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Invitations - Part 5
by Gin

Disclaimer: Most of the characters depicted in this story belong to the people at MCA/Universal, (You know which one's they are) however the ones you don't recognize are mine. This story was written for enjoyment for myself and the readers and is not intended for profit.

Sex: This story contains scenes of two women in love in intimate situations but there is nothing <grin> Kissing, hugging and such. You know No Big Whoop. Still, if this offends you, or if it is illegal at your age in the place you live, please don't read my story (I would consider moving as well...but that's just me). There are plenty of other stories to choose from.

Violence: It is fairly tame actually. Yes. People get beat up, smacked across the face, beheaded, etc. but no more than a typical beat em up type episode. Nothing especially graphic.

Language: Nothing more than what you would hear on ... oh let's say that Comedy channel.. around 9:00 or 10:00 on Wednesday night.

NOTE: This story picks up a few days after the events in my second story Complications. I strongly suggest reading my first story Negotiations and it's sequel Complications before you begin this one. There are several references that will make much more sense if you do.

ANOTHER NOTE: In my Xenaverse, Callisto succeeded in her mission to kill Hercules' mother. Thus paving the way for Xena to become The Conqueror as seen in the episode Armegeddon Now. However, in my 'verse, Iolaus ALSO succeeded in his mission to kill the Goddess Callisto when he followed her to Cirra. What happens to the characters after that is up to them and I'll do my best to write it all down for you.

SPECIAL REMINDER!!: The Iolaus described in this story is NOT Hercules' friend. This Iolaus has never even heard of Hercules and so has a VERY different personality than the Iolaus we are used to seeing fighting alongside the big guy..... okay?

As always, to the Goddess of Spelling I offer my humblest apologies if I have offended her in any way.

The Goddess of Grammar, however, can Bite Me!

Special thanks to Wanda and T for their inspiration and encouragement. To Wendy who I know will always give me her honest opinion. To Janet, Kym, and all my readers for Beta Reading so quickly. Their encouragement, suggestions and ramblings really helped. Hi Wolfie!

Feedback: Yes please. I am an email junkie. All comments are welcome.  Nice ones will be responded to and nasty ones will be thoroughly laughed at before being trashed. <<I really have no tolerance for intolerant people! HA!>>


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by Gin

Part 5

"They took him because of you!"  The Amazon's hateful accusation twisted in Xena's guts.

"No."  The weakly delivered protest turned to an anguished whisper. "Please. Don't go."

"NO!"  Gabrielle's hate filled eyes made the possibility of her staying not even an option.  Turning to stomp out of the room the Amazon's taunting voice echoed in The Conqueror's ears.   "They could have killed him and it's all your fault.... all your fault...."

"NO!"  Xena sat straight up in the bed.  It took her a moment to control her racing heart and orient herself.  'Morning.' She thought, looking at the angle of the sun streaming though the windows.  'But where is Gabrielle.'  The space next to her on the bed was empty and cold.  Her heart began to beat faster as the nightmare fear returned.  Frantically looking around the room, she spotted a bowl of fruit on the table with a note leaning against it.  Breathing deeply she found her favorite black robe and crossed the room to read the large friendly script.


I went to check on Solan and the others.
Be back as soon as I can.


'She will check on Solan first.' The Warrior Princess advised. 'I want to check on him too.'  The Conqueror urged the Warrior Princess to change quickly. "Hurry and we can catch up with her before she gets to the hospital."  Agreeing with her dark sister, Xena quickly changed in to her Indian outfit and headed for her sons room.  She really did want to check on the injured Amazons, but mostly she wanted to hold Gabrielle and wipe the nightmare image from her mind.  When the guards told her that Solan was not yet awake and the Queen had gone on to the hospital, it was a battle of wills to keep her pace a steady walk toward the infirmary and Gabrielle.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes at Solari and her other FIVE guards. Shaking her head at the extra security, she signaled the women to wait for her outside.  Grinning at Solari's reluctant acceptance, she quietly entered the hospital.

"My Queen!"  Ria and Bekka struggled to get to their feet.

"No. No please. Don't get up."  She motioned for them to lay back and moved to sit between their bunk-like beds.  "How are you doing?"

"Fine."  The guards answered immediately and simultaneously.

'Uh huh.' Gabrielle thought and grinned at the cheery guards. "Good."  She scanned the room and her searching eyes fell on Jana's bed. Her grin vanished. "How's Jana?"

That question wiped the grins off of the injured guardsí faces as well.  They looked at each other sadly and Bekka spoke. "She constantly twitches, they don't know why." Bekka pointed to Jana's moving hand.  "But hasn't been awake since she went down.  The doctor's stopped the bleeding and the Chinese lady fixed her legs, now we just have to wait."

"What?"  Gabrielle didn't understand what Bekka was saying.  "The Chinese lady?  You mean Lao Ma?"

"Yes."  Both guards nodded their heads gently.  Ria spoke softly. "She was amazing."  Bekka continued. "She waved her hands over Jana's legs, I don't think she even touched her but the swelling has already gone down and the healers think she will be able to use them again."  The guard added. "They didn't think Jana would walk again before Lao Ma came."

"Where are the healers anyway?"  Gabrielle was grateful for the time alone with her people but was about to be upset because no one had even checked on them since she arrived.

Ria smiled. "The healer on duty is mixing herbs in the next room."  She indicated a hand bell on the table beside her. "All I have to do is ring this bell and he will come in."

Gabrielle looked at the bell for a split second before picking it up and ringing it decisively.  She was relieved to see the healer in the doorway before she could count to five. "Hello.  I was wondering if you would tell me how these patients are doing."

The man studied her for a moment.  She was dressed in Amazon leathers but that really didn't identify her.  There was something about her bearing that was as annoying to him as any royalty but he dismissed that feeling.  He was a healer, he held the power of life and death in his hands.  "Ask them yourself."

"Galen."  The low warning voice behind him froze him in place. "She asked you."  The Conqueror wanted to kill him for being so disrespectful to Gabrielle.

"Never mind Xena."  Gabrielle watched the dark warrior appear out of the shadows amazed that she could be so intimidating in such a festive outfit.  She could tell by Xena's twitching muscles that the man was in danger so she let a bit of her own irritation at his arrogance surface, knowing that if she didn't defend herself that the Conqueror would.  "All I want to know now is, can they be moved?"

"Absolutely NOT!"  Galen was outraged at the suggestion and pointed to Jana. "That one was nearly dead when she was brought in."

"Fine." Gabrielle, glanced at Xena and walked brusquely to the door.  She spoke quickly to one of the guards outside before turning back to the insolent healer. "My healers will be here soon." She indicated the bowl and pestle in his hand. "So you won't be bothered with caring for my guards any longer."

"You can't just come in here and start ordering me around."  He was angry now.   "Who do you think you are?"

Calling up her most royal pose, Gabrielle spoke matter-of-factly. "I think I'm the Amazon Queen."  She looked at the injured guards. "What do you think?"  She smiled as they both nodded wide-eyed.  An eyebrow raised at Xena caused the healer to turn and face the Empress.

Xena saw the look of entreaty on the man's face and laughed, holding up her hands in defeat. "Don't look at me.  I KNOW she's the Amazon Queen."  Blue eyes twinkled past the man, to catch the flashing green of her love's.  "Why don't you go back to your mixing."  She shoved the man back into the room he had come from and moved to hug Gabrielle.  Finding the Amazon's ear, The Conqueror whispered. "I missed you this morning."

"I'm sorry. I wanted to check on Solan."  She reached up and stroked the taller woman's cheek. "And you were sleeping so peacefully.  I didn't have the heart to wake you."  Mirriam had informed her that Xena had been having trouble sleeping during the time they had been separated.  Unfortunately this wasn't the time to bring it up.  It was however time to talk about Lao Ma's visit to Jana.  The little Queen pulled the dark woman to a private corner of the room and pulling her head down for a gentle kiss on the cheek, spoke quietly.  "I need to speak to the Warrior Princess."  She watched with fascination as Xena's blue eyes closed and opened.

"Why do you need to talk to me?"  The Warrior Princess was a little concerned.  This was the first time Gabrielle had specifically asked for one of them.

"I wanted to tell you thank you for asking Lao Ma to help Jana."  Gabrielle kissed her gently and wrapped her arms around the warrior's waist, quietly savoring the feel of cool silk quickly warming between them.  "It was you that sent for her wasn't it?"  It wasn't really a question, but an answer to the woman's question.

Xena folded Gabrielle into her arms and rested her cheek on the side of the honey-fire hair.  "Yes I sent for her."  The Amazon felt the arms tighten around her as the Conqueror added. "I wanted her to come too."

Smiling green eyes met worried blue.  "Of course you did."  She hugged the worried woman. "Thank you."  Gabrielle smiled at the relief on Xena's face and thought about how much they had needed to reassure each other last night.  "I'm gonna go check on Jana, okay?"

"Okay."  Releasing her hold on the Amazon, the Conqueror was only a step behind her as they walked to Jana's bedside.  There was no chair next to Jana's bed, so Gabrielle knelt next to the injured guard.  "Jana?"  The Queen delicately held the young woman's twitching hand.  "If you can hear me, I want you to know that Solan is safe."  She squeezed the warm, moving hand a bit tighter. "Do you understand? He's safe."  She thought she felt the movement slow a bit and repeated her reassurance. "Solan's safe.  I promise."  The hand in her grip relaxed and Gabrielle smiled up at Xena.  "She just needed to know he was okay."  Releasing the now still hand, she accepted the warrior's help up.  "I want to see him now."  This time if her son was asleep, she would wake him up.

Karis splashed cold water on her face.  It had been a long night.  She hadn't slept much, continually waking to make sure Solan was there and breathing.  He had roused long enough to eat almost all the broth  Gabrielle had sent but she knew when he finally slept off the sleeping drug he would be very hungry.
The idea of going to the kitchen didn't appeal to her though.  She wanted to stay with him.

Earlier this morning she had talked to Solari for a bit, only long enough to find out what had happened with the kidnapping and issue orders for an investigation.  She was going to have to do something special for Bennett.  The boy had risked his life to follow Callisto and watch where she took Solan.  The little stableboy was quick on his feet.  He had seen Solan get darted and go down and pretended the same when the dart meant for him hit one of the apples in his shirt.  'Too bad he hit his head when he fell.'  She thought and recalled her relief when Solari reported the boy would be fine.  The sound of the door opening pulled her from her thoughts and from the washroom.

Gabrielle nodded to the guards at Solan's door as they opened the barrier for their Queen. She offered each of them a pastry from the tray she carried and grinned at Xena as both guards took one.  Continuing into the room, she put the tray on the table and smiled when Karis emerged from the washroom.   Moving to Solan's bedside, she was grateful for Xena's solid warmth behind her.

'He looks so pale.'  Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed and brushed his long bangs from his eyes. 'He needs another haircut.' She thought and smiled softly at her sleeping son. "Hey."  Stroking his forehead revealed no fever so she continued her gentle prodding.  "Sleepyhead. It's time to get up."  She took a deep breath as his eyes blinked open and grinned at her groggy son. "Good morning, Sunshine."

"Ugh...."  He held his pounding head and groaned. "What happened?"  His voice sounded much too loud to him and he began to whisper. "I didn't...."

Gabrielle stilled his question with two fingers on his lips. "No you didn't get drunk again.  You were taken, kidnapped, remember?"  She knew he would eventually, but at the moment he was still fighting the effects of the drug.  The fact that he had an empty stomach at the time it was administered and was fairly exhausted from weapons practice didn't help his recovery time at all.

Xena looked down on the sleeping boy. 'He looks so small.' She thought. 'He is as tall as we are.' The Conqueror corrected and watched almost jealously as Gabrielle gently woke the boy.  'I wish she would've woke me up like that this morning.' She thought.  The half-asked question and Gabrielle's response drew
the Warrior Princess' attention.  'Drunk?....again!?'  Motioning for Karis to follow her she went back to the table and poured the boy a juice, as she questioned the young guard. "What does she mean drunk again?"

Startled that Gabrielle hadn't told the warrior, Karis glanced at the bed.  Seeing her Queen nod approval she answered the question.  "The night of Ephiny's joining Solan partied a bit more than usual."  She grimaced at the memory of his antics.

Seeing the expression, the warrior steeled her eyes on the Amazon. "My son's first overindulgence brought out some unexpected qualities, I take it?"

Karis chose her words carefully.  The last thing she wanted to do was upset the Conqueror but both his mom's should really know what was going on with him.  "It is a difficult time for him."  She looked directly into the tall woman's eyes and told the absolute truth. "He knows you love him, and he is trying to come to terms with being your son.  He never fully understood why you are hesitant to acknowledge him to people other than the Amazons."  She glanced back at the young man holding his head. "Now maybe he will."  She took a deep breath to control the terror of what would have happened to him had Callisto known Xena was actually Solan's mother.  Sighing, she answered the original question. "When he drinks he is very aware that he has powerful mothers.  He thinks he can do anything he wants....have anything he wants.  I just went along with him as much as possible then let him sleep it off."

Borias had been the same way, drink often brought out his 'I'm a mighty warlord' attitude.  However, after a particularly raucous party, Borias would declare his undying love to her and pledge his life to hers, before he passed out.   At the time Xena had thought he was crazy, she knew she didn't feel that way about him.  She loved being with him sure, he let her be as ruthless as she wanted, but she wouldn't die for him.  'I wouldn't have died for anyone then.'  She thought and looked across the room at her son and the other half of her soul.  The oddest feeling of warmth settled over her when she looked at her family and she knew without a doubt she would die for them.

She realized she had not responded to Karis' explanation of Solan's behavior and snorted.  "Men!  It doesn't usually take long for them to pass out does it."  She grinned at the guard. "Of course the next morning is when the fun starts."  Winking at the guard, she continued slyly. "They are so out of it they can't remember a thing.  You can say they did anything, and they believe you."  She left the guard standing at the table and took Solan the cup of juice.

Karis watched the Ruler of the Known World drop to her knees, offer the drink to her son and gently brush his hair back behind his ear. 'Gods that is a sight no one would believe.' She thought.  It had been shocking enough when Xena had knelt to Gabrielle and proposed in front of all those people.  The Amazon guard was grateful however for Xena's last remark because now she knew exactly how to deal with Iolaus' advances.

Solari stood at the foot of Jana's bed.  The injured guard had stopped twitching since Gabrielle had reassured her of Solan's safety, but she was still unconscious.  The second in command growled to herself and spoke under her breath. "I'll get her Jana.  I'll make her pay for this."  Swallowing her pride she moved to kneel next to the unconscious woman. She didn't know what to say so she just held her hand and sat  q quietly for a few moments until Ana came to the door.

"We're ready."  The guard waited for Solari to acknowledge the status report before leaving quickly.

"I'm gonna show Ana where the cave is."  She glanced at Ria and Bekka's bunks, both guards were asleep.  Kissing Jana's hand lightly, she continued. "Ana is a good tracker.  She'll find the monster that did this."  Checking again to make sure the others were asleep, she rose, kissed the severely injured guard lightly
on the cheek and whispered.  "Rest well."  Walking quickly to the door, Solari didn't see the knowing look exchanged between the two injured guards that pretended to sleep.

"Are you feeling better?" Gabrielle sat next to her son on the bed.

Solan rolled his eyes at his anxious mom. "Yes, I'm feeling just fine now."  He plucked at the end of the cover and leaned his head back on the headboard of the bed. "You don't have to keep asking me."  He regretted the sharp sounding retort as soon as he said it, but it was about the hundreth time she had asked in the last candlemark.

"Solan." Xena's warning voice rumbled through the room. "We were all very worried about you."

Sighing he ran his fingers through his hair. "I know."  He reached out and held his mom's hand. "I'm sorry."

She smiled and accepted his apology.  "I guess being stuck in bed all morning would make anyone cranky."  Glancing at Xena she grinned. "Don't you think so Xena?"

One perfect eyebrow arched. "Yeah, sure."  The Conqueror quickly became lost in thought about a entire morning in bed, with Gabrielle of course.  'Cranky?  I think exhausted would be more like it.'  The Warrior Princess agreed and couldn't think of any other way she would rather spend a morning either.

Solan didn't catch the knowing looks between his moms and sighed. "I'm just upset because my ring is gone."  He looked at his bare ring finger.

Xena chuckled, reaching into her pocket. "Here."  She tossed him the small object.

"Wha...."  He barely caught the ring. "Where?"

"She sent it to us."  Gabrielle shuddered at the memory of the ominous delivery and was grateful for Xena's warm hand on her shoulder.  "It will take longer to get your headband back, the smith will have to straighten it and get the blood out of the design."

Solan went pale. "Blood?"  He reached up to touch his head.

"It wasn't yours." Xena explained. "She probably used what she had on her from the fight with the guards."  It was a tactic she had used herself from time to time.  Since there was no way to tell blood from blood and royalty tend to get outraged when one of their own is hurt she would often just use whatever blood was available.  It was one thing to kidnap/terrorize a person and quite another to actually hurt them.  The first way, terror/kidnapping usually got you what you wanted.  The second, actually hurting the hostage, usually got you what you wanted, then an army or two down your throat.  Nothing brings royalty together like a kidnapping, she had learned that the hard way.  The Conqueror knew all too well that fear was the key to power.  "She wanted to scare us."

"Well I guess she got what she wanted." Gabrielle snorted.

"Yes she did." Xena agreed.

"So the guard that would be Queen has finally seen what I saw the other day."  Callisto looked at Iolaus.  "So she is fully cooperative with our plan now?"  The Amazons duplicity was concerning.

"She wants Xena dead."  The blonde man had been thrilled at lunch when Karis found him.  She was so upset and ranting.  "She thinks the Conqueror really loves her Queen and is angry that Xena lied to her."  He rolled his eyes. "What did she expect?  This is the Conqueror we are talking about.  It's not like the woman is known for her honesty."

"Hmmmm.... No, she's not."  The resistance leader wasn't entirely convinced.  It seemed awfully convenient for such a defection, especially for such a feeble reason. She had her own views on love.  Tracing her neck with her index finger, Callisto thought for a moment about the implications of that word, love. 'We are very close to achieving our goal.'  She thought. 'This guard may be exactly what we need.'  She smiled. 'Whether she is committed to the cause or not.'

Iolaus got nervous at his leaderís silence. "So what should I tell her?"

She bit the tip of her tongue and smiled. Wrinkling her nose and crinkling her eyes with glee she made a command decision. "Bring her."  She watched him go and considered the decision again, it wasn't really much of a risk.  If it turned out that Karis was just playing with them then it would be a simple thing to kill
the Amazon.  'As a matter of fact.' She thought. 'I haven't made a good kill in a long time.'

Xena leaned forward against the balcony wall, her hands resting lightly on the stony surface.  The Festival was still going on, calmer now than the night before but soon it would pick up intensity again.  She looked at the afternoon sun hanging low in the sky and wished they would get some word from Karis.  The young guard had left before mid-day and had not been heard from since.  She scanned the festival booths again.

"Can you see her?" Gabrielle walked out onto the balcony, moving quickly to Xena's side.

"No."  Shifting to let the little Queen stand in front of her, Xena surrounded the Amazon's waist with her arms and rested her chin on Gabrielle's nearly bare shoulder.  ' I do like Amazon leathers.' She thought.  It was so simple to tilt her head and kiss the smooth skin.

Feeling the light kiss on her shoulder, Gabrielle melted back into the warrior,  her head resting back on the wide shoulder. "Mmmmmm....."

The Conqueror quickly took advantage of the newly exposed flesh and nipped lightly at the Amazon's soft neck.  "By the Gods Gabrielle. Why do you always taste so good?"

Laughing, Gabrielle turned in her lover's arms.  "It's the same reason you do."  She pulled the dark head down and captured the willing mouth, gently sucking the bottom lip as she broke the kiss.  "It's called love."

"Love."  The Conqueror considered. "I like it."  She ducked down to taste it again.

"Mmmm...." Gabrielle stood on the tips of her toes. "Me too."  Lacing her fingers behind Xena's head she pulled the warrior down to her.

"Me too."  The Warrior Princess agreed.  She brushed thin strands of strawberry blonde hair away from Gabrielle's face.  "You are so beautiful."

Gabrielle savored the light caress on her face.  "Are you trying to seduce me?"

"That depends."  Xena continued her feather light exploration of Gabrielle's exposed skin.

"On what."  The Amazon tried not to shiver in reaction to Xena's touch.

"On whether or not it's working."  Dropping to her knees, the Conqueror kissed the wide expanse of exposed skin on Gabrielle's abdomen.  Looking up with pleading blue eyes she whispered. "Is it working?"

"Yes."  Gabrielle pulled the warrior to her feet. "A little too well."  She hugged Xena tightly. "This is not the right time or place....."  The rest of her sentence was cut off as she felt herself swept off her feet and carried quickly inside the rooms.  "Xena really, we can't...... what if Karis is in trouble?"

"Karis can take care of herself."  Xena gently lowered the woman in her arms onto the bed. "but we can wait if you want."  She disengaged herself from the prone woman and walked to the table with a pitcher and tumblers on it.  Pouring herself a drink she offered. "Do you want a drink?  Are you hungry do you want something to eat?"

Rising from the bed, Gabrielle glided past Xena, to the door.  She spoke quickly to the guards outside and when she returned answered the woman's question. "No I don't want a drink."  She took the tumbler from the large weapon's worn hand and set it on the table. "I do want something to eat though."  She slid her hands across the cool silk of the Indian outfit, feeling the heat from the skin underneath.

"What do you want?"  Piercing blue eyes searched the young Queen's face.  Her heart nearly stopped when she heard Gabrielle's whisper.


Karis looked across the table at the blonde man.  It had taken all afternoon to catch up to him, and now she wished he had been harder to find.  'Just a few more moments and I would have given up, looking today.'  She thought. 'Then I could have talked to Solari.'  She regretted that her second in command had been too busy with the trackers and the cave where Solan was found to talk today.   'I have to tell her soon.' The head guard looked around the crowded tavern. 'Too many people have seen me carrying on with Iolaus now.'  She knew the loyal Amazon was smart, but now that she had permission, she wanted to fill in her second before she jumped to the wrong conclusion.

The sun was beginning to set and she was going to have to make her move soon.  Slow and steady was how she should play it and she knew it.  The problem was, since the kidnapping and assassination attempt,  she knew Callisto wasn't going to play it like that. 'I have to get into the resistance, at any level.  Then I can work my way up.'   She thought. 'Time is running out.'  Signaling the barmaid she ordered another round.

"I hear the guards were kept pretty busy last night."  Karis sipped her fresh drink.

"Yeah."  Iolaus quickly finished his old drink and tossed aside the tumbler, grabbing the fresh mug and smiling. "The first night is always pretty rowdy.  Most of the people we picked up were just drunk though.  We held them until they slept it off and tonight will probably be more of the same."  He eyed the dark haired girl curiously. "You on duty later?"

Pushing down the revulsion that question implied, Karis smiled and answered. "No, I don't have to be anywhere tonight."  She knew where she wanted to be though, in a large room with a crackling fire and Solan sleeping next to her.

"Good."  He grinned at her and took a long gulp of his drink, tipping the mug totally upside down he got every last drop.  Slamming the empty container to the table, he let out a satisfied smack of his lips and rose.  "Com'on.  There's someone I want you to meet."

Karis was concerned.  'He's not nearly drunk enough for what I had planned.'  She barely controlled her stomach when he wrapped a possessive arm around her and led her out of the tavern.  'Someone to meet?' She thought it was too early to hope for a meeting with his superiors.

No one noticed when another patron at the bar, silently followed the couple into the night.

Solan sighed and paced the darkening room again.  He had finally gotten Gabrielle and Xena to leave by telling them he was tired and wanted to sleep.  He was actually so keyed up that he felt like he would never sleep again.  Karis had been gone nearly all day and although he didn't know entirely what she had planned, he knew it involved Iolaus and he knew it was dangerous.

Jamie watched him pace around the room.  'Poor kid.' She thought and shifted the staff in her hand .'He has got to be going stir crazy.'  She couldn't imagine being stuck in the same room all day.  The tribe she had been raised in didn't even have doors on their huts and quite frankly even inside guard duty was a little closer to prison than she wanted to feel.  She cleared her throat. "You seem to be over the effects of the drug."  She smiled at the young Prince as he swiveled to face her. "Do you have a practice staff here?  I could spar with you if you felt like it."

A slow smile spread across Solan's face, then was wiped away. "No, all my weapons are in the training room."  He had always liked Jamie.  She was older, maybe even older than Xena but she never questioned anything her younger superiors ordered.

"If I may suggest then....."  She looked at the young man. "Perhaps you should go get them."

A thrill of excitement traveled through him. "Perhaps I should."  The thought of getting out of this room was enough to make him smile. "I wouldn't want to be unarmed, now would I?"

"No, my Prince."  Jamie bowed.

Gabrielle felt herself drifting in a quiet place, safe, relaxed, peaceful.  This was as close to Elysia as she ever expected to get.  There was nothing else like being held by Xena.  Shifting slightly in the woman's arms she looked up at the warrior's peaceful face.  'She is so beautiful.'  She studied every line of the relaxed visage, noting how sleep made her seem so much younger.  'She has had a hard life.' Gabrielle thought and no longer sleepy, disengaged herself from the resting woman.

She crossed to the desk and began to read the journals from where she left off.  'Let's see, I was up to Caesar, M'lila and Nicklios....'  She turned to the page she had marked and began to read more of Xena's life in her own words.  She had never imagined the warrior could be so vivid in her descriptions.  If she didn't know better she would have accused the Conqueror of being a poet.  Of course the images were horrific most of the time but very, very vivid.

The Amazon forced herself to read the journal through her love's dark time, her tortured thoughts after Caesar betrayed her, after M'lila was killed, while she was crippled and walking with a cane.  Gabrielle read the exploits of the Conqueror as she forged her way east through army after army, with the great warlord Borias.  Most of these stories were well known, but they were told differently by the travelling bards.  Xena's point of view made them quite different.When they met with Lao Ma, she stopped reading.

'I need to thank her for helping Jana.'  She had been so worried about Solan and then Karis' mission that the diplomatic courtesy task had been all but forgotten.  Of course Xena had helped take her mind off things too, she grinned wryly and thought. 'Some distractions are more fun than others.'

Marking her place in the journal, Gabrielle quickly wrote a note to tell Xena where she was in case the warrior woke up and quietly left the room.

At any other time Solan would have been thoroughly disgusted with eight guards, but now it was kind of comforting.  It would have been even better if Karis was one of them.  He knew though if Karis were in the Palace he would be in his room with her, not in the training room with eight guards watching him.

He quickly chose the staff he wanted and twirling it experimentally, he gestured for Jamie to come for him.    It felt good to test himself against someone other than Karis or his Mom.  The guard was quick and of course she was good.  All the royal guard were, it was a requirement.  He eyed the sword strapped to her back and in a twirling move that disarmed the startled guard, called a halt to the match. "That was great!"  His bright smile lit up the room.  "Can we fight staff against sword now?   Karis spars with me like that sometimes......"  His puppydog face was too much for Jamie and she slid her sword from it's sheath.

'I'll take it easy on him.' She thought.  It wasn't long before she discovered taking it easy was a good way to get the business end of a staff upside your head.  Of course he didn't actually hit her in the head but if he hadn't pulled back the swing she would have been unconscious. 'Okay boy.'  She thought. 'If that's how you want to play it....fine.'  She attacked with renewed vigor and was pleasantly surprised that he defended himself so well.  Back and forth across the wooden floor they battled each other.  In the end it was the more experienced fighter that won but she was impressed with the boy's ability to defend himself so well using only basic moves.  The watching guards were impressed as well.

"That was well done, my Prince."  Jamie slid her sword back to its place and tried to make him feel better for his defeat.  "A staff is just no match for a sword."

Chuckling, he thought. 'That's what you think.'  Recalling the sight of Gabrielle disarming Xena with only a staff, he smiled a the guard. "Thanks."

She grinned back. "Anytime.  It's always fun to spar with someone that knows what they are doing."

He leaned on his staff and bowed at the compliment. "Thanks again."  Hefting his chosen weapon he gestured to the door.  "It's probably time to be heading back. I don't want Mom worried about me."   He felt good now.  Most of his tension had been worked off and he might even be able to sleep. 'It would be so much easier if Karis were here though.'  He sighed and knew no matter how good he felt sleep would not come easily until she returned.

"Please inform Lao Ma that Queen Gabrielle of the Amazons requests an audience with her."  The small Amazon addressed the guards at the door in the most respectful tone of voice she had.

"Lao Ma has requested that she not be disturbed for the rest of the evening."  The guard was impressed with the Amazon's respectfulness and if it were up to him he would have admitted her.  The simple fact was Lao Ma never saw anyone this late and was probably already asleep.

"I see."  She was disappointed. 'I guess it is kind of late.' She consoled herself.  She had hoped to talk with the fascinating woman before she read about her in Xena's journal.  "Then please tell her I was here and that I would like a meeting with her at her convenience."  Pressing her hands flat together in front of her, Gabrielle bowed and walked back to her waiting guards.  All TEN of them.

'This is getting ridiculous.' She thought.  The problem was neither Karis or Solari were around so none of the guards were taking any chances.  It would have been almost comforting if she only knew that Karis was all right.  The fact that Solari was gone too reassured her somewhat.  'With Solari as backup, Karis will be fine.'  Gabrielle had no doubt that the guards were well on their way to infiltrating the resistance.  There was no reason for her to believe that Karis had not informed her second in command of the situation.

"Let's go see Solan."  She began walking toward the Imperial wing of the Palace.  'He will be worried about Karis.' She thought and an uneasy feeling swept through her. 'Maybe I should check in on Xena too.'

The total quiet of the room woke Xena abruptly.  Sitting straight up in the bed she looked around the empty room and called out. "Gabrielle."  She quickly found her robe and checked the washroom and the balcony, no Gabrielle.  A vague feeling of uneasiness swept through her. 'She's always left a note before.'    Hugging herself more against the cold feeling settling in her gut than against the temperature, the Conqueror sat in one of the large chairs by the fire.  Pulling her knees up to her chest, she stared into the fire and quietly rocked back and forth. 'She will be back soon.'  The Warrior Princess' comforting words fell on deaf ears but she continued. 'I'm sure she will be back soon.'  Tuning their ears for sounds in the hall, she heard a large group moving toward the rooms. 'See, I told you she would be back.'  The Conqueror didn't listen, lost
in her own thoughts of impending separation.  The sound of the door actually opening and Gabrielle's worried voice calling her name finally pulled her out of her despair.

With a sound of immense relief, the Conqueror pushed off the chair and half jumped, half flew to Gabrielle.  Gathering the small woman in her arms, she buried her face in the honey-fire silk and reveled in the ever-present lilac/leather/Gabrielle combination that always accompanied her love.

Gabrielle was concerned at the reaction for more than one reason.  Mainly because Xena was upset and she didn't know why, but the second reason took precedence at the moment. With as much breath as she could muster Gabrielle managed to choke out. "Xena, honey, I can't breathe."

"Oh."  The warrior released the hold and backed off, trying to apologize. "I'm sorry.... I..."

Signaling the guards to leave, Gabrielle closed the distance between them. "Shhhh.... it's okay."  She reached up and stroked the larger woman's cheek. "Do you want to talk about it?"  Ducking to catch downcast blue eyes, she smiled at the warrior's silence. "Okay."  She brushed long dark hair back over the woman's slumped shoulders. "We can talk about it later."  Sliding her arms around the quiet woman's waist, Gabrielle listened to the heart she loved beating just under her ear. "I love you Xena."

One warm tear slid down her cheek as she circled the small shoulders.  "I love you too Gabrielle."  The thought of losing the precious woman haunted her.  'She won't leave us.'  The Warrior Princess had faith in the Amazon's love for them.  'I know she loves us now.' The Conqueror argued. 'But she doesn't know.'  The image of a young woman impaled on a tree branch flashed through her mind. 'How will she stay with us after what I did?'  The thought of waking up alone for the rest of her life caused her to tighten her grip.

The Amazon felt the increased pressure and was concerned. "Xena..."  She pulled away from the embrace to look into the sad blue eyes. "...please tell me what's wrong."  The eyes she held flickered for a moment and Gabrielle knew the direction the look had gone, straight to the desk and the journals.  A sudden flash
of memory forced a thought and she gently voiced her suspicion. "There is something in your journals you don't want me to read."

The Conqueror's breath rate increased and her lips trembled slightly. She couldn't speak so she nodded yes then found her voice. "I don't want you to hate me."  Lowering her head to rest her chin on the shorter woman's shoulder she whispered. "I don't want you to leave me."

Pulling back slightly, Gabrielle cupped the large sad face in her hands to force the woman to look at her. "I will never leave you.  I love you.  I didn't know it was bothering you so much for me to read the journals.... I'll stop.   If that's what you want."

"You can't stop now."  It was almost a howl.  The Conqueror knew if she asked, Gabrielle wouldn't read anymore and she would never say anything else about it.  She also knew that the thought would fester in the Amazon's head. 'What could be so horrible, she didn't want me to read?'  It would come between them, it would cause them to separate just as surely as if she did read it.

"Shhh.... it's okay.... everything will be okay."  Gabrielle held the anguished woman tightly.  "Do you want to be here when I read whatever it is?"  She was trying to be reasonable with someone who wasn't thinking clearly.

"I don't know."  It wasn't something Xena had thought about.

"Okay.  Listen.  You mark the page before the event you are worried about.  When I get there I'll tell you and you can decide then.  Would that be okay?"  Gabrielle saw a glimmer of hope flare in the sad blue eyes. "I promise I won't read any farther than you mark until you say it's okay."  Disengaging herself from the embrace she crossed to the desk and retrieved the journal she was currently on.  "Is the event in this one?"

Xena looked at the date range engraved into the front leather cover and nodded yes.

"Okay."  The Amazon handed the book to Xena. "Mark the page you want me to stop at.  I won't read anymore after that."  Seeing that the Conqueror was hesitant to even open the book, Gabrielle cleared her throat. "I'm going to check on Solan."  Kissing the upset woman briefly but firmly on the lips, Gabrielle went to check on her son.

Karis did her best to play up to Iolaus' ego.  She actually despised the little strutting toad, and her feelings were quickly reaching the active hatred stage.  Anyone, watching however would see a couple having a good time at the Festival.  She did manage to get a few more drinks in him as they passed vending booths but he was still coherent.  Intoxication was making him talkative though, she had gotten him to tell her they were going to see Callisto. Intoxication was also making him a bit grabby.  Not that he wasn't before, but sobriety had kept his urges in check, the spirits in him were now taking over.  He leered at her constantly and when they reached a secluded dark alley he took it as a good sign.

"Before we go see the witch, let's have some fun huh?"  He pushed her into the darkness.

'I guess I'm gonna have to do this the hard way after all.'  It took every ounce of willpower she had not to resist the groping hands and questing lips.  When she felt the filthy cold stone wall against her back, the Amazon tried to push away from it, unfortunately it only encouraged the man.

"Mmmm..." He mumbled against her chest. "There are advantages to being short."

She was glad the darkness covered the revulsion on her face as he continued his assault.  The young guard closed her eyes as his hand began to move up her leg,  He had made it half way up her thigh when a sound distracted her, she opened her eyes in time to see a glint of moonlight on a sword as the hilt was smacked against Iolaus' head.  Karis felt him slide away from her, unconscious and she crouched in a defensive position.

"I'm not stupid enough to fight you."  Solari walked close enough to offer her leader a hand up. "It does take me awhile to catch on to things though."

Karis smiled grimly and accepted the hand. "I take it you approve."

"Not of your methods."  The archer replied. "But yes, someone needs to get into the resistance."  She looked at the man at their feet. "Is he the only way?"

Running her fingers through her hair Karis nodded. "He was going to take me to Callisto....after."

"Oh, uh...sorry."  Solari was sorry for interrupting the plans and she was sorry for what the plan entailed.  "Now what?"

Karis took a deep breath.  "Now, you are going to have to rob us."  She reached down and took Iolaus' money pouch.  She took his ring and this earring and handed them to Solari.  Taking her bracelet, necklace and small money pouch off she handed those to Solari too.

"Okay."  The archer turned to go but Karis' hand on her arm stopped her.

"Wait."  Deep brown eyes searched the second in commandís face. "There's something else you have to do."

Solari's eyes widened with realization. "No..... I can't!"

Grim determination settled on Karis' face. "You have to."  She released the woman's arm. "It's the only way."

Xena looked at the entry in her journal and closed her eyes against the memory of that time.  Turning back one page she placed a blank piece of parchment into the book.  The clean sheet looked so inviting, she wished she could just go back and erase the things she had done, just start over with a clean sheet.  After a short internal banter, Xena began to write on the page.  'This is for the best.' The Warrior Princess assured them.  'You had better be right.'  The Conqueror wasn't happy with the solution they had come up with but it seemed logical and they were, for once, all in agreement.  'Well almost all of us.' She thought.  The dark sleeper at their core stirred at the thought and Xena went very still for a moment, willing their restless sister back to sleep.

She finished the note quickly and blew on the page to dry the ink and the wax.  She examined the book as she closed it. 'Children record their dreams in journals.'  She thought. 'All this contains are nightmares.'

Pushing away from the desk, Xena suddenly needed to hold Gabrielle.  It was sheer strength of will that kept her from running through the secret passage.  Even then she covered the distance quickly.

Gabrielle found Solan on his balcony.   A cool wind blew his hair back from his face as he scanned the booths below.   "Solan.  It's too dark.  You will never see her from here."

He stubbornly continued searching for a short while, then sighing he slumped his shoulders.  Wrapping one arm around her shoulders he jostled her gently. "You're right."  Guiding her back inside, they sat by the fire to warm up a bit.

"You seem to be feeling better."  Gabrielle smiled at her son.  She couldn't be sure if the color in his cheeks was just a healthy glow or if it was reflection from the fire.

"Yeah, a bit of sparring worked the last of the drug out of my system."  He unconsciously glanced at the staff leaning against the headboard of the bed.

She followed his gaze and recognized his favorite practice staff. She knew he had left it in the training room.  "You went out?!"  The terror of losing him surfaced full force. Her anger was apparent and, as any good guard would, Jamie jumped to Solan's defense.

"We only went to the training room, my Queen."  She felt a little responsible for the trip and looked at the ground in supplication. "There were eight of us with him at all times."

Gabrielle turned her attention to the guard. "Look at me."  The command snapped the woman's head up even as she knelt at her Queen's feet. Gabrielle immediately recognized the sharp features that characterized Amazon's in the western tribes.  Many of them had a hard time when they first arrived most opting to go home once the treaties were signed. 'They didn't like doors.' She remembered.   "This was your idea?"  It was more an accusation than a question.

Bowing her head again, Jamie replied. "Yes,  my Queen.  I thought the young Prince should be armed."

"Yes he should be!"  Xena walked out of the closet door. Being in the same room with Gabrielle was enough to calm her. "You can't punish her for wanting to protect Solan."

Solan jumped to his guard's defense, he didn't want her to get into trouble because of him. "Please, Mom she only suggested the idea.  It was my decision to go.  I should have just sent for the staff.  Don't punish Jamie."

The Warrior Princess was proud that Solan was taking responsibility for his decision.  It would have been very easy to sit back and let the guard take the blame.

Gabrielle regarded the kneeling guard with her most royal pose. "Rise Jamie."  She looked up at the guard. "I don't want you in here guarding Solan."  She saw the hurt in the guard's eyes.  To lose the Queen's trust was the worst thing to happen to a guard. "I will talk to Karis or Solari about reassigning you."  Now she smiled at the guard. "I never want to see you INSIDE a room again."  Taking the guard by the arm Gabrielle gently led her to the door. "Go to the hospital and bring me a status report on Jana."

"Yes, my Queen."  Jamie was thrilled to be out of the room.  Guarding Solan was a great responsibility but being inside for that long was unnerving.  She went down the hall quickly determined to bring back good news for her Queen.

The Warrior Princess stood behind Gabrielle with her arms around her shoulders.  She listened to the little Queen explaining to their son about the closed in feeling western Amazon's got in rooms with doors.  She marveled at her loves ruling hand. 'She punishes without punishing.'  The Conqueror was also impressed with Gabrielle and the way she handled her people. 'It's too bad she won't be able to do that with us.'  The warrior chuckled and rested her chin on the top of the honey fire hair. 'Who says she won't?'  There was no good response to that question so the Conqueror remained silent and soaked in the nearness of her love.

Solan knew that Jamie wasn't from the area around the main village.  Now he was curious about the western Amazons. "Do they train with different weapons in the west?"

A wisp of sadness swept through Gabrielle. 'He is still preoccupied with weapons.'  She thought and sighed. "The sword is their main weapon.  Amazons from the western tribes are the best sword fighters anywhere."

"What about Jamie?"  The young prince knew he had almost taken her in the fight and he wanted to judge his skill level.

"Jamie is rated advanced or she couldn't carry a sword or be in the royal guard."  Gabrielle searched the boy's deep brown eyes. 'He already knew that.'  She thought and continued with more information specific to Jamie. "She is better than most.  I don't think she would be able to beat Karis, but she would have a good shot at anyone else."

Solan smiled at the news but he wanted to spar more. "Tomorrow, will I be allowed to go to the training room?"

The fact that he asked practically guaranteed the answer to be yes.  Gabrielle opened her mouth to reply when the door burst open.

Xena was instantly between the door and her family. A warm hand on her arm relaxed the defensively tensed muscles.

"Relax!  It's Jamie."  Gabrielle saw the guard was panting though.  "What's wrong?..... Oh no..Jana?"  If the guard had died she would have major trouble with the rest of the Amazon's seeking revenge. 'One in particular.' She thought.

Jamie shook her head. "No, It's Karis and Iolaus. They were just brought in to the infirmary."

When he heard Karis' name, Solan jumped up and headed for the door.

"Whoa."  The Warrior Princess grabbed his elbow. "Where do you think you are going?"

"I have to go to Karis."  He pleaded with his Mother, then turned his puppy dog look on both of them. "Please, if she is hurt she needs me."

Pale blue eyes met misty green.  'What if it were us?'  The shared question was clear in each others eyes and Gabrielle sighed. "Take your staff."  It was pointless to forbid it. He would go anyway.  She knew because, if it were Xena, then no one would be able to stop her, either.

He gathered his weapon quickly and they all went to check on the injured guards. Gabrielle shook her head at the entourage.  Her ten guards plus Solan's eight, plus some strays of Xena's they picked up along the way completed their small invasion force and the Amazon Queen laughed at the thought of taking over the infirmary.

"I'm fine."  Karis reassured the new arrivals.  The Amazon healers had heard the same protest since the guard was brought in and move to check on the other patients.  "I'm sure it looks far worse than it feels." She shifted on the bed and grimaced as the bruises on her stomach were disturbed.

Gabrielle looked down at the guard and marveled at the young woman's spirit.  Her eye was darkening as they spoke but the small cut just above her eyebrow had stopped bleeding.  She didn't want to make the injured woman smile for fear the cut on her lip would reopen so she simply nodded and moved to check on Jana, leaving Solan to visit with the his love.

Solan knelt next to Karis' bed, took her bruised hand in his own and very gently pressed his cheek against it. "You had me scared there for a minute."  He smiled at her, brushing the hair from her forehead, away from her wound.

"But I'm awake."  She smiled at the young man and winced as the action pulled the cut on her lip.  "You were so out of it when they found you.... you scared me."  With her free hand she began to tug at the bedding under her and tried to change the subject. "I hate this bed."

With the confident air of Royalty, Solan winked at his love. "Let's see what we can do about that!" Motioning for a healer drew an instant response from three Amazon healers.   "Karis is uncomfortable in this bed.  I'm going to move her to her own bunk." The plan of action drew Galen's attention.

Stopping his examination of Iolaus' head injury, the old healer was outraged when the other healers bowed to the boy's request. "What is the matter with you?"  He questioned his fellow healers. "Who does he think  he is, telling you what to do with a patient?"  The healer was still stinging from having the Amazon healers take over for him.  The fact that they were all looking at him like he was stupid didn't help matters any.

Solan stood and looked directly at the rude man. "I think I'm......."  He glanced at Xena. "..... the  Amazon Prince."  He looked at Gabrielle. "What do you think, Mom?"

Gabrielle laughed and glanced at Xena who had started to chuckle.  "I believe you are correct, son."

Throwing his hands up in the air, Galen stalked to the storage room for more herbs.  Laughter at his retreat didn't help the man's mood at all.

The Amazon healers cautioned the young woman. "If you begin to feel worse come back immediately.  The bruises on your ribs and stomach could signal worse injury."

Karis wrapped her arm around Solan's shoulder as he helped her stand and winced as she tried to take a deep breath. "It's not bad really.  I just got the wind knocked out of me."  She saw Solari walk in and grinned wickedly. "They weren't really that great of fighters.  Kind of pathetic really.  They just surprised me."

The taunt had the desired effect and Solari glared at her Captain.  Opening her mouth to retort, the archer thought better of it.  She flexed her hand a few times and decided not to say anything, moving quickly to Jana's bedside.  She thought she saw Xena's eyes twinkling and bowed to Gabrielle before kneeling next to Jana's bed.  She wanted to hold the injured woman's hand, but not in front of all these people.  Gabrielle's warm hand on her shoulder drew her attention.

"The healers say she needs to be talked to and it helps if someone is holding her hand."  The Queen smiled down at the reluctant guard.  "Xena and I have to go now."  She put a bit of plea in her voice. "Will you stay with her?"

Solari looked up into the piercing green eyes in wonder.  The guard had no idea how Gabrielle could see inside a person and know exactly what they were thinking or feeling.  With heightened respect for the small woman, Solari slid her hand under Jana's and whispered. "Yes.  My Queen.  I'll stay."

Gabrielle smiled at the guard and linked her elbow with Xena. "Let's go make sure Solan and Karis are settled."  She sighed as half the remaining guards exited first and the other half waited for them to go before they followed.

"Solan." Karis protested when they stopped at his room. "I can't stay here."

"You can't stay in the guard's room.  There are too many shift changes.. you would never rest." Solan gestured for the door to be opened. He led the injured Amazon to the large bed and once she was settled smiled. "See, now isn't this better than that noisy guard room, with all the half naked women running in and out at all hours of the day and night....." He seemed lost in thought for a moment.  "You know, I should probably stay in your bunk since you are staying in mine." His eyes twinkled at her. "When did you say that naked thing happens again?"

Chuckling, Karis waggled her index finger at him.  "Oh no... I'm not telling you anything."  She grinned as he sat on the edge of the bed and grabbed her shaking hand.  "I'm in enough trouble and so are you."

"She's right."  Gabrielle's voice forced both occupants of the bed to look toward the door.

Solan rolled his eyes at their sudden appearance.  "I really wish you wouldn't do that!"  He narrowed his eyes at his Moms walking toward them. "What am I in trouble for this time?"

Green eyes twinkled at the grinning boy. "I'm sure I can think of something."  Signaling the guards to leave them alone, Gabrielle laughed at his expression and looked out the window at the rising moon.  "Don't worry.  It's too late to think up anything good tonight."  She looked at Karis. "Are you comfortable?  Do you need anything?"

Karis shot a brief glance at Solan. "No, I think I'm being taken care of fairly well."   She noticed Xena studying her wounds and unconsciously raised her hand to her injuries.  "It's not that bad is it?"

Xena smiled. "Just a beaut of a shiner."  Pursing her lips she grinned. "Solari has a nice swing."

Karis was shocked for a moment that Xena had seen through their ruse, then grinned. "Better Solari's fist in my eye than Iolaus'......"  Karis cut off her thought and glanced at Solan.  Clearing her throat she changed the subject. "Amazon's are good fighters."

Both Xena and Gabrielle noticed Solan's sudden stillness after Karis' abrupt subject switch.  The Amazon Queen realized the young couple needed to talk.  She looked up at the warrior next to her and thought. 'We need to talk too.'   Clearing her throat she spoke softly to the injured guard. "It's getting pretty late.  Get some rest."  With a quick goodnight hug from Solan, the Royal couple went to their own room.

"Xena?" Gabrielle's voice was thoughtful. "I know you are upset about the journals...."  The Amazon studied her lover's still form. "....but why were you so upset when I went to see Lao Ma?"

That was not what the Conqueror expected her to say. "You went to see Lao Ma?"  The thought of the two women talking was enough to send her reeling.

"Yes."  Now Gabrielle was puzzled. "Didn't you get my note?"

"No."  The Warrior Princess was calm. "She didn't get a note."

Gabrielle shook her head and walked to the desk. "But I left it right....."  She looked at the desktop. ""  She was confused. "Where is it?"  She knelt to look under the desk.  "Ah Ha!" Half disappearing under the desk, she retrieved the wayward note.  Handing it to Xena she smiled. "It must have gotten blown off the desk after I left."

The Warrior Princess read the note.


Went to thank Lao Ma for helping Jana.
I may check in on Solan too.
I'll be back as soon as I can.


'I wish I had seen that.' Now the Conqueror felt kind of silly for being so scared earlier.  The embarrassment was enough to cause her to retreat into her corner, leaving her sister to deal with Gabrielle.  The Warrior Princess smiled at their love. "This would have helped her. She was frightened."

"But you weren't?"  She was fascinated by Xena's response.  It wasn't often she could get them to talk about each other specifically.

The Warrior Princess took advantage of the Conqueror's absence to hold Gabrielle in her arms. "I know you love us.  I don't have the nightmares."  She stroked the silky hair. "She is frightened that you will hate her after you read what she did."  Not knowing how long she had before the object of their discussion reappeared the Warrior Princess ducked her head to kiss the Amazon. She hadn't had the Queen truly to herself for what seemed like a very long time.

Gabrielle broke the kiss and sat at the foot of the bed. "What she did?"

"I wasn't strong enough to stop her."  The Warrior Princess wasn't sure she could explain.  She wasn't sure she should try.  Offering her hand to the seated woman, she smiled and changed the subject. "Are you hungry?  We have bread and honey out on the balcony."

Laughing, Gabrielle accepted the hand and wrapped her arm around the silk clad waist as they walked to the balcony. "That brings back memories...."  She looked up into loving blue eyes, remembering their first meeting as adults and the wonderful bread and honey desert they had shared then. "Doesn't it?"

Xena steadied the chair as Gabrielle sat. "Yes.  Yes it does."  She kissed the Amazon on the cheek and sat in the chair opposite her, hoping the Conqueror would let her enjoy a few moments with their love.  They did have a wedding to plan after all.

Karis watched Solan stir the fire.  She knew he was upset.  "Do you want to talk about it?"

Solan stopped messing with the fire and put the poker back on it's stand. Turning to face her, he ran his fingers through his hair. "You let Solari hurt you on purpose."

"Well I didn't enjoy it.  I had to.  It was the only way to make it look like a legitimate robbery." She motioned him over to the bed.  Her injuries weren't all that was bothering him and she knew it.  "I will do anything to make sure you and Gabrielle are safe."

"You were going to let Iolaus...."  He couldn't finish.  The thought of her being with someone else nearly consumed him with jealousy.  Seeing her kiss Xena was bad enough but this was far worse.

"I wouldn't have enjoyed that either."  Opening her arms, she motioned him to very carefully stretch out next to her on the bed.  "I had planned on getting him drunk enough to pass out.  I was hoping he wouldn't remember that we hadn't.....done anything."

"I don't want you to see him anymore."  The request was unreasonable and he knew it.  Sighing he looked around the big room. "I'm sorry."  Snuggling closer to her, he closed his eyes.  "I just don't like it here.  Everything is too....cold..... I like the villages with trees all around."

Karis smiled at the admission. "You felt safe there."  She knew exactly how he felt.

"Yeah."  He looked up into her eyes. "The only time I feel safe here is when I'm with you or
Mom...or Xena."

Patting his head back down to her shoulder, Karis smiled. "Well I'm here now, so get some rest."
She smiled as the young Princes breathing evened out.  This is exactly where she had wanted to be tonight and she knew she owed Solari a thank you.  Resting her cheek against the top of Solan's head, Karis tried not to think of tomorrow.  Losing herself in the peace of the moment, she too drifted off to sleep.

"So Salmoneous will take care of the arrangements?"  Gabrielle had taken a seat on Xena's lap after the planner had left, partially to combat the cool breeze and partially to make it easier to feed each other the last few bites of their dessert.  She now offered the last bit of bread and honey to the warrior.

Accepting the bite, Xena smiled as she chewed and watched Gabrielle, now out of bread, dip her finger into the honey jar.  "Yes.  He will take care of everything, just like we want."

"The cooks won't be happy."  The Amazon's green eyes never let go of the intent blue watching her as she slowly sucked the honey from her finger. "One day is very short notice for a wedding feast."  She dipped her finger back into the honey.

"They are already cooking for the festival." The Warrior Princess reminded her. "It won't be that much more work."  She grabbed the Amazon's wrist and brought the honey-coated finger up to her own mouth. "Besides if we are going to be joined on the last day of Festival, we have to have the feast tomorrow night."

Gabrielle tried to control her shuddering reaction as Xena's agile tongue swirled around her finger.  "And you are sure you are okay with having the ceremony in the Temple?"  That had been a touchy subject to bring up.  The Amazon knew how Xena felt toward the Gods.

"If Artemis doesn't mind, I don't mind."  She looked up at the love of her life. "As far as I'm concerned we are already married.  This is just ceremony."  The Warrior Princess dipped her own finger into the golden honey and offered it to the Amazon in her arms.

Gabrielle licked the sweet fluid off the tapered finger, grinning at the warrior's own tremors before she replied seriously. "It will be dangerous."

"Gabrielle.  Life with me will always be dangerous."  A hint of sadness touched the Warrior's blue eyes. "You can always change your mind."

"Never."  Gabrielle leaned down and captured the slightly frowning lips, the faint trace of honey mixing with Xena's own natural sweetness. "My place is with you."  She had been enjoying the last few candlemarks, just talking and being with Xena. "I've missed you."

'I knew she would rather be with you.' The Conqueror pouted.  The Warrior Princess shook her head. 'I don't think she means it like that.'

"What's wrong."  The Amazon held the shaking head in her hands.

The Conqueror was careful not to hurt Gabrielle, but she forcibly removed the small hands from her face and accused. "You love her more.  She hasn't done bad things.  You would rather be with her."

"You're wrong."  Gabrielle shook her head and snuggled closer. "I love you, both of you....all of you."  She traced her index finger down the Conqueror's neck, looping it under the chain retrieving the half-chakram charm hanging there.  Pulling up the pendant hanging from her own neck, she snapped the necklaces together forming the whole circle. "See?  We fit together just like that."  With the tips of her fingers under the Conqueror's chin she forced the dark head up. "Just like this."  Leaning down and using the softest of pressure pressed her lips against Xena's.

The Conqueror moaned against the softness and tangled her hand in the Amazon's silky hair, pulling her closer.  The intensity of the ache within her surprised her, deepening the contact, needing the contact she continued the heart melding touch.

Reluctantly breaking the kiss Gabrielle rested her forehead against her lover's.  "You need me so much?"

"Yes."  The Conqueror stood bringing the Amazon up in her arms and carrying her to the bed. "I need to hold you and know that you won't leave me."

"I'm here for whatever you need, my Conqueror."  She smiled and stroked the dark warrior's soft cheek. "I promise."

Gently lowering the Amazon to the bed, Xena stretched out beside her love and circled the small woman's shoulder with her right arm.  She felt the silky softness of Gabrielle's hair cascade over her shoulder and the Amazon's warm breath rhythmically beat against her neck.  As the small woman draped her arm across Xena's stomach and her leg tangled with their long counterparts, Xena thought. 'We do fit together.  Just like the pendant.'  It was a comforting thought as she drifted off to sleep, safe in the arms of her love.  Safe with her love in her arms.

A knock on the door caused Callisto's head to lift from it's relaxed position against the wall. Her feet remained crossed on the desk and her chair remained tilted back as she answered the sound. "Come."  She narrowed her eyes as the older man walked in. "What do you want?"

"Iolaus was brought into the infirmary, him and that Amazon whore he was with."  The man shook with fury.  He hated the Amazons.  His pride was still stinging from their Queen's arrogance. "They were robbed at the Festival."

Callisto looked at the man suspiciously. "Their injuries?"

"Iolaus has a mild concussion.  He is staying in the infirmary tonight.  The Amazon was beat up pretty good, black eye, cut lip, bruises on her ribs and stomach." He shrugged. "Minor injuries really.  She has been moved to her own quarters, at the request of the young Prince."  His sneer at the end caused Callisto to smile.

'So the guard and the Prince are together after all'  She smiled. 'That means she is part of Xena's family too, if only by marriage.'  She thought about the story Iolaus had told her about Karis being Queen and the confirmation of the guard/Prince relationship.  Laughing to herself she realized the Amazon was lying to Iolaus. 'She just want's to get to me.'  Xena had tried before to infiltrate their ranks.  It was the reason Callisto was so paranoid about letting people meet her.  "Cheer up, this is happy news."  Laughing at the old man's confusion, she continued. "I'll bet you anything that Amazon is not in the guard's quarters.  I'll bet she is in the young Prince's bed right now... safe in his arms."  She sneered. "Love.  I want no part of it."  She leaned her head back against the wall and thought. 'She probably had one of her own people beat her.'
Callisto almost admired the woman's loyalty.  "Now we know the Amazon will betray us."  Taking a deep breath she smiled again. "Good."

"There's something else you might want to know."  He shifted his weight on his feet.

"Go on."  She leveled her deep brown eyes at him.

"I came through the kitchen on the way here.  All the cooks were grumbling about the wedding feast."  He jumped as the front legs of her chair hit the floor.  "It's supposed to be happening tomorrow night."

"Really?"  Callisto raised her eyebrows significantly. "That means they have decided to hold the ceremony on the last day of Festival."  That didn't really make sense to her. She knew that all it took was Xena's word for the leaders of her kingdoms to believe she was married. That's how she knew the double arrow catch was motivated by love.  If Xena wanted to take over the Amazon's by the Queen's death she would have missed.  Something was going to happen at the ceremony.  Something Xena wanted the gathered Royalty to see, to be present for.  "Is that all?"

"Yes."  He nervously shifted is feet again.  He had only talked to the woman twice before but just the thought of her prowling the night made him nervous.

Raising her eyebrow, Callisto stood and held out her hand. "Don't you have something for me?"

"Oh, yes."  He had almost forgotten and handed her a pouch of herbs. "These will have the desired effect."

She opened the pouch and sniffed the contents. "Good."  Grinning wickedly at the man she laughed. "I guess I won't have to kill you after all."  She laughed louder at the shock on his face. "Oh come now Galen.  No one that associates with me stays alive for long."  Dropping her voice to a seductive register forced a maniacal twinkle in her eye.  "You know that."  She loved taunting the man, in the past her jibes didn't have quite the impact they did now though. Since Kima's death he was the only contact she had in the infirmary but now her life mission was nearly complete and she really didn't need him anymore.

He shuddered at the thought of her last victim. 'The poor slob had spoken against her personal vendetta for Xena' He thought.  He wasn't sure he wanted the dubious honor of being the one healer Callisto sent her torture victims to.  He barely found his voice. "Yes, I know."

Glittering brown eyes studied him intently.  'A pathetic excuse of a man.'   She thought.  "If you ever come here again, I will kill you.  Now get out."  Her gesture was unnecessary as he was out the door before she lowered her arm.  Sighing she reaffirmed her assessment out loud. "Pathetic."  Tilting her chair back against the wall and crossing her ankles on the desk she played with the herb pouch, contemplating the slight change of plans and a few backups even Iolaus didn't know about.  Thoughts of revenge pulsed through her.   'Xena will watch her family burn, just like I did.'


To be continued in Part 6

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