than she thinks of herself."

"That poor child," said Cyren═. "I'll just go bring her some dinner."

"I'll join you," said Xena, taking Cyren═'s arm and one of bowls. "Coming Toris? And bring that mulled wine - it's cold outside!"

Dinner was cheerful. Melys╬ liked Cyren═ right away. She was comfortably familiar. Toris she already knew and she liked and respected him very much. She was comforted knowing these good people were raising her son. That they loved him very much was evident in their conversation.

"Iksander is sleeping now, but you can go and look in on him, if you like," offered Toris.

"Oh, I don't want to wake him," said Melys╬, shyly.

"You won't," chuckled Cyren═. "That one doesn't wake easily."

"Hm, wonder where he got that trait," said Xena, grinning at Melys╬, who grinned back.

"Yeah, me too," she said, handing the sleeping Neiromei to Cyren═. "I'll bet he's huge, though."

"He's growing faster every day," said Cyren═. "Those clothes you've sent are a gods-send."

"I'm glad," said Melys╬, following Toris.

"Are all of her children as charming as these two?" asked Cyren═, cooing at the sleeping baby.

"Yep," said Xena, sipping at the mulled wine. "Aryn╬, the eldest, will be my successor. Oh, I'm an Amazon Queen now, too, by the way."

"Warrior Queen?" asked Cyren═.

"Yes, how did you...?"

"Xena, I've lived in Thrace all my life," said Cyren═. "At one time, there were more Amazons here than in Aemetzain═. That business with Theseus and Antiope, you know. The Amazons rested here for a while before returning home and some stayed on after. I know something about them."

"Oh, of course," said Xena. "Mother, have you seen a healer?"

"Many," replied Cyren═. "They all say the same thing. It's alright, Xena. I'm resigned to it."

"I'm so sorry Mother," said Xena.

"I know, and I appreciate it," said Cyren═. "Now get over it. I have."

Xena sighed, as Melys╬ and Toris returned. Melys╬ was glowing.

"He's beautiful," she said.

"Of course he is," said Xena, smiling at her friend. "Bet he looks like you."

"A little," admitted Melys╬. "Hard to tell. He's sleeping."

"He does look like you. He has blue eyes, though," said Toris.

"Really?" said Xena, smiling. "So he looks a little like you, too, huh, Brother?"

"Xena!" said Toris and Melys╬. Xena merely smiled and took another sip of wine.

"Speaking of sleep, would you like to put this little one down?" said Cyren═. "Not that I want to let go of her, but it's late and you've all had a long journey."

The next morning, Xena was, as usual, up before the sun. She peeked over into the old cradle she and her brothers had all used, and saw that Neiromei was awake. The baby smiled up at her and cooed. Xena smiled back and leaned over to pick her up.

"Good morning, Little One," she crooned softly so as not to wake her friend. Melys╬ was exhausted, not only by the journey so soon after giving birth, but also by the emotions which had raged through her of late. "Why don't we just get you into a dry nappy and go down to the kitchen to see if Mother has anything for you? Your mother is worn out. And don't think I don't know you

just ate a little while ago, so no making too much noise, ok? We don't want to wake up the whole tavern."

Xena changed the baby and carried her downstairs to the warm, brightly lit kitchen. Toris and Cyren═ were already up, supervising the staff and drinking hot tea.

"Well, look who's awake," said Cyren═, delighted as Xena gently lowered Neiromei into her waiting arms.

"Yep," said Xena. "Her mother is out - just got back to sleep, actually, after this one had her breakfast. Speaking of which..."

"Porridge will be ready shortly," said a cook, smiling at the baby.

"Ah, just bread and tea for me," said Xena. "And she's too young for porridge."

"Oh, I don't know," said Cyren═, lifting the baby closer to her face and peering into her little face. "Tell me, Xena, does Neiromei look like Iksander?"

"Hm, somewhat," said Xena, munching on a hunk of bread. "All of Melys╬'s children have her dark hair and fair skin. 'Ryn's eyes are green like 'Lys╬'s, but Selen╬ has blue eyes."

"So she looks a little like you, huh Sis'?" said Toris, chuckling at getting back at his sister's jest. "Jox should be up soon."

"You call him that, too?" said Xena, smiling.

"He insisted," said Toris, smiling. "Just as he insists on calling mother primeia."

"That's the Amazon word for 'grandmother'," said Xena. "Melys╬ tried to speak only Greek with him, knowing he would have to...well, I guess, he just picked up both languages. Melys╬ has a gift for them, too. Comes from being trained as a priestess, I suppose."

"Where did she train?" asked Cyren═.

"Ephesus and then at Sappho's on Lesvos," replied Xena.

"Really?" said Cyren═, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah, why?" asked Xena.

"Oh, no reason," said Cyren═. "I'm just surprised her mother let her travel so far away for so long. The Amazons are known for keeping to themselves."

"Yes, well, Melys╬ is...unique," said Xena. She wasn't about to tell them that Melys╬ was the daughter of a god - Zeus, no less, although everyone had thought her father was Ares until a few years ago when Aphrodite told them the truth. Melys╬ herself hadn't come to terms with the fact yet.

"Hm, yes she is," said Cyren═, tickling the cooing Neiromei.

"Morning, Papa, primeia," said a little voice.

Xena looked up and saw a little boy, still dressed in his pyjamas, rubbing his eyes, his dark curls still sleep-tousled. Toris rose and picked him up, carrying him to the table and sitting him on his lap as the cook set a steaming bowl of porridge, well-fortified with honey and lots of cream, before him.

"Now Master Jox, you let that cool off," she said, bustling back to the fire to prepare the rest of the tavern's guests breakfast.

"'Kay," said Jox, sleepily laying his head against his father's chest to wait.

He even wakes up like 'Lys╬, though Xena. But he looks just like Toris. Yet I know she didn't - she wouldn't...she certainly wouldn't lie to me about it if she did. And 'Lys╬ said she used her magic to conceive Jox - and Neiromei. Maybe she used her magic to make him look like Toris, knowing that's probably where he'd end up...yeah, that must be it.

"Iksander, we have some very special guests," said Cyren═.

The little boy raised his head and looked at Xena. His eyes widened and he grinned, suddenly no longer sleepy.

"Tanti Xena!" he cried jumping down from Toris' lap and into Xena's. She found little arms wrapped tightly around her neck.

"Hey, Jox," said Xena, hugging him back. "How's it going?"

"Great!" said the little boy. "How's Meia?"

"You can ask her yourself when she wakes up," said Xena, smiling.

"Meia is here? Where is she?" asked Jox, excitedly.

"Asleep upstairs - where she's going to stay until she wakes up herself," said Toris, firmly.

The little boy looked down, disappointed.

"That could take hours," said Xena, wryly as she lifted the protesting baby from Cyren═'s warm, comfortable arms. "But you can say 'Hi' to your little sister, Neiromei,"

"Another sister?" said the boy, wrinkling his nose. "Oh, well. Maybe she'll be as nice as 'Ryn and 'Len╬."

Neiromei smiled and grabbed her brother's finger, trying to pull it into her mouth.

"Hey, don't do that!" cried the little boy. The baby laughed and cooed. Jox smiled at her. "Yep, she'll be nice. I think she likes me. When do you think Meia will wake up?"

Xena laughed. "Oh, right about now - I think she has to feed your little sister. Want to come with me to wake her up?"

"Sure!" said the little boy, wriggling with excitement.

Xena tucked the baby into one arm and took Jox's hand in hers and led him to the stairs.

Jox hesitated. "Tanti," he said, quietly. "Meia didn't come to take me back, did she?"

Xena sighed and sat on a step with Jox. "Do you want to go back with us?" she asked.

The child frowned, trying to think of the best way to answer. Suddenly he smiled. "Why don't Mama and you and 'Ryn and 'Len╬ and the baby stay here?" he said.

"Jox, you know we can't do that," said Xena. "Your mother is queen of the Amazons - and so am I. We have responsibilities in Aemetzain═. Are you happy with Toris and primeia?'

"Oh, yes," said Iksander, nodding. "At first, I missed Meia, I missed her so much, but, even though I still miss her, I don't want to leave Papa and primeia."

"I think your mother will be very happy to hear that," said Xena, rising. "I know that she would give anything to have you with her, but the very most important thing to her is that you are well and happy. She misses you very much, you know. That's why we came here - not take you away from your papa and primeia, but just to see you."

"Wow, just to see me?" said the child. "Then Meia won't be cross that I want to stay here?"

"Not at all," said Xena. "Come on, you can ask her yourself."

"Can...can I still call her Meia?" asked the boy, worried.

"I think you'd better," said Xena, chuckling.

They opened the door to the room. Melys╬ slept, curled up on her side, her dark hair streaming behind her, one hand tucked under her cheek. "My meia's very beautiful" whispered Iksander, smiling. He tiptoed over and kissed her very gently on the cheek. Melys╬'s eyes fluttered open.

"Hi," said Xena, smiling. "Your daughter's hungry - and your son's impatient to see you."

Melys╬'s dark green eyes opened wider, and she sat up, gathering her son into her arms.

"Oh, Iksander," she said, kissing his dark head. "I've missed you so! How are you?"

"I'm good, Meia," said the delighted little boy, wriggling happily in his mother's arms. Then he grew serious. "But Primeia, she's not so good."

"What?" said Melys╬, looking into her son's bright blue eyes, then into Xena's. "What's wrong?" Xena sighed, handing the fussy Neiromei to Melys╬.

"She can't see so good anymore," said Iksander, looking away as Melys╬ began to feed the baby. He wiped a tear away, then looked up at his mother's face. Melys╬ looked at him with such a gentle and loving, concerned expression, Iksander drew up his courage. "But now you're here, everything will be ok, won't it?" he said.

"Oh, 'Sander," said Melys╬, gently. "I don't know what I can do."

"You can fix it," said the child, confidently. "I heard Tanti say you were a priestess. You can ask the gods to heal her eyes. They'll listen to you."

"'Sander," said Melys╬, gently, looking at Xena, silently pleading for help, but found Xena also looking hopeful. "I...I'll try. But you mustn't be disappointed if it doesn't work out. Sometimes... well, sometimes the Goddess has other ideas about what's best for us. But I'll try, ok?"

"Ok," said Iksander. "But if anyone can help her, you can."

"Jox, your porridge is probably cooled off - why don't you go on down and eat while your mother gets dressed?"

"Ok," said the little boy, kissing Melys╬'s cheek, then running down to his breakfast.

Melys╬ sighed. "What's wrong with your mother, Xena?" she asked.

"Cataracts," said Xena. "She didn't have them the last time I was here. She's almost completely blind, 'Lys╬."

"Oh Goddess, that poor woman," said Melys╬.

Xena snorted. "Don't let her hear you say that," she said, sitting down behind Melys╬ and holding her while she fed the baby.

"Hm, like mother like daughter, huh?" said Melys╬, smiling up at her friend.

"I know how you feel about....well, you know. I wasn't going to ask, but since Jox did, can you help her?"

"You mean, do a 'god-thing'?"

"No, a 'priestess-thing'," said Xena. "Or, maybe...a 'god-thing' - if the 'priestess-thing' doesn't work, I mean."

"Not unless Cyren═ gives her permission for me to heal her," said Melys╬, with a sigh. "Do you think she'll do that?"

"Maybe," said Xena. "She seems pretty resigned to being blind, but my mother has always been very...strong. Independent. I think being blind and having to depend on people that way will kill her." Melys╬ sighed again. "I know you don't like to use your powers," said Xena. "If you don't want to..."

"Oh, Xena, it's not that I don't want to," said Melys╬. "Not that at all. I'm just afraid I can't. I've never done this before. I'm not sure what all I can do yet. I know that when I touch a person, their pain eases, but healing something like this is different. It's like calling the lightning - or taking the spirit of the snow leopard into myself. It isn't of me. And your mother has to want it, too. I can't just go meddling with her eyes because I think it's for her own good. There are laws of magic which have to be obeyed. Otherwise there are...repercussions, sometimes really bad ones."

"I'll take Toris and Iksander out fishing," said Xena. "You spend some time alone with Mother and find out what she wants, ok?"

"Sounds like a good idea," said Melys╬, shifting the sleeping baby.

"Here, I'll take her," said Xena, gently lifting the sleeping infant to her broad shoulder. "You go ahead and get dressed, then come on down for breakfast. Iksander is waiting for you."

"Xena, you don't think he'll be upset we don't take him back with us, do you?" asked Melys╬, pulling her night-shirt over her head and putting a on dark blue tunic and long green skirt.

"No," said Xena, averting her eyes. Gods, this is torture! It's been so long! "I had a talk with him. He's worried you'll be upset that he wants to stay. He's very happy, 'Lys╬."

Melys╬ smiled at her warrior, knowing her thoughts and vowing to make it up to her. "I'm still going to miss him, but ... it'll be easier now," she said. "I'm glad he's growing up here. So many times, we Amazons send our sons out into the world and they grow up to be the kind of men we all say we despise, the kind of men we blame for our living separately from men. I know Iksander will grow up to the kind of man I would raise myself. I've thought about this so much lately. We Amazons have lived apart from men for so long, I doubt that most of us even remember why or how it all started. I wonder what our sons would grow up to be if we raised them ourselves?"

"It's a thought," said Xena. "I often wonder if things would have been different for Solan if I had kept him. I know I did the right thing at the time, even given the way things did turn out. I try not to dwell on it."

"You're right," said Melys╬ with a sigh. "The Amazons aren't even close to a time of accepting males among us. Best not to dwell on it, as you said."

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

As promised, Xena went fishing with Toris and Iksander. Melys╬ offered her help in the inn.

"So, I see they stuck you with 'old lady', today, eh?" said Cyren═, grinning.

"Not 'stuck' at all," said Melys╬, warmly. "And I don't see any 'old' ladies anywhere about."

"Well, your majesty," began Cyren═.

"Please, just 'Melys╬'," said the Amazon, placing a gentle hand on Cyren═'s shoulder.

"If you'll call me 'Cyren═'," agreed Xena's mother, liking this woman almost against her will.

"Cyren═,' said Melys╬. "Gabrielle has said such nice things about you. I'm so happy I get to finally meet you."

Cyren═ smiled. "How is Gabrielle?" she asked.

"She's well," replied Melys╬, pouring a mug of hot tea for the older woman. "Holding the Amazons for me. She and Xena have been true friends to me and to the Amazons. Everyday I thank the Goddess for both of them. Which reminds me..." The queen leaned in and lightly kissed Cyren═ on the cheek.

"What was that for?" said Cyren═, smiling.

"Thank you," said Melys╬, smiling back. "Thank you for having Xena, thank you for raising my son. I owe you...so much."

"Not at all, Child," said Cyren═, snorting, but delighted and charmed. "Iksander is a delight. I confess, when I heard you were coming..."

"You were afraid I was going to take him from you," said Melys╬, quietly. "I would never...I couldn't do that to him - or to you and Toris. It wouldn't be fair. Not even if..."

"I'm sorry," said Cyren═.

"No, I don't blame you for thinking that," said Melys╬. "If I could raise my son myself, I would, but..."

"But the Amazons won't let you," said Cyren═, quietly.

"No, it's not that," said Melys╬, struggling to understand and explain at the same time. "I love 'Sander, but I...don't know the first thing about...how to raise a boy. Goddess, my girls are difficult enough, but at least with them I have a frame of reference. How do I teach him to be a man? Let alone a good man. I told Xena that I felt better about him being away from me, after meeting you, because I knew he would grow up to be the kind of man I would raise myself, but I think he'll be a better man than I could raise. You and Toris are his family now, and I'm glad. He even calls you primeia. That's quite a title of honour among the Amazons."

"Yes, I know," said Cyren═, warmly, thinking fondly of the little boy.

"As well you should, Tanti," said Melys╬, eyes unfocussing as she drifted into a trance.

"Wh..what, Child? What did you call me?" said Cyren═, alarmed at the Amazon's state. "Are you okay?"

"It's alright, Mother," said Xena, sweeping into the inn, followed by a rush of chill air from outside. "She just gets like this sometimes. Melys╬, come on, wake up."

Melys╬ blinked a few times, then grinned, sheepishly. "Did it again, didn't I?" she said.

"Yeah," said Xena smiling fondly at her friend. "You two okay?"

"We're fine," said Cyren═, rising a little shakily. "I've got a dinner to get on."

"Mother, let me help you," said Xena, going to her mother.

Cyren═ waved her off. "No, you see to Melys╬," she said, looking sharply towards Melys╬, but her words were gentle. "You and I will talk later, Child. Rest a bit, for now. I'll call you both for dinner."

"'Lys╬, what happened?" asked Xena when Cyren═ left them.

"I'm not sure, Xena," said Melys╬, shaking her head a bit to clear it. "We were just talking about Sander and I...left."

"Hm," said Xena. "You do that when the 'god-thing' kicks in."

"I do that when the 'priestess-thing' kicks in, too," said Melys╬, with a sigh. "Trouble is, I do it at all. It's outside of my control, Xena, and that's...scary, sometimes."

"I know," said Xena, holding her. "But you're safe here with me, so if you need to...drift, just go ahead and don't worry, okay? I'll always be here to bring you back."

"Thanks," said Melys╬, offering her friend a small smile. "How does Iksander like fishing?"

"Ah, he's a natural," said the Warrior, proudly, as she sat in the chair across the table from Melys╬.

"Catching them barehanded, yet?" asked Melys╬, smiling.

"Nah, too cold to let him get wet," said Xena, sipping at the tea Melys╬ had poured for Cyren═.

"Xena, your mother," said Melys╬, hesitantly. "There's something...familiar about her."

"Well, she is my mother," said Xena.

"It's more than that," said the Amazon. "I can't quite...it triggered the trance."

"Really?" said Xena. "Wonder why?"

"I don't know," said Melys╬. "Has your mother ever mentioned the Amazons to you?"

"Yes, just last night, in fact. She mentioned that the Amazons were a fixture here in Thrace after the Attic War," said Xena. "She said some of them even stayed on. Those were probably the ones who gave Gabrielle her Rite of Caste."

"Melosa's tribe?" said Melys╬, absently.

"Yes...why?" said Xena.

"You know that my mother, Lyss╬ and Hypolite were the Queens in Aemetzain═, right?" said Melys╬.

"Yes?" said Xena, listening intently.

"Well, before my mother was declared the Warrior Queen, there was another - Oreithyia," said Melys╬. "Antiope was her sister. She took exception to Theseus kidnapping her."

"I know the story, 'Lys╬," said Xena. "Theseus came to the Amazons and tricked Antiope and her honour guard onto his ships, then took off for Athens. The Amazons sent a war party to bring her back. The Attic War raged for years and Antiope was killed by one of her own Amazons, Molpadia, while defending her son, Hippolytus from her own people."

"That's a lie!" cried Melys╬, green eyes blazing.

"Wait, calm down," said Xena, gently. "What really happened?"

Melys╬ took a breath. "I'm sorry," she said. "Those damn Athenians - have to make up a story to try and make themselves look good. And making that son of a Bacchae Theseus into some kind of hero! That's Dragon crap! He may have been their king, but he was no better than any other slimy warlord. He used Ariadne and destroyed her. And he lied to his father to get the priestess Medea banished from her sanctuary in his father's palace when she recognised him for what he really was, a gods-be-damned misogynist! The Amazons took her in and she told us the whole story. What really happened was Antiope fell in love with Theseus. She wasn't kidnapped. My...Hypolite helped her run away with him. Oreithyia was livid, but she let it go until Theseus dishonoured Antiope by annulling the marriage to marry Phaedra. Then Oreithyia and a group of Amazons came to Athens

to escort her home. But Antiope was pregnant. She already had Hippolytus and Theseus refused to let her leave in case she was bearing him another son. Antiope knew she wouldn't be able to take Hippolytus with her, but she also knew that Phaedra was barren and that her son would cherished and well-cared for as the heir. She was feeling rather humiliated and really needed to get out of

Athens, to come home and heal. Theseus held her against her will. Many Amazons died to free her, but finally, Antiope got Theseus to agree. If the child she bore was a son, Antiope would send him back to his father - which is all Theseus cared about at that point - that, and a more 'politically expedient' marraige to Phaedra. He agreed to let her go, but it was so close to her time, Antiope went into labour on the journey home. The Amazons stopped here, in Thrace, for the birth was imminent. Antiope gave birth to a daughter but the toll of the battle and Theseus's betrayal was taken. She died in childbirth."

"And her daughter?" said Xena, quietly.

"Molpadia lived," said Melys╬. "She was the mother of Melosa and Terreis."

"You should tell this to Gabrielle," said Xena. "Let the Amazon bard set the truth to parchment so that people will know..."

"It won't matter," said Melys╬, quietly. "Too many others tell different tales. So many different tales, that in centuries to come, no one will know which is true, half true, or completely false. Few will care."

"That's not true, Child," said Cyren═, coming into the room. "I know the truth. Molpadia was born right here in this inn. I remember. I care."

"Tanti," said Melys╬, trancing. "You care because she was your kin and your queen."

"What?" said Xena, looking at her mother. "You never told me..."

Cyren═ sighed and sat beside her daughter. "I know," said the innkeeper. "It was so long ago...I'm sorry, Xena, I should have told you, I suppose."

"You're an Amazon," said Xena, looking at her mother.

Cyren═ shook her head. "Your grandmother, my mother, was an Amazon," she said.

"Oathsister to Molpadia," said Melys╬, quietly. "But you, tanti, are also an Amazon."

Again Cyren═ shook her head. "No, Child," she said, sadly. "I gave up that title when I left the Tribe to raise my son, Toris."

"You cannot give up your blood," said Melys╬, gently. "You cannot give up what is in your heart and your soul. You are an Amazon still. You always will be."

Still in trance, Melys╬ arose and approached the older woman, gently embracing her. "Welcome back, tanti," she said as Cyren═ wept silently, tears flowing.

"Oh, Goddess, I don't deserve..." she said.

"The Goddess says different," said Melys╬, looking at her with a gentle smile, wiping away her tears. "You are Her beloved daughter still and will be forever ... and to show you Her love remains, She has given you this gift...healing tears."

Cyren═ looked up at Melys╬ and blinked several times. She reached up with trembling fingers and touched Melys╬'s face in wonder.

"Blessed Goddess," she whispered. "Hypolite? No, Melys╬. I...I can see you!"

"What?" said Xena, jumping up and turning her mother around to look at her. "Your eyes! The film is gone!"

Cyren═, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, opted for hugging her daughter, instead of either.

"Little One, forgive me for not telling you," she said. "I thought...what was the use? I thought I had renounced that and I had no right to claim any of it. I know better now. Thank the Goddess."

Melys╬ smiled and left them, going to gather her daughter from one of the cooks who had been watching her for the Amazon. "Well," she told the infant as she fed her in their room. "I thought I knew her. I wonder why she called me by my godsmother's name, though? Oh, well. The Goddess has reclaimed one of Her own. I'm glad. I like Cyren═. I'm glad that..."

"Meia!" cried Iksander, hurtling himself into her arms, just missing the baby.

"Whoa, Little Man," said Melys╬, laughing, as she shifted Neiromei to a safer position, wrapping a free arm around her son.

"You did it! You fixed primeia's eyes," said the child, looking up at her, beaming. "I knew you could do it, Meia."

"No, 'Sander, the Goddess healed your grandmother," said the Amazon.

"She did?" said the little boy, awed.

"Yes, She did," said Melys╬, re-settling the protesting infant to resume her interrupted meal.

"Wow, that sure was nice of Her," said Iksander.

"The Goddess is very nice," agreed his mother. "She is the Mother of everything and She loves us all because we are all Her children. And your grandmother is very loved by Her. That's why the Goddess healed her."

"She loves me, too,?" asked Iksander.

"Oh, yes," chuckled Melys╬, ruffling his hair. "How could She help it? I love you, too, 'Sander."

"Oh, I know you do. You're my meia," said Iksander, settling close. "Xena said you came all this way just to see me."

"That's true, 'Sander," said Melys╬, stroking his dark curls gently. "I missed you. I'm glad you have your papa and Cyren═. They love you very much. I'm glad you have a family here, too."

"Are you and my sisters and my tantis with the Amazons still my family, too?" asked the child, sleepily, his blues closing slowly.

"Absolutely," said Melys╬, softly. "We all love you, 'Sander, so very much."

"Can I...c'n I come..visit...sometime...?" asked the child, drifting asleep.

"I think we'll be wearing a path from Aemetzain═ to Amphipolis," said Xena, softly.

Melys╬ looked up to see her fellow queen, leaning in the doorway, smiling at the scene of her friend and the two sleeping children. Melys╬ smiled back. "I think so, too," she said.

"Mother wants to come back with us for a while," said Xena.

"Oh, Xena, that's great," said Melys╬, eyes shining.

"Yeah, and she wants to see you as soon as we get these two settled," said Xena, coming over and gently lifting Iksander while Melys╬ settled Neiromei in the cradle.

The two friends went downstairs to the tavern, leaving their children to finish their naps. Cyren═ was in the kitchen, "queen" in her own right of her domain, once again.

"Xena, Melys╬," she greeted them, warmly, ushering them to chairs around the table and pouring ale for them. "Not a drop spilled! Listen, Girls, Toris has gone to fetch an urgent message from the cot═ - from the Amazon High Queen, Amna╬l╬ herself!"

"My aunt? I wonder what she wants?" said Melys╬, her eyes widening. Cyren═ chuckled and sat down with them. "Bet I know," she said, her blue eyes twinkling. "And about damn time, too!"

"What, Mother?" said Xena, grinning to see her mother in such a good mood. Cyren═ merely winked at her and sipped some ale. Xena scowled, her arms folding across her chest, then pouted a little. "Didn't work when you were little, Xena," said Cyren═, not looking at her daughter. "And it's even less effective now."

"Mother!" said Xena, laughing, in spite of herself as Toris came in, brushing snow off of his cloak, and wordlessly handing a small piece of parchment to Cyren═. She unrolled it and quickly scanned the message, her eyes widening in alarm.

"Girls! We have to go to Themiscyreia - right away!" she cried, jumping up and hurrying to start packing. Melys╬ and Xena looked at each other before both jumped up and went after Xena's mother.

(To be continued in part VI: "Destiny's Children")


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