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I Heard A Goddess Call My Name

by Jamie Boughen

Usual Disclaimers Here: MCA owns Xena and Gabrielle but I own The Warrior-Bard, Timothy and this story.

Warning: Yes, I have people making love, quite graphically at times. If the idea of two women or three people all honoring their love for each other upsets you, there are bound to be other stories about you will find more enjoyable. I write this kind.....and always will.

If you haven't reached the legal age of consent in your country or state, well delete now. Your Mother would not be pleased and I don't want the abusive mail from her.

By some madness, these stories are illegal in your country or state, all I can say is we can never have enough heroes and maybe you should write to your government about this.

Many thanks to all Xena's Campfire Girls for reading this and pointing out to me I could write. May your marshmallows never burn and may your tents never collapse. (But who left the door of the bath-house open again!)

Xena and Gabrielle stood silently in the near darkness of the forest. They watched quietly as a figure moved around a small campfire in the little clearing. He had to be the most unusual looking individual either woman had ever seen. He appeared taller than Gabrielle but was probably a hand shorter than Xena. His shoulders were broad, his chest deep and he was quite well muscled. A close fitting, short sleeved white leather shirt was under his chest and back armour. His sword strapped to his back in a style similar to Xena's. There were two quick release sheaths on his forearms, both holding wicking fighting knives. He had another knife, a dagger really, strapped to his waist. Xena could also see the bulges from a knife in one boot sheath and a spike in the other. Clipped to the other side of his waist was a long whip. It was only when he removed it that the two women could see he also carried a decorated silver chakram as well. What made him so unusual looking, aside from an over-supply of weapons, was he was wearing an Amazon style wraparound skirt exactly like Gabrielle's except his was made of the whitest leather she had ever seen.

They watched carefully as he moved about his campsite, seemingly unaware of their presence in the nearby forest. Gabrielle thought he walked rather oddly until she realised he was walking as though completely boneless. It was an almost fluid movement. He didn't so much as step from place to place rather he *flowed* there. Once used to the look of his movements, his sheer grace captivated her. To Xena, he looked to be about the most deadly fighter she had ever witnessed. The man glanced up at something on the other side of the small clearing. Both women only then noticed his hair was cut very short, much shorter than any man they had seen before. It was like a short dark brown, almost black fur rug barely half an inch long all over his head. Gabrielle found herself wondering what it would be like to run her fingers through hair that short.

She pulled herself up for a moment. Xena was her lover. Gabrielle wasn't interested in men, well not since her marriage anyway. And especially not since the magic moment when Xena finally confessed her love for the young Bard. She shook her head. "It was just because his hair was so unusually short for man, that's all." She told herself.

The women heard a soft whistle coming from the man and both were surprised when a very large, very white stallion came trotting towards him. They were shocked that something that...that...white could have gone completely un-noticed for so long. The stallion wandered into the light of the fire and lay down close enough to feel the warmth of the flames. The man sat down next to him and leaned companionably against his shoulder. He had removed his sword but had placed it within easy reaching distance on the ground next to him. Xena nodded her head in unconscious approval.

The man in white leather leaned forward to turn the rabbits he had roasting over the open fire. To the women, he seemed to have far more food there than he could possibly eat alone, unless he was one huge eater. He turned his head in their direction and in a deep baritone voice called to them. "Why not join me for dinner, ladies instead of simply skulking in the bushes."

Xena and Gabrielle starred at each other. He had known they were there all along.

"Please don't make me come in and get you. I have more than enough for everyone and I truly mean you no harm." He said. The man had not moved from his position against the horse's shoulder.

Gabrielle placed her hand on Xena's arm. "I'm not about to turn down a dinner invitation. Any night I don't have to cook is bliss as far as I am concerned." And with that, she stepped out of the covering trees and began to walk towards the campfire and the welcoming smells of food.

Xena just shook her head before stepping out herself. You could lead that Bard into anything just by waving a roast rabbit under her nose for long enough. The tall warrior made her approach a great deal more cautiously than Gabrielle, keeping her hands free for a sudden grab for her sword should things turn nasty. Truth be told, the man had intrigued her also but intriguing men generally meant equally intriguing, or difficult troubles as well. Everything they had heard about this unusual man said he was okay but Xena was not about to let her guard down on the strength of a few tales.

As Xena drew closer she noticed the man had the most electric blue eyes she had ever come across. They were even bluer than her own. Almost pulsing from his face, it made it a little difficult to pay attention to anything else. Gabrielle appeared to be quite enchanted by them. If Xena had not been so sure of the love between her and the young Bard, she might have been jealous. Shaking her head, she stepped up beside the other woman. Up close, she could see his eyes held nothing more than friendly welcome though there seemed to be a shadow of sadness almost hidden beneath those powerful blue irises.

The man waited until both Gabrielle and Xena were close to the fire before speaking again. "Lady-Warrior, you are welcome at my fire. My knife and my sword are here for you." He greeted Xena. "I don't quite know how to place you, Lady." He said to Gabrielle. "You move and dress like a warrior but have the touch of the Bard about you. May I inquire as to which of these you are? Or have I completely mistaken myself."

Gabrielle smiled. "I am a Bard really but I have had some warrior training, if only to defend myself." She tapped her staff onto the ground to signify her chosen weapon.

"Then Lady-Bard, you are welcome at my fire. My knife and my sword are here for you." He said.

The women realised then that his greeting had some kind of a ritual meaning to him. He wasn't merely saying the words though. He truly meant them. "And who are you?" Xena asked bluntly.

"I am known as the Warrior-Bard." He replied simply. Patting the neck of the horse behind him he said. "And this is Timothy, my stead. Though I will admit, I have other names for him. Many not suited for the ears of children." He smiled as the horse snorted into his ear.

Xena looked at him suspiciously. "A warrior AND a Bard?" She queried.

The Warrior-Bard nodded his head. "There is more than one way to win a battle other than using a sword or knife. Sometimes the battle for people's hearts and minds requires the touch of a story-teller and not that of a swordsman."

Gabrielle nodded as though in agreement. Xena was still suspicious. "Do you have a name then?" She asked.

"My name name is..." A look of genuine confusion and distress crossed the man face. His horse gently lipped his shoulder as though comforting him. "I'm afraid to say, Lady-Warrior, I do not remember my name. Perhaps I had one once but it seems to have fallen completely from my memory."

Both women could see he was making an effort to remember but was becoming more and more distressed with every moment. His horse leaned his head down over the man's shoulder and he began to stroke his nose unconsciously. It seemed to calm him in some way neither woman could quite understand.

"Oh, I think calling you the Warrior-Bard will do just fine." Gabrielle said. She had been moved by his confusion and genuine desire to tell them who he was.

"Thank you, Lady-Bard." He said. "Sit and eat with me. Timothy told me there would be guests for dinner tonight and I might like to catch a few extra rabbits in preparation."

"Your horse told you!?" Xena said. She was still suspicious but he hadn't said or done anything to cause her to think he might be an enemy of some sort. And those bluer than blue eyes were getting to be a bit disconcerting.

"Yes, my horse told me. Doesn't yours tell you things too, Lady-Warrior?" The Warrior-Bard asked.

"Well. Hurmph." Was her answer.

Gabrielle giggled beside her. Xena just gave her a look. The tall warrior then turned her head and whistled for Argo to come out of the trees. The golden mare quickly walked down to Xena. She stripped the saddle and gear from her back and let her loose to graze in the clearing. It was obvious to her that Gabrielle was not going to go anywhere until she'd had her questions answered. Xena listened as the Bard and the Warrior-Bard were already chatting away amicably.

Xena sat back. Even she had to admit, whatever the man had done to the meat and vegetables, it was one of the best meals she'd had in quite some time. Gabrielle and the Warrior-Bard had kept up a running conversation, swapping legends all through dinner. She was amazed they had managed to keep talking so much and still put away an amazing amount of food between them. Xena loved to tease Gabrielle about how she could eat as much as a farm-hand yet do it with all the daintiness of a lady of the manor. She had noticed that the Warrior-Bard, as he called himself, also seemed to have fairly civilised manners. Something she had not expected from any man who called themselves a warrior, anyway. Then again, he cooked better than any man she had ever met as well. The Warrior-Bard was turning out to be a real man of mystery. And there was nothing Xena hated more than a mystery. Perhaps it was time to get some answers.

Waiting for a moment when both bards had paused momentarily for breath, she spoke. "So, you are the Warrior-Bard?" The man nodded. "We've been hearing of you, or at least what you have been doing, for the past several days. From the sounds of it, you have been rather busy?" Xena questioned.

Gabrielle looked at the man. "Tell us your story, Warrior-Bard." She asked politely, giving Xena a glare in the process.

The man took a sip from the wineskin and cleared his throat. Looking at Xena, he said. "If you promise not to interrupt, I will tell you what I remember."

Gabrielle jumped in. "Oh, she won't. She knows how a Bard loves to tell a story."

Xena just shrugged her shoulders and settled back to listen. She *had* learned to let bards finish a tale before asking her questions. Something Gabrielle had drummed into her over the years.

Once again, the horse swung his head around so the Warrior-Bard could stroke his nose. The man thought for a moment and then began to tell his tale. "I woke. It was that simple. It must have been, oh, two years ago now but I simply woke. I was in a small glen, almost naked, with Timothy standing over me. I did not remember anything from before, not even who I was. Over time, I *have* remembered the traditions and customs of my people but how I actually got to the glen or who I may be has never returned to me. Even though I remember the traditions, I have never been able to find my people nor anyone who may know anything about them. It is like they did not exist, even though I do. Perhaps one day I will find them again or remember who I am but for now I am happy to be know as the Warrior-Bard. I may have been in a battle and received some kind of wound to my head though I have never found a scar and at the time of my waking, I could find no blood." The man sighed and took another sip from the wineskin before passing it over to Xena who had moved closer to hear him speak. His deep baritone voice was actually quite soothing to listen to. At least the bard part of his story might have been true.

"Timothy was saddled and on the saddle were the weapons I carry about my person. There was a shirt and trews that seemed to fit as well as armour. Different to the protection I wear now but again, it seemed to fit and I somehow knew how to put it all on. I was initially surprised at how intelligent Timothy appeared to me but over time, I have come at accept his help and guidance. On more than one occasion, he has saved my life." The man explained.

Xena nodded. Argo had on occasion warned the warrior of trouble ahead or had helped protect her when there was a fight around her. Gabrielle might not like riding the mare but to Xena, she would have been lost without the gentle warhorse at her side.

The Warrior-Bard had seen the nod and smiled at Xena. "Once I had dressed and mounted, I noticed that there were no reins or bit on the bridle Timothy wore. To say I was surprised was something of an understatement."

"No reins!! Or bit!! How do you control him then?" Xena was equally surprised.

"I learned to use just my knees. I can lean in the direction I want to go and Timothy seems to know what I wish. It does have its drawbacks though. Sometimes Timothy simply goes where he wants and I have to take the ride. I have learned to trust him. He has moved me around more trouble than I would have known how to handle, especially in the beginning. You see, though I was rather over-loaded with weapons, I was barely adequate with any one of them. The first 'ride' Timothy took me on was to an Amazon village several days journey from the glen where I woke."

Xena cut in. She couldn't help herself. "Now, I know you are lying!! The Amazons wouldn't have let you get anywhere near their villages. You're a man!"

"Shhhh, Xena. I want to hear the rest of this." Gabrielle whispered. "Keep going, Warrior-Bard. This is fascinating."

"Be that as it may, they *did* let me cross their borders and permitted me to enter one of the villages. It was almost as though they had been expecting me. Perhaps it was the horse. You do have to admit, he is very white. I will say though, the warriors followed me from the treetops and I felt if I strayed from the path in the slightest, they would have dragged me from my saddle and killed me on the spot. Later I found this to be true." The Warrior-Bard smiled at the horse over his shoulder.

"So they let you into their village?" Xena asked. Her suspicions had been raised once again.

"Yes, they did. Timothy would not allow me to dismount until the priestess appeared and it was she who helped me from the saddle and took me to their leader. I won't go into the discussions but it took two days of debate before it was decided I could stay. The entire time, I was chained and kept locked in a small hut. I was not treated badly but neither was I permitted my freedom." He said.

"That sounds more like the Amazons." Xena said wickedly.

The Warrior-Bard smiled at the tall woman. "They are a marvellous people." He stated simply. "Anyway, after permitting me to stay, I found I was to be trained in the ways of the Amazon Warrior."

Xena snapped up straight. "Oh, come on now. Even I know they don't train MEN in their way!!"

"Perhaps it might make more sense if I say it had something to do with a prophecy." The man said to the dark-haired woman.

Gabrielle suddenly spoke up. "Wait...I remember. Something about a man with no past. I wasn't told the whole of it but I do remember there was a man with no past, a white horse and being favoured by the gods." The young Bard thumped the ground beside her. "I wish they had told me the rest of it. Aside from making a fine tale, it might have answered so many of our questions. But I had so much to learn and I really didn't think to ask about it. I was told it was an old legend from the most ancient times though."

"Well, I am attempting to answer as many of your questions as I can." The Warrior-Bard said from under lowered brows.

Both Xena and Gabrielle turned to him and prepared themselves to hear him out. The tall woman was not too happy with the idea of anyone who was favoured by the gods. That always meant trouble, often very big trouble and she's had enough trouble from the gods in her own life who favoured *her*.

"As I said, there was an old prophecy but they never told me any of it. I was accepted into the village and was given a hut to call my own. The rules they placed upon me were fairly strict. I must never touch any of the women nor invite them into my hut nor accept an invitation into their huts. The penalty was death. Something I rather hoped to avoid. I was not permitted to attend certain festivals, though I was allowed to go to others. I was permitted no wine or ale, which was hard to accept to start with. It was explained to me that having these things might, how would you put it...'inflame my passions' so to speak. And every full moon, I had to stand vigil in the temple of Artemis. It was seen as my sacrifice for being permitted to stay and learn from them. Something I gladly did, by the way. Standing vigil gave me the time to talk to the Goddess, whether she could hear me or not, and allow her to see into my heart. Whatever I had done before my awakening must have been truly evil if the gods, or someone else, had cleaned my memory of my deeds. Yes, I would have gladly and willingly given much more in sacrifice if it was helping to atone in some way for my sins of the past." For a moment, the Warrior-Bard bowed his head to hide the shine of tears in his eyes.

Xena looked away for a moment as well. She knew what it was like to try to make good all the horrors she had visited upon people during her days as a warlord. She wondered if it would be any easier to live with if someone had wiped *her* memory of those days. She decided it wasn't worth it. Having the knowledge of her past helped her grow into the person she was today. No, having no memory of who you were and where you came from was not the easy path some might think it to be.

Gabrielle reached out and gently touched the Warrior-Bard's leg. She glanced at Xena for a moment. Her lover's struggles with the darkness within her still went on even to this day. The young Bard wondered which was worse. Knowing you had done evil or being left wondering if you had. "Please, go on." She whispered to the man in white leather beside her. She took Xena's hand in her own, comforting her. She knew exactly what the tall warrior was thinking.

"I stayed with them for an entire cycle of seasons. I trained every day, never getting so much as one day to rest. No matter how bruised and bloodied I had been the day before, I had to appear on the practise grounds at dawn every morning. Even on those days when I had stood vigil the night before. It was exhausting and the trainers never let up on me for a minute. Perhaps they were hoping I would simply leave if they were hard enough on me. Some mornings I had to force myself to go to the practise grounds, tears flowing because I was so lonely and aching from the pounding I had taken the day before. The only person who treated me with any kindness was the priestess herself. Some nights she would ask me to come to the temple and would rub ointment into the bruises, trying to ease some of the pain. Other times we sat outside my hut and simply talked. She helped keep me sane during those hard days." The Warrior-Bard told the two women.

Gabrielle shook her head. "I didn't think we could be so cruel to another person, man or woman. I'm surprised you did not leave."

"I had nowhere else to go, to be true. I was there for a reason and whatever that reason was, I meant to stay until I knew." He said to the Bard. "Timothy stopped me from dying of loneliness, helping me where he could. He roamed freely through the village, which was surprising in itself. Not once did the women try to put him in a stable." The man took a moment to shake his own head in disbelief. "He slept at night right outside my door and was often on the grounds with me, protecting me when I was down. Sometimes the trainers would get a little carried away and try to strike me once I had fallen. Timothy would stand over me and permit no one near until I was back on my feet and ready to continue. And only he would permit my training in riding. The women had never seen a horse that used no bit or reins and did not know how to train me as a better rider as a result. So Timothy did it himself. He was as hard a task-master as any of the Amazon trainers but once the lesson was over for the day he became my friend once more." The Warrior-Bard grinned. "I can tell you now, after the training he has given me, there is nothing I can do standing on my own two feet than I can't also do while on his back. I have slept, eaten and fought from his saddle, sometimes not touching the ground for several days." The man laughed aloud. "You should see the wobble I have when I have not dismounted for that many days! I look like a seaman who has just hit port!"

Both the women laughed at the image the Warrior-Bard had given them. Xena knew how tight her own legs felt after just one day in the saddle and here was this man saying he would stay for several. She was surprised he could stand at all.

The Warrior-Bard continued. "After spending four seasons with the Amazons and their trainers, the priestess came to me one night and brought with her the white leathers you now seeing me wearing. I had taken to wearing an Amazon style skirt early in my stay with them and was quite comfortable with it. Not many men would have willingly put on any kind of a skirt but Timothy encouraged it and the women did appreciate the effort I was making to fit in. I have found it to be much more comfortable in many ways than wearing trews, truth be told. Especially in hot weather." He brushed a crumb from the skirt in his lap. "The priestess said that it was time for me to show my training to the village. She helped me dress in the new leathers and once all my weapons had been strapped and attached, she walked me to the center of the village. There I found a warrior I had not seen before. I was told simply that I had to best her in battle."

Both women were leaning forward to hear the man's story. His voice and way of speaking had grabbed their attention and they could hardly wait to hear the rest.

"I tell you now, she was the biggest, strongest warrior I had ever seen. I knew from just looking at her, she could have beaten me into the ground without a second thought. So I did something I had remembered from my own people's traditions. I drew my sword and dropped it on the ground beside me and then knelt before the huge warrior, bowing my head. I swept my hair from my neck and offered her my life. I think I surprised them. There was complete silence for several breaths and then I felt her sword gently touch the back on my neck. My life was now hers, to leave or take as she saw fit." The Warrior-Bard's electric blue eyes glowed as he spoke. "I heard her knife slide from the sheath and instead of taking my life, she took my hair. Once she had removed my hair until it was not much longer than it is now, she pulled me to my feet and welcomed me as an Amazon Warrior. I had shown I understood the way of the Amazon. It is not always the way of the sword or knife. Sometimes you must surrender, giving up that which you hold most precious. The hardest battles are those of the mind or heart. I had shown them I could fight a battle of the heart and win. I may fight like an Amazon but the traditions of my people are dear to me as well. I am the first man in their history who can rightfully call themselves an Amazon Warrior, trained in their ways and accepted into their Nation."

Gabrielle's tears were flowing openly down her face and even Xena had a suspicious shine in her eyes. The young Bard managed to control herself enough to ask. "What happened after that?"

"There was a huge festival and every single woman in the village and many from surrounding villages who knew of me, took the time to speak to me and greet me as their equal. After four seasons of loneliness, it was quite overwhelming." He said.

"It would have been." Xena replied. She knew how she felt herself after being on the road for several weeks with just Gabrielle as company, however much she loved the woman. A village or worse, a town, seemed far too noisy to the tall warrior.

"The hair the huge warrior had cut from my head was given in sacrifice to Artemis. I was told I must always wear my hair short as a sign of my oath to the Goddess." The Warrior-Bard said.

"Your oath?" Gabrielle questioned.

"I swore an oath that night to do what I could, where I could, using sword or word to bring peace to any place I may travel. I must never use my skills for evil nor work for any who are evil themselves. And each full moon, I must stand vigil to Artemis not matter where I am, injured or otherwise. It was an oath I swore to gladly." The Warrior-Bard explained to the two women. "So for the past year I have travelled wherever the winds have pushed me, fighting or telling stories for peace. My oath has been tested on occasion by Ares and once by Hera herself but other Gods and Goddesses have blessed me with gifts, mostly gifts of the soul but now and then with other things. It is said by the Amazon priestess that I am much favoured by them."

Xena snorted. "The gods love to interfere with mortals. Don't you find that just a bit disconcerting at times."

"I can't say they have ever truly interfered with me or my quest but when I have asked for help, they often do so. From what has been told to me, I have somehow won their favour by being rather daring. Though I do not remember what that daring deed may have been" The man said. "Perhaps you would like to see one bit of help they gave me, though I did not ask for it?" He asked.

Xena was suspicious but Gabrielle nodded her head.

The white clad warrior reached for his sword and slowly drew it from its sheath. The pommel and hilt looked like any other sword Xena had seen but the blade, oh, the blade. It fairly pulsed in the light of the fire. To Xena's eyes it looked like lightning shaped into a metal sword, the edge sharper than a razor. "Artemis gave this sword to me herself. She appeared to me on my first night away from the Amazon village. She told me it was a righteous blade. I can kill evil with it but if I try to destroy a good man, the worst I can do is disable them. For those who are truly pure of heart but have simply allowed anger or hate to fog their thinking, I cannot even strike them with it. It will fly from my hands before allowing me to so much as scratch them. It came with a price though." He said.

"Doesn't everything the gods do." Xena almost snarled.

"If I do not make the right decision about a person, such as making the mistake of seeing the pure of heart as evil, then I am filled with physical pain and will have nightmares for seven days after I have tried to kill them. Thankfully, the price is paid *after* the battle. Artemis thought it would be a little inconvenient for me to fall over in groaning heap right in the middle of a fight." The Warrior-Bard said.

Gabrielle giggled. "Seems it might have gotten you killed rather quickly, otherwise. I'd like to know why you accept all this though when you know the price to be paid if you make a mistake."

"Like I said before. I must have been a truly evil man for the gods to have removed my memories from me and this is the way they have decided I must atone for my evil and cruelty. I will live out my punishment with a glad spirit for I now have two years worth of good memories to fill the gaps left by the old. I think I may still go to Hades when my life draws to a close but if I can right the wrongs I have done then I am happy to go wherever the gods send me, on this earth and after." The Warrior-Bard explained gravely. "And now my Lady-Friends, the hour is late and dawn comes all too early. I am for sleep. You are welcome to stay by my fire. You have nothing to fear from me."

Climbing to his feet, he proceeded to do something that surprised both women. He walked over to the tree they were camped under and began to climb into the branches above.

"Ummm, you're going to sleep up there?" Gabrielle asked rather confused.

"Why, yes. It is the Tradition for men to sleep in the branches at night." He said.

"Mind explaining why." Xena said. She was not too keen on the idea of his sleeping above them all night.

"It is to stop men from being tempted by the nearness of women. Our passions are sometimes hard to control so we take the temptation out of our paths. For if I was to force myself on any woman, I would, by Tradition, forfeit my own life, by my own hand." He said.

"You mean you would have to kill yourself?" Gabrielle asked just to be sure she had heard the man in white leather correctly.

"Yes. I would. It is the Tradition of my people. Sleeping in the trees means something else to the men as well." The man started to blush. It looked so appealing that even Xena felt herself warming to him. "If a woman truly cares for a man and wants him as her lover, she must knock him from the branches and into her bed. It is rather hard to mistake an invitation like that." Still blushing, the Warrior-Bard quickly climbed into the tree and was lost from sight.

Gabrielle was trying to keep her laughter behind her hand but the giggles were squeaking out anyway. "Maybe I should have knocked you from the branches, Warrior-Mine because it sure took you long enough to come to *my* bed." The young Bard collapsed on the bedroll laughing.

"Hrumph!" Xena grumped. "At least from up there, he could *fall* on anyone who tries to attack the camp."

The women's heads swung up to the branches over them when they heard a soft whistle and the man's deep voice calling to the horse beneath him. "Timothy, guard. Protect." The white horse climbed to his feet and stood near the tree to guard both the man above and the women below.

Xena raised one eyebrow but slowly climbed into the bedroll with Gabrielle. The young Bard was soon asleep but Xena found herself thinking about the man in white leather sleeping above them for quite some time until she too finally dozed off.

The early light of dawn woke Xena as it had for so many mornings before. As she opened her eyes, she looked around her. There had been a time when she would have jumped straight out of her bedroll to begin the day. But she found she was a little reluctant to release her Bard lover in the mornings and so she now lay quietly for a few minutes as she took in her surroundings. There was no sign of the white stallion though she could see Argo on the other side of the clearing, eating her fill of the grasses around her. Over the fire boiled a pot with a very appetising odour coming from it. She could also see the tops of some flat bread baking in the hot ashes beside the fire. Either she had been unusually tired the night before or the warrior in white leather had been unusually quiet. She wanted to think the former but after hearing the tale of his training among the Amazons, she suspected the latter.

Climbing carefully from the sleeping arms of the young Bard, she glanced around the clearing. Her eyes opened in surprise. At the far end of the clearing, the Warrior-Bard was practising with his sword. He had stripped his armour and leather shirt and was wearing nothing more than the Amazon style skirt and his boots. His tanned skin was glistening in the early morning light as sweat ran from his body. She was amazed at what she saw. His movements were absolutely precise and he had the most stunning grace about the way his body twisted and turned. The lightning bolt in his hands was a sliver blur as he moved around in various patterns. He made no sound, he didn't even appear to be puffing for breath. Xena watched as his muscles bunched and relaxed in a way she found almost sensuous. She found herself licking her lips and the muscles in her groin tightened a little.

Dragging her eyes away from the sight of the practising warrior, she told herself she wasn't interested. She loved Gabrielle and the Bard was enough for any woman. Which ordinarily was true. Having discovered the joys of Xena's body, she wasn't happy until she had turned the tall woman into a mindless puddle of very relaxed muscles, unable to do much more than simply fall asleep. Glancing back at the man at the other end of the clearing she did have to admit he was truly stunning to look at. She ruthlessly stopped her thoughts from leading her any further. Gabrielle was her lover and Xena did not intend to ever endanger that by being unfaithful, not even in her thoughts.

"You've got to admit, that is one Hades of a graceful man over there." Gabrielle whispered to Xena.

The dark-haired woman looked down surprised. "I didn't think you were awake, Little Bard."

"I smelt something wonderful and just had to wake up to find out what it was." She grinned up at Xena. "Then I saw the look on your face and decided that he" nodding in the direction of the Warrior-Bard "might be more appetising, if one was so inclined."

Xena didn't know whether to be jealous or afraid. "Are you so inclined?" She asked almost fearfully.

The younger woman thought for a moment. "Only if you are too. It is both of us or neither of us. 'Sides, he might not be interested himself, you know. I think we should leave it until we know him better."

"Know him better?" Xena was surprised all over again.

"Well, you are going to ask him to travel with us for a while, aren't you?" Gabrielle had that wicked grin on her face that said she wasn't going to take no for an answer on this. "He did say he goes wherever the winds push him and that is more or less what we do. And he is fighting for good and peace. Again, the same thing we are doing. So why not ask him to join us for a while. The worst he can do is say no."

Xena gently kissed the end of Gabrielle's nose. "Okay, I'll ask." But she wasn't quite sure if she was going to like having him around.

The broth had been wonderful, the flat bread surprisingly tasty. The Warrior-Bard sat beside the fire, his face still a little pink from the cleansing dip he had taken in the river to wash the sweat from his body. He had slipped off as the women were speaking and taken his swim out of sight of the camp but still well within earshot if there had been any trouble. Both women had jumped when he appeared back at the fire, water still dripping from his short hair. Xena was having trouble getting used to someone who moved even more quietly than she did. He had shaved at the river and quickly grabbed a clean shirt from his saddlebags to put on. Gabrielle was wondering how he managed to keep all that white leather so pristine looking. Even his boots were white and though showing a few scuff marks around the toes and heels, they were as blindingly white as everything else he wore. She reminded herself to ask how he managed the task of staying so clean.

Xena was wiping the last of the broth from her bowl with a piece of flat bread. Even she had to admit it was marvellous fare considering they were in the middle of a forest. "Thought about where you're going next?" She asked the Warrior-Bard.

"Not really. Wherever the winds push me, I suppose. There is always trouble over the next hill or someone needing my help in the next valley." He replied. He was buckling the last of his armour into place, his weapons laid out in front of him in some sort of order.

"Thought about travelling with us." Xena asked. She was trying not to be impressed at the quiet order the Warrior-Bard was showing with his weapons. They were completely spotless and all looked to be sharpened to a razor edge.

The man looked a bit stunned. He had honestly not thought about travelling with them. He was used to sharing his fire with other people he met along the way but none had ever asked if he wished to moved along the road with them. "I...I guess I could. For a time. At least until the gods and the fates take me along another path." He smiled at Xena and she found herself grinning back at him.

What was it about this man? Were had he gotten all that charm from anyway. Another gift from the gods, perhaps? Xena could see out of the corner of her eye that Gabrielle was smiling as well. She was happy to have another bard around to swap stories with. Considering he had been leading the same kind of life as them, more or less, he should have some fine tales to tell over the campfire.

Xena reached over and gripped the man just below the elbow in a warrior's handshake. "Well met then Warrior-Bard. It will be good have someone to share the load with for a while." Xena managed to keep the shocked look off her face. She hadn't meant to say that at all.

Xena was having trouble keeping her eyes to the front. She found herself watching the man behind her. It looked so odd that his horse had neither reins nor bit. In fact the stallion wasn't even wearing a bridle. The saddle was ordinary enough, a plain brown leather one much like her own. But for the moment, the Warrior-Bard was sitting in it cross-legged as easily as he would have sat on the ground. All morning, he had been speaking to the horse as though it could truly understand him. The white warhorse would shake, nod and snort in what appeared to be all the right places and Xena was left wondering just how intelligent the animal really was. She knew she spoke to Argo on occasion as though she was could truly understand but she was very aware of the fact the mare was a horse.

The Warrior-Bard was listening intently as Gabrielle related some tale or another of the adventures she and Xena had gone through. It wasn't until she noticed the man's blue eyes flicking all about that she relaxed. He *was* watching their rear even though he appeared to be paying full attention to the Bard's story. She turned to look back again and found the horse had caught her eye. The stallion gave her one slow nod which chilled her to the soul. Was it a horse or some spirit simply looking like one, she was left wondering.

After a while Xena found she wasn't even being irritated by the sounds of Gabrielle chattering away. It was like some deep part of her had relaxed. A part she had tensed without even knowing it. For the first time in weeks, she was not quite so worried about any trouble ahead and was starting to enjoy the ride.

Gabrielle was completely in her element. The Warrior-Bard sat and listened as she told her tales, laughing quietly at times at the things she said. After spending so much time with her taciturn Warrior Princess, it was a real pleasure to have someone to talk to. It seemed to help the time pass more quickly. She too was a little surprised at how the man lounged over the horse as though he was on solid ground. He sat cross-legged in the saddle or lay out full length on his side as he listened to her speak. He would jump from the saddle at times and walk beside her and then appear to float back up onto the tall stallions back. And those impossibly blue eyes. Gabrielle thought her lover's eyes were arresting. His were enough to stop the breath in her throat. She had to keep shaking herself. The Warrior-Bard was being the perfect gentleman in every way and was simply not showing the least bit of interest in either Xena or herself. Which was another odd thing. Gabrielle was more used to men being stopped dead in their tracks by the beauty of her lover. The Warrior-Bard seemed to take it all in his stride, showing no more interest, sexual or otherwise, than if she had been another man. Could it be that he leaned towards men the way Gabrielle leaned towards Xena?

Towards days end, Xena could honestly say it had been one of the best days they'd had in months. The hadn't been a sniff of trouble all day, the weather had been perfect, they had covered more miles than Xena had first thought they would do in the day. She had even managed to convince Gabrielle to ride in front of her a couple of times where she was able to hold her closely and nuzzle into her neck. In a way, she hadn't even noticed the man riding behind them either. He seemed to just disappear whenever he wanted to. Oh, he was still there but Xena would cease to notice his presence if he wasn't actually speaking to Gabrielle or his horse.

"Lady-Warrior?" The man asked from just behind her shoulder.

Xena turned slightly to see him. "What's up?" She replied. The Warrior-Bard moved up next to her. At least he was sitting in the saddle much as she was herself. She still found the lack of reins odd but she was getting used to it. She could certainly see the tactical advantages having both hands free would give.

"There is a campsite about a mile and a half from here that I think might be suited for tonight's stay. If you like we can camp there." He said.

Xena thought about for a moment. It was still a shade earlier than when she would normally have started looking for a place for the night but they had covered a lot of ground and she thought Gabrielle might be tired. "Sounds fine to me."

"With your permission then, Lady-Warrior. I will ride ahead and get the fire going. There is a wonderful stream with the best fish I have ever eaten. I would like a chance to catch a few for dinner tonight. I like to cook them in clay and that takes a little time." The Warrior-Bard said. "Timothy will show you the way into the glade. It is well-hidden unless you know where the entrance is."

Xena nodded, not sure if she liked the idea of a *horse* showing her how to get into a campsite. But there was little she could do as the Warrior-Bard had already trotted off and was soon out of sight.

Gabrielle appeared at her stirrup. "What do you think of him?" She asked.

Xena could see the young Bard already liked the man. Anyone who willingly spent an entire day listening to her tales and not once telling her to be quiet was probably worth a little consideration in Xena's eyes. She held out her hand to the younger woman. "Why don't you get up here?" She said.

Gabrielle grabbed hold of Xena's hand and surprised the warrior once again at just how strong she had become. Once the Bard was safely seated in front of her, her arms around the young woman's waist, she gave her question due thought. "I think he is okay, for now. I mean he certainly doesn't behave like any other man I have ever met, that's for sure."

"Do you think he really is a warrior?" Gabrielle asked.

"From the way he was spinning that sword this morning, if he isn't, he is doing the best impersonation of one I have ever seen." Xena replied. With her free hand, she was making slow circles on Gabrielle's stomach, slowly letting her hand move up until it gently cupped her breast. She was surprised and delighted by the strong reaction she got from the woman. Kissing her ear, she said. "Want to go for a walk in the woods tonight?"

"Do you think we can?" Gabrielle questioned. Having a third person around was going to take some getting used to, especially considering she and Xena were used to making love almost every night and at times quite loudly.

"I don't think we are going to have any problems there." Xena replied. She was slowly rubbing her hand across Gabrielle's nipple and being pleased by the feeling of it coming erect under her palm. "Just as soon as we unsaddle Argo and get everything settled."

Just ahead Xena could see a white blur standing by the side of the road. It had to be Timothy waiting for them. Urging Argo to a canter, they were soon next to the stallion. Without a backwards glance, the horse took the reins near Argo's bridle between his teeth and began to lead the mare through the bushes towards the campsite. Xena sat back a little miffed. "Hrumph! Uppity horse!" she mumbled loudly enough to be heard by the stallion ahead of them. Gabrielle simply giggled to herself. She loved it when Xena was occasionally disconcerted by the actions of another...So long as it wasn't dangerous.

By the time they had gotten into the glade, even Xena was captivated with its beauty. They were surrounded on three sides by emerald green forest with a deeply flowing stream making the fourth. Near the stream, they could see where the Warrior-Bard had set up their camp for the night. The fire was already blazing and Timothy's saddle was close enough to the heat to dry it without scorching the leather. The stallion had released them as soon as they had cleared the trees and had wandered off into the grass to eat. There didn't appear to be any sign of the Warrior-Bard though. It was not until they stood at the campsite itself that both women saw the signal he had left for them. A single arrow lay on the ground, pointing a direction into the trees. Next to it was two largish pebbles and a smaller one. Gabrielle could also see buried in the ground, almost under the fire, three packets made of clay. Dinner was cooking already.

"If I read this right, the Warrior-Bard has gone hunting and will be gone for at least two and a half candlemarks." Xena said. This was getting uncanny. How had he known they wanted some time alone? Then again, maybe he didn't and was truly hunting. With his and Gabrielle's appetites to keep satisfied, it was going to take a lot more food than either of them were carrying at the moment. Either way, she was not about to pass up the opportunity.

"How does the idea of a swim grab you, Xena?" Gabrielle asked with a wicked gleam in her eyes.

"Sounds like exactly the thing I need right now." Was Xena's reply. "But first, lets get Argo settled for the night."

Within ten minutes, Argo was grazing contentedly next to Timothy, their bedrolls had been laid out by the fire and both women were headed to the edge of the stream to wash the dust and sweat from their bodies.

Gabrielle unbuckled and unclipped Xena's armour from her body, lifting the leather away carefully and quickly had her down to bare skin. As each area had come into view, she had run bold fingers and an even bolder mouth over it, sending goosebumps along Xena's body. She was shaking with the reaction as the young woman slid the last of her clothing from her. Then it was Gabrielle's turn to be undressed. It had become something of a ritual with the two women whenever they had the chance to indulge themselves in this way. First one would undress the other and then she would stand to be undressed herself.

The Bard stood waiting for Xena to begin undressing her. She felt the tall warrior come up behind her and with tender fingers, her top was lifted over her head and removed. Xena kissed the exposed shoulders, licking her way up the back of the other woman's neck until she reached her ear. The dark-haired woman slowly explored the familiar recesses of the Bard's ear while her hands swept up her chest and cupped Gabrielle's breasts. Xena felt the younger woman arch back a little, increasing the pressure of Xena's hands against her skin.

The warrior didn't give her much time to enjoy the sensation, simply slipping her hands down the front of Gabrielle's body and working her fingers under her skirt. As her hands moved down, taking the skirt with them, her lips kissed their way down the gully of the young woman's spine. Xena loved the taste of her lovers skin after she had spent a day walking and sweating in the sun. She could feel Gabrielle's thighs trembling against her shoulder as she quickly untied her boots and removed them from her feet.

She stood, moving her arms behind Gabrielle's knees and back. Lifting her from the puddle of clothing, she took a couple of steps and laid the woman out on the grass next to the stream. Xena stretched her longer body over that of the young Bard. She adored the feeling of Gabrielle shuddering under her as she did this. Gabrielle's arms wrapped themselves around her. She could hear the groan coming from the woman underneath her and it further inflamed her own passions.

"Take me, Warrior. Hard and fast. I've waited all day and I want to feel you in me now!" Gabrielle growled in Xena's ear, her short nails scraping their way up her back.

Needing no further invitation than that, Xena reached down with one hand and pushed it between Gabrielle's legs. The other woman was soaking wet, the heat was almost enough to burn. Xena knew when Gabrielle asked for her 'warrior', she was asking to simply be taken. No foreplay, no preparation, no long lingering kisses or gentle moments. She wanted to be truly possessed. It was a kind of mock rape game they played with each other. It also had to be the most willing rape of the century. Gabrielle wouldn't have had it any other way. She wanted her lover to completely lose control with her so she too could release the animal passions held within her. It was a game of trust and surrender both women had played many times before.

With one knee, Xena forced Gabrielle's legs further apart and quickly had her hand against the most sensitive areas of the other woman. Gabrielle was both whimpering and moaning in anticipation and need. Xena placed two fingers against the younger woman's waiting opening and tickled them forward until they were just inside. The Bard's hips had risen to her, her body making demands. A quick bunching of the muscles in her arm and two fingers were quickly driven into Gabrielle's depths. The Bard gasped.

"Again, Warrior. I'm yours. Take me." Gabrielle whispered throatily. She wanted to feel Xena's long fingers pounding into her, forcing her higher and higher. All the while knowing the dark-haired beauty would never do anything to truly hurt her. This was the trust.

Xena gave up holding her own desires back and withdrawing her fingers again, moved them forward with the same barely controlled power as before. Gabrielle's cry of pleasure broke down the tall warrior's restraint and she began thrusting strongly into the woman beneath her. Know with every stroke that this was exactly what the young Bard wanted. Allowing herself to let go so completely had been difficult for the warrior in the past but Gabrielle had worked her way passed the walls and into her passions. This was the surrender.

Gabrielle's cries grew higher with each thrust forward, louder as she felt Xena's fingers slide across her sensitive flesh. Xena was growling deep in her throat, blind to everything except the woman under her body and what she was doing to her. She possessed Gabrielle's soul as the Bard possessed hers. She could feel the younger woman's strong fingers digging deeply into the muscles of her back, her hips rising and falling in the ancient rhythms.

"Oh Xena! Xena! Gods, yes, yes! XENA!" The woman cried into the warrior's ear. Then she screamed, head thrown back, body arched, the sound ringing through the warrior's mind. Raw animal power swept through the young woman. Gabrielle's body thrashed in release under the taller woman, internal muscles tightening around her fingers. The strength of the young woman's release was such that she managed to flip Xena onto her back. The tall woman simply held on until Gabrielle collapsed against her chest, gasping for breath, sweat dripping from her body.

They lay, Xena's fingers still deeply inside Gabrielle's body. As the Bard's breathing quietened, she said to the other woman. "You always bring out the best in me, don't you."

"The best or the beast?" Xena laughed gently. She started to take her fingers from Gabrielle's depths.

"No. Leave them there. I want to feel you for a while." Gabrielle said.

Xena could feel the young woman was gently pushing down on those fingers, the muscles relaxing and contracting around them, her hips slowly rocking. "Greedy." She said, kissing the lips of the woman above her.

"Can I help it if you do this to me. I'd like to stay right where I am for the rest of my life." Gabrielle's voice was growing husky again with her need but she was looking to be much more gentle this time.

"Might make fighting a little difficult." Xena observed. "But who wants to fight when this is so much more enjoyable."

Gabrielle chuckled. She moved her arm from around Xena's body and began to work her hand down between their bodies. She soon found what she was looking for. The small, sensitive hardness nestled within the soft and silken folds of her lover's body. Xena's legs parted of their own accord making it easier for Gabrielle to move her fingers.

"Ooooh gods." Xena groaned. "That feels so good. Please, a little harder. Oh. Oh. Yes, that's it." Xena kissed the woman over her passionately. She pulled her head back for a moment. "I don't think I can do both." She pleaded with Gabrielle.

"Sure you can. You've done it before." Gabrielle rocked back a little harder on Xena's fingers. She wasn't giving the warrior a choice in the matter. The Bard wanted to feel those long fingers inside her as well as Xena's swelling hardness under her own hand. They knew each others rhythms so it was not as difficult as it may have sounded.

Xena's lips locked onto Gabrielle's, one arm holding her tightly, the other between their bodies, fingers deeply inside the woman she loved. She could feel the other woman's fingers gently massaging the hardness within her folds, every touch sending fire up her body.

The love-making was much more delicate this time, both women having already worked out the rawness of their passions in the mock rape. Hips rocking in tandem, low groans and cries coming from them both. Xena could feel herself getting closer and closer to the edge of her own release. Gabrielle rocked back on her fingers harder than before and it pushed Xena over the edge. The sweet pain of release roared though her body and mind. The Bard thrusting down hard on Xena's fingers quickly pushed herself over the same edge. Both women forced themselves to open their eyes at the moment of release to watch and be watched by the other. In some way neither understood, it intensified the explosion from within and drew them closer. They collapsed gasping against each other.

For long moments, neither woman moved. Xena carefully withdrew her fingers from Gabrielle. The internal muscles seeming almost reluctant to let them go. Xena was hovering on the edge of sleep when the Bard spoke quietly. "I think we both really need to have a bath now or we might embarrass our travelling companion."

Xena chuckled. "Can we just lie here for a few more minutes. I don't think it would suit my 'Warrior Princess' image in the least if I was to fall flat on my face the moment I stood up. My knees are kinda weak right now."

Gabrielle laughed aloud. "And you think it would suit mine any better." She said. The Bard placed her head back on Xena's chest, delighting in the sound of her lover's heartbeat anew. "Five minutes or he is going to get quite an eyeful...Of both of us."

By the time the Warrior-Bard finally returned to the campsite some two and a half hours after he had left, both women were clean and dressed. He had stripped his armour and white leather shirt before leaving. Not that it helped a great deal. He had a blood-soaked sack over one shoulder, the blood dripping from the bottom, down his back and onto the leather skirt. The smells of an almost cooked dinner were fragrant around the camp.

"Lady-Warrior, Lady-Bard." He greeted them.

"And yourself. Seems you had some luck while hunting." Xena said to him. She was feeling wonderfully relaxed and contented. Even though they were supposed to be bathing, Gabrielle had grabbed her in the shallow water and made love to her again. The Bard had pushed her up against a rock and shown her tongue was good for things other than just telling stories. The release had been so overwhelming, Gabrielle was barely able to hold her up afterwards.

The Warrior-Bard looked at the contented smiles on the women's faces and knew that going hunting had been a very good idea indeed. He reminded himself to thank Timothy for the suggestion later. "Found a deer about a mile from here. She gave me quite a chase but in the end she realised my need was true and gave herself up to me. I thought it best to dress the meat there. Should keep the wolves away from us tonight anyway." As he spoke, the Warrior-Bard was rapidly stringing raw-hide thongs over the bed of embers left from the fire and hanging carefully cut tongue-shaped pieces of meat from them. "These should be dried to jerky by mid-morning tomorrow, if you are willing to make a late start, Lady-Friends."

Gabrielle looked around at the pleasant glade. "Can't see it being a real problem. What do you think, Lover?" She asked.

"Oh, I don't think a late start will cause a rift in the great scheme of things. And fresh jerky is not something to be sniffed at." Xena grinned to the others. Giving Gabrielle a quick hug, she watched as Warrior-Bard placed the last of the meat on the thongs to dry and started pulling the large balls of hardened clay from the ground. The smell of slowing baking fish had been making her mouth water for hours. And she had certainly worked up an appetite.

The Warrior-Bard had stuffed the cavity of the fish with fresh vegetables and with the addition of flat bread, olives and a sharp cheese from the women's pack, it was quite a filling meal. For a change, even Xena ate as much as the others. Though if she continued to eat at this rate, she thought she might actually get fat. Not that there was a real danger of that happening. She was too much the fighter to ever gain any significant amount of weight. And huge appetites had certainly not put any extra inches on either Gabrielle or the Warrior-Bard.

Once he had eaten his fill and given himself some time for it to settle, Warrior-Bard gathered together his things so he could bathe and wash the blood from his body and clothing. The little mystery of how he kept his leathers so white was solved when Gabrielle saw a bar of unusual looking green soap in his hands.

"Is that what you use to wash your leathers?" She asked curiously. Xena smiled to herself. Trust the Bard to be interested in the domestic details.

Warrior-Bard looked at the soap in his hands. "Yes. I was given the recipe just before I left the village so I could keep my clothing white. It is rather a hard colour to wear when one is on the road all the time." He said.

Gabrielle giggled. "That might be something of an understatement. Just what is in it?"

"The usual. Rendered fat, clean ashes, a few other things." He explained. He could see that the explanation wasn't quite enough for the young Bard. He blushed slightly. "One of those others things in my own water."

"Your water?" Gabrielle was a little confused.

"Ummm, yes, Lady-Bard. The water I pass in the mornings is best. I was told there was something in it that whitens leather and helps remove the stains." He almost mumbled.

Now he was blushing so hard, Xena was sure she could feel the heat from where she sat. It didn't seem to concern Gabrielle in the least, she was just curious to know how he kept his clothing pristine. She had heard of far more unusual things being put into soaps and medicines over the years.

"Does it work on leather that isn't white?" She asked.

The blush fading rapidly, the Warrior-Bard thought for a moment. "Yes, I believe it works equally well on coloured leather too but I would not recommend soaking it for long. It may bleach the colour right out. It is very strong."

The Bard sat back satisfied. She may just try some of that soap the next time she washed her own leather clothes. Some of the stains, especially blood-stains, just never seemed to come out, no matter what she tried. And blood-stains seemed to be an occupational hazard around Xena sometimes.

Quickly gathering clean clothes and his bathing supplies, the Warrior-Bard walked off in the direction of the stream. Once again, he made sure he was out of sight of the camp but still within earshot. Timothy wandered closer to the two women as though guarding them until the Warrior-Bard could return.

Xena was still having trouble with that horse, especially after she was sure he winked at her!

The night passed pleasantly with the Warrior-Bard telling of some of the adventures he had been through over the past year while he sharpened his weapons. Gabrielle sat in rapt attention as he spoke. Xena was also sharpening her own weapons, listening to him spin his stories. She had to admit, he was every bit as good as Gabrielle. Xena was also sure that before too long, the Bard would be writing his stories down so she could tell them herself one day. It might make a nice change from her always writing about them. Xena was very proud of her Bard lover but it did get a bit embarrassing sometimes hearing about herself.

Once they had all wound down enough to sleep, the Warrior-Bard took himself off to the branches above them as he had done the night before. He called down his goodnight's to them and then ordered Timothy to guard and protect. In minutes, they could hear his gentle snores.

"He's been the perfect gentleman all day. Why does he insist on sleeping in the trees?" Gabrielle asked from the warm circle of her lover's arms.

"Like he said, tradition." Xena replied.

"I wonder where he sleeps when there are no trees?" Gabrielle pondered her own question.

Xena kissed her on the top of her head. "Probably right there on Timothy's back."

The stallion looked over to them and nodded. Gabrielle giggled. "I honestly think that horse is more than just a horse sometimes." She said.

Timothy snorted and closed his eyes.

The next morning, Xena didn't even have to open her eyes to know the Warrior-Bard had beaten her up yet again. There was the most wonderful smell of a vegetable broth cooking over the flames and she could also detect the smell of fresh tea brewing as well. Mint from the smell of it, with something else added but she couldn't quite make out what it was. Opening her eyes and poking her head out of the blankets, she saw the pot of broth and another container with the tea near the fire. She spotted Argo and Timothy grazing together on the other side of the glade. Looking behind her, she watched as the Warrior-Bard worked out with his sword. She as struck anew at just how graceful he appeared with that living lightning bolt in his hands. Rising carefully, she slowly stretched out muscles made tight from sleeping on the ground all night.

Glancing at the Bard still asleep at her feet, she knew it would be at least another candlemark before she woke. In the meantime, nothing short of a bucket of water from the stream would disturb her. Xena thought she might try her own skills against the Warrior-Bard. She didn't even bother dressing in her leathers or armour. The man was wearing little more than his Amazon skirt and boots anyway. Picking up her sword, she walked over to where he was practising. The patterns he was practising were familiar to her but they seemed so much more deadly as he bonelessly moved through each one. Sliding the sheath from her sword, Xena stepped into the middle of the pattern.

The Warrior-Bard didn't even seem surprised by her sudden appearance in his work-out, taking it all in his stride. Xena was not to find out for some time that the trainers he had worked with used to do exactly this to sharpen his skill and prepare him for the unexpected. She swung her own sword up to met his. They were not fighting, simply testing the skill of the other using patterns both seemed to know far too well.

By the time Gabrielle woke, the two warriors had been sparring for nearly a candlemark. Both were sweaty and a little tired but it was truly exhilarating to match skills with someone who was their equal. The Warrior-Bard noticed Gabrielle as she slowly sat up and started to pay attention to the day. He jumped back, holding his sword out to the side. The sign to stop.

"You are very good, Lady-Warrior. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were Amazon trained such as myself." The Warrior-Bard said to Xena.

"I was." Xena replied but didn't not go into any details. The man accepted her statement and didn't push any further. One day Xena would tell him the whole story.

"If you two warrior-types have finished pounding on each other. I'm starving and this broth smells too good to miss." Gabrielle called from the fire.

Both Xena and Warrior-Bard laughed. With a companionable slap on each others back, they walked back to the fire and the food waiting there for them.

Because they had to wait for the deer meat to dry, Xena and the Warrior-Bard took the time after breakfast to test out their other skills. They already knew they were the match of the other with the sword, though the Warrior-Bard was more boneless, Xena more aggressive. She was better with the chakram but not by much. The man was almost as accurate, missing just one throw in fifty. They found they were equally well matched with the knife, either as a throwing weapon or a fighting one. Warrior-Bard was better with the whip, doing things that made Gabrielle's eyes bug with surprise. Xena was a close match but there were some things she couldn't quite do. The man knew, given a little time and practise, the tall warrior would match him there as well. There was one area however, that he was definitely the superior. The horse. Xena was very, very good but Warrior-Bard was a genius in the saddle. He could do things that had both women gasping in shock.

Pulling two halves of a staff from his saddlebags, he proceeded to demonstrate something of what he could do. Though the staff was not his favoured weapon, he did know how to use it and as Timothy galloped from one end of the glade to the other, the man in white leather spun the staff in bewildering patterns around his body. Gabrielle could see she was the better with her weapon of choice but the simple fact he could do it standing atop a galloping horse gave him quite an advantage. Tossing the staff to one side, he drew his sword again and began to go through the same patterns he had been using that morning against Xena. It was a stunning display of skill and talent. One Xena would have given anything to learn. The edge it would give her over fighters standing on the ground was overwhelming. As one final display to show his horse riding skills were not something he could only do with Timothy, Xena saddled up her own mare and then stood back watching as he did exactly the same things with staff and sword as he had done on his own stallion. The very fact Argo let the man near her was astounding enough but gripping the reins in his teeth, staff or sword in his hand, the man was a truly deadly enemy to anyone he came up against.

Testing their skills against each other was not being done for the purposes of showing off. If the two warriors were to travel together, they needed to know what the other's strengths and weaknesses were when the time came to fight. After the morning spent sparring and showing what they could do. Both were satisfied they had found an equal in the other. In a strange way, this pleased Xena more than she would admit to. The only other person she had ever matched skills with who surpassed her own talent was Ares, the God of War. But he was a god and Xena felt it gave him an unfair advantage. The Warrior-Bard was simply a man, like any other and he was her fighting equal. Yes, this pleased her right down to the core of her warrior soul.

The little group had finally gotten away from the beautiful glade just past the nooning hour. The freshly dried meat split between the two food sacks on both horses. A little of the extra meat had been put into the bag Gabrielle carried over one shoulder. Handy if she was ever separated from their main supplies. Their travelling routine had already established itself, like they had been on the road together for months and not just a few days. Xena would take the point, watching for trouble ahead, leading the way. Warrior-Bard would bring up the rear, watching behind them. Gabrielle would usually be between the two so she could talk to both warriors or on occasion she would ride with Xena if they needed to cover more ground quickly. Having her between the two horses was also about the safest place for her. An enemy would have to get through either Xena or Warrior-Bard to get to her. Something that was unlikely to happen. Not that the young Bard was slow with her staff. Quite the opposite. Xena simply preferred to have her in a safe place and after all the years they had travelled together, Gabrielle had relaxed and let the situation be. She knew if she was needed, she could be as deadly with her staff as Xena was with her sword and chakram.

The mid-afternoon heat was making Gabrielle a little drowsy, though after the late start she certainly wasn't tired. Suddenly Timothy and the Warrior-Bard were beside her. He reached out his hand to her.

"Quickly, Lady-Bard. There is trouble ahead. You'll be safer up here." He said to her.

Gabrielle glanced at Xena and could see her sitting tensely in the saddle. She grabbed the man's hand and was lifted bodily onto the high back of Timothy, in front of the muscular warrior. She tried not to look down. The stallion was even taller than Argo and she didn't like being up there either. Warrior-Bard slipped his feet from the stirrups and reached under the saddle in front of Gabrielle. He pulled out two strong leather rings attached to the saddle itself and guided the Bard's hands to them. For a one brief moment, his hand brushed against Gabrielle's inner thigh. She could hear the blush in his voice as he spoke to her.

"Forgive me, Lady-Bard." He said. "I mean no disrespect."

The Bard mumbled that it was okay. She was having trouble getting over the electric shock the inadvertent touch had given her.

"Hold tightly to the rings, Lady-Bard and put your feet in the stirrups. Timothy is going to make a very sharp stop in a few moments and I don't want you tumbling from the saddle." Warrior-Bard explained quickly.

He whispered in the direction of the other warrior, trusting her acute hearing. She nodded back at him. He stood, casually stepping around the Bard as though she was on the ground and not sitting in his saddle. Placing one foot on the front edge of the saddle and the other part way up Timothy's neck, he drew his sword from the sheath on his back.

Gabrielle looked down. She was sitting in the saddle itself and not behind it. The man's foot was between her knees, his booted toe just nudging the inside of her right leg. For some reason, she still found it breath-takingly exciting...and she didn't know why.

"Now, Timothy." Warrior-Bard whispered. And white warhorse took off at a gallop.

Within twenty yards, the stallion was up to full speed. They had flashed passed Xena and Gabrielle didn't hear her pick up Argo's pace for several long moments. The young Bard clutched strongly at the rings on the front of the saddle and sank her feet as deeply as possible into the stirrups.

"Get ready, Lady-Bard. On the count of three, hold tight." The Warrior-Bard said back to her. "One...two...THREE!"

Timothy slammed all four hooves into the ground, coming to an incredibly abrupt stop. Gabrielle was thrown forward and fully expected to hit her face against the back of the Warrior-Bard's leg. Only he wasn't there anymore. She snapped her eyes open in time to see him shooting through the air like a leather clad white arrow. He was using the momentum of the stop to throw him as far as possible down the track. Twisting his body mid-air, he landed some twenty-five feet down the road, facing back the way he had come.

Xena pulled up beside her in a much more restrain halt. She jumped from Argo's back and in a few long strides was standing, facing the Warrior-Bard, the open road between them. Gabrielle could feel Timothy slowly pacing backwards, taking her out of the direct line of trouble. The man nodded to Xena. This was her show.

Several men climbed up onto the road between the two fighters. They appeared to be the usual thugs and petty bullies Gabrielle was used to seeing in her travels with Xena. Some of the men faced Xena and the rest were facing the Warrior-Bard. Gabrielle heard one of the men laughing.

"Hey look, Malcos! This pretty boy is wearing a skirt!" The giggling thug said.

"You should never make fun of a man in a skirt." Xena said, her low voice carrying down the road.

Warrior-Bard could see the deadly smile on her face. He chuckled to himself. He knew he carried an identical smile on his own face. A battle grin.

The tall warrior adjusted the grip on her sword. "You get one warning. Drop your weapons and leave now or we will be making widows of all your wives."

Someone in the group yelled to rush them and the two groups of thugs ran towards Xena and the Warrior-Bard. "Why do they always have to be stupid?" The man in white leather mumbled to himself just as the first bully reached him.

The fight was over in minutes. The only survivor was a boy in his mid-teens who had been disabled by the Warrior-Bard's righteous blade. Xena carefully stitched the long gash to his thigh. The Warrior-Bard was leaning against a tree by the side of the road, having brought up both his lunch and his breakfast at almost the same moment the last thug had died. Gabrielle was beside him wiping his ashen face with a damp cloth.

"You going to be alright?" She asked the trembling warrior.

"Yes, in a moment." He replied. Timothy had walked over and was watching him carefully from behind the young woman.

"What happened to you? One minute you were dancing with that sword and the next you were on your knees throwing up." Gabrielle questioned.

The Warrior-Bard looked into her eyes before answering. "It is the price I pay for not seeing into a man's heart. In the heat of battle, I sometimes do not take the time to look. The boy will be a good man in time. Perhaps this day will be what turns him from the evil path he has been following."

"Will you be having nightmares?" Gabrielle was concerned. She saw plenty of nightmares with Xena, though the warrior didn't have them quite as often as when they had first started travelling together. Years of atoning for her warlord days had brought a measure of peace to the older woman's soul but Gabrielle doubted she would ever be completely free of the night horrors.

"No. Not this night or any other. The boy will be a good man but his purity of heart is long gone after living with those thugs. Only when I try to kill the truly pure of heart do I suffer the horrors of the night. Disabling a good man, even one yet to be, merely forces a passing illness on me. I will recover. Why don't you help the Lady-Warrior, I will be fine soon. I just need to rest for a few moment, is all." He explained.

He watched as Gabrielle walked over to the tall woman, now bandaging the wound she had stitched. She smiled as the Bard came up beside her. "The one with the pure heart is you, Lady-Bard. And the warrior you love has regained much of what she lost." He said very quietly to himself. He wondered yet again if his memories would ever be returned or whether they were simply too evil to bear. The Warrior-Bard leaned against his mount, drawing comfort from the closeness of his friend and letting the weakness of his price pass.

The rest of the day was spent returning the boy to his home and dealing with the hundred and one details the village elders seemed to think were necessary. Over the years, Xena had grown more patient with the little details of village life but it didn't mean she liked any of it.

Warrior-Bard stayed quietly in the background, almost un-noticed for all he wore brilliant white leather and sat astride a white stallion. Gabrielle found him at the stables with Argo. He was stretched out asleep on Timothy's back as comfortable as he would have been sleeping in any bed. Timothy saw her coming and quietly nickered at her. The man was so tired that he didn't even hear her approach.

"Hi Timothy." The Bard said to the stallion. She had quickly grown used to the idea of a horse she could talk to almost as intelligently as any person. She knew that Xena was still uncomfortable with it but she hated mysteries and the white stallion was one big mystery to her. "Is he going to be alright?" She asked.

Timothy nodded slowly.

"It will be a little while though, won't it." Gabrielle hoped she had read the nod correctly. Timothy nodded again and gently stamped one hoof on the ground. "He'll be fine by tomorrow? He really just needs a good meal and some rest?" She questioned further.

The big stallion nodded again.

"Good." She replied. Gabrielle walked up to Timothy's head and gently patted his nose. "I like your rider a lot and I want to help take care of him too." She whispered.

Timothy nibbled her fingers to show he agreed.

"The elders in the village have pointed out a good campsite near here. Xena wants to get going." The Bard said. "Will he fall off if I let him sleep there?"

Shaking his head, the stallion let her know the Warrior-Bard was safe on his back, awake or asleep.

Gabrielle looked at the pale, sleeping man, cheek nestled into the hair of the horse's rump. She didn't know what it was about this big take-care-of-himself man but she felt very protective towards him right at that moment. Untying Argo's reins from the bar, she led Xena's mare out of the stable, Timothy following along behind. The man never even twitched in his sleep as they rode out of the village and up to the campsite they had been told about.

Gabrielle was cuddled up in the arms of her Warrior Princess talking quietly to her. They had retired early that night because the Warrior-Bard still seemed exhausted after his 'passing illness' of the afternoon. He had eaten, though Gabrielle did have to encourage and coax him to take the first bite. Once she got that passed his lips, he ate with a bit more appetite. The Bard knew she was a fair hand with the herbs when she wanted to be. Having eaten and bathed, the man quickly climbed into the branches above them and returned to sleep.

"I'd hate to have to go through that every time I killed someone." Xena said. "I don't like killing anyone when I can avoid it but to have a punishment like that visited on me the gods..." She shuddered at the thought.

"He seems to have accepted it. Though I do wonder what evil he did to have such a life now?" Gabrielle wondered aloud. "He's such a gentleman all the time. Even when he bathes, he always take himself out of sight of the camp and he just disappears when we want to wash, like he knows what is on our minds."

"Hmmmm, noticed that myself." The taller woman said. Xena watched as the white stallion walked around the edge of the clearing like a guard pacing out their post. "'Nother thing I've noticed is every time he wants pass water, he walks right off the road and completely out of sight. Other men would have just stood at the side of the track and thought nothing of it." Xena was used seeing that from her days as a warlord. Not something she thought the young Bard would have noticed because she had never travelled with an army. Though they had both travelled with Hercules and his side-kick on occasion and they had simply stepped to the side of the track, not disappearing like Warrior-Bard did.

"And he never curses either. I'm used to you letting loose the odd stream of abuse but never him. Not even when Timothy stood on his toes this afternoon." Gabrielle giggled. "I'd swear he was having an argument with that horse of his! From the looks of it though, the horse won."

Xena chuckled beside her. "And he calls himself a bard. Some bard. Can't even win a fight with his own horse. You notice how he never calls either of us by name either. It's always Lady-Bard and Lady-Warrior. I wonder why he does that." The tall woman was slowly adjusting to the idea that the horse was more than a horse but she wasn't going to find out what Timothy was unless the stallion wanted her to. She could live with that, so long as he didn't start fighting with her and stepping on her toes to win. Xena kissed the Bard's lips. "Time to sleep, Little one. We have a long day tomorrow."

Gabrielle snapped awake to the sound of a scream over her head. By the dim light of the embers she could see Xena sitting up, still in the throes of some nightmare. Sweat was pouring down her body, tears coursing their way across her cheeks. The Bard had thought there might have been some problems tonight. Xena often had her nightmares when she felt unsettled about some fight and the battle on the road had been unsettling, if only because of the effect it's had on the Warrior-Bard. She heard Xena sucking air into her lungs again, readying herself for another of those blood-curdling screams. Just as it began, the sound of crashing branches filled her ears. The Warrior-Bard hit the ground feet first, his two fighting knives in his hands, slipped from the quick releases sheaths he never took off. Timothy galloped into the camp from the other side of the clearing. The man's head was snapping from side to side trying to spot the attackers, not quite awake enough yet to see it was Xena doing the screaming. He soon did though as one more scream shattered the peace if the night.

Gabrielle reached up and held her Warrior Princess in her arms, talking quietly to her to bring out of the horrors of her own mind. Timothy walked over to the two women and gently touched his nose to the top of Xena's head. She snapped awake. Seeing the stallion, the Warrior-Bard and Gabrielle all looking at her, she burst into giggles that quickly became sobs as she released the fear inside her. The Warrior-Bard actually looked quite bemused. He had never heard Xena giggle before.

He sat by the side of the fire near the women, building it back up until the light filled the little clearing. Timothy stayed right where he was beside Xena, a protective white guardian of the night.

Xena gradually quietened but did not leave the warm embrace of her lover. Gabrielle gently rocked her as she had done on so many other nights like this, knowing it would be hours before Xena felt safe enough to fall asleep again. The Bard then heard a sound, a deep baritone humming coming from the man beside her. He opened his mouth and began to sing softly. Gabrielle was amazed. He had the most beautiful voice she had ever heard in her entire life, including those she had listened to at the Academy in Athens. She listened to the words, it was a warrior's lament but there was a strong thread of hope running through the music. The Warrior-Bard pushed against Gabrielle's shoulder to make her lie down, Xena still wrapped in her strong arms. He tucked their covers about them and sat down again to continue singing.

With every word, every note, Gabrielle could feel her muscles relaxing, Xena melting against her as she relaxed as well. Within minutes, the tall, frightened warrior was sound asleep again like she had never woken in the first place. The Bard couldn't quite believe it. Xena never dozed off again like that after having a nightmare. She noticed the song had change and he was now singing one part of a duet between two lovers. Two women lovers. It was even more beautiful than the lament he had sung to lull Xena to sleep. She could feel the sound of the music flowing through her body, taking her consciousness with it. The last thing she felt as her eyes closed in sleep, was a gentle caress on her cheek.

The strong sunlight of morning finally dragged Gabrielle from sleep. It was candlemarks past dawn and she couldn't ever remember feeling so rested. Xena was still tucked in her arms, her dark locks covering part of her face but it was clear she was still far from waking. Whatever that man had done to them the night before was certainly effective, to say the least. A small sound by her side made her look up from Xena's peacefully sleeping face.

"Morning, Lady-Bard." The Warrior-Bard greeted her. His voice sounded scratchy and a little raw.

"Hi." She replied.

"Did you sleep well?" The man asked. It was then that Gabrielle noticed the dark rings under his bluer than blue eyes.

"Better than you from the look of it. Did you get any sleep at all?" She asked in a whisper.

Warrior-Bard opened his mouth to say one thing but the frown on Gabrielle's face had him admitting the truth. He had not slept at all. For the rest of the night, from the time the Bard had dozed off, he had sung, letting them sleep for as long as his voice held out.

"But why?" The Bard was genuinely touched he had sung all night for them but she truly wanted to understand why he gave up his own night of rest to ensure theirs.

The Warrior-Bard sat down next to her, a bowl and spoon in hand. He started to feed Gabrielle the wonderful morning broth so she would not have to sit up and wake Xena. Ordinarily, the young Bard would have fought against being treated like such an infant but with him, it felt so natural that she simply accepted it.

"Remember my oath?" he asked.

Gabrielle nodded.

"Wherever I am, however I can, I must use my skills for peace. There is more to peace than just the villages and towns of Greece. There is the peace I can give just one person through my skills as a Bard." He spooned another mouthful of broth into Gabrielle, effectively stopping her from speaking. "You needed the sleep and she" nodding at Xena, "needed the ease. Her nightmares might be a little less frightening now."

The Bard was open-mouthed with shock. Warrior-Bard took advantage of it by pouring in a little more food. She swallowed. "You're a healer too!?"

The man laughed quietly. "No. I merely helped the Lady-Warrior in one fight in her own battle for her mind and heart. No more. It is what I am pledged to do and I can do no less and live with myself."

Xena stirred on Gabrielle's chest. The young woman looked down and could see the most beautiful smile on her lover's face.

The Warrior-Bard placed the bowl of broth next to them and quietly walked off into the trees. Gabrielle hardly noticed he had left, he was so silent in his movements

The tall woman's hand came up and gently stroked Gabrielle's face. "Morning, Lover." She said.

Tilting Xena's face towards her, the Bard kissed her softly. She was surprised at the hunger that came back to her through the warrior's lips. The taller woman's hand started a slow descent into the hot center of Gabrielle's being. And she responded in kind.

From the cover of the trees, Warrior-Bard watched briefly as the two women reaffirmed their love for the other. "Come on, Hay-burner. Let's scout the track ahead for a couple of hours. They really need to honour their feelings this morning and we'll just get in the way." With one last glance behind him, he rode off with the saddest expression in his eyes.

The three travellers followed the same pattern as they had already established. Troubles were few, more often requiring Gabrielle's skill as a Bard rather than the swords of Xena and the Warrior-Bard. Thankfully for the man, any fights they were forced to engage in, did not give him a repeat of the first one he had helped Xena with. Though he truly hated the price at times, he paid it willingly. As far as he was concerned, he had evil to make good. The weather was holding fair, not too hot by day, not too cold by night. All knew this could change but for now they were enjoying the sunshine and the pleasant days. Gabrielle insisted on cooking a few nights a week, not letting the Warrior-Bard get away with doing it all and Xena insisted on hunting, either alone or with the man. She found hunting with him to actually be fun and not the chore she had so often seen it as before. When they hunted together, they rarely came back empty-handed. Between the three of them, they all challenged the skills of the others, finding new strengths in the process.

Xena was learning to fight standing on the back of a moving horse, though she seemed to spend as much time flat on her back after yet another fall, cursing that she would ever learn the trick. Gabrielle was teaching Warrior-Bard to use the staff more effectively and he was wondering it some of the bruises would ever heal. And Xena had finally gotten around to teaching the Bard how to throw a knife, thinking she would be safer at a distance rather than fighting in close. Of the three, she was the only one who seemed to be picking up the knack quickly. Warrior-Bard even made her a quick release sheath she could wear strapped high on her thigh, hidden by her skirt. The term 'loaded thighs' took on a whole new meaning for the two women and neither could say it without buckling over with laughter.

Three weeks had passed since the Warrior-Bard had joined the two women. The day was drawing to a close and he was already on the lookout for a place to camp.

"Lady-Warrior? Mind if we camp early tonight?" He asked as he rode up next to Xena. Gabrielle was bouncing along behind him looking most displeased with having to be so high from the ground.

"Mmmmm, sure. Why?" Xena replied, curious.

"Full moon tonight. I must stand vigil for Artemis." He explained.

"Oh." Xena said. "Yea, I think we can stop for the night. How's that with you, Lover?"

"Anything is fine with me just so long as I can get off this rattling bag of bones." The Bard said. Timothy snorted as though insulted.

"Don't annoy the horse, Gabrielle or he might steal your clothes again." Xena chuckled at the young woman.

The Warrior-Bard looked shocked. "You didn't!!" He said to the stallion he rode. "Please, Lady-Bard. I must apologise for the behaviour of my friend here. It appears he has forgotten all his manners of late."

Xena was having the greatest difficulty keeping her face straight. It was even harder when she remembered the image of a very naked and wet Bard running around behind the white stallion trying to retrieve her clothing. The tall warrior still didn't quite know what to make of a horse with a sense of humour but he had shown time and again that he could be trusted to keep them safe. And seeing him there whenever she woke from her nightmares somehow calmed the demons within her. She was willing to put up with a lot for that kind of comfort. Eventually, Xena had coaxed the stallion to hand Gabrielle's clothing over to her. He had made it clear he was not going to give them to the Bard.

"Oh, it's alright, Warrior-Bard. I got what I deserved that night. I did throw water all over him when he came down to see what we were doing." Gabrielle said. She didn't tell the man that they had been making love at the time and she had forgotten to warn the stallion off.

The man was only partially placated. "Do it again, Four Foot and I will make Gabrielle ride you for a month! Then see how you feel."

Gabrielle groaned behind him. Riding any horse for an hour was enough but a month! She had made a point of letting the stallion know from then on that when Xena and she bathed, they wanted to be completely alone. Not that they ever had any problems finding the time or places to make love. Warrior-Bard seemed have some kind of sixth sense about it and simply absented himself from the camp, not returning until long after they were finished. Uncanny that.

The campsite was in yet another beautiful part of the forest. The white-clad man seemed to have a real knack for finding the loveliest places to stop for the night. And wherever possible, he tried to make sure there was a tree close by the fire for him to sleep in. The two women had given up trying to get him to sleep on the ground. He would simply state it was Tradition and would hear no more about it.

The fire was blazing, the women's bedrolls were out and dinner was cooking. Warrior-Bard stood talking to Timothy for a few moments before picking up the small sack at his feet and disappearing into the surrounding woodland. He had taken the time to wash and put on clean leathers before strapping all his weapons and armour back into place. Timothy walked down to the women as they sat by the fire, Xena cleaning her weapons, Gabrielle turning the rabbit she had roasting.

Xena heard the horse come up behind her. She still felt a little odd talking to a horse but Gabrielle accepted the animal's intelligence and Xena didn't think it would be right to ignore him after all the help he had been to them over the past few weeks. "Will he be alright out there?" She asked the stallion.

Timothy snorted and nodded. Xena guessed that was a 'yes'.

"And he will be back at dawn?" She queried.

Another nod from the white stallion.

"What's the concern. Lover?" Gabrielle asked from the side of the fire. "He's been doing this for two years now."

"But this is the first time around us and I get a little nervous knowing the gods are so close. One or two of them would love nothing more than to interfere with us, you know." She explained.

"Oh, something tells me we're going to be just fine tonight. Right, Timothy." Gabrielle said.

If a horse could be said to laugh, well, that was exactly the impression he gave Xena as his head nodded up and down. It relaxed her a little but still didn't ease the worry from her mind. Somehow she thought she might be staying up tonight, just in case.

Deep in the forest, the Warrior-Bard had found what he was looking for. A tiny clearing with an old tree-stump in the middle of it. At some time in the past, a local farmer or forester had cut the tree down with a saw, leaving the flat stump behind. He decorated his impromptu altar with flowers he had collected along the way and placed the special grace blade he carried in the sack on top of the stump. He was probably the only man in all of Greece who could rightfully carry an Amazonian grace blade and more importantly, he knew exactly what this blade had been blessed for and who had actually blessed it for his use.

He took a tiny silver chalice from the sack and placed it in the exact center of his altar. Removing the final item from the sack, he folded it and lay on the ground nearby. He held the Amazonian prayer necklace in his hands, looking at the symbols carefully, appreciating the design and silently thanking the woman who had made this for him. Next to his sword, it was his most prized possession and one none outside the Amazon Nation had ever seen. Slipping it over his head, he prepared to wait until the sun had slipped below the horizon.

As the light of day faded around him, the full moon was just rising. He could see it through the trees. It was time for his vigil to begin.

Turning to the altar, he quietly said the prayers to Artemis as he had been taught. He didn't understand the language but he knew the intent and that was enough for him. He opened his heart to the Goddess. Taking the grace blade in his left hand, he cut a tiny wound into the palm of his right hand. Squeezing hard, he allowed several drops of blood to fall into the tiny chalice. From that point on, he was not permitted to touch the small silver cup until morning. It was his offering to the Goddess, Artemis. The only offering she would accept from him, his own blood.

As the first stars winked into existence in the sky over his head, he drew his sword from the sheath on his back and placing the point into the ground in front of him, he crossed both hands over the pommel. Facing the altar, he prepared to wait out his vigil to the Goddess.

Warrior-Bard caught himself just as he was sliding into sleep. His vigil was always a little difficult but he had been shorted a couple of nights rest and was feeling very tired. He looked overhead and saw the moon had set. Dawn was still a few candlemarks away yet but he was reasonably sure he could make it. To help him stay awake, he began to sing. He chose a song of love because that was what he had been feeling in his heart for some time now. A love he knew he must never let his two travelling companions see, if he wished to continue with them. Being honest with himself, he knew he'd fallen in love the moment the two women had stepped from the forest on that first night. Never had he been more struck by the beauty and passion of two women before. It had taken every ounce of his hard-won self-control not to let either of them see what was in his heart. Only his adherence to Tradition kept him from falling to his knees and begging them to return his feelings. They liked him yes, but they did not love him as he loved them. He had promised himself he would do nothing to endanger the love the women had for each other. Even if there were some kind of miracle, he could not allow them to love him. His deepest secret must never be revealed. He would die of shame first.

He could not tell the women how he felt so he sang instead. Filling the forest around him with the swelling vibrancy of his deep baritone voice. The sound carried on the light breeze, heard for miles around....

....Heard by a tall warrior woman sitting by the fire of her camp. Her lover's head resting on her strong thigh. The Bard looked up.

"It's him." She said. The sound had carried too far for either of the women to hear the words but the passion and love throbbed through the music so strongly and such power that even the warrior felt the tears gather in her eyes. The Bard wept openly. "I wonder who he is singing for tonight?" The power of the song touched the hearts and souls of both women, caressing their inner minds and releasing a longing neither would feel from some time but when the longing became love, there was no force that would be able to hold it back. Not even the greatest fear of a reluctant Warrior-Bard.

Warrior-Bard had been singing for a candlemark, pouring the feelings in his heart into the power of his song. He could no longer see, his electric blue eyes so filled with tears. Unable to continue, his voice stilled.

"Oh, please. Don't stop singing." Said a voice, lighter than a summer breeze, warming as hot mead on a cold winter's night.

Shaking the tears from his eyes, the Warrior-Bard looked at who had spoken. Before him stood a tall, incredibly beautiful woman wrapped in silks all the colours of the flowers of the land. Her skin glowed in the starlight, her eyes dark and liquid. It had to be a Goddess, though which one? The man thought he had met most of the Goddesses over the past few years but this was one he did not know.

"Who are you, Goddess?" He asked quietly, bowing his head to her.

"You don't know?" She laughed, a sound of tinkling rainbows filled the clearing. "You called me, after all."

Warrior-Bard thought for a moment and suddenly realised who it was before him. He dropped to one knee in homage to the beautiful woman. "Aphrodite." He said.

He felt her soft hands on his shoulders, drawing him back to his feet. "You do not have to pay homage to me, Warrior-Bard." She said. "Your music and love called me here. If anything, I am here to pay homage to you and that fine voice you have."

The man in white leather blushed deeply. "But I must, Goddess. I am a mere mortal and you are the most powerful force in the world."

Again the clearing filled with the tinkling bell-like laughter of Aphrodite. "Oh, if you must stand in awe of me then at least let me stand in awe of your voice. Who gave you such a powerful instrument that it can call a Goddess from her home?"

Warrior-Bard forced himself to look in the deep, liquid eyes of the Goddess. "I do not know, Aphrodite. It was mine when I woke two years ago, though I did not learn of its power until I became a Bard."

"Yes, that punishment the rest thought up for you. I really must talk to Zeus about having it lifted." The Goddess said, sounding a little annoyed.

"Please don't." he pleaded. "I was a man of great evil. I must have been for this to be my punishment. I'd rather not ever remember anything about my past. I wish to only continue with the good I have been tasked with. I want to go to Hades knowing only of the peace I have brought it the years I have left remaining. To remember the evil may only bring it back again."

"This is what you truly wish?" The Goddess asked seriously.

"Yes, it is my wish." Warrior-Bard replied.

"Then I will leave you as you are. But you must answer a question for me." Aphrodite said.

"I will try, Goddess."

"Why do you not tell Xena and Gabrielle of your feelings for them?" The Goddess tried to look stern but she had been quite captivated by the man's voice and the love he felt for the Warrior and the Bard. It was difficult to be anything but gentle with the man before her.

The man hung his head in shame. Forcing himself to speak, he said. "Much was taken from me." He felt the Goddess wrap her arms around him and the floodgate on his tears was opened.

Over his head he heard the Goddess say, "Perhaps too much."

He simply let himself wept against the breast of the greatest goddess of them all. When finally he opened his eyes, dawn had broken and he found himself lying before his impromptu altar. He did not remember falling asleep nor the Goddess leaving his side. Somehow, he thought Artemis would forgive him this one night.

He put away the chalice and grace blade, noticing that Artemis had at least accepted his blood offering again, for the silver cup was completely clean. It was only as he drew the prayer necklace from around his throat, he found a second had been added. A single golden chain with a silver disc on it. The disc had the double-headed broad axe of the Amazons on one side and several symbols he did not recognise on the other. The symbols didn't look like the Amazon writing he had on his prayer necklace, they were something different again. He wondered what they were and what they meant. The only thing he knew for sure, he was not to take this necklace off. Aphrodite herself had placed it on him. She was now claiming him as a favourite above all the other gods and goddesses. He wondered what *her* price would be.

Stepping back into the clearing where he had left the two women and his friend, Timothy, he realised how truly tired he was. The white stallion galloped up to him and offered him a support to lean on as he walked down to the fire. Both Xena and Gabrielle were up, having not slept the night before. Warrior-Bard staggered the last few steps and slumped by the fire. He looked up into the concerned blue eyes of the Warrior and the green of the Bard and promptly passed out from exhaustion. Dealing with the gods can be tiring business sometimes.

The humid, sticky heat of mid-summer was upon them and the travellers had decided to turn south in search of slightly cooler and more bearable weather. Both Xena and the Warrior-Bard were truly suffering under their leather clothing and metal armour. Gabrielle was spending more time on horseback than she liked but the heat of mid-day so tired her, it was either ride or pass out. Somehow, the Warrior-Bard managed to find a cooler place to camp each night and he always made sure there was plenty of running water so they could bathe and cool their over-heated bodies. He still made sure he was out of sight of the two women when they entered the water but they could call back and forth to each other, always remaining within earshot.

Three more full moons had passed since the man's meeting with Aphrodite on the night of his vigil and on those three nights, he did not return as exhausted as he had that first evening away from his travelling companions. Gabrielle still liked to tease him about the day he slept on the ground like other people and not in the trees like some big white bird. Her teasing generally ended up with her being soundly tickled by the Warrior-Bard until her cries for help would draw Xena to her aid and she would wrestle with the man until one or the other gave in. Neither woman ever knew their companion adored these moments when he could touch them, even though it was in play. He wasn't to know that they adore it just as much and for all the same reasons. The only times they felt they could legitimacy touch him was during these tickling and wrestling sessions or on those few occasions he was injured in a fight. He would bear the pain stoically, allowing only as much help as he truly needed. The man was a lot like Xena in that way.

Gabrielle had started to write the adventures they were having together. The man had forbidden any mention of where he was trained and what he may have done before waking in the glen. The Bard was a little miffed. Her imagination wanted desperately to fill in the gaps of his life, dreaming of him being the victim of the gods and not simply being punished for his *possible* evil past. He would also not permit any mention of the oath he had taken to Artemis. He said it was a private matter and not one he wanted to be public record. Xena had backed him on this and though the young Bard had grumped for a couple of days, her own common sense finally won out. So the addition of a third traveller to their adventures simply appeared without any kind of an explanation.

Day's end found them camped for the night already. The little band had taken to setting up for the night around mid-afternoon when the heat was at its most insufferable and making up the time by leaving again just before dawn to travel as far as possible in the cooler morning hours. The horses too, seemed to appreciate the change in the routine as they found the heat hard to deal with as well.

Xena was sitting breast deep in the cool water, Gabrielle against her chest. Just around the bend of the stream, they could both hear Warrior-Bard singing loudly as he scrubbed the sweat and grime from his body.

"Whatcha thinking about, Lover?" The blonde-haired woman asked.

There was a long pause before Xena answered. "Oh, nothing much." She replied.

Gabrielle flipped over in the water so she could look into the tall woman's intense blue eyes. "You know, you never did learn to lie very well." She said.

"Pest!" The tall woman said. She reached forward to kiss the Bard. She barely brushed her lips when Gabrielle pushed back in the water to escape her love's distraction.

"Oh no. You're not taking my mind off it that way." She giggled. "Come on. Out with it. Just what is on your mind that you don't want me to know about?"

The tall warrior blushed and looked at the trees on the other side of the stream. "You may not want to hear it." She said.

"Let me be the judge of that." Gabrielle replied. She already had some idea of what the other woman was thinking but the Bard wanted to hear Xena say it herself. For the past several weeks Xena had been mumbling in her sleep, waking Gabrielle. At first she thought she was having nightmares again but no screams broke the night and no crashing white shape appeared out of the trees overhead. The Warrior-Bard was usually by their side before the echo of the first of Xena's cries had died away. Somehow he always knew when Xena was being assaulted by her own private demons. And then he would sit for the rest of the night beside them, singing the frightened woman back into easy rest for as long as he could keep his powerful voice going.

It had taken Xena some years to admit to her feelings about the Bard and Gabrielle had almost had to drag it from her at the time. So if the taller woman was thinking what the Bard thought she was....Then the young woman was already way ahead of her. But she had to get Xena to admit it to herself first. It might be easier this time however. The past few years had seen the former warlord relax a lot and she was gradually becoming more open. Gabrielle knew that this was still going to be one Hades of a step for her though.

Seeing the unquestioning acceptance in her lover's eyes, Xena quietly said. "I've been thinking about knocking Warrior-Bard from his branch one night." The dark-haired woman quickly closed her eyes so she didn't have to see the pain she was sure would be on Gabrielle's face.

"A delayed interest in man-flesh? Or is there more to it?" The Bard asked gently. She had to draw the warrior out carefully or she would simply hide behind her walls again. Gabrielle had meant it all those moons ago when she said it was both of them or neither of them. And right now she wanted her hands, and other body parts, on that man as badly as she had once wanted to make love with Xena.

The warrior was crying openly now. "There is more to it." She said.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the love of her life, supporting her. "Tell me?" The Bard poured as much love and acceptance into those two words as she could. If Xena was going to take that step, now would be the time.

Xena was struggling with herself. She loved Gabrielle with all her heart and soul. Never did she want to endanger that by being unfaithful to her in any way. Yet that MAN!! He had wormed his way into her heart somehow, filled her dreams, poured emotional fire through the core of her being. She could barely manage to keep her hands to herself when he was around anymore. Gods, let alone her thoughts. She had lost track of the number of times she had stepped into the undergrowth, on the pretext of relieving herself, only to have her fingers dancing through her most sensitive parts as soon as she was out of sight. And all with thoughts of HIM in her head. The poor man was spending more time out of camp than in it lately as Xena wanted to make love with her Bard for hours and hours at a time, trying to drive the thoughts of his muscular body, his gentle hands, his expressive mouth, his exquisite baritone voice from her mind.

Years before, when Gabrielle had all but forced her to admit to the love she had in her heart and soul for the younger woman, she had pledged then to always be as honest with the Bard as she knew how to be. That openness had grown over the years together and now was not the time to try and hide. Gabrielle simply knew her too well. Feeling as though the words were being torn from the deepest part of her soul, knowing that saying them would destroy everything she and Gabrielle had together, she finally said the words she so wanted to say. "I'm in love with him, Gabrielle as much as I am in love with you." Then she broke down completely.

Gabrielle let the woman cry against her shoulder. She felt that the Warrior-Bard had left the campsite again, using that uncanny sixth sense of his, somehow knowing when the two women needed to be alone together. Though she was sure that blasted white stallion of his had something to do with it too. Gently drawing the taller woman with her, she guided Xena to the bank of the stream. The crying warrior genuinely wasn't aware of moving out of the water and onto the dry bank. Gabrielle was simply going to let her cry herself out for the moment. This might take some time.

It took a great deal longer than Gabrielle thought but it gave her a very strong indication of the depth of feeling the warrior had for her. Once Xena had calmed and the tears had stopped flowing, she seemed ready to listen again. The fact that the Bard's arms had never left Xena's body might have been part of that. Gently kissing the tall warrior's forehead and then her red and swollen eyelids, she slowly brought Xena back to her from that painfilled place she had taken herself. The young Bard knew that what she was about to say was probably going to shock the tall warrior speechless. Xena's eyes slowly opened.

Oh well, it was now or never. "Want to knock the great white bird from his perch tonight?" The young woman almost laughed aloud at the look on her lover's face. She *had* managed to shock her speechless.

Xena struggled to move away but Gabrielle's arms had grown very strong over the years from wielding her staff. She simply hung on. If Xena was genuine in her attempt to get away, she probably could have done so. Finally relaxing again, she found her voice, or what was left of it and started with her own barrage of questions. "I think you had better tell me what you've been feeling." She said, fear making her voice squeak a little.

"Easy! I adore the man. I think he is the most wonderful man I have ever met in a skirt." Gabrielle just couldn't keep the grin from her face. She had been dying to say that to Xena for weeks now. She wanted to say it to Warrior-Bard just as much but first, her lover had to get comfortable with the idea of having a man in their lives.

In the smallest, quietest voice she had ever heard Xena use, the tall woman asked the next question. One that was logical in her own mind. She was about to find out that Gabrielle did not have a logical mind at all. "Do you still adore me?"

"With all my heart and soul. How could I not be in love with the most wonderful woman on earth." The Bard replied. Gabrielle saw the next question coming but she had been thinking about how to answer just this query for weeks. She hoped she had an answer Xena could understand.

"How can you be in love with me....and Warrior-Bard too?" Xena was completely confused because she found herself in the position of doing both as well and she didn't understand how she could do that.

"Do you think the heart is such a tiny place that there is only room for one?" The young woman questioned right back. There, that should set her back on her heels for a minute.

Actually, it was a lot longer than a minute but Gabrielle was patient while Xena fumbled her way to her own understanding. The dark-haired, blue eyed warrior might be the best there was with the sword but when it came to emotions she still had some way to go and the Bard was more than happy to help her learn.

Xena was starting to see the sense of the question the young Bard had thrown at her. "So someone can be in love with more than one person and love both just as much?"

"I do believe you are starting to see the light. I'm in love with you for who you are and I am in love with Warrior-Bard for who he is. Two different people, two different reasons but just as much love for both." Gabrielle explained.

The most wondrous smile suddenly beamed out of Xena's face. She did

"Do you think he feels the same way about us?" The dark-haired woman asked.

"I'm willing to bet dinars on it!" The Bard replied. "I've been watching him for weeks and weeks now, the same way I used to watch you when I was trying to figure out how *you* felt. I can tell you, he is definitely in love with both of us. Just think of all the things he does for us. Singing you to sleep after a nightmare and losing his own rest is just the start of it."

Xena thought for a few moments and realised there were so many little things he did for them, that neither one really noticed because he did them so quietly. Which was exactly what he wanted. Well, Gabrielle had noticed but she always had been better with that kind of thing. The more she thought about it, the more she saw he had probably been in love with them for moons, if not from the very beginning. It was so like when she fell in love with Gabrielle. All the little things she did for the tall warrior and not once did she really notice until the Bard had forced her to see what was right under her very nose. She sighed. One day she was going to get the hang of all this emotional stuff.

Then she brightened. This time was going to be much more fun. This time she knew what was going on and was part of the seduction, not the one being seduced. She could hardly wait. What made it all the more enjoyable for her was the fact she was going to be sharing this all with the woman of her dreams. She almost laughed. The woman of her dream and the man of her dreams. What more could a warrior ask for!

The warrior's arms tightened around her lover, silently thanking the day Gabrielle had been stubborn enough to follow her. Giggling like children, they plotted when to knock the Warrior-Bard from his perch in the trees.

When Warrior-Bard finally returned to the campsite, he saw immediately that whatever had been plaguing the women for the past several weeks, the Lady-Warrior in particular, must have finally been resolved because both women had huge grins on their faces. He had spent an increasingly miserable afternoon, wandering the forest and generally staying out of the way so his two travelling companions could have some privacy. It seemed to him that every time he left the camp lately he was in tears. The love he felt for them was torturing his soul and there was nothing he could do. He simply couldn't allow them to see what was in his heart. He had ended up sitting on a rock out-cropping a few miles from camp, gently rubbing his fingers over the disc given to him by Aphrodite. He would have loved to have sung again but he was too close to camp and the women would surely have heard him. On those occasions he gave vent to his feelings through song, his voice grew more powerful than it usually was and seemed to carry a great deal further. He had finally tucked the disc back under his shirt where he kept it hidden and started the journey back to camp.

From the moment, he realised the Goddess had placed the disc on him, Warrior-Bard had worn it carefully hidden from the two women. He wasn't quite sure why he did this but Aphrodite had claimed him as her own, above all the other gods and goddesses, and somehow he didn't feel up to explaining it to his companions why the Goddess of Love had claimed as him as her special favourite. Especially the Lady-Bard. She always seemed to be able to worm the truth out of him no matter how he tried to keep it hidden. He was surprised she hadn't guessed of his love and wormed *that* out of him too. But he couldn't let it happen. The shame simply ran too deeply.

Warrior-Bard had managed to behave fairly normally for most of the evening as he watched the two women cuddled up closely beside each other. He listened attentively as the Bard had spun another of her wonderful tales but eventually, he couldn't take it anymore. Rather than break the Traditions he held so dear, he pleaded a slight headache and climbed into the branches above the women. He fully expected to lay awake for hours as he had been doing for so many nights lately but perhaps the gods took pity on him this night and he had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep within moments of dropping his head on his hands.

"Can you see him?" Gabrielle asked, peering up into the branches over her head. She still couldn't get over how hard he was to spot, regardless of all that white leather.

"I know he has been sleeping lower down lately but he is still too high for us to reach him, even if you stood on my shoulders. I can see him though. Looks like he's out cold." The tall warrior replied.

The Bard couldn't help herself and she giggled quietly. "Maybe that is the challenge of the Tradition. Finding a way to get a man out of the trees to begin with."

"I might be able to climb up there and get him but somehow I don't think that is what he meant when he said the women of his people 'knock' men out of the trees. I think we really do have to find a way to push him off that branch." Xena said. It was fairly clear Warrior-Bard wasn't going to wake. The two women had been standing under the tree for ten minutes now and he hadn't even twitched.

Timothy quietly strolled into the firelight, his white coat ruddy from the flames. He gave Gabrielle a tiny nudge to move her out of his way and brushed his nose against her staff, leaning on the tree Warrior-Bard was sleeping in. Then he simply stood under the branch, inviting her to climb on his back. It took the Bard only a few moments to catch on. Xena was a shade slower but she wasn't as used to talking to the stallion as Gabrielle.

"Do you know what he wants, Gabrielle." The warrior asked.

"Oh, yes." She replied. She had already grabbed her staff and was climbing up on the tall stallion's rump. "Look how much taller he is to you."

The white horse's rump was a good two hands higher than Xena was at the shoulder. She quickly caught on once she saw the mount was going to actually help them. Xena braced herself on the ground under the spot she felt the Warrior-Bard would fall. Somehow, she didn't think it fair he hit the ground. He was a big man but she knew she could at least break the fall and cushion his landing. He was going to be surprised enough as it was without adding bruises to everything as well.

Gabrielle stretched up with her staff and gently placed one end against his knee. Tip the man there and he should slide right off the branch. Looking down, she grinned at the woman of her life and she prepared to knock the soon-to-be man of her life from his branch. She shoved with all her not inconsiderable strength and watched with breath held as he tipped then slid completely from the limb over her head. She honestly felt he didn't wake until he was halfway to the ground and in no position to do a thing to save himself.

The tall warrior saw the white shape falling towards her. She held out her strong arms and flexed her knees to help break his fall. He hit her chest, her arms clutching around his body on reflex, her knees bending to take the strain of his heavy body. Xena couldn't catch and hold him so she simply broke the fall and let both of them hit the ground together. Gabrielle was laughing aloud over her head but was soon at her side, helping the warrior from under the leather clad man.

Warrior-Bard sat blinking on the ground, looking up at the two women over him. Both had huge grins on their faces and Gabrielle was having trouble keeping her giggles from taking control completely. He started to grin himself, their joy was so infectious until he realised what they had just done and exactly what it meant. He stopped smiling and began to scoot backwards on his behind trying to get away from them. He didn't get far because Timothy simply walked over to him and planted one solid hoof in the middle of Warrior-Bard's chest, pinning him to the ground. The string of abuse that suddenly flowed from the man's mouth towards the big white stallion first shocked and then absolutely delighted the two women.

"Hey look! He's human after all." Xena said. She hadn't heard such creative swearing since her days as a warlord. It was actually quite stunning to know he could speak this way. Politeness had its place but both Xena and Gabrielle liked to use some of the more earthy words they knew in their love-making. It added a little extra spice to everything.

The man lay there, his emotions conflicting within him. He was furious with Timothy for interfering with the situation. He was madly and passionately in love with these two resourceful women. He was delighted they had taken the initiative and followed his own Tradition in knocking him from the tree. And he felt as though he was about to die of shame. If only the earth would simply open up under him and let him fall into the lowest bowels of Hades. Somehow, he just knew if he pleaded with the gods for this to happen, they would choose that moment to be completely deaf.

The Warrior and the Bard knelt down on either side of the leather clad man's head. Something told them that this was not going quite the way it should.

"Is there some kind of a problem with your traditions when two women want the same man?" Xena asked thinking this might be the trouble.

Warrior-Bard shook his head. "No. Two or more women can take one man if they so choose. One woman can take several men if she is so inclined." He explained between clenched teeth.

Gabrielle touched Xena's arm for a moment. "Let's start at the beginning." She said. "Warrior-Bard, look at me." She was using a tone of voice Xena called her 'command voice'. She smiled. The tall warrior adored it when her lover used the same tone with her sometimes, in the right situation. Another little love game they played with each other.

The man looked up reluctantly.

"Do you love us?" Gabrielle asked as gently as she could.

Warrior-Bard's head swung first to the young woman and then to the warrior kneeling by his side. "More than life itself, Lady-Bard. More than life itself." He replied. That part of this entire situation was easy to admit.

"And we both love you." The woman pointed to both herself and Xena. "So, there is no restriction in your traditions about the joining, you love us and we love you. What is the problem?"

The man closed his eyes and tears began to stream down his face. No matter how much he felt for these two amazing women, nothing, not even an appearance of the great Zeus himself, would get him to openly speak of his greatest shame.

Both women were very confused and at a complete loss about what to do next. Once again, Timothy, the man's trusted mount and treasured friend decided to 'interfere'.

Leaning his head down, he set his clever teeth to the task of untying the Amazon skirt the man wore. Warrior-Bard felt what the horse was doing and quickly reached down to try to stop him. But Xena and Gabrielle were faster and grabbed his arms, holding them above his head. The man lay shaking his head back and forth, silently mouthing 'no', even more tears coursing down his cheeks. Finally getting the knot untied, the stallion took first one side and then the other and flicked the skirt open, exposing the man to the light of the fire and the curious gaze of the two women. The stallion removed his restraining hoof from the man's chest and wandered out of the campsite itself. There was no more he needed to do now. It was up to the women and the love they felt for the Warrior-Bard.

The man, so mortified and humiliated he felt he must die at that very moment, heard Xena gasp. Gabrielle, still holding his arm but a great deal more gently now, leaned forward and kissed his ear. Whispering into it, she said. "And this is a problem?"

The Warrior-Bard couldn't quite believe what he had just heard. The women were *not* shocked and repulsed by what they saw? The gods, when deciding his punishment, had taken not just his memories from him but they had also removed his male member and given him that of a female. To add to the shame, they had even made the soft downy hair covering him two different colours, one side was black and the other was blonde. He had grown used to it over time yet still thought it a little odd. Only once in the past two years had anyone else ever seen this. That person was the priestess of the Amazon village where he had been trained. He had been forced to strip in front of her on the first morning of his arrival. Once she had seen enough of his naked body, and his shame, she had gone to the debate and fought for him to remain with them, never once mentioning why she argued so hard. He had fully intended hiding his secret for the rest of his life, never taking a lover, never allowing himself to be seen.

And now he lay, fully exposed to the two women who meant the most to him, and they were delighted. He simply couldn't take it all in.

"But I am not 'whole', I'm not a true man." He sobbed.

Xena was now also kissing his ear and working her way towards his lips. "The man you truly are is between your ears, not between your legs." She said. And she meant every word.

Opening his eyes for the first time, he looked up at the two women. Gabrielle nodded her agreement to Xena's statement. She couldn't have put any better herself. "Please, may I sit up. If you can find it in your hearts to accept me as I am, then maybe I can learn to as well. But there is something else we need to talk about first and I don't think I can do it if I am lying here exposed to you." He said quietly.

Both women wondered what was going on now. At least he wasn't trying to run away from them anymore, which was a blessing. This seduction was not going to the way they had planned but they were learning more about this wonderful man every minute. They had waited this long, so a little longer was not going to kill either of them, though they were both feeling the fires of their own passions burning its way through their bodies. If he took too long, the man might find he had one of their willing rapes on his hands.

Covered and seated between the two women on their bedroll, he tried to explain something of his Tradition to them. To him, an important part of it. A part he couldn't ignore no matter what.

"I do not know my own name." He said. "The name given to me at the moment of my birth. You only know of what I am, the Warrior-Bard, not who I am. I don't even know. The gods took that from me."

"And this is important in some way?" Gabrielle asked. Xena sat on the other side of the Warrior-Bard, refusing to let go of his hand.

"Yes. Among my people we are known by what we are. You are the Lady-Bard." He explained to the young woman. "And you are the Lady-Warrior." He said to Xena. "The only people who know *who* we are is the priestess who names us and the lover or lovers we take as an adult. To know a person's true name gives you great power over them. We do not hand it out lightly."

Xena nodded in understanding. She had heard of this from some of the tribes further east. "So, if we do not know your name....What does it mean?" She asked. In her heart she already knew but needed to hear it from him.

"It means I cannot take a lover. Any lover, until the day the gods return my name to me." Warrior-Bard said sadly.

"That's not fair!" Gabrielle snapped.

"Who said the gods ever were." He replied. He hung his head in misery. These women could accept his shame and still love him anyway. But with no name to give them, there was little he could do. His own honour would not permit him to compromise his Traditions.

Xena's hand was gently massaging the back of the Warrior-Bard neck, trying to ease some of the tension she could feel there. Her hand brushed against the golden chain he had kept hidden there for the past few moons. The chain and disc placed there by Aphrodite's own hand.

"What's this?" She asked curiously. The chain had all but clung to her fingertips as she brushed against it, like it wanted to be shown for some reason.

Surprised, the man drew the chain from under his shirt. "It is a disc Aphrodite placed around my neck on the first night I stood vigil away from you. She has claimed me as her special favourite, above all the other gods and goddesses of the Mount." He showed the disc to Xena with the broad axe facing upward.

"The double-headed broad axe of the Amazon Nation. A symbol of power among them." The tall warrior said. "What's on the other side?"

"Just some symbols in a language I cannot read." The man said. "I don't know what they mean but the Goddess put them there for a reason. Maybe one day I will know what that reason is."

"Let me see." Gabrielle said.

The Warrior-Bard turned towards the young woman flipping the disc in his hand as he did so. Gabrielle tilted the disc so it was better lit by the light of the fire. Carefully looking at the symbols, she said quietly. "I can read this." Pointing to each symbol as she read, she slowly spelt out a word. "A...N...D...R...A...U...S. Andraus! It's a name. Your name. Given to you by Aphrodite herself." She said excitedly. "Surely, if a goddess names you that means more than the name you were given at birth!!"

The Warrior-Bard sat completely stunned. It was true. A goddess given name *was* more powerful than any given at birth. He had pleaded with her not to give back his memories of the past so she had given him something else instead. Something of a far greater value to him. A name.

Xena leaned towards the Warrior-Bard, Andraus, and whispered throatily in his ear. "Well, are you going to sit there all night like someone had hit you with a broad sword or are you finally going to get around to taking us as your own?" Her hand was already creeping across his thigh, headed up his skirt. Xena smiled. She was going to like being around a man who wore clothing that made access so easy.

Grinning madly, the man stood up. If he was going to adhere to his Traditions then there was one final one he had to perform, even though he would have gladly just lain down and let things happen. He could smell the need of the two women and it was exciting him in ways he didn't think possible. Facing Gabrielle and Xena, he knelt on one knee, bowed his head and began to recite the ritual response of a man who had been knocked from the trees by a woman....or two women in this case.

You have plucked me from the branches like the ripe fruit that I am.

You wish to eat of my firm flesh,

To drink in my sweet juices,

To nourish yourselves with my love.

From today until forever,

You have claimed me as your own.

No other will I seek,

Unless it is your desire also.

No other will I follow,

Unless you send me on my way.

I give to you the greatest power one man can ever offer.

I am the Warrior-Bard.

I am Andraus.

Looking back up again, he could see both women had tears flowing down their cheeks. He repeated the last two lines to them. "I am the Warrior-Bard. I am Andraus." He reached forward and took the hands of the two women he had just pledged himself to. Neither knew what the correct reply was supposed to be but Gabrielle was the Bard and she kept it simple, knowing Xena was not the best with honey-coated words.

"I love you, Andraus. I am the Bard. I am Gabrielle." She said.

Xena caught on quickly and with a catch in her throat, she said to the man kneeling before her. "I love you, Andraus. I am the Warrior. I am Xena."

It was enough. It satisfied his honouring of his Traditions. As far as the man was concerned, they were joined as tightly as if a priestess had done it for them.

"Now get that amazing body of yours over here before one of us women decides rape is the order of the day." Gabrielle said. She was using that 'command voice'. Xena was delighted all over again. Warrior-Bard was on the bedroll like he had been shot from a bow.

The poor man was in a bit of a quandary. Two women he wanted to kiss and touch but he only had one mouth. Thankfully, his own Tradition came to his rescue again. He leaned towards Xena, as the older of the two, and laid his lips gently against hers. He tried to pour as much of his love and desire in that single kiss as he possibly could. It must have worked because the tall warrior was left utterly breathless by the time he raised his head again.

Gabrielle had watched as her warrior lover had simply melted against the Andraus's body during that long kiss. No fight, no struggle, she had simply surrendered to the power of the big man's love and desire. She could feel the heat between her own legs rise a couple of notches. The strength of her own passions still surprised her, even after all these years of making love with her Warrior Princess.

The Warrior-Bard turned and drew Gabrielle into his well-muscled arms and she found herself falling into his impossibly blue eyes. She honestly felt she would have happily drowned in them but there was something else she wanted to drown in first and that was the passion of this man. His lips tenderly drew her in and she could feel the electric charge as it raced down her body, her nipples coming erect, her center overflowing even more than it had been before. It was a kiss as powerful as any as Xena had given her and now she had two of them to take her mind away from herself. If Xena had thought she was greedy before, the warrior hadn't seen anything yet.

While Gabrielle and Andraus were busy overwhelming each other, and the man was being as overwhelmed by the young Bard as she was by him, Xena's hands had been busy. She methodically unbuckled and stripped the Warrior-Bard many weapons from him, placing them all within easy reach if it became necessary. (Though she would have killed anyone who came into camp at that very moment!) She quickly had his boots and skirt off but had to wait until he raised his head again before stripping his shirt from his body. As she waited, she began to strip both herself and Gabrielle. This woman was not going to waste any time!

Unable to stop herself, she gently reached out and stroked the man's two-tone hair. It was the softest she had ever felt before. Looking a little closer, she saw that it was the exact colour of both her and Gabrielle. Maybe the gods had known what they were doing when they removed his male member.

The man had felt the gentle touch and he groaned deep in his throat, the sound almost vibrating around the two women. He had never been able to bring himself to touch those parts of his body the gods had changed but at that moment, he knew what the throbbing of his heartbeat deep in his groin meant and the hot wetness he could feel almost dripping from his opening.

Gabrielle pushed against him to make him lie down. Something he was happy to do, he was shuddering and trembling so much. She quickly straddled his stomach, sliding her hot wetness across the skin. Andraus felt a fresh flood of hot desire flow from him. This was far beyond the quick thrust and release he could remember. This was what other men missed out on because they could not control themselves. And it was all his.

Xena was not letting herself be left out of this either. She had shift down until she lay between the man's legs, lifting his powerful thighs over her strong shoulders. Everything was so close. She could reach up and kiss the sensitive parts of Gabrielle's lower back and breathe in the scents of the man she loved at the same time. It was a more savoury than sweet odour, unlike her Bard, who was all sweet. She could smell the familiar musky odour of a woman but it was overlaid with the scent of Andraus. It was intoxicating, to say the least. For a moment, Xena thought she might just give up on food. She had a full meal here between her two lovers. The savoury and the sweet.

The heat was everywhere. Xena's hot breath between his legs. Gabrielle's hot wetness against his stomach. His own heat pouring through him. The sensations so overwhelming, Andraus honestly didn't know what to do first. So Gabrielle helped him.

Taking his hand, she folded two fingers down over his palm. She took his hand and guided it towards her waiting opening. Raising herself a little, she placed his outstretched fingers against herself and lowered her body onto them. Andraus felt the internal muscles close around his fingers firmly. He groaned in unison with the young Bard.

Xena had watched as her Bard lover had raised and lowered herself onto Andraus's strong fingers. Taking it as a cue for herself, she slid two fingers deeply into the Warrior-Bard. His hips bucked up, forcing his own fingers deeper into Gabrielle. The young woman fell forward so she could kiss the man lying beneath her. The tall warrior couldn't believe how exciting the image before her eyes made her feel. Her own fingers in the hot depths of the man she loved and the sight of his fingers inside the body of her Bard lover. It was almost more than she could bear. She let her hand gently slide back and forth several times, Andraus's hips soon picking up the rhythm, moving his hand at the same time into the Bard on top of him.

It was more than the tall woman could stand. She withdrew her fingers from the man's body and quickly shifted them down her own. She found what she was looking for within moments. Her own hardness, swollen and demanding attention. She dropped her face towards Andraus and sought out his small hardness with her lips and tongue.

Gabrielle was pushing firmly against the fingers she had inside her, feeling Andraus's hips moving in almost the same rhythm. She growled into his ear. "Oh gods. More. I want to really feel you there, Andraus." She knew it was going to be a stretch. His hands were much larger than Xena's and she could just take three of her long fingers inside her. The Bard lifted herself a little higher so the man could move a third finger into her opening. It was a stretch. Right on the edge of being painful. But the younger woman was not stopping for anything. Her passions had control now and she wanted to overload herself with the sensations. Within strokes, it had become truly pleasurable again and she let herself go completely. Gabrielle threw her head back and just let the growls and cries flow from her throat. She could feel the pressure building but something was missing for her. That something was Xena. Stopping for a moment, she lifted herself off the man's hand, spun around and now facing the other way, thrust herself back down again. The young Bard leaned over the man's thighs, raised on the warrior's strong shoulders and could look down at the tall woman as she had her face buried deeply into the man's hot opening. Placing her hands on Xena's shoulders, any restraint she may have had left her utterly.

Xena tongue was busy with the small hardness she had found within Andraus and with what her own hand was doing to herself. She never noticed that Gabrielle had turned around so she could see her. Gently stroking and fondling herself, as she had done so many times over the past few weeks, she was in bliss. This was the image she held in her mind as she had sought a quick release in the undergrowth. Over her head she could hear the cries and near-screams of Gabrielle and this encouraged her further. The man's hips were rocking strongly and she could feel that he was getting close to his own release. Quickening the pace of her own fingers, she soon caught up with him.

Andraus didn't know what to think. Gabrielle's wetness was dripping down his hand and onto his skin, Xena's mouth driving at some sensitive spot between his legs he didn't know he had there. The thrust of the Bard against his fingers and the hot wetness of Xena's mouth pushed him towards the edge of some cliff. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut, his breathing coming in ragged gasps, sweat pouring from his body. For one brief instant he hovered on the edge of that high cliff. One last flick of Xena's tongue against him and he threw himself from the top, howling his way into release.

Gabrielle felt the Warrior-Bard stiffen for a moment under her. She was on the same edge and when his voice roared from his throat, she found herself jamming herself down on his fingers as her own release took over. Her fingers sank into the muscles of Xena's shoulders, leaving bruises in their wake. Her own voice screamed out with the man's, matching him in orgasmic harmony.

And Xena heard them both. It was too much for the warrior. It pushed her over as well, her hips rocking in unison with the two other lovers above her.

All three collapsed in a ragged and exhausted heap. It was several long minutes before any could find the strength to do much at all. The experience had been so overwhelming for everyone.

Finally they managed to find enough energy of crawl together and hold on to each other. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said. Arms wrapped around both women, Xena and Gabrielle tucked up against Andraus's sides, the three lovers dropped off into a sleep filled with the dreams of each other.


Timothy paced around the edge of the clearing, once again guarding his charge, a protective spirit in the night. The three lovers lay sprawled out together near the rapidly dying fire, one of the women having thrown the blanket over the rest. At the far end of the clearing, near the treeline, the white stallion spotted a faintly glowing light. He headed quietly for it. He knew this was no enemy but rather someone he wanted to talk to.

"Hi Timothy." A voice like a cooling summer shower said.

"Evening to you, Aphrodite." The horse's light tenor mind-voice filling the Goddess's head. The same mind-voice Andraus had been hearing for two years. A voice the women would soon be hearing too, once they woke from their exhausted sleep.

The woman glanced down at the sleeping people near the fire. "Seems the Power finally broke through." She said.

"One can't deny Love for long. Especially a love that strong." Timothy replied.

A tinkling laugh surrounded the stallion. "I'm surprised Xena managed to hold out for as long as she did. But she always did have a strong will, that one." Aphrodite reached up and gently patted the white shape next to her. "I'm glad Gabrielle forced the issue though. I don't think I could have stood much more of the pain from my Warrior-Bard."

"He was pretty miserable, wasn't he." Timothy said. Changing the subject, he continued. "Do you think the rest of the gods will ever lift his punishment?"

"I doubt it. He did truly annoy Zeus trying to bring that army of his up Mount Olympus. I'm surprised someone didn't fry him on the spot with a lightning bolt." The Goddess sighed. "I'm glad I took the time to look into his heart. Most of it we *did* bring on ourselves, you know. We're such a bunch of meddling old busy-bodies sometimes. I guess we do occasionally forget that these mortals have free will and we gave it to them."

"Now what?" The stallion asked.

"Oh, now they learn about being the three sides of the whole. It will be a while before the Power those three carry between them will be needed but when it is...." Aphrodite shuddered for a moment.

"When it is, they will be ready." The horse replied simply.

The Goddess looked into the brown eye of the stallion. "You ready to come back yet?" She asked.

"No. I have grown to like this trio and if they are going to learn how to use and manipulate the Power they have then they are going to need someone to teach them. There is simply too much Power there for them to be having casual accidents as they find out what it can do." Timothy nickered, laughing at the thought of the accidents the trio were going to have anyway.

"Whenever you're ready, my friend." The Goddess said.

"I'll let you know." The horse replied.

The Goddess faded into the night until not even the after-image of her faint light was in the stallions' eyes anymore. He turned and once more began to pace out his watch.

The End

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