by L.M. Townsend


DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Argo, Solan, Toris, Cyrenê, Ephiny, Joxer, Virgil, M'Lila et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.)and the characterisations of Ares and Aphrodite 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. (Laesë, Melysë 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!

Violence: There is a mention of domestic abuse. It's brief, but it's there. Oh, yeah - this is a story with Xena in it. Remember, she likes to fight.

OTHER: I guess at this point in the story, I should tell you, if you haven't already read the first parts, you might be get a little lost in this one. There really isn't much of a timeline I'm following (hey, they don't follow one on the show, either!) I'm not too disciplined that way (or in any other way, for that

matter); I let the story evolve as it will, so blame the Muses, not their tool.

*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. You can e-mail me at Thank-you for reading.


It was a vision, the princess decided. A vision of the Goddess, Herself. The Warrior, raven-haired and clad in dark leathers and brilliantly shining armour bestride the golden mare, whose ivory mane provided the only movement to the vision, riffling gently in the breeze. Eyes as blue and coldly surveying as the deeps of the sea provided points of colour. Then she spoke in a voice, low

and rich, but resonating with power.

"Who's in charge?"

Laesë took a breath and stepped forward, grateful her education had included the language of the Greeks, for she stood before one now, she knew. "I am," she replied quietly, but with dignified strength, her voice more steady than she had thought possible, given her heart's erratic beating. She was terrified. She had heard tales of the Greek deities' capriciousness.

Eyes that rivalled the stormy skies of winter blue flicked over her briefly, then scanned the rocky cliffs, raking over the group of well-armed Amazons protectively surrounding their princess. They rested once again upon Laesë at last, apparently finding the drawn swords no threat. Laesë stood under their scrutiny, somehow calm. If this vision was to be her death, she would face it with courage and honour. The goddess seemed to approve and in one move, so graceful and swift it might have been missed in a blink, she dismounted and walked toward the princess.

"You're Queen Amnaëlë?" the goddess seemed amused by something.

"No," replied the princess. "I am Laesë, her daughter. Have you business with her, Lady?"

A wry grin lit the goddess's lovely countenance. "I'm looking for Queen Amnaëlë," she said, firmly.

"My mother is very ill," said the princess. The warrior's keen senses noted the brief flash of pain - quickly recovered - in those dark, golden-green eyes, and heard exhaustion in her quiet voice. Once again those arresting eyes looked sharply at Laesë and the warrior noticed the princess wore the Royal Seal of Themiscyreia under her black cloak. The warrior spoke again, but more gently. "She sent for my mother, Cyrenê," she said.

"Oh," said Laesë, her green eyes brightening perceptibly, a small, hopeful smile tugging at her rose-coloured lips. She glanced at her lieutenant and gave silent orders with her eyes and a graceful hand gesture. Instantly, the lieutenant and Royal Guard saluted and backed off a distance, leaving the two women in relative privacy.

"You are Xena then? Welcome to Themiscyreia," she took the warrior's forearm, firmly in greeting. "Come, we will escort you to the palace. It's not far, but the way is tricky, unless you know where you're going."

"Wait, Argo - "

Laesë smiled at Xena. "Your companion will accompany us, of course, but our four-footed friends follow another trail," she said. Then she whistled sharply and Xena saw the horses galloping towards the group of Amazons. The women greeted their mounts affectionately, petting and whispering to them. One horse, a midnight black mare, shimmering blue in the sunlight, trotted up to the princess and tossed her mane, regally. Laesë smiled, and patted the strong neck, fondly.

"Melusine, lead our friend's companion to the stables, will you, Love?" she said, softly, pulling a dark red apple from a pocket in her cloak and offering it. Argo whinnied and nudged Xena, as the black mare lipped the apple and carried it to Argo, sharing the treat. The horses snuffled each other and snorted, both tossing their heads, companionably as they shared the treat. Argo nuzzled Xena's dark hair, then galloped off with her new friend, the other horses following them. Xena raised an eyebrow, but didn't stop Argo from following.

"That's a beautiful creature," she said to Laesë. Laesë smiled. "To us, all of our companions are," she said. "But I have to confess, Melusine is more beautiful than most. I trained her myself."

"I trained Argo to respond to the whistle," said Xena. "But I honestly think she reads my mind, more than anything."

"Of course," said Laesë. "Amazons have a rapport with our companions. They are our partners on the battle-field and elsewhere. But come, if you will. Refreshments are waiting at the palace. I am glad my mother's message reached you."

"Actually, it reached your cousin, Melysë," said Xena, noticing the princess' slight limp. "You two look remarkably alike, you know."

"I have never met Melysë," said the princess, smiling. "But I have heard there is a resemblance."

"In fact, the two of you are identical," said Xena, shaking her head. "You could be twins." This could be trouble, she thought, then smiled softly. Nah, Melysë is ... Melysë. No way I couldn't tell the difference.

"Hm, we share a birthday, too," said Laesë, smiling broader. "So, who knows? How do you know my cousin?"

"I'm the Warrior Queen of Aemetzainê," said Xena. "And godsmother to her daughters."

"Oh, of course," said Laesë, leading Xena through a labyrinth of rocky passageways in the cliff wall. "I had heard that the Warrior Princess was with the Amazons. I just didn't make the connection. So, tell me of my cousin, Xena. Other than looking like me, what is she like? Is she a warrior?"

"Oh, gods no. She hates combat," chuckled Xena. "I mean, she can hold her own in a fight, but she's a priestess and a scholar. She trained at Ephesus and studied in Lesvos at Sappho's college."

"Funny, I never saw her there," said Laesë, frowning. "Oh, well, someday we'll meet, I hope."

"She's worth meeting," said Xena, smiling fondly.

"Hm," said Laesë, smiling. "Maybe I'll go back with you for a visit."

"I think she'd like that, though you can ask her yourself later today," said Xena. "She's travelling with my mother, on their way here now. I just rode on ahead. Your mother's message was a bit cryptic."

"So Cyrenê is coming?" asked Laesë, desperate relief tinging her voice.

"Yes," said Xena, gently placing a hand on the princess' shoulder as she stumbled over the rocky terrain. "Does your leg hurt?"

"Not much," said Laesë, blushing at her clumsiness. "Only when the weather is damp or cold. I took an arrow during a routine border patrol. We ran up against a troop of Agrestis - they're our enemies to the North. We try to get along with them, but they're always breaking our treaties. Their ways are abhorrent to us, but we try not to interfere unless they're directly affecting Amazons or those Provinces under our protection. Anyway, my platoon was attacked, I took an arrow, but kept fighting. They would have killed us if I hadn't taken out their leader and my sisters routed the rest. Truth to tell, I really hate fighting, too."

"You and Melysë are alike in more ways than one. She took a spear thrust to that same leg a few years ago, but kept fighting. I thought we would lose her for sure. But, she was up and around and back on the battle-field in a few months," said Xena, proudly.

"Yes, we sent emissaries to the Tribal Convocation she called. My sister, Dyanë and her partner, Mitylene attended," said Laesë. "They were impressed with Melysë. They stayed to battle Alti and Kraes, but I heard that the Amazons didn't have to do much fighting that day. Once you and Melysë turned the leaders against each other, their armies took to fighting each other, too. That was an

inspired move."

"Hm, yes, inspired by a certain Amazon Bard," said Xena, smiling yet again.

"You mean Queen Gabrielle? We had heard that she married," said Laesë.

"She did," said Xena. "But Gabrielle is Regent Queen of the Tribe. We couldn't do without her so she moved her husband to the boundary of Amazon Territory."

"Oh, Xena," said Laesë, wistfully. "If only all the Tribes in the Nation could be complete like that again - three queens, just like in the Ancient Time. Your Tribe is very blessed."

"You don't know the half of it," said Xena. Her Tribe's Queen, Melysë, was the daughter of Zeus, and the Chosen of Hekate - one of the Faces of the Amazon's Triple Goddess. Her daughters were

doted upon by Aphrodite, Melysë's half-sister, and even Ares had come to respect and admire his sister. Xena didn't know if Laesë knew this, but Melysë didn't like to advertise her divine heritage and connections, so the warrior said nothing, figuring if Melysë wanted to share with her cousin, she would.

"Well, here we are," said the princess, rounding a sharp turn in the rock wall.

Xena looked, pleasantly surprised. The tunnel-like passageway opened out onto a broad street, lined by shops. Amazons of every description thronged in the market place, buying bread, bartering over bolts of cloth, buying and selling. Xena noted an armoury and several weapons shops, but saw that not many of the Amazons in the market were armed. At least not visibly. The town was

clean, too. Xena noticed, appreciatively, that there were no odours of garbage or other offal. Instead, she smelled fresh baked bread from a bake shop, herbs from the apothecary, rich leather, rare spices, and a couple of new scents she had never smelled before, but would like to explore further.

"Gods, that's wonderful," she said, inhaling.

Laesë smiled. "What the klafé or the chaeko?" she asked.

"Hm, I'm not sure, but probably both," replied the warrior, her stomach rumbling in anticipation.

"We'll have both at the palace, then you can decide," said the princess, smiling as she approached the stall from which the heavenly scents were wafting. "Telepyleia, could you send some chaeko and a good-sized jug of klafé to the palace in a few minutes?"

The older woman who ran the stall chuckled and held up a hand as the princess slid some coins to her. "Nah, now Yer Highness, ya know yer coin's no good here," she said, gently sliding the silvers back to the princess. "Not after ye sent an escort south with me girls to get the plants to make me wares. 'T'weren't fer that, I'd not have me livelihood."

"And if you hadn't discovered those plants, the Amazons wouldn't have so rare a treat," said Laesë, surreptitiously slipping the coins, unnoticed by the shopkeeper, under the mat at the bar.

"Aye, me princess, ye'll have yer treat directly - methinks 'twill beat ye to the palace. I'll send it with me girl, Pisto," said the elder woman, winking. "Ye remember her, don't ye, Yer Highness? Lovely lass, she is - and well-skilled - in ever'thing, if'n ye know my meaning?"

Laesë grinned. "Yes, and if my heart didn't already belong to another, your Pisto would stand a good chance," she said. "But, as you know..."

"Yah, yah, I know, princess," said Telepyleia, sadly. "But there comes a time..."

"Not for me," said Laesë, softly.

The older women patted her hand sympathetically. "Ye're a sweeting to indulge an old battle-mare," she said, smiling gently, now. "Well I know, both me girls swoon at the sight o' ye, but when a heart's broke it don't see nothing but that as broke it. I'll send yer treats directly. Best hurry - klafé's best piping hot and it'll be on it's way soon. And I'll send the palace cook it's fixings, too, so ye c'n have it when ye wish it."

"Thank-you, tanti," said Laesë, warmly, kissing the weathered cheek, then she turned and re-joined Xena and they resumed their walk to the palace. "Telepyleia was one of my mother's warriors," said the princess. "When she retired, she went travelling and discovered the plants from which chaeko and klafé are made and she learned from the natives how to make them. She came home with some and presented it to my mother and me. I just knew I had to have more, so..."

"You set her up in business for herself," said Xena. "And not a bad business, either, judging from the line at her stall. Pretty good for a - what was it? 'Old Battle Mare'?"

"She deserved it," said Laesë. "She saved a whole platoon of Amazons from the Scythians and sent scouts to warn us they were marching on us. She saved Themiscyreia. Telepyleia has always been loyal to us, but she does have the one quirk."

"Her ambition to marry into the royal family?" asked Xena, smiling, one eyebrow raised.

"Yeah," chuckled Laesë. "But knowing her, I think she believes that would be as much my benefit as her daughter's - which ever one got lucky. She's a dear soul, though. And her daughters are gorgeous. And both warriors, as well as merchants. I just..."

"Never got over someone," said Xena, perceptively.

"Yeah,' sighed Laesë. "Anyway, we'd better hurry. Telepyleia is right about one thing - klafé is best hot."

They made their way through the streets, winding around the Great Temple which dominated the centre of the town and came at last to the gates of the palace. It was slightly smaller than the Temple, but still large enough that Xena couldn't see the whole thing beyond the gates.

"Great, I hope Melysë doesn't want to add on to the cottage after seeing this," Xena muttered. "I know who'll be sawing and hammering if she does."

Laesë chuckled. "We don't use half of it," she said. "It was built by Lysippe as a fortress when the Amazons first came here and it housed the entire Amazon Nation at that time. The Temple is relatively new, though. The old Temple is still on the Island of the Black Stone. That's where the Ancient Amazons went to make sacrifices - when we made sacrifices. Our last Priestess Queen, Leilae, had a vision from the Goddess, Herself, and according to Leilae the Goddess didn't like the killing of Her other children. So we stopped. There didn't seem much point in continuing with our worship on the island after that - it was tainted with the blood of the sacrifices and no one really knew how to fix that, so this Temple was built here."

Laesë returned the salute of the sentries, who stood aside to allow their princess and her guest to pass.

"Where are the stables?" asked Xena. "I'd really like to check on Argo."

"Sure, I'll take you," said Laesë, leading Xena through a tree-lined courtyard to a huge stone out-building. "Here they are."

Laesë pushed open a heavy oak door and Xena followed her into a bright and airy stable. Most of the stalls were occupied, but all were recently swept, the fresh hay scenting the air along with sweet oats and Argo's favourite, apples. Huge windows stood open and a fresh breeze blew through, carrying the distinctive scent of rue-herb. Xena knew Amazons planted it near their stables

to repel flies and other horse-pests. Xena noticed that Argo's saddle had been removed and was carefully set upon a shelf by her stall, along with the rest of her tack. Argo, in the stall next to Melusine, had been carefully brushed down, too, apparently by hands almost as loving as her own.

"Hey, Girl, looks like you're all taken of for now, huh?" said Xena, affectionately rubbing the mare's velvety nose. Argo's eyes were closed as she contentedly munched some sweet oats, but she opened one, and blew gently, acknowledging Xena. "Ok, well, enjoy your dinner. I'll see you later, okay Girl?"

Argo nodded once and Xena patted her neck, then turned and followed Laesë to the palace. Laesë took Xena to her rooms. Xena looked around approvingly. A suite had been prepared for her, including a sleeping chamber with a curtained bed, a bathing chamber with a steaming, scented bath already drawn, and a sitting chamber complete with a desk, table chairs, and shelves of books and scrolls. In the sleeping chamber, Xena found a cedar chest containing tunics and trousers and sundry other clothing like Laesë was wearing, hooks to hang her leathers and armour, and extra pillows and blankets on shelves. In the bathing chamber were more shelves, holding drying linens, wash cloths, scented oils, and soaps.

"The bath, first, I think," said Xena, as Amazons began carrying trays of refreshments. Xena noticed bread, cheese, various fruits, and, to her amusement, trays and trays of chaeko and klafé.

"Will you be wanting an attendant?" said Laesë.

"No, no," said Xena, struggling with a stubborn clip on her armour. "Been bathing and dressing myself for years now." Besides, no point in asking for trouble...

Laesë reached over and snapped the clip for her. "Sure? I'd be happy to at least help with that armour - looks a little complicated," she said.

Xena sighed. "Yeah, okay," she said. "I've gotten used to Melysë or Gabrielle helping me with this. Spoiled me, I guess. But I don't expect the princess to..."

"Oh, don't worry,' said Laesë, grinning as she swiftly unfastened all the clips and buckles. "I use to help Dyanë with hers all the time. Glad I'm not a warrior. It looks really uncomfortable."

"You get used to it," said Xena, with a shrug, now clad only in her leathers.

Laesë poured a mug of the steaming, fragrant klafé and sniffed appreciatively. "Ah, good," she said, handing the mug to Xena. "Still hot. Try it. You'll think you've gotten hold of nectar. And the chaeko! I think I know what ambrosia tastes like, now."

Xena sipped and grinned. "Gods, that's good!" she said, reaching for a square of the chaeko. Experimentally, she bit into the melting treat. "Yeah, that's about as close as any mortal needs to get to ambrosia. Gods, I can't wait for Melysë to try this. She's going love it."

Laesë smiled. "I'm glad that it pleases you," she said. "I'm going to go and check on my mother while you have your bath. Just save me some of the chaeko, ok?"

Xena grinned, breaking off another piece. "Ok, but it won't be easy," she said. Laesë laughed and left Xena, closing the door behind her. Xena slipped out of the rest of her clothes, hanging her road-dusty leathers and armour on the hooks provided, then slipped deliciously into the steaming water, thinking about the message which had arrived at her mother's tavern in Amphipolis the week before.

And I never thought to ask Laesë what it was about, she thought drowsily, as the scented water soaked the weariness out of her limbs. Ah, well, there's plenty of time before Mother and Melysë arrive. Mother was so mysterious about it - like I shouldn't wonder why she was being summoned by the Amazon High Queen! Of course, Mother also never told me she was an Amazon. Well, Laesë will be back - for more chaeko, if nothing else. I'll ask her then... Wish Melysë was here already. Bet she'd love a nice hot soak, too, and a nice backrub, and....

"So you're Cyrenê's daughter."

Xena, startled out of a light doze, opened her eyes wide. Standing before her was an older woman, about her mother's age, leaning on a staff.

"Goddess, I haven't seen eyes that blue since Cyrenê left - you're hers, alright," said the woman.

"And you must be Queen Amnaëlë," said Xena, relaxing a little. "Forgive me for not standing, but...."

"Not at all," chuckled the old queen, finding a chair and slowly lowering herself into it. "How is your mother?"

"On her way," said Xena. "What is this all about? Mother wouldn't explain anything, just packed up and conscripted my ... fellow queen and I into escorting her here. They'll be here in a few hours. Takes longer, travelling with a newborn."

"So, my niece is also coming - and bringing her daughter," said the queen, nodding. "The Goddess is efficient. Your mother and I are nykelae - oathsisters. That's a little like malatyra - soulmates, only not so intense. We quarrelled a long time ago when she left us. I have regretted it ever since -

and even more so now that I know I am dying. I wish to make peace with your mother, Xena."

"I really want to hear the rest of this, but if you don't mind - I'm getting pruny here," said Xena, indicating the bath.

Amnaëlë chuckled and turned her head. "Xena, I put your first nappy on you," she said. "You haven't got anything I haven't seen before, but alright. I'll wait for you in your sitting room."

She slowly rose and made her way out of the bathing chamber, leaning heavily on the staff.

Xena got out of the tub and dried off, dressing in black woolen trousers and a long, scarlet-coloured tunic, belted about the waist with a zona, an Amazon belt with clips to hold various pouches and weapons. Combing her long, dark hair with her fingers, she strode into the sitting room and sat in a chair across from the queen. Laesë had returned, Xena saw, and was making quick work of the

chaeko. She grinned up at Xena. Xena shook her head, smiling.

"So what was the quarrel about?" she asked as she poured another mug of the klafé for the queen.

"Your mother and I both have...very strong personalities - and very quick tempers," said Amnaëlë. "No doubt that's where you got yours - no, don't look at me like that. I've kept my eye on things. Anyway, when your mother gave birth to a son, she decided to leave, taking you with her, and raise him herself with Atrius. I warned her about him, but ... well, never mind. I didn't want her to go. We both lost our tempers, said some very harsh things to each other - which I regret - and she left. Later, when I came to my senses and realised what I'd lost, I sent word for Cyrenê to come back - we'd find a way for her to keep your brother, somehow. She replied with a note that said to ... just leave her alone."

"That sounds like mother,' said Xena. "She never told me she was an Amazon - let alone the High Queen's oathsister. So, even though she told you to leave her just couldn't."

"Xena, your mother was the dearest thing in all the world to me," said Amnaëlë. "I watched over her - and you - and have interceded between you and disaster more times than you can imagine."

"Wh- when?" asked Xena, incredulous.

"When Cortese attacked your village, there were Amazons among his troops - but they were not fighting on his side," said Amnaëlë, quietly. "We lost four warriors just trying to get between your brother and the sword that took him."

"They tried to protect Lyceus? Why? He was a boy," Xena's voice was barely above a whisper.

"He was the son of an Amazon," said Amnaëlë, gently. "The son of my oathsister - Xena, I did - and would still do - anything in my power to protect your mother and those she loves."

Silently, Laesë slipped out of the chamber. Amnaëlë had not noticed, but Xena's sharp eyes had seen the tears, shining in the princess's eyes.

"What other...?" she started to ask.

"Many times, Child, and many people," said Amnaëlë, smiling gently. Then she sighed sadly. "And one for whom my Laesë may never forgive me."

"Who?" asked Xena.

"Just one who never came back," said the queen. "Ah, but it will be good to see Cyrenê again - even if all she does is spit in my face and walk away."

"I don't think she's going to do that," said Xena, gently.

Amnaëlë grinned. "Heh, yeah - slap in the face is more Cyrenê's style," she said, chuckling. "Goddess, but I've missed that woman!"

There was a knock on the door, Xena called, "Enter!"

A sentry opened the door and bowed to the Queen, then turned and addressed Xena.

"Your Majesty, Warrior Queen, Your mother and her Majesty, Queen Melysë have arrived," she said.

"Great, bring 'em on in," said Xena, grinning. She was looking forward to Melysë's face when she saw all the wonders of Themiscyreia - especially the chaeko!

The sentry bowed and left, returning a short time later with Cyrenê and Melysë. Amnaëlë rose and slowly approached Cyrenê. Cyrenê smiled and held out her arms, which Amnaëlë fell into, both women weeping. Melysë looked on smiling, her own eyes filling, as she shifted Neiromei in her arms. Xena jumped up and took the baby, and Melysë looked at her gratefully.

Xena saw that Melysë had changed to Themiscyreian clothing and was wearing black woolen trousers and a deep royal purple tunic with a zona of beaten silver, the links crafted to resemble her totem spirit, the snow leopard, under her dove-grey cloak. Shifting the baby to one side, she put her free arm around her companion's shoulders.

"You look really good in those clothes," she whispered. "That's a good colour for you."

"Thanks," said Melysë, smiling broadly at the compliment. "You're no slouch yourself - already had a bath, I see."

"Yeah, but there's plenty of hot water left," said Xena. "I'll see that you get one too, if you want."

Melysë nodded, wearily. "I'd like that," she said. "It's been a long trip. But worth it - just look at those two."

Xena saw her mother and the queen, arms still around each other, talking quietly. Cyrenê looked up at her daughter and Melysë and smiled. "We have a lot of catching up to do," she said. "Why don't you get some rest, Melysë? Xena, see that girl lies down for a while - she's about to drop.

We're going to go and talk, but we'll see you at supper."

"Alright, Mother," said Xena. "Your Majesty, it was an honour to meet you."

"And you, Child," said the queen, warmly. "Melysë, you and I will have some time, later. I want to see that grand-niece of mine, too."

"I'd like that, Tanti," said Melysë smiling, her voice betraying her fatigue.

"Melysë, you mind me now - get some rest,' said Cyrenê, sternly. "Xena, make her lie down before she falls. She's exhausted."

Xena looked at her companion. Melysë looked paler than usual and Xena could feel her leaning against her for support.

"Hey, c'mon," she said, leading Melysë to the bed, helping her off with the cloak. She tucked Neiromei in beside her mother and covered them both. "Sleep now, I'm going out for a while."

"Xena you promised me a bath," said Melysë, sleepily.

"In a little while," said Xena, worried. Melysë hadn't fully recovered from Neiromei's birth. She and Gabrielle had helped Melysë deliver all four of her children and Melysë did not give birth easily. This was her last child. Xena had called the Tribe's shamenki in to tell Melysë that she must have no

more. Xena knew Melysë would listen to the old healer before she would anyone else - even Xena. But she also knew the priestess was a born mother. She not only mothered her children, but all of the children in the House of Maidens - was, in fact mother to the whole Tribe. Xena smiled, thinking of how her friend was happiest when surrounded by little ones, and not just her own, either. She'd have a hundred more, if she could, thought the warrior, fondly.

Xena glanced back one more time at her sleeping family and sighed. Melysë was ill, but there were things here in Themiscyreia that needed her attention, too. There was more to the story told her by Queen Amnaëlë, Xena knew. And it would affect the entire Amazon Nation, including Melysë, Gabrielle, and the children. Melysë was fine, for now, sleeping the deep sleep of utter exhaustion.

Xena had to find out if the things going on now in Themiscyreia would be beneficial - or otherwise - and make plans to protect those she loved.


Xena found Laesë watching Amazons sparring on the drill field. "You do have a weakness for warriors, don't you?" she teased, coming silently up behind her.

Laesë started, then turned, smiling sheepishly. "Hey, I'm only human," she said. "Besides, I'm just watching. Picking up some pointers, you know - for when I can fight again."

Xena raised an eyebrow. "You don't now?" she said.

"Nah, my leg ... it doesn't hurt, but the stiffness impedes fighting. I figured, if I keep working it, though, eventually it'll loosen up," said the princess, with a shrug.

Xena looked at her and shook her head, placing a firm hand on her shoulder. "It doesn't work that way," she said gently.

Laesë looked down and nodded, slightly. "Yeah, I guess I sort of knew that," she said. "I just

wish it could be healed...."

"Besides, I thought you hated fighting?" said Xena. "I know Melysë does, and even though she can stand and swing a staff or a sword with the best of us, I certainly wouldn't call her a warrior. Her heart's just not in it. And I can see, neither is yours. Why do you need to fight?"

"A long time ago, I had a malatyr," said Laesë, looking far away, back in time. "She was from a Libyan Tribe to the south. She taught me some of her moves and she was so proud that I learned quickly...I wanted so much to please her, I just kept learning how to be a better warrior. Then I was wounded. I was really sick and out of it. She stayed by me, told me it didn't matter, I didn't have to fight anymore - she would do all my fighting for me. I was out for a long time. When I woke up, she was...gone. Mother had sent her on a mission. It was all so secret, but Mother said she needed her best warrior - which was...any way, she didn't come back. Later, we received news from her uncle that she had been killed. Oh, Xena, she didn't even get a pyre...I want to honour her memory

somehow. Protecting the Amazons in battle would be a fitting tribute to the way I always felt protected with her."

"Hey," said Xena hugging her, Gods, she looks so much like Melysë, but how could I ever think they were identical! she thought. Laesë was hard muscle and lean, where Melysë, while firm-muscled, was softer, having given birth to four children. "If it means that much to you, I can teach you how to compensate for the leg. It's just a matter of using different muscles."

"Would you?" asked Laesë, eyes shining as she pulled out of the hug. That's another difference, thought Xena, wryly. Melysë never stops hugging first.

"Sure, said Xena. "We can start tomorrow, if you like. It's kind of late today. Besides, your cousins are here and I thought you might like some time with them when they wake up."

"'Cousins'?" said Laesë, frowning. "I thought only Melysë was coming. Who'd she bring with her?"

"Your youngest cousin, Neiromei," said Xena, grinning, thinking of the baby, who was her pride and joy - well, along with her sisters, of course. Xena had taken all of Melysë's daughters into her own heart. In her mind - and theirs, they were her daughters, as well.

"Ooh, a baby?" said Laesë, and Xena wasn't sure if the Amazon was pleased or not. "It's not...real small, or anything, is it?"

"Well, she's only a few weeks old, so yeah, pretty small, why?" said Xena.

"I'm just scared of...breaking them, or something when they're that small," said Laesë, with a shudder.

Yep, thought Xena. Nooo problem telling these two apart. Otherwise...don't go there, Warrior! Yeah, it's been a while - since before Neiromei was born, in fact. But it's been just as long for her. And with her, it'll be more than worth the wait.

She went back to her rooms and saw Melysë was awake, feeding Neiromei. Xena smiled at the scene, Melysë, rocking and cooing to the infant while the little one made her soft, contented eating noises. She smiled, too, at Melysë's appearance. The rest had evidently done some good. Melysë was very fair-skinned, but the unhealthy pallor had left her and her dark green eyes were

shining, long dark tresses still sleep-tousled.

"Hey," said Xena, softly, leaning in the doorway, her arms crossed in front of her, a smile in her eyes. Melysë looked up at her and returned the smile. "What do you say when she's done, I get you that bath I promised and we'll go down to supper with Mother and the Queen?"

"Sounds like a plan," said Melysë, returning her attention to her daughter, after a last brilliant smile for the Warrior Queen.

Xena chuckled and went over to them, sitting behind them on the bed, wrapping strong arms around both of them, and stroking the baby's dark head. Neiromei opened her eyes and smiled at the warrior, while not giving up the warm milk.

"Hey, her eyes are changing," said Xena, smiling. "I thought they'd be green, but..."

"Hm, no," said her mother, smiling. "Another blue-eyed daughter. She'll look like her 'other' mother. I'm glad."

"No, no, my priestess," said Xena. "She looks exactly like you - except for the eyes, of course. Gods, will I have to fight off suitors for this one!"

"Xena!" said Melysë, laughing. "Why not teach her to fight them off for herself, instead, like you did Arynë and Selenë?"

"No, this one's no warrior," said Xena. "She'll be a priestess - like her mother."

"Or a bard, like her godsmother," said Melysë.

"Or a Queen."

Xena and Melysë looked up from the baby to see Cyrenê standing in the doorway, holding the same pose her daughter had, but a few moments earlier. "You three are precious, but supper is in a little while," said Xena's mother, approaching, and lifting the now sated infant into her arms. "If it's

alright, I'll take the baby to Amnaëlë while you two dress - Xena, don't give me that look, it's not formal. Just wear something clean."

"These are clean," muttered Xena, as her mother left them.

Melysë laughed. "Come on, I really do want that bath," she said, rising gracefully, in one flowing motion, and stripping her travelling clothes off, she went to the bathing chamber. Xena shook her head, smiling, and followed to help her wash her long hair.


They went down the stairs and through several corridors to the dining chamber. Melysë wore her own clothes from Aemetzainê, a calf-length dark blue cotton skirt, and long sleeved, dark red tunic, belted about her now-slender waist with the silver zona. Silver glinted all about the priestess as she had once again donned the various insignia denoting her status as Priestess, Queen, and Daughter of the Houses of Themiscyreia and Aemetzainê. Her long, dark hair, was held back from her face with a fillet of sapphires and seed pearls, the soft curls interspersed with tiny braids - the significance of them was lost on Xena, but the braids also meant something according to the priestess. She walked in the dining hall, every inch a queen, priestess, and Amazon - not to mention demi-goddess. Gods, and I used to think she was frail! thought Xena, proudly, following her.

The two queens made their way to Queen Amnaëlë and Cyrenê, who was seated beside her, holding a sleeping Neiromei. They gave the High Queen an Amazon salute, and Melysë found herself gathered into the High Queen's arms in a tight embrace.

"You are the spitting image of your mother, Child," said Cyrenê, smiling.

"Tanti, I don't understand," said Melysë, hugging back, always reluctant to be the first to let go. "Lyssë was my mother...wasn't she? I don't look much like her. Xena looks like Lyssë, but I don't."

"No one really knew for sure - until now," said Amnaëlë, shaking her head. "And those two weren't telling. We knew Zeus fathered you, but for your own protection, when you were conceived your mothers left Themiscyreia and founded Aemetzainê - to hide you from Hera, you know."

"You...knew? I didn't know, until Aphrodite - " said Melysë, frowning as her aunt released her.

"Child, the Amazons were once Hera's chosen," said the Queen. "She had deceived us into thinking 'Queen of the Gods' was the same as 'Mother of the Gods'. When she manifested herself among us, we believed her to be the Ancient Goddess of the Amazons, walking among us, once again. She was looking for you. When she didn't find you among us, she betrayed us to attack Hercules, and we left her. We learned the truth, but too late. A lot of Amazons were lost, but at least we made amends with Hercules."

"So Hypolite gave birth to me," said Melysë. "And Lyssë let everyone think it was her because she knew fewer enemies - even those with Hera's favour - would try to attack me if I was a warrior's daughter and under her protection."

"Yes," said Amnaëlë. "And now you have come home, at last. And you, Xena, your grandmother and my mother were also true sisters so you, too have come among your own - at long last. Welcome, Daughters."

Melysë and Xena looked at each other, each seeing the other anew. Melysë smiled, tentatively and Xena shook her head, smiling slightly to Melysë. Cyrenê arose and handed Neiromei back to Melysë, indicating chairs for the two to sit. Xena looked over at Melysë, feeling a subtle change in her companion, as Melysë's eyes took on the familiar glaze of a trance.

"Blessed Goddess," whispered Amnaëlë, looking at her niece. "She..she's..."

"What?" said Xena, crossly, concerned for her companion. Xena knew that Melysë feared these trances a little since she had no control of them. She didn't want any distractions to helping Melysë out of this one. "Melysë, come on, wake up now. It's alright, I'm here. Come on, come back to me, okay, 'Lysë?"

"Let her go, Xena," said Laesë, walking into the room. "It's okay, she's just...Chosen, right?"

"Yeah," said Xena. "Hekate's."

The women in the room gasped. "Blessed Goddess, the Chosen of Hekate?" said Amnaëlë. "Oh, Cyrenê, you know what that means?"

Cyrenê patted her friend's hand, gently, and smiled. "The Amazons are truly blessed," she said.

"Look, I don't know what all this is about - for now I don't care," said Xena, turning back to Melysë. "She hates these things, and I'm going to wake her up."

"No, Xena, really, it's okay," said Laesë. "The Goddess is with her, telling her what she needs to know. She's safe, I promise you. Please, let her be."

"Xena, I'm alright," said Melysë, still far away. "Listen to Laesë, I'll be right back. Just - don't leave me, okay?"

"Never," said Xena, wrapping strong arms around her companion's still form.

Melysë walked through swirling silver and lavender mists. She was conscious of Xena's strength, anchoring her, and conscious, too of her young daughter, still in her arms. She continued to walk. The landscape was a familiar forest, ending in a clearing at which three roads crossed. In the centre of the clearing sat Hekate on a silver throne, surrounded by her hounds. Melysë sighed in relief. She had met the Goddess here before.

"Come, Child," said Hekate, smiling, indicating a chair beside her. As on her visits before, the Hounds rose and greeted her, friendly. Melysë sat and faced the Goddess. "You've been avoiding Me."

"No, Mother, not you," said Melysë.

"Then what, Daughter?"

"The...the scares me," said Melysë, looking at the Goddess. "I can't control it."

"But, my dear Child, the trance is Me, calling to you," said Hekate, smiling. "It will never harm you - no more than I ever would, for you are My own Chosen, and very beloved to Me."

Melysë smiled back. "I understand, now, Mother," she said. "What would You have of me?"

"For now, there are two things you must do to ensure the Amazons' destiny is secured. First, make sure that your cousin becomes High Queen after Amnaëlë," said Hekate. "Amnaëlë will abdicate after Neiromei's Presentation. She has so much pain now, and soon I will call her back to Me. But for now, she is still needed. Laesë is not yet ready to take the Crown. That's where you come in. You must be Regent of the Amazon Nation while you prepare her for the responsibility. They will try to make you take the crown, but you must not do it."

"Is that all? I would never wish to be High Queen, anyway, Mother," said Melysë, frowning.

"No, I know you wouldn't," Hekate chuckled. "Which is just as well, since I have other plans for you. But for now, you must help your cousin prevail. That may not be such an easy task as you think. There will be others vying for that place. At all cost, they must not win it. It is to be your daughter's place after Laesë. Your daughter, Neiromei, born of two Ancient Lines and Royal Houses of the Amazon Nation."

"Two - Mother, I don't understand," said Melysë. "I used the ... well, you know, my magic to conceive her. She has no sire. How she could be of two lines?"

Hekate smiled. "Think of what you wished when you performed that Rite," she said gently. "And know that I, the Creator of all things will always use My magic to make such loving and unselfish wishes come true. All acts and wishes originating in Love are prayers to Me."

Melysë thought for a moment, then her eyes widened. "Ooh, she's not going to be happy about this," she said, nervously. "She'll see that as a god meddling with mortals again - only this time I'm the one. Only I didn't mean for it to be like that."

"Don't worry so much, my Child," said Hekate, chuckling softly, brushing Melyse's hair away from her face with a mother's tenderness. "I think you will be most pleasantly surprised."

"Very well, Mother," said Melysë, soothed by the gesture. "What else would You have me do? I am ever Yours to command."

"Neiromei's Presentation. Present your daughter to Me on the Island of the Black Stone," said the Goddess. "So many innocent lives have been lost there, her innocence will purge the stain and re-sanctify My Sacred island again. Tell the Amazons, the Temple was a nice thought, but the Island is My Chosen place for worship. I have placed much power there. After Neiromei's presentation, the

place will be clean again."

"Thank-you, Mother," said Melysë, rising to go.

"Oh, Melysë," said Hekate.

"Yes?" asked Melysë.

"Melysë, her true name is Meilènameirë ."

"'Daughter of the Goddess'," said Melysë, smiling in spite of herself. "She will be Your Chosen after me, then."

"She already is, My Daughter," said Hekate, nodding as Melysë walked back through the swirling mists, following her anchor.

Her eyes came back into focus and she saw the assembled women looking at her in concern. Xena looked sharply at her, then visibly relaxed.

"I'm alright," said Melysë, smiling.

"You've never been out that long before," said Xena. "I was worried."

"I guess the Goddess had a lot of 'catching up' to do," said Melysë, sheepishly. "She thought I was avoiding Her. I'm hungry, can we start supper, now?"

"You're not going to tell us what She said?" asked Laesë, eagerly.

Melysë smiled at her cousin. "Later," she said. "I really am hungry."

"That's a first," chuckled Xena. "Usually I have to practically force-feed you, except when ... Oh, no - you're, you can't be. Not this fast."

"Xena!" said Melysë, blushing. "I'm just hungry, okay?"

Xena grinned at her. "Okay," she said, passing a platter and they all had supper.


The following day, Xena took Laesë out to the drill field and, as promised, started to teach her how to compensate for her leg in a fight. She had left Melysë asleep in their room. Neiromei was with Cyrenê and Amnaëlë. Unless Mother intends to come and live with us in Aemetzainê, she's getting too attached to the baby, thought Xena. On the other hand, that might not be so bad. It's nice

being around her again. And she's been like a mother to Melysë, too. I guess 'Lysë has been a mother to so many others for so long, it's nice to have someone who can mother her for a change. She deserves that, someone to turn to like that. Gabrielle would love it, too. She and Mother are so close. On the other hand, Mother may want to stay here with Amnaëlë. I could ask her, I guess. Make sure she knows she's welcome with us. Or maybe Melysë should ask her. Oh, well - just see how things play out, I guess. Xena had been distracted by her thoughts and hadn't seen Melysë come out to the drill field. Suddenly, in a move worthy of the Warrior Queen herself, Melysë yelled and vaulted on to the field, staff in hand, grinning.

"Can I play?" she said.

"Sure," said Laesë, returning the grin.

Xena looked back and forth between the two cousins. Except for Melysë's purple tunic and Laesë's dark blue one, they looked alike. Oh, gods am I in trouble in here! she thought. On the other hand, Melysë looks almost fully recovered. Hm...stop that!

"First things first," said Melysë, approaching her cousin. She knelt down and wrapped both of her hands around Laesë's thigh for a moment. "There, try that."

Laesë, moved experimentally, her eyes widening. "How did you...?"

Melysë smiled kindly at her cousin. "You're going to need that when you become queen," she said. And more quietly, to herself, but Xena's sharp ears picked it up. "And I'm here to see that you do become queen."

"Was that some pressure point I don't know about?" Laesë said, frowning.

"What do you know about pressure points?" asked Xena.

" malatyr used them for fighting, but she told me they could also be used for healing," said Laesë. "She taught the technique to our healers. You see, many of our sons are born with the bleeding sickness. They get injured and the bleeding won't stop. We use it to save their lives, but sometimes, the flow of blood has to be stopped for so long they lose use of an arm or a leg."

"That's where the rumour that we cripple our sons to make them slaves comes from," said Melysë, rolling her eyes in annoyance.

"Yeah, and how do you like the one about how we cut off a breast to shoot the bow better?" said Laesë, grinning.

"Dragon crap," said Melysë, shaking her head.

"Wait, Melysë, you know about this? About pressure points?" said Xena. "I've never seen you use them."

"I haven't had reason to. Xena our sons aren't born with this sickness," said Melysë. "It comes from so many years of inbreeding. Amazons would meet with our children's fathers in the dark and lie with many men to get our daughters. Some of them would have had to have been with a close relative and not know it. Now we know better, we can avoid the sicknesses and birth defects, but some of it still shows up from time to time, in spite of precautions."

"Not in Aemetzainê," said Xena.

"No, in Aemetzainê, the fathers of our children carry fresh blood," said Melysë. "But here in Themiscyreia, the Amazons still lie with men who are also our Ancestors descendants."

"So, tell me about this malatyr of yours who taught you pressure points," said Xena. "I was taught about them from a runaway slave who stowed away on my ship when I was a pirate. Maybe they were related."

"I doubt it, Xena," said Laesë, her eyes clouding over. "M'Lila came from a long generation of Libyan Amazons. There were no slaves in her family."

Melysë looked at her companion, who had frozen at the name. "Xena, are you alright?" she said, placing a gentle, healing hand on her friend's arm.

"That's impossible," said Xena, quietly. "M'Lila was an Amazon? But that was so long ago - she couldn't be the same one."

"My malatyr disappeared over five decades ago," said Laesë. "You see, Xena, the earth below Themiscyreia contains certain properties - they say the gods used our water to make ambrosia. I am over eighty birth-seasons. We age very slowly here."

Xena looked over to Melysë who was looking at her cousin in shock. "That's an understatement," the priestess finally said. Laesë chuckled. "I guess," she said. "Xena, my mother sent M'Lila to you. She knew you would need her, and I don't begrudge you her help. I'm glad she was able to save your life. I know how she died, and I know her. She wouldn't have it any other way. We'll be together again - some day. And to tell you the truth, meeting you has made her loss more bearable than it has ever been. Your life and the people you have touched by the Greater Good - like Melysë - honours her memory because she ensured that you'd be around to touch those lives."

"Why didn't you tell me?" asked Xena, thinking miserably about all the lives she had "touched" before turning to the Greater Good.

"Because I didn't want you feel responsible," said Laesë. "You feel responsibility for too much as it is. Her death hurt me, yes, but it wasn't your fault. I knew that you'd make it seem that way to yourself and feel guilty about it."

"Okay," said Xena, a little shakily. "I think I'm done sparring for now. You two want to go at it for a while?"

"How 'bout it, Cousin?" said Laesë, brightly.

Melysë looked at Xena, who grinned and nodded. It wasn't often Xena got to watch Melysë fight - even in practice. Melysë was no warrior, it was true, but she moved with divine grace and Xena loved to watch her when she got the chance. Melysë grinned back and saluted her cousin with the staff. The two were evenly matched in skill, and they turned the match into a dance, each gracefully

moving, swinging the staffs in a rhythm, but not hitting each other. Xena was mesmerised. They had turned a fight into a piece of art. Finally, they both dropped the staffs, laughing and hugged.

"Gods, that was beautiful," said Xena rising. "Neither of you scored a single hit, but your moves were perfection."

"That's the other thing about the earth under Themiscyreia," said Laesë, panting a little from the exertion. "Even in practice, you might notice if you watch the troops drilling, no Amazon may harm another. I have a feeling if either Melysë or I had scored a hit, it would have been pretty painful. That's why any serious sparring takes place out on the beach."

"That's amazing," said Xena.

"Thank-you, Cousin," said Melysë, hugging Laesë again. "I've got to go get a bath and feed my daughter."

"I'll be there in a minute," Xena called after her. "Listen, Laesë, about M'Lila..."

"Xena, I know my malatyr even as you know your Gabrielle," said Laesë. "We need say no more about it. Please."

"Alright," said Xena, rising and following Melysë into the palace. She entered the bathing chamber and found Melysë already in the tub with the baby. Neiromei was cooing and smiling, waving her tiny arms in delight at the warm water. Xena sat by the side of the tub, watching them, and smiling.

"You want to tell me about M'Lila?" said Melysë, gently.

Xena sighed. "She was a stowaway on my ship when I captured Caesar," she said. "She spoke a different language and Caesar was the only one who could translate. He's the one who said she was a runaway. I guess I know better now."

"She was your friend?" said Melysë.

"Yes, she was," said Xena, remembering. "After I ransomed Caesar, she stayed with me on the ship and taught me the 'Pinch'. She taught me a lot of fighting moves, too. I learned some of her language. She tried to warn me about Caesar. If I had only listened..."

"You weren't the first - or last - to be betrayed by that...Roman," said Melysë, making the appellation sound like a gutter curse. "The evil he sent out was returned to him - tenfold."

"He had me and several of my men crucified on the beach," said Xena, quietly. "After he broke my legs - " Melysë looked up at her friend and gasped. "Yes, that's how I knew how to teach Laesë alternate muscle groups to compensate for her leg. It's okay, they're fine now. Anyway, after, M'Lila came and pulled me down off the cross. She took me to a healer, Nicklio. Caesar sent troops

after us. They killed her. She took the arrow meant for me. It was her death that turned me into a monster."

"She meant a lot you, didn't she, Xena?" said Melysë.

"Yes, I didn't understand why she came after me, why she risked herself to save me," said the warrior. "I damn sure wasn't worth it."

"You most certainly were," said Melysë, her green eyes flashing as she looked up at her friend, then they softened. "And are. Just as Laesë said, you have touched so many, brought hope and healing and love to so many - not the least of whom are me and my daughters - our daughters, since you've been as much a mother to them as I have. And this little one will have a far more secure future thanks to you."

Xena smiled at the laughing, splashing baby and stroked her soft baby skin. "I'd hate to have missed that," she said. "So I am glad that she came after me. I just wish it hadn't cost her her own life. She would have loved this - me, godsmother to Amazons. And this little princess is going to have a very secure future, indeed."

"Hekate told me that her Presentation was to take place on the Island of the Black Stone," said Melysë. "I thought we'd arrange for it tomorrow. She'll be of age then."

"Gods, three moons old, already," said Xena, stroking the baby's dark hair.

"I know," said Melysë. "So much has happened. Aphrodite is bringing Gabrielle so they'll be here in time for the Rite. Arynë will be holding the Aemetzainê until she gets back."

"The time passes so fast," said Xena, shaking her head. "I remember 'Ryn's Presentation. And now she's Acting Regent."

"Well, in name," said Melysë, smiling. "My oathsister, Tai' will be there if anything actually happens. It's only for a few days. But it will be good for 'Ryn. She will be Warrior Queen after you. Just like Selenë will take my place."

"And Neiromei?"

Melyse's eyes glazed for a moment. "She will be High Queen, after Laesë," she said.

"'Lysë?" said Xena, concerned.

"No, I'm here, Xena," said Melysë, with a sigh. "These are getting shorter, and I can almost control them. No, not control, but I feel more in control. The Goddess must have taken my feelings into account and made it so that 'helpless' feeling doesn't come with them."

"Good of her," said Xena, frowning.

"Xena, it's alright," said Melysë. "Remember, the Amazons' Goddess is not like the Olympians. She doesn't just use and abuse mortals for Her own entertainment."

"No, I know," said Xena, with a sigh. "I just can't get used to a god - or Goddess - who works solely for the benefit of mortals. It's a new concept for me."

"Get used to it," said Melysë, smiling. "You've chosen to share your life with Her Chosen ones. You two will probably be getting better acquainted."

Xena snorted. "What else did She tell you the other night?"

"I have to make sure that Laesë is crowned High Queen. Hekate said they would try and make me take it, but Xena, I don't want it anyway."

"You sure?" said Xena, teasing. "This life of luxury isn't too hard for you give up, is it?"

"Well, I do like some things here, but not enough to give up Aemetzainê," said Melysë, smiling at her friend. "Besides, I really miss the girls. By the time we get back, they are going to be so huge and..."

"Easy, 'Lysë,' said Xena, chuckling, as Melysë handed the baby to her and stepped up out of the tub herself. "We haven't been gone all that long. Besides, I think Aphrodite can speed up the trip home for us once we see Laesë crowned."

Melysë dried off. "You know I don't like to ask favours of my sister, but in this case, I think you're right. If I haven't learned how to do it myself, that is. Xena, Laesë was right about the earth under Themiscyreia. My powers are growing stronger here."

"Yeah, I saw you heal Laesë's leg," said Xena, drying Neiromei and tickling the laughing baby as she dressed her.

"Mm, and I have a feeling that the Island of the Black Stone is even more potent a place of power," said Melysë. "There's more. Hekate said..."

"Yes?" said Xena.

Melysë sighed. "Promise me you won't be angry," she said. "At least, not act angry."

"I'll try to control myself," said Xena, dryly, inwardly bracing herself.

"It's ... Neiromei," said Melysë, hesitantly.

"What about her?" said Xena, with growing alarm.

"Well, Xena, I guess...Oh, Goddess, I really don't know how to say this," said Melysë, blushing furiously.

"Spit it out," growled Xena.

"You know she was conceived by my magic. But when I was performing the Rite, I guess I was thinking about...about Solan and Eve and about the unfairness of it all and about how sad you were that they were taken from you the way they were," said Melysë. "And wishing I could make that sadness go away, you know, not try to replace them, but to give you another chance with a child

of your own, and ... and ... I really wanted to have ... anyway..."

"Yes?" said Xena, holding her breath.

"She is as much yours as she is mine - and not just spiritually or emotionally," said Melysë. "The Goddess made her your daughter and mine, born from two Ancient Lines and two Royal Houses. You are also descended from Amazon Queens. That is why Neiromei will be High Queen."

"Oh," said Xena, looking again at Neiromei, who smiled up at her and cooed, kicking her little legs. A love and tenderness filled the warrior, and suddenly, she realised her heart had already known what Melysë had told her.

"I'm sorry, Xena," said Melysë, unable to look at her friend. "I didn't mean to ..." The priestess suddenly found herself enveloped in a tight hug.

"That is the kindest, most loving, and generous thing you could ever have done for me," said Xena, her throat feeling very tight. "I thought that just sharing your children with me was wonderful, but knowing what you went through to bring her, the pain you went through, to give me ... Goddess, I can't believe it."

"You're not angry," said Melysë, smiling in relief.

"Oh, no, how could I be? I wanted to raise Eve myself, like you've allowed me to help you raise the girls," said Xena. "And Solan, I had to give up as soon as he was born. I've always felt that I missed out, but I couldn't see myself getting pregnant and going through all that again. You did that for me.


"No problem," said Melysë, still smiling. "Anytime."

"No, not again," said Xena, warningly. "Remember what the shamenki told you?"

"Things have sort of changed, Xena," said Melysë, wryly.

"Still, it's too hard on you," insisted Xena. "I can't stand to watch you in that kind of pain, so...don't, okay?" Because I don't just watch it, I feel it, too, she thought to herself. It all makes so much sense, now. "Here, I'll take her," said Xena, cuddling her daughter - my daughter, she thought.

Xena put the baby in her cradle, and took the comb from Melysë. She pulled it gently through the already curling dark hair. Together they sat, Melysë in front of Xena as Xena combed the long locks dry, Melysë relaxing visibly. She loved it when her hair was combed. It almost put her into another kind of trance..

"This place has been good for you," said Xena, softly, combing slowly.

"Hm, better than you know," said Melysë, smiling up at her. "I've missed know?"

"Yeah, I do," said Xena, returning the smile. Melysë blushed slightly, and looked down, but Xena caught her chin and raised her face to look into the shining dark, golden green eyes. "I can't believe it - you still blush, even after all these years."

"It's because...Goddess, Xena you still me feel like a young girl with her first crush," said Melysë, laughing softly. "I remember the first time you looked at me...that way. I thought I was going to die, my heart was beating so hard and so fast. And I thought I had to be mistaken - why would someone like you want...Oh, Goddess, I even talked to Aphrodite, you know, the expert?"

"Oh, gods," Xena groaned. "You told her? What'd she say?"

Melysë chuckled. "She just looked at me and said 'Are you sure we're related? Like duh!'," she said. "Anyway, she said to go for it and the worst that could happen was a broken heart and that can always be fixed - and then she came up with a list of 'contigency' candidates for that."

"That explains her threatening me with an 'ugly spell' if I ever hurt you. But you didn't just go for it," said Xena, smiling. "I had to work long and hard for you, my Queen. And it has been worth every moment."

"To me too," said Melysë smiling sweetly.

"I think Mother might keep Neiromei tonight - if I asked her to," said Xena, softly.

"I'd like that," said Melysë, her eyes shining.

Xena swiftly and skillfully braided the long tresses and too soon, the priestess sighed and reluctantly rose.

"I guess I'd better go and make the arrangements for Neiromei's Presentation," she said. "And let my aunt know Gabrielle and Aphrodite are coming."

"I'll stay with Romy," said Xena, smiling, already pulling a delighted Neiromei out of the cradle to play with her.

"Okay," said Melysë, smiling. "I won't be long."

"Good," said Xena, tickling the giggling infant. "Otherwise, this little one might get hungry again. I swear she has Gabrielle's appetite."

"Hey, I heard that!"

Xena and Melysë looked up to see the Bard and Melysë's sister standing in the room.

"Hey," Melysë cried, going to embrace them both. "I didn't expect you two until sometime tomorrow. I'm glad you're here."

"Yeah and none too soon to protect my reputation," said Gabrielle, grinning at Xena. "My appetite, I'll have you know, has not changed in all the years I've known you."

"I know,' said Xena, wryly.

"Oh, you," said the Bard, going over to her soulmate and the baby. "And how is my youngest godsdaughter? Goddess, she's getting so big !"

"I told you she has your appetite," said Xena, ducking as Gabrielle playfully swatted at her.

"'Dite, I'm glad you're here," said Melysë, hugging her older sister again. "I really need to talk to you."

"Well, okay, but I was just going to..." the goddess trailed off as she saw the disappointment in Melysë's eyes. "Alright, what are big sisters for, anyway? Come on down to the beach, though - I saw some gnarly waves and I thought maybe I could bring my shell..." The two sparkled out of the room.

"Now that's the way to travel, Xena, " said Gabrielle, her bright green eyes twinkling. "No nasty warlords, no bounty hunters, and no rocks to sleep on. Just 'poof!' and you're there."

"Where's the fun in that?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow at her best friend.

"Huh, depends on your idea of fun," said Gabrielle. "So, Hekate wants the baby Presented here, huh? Wonder why?"

"Because she's going to be the High Queen someday," said Xena.

"No kidding? She told Melysë that?" said Gabrielle.

"Yeah, that and other things," said Xena. "It's a really long story."

Gabrielle plopped down next to Xena. "What else ya got to do - till they get back, anyway?" said the Bard, grinning and taking the baby to cuddle.

"Hm, good point," said the warrior. "Well, it seems that my mother is an Amazon...."

By the time she had finished the story, Gabrielle had scrounged some parchment and a quill and was taking notes. "Goddess, Xena this is going to make a great story. An epic! This is going to be as good as Virgil's story - you know, the one about that Trojan founding Rome? Lost Amazon sisters, reunited after a rift which should have never happened, two Amazon queens, one bearing a demi goddess, fleeing to another land to protect the child from a jealous queen of the gods, raising the child in relative obscurity until..."

"Gabrielle, don't embellish," said Xena. "Just write the story. The true story."

"Aw, but Xena - "

"Gabrielle, just pretend the scroll is enchanted and write what really happened, okay?" said Xena, exasperated, then amended her tone when she saw her bard's face fall. "I know how much you'd like make the story really exciting, but believe me, the truth is exciting enough."

"That's true," said Gabrielle, somewhat mollified by her soulmate's kinder voice. "Okay, Xena. I'll write it up just like you said. I'll pretend the scroll is enchanted. That'll make it exciting enough for me."

"Gabrielle, thanks,' said Xena, smiling. Neiromei had fallen asleep in her arms, but now awoke and started squirming and whimpering. "Uh, oh, Little One's hungry. I wish Melysë would get back. I get nervous when she's gone this long."

"Heh, especially with Aphrodite, huh?" said Gabrielle, grinning. "I remember her last 'goddess-lesson' - that's how we got this little one in the first place. Not that I'm not glad she's here."

"Not to mention her brother and sister," said Xena, frowning.

"Huh? Really? Selenë and Jox, too? I thought Jox was Toris' - he looks just like him," said Gabrielle. "And who else would you let...? Anyway, he's not, huh?"

"No," Xena shifted uncomfortably, with the baby fussing. "Anyway, I wish she'd get back."

"I'm here," said Melysë, shimmering into view. "I know, I know, sorry it took so long. Come here, precious, meia's back." Melysë took the baby, crooning softly, and opening her tunic. "Ow, she was starving. Serves me right, I guess. Gabrielle, Amnaëlë has rooms for you - right through that connecting door through the bathing chamber. We'll be sharing a bath and the sitting room. Oh, and my cousin Laesë has offered to take you to the library. You'll love it."

"Thanks, 'Lysë," said Gabrielle, rising. "In fact I think I'll have that bath now. It's not as dusty travelling with Aphrodite, but a hot soak would be good right about now."

"Supper with my aunt and Cyrenê at sundown," said Melysë, smiling at her friend.

"Oh, good, I'm starving," said Gabrielle, smiling as she left.

"So?" said Xena when they were alone.

Melysë looked at her and smiled. "Well, it seems that my divine heritage is coming out here. Aphrodite and I tried a few 'god-things'. I could do them all."

Xena looked at her. "So what does this mean? I mean, is it just Themiscyreia? Will your powers fade when we leave, or not?"

"No, Xena, Themiscyreia is an ancient place of power - that's why our ancestors settled here," said Melysë. "But it's in my blood. This place just brought it out more. I you feel about..."

"So what's your 'area of expertise', my Goddess?" asked Xena, smiling.

"I don't have one," said Melysë, returning the smile with relief. "I'll use my powers to help my Tribe and the Amazon Nation."

"And, knowing you, anyone else who needs it," said Xena, wryly. "No, my Queen, I think you do have a speciality. Let's see, what shall we call it?"

"Xena," said Melysë, warming up to the teasing, knowing it meant her friend wasn't upset by her revelation.

"No, now, every goddess should have a title - like Aphrodite is the goddess of love. Ah, yes," said Xena, brightly. "You will be 'Our Lady of the Soft Heart' - or - no, no wait, the Goddess of the Greater Good. Yeah, that's it."

"Well, then, I have the perfect disciple in you, Warrior Queen," said Melysë, green eyes twinkling. "Never seen a better case of conversion in all of history."

"Uh, yeah, well, we'll just leave me out of this, ok?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow, but grinning, still in a teasing mood.

"Hm, no I think if I have to put up with the attention, I want you standing right next to me. I do in any case, though," said Melysë, grinning back, shifting the baby to her shoulder and patted until rewarded by a loud belch. Melysë looked at the baby, eyes wide in surprise, as the little one giggled, then squirmed, looking for more milk. "Well, no doubt now who's daughter she is," said the priestess, before bursting into giggles of her own.

"Yep," said Xena, proudly. "Come on, we've got to get Gabrielle out of the tub and get on down to our supper."

"You go ahead and get started," said Melysë. "Romy's not done just yet. Besides, all I have to do is dress."

"Okay," said Xena, leaving her. She got Gabrielle to hurry up out of the bath and went down to the kitchen to see how much longer Melysë had with Neiromei before dinner. She stopped just at the door, hearing a disturbance inside.

There sat, Xena saw, a dark, muscular yet slender warrior. Myrina sipped from a mug and leered at the kitchen maids. Grabbing at one and causing her to drop a tray of food, Myrina leaned back on her stool and laughed aloud. The cooks glared at her, but said nothing.

"You'll be glad enough of Myrina's attention when I'm queen," said Myrina, drinking again. Then her eyes caught a tall, raven-haired warrior, leaning casually against the door frame. "Well," said Myrina, grinning. "New meat - where'd you come from, Sweetheart?"

"I assume you're talking to me?" Xena drawled, disinterestedly staring at her knuckles. "Although, no one - and I mean no one - calls me 'Sweetheart'."

"I'll just bet," Myrina snorted, rising and approaching. "So where'd ya come from? You're no Themiscyreian - let me guess - Thrace? Your peasant accent betrays you. Who'd you sleep with to get assigned to the Great Themiscyreia?"

Suddenly, Xena grabbed the swaggering Amazon by the collar of her jerkin and raised her a foot off of the floor. "You have no manners," she said. "Want to learn some from a Thracian peasant? Or shall I just wipe the floor with you? "

"Urk!" cried Myrina, eyes bulging. "Who - who are you?"

"I'm Xena," said the Warrior Queen, smiling sweetly. "And if I were you, I wouldn't count on being Queen of the Amazons. Queen of the Rubbish Heap is more suitable to the likes of you."

Xena tossed her with ease into a cold hearth, sending a billow of ashes out over the floor. "Sorry," she said to the kitchen staff. "Guess I made a mess." She stalked out of the kitchens and back up to her chamber for a long bath. Somehow, she felt very dirty.

She stalked angrily into the chamber, Melysë watching her open-mouthed as Xena, covered in ashes, grabbed clothes and went into the bathing chamber. Melysë frowned as she heard a frustrated splash. Neiromei was asleep, so Melysë laid her in the cradle and followed her companion.

"Something wrong?" asked Melysë, standing there, hands on her hips, watching Xena scrub ashes off of herself, her eyes like flames. Melysë had seen her like this before, but usually only after a battle.

"Who in Tartarus is Myrina?"

"I don't know," said Melysë, frowning. "Name sounds Libyan, though. Why?"

Xena said nothing, just continued scrubbing, until Melysë knelt behind the tub and began gently washing her hair, her loving touch soothing the warrior into a calmer mood. Finally, Xena leaned back, relaxing and sighed. "Sorry, 'Lysë," she said. "I just encounter in the kitchen."

"With someone named Myrina?" asked Melysë, gently, rinsing the raven locks with warm water.

"Hm, yeah," said Xena, rising and climbing out of the tub, drying off. "She seems to think she's gonna be queen. How about that?"

"Let me guess," said Melysë, smiling softly. "She pissed off the Warrior Princess?"

"That's Warrior Queen, to you, Amazon," Xena growled, good-naturedly. "And yeah, she pissed me off. Called me - me - a Thracian peasant and made fun of my accent - I don't have an accent, damn it."

"When your temper comes out, you're the Warrior Princess. Consider it a compliment. So you threw her in the ash-pit," chuckled Melysë, taking the towel and gently drying Xena's hair for her. "Well, I can't say she didn't deserve it. After all, no one calls my Warrior Queen a Thracian peasant - not to mention insinuating that she has an accent - Goddess forbid! I shall just have to have a word with her."

"No," said Xena, seriously now. "Stay away from her. She's bad news."

Melysë had picked up Xena's quirk of raising a single eyebrow over the years and employed it now. "And I'm not?" she said, crossing her arms in front of her.

"Well, you can be," amended Xena, eyeing the priestess, and remembering the fierce snow leopard she had become in battle many times before. "But I'd rather you didn't have to be, okay?"

"Okay," said Melysë, smiling. "You know, Hekate did tell me there would be others trying to get the Crown of High Queen - I wonder if She meant Myrina?"

"Now she tells me this," muttered Xena, her eyes heavenward.

"Sorry," said Melysë, sheepishly. "It just slipped my mind. The other revelation sort of...took precedence."

"It still does," said Xena, warmly, placing an arm around her companion's shoulder. "But it would have been nice to know about this, too."

"Yeah, I know," said Melysë, smiling up at her friend, then her smile dropped. "Xena, you don't suppose this Myrina poses a danger to Neiromei, do you?"

"Not with me around, she doesn't," Xena growled. "But we keep her with one of us at all times while Myrina's here. And warn Mother and the Queen."

"And Laesë," said Melysë, frowning worriedly.

"Yeah, especially Laesë," said Xena.

They went down to dinner, Melysë once again dressed in her Aemetzainê priestess garb, Neiromei strapped securely to her chest. Xena donned her leathers and armour, freshly cleaned, oiled and polished, her weapons prominently displayed. Melysë looked at her and smiled, feeling very protected.

How strange, she thought. I feel the safest in the company of possibly the only person on this earth now with the power to take my life! Of course, she's already taken my heart...

Suddenly, they were confronted by Myrina. "So, the Thracian peasant is an Amazon Queen in her own right? I've been asking about you, Xena - and about your little bard friend and half-blood priestess - and I know about your little godling brat."

Melyse's eyes narrowed as she watched the confrontation, her arms curled protectively over her daughter.

"Out of my way," growled the Warrior Queen, gently but swiftly pulling Melysë and the baby behind her.

"Or you'll what? Find another ash-pit?" sneered Myrina, advancing.

Like lightning, Xena's hand shot three fingers into Myrina's throat. Myrina fell backwards, gasping for breath, blood trickled from her nose. "You must be suicidal," said Xena, voice pitched low. As rapidly as she had put it on, Xena took the "Pinch" off of Myrina. "You don't want to piss me off again. And you really don't want the 'half-blood priestess' here pissed off at you either," Xena said, she and Melysë leaving the Amazon laying on the ground.

Xena shook after the encounter. She hadn't come that close to losing control in a long time. But then again, Myrina seemed to have that effect on people. Melysë was trembling, rage flowing from every pore, palpable to Xena's other senses. Xena reached around and pulled the priestess to her, calming them both immediately.

"Goddess, she's as bad as Pitana ever was," said Melysë, her voice quiet.

"We're going to have to watch her," said Xena.

"Yeah, and do our homework on her," said Melysë, frowning. "You were right, she is bad news, Xena. But so am I when I have to be. She'd better just watch it."

"Well," said Xena, chuckling as they entered the dining hall. "She can't say I didn't warn her."


Myrina didn't appear at the family dinner, but Melysë hadn't expected her there. She asked her aunt about the Libyan warrior.

"Hm, she came for a visit - supposedly a sort of 'ambassador' from our Libyan kin," said Amnaëlë. "I'm afraid I shall have to send her home early, though. Her conduct has been ... "

"Reprehensible?" offered Melysë, not looking up.

"Hm, actually worse," said Amnaëlë.

"Your Majesty," began Xena.

"Tanti - or 'Aunt', if you prefer, please Xena," said the queen smiling.

"Tanti, why would Myrina think that she's in line for High Queen?" asked Xena.

"I don't know," said Amnaëlë, frowning, then she smiled at Melysë. "There's only one candidate for that and it's - "

"Laesë," said Melysë, firmly, looking squarely at her aunt.

"Well, actually, when the when the council convened...."

"Hekate has decreed that Laesë shall follow you as High Queen, Tanti," said Melysë, unwavering. "And I will make sure that it is she who follows, as my Goddess commands. At all costs."

"But, Melysë, you are..."

"A priestess and servant of the Great Goddess of the Amazons," said Melysë. "And I do Her bidding and Her bidding alone. And She has chosen Laesë for High Queen of Her Amazons. I'm certainly not going to disobey Her. If the Crown is offered, I stand down. But I will champion my cousin's claim above any others. And when she is High Queen, I will swear my fealty to her as such."

"Well the council will have to meet again to discuss this," said Amnaëlë with a sigh.

Xena glanced up at the bewildered queen and then at her companion and saw the green eyes flash and the jaw set. She chuckled inwardly. You don't know what you're up against, Majesty, she thought. Your council can meet a hundred times to discuss whatever you want, but if 'Lysë says Laesë will be queen, then that's exactly what will happen - I've seen that look before. No one will change her mind - if she says the Goddess has spoken, that's it as far as she's concerned. She may be 'Our Lady of the Soft Heart', but she's also 'Queen of the Iron Will'.

Laesë stared at her cousin. Blessed Goddess, Melysë is almost a goddess in her own right - swearing fealty to me? she thought. And Hekate wants me for High Queen? Better not say anything about Myrina right now. She's not too popular. I'll have to talk to her about leaving Xena and Melysë alone while they're here.. Having her here has been a little like having M'Lila back - well,

very little, but I've been alone for so long... I don't want Mother to send her home. After all, Mother will abdicate after Neiromei's Presentation, I'll be crowned Queen, and they'll be gone. And then Myrina will stop being so ... unpleasant. She sure is jealous of Xena, though... I hope she gets over it. I like my cousins, want them to visit more, even after I'm queen.

Melysë looked sharply at her daydreaming cousin. Something was amiss, something she would have to investigate. Perhaps she should call upon Hekate. It was Her plan, after all. And She will keep things under control, without me running to Her over every little thing. I'll use my own powers to find out what I need to know. She sighed, shifting things about on her still-full plate. Xena's sharp eyes noted the amount of food still there and she cleared her throat and looked pointedly at Melysë. Melysë sighed again, but couldn't bring herself to take a bite. Xena glanced quickly at Cyrenê, then back at Melysë and grinned. Melysë glared at her. She wouldn't dare, thought Melysë. Xena shrugged.

"Gee, 'Lysë, I know running into Myrina could make anyone lose their appetite, but how are you going to feed Neiromei if you don't eat anything?" said Xena, grinning. Oh wouldn't I? There is one person who can match 'Lysë for stubbornness - my mother.

"Melysë, you eat every bite on that plate, now, hear me?" said Cyrenê, in full mother mode.

"Yes, Tanti," she sighed, lifting her fork to her lips and choking down a mouthful. "I'll get you later," she muttered to Xena.

Xena smirked. "Promise?" she whispered. Melysë grinned in spite of herself and raised an eyebrow.

"Mother," Xena said. "We were hoping you'd come and stay with us in Aemetzainê for a while."

Melysë brightened. "Oh, yes, please, Tanti," she said. "You haven't met the girls yet - and they're going to adore you."

"Why, as soon as everything is settled here, of course," said Cyrenê, delighted. In truth, she had expected the invitation from Melysë. That it came from her daughter was a very pleasant surprise.

Xena looked at her mother and Melysë, smiling at one another. Oh, boy, that one backfired, she thought, chuckling to herself. I'm glad they like each other, though. Wonder what Mother will say about Romy? Bet she's pleased. I know I am. Still can't believe it. I wonder just how strong Melysë's powers will get here? Maybe we could have ... But it would have to me who...I could do that for her...Well, we'll see...


Myrina was in a foul mood. Not only had she not been invited to the family meal, she knew that damned Xena - or her little plaything, the half-blood priestess - would say something to get her kicked out of Themiscyreia. Damn, she had spent a lot time cultivating the princess, grooming her to be the perfect puppet and leave the ruling of the Nation to her, Myrina's more capable hands.

She had plans for the Amazons, and they didn't include sitting meekly here in Themiscyreia. There were lands to be conquered, just like in the good old days. Soon the sacrifices would take place on the Island of the Black Stone again...starting with Xena's little godling brat! She'll be Presented tomorrow alright! and the Amazons would once again find favour with the Queen of the Gods! Hera had been quiet for nearly three decades, but Myrina knew that once the sacrifices started, she'd return to them....


"Laesë," Melysë called after her cousin. She had spent part of the previous night "wandering" in the spirit realm, even as Xena had discreetly asked around Themiscyreia, and had received disturbing information about Myrina - and her cousin. "Laesë, I need to talk to you."

", talk," said Laesë, without turning around. She faced the drill field, her back to Melysë.

"Listen, it's about Myrina," said Melysë, putting her hand on her cousin's shoulder. Laesë flinched and pulled away. "Laesë, what wrong? Look at me." Laesë stood still - except for the tell-tale shaking of her shoulders. "Hey, c'mon, what is it?" said Melysë, turning her cousin to face her. It was the black eye, Melysë would later tell Xena, which told her the rest of the story. "Who did this to you?"

"I...I..hah, I'm so clumsy!" Laesë, chuckled, her mirth never reaching her eyes. "Walked right into - "

"Myrina's fist," Melysë finished for her. "No, don't bother - I've seen it - hells in Tartarus, I've been it, before."

"Did Xena ever...?" began her cousin, eyes going as wide as the bruising allowed.

"Oh, Goddess! No! Xena would never...No, not Xena. Before," said Melysë, gathering her cousin in her arms. "Alright, you're going to be fine, now. Myrina is leaving. Today."

"No, Melysë!" cried Laesë. "No, it was my fault..."

"No, it wasn't," said Melysë, with a sigh. "But you're not going to believe that for a while. Come on, we can't have the whole Nation seeing this at the Presentation. It won't do for the future High Queen to be sporting a 'shiner' in the Presence of the Goddess." Melysë very gently brushed the bruising, swollen eye with gentle fingers and the 'shiner' disappeared.

"Please," whispered Laesë. "No one else has to know about this now, Melysë. I don't want Myrina to leave."

"Too bad," said Melysë, coolly. "She is leaving. For your own good - and the good of the Nation. Xena will escort her out of Amazon Territory. I know a little bit about what you're feeling. The Black Mage, Kraes had me captive for a while. She was...brutal and evil. But at least she never pretended to love me. And she knew I despised her."

"Then why did you stay with her?" said Laesë, bitterly.

"I tried...after that first time, she killed my pet dog as a punishment," said Melysë, speaking more calmly than she felt. "She beat me almost senseless and locked me in a dark room with...the body. And she said if I tried again, the Amazons would be next - starting with the children. I believed she could do stayed. After she came with Alti to attack Aemetzainê, a lot of that horror came back. After I executed Kraes, I was permitted to...forget."

"Goddess," whispered Laesë. "I...I didn't know..."

"No one does," said Melysë. "Not even Xena knows all of it. She thinks I've ... forgotten. And most of it, blessedly, I have. But every so often, it comes back. Usually in nightmares."

"It's just...Oh, Goddess, I'm so tired of being alone! Ever since M'Lila crossed over, there's this empty place in my soul," said Laesë, weeping. "It much..."

Melysë felt the tears filling her own eyes, and took her cousin her arms, her healing touch burning through her skin at the other woman's agony. "Laesë, I have never known what it is to have a malatyr," she said. "So I can't even imagine what it is to lose a part of my soul. But I am so sorry

you're hurting."

Laesë sobbed heavily until her throat hurt and she couldn't breathe. Melysë pulled the pain out of her with her divine gift until both were spent. Xena found them there, catching Melysë before she collapsed. "Oh!" cried Laesë, her own pain less than it had ever been, soon forgotten at Melysë's pale, still face. "Is she alright?"

"Yeah, she'll be okay," said Xena, gently, noting Laesë' swollen eyes and tear-stained face. "This kind of healing just takes a lot out of her. I'll take her up and lay her down. She'll be fine in a little while. Are you okay?"

"Yeah," said Laesë, surprised. "I am. And Xena, after you get her taken care of, will do something for me?"

"Yeah?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow.

"'Escort' Myrina out of Amazon Territory," said Laesë, eyes narrowing. Xena grinned. "Oh, it will be my pleasure," she said.


Myrina was nowhere to be found in Themiscyreia. Amazons searched the outlying land, but no trace of the Libyan could be found.

"She must have left on her own after...." said Laesë, sitting with her cousin in her chamber.

Melysë's eyes narrowed. "No, I know her kind," said the priestess. "She means to make trouble for the Amazons."

"Oh, come on Melysë," said Laesë. "Why would she do that? She's an Amazon herself -"

"No, she isn't," said Melysë.

"Wh - Of course she is," said Laesë, frowning.

"No, Laesë," said Melysë, gently. "You said it yourself - no Amazon may harm another here in Themiscyreia. She hurt you."

"Oh, Goddess," said Laesë, eyes widening. "You're right. I hadn't thought of that. What are we going to do?"

"I don't know yet," said Melysë. "Xena's still out looking for her."

"No one's going to find her - until she wants to be found, that is," said Laesë, miserably. She lowered her face into her hands. "Oh, Goddess, what I have done?"

Melysë wrapped her cousin in a warm hug. "You reached out for love," she said, gently. "And someone took advantage of you. It's not your fault, Laesë. Everything will be okay."

"Mother's right - you should be High Queen," said Laesë, bitterly. "I'll just mess it up."

"That's Dragon crap," said Melysë, sternly. "I'm going to help you be the best High Queen the Amazons have known since Lysippe. I believe in you, Laesë, but more importantly, the Goddess, Herself believes in you. You wanna argue with Her?"

"Hells, no!" Laesë chuckled through her tears. "You're really going to help me?"

"Of course I am," said Melysë, hugging her tighter, even as her eyes glazed over into a trance. "You're going to make a formidable Queen, Laesë. I can see it. The Amazons will thrive, we will enter into an age of greatness, once more. A time of peace and prosperity is coming for us, and you will help to bring it about."

Laesë looked on in awe as the Goddess spoke through Her priestess.

"Oh, Goddess," she said, softly. Melysë smiled at her.

"Yes, the Goddess is with you - and with Amazons," she said, her voice her own once more. "She has never - and will never - leave us. So, you hungry?"

"Yeah," laughed Laesë, rising. "And I know just the thing - you tried chaeko yet?"


Xena cursed the end of the trail. Myrina's footprints ended in the sand on the beach. Melysë had told her about Laesë's injury and Xena had been looking forward to doing a little bruising of her own - on Myrina, of course.

"Alright," she called to the search party. "There's not much more we can do for now. Head on back to Themiscyreia - but keep your eyes open. If you see Myrina, bring her to me - preferably alive."

As the Amazons started back, Xena's eyes searched the beach one last time. Suddenly, she felt a displacement of air. "Ares," she said. "Long time no see."

"Xena, I came to help," said Ares. "I've been trying to leave you alone, but..."

"No, it's alright, Ares," said Xena, kindly. "Melysë has taught me a thing or two about forgiveness - especially where you're concerned."

Ares shook his head, laughing."Yeah, every time I turn around, I owe her again," he said, wryly. "You know she got my immortality back for me."

"She never told me, but I'm not surprised," said Xena, amused. Figures, she thought. Our Lady of the Soft Heart, indeed! "You said you wanted to help?"

"You're looking for Myrina?" said Ares.

"Yeah, you know where she went?"

"No, but there are some things you need to know," said Ares, darkly. "Myrina's no Libyan - she's not even an Amazon. She came from Samos."


"Yeah, but no one's seen or heard from 'Mom' in over three decades," said Ares. "What's more, I happen to know - firsthand - Hera had a change of heart. When Hercules was trying to head Zeus off from killing you and Eve, Hera helped him. My theory, she finally pushed Dad over the edge. Even if she's still around somewhere, she's not gonna want to harm mortals anymore. Myrina's working

on her own."

"But Myrina would have no way of knowing that," said Xena. "She probably sees the Amazons as the ultimate army in Hera's service - with herself at the head. That's going to be a difficult delusion to break. I remember..."

"Ah, the good ol' days, eh, Xena?" chuckled Ares. "Too bad I'm no longer 'God of War'. I'd love to see you take her apart, I admit it."

"So what are you god of, then Ares?" asked Xena.

Ares looked down, embarrassed. "Well, I do still love a good fight, but..."

"Yes?" said Xena, grinning.

"Just Causes, Honour, that sort of thing," mumbled Ares. Then he looked up, grinning himself. "Still a lot of fighting involved there, you know?"

"Only too well," said Xena, warmly. "So I guess I'm 'yours' once again, huh?"

Ares brightened. "Hey, yeah!" he said, smiling brightly. "I guess it does have it's rewards, after all. How come I didn't think of it before?"

"You didn't know Melysë then," said Xena, chuckling.

"Damn, there's another one I owe her," said Ares, frowning.

"Ares, Melysë doesn't keep count like that," said Xena, smiling sympathetically.

"Oh, yeah," said Ares, musing. "Oh, by the way, I heard congratulations are in order, huh 'Mommy'?"

"Oh, no, Melysë is 'Mommy'," said Xena, beaming proudly. "But, yeah, thanks."

"Wouldn't you just know it - lost out to my own sister," chuckled Ares. "If it were anyone but her - Still, if you need anything, just call. But not in Themiscyreia - I'm male - not allowed in there, you know."

"Thanks," said Xena. "I'll keep it in mind."

Ares faded as Xena jogged up the beach. That's my 'Lysë - reformer of gods, she thought, smiling. Ares, god of the Greater Good - guess that just leaves 'Our Lady of the Soft Heart - and Iron Will - for Melysë.

Xena walked into her chamber in the palace. Melysë was sitting up in the bed, a look of sheer contentment on her lovely face. Neiromei was asleep in the cradle beside her.

"Hey, you look like you're feeling better," said Xena, peeking first at the sleeping baby, then sitting on the bed beside Melysë.

"Oh, yeah,' she said. "Have you tried the chaeko here? Goddess it''s better than...well, not better, but it's good."

Xena chuckled, eyeing the tray beside Melysë. "Yeah I tried it," she said looking warmly at the priestess. "It's good, but definitely not better than you."

"Oh, Xena!" Melysë laughed, blushing.

"Well, it isn't - nothing is," said the warrior, thoroughly enjoying her companion's blush. "By the way, ran into Ares out on the beach. You'd be proud of him."

"I know - he's really trying, isn't he, Xena?" said Melysë, her green eyes sparkling.

"Yeah, but there's just one problem," said the warrior, contriving to look worried.

"What's that?" said Melysë, concerned.

"Well, since Ares is now 'God of the Greater Good' - thanks to you - we have to find you another title," said Xena, grinning.

"Uh, Xena! I thought something was really wrong," said Melysë, shaking her head, but smiling. "Besides I have a title, thank-you very much - several, if you want to get technical."

"So, which is your favorite?" asked Xena, smiling at her, knowing already which one it probably was.

"Mother," said Melysë, looking fondly at their sleeping daughter.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," said Xena, softly, watching them both. "Anyway, Ares filled me in on Myrina."

"Does he know where she went?" asked Melysë.

"No, but he did know where she came from," said Xena, breaking off a piece of chaeko and feeding it to Melysë before taking a bit for herself.

"Hm," said the priestess. "Well, I knew she wasn't an Amazon - where did she come from, Xena?"

"Samos," replied the warrior.

Melysë frowned. "What in Tartarus was she doing here? The Amazons haven't had anything to do with Hera for a long time. No one has."

"Ares said that Hera disappeared right around the time Eve was born," said Xena. "He also thinks Zeus may have done something to her - because she was helping Hercules protect Eve and me - from Zeus."

"That makes sense," said Melysë. "But really, no one knows for sure. Still, I don't feel Hera's hand in this. I think she's still out there somewhere, Xena, but her heart has changed. She'd be working to help mortals, not hurt us. Myrina may be disappointed if her goddess doesn't come through, and

that could make her even more dangerous. We may need to postpone Neiromei's Presentation."

"I don't think that would be a good idea," said Xena. "In fact, I think that's just what Myrina is hoping we'll do. I suspect the Amazons' Goddess has more planned at the ceremony than just cleansing the Island. I'll post triple the guard, but I think we should proceed at moonrise, just as planned."

"As long as you're there," sighed Melysë. "I wouldn't feel safe otherwise - even with five times the guard. And you always make me feel safe."

"That's what I'm here for," said Xena, smiling warmly. "And of course, for the ... ah, chaeko."

"Xena!" Melysë laughed, and rose to dress, Xena's blue eyes following her until she went into the bathing chamber. Then she leaned over and lifted the sleeping baby, cuddling her close.

"I will always keep you safe, my Little One," she whispered, as the baby stirred, smiling in her sleep.

"Yes, you will."

Xena looked up, startled. Her eyes narrowed. "Hera," she said. "Melysë was right. You are still around."

"Yes, Xena," said the goddess. "And she was right, too, about me helping humankind. I mean you and your daughter no harm."

"Yeah? Well then call off your priestess," said Xena.

"Myrina is no priestess of mine," said Hera. "It's true, at one time I coveted the Amazons for my own. But they have never belonged to me. Hekate wouldn't let them go, and She is much more powerful than I could ever be. I've spent my time on this earth, learning more of mortals and of humility. Zeus thought he had killed me, but Hekate interceded and I was rewarded for trying to

help Hercules protect you. She knew your destiny with the Amazons, it seems."

"What do you want, Hera?"

"Stop Myrina," said the goddess. "She would have her deeds be thought of as in my service. I've worked too hard these past decades to change myself for the better. I will not have my honour sullied by my past misdeeds. You should know what that's like, Xena."

"Yeah, I guess I do," said the warrior. "I'd planned on stopping her anyway. But why don't you stop her - she thinks of herself as yours. She'd listen to you."

"I tried," said the goddess, rolling her eyes in exasperation. "She doesn't hear me - not like you can. Or like Melysë could. Most mortals are blind and deaf when it comes to the gods. They just don't want to hear us. Or they don't really believe in us. But you, Xena, you have always heard and...sensed us somehow. As has Melysë. By the way, I would never have harmed her, Zeus'

daughter or not."

Xena's narrowed eyes widened and she cocked an eyebrow at the goddess. "I know she's... unique...she has this quality to make people love her, but in your bad old days, you wouldn't have...?"

"Messed with the Chosen One of the Mother of the Gods?" laughed Hera. "No, not even my pride would allow me to believe I'd get away with that. And she does have that quality. No doubt she'd have charmed me right into good deeds long before I chose to change myself. Even as she did my son. I really must find a way to thank her for that, by the way."

"Melysë finds Ares' redemption itself thanks enough," said Xena wryly.

"Hm, no doubt," said Hera, smiling. "Besides, what gift could I bestow on Hekate's Chosen?"

"Keep doing good deeds," said Melysë, emerging from the bathing chamber, her long dark hair wet. "Reward my faith in you, Lady, and that's good enough for me. I'm glad Zeus didn't kill you. You have too much to offer the world."

Hera laughed. "Is that you talking, Melysë - or Hekate?"

"Both," said the priestess, smiling. Hera stepped closer and held out her arms. Melysë stepped into them and hugged her.

"You have the gift of healing, Child," said Hera, smiling warmly. "But it costs you too much. And yet your very nature will not allow you to count the cost when someone has need of it. Perhaps I can give you something, after all." The goddess leaned forward and kissed Melysë gently on the forehead. "Blessed be, Melysë. I wish you had been my daughter, after all. But perhaps it's just as

well. You have the honour of the Amazons, as well as the power of the Olympians - and the loving heart of a true daughter of Hekate. And now you have my favour, as well."

"Thank-you," said Melysë, eyes shining.

"And Xena," said Hera, turning to the warrior. "If the day ever comes that Melysë claims her legacy, she already has a title."

"What's that?" asked Xena.

"I give her mine - Queen of the Gods. She'll be a good one, just as you've always thought," said Hera, starting to fade away.

"Lady?" said Melysë, calling her back.

"Yes, Child?"

"May I tell Aphrodite and Ares you're alive? I think they'd like to know that their mother is alright," said Melysë.

Hera chuckled, fading again. "As you wish, Child," she said, then she was gone.

Xena looked at Melysë and chuckled, shaking her head as she laid the baby back in the cradle and began combing Melyse's hair.

"What's funny?" asked Melysë, dreamily, eyes closed as she sunk back into Xena's combing.

"'Queen of the Gods' - that's one I hadn't thought of," said Xena, smiling. "Is there no end to your charm, my Queen?"

Melysë frowned. "Please don't call me that," she said. "No more titles - not between us, Xena. If I were to claim my 'legacy', I'd have to find some way to make you and Gabrielle and the girls all immortal, too. I wouldn't last through eternity without you lot. You ought to know that."

"Hm, I hadn't thought of that," said Xena, soberly. "Is that the only thing keeping you from...?"

"Not the only thing, no, but the main one," said Melysë, with a sigh. "I never asked for this. Sometimes, I wish I could just go back and be Melysë, Priestess and mother to my daughters, and your companion. That's really all I want - all I've ever wanted."

"I'd like that too," said Xena, wistfully. "Just us, Gabrielle, and the kids, back in Aemetzainê."

"Playing with the girls," Melysë smiled. "Gabrielle telling them stories."

"You, sitting by the hearth, sewing something, or baking nutbread," said Xena, smiling gently at a memory.

"And you, teaching them how to do that yell-thingy, or holding them on Argo, giving them riding lessons," said Melysë, also smiling.

"You hated me teaching them my 'yell-thingy' - and it's a battle-cry, by the way," said Xena, chuckling.

"Well, I didn't really hate it - I just wish you'd gotten them to practice outside the cottage," said Melysë.

They continued in that vein of thought and sweet reminiscences for a while, as Hekate watched over her Chosen, lovingly, still planning her destiny, but...

"Ah, my Daughter, you ask for so little," said the Goddess. "And I would give you so much. But this I can give you - your happiness. You will be Queen of the Gods, My second in command, for this is the Destiny I have created for you, but you will also have your heart's desire."


Moonrise found them on the Island of the Black Stone. The Amazons shivered. Superstition had kept most of them off of the Island for many decades, but Melysë had said that it was the Goddess' will that they return. Even in Themiscyreia, Xena saw that the Amazons would follow her companion to the Underworld if Melysë asked it, trusting in her implicitly all the way.

The Island literally thrummed with power. Xena felt it beneath her boots as she walked close beside Melysë and their daughter, holding a torch. The others followed, also bearing torches. Amnaëlë and Cyrenê led the procession. Xena had told her mother that Neiromei was her true granddaughter and Cyrenê had been overjoyed. So overjoyed, in fact, that she had decided to move to Aemetzainê permanently.

I'll have to get to work as soon as we get back, building her her own cottage, thought Xena. No way can she and I live under the same roof - not unless Melysë wants her there. Which I wouldn't put past her. Queen of the Gods, huh? I still think Lady of the Soft Heart fits better. At any rate, Mother

should have her own place anyway. Goddess knows, she's earned it.

Melysë's eyes had glazed over as soon as she had stepped out of the boat and onto the Island. She carried Neiromei, but Xena and Gabrielle walked on either side, watching for signs of an ambush from Myrina, though Gabrielle knew that Melysë would probably sense something wrong before either she or Xena did. Still, the Amazon Bard kept her hands on her sais, ever ready, just as Xena had taught her over the years.

If anything happened to Neiromei, she thought. Xena would probably lose it for good. After Solan and Eve she deserves this chance. I'm glad 'Lysë could give her this, even if I couldn't. It's funny, I still feel what she does. I guess Melysë was right - that bond really is unbreakable. Loving Virgil takes nothing away from my love for Xena - it adds to it, makes it ... more complete. Melysë has given us all so much. It's like she's already full goddess, but one more like the Amazons' Goddess than any Olympian - well, Aphrodite turned out to be alright. Actually so did Ares - after Melysë got done with him. He's actually one of the 'good guys' now. I guess he had it in him all along, but it took his sister to really see it and bring it out. Even Hera turned out alright. It's too bad Melysë couldn't get to the rest of them before...oh, well. At least -

"Look Gabrielle," Xena whispered. "Up ahead - light."

"That's not supposed to be there yet - is it?" asked Gabrielle, hands tightening on her sais.

"No," said Xena, grimly. "Lighting the torches around the Black Stone is part of the ceremony. It's supposed to be dark there now."

"What are we going to do?" asked Gabrielle.

"Keep walking," said Melysë, looking straight ahead, the trance gone. "We're supposed to confront her there. That's where my power will be the strongest."

Gabrielle looked at Xena who shrugged, and put her hand on Melyse's shoulder, but she handed the torch off to Gabrielle and held her free hand near her chakram, ready, just in case.

The procession continued, Amazons murmuring and looking to Melysë. Melysë kept her eyes forward and kept walking. The Amazons followed her lead, but weapons were readied all the same. At last, still a distance from the Black Stone itself, Amnaëlë stopped the procession and walked back to Melysë.

"It seems we're expected," she said.

"Myrina is waiting," said Melysë, nodding. "Don't worry. Hekate is waiting, too. Myrina won't prevail against Her. Just keep going."

"Are you sure?" asked Amnaëlë.

Melysë smiled at her aunt. "Yes, I'm sure," she said. "The Goddess has Her reasons for wanting my daughter Presented on this Island. This is one of them. We keep walking. Xena, I need you."

"Of course," said the Warrior Queen. "What do you need?"

"You're Romy's other parent," said Melysë. "You can't stand as her godsmother any more than I can. But you have to choose the third godsmother. Who do you want it to be?"

Xena looked at Melysë, nonplussed. Melysë had always let Xena share in the raising of her other children, making decisions and disciplining on those very rare occasions it was necessary with her girls. This was different. This was acknowledging Xena as Neiromei's true parent. Xena felt warmth spreading throughout her entire being and she smiled at the infant, her whole heart swelling. She looked around at the assembled Amazons and smiled.

"Gabrielle, Aphrodite, and...Hera," she said. The Amazons gasped as the goddess appeared, smiling and glowing.

"Perfect," said Melysë, smiling back.

"Thank-you," said the former Queen of the gods. "I would be honoured to serve. Know that this little one is ever under my protection."

The goddess was assaulted by her daughter, the goddess of love squealing and running to hug her mother.

"'Dite, Child, you know how I love you, but really, a little more decorum, if you please," said Hera, though Melysë could tell she was pleased.

"Sorry Moms, it's just, you know, we all thought...well, like it's really awesome you're here," said Aphrodite, releasing her. "Wait'll Are' finds out."

"In the meantime, Aphrodite, we have a ceremony to attend," said Hera. "And, unfortunately, a would-be priestess to confront."

"Yes, but she'll see you now," said Melysë. "Hopefully that will be enough to convince her - without a fight."

"Don't count on it," said Laesë. "She's a, if you know what I mean."

"Unfortunately, I do," said Xena, grimly. "Let's go and get it over with."

"Yeah, and then, party time," said Aphrodite, grinning and squeezing her mother one more time.

"You sure she's not an Amazon?" said Gabrielle, chuckling.

"She is now," said Melysë, smiling, as they continued up the trail to the Black Stone.

There sat Myrina, fully garbed as a priestess of Hera from Samos. She grinned at the procession as they wound their way up the hill to the Altar of the Black Stone. The ceremonial dagger was gripped tightly in her hand and she tapped it absently against the Black Stone, not noticing the sparks which flew from the impact. She rose and held out her arms, invoking,

"Oh, Great Queen of the Gods,

Mighty Hera, Regent on High,

Come to us, your Amazons,

Come and be our Queen, our

Deity above all others.

We welcome you, oh Queen,

Great One of Olympus, we

welcome you with this sacrifice,

Innocent blood, royal blood,

a fitting gift to your regal

divinity, O Queen of Heaven!"

"What is she going on about?" muttered Hera. "When did I ever require blood sacrifice? Even at my worst, I never asked for innocent blood - at least, what I perceived as innocent at that time - and never in sacrifice."

Disturbed, Hera made her way to the front of the Procession, and stepped up before Myrina.

"Oh, Queen of Heaven, you yourself have brought the sacrifice to your altar," said Myrina, falling to her knees.

"Get up," said the goddess sharply. "What do you think you're doing? You call yourself my priestess, yet you grovel in the dirt? Have some respect for yourself, girl, and some respect for the office you claim to hold."

"Yes, my Lady," said Myrina, scrambling to her feet.

"And when have I ever demanded something as crude - not to mention messy - as blood sacrifice?" said the goddess.

"But, my Queen, the child must die,' said Myrina, her eyes looking wildly about.

Hera held the would be priestess's face between her hands and looked closely at her, frowning, then shook her head. "Have you been into the ambrosia in this mortal state? This child is under my protection," she said.

"No, no, she has to die," said Myrina, shaking her head. "She has to die so that I can become the Amazon High Queen - and rule the Amazons for your honour, Lady."

Hera slapped the priestess. "Wake up and remember who you are," she said sharply. Myrina merely stared blankly. "Come on, Circe, wake up. You know who you are now."

Melysë looked at Xena, eyes wide, and handed her the baby, stepping up to the pair on the Black Stone. "Circe?" she said, gently. The mad demi-goddess looked over at Melysë and nodded once. Melysë embraced her. "I met your priestess, Medea," she said. "We gave her sanctuary and she lived with us, very happily, for a long time. She died peacefully in her sleep at a very old age.

She was an honoured priestess among us and she never stopped serving you."

Circe gave a sob, still held by Melysë. "She was the serve me," she said. "She was my favorite. Thank-you for helping her."

"Sh, it's alright," crooned Melysë, as she would to one of her daughters who was hurting, rocking Circe gently. "We can help you, too, Sister. Let us help you. The Great Goddess, your Mother loves you, very much, and I am Her priestess. I offer you Her forgiveness and absolution. Will you accept?"

Still in Melyse's arms, Circe nodded and dropped the dagger, returning the embrace. Then she pulled away and was enfolded in Hera's arms. "I'm so sorry, my Queen," she said. "I don't know what I was doing. I thought if you came back, everything would be alright again."

"And it will be, Circe," said Hera. "I will take you with me when I go. You can help with my new work."

"Really?" said Circe, smiling.

"Yes, really, but now, Hekate wants this child Presented and we're in the way," said Hera.

"Oh, yes, of course," said Circe, stepping down from the Black Stone as Melysë smiled at her and the others took their places, lighting more of the Torches. As soon as Xena stepped up with Neiromei, Hekate herself emerged from the shadows. The Amazons dropped to their knees, but Xena and Melysë stepped up to Her, smiling.

"Rise, My daughters," said the Goddess, holding out her arms. Xena hesitated a moment, but at Melyse's smile, she handed Neiromei to the Mother of the Gods. The baby cooed and giggled, waving her little arms and kicking happily. Hekate smiled, warmly, and kissed the baby on the forehead. "I Choose this little child for My own, just as I have Chosen her mothers. She has found

My favour. And her destiny will be one of greatness and happiness. Someday she will be a mighty queen. I bestow the gift of joy, among others, upon thee, Neiromei. Daughter of Xena and Melysë, know now thy true name Meilènameirë - Daughter of the Goddess. Guard her well, Melysë, Xena - and you, Gabrielle, teach her everything you know, all the stories, all the histories - all the love

which you know so well, My Daughter. For she too will be a Bard, and a Priestess, and a Queen."

"Thank-you, Mother," said Melysë, her green eyes shining, as Hekate held the child close for a moment longer, then handed her to Melysë. "And thank you, Daughter," said Hekate, placing Her hand on Melyse's head in blessing. "You have returned yet another of My lost ones to Me this night. I Chose well when I Chose you. You have My eternal Blessing and Favour, you and all you love. I'll leave you to your celebrations, now, My daughters. I know how well you love them. My Blessings upon the Amazon Nation, tonight and always."

The Goddess turned and walked back into the shadows and the torches seemed a bit dimmer with her absence. The Amazons began to party, as Amazons always would. Melysë sat with Xena and Gabrielle, Cyrenê and Amnaëlë on either side of them. One by one, the Amazons came forward and presented gifts to the sleeping infant as they took their leave, heading back to Themiscyreia to continue their celebrations there.

At last, Amnaëlë sighed and Cyrenê helped her rise. "Tomorrow will be another day of celebrating, when I step down as High Queen," she said, wearily.

"Oh, Tanti, I don't think anyone's going to celebrate your stepping down," said Melysë, kindly. "Laesë' crowning, yes, but not your abdication."

"And you will be regent for her until she's ready," said Amnaëlë. "Even though you should be the Queen."

"She's already the Queen," said Xena, smiling at her companion.

"Xena," said Melysë, warningly.

"I meant the Amazon Queen - in Aemetzainê," said the Warrior, grinning.

"Hm, that's what I thought," said Melysë. "We should get back. It's a little cold and ..."

"Your Majesties!" An Amazon came running up to them, out of breath. "Trouble...there's talk of...a Challenge!

"What?" said Melysë, rising quickly. "Who?"

"Queen Scylla, from one of the Thracian Tribes - she's offered a challenge," said the Amazon. "She wants Melysë for High Queen, and she claims that her Tribe and several others will never accept Princess Laesë - unless she defeats you in Challenge."

Melysë closed her eyes. "What's the Challenge?" asked Xena, standing behind her companion.

"To find the Zona of Amazon Sovereignty, taken by Hercules," said the Amazon.

(To be continued in part VII: "The Dragons' Curse")

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