After All These Years by T. Novan
You can contact Novan at KMcc430937@aol.com

 

Disclaimers: Donít own Ďem. Like to play with Ďem. No dinars are being made. No copyright infringement intended. Just good clean fun.

Subtext: You bet. Would I write anything else? Donít think so.

Iíll just go ahead and beg for forgiveness now. A lot of you are absolutely gonna hate this one, but hey I had to stretch my legs a little (private joke to some of you who know me too well). This is the kind of story that happens when the writer in question is in an immense amount of pain.

Note from 10/13/98. I sat and contemplated my next move. I made the mistake of complaining about the story. My better half responded by saying, "Well you just never should have started down this path. You got her into this situation. You get her out."

 

Gabrielle treaded softly across the village square. Several of her young warriors followed her in silence. Only once a season did their Queen take it upon herself to teach them, to tell them a story and today was that day.

As the group walked across the square towards the edge of the village and the meadow where this lesson always took place. The tall, strong warrior who would soon become the queenís consort walked up silently to her. She interlaced her fingers into the queenís and they walked hand and hand together. Talking quietly.

"Gabrielle, please donít do this. You know how much it upsets you."

"I have to. I made a blood oath and I canítÖNoÖ I wonít break it."

"Please reconsider. Itís been so long now, almost ten seasons. Itís time to move on."

Gabrielle stopped and cupped the warriorís face in her hands. "I have moved on Kellas. I fell in love with you and I moved on, but I owe her this."

Kellas leaned over and gave the queen a soft, loving kiss, which was returned in kind. "Donít forget Gabrielle, how much I do love you." There were tears in her eyes as she turned and walked away. She knew what lay ahead of her this evening. It would be another night of trying to calm her love of the nightmares that she was about to unleash upon herself. The demon would return. ĎDamn her and damn her memory!í thought Kellas, as she made her way to the practice field. She hated the woman she had never met, but who still had such a profound grasp on her loverís heart.

 * * * * * *

Gabrielle stopped just at the edge of the meadow near a large rock. She took a seat on the stone as her warriorís all dropped onto the ground and stretched out. She looked around and felt the breeze blow through her hair, listened to the trees and grass rustle with the soft wind. Then she closed her eyes, partly to remember and partly to hold back the tears that were already starting to form in her eyes.

"It was eight seasons ago almost to this day and this was the last place I ever saw herÖ" She began to tell the tale.

 

Xena held her hand down to Gabrielle and pulled her up onto the rock. Her blue eyes bored deeply into the bardís soul. "I love you Gabrielle. Everything is going to be fine. Iíll be back before you know it."

The warrior leaned over from her horse and kissed the amazon queen passionately. Their souls mixed together as their tongues sought each other. Gabrielle didnít want it to end. For the first time she was afraid. Her dreams had told her that something was terribly wrong and she was afraid of losing her warrior in this battle. When they parted Xena gently stroked the bardís face. Gabrielle captured the warriorís hand and held it close to her heart.

"Xena please stay here with me. Weíre going to need healers when the wounded return. Please?" She begged tears pouring down her cheeks.

"Gabrielle I canít. Iíll be far more useful against Bracken and his men. Iíve fought him before. I know how he thinks."

"Please?" She said reaching out and grabbing both sides of Xenaís head. "Gods Xena listen to me! My dreamsÖ! Please donít go!"

"Gabrielle I couldnít live with myself if I sent your warriorís out there by themselves. Besides, I have a wedding to come back for." She smiled and took Gabrielleís hands from her head. She held them together and kissed her left wrist that had the golden bracelet around it. Xena had given Gabrielle the bracelet two moons ago when she proposed. It was solid gold and had a stylized X and G enwrapped together. "We will always be together my love." Xena leaned over and kissed Gabrielle again and then leaned back and wiped the tears from the bardís face. "No tears my love. No tears." With one last gentle caress and a light kiss on the cheek, Xena nudged Argo and set off across the meadow. Gabrielleís tormented screams ringing in her ears.

 

The young warriorís were mesmerized by her story. They all sat up right now, head in hands hanging on her every word. "Several days later our war party returned. They brought me Argoís saddle and Xenaís sword. Then they told me that the love of my life had fallen. She had thrown herself between a dagger and Regent Ephiny. The throw was true and it pierced her heart. I lost half of my soul that day. Gabrielle paused and looked out across the meadow, hoping to see her warrior again, but she never came.

"She died a hero then?" Asked one of the youngest girls.

"Oh yes my child. She died the valiant death she so richly deserved. Not only did she fall in battle, but also she fell defending the life of an amazon and a friend."

"Why didnít they bring her home for a proper amazon burial?" Asked another girl.

"The battle was so fierce and so long that Hades himself arrived from the underworld to collect the dead almost as quickly as they fell. Since Xena and I hadnít been joined yet, he claimed her before the amazons could get to her body. The only thing they found was her sword, which they did bring back to me. Argo fell that day too. The mare remained steadfast over her mistressí body and was cut down by the warlordís men just for fun and spite. She also died a glorious death. Protecting the one who loved her so much."

"Who defeated Bracken then?" Another voice piped up.

"Xena had sent Bracken to his place in Tartarus earlier that day, but his men had not realized their leader had fallen and continued their assault. Our amazon warriors made short work of the remaining soldiers before returning to the village." Gabrielle stood and stretched. "Come now letís get back to the village."

 * * * * * *

Kellas sat in the dining hut trying to eat, but finding little success. She hated this day, the anniversary of Xenaís defeat. Not only was it hard on Gabrielle, but Kellas had to wrestle with the ghost of the queenís former lover. It hadnít been easy on Kellas since her arrival at this village seven seasons ago. She found herself immediately smitten with the queen and took every opportunity to show her how she felt. Ephiny had told Kellas the story of the queen and the warrior who would have been her consort, urging her to give the queen the appropriate amount of time to mourn her dead lover.

So she stepped back and she waited and she watched. She watched the beautiful queen begin to waste away, slowly dying right along with the warrior. She decided to take matters into her own hands. She wouldnít allow this beautiful woman to go like that. Regent Ephiny had all but forbid it, saying that if the queen were meant to follow the warrior then no one should try to change that. Kellas however didnít listen to a word.

She remembered the evening so clearly. She had followed the queen out into the meadow and watched as the woman knelt by the stone and wept. Kellas allowed her pain and gave her time to grieve. Then slowly she approached and knelt down next to her. She sat against the stone and pulled the queen into her arms. The woman lay in her arms and sobbed until the sun started to rise, then she fell into a restless slumber. Kellas picked her up and started to carry her back to the village. As she shifted the queen, a dagger fell from her bodice. Kellas stared at the knife and looked to the queen. "I wonít allow you to do that my Queen. You mean too much to the nation, to me. I love you."

Kellas took the queen to her hut and placed her gently on the bed. She sat by her side until she woke up the next evening. "Xena?" The queen asked as she slowly regained consciousness.

"No my Queen it is Kellas."

"Kellas?"

"Yes my Queen." She said softly as she knelt down next to the bed and took her hand.

"What happened?"

"I brought you back here this morning."

"No, thatís not what I wanted. I wantedÖ"

"Gabrielle, listen to me." Kellas was bolder now moving up and setting on the bed next to her. "You canít do this to yourself. You deserve to live, to be happy. I didnít know Xena, but from the stories I have been told she would want you to go on. She would want you to be happy."

"I canít. You donít understand." The queen sat up on the bed and started to get up.

Kellas grabbed her by the wrist. "I do understand. I understand that you loved her. I understand that she died, but that doesnít mean you have to die with her."

"I canít live without her."

"Yes you can."

"NoÖ"

"If I can prove to you that you can live without her, that you can feel again. Will you at least give yourself time to try?"

Gabrielle didnít say anything. She just stared at the warrior. Kellas pulled Gabrielle into her arms and kissed her, a long passionate kiss. Gabrielle started to fight it, but then feelings long buried began to resurface. She returned the kiss. Their tongues explored each otherís mouths. Kellasí hands began exploring the queenís body. Gabrielle moaned under the warriorís gentle touch. Kellas began kissing her neck, gently licking and sucking the exposed flesh. Gabrielleís head went back and another moan escaped her lips. Suddenly she froze as if the sound had frightened her. She looked at Kellas and suddenly became very angry. She lashed out, slapping the warrior hard across the face and bolted from the hut. Kellas sat there rubbing her face, a slight smile on her lips. Slowly, they got past that morning and they found themselves spending all their free time together. The queen began smiling and laughing, living again.

It was another three seasons before they became lovers. Even then Xenaís specter remained. Many nights were spent pulling Gabrielle out of a sweat soaked nightmare and rocking her gently back to sleep as she cried for the lover she had lost. Then of course there was the guilt on Gabrielleís part that she would wake up screaming Xenaís name when Kellas slept so soundly next to her and was always there to comfort her. The same way Xena had been there for her when Perdicus had died.

Finally, the time had come and Kellas had made the boldest move yet, asking Gabrielle to join with her. She had to admit surprise when Gabrielle said yes immediately. So now it seemed she had everything she wanted why was she not happy. The answer came quick enough. Because she was still competing with Xena on some level for the queenís affections.

She continued to poke at her food. Gabrielle sat down next to her and wrapped her arms around her waist. "Why so glum chum?"

"Itís nothing."

"Listen, I have an idea Iíd like to run by you, just to see how you feel about it."

"Okay what is it you desire my love?"

"Well I was just thinkingÖ" The queen leaned over and whispered something in the warriorís ear. Something that made the warrior blush.

"Gabrielle. I didnít know you knew words like that."

"I used to be a bard remember. I know lots of words. So what do you think?" She grinned and wiggled her eyebrows.

"I must admit it is very tempting offer."

"Well good, Iím glad youíre pleased. Have to keep my warriorís happy you know."

Kellas turned and straddled the bench, facing the queen. "I had better be the only warrior you keep happy in that manner."

"Oh is that so?" She said teasing. "I am the queen. I have many responsibilities to the nation you know."

"Youíre just trying to get me started arenít you?"

"Un-huh." She said as she leaned over and kissed Kellas.

Ephiny sat across the room and watched the pair. She was so glad Kellas has gone against her wishes so many seasons ago. They were suited for each other. It was true that no one would ever truly replace Xena in the queenís heart, but Kellas proved to be a close second. She was so proud that she would be presiding over their joining ceremony with the next new moon. As she continued to watch the couple, she didnít notice the sentry who came in. The sentry walked quickly over to the Regent and whispered in her ear. Ephiny looked up; there was no exchange of words. The sentry simply nodded and with that Ephiny and the sentry both left the hut.

 

Gabrielle and Kellas walked arm and arm through the village, stopping occasionally to talk with friends or share a soft kiss. As the patrol came back into the village, Gabrielle noticed Ephiny was with them and behind her on a dark, black horse, a riderÖ

A hand went unconsciously to her throat. Kellas looked down at her and then over to the returning party. "Gabrielle what is it?"

"It canít beÖ," Gabrielle said softly as she slowly began walking toward the patrol. Her pace quickened as the realization hit her.

The rider dismounted and stood next to the black horse loosely holding the reigns in her hand. She smiled that familiar smile as she watched Gabrielle come toward her. Very soon she found herself wrapped tightly in the arms of the amazon queen. She returned the embrace and lifted the queen off the ground. "Iíve missed you my Queen."

"Oh Gods, Xena, I thought you were dead." Her words cut through her sobs. "Youíve been gone so long."

Kellas watched. Then, vengeful Gods carried over the name to her ears. Xena. How could this be? After so many seasons, why had she come back now? She took two steps forward and then stopped, not sure of what to do. She just watched.

Xena put Gabrielle down and stood back. The bard just stared at her, still touching her. Not quite believing her own eyes, which were filled with tears. She reached out and touched the face that still came to her in her dreams. The only noticeable change was a small red scar that ran down her right cheek. Gabrielle traced the scar with the tips of her fingers.

Xena captured her hand. The scar was obviously a painful reminder of something she didnít want to discuss at this very moment. "Iím sorry Iíve been away for so long." She said as she looked into the green eyes of the bard.

Gabrielle was having trouble forming words. "IÖI canít believe it. Youíre home."

Xena smiled. Ephiny had met her outside the village and tried as best she could to prepare Xena for what she would find. Xena had suspected as much and had come to terms with the fact that the bard may have found another in the time she had been gone. She had hoped it wasnít true, but when Ephiny had confirmed it, she tried to accept it as fact. She looked across the square to where Kellas stood firmly rooted. "Gabrielle, is there someone you want me to meet?" She asked, nodding to Kellas.

Gabrielle turned and looked back. Her mind began screaming, 'Oh Gods, how could this happen'. "Yeah." was all she could say as they walked toward Kellas.

Kellas watched them, sizing up the infamous Xena. Tall, strong and annoyingly beautiful. The black pants, shirt, and cloak she wore, hid what Kellas was sure was a firm, equally beautiful body. Her sword hung on her left side and the chakram she had heard so many stories about hung on the right. Her smile was infectious. The queen and the warrior looked perfect together. Even she had to admit that. There was a glow between them. An energy that surrounded them.

Gabrielle now caught between the two warriorsí was as uncomfortable as any mortal could be. In all of her dreams, all of the nightmares that surrounded her, this possibility had never come to her.

"Kellas, this is Xena. Xena this is Kellas, myÖmy champion."

"And," Kellas finished "intended consort."

Xena smiled and extended her arm to the warrior. ĎGood, sheís protectiveí Xena thought as Kellas took her arm in a warriorís embrace. "Congratulations." She said as they parted.

Gabrielle was confused. This was not the Xena who had left so many years ago. That Xena would have ripped Kellas limb from limb, broken every bone in her body and then fed her to Argo. The confusion on her face did not go unnoticed by the warrior in question.

"Gabrielle. Are you happy?" Xena asked looking down at the bard.

"Yes." She answered honestly.

"Then that is all I ever wanted for you. I wish it could have been meÖ" Her voiced cracked, "but itís not, and thatís my fault. Iím just glad you found happiness." She turned to Kellas. "Just promise me that you will always take care of her and never hurt her."

"Of course." Kellas said eyeing the warrior and wondering what her motive was.

"Now if you will excuse me Iím going to stable my horse for the night. If itís okay with you, Gabrielle, Iíd like to get some food and some rest. Iíll leave in the morning."

"Please donít leave again!" The words just came out of the bardís mouth.

"Gabrielle under the circumstancesÖ" Xena began.

"Please at least stay for a couple of days so we can talk. Thereís so much I need to know. I need answers to questionsÖ" She was upset and beginning to cry.

"All right. All right. Iíll stay for a couple of days." Xena couldnít help herself. She reached out and tenderly caressed the bardís face. Xena could feel Kellas stiffen and broke off the touch. She smiled at Gabrielle, turned and nodded to Kellas and then returned to the sentryís, who all had been holding their collective breath waiting for the fight.

Xena took the reigns of her horse and looked up to Ephiny who was staring at her. "What?"

"Nothing, my friend, nothing."

"Are you going to take me to the stables or what?"

"They havenít moved. Theyíre in the same place they were the last time you were here."

"Well, how was I suppose to know that? You know if you donít want to go with an old friend and talk thenÖ"

"Oh, for Zeusí sake. Some things never change. Of course I wanted to talk with you. I just didnít know if you wanted to."

The duo walked toward the stables. Once inside, Xena fell to her knees and began to cry. Ephiny wasnít quite sure what to do. She knelt down and rubbed her friendís back.

"I was afraid of this." Xena said as she got herself under control. "I knew she wouldnít wait forever. I tried to get back Eph. I did. I really did."

"Iím sure you did my friend."

"I only wanted to come home to her. I wanted to be with her to try and make up for all the seasons we had lost. I shouldnít have come after all this time."

"Donít be ridiculous, Xena. What if she had been waiting for you? She did for so many seasons. She mourned you for so long. We all thought you were dead. Hades was claiming the bodies so quickly, and when we returned for youÖ"

"I was taken prisoner by Brackenís men as they fled." She shifted her position and sat back in a pile of hay for a moment before standing to tend to her horse. As she unsaddled him, she explained to Ephiny how she had been wounded, taken prisoner, and kept drugged. When she finally regained her senses she was in Egypt. She found herself in service to Cleopatra who had saved her from slavers. In the process she was once again face to face with Caesar. She had to finish what she had started so many years before. Not to mention the debt she owed Cleopatra for saving her. Dealing with Caesar was repayment of that debt.

"We heard he had been assassinated." Ephiny stated.

"It was more of a mercy killing actually." Xena said as she began to brush her horse. "Anyhow, Cleopatra gave me safe passage back to Greece and I headed straight back here."

Ephiny was about to say something when the stable door opened. Gabrielle stood there. Eph look between them and decided now was the time for a perfect exit. She slid out past the Queen. Gabrielle entered slowly. Xena continued brushing the black stallion. Gabrielle came up and began patting him.

"Heís very handsome."

"Thank you."

"Whatís his name?"

"Autolycus."

"Autolycus?" The bard laughed. "Whyíd you name him that?"

"Because I stole him. I figured it was appropriate."

"You stole him?"

"Donít worry, Gabrielle, it wasnít actually stealing. The man I took him from gave me the scar. I figured it was a fair trade." She removed his bridle and gave him a tap on the rump. "Auto stall." The horse moved to an empty stall and made himself comfortable.

Xena held his bridle in her hands and stared at the floor. Gabrielle stepped forward and put her hand under Xenaís chin and raised her face. "Welcome home." She said softly.

"Yeah well, Gabrielle, about that. We both know Iím not going to be able to stay here."

"Why not?"

"Youíre joking right? You know that I wouldnít be able to stay here and watch you live your life with someone else."

"So youíre just going to walk away?"

"What would you have me do Gabrielle? Go out there and issue a challenge. Do you want me to challenge Kellasí right to be your consort? If thatís what you want I will certainly do it. I love you. I always have, and I always will, but do you love her?"

"Yes."

"Then donít you owe her the opportunity to make you happy?"

"I donít know. Iím so confused. I mean Kellas has been so strong and supportive, and we do love each other, but you know who my heart belongs to. It is yours, my love."

"Gabrielle donít say things that youíll regret later."

"Itís the truth Xena. I have always loved you to the very core of my soul."

"GabrielleÖ"

"Xena, do you still love me?"

"Of course I do. You know I love you."

"Then stay, and weíll try to figure something out."

"What is there to figure out Gabrielle? Youíre going to be joined with Kellas. Youíre going on with your life, as you should."

"Youíre my life."

"A past life maybe."

Gabrielle sat down on a pile of hay and just shook her head. "Why did you come back then?"

"I had to know."

"Know what? If you could complicate my life."

"That was not my intention and you know it." Xena was on the defensive now. "I came back here hoping that you would beÖOh never mind. Itís too late for that now."

"All right look weíre both tired and not thinking to clearly right now," Gabrielle said as she stood. "Letís get some sleep and look at this though fresh eyes in the light of day."

"Good idea. Iíll bed down in here."

"Donít be ridiculous, weíll put you in a hut." Gabrielle started to gather Xenaís things.

ĎJust like old timesí thought Xena as she gathered up her saddlebags and followed Gabrielle out of the stables. They walked across the square to a hut reserved for visitors.

Kellas watched them from the porch of the royal hut. She watched as they spoke for a moment and then Xena went inside. Gabrielle turned and headed for her hut. As she approached the porch Kellas offered her hand. Gabrielle took it and they went inside.

 * * * * * *

Kellas sat on the bed taking off her boots as Gabrielle went through her nightly ritual of getting ready for bed. "It is all right if I stay here, isnít it." Kellas asked, not wanting to make any assumptions.

"Of course. This is your home too. Nothing has changed that."

Kellas finished getting ready for bed and climbed under the covers. As was her routine, she slept in the nude. After many seasons of coaxing, she had convinced Gabrielle of the freedom of it and the queen rarely wore a shift to bed. Tonight, Gabrielle found it just a little discomforting, and she put of a shift before she climbed in next to Kellas.

"Nothingís changed huh?" Kellas said as she put her arms around the queen.

"Kellas please just give me some time."

"Iíve been giving you time for seven seasons now. Iíve waited. Iíve prayed. Iíve begged. Now she comes back and destroys everything Iíve tried to build with you."

"She hasnít destroyed anything."

"Why did she have to come back here?" Kellas said in a disgusted tone as she rolled away from Gabrielle.

"She came back to make sure I was all right."

"Well, now she knows youíre all right, she can leave."

"Kellas! Sheíll stay as long as I want her to stay."

"Do you want her to stay?"

"Part of me does, yes."

"Tell me more."

"I loved her for so many seasons, Kellas, itís hard to let go."

"Donít you think I know that. Iíve watched you for seven seasons never quite able to let go."

"I love her."

"Well then that settles that doesnít it?"

"No because I love you too."

"Seems to me my Queen that youíre caught between a minotaur and a hydra."

 * * * * * * 

Morning came too quickly for Gabrielle. When she awoke Kellas was gone. She got up and dressed quickly. As she stepped out of the hut Ephiny approached her.

"Good morning, Gabrielle."

"If you say so." She mumbled as she headed for her morning meal.

Ephiny took a deep breath and followed her. "Gabrielle?"

"What?" She was far more testy that she meant to be. "Iím sorry Eph. What is it?"

"We have a problem."

"Well, now tell me something I donít know."

"I mean besides that."

"Whatís wrong?"

"Two of the smaller girls are missing."

"What?"

"Doran and Galia are missing. They wandered out of the village sometime this morning."

"Get every able bodied woman out and begin a search."

"Itís already been done."

"Iíll grab a quick bite and help too. Have you seen Xena this morning?"

"She was one of the first ones out looking this morning."

Gabrielle smiled, "Of course she would have been."

"Kellas went out too."

"I wouldnít have accepted less from her." Gabrielle replied.

"Iím sorry, Gabrielle."

"Donít be, this has us all one edge."

"What are you going to do?"

"At this very minute Iím going to go find those little girls. Iíll worry about the rest later."

 * * * * * *

Xena walked through the forest looking for any signs of the girls. Her ears caught a slight sound above her. She looked up. Kellas was above her in the trees. "Do you see anything?" She asked, hoping for an answer.

"Nothing. They couldnít have gotten far."

"I wouldnít think so. Little ones can just be so slippery though."

"My concern is that they headed for the caves." Kellas called from the trees.

"Iíll head that direction. If you see anything, give me a yell."

Xena headed towards the caves that were just east of the village. As she approached she did indeed find tracks of two small children. She looked around for any signs of other searchers. She wasnít wild about heading into the old caves by herself, but she had no choice.

She headed into the caves. Luckily there were still a few torches on the walls left over from a time when the amazons used the caves as shelter during the war with the centaurs. She managed to get a torch lit, but it soon flickered out. "Great, just great", she mumbled to herself as she moved cautiously, further into the cave. She had to adjust her senses to use everything but her eyes. She listened for anything that would make her believe that the girls were in the cave. In the distance she could hear something that sounded like small cries. She moved as quickly as possible toward the sound. As she got closer she got down and began to crawl as she inched forward she felt a small foot. The little girl cried out in fear.

"Shhh, sweetheart itís okay I got yaí." She said as she pulled the little girl into her arms. "Whatís your name?"

In between sobs the little girl responded, "Doran."

"Okay Doran. Whereís Galia?"

"I donít know. We were walking and all of the sudden she was just gone."

Xena reached out into the darkness and felt the area where she had scooped up the little girl. A ledge. ĎDamní she thought. "Itís okay honey, weíll find her. I want you to hold on to me real tight okay?"

"Un-huh."

Xena headed back to the mouth of the cave. Once outside she heard searchers and called for them. Several women came to the caves. Xena handed the girl off to one of the women and quickly began organizing the other and issuing orders.

"First we need fresh torches and several lengths of rope. I think Galia has fallen from a ledge inside the cave. Iím going back in there to see if I can hear anything from her. Bring me those things as quickly as you can."

Several of the women left to gather the things that Xena had requested. The warrior headed back into the cave. As she approached the ledge, she laid down on her stomach and move carefully to the edge, listening. She could hear the girls ragged breath. "Galia, can you hear me?" She called down into the void. There was a faint whimper. A good sign. "Hang on weíre coming to get you.

Several warriors entered the cave bringing torches, ropes and blankets. Xena took a torch and held it over the edge of the ledge looking down. The drop was a long one. She still couldnít quite see the bottom. She tossed the torch out in front of her across the chasm allowing it to fall to the bottom on the other side. Giving just enough light for the warrior to see the little girl crumpled on a pile of rocks at the bottom directly beneath her.

Xena lifted herself up and pulled a long dagger from her belt. She drove it deeply into the ground. Taking a rope from one of the warriors she tossed it over the edge and listened. Not hearing what she wanted she asked for another length of rope. As she was tying them together Ephiny came in.

"Whatís going on?" The Regent asked as she approached.

"Galiaís at the bottom of the pit. Iím going after her."

"Xena be careful, the floor of this cave has always been unstable. Thatís why we stopped using it for shelter."

"Then get everyone else out of here. I need two strong warriors to hold the end of the rope, but letís not put anymore weight than necessary on the floor."

Ephiny ordered everyone else out, staying behind herself she was about to hold one other warrior when Kellas entered the cave. "Send her out too. Iíll stay." She said as she handed Xena another length of rope. "Youíre going to have to use this one too if you want to reach the bottom."

"Thanks." Xena took the rope and tied it to the end of the second. She wrapped the rope around the hilt of the dagger leaving enough free for Kellas and Ephiny to hold on to. "Iím going to go down and get her. Iíll signal when Iím ready to come back up."

Xena wrapped the rope around her waist and began the decent down the wall. She tried not to kick loose any small rocks that could injure the girl further. At the bottom she checked the girl. She was unconscious and had a broken arm. There were also several cut and bruises but she was alive.

"Eph, she unconscious. I canít get her back up by carrying her so Iím going to tie the rope around her and you can haul her up." Xena prepared the girl and signaled for them to start taking her up. "Easy." She was pulled up quickly and carefully. "Eph get her to the healer. Kellas can help me get back up."

Xena could hear Ephiny bundle the girl up in a blanket and leave the cave. The rope was tossed back down. Xena grabbed it and began the climb back up. The wall was full of lose stones that made the climb hazardous. About half way up, she felt herself falling. She landed flat on her back at the bottom. She landed squarely on a large rock, knocking the wind out of her. "Oh I hate it when that happens." She tried to stand. Blackness surrounded her, as she fell to the ground.

 * * * * * *

Kellas left the cave, tucking Xenaís dagger safely in her boot. Returning to the village, she quickly slipped into Xenaís hut and gathered her gear. Then to the stables, she prepared Autolycus and led him into the forest and turned him loose. With a smack on his hindquarters the horse took off into the forest. She returned to the village satisfied that her problems were over.

Gabrielle came out of the healerís hut as Kellas came back into the village. She went to the warrior and hugged her. "Eph told me what you and Xena did. Iím very proud of you."

"Howís Galia?"

"Sheíll be fine in a few days. Whereís Xena? I want to thank her too."

"I donít know. She was headed back here. We got separated. She should be around here somewhere.

 * * * * * *

When she opened her eyes she was surrounded by darkness. The torches had all burned down leaving her in total darkness at the bottom of the pit. "Next time you try to kill me, Kellas, make sure you finish the job." She said aloud as she got to her feet and began contemplating her way out.

She pulled herself up onto the floor of the cave and just lay there for a moment. Her body was cut and scraped from the climb, and she had a headache that felt as if it had been brought on by one of Zeusí own lightening bolts. Making her way to the mouth of the cave she found the sun beginning to set and Autolycus standing there. The horse whinnied and nodded his head as he pounded the ground with his hoof. "Some big help you were." She mounted the horse and began the ride back to the village.

As she entered the village she saw Kellas and Gabrielle walking through the square. Gabrielle looked upset and Kellas was obviously trying the comfort her. ĎOkay no more nice warriorí Xena thought as she urged Autolycus on. She rode in quickly and dismounted the horse without stopping him. Before she had her feet on the ground she had her sword in her hand as she landed in front of the two women.

"Xena!" Gabrielle gasped "What happened?"

"Your intended tried to murder me this morning. Sloppy job, Kellas."

"I donít know what youíre talking about." Kellas said as she moved Gabrielle behind her.

Gabrielle stepped forward. This action enraged Kellas, who started to raise a hand to the queen. Xena caught her hand and twisted it the sound of breaking bones was unmistakable. She continued to grip the hand, further crushing the bones. Kellas dropped to her knees. "Do what you will to me, but never, never try to lay a hand on Gabrielle!" Xena shoved the injured warrior back and pulled Gabrielle to her. "Please stay back." She said as she stepped forward and put the point of her sword at the womanís chest. A crowd had started to gather. Several warriors started to step forward, but Ephiny held them back with a wave of her hand.

"Tell her, Kellas. Tell Gabrielle how you cut the rope and left me for dead in the cave. TELL HER!" Xena demanded. "Tell her how you saddled my horse and turned him loose. TELL HER!"

Gabrielle looked down at the woman she had come to trust so much. "Is it true?"

"Yes." Kellas offered "I was afraid of losing you. I had to do something."

Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on Xenaís sword and made her lower it. "Please donít kill her."

Xena looked into the eyes of her bard. She smiled and lowered the sword to her side. Gabrielle motioned for Ephiny, who quickly joined them. "Take Kellas to the healer and have that hand tended to. Then take her to the edge of our land and let her be on her way. She is banished from this village."

"Yes my Queen." Ephiny motions for guards who came forward and took Kellas away. Ephiny grinned at Xena as she started to walk away. She stopped and whispered in her ear. "Thank you. I just won twenty dinars."

Xena turned and grinned. "I want the names of the ones who bet against me."

Eph slapped the warrior on the arm and went to the healerís hut. Xena turned to Gabrielle and put a gentle hand on her cheek. The bard held the palm of her warriorís hand to her face and then gently kissed it. "Iím sorry Gabrielle."

"No Iím sorry."

"Would you like to try andÖ"

Gabrielle cut her off. "Do you really need to ask?"

The warrior pulled the bard into her arms where she belonged and gave her a soft and gentle kiss. The cheers of the amazons that surrounded them was all the reassurance they needed. They were together, never to be separated again.

 END

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