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Legal Disclaimer: All characters from the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess are the sole property of Universal/Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures. I don't have a claim to them... *sigh* :) This version of events, however, is all mine!

Lyrics Disclaimer: I've nicked a few song lyrics from a couple of songs that I thought fit the mood. I don't mean to infringe on any copyright though; just doing it for fun! If you want to know where the lyrics are from then you can drop me a mail. But otherwise, I didn't see the point.

Violence Warning: Yep.. there's violence. Oh come on.. this is Xena we're talking about here! ;) 

Sexual Warning: Well, considering the title, the fact that this is an Alternate website and that it's a Xena story kinda gives away that it's gonna be about two women who are in love. Needless to say; there'll probably be some sex scenes in the story. :)

Hurt/Discomfort Warning: If you're really sensitive to this type of thing, then it might be best to read something else. This isn't a light tale; although in some parts it is, mostly it's dark.

Author's Notes: I have a thing for seeing a couple of episodes, having a brainwave, then writing a story which goes steaming straight off the season storyline. As a result, this has very little relevance to any occurrences after the Second Season. Basically, Gabrielle is still an Amazon Queen, with Ephiny ruling as Regent. I guess you could say it takes place a little while after the events of 'The Quest' and 'A Necessary Evil'. Over here in Good Ol' England, we are severely behind, and those without Sky etc. have no hope! As you might be able to tell, I'm one of them. So I know there may be a few discrepancies throughout the story and feel free to tell me; but don't expect any changes if I think that it's necessary for the my plot line. 

Anyway... after all that.. here we go! Presenting... my first attempt at Xena fan fiction.

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Love's Test by Wolfsword  

Chapter One

Two very different people

Too scared to get along

‘Til two hearts beat together

Underneath one sun

 

One very special moment

Can turn a destiny

And what some would say, would never change

Has changed for you and me

 

Coz it’s all in the way you look through your eyes

And when all is said and done

All of the fear and all of the lies

Are not hard to overcome

It’s all in the way you look at it

That makes you strong

We were two

Now we are one

 

We are two very different people

So much to overcome

So why care for one another

When there’s so much to be done?

 

Coz sometimes its necessary

Just look how far we’ve come

You could say, my friend, that it’s the end

For a new tale has begun

 

Coz it’s all in the way you look through your eyes

And when all is said and done

All of the fear and all of the lies

Are not hard to overcome

It’s all in the way you look at it 

That makes you strong

We were two

Now we are one

 

One moment in time

Is all the time we need

Just to make a difference

To make it better

For you and for me

If you just believe

 

Just open your eyes  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“So tell me, warrior. What are you scared of?” asked a petite, blonde woman in a hushed voice as a shadowy form entered the cave mouth, out of the dark night.  

Her last words seemed to echo throughout the small cave. A tall body sat down next to the young woman, dumping a supply of soaked firewood next to the large rock, that they had built the fire against, to shield it from the wind. The fire would dry the wet wood that had been brought in, ready for later use. She heard the warrior sit back against the cave wall and sigh. A few minutes went by in silence.

“Let me see your head.”

The smaller woman’s eyes shot open and she looked at her companion. She was met with two orbs as blue as hers were green and Gabrielle felt her breath catch in her throat. No matter how many times she looked into those eyes, she knew she would never get used to the intensity she saw there. But she loved the thrill that shot down her spine every time she did it. She hadn’t heard Xena move, but somehow, the warrior had ended up opposite her.

“Is something wrong, Xena?” Gabrielle asked, as Xena checked her wound.

Xena shook her head and moved back to sit next to the bard against the wall. She stared at the blank cave wall in front of her. Gabrielle was getting slightly worried about the warrior. She had hardly said a word for two days and something was definitely bothering her. Gabrielle decided to let it go for the time being. Besides, if she wants to talk about it, she’ll talk to me soon, she thought to herself. Will she? Her subconscious argued. It wasn’t like Xena would just ditch her in the next village they came across. No, she’d been her sidekick for too long, a part of her mind said. That’s all you are to her though isn’t it? A sidekick, her subconscious whispered. Gabrielle shut off her train of thought abruptly.

“Better a sidekick than nothing to her,” she muttered to herself.

“Did you say something?” Xena was looking at her again, this time with a concerned expression evident on her striking features.

Gabrielle mentally hit herself. Great! Now she’s gonna think that she’s travelling with a psycho who talks to herself.

“No. Nothing.” She sighed.

Xena sighed and rubbed her eyes.

“Look, I’m sorry if I’ve been a grouch these past few days,” Xena apologised. She rubbed the back of her neck with her hand. “You know, it’s that time of the month.” Xena cringed inside at the lie. How could she tell the smaller woman about the thoughts and feelings she’d been experiencing lately that were mostly based around the bard. Outwardly, she tried to smile for the bard, who she knew was probably getting annoyed with the silent warrior. Damn it, warrior. You think she’s gonna want to travel around with a mute! She’s probably going to leave me at the next village we get to, Xena thought.

“Its ok. I know I get really bad at that time too.” Gabrielle smiled at the stoic warrior. She never usually gets this way. She must be trying to make an excuse for wanting to leave me behind, she thought miserably. Gabrielle got up, dragging the blanket that was covering her, with her and searched through their satchels to find some food to take her mind off her bleak outlook. It wasn’t working. Her mind kept drifting back to the dark warrior on the floor. She couldn’t deny that she was attracted to her. Tartarus, who wouldn’t be! But she just didn’t know what to do about it. Fear and excitement coursed through her veins every time she came within touching distance of the woman. If she did anything, it would mean jeopardising their relationship as it was and Gabrielle was not prepared to do that. Not until I know for sure, she mused.

Xena watched Gabrielle through half closed eyes and wondered what was making the bard so agitated. She’s pissed off with you, you fool she chided herself. She had to admit, that the focussed expression on her face was very endearing. Every expression she has is beautiful to you, warrior, she smiled. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes, getting lost in the images her mind conjured up. She wasn’t surprised to find the only thing she could think about was the woman preparing their sparse dinner. Gabrielle’s face floated in front of her and she couldn’t help but smile again. Her smile vanished as her thoughts turned to her present situation. She knew she was drawn to the bard but not only because she was attractive, but there was something else that the warrior couldn’t put her finger on. A number of times, she had come very close to just leaning over and kissing the woman. But she stopped herself before she did anything that would make Gabrielle hate her or run out of her life.

“Xena?”

Xena opened her eyes to see a small hand in front of her face, strips of beef jerky in them. She took them and looked up to thank the woman, but found herself captivated by eyes the colour of emeralds. In that moment she realised what scared her the most.

‘I’m terrified of losing you’ they both thought at the same time.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xena blinked the sleep away from her eyes and watched as the morning sunrays crept along the floor of the cavern. From where she was lying, she could see to a great distance away out of the cave mouth. They were lucky to find a shelter for the night when the torrential rain caught them by surprise. Xena rebuked herself for not paying attention. She should have smelt it in the wind that it would rain and found some sort of shelter sooner. But as it was, she was too distracted by her musings to detect the obvious.

They had taken the shortcut over the mountains and as they were beginning to descend Gabrielle had commented on the darkness of the clouds above them. Almost as soon as the words had left her mouth, the sky had opened and Xena was left trying to make sure that Gabrielle did not slip off the side of the mountain and at the same time look for a place where they could stay to ride out the storm. After several hours, through the driving rain, Xena had spotted the cave and a few minutes later they stumbled into the black entrance, Xena half carrying Gabrielle.

It was pitch black inside and the only way she could see the cave was when a flash of lightening lit up the area. At first glance, Xena had thought that it was someone’s lair, but a quick examination revealed that the place was totally vacant. She had brought Gabrielle as far into the cave as she could and sat her against the wall, on the floor and had started to rub the smaller woman’s bare arms to warm them up, while she wondered how in Tartarus she was going to get a fire to light in this weather. Then she noticed a small ring of stones, behind a large clump of rocks, that she had not seen as they entered the cave. A small pile of wood had been set inside the ring of stones and she had debated with herself briefly on whether it was safe to stay in there. Someone had obviously been expecting to return, but there was nowhere else they could go. On top of the wood were two white stones and Xena had quickly reached over and struck the two flint stones together, watching the sparks come into contact with the dry kindling. The firewood had burst into flames and illuminated the interior of their shelter.

She had turned around to find Gabrielle sleeping, but she knew from experience that to go to sleep when freezing cold is certain death. She had shaken the bard gently to rouse her, but the woman only murmured in her sleep. Xena was getting worried and she quickly stripped her of all her wet clothes and started to rub warmth into the small woman’s cold limbs. But the rub had turned into a massage, which turned into soft caresses and soon Xena realised that Gabrielle was not the only one who was getting warmer as it dawned on her that she was holding a naked Gabrielle, who was now very much awake.

She had stopped immediately, before it went too far and, satisfied that Gabrielle would not slip into a coma because of the cold, she had turned and stalked out of the cave and into the pouring rain to cool herself down. She had stayed out there for a long time, not caring that she was soaked to the bone. She didn’t feel cold, in fact she felt like she had a temperature. All she could think about was Gabrielle. Her eyes, her voice, her laugh, her smile, her body… Stop!  She had forced herself to think about something else.

She could feel the rain easing slightly and in the distance she could see the twinkling lights of the village that they were heading back to. She had left Argo there, to recover from an illness while they journeyed to a neighbouring town to sort out a problem. She thought of the stable boy, a cocky teenager, and she had vowed that if her horse came to any harm, she would throttle him.

She had heard a noise inside the cave and went back inside to check up on Gabrielle. The sight she saw had stopped her in her tracks. Gabrielle was sitting cross-legged before the fire, naked. Most of her lower body was blocked from Xena’s view by the clump of rocks but from her waist up, she had a full picture. The warrior could feel the heat building between her legs and willed her eyes to look at Gabrielle’s face. She had seen puzzlement on her companion’s face and had realised she was staring. Xena had cleared her throat and apologised.

“Er, sorry. Erm, I’m gonna go see whether I can find some more er, wood” she had stuttered as she backed her way out of the cave and she had bolted back out into the howling wind and pitch blackness.

Xena was startled out of her thoughts when Gabrielle, who had been sleeping with her back to Xena, turned over in her sleep and stretched her arm across Xena’s waist, placing her head on the warrior’s shoulder.

“Centaur’s turd,” Xena whispered to herself as she stared up at the roof of the cavern, wishing her desire for the small bard to fade. She looked down on the face of her Gabrielle. Her Gabrielle? Where did that come from, she wondered. She watched as Gabrielle smiled in her dreams. I wonder what’s making her so happy, she thought, disbelieving the feelings of jealousy she was experiencing at the thought of someone else being the centre of the bard’s attention. She felt the bard snuggle closer to her and bury her head into the side of the larger woman’s body.

Xena closed her eyes and took three deep, calming breaths, breathing in the sweet scent of Gabrielle.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lying on the floor of the cavern, Gabrielle was at the point between the dream-world and consciousness, her arm hugging a soft, leather satchel. Her mind wandered back over the previous night, recalling the sense of passion that had swamped her as Xena had stood at the mouth of the cave. The sight had taken her breath away. The warrior’s dark mane was wind swept and the rain had made her armour shine with a light glow. She smiled in her state of half awareness, as she revelled in the feelings that the warrior evoked in her.

Her smiled vanished as she remembered the strange look that came over the warrior’s features, before she took off into the black night. She remembered the feeling of helplessness as she stared out into the dark night, wishing she could tell Xena what her heart screamed every time she came near her. You can’t have her, her mind told her.

In the dawn lit cave, Gabrielle burrowed her head closer into the leather satchel. It reminded her of Xena and it was as close as she could get to being in the warrior’s arms. Suddenly, she had a strange sensation that the satchel was breathing. Oh, Hades. Please, NO! Gabrielle prayed to the God of the Underworld.

Gabrielle slowly lifted her head from where she was resting it. Shit was all she could think as two of the bluest eyes looked down on her. She looked away, only to find herself looking at her arm, slung across the warrior’s waist. She stared at it for a moment, before it sank in and she quickly slid her arm off Xena and knelt up. She looked at the warrior lying on the cave floor for a minute, who was looking at her again with an expression that Gabrielle could not read. A few seconds went by as neither of them said anything before Xena dropped her gaze, only to look away quickly and cough.

At the same time, Gabrielle looked down on herself, and realised she was stark naked. She cleared her throat.

“Er, I’m gonna check outside to see what damage the night did,” said Xena, awkwardly

“Yeah, I’ll clear the cave up,” said Gabrielle, equally as embarrassed “and erm, get dressed.”

Xena sat up and her face came within inches of the bard’s exposed breasts. Xena’s centre was throbbing now and she knew her all the bard had to do was move forward a tiny bit and her self restraint would dissolve.

“Right,” breathed Xena, “I’ll be back soon to help you.” Xena realised how that might sound to the bard. “Erm… with clearing up the camp I mean.” Xena managed.

Xena tore her eyes away from the uncovered woman and made a hasty retreat out of the cave, grabbing two water skins on the way. Outside, she leaned against the side of the mountain, closing her eyes to try and block out the feelings of desire that were coursing through her body. She turned to face the rock face and looked for tiny streams making their way down the mountain side and trickling over jutting out rocks. She put the mouths of the waterskins to these rocks to collect the rainwater to drink. When she was done, she stepped forward and sat down on the cliff edge and looked down over the lip of the precipice. Below her, she saw a great expanse of forest thinking to herself that it would have been safer to go through the woods. She turned her head around to look at the path that they had walked to get to the cave. That’s the last shortcut we ever take, she thought. It was amazing that they had not fallen to their deaths. All it would have taken was a small slip to send both of them over the edge.

She shivered at the thought of the bard having to die that way.

“Cold?” asked a small voice from behind her.

Xena turned at the sound of Gabrielle’s voice, slightly shaken that she had not heard her approaching. This thing she was feeling was definitely having an effect on her to the point that she was losing concentration. If it had been an enemy, she would not have had any defence and could have easily been pushed off the cliff. Her face showed nothing of her concern though and she smiled slightly at the bard.

“No, just thinking.”

“Oh? About what? Anything in particular?” Gabrielle asked, sitting down, leaning her back against the cliff wall.

Yeah I’m thinking about how I would cope if you left me, or died Xena thought. She slid backwards to sit next to the smaller woman. “Its nothing important,” Xena replied, looking into the bard’s eyes, trying to reassure Gabrielle and hoping the small woman would not push her.

Gabrielle studied Xena closely, searching for any sign that the warrior was upset. “Well, whenever you think it’s important, you know you can tell me. I’ll try and help as best I can.” Gabrielle said, earnestly.

“Yeah, I know that,” Xena replied, relieved. “I promise, if there’s something bothering me and you can help, I’ll tell you. You’re my best friend.” Xena laughed. “You’re probably my only friend.”

Gabrielle laughed as well. “Don’t be stupid. You probably have more friends around the known world then I have hairs on my head.”

“Ha, well you must be bald then.” Xena quipped, grinning and tousling the bard’s golden locks. Before Gabrielle could retaliate, Xena reached around and started to tickle Gabrielle unmercifully.

“OK OK! You win!” gasped Gabrielle, trying to take deep breaths, but collapsing into fits of laughter instead, as Xena’s long fingers found her most ticklish spots.

Xena subsided and let her friend catch her breath, smiling childishly. She rested her head on the wall behind and closed her eyes. Her senses were heightened and she could taste the freshness of the mountain air. She could feel the bard’s closeness and she could sense Gabrielle watching her. “See something you don’t like?” Xena teased, her eyes still closed.

She felt the small hand heading towards her belly and she caught it quickly before it had a chance to reach its target. Xena cracked one eye open and squinted at the woman squirming around, trying to free her hand. She laughed again and released her hold, the hand darting quickly out of reach. When she looked over at Gabrielle she saw her friend pouting and rubbing her wrist.

“Did I hurt you?” she asked, alarmed that she might have hurt the woman.

Gabrielle didn’t answer and she turned her head away from Xena. The warrior raised an eyebrow and studied the woman. Suddenly she reached over with her arm and grabbed the smaller woman in a hug. “I’m sorry,” she whispered in her friend’s ear.

“It's alright, just let me outta this bear hold!” came a muffled voice, from where Gabrielle’s face was pressed against her body.

Gabrielle sat up, still pouting. All of a sudden, her small hand darted out and a bunch of stones the size of pins were dropped down the warrior’s armour. Xena gasped and then sat very still, waiting for the stones to settle and then turned to glare at the bard, who had kept her wits about her and moved a safe distance away. Gabrielle had her hand over her mouth, trying to stop her laughter, but it wasn’t working, and small snorts were escaping from her mouth. As the warrior stood to grab the smaller woman, the sound of the small stones could be heard rattling about inside her armour. This almost made Gabrielle collapse in fits of laughter. Xena glowered at her friend, who was very swiftly backing away to the other side of the cave mouth. The warrior advanced, awkwardly, and with every step, rocks rattling inside her. She reached the cave mouth and stood for a moment outside, throwing a look that said ‘I’ll get you for this’ the bard’s way, before she entered to empty the unwanted items from her clothing.

Should have seen that coming, warrior she admonished herself. She reached around to unfasten the buckle holding her armour in place, when she felt small hands take hold of hers and shove them gently away.

“Need some help?” Gabrielle grinned at the warrior.

Xena couldn’t help but grin in return. She watched as Gabrielle undid all of the straps on her body armour, longing to take the woman there and then. It seemed to the warrior that Gabrielle was teasing her. But that can’t be, can it? she mused. Don’t be daft, dumbass. She loves you as a sister. As soon as she thought that, she could feel her heart breaking. I won’t push her away, Xena resolved.

Gabrielle could feel Xena’s eyes on her as she unbuckled the breastplate. She longed to know what the stoic warrior was thinking. Gabrielle recalled the total happiness that had enveloped her when they were playing about. Nothing else had mattered but them and there was no one else in their world. If I can’t have her, I’ll make do with what I’ve got.

The armour came free and Xena shook her leathers out, freeing them of the tiny stones. Gabrielle grinned again and Xena looked at her in playful disgust.

“You’re such a child, you know that?” said Xena.

“No more than you, my friend.” replied Gabrielle.

They looked at each other for a minute, trying to read each other’s gaze, before Gabrielle broke eye contact.

“Shouldn’t we be going?” she asked, looking at the sun begin to fall. “Helios is already half way through his journey, and we’ve done nothing but muck about on a mountain top.”

Gabrielle walked out of the cave, leaving Xena wondering whether the bard was being serious or not.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I do not muck about!” said Xena, as they made their way through the forest.

“I cannot believe you’re still going on about that!” Gabrielle said, shaking her head. “Ok fine, for argument’s sake, you’re right. You do not muck about.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re just… in touch with your inner child.” Gabrielle bolted as fast as she could along the track, hoping that Xena wouldn’t chase her. She was wrong of course and she soon found herself on the forest floor, pinned down by the larger woman who was tickling her.

Suddenly, she felt the playfulness halt abruptly and she felt the change come over the warrior. Without warning, Xena took off at full speed, Gabrielle only just managing to keep up with her. As Gabrielle rounded the corner, she ran into Xena, who had stopped dead in her tracks.

In front of them, in the clearing, were three large beasts surrounding a woman. Xena quickly pulled Gabrielle behind the screen of trees. The woman was obviously a warrior and she stood facing the beasts, two razor-sharp swords in each hand. She was breathing heavily, and a large gash above her eyebrow showed up clearly, the blood running in a trickle down the side of her face. Gabrielle could only see the backs of the creatures, but they seemed to be communicating as their heads were tilted towards each other. They seemed weary of the warrior, hesitant to attack.

It was as if they were not human, but at the same time, they had to be. They were naked except for a fine down of black hair that ran over their upper body, and their skin tone was the colour of charcoal. Their legs were muscular, and from the waist down they had course, thick fur covering their skin. One of them had a single line of silver fur down the length of its back. They were well over 7 feet tall and their bodies were very well built. Gabrielle had never seen anything like them. Or felt anything like them. The creatures exuded a sensation of terror, and Gabrielle understood why Xena had stopped so suddenly. The sheer power of the beasts filled the clearing and Gabrielle now noticed how silent it was. No birds sang and even the wind had died down. It was as if they had stepped into another dimension.

It was then that Gabrielle noticed something writhing around on the ground in front of the woman-warrior. Her eyes widened as one of the creatures bent down to pick it up and she saw what it was. One of their species' arms had been severed from the main body, but somehow, it was still alive.

“Hey, am I interrupting something?” Xena stepped out from behind the tree and leaned against it, in full view of everyone.

One of the creatures turned its head and stared in the direction of Xena. Gabrielle remained still and barely dared to breathe. She hadn’t noticed Xena move. The silver-stripe beast sniffed the air and motioned to the other two, who started to advance towards Xena. They had full view of the creatures now, and Gabrielle saw the hatred burning in their red eyes. She felt like she wanted to scream, but she saw that Xena could not possibly take on two of the large beasts and so stepped out on the other side of the tree, her inner terror submerged as adrenaline rushed through her body.

“Am I allowed to join the party too?” she said, smoothly.

The woman across the clearing, darted her head back and forth between the two other women. Don’t they know the danger! She thought.

“Where the Tartarus do you think you’re goin’?” shouted the woman, suddenly, sensing the severe risk that the other two women were in. “Don’t think I’ve damn well finished with you yet! As far as I can tell, its one to me, and zero to you so far, you pieces of centaur’s droppings! ”

Xena noticed the creatures halt in their path and twist their heads to snarl at the woman.

“Yeah, that’s it, you half-wit chimps, give it your best shot!” she taunted.

The silver-stripe standing in front of the stranger, lost its temper, and leapt towards warrior on all fours. The jump carried the creature high above the warrior’s head and the two other women watched as, in mid air, the creature revealed long, silver claws that extended from its fingers. As it descended, it slashed at the woman, who sidestepped swiftly and brought one of her swords down at the place where its elbow was. The creature howled, as the blade cleaved through skin, bone and muscle easily, leaving the arm hanging by a small amount of tissue. Blood gushed from the wound, spraying the forest floor a reddish-purple. It howled its fury at the woman, who stood her ground, seeming unwilling to kill it unless it attacked.

By this time, another creature had leapt to deal with Xena, who had swiftly drawn her sword and the other advanced on the small blonde. The beast made a swipe at Xena’s head, but she ducked, the claws of the creature shredding the side of the tree-trunk she had been leaning against. Xena brought her sword up to slice its belly open horizontally but she quickly found that she did not even make a scratch in its skin, almost as if her sword was blunt. The creature seemed to laugh, as a rumble came from its throat and slashed again with its claws. This time, Xena swayed and back-flipped three times to get further away from the beast, thinking furiously. How can I fight a beast that I can’t even harm!?

Mean while, the third animal had advanced on Gabrielle and she was using her staff to parry each swipe from the animal, but she could not find an opening to damage the beast. Gradually, the creature was pushing her back towards the tree-line, and slowly entrapping her. Suddenly, she feigned to the right, then striking swiftly to the left with all her power. The staff connected with the beast’s torso, Gabrielle feeling several bones crunching on impact. Instantly, the creature bellowed with pain, its scream reverberating around the clearing and began to attack with renewed vigour. Its vastly superior strength was taking its toll on the bard, who was tiring. Suddenly, she found her back up against a tree trunk, and realised that there was nowhere left to go. The beast grabbed her around the neck with one large hand, its finger curling all the way around her neck and lifting her easily a metre off the ground. It seemed to be laughing at her, watching the life seep out of her.

As Xena and her foe circled each other, she saw Gabrielle’s danger, the beast holding her about the neck above the ground, out of the corner of her eye. Bile rose in her throat as she realised she could not reach the bard before the animal strangled her to death. The beast came at her again, its claws ready to puncture her flesh. She ducked, jumped and swayed, each time, avoiding the animal, while she edged closer towards the other beast, suspending a kicking Gabrielle.

Suddenly, she saw a blur pass her vision on her right. Leaping backwards from her foe, she watched as the stranger sliced through the creature’s neck, a bluish flash flowing along the sword blade as it touched the creature’s skin. The creature stood motionless for one second, before pitching to the ground, the head rolling away, stopping before the stranger’s feet. Gabrielle dropped to the ground with a thud, gasping for air.

Xena’s forehead creased in thought, as she and the other beast stood watching each other, waiting for the other to make the next move. A second later, she unhooked her chakram and sent it flying, striking two tree trunks. Before the creature could react it sliced through the throat of the animal, severing its neck. She caught her weapon as the creature fell to its knees, clutching its neck as its life flowed from it. She looked down at her weapon, noticing a bluish tinge along the outer edge, which was quickly fading.

The remaining beast, the silver-stripe, realising that it could not possibly take on these women when two of its comrades had already fallen, stumbled backwards, holding its half severed arm, staring at the three women. It swiped the ground, and picked up the arm that Gabrielle had seen moving and then turned and bounded into the forest, disappearing within seconds.

Slowly, Gabrielle stood and leaned back against the tree. Silence reigned for a full minute before anyone said anything. Xena was staring at the motionless creatures on the floor, while the woman on the other side of the clearing lowered her weapons and sunk to a kneeling position, her sword blades crossed over her knees, her eyes closed. Gabrielle looked at the stranger. She was dressed in a green tunic, with woollen trews, which met black leather riding boots. Her jet-black hair was tied back in a tight ponytail. There were splatters of the reddish-purple blood that came from the creatures on her clothes and the cut above her eyebrow was still flowing. After a while, the stranger opened her eyes and tore a strip of cloth from the edge of her tunic, using it as a bandage for her wound.

Gabrielle walked over to the stranger, who looked up as she got nearer. The bard saw the warrior’s eyes for the first time, which unsettled her. They were the unusual shade of gray, and in the sunlight, as she looked up at Gabrielle, they seemed almost transparent.

The stranger did not break eye contact for a few seconds, her features showing slight confusion, before her eyes widened slightly and she stood up, sheathing her two swords. She then bowed in the traditional Amazon way, to honour royalty, bending down on one knee, head bowed, her right hand clenched over her heart.

“Your Highness, forgive me. I did not know it was you. Please, accept my sincerest apologies if I have offended you.” The woman’s voice was rich and melodious.

Gabrielle stood flabbergasted and speechless. “Offended me?? How in the… What could you… Don’t… Don’t kneel, please.”

Gabrielle took hold of the woman’s arm and helped her to stand. The stranger met her eyes and Gabrielle saw a slight realisation in them.

“How do you know me? Have we met before?” Gabrielle asked.

“No, your Highness.” The woman shook her head, “I have seen drawings of you, though and I have heard much about the Amazon Queen of the Southern Tribe.” She paused. Then looked up as she spoke, her eyes sparkling. “Who could mistake such a beauty?”

Is she flirting with me? Gabrielle thought.

“Please, just call me Gabrielle. I’m sure we would both feel more comfortable with that. Who are you?”

“So, the rumours are true,” stated the warrior, ignoring Gabrielle’s question.

“Rumours?”

“You are not like other Amazon Queens. I have heard that, you have a very different approach to your status. I think most agree that it is a welcoming change, to have such a likeable sovereign.” The Amazon bowed again.

Gabrielle was speechless for a moment at the statement and at the very courteous person before her, but she couldn't help thinking that somehow, there was a hint of humour in her tone.

The woman broke eye contact and looked over the Queen’s shoulder. Her eyes met Xena’s as she walked towards the two and Gabrielle noticed the recognition in the woman's gaze, a shadow passing over her beautiful face. Xena’s brow furrowed in confusion as the stranger smiled, almost sadly at her.

“Hello Xena.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Continued... Chapter Two

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