Disclaimers: This story takes place after "Dangerous Prey"
Xena and Gabrielle lay curled up in the ‘make shift’ hut of straw and burlap. The nation had changed so much in the last 25 years. What was once a powerful village now consisted of scattered tents in a forest.
"Hope it doesn’t rain tonight," Xena remarked as she lie on her back with the bard in her arms.
Gabrielle gave a light chuckled. "Well we’ve stayed in worse conditions," she offered.
"Too true," Xena remarked casually.
A quiet sigh came from the bard.
"Feeling okay?" Xena asked.
"Yes just thinking."
"Melosa – Ephiny – Chilapa – Margot – Varia . . . I’ve had the queen’s mask for a lot of years and I’ve outlived all but one of the acting queens."
Gabrielle rose and looked over at the warrior confused. "You forgot Valaska," Xena added. "She was the queen too until you came back to town."
"I’m not sure if she counts," Gabrielle grinned.
"Well from where I was standing, inside Autolycus that is, she was very much a queen until you arrived and caused her grief," Xena teased.
"I caused HER grief?" the bard chuckled. Xena just smiled and scrunched up her nose in playful gesture. "Well we can joke about it . . . now," the bard added.
Xena pulled the bard back into her arms again. "In any case it seems that being an amazon queen shortens one’s life expectancy drastically."
Gabrielle grinned into the warrior’s shoulder. "That’s just what I was thinking . . . That, and the fact that Varia now has the mask."
"Do you want it back?" Xena asked. "By rights you could challenge her for it."
"No," Gabrielle answered soundly. "But if the moment came and I had to challenge her for it I would."
"You could kill her?" Xena asked.
"Yes," Gabrielle replied, convinced of her answer. "I wouldn’t want to. I’d try to reason with her. But if she gave me no other choice then I would. What was that expression some wise woman told me - ‘Wisdom before weapons’.?"
"It’s true," Xena grinned.
"Yes it is. But sometimes talking gets you nowhere and you have to take action. And if need be, I would."
Another brief silence passed between them until Xena spoke. "Did anyone ask you about Eve while I was gone?"
"You mean did they interrogate me for setting our daughter free and hightailing it out of town?" Gabrielle chuckled.
Xena just nodded.
"Nope," the bard answered. "I think they realized they had a much bigger problem and enemy with Prince Whats-his-face to worry about Eve or my role in her escape."
"Well, he was a scary guy. No doubt about that," Xena answered.
"He scared you?" Gabrielle asked sincerely.
"Well, not me – I’m the warrior princess remember?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "How could I forget," she joked.
Xena smiled. "No seriously. He didn’t scare me so much as ‘worry’ me. But once I had him figured out I realized it was just a matter of time before I could defeat him. Lucky me, that time came sooner than I expected. And I think I taught Varia a little something - - sometimes walking away from a fight is the best way to win."
"Walking away from a fight? Are you SURE you’re the warrior princess?" Gabrielle teased.
"Should I get naked so you can see the scars to prove it?" Xena asked wiggling her eyebrows.
"If we had my old queen hut I’d say yes but these quarters lack the privacy. I’ll just have to take your word for it," Gabrielle answered, giving the warrior a light kiss on the shoulder. "So what’s your opinion?" she added after a bit of silence.
She’s hot headed, over reactive, dedicated to her sisters with a two ton chip on her shoulder. "She’ll make a good queen," Xena answered with a grin.
"Really? I think she’s too short tempered and reactionary myself. But she does love her tribe I’ll give her that. If only she’d realize she can’t do it all on her own she’d do alright."
Xena covered her mouth to stop from laughing out loud as her body began to shake.
"What’s so funny?"
"You," Xena grinned down at the bard. "There was a time when we were so opposite of each other. But to tell the truth, I was thinking exactly what you just said. However, in light of all that, I still think – with time – she’ll make a good queen."
Gabrielle grinned and snuggled deeper into Xena’s embrace. "Guess we really have come full circle haven’t we?"
"Um hm," Xena answered.
The bard could tell by the answer that Xena was getting sleepy. Her fingers began to play with the ends of Xena’s hair. It was so soft and smooth to the touch. And the smell – a mix of cinnamon and vanilla – was wonderful. Gabrielle always loved how the warrior smelled. She felt her arousal start to grow but she pushed the thought aside. Tonight her warrior needed rest. It had been a very long day and the warrior took her fare share of hits today during the battle. Tomorrow however might be a different story and Gabrielle looked eager to the possibilities with a sly smile.
"Goodnight Xena," the bard whispered.
The reply she got was a light snore.
CONTINUED IN PART XII: TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES