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"If it's any consolation, Eponin looked even worse than you do," Gabrielle said as she offered a helping shoulder to the seated warrior.

Taking the offered help, Xena allowed the bard to assist her back into the other room and lower her into a chair. "The next time I drink that much wine with an Amazon warrior, especially Eponin, just slit my throat before I get a chance to sober up again, will you, Gabrielle," Xena snarled. Holding her hand to her head, the warrior tried to remember everything that had happened the night before. "What time did I get back here?" she asked.

"Well after moonset, Xena. Do you recall what you got up to?" the bard queried. It was fairly obvious the blonde had some secret she was dying to share and Xena was not going to like hearing.

"Some. I lost track about the fourth bottle, I think," Xena answered.

"Hmmm, I counted eight. Five in the Queen's room, mostly on the floor. One bobbing around in the hot springs. One in the middle of the compound and one more at the training grounds. Eponin's sword was still there, as was your chakram. Stuck in one of the targets they use for bow practise, by the way. Oh, and your breast dagger and Eponin's knife are jammed between the stonework outside the temple door. Wanna hear the rest?" Gabrielle asked. She was enjoying this far too much but the warrior had rarely, if ever, gotten as drunk as she was the night before and it was fun to tease her about it.

"Might as well kill me. I'm close to death as it is," Xena replied a little dramatically. It was true though, she might as well hear about what she and Eponin did together while she was feeling too hungover to die of humiliation.

Gabrielle keeping talking as she put together some willowbark tea and added several herbs to the hot water to help settle Xena's still rebellious stomach. She knew exactly which herbs to use having gone through this same experience with Eponin not two candlemarks before, and she really had looked a lot worse than Xena did this morning. "The guards said they saw you and Eponin come stumbling out of the palace, giggling away merrily, bottles in hand. You both headed over to the training ground and played about there for a while then you decided to turn the door of the temple into a practise target and started throwing your knives at it. The priestess had a complete fit this morning when she saw the gouge marks in the door and around the frame. Never seen you so bad with a knife before, Xena," Gabrielle giggled as she handed the hot medicinal tea to the warrior.

"I'm surprised I found the door at all, there or here for that matter," Xena answered, sipping at the tea and enjoying the way it cleared the foul taste from her mouth. The scowl was still on her face but so far she hadn't done anything the night before to be really embarrassed about. She had simply enjoyed a little drunken fun with the other warrior.

"From the temple, you must have decided to have a wash or something because one of the guards saw you both headed for the springs. I'm surprised you didn't drown over there, to be honest," Gabrielle said a little worried.

"I don't think I got into the water judging from the way I smell this morning," Xena replied. The herbs were starting to have an effect and she no longer felt like she wanted to be sick again. Her head was still pounding though, and it might be a while before that stopped. "What did we do after that, as if you aren't going to tell me."

"The guard told me..." Gabrielle started to say.

"No, wait. I remember this. Eponin wanted to run naked through the forest, Said it would be good for her soul or some such thing," Xena said, blushing a little. Did I do it too, she wondered.

"Well, Eponin got her wish and set a new Amazon record for the fifty pace nude dash, tripped over you; though what you were doing sitting in the middle of the compound is beyond me, and then passed out. You carried her back to her own hut and then somehow found your way back here." Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the embarrassed warrior. "You were fully dressed when you finally staggered in, just in case you are wondering."

Xena breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't mind being seen naked, it simply wasn't something that ever bothered her but the thought of running naked and drunk through the forest with every Amazon guard in the village seeing her was not a pleasant thought. They could have assumed she had lost her senses again. The warriors were just starting to relax around her as it was.

As though she was reading Xena's mind, Gabrielle said, "If nothing else, you've done your reputation wonders."

"How?" the tall woman grumbled back.

"You're human again," Gabrielle replied simply. "Now, if you feel up to it, I think a hot bath and a small bite to eat will do you more good than anything I else I can come up with right now. What do you say?" The bard was loving the chance to pamper the warrior a little, even if it was just the aftermath of too much Amazon wine. Usually it was the other way around.

"Sounds fine. But can I bathe in here, please? I'm not quite ready to face the world just yet," Xena asked. Her head was still pounding so hard that she might accidentally break someone in two if they bumped into her. "Oh, and please. No food just yet. I think I just want a few waterbags around today."

"What, my big, scary warrior afraid she might shrivel in the light of day?" Gabrielle laughed back, dancing away from the playful slap Xena headed in the direction of her butt. "Give me a minute and I'll get some hot water organised. If you're real nice to me, I might even let you wash my back too."

Xena smiled. She intended to wash far more than Gabrielle's back, hangover or no hangover.


Jadax stared at the ceiling, wondering if the gods had it in for her. Just lately, she always seemed to be laid up in a bed for one reason or another. First she breaks her ankle fighting raiders in the western border then she hurts it again, the very day she gets the splints taken off, when she did her marathon run from the mountain pass lookout and now she had hurt her back and was in bed once more. Sighing, she turned her head and watched the patch of sky she could see through the open window next to the bed. From where she was lying, she could just make out the top of a Royal guard's head at the bottom of the window frame.

The healer had come by again earlier in the day with one of her apprentices to gently massage her back so she wouldn't get any pressure sores from lying so still but it had been a rather painful experience to say the least. Not that lying on the board the woman had slid under the mattress was any more comfortable. She wasn't even allowed to have a pillow because the healer wanted Jadax to lie as flat as possible so her back would heal properly. Jadax never doubted for a heartbeat she would get better again, she just wished she didn't have to lie in bed to do it.

Gabrielle had stayed with her for a while earlier in the morning, telling her a few stories and of course, regaling her with the tale of Xena and Eponin's drunken night together. "Wish I could have seen that for myself," she muttered. The bard had left around mid-morning to deal with the aftermath of all that wine. Eponin had been the first awake apparently and had been calling pitifully for someone to put her out of her misery. The blonde had gone over to Eponin's hut to attend to her because she said she needed to practise for when Xena woke. "Xena with a hangover. Now there is something else I would have liked to have seen with my own eyes," she mumbled grumpily.

Then there was Ephiny. The Queen had slept on a pallet on the floor so she wouldn't jiggle Jadax's back in the night. The little scout would have much preferred if she had slept next to her but could see the sense in Ephiny sleeping where she did. Jadax wanted to feel her arms around her lover just to reassure herself that she was all right. The sight of Kaliope leaping towards the Queen had almost stopped her heart but she had been expecting the big woman to do something to express her anger at the judgement Ephiny had handed down. "Didn't know I could move that fast though," she said aloud. "Even faster than Xena." That had really surprised her but Jadax assumed Xena's attention had probably been on her own lover, Gabrielle.

From the corner of her eye, Jadax saw the door slowly open and Ephiny back into the room with a tray in her hands. "I still think you have the best behind in the Amazon Nation," she said wickedly as the Queen turned around carefully.

Blushing, Ephiny shot back, "And you have the smoothest tongue." Realising what she had just said, the Amazon Queen turned an even brighter shade of red. "Oh, sometimes," she started.

"I know. I know. I am supposed to be hurt but I gotta have some fun or I'll go mad just lying here," Jadax said, her eyes twinkling with laughter.

Ephiny settled the tray on a small stand beside the bed and pulled a chair over so she could sit facing Jadax. "Thought you might like something for nooning," she offered.

"You're not going to feed me again, are you?" the scout asked.

"Yep. After watching you pour half your breakfast up your nose this morning, I think I'd rather know you are getting something into you by a more conventional route," Ephiny answered, tucking a cloth under Jadax's chin and picking up a bowl from the tray.

"If you stayed away from the soups, stews and broths, I might do a little better," the small woman grumbled to Ephiny. "I just can't see where the blasted spoon is going lying here flat on my back."

"Well, I can. So quit the moaning and open your mouth," the other woman replied as she started spooning a rich, meaty broth into Jadax. "I did bring some flatbread and your favourite cheese as well. I figure you can handle those without getting too much into your ears this time."

For the next several minutes, Ephiny chatted away happily as she feed the broth to Jadax. She was pleased the healer felt the scout would recover, given enough time but only if the Queen could keep her still. Not an easy task, Jadax was used to being very active as a forest scout, but a task Ephiny was more than pleased to perform. She still couldn't get over how the small woman had thrown herself at Kaliope the day before. She had spent a quiet candlemark locked in the bathing room at dawn, crying out her fears and now felt much better as a result. Jadax was alive and would be back on her feet in a seven-day or so and that was all that mattered to the Queen right now.

"Oh, and the trade delegation will be arriving sometime tomorrow afternoon," Ephiny said, not really thinking about what she was telling the other woman. She was simply making conversation to help take Jadax's mind off having to be fed like an infant.

The scout coughed up her last mouthful of broth. "What?" she spluttered. "That's days earlier than we expected them. I won't be fit to stand with you by then."

"Oops," Ephiny exclaimed. "I hadn't thought of that." The Queen realised she didn't want to be away from her lover right now and even if she was, she wouldn't be able to give her full concentration to the negotiations anyway. She was more concerned with keeping the other woman still and flat so she could heal. Ephiny hadn't really thought about what to do with the delegation coming from the five villages on their western border. "No, wait. I think it will be all right. Gabrielle was going to help me with the negotiations. I think if I ask her, she might be willing to take my place. She does have the authority to make the arrangements and she probably knows more about what the other women want than I do at the moment."

"So, ask. I know I am simply being selfish by saying this but I really would rather have you here with me for a while," Jadax said, feeling a little ashamed.

"Hush, my love," Ephiny replied, leaning forward to place a gentle kiss on the other woman's forehead. "You're not being selfish. You're hurt and a little afraid, that's all. I'm just glad Gabrielle and Xena decided to stay for a few extra days. I'll ask them this afternoon. The worst they can do is say no, after all." She doubted they would but Ephiny didn't want to make any assumptions when it came to the bard and the warrior woman.


Eponin lay stretched out on her bed, wearing a baggy, long shirt, wondering what was wrong with her lately. The hangover she had woken with that morning was one of the worst she had ever experienced, and she had been through quite a few of those over the past couple of moons. Gently touching the cool, damp cloth Gabrielle had placed over her eyes, the warrior knew she had been doing far more drinking of late than was really healthy for her. Though, she did have to admit, the past two nights had been something else again. Generally, she would stop after one small bottle of wine. Enough to numb her to sleep but not enough to make her too slow to react to trouble. She hadn't really meant to get quite as drunk as she did the night before but Xena had been right. She did need to relax now and then. And it was fun to simply let go and enjoy the company of another warrior for the evening.

"Oh, admit it, you drunken Amazon. You miss the company of a loving woman more than that of another warrior," she mumbled quietly. Eponin tried to remember how long it had been since she last shared her covers with anyone. "Hrumph, since before Ephiny accepted the mask of Queen," she decided aloud. She was so busy with her duties as primary warrior that the thought of being with someone had not really crossed her mind in quite some time. If she was being completely honest, Eponin would have admitted it was not her duties that kept her so alone but the simple fear of being hurt again.

On the one occasion Eponin had given her heart to another, the woman had turned on her savagely. The things she had said to the warrior still hurt, even now and she tried not to think about them. It had not been her fault that woman's best friend had been killed. She had been leading a scouting party and there was an unexpected attack. Eponin had done her best to get everyone into the trees and to safety but her lover's best friend had been killed by a well-placed arrow. In her grief, her lover blamed Eponin for the death and the warrior had accepted the guilt. The woman had left not long after, the memories being just to painful for her to stay, and moved to another village but Eponin still carried the wounds created by her vicious words.

Since then, she had not shared her soul with another, and once Ephiny became the Queen, the warrior found herself more and more reluctant to share her covers with just anyone. Now, she had taken to drinking most nights to try to ease the loneliness she felt eating away inside her. When there was a crisis, she didn't drink though. She didn't need to. Eponin simply channelled all her energies into solving the problem, and that somehow stopped the empty feelings, for a time.

Fumbling around for the waterbag she knew Gabrielle had left on the bed, Eponin took several long swallows to ease the dryness in her throat. It did nothing to take the lump away. She lifted the compress from her eyes, wondering when Gabrielle was going to return again. The bard had promised to give the warrior a wash to remove the smells of sweat and wine from her body. Finding the light was still too bright, she replaced the cloth and settled her head back onto the pillow, slipping away into a doze without even realising it.

Sometime later, Eponin woke to a soft hand on her shoulder. Lifting the now dry compress from her eyes, she looked up, expecting to see the bard. Instead she was presented with one of the Royal guards. The one who had given her such an odd look when she came out of the stables the day before. In the woman's other hand was a large bowl full of water, a cloth draped over its side.

"Hi. I'm Amaran. Princess Gabrielle sent me over because she is still busy with Xena," the guard said quietly. "I didn't think you would be up to walking over to the springs yet, so I brought a bowl with me instead."

The Royal guard was gently stripping the shirt from Eponin's body as she spoke. Soaking the cloth and rubbing the ball of herb soap over it, she began to wash the other woman's body tenderly, as though Eponin was her own child, or perhaps, her lover.

Eponin lay back, a little surprised, and allowed the woman to continue her ministrations. Looking into her face, she noticed the expression Amaran had as her hands washed over Eponin's skin. Something was burning in the guard's eyes but the fear in Eponin tied a knot in her tongue. She simply allowed the other woman to bathe her, a part of her wishing it would never end. The warrior tried very hard not to listen to that still, small voice she could hear inside.


Xena stood, blinking a little painfully, in the light near the front entrance of the palace. She was washed, feeling marginally more human than when she had first woken and had clean clothing, thanks to Gabrielle. "I'll be glad when my leathers are finally repaired," she said quietly to herself. However comfortable the Amazon clothing might have been, it wasn't the type of thing she was used to wearing. In a way, she felt a little unprotected by the lighter buckskin and silk. Something she rarely felt in her heavier leathers. Half the time she didn't even bother putting her armour on simply because it kept catching in the lightweight material of her wraparound shirt. She was grateful she had thought to put it on the day before. If Kaliope had decided to attack, Xena's armour may have been the only thing to save her from broken ribs, or worse.

The tall warrior glanced back over her shoulder into the confines of the palace itself. She and Gabrielle had stopped by Ephiny's rooms to check on the small scout, only to be asked if Gabrielle would act in the Queen's place during the negotiations with the villagers. Xena had encouraged the bard to make her own decision and Gabrielle had said yes to the request, though she had thought about it for several long heartbeats first. She was still in there now talking about all the things she would need to know during the meetings. Xena had seen the hesitation in the bard at the thought of dealing with the delegation on her own. "She's stopped trusting herself," Xena muttered a little angrily through her clenched teeth. The warrior had done everything she knew to reassure the bard she had made the right decision but her words had not given the younger woman any peace at all. Xena wondered how else she could have helped the bard.

Looking across the compound, she spotted the temple and was reminded why she had come out here to begin with. There was a part of her which would have much rather been back in bed sleeping off the effects of all the wine she had drunk the night before. But she was a warrior and shouldn't let a little thing like a hangover keep her from doing the things she had to do. Even from where she stood, she could see her breast dagger and Eponin's knife still firmly lodged between the stonework beside the temple door. Xena also knew she had to apologise to the priestess and see what she could do to repair the damage she and the other warrior had done in their drunken games the night before.

Walking slowly towards the temple, Xena saw one of the Royal guards step from Eponin's hut and empty a bowl of water by the side of the warrior's home. Xena couldn't help smiling to herself. Trust Gabrielle to think of everything, she thought. The bard had been so busy getting me back on my feet again that it would be just like her to arrange for someone to look after Eponin. As the guard turned to re-enter the hut, Xena noticed the look of contentment on the woman's face. Hmmm, something's going on there, she wondered, but right now I have another little job to take care of.

Climbing the low stairs to the temple, Xena could see the gouge marks in the frame she had made the night before. They weren't quite as deep as she thought they might have been but it was bad enough she had used the temple as a practise target. Still wondering what had possessed them the night before, Xena carefully prized both knives from the stonework, trying not to do any more damage than she already had. Stepping inside she went in search of the priestess of the temple.

The sound of her footfall echoed lightly through the marble chamber of the main temple area. Fresh flowers had been spread over the altar and filled the room with their light scent. Through the glass skylight overhead, the afternoon sun lit the broad chamber, light reflecting off the white walls. Xena was almost halfway across the room when the priestess stepped from a small area at the back. She didn't appear to be the least bit surprised at Xena's visit to the temple. In fact, it was as though she had been waiting for the warrior to turn up.

"I came to apologise for the damage we did last night, Priestess," Xena said without any kind of preamble, "and to see if there was anything I could do to repair it."

"Everything has its reason, Xena," the priestess replied.

"Pardon?" Xena said, confused. Why does everyone who works in a temple have to speak as though they had shadows on their tongues, she grumbled to herself.

"Your games last night have brought you to me today," the other woman answered. "Come. Sit with me for a moment. I really would like to speak with you about something."

Xena followed the priestess into a small nook at the back of the room where they would have a little privacy should anyone come into the temple. Sitting next to her on the marble bench, Xena tried to get a feel for the other woman. The tall warrior rarely had time for temples and the people who worked there simply because she didn't have a lot of time for the gods and goddess's they represented. She had only ever met the priestess of this temple to Artemis on one other occasion but had not even spoken to her at the time. She was quite surprised when the priestess gently took both of Xena's hands in her own.

Looking deeply into Xena's sky blue eyes, the priestess began to speak in low, clear voice. "You know that Artemis quite favours Princess Gabrielle, don't you?" she asked.

"I had sort of assumed that, now Gabrielle is an Amazon," Xena replied, unsure just where the conversation was leading.

"Oh, it is more than just her being an Amazon that has gifted her with the Goddess's favour but that is a discussion for another day, Xena. Tell me, how do you think the Princess is at the moment?" the other woman questioned.

"Fine," Xena answered quietly.

"Really? She seems rather unsettled lately. Perhaps she has something on her mind?"

Xena didn't really want to tell the priestess about what the bard had been thinking of late but it appeared as though the woman knew all about it anyway. "She is just questioning a bit; about a decision she had to make," Xena explained briefly.

"Be honest with me, Xena. Does she trust herself?" the priestess asked, staring hard into the other woman's eyes as though she was reading Xena's soul and the answers she was giving.

The raven-haired woman looked down into her lap for a moment to break the disconcerting eye contact. "No, she doesn't trust herself anymore. She is afraid of making a decision that might mean one of us getting killed," she said.

"One of you?" the priestess asked gently.

"Well, me, actually," the tall woman answered.

"The trade delegation is due to arrive tomorrow. You're going to stand with her?"

What is it with all the questions, Xena thought to herself a little irritably. "Yes, I am going to stand with her."

"Perhaps you should reconsider that decision, Xena. After all, your position in our society is more an honorary one, and not one of adoption or Right of Caste," the priestess said, catching Xena's eyes again.

"She needs someone behind her," Xena stated firmly.

"She'll have Eponin with her and the Royal guards, if there is any trouble. She also has the authority to end a meeting early if she feels she needs more advice from Ephiny about something," the woman said, "And you do have to admit, Child, you are quite an intimidating figure sometimes. Those meetings can get quite heated at times and we don't want to give the delegation the wrong impression, now do we?"

"No," Xena replied a little suspiciously. She could feel the priestess setting her up for something but didn't know what it was yet.

"And there is the small matter of Princess Gabrielle having to trust her decisions. Can you accept that much?"

Shrugging one shoulder, she did have to admit the priestess was making some good points. She wasn't really part of the Amazon Nation in her own right and the villagers due to arrive the next day might find it a bit intimidating to see her standing with Gabrielle in the meeting hall during the negotiations. And if Gabrielle was put into a position of having to make important choices again, she might just start to trust she could make the right ones.

The priestess could see Xena was willing to accept the ideas she was putting forward but that was not her only reason for having this chat with the tall, dark-haired warrior. Whatever affected Xena would indirectly or even directly affect the Princess. If something had a negative influence on Princess Gabrielle, it might ultimately have a similar influence on the Amazon Nation itself. "Then there is you, warrior. How have you been feeling lately?" she asked.

Xena looked down into her lap again. She had tried talking to Gabrielle about her feelings but she was so unsure of them now that she had been avoiding even thinking about them too much, preferring to throw herself into the more physical side of her nature. "I'm all right," she finally said.

The priestess's voice grew hard and cold. "You're lying, warrior."

Xena's head snapped up and she snatched her hands from the gentle grip of the priestess. Ice began to fill her blue eyes and she glared at the other woman seated next to her. "I. Am. Fine," she snarled angrily, spacing out each word.

The woman's expression softened and she slowly took Xena's hands again, grateful the warrior was willing to permit the contact. "Xena, my child. You were insane for some days and you really haven't had much of a chance to think about it or to understand it. I did say all things happen for a reason. Do you know the reasons why you stepped over the edge? Do you know what brought you back to us, back to the Princess?" she asked.

Xena really didn't know, beyond the fact she had somehow lost control of the emotions she had worked so hard to keep locked up inside, and she hadn't wanted to think about it now. All she knew was it had changed her in ways she may never understand. "No, I don't know why it happened or why I returned to sanity. Maybe I don't need to know," she replied.

"Then again, maybe you do. Perhaps to stop it happening again," the priestess offered.

The other woman had touched the one major doubt that had been haunting Xena from the moment she had realised what had occurred. "I don't want it to happen again, Priestess. Eponin said I had punished myself and set my own boundaries. Boundaries I wouldn't step over again but," her voice caught for a moment, "I can't be sure and I think I need to be certain," she admitted in a small voice.

Rising to her feet, the priestess gently pulled Xena with her. "Come with me, Child," she said. Still holding one of Xena's hands, the woman led her through the back of the temple and down a narrow marble stairway, lit with small candles along the walls. Reaching the next level down, she walked along a corridor with solid wood doors on both sides. Finally stopping at one, she opened the door and waved the tall warrior into the room beyond. "Sometimes, when an Amazon has been through an experience they don't understand, they might need to meditate on it for a while in one of these rooms. They are quiet and no one will disturb you here for as long as you stay," the priestess explained. "Why don't you use this room for a few candlemarks today and see how you feel. Maybe you can return again tomorrow after you finish with your training session as well."

Xena looked around the room. The walls were the same white marble as the rest of the temple but they somehow felt older than the chamber above. On one wall was a small fireplace, burning brightly, with a pile of soft furs in front of it. In the centre of the small room was a low table, also made of white marble. Xena walked towards the fire, her eye caught by a collection of objects spread along the mantle. There were candles, crystals of various sorts, bright metal balls as well as several silver and gold coins from regions Xena could only guess at. Picking up one of the crystals, she turned towards the priestess, still standing at the doorway. "What are these for?" she asked, holding out the crystal in her hand.

"Sometimes, when a person meditates, they like to use an object to help focus their attention. Not all come easily to the techniques, you know," she explained. "I'll leave you for now, Xena. No one else will use this room until you feel you have learned what you need from yourself," the priestess said as she closed the door.

Xena put the crystal on the table and stood wondering what she was supposed to do. She knew several meditation techniques but she had used them more for things like preparing for battle or to help her ignore pain. She was not used to simply sitting and thinking. Folding her long body down on the furs, Xena muttered to herself, "Sometimes these temple types really have me wondering what they are up to."


Candlemarks later, Xena thumped down the stairs of the temple, feeling as though she had wasted the afternoon. Her time spent in the meditation room had been anything but successful. She had first tried simply sitting and letting her mind wander until it settled. Finding that wasn't working, she had used several of the focus objects with no further luck. She had tried breathing and counting techniques but on every occasion, she found herself fidgeting and shifting in frustration. Eventually, she had given up, and reminding herself not to slam the door of the room behind her in anger, had left the temple still wondering what the priestess was thinking.

Striding across the compound, enjoying the touch of the cool evening air against her skin, she decided to visit Eponin and see if she was feeling any better after their night with the wine. Changing direction, she was soon walking up the path towards the other warrior's hut. Stopping for a moment outside the door, she took a deep breath to calm herself and then rattled the wooden hanging which acted as a door chime.

"Come in, Xena," Eponin's voice said from the other side of the wall.

"How did you know it was me?" Xena asked as she ducked through the door hanging and into the small front room of the warrior's hut. The tall warrior was used to identifying people from their footfall but didn't realise Eponin knew how to do it as well.

"No one walks in quite the same way as you," the other woman smiled. "Though from the sound of it, you're annoyed about something."

"It's nothing," she said, waving it off. "The priestess had me meditating in the temple. I won't say it is my preferred way of spending an afternoon," Xena answered, a slight grin on her face.

"Mine either but it sometimes serves a purpose," Eponin said.

Xena simply grunted in response. The only purpose it had served for her was to show, again, just how unsettled her own mind still was. Glancing at the other woman, Xena could see she looked much improved over the description Gabrielle had given her that morning. A heavy scroll was spread out on the table and the remains of a light meal was sitting to one side. There didn't appear to be any sign of a wine bottle, for which Xena found herself grateful. After last night, she doubted she would ever touch the Amazon wine again. "So what have you been doing since you came back from the dead this morning?" Xena asked as she sat down in a chair on the other side of the table.

"Once I knew for sure I wasn't going to die, I started reading a copy of the trade agreement between us and those villages on the western border. Just wanted to refresh my memory about the terms we had originally set up. Judging from the number of name marks, this agreement seems to just carry from cycle to cycle without too many changes. It's got me wondering why they suddenly want to re-negotiate the whole thing. The only change I can see them asking for this time is passage rights and there wouldn't be a need to re-do everything if that is the case," Eponin said, tapping her fingertips against the parchment in front of her.

"Anything unusual in it?" Xena asked, turning her head slightly to see the name marks spread over the bottom of the scroll.

Eponin ran her finger down the length of scroll she had in front of her. "Nothing I can see, that's for sure. Limited protection from us, non-aggression from them, some trade between the Nation and the villages, an agreement on our part to accept any woman desiring to be an Amazon, within our own laws of course and a promise from them about not allowing men to cross the boundary markers unless there is serious trouble coming and we need to be warned or they have been invited in some way to come onto our lands. A fairly standard agreement as far as I can make out."

"How long has this agreement been in force now?" Xena queried. She was just as confused as to why the villages would suddenly feel the need to negotiate it over again.

The other warrior carefully checked the date stamped at the top of the scroll. "Less than five cycles from the look of it. I wonder what is going on?" Eponin said, running her fingers through her hair in frustration.

Xena dropped her head for a moment before speaking again. "Eponin, would you do something for me, please," she asked.

"Anything. Xena. You know that," the warrior replied.

"Would you stand with Gabrielle tomorrow at the meeting?" Xena flushed a little. She didn't like having to ask others for anything but the points the priestess had made earlier in the day had hit home and Xena could see the sense in what the woman had said. Not that the warrior liked it but she could see why it would be better if she wasn't there.

Continued - Part 3