Part 5

(E-Mail Rachel)

As they reached the Arborian border, Xena's senses picked up movement in the trees ahead. She pulled Argo up quickly, and held up her hand for silence. The warrior tilted her head, listening intently, and plucked an arrow out of the air just before it impaled itself in Callisto's chest. Quickly she and Gabrielle dismounted, and clasped their hands over their heads in the Amazon signal for peace.

"What did ya do that for Xe? That arrow can't kill me!" She laughed heartily.

"Just reflexes I guess..." said Xena with a note of humor in her voice. "Sorry if it wasn't showy enough for you." She smirked.

"But it was a sweet gesture...I mean you thinkin you were saving me and all, even for just a moment...thanks." Cal smiled warmly.

Their conversation was cut short by the vision of four very armored, very intimidating looking Amazons emerging fron the trees around them. The first one came forward while the other three lead their horses. The way they carried themselves told Xena they were upset, and by the looks on their faces, they weren't in a chatty mood either.....

"My Queen..." said Solari as she pushed her mask back and knelt before Gabrielle. "May I have the honor of escorting you to the village?"

"Of course Solari....lead on." replied Gabrielle.

"Xena." Solari nodded at the warrior and was returned the same. "But her..." she said, pointing at Callisto, "We cannot allow it."

Callisto smirked and tilted her head sideways. She thought about conjuring up a fireball to hurl at this insolent Amazon, but caught the glare from Xena and decided it would be better to just let Gabrielle handle things this one time.

"Solari...." said Gabrielle...."Callisto travels with us. In fact, she is the reason we came for this visit....so please just trust me on this one ok?"

"As you wish my queen.....shall we then?" The captain turned to one of her charges. "Aliandra...ride ahead and inform Regent Ephiny the Queen is here." said Solari as she launched onto her horse and proceeded to lead the way to the village. Turning in her saddle, she shot Callisto a sneer to which Callisto promptly responded by sticking her tongue out at the Amazon....to which Callisto bit her tongue when she got a WHAP in the back of the head from Xena, who rode ahead laughing to herself...to which Gabrielle looked at them both, looked up and rolled her eyes.

"Alright Warrior Children....cut it out already." called out a giggling Gabrielle. 'I swear Xena's mother must have been a saint to deal with this!' she thought to herself.

They arrived at the village about a half candlemark later, amidst sneers and even flung objects directed Callisto's way. Ganrielle did her best to admonish them, but really now, how could she blame them? After all, Callisto had caused many a problem for the Amazons in the past, and to just see her ride into town with their queen? Well...Gabrielle was sure she might do that same thing.

Ephiny met them at the gate and bowed to her queen. "Queen Gabrielle, it's wonderful to see you again!" She moved to offer her arm to help Gabrielle dismount, but instead found the playful blue eyes of Xena staring into her own....

"Eph...I got this one." Xena winked as she spoke....and Ephiny's mouth just hung there. "Catching dinner there Eph?" Xena reached up and plucked the bard from her saddle, letting her gently down onto her feet.

Gabrielle let her hands rest upon the warrior's shoulders for just an extra second or two, but that was enough to let Ephiny know for sure what was up here. And her jaw slacked open even further.

"Eph really..." whispered Gabrielle as she walked by..."So unbecoming of an Amazon!" She laughed. "You would think you've never seen someone help another dismount before. Geeesh!" Xena held out her arm to the bard, who took it and motioned for Callisto to follow them to their hut.

Ephiny had not gone unnoticed to Callisto. She found herself staring at the regent before she knew it....her blonde curls, her intelligent hazel eyes. Just the sound of her voice seemed to calm the goddess's fear of coming here in the first place. She caught herself catching her breath as she took in all the soft curves of the amazon's body...'Oh yeah...I think I'm gonna like it here...' She turned to follow Xena and Gabrielle to the hut. As she passed the regent, she met her eyes and smiled warmly, and was rewarded by seeing Ephiny's eyes go wide and turn to look behind her. Cal hadn't walked more than a few paces before she felt the regent's eyes upon her. She turned back again, this time throwing a wink at the amazon.

Ephiny thought her eyes must be deceiving her. 'Surely that wasn't meant for me...was it?' she pondered as she watched the blonde warrior stride away in the direction of her companions. She was frozen where she stood, afraid to move in case her wobbly knees wouldn't support her if she tried to walk. Her gaze followed the goddess as she moved across the courtyard. 'Definitely easy on the eyes...oh yeah...definitely.' she thought as a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. Regaining control of her body, she dashed after the bard. "Wait! Wait!! Gabrielle!" she yelled after them. "Wait for me!" Eponin and Solari merely looked at each other, shrugged and trudged after their regent.

Catching up to them as they reached the door of the hut, she blurted breathlessly, "Gabrielle! By the Gods woman...we have to talk!"

"Ephiny...yes, yes I know...please come in. Eponin....Solari! You come too, I promised you an explanation and you will have it." replied the bard as they entered. They took chairs around the table and Gabrielle began the tough job of convincing them to trust Callisto.

Xena just leaned her chair back against the wall and watched her lover in action. 'This is what she was born for.' thought the warrior as she took it all in. She watched Gabrielle really get into her conversation, her hands cavorting wildly as she tried to drive her point home to the regent, whom...by the way...still looked shocked about earlier. She caught the bards eye and smiled her trademark half smile at her...Gabrielle smiled back and went back to her discussion. 'And to think what else those hands can do...mmmm mmmm....' Xena's mind went back to their night together, and her attention to that memory was only broken by the Gabrielle's voice calling to her....

"XENA!!! Hello, are you here with us?" giggled Gabrielle uncontrollably.

"Wha? who...{ahem}....yes Gabrielle, I'm here." she replied. 'At least now I am' she smirked inwardly. "What was the question again?"

"Xena..." replied Gabrielle..."Ephiny asked you if you agreed this was acceptable.....meaning Callisto's arrangement here." she nodded Callisto's direction.

"Yes Eph....I think it is a benefit for us all. I mean honestly, how many Amazon tribes can claim a Goddess as a built-in defense system? Think about it...no one would want to bug you..." she winked at Cal...who winked back.

"And you think Xena, that we can trust her? Who is to say she won't return to her old ways, and obliterate us??" snapped Solari forcefully.

"Solari....I can't explain it, but it's a feeling I have inside." interjected the bard. "I mean, I just feel like it's the right thing to do. But I guess it would be a bit hard to believe if I were in your shoes....you had to be there to see it happen. Let me tell you I was scared at first that it was a game, but no, this is alright...I'm sure of it. If Callisto had wanted us all dead, don't you think we would be dead already?"

"Hmmmm...." said Solari, "You have a point. Alright, you can count on my vote."

"And mine." stated Ephiny, sparing a glance Callisto's way. Her eyes met the warrior's and she smiled at her. This time it was Callisto's eyes that went wide as she glanced behind her.

"Mine as well." added Eponin.

"Good." stated the bard. "Pony, Callisto is in your charge until her initiation. You are to teach her Amazon protocol, as I have decided she will be our new Captain of the Queen's Guard. Understood? Callisto has already agreed to this. Isn't that right Cal?"

The goddess reluctantly tore her eyes away from the regent's and turned to the bard. "Indeed it is!" smiled Cal. She rose and moved to where Gabrielle was seated. "It is with honor that I serve you...my blade is yours to command." Bowing her head, she knelt before the bard.

Gabrielle was giggling uncontrollably by the time the speech was over. She reached out and patted Callisto's shoulder. "Cal....PLEASE get up!" (more giggling) "Save it for the ceremony! We're all friends here silly." The bard turned to her captain. "Solari, would you please show our guest where the bath and her quarters are located?"

"Sure thing." replied the brunette. "Callisto, if you would be so kind as to follow me?" She rose and waited for the goddess to do the same.

"Great!" said Cal as she rose to follow Solari. "I could use a nice hot bath after the trip today." When she reached the door, she put her hand on the frame and turned, locking eyes with the regent. "See you later Ephiny..." She smiled and walked out into the warm evening air.

"Ok..." was the soft reply that came after the goddess had gone.

Gabrielle looked at Xena, Xena looked at Gabrielle. They shook knowing heads. Gab noticed her friend staring after nothing and cleared her throat politely. No response. She tried again, a little less politely this time. No response. She giggled softly and this time spoke up..."Ephiny!"

The regent's head snapped around to meet the amused gazes of her two friends. "What?"

"Oh nothing..." replied Xena as she leaned back in her chair, folded her arms and crossed one ankle over her other knee. "Nothing at all."

Eph shook her head. "Xena you sure are acting funny today." She kicked back in her chair, taking on a distinctly investigative air. "Ok you two...spill! Are you together? I mean, FINALLY together??" A huge grin flashed across her face.

"Ummmm yeah." stated Xena.

Gabrielle looked sideways at Xena, silently chastising her for her bluntness. She cleared her throat. "Thank you oh 'Warrior Princess of Many Words' but I will take it from here. Come on over here by the fire Eph, and I'll tell you the most romantic story you have ever heard. A story of love and forgiveness, and newfound trust." She swatted Xena in the stomach and gave her a push. "Xena, why don't you go get a bath...relax....save your energy for later...." said the bard, trying her best to sound sexy as she said it.

'Oh yeah' thought Xena, 'Time to teach the bard a lesson in teasing...' And she turned around, sweeping her lover into her arms...their lips meeting in a tender kiss that seemed to go on forever....

"AHEM!!" snorted Ephiny.

"Oh...ummm...yeah, hey sorry Eph...I just tend to get a little carried away when I'm in kissing range of tall, dark and deadly-gorgeous here..." she giggled.

Xena rolled her eyes, winked and headed out to the bath hut.

"Ok now Gab....tell me everything! And leave not anything out under pain of tickle!" said Ephiny after the warriors footsteps faded.

"Oh Gods Eph...where do I start?" she laughed. "One minute I was sittin there, and the next I was kissing her. And she was kissing me back.....when our lips touched I thought I had died and gone to Elysia for sure. Nothing else mattered...I didn't care...I just wanted to go on kissing her forever." she sighed.

"Gab...wow...so like ummmmm, is she as good as everyone thinks she is? smirked the regent. "I mean, she must be...she's a warrior....and she's so damn HOT to top it off! I can't believe you finally got your nerve Gab...I am so happy for you!" She hugged the bard. "You know, there are going to be a lot of disappointed Amazons runnin around here now, with their lips hangin all out pouting...."

"Oh I know Eph...she has many Amazon admirers." stated the bard.

"I wasn't talking about her Gabrielle...for cryin' out loud, there were just as many who lusted after you my queen." she laughed.

It was Gabrielle's turn for the "mouth agape syndrome" and Ephiny had to laugh.

"No way..." said the bard.

"Yeah way."

"Nooooo, I am not all that."

"Yes you are. In fact......" Ephiny whispered..."I was going to try to win your attentions if Xena didn't move on her feelings soon!" she winked at the bard. "But don't worry, I'm fine, and I am very happy for you my queen."

"Ummmm...thanks?" replied the bard, and they both broke into fits of laughter.

"Well Gab...I'm going to turn in...early council meeting tomorrow don't forget...and maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea if you got some sleep tonight? Hmmm??" the regent smirked.

"Ok Eph, I'll try..." she grinned evily at Ephiny as she left, then proceeded to attack the dinner tray that was left for them earlier. 'It's good to be the Queen.' mused Gabrielle as she devoured yet another slice of nutbread....

Continued in Part 6
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