by WrshpXena (Tiggster)



Chapter 1

Xena is holding Joxer up off the ground by his collar. "YOU DID WHAT?"

Gabrielle's arm is on Xena's shoulder. "Xena, please put him down."

Xena turns and looks at Gabrielle. "He's insane! He wants me to kill him!"

Joxer stumbles over his words, "Xena, but ....I .....I .....what else could I do?" He begins to pout.

Xena throws Joxer back, landing hard on his bottom, he races to his feet to back up as she approaches him. He stumbles over his own feet and falls back to the ground. He attempts to scurry away from her on his hands and feet.

"If we lose your challenge Joxer, I will kill you myself! I will torment you in Tartarus for all of time!" With that she spins around and heads off towards the royal hut.

Gabrielle helps Joxer to his feet and then touches his forearm. "Joxer, will you go find Ephany, and tell her to meet me in my hut in a candlemark? Please?"

"Of course, Gabrielle." Joxer heads off toward the practice grounds to find Ephany. His hands rubbing over his tender behind.

Gabrielle sighs, "Oh Artemis, please help me get through this. Please help Xena calm down before she sheds Joxer's blood." Gabrielle walks toward the hut to talk to Xena.

She moves the cloth covering the doorway aside and peers into the room. Xena is standing in the center of the hut, her fists clenched at her sides. "Damn him to Tartarus." Xena continues to mumble curses and phrases that cause the bard to blush slightly. Gabrielle enters the hut.

"Xe, we need to talk about this." Gabrielle slowly approaches the warrior, knowing all too well her anger and darkness, and how hard she is fighting the demon to prevent her from ripping Joxer limb from limb at this very moment. Gabrielle walks to the sleeping pallet and sits down on the edge. She is waiting for Xena to calm down enough to talk. Her legs gently swings back and forth atop her other knee.

Xena continues to pace the floor and mutter to herself. After about a quarter of a candlemark, she comes to the pallet and kneels before the bard. Taking Gabrielle's hand in her own, she looks into the eyes of her beloved. "Are you sure you want to agree to this?"

"Xena, we have no choice. Its between Joxer and Ares, and we are just the pawns. I will ask Ephany to be our third."

"But Gabrielle, she is your Regent..." Xena's voice drops off as she questions Gabrielle's choice, not because she doesn't want Ephany on her side, but what if they lose. She shudders at the thought.

"Xena, I know what you mean." Gabrielle squeezes Xena's hand. "I trust her."

It is said with such honesty and conviction, Xena can not argue. She knows that the team must be made up of women they can trust, in case things turn ugly.

"Yes, Ephany it is. Who else my bard?" Xena strokes the bard's hand.

Gabrielle ponders for a moment. "Diana?" Gabrielle gently spreads her legs, and Xena takes up residence between them hugging the bard while they talk.

Xena shakes her head. "No, not her style, we do not need a harp player."


Xena shakes her head again, "she is experienced with boulders, but not exactly the kind of 'player' we need."

"Xena, how about Minya? She does still owe you a favor for dumping Hower when he was drooling all over you." Gabrielle give Xena a wicked grin and winks at her. "After all, I did have to explain to him his wasn't exactly 'your' type."

"Yes, my bard, you did. But as I recall, you also thought I should change my armor to chain-mail and attract a kinkier type." She returns the wicked grin. "And, I did that without the chain-mail." She kisses the bards nose playfully.

Gabrielle calls out to one of the two royal guards posted outside the hut. "Could you please send a messenger to me?" She smiles at the guard, who quickly bows and withdrawals.

Xena joins Gabrielle on the pallet, where they sit and discuss their strategy until the messenger arrives. Gabrielle goes to the small table and quickly writes a message to Minya on a scroll:

Minya, your presence is required immediately in Amazonia, a matter of life or death. Gabrielle

PS Bring your whip.

She hands the scroll to the messenger with clear instructions that it is to be given only to Minya, and that she has one week in which to return. The messenger quickly leave with her entrusted message, breaking into a run as soon as she clears the doorway of the hut.

Ephany sees a messenger running out of the village as she approaches the royal hut.

Ephany stands outside the hut and calls to the Queen as protocol demands. "Queen Gabrielle? You sent for me?"

"Please come in, Ephany." Gabrielle replies.

Ephany enters the dark hut to find Gabrielle on her knees on the pallet behind Xena, rubbing the knots from her shoulders. Ephany kneels and bows her head.

"Ephany, please, we are alone, you need not kneel before me, we are friends." Gabrielle leaves Xena and the pallet to stand before Ephany. A hurt look crosses Xena's face at the loss of her bard's warm hands and touch, the emptiness felt as soon as the bard's hands stop touching her skin.

"Ephany, we need to talk." The seriousness in Gabrielle's voice warns the Regent of the danger of this conversation. "Please take a walk with me. I will explain everything." The Regent shakes her head slowly "yes".

Gabrielle turns to find Xena standing behind her within arms reach. She smiles up at Xena, "I will be back soon, love." She stands on her toes and gently kisses Xena's lips. Xena draws her quickly into a hug, and kisses her deeply. Ephany turns toward the doorway to give the two a bit of privacy. She knows how protective and private Xena is. The lovers break from the kiss, both gasping for breath. "Soon, or I will come looking for you." Xena looks at Ephany and winks.

Gabrielle gently takes Ephany's arm and they leave the hut, entering the afternoon sun.

Xena continues to pace around the hut for a few moments, and then heads to the stables for Argo. She quickly saddles Argo and leads her out of the stable. She vaults onto Argo's back and heels the mare into a run toward the forest. After both have worked up a sweat and are breathing hard, Xena pulls Argo to a stop and somersaults off of her back landing in front of a fallen tree. She draws her sword, and cursing Joxer's name she proceeds to whittle the log into kindling. Exhausted she falls to her knees before the pile resembling tooth-picks and prays to the Goddess Artemis. "Please, great Goddess of the Amazons, look over and protect Gabrielle if I fail in my quest." She begins to silently cry at all that might be lost because of the 'Mighty Joxer.'

Soon she recovers from her workout and emotions, she stands and sheathes her sword. Her muscles tired and worn she walks over to grab Argo's reins. She pats Argo's neck, finding the mare covered in lather from the run. "I'm sorry girl." Xena leads Argo back toward the village and the stables. Once in the stables Xena brushes and grooms Argo while she tells Argo of her current problem with Gabrielle, and Joxer's bet with the God of War. When Argo is done, her coat is shining, and the knots in her mane brushed out, Xena gives her an apple as a treat.

Xena leaves the stables, feeling much more relaxed and able to handle the problem Joxer has brought upon her and Gabrielle. She returns to the royal hut to find Gabrielle waiting for her.

Gabrielle smiles. "How was your time with Argo?"

"Good, we had a great run." Xena walks over to the water basin to wash up.

Gabrielle approaches from behind, sliding her hands around her warrior, she hugs her, smelling the leather, Argo, and a smell all Xena's.

Xena sighs and leans against Gabrielle. "Give me a few moments to wash up."

"I'm comfortable," Gabrielle sighs.

"Gabrielle, what did Ephany say?" Xena continues to wash off her arms and face.

Gabrielle sighs and squeezes Xena tighter. "She said yes."

Xena turns within Gabrielle's grasp. She hugs her tightly against her. Gabrielle draws back slightly at the minor pain Xena's armor inflicts on her almost bare chest.

Xena pulls away and glances down at the small indentation her armor made just above Gabrielle's naval. She drops to her knees before the bard and kisses the indentation.

Gabrielle sighs and leans against Xena's face. She rubs her soft hands across her warrior's shoulders. She massages the knots she feels under her fingertips.

Xena continues to lavish kisses and licks on the indentation and Gabrielle's naval.

Soon Gabrielle is moaning and pressing against Xena's face. She gently presses down on Xena's shoulders, urging her lover lower.

Xena slowly licks back and forth across the top of Gabrielle's belt. She leans back and looks up into the face of her bard. "Sweetness, lift your skirt for me."

Gabrielle drops her hands for the shoulders of her lover, and grasping her skirt with both hands, she begins slowly lifting it.

Xena leans back slightly away from the bard to watch. Holding her breath as the bard's curly blonde hairs begin to show. She moans at the sight of the bard's sex. She can see the hairs along the edge glistening with wetness. She tears her eyes away from the glorious sight before her, and looks up at the bard's eyes.

Gabrielle smiles down at Xena and purrs, "Xena, what are you waiting for? A hand-written scroll? A command?"

Xena bows her head, "Your wish, is my command, my Queen."

Gabrielle steps back from Xena. She slowly unties her belt, letting her skirt drop to the floor around her ankles. She steps behind Xena and kneels. Using her belt, she binds the warrior's hands together.

Xena keeps her head down. A low guttural moan escapes her lips.

Gabrielle stands and steps about two paces in front of the kneeling warrior. "Xena, crawl to me and prove your willingness to serve."

Without lifting her head, judging where Gabrielle is by sound alone, Xena slowly crawls across the floor on her knees. She stops just has her knees touch Gabrielle's boots.

"Xena, what do you desire from serving me?" Gabrielle inquires in a husky voice.

"To prove I would do anything for you and receive pleasure from touching your beautiful body, my Queen."

Xena's body begins to shake slightly with the desire she feels for Gabrielle.

Gabrielle can see the effect she is having on Xena. She runs her fingers through her warrior dark hair.

"Hmmm, you feel so good, Xenaaa."

Xena continues to shake with her need for the bard.

Gabrielle runs a fingertip over the warrior's bottom lip. So soft, so moist. "Xena?"

"Yes, my Queen?"

"Suck my finger."

Xena draws Gabrielle's finger into her mouth. Slowly running her tongue up and down the bards finger. Gently biting the tip. She runs her tongue around the finger starting at the base and working her way to the tip.

A moan escapes the bard's lip. "Mmm, yesss."

Xena continues to savor the taste of her bard's finger. Giving all of herself to providing the bard with pleasure from this simple act.

Gabrielle changes fingers, and allows the warrior to taste each one. When her last finger has been thoroughly licked, she slides her thumb into Xena's mouth. She continues to pull her thumb in and out, feeling Xena's tongue caress it. The feelings that both women were experiencing continues to draw moans from each one.

Gabrielle could no longer take it. She can feel her own wetness on her thigh. "Enough, my warrior."

Gabrielle steps to a nearby chair and sits down. "Xena?"

"Yes, my Queen."

"Come to me." Xena crawls the few steps to where Gabrielle is seated. Gabrielle caresses her cheek. Gabrielle spreads her legs to give Xena a better view of her wetness. "Xena, I am in need of your tongue. Now."

Xena leans forward to run her tongue down the length of Gabrielle's sex. Tasting the bard's sweet ambrosia.

Xena slides her tongue inside the bard, drawing more of Gabrielle's wetness into her mouth, she swallows it, craving more.

The Queen grabs the back of the warrior's head, pushing her tongue deeper into her wetness. They moan in unison. More wetness pours from the bard. Xena greedily swallows it all.

Gabrielle pulls Xena up from her task, and kisses her deeply. She tastes herself on the warrior's lips. She continues their kiss as she reaches behind the warrior to release her bond.

The warrior quickly wraps her arms around the bard in a hug.

Gabrielle begins unbuckling the straps on Xena's armor. Piece by piece it slowly falls to the floor while they continue kissing lips, necks, and ears.

Soon the two lovers move to the bed to continue their love making at a slower, more loving pace until deep into the night.

Chapter 2

As instructed by Joxer and with his help, over the next week, the women clear an area near the practice field.

The area contains ten rows of neatly cleared dirt, all rocks and grass removed by hand. Each row is one pace wide and twenty paces long. At the end of each row stand ten logs, two hands tall. Each of the logs are standing up on their ends to form a pyramid shape, ten logs in each pyramid.

Joxer looks at the three women on their knees, throwing rocks off the large rows. "Well, this looks exactly like what Ares described. We should be ready."

All the women moan in unison, and continue tossing rocks away.

Xena yells at Joxer, "get back to work!" Under her breath she continues, "by the Gods, he is such an idiot!"

As the day draws to a close, a feast begins in the center of the village. Three huge bonfires burn to light up the area as the sun sets on the horizon. Ephany and Gabrielle are standing on the ceremony stage. Gabrielle stands on the stage in the center, wearing her Amazon Queen leathers and feathered mask, Ephany stands just a little behind her on the right, and Xena stands a full step behind her on the left. All the Amazons are in their battle dress and masks. Gabrielle lifts her arms to quiet the crowd. She looks down to see Joxer standing in front of the stage.

"Amazons, we are gathered tonight for a feast before tomorrow dawns and the battle begins." She looks to all the faces watching her. "We celebrate tonight to wish our friends and family luck in tomorrow's battle. Tomorrow at dawn it begins! Until then, let us feast and pray to the Goddess Artemis to watch over the Amazons tomorrow." With that said, she lifts her mask.

All of the Amazons remove their masks and begin to scream Artemis' name.

Gabrielle turns to Ephany and smiles. Ephany runs and jumps off of the stage and begins to scream as well. Drums begin to beat and the Amazons start dancing around the fires.

Joxer stands near the stage and watches the women dance around. Their bodies glowing unearthly oranges and yellows. They begin primal motions in time with the drums. He quietly walks to a food table and draws a mug of wine. He returns to his spot near the stage drinking his mug of Amazon wine, wondering how he could have gotten his friends in such a serious and possibly deadly position. He turns to look at his friends on the stage. They are standing close together, it appears to be an argument, but he can't make out the words with the drums and screaming. He thinks about how much he loves Gabrielle and looking at Xena knows he can never have her. He ponders his actions that have placed her, his beloved Gabrielle, in mortal danger.

A hand clamps down on Joxer's shoulder. He turns to see the God of War standing next to him. "What do you want Ares?" He timidly asks.

Ares smiles at him, "Everything will be mine tomorrow! Then you can have that sniveling love-sick bard."

He motions to Gabrielle. "Your team will be on the field at dawn, you poor excuse of a warrior." He begins to fade out. "And, Joxer.....thank you." His laughter echoes in Joxer's ears as he vanishes.

Xena pulls her attention away from Gabrielle for a moment to look at Joxer. She feels the presence of Ares, but does not see him. As quickly as the feeling came, it leaves. She looks back into her lover's eyes.

"Gabrielle, no." Xena shakes her head again.

"But Xena, she's not here yet. Who else can we get? We have got to ask Ephion." Gabrielle pleads.

"No Gabrielle, we will not risk any more of our friends. She will be here." With that Xena turns and walks away from Gabrielle toward the food tables. She pours herself a mug of wine. She empties it quickly and pours another mug. As she empties the mug for a second time, a warm hand touches her arm. She lowers the mug and looks into Gabrielle's eyes. She smiles, "I'm sorry."

"I understand Xena," she smiles at her warrior, "it has been a hard week."

Xena sets down her mug on the table and grabs Gabrielle's hand. She gently tugs her along and begins walking toward the royal hut.

"Xena, where are we going? We are in the middle of a feast." Gabrielle voices her protest but follows Xena.

"Gabrielle, they won't even know we are gone. Come on." Xena pulls the cloth door aside pulling Gabrielle into the hut.

"Xe? What are we doing?" Gabrielle questions Xena.

Suddenly Gabrielle feels Xena pull her into an embrace. "Gabrielle, if this is to be our last night together I don't want to spend it dancing around a fire with a bunch of Amazons."

"Xena, don't even speak like that, we will win, I just know it!" Gabrielle returns the hug and places her ear against Xena's chest, listening to her heart beat in time with her own.

Xena uses a finger under Gabrielle's chin to tilt her face up. She looks into her eyes. "No matter what happens tomorrow Gabrielle, I love you."

Gabrielle returns the look, "I love you, Xena." She stands on her toes and kisses Xena. The kiss quickly turns more passionate. Their lips part, tongues meet, and their moans are swallowed by each other.

Gabrielle breaks the kiss as her calves begin to knot from standing on her toes too long.

Xena quickly dips down and catching the bard behind the knees with one arm, the other around her shoulders picks her up and carries her to the sleeping pallet.

Gabrielle wraps her arms around the warrior. Though she feels safe within Xena's arms, she longs to feel the warrior closer. Her arms tighten around Xena's neck, fingers caressing her hair, she gently kisses her neck. A moan escapes Xena's lips.

Xena sets Gabrielle down on the edge of the pallet. She kneels down before the bard, to begin unlacing her boots. She removes each boot caressing her legs slowly.

The bard begins untying her leather top. Xena watches carefully, holding her breath until the bard's breasts meet the night air. Her nipples hard in the cool breeze.

Xena quickly leans forward to take one in her mouth.

The bard arches her back into the warmth of her lovers tongue and teeth. Her hands tangle into Xena's hair pulling her warrior tighter against her breast.

Xena pulls away for a moment to fumble with her armor.

Gabrielle stills her hands. "Leave it on, love."

Xena smiles knowingly at her bard. Gabrielle wants to feel Xena's power over her. Xena unhooks her chakram and lays it down on the floor next to the pallet.

She leans in and taking the bard's bottom lip between her teeth gently, she pulls on Gabrielle's hips to move her closer to the edge of the bed and against Xena's lower stomach.

Gabrielle moans as Xena presses into her wet center. She pulls her lip out from between Xena's teeth. "Take me warrior. I am yours."

Soon Gabrielle is screaming Xena's name out in passion. The noises continue to pour forth from the royal hut late into the night. Sometimes the Queen's name, sometimes the warrior's, and occasionally a "By the Gods!"

The sun rises the next morning. All of the Amazons are gathered on the field as the darkness gives way to the grayness before the sun rises. As the sun begins peeking over the horizon, two runners streak through the village and to the crowd. Minya shoves her way through the crowd, coming to a stop in front of Gabrielle and Xena. Gasping for breath, "Gabrielle ...I as soon I ...could." She draws her whip and turns to the crowd. "Are we taking all of these women on in battle?"

Gabrielle grabs Minya's wrist, "No."

Before she can finish and explain everything to her, Ares appears in a bright flash of light. "Well, well, it appears that everyone is here." He smiles at Xena and purrs. "You will be mine soon Xena."

"Never Ares." Xena eyes him.

Joxer walks up behind Ares, meekly he asks the God of War, "where is my team?"

Another bright flash of light. A gasp from Xena. Behind Ares stands Borias, Marcus, and Ming T'ien. "Here they are Joxer, and right on time." The sun clears the horizon and begins its journey across the sky.

Marcus looks around and walks over and hugs Xena. "Xena! Hello again Gabrielle."

Gabrielle eyes Marcus, "Hello."

Ares circles the women's team. "The rules are simple, the team that knocks down the most logs wins. All four members from each team will go up one by one and try to knock down the most logs." He pulls a dinar from the air. "Xena, I let you call it."

"Fine, let Borias flip the coin, I don't trust you, Ares." Xena points at Borias.

"Oh Xena, I'm not going to interfere with you losing. You can do that all yourself." Ares' strokes Gabrielle's arm.

"Ares, what will happen if we," Xena motions to the other three woman, "win?"

Ares tugs on Gabrielle's hair, she whimpers. Fire burns behind Xena's eyes, her fists clenched at her sides, with a controlled voice she says, "Ares, let her go and finish with the rules."

Ares releases his hold on Gabrielle, "Xena, if you win, Joxer keeps his miserable life. If you lose, you join me and the darkness again." He smiles broadly.

Borias snatches the coin and tosses it in the air. He gives Xena a halfhearted grin. "Call it."

Xena calls, "Face."

The coin lands in the dirt, face down. Xena looks at Joxer. Joxer looks up from the coin. "We'll throw first Xena."

Ares begins to laugh.

Joxer stands at the first row, he picks up the small boulder. He pulls his arm back and throws the boulder at the logs. It knocks down seven logs. Joxer jumps up and down. "Yesss!"

Row by row he walks down the field throwing boulders. When he reaches the last row, he pulls back the boulder and lets it fly. All ten logs fall. He begins jumping up and down in a circle. His teammates slapping him hard on the back. He walks up to Xena. "Wow, look at that, 87 logs total." Xena turns from him and continues discussing strategy with her team.

Ming T'ien throws next. As he walks up to the first row, he turns to Xena, in his native language of Chin, he tells Xena, "I will have my revenge now warrior woman! Hahaha." He continues to laugh. He picks up the boulder and throws it with all of his might. Nine logs! He turns and smiles.

Gabrielle grabs Xena's arm, "Xena what did he say to you?"

Xena looks deep into her lover's eyes. "Nothing love." She smiles down at her, hoping Gabrielle will accept the lie.

Ming T'ien continues to taunt Xena every time he throws a boulder. When he reaches the end of the rows, his total is 92 logs.

Ares is laughing. "Well Xena it appears the men are better dead. They have 179 logs so far."

A young Amazon of maybe 16 winters, walks by Borias carrying mugs of water, he grabs her roughly around the waist and begins thrusting himself against her backside. He grunts in her ear, "oh, how I have missed the spoils of raping and pillaging."

All of a sudden he howls in pain as someone behind him yanks his head back by his long hair. He releases the girl, and glares to the side to see Xena standing behind him, a handful of his dark hair in her hand. "Xena, what's come over you? I recall a day when you would have held her down for me, or taken her yourself and let me hold her down."

"Borias, you miserable beast, you are here for the game, not the sport of raping Amazons." Xena leans forward and whispers in his ear. "If you touch another woman while you are here, I will carve you up like the tender pig's belly that you are!" With that said she release his hair and walks back to the bench her team is sitting on.

Two Amazon children run off towards their mothers after setting up the logs again.

Borias takes the field.

Gabrielle leans over to Xena, whispering, "Xena is that true?"

"What Gabrielle?" Xena inquires.

Gabrielle blushes. "About him holding them down for you or you holding them down for him?"

"Gabrielle? Please, we need to worry about our game." Xena knows she is avoiding the answer, but how can she tell her friend and lover that it was true. She had taken a number of virgins while Borias held them down, and even participated.

Gabrielle can see the shame in her eyes. She doesn't need anymore of an answer. Maybe this was more then she needed to know about her warrior's past.

Gabrielle's attention comes back to the game just as Borias finishes throwing his last boulder. His total score 89.

Ares is standing off to the side, his arms crossed over his chest. He can taste the victory.

Marcus walks over to where Xena is seated. "Xena, forgive me? If I do not do my best, Ares will have me sent to Tartarus. I can't bear to be sent back there after the Elysain Fields."

Xena reaches over and grasps Marcus' hand. "I know, Marcus. You do what you need to. This is one of those times, for the good."

A lone tear rolls down his cheek. He stands up and walks over to throw his first boulder.

Gabrielle gently takes Xena's hand and squeezes it. Xena looks at Gabrielle and mouths, "I love you."

Gabrielle squeezes one more time and releases her hand.

They watch as Marcus completes his turn at throwing the boulders.

Ares gloats. "Well Xena, is your team ready? Marcus is an excellent player at this game, 95 logs."

Marcus retreats to the bench near his team. His head hung at the thought of the fate he might have sealed for his friend.

Minya stand up, "I throw first." With that she walks over to the first of the ten rows and picks up the boulder. She tosses it in the air with one hand testing the weight. On the third toss in the air, she catches it, pulls back and throws with all of her strength. "Yes!! Nine logs." She turns and smiles at her team.

All the Amazons cheer Minya on. Minya proceeds down to the next row to toss a boulder. The Amazons cheer again. "Ten logs!" Minya continues with her excellent aim down the rows, scoring ten logs on eight of the throws. She turns to look at her team. They all smile at her. The Amazons are cheering, "Minya, Minya!"

She pulls back her arm to aim, releases.....oh no, nine logs! She hangs her head and walks back to the bench. Ephany and Gabrielle quickly hug her, congratulating her. Xena holds her arm out and they grasp forearms like true warriors.

Ephany and Gabrielle look at each other, Ephany nods and heads toward the first row.

The mid-day sun is now over head. The young Amazons who were carrying water earlier have been traded out by some of the veteran warriors to maintain the peace and virtue of the village. Joxer stares over at Gabrielle, regretting that he agreed to this game. Marcus sits on the bench, his face down in his hands. Borias, continues eyeing the young women, and making crude hand gestures of a sexual nature to Xena. Xena scowls.

Ephany continues tossing the boulders down the rows. When she reaches the end of her throws, her total is 88 logs.

Gabrielle smiles as Ephany approaches the bench. They all congratulate Eph on her great job as she sits down on the bench. Xena and Gabrielle stand together. Gabrielle smiles at her warrior. Xena smiles back at the bard. "Focus Gabrielle. Do the best that you can."

With that said, Gabrielle reaches out and quickly squeezes Xena's hand, and heads off to throw her first boulder.

Picking up the boulder with both hands, Gabrielle struggles to throw it. It flies about halfway down the row and falls in the dirt.

Ares laughs loudly. "Ah, poor bard! Zero points! Next row dear." He continues his condescending laughter.

Xena walks over to Gabrielle, "Remember focus." She turns and returns to her spot near the bench. She is trying to appear calm and collected as she stands and watches the bard. The bard knows the truth, Xena is as scared of this game as she is.

Gabrielle picks up the boulder at the next row and again, with as much strength as she can, she tosses it at the logs. She begins jumping up and down. Seven logs. She turns to smile at her cheering group before moving to the next boulder. The next boulder Gabrielle throws scores eight logs. The bard is getting the hang of this boulder-throwing game. She proceeds to throw the next seven boulders, her score totaling 78 logs.

Gabrielle walks back to the bench. A tear escapes the corner of her eye. Xena gently brushes the tear away and smiles at her lover. Xena quickly hugs Gabrielle before walking over to the first boulder.

Everyone in the village is quiet as they watch Xena pick up the first boulder. She holds it in her hand testing the weight. She looks over her shoulder at the males sitting on their bench.

Borias yells, "I will be glad to see you in Tartarus, Xena. I'm sure we'll have some fun!"

Both Joxer and Marcus glare at Borias. Ares begins laughing again.

Xena glances over her other shoulder and looks at her lover. She smiles. Looking up into the sky, Xena whispers, "Gabrielle forgive me."

A ting off of rock to the left, a streaking shiny object races across the field, bounces off another large boulder in the middle of the practice field, and races toward the rows of logs. Another ting, and Xena turns toward her team, a small boulder in her left hand, her chakram in her right. She turns back to look at the rows, all 100 logs laying on their sides.

Ares bellows, "Xena you forfeit the game! I win!! You have used a weapon."

A shimmering light appears next to an angry Ares. When the light fades, Artemis stands next to the God of War. All Amazons recognize the Goddess and drop to their knees, bowing their heads.

Artemis reaches over to gently touch Ares. He whirls around to face her. "Why are you here, Artemis? This does not involve you!"

"Ares, when every Amazon in this village prays to their Goddess, asking that the battle be victorious, I listen." Artemis smiles. "Arise my children."

The Amazons stand to see a very red-faced Ares glaring at the Goddess of the Moon.

Ares walks to where Xena is standing, grabbing her shoulder. "You have lost MY warrior, and you will wage war on this village before nightfall."

Gabrielle falls to her knees, sobbing. Thoughts of the old Xena destroying her Amazons, her warrior under the control of Ares, are too much for her to bare.

Artemis smiles at Ares and Xena. She quickly fades out to re-appear next to Gabrielle. "Arise Queen of the Amazons. You need not cry."

Gabrielle lifts her tear streaked face to look at Xena. She can see the darkness in Xena's eye returning. She turns to Artemis. "Please Goddess, do not let him have her."

Ares snarls at Gabrielle, "Bard, she is MY warrior now, Artemis has no say in this matter."

Artemis gently caresses the bards head. "Ares, that's where you are wrong."

Ares screams, "NO, this was a fair game, she used a weapon, she is MINE!"

The Goddess helps Gabrielle to her feet. "Ares, that is where the problem is. Your rules stated, 'the team that knocks down the most logs wins. All four members from each team will go up one by one and try to knock down the most logs.' You never stated a weapon could not be used. Nor did you state it could be used. All assumed they must use the gathered boulders because Joxer said they needed them."

Joxer runs over to Xena and Ares. "Yeah that's right, Ares."

Joxer tumbles head over heels along the ground. When he sits up, blood trickles from the corner of his mouth and nose, a large red hand print begins to appear on his face.

"Shut up you sniveling wimp," Ares roars!

Artemis walks over to Ares, "as I see it brother, Xena did follow your rules, and the women won." She waves her hand and the three men seated on the bench disappear. "If you would like brother, we can take this up with Father?"

Ares backhands Xena, sending her into the dirt on her backside. Gabrielle quickly runs to kneel at her side.

"Xena you WILL be mine soon! On another day, I promise!" He glares at Artemis. "And you and I shall discuss this later, Sister!" In a flash of light he is gone.

Gabrielle helps Xena to her feet. Xena's lip is split and bleeding. A young Amazon runs up and hands the Queen a clean cloth. Xena takes the cloth from Gabrielle and holds it to her lip.

Gabrielle looks to the Goddess. "Thank you, Artemis."

Artemis smiles at the Queen of her Amazons. "Never trust him, he couldn't even play by the rules as a child." She strokes Xena's cheek.

When Xena removes the cloth, her lip is healed.

Artemis smiles at Xena. "Xena take care of her at the feast tonight in my honor." In a flash of golden light, the Goddess is gone.

As the crowd begins to thin, Joxer approaches Xena and Gabrielle. With his head hung down he apologizes for his ever agreeing to this game. Xena looks at Joxer and tells him, "Joxer you can be a great warrior without the help of a God. What you need is already inside of you. Care for those who do not or can not care for themselves. Honor those who do not honor you. And never, never lower your standards to be something you are not."

Joxer lifts his head to smile at his two friends.

The crowd continues to thin as the Amazons begin preparing for a huge feast to celebrate their victory over Ares and their faith in the Goddess Artemis.

And what a feast it was, but that's another story!!!

The End