DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, the Amazons, etc and their back stories are owned by Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement is intended and no profit is being made.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Christmas Wish-list for pocketnympho.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Solstice Eve Gift
By Del Robertson
"I'm sorry, you must have me mistaken for a pet."
Granted, not the most auspicious start to a friendship.
"She's annoying. How do you put up with her?"
Not by a long shot.
And, if someone had told me then that this... this rude, condescending... Amazon was to one day become my regent and that I had personally selected her for that position, I would have accused them of smoking henbane. Somehow, though, she'd gotten past her initial dislike of me. At first, I thought it was because Melosa had ordered her to be nice to me. Then, I realized the only thing Melosa had commanded that cocky warrior do was to see I was trained.
She didn't like me. Not one bit. You'd have to be a blind Cyclops not to realize that. Hades, not only did she not like me, she barely tolerated me. But, for some reason, by the time Xena had exposed Krykus and a peace treaty with the Centaurs had been signed, Ephiny thought enough of me to give me a staff handed down to her by her mother.
In truth, I think a certain warrior princess and a weapons master had something to do with her new, slightly more accepting attitude. She'd spent time alone with Xena on the way to and from the warlord's campsite and I'm sure Xena explained to Ephiny in her own way that I was more than just some no-brained bit of fluff traveling companion. And since Eponin was in turn given the rather dubious position of teaching me all there was to being an Amazon . . . well, I'm not one to kiss and tell, so let's just say there's more than one reason why Ep has the title of weapons master . . . I figured she also whispered in Ephiny's ear that I would fit right in if she only gave me a chance. Or, more likely, maybe they both threatened to pluck every last one of her tailfeathers if she didn't make nice.
Either way, I was sure that I had both those fierce warriors to thank for the cease fire between the Centaurs and the Amazons and between Ephiny and myself. In any case, subsequent trips to the village were less traumatic and an unlikely friendship was forged. Now, I found myself actually looking forward to visiting my sisters.
And not just because I get to sleep late, either, I thought, stretching languorously. I rolled over, feeling the bed shift beneath my weight. A peek through bloodshot eyes confirmed that Apollo's chariot was already edging across the sky. Telling myself a Queen must set the example, wild Amazon Solstice Eve party the night before or not, I tried to get up.
Only to hear a mumbled groan of protest and feel an arm tighten about my waist and solidly pull me back down. Rolling with the motion, I fell against and into my bedmate. A sleepy, albeit hungry, mouth instantly attached itself to my breast, teeth chewing on a tender nipple. My body arched into the contact, my hands wrapped around her, my fingers tangling in her hair, I gave an encouraging moan.
Hands traveled freely over my body, cupping and kneading my buttocks, one naughty finger trying to instigate itself somewhere decidedly more intimate. Determined to have a proper good morning greeting first, I tugged on her locks, pulling her head back. My nipple popped out of her mouth, the cold air causing it to swell even more. I claimed her mouth immediately, swirling my tongue inside, still able to detect the faint trace of my essence despite the fact that our last coupling had been several candlemarks ago.
Breathing heavily, I drew back, ending the kiss. A lazy smile adorned her lips. Soft, sleepy eyes opened to look up at me leaning over her. Looking down upon her, relishing how relaxed she was in my arms, I couldn't help leaning down and giving a playful nip to the tip of her nose.
She grinned in response, her arms tightening about me as she rolled us over. A fierce tickling attack ensued with her easily overpowering me and gaining the upper-hand until I was laughing and crying and begging her to stop.
And stop, she did. Just as abruptly as she'd begun. The joy and mirth fell from her face, taking her brilliant smile with it. Still laying atop me, but suddenly sober, her eyes deadly serious, she brought up a hand, fingers trembling uncontrollably, to brush the blonde hairs back from my face.
"Gabrielle." Her voice was so tight with emotion, she sounded nearly hoarse. "I just wanted to say... I mean, what you did... Thank you sounds so stupid."
I couldn't help smile at her awkwardness. Warriors are so typical. Show them a little tenderness and they suddenly go all shy on you. Don't repeat this to anyone; but it just makes them so darn cute.
"It's okay," I spoke in a soothing voice, petting her as if she were a big barn cat, "Anything for a friend."
She smirked, then chortled, then openly laughed at my choice of words. She rolled back over, taking me with her, ending up with my head tucked beneath her chin. "Friends, huh?" I could hear her smile, even if I couldn't see it.
And, that made me smile in return. "Yeah," I tried tickling her ribs, with much less spectacular results as she hardly flinched beneath my attack. "We're..." I settled for poking her with my index finger to emphasize each word instead, "...friends. Very, very good friends."
"Then, my friend," she turned her head so she could look down at me, her eyes meeting mine, "Then, Xena won't take my head off with her chakram?"
"Depends." A shiver raced down my spine, my mouth going instantly dry at the familiar voice. Eyes darted to the doorway, revealing the warrior princess, weapon in her hand, piercing blue eyes drilling into my regent. "You've got to the count of three to explain what you're doing in bed with my soulmate. One...two..."
Confused? I am, too, just a bit. And, things look more than a little grim with six-feet-tall of deadly warrior aiming her chakram in my direction. Maybe it would help if I took us back a little bit more and explained . . .
Xena worked to disentangle herself from my grip, her efforts fueled by the dual snickers of Eponin and Solari as I refused to relinquish my hold from around her neck.
"Gabrielle," she repeated, employing both hands to break the fierce hug I had on her. "Gabrielle." Capturing both my wrists in hers, she took a defensive step back. "It's only a treaty negotiation, not a dangerous mission."
"Then, why do you have to go?" I asked petulantly, even though I already knew the answer.
"Because," Xena placed the emphasis on the word, "your regent is in no condition to travel."
"I could go with you."
"No." The voice softened a bit. "I wish you could. But, as the only royal still standing on her own two feet, it's your duty to stay and oversee the Solstice celebration."
"Let someone else go, then," I reasoned, "It doesn't have to be you."
"Actually, it does. Ephiny named me as her stand-in and the Centaurs agreed."
"Can't we send a messenger, explaining the situation, asking for a delay?" I pleaded. "Solstice is only three days away. Surely they can wait until after the holiday?"
"Gabrielle." This time, she stepped forward, taking both my hands within hers and looking me square in the eye as she delivered the news. "Not everyone celebrates the winter solstice. To the Centaurs, it's just another day."
Of course, I already knew that. Just as I knew why the Centaurs had deliberately picked this particular timeframe to insist on a treaty renegotiation. They undoubtedly knew that along with most of Greece, the Amazons celebrated the Solstice season. And, given the Amazons' reputation for, shall we say, enthusiastically celebrating, they no doubt anticipated on being able to sneak by a few addendums in their favor.
What they couldn't have anticipated, however, was that the Amazon Regent would offer up the Destroyer of Nations in her stead. Given that Tyldus himself had agreed that it be written as a provision in the original treaty, the Centaurs could not dispute it. Still, Tyldus was gone, called away several seasons ago by Hercules to investigate a lost colony of Centaurs discovered in a remote province. He as of yet hadn't returned, leaving an ambitious second to govern in his place.
That's why I was more than a little worried. Tyldus and Xena had fought to a standstill in the Battle of Corinth. Then, she'd saved his son's life when Melosa had condemned him to death for the murder of her sister. They'd finally reached an understanding and Tyldus had declared his feud with Xena at an end. But, I worried that there were still those that harbored feelings of resentment and wished ill will upon the warrior princess.
Xena cinched the last saddlebag closed, gave Argo an affectionate pat. Turning back to me, seeing my downcast expression, she chucked me beneath the chin. Misinterpreting my concern, she offered up a rarely seen smile. Placing a kiss atop my forehead, she said, "Hey, with luck, I'll only be gone a few days. Not even long enough for you to realize I'm gone."
"At least take someone with you. Eponin or Solari?" I threw out the names of two of her drinking buddies, knowing if she would agree to allow anyone to accompany her, it would be them.
"Hey, bad enough I might miss Solstice. No reason to ruin theirs, too." Her voice carried, causing the Amazons assembled in the village center to see her off to chuckle heartily. As they wished her safe voyage, she lowered her head, her forehead touching mine, the knuckles of her hand brushing my cheek. Leaning in, she deposited a tender, lingering kiss upon my lips before whispering, "Besides, I might get things wrapped up early. I travel faster alone. Maybe, just maybe, I'll make it back by Solstice Day."
I deepened our kiss, needing the prolonged contact. As it ended and we drew back, my hands slid down her forearms. Moisture blurring my vision, I grasped her hands firmly within mine, giving a squeeze. "Just promise you'll make it back period, warrior."
There was her familiar shrill, ear-piercing battle cry followed by a double back-flip, landing her squarely atop Argo's back. Then, a brilliant smile as she offered up, "I promise, bard." Then, with a click of her tongue and a heel to Argo's flank, both horse and warrior sped out of the village.
Leaving me to oversee an entire Amazon nation at the height of the Solstice season. As Xena suspected, there was more than enough going on to occupy my time. There were wreaths to be weaved, a massive tree in the village center that needed to be shaped and decorated, menus that needed to be planned. And a despondent regent that needed cheering up . . .
"So, what do you think; tiny, individual nutbreads for everyone? Or, several larger ones for each table?"
Typically, there was no response. This, I was used to from traveling leagues with a stoic warrior. But, it was not something I expected to have to endure from anyone else. Especially not within my own nation. Pausing with quill poised in midair over the menu I was revising, I looked up and across the room.
Ephiny was sitting up in her bed, back propped against several pillows. Likewise, her right leg was also propped up on an assortment of pillows to keep the pressure off. A bandage was wrapped about her foot, leaving only her bruised toes exposed and stretched up the length of her leg to disappear somewhere beneath her wraparound style leather skirt.
"Eph? Ephiny?" Still, she continued to ignore me as she idly ran her fingers through the wolf fur throw stretched across her lap, her gaze fixed somewhere outside the window nearest her bed. "Eph?"
"Hmm?" she answered distractedly.
"Individual nutbread for everyone?"
"Or, larger ones for each table?"
"How about instead of the traditional Queen's dance, I just do a raunchy strip-tease instead?"
Enough was enough. I leapt from my chair and crossed the room. Grabbing up my staff, I gave her a gentle tap to the top of her head.
"Wha - ? Oww!" She rubbed a hand through her hair, tousling her already unruly corkscrew locks. "Hey! That hurts when you do that!"
"Sorry." I unrepentantly flopped down beside her on the bed. "I have issues with being ignored. Bad enough when Xena tunes me out."
"Guess I kind of drifted for a moment. What were you saying?"
"That I was abdicating the throne. And, you agreed."
Her eyes went wide as saucers. "Gabrielle!"
"Kidding, Ephiny. I was kidding." Playfully, I slapped her bare midriff. "You should've seen the look on your face. Seriously, if you believed that one, maybe we should get Megara to re-examine you. I think you might've bumped your head when you fell out of that tree."
Would certainly explain her behavior as of late. Granted, my regent wasn't normally what I'd term perky and upbeat, but she was usually more fun to be around than Hades. Ephiny had been in a funk ever since we'd arrived. And, it was severe enough that even Xena had noticed. She'd initially thought it was because of her injury. Solari had confirmed that Ephiny had been confined to the hospice for a full six days before we'd even arrived. And, the only reason Megara had agreed to let her out then was because Xena promised we'd take full responsibility for her care.
We'd moved her from the hospice to her own hut that same day. Even that didn't seem to elevate her mood any. And, I immediately suspected the problem went much deeper than a broken ankle and femur.
"What's up with you?" I asked, reaching out and catching one of her hands in mine, toying with the fingers. "Solstice blues getting to you?"
"Yeah, I guess," she shrugged her shoulders.
I nodded to myself, thinking perhaps I'd at last hit upon the source of her blue mood. "Missing Xenan?" I'd heard through the grapevine that when Tyldus went with Hercules, Ephiny's son had been amongst those that had left with him.
"A bit." Warriors. Sometimes, pulling information out of them is like trying to pull teeth from a Harpy. "But, I'm kind of used to not having him around much anymore, anyways. He lives with the Centaurs, Gabrielle. He is a Centaur. That's just the way it is."
Despite her nonchalant answer, I suspected Xenan's absence was bothering her more than she let on. Still, I knew my regent well enough to know that wasn't the sole source of what was troubling her. Determined to draw more out of her, I tried to imagine what else might be bothering an Amazon warrior around the holidays.
There was a knock on the wooden frame of the door, then the hide covering was pushed aside. Admeta and Metanira, two of Solari's youngest scouts, came in carrying a large wicker basket between them. Their leader herself trailed in behind them, carrying another basket filled with colorful bits of leather twine. Spotting us sitting together on the bed, she gave a brisk nod.
"Is that - ?" I asked, my eyes lighting up as I realized what the small scouting party was carrying in.
"Everything you asked for, my Queen," Solari confirmed, instructing her young charges to deposit their load upon the worktable. "Took a day and a half worth of tracking and several cases of poison ivy to find, mind you, but we finally located some growing undisturbed in a remote area past the swamps."
"I'm just amazed you found any."
Solari nonchalantly shrugged, even though I could tell she was pretty pleased with herself. When Xena had first told me about it, I thought it was a myth, but when I had described what I was looking for to Solari, the chief scout had said that if it was a plant growing within the Amazon Nation, she would find it. And, she had. In abundance.
Climbing off the bed, digging the tiny plant Xena had given me out of the purse I kept tied at my waist, I compared it to the plants Solari and her troupe had hauled in. To my surprise, they were a perfect match.
"Will that be enough, my Queen, or shall I dispatch a patrol to fetch some more?"
"Oh no, Solari. This is plenty. More than enough, I'd say."
"I don't get it." Ephiny spoke up from her bed. "You sent a scouting patrol out for a day and a half to bring back..." her blonde brows furrowed "...sprigs of parsley?"
"Oh, Eph!" I sighed dramatically. Holding the sprig overhead, I leaned in and gave Solari a peck on the cheek. "Haven't you ever heard of the legend of the mistletoe?"
Judging from Ephiny's perplexed look, Solari's deep blush and the giggles my display elicited from the Amazonettes, I'd guess none of them had. Which in itself wasn't surprising, as I myself had never heard of it either, until Xena explained it to me.
You see, according to legend, before Aphrodite had fallen in love with and married Hephaestus, she had spied Artemis frolicking, running naked through the woods with her nymphs and was instantly smitten. But, Artemis was the goddess of the woods and the hunt and the Amazons. And, although she wasn't adverse to the pleasure to be found with a woman, she knew of Aphrodite's reputation of falling in and out of love on a regular basis. Artemis rejected what she thought was just another of the goddess of love's flights of fancy.
Unknown to her, however, Aphrodite's interest lasted more than just a season or two. The goddess of love spent more and more time in the forest, hoping to win the heart of Artemis. Finally realizing she couldn't sway the feelings of the goddess of the hunt, she at last gave up. But, determined to leave an everlasting sign of her devotion, Aphrodite found a tiny plant growing in the shadow of a great, majestic tree and blessed this tiny, innocuous plant with the power of her love.
"According to the legend, if two souls kiss beneath the mistletoe and both their hearts wish it, they will fall in love with each other and that love will last for all eternity."
The end of my tale was met with enraptured silence. Until Metanira and Admeta started giggling. I turned around to find them both holding mistletoe above their heads and kissing each other.
As they pulled away, Admeta giggled, "I don't feel any different."
"Me, either," confirmed Metanira. "Maybe it doesn't work."
"Who could tell?" smirked Solari. "You two have been joined at the hip for a season already."
"Ah, you're just jealous," Metanira returned the jab.
"What's to be jealous of?" Solari waggled her dark eyebrows. "I've just been kissed by the Queen."
I laughed at my chief scout's wit, Admeta and Metanira good-naturedly joining in. Not hearing Ephiny's dulcet pitch, I cast a curious look towards the bed. Her eyes were locked upon Metanira's and Admeta's clasped hands, an odd look on her face.
Turning to the two younger scouts, I commanded, "I want these hanging above doorways, from tree limbs, anywhere you can think of. Especially concentrate on the area around the celebration grounds. I'm going to recite the story of the mistletoe after the Solstice Eve dinner and I want atmosphere."
"Yes, my Queen." Both scouts giggled and ran off to do my bidding.
Solari dutifully picked up her basket of colored twine and cording and started to trail out after them. "See you later, Eph?"
Ephiny absently nodded at Solari's question, a distant expression still on her face. There was another knock on the door and Solari brushed by Eponin on her way out.
"Queen Gabrielle." The weapons master nodded as she entered the hut and thrust a scroll in my direction. "I need your authorization on some requisition forms."
I took the scroll, unrolling it on the way back to the desk. Settling myself in the chair, I frowned as I read over the parchment, wondering why it was exactly that Pony needed my signature. As I scribbled my name at the bottom, I looked up to find my weapons master across the room, standing beside my regent's bed.
"You haven't whacked me with a staff in so long, I'm beginning to miss it."
I suppressed a smile at overhearing the gruff weapons master's confession. It was a running joke within the Nation that the only person who could regularly get a solid hit in on their best warrior was the regent. Unfortunately, many of those times were accidental and occurred off the practice field. The last time had been when Ephiny was helping Eponin put the practice staffs away in the armory. She'd leaned them up against the wall and when she'd turned around, her boot had caught beneath one, triggering a domino effect that had nearly every staff knocking the next one over until Eponin was buried beneath a mountain of staffs.
"Here you go, Ep." I returned the rolled scroll to the stocky Amazon. "Your squad ready for the Solstice Eve celebration?"
"Of course, my Queen."
A hint of a smile crossed the weapons master's face. It was tradition that she hand-picked a group to give a demonstration that involved the handling of flame-tipped staffs. A group she was very proud of leading.
"Scheduled as the opening just before the Queen's dance, correct?"
"Naturally," I confirmed. With Ephiny effectively out of commission, Eponin became my second highest ranking Amazon. And, that elevated her to the status of having the first dance with me.
"Then, I'll be looking forward to it, my Queen." Eponin offered up a wink and a bow for my approval. Then, turning to Ephiny, she used a massive hand to playfully ruffle her regent's blonde curls before leaning down and stage whispering in her ear, "If you're a good girl, maybe I'll let you hit me with one of those flame-tipped staffs at the celebration."
"Careful I don't hit you somewhere it might leave a mark, Pony," Ephiny not-so-playfully threatened Eponin's retreating backside.
Still, as I watched Ephiny watching Eponin leave and caught the lingering look in her eyes as she stared at Ep all the way to the door, I noticed something. Something that helped to shed some light on my regent's mood.
I thought I might've been wrong at first. I mean, Eponin and Ephiny are buddies, right? But then, ever since that revealing encounter in Ephiny's hut, I began paying attention to the little details. Like how every time Eponin came to the hut for any reason whatsoever, my regent's attention was instantly and completely focused on her from the time she entered until the time she left.
And, that as soon as Megara gave her the okay to get out of bed and that set of wooden crutches, the first place Ephiny took out for was the practice fields. Where I, of course, found her intently watching the weapons master putting a class through its paces.
"You know," I said, coming up beside her and keeping my gaze fixed on the practice field, "I don't think she's asked anyone to the Solstice Eve party."
"Of course she hasn't," Ephiny replied without ever turning to look at me, "She's leading the staff demonstration."
"Actually, I was referring to the after-demonstration activities."
Watching out the corner of my eye, I saw her cheeks lightly tint, and I was certain it wasn't from the bite of the chill morning air.
"I'm out of the festivities," she nodded towards her crutches tucked beneath her arms. "You have the honor of the Queen's dance this Solstice, remember?"
Oh, I most certainly did remember. And, I was looking forward to it. It had been seasons since Eponin had given me . . . private . . . dance lessons and I wanted one more chance to relive that experience. As far as I knew, very rarely did Eponin dance in public. Even that first time she'd led me out to the dance circle, it was more of a hit-and-run. She'd dragged me to my feet, forcefully tugged me out there, then left me on my own as she fluidly moved through the dance circle and out the other side to stand watching me from the sidelines.
At first, I'd thought that was because she couldn't dance. After watching her on the practice fields, however, I realized how wrong that assessment had been. You see, a warrior's body when it's at ease with a weapon moves in very much the same rhythmic patterns as a dancer's. Therefore, they naturally have the talent for dancing. But, so few of them do it publicly as they feel embarrassed, thinking they look awkward. Little do they know just how graceful they really are.
My mind went off on a tangent, recalling how I'd gathered up the courage to approach Eponin, demanding she owed me a real dance after that stunt she'd pulled at the celebration. And, in the privacy of my own hut, she complied, teaching me the moves to some of the more . . . risqué dances that were performed at bonding celebrations. Which, of course, raised a whole other aspect of Amazon culture I hadn't yet discovered.
"You know," I almost purred the suggestion in Ephiny's ear, "There are other ways to celebrate besides dancing."
If her cheeks were tinted pink before, they were blushing beet red now. "Gabrielle!" she hissed between clenched teeth, finally turning to look me in the eye. "I'm her regent. She's directly beneath me in the chain-of-command. And, quite frankly, I'm shocked you're even making the suggestion."
"Ah, but if you're so shocked," I pointed out, "How do you know precisely what suggestion it is I'm making?"
Ever since I'd discovered exactly what was eating Ephiny . . . or more precisely, who wasn't . . . I'd been trying to convince her that she should just go for it with Eponin. As usual, though, my loyal regent was being stubborn.
The night of the Solstice Eve celebration had arrived and I'd had to endure the torment of watching a depressed Ephiny moon over Eponin throughout the entire staff demonstration. Even as I was enjoying the Queen's dance, I could feel her eyes on us. Granted, every set of Amazon eyes were upon us. It was, of course, tradition. The Queen participated in the first dance with the highest ranking warrior in attendance to begin the opening festivities. Then, after that, any couple was allowed out onto the dance circle.
Despite her experience at leading the staff demonstration and her experience of . . . let's call it dancing . . . with me, I could tell Eponin had been nervous about dancing together in public. And, from the smell of her breath and her amorous behavior, I could also tell she'd tried to fortify herself by dipping a little too heavily into the Solstice wine.
"Eponin . . . Ep . . . Pony . . . " I gasped into her ear as I felt her lips nuzzling against my neck. Bracing my hands on her forearms, using the leverage to slightly lean away from her embrace, I asked, "You do like dancing, don't you?"
"It's tradition," she responded, her lips stilling against my neck, "As first warrior, I have to act as the Queen's escort in the first dance."
"Yes, yes, you do." I caught her beneath the chin, lifting her head so inebriated honey-hued eyes more or less focused on me. "But, don't you..." Here, I pointedly allowed my hand to stray to the straps holding her halter in place, my fingers lingering over the leather "...ever want more than just that first dance?"
She cocked her head to the side as her eyes followed what my fingers were doing, Then, recognition flared as she obviously recalled the intimate dancing we'd performed together.
"Oh, of course, Gabrielle," she grinned broadly.
"Good." I reached around, decidedly moving her left hand from where it had strayed down to my butt. "Because I've got a gorgeous Amazon that's interested in more than dancing with you, too." Grabbing her by the hand, I led her from the dance circle, leading her beneath the sheltering branches of a nearby oak. "Wait here," I commanded.
It took some time to work my way back through the crowd, getting stopped by several requests for dances along the way. By the time I'd reached the Queen's dais, I was flushed and more than a little winded.
As I paused to catch my breath, I eyed my regent. She was half-sitting, half-laying in her chair, her heavily bandaged leg stretched out before her and braced against one of her crutches. Her other leg was incongruously draped over the arm of the throne and a three-quarters empty flask dangled precariously from her fingertips. Her head lolled back on her shoulders and she looked up at me as I sat down beside her.
"Ephiny." From the wineskin she'd been clutching, I'd hoped she'd be more into her spirits and in a better mood. "Enjoying yourself?"
"Watching happy, loving couples dance the night away in celebration of Solstice Eve; what's not to enjoy?"
Despite the levity in her voice, I could still hear the sadness behind those words. I was just about to tell her once more to pursue this thing with Eponin if that was what she truly wanted when we were interrupted by a messenger. I graciously took the rolled up parchment, nodding my thanks to the scout that had delivered it before unfurling it and reading it quietly to myself. When I finished, I discreetly folded it and tucked it into the waistband of my Amazon skirt.
"Xena?" Ephiny questioned, noticing right away the change in my mood.
I absently nodded.
"She's been delayed," she guessed, suddenly sobering up enough to sit up and place a concerned hand upon my shoulder.
"Hey," I mustered up a smile, "Don't think you have to spend Solstice Eve alone just because of me."
"Gabrielle, we've discussed this."
"No, I've discussed this. You've stubbornly ignored me."
"She thinks of me as a friend, nothing more."
"Because you've never given her a chance at having more."
She let out an exasperated huff. Hazel eyes turning speculatively towards me, she asked in a small voice, "What if she doesn't want more with me?"
Warriors. Aphrodite's right, you know. She's told me more than once that the mightiest of warriors can be rendered weak as a kitten with just one prick from love's arrows.
"Look, what if I told you there was no way she'd turn you down?" Immediately interested, she sat up straighter. "Look over there."
Ephiny's line of sight followed mine and I pointed out Eponin nonchalantly standing beneath the oak tree, leaning one shoulder against the trunk as she took leisurely draws from a wine flask. Gaze fixed on the dance circle, she was completely oblivious to our dual scrutiny.
"She's waiting for you to come claim her, Ephiny."
"You really think she'd be interested in me?"
Even though there was more than a hint of trepidation lining her voice, she was already struggling to her feet, gathering her crutches beneath her.
"Oh, most definitely," I assured her, giving her a push in the right direction.
She'd gone no more than three steps when she abruptly stopped, her hands tightening upon the grips of the crutches, her knuckles clenching white. Perturbed at her hesitation, I started to berate her, then realized the reason she had frozen in her tracks.
Eponin was leaning back against the trunk of the oak tree, a handful of Solari in her arms as the chief scout voraciously kissed her. Above their heads, hanging from a branch, was a fresh sprig of mistletoe.
To be quite honest, I don't even remember leaving the celebration. But, one thing for certain, was that for a woman on crutches, Ephiny could really travel. She'd somehow managed to abscond with a fresh skin of wine and make it halfway across the village before I caught up with her in front of my own hut.
"Ephiny - "
I approached cautiously. Her back was to me, her head lowered as she slumped her shoulders. Her hands were still tightly clutching at the grips of her crutches and I could see every line of tension prominently displayed in the rigid set of her back.
"Ephiny - "
I laid my hand upon her head, stroking through her blonde curls, traveling down her spine to rest upon the small of her back. That was all it took. She quickly pivoted on her crutches, turning to face me. My heart broke as I glimpsed the tears that were freely flowing from her eyes and rolling down her cheeks. Then, she was leaning into me, against me, burying her face in my neck.
I'm not sure how long I held her like that, cradling her in my arms, whispering soft words into her hair. I only became aware of the passage of time when the cold began to set in and I somehow convinced her to allow me to move us into the warmth of my hut. I stoked the fire already burning in the fire pit, then turned to find her morosely staring at a spot on the floor.
"Hey," I softly cooed, reaching out and cupping a tear-stained cheek. "You better now?"
"Yeah," she lied.
"Come on, Eph. I know things seem tough now, but it'll be alright. You'll see." A shrug of her shoulders had me adding, "You'll find someone. There are plenty of other Amazons in the Nation."
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle." She tried to move away, but I wouldn't allow her. "I know I've been a real pain to put up with lately."
"What you've been," I argued, catching her by the back of the head and pulling her face down until we were eye to eye, "is human. And lonely. Am I right?"
She nodded, biting her bottom lip before confessing, "It's just with each passing Solstice, it gets a little harder, ya know? I mean, when I was a kid, it was easy. All a little Amazon really wants or needs is a bright feather, new boots, maybe a freshly carved bow." She fell silent for a moment. No longer able to maintain eye contact, her gaze once again returned to that spot on the floor. "But as I get older, I find that more and more, I miss things I never took the time to appreciate before. The way mom would carefully wrap my present in a doeskin and tie it closed with brightly colored cording. Or, how when Xenan was still young enough to live in the village, he'd wake me three candlemarks before dawn to get ready because he just knew his Aunts Gabrielle and Xena were on their way." Here her voice dropped so low I had to strain to hear it, "And, most of all, waking up Solstice morning after a night of making love."
What could I say to that? More importantly, what could I do? My heart aching for my friend and feeling more than a little guilty because after all, I had left Eponin standing like bait beneath a branch of mistletoe, I did the only thing that I thought I could . . .
My kiss started out tender, the sort of kiss one friend might bestow upon another. And then, it deepened. Then, Ephiny responded with an urgency borne of loneliness and hurt and desperation. As her mouth closed upon mine with a kind of hunger, tenderness flew right out the window.
Even relying heavily on her crutches, she somehow maneuvered us into the adjoining bedroom. Her mouth was everywhere at once, covering my face, my neck my bare shoulders with frantic kisses, licks and bites. Then, her hands were cupping my breasts over my halter, her thumbs easily finding my engorged nipples and strumming them into erectness.
Supporting her weight, I lowered her onto my bed, taking her crutches and leaning them against the wall nearest the headboard. Propping the pillows behind her to support her back, I made sure her broken leg was elevated on a rolled up fur. Her eyes watched appreciatively as I worked loose the ties on my halter, slowly revealing my breasts. My Amazon belt, skirt and boots soon followed.
She propped herself up on her elbows as I climbed onto the bed, being cautious of her injury as I straddled her. - Hey, I travel with Xena; I've had lots of practice bedding an injured warrior - I tangled my fingers in her hair, cupping her face to my breasts, moaning out my approval as she greedily sucked as much of my flesh into her mouth as possible.
I can honestly say my breasts have never received so much attention. Xena usually goes right for the source, so to speak and often completely bypasses my breasts altogether in her eagerness to get there. Perhaps it was because with her current injuries, that was all she could reach. Or, maybe it was because she'd gone without for so long. Or, just maybe it was because my regent truly did enjoy making love to a woman's breasts.
No matter, the reason, I was in ecstasy. And, there was no doubt as to my pleasure as it was liberally flowing out of me and coating Ephiny's stomach in copious amounts. My hips began a thrusting motion; the bed was shaking from my grinding against her. And, when her fingers finally delved inside me, I sporadically clenched about them as wave after wave of my orgasm took me.
A huge smile on my face, I watched as Eponin and Ephiny performed the traditional Solstice Eve Queen's dance together. My smile grew even wider as arms were wrapped about me from behind and I was pulled back into Xena's embrace. Her lips nuzzled at my ear, kissing me as she also watched regent and weapons master.
"Sure you're okay with this?" was breathed into my ear.
My grip tightened upon Xena's forearms as I honestly answered, "Of course. They fit together." I could feel her lips smile against my neck as I added, "Almost as well as we do."
Okay, you're confused again, aren't you? Let me see if I can tie up some loose ends for you. You expected more sordid details of my night with Ephiny? Wanted to hear how she fucked me senseless and then how deep in the night, I lay between her legs and proved to her just how talented this bard's tongue really is?
Or, are you more curious as to how it is that Ephiny's head is still attached to her shoulders and she's dancing with Eponin? Gods, you're making my head ache with all this need for explanations . . .
"Xena, please. We agreed, you wouldn't kill any more of our friends . . . "
Ephiny's eyes widened. "Any more?" She tried to scramble from beneath me.
"We also agreed you wouldn't fuck any more of them, Gabrielle." Her eyes narrowed to tiny slits. Withdrawing her sword, she used the tip of it to lift Ephiny's halter from the floor and fling it at her. "Get dressed, Amazon. And, get out. As for you - "
Despite being only half-dressed and needing her crutches just to stand up, Ephiny still leapt to my defense. "Now hold on, Xena. This is my fault, not hers." Ephiny stepped between Xena and the bed.
"Back off, Ephiny. This is between my wife and me."
"Your wife is also my Queen, warrior. And, I won't allow you to harm her."
"Ephiny." The only outward sign that she'd even registered my voice was a twitching of a cheek muscle as her and Xena stared each other down. Crawling on my knees to the edge of the bed, I reached out, placing a hand upon Ephiny's shoulder, caressing it down the length of her arm to come to rest on her bare hip. Xena's nostrils flared in response. "Ephiny. Go now. She won't harm me. I promise."
Ephiny looked back over her shoulder, one eye still on six-foot of menacing warrior. It took several more tries to finally convince her that everything was fine and that Xena and I would work it out. Privately.
She was barely out the door before Xena was on the bed with me, her mouth on mine, her tongue ravaging me. "Oh, gods," she breathed through an open-mouthed kiss.
"I agree." Falling backwards, I pulled her with me, feeling her breastplate rubbing against and aggravating my bare nipples as her hand instigated itself between my legs.
"Was she good, baby?"
"Oh, yes," I agreed, both in response to her question and her fingers burrowing deep into me.
"I knew she'd be intense." There were several more hungry kisses, then, "When I saw you come into the hut with her, I wasn't sure you'd gotten my message."
"You - mmm - settled the treaty negotiations with no difficulties, then?"
"Warrior princess diplomacy. Told them what the Amazons would agree to and what they wouldn't, then informed them that Solstice was coming and they really didn't want to detain me any longer than necessary."
"You took a chance, lighting that fire," I admonished her between thrusts, "I saw the flames reflected off your - ungh - breastplate as you watched from the darkened corner."
"I know. But I rode Argo all night to get here. And, I was cold," she panted between breath-stealing kisses, "Ephiny didn't suspect, did she?"
"Under normal circumstances, she would've spotted you right off. You got lucky. She'd already had a lot to drink and - oh yeah, right there - she was such an emotional wreck."
"I saw. What happened?" Xena asked, the concern evident in her voice.
Perhaps I should elaborate. Life on the road with Xena is interesting, to say the least. So is our love life. You see, we both like to keep things new and entertaining. And, it wasn't too long after we'd been together as a couple that Xena confessed she liked to watch. Which suited me just fine, as we soon discovered that I like to perform for her.
That note I received at the Solstice Eve celebration? Ephiny guessed correctly that it was from Xena. But, it was directing me that she'd come home early and was waiting for me in our hut. As for my seduction of Ephiny; well, let's just say I didn't have time to get Xena anything else as a gift. And Eph was there - and willing . . .
Oh, don't give me that look. Ephiny didn't get hurt; not really. And, she and Xena are on speaking terms again. Of course, I had to sit her down and really talk to her in order to convince her that Xena wasn't an abusive spouse. Once I was able to explain everything, she seemed to take it really well. In fact, I think if you were to ask her now, she'd agree that it was probably one of the best nights of her life. Of course, she hasn't had one with Eponin, yet. But, I think that's going to change tonight, also.
You see, that was one of the things that Xena helped me fix. The legend of the mistletoe? - Xena made that up. Most of it, anyway. Said she was trying to appeal to my bardic nature. Anyway, she swore the rest of the story was true. Except for the part about it granting the gift of true love for eternity.
And, when I confessed to her that Solari had latched onto Eponin beneath a batch of the stuff, she was none too worried. Especially since it was Solari. According to her, Pony and Soli might have some initial sparks, but they were really incompatible together as a couple. Besides, Pony was head-over-heels for Ephiny.
Surprised? So was I. Until Xena pointed it out to me. See, I was so focused on getting Ephiny to admit her feelings for Eponin, that I never even considered Pony might be keeping her love a secret from Eph. But, it was in the details all along. Like the number of times Pony brought a parchment to Ephiny's for a signature. Pony's the weapons master; she doesn't need approval to requisition anything. It was just an excuse so she could check up on Ephiny.
Anyway, as Xena predicted, Solari and Eponin as a couple didn't last long. And, one Solstice Eve later, Ephiny and Eponin were performing the Queen's dance together, just as they should. And, kissing beneath the sprig of mistletoe Pony was holding over their heads. And, you know what? This time, I bet the legend works.
"Hey, sweetie?" I was pulled from my reverie by Xena's voice murmuring low in my ear. "Last Solstice Eve's gift was unbelievably hot. Think you can find a way to top it?"
"Oh, I don't know, Xena. I suppose anything's possible; It is the season, after all," I replied, a smile forming on my lips and a plan in my head as I sized up my regent and weapons master.
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