Convert This Page to Pilot DOC FormatConvert this page to Pilot DOC Format

General Disclaimer: All characters depicted belong to Renaissance Pictures/Universal, etc. This story is just for fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.

Violence: It’s Xena, what can I tell you? But I will say that this is not a war story, it is first and foremost a love story.

Subtext: The subtext is here and shall not be denied. No gratuitous sex, just a fair bit of innuendo and flirtations involving women in love.

Lucy Lawless Alter-Ego disclaimer: Just for the hell of it I thought I’d have Lucy Lawless’ Xena meet up with one of her alter egos from the past, Lysia from "Hercules and the Amazon Women", but there’s no corny "hey you look familiar" jokes I promise....ohh well maybe just a couple in the beginning:-)

Spoiler disclaimer: This story is set after "Bitter Suite" but before "One Against an Army". I refer to the Herc telemovie "Hercules and the Amazon Women" but have chosen to ignore the whole "Zeus sends Herc back in time to fix everything" thing. I loved the Lysia character and wanted to use her, so...As far as I’m concerned Herc did go to Hippolyte’s Amazon village and Lysia did kick the living daylights out of him and it was a satisfying, feminine-affirming experience all round. None of this going-back-in-time-and-having-it-never-happen stuff. Iolaus just stayed home and stopped himself from getting killed. Or maybe he hung around to gawk at the Amazons. But since this is my fantasy world I get to decide what happened and what didn’t, and I make no apologies:)

Dedicated to all the writers involved on Xena:Warrior Princess, whose work I admire enormously.


The Game
by Poto


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

Part Five

Xena spotted a command post in the distance and raced Argo towards it, her night vision having difficulty adjusting to the blinding light of torches and campfires that illuminated the camp. The pain in her head intensified with every one of Argo’s long strides. As the horse cantered forward, the warrior rubbed her eyes. Vision blurred. The throbbing had long since threatened to take over all rational thought, all she could do was follow an instinct that compelled her to ride towards Patrakas.

Delirious thoughts, some calm, some delusional, raced through her head in no orderly fashion. She could hear soldiers thrashing through the forest behind her, and behind that the distant thudding of hooves. Vague sensations of the branches whipping by tickled her instincts. Her biggest hope was that the two Amazons were still alive, and that both of them had had the sense to return to the village when the Army called off their attack. She had pretty much foreseen what kind of an effect her burst through the lines would have. The army had lost all discipline at the mere sight of her, so ingrained in their heads were the reports of her catatonic state. Xena assumed that the Amazons could pick off the back end of Patrakas’ army. All she had to do was get into the camp somehow for a private discussion with Patrakas.

Maybe I’ll even have to fight him.

She didn’t particularly want to dwell on that possibility.

Argo slowed to a walk as they approached the dark side of the camp, shrouded in the tree cover. Cries of alarm rang out all over the encampment, and Xena heard her name as it echoed down the chain. She assumed that eventually the bad news of her being alive would be reaching the ears of Patrakas, preferably just before she reached him.

*   *   *

"What kind of treachery is this? Ares himself branded the Amazon bitch a liar. I spoke to the God of War myself this afternoon!" The warlord blustered.

"I don’t know commander, but then I saw her myself, riding out of the Amazon village. She looked very much alive."

Patrakas heard a shuffle behind him, and a familiar female voice rang through his disbelief.

"It wouldn’t be the first time the God of War has exaggerated reports of my demise. I’d advise you to trust your own eyes and ears before you go trusting the word of Ares." Xena stated matter-of-factly, casually lifting a grape from a tray beside Patrakas’s seat and popping the fruit into her waiting mouth.

The warlord watched the warrior woman as she moved slowly into the light, hand on the hilt of his sword, prepared for an impostor. His mouth dropped. The real Xena, as opposed to the apparition he was expecting, stepped out into the light of the braziers. Sword instantly drawn, Patrakas backed off cautiously into a corner of the tent, his guards readying their defences. The chakram Xena held in her strong grip, ready to throw in an instant, dissuaded him from his first instinct, which was to run from the close quarters of the tent into the wider spaces beyond.

Xena looked all at once casual, and deadly.

"Relax, if I wanted you dead, you’d be dead already." Xena drawled smoothly, popping another fruit into her mouth.

The warlord watched the sensual action with interest. He’d never seen the famed Warrior Princess quite so close-up before, and the experience was producing a mixture of sensations.

"Why would Ares say that you were...indisposed?"

"Because he wanted a battle against the Amazons, and my being there gave him a convenient excuse to send you in after me. Ares never did like to get his own hands dirty."

"And your illness?" Patrakas asked warily.

Xena stroked the smooth edge of her chakram calmly, slowly. "Do I look sick to you?"

Patrakas shook his head, holding the sword closer to his body.

"Believe me I feel fine. Except for the fact that I’m going to have to kill you in payment for those Amazons, but I’m sure you understand. It’s a matter of honour really."

"You don’t scare me Xena, not in the middle of my own camp." Patrakas sneered with a confidence he did not feel. Xena sensed his fear and moved almost sensuously forward, the curves of her body and the curves of the chakram dancing in the flickering torchlight.

She continued talking as if she hadn’t heard a word Patrakas had uttered. "You know, none of this would have happened if you’d just come to meet me in the morning like I told you in my message."

"We got word from Ares that the Amazons would try and sneak your body out of the village this evening. We had no choice but to attack."

"Like I said, I seem to be very much alive. Ares betrayed you Patrakas. You know it, and I know it."

"Stay back Xena, I’m warning you."

In one smooth practiced motion Xena spun the chakram out. The weapon sped across the tent, slicing open first the throat of one guard, and then another, returning dripping with blood into Xena’s outstretched hand.

As Patrakas stood in shock he found himself with Xena’s dagger at his throat, the sharpness of the blade piercing the first layer of tender skin. He hadn’t even seen her move.

"Those Amazons were my friends." Xena growled menacingly into the warlord's ear. Patrakas opened his mouth to yell orders, but Xena pressed the dagger closer to the warlord's throat, drawing a small amount of blood that Patrakas felt drip down his neck and into the top of his armour. Shivering slightly he bit back the order, hissing to his captor.

"What in Hades do you want? You know you can’t kill me, my army will raze the village to the ground as revenge."

"Do you honestly think this bunch of cut-throats are that loyal to you Patrakas? If I kill you they’re more likely to throw themselves to the ground, desperate to pledge allegiance to me, and you know it."

The warlord didn’t answer, just stood, waiting for the deathblow.

"I want your army out of this valley by noon tomorrow. If another Amazon dies, three of your men die with her, starting with you." Xena wrenched the warlord’s head back by his hair, watching the whites of his eyes turn bloodshot and bulge with anger. Xena resisted the urge to blink, the throbbing behind her own eyes no less intense. She was grateful for her vantage-point behind the warlord so the man couldn’t see the pain hidden in their depths. Her strength ebbing dangerously, she knew she had to end the meeting quickly, just in case she had to fight her way out. The last of her tolerance to fight the pain inflicted in her mind by the sword was failing. Xena plastered what she hoped was her best persuasively menacing smile on her face.

"That’s a nice scar Iolaus gave you. I’ll have to congratulate him next time I see him. Don’t give me a reason to give you another one that’ll be a whole lot worse." Shoving the man’s head forward again Xena watched as the warlord fell into the dust. She stomped her boot hard on his back, shoving him flat on the ground, using the opportunity while the warlord was winded to exit the way she’d arrived, through a slit at the rear of the tent. By the time Patrakas recovered his wits enough to look around, the Warrior Princess was gone.

Xena crept her way out of the encampment in the darkness and chaos. She heard Patrakas’ blustering cries in the distance, and hoped only that he was planning to withdraw, not launch an immediate attack on the village. If Patrakas had the nerve to call an immediate assault, Xena could feel that there was very little that she could do about it. She could only hope that her bluff, for that was what it was, would work.

By the time she reached Argo at the edge of the forest she found didn’t much care. Her head swam with pain and the trees seemed to move and sway with each step she took. Xena knew enough about her own body to know she’d never make it back to the Amazon camp before she passed out from the pain. Whispering softly into the mare’s ear she struggled up onto the horse, clinging roughly to the neck and mane she knew so well from so many campaigns, both as a warlord, and after. The horse moved carefully away, negotiating her way almost silently through the undergrowth and far from the campfires of Patrakas’s army.

*   *   *

"What is that?" Eponin hissed into the darkness, her companion lurking close to her shoulder. Lysia strained her eyes through the forest at the moving figure not more than four or five horse lengths away. Nocking an arrow to her bow Eponin moved quietly to her right, not wanting to alert her opponent..

"Eponin, wait! I think it’s Xena’s horse!" Lysia whispered fiercely.

"Argo? Are you sure?"

"No, I’m not sure, but how many horses that colour have you seen in your lifetime?" Lysia grinned hopefully at the Amazon warrior beside her and stumbled her way haphazardly through the brush.

"Next time I’m hunting, remind me to take you along as my hunting partner." She whispered sarcastically, following Lysia more quietly through the trees.

Argo came close to rearing as Lysia bounced out in her path. Only the knowledge that any quick moves could dislodge her mistress from her back kept the horse on all fours. Recognising the Amazons, however, the horse stamped her foot impatiently. Lysia grabbed Argo’s reins.

"Eponin, Xena’s unconscious, help me over here!"

"Right, and now every one of Patrakas’ soldiers not only knows that little fact, but they’re going to come crashing down on us any second. Can’t you keep your voice down?"

"Can you hear anyone in the forest? Have you heard anything for the past hour? They’ve all gone running back to camp. Xena probably has them running scared."

"Yeah, well right now she’s doing a fabulous impression of someone in excellent shape. I’ll grab the horses, we’ve got to get her back to the village. Gabrielle must be going insane by now."

Lysia grabbed Xena’s arm to check the warrior’s pulse. The heartbeat was strong and steady, but the warrior’s brow was knitted tensely with pain.

"She looks OK, no blood. Not even anyone else’s. It seems like she just passed out. I can’t see a wound anywhere."

"Come on, we can let Krista check her out better when we get back." Eponin hissed sharply, nimbly mounting her own horse. Climbing up behind Xena, Lysia grabbed the prostrate warrior around the waist and held on tightly. She felt the horse fret under her knees.

"Don’t you worry Argo, we’re taking her home. She’s going to be just fine." Slowly, gently, Lysia eased the horse’s nose after Eponin, towards home.

*   *   *

Solari froze as she heard a low peep echo out from the forest. A question in the language only an Amazon could understand.

Is it safe?

"It’s one of ours. It’s Eponin, it has to be." Solari gushed, holding her fingers quickly to her lips and returning the whistle with a high pitched shrill.

Yes, it’s safe.

Within moments three horses emerged from the forest and began to wind slowly towards the walls of the compound.

"Open the gates!" Ephiny ordered swiftly. "We have a warrior down!"

Gabrielle’s hand shot towards her mouth in panic. "It’s Xena!" The bard cried, horrified.

Solari watched Gabrielle fly down the steps of the watchtower to the gate below, the Amazon Queen flinging herself out towards Argo as Lysia guided the horse through the gates of the village to safety.

"What happened?"

"We don’t know, my Queen." Eponin jumped down from her horse and helped Gabrielle pull the unconscious warrior gently to the ground. "We got separated when Xena charged through the enemy lines. We found her like this outside the warlord’s camp. She’d been inside... we think."

Gabrielle knelt by the warrior’s side and touched her hands to Xena’s face. The skin was feverishly hot and sweaty to the touch. Within moments a stretcher arrived. Gabrielle watched, senses crawling, as Eponin and Lysia deposited Xena onto it and carried her gently over to the infirmary. Amazon warriors milled around nervously in the courtyard, some anxious as to the warrior’s condition, others curious to know what had happened to Patrakas. Solari claimed Eponin quickly after Xena had been deposited in the healer’s hut.

"What in Hades kind of stunt was that you pulled? Chasing Xena out like that! You could have been killed!"

"We could have been, but we weren’t. You saw her, she was in no condition to be riding out there alone. Personally I was more afraid of what Gabrielle would do to us if she found out we knew what Xena planned to do and then let her go out by herself!" Eponin replied. Solari sighed before nodding in dim agreement.

"And Patrakas?"

"We don’t know. We think Xena probably got to him, but she’s been unconscious since we found her. I guess all we can really do is wait."

"Gods be damned, I’m sick of waiting!" Solari burst out. Eponin placed a tired hand on Solari’s shoulders and smiled, understanding written over her own weary features.

"Xena? Xena it’s me. Wake up." Gabrielle whispered gently into the warrior’s ear. Xena stirred slightly. Gabrielle saw her try to open her eyes, and then wince in pain as the light from the hut hit her vision. The bard held her hands gently over Xena’s eyes, shielding them from the worst of the light. Slowly, hesitantly, Xena opened one fragile eye to look around her.

"Gabrielle," she whispered weakly. A collective sigh of relief went around the hut. Shuffling the Amazon warriors out one by one, the healer approached Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle, my Queen. I need to see if there’s any permanent damage done." Gabrielle nodded and took a step back, reluctantly letting go of Xena’s hand. Xena shifted uncomfortably on the bed, the movement of her head causing her to wince in pain.

"It’s just a bad headache." Xena whispered to the healer. "Gabrielle can tell you what I need." The healer looked up in interest as Gabrielle rattled off a list of ingredients for the broth Xena had taught her how to make. Smiling, and handing a cloth dipped in cool water to Gabrielle, she made her way into the next room of the hut to hunt down supplies. Gabrielle placed the cooling cloth on Xena’s forehead and the warrior closed her aching eyes.

"You left without telling me where you were going, what you were going to do." Gabrielle whispered gently, more sad than accusing.

"I know Gabrielle, and I’m sorry. I had to get to Patrakas."

"And did you?"

"Yes...tell Solari, set a watch to make sure he leaves the valley... I told him to be gone by noon tomorrow."

"Or you’d what?" Gabrielle smiled indulgently. "Collapse on him?"

Xena chuckled wearily, then thought better of it. "He never knew...never even suspected..."

The smell of herbs hit the air and Gabrielle could tell the healer had found her supplies. A little while later the woman emerged, handing a cup to the Amazon Queen. Gabrielle lifted Xena’s head slowly, softly, and tipped some of the soothing liquid into the warrior’s mouth. Swallowing hesitantly, Xena smiled in relief, the quick acting herbs instantly relieving some of the tension in her head. She swallowed some more.

Eventually the pain subsided, along with last reserves of her energy. She was able to give her lover a small, reassuring smile, before allowing the relaxation to claim her body.

*   *   *

"Xena was right, Patrakas is on the move south." Solari reported to Ephiny. The sun was just hitting its peak in the sky, the deadline Xena had given Patrakas for his withdrawal from Amazon lands. The regent breathed a long sigh of relief and gifted Solari with a loving smile.

"I don’t know how she did it, in her condition, but she did." Ephiny replied, feeling a weight lifting luxuriously from her tired shoulders. The Warrior Princess had been given strict instructions not to leave her bed by both the healer and Gabrielle, but Ephiny knew Xena was waiting anxiously to hear the good news.

Solari nodded and continued on her rounds. Work had to be done on the defences of the village. Patrakas’ attack had revealed some serious holes in her strategy on the outer perimeter. Solari’s mind clouded as sorrow gripped her heart. Too many Amazons had died, sacrificing themselves to warn the rest of the village. She spared a moment to think of it, before shoving the morbid thoughts to the back of her mind. It didn’t do any good thinking about the past, but she could make damn sure nothing like this ever happened again.

"Xena, I’m not sure how to take this." Ephiny frowned before taking a seat beside the bed. Looking into the eyes of the warrior she knew that Xena was being deadly serious. Still, by the simple fact that Gabrielle was absent from the conversation, Ephiny guessed that this was something Gabrielle hadn’t even been told about yet.

"Take it at face value. I want to stand trial before the Amazon nation for what I did to those two Amazons, and to Gabrielle."

"Frankly, Xena, I’ve thought about this, even wished for it sometimes. But I don’t think that even if Anya were alive she would have cause to accuse you of anything. Anya’s sister killed herself after wounds received in battle. The battle may have been something that you could have...prevented, but you could never have known the woman would react the way she did."

"And my attack on Gabrielle?" Xena asked stiffly.

"That, as you know, is another matter entirely. But Gabrielle lived, it’s not like you’d be standing trial for murder."

"Attempted murder of the Amazon Queen. Is there really much difference?" Xena supplied, not looking at the regent.

Ephiny sighed, a long drawn out breath. "Yes, I suppose that would be the charge. Xena, you know that this isn’t necessary. You’ve saved Gabrielle’s life many times, and you saved me..."

"So because both the Queens of this village owe me their lives I am exempt from Amazon justice? Any justice?" Xena retorted harshly.

"I didn’t say...well, yes, I guess I did say that. Xena, this whole village owes you a debt after what you did last night." The regent twitched nervously before broaching the most important subject. "Gabrielle knows nothing about this, does she?" Xena shook her head, no. "You know that by Amazon law she has to make the final judgement for or against you. You’d sit before the tribunal, but in the end her word is the law."

"I told Gabrielle I had something important I needed to do and that she shouldn’t intervene." Xena added, realising fully how lame her words sounded.

"Well I guess you’re going to have to be more specific about the details now." A low voice stated from the doorway. Xena and Ephiny looked up as one to see a frowning Gabrielle approach through the open door to the hut.

Moments later Gabrielle stood, a stubborn clench to her jaw, as she listened carefully to what Xena proposed to do.

"You’re out of your mind if you think I’m going to stand back and let you do this."

"I am going to do it."


"Because I gave her my word." Xena replied stonily, turning to face the wall of the hut. She needed to look at something, anything, that wasn’t the confused, hurt face of the bard.

"Why do we have to keep going through this, over and over again? Why can’t we just let it go?" Gabrielle cried, her heart breaking with every word. "We’ve forgiven each other, it’s nobody else’s business but ours."

"I wish that were true, but I involved the Amazons by coming to get you here. They have every right to have a say in my punishment for that."

"I can’t believe I’m hearing these words coming from your mouth." Gabrielle replied, more angrily than she intended.

"You were right all along, Gabrielle. Forgiveness, love, they’re the only things that are going to get us through this. Innocent people were hurt that day, and there is a lot of anger still brewing amongst the Amazons. If I can help to ease some of that tension, I should do it."

"Do you honestly think this is the way? All it does is allow people to go on blaming each other for things that are in the past. There isn’t one person in this village who wouldn’t admit that you saved the lives of many Amazons last night by doing what you did. There has to be a better way than some kind of absurd trial and punishment ordeal. Ephiny?" Gabrielle looked around to the Amazon regent for support.

Ephiny shook her head. "I don’t know Gabrielle. In some ways I think it might help to heal the breach, Xena standing forward and taking responsibility for her actions."

"That’s exactly my point." Xena agreed.

"Why are you so determined to do this. It doesn’t sound like the Xena I know." Gabrielle flared, her eyes betraying her annoyance.

"I made a promise Gabrielle, to someone I feel responsible for."

"Anya?" Ephiny asked, intrigued. Xena nodded her head sadly.

"She died thinking that taking revenge on me was somehow worth what she was leaving behind. Even in death, I can’t let hate like that go on forever. She doesn’t deserve it."

"But neither do you, Xena." Gabrielle whispered, her voice thick with emotion. Xena reached out to take the bard’s hand, gently kissing her outstretched palm.

"Please Gabrielle, you know how hard this will be for me. I need your support or I can’t do what I have to do."

"Xena, you know I will always stand behind you, no matter what." Gabrielle said at last. "I just never thought I’d see the day when I had to stand before you, to judge you." No longer able to hold out against both Xena and Ephiny combined, she admitted defeat. Xena looked up at Gabrielle expectantly and the bard allowed herself one last, long sigh.

"Ephiny, as soon as Xena is healed properly we’ll call the tribunal together. It appears we have something we all need to discuss." Turning to Xena she nodded reluctantly. "We may as well get this over with."

"There’s no need to wait, I’m ready to do this now."

"Xena, we’ve discussed this, you’re in no shape to fight anyone..."

"I’ve got no intention of fighting anyone, Gabrielle. I’m not going to demand my right to trial by combat."

"What are you talking about?" Gabrielle snapped. "Of course you have to fight."

"I won’t take the risk of hurting any more innocent people. If I’m going to do this I may as well do it right."

"Xena, be reasonable!" Ephiny chimed, unable to remain silent any longer. The regent stared at Xena with incredulous eyes, unable to believe what she was hearing. The warrior princess deliberately laying down her pride, and now laying down her sword, to face Amazon justice? It was too much.

"Listen to me." Xena held up a hand to forestall Gabrielle’s next protest. "It was you who taught me that there are other ways to solve problems than just fighting. I have to believe that the lessons I’ve learned from you are true, that there are parts of a different code, a different way of life, which I can learn to live by. If I can’t do that, what chance have I ever got to live a life that doesn’t rely solely on how I can handle a sword?"

"I don’t think now is the time to start quoting me, Xena." Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief.

"You’re wrong Gabrielle. It’s the perfect time. There’s never been a more perfect time to test myself, to see what kind of person I’ve become."

For the first time since Xena had started outlining her plan Gabrielle could feel the reluctance and opposition inside her beginning to melt. This was the Xena she’d always known existed, the Xena she could be proud to say she had had a hand in shaping - creating - just like Xena had shaped the way she herself lived her life. She couldn’t deny that the words slipping from Xena’s mouth were things she had always hoped the love of her life would say. Gripping Xena’s hand tightly she smiled at the warrior with all the love that she felt welling up inside of herself.

"Xena, there’s a heart inside you that I wish more people in the world than just me could come to understand. I just wish there was some other way, that it didn’t have to be me who has to sit up there and pass judgement on you. I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t know if I have that much strength in me."

"You do, Gabrielle." Xena said simply, and Gabrielle marvelled at the complete, unconditional trust that lay behind the words and the way Xena said them. The woman she was staring at had no more in common with the legendary destroyer of nations than she did, and despite the situation they all found themselves in, she found that fact strangely comfortable, and reassuring.

*   *   *

"Xena of Amphipolis, you have been charged with the attempted murder of the reigning Queen of the Amazon nation. How do you plead?"

A hush settled on the proceedings as the ebony haired warrior rose silently to her feet. Sparing a glance for Gabrielle she pulled herself up to her full height and faced the assembled Amazons.

"I plead... I am...guilty."

"Do you claim the right to trial by combat?"

"I waive my right to the ritual combat." The traditional words rang crisply out into the cold afternoon air.

Though hardly unexpected, the reality of Xena’s words caused a collective hush to settle over the Amazon warriors. Gabrielle kept her face as calm and emotionless as she could, knowing full well her eyes conveyed every bit of distress that she was feeling inside. Xena betrayed nothing, her face an impenetrable mask.

"Is there anyone here present who wishes to say words for or against the accused before sentence is passed?"

The silence deepened. The warriors who had taken the Xena’s side remained silent for fear of scorn from their sister Amazons. Those in favour of Xena’s punishment stayed equally quiet, none willing to risk the wrath of their Queen, the regent, or even the accused warrior herself.

Lysia sat, arms folded in disgust, the strong presence of Eponin behind her the only force holding the warrior in her seat. She’d been livid that afternoon when it was explained to her that she had no right to speak to the tribunal on Xena’s behalf, her status as a member of Gabrielle’s tribe yet to be ratified by that same tribunal. After that had been impressed upon her, Eponin had also brought up the unfortunate fact that, of all the women assembled at the tribunal meeting, Lysia would be the one who had known Xena the least amount of time. Her feelings, even were she allowed to express them, were unlikely to carry much weight in the eyes of the seasoned warriors who would sit in judgement upon the Warrior Princess. Lysia cast an eye over the panel that sat, unmoving. Gabrielle sat in their innermost sanctum, the final word of justice that the Amazon women recognised, the voice of their Queen. That Gabrielle was also the lover of the accused, as well as the victim, left the trial feeling empty and shallow. Lysia almost gagged on the bad taste the proceedings left in her mouth.

Long moments passed.

Gabrielle sat helplessly, staring at the situation unfolding in front of her. Xena’s only hope to escape complete banishment from the Amazon nation was for the Amazon warriors to rise up as one and declare themselves her supporters. As a member of the tribunal, she was forbidden to offer support on Xena’s behalf, and she pined for the opportunity to speak.

Gods be damned, I’m the one who knows her better than anyone! I’m the only one who has a hope of swaying this crowd...making them see the truth of what she is!

"I claim the right to speak in favour of Xena of Amphipolis, known as Xena, the Warrior Princess."

Dressed in full battle regalia, mask sitting high atop her head, Solari cut a swath through the assembled Amazon women. Ephiny’s cool concentration dropped in that instant, her mouth hanging open with the shock of Solari’s sudden speech.

Gabrielle was no less shaken. Xena looked the most stunned of all, the appearance of the Amazon second-in-command raising an eyebrow on the otherwise stolid face of the warrior.

Gabrielle stood regally, her staff of office clutched tightly in her hand.

"And what do you have to say, Solari?"

Solari removed the mask and laid it at Gabrielle’s feet in a solemn gesture of loyalty to the Queen. Gabrielle smiled and nodded, indicating for the Amazon to continue.

"I question the right of the Amazon nation to judge this warrior." Solari stated firmly. A whispered chaos gripped the ring of onlookers, and Solari stared unhesitatingly into the faces of the Amazon tribunal.

"And your reasons?" Gabrielle asked, with more enthusiasm and less formality than her than her position dictated. Her obvious partiality drew stares of disapproval from other tribunal members seated on the podium.

"Xena has proven herself not only a capable and loyal warrior, but a defender of the Amazon nation. Our usual laws bestow the right to trial by combat to determine guilt..." Solari turned to face the warrior, who had returned her face to its emotionless, unreadable form. " we all know Xena has forgone this right. I know that the reason she is waiving her rights is because she is unwilling to risk the safety of another member of the Amazon nation for her own personal freedom. We all know that she could defeat any warrior among us and walk free from this trial today, by right of the Amazon."

Solari turned back and faced the council squarely. "She does not deny her moment of vengeance against the Amazon Queen, and it seems wrong today to deny Queen Gabrielle the right to speak as the target of Xena’s vengeance, to relate to us all the circumstances surrounding the attack on the Amazon Queen."

The whispers continued to float around the crowded courtyard. Tyralla, a senior member of the Amazon tribunal stood, holding up her hand for silence.

"Warrior, you know it is not possible for Queen Gabrielle to act as both judge and accuser in this matter. Your request cannot possibly be granted."

Solari seemed unfazed. "I realise that, this is why I have come to speak on Xena’s behalf." She squared her shoulders and turned to address the assembled warriors. "We all know that it is the first and foremost duty of the Amazon warrior to protect her Queen. Xena has failed in this respect. However, Xena is not an Amazon, and has no such duty."

Gabrielle smiled at Solari’s words knowingly.

The entire Amazon nation combined could not protect me better out of duty, than Xena does every minute of every day out of love.

The bard and the warrior shared a quick glance that more than confirmed Gabrielle’s thoughts, the deep blue of Xena’s eyes shining briefly with deeply hidden emotion.

"As we all know, this is why Xena stands today on a charge of attempted murder, rather than on the more serious charge of treason."

Solari turned around and gestured to her weapons master. Eponin gave a surprise glance to Lysia before responding to the summons, striding into the circle to take her place beside her commander.

"This woman stands today as a witness to the deeds Xena has performed on behalf of the Amazon nation."

Ephiny realised suddenly what it was that Solari was about to propose and coughed loudly, covering her face with her hands so that the women who surrounded her could not see the laughter lines creasing around her dancing eyes.

This is so perfect! Where did Solari learn about that law?

Eponin stepped forward and retold her part of the tale of Xena’s assault on Patrakas’s camp. While unable to say what really happened in the warlord’s tents, she related with perfect clarity the severity of Xena’s illness, the fierce determination in the voice of the warrior as she declared her mission, her desire that no more Amazons be hurt or killed for her sake. The weapons master embellished the encounter in the forest, the state of the warrior princess as they led her back, unconscious, into the Amazon village, and what she must have endured at the hands of the warlord.

Gabrielle, who had the story of Xena’s visit to Patrakas from Xena herself in perfect detail, hid a smile from the rest of the tribunal. As they sat in wrapped attention to the story spilling from the Amazon’s lips, she could feel the tide of vengeance and hate turning slowly in favour of Xena’s actions. Eponin was a gifted storyteller, she realised happily. Her mix of warrior’s zeal and attention to detail appealed cleverly to the driving force behind the creed of the Amazons, Xena’s status as the ultimate warrior.

"Out of her own remorse to the crimes committed against the Amazon nation, and particularly out of respect for Amazon life, Xena risked her own life to save the Queen and everyone else in this village." Eponin concluded, stepping back from Solari’s side so that the commander could regain the floor.

"Xena has pleaded guilty to the charges put before this tribunal, and must therefore be assigned a fitting punishment. I believe that it would be detrimental to the Amazon nation to banish such a dedicated and skilful warrior from our midst, so I would like to suggest an alternative punishment."

Gabrielle stared in confusion, first at Solari, then at the other members of the tribunal. One by one the members had begun to come to the realisation of where Solari’s testimony was headed. Not equipped with the full knowledge of obscure, unwritten Amazon law, Gabrielle could only watch, listen, and hope. Regally, she nodded permission for Solari to make her proposal.

The commander bent dramatically down to pick up her mask with a flourish. "Since being old enough to wear the mask of the Amazon I had one dream, and that was to fulfil an ancient custom. I wanted to become a skilful enough warrior to be appointed a Protector of the Amazon Queen. I was assigned that duty by Queen Regent Ephiny in front of this very circle, not one winter ago."


The assembled Amazons gasped in collective understanding, the only woman present still baffled by what Solari meant to propose was Gabrielle. Even Xena stared at Solari with amused eyes.

Solari approached the warrior princess, purpose blazing in her dark eyes, speaking softly in a voice reserved for Xena’s hearing alone. "I assume you know what I’m doing?" Solari whispered.

Xena nodded her head slowly. "I think so. My knowledge is a little rusty, but I know what a Protector is. Don’t you have to be an Amazon warrior to qualify?"

"Not necessarily. Another way, a really obscure Amazon law that I learned once, was that an outsider who for some reason or another owed a great personal debt to the Amazon Queen could become her Protector...if they could prove themselves a capable enough warrior that is." Solari grinned. "I somehow doubt anyone is going to question you on that score."

Xena nodded seriously, considering for a moment the weight of Solari's words. She looked down at the shorter woman warily. "So, what’s the catch? That seems too easy."

"It might seem easy to you, but we have to be sure that all of these women here think your attack on Gabrielle only constitutes a debt, not a crime. Otherwise, the whole point of you standing trial in the first place will be lost. If they think the punishment doesn’t fit the crime then we’ll still have the same dissension as before. Detailing your attack on Patrakas’s camp might do that, that’s why I called on Eponin." Solari hesitated a little, before noticing the impatient look on the tribunal member’s faces.

"And there’s one other thing...It’s a death sentence, Xena. Anything happens to Gabrielle, if she dies while you’re still alive, the rest of the Amazon nation comes and hunts you down. That’s the only rule that doesn’t apply if you are born Amazon. If Ephiny died, I’d be in disgrace for the rest of my life, but they wouldn’t come looking for me."

Xena looked up at Gabrielle. The Queen stood on the raised dais, surrounded by busily chatting tribunal members. Ephiny’s strong hand rested comforting, supportively on her shoulder. The regent was whispering furiously into Gabrielle’s ears, presumably telling the same story that she was hearing from Solari.

Xena watched as Gabrielle’s eyes widened. Gabrielle had obviously just heard the part about the death pledge Xena kept her eyes and face steady, ready to receive Gabrielle’s worried gaze.

"Xena, you have to make a decision. I can still withdraw my request, and you’ll be banished and never be able to set foot in the Amazon nation again. Or you can become Gabrielle’s Protector."

In response the Warrior Princess just nodded, her eyes locked with a fair-haired bard's, her Amazon Queen.

It’s just putting into law what she and I already know. If anything were to happen to her, I wouldn’t be around to see it, because whoever hurt her would have to come through me first.

Solari strode into the centre of the circle, her arms raised high in the air for quiet. She turned around once, eyeing the Amazon warriors, sniffing the air as if she were trying to gauge the group emotion of the assembly.

"By risking her life to drive away the warlord Patrakas I propose that Xena, Warrior Princess, has cleared herself of the crime she owed to the Amazon Nation. A trial by combat if you will, only the combat was for the lives of Amazon warriors." Solari waited for the group reaction before continuing. Judging the response to be more or less a positive one, she breathed a sigh of relief.

"Furthermore, I claim that Xena owes our Queen a blood debt, to be repaid at the further risk of her own life, for the rest of her life. By making Xena the Protector of Queen Gabrielle, by putting our Queen under the protection of a skilled and experienced warrior, we not only ensure her continuing penance for the crime committed to our Queen, but act to ensure the future safety of our head of state."

Finishing her appeal to the assembled warriors with a flourish, she turned and faced Gabrielle, in whose hands the ultimate decision rested.

"As an outsider to the nation Xena will be required to swear a blood oath on the life of Gabrielle and be sworn as her Protector. I submit this as my recommendation for the punishment of the accused."

Stepping back into her place amongst the Amazon warriors Solari relinquished the floor. She noticed Eponin and Lysia in animated whispered conversation. Catching drifts of it she realised that they were swapping stories about variations on the custom, as Lysia knew them from Hippolyte’s tribe.

Probably a way to ease the nerves while waiting for the decision.

Looking up finally to the dais she found the eyes of her own lover amongst the stirring tribunal. Solari’s Protectorship of Ephiny had been entered into willingly, and Solari saw it almost like a joining, only she would be committed to it even if she and the regent were ever to stop their blossoming relationship. Every Amazon Queen was granted a Protector sooner or later, it was just dumb luck that Gabrielle hadn’t spent enough time in the Amazon village for a decision to be made on who would serve as hers. Solari doubted Gabrielle had ever heard the issue raised, by the look of stunned confusion she’d seen resting on the Queen’s brow. The choosing of Xena was obvious, that it should also serve to ease the tension amongst the Amazons was just an added bonus.

Long moments went by and still the tribunal debated the issue at length. The opinion in the crowd around the courtyard ebbed and flowed. First a positive reaction swept through, then some dissenters made their opinions known, then more arguments in favour of the proposal swamped the voices of the detractors. Solari had attempted at first to keep up with the flow of opinion but gave up in the end. Instead, she chose to join in Eponin and Lysia’s spirited swapping of Amazon customs to ease her own mounting tension.

A smiling Gabrielle emerged from the tribunal discussions, and Solari knew that they had won. The positive opinions in the crowd were given a boost by the obvious, though still unannounced approval of the plan from the tribunal. Looking over, she saw that Xena’s shoulders still tensed noticeably. Solari wandered over to speak briefly with the lone warrior.

"You look a little unimpressed by the way things are going." Solari quipped quickly, trying to fathom the blank look on Xena’s face.

The tall woman grimaced slightly, as if having difficulty finding the words to fit her thoughts. "I don’t know Solari, it all seems a little too neat."

"You mean you were meant to suffer somehow?" Solari asked, frowning.

"Yes, that’s exactly it."

Solari spun around to face the warrior. "And since when was all this about you?" She demanded. Xena responded with a blank look of confusion. An irritated feeling settled over the Amazon. "The point of this trial was to give these Amazons some peace of mind, to take their thoughts off hate and revenge, all the things that make people like Anya twisted inside."

Solari stopped for a second to gather her thoughts, spurred on by the buzz of the Amazon women around her. "I didn’t do this today for you Xena, as much as I respect you, as a person, and as a warrior. I did it for them, and I thought that’s why you did it too."

"It is...I mean it was..." Xena stopped to collect her thoughts. "Do you think Anya would have been pleased with the outcome?"

"The Anya who was all twisted up by anger probably wouldn’t be. I guess there’s no vengeance here for the actions she and her sister took." Solari sighed deeply. "Xena, Anya was my childhood friend. I saw what her sister’s death did to her, and for a while I shared her anger towards you. But right now all I care about is taking these Amazons, the ones that have the courage to live and fight on, into the future."

Xena stared at Solari, the Amazon's strong words sinking into her troubled heart.

"All these women, they know about honour, and about battle. They know what to do if your enemy comes at you and you’re outnumbered three to one. They know that you never leave your sister Amazon behind. They know how to take orders..." Solari gestured around at her warriors affectionately. "The one thing so many of us forgot during this whole ordeal was about forgiveness. Ephiny kept trying to tell me that, and I didn’t really understand it, until I saw you riding wildly out into a warlord's army, barely able to hold your seat on Argo’s back, on your little suicide mission. I knew why you were doing it, Xena." She looked up into the tall warrior’s eyes, her own expression free and honest. "You did it because you couldn’t forgive yourself."

"You sound like someone else I know." Xena replied, touched. Her eyes began roaming, searching, until they stopped and lingered on the brown leather-clad form of her lover. An Amazon Queen, masquerading in her formal battle attire, looking a little uncomfortable dressed like the warrior she would never, could never be.

"Yeah, well..." Solari stated wistfully, "...maybe all us warrior types are learning from Gabrielle, all the time."

Xena snorted, the truth of Solari’s words seeming, somehow, extraordinarily fitting.

*   *   *

Campfires blazed and a cheerful mood swept the Amazon village. It had taken many hours of soul-searching, but the majority of the Amazons had come to accept the tribunal’s decision regarding Xena’s punishment. Most respected the dignified way in which Xena had knelt before Queen Gabrielle, accepting her duty and her fate as her Protector with a warrior’s determination. Every Amazon gathered there knew the strength of Xena’s word. The Warrior Princess did nothing by halves.

Sipping slowly on a mug of mulled wine, Xena surveyed the Amazon celebrations from the shadows. Patrakas had been defeated, and Ephiny had ordered a night of relaxation and revelry, a welcome respite from duty and tension that had gone a long way to sealing the opinions of the Amazon women in regards to the day's events. What Xena had come to realise was that all the Amazon warriors had needed was some kind of closure, a way of shutting the doors on the past and moving on, just like Solari had predicted. By helping them with the past, Xena could perhaps close a few more of her own doors, though she knew that some doors were meant to remain open. They needed to stay ajar just enough to remind her of a time when obliterating those doorways and the guilt that went with them by brute force alone was more her style.

Her senses told her that she was not alone, but she didn’t need to turn to recognise Ephiny’s footfalls approaching.

"Ephiny. What can I do for you?"

"I was wondering Xena, could I have a word?"

"Of course."

The regent sat down next to Xena and took a draught from her own cup, enjoying the relaxing warmth as the honeyed wine slipped easily down her throat. The alcohol was beginning to take effect and she let her body relax, stretching long, tired limbs.

"There’s one question I’ve been longing to ask, ever since this whole mess began."

"I’ve been a little preoccupied to answer any questions." Xena remarked dryly, a small smile playing on her lips.

"Yes, well, that’s true. I was wondering, why did you come up with that – if you don’t mind me saying so – really dumb game to try and sneak into the Amazon village when you first arrived? It was so soon after...after everything that happened. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to just walk in the front gates, face all the tension head on?"

"Besides wanting to give Lysia a trial by fire?" Xena joked.

"Well, you certainly achieved that." Ephiny replied, taking another sip. "But seriously, why? What on Earth were you thinking?"

Xena hesitated, a sadness creeping slowly across her thoughts. "I wish I could give you an answer that satisfied either you or me. I can only really think of one thing..."

"And that is..?"

Xena took a deep, cleansing breath. "Ephiny, I was afraid. I felt guilty over what I had done and didn’t really want to just walk in and have to look at everyone in the eye. It was Gabrielle’s idea to come back here."

Xena decided she needed a long swallow of the strong alcohol she held before being able to continue. "The game was something my brain came up with in its rebellion against coming back here, I guess. A way to have a little fun with the Amazons, and I could visit Solon's grave for the first time on my own, without even having Gabrielle there to remind me of ... my own guilt in what led to his death." Xena’s voce caught in her throat and she took another swig. For some reason her throat felt awfully dry.

"That all seems to make perfect sense to me, Xena." Ephiny offered, touching a hand to the warrior’s arm. "And, for what it’s worth, I understood your anger over Solon’s death. I was angry at the Mitoans when they took Phantes away from me."

"But you didn’t go out and try to murder any Mitoans in return."

"I wasn’t exactly in any condition to try, but maybe, without Xenan on the way to remind me of the need to stay calm, I might have." Ephiny shuddered, remembering the horrible day that Phantes had died, and the following days before Xenan had been born. She wished right that second that she could hold her son in her arms.

"It’s not in you to do something like that Ephiny. Just days after his own men killed your husband you were reminding Marmax about forgiveness."

"But I don’t have your ghosts to deal with, Xena. If I was the Warrior Princess, maybe I could understand."

Xena looked hard at Ephiny, trying desperately to prevent the one tear that welled in her eyes from escaping, defying her efforts at self-control. Finally she gave up and released it, the droplet running quickly down her cheeks. Reacting swiftly, Xena swiped at the offending tear with the back of her hand.

Ephiny squeezed her shoulder tightly. "You have done so much good. Don’t let this lapse into what you were, affect what you could be. That would be the real tragedy." Collecting her long legs under her, Ephiny decided to leave Xena alone with her thoughts. "Thank you though, for answering my question."

Xena smiled up at the regent. "Anytime."

Xena watched Ephiny’s retreating back, crossing paths with an approaching Gabrielle who had come looking for the warrior. Sniffling quickly, Xena pulled herself together before the bard arrived, who plopped herself down happily beside the warrior.

"What are you doing out here all alone?" Gabrielle asked, planting a small kiss on the warrior’s cheek. She felt the wetness there, frowned slightly, but said nothing.

"Playing the star game with Ephiny. She doesn’t have your imagination."

Gabrielle smiled at Xena’s cover-up, deciding to extract the real story from her about her conversation with Ephiny later, alone, in the privacy of their own hut.

"You know, I think I want to leave here tomorrow. I mean, the Amazons are great, but there’s nothing to compare to a nice, cosy campfire shared between two people." The bard reached over to Xena and stroked her chin softly. Xena closed her eyes, allowing her senses to fully enjoy the delicate touch.

"I know exactly what you mean."

"And we have a lot to talk about." Gabrielle murmured, resting her head on Xena’s wide shoulder.

Xena grunted an agreement, and they sat together, just out of reach of the flickering firelight, in a comfortable, companionable silence.


Acknowledgement: Big thank you to Lela Kaunitz, my fellow struggling bard and devoted editor, without whom I might never have discovered the comma, the full stop, or fanfic writing in general.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

Return to the Fan Fiction area Fan Fiction