ROMANCING THE BARD
By Del Robertson
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, the Amazons, etc and
their back stories are owned by Universal Studios and Renaissance
Pictures. No infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
Summary: Love is in the air at the Cupid's Day feast. And, if Xena
doesn't want to spend it alone, she'll have to prove that
warrior princesses can be romantic, too.
Note: Thanks to Steph and the Academy for asking me out to play for
The Valentine's Invitational.
The festivities were in full swing, the dancers
energetically maintaining a frenzied pace as they cavorted
about the fire circles and even occasionally performed
acrobatic leaps across the flames.
Sitting cross-legged in the cool evening grass, drinking
from her third mug of ale, Xena intently watched a lithe
blonde perform a double-flip, sending her loincloth tumbling
over her buttocks, revealing the absence of anything worn
beneath. Mesmerized, Xena stared as the dancer twirled to a
halt in front of the lead scout and reached down, taking
Solari's hand in hers and determinedly pulling the brunette
Amazon up and into the dance circle.
Solari had no problem catching the tempo, keeping one
hand firmly about the handle of her mug and the other on the
dancer's hip. Their bodies gyrated to the beat of the big
drums, hips rocking against each other as they shimmied
their way to the ground and then back up again.
The dancer's hands sensuously moved up her thighs and
across her abdomen, her fingers inching towards the leather
fastenings that held together the front of her skimpy top.
Unable to tear her eyes away, Solari blindly lifted her mug
towards her lips. As the leather cording came free in the
dancer's hands, revealing her bountiful breasts, Solari's
hand shook, sending ale splashing across the other woman's
"Aww, isn't that sweet?" Gabrielle's voice
drifted through Xena's inebriated haze.
"Oh, yeah. That's what I call real sweet." Xena
licked her lips in fevered anticipation as Solari seemed to
be debating on whether or not to allow her tongue to follow
the lazy course her ale was making down the dancer's torso.
"That's not what I meant, Xena."
An unexpected elbow to her ribs made the warrior princess
grunt in surprise. With an indignant glare, ice blue eyes
turned towards her companion.
"That's what I meant," clarified
Xena squinted, looking across the ceremonial grounds in
confusion. Then, she spotted it. Or, rather them.
Gabrielle's regent was stretched out on a horse blanket, her
legs crossed at the ankles, her head resting in Eponin's
lap. And, instead of watching the dancers like any
red-blooded Amazon warrior should be, the weapons master was
. . . dipping fresh strawberries into melted chocolate and
feeding them to Ephiny.
Gabrielle heard the snort, gave Xena's ribs a back-handed
slap. "It's romantic."
"She's a warrior. And, she's making a fool of
"She's in love," protested Gabrielle, turning
dreamy eyes towards the clearly infatuated couple. "I
think it's cute."
"Huh." Xena gave a dismissive grunt and turned
her attention back to the fire circle. "Never catch me
behaving like an idiot for love." Spotting Solari and
her companion, watching as the scout's tongue swept along
the dancer's ale-covered nipple, the warrior princess' mouth
formed a silent "o" of appreciation.
She scarcely blinked as Gabrielle threw a cloth at her,
hitting her in the head with it. The Amazon Queen rattled
off something about wiping up her drool before storming off,
leaving Xena to watch the celebration alone.
X X X X X
The blows had started out brutal and were
becoming more and more so with each passing heartbeat.
Hands adjusted on sweat-slicked wood, searching for a better
grip. A foot slid on rain moistened grass, boots
losing traction as their owner was forced steadily
backwards. Sensing victory, her opponent pressed the
attack, sending an unrelenting flurry of strikes raining
down upon her foe.
Solari had been on her way from giving
her morning scouting report to the queen in her office when she'd
spotted the crowd gathered around the practice fields.
Elbowing her way to the fence line, she wasn't surprised to
find the weapons master squared off against the warrior
princess. These two always drew a fair number of spectators
whenever they sparred and this time was no exception. The
scout winced in empathic response as Xena performed a flip,
landing behind Eponin and tagging her in the small of her
The weapons master spun around, barely
getting her guard up in time to block the next strike.
Clearly on the defensive now, she gritted her teeth, bracing
herself as she blocked each subsequent blow, feeling the
wood vibrating in her hands with each hit. As Xena jabbed at
her throat, Pony saw her chance, aiming for the warrior's
unprotected midsection. In a move that defied gravity, Xena
jumped up, her booted foot solidly connecting with Eponin's
wrist. The Amazon dropped her weapon, grabbing her injured
hand. The next thing she knew, her legs were swept out from
beneath her and she was laying flat on her back, a staff
firmly pressed against her throat.
"Okay," Eponin panted between
gritted teeth, "I give."
Still, the bright blue eyes intensely
bore into her. Eponin tapped her open palm against the
rain-slicked grass as the pressure upon her windpipe
Solari caught the signal, immediately
leapt over the top railing of the fence. Sliding to a halt
on both knees besides the combatants, she placed one hand on
Xena's back and the other on the staff. She felt the strain
on her muscles as she worked to counteract Xena's superior
"Hey," she tapped Xena's back,
spoke into her ear, "That's enough. She
There was no immediate response from the
warrior. Other than a low, menacing growl emanating
from her throat. Solari looked down at Eponin, who had both
hands beneath the wood of the staff, pressing into the
ground with her elbows in an attempt to keep the staff from
crushing her larynx.
Frantically, Solari looked about for
help. Apparently, no one else had noticed Xena's overzealousness.
Now that the match was apparently over, all the other
spectators had cleared out, no doubt to settle their wagers
on the outcome.
Eponin's lips were beginning to turn
colors. Wide-eyed, Solari did the only thing she thought she
could do; she removed her free hand from the staff and used
both of them to push at Xena's bulkier body. To her relief,
the warrior lost her balance and tumbled onto the slick
grass. The chief scout reacted instantly, collecting the
staff and immediately tossing it out of reach.
"Xena - " Eponin gasped, one
hand on her injured throat.
"Huh?" Xena blinked, shook her
head, seemingly coming back to herself. "What? Oh,
sorry, Pony," she shrugged, "Guess I was a little
"No kidding?" Pony choked
"Xena! What in Tartarus were you
thinking?" Solari wrapped a protective arm about a
still struggling to breathe Eponin's shoulders. "You
nearly throttled poor Pony! What did she ever do to you to
Blue eyes instantly narrowed as Solari's words reminded Xena of the
just endured in the stables. Gabrielle had refused
to let her spend the night in their bed, in their hut. She'd accused Xena of being an insensitive barbarian with not
a single romantic bone in her body. And, despite her best
wounded-pout, she'd had her things tossed out of the hut's
only window to land in a mud puddle.
"Because of you - " Xena
straightened her fingers and delivered her jab into the
weapons master's throat " - I have to court
X X X X X
"No. No. No." Eponin sat on the
healer's examination table, vehemently shaking her head.
A low, animalistic growl filled the room.
Eyes narrowed as she fingered the chakram hanging at her
side. Xena took a resolute step towards Eponin. Towering
over the seated weapons master, she pointed a finger at the
Amazon and hissed through clenched teeth, "Listen to
me, you - "
A dark head tilted to the side as acute
hearing picked up the sound of approaching footsteps and the
curtain to the examination room being drawn aside. By the
time the healer entered, Xena was across the room, casually
leaning against the wall beside Solari. An arm slung over
broad shoulders and a well-placed knuckle lodged against the
brunette's spine ensured the scout would say nothing.
Megara placed the supplies she'd gone to
fetch on the examination table beside Eponin. Taking the
weapons master's hand in hers, she gingerly felt along the
bone. "I don't think it's broken. Probably just
strained." She gave a strong tug on the bandage,
garnering the warrior's undivided attention.
"But, keep that on there until I say otherwise, got
As Eponin nodded her assent, Megara reached out,
tilting her patient's chin up so the sunlight streaming in
the window fully shone upon her discolored neck.
Megara experimentally ran her fingers over the flesh there,
checking for swelling. Turning, she cast a suspicious glance over her shoulder. The
warrior princess unwaveringly met her gaze, her blue eyes
giving nothing away.
As soon as the healer left the room, Xena
was beside the bed again. Thrusting a finger into Pony's
chest, she emphasized, "You got me into this mess,
Amazon. Now, you're gonna get me out."
"Pony?" Until now, Solari had been
the weapons master's defender against the warrior princess.
But, hearing Xena's tone, she suddenly blurted out,
"Pony, what did you do?"
"Gabrielle spied this one - " Xena
jerked a thumb to indicate Eponin, " - hand feeding her
regent last night."
"Eponin!" Solari's eyes grew as
large around as Xena's chakram. "How could you?"
"I - umm - I - uh - " Eponin hung
her head in shame, nervously fidgeted with the bandage on
her injured hand. "I like Ephiny," she
"What?" Xena cupped her ear,
pretending she hadn't heard.
"I like Eph." Honey-hued eyes
flicked back and forth between the hardened stares of Xena
and Solari. "I mean, I really, really like Eph."
There was a helpless shrug, "And, it's the Cupid's Day
festival." Again, she hung her head in shame and
admitted beneath her breath, "And, I guess I got a
little caught up in the moment."
"Caught up in the moment, she
says." Xena rolled her eyes, then smacked Eponin in the
back of the head. "Well, thanks to you getting caught
up in the moment, I now have to woo Gabrielle to win
her affections." Blue eyes flicked back and forth
between Eponin and Solari. "And, you're gonna help me,
you romantic fools."
"Now, Xena." Solari held up both
hands in supplication, shaking her head as she began backing
away. "I didn't do anything wrong here. You can't ask
me to help out your love life with my queen."
Xena reached out, deftly catching Solari's
nose in her grasp and twisting it, effectively bringing the
scout to her knees. Leaning in until her face was scant
inches from Solari's, she said, "I don't recall asking
X X X X X
Gabrielle hadn't been thrilled to see Xena
standing in the middle of their hut waiting for her when she
arrived home from council sessions late that afternoon. Not
by a long shot. Truth was, she was still miffed about said
warrior princess' behavior of the night before.
"I got you something." Xena
produced an object from behind her back.
A soft smile appearing on her lips,
Gabrielle accepted the bundle wrapped in a hide and tied
closed with leather strips.
"For me, Xena?" Maybe I judged
her a little too harshly. I mean, she even took the time to
giftwrap. "You shouldn't have - "
"Anything for you, Gabrielle."
Xena couldn't keep the smile from her lips as she held out
her arms, fully ready to receive an appropriately thankful
"No, Xena." There was that tone.
"I mean, you really shouldn't have."
Blue eyes had just enough time to see the
veins pulsating in Gabrielle's neck and her face turning a
deep crimson before a red cloth hit her right between the
"What in Tartarus?!?" Xena caught
the flimsy halter in her grasp as it slowly slid down her
face. Holding the sheer fabric in her hand, realizing she
could very clearly see each and every one of her fingers
beneath the triangle-shaped material, her lips formed into
an almost soundless "uh-oh".
"Tell me, Xena, did you pick out this
gift for me . . . or for you?!?"
"I - " There was a helpless shrug.
Then, the cloth was snatched out of her grasp.
"Is this the size you think I am,
Xena?" The warrior's face flushed and her
jaw threatened to come unhinged as Gabrielle held the
material up in front of the halter she was already wearing.
It obviously dwarfed her current bilious green top by at
least three sizes. "Is this the size you want me
Once again, Xena found herself with a face
full of fabric as the halter was thrown at her. Then,
Gabrielle was behind her, pushing her out the door, yelling
at her to "Get out! Just get out, Xena!"
And, before she knew what had happened, the
warrior princess was standing outside the Queen's hut, the
entrance barred by two burly royal guards with extremely
sharp looking spears.
"But, Gabrielle - " Helplessly,
Xena looked down at the sheer halter loosely dangling from
her fingertips. There was a snicker. Xena looked up to see
one of the guards valiantly trying to hold in her laughter.
"Oh, grow up!" she snarled out, clenching the
halter tightly in her fist and storming off.
X X X X X
"Solari?" Xena wiggled her fingers
anxiously, "Come on, scout, I know you're in
Eponin looked nervously at Xena's twitching
hand and felt a wave of guilt wash over her. Having already
been on the receiving end of those deadly fingers, she knew
first-hand what Solari was in for.
The warrior princess crept into the lead scout's hut on
stealthy feet. Seasoned eyes quickly took in her
surroundings even as experienced ears listened for any sound
out of the ordinary. She'd been worried that news of her
latest row with the Queen had already reached Solari's ears.
And, she didn't want the scout to have time to prepare for
Xena picked her way past a two-tone wooden table, a vase
full of fresh flowers serving as the center piece. There was
a bearskin pelt on the floor in front of the hearth, several
colorful pillows tossed about nearby to serve as cushions
while reclining in front of the fire. Hanging above
the hearth was a bouquet of dried flowers, tied together at
the stems and arranged in a fan-like shape.
Xena gave a derisive snort. Scouts. That was one
thing Pony had going for her. She may have slipped up with
her earlier actions, but at least she was a warrior. And,
her hut reflected that. Minimally furnished with a bed and
two chairs, the walls covered in weapons, the place stocked
with Amazonian ale; Xena felt at home in the weapons
master's hut. Scouts, she snorted again, picking up a
fringed pillow by her fingertips and tossing it aside.
Eponin followed her in, banging loudly on the door frame
as she did so. Xena turned and fixed the weapons master with
an icy glare. Pony blanched beneath that stare and made
certain she kept a fair distance between herself and the
"Devillare, is that you?" a muffled voice
called from another section of the hut.
"It's Eponin, Soli!" Pony was just able to
blurt out, "And, Xena!" before a large hand
clamped down over her mouth.
"Come on in, guys!" Solari's voice drifted to
them. "I'm in the bedroom."
With a smug expression, Xena took her hand from Eponin's
mouth and made her way towards where Solari's voice had come
from. Large warrior's boots climbed three steps to an
elevated section of the hut. A calloused hand drew back a
curtain made of beads. Reluctantly, Eponin trudged her way up the
steps behind Xena.
A big four-post bed, larger than any Eponin had ever seen,
dominated the center of the room. A solid oak nightstand was
near the head of the bed. And, at the foot, on either side,
there were large urns with potted palms. Solari's back was
to them as she stirred something in a bowl on the
"Hey, guys." Solari turned from the bowl, a
small silver spoon held in her grasp, a grin on her lips,
"How'd Gabrielle like the lingerie?"
Xena was across the room in two strides, her hand about
the scout's neck. Solari dropped the spoon, both hands
instinctively going to Xena's wrist, fingers trying to
dislodge the warrior's grip as she was bodily lifted off the
"Where . . . did . . . " the fingers tightened
with each word " . . . you . . . get . . ."
Solari's eyes widened as a familiar looking sheer red halter
was waved beneath her nose " . . . this . . . "
The last part of the question was indecipherable through
Xena's tightly clenched teeth.
"N - N - " Solari struggled to breathe past the
hand cutting off her air supply. "Nephele. It's
Nephele's." Then, Eponin was there, both her hands
wrapped around Xena's forearm, also trying to break her
"Xena! Xena! Stop it!" Brute strength wasn't
working. Eponin decided to try another tact. "If you
kill her, Gabrielle will know exactly where you got that
halter from. Then, how're you gonna explain that one?"
Xena let out an exasperated breath. The weapons master
was right. She killed the scout, her dirty laundry would be
aired in public. There was no way she could explain how
she'd gotten her hands on another Amazon's halter. A very
well endowed Amazon's halter.
"What were you thinking?" Xena snarled out,
uncurling her fingers. Solari fell to the floor at her feet in
an unceremonious heap. "Nephele's breasts are huge!
There's a reason her nickname is Mt. Olympus!"
"I - uh - I - " Solari desperately looked to
Eponin for help. A smack to the back of the head by Xena had
her turning back to the warrior princess again. "What?
She's your bondmate! I'd think you'd know her size!"
"I didn't unwrap it. I trusted you when you said you
had the perfect gift."
"Yeah?" Solari momentarily brightened at the
revelation that Xena trusted her. Until an answering scowl
wiped that smile right off her face. "Well, how am I
supposed to know her size? It's not like I go around looking
Queen's - " Solari's face paled and she helplessly
gestured at her own chest area.
"And, you better not start, either!" Xena
popped her in the back of the head again. She started to
give her another one for good measure, but Solari ducked, shielding her head with both hands and arms. "Hey,
Expecting a trick, Solari only half-lowered one arm, just
enough so she could peer up. Xena was standing beside the
nightstand, peering into the silver bowl she'd been tending
to earlier. Still wary, Solari slowly climbed to her feet.
Xena picked up a nearly full bottle of oil and uncorking it,
held it beneath her nose and took an extremely large sniff.
"Umm," Solari picked up the spoon she'd been
using off the floor and surreptitiously wiped it on her
leathers before placing it back in the bowl and gently
stirring. "It's a scented oil."
Solari lifted out a spoonful of the scented oil. Asking
permission with her eyes first, the scout reached out and
took Xena by the hand. Holding the spoon over the warrior's
forearm, she dribbled a small amount of the liquid onto
Xena's skin. Replacing the spoon in the bowl, she used the
fingers of both hands to knead the oil into Xena's flesh.
"Hey, that feels really good."
"As the oil penetrates the skin, it works to help
relax tired, overworked muscles." Solari dipped another
spoonful onto Xena's other forearm and kneaded.
Xena had to work hard to suppress a groan of appreciation
as the oil seeped into her pores, aided by Solari's firm
touch. Then, through heavy-lidded eyes, she spotted the
low-burning candles strategically placed on the
A dark brow arched over a blue eye. "Aww, Solari,
tell me you aren't one of those new-age Amazons."
There was a snigger from where Eponin was standing at the
end of the bed, repeatedly running her fingers through the
palm fronds of one of Solari's plants. "Stop
that," she ordered, slapping at the weapons master's
hand. To her consternation, the warrior abandoned toying
with the palm frond only to pick up a silk-covered pillow
and begin playing with the decorative tassels.
"It's not like that, Xena," Solari said,
snatching the pillow from Eponin's grasp and tossing it
towards the other side of the bed. "The candles are
just to heat the oil." Seeing the unconvinced look, the
scout felt the need to explain. "Okay, imagine this. A
beautiful woman stretched out on her stomach on the bed, her
back bare, a thin sheet sliding low on her hips. You with me
Xena and Eponin could do little more than wordlessly nod
their heads as they were both already picturing the women
that got their hearts to racing in the position the scout
had just described.
Solari continued, her voice dropping to a sensual pitch.
"The feel of the heated oil as it's spread over a
well-defined back, fingers giving a deep-tissue massage.
Working knotted muscles. Slowly, she begins to relax beneath
the touch. Eyes drift closed, a murmur of appreciation
escapes her lips. Hands drift lower, massaging, kneading
that little divot in the small of her back. She arches
beneath the touch. The sheet slides lower." Seeing both
warriors with their eyes locked on the bed as though they
could see their lovers there, Solari finished with a cocky
grin, "Then, my fingers slip down and beneath that
sheet to get at what I wanted all along, anyway."
The spell effectively broken, warrior princess' and
weapons master's eyes both rapidly blinked. Xena was the
first to recover her composure. "So, the heated oil
massage is just an excuse for you to get beneath a set of leathers?" Xena grinned. "Always
knew there was a reason I liked ya!"
The slap Xena delivered to Solari's back nearly sent the
brunette Amazon doubling over.
"Yeah, that's our randy chief scout for you."
Eponin picked up an extremely long feather off the bed,
twirling it between her fingers as she contemplated how it
would look in an Amazon mask. "Always looking for a way
to score with the ladies," she good-naturedly laughed. Suddenly, the weapons master's laughter died away, the
rakish grin fell from her lips, the feather she'd held
between her fingers drooped. "Hang on! When we came in,
you called out Devillare's name. You were expecting
"Ex-captain of the guard Devillare?" Xena asked
around her laughter.
"Yes," Solari answered.
Both dark brows rose in surprise. "As in sits on the
Council of Elders Devillare?"
"Yes," Solari grinned.
"Oh, Solari!" Xena gasped for breath.
"She's gotta be twenty seasons older than you!"
"I know," Solari grinned, "Listen, there may
be a little smoke on the roof, but there's still a fire in
the hearth, if you know what I mean."
"Hey! That's my mentor you're talking about," growled out
Eponin, tossing the feather away and climbing onto the bed.
"Your - " Xena pointed a finger at Eponin.
"So, you're - " here, she pointed at Solari "
- trying to bed - " and, back to Eponin "Pony's adopted mama?"
Before Solari could answer, Eponin let out a fierce
Amazon war-cry and leapt off the bed, throwing herself at
the scout. Solari went down beneath the weapons master's
bulkier weight. Determinedly, she jammed her open palm into
Stifling her laughter, Xena took the bowl of oil off the
nightstand, along with the small silver spoon. She turned to
go, then stopped long enough to reach back and also grab the
bottle of oil. Gingerly, she picked her way around the ball
of flying fists and feathers and headed towards the door.
X X X X X
Nightfall was edging closer and in the distance,
the sounds of the big drums signaled the second evening of
the Cupid's Day festival. Soon, Gabrielle would return to the
royal hut to don her ceremonial leathers.
"There." Xena wiped her hands on
her leathers and backed away towards the center of the hut.
With a critical eye, she surveyed her
handiwork. The fur covers on the Queen's bed had been pulled
down in preparation, towels spread out over the straw-filled
mattress. The bowl she'd taken from Solari's hut rested in
the center of a small table Xena had dragged over beside the
bed. The contents of the bowl simmered beneath the heat of a
dozen candles the warrior had strategically surrounded the
bowl with. The empty bottle sat nearby, the colored glass
catching and reflecting the glow of the candlelight.
Xena turned in a slow circle. The entire hut
was awash in candlelight. No small feat, considering she'd
spent most of the afternoon collecting and placing nearly a
hundred-score candles about the interior. Then, had come the
time-consuming task of lighting them all.
But, it'll be time well spent if it gets
me back in Gabrielle's good graces. And, her bed.
X X X X X
"Sorry the council session ran so long,
Gabrielle," Ephiny apologized as she walked beside her
"It's okay, Ephiny. We should have
expected as much. I mean, Gods knows some of the elders are
such sticklers for propriety."
"Mmm." Ephiny chewed her bottom
lip, thoughtfully. "Still, you'd think they'd realize
we aren't trying to do away with tradition. We're merely
trying to update some of the ceremonies."
"Yeah. I mean, who really wants to be
whipped with palm fronds in a sweat lodge as part of a
purification ceremony every third moon, anyway?"
"Actually," Ephiny gave a wry
smirk, "I'm rather fond of that one."
"Oh?" Two blonde brows shot up
towards a hairline. "I didn't know you were into kinky,
Ephiny." With a saucy wink, she added, "Guess it
all depends on the size of the palm frond, huh?"
Ephiny pulled up in her tracks, her mouth
dropping open as she dumbly stared at her queen. Gabrielle
took no notice of her regent's flustered state, continuing
down the path along the familiar route back to her hut.
"Come on," she urged, looking back over her
shoulder at a still-stunned Ephiny, "Hurry up or we'll
be late for the celebration."
"You're the Queen, Gabrielle!"
Ephiny called out as she jogged to catch up with her friend,
"I doubt they'll start without us!"
As they approached the Queen's hut, Ephiny
moved ahead of Gabrielle, reaching for the hide covering to
move it away from the entranceway. As she lifted the flap
with one arm, a ball of flame came hurtling out of the hut,
immediately engulfing the hide covering. Gabrielle reacted
instantly, knocking her regent to the ground and throwing
handfuls of loose soil over Ephiny's armguard in an effort
to extinguish the flames. Feeling the waves of searing heat
pouring over them, Gabrielle grabbed Ephiny beneath her arms
and somehow managed to drag them both away.
Both Amazons lay prone on the ground, staring at the
structure even as the sound of alarm went up. Thick,
black smoke billowed from the window and beneath the
framework. Bits of thatched roofing peeled back as embers
caught and burned the dry straw. An ominous orange glow
filled the night sky above the structure as the flames
crackled and popped.
"Um, Gabrielle?" Ephiny coughed as the thick
smoke invaded her throat, searing her lungs. "I think you're gonna need a new set of ceremonial leathers."
X X X X X
Eponin rolled over onto her back,
throwing her forearm across her eyes in an attempt to ward
off the first rays of dawn's light edging over the horizon
and directly through her open window. Dimly, as her body
began to waken against her wishes, she became aware of the chill morning air prickling at her skin. Blindly, she
reached for her blanket.
The weapons master fairly leapt from her
bed, grabbing a weapon from beneath her mattress and
instinctively landing in a fighter's stance. Shaking the
last vestiges of sleep away, she worked to focus her double
vision into one image.
"Keep it down, would ya?" An
equally bleary-eyed warrior princess mumbled as she sat
upright, the blanket pooling about her waist. Holding a hand
to her throbbing head, she stared at the Amazon crouched in
the center of the room, wearing nothing more than a handful
of feathers and sporting a knife. "What's going
on?" she asked, warrior's body instantly on alert for
"What're you doin' in my bed?"
Eponin scowled, throwing her knife so the blade embedded
itself in the wall above the headboard.
"Queen's hut burned to the ground
last night, remember? Gab's staying with Ephiny. You said I
could stay with you."
"I said you could sleep on the
Looking about, finding her leathers and
boots piled together on the floor, Eponin began hurriedly
"Yeah, well the floor's
uncomfortable," Xena shrugged. Reaching beneath
herself, pulling out a three-quarters empty flask of wine,
she grimaced, "Bed ain't much more comfortable, if you
"Well, nobody asked ya." Eponin
reached out, snatching the flask out of Xena's grasp.
Uncorking it, she upended it, draining the remaining
contents in one swallow. "Just like nobody asked ya to
share my bed."
"Anyone ever tell you that you're a
grumpy bear first thing in the morning, Ep?"
Xena swung her long legs over the
side of the bed. As she did so, the blanket fell away,
revealing her full body length to Eponin. Her full, naked
body length. Eponin spun around, desperately searching for
another flask of wine.
Catching the reaction, Xena smirked.
Bracing her hands on the edge of the mattress, she started
to push herself up. As she did, sensitive ears picked up on
a crinkling sound. The kind of sound Gabrielle's scrolls
made when she sometimes rolled over onto them in her sleep.
Curious as to what the weapons master might be reading, she
thrust her hand beneath the mattress and pulled out a thin
sheet of parchment.
Pony heard the unmistakable sound,
hurriedly turned around and rushed to take the parchment
from Xena's grasp.
It was too late.
"Ep?" Puzzled blue eyes looked
up, meeting Eponin's embarrassed gaze. "What's
"None of your business."
Eponin tried to snatch the parchment from
Xena's grasp. Xena was able to easily hold the parchment out
of the shorter Amazon's reach. Moving to the open window,
she held the scroll up to the sunlight where she could see
Not a scroll. A drawing. Xena's
eyebrow slowly rose. It was a drawing of the Amazons'
weapons master, posing with her warrior's mask pushed back
on top of her head, her sword drawn . . . and wearing
nothing else save a very skimpy ceremonial loincloth.
"Ep, it's . . . it's . . . "
" . . . private."
Xena somberly passed the wrinkled
parchment back to Eponin. Pony gingerly took it in both
hands. Crossing the room, she opened a weapons chest.
Lifting out the top layer, she carefully tucked the
parchment inside, replaced the weapons and closed the lid.
Then, she turned around and sat down on the chest.
"Couple of seasons ago."
Eponin shrugged. "That's traditional costume for
masking ceremonies. Anyway, Eph made the comment that I
looked really good in that gear." Suddenly, Eponin was
very interested in staring at the tops of her boots.
"Anyway, there was this artist in the village that made
drawings and stuff. And, I asked her to - "
"But you never gave it to Ephiny?"
"Yeah. Well." Eponin's words
"Damn, Pony. You got it bad, don't
Whiskey-hued eyes looked up at the
warrior princess. "Just don't tell anyone, okay,
X X X X X
Eponin's idea had been brilliant. Whether
she realized it or not. The only thing holding her back was
that she hadn't had the nerve to present her gift to
Xena had the experience, the confidence that
the Amazon weapons master lacked in the sexual arena. There
was nothing else in all the world like the female body.
Nothing more powerful, beautiful or alluring. It was Helen's
face that launched a thousand ships. It was the voice of the
Sirens that lured sailors to their doom. It was Aphrodite's
visage that caused countless sculptors and artisans to take
up their tools in an effort to capture the goddess'
A woman's beauty could rule the world. Xena
knew this to be true. After all, hadn't she once bent even
the God of War to her charms? It was this knowledge that
made the warrior princess a sexual predator. And, what gave
Xena the courage to do what Eponin had been unable to.
Not only do, but to go one step farther, in
true Xena fashion. Whereas Eponin had merely had a drawing
on parchment commissioned, Xena would give life to her art.
Any time now. A glance out the window
at the position of the sun confirmed that it was a
candlemark past sunrise. If she ran true to schedule,
Gabrielle would have just finished breakfast at the dining
hut and would be heading to her office to organize her
morning scrolls that she would need to take with her to the
Removing the last of her armor, Xena
somersaulted onto the wooden desk in Gabrielle's office. She
positioned herself carefully, laying full length on the
being careful to avoid creasing any of Gabrielle's
parchment. Hearing footsteps outside the door, the warrior
princess had just enough time to reach for her sword before
the hide covering was pushed aside.
"Conquer this, if you can, Queen of the
Amazons," was offered up with a sultry smile and a
"Xena?" Gabrielle stopped dead in
her tracks, her mouth dropping open at the sight of her
warrior sprawled on top of her desk. Her very naked warrior,
holding her sword cradled in her arms as though she would a
Gabrielle's sudden stop caused Ephiny to
plow into her backside. As did the elder behind Ephiny. And
the elder behind that elder. And . . .
"Uh-oh." Xena's eyes widened in
surprise as Gabrielle's office was soon filled with the
Queen, the Regent and the entire Council of Elders.
Rolling off and beneath the table, the
warrior princess scrambled to gather up her clothing before
making a frantic rush for the door. Elbowing her way past the
regent and elders, she felt more than one set of fingers
reach out and pinch her bare bottom. To add insult to
injury, she heard one of them tell Gabrielle, "Hope
you've got a spare quill, your majesty."
X X X X X
"No. No way. No how. Absolutely,
positively not in a thousand lifetimes."
"Solari, come on. Look, it can't
fail." Placing a comradely arm about the scout's broad
shoulders, she cajoled, "You've heard the way to a
woman's heart is through her stomach, right? That phrase was
coined especially for your Queen. What better way to fill
her appetite than with a romantic meal?"
Solari nearly gave into those baby blues
batting at her; then she came to her senses. "Xena, no.
You've already burned down the Queen's residence. I won't
have you burn down the dining hut, too."
"Aww, come on, Solari." Crossing
her fingers behind her back, Xena swore, "My cooking
skills aren't that bad."
"Xena." The chief scout continued
to block the doorway, hands on her hips as she resolutely
stared the warrior princess down. "By the Gods, Xena,
if we let you near the cook tent, you could be
single-handedly responsible for starving the entire Amazon
Nation to death."
"You want another black eye to go with
that one you're already sporting, scout? I can tell Pony
you've been making goo-goo eyes at her mama again."
"Call it anything you want." A
smug smile caressed Xena's lips. "Either Gabrielle gets
her romantic dinner or Eponin gets an earful."
"Fine." Solari let out a
long-suffering sigh. "But, I'm not letting you anywhere
near an open flame. You bring back whatever you want to feed
the Queen and I'll make sure someone cooks it for you.
Better yet, I'll cook it myself."
"Thanks, Soli." Xena slapped the
scout on the back as she lifted the Amazon's bow and quiver
of arrows off her shoulder. Before Solari could reconsider
her decision, Xena had disappeared into the waiting forest.
X X X X X
Gabrielle emerged from the river, water
cascading from her hair as she picked her way to the bank.
Grabbing a cloth hanging off the limb of a nearby tree, she
leisurely toweled off the droplets lingering on her arms,
legs and torso.
"This was such a good idea you
"What?" asked Ephiny from where
she was sunning atop a flat boulder. "You mean skipping
out on today's council session to go skinny-dipping?"
"Now that you mention it, yeah."
Gabrielle chuckled as she imagined the looks on the elders'
faces when they reconvened after lunch only to discover both
their queen and regent absent. And unlikely to be found
any time soon, either. Gabrielle had seen Ephiny slip
one of the royal guards a dinar to look the other way while
they made their escape. She glanced over to see Ephiny give
a wide yawn and close her eyes, a relaxed smile forming on
her lips. Uptight, duty-bound Ephiny, playing hooky; who
would've thought it? "You do this
sort of thing often?"
"Nah, only when things get too overbearing. Sometimes I just need a
chance to get away from the village and everything going on
there, you know?"
"Yeah, I guess so." Gabrielle
slipped her skirt on over her still-damp skin.
"Sometimes, I think Xena and I tend to get a little
burned out on the road, righting wrongs all the time,
fighting evil. Don't get me wrong; it's important, the work
that we're doing."
Ephiny lifted her head, shielding her eyes
from the mid-day sun as she idly watched Gabrielle getting
dressed. "But?" she prompted.
"But," Gabrielle sat on the ground
at the base of the boulder Ephiny was decadently stretched
out upon. Leaning back, tilting her head, she looked up into
hazel eyes curiously peering down at her. "But, we're
so busy fixing everyone else's lives, that sometimes, I
think we lose sight of ours."
"Uh-huh." Blonde brows knitted
beneath the regent's braided crown. "You feeling a
little under-appreciated by any chance?"
"I don't know. Maybe." Gabrielle shrugged.
"I mean, I know Xena loves me. But- "
"She doesn't always show it?"
Gabrielle gave a very un-queenly snort.
"That's an understatement. Xena's idea of foreplay is
sharpening her sword in the bedroll."
"Ouch." Ephiny winced in empathy.
"Give her time, Gabrielle, she'll come around. You know
how stubborn warriors can be. And, Gods know they aren't
going to talk about their feelings."
"Yeah, ain't that the truth, Eph? I
think it took me more than a year to get her to string more
than three words together in a conversation. Gods knows how
long - " Gabrielle's voice trailed off as there was a
rustling sound coming from the bushes. Peering closely, she
was just able to make out a splash of brown.
"Eph?" she asked, reaching up and rapping Ephiny's
flank with her knuckles.
Ephiny cocked her head to the side as she
listened closely. At first, she thought perhaps Pony and
Xena had trailed her and Gabrielle to the river and were
spying on them from the bushes. Then, she realized if it had
been their warriors, neither one of them would've ever heard
their approach in the first place. She started to slide off
her boulder, her intention to retrieve her sword from where
it lay on top of her pile of clothing some ten paces away.
X X X X X
Kneeling down, bracing one arm on her thigh,
she intently studied the ground. Experienced eyes picked out
more than half a dozen tracks, some of them hardly
more than a mark beneath a brittle leaf on the forest floor.
Lightly, fingertips traced the outline of one print.
Moving forward, still in a crouch, she
followed a lone set of tracks. The sound of rustling leaves
caught her attention. Head raising, she openly sniffed the
air. She gently eased an arrow from the bag
slung over her shoulder and laid it across the string of the
bow she loosely held in her grasp.
An enigmatic smile formed on full lips.
"I've got ya now." Staying low, Xena crept
forward, her bowarm already drawing the arrow back until she
felt the tension in the string and in the muscles of her
X X X X X
Gabrielle sensed Ephiny's movement, held up
a hand to stop her. Slowly, Gabrielle rose to her feet. A
nose poked out from the bushes. Then, a front leg. Gabrielle
held her position, almost afraid to take a breath. Two ears
gradually emerged. It seemingly took forever, but
eventually, a deer emerged from the bushes.
The doe spotted Gabrielle and froze.
Gabrielle remained rooted to the spot, stuck somewhere
between the deer's escape into the forest and the river. In
slow motion, Gabrielle raised her arm, palm extended.
"It's okay, I won't harm
Gabrielle continued to coax the doe,
speaking to it in hushed tones until it eventually relented
and approached her, cautiously sniffing.
"One of Artemis' deer, Gabrielle."
Ephiny could scarcely believe her eyes. In all her seasons
as an Amazon, she'd never seen someone charm one of her
goddess' creatures as easily as her little queen just had.
"A very good omen for the tribe."
X X X X X
Solari tracked Xena to the
river, Eponin trailing along right behind her. They found
the warrior princess sitting on the steepest part of the
embankment, legs dangling over the edge. She was randomly
tossing stones, sending them skimming along the surface of
the water before sinking. The two Amazons
silently sat down on either side of her.
It was a quarter candlemark later before
Solari finally said, "Damn odd way of fishing you got
Eponin quickly caught on. Making a showing
of looking at the ground about them, she noted, "Looks
like you've been at it all morning and ain't caught a single
Xena ignored them, continuing to silently
chunk her rocks.
"Maybe it's like hunting, Soli?"
Eponin asked, leaning around Xena to better see the scout.
"Could be," Solari shrugged.
"Maybe she's planning on hitting one in the head with a
stone and then grabbing it as it floats unconscious to the
Eponin snickered. "Yeah, then she's
gonna wrap a bandage about its little fins and toss it
"You wanna end up swimming with the
fishes?" Xena drawled, giving the weapons master an icy
Wisely, Eponin chose to back away from the
edge of the embankment. "I was just teasing, Xena. No
need to get riled."
"Yeah, we were just having a little
fun," there was a heartbeat before Solari added,
Solari burst out laughing at her own pun.
Eponin stoically tried to hold it in for as long as she
could, but then lost it, ending up rolling on the ground,
clutching at her midsection as hearty chuckles racked her
"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, you
Xena knew as soon as word about what
happened reached these two, she wouldn't hear the end of it.
Not that she could blame them. If the situation had been
reversed, Gods knows she wouldn't let either of them live it
down. Then again, what were the odds of anyone else tracking
a lone deer through the forest for candlemarks, waiting for
the perfect shot, only to realize as soon as she loosed the
arrow that her lover was petting the very same animal she
was trying to make dinner out of?
She tossed another stone, harder than the
others she'd thrown. It skimmed the surface of the river
in two bounces and then hit a tree on the opposite bank
"Gods, I don't even need a kitchen to
Noting the head hung low, the stooped
shoulders, the dejected voice, Eponin and Solari instantly
sobered. Feeling bad for having made fun, they both sat down
in their respective places on either side of Xena again. All
three sat staring out at the river for several long
Then, Solari said, "Sorry you're having
such a rough time of it, Xena." Several more heartbeats
passed before she added in a timid voice, "Maybe romance just isn't your
"Yeah," Eponin piped in.
"As romantically challenged as you are, maybe you
should think about getting some help."
"That's what I came to you two idiots
"No, professional help." The
weapons master rubbed at the spot on the back of her head
where Xena had just popped her one. "I mean, you
supposedly talk to the Gods all the time, right? Why don't
you just ask Aphrodi-ummmphhhhh....."
With a start, Xena realized which name was
rolling off Eponin's tongue and hastily clamped a hand over
Pony's mouth. Too late. The Goddess of Love's arrival
was heralded by a flash of light and pink sparkles.
"Warrior-babe!" The pink-clad
goddess squealed in delight. "And, like, more warrior
Aphrodite waggled her fingers at the stunned
Amazons. Eponin was able to recover enough to return a
little wave and somehow make it to her feet. Solari just sat there dumbfounded, her mouth
opening and closing in succession, mimicking the fish she
was referencing earlier.
"Got it in one, sweetcheeks." The
goddess slowly circled Eponin, her eyes openly traveling up
and down the weapons master's toned body. She paused behind
Ep, one hand encircling her waist, long nails tracing an
idle pattern on taut abdominal muscles. Leaning over
Eponin's shoulder, breathing in the shell of an ear, she
husked out, "And, like, I so totally mean sweetcheeks."
Aphrodite giggled at the reaction she was
receiving. She did so love making an entrance . . . and Gods
knows mortals were just so easy sometimes. The warrior she'd
just groped had jumped nearly two feet in the air and was
now turning at least five different shades of red. The other
warrior babe was still standing there in shock, staring at
the goddess, her mouth working, but no sound coming out.
And, Xena? Xena was rubbing a calloused hand over her face
Having attained a suitable reaction to her
entrance, Aphrodite stood with one arm draped over a still
blushing Eponin's shoulders and asked, "So, like, who
needs to be touched by the Goddess of Love?"
"Aphrodite," Xena got out between
tightly clenched teeth, "I don't need your touch. Or,
anything else you might be offering."
"Course you don't, sweetie!" The
goddess flashed a brilliant smile. "You've already got
a bardster." Eyes twinkled as Aphrodite glanced around.
"So, like, where is your little honey-bunny,
anyway?" Not receiving an immediate answer and seeing
the look on the warrior's face, an unsettling feeling immediately began to take root in Aphrodite's godliness.
"Xena?" she warily asked, "What have you done
X X X X X
"Flowers," Aphrodite declared with
a nod of her head that sent blonde voluminous curls
bouncing, "Definitely flowers."
"No offense, but are you sure?"
Eponin cast a nervous glance at her buddy. "I mean, she
shot an arrow at the Queen. I would think she'd need
something a little . . . well, more."
"Flowers can fix anything," With a
giggle and a smile that emphasized her dimples, Aphrodite
added, "Trust me, this is what I do for a living."
Spotting the still skeptical look, Aphrodite draped her arm
about Pony's broad shoulders and asked, "How'd that
moonlit ride ending with that picnic basket at the waterfall
work out, anyway?"
Both of the weapons master's eyebrows made a
path for her hairline. "You know about that?"
"Well, duh! I am, like, the goddess of
love. You warriors wouldn't have a romantic thought in your
heads if I didn't put it there, sweetcheeks!"
"Flowers?" Xena's jaw muscle
twitched as she mulled over the idea. "Flowers will
make things right with Gabrielle again?"
Aphrodite dismissed the concern in the
warrior princess' tone with a wave of her hand. "Oh,
yeah, most definitely."
Xena bit her lip in contemplation, then
nodded her head in acceptance. "Then, it looks like I'm
"Way to go, warrior babe,"
Aphrodite said with a wink. Gods knew it wasn't always easy
to get a warrior to listen to advice, let alone take
"A - A - Aphrodite?" Solari
finally managed to stumble out.
"Oooh, look who's finally joined the
party, Ms. Fashionably Late." Seeing the deer caught in
the bowsight's look still on the Amazon's face, Aphrodite
detached herself from Eponin and sauntered towards
Solari knew she was blatantly staring. But,
she couldn't stop herself. A blonde goddess clad in a
shimmering pink nightie was coming straight towards her. She
was all curvaceous hips and voluptuous breasts with dazzling
eyes, a brilliant smile and a pert nose. And, when she
winked at her; Solari's heart dropped into her stomach.
Fully cognizant of the Amazon's discomfort,
Aphrodite flashed a wicked grin. Oh, mortals are just so
fun sometimes. Stopping directly in front of the
speechless woman, Aphrodite reached for the clasp at the
front of Solari's halter and toyed with it.
"Aphrodite, back off before you make
the poor woman's heart give out," Xena warned, arms
folded over her chest, impatiently glaring at the goddess
and the flabbergasted Amazon scout.
"Ex-squeeze me, but you've had your
allotted daily allowance of a goddess' time. Now, it's
someone else's turn." Dropping her voice an octave,
Aphrodite said, "I like your style, Amazon babe. Nice
touch with the silk veils and the bedposts last night."
Fingers trailing over the edge of Solari's halter, she
added, "Have I got some totally bodacious stuff to show
you later, girlfriend."
Unable to speak, unable to think, poor
Solari couldn't do anything else save promptly faint.
Aphrodite smiled and waved farewell to the other two mortals
before disappearing in a shower of her customary pink
sparkles. However, the goddess of love's lilting laughter
lingered long after her heavenly presence was gone.
X X X X X
Gabrielle and Ephiny both immediately
slowed their pace. Xena was standing outside the regent's
doorway, one hand clutched behind her back. Spotting
Gabrielle, the warrior offered up a tumultuous smile before
suddenly dropping her gaze, almost bashfully staring at the
toes of her boots.
Ephiny nudged Gabrielle towards the
waiting warrior while she lingered a ways back. Spotting
Eponin idly standing beneath a distant tree, eating an
apple, she joined the weapons master. Leaning into and
against Pony, Ephiny gave her warrior a lingering kiss. As
she drew back, she stole Eponin's apple and took a sharp
The blatant theft of her lunch didn't
bother Eponin. As a matter of fact, anyone who witnessed the
exchange between the usually stoic weapons master and the
regent could swear whole-heartedly from the grin on Pony's
face that she didn't mind a bit.
"Cute couple," Xena observed as
Ephiny next held the apple to Eponin's mouth so she could in
turn take a bite.
"Noticed that all on your own,
Uh-oh. Gabrielle's tone was short
and clipped, the way it was for moons after Xena used a
small corner of her scroll in the bushes that day. Not
knowing what else to do, the warrior pulled her arm from
behind her back and abruptly thrust it out at Gabrielle.
"I got these." Xena cast a
critical eye at the crumpled bouquet of wildflowers. They
weren't wilted when I picked them. "For you. To
apologize for the whole shooting an arrow at you
Gabrielle had instinctively reached out
and taken the crushed flowers, her lips bowing into a smile.
Then, when Xena's attempt at an apology reached her ears,
"It wasn't just me, Xena." Slapping the bouquet
against Xena's breast armor, she said, "I can't believe
you shot one of Artemis' sacred deer!"
"How was I to know, Gabrielle? All
deer pretty much look the same." Xena paused from
trying to disentangle the stems and leaves from her
breastplate long enough to point out, "Give it a moon
or two at most and it'll be running around the forest again,
doing whatever it is sacred deer do."
"That's your answer, Xena?"
"Well, yeah." The warrior
shrugged. "How about a little credit, Gabrielle? I've
never tried to give a deer medical treatment before. What do
you want from me?"
Gabrielle's fists clenched and
unclenched, her face turned red. Counting to five to bide
her time, she raked a hand through her blonde hair.
"What do I want from you, Xena? What do I want from
you?" At the warrior's blank expression, she exploded,
"You'd think after all these seasons together, you'd
have some idea what it is that I'd want from you!"
Suddenly overcome with anger, Gabrielle
snatched back the bouquet of flowers and repeatedly hit Xena
about the head and upper body with them. Unwilling to raise
a hand to her bard, Xena merely reacted defensively, raising
her arms to protect her face. Finally, she gave up and
simply turned her back on Gabrielle, storming away from the
Seeing Xena's furious approach, Ephiny
quickly said her goodbyes to Eponin and scampered away. A
glance back at the tree confirmed the sight of the warrior
princess stalking up to the weapons master, grabbing her by
the front of her halter and dragging her away.
"What was that about?" Ephiny
asked as she joined her queen.
"Xena brought flowers."
"So, you beat her over the head with
them?" Ephiny asked, gaze flicking to the abused
bouquet still clutched in Gabrielle's grasp. "Gods know
I have the same reaction every time Pony brings me
flowers." At Gabrielle's resounding glare, the regent
gestured towards the door. "Come on, if you're gonna
kill the regent, at least do it within the privacy of my own
Gabrielle followed the taller Amazon
inside. Staring dead center at her regent's back, she
asked, "I suppose you think I was a little harsh on
her. But, you don't know Xena; you didn't hear her. She can
just be so flip sometimes. If I thought her apology was
sincere . . . but, really; how hard is it to pick a bouquet
of wildflowers and mumble I'm sorry?"
"Umm, Gabrielle. I think maybe you
should see this."
Ephiny moved out of Gabrielle's line of
sight. Green eyes went wide at the sight. The regent's hut
was filled to brimming over. Flowers were everywhere. Some
were held in containers of water, lined along the edge of
the walls. Others were scattered on top of the clothes
chest, the weapons chest, even the dresser located near the
Knees going weak, Gabrielle sat down in
the nearest chair. She fingered the flowers in her grasp,
caressing the broken stems, wincing at the various bruised
Ephiny crinkled her nose up as the
combined fragrances of the difference flowers assaulted her
senses. "Damn, Gabrielle, did she pick clean the entire
"Welcome to life with a warrior
princess." Gabrielle gave a half-smile as her gaze
leisurely roamed over the room of wildflowers. Unexpectedly,
she sneezed. "She's nothing if not intense."
"I know what you're thinking, Eph.
Sometimes a little intensity can be a good thing. And -
" Gabrielle sneezed again. "And, sometimes it can
Ephiny didn't say anything, merely arched
her brow in response.
Sighing heavily, Gabrielle asked her
regent, "You think I've been too hard on her, don't
Ephiny knelt before her queen. Taking
Gabrielle's hands in both of hers, thumbs caressing over
smooth skin, she gazed up into the red eyes of her queen.
"It doesn't matter what I think, Gabrielle. That's a
question only you can answer."
Ephiny winced as another sneezed racked
Gabrielle's frame. Followed by another. Then, another.
Embarrassed, the blonde bard wiped her nose with the back of
her hand. Then, she sneezed again.
X X X X X
"Go on, get out of here." Used to
dealing with stubborn warriors, undaunted by Xena's superior
stature, Megara shooed the raven haired woman out the
hospice door. "Already told you; Queen Gabrielle's
"I just want to see her," Xena
protested as the healer somehow managed to back her out onto
the porch and down the steps.
"Let her rest now and you'll be able
to. Tomorrow eve."
"Tomorrow - " Xena's voice rose a
notch " - eve?"
"For the finale of the Cupid's Day
festival. Already told the regent. She'll be able to preside
over the closing ceremonies." Megara placed both hands
on the porch railing, blocking the path with her wider body
in case the Queen's consort got any cute ideas about trying
to get past her and back inside. "If the
swelling's gone down enough."
Having delivered her diagnosis, the healer
turned on her heel and climbed the steps leading up to the
hospice's entryway. Dumbfounded, Xena silently watched her
go. As soon as Megara disappeared, she turned and punched
the nearest tree.
"Hey, Warrior-babe! Thought I pop in
and check the progress!" The upbeat voice heralded the
arrival of the Goddess of Love. Her eyes went wide as she
saw Xena repeatedly hitting a tree with her closed fist, her
knuckles split open and bloody. "Whoa, like, easy
there, sweetcheeks! You'll totally bruise your delicate
Xena gave the tree a few more erratic
punches, taking small satisfaction in the bits of bark sent
flying off beneath her assault. At last, chest heaving,
sweat dripping from her brow, arms aching, she leaned face
first against the trunk. Weakly, she gave the pine a
resounding slap with her open palm before turning and
sliding down to sit at the base of the tree.
"Ouch! Guess the flowers didn't make
your sweetie swoon?"
Xena lolled her head back, looking up at the
goddess. She wanted so badly to lash out at the perky
blonde, but found in the end that she lacked both the
strength and the desire.
Finally, she just settled on,
"Gabrielle's in the hospice. Healer said she's never
seen such a severe allergic reaction to wildflowers."
"Like total bummer, babe. That should
have totally wooed your bard." Aphrodite deposited both
hands on her hips, tapping her foot as she contemplated the
failure of her plan. Then, her gaze settled on the image of
the brooding warrior sitting on the ground at her feet and
her eyes narrowed. "Just how many flowers did you
X X X X X
By the time the sleeping herbs finally wore
off and Gabrielle woke up, it was full dark. To her relief,
the sneezing seemed to have stopped. And, the swelling had
gone down enough so that she could see through more than
just a sliver in her eyelashes.
The rash still persisted, though. Reaching
for the mixture of lotion Megara had left for her on the
stand beside the cot, Gabrielle liberally poured the green
gel onto her open palm. Generously coating her skin, she
fought the urge to scratch.
It started as just a light rub. Then, a
little harder. And a little more. Until she was full out
scratching her legs and arms and bare stomach. Ooh, yeah;
right there . . . she struggled to reach an itching shoulder blade.
Something niggled at the edge of Gabrielle's
senses, pulling her attention from her scratching. Wearily,
cracking open one eye, she listened for the cause of the
disturbance. At first, all she heard were the usual night
sounds of the village. An owl hooting in the distance. A
lone wolf howling at the moon. Someone reciting poetry about
Both eyes flying as far open as possible,
Gabrielle bolted upright. Struggling to climb from the bed,
she inched her way towards the solitary window in her
hospice room. Propping her elbows onto the window ledge, she
stood on tiptoe to peer outside.
Across the way, standing beside a patch
of bushes, she could just make out the silhouette of a lone
figure. Squinting, she was able to discern the shape of a
sword hilt protruding over a shoulder and the unmistakable
outline of breast armor.
"Okay, you've got her
attention." Eponin parted the bush she was hiding
behind with the tips of her fingers. Sure enough, Gabrielle
had been lured to the open window.
From her position crouched beside the
weapons master, Solari held a crumpled parchment in her
hands. Dutifully, Xena repeated the lines as
Solari fed each one to her. Between Solari's halting words
as she struggled to read the words by the dim light of the
moon and Xena not following the proper stanza, the reciting
came off as stilted.
She'd been practicing for most of the
afternoon. Ever since Aphrodite had pried out of her what
sort of things Gabrielle might appreciate. Obviously, food
was at the top of the list. But, Xena had already bungled
the romantic dinner fare. Finally, they'd stumbled upon the
answer as Xena remembered Gabrielle saying something about
how she liked the work of Sappho. But, having no ear for
poetry, the warrior princess was suffering from an inability
to remember her lines.
That's where Amazon One and Amazon Two
came in, reflected Xena as she belatedly realized she
would have been better off having one of the tribe's
historians reading the scroll.
"Your heart lights up the room like
a thousand beams of moonlight." Even from the the
distance she was at, Xena thought she could see Gabrielle's
eyes sparkling with tears of happiness. "My knees
weaken with your applause . . . approach . . . " she
hastily amended. "My knees weaken with your approach. I
can't beat . .breathe."
Xena cast a furtive glance at the
coconspirator bush. Solari helplessly shrugged as she
stumbled over the next line. Keeping an eye, sensing
Gabrielle's waning interest, Pony signaled for Xena to pick
up the pace.
"Roses are red, my love. My eyes are
a deep blue."
"What's she doing?" Eponin
nudged Solari with her elbow.
"I don't know." Solari
frantically searched the length of the parchment. "I
can't find that verse."
"Honey is sweet, my love. I'd like
to lick it off - "
"Well, it certainly ain't
Sappho." Pony shook her head.
"I think she's gone off scroll,
"There was a young girl from
Potadeia. If you saw her - "
"Gee, ya think, Soli?"
Solari's eyes rapidly darted away from
the scroll she was still trying to make heads or tails out
of as she recognized a well-known verse of a particularly
bawdy limerick. Dropping the scroll, she hastily grabbed
Eponin by the scruff of her halter and pulled her backwards
out of the bushes. Under cover of darkness, both Amazon
warriors ran for their lives.
Standing at the window, Gabrielle's
expression had gradually changed from one of heartfelt
adoration to outright horror. Face flushing crimson as Xena
hit her stride and belted out a rhyme about the Amazon
Queen's tight little ass, Gabrielle turned away from the
window and determinedly made her way back across the room.
Resolutely climbing back in bed, she pulled the blanket up
to her shoulders.
Rolling over, she beat her pillow
repeatedly with her closed fist, venting some of her pent-up
at last, fluffing the down-filled pillow, she laid down,
covering both ears in an attempt to block out her consort's
off-colored poetry rendition.
X X X X X
Much to the tribe's relief, the final night
of the Cupid's Day festival arrived with their beloved Queen
able to preside over the closing ceremonies. Megara had
deemed her sufficiently well enough to attend, providing she
take things easy. As per tradition, Gabrielle had made a
short speech extolling the tradition of the holiday and
joining several couples in hand-fasting ceremonies. Then,
she'd led the first dance, the lead scout standing in for
the Queen's consort in her absence.
Solari led a winded Gabrielle from the dance
circle and escorted her to the royal dais. The scout hastily
deposited her queen in her chair and then hurried back to
the dance circle.
Still feeling a little under the weather
from her severe allergy attack and missing her consort
despite her promise to herself not to, Gabrielle threw
herself across the Queen's throne. Gratefully, she took the
mug of wine one of the servers brought to her. Catching her
breath, Gabrielle looked out upon the faces of her
Seated on her joint throne beside the Queen,
Ephiny leisurely drank from her own mug of wine. Sitting in
a chair beside her was the weapons master, the fingers of
her right hand intertwined with Ephiny's left. The chair
beside the Queen was conspicuously empty.
Xena watched from the privacy of the upper
limbs of one of the trees flanking the perimeter of the
ceremonial grounds. From her position, she was able to
observe the entire celebration without fear of being seen in
"Like, why are you up here all by your
lonesome instead of shaking your groove thing with your
Xena tried her best to ignore the shimmering
goddess that had appeared on the branch beside her.
"Don't tell me the Sappho-thing didn't
Xena's refusal to answer spoke volumes.
"You went overboard, didn't you?"
Aphrodite pointed an accusing finger at the warrior.
"You did, didn't you?"
There was a snort. "I just put my own
spin on things."
"So, Sappho wasn't good enough for
"There's something wrong with poetry
that doesn't rhyme."
"One of the greatest poetresses of your
time and you try to rewrite her work?" Aphrodite folded
her arms across her chest in an exaggerated pout.
"Typical. You do this all the time, you
"Try too hard. You take something
simple and needlessly complicate it."
"No, I don't."
"Ex-squeeze me! You so do! Gabs told me about your
need to try to find new and different ways to kill someone
in a fight. And, how you don't like to use the same plan
"I just figured if one bouquet of
flowers was good, then ten - "
"A hundred was better."
"Why does it always have to be about
doing it bigger and better than anyone else? Why can't you
just do things like everyone else?"
Xena was more than taken aback by the
normally flippant goddess' serious side. So much so that
instead of becoming as defensive as she normally might, she
found herself actually opening up to her.
"Because I look at Gabrielle and I
wonder what it is that she sees in me. You know, she first
tagged along after me because she wanted to be this
bigger-than-life warrior. She said she wanted to be like me.
So, I figure if I'm just like everyone else, she'll no
longer want to be with me."
"See, I happen to know that's not true.
Yes, she followed after the warrior babe. But, she fell in
love with you. You need to show her that underneath all that
leather and attitude there's a tender-hearted warrior."
"No offense, Aphrodite, but the
tender-hearted warrior nearly killed the Queen of the
"Okay, look. Forget warrior princess.
Forget Queen. Just be yourself."
Chewing her bottom lip, Xena peered through
the branches of the tree. The Amazons were drinking and
dancing, celebrating the romance of the season. Eponin and
Ephiny were well into their drinks, the regent having given
up her throne and curled up on Pony's lap in her chair. Xena
guessed there would be more than a score of love bites
decorating the weapons master's neck when she called her
training class to order in the morning.
She wasn't surprised to find Solari in the
center of the dance circle. What did surprise her, however,
was that the roguish chief scout was consorting not with a
dancer, but with a distinguished elder. And, surprising her
even more, Solari's arms were wrapped about Devillare's neck
and the ex-captain's hands were on the scout's waist and
there wasn't even a hint of impropriety.
Seated atop her throne, Gabrielle smiled as
Amazons randomly approached the dais, laying gifts
at the feet of their Queen in celebration. Gabrielle
graciously thanked each warrior in turn. Although her lips
were curved, her smile never reached her eyes.
"Go on," Aphrodite prodded,
"Go to her."
"I - " Xena choked on the word
" - can't."
"Huh. Thought for sure you had it in
you." Aphrodite stood up from the branch she'd been
reclining on, dusted herself off. "Let's face it,
warrior babe, romance just isn't one of your many
skills." She started to snap her fingers.
"Wait!" Xena reached out for the
goddess. "That's it? You're just giving up?"
"Nothing more to be done,"
Aphrodite shrugged. "Sometimes, it just happens that
way. Gotta know when to cut your losses. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a virgin in Thrace
begging for my help." Snapping her fingers, the goddess
of love disappeared.
The big drums had long since been retired
for the evening. And, even the smaller drums were fading as
the celebration slowly wound down. Couples that were still
dancing around the fire circle were now moving at a much
more sedate pace. Solari's feet were hardly moving as she
leaned heavily on Devillare. Ephiny was curled up in
Eponin's arms, her head resting on a broad shoulder, soft
snores escaping her exhausted body.
Gabrielle continued to nurse her mug of
wine. Her third. No, perhaps her fourth. Not that it
mattered. Leaning back, dangling her legs over the arm of
her throne, she lazily snapped her fingers for the serving
girl to bring her another.
Abruptly, the drums stopped completely. All
movement ceased as the Queen's consort stepped foot onto the
ceremonial grounds. Keeping her eyes fixed firmly on
Gabrielle, Xena approached the dais.
The warrior princess knelt on the cold
ground before the Amazon Queen and bowed her head.
"My Queen, I regret that I have failed
you and humbly request your forgiveness."
"Xena?" Gabrielle instantly sat
upright and waved off the approaching serving girl.
Eponin nudged a bleary-eyed Ephiny awake.
Lifting her head, raising her eyes, Xena
confessed, "I have tried all throughout the Cupid's Day
celebration to prove myself worthy of your love. Time after
time, though, all I've managed to do is prove just how
unworthy of you I really am."
There was complete silence as Xena
unsheathed her sword. Gabrielle's breath caught in her
throat as her consort announced, "I have no gift fit to
honor the Amazon Queen." She began breathing again when
Xena laid the sword on the bottom step of the dais. "As
a warrior, all I have is my sword and my life. I have
nothing else to offer."
"But, you do, Xena." Gabrielle's
voice trembled, but was still loud enough to reach every
ear. "Offer me your heart."
"I can't." There were unshed tears
forming in Xena's eyes. "I can't offer what you already
The words were scarcely past her lips before
Gabrielle was off her throne and descending the dais steps.
Kneeling on the ground in front of her warrior, she took
Xena's face in both her hands and deeply kissed her. With
trembling arms, Xena embraced her soulmate, planting
feverish kisses along her forehead, her cheeks, her jaw.
All about them, Amazons watched their
display, not seeing a warrior making a fool out of herself
or a queen throwing herself at her consort's feet. But,
rather two women deeply in love.
Sitting on the uppermost branch of a tree, a
scantily clad goddess watched the scene below. "Way to
go, warrior babe," she whispered. Then, with an
air-blown kiss and a wink, she faded from view, leaving
behind only a delighted giggle and a shower of heart-shaped
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