For Better or Worse

(October 1997)

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Chapter 12 - In Search of an Answer

After the festivities, Gabrielle returned to the Queen's hut, flanked by Ephiny and Xena. As the two eldest Amazons, Frea and Roeya, passed the three, they smiled broadly at their friendly Queen, who greeted them warmly by name. They looked at each other then smiled at the stoic Warrior Princess, who politely nodded. Their smiles faded as they eyed Ephiny, who sighed.

"What was that about?" Xena asked after the elders passed. Ephiny's mouth dropped as she thought of something to say.

"They uh...are subtly trying to remind me of one of many things I have to do," Ephiny blurted truthfully, then turned to the bard. "On some things, even the Queen can get pushed around by the elders Gabrielle," Ephiny explained.

"What kinds of things?" Gabrielle asked curiously.

"Domestic policy, ritual's amazing how much they do have a strong say in," Ephiny informed her. "If they push you to do something, don't forget to complain a makes them think twice before trying again," Ephiny relayed her advice, shaking her head wearily, causing the bard to chuckle.

Xena continued to eye the Amazon, who avoided answering her question.

When the trio arrived at the door, Gabrielle turned and smiled at her friend. "Thank you for the wonderful welcome, Ephiny." Gabrielle reached out and warmly squeezed Ephiny's forearm.

"No problem," Ephiny blurted, not leaving. An awkwardly silent moment passed.

"Oh...You have a place to stay don't you?" Gabrielle asked with concern, knowing it must be odd for her to just hand over her hut. "You're welcome to stay with...." Gabrielle quickly offered.

"NO!" Ephiny interrupted and laughed sheepishly. "Uh...I'm fine," she added as she looked uneasily at the hut then Xena. She was not happy about the information gathering mission the eldest Amazons put her on. The elders knew she didn't want to pry and more importantly, she did not want to annoy Gabrielle or the Warrior Princess. She only did this out of respect for the elders, she silently reminded herself. And, ok, she happened to be curious.

"Something on your mind Ephiny?" Xena asked with a raised eyebrow, making Ephiny slightly grimace.

"Uh...Eponin can bring in an extra cot," Ephiny blurted, looking quickly at the two then the ground. "If you need it."

"Yes, please," Xena cooly responded simultaneously with the bard's warm "No, that's ok." The surprised bard and warrior eyed at each other, neither pleased with the other's answer.

"Okaaaaay," Ephiny relayed uneasily, wanting to be someplace else.

"Well, if it's not a bother," Gabrielle added reluctantly, remembering her promise. "We'd really appreciate it," she added flatly with a weak smile. Ephiny looked at Xena, who plastered on a polite smile.

The Amazon bard watched and sighed as Eponin arrived and brought in the extra cot. Ephiny followed with an extra pillow and blanket and handed it to an unhappy Gabrielle.

"Thanks," the bard said flatly.

"Sorry," Ephiny guiltily relayed to the Queen, drawing a look from the Warrior Princess. "Uh...for not planning ahead...well...enough," Ephiny added uneasily, deciding it would be best to leave - now.

"Good night," Ephiny blurted, grabbed Eponin and left.

Finally alone with the Warrior Princess, Gabrielle tossed the pillow and blanket on the cot and sat down at the table full of scrolls shaking her head and sighing heavily.

"Gabrielle, we've discussed...," Xena responded as she removed her weapons and placed them on the cot.

"I KNOW Xena," Gabrielle interrupted her with irritation. "I know," the bard muttered as she pulled out a scroll from the pile.

Xena sighed, now removing her armor.

"But your argument doesn't really apply here, does it?" Gabrielle continued, looking up from her scroll, unable to let it drop just yet.

Pulling her last bracer off, Xena rolled her eyes and turned to the bard. "Gabrielle, if my enemies knew how much you mean to me, you would become a target...they wouldn't hesitate to hurt you to get back at me," Xena relayed, tired of repeating herself.

"Xena, here, I'm already a target because of my position...not because of you," Gabrielle argued calmly, making Xena furrow her brows at the unpleasant truth.

"Although, I guess the reverse of your argument is something I should consider. If my enemies knew how much you mean to me, YOU would become a target...they could hurt YOU to get back at me," Gabrielle relayed with concern. The bard sighed and refocused on the scroll in her hands. They had to have the answer to this mess.

"Gabrielle, MY safety is NOT the issue here," Xena snapped, annoyed that Gabrielle was trying to confuse the issue which was...which was...which was perfectly clear before the bard spoke, damn it.

"Fine Xena, you got me to promise to be discrete and not engage in public displays of affection and...." Gabrielle sighed heavily, knowing if she continued, she would likely say something she would later regret.

"...and I've really got a lot of reading to do," Gabrielle abruptly changed the subject. "Do you mind?" She asked wearily, looking in the general direction of the Warrior Princess then refocused on the scrolls.

"Gabri...," she blurted out. Seeing the bard now reading the scrolls, her eyebrows furrowed, not appreciating being dismissed.

"I'm going for a walk," Xena announced angrily and left the hut.

Gabrielle closed her eyes, feeling the cool breeze from the warrior's angry departure and an incredible emptiness. She willed herself not to cry as she took a few calming breaths. After a few moments, she opened her eyes and found her calm short-lived. She saw Xena's armor and weapons resting on the cot.

The bard stood up abruptly. Oh gods. Calm down, she ordered herself, Xena doesn't need them here. Oh gods. What if Gurda or someone tries something? Calm down, she ordered herself. Xena is an experienced warrior! Oh gods. She's also an upset warrior that may not be focusing on her surroundings....

After stomping away from the Amazon camp, Xena found herself by a pond. She sighed heavily and sat on a boulder, staring out at the pond's glassy surface which reflected the near-full moon. She picked up a rock and tossed it into the pond, causing a loud 'plunk' and shattering the reflection of the moon into tiny shards of light floating upon the concentric ripples.

The effect of the rock on the moon's reflection was similar to the effect Gabrielle's words had on her solid arguments, Xena considered with annoyance. How could she make Gabrielle understand? The warrior sighed, wondering if she really did anymore.

Picking up a flat stone, she skipped it across the surface.

Xena had to admit the bard was right about the danger here. It was not a result of their relationship, but her position. Although, if it weren't for the Warrior Princess, Gabrielle would never have traveled to the Amazon land, never have be given the Right of Caste, and not be in this situation now, she thought triumphantly. Shaking her head, she softly chuckled. She knew what Gabrielle would say about that argument AND her endless guilt.

Unsatisfied with only three skips of her last stone, Xena picked up another stone and stood to get a better angle. She flung the stone, causing it to skip on the surface seven times. Just another one of my many skills, she smirked, sitting back down on the boulder.

Watching the ripples as they dissipated, the moon's image became whole again. The warrior exhaled thoughtfully, leaning back on the rock to view the moon itself, not just its reflection. Gabrielle would think this place romantic. Of course, the ever-romantic bard would say almost any place was romantic. Xena smiled.

Taking a deep breath, Xena noticed the pleasing fragrances of wild flowers filling the cool night air. The ever-romantic bard would say that was yet another ingredient for a romantic evening. However, even this warrior knew the most important ingredient was missing.

Her nerves begging for more action than pacing, Gabrielle rushed over to the bed and picked up Xena's chakrum and sword. Taking a few steps towards the door, she stopped and looked down at the weapons her hands then eyed the door. She grimaced with frustration realizing it wouldn't be appropriate for an Amazon Queen to run through the camp like a paranoid maniac, lugging Xena's weapons around as she frantically searched for her warrior. Besides, she told herself as she forced a long exhale, she was just overreacting. She resumed her pacing with her warrior's weapons.

As she walked back to the Queen's hut, Xena smiled, enjoying the fragrance of the dozen wild flowers in her hand.

"Who would have guessed...the Warrior Princess loves flowers!" A voice called out from the darkness. Xena stopped calmly, slowly lowering the bouquet.

"What am I going to do with you!" Gabrielle blurted to the weapons in her hands. The bard plopped down on the cot and stared at the weapons now cradled in her lap. "Oh Xena," the bard exhaled softly, an ache in her heart and concern in her thoughts.

"Gurda," Xena spoke cooly before the Amazon revealed herself, stepping from the black cloak of the forest. The Amazon smiled, her drawn sword reflecting the moonlight.

Xena's eyes lowered to the bouquet. She sighed, wishing it was a frying pan. Humiliating this cocky Amazon with cast iron cookware would have been very satisfying. Although, being one who enjoys a challenge, Xena's eyebrow raised as she contemplated the possibilities with a bouquet....

"Hmmmm...perhaps they are not for yourself?" Gurda smiled. Xena's amused smile faded and was replaced by a unimpressed yawn.

"Ah...not one to kiss and tell I see. Your discretion is commendable Xena, though not your choice in flowers," she shook her head with disapproval.

"Have something against wild flowers Gurda?" Xena asked.

"Oh no, not at all...its just that I think you could have selected more appropriate flowers for the occasion." Gurda walked past the Warrior Princess, who slowly turned to face her.

"The lilies are on the other side of the pond." Gurda offered with a smile and was rewarded with a cold glare from the unamused Warrior Princess.

As Gurda moved to return her sword to its sheath, she swiftly and skillfully guided it through the air with one swift motion, decapitating the flowers from the stems of Xena's bouquet.

"Ooops," Gurda blurted with amusement.

After watching Gurda leave, Xena finally looked down at the mangled bouquet of stems and exhaled slowly. She had to find a way.

Gabrielle continued to pace with Xena's chakrum still in hand.

"It's just a walk Gabrielle," she told herself. "She'll be back any minute...nothing to worry about," Gabrielle muttered to the not so empty hut, too busy pacing to notice the quiet entrance of the Warrior Princess.

"Maybe she's having a friendly chat with someone," Gabrielle blurted sarcastically. "Yeah, you KNOW how she loves to talk, talk, talk." The bard paced more. The warrior grinned.

"It's just a pleasant walk...pleasant and..." Gabrielle muttered.

"Lonely," the Warrior Princess offered, causing the bard to abruptly stop and turn to see the most beautiful sight, her warrior standing before her.

Too overwhelmed with relief and emotion to speak, the bard just barreled into the Warrior Princess and fiercely hugged her.

Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, an exhausted bard closed her eyes, appreciating the simple pleasures. The freedom to lazily caress the warrior's long body entwined in her's, the feel of the warrior's head against her cheek, and warm breath upon her neck, the rapid beat of her warrior's heart which just started to calm...or was that her own heart, she wondered.

Her heart had no real chance to calm. The warrior started yet another kissing assault on her happy skin, evoking a soft moan of pleasure from her bard. Grinning at her success, Xena pressed on, in search of a more important conquest.

"Gabrielle?" Xena spoke softly, making the bard smile at the sweet sound of her name on the warrior's lips.

"Hmmm?" The bard responded lazily, enjoying the trail of kisses over her chin and the weight of her warrior's body that now blanketed her's.

"You know I love you," Xena whispered in her ear words that always brought a smile to the bard's face.

"Mmm Hmmm," the bard responded blissfully as the warrior kissed her ear.

"You know I want you...," Xena whispered through kisses to her other ear.

Gabrielle grinned.

"... safe."

Gabrielle's eyes opened.

"There is no need...," the warrior spoke, gently peppering kisses over the bard's cheek.

"...for you to fight anyone." Xena kissed the bard's neck.

"Ephiny can handle this," Xena suggested and planted a wet kiss on Gabrielle's neck, evoking a shiver through the bard.

"Let her..." Xena exhaled heavily over the wet skin.

"Let her," she repeated the soft encouragement in a whisper as she traced her lips slowly over the bard's ear. "Please..."

Noticing the bard was quiet, Xena stopped her kisses. Finding it suddenly uncomfortable lying on the unresponsive bard, she moved to lie next to her. She nervously studied her face.

"You want me to walk away?" Gabrielle asked softly, turning her head to look deep into the warrior's hopeful eyes.

"YES!" Xena blurted with enthusiasm. "Yes Gabrielle, I do," the warrior quickly added, in a deliberate tone of reason, realizing she still had her work cut out to convince her bard. "And you CAN ...Gurda hasn't challenged you yet," Xena relayed, hope blooming as Gabrielle listened.

"You can leave and let Ephiny make the declaration the Amazons don't want Walsas," Xena explained.

"Then Gurda will challenge her," Gabrielle countered softly.

"Yes Gabrielle, but Ephiny is an experienced warrior. She has been through challenges before. She is more than capable of dealing with Gurda," Xena reasoned as she sat up with the bard, who still appeared to consider the option.

"What about Raiz?" Gabrielle asked calmly as she moved her legs over the side of the bed and looked down at her feet, now dangling just above the floor.

Xena smirked. "What about Raiz? She's not the type to cause trouble like Gurda."

Gabrielle considered that a moment and nodded. Raiz wasn't the overthrow-the-throne-because-I-can kind of Amazon.

Xena felt more confident as they talked and gently stroked the bard's back.

Those subtle attempts of persuasion by the warrior's gentle fingers threatened to rob the bard of the already tenuous control over her anger.

"What about Elea?" Gabrielle asked between clenched teeth as the warrior's fingers moved from her back to swept her hair aside, exposing her neck.

"Elea?" Xena asked, kissing Gabrielle on her newly exposed neck.

"Or Raylas, or Wynna, or Karael?" Gabrielle blurted out three more Amazon names as she abruptly left the uncomfortable bed.

"Who?" Xena asked, suddenly concerned.

"The four who Gurda dined with at the celebration," Gabrielle explained as she put a robe on. "Surely one of them is more...ambitious than Raiz," the bard suggested, eyeing the Warrior Princess, who sighed heavily.

"Maybe," Xena responded, not going to give up. "But Ephiny can ..."

"Perhaps two of them are more ambitious," Gabrielle interrupted.


"Maybe three...or more than those four...," Gabrielle quickly added. "Xena, you want me to walk away and leave this problem in Ephiny's lap?"

"YES!!" Xena snapped curtly, her hope just wilted.

"You want me to walk away and just ignore my responsibilities?" Gabrielle asked, struggling to remain calm and sat down on the cot which creaked loudly.

"Your responsibilities are going to get you KILLED," Xena snapped. The two stared at each other a long angered moment.

"I can't walk away Xena," the bard stated with finality and laid down on the cot.

With incredible exasperation, Xena exhaled loudly as she laid back on the Queen's bed, alone, in frustrated defeat.

Though the hut was silent, sleep visited neither bard nor warrior that night.

Chapter 13 - The Solution

Four days passed and Gabrielle was still sitting at the table in her hut reading the Amazon scrolls. She feared she was closer to finishing the scrolls than finding a solution. Gabrielle sighed wearily, finishing yet another Amazon scroll and with no answers.

As had become their strained routine, Xena returned to the hut with a tray of food, hoping to encourage the stubborn bard to eat something. The bard's voracious appetite had disappeared.

Gabrielle looked up at the warrior as she placed the food next to her and sighed. She picked up another scroll instead of a fork.

"Gabrielle," Xena sighed. "You need to eat something," Xena blurted, picking up an apple and placing it in the bard's hand.

"Ok OK," Gabrielle acquiesced and took an apple. With her hand now preoccupied, she used her elbow to pin down the end of a scroll as she unrolled it with her free hand.

The warrior's eyes narrowed.

"What?" She asked defensively. "I'm eating!" She added, taking a small bite of the apple then presenting the apple to the warrior as proof. "See..."

"You need a break," Xena informed her flatly, unimpressed with the apple.

"Xena, I'm reading about Queen Tuthesa and her treaty with's quite interesting...though I can understand why the Amazons are not too excited about this stuff...not the epic battles and bloodshed they like listening about," Gabrielle relayed. "But it is interesting, I can't stop now," Gabrielle explained. "I'm on a roll," she added, taking another bite of the apple.

"Gabrielle," Xena blurted.

"Xena," Gabrielle blurted back.

"Gabrielle..." Xena countered, then stopped, seeing the familiar determination in the bard's eyes. Xena sighed with familiar frustration and left in familiar defeat.

"How's it going?" Ephiny asked the Warrior Princess, who briskly marched past her as she left the hut.

Xena paused and turned to the curious Amazon. Xena abruptly drew her sword. A few startled Amazons near-by jumped back and instinctively grabbed for their swords.

Ephiny rolled her eyes.

"Care to practice?" Xena asked Ephiny, who wisely shook her head no to Xena's gracious offer.

"Uh...what about Sustra?" Ephiny suggested. Warrior Princess snorted and sheathed her sword. "Come on, she's almost completely recovered from your last practice session and no one else will go near you," Ephiny relayed with a smirk. Xena exhaled with a furrowed brow.

"You know, Solari's arm is still in a sling," Ephiny reminded her, successfully making Xena feel a bit guilty.

"Sorry," Xena blurted.

"How's Gabrielle?" Ephiny asked, glancing at the hut.

"Just wonderful," Xena relayed pleasantly with a smile, surprising Ephiny.

"Reading from first light, throughout the night, then, when she does stop reading...unable to sleep, barely touches her food," Xena relayed with increasing irritation. "And, very soon, going to face a well-rested, well-fed and BLOOD-thirsty AMAZON," Xena blurted angrily.

"How do you THINK she is?" Xena snapped, reconsidering that practice session with Sustra.

"She's not very happy," Raiz relayed to Gurda, as they watched the Queen's hut from across the village.

"I can't blame her. Soon, Gabrielle will have no choice and face me in a challenge to the throne," Gurda relayed thoughtfully. "It must be eating Xena up," Gurda grinned.

Gabrielle read the last scroll on the Treaty of Yuesa. She rubbed her eyes and moaned. There was nothing there that contradicted the claim to Walsas. In fact, the scrolls were very clear to the bard...the Amazons had a claim to the land.

When she got up to stretch her legs, she heard a knocking on the hut door.

"Come in," Gabrielle called. "Sustra?"

"Queen Gabrielle, just checking to see if you need anything. You've been cooped up so much, I was wondering," she asked glancing uneasily at the door, rubbing her still sore neck.

"No...but thanks."

Sustra looked at the pile of scrolls. "Are you finished?" She asked with hope.

"Yeah," Gabrielle relayed unenthusiastically.

"Oh," Sustra sighed. "Perhaps you ought to start thinking about practicing?" Sustra offered with a sad shrug. Gabrielle felt ill as she reluctantly nodded. Sustra smiled at her. "Don't worry Gabrielle, you'll be ready for her."

Exhaling as she grabbing her staff, she felt like she had already lost.

"Are you ok?" Sustra asked, seeing the weary look in her eyes.

Gabrielle smiled warmly at her friend. "I had prided myself on being able to find peaceful solutions," she relayed as they exited the hut and headed towards a field to practice. "This time...." she sighed and shook her head sadly.

"Gurda! She's left the hut. She's going to practice!" An excited Raiz informed the lounging Amazon as she rushed into their hut. "Don't you want to watch?"

"Why?" Gurda grinned, casually locking her fingers together and placing her hands behind her head to rest her confident head on.

When they reached the practice field, Sustra laughed and shook her head, causing her Queen to eye her curiously.

"What in the world would we do with Walsas?" Sustra asked with a shrug. The two contemplated that as they stretched with their staffs.

"The first thing I would do is rename it," Gabrielle joked, making the two chuckle as they stood towards each other.

"Thank the Gods," Sustra relayed with relief, then proceeded to attack her Queen. Sustra's blows were easy on the Queen, but after Sustra's rear found the ground, she realized the Queen was not going to go easy on her. "Hmmmm...." Sustra got up and dusted herself off, eyeing the grinning Queen.

"As long as you are renaming things, could I get a street named after me?" Sustra asked as she once again proceeded to attack her Queen.

"I'd like a street," Sustra admitted between an attempt to sweep the feet out from under her Queen. Unsuccessful with the sweep, she found the staff, with a stupid looking furry thing on the end of it, over her head and rapidly descending. She quickly lifted her staff up just in time for a block.

After Sustra's successful block, the Amazon attempted to overwhelm the Queen with a flurry of attacks. Easily blocking the Amazon's blows, Gabrielle smiled.

"I don't see why not Sustra, you've been a very loyal subject." The bard feigned an attack with one end of her staff and smacked the Amazon's stomach with the other end.

"Oooff." Sustra backed off. "Good shot," she wheezed one moment and attacked the next, almost catching Gabrielle off guard.

"You know, Trayla will be jealous," Sustra relayed as she jumped over the staff swung at her ankles in a sweeping attack from a crouching bard. "If I get a street and she doesn't," Sustra informed her as she countered with a thrust.

Rolling out of the way of the thrust and immediately back in the ready stance, Gabrielle laughed.

"I guess to keep the peace, I'll have to name all the streets after my Amazons," she relayed, receiving another flurry of attacks from the Amazon that succeeded only in hitting wood.

"I hope there are enough streets," Sustra relayed.

"If not, I'll just have to expand the kingdom," Gabrielle countered with a smirk.

"I guess you can do that...being Queen and all." Sustra blocked a counter attack of rapid strikes. "You can pretty much do... want," she responded, punctuating each word with thrusts. Surprising the Amazon, the Queen failed to block the Amazon's last blow. Sustra landed a powerful hit to her Queen's left arm, tumbling her to the ground.

"GODS!" Sustra stopped, her mouth gaping open at her unexpected success. Snapping out of her shock, she rushed over to Gabrielle.

"Are you OK??" She asked nervously. Gabrielle looked at Sustra and smiled broadly. "Oh gods, you're not ok," Sustra blurted nervously at the stupid look on her Queen's face.

"Sustra, you are wonderful!" Gabrielle got up, kissed the Amazon's cheek and gave her a big bear hug.

"If I wasn't dead before, I'm dead now," Sustra muttered.

"Don't worry Sustra, Xena might just hug you too," Gabrielle added with a grin and rushed back to the Queen's hut.

As they waited in the war tent, Trayla, Solari, Sustra, and Ephiny tried to get Xena to reveal what the big news was.

"I told you, I have no idea what she has planned," Xena said with frustration. "She just told me to be patient," Xena added flatly, not feeling the need to inform them the bard giggled when she told her that.

"What did she say to you when you were practicing?" Trayla asked Sustra, drawing curious glances from the other three.

"Uh, well, we were talking about the need to expand the kingdom to get more streets..." The Amazons looked at each other in confusion.

"...and then WHAM! I landed a really solid blow to her arm. The force knocked her...right...down," Sustra paused and cringed, feeling Xena's intense glare at her enthusiastic account.

"Then she smiled," Sustra quickly added, hoping to appease the Warrior Princess, who raised her eyebrow. "Of course, she surprised the Tartarus out of me when she jumped up and ...uh," Sustra laughed awkwardly when she glanced nervously at Xena. "I don't know either," she smiled sheepishly and shrugged.

Gabrielle finally came into the war tent with Eponin, who carried four scrolls in her hands and set them down on the table. The bard turned to her friends.

"I have reviewed the scrolls very carefully and agree with Trayla's findings - the Amazons have a legitimate claim to Walsas," Gabrielle relayed this unpleasant news. The Amazons shifted uncomfortably, exchanging glances among themselves.

"And as Queen, I have decided to honor that Amazon claim and declare Walsas Amazon territory," Gabrielle informed them, carefully watching the response of the women.

"WHAT!?!" Was the joint response from the dumbfounded Amazons.

"How hard did you hit her?" Trayla asked Sustra, who shrugged uneasily.

Chapter 14 - The Details

Xena eyed her bard, who was smiling confidently with that familiar devious glimmer in her eyes. Silently the two exchanged glances, giving Xena a sense of hope she hadn't felt for a long time. Gabrielle had a plan and knowing Gabrielle, it would be interesting, the Warrior considered.

"Are you CRAZY?" Ephiny blurted, not worried about the potential penalties of insulting an Amazon Queen. "Do you really want to attack Walsas?" She asked, making Gabrielle chuckle.

"There is no need to attack least not yet. I think we can settle this between the thrones, peacefully. It may news to some, but I have some pull with the Queen of Walsas and think she'll agree to my demands, without the need for bloodshed." She smiled at Ephiny then turned to see a grin on Xena's face.

"How...what...huh?" Ephiny blurted, scratching her head.

"The scrolls had the answer in them," Gabrielle relayed with a shrug.

"Believe it or not, Gurda's stunt is not the first time someone has tried to use a territory issue to get control of the throne." Gabrielle feigned surprise.

Xena noticed the bard was enjoying this from her buoyant confidence and smile on her face. Xena also noticed just how much she missed that beautiful smile.

"If you read beyond the four scrolls on Walsas, there are detailed accounts of how, long ago, the Amazon nation PEACEFULLY settled claims and managed lands, from small villages to sizable kingdoms," Gabrielle happily relayed the tale to the room of now-interested Amazons.

"Once a land is claimed and a treaty is signed, it is no longer an issue for the throne. The Amazon nation did not need all the lands claimed in the past. However, the Queens sought the lands and treaties because of politics. They wanted to avoid constant challenges to the thrones. Surprisingly, very few battles were necessary." Gabrielle eyed the smiling Acting Queen.

"The Amazons were incredibly successful collecting treaties, especially from the small lands. Even when the terms were obscenely favorable to the Amazons, the people wisely did not want to face the Amazon nation on the battlefield." Gabrielle looked over to Xena, who shook her head with amusement at the bard Queen.

Gabrielle paused a moment to enjoy the amazed looks on the Amazon faces. "A treaty was never signed for the land, now named Walsas. Amazon Law is crystal clear on this unfinished business. Gurda has the right to demand the throne to claim the land." A satisfied grin crossed the bard's face.

"But, Amazon Law is also crystal clear on the role of the throne. As Queen, I have shall set the conditions of our claim and I will write the treaty," Gabrielle relayed forcefully, eyeing the Amazons, who realized their Queen had just pulled the rug out from under Gurda.

The women erupted with laughter of relief and amusement. "Now no more worry of challenges!" Eponin blurted, generating relieved nods and chuckles from the women, except Sustra who noticed Gabrielle's polite smile.

"Gurda could still challenge her," Sustra noted with a shrug. The other Amazons laughed knowingly. Xena grinned, hoping Gurda would.

"It wouldn't be over the throne, just a personal challenge Sustra," Solari relayed to her the obvious. "And Gabrielle would name a champion."

Ephiny laughed. "Gurda's not crazy enough to fight Xena," Ephiny added shaking her head.

Sustra looked over to Gabrielle who sighed as she quietly collected the scrolls.

"Well, she was crazy to plan on challenging Gabrielle over Walsas," Sustra countered with a shrug, making the Amazon's laugh and her bard Queen smile warmly at her loyal friend.

Xena eyed Sustra curiously.

"Yeah, Walsas of all places," Eponin blurted, evoking more chuckles.

Seeing an irritated Sustra open her mouth to correct Eponin, Gabrielle interjected.

"Hey, Sarah DOES have a nice castle..." Gabrielle shrugged and smiled at Sustra, who sighed and remained quiet.

Now Xena eyed her bard curiously.

"We should all get some rest tonight, I will make my announcement tomorrow morning," Gabrielle relayed to the grinning Amazons, who couldn't wait to see Gurda's face.

In the Queen's hut, Xena watched the bard sit down at the large table and pull out a quill and a blank parchment.

"What are you doing?" Xena asked. "Writing a story about this?" The warrior grinned.

"No, I'm drafting up my demands," Gabrielle responded seriously, dipping her quill in ink.

"Why?" Xena chuckled, removing her weapons.

"To ensure the safety of the Amazon nation! To seek a lasting peace with the kingdom of Walsas!" Gabrielle announced grandly. "To bridge the great chasm between..."

"Uh huh," Xena interrupted, removing her armor then reclined on the very uncomfortable cot, her stiff bed for the past few nights. She had concluded her first night on the cot that the nosey Amazons deliberately provided them most uncomfortable cot they could find.

" what should I demand," Gabrielle asked, stroking the quill under her chin thoughtfully. ""

"Money??" Xena questioned with a smirk, folding her hands behind her head as she stared at the thatch ceiling. When that familiar bump on the frame jabbed her shoulder again, Xena grimaced, finally concluding she would have to kill the cot maker.

"I think it's a good about a MILLION dinars a year!" Gabrielle declared. "Gabrielle," Xena blurted, poorly hiding her amusement, "she's got to be able to pay it or you'll be forced to attack her."

"Oh, right...thanks!" The bard happily wrote the slightly less demanding demand down. "Hmmm...I've also been thinking of renaming Walsas, what do you think?"

The cot creaked loudly as an amused Xena rolled over on her side and propped her head on her hand. She silently eyed the bard.

"How about Gabriellopolis!" The bard asked enthusiastically. Xena's eyebrow raised.

"North Gabriellopolis??" Xena's second eyebrow raised to meet her first. "Ok Ok...that's not exactly's more like North EAST Gabriellopolis," She offered. Xena smirked.

"Why don't I just keep that open for give you a chance to mull it over before commenting," She relayed diplomatically as she cheerfully wrote down a note to rename Walsas. Xena smiled. There was nothing more wonderful than seeing her beautiful bard so happy.

"Of course, being a benevolent Queen and champion for the people, I want to right wrongs, correct GRAVE injustices done to POOR unsuspecting innocents," she declared dramatically and wrote down another demand.

"What?" Xena asked with a little concern.

"No pink."

"Huh?" Xena asked the bard, who unconsciously rubbed her aching left arm and grimaced.

"A long, and very disturbing story..." Gabrielle sighed writing down her explicit requirements on that very important demand for justice.

"What else?" Gabrielle asked, looking up to the cot finding it empty. She found her warrior sitting down on the bench beside her and inspecting her aching arm.

When Gabrielle recoiled slightly at her gentle touch, Xena sighed. "Why didn't you say something about the pain?" Xena asked softly.

"'s nothing," Gabrielle relayed with a shrug, slightly grimacing at the movement. Xena sighed and got up to retrieve some medicine from her bag.

"Really, there's no need to bother..." Gabrielle relayed to the Warrior Princess who shook her head as she pulled out an herbal powder.

"It looks like you took quite a blow. You're lucky she didn't break your arm," Xena blurted with a furrowed brow as she returned to the table and grabbed a goblet.

"Yeah, or Sustra would have surely died of panic right there. You should have SEEN her face when she hit me - WHAM. When I went down she lost ALL the colour in her face," Gabrielle relayed with a chuckle of amusement. Amusement that the bard noticed Xena didn't share.

"Hey, it was my fault for not focusing," Gabrielle confessed. "Something I'm sure you'll agree I need to work on," she added quickly. "You'd think after a few of these...," Gabrielle pointed to her forearm that now sported a thin scar. "...I'd learn pay more attention," Gabrielle joked.

"Gabrielle, you got that because I wasn't paying attention," Xena admitted bitterly, pouring some water in the goblet.

"Xena, I didn't react fast enough," Gabrielle corrected her.

"You wouldn't of had to, if I had done my job," Xena responded, mixing the powder in the goblet.

"Your job?!? I can't believe you are taking the blame for MY mistake!" The bard blurted with exasperation.

"Gabrielle, the simple fact was - I wasn't paying attention that day at that bazaar. I was..." Xena sighed heavily, remembering her completely hopeless state of mind that particular morning. She should have never agreed to go to that stupid bazaar, especially after she had made such a point of no public displays of affection, she mentally scolded herself.

"I was...too busy looking at you to notice the threat," Xena blurted out the shameful truth and handed the bard the mug. "You could have been killed because of my carelessness," Xena added, dropping her gaze to the floor.

"What?!?" The bard blurted in utter amazement. "I seem to remember being there. And as I recall, I had a staff! And I could have used it to stop the attack if I wasn't so busy looking at the beautiful woman who had who COMPLETELY and UTTERLY took my breath away that wondrous night before!" Gabrielle declared.

"So don't you DARE try to blame yourself for MY lack of focus!" Gabrielle blurted, then paused a moment and added sheepishly, "Uh, perhaps I should rephrase that."

The bard noticed a small smile on the warrior's lips.

"You know, this is just another reason why public dis..." Xena relayed thoughtfully.

"STOP it!" Gabrielle erupted. "I promised and I intend to keep my promise. But I am NOT going to sit through another lecture on the dangers of public displays of affection," she added with frustration.

"And I'd really appreciate it if you didn't rub it in that you got me to promise."

"GOT you to?!? Gabrielle...we've discussed..." Xena relayed amazed at the bard's reaction.

"Xena DON'T! Just...don't" Gabrielle interrupted and sighed wearily, shaking her head. As the bard sipped from the goblet, the warrior watched with confusion.

Xena opened her mouth to say something but didn't know what to say. It was clear the bard finished their discussion. She quietly continued writing the treaty and her demands. Xena once again found herself lying on the cot, looking up at the ceiling and sighing heavily.

When the bard finally completed her task and retired to her bed, Xena looked over at her bard lying still, also finding the thatched ceiling fascinating.

"Gabrielle?" Xena called softly, causing the bard to turn her head towards the warrior. "Never mind," Xena sighed and turned her gaze to the ceiling.

"You have no idea why I'm mad, do you?" Gabrielle asked softly.

"No," Xena admitted gruffly. "I thought we discussed it."

"I see," Gabrielle sighed, returning her gaze to the ceiling. "Tell me Xena, if I had agreed to walk away from this Amazon problem when you asked...right after we made love...would you have also considered THAT a discussion?" Gabrielle asked sharply.

The realization of what she had done finally hitting her, Xena abruptly sat up. "Gabrielle...I only...I ...I never meant to hurt you," Xena spoke earnestly. "I...." Unable to continue, Xena's eyes moistened and her heart pounded with fear. Fear that in her blind desire to protect Gabrielle, her blatant manipulation would prevent Gabrielle from ever being able to trust her again.

Sitting on the edge of the cot, the warrior searched at the ground as if she would find a fix.

"Xena," Gabrielle softly spoke as she left her bed. She sighed when she sat next to her ashamed warrior who, refused to look at her.

"Your not the only one guilty of trying to manipulate the other like that...and neither of us liked it when we were on the receiving end," Gabrielle relayed, then couldn't help but grin slightly.

"Well...that's not entirely true, I guess I didn't mind it THAT much, at first," Gabrielle admitted. Xena finally looked at the bard, who smiled warmly.

"But after you got mad at me for trying to convince you to go to Amphipolis, I realized you were right to be angry. That no matter the reason, we attempted to manipulate each other, at a very vulnerable time." Gabrielle looked into her warrior's moist eyes.

"I think we should promise each other we won't resort to that again," Gabrielle proposed, Xena nodded. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her warrior and hugged her.

"Never again," Xena exhaled with relief, tightly holding her bard.

"Good. You had an unfair advantage, you are much better at it than I am," Gabrielle relayed, revealing a grin and reached to wipe a tear from Xena's cheek.

"Who says?" Xena challenged her, capturing her hand and gently kissing her palm. Gabrielle smiled warmly, then surprised the warrior.

"It's getting late, we should get some sleep," Gabrielle informed as she stood up.

Xena sighed and nodded, reluctantly releasing the bard's hand. As she started to lie down on the cot, it groaned loudly.

"Xena," the bard held out her hand to the Warrior Princess, who looked up hopefully. "We'll both sleep much better in my bed."

As they laid down together in each other's arms, they found peace and, for the first time in many nights, sound sleep.

Chapter 15 - The Demands

In the center of the Amazon village the Queen arrived with her entourage of senior advisors and a Warrior Princess. Gabrielle sighed when she looked out over the large group of Amazons gathered and did not find Gurda.

Finally, the cocky Amazon made a show of her arrival as she emerged from the crowd, followed by group of Amazons. Gabrielle knew each of them and was not surprised by their allegiance to Gurda, though it still saddened her.

Xena crossed her arms as she watched Gurda make her way to the front of the crowd. The two warriors coldly eyed each other. Gurda smiled and turned her gaze towards the Queen and her advisors for an indication of nervousness, surprised when she found none. Gurda had to admit, being cool under the pressure was an admirable trait, even for the bard Queen.

With all finally gathered Gabrielle began her announcement. "As you know, there has been a request by Gurda that the Amazons claim the land, now called Walsas."

Heads nodded as the crowd quietly murmured.

"This claim was based on Ancient Amazon scrolls kept by the Northern Tribe in Ratheos. After carefully reviewing those scrolls..." Gabrielle paused and looked Gurda in the eye. "I can only confirm Gurda's assertions that the Amazons have a claim to Walsas," Gabrielle relayed, making Gurda inhale deeply with a big victory grin.

A disturbed murmur erupted through the crowd.

"With this claim, I am faced with a decision," Gabrielle relayed dramatically, starting to pace. All Amazon eyes on her except Gurda's, who was watching Xena, not understanding why Xena's eyes rolled with impatience. Gabrielle glared at the Warrior Princess, who sighed.

"As the sister of the Queen of Walsas, whom I dearly love, I wish no harm to come to her or her people. I have a responsibility to see to that," Gabrielle relayed, continuing her pacing the other way as the Amazons intently watched and listened. Except Gurda, who was watching Xena, not understanding why the Warrior Princess seemed more interested in a stray thread on her bracer than the Queen's speech.

"However, as the Amazon Queen, a position for which I have the utmost respect and intend to bring honor to, my responsibilities require me to see Walsas for what it really is....AMAZON LAND!" Gabrielle blurted with conviction, surprising the crowd. Gurda's mouth dropped, her full attention abruptly captured by Gabrielle.

"NO! You can't be serious..." Gurda blurted, looking back towards Xena, who was smiling broadly. The bard noticed how much her warrior was enjoying this.

"You are willing to attack your own sister? What kind of sister ARE you???" Gurda added, trying to find a way to salvage the situation. "Amazons! Do we want a Queen who is willing to attack her own sister in the back to avoid a challenge?" The Amazons looked uneasily at each other.

"ENOUGH!!" Gabrielle erupted with an anger that surprised Xena. "Gurda, if you wish to challenge ME go ahead. But it WON'T be over Walsas and it WON'T be over the throne," Gabrielle snapped, eyeing the woman, who shook her head as she eyed Xena, who smiled and cracked her knuckles.

"I'm not stupid Gabrielle," Gurda responded as she made an about-face and marched through the crowd, who's eyes returned to the Queen. Gabrielle took a moment and a few calming deep breaths before continuing.

"My sisters," Gabrielle called out with her hand up to settle the disturbed crowd. " assured, there is no need to attack Walsas," she informed them with a smile as she saw the curious looks throughout the crowd.

"As allowed by Amazon Law, I have drafted up my demands and a treaty, which Xena will deliver to the Queen of Walsas," Gabrielle relayed to the gathering, careful to avoid the gaze of a certain, very annoyed Warrior Princess.

Xena's eyes narrowed at the bard, who apparently didn't remember to inform her of this little trip she was about to make.

"Once the treaty is signed, the matter of Walsas will be behind us," Gabrielle relayed, her smile and words serving to pacify everyone, except the Warrior Princess.

"Gabrielle I will NOT leave you here ALONE!" Xena exploded when they got back to the hut. Gabrielle sighed, tying a ribbon around the scroll of demands and the treaty, waiting quietly for the warrior's anger to settle.

"I can't believe you didn't ASK me!" Xena blurted as she paced behind the bard. "And DON'T think just because you told the WHOLE village I was going doesn't mean for one MOMENT that I am!....I can't believe you didn't ask me!" Xena repeated, stopping for only a moment and continued to pace. "Why don't you get Sustra to go...I'm sure she'd be more than happy to please her Queen!" Xena snarled.

When Gabrielle turned to face her jealous warrior, she wisely wiped the amused grin off her face.

"Xena," Gabrielle spoke in a soothing voice. "You are the only one Sarah trusts. I can't send anyone else," Gabrielle reasoned, trying to make eye contact with the pacing warrior.

"Fine! She trusts you too. We should go together," Xena argued, avoiding eye contact. Gabrielle smiled warmly at her warrior.

"I'd love to Xena, but I have to send my demands and treaty and wait for a counter proposal," Gabrielle rattled off the procedure, causing Xena to furrow her eyebrows and start to pace again.

"If she has one, then we'll need to meet at a neutral land and get the treaty signed....I want to do this by the scrolls all the way..." Gabrielle relayed firmly, then grinned. "What are you so worried about?" Gabrielle stood in Xena's path, stopping her pacing.

"Gabrielle, I don't like this. Gurda might try something," Xena relayed, finally looking into the bard's eyes, revealing great worry in her own.

"I think she's made it pretty clear she's not interested in challenging me now," Gabrielle relayed with a smirk. Seeing Xena starting to object again she quickly added. "Please Xena, do this for me," the bard asked softly and held out the scrolls.

Xena sighed heavily as her eyes dropped to the scrolls.

As she mounted Argo, Xena grimaced unhappily as she looked down at the Amazon Queen, who ceremoniously displayed the treaty to the crowd. After placing the scrolls in Xena's saddle bags, Gabrielle looked up at her warrior.

"Don't be long," Gabrielle instructed her warrior with a familiar twinkle in her eye.

Ephiny noticed the Warrior Princess' grimace dissolve into a small crooked grin.

"HAhhh!" Xena called out to Argo, who immediately lurched forward, kicking up a cloud of dust. As the thundering hooves swiftly carried Warrior Princess away from camp, Ephiny turned to Frea and Roeya.

The three Amazons nodded confidently.

"She wants to WHAT?!?" Sarah blurted in confusion as Xena tried to explain the situation to Gabrielle's sisters and Meleager. Lila and Meleager eyed each other, then Xena as Sarah stared at the scroll in in disbelief.

"She wants to resolve this territory issue with a the scrolls Sarah, it is very clear what Gabrielle trying to do," Xena explained patiently. Sarah shook her head in amazement. Following Xena's advice, she returned her gaze to the incredible treaty in her hands.

"I Gabrielle, Queen of Amazonia...blah...blah...yadda...yadda...claim Walsas as AMAZON territory," Sarah reread the words and blurted again. "She wants to WHAT?!?"

"Sarah, it would help if you read beyond the 'claim Walsas' part," Xena suggested with a sigh. Sarah shook her head and started to read again.

"...claim Walsas....yadda...yadda...blah...blah...upon agreement of Amazon demands..." Sarah read the words. "She has DEMANDS?!?" Sarah, Lila and Meleager blurted in unison.

Xena wondered if just attacking Walsas wouldn't be easier.

"So what does this Furry Wegget look like?" Sustra asked her Queen as they dismounted at the mouth of the cave.

"Size of a chicken, furry...and NO I have never seen one," Gabrielle blurted with annoyance, having been asked that question many times by the Amazons with her.

Solari was last to dismount. With a sigh, she eyed her hunting party consisting of Sustra, Trayla and Eponin...all recruited by their Queen to get this egg. Though they were all known as skilled hunters, none of them had ever heard of a Furry Wegget before.

Gabrielle smiled when she looked into the dark cave and took a deep breath of cave air. "Amazons...I smell SUCCESS today," she blurted confidently, then coughed. The Amazons eyed her with concern.

"Here little Wegget, here Wegge Wegge Wegge..." Gabrielle called out to the darkness as she entered the cave with a torch in hand.

The Amazons looked uneasily at each other.

"How hard did you hit her??" Trayla asked Sustra, who shrugged innocently.

"She wants to WHAT???" Sarah blurted upon reading another demand, making Xena cringe. "How can she rename Walsas?" She asked indignantly. "It's always been Walsas...hasn't it??" She asked Meleager and Lila, who shrugged.

"Well, what does she want to name it?" Meleager asked helpfully. Xena rolled her eyes and braced herself, remembering Gabrielle's suggestions the night before.

"Galisar" Sarah blurted, surprising Xena. "Why in Tartarus would she want to name it that?" She complained, shaking her head.

"I dunno...but it sounds a lot better than Wal..." Meleager admitted, then cringed at the displeased glare from his future wife. "Well it DOES!" He responded defensively.

Xena grinned, realizing how the bard picked that name. "It's from all your names," Xena relayed, appreciating the bard's choice. Sarah looked up confused.

"Gabrielle, Lila and Sarah..." Lila laughed. "I LIKE it! Keep it! Oh you've GOT to, please??" Lila pleaded with her sister, who sighed, not ready to admit she also liked it better than Walsas.

"Don't know why SHE gets to be first," Sarah muttered as she read the next demand.

"Damn it," Sustra blurted as her torch blew out again. The occasional cool gusts from the caverns below extinguished their torches. Sustra fumbled around in the dark to get her flint stones out. Clacking the stones together, she produced a successful spark that relit her torch.

Gabrielle relit hers from Sustra's. "Thanks," she relayed with a smile and resumed her hunting. "Here wegge wegge wegge,"

"Sustra," Eponin pulled her aside as Gabrielle continued to hunt around the cave for Furry Weggets. "How do we even know this bird even exists? I mean...WE'VE never seen it or even heard of it, and Gabrielle has said SHE'S never seen it. And after you hit her..." Eponin shrugged as if it was obvious.

"It exists! She said so...and I DIDN'T hit her THAT hard!!" Sustra relayed defensively.

Outside the cave, Solari stiffened as Gurda and five other Amazons rode up. Solari whistled a warning to the sisters in the cave.

"Solari...there's no need for that," Gurda smiled as she gracefully slid off her mount. "I mean you no harm," Gurda relayed truthfully as she watched Solari reach for her sword.

Sustra, Eponin, Trayla and Gabrielle quickly emerged from the cave. "Your highness," Gurda bowed. "Lovely day for a hunt isn't it?" She noted, walking towards the Queen. Gabrielle's hunting party stepped protectively around her but Gabrielle held her hand out to stop them.

"She wants WHAT?!?" Sarah blurted on the final demand. "No pink?!?"

Xena listened curiously.

"It's only fair Sarah," Lila relayed, looking over her sister's shoulder at the scroll.

"But the bridesmaid dresses are already done!" Sarah blurted.

"You were going to make Gabrielle wear a pink dress?" Xena asked in amazement.

"Uh...yes...I really LIKE pink, though I can't wear it because of my hair...colour...," She explained, then cringed under the glare of the Warrior Princess.

"Alright, alright, no pink bridesmaid dresses...even though it IS my wedding," Sarah blurted with annoyance.

"She can go around NAKED now, for all I care..." Sarah muttered, causing the Warrior Princess slightly grin. That would certainly add to at least HER enjoyment of this Traditional wedding, Xena considered. Her grin faded as her eyes drifted over to the door.

Gabrielle's mother just entered the room.

"It is a lovely day Gurda," Gabrielle relayed to the Amazon with a pleasant smile.

"I've been thinking about what you said, Queen Gabrielle," Gurda relayed respectfully.

"I'm glad to hear that," Gabrielle responded with a smile.

"You said if I wanted to challenge YOU, I could," Gurda repeated the bards statement.

Trayla and Eponin started to laugh.

"I meant it," Gabrielle said cooly, meeting Gurda's gaze.

Trayla and Eponin stopped laughing.

"Good. I would like to take you up on your offer then, your highness," Gurda stated calmly, but with eagerness in her eyes. "Now," she added.

"Staff?" Gabrielle asked calmly.

"Certainly," Gurda answered holding her empty hand out. Raiz quickly filled it with Gurda's staff.

"Queen Gabrielle, I would be honored if you would allow me to be your champion," Trayla interjected uneasily. Gurda snorted and rolled her eyes. Gabrielle smiled warmly at Trayla and shook her head no.

"Please, your highness, I would be greatly honored to be your champion," Eponin blurted nervously in an another unsuccessful attempt to protect the Queen.

Solari and Sustra didn't bother to offer, knowing full well their stubborn Queen would also decline it.

Seeing the concern in her Amazon's faces Gabrielle sighed. "She is challenging ME and I will fight," Gabrielle explained with confidence.

Gurda grinned.

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