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The Consul's Warrior

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AN: Welcome back. If you haven't read "The Commander's Poet" I suggest you do so because you will be very confused reading this story.

I missed writing these characters a lot and felt I left the end of the story really hanging on a thread. I don't normally write sequels and I've only written one and it was fun. I feel I can offer more to the Hun story arc. Perhaps, I shouldn't call this a sequel, but a continuation from where I left off. Do not be put off by this first chapter.

I really wanted to keep this story for myself and not share with everyone because I loved it so much LOL. It's been waiting in my computer to be published.

I had doubts about writing this second part of this series because I wonder who would read it, but since I have it, I thought I'd share it with you all.

This story will focus on the love and loyalty between Xena and Gabrielle as well as close family bond they have with the infamous Hun family. Enjoy ;)

The Huns: A Continuing Saga

Part I: The Commander's Poet

Part II: The Consul's Warrior

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Once the infamous Huns were the most feared among several tribes spreading across the Baltic and Caspian Seas became the least of the Roman Empire's worries after Attila's death. After the Scourge of God's passing, his eldest son, Ellac, took the reign over the fierce Huns. Ellac met defeat against the Gepids and Visigoths when they invaded Pannonia only a year after his coronation.

Ellac's death was mourned among the Huns of Pannonia and his brother, Dengizich soon took the throne, but he was the least successful during his reign. Only ruling five years as a young Hun King, Pannonia dwindled as a raging power and force in the Balkans. The Bulgur Huns began to rival Dengizich and commanded him to surrender under them. Out of greed and ill will, Dengizich split his father's crumbling empire among the Bulgur and Atlyn Huns.

Dengizich slowly lost power and was forced to resign as a king thus giving his mantle to his brother, Ernak, the youngest prince and son of Attila. At the tender age of twenty one, Ernak was able to push the Bulgur Huns out of Pannonia, regaining his father's territory once more. He made an alliance with the Atlyn Huns and paid them a sum of coin to keep them out of his homeland.

Although, Ernak faced the ultimate challenge when the Western Roman Emperor, Valentinian, was assassinated and a new emperor came to power soon after. Odoacer assumed the role of Roman Emperor counteracting the new Eastern Roman Emperor, Zeno. The two were at odds and always tried to compete with one another. Attila's scourge across the Roman Empire, was only the beginning of the fall of the Romans. This was the mark of the downfall of the Roman Empire, though the Eastern Empire continued to thrive and combat the Huns, threatening to exterminate them all and ripe their homeland from them.

The ambitious Hun King relied much on his mother, Kreka, for advice on how to push out Emperor Zeno and his army from Pannonia. He soon came to realize that no advice or guidance from his mother was enough to push the Romans out of his motherland. Kreka, still widely known as the Barbarian Queen across the Balkans, was stricken with grief when her stepson, Ellac, died soon after her husband.

She realized that there was no way to save her husband's empire against Zeno and his growing forces in Constantinople. Kreka relied on her husband's trusted Commander, Xena, to oversee Ernak and his reign as king, but she saw in Xena's eyes that this was a lost cause.

In the summer ten years after Attila's death, Ernak planned an attack to push out Emperor Zeno and allowed Xena to be his commander of his army. This battle changed the life of every Hun in Pannonia forever and it was the bloodiest battle in the history of all battles that the Huns ever fought.

Emperor Zeno's army was unforgiving and slaughtered hundreds of Huns in a three day battle. Knowing that the Huns would not surrender and having heard of Attila's infamous Commander, he knew that he had to take her out in order to win the war.

The blood of a thousand or more Huns was on Zeno's hands and he took his opportunity to put an end to the young Hun King's will to thrive. He took it upon him to strike Xena down and crucify her in the middle of a corpse filled Pannonia as a warning that nothing will stand in his way of victory.

While Ernak and the remainder of Huns fled from Pannonia, Xena, a once formidable foe to the Romans and great Commander of Attila, was left to die nailed to a cross. Ernak made a promise that Xena, his second mother as he called her, would be avenged.

Gabrielle, loyal to the Huns and an envoy of Ernak, was horrified to witness Xena's body being nailed to a cross and hung in the middle of the battlefield. Emperor Zeno humiliated Xena and her companion tried to bring her almost lifeless body from the crucifix but was taken by the Roman Emperor as Zeno thought she would be a great asset to defeat the last of the Huns.

This marks the fall of the Great Hun Empire that Attila and his father built so long ago. The fight against the Romans did not stop at Emperor Valentinian and Flavius Aetius. This is a continuation of the infamous Huns and the story of their existence before they were wiped from the earth –never to be heard from again.

Chapter 1

A year after the bloody battle between Ernak's army and Emperor Zeno, the young king thought it best to flee to a secluded area of the Steppes. Ernak took his family, or what was left of it, to the Caucasus Mountains and sought refuge with the White Huns. The loss of Ellac, ten years ago was hard on everyone but Ernak noticed that his mother, Kreka, was most affected by the loss even though Ellac was not her blood son.

Anastasia became numb after the death of Ellac and father to her only son, Csaba. As the years passed by, she tried not to think much of Ellac even though they grew up together, almost as siblings and later lovers. She knew that one day that he would perish by someone's sword, although she did not know that day would come so soon when he was such a young king.

Her son would grow up fatherless, much like what happened to her own mother. She relied on her mother and Gabrielle to help cope with the loss of Ellac and help raise her son the proper way. She too knew that one day Csaba would grow to wield a sword in battle, but she didn't want him to suffer the same fate as Ellac.

The day after that battle when Xena was left to die in Pannonia, Anastasia didn't want to leave, but Ernak, being the smart young man he became to be, advised her to flee with them to the Caucasus. Although, she expected Gabrielle to come with them and when she learned that she was taken by Emperor Zeno, she felt she had lost two mothers in one day.

She too became numb after the loss of her mother and the displacement of Gabrielle. A year waiting and yearning, she did not want to believe that her mother was gone. She knew it deep it in her heart that she was not dead, but alive somewhere. And Gabrielle might as well have been dead to her once she was in the hands of the Romans.

A year. One year changed everything. The White Hun King, Navaz, welcomed the Pannonian Huns into his kingdom with open arms. He also sought after Anastasia due to her beauty as a young woman and desired her to be his wife. His mother, Tuya Khatun, had been pressuring him to find a young woman to marry.

Kreka presumed the role of Anastasia's mother once Xena was pronounced dead among the Huns. She told Anastasia never to tell these White Huns about Xena and that she was her mother for the sake of her safety and Csaba's.

Within a few months of arriving to Balaam in the Caucasus, Anastasia married King Navaz despite her reluctance. Kreka told her that if she married the king that it would be the ultimate sacrifice to save the last few of the true Huns –the Huns of Pannonia. Anastasia, too numb to care, she did as Kreka said and married the king. Anastasia, being the only young woman within the Hunnic tribe, King Navaz could not refuse the offer and her beauty was most promising to bearing him gorgeous White Hun children in the future.

Now, a year has passed and Tuya, the Hun Queen mother of Navaz had been most unruly towards Anastasia due to her barren womb. Navaz seemed less concerned that there were no children that sprung from his new wife, but his mother thought otherwise. Tuya and Kreka, being the elder mothers, never got along and it was a different relationship than what Kreka had with Xena. At least with Xena, she was able to tolerate her as the years went by, but Tuya was impossible.

Kreka walked across the grassy plains of Balaam and entered Anastasia's yurt suited for a fine Hun queen of course, which is what Anastasia was now, was finally. Xena did not allow her daughter to marry Ellac and when he was killed in battle, the two were never able to call themselves a married couple due to Xena's stubbornness.

She saw the young woman, now quite tall, the same as her mother, long dark straight hair, big blue eyes and sun-kissed skin, just like Xena. A mix of her mother and father alike. She saw the girl staring off into space on the bed, her eyes fixated on the dust particles roaming in the air. She would always be a girl in Kreka's eyes.

"Anastasia..." she said in a soft voice. Still, the young Hun Queen did not budge. "Anastasia," she spoke in a firmer tone, louder this time.

Anastasia lifted her eyes and saw Kreka gaping at her with her hazel eyes. Her hair now filled with streaks of silver, but her face remained the same. Her beauty all the same though still had that rigid queen-like attitude about her even though she was a queen no more.

"Yes?" she finally spoke.

Kreka smiled softly and saw the woman before her, no longer the outspoken teenager that she once was, but a quiet woman who barely said a word these days. She walked over and sat beside her on the bed, brushing her hair from her shoulders.

"Tuya is asking to see you in her yurt," she said and saw the color in Anastasia's blue eyes darken. "You know what she is going to ask of you."

The young Hun Queen nodded, "yes, I know," she rose from the bed and sighed heavily. "I do not want to bear Navaz's children. I do not love him. I've been lucky enough to remain barren for so long."

"But, you can't keep this up for long, Anastasia. She is going to think you are truly barren and we both know that you aren't," she smirked. "Teas will not save you forever and it is not as if he isn't handsome."

Anastasia frowned and turned to her adopted mother. "I do not care if he is the most gorgeous man in all the lands. I don't want his children. I fear that I would only hate the child and what of Csaba? He is a true Hun, from Attila's line."

Kreka's eyes widened and she grasped the girl's shoulders. "You cannot tell anyone about that, Anastasia. We've talked about this. It has been six months since you've married Navaz and Tuya will dissolve this marriage if you do not bear a son!" she griped.

A heavy burden weighed heavily on the daughter of Xena. She felt like she was betraying all of her people if she went against Kreka's wishes. She knew that Kreka was only trying her best to prolong the existence of her people, but as they lived among the White Huns, Anastasia felt like they were more like slaves than anything else. They weren't allowed the same freedoms as everyone else and were seen as outcasts from the rest.

"I will go meet with Tuya, but I want to lay down some rules. I still not stand by idly and be made a bearer of Navaz's children. I am more than a wife to him and more than a queen. I am a warrior's daughter and my mother would be ashamed to see what has become of me, what has become of our people!" Anastasia marched out of the yurt before Kreka could stop her and talk some sense into her.

Tuya Khatun, Queen Mother of King Navaz, stood in her yurt, leaned over a table filled with an abundance of jewelry from China, their neighboring country. She spoke softly to her maid beside her, picking up each necklace, observing it carefully.

Anastasia frowned upon entering the yurt and all the maids turned at her presence. Tuya lifted her head and turned slowly to see the young queen standing at the entrance. A smile graced her lips and she dismissed the young maids. Anastasia took note of her the glimmer in the woman's black eyes, a smile shown on her oval pale skinned face.

"Üm Anastasia," Tuya bowed her head curtly. "I have brought these jewels from China. They just arrived this morning," she picked up an emerald necklace and showcased it to the youthful queen. "You would look stunning in this, wouldn't you say so?"

"I suppose," Ana said and tried to keep her composure. "I'm sure you did not invite me here to look at simple jewelry, Khatun." She said with a firm voice and Tuya's smile died down and set the necklace on the table.

Tuya nodded and her long straight brown hair swayed as she walked towards the young queen. Anastasia stiffened upon the woman's touch. "Certainly not." She hooked arms with Anastasia. "My son is leaving to meet the Shah to negotiate a treaty between our people and his. He will be leaving in a few days and I am sure he would love to have you in his quarters before his departure," she grinned slyly and Anastasia's upper lip quivered.

"I'm sure he would." Ana inhaled heavily, holding her breath, trying not to let her temper get the best of her.

The Khatun gripped Anastasia's shoulders firmly and bore into her eyes. "I don't know what you've been doing to keep your womb empty of a child for over half a year, Anastasia, but I plan to put an end to it. God knows you are not barren since you have a grown child of your own. You are young and at a childbearing age. I care not if you have affection for my son or not. He will need an heir or I will throw you and your people out of Balaam."

Anastasia sensed such malice in this woman's voice. If her mother were here she was sure that Tuya would be long gone and this marriage would have never happened in the first place. She decided to play right into the woman's hands.

"I will give him a son," she said and saw Tuya's eyes widen with surprise and accomplishment. "But," she spoke and Tuya's eyes darkened once more with anticipation. "I have a few conditions." She grinned and watched as the Khatun grow impatient.

"I want to be the commander of my husband's army and oversee all his military plans that he wishes to carry out." Just like my mother before me, she thought. She had seen her mother use this game of riddles several times throughout her life and learned how to perfect it on her own without her mother by her side.

Tuya was almost choked up for words. She had never heard such a demand from a young woman before. No woman wanted to be on the battlefield, let alone a queen. "My dear child, that is impossible. My son would never agree to such terms."

"Then I guess he will have to wait another six months for me to finally give him an heir," Anastasia grinned and bat her long thick eyelashes at the Khatun. "These are my conditions. See them brought up to Navaz and then I will share a bed with him." She smiled subtly then left the yurt.

Kreka saw Anastasia storm out of Tuya's yurt with a mission in her eyes. She had seen that look before, that look resembling Xena. She caught her as she was passing by. "What did you say to her?" she whispered.

"I asked her to make me commander of Navaz's army," Ana answered curt as she briskly walked across the campgrounds.

Kreka gasped, "Anastasia!" she hissed and pulled her arm to stop her. "Why would you do an idiotic thing like that?! Now surely they will throw us out!"

"No they won't, Kreka. I promised to give Navaz a child if my terms are met. Tuya is so desperate to get her son's seed inside me she cannot refuse," Ana grinned eerily and Kreka frowned.

"You are acting as ambitious and unpredictable like your mother, Anastasia –"

"My mother is dead!" she spat and the widowed Hun's eyes grew. "If you all had listened to her then we wouldn't be left without a place to call home! She was right from the beginning and you didn't listen! None of you ever listen to her!"

"Mother!" the rippling tense conversation was ceased once Csaba ran up to his mother and Kreka, carrying a large sword, almost half his size.

Anastasia glared at Kreka and then looked down upon her twelve year old son. "Wow, that's a large sword you have there. Where did you come by it?" she inquired with a meek grin.

His eyes lit up, "Dengi gave it to me. He said I should learn how to fight so when I become king I will slay all of the Romans with my blade!"

Kreka rolled her eyes and Anastasia nodded, glancing over at Dengi talking with his brother, Ernak. Those two never seem to grow up despite their age. "How nice of him."

She smiled at her son's bright green eyes that reminded her so much of Ellac and his smile of her mother. She took the sword from his grasp and saw his smile fade. "I will keep the sword in my possession."

"But mother..." he began to complain and she held up her finger, silencing him.

"I will teach you how to use it responsibly." She said and his smile turned upward, each end reaching his ears with happiness. She winked and pat his cheek gently. "There is more to a sword than swinging it around mindlessly."

Csaba nodded, becoming very serious. "Like grandmother says," he said.

She nodded, lowering her eyes. "Yes, just like she said. I still don't think she likes being called that, Csaba," she teased and his cheeks flushed.

"I miss her," he said in a small voice and Kreka smiled weakly.

"tatlı çocuk," she whispered and kissed the top of his head. "Me too," she said and looked into his innocent eyes that reminded her of two very important people in her life that were ripped from her far too soon.

"Now," she hid her teary eyes and put on a smile. "Go with Kreka to get ready for tonight. We are having dinner with Navaz," she pushed him towards Kreka and she gladly took him by the hand.

Csaba furrowed his eyebrows, glaring up at his tall mother. "I don't want to go. İ don't like him," he said.

"I don't care if you don't like him. You are going," she pressed and narrowed her eyes and he bit his bottom lip and turned away from her gaze. He had seen that face before on his grandmother and his mother copied that look to perfection.

"Okay," he said lowly.

"Csaba!" Kreka hissed and pinched his arm.

He cringed, "yes mother!" he groaned and Anastasia smiled then walked off with sword in hand.

After dinner Anastasia went back with Navaz to his quarters in his Adame, much similar to Attila's although a bit smaller and more ornate. The entire place was covered in gold and fine furniture from China and even some from Persia, she recognized.

She walked over to the mirror and began taking off her jewelry and her jeweled crown. She gradually took the pins out of her bun and her hair came tumbling down her back, reaching her waist. Gazing into the mirror she caught sight of Navaz derobing and saw his bare muscular back. His broad large shoulders and cinched taut waist. Lowering her eyes, she began unlacing the front of her dress.

As she was undressing herself she couldn't help but think of the only few times they shared a bed together and she could count them on one hand. İt wasn't that he was ugly, because he was very handsome, but she just didn't love him. She'd only slept with one person and that was Ellac. Now that he was gone, she didn't think she could love anyone else and it has been eleven years since he passed.

She remembered the first time she told her mother that she was pregnant with Csaba at the time. She would never forget the look on her face. She was disappointed and she wanted to kill Ellac and she probably would have if he were not Attila's son. That seemed like a lifetime ago and now they were all gone from her life –Attila, her mother, Ellac. The people that influenced her most in life were dead.

The look of disappointment and rage in her mother's eyes was burned into her mind. She couldn't help but remember that expression at this very moment. Her mother would not approve of her marrying Ellac back then and she certainly wouldn't approve of this marriage either. Her mother was her ultimate protector all her life and now that she was gone, it was up to her to protect herself and her family, what little of it she had left.

She was going to use all the skills her mother taught her to get what she wanted no matter the costs. Anastasia's dress dropped to the floor and she wore a mesh black gown, covering her bare skin. Slowly, she turned around and saw Navaz sitting on the bed, naked from head to toe. She lowered her eyes and her cheeks flushed. He was obviously thirsting for her.

She smiled and lifted her eyes, brushing her long hair behind her bare shoulders. Sauntering over to him she ran her hand across his short black locks. "You heard my conditions relayed by your mother, yes?" she asked barely above a whisper.

The Hun King nodded and grabbed her soft curve of her hips, bringing her close. "You want to be my commander..." he said and kissed her flat abdomen through her dress, longing to feel her skin touching his lips.

"Yes, I do. I would be a great asset to your army." Her muscles tensed as his hands roamed around to the small of her back. He lifted his head and saw apprehension in her eyes and grinned lightly.

He stood and slipped the straps off her shoulders, not taking his eyes off of hers. She gasped once the dress fell to the floor, though the two remained locked in one other's eyes. She did not want to lose focus and get lost in the moment so she turned her cheek.

"I am a good warrior. My mother trained me well," she went on and he grazed his knuckles on her soft cheek.

"I have no doubt that you are considering you are from the same land as Attila. If not for my father's alliance with Attila, Balaam would cease to exist." He said and kissed her temple and turned her cheek to look into her blue eyes.

She smiled widely, "so, I can be your commander?"

Navaz chuckled and kissed her forehead. "You Pannonian women are used to getting what you want, aren't you?" he inquired and she arched an eyebrow, uncertain of his game. "You may be my commander if you give me an heir. Our agreement, yes?"

Agreement, she thought, yes I will agree to that. I will avenge all the deaths on Pannonia soil and gladly give this king an heir to get what I want, she thought. "A deal is a deal, right?" she winked.

At this very moment as she felt his hot breath against her neck she only saw the horrible look that her mother would give her when she was doing something wrong. Closing her eyes shut she tried to get that menacing glare of her mother's out of her mind. Not only could she see her angry face but heard her voice too –her voice filled with rage, anger and most of all disappointment.

"I'm sorry," she whispered as her eyes filled with tears.

Navaz frowned and pulled away, "sorry?" he asked.

She gasped and realized that she had spoke aloud by mistake. Smiling she wrapped her arms around his neck, flesh touching flesh. "Nothing," she said.

He gently pushed her onto the bed and began pressing his lips against her inner thigh. Her eyes were to the ceiling and though she tried to think of this as a business transaction, it was difficult. Her body was reacting completely different than what she wanted. She felt as if she were betraying Ellac, her only lover and her mother, her protector, and Gabrielle, her life mentor and former tutor.

Perhaps Kreka was right, Navaz was handsome and he was a good king. He was kind to her and was very patient with her. He never forced her to have sex with him even after months of leaving him high and dry. She wondered if she could open her heart once more and let someone in after so long. She had not allowed herself the chance to grieve properly after her mother's death and felt responsible. She also was unable to give her mother a proper burial was the most important thing in her culture –to send loved ones to a safe place in the afterlife.

And maybe, Navaz could teach her how to love again, if she permit her heart to do so. Maybe, just maybe, she could find love for her mother and Ellac through this child she hoped to conceive on this very night.

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Chapter 2

It was not Gabrielle's intention to be kidnapped by the Romans. She had been kidnapped before and that felt like a lifetime ago. Xena took her from Athens when she saw an opportunity as she called it. as they spent more time together, Gabrielle was able to see Xena through a new lens. Xena was not a barbaric woman that everyone made her out to be. Sure, she was a fierce warrior and commander of one of the greatest leaders in history to rival Rome.

But now, Xena was gone. Xena's death was celebrated in Constantinople and Rome. Emperor Zeno thrived in victory once he saw the commander's body hung from that crucifix. Her body shot with arrows, her legs broken, her palms and ankles nailed to the wooden cross.

Gabrielle would never forget that day. It was a day of nightmares. There was so much going on during that battle. Xena was the commander of Ernak's army just as she was when Attila was king. She had never seen Xena fight so much alone. She fought several Romans and had gashes all over her arms. She was badly beaten. Flavius Aetius and Valentinian were a cakewalk compared to Emperor Zeno and his army. Constantinople thrived after Theodosius died, meanwhile Western Rome was struggling to rival its counterpart.

Xena fought valiantly and she did her best to fend off the Romans just as she did hundreds of times before. But it was too much for her. She had been injured before yes, but not like this. Gabrielle saw the look of horror in Xena's eyes when an arrow struck her in the breast and then another to the back of her thigh. Gabrielle saw everything and stood by and did nothing.

She felt almost responsible for watching Xena die right before her eyes. She wanted to help but Ernak's men did not permit her to go onto the battlefield. She deemed that was Xena's request and not Ernak's. Xena was always trying to protect everyone, especially Gabrielle and Anastasia. She loved her family, every single one of them, perhaps more than she loved herself.

Even when Xena was struck by multiple arrows she continued to fight. Gabrielle watched Xena fight off the last few Romans the best she could, until that moment when she was struck in the spine by a Roman's shield. She watched as Xena fell to her knees, gasping for air, her eyes wide and fearful. She remembered that look in her eyes when she turned around and gave her one last look –the look of death.

Emperor Zeno was most unkind. Ernak and his army were surrounded. Without warning, everyone began fleeing the area, leaving Xena behind. Gabrielle tried to run onto the field and save Xena, but she couldn't. Zeno's men captured her and tied her up, knowing she would be very useful to him and his growing empire.

She saw everything. She saw Xena being hoisted on a crucifix. She heard the gasps of air escape from Xena's lips –no longer able to cry out in pain. She was numb from the pain already, she felt defeated, Gabrielle saw it in her eyes. She didn't understand why Ernak and the rest of the Huns left Xena to die. Perhaps, they were to come back for her body, she didn't know, she hoped.

Now, a year later, Gabrielle works for Emperor Odoacer of Rome. Emperor Zeno sent her to Rome to be his consul after she served her time in Constantinople. She tried to forget about that battle, but would forever remember Xena and her people. She felt like those people were her family now after spending so much time with them. She was seen as an outsider once and then was included into the circle of Attila's family as the years flew by.

She missed them all. She missed Anastasia, Csaba, Ernak, Dengi and even Kreka. Those people became her family and she loved them all. She wondered if they were able to escape and hide from the Romans. Now that she worked for the Romans, her hatred was already embedded into her mind. They spoke of Xena like she was an animal even after her death. They celebrated it. They had a party for it.

Emperor Zeno and appointed emperor, Odoacer, felt free of the Huns now that Attila was dead and his commander was dead also. Xena was the Romans' worst nightmare and once they knew she was gone, they were relieved and felt their empires could thrive.

Gabrielle heard that the Hunnic tribes across Thrace and the Balkans were warring with each other. Attila's grand empire was falling apart. And now that Xena was gone, it would fall to pieces within a decade or less. The Huns were a dying breed, as Odoacer said.

Perhaps if she did not know Xena personally, she would have celebrated with the Romans in their victorious defeat, but she couldn't. She loved Xena and they took her away forever from her arms. The only thing she had left of Xena were memories, good and bad. She didn't even get to say goodbye, which was the most difficult thing. She watched her breathing, begging for life, on that crucifix and she couldn't even say anything to her before she was taken by Zeno.

She wondered what was going through Xena's mind at that very moment. A smile was not even on her lips when she looked into her eyes. She looked dead when she was still alive. A living corpse.

She remembered the words that Emperor Zeno said to Xena before they vacated Pannonia.

"You have terrorized Rome for the last time, Xena."

Those words stuck in her mind even a year later. She'd never forget them and if she saw Zeno again she wasn't sure if he would live to see another day. She wondered if Ernak and the rest of the Huns felt the same.

Still, she had tender memories of Xena that she hoped would never fade from her mind. She wanted to keep them forever to remind her of what a kind soul Xena had, despite her warrior way and path of the sword. She was kind, especially to children. She loved Csaba, her grandson. He was the most special thing in her life. Gabrielle knew that she too had a special place in Xena's heart but that was for a different reason entirely. Csaba was her special gift that was given to her by Anastasia at the most unexpected and chaotic time. He was the light in her eyes.

Five years after Ellac died, Xena was more than willing to help Anastasia cope with the loss and help her raise Csaba. Anastasia knew that her mother loved Csaba dearly and would do anything for him just as she had done for her.

Csaba sat inside Xena's yurt, six years old, drawing on a piece of parchment with Gabrielle's quill. He tried not to make a huge mess on the rug, though it was inevitable that he did. Xena sat beside him, watching him draw in silence. He was completely focused, contorting his face and crinkling his nose, trying to get the lines perfect.

Gabrielle was busy trying to make food, as Xena wasn't the best cook, she tried at least. Gabrielle offered to cook from now on because she couldn't live with Xena's cooking any longer. She never seasoned anything correctly.

Csaba exhaled heavily and lifted the parchment, showing Xena. He smiled grandly. "What do you think?" he asked, hoping she'd like it.

Xena grinned and took the parchment in her hands. "It's very nice," she titled the parchment and arched an eyebrow. "What is it?" she inquired.

He groaned and scooted closer to her, leaning on her thigh. "It's Pannonia. See the mountains there and the sun," he pointed to the drawing.

She nodded, now understanding the picture. "I see it now," she turned to him and he had a big grin on his face, happy that she liked the drawing. "I'll keep it with me always," she winked and folded it and put in her pocket to show that she was serious in her promise. She always kept her promises and he knew that.

Anastasia came into her mother's yurt and saw Csaba hovering over her and she smiled softly. She was glad that he was having a good time but she felt guilty leaving her mother in charge of him for the entire day. "Csaba," she called out and he spun around. She extended her hand, "time to come back with me."

He frowned sadly, "but I want to stay here."

"tatlı çocuk," Anastasia muttered and her mother stifled a laugh. "I think you've bothered your grandmother and Gabrielle enough for today."

Xena rose to her feet and placed her hands on the boy's shoulders. "He is not bothering us," she said with a grin.

Ana sighed heavily. "I feel bad if I keep leaving him here with you..."

"He likes hanging out with us," Gabrielle interjected and spooned some rice into mouth and hissed at the heat burning her tongue.

Csaba ran to his mother and tugged on her arms. "Please, mother, can I stay, please," he begged and Xena folded her arms, wagging her head.

"Well..." Ana lifted her eyes to her mother, "only if she says it's alright."

Csaba whipped his head around and gawked at his grandmother, hoping she'd say yes. Xena grinned, "of course it's alright," she said and he squealed then ran into Xena's room.

He came out with a game that Gabrielle made for him. He collapsed onto the ground, crossing his legs and placed the board onto the rug. "We can play this game, right Gabby?" he asked and she ran her fingers across her burning tongue.

"Uh-huh," the blonde said, not even bothering to turn around to see what the boy was talking about.

Anastasia smirked and folded her arms. "Oh boy, more games." She walked over to her mother and looked into her eyes nervously. "Are you sure that –"

"Anastasia, don't worry. I enjoy having him here. You trust me, don't you?" she teased.

"Mother..." Ana rolled her eyes.

Gabrielle smiled, remembering those small moments that Xena was able to be a 'normal' person. When Anastasia was a young teenage girl, she often asked her mother to be normal, but as she grew older she knew that her mother would never be normal. Although, Gabrielle saw Xena act normal more times than anyone else. Nobody would know how kind she was, how gentle she was and how much she loved the people around her, contrary to her hard exterior.

Now, nobody would truly know what kind of a person she really was. Her life was robbed by the Romans. And soon enough, Gabrielle's thoughts and memories of her loved one, were robbed by a rude interruption.

"Gabrielle, Emperor Odoacer summons you," a Roman guard stood at her door of her office.

She frowned and hated this emperor so much, more than Valentinian. He was not a childish emperor like Valentinian was. He actually got things done and was continuing to clean up the mess his predecessors made. He was repairing Rome's wealth, status and military to rival Zeno in Constantinople.

She reluctantly grabbed her parchment and quill to head out of the office with the guard. She walked down the hallway. She saw the large archway that lead into Odoacer's throne chambers. He was waiting for her and called for her several times during the week. She never thought she could provide anything of use to this man, especially since the Huns were the least of his concern.

He sat upon his throne and smiled once he saw her enter. He waved his hand to dismiss his slaves. "My beautiful consul," he greeted and Gabrielle felt the need to quiver, but smiled instead. "We have important things to discuss. Huns."

That perked her interest immediately. It had been a year and she had no word about the Huns. She hoped that Xena's family and people were alive. "Huns?" she tried to hide her shock and feign surprise. "What about them?"

He sighed and twirled an empty wine cup in his hands. "The Shah of Persia wishes to ally with the White Huns in the Caucasus. They are no threat to me. After all, Navaz is no Attila. Anyway, Shah Peroz wants to come here before he makes the decision to ally with the Hun King."

She nodded. White Huns, she noted that. They must be important if Odoacer is concerned. "And when will the Shah arrive?"

"I expect in a few weeks. He meets with Navaz as we speak at this very moment. I doubt he will be able to convince the Huns to back down. They are a ruthless people, you know?" he said and she lifted her eyes, giving a blank face. "Oh right, you do know. I wonder what Pannonia looks like now. It must be a pile of ruins."

That only made Gabrielle's stomach churn. "You believe these White Huns are a threat, your highness?" she grit her teeth.

He sighed heavily and shrugged a shoulder. "Navaz is a young and hungry king. He is begging to attack anyone around him. He might have attacked Pannonia but Xena was in the way," he chuckled. "Now that she is dead, there is no reason to go to Pannonia. It belongs to the Bulgur Huns now."

She tried to think of something happy and blissful just to keep herself from strangling this man. He had the audacity to praise Xena's death, knowing that she was very close to her and the rest of the Huns. Although, he didn't know how close she truly was to Xena. He knew that she was Xena's scribe and loyal ally or more like asset as he repeatedly said.

"You know, Gabrielle, I do not believe Xena was the terror of Rome as everyone claimed her to be," he said and she frowned confusedly. "I had the pleasure of meeting Xena a long time ago, when Attila's uncle was the King of the Hun Empire. She was new and Attila loved her. He fawned over her as if she were a new puppy in his grasp."

Gabrielle arched an eyebrow hearing this very interesting piece of information. "I take it you were very close with the Huns of that time?" she inquired, trying to pry information out of him.

Odoacer nodded, "I was, yes. Attila was a great friend of mine. Xena snubbed me at every chance she could. Rua and Attila put her on a pedestal and did almost anything she commanded. She was a very good commander, until she became pregnant that is," he chuckled. "She should have never spread her legs and maybe she could have been the Queen of the Huns."

Gabrielle's eyes widened. He was very close to the Huns of Pannonia obviously. Everything that he said, she knew from Xena telling her long ago. She knew about Rua, about Borias, Bleda, everyone. Odoacer knew a lot about Attila and his people. Too much.

"I wonder where that child of hers is now? I left long before she gave birth to her spawn."

Oh good, he does not know about Anastasia, Gabrielle thought. That is very good news indeed.

He sighed, "enough about Xena. She is old news." He waved his hand. "Make sure the arrival of the Shah is brought to the Senate's attention. I want to be prepared for when he comes. I trust you can make the proper arrangements?" he asked with a simple grin.

She nodded and gave a false smile. "Of course. I will do everything necessary to make sure the Shah's arrival is up to par with your standards, emperor."

She waited and stood for further direction. Odoacer turned his head and grinned. "You may go now, Gabrielle," he waved his hand and she bowed her head then quickly left the chamber, eager to get away from this man.

At this point, Gabrielle thought she'd rather go back in time and be kidnapped by Xena all over again than live here in Rome under the rule of Odoacer. He was far worse than Valentinian ever was. Valentinian was not a good emperor and all of his decisions were made by Flavius Aetius and his elder mother, Placida. She secretly wished that Xena or Attila would have killed them when they had the chance, but she was glad that they were assassinated by a person whom Aetius trusted. Never trust a snake. She learned that from Xena.

Flavius Aetius often called Xena a snake or a medusa, but she was far from a serpent or gorgon monster. The Romans were the snakes and that proved to be true in the end when they were betrayed by people they were very close with.

Walking outside of the Roman palace she head towards the Senate down the road on the opposite side of the city. She couldn't help but think that Odoacer knew too much about the Huns. He mentioned that he was friends with Attila. She would have never guessed that by his desire to be emperor.

While under the employment of Emperor Zeno, Odoacer was not emperor at the time. Romulus Augustus was appointed emperor shortly after Valentinian was assassinated, but Romulus did not stay in office for more than a couple of weeks. He was quickly gotten rid of by the Senate and Odoacer who challenged his position of power. Gabrielle wondered how Odoacer was able to convince the Senate to appoint him as ruler. She hardly knew anything about the man since she got here.

She now made it her mission to figure out just who Odoacer was and how he got the role of emperor. She entered the Senate and saw all the elderly and some young senators talking among themselves in the auditoria. Their voices echoing in the dome shaped building.

"Ah, the Consul of Rome finally graces us with her presence," young Senator Lucius announced behind Gabrielle.

She turned around, slightly startled by his voice as her mind was elsewhere. "Lucius," she grinned.

"Looking lovely as ever," he flattered and she rolled her eyes. He noticed the scroll in her hands, her fingers fidgeting. "What news do you bring from the emperor?"

She looked down at the scroll that held vital information about the Persian Shah. "Shah Peroz is coming to Rome in a few weeks to discuss important negotiations with Odoacer," she said and frowned, staring at all the senators, completely unaware of her presence, which she thought was good. She didn't want to be in the spotlight.

Lucius shook his head. "Persians. They always want to butt in Rome's business. They believe they are superior."

She raised an eyebrow and completely blocked out anything he said as well as the others around him. "Do you know where Odoacer is from?" she asked randomly.

He blinked, caught a bit off guard by her question. "I don't know, Gabrielle. That's a weird question to ask. Why do you want to know?"

She tapped the scroll on her palm and sighed. "No reason, just asking," she smiled. "So, let's get this meeting going, shall we?" she motioned him to step to the center of the auditoria to make the introduction of her news from the emperor.

King Navaz kept his promise to his wife that he would include her in all military negotiations and political affiliations. This also included Anastasia traveling to the Steppes to meet with Shah Peroz in neutral territory. His mother was reluctant to allow Anastasia to go with him on this mission, but Navaz made a promise and he intended to keep it.

The White Huns set up camp in the Steppes, planning to stay for a few days or as long as it took to convince Shah Peroz to come up with a simple agreement among both parties. Anastasia sat outside the tent in front of the warm fire as dusk was approaching. She remembered that it got very cold in Steppes. She was not used to being so high in the mountains. Pannonia had mountains, but the land was mostly flat and open, not like Balaam and the other Caucasus territories. The terrain was much rougher up here and the weather was harsher too. Horrible winters and cool summers, not like the blistering summers in Pannonia and mild winters.

Navaz admired his wife from afar and she lifted her eyes and both exchanged a small smile. He came to sit beside her on the hard ground. He looked at the mountains ahead and sighed. "I am not used to a woman accompanying me on these political missions."

She smirked, "you don't know me very well. I've been to many places in my life."

"Like where?" he asked curiously.

She shrugged a shoulder, "Athens, Thebes, Rome, Constantinople, Nicaea, Persia, even Spain," she said with a big grin and his eyes grew in shock.

"I never knew the Pannonian Huns to travel so much."

"We don't normally, but my mother was a busy woman," she said and smiled, remembering all the strange things that happened in her life. Her mother was always getting into some kind of mess, but she always knew how to fix it.

Navaz nodded. "You don't really look like her," he said and her heart sank when he said that. She then realized that he was speaking of Kreka and not her true mother.

"I look more like my father," she said softly and she had no idea what her father looked like. She definitely knew she looked like her mother but was always reminded that she had her father's charm and smile.

"And where is he now?" he asked.

"Dead," she said bluntly with a flat tone. Adding, "killed by the Visigoths a long time ago, before I was born."

He frowned sadly and looked at her as she was fixated on the fire in front of her. "My father died when I was a boy. The Persian Shah Yazdgard took his life."

"I'm sorry," she said softly and turned to look into his saddened eyes. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it firmly. She grinned and he kissed her hand gingerly. Turning away, she felt her cheeks flush a pale pink.

Horses approached the small camp and Anastasia snapped her head around and saw the Shah riding in with his men. He looked to be only a few years older than her or perhaps the same age. She was expecting an elderly Shah like the previous Shah, but this man was young.

Shah Peroz halted his horse and Navaz walked over to him and Anastasia followed. The Persian bowed his head. "King Navaz," he greeted.

"Shah," Navaz smiled and grabbed his queen's hand, ushering her to stand beside him, not behind. "This is my wife, Queen of the Caucasus, Anastasia."

Peroz bowed his head, awestruck by his wife's beauty. "Very nice to meet you, Anastasia Khatun."

She smiled tightly and gave a curt nod. She was not used to being called Khatun. That title was for older women, women like Kreka and Tuya, not herself. She also felt like she did not deserve such a title like that even though she has the largest title of them all. She is the Queen of the White Huns, but to be a Khatun and a Queen like Kreka was, she didn't know if she did anything of worth to be given an honorable title.

Khatun in technical terms did mean queen or lady, but Khatun was a special title, a title that held more meaning than the word 'queen' ever could. Kreka was definitely worthy of being called that, but she perhaps, she needed to prove her worth, especially to Navaz as his new commander and his demanding mother, to earn the title of Khatun.

All three were gathered inside the tent as nightfall finally came. Peroz could not take his eyes off of Anastasia and she was well aware and tried to ignore his persistent eyes. Navaz lifted his eyes after reading the proposition that Peroz presented.

He saw the Shah gawking at his wife and frowned. "Your eyes linger too long, shah," he noted and Peroz smiled nervously at the Hun King.

"My apologies, Navaz. Your wife is a striking beauty, none like I've seen before."

Navaz cleared his throat and placed the parchment on the floor. "You will respect my wife, Peroz. She is my commander of the White Hun army. I trust you will listen to her just like you would me, understand?"

Anastasia looked at her husband with shocked eyes. She didn't expect him to defend her so quickly, especially to a shah no less. A small smile graced her lips and felt she was at least worth something more to him than a child bearer that Tuya deemed her to be. There was no love between them but at least she had his mutual respect and that meant more to her than love.

Peroz nodded, "of course. I am all ears."

Hours after negotiation and bickering back and forth, Peroz left well into the evening, leaving Anastasia alone with Navaz in the tent to think over the proposition that the shah presented.

Navaz sat on the floor with his chin resting on his palm. Anastasia stood by the entrance, watching Peroz and his camp not too far from here. She watched him go in and out of his tent several times arguing with his adviser it looked like.

"We shouldn't take him up on his offer," she said in the dead of silence.

"You don't believe it is good enough?"

She smirked, "no amount of coin is good enough to be rid of us. You forget who we are. We are Huns and we are better than him. We can outsmart him," she said, thinking like her mother would in times like these. Turning her head she saw apprehension in his eyes. He truly was conflicted.

"He is trying to buy your trust, Navaz. You can't buy trust, you must earn it." she paced back and forth and his eyes followed her every step. "You will deny his money and tell him to find a new treaty that we can all agree to. When he has the new treaty written we will meet again." She grinned wildly.

"That could take months, Anastasia," he reminded her.

She halted and sat down in front of him, grabbing his hands in hers. "I don't care if it takes months. That will buy us more time to come up with a backup plan if he decides to ally with the Romans."

He cocked his head and furrowed his eyebrows. "You believe that Persians would ally with Rome?" he asked, almost ready to mock her, thinking it was a ridiculous idea.

She sneered, "I've seen it happen before. People will go to great lengths to get what they want. You trust me, right?" she said in a soft tone, gaping into his eyes.

Navaz sighed heavily and hung his head, feeling very unsure of himself. "I do trust you. It just...just seems impossible that Peroz would try to ally with the Romans."

"Anything is possible," she said and he lifted his eyes and saw that gorgeous smile of hers and he grinned, his mood suddenly lifted.

He was about to head out to go be around the male soldiers and leave the tent for herself to get some rest. She sat on the bed made with animal furs and saw he was ready to exit. "Navaz," she said and he turned slightly. "You defended me in front of Peroz."

Their eyes locked with one another in a moment of silence.

"Thank you," she said with a warm smile.

He nodded, "you are my wife and my queen," he stated then left the tent.

She sighed and took off her cloak and tossed it aside. She leaned on her palms, relaxing her body finally after hours of being rigid in front of Peroz. She didn't know how her mother was able to do this for almost thirty years. Being a queen was tiring and being a commander was equally as tiring and it was only the first day. She couldn't imagine doing this for years on end, but if her mother could do it then she surely could.

She constantly asked her mother for guidance on what to do with her life. She was feeling lost for awhile, but slowly everything was coming into place. She didn't expect Navaz to be so accepting of her offer and did not expect him to show such warm yet coy affection towards her. It was not an intimate affection, but affection nonetheless.

Still in the back of her mind she kept thinking of what her mother would say to her at this very moment. Anastasia imagined her mother would have the same reaction when she found out about her and Ellac. Even though she was a grown woman now, she still felt like a child standing next to her mother. She knew nothing and was not taught nearly everything.

"Teach me everything, mother," she whispered softly and closed her eyes and laid onto the floor, curling her legs close to her chest.

Gabrielle stood beside Odoacer jotting down some notes, anxiously waiting for Shah Peroz to arrive to the palace. Persians were notorious for being late to important meetings, parties and weddings. It seemed that this shah was no different and stayed true to his customs.

She tried to block out everything that Odoacer was saying. He was bickering and being really rude to his servants, making sure that his people were in order. She didn't understand what was so important about this Shah. The last shah she met was with Xena and he was less than enthused to see her and wanted the Romans dead, all of them. Too bad he died due to his arrogance.

She found it odd that a Persian would want to ally with a Roman emperor and why go to Odoacer instead of Zeno? Constantinople was bigger, better militarily and had more status than Rome at the moment. Gabrielle sensed that there was more to this meeting than Odoacer was letting on.

Lucius was no help when she asked where Odoacer was from. She dug deep into the archives and found no record of Odoacer's birth place or motherland, which was odd. She didn't know if that was because he didn't want anyone to know where he was from or because he was recently sworn into office. Something was very off about him and she wanted to know what this man was thinking.

"Gabrielle, you have the proper questions?" he asked.

She cursed under her breath and scratched out a word that she had misspelled due to her mind being scattered in so many directions.

"Gabrielle!" his voice raised.

She lifted her head and saw the irate emperor glaring at her. "Oh yes, I have the questions," she smiled tightly.

Moments later the doors swung open and Shah Peroz waltzed in with a big grin on his face. Odoacer turned around and approached the Persian with open arms. "Peroz! So glad you made it! I was beginning to think you were not going to make it."

The two embraced and Peroz nodded. "Yes, well I had to make few stops along the way. Sorry to keep you waiting."

Gabrielle refrained from rolling her eyes. Persian kings were not to her liking, knowing that they hated all Huns and Romans. This meeting should be interesting most definitely. She grabbed her quill and was ready to write down any notes that Odoacer commanded her to.

"So, tell me about the meeting with King Navaz. Did it prove fruitful?" Odoacer snapped his fingers, ordering his servants to bring over cups of wine.

Peroz sighed and sat down with the emperor. His face drained and eyes tired from traveling such a long way across the Eastern Roman Empire territories and into the West not long after he left the Caucasus Steppes.

"I did not have a problem with Navaz. He is a young king and ambitious but his wife," he shook his head, already feeling his throbbing headache rising once more. "A rare jewel she is, but she is not easy to negotiate with."

This peaked Odoacer's attention and he sipped the lush wine. "Wife? A Hun allowing his wife to dictate the meeting? I am not surprised to hear that. The Huns hold their wives on a pedestal and allow them such leeway in politics."

Gabrielle smirked as she recorded the conversation. The Huns were very respectful to their women unlike the Romans and Greeks. She thought all her life that the Huns were savages and treated their women like dogs, but it was just the opposite. Their women had power and she was glad to hear that it had not changed since she was so rudely uprooted from Pannonia.

Peroz groaned lightly and adjusted in the chair, growing uncomfortable. "She is not only Queen of the Caucasus, but his commander of his army! I don't know how I feel about this. I do not wish to face yet another female commander," he said, eyeing the emperor.

Odoacer frowned at the shah's subtle mention of Xena. "Indeed, I know how you feel. I am assuming that Navaz and his wife were not able to come to an agreement with you?" he guessed.

The shah shook his head. "Unfortunately no. Anastasia, his wife, did not agree to my terms. She told me to come back after I have conjured another treaty," he scoffed, "can you believe it?"

Gabrielle's eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat, her stomach knotted. Anastasia. She is alive and well. Such great news, she thought and a big smile appeared on her lips. Her blood rising to her cheeks when she heard Xena's daughter's name. She thought Anastasia was lost forever or perhaps killed. But to hear that she was a Queen and Commander of the White Huns! What a feat and Xena would surely be proud of her.

A piece of Xena yet lives and she is making a name for herself across the Balkans and Caucasus once again, rivaling Rome. She thought she'd never hear about the Huns making a comeback, but there is hope, so much hope. She needed to find out more information about Anastasia's whereabouts and maybe even try to contact her.

A letter from Anastasia would mean the world to her at a time like this. She lost all hope and connection with her adopted family. She wondered what life like was for Ana now? And what about Ernak, Dengi, Csaba and Kreka? Were they with her? She needed answers.

She waited so long for this day to come and almost thought it would never come. Overjoyed by this news she completely blocked out conversation from Odoacer and Peroz. Wagging her head, she quickly began writing down the continued conversation between the two as her hand shook. She was flustered and so many emotions overcame her, she tried to hide it or risk being caught.

"Should I write a new treaty and visit with the Huns again?" Peroz asked. He felt like he was out of his comfort zone and didn't know what to do. His grandfather was so much better when it came to handling the Huns, but these Huns were not like the Pannonian Huns, they weren't as ruthless or vicious. At least, that's what he assumed.

Odoacer rubbed his chin in deep thought. "Perhaps, you should draw up another treaty. We will play into the king's game. His wife seems to think she can outsmart Rome. If she is anything like Xena, which would seem impossible. Nobody is like Xena and her fine negotiating skills –then we should be wary of her and Navaz. She will corrupt his mind to attack you, I foresee it."

"A beautiful woman such as herself?" Peroz chuckled at the thought. "She looked like she couldn't pluck a flower, robbing it of its nutrients."

"Xena was not ugly herself, Peroz," the emperor said with darkened eyes. "She was very gorgeous, eyes as blue as the Aegean and a smile that could seduce any man. What makes you think this 'Anastasia' is any different?"

Gabrielle couldn't help but snort at the two conversing. Anastasia was becoming like her mother and although the young woman she became to be, she was very kind and warm, unlike Xena. Xena was none of those things unless one was able to witness the true side of her when she was around the people she loved the most. Gabrielle guessed that Anastasia's heart was beginning to harden from all the heartache she had from the loss of Ellac, her mother and her homeland. Anastasia was growing cold, Gabrielle could feel it. She didn't need to see Ana's face to know it. She hoped that Anastasia's heart would not turn into the black stone that Xena's once was from all the war, hate, lack of love and human loss. She hoped.

"I trust that you have my allegiance if this deal doesn't work out with the White Huns, right?" Peroz asked, staring into the emperor's eyes.

"Of course, shah," Odoacer laughed heartily and sipped his wine. "Rome has your back. We will not allow the Huns to invade Rome again. Zeno is on his own as he refuses to send aid to my provinces."

The shah grinned, feeling somewhat relieved. "Gratitude, emperor." He stood from the chair. "I must be on my way. I have pressing matters back home. Sorry to cut this meeting short."

Odoacer stood and shook the Persian's hand. "Your presence was most welcome, Peroz. I hope to see more of you in the future. Long live Rome."

"Long live Rome," Peroz smiled and bowed his head then took leave.

Once the Persian left, Gabrielle gathered her notes, finishing up the last couple of words. Odoacer made his way over with a big smile on his lips. "Here, I have the recorded conversation," she said and handed it over.

He looked over the parchment and nodded his head. "Excellent. Your service never ceases to amaze me, Gabrielle. You are free to go for the rest of the day. You did very well, I thank you."

She bowed her head and he turned to his servant to fetch for more wine. "Emperor," she began and he turned to her with a soft face. "Where are these White Huns from? Are they as dangerous as the Huns of Pannonia?" she inquired, trying not to seem too suspicious and eager.

Her heart raced and all she could think about was Anastasia. A last glimmer of hope yet lives and rises to position of power. How wonderful, she thought. He sighed and sipped the bitter wine. "Balaam is the capital of these White Huns. I do not believe they are as ruthless as those Pannonians, but we should tread carefully. I do not want to be caught off guard if they choose to attack." He said.

She nodded. Balaam. That was the capital. I can write to her. "Hopefully they will not be as troublesome as the Pannonians then," she grinned, trying to seem more inclined to side with Rome, but it only made her sick.

"Indeed," he said.

Chapter Text

AN: quick recap of all the Hun tribes.

Akitziri Huns (Xena's previous land) –Caspian Sea

Onogur Huns –Baltic Sea

Bulgur Huns –Thrace

Atlyn Huns –Lower Thrace and Scythia

Ashina Huns (Kreka's people) –Mongolia/China

Pannonia Huns (Attila's homeland) –Hungary

White Huns (Navaz's people)–Caucasus/Armenia

Chapter 3

One Year Earlier

A day after the massacre in Pannonia, Ernak took his family to a land far away to escape with the promise of avenging Xena and all of the fallen soldiers, women and children. He took the rest of his men still alive and the few tribe women and children to the Steppes.

Ernak asked for help from other Hunnic tribes across the Eastern lands. He didn't bother to ask the Atlyn or Bulgur Huns for help since they were warring with him and his people. He never understood why his own people wanted to take over. He knew that these Huns didn't see him or his brothers as a threat once their father died. Attila was a great warrior and king. He knew how to keep these Huns in line.

He sought help from the Akitziri Huns but their numbers were far too low and they weren't well equip to fight in a war so that was a lost cause. He sent scouts to deliver letters to various tribes across the Balkans, Steppes, Near East and Kush lands. Every response was denied. He had no help except for Xena and not even she could fend off thousands of Romans on her own.

Word of Attila's death spread across all of the Hun tribes and his death was mourned. Everyone turned down Ernak when he asked for aid. His word calling for help reached all the way across the Sassanid Empire of the Persians into an uncharted territory by the Volga River.

While the Bulgur and Atlyn Huns of Thrace were eager to be rid of the Pannonians and others were low on soldiers and weapons, there was one outcast group of Huns that listened to Ernak, but they responded too late.

All too late.

The Nezak Huns from the Stan Steppes of Kazakhstan arrived in Pannonia a day too late. Everyone was dead and everyone had fled the area. The Nezak Bey, Malka, trotted into the bloody filled grass lands of Pannonia. He frowned upon seeing the men of Attila's sons scattered across the once beautiful and powerful motherland of the Huns. There were corpses everywhere and there was no life here.

It was silent. Not even birds or animals dare come to this land. The stench of the bodies filled the musky air. The sun did not shine upon Pannonia anymore. It was grim and dark. Desolate and heartrending.

His eyes scanned the bloody battlefield and he saw someone hoisted on a crucifix. A woman. A woman with long dark hair veiled over her face, her limbs gone limp. He waved his hand to his men. "Go see the crucified woman," he commanded.

The Nezak soldiers dismounted their horses and weaved through the corpses and looked up at the crucifix, tilted on its side. One soldier touched the woman's leg to see if she yet lives. He heard a small breath escape her lips and his eyes widened.

"She lives, Bey!" the soldier yelled from across the field.

"Take her down!" Malka yelled and trotted through the field, stomping on the lost souls of Pannonia. "Be careful not to harm her even more." He saw the nails in her palms and ankles, blood dried on her black armor and crimson cape that she wore.

His men carefully lowered the cross to the ground and untied her wrists. Her head lolled over and her eyes fluttered open, blacken around the edges and her mouth dry from lack of water, lack of food. Arrows stuck inside of her chest and ribs, yet she breathes, though not well.

The soldier took the nails out from her palms and she did not even wince. Her fingers limped and her legs, Malka saw that they were broken. Her shins shattered from the inside. She was unable to walk. He jumped off his horse and knelt down in front of the woman.

He lifted her chin and stared into her glazed over eyes. He knew that she must be of some importance otherwise why crucify her and not everyone else in this cursed land. "Who are you?" he whispered and she closed her eyes, letting out a soft exhale. He checked her pulse. "Get her on a gurney. We will take her with us."

"Bey," respected elite soldier, Ghar, stood beside his ruler. "Are you sure it is wise to transport her? She has already lost a lot of blood."

Malka nodded and his men carried her off and put her on a gurney to be transported on one of her large weapon wagons. "She is the only person alive here. She is important, Ghar. I will not leave her behind." He sighed and took one last look at the great Pannonia. "We should have come sooner and maybe this massacre would not have happened."

"We got here as fast as we could, Bey," Ghar lowered his eyes in shame for the Pannonian Huns –Attila's people –they were gone, all of them. All except one.

Days later, the Nezak Huns returned to their homeland near the Volga. Malka had this woman placed under the best medical care that he could offer. So far, she was still alive and breathing, though unaware of her surroundings.

Malka walked into the room inside his large home and saw the healer working to repair the damage done by the arrows that struck her. He dug inside her ribs to dig out the arrowhead pieces with gentle care. He walked around the table and scanned her badly beaten body. Her legs now in splints and stripped of her armor, only covered by her pants and a sheet covering her breasts.

"Will she recover?" he asked.

The healer sighed and got the last bit of arrowhead out of her ribs then began dressing the wound. "It is a miracle that she is still alive, Bey. I have never seen such terrible wounds in my entire life."

Her lips pale as snow, her eyes engulfed with deep purple bruises, indicating that the Romans must have beaten her face before she was crucified. Her cheeks sunken and her neck filled with scratches and more bruises most likely due to choking. She had seen a lot of pain and suffering before she was put on the cross to die.

"God willing she will make a speedy recovery. The Romans must have hated her so much. They did not stop after they crucified her. They wanted more of her. They beat her senseless," he shook his head. He did not understand the hatred of some people sometimes.

The healer nodded and patched up the wound on her side then proceeded to dress the gashes on her arms and collar bone. "Whoever she is, she must be another Scourge of God much to be treated as an animal."

Malka rubbed his chin, gawking at the woman on the table. She was important indeed. He knew that and being the only survivor among hundreds, it was truly a sign of God that she was supposed to live.

"Notify me if her condition changes." He said then left the room, allowing the healer to do what he did best.

Two weeks later Xena's eyes fluttered open. She thought she was dead. She felt dead. She might as well have been dead after what happened. She turned her head and saw a scrawny man wearing a turban and in all black hovering over a table filled with herbs and a hot cauldron of water.

She groaned softly and lifted her head and saw her legs were in metal splints. Her hands roamed her body and felt the wounds where the arrows struck her, though the wounds were slowly turning into scars, huge scars on her breast and ribs.

She tried to sit up and the sheet fell off her body and gasped, wrapping her arms around her bare breasts. The healer turned around and dropped the wooden bowls filled with herbs. She frowned and furrowed her eyebrows.

"Where am I?" she asked in a hoarse voice, begging for water to quench her dry throat.

The healer waved his hand at the guard standing by the archway. "Alert the Bey!" he said. He smiled and approached her cautiously. "Do you remember what happened to you?" he asked in a calm voice.

Xena exhaled heavily and felt a ting of pain in her side and winced. She couldn't get off the table and run away and where would she run to? She had no idea where she was and how she got here. She didn't remember anything after that awful day.

Malka hurried into the room and saw the bright blue eyes of the woman whom he saved and brought back to his motherland. He came round the table and she eyed him with tired red eyes. He took off his cape and threw it over her bare shoulders to make her feel less exposed.

"I am overjoyed to see you are awake. I was beginning to think you had fallen into an eternal slumber," he said and she kept glaring at him. "Give her water," he ordered the healer.

The old scrawny healer handed Xena the cup of the water which she downed in seconds. He filled the cup up once more and she downed the second cup. Exhaling heavily with a sigh of relief to finally have water drain down her throat.

She wrapped the cape around her shoulders tightly. Her eyes roamed around the candlelit room and turned back to the dark haired man. "Who are you?" she asked.

The Bey bowed his head. "My name is Malka of the Nezak Huns from Kazakhstan." He introduced himself.

Nezak Huns. She hadn't heard of them before and Attila never mentioned them. Then it dawned on her. Kazakhstan. She was so far from Pannonia. She was located beyond the Persian lands and in the mountains, the snowy mountainous area. Her mind immediately went to Gabrielle and Anastasia. She had no idea what happened to them.

"Pannonia. What happened?" she asked.

Malka's eyes lowered in sorrow. "Dead. Everyone is dead." He said bluntly.

Xena's eyes grew and she felt a pain in her chest –a stab in her heart. No, she wouldn't believe that. They couldn't all be dead. She knew that her daughter and Gabrielle were not dead. They couldn't be, though she couldn't say the same for the soldiers, those brave soldiers.

"When King Ernak asked for aid I was more than willing to help. Unfortunately me and my army arrived too late. You were the only survivor there."

She nodded her head slowly trying to let all of this sink in. She suddenly didn't want to be alive anymore, knowing that everyone else had perished at her hands –her failure. "Ernak...did you...recover his body?" she dared to ask and almost did not want to know.

Malka sighed. "We did not find the king's body."

Hope. There was hope that he and the others were able to escape the wrath of Zeno. She had hope and faith on her side. That was the only thing she had now. She was all alone in a foreign land, though not with foreign company. At least she was killed by the Romans or in the hands of slavers. She was with Attila's people and that was almost comforting to know.

"You saved me," she said softly and looked into his grey eyes. "Why?"

The Bey grinned and stepped closer, though she saw her body stiffen. She was wary and untrusting of anyone that came near her. That was understandable.

"I knew you were important. You were the only crucified Hun in that bloodbath." He said and saw her eyes soften. He saw such sadness. So much misery in those beautiful blue marbles. "What is your name? Who are you? I'd like to know who I saved."

She lifted her chin and pursed her lips. "Xena," she said calmly. "Former Commander in Chief of Attila."

Malka's eyes grew with shock and he heard the healer gasp. "Xena?" he said breathlessly. He was suddenly so enthralled to have someone with such high status in his presence. "I have heard so much about you. I longed to meet you when Attila was still alive. You are a great warrior. Rome fears you."

"Not anymore," she muttered, feeling drained emotionally and physically. "Thank you for saving me," she said, her heart softened and broken at the defeat she faced by the Romans. She had never seen such a bloody battle in her entire career as commander before.

He bowed his head. "The honor is mine. You are welcome to stay here and recover. I am afraid that nothing is left for you in Pannonia. You may call my home your new home."

Home. A place did not have to be a home. No place would ever feel like home knowing that the ones she loved were separated or gone from her side forever. Gabrielle was her home. Anastasia was her home. Pannonia was a place, a place she once called her home, now lost forever and soon to be taken over by Bulgur Huns.

She felt alone, so alone. She felt lost and displaced.

Fucking Romans, she cursed them all.

A year after Xena arrived in Ghazna, Kazakhstan, she had to allow her legs to heal. The other wounds were minor in her eyes, but her legs. Her shins were shattered and it took more than six months for her to get up around on her feet to learn how to walk again.

Now, she was able to walk, though with a slight limp and she was beginning to feel like an old woman, despite her young age. She was not old, but her body said otherwise. She was constantly reminded to use a walking stick by the healer, which she ignored. She was not going to be crippled for life. She wouldn't allow the Romans that satisfaction after what they did to her. She was not going to let them win. Not this time, not ever.

The desire to kill Zeno had entered her mind several times as she stayed in this foreign land. He robbed her of her ability to fight for her people and her family. He also robbed her of Gabrielle and her daughter. That, she would never forgive him for.

As the months passed by her anger towards Zeno slowly faded and she realized that she was letting hatred get in the way of her thinking. She was allowing the Roman to seep into her mind –the dark abyss that she hoped to never return to. She didn't want to succumb to her dark ways again. She couldn't, not after all the years she spent with Gabrielle.

That blonde poet showed her that there was more to life to feeding into hatred and anger. She was the light of Xena's eyes, the meaning of her existence and she wouldn't allow Zeno to taint those lovely memories. Those memories were hers and hers alone. They didn't belong to the Romans and she couldn't let herself slip into a dark abyss knowing that Gabrielle was gone from her side.

Every morning she woke and hoped that she were dead, but then realized that was rather selfish of her. If Gabrielle was alive, which she hoped she was, she let that little string of faith hang in the back of her mind. She longed to see those emerald eyes and her soft touch, her warm smile and sweet voice. But, Gabrielle was not the woman that she once was when they met so long ago.

Gabrielle was a teacher from Athens, a poet and a friend to many. She had a certain way with people despite her size and sweet demure she was a strong woman. She was willing to go through many lengths for those she loved. Xena began to love Gabrielle more and admire her as the years flew by. She once treated her so horribly and probably could never forgive herself for that. But their relationship grew into something most unexpected and turned into something special. Xena thought she could never feel those special feelings again, not with anyone else but Gabrielle.

Not even with Borias she felt those feelings. She loved him dearly even though she did not show it while he was still alive. It wasn't until after he was dead and she gave birth to Anastasia that she realized she loved him more than she wanted to admit. She took his life for granted and wished that Anastasia could have met him, just once. He reminded her a lot of Anastasia. She was so grounded and turned into a fine woman.

A saucy and sassy outspoken teenager had to grow up quickly at the tender age of fifteen when she was to have a child of her own. Xena thought that Anastasia was wise beyond her years, though she felt responsible for keeping her so cloistered her entire life. As the years passed, Ana grew into a smart young woman and a loving mother to her son, Csaba.

Xena missed him a lot and it was a sliver of Anastasia, Borias, Ellac and Attila that was close to her heart. All the people close and dear to her were within Anastasia's son and he was almost an exact copy of Ellac. So kind and gentle, yet strong-willed much like his mother. His soft green eyes that resembled his grandmother, Cera, also a kind soul that was taken from this earth far too soon.

The people that she loved were ripped from her and sometimes she wished that could have done more. She felt like she didn't do enough to protect them, especially during the battle. Ernak tried his best, bless his soul. He was a young king and rivaled that of his father's reign. He was very smart and cunning, more than Dengi ever was when he had his short reign as king.

She knew that Ernak would bring back the title of Scourge of God, honoring his father. Ellac and Dengi had doubts about their youngest brother, but Xena knew all along that Ernak would be the savior of the Huns. But, it seemed that was not true. Pannonia fell to the Romans and she was left to die.

As she stayed in Ghazna she realized that the Romans thought her dead and if her family and companion were alive, they thought she was gone too. She felt in her heart and mind that they were not dead. If she wasn't, how could they be? She wanted answers, but felt that she would never have the honor of receiving such answers.

She stood on the balcony of Malka's villa settled in the crevice of the mountains. Closing her eyes she felt the cool breeze graze her skin. She tried to make peace with herself as best as she could. A year passed and she longed to see her family, though she felt them slipping from her fingertips.

"The weather is beautiful in the mountains," Malka came to her side and her eyes shot open.

Her thoughts ceased and now she was brought back to reality. She was here in Ghazna, not in Pannonia. Memories of Gabrielle, her daughter and all the others flooded her mind. She sometimes felt like they were with her every moment when her eyes were closed. She could enter a new place when her mind was clear and her eyes dark to the world around her.

"Yes, it is," she finally answered.

The Nezak Bey sighed and leaned on the balustrade, overlooking the mountains. The summer was mild here which was nice for crops, but the winters here were harsh and frigid. "For a fierce warrior you are not a woman of many words," he noted with a subtle grin.

She smiled faintly, almost finding that amusing. "I've never heard that one before." Her voice soft and broken.

"Your people are very important to you, I can tell. The sadness in your eyes still lingers even after a year has passed. I too, understand that loss. It is difficult to move beyond the death and chaos and find a new meaning to your life. To begin anew." He said.

Those words had never been truer until this moment. Xena's bitterness towards the Romans had somewhat faded and she focused on reliving memories of her loved ones, but that's all they were, memories.

"How do you find a new beginning? I am not sure if I can find the same path that you did, Malka." She said, lowering her eyes as the pain still felt fresh. It seemed like yesterday that she lost everything dear to her.

The Bey ruffled his dark locks and exhaled deeply. "I focused on those that I loved. I asked them for guidance on what I should do. God directed me in the right path and I chose light, not darkness."

She scoffed, "are you asking me to pray?"

He smiled. "God is all knowing. Pray to whomever you'd like. They will be answered, I assure you that, but there is one thing you must have to see those prayers answered." He looked into her blue eyes. "Patience."

Patience. Gabrielle spoke of patience many times throughout their relationship. Xena was never one for patience but Gabrielle seemed to be a master of it. Another skill that Xena had yet to master even all the years she stayed beside the blonde's side. Patience is a virtue and Gabrielle was most virtuous when it came to patience. She saw the light in everyone, even when the heart was black with pain and hatred.

Xena thought to rely on Gabrielle's teachings to guide her. She did not want to feel like this forever –lost. She felt so alone, but it was a different kind of loneliness. A piece of her was gone. In fact, many pieces of her were gone. Her heart left one sliver and that was of her own self. Her heart had room for only her mind and being.

She would feel more like a failure if she did not try to reach out to Gabrielle even if it was through a spiritual plane. If she failed on the physical plane, she would not want to let Gabrielle down on a different one.

Anastasia sat inside of her yurt as Kreka was braiding her long hair. It had been over a month since she and Navaz last spoke with Shah Peroz. She felt confident that the Persian would heed her advice and write another treaty. She really didn't trust the man and wanted Navaz to understand that you can't always play by the rules to win. He truly was an unskilled king and ignorant of how to rule properly. Well, proper may not be the word. She relied on her mother's teachings to maneuver in between the fine lines of things.

Kreka was finishing up the last few strands of braiding Anastasia's hair. "So," she began.

Oh no, here it comes, Ana knew that this question was bound to come up sooner or later.

"Do you feel any different? It's been almost enough time since you shared a bed with Navaz." Kreka pried, knowing that Tuya was going to be on her case any day now.

The queen sighed, "I don't know yet. I need another a week at least," she said and Kreka fell silent, tying her hair with a large red tassel at the end, weighing her braid down for stability. She turned and looked into the woman's eyes.

Kreka saw tears forming in Anastasia's eyes and she smiled softly. She cupped the girl's cheek and wiped a tear that fell from its duct. "What's the matter?"

"I don't know if I am ready to do this. I am trying to remain calm and focused, but there is too much for me to handle right now. On top of being a queen, I also am a commander and must be a mother to Csaba. How can I also be a mother to this new child if my heart is not in the right place?"

The widow queen sighed. "Sometimes we must do things that we do not want to in order to achieve a bigger goal in the future."

"What future?" Ana stood from the bed and folded her arms. "We have nothing now! We are nothing!"

"You are queen, Anastasia. You have power here, I do not." She grabbed the flustered girl's hand and sat her back down on the bed. "You know what I think?" she said and Ana shook her head. "Your mother would be so proud of you. You have blossomed into a strong woman and though you may not have her spite, you are a one of a kind. She would see that you are sacrificing yourself for the greater good of our people and that is the most special and most difficult thing a person can do."

Anastasia wiped her cheeks and hung her head. "I don't feel like she would be proud of me right now. I feel her eyes boring into my soul. She is telling me something. I feel that she knows I am not in my right mind. I don't know what to do."

"What do you think Xena would tell you?"

"Divorce Navaz," Ana said with a slight chuckle and Kreka arched her eyebrow. She sighed. "She would tell me to do what I feel is right in my heart. But I don't know what is right from wrong anymore. I feel lost and confused without her."

Kreka nodded. "I know you do. I can see it in your eyes. Your eyes say it all. I think you need to revaluate what is important in your life and go with your instinct."

Anastasia agreed and she looked into the woman's hazel eyes. "I've never seen you show such kindness to me before."

Kreka smiled widely at that. "Xena and I may have had our differences in the past but I can't allow that to cloud my judgment when it comes to your relationship. You are a bright young woman, Anastasia. Don't forget that."

Tuya's scribe entered the yurt and averted his eyes. "My queen," he addressed Anastasia. "A letter for you." He held out a folded parchment.

She frowned and walked over to him. She never got letters, not since they left Pannonia. What is this? Her stomach churned as she held the letter in her hands. Slowly, she broke the seal and opened it, reading over it.

My dearest Anastasia,

I thought you were gone from my grasp forever. I thought I would never see you again, but it seems all my prayers have been answered. I will not reveal my name in this letter, because it is too dangerous. I had to find a currier that traveled to the Caucasus to send this letter to you. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to reach out to you after a year. A very long year.

I work for Rome now, under a new emperor, far worse than Valentinian ever was. I cannot say too much about him now. I must be careful of everything that I do. I am Consul of Rome and I'm always being watched. Sending this letter was probably not a wise choice, but I had to write you once I heard you were alright.

The emperor had a visitor come to Rome, which I can't disclose who it was for my own safety. I heard that you were married to a Hun and was overjoyed to hear that you were alive and living well! I hope that you are doing alright and also wonder if the others accompanied you.

I know of your location, but I'm afraid I can't do anything about it. I want to see you, but I think it would be too dangerous and suspicious for me to leave Rome. I just hope this letter got into your hands and give you a glimmer of hope that is at the end of the tunnel.

I want to write to you again, but if you think it is too risky, I won't wait for your response.



Anastasia smiled from ear to ear and held the letter close to her chest. Her heart filled with warmth. Perfect timing. She needed something to bring her to the light at the end of the tunnel, just like Gabrielle wrote.

"Who is it from?" Kreka asked, rising from the bed.

"Gabrielle," Ana said in a soft gentle tone. "She is in Rome. She's a Consul for the new emperor."

"Gabrielle?" Kreka walked over and examined the letter for herself. "Of course, the Greek lives." She smirked.

Anastasia clutched the letter in her hands and folded it up, slipping it in her dress pocket. "I am so glad that she is alright." Alright was the understatement of the year, but at least she was alive. "I was hoping that she'd be alive. Do you think she knows anything about my mother?"

Kreka frowned sadly, "I doubt it, Ana."

"Writing her back is too risky like she mentioned," she tapped her cheek. "I want to go to Rome to meet with her."

"Anastasia, no!" Kreka warned. "You can't just leave. What will you tell Navaz? He will suspect something."

Ana grinned, "then we will come up with a plan. I must see Gabrielle. She is the only thing I have that is close to being my own mother. I need to see her. I must."

Kreka's lips upturned into a sly grin. "A diplomatic mission then, ordered by the queen herself." She suggested and Anastasia grinned, almost maliciously.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Bey Malka caught Xena swinging a sword outside in the field beyond his large villa settled in the mountains. He saw the lackluster within her eyes and the hand that holds blade. He walked outside and she turned her head, acknowledging his presence.

"You swing your sword without purpose," he noted and she lowered the blade slowly.

"I have no purpose to wield a weapon anymore," she said with a faint smirk upon her lips.

He exhaled as his eyes looked to the mountains beyond them. This land was a perfect location. So cloistered from the rest of the world and hidden among enemies. The terrain was so harsh that there had been barely any attacks from their Persian neighbors over the last two decades. This was a peaceful land.

"Odd words spoken from Attila's commander," he chuckled and she was tempted to give him the satisfaction of an eye roll, but refrained.

She shook her head, "I have not been Attila's commander for ten years. I am no one's commander now." She answered with sorrow in her tone.

She secretly longed to seek vengeance on the Romans, but felt like it would be a lost cause. She had nothing except her memories now. Her body did not even serve her well as of late. She did not feel like herself anymore.

He came up beside her and embraced the gentle breeze that passed through the mountains. "You can't step away from the sword. It will always follow you wherever you choose to go. You can't escape your destiny to be a warrior, Xena. I've tried it myself and I had a miserable life."

"I don't want to run from my path. You have me all wrong," she grinned softly. "I long to embrace the sword again, but my mind is not in the right place. It is clouded."

Malka had a feeling that she would say such words. He had not known Xena for a long time, but he observed her. She was once the greatest commander in the Balkans and now she looked so defeated. She was hurt from the inside and out.

"Listen Xena," he began and she turned her head to look into his wary eyes. "I know that I cannot clear your mind from the pain that has been inflicted on you, but I would like to make you an offer."

"Oh really?" her lips turned into an eager smile. She had heard many offers in her lifetime and so few proved to be fruitful. Though, this man was a Hun and one of Attila's followers. She felt she could trust him. He was not a serpent.

"I know the sword is your passion, but how would you feel about being my political envoy?" he asked of her.

She scoffed, "I am not one for politics, Malka." She swung the sword onto her shoulder and began walking off.

He followed her, quickening his pace. "You have great political skills, Xena. You were able to become Rome's General."

"A lifetime ago," she admitted firmly.

"It would be an honor to have you by my side. Do you not have purpose in life? I'd hate for your wonderful gifts to go to waste in this mountainous tribe." He said and she halted, turning slowly on the heel of her boot.

She grinned and pointed the sword directly at his throat teasingly. She saw his eyes widen. A sight that she had missed dearly –seeing the fear in her enemies' eyes. "What...could I possibly bring to your table?"

His eyes looked to the blade and he gulped nervously. "The Shah of Persia wishes to unite with all the Hun tribes in hopes that he will overthrow us one day. I thought I could ask you for guidance. I know've had certain negotiations with the Shah's grandfather long ago."

She lowered the blade and pursed her lips. "Persians," she bobbed her head slowly. "It has been awhile since I've had the slip of a Persian's tongue come in close proximity to me."

He smiled and stepped closer and then she grabbed his shoulder, preventing him from coming a step nearer. "I have heard word that the White Hun King has tried to negotiate with the Shah but it proved unfruitful."

"Of course it did," she was not surprised. "I was not aware there was another Hun king. Who is he?"

"King Khushnavaz of the Caucasus Steppes. He is a young king I've heard but I've never met him before. He has been king since he was a small boy after his father's life was taken by Shah Yazdgard."

Xena's lip quivered at that name. She hated that Persian and was glad that his life was snatched from him by the hands of Attila and Kreka so long ago. Now it seems his spawn has taken over the empire and he too wishes to be rid of the Huns.

As a means to distract herself she decided to take Malka up on his offer. "Tell me more about this Shah."

Navaz sat on a mound of pillows inside his yurt outside of his grand Adame with his mother, Tuya standing by his side. He rubbed his face and sighed heavily.

Anastasia stood in front of him waiting patiently for his answer while Tuya glared at her with such vehemence.

"You wish to go to Rome?" he asked and she nodded. "Why in God's name would you want to go there?"

She inhaled deeply, remembering her plan. This is for you Gabrielle, all for you. "I thought that I could give insight as to who this new emperor is and report back to you. I am your commander after all. It is expected of me to go on missions to seek new information."

He fell silent and she witnessed Tuya scoff at her little speech.

Anastasia's eyes darkened and she stepped forward, dangerously close to the king. "We made a deal, Navaz. I have fulfilled my end of the bargain and now it is time you fulfill yours," her tone low and almost threatening to achieve what she wanted.

The king's eyes lifted at such news that he had not been privy to until this very moment. Tuya's eyes widened and her lips parted with such surprise. Then she narrowed her eyes, glaring at Anastasia, knowing full well that the young queen's womb had not been barren as such and she had been avoiding the task at hand for months now.

"You are with child then?" he asked and Ana lowered her eyes in silence. A smile not present on her face as the one expressed on his.

Tuya interrupted the less joyful moment. "She should not be permitted to travel at such great lengths," she said with a malicious grin and Ana felt air escape her and glare at the mother queen, aware of her agenda.

Navaz nodded and stood from the rugs. "I do not wish my wife to travel so far from my side knowing that she carries my child within her." He grasped her shoulders and she stiffened at his touch.

"I am capable of taking care of myself. Allow Dengi and Ernak to accompany me so I can assure you of my safety." She offered, refusing to take no for an answer.

"You would defy your king?" Tuya said.

Anastasia smirked. "I do not defy, but simply offer another option. As my husband he should respect my decision and compromise with me." She gazed into his uncertain eyes but then saw a small glimmer of hope. A hope that he would relent and allow to go on this journey.

He sighed, "and you do not want me to come with you?"

"No!" she spat and then her cheeks drained of color. "No, I would rather go alone. Ernak and Dengi are like brothers to me. They will protect me at all costs." As if I need protecting, she thought. "I will not disappoint you."

He smiled weakly and kissed her forehead. "I trust you would never disappoint me. Güzel kadın," he whispered in her ear.

Her cheeks flushed bright red and Tuya clenched her fists. "You take orders from your wife, Navaz? She is not even of our own kind!"

"Bastırmak!" Navaz turned to his mother, silencing her tongue. Tuya's eyes averted his gaze. "I am king of this tribe! You dare talk over me and question my authority? You may be my mother but I am still your king." He shook his head then hurried out of the yurt to pressing matters with his men outside.

Anastasia grinned deviously seeing the embarrassment written all over the mother queen's face. Navaz had defended her to Peroz and now to his own mother. Things are not as bad as they seem, she began to wonder. He defended her honor twice now and she relished in it, especially a defense against his mother.

"I will go tell Dengi and Ernak about the mission," she said and began to dismiss herself.

Tuya called out, "do not think that I am not aware of your deceitful tongue, Anastasia." She saw the young queen stop in her tracks. "My son's seed ceases to be planted in your womb until a proposition is raised by your tongue. You get what you want and suddenly a child grows within you. Imagine that. Must be a miracle from the gods above." She mused.

Anastasia bit her tongue and refused to turn to see the smug look on the woman's face. "You should not make me your enemy, Khatun. It is not wise to do that."

"The arrogance that spews from your mouth is not very becoming of you." Tuya chuckled softly.

Ana grinned and turned around, folding her arms. "You have me all wrong, Khatun. You mistake confidence for arrogance. I have the power to exile you from your people. I am above you now. Show respect towards me and I will show you the same. Until then, our relationship remains stagnant." She winked then left the yurt.

Tuya's hand came to her chest and she gasped at the audacity of the Pannonian Hun. She had definitely underestimated her wit and bewitching manner. And worst of all, her own son favored his new wife over her word.

Dengi and Ernak sat inside of a yurt, sharpening their swords together, sharing words. Dengi shook his head. "These women in the mountains are much shier and modest than the ones in Pannonia."

Ernak nodded, "yes they are, but they are beautiful. I plan to make my move with the young Sahabi soon," he wriggled his eyebrows.

"Little brother, you are a fool. She will not even look your way! She thinks us barbarians even though we are the same people!" Dengi growled as he could not perfect his blade.

His younger king brother snatched the sword from his grasp. "It is no wonder you made an awful king, brother. Your sword looks like shit," he teased and received a kick in the shin from Dengi. "Allow me to show you how it is done."

Anastasia entered the yurt and both brothers lifted their eyes. Ernak grinned at the sight of her. "Sweet Ana, what do we owe the pleasure of your beautiful presence?" he asked playfully.

"Quit it," she said. "For a king you still act like a child," she said with a stern voice and both brothers scoffed.

"Moody," Dengi muttered.

She rolled her eyes. "I want both of you to come with me to Rome. I have important matters there."

Ernak laughed aloud. "Rome? Anastasia, that is dangerous territory. No way I will go back to that land of filth that slaughtered all of my people."

"I received a letter from Gabrielle. She works as Consul of Rome. I want to see her," she said and the two young men fell silent.

"Gabrielle?" Dengi lifted his eyes and she nodded with a small grin. "You sure it is from her? It's not a trap?"

She wagged her head. "No trap. I know it is her, Dengi! We must go to her. I have prayed for this moment for so long and now my prayers are finally being answered." She sat down on the floor in front of them. "Please? Navaz won't let me go unless you two accompany me. Please?" she bat her eyelashes much like a little girl would when asking for the impossible.

Dengi groaned. "You make it really hard to say no," he said and she grinned and kissed his cheek and he cringed. "Alright, alright," he gently pushed her away. "Only for you."

"Whoa, hold on a minute. I am king here. Just because Gabrielle sent you a letter doesn't mean that you can just waltz into Rome! We are Huns. We will be given away just by our clothing." Ernak pressed and tossed the sword into his brother's lap.

She smiled and grabbed his hand. "Then we will buy new clothes. I have to go talk to Gabrielle. She is the only thing that I have left. My mother is gone and if I could just feel her presence once more, I know it would be worthwhile. Gabrielle is all I have left of my mother, Ernak. You still have your mother, but mine was ripped from me. I am asking you to do this not for me, but my mother."

The son of Attila sighed heavily. "Fine. We will go. Only for your peace of mind." He said and she kissed his cheek.

"Thank you, it means a lot to me." She said softly and stood slowly.

"Any news of your...problem?" Dengi sneered and Ana shot him a glare.

"It was never a problem and it has been solved," she grinned sneakily. "I made a deal with Navaz. I give him an heir if he made me his commander." She turned and walked out of the yurt, completely satiated.

Ernak and Dengi shared a concerned look with one another. "Did she just say commander?" Ernak whispered.

"Anastasia!" both brothers yelled in unison and dropped their weapons and scurried out to follow her trail.

A few days into their journey towards Rome, Ernak suggested that they go through the Steppes of the old Pannonia Empire instead of traveling through the eastern Roman empire. He did not want to be caught by Zeno's men and risk being killed or jailed. Although, it was a lot faster to travel through Anatolia, it was just too dangerous.

Anastasia traveled behind Ernak and Dengi, observing the large trees and mountains surrounding them. She breathed in heavily, smiling softly, remembering her homeland. It smelled the same and looked the same as well. It felt so long ago that they were in Pannonia even though it had been a year. It felt like eons and she longed to be back home again. She loved Pannonia and had a hard time letting it go.

Ernak halted and looked below the large hill and frowned. Anastasia trotted up beside the young king and saw their land, Pannonia. It was now inhabited by the Bulgur Huns and they had a large number of people living inside the grass plains. There were thousands of yurts, thousands of people.

"Bulgur Huns," Ana groaned, her blood boiling just thinking of those traitors that now took over her motherland. "I wish to see their hearts ripped from their chests after what they did to us and our people."

Dengi chuckled, "you are becoming more like your mother every day, Anastasia."

Her heart pounding. Her hands clammy. Her veins engorged. Her eyes wild. She grinned and kicked her horse and rode down the large hillside, approaching the gates of Pannonia. Ernak gasped and growled. "Anastasia!" he called out after her then rode his horse following her with Dengi shortly trailing.

She skid to a stop as she stood outside of the gates. The Bulgur Hun guards stepped forward, eyeing her suspiciously. She grinned at them all and they pulled out their spears, unsure if she were a threat, although they looked behind her and saw only two men that accompanied her and figured three people were not a threat.

"What brings you to Pannonia, kadin?" one soldier asked, gripping his spear tightly in his grasp.

"Who is your Bey of this province? I wish to speak to him," she said.

Ernak and Dengi pulled up beside her, glaring at her. "What are you doing?" Ernak hissed.

"Finding out some information," she whispered back and turned to the traitor Huns. "Well? Will he see me or not? I'm Queen of the White Huns. I require some information about the Roman Emperor."

Dengi rolled his eyes. "She's a mad woman," he said to his brother.

"Wait here, Khatun," the soldier said and ran off to his Bey's yurt.

Moments later the gates were opened and all three trotted inside their once-called motherland. The heartland of Attila and of the true Huns. She saw eyes all upon her, not recognizing her. Her mother hid her well for many years and all those that knew her were now dead and gone from this world. She felt suddenly more important now than when she was a Pannonian Hun woman.

Being a queen had its perks, she supposed. She saw a middle aged man appear from a yurt at the far end where the Adame was. Her stomach turned as she saw the Adame now filled with this Bey's people, most likely his many wives and slaves. They tainted this land.

"I thought we were going to Rome," Ernak whispered as he trotted alongside her.

"We are, but I want to find out who is in charge here," she grinned and dismounted her horse as the man, whom she assumed was the Bey of Pannonia now, walking towards her.

The man bowed his head and placed his hand over his heart at the sight of her. "Queen of Balaam," he smiled and she curtly bowed. "You are Navaz's wife. Forgive me but I have not heard much about you."

"I have been busy," she said. "Won't you welcome us into your yurt or should we stand outside in the hot sun?" she said.

His cheeks flushed and motioned her to join him in his yurt. "Of course, Khatun," he bowed his head and she brushed past him and the wary sons of Attila followed her with grimaces on their faces.

The four sat on the floor inside the Bey's yurt and were offered hot tea on this summer day. Anastasia kindly refused the tea. Her eyes roamed the inside of this yurt and it once belonged to Kreka. One of the largest yurts outside of the Adame. It was a queen's yurt, decorated with such fine ornaments. It was like nothing had been touched. Everything was in its rightful place, minus a few new things she had not seen before. The flag of the Bulgur Huns hung inside the yurt. The desperation and urge to pull it down subsided within her.

"My name is Basil. I am Bey of Pannonia. What brings you all the way from the Caucasus?" he sipped the tea and Ernak eyed him cautiously as Dengi sat beside Anastasia, eyeing her cautiously as well.

She grinned and folded her hands in her lap. "Pannonia once belonged to Attila. It must be a heavy burden to live in a place that was once ruled by the Scourge of God." She said.

Basil nearly choked on his tea and he set the glass cup down. "It is no burden, your highness. I see it as a gift and opportunity. It took awhile to be rid of the corpses." He grinned and her eyes darkened.

She decided to play coy with this Bey and further the conversation. "I heard Attila's former commander was crucified in this land. I am sure she was the first body you disposed of, yes?"

Basil shook his head. "When we arrived days after the battle we did not find Xena's body. Only an empty crucifix laying upon hundreds of dead Pannonians."

Her eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat. She began to wonder if her mother escaped her death or perhaps she was saved by someone? She saw her mother being hoisted on the cross and beaten by the Romans with large staffs and spears as she remained silent on the crucifix –awaiting her death before her.

Ernak cleared his throat. "Her body was not found?"

The Bey eyed him curiously. "As I said, the crucifix was barren of a body. It looked as if the ropes had been cut. Perhaps Zeno had come back for her," he grinned and sipped his tea.

Anastasia clamped her hands together so tight that her knuckles turned white. She did not know whether to be furious or overjoyed at the thought that her mother may be alive somewhere. She needed to focus herself and come up with something else so she could stay awhile longer. Sorry, Gabrielle, I must do this for my people.

"Your numbers are strong but this land is too small for you to raise your people. What if I make you an offer?" she grinned as her eyes grew wild and filled with ambition.

Basil eyed her and saw the look upon her face, a look he had seen before. That look of Xena. Those eyes. Those piercing blue eyes. That smile. That eerie smile. All too familiar.

"And what offer might that be, your majesty?" he asked calmly.

"Allow me to rule Pannonia by proxy. You pay me a tax and I will supply you with necessary goods such as food, weapons and other supplies. You will be allowed to govern your people as long as your demands do not exceed my terms. I would be happy to be your proxy ruler. A queen of such high status, you cannot refuse." She leaned inward and the Bey nervously sighed.

"What in God's name..." Dengi muttered and turned to his brother and shock written all over his face.

His lack of response began to trouble Anastasia. She reached out and touched the Bey's hand. "Unless you have a better offer riding on your back?" she asked and he shook his head. "I will allow you some time to think it over. We are heading to Rome and that brings me to ask another question. Do you know anything of the new Roman emperor? I hear he is very ruthless and overbearing."

Basil nodded, "he goes by the name of Odoacer. He claims he will be Rome's first king. He no longer wants the title of emperor."

Very interesting, she thought. "Thank you for your time. You've been most helpful," she smiled and stood slowly, brushing the wrinkles out of her black and red gown. Ernak and Dengi jumped their feet and clung close to her, afraid of the worst to come.

Basil ran to her side and bowed his head. "You are welcome to stay here for a few days. The journey to Rome is long."

She nodded. "How kind of you," she hissed and touched his chin and he kissed her hand. She cringed and pulled her hand away slowly. "I will stay here for awhile if you give me an answer about my offer. Is that reasonable?" she bat her eyelashes and he smiled nervously.

"Of course, your highness. It is an honor to have Navaz's wife in my presence. You are welcome to stay here and I will give you my answer in the days to come. I will have my servants prepare a yurt for you and your guests."

"You are insane!" Dengi yelled inside the yurt as he paced back and forth in front of his brother and Anastasia.

"Dengi, don't overreact," Ernak said and lounged on a few pillows. Anastasia frowned up at Dengi and saw the rage in his eyes.

"Was this your plan all along, Anastasia?!" Dengi went on and threw his hands in the air. "To seduce the Bey into your scheme of taking over Pannonia? Was that your plan? Was it? You are playing a dangerous game and I am not sure you can handle it!"

She groaned lowly and felt a wave of nausea hit her and she wrapped her hand over her stomach and exhaled slowly. "I am not playing a game! I want Pannonia back just as much as you! I am seizing an opportunity. I do not permission from Navaz. I am his commander and queen. I have a voice."

Dengi scoffed, "please," he folded his arms.

"Did you not hear what he said?" she spat. "He did not find my mother's body! She could be alive somewhere."

Ernak lowered his eyes and sighed heavily. "Anastasia..." he reached for her hand and she snatched her arm away.

"Why don't you two believe me? You are like my own brothers. I know she's alive. If Gabrielle is alive then surely my mother is too," her eyes swelled with tears and Dengi scratched his head and sat down in front of her, grabbing her hand.

He smiled gently and looked into her pale blue eyes. "If she were alive, don't you think that someone would have noticed by now? Everyone knows your mother, Ana. I mean, everyone."

"Please, Dengi, why can't you just believe me? I know what I'm doing. I will bring Pannonia back to us. I am capable of doing it. I need your support." She tightened her grip and he let out a huge sigh.

"You're crazy," he said with a slight laugh and she smiled. "But ambitious and courageous. I know your mom would be proud of you." He said and she wiped her cheeks with her palm.

Ernak grinned and flung his arms around both of them and Dengi cringed and Anastasia smiled, being crushed by his warm embrace. A clash of thunder roared in the skies and all three looked up to the ceiling of the yurt.

"So, shall we play a game?" Ernak suggested. "Since we're stuck here."

"I'd rather not..." she said. "We should come up with a plan when we arrive in Rome. I have no idea how we are going to find Gabrielle in such a large city."

Dengi wagged his head. "Do you ever stop strategizing?" he reached over and grabbed a bottle of wine. "We should have some fun," he sneakily smiled at his younger brother and poured two glasses for himself and Ernak. He then poured a small glass for Anastasia.

"A small glass for you," Dengi winked. She sighed and grabbed the wine, swishing it around gradually staring into the dark red liquid.

Ernak raised his glass. "We should have a toast," he said and she raised an eyebrow. "To Anastasia's new baby," he winked.

"Oh no, no, no," she shook her head. Dengi wrapped his arm around her, squeezing her tightly and she gasped, almost spilling the wine all over herself. "Dengizich! Aptal adam..." she cursed under her breath. "Get off me!"

He tightened his grip around her and drank from his glass, enjoying that he was annoying her. She growled and elbowed him in the ribs and he choked, gasping for air. She then grabbed his arm and flipped him over onto his back and glared down at him. He laughed loudly seeing her angry face.

She poured the wine on his face and Ernak busted out laughing. "Now it's a party," he said and drank from his cup. Anastasia's lips turned into a smile as she saw Dengi shake the wine out of his long hair and she grabbed his hand, helping him to sit up right.

"Pregnant women," Dengi grumbled.

Ernak downed his wine and laughed lightly. "You know if your mother is alive, I have no doubt she would kill Navaz for marrying and impregnating you," he winked at the woman who now he called his elder sister.

She rolled her eyes. "I am married this time."

"Somehow, I don't think Xena would care if you were married or not," Dengi commented and she slapped the back of his head and wine spilled all over his tunic. As if he was not drenched in wine enough already.

"God damnit, Anastasia," he groaned and wiped his face with his soaked tunic.

"Well, he's not wrong," Ernak said and she saw the look in her eyes and he too was about to get punched or slapped. He quickly hopped to his feet and ran to the other side of the yurt. "Hey now! You've already wasted enough wine! No reason to keep hitting us. It's not our fault!" he chuckled and she pursed her lips.

"I will go fetch more wine..." he said and then exited the yurt.

As soon as he stepped out into the stormy weather he was met with swords pointed at his body and throat. He dropped the wine glass and slowly raised his hands, backing up gradually.

Basil walked through the circle of men and smiled, patting his dagger against his palms. The rain falling off his fur hat, he glared at the young Hun. "It has come to my attention that you are not White Huns according to an anonymous source of mine," he said and Ernak breathed heavily.

"We are White Huns," he lied and remained to the plan.

"You bear the face of Attila and that so-called Queen of Balaam bears the same face of Xena. Quite interesting that I find you three in Pannonia, isn't it? Trying to overthrow me and my people."

Ernak growled, "you stole my father's land!" he spat.

"So, you are Pannonian Huns!" Basil laughed. "I could keep you here for myself, but maybe I should send you to my good friend, Odoacer."

Ernak's eyes widened. They have been played. Basil knows Odoacer. He conspires with the Romans and it is no wonder that he knew more about him than anyone else. Of course, he thought, how foolish we have been.

"King Navaz will have your head if you lay a hand on his wife," he warned.

"Will he?" Basil smiled. "Your highness, I have come to my decision!" he called out.

Anastasia and Dengi walked outside of the yurt in the rain and were surrounded by Bulgur Huns. Her eyes widened and Dengi grabbed her shoulders, clutching her and bringing her close. He stepped in front of her, protecting her.

"What is the meaning of this?!" Dengi yelled at the Bey.

"Pannonian swine!" Basil spat at Ernak's feet and the young king growled and tried to attack him, but was knocked down one of the soldier's spears.

"Ernak!" Anastasia cried out and leapt onto the ground, cupping his cheeks. She lifted her head, squinting her eyes from the rain flourishing by, almost blinding her. "My husband will cut out your tongue!" she hissed.

Basil smiled. "You expect me to believe that you are Navaz's wife when you are truly the daughter of Xena, the best commander in all the Hunnic lands? The daughter of a serpent, equally as snake-like as her dear dead mother?" he winked and Anastasia groaned lowly.

"Your eyes resemble hers so much. I would hate to gouge them out. Perhaps I should keep those lovely blue marbles to myself and hang them on my wall?" Basil said and her jaw clenched.

She rose slowly, drenched and her dress heavy as she walked into the center of blades surrounding her body and throat. "I am Queen of the White Huns. I have no reason to lie about who I am."

"Yet you did not mention you were the daughter of Xena. How fascinating and how deceitful much like your late mother!" he pointed his dagger at her throat. "Detain her and the other Pannonian snakes!" he ordered.

Dengi pulled out his sword and stood in front of Anastasia and Ernak's head lolled over, groaning lightly. "You will not lay a hand upon her!" he said defiantly.

"Put down your sword, Pannonian, and I will see no harm done to her," Basil said.

Dengi breathed heavily and Ana placed her hand upon his shoulder. "Dengi," she whispered, "do as he says."

Slowly, the Hun prince lowered his blade and Basil nodded. "I knew you'd see things my way." He said and the soldiers grabbed Anastasia by her arms and pushed her along. Dengi was also detained and Ernak lifted to his feet, barely conscious.

"I will see that you are properly delivered to Rome as a gift to Odoacer. He will be most pleased to have the daughter of Xena and sons of Attila at his feet." The Bey sauntered off back to his yurt.

Odoacer sat on his throne, lounging one leg over the side. Gabrielle stood inside the throne chambers, unsure why she had been summoned at such a late hour. She was not supposed to have any duties today, at least not that she could recall.

He licked his fingers, finishing off a sweet dessert and grinned at his Consul. "Gabrielle, do you know why I've brought you here?"

She frowned, "I do not..."

He waved his hand and she heard the doors open. Slowly she turned around and saw a man wearing a dark tattered cloak being thrown onto the marble floor. Her eyes widened and her throat knotted. She immediately felt like her life was to be taken from her at any moment now.

A soldier grabbed the man by his hair and lifted him up. The man panicked and his breathing became labored. He dare not look at Gabrielle, but at the emperor perched on his throne with the most smug smile on his lips.

"This currier was seen crossing the Steppes of Pannonia and into the land of Armenia," Odoacer began and Gabrielle's eyes darted from side to side, trying to figure out a way to save herself from this situation. Her letter might have cost her everything. Her life.

"I should have you know that letters being sent to the Huns are illegal and can cost a person their life. You are aware, aren't you Gabrielle? Being my consul of Rome I know you are aware of such matters." Odoacer grinned.

She steadied herself. "Yes, I'm aware." She said calmly.

"It's a crime that is unforgiveable," he said, batting his eyes and she nodded. "I know you would never betray me, right, Gabrielle?"

"I would never do such a thing," she said and eyed the currier beside her. This poor man, she thought. He was going to be killed by her ill actions.

The emperor sighed and wiped his hands on his white toga. "I knew I could trust you. I was told that someone inside Rome sent a letter. Do you happen to know who it was so I shall bring the criminal to justice?"

She felt her heart racing and inhaled deeply. "I'm afraid it is hard for me to keep track of everything that goes on in this city."

Odoacer nodded, "understandable but as Consul, I trust you to keep an eye out for such suspicious behavior." He leapt off his throne and pulled out a dagger from his belt and handed the dull end towards her. "Kill the currier," he demanded.

Her eyes widened and she took the dagger in her hands. The man's eyes were pleading and begging for life. She felt horrible, but she wanted to talk to Anastasia so badly. She couldn't bring herself to kill this man even if it meant her own life.

"I have a better suggestion, emperor," she said and Odoacer's eyebrows rose. "Imprison the currier until I find the suspect who sent the letter."

The emperor grinned and chuckled. "Always the diplomatic one, aren't you? You love compromise and hate conflict." He sighed and waved his hand. "Send him to the cells and his fate will be decided later, per Gabrielle's request. He is of no use to me anyway."

For a moment, she felt relief, but knew that she would have to do something to stall this poor currier's life that would be ripped from him at any moment. And another thing, she did not trust Odoacer to keep his promise either. As she said, he is far worse than Valentinian ever was.

"Thank you, sire. I know I will not let you down," she smiled and nodded her head then decided to take leave.

"Gabrielle," he called and she stopped, turning slowly. "Once the traitor has been found, I wish to speak with him."

She nodded once more. "Of course, emperor."

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

"Remember what we talked about, Xena. You are to remain hidden from prying eyes. You are a fly upon the wall, nothing more," Malka said as the two walked down the long hallway to meet their awaited guest.

She flipped the hood over her head and walked behind Malka. "It is the first time that I live among the shadows," she smirked and tried to keep up with his strides. Her legs ached, her hip bones grinding against one other. She didn't feel the same but tried to work through the pain.

Shah Hormizd waited in the large foyer inside Bey Malka's home. He spun around and smiled seeing the Bey and a hooded guest accompanying him. "Bey Malka, so kind of you to invite me into your home," he bowed his head.

"The honor is mine, Shah. Your brother does not accompany you?" Malka noted the absence of young Peroz.

The Persian king nodded. "He is busy attending to other duties back home. I hope that my presence alone is enough?" he half joked and Malka grinned.

"Of course. Please join me outside in the gardens," Malka motioned the way beyond the foyer and into the gardens. He eyed Xena and saw a smile on her lips beneath that dark hood. She quickly trailed the Persian and he followed suit.

King Hormizd sat opposite of Malka and his strange hooded guest sat beside him. He could feel the person glaring at him from beneath the hood and it made him most uneasy. He eyed Malka whom was pouring everyone some coffee.

"Your hooded guest is most ominous," the shah alleged.

Malka grinned and saw Xena hid her face further and turned to the shah. "My political envoy. I hope you don't mind an extra body during our discussion? Anything you say is confidential in front of my envoy." He said.

Hormzid nodded and took the coffee. Xena reached for the small cup and the shah noticed the hands of the envoy. Feminine hands. A female envoy? Most interesting, he thought. "I do not mind..." he sipped the coffee. "You brought me all the way from my home. You wish to discuss an alliance I am assuming?"

Malka cleared his throat. "I want more than an alliance. I want your empire to stay out of my land. It is my duty to protect my people as you must protect yours. You understand, don't you?"

"I understand," the shah bowed his head curtly and watched the female envoy sip the coffee, listening quietly. " has recently visited the White Huns in the Caucasus. King Navaz and his wife were most unruly. They did not accept my brother's offer. I hope we can have a more reasonable conversation and more fruitful as well." He lifted the cup.

The Bey rubbed his chin, "why did they turn down your brother? Was the alliance not worthy? Those Caucasus Huns can be very flighty with their decisions. It is the reason they remain secluded from all –"

"It was not King Navaz who turned down the offer," Hormzid interrupted. "His wife, Anastasia, declined the offer. She has quite a mouth, so my brother told me."

Xena's eyes widened once she heard her daughter's name. She had thought her daughter lost and gone from her side forever, but she was not. She set the cup of coffee and listened to the shah further. The sound of her daughter's name made her heart flutter, beat faster than ever. A wave of warmth filled her body and she had hoped for this day to come. She was so close, yet so far. She wished to hold her once more.

But, one thing, she also heard the shah say Anastasia was the wife of this White Hun king. Anastasia got married? Something about that marriage proved to Xena that her daughter was desperate and needed some way to survive. She wished to know more but did not want to risk her person to be discovered so soon.

"I was not aware Navaz had a wife," Malka frowned and eyed Xena's fidgety fingers in her lap. She grew nervous or perhaps anxious? Xena knew something and it was bothering her, he could tell.

Hormizd chuckled. "Have you not heard the Huns rave about her beauty? She is supposedly the most gorgeous Hun woman in all of the eastern lands. If her blood was not tainted with the Hun line, I might have my brother marry her."

Xena's fists clenched and she was tempted to throw herself over the shah and tackle him to the ground, but she refrained. Her blood boiling, her lip curled with a subtle snarl.

"No offense, of course. I know Hun women to be the most beautiful among all women, even of my own kind," Hormzid held his hand to his chest, bowing slightly. "I wish to discuss an agreement if we cannot ally with each other. The Pannonian Huns are no more and the Bulgur Huns have taken over Attila's homeland. What a shame. I would not dare ally with those heathens." He chuckled.

He continued onward, "I do not believe the Nezak Huns to be of the same blood as the Bulgurs and Pannonians. You are a more civilized people and I would never ally with the Bulgurs. They are far too barbaric for my liking. You Nezak Huns are very warm and welcoming. I am counting on you to come to an agreement with me, if you'd like to hear it?" he leaned forward.

Malka smiled apprehensively, "of course." He was not sure if he should be insulted or not, but he was willing to do anything to get these Persians off his back and stay far from his land. He worked hard to keep intruders out for twenty years and he did not want to stop that winning streak.

"You pay a tax to the House of Sasan and you may keep your peaceful land." Hormzid provided and he heard a snort from his envoy. He eyed the hooded woman and frowned. "Your envoy does not agree? She finds this amusing?"

Malka's eyes widened and Xena turned her cheek away, hiding her face. "Perhaps I should trust my envoy. What kind of tax is this?"

"A religious tax. I know you Huns believe in your deities but that is not permitted among my empire." The shah said.

"If I am to pay a tax that would mean you control my land under your House?" Malka frowned, not liking this idea at all. It was not what he had in mind.

Hormzid sighed. "But of course. That is why you called me here isn't it? You didn't think you could keep your land, did you?" he stood, adjusting his robes and cape. "Agree to the tax or I will bring the wrath of God upon your people, Bey Malka."

He stormed off and Xena rose from her chair, uncovering her face. "Malka!" she grabbed his vest, bringing him close to her face. "You underestimate the Persians! You are a fool!" she hissed.

He growled and pushed her aside, adjusting his collar. "It would seem so." He rubbed his neck and saw her eyes filled with fury. "You are not well. Your eyes show much malice. Something bothering you?" he inquired.

Her eyes lowered and her heart softened. "The King's wife," she said lowly.


She folded her arms. "His wife is my daughter," she admitted and looked into his surprised eyes.

"Oh," he cleared his throat. "That is wonderful news. Your family is still alive!" he grinned, but she saw she was less enthused. "You are not happy?"

"I fear my daughter is unhappy. She did not marry this man out of love." No, she only loved one man and now he was gone. Everyone was gone. Anastasia looked for a way to make a name for herself and Xena felt responsible. She felt like she failed her, failed everyone.

She lifted her eyes and clenched her jaw. "I want to go to the Caucasus. If my daughter is there I want to see her."

"And if she is not?"

"I will find her."

Dengi glared at Anastasia as they were inside a large iron rod cage being transported across the Steppes, passing by the Goth territories and soon into the Roman empire borders. Ernak sat beside Ana, playing with a piece of hay trying to find the light in this situation, though there appeared to be none.

"This is all your fault, Anastasia!" Dengi snarled and she lifted her tired eyes. "We should have just gone straight to Rome, but no! You wanted to stop by and pay a visit to the Bulgurs!"

"I realize I have made a mistake. You don't have to lecture me," she sighed heavily and stretched her arching legs outward, crossing with Dengi's in the small space they shared. The horsemen weren't exactly taking an easy route and it was extremely bumpy, which unsettled her stomach.

"This is so ridiculous. We shouldn't have been in this mess but because of your stupid –"

"Enough!" Ernak yelled. "Do not make her feel even worse, Dengi."

"He is right," she said softly.

The wagon halted and they jolted forward and groaned. Ernak rubbed the back of his head and then heard footsteps approaching from behind. A Bulgur Hun came to the cage and smiled at them all. "We will be passing you off to the Romans in Milan." He said and eyed Anastasia, her cheeks pale and her eyes worn.

He waft a fresh piece of lamb in her face from the camp the other soldiers made. She cringed and turned her cheek away. "Do you not wish to dig your teeth into this, all mighty queen?" he teased.

Ana shook her head and turned away. He grabbed her cheek from inside the iron rods and stuck the meat close to her nose. She winced in disgust and her eyes widened. Ernak snarled and grabbed the Bulgur's wrist firmly.

Dengi rolled his eyes and scoffed. "She's pregnant you stupid fuck," he said to the Bulgur and the man released Anastasia's cheeks. "Salak..." he muttered, calling the man the idiot he truly was.

Ernak clung close to her and she gagged, breathing heavily, almost to the point of dry heaving. He brushed her hair away from her face and whispered to her, wrapping his arm around her. She leaned against his chest and steadied her breathing.

The Bulgur frowned and stepped away. He then walked back to the camp and Dengi watched him out of the corner of his eye. He saw him talking to a few men and all of the soldiers turned their eyes towards his direction.

"They're coming back," Dengi whispered.

General Salezar came to the cage filled with the treacherous Pannonians. He folded his arms and looked to the woman grasped within Ernak's arms. He snapped his fingers and one of his men stepped forward with a bowl of grain and another bowl with water.

"Food and water for your child," the general said with a bit of distain. Ernak eyed the man with vehemence and he clung to Anastasia, not trusting the Bulgur at all. "Do not think I am a monster! Take the food you aptal kadin!" he yelled and Dengi lunged forward. The soldiers surrounded the cage with swords, ready to pierce the prince's throat.

Ernak held up his hand and Dengi relaxed. Slowly the soldiers lowered their weapons. Ernak then extended his hand and grabbed the bowl of grain and the water and set it in front of himself. "A Bulgur shows his kindness. How generous of you," his words dripping with malice and sarcasm.

Salezar scoffed. "I would not deprive a pregnant woman of food and water. We are Huns, are we not? We take care of our own, yes?" he winked and walked off with the soldiers in tow.

"What a piece of goat shit," Dengi muttered.

Ernak sighed and brought the warm grain to Ana's face. "For you," he said with a smile and she looked up to him with tired eyes.

She dug her fingers into the grain and spoon it into her mouth slowly. Ernak nodded and held the bowl of water close to his chest. Dengi groaned and banged his head against the rod iron cage. "We need to figure a way how to get out of here." He said.

"We will, but we need to get to Rome first. If Gabrielle is there, she might be able to help us," Ernak suggested.

"If she's even there," Dengi snorted.

"She is, I swear it." Ana lifted her eyes and glared at Dengi.

Gabrielle walked out of the senate with Lucius and felt so drained after the speech she gave. She gave a false speech of finding the cohort that wrote the letter to the Huns, but if the emperor found out it was her, she would be ruined. She'd be dead. She felt sick just thinking about it.

She did not like to lie, but she desperately wanted to call out to someone, someone close enough to Xena. Anastasia was the closest thing she had to Xena and knowing that her daughter was alive warmed her heart. She only wished it would have happened some other way. If only there was a way.

"You seem distracted," Lucius noted.

She smiled softly. "I have a lot on my mind at the moment."

"Finding the traitor who sent that letter is bound to have anyone on edge," he said and they walked through the streets, weaving through the commoners in the narrow pathways.

Loud yelling was heard from the square and Gabrielle frowned. She heard people yelling out obscene words and phrases that she thought were most foul. She pushed the crowd of people while Lucius shortly followed, trying to keep up with her.

She pushed her way through the front line of people and saw a horde of Roman troops, transporting prisoners in a large iron rod cage. She ran down the line to see who they were. It was not normal to see such a sight in Rome of all places and so public.

She breathed heavily and saw people throwing rotten fruits and vegetables at the prisoners. Her heart sank once she saw who they were. "Anastasia..." she whispered beneath her breath. She then spotted Ernak and Dengi inside the cage with her and she ran to the other side of the street to take a closer look, while dodging the fruits and vegetables flying by her.

Anastasia lifted her head and saw Gabrielle's emerald eyes gaping at her. She lunged forward to the opposite side of the cage and clung to the iron bars. She reached her arm out through the bars and Gabrielle smiled softly.

Gabrielle reached forward and their fingertips glided against each other like soft quill feather. She felt the warmth she had missed for so long finally touch her. As the Romans continued onward, Anastasia kept staring at her with a big smile and tears swelling in her eyes, unable to speak a word, but the touch was enough. Enough for now.

Lucius found Gabrielle and saw she had a forlorn look in her eyes. "It seems the emperor has captured those Hun animals and brought them for quite a show."

Her eyes darkened and she spun around, glaring at the young senator. "They are people too. They do not deserve to be treated like this." She stormed off.

"They are savages, Gabrielle!" Lucius scoffed. "Gabrielle!"

Ernak and Dengi were thrown onto the marble floor inside of Emperor Odoacer's chambers. The Roman soldier grabbed Anastasia by her arm. "Kneel!" he yelled and she cringed and knelt down slowly beside the two brothers.

Odoacer grinned and tapped his fingers together, gawking at the trio. "You've brought me Huns. What an unexpected surprise!"

The Roman General, Basilius stepped forward to claim this rare bounty. "Unexpected indeed." He grinned at his ruler. He showcased the two brothers. "Sons of Attila," he said and Odoacer's eyes grew with excitement. He stepped back and ripped the headdress off Anastasia and gripped her hair and she growled. "And daughter of Xena. Gifts from Bey Basil himself."

The emperor stood from his throne and walked down the dais. He approached the woman with wide curious eyes as if she were a rare jewel. He grazed his fingers along her soft dirty cheek. "Xena's daughter," he whispered and looked into those gorgeous eyes of hers with the long black eyelashes.

"What a rare bird she is. Even more beautiful than her mother. Those eyes. Piercing. Icy. Blue as the Mediterranean and skin as soft as Egyptian cotton. Rose colored lips." He hissed and her nostrils glared, glaring into his eyes. "What a thing of beauty that sprung from Xena's loins. I would not have imagined it so..." he chuckled.

"My husband will kill you if you lay a hand on me," she spat.

He folded his arms. "Husband?" he snapped his fingers. "You must be the wife of Navaz! The White Hun King. I envy him. You cling to his arms, spread your legs for such a mighty king. He is so lucky to have you, little bird." He winked and she snarled. "And feisty too."

"What should I do with them, emperor?" Basilius asked and grabbed Ana by her arm, hoisting her up to her knees, arching her back.

"You touch her, you die!" Ernak yelled and a Roman kicked his spine and he fell face flat onto the hard marble.

Odoacer laughed loudly, his voice echoing in the grand palace. "Remind me to send a thank you note to Basil for these lovely gifts he has given me." He sighed at the two brothers. "Sons of Attila. How I've longed to meet you both. I've heard so much about you. Although, there seems to be one brother missing..."

He grinned, "oh that's right, he's dead!"

Gabrielle ran into the palace and observed from far away, hiding behind the throne chamber walls. She saw Odoacer's general holding onto Anastasia and Ernak with Dengi on the floor, glaring. She felt the heat radiating off her body. She could not allow them to be treated like this. She couldn't do it. if Xena were here, what would she do?

"Xena, what would you do?" she whispered to herself. "Help me, Xena. I need your wisdom and guidance more than ever." She shut her eyes for a split second, hoping to hear her companion's long lost voice.


Her eyes opened and she sighed heavily. "Please, Xena," she begged, her breath unsteady and heart racing faster by the second. "What do I do?"

"Sometimes, the mind is much stronger than any weapon in your hand," Xena said.

Gabrielle frowned and looked up into those blue sincere eyes. "What if I don't know what to do when I am left with a weapon and my own mind? How will I know when it's the right time to make that choice? To use my mind or my weapon?"

"You'll know when the time is right, Gabrielle." Xena smiled."Just follow your heart."

Gabrielle breathed in deeply and marched into the throne chambers, interrupting the little fun that emperor was having with these Huns. Her people. Her family she had grown to love over the years.

"Gabrielle, you've come at an opportune moment. Look what Bey Basil has sent me!" Odoacer grinned.

My mind is my weapon. She tread carefully and tried to not to make eye contact with Anastasia, Ernak and Dengi. She must remain calm in front of the emperor or risk everything. "What will you do with them? Have they committed any crimes?"

"Crimes?!" Odoacer cackled. "They are Huns, what could be more criminal than that?"

Xena, this is not working. " would like to hear their side of the story? Why would the Bey give these Huns to you? Unless, he wants something in return?"

Ernak eyed Gabrielle and she quickly made eye contact with him with a blank slate face. He lowered his eyes, feeling this was hopeless.

Odoacer rubbed his chin. "You make a valid point, Gabrielle," he wagged his finger at her. "You are a good one, I can always count on you." He smiled and she nodded her head slowly and saw the pain on Ana's face, which made her heart sink.

"I could behead them publically but that would be too easy and take the fun out of everything. What do you suggest, Gabrielle?"

Her eyes widened and she stepped forward. "Hold them as prisoners until we get more information from them." She suggested.

He nodded. "Fine idea. And to think that you were once in the company of these savages pains me, Gabrielle. You must have felt like such a prisoner, especially at the hands of Xena herself. She is brutal, is she not? A serpent rising from Hell itself, unleashing her barbarity upon the earth to destroy Mother Rome!"

She frowned. I want to kill him. Guide me, Xena, tell me what to do so I don't rip out his heart. "We are all our own prisoners, sometimes," she said calmly with a faint smile, trying to satiate the emperor awhile longer.

"Put them in the holding cells," Odoacer waved his hand. The Romans grabbed the three and pushed them along.

Anastasia turned her head over her shoulder, frowning sadly at Gabrielle. Her other mother that she had grown to love. Gabrielle turned away, not able to look at the sadness within Xena's daughter's eyes. She couldn't bear to see that look. She felt like a traitor and failure, but she could not do anything else at the moment. Everything would be soiled and ruined.

"Xena's daughter is quite a treasure. She is a woman of every man's dreams. A fine jewel that I should have kept in my grasp if I had known Xena bore a daughter instead of a son, I could have married her." The emperor said.

Gabrielle's heart raced and she had to remind herself that she couldn't just leap forward and strangle the Roman just yet. Not yet, she told herself, not yet. The time is not right. Xena wouldn't do it. She would play her famous riddle game to get what she wants and that's exactly what Gabrielle was going to do.

"You would not want to taint your line of potential heirs with a Hun, would you, sir?" she grinned deviously, feeding into the man's lust for Anastasia and her exquisiteness.

He sighed heavily. "Alas, another great point you make, but I am not so far off from the Huns." He said.

This peeked her interest immediately. "Oh?" she played coy.

"I was born in Pannonia, but the senate made sure that was eradicated from all documents. I am Roman now. I belong to Mother Rome. I. Am. Rome." He grinned triumphantly.

Well, that explains everything, she thought. That explains so much as to why he knew so much about Xena and Attila from so long ago. So long ago that she did not even exist in the life of Xena or embrace her love. Odoacer, you are a fool.

"You chose to ignore your heritage on purpose?" she asked, stepping forward. "And you hold your own people prisoner?"

Odoacer spun around with malice in his eyes. "Those savages are not my people any longer! I am Roman. My past ceases to exist! They are dogs beneath my feet!" he scoffed and walked off with General Baslilius to follow.

The following day Gabrielle came to the cells below the palace and looked to the guards. She peered through the bars and saw Anastasia sitting on the ground with the two sons of Attila, chained to the wall. Frowning she looked up to the Romans.

"Odoacer said I can interrogate them," she said sternly and the Romans looked to one another. She grinned, "you wouldn't disobey a command from your emperor, now would you?" she arched a brow.

Gabrielle walked into the dark cell filled with very little sunlight. She smiled sadly, staring at all three of them. Anastasia lifted her head once she saw leather sandals at her feet, blocking the very little sunlight there was in here. The young Hun woman smiled upon seeing the petite blonde, finally, after a year, a year of silence.

"Gabrielle..." she whispered in a hoarse voice and began sobbing softly, her eyes red from exhaustion and the swelling of imminent tears. She reached forward with her wrists bound in chains, touching Gabrielle's soft plump cheeks.

Gabrielle grinned and kissed Anastasia's dirty palm and held her hand close to her, squeezing it gently. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, she had something close to Xena. Ana was not Xena, but she was close enough. Her same eyes, her long hair, her height, her kindness –all from Xena.

"Anastasia," she looked into those tired blue eyes. "What...what are you doing here? How did you get here?" she looked back to check if the Roman guards were looking and kept her voice low to a whisper.

"I...I wanted," she began unsteadily, her breathing labored in between words, "I...wanted to see you...Gabrielle," she smiled dimly, though her eyes beaming with joy and a bit of relief. Gabrielle shook her head at the thought and felt responsible for this entire mess.

Ernak yawned and lolled his head, opening his eyes. Dengi was still asleep, leaning against the wall with his wrists shackled to the stone. He blinked once he saw Gabrielle and smiled brightly. "Gabrielle!" he whispered harshly and the consul turned her head.

She gave him a faint grin and turned back to Anastasia. "What happened? Maybe I can help you."

Ernak scooted over as far as his shackles would allow him. "We were coming to Rome to find you, but Anastasia decided to take a turn and go to Pannonia." His voice still sour from the disaster that she got them into. "The Bulgur Bey, Basil, figured out who we were and sent us to the emperor as his gifts."

Basil. Odoacer spoke of that name and the two seemed to know each other very well. Gabrielle heard Odoacer confess he was indeed a Hun, a Hun from Pannonia. She needed to keep that secret to herself or risk everything and the safety of her family –of Xena's family.

"You shouldn't have come here," Gabrielle whispered. "It's too dangerous."

Anastasia shook her head and cupped Gabrielle's cheeks, her hands shaking, in awe of being able to look into her eyes again. "I...would do anything to see you again," she smiled and a tear streamed down her cheek.

Gabrielle couldn't help but smile and wiped the tear from Ana's cheek with her thumb. "Not this way..." she sighed. She then saw the look of disappointment in Xena's daughter's eyes. "But, I am happy to know that you are alive," she added and squeezed her hand.

Ernak coughed and exhaled heavily. "Could you, perhaps, bring us food and water?" he whispered, eyeing the guards. He saw the distraught look on Gabrielle's face and frowned. "Please, Gabrielle?" he glanced over at the woman he called his sister. "For Anastasia's child."

Gabrielle's eyes widened and she looked into Anastasia's eyes with concern and fear. "You –"

Ana pressed her fingers against the blonde's lips. "No, do not tell anyone, please," she begged.

"Consul!" one Roman guard yelled from afar.

Slowly, she stood and immediately let go of Anastasia's hand, trying to appear less intimate with them all. "I'll see what I can do," she whispered.

"Wait!" Ana called out and Gabrielle turned around. The Romans awaited for her and opened the door. "My mother...her body...was never found," she said.

Gabrielle felt her heart sink to her stomach and she wrapped one arm around herself. The guard frowned. "Consul!" he yelled again and she nodded, looking over her shoulder at the three, Ernak and Anastasia staring at her with pleading eyes.

She stormed down the hallways of the palace and left quickly to go to her living quarters down the road in the largest street in Rome. She swung open the door to her flat and marched to the desk inside her room and ripped a piece of parchment from a large scroll.

Sitting down, she wrote furiously, her handwriting messy and unkempt, which was unlike her. She felt a fire inside her when Anastasia said that Xena's body was not found. That could mean two things –she was dead and taken by the Romans, perhaps Zeno, or she was alive. Gabrielle hoped and wished for the latter.

And if Xena were alive then she was out there somewhere, hiding, or perhaps lurking, Gabrielle didn't know. She knew Xena couldn't be dead. The Romans had celebrated victory too soon. But why Xena? Why are you hiding or are you truly gone from this world? From me?

She folded the letter up and stamped it with a wax seal and smiled, lifting the letter into the air. She thought it was good enough and ran outside to find a currier. It was the middle of the day and she knew that most curriers left in the morning, but she had to find someone.

Running through the streets of Rome she came to the square and saw a man on a horse holding a large bag of scrolls, letters and other important documents. Gasping, she quickly ran to the young currier and grabbed the horse's reins before he was able to leave.

"Wait! Where is this horse going?" she asked the currier.

He frowned, "Ravenna, Milan and Aquincium," he said.

She tapped her finger against her chin and he was about to leave. "Wait, please! Could you deliver this to Stagira?" she held the letter out and the currier widened his eyes in shock.

"M'lady, Stagira is Hun territory. No letters are permitted to go through lower Thrace."

"I can pay you extra," she dug into her small pouch of coin and presented him with a few extra Roman pounds. Her eyes plead and he sighed. "It's very important," she pressed.

He took the coin and looked at it in the sunlight and tucked it into his pocket. He grabbed the letter from her hand and stuffed it into his bag filled with the others. "I cannot promise you that it will be delivered to Stagira."

"I need it to be delivered there," she said with urgency in her tone. She was not going to take no for an answer. "What can I do to make sure that the letter is safely delivered to Stagira?" she asked, desperately wanting to do this. For you, Xena.

The currier grinned and held out his hand. She rolled her eyes and gave him two more pounds. "I will see it done." He gave her a curt nod and rode off outside of the square.

She ran forward and watched the horse leaving the city gates. She exhaled heavily, her breath unsteady and hesitant. She gripped her throat, feeling anxious. "Forgive me, Xena," she whispered and smiled softly, looking at the bright sunlight in the horizon. A light of hope.

"I'll find you, wherever you are."

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Csaba stood on a stool as Kreka was hemming his pants. He was being very fidgety and Kreka tried constantly to avert the sharp leather needle away from his legs, but he was really testing her patience for the last half hour.

"How much longer do we have to do this?" he asked and blew some hair away from his face.

She arched an eyebrow and stuck the needle through his pants. "Until I'm finished," she smiled and he groaned, lifting one leg in the air, slightly losing his balance. "Hold still, child," she groaned lowly and then poked his ankle by accident.

"Ow!" he whined and she lifted her eyes with a smug smile.

"I told you to hold still, Csaba," she said nicely and bit the thread with her teeth and pat his leg. "That wasn't so bad now was it?" she teased and he hopped off the stool, happy to be finally done with this sewing.

He walked over to the mirror and looked at the back of his gold and black pants, nodding his head. "Very nice, I like it," he smiled. He turned to look at her and folded his arms. "When is she coming back?"

Kreka grabbed her basket of sewing supplies and set it on the table inside the yurt. "I am not sure." And truthfully, she had no idea when her sons and Anastasia were going to return. It had been two weeks already and they were still not back.

She feared the worst, although she kept that to herself. She did not wish to alarm the boy in case something did happen. Rome had always been a treacherous place for Huns and even more so now that the different tribes were spreading among Thrace.

Loud horns were sounded throughout the grounds and Csaba's eyes immediately lightened, beaming at the thought that his mother and uncles have finally returned. He quickly ran outside and Kreka grabbed her headdress and equipped it before exiting the yurt.

She frowned, squinting her eyes from the bright sun and saw men riding in on their horses beyond the entrance, bypassing the guards. She held onto Csaba's shoulders and looked upon the men riding past her and a hooded rider passed them both.

The hooded person lifted the cloak's hood up slightly and Kreka's eyes widened, once she caught sight of those eyes and wide smile. Xena put a finger to her lips and winked at Kreka.

Csaba's jaw dropped as he watched all these unknown people ride past him. He was desperate to follow them all but Kreka pulled him back. "Who are they?!" he asked, turning to look into her eyes. He frowned once he saw the color drain from Kreka's cheeks and her eyes wide, doe-like and slightly afraid or shocked, he didn't know.

"Kreka Khatun?" he spoke softly, still gaping into her hazel eyes.

She finally snapped out of her shock and felt faint. She rubbed her cheek and stared down at the boy with a small smile. "I...don't know who they are." Her eyes immediately went to Xena, the one beneath the hood. She felt like she had seen a ghost, but it was no ghost. Xena was alive. But how, she wondered?

King Navaz stepped out of his home and saw a horde of Hunnic men lined up outside. Tuya stepped out beside him and folded her arms, glaring at the men. He lifted his eyebrow. "Who are you people and what brings you to Balaam?"

Malka stepped forward, bowing his head, "your highness. My name is Malka, Bey of the Nezak Huns in Kazakhstan."

"Nezak Huns," Navaz said and Malka nodded. "You have traveled a long way. I hope it is for a good reason."

The Bey nodded, "yes, it is. It concerns your wife. Might we have a more private conversation?" he proposed.

"My wife?" Navaz folded his arms and lifted his chin. "Why does my wife concern you?"

"Please, your majesty, a private setting," Malka suggested and eyed Xena beside him. He felt very wary about this, but Xena seemed to be calm and collected so far. He had heard many stories of the commander and her ways of interrogation. She was very skilled in making people talk and get what she wants.

The king allowed Malka and his political envoy inside of his Adame. Tuya sat on the rug floor beside her son and Malka sat opposite with Xena, still cloaked. Navaz spoke to his servants and offered them tea as they were Huns, he must show his customs to new guests.

Xena looked down at the tea and through the black shreds of fabric, glaring at the king. He was handsome, she noticed, older than Anastasia, but too much older. He did not seem like a threat nor a horrible person. She then eyed Tuya, the mother of the king, and she could tell that this woman was a problem. Very strong willed like Kreka, though maybe a bit malicious, unlike Kreka was.

Tuya eyed Xena, trying to figure out the face beneath the hood. Her dark brown eyes burning a hole into the hood and Xena smiled softly. The woman's oval pale face turned to her son, directing her full attention to him.

Navaz cleared his throat and stared at the Bey. "Now, what is it that you wanted to talk me about? My wife, you mentioned. How did you come to know about my wife?"

Malka smiled, "through the grapevine. I've heard that she is very beautiful." He said and the young king frowned, not finding that very enthralling to hear. "Is she here?"

"Unfortunately, she is not," Tuya interrupted.

Xena felt her blood simmering under her skin. "Where is she?" she asked in a low voice. Tuya snapped her head around once she heard Xena's voice. A feminine voice.

"I do not see why it concerns you, respected Bey and..." Navaz trailed off, looking at the hooded envoy.

Xena took the hood off of her and stood up, unsheathing her sword, pointing it directly at the king. Tuya gasped and scooted back. Navaz stood up slowly and gripped the sword at his hip. Xena grinned, her blue eyes sparkling.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," she warned. "I can rip you to shreds in seconds." She titled the sword and the point of the blade was dangerously close to his throat.

"You've come all this way to assassinate me?" Navaz began slowly, eyeing the sharp blade.

"If I wanted to do that, you'd be dead already," Xena grinned, batting her eyelashes. "Now, your wife, Anastasia. Where is she?" her eyes widened.

He bit his tongue, refusing to answer and she growled, pressing the blade against his throat.

"I am not going to ask again!" she hissed and pinned him against the wall.

Navaz breathed heavily, staring into those fierce blue eyes filled with fury. "Rome, she went to Rome on a diplomatic mission." He finally spoke and Xena lowered her sword and her lip snarled.

"She did what?" she hissed. "You allowed her to go to Rome? To that place of filth?" she held the sword up to the king again. "Why did she go? How long has she been gone?"

He folded his arms and she snarled. "How long?!" she screeched.

Tuya stood, glaring at Xena. "You dare speak to a king this way?"

Xena arched her eyebrow and pointed the blade at the woman. "Queen Mother," she scoffed. "I do not care about you or the words that come from your mouth." She turned to Navaz. "Tell me how long ago she left." She demanded.

Navaz sighed heavily. "Two weeks ago," he said and Xena finally lowered her guard. "I should have you put to death for the way you treated me and my mother."

Xena chuckled softly and sheathed her sword. "Trust me, you don't want to do that, pretty boy." She winked. "I'm your best ally you have right now."

"Ally?!" Navaz yelled and marched forward, standing eye level with her. "You put a sword to my throat!"

"And would you like it to pierce your skin? Should I have finished the job?" Xena proposed and her lips turned into an eerie smile. "We could be friends, Navaz, if you cooperate..." she whispered in his ear.

He felt her hot breath against his skin and goose bumps rose on his arms. She leaned in closer. "Your wife is very precious to me and if anything happens to her I will put your head on a pike." She pulled away, still grinning and saw fear in his eyes.

"So, we are allies, then?" she asked and bat her eyelashes.

Navaz frowned and took a sizeable step backward. "Who are you?" he asked.

Malka held his breath and Xena looked to him. He gave her an apologetic look, not sure what answer she should give, but he had no sound advice. It was only a matter of time, he supposed.

She turned around and looked into the king's dark eyes. "Xena, former Commander of Pannonia and King Attila."

Tuya's jaw dropped and the look of distain faded from Navaz's face. He looked into her eyes and thought he had seen a ghost before him. "Xena? are supposed to be dead."

She grinned, "it would appear I am not, obviously," she rolled her eyes. "If anything happens to my daughter I swear I will rip your beating heart from your chest."

"Anastasia is your daughter?" he asked, confusedly and eyed his mother, whom was also very bemused.

Xena folded her arms. "Yes, she is." She said and saw the shock in their eyes and she cocked her head. "I should...thank you for keeping her out of harm's way." She continued and Navaz blinked his eyes, gawking. "But you are foolish for letting her go to Rome."

"I...I could not refuse. She is the commander of my army. I made it so," he shook his head.

Her eyes widened and felt her stomach turn to knots. "She is a...commander?" her words barely parting from her lips. Suddenly she felt nervous, anxious and a bit of pride. Her daughter, also a commander of a Hun army, like she was. But the fact that she went to Rome made little to no sense.

She turned and marched out of the yurt and her eyes locked with Kreka. The former wife of Attila had a smile on her face, overjoyed to see her and Xena smiled faintly at her. She walked down the stairs and Kreka ran forward.

The two women looked into each other's eyes for quite some time. Kreka grabbed Xena's hands and her eyes glazed over. Without warning, the queen mother embraced Xena, flinging her arms around her neck, bringing her close.

Xena huffed and couldn't believe such warmth that sprung from this woman, a woman that she never truly got along with and their relationship had not always been the best. It was unexpected for her to react in such a way that Xena had no idea how to respond.

Pulling away from each other Xena's eyes darkened. "Why is Anastasia in Rome?" she asked, gripping Kreka's shoulders.

The hazel eyed woman sighed deeply and wiped the tears from her eyes. "She got a letter from..." she lifted her eyes, "Gabrielle."

Xena felt the air escape her lungs once more. Gabrielle, she is alive. A prayer sent to the heavens above and they were answered. Her daughter and lover, her companion, were both alive. The people she cared most about were alive and so close to her that she could almost feel their embrace. Joy overcame her and she smiled softly, trying to hide her emotion.

But this news could only mean one thing. Her light mood soon dissipated. "Gabrielle is in Rome," she stated. There was no question about it.

"Yes," Kreka said curtly.

Rain began to drizzle and Kreka looked to the darkened skies. She grabbed Xena's arm. "Come with me," she said and pulled her along into her yurt not too far from Navaz's Adame.

The two sat inside the yurt and Xena took off the cloak, tossing it aside. Her eyes scanned the yurt and it was very nice, fit for a queen of course. Kreka was hovering over a fire, making tea in silence. Xena sighed heavily and rubbed her face.

"Anastasia is a queen," she said with a weak grin.

Kreka smiled, stirring the hot tea with a wooden spoon. "Yes, she is. A very good queen and commander." She turned, locking eyes with Xena. "Just like you."

She brought two cups of tea and sat beside Xena on the floor. Eyeing the ex-commander cautiously, she could not believe that she was still alive. How? How was she alive? She couldn't wrap her mind around it. "Xena," she began, "what happened to you?"

Xena nursed the hot tea in her hands. "Malka found me in Pannonia. The Nezak Huns came to help us but it was too late. He saved my life. I am forever grateful to him," she admitted softly. She never had so much help from a stranger before.

"I'm glad you're alive. I knew that it would be hard to get rid of you. God has spared your life once more," Kreka joked and sipped on the tea.

Xena nodded and smiled at the woman. "Csaba, is he here?" she asked.

Kreka's smile widened with warmth. "He's sleeping. He missed you a lot. He talks about you every day."

To hear that warmed Xena's heart. She loved that boy a lot and he was a sweet reminder of all the people she loved and lost over the years. He was a bright boy, just Ellac and Anastasia.

The two sat in silence, drinking their tea and Kreka tapped her fingers on the glass cup, while Xena's eyes were focused on the dark tea, her mind probably wandering, over thinking and in shock from everything.

Kreka sighed and set the cup down. "Xena, there's something you should know."

"What is it?" Xena frowned, furrowing her eyebrows.

"Anastasia..." she began and felt Xena's eyes boring into her soul. "She's...pregnant," she blurted out and lifted her eyes slowly and steadily. She saw Xena's eyes grow in fear, shock, worry and anger all at once.

"And that idiot let her go to Rome?!" Xena stood and threw the cup onto the ground and Kreka ran her hand across her face.

"Xena..." she tried to reach for her hand and Xena paced around. "Dengi and Ernak are with her. They gave me their word that she would be safe."

Xena's lip quivered. "You let her go?!"

"Xena!" Kreka stood up irately and the two women glared into each other's eyes. "I cannot make her stay! She is not a child anymore!"

Something so dear and close to Xena felt like it had been ripped from her not once, but twice. She sighed heavily and ran her fingers through her hair. "But, she is my child." She said softly and Kreka's face softened.

"I have to go to Rome."

Kreka blinked. "Xena, you can't. The emperor knows who you are –all of the Romans know you who are. You will be recognized in an instant!"

"My daughter was taken from me and so was Gabrielle. I thought I lost everything, but now that I know they are both alive...I need to see them both with my own eyes. I won't wait around for her to return because I fear that she will never return."

Kreka nodded, understanding where Xena was coming from completely. "I know. And I also know that you will stop at nothing to see her again."

"Is she...happy?" Xena asked, tears swelling in her eyes.

Kreka smiled dimly, "I'd be lying to you if I said she was." She saw the light fade from Xena's eyes. It definitely wasn't something a mother wanted to hear. "But I saw happiness in her eyes when she received that letter from Gabrielle. She believes Gabrielle is the second best thing to having you by her side."

"So, she went to Rome to find her," Xena nodded.

"Wouldn't you?" Kreka said and Xena looked into her eyes.

"I came here to find my daughter, hanging onto a string of hope. I'm not going to stop until I can hold her and Gabrielle. They are special to me and I don't want to lose them. Again."

Csaba came into the center of the yurt, awakening from his slumber. His eyes fluttered and both women turned around. His jaw dropped and Xena smiled at him. Slowly, she walked towards him and touched his cheek as he kept gawking into her eyes.

"Sweet boy," Xena whispered and he stared at her for a moment longer until he wrapped his lanky arms around her.

"I missed you," his voice muffled in her dark hair. He pulled away and she ran her thumbs across his teary cheeks.

She kissed his forehead, "me too." She sat down and grabbed his hands, not able to wipe the smile off her face, overjoyed to see her grandson again. Another person she thought she lost forever. The light of her eyes.

" mother is in Rome right now," he said, lowering his gaze.

She lifted his chin, "I know and I'm going to find her."

"You will bring her back?" he asked skeptically, lifting one eyebrow.

Grinning, she nodded. "Of course I will. I promise," she leered into his eyes and he finally broke out into a smile, knowing he could always trust her. She pulled out a tattered folded up piece of parchment. It was very old and wrinkled from years of wear.

She unfolded the fragile parchment and Csaba looked at it carefully, cocking his head. "My drawing," he beamed. He gave that to her when he was so small, just a little boy. "You kept it?"

"I said I would keep it with me always," she winked and folded the drawing back up and tucked it into her pant pocket.

Anastasia opened her eyes to the dimly lit cell and exhaled heavily, feeling sweat dripping down her back and forehead. Dengi kept eyeing her cautiously as did Ernak beside her.

"Ana," Dengi spoke softly and she lolled her head back against the wall. "Anastasia!" he said louder.

"Be quiet!" a Roman guard yelled and Dengi grimaced.

Ernak shook his head. "She's going to pass out," he said to his brother. He scooted over and rubbed his leg against her dress, trying to keep her awake. "Hey, don't fall asleep," he said and her lips parted as she closed her eyes. "Stay awake!" he bumped her leg and she jolted awake.

The cell door creaked open and both brothers saw two Romans come inside. They knelt down and unlocked the shackles around Anastasia's wrists. Dengi creased his eyebrows and the Romans lifted her up by her arms and she fell to the ground.

"Pick her up," the Roman cell guard grumbled.

"Where are you taking her?!" Dengi yelled and the Romans ignored him as he watched them carry Anastasia off and lock the door behind them.

"Hey! You stupid fuck!" he yelled again. "Fucking Roman dog!" he spat.

Ernak raised his eyebrow. "I don't think that is going to help our cause, brother."

"They just took her! We have no idea where she's going!" his brother yelled.

"Maybe Gabrielle..." Ernak spoke in hushed tones. "Is going to help her?" he raised his eyebrows and Dengi settled down, banging his fists against the wall, groaning loudly.

"If there is a merciful God, I wish he would obliterate Rome," Dengi muttered.

Warm water was dumped on top of Anastasia and she gasped for air, wrapping her arms around herself. She blinked rapidly, trying to gain consciousness as to where she was again. She felt someone pulling on her wet long hair and soap drenched all over her shoulders. Her body tense and while the water was warm she felt so cold.

"Leave us," Gabrielle said and the Roman slaves left the baths quickly. She knelt down beside Anastasia and poured some water onto her soapy arms. She smiled and ran a comb through Ana's long hair.

Slowly, Anastasia turned at the gentle touch and blinked, water dripping from her long eyelashes. "Gabrielle," her smile stretched from ear to ear.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get you out sooner but I had...other duties," she grumbled and rubbed a damp cloth over Anastasia's shoulders. "I convinced Odoacer to release you. He wouldn't allow Dengi and Ernak to come out of the cell, I'm afraid."

Ana nodded her head slowly and then grabbed the blonde's wrist. " tell Navaz that I am here?" she asked barely above a whisper.

Gabrielle sighed, "I can't send letters to any Huns. I already risked my life sending you that letter and I may have put myself in even more danger."

"What do you mean?" Ana's eyes grew with anxiety and fear.

"I sent a letter to Xena's brothers in Stagira. I know that city has been claimed by Atlyn Huns, but they are still Xena's brothers." She said and Anastasia frowned.

A few years after Attila died, Gabrielle finally convinced Xena to reunite with her brothers after being away from each other for many years. Her brothers, Pirro and Ditron, instantly recognized her, but she did not recognize them. At that time Stagira was still part of the Greek-Thracian territory, but now it belonged to the Atlyn Huns –the enemy of Pannonia.

And now, Pannonia was no more and the Atlyn Huns warred with the Bulgur Huns to conquer as much land as they could. A united Hunnic Empire was no more, but several tribes fighting each other just like it was before Attila became king of the Huns. It seems that history was due to repeat itself.

"Gabrielle, why would you do that? Now they will know I am here!" Ana yelled and Gabrielle cringed at the rise of her voice.

"Anastasia, I didn't have another choice! I am stuck here and I can't leave. I am Consul of Rome now. I am not an innocent poet or teacher from Greece anymore. I have duties here and I don't like living here, but I can't just go out and risk being killed. Not when you're here and alive. I can't do that." Gabrielle shook her head and continued combing the Hun's hair.

"And so you thought that a Hun invasion into Rome would spare my life and what about Dengi and Ernak? Those boys now turned to men I call my brothers. What about them?" Anastasia frowned and tears swelled in her eyes.

Gabrielle hated to see her cry, she never liked to see that and it seemed that's all she was doing since she came here, which was understandable. "Your mother's brothers care about you."

"They are my enemies, Gabrielle. They live with the Atlyn Huns –"

"Not by choice, Ana!" the blonde griped and the young queen's eyes widened. "Stagira was captured by those Huns! They had to surrender or die, you know that."

"Saçmalık," Ana muttered and received a smack in the back of her head and she gasped.

"It's not bullshit," Gabrielle raised her eyebrow and Anastasia sulked, sinking into the water.

"I am a grown woman and I feel like a child," Ana frowned, folding her arms.

Gabrielle smirked and poured some water onto her long dark tresses. "I'm sure your mother would react just the same."

Anastasia sighed and lifted some water into her palms and turned around, leaning against the title of the bath. "Gabrielle, how did you convince the emperor to let me out?" she asked.

The blonde consul bit her bottom lip and lowered her gaze. "I promised that you would dine with him."


"I couldn't let you sit in that cell another day, Anastasia! I love you too much to do that," she said with a softer voice and Ana's eyes warmed.

"I love you too, Gabrielle," she grabbed her hand. "I wish my mother were here."

Gabrielle nodded, "me too." She sighed and grabbed a long robe and stood. "Come on, we have to get you dressed."

Anastasia reluctantly rose from the water and slipped the silk robe on, wrapping the sash around her body. She felt sick just thinking about sitting in the same room as Odoacer. The way he was ogling her days ago was enough to make her vomit upon his sandals, yet she did not. She refrained, by the grace of God.

Xena sat inside Navaz's yurt with Kreka and Malka by her side. Tuya was glaring at the two women, feeling as if she was being conspired against. She felt more than tricked, she felt lied to and knew the instant she met these Pannonian Huns, she would regret. And she was right.

"You want to go to Rome?" Navaz asked.

"I don't trust the Romans. If Anastasia has been gone for two weeks that means something is wrong. I know it is because I can feel it," Xena clenched her jaw, locking eyes with the young king.

Navaz couldn't take his eyes off of Xena and everyone else was noticing especially since he was silent. Xena raised her eyebrow and snapped her fingers in front of his face and he blinked, now embarrassed.

"Forgive me," he said softly, "she looks so much like you."

Xena smirked, "that is beside the point. I will go alone to Rome and Kreka will stay here to keep an eye on things," her eyes immediately went to the Queen Mother, Tuya.

"Oh please," Tuya rolled her eyes. "I do not need to be ordered around by a bunch of Pannonian Huns."

Kreka's hazel eyes darkened. "We are both Huns. We should work together not against one another."

"And we should trust you now? You have lied about being Anastasia's mother for an entire year." Tuya scoffed.

"For good reason," Kreka spat.

"Enough!" Xena yelled, quieting everyone in the room and Kreka smirked at Tuya and she received a cold shoulder. "I will leave tomorrow morning."

Navaz presented himself politely, as if trying to impress her. "Allow some of my men to escort you."

Xena and Kreka looked to one another and grinned. "That won't be necessary. I am capable of taking care of myself."

Malka interrupted, "I will come with you, Xena. My men could use some excitement in their lives," he only half joked.

"You call an invasion of Rome exciting, Malka and I call it chaos and all I can see is death," Xena said with a dark tone.

"I will not let you go alone," the Bey said and Xena sighed. Kreka grabbed her arm firmly.

"Let him go with you, Xena. You cannot go into Rome by yourself or risk being caught and then you'll never get Anastasia or Gabrielle back." Kreka whispered. "Do not be stubborn," she advised, "I hate it when you get like that," she teased and Xena arched a brow at the ex-Hun queen.

"Fine," Xena stood from the floor. She had enough of this long conversation and grew tired of the king's mother glaring at her for the last couple of hours. She turned to the young king. "If any harm has come to my daughter do not think that I won't skin you."

Tuya frowned, "you make threats against the king?"

Xena grinned, "that is not a threat, but a promise and a warning. I always keep my promises."

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Dengi looked down at his boots and kept whistling throughout the day, trying to keep himself distracted and occupied. Although, the infernal whistling irritated the Roman guards to no end, but he no longer cared. He and his brother had been confined in the cell for days, possibly weeks, he lost count. He also hadn't seen any sign of Anastasia since the guards took her away.

Ernak lifted his head and sighed heavily, his throat dry from lack of water and his stomach he presumed, eating itself as the Roman emperor hardly gave them any food. He looked at his brother and his unkempt hair, whistling. The sound triggered him and he snarled.

"Stop it!" he yelled and Dengi bit his bottom lip.

"How long do you think we've been in here?" Dengi asked, becoming worried. Today there was no sun, but rain. In fact it had been raining for the last few days, maybe three days, he didn't know.

The young king sighed and banged his head against the wall. "I don't know, but I feel like I'm going insane inside of this place." He groaned and rattled the shackles. "Where is Anastasia? I haven't seen her in weeks!"

Before Dengi could bother to answer a Roman guard came inside and dropped two old pieces of bread and set two cups of water on the ground. Ernak raised his eyebrow and Dengi chuckled. "He gives us bread this time, brother, we should praise him and his emperor," he teased and Ernak laughed.

The Roman rolled his eyes and Ernak reached for the bread, immediately biting into it. As he was chewing the bread he bit into something hard and cringed. He pulled a large scrap of metal from his mouth and his eyes widened.

A key he held in his hand and a big smile graced his lips. "Gabrielle, you are a goddess!" he whispered and Dengi lifted his eyes and saw his brother holding a key to their shackles.

Ernak hurriedly unlocked the shackles from his wrists, eyeing the Romans cautiously. He quietly slipped the chains off and threw the key to his brother. Dengi grinned and quickly unlocked the chains and stood to his feet.

Both brothers walked quietly, approaching closer to the cell gate. Ernak wrapped his hand around the Roman's mouth and Dengi did the same to the other guard. The Romans muffled screams and cries for help were unheard. Dengi's eyes grew wild and he snapped the guard's neck.

Ernak nodded, "alright then," he twisted the other Roman's neck and both of them fell to the ground. He reached through the iron rods and grabbed the set of keys on the Roman's belt.

Ernak tried several keys and finally unlocked the cell door. The two stepped out quietly and Dengi checked around the corner for any soldiers. "The coast is clear," he whispered. He looked at his brother putting on the Roman's armor and cocked his eyebrow upward. "Clever, brother."

Anastasia sat in front of the mirror, running her fingers through her hair. She had been given Greek gowns and dresses, which she thought she'd never wear again. She remembered wearing such clothing when she went to school in Thebes and Athens and her mother was not pleased with the attire she chose.

A smile came to her lips as she remembered her mother's face. She couldn't forget that face her mother gave her when she arrived in a Grecian gown that was very revealing, more revealing than her mother would have liked. She was a rebellious teenager, but now she was a woman and she didn't feel rebellious at all. She felt trapped.

So far, she had been here for two weeks, maybe three, she lost count. She was able to continue this charade with Odoacer and dine with him and entertain him by saying absolutely nothing. He would stare at her constantly, fawning over her while he was drunk with sweet honey wine. Luckily for her, she refrained from wine and only sipped it throughout the night, hoping that it would make the nights go by faster, but alas, it didn't.

Gabrielle walked into the room and closed the door behind her. Ana turned around and frowned seeing her once more. "Ernak and Dengi should be out of the cell by now. You remember the plan, right?"

Anastasia nodded, "yes, but I don't know if this is going to work, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle hoped that this plan would work and she really wished Xena were here. Things would go more smoothly if she were here. "They aren't going to leave without you. Once you're out of the palace I want you to ride out of Rome. Don't come back here."

Anastasia gasped and grabbed her other mother's hand. "But, what about you? I don't want to leave without you, Gabrielle! I came all this way and won't leave without you!

Gabrielle smiled and touched her soft cheek and sat down beside her. "Ana, I love you, but I will be fine here. We will see each other again, I promise." She kissed her cheek and heard Anastasia sobbing softly. "Don't cry. This is not the end, but a new beginning. You need to leave Rome. Take care of yourself and your baby."

Anastasia frowned and her eyes darkened. She snatched her hand away from the blonde consul. "I don't care about this baby!" she rose from the chair and Gabrielle's jaw dropped. "It is nothing but a business transaction I made with my husband."

"You don't mean that," Gabrielle tried to calm the girl down.

"Yes, I do," she said in a softer tone and couldn't bear look at the shock and sadness on Gabrielle's face. She felt like she was in her mother's presence. "I wish I felt different, but I don't."

Gabrielle sighed and could feel the girl's pain. She was obviously depressed and missing something, missing her mother. "Anastasia, don't let your heart harden. Your mother wouldn't want that and I don't want that for you either. Despite your feelings for Navaz, don't blame your child. It's innocent and I know you are a loving woman. You wouldn't let your heart harden because of a child, would you?"

Anastasia sighed and folded her arms. "I don't know how to feel right now." She muttered.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her and brought her in close. "Just remember the plan, alright?" she whispered.

"If Odoacer tries to grope me I swear I am going to vomit all over him." She said and Gabrielle stifled a laugh. "Maybe just this once, I won't be able to control myself," she smirked and sauntered out of the room, readying herself to be in the company of the emperor again.

Xena and Malka crept in the dark corners of Rome's busy streets. Xena hid her face with a dark hood and frowned as she watched Romans pass her by. Malka kept his hand upon the hilt of his sword, eyeing everyone, being overly cautious.

"Where do we go now?" Malka whispered.

She lifted the hood and the hot rain poured down on the dirt roads. "We need to get close to the palace. Kreka said Gabrielle is consul of Rome so she would be close to the emperor at all times."

Being in this very city gave Xena the creeps. She hated Rome and she hated emperors. They always claimed to be working for God and greater good, but they weren't working for the greater good. They hated anyone and everyone that opposed them. Flavius Aetius once tried to befriend Attila, but that didn't turn out the way he had hoped.

There was one good thing about this dreadful place and that was Gabrielle. A sweet smile came to her lips when she thought of that blonde woman. She loved her dearly and knew that they would not live forever, but she wanted to be with Gabrielle even after death. Being so close to Gabrielle, yet so far, made Xena quiver inside. Her heart warmed.

Dreams of coming into Gabrielle's arms haunted her for an entire year. She never lost hope that one day she would be in the close proximity of Gabrielle again. Two people so different from one another yet worked so well. Oil and vinegar, as Gabrielle said long ago. They only go together if you shake the bottle first.

She and Malka walked through the streets, passing by all the civilians unnoticed. She had never been in the shadows, lurking like an assassin before. The thrill of it all sort of excited her and she was so used to be hated for what she looked like and who she was. But now, nobody knew who she was because they couldn't see her face and these citizens had no idea what she looked like. It was new, something new.

Every blonde body in the crowd made Xena's heart flutter, hoping that one person would be Gabrielle, but when she realized they weren't, her hope faded.

Rounding a corner she caught a bunch of senators walking together, talking. She also spotted someone wearing a white gown and short blonde locks. A smile appeared on her face and she waited for the woman to turn around.

She waited and waited. Walking closer to the center of the street she caught glimpse of Gabrielle and her sweet smile, her plump cheeks and muscular yet lean arms unhidden from the sleeveless gown she wore, accentuating her taut waist and thighs and slender calves.

"Gabrielle," she said beneath her breath. She saw Gabrielle walking off by herself and decided to follow her with Malka trailing behind cautiously holding onto his sword just in case something happened to them.

Walking a few paces behind Gabrielle she could almost smell her, taste her and feel her touch once more. A year too long, a year that felt like an eon. She almost felt like this was the first time she was seeing Gabrielle, not as a capturer, but as a lover, a friend, a companion, an ally. And the best thing of it all, Gabrielle was clueless.

She wanted to reach out to her, but didn't want to cause alarm. She continued following her and saw Gabrielle heading towards the senate. If she goes in there then I won't be able to see her. Reacting on impulse she wrapped her hand around Gabrielle's mouth and drug her into a dark alleyway.

Malka raised his eyebrow and blocked the alleyway so nobody could come by. He figured he should trust Xena even though he felt like he was left in the dark with this woman's plans.

Gabrielle screamed, muffled by Xena's hand and looked at the lips beneath the hood. Her screams faded and slowly her body relaxed. She had seen those lips before, but she couldn't believe it. slowly, she reached forward and lifted the hood and saw those blue eyes that she had longed to see once more. Just one more time.

Her eyes grew with shock and swelled with tears. Xena took her hand from her mouth and smiled warmly. "Xena..." she whispered and felt her heart about to beat out of her chest. She didn't know how to feel right now. She felt excited, betrayed, tricked, loved, sad, happy, all of the above.

She touched Xena's cheek, her fingertips gliding on her rigid high cheekbones. Her fingers roamed to her nose, lips and chin, making sure that Xena was in fact real and this was not a dream.

"Gabrielle," Xena smiled widely and kissed her hand.

"'re alive," Gabrielle said and that definitely wasn't the first thing that she wanted to come from her mouth. "You..." she flung her arms around the tall brunette, squeezing her tightly for the first time in a long time.

"I missed you so much. I thought you were lost forever," she exhaled heavily, smelling her hair that reminded her of hot campfires, wood and yet a small hint of lavender. A smell she missed dearly.

Xena pried Gabrielle's arms off her and was at a loss for words. She had so many things she wanted to say to her but suddenly she was mute. She cupped the blonde's cheeks and gaped into those jade colored eyes. "You can't rid of me that quickly, Gabrielle," she jested.

Gabrielle laughed whilst sobbing softly and hit Xena's shoulder playfully. "Your jokes are never said at the appropriate times," she wagged her head. She then realized that Xena was in Rome. Her city. The most hated city among the Huns. "What are you doing here?" she whispered.

"I'm looking for Anastasia," Xena said.

A smile graced the consul's lips. "She's here. I've been with her."

Xena's stomach turned and she gripped Gabrielle's shoulders. "Is she alright?" she hoped and Gabrielle nodded. "How is she?"


Loud horns sounded throughout the square and Gabrielle covered her ears and Xena cringed. Malka grabbed Xena's arm and pulled her to the entrance of the alleyway. "Xena!" he pointed to the slew of Roman horses stampeding through the square following two horsemen and one woman.

Xena's mouth parted as she saw Anastasia sitting behind Dengi on a Roman horse and Ernak riding beside them. They passed by her and she heard Ernak laughing loudly and saw Dengi with a big smile on his face.

Gabrielle pushed through Xena and Malka and gasped. "Oh no," she slipped and Xena looked down at her.

"What...are they doing?" she asked lowly, already becoming irritated.

"I...I told Anastasia that she could escape quietly with Dengi and Ernak. I didn't think they were going to steal horses!" Gabrielle slapped her forehead and then felt a tug on her arm and she was being pulled by Xena down the dark alley. "Xena!"

"You're coming with me," Xena mounted her horse and extended her hand. "Gabrielle, I did not come all the way to Rome to leave you behind." She wriggled her fingers and the blonde stayed put, thinking for a few brief moments and Xena creased her eyebrows.

"You aren't thinking of actually staying, are you?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "It's not that, it's just Odoacer will think that I –"

"Odoacer?" Xena interrupted and she tightened the grip around the reins. "Odoacer is emperor?" she asked and Gabrielle nodded. That look. Gabrielle had seen that look in Xena's eyes before –a look that could kill, literally.

"That bastard," she muttered under her breath. "I thought he was dead!" she growled and looked to Gabrielle. "You're coming with me." She grabbed her arm and hoisted the blonde on her horse.

"Xena! No! Wait just a minute!" Gabrielle groaned and yelped as the horse took off at great speed. She wrapped her arms around Xena's waist and leaned into her backside, squinting her eyes from the racing rain. Suddenly, she had flashbacks of the first time she met Xena and the first time she was taken by her.

"I'm not losing you again!" Xena said and rode through the rains. She spotted Anastasia, Dengi and Ernak trying to flee from the Roman guards with no weapons on hand of course. She smiled and took a shortcut through a few streets.

Gabrielle gasped and ducked her head from a large canopy ahead. She had forgotten how awful it was to ride with Xena. She was an insane horseman and always did unpredictable turns.

Now riding directly behind the Romans Xena smiled beneath the rain soaked hood and pulled out the bow upon her back and grabbed an arrow. "Gabrielle, take the reins."

"Excuse me?"

"Just do it," Xena grinned and Gabrielle shook her head and grabbed onto the reins, steering the horse to the left, riding behind a Roman. Xena squinted one of her eyes and released an arrow. The Roman screeched and fell off his horse, clutching onto the arrow pierced through his throat.

Gabrielle couldn't help but smile as she saw the Roman fall to his death soon followed by another soldier. Xena kept loading her bow and the Romans began to catch on and turned around to see her riding on the horse and her eyes widened. This is not good, Gabrielle thought.

"Huns!" a Roman soldier shouted. "The Huns have the Consul!" he turned around on his horse as did the three others and began charging right for Xena and Gabrielle.

"Xena..." Gabrielle began panicking and Xena smirked, slinging her bow behind her, she grabbed the reins and steered off in the opposite direction, leading the Romans away from Dengi, Ernak and Anastasia.

Malka, lurking in the shadows came up from behind and swung his sword, slicing through a Roman's arm. Xena unsheathed her sword and looked over her shoulder to see two Romans following her and felt Gabrielle's grip around her waist tighten.

Ernak and Dengi skid to a stop and realized they weren't being followed anymore. Anastasia frowned and saw Gabrielle on the horse with a hooded person with a long sword, a sword she recognized. Air escaped her lungs, her chest constricted upon itself and she kept gawking at the sword –her mother's sword.

"Alright Gabrielle, bringing the Huns to Rome!" Ernak smiled, nodding his head. "She's got more balls than most men I know."

Anastasia's eyes were locked on the hooded rider and watched as the rider twirled the large sword with such ease. The small flick of the wrist and plunge the blade into a Roman and it was then she knew it was her mother. She heard a loud cry as the sword thrust into the Roman's flesh –her mother's voice.

She slapped Dengi's upper arm over and over again. "My mother!" she pointed to the rider and both brothers looked onward. "My mother! It's her!" she yelled with excitement and she grinned from ear to ear.

She pushed Dengi off the horse and took hold of the reins and rode down the road to meet with her mother and Gabrielle. Dengi groaned and Ernak laughed. He spun his head around and mounted the horse with his younger brother.

"God dammit, Anastasia!" Dengi punched his brother in the shoulder. "Follow her!"

Xena let out a loud war cry and thrust her blade into the last Roman and breathed heavily. Gabrielle ran her hand across her face and couldn't believe this was happening right now. First, she thought Xena was dead, and now that she was alive, Xena was causing chaos all around her. It was not unusual, but unwarranted.

"Mother!" Anastasia called out and Xena turned at the sweet voice she had longed to hear again.

Anastasia skid to a stop and Xena pulled back the hood, revealing her face. Both smiled at one another and Anastasia hopped off the horse, running to her side. Xena swung her legs over and wrapped her arms around her daughter, squeezing her tightly.

"I thought you were gone forever," Ana whispered, sobbing softly in her mother's veil of hair.

Xena pulled away and wiped the tears from her daughter's cheeks, grinning warmly. "I'm not going anywhere." She winked and kissed her forehead. "Are you alright?"

She nodded, "Gabrielle took care of me."

Xena turned and smiled at Gabrielle and saw her cheeks flush. "Of course she did."

Ernak and Dengi pulled up and both had shocked looks upon their faces. Slowly, Xena turned around and folded her arms, glaring at both brothers. "Boys," she addressed them.

Ernak scoffed, "we are not boys anymore, Xena," he jested and hopped off the horse, staring into her eyes. He opened his arms for a hug and he grinned sheepishly. A smirk graced her lips and she embraced him and he sighed with relief.

Although a sigh of relief came too soon when he got punched in the arm and he hissed, stepping away. "Ow! What the hell!"

Dengi saw Xena's lingering eyes focused on him and her fist clench. He put his hands up and began walking backward. "Now, Xena...we can talk about this." He begged and she came sauntering towards him until Gabrielle grabbed her arm.

"Later, Xena," the blonde pressed and Xena grunted then turned back to her daughter, smiling once more.

Malka chuckled at the fear in the brothers' eyes. They truly looked like children about to be spanked by an adult even though they were both grown adults. They obviously feared Xena and he now understood why. All the tales he heard of Xena were true. She was a great fighter and she certainly cared a lot about her family.

"The rumors seem to be true about your daughter," he mentioned and Ana brushed a wet tendril behind her ear. "She is quite a beauty."

Ernak rubbed his arm, fearful of coming within a foot of Xena. He cleared his throat. "I don't mean to interrupt this lovely moment but I think we should get the hell out of here before more Roman dogs show up." He suggested.

Gabrielle agreed. "He's right and now that I'm absent, Odoacer will notice. We should leave."

"Oh, I thought you wanted to stay?" Xena teased and hopped on her horse.

Gabrielle crinkled her nose and climbed onto Xena's horse. "It wasn't even like that."

Hours later after riding in the rain they crossed the Tiber river into a small lesser Roman city. Gabrielle thought it best that they stay away from the larger cities to risk being caught by Odoacer's men. She knew that he would send a group of scouts to come look for her once he knew that the 'Huns' kidnapped her.

Anastasia, dressed as a Roman citizen as well as Gabrielle, were able to find a place for everyone to stay during the storm. Xena, Malka, Ernak and Dengi were snuck in through the back so they were not seen by the tavern owner. Their clothing would instantly give them away and Gabrielle didn't want to lose them again after everything that happened. It would be too close of a call.

Gabrielle walked into the room that the tavern owner so kindly gave them for the night. She was wrapped in a sheet, allowing her wet dress to dry. She looked and saw Xena sitting beside a slumbering Anastasia, cuddled in a warm wool blanket and her dress hanging on a rack to dry.

Xena ran her hand across her daughter's hair, watching her sleep soundly, completely exhausted, she could only imagine. The sound of footsteps caused her to turn head and she grinned faintly upon seeing her blonde companion she longed to see again.

The blonde sat down beside Xena and felt a little self conscious all of a sudden. She rubbed the back of her neck and then saw a gash on Xena's arm. She gasped and immediately gravitated to the warrior's wound.

"You're hurt," she said.

"Just a scratch," Xena said and Gabrielle went to grab a cool cloth to clean the wound, but Xena pushed her gently back onto the bed. "Gabrielle." Her eyes pleading for her blonde to stay by her side and not leave her, not even for the littlest thing.

Gabrielle smiled and settled onto the bed, gaping into the warrior's blue eyes. The feeling of seeing Xena again was overwhelming and she couldn't understand why her counterpart appeared to be so calm and collected. Perhaps she was holding back, Gabrielle didn't know, but what she did know is that, she couldn't hold back her emotions for so long.

Tears fell from her eyes and Xena cocked her head, frowning sadly. "Don't cry, I'm here." She said softly.

"You left me," the blonde whispered. "You promised you would never leave me."

Xena lowered her eyes and pursed her lips. "I kept my promise, didn't I?"

"Xena," Gabrielle's face contorted and Xena lifted her chin, daring to look into those sad green eyes. "I thought you were dead. I almost came to peace with it until...I saw your face. I –I didn't know what to do, how to feel. I still don't know..."

The warrior grabbed hold of the consul's hands and gazed into her eyes.

"There were times when I thought I couldn't go on living after what happened in Pannonia. I thought it would be better if I left the world for good and cursed Malka for saving me. I couldn't imagine my life without you or Anastasia but as time passed I realized that you wouldn't want me to be angry. I thought of you every day, Gabrielle. I thought of what you would say to me when I felt doubts about living. And when I saw you and heard you I knew that I could go on knowing that you'd always be with me no matter where you were. You were and are always with me."

To hear those words from Xena's lips warmed Gabrielle's heart. She felt her stomach flutter at the thought that Xena actually listened to her. She thought of her even if there was a possibility that she could be among the dead instead of the living. Gabrielle was in Xena's thoughts and that's all Gabrielle wanted to know and it was even nicer to hear it straight from her.

Gabrielle had known Xena to be cold sometimes and shut herself off from the world and that included her emotions. She felt overjoyed that Xena was able to say these words from her heart, from within, without hesitation. She truly loved her and her well being more than she had ever before it seemed and it showed greatly.

"You don't much that means to me..." Gabrielle smiled, wiping her eyes. "To hear you say that." She sighed unsteadily, her breathing labored in between soft sobs.

Xena leaned in closely to the blonde's face, longing to touch and feel her once more after so long. Her fingers grazed her soft cheek and she kissed Gabrielle's lips tenderly. Silencing the world around them, ceasing all words, Gabrielle was caught off guard by the gentle kiss.

They pulled away from one another and Xena brushed a few short tendrils behind Gabrielle's ears, smiling. "I love you, Xena," she whispered.

"I love you too, Gabrielle," the warrior whispered back and their foreheads met as they locked eyes. Gabrielle cupped Xena's cheeks and couldn't help but let out a small chuckle, happy to see her face once again, after what seemed like a lifetime.

Ernak swung open the door and cheered, lifting a bottle of wine in his hand and a cup in the other. "We have wine!" he roared at the top of his lungs.

Xena groaned. "Ernak!" she hissed and motioned her head to Anastasia, whom was sleeping.

He cringed and whispered, "we have wine..."

Anastasia stirred in her sleep and she rose to sit up and saw Ernak with Dengi. Both with apologetic looks on their faces. Gabrielle rolled her eyes and shoved a pillow in Ernak's face.

"Nice going," she grumbled and walked over to see if her dress was dry yet.

Ernak scoffed, "come on, Gabrielle!" he walked over to Anastasia and smiled, sitting down on the floor beside her. She wrapped the blanket around herself and grimaced. "I brought some figs for you," he wriggled his eyebrows and pulled the fruits from his pocket.

"Oh joy," Ana sarcastically said, though she did not deny the fruit and set them in her lap.

Xena leaned backward on her palms, tapping her fingers on the bed, a little irritated that these boys, as she called them, interrupted her moment with Gabrielle. A moment she had been waiting for. A moment alone, but no, never alone, she thought.

Ernak poured a cup of wine and hopped onto the bed, wrapping his arm around Xena's shoulder. "I really missed you, you know," he began and Xena rumbled lowly. "I love you..." he said with a cheeky grin, hoping that she would forgive him for putting her daughter in harm's way.

"I'm going to give you three seconds to get off me," Xena said in a calm voice. "One..." she began her count.

Ernak chuckled nervously and he slunk down to the floor again, scooting far away from her. He huffed and sipped the wine and Anastasia smirked at him as did Gabrielle from afar.

"Don't be angry with him, mother. It was my idea to go to Rome and to Pannonia. It's all my fault."

"Ha!" Dengi cheered and he received a menacing glare from Xena and he cleared his throat, sinking into the ground, chugging the wine.

"Anastasia," Xena ran her fingers through her daughter's hair. "You shouldn't have gone anywhere to begin with especially since you're pregnant."

Ana gasped, "Gabrielle! You promised!" she griped.

Xena frowned. "Gabrielle didn't tell me," she quickly eyed the blonde though. Wondering if Kreka didn't tell her, would Gabrielle keep that from her because of Anastasia? Would she? "Kreka told me."

Anastasia's face drained of color. "You...saw her?" she asked in a meek voice.

Her mother nodded. "Yes, I met everyone. Why do you think I was in Rome?" she winked and Anastasia sighed heavily. "We need to talk about Navaz."

Ernak sighed and stood. "Well, looks like it's time to go," he nudged his brother and Dengi was completely engrossed in this conversation. "Dengi!"

"Okay, fine," Dengi groaned and stood, following his brother out of the room.

Anastasia cursed this moment. She had lived this moment in her dreams. Her mother's penetrating glare would forever haunt her and now that is was a reality, she regretted this so much. She regret marrying Navaz and she regret being in this very room at this very moment.

Gabrielle slipped on her dry dress and sat down beside Xena, rubbing her arm gently. Xena smiled, slightly distracted and then she focused on her daughter who refused to look at her.

"Navaz is a nice man. I could tell that he cares about you. He was very concerned for your safety in Rome." Xena said and Ana frowned, lifting her chin to stare up at her. "I want you to know that I am glad to call him an ally and hopefully a friend."

"You are?" Anastasia asked and her mother gave her a blank stoic stare. She suddenly felt bad for what she said to Gabrielle before. She felt that the child she carried was not important because of her marriage with Navaz, but now that she had her mother's approval, she felt awful for saying she didn't care about her child.

She whimpered softly and Xena frowned sadly then sat down on the floor, wincing at her aching hips. She wrapped her arm around the sobbing daughter of hers. "Why are you crying?" she whispered.

"I'm a horrible person," she said softly. Gabrielle lowered her eyes once she heard Anastasia say that. She thought of her as her own daughter, especially since she spent so much time with her.

"No, you're not," Xena smiled and ran her fingers through her daughter's hair.

The Hun queen shook her head. "Yes, I am. I...I promised to give Navaz an heir if he made me his commander. I convinced myself to not care about this child. I wanted you to be proud of me."

"Oh," Xena sighed and brought her daughter closer. "I am proud of you, so proud of you. Gabrielle is proud of you, everyone is." She kissed her temple and allowed her to lay her head on her shoulder. "Remember before you had Csaba and you were so afraid that I would be disappointed with you?"

Anastasia remained quiet and toyed with a tendril of her hair, listening to her mother's heart beat against her ear.

"I wasn't disappointed with you then and I'm not disappointed with you now. I love you very much and only want the best for you, Anastasia. You know Gabrielle and I would do anything for you."

Gabrielle smiled and sat on the ground in front of them, wiping Ana's cheeks with the back of her thumb. "She's right. We would do anything for you and we love you no matter what."

Anastasia laughed softly. "And I thought you were going to be mad at me."

"I could never stay mad at you," Xena said and Ana grinned, staring into her eyes.

"So sweet," Ernak said as he poked his head behind the door with his brother listening.

"Ernak!" all three women yelled unison and he smiled cheekily then quickly closed the door.

Chapter Text

AN: Tuya bit off more than she can chew. Enjoy all :)

Chapter 8

Gabrielle sat on the bed watching Xena and as she spoke with Anastasia. She was focused on Xena, not even bothering to listen to Ana's story. She had a faint smile on her lips while she was gawking in awe at the woman. She couldn't believe that Xena was alive and right in front of her at this very moment. A person she loved more than life itself was ripped from her arms and now she was here in the flesh. Gabrielle began to wonder if this was a dream and if it was, she'd never want to wake from it.

Xena smiled, laughing lightly listening to her daughter tell her all the horrible things that Tuya would say to her. Xena obviously found it very amusing. Gabrielle leaned back on her palms, watching Xena's mouth part, speaking to her daughter, laughing and the wrinkles around her eyes crease as her eyes squinted into the shape of crescent moons when she grinned from ear to ear. A smile that she missed the most. A smile that could show so many sides of Xena, sides that some people never got to see and this was one of them. Her smile of warmth and kindness –a smile that a Roman would never lay their eyes upon. Ever.

"Remember, Gabrielle?" Ana said. Xena turned and saw Gabrielle staring at her with dreamy eyes and she blinked.

Xena grabbed the blonde's arm, startling her. "Are you alright?" her voice soft.

Gabrielle's cheeks flushed and she cleared her throat. "Oh yeah, I'm fine," she waved it off and turned to Anastasia. "Remember what?"

Anastasia's eyes darted from Gabrielle and her mother, half smiling. She saw such love in Gabrielle's eyes and it was something that was missing from Gabrielle when she first lay eyes upon her after a year of being a part. She was glad to see that love was not lost and quickly regained and obtained.

"I was just telling mother about the time when Kreka didn't really like me. I compared her old behavior with Tuya, which is Navaz's mother."

Gabrielle gave a crooked smile and nodded her head. "If I recall, that woman never really liked me either and I'm not sure if she does even now..." her eyes lifted to the ceiling as she tapped her fingers on her thighs.

Ana snorted, "she likes you Gabrielle. She's just...not a very warm person. She's a real –"

"Pain in the ass," Xena interrupted. "Pain in my ass," she corrected.

"Mom," Ana arched an eyebrow with a serious face. "She's been very nice to me in your absence."

Xena nodded and rolled her eyes and added a large exhale to go with her dramatic response. Gabrielle stifled a laugh and could see that Xena was just teasing, but Ana did not see it that way.

Ernak walked up and wrapped his arms around Anastasia as she sat on the floor. She gasped and clutched to his arms. "Are you talking badly about my mother, Ana?" he whispered in her ear playfully.

"Only the truth," she jested and slapped his arm. "Get off me." She said firmly and he sat down beside her, crossing his legs, matching hers.

He lifted his eyes and pat the dagger against his palm. "So..." he began and all three women stared at him which made him extremely nervous. "How are you even alive?" he asked Xena.

Anastasia punched his arm and he yelped, scooting away from her. "Ernak, what the hell?"

"It's a valid question!" he spat and rubbed his arm. "You hit hard," he muttered. He looked into Xena's steely eyes. "I didn't mean it like that," his eyes looked to Anastasia and bit his bottom lip, now fearing her. "It's were crucified. I saw what they did to you. You were practically dead." He tried to get that image out of his head.

"You left her," Ana hissed.

Xena held up her hand before Ernak could combat with her. "Malka took me back to his tribe. I don't know how I survived. Although, it took me a long time to recover and I'm still...not how I used to be."

Gabrielle frowned sadly and uncertainly. She wondered what Xena's body looked like beneath the furs and clothes she wore. Did she have scars? Were her legs badly beaten still? She noticed that Xena did not walk very well, certainly slower and not with determination like she used to. Xena always walked like she was on a mission, even when she wasn't, but now –now she didn't walk like that anymore.

Ernak nodded slowly. "Well, I'm glad that you're alive. We all missed you even though you still scare me a little bit."

Xena smirked and felt Gabrielle's fingers touch hers. Shivers went up her spine and she briefly smiled at Gabrielle then turned her attention to Ernak. "I thought you liked me, Ernak? You used to run to me when I returned home from a mission when you were a boy."

He scoffed, "well I was innocent back then!" he teased. "I didn't know any better," he winked and she sighed heavily.

Anastasia intervened. "I don't mean to be a downer, but when are we going back to Balaam? I don't want to be in Roman territory anymore."

Xena nodded. "We will be leaving today. Don't worry, I don't want to stay here any longer than you do."

Gabrielle pulled her hand away and she stood from the bed, clamping her hands together. She gave Xena a sheepish grin and her body stiffened. Xena frowned. She had seen that look before. It was the look of Gabrielle doing something bad or sneaky, something out of the ordinary.

"What did you do?" Xena's voice sharp and irritated already.

The blonde laughed lightly. "Oh, you're going to think this is great, but...I sent a letter to your brothers in Stagira. I asked for their help to get Anastasia back to Balaam but...I doesn't..." she stopped talking once she saw the darkness loom inside Xena's eyes.

Slowly, the ex-commander rose from the bed, approaching Gabrielle, glaring down at her like a dark tower. Gabrielle suddenly felt so small.

"Gabrielle," she began calmly. "Why did you do that?"

"I didn't have any help," Gabrielle spoke quickly, "Ican'tleaveRomeIamtheConsultoOdoacerIjust –"

Xena covered her mouth and took a moment of silence for herself and saw the shock on Ernak and Ana's faces, both staring up at her with wide eyes. She turned back to Gabrielle and smiled widely, her eyes blinking rapidly.

"Change of plans, kids," she said and Ernak hopped to his feet.

"Are we going to Stagira?" he almost said with some hope.

Xena grabbed her sword and cloak, wrapping her it around her shoulders. "Yup." Her eyes darted to the blonde and saw she was trying to hide her face, looking to the ceiling, avoiding her gaze.

"Praise the Lord above!" Ernak grinned. "Finally, some normal Huns in my life! I gotta go get Dengi!" he grabbed his sword and darted out of the room in a hurry.

Anastasia frowned and grasped her mother's arm. "But I want to go back to Balaam. I want to see Csaba and Navaz. I need to talk to them." Her eyes pleading.

Xena smiled softly and pinched her daughter's chin. "I will take you back to them, Anastasia. But we have to go to Stagira first. I promise I'll bring you back to Balaam." She kissed her forehead and glared over at the blonde. "Are you coming or what?" she said in a sour voice.

She walked out of the room and Gabrielle quickly put on her shoes. "Xena! Wait!" she called and hobbled out of the room with one shoe on. "Does this mean that you're mad at me?" she asked.


"Xena!" she groaned and ran down the stairs. "Xena! Come on!" she begged. "It's not that bad!" she whined. "Xena!"

Outside of the large Adame Kreka was teaching Csaba how to use the sword that Dengi gifted him. She couldn't bear the forlorn look on the boy's any longer. He was sad that his mother and both uncles were gone and was also disappointed that he got to see Xena for only a couple of days before she departed as well. Now that the two were alone she figured that could use the sword as a distraction.

Although, she felt she was a bit inexperienced these days. It had been a long while since she picked up a sword especially after Ellac died soon after Attila. Though, she wanted the boy to be occupied and less focused on his mother's absence.

She gripped her sword and swung it slowly around and he lifted the large sword, blocking the slow block. She smiled. "Very good, Csaba, but you should really practice with a smaller weapon."

He frowned. "I want to practice with this sword." He remained adamant.

"Azimli," she muttered beneath her breath. He was more stubborn than his mother at times. He was beginning to remind her of Xena. "Alright. Come at me again, but faster this time." She instructed and gripped the sword.

Csaba creased his eyebrows and he swung his sword towards her and she blocked the blow easily. "Again," she said. He swung again and she spun around, their swords clashing again. "Again." He attacked again, and again and again.

Navaz came outside and heard swords clashing together. The metal scrapping he was most familiar with. Curious, he rounded the corner and saw Kreka teaching his stepson how to use a sword. A sword twice the boy's size, he noticed. He also saw that Csaba was getting frustrated and that was never good during battle or any other time for that matter.

He walked forward, folding his arms and observed them both. He and Csaba never spent much time together and he knew that was because the boy simply didn't like him. Anastasia forced her son to spend time with him, but it was clear that the twelve year old had no desire to do so, but he obeyed his mother's wishes no matter what. Navaz admired the boy's vigilance and respect for his mother and Kreka.

"I am not good at this!" Csaba whined.

Kreka sighed and lowered her sword. "You must have patience. Nobody is born with a sword in their hand." Except maybe Xena, she thought. "Come on, let's try again." She urged him and he pursed his lips, folding his arms. "Csaba, come now, don't be stubborn."

Navaz saw the ire in the boy's eyes and walked forward. He stood behind the boy and tapped his shoulder. Csaba gasped and turned around with his green eyes, gaping into Navaz's dark eyes. He towered over him, making him feel like a small ant.

"Will you let me help you?" he offered.

Kreka raised an eyebrow and Csaba was hesitant and too coy to allow Navaz to come anywhere near him. The king grabbed the boy's hand and wrapped his hand around his. He grabbed Csaba's other hand and put it on the hilt of the sword. He pointed the blade right at Kreka.

"The first thing you must know about holding is sword is the grip. It must be firm," Navaz instructed. "You understand?" Csaba nodded and his grip tightened so hard that his knuckles turned white. "Now," he whispered in his ear, "you can't think of Kreka Khatun as your friend. She is your enemy. Think of someone you hate."

"Emperor Zeno," Csaba's frown deepened and his eyes darkened.

Interesting choice, Navaz thought but he went with it. "Okay. Think of her as Zeno. Focus on your enemy." He whispered.

Csaba narrowed his eyebrows and Kreka raised her sword. She saw such malice in the boy's eyes. A look she had seen from his mother and Xena alike. He had that same fire, that same look that they both did. And it was not something Kreka wanted to be on the opposite side of.

"Now attack," Navaz said.

The twelve year old let out a loud cry and cast the heavy sword that seemed light as feather now. His sword clashed with hers and she gasped. He lifted the sword and swung again and she barely was able to dodge the blow. Navaz placed a hand on his hip and watched as Csaba continually attacked with fire running through his veins. He was pissed off.

Csaba growled and he thrust the sword forward and knocked the blade from Kreka's hand and he pointed the sword at her throat, breathing heavily. His eyes softened once he realized that he was pointing his sword at Kreka and not Zeno. Fear and horror in his eyes as he lowered the blade and Kreka placed a hand on her chest, her breath baited.

"Well," she began, "that was very...good." she looked into the boy's eyes and he stood frozen. She stepped forward and slowly took the sword from Csaba's grasp. "Why don't you go inside and change clothes?" she offered and he walked off, sulking slightly.

"He fights well," Navaz commented.

Kreka shot him a glare and planted the tip of the blade in the dirt. "He was angry. He allowed his hatred to fuel him in the fight. That is not something that Xena or Anastasia would want." She had seen what that did to Xena long ago and it was not something she wanted to see again, especially in a child.

She walked off and he sighed, following her. "I wanted to help."

She spun around with fury in her large hazel eyes. "I think we should wait until Anastasia comes home and Xena can oversee his training."

Navaz frowned. "I've heard a lot about Xena. She is intimidating."

"That's not the word I would use," Kreka scoffed. "You shouldn't get on her bad side, Navaz. I am warning you now. Do not take my warning lightly. You've already hit strike one with her."

"Strike one?" he asked, furrowing his eyebrows.

"You married her daughter," Kreka gave a crooked smile and wrapped the veil around her shoulder and sauntered off. "Bet you wished I was your true mother in law now, don't you?" she let out a light laugh.

He stood confused and in a daze. He knew Xena was one of the best commanders and ally of Attila for a long time. He had never met Xena before and his first meeting with her was not exactly very nice either. He didn't want to be on Xena's bad side, whatever that meant. He also didn't know what was going to happen to him if anything happened to Anastasia. He suddenly began questioning why he married Anastasia in the first place. He also realized that his wife, his queen and Xena's daughter was carrying his child. Would Xena hate him for that too? Did she even hate him? He didn't know, but he wanted to.

He walked into the Adame into his mother's quarters. He saw her fawning over more jewelry. She was obsessed with Chinese jewelry. "Mother, I need to talk to you." He said and she turned around with a smile and then saw his worried face.

She sighed and dismissed her servants. "What is it, Navaz?" she said curtly and picked up a pair of onyx earrings.

"Did I make a mistake in marrying Anastasia?" he asked.

She scoffed, "you know I am not fond of the girl." She clicked her tongue against her cheek and put down the earrings and picked up a necklace. "Despite her wicked tongue, I know she will give you a gorgeous son." She smiled and turned to face her son and frowned, seeing his concerned face.

"Navaz, please," she rolled her eyes. "Do not look at me that way. You look like a little puppy and it is not very becoming of a king."

"Mother!" he griped and grasped her shoulders. "You must not understand this but Kreka is not Anastasia's mother. Xena is." He said seriously and her eyes widened.

"You fear Xena?" she laughed.

He frowned. "No, I don't. I want to prove to her that I can be a good husband and father. Kreka warned me not to get on her bad side. I don't want to disappoint Xena."

Tuya's lip quivered and she brushed her son's hands off her shoulders. "You shouldn't listen to that old sow, my dear son. Her status means nothing. She is nothing. Kreka is the least of your concerns."

"Mother," he cut her off. "Kreka is the wife of Attila!" he spat and her mouth parted. "You didn't know did you? I was told by Xena before she left." He saw the shock in his mother's eyes. "She is the Queen of the Huns, mother. She has more status than you, than all of us, yet she remains hidden and does not evoke her duties as queen as long as Anastasia is here. You shouldn't talk ill of her."

Tuya growled. "These Pannonian women are full of secrets! They curse our people with their presence. I knew that Kreka nor Anastasia could not be trusted. Xena is no different. Next we will come to find out that Attila is not even dead, but hiding!" she huffed and threw the necklace across the room.

Later that night, Tuya stormed outside the Adame and stood in front of Kreka's yurt. She stepped inside and saw the fire in the pit had just been put out not too long ago. The embers still fresh. She walked through the yurt quietly and looked through a curtain and saw Csaba sleeping soundly. Frowning, she walked over to the next room and peeked through the curtain and saw Kreka sleeping on her large bed. Her long stick straight dark hair sprawled across the pillows and a candle still burning.

She stepped inside the room and pulled out a dagger from her belt and leered over the widowed wife of Attila. She pat the dagger against her palm and breathed in heavily. Kreka stirred in her sleep and lolled her head across the pillow, adjusting her body. Tuya bit her tongue and gripped the dagger, raising it above her head.

She did not wish to see Kreka gain her power back as queen and ruin everything. So far, Anastasia had swooped in took her son as her husband. What next? She couldn't allow her to live any longer. Her eyes widened and she was to thrust the dagger straight into Kreka's heart.

As her hands were about to drive the blade into Kreka's heart she felt a stab in her gut and she gasped for air, dropping the dagger. The drop awakened Kreka and her eyes fluttered open. She saw Tuya standing over her and gasped, covering her mouth as she saw a blade sticking out of
Tuya's gut from behind.

Blood seeped through Tuya's dark cotton dress. She felt the blade glide out of her body and her hands went to the wound in her stomach. Kreka hopped out of bed and saw Csaba holding a bloodied sword in his hands. Dengi's sword that he gave him.

Csaba lifted his green eyes to his aunt. "She was going to kill you." He said flatly.

Kreka side stepped by Tuya and cupped the boy's cheeks. "Dear God, Csaba," she whispered and took the blade slowly from his grasp. "Um.." she scratched her head. "Go back to your room."

He looked at Tuya who was clutching her wound and sitting on the bed, breathing heavily. Kreka began pushing him out. She whispered, "this never happened. This was an accident," she pushed him along. "Go!"

Kreka now turned around with a huge frown on her face. She dropped the sword and grabbed Tuya by her throat. "Do you not know who I am?" she hissed and Tuya croaked. Kreka pressed her free hand on Tuya's wound.

"Wife...of Attila," the Caucasus woman answered.

Kreka smiled eerily and her grip tightened. "Oh no, that title has been long gone." She whispered and pressed her fingers inside of Tuya's wound and the woman gasped for air as the pain worsened. "I am the Barbarian Queen of the Steppes. Queen of Pannonia! Wife of Attila! Queen of all Huns!" she growled. "Mother of Ernak, King of the Huns!" she continued. "Ally of Xena! Princess of the Ashina!"

She breathed heavily and released Tuya's throat. The woman coughed violently and Kreka walked away to grab a gauze. She ripped it in half with her strong teeth.

"Now," she knelt down beside Tuya and ripped open her dress. She saw the wound and it was not fatal. Not yet anyway. She began wrapping the woman's wound with the gauze. "What happened tonight will never leave this room. You will stay here. I will tell Navaz you had an accident." She grinned and saw fear in the woman's dark eyes.

"You aren't kill me?" Tuya asked as her voice trembled.

Kreka grinned. "Oh no, I won't kill you. That'd be too easy. Now, we will become the best of friends you see?" she winked and continued dressing the wound. "This will be our little secret."

She leaned in and saw Tuya flinch. She pecked her cheek with a soft kiss and pulled away with a menacing glare and wide lipped smile. She then grabbed the dagger off the floor and waved it in Tuya's face.

"And this will be my insurance," Kreka winked and slipped the dagger in her breast. "Don't underestimate me again, White Hun." She hissed. "If you lay a hand upon Csaba after tonight, I will leave you in Xena's care. I'm sure you don't want that," she chuckled softly. "She won't show any kindness to you."

Tuya immediately regretted coming in here to kill Kreka. Now she was trapped. Kreka had her wrapped around her finger now. She would not be able to escape so easily.

The group arrived to Stagira and Gabrielle tried to talk to Xena multiple times throughout the journey bu was given the cold shoulder or replied with short curt responses. Gabrielle realized what she had done was not exactly ideal but to be fair, she didn't know Xena was alive.

Ernak and Dengi lead everyone and they stopped on a hill, overlooking the large city of Stagira, now inhabited by Atlyn Huns. Despite the wars and hatred, the Atlyn Huns were the only allies Ernak had. The Bulgurs took over Pannonia, but at least the Atlyn Huns never warred with them. They were considered alright in his book.

Dengi scoffed. "Looks like they're having a party," he nudged his head to the large bonfires and women dancing with one another and men singing with each other drinking wine and mead.

Xena raised her eyebrow. "Wonder how they can celebrate at a time like this." She grumbled. "Let's go," she trotted down the hill with Ernak shortly following. Anastasia wrapped her arms around Dengi's waist as he lead a slow trot.

Anastasia inhaled deeply and leaned against Dengi's backside. He peered over his shoulder. "Are you okay back there?" he asked in a soft voice.

"Yes.." she answered barely above a whisper.

"Don't sound okay to me," he frowned and trotted beside Xena. "I don't think she is feeling well," he said.

Xena halted her horse and spun around to see her daughter leaning against Dengi, eyes closed, inhaling deeply. Gabrielle frowned and hopped off the horse, tapping Ana's thigh. Slowly, the Hun turned her head and saw green eyes gawking from below.

"Hey," Gabrielle smiled warmly. "Are you feeling alright? We're almost there."

Anastasia gave a tired smile and nodded. Xena sighed. "She is probably just tired," Xena said and hoped. "When I find my brothers we will let her rest." Her voice bitter, still a bit upset at Gabrielle for concocting this plan of hers.

There, on the bottom of the hill in a group of men, Xena spotted her brothers. She hopped off her horse and approached them from behind, both unaware of her presence.

"Ben senin yerinde olsam ufak ufak uzarım durmamvalezimi toplar giderimGöz yaşına bakmam bakmam bir dakika bile kalmamsevene zulüm edeni yakar geçerim."

Ditron and Pirro, youngest brothers of Xena, sang together in unison. Xena folded her arms and Ernak came up beside Xena. While Dengi and Gabrielle aided Anastasia off the horse slowly, moving towards everyone else.

"Akıl karı değil ızdırabınm böylesi. Bu aşk değil esaretin ta kendisi", Xena sang after her brothers. The two young men gasped and ceased singing and turned at the sound of her voice.

"Xena!" Pirro hopped to his feet, sloshing the wine in his cup. "An Angel from above!"

Ernak scoffed. "Wow, he must be really drunk." He joked and Xena shot him a glare.

"You know our language?" Ernak questioned the men, trying to avoid Xena's harsh gaze.

Ditron, remembering Ernak well smiled and wrapped his arm around the young Hun King. "We had to...learn it. You know, since the Atlyn Huns kind of ransacked our city." He whispered. Ernak nodded his head slowly.

His eyes caught sight of Gabrielle and he gasped. He ran to her and hugged her. "Gabrielle! I thought you were dead!" he kissed her cheek and she blushed. He then realized and turned to his elder sister. "Wait, aren't you...supposed to be dead?"

Xena sighed heavily. "I will explain later." She turned to her daughter. "Do you have somewhere that we can stay? Preferably somewhere with less drunken men and loud music," she groaned. Not much of a person who liked parties anyway.

Young Pirro wrapped his arm around his sister, matching her in height and same blue eyes with sandy blonde hair much like their fallen brother, Lyceus. "Sister, dear sister, don't be such a downer. Parties are fun!" he raised his wine and Xena rolled her eyes. He kissed her cheek and she cringed. "I am happy to see you alive! Word had that you were crucified and left for dead by Emperor Zeno!"

She grew impatient with her brother's behavior. "Yes, yes. I'm alive and well. Now, do you have a place to stay or not?"

Ditron grabbed Xena's arm and pulled her along. "Of course we do! I will lead the way." He grinned from ear to ear. Xena shook her head and felt her head already pounding. "I missed you," he whispered. He noticed she was less enthused to see him and he frowned, slapping her on the arm and she shot him a glare. "You should really lighten up, Xena. You are alive, so is Gabrielle and Anastasia. When I thought you were dead I was saddened by the news. I couldn't bear to lose another sibling. Not after Xander and Lyceus. I couldn't lose you too."

She softened and realized that she had everything she wished for. Gabrielle was safe, sort of, and her daughter was alive and well, considering everything. She realized that she was not giving herself enough time to heal and repair her mind, soul and body. She didn't ever give herself time for anything. Being reminded her brothers that died because of her actions was something she didn't want to relive, but it was her reality. Her sad reality. But her two other brothers were still alive and that was something she shouldn't take for granted. Not again. She wouldn't lose any more of her family. Not again. Not ever.

Inside the Greek apartment, everyone sat on a large floor rug. Since the Atlyn Huns took over the city, there were no yurts except for a few in the field, but everyone had flats they stayed in like they did before the Huns invaded. A Greek-Hunnic city, something that Xena thought she'd never see. It was very strange. What next? A Hun inhabited Athens? She hoped not.

Gabrielle sat beside Anastasia as she lay on a few pillows, sleeping soundly after she ate some food and drank some much needed water. Dengi and Ernak sat together while Ditron, Pirro and Xena sat together. The brothers of Xena kept gawking at her, surprised to see her face after such a long time. They hadn't seen each other in five years and they didn't ever expect to see their sister again after the news they heard.

Xena felt a bit awkward as her brothers kept staring at her. She ran her fingers through her hair. "Gabrielle sent you a letter, right?" she broke the silence.

Pirro nodded. "Oh yes, we got the letter. We were worried about Anastasia of course. We informed the Bey about it. But now that you're all here...I guess it doesn't matter anymore," he grinned.

Ditron nudged his brother, almost sober now. His head throbbing from all the wine he had this evening. "It matters because the Bey was going to set an attack for Rome before Gabrielle's letter came. After he read that Anastasia was alive, he wanted to go in and take her from Odoacer."

Odoacer. Xena hated that man. She met him a long time ago when she was with Borias and Attila. He was very arrogant and thought he was the best warrior there was. But he was nothing. He was an awful warrior and an awful human being too. She remembered the first time she met Odoacer and he was part of King Rua's court at the time. Attila was not fond of him either.

She figured that he probably told everyone that he left Pannonia out of his own free will but that was not the case. Attila banned Odoacer from returning to Pannonia. He tried to kill her, Borias, and Attila. To be exiled was worse than anything for a Hun. Nobody would accept you into a new tribe. Word spread around fast. Xena figured that Odoacer had disappeared or died, but that was apparently not the case. Odoacer warned Attila that he would be king one day and she supposed he was not wrong. He was an emperor now. An emperor of Rome.

"Is the Bey still planning the attack?" she asked and the room fell silent.

Gabrielle looked to her companion with utmost concern. "Xena," she spat and shook her head. "No. We are not attacking Rome. No. Not after I just got you back!" he voice trembling.

"Gabrielle! You don't understand! Odoacer is a monster," Xena's voice low and serious.

The blonde folded her arms. "No! Forget it! We are not going into Rome and I won't risk losing you again. Not this time."

"He could have killed my daughter!"

"And what do you think he will do to you?!" Gabrielle's voice raising in the heat of the argument. "Reward you with the status of General? He is not Valentinian! He is not stupid! He knows what he's doing and he will find you, Xena. He will know something is wrong now because I am gone. Being taken by Huns is not something to be taken lightly in Rome, Xena."

"She's right ya know," Dengi said.

Gabrielle huffed. "If the Atlyn Huns want to invade Rome, fine. Let them. But we are not going! We are going back to Balaam like you promised! Or don't you keep your promises? You promised Anastasia." Her voice cracked. "You promised me," her frown lessened and her eyes watered.

Xena quirked her mouth and lowered her gaze. She wanted to kill Odoacer but she also didn't want to go against her promises. She thought she lost so much and now that Gabrielle was sitting in front of her, she didn't want to lose her or anyone else in a war against Rome. But at the same time, she didn't want Rome to win. She had longed for vengeance against the Romans, especially Emperor Zeno but it seemed that this was not the time to do it.

The voice of fear and sorrow was not something Xena wanted to hear from her most loved and cherished person in the world. "Fine," she said softly.

Gabrielle heard that word before. She didn't trust Xena when she said that word and she wasn't going to let her get away with it. "No, it's not fine. We're not going. We. Are. Going. Back. To. Balaam. Right?" she hissed.

Xena lifted her eyes and saw such fire in Gabrielle's eyes. "Alright," she said, "alright, we're not going."

Now she could breathe easily. "Thank you," Gabrielle exhaled heavily.

Ernak let out a large exhale. "Wow," he broke the awkward tension in the room. "I need some wine." He hopped to his feet.

His brother shortly followed. "Me too," he grinned, desperate to get away from that awkward intense conversation that just happened.

"I would have thought you'd set your wares on Zeno after what he did to you," Ditron said.

Oh, he's next, Xena thought. She eyed Gabrielle who was glaring at her intently. "The thought hadn't crossed my mind," she said, still locking eyes with the blonde's.

Chapter Text

AN: the fluff is strong with this one lol. Tender moments between Gabrielle and Xena that were not often used in the first story.

Chapter 9

Gabrielle sat on the bed inside Ditron's bedroom, watching Xena take off her cloak. Xena had her back turned to her and she cocked her head, watching as Xena quietly unlaced her top in silence. It had been a year since Gabrielle lay eyes on Xena. It still felt like a dream but she was glad it wasn't one of those dreams that she begged to stay in forever. She had Xena now and that's all that mattered.

Xena turned her head over her shoulder, seeing the soft, warm green eyes. "You...should turn away," she advised in a soft voice.

The blonde half smiled and walked over to the tall warrior. Her hands lowering the sleeves of Xena's blouse, sliding down her arms. Gabrielle frowned seeing the scars on Xena's backside and saw a huge one on the side of her ribs.

Gently, she ran her fingers across Xena's bare back and felt the bumpy scars. She saw Xena stiffen and she smiled, lifting her eyes. "You look the same to me," she said and Xena furrowed her eyebrows, turning slowly to meet her eyes.

She reached for the blouse at Xena's chest to pull it down and Xena clutched it tightly to her chest. Gabrielle wrapped her hand around the warrior's and saw fear in those blue eyes. "I want to see." She pressed and Xena relaxed her hand and let it slip to her side.

Gabrielle slid the blouse off of Xena's torso entirely and tossed it aside. Her eyes widened upon seeing the horrible wounds on Xena's chest. She reached out and saw her body stiffen. Touching a scar beneath Xena's breast, her fingers gently caressed the wound that would forever be a reminder of the Romans. Of death. Of separation. So many things.

It had been a long time since she felt hands caress her body the way Gabrielle was doing right now. Any human contact intimately had long left Xena's mind until she lay eyes on her sweet companion once more.

"Gabrielle...I," she began and felt fingers pressed against her lips, silencing her.

"Shh," Gabrielle grinned and her hand gripped her consort's bare shoulder, their eyes locked on one another. "I love you no matter what," she said barely above a whisper. "You could be a one eyed monster and I'd still love you," she jested and winked.

Xena smiled faintly and her cheeks blushed slightly. A rare sight for anyone to see, even Gabrielle. She didn't feel like herself at the moment. Not anymore. Her body was so badly damaged, but Gabrielle didn't see that, she knew that, but she still felt self conscious.

"Where is Anastasia?" she asked.

Gabrielle grinned and sat on the bed, pulling Xena's arm with her. "In Pirro's bedroom."

"And the others?" Xena stood in front of the petite blonde.

"With your brothers I'm sure," she bit her bottom lip. She really didn't want to talk about Ernak, Dengi and Anastasia right now. Together, they were finally alone and Xena was avoiding her touch. She for once, had to be patient with her.

She saw such pain in Xena's eyes and knew that the way she looked was not what she envisioned when they reunited. Gabrielle had not forgotten the so-called savage woman's gentle touch on her skin or her broad smile, her warm eyes and long dark hair that seemed to have lost its sheen. Xena was not vain with her looks but Gabrielle knew that Xena wasn't the same. Her body was different, but she'd always see Xena the same even if she had graying hair and wrinkles around her mouth and eyes.

Xena looked into the blonde's lingering eager eyes and sat down beside her, unaware that she wrapped her arm around her bare chest, covering her breasts. She felt as if she were sitting next to a stranger for the first time, in a room by herself.

She felt Gabrielle inching closer and a hand wrap around her shoulders and her body tightened. She winced at the pain in her leg.

Gabrielle frowned seeing the pain in her lover's eyes. Something she did not want to see. "Xena..." she began and saw the black veil hang in front of her face, hiding her true emotions. She grabbed the warrior's chin to turn her face towards hers and saw tears in Xena's eyes.

She frowned sadly. "Xena," she cupped her cheek and stared into her glossy eyes. Xena never shed tears and if she did it was for a good reason, but what reason could that be?

"I'm here," the blonde grinned. "You can tell me. What's bothering you?"

Xena exhaled heavily and placed her hand over Gabrielle's as it still lay on her cheek. Her touch, so warm and loving. A touch she longed for. Closing her eyes, she sat still for a moment, taking it all in. She didn't know why tears suddenly emerged but perhaps it was because the thought of losing someone so close to her again was too much. She was too tired and older than she was when she met Gabrielle to lose someone again.

Opening her eyes she saw those green piercing eyes staring at her. She smiled and kissed the hand on her cheek. "Nothing. I just kept thinking for a year that I lost you and now that you're here...I guess I wasn't able to process it all until now."

For a woman with such a hard exterior, she sure had a loving and giving heart. Gabrielle smiled and leaned forward, kissing her cheek. She didn't want to pressure Xena into anything too soon. Her emotions and body too raw to handle something new.

A soft kiss as all that she needed. Xena never left her eyes and she leaned forward, feeling less exposed emotionally than she was before. She ran her fingers through Gabrielle's soft blonde short locks and her lips parted, taking the moment in. She wasn't going to take anything for granted anymore. She couldn't afford it.

Gabrielle saw Xena's hands roaming to her dress strap and slowly it slipped off her shoulder. Xena grinned weakly then slipped off the strap, gazing at her small breasts. That scar beside her breast, Xena took note of it. She grazed her fingertips across the subtle fading scar that she gave Gabrielle what seemed like eons ago. A reminder of someone she never wanted to be again and a horrid reminder for Gabrielle too.

The blonde noticed Xena's eyes lingering on the scar and she grabbed her hand, squeezing it tightly. "It's in the past," she said and the warrior lifted her large eyes with uncertainty.

Both women scarred for different reasons, but all reflected similar circumstances. It was in the past. Xena half smiled and leaned forward, pressing her lips against Gabrielle's gently. A sweet taste that she had missed. Both pulled away and grinned at each other. Xena pressed her forehead against hers and cupped the blonde's full cheeks.

Gabrielle breathed heavily, her hot breath against Xena's warm face. She bit her bottom lip and then kissed her again, more fiercely this time and Xena's hands began taking off Gabrielle's dress, slipping it off her legs. Smiling in between soft embrace and warm lips, Gabrielle unlaced Xena's dark pants at her waist.

Gabrielle laid back on the bed and Xena crawled on top of her, pressing their bodies together as their lips never parted. Until, Gabrielle pulled away, leaning into the pillows and Xena frowned confusedly.

"Are you sure...that you are alright to do this?" she asked.

Xena grinned. Oh, she's being very polite, she thought. "Yes, I'm sure." Dipping down, she relaxed her lean body against Gabrielle's, careful not to move her leg in any odd positions. She leaned down and pressed her lips against the blonde's, her hands roaming along her outer thigh.

The following morning Anastasia awoke from her slumber and groaned slightly, seeing the bright sun shining into the bedroom. She rubbed her eyes and rolled over onto her back. Staring up at the ceiling, she frowned. She didn't remember being in a bedroom and in...a bed. She wondered how long she had been asleep and supposed one of the men carried her to this room, which appeared to be one of her uncle's rooms.

Sighing she sat up against the pillows and saw her dress draped on a chair and she was in her undergarment dress, a simple black thin dress beneath her cotton dress she wore daily. She peered down at her stomach and she ran her palm across the small life growing within her. Choosing to ignore the child she carried as not a wise choice now, especially since she couldn't anymore.

As if reverting back to her teenage days, she chose to ignore the changes that happened to her body even though she knew she was carrying a child, she was in denial. Still, even now, she felt that denial, especially since this child was not made out of love. She instantly felt awful for thinking this way about someone that shared half of her blood.

She cocked her head and kept staring down at the unborn child, glaring at it. As the days went on, she felt the life within her every day and that was not something she could ignore especially since it was more obvious that she was pregnant. Her belly small, but round and not flat like it was but two weeks ago and it was forever haunting her.

She groaned and threw the blankets off her body and grabbed her dress, slipping her arms through the long sleeves and buttoning the dress up in the front. She looked at herself in the mirror and felt the dress tight around her waist and hips.

She walked out of the bedroom and saw both of her uncles passed out on the floor. Dengi on a couch with his leg draped over the edge and Ernak slumped in a chair, still holding an empty chalice. She rolled her eyes, shaking her head. "Men," she muttered.

She rounded a corner and heard voices of her mother and Gabrielle talking quietly to themselves. She peeked through the crack of the door and saw her mother already dressed and Gabrielle lounging in bed. Clearing her throat, she knocked on the door.

"Come in," Gabrielle called out.

Anastasia smiled faintly and stepped inside and Xena turned at her presence. "Ana," Xena smiled and walked over, examining her daughter's body and face. "Are you feeling better?"

Her daughter nodded. "Yes, a lot better." She felt her mother's hand come to her forehead and she swatted her hand away. "Mom, please. I am not a child."

Xena smirked and pat her daughter's cheek. "You'll always be my child, Anastasia." She walked to the mirror and adjusted the black blouse, fixing the sleeves. "Speaking of children..." she said and heard her daughter let out a dramatic sigh. "How's the baby?"

Anastasia folded her arms and glared at her mother. Gabrielle arched an eyebrow and lifted from the bed, covering her bare chest. "I'd rather not talk about the baby, mother."

Xena frowned and slowly turned to her tall daughter, both staring into each other's blue eyes. "Just because you don't love Navaz doesn't mean you should take it out on your child, Anastasia."

The young Hun queen's eyes softened and she frowned sadly, letting her guard down a bit. Xena saw that she may have hit a nerve, reminding her daughter that she was married to someone she didn't love. "Navaz is no Ellac, but he is kind and he cares about you a lot. If you spent more time getting to know him, you may grow to love him."

Anastasia sighed heavily and plopped down on the bed, her eyes gazing at her child. "But his mother hates me."

Xena nodded. "She is something to be desired..." her lip quivered. "Let me handle her," she grinned deviously.

Gabrielle saw that look. "Xena, don't do something irrational." She warned.

"What? I was just going to talk to the woman. Gosh, Gabrielle. No faith in me at all. Has our time together meant nothing?" she winked and the blonde's cheeks flushed.

Gabrielle crawled to the end of the bed and wrapped her arm around her Xena's daughter, and now she liked to consider Anastasia her daughter as well. "Listen, this could be a sign that you can start over. Have a new life away from the war and violence." She said softly and saw tears swelling in the young woman's eyes. "And Csaba I'm sure is excited about having a sibling."

Anastasia sobbed softly and Gabrielle's lips parted and she looked up at Xena for help, but she wasn't any help at all. "I...I haven't told him," she said in between soft sobs.

"Oh this is going to be a great reunion," Xena snidely remarked.

"You are not helping," Gabrielle spat and Xena shrugged a shoulder.

"Relax, Anastasia," Xena put on her cloak and smiled, looking at her attire in the mirror once more. "You have nothing to worry about. Csaba will be fine. Everything will be fine. You are stressing yourself out too much."

Anastasia's tears ceased for a brief moment and cast a dark glance at Xena. "Mother! I am Queen of the Huns! I am also Navaz's commander! I have a lot on my plate here and you are not helping..." she sighed and wiped the tears from her eyes.

Xena sighed and knelt down in front of her daughter, grabbing her hands. "Then let me lighten your load for you," she grinned, "allow me to be Navaz's commander."

Gabrielle's eyes widened. "Oh no! No, no, no!" she spat and both women turned to the irate blonde. "You are not going to be a commander again, Xena. No way in Hell!"

"Who says?" Xena smirked.

"I say!" Gabrielle groaned and clutched the sheets. "Why can't you just...just..."

"Be normal?" Anastasia interrupted and Xena spun her head around staring up at her daughter. "It won't work Gabrielle. She'll never be normal."

Xena growled and stood up, folding her arms. "Just let me take your place, Ana. Just until the baby is born and you can have your title as commander back. Seem fair?" she grinned deviously, her eyebrows rising, disappearing in her bangs.

Anastasia quirked her mouth and took one last look at the furious blonde behind her. She then turned to her mother. "Well...I could use your help and God knows that Navaz needs help," she smiled sheepishly.

"I do not like this," Gabrielle fumed and leaned against the pillows, crossing her arms.

Later Xena was mounting her horse with Gabrielle placed firmly behind her. Her younger brothers frowned sadly. Ditron stepped forward. "I hate to see you all go so quickly!"

Pirro nodded, "yeah, we never get to see each other and not to mention, we thought you were all dead!" he chuckled and Xena rolled her eyes.

"We will see each other again," Xena said. "Tell no one that I was here. I don't want any Romans lurking in the Caucasus."

Both brothers nodded. "And when can we see you all again?" Ditron proposed.

Ernak had a sneaky smile on his face and slapped his hand on Anastasia's thigh as she sat behind him on the horse. "You're invited to Anastasia's senlik party!" he blurted out and Xena shot him a glare.

Anastasia slapped him on the back of the head and he winced. "Ernak!"

"A senlik? What is that?" Ditron eyed his elder sister.

"Nothing. Just forget it –" Xena said.

"A party for expecting mothers!" Ernak spat out again and he received another slap by Ana. "Would you stop?!" he growled and she hit him again.

Ditron's and Pirro's eyes widened. "You're pregnant?" Ditron asked with a big smile on his face and Xena slapped her forehead.

"I'm kill you..." Ana whispered into Ernak's ear.

Gabrielle smiled in the midst of the tension. "I love parties," she said and Xena spun around, glaring at her. "Oh come on, it'll be fun."

"I really don't want a senlik," Ana protested.

"Your last senlik was fun," Ernak nudged her arm and she snarled and he chuckled nervously. "It'd be nice to have some fun for once..." he advised.

Xena rolled her eyes and looked to her brothers. "I will write to you both," she said and they nodded. She yanked on the reins and took off, leading the way through the field.

"So, we're not having a senlik?" Ernak said and Ana hit his arm as they rode behind her mother. "Ow! God..." he groaned. "You want to steer the horse or keep hitting me?"

She smirked, "I am a better rider than you anyway."

"Alright kids," Xena sighed and slowed to a trot as they came to a rocky terrain.

Dengi frowned. "Hey, don't rope me into this!"

"Shut up, Dengi," Ana spat.

Gabrielle stifled a laugh as she had her arm wrapped around Xena's waist. "They sound like five year olds."

"Well, I'd rather ride with Dengi than you!" Anastasia shoved Erank's shoulder and he growled.

"Oh yeah? Then why don't you?"

Dengi steered his horse through the rocks. "No way. You keep her. I don't want to get smacked for nothing."

Xena groaned lowly and heard Gabrielle laughing quietly. "Remind me to tape their mouths shut when we stop for camp."

"Mother! Tell Ernak that I –"

Xena snarled and unsheathed her sword and turned on her horse, pointing the blade at all three of them. They immediately shut their mouths and widened their eyes. "Not another word from either one of you." She hissed. "Do I make myself clear?" she asked and the three nodded their head silently. She sighed and sheathed her sword. "Good. Gabrielle tell me if any one of them says anything."

Gabrielle grinned mischievously and she got glares from all three riding behind her and Xena. Suddenly she felt like she was transported to a time ten years ago when all three were much younger, more innocent but it seems like their behavior has not changed since then.

Dengi scoffed, "like she can do anything to us," he eyed his brother and both snickered.

Xena spun her head around, glaring at the two brothers. "What did I say?! I said not another word!"

Dengi smiled, "what are you going to do, Xena?"

She laughed lightly and glared at the arrogant young man. "You really want to find out?" she hissed.

His eyes widened as he saw her hand reaching for her blade. "No ma'am." He shook his head. He, his brother and Anastasia all had memories of Xena's and Attila's swords. Such pain they inflicted when the three children of Pannonia misbehaved. They could just feel their thighs burning at the thought.

"I thought so," Xena turned and continued through the open field. "And don't call me that. I hate that."

Ernak exhaled heavily. "Your mother is crazy," he whispered to Ana.

"That better not be your voice I hear, Ernak!" Xena called out as her trot quickened.

"No, Xena!" he said and felt the color drain from his cheeks and Ana chuckled, wrapping her arms around his waist.

Gabrielle shook her head and leaned against Xena's backside. She couldn't help but find the situation amusing and all three seemed to find Xena horrifying even though they were not children anymore. "So, what were you going to do to them?" she asked.

Xena grinned crookedly. "Nothing. I just like to instill fear in them. Works every time."

"Xena!" Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "That isn't nice and they aren't children anymore!"

"Then they shouldn't keep falling for it," Xena grinned and the blonde couldn't argue with that logic.

Kreka poured some tea into a glass and lifted the tray. Csaba was waiting patiently sitting on an ottoman. "Take this to Tuya," she pushed the tray into his chest and grumbled, taking the tray from her hands.

"Do I have to?" he whined.

"Yes! Take it to her and try to be nice to her, Csaba. She is your grandmother now you know," she eyed his bright green eyes.

He frowned and groaned lowly. "No she's not." Xena was his only grandmother and he didn't need nor want Tuya in his life. He turned and walked out of the room into a smaller bedroom. "She's a bitch," he muttered.

He walked through the curtains and saw Tuya sitting in bed propped up against a few pillows. He really did not like the woman especially after he saw her try to kill Kreka, a person that he really loved in his family. He set the tray down on a table harshly and glared down at her.

Tuya blinked and eyed the tea and then the twelve year old. She reached for the tea glass and he grabbed it. "Allow me," he said and she eyed him cautiously. She took the glass of tea from his hand and sipped it, not taking her eyes off of him.

"When my real grandmother gets here she's not going to be happy with you."

Tuya smiled faintly and lifted a dark brow at the boy. "You're very audacious, aren't you? You really admire your grandmother don't you?"

He nodded and folded his arms. "She would do anything for me. I'm warning you Tuya Khatun. Be nice to her or else."

"Or else what, boy?" she spat.

"Face the dire consequences!" he growled.

"Csaba!" Kreka called out from the sitting room in the yurt.

His eyes widened as he stared down at the woman and he slowly backed away. "I warned you," he pointed his finger at her then ran off to go see what Kreka.

Entering the sitting area he saw Navaz standing beside Kreka and his tough attitude faded a bit and he walked closer eyeing his stepfather. The king smiled down at him and Kreka looked to the nervous boy. She knew that he was not very close to Navaz but that would have to change.

"Navaz offered to teach you how to use a war bow," she said with a subtle grin and he lowered his eyes. "What do you say, Csaba?"

Navaz inhaled deeply and watched the boy anxiously swing his foot back and forth, remaining silent. He cleared his throat and Csaba lifted his head. "It will be fun, Csaba. It will give you a chance to get away from the women," he teased.

The pre-teen weakly grinned. "Okay..." he walked along and Navaz grasped his shoulder as they left the yurt together.

The king walked with his stepson towards the back of the Adame where the weapons were held in an armory. Navaz had set up the field for an archery lesson for Csaba, eager to try and spend more time with him. He peered down and saw the scowl on the boy's face and knew this was not going to be easy to get the boy to like him. Csaba had some very influential and important people in his life. Those people were all women and Csaba was a strong willed boy that was raised by a bunch of strong willed women.

"So, have you ever used a bow before?" he asked trying to lift the tension.

Csaba nodded. "My mother taught me a couple of times."

Navaz sighed. "Listen, Csaba, I know you don't like me that much. I can't replace your father but I was hoping that we could be...friends?"

The boy turned his head up at the dark haired Hun king and quirked his mouth. "I can't really remember my father that much but my mother says that I look like him."

Navaz smiled, nodding his head slowly. "I care for your mother a lot, you know. She is a very smart woman and she did a good job raising you."

They came to the field and Navaz picked up a bow and handed it to Csaba. The boy examined the bow cautiously and felt like an ant next to it. the weapon was nearly as tall as he was. Navaz saw the apprehension in his eyes and chuckled.

"I know your people are used to using swords but here we use bows. You will learn how to use one since you are the Prince of the White Huns now." He grinned and strung his own bow and picked up an arrow for himself and Csaba stood beside him, watching his every move.

Navaz eyed a target about forty yards away and shot the arrow dead center. Csaba's jaw dropped and the king turned to his shocked face. Picking up an arrow, he handed to him. "You try," he urged the boy.

Csaba breathed in heavily and stepped forward, eyeing the target. Navaz gripped his elbow and raised it to his ear. "You have to keep your elbow on the same level at your eyes." He whispered. "Pull back tightly," he said and Csaba grunted, pulling the arrow as far back as he could. "And...release!"

The arrow soared through the air and landed on the outside of the target. Csaba sighed and Navaz pat his shoulder. "At least you hit the board. We can try again." He pulled another arrow. "Focus on the target this time."

Xena rode into Balaam and saw Kreka beating a rug outside of the yurt. Gabrielle hopped off the horse and was wary of the Hun woman. Xena smirked and dismounted her horse, watching Kreka beat the rug fiercely.

"What did that rug do to you?" she called out.

Kreka immediately spun around and smiled seeing her two sons, Xena, Anastasia and Gabrielle all in one piece. She dropped what she was doing and ran for them with a big grin on her face. She wrapped her arms around Xena, nearly toppling her over. Xena's eyes widened and she hesitantly pat the woman's back gently.

Pulling away she saw Gabrielle and both stared at one another for a long time. Kreka smiled and embraced Gabrielle warmly for a brief moment. "I can always count on Xena to bring back the Greek girl," she teased.

Gabrielle smiled nervously and stuck close to Xena's side. "Must have been fate I guess..."

"Aren't you going to greet us? Hello? We're your sons!" Ernak called out and his mother turned him and hugged him as well. She pulled away then slapped his arm. "Ow! Mother!" he griped.

"Where have you been?!" she yelled and Dengi slowly began backing away, carrying the bags over his shoulders. "Dengizich!" she spat and he halted. "You were supposed to keep Anastasia safe and now you were saved by Xena no doubt. Again."

Dengi rolled his eyes. "We would have come back sooner but someone..." he eyed Anastasia, "decided to take a detour to Pannonia and get us captured and taken to Rome."

Kreka gasped. "You went to Pannonia?"

Anastasia stepped forward, "it was my idea and I know that we shouldn't have gone but I just had to see who was in charge. But unfortunately, now they know who we are know that I am married to Navaz. I don't know if they believed me when I told them that or not..."

She received a menacing glare from the khatun and Xena grabbed her hang, pulling her away. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." she eyed the empty Adame and yurts surrounding it. "Where is Navaz?"

Kreka folded her arms. "He is teaching Csaba how to use a war bow behind the Adame."

Ana's jaw dropped. "Navaz spending time with Csaba?" she eyed Kreka and the woman nodded. "Mother will you..."

Xena smiled, "yes I'll come with you." She walked behind her daughter and snatched the blonde's arm along the way. "Come on, Gabrielle."

They rounded the Adame and there was Navaz instructing Csaba on how to properly hold a bow. Anastasia smiled, clamping her hands together she walked forward behind them, observing. Xena folded her arms and leaned against the large building with Gabrielle standing beside her.

"Well, he's handsome," Gabrielle whispered.

Xena smirked, nodding her head. "Anastasia will grow to love him eventually."

"You think so?"

The warrior shrugged a shoulder. "It would sure make her life a lot easier."

Anastasia crept up behind her husband and watched her son shoot another arrow, nearly hitting the center of the target. She smiled and finally spoke, "not bad for a swordsman," she said.

Csaba spun around and he dropped his bow. "Mother!" he smile reached from ear to ear. He ran and wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her tightly. "You're back! She promised she'd bring you back."

Ana frowned, "who?"

He lifted his head from her chest with his sparkling green eyes. "Grandma of course, who else?"

"Ah," she nodded and ruffled his hair. "You know she doesn't like being called that, Csaba." She pried his arms off her and turned. His eyes widened when he saw Xena and then he saw Gabrielle standing next to her. Both of them waved their hands and he beamed.

"Gabrielle!" he quickly ran across the field to meet the one person whom he could share his secrets with. He thought she was long gone from his life until now. He had two of the most important people in his life again.

Navaz eyed the blonde woman curiously and walked over to his wife. "Who is that?"

She turned and her cheeks flushed. "Oh...she's my...other mother. It's a long story." She suddenly felt very vulnerable around Navaz and even though he was her husband she couldn't get close to him. She thought of what her mother and Gabrielle said to her back in Stagira and realized that she shouldn't project her anger on her child just because she was in an unwanted marriage.

He smiled and titled her chin to look into those blue eyes that he missed seeing. "You're alright, yes?"

She nodded, "yes, I'm fine."

His eyes drifted to her small expanded waist and a smile crossed his lips. He placed both his hands on her belly and she sighed, grabbing his hands in her own and he gazed into her worried eyes.

"We need to tell Csaba," she said with urgency and he nodded.

"Of course. Whenever you're ready," he smiled and she half smiled.

"And...another mother wants to help command the army," she added and his eyes grew but he remained silent, unwilling to combat her on the subject, already wary of Xena. "By help I mean, she wants to take my place as commander." She held her breath. "Just until I have the baby."

He pursed his lips and eyed Ana's mother from afar talking with Csaba. "Okay..."

She exhaled, "okay? You're okay with this?"

He grinned and brushed his thumb against her cheek. "She is your mother, Anastasia. Who am I to step in between your relationship with her?"

She felt a sense of relief overcome her and a smile finally graced a lips, a natural one. "Thank you." She finally said and he saw the relief in her eyes. "I don't know what I would had done if you had said no. My mother doesn't like that word."

"I can imagine..." he muttered.

"She just wants to help that's all." She said and he nodded curtly. "At least she hasn't threatened to kill you. When I was pregnant with Csaba I thought she was going to kill his father." She chuckled.

Navaz's eyes widened and he suddenly felt his entire body stiffen. Anastasia thought that was a joke but he didn't think so. "Does that mean she likes me?" he inquired.

She shrugged a shoulder. "She hasn't tried to kill you yet so I guess that means she thinks you're alright." She teased.

"Navaz," Xena strolled up to him with Gabrielle and Csaba on either side of her. She saw the king's dark eyes widen. "I trust that my daughter told you everything?"

He nodded. "Yes, Xena."

"Good, very good." She wrapped her arm around Gabrielle. "This is Gabrielle. She is like family so you will treat her with respect, understand?"

He smiled nervously. "Of course. Hello," he bowed his head.

Gabrielle grinned cheekily, "hello." She gave him a curt nod.

Xena grinned mischievously and wrapped her arm around the king harshly and he winced. They began walking off together. "So, Navaz. You and I are going to have a long chat and get to know one another very well, how's that sound?"

"Sounds...very nice, Xena."

"Mhm. So, let's begin with your mother," her eyebrows furrowed and her smile widened. He shot her a confused look as they waltzed back to the Adame.

Gabrielle folded her arms and shook her head. "Poor guy. He doesn't know what he's in for."

Csaba grabbed Gabrielle's shoulder. "Aren't you going to tell me about all your adventures in Rome, Gabrielle?" his eyes grew with excitement.

Ana grinned and grabbed her son's shoulders. "I don't know, Csaba, maybe another time?"

Gabrielle didn't want to see any disappointment in his eyes and looked to Anastasia, who seemed awfully tired. "No, it's alright. I will keep him entertained for hours. You should go rest. I'll watch him."

"Are you sure, Gabrielle?" Ana lifted a brow.

"'Course I'm sure. We'll have lots of fun, right Csaba?" she smiled and he nodded.

He turned to his mother, grabbing her hand as the three walked together, him wedged in between the two women. "Yeah, don't worry about me, mother. You should rest. You look awful."

Gabrielle's mouth parted and Ana frowned. "Thanks," she grumbled.

He chuckled, "I mean, you look beautiful as always. No offense, mother." He shrugged his shoulder and she sighed heavily.

Chapter Text

AN: this sequel won't be nearly as long as the first story. I am mainly writing this for my own enjoyment lol. Enjoy :)

Chapter 10 –The Little Commander

Csaba walked across the field and saw his two uncles sparring with their swords. He smiled and looked back at Kreka's yurt. He wondered where she hid his sword and really wanted to practice with them. She had insisted that he wait for Xena to oversee his training, but Dengi and Ernak were trained by Xena too, so they had to be good at swordsmanship, he supposed.

He walked over to them hoping that they would teach him some moves since his mother was busy with Xena, Gabrielle and Navaz. They had been inside the Adame for hours on end and he didn't want to know why. His mother never exposed him to any kind of politics growing up and neither did Xena.

Ernak clashed his blade against his brother's and both had smiles on their faces, not taking this sparring session very serious.

Dengi pushed his brother back and circled around him. "You shouldn't have brought up the senlik to mother, Ernak. Now she's going to bug Xena about it. You know that Xena doesn't like parties."

Ernak scoffed, "well, she's not the one having a baby, now is she?" he growled and swung his sword around and was quickly knocked down to the ground by a swift kick to his shin by Dengi.

"Fair enough but do you remember how irritated she was when Kreka planned the senlik the first time?" Dengi chuckled and helped his brother up.

"Yeah, well, Xena needs to relax. She's always got a stuck up her –"

"Csaba!" Dengi interrupted and glared at his little king brother. "What's up squirt?" he grinned and twirled his sword and Ernak ran his fingers through his long dark hair.

The boy raised an eyebrow, "why are you guys talking about a senlik? Who's having a baby?" he eyed them both and saw their faces void of color.

" know, lots of women," Ernak grinned cheekily and Dengi rolled his eyes.

Csaba folded his arms and looked around at all of the women that passed by talking quietly to themselves. Some with their families outside. He had been here for a year now and so far he hadn't seen any pregnant women and if there was a senlik, he surely would have known.

"I don't see any pregnant women here, Ernak." He said with suspicion.

Ernak laughed nervously and ran up to the boy, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. "That's because it's a secret. You know how secretive women can be sometimes."

Csaba furrowed his eyebrows and shrugged Ernak's arm off. "What do you two know that I don't? I know you're lying."

Ernak looked to his brother with wide eyes and Dengi sighed. "Listen, Csaba, I'm sure your mother wanted to tell you herself but –"

The boy's eyes grew in shock . "My mom is pregnant?!" he blurted out and Dengi half smiled. He didn't bother to wait for his uncles to reply and took off running towards the Adame.

"Csaba! Wait!" Dengi tried to run after him and Ernak grabbed his arm.

"It's too late now, brother. Anastasia is really gonna kill you now," he laughed. The elder brother shot his brother a glare and shoved him down to the ground. "Hey! Don't take it out on me!"

Dengi shook his head and walked off to go back to his dwelling. "Oh yeah? And who do you think is going to be more upset? Xena!"

Ernak's laughter faded and he quickly jumped to his feet. "We should go hunting! So she won't be able to find us! Dengi, wait up!"

Xena ran her finger across the map of all the Hunnic tribes. "We should barricade the Caucasus and the rim of Scythia so the Romans don't come in." she suggested.

Gabrielle folded her arms and frowned. "Why Scythia? Odoacer knows that Anastasia is in Balaam. Why would he even bother to go through Scythia?"

Xena eyed her with a tight smile, "because Scythia borders the Caucasus, Gabrielle."

"Seems a little excessive in my opinion," she said and Xena narrowed her eyes.

Anastasia rubbed her temples as she sat in a chair listening to these two go back and forth for the last few hours. Two weeks since they arrived back in Balaam she was beginning to regret allowing her mother to oversee the army and the entirety of the Caucasus Huns.

She slammed her hand on the table, grabbing everyone's attention. "I have a suggestion. Why don't we just send scouts out to the outskirts of Balaam so they can survey the area and report back to us every couple of days?"

Navaz nodded and smiled at his wife. "I like that idea."

Xena shot him a glare. "Of course you do."

"Well, I prefer Anastasia's idea," Gabrielle chimed in. "I think it would be wise to use less men. We don't know if Odoacer is willing to cross all the Hunnic tribes just to get to us. The Caucasus is really far away from Roman territory."

Anastasia gave a satisfactory grin and saw her mother was unhappy but silent. "What do you think, mother?"

Xena tapped her fingers on the table and sighed heavily. "Fine, we will go with your idea but if that doesn't work then we use mine. Barricades work every time."

"Your highness!" a guard ran after Csaba just as he barged into the room. All eyes turned to him. "Sorry, my king, but he insisted on coming in..." the man bowed his head.

Navaz gave him a curt nod and looked over at his stepson. Csaba's eyes went immediately to his mother and she rose from the chair with a concerned face.

"Csaba, what's the matter?" she asked calmly.

His eyes darkened and folded his arms. "Is it true?" he asked.

Ana raised an eyebrow and walked towards him and he took a step back. Xena frowned deeply and grasped his shoulders.

"Csaba..." her voice deep, looming over him.

He lifted his head to see the anger in his grandmother's eyes and wasn't stupid enough to shrug her off like nothing so he said nothing and turned back to his mother.

"Is what true?" Anastasia asked.

"That you're having a baby," he stated and his eyes drifted to her stomach that was well hidden by her dark dress. Navaz's eyes grew and Xena tightened her grip on his shoulders. "That you're having his baby?" he eyed Navaz.

Anastasia felt her stomach churn when he said those words. "Who told you that?"

"So it's true then," he said and shoved Xena away. "Get off me!" he growled. He shook his head then took off, running out of the room.

"Csaba!" Ana frowned and ran after him.

Xena balled her fists up and Gabrielle grabbed her fist. "I can go talk to him," she offered and felt Xena's fist relax to a normal state. She gave a brief smile to Navaz who seemed miffed by what just happened. "I'll be back later," she pat Xena's arm then ran after Anastasia and Csaba.

Ana ran down the stairs and saw her son running across the field and she stopped no longer able to keep up with him anymore. She leaned on a large column outside the Adame and frowned sadly. She felt an hand on her shoulder and spun around.

"I will go talk to him," Gabrielle said with a warm smile. "Xena is asking for you."

The queen shook her head. "I don't want to talk to her right now."

"Well, I'm sure she'll find you either way. You can't avoid her forever," she rubbed Ana's arm then ran off to catch up to Csaba. She suddenly came to realize that this boy must be part gazelle since he was able to run incredibly fast.

Xena walked out of the Adame and saw her daughter at the end of the stairs looking out into the fields, watching Gabrielle chase after her son. She uncrossed her arms and walked down the steps and stopped a step behind her daughter.

Anastasia frowned, "what do you want?" she hissed.

"Gabrielle will talk to him, Ana. She is good at those sorts of things," Xena half grinned and her daughter spun around with teary eyes. "Don't cry. I hate when you do that," she frowned and wrapped her arms around her daughter, bringing her close.

"I don't...want him to hate me," her voice muffled in her mother's chest.

Xena pulled away and wiped the tears off her daughter's cheeks. "He doesn't hate you. He loves you. You know that. He's probably upset but he'll get over it." she sighed and Ana nodded her head, wiping her eyes. "Why don't you go rest and I will...spend more time with Navaz discussing the Romans."

Anastasia rolled her eyes. "You are enjoying this far too much, you know."

"What gave you that idea?" Xena winked and pushed her daughter along down the stairs. "Go to Kreka's yurt. I will meet you there within the hour." She said and Ana eyed her suspiciously. "Go, go!"

Gabrielle caught up to Csaba in the forest by the mountains. She huffed and leaned on a tree, watching him sit on a tree stump. "My run fast," she jested and he didn't bother to look at her.

"Go away, Gabrielle. I want to be alone."

She steadied her breathing and walked over and sat down beside him on the grass. "I didn't run all the way over here just to get shunned out." She said and brought her knees close to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs.

"You were pretty rude back there," she said and he quirked his mouth, remaining quiet. "Your mother cares a lot about you."

"Yes, I know."

She sighed and nudged his leg. "And you were very rude to Xena."

He rolled his eyes and groaned lowly. "She's probably going to lecture me later."

She smiled, "maybe you could talk to her first." She paused and saw his eyes firmly focused on the grass below in deep thought. "I know that you are probably upset about the baby which is understandable, it's a big change and –"

He furrowed his eyebrows and finally turned his head. "What? No." he shook his head. "I'm not upset about the baby. I can't be mad at a baby, Gabrielle. I'm upset at Navaz." His eyes darkened.

That wasn't the response she was expecting. She sensed some hostility when he spoke of Navaz, his new father, his stepfather. " very nice you know. He really cares about you and your mother."

His face softened. "He cares about me?" his voice quiet.

She nodded. "Yeah, he asks about you all the time. He was asking Xena how he could approach you and spend more time with you."

"Oh." He sighed and folded his arms. "Well why did he have to marry my mom? Now she's having a baby and..." he scowled, "I want to go home. I hate it here. It's too cold and the people are different here. And I hate Tuya! Kreka says I have to be nice to her but I don't want to, not after what she did."

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "What did she do?" she asked.

His face paled and he wagged his head. "Nothing, never mind."

She would have to ask Kreka about this later, she made a mental note. "Maybe you could befriend some of the boys in the tribe? They might like you. You're very likable," she nudged his knee and he smirked. Finally a smile, she thought.

He shrugged. "I donno Gabrielle. They don't really pay attention to me. They think that they can't talk to me because I'm a prince, but in Pannonia, I was a prince too and nobody treated me differently."

She nodded and rocked back and forth, holding her knees close to her chin. "You never know if you don't try." She advised and he shrugged his shoulder again. "Listen, Csaba, I love you a lot and I know your mother does too. I think it would be wise for you to have a relationship with Navaz. He wants one and is more than willing to try. I think you should give him a chance."

He grunted. "Fine."

Fine. That word. Gabrielle heard that so many times and Xena often said it when things didn't go her way. It was her way of compromising. "No, not fine."

"Okay!" he stood and flung his arms in the air. "I'll try and spend time with him. Okay?"

She sprung to her feet. "Good. Now, let's go back there." She held out her hand and he sighed, grabbing her hand.

"I feel so embarrassed..." he mumbled.

"Can't help you there but I think you should apologize."

"Do I have to?"

She grinned. "You're going to have to or Xena won't let you hear the end of it."

"Okay, okay, I'll apologize!" he'd rather not see his grandmother's wrath. He didn't like to disappoint her or Gabrielle, but especially Xena.

Anastasia saw the tray of assorted foods in front of her and she put a hand over her stomach, shaking her head. "Kreka, please, I can't eat anymore."

The khatun smirked and brought over some tea for them both then sat beside her on the floor. "You barely ate anything! Tatli kiz," she pushed the tray of food closer. "Please."

Ana sighed and picked up a pastry filled with dates and took a small bite out of it. Chewing slowly, she glared at the woman. "Happy?" she said with her mouthful.

"I will be when you finish that," Kreka smiled and sipped her tea. Her eyes lifted when she saw Xena enter the yurt. "Xena."

Xena raised an eyebrow and saw the tray filled with food and Anastasia eating a pastry with a malicious look in her eye. She smirked and took off her cloak and threw it aside on a chair. "I see you are force feeding my daughter again."

"She doesn't eat anything."

Ana looked up at her mother with her mouth full of the pastry. "Make her stop, please," she begged.

Xena laughed lightly and sat down beside her and took the pastry off of her daughter's hand and finished it off for her.

"Xena!" Kreka groaned.

"What? You cook better than I do. I cannot resist your pastries," Xena grinned and the khatun rolled her eyes.

Csaba and Gabrielle entered the yurt and Anastasia grinned, slowly rising to her feet. "Csaba," she walked over to him and his eyes immediately lowered upon seeing her and he felt Xena's eyes glaring at him, burning a hole into his flesh.

Gabrielle nudged his shoulder. "Go on..." she whispered.

"I'm sorry," he muttered.

"And?" Gabrielle frowned and he sighed then she punched him in the shoulder.

"Ow!" he hissed and lifted his head, looking into his mother's eyes. "I'm sorry for the way I acted. I wasn't upset at you or the baby. I was upset at something else."

Anastasia grinned and hugged him warmly. "It's alright. I'm just glad that you don't hate me."

"I could never hate you, mother," he smiled and saw Xena turn the other way, fingering the assorted food on the tray. He quirked his mouth and pulled away from his mother and walked over to Xena, standing over her.

"Um..." he kicked his boot back and forth with his hands behind his back. Xena lifted her head, staring up at him and he refused to make eye contact with her. "I...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...acted the way I did." He finally met her eyes and she smiled warmly.

She pat his leg and continued eating some fruit. "I accept your apology, but you definitely owe me." She turned to him and gave him a wink.

He smiled nervously. "Okay, like what?"

"You train with me and Navaz tomorrow." She said and his jaw dropped. "And bring that sword of yours."

Kreka's eyes widened. "I don't think that's a good idea. He was quite good with the bow –"

"I use swords, not bows." She eyed the woman and turned to Csaba. "Bring the sword."

Csaba looked to Kreka and she had a frightened look on her face. "Alright...I'll bring it..." he said.

Anastasia frowned seeing the tension rising in the room. The look on Kreka's face was not one she saw often. It was fear. Kreka never feared anything. She grasped her son's shoulders. "Csaba, come with me. I want to talk to you and Navaz together." She ushered him out of the yurt.

Gabrielle sat down beside Xena and eyed the khatun across the way. "What's wrong?" she asked.

Kreka sighed and set down her glass of tea. "Xena, there's something you should know about Tuya."

Xena's eyes lit up at the sound of the woman. "Oh yes, Navaz told me you were watching over her after an accident she had before we came back. she?" she smiled and bit into a strawberry.

"There was no accident," Kreka began and Xena's face darkened, tossing the strawberry back onto the tray and licked her fingers. "She came into my room and tried to kill me..." she began and saw Gabrielle's eyes grow wider by the second. "Csaba stabbed her with his sword that Dengi gave him. I hid the sword so you see –"

Xena rose to her feet. "Where is she?" she marched to the back of the yurt and Gabrielle gasped.

"Xena!" she groaned and followed after her. Kreka sat on the rug, casually sipping her tea. She had longed for this moment and a small sneaky grin graced her lips.

Xena flung the curtains aside and saw Tuya sitting up in Kreka's bed. She smiled and walked inside the room and Tuya's eyes widened in fear and tried to scoot away from her. Xena grabbed the woman's leg and sat on the bed.

"My presence frightens you, queen mother?" she grinned eerily and Tuya kept gaping into her steely eyes.

Gabrielle walked in the room and stayed by the entrance, watching Xena work her magic of course. She definitely knew how to instill fear into people just with her looks and words. Sometimes less is more.

"You wouldn't have happened to try and kill Kreka, would you?" she asked and Tuya's eyes widened. "Your silence is a good enough answer." She sighed and scooted closer to the woman's face. "Kreka is my friend. She and I may not always see eye to eye, but she is a trusted ally of mine through Attila. We've known each other for a long time and I would never...betray her. She trusts me."

Tuya frowned. "You befriend a renounced queen? She does not evoke her power and yet your daughter remains queen of us all."

Xena nodded and grabbed Tuya's hand, gripping tightly. "Kreka is very smart. Do not underestimate her. She does not have the title of Barbarian Queen for nothing, you know," her eyes widened wildly and Tuya backed away slowly.

"You know...Attila had another wife after Kreka. Her name was Kriemhild. I'm sure you do not know of her and do you know why?"

Tuya shook her head.

"Because Kreka killed her." Her smile deepened and finally saw that fear she was looking for. "Kriemhild was insane. She killed her own children and Kreka killed her to protect the reputation of her people yet...she lets you live. Her heart must have softened over the years, but mine hasn't." she grimaced and stood from the bed, eyeing the woman's fear stricken face.

"Come near my daughter and grandson and I will make sure you don't live to see the next day," she spun around and left the room. Gabrielle lifted her eyebrow, giving one last look at the woman before following Xena.

Kreka lifted her eyes when she saw Xena come out of the bedroom. "So?"

Xena grinned and grabbed her sword, heading out of the yurt. "She won't be bothering you anymore. Come on, Gabrielle. I want to spar with someone and you are the lucky winner."

Gabrielle gasped. "But Xena, I haven't fought in a really long time. I have lost a lot of my skills."

"Then you'll just have to relearn them now won't you?" Xena grinned and walked out of the yurt and Gabrielle sighed heavily and reluctantly followed. She felt like she was going to regret this.

Emperor Zeno sat in his throne chamber and the doors swung open. He smiled upon seeing his government consul marching in on a mission.

"Flavius Anastasius," he said and saw the young man's anger in his eyes. "You bring good news, I hope?"

Anastasius shook his head. "No, emperor. Sorry to say that I bring only bad news." He apologized and handed over the scroll to the emperor and Zeno snarled, snatching it from him. "Odoacer had captured Huns in his possession but they have escaped from Rome. He wants them brought back to Rome to face charges."

Zeno nodded, reading quickly over Odoacer's letter and tossed it aside and rose from his throne. "Why does he even bother with those Huns? They are to be extinct soon. I've gotten rid of the most important Huns –Pannonians –Attila's people." He grinned, feeling very proud of that victory.

Flavius Anastasius bit his tongue and averted eye contact. "Emperor, those Huns are not just any Huns. They were the sons of Attila and daughter of Xena. They stole your Consul."

Zeno clenched his fist and lifted his chin, fuming. "Gabrielle? My Consul? Those savages took her?!" he growled. "I did not think that those bastards would dare come to Rome!"

"They didn't. Bey Basil captured them and sent them to Rome as a present for Odoacer. The emperor believes that Gabrielle knows them, especially since the daughter of Xena lives."

Zeno growled and knocked over a vase and began pacing back and forth. "They cannot go back to Pannonia. That is a land they lost long ago. Where is the woman now? The daughter of Xena."

Anastasius grimaced. "Her name is Anastasia and she is Queen of the White Huns."

Zeno laughed. "You share the same Greek name of that savage woman. I do feel for you, Anastasius." He rubbed his chin. "Find out more about the White Huns and where they live. I want Attila's and Xena's line wiped out! Wiped out, you hear me?!" he yelled.

The governor nodded. "Of course, sir. I do believe that these White Huns live in Armenia."

The emperor quirked his mouth. "The mountains. A very good hiding place. Well played Pannonians." He grinned maliciously. "Send mercenaries to the Caucasus region but do not attack. Find the daughter of Xena and bring her to me."

"Yes, emperor," the governor saluted and then stormed out of the chamber.

"Oh and, do send Odoacer a thank you note for relaying this most precious message to me," he said and Anastasius nodded. "Do not harm the girl. I wish this to be a peaceful kidnapping. She will go willingly if there is no violence."

"As you command, emperor."

Gabrielle threw herself on the bed and sprawled her arms out. Xena turned around as she was taking off her tunic and smirked. "What are you doing?"

The blonde smiled, "enjoying a bed to myself. Navaz gave us our own yurt!"

"Gabrielle, it's just a yurt," Xena shook her head and slipped the tunic over her head and began unlacing her pants.

Gabrielle turned over onto her back and stared at Xena's long dark hair. "But it's our yurt," she wriggled her eyebrows and Xena turned her head over a shoulder and grinned softly. "Not that I mind staying with Kreka, but she still kind of scares me."

Xena let out a laugh and her pants dropped to the floor and she grabbed a dark mesh slip and slipped it over her head. "Kreka is not scary, Gabrielle and she likes you. She'd let you know if she didn't like you, trust me."

"If you say so."

"I do say so," Xena crawled onto the bed and lay on her side, staring at the blonde with soft eyes. "So, what do you want to do?"

Gabrielle tapped her cheek and plopped back down onto the bed. "We could roll all over the ground, staking our claim on this yurt!" she grinned and Xena raised an eyebrow. She turned to see the incredulous look on the brunette's face.

"Okay, or not." She shrugged. "I'm just really excited about having our own place."

Xena rolled her eyes. "I can tell." Her fingers roamed along Gabrielle's arm. "You were really...bad at sparring the other day," she snorted.

Gabrielle shot her a glare. "Look, I told you I was out of practice!"

"I didn't know you were that out of practice," Xena chuckled and she received a punch from her consort. "Ow!" she grunted then punched Gabrielle back.

"Hey!" she groaned and rubbed her arm. "That isn't fair, Xena. You hit way harder than I do!"

Xena grinned mischievously and pinched Gabrielle's arm. Gasping, Gabrielle pinched her back.

"Quit it!" Gabrielle scooted away and saw Xena crawling towards her. "," she warned and Xena inched closer and closer, pinching her fingers together. "No, you don't!" she yelped as she fell off the bed.

Xena smiled and leaned over the side of the bed and the sight of Gabrielle contorted on the floor caused her to laugh lightly. "You did that to yourself," she chided and sat up on the bed and waited for Gabrielle to climb back on, cursing beneath her breath.

The two stared at one another for a long while and Gabrielle smiled, leaning forward and kissed her lips gingerly. Her hand cupping her cheek and Xena grinned, inching closer.

Over the next month Xena oversaw Csaba's training with Navaz's help. She was surprised that he was more skilled with a bow than a sword and she hated to admit it. Bows were useful but only in distant combat. Csaba was able to let himself open up to Navaz slowly as the days went on, spending time together.

Today was an exceptionally cold day and Xena stood behind Csaba as Navaz taught him how to use the bow to shoot at a fifty yard distance. It had been going so well until Xena kept intervening. Anastasia sat behind them underneath a canopy watching the three.

Gabrielle came up behind Anastasia and grabbed her shoulders. She gasped. "Oh Gabrielle, don't do that." She smiled.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," the blonde sat down beside her, watching Csaba shooting arrows one after the other. "He's very good."

"Yes he is. I'm glad that he is warming up to Navaz."

Gabrielle nodded and then saw Xena begin arguing with Navaz about his technique. Shaking her head she sighed heavily. "And what about you?"

"What about me?" she lifted her chin, watching her mother scold her husband, a king of all people. Titles meant nothing to Xena.

"You and Navaz," she said and Ana lowered her eyes. "Have your feelings changed for him?"

Ana shrugged her shoulders. "He is good to me and he must have the patience of a god to be able to deal with my mother every day," she smirked. "I just don't know yet."

Gabrielle nodded. "And your baby? Your feelings haven't changed?"

Anastasia smiled softly and peered down at her child, her belly growing larger every day and it was no use of hiding it anymore. Everyone could tell she was pregnant now. "My mother was right. I shouldn't be angry at something so innocent."

Gabrielle smiled at that. Perhaps her heart wasn't as hardened as she originally thought. She turned to see the bow lesson and saw Navaz marching straight for them carrying a bow. "Oh boy."

Navaz growled and held out a broken bow in front of his wife. "Anastasia," he inhaled deeply, "I respect your mother but this is the second bow she has broken in the last week! I can't work with her if she keeps undermining my teaching abilities!"

Anastasia bit her bottom lip and smiled nervously. "Navaz, I know she can be difficult sometimes, but she knows what she's doing. She's a very good teacher. She taught Dengi and Ernak."

Navaz smiled mockingly and threw the broken bow down. "Well, that's nice but I can't work with her!" he stormed off.

"Navaz!" Ana growled and stood up slowly from her seat. She saw him making his way back to the Adame. Then she spun around, glaring at her mother. "Mother!" she snarled.

Xena turned and saw her daughter standing behind her. "Anastasia, go sit down. I am teaching Csaba how to properly use a bow," she grinned.

"Mother! You broke his bow! Again! You can't keep doing this." She folded her arms, glaring at her backside.

Xena held Csaba's arm, holding it close to his cheek. "He has other bows." She said and then whispered into Csaba's ear and he nodded, adhering to her instruction and he released the arrow and hit dead center. Xena turned to her daughter with a smug grin. "See? I'm a better teacher."

Csaba turned around and saw the anger in his mother's eyes. She was fuming. He lowered his bow and frowned nervously. "Mom, don't be angry. It's not good for the baby," he smiled.

Xena smirked. "Yeah, Anastasia. It's not good for the baby so go sit down and leave me to the lesson." She waved her hand, shooing her away.

Anastasia groaned and stomped off in a hurry. Gabrielle stood and saw her by passing the canopy. "Anastasia?" she called out. "Where are you going?!"

Gabrielle huffed and walked over to Xena, tapping her shoulder. "Xena, you really upset her."

Xena scoffed and held the bow, adjusting Csaba's hands. "No I didn't. She's just mad that I broke her husband's bow," she smiled.

"Xena," she began more firmly. "I'm serious." She said and the warrior ignored her. "Xena!"

Xena sighed and lowered the bow in her grandson's hands. "Oh alright," she said and turned to see a fuming blonde behind her. "I'll go talk to her."

Navaz sat in his room watching Anastasia pace back and forth, talking nonsense in her native language. Some words he understood and they were not very nice words that's for sure. "Anastasia," he said and she ignored him, continuing to talk to herself. "Anastasia..." he leaned forward in the chair and watched her dig a hole in the carpet. "Anastasia!" he yelled and she turned at his loud voice.

"You are driving yourself mad," he said calmly and she groaned, continuing to pace. He stood and grabbed her arms, turning her around to face him.

She breathed heavily, staring into his dark eyes and he smiled softly. He grazed his fingers along her cheek and she sighed, slowly calming herself down. "It's just a bow," he whispered in her ear and she half smiled.

"It's not about the bow, Navaz."

A knock came to the door and Xena walked in. Anastasia frowned immediately upon seeing her. The king inhaled deeply and kissed her forehead then took his leave to allow the two to talk. Xena stepped further into the room and pursed her lips.

"I didn't...mean to upset you." She began and her daughter folded her arms, turning away. She looked to the ceiling and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry," she said.

Ana turned and her eyes grew with amazement. "Did you just apologize?"

"Don't make me say it again." Xena said flatly. She walked over to her daughter and grabbed her upper arms firmly. "I don't want to upset you. That's the last thing I want to do. If you want me to back off then just say –"

"I want you to back off," she said immediately.

Xena's lips parted and Anastasia saw the astonished face and smiled. "Mother, I love you but sometimes you can be very...overbearing. Let Navaz instruct Csaba his way."

"But his way is wrong."

"Mom!" she griped. "We can compromise," she said and saw her mother roll her eyes. "I know you don't like that word, but I think you need to. How 'about this; you teach Csaba how to use a sword and Navaz teaches archery? Seem fair?"

Xena bit her bottom lip and sighed dramatically then looked into her daughter's hopeful eyes. "Alright," she relented.

Ana grinned and kissed her mother's cheek. "Thank you. That's all I ask. Oh and, please don't break any more of Navaz's bows."

Before Xena could come back with a smart remark there were drums heard outside. She frowned and turned to her daughter. "Stay here."

She ran outside and saw Dengi and Ernak riding in with a few scouts trailing behind. Ernak skid to a stop in front of Navaz and Xena. "Romans approaching."

Navaz's eyes darkened. "Are you sure there were Romans?"

"I think I know a Roman when I see one," Ernak said and turned to Xena. "What do you want us to do? Blockade them?"

Anastasia came outside and stood beside her mother and Xena snarled. "I thought I told you to stay inside!"

"Romans?" Ana said, stepping forward and Ernak nodded. She turned to her mother with a worried look.

"I told you we should have barricaded the area," Xena folded her arms defiantly.

"They are eastern Romans, bearing the crest of Emperor Zeno," Dengi spoke up, holding his horse's reins, ready to attack at any moment. "Anastasia, what do you want us to do? You are the commander."

Xena smirked and Ana breathed in heavily and placed her hands on her hips. "Well..." she began, "you should hold them off and bring one Roman as captive. We can question him here." She turned to her mother for approval.

"You're the commander," Xena said with a smile and Anastasia quirked her mouth then turned to Dengi and Ernak.

She gave them a curt nod. "Bring back a Roman."

Gabrielle walked up with Csaba and frowned seeing horsemen riding off. "What is going on?" she asked.

Xena turned to the blonde. "Romans are in the area. Anastasia told them to bring a Roman back to camp."

"And you're letting her do this?" Gabrielle raised a suspicious eyebrow.

Xena shrugged her shoulder nonchalantly. "She wants to be commander, so I will let her."

"But you are her overseer, Xena. You're going to let her fail her first mission?"

"She's not going to fail, Gabrielle. I'm going to let her continue with her plan," Xena said and kept smiling. "She has no idea how to be a commander. I will teach her."

Gabrielle sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I don't think this is a good idea."

"Capturing a Roman is never a good idea, but she will learn."

Anastasia breathlessly turned and grabbed her mother's arm, desperate for help. "What do I do when they come back with the Roman?"

Xena grinned and looked into her daughter's pleading eyes. "First, we wait and see if they are even able to capture a Roman. You shouldn't have sent out your best men to scout the area. Always send mercenaries, not your elite." Her eyes darkened and her mind going to a place that she hadn't been to in a long time.

"So, what do I do?!"

"We wait," Xena said and saw the fear in her daughter's eyes.

"What if I go and help them?"

Xena's eyes widened. "No!" she yelled and Ana jumped. "I, you never leave your post. Lesson number one, Anastasia, always let your men come to you, not the other way around."

Chapter Text

AN: I revised the summary because it was too vague. Kinda bad at summaries.

Title taken from Chapter 38 of "The Commander's Poet" when Xena is trying to control her daughter when she was a teenager and Gabrielle is the confidant of Anastasia at the time. Some things never change.

Enjoy ;)

Chapter 11 –Mother Commander

Anastasia stood in front of the captured Roman soldier, holding the sword close to her. She kept eyeing her mother silently and then eyeing the kneeled Roman in front of her. Dengi held the soldier and waited for quite some time, holding the rope around the man's neck. He waited, and waited...and waited, for Anastasia to do something. Interrogate him, hit him, just something, but he got nothing.

"Ahem," he cleared his throat and she lifted her big eyes. "Aren't you going to interrogate him?" he whispered.

She nodded and looked over at her mother standing off on the side with Gabrielle shaking her head, leaning up against a wall. For the first time in her life, she was mute and didn't know what to do. When she proposed the idea of being the commander for Navaz's army, she didn't actually think she would have to act upon anything until now. She did alright with the Persian Shah, Peroz, but that was political, this was just straight up dangerous and definitely her mother's territory.

Gabrielle nudged Xena's arm. "She obviously doesn't know what to do, Xena," she hissed. "Help her!"

Xena smirked and watched her daughter stare at the Roman, completely clueless on what to do and how to approach the situation. She realized that Anastasia took on a role that she was not ready for and had no experience in. With another nudge from her blonde consort she swatted her away and walked forward, standing behind her daughter.

"Ask him why he came here," she whispered.

Anastasia turned with wide troubled eyes. "Why can't you ask him?" she whispered back.

"Because, Ana," Xena grabbed her shoulders and forcefully turned her round to face the Roman. "You are the commander," she hissed.

But I don't want to be a commander anymore, Ana thought. She turned around, holding the blade close to her and pleaded with her eyes. "Mother, you can take my place as commander."

Xena folded her arms. "I thought you could do it by yourself?" she grinned smugly.

"Well, I was wrong," she pushed the sword into her mother's chest. "I can't do it by myself."

Xena took the sword from her grasp and gently pushed Anastasia aside. She held the end of the blade at the Roman's throat. "Who sent you?" she asked, narrowing her eyes.

The soldier remained quiet and Xena eyed Dengi. He nodded and yanked on the rope around the soldier's throat, cutting off his air. She grinned and stepped forward, holding the blade to his neck. "Tell me who sent you or you die in thirty seconds," she whispered.

"Z...Zeno!" he finally blurted out and Dengi released the strain on the rope.

"Why did Zeno send you here?" she asked, titling his chin upward and he spat at her. "Tell me!" she kicked him in the chest and he flew backward, landing on his backside a few feet away from Dengizich. She walked over and stomped her boot on his chest and he coughed, gasping for air.

"Tell me why he sent you and I will release you," she said sweetly and he nodded. She let her boot off his chest and Dengi hoisted him up to his knees again.

"He wants...the Queen. He only wants the Queen..." he said, breathing heavily, blood dripping from his mouth.

Xena nodded and walked over to her daughter's shocked face, handing over the sword. "We have our information." She said and Ana took the sword cautiously. "Now, kill him."

Anastasia's lips parted and Xena kept glaring at her, completely focused. "You want to be a commander, Anastasia. You need to kill him," she pushed the sword to her chest. "Do it." she whispered and walked off to stand next to Gabrielle.

The blonde wagged her head and leaned against the wall. "I really hate when you do that," she said.

"Do what?"

"Kill people. I mean, well...I guess this is a good exception," she noted Zeno's soldier still kneeling and Anastasia standing in front of him. He gawked up at her, barely able to kneel before her. "She's not going to do it, Xena."

Xena waited a few moments longer and Anastasia was hesitating too much. Thinking too much of the aftermath. Growing impatient, she marched forward and ripped the sword from her daughter's grasp and plunged the blade into the Roman's chest. Blood splattered all over Dengi and he cringed, letting go of the rope and walked off, wiping the blood off his face.

She grinned and kicked the soldier down and withdrew her sword. Anastasia stood with wide shocked eyes. She handed the bloody sword to her daughter and pat her shoulder. "You hesitate too much, Anastasia. Don't think about it. Just do it."

Anastasia's face contorted and walked over, leaning over the staircase balustrade outside the Adame, retching and dry heaving.

Gabrielle cringed and Xena turned away, rubbing her temple. Dengi shook his head and turned to the Hun soldiers. "Take the Roman away."

Xena stepped forward, "put the body on a pike," she said and Dengi eyed her curiously. "To send them a message."

Dengi nodded, "do as she says."

Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arm. "Hey what do you think you're doing? That sounds like old Xena behavior." She hissed and peered over her shoulder listening to Anastasia still vomiting in a corner by herself.

"Gabrielle," the Hun warrior turned and cupped her cheeks. "I am taking Anastasia's place as commander. You know how these Romans are. They need to be taught a lesson. They don't know I am alive and I plan to keep it that way." She pat her cheek then walked inside the Adame.

Inside the large office Anastasia sat at the table while Navaz knelt down, talking to her quietly. Xena and Gabrielle stood off close to the map on the wall, whispering among themselves. Gabrielle rubbed her chin and her eyes kept veering over towards Anastasia.

"She is not ready to do this, Xena." She whispered.

Xena nodded and crossed her arms. "I do not recommend being pregnant while commanding an entire army."

Gabrielle shot her a knowing look. "But you did it!"

"And it was very difficult," she frowned. "I was not allowed to go into the field and had to do all the decision making behind closed doors. But I had help," she frowned sadly.

"Borias helped you," Gabrielle stated and Xena nodded. "And you want to help Anastasia the same way he helped you."

Xena sighed and saw Navaz trying to talk to his sick wife and she kept shaking her head, whispering to him, though her voice was rising, obviously irritated. "Except there is a difference between Anastasia and I. She is too soft, like her father. She doesn't know how to command an army, Gabrielle. She has watched me for years and thought it was easy until now. She may have overextended her offer to Navaz, not knowing that it was going to be difficult."

"She wants to learn. Teach her, Xena. You are a good teacher," Gabrielle smiled and traced her fingers along the warrior's arm gently.

Xena let out a heavy exhale and walked over to her daughter and Navaz stood, moving out of the way. Anastasia wiped her cheeks and hid her flushed cheeks and teary eyes. She grinned and knelt down in front of her daughter.

"I want you to be the commander of your army, Ana, but you can't do it alone. You need my help," she said softly.

Anastasia inhaled heavily and averted eye contact with her mother. "I thought I could do it by myself but I can't even interrogate a Roman, of all people!" she grunted and folded her arms.

"Anastasia," Xena grabbed her arms, unfolding them. "Commanding an army is not easy and it comes with practice. You will fail many times, but this time, we can't afford to fail." She said and saw her daughter begin to sob. "Don't cry, no crying," she said firmly.

Ana's eyes widened and she suddenly felt like she was a child again, fearing her mother's stern voice.

Xena sighed and quirked her mouth. "I'll tell you what. I'll be the commander in chief and you can be the commander and work under me." She smiled softly and her daughter bit her bottom lip, unsure to take the offer. "Your father did the same for me before I had you. He was commander in chief and I was commander. Your role will be just as important as mine and we will work together, alright?"

Anastasia finally nodded and Xena pat her knee then stood. Gabrielle waltzed over and tapped Xena's shoulder. "So does this mean I get my job back as your scribe?" she wriggled her eyebrows.

Xena rolled her eyes. "If you want to, Gabrielle. Nobody is forcing you," she teased.

"I'd rather work as your scribe than Odoacer's any day!" the blonde beamed and Anastasia smiled faintly.

Xena groaned and unrolled a large map across the table. "Dengi said that the Romans bear the crest of Zeno so that means Odoacer is communicating with him. The Roman mentioned that he wanted the queen," she eyed her daughter, "that means Zeno wants to talk to you."

Ana frowned. "And will I?"

"Absolutely not," Xena scoffed. "Now, he probably sent mercenaries, thinking it would be easy to persuade you to come willingly to Constantinople. A Roman soldier is dead and the others will report back to Zeno. He will see you as a threat just as he saw me as a threat. Never go to your enemies. Let them come to you so they know you will not surrender to them. You understand?"

Her daughter nodded and rose from her chair, leaning her palms on the table, overseeing the large map. She dragged her finger from Balaam to Constantinople and cocked her head. "It would take nearly two weeks at least to travel from the eastern empire to the Caucasus. Odoacer must have sent a message to Zeno a month ago at least."

Gabrielle grinned and sat down, writing on the parchment, recording everything. Xena nodded and gave a brief smile at her daughter. "Right. So I think we should barricade the entire area, including Scythia, like I mentioned before. Zeno is not stupid enough to send more mercenaries. He will probably send an adviser of his or something to talk to you."

Anastasia bit her bottom lip and was unsure what to say next. She lifted her eyes and stared at her mother focused on the map. "And...will I talk to them?" she asked softly and hesitantly.

Xena grinned, "of course you will. Show the emperor that you are willing to negotiate with him. Offer him a deal. War is often fought behind a table, not a sword. If you offer a good enough argument, Zeno will see you as a threat and maybe back off for awhile."

The young queen smiled and nodded. "Okay, I can do that. I was able to convince Peroz to come up with another negotiation but I haven't heard from him in months."

Gabrielle's eyes widened at that and she stood. "About Peroz..." she began and all eyes turned to her. "He is going to ally with Odoacer behind your back. I heard him talking about it in Rome awhile back. He is not going to agree to your terms," she eyed Anastasia and Navaz, both with angry yet shocked faces.

"Persians," Xena grumbled. "We will deal with him next, but Zeno is more important. He has already sent people to take you to him. Peroz has done nothing. He is hiding like the coward he is."

Anastasia rubbed her forehead and felt her head throbbing. It had been a stressful day. She didn't expect the day to turn out the way that it did. She spoke before her mother could, "I think we should guard the borders we have with Persia. I don't want the shahs getting any ideas."

Gabrielle nodded. "I agree with her." She eyed Xena for the go ahead.

"Alright. We will guard the borders as well," Xena said. "But we need some help. Some outside help."

The room remained silent and an idea popped into Gabrielle's head. "I have an idea!" she said and everyone turned to her, gaping down at her. She never realized how short she was until now as she stood in front of the three looming warriors.

"We can ask Kreka to contact her tribe in Ashina. They were a great help against the Persians years ago."

Xena smiled and nudged her arm. "A brilliant idea, Gabrielle."

Anastasia furrowed her eyebrows. "Are you sure Kreka is going to agree to that?"

A devious smile crossed Xena's lips. "She will because you are going to convince her. You are the commander and queen of this land, Anastasia. This is your second lesson –convincing another monarch to side with you even if that monarch is your close ally. They will not always agree, but it's your job to make them see they will benefit from your cause."

The queen felt her face drain of color and she folded her arms. She had a somewhat good relationship with Kreka, but sometimes, she did not get along with the woman at all, especially when it came to royal duties. Kreka was probably more headstrong than Xena was. She is the Barbarian Queen after all.

"You mean...I have to talk to her...alone?" her voice low and almost broken. Afraid.

Xena bobbed her head slowly, staring at the fear in her daughter's eyes.

"What if she says no?!"

"Then you will just have to convince her otherwise, Ana. This is not a game," Xena raised her eyebrow and Anastasia exhaled heavily. "Kreka is part of our family but she is also a queen too. Do not think of her as a relative during your discussion or you will fail. There have been many times that I had to speak with her about political matters. She is quick to turn off her friendship and turn on her queen-mode in front of others. I am not an exception and do not think you aren't either."

Anastasia suddenly felt so much pressure was upon her and this was truly the first day of her enacting her role as a commander. She didn't know how her mother was able to do this for so long and now that she was back, she picked up her commander skills with a snap of a finger. It was so easy for her.

Gabrielle climbed on top of the bed, wearing a white slip. She sighed heavily and waited for Xena to get out of her garb and into her slip. "You were really understanding today about Anastasia's anxiousness over being a commander."

Xena shrugged a shoulder. "You told me to help her so I did."

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but the old Xena would not have done that. She would have lost her temper and yelled at everyone. Instead you were very...kind to her. I like it when you act that way. I wish others could see that side of you more often."

The warrior looked over her shoulder and threw her tunic aside. "I can't be kind to everyone, Gabrielle."

"I know, but still, I prefer you this way." Gabrielle rolled over onto her stomach and rest her chin on her hands. Her eyes focused on Xena's backside and her long hair. She raised an eyebrow and saw Xena bend over to slip her boots off. A clap of thunder sounded through the skies and she pursed her lips.

"Xena..." her voice lingered and she smiled cheekily.

Xena paused and lifted herself up and pulled the slip over her head. She knew that tone of Gabrielle's voice and she knew she was going to ask something. "What is it?" she asked flatly.

"Can I brush your hair?"

Xena turned with an arched brow and a half smirk on her lips. "You want to...brush my hair?" she asked and Gabrielle nodded. "What a weird thing to ask." She snorted and then grabbed a brush and threw it at the blonde.

Gabrielle yelped and caught the brush just before it smacked her in the face. "No offense, Xena, but your hair looks like a bird's nest." She chuckled and Xena cast her a glare, but sat down on the bed without complaining. Then, she grabbed a section of the dark locks and ran the boar bristle brush through her long tresses.

Xena sat patiently and crossed her legs on the bed as Gabrielle brushed her hair. She winced slightly as the brush caught the tangles in her hair, but she remained silent.

"Do you think that all these conflicts with the Romans will ever stop?" Gabrielle asked.

The brunette shrugged her shoulders. "I don't think so. The emperors do not like Huns. They want to exterminate everyone to fulfill their Roman utopia."

Gabrielle sighed, already knowing the answer to that question but it pained her when Xena said those words. Now it was true and nobody could do anything about it. She grabbed another large section of Xena's dark hair and began streaming the brush down her locks.

"Have you ever thought of just leaving and hiding somewhere? Nobody knows you're alive anyway."

Xena frowned and fidgeted with her thumbs in her lap. "I hid in Kazakhstan. Anastasia has a life here. I can't just leave her here. I was separated from you and everyone for a year. I don't want to leave anyone behind again. Ever."

Gabrielle swayed her body back and forth and kept brushing the dark tresses gently. "I mean, we could go somewhere else. We don't have to stay here. We can take Navaz with us."

The warrior turned and grabbed the blonde's wrist, gazing into her solemn green eyes. "Gabrielle, what's all this talk of leaving?"

"I just want you to be happy. I don't want you to spend your life commanding an army and constantly fighting people."

Xena smiled warmly and cupped her consort's cheek. "I am happy, Gabrielle." She said and saw those green eyes linger elsewhere. "I am happy to be wherever you are. As for war and commanding an army –I can't stop doing that. That's all I've known." She said and cocked her head. She lifted Gabrielle's chin able to stare into her eyes once more. "Are you...happy?"

The blonde gave a faint smile. "Of course. I have you here with me."

"It doesn't matter where we are. Pannonia is a place that is filled with so many memories. Good and bad. But, it's just a place. You are my home, Gabrielle." She gently poked Gabrielle's heart and squinted her eyes as her smile grew.

Gabrielle's cheeks flushed bright red. "Forget what I said earlier," she muttered.

Xena winked, "I won't forget what you said. I've thought about it before. I wanted to leave the violence behind me, but when I was stuck in Kazakhstan with Malka I realized that everything that I built my life around was gone. I didn't want to follow my sword anymore, but I felt like I was betraying myself and who I really was. I can't stop being who I am. The sword is my life. You are my life."

"Can you promise me something then?" Gabrielle leaned forward and Xena nodded. "Promise me that whatever happens, you won't become a monster, Xena. I can't watch you go back to the way you were when we first met."

Xena's head hung and she frowned sadly.

"Don't get sucked up in the violence again. I know it's easy to do. I've seen it happen to you before. Fight for the good of your people –of your family. Don't seek revenge or vengeance." She shook her head and grabbed Xena's chin to look firmly in her eyes. "I saw vengeance in your eyes when we were in Stagira. You wanted to kill Odoacer. I saw it in your eyes. I don't want to see your heart harden again. So, promise me."

Xena nodded. "I promise," she said in a soft voice.

"I won't let that happen to you again. I can't allow it to –"

Xena smiled and grabbed Gabrielle's cheeks, leaning in closer. "I promise, Gabrielle." She whispered and touched foreheads with her. "I always keep my promises, don't I?"

Gabrielle nodded and the warmth of Xena's hands upon her cheeks warmed her entire body. She suddenly jumped when she heard thunder again and rain pouring down outside of the yurt.

A drip-drop sound was heard from across the room and Xena turned to see the yurt's fabric roof leaking. She groaned and crawled off the bed to grab something to catch the water in. She grabbed their water basin used for washing their faces and set it on the floor.

Gabrielle heard the rain slowly dripping into the marble bowl and cringed. "That has to be the most annoying sound I've ever heard in my life."

Xena climbed back onto the bed. "Then you shouldn't be in my interrogation room." She teased and the blonde shot her a glare. "Torture is my specialty."

"That isn't funny."

"It wasn't a joke," Xena arched an eyebrow and Gabrielle smacked her arm. "Hey!" she winced.

Anastasia sat on her bed, brushing her long hair. The sound of rain was calming and that was definitely needed after today. She had so many things rushing through her mind and she wasn't sure if she was doing the right thing or not. She knew she could trust her mother. After all, Xena was Attila's commander for a very long time and then a commander for Ellac, then Dengi and Ernak later. Now, she was Anastasia's commander and Navaz's.

She sighed heavily and combed through the knots at the ends of her hair. She had to give Navaz some credit. He was being very understanding about this entire situation and tolerated Xena more than she expected him to. She thought he was going to decline her mother's offer to be commander, but he was alright with it. She wasn't sure if she should be suspicious of that or not.

Her eyes lingered on the fireplace in the room and her eyes were fixated on the flames while she kept brushing her hair. She thought it would be best to stay in the Adame in the queen's quarters. She normally stayed with Kreka in the yurt beside the Adame, but she told herself to make an effort to get closer to Navaz, even if they were not lovers, he could at least be her friend.

The more she thought about her marriage with Navaz the more thankful she became with each passing day. She could have married an awful man, but Navaz was nice and he was making a huge effort to involve himself in Csaba's life. She also saw that her mother did not dislike Navaz and she actually trusted his judgment. Xena didn't just like anyone and Anastasia knew that Navaz was nothing like his awful mother, Tuya. He was very kind and very patient. Ellac was not patient, but he was sweet and loved her a lot. He would do anything for her and she wondered if Navaz would do the same for her?

She saw the door to her bedroom open and Navaz came inside, closing the door behind him. Her eyes dropped to her hair as she combed through the knots, the same knots, over and over again. He smiled softly and walked over to the bed, his eyes fixated on her beauty and the ivory sleeveless gown she wore.

He hardly ever saw her in anything sleeveless or low cut, showing off her chest. He cleared his throat softly. "May I sit with you?" he asked and she nodded, meeting his eyes for a brief moment.

He sat down and saw her avoiding his gaze. He lend his hand out and she eyed his palm. "Let me help you," he offered and she slowly handed him the comb. He grinned and scooted closer to her and held her long dark hair in his hand and he gently ran the comb through her locks.

"Your hair reminds me of an Arabian horse," he said.

She raised an eyebrow. "Why's that?" she asked quietly with a small grin.

"They have hair black as night and they are the best horses in the world. They are said to be the most beautiful creatures," he said and she turned slowly, staring into his brown eyes and her smile widened.

"You're embarrassing me." She said shyly and hid her smile.

He leaned in closer and pulled her hair back from her hidden face. "You are very beautiful, Anastasia. I don't say it enough. You are my wife and my queen. You deserve to be treated like one." He smiled and her cheeks flushed. He leaned in close to her and kissed her cheek.

She turned to gaze into his eyes. Her body relaxed and her demur softened by his gentle touch. She smiled and leaned in, kissing him on the lips gingerly. She then pulled away and saw the smile on his face grow as did hers.

He cupped her cheeks and kissed her lips again and she did not turn away, but leaned into him. He briefly pulled away and she scooted back against the pillows, staring at him with wide blue eyes. He caught sight of her exposed slender thigh as the slit on her dress opened slightly. Slowly he laid beside her, propping himself up on his elbow and she lifted her knee, not taking her eyes off him.

Unconsciously his eyes drifted to her slender neck and her bare arms. He would have never thought a woman's arms were a sight of beauty until now. He rarely saw Anastasia in anything other than her long sleeved cotton dark dresses. She was always covered from her neck down, concealing herself and sometimes wore a burgundy veil, hiding her long tresses.

She noticed his eyes fixated on her arms and she began feeling self conscious. "What are you staring at?" she half smiled.

He lifted his eyes. "Your arms," he said softly.

"My arms?" she raised an eyebrow. Of all the parts on her body, he chose to stare at her arms.

He nodded. "And your neck." He fingers glided along her bare collar bone and she shivered at his gentle touch. He saw the strange look she was giving him and couldn't help but laugh. "Sometimes the smallest things are most appreciated."

She shrugged a shoulder and kept smiling. His eyes drifted down to her breasts and his eyes grew. She caught his eyes this time, not looking at her arms or her neck. She raised an eyebrow and leaned against the pillows, smirking at his wandering eyes.

He felt almost embarrassed for staring for so long. He was never in a room alone with her since she told him she was pregnant. Now that they were alone he was just starting to notice small things about the subtle changes in her body. One being the size of her breasts and he couldn't stop staring.

Anastasia finally let out a laugh and he shook his head, turning away. "You act as if you've never see me before, Navaz."

He grinned and ran his fingers through his short dark hair. "Well, not since we shared a bed last...I haven't. Forgive me." He said softly.

Wow, he was being so polite, she thought. Too polite. She was not used to that at all. Not even Ellac was as polite and coy as him when they were alone. She smiled, enjoying seeing such shyness from a man. She wasn't used to seeing that before. She grabbed his hand, squeezing it firmly and he turned, gaping into her light blue eyes.

She guided his hand closer to her body and saw him stiffen and resist. "Relax..." she advised and he stopped resisting. She saw the apprehension in his eyes and smirked. She placed his hand on her swollen abdomen and saw the tension leave his eyes and his fingers relaxed on the curvature of her body.

A smile crossed his lips and she smiled, placing her hand over his. His large hand nearly covered the entirety of her belly. His eyes grew as he felt a small flutter against his hand and he was tempted to pull away. She pressed her hand against his, putting her other hand on top. His stiff fingers relaxed once more when she had her hands over his.

Another small movement grazed his palm and he smiled, turning to meet her eyes. She grinned widely seeing the excited look on his face. A moment that she once had with Ellac a long time ago and Navaz had the same expression. A moment of joy that she was happy to share. And to think that she wanted to ignore her child –their child's presence all because of her sour attitude about the marriage. She thought of what her mother said and knew she was right but was too stubborn to admit it until now.

A glimpse of happiness in the midst of chaos and war was enough to satiate her for now. She took her hands off of his and he kept his hand on the child.

"It will be a boy for sure," he said with certainty and scooted closer to her.

"Don't tell Kreka that," she said and he eyed her curiously. "She was more than disappointed when Csaba was born. She really wanted a girl because we're surrounded by men." She joked and he smiled, nodding his head.

"A princess would be nice too." He said and she smiled softly, sinking into the pillows, finally able to relax, though she was beginning to feel a bit awkward as his hand continued to roam across her belly. "Or both," he said with a sparkle in his eyes.

Her eyes widened and she sat up abruptly. "That is not funny. Don't make jokes like that." She pointed her finger in his face.

He chuckled. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry." He gently pushed her back down to the pillows.

Suddenly, the doors swung open and Anastasia gasped, grabbing Navaz to shield herself, feeling super exposed. Navaz furrowed his eyebrows and held his arm out to the side, covering his wife.

"What are you doing in here?! You can't just come into the queen's chambers!" his voice loud, but firm.

The Hun soldier turned around. "Apologies, my king," he said awkwardly and hung his head. "Xena asks for you to come outside. There's been an attack at the border."

Navaz growled lowly. "I will be there in a moment," he said and the soldier hastily left the room, closing the doors behind him.

Anastasia began getting out of bed and he shook his head, placing his hands on her shoulders. "You stay here." He said with a small smile.

She frowned. "I want to come. I am the commander. I should be there with you," she pleaded and tried to get up but he pushed her down gently.

"Anastasia. Your mother is not carrying my child. You are. I want you to stay here." He said and saw the disappointment in her eyes, the first time he saw that look and he definitely didn't want to see that again. "I will have Xena come and relay the information to you when I'm finished. Okay?"

She folded her arms. "Fine," she muttered and sat back against the pillows, scowling.

Xena waited outside the Adame with Gabrielle beside her. She swung her sword around casually as she patiently waited for Navaz. She began whistling and then heard footsteps coming down the steps. Turning, she smiled smugly at the young king.

"In the queen's quarters, huh?" her eyebrows rose and he avoided eye contact with her. "I hate to interrupt your evening with my daughter but I need you on the field." Her tone darkened. "The Romans came through our borders. Dengi and Ernak are with your men right now. Zeno sent more men that we thought. They are not mercenaries."

He frowned and squinted his eyes as the rain poured down on them, soaking their fur cloaks. "They will not reach my camp will they?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Not if Dengi and Ernak are holding them off. They've done this a hundred times." She hit his arm and he jumped. "But we are going to ride out to meet with them," she grinned and hopped on her horse.

Gabrielle smirked seeing the shocked look on the king's face. She mounted Xena's horse and wrapped her arm around her waist.

"Anastasia will be safe here, won't she?" he asked with concern and mounted his horse given to him by a soldier.

Xena scoffed. "You are such a worrier, Navaz. My daughter can take care of herself. She is not helpless but I trust your Adame is well guarded," she smiled then rode off and he sat on his steed, dumbfounded.

"Protect the queen," he advised his men that stayed behind.

"Yes, your majesty." The soldiers said and ran back to the Adame.

Dengi drove his sword into a Roman, not once, but three times. "Fucking Roman dog! Swine from hell! Semen from all the Huns' cocks!" he growled and plunged his blade into the dying soldier for the fifth time.

Xena raised an eyebrow and Gabrielle's eyes grew, listening to the once sweet boy she knew, spout off obscene and crude phrases. "You kiss your mother with that mouth, Dengizich?" she called out and he spun around.

"'Bout time you showed up!" he snarled. "There's more of them than we thought!" he saw a Roman charging for him and he cried out, raising his sword in the air and slicing through the soldier's arm and kicked him to the ground.

She hopped off her horse and grabbed Dengi by his soaked fur collar. "Nobody gave you an order to attack!" she hissed.

"What was I supposed to do? Let them invade the grounds?!" he spat in her face and she shoved him backward.

"You are supposed to send a scout to report back to me first not attack because you feel like it, Dengi!" she yelled and he rolled his eyes. She tightened her lips and grabbed his arm firmly. "I am the commander in chief. Anything and everything needs to be reported to me first! You know the rules."

He frowned. "Apologies." He said in a low voice and she released his arm.

She shook her head and saw the Huns attacking the Romans. She didn't see any more Romans and figured that Dengi and Ernak took care of everything. "Where is Ernak?" she asked and he shrugged his shoulders.

Gabrielle heard someone yelling in the distance and she spun around. Her mouth parted when she saw Ernak riding through the rain with a rope wrapped around a Roman's neck, dragging him through the mud. "I think I found him..."

Xena gasped and saw Ernak riding towards them with a big smile on his face, dragging a Roman through the mud. "For the love of –" she stepped forward in his path and Ernak shook his head.

"Xena!" he yelled. "Get out of the way!"

And she folded her arms, not budging. Gabrielle's eyes darted from Xena to Ernak, riding dangerously through the rain at great speed. "Xena! What are you doing?!" she shouted.

Ernak grunted and yanked on the reins and skid to a stop, a foot away from Xena. He breathed heavily and glared at her. "What the hell, Xena!"

"Just what do you think you're doing?" she asked calmly, noting the Roman tied up.

The young Hun king smirked. "I brought you a Roman officer. Pretty good, huh?" he wriggled his eyebrows and she groaned. "Oh come on, Xena! I did good!"

"No!" she pointed her blade at his throat and he backed away, eyes wide and fearful. "You are being reckless!"

While Xena continued to reprimand Ernak about his reckless behavior Gabrielle saw two Roman horsemen riding towards the grounds in the darkness. She narrowed her eyes and then ran forward, snatching the sword from a fallen Roman and hopped onto Xena's horse.

"Gabrielle!" Ernak called out and Xena spun around to see the blonde riding back towards the Adame.

"Gabrielle!" Xena ran forward and growled. "She just stole my horse!" she roared aloud and Ernak chuckled. She spun around. "You think this is funny, boy?" she waltzed over to him holding her blade outward.

"No, ma'am," he shook his head and saw her eyes widen. "No, Xena!" he corrected himself.

She lowered her swords. "Your father would be ashamed of you both," she eyed Dengi and he lowered his eyes. "Acting like irresponsible animals," she grumbled. "Get rid of the Roman. He is of no use to me."

Ernak gasped, "but, Xena!"

"Do it!" she walked off when she saw Navaz heading towards them. "I did not teach you to act this way," she said softly and both young men hung their heads in embarrassment.

Navaz halted the horse and looked at Xena's irate face and her hair drenched, her bangs pulled from her face. "What's happening?" he asked.

"Gabrielle stole my horse. She is going back to the Adame," she said and he immediately spun around, eager to go back. She grabbed his reins, stopping him. "There are no more Romans here. We should have barricaded this area like I suggested! You underestimated Zeno!"

Anastasia got out of the bed and walked over to her vanity set and pulled out a small vial of perfume. She frowned and set it aside then opened a drawer, scrounging through her notes that she kept. Letters that she wrote to her mother that she would keep forever. Not knowing that her mother was alive at the time, it made her feel better to write down her thoughts to keep her close always.

She smiled softly and her sweet moment was interrupted. A hand was wrapped around her mouth and she screamed, grabbing onto the strong arm that was wrapped around her neck. She was being drug backwards and she saw her sword on the other side of the room.

She growled and bit the hand around her mouth and the Roman hissed. She gasped breathlessly and ran across the room and grabbed her sword off the wall and turned around to see not one but three Romans, surrounding her with weapons. She pointed the blade at them and grimaced.

"Your highness, come with us willingly and we will not harm you," one Roman said with a smile.

"Get out," she said and wafted the sword at them and they gradually came closer to her, enclosing her in a circle.

"She is with child," another Roman said quietly.

"All the more reason for her to obey." The Roman officer smiled. "Come with us, your highness. We will not harm you..."

She gripped the sword and backed away slowly. "I am not going anywhere with you!"

"Do not make this difficult!" he snarled. She gave him a small grin and he shook his head. "Hun swine. Get her!" he growled at his lower subjects.

The other two Romans charged for her and she swung her sword, clashing with one Roman and saw the other coming for her to her left. She kicked the other soldier in the chest and he fell to his back, sliding across the wooden floor.

She grit her teeth and felt the weight of the Roman's sword coming down upon her. He knocked the blade out of her hand and she gasped. He grinned and she grabbed him by the back of his neck and head butt his forehead, sending him stumbling backward.

She quickly turned and saw her sword. She reached down for it and then was hit with a fire poker in her back and she fell to the floor. She winced and cradled her child. She saw her sword and furrowed her eyebrows, getting to her knees slowly she reached for her blade.

The Roman officer stomped on her hand and she cried out in agony. He pressed his boot against her hand and gasped for air. He grinned and shook his head. "What a brave woman you are. You are almost as good as your mother but not quite. You are too slow." He kicked her to the ground and she cringed, laying on her side, bringing her legs close to her.

The doors swung open and Gabrielle ran inside with a slew of Hun soldiers. She pointed the sword at the three Romans. "Attack them!" she yelled and the soldiers rushed in and the Romans' eyes grew and began backing away, trying to escape through the large windows they came in.

Gabrielle saw Anastasia lying on the floor and she knelt down beside her, running her hand across her dark hair. "Anastasia..." she whispered, shaking her head lightly. "Are you alright?"

Ana cringed and grabbed Gabrielle's arm firmly, looking into her eyes. "The baby...I.." she exhaled softly and rest her head on her arm.

Gabrielle cursed beneath her breath and nodded. She called for help while the Huns were fending off the three Romans, which seemed to be tougher than they anticipated.

"Protect the queen!" A few of the Hun soldiers came over and formed a circle around Gabrielle and Anastasia.

"What the..." Gabrielle growled. "She needs help! She can't stay here!"

The soldiers did not turn their heads but one of the head officers by the name of Zolten, spoke to her with his back turned. "We are not permitted to lay eyes upon the queen if she is dressed like so, kadin."

Gabrielle grunted and tugged on one of their pant legs. "For the love of god," she muttered, "give me your cloak!" she ordered and the Hun stared at her confusedly. "Give it to me!" she snarled and he took it off and she draped it over Anastasia. "Now you can look at her." She rolled her eyes and they finally turned around.

Zolten picked up Anastasia in his arms and quickly exited the room. Gabrielle shortly followed, leaving the rest of the soldiers to get rid of the Romans.

To be continued.

Chapter Text

AN: Gabrielle notices a change in Anastasia and fears that history is repeating itself.

Chapter 12 –Gabrielle's Intuition

Xena slammed her sword down on the table and everyone in the room flinched. Gabrielle lifted her eyes and saw malice across Xena's face. Dengi and Ernak remained quiet and had their hands in their laps. Navaz sat with arms folded and Kreka sat beside her sons with her eyes fixated on the table in front of her.

"None of this would have happened if we just did what I said in the beginning!" she yelled and everyone lowered their eyes. "Because of you two," she pointed to the sons of Attila, "and your idiocy and reckless behavior, we were attacked!"

"You can't blame everything on us!" Ernak combated.

Xena picked up her sword and pointed it dangerously close to the young king's throat. "Oh is that so, Ernak? Because you and Dengi not reporting back to me like you were supposed to, we were ambushed! My daughter was almost kidnapped!"

Ernak sunk in his chair and hid his face with his hand, feeling more embarrassed than ever.

"And you," she directed her attention to Navaz and he looked up at her. "You were supposed to have the Adame guarded. An attack like that has never happened in my entire life as commander! Nobody gets inside an Adame without me knowing! That was my job when Attila was alive and you know what? Nobody ever set ten feet from that dwelling."

She grunted and shook her head. "If it weren't for Gabrielle my daughter would have been taken or dead, thanks to your incompetence!"

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "Xena," she spoke and the warrior spun her head around. "Yelling at everyone is not going to solve anything."

"I have never had an ambush like this before. I have never had a bunch of people that do not listen to me!" her eyes focused on the blonde scribe.

"She is right," Gabrielle said and Ernak's jaw dropped. "Nobody listened to Xena and this is what happened. Emperor Zeno is not Theodosius and he is not Valentinian. His army is much stronger and more ruthless."

Kreka twiddled with her thumbs on the tabletop. "Emperor Zeno has declared war on this land now. We need to gather ourselves and listen to one another –listen to Xena. She is a good commander and has overseen an army of over two hundred thousand men. Anastasia is no longer fit to be commander. I can take her place."

"Mother!" Dengi griped.

Gabrielle leaned forward, eyeing Kreka from two seats down. "You would do that?"

"Of course. If Xena allows it," the khatun half smiled, her eyes meeting Xena's.

Xena sighed heavily and folded her arms. "The only time we ever got along was on the field."

"My point exactly. Enact me as commander, Xena. Your daughter cannot fulfill her position." She narrowed her eyes and Xena relented, agreeing to her offer.

Navaz frowned deeply. "Do I not get a say? This is my kingdom! My land!"

Xena snapped her head around and glared at the king. "You lost your say when you almost got my daughter kidnapped."

Csaba waited outside the room his mother was in. He jumped to his feet every time he saw the door open and women coming in and out. He saw a young maid exit the room and ran to her, grabbing her arm.

"Can I see my mother now?" he asked.

The girl smiled softly. "I'm sorry, your majesty. You are not allowed to go in there." She walked off down the hallway.

He groaned and sat back down on the floor, leaning against the wall, resting his chin on his knees. He waited for hours to find out at least a little bit of information but those women didn't tell him anything. He sat outside for the entire day, waiting and waiting some more.

He heard jingling sound from around the corner and knew immediately that it was Xena. He smiled and jumped to his feet when he saw her round the corner with Gabrielle. "Thank god you're here!" he said and Xena stopped in front of the room. "Can I see her now? I've been waiting hours."

She smiled gently at the boy and pinched his chin. "I'm sorry Csaba but I told everyone to stay out of this room."

"But she's my mom!" he begged and she nodded.

"I know and you will see her, but not now." She opened the door and he rose to his toes, trying to see inside but he couldn't really see anything except a lot of people crowding the bed. Once the door was closed he groaned, crossing his arms.

Gabrielle grinned and he plopped back down on the floor. "Don't worry, she'll be alright."

"I just want to see her," he mumbled. "Why are they taking so long? Does that mean something is wrong?"

She shook her head and sat down next to him. "She is being well taken care of, Csaba. Nothing is going to happen to your mother, not under Xena's watch." She nudged his arm and he smiled faintly.

"You should go eat something," she suggested.

He shook his head. "No, I'm going to wait here until I can see her." He stood his ground and she sighed, leaning against the wall.

Emperor Zeno turned when he saw Flavius Anastasius enter his chambers. "Ah, governor. You bring news back from Armenia I hope."

The governor nodded. "Yes emperor."

"And you've brought the queen? Xena's daughter. Yes?" he asked and the governor lowered his eyes. He frowned. "I ask you to do one thing and you incompetent fools cannot follow my simple instructions!"

"Sir! The White Huns attacked our fleet! The leaders were Attila's sons!"

Zeno rubbed his chin and nodded his head, tracing his finger along the table. "Attila's sons." He began eerily, his tone calm. "They are working with the White Huns. And why do I not see the woman, Anastasia, before me?"

Anastasius let out a heavy exhale. "She has a royal fleet at her disposal, emperor. I was told that she is carrying a child."

The emperor let out a loud laugh. "The lineage of Xena continues it seems. The girl spreads her legs for King Navaz and will bear him a child of true Hun blood. Those Hun women breed like rabbits." He clenched his fist. "Tell Odoacer to send me his best troops. I will train them under my watch and see that the Shah brothers of Persia are on our side. We will attack those Caucasus Huns from all sides."

"Yes, emperor," the governor bowed his head and quickly exited the room.

Zeno looked out the window at the sea surrounding his beloved holy city. "I will exterminate all of the Huns." He turned to his scribe. "I wish to write a letter to Queen Anastasia."

The scribe quickly grabbed fresh parchment and dipped the quill in the ink, ready to record. Zeno tapped his foot impatiently and narrowed his eyes. "Tell her that I wish to meet with her in person. I would like to see the face of this almighty queen." He turned, "don't write that part." He said and turned back to gaze at the sea. "Also, tell her that I wish Navaz to be present. You got that?"

The scribe nodded. "Yes, your majesty."

Kreka entered her yurt and saw Tuya slowly making her way to leave. She blocked the doorway and folded her arms. "Just where do you think you're going?"

Tuya smiled softly. "I am not your prisoner, Kreka. Allow me to pass. I wish to speak with my son. I know that Romans came here." She walked forward and was face to face with the former wife of Attila, inches from her face. "Get out of my way."

"You're not going anywhere. I can't trust you."

Tuya's smile grew. "I will not relay what happened between us to anyone. Now, let me pass. I do not belong to you."

Kreka refused to move and Tuya growled lowly. "Wrong. You do belong to me now. You tried to murder me!" she hissed and pushed the queen mother down onto the floor. Tuya gasped and Kreka unsheathed her sword at her hip, walking forward and Tuya's eyes widened. She scooted backward on the rug.

"Scared?" Kreka grinned and inched forward, pointing the sword at Tuya's neck.

"Kreka Khatun!" Navaz's voice boomed through the yurt and Tuya smiled at her son. He saw the sword in her hand and pointed directly at his mother. "What are you doing?!" he yelled and ran forward, helping his mother to her feet.

Kreka lowered her sword and frowned. "This is not what it looks like, Navaz."

He grasped his mother's shoulders and grimaced at the hazel eyed khatun. "You dare raise a sword to my mother? The queen mother of the White Huns?" he hissed.

"Your mother is the one who raised her sword to me!" she yelled. "She tried to kill me!"

Tuya grabbed her son's hand and stared into his shocked dark eyes. "You believe her Navaz? After all, she is a Barbarian Queen. She apparently thinks I tried to kill her. Why would I do such a thing like that?" she winked at Kreka.

Kreka gasped and sheathed her sword. "Deceitful cadaloz!" she hissed. "You lie in front of your son? In front of the king?!"

"I'm not the one who pointed a sword in my face now am I?" Tuya grinned.

She held her tongue and looked to the miffed king. "Navaz, I know she is your mother and you are inclined to believe her but she is a liar!" she yelled and he frowned, creasing his brows. "Xena will vouch for me."

"I'll have no doubt she will. You and Xena are very close." He said flatly.

"I am not a liar and neither is Xena. Ask her for yourself."

Navaz eyed his mother and she smiled up at him. He grabbed Kreka's arm and ushered her out of the yurt. She growled and swat his hand away, trying to get away.

"Take your hand off of me!" she spat. "I am a queen!"

Ernak and Dengi stood outside the Adame and saw their mother being pulled along by Navaz and Tuya walking behind. Ernak ran forward. "Let go of my mother!" he grabbed his sword and then immediately a horde of soldiers surrounded him when he pointed the sword at Navaz.

Dengi folded his arms and cocked his head at the king. "Take your hands off our mother, Navaz."

"She accused my mother of murder. I am taking her to Xena to put an end to this."

Ernak chuckled and lowered his blade. "Alright, go ahead. My mother is not a liar." His eyes darkened. "But let go of her or you will have to deal with me later."

Navaz released their mother and Kreka spun around to Tuya. "You gain nothing from this. You will only embarrass yourself in front of your son!" she whispered.

Xena stood at the foot of the bed gazing down at her daughter sleeping on her side. The healer came up beside her and she touched her arm, startling her. "How is she?"

The woman smiled softly. "She will be alright. She has some minor bruises on her back but other than that, nothing too serious."

Xena nodded and folded her arms. "And the baby?"

"I could not find anything wrong with the child she carries," the woman said. "Shall I tell the king of her condition?"

Xena frowned at the mention of Navaz. He promised her that Anastasia would be safe, but she was nearly taken by Romans just as Zeno wanted. He was careless and though she knew that he cared for her daughter, she couldn't help but think to strangle him with her bare hands.

"Yes. Tell him," she finally said and the woman nodded then left the room.

She rounded the bed and pulled down Anastasia's dress and saw the bruises on her backside and frowned. She pulled the dress up by her leg and saw a bruise on her hip. She came to the other side of the bed and sat down gently, careful not to wake her. Smiling softly she brushed her daughter's hair away from her now fuller face.

Anastasia stirred and her eyes fluttered open. She saw her mother with a warm smile on her face. "Mom..." she held her aching head and sat up slowly.

"Don't get up," Xena pushed her back down onto the pillows. "How do you feel?"

"I have a headache," the young Hun queen groaned and then her eyes widened. She swung the blankets off herself, staring down at her child and Xena pressed her hand on her arm.

"Nothing's wrong, Anastasia. You'll both be fine," she reassured her.

A breath of relief escaped her lips and she relaxed on the pillows. "Where is Navaz? Did you get rid of the Romans?"

Xena pursed her lips and tapped her fingers on her thigh impatiently. "Yes, we handled them."

Ana grinned and swung her legs over the bed and tried to get up and Xena pushed her back down. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Mom, I'm fine. I want to know what is going on." She tried to get up again and Xena firmly placed her hands on her shoulders. "Mom! I am the commander! I should know what is happening!"

Xena snarled and looked into her daughter's eyes. "You are not the commander anymore. I appointed Kreka as the new commander."

Anastasia gasped and shoved her mother back and rose from the bed. "You what?!" she yelled and shoved her again in the chest. "How could you do this to me?" she hit her shoulder and Xena tightened her lips and bit her tongue. "I am not a child! You can't just take my position away from me. A position I proposed in the first place!" she hit her again and Xena grabbed her fist, crushing it and Ana gasped.

"You are not fit to be a commander. You are too inexperienced!"

Anastasia growled and flung her arm out, taking a step back. "Mother, I am a Queen now. My role outranks you." She folded her arms. "I am above you and you can't tell me what to do."

Xena smirked. "I don't care if you are a queen, Anastasia. You're not commander anymore."

"I may be your daughter, but when politics are concerned I am still a queen and your word means nothing to me." She grabbed one of her long robes and slipped it on and stormed out of the room.

Gabrielle heard the doors fling open and saw Anastasia storming down the hallway. Csaba smiled and hopped to his feet. "Mother!" he called out but she ignored him and rounded a corner with a few guard following behind her. He frowned confusedly at the sight of her leaving without saying anything.

Xena came out of the room and Gabrielle saw the look in her eyes. A look of anger and sadness mixed together. "What happened?" she whispered.

"I told her she was not commander anymore and she didn't take the news very well," Xena grumbled and walked down the hallway.

Csaba followed Gabrielle and his grandmother. "What's wrong with her? Why is she so upset?"

Gabrielle smiled down at the boy as they rounded the corner. "Politics."

He nodded. "Of course. Always politics."

Anastasia saw Navaz walking with his mother and Kreka coming towards her direction. Navaz's eyes widened seeing her out of bed so soon. "Anastasia –"

She held up her hand and stopped in front of him. "I need to talk to you." She said and he hesitated. "Now!"

He raised an eyebrow. "I am occupied with something else. I was on my way to see your mother."

She grabbed his hand. "My mother can wait. This can't," she pulled him along and he turned over his shoulder seeing Kreka fuming and his mother less than amused by his wife's assertive behavior.

She lead them to the office and closed the door behind her. He folded his arms. "What is this meaning of this and why are you out of bed?" he asked.

Anastasia's lip quivered and she punched his arm and he gasped. "You let my mother appoint Kreka as commander! You are a king! You have power over my mother! Just because she is a commander doesn't mean she gets a say in everything!"

He rubbed his arm and frowned at his irate wife. "It's not like I had a choice in the matter, Anastasia. Your mother is not easy to negotiate with! You of all people should know that." He saw her nostrils flaring as her breath quickened, her fists clenched and her eyes wild. "I didn't object to the idea either. I don't think you should be a commander while you're pregnant."

Her lips parted and eyes widening. She shoved him backward and he stumbled back into the table. "You have no say in what I can and cannot do! Our baby is not due for months, Navaz!" she saw his sword strapped to his hip and unsheathed it.

"Anastasia..." he put his hands up as she pointed the blade at his chest with a wild smile.

Xena and Gabrielle walked into the room and both saw Anastasia holding a sword close to Navaz's chest. Xena squinted her eyes and spoke calmly. "Anastasia, put the sword down."

At the sound of her mother's voice, her smile faded and she inched closer with the sword towards her husband. "Go away mother. Navaz and I are having a private conversation."

"Put it down," Xena said again, her voice still calm.

Gabrielle frowned deeply and saw the same attitude that Xena had a long time ago. The fire in her eyes, the smile on her face. A hardened heart. "Anastasia!" she yelled and the young queen spun her head around, staring at the fuming blonde. "Put the sword down. Now." Her voice dark and Xena eyed her, surprised to hear that tone in her voice. She hadn't heard it often, especially towards someone close to her.

Anastasia's heart raced and slowly she lowered the sword and turned to Navaz as he was already backing away from her, adjusting his cloak. She furrowed her eyebrows and threw the sword across the table and glared at her husband.

She growled and then pushed Xena and Gabrielle out of the way and stormed out of the room. The three stared at each other in awkward silence.

Gabrielle paced back and forth inside their yurt hours after that little incident they witnessed with Anastasia and Navaz. Xena sat on the bed, her eyes darting back and forth as she watched Gabrielle pace incessantly.

"Did you see the look on her face?" Gabrielle shook her head, fuming and folded her arms. "Her eyes were filled with anger! I've never see her act that way before." She kept pacing.

"She is just upset," Xena chimed in.

Gabrielle paused and glared at her warrior. "No, she's not! She's turning into you!" she spat and saw her consort's eyes grow in alarm. "The old you..." she corrected, her voice softer and quieter. "I've seen that look in your eyes before and I never wanted to see it again but I saw it in her eyes."

Xena sighed and held her face in her hands. Gabrielle turned and saw the warrior sulking and went to sit on the bed beside her. "This is my fault." Her voice muffled in her palms.

Gabrielle placed a hand on her back and leaned into her shoulder. "No it's not. You can't control what your daughter does or feels, Xena. She was really hurt when she thought you were dead. She wanted to take vengeance and I thought...that left her mind, but apparently it hasn't."

Xena lifted her face from her hands and wiped her cheeks. Gabrielle wrapped her arm around her broad shoulder, smiling softly. "You know...Dengi told me that she was going to tax Pannonia and rule it by proxy in Balaam..."

"She what?" Xena spun around and looked into the big green eyes under her.

The short haired blonde nodded. "She wants to take Pannonia back from the Bulgur Huns. That's why they were captured by Odoacer's soldiers. The Bey of Pannonia sent them to Rome when he found out who they were. She's on a mission, Xena –a mission to kill."

"And she wants my help," Xena sighed heavily. "Was that her plan all along? Is that why she asked Navaz to make her a commander?"

Gabrielle shrugged a shoulder. "I don't know but whatever is going through her mind is not good. She is inexperienced and asked for your help. She must have a plan in her mind to attack everyone, including the Bulgur Huns."

"She's been waiting for this moment," Xena frowned. She was not pleased to hear this. She didn't want her daughter to go down a path that she could never come out from. She didn't want her to turn into something she was not. Anastasia was very kind albeit stubborn sometimes. She knew what she wanted when she wanted it. She was not a child anymore –not the innocent teenager she once was.

"You can't let her do this to herself, Xena. You know more about this path of darkness than anyone here."

The warrior nodded. "I know but I can't convince her to do anything. You should have seen the way she reacted when I told her she couldn't be a commander anymore."

"If anyone can convince her, it would be you." Gabrielle smiled softly and Xena eyed her with uncertainty.

"No, Gabrielle. I didn't magically change overnight and I wasn't the one who decided to change. You convinced me. I can't convince my daughter to do that. She won't listen to me."

The blonde frowned and realized that Xena was probably right. Why would Anastasia listen to someone that walked down that path for so long. Xena's words would have empty meaning to them but it was unlikely that she'd listen to Gabrielle either.

"Maybe she needs to be reminded of something that she loved or someone –someone like Ellac," she suggested and Xena eyed her with a half smile. "He would not like her behavior if he was alive."

Xena nodded. "You may be right, Gabrielle, but if she has distanced herself already then she won't listen to you or me."

Gabrielle's head hung and thought of the first time she met Anastasia. She was only thirteen and a very smart young girl. She was kind but very assertive. She didn't want to see someone that she watched grow up turn into a monster and she wondered if Xena thought it was too late to convince her otherwise.

"Who are you?" the teen asked.

Gabrielle pushed her empty bowl away from her and felt nervous that Xena might come out of her room any minute now. "Gabrielle..." she said and the girl nodded, wiping her mouth and the blonde cringed.

"My name is...Anastasia," she said.

A soft smile graced her lips recalling the moment the two first met. The girl's voice so sweet and innocent.

"Are you sure your mother won't mind we are using this?" she asked.

Anastasia smiled, shaking her head, "we're just borrowing it. I'll give it back when we're done."

And when she attempted to teach Latin to her and Xena was furious the following day.

"What do you think Gabrielle?" she asked with a smile.

Gabrielle took a step back and looked at the gown, and thought it was very beautiful, but she figured Anastasia would look beautiful in anything, just like Xena would. "Well, it's very nice, but I think it's a bit too...revealing for you," she nervously laughed and put the dress away and grabbed a long sleeved blue dress instead. "What about this one?" she offered.

Or when Anastasia tried picking out a dress by herself for the first time and sought out the most revealing one only to anger Xena.

The longer she sat in silence remembering the sweet moments she had with Anastasia as a teenager the more she knew that she couldn't let her become someone she was not. Anastasia was slowly following into Xena's old path and although Xena still evoked her power as commander and skillful warrior, she now thought before she acted upon everything she did in life. Xena no longer used her sword first and thought later. She used both or sometimes ignored her sword altogether until necessary. Anastasia was not thinking, she was acting.

She was allowing her heart to harden and that soft exterior was soon to be wiped away with hard shell. She wasn't using anger to drive her, she was using pain. Everything she loved was gone and even though her mother lives, that pain still dampened her heart and mind. Pain and anger go well together and Anastasia was letting both of those feelings project in her thinking. Anger clouds the mind as Xena has said many times but what about pain? Does pain cause the mind to drift? Gabrielle wasn't sure, but she knew the Hun Queen was hurting inside.

Gabrielle turned to Xena, watching her gape at the wall in silence. "You have to try and talk to her. If you won't do it then I will."

Xena sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "She seemed to listen when you told her to put the sword down. She didn't even bat an eye at my voice."

"Then I will talk to her," the blonde narrowed her eyes. She too stared at the wall intensely, thinking that this conversation was not going to be easy but Anastasia was not Xena. She was softer and that hard exterior had not yet formed completely. It was not too late.

Anastasia was inside the office with a group of elite Hun soldiers. She stood at the end of the table and pointed to the map on the table. "I want a group of our best mercenaries on the borders of Persia." She began and the men nodded. "We border with the Magyars. They came to Pannonia a long time ago to discuss an alliance with Attila. I want to make peace with them and convince them to join us against Persia and Emperor Zeno."

Zolten frowned and rubbed his chin, "my queen, are you sure that it is wise to spread ourselves so thin? What if the Magyars do not want to ally with us?"

"We will force them to ally with us," her jaw clenched and he folded his arms, peering at the map. She drug her finger across to the Nezak Hun area in Kazakhstan. "Send word to Malka that we will need his alliance against Persia. The Sassan family's empire is wedged in between the Caucasus and Kazakhstan. If we join together then we can push Peroz and Hormzid out and force them to surrender under us."

Zolten shook his head, not liking this idea that his young queen had. "Your highness, what is the point of asking the Nezak's to join us? They are the only nation that is peaceful and had no quarrels with the Sassanid Empire in the last twenty years."

"I want to unite all the Huns under one empire, Zolten," she smiled and leaned against the table. He eyed her suspiciously. "Attila is gone. The Huns are scattered and warring against each other! I want to bring everyone together. We are stronger in numbers. Emperor Zeno will not come to Balaam again unless he brings his sword. I will not talk with him or any adviser of his!" she spat and Zolten backed away slowly, fearing the look in her eyes.

"Your highness," a maid at the door called out softly.

Anastasia spun around, snarling. "What?!"

"Your mother wishes to speak with you."

The queen turned back to the map on the table. "Tell her I don't have time to talk to her."

"Why not?" Xena appeared in the doorway and her daughter spun around, glaring at her. She sauntered in and stood beside her daughter, not taking her eye off her. She peered down at the map and saw it marked with wooden totems in several areas. Magyars, Kazakhstan, Persia and...Pannonia. Perhaps what Dengi said was true after all. Anastasia was on a mission.

"What is this? Planning an attack on the entire Hun nation?" she asked.

Anastasia folded her arms. "Mother, this doesn't concern you."

Xena stood up right, equal height to her daughter. "I am chief commander. Anything that you do needs to be brought to my attention and I don't recall you being commander anymore, Anastasia. I revoked that position from you."

"I don't need you to tell me what to do, mother. I am a queen."

Xena pursed her lips and looked to the men standing behind her daughter. "Out," she said.

"You can't tell them to leave!" Ana hissed.

"Get out," she told the soldiers and they quickly left the room. She turned to her irate daughter. "Now you're going to listen to me. You cannot attack Huns outright because you are angry, Anastasia. That is poor decision making."

Anastasia smirked. "I'm not going to attack them. I want to recruit them to my side to fight against Persia and the Roman Empire." She motioned her hand to the map. "I will create a White Hun Campaign."

"White Hun Campaign..." Xena muttered. "You have no idea what you are doing, Anastasia."

"Yes, I do!" she combated. "What is so bad about uniting all the Hunnic tribes together? We used to be united. Everything fell apart when Attila died. Dengi ruined the alliance with the Atlyn Huns and Ernak sought war against the Bulgurs. I want to unite everyone under one empire."

Xena's eyes widened. "Empire?" she said and her daughter did not even blink at the word. "You want a Hun Empire?" she folded her arms. "You are ambitious. May I remind you that since you are married the king rules the empire, not you. He conducts all the rules, policies and regulations. You have no say in the process."

"Then this will be a new Hun Empire. Men make too many decisions in this world. I want to be an important Queen. A Queen of the Huns will not sit back and do nothing like all the other queens before me. The Queen of Scythia commands her own people."

Xena arched a brow. "The Queen of Scythia is not a Hun, Ana. She killed her own brother to take the crown. She is ruthless. You don't want to be like her."

"Attila killed his brother to become king," Anastasia said.

Xena nodded, "that's because Bleda was an awful king and person. The Scythian Queen's brother was a good king. She wanted power –she's power hungry and that is why her land has never been conquered. Everyone fears her. She executes her own people for miniscule crimes. She is a tyrant. You are not."

Anastasia narrowed her eyes. "Have you come to persuade me to stop my campaign? Because if you are then you can forget it. I'm going through with my plans. I know it will work."

"Anastasia..." Xena began and touched her daughter's shoulder. The young queen shrugged her hand off and stepped away, focusing on the map again. Xena groaned lowly. "I don't think you understand how this works. Campaigns are different than simple alliances. The only way for a campaign to work is through force and violence, not peace."

Her daughter turned with a smile. "You really have no faith in me, do you?"

"I didn't say –"

"You don't have to say it. You took my position away as commander and why? Because you think I am inexperienced? You didn't even give me a chance! I am carrying out my campaign with the Hunnic tribes and I don't need you. You aren't my chief commander anymore. I revoke your position."

Xena's lips parted and couldn't believe that she had been demoted, something that never happened to her and by her daughter of all people. "You are making a big mistake, Ana. You need my help."

"No I don't. I've watched you command Attila's army since I was a child. You thought you were helping me by taking on the role of commander but you only did it because you didn't believe what I am capable of. I will take back Pannonia and I will create a new Hun Empire stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Indus River."

"Anastasia –"

"I will become Conqueror of Asia. You doubt me but I know I can create a new Hun Empire –a better one."

Gabrielle waited outside of the conference room and finally saw Xena come out of the room. Her face solemn and yet confused. She was not angry nor was she irritated, she looked distressed. "How did it go?" she dared to ask.

"She revoked my position as chief commander." Xena said.

"She did what?" the blonde gasped. "She can't do that!"

"She can, Gabrielle and she did. She is a queen. Her status outranks me. I can't control what she does but she thinks she can create a new Hun Empire. Not even I was that ambitious at her age." She folded her arms. "She is young and thinks she doesn't need my help. But she will."

Gabrielle stepped closer to her consort. "And if she doesn't need your help?" she whispered.

"Then I will have no choice but to watch her fail." Xena frowned and walked off.

Navaz sat in his private quarters and many letters were delivered to him to oversee before they were sent off. He frowned and unfolded one of the letters and grimaced. He then picked up another one and another one, and another. He threw the last letter on his desk and yelled at his messenger.

"What is the meaning of this?!" he spat.

The messenger lowered his eyes, "Queen Anastasia wishes to send these letters to the Beys of all the Hun provinces."

"I'm aware of that, but why?" he tapped his fingers on the desk impatiently.

"She is ordering a campaign to unite all the Hun tribes to against Persia and Rome, your highness."

Navaz ran a hand across his face. He had no idea his wife was so ambitious and was doing this right under his nose. He would have guessed Xena would have a say in this or at least be told of this plan.

"That woman," he grumbled. "She's going to give me grey hair." He rose from the desk and passed his messenger. "Do not touch those letters. I will have words with my wife."

He barged into his wife's room and saw her sitting on the bed in a black nightgown. The evening was late, too late to be awake. He stormed in and stood at the foot of the bed. She lifted her eyes and raised an eyebrow.

"Just what do you think you're doing? A campaign?! Why was I not informed about this little plan of yours?" he folded his arms.

She smiled. "I am the commander of your army. I oversee the military, Navaz. I know what I am doing. Do not doubt me like my mother."

His eyes grew as he stood infuriated with her. "And where exactly is that mother of yours?"

"She's probably off with Gabrielle somewhere. I revoked her position as chief commander a few days ago." She began braiding her long hair.

"Excuse me?" he scoffed. "Anastasia, I told you that you can't be commander anymore. I agreed with Xena. This is not a good idea. You are carrying my child –our child!"

"I am well aware!" she spat. "You don't have to remind me. I am reminded of it every day." She lowered her eyes and focused on braiding her hair once more.

His stance softened and he uncrossed his arms at her tone. "You don't care about our child?" he asked, a bit hurt.

She lifted her eyes. "Yes, I do."

"Then renounce your position as commander!"

"No!" her voice raised slightly. "You made a deal with me, Navaz. Like my mother, I keep my promises. I will not renounce my position. End of discussion."

Chapter Text

AN: the women are obviously in charge here lol.

Chapter 13

Kreka sat opposite of Gabrielle and Xena as they told her what Anastasia was planning to do. Last week everything was chaotic and the Romans came to Balaam. So far nothing else has happened, except this news troubled Kreka a lot. She had never seen someone with such ambition before, except Xena. It seems that her daughter was following in her footsteps but there was something else. Anastasia was a queen now and she had say over every little thing that happens in the Caucasus region. She did not need Navaz to oversee everything she wanted to happen and since she was a commander, she could carry out any mission with little to no aid from her husband.

"Aptal kiz," she groaned. "That girl will be the death of us all," Kreka muttered and ran her hands across her face.

"Xena tried to convince her to stop her campaign, but it didn't work," Gabrielle said.

Xena remained quiet, not saying a word to either one of the women. She was remembering all the times that she was commanded by Attila to go on raids in Hun regions. She forced them to surrender unto Attila and Pannonia. They not only surrendered but Attila took control of all the regions surrounding Pannonia. He wanted a united Hun utopia, much like the Romans. Anastasia also wanted the same thing, but she was a queen and commander. Those two don't normally mix.

Attila was not in charge of his army, Xena was. She oversaw everything and carried out her own missions without Attila's permission and some with his permission. Anastasia didn't need anyone's permission to carry out an attack. And she didn't need Navaz either since she was a queen and commander.

"She doesn't listen!" Kreka growled. "Xena, why can't you talk some sense into her?!"

Gabrielle turned and saw Xena's mind wandering off elsewhere. "Xena?" she nudged her arm.

Attila growled. "I command you to stand down!" he yelled and Xena paused in front of the entry way.

She turned around. "What?"

"I order you to stand down Xena, as your king," he placed his hands on his hips and ousted his chest.

Xena smirked. "Since when do you order me around like a common soldier?" she challenged him. "I train your army to be the best. I lead all the attacks and you have always trusted my judgment. Why stop trusting me now?"

"You don't listen Xena. You never have. Stand down now," he ordered for the last time.

"Xena..." the blonde said her name for the third time.

The warrior blinked and turned to see Kreka and Gabrielle gawking at her. "What?"

Kreka rolled her eyes and slammed her hands on her knees. "You need to tell your daughter to stand down. She is not prepared for what she is about to do! She will drive us into the ground!"

Xena nodded and sighed. Suddenly a smile crossed her lips and Gabrielle raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "She needs to work with Navaz. She can carry out whatever plan she wants to but she needs his help. This is his land too. She needs to realize that they are supposed to be a team and she isn't willing to work with anyone. If they work as a team then her plan will work."

"You can't be serious? You are going to allow her to do this campaign? This is very unlike you, Xena." Kreka folded her arms, not thrilled to hear this at all.

"And how exactly are you going to convince her to work with Navaz?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena shot her smug grin and the blonde shook her head, knowing that look. "You are. She listens to you."

"How am I supposed to do that?!"

"Work your philosophical magic, Gabrielle. I have faith in you," Xena winked and the blonde groaned.

To take a break from conversing with the elite soldiers she was busy teaching Csaba how to write Latin. A language that she really disliked because it was used across the Roman Empire, but she it was very useful she hated to admit. Her mother forced her to learn how to read and write in Latin and she wanted Csaba to learn how to as well. Although she learned at a very young age and Csaba would be thirteen soon.

She sat with him at the table in her quarters and observed him writing with the ink quill on the parchment. Sitting beside him for the last hour or so, she continually corrected his penmanship which was not that good. She now knew why her mother was always so frustrated with her when she misspelled words.

"tatlı çocuk," she leaned forward in her seat and pointed at his ill written sentence. "That's the wrong verb, Csaba and you misspelled that other word."

He groaned and dipped the quill in the ink pad to write the sentence over again for the third time. "Can we take a break mom?" he begged.

She sighed. "Alright, we can take a break. You've been practicing for hours." She smiled and he set the pen down, sinking into the chair with relief. "Not bad for your first try." She said and he shrugged.

"I don't see the point in learning Latin anyway." A phrase she often said herself to her own mother. She understood why it was important now but at the time she didn't.

She placed a hand on his shoulder. "It's important I promise." She leaned back in the chair.

"But we don't even speak Latin," he said and crossed his arms.

"No, but Romans speak it, read it and write it. It's important to know other languages besides our own."

Gabrielle walked into the room and Csaba smiled upon seeing her. His mother was less enthused at her presence. She waltzed over to the table and saw Latin on the parchment and looked at it curiously. She eyed Csaba's green eyes.

"Learning Latin, huh?" she said.

He nodded. "Yeah but to be honest, I'm not a big fan..." he quirked his mouth.

She pat his shoulder and eyed Anastasia sitting quietly in the chair opposite her. She was glaring at her. Her radar eyes. "Latin is important."

"That's what mother said," he groaned. "Do you know Latin, Gabrielle?"

"Yes..." she lifted her eyes and saw Anastasia about to leave. "Hey could I borrow your mother for a few minutes?"

He nodded and hopped out of his seat. "She's all yours," he grinned and hurried out of the room, anxious to get away after being cooped up for hours.

"What do you want, Gabrielle? Has mother sent you here to talk to me?" Anastasia circled around the table towards her bookshelf to put back the parchment, quill and ink set away.

"No, she didn't."

Anastasia grinned and turned around, placing her hands on the back of the chair. "You're lying to me, Gabrielle. You never lie to me."

"She told me to come here and talk to you about Navaz –"

The young queen scoffed. "Navaz!" she waved her hand. "He has been ignoring me and his mother is probably spreading her hatred in his ears about me."

Gabrielle pinched the bridge of her nose. "Forget about Tuya. I'm here to talk to you –about you." She said and Anastasia frowned, avoiding her gaze. She pulled out a chair. "Sit with me," she said and Anastasia finally met her eyes. "Please."

Finally relenting, Anastasia sat down beside Gabrielle and adjusted the veil attached to her crown upon her dark hair. Gabrielle exhaled heavily and twiddled her thumbs in her lap not sure where to begin. Xena asked her to come and convince Anastasia to work with Navaz, but she thought that approach was too forward and probably wouldn't work.

"Anastasia, I've known you for a long time and you would say that we are friends, right?" she asked and Ana nodded silently. "More than friends," she smiled and continued, "you used to tell me all your secrets with ease and I would keep them from your mother and I still haven't told Xena about the secrets you've shared with me."

Ana's eyes widened at that. "Really?"

Gabrielle nodded. "I would never betray your trust but I sense...a lot of change in you. You aren't the Anastasia that I have come to known over the years. You're different. You're not acting like yourself."

"I'm the same person that I've always been. You and mother expect me to be that innocent little girl that I once was but I'm not that little girl anymore. I haven't been her in a long time. I left her behind a long time ago."

"I don't expect you to be the same. You are a woman now and you are very smart and you are a good mother. The way you've been acting is's not you. You –"

"You think I'm acting like my mother and that scares you." She took the words right out of Gabrielle's mouth. At this point Gabrielle knew that Anastasia was fully aware of what she was doing and how she was acting. She reached forward and grabbed the blonde's hand. "Listen, Gabrielle, I'm not like my mother. We are two different people but I meant what I said. I'm going through with my campaign and there's nothing you or mother can tell me to convince me otherwise."

Gabrielle sighed. "But Ana you aren't listening –"

"No! You are the ones who aren't listening! My mother is just trying to control me and –"

"She's trying to help you." The blonde interrupted.

"No she's not. She wants to control the entire army, Gabrielle. She wants to ransack Rome as much as I do. She doesn't want to listen to me. If she really wanted to help she would have listened to my plans instead of debasing my authority as queen and commander. So you see, she's the one not listening, not me."

Both women stared at each other in a moment of silence and Anastasia sighed, crossing one leg over the other, adjusting her dark dress.

"I know my mother better than you Gabrielle. I've known her my entire life. She can be very controlling."

"She's not like that anymore, Ana." Gabrielle combated and saw the Hun's eyes narrow at that, disbelieving her. "She was really upset at the way you reacted. She blames herself for your behavior."

At that Anastasia's defensive stance was broken and she frowned sadly. "She thinks this is her fault? But why?"

Gabrielle shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe she thinks that she failed in raising you. She doesn't want to see you fail and would do anything to help you, you know that." She rose from the chair. "I think you should talk to her. We aren't your enemies, Ana and neither is Navaz. Talk to them both and make them understand how you feel. You may be surprised." She smiled softly and kissed her forehead then left the room.

Csaba sat with Xena inside her yurt waiting for Gabrielle to return. Xena hoped that Gabrielle was able to talk some sense into her daughter, but she had her doubts –not in Gabrielle, but in Anastasia. As she patiently waited for her to return she was teaching Csaba how to properly sharpen his sword since he already trained with Navaz today on the bow.

He held up the sword, "what do you think, grandma?" he asked.

She folded her arms. "My name is not grandma how many times do I have to tell you that."

The boy grinned smugly, knowing that got on her nerves. "But you are my grandmother ya know..." he said and his smile widened.

"Grandmothers are old ladies. Do I look like an old lady to you?" she teased and leaned in towards him.

He playfully chuckled, "well, you're like ten times older than me so yeah I'd say so."

She glared at him for awhile longer and then smiled, pinching his cheek firmly. "Ten times huh? Maybe I've been too lenient on you during our training sessions." She grabbed the sword from his grasp and looked over it to make sure he sharpened it correctly. "Better...but it's not good enough. Try again." She placed the weapon in his lap.

He gasped, "but I already did it three times!" he whined and she handed him the stone. He grumbled and snatched the sharpening stone from her palm.

"It would have been perfect the first time if you didn't use your sword to hit tree trunks..." she said and the color drained from his face. "I have eyes everywhere," she winked and he groaned, sharpening the sword in silence.

Gabrielle walked into the yurt and smiled seeing Csaba sitting beside Xena. Csaba lifted his eyes and saw one of his favorite people. "Gabrielle! Did you finish speaking to my mom?"

Xena looked to her blonde consort. "Csaba go outside."

He groaned and got off the floor. "Fine, fine. I will leave you two to your girl talk," he teased and drug his sword on the ground. Xena cringed when she saw that but chose to ignore it.

Gabrielle sighed and sat down in front of Xena who was anxiously waiting to hear how it went. "Well, the good news is, she's not unapproachable," she smiled. "She doesn't think you're listening to her and I don't think she is losing herself. I think she's just upset with you."

At that moment the dark haired warrior lowered her eyes in shame and felt the blame shifted upon her again. She didn't want her daughter of all people to be upset at her.

"She wants you to be proud of her."

Xena lifted her chin. "But I am proud of her."

Gabrielle grabbed her consort's hands, squeezing them firmly. "I think you need to show her that. Tell her that. She's still going through with her plan so there's no stopping her."

Xena looked past Gabrielle's shoulder and saw Anastasia enter the yurt, standing in the doorway. Gabrielle turned and smiled. She leaned forward and whispered in Xena's ear. "I'll be outside."

Anastasia shared a brief smile of recognition with Gabrielle before she left. She stepped forward and met eyes with her mother. "Can I talk to you?"

Xena nodded and pat the empty spot next to her on the floor. Anastasia sighed and walked over. Xena grabbed her daughter's hands and helped her to the floor gently. Together they sat on the floor and the young queen's eyes roamed around the yurt. She had not visited often and felt more awkward being in a room with her mother than with Gabrielle. She looked over at the blue eyes that kept staring at her. She knew that her mother was being very patient and quiet, waiting for her to speak first.

"Mother," she began, "I just want to let you know that's not as if I don't want your help and I know you mean well but...I can handle this on my own. I just wanted you to listen to me but you didn't want to. You shut me out without hearing me out first. I don't want you to be angry with me I –"

"I'm not angry with you," Xena said softly. "I just want to make sure you know what you're doing. I don't want you to fail and be disappointed with yourself and the outcome. Sometimes, things don't always go as planned as you know from past experience."

Anastasia nodded and looked in the mirrored eyes beside her. "I was really hurt that you took my position away from me. I negotiated that deal without you. I thought I was making the best decision at the time and I wanted to please everyone, including Navaz. I want to be a good commander and you demeaned me. You undermined my authority as queen."

Xena sighed and ran her hand across her face. Now she felt awful for the way she treated Anastasia, but she was only trying to help her but it obviously didn't come across that way at all. She had no idea she was overstepping a boundary with her daughter and knew she was responsible for the way Ana felt. She was more than upset, she was hurt and felt underappreciated. That wasn't her intention at all.

She grasped her daughter's hand. "Listen, Anastasia, I am not trying to humiliate you. That wasn't what I wanted to do. I just wanted to help you. I didn't want you to go down a path that you could never come out from. I realize now that I shouldn't have taken your position from you without your consent. The idea of you being a queen also never crossed my mind. I still see you as a little girl but I are far from that now."

She inhaled deeply and leaned in closer to her daughter's solemn face. "Can you forgive me? Please?"

Anastasia nodded and then her mother embraced her warmly, crushing her. She gasped for air. "Mom, I can't breathe."

"Sorry," Xena grinned and pulled away, fixing her daughter's collar on her dress. "So...does that mean you don't want my help?" she asked with an eager grin.

Ana rolled her eyes. "When I want it I'll let you know. I promise."

Xena wasn't going to argue with that. It was better than having her daughter shut her out. She eyed her daughter's stomach and grinned widely. "So, are you hoping that this time you will have a girl?" she raised an eyebrow and Anastasia sighed heavily.

"I don't mind if I have another boy but I'm sure Kreka will be really upset again if it's a boy." She shrugged her shoulders.

Xena's eyes roamed her daughter's body and looked at her full cheeks. "Well, I see that she can't say anything about you being too thin anymore." She winked.

Anastasia gasped and touched her cheek. "Are you saying I'm fat?"

Xena stood up and walked over to grab some wine. "No, of course not." She poured a glass of wine and turned to see her daughter's miffed face. "I want you to focus on yourself and the baby first, not your campaign. Understand?"

"Yes, yes I know." She sighed. "I guess I should go talk to Navaz now. He's been ignoring me." She tried to stand and Xena walked over and grabbed her hand, helping her to her feet. "Thanks," she smiled faintly.

Csaba ran inside with his sword and Anastasia gasped. He walked over to his grandmother with fiery eyes. "Okay, it is ready for inspection!" he beamed.

Xena set down the glass of wine and looked over the sword and smiled down at the boy's hopeful face. "Good enough."

He grumbled and took the sword from her grasp. "I'll make sure it's extra sharp for our training session. You'll see."

"Oh yeah?" Xena grinned and sipped the wine.

He turned to his mother. "Kreka is asking for you. She wants you to pick out fabric for your dress."

Ana frowned, cocking her head. "Dress?"

"Yeah, for the senlik!" he grinned from ear to ear. Xena choked on her wine and covered her mouth. He looked to his mother's angry face and folded defensive arms.

Gabrielle entered the yurt and saw the look on Anastasia's face and Xena shook her head silently behind her daughter at Gabrielle. Ana turned to her mother with a menacing glare and Xena drank some wine quickly. "Alright, who did it? Who let Kreka be in charge of this? I told you I didn't want a senlik!" she growled.

Gabrielle cringed and she began backing out of the yurt and Anastasia spun around. "Gabrielle!" she yelled and the blonde smiled sheepishly then exited the room. "Gabrielle!"

Csaba grabbed her arm, firmly looking into her eyes. "Mom. No stress, remember?"

Anastasia huffed and looked down at her son and smiled softly. "Stress? I'm not stressed. No." she turned to her mother who was casually sipping her wine. "You knew the entire time." She narrowed her eyes.

Xena smiled softly. "I have no idea what you're talking about." She sipped the wine again, avoiding her daughter's harsh eyes upon her.

Csaba grabbed his mother's hand and began escorting her out of the yurt. "I can help you pick out the fabric. I know you will look really nice in burgundy." He grinned and she sighed trailing behind him against her will.

Khan Arpad, leader of the Magyars in the Eastern Steppes of the Caucasus, read over the letter he received from the White Hun Queen, Anastasia. He smirked and set the letter down on the table and looked outside at the snowy mountains. Winter approaching quickly. He stroked his beard and squinted his eyes.

"Anastasia," he muttered. "I have heard this name before."

His vizier spoke up, "she is the daughter of Xena, mother of Prince Csaba. Attila's grandson..."

Arpad nodded. "Ah, yes. I definitely remember her now." He grinned mischievously and turned to face his vizier. "She was just but a child the last time I was in Pannonia and now she is a Queen, wife to Khushnavaz. Xena would be very proud of her."

He remembered Xena well and he did not fancy her that much when they met. She was very forceful and he realized that her attitude had trickled off onto her off spring it seemed. Attila paid him so he wouldn't invade Pannonia and he kept his promise even long after the Hun King died. But now, Pannonia was ruled by the Bulgur Huns and the rest of the Pannonians fled to the Caucasus it seemed.

"Well," Arpad scoffed, "it seems the child has now made a name for herself and she wishes to ally with me against Persia and the Roman Empire."

The vizier's eyes grew. "She is very ambitious, sir. What will you say? Will you ally with the Huns?"

Arpad sighed heavily. "I wish to see Queen Anastasia for myself. She is my neighbor after all," he chuckled. "I will ride out tomorrow to meet with her. Make the arrangements. I will arrive by nightfall to Balaam."

"Yes, of course, my king," the vizier bowed his head.

Malka read over Anastasia's decree and he frowned, folding the letter up. He had met Anastasia only briefly before he returned to his home in Kazakhstan. Now he was faced with a conqueror and that conqueror was Xena's daughter. He knew that if he declined, Anastasia would come to his land herself and convince him to side with her.

"What do you want to do, Bey?" Ghar asked.

Malka sighed heavily and folded his arms. "I will ally with Xena's daughter. I do not wish to see the wrath of young Anastasia upon my land. She is more than a Commander, she is a queen too. If she is anything like Xena then I'd rather side with her. Besides, Peroz and his brother, Hormizd, is begging to tax my land and I will not pay them. Surely, they will invade Ghazna if they do not collect their taxes by the end of this season."

Ghar nodded. "You believe the young Hun Queen is capable of rivaling the Sassan family, Bey?"

Malka smiled at his elite soldier. "With Xena by her side I am sure the Persians will feel her wrath if they do not comply with her. I long to see the Sassan family fall."

"She will create a new Hun Empire," Ghar stated.

"I believe she will."

Xena circled around Gabrielle with her blade. "Come on Gabrielle I'm waiting," she teased.

The blonde shook her head and held up her sword and charged forward clashing swords with her consort. "I'm getting better you have to admit!" she grit her teeth and Xena knocked her down with a swift kick to the shins. Gabrielle landed flat on her back and she gasped.

Xena smiled and leaned over her sparring partner. "Not good enough apparently." She chuckled and grabbed hold of the blonde's arm, lifting her off the ground. "Did you abandon your sword while you were Consul in Rome?"

Gabrielle huffed and brushed some dirt off her pants. "I couldn't exactly train while I was writing for Odoacer, Xena." She saw the warrior's eyes narrow at the mention of the emperor's name. "He mentioned to me that you knew him when Attila was alive. What was he like? Did you think he would end up as emperor?"

Xena shook her head. "I don't like Odoacer and neither did Attila. There was always something off about him. I'm surprised the Roman Senate allowed a Hun to be emperor of Rome."

"He convinced the Senate to wipe out his documents about him being a Hun," Gabrielle said and twirled her sword. "Do you think he will come looking for me?"

"I doubt it! Odoacer doesn't give a shit about people apparently since he treated my daughter, Ernak and Dengi horribly. His own people!" Xena groaned and thrust her sword forward. "Are we going to spar or talk about idiots?" she raised her eyebrows.

Their swords clashed together once more and Gabrielle swerved to the left, dodging Xena's attack. She ducked when she saw Xena's sword swing over her head. She kicked Xena in the shin, sending her staggering backwards. Gabrielle grinned and went straight for her gut, thrusting her sword forward. Immediately, she regret her move when Xena grabbed her arm and flipped her over her head and onto her back again.

"I should have seen that one coming," the blonde sighed and slowly rose from the ground.

Xena held out her hand and sheathed her sword. "Truce?"

Gabrielle shook her hand firmly and leaned towards her ear. "For now." She whispered.

"You want more, huh?" Xena teased. "Maybe you should spar with someone more your speed."

"Are you saying that I am not good?" Gabrielle folded her arms.

Xena wrapped her arm around her petite scribe and exhaled heavily with a big grin. "No, you're just really out of practice."

"Only with my sword..." the blonde said, implying something else and Xena's eyes widened at that. "I could show you," she lead her towards their yurt and Xena arched a curious brow at her. "Unless you have commander duties.."

"I'm not a commander anymore, remember?" Xena smiled and walked with Gabrielle to their yurt.

Navaz sat up in his bed wide awake. He peered over at his wife sleeping soundly next to him and smiled softly. He was glad that they were able to talk together and she even came to his room and had been here ever since. He wasn't entirely sure if her plan was going to work, considering he was not one to start wars, but as long as she was his wife, he would side with her.

He gently brushed her hair long hair away from her face and saw her chest rising and falling heavily as she slept on her side, her mouth parted and her arms tucked beneath her cheek. Tracing his fingers along her bare arm he leaned his body towards hers, pressing his chest against her back. He pecked her bare shoulder and she stirred in her sleep then slowly rolled over onto her back. Her arm sprawled on the pillow.

Gradually he scooted away from her and leaned his cheek on his palm, staring at her as she slept. He saw her eyebrows furrow in her sleep and she adjusted her body, rolling over onto her side again, her face towards him with her arm draped over her hip.

Her eyes fluttered open tiredly and she saw Navaz gaping at her. She smiled faintly. "Navaz..." her eyes adjusted to the candlelit room and saw him grinning down at her. "What are you doing?"

"I didn't mean to wake you," he whispered.

"You didn't." she frowned and rest her hand on the unsettled child inside her.

He smiled, nodding his head and inched closer to her, placing his hand on top of hers. His smile disappeared and her hand slipped from underneath his and she stared up at his worried face.

"What?" she asked.

"Csaba's father. He was Attila's son." He said and she nodded. "And your mother wanted to kill him because you had a child with him?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

She smiled widely and sighed. "I was fifteen, Navaz. If you're thinking that she might kill you, I promise you she won't."

"Are you sure? She hasn't been very nice to me after what happened with the Romans..."

She touched his cheek. "If she wanted to kill you she'd let you know real fast. My mother tends to stay angry at things for awhile but she'll get over it." she saw the disbelief in his eyes. "If it makes you feel any better she was angry up until Csaba was born." She playfully hit his shoulder and his eyes grew in shock.

He cleared his throat and leaned back onto the pillows staring at the ceiling. "That's not very reassuring."

Anastasia kept smiling and rose from the bed, leaning on her elbow. "Just don't suck up to her. She really hates that."

"So what do I do?" he turned to her slightly amused face. She was enjoying this, he thought.

"Just be yourself!" she said. She traced her fingernails along his bare chest and grinned deviously. "Although, there is one thing that my mother really hates."

He widened his eyes. "What?"

"Don't marry another woman," she lifted her eyes and he smirked.

"One woman is enough for me."

She snarled and punched him in the chest and he grunted. He sat up and rubbed his chest and turned to her menacing glare. "By God, Anastasia," he croaked and let out a soft cough. "I have a new rule. No hitting your husband." He shook his head and kept rubbing his sore chest, trying to breathe properly. She smiled and laid back down on the pillows.

He gently punched her in the arm and she gasped and slapped him back. He pinched her arm and she crinkled her nose and pinched his bicep. Grinning, he pinned her arms down to the pillows and crawled on top of her.

"Navaz, no," she smiled and he leaned downward kissing her softly. "Get off me," she protested, breathing heavily and he stared down at her, both smiling at one another.

The door of the bedroom opened and Navaz groaned. "Your highness," Zolten announced and Navaz rolled off of his wife. "Sorry for the intrusion but King Arpad of the Magyars is here. He wishes to see the Queen."

Anastasia rose up off the bed and shared a glance with the king. "I will be there in a moment," she said and Zolten nodded. "Oh and, could you get my mother?"

"Of course, my queen," Zolten bowed his head and left the room.

She climbed out of the bed and grabbed her dress, slipping her arms through the sleeves and buttoned it up in the front. Navaz swung his legs off the bed and eyed her backside, her long hair dipping to her hips. "You want your mother's help?"

"I just want her to observe. She knows Arpad. He came to negotiate a deal with Attila a long time ago in Pannonia. I want her to be there without Arpad knowing," she turned and smiled at his worried face. "You trust me, right?"

He rose from the bed and walked over, buttoning her collar for her and smiled down at her. "Yes, I trust you." He kissed her forehead then grabbed her crown and veil, placing it on top of her head. He smoothed out her black veil over her hair and rubbed her arms. "Do you want me to come with you?"

"No, I can do this by myself." She said with a faint grin on her lips.

Gabrielle moved her last chess piece on the board and cheered victorious. "I win, again!" she laughed and clapped her hands.

Xena groaned and finished off her wine. She pointed the empty glass at her consort. "We play again." She grabbed the half empty bottle of wine and poured another glass. Gabrielle moaned and fell backward against the pillows on the floor.

"Come on, Xena! This is the third game!" she lifted herself up and saw Xena arranging the board again. "Just face it. You lost, not once, but three times! You suck!"

"Practice makes perfect," Xena hid her soft smile. "If I win you have to do something for me, fair?"

"Like what?" Gabrielle raised a curious eyebrow.

Xena grinned deviously. "Polish my boots for a week."

Gabrielle scoffed. "And what do I get if I win?"

"Well," Xena's eyes drifted to the ceiling, pursing her lips. "I'll cook for a week, how's that?"

Gabrielle cringed. "I'd rather you not. You're not very good at cooking, no offense." She chuckled and Xena frowned deeply. "Okay, if I win then you have to wear a dress for a week."

"No way!" Xena shook her head.

"Xena, a deal is a deal!" Gabrielle leaned in and the warrior groaned lowly. "Come on...don't be a poor sport, Xeeeena..."

"Fine, fine." Xena relented and set up the chess board ready for their fourth game in a row this evening.

Gabrielle grinned mischievously and stretched her arms outward. "Prepare to lose."

"In your dreams, Gabrielle," Xena made her first move and the blonde studied the board trying to decide her next move.

"Xena!" Zolten called from outside the yurt. Xena groaned and set her wine glass down.

"For crying out loud," she grumbled. "What is it?" she yelled back.

"Queen Anastasia asks to see you to oversee the meeting with King Arpad. They are in the Adame," he said and there was a long silence.

Gabrielle grinned. "Looks like she needs you after all."

Xena smiled at her blonde consort. She immediately jumped up and slipped on her black pants. "I will be there!" she called out.

"She asks that you remain discreet," he said.

Gabrielle grabbed her pants and boots getting ready herself. She slipped off her gown and threw on her tunic. Xena stood, lacing up her pants. "This game is not over. I will win again."

"Yeah right," Xena smirked and threw her slip aside and grabbed her black tunic, slipping it over her head. "Better get that wax ready, Gabrielle. It's got your name on it," she teased.

The Magyar king walked into the conference room within the Adame and saw Anastasia sitting at the end of the table looking very much like the queen she has become. He smiled softly and bowed his head. "Queen Anastasia," he greeted.

She bowed her head curtly. "Arpad," her response short. She gestured to the seat at the end of the table. "Sit, please," she offered. He took the seat at the end of the table and took off his fur cap and set it in his lap. "I wasn't expecting you."

"Yes, I apologize for the impromptu arrival, your highness. I wanted to speak to you immediately. I hope I was not interrupting anything?" he smiled with a bit of sparkle in his dark eyes.

Not exactly, she thought. "Not at all. You've come to discuss my alliance with you, is that why you came?" she asked. Lifting her eyes for a brief moment she saw her mother and Gabrielle enter the room from a separate door and lurk in the dark corner of the room. She smiled and turned her attention to Arpad.

"Yes. I must say I was surprised to find the daughter of Xena sending me a letter as a Hun Queen no less. My condolences for your mother," he bowed his head.

She nodded. "She is very close to my heart always," she hid her smile. "So, my alliance. Will you join me or not?"

He chuckled and swirled his fingers on the tabletop. "I am surprised to find a Pannonian in my neck of the woods. One of Attila's Huns of course. If I'm not mistaken it was your mother that convinced the righteous king to decline my offer." He tapped his fingers on the table.

She squinted her eyes and Xena shook her head over in the corner. She inhaled deeply. "My mother is no longer in the picture and neither is Attila. I am offering you a deal. I wish to unite all the Hun tribes together to defeat the Persians and Romans. Zeno sent his men to Balaam not too long ago. I don't want another invasion so I am making alliances with the kingdoms surrounding my own." She paused and placed her elbows on the table. "Will you ally with me or not?"

"What happens when I decline your offer?" he smiled.

"Then I will ransack your territory and claim it as my own." She bat her eyelashes with a soft smile.

Gabrielle ran her hand across her face. Xena rolled her eyes and folded her arms, listening to her daughter. She was using threats to get what she wanted, much like Xena did long ago. It worked, but Xena was not sure her daughter had the strong negotiation skills to make Arpad back off.

"Mother like daughter," Arpad laughed lightly. "I admire your young spirit, your highness. But threatening me will get you nowhere."

"I'm not threatening you. That is a promise. I will claim your territory if you do not ally with me," her eyes darkened.

"Sounds like a threat to me." He frowned. "Why would you want to ally with me anyway?"

Anastasia looked over at her mother briefly and Xena narrowed her eyes, nodding to her to go ahead. "Your army is strong and would be a great asset to my kingdom against Persia and Rome." She said and Xena gave her an encouraging smile and Anastasia turned back to the Magyar.

"You want my army? Ambitious girl," he rubbed his chin. "How much coin will you pay me if I give you control of my army?"

She panicked and didn't even think she would get this far. Briefly staring at her mother she saw her holding up one finger at her. She inhaled deeply and smiled at Arpad. "One fourth of my husband's treasury."

"A fourth?" he scoffed. "No deal."

Anastasia frowned and then saw her mother holding up three fingers and then just one, glaring at the Magyar. "One third and that's my final offer."

He hummed quietly and rubbed his beard, staring at the eager young queen. "Alright, I will take your offer." He smiled and stood. She stood up immediately after him. "I will expect it delivered to my kingdom." He said.

The queen looked over at her mother and Xena shook her head. "You will receive the money once you send me your army," she grinned and he turned, glaring at her. "For insurance, of course. So I know you won't go back on your word."

"Fair enough." He put his fur hat back on and bowed from the waist. "It was a pleasure to see you, your highness." He chuckled lowly then exited the room.

Anastasia exhaled heavily and slumped back into the chair. Xena and Gabrielle came to her side. "You did a really great job!" Gabrielle cheered her on and rubbed Ana's shoulder.

Lifting her eyes she saw the look on her mother's face. "That is too much money! I can't give him one third of our treasury, mother!" she griped.

Xena smirked. "You're not going to give him anything." She said and her daughter gave her a bemused look. "You will take his army and claim it as your own." She saw the shock on her face and Gabrielle smiled. "I told you that you would need my help."

"So I just gave him a giant bluff?" Anastasia cocked her eyebrow.

"Magyars are greedy. He just wants the money. He doesn't care about your campaign or alliance. He doesn't take you seriously, Anastasia, because you are young. Attila knew way back when that giving him money would keep him away from Pannonia. His thought process hasn't changed." Xena said.

Gabrielle chimed in, "and since he won't have an army anymore he won't be able to attack you."

Xena grinned. "What she said." She thumbed her partner beside her.

Anastasia sighed and frowned, not wanting to admit that she needed her mother's help. Although, she didn't know what she would have done if her mother weren't standing over there giving her silent advice. "I still think I can do this by myself," she muttered.

"And you can but you still need help. Don't be stubborn, Ana." Gabrielle advised and the young queen folded her arms.

Zolten walked into the room and all three women turned to him. "Forgive me, my queen," he bowed his head. "I have received word from Emperor Zeno. He wants to meet with you and Navaz personally."

Anastasia's jaw dropped and Xena shook her head. "That bastard won't quit." Xena growled.

"Tell him I will meet with him," Ana said.

Xena spun around with wide eyes. "Anastasia, no!"

"Mother, you said you want to help me right?"

"More than anything."

"Then help me negotiate with Zeno. Teach me."

Xena pinched the bridge of her nose. "Negotiating with emperors is not my strong point..."

Gabrielle grinned. "I can help you, Ana. I worked for Zeno and Odoacer. I know how they think and what they will ask." She eyed Xena and saw the disapproval in her eyes. "Let me help you, please?"

Anastasia nodded and turned to Zolten. "I will meet with the emperor." She smiled and Xena shook her head, knowing this was a bad idea.

Chapter Text

AN: I try really hard to incorporate as much historical accuracy as possible in everything I write. The characters like Navaz (Khushnavaz), Shah Peroz, Shah Hormizd, Emperor Zeno and Emperor Odoacer are all historical people. The White Huns are also known as the Hephthalite Huns. They became to be known as the "Terror of Asia". Their biggest enemies were the Sassan Family of Persia.

There was a real "White Hun Campaign" against Eastern Rome and Persia. Later, this campaign turned into a series of wars that lasted for years. This series of wars was called the "Anastasian War" (this will be explained later).

Anyway, enjoy lol.

Chapter 14 –Ghostly Encounter

Peroz stood with his brother, Hormizd, in the large throne chamber, miffed and fuming at the same time. Peroz slammed his fist on the table in frustration. "That cunt Anastasia is allying with all of the Huns! She is going to attack us, brother!"

Hormizd nodded and sat down on his throne, rubbing his chin. "We ally with Emperor Zeno remember, Peroz? Navaz does not have a big enough army to defeat both empires, no matter how many Hun tribes ally with him and his wife."

"Our scouts have spotted Huns at the borders. The White Huns have already breached our territory. There will be more of them, brother." Peroz said, infuriated that his brother was not more concerned about these Huns potentially invading their family's land.

"There is one tribe that the queen will never have. Her homeland, Pannonia," Hormizd grinned. "She will never be able to convince the Bulgurs to come to her side. They are her enemies now."

Peroz sighed and rubbed his temples firmly. "She is not going to ally with them! She is going to attack them! When Emperor Zeno meets with her I want a full report from his governor."

"We will have one, brother. Don't you worry. You fear these Huns but they are nothing to be concerned over. Their people are dying out slowly. The tribes are not allied together and they're falling apart." Hormizd frowned and stood from his throne. "We will wipe them all out."

"Then I will send our scouts to the borders to prevent them from coming into our empire," Peroz turned to walk off.

Hormizd pointed his finger and yelled, "you will do no such thing!"

Peroz spun around with a large frown. "Why ever not?! You allow these Huns to linger on the border?"

"They pose no threat, brother! They are standing idly at the border. If we attack then we declare war on the White Huns."

"Isn't that the idea?" the younger brother growled.

Hormizd nodded. "Our time will come but we will wait for the Huns to attack us first."

Gabrielle sat on the floor going over her papers filled with questions to grill Anastasia with. She had been at this for a week now, teaching the young queen how to negotiate with Emperor Zeno. She sighed heavily and rustled through the papers.

"Okay, what will you say if Zeno asks you to stand down?" she asked.

Anastasia fidgeted with her fingers in her lap. "I will tell him that I will attack Persia."

"But he will attack you anyway. What will you say then?"

"That I will...attack Constantinople?" she asked unsure.

Gabrielle smiled softly. "Very good." She stacked the papers into one pile. "I think we should take a break. How are you feeling? You don't look well."

Anastasia shook her head and waved her hand dismissively. "I'm alright, just tired." She looked over at her mother and Csaba playing a game of chess while she studied with Gabrielle. Smiling at the two she saw her mother grow more irritated when she was losing to her grandson. She had no idea her mother was so bad at chess and loved hearing Gabrielle rant about her victories against her mother when they played the game together.

She winced when she felt like her unborn child was stabbing her in the ribs. Her face of discomfort alarmed Gabrielle. "Are you alright?"

Lifting her eyes she nodded with a weak smile. "Yes, I'm alright. Just uncomfortable," she sighed heavily and rubbed the back of her neck.

"I win!" Csaba jumped up and pointed at Xena's face. "In your face!" he chuckled.

"Yeah, yeah," Xena mumbled. "You win in chess but I win in the battlefield, boy." She raised her eyebrow and he folded his arms.

Csaba turned to his mother and went to her side, kneeling down. "Mother, are you okay?" he placed a hand on her shoulder.

She smiled at her son and nodded. "I'm fine, really. Don't worry about me."

He crouched down beside her and kissed her cheek. "I'll always worry about you, you're my mom." He said and she cupped his cheek and stared into his eyes that reminded her of Ellac's so much. He looked so much like him and he was very sweet, just like Ellac.

"Do you ladies have clothes on?" Ernak called from outside the yurt.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Very funny," she said and Ernak walked in wearing his fur coat and smiled at everyone.

"Can't be too careful these days," he said and then caught eye of his nephew beside Anastasia. "Csaba! My little man!" he grinned and Csaba stood up and gave his uncle a secret handshake that only they knew how to do. Ernak grabbed the twelve year old, wrapping his arm around his neck.

"Ernak! Come on!" Csaba groaned.

Ernak let go of his obstinate nephew and eyed Anastasia and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "And how is my sweet Ana?" he whispered in her ear.

She frowned. "Get away from me," she sassed and he let go of her, backing away slowly.

He eyed Xena, thumbing her daughter. "Touchy," he muttered. Xena smiled and shook her head at the young king.

"I heard that," Ana spun her head around and he smiled cheekily at her. "I'm sorry," she muttered, "I'm just stressed out about this meeting with Zeno."

Ernak sat down beside her and smiled. "Don't worry, Ana, your mother and Gabrielle will help you. Like always." He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and she remained still and quiet, her head hung and he heard her sobbing softly. "Hey, don't cry," he whispered.

Gabrielle was putting some dishes away on the table and she shared a concerned look with her counterpart. Xena set the chess board into a chest by her bedroom and heard Ernak trying to talk to her daughter quietly.

"I think she is feeling overwhelmed," Gabrielle whispered.

"If I could take over for her I would in a heartbeat," Xena said and folded her arms, casting a glance over at Ernak trying to comfort Anastasia and Csaba sitting beside her.

Gabrielle quirked her mouth and cocked her head up at her warrior. "And why don't you?"

Xena spun around with shocked eyes. "I can't show my face anywhere, Gabrielle! Especially to Zeno," she muttered.

"He's bound to find out you exist eventually," the blonde shrugged with a faint smile. "Are you honestly going to sit back and let Navaz attack Rome and Persia by himself? I know you are dying to go back into the field no matter how much I hate it. You're itching to. Admit it, Xena."

She saw the conflict in Xena's eyes but she knew that Xena wanted to take her position back as commander, no matter what her daughter said. Gabrielle knew Xena very well and also knew when she wanted something so badly and it was out of her control. Anastasia wasn't going to allow her mother to help –there were boundaries –but Gabrielle knew that Anastasia could be convinced otherwise.

"Anastasia isn't allowed to go into the field but you can. Negotiate with her and tell her she can handle the politics and you do her field work for her." Gabrielle advised and Xena arched her eyebrow.

"You've become quite the diplomat," Xena gave a crooked smile at her blonde consort.

Gabrielle shrugged nonchalantly. "I guess Rome is good for something."

Xena sighed and walked over, towering over Ernak. He lifted his head and saw the look in her eyes. She nudged her head towards the exit and he nodded, jumping to his feet. He looked over at Csaba who was clinging to his mother's arm.

"Come on Csaba. Dengi got a new bow and he's been dying to show you," Ernak smiled.

Csaba frowned sadly and he looked over at his grandmother and he sighed. "Alright," he mumbled and stood, grabbing his uncle's hand and left with him.

Anastasia wiped her cheeks and let out a heavy exhale. Xena set down in front of her on the floor and Ana did not lift her eyes to meet with hers. She felt so embarrassed showing any sign of weakness especially in front of her mother. She was afraid that her mother wouldn't take her seriously and try to convince her to help.

Xena felt her daughter's tension and it wasn't even worse that she wouldn't look at her. "I said that you don't want my help but what if I offer you a proposition?" she began.

Anastasia frowned and lifted her head, glaring at her mother. "Whatever it is, no." she sniffled and wiped her nose, turning away.

"You haven't heard what it is yet."

"Mother!" she hissed and glared into the eyes that mirrored her own. "I don't need your help. I told you that. Why can't you understand that?"

"You don't need my help, huh?" Xena smiled softly. "Gabrielle helped you prepare for your meeting, didn't she?"

Anastasia folded her arms. "That's different. I asked for help. I am not asking for your help right now."

"Then why were you crying?" Xena creased her eyebrows.

"Because I'm pregnant," Ana said flatly.

Gabrielle stood off on the side and covered her mouth, stifling her laughter. Xena's face softened and she held in her laugh, smiling instead. "Fair enough," she nodded. "Do you think you could turn off your cold queen exterior for just a minute?" she asked and Anastasia relaxed her shoulders.

"Allow me to sit in on the meeting with Zeno." She said and saw her daughter about to protest. She held up her finger, "I'm not finished." She saw Ana's mouth close. "Any field work you leave to me. Everything else you can do by yourself like we discussed. Alright?"

Anastasia sighed unhappily. She wasn't allowed to go with Navaz anywhere unless it was a diplomatic mission, but so far, everyone was coming to her, which was nice. She saw that her mother really wanted to help and Gabrielle was kind enough to give her a lesson on how to talk to Romans. She didn't want to say no and then regret it later but she also didn't want to give her mother the satisfaction of saying yes either.

"Fine," she relented.

Xena smiled and leaned forward to kiss her daughter's forehead. "Good girl," she said softly and rubbed her arm. Anastasia had a scowl on her face and her arms crossed, looking like she was throwing a bit of a tantrum much like she used to do when things did not go her way when she was a child.

Gabrielle walked over and bent down staring at the irate queen. "You know, you look so much prettier when you smile."

Anastasia's face softened and couldn't help but smile at the big grin upon Gabrielle's face. "I'm sorry it's just I'm so frustrated with myself. I have a plan in my mind but when I have to actually implement it, it's not turning out the way I want."

Xena scoffed. "Welcome to the real world. I could formulate a plan to take over the world easily but the execution isn't always easy."

Gabrielle shot her a glare. "You've actually thought about that before?"

Xena smirked, "no of course not. What kind of person do think I am, Gabrielle?" she winked and the blonde eyed her suspiciously. "It was a joke."

"Sure it was," Gabrielle rolled her eyes and turned back to Anastasia. "It's okay to ask for help, Ana. You shouldn't be ashamed to ask."

Ana sighed. "I'm not ashamed to ask I just want to do things on my own for once. You two are always helping me and I appreciate that but I want to be in charge of something important." She looked up and Gabrielle kept smiling at her. "And I'm also frustrated that I'm pregnant right now," she grumbled.

"You will have your baby soon. I'm afraid you can't speed up that process," Xena said and smiled as she was pouring some tea for her daughter.

Anastasia sighed and took the glass of tea that was handed to her. "And when I do, this will be a lot easier for me."

Xena frowned and sat beside Gabrielle. "What are you talking about? You can't do both at the same time –be a new mother and commander at once."

The young queen sipped the hot tea. "Why not? You did."

"No I did not!" Xena spat. "I took a year off after I had you."

"Well, I was hoping...that you could watch the baby," she smiled cheekily and Xena's jaw dropped and Gabrielle pursed her lips, eyeing the shock on Xena's face and the smug grin on Ana's.

"What do I look like? Your built-in babysitter?" her mother raised an eyebrow and Anastasia's smile widened. "I thought you didn't want my help?" a smile graced her lips and saw her daughter's face pale.

"But this is different mother," Ana lowered the glass.

"Oh, it is?" Xena leaned in and narrowed her eyes at her daughter.

"Mother, come on, don't be ridiculous," Ana frowned.

"Oh no, you want to do things by yourself. I'm not allowed to help you remember?" Xena grinned and Gabrielle slapped her shoulder gently. "I want to hear you say it. Come on." She cupped her ear and waited for her daughter.

Gabrielle realized that Xena was only teasing but Anastasia actually looked worried that she wouldn't help. This back and forth conversation was very amusing to watch and she stifled a laugh, seeing the pale faced queen scowling at Xena.

"I to help me," Anastasia muttered.

Xena's mouth parted. "Sorry, I didn't hear you."

"Mom!" Ana frowned and Xena looked at her with a playful smile.

"Of course I will help you with your baby, Anastasia, but Gabrielle and I are not your babysitters." She warned.

Ana nodded. "You've made your point," she slowly sipped the hot tea and Xena lifted her glass, casting a wink at her.

"But since you will be taking care of your baby you will have no choice but to enlist me as commander in your absence," Xena grinned and pat her daughter's knee and Ana's jaw dropped, holding the tea close to her lips.

Gabrielle leaned over to Xena. "You've shocked her mute," she chuckled and Xena raised her eyebrows, grinning at her speechless daughter.

"You didn't think this through did you?" Xena said and pat her daughter's cheek.

Navaz sat with Anastasia in the conference room inside the Adame. He looked over at her and she was tapping her fingernails on the table repeatedly for the last half hour. He placed his hand over hers and she turned to him and saw he was smiling.

"Don't be nervous," he whispered.

"I'm not," she frowned and stared at the doors waiting for Emperor Zeno to come in any minute now. Zolten alerted her that Zeno and his men were approaching Balaam an hour ago. She was waiting and waiting for him to appear. It was going to take a lot for her to keep her temper in check during this meeting especially after what he did to her people in Pannonia and what he did to her mother was unforgivable.

The doors opened and Emperor Zeno walked in wearing his red and gold armor. He cast a smile at the young queen and king sitting at the end of the table. A few of his royal guards escorted him inside. Anastasia darkened her eyes glaring at the Romans.

"Tell your men to leave," she blurted out without even greeting the Roman.

Zeno widened his eyes. "Your highness, you do not even greet me? I am your guest," he grinned smugly.

"They leave or this meeting is over!" she slammed her fist on the table.

Zeno raised an eyebrow and nodded to his elite guard to leave the room. He took the seat at the end of the table and Xena slipped into the room just before the doors were closed. She grinned and walked behind Zeno, completely oblivious of her presence.

"Not much of a warm greeting from her highness," he noted and she scoffed audibly. "I would like to start off by thanking you for agreeing to meet with me." He bowed his head.

Navaz bowed curtly and Anastasia gave a short nod at the emperor. He eyed her fingernails scrapping on the table and he gripped her thigh below the table and her fingers relaxed slightly by his touch. "We were both surprised to see your letter." He said calmly.

Zeno nodded. "I have no doubt." He cocked his head at the young queen. "You resemble your mother so much, even your anger resembles hers. I did not think I would have the opportunity to speak to Xena's daughter. I feel so honored to be in your presence."

Xena raised her eyebrow and folded her arms, glaring at the emperor's head from behind. Anastasia gave a tight smile. "As you should. So why have you come here?" she asked and eyed her mother stepping dangerously close to Zeno.

The emperor sighed heavily. "It has come to my attention that you have soldiers at the Persian border. You know that is a big no-no," he chuckled. "Rumor has it that you want to create a new Hun Empire. I have come to offer you a deal."

Navaz frowned. "A deal? Huns do not do well with Romans, emperor."

"Yes, well, Attila was once allies with Rome until his Commander ruined it all," Zeno shot a glare at Anastasia. "Listen, I am willing to work with you both."

Ana's eyes widened as did her smile. "You see us as a threat, emperor?"

"Hardly," Zeno said with a blank face. "I do apologize for attacking your motherland, your highness, but your people were getting out of control. So you see, I had to attack you." He smiled. "I am willing to never step in Balaam again if you pay a tax to my empire. Convert to the Holy Roman Church and I will not come near your precious kingdom. Do we have a deal? Odoacer has written a decree and we need your signature. Both of you."

Navaz shared a look with his wife and Anastasia smiled, turning back to the emperor. "No deal, Zeno."

"You decline my offer? If you do this then you will be making the biggest mistake of your life!" he growled.

Xena wrapped her arm around the emperor and he gasped. She covered his mouth and leaned down beside him. "You know what your biggest mistake was, Zeno? Crucifying me and leaving me to die," she hissed in his ear.

Zeno's eyes grew in fear as he heard the sound of her voice. Xena's voice. Slowly he turned his head and saw her penetrating blue eyes staring at him with a wild smile on her rose colored lips. Xena leaned in inches from his face and felt his breathing quicken against her palm.

"So you see, we aren't going to accept your petty deal because I know Romans. You will attack Balaam and go against your word. Romans are filthy good for nothing pests on this earth." She snarled and knocked him over in the chair.

He groaned and she lifted him up in the chair up right. She placed her hand on his shoulder and he stiffened his entire body. "Not happy to see me, Zeno?" she teased. "We were never able to have a proper conversation but now we can." She pat his shoulder and he gasped.

She rounded the table and unsheathed her sword, grazing the tip along the fine wood, scrapping the table. Zeno cringed at the noise and she smiled, turning to her daughter and Navaz sitting patiently. The look in her daughter's eyes was most frightening. It reminded her of herself long ago. She was angry, more than angry, she was livid.

She placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Do you want my help?" she whispered and Ana looked up at her and nodded. Xena smiled and turned to the frightened emperor.

"How are you alive?" Zeno frowned.

Xena walked behind the two monarchs and hopped onto the table, crossing one leg over the other with her sword resting on her thigh. "Must have been divine intervention," she cast a slow wink and his upper lip quivered. "Listen, Zeno, you can take your offer and shove it where the sun don't shine. You understand?"

He clenched his fists. "I will come for you Xena. I will slaughter these White Huns just like I did with Attila's people."

She chuckled and hopped off the table, waving her sword around casually. "We'll see about that, Zeno. I know all your dirty secrets and strategies." Thanks to Gabrielle, she thought.

His mouth parted. "You are not Roman and I am nothing like my predecessor, Theodosius. He was incompetent. I will cut off your hands and crucify you in Rome's square!" he yelled. "I will do the same to your daughter!" he eyed Anastasia and she was about to stand up then Navaz grabbed her arm firmly.

"You lay a hand on my daughter and I will cut you into little pieces, Zeno," she threatened.

He stood from his chair slowly with an eerie grin. "Protective mother indeed. I hope your daughter is the same to her son and...unborn child." He looked over at the irate young queen. "Congratulations to you." He turned and flung open the doors.

He stepped outside the room and saw Gabrielle with a smug grin on her face and his eyes widened seeing her alive and living with these savages. Immediately he growled and turned to his men. "We leave at once!" he stormed out of the Adame passing by his former Consul.

Xena sighed and sheathed her sword. She turned to her daughter and Navaz. "And that's how you negotiate with those Roman bastards." She smiled.

Anastasia rose from her chair and flung her arms around her mother, embracing her tightly. "Thank you," she whispered.

Gabrielle stepped inside the room and saw Xena hugging her daughter. "So, I take it the meeting went well?" she asked and both women turned to her.

"Well," Ana began and pulled away from her mother, "now Zeno knows my mother is alive and he is definitely going to attack us."

"So we should get started, right?" Navaz chimed in and all three women turned to him and he grinned nervously.

The following week Navaz, Anastasia, Xena and Gabrielle all left Balaam to scout the borders of Persia. Xena suggested that they try and negotiate with Peroz and his older brother one last time. She knew that Zeno was to send word that his offer with the White Huns was void and invalid at this point. She also knew that it was really bold of her to expose herself to one of the most important people in the eastern half of the world. Peroz and Hormizd would definitely be expecting them so Gabrielle offered to talk to the shahs on Anastasia's and Navaz's behalf so Xena could stay behind and remain alert without them knowing she was present.

Meanwhile, inside the Adame, Kreka was in one of the large sitting rooms in the front of the dwelling. Tuya walked by the room and saw the khatun sitting on the floor, sewing quietly to herself. She grinned and stepped inside the room, knocking on the wall.

Kreka lifted her head and frowned. "Tuya," she greeted curtly.

The queen mother waltzed in and peered down at the dark burgundy fabric in Kreka's lap. "I'll have you know that I was able to convince my son to forget about that little incident you displayed in your yurt." She said snidely.

"How kind of you..." Kreka bit her tongue to prevent her from losing her temper. She drove the needle into the fabric, trying to focus on sewing this dress for Anastasia instead of Tuya standing in front of her. She didn't want to make matters worse especially right now so she refrained from making any remarks towards Navaz's mother. It was obvious the woman was not well liked among everyone here.

Tuya sat in the chair, observing Kreka's sewing skills. "What are you doing?"

The hazel eyed khatun lifted her eyes for a brief moment and saw the woman was genuinely curious. "I'm sewing Anastasia's dress for the senlik next month." She looked down and kept digging the needle into the thick fabric.

Tuya scoffed. "Shouldn't Xena be doing that? She is her mother after all."

"I offered to do it and Xena is occupied with other things as usual. She doesn't mind that I am doing this for her daughter. I did it last time," Kreka said and lifted her eyes and saw the confused look on Tuya's oval face, her sharp dark almond eyes doing no favor to conceal her emotions whatsoever.

Kreka bit the thread and tied it off. She spread the dress on the ground to look over her work, studying it. Tuya tapped her fingers on her knee impatiently. "As much as I am elated by your presence...I really need to finish this dress," her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Unless you want to make yourself useful and hand me those sheers over there," she pointed to the table.

Tuya frowned and walked over to the table to retrieve the sheers and hand them to the khatun. Kreka nodded and began cutting the long sleeves of the dress slowly. "You know Tuya..." she began, "it would befit you to help out with the senlik." She tossed the left over fabric to the side and straightened out the cut sleeves and rose, glaring at the queen mother.

"This is your grandchild too, not just Xena's. You've done nothing but pressure Anastasia to bear a child and now that she is, you resent her for it. You can't have it both ways."

Tuya snubbed Kreka and turned, avoiding her gaze. "I do not care for Xena. She does not like me."

"I don't like you either. You tried to kill me, but we must put that behind us..." she smiled and held up the sheers. Tuya lifted her chin cautiously staring at her. "I suggest you offer to help Anastasia more. Be nice to her and be especially nice to Xena. She is not as kind as I was to you," she winked and the queen mother's frown deepened.

Tuya adjusted the emerald green veil on her head and pursed her lips. "Senliks are not popular in the Caucasus," she admitted in a terse tone. "I am not familiar with the tradition."

Kreka smirked, seeing the queen mother's subtle interest. "Gifts are brought to the mother during the party. Since you are the mother of the king and grandmother you will be required to give the most extravagant gift."

Tuya's eyes widened and Kreka couldn't help but smile, relishing in the woman's priceless facial expression. "That includes giving a gift to Xena...since she is the most important person in the ceremony next to the expecting mother..." she added and Tuya's lips parted.

"How in God's name am I supposed to come up with a suitable gift?!" Tuya snarled.

Kreka shrugged a shoulder and grabbed the dress then began working on hemming the sleeves. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

"Mother," Dengi ran inside and frowned upon seeing Tuya. "Should I come back later?" he crossed his arms.

"No, it's alright we were just talking..." Kreka hid her smile and Tuya sat in the chair, staring off into space, her mind ticking on what to do. "What is it, Dengi?"

He never took his eyes off the queen mother while he spoke. "Ernak and I are going to scout the borders of Balaam per Xena's orders. We will be back by nightfall."

Kreka had the large needle in her mouth and nodded at her son. "When will Xena and the rest return from Persia?"

"Xena said no more than three days tops," he said and she nodded once more, shooing him away with her hand and he glared at Tuya before exiting the room.

Gabrielle rode back from the border and saw Xena waiting on foot with her arms crossed. She skid to a stop and hopped off the horse and shook her head. Anastasia rubbed her temple and Navaz turned to her concernedly.

"They not only said no, but I think Peroz called me a bitch in his language," Gabrielle crinkled her nose in disgust.

"That was expected," Xena said and looked at the Persian borders with all of Navaz's men guarding it, creating a wall around the Persian Empire.

Anastasia trotted closer to her mother. "What do we do now?" she asked.

Gabrielle stepped forward, wrapping her coat around her as snow began falling. "They are waiting for you two to attack them. But I really think that is not a good idea. Persia has a strong army."

Anastasia nodded, feeling a little bit hopeless. Xena grabbed her hand, staring into her bright blue eyes. "Now is the time to use your power as queen, Anastasia. Tell the Nezk Huns to attack Persia and hope for the best. We will attack them when you and Navaz give the command."

The queen turned to her husband for help. He smiled softly at her and gripped her shoulder. "I will send word to Malka and he will attack from the opposite side. When we have the go ahead then my army will go through Persia's borders."

"Finally thinking like a king, Navaz," Xena teased and he half smiled, his cheeks blushing lightly. "We return to our camp now and head back to Balaam in the morning to make the preparations."

"I tried, Xena, I really tried," Gabrielle shivered and wrapped the wool blanket around her cold body. She really hated winter and this weather in the Caucasus Mountains was far worse than winter in Pannonia. It had been snowing nonstop for days now and it was likely to get worse as the months passed.

Xena nodded and took off her fur coat and tossed it aside inside their tent. "I know you did, Gabrielle and you did a great job, as usual. I know I can count on you to use your diplomatic skills to persuade the enemy."

"Well, I didn't persuade them to do anything except get angry and call me awful names!" the blonde griped and wrapped her arms around herself, still shivering. "Aren't you cold?!"

Xena shrugged a shoulder and sat down beside her. "I am used to it." she wrapped her arm around the blonde, rubbing her arms to warm her up.

"I should have worn the leather pants," Gabrielle muttered.

"You definitely should have," Xena raised an eyebrow and leaned in closely, kissing her cheek. Gabrielle scooted closer to her for warmth and leaned her head against the warrior's shoulder.

"You know," the blonde began, "I missed this."

Xena pursed her lips. "Missed what?"

"Going on missions with you! I used to complain about it all the time but I never realized how much I missed it until it was gone –until you were gone." She frowned sadly.

The warrior sighed heavily and ran her fingers through the short blonde locks. "Well, I'm here now and I'm not going anywhere."

Gabrielle hoped that remained a promise that Xena intended to keep. She always kept her promises no matter what they were and she liked that about her. She was a woman of her word unlike some people, those people being Romans. She really hated working for Zeno and then for Odoacer. It wasn't like she had a choice in the matter and she was just trying to survive from day to day without Xena by her side. But now, that didn't seem to matter anymore.

She began chuckling to herself when she recalled the first time she met the Huns. Xena frowned confusedly and pulled away from the embrace. "What's so funny?" she asked.

Gabrielle's laughter calmed and she looked into those steely eyes. "Remember when I used to call you all barbarians and savages?"

Xena arched an eyebrow. "Yes..." she was wondering where this was going.

"I was just thinking how wrong I was. I wish more people understood you all then maybe there will be less war." She sighed.

Xena grinned and leaned back on the pillows. "There will always be war, Gabrielle but I wouldn't mind some peace and quiet once in awhile."

Gabrielle laid down beside her, wrapped in the wool blanket, snuggling close to the warrior. "Do you ever think that will happen?"

Xena shrugged her shoulders and lolled her head over to Gabrielle's big eyes. "Eventually the Romans will stop fighting us. Then we will have a few years of peace then they will attack again. It happens every time."

"Well, I like this moment of peace and quiet. Just us together." She bit her bottom lip anxiously and wrapped her leg around Xena's.

A devious smile appeared on the warrior's lips and she rolled over onto her side and leaned down, kissing her infamous scribe's lips gently. "Me too," she whispered.

"We haven't finished our game of chess you know," Gabrielle wriggled her eyebrows.

Xena rolled her eyes and groaned. "You sure know how to kill the mood."

Gabrielle whined and climbed on top of Xena. "Come on! I'm sorry. I just want to see you wear a dress. You look so nice in dresses." She pouted and Xena frowned as she lay beneath her. "Love you..." she grinned sheepishly.

She couldn't stay mad at her for long. Xena smiled. "Love you too," she rubbed her blonde's arm and then narrowed her eyebrows. "But you're going to lose in our next game. Bet on it."

"In your dreams!" Gabrielle teased and playfully punched Xena in the shoulder. She saw the warrior's eyes enlarge and she put up her hands, covering her face. "No, no. I'm sorry, please don't hit me!" she begged.

Xena chuckled softly and flipped Gabrielle over onto her back, now on top of her. She pinned the blonde's arms down on the floor. "If you make a sound I will punch you..." she hissed and Gabrielle zipped her lips.

Navaz stepped inside the tent after talking with a few of his men about the plan and that they were leaving tomorrow. He took off his black fur coat and saw his wife shaking out the snow from her midnight tresses. Her hair parted straight the down middle accentuating her high cheekbones and soft full cheeks.

She smoothed her hands over her hair and lifted her head to see Navaz. She smiled softly. "Why do you keep looking at me like that?"

He sat down in front of her and she kept running her fingers through her hair. "I can't admire you now?" he teased.

Trying to be very polite again, she noticed. After Ellac died she thought she would never find someone that special again. She chose not to find another man knowing that she didn't need one to complete her life. Csaba was the only male in her life and he was very special to her. When she met Navaz she was forced to marry him out of necessity and neither one of them knew one another very well and she constantly distanced herself from him for an entire year.

Avoiding the subject of children haunted her for a year and then when she found out she was pregnant she knew that she made a big mistake at the time. It wasn't until she reunited with her mother and Gabrielle that she was able to find peace again somewhat. She put her feelings aside about the baby and focused only on herself but those thoughts she had no longer existed.

As she was able to spend more time with her family and Navaz these last few months she realized that life was too short to focus on the negative. She learned that quickly after she saw her mother alive a year after her presumed death.

And the more time she spent with Navaz the more she started to like him a lot more than she thought she ever would. He was sweet to her and allowed her to do anything she wanted and she had yet to thank him for putting up with her and...her mother of course.

She reached forward and cupped his cheeks gaping into his dark brown eyes. Briefly kissing him softly on the lips he smiled, leaning closer to her. She pulled away and he halted hesitantly. "Thank you."

"For what?" he furrowed his thick dark eyebrows.

"For everything. For helping me and putting up with my mother. I know how she can be," she smirked.

He nodded and ran his hand over her dark hair. "She loves you and would do anything for you." He took in a breathy inhale. "Just like I would."

Her eyes widened. "Really?" she asked in disbelief.

He chuckled and scooted closer to her. "Yes, I would." He said with sincerity. He placed both of his hands on her belly that carried their child. She peered down and both shared a smile together. "And I will do anything for our child as well."

Her smile widened hearing that. It was probably the only thing that meant a lot to her at the moment in the midst of the chaos surrounding them. He lifted his eyes meeting with hers and kissed her lips gingerly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, bringing him closer. His hands trailed up the side of her body. Closing her eyes she smiled as their lips never parted.

She lay down on the floor and he lay beside her, his lips roaming to her neck. Her ears perked up when she heard rustling outside and she frowned. "Navaz," she said firmly and he kept kissing her neck. She gently pushed him off. "Stop, stop."

He saw the alarm in her eyes. "What? Are you alright?"

"Shh!" she hissed and both of them listened. "Someone's outside," she whispered.

He immediately got up and grabbed his sword. "Stay here," he said and left the tent. She sat up slowly and frowned, trying to listen to what was going on outside.

She heard someone yelling and swords clashing against one another. She heard her mother yelling outside and she gasped. Trying to get up she saw Gabrielle poke her head in the tent.

"We need to leave," Gabrielle came inside and grabbed Anastasia's hand helping her to her feet. "Come on," she said in a hushed voice.

They exited the tent and Anastasia saw her mother and Navaz fighting off Persians –Peroz's men. Her eyes widened and she was being pulled along by Gabrielle.

Gabrielle grabbed Xena's horse and urged Anastasia to hurry it along but her eyes were fixated on the fight. "Anastasia!" she hissed and the Hun woman turned her head with wide worried eyes. "Get on the horse!" she yelled. The Hun queen climbed onto the horse and Gabrielle hopped on, grabbing the reins.

"But what about them?!" Ana asked, turning her head to see her mother driving her sword into a Persian soldier.

"Xena told me to get you out of here and that's what I'm doing," she kicked the horse and rode off. Ana couldn't turn away from the fight and her heart raced. Snow flurries flying on her hair and face as they rode quickly through the white blanketed terrain.

"Where are we going?! We can't just leave them behind!" Anastasia snarled.

Gabrielle shook her head and squinted her eyes trying to see the path ahead of her. "Don't worry about them, Anastasia! They will be fine. We're going back to Balaam."

"But my mother –"

"Is more than capable of taking care of herself," Gabrielle interrupted with a devious grin on her lips.

Xena cried out and plunged her sword into a Persian lying in the snow. She breathed heavily then looked up to see Gabrielle and Anastasia riding off back to Balaam. Her eyes darted to a Persian horseman than began following them.

"No, you don't," she growled and grabbed the dead Persian's sword and threw it at the horseman. It pierced through his backside and he cried out then fell off the horse. She smiled with satisfaction then kicked a Persian down as he was charging right for her.

She winced and gripped her leg. She pulled her sword out of the soldier's body and Navaz ran to her. "Where is Anastasia?!"

"Gabrielle is taking her back to Balaam," she said and she groaned, limping forward. Her back against his as they were surrounded by Persians. She smirked and gripped her blade in front of her. "Let's see how you fair in swordplay," she said over her shoulder.

"I prefer the bow," he grinned. "But I am trained in your weapon of choice."

"We'll see," she said then swung her sword around, slicing through a Persian's midsection and he fell forward, face planting into the snow. She picked up the Persian's sword and now had two blades. She grinned wildly. "Come on," she hissed, twirling both swords with ease.

Navaz thrust his sword through a Persian's leg and kicked him down. Spinning around he saw Xena wielding two swords and holding her own against four men attacking her. He raised an eyebrow watching her fight so gracefully yet furiously.

Breathing heavily, she smiled, turning around after she knocked down all four men. Navaz nodded his head. "Impressive," he said.

"Swords are much better than bows," she winked.

"You!" Peroz rode in on his horse, yelling at Xena. "Attila's Commander," he chuckled and halted on his horse. Xena raised her eyebrow and lowered her weapons. "You are supposed to be dead."

"Sorry to disappoint you." She shrugged a shoulder. "You are no longer in Persian territory, Peroz. Get lost."

The Shah grinned. "That young queen is your daughter. Quite a spitfire she is." He cocked his head. "Too bad my men are following her and your blonde Consul."

Xena's heart sank but she remained calm. Navaz, not so much. He pointed his sword at the Shah. "You do anything to her and I will kill you!" he yelled.

"You're lying," Xena said calmly to the Persian king.

Peroz shook his head, adjusting his gloves on his fingers. "Afraid not, Xena. Why would I lie about something like that?"

Navaz rode off on his horse and Xena spun around seeing him leave without her. She growled. "Navaz!" she called out but he wasn't listening, not anymore.

"What will you do now, Xena? Looks like your party left you." He shook his head and rode off with the rest of his men laughing.

Gabrielle rode in between the large mountains and the snow flurries soon started to turn into a snow storm. She wrapped her scarf around the lower half of her face and guided Xena's horse through the rocky terrain. Anastasia had her arms wrapped around Gabrielle's waist, holding on tightly.

"Come on!" she grunted and finally made it over a large hill. She lifted her eyes and saw black horses emerging from the mountains, surrounding them.

Ana gasped and whipped her head around to see more horsemen coming up from behind slowly. Persians of course. Her grip tightened around Gabrielle's waist.

"Anastasia..." she said slowly and unsheathed a sword at her hip. "Take the horse and continue riding to Balaam." Her eyes not leaving the soldiers as they trotted closer and closer, creating a circle around them.

"But what about you? I don't want to leave you!" her voice cracking and her breath quickened.

Gabrielle held the sword in front of her and hopped off the steed. "Don't worry about me, just go!" she kicked the horse and Anastasia gasped, grabbing onto the reins, riding off through the path in the mountains.

Two Persians turned their heads and growled. "Get the queen!" one shouted and then rode after her.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes, not quite thinking this one through. She sure wished Xena would hurry up and get over here before things went sour. At least Anastasia wasn't too far from Balaam and there would be people there to help her when the Persians entered the grounds.

An arrow pierced one of the soldier's in the neck and her eyes widened. Another one hit a soldier and he fell backwards off the horse. Spinning around she saw Navaz riding in shooting arrows continuously at the Persians.

"Gabrielle!" he grinned and slung his bow on his shoulder, hopping off the horse. He unsheathed his sword and joined her by her side. "Where is Anastasia? I thought she was with you?"

"I told her to ride back to Balaam but some Persians are following her."

He frowned deeply at her and put up his sword as he saw the Persians unsheathe their weapons ready to attack.

"Where is Xena?" she asked, gripping the blade tightly.

"She's...still at the camp..."

"You left her?!" she hissed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 –Revival of The Commander

Ernak waited on the border of Balaam with his brother. Idly, he sat in the snow, drawing pictures in the frosty soil, bored out of his mind. Dengi sat on his horse and squinted his eyes, overseeing the border. He trotted a few paces and saw dark horsemen riding right towards them. "Xena's horse!" he yelled.

Ernak jumped up and ran closer to the border. "That's not Xena. It's Anastasia!" he hopped on his horse and rode out with brother. "Where the hell is everyone else?!"

Dengi frowned. "I don't know but those are Persians following her." He drew his sword from his belt. "Let's go!"

Anastasia turned her head around and saw the Persians were ganging up on her, riding closer and closer to her. Looking ahead she saw Dengi and Ernak coming to save her. She smiled seeing them and then moaned aloud in agony. Glancing over at her shoulder she saw an arrow pierced through her. Gripping her bleeding shoulder she crossed through the border, riding past Dengi and Ernak.

She came to a slow trot and Zolten ran over to her once he immediately saw the arrow sticking out of her shoulder. He lifted her off the horse and briskly walked into the Adame. Tuya came down the hallway and saw Anastasia in the arms of Zolten and frowned. Kreka came out of the sitting room where she was working on Anastasia's dress and saw Zolten walk by with the queen in his arms.

She ran over and Tuya stood with her mouth agape. "What happened?" she asked.

Tuya shook her head. "I don't know but she is wounded."

Kreka spun around and saw her sons outside fighting against Persians. Of course, she thought. "Stay with Anastasia," she said and walked to the entrance of the Adame.

"Me?!" the queen mother gasped and Kreka shot her a glare. "She doesn't like me!"

"I don't care if she doesn't like you. Stay with her. I'm going outside!" she picked up her dress and ran down the steps to meet with her adult sons. Tuya folded her arms and looked down the hall towards the queen's quarters, already people trailing in to aid Anastasia. She swallowed her pride and tread down the hall.

Entering the bedroom she saw the healer beside the bed, tending to Anastasia's wound. The screeching scream echoed through the room when the woman pulled the arrow from Anastasia's shoulder. Tuya cringed and Zolten walked over to her with concerned eyes.

"Tuya Khatun, will you stay in this room? I must go outside to help Dengi and Ernak," he asked and she exhaled heavily, not really wanting to stay but with nobody else here it looked like she had to stay. Finally, she nodded and he bowed his head then hurried out of the room.

Hesitantly, she walked over to the side of the bed and Ana's head lolled over on the pillows as she breathed heavily. A frown imminent on her face when she saw Tuya in her bedroom. The healer kept dressing her wound and she soon forgot about the pain, glaring at Navaz's mother.

"What are you doing in here?!" she yelled and Tuya lowered her eyes. "Get out!" she hissed.

"Your highness, please, stay still," the healer advised. Anastasia clenched her jaw and relaxed against the pillows, doing as told.

Tuya folded her arms and felt Anastasia's on her the entire time, burning into her flesh. "Kreka asked me to stay with you," she said calmly. She saw the vehemence in the young Hun's eyes. "I know you don't want me in here but –"

"You got that right. Get out, Tuya." Ana said as the healer began wrapping her shoulder. Wincing, her shoulder was lifted off the pillows and the woman tried to be as careful as possible, but even the smallest movement caused her a lot of pain and discomfort.

At that moment the queen mother then thought of what Kreka told her yesterday. She was advised to be nicer to Anastasia and put in some effort showing that she cared for her somehow. But the reality was that she didn't like Anastasia and certainly didn't like Xena and wasn't too fond of Kreka either. But at least they both had one thing in common –Navaz. She loved her son dearly and he was only her child and son. She wanted to make him happy but her recent actions hadn't proved fruitful among anyone, especially with his wife.

Ignoring Anastasia's demand she pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed. Ana's eyes widened at this and the healer had finished wrapping her shoulder and gathered the bloodied clothes. Quickly, the healer left the bed to go find some medicine for Anastasia to take to make the pain subside for awhile.

Now the two were alone in the bedroom and Ana lifted herself up slowly, leaning on a mound of pillows. Tuya blinked slowly at her and smiled softly. "I thought I told you to leave," the queen hissed.

Tuya nodded. "You did, but I am staying here. You are in no condition to fight me on this, Anastasia," she arched a brow. "Are you...alright?"

Ana scoffed. "Stop asking as if you really care."

The queen mother sighed heavily and leaned back in the chair. The room was silent and incredibly awkward. One could cut the air with a knife the tension was so thick. "I'm trying to be nice."

Anastasia smirked and turned to the khatun. "And that's so hard for you, isn't it?" she said and Tuya whipped her head around, her mouth ajar and her dark eyes wide. "You've been nothing but rude to me ever since I got here. Why don't you like me? Navaz likes me. What is it that he sees that you don't?"

Tuya frowned and unfolded her arms, now less defensive since she came in here. "I wanted my son to marry a girl from our own tribe," she said, finally admitting her true feelings. "But he wanted you. He refused all the young women that I brought to him before you came to Balaam. When he saw you he told me he wanted to marry you and no one else."

Anastasia's eyes softened when she heard that. She didn't know that Navaz had really liked her so much when they first met but they didn't know each other very well and she still felt that she didn't know him as well as she'd like to. She only agreed to marry him because Kreka told her it was the best thing to do at the time. She didn't hate Navaz then and she certainly didn't hate him now. In fact, she thought they had grown to be such good friends now and hopefully more. He was so nice to her it was hard to believe that Tuya was his mother because she was not nice at all.

"And you hate me because of that?" she asked, a bit confused.

Tuya shook her head. "I don't hate you, Anastasia. I was upset that he married someone out of our own tribe. I wanted him to marry a Caucasian woman, not a Pannonian."

"Well, I'm afraid you're stuck with me now," Ana said and Tuya nodded then turned to see the smile on her face. "You would be a good idea to become friends with my mother. It would make your life a lot easier."

Tuya blinked and assumed that Anastasia was not privy to what happened between her and Kreka awhile ago. Xena must have kept that secret from her daughter and rightfully so, otherwise her son would be obliged to believe his wife. He adored Anastasia.

"That is unlikely to happen..." she grumbled.

"Despite my mother's hard shell she can be very forgiving," Ana advised. "She is very protective of Csaba and I don't think this child will be any different. You're going to have to pry the baby from her arms if you want to see it."

Tuya's eyes widened. She hadn't even thought of that and she certainly knew that Xena loved Csaba a lot and would do anything for him. Xena made that perfectly clear when they last spoke. The realization of Anastasia carrying her son's heir finally crossed her mind. She was so preoccupied with herself that she hadn't thought of the aftermath of the baby. Kreka was right, this was her grandchild too, not just Xena's and if she wanted to see her only grandchild then she would have to be nice and somehow make Xena like her or at least tolerate her. Even if she didn't care for Anastasia or her mother, she needed to make a concerted effort to show kindness to them both.

Navaz rode into Balaam with Gabrielle sitting behind him. He narrowed his eyes and saw Dengi had all of the Persian soldiers tied up by their necks and wrists. He yanked the reins of the horse and halted in front of the line of Persians, scowling.

Dengi sheathed his sword and eyed the king. "What the fuck is going on and where the hell is Xena?!" he growled.

Gabrielle shot a glare at Navaz. "Someone left her behind!"

"You did what?!" Dengi marched over to the king, snarling.

"It wasn't intentional..." the king lamented. "Where is Anastasia?" he asked.

Ernak tightened one of the ropes around a Persian's wrist and stood, wiping his bloody hands on his pants. "She's inside. She took an arrow to the shoulder," he said and saw Navaz's eyes widen fearfully.

"Salak!" Kreka yelled as she stormed through the snow in her black fur coat. Her sons turned at the sight of her and saw malicious intent. They immediately took a step back as she was marching right towards Navaz. She pointed her finger at him. "You!" she hissed and Navaz's face paled. "You allowed your wife to ride back by herself! And now she is injured!"

He frowned, "I did not. That is not how it happened, Kreka."

Gabrielle spun around hearing loud horse hooves and smiled seeing Xena riding back with the rest of the elite Huns behind her. She immediately hopped off Navaz's horse and Xena came to a skidding halt and saw Kreka glaring at Navaz then looked at all the Persian soldiers tied up behind Dengi and Ernak.

"What is going on?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle bit her bottom lip as she was about embrace Xena's wrath, something she hated to see. "I was taking Ana back to Balaam like you asked but Persians followed us. I told her to ride back so I could fight them off myself."

Xena shot her a menacing glare. "You what?" she said lowly. "That is not what I asked you to do! I told you to get her back safely, Gabrielle!" she growled and jumped off her horse, limping over to Kreka. "Where is she?"

Kreka folded her arms. "Inside the Adame with Tuya. An arrow pierced her shoulder."

All color drained from Xena's face and she spun around to her blonde consort. "Gabrielle!" she yelled. "Because of you my daughter is injured! If you would have done what I told you none of this would have happened!"

Gabrielle huffed and marched over to the irate warrior. "What was I supposed to do?! They were going to kill her! I did what I thought was the best thing at the time!"

"Wrong!" Xena stormed forward, towering over the blonde. "There is always another way. You know that. You weren't thinking and this is your fault." She spun around and walked briskly through the snow to get to the Adame.

Everyone stood in awkward silence and Ernak clicked his tongue against his cheek. "So..." he began, breaking the silence, "what do you want us to do with these assholes?" he grinned.

Navaz frowned, "execute them." He said then rode off to the Adame.

Dengi turned to his brother with an eager smile. He saw the fear in the Persians' eyes. Withdrawing his sword he walked over to the line of soldiers, staring into their fear stricken eyes. "I guess the king is really pissed," he cocked his head. "You hurt the queen, Xena's daughter. Bad move on your end, boys." He sighed and raised his sword over his head.

Gabrielle cringed when she saw one of Persian's heads roll in the snow and Ernak let out a hearty laugh. She turned and saw Kreka glaring at her. She not only had Xena angry at her but now she had Kreka angry at her as well. She thought she was doing the right thing by letting Anastasia go back to Balaam on her own but apparently she was wrong and now everything was her fault, according to Xena.

Ernak came to stand beside his brother. "Okay, okay. My turn," he grinned. He turned to see Gabrielle standing off by herself with her arms wrapped around her body. "Oh sorry, you want a go at it Gabrielle?" he asked.

She turned and frowned then walked off. He shrugged then smiled. "I get this one and you get the next," he told his brother.

Xena stormed into her daughter's bedroom and saw Tuya sitting beside the bed. Anastasia lifted her eyes and gasped. "Mother! You're alright, you –"

"Are you alright?" she asked, interrupting her daughter.

Anastasia nodded. "I'm fine but...but what happened? Where is Navaz? Gabrielle? Are they okay?" she sat up and winced from her shoulder wound.

Xena opened her mouth to speak until Navaz entered the bedroom. "Anastasia!" he said and she spun around to see the king brush by her to go tend to her daughter. She folded her arms and then saw Gabrielle appear beside her and frowned deeply, not happy to see her.

Gabrielle dipped her head and felt Xena's cold shoulder. She didn't think it was fair that she was being blamed for Anastasia's injury. She was only doing what she was told and didn't think that Ana would get hurt in the process but she didn't have a choice. She wasn't going to let Anastasia fight alongside with her and she was lucky that Navaz showed up when he did otherwise she might have had some serious injuries or be dead.

Navaz sat on the edge of the bed, eyes roaming over his wife's body and his hands touched her arm and face, examining her thoroughly. Ana smiled and grasped his hand. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asked, concern written all over his face.

She nodded. "I'm fine, don't worry about me. What happened to the Persians?"

His eyes darkened and his hand slipped from her grasp. "I told Dengi and Ernak to execute them." At that her eyes widened, not expecting that to come from his mouth. That was something she expected to hear from her mother not Navaz.

Xena cleared her throat and all eyes turned to her. "Navaz, you need to tell the Nezak Huns to attack Persia immediately. Word will get back to Zeno within a few days. We don't have a lot of time."

The king gave her a curt nod and turned to his wife, smiling warmly and kissed her forehead. He left her side and stood beside Xena.

"I will have a letter sent out right now," he said.

Gabrielle spoke up, "I can write the letter for you," she offered and he gave her a small smile and nodded. She eyed Xena briefly. Still ignoring me, she noticed. Then she trailed out of the room with Navaz to go to his office to write the letter to Malka.

Xena briskly walked back to her yurt through the light snow storm and saw the two sons of Attila smiling, talking among themselves. They immediately caught sight of her and shut their mouths. She pointed to the Persians' decapitated heads on the ground. "Send the heads to Peroz."

Ernak smiled, nodding his head. "Yes ma'am." He said and she narrowed her eyes. "Yes Xena," he corrected and she shook her head, storming off to her home.

She charged through her yurt and threw her cloak and sword onto the floor. Rubbing her temples she sighed heavily and began pacing around in a circle, talking to herself quietly. When she was Attila's Commander things were a lot easier because she was in charge and Attila was by her side most of the time. He allowed her to have free range to do almost anything she wanted, except for a few things. She and Attila were a great team and relied on one another for years, thinking in sync with each other.

Bu this –this was different. She was not commander anymore, her daughter was. This was not Pannonia and these people were not Pannonian. Valentinian and Theodosius were dead and had been for a few years now. Emperor Zeno and the new emperor of just one year, Odoacer, were nothing like their predecessors. It only made matters worse that Xena knew Odoacer very well many years ago. She also hated Zeno and really wanted to crush his little holy city all by herself, but she couldn't do that.

Anastasia and Navaz were the monarchs of this area and Xena had no say here. She was beginning to wonder if her daughter would ever let her help indefinitely but she understood why her daughter wanted to do things by herself. After all, she did well for herself a year after the war in Pannonia. Anastasia married a king and tolerated his family and people. She is a queen but she doesn't know how to rule and Kreka is also a queen but has no authority in Armenia. Tuya is the queen mother but she too has little authority in her own kingdom now that her son is married and has a new queen.

Tuya depended on her son to rule Armenia but now she had little to no say in anything because of Anastasia. Xena sat down on the floor, resting her chin on her palm, thinking what a chaotic mess this has turned out to be. She thought that she had pretty easy Roman emperors to deal with when she was an active commander. Anastasia and Navaz had ruthless Roman emperors at their doorstep and they were very young, too young to know how to control them and keep them away.

The couple may be king and queen but they are not a team, Xena thought. She rubbed her chin and frowned, gaping at the wall in the sitting room next to the entrance. They do not know how to work together because Anastasia wants to be in charge of the army while Navaz aims to please her and his people.

"This is not going to work," she muttered to herself.

She kept thinking of Attila's and Kreka's relationship together. After their marriage, Kreka ceased all combat when she had her sons. She too was from a warring tribe in Asia, though her bloodline comes from the Balkans. Kreka allowed Attila to rule over his people while she had some say, they worked together as a team on and off the battlefield. Even if Kreka was not present on the battlefield she knew what was going on and Xena would be in charge of the entire army. Attila and Kreka worked well together. Anastasia and Navaz were not working together and that was the problem.

She was beginning to think it was impossible for a queen to be a commander and overseer of the people at once as well as a mother. It was extremely difficult and maybe that is why Attila's campaign over all the Hunnic tribes was so successful. He had a queen and a separate commander. Although, it was not impossible to have a queen as a commander, it was just not very ideal and often failed.

Xena allowed Kreka to work as her second in command during the war with Theodosius in Nicaea, but that was different. They still worked together and Attila was still in charge of his own people, holding his own. She felt like this campaign that Anastasia wanted was going to fail indefinitely if she did not take over no matter how much her daughter didn't want her to. This was not down to experience but about teamwork and Anastasia is not a team player. She didn't quite understand the consequences of her actions yet and thinks it is easy. Xena realized her daughter has too much on her plate and should focus on a political campaign at home in Balaam instead of building an entire empire.

Baby steps, she thought and a smile came to her lips. She turned when she heard the flaps of the yurt and Gabrielle stood in the doorway. Her smile faded once she saw her and turned back around, brooding silently. She couldn't help herself but to blame Gabrielle for what happened to Anastasia and sensed the blonde inching closer.

Gabrielle took in a deep breath and sat down beside her. Xena ignoring her, staring at the wall in a tense silence. "Are you going to talk to me?" she asked.

Xena breathed heavily through her nostrils. "You could have gotten my daughter killed."

"Xena, I didn't know what to do! I thought I was doing the right thing by sending her off by herself!"

The dark haired warrior whipped her head around, her eyes wild. "You weren't thinking! You've been enough tough situations to know what to do when you are surrounded! You knew they were going to follow her and you stupidly left yourself open for an attack!"

Gabrielle huffed. "I'm not like you, Xena! I rely on you!" she frowned, lowering her eyes. "Maybe too much..." she mumbled. "I was lucky when Navaz showed up."

Xena narrowed her eyebrows. "You should have let him fight the Persians on his own and you go after Anastasia. He can take care of himself."

"Are you saying that I can't hold my own?"

"I didn't say that."

"Then what are you saying, Xena?" the blonde's frown deepened and she crossed her arms, glaring at the blue eyed warrior.

Xena sighed and looked into Gabrielle's bright green eyes. "I don't want to lose you Gabrielle. I asked you to get my daughter safely back to Balaam and you couldn't do it! You say you rely on me too much and you do. I'm not always going to be there when things go sour. You said you were lucky when Navaz showed up to help but you should never rely on luck. That's a recipe for disaster and you know it."

Gabrielle's eyes softened and she uncrossed her arms. "I reacted on impulse," she said softly, "and I was wrong. I shouldn't have done that I know."

"I should have never allowed Anastasia to come with us in the first place," Xena grumbled.

"Xena, we didn't know that Peroz was going to attack us."

Xena lifted her eyes, gaping at the wall. She lifted her chin and said, "and I'll make sure that never happens again." She rose to her feet and grabbed her cloak.

Gabrielle turned around. "W –where are you going?"

"I'm going to talk to Navaz and convince him to agree to a proclamation to forbade Anastasia to never claim her role as commander ever again," she wrapped the cloak around her shoulders, buckling the clasps.

" already tried that and she said no."

Xena sighed and sheathed her sword at her hip. "I can go above her head to her husband who is the king. This system they have is not working. This kingdom will be in the ground by the end of the season if Anastasia continues with her obstinacy."

Gabrielle stood and brushed the wrinkles out of her tunic. "She's not going to like what you're doing, Xena."

"I don't really care." Xena said. "And you're going to help me write the proclamation."

"Oh great so she can hate me too?" the blonde scoffed.

"This is not personal, Gabrielle and I know she's going to take it that way but this is not a game." Xena placed her hands on her consort's shoulders, smiling softly. "Help me."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Okay you forgive me?"

Xena squinted her eyes as her smile grew. "I already did but..." she said and Gabrielle's eyes widened in fear. "We're going to need to work on your tactics."

Three days later Gabrielle stood next to Navaz flipping through the proclamation that she and Xena drew up together. He sat glaring at the document listening to Gabrielle speak and his eyes lifted to Xena sitting across from him. Kreka and Tuya stood behind Xena with both their arms folded.

Gabrielle turned the page and pointed the feather pen at the lengthy document. "And this states that Anastasia will no longer be commander in any shape or form. She will be in charge of political matters only. This also states that she is obligated to form a court of her own to help her with decisions. You do not need to be present when she makes the decisions as long as the court's votes are unanimous." She stated.

She turned to the last page. "This last page states that you need more than two signatures of royal authority to commence this deal that Xena and I have made. So you will need to sign here," she pointed to the bottom of the page, "and your mother will sign beside your name and Kreka beside hers. Any questions?" she asked and looked into his dark eyes.

Navaz sighed heavily and scratched his head, looking at the empty space at the bottom of the page and Gabrielle holding the pen close to his hand, begging to sign the proclamation. "So...this means that I have to enlist Xena as the commander of my people?"

Gabrielle nodded, "correct," she smiled. "But you are the overseer. Xena will do anything you say as long as she agrees with you."

"She is fair, Navaz," Kreka spoke up and Xena smirked at that comment.

He shook his head and grabbed the pen from Gabrielle's hand then quickly signed his name. Gabrielle grinned and pushed the paper towards Kreka and Tuya. Both signed their names and Gabrielle nodded her head and clutched the document to her chest.

Xena and Navaz stood, staring at each other. "There is one more thing you need to do to seal this deal," she said and he raised an eyebrow. "You need to make Anastasia sign the document."

"You must be joking?" Navaz scoffed.

Gabrielle handed over the proclamation to the king with a smug grin. "Afraid she's not. It's your duty to do this, Navaz."

"Don't tell me you're afraid of your wife, Navaz," Xena teased.

"I would be," Kreka scoffed and shrugged her shoulder when the king shot her a glare.

Navaz sighed and rubbed his temple, fearing the worst. Anastasia was the last person he wanted to talk to about this. With her injury she had been in bed for days now and she wasn't allowed to leave until her shoulder was semi healed at least. Now he was going to have to tell her that she had no rights as a commander and he wasn't ready for that especially since her mother and Gabrielle decided this for her.

"I will tell her tonight," he said and walked out of the office eager to get away from all the women.

Xena chuckled and shared a devious smile with her counterpart. She then turned to the queen mother, looking her straight in the eye. "Thank you for watching over Anastasia these last few days," she said and Tuya blinked surprised to hear that. She smiled and grabbed Gabrielle's arm leading the way out.

Kreka smirked and folded her arms staring at the miffed queen mother. "I suppose you are getting in her good graces after all."

That evening Navaz presented the document to Anastasia over dinner in her bedroom. She flipped through the pages three or four times as they sat in silence. He anxiously waited for her response but so far she was silent and that was either a good thing or a bad thing. He hadn't been close enough to her to know what her reactions were to these sorts of things. He was beginning to sweat the longer his eyes were glued to her as she continuously flipped back and forth of the signed document.

"Anastasia," he said and she lifted her eyes. "Please, say something," he begged. He had been on the edge of his seat for almost half an hour now.

She sighed and closed the large packet of papers and scooted it over on the table towards him. She read over the proclamation and instantly recognized Gabrielle's handwriting and her mother's words transferred onto paper. She couldn't blame her mother for trying to look out for her and she really wanted to be angry but she was too tired to be angry anymore. She tried so hard to make something hers when obviously she was incapable of executing it. She wanted to make her mother proud and though her mother did say she was proud, she knew her mother meant that. Her mother was not a liar and would never say words of encouragement out of pity. She was just being...a mother and it was apparent she really wanted to be a commander again.

She also forgot about her child and realized that she was acting very selfish and didn't even think twice about the child inside her. Once, she hated the child because of what it represented and then she slowly grew to love it and now she neglected it once again to thrive in her new position as queen and commander. Her mother was right, you can't do everything at once. It was nearly impossible and she could have died a few days ago but she was lucky that she didn't.

Sighing heavily she nodded her head. "Okay," she said then grabbed the pen and signed her name at the bottom.

Navaz grinned, happy that she was willing to agree. He didn't want to have to deal with an angry wife especially since they shared the same bed together as of late. He was very surprised to see that was being very agreeable and immediately became suspicious.

"You're not going to argue?" he asked hesitantly.

She shook her head. "No, not anymore. I'm done arguing with everyone," she exhaled heavily then caught him staring at her with a big grin on his face. "What?"

"Nothing," he lowered his lingering eyes. "I'm just surprised. You've been..." he trailed off, not wishing to finish that sentence whatsoever.

She frowned, "I've been what?"

"Never mind," he leaned forward and kissed her hand. "How's your shoulder?"

"It's better. Have you been able to check on Csaba? I haven't seen him in days," she frowned sadly.

He nodded. "Kreka has been taking care of him."

She quirked her mouth and ran her fingers through her hair. "She's been doing everything for me lately and so has Gabrielle and my mother. I really owe them my life, don't I?" she half smiled.

"I'm sure they would do anything for you, Anastasia. Everyone cares about you, including me," he winked and she blushed lightly.

"It seems everyone is taking care of me except me," she sighed. "I hope you know what you just did , Navaz. You made my mother your commander."

He frowned and grabbed her hands, gaping into her light eyes. "Should I be worried?" his throat suddenly became dry.

She shrugged a shoulder. "Worried is not the word I would use but you just gave her full control of the entire army. Under Attila, he allowed her to do whatever she wanted. She was ruthless. If the Romans find out that she is your commander you bet they will come for Balaam. Valentinian and Theodosius tried to get rid of her but failed. Zeno almost did but he failed and she knows Odoacer." She gripped his hands and felt sweat on his palms. "She will attack Rome, Navaz. She hates Romans. Attila never attacked Rome during his reign."

His head dipped and he let go of her hands then leaned back in the chair, rubbing his bearded chin contemplatively. "But don't we want to attack Rome?" he asked quite unsure of himself now. He had never been in a war before and his people were of no concern to anyone except the Persians.

Anastasia smiled. "That's no longer up to you." She saw the fear and anxiousness in his eyes. "You don't know how this works do you?" she chuckled. "My mother is now in charge of everything. She carries out anything you want but she is allowed to do what she pleases too. You have no idea what you just signed away, Navaz."

"But, I can still trust her, right?" he asked, now rethinking this document that Xena and Gabrielle wrote up together.

She sighed heavily and folded her hands in her lap. "My mother is very fair and trustworthy. You don't have to worry about trusting her, it's her actions that you will have to worry about."

Xena smacked the long wooden rod on the map upon the ground of the royal office inside the Adame. "We will go to Pannonia and attack the Bulgur's camp." She said and the elite soldiers folded their arms and stood in silence.

Gabrielle rubbed her chin and she turned to Xena. "Why do you want to attack Pannonia? What will you gain from it?"

The commander smiled faintly. "If we take back Pannonia then the White Huns will share the territory. We will have more land and that scares Romans. We want them afraid of us, Gabrielle."

"So, you are following through with Anastasia's original plan to take Pannonia back?" the blonde asked.

"Precisely but we do things my way," Xena eyed the soldiers. "We ride out tomorrow. I will tell Navaz and Anastasia the plan tonight." She said and the men nodded.

Zolten interrupted, "how many men will we need?" he asked.

She shrugged, "two fleets, three at most."

His eyes widened in fear. "But, commander, the Bulgur Huns are among the hundreds in Pannonia. Surely, we will need more men?"

"Are you questioning my tactics, officer?" Xena grinned maliciously and traced the long wooden rod along Zolten's throat.

"No commander..." he bit his tongue and her smile grew as she lowered the stick.

"Good." She tapped the stick against her palm. "You can go now. Prepare for tomorrow. We leave at first light."

Gabrielle folded her arms and saw Xena focused on the floor map intensely. "You really want to take Pannonia back for yourself, don't you? You never wanted Anastasia do it by herself but it's alright if you do it?" she arched an eyebrow.

Xena lifted her head and turned to her concerned yet irritated consort. "I wanted to protect Anastasia. She doesn't know anything about being a commander so I will carry out her plan for her. Her idea of unifying all of the tribes is not a bad idea but she couldn't do it alone. Now that I finally have her consent I will crush the Bulgur Huns into submission." She grit her teeth and snapped the stick in half.

Gabrielle nodded and gave a mocking smile. "Really?" she chided. "Surrender or die? Is that what we're doing now, Xena? You're resorting to that?"

"Gabrielle," the commander sighed and held the broken stick in her hands, somewhat embarrassed. "Pannonia was taken from us. When I get it back we will have control over everyone again. I will make them submit to me!" she growled.

"To you? Or to the White Huns?" Gabrielle frowned.

Xena smiled faintly and tossed the stick aside, crossing her arms. "To us of course. Don't you trust me?"

"Not really, no. I've known you as a commander the entire time I have been with you. Attila, Ellac, Dengi, Ernak and now Anastasia. You can't stop and I don't want you to do this again –go down that path."

Xena's eyes darkened. "I was a fair commander under Attila's sons. You saw me! You were with me!"

"Yes you were but things are different now. Zeno wants you dead, Xena. This is going to be harder than it was ten years ago. I never forgot that look in your eyes back in Stagira. You wanted to kill Zeno and I see that fire has not left your body. You've been waiting for this."

Xena frowned sadly. "Gabrielle, I can't let another war destroy my people's homes again. I won't allow that to happen. I failed last time and lost everything –almost everything," she smiled softly, touching the blonde's full cheek. "I love you Gabrielle and I want you to be on my side. I want to win not for me, but for everyone."

Gabrielle sighed and kissed Xena's palm. "I want Zeno dead as much as you do but I also want peace."

"So do I but we can't have peace without war, unfortunately. I won't go overboard," she said and the blonde leered up at her. "Promise."

A smile came to the blonde's lips. A promise meant everything to her. Xena's promises were like gold and everyone could always count on her to fulfill her promises. "There is one thing that I want to do though..."

"Yes...?" Xena asked nervously.

"I want to be your adviser!" her eyes grew as did her smile.

Xena's mouth gaped. "Adviser? You don't want to be a scribe anymore?"

Gabrielle scoffed. "Please, Xena. I am more than qualified. Plus, I just want to keep you in check," she winked at her consort.

"You're not going to let me say 'no' are you?" Xena said and Gabrielle shook her head. Sighing she relented. "Alright...fine..."

"I need to get permission from Navaz don't I?"

"Let me take care of that for you. I'm sure he won't disagree..." she grinned.

Anastasia stood in her room wearing her new dress for the senlik that she was opposed to last month. Kreka sat behind her, adjusting the bodice of the gown. She pulled the fabric close together and Anastasia gasped.

"Too tight?" Kreka asked and Ana nodded. "I hope you will be able to fit into this next month." She dug the needle into the fabric and began sewing slowly.

"What are you saying?!" Anastasia griped and turned around.

Kreka grunted and turned Anastasia's body back around. "Nothing, talti kiz," she smiled. "Your baby is due at the end of the season and I want this dress to look amazing on you!"

Ana sighed heavily and felt a tug on her breast area. "Too tight," she said and Kreka loosened the bodice some more. "I feel huge everywhere!" she groaned. Looking down at her enlarged breasts and ran her hands down the fabric.

"Anastasia, you look stunning as always," the khatun grinned and accidentally poked Ana's backside. "Sorry."

Xena and Gabrielle walked into the bedroom, seeing Anastasia in her burgundy gown. Xena's eyes lit up and she immediately circled around her daughter, admiring the gown as Kreka sat continuing to sew. She came round to her daughter and cupped her cheeks.

"You look beautiful. Pretty girl," she kissed her forehead and Anastasia grinned softly.

"You always say that." Ana said shyly.

"But I always mean it," Xena said and took a step back, admiring the dress. "Who picked out the fabric?"

"Csaba did. He said I look good in this color," she rolled her eyes.

Gabrielle pinched the fabric in between her fingers. "Well he sure knows what he's talking about."

Xena pulled up a chair and sat down lazily leaning back. "Anastasia I want to let you know that I will be taking the army to Pannonia. I'm going to make the Bulgur Huns submit to us."

Her daughter's eyes lit up and her smile brightened her face. "You're going through with my campaign?" she asked with hope and clamped her hands together.

Xena smiled, not able to resist enjoying seeing the happy look on her daughter's face. "Yes and Gabrielle will be my adviser."

Anastasia jumped up and down lightly with the smile firmly planted on her face. Kreka groaned. "Aptal kiz! Stop moving!" she chastised.

"Sorry, Kreka," her cheeks flushed and she stared at her mother. "Thank you mother, and you too Gabrielle. This means so much to me."

"See Ana, we just wanted to help you. We've always wanted to help you," Gabrielle said.

Anastasia nodded. "I know but I wanted to do everything by myself but I obviously can't." she felt a tug on her waist and gasped. "Kreka! Any tighter and I won't be able to breathe!"

Xena stood and placed her hands beneath her daughter's breasts and stared down at Kreka. "Why don't you just loosen this part of the dress?"

Kreka smirked and took the needle out from her mouth. "Who's the one sewing here? Not you, Xena."

"I know how to sew!" Xena combated the khatun.

"Flesh wounds," Kreka chuckled softly and stuck a pin in the bodice to be sewn later.

Xena frowned and came behind her daughter and ripped open the back of the dress and Kreka gasped. "This is too tight."

"Xena!" Kreka stood, throwing the basket of thread on the table. "I've been working for weeks on this dress! Now I'm going to have to redo everything!"

Anastasia rolled her eyes and Gabrielle shook her head. She mouthed the words 'save me' to Gabrielle.

Xena smiled. "And now you'll do it correctly this time." She teased.

"If it's so imperfect then why don't you do it?!" Kreka growled.

"Because I'm leaving for Pannonia tomorrow."

Anastasia gasped and slipped the gown off letting it fall to the floor. "Tomorrow?!" she reached over for her silk black robe and brushed her long locks behind her shoulders. Kreka sat in the chair holding the dress in her lap, cursing under her breath quietly.

Xena and Gabrielle both nodded in unison. "The more allies we have the better," Gabrielle said.

"Which reminds me...the Bulgur that imprisoned you," a devious smile came to Xena's lips. "Basil was his name, right?" she cocked an eyebrow.

Chapter Text

The Hephthatlite Huns are called White Huns because they were the only light skinned Huns and wanted to distinguish themselves from the Pannonian Huns –Attila's people.

Chapter 16 –The Anastasian Alliance

Xena took Navaz's army to the outskirts of Pannonia. There they hid in the snow banks, hunkered down watching over the territory that now belonged to the Bulgur Huns. Dengi and Ernak laid down in the snow, wrapped in their large fur coats. Gabrielle laid down beside them, her breath shaky from the frigid weather and snow falling on them. Meanwhile, Xena stayed yards away on her horse with the first fleet of men talking with Zolten and quietly overseeing the lit up city with hundreds of campfires.

Dengi narrowed his head and pulled his fur hat over his shoulder length hair, covering the entirety of his forehead. "When will she give us the signal god dammit?" he grunted.

Gabrielle frowned and kept her eyes focused on the Bulgur Huns. She saw a lot of men surrounding the Adame, the home that once belonged to the greatest Hun king of them all. She didn't have any bloodlines with these people and neither did Xena, but she had spent years with these Huns and they felt more like family to her than her own family she had back home.

"Patience is not your strong suit, I see," she whispered.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Zolten knelt down beside her. "Xena is sending out the first fleet into the field," he whispered in ear and she nodded.

Turning back to the anxious Hun men. "She's sending the fleet out now."

Ernak grinned. "Alright. 'Bout time Xena." He pulled out his crossbow as did Dengi and Gabrielle settled her crossbow on a rock, aiming at the Huns guarding the border around Pannonia. Each had a target of three men in front of them and Gabrielle turned her head to see Navaz's men crawling in the snow towards the other Bulgur Hun guards.

"Steady..." Ernak squinted one eye and all three of them released their arrows at the same time, piercing through the Bulgur Huns' throats. "Bastards," he chuckled and reloaded the crossbow.

The other guards took notice of their comrades falling to the ground and Navaz's men came up behind them and twisted their necks to achieve an instant kill then drug them off into the snowy forest. Gabrielle, Dengi and Ernak crawled in the snow to get to their next checkpoint without being noticed, covered in black fur coats drenched in snow, giving the appearance of rocks in the banks above the city.

Xena sat on her horse watching the king's army slowly invading the Bulgur camp inside Pannonia in the dead of night. Dengi, Ernak and Gabrielle were taking care of the border patrol. Her eyes darted to the Adame and she narrowed her eyes.

Zolten walked over to her, his icy breath apparent in the cold air. "Xena, the first fleet is waiting behind the Adame."

She lowered the scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face. "Send in the second fleet to the south forest." She commanded and he nodded then waved his hand to the men, being as quiet as possible, directing them to go to the far end of Pannonia. She arched an eyebrow and trotted closer to the hill top to oversee the White Huns dressed in all black crawling through the camp like assassins.

In all her life as a commander she was not one for ambush attacks that were so secretive and clandestine as this. When she did ambush attacks she had her men hidden in trees and then charge forward, alarming everyone and attacked with full force. But not this time. She wanted all of the soldiers of the Bulgur tribe to be eliminated before she set foot inside that Adame. She had her eye on the prize –Basil, the Bey of this tribe. The ally of the Roman emperor, Odoacer. Traitor.

Gabrielle ran up to Xena, panting heavily. "We got rid of all the guards on the border. Are we going to the Adame now?" her eyes lit up, excited to see the look on the Bey's face. She never thought she'd want to be a part of this but here she was. Being an adviser was so much better than being a scribe. She actually got to work in the field with Xena and participate in the plan instead of standing on the sidelines.

Xena smiled deviously, noting the hunger in the blonde's eyes. "The second fleet is waiting for you behind the Adame. You remember what to do, right?" she asked.

"Yes, of course. I got this," Gabrielle smiled then ran off, hunkering down, covering her blond locks with the black hood of her coat.

Ernak thumbed at Gabrielle. "She's got good aim. I'd trust her with a bow any day."

Basil sat in his room calculating all of the food, supplies and weapons that he was going to need for his army. He had got word from Odoacer that Zeno was taking over the entire Roman army under his belt and training them to go up against the White Huns. Basil never thought those particular Huns would be a problem. He was surprised to hear that Anastasia, the daughter of Xena, was in fact the wife of Khushnavaz, the White Hun king.

She was not a liar, though he couldn't say the same for her mother. He was never able to speak to Xena in person but had seen her pass by, ransacking his territory in Thrace with Attila's second eldest son, Dengizich. She gave him an ultimatum –surrender or die. He surrendered but then Dengizich foolishly ruined the deal. Basil smirked thinking of how angry Xena must have been.

Outside the doors of the grand bedroom Gabrielle saw a man heading towards the doors with a letter in his hands with the royal Roman seal on it. She hid behind a wall and watched the man knock on the door. Thinking quickly, she pulled out a dagger from her boot and came up behind the man and stabbed his throat and drug him off, throwing him into a separate hallway. She looked down over the balcony and saw Navaz's men trailing in through the entrance, pointing their swords at the servants, telling them to leave.

It was so strange being in this place again. A place that was so important and there had been many meetings here, parties and arguments, even deaths. Now it was just empty, filled with people that didn't deserve it. Xena was right, taking back Pannonia is the right thing to do and it was all Anastasia's idea.

Gabrielle saw the doors open and Basil frowned down at her confusedly. She was clever enough to snatch the letter from the man's hands. "I come from Rome, delivering a message from Odoacer himself," she waved the letter with a smile.

He eyed her suspiciously. "You must be Odoacer's Consul," he finally smiled and she nodded.

Why yes, yes I am. "I've come a long way to give this to you but I have an adviser that wants to speak with you downstairs if you don't mind coming with me?" she asked politely and saw the White Hun soldiers out of the corner of her eye.

He stepped out of the room and she growled, "grab him!" The White Huns hit Basil in the gut with the dull ends of their swords and put a bag over his head. They grabbed his arms and forcefully pulled him down the hallway towards the grand staircase.

Once the soldiers were outside they threw Basil onto the snowy soil and Xena smiled, walking up the Bey and he slowly rose to his knees. She ripped the bag off his head and he looked up at her, groaning lightly. She took the scarf away from her face and saw his eyes display such horror. He felt like he was staring at a ghost, but she was very much alive. The black fur hat and coat she wore, very much like the attire he had seen her in when he saw her years ago.

She pointed her blade at the Bey's throat. "Basil, right?" she grinned wider seeing the fear in his eyes. Gabrielle came to stand beside her, grinning smugly at the frightened Bulgur. "Good work Gabrielle."

His eyes darted over to the deceiving blonde woman. She waved the letter in front of him, teasing him. He growled and Xena pressed the blade into his skin and he froze. "Don't make any sudden moves," Xena said, " Your choice," she chuckled. "You've been a very naughty man, Basil," she shook her head and he shivered. "First, you attack my home, then you take it for yourself, then you capture my daughter and send her to the most despised man in the entire Hun Nation!" she hissed.

"Harming a Hun Queen is punishable by death. Surely you know that," she gave him a crooked smile and his lips parted, begging to speak but she stepped forward, slicing into his skin ever so slightly. Blood dripping down his neck. "We could do this the hard way or the easy way. Which do prefer?"

Basil bit his tongue at the stinging pain from the light cut he received from Xena's sword. "What...what do you want?"

She lowered her blade and grabbed him by the throat with her gloved hand, choking him. "Surrender Pannonia. Give it to me or I'll take it from you. This is an invasion, Basil. Don't be stupid." Her eyes wild as her grip tightened around his neck.

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow, hearing the Bey struggling to breathe. "Xena..."

"What?" she whipped her head around.

"You might want to let go so he can speak," she suggested.

Xena turned back to the Bulgur and smiled. "Oh, yes..." she released him and he coughed, gasping for air. "So, what have you?" she waved the sword tauntingly in front of his face and he eyed the sharp blade cautiously. "Will you surrender or will I have to take Pannonia from you?"

Basil spat at her boots and she frowned. She kicked him down and stomped her boot onto his chest. "Submit, you fool!" she growled, pressing her heel into his chest and he moaned loudly.

"Burn in Hell," he croaked.

She gripped her sword tightly and smiled, raising it above her head. She stared down at the Bey, fear in his eyes. She hesitated and her arms shook as she began having conflicting thoughts over killing this man or not. She thought about what Gabrielle said to her. That dark path that she promised never to go down again. She made a promise. Killing him would be the justified thing to do after how he treated her daughter and everyone in Pannonia, but it was also too easy.

Gabrielle held her breath watching Xena stand over the man, gripping her sword. She raised her eyebrows, hoping that she wouldn't. Don't do it, Xena. There is another way. You've always told me there is another way.

Xena growled and lowered her sword and saw Basil's eyes widened, surprised to find himself not sliced into several pieces by now. She let her boot off his chest. "Dengi, tie him up. We're taking him back to Balaam."

She looked over her shoulder to Ernak. "You will stay here with two fleets and guard Pannonia. This is our land, not his," she glared at the Bulgur. Dengi grabbed Basil and tied his wrists and put a noose around his neck.

Gabrielle smiled and Xena turned around, sheathing her sword. She ran her hand across her face then caught her consort gazing at her. Giving her a warm smile she walked off to her horse. "We leave at once," she mounted the steed.

The blonde ran over to her. "I have this letter from Odoacer," she lifted her arm and Xena nodded.

"You hold onto it. We will give it to Anastasia when we return to Balaam." Xena said and nudged her head. "Aren't you coming?" she asked and Gabrielle hopped onto the horse, wrapping her arm around Xena's waist.

"I thought you were going to kill him," Gabrielle said in a soft voice.

"I was," Xena couldn't deny it. She really wanted to drive her sword into that arrogant bastard. "But I thought of you." She looked over her shoulder and saw a smile on her consort's lips. "But if he doesn't cooperate I will kill him."

Gabrielle let out a breathy sigh.

"If Navaz agrees," Xena added and that eased Gabrielle's mind a little bit.

Navaz received word from Hormizd and Peroz that they wanted to talk. He suspected that the Nezak Huns had attacked the empire border already on the east. When he gave Malka the command to attack he knew that they would devastate the eastern border of Persia in a matter of hours. Fortunately for the Shahs, their capital was nowhere near the eastern border with Nezak Huns but that also meant that the border was weak and unprotected.

The Shahs kept their borders heavily guarded on the western side close to the Caucasus region, fearing that Navaz and his army would attack at any moment. But Navaz didn't want to attack Persia, not yet anyway. He was anxious to hear what the two brothers wanted to talk about. They said the meeting was strictly political and meant no harm. There was one thing about those Persians –they loved politics and Navaz wasn't very good in that department. He wished that Anastasia could come with him. She was so good speaking politically especially the last time she rejected Peroz and his ridiculous treaty of peace.

Just before dawn approached he was going to head out with his elite soldiers and ride to the Sassan palace in the heart of the Persian empire. He sat on a chair, slipping on his boots trying to be as quiet as possible. He laced up his boot finally and stood, grabbing his cloak.

Throwing it over his shoulders he turned back to see Anastasia sleeping soundly in their bed. He smiled softly and tied his cloak around his neck and watched her sleep peacefully. Her long hair draped over her hip and her arms tucked underneath the pillow as she slept on her side. Her chest rising and falling heavily.

He sat on the edge of the bed and brushed her long hair behind her body and pulled the silk sheet over her long sleeved black gown. She inhaled deeply and brought one knee close to her, shifting in her sleep subtly. He ran his hand over her hair and she cuddled against the pillow.

Slowly, he leaned downward and kissed her forehead gently. "I love you," he whispered and smiled then carefully lifted off the bed so he wouldn't disturb her. He had never actually told Anastasia that he loved her face to face, but he constantly reminded her that he would do anything for her and he meant that. He took in a deep breath and grabbed his sword before he head out.

He stormed out of the room and saw Csaba outside of his room and frowned, back tracking a few steps. "What are you doing awake?" he asked. The hour was nearing dawn and he had never seen the boy awake so early before.

Csaba lifted his eyes and jumped off the bench that was outside his bedroom. "I was waiting for mother to wake up. She told me that she'd train me with the sword today." He smiled.

Navaz nodded. "She's still sleeping," he said and the boy lowered his head as if he was afraid to look him in the eye. "I have to go to Persia but I'll be back in a few days."

"I know," the twelve year old answered.

The king stood awkwardly in front of the boy, the boy that was not his true son. Smiling softly he took a step forward and Csaba lifted his eyes, staring up at the tall king. "I know your birthday is soon. I have a special gift for you."

The boy's face lit up. "Really?" he grinned excitedly.

Navaz nodded. "It is being made so it might be a little late but I think you will like it." He said and couldn't help but smile at the boy's excited face –his smile just like his mother's. He hoped one day that he could be better friends with him in the future.

He placed his hand on Csaba's shoulder firmly. "I'll be back soon. Take care of your mother."

Csaba nodded. "I will."

Hours later after Navaz left the borders were secure by orders of Xena especially since she and Navaz were gone. The White Huns guarding the border saw a small group of Roman horsemen approaching. One of the soldiers stepped forward, putting his hand up.

"Durmak!" he yelled and the Romans halted their horses, staring at him confusedly. "Who are you and why have you come to Balaam?" he asked.

"I come from Constantinople," the governor stated and immediately his men were surrounded by Hun soldiers, pointing their weapons at everyone. "Wait!" he begged, "I do not come on orders of Emperor Zeno. I come for my own interests. I wish to speak with your queen."

The Huns eyed him suspiciously and lowered their weapons. Jalal, the head officer in charge of border patrol whispered to the other men. He turned back to the Roman governor and stepped forward. "Do you have a meeting set up with the queen?" he asked.

The governor shook his head. "I came here on my own. May I speak with her?"

Jalal folded his arms and spoke to the others for a few more moments in hushed voices. "You may come inside the city but you must come alone." He eyed the Roman posse behind the governor cautiously.

Anastasius nodded. "I will come alone." He nodded to his men and they hesitantly stayed behind. Jalal allowed him to pass through the gates into the city of Balaam. He nervously eyed all of the Huns glaring at him as he was being escorted by the border patrol towards the Adame ahead.

Once they reached the steps of the Adame Jalal put a hand up, halting the governor from coming any closer. "Wait here," he said then ran up the stairs, briskly walking through the large dwelling.

Kreka stood behind Anastasia fixing her veil and pinning her hair underneath the crown on her head. Anastasia held the crown on her head steadily as her hair was being worked on. Kreka pulled back the loose strands of her hair tightly and the queen hissed.

"Why are you pinning it so tight?!" Ana growled.

"So everyone can see what a pretty face you have," Kreka grinned and pinned her hair back to the middle of her scalp. She then smoothed out the veil attached to the crown and looked into the mirror, framing Anastasia's face. "See?"

Anastasia frowned and spun around in the chair, reaching for her earrings on her vanity set. "Did Navaz leave this morning?" she asked.

Kreka nodded. "He left before dawn. He didn't say anything to you?"

"I must have been asleep," she frowned sadly and then looked at her face in the mirror one last time. "I will be with Csaba today overseeing his training while my mother is away." She rose from the chair, staring into the khatun's eyes. "If you need anything just come and –"

"Queen Anastasia!" Jalal knocked on the door.

She groaned. "Yes?" she called out and he opened the door, bowing his head.

"Governor of Constantinople is here to see you. He came alone. Shall I ask him to come inside?"

Anastasia frowned and shared a worried look with Kreka. Turning back to Jalal she gave him a curt nod. "Yes, bring him in..."

"Yes, your highness," he turned and closed the doors behind him.

"Governor of Constantinople?" Kreka arched an eyebrow. "Were you expecting him?"

"No, I wasn't..."

Governor Anastasius was brought into the conference room in the center of the Adame. He walked inside the room and saw the Hun Queen sitting at the end of the table with two women on either side of her. He smiled nervously and bowed his head at the three women.

He jumped as the doors were closed behind him and Kreka smirked. He was very young, probably around the same age as Anastasia, maybe even a couple of years younger. Tuya sat opposite of Kreka, eyeing the young governor from head to toe.

Suddenly, he felt like he was being interrogated by these women with their silent judgments. "Queen Anastasia," he bowed again and she smiled slightly amused at this young man. "Thank you for seeing me. I traveled a long way to see you."

She skipped the formalities. "Why are you here?"

"Oh," he nervously began and she eyed the chair.

"You can sit down. Don't be so shy, Roman," Ana kept smiling and Kreka and Tuya both smiled at the young man's anxiety creeping up on him.

"I –I came here on my own accord. I am the governor of Emperor Zeno and head of the Roman Court in Nicaea and Constantinople. I came here to discuss a possible alliance with you." He said and saw all the women look to each other with frowns on their faces.

Anastasia folded her hands on the table, eyeing the governor. "Alliance with Zeno?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No, your majesty. I want to make an alliance with you. This has nothing to do with Emperor Zeno."

"I don't understand."

He took in a deep breath and stared into her piercing blue eyes. He also had two other pairs of eyes staring at him intensely, which was making him very nervous. The tribune of women glaring into his soul. He wondered if he was making the right decision to do this.

"I want you to get rid of Zeno and put me on the throne as emperor of the Roman Empire," he blurted out.

Anastasia blinked and dipped her head, twiddling her thumbs. At this moment she wished that Navaz and her mother were here to oversee this meeting. This man was asking her to do the impossible but she also wondered if this was a trap set up by Zeno. She didn't trust Romans at all. If her mother were here then she would grill the poor young man until he poured his heart out, but she was not her mother. She was different than her. And it was too soon for Anastasia to form a court of her own since the deal was sealed only a week earlier. She only had Kreka Khatun by her side and Tuya. One comforting while the other was much to be desired.

She closed her eyes and spoke silently to herself, figuring out what to do. What is the right thing to do here? She lifted her head and stared at the governor. "Could you give me a few minutes?" she asked.

He nodded and stood. "Of course." He bowed his head and exited the room.

"Aptal adam!" Kreka scoffed, finally able to express her feelings. "What will you decide Anastasia?" she turned to the frozen queen. "Anastasia?"

The young queen turned to her with wide eyes. "I don't know. He seemed very nervous. He did not come here by orders of Zeno. He will be put to death if he is caught here."

Tuya folded her arms on the table, leaning towards Anastasia. "We could order a coup and take over Constantinople."

Kreka raised an eyebrow. "You want a coup? Huns don't do coups, Tuya."

Anastasia sat in silence listening to the two women go back and forth with each other. She furrowed her eyebrows then put her hands up. "Stop!" she said firmly and both women ceased their tongues. "My mother has an old military base in Troy."

"That place has been abandoned for years," Kreka added.

The queen nodded. "Yes but it's still there." She smiled, eyeing both women. "We could have some of the army stay there and organize an attack on Constantinople. Nobody owns Troy. It's considered neutral territory. Not even Romans go there."

"Sounds like you've already made your decision." Kreka said and Tuya smirked.

Anastasia nodded to the guards to allow the governor back in. She adjusted in the chair and placed her arms on the armrests, eyeing the doors open slowly. The nervous Roman walked back in with sweat dripping off his forehead, even in this frigid weather. He was definitely anxious.

"We will help you organize a coup to overthrow Emperor Zeno." She said and he broke out in a smile. "I will need to tell my husband about this when he returns home of course."

He nodded and bowed his head towards her. "Of course, your highness. Thank you. This would mean the world to me." He bowed again and she smiled, once again amused by his humbleness.

She rose from the chair as did Kreka and Tuya. He walked over and shook her hand. "What is your name, Roman?"

He lifted his chin proudly, "Flavius Anastasius."

Her eyes widened and lowered her arm, arching an eyebrow. "We share the same name." she smiled.

Csaba was outside playing with his sword by himself since his mother was preoccupied with queenly duties for the last few days. He was hoping that he would be able to spend more time with her but he hardly ever saw her and she was always so tired by the end of the day that she went to straight to bed only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.

He swung his sword at a wooden post in the courtyard outside the Adame and sighed heavily. He also didn't see a lot of Kreka either. She was the next person he spent most time with but now, he was alone. Nobody was here to be with him and the boys in this tribe were fearful to come near him. He growled and threw his sword into the snow and pouted, folding his arms.

Loud horns were sounded at the entrance of Balaam and Csaba spun around to see Xena riding in with Gabrielle and his two uncles behind her with some of the army. He grinned and ran over to them all, pushing through a few people, not even bothering to pardon himself.

Xena smiled when she saw her grandson charging right for her. He skid to a stop and grinned up at her with his big green eyes. "Did you get Pannonia back, grandma?" he asked with hope in his eyes.

She frowned. "I told you to stop calling me that."

Gabrielle cackled behind her and Xena shot her a glare. "When are you going to get over it, Xena? It's been how many years now?" she teased. "Twelve?"

"Thirteen soon!" Csaba said and Xena rolled her eyes. "You didn't forget about my birthday did you?" he blinked his eyes up at his grandmother.

Xena sighed and ruffled the boy's hair. "Of course I didn't. Where's your mother?"

He groaned. "She's inside working..."

She frowned sadly seeing the disappointment on his face. It reminded her so much of Ellac when he was told to go off alone with his brothers because Attila was busy with other duties to serve the empire. Now Csaba was in the same position as his late father.

"When I'm done talking with your mother maybe we can do something altogether this evening?" she offered and saw his face light up again.

"Really? Like what?"

Gabrielle grinned evilly and suggested, "we should play chess." Xena grumbled at that suggestion. Gabrielle knew that Xena hated playing that game because she was really bad at it. It was probably the only thing that Xena was bad at and she hated to admit it.

He clamped his hands together. "Sounds great! We'll play in teams. Me and mother and you with grandma."

Xena snarled. "My name is not grandma!"

Gabrielle nudged the commander's arm. "How about we make a bet? If Anastasia and Csaba win then he gets to call you 'grandma' for...eternity."

"No way!" Xena chided.

Csaba smiled, "afraid you'll lose?"

She scoffed, "in your dreams, boy." She yanked on the reins and trotted off. Gabrielle winked at Csaba as they rode off together towards the Adame.

Anastasia glared down at the Bulgur Hun on his knees. He kept staring at her with such malice. She turned to her mother and Gabrielle. "Did you seize Pannonia?" she asked.

Xena cleared her throat and uncrossed her arms. "Ernak and the rest of the army are still in Pannonia. I asked him to sanction it."

The young queen smiled and stared at Basil. "Good." She bent down to his eye level, inches from his face. "You are no longer the Bey of Pannonia. That land never belonged to you and it will never belong to a Bulgur Hun ever again." She pat his cheek and he snarled.

He chuckled lightly and she stood up right, folding her arms. "I was wrong about you..." he lifted his head slowly with an eerie smile. "You are your mother's daughter." He turned and stared at Xena.

Anastasia's lip quivered. "Kill him." She ordered.

Xena raised an eyebrow and unsheathed her sword walking over to the Bulgur Hun. She pointed the blade at his gut and he kept smiling up at her. She so wished to see that smile wiped off of his face. "Pannonian cunts," he hissed.

Gabrielle's eyes darkened and she gripped the crossbow in her hand. Xena clenched her jaw and swung her sword, decapitating his head from body. Anastasia wiped the blood off her face and kicked the Bulgur's body over.

"Send his head to Odoacer. A gift from me," the White Hun queen grinned. Xena wiped her sword down and stared back at Gabrielle. She half expected her to be horrified but Gabrielle's expression did not convey horror, but anger.

Later that evening inside the queen's quarters within the Adame, Csaba and Gabrielle played chess against each other. He being on a team with his mother and Gabrielle on Xena's team. The young soon to be teenager had his heart on winning the game and each person would play best two out of three games. Gabrielle won the first game against Csaba and Xena warned her that if she lost that there would be a punishment in store for her. Whichever team had the most wins would have to forfeit.

Now on the second game nearing its end, Gabrielle was positive that she could win. She played this game several times while living in Athens long ago and Rome as well when she served under Odoacer and Zeno as Consul.

Xena sat with her daughter a ways away from the game on the floor. Anastasia set down her glass of water and stared at her mother whom was completely ignoring her, focused on the game. Her eyes fixated on Gabrielle.

Csaba grinned and jumped up. "I win!" he said proudly and Gabrielle shook her head.

"We have another game, Csaba," she began setting up the board again for the third game. He plopped back down onto the ground with an eager smile on his face.

Xena frowned and Anastasia smiled. "Mother I didn't know that you were so competitive in chess." She teased.

"I'm not. I just need Gabrielle to win this game and then..." Xena turned to her daughter with a smug smile, "we play each other next."

The queen sighed heavily. "You really don't like being called –"

"Don't say it," Xena warned and sipped the wine.

"Well, I'm afraid you should get used to it because I am very good at chess and I know for a fact that you aren't." Anastasia winked and her mother frowned, lowering the glass of wine from her mouth.

"This game is ridiculous," the commander muttered.

Ana smiled softly. "Mother, I need to tell you something," she said seriously, catching Xena's attention. "Emperor Zeno's governor came to see me a few days ago." At that moment she saw her mother's hand grip the wine glass tightly. "And...he asked me –us –to overthrow Zeno so he can become Emperor. I agreed and said we would help him."

"You did what?" Xena's voice dark. Gabrielle briefly looked over during the game at Xena's tense face and large irate eyes.

"I know what you're thinking but this is not a trap. Think about it! We can get rid of Zeno and put someone who we want in charge of Constantinople. We will be able to thrive and have an ally in the Roman Empire! We will be at the top of the world again, mother." Ana's eyes grew with excitement.

Xena groaned and tapped her fingers on the table impatiently. "Does Navaz know about this?" she asked in a more calm tone.

Anastasia shook her head. "He hasn't come back from Persia yet. I was thinking...we could use your old military base in Troy to organize the coup –"

"Coup?!" Xena's voice raised and Gabrielle spun around as did Csaba. "Anastasia, I don't do coups. I've never done one in my entire life. I invade territories. Coups are for political gain and power."

The queen nodded. "And I want that power. So, will you do it? I would if I could." She bat her long lashes at her mother. "Please?" she pleaded.

Xena grumbled and pinched the bridge of her nose. Looking over at Gabrielle playing with Csaba she quirked her mouth. Turning back to her nervous daughter she let out a large sigh. "I will talk to Navaz about it and see what he says."

"Thank you," Ana smiled finally satisfied with her mother's answer.

Csaba moved the 'queen' chess piece across the board, coming into Gabrielle's territory. "What did you get me for my birthday?" he asked Xena.

Anastasia furrowed her eyebrows. "Csaba!"

"What?" he shrugged a shoulder. "I'm just curious."

Xena smiled. "You will have to wait and see."

He sighed and lifted his eyes at his opponent. Smiling deviously he asked, "what about you Gabrielle? What did you get for my birthday?" he pried.

Gabrielle shook her head. "No, no. I'm not telling you anything. You'll have to wait like your..." she eyed Xena playfully, "grandma said."

Xena shot her a mean glare. "You really want to play this game, Gabrielle? You're on my team, remember?"

Gabrielle zipped her lips and kept playing chess quietly, avoiding Xena's glare staring into her backside. Csaba moved another piece across the board, knocking out Gabrielle's pawns. "Navaz said that he has a special gift for me," he said.

Ana whipped her head around and raised an eyebrow. "He does?" she asked, not privy to this information at all.

Her son nodded. "Yeah, he said it's being made. I don't know what that means but I hope it's a new sword or a bow!" he grinned. "Ha! Prepare to lose, Gabby." He snickered.

"Navaz didn't tell me he has a gift for Csaba," Anastasia whispered.

Xena shrugged a shoulder. "Does he need your permission for that too?" she teased and Ana narrowed her eyes at her mother. "Did Kreka finish your dress?"

The queen rolled her eyes. "I don't know if having this senlik is such a good idea, mother. We have so much to do and –"

"Oh come on, Ana, it'll be fun," Gabrielle said just as she knocked out a few more of Csaba's pawn pieces.

Xena smiled. "I agree with Gabrielle, for once." She teased and received a snarky look from her counterpart. "What's wrong with you? You were so excited to have a senlik before you had Csaba."

Anastasia exhaled heavily and leaned her cheek on her palm. "That was different. I was really naive and had no idea how much work a baby would be. I know better now and I am busy enough as it is."

Xena leaned forward and grabbed her daughter's hand firmly. "You don't have to be a queen all the time, Anastasia. You will burn yourself out. You are allowed to have fun, you know."

"Maybe you should take some of your own advice," Gabrielle retorted and Xena grunted. "I win!" she cheered and Csaba folded his arms. "In your face, boy!" she grinned. "Okay Xena, your turn."

The commander stood and lend a hand to her daughter. "Are you going to play against me or what?"

"You can totally beat her mother," Csaba encouraged. "She sucks."

"Ha..." Xena mocked. "You think you're so cute, don't you?"

"I'm adorable," he teased and helped his mother out of the chair. He whispered in her ear, "whip her butt, mother."

Anastasia grinned and walked over to the chess board on the floor and sat down slowly. Xena was setting up the board and she couldn't help but see the nerves in her eyes. "So, two out of three, right?"

"Three out of four," Xena said.

"Wow you really don't want to lose," Ana teased. "Two out of three."

"Three out of four."

"Mom, you can't just change the rules of the game because you aren't good at it," the queen said and laid out her pieces. "Two...out of three."

"Fine," Xena finally relented.

Anastasia smiled and finished setting up her pieces. "You first. Grandma," she teased and Xena grimaced.

Gabrielle sat at the table with Csaba and had her arms folded, basking in the fact that Xena was definitely going to lose. She needed to win two games and that was very unlikely to happen.

"This is going to be fun to watch," she crookedly smiled.

"I heard that," Xena said and focused on her daughter's next move. "We're on the same team, Gabrielle!"

The blonde chuckled. "I know but Xena, you really suck at this game."

Anastasia jumped over the board and knocked out the 'queen' chess piece. "Check."

Xena's jaw dropped. "We still have two more games to play."

"Then let's hope you win both of them." Anastasia smiled as she began resetting the game.

"Next time, I pick the game."

Chapter Text

AN: thanks to those that are reading this sequel. As I said, I'm writing this for my own enjoyment. I really enjoy writing these characters and this story is like my baby lol. I enjoy incorporating a lot of historical events in my work as some have noticed. This sequel is a lot different than its predecessor because it's more focused on family issues and matters, but I will definitely get to the battle parts soon enough. This chapter is a bit of a bump in the road for Gabrielle and Xena.

Enjoy :)

Chapter 17

Gabrielle stood beside Xena inside the conference room within the Adame. Navaz returned from Persia early in the morning and was told to report to the office to discuss what Anastasia agreed to with the governor of Constantinople the day before. The minute he heard 'governor of Constantinople', he feared the worst and wondered what his wife agreed to but it couldn't have been that bad if Xena didn't lash out at anyone.

Navaz sat at the table next to Anastasia while Xena and Gabrielle sat together on the opposite end. Gabrielle smirked smugly and nudged Xena's arm. "Alright, grandma commander, tell Navaz what we did" she teased and her cohort shot her a menacing glare.

The king raised an eyebrow. "Grandma commander?"

Anastasia grabbed his arm and whispered, "don't ask."

Xena did in fact lose the game of chess against her daughter and Gabrielle only won two games so that meant Xena had to win two games to break the score and win. But, she lost all three times against Anastasia and now Csaba was having the time of his life constantly calling Xena his 'grandma', a word that she never liked and encouraged him not to call her that from a young age. Obviously, it didn't work and it would never work now.

"Anyway," Xena grumbled, ignoring Gabrielle snickering under her breath. "I seized Pannonia from the Bulgur Huns. The territory belongs to you now Navaz. Ernak is staying there with two of your fleets to secure the area."

Navaz nodded his head slowly. He was impressed that Xena was able to complete his wife's mission and so quickly as well. He had heard about Xena's raids over the years but never knew how she operated under Attila until now. She definitely got the job done, which was profitable, but he didn't care about Pannonia like everyone else. That was the motherland of his wife and her family, but it wasn't his.

He gave a faint smile to his new commander. "That is very...remarkable, Xena, but I don't want to be in charge of Pannonia."

It was his wife that whipped her head around with her mouth ajar, gaping at the profile of his face. "Navaz, Pannonia belongs to you now. You are free to do what you want with it!"

He smiled and grabbed her hand. "It's not my land. Balaam is my home. Pannonia is yours." He said and she kept gawking at him. He turned back to the confused commander and adviser opposite him. "I want the sons of Attila to have control of Pannonia again. It is their land after all." He said and all three women stared at him in silence. "So, on to the governor of Constantinople then?"

Anastasia adjusted in her chair and rubbed her forehead. "Um, Flavius Anastasius came to talk to me. He wants us to organize a coup to overthrow Zeno and give him the throne. I already told mother about it but said I should talk with you about it first."

"Did Kreka and my mother agree with you during the meeting?" he asked.

"Yes but –"

He stood, "then do what you wish," he said and Xena frowned, rising from her seat.

"Now wait just a minute," Xena interrupted, "you're allowing this coup to happen?"

"That's right," he said.

Gabrielle stood. "And you are giving us free range to do whatever we want for this coup?" she asked just to make sure.

The king nodded. "Yes, Gabrielle. Do what you want. If Anastasia's party agrees with her then she doesn't need my permission to carry anything out. Isn't that what you wrote in that document you made me sign?" he winked and her lips turned into an eager smile.

Xena smiled deviously. "So I am in charge of the coup then?"

He sighed. "Yes, Xena. You're the commander, aren't you?" now growing impatient with these women questioning him over and over. "Anything else?" and all three women shook their heads. "Okay, now that this little meeting is over I have to ride out to Sevan." He began leaving the room.

Anastasia grabbed hold of his arm. "Wait, you're leaving again? You just got back," she frowned.

He smiled and kissed her forehead. "I will be back tomorrow morning. I have to make sure that the Shahs send their money to us. Hormizd offered to pay us if we stay away from Persia. I took the deal for now."

She nodded and lowered her head, folding her arms. He lifted her chin, staring into her solemn eyes. "It's only a day, Anastasia. Sevan isn't far from here. If you need me you can send someone to get me and I'll ride back." He said and she smiled faintly. "I know you're in good hands here." He turned and eyed Xena talking with Gabrielle.

"We can ride out to Troy in the next few weeks," Xena's face lit up and Gabrielle frowned.

"What about Anastasia's senlik?" she reminded her.

Xena groaned lowly, "right," she nearly forgot about that. "After the senlik then." She smiled brightly and the blonde rolled her eyes playfully. "It has been a long time since I was in Troy. You remember that base, don't you?"

Gabrielle scoffed. "How could I forget? Anastasia had her birthday there and you were so drunk and –" she saw the dark haired warrior's eyes darken. "I remember it," she smiled sheepishly. Turning around she saw Ana standing off by herself, her arms folded and her head hanging. She nudged Xena's arm, motioning towards the solemn queen.

Xena walked over to her daughter and lifted her chin, seeing tears in her glossy blue eyes. "What's the matter?"

Anastasia shook her head and wiped her eyes. "Nothing. It's nothing."

"Obviously not," her mother smiled warmly and brushed her fingers along her cheek. Ana sighed heavily. "Why don't you come back to the yurt with us? Csaba can come too." She motioned for Gabrielle to come to her aid.

"But my work. I can't just –"

Xena put a finger to her mouth, silencing her daughter. "No work today. Remember what I said about taking breaks? They are needed. Even for me," she said and Ana nodded.

Gabrielle hooked arms with the young queen and began walking out of the room. Xena trailed behind them and closed the doors.

The three walked down the long hallway that lead to the entrance of the Adame. Tuya caught sight of Xena, Gabrielle and Anastasia. She walked forward and called out, "Xena!"

The commander cringed at the sound of her name being called by that woman. Gabrielle abruptly halted with Anastasia and glared at the queen mother. Xena sighed. "Go on without me. I'll be right there," she advised.

Gabrielle frowned, "are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Xena said and then the two left. Reluctantly she turned around to find Tuya staring at her as she stood a mere three or so feet away from her. "What is it?"

The pale face queen mother smiled softly. "I want you to take a look at something for me." She said and lend her hand to the hallway. "Please?"

Xena groaned and followed the woman though she kept her distance. They arrived at a room not too far from Anastasia's quarters. Her eyes wandered around and she had passed the room before but it was normally used as a sitting room, but hardly anyone ever went in that room, or at all, from what she gathered. Tuya pulled out a key from the bracelet hanging on her wrist and Xena eyed her cautiously.

Slowly, she opened the door and stepped inside. Tuya smiled and turned to see Xena step in one foot at a time and fold her arms. The pale-faced Hun woman watched Xena walk around the room, examining every little thing quietly to herself. The more she walked around the more nervous Tuya became because she was too quiet, eerily quiet.

"What do you think?" Tuya asked.

Xena spun around and placed her hands on her hips. "It's a room. Am I missing something?" her eyes roamed around the almost empty room one more time.

Tuya nodded. "I know Anastasia is very busy and she doesn't have a lot of time to do anything lately so I thought I would do something for her."

Something nice. Very interesting, Xena thought. The nervous Hun woman continued, "I thought this could be the baby's room. It's the right size and very close to the queen's room. This room is hardly ever used for anything but I...wanted to ask you first."

Xena smirked and raised her eyebrow, sauntering over to Tuya. She saw the woman's brown eyes widen the close she got. "Trying to get on my good side, Tuya?" she teased and the queen mother lowered her eyes. "You would do this for my daughter?" she asked with suspicion.

Tuya nodded. "She and I don't always see eye to eye on things but I am...trying my best to have a better relationship with her." She said and Xena leaned in towards her face. She backed away slowly, her hands fidgeting behind her back.

The commander crookedly smiled. "Did Kreka put you up to this?" and Tuya shook her head. Sighing, she took another look at the room and shrugged a shoulder. "It's a nice room. I'm sure Anastasia will like it. Is that all you wanted? My approval?"

"Yes," Tuya answered curtly.

Xena brushed past the queen mother. "It seems you are giving her the best gift there is. What could I possibly give her now?" she winked then walked out of the room. Tuya stood in the room and wrapped her arms around herself, unsure if that was supposed to be a playful joke or a minor threat coming from Xena. She hoped that it was the former. She didn't want to seem like she was stepping all over Xena but Kreka said that she should be nice and that's what she planned to do –what she was trying to do.

Csaba was helping Gabrielle set out bowls and plates inside the yurt while his mother sat down by herself in the sitting area. He cleaned one of the plates with a rag and stared over at his mother. "Hey Gabrielle."

"Yes?" she handed him another plate.

"How come 'you know who' doesn't like being called grandma?" he asked and she chuckled softly.

"I think she doesn't want to feel like an old lady," she said and he stared at her with a bemused expression. "Your mother had you very young and let's just say your grandmother...wasn't exactly very happy about it."

He frowned and set the clean plate aside. "She didn't like me?"

"She loves you, you know that," she said and he kept gawking at her. She decided to sit down with him and saw his eyes linger over at his mother. She was beginning to get worried the longer Xena was absent and hoped Tuya didn't do something to her back in the Adame. But, Xena could definitely take care of herself.

"Listen Csaba, she loves you a lot and would do anything for you. When your mother told her that she was pregnant with you she was very...very...upset, but not at you." She tried to reassure the young teenager.

Csaba folded his arms on the table. "She was upset at my mom?" he alleged.

Gabrielle smiled, wagging her head. "No. She was upset at your father." She then saw his eyes widen at that. "She eventually let it go but it took her a long time. So, I guess, that's why she doesn't like being called that."

He nodded, sort of understanding why she didn't like being called grandma even though she was definitely his grandmother. At that moment Xena walked into the yurt and shook the snow out of her hair and threw her cloak on a chair. She groaned and Anastasia turned around, staring up at her from the floor.

Gabrielle left the table. "What took you so long?" she whispered.

Xena picked out some snowflakes from her long dark hair. "Tuya talks a lot." She exhaled greatly and looked over at her daughter and smiled. "How are you feeling?"

Anastasia creased her eyebrows. "I'm fine." She said and then tried to get off the floor but Xena placed a hand firmly on her shoulder.

"Don't get up. We'll eat on the floor," she said then walked over to the table to grab the plates and bowls. Csaba grabbed some of the plates in his arms and the spoons. She winked at her grandson and he smiled brightly up at her.

Gabrielle brought over the platter of spiced rice and set it in the middle of the floor. Csaba carefully set down the large bowl of mutton stew on the ground next to the next. Xena came to sit next to her daughter and placed the plate of bread on the floor. Then she ripped off a piece of the bread and set it on her daughter's plate.

Together they sat in silence eating. Csaba spoon some rice onto his bread and looked around at all the quiet women surrounding him. Gabrielle sat beside him on his right and his mother on his left. He wiped his mouth and lowered his plate. "So, I heard that we have Pannonia back." He said and Xena eyed him. "Are we moving back?" he hoped.

Xena smiled and sipped some water from her cup. "I think we have to stay here for awhile but maybe in the future we can." She said and he nodded, satisfied with that answer.

Gabrielle's eyes lingered on Anastasia whom was barely eating anything except rice and bread. "Aren't you going to have some of the stew, Ana?" she asked.

Anastasia lifted her eyes and chewed slowly, staring at Gabrielle then to her mother then back down at her plate. " not feeling very good right now," she muttered.

Xena set her spoon down in her bowl and stared at her daughter intensely then over at Gabrielle whom was eating quietly to herself and gave her a shoulder shrug. "It will make you feel better," she said in a soft voice. She began reaching over for the ladle in the large bowl of soup and Ana's eyes grew.

"Mother!" she hissed and Xena retracted her hand. "Please," her voice calmed. "I really don't feel well." She said and immediately averted her eyes back to her plate of rice and half eaten bread. Just the smell of the meat was making her stomach churn. She couldn't bear to look at it much less eat it.

Csaba frowned and looked to his mother worriedly. "You're sick?" he asked.

She lifted her eyes at her son and smiled gently. "I'll be alright." She reached over and pat his knee.

After dinner was over with Xena drew the flap of the yurt back and saw the snow falling heavily. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Gabrielle. She smiled briefly then looked outside once more. "Looks like a blizzard."

Gabrielle nodded. "I've never seen so much snow before, not even in Pannonia."

"Welcome to the mountains, Gabrielle," she teased. "I think Anastasia and Csaba should stay here tonight." She suggested and her consort nodded in agreement. "Ana can have our room and we can sleep out in the sitting room with Csaba."

Gabrielle spun around and saw Csaba on the floor talking to his mother. "Hey, guess what? You're both stuck in here with us tonight. Csaba you'll sleep with us in here and your mother can have the bedroom."

He jumped up excitedly. "Alright! We can stay up and play games!" he said and saw the frown on his grandmother's face. "Or maybe not."

Ana frowned and turned around to her mother. "I don't want to make you both sleep on the floor. I can stay out here with Csaba."

Xena arched an eyebrow. "I'm not letting you sleep on the floor, Anastasia. Don't be ridiculous." She lend a hand to help her heavily pregnant daughter off the floor.

"So, we really can't play any games?" Csaba whispered and Gabrielle nudged his arm.

Xena turned around. "Why don't you teach him some Latin, Gabrielle? You're good at that," she gave her a wink then lead her daughter to the bedroom. The blonde adviser's cheeks flushed and then heard Csaba let out a loud sigh, obviously he didn't want to be schooled at this late hour.

Anastasia took off her cotton black dress and she had her long sleeved black gown on beneath her outer layer of clothing she wore. She took the pins out of her hair and slipped the veil off her long locks. Xena folded her dress and had already changed into a long sleeved slip of her own. She then grabbed her daughter's boots and set them next to hers on the far side of the room.

Sitting on the bed she watched her mother organize her armor on a chair and her sword on the table next to the set of chairs. She smiled softly and folded her veil up and set aside. Xena turned and smiled at her daughter warmly and sat on the empty side of the bed, bringing the blanket close to her.

"You didn't have to do this. I could have stayed out there with Csaba," she said, brushing her hair behind her ears.

Xena scoffed. "You're not sleeping on the floor." Her daughter let out a heavy exhale, knowing she wasn't going to win this argument. "If you need me you know where to find me." She kissed her forehead then got off the bed to leave the room.

Ana held her breath and watched her mother walking towards the sitting room. "Mother!" she called out and Xena spun around. "Will you...stay with me?"

Xena was hoping that she would ask that. She hadn't been able to spend too much time with her daughter and the time they did spend together, they were either arguing or discussing war, alliances and potential treaties. She smiled and slipped underneath the blanket, laying on her side, propping her head on her palm. Anastasia grinned and lay on her side, looking into her mother's warm eyes.

"You miss Navaz," she said and saw her daughter avert her eyes. "I've seen that look before Anastasia. With Ellac." Ana lifted her eyes and she adjusted herself, tucking one arm under the pillow. "And you love him." She said and Ana quirked her mouth. "If you love him why don't you just tell him?"

"I can't," Ana mumbled.

"Why not?"

"Because," she inhaled deeply and stared up at her mother. "I –I don't know if he loves me too."

Xena scoffed and peered down at the destress in her daughter's eyes. "He loves you, trust me. I know it was really hard for you after Ellac died. He loved you very much, but Navaz loves you too. Just tell him how you feel."

Anastasia nodded. "Okay, I will."

Xena smiled and kissed her cheek then lay down in the bed, closing her eyes. Anastasia stared at her mother in the dim candle lit bedroom and she really wanted to sleep but her mind was too wired, while her body was exhausted. She shifted in the bed and then a frown crossed her lips. She felt the child within her was as much unrest as she was right now. Resting her hand on her restless child she breathed out through her nose deeply.

Xena felt a pair of eyes on her as she was trying to sleep. "What is the matter now?" she asked, her eyes fluttering open to see distress all over her daughter's face.

"I can't sleep."

"I can see that," Xena said then scooted closer to her daughter. Both smiling at each other.

"Mom..." Anastasia lowered her eyes and Xena leaned her head against her palm, still gaping at her daughter. "You'll be there...when the baby arrives, right?"

Xena smiled and brushed her daughter's hair behind her shoulder. "I was there for you last time, wasn't I?" she saw that same look that Anastasia had in her eyes when she was pregnant with Csaba. That look of fear.

"Promise me."

Her mother sighed. "I promise." She then saw that fear leave her daughter's eyes. "I wish I could have seen you get married. I bet you looked beautiful."

Ana smiled faintly. "If you were here back then, I probably would have never married Navaz."

"Aren't you glad that you did?" Xena asked.

Anastasia sighed deeply. "I wasn't back then but I am now. He is a nice person and he cares about me. We are still learning a lot about each other." She said and saw her mother's firmly planted on her. "How do you and Gabrielle get along so well? You know everything about each other. I want my relationship with Navaz to be like that."

Xena let out a soft chuckle. "Gabrielle and I haven't always had the best relationship, Ana. You know that. She's been by my side for ten years now. The first thing every relationship should have is respect. You need to respect each other in order to have an established relationship. You don't have to be lovers, sometimes you can be friends. Respect is the key. Gabrielle and I always let one another know how we are feeling and we work together."

Ana nodded and bit her bottom lip. "I see. Navaz and I don't know how to work together yet. I don't think..."

Now you're getting it, tatli kiz. "You will. That comes with time. That's part of the reason why I didn't want you to be a commander. You and Navaz didn't seem to agree on anything. Every decision you make you need to make together."

"Together," Ana noted that. "I should do something for him, shouldn't I? I feel like he's always doing something for me."

Xena shrugged a shoulder. "That is all on you, Anastasia. I'm afraid I can't help you with that." She said. "Are you sleepy yet?"

The Hun queen shook her head. "Sorry..."

"That's alright," Xena said with a subtle smile on her lips. "I'll stay up with you until you fall asleep."

"You don't have to do that."

"I want to." Xena cupped Ana's cheek and the young queen blushed.

Xena and Gabrielle barged into Dengi's yurt and found him sitting with a young woman. There was a large water pipe in the middle of the floor that was at least three feet tall. Dengi's eyes widened as he blew out a large cloud of smoke from his mouth. Gabrielle folded her arms and Xena's upper lip quivered.

The son of Attila grinned at both women glaring at him. "Xena...Gabrielle...what are you doing here?" he chuckled, his eyes glazed over. The young woman with him stifled a laugh and then immediately they both stopped laughing, seeing the angry faces of the commander and adviser.

He cleared his throat and Xena crossed her arms, copying her consort. "Are you high?" she asked.

He scoffed. "No...nooo..." he waved his hand and she narrowed her eyes. "Yes. Yes I am." He tried to stop himself from smiling.

"I want you to go the Adame and take inventory of all the weapons. You think you could do that or are you too blazed?" Xena asked.

Dengi stood slowly and placed a hand on his hip, trying to sober up. "No, no, Xena. I can do it. I'm good." He said and both women looked at him in disbelief. "I swear!" he brushed past her and pat her shoulder on his way out, completely forgetting about his female guest.

The young woman adjusted the veil on her head and Gabrielle frowned. "And who are you?" she asked.

"Leila," the dark haired pale young woman said in a soft voice. "And you are?" she looked up at the short haired blonde and then to the long haired warrior.

Xena snarled. "She is my adviser. Listen, Leila, I don't know why you're in here nor do I care."

The Caucasus Hun stood up slowly, brushing the wrinkles out of her cotton dress. Xena stepped towards her and she gasped, backing away. "I'm not Dengizich's mother. You have no reason to fear me but if I ever see you in his yurt again I will tell his mother. Surely you know who his mother is, don't you?"

The girl nodded. "The wife of Attila..." she said softly.

Xena smiled. "That's right. I suggest you speak with her before you go off by yourself with Dengizich. Understood?" and Leila nodded then left the yurt.

Gabrielle chuckled. "Xena, why do you have to scare that poor girl?"

"It's amusing," Xena gave her a wink. "Besides, Kreka would kill that girl if she was the one who walked in here."

"Dengi is an adult, Xena. I don't think Kreka can stop him from seeing women on his own time."

"You really don't know her very well do you? How many years has it been now?" Xena teased. "Come on, Arpad is sending his army over today. I want to make sure they receive a warm welcome from us."

On the south side of the Caucasus Mountains, Xena stood with Gabrielle watching Arpad's army of men march and ride through the large snowy mountains. Xena snapped her fingers and Zolten came running to her call.

"Block the road towards Balaam," she instructed.

"Why would we do that?" he asked.

She turned around and grabbed him by the throat and slammed him up against a tree. "Because I said so, you worm!" she growled and he gasped for air.

"Xena..." Gabrielle, being the voice of reason. The commander glared at the officer and closed her eyes briefly then let go of his throat. Zolten fell to the ground, choking lightly.

"One more word out of you and I'll break your fingers," Xena said and walked off to stand next to the blonde adviser again. Zolten frowned and was helped up by another soldier. He glared at the commander as he rubbed his throat.

Gabrielle nudged her lover's arm. "I don't think we should block the Magyars. They might revolt and attack Balaam. This is supposed to be an exchange –money for men."

Xena grunted and folded her arms. "You have a point," she muttered. Turning to Zolten and the others just as they were about to leave. "Change of plans. Stay here and take the army to the Adame courtyard. Navaz will handle it from there. Bring me the soldiers that refuse to submit to m –us..." she said and Gabrielle smiled, feeling quite proud of herself.

Zolten's eyes darkened. "Yes, commander..." he whistled at the soldiers and walked down the path in between the mountains to meet with the Magyars.

Gabrielle cleared her throat, catching Xena's attention. "Um, Navaz authorized you to be the interrogator?" she whispered.

"He will."

"Xena, I swear to God..." Gabrielle growled and the commander turned to her, cupping her cheek with her black gloved hand.

"Gabrielle, trust me. I know what I'm doing."

"I know and that's what I'm afraid of..."

Xena slapped the Magyar soldier in the face as he hanged upside down by his ankles inside a secluded room in the Adame. "Submit!" she hissed.

He spat in her face and she gasped. "Pannonian cunt." He grinned, his face flushed from hanging for so long already.

She wiped her cheek and took off her gloves then walked over to the weapon rack. She picked up a large iron rod and grinned. She pat the rod against her palm and stared at the Magyar. "You know, I was trying to be nice but you don't want to play along. Now, we have to do this the hard way." She smiled and grabbed the man by his collar, lifting him up, inches from his face. She felt his hot breath against her nose and mouth.

"If you don't submit I will have to torture you and you don't want that do you?" she whispered.

He growled and wiggled his legs, trying to set himself free. She released him and his body swayed gently. "You betrayed my king! You took his army!"

"Wrong!" she yelled. "I have betrayed no one!" she swung the iron rod and hit him in the gut. He groaned loudly and coughed. "You submit to the Huns or die! I will kill every single of you if I have to."

The Magyar chuckled. "That's what you're good at huh, Hun woman? You kill people for sport."

Her eyes widened and she hit him in the legs with the iron. He cringed but bit his tongue. "I am not a murderer!"

"Yes you are. You slaughtered hundreds of your own people for Attila –your king. You are not even a true Hun. You are a Thracian yet you follow the lifestyle of a Hun. You have for many years. You are nothing. You mean nothing and you –"

Her hands trembled and she flung the iron rod aside and grabbed a long claymore from the weapon rack. She pointed the blade at his throat and looked down at his eerie smile. "You pervert the Hun nation with your Greek woman. You are a foreigner! Your daughter is a half breed yet the Hun king slipped his cock inside her to prolong the your lineage. Khushnavaz will be death of all the Caucasus Huns!" he spat.

She swung her sword across his neck and decapitated his head from his body. She breathed heavily and blood dripped onto the stone floor. Stepping away, she looked down at the bloody sword and the shocked eyes from the White Hun soldiers standing by the doors.

"Clean this up. Dispose of the body and tell no one this happened," she uttered and the soldiers nodded. She dropped the claymore and rushed out of the room.

Gabrielle saw Xena exit the room and walked alongside her, trying to keep up with her strides. "How did it go? Did he submit?" she asked.

Xena pursed her lips and kept walking through the long hallway, eager to get out of the Adame. "Yes, he did." She lied and she hadn't lied to Gabrielle in so long. She couldn't tell the person she loved that she went against her word and killed out of anger and rage. That Magyar spout off, running his mouth and she allowed it to get to her.

Anastasia stood in her bedroom with Kreka holding the dress up to her body. The Khatun grinned, nodding, quite proud of her work. "Do you think this will be up to your mother's standards?" she asked and Anastasia shrugged her shoulders.

"I'm sorry that she ripped the dress, Kreka. I know you worked very hard on it." Ana sighed and Kreka handed her the burgundy gown.

Gabrielle sat down in the chair after waltzing in. "I think it looks great. Try it on!" she begged and Kreka smiled excitedly. Anastasia frowned and looked at the sparkling gown in her hands. "Come on, Ana. We want to see it on you."

"I'll be right back..." Ana groaned and walked into a separate room to change into the gown.

Kreka organized her basket filled with sewing supplies. She turned to the Greek woman whom was missing a part of her. "Where's Xena? After all the work I put in this gown, I'd like for her to see it!"

Gabrielle sighed. "I don't know where she is. She disappeared a couple of hours ago. She might be off with Navaz. She told me to take the rest of the day off."

The khatun cocked an eyebrow and dropped the basket on the table. "That doesn't sound like Xena. She never takes a day off for anything, except when she's forced to."

That did sound a bit odd to Gabrielle now that Kreka said that. Xena had to be with Navaz, she told herself. She just had to be. Navaz was not in the Adame at all and Xena wasn't either. After that interrogation earlier today, Gabrielle figured that Xena was doing something else. Planning her coup to Troy, but why tell her to take the day off? Didn't she need her to advise the plans for Troy? Now this didn't make any sense at all.

Anastasia came out of the other room and held the back of the dress tightly. "I need some help with this..." she said shyly. Kreka grinned and briskly walked over to her.

Gabrielle stood from her seat and beamed at the sight before her. How could someone look so much like Xena yet be so different? "You look amazing!" she said and Ana's cheeks flushed at such a compliment.

Kreka was lacing the back of the dress and pulled tightly. Anastasia gasped. "Too tight?"

"You must be trying to constrict my lungs, Kreka." Ana snarled. The khatun loosened the laces.

Navaz walked into the queen's bedroom unannounced, figuring that his wife would be alone especially at this hour. "Anastasia, I –"

Kreka gasped. "Get out!" she yelled and stood in front of Anastasia. "Out! Out!"

"But I just wanted to talk to –"

"Out!" Kreka frowned. "You aren't supposed to see her in the dress!"

Navaz smiled nervously at the angry woman and Gabrielle shrugged her shoulder at him. He nodded and began backing away, shielding his eyes. "Okay...I'll come back later. Let me know when you ladies are finished."

Gabrielle frowned and ran to the doors. "Wait! Xena isn't with you?" she asked.

He peeked through his fingers. "No, I haven't seen her since this afternoon."

"Get out, you!" Kreka said and the king quickly left the room, closing the doors.

Anastasia rubbed her temple, feeling a headache emerging. "He didn't see me, right?"

Kreka spun around and rubbed the young queen's arms. "I don't think so. Now, take off the dress before you ruin it." she said and Anastasia gasped. "I worked really hard on this, Anastasia," she pressed.

Gabrielle turned to the two women and frowned. "I'll see you both later." She walked out of the room and went to look for Xena. She didn't know why, but she felt like Xena was up to no good. Something was missing. Something was wrong, but what?

Chapter Text

I know this chapter is supposed to be serious, but I couldn't help but laugh while writing this lol.

Chapter 18 –Black Opium

Gabrielle walked throughout the entire city of Balaam searching for Xena, but after an hour or two walking around, she was alone. She didn't understand why Xena disappeared and told her to take the day off, which probably meant something was wrong or something awful might have happened to her or someone else.

She wrapped the coat she wore around herself and decided to go to their yurt because it was probably too late in the evening to see Anastasia again. Not to mention, it was freezing outside and Gabrielle realized that she really hated snow. A lot. She missed living in Pannonia because it was never this cold and there was never this much snow. Ever.

As she approached the yurt on the far side of Balaam she heard someone laughing. No –two people laughing and one of those people was Xena. Gabrielle went inside of the yurt, covered in snow, flushed cheeks and extremely irritated. She walked all over the city to find Xena and even checked the yurt before she went off on her excursion but no one was here. Well, now Xena was inside, warm and obviously unharmed.

Xena spotted Gabrielle standing by the entrance and immediately got off the floor, heading over to her consort. The blonde threw her cloak down on a chair and shook her hair to rid of the left over snowflakes. "Gabrielle..." Xena spoke in a soft voice. "Where were you?"

Gabrielle spun around and looked into Xena's eyes. "No, where were you?!" she shoved her lightly. "I've been looking all over the place for you for two hours!" she growled and then saw Xena smiling. "What are you doing? Who else is here?" she asked suspiciously.

With no answer, Gabrielle pushed her aside and walked into the bedroom. There she found Dengizich sitting on the floor smoking out of that incessant water pipe that he obviously liked now. She waft the smoke out of her face and frowned. The Hun prince lifted his head and immediately set the hose down, blowing smoke out of his mouth.

" doing here, Dengi?" she asked and he shrugged his shoulders, remaining silent. That scent of the sweet smelling opium was so strong and she was sure that the place was going to smell of it for days. She spun around and saw Xena standing in the doorway of their room.

"Xena. Are you smoking this?" Gabrielle asked and the commander's eyes wandered, her smile no longer present. "You've got to be joking." She growled at Dengi and he stifled his laughter. "This is not funny!"

He shook his head. "No, no. Of course not, no." he lowered his eyes but still continued to smoke.

"Stop smoking that!" Gabrielle yelled and he coughed, trying to suppress the smoke he inhaled into his lungs. "Xena, can I have a word with you?" she turned and Xena smiled at her. "Dengi, get out of here."

He stood up and smiled over at Xena then left the room. Gabrielle folded her arms, glaring at the warrior whom was avoiding eye contact with her. She grabbed her arm and pushed Xena onto the bed. She then began pacing back and forth, not sure how to begin.

"This is not like you, Xena," she began. "I don't know why you decided to do this."

"Gabrielle..." Xena sighed.

"Xena, since when do you smoke opiates? And why did you tell me to leave earlier today? What did you do? What is going on with you?" she stopped and stared at the warrior.

Xena pursed her lips and her eyes looked to the floor. "I...wanted to be alone." She lied again.

"Alone? Alone with Dengi?" she asked in disbelief and Xena kept smiling. She rolled her eyes and her lip curled in disgust. "Xena, you of all people, don't like drugs. I don't understand why you did this and why did you lie to me?"

Lie. Did she say lie? Xena felt her stomach tighten and then Gabrielle continued talking. "If you wanted to be alone and away from me why didn't you just say so?" she asked and Xena let out a sigh of relief inwardly. Oh, that lie, Xena thought, not the other one.

"I...didn't want to hurt your feelings," she said and couldn't wipe the smile off her face.

"Can you stop smiling?" the blonde asked and Xena put her hand over her mouth, covering her grin that she couldn't seem to get rid of. "It wouldn't have hurt my feelings if you told me you wanted to be alone. But since you lied to me, you did hurt my feelings. And why are you smoking this crap?" she snarled at the water pipe on the floor. She was tempted to knock it over but that probably wouldn't end very well and probably set the place on fire. Better not.

Xena lay down on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. She felt like her head was swimming or that she was in constant motion even when at rest. "I...lied to you," she admitted. "I didn't want to be...alone..."

Gabrielle slapped her forehead. "Then what the hell are you doing?! Ignoring me? You know, Anastasia tried her dress on today and she wanted you to be there but I see you and Dengi just had a great time together."

"Anastasia..." Xena's voice soft and she rose off the bed, her eyes widening, trying to get a handle on things. She focused her vision on Gabrielle in front of her.

"Yeah. You remember her, right? Your daughter." Gabrielle folded her arms and Xena frowned, creasing her eyebrows together as she sat in silence. "Sorry, I'm just frustrated." She said and then turned to her friend, her lover, her consort, her partner. "Why am I apologizing to you?" she realized and Xena lifted her eyes. "You lied to me. You got extremely high. And now you're lying to me again!" she shoved the brunette's shoulder.

"I'm sorry..." Xena admitted softly and rubbed her shoulder. So sore. Everything on her body felt so sore and fragile right now. Her eyes lingered over to the water pipe and she cocked her head. Reaching over she grabbed the bag of opium that Dengi brought with him. She grabbed the small pods, rubbing it in between her fingers. The crushed flower in her hand brought a sweet smell filing the air.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Are you going to smoke more of that?" she asked bitterly.

"No..." Xena stood and smiled faintly. "We can use this, Gabrielle," she turned to her sour friend and then lowered her eyes. "We can put this in the Romans' food supply."

"So, let me get this straight. You want to get all of the Romans extremely high? What purpose would that serve?" she asked.

The commander gripped Gabrielle's arms, her pupils dilated and her cheeks flushed. "Gabrielle..." the smile on her lips grew, "we can kill Zeno with this."

"Xena. That's a crazy idea." The blonde adviser folded her arms, staring up at her partner's large glossy eyes.

"But it will work," Xena smiled from ear to ear. "Trust me."

"Xena, I'm not trusting you with anything. You're not acting like yourself." She said and saw the warrior's head dip. "Listen, when you're ready to talk to me, I'll be there to listen. But I'm going to go stay with Kreka." A decision she did not want to make as the two often sat in silence with one another when they were alone. But right now, she didn't want to be near Xena.

As Xena watched Gabrielle leave she couldn't help but feel upset at herself. She didn't want to tell Gabrielle what happened in that interrogation room and she definitely didn't want her to see what was happening in this bedroom either. But now, Gabrielle didn't trust her at the moment.

She sat down on the floor and leaned her back against the bed. She crushed the opiates in between her fingers, the powdered dusting the rug lightly. Poison the Roman food and water supply. She had never done that before, but it would be easy to do if they were in Troy. She needed to be as close to Constantinople as possible to carry this plan out. She knew Gabrielle wasn't going to agree with her but she hoped that tomorrow when she woke up, her idea didn't sound as crazy as she thought.

Dengi came back to the bedroom once he saw Gabrielle leave. He eyed Xena sitting on the floor beside the water pipe. "So...what happened?" he asked, trying to stop himself from smiling.

She lifted her head and frowned. Still feeling the effects of the opium she tried her best to sober herself up enough to ask him a question. "Dengi...where did you get this?" she held the bag of opiates in her hand.

"Don't you know? This place is loaded with poppy fields. No wonder these people never start wars with anyone. They're always in a good mood," he laughed and she raised an eyebrow. "So, are we going to smoke the rest of this or what?" he smirked.

Xena shook her head and stood. "Drugs are bad, Dengi."

He scoffed, "you just smoked this with me!"

"That is beside the point..." she rubbed her aching head. "I think I'll go to sleep..." suddenly feeling incredibly tired.

"So...can I take this back to my yurt or..." he said and looked over to see Xena asleep on the floor. He smirked and lifted her up in his arms and set her on the bed gently.

Anastasia brought Navaz to her bedroom and sat him down in a chair. She sat opposite him and he smiled warmly at her. Now that she finally had him alone she had the chance to talk to him about what she discussed with her mother. But now that she was sitting with him, she didn't know where to start.

"Navaz," she said and he leaned forward grabbing her hand. She tensed and then exhaled heavily. "I have something to tell you."

He frowned. He didn't like the sound of that. "Are you alright? Did something happen while I was gone? Is the baby –"

"No!" she said firmly and then smiled. "I'm fine, we're both fine. Navaz, just listen to me." She said and he arched an eyebrow, staring seriously at her. "I want to say thank you for welcoming my family into your home and thank you for caring so much about me."

A smile crossed his face. "You're my wife, Anastasia. I told you I would do anything for you."

Anything. Of course. "I want you to be my friend, not just my husband."

"Friend?" he frowned confusedly.

"Yeah. I want us to work together. Learn more about each other because you."

He nodded. "I like you too," he gripped her hand tighter.

She sighed and rubbed her temple. "I'm really bad at this." Must get this from my mother, she guessed. She gazed into his dark eyes and saw he was being very patient with her. Did she even deserve someone like this, she wondered? "What I'm trying to say is...I...I..."

He chuckled lightly. "I love you too," he said and her mouth gaped.

"You do?" she asked, miffed by his sudden outburst.

He grinned and kissed her hand. "Yes, I do. My mother told me to tell you."

She laughed. "My mother told me to tell you too!" she said and he kept staring at her. "Oh, right. I love you too." She smiled, her cheeks flushing lightly. He leaned in closer to her and kissed her on the lips gingerly. She wrapped her arms around his neck, smiling softly as their lips were locked.

"Gross!" Csaba walked in and Anastasia pulled away, seeing her son in the doorway. She blushed and wiped the corners of her mouth.

Navaz smirked and stood. "What is it Csaba?" he asked.

The teenage boy crinkled his nose at the two. He saw more than he needed to for sure. "Um, Gabrielle wants to talk to my mother."

Anastasia frowned and stood from her seat. "Why? At this hour?"

"It's about grandma," he said and her eyes narrowed. She turned to Navaz and he nudged his head to the doorway. She quickly left the room and Csaba eyed the king curiously. "You love my mother, don't you?" he asked.

The king nodded. "Yes..."

The boy eyed him and slowly backed away out of the room. "I'm watching you," he said then smiled and ran down the hallway.

Anastasia found Gabrielle in the middle of the foyer. "Gabrielle!" she called out and the blonde turned around. "What's going on?"

Gabrielle folded her arms. "I found your mother after searching for two hours!" she grumbled, still annoyed at that. "She was in the yurt smoking opium with Dengi."

Ana gasped. "My mother? Come on, Gabrielle."

"I'm serious. Both of them were high out of their minds. I don't know what possessed her to do that but this is the second time I've seen Dengi smoking that crap. Where is he getting it?"

She shook her head and still couldn't get over the idea of her mother smoking opiates, especially with Dengi. Navaz came to see what the trouble was and wrapped an arm around her waist, startling her a bit.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Gabrielle found my mother and Dengi smoking opium together. She said that Dengi's done this before."

The king frowned. "We have a lot of opium in the mountains. It's common for people to use the flower for many things."

Anastasia spun around with vehemence in her blue eyes. "You mean, you people smoke this?"

He nodded. "A lot of people in Balaam do."

"Do you?" Gabrielle asked him.

"Not anymore. It's highly addictive." He said and then his wife punched him in the chest. He groaned and glared at her. "What was that for?!" he griped as he rubbed the sore spot on his chest.

"When did you do this? How come I didn't know about this?!" she hissed.

He eyed her, now feeling a bit nervous. Gabrielle was also glaring at him. Too many women in this place, he realized. "A...few months ago..."

She gasped. "Navaz!" she hit him again and he winced. "Why would you do that!" she shoved him into the wall and Gabrielle's eyes widened and she took a step back. "We have a baby on the way! And you just –just!" she gasped when she felt a twinge of pain from her pelvis. She gripped his shoulder and cradled her abdomen.

He frowned worriedly and grabbed her arm. "Anastasia!" he held onto her tightly and she frowned, looking into his eyes.

She slapped his hand away from her. "Don't touch me!" she hissed then stood upright, placing a hand on her lower back, supporting her heavy body. She narrowed her eyes then walked off without saying another word.

Gabrielle folded her arms and walked up to the concerned king. "She'll be fine. So, tell me about this opium problem."

Early the next morning Gabrielle stood over Xena while she slept peacefully in their bed. Anastasia walked into the room and leered over her mother with a frown on her face. She then grabbed a pillow and smacked her mother's face.

"Get up!" she yelled. Xena groaned and her eyes fluttered open to see her daughter and consort standing over. "Smoking opium with Dengi." she said and Xena darted her eyes towards Gabrielle. "Don't look at her! I'm talking to you!" Anastasia yelled and Xena looked at her irate daughter.

Xena scoffed. "Who is the parent here? Not you." She rolled out of bed and held her throbbing head.

Anastasia gasped. "You don't get to lecture me! Mother what the hell were you thinking? What possessed you to do this?" she asked. "Sikme," she muttered.

Xena's eyes widened in shock and Gabrielle bit her bottom lip. She stood from the bed and spun around to her daughter. "Ne cüretle!" she yelled and Gabrielle's mouth gaped. She took a couple of steps backward as the two stood, glaring at each other with the same awful expression on their faces.

"Sen delisin! Neden bunu yaptın? sigara içen afyon!" Ana folded her arms and Xena's nostrils flared.

Gabrielle saw Xena about to blow up and she grabbed her arm, pulling her away. "Okay...that's enough you two..." she stared into Xena's eyes that were firmly planted on Anastasia. "She's right though, Xena. Why did you do that?" she asked.

"I had my reasons at the time..."

Ana rolled her eyes. "Saçmalık!"

"One more foul word out of your mouth, Anastasia and I will –"

"You'll what, mother?" the young queen raised her eyebrow. "Gabrielle arkasına saklanma," she smirked.

Gabrielle sighed heavily and really hated it when these two began arguing like this. Spewing out sentences in their own language. After all the years she spent with these people she never completely learned the language but she understood a few words here and there.

"I am not hiding behind Gabrielle," Xena folded her arms defiantly.

"Can you two stop! Both of you!" Gabrielle growled and both women kept glaring at one another. "I spoke with Navaz. There's opium all over the mountains. Xena, do you remember what you said about poisoning the Romans' food and water supply yesterday?"

Xena eyed her partner. "Of course I remember. I wasn't that out of it." She eyed her daughter rolling her eyes.

"He agreed to your plan." She said.

Anastasia groaned and threw her hands in the air. "Inanilmaz! Unbelievable!" she turned and stormed out of the yurt, wrapping her fur coat around herself. Xena frowned as her daughter left and Gabrielle quirked her mouth.

"She's going to make herself go into labor if she keeps this up," Gabrielle remarked.

Xena lowered her eyes and plopped down onto the bed, massaging her temples. "Why...did you tell her?"

Gabrielle folded her arms. "Excuse me?"

"Why did you tell Anastasia?" Xena groaned. "She doesn't need any more stress in her life."

"Because you're her mother, Xena! And you're being yourself. I can't believe you did this. What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing!" Xena stood and felt her headache grow stronger. She hissed and walked over to get some much needed water.

Gabrielle, growing more and more frustrated, she grabbed hold of the warrior's arm and spun her around. "Stop lying to me!" she yelled and Xena's mouth parted. "We're best friends, Xena. We tell each other everything. You're lying to me about something. Just tell me what it is."

Xena sighed and wrapped one arm around herself. "I killed that Magyar," she said.

"You...w –what?" the blonde's mouth gaped.

"I told you that he submitted to us but he didn't. I killed him." She felt relieved saying that aloud but now she saw the malice in Gabrielle's eyes. "I'm sorry."

"What are you sorry for? Lying to my face about it? Or sorry that you're telling me now? Or maybe you're sorry that you kept it to yourself and decided to do some drugs with Dengi to make yourself feel better. OR, are you sorry that you got caught?"

Xena felt more embarrassed now than she ever had in a very long time. "For everything. I'm sorry for everything."

"I can't believe you lied to me." Gabrielle wagged her head. "I'm not mad at you for killing the Magyar, I'm mad that you lied to me. You deliberately lied to me! And you've upset everyone else because of your actions. How could you do this to me?" she scoffed then walked off.

"Gabrielle!" Xena called out and it was too late, she was already gone. "Damn it."

Anastasia pushed the doors open of the Adame and stormed inside, picking up her dress. Navaz turned at the sight of her walking briskly down the foyer, covered in a light blanket of snow. "Ana..." he said and she walked by him, rounding the corner. "I'll be right back," he whispered to Zolten.

"Anastasia!" he yelled and she rounded another corner, ignoring him. "Hanim!" he said in a firmer tone yet she did not stop. "Anastasia! Stop!" he said and she finally halted. He ran up to her and grabbed her shoulder gently. "Finally..." he smiled and her upper lip quivered as she snarled. "Please, Anastasia, I'm very sorry. Will you forgive me? Please?"

"No." She turned and walked off. He groaned and ran in front of her. She gasped and tried to side step him but he blocked her way. "Navaz...get out of my way..." she warned in a calm voice.

He folded his arms. "I want to talk to you."

"And I want you to move. So, move." She said and he wouldn't budge from his spot. "Get out of my way!" she hissed and he creased his eyebrows. She inhaled deeply and leaned her hand on the wall. A sharp pain in her lower abdomen struck again, she shut her eyes and Navaz relaxed his stance, now worried about her. He touched her shoulder and she waft his hand away.

Tuya heard the two arguing and rounded a corner. She saw her son and his wife bent over, leaning against the wall. They were still going back and forth, arguing. She frowned and walked over to them both. "Navaz!"

The king straightened himself out and took a step back from his wife. "Mother..."

Tuya grabbed onto Anastasia's arm, aiding her. "Why are you two arguing?"

"Because, she won't listen to me!"

Ana spun around and cast him a malicious glare. "You are the one who isn't listening!" she spat and then cringed, gripping onto Tuya's arm as another wave of pain coursed through her body.

Navaz folded his arms and his mother frowned at him. He immediately looked away, avoiding her harsh glare. "You shouldn't being arguing with your wife. Not when the baby is due in less than a month." She said and he groaned under his breath.

"Well, it's not my fault," he retorted.

"Khushnavaz!" his mother yelled and he tensed at her loud voice. "Enough." She said and he scoffed then marched down the hallway, leaving his wife in the hands of his mother.

He stormed into his office inside of his quarters and slammed the door. "We need to have words," Xena sat at his desk. He gasped.

"Holy shit, Xena." He breathed heavily. "What are you doing in here? How did you get in?" he eyed all the doors and windows closed.

"Your guards aren't very good at their jobs," she smiled and stood, walking around to the front of the desk. "Plus, I can go wherever I want in this place." She smirked. "Now, about this opium."

He shook his head. "I'm not talking about this right now." He took off his cloak and threw it on a nearby chair.

"But we have to!"

"No, we don't. I just had a huge argument with Anastasia last night and right now." He sat down and ran his fingers through his short dark hair.

She frowned and folded her arms. "You had a fight?" she asked and he nodded. "Where is she now?"

"With my mother," he ran his hands across his face. "I shouldn't have yelled at her."

Xena's eyes enlarged. "You yelled at her?"

He regrettably looked into her furious eyes. "It's my fault." He admitted and Xena raised an eyebrow. "She won't talk to me! I apologized already! I said I was sorry so many times but she keeps ignoring me. I don't want to upset her anymore than I already have and she started having those pains again and I just –"

"What did you do?!" she grabbed his collar and he pulled his face away from her.

"I...I told her that I used to smoke opium but stopped two months ago."

"You what?!" she pushed him in the chair and he fell backward on his back.

He growled and rose to his elbows. "May I remind you that I am still a king, Xena."

She smiled. "I don't care if you are a king, Navaz. I told the same thing to Attila and I'm still alive, aren't I?" she stomped her boot on his chest. "Why would you lie to my daughter? Don't make me lose my faith and trust in you, Navaz."

"You smoked opium last night," he reminded her.

"That exception, but you apparently did this on the daily." She pressed her heel into his chest and he groaned. "You aren't going to keep smoking that shit around my grandchild are you?"

"No..." he croaked and grabbed her boot. "Get off me!" he demanded and she took her foot off his chest.

"Listen, Navaz. I know this is your first child and I'm going to say what I told Csaba's father a long time ago: this isn't about you anymore. You don't understand that now but you will." She said and he lowered his eyes, feeling embarrassed and ashamed of himself.

She grabbed his hand to aid him to his feet. He rubbed his chest and figured that he was going to have a bruise there. Two women always harming him. Why the chest, though? "What should I do?" he asked in a soft voice.

"Go talk to her. Apologize." She said and then realized she needed to find Gabrielle and talk to her as well.

Navaz nodded. "Alright..."

"Navaz," she called and he turned around. "Where are the poppy fields?"

Emperor Zeno read over the declaration sent by the Persian brothers. His governor, Anastasius stood in front of him waiting for his response. "The Huns took the money, right?" he asked and the governor nodded. "Good. We don't have to worry about Navaz invading Persian territory for awhile."

Anastasius fidgeted with his thumbs behind his back. "What of Xena? Are you not worried she will do something sir?" he asked.

The emperor grinned. "Ah, Xena. She always keeps me on my toes as she does with everyone else. I admire her spirit. It seems she is like a ghost that has come back from the dead! And Gabrielle, my beloved Consul has betrayed me. I knew she was friends with the Huns, but I thought she would have forgotten about them now."

Anastasius averted his eyes elsewhere. "Sir," he began and Zeno lifted his chin. "Your Consul is like family to those Pannonian Huns. You must have not read her file thoroughly."

Zeno frowned. "Are you undermining my authority, Anastasius?"

"No, emperor!"

"I thought so. I am not incompetent like my predecessor, Theodosius. I will wipe those Huns off the face of the earth! Have Odoacer's men arrived in Constantinople yet? He is taking too long to respond. This is a very important war."

The governor cleared his throat. "The Western Romans are on their way by ship as we speak. According to my calculations, they should be here within the week. Will that be enough time to train them for the war?" he asked. He hoped that Xena and Gabrielle would hurry and overthrow this bastard, but he had nothing. He needed to write to Anastasia, but he was now at the beck and call of Zeno recently.

"Romans are fine warriors, governor. I will have plenty of time to train them. Get me information on the Bulgur Huns. I wish to speak with Basil, the new Bey of Pannonia."

Anastasius bowed his head. "Right away, sir."

Zeno's adviser stepped forward. "Sir, have you not heard the news?" he said and Anastasius paused as he was about to leave.

The emperor frowned. "What are you talking about, Selan?"

"Basil is dead. The youngest of Attila's sons now has Pannonia in his grasp. Xena was spotted in Pannonia not too long ago. She seized the territory." Selan said.

Zeno growled and threw his chalice of wine. "Son of a bitch!" he roared. "I want all of my men to raid Pannonia! Immediately!"

Anastasius' face paled. He needed to warn Xena and the others and quickly. "Yes, of course, your majesty." He nodded then marched out of the room.

"Hun swine," Zeno muttered. "Get more wine!" he yelled at his servants.

Xena stood in the middle of the poppy field and saw Gabrielle coming towards her. The knots in her stomach tightened and she couldn't bear to look at her. Not now. It was too embarrassing so she averted her gaze to the huge poppy field in front of her.

Gabrielle came up beside Xena and folded her arms, shivering slightly. "Hey."

"Hey," Xena said curtly.


"Gabrielle, I...I'm sorry I lied to you. I didn't want you to be upset with me but I guess you already are anyway."

The blonde half smiled. "I would have forgiven you, Xena, but you lied. We never lie to each other. We're supposed to work together and you worked against me."

"I know. I made a mistake." Xena turned to her lover with glossy eyes. "Please, forgive me?"

Gabrielle smiled and leaned against her warrior's arm. "I love you too much to stay mad at you." She said then punched her arm. "But don't ever lie to me again!"

Xena chuckled. "Deal." She sighed and overlooked the bright colored field of poppy flowers.

"Xena..." Gabrielle cocked her head to the side. "Why did you smoke opium?"

Xena sighed. "I was having a moment."

"Is that what you're calling it?" the blonde joked.

"I won't do it again. Promise." The warrior smiled. She wrapped her arm around Gabrielle. "So, these poppy fields. You think my plan is a good one?"

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "I don't know Xena. You were pretty out of your mind. But Navaz agreed to it so I guess you can do it. Are we really going to poison the Romans' food and water supply?" she felt like this was such a bad idea.

"This is new territory for me. I've never done this before."

"You mean we've never done this before," Gabrielle corrected. Xena smiles shyly. "Can we go back now? It's freezing out here."

Xena nodded then both walked back towards the city encampment. "Navaz and Anastasia had a fight."

The blonde sighed. "I know, I was there yesterday. She was furious."

"No, they had another one earlier."

"Another one?" Gabrielle frowned. "Those two really need to get it together."

"I know. I told Navaz to go talk to her. She doesn't like being told what to do."

"Just like you," Gabrielle nudged her arm teasingly.

"Ha-ha...very funny, Gabrielle," the warrior chuckled and hooked arms with her consort, walking through the snow.

Gabrielle clung close to her. "It was a compliment." She said. "The senlik is only days away. You know what that means..." she wriggled her eyebrows and Xena groaned. "Can I pick out your dress? Please?"


"Xena! Come on! No black dresses this time! I think you would gorgeous in a blue dress."




"I know, red! You would look amazing in red!" the blonde grinned. "Red it is!"


Navaz walked into the queen's quarters and saw his wife in bed. His mother was sitting by her side, tending to her which was an odd sight to see. Anastasia looked over Tuya's shoulder and saw him. She frowned at his presence and lowered her head. Tuya turned and saw her son and she too frowned.

"What are you doing in here?" his mother rose from the bed.

"I want to talk to my wife," he said, firmly staring into his mother's brown eyes. "Mother..." he frowned.

Tuya lifted her eyebrow and left Ana's side. She brushed by her son and the left the two to talk. He smiled softly and approached the bed, sitting down cautiously. His wife folded her arms and turned her cheek. "Anastasia..." he reached for her arm and she scooted away. "How many times do I have to apologize?"

"You lied to me."

He sighed and scooted closer to her on the bed. Now she had nowhere to run unless she was going to leave, which was unlikely. "I'm sorry. I should have told you and I realize that now. Please, I'm truly very sorry." He ran his hand along her thigh and she exhaled deeply.

"I love you, you know that," he reminded her and she turned to look into his dark eyes. He let a small smile slip. "Also, I'm sorry I yelled at you. I shouldn't have done that. Your mother already gave me...a lecture."

She frowned. "My mother?"

He nodded. "Long story. Anastasia, please, forgive me." He begged. She smiled softly. "I don't want to upset you."

"Just promise to tell me everything from now on." She pointed her finger in his face.

"I will." He leaned over and kissed her forehead. "So, the baby is alright?" he asked and placed his hand on her belly.

She sighed and nodded. "Yes but your mother advised me..." she said bitterly, "to stay in bed for awhile." That woman, she didn't really like her all that much but at least she was trying. Navaz leaned back and his hand roamed across her swollen abdomen, completely ignoring her. "Navaz? Did you hear what I said?"

"What?" he turned to her.

She smirked. "You didn't hear anything I said, did you?"

He smiled. "Sorry. What did you say?"

"Never mind." She said and saw he was ignoring her again. She nudged his arm and he lifted his head. "Entertaining yourself?" she teased and his cheeks flushed.

"Does it bother you?" he asked and she shook her head. "I just realized that is my baby in there," he said, eyes his fixated on her belly, waiting for something to happen.

She gave him an odd look. "Whose else would it be?" she jested.

"You know what I mean."

Xena walked into the bedroom and creased her eyebrows. "Hands off my daughter, pretty boy," she said and he immediately took his hand off of his wife. She smirked and walked forward towards the bed. "You better take one last look at your wife, Navaz, because you won't see her for three days."

He frowned. "Three days? Why?"

"Senlik tradition," she said and Anastasia rolled her eyes. "So, this is your last night together until your three days are up. So if you have any urges I suggest you –"

"Mother!" Ana's cheeks reddened.

"What?" Xena smirked and eyed the mortified king. He was so embarrassed. "You know the rules, Anastasia."

"Can you please leave?" she asked and Xena winked at her, sauntering off. Navaz sat next to her with his eyes wide and keeping his hands to himself. "She was just joking..."

"No, I wasn't!" Xena called out and turned on her heel. "Good night..." she chuckled and closed the doors.

"So..." Ana smiled and grabbed his hand stiff hand. "Where were we?" He got off the bed and she frowned. "Navaz!"

He nervously eyed her and then the door. "I don't really feel comfortable with your mother suggesting I have sex with you."

Anastasia groaned and leaned forward, grabbing his arm. "Just ignore her. We don't have to do that. We can just sit here." She suggested. "You don't want sit with me?"

"Yes, I do!"

She pat the spot next to her. "Then sit with me," she smiled and he relaxed, slowly descending onto the bed once more. "You know, I had opiates once," she said, breaking the silence between them.

"You have?" he eyed her curiously.

She nodded. "On my fourteenth birthday. Some of my mother's stupid soldiers convinced me to do it. instant regret the next morning. I never did that again." She sighed. "Then my mother sent me to school in Greece."

"You lived in Greece?" he asked, now more curious about her past life.

She smiled, now realizing they didn't really know anything about each other. "Yes, for awhile. I came back pregnant and my mother was not exactly very happy."

Navaz smiled. "I can only imagine."

"I thought she was going to kill me. And then I thought she was going to kill Ellac, but to my surprise, she didn't do either," she jested.

"Tell me about Greece," he said and her eyes lit up thinking about that place. She liked it there but it was all so new to her. And she had spent her time there with her uncle, her mother's brother. She missed him a lot.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

Four Days Earlier

Ernak sat inside his father's home. His home. He missed Pannonia a lot but now he was here with the White Huns and Bulgur Huns. He was the only person here that actually grew up here and had inherited this land from his father and grandfather before him. He hadn't received word from Xena, Gabrielle or Navaz to return to Balaam. He figured that Xena wanted him to stay here until further notice, which he didn't mind.

He used Navaz's army to guard the perimeters of Pannonia and of course he made all of the Bulgur Huns submit to him under the Caucasus kingdom's reign. Now that Basil was gone, the Bulgur Huns had no one to turn to except him and Navaz, their new king. He began to wonder if Pannonia would ever be the same again and would he and his family move back? Would Anastasia, Xena and Gabrielle stay in Armenia forever? He didn't know, but for now, he was given orders to stay here and that's what he planned to do.

"Your highness!" a White Hun soldier ran inside the Adame and Ernak jumped off his father's old throne.

"What's wrong?" he asked, seeing the soldier panting heavily and covered in snow and mud.

"Zeno...his army is approaching Pannonia. They are near the Black Sea coming towards us. They should be here within two days." The soldier said and Ernak frowned at that.

The Pannonian king walked outside and saw Navaz's army huddled in several groups. "Son of a bitch, Xena," he muttered. He turned to the soldier, "gather up everyone and barricade the territory. No Roman comes in here, you got that?" he said and the man nodded. "Kill anyone that comes within fifty yards of Pannonia." He ordered.

Loud horns sounded throughout the entire camp and Ernak whipped his head around. "What now!?" he growled and marched forward to see people riding into the camp through the gates. He took a good look at the riders and smiled. Friends.

"Atlyn Huns!" he shouted and ran towards the gates. There he saw Xena's younger brothers on horseback and both brunettes smiled at him. "What are you guys doing here?"

Pirro shrugged his shoulder, "word got around that my sister seized Pannonia. We came to see for ourselves." He said and his brother, Ditron nodded in agreement. "Is she here?"

Ernak sighed. "Unfortunately she's not. She's back in Balaam. She left me in charge of Pannonia."

"An order that is well deserved!" Ditron commented.

"Except, Zeno's men are marching towards us right now. I have to barricade Pannonia's perimeters."

"We can help with that. We brought the entire army," Pirro said and Ernak's eyes lit up. "Tell us where you want us, Ernak." He said with a big grin and Ditron smiled along with his brother.

Anastasia sat in a chair while her hair was being done by Kreka and Tuya. She felt like she was a dress-up doll at the moment and heard the two women arguing over how to style her hair. She allowed them to help and ignored their snide comments to each other.

Csaba stood in front of the full length mirror, trying to button his black vest. He groaned and walked over to his mother. "Can you do this for me?" he asked.

She smiled and pulled him closer to her as her hair was being pulled back with a tight comb. She winced and then buttoned her son's collar. "You look very handsome," she pat his cheek and he grinned. He sat down beside her in a chair and listened to Kreka and Tuya arguing with each other. Anastasia frowned and felt her hair being tugged by the wide tooth comb.

"Where is my mother?" she asked.

Kreka began braiding a section of Anastasia's hair. "She's getting ready with Gabrielle. You know how she is with dresses." She said and Ana nodded. "Stay still!" she hissed.

Tuya hovered over Anastasia, holding a black sparkling veil in one hand and a burgundy one in the other. "Which one?" she asked her daughter in law.

Anastasia looked at the two veils and eyed her mother in law suspiciously. "The black one..." she said and Tuya smiled softly. As she sat patiently while her hair was being style she felt someone prodding her stomach and frowned.

She turned to her son, whom was poking her stomach and she raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing?" she asked with a curious smile.

Csaba lifted his eyes and had a sheepish grin on his face. "Nothing..." he said and she leaned down closer to him.

"I don't think your brother or sister would like being poked, do you?" she teased.

His eyes widened. "No..." he stopped prodding his mother. "I'm just really excited," he beamed and she ruffled his hair. "I hope it's a girl."

Kreka grinned. "I hoped you were a girl but that didn't work out very well."

Csaba frowned and shot the khatun a glare. "Anyway, I really want a sister." He eyed his mother.

"We'll see," she winked and then cringed. "Kreka!" she felt her hair being pulled back extremely tight on her scalp.

Xena and Gabrielle walked into the bedroom and Anastasia's gasped. Gabrielle smiled smugly and pushed Xena forward. "Mother!" she beamed with a huge grin on her face. "I love your dress," she tried to get up but Kreka pushed her back down.

"Tatli kiz!" Kreka groaned. "I am not finished with you!"

Xena folded her arms, brooding about wearing this dress that Gabrielle picked for her. She decided to go with the dark red dress that hung off her shoulders and had a long train. "Gabrielle picked it out," she grumbled.

Anastasia stifled a laugh at her mother's obstinacy. "Well, it looks really nice on you."

"Thank you!" Gabrielle said proudly and nudged Xena's arm. She walked over to the Hun queen. "Wow, your hair looks great, Anastasia."

"It better look fantastic. I've been spent two hours on this!" Kreka groaned and Ana frowned. "Do you want me to do your hair next, Xena?" she teased and the commander glared at her.

"I already did my hair..." Xena snarled. She ran her hand across her hair that was pulled back into a large bun on the top of her head. Kreka winked at her and then stuck a pin in Ana's hair, finishing the braid finally.

Anastasia turned to her son. "Why don't you go wait in the ballroom with Dengi and Navaz?" she whispered.

He hopped out of the chair. "Okay," he walked by his grandmother and Gabrielle with a smug smile. "Nice dress, grandma," he teased. Xena groaned loudly at her grandson's remark.

She decided to ignore that and pay attention to her daughter. Also, she was ignoring Gabrielle's stare as well. She didn't want to be the center of attention and Gabrielle had that smug on her face, which was incredibly annoying.

"I'm only wearing this for you," she said to her daughter.

Anastasia smiled. "That's what you said last time. That might have been the last time I saw you in a dress now that I think about it."

"And I'm not wearing another one after this." She said and Gabrielle wrapped her arm around Xena's neck.

"Unless someone else has a baby!" Gabrielle said and Xena rolled her eyes. "Or someone gets married."

"Not me," Ana said.

"Get off me," Xena hissed and Gabrielle quickly unwrapped her arms from her partner's neck and came to sit beside her. "Well, you look beautiful, as always."

Anastasia grinned. "Thanks but you always say that. You have to say it, you're my mother."

"She doesn't have to say it," Kreka interrupted.

"Shut up," Xena said and the khatun frowned. She turned back to her daughter. "Are you nervous this time? You were last time."

The queen sighed. "Not really. I don't even know these people very well. They're not my people."

"Maybe you could walk around and talk to a few people?" her mother suggested.

Csaba ran over to his uncle and stepfather. Dengi smiled and ruffled the boy's hair. "So, are the ladies finished getting ready or what?" he asked.

"Almost. Kreka Khatun is working on mother's hair," Csaba said and looked around at all the people. "Wow so many people!" he grinned at everyone and the women smiled at him from afar.

"Those women take so long to get ready, I swear to God," Dengi groaned and Navaz smiled. "But the moment there is a battle, they will get out of bed in the dead of night! No questions asked! Pretty strange, eh?" he nudged the king's arm.

"I expect nothing less from the women of Pannonia," Navaz commented. "Dengi, you've been to these...senliks before. What am I supposed to do?" he whispered.

The Hun prince laughed and slapped the king on the shoulder lightly. "Nothing. Just sit there and observe. This party is for Anastasia and the baby, not you. You just get to sit next to her all night while people tell you how beautiful your wife is. Which she is," he eyed the king.

"Of course," the king grinned. "Very beautiful."

"Whatever you do, don't look at Xena," Dengi whispered.


"She's probably wearing a dress and she hates wearing them. So, word of advice, say nothing, do nothing. Don't compliment her."

Navaz scoffed, finding that ridiculous. "I'm sure Xena looks fine."

Dengi sighed. "Well, just between you and me, Navaz, she looks amazing in dresses, but for the love of God, do not say anything to her!" he hissed.

"They're here!" Csaba said.

Anastasia hooked arms with her mother and then looked to Tuya on her right. She lend her arm out for her and the queen mother smiled meekly and hooked arms with her as well. Xena raised her eyebrow and they walked together through the sea of people, gawking at the three of them.

"You're being awfully nice, Tuya," Xena said through a tight smile as she looked at everyone.

"Mother, please." Ana whispered.

"Isn't that the idea?" Tuya responded and smiled at the women that she had known for years. She thought it must be extremely awkward for Anastasia and Xena to have this party and not know anyone. Also, nobody had senliks here so nobody knew what to do.

They walked up to the front of the room and Anastasia smiled at Navaz and his face was blank as he kept gazing at her. Xena and Tuya handed her off and he grabbed her hand. She kept the smile on her face and stood beside him.

"You look stunning," he whispered.

"Thank you but you need to say hello to my mother," she whispered in his ear and his face immediately paled. She let go of his hand and he nervously looked at Xena, wearing a dark red dress that accentuated her figure very nicely and showed off her square shoulders.

Xena smirked seeing the fear in the king's eyes. How she had missed that fear. It was the same look Ellac had. She wondered if this was going to be some kind of pattern with these men? "Navaz," she said and extended her hand.

Anastasia nudged him in the ribs and he took Xena's hand, kissing her knuckles. Their eyes never left each other and Xena's smile widened. That fear. So exhilarating. "Xena you look..." he began and saw her smile fading. "Very lovely." He grinned and she snatched her hand away then walked over to stand beside her daughter.

He breathed in deeply and smiled, happy to see his mother and now that greeting Xena was over with he could relax. He kissed his mother's cheeks and she came to stand beside him. Anastasia grinned and sat down while he kept standing.

"Navaz, sit," she whispered and he sat down next to her. He heard her chuckle under her breath and then regrettably looked up at Xena. She was glaring down at him. He immediately averted his eyes to the crowd of people in the ballroom.

"So, what do we do now?" he whispered to his wife.

"We sit here. For the entire damn evening," Ana grumbled. "So boring."

Gabrielle waltzed up to Xena with her hands behind her back. She was feeling very adventurous now and she saw Xena was already drinking wine so early in the evening. Everyone in the ballroom was talking to one another. She peered over and saw Anastasia was already bored and Navaz was amused by this party as they weren't very common in Armenia.

"So..." she hooked arms with Xena. "Are you going to dance with me or what?"


"Awh, come on Xena! I convinced you to wear the dress, the least you could do is dance with me at least once."

Xena frowned and lowered her glass of wine. "Remember what I said after Anastasia's first senlik?" she asked and the blonde raised an eyebrow. "I said I was never going to dance again! I meant that."

"Xena, don't be ridiculous." Gabrielle smiled and nudged her ribs. "Come on. You look gorgeous and I want to dance with you."

"Forget it."





Both of the women glared at one another and Dengi grabbed Xena's arm. "I'll dance with you, Xena," he winked with a charming smile.

"Take your hand off me!" she snarled and he pulled her onto the floor. "Dengizich!"

Anastasia smiled when she saw her mother with Dengi on the dance floor, scowling at him as he held her hand, twirling her around. She tapped her husband's arm. "Look," she pointed at the two. "My mother hates dancing."

Navaz grinned. "But why? She seems to be good at it."

"I think it embarrasses her. The mighty commander of the Huns is embarrassed to dance. Imagine that, right?" she chuckled lightly and he nodded.

Tuya walked over to her son and wife. The look of distain crossed Anastasia's face as soon as she saw her mother in-law. Tuya smiled faintly at her. "Anastasia, I have a special gift for you." She said and the young queen arched an eyebrow. "I'm afraid I can't physically bring it to you. Kreka told me that you aren't allowed to open anything until after the senlik so, I'll tell you what it is."

Navaz eyed his mother cautiously and Anastasia looked over to him briefly. "What is it?" she asked.

"I converted one of the sitting rooms into a room for the baby. It's right by your room."

Anastasia's eyes grew by her mother in-law's gift. "You really did that for me?" she asked skeptically.

"Yes and I even asked your mother to look at it for me," she said, hoping that Anastasia would approve.

The blue eyed queen smiled from ear to ear. "Wow, I don't know what to say." She said and then looked over at Navaz with her smile that didn't seem to leave her face. "I want to see it." she got off the throne and Tuya held her hand to assist her.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Navaz asked and Ana shook her head.

"I'll be fine." She said and he gave her a curt nod. She went off with Tuya to the back of the Adame. He sat in his throne, sighing heavily, watching everyone dancing and drinking. She was right, he thought, this is incredibly boring.

Gabrielle took the opportunity to grab Xena's hand and force her to join the circle of people dancing. Times like this were extremely rare and the last time she was able to dance with Xena was at Anastasia's last senlik and that felt like a lifetime ago. Dengi held Xena's hand while Gabrielle held her other hand.

"I know the steps this time," Gabrielle snickered and Xena groaned, not happy about being in this circle of people.

Dengi chuckled as the circle moved and Xena was being pushed by him as she was squished in between him and Gabrielle. "Come on, Xena, I know you know the steps to this dance." He teased.

"Of course I know the steps I just don't want to do it!" she griped.

"Xena, stop being such a grumpy old lady and just dance," Gabrielle laughed and the warrior snarled down at her.

"I am not an old lady!" Xena hissed.

"Prove it!" Dengi said and she grunted. "Come on grandma," he teased and she whipped her head around, glaring into his dark eyes. He pushed her to the side and she pursed her lips, already annoyed with the both of them.

Twenty Years Ago

Xena walked into the Adame holding her seven year old daughter's hand. She made it a point to make Anastasia dress like a boy and so she wore the same thing as all the other boys in Pannonia, including Ellac. The ballroom was filled with people gathered for Attila's wife's second senlik.

Her eyes roamed the room and saw Attila sitting on his throne with Kreka sitting next to him. Dengizich sat on his mother's lap playing with her long stick straight black hair. The three year old was more enthralled with his mother's hair to care about the numerous amount of people here.

Anastasia tugged on her mother's pants and Xena peered down at her. "Mother, do we have to stay a long time?" she asked.

Xena smiled. "Just for a little while, okay? Don't you want to say hello to Kreka first?"

Ana quirked her mouth, unsure. "I donno."

"I think she would really like it if you would," she said and her daughter let out a hefty sigh. "I'll come with you." She grabbed her daughter's hand and walked over to the monarchs in the back of the ballroom.

Kreka caught eye of Xena and her daughter coming forward. She raised an eyebrow at what Anastasia was wearing. The child looked like a little boy, dressed in black robes and a turban to match, like all the other boys here. Attila smiled at his commander. The toddler on Kreka's lap slid off her and sat on the floor, playing with his wooden toy that Ellac made for him.

Xena halted and stared at the heavily pregnant Hun queen. Kreka tapped her fingers on the armrest and Xena's eyes wandered around, smiling forcefully. "Kreka."

"Xena." The queen said and eyed her outfit. "Not wearing a dress, I see. Again."

"You know I'm not one for dresses, Kreka," Xena smirked.

"And neither is...Annas," she eyed the little girl clinging to Xena's leg.

Xena chose to ignore that snide comment by Attila's wife and pushed her daughter forward. "Go ahead," she whispered and Anastasia lifted her big blue worried eyes. "She's not going to bite you," she chuckled.

Anastasia breathed in heavily and walked up to the queen sitting on her throne. She saw Kreka's frown apparent on her face which probably meant that she was not happy to see her. She dug into her pant pocket and pulled out a small gift. Lifting her palms as high as she could she stared into the queen's almond shaped hazel eyes.

"I..." Ana began and turned back to her mother. Xena smiled and nodded, giving her the go-ahead. Turning back to the stoic queen she smiled softly. "I got this for the baby," she said and Kreka took the small gift and examined the box.

"Thank you," Kreka said and finally she faintly smiled. Anastasia's smile widened.

Attila rose from his throne and approached Xena. "You should wear a dress some time, Xena. You look nice in them," he whispered in her ear.

Xena scoffed. "You'd like that wouldn't you?"

"Maybe when your daughter," he whispered, "has a senlik of her own you will change your mind." He grinned.

"That'll be the day," she smirked and folded her arms.

"Annas!" Ellac came running towards Xena's daughter and crashed into her. They fell on the floor. Kreka frowned and rubbed her forehead at those two. She began fanning herself from the immense summer heat and the amount of people in the Adame was not helping.

"Ellac!" Anastasia grinned and fixed the turban on her head. "Where have you been all day?" she bit her bottom lip and tucked her tendrils inside the turban, concealing her long hair. Xena smiled softly and Attila folded his arms.

He shrugged his shoulders. "I was helping my..." he eyed Kreka, "stepmother." He grumbled and then grabbed Ana's hand. "Come on, I gotta show you my new horse!" he took off running with her through the sea of people.

Attila chuckled at those two and turned back to his commander. "Are you going to dance with me or what?" he lend out his hand.

Xena eyed the king's wife and saw she was preoccupied with her son, Dengizich. "I don't dance, Attila."

"Stop being an old lady and dance with me, Xena."

She gasped. "I am not an old lady."

"Prove it," he winked and grabbed her hand, leading her to the dance floor.

Xena was pushed into the middle of the circle and Dengi grabbed her hand, lifting both their hands high into the air. They began circling around one another and he smiled charmingly at her. She rolled her eyes and they switched hands, circling the other way. She turned and saw Gabrielle dancing with Csaba a few paces away from her and Dengi. A smile crept up on her and she was forced to switch hands again.

"See, you know how to dance, Xena. You just don't want to," the Hun prince teased.

"You're just like your father, you know that?" she said and he chuckled lightly.

They switched partners and she held Gabrielle's hand in the air as they walked around in a small circle. Gabrielle smirked. "Finally, I get you to dance with me! Only took you, what? Eleven years?"

"And it'll be another eleven years for our next dance," Xena winked.

"I hope not."

They switched partners again and Xena was paired with her tall grandson. He grinned up at her. "So, my birthday is in a few days. What did you get me?" he hinted as they circled each other then switched hands.

"As if I'd tell you, Csaba." Xena smiled and switched hands with him once more, following everyone else around them.

"Do you know what Navaz got me? Mother won't tell me."

Xena rolled her eyes. "That's because she doesn't know either!"

"I hope it's a bow or a sword!" he grinned and then switched partners. Now, Xena was stuck with Dengi again and he lifted an eyebrow at her.

"Commander!" Zolten called out from outside the circle of people. Xena spun around and stopped dancing with Dengizich. She pushed through the crowd of people and he had a slew of men behind him with weapons in hand.

Frowning she eyed Zolten with a letter in his hand. "What happened?"

He gave the letter to her. "Pannonia is being surrounded by Emperor Zeno's men. Ernak sent this and said the Atlyn Huns are aiding them."

She grumbled and tapped her fingertips on the parchment. Gabrielle panted and grabbed hold of her arm. "What's the matter? What's going on?" she asked.

"Pannonia is being attacked. I knew we should have left for Troy two weeks ago." Xena shook her head. "I will tell Navaz. We are leaving immediately."

"Immediately?!" Gabrielle griped. "Xena, are you sure you want to do this right now?"

"Yes! I can't let those bastards win again! I want to eradicate Zeno and his army. We will overthrow him and put Anastasius on the throne. This coup will work if we go to Troy first. You still think my idea about the opium is ridiculous?"

Zolten got Navaz and Anastasia to come to the conference room in the middle of the party. Xena breathed in heavily as she stared at her nervous daughter and confused husband. "Navaz, Pannonia is being attacked. We need to start this coup and ride to Troy."

Ana gasped. "Ernak is there! You're going to leave him by himself?!"

Gabrielle shook her head. "The Atlyn Huns came to help. We need to go to Troy immediately."

Navaz nodded. "Alright, we can leave by tonight."

"Tonight?!" Ana growled and folded her arms. "You will all be gone for weeks." Her eyes swelled with tears. "Mother, you promised you would be here when the baby arrives."

Xena smiled sadly. "And I will. I don't break my promises. I'll be there for you, don't worry." She rubbed her daughter's arm and Ana sobbed softly. "Sorry to ruin your party with this news." She sighed.

Kreka walked into the room and placed her hands on her hips. "There you are!" she grimaced at Navaz and Anastasia. "Everyone is wondering where you two went." She said and then saw Ana whimpering softly. "What happened?" she lowered her defense.

Xena turned to the khatun. "We have to leave for Troy tonight to go ahead with the coup. Pannonia is being attacked by Zeno. We need to put a stop to him before he comes to Balaam next."

"Oh," Kreka walked over to the gaggle and stared at Anastasia warmly. "I will be here with you, Anastasia." She wiped the tears from the young queen's cheeks. "Tatli kiz," she smiled and kissed her forehead.

"We'll be back before you know it!" Gabrielle said with a big grin and Ana nodded, wrapping her arms around herself. "Right Xena?"

"Right." Xena smiled weakly, not too sure about that. Troy was far from Balaam and it would take a week to travel there at most. Who knows how long it would take for this coup to overthrow Zeno. She didn't want to disappoint her daughter but at the same time she couldn't let Zeno win and invade Armenia just like he did with Pannonia. She wouldn't allow another massacre to happen again under her watch.

Xena stood outside watching the army prepare to leave for their long journey to Troy. She hoped that it wouldn't take ages to reach the city, but she also knew they couldn't go right through Constantinople to get there. It would be too dangerous. They would have to go around the big cities to get to Troy without anyone noticing. She knew that Zeno's men were in Pannonia and that meant he probably used two or three legions to invade the Hun land. His other legion would be stationed in his grasp, close to him, the borders unguarded.

Gabrielle walked up to the commander, sheathing her sword by her hip. "I think we have all the bags of opium on the caravan now." She said and Xena gave her a curt nod. "Are you sure that this plan of yours is going to work?"

"Don't my plans always work, Gabrielle?" Xena said.

The adviser sighed deeply and crossed her arms, her icy breath escaping her lips. "It seems like a crazy idea, I have to admit. I don't know if we're going to make it back here on time for Anastasia." She said and saw Xena frown sadly.

"I know," the warrior said softly. "But this is important. It will be worse if Zeno comes to Balaam if Ernak doesn't defeat the legions in Pannonia. I'd rather keep Romans out of Armenia than standby and do nothing. Besides, she has Kreka there with her. I know she will be safe."

Gabrielle nodded. "Maybe we could send Navaz back to Balaam if we can't make it on time. I don't think this is going to be a clean easy sweep, Xena. Not this time. Zeno is no Theodosius and Odoacer is no Valentinian. This a whole new ball game of Romans."

"I'm not going to let them win this time, Gabrielle. I can't." Xena stormed off to her horse and Gabrielle followed her. She mounted her horse and Gabrielle hopped on hers as well.

Xena steered her horse towards the front of the army getting ready to ride through the gates of Balaam. "When I see Zeno face to face..." her upper lip quivered, "he's mine." She snarled then trotted off, wrapping a scarf around the lower half of her face.

Gabrielle squinted her eyes like daggers as she watched Xena ride to the front of the army, commanding, ordering –doing her job –a job that she would always do until the day she died. Died for eternity. She too, wanted Zeno gone, but she hoped that Xena would remember to keep her conscious clear and void of rage. Zeno left the infamous commander for dead and now Xena wanted to do the same. Gabrielle tried to fight Xena on the vengeance against the Roman Emperor, but she couldn't. how could she when she too felt the same feelings as Xena did? She wanted Zeno dead as much as her partner did.

But the question was –where do we go from here? What happens after Xena kills the emperor and Anastasius is put on the throne? What will become of Pannonia? What of the Persians? Gabrielle wished she knew the answers to these questions but she didn't. War could be unpredictable sometimes and the outcome of war and conquest was not always great. She hoped this outcome would be great.

Navaz clasped his cloak around his neck and glanced over at his wife standing in front of the Adame. He smiled and left his steed to go say goodbye to her. He cupped her cheeks and smiled down at her. He stared into her icy blue eyes.

"I'll come back for you," he said and she nodded, her eyes filling with tears once more. "Güzel hanim," he whispered and kissed her forehead. "We'll be back here before you know it." He gripped her shoulders firmly. "Don't have him without me," he peered down at their child she carried.

Anastasia half grinned, "or her," she remarked.

He nodded. "Or her," he kissed her lips then left her side to mount his steed.

"Navaz!" she walked forward, wrapping the dark cloak around her shoulders. He turned to her as he was about to climb onto the horse. "Don't let my mother walk all over you."

The king smiled and climbed on the horse. "I don't think you have to worry about that, Anastasia." He kicked the animal lightly and rode off to meet with Gabrielle and Xena at the front of the army.

She frowned. "You don't know her like I do," she whispered, watching him ride off.

Chapter Text

Well, here goes nothing :)

Chapter 20 –Hun Invasion Part I of III

"Fire!" Ernak yelled out as he stood beside the White Huns. He walked behind the row of catapults aimed at Zeno's army that had yet to breach Pannonia's borders. Ballistic weapons weren't his style but these Bulgur Huns had a large amount of catapults at their disposal.

The young Hun king saw Romans trying to push through the snow banks as bombs were hurled at them. He growled and ran to the first flank that was guarding the borders.

"Again!" he shouted at the ballistic weapons team behind him. Ernak saw a few Romans flying backwards crashing onto the rocky terrain. A devious smile appeared on his face then he grabbed his bow off his back and climbed to the top of the hill, overseeing the hundreds upon hundreds of Romans.

The White Huns were pushing the Romans back with their shields and those who got inside Pannonia's perimeters they were instantly killed or shot. Ernak pulled back an arrow and aimed at the officers on their horses from afar.

"Roman scum," he muttered and released the arrow at the Roman officer. He saw one of them fall off his horse and a victorious grin graced his lips. He laughed aloud. "Piece of Roman shit!" he yelled and a few Roman officers spun around to glare at him from below the hillside.

Pirro ran up the hill, almost out of breath, he grabbed onto Ernak's arm. "We can't keep doing this, Ernak," he said as his eyebrows furrow deeply.

The Hun king frowned. "I don't want any of those Roman bastards coming into my land! My father's land! I will not let Zeno come into Pannonia again!" he snarled.

Xena's brother nodded. "I understand, but Ernak." He turned the Hun towards the mountains beyond the borders of Pannonia. He pointed to the black mountains covered in snow. "There are more Romans coming." The torch lights lit up the entire mountain side and Ernak saw them marching towards Pannonia coming from the Black Sea.

Ernak's dark eyes narrowed. "Then let them come."

"But...but Ernak!" Pirro gasped. He followed the young king down the hill. "We can't defeat all of them. We need to retreat!"

Ernak spun around, his long hair whipping behind his shoulders in the cold frigid wind. Snow began to fall and icy breath left his lips as his mouth parted. "Retreat?" he hissed and Pirro arched an eyebrow. "Would your sister retreat?" he asked seriously. "Would she? I don't think so! Xena never retreats from anything! That is why she is the best commander in all the Hun tribes!"

"You are not my sister, Ernak and she is not here!" he shouted.

"I am not Xena, you are right about that, but I am more like my father than my brothers ever could be. My father was not called the Scourge of God for nothing. I have watched my people be slaughtered right before my eyes and Xena left for dead. I will not let that happen again!" Ernak shook his head and folded his arms, watching a few Romans run into Pannonia and were soon executed quickly by swift blades driving into their leather armored chests.

Pirro sighed heavily and stood beside him, fearfully watching the Romans march from the mountains towards the border of Pannonia. "We can't keep this up for long. Even you know that. We need another plan."

Ernak nodded, agreeing. He turned to the bright eyed Thracian. A devious smile came to him. "I have an idea but I need all of the oil in Pannonia."

"For what?" Pirro asked.

The king rubbed his scruffy bearded chin and observed the Romans marching in. "Something that I've seen Xena do many times. She may not be here but I know her tactics. She was my commander for awhile after all." He chuckled.

He ran down towards the Bulgur Huns that stood behind the ballistic weapon fleet. "I need all of the oil in this territory!" he shouted as catapults were still being set off. He walked along the line of Bulgur Huns and they stared at him with vehemence.

"All of it! Everything you got!" he shouted and they stood in silence, not budging. "Do as I say or we all die here!" he growled and his eyes looked at these men. "We can be enemies or we can team up and defeat the Romans. They will kill all of you. I don't want to fight with your people anymore. We are the same people! We speak the same language. Have the same customs. Women and children will die if we don't fight back!"

The Bulgur Hun soldiers eyed each other and then turned back to the Pannonian Hun king. Ernak exhaled harshly through his flared nostrils. His hands bone white from the chilling air. The snow began to trickle down harder by the minute.

"We are not Bulgur Huns or White Huns or Pannonian Huns or Atlyn Huns or Ashina Huns. We are Huns. Now, if you don't want to join us and fight then you can leave and I will make sure to banish you from every Hun tribe in our nation." Ernak said finally, hoping that would get the soldiers to side with him.

The Bulgur Hun soldiers nodded at him and Ernak smiled brightly. "May God praise you all. Now, I need every single barrel of oil in Pannonia. Bring them to the border and I will be waiting for you." He demanded and everyone dispersed to find the barrels.

Pirro crossed his arms and walked up to Ernak. "What are you going to do with the oil?" he asked curiously. He hadn't seen his elder sister in so long and he certainly never saw her in battle.

Ernak arched his thick dark eyebrow as he glared at the Roman army approaching faster and faster.

"We're going to light this fucking place on fire. Roast the Roman pigs." He nodded slowly and spat on the ground in disgust.

Three days into the journey to Constantinople Navaz lead his army to the destination that Xena told him to go. This was uncharted territory for him. He had never been to the Caspian Sea territories either but Xena suggested they set up camp there because it was in between Armenia and Constantinople. The perfect spot to escape to, but Navaz was nervous approaching these Huns. He had never left the Caucasus before and to be honest, he hadn't needed to even after his father died. He often made trips to Persia but that was as far as he went.

The White Hun army approached the border of the Akitziri Hun tribe. A tall, pale faced Hun with dark almond eyes stopped them from entering the tribe's land.

"Who are you and why have you come to the Caspian Sea?" the guard asked and pointed his javelin at the White Hun king.

Navaz frowned and uncovered his face, exposing his dark beard and fair features. "I am King Khushnavaz from the Kingdom of Balaam. I have come here to station my army for an excursion."

The Akitiziri Hun frowned and looked at the huge army behind the young king. "You are too young to be the king of Balaam."

"My father died years ago. I am the son of my father and mother ,Tuya Khatun. Will you allow us to camp in your territory or not?" Navaz asked, growing impatient with this Hun.

Xena rolled her eyes and trotted ahead, ripping the scarf off her face, exposing herself to the Hun guards blocking the entrance to the Akitiziri territory. "Enough with the formalities. Let us in or else." She threatened.

The Hun smirked. "And who are you?"

She lifted her chin proudly, "Xena, Commander of Armenia and Pannonia. Former Commander of Attila." She said and the man's eyes widened in fear.

"Xena..." the Akitiziri Hun's mouth gaped and he lowered his eyes. "I heard you were dead."

"Well, I'm not. Let us into the camp or I'll have words with your Bey." She said and he whistled to the other guards to allow the army to pass through the border.

She trotted beyond the border and into the Hun tribe encampment nonchalantly. Navaz sat on his horse wide-eyed and Gabrielle smirked and rode up next to the shocked king. "She sure has a way with words, doesn't she?" she teased.

Navaz frowned, feeling a bit humiliated by Xena and going over his head. These people didn't take him seriously but feared Xena. Everyone feared her, even the Huns from other lands feared her. "Yes...she does." He scowled and trotted inside.

"This is Xena's old tribe you know," Gabrielle whispered. She saw the look of malice in the young king's eyes. "She hasn't been here in many years but obviously she left her mark on them." She said and he ignored her and quickened his pace, riding behind Xena. She frowned and kicked her horse, riding ahead.

Immediately, courtesy of the Bey of the Caspian Sea tribes, offered Navaz, Gabrielle and Xena yurts to reside in during their stay. When everyone saw Xena riding into the tribe they gawked at her as if they had seen a ghost and some were still living there from when Xena took over the tribe and had that look of fear instilled in them.

Gabrielle and Xena sat inside a large yurt with a map laid out on the floor. Xena bit into an apple and frowned at the map. "We need to find the cisterns inside Constantinople. That way we can get easy access to the water supply throughout the city."

"I know where the cisterns are," Gabrielle said. She pointed to the city and made a circle on the outskirts. "It's not easy to get to them. We will need a diversion to get inside. Zeno has guards posted everywhere throughout the city. We will be spotted instantly."

Xena nodded. "I will create a diversion with Navaz and you can lead a group of men into the cisterns with the powdered opium." She instructed and the blonde adviser agreed to the plan. "When you pour the opium into the water supply, you need to escape the city. We need another group on the opposite of the exit of the cisterns so you can ride out without being caught."

"There are four exits inside the cistern tunnels. Two on the west, one on the east and another on the north side. If we go out of the north exit we'll be heading towards the Black Sea."

The commander groaned as she chewed on the apple slice, gawking at the map of the holy city. "Go east then towards Pontus and regroup there. We don't need a lot of men for this job. The rest of the army should stay here in Akitiziri territory."

"How...long does it take for the opium to take effect?" Gabrielle asked.

"Not long, especially when it's mixed with water. One more thing, you need to make sure the water is boiling or the powder will not dissolve. It will turn into a black tar and the Romans won't drink it." Xena mentioned.

The adviser nodded. "This is going to take longer than I thought. I will have to go inside the cisterns first to boil the water and then pour the powder in it," she sighed. "Right?"

"Right," Xena said and smiled gazing at her golden haired partner. "Gabrielle," she spoke softly and her partner lifted her eyes. "You are the best thing in my life. I never thought you would be working alongside with me like this."

Gabrielle's cheeks flushed as an overwhelming sense of warmth invaded her body. "I'm not going to let you take on Zeno by yourself, Xena. He is as much my enemy as he is yours. He took you away from me for an entire year. I thought you were dead. You promised never to leave me."

Xena's head hung and she set down the half eaten apple slice on the plate. "And I never did."

The poet turned adviser and maybe even warrior some might say, took the commander's hand in hers. Together they stared into each other's eyes. "I never had time to mourn you, Xena. And I'm glad that I never did. A part of me knew that you were alive and I doubted myself sometimes. I should have never doubted that you were alive. Don't ever leave me again."

"Oh, I promise," Xena's smile engulfed her entire face and she kissed the blonde's hand.

Navaz walked into the yurt and Gabrielle's hand slipped away from Xena's. Both of them sheepishly hid their smiles from the young king. He cleared his throat and pointed to the map. "Did you two come up with a feasible plan?" he asked.

Xena nodded. "Yes. Gabrielle is going to the cisterns to distribute the opium powder into the water supply. You and I are going to create a diversion outside, but we need to be discreet otherwise this plan isn't going to work."

He hummed to himself and sat down on the floor in between the two women. He drug his finger across the map of Constantinople. "How can we be discreet about this? We look nothing like Romans."

"This is a coup, Navaz. We are here to eradicate Zeno and put Anastasius on the throne. We aren't here to slaughter thousands of Romans but if we need to, we can. We have enough men to obliterate his entire holy army!" she growled. "Zeno sent his best men to fight against Ernak in Pannonia. He left the city heavily unguarded which gives us the advantage. If Anastasius kept his word about keeping this coup a secret from Zeno then we will win. And we can go back to Balaam."

"It seems you have this all figured out," he commented in a snide tone.

Gabrielle frowned. "What is that supposed to mean?"

He shot her a glare and Xena clenched her fists. "You devised this entire plan without my consent. Both of you."

"Navaz, I am your commander. That is what commanders do. You trust me, right?" Xena spoke in a calm tone, as calm as she could possibly be.

He stood. "It's not that I don't trust you, Xena. You humiliated me in front of those Akitiziri Huns. You undermined my authority as king. I am above you, don't you forget that."

Xena rose to face the young king. "You were still a baby when I conquered this territory, Navaz. And you were a child when I raided all of the Hun tribes and invaded Visigoth territory with Attila by my side. I am twice your age and I have the twice experience. In my eyes, you are still a child and you are too naive to be a king."

"Xena!" Gabrielle gasped and grabbed the warrior's arm.

Navaz's eyes grew at the audacity of this woman, his wife's mother, his mother in-law and commander. "How dare you!" he spat and took a step closer, barely a breath from her face. She lifted her chin, staring into his irate dark eyes.

"I am not your mother in-law in times of war, Navaz. I am your commander and your best ally. Don't make me become your enemy. You wouldn't like that. Attila did not benefit from it either." She smiled crookedly and felt his breath escaping his nostrils against her cheek. "I destroyed Pannonia when Attila denounced me. I burned everything. And you know what he did?" her eyes grew wild. "Come on, ask me."

He groaned. "What?"

"He reinstated me as his commander to fight against the Romans. He trusted me even though I destroyed the very place I too, called home. So you see, Navaz, you should listen to me. I know more than you. Attila and I weren't just allies, we were friends. Don't work against me or you will not last another year as king." She turned and sat back down on the floor then sipped her wine.

He balled his fists and glared at Xena then turned to the placid Gabrielle standing, not knowing what to do.

Xena kept her eyes on the map, ignoring the fuming king beside her. "You will never be a great king until you recognize that I am your friend. Anastasia is not just your wife, but your queen. She is also your friend and you don't listen to each other. I suggest you prioritize yourself. Until then, I will talk to you in the morning." She said and he stormed out of the yurt.

Gabrielle rubbed her scalp and then turned to Xena whom was sitting quietly, sipping her wine like nothing just happened here. "Xena...what on earth possessed you to say those things to him?"

The commander shrugged a shoulder. "He needs to get off his high horse, Gabrielle. He is too caught up in the idea of being the next great Hun king that he forgets he needs to earn that title. He isn't going to earn that by fighting with me. He doesn't know how to work in a team. He's a spoiled king, babied by his mother his entire life. He needs to fight against the enemy not me."

Ditron ran up to Ernak as dawn approached. They had fended off the Romans for two days now and a few Bulgur Huns as well as White Huns, lost their lives. The bodies were set inside a large pit to be set to fire as soon as this plan was to be carried out.

"We surrounded the entire border with the oil like you asked." He spoke to the Hun king.

Ernak squinted his eyes and saw the Roman army camped out far from the border, regrouping. Last night was brutal for everyone. There were hundreds of Roman corpses lined on the border of Pannonia. "Good. What about the field? Is it covered as well?" he asked.

Ditron nodded. "Yes, it is. The Bulgurs just finished pouring the oil onto the field between our camps." He said and Ernak rubbed his chin. "You're really going to set this place up into flames aren't you?"

The son of Attila turned to Xena's brother with an eager smile. "Pannonia is my home and was founded by my grandfather. I won't let my motherland be overthrown again. Not by anyone, especially not Roman pigs."

Pirro joined his brother and Ernak. "The Romans are marching towards us." He said and Ernak whipped his head around to see the army coming to the border. "When do we light the oil?"

"When I give the signal." Ernak said and Ditron ran off to alert the archers inside the border of the plan. Pirro folded his arms and shook his head.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

"Relax, Pirro. I've seen your sister do this many times. It works, trust me." Ernak watched the Roman army coming towards his beloved homeland. "One hundred yards," he muttered. Keeping his eyes on the Romans, not moving an inch, he glared at the arrogant officers on their horses riding in on a slow trot.

"Fifty yards..." his smile grew.

Pirro was starting to become worried as the Romans came closer and closer. "Ernak..."

"Forty..." Ernak felt his heart racing as the officers gaped into his eyes. "Bastards."

"What the fuck. Do something!" Pirro exclaimed.

Ernak's eyes grew wild. "Now! Now! Light the oil!" he shouted and Ditron turned to the archers, pointing to the field. He ran away from the border. The archers on top of the hill shot flaming arrows into the field and the entire snowy plains burst into flames.

The Romans, shocked at first, stood still as the soil engulfed in a hellfire on earth. The soldiers on the field screamed in agony as their flesh burned into a black tar. Dropping their weapons, some began retreating, though there was no escape. Three acres of land were set on fire outside the border of Pannonia. The Roman officers on horseback tried to escape but the horses reared on their hind legs and rode off through the burning snow banks.

Ernak laughed as he watched the Romans burning and their skin bubbling slowly. He ran to the ballistic weapon fleet. "Light the catapults!" he shouted and the Bulgur Huns began loading the catapults.

Some Romans were able to escape the fire and ran towards the border. Ditron yelled from across the field. "Ernak!" he pointed to the Romans running towards the border.

"Ignite the oil on the border!" Ernak yelled at the archers.

Shooting flaming arrows on the rim of oil that encompassed the entirety of the Pannonian territory on fire. It created a ring of fire around the area and Ernak smiled. The Romans quickly began backing away from the roaring five foot tall flames surrounding the Hun tribe border.

Ernak grabbed a crossbow and shot a runaway Roman that was coming towards him. "Burn in Hellfire!" he yelled with a big grin on his face. He shot another arrow at a Roman soldier approaching the border. "I need bowmen!" he yelled and ran back inside the enclosed perimeter.

Pirro ran along with Ernak to the sword legion in the back behind everyone else. "How long will that fire be alive for?!"

Ernak quickened his pace. "Well into the evening if we're lucky!" he stopped at the swordsmen that were waiting patiently. "Go guard the south forest. Make sure no Romans come in through that way." He said and the White Huns ran towards the forest.

He jumped onto his horse and Pirro gasped. "Where are you going?!"

"To the Roman camp," Ernak said.

Pirro shook his head and mounted a horse. "I'm coming with you." He unsheathed his sword and both smiled at each other.

Xena lead a small group of thirty men to Pontus. Now they were in Roman territory and needed to extra careful that they were not seen. She turned to Navaz. "Stay here. Gabrielle and I will go inside the city to scout around."

Navaz frowned. "I am not allowed to come with you?"

"You are a king, Navaz. I can't let you die. Believe it or not, your life is more important than mine." She kicked her horse and Gabrielle rode behind her as everyone stayed behind in the small area of Pontus.

Inside the city, Xena and Gabrielle wore hooded cloaks as they walked through the alleyway together. Xena eyed all of the citizens and there were too many innocent lives here. Gabrielle trailed behind her so she could get a good look at her surroundings just in case Romans popped up.

"Do you see anything?" Gabrielle whispered.

"No," Xena said and she spotted elite Romans walking around clad in their black leather armor. "There," she nudged her head and Gabrielle peered behind her shoulder. "Noblemen. Zeno's soldiers are not far." She smirked and walked ahead.

"Xena?" Gabrielle groaned and reluctantly followed her. "We're supposed to scout, not get caught."

"Relax, Gabrielle. I know what I'm doing." Xena turned the corner so she could listen to the noblemen talking in a group together.

"Emperor Zeno sent out four legions to Pannonia," one nobleman said. Xena's eyes widened at that. Gabrielle clung to her arm and listened intently to the elderly men speak freely out in the open.

"Those Huns will never stop fighting Rome. Odoacer is riding out to Balaam. I hear the Caucasus Huns rival those Huns of Attila."

Xena gasped and turned to Gabrielle. "Odoacer is going to Balaam," she whispered.

Gabrielle's stomach knotted at the news. "Do you think he's going to attack?"

"Why else would he go?!" Xena hissed then grabbed her adviser's arm and lead them to another alleyway far away from prying eyes and ears. "The Magyar army is still there but it's not enough men to fend off Odoacer."

Gabrielle nodded. "We can't warn them. By the time they get our message it will be too late. What are we going to do?" she clamped her hands together, panting heavily, becoming more nervous than she had ever been.

With the entire White Hun army near the Caspian Sea and Pontus and also in Pannonia, Balaam was not guarded very well. The Magyar army was good enough but nobody was there to command the army, except a few elite guards that stayed behind to watch the Adame while Navaz was away. The only thing Xena could think about was her daughter and she would kill anyone that came close to Anastasia. She wasn't there to protect her and there was nothing she could do about it.

"Kreka." She said and Gabrielle eyed her curiously. "She's the only person there that knows how to command an army."

Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena. She hasn't been in the field since Ellac died. That was almost eleven years ago."

"They don't call her the Barbarian Queen for nothing, Gabrielle." Xena sighed and felt her heart racing and her stomach churn. She was starting to feel nauseous. "She will know what to do. I hope." She turned and saw the noblemen leave the area and then a slew of guards came out.

Grabbing Gabrielle's arm, they took off. "Come on, we have to get back to the others!"

Navaz saw Xena and Gabrielle riding back and he folded his arms. "Well?"

They both halted their steeds and Xena hopped off the horse and took the hood off her head. "The place is not heavily guarded," she said. Gabrielle dismounted her horse and eyed Xena and frowned sadly at the king. "We need to move closer to Constantinople. It's about three days ride from here. We'll take ten horses and hide out in Mysia. It's only a few miles from Constantinople."

Navaz nodded, agreeing to the plan then furrowed his eyebrows. "When will we go to Troy?"

Xena sighed. "We have to spike the water supply first. Once we know the Romans are affected then we transfer the entire army to Troy and go from there. The effect isn't going to last long. Only a day or two."

He scoffed. "Then why bother with it?!"

"Because," she clenched her jaw, "we need to distract the army so we can lead our five hundred men into Troy! We can't just take a huge army out in the open and expect not to be caught. Don't be ridiculous." She said and saw the young king's eyes widen, feeling insulted once again. "I've done this before. Nobody is in Troy right now as far as I know."

"And if there is?" he asked calmly.

Gabrielle approached the two. "Then we kill everyone in our path. Troy is a neutral zone. It doesn't belong to the Romans."

Xena nodded at her partner and gave her a brief smile before turning back to Navaz. "We leave by nightfall and we stay on the outskirts of every city until we reach Constantinople. Understand?"

He relented. "Yes. I will go tell everyone the plan." He curtly smiled and turned to talk to his men.

Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arm, pulling her aside. "You didn't tell him about Odoacer," she whispered.

"I need him focused, Gabrielle. I can't have him worrying about Anastasia right now."

"He has a right to worry. I'm worried too. Balaam is not guarded well!" she hissed.

Xena nodded and placed her hand on the blonde to calm her. "I know, but we can't think about that right now. If my instincts are correct, Kreka will command the Magyars against Odoacer."

"And if you're wrong?"

"Let's hope I'm not," Xena turned and eyed Navaz as he spoke to his thirty men. "Come on. We should be with everyone else." She walked off and Gabrielle sighed heavily, feeling a sense of evil approaching them at every corner. She didn't like this plan anymore and she definitely didn't like that Odoacer was heading towards Balaam either.

Zeno looked to Selan. "What news do you bring for me about the Pannonian swine?" he asked.

The adviser nervously approached the emperor with a low gaze. "Sir, the son of Attila destroyed three of your legions." He said and Zeno rose from his throne and began laughing. "Sir?"

"You must be joking. A little boy destroyed three out of four of my legions?" Zeno chuckled and Selan stared at him seriously.

"I am not jesting, your highness. Apologies," Selan bowed his head.

"God damnit!" Zeno shouted to the ceiling. "How? How did that little fuck destroy my legions?!" he grabbed Selan's throat, choking him lightly with a firm grip.

Selan croaked and averted his gaze from Zeno's harsh glare. "Fire...a lot of fire!" he said and Zeno released him. He rubbed his throat and took a couple of steps backward from the irate Roman.

"I see." Zeno walked to the window. His palace overlooking the Black Sea. "Well," he smiled, "no matter. Odoacer is riding out to Balaam as we speak and when he arrives, I hope to be rid of the Hun queen." He turned to Selan. "She is with child, yes?" he asked to make sure and the adviser nodded. "Even better. Wipe out Xena's line altogether."

"Sir, won't that be difficult if Xena is in Balaam?" Selan asked.

Zeno smiled deviously. "I know for a fact that she is not in Balaam, Selan. My governor is in Pannonia. He spotted Navaz's army heading towards the Caspian Sea." He sighed and rubbed his chin pensively. "Now, why would they be going to the Caspian Sea?" he wondered.

"Perhaps they are gathering all the tribes to rise against you, sir." Selan suggested.

"Perhaps." The emperor sighed deeply and snapped his fingers at his servant to fetch more wine. "Have Anastasius retreat and go to the Caspian Sea tribes at once. I will wait for his reply. Pannonia is of no concern to me anymore. I will attack that territory –the heart of the Huns –again another day."

"Yes, emperor." Selan bowed and quickly left the throne chamber.

Chapter Text

I don't normally update so quickly but I have to keep battle scenes interesting and there is a lot going on here. I mean, A LOT! Good luck to you all. 

Chapter 21 –Hun Invasion Part II of III

Two days later after the fire had dissipated entirely, Ernak and Pirro rode to the Roman camp near the mountains. Three legions were slaughtered by flames, arrows and swords alike by the Huns. Anastasius stood outside his tent, wearing his golden helm with a large red plume feather. He folded his arms as he saw a group of Huns riding towards the camp.

The Roman soldiers that were left immediately put up their swords, guarding the camp. Anastasius frowned and raised his hand. "Lower your weapons," he ordered and the men eyed him cautiously. "Do it!" he snarled.

Ernak halted his horse and stared at the Roman governor with an eager grin on his face. "You are defeated here, Roman. Leave Pannonia."

Anastasius walked forward and stared up at the Hun. "You are one of Attila's sons," he stated and Ernak lifted his chin. "I want to have words with you in my tent."

Ernak frowned and glanced over at Pirro who gave him a shrug. Turning back to the Roman governor he asked, "why?"

"Trust me. You will want to speak with me. Come unarmed and we can talk in private," he suggested and walked towards his tent. Ernak hopped off his horse and withdrew his blade and handed it off to Pirro.

Ernak entered the tent and Anastasius exhaled heavily. "Have you come to surrender?"

The governor turned around slowly. "No. I have orders to go to the Caspian Sea. Navaz and his army were spotted there. Zeno gave me orders to go at once. He is no longer concerned with Pannonia."

"And why are you telling me this?" Ernak asked, folding his arms.

"I made a deal with Queen Anastasia and her husband to order a coup and overthrow Emperor Zeno to put me in his place. I have a feeling that Xena is heading towards Troy now and that is why she and the White Hun army were spotted traveling towards the Caspian Sea." He said and Ernak's eyes widened. "I have to go there because it will look suspicious if I don't. Zeno will be expecting me to slaughter the Hun army."

Ernak nodded. "I see. And what exactly do you want me to do?" he asked.

Anastasius quirked his mouth and looked into the Hun's dark eyes. "Odoacer is going to Balaam. He will be there in less than a week. If Balaam is unguarded then I fear that he is going to kill everyone there. He was ordered by Zeno to take Anastasia and crucify her."

Ernak felt his heart sink at that. "I have to go back to Balaam then. I can make it in time if we leave by nightfall."

"And I need to go to the Caspian Sea tribe but I do not wish to attack Navaz's army."

"Here," Ernak took the pendant off from his neck and tossed it over to the governor. "Show the Akitiziri tribe this. They will let you in. Say you are allies with Xena and no harm will come to you."

Anastasius gazed at the pendant that was in the shape of an eagle and carried a large sword in its mouth. "Thank you.." he said softly.

Ernak smiled. "I have to ride to Balaam. Thank you for telling me. You are not like the other Romans..." he ran out of the tent back to his horse. Anastasius nodded slowly and tucked the pendant in his cloak pocket.


Xena and Navaz crept through the city of Constantinople and together they climbed to the top of a building that was the near the cisterns. Gabrielle waited down below with a group of ten men, carrying bags of the powdered opium.

They crouched down on the rooftop, wearing dark hooded cloaks. Navaz peered down and saw five guards by the entrance of the cisterns. Xena knelt down and lifted the hood, observing the dark city. Hardly anyone was outside except the Roman guards wandering around other than the ones by the cisterns.

"Now's the time to use your archery skills, Navaz," she whispered.

He pulled out his bow and grabbed a couple of arrows. "Where do I shoot?" he turned to her.

"Anywhere out in the open." She said and he nodded.

He shot an arrow out into the middle of the square and the Roman guards below whipped their heads around and saw two arrows sticking out in the soil. One of the Romans walked forward cautiously, holding his sword up. Xena grinned and hopped off the roof onto a Roman.

She sat on top of him and grabbed hold of his neck. The loud thud caused a few other Romans to look her way. She snapped the Roman's neck and then unsheathed her swords, standing up slowly. Navaz stayed on the rooftop and shot a few arrows at the guards running towards Xena.

The commander turned around to Gabrielle and the others hiding. "Now!" she yelled.

Gabrielle ran into the cisterns with the Hun soldiers following behind her with the bags of opium. "Go, go!" she hissed and watched as Xena drove her sword into a Roman's chest. Once everyone was inside she quickly ran after them.

Navaz hopped off the roof and Xena wiped her bloody blade on her pants. He turned and saw a Roman still alive with two arrows stuck inside his backside. "Looks like we have an escapee," he said and Xena grinned.

She sauntered over to the Roman that was dragging his body across the soil. She stomped her boot on top of his spine and he moaned loudly. "Where are the others?" she asked. The soldier refused to answer. "Tell me!"

"You were always so forceful. I love watching you work," Zeno smiled and a slew of Roman soldiers were behind him. Xena backed away and held her blade up at the emperor. "Now, what are you doing in my neck of the woods, Xena?" he cocked his head.

Xena snarled and the Romans slowly began walking towards her. Navaz pulled out his sword and was beside his commander. "Navaz, get out of here," she whispered.

"I'm not going to leave you." His eyes darted to the Romans coming out of the darkness and begin to enclose them in a circle. Zeno waltzed forward with a malicious smile on his lips.

"I just gave you an order!" she hissed. "Go back to Mysia!"

Navaz grunted and she whipped her head around, glaring at him. He sheathed his sword and ran off. Zeno smiled at his foe. "I'm so glad we get to meet again, Xena. You know, you are very sneaky. I never knew you to have assassin skills but here we are. My guards spotted you and the White Huns coming through the Caspian Sea. Of course, I knew you were coming here. Why else would you go back to your homeland?"

"You think you have me figured out, don't you?" she half smiled.

The emperor sighed. "Alas, no but I know you care about your precious family. Drop your weapon and come with me willingly." He said and she gripped her sword tighter, pointing it in his direction. "Xena, don't be difficult. You are surrounded. You can't win here. Drop your sword."

"Go to hell."

He nodded, chuckling lightly. "Drop it Xena or I will crucify your daughter in front of all Constantinople. I will humiliate her and then I will crucify you again beside her. So...drop the weapon!" he hissed.

Xena's eyes widened and she dropped her sword. Zeno smiled deviously. "Detain her!" he yelled and the Romans grabbed Xena by her arms and threw her on the ground, shackling her wrists together.

He walked over and stomped his sandal on her head, crushing her cheek into the dirt, she winced. "See, if you just cooperate then everything goes much smoother, wouldn't you say so, commander?"


Gabrielle poured a bag of opium into the running water. "Hurry!" she whispered to all of the soldiers. They poured the bags into the water while a few kept the water at a boiling temperature. "Is that all of it?" she asked.

"Yes, kadin. Do we go through the east exit like you asked?" one of the men asked.

She nodded and grabbed her empty bags then ran through the cistern hallway towards the east exit. As everyone ran through the dark tunnels there were footsteps following them. Gabrielle paused and looked back to see torches coming their way.

"Oh shit," she muttered. "Run, run!" she hissed and ran through the water towards the gates at the end of the east side of the cisterns.

Moments later everyone exited the cisterns and hopped on the horses riding to Mysia, the place that was supposedly safe. Gabrielle saw Navaz talking with a few men and she frowned. "Where is Xena?" she asked and the king turned to her.

"We got ambushed by Zeno and his men. I'm sure she is captured by them now. There's no way she could fend off those men by herself."

Gabrielle's heart raced and she hopped off the horse. "You left her by herself?!" she yelled.

"No! She told me to go back!" he firmly said as he glared down into her angry eyes.

Damn you, Xena, she thought. "We can't let Zeno win. We need to go back and get her."

Navaz shook his head. "I think we should gather up the army and head to Troy. Xena can take care of herself otherwise why would she send me away?" he asked.

Gabrielle gasped and withdrew her sword at her hip. Navaz withdrew his as well and the two glared at each other. "She is your commander. This coup isn't going to work without her, Navaz! Don't be foolish."

"I don't need a foreigner telling me what to do," he spat.

She swung her sword and he blocked her blow, a bit surprised that she attacked him. "If you aren't going to go after her then I will. Do what you want and ride to Troy. I need to rescue her from Zeno." She sheathed her blade and walked back to her horse.

The king scoffed. "You're going by yourself?!" he called out.

She yanked the reins of the horse. "Don't be ridiculous. I'm taking these ten men with me. If I don't go after her then Zeno will kill her. I can't lose her again." She narrowed her eyes and rode off with the men trailing behind her. Navaz sighed heavily and ran his hand through his hair.

Zolten approached the king with wary eyes. "What do you want us to do, sir?"

Navaz turned to his commanding officer. "Ride back to the Akitiziri and bring the army here. We will ride to Troy by nightfall."

"Yes, your majesty," Zolten bowed then mounted his steed.


Dengi rolled on top of Leila, pressing his lips against hers. He pinned her arms to sheep skin blankets, her dark long hair sprawled across the blanket beneath her. He cupped her small breast with his palm and nibbled on her neck.

She ran her fingers through his long chestnut colored hair and arched her back. "Dengizich, I...have a question..." she said in between labored breaths.

His hands roamed down her taut stomach and kissed her sternum. "Hm?" he muttered.

"Do you like me?"

Dengi smiled and lifted his eyes as he breathed heavily against her bare skin. "Of course I like you." He chuckled and traveled up to her neck again, kissing her soft jaw line.

Leila sighed and cupped his cheeks, staring into his light brown eyes. "Do me?" she whispered, fear in her light eyes. His smile widened and kissed her forehead.

"Yes, I do."

Finally a smile appeared on her face and she kissed him generously. "Love me enough to marry me?" she asked and his eyes widened.

"Dengizich!" Kreka's voice was heard from outside the yurt. Dengi gasped and grabbed his pants beside the bed and hopped off of Leila.

The dark haired Caucasian woman covered her bare torso with the sheep skin, staring through the curtains. Her heart beat quickly as she feared Dengi's mother would come in the room. He knelt down beside her, pinching her chin. "Don't come out and don't say a word," he whispered then quickly left the bedroom.

Dengi came to the entrance of the yurt and Kreka eyed her son, wearing only pants and long socks. "Tatli cocuk, where is your shirt?" she eyed his slender muscular frame and his cheeks reddened.

"I...was about to go to bed," he ruffled his shoulder length hair. "What do you need?" he asked and she frowned. "Mother." He smiled.

Kreka folded her arms, eyeing her son's wide fearful eyes. "Anyway....there were Romans spotted coming towards us. I want you to watch over Anastasia and don't let anyone come into her room. Understand?"

Dengi became serious in an instant. He nodded and grabbed his cloak. "Alright, mother." He reached for his sword and she cleared her throat.

"Put on some clothes, tatli cocuk," she said and his face paled. Shaking her head she left the yurt.

He ran into his bedroom and found Leila sitting up in the bed, clutching to the blanket. He grabbed his tunic and boots. "I have to go look after my sister in-law. You may stay here if you like," he smiled and her cheeks flushed. "I don't know how long I will be though so don't wait up for me."

Leila nodded and kept smiling at the prince. "What is the queen like?" she asked and Dengi laced up his boots in silence. "I've only seen her a few times. She is very beautiful."

He lifted his head with a big grin. "So are you. Maybe I could take you to meet her one day."


He nodded and wrapped the fur cloak around himself then leaned down, kissing her cheek. "Yes. When I marry you," he winked and ran off out of the yurt. Leila's mouth parted and she clutched the sheets close to her body, not able to wipe the smile off her face.


Csaba moved his chest piece across the board and smiled sneakily. Anastasia frowned and rubbed her chin, thinking of her next move to combat her son. "Can't win this time, mom. You are starting to really suck at this game just like grandma," he teased.

She chuckled lowly and moved a pawn across the board, knocking out his defense. "Not quite, Csaba. Your turn."

He groaned and observed the chess board carefully before making his next move. "We're going to celebrate my birthday when everyone comes back right?" he asked.

She nodded, "of course. I'm sorry that we had to postpone your birthday."

He shrugged. "I don't mind. I just want to know what Navaz got me," he smiled and moved the knight across the board. "Your turn." He folded his arms and leaned back in the chair. He saw his mother completely focused and then heard the doors open. "Dengi!" he grinned.

"Hey kiddo," Dengi smiled and walked in. Anastasia was too focused on the game to even acknowledge his presence. "I need to speak with your mother for a bit."

"But we're in the middle of a game!" Csaba frowned. He saw his uncle's eyes darken and he sighed heavily. "Alright, fine," he grumbled then stood walking to his mother. He kissed her cheek then left the room.

Anastasia turned in her chair and Dengi nervously closed the doors. "What is it, Dengi?"

He walked over and took Csaba's seat across from her and she eyed him curiously. "So, how are you feeling?" he asked. He didn't want to tell her about the Romans approaching and hoped his mother would get rid of them for a little bit because he definitely didn't want to upset Anastasia and face the wrath of Xena later.

"I'm...fine," she said, tapping her fingers on the tabletop.

"And you're definitely not in labor right?" he asked and she crinkled her nose, her face contorting in confusion.

"Do I look like I am?" her voice dripping with sarcasm.

He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "Sorry," he exhaled heavily. "So, have you thought of any names?" he asked with a sheepish grin.

"A few yes," she said. "Gabriel for a boy," she smiled, "and Arielle for a girl."

Dengi nodded. "You would name your baby after Gabrielle?" he asked curiously and she nodded. "She will be thrilled to hear that." He said and leaned forward, placing his hand on her belly. Anastasia's eyes widened in surprise and he grinned, feeling small kicks against his palm.

She stared at the goofy look in his eyes and wanted to laugh but kept it to herself. He ran his hand across her belly. "Wow. Amazing." He said and she arched an eyebrow with a bemused expression. "I can't wait to have a child of my own."

She smiled warmly. "Maybe you will with that young woman you've been seeing," she hinted and all the color drained from his face. "I've seen you with her, Dengi."

"Her name is Leila," he smiled thinking about her again and felt the child squirming beneath his palm. "She asked me if I would marry her and I said yes."

"Dengizich!" she gasped and cupped his cheeks. "Does your mother know?" she asked and his silence said it all. "Oh great. You better hope she approves, Dengi."

He chuckled. "She will. Leila is nice."

Ana nodded. "Dengi, I don't mean to be rude but why are you in my room?"

Slowly, he retracted his hand and stood, walking around the table. Her eyes followed him. "I just wanted to check on you..." he lied.

"No, you don't. Why are you here? What's going on?"

He sighed. "There are Romans coming here. My mother told me to watch over you to keep you safe."

Anastasia snarled and stood up abruptly. "What?!" she yelled and he cringed, expecting a reaction like this. She walked towards him and he slowly backed away, now afraid of the look in her eyes.

"Ana..." he warned, "your baby. You should really think of your baby. I'll take care of you. Anastasia..." he nervously hit a table and she grabbed his collar.

"I have a right to know what is going on!" she spat in his face.

He nodded. "Of course you do but my mother told me to keep you here where you are safe. I won't let anything happen to you."

"I'm not going to stay in my room locked up like some child." She marched over to the doors and he gasped, running ahead of her and blocked the exit. "Get out of my way."

"No!" he sprawled his arms across the doors and she grimaced. She grabbed his arms trying to pry him away from the doors. He grunted and gently pushed her away. "Ana! You çılgın kadın!"

She gasped. "I am not crazy!" she grabbed his arm and he grunted, wrapping his arms around her as tightly and as carefully as he could. "Let go of me, you bastard!"

His eyes widened. "What a foul mouth you have, my sweet Ana," he grinned. "Please, stop struggling and relax!" he sat her down in a chair gently and firmly placed his hands on her shoulders. She breathed heavily through her nostrils, glaring up at him. "We're staying in here until my mother says otherwise!"

Her mouth gaped and she grabbed onto his arm, her eyes widening as pain coursed through her entire body. Dengi's face drained of color and he held onto her arms.

"Anastasia?" he stared into her blue eyes and she shut her eyes, gritting her teeth. "Oh come on, seriously? Right now?" he groaned.

Opening her eyes, she steadied her short breathing. "I'm...fine." she said, raising her hand.

He scoffed. "No, you are not!" he slowly lifted her out of the chair and she gasped, bending over and almost bringing him down with her. "Alright," he picked her up into his arms and walked over to the bed. "I'm not qualified for any of this," he grumbled.


"Say it!" one of Zeno's men slashed Xena's backside with a whip and she cringed, though remained silent. He sighed heavily and looked over to the emperor. "She's not talking, sir."

Xena hung by her ankles from the ceiling, stripped of her clothing and boots. Only wearing  a pair of tattered shorts and bandeau, covering her breasts. Her cheeks flushed red and her back stinging from the fresh lashings she received for almost half an hour.

Zeno walked over to the Hun woman and smiled, tipping his head over to stare at her eyes glaring up at him from her upside down position. "Do you enjoy pain, Xena?"

She smirked. "Oh yes. I relish in it." she mocked him.

"Funny. Very funny." He grabbed her legs and swayed her body from side to side. "I didn't kill you the first time but I will make sure to kill you this time, Xena. You will never roam this earth again and I will make sure your daughter receives the same treatment as you." He snickered.

Xena growled and wriggled her tied arms and legs, snarling at the emperor. Zeno stood back and watched her struggle, enjoying seeing her like this. So helpless. Defenseless and alone.

"You are a grandmother. I can see that family is very important to you. And when I find my former Consul, I will make sure to put her on the crucifix first and you will get the first showing."

"You touch Gabrielle or any of my family, you will die a horrible death, Zeno," she warned.

"Threats are no use to you anymore." He frowned and walked off. "Post a guard outside these doors. I will be in my quarters. Alert me if there are any more Huns." He said.

"Yes, emperor," the guard said.

Zeno turned back around and took one last look at the dangling woman. "Cut her down. I don't want her dead yet."


Gabrielle and the ten Hun soldiers crept behind the secret entrance of the emperor's palace. She leaned against the wall and heard guards coming down a long hallway outside. She huddled with the men and spoke quietly. "Zeno has a prison below this palace. I'm sure he took Xena there. He will want to torture her. He won't kill her instantly. He is waiting for us to come for her."

"What do you want us to do, Gabrielle?" a young soldier asked eagerly.

She quirked her mouth and turned back to the open arched entryway. "Five of you go through this entrance. I will take the other five with me to the prison entrance. If Xena is there, I can get her out quickly. Be discreet and make sure not to get caught in a mob of Romans or you will die and we'll all be captured." She said and the men nodded. "Everyone know what to do?"

"Yes," they answered in unison.

"Okay," she stood and unsheathed her sword. "Let's go." She ran off with her five men following behind her while the other half went into the side entrance.

This wasn't going as planned at all. Gabrielle knew that things like this happened but she never thought that Xena would surrender herself so easily unless Zeno threatened her with something important –something that she couldn't live without. Anastasia. Her daughter. That had to be it. There was no other explanation. She feared that Xena would be inside the prison and the thought of her being tortured made her want to rip out Zeno's heart.

She also wondered if Navaz was carrying out his plan to ride to Troy, which seemed pointless now. That man, she thought. He was very bold and indeed spoiled like Xena said days ago. He didn't know how to be a king and he certainly didn't like taking orders from anyone, especially Xena. She was starting to realize that this relationship was going to go down the drain if he continued on like this.

They came to the prison entryway that was on the west side of the palace and unguarded from the outside. She lifted her head and saw Romans walking on the rooftop. "Go in quietly," she whispered to the men.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and whipped around, pointing the blade at the stranger. Her eyes widened when she saw Navaz standing in front of her. Lowering her sword she panted heavily. "Navaz...what...what –"

"I want to help." He said and motioned to the twenty men behind him waiting with their swords in hand.

She smiled and wrapped her arms around him, embracing him warmly. "I'm glad you came to your senses." She said.

He pulled away and grinned. "How can I help so we can the hell out of this place?"

She turned towards the prison entrance. "Xena is probably down below the palace. We need to free her. I sent the other men into the back entrance. They will hold off any guards that come towards this direction."

He nodded then waved his hand at his men then ran down the stairs into the prison below. Gabrielle waited for everyone to trail in and she slowly followed them, holding her sword close to her. Navaz lead the group down a long dark hallway and he spotted a few Romans guarding a large door. Xena, he presumed.

The Romans immediately spotted them in the dimly lit hallway. "HUNS!" one of the soldiers shouted and charged right at them. Navaz grinned and drew out his blade, waiting for them to come to him.

Swords clashed together and Navaz grit his teeth, glaring into the Roman's eyes. "Gabrielle, go!" he yelled and she nodded then ran passed him to the door.

She tried opening the cell door but it was locked. She turned around to see more Romans coming towards the Huns. She took a step back and swung her sword down onto the door and broke the lock off. Grinning with satisfaction, she kicked the door open and ran inside.

Her eyes scanned the room and her heart sank when she saw Xena sitting on the floor, shackled to the wall, wearing next to nothing and her arms bruised, her hair soaked and her legs mangled. "Xena..." she said and the warrior lifted her head.

"Gabrielle," she smiled. "You came for me."

The blonde ran over and looked into her glossy eyes. "Of course I did." She thrust her sword down onto the shackles around Xena's wrists and grabbed her hand, lifting her off the floor. Hugging her warmly she heard Xena hiss loudly as her arms grazed the lashes upon Xena's backside.

"What's wrong?" she pulled away and Xena half smiled.

"Nothing." Xena heard a lot of yelling and swords clashing outside these walls. She snatched the sword from Gabrielle's hand and marched out of the cell.

"Xena!" Gabrielle ran after her. "Hey! Where are you going?!" she yelled.

Xena's eyes narrowed as she stormed down the hallway. "To kill Zeno." She smiled wickedly. "I always keep my promises," she muttered.  

Navaz caught sight of Xena leaving the prison and frowned. "Gabrielle!" he yelled and she ran over to him. "Where's Xena going?"

"To fulfill a promise," Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows, looking at the long stairwell that lead to the upper floors of the palace.


Kreka sat on a horse at the border of Balaam waiting for the Romans to approach her. Tuya sat on her horse beside her, looking very distraught and nervous as the horde of Romans came closer and closer to the border.

"You will tell them that Anastasia left to Sevan three days ago. You will tell them nothing about the army going to Troy. You understand?" Kreka turned to the nervous queen mother.

Tuya nodded. "Yes, I understand." She felt a knot in her stomach. "Why is your son not out here with us?"

"He is with Anastasia right now. I can trust him to get her out of Balaam if it comes to that."

"But it won't, right?" Tuya asked and Kreka pursed her lips, glaring at the approaching Romans. "Right?" she pressed.

The legion of Romans halted in the snow banks and Odoacer rode up to the border, smiling at the Hun queens before him. "Ah, the wife of Attila," he batted his eyelashes at Kreka. "What a beauty you are."

Kreka smirked. "You must be Odoacer. The betrayer." She said and saw his smile disappear. "You are from Pannonia so I've been told. What brings you to the Caucasus? I don't recall Romans being very fond of snow."

The emperor cleared his throat. "I've come for the queen, the wife of Navaz and daughter of Xena."


He nodded. "Yes. If she comes with me willingly then there will come no harm to your people. So you see, if you just hand her over then all be well."

Tuya frowned and Kreka chuckled. "You're not taking her anywhere," she remarked. "You just missed her."

"Is that so?" he turned to the mother of Navaz. "And where has the little flower gone? I long to see her face once more."

Tuya turned to look at Kreka and then back to Odoacer. "She left for Divin three days ago."

Kreka spun her head around and glared at the queen mother. Tuya winked at her. This was not part of the plan. Not at all. What the hell are you doing, Tuya?

He chuckled lightly. "You are lying. She has not gone anywhere. I know she is here."

Kreka frowned. "If you don't believe us then why don't you take a look inside the Adame for yourself?" she offered and Tuya's jaw dropped.

Odoacer waved his hand to his men and they marched towards the large Adame. "Alright, kadin, let us see if you are lying." He smirked then trotted off to follow his men.

Tuya grabbed Kreka's arm. "What do you think you're doing?!" she hissed.

"Relax. I told Dengi to take her somewhere safe. She is still in Balaam." She said and saw the woman relax herself. "Why did you tell him that Anastasia left for Divin? I said to say Sevan."

"Divin is Gokturk territory. They will leave for that territory when they realize she is not here. The Gokturks do not like Romans and they don't like Huns either." She smiled.

"Well played."


Dengi tried to lift Anastasia off the bed and she pushed him aside. "Anastasia, come on! Work with me here! I have orders to take you to the mountains."

She clenched her jaw and then grabbed his hand. "I can't."

"Why not?" he growled, growing impatient and he was running out of time as well.

"Because, I can't move!" she snarled and gasped loudly. The grip on Dengi's hand tightened and he winced.

"Fuck!" he snatched his hand away and wiggled his fingers and heard his bones crackling. "This is not a good time to go into labor, just saying." He grumbled and wrapped one arm around her ribcage and the other underneath her and lifted her off the bed.

"And what would be a good time for you?!" she hissed.

Grunting, he turned and walked towards the exit of the quarters and kicked a door open that lead to the outside of the Adame. He struggled as he tried to carry her out of the building. His grip tightened around her ribs. Treading through the three feet of snow, she held onto his coat.

He set her on a horse and breathed out heavily. "You think you can make it? We're just going up that northern pass through the mountains. I'll have you back here in no time." He said and she nodded. "Are you sure?" he asked again.

"Yes, I'm sure!" she yelled and he smiled, climbing onto the horse and sat behind her.

"Good because I am not very qualified to deliver babies, you know," he teased and grabbed the reins, trotting off through the thick snow.



Chapter Text

Chapter 22 –Hun Invasion Part III

Zeno sat on his throne inside of his chambers, drinking wine. As he sat by himself, quite proud that he was able to capture Xena yet again, he noticed his servants were acting strange as were his guards posted at the doors surrounding all exits of the throne chamber. He sniffed his wine but found nothing strange about it. He also made one of the servants test his wine before he drank it, but nothing came of it.

Sloshing his wine back and forth in the chalice he heard swords clashing outside the doors and he immediately jumped to his feet. The doors flew open and Huns came charging in, attacking all of the guards.

His eyes widened and he backed away in fear seeing a horde of black armored Huns storming throughout the throne chamber. His servants dropped the trays of drink and food then took off running, screaming in horror. He set his wine down and withdrew his sword as he continued backing up, but he had nowhere to run to.

Xena marched into the room, beaten, bruised, lashed and her hair just as wild as her eyes. She had a devious smile on her face as she walked to the center of the room, glaring at the Roman Emperor. Twirling the sword gracefully, she sauntered forward, eager to plunge the blade into Zeno's chest. She had longed for this moment for a long time now.

The Huns stood behind her, holding their weapons. Gabrielle and Navaz came running inside the throne chamber. Gabrielle closed the doors behind her, grinning at the fearful emperor. Navaz whistled to his men.

"Seal all the doors!" Navaz ordered and the Huns scattered. He then took his bow out and pointed it directly at the emperor with a malicious grin. "Nowhere to run this time, Zeno." He winked.

Xena gripped the Roman sword and Zeno snarled at the Hun king. "Finally. I have you all to myself. When are you Romans going to learn that you can't get rid of me so easily?" she teased.

"You people are like the plague!" Zeno spat.

Xena nodded and walked forward, intimidating the Roman. He continued backing away from her in a circle and she rounded her body around, keeping her eyes glued to him. "No fancy tricks, Zeno. No whips. No crucifixes. Just you and me." She lifted her sword and gripped it with both hands. "Fight me."

He laughed. "This is ridiculous! I'm not going to fight you!"

"Why not?" her eyes grew as the fire within her emerged –a fire that had been missing for a long time. "You have no army or generals to save you this time, Zeno. You are the greatest emperor, right? You should be able to fight me in fair combat. What do you say? Will you fight me or will you surrender? Either way, you're going to die. Your choice," she winked.

He groaned. "Is that a threat?"

"No. It's a promise." She ran forward and cried out, thrusting her sword down and he dodged the attack. Her sword clashed onto the marble floor. She whipped her head around and snarled, running at him again and swung her sword downward, ripping into the curtain along the wall, missing again.

"Stop running, you coward!" she yelled and he breathed heavily, backing away, his hands shaking as he held onto the sword. "What's the matter? Too scared to fight a woman?"

"You're not a woman. You're a savage." Zeno furrowed his eyebrows and then he heard a bow being pulled back tautly. He spun around and saw Navaz pointing an arrow directly at him.

Gabrielle grabbed the king's arm firmly. "No. Let her have him," she said and Navaz lowered his bow slowly, glaring at the Roman.

Xena smiled at Gabrielle and rolled her shoulders backward. "Come on, Zeno!" she ran forward and he gasped as he saw her jump about ten feet into the air. She swung her sword down and he blocked the blow, dropping to his knees. She pressed onto his blade with all of her strength, her teeth clenched in a tight forced smile.

"Not so mighty now, are you?" she hissed and he kicked her in the shin and she groaned, lightening the load on the blade, he rolled out of the way before her sword clanged onto the ground, missing his head entirely. She looked down at her shin and limped forward. "Oh, you've got to go..." she muttered.

Zeno ran to the other side of the room and retrieved a sword from one of his fallen soldiers. Now with two swords he smiled from ear to ear. Xena scoffed and ran after him, swinging her sword left to right and he blocked her attacks with each sword. She pressed harder and swung faster. Quicker. Swifter than him. She kicked one blade out of his hand and then kneed his elbow.

He cried out in agony and his arm became limp. She shoved him into the wall and drove her sword forward. He gasped and ducked, causing her sword to plant itself into the stone wall behind him. He eyed her bare midsection and sliced her with his blade. Xena cringed and backed away, wrapping her arm around her torso.

She pulled her arm away and saw blood seeping from the gash. Navaz shook his head and Gabrielle frowned. "Are we going to let her die?" he groaned.

"Just wait," Gabrielle whispered. "She can do it."

Zeno smiled. "I draw first blood." He ran over and kicked her in the gut. She stumbled backward and he clocked her in the jaw. She gasped loudly and breathed heavily, widening her eyes. He grabbed her long hair and kneed her in the face then threw her onto the ground.

Navaz's eyes grew in horror and he unsheathed his sword. Gabrielle put her arm in front of him. "No!"

"He's killing her!"

Gabrielle saw Xena get up off the floor, blood trickling down her chin and her ribcage from her new wound. She so badly wanted to step in and help Xena but she promised she would stay away. Zeno was Xena's fight and nobody else's.

"Give her a chance," she said and eyed the furious young king behind her. Slowly, he slipped his sword back into its holster.

"You must have a death wish," Zeno chuckled and Xena spat blood onto the floor. "You aren't afraid to die...are you?"

Xena smiled, blood staining her teeth. "That's because I'm not going to die. You are." She charged right at him, sword in hand and he swung his blade around, meeting hers in mid-air. "I never got to kill Valentinian or Theodosius. Their own people killed them." She grabbed his neck and head butted his forehead, sending him stumbling backward.

"Funny how that works. Your own people betraying you." She smiled and then kicked him in the chest and he fell onto his back. He scooted away from her just as her sword was about to plunge into him. "See, that is the difference between your people and mine. We don't betray our own kind but you Romans...that must be a hobby of yours." She chuckled.

She stomped onto his cape, choking him. He grabbed his leg and drug him across the floor then sat on top of his back, pinning him to the ground. She leaned her body against him and her hair sprawled across his neck.

She whispered in his ear. "Do you enjoy pain, Zeno?"

"You gain nothing if you kill me. Odoacer will be emperor of the east and west if you kill me."

She chuckled softly. "You're wrong, Zeno." She grazed the blade against his bare cheek, slicing into his skin, drawing blood. "See, it is you who has been betrayed and tricked but not by me...if you offered to be my ally...I would have considered it."

His eyes widened and she grabbed his hair and held the blade against his throat. He stared over at Gabrielle and she frowned deeply at him.

"My daughter made an alliance with your governor. So when I kill you, he will become the new emperor." She said and Zeno's color drained from his face. "Romans betrayed by Romans. History does repeat itself, doesn't it?" she grinned.

Slowly, she cut into his throat and he gasped. Blood spilling onto the floor and pouring from his mouth. Gabrielle usually looked away whenever Xena executed someone but this time, she couldn't turn away. Her eyes were fixated on Zeno as his head was slowly being severed from his body.

Xena grit her teeth and stood. With one clean swipe she decapitated the emperor and threw his head off to the side. Her face covered in blood and her wound seeping blood gradually. She exhaled a sigh of relief and dropped the sword.

Gabrielle smiled and ran to Xena, wrapping her arms around her tightly. "Are you alright?"

Xena nodded and pulled away from her blonde partner, cupping her cheek. Both stared at each other warmly. "I'm fine."

"Your wound," Gabrielle grazed her fingers on the commander's stomach.

Xena winced at her touch. "Gabrielle. We need to go to Balaam. Odoacer is there."

Navaz's ears perked up. "Odoacer is in Balaam?!" his voice raised with utmost concern.

Xena lowered her eyes. "Yes and we need to get back there but we will never get there on time."

Gabrielle smiled. "We can ride to the coast of the Black Sea. There are some Roman merchant ships there. It's only a few hours to Armenia from here by ship. We can ride the rest of the way."

Xena grinned and gripped the blonde's shoulder. "And what would we do without you?" she said and Gabrielle shrugged her shoulder.

"What about the army?" Navaz interrupted, asking his commander.

"Send the remaining men back to the Akitiziri and tell them to send a third of the men to Troy, another here in Constantinople and the rest back to Balaam." Xena turned to the worried king.

He sighed. "Okay. I trust you..." he said uncertainly.

"What took you so long?" Xena teased and grabbed Gabrielle's arm. "Come on, show me where he keeps the horses."

"You're going to need some clothes," Gabrielle commented as her eyes roamed Xena's nearly naked body. "I don't know where your other clothes are."

"I'm not wearing Roman armor," the warrior griped.

Dengi halted the horse and surveyed the area. All he saw was snow and huge mountains. The snow was falling heavier now and he was losing sight of where to go to next. He wasn't from this area and didn't know the geography as well as he'd liked to.

Anastasia winced and lifted her head, staring at the white oblivion ahead. "Where...are we going?"

"Hmm..." he sighed and saw a small stretch of trees along the mountains. "We'll go over there for awhile." He steered the horse through the thick snow towards the trees. He looked behind him and saw the entire city of Balaam lit up and then saw over the hillside a horde of horsemen riding in. "What in the world..."

She exhaled heavily. "What?" she asked.

"Nothing. Nothing." He jumped off the horse and yanked the reins, tying them around the large tree trunk. He then took off his cloak and grabbed Anastasia, lifting her off the horse. "Sit here." He aided her to lean against the tree and he wrapped his fur cloak around her.

She slipped her arms through the sleeves and winced. Her head lolled against the large tree and she placed her hand over her abdomen when she felt the pain worsen.

Dengi watched the dark horde riding into Balaam and saw a huge Pannonian flag. A big smile appeared on his face and then he heard Anastasia whimpering softly. He immediately turned and knelt down, brushing the veil away from her face.

"Hey," he smiled, "just a little bit longer and then we can go back, alright?" he said and she nodded. "I'm sure my mother will give me the signal very soon." He reassured her and kissed her forehead. He ran out from under the trees and saw fire, a lot of fire from afar, inside the city. "Shit."

Anastasia bit her bottom lip and scooted backward, leaning her back against the tree. "What's going on?" she asked.

"Nothing. You just focus on yourself and the baby right now." He waved his hand dismissively. He shook his head and knew that couldn't be good. Fire was never good. "Fuck." He saw a lot of yurts burst into flames.

"What?!" she yelled.

Dengi ran to her side and cupped her cheeks. "Anastasia, don't worry about it!"

"Dengizich!" she gasped and grabbed his shoulder.

"I'm telling you just –"

"No! Look!" she pointed behind him. He stood and spun around to see men wearing black fur cloaks and hats to match.

He unsheathed his sword and pointed it at the mountain men. "We're not looking for any trouble."

"You are Huns." One of the men said and eyed Anastasia sitting on the snow, propped up against the tree. He smiled seeing the fine black and gold embroidered gown she was wearing and a veil to match. "You are royalty," he noted.

Dengi frowned. "Listen, we were just about to leave. I don't want to fight you."

"What are a couple of royal Huns doing in the mountains? You are aware that this is no longer Hun territory, right?" the man smiled and Dengi's face paled.

"Mother, I swear to God," Dengi muttered. "I can make sure you get whatever you want but I don't want to fight you." He said and the men folded their arms. "You would hurt a pregnant woman?" he asked seriously.

The mountain men chuckled. "We know you Huns live by a code not to hurt women and children but we are not Huns."

"What are you then?" Dengi asked.

"Gokturks," the man answered and the others pulled out their weapons.

"Anastasia, go!" he yelled and her jaw dropped. "Get on the horse and go!"

She eyed him incredulously and then grabbed one of the branches, lifting herself up slowly. As Dengi was fighting off four of the men by himself, one of the Gokturks wrapped his arm around her neck. She gasped and reached forward, snatching a dagger from the saddle-pack. She stabbed him in the eye and he staggered backward, crying in agony.

Steadily, she grabbed the saddle and swung her leg over, cringing. she held onto the reins and turned to see Dengi being punched in the face. He fell to his knees and breathed heavily, lifting his head. Both of them stared at each other, tears in her eyes.

"Get out of here!" he yelled and she kicked the horse, riding through the heavy snow back to Balaam.

"Odoacer!" Ernak ran straight for the emperor that stood over a fallen White Hun. He cried out and tackled the emperor to the ground. He punched the Hun turned to Roman emperor in the face repeatedly. Odoacer grabbed Ernak and flipped him over his head.

"Son of Attila," the emperor wiped his bloody lip. "Your father would be very proud of you." He chuckled.

Ernak growled and picked up his sword then charged at the emperor. Together their swords clashed against each other. "You are one of us! Why did you side with the Romans?!"

"Because Romans are superior," a wicked smile appeared on his lips as he stared at the young Hun. "Your army is filled with Bulgurs. I did not realize you were allies with them again..."

Now it was Ernak's time to smile. "Great kings can ally with anyone. You will never be my ally!" he kicked the emperor down.

"Kill me now and the entire Roman Empire will attack you."

"I look forward to it," Ernak smiled and ran off, jumping on his horse to help out the rest of his army.

Kreka and Tuya stood at the top of the stairwell in front of the Adame overlooking the Romans and Huns of all nations warring. Kreka growled and kicked a Roman down the steps and drove her sword into another that came towards her. Tuya stabbed another soldier that jumped onto the stairwell. She threw him off the tall staircase.

"Susmak," Kreka muttered and wiped her blade on her dress.

Tuya breathed out heavily and turned to the khatun beside her. "Where did you send Dengi and Anastasia?"

"Somewhere safe," Kreka said.

"Gokturks!" Anastasia rode in and both women turned to see her riding on a large black horse without Dengi. She breathed heavily and halted the horse.

Kreka ran down the stairs and Tuya shortly followed. "Anastasia," she grabbed her hand, helping her off the horse. "Where is Dengizich?"

Anastasia held onto Kreka's shoulder firmly. In between labored breaths she spoke, "Gok...turks."

Tuya's eyes darkened. "You fool! You sent them to the mountains?!" she yelled and Kreka frowned. "That is not our territory!"

Kreka was about to yell back until Anastasia moaned loudly and gripped her arm for dear life. "Tatli kiz," she whispered and wrapped her arm around the young queen. "I'm taking her inside. Do not let anyone come within five feet of the Adame!" she eyed Tuya.

Moments later, Ernak rode up and saw his mother with Anastasia heading inside the Adame. It was the first time he had seen Anastasia and he was glad that she was alright. Smiling, he peered down at the irate queen mother of Navaz.

"So...who's in charge here? You?" he asked with a charming smile.

Tuya's upper lip quivered. "Go to the mountains in the northern pass. There are Gokturks and your brother is there alone."

Ernak's eyes widened. "I will take a few of my own men." He whistled and waved his hand then a group of men on horseback came to his side. "This has been quite an exciting day!" he smiled and rode off. Tuya rolled her eyes and walked back up the stairs.

Gabrielle dabbed a cloth on Xena's rib wound as gently as possible. Xena held onto a wooden post while the shipped rocked as they sailed across the Black Sea towards Armenia. The warrior eyed her blonde partner as she was focused, incredibly focused actually.

"Sailor hands, ease up on the gash will you?" she tease and Gabrielle blushed.

"Sorry. He got you really good," she shook her head and grabbed a needle and thread.

Xena smirked. "And now he won't get anyone else ever again." She said proudly and Gabrielle smiled then dug the needle through Xena's skin. "Damnit, Gabrielle!" she hissed.

"If you would just hold still then it wouldn't hurt so bad," the blonde teased. "You're such a baby when it comes to this yet you can still fight with a broken arm or leg. Unbelievable."

The commander shot the adviser a glare and cringed as the needle pierced her skin again. "I'd rather give birth again than have you sew up my wounds."

"You can do it yourself then!" Gabrielle frowned and Xena laughed lightly. Sighing, she continued sewing up the warrior's large gash. "Besides, I'm not that bad at it. You're just a baby."

"I am not."

"Yes you are."

"No, I'm not Gabrielle."

"Xena. You are." The blonde snorted. "Now, hold still before I accidentally poke you."

Navaz walked into the cabin where the two women were. He immediately turned around when he saw Xena was still not dressed properly and wearing that poorly constructed bandeau over her breasts. "Xena..." he cleared his throat.

Xena and Gabrielle shared a smug grin. "Yes, Navaz?"

"Why didn't you tell me that Odoacer was in Balaam?" he asked in a calm voice.

"I didn't want you to worry about Anastasia. I know she will be safe."

"There is no army there."

"Kreka is there."

He scoffed, "you put a lot of faith in that woman, don't you?"

Gabrielle shook her head. That poor man didn't know anything about Kreka and had only known her for almost two years now. Kreka acted like Anastasia's mother in Xena's absence and therefore he had never seen her for who she really is, which is such a shame, or maybe a blessing.

Xena rolled her eyes. "She is a Hun Queen, Navaz. She is also a warrior. She was the leader of her tribe in China and Mongolia. I know I can count on her even though she and I haven't always had the best relationship over the years. You should have more faith in her."

"Yeah and she beat up Xena once," Gabrielle chimed in and got a horrible stare from her partner. She delved into sewing the wound again, avoiding Xena's icy eyes.

He turned his head over his shoulder. "Really?" he was curious now.

Xena groaned. "It wasn't what you think. I was angry at someone else."

"But she broke your nose," Gabrielle said and received another glare. "Okay..."

"Anyway, when we get to Balaam, I don't want Odoacer to see us. If Kreka is in charge then I have confidence that the Romans will either retreat or be driven out."

Navaz nodded. "I hope he doesn't do anything to Anastasia or I will rip his heart out."

Xena's eyes widened and Gabrielle pursed her lips, but this time stayed silent. "Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that. I'm not out to kill Odoacer. I just don't want him in our territories."

He spun around, not caring if he looked at her while improperly dressed anymore. "You want him to live?" he asked in disbelief.

She nodded. "I avenged my people and myself by ridding the world of Zeno. If Odoacer is gone then –"

"Then there won't be a Roman Empire. Isn't that what everyone wants? No more Romans?"

She smiled smugly. "Huns won't destroy the empire, Navaz. The empire will crumble in on itself in time. We sit back and do nothing. It will come crashing down. Trust me."

"You really believe that?" Gabrielle asked, lifting her eyes as she bit the thread with her teeth.

"All empires fall eventually. The Roman Empire was already broken in two before Attila became king. Now, it is forever broken and Odoacer wants to be a king not an emperor. It will fall, I bet on it." Xena smiled and Navaz rubbed his beard.

"We should be reaching the coast of Armenia soon. It will take a few hours to ride to Balaam. I hope we are not too late." He said then turned to leave. "Oh, Xena..."


"Thank you for helping me with everything. Your legend as the best commander in all the Hun tribes is true. I'm sorry that I did not trust you completely before." He said then walked out of the cabin up to the dock of the ship.

Gabrielle smiled and bandaged Xena's torso. "Still think he's a spoiled brat?"

"Only a little bit," Xena teased then swatted Gabrielle's hand away. "You're doing it wrong."

"No, I'm not! I always bandage you up this way!" the blonde snarled.

"And you do it wrong every time," Xena smiled and fixed the wraps around her wound. "Gabrielle. I didn't get a chance to say thank you for all your help."

Gabrielle folded her arms. "I would do anything to help you especially if it involved Zeno."

Xena lifted her wary eyes. "You are not upset that I killed him?" her voice shaky.

"Months ago I disagreed with you about this. I didn't want to see you revert back to your old self but you never did. You were calm and collected. Definitely not the old Xena that I first met. I am glad that he's gone. Now Anastasius can be the new emperor."

Xena smiled and leaned forward, kissing her partner on the lips gingerly.

"What was that for?" Gabrielle touched her lips.

"For being you," the dark haired warrior winked.

Kreka slipped Anastasia's dress off of her and threw it on the chair beside the bed. She then unpinned the veil and tossed that aside as well. Anastasia sobbed softly and Kreka frowned then rolled up the long sleeves on Ana's black slip.

"Why are you crying?" she asked worriedly.

"I'm not ready for this!" Ana cried out.

Kreka smiled softly. "Well, I suggest you get ready, tatli kiz. You may not be ready but your baby is." She grabbed Ana's hair and pinned it up.

"No, no." Ana shook her head and tried to get out of bed but the khatun pushed her back against the pillows. "I want my mother."

Kreka groaned. "She's not here! I will help you now will you just cooperate with me?" she said and Anastasia closed her mouth, batting her long lashes up at the woman. "I know you want your mother to be here for you but it's just not possible. Relax and don't get out of bed. I will be right back." She smiled and then left the bed.

"Wow! Do you see those Romans outside?!" Csaba came in and then saw his mother in bed and Kreka Khatun's eyes narrow. "Oh...what's going on?"

Kreka grabbed the boy by the shoulder and ushered him out. "You aren't supposed to go outside!"

"I didn't! I saw from the window!" he frowned and turned, facing his aunt, nearly eye level with the tall woman. "What's going on? Is she alright?"

"She's fine. Your mother will deliver the baby soon so I need to get gather a few things and –"

"Really?" his face lit up. "I want to help. Can I help?"

Kreka sighed and pushed the boy out of the room and closed the doors. "You aren't supposed to be in there."

"But she's my mother. I want to help, please?" he begged with his big green eyes. She smiled softly. His face reminded her so much of her stepson, Ellac. It was hard to resist that look in his eyes.

She relented, giving into his plea. "I need some new sheets and a water basin."

He nodded. "I can get that!" he ran off and she groaned lowly.

"And turmeric," she added softly as he was already rounding the corner. She rolled her eyes then decided to go outside to see how everything was fairing out there while there was only a bit of chaos inside the Adame.

Ernak came back with his older brother a couple of hours later and halted in front of the Adame. Leila ran up as soon as she saw Dengi being carried by one of the men. She gasped and knelt down beside him and Ernak arched an eyebrow.

"Uh, who are you?" he asked.

She sobbed softly and touched Dengi's badly beaten face. Judging by the look in her eyes and the way her hands touched his face, Ernak knew that this woman was more than just a friend of his brother's.

"Oh I see..." he nodded then spotted his mother walking towards them. He grabbed Leila by the arm and she struggled against him. "Hey! Stop!" he growled and she stared up into his eyes. "I can tell that you care for my brother but my mother can't see you." He said and Leila looked at Kreka Khatun walking over with a purpose. "I'll come for you later," he smiled. She nodded then slowly walked off.

Kreka's eyebrow rose and she saw a young woman walking off. "Who was that?" she asked and Ernak spun around.

"Nobody. These Caucasians. So nosy," he chuckled, trying to play it off.

She frowned and bent down, touching her son's cheek. Sighing heavily her fingertips grazed the cuts and bruises on his face. Slowly, Dengi's eyes opened and he looked into his mother's almond shaped hazel eyes and her warm smile.

"" he croaked.

She wiped her cheeks dry. "Yes, she's fine." She kissed his forehead then stood, facing her other son. "Where is Odoacer?" she looked around and all she saw was a bunch of dead Romans and no one else to be found.

Ernak shrugged. "He retreated I guess. He couldn't get what he was coming for. Tuya said that he would be back though."

"Of course." She nodded. "And where is she?"

He glanced around and saw the Hun soldiers cleaning up the mess and dragging Roman corpses across the snowy field. "I don't know. She was here a few minutes ago when I spoke with her."

"Hopefully she will turn up somewhere," Kreka said. "Take your brother inside. I will have someone tend to his wounds. I have to go back to Anastasia."

Ernak smiled and followed his mother. "Is she having the baby?" he asked and she sighed heavily. "I'll take that as a yes. So, how long?"

"Ernak, please," she put her hand up.

Xena, Gabrielle and Navaz rode into Balaam and saw a pile of Roman corpses next to the border. Gabrielle's eyes widened. "Wow, we missed some party," she said.

"Yes, apparently," Xena commented and everyone trotted into the territory slowly. All the Hun soldiers bowed their heads at Navaz and he smiled briefly. There, in front of the Adame she spotted Ernak and frowned.

Navaz groaned and trotted after Xena. He turned to Gabrielle. "Does she always do that?"

"Pretty much." Gabrielle smiled and rode behind him.

"Ernak!" Xena yelled and the young king turned at the sound of her voice. He smiled grandly and left a Bulgur's side to come greet her. She skid in the snow and frowned down at him. "What are you doing here?"

He adjusted his collar. "Well, I'll have you know I destroyed all of Zeno's legions in Pannonia and even got the Bulgurs to ally with me. Pretty proud of me now huh?"

"Hmm." She hopped off the horse and wrapped the fur coat around herself. "Good job, Ernak." She finally broke into a smile and pat his cheek roughly. He cringed and rubbed his face. "Where is Odoacer? I thought he was here."

He folded his arms. "How did you know about that?"

"That's not important."

Gabrielle halted her horse. "We had a little bit of a run in with Zeno."

"A run in?" Ernak pried and eyed Xena. "Oh...OH! You killed him didn't you?" his eyes grew with excitement. "Xena! You are a goddess!" he hugged her then kissed her cheek.

"Get off of me!" she snarled and he pulled away immediately. "Ernak. Odoacer."

"Oh right. Yeah, he was here hours ago, many hours ago but he retreated. He said that he'd be back." He nodded, sighing heavily. What a mess, he thought.

A loud high pitched scream echoed from inside the Adame and Xena turned as did Gabrielle and Navaz. Ernak slapped his forehead. "Oh yeah, and she's been screaming in there for hours." He thumbed the Adame behind him.

"Anastasia?" Navaz asked and before Ernak could respond, Xena ran up the stairs to the building with Gabrielle following behind. Navaz went to chase after them and Ernak grabbed his arm.

"Hey, whoa, you can't go in there."

"But she's my wife!"

Ernak sighed. "I'm aware but men aren't allowed in there. If you try to go in the room my mother will probably hit you and kick you out. So, word of advice, it's best to just let the ladies do their thing, you get me?" he smiled charmingly and Navaz frowned, shaking his head then ran up the stairs. "Hey! Don't say I didn't warn you!"

Anastasia grit her teeth and clutched onto Kreka's hand, panting heavily. Kreka dabbed her forehead and smiled at her. "I...need...the herbs." She said.

The khatun shook her head. "I can't give it to you, Anastasia."

"Why ever not?!" Ana snarled and glared at the khatun.

"Because you don't need it yet." She said and felt the bones in her hand being crushed. She winced and Ana lolled her head on the pillow, clutching onto the sheets, shutting her eyes as tightly as possible, trying to ignore the agonizing pain throughout her entire body.

Xena and Gabrielle walked into the room and Anastasia opened her eyes, turning her head. A smile graced her flushed face. "Mother!" she cried out and let go of Kreka's hand.

"Oh thank god," Kreka muttered and got off the bed, wagging her hand back and forth.

Xena sat on the edge of the bed and grabbed her daughter's hand, kissing her knuckles. "I told you I would be here for you."

"Timing. It's all about timing," Gabrielle said and Ana grinned at her.

Anastasia looked at her mother's face with several cuts and a bruise around her temple. "What happened?" she grazed her fingers along her mother's wounds.

"Don't worry about it," Xena said and grabbed her daughter's wrist. "I'll tell you later."

The young queen moaned loudly and her grip tightened around her mother's hand. Moments later when the contraction passed she lolled her head on the pillow, breathing heavily. " –is he here?" she asked.

"Yes he is," Xena said and looked over at Kreka's large frown. "Would to see him?" she said and Ana turned her head with a bemused and shocked expression.

Ana nodded her head with a big smile on her face and Kreka scoffed. "Oh please. Xena you know he can't come in here."

"Shut up Kreka." Xena left her daughter's side and Gabrielle smirked at the irritated khatun before trailing after Xena.

Csaba sat down on a bench with Navaz sitting beside him. "So, did my grandma really kill Zeno?" he asked and Navaz nodded.

Xena opened the door and both of them stood up. She smiled softly and tiredly at them both. Csaba walked forward, trying to peek through the crack in the door. "Did she have the baby yet?" he asked eagerly.

"Sorry Csaba, not even close." Xena said and then disappointment overcame him. "Navaz, she wants to see you." She said and his face paled.

He stepped forward and then was quickly reminded about what Ernak said. "Is Kreka going to hit me?" he asked curiously.

Gabrielle laughed and Xena nudged her in the ribs. "No, she's not. Just get in there before I change my mind, will you?" she said and Navaz quickly brushed past her.

Csaba folded his arms and he sulked. "He can go in and I can't?" he asked.

"Trust me, you don't want to be in there," Gabrielle advised. "Hey, why don't we go and play a game?" she offered.

"But I want to stay here in case something happens," he said. Xena grinned softly and wrapped her arm around her tall lanky grandson.

"With the way things are going, you'll be waiting for hours."

He gasped. "Hours? But I've already waited five hours!"

Together, all three of them walked down the long hallway. "Nothing is going to happen until morning most likely," Xena said and his eyes widened.

"Morning?!" his mouth gaped. "My god. Poor mother." He frowned sadly. Xena and Gabrielle shared a small smile.

Ernak rounded the corner and saw the three together. "Hey, any news yet?"

Xena rolled her eyes. "You're just as bad as him." And Csaba frowned up at her when she said that.

"To be fair, you ladies don't tell us men shit about these things." He said and Csaba grinned.

"See? I'm not the only one!" he said and Xena pinched his arm. "Ow!" he rubbed his arm and grimaced. "So, are you going to tell me how you killed Zeno?"

Xena's eyes grew and her lip quivered. "Who told you that?!" she hissed.

" know what, never mind. We can talk about it later." Csaba pried his grandmother's arm off of him and walked down the hallway. "About that game, Gabrielle?" he asked.

Gabrielle sighed. "Are you coming, Xena?"

The warrior waved her hand. "I'll stay here in case Anastasia needs me."

Gabrielle smiled and then walked off with Csaba, talking with him in hushed voices. Ernak sauntered over and nudged Xena's arm playfully.

Xena creased her eyebrows. "What?"

"Come on. Tell me how you killed the Roman pig. What did you do? Crucify him? Cut off his limbs?" he asked, wriggling his eyebrows.

"I beheaded him," she said flatly.

He gasped. "Praise the Lord! Tell me how you did it. I need details." He said and she turned, walking back to Ana's room. "Hey, wait! Come on, Xena! Give me the details!" he ran after her.

Chapter Text

I really need a map to show everyone what I'm talking about in this story I swear lol. Sorry to those that may not understand this geography very well. Lots of switching around from place to place.

Chapter 23 –Scythians vs Huns

Early in the morning Navaz came out of the queen's bedroom and saw Csaba laying down on the bench, throwing a small ball up in the air repeatedly. He folded his arms and cocked his head, watching the thirteen year old wide awake and obviously very bored.

He waltzed over to the boy and Csaba turned his head then immediately hopped off the bench. "Have you been awake all night?" he asked.

"Yes," Csaba peeked behind him at the doors to his mother's room. "I wanted to see if anything happened."

Navaz smiled softly. "She's sleeping."

The boy contorted his face in confusion. "But, I heard her a couple of hours ago. How can she be asleep at a time like this?!"

"Well, she's not really asleep," the king said and Csaba arched an eyebrow. "Your grandmother gave her something to ease the pain." He said and the boy nodded his head. "She also kicked me out."

"Of course she did. How come I can't see my mother?"

Navaz shrugged his shoulder. "I'm not the one to ask those questions to, Csaba." He eyed the boy that kept tossing the palm sized ball in the air continuously. "I haven't forgotten about your birthday. Your mother said we can celebrate it later, maybe tomorrow?"

Csaba's eyes lit up then he sighed heavily. "The baby is more important. I can wait." He said, trying be very patient and he had waited almost all day yesterday and all night for some news but was left in the dark. Now he understands what Ernak meant by men not knowing anything that goes on behind closed doors.

Tuya came walking down the hallway, her face flushed and her hair wild beneath her veil. Navaz rose and frowned at the sight of his mother, whom had been missing in action for hours now. "Mother, where have you been?" he walked to her and brushed the dirt off her cheeks.

She sighed. "I had to take care of something." She eyed Csaba cautiously and then turned back to her son. "Gokturks."

Navaz nodded, understanding. "Anastasia has been in labor for hours. I was kicked out by the women," he thumbed the door behind him.

She smiled. "Oh really?" she looked at the closed doors. "I'm going to change and I will go see her." She briskly walked down the hallway to change into another dress for the day. Navaz turned to Csaba and saw he was dying of boredom.

"Do you want to go do something?" he asked.

"I want to stay here," Csaba said, remaining in his place.

"Well, I don't think anything is going to happen with you just sitting here. Why don't we go check on your uncle?" he offered and Csaba looked at the doors and heard Xena talking, or rather arguing with Kreka Khatun.

"Alright," he set the ball down on the bench and walked with Navaz down the hallway.

Gabrielle sat on the bed next to Anastasia while Xena sat on the edge on the other side of her daughter. Kreka loomed over the bed with her arms folded and quite irritated with everyone and everything at the moment. All the women slept in the room last night, minus Tuya, after Xena gave Anastasia the herbal tea.

"This is taking far too long," Kreka commented. Anastasia lolled her head to the side, barely able to open her eyes. Gabrielle held onto her hand and Kreka rolled her eyes. "How much of that stuff did you give her?" she turned to Xena.

Xena frowned and looked up at the irate Hun queen. "You've been on edge for the last few hours!"

"Well, this is not normal. She is high out of her mind, Xena! Look at her!" Kreka groaned. She turned when she saw Tuya enter the room. "Oh great," she muttered.

Tuya stood next to Kreka and looked down at Anastasia whom was completely unaware of what was going on around her. "How is it going?"

"Not good, obviously," Kreka turned to the queen mother. "Where the hell have you been?"

"I had to blockade the Gokturks before they came into Balaam." She said and Xena spun around. "I handled it."

"Gokturks live nearby?" Xena asked worriedly and Tuya nodded. "Fantastic." She turned to focus on her daughter and snapped her fingers. "Anastasia," she said firmly and her daughter opened her eyes, staring at her confusedly.

Gabrielle pat Ana's hand, trying to wake her up. "Ana," she said in her ear. "Can you hear us?" she asked and Anastasia nodded her head. "How do you feel now?"

"I feel..." Ana smiled, "fine."

Tuya frowned. "What is wrong with this girl? What did you give her?"

"Crampbark," Kreka said. "We should have given her scullcap root."

"Or chamomile," Tuya suggested.

Kreka scoffed. "Chamomile? You want her to be put to sleep indefinitely?" she spat.

Xena rolled her eyes and Gabrielle sighed heavily, listening to those two argue back and forth. She placed her hand on her daughter's abdomen and frowned. As she was trying to focus she kept hearing those two women behind her bickering. Her eyebrows rose and then she got off the bed and spun around.

"Shut up! Both of you!" she yelled and both queens folded their arms, glaring at each other. Xena grabbed them and pulled them aside to talk to both of them.

Anastasia frowned and turned to Gabrielle. "She made a face. What does that mean? Why did she make that face?" she began panting to the point of hyperventilating.

Gabrielle smiled softly. "Hey calm down. Don't worry." She tried to calm her and had her eyes focused on the circle of women talking in a corner. Xena using her hands as she spoke softly and both women nodded their heads over and over.

Ana looked over and saw the three long dark haired women whispering to each other. "They look like a gaggle of hens," she scoffed and Gabrielle stifled a laugh. "Hens...Huns...what's the difference, right?" she smirked and Gabrielle chuckled lightly.

Xena came back to the bed and exhaled heavily. "We will see what happens in a few hours. If nothing happens then we will have to resort to something else."

Anastasia's eyes widened. "What is that supposed to mean?" she asked, panic setting in. Kreka and Tuya stared at her with stone faces and their arms folded. "Why do you all have that same expression on your faces?!" her eyes darted from each woman and then breathed heavily.

"Anastasia, please," Xena grabbed her arm firmly. "Just relax and –"

"Something is wrong, isn't there?" she asked, fear in her big eyes.

Xena groaned and shook her head. "No, just stay put. I will be right back." She said and eyed her partner. "Gabrielle, come with me," she nudged her head towards the doors.

Gabrielle closed the doors behind her and stared up at Xena. "You just lied to her." She stated then folded her arms. "What's wrong with her?"

"Nothing is wrong with her," Xena started walking down the hallway. "Is there no midwife in this place?" she growled, growing more irritated.

Gabrielle grabbed her arm, pulling her back. "Xena, what is going on?"

Xena sighed and rubbed her forehead. "If she doesn't deliver the baby soon then we will have to perform a caesarean delivery and I don't know how to do it!" she grunted. "I need to go find someone that knows how.

"Oh..." Gabrielle rubbed her chin. "I see the problem."

"Xena!" Ernak ran up to her with a letter in his hand.

"What is it now?" Xena frowned and he approached her cautiously.

Holding the letter out she snatched it from his hands. "A message from the Queen of Scythia." He said and she sighed, unfolding the letter.

"I don't have time for this," she muttered and crumbled the letter and threw it on the ground, storming off. "Where is Navaz?" she asked, whipping her head from left to right, scanning the halls.

Gabrielle caught up to her. "What did it say?"

"Arpad allied with the Scythian Queen because we took his army and didn't pay him." Xena said and marched down the hallway, looking through all the empty rooms searching for Navaz. "God damnit! Ernak!" she yelled and he came running to her side.

"Yes, Xena?" he said, staring into her wild eyes.

"Find Navaz. I have to go do something."

He nodded. "Alright. What do you want to do about the Scythian Queen?"

"I don't care about her. She's not even in this territory. Just find Navaz and we will deal with her later," Xena said dismissively. He ran off and she walked outside, surveying the entire encampment. "Now, I need to find a woman skilled in this."

Gabrielle sighed and saw the thousands of yurts. "How are we going to do that? There must be hundreds of women here."

Xena turned and grabbed one of the guards by his collar. "Do you have a signal to call everyone to the center of the city?" she growled and he nodded. "Do it." she demanded and he ran to the guards by the drums and horns beside the Adame.

"Are you sure this is going to work?" Gabrielle asked skeptically.

"Do you have any better ideas?"

Gabrielle sighed. "Didn't we try to make a deal with the Scythian Queen years ago?"

The commander nodded. "Yes, but it didn't stick."

"I can't remember why..."

"She wanted to kill everyone." Xena said flatly.

"I'm surprised you and her don't get along," the blonde jested and she received a harsh glare from the brunette next to her. "Maybe you could work out a peace treaty with her?" she suggested.

"Doubt it."

Queen Tomiri of Scythia sat on her throne with one leg over the armrest, waiting patiently for her son to return from the mountains of the Caucasus. She told him to remain discreet and not to get involved with the Gokturk tribes that lay dormant in the mountains. A small tribal mountain people were not of her concern but the Huns were. She didn't like them and she wanted them gone so she could expand her empire in the Caucasus Mountains and maybe even take Pannonia like she tried to years ago but failed.

General Sparga, also the only son of Queen Tomiri, ran into the throne room and she swung her leg off the armrest and stood, waltzing over to him. She smiled and brushed her two long braids behind her shoulders.

"So, what did you find?" she asked.

He wiped the sweat from his brow and stared into his mother's chocolate brown eyes. "There are thousands of them, mother. Thousands of Huns in Armenia."

"God damnit," she mumbled and turned around, crossing her arms.

"Pannonian Huns, Bulgurs and White Huns are there."

She spun around with wild eyes. "Pannonian?!" she snarled. "I thought they were wiped out by Zeno?"

He shook his head. "No mother. The wife of Khushnavaz is Xena's daughter."

Tomiri smiled and tapped her fingers on her arms as she stared out the windows, overlooking the mountainous terrain. "Xena. I remember her. It seems our Magyar King forgot to tell me that little detail." She turned to her son. "Bring Arpad to me at once. I wish to have words with him."

"Yes, mother." Sparga bowed his head then quickly exited the room.

Moments later King Arpad walked into the throne chamber and he was alone with the queen. He nervously looked at her as she was admiring her blade in the sunlight through the window. The light reflecting on the blade almost blinded him. Tomiri smiled and turned to him with a most menacing smile. A smile that most definitely did not compliment her gorgeous features, her pale skin, jet black hair and big brown eyes.

"Arpad." She walked over and twirled the sword with her wrist. "Friend. Ally. Liar."

His eyes grew. "I did not lie to you, Tomiri."

She laughed. "Oh but you did. You failed to tell me that Xena is in Armenia and her daughter is a queen. I can't have a Pannonian queen so close to my empire. I am the only queen in this area. There is no room for another."

"You should not be so concerned with Xena's daughter. She is nothing like her mother and she's carrying a child." Arpad folded his arms.

Tomiri's eyes widened as did her smile. "A baby. Remind me to send a gift to her when I ransack her kingdom." She tapped the tip of her blade with her fingertip. "As for you!" she pointed the sword at him and slowly walked towards him. He backed away as her blade inched closer and closer.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you."

Arpad eyed the blade and then the queen's dark looming eyes. "I can act as your envoy and go to Balaam to talk with Xena and Anastasia. I can convince them to give me back my army and army will be yours." He offered and she smirked.

"Why would I want your army? You were stupid enough to give it to those fucking Huns because you were greedy!" she spat and raised her sword up to strike him.

"I can convince them!" he begged.

She lowered her sword. "Guards!" she yelled and they ran to her aid. "Tie him up outside." She smiled and the guards grabbed Arpad, dragging him off. "Hopefully you won't die of hypothermia. I will consider what you said." She waved her hand, shooing the guards away.

Sparga came into the room after he watched the Magyar King being dragged off by his mother's men. He turned and saw her admiring her sword in the sunlight. "Mother..."

"Yes, sevgilim?" she said.

"Will you attack the White Hun kingdom?" he asked, eyeing her.

She turned and cupped his cheek. "Of course and when I seize Armenia you will be in control." She smiled.

Sparga lowered his eyes and then Tomiri left his side, sheathing her blade. "And what of Arpad? Will you allow him to help you?"

"No. At sundown he will be executed." She said and the doors opened for her as she trailed down the halls of her palace.

Navaz ran inside the Adame and found Xena, Gabrielle and one of the middle-aged women that he had known for years. He frowned at her and the woman lowered her eyes. "Why do you have Kosem?" he asked suspiciously.

"Don't worry about that," Xena said. Anastasia's loud screeching voice echoed throughout the Adame and his eyes widened. "Listen," she grabbed his shoulder, "I want you to send men to the borders of Balaam. The Scythian Queen sent a message to us that she has allied with Arpad. I don't want her army coming here. Scythia isn't far from here and knowing her, she probably has scouts in the mountains."

He heard his wife screaming again and he cringed. Trying his best to ignore that he focused on Xena's task. "Alright...I will do that." He said and she nodded, grabbing Kosem's arm, heading towards the queen's room. "Xena! What is going on?"

"Nothing! Just go!" she ordered and he arched an eyebrow, then ran out of the Adame.

Kreka sat on the edge of the bed, holding onto Ana's hand tightly, wiping the sweat off her forehead. Tuya frowned and stood by her side, looking at the flushed face of the young queen and her hair sprawled across the pillows.

"Where the hell is Xena?!" Kreka growled and another ear piercing scream filled the room. Tuya pinched her nose and exhaled heavily.

"Right here," Xena rushed inside, holding Kosem by her arm and Gabrielle stood beside Tuya. "I found someone," she said Kreka got off the bed, leaving Ana's side.

Anastasia breathed heavily and lifted her head, staring at a strange woman. "Who...who is that?" she eyed her mother, creasing her eyebrows. Xena sat down beside her daughter and pulled back her drenched hair back from her flushed face. Ana watched the woman heating up a knife over a fire and her eyes widened.

"What is...she doing?" she eyed her mother and Xena grabbed a cloth and twisted it tightly. "Mother!" her breathing quickened as she saw the woman come closer to the bed with the blazing knife.

"Bite on this," Xena shoved the cloth into her daughter's mouth. Kosem nervously approached the frightened young queen and lifted her dress. Anastasia's eyes grew in fear and she screamed muffled by the cloth in her mouth. She scooted back against the headboard and Xena wrapped her arms around her, firmly holding onto her. "Stay still!" she ordered and Ana shook her head vehemently as the knife came closer to her bare stomach.

Gabrielle cringed and turned away. Kreka folded her arms and leaned against the bed post. Tuya put a hand over her eyebrows, staring at the fear in Anastasia's eyes. Kosem cut into Anastasia's skin and Xena held onto her arms as she tried to squirm away. Tears streaming down her face as the knife cut deep into her womb.

Kreka peered over the woman's shoulder observing. Kosem set the knife down on the sheets and reached inside the young queen's womb. Xena arched her eyebrow watching intently and Anastasia's eyes rolled in the back of her head and passed out onto the pillow from exhaustion. Xena spun her head around and pat her daughter's cheek softly.

Gradually, Kosem pulled out the baby by its feet first and smiled softly. Kreka grinned and heard the infant's cry. Tuya leaned over and grinned staring at the crying baby. Gabrielle finally turned around and came around to the side of the bed and saw Kosem handing the baby to Kreka in a blanket.

"Finally!" the khatun grinned and cleaned off the baby's face with the blanket. "A girl to break the cycle of princes."

Gabrielle and Xena shared a wide smile together. Kosem quickly sewed up the incision and eyed the unconscious queen. "She should wake up in a few hours. There was not a lot of blood. She is probably just tired."

Xena nodded and took the cloth out of her daughter's mouth and covered her body with the clean sheet. "Thank you," she said and Kosem grinned, bowing her head then turned to leave. She stood and looked at Kreka fondling over the baby in her arms. "Kreka," she held out her arms.

Reluctantly Kreka handed off the baby to Xena and folded her arms. "I will go tell Navaz," she said and hurried over to the doors.

Swinging open the door she saw both her sons, Csaba and Navaz standing outside altogether. Ernak grinned at the shock on his mother's face. "We heard a baby." He said and she arched an eyebrow. "Could you tell Xena that we have the borders guarded?"

"I will but I came to get Navaz," she turned to the anxious and nervous king. Allowing him to pass she smiled softly. Csaba followed him and she grabbed his shoulder. "You can't go in there."

The boy frowned sadly. "Why not? I want to see the baby and my mother. I've been waiting forever!"

"You can see them later." She said and he sighed heavily.

"Sooo?" Dengi looked at his mother eagerly.

"A girl, finally," she said with a big grin. Dengi and Ernak nodded at each other and Csaba's eyes lit up.

Dengi stepped forward nervously. "Mother, I want to tell you something." He said and she folded her arms, staring at him intensely. "I want to marry this girl I've been seeing for awhile and I want to –"

"The Caucasian girl?" Kreka said and his face paled. "I've seen you with her before, Dengizich. You think you're so sly." She smirked and then kissed his cheek. "You can marry her but in Pannonia! Not here."

"Really?" he asked, quite surprised at his mother's reaction. He expected her to lash out angrily or worse.

She nodded. "Yes, really. I expect you to give me granddaughters," she poked his chest then walked off.

Ernak laughed and he nudged his brother's arm playfully. "Wow, the pressure!" he teased and Dengi growled, shoving his brother away. "Hey! It's just a joke. Well, mother doesn't really joke about those kinds of things."

"How long do you think it will be until I can see them?" Csaba asked his uncles.

Dengi grabbed the boy by his shoulder. "Probably awhile. You should get some sleep before you pass out."

"I'm not tired!"

"That's what they all say," Ernak muttered.

Xena and Gabrielle walked into the large bath house together and saw a few women washing their hair in the steamy hot water. Gabrielle took off her clothes piece by piece and eyed Xena, slowly taking off her blouse and then saw the lashes on her back.

"Xena..." she gasped. The warrior's head hung, hiding behind her veil of hair. "Did Zeno do that to you?" her voice in a soft whisper.

"It will fade," Xena said and slipped off her dark pants and walked into the hot bath. The water stinging her wounds on her body, she wrapped her arms around herself. "Are you going to come in or stare all night?" she teased.

Gabrielle sighed and stepped into the bath, dipping her short locks in the water. Finally, relieved that all of that was over, for now. They still had the stupid Scythian Queen to worry about, but that was for another day. Tomorrow, she thought. Tonight, she felt like a person again and it was really nice to sit in a hot bath while it snowed furiously outside.

"I'm surprised that you didn't stay with Anastasia," she hinted and rubbed some oil onto her arms.

Xena smiled softly. "She knows what to do, besides, she's knocked out."

"Poor girl," Gabrielle sighed. "You could have warned her that was going to happen."

"If I did she would just panic." She said and winced as she rubbed the oil one of her open wounds on her shoulder.

Gabrielle swam over and pulled Xena's wet hair away from her backside to take a good look at the lashes. She grazed her fingers on the wounds and frowned sadly. "I'm sorry that he did this to you, Xena."

"He got what he wanted but he lost in the end," Xena turned and smiled softly at the concerned blonde behind her. Cupping her cheeks she kissed her lips briefly. Gabrielle smiled and swam backward with a teasing smile.

"So, we can finally sleep in our own bed tonight..." she hinted and Xena arched her eyebrow.

"Yes?" she sank lower into the water, eyeing her from across the bath.

Kreka walked into the bath house and saw the two together. She smirked and Gabrielle turned to her, immediately sinking into the water, only her eyes above the water. "Am I interrupting something?" she pried.

"No, not at all," Xena waded in the water and ran her hand across her hair.

Kreka eyed both of them and then the robe around her body fell to the ground. Gabrielle's eyes widened as she stared at the woman's body for the first time. All the years she had spent with these people she only ever saw Xena naked but never anyone else. Kreka ran her fingers through her stick straight hair that reached her hips, just like Xena's and Anastasia's –pretty much all the women here.

Gabrielle's eyes remained wide and in shock. She couldn't stop looking at her body and it definitely wasn't what she expected. Kreka always wore dresses that hid her figure and her collar reaching her neck, concealing everything underneath. This woman's body was slender and her hips large, complimenting her small waist.

Xena caught Gabrielle's eyes wandering on the khatun and smirked. She splashed some water over and Gabrielle rose from the water, rubbing her eyes. "What's the matter Gabrielle? Never seen a naked woman before?" she teased, sinking into the hot water.

"No!" Gabrielle spat and her cheeks flushed. "I know what I mean," she grumbled. Kreka stepped into the water, wetting her long locks and Gabrielle waded away from her, moving closer to Xena. What is it with these women and their perfectly toned bodies, she wondered?

Kreka smiled and swam over to Gabrielle and saw the blonde's eyes widen fearfully. She reached behind her to grab the bottle of oil. "Just needed this," she said and Xena smiled smugly, enjoying Gabrielle's uncomfortable nature at the moment.

"Anastasia finally woke up," she said and Xena's face lit up. "She named the baby Arielle," she eyed the blonde, "after you, Gabrielle."

"Really?" Gabrielle beamed. "I feel special."

"You are special," Xena said and Gabrielle hid her shy grin. "And Navaz? Is he with her?"

Kreka nodded. "I don't think you could pry him away." She smiled and rubbed the oil into her hair. "Tuya is coming over here."

Xena groaned. "Fabulous." She leaned against the bath wall. "Get ready to feel real awkward, Gabrielle."

"I don't feel awkward!" Gabrielle retorted, seeing what kind of game Xena was playing. "As long as she doesn't look like you two then I'll be fine."

Kreka frowned. "Like what?"

"Yeah, Gabrielle, like what?" Xena teased.

The red cheeks on the blonde was so apparent, she turned around and washed her face. "Never mind. Forget I said anything." She muttered. Kreka and Xena shared a knowing look with each other and smiled smugly.

Tuya walked in and saw all three of them in the baths together. She waltzed over and saw the flushed blonde in a corner of the baths and smirked. Kreka turned around and saw the queen mother standing in a floor length robe. Xena nudged Gabrielle's arm.

"I'm not going to look this time," Gabrielle muttered.

"Well, I'm going to," Xena smirked and watched Tuya disrobe herself. Gabrielle peeked through her fingers and her jaw dropped. This woman's body was even better than Kreka's and not to mention every single one of them was very tall and suddenly she felt like a shrimp next to them.

"Seriously?!" she spat and Tuya eyed her before slipping into the water. "That's it, I'm leaving." She grumbled and Xena grabbed her arm, bringing her closer.

"Oh no you're not. You're going to sit here with everyone else," she said and eyed Tuya dip her long dark hair into the water.

"Xena..." she groaned. "This is so awkward." She whispered.

"Nobody said you had to stare," Xena whispered and Gabrielle punched her shoulder.

Kreka poured water over her arm and waded in the water closer to Xena and saw Gabrielle scoot away gradually. "I think we should move back to Pannonia. Dengi told me he wants to marry a Caucasian girl."

Xena's eyes widened. "Leila?" she said.

"How do you know her name?"

"Not important." Xena smiled. "I would like to move back. I don't like this place. No offense," she stared at Tuya. "But Anastasia will have to stay here. I can't expect her to move back with us."

Kreka nodded. "Yes. That is a problem. She can come visit for awhile if she wants to. Maybe to escape the Caucasus winters." She suggested.

Xena agreed. "There is another problem. The Scythian Queen allied with Arpad. I know she is going to come here. She doesn't want peace, she wants war. If Anastasia could go to Pannonia..." she trailed off.

Tuya frowned. "You would have her leave so soon?"

"Well, I don't want her to die, Tuya. She is my daughter after all," Xena turned to the queen mother who averted her eyes elsewhere, oiling her skin. "We can wait and see what the bitch wants first," her eyes narrowed and she sunk into the water.

Are these women seriously talking about politics right now, Gabrielle thought. Naked in a bath. Everyone talking so casually about political matters while they're naked. This is not what she was envisioning her night would be like. In fact, this entire week had been a mess and everything was unexpected, including tonight.

"What do you think Gabrielle?" Xena asked.

"Huh?" she turned and saw Kreka and Xena staring at her. "Oh, right. Pannonia. Yeah, great idea." She smiled sheepishly. "I think I'm finished here." She quickly got out of the bath and grabbed her robe, wrapping it around herself.

Xena smirked and waded to the other side of the bath to retrieve her robe and clothes. "You two have fun and try not to kill each other," she teased and stepped out of the water.

Anastasia lay on her side beside Navaz as he held the baby in his arms. She leaned her cheek on her palm, watching him intently. Still feeling incredibly sore and exhausted from yesterday she was advised to stay in bed for many days, which was going to be terrible, she thought, especially since there were so many women here at her disposal.

Navaz smiled, staring at his daughter and then looked over at his wife who had her eyes glued to him. "How are you feeling?"

She sighed heavily. "Tired. Very tired." She shifted in the bed and winced. "Could you go get my mother for me?" she asked and he nodded, setting the baby down on the bed beside her. She grinned and grazed her finger along her daughter's cheek.

Csaba walked into his mother's room very quietly and she lifted her head, seeing her son for the first time in what seemed like forever. He smiled and leaned over the bed, eyeing his baby sister laying next to his mother. "Can I see her?" he whispered.

Nodding her head, she sat up slowly and grabbed her daughter, cradling her small body in her arms. Csaba hopped onto the bed and scooted close to his mother, looking into his sister's big eyes. "Arielle..." he smiled brightly. "Can I hold her? I'll be careful."

She quirked her mouth and hesitantly handed off her daughter to her son's open arms. "Hold her head," she said and her hands hovered over, making sure he held her correctly.

"Mom, I know what I'm doing," he eyed her nervous face.

Xena walked into the room and saw her grandson holding Arielle and of course Anastasia fussing over him the entire time. "You sent for me?" she interrupted and Ana lifted her head.

"Yes..." she took one last look at her son and then back to her mother. "I need something for this pain," she said lowly and Xena nodded silently and made her way over to the table filled with herbs from last night. "Where's Gabrielle?"

"She's still sleeping. You know how she is," Xena smirked and poured some lavender into hot tea and stirred it with a spoon. Walking over to the bed she handed her daughter the herbal tea.

Anastasia let out a breathy exhaled and sipped the hot tea and wrapped her hand over her swollen abdomen, wincing at the twinges of pain that still lingered. "You could have told me that was going to happen."

Xena shrugged her shoulder. "I didn't want to worry you." She peered over at Arielle's wandering eyes, staring up at the ceiling and her older brother. "Arielle, huh?" she said and Ana smiled.

"How long do I have to stay in bed?" she asked, already bored and it hadn't even been a day yet since her daughter's birth.

"For a week at least. You need time to heal and it's not like you need to be somewhere, right?" she winked and Ana groaned. "Listen, Anastasia, in a couple of months when you are fully healed I am going to send you to Pannonia."

Anastasia frowned. "Pannonia? Why?"

"Queen Tomiri has her eye on Balaam and I don't want you here when she comes. I know she will come here. I will send you, Csaba and Arielle to Pannonia with Ernak. Kreka can accompany you so she can help you but I need to stay here with Navaz and Gabrielle to make sure the area is secure."

"The Scythian Queen?" Anastasia said and Xena nodded. "What does she want?"

The commander sighed heavily. "I don't know but she allied with Arpad. I don't want you to fight me on this, Anastasia. You know how ruthless Tomiri is. We tried to ally with her in the past when Ellac was king and you know how well that turned out."

The Hun queen nodded, remembering that all too well. "Alright," she relented. "I will go." She turned and smiled at both of her children.

Xena grinned and kissed her daughter's forehead. "Thank you." She felt a weight lifted off her shoulders. For once, Anastasia did not disagree with her. "So, do you need anything else?" she asked.

"You can stay here you know," Ana hinted and her mother sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Are you asking me to stay?" Xena teased.

Ana furrowed her eyebrows, knowing the game her mother was playing. "I want you to stay. Please."

Arielle began whimpering softly and Csaba's arms locked up and his body stiffened with fear. "Mother..." he panicked and Anastasia grinned. "What do I do?"

"Give her to me," she held her arms out and he passed his crying sister over to his mother willingly. Cuddling the infant close to her breast she smiled warmly, wiping the tears from her daughter's cheeks.

Twenty Seven Years Ago

Xena sat in her yurt alone with her daughter laying on the floor in a pile of warm fur skins. She kept staring at her daughter while she was crying. Xena's eyes wide and her body frozen, not knowing what to do. Only a few weeks before, she lost Borias in the battle against the Visigoths and now she was alone. Now she had a daughter to take care of and she didn't know what to do. She didn't think that she was going to go through this alone and the realization that the father of her child was gone had not hit her yet.

Cera, the wife of Attila, walked into the yurt when she heard the child crying loudly. "Xena?" her voice soft and pleasing to the ears. Slowly, Xena turned and had tears in her eyes and her hair was unkempt. The redheaded Hun queen smiled and walked over, sitting down beside her husband's commander.

"Your daughter." She said and Xena turned back to her crying daughter. Cera reached over and picked up the baby in her arms, cuddling her close to her chest, smiling warmly. "You don't need to cry, little one." She whispered and Anastasia's cries calmed as she stared into Cera's big green eyes. "See? Not so bad, right?"

Xena wiped her cheeks and stared at Cera in awe. "How did you do that?"

"My mother was a midwife." Cera said and saw the distress on Xena's face. "You are not alone, you know. I will be here for you." She stared into the blue confused eyes beside her. "Xena," she began and lay Anastasia back down on the animal skins, slowly falling asleep. "You can't raise her as a girl, you know that, right?"

Xena wiped her nose and stared at her daughter. "What do I do?" almost pleading to the queen.

The redheaded woman smiled. "Do what you need to do, Xena. I can have someone come and stay with you for awhile. I don't want you to be alone." She stood slowly and brushed her hands along her dress.

Xena turned and watched the woman leave her home and frowned sadly, staring at her slumbering daughter once more. For the first time in her life she had to think about someone other than herself and she was going to make sure that her daughter was protected and safe.

Finally, she smiled and laid on her side, tucking the blankets close to Anastasia's cheeks. Together, they were alone but Xena realized that she wasn't truly alone. At least, not completely. She propped herself up on her elbow and saw her daughter yawning as she slept. She never thought that she could love someone so much in her life before until now. She wanted to keep her daughter and didn't want to send her away and would protect her for her entire life. She promised herself that.

Chapter Text

This is about to be the longest war I've ever written but it will be well worth it. Many plans for the Huns as well as Gabrielle and Xena. Enjoy :)

Chapter 24 –The Wrath of Queen Tomiri Part I of V

Gathered in a large room inside the Adame, Csaba was finally able to celebrate his birthday, nearly a month after his actual birth date. Sitting in a circle on the floor, Anastasia and Navaz sat together with Arielle in a bassinet in between Ana and her mother. Gabrielle sat beside Xena and Kreka with Tuya beside Navaz on the other side of the circle.

Csaba opened Gabrielle's gift first and he was surprised to see a leather satchel filled with a lot of parchment, ink and plenty of quill pens. He looked up at his blonde aunt as he called her from time to time. "Let me guess, this is for studying Latin, isn't it?"

Anastasia frowned, "Csaba!" she reprimanded and he smiled.

"It's really nice. Thanks Gabrielle. I'll make sure to use it all the time." He leaned over and whispered, "but for drawing, not for Latin."

The blonde smirked and lightly hit the boy's arm. "Very funny, Csaba. You should open Xena's gift next. I'm sure you'll love it. Right, Xena?" she peered up at the warrior.

"I hope so," Xena smiled and leaned back on her palms as she watched her grandson open the large flat box.

Anastasia had seen those boxes before and she shot her mother a glare. "Tell me you didn't..." she said and Csaba pulled out a long sword and he smiled from ear to ear. "You did." And her mother gave her a sneaky knowing look. Rolling her eyes, she focused back on her son.

"Wow!" he raised the sword in the air. "Will you teach me how to use it like you did before?" he eyed his grandmother.

Xena quirked her mouth and eyed her annoyed daughter. "Maybe your mother can teach you. She is very good with a sword you know." She said and Ana smiled softly.

"Really?" he turned to his mother. "Can you teach me?" he hoped.

His mother nodded. "Of course I will teach you."

He set the sword down and looked over at Navaz. "Alright, I've been waiting forever. Where is it?" he begged and Anastasia frowned.

"Csaba! Seriously? Tatli cocuk," she waved her hand dismissively at his needy and greedy attitude.

Navaz chuckled and looked at his irritated wife. "Don't stress yourself out," he whispered in her ear and kissed her cheek. She fumed and folded her arms at her eager son. Navaz stood and went in the other room to grab his stepson's present.

Csaba tapped his fingertips together as he waited for Navaz to come out with his present. His eyes lit up when he saw the gift. "A bow! I knew it," he walked over, not even giving the king a chance to come towards him. "Thanks," he said and Navaz smiled down at the lanky teenager. He walked over and showed Gabrielle and Xena.

Xena examined the bow and pulled the string back, testing the strength of the weapon. "Very nice," she said, "for a bowman," he eyed Navaz with a teasing smile.

"At least he got meaningful gifts," Ana commented and glanced over at her mother. "My mother gave me a dress for my fourteenth birthday." She smirked and Xena rolled her eyes.

Navaz sat back down and confusedly looked to his wife and Xena. "What's so bad about that?"

Kreka laughed and lowered the glass of hot tea from her lips. "You mean, Anastasia never told you?" she said and he shook his head. "Oh, I would like to stay and listen for this story."

"Can we not?" Xena eyed the khatun and Kreka shrugged a shoulder.

"I want to hear it," Navaz said.

Anastasia sighed and peered over in the bassinet to see her slumbering daughter. She had no idea how her daughter was able to sleep through all of this noise. The longer she stared at her infant daughter she realized that she was able to have a daughter with no repercussions unlike her mother. At that particular time it was frowned upon to have daughters and many were sent away because of the fear of the Goths taking female children and killing them. Before, she didn't understand why her mother raised her as a boy, but now she understood why and never questioned her mother about it anymore. Her daughter, Arielle, was free here.

She thought of her childhood and what great fun she had with Attila's sons and she was the only girl in Pannonia and she never truly felt like she was a girl around the boys. They didn't know she was a girl until she was thirteen but even after everyone knew, Ernak, Dengi and Ellac didn't treat her differently. She would always see Ernak and Dengizich as her brothers. Now, she would like to thank her mother for giving her that opportunity to live with her and maybe at that age she was too harsh and not understanding.

Eyeing her mother she saw shame in her eyes and a sad expression on her face. Smiling warmly she turned to Navaz, who was eagerly waiting for her to explain herself and her childhood. So many things that she hadn't told her own husband, but she didn't want to humiliate her mother while telling this story. She didn't deserve that. Nobody did.

"Why raise me as a boy anyway?" she asked sincerely, feeling more confused than angry at the moment.

Xena rubbed her forehead and tapped her fingers on her knee. "To protect you."

Anastasia scoffed, "protect me? Protect me from what?!" she was now getting angry.

"Look around, Ana!" Xena frowned, "do you see any girls in this tribe?" she asked and her daughter lowered her eyes. She lifted her daughter's chin, "you are the only girl here and you may not understand now, but you will later." She said and her daughter grimaced.

"Well maybe it would have been better if I was never born then."

Anastasia took in a deep breath and Xena lowered her eyes and Kreka had a smug grin on her lips. "My mother...raised me as a boy until I was thirteen." She began and Navaz's eyes widened in shock. She continued, "I didn't understand why at the time and I thought I was a curse." She eyed her mother and Gabrielle grabbed Xena's hand firmly. "But, I'm glad that she did because then I would have never grown up in my homeland with people that cared about me the most –Attila, Ellac, Ernak, Dengizich and later Gabrielle."

Xena lifted her eyes and gaped at her daughter with surprise. Anastasia smiled warmly and spoke directly to her, "and a lot of people will never understand her reasoning behind what she did and those that did are gone now. I know what she did was to protect me and I am grateful for everything she has done for me. I am also grateful that my daughter will not have to grow up the same way I did –living in fear and hidden from the world."

Finishing her story that had been locked away for so many years she shared a warm smile with her mother and Gabrielle grinned, leaning against Xena's shoulder. Navaz rubbed his chin and Ana turned to see his bemused face.

"That is...very interesting," he said, not quite sure what to say to all of that. "What else haven't you told me?" he eyed his wife curiously.

Ana chuckled lightly. "Plenty of things. But I'll be sure to tell you all about them later," she said quietly and he smiled. Arielle woke suddenly and began whimpering softly. All eyes turned to the crying infant and Ana smiled, seeing her daughter, dressed in a burgundy and gold lined dress.

She reached inside the bassinet and cradled her daughter in her arms. Navaz helped her to her feet and she turned to her mother as she walked towards the doors. Xena got up off the floor and followed her daughter out of the room and Gabrielle remained seated. The room was quiet now minus Arielle's loud cries from the hallway.

Dengi walked into the room with his soon to be wife, Leila in hand. Kreka whipped her head around and looked at the young woman, or girl. He nervously stared at his mother and Gabrielle exhaled deeply.

"Csaba, happy birthday. I brought you something," he pulled out a gift from his pocket. "It's small but I think you'll like it." he said and the thirteen year old walked over, slinging the bow over his shoulder and took his uncle's gift.

Unwrapping the small present, Csaba pulled out a necklace with the Pannonian symbol of the large falcon, holding a sword with its talons. "Wow, thanks Dengi." He slipped the necklace over his head. "I can't wait to go back to Pannonia." He said and turned to Navaz. "Are you coming with us too?"

The king shook his head. "I think I have to stay here," he said, not wanting to worry the boy but Xena had told him the plan about Queen Tomiri and her mission to invade Armenia. He didn't want Anastasia, Csaba or his daughter to be here when that happened.

"But I would love to go one day. I heard Pannonia is very beautiful," he said.

Csaba nodded his head vigorously. "Yes! It is! More beautiful than Balaam, I guarantee it!" he said and sat down beside Navaz. "Will you show me how to string the bow?" he said nervously.

Navaz grinned. "Of course."

Kreka stood and walked over to her son and fiancée. "So, Leila, right?" she eyed the pale faced girl and touched her blue veil that hid her long wavy dark hair.

"Mother, be nice," Dengi frowned.

"I haven't said anything!" she said and smiled at the girl. "Leila," she hooked arms with the nervous girl, "we should get to know each other better." She suggested and guided her towards the pillows next to Tuya.

Gabrielle shook her head and walked over to Dengi who stood by himself, watching his mother talk to, or rather interrogate Leila. "She's just being a mother, Dengi."

"Have you met my mother?" he eyed her and she chuckled.

"Where is Ernak?"

Dengi shrugged. "I saw him with a few Bulgurs. I think they might be smoking opium somewhere." He said and Gabrielle's eyes grew. "Don't tell Xena or she'll have a cow."

"How could she? She smoked it with you!" she punched his shoulder and he winced.

"Gabrielle!" he growled and shoved her slightly. "Listen, you don't understand what happened that night. I don't know if she told you..."

"Oh she told me. She said she was 'having a moment', whatever that means." She folded her arms, still feeling a bit bitter about that entire situation. Xena not only lied about the Magyar but she lied about wanting to be alone. She never saw Xena act so strange in her entire life.

"No, Gabrielle," he began in a soft voice, "she was alone on the hills and I saw her there. I went to talk to her and she said she felt so guilty for lying to you. She also felt guilty for wanting to kill Zeno. She didn't want to hurt you anymore than she already had in the past. I told her to come into the yurt so we could talk more. I convinced her to smoke the opium with me because she was very upset and she wouldn't stop talking." He groaned. "So, you see, she didn't tell you everything. So, maybe cut her some slack?"

Gabrielle frowned sadly and lowered her gaze to the floor. Apparently, Xena was hurting more than she was leading on and for good reason. Her lies were so out of character for her and she hates liars, but now Gabrielle understood why she did it. She was more than upset. She was hurt and lost.

"I better go over there before my mother scares Leila to death," he muttered and walked over to the two women.

Anastasius was able to take the throne after Zeno's body was disposed of thanks to Xena. He also brought back all of the White Hun army that were camped out in the Akitziri tribe, with him back to Constantinople. He knew that some of the army was also in Troy and was sure that Xena and Navaz had a reason for keeping them there. He himself had never been to Troy because it was considered a neutral territory to Romans and Huns.

But that hadn't always been the case over the last few decades. He learned that Flavius Aetius had invaded Troy when Xena was stationed there and fled from Pannonia. Anastasius was just a teenager at the time when that happened, maybe a few years older than Xena's daughter, but he lived in Constantinople at the time. His father was on Theodosius' council in Nicaea at the time. He saw Xena when she was at her prime, working for Attila and he was frightened by her as a child. He didn't know if he was still scared of that woman because she was pretty reasonable and she looked just the same as she did all those years ago.

Now, he was in charge of Constantinople but he had to share the empire with Odoacer and he knew this was going to be difficult. Emperor Zeno was not very good friends with the Western Emperor, but he hoped that he could rekindle that relationship and establish some kind of friendly alliance with the emperor.

Also, Odoacer was a Hun that denounced his heritage to become a Roman Emperor. Xena knew exactly who the man was yet did not kill him. He expected his corpse to be brought back to Rome when he left Balaam. He was surprised to find the bastard still alive. He sometimes questioned why Huns did the things that they did, but he was positive that Xena had a reason for everything she did.

Over the last couple of weeks he had the entire palace cleared out. All of the old servants were dismissed, including Zeno's advisers and other councilmen. He wanted to start fresh and have a court that respected him for who he was and his alliance with the Huns was very important. He did not want to betray their trust. It was them who got him in this position in the first place. He would be forever grateful for that opportunity and he planned to keep this alliance peaceful and cordial, unlike Zeno.

He had no desire to go after the Huns and ransack their nation. He was to be their friend and ally. He hoped that Odoacer would come to a reasonable agreement and stay out of Pannonia, Thrace, Armenia and Kazakhstan as well. The Huns were good people. Fair. Reasonable. Kind is not the word he would use to describe those tribal people, but they were nice to their allies as long as everyone was treated fairly, there should be no problem at all.

The new governor of Constantinople walked into the emperor's quarters. "Sir, I have news from your counterpart." He bowed his head.

Anastasius turned and frowned. "What is it, Survius?"

"Emperor Odoacer has traveled all the way from Rome to speak to you. He is waiting in the foyer. Shall I bring him in?" Survius eyed the young emperor.

"Yes, bring him in." the new emperor folded his arms and thought this is a bad sign. Odoacer never comes to Constantinople. There were only letters that were sent back and forth when Zeno was in charge. This must be serious or maybe it was damning. He was about to find out.

Odoacer walked into the room and smiled at the governor turned emperor. "Anastasius. The new emperor. I am quite surprised that you had it in you to overthrow Zeno. I applaud you."

"Oh really?" Anastasius played it off and remained collected in front of his counterpart.

"Yes," the Western Emperor grinned. "I was planning to have Zeno dethroned as well but looks like you beat me to it. I commend you but now you are in my way. You've thwarted my goals to combine both empires together. Alas, I have to deal with another emperor in Constantinople."

Anastasius nodded. Of course, Romans betraying Romans. Xena was right. They were all the same and that included himself and Odoacer alike. "Is that why you came, Odoacer? You want overthrow me now?"

"Absolutely not. You won this position fair and square with the help of my brothers, the Huns." Odoacer chuckled. "Allow me to have control of the Nicene Council and we can call it even. You can have your holy city as long as I get your council on my side."

"Not a chance in hell, Odoacer. You will never control the Nicene Council. That belongs to my family, you know that."

Odoacer sighed heavily and walked around, admiring the bare room that was once filled with beautiful paintings and statues of Grecian gods. "What a shame. I really want to be your friend, Anastasius, I really do, but you allied with the enemy. You can't do that. It has never worked before. Have you forgotten what a disaster the alliance with Valentinian and Attila was?"

The young emperor nodded. "I did not forget, but that was because Valentinian was foolish and Theodosius was a poor emperor. He did not want to govern his side of the empire fairly. I plan to keep the White Huns, the Bulgurs and Pannonians, as my allies. They are my friends. I owe everything to them for this position they gave me."

"Don't be so foolish, boy." Odoacer frowned and sauntered over, attempting to intimidate the young ruler. "You forget that I share the same blood as those Pannonians. Xena is not even a Hun by blood, but she adopted their culture...their lifestyle. She is as much a Hun as Attila and his forefathers. Huns are not trustworthy. They will betray you."

Anastasius smirked. "You betrayed your own people, Odoacer. The Huns have shown no reason to betray me. I am loyal to them. It would befit you to connect with your roots and rekindle your relationship with the Pannonians. Perhaps, they will pardon you for all the harm you've done. That little invasion of Balaam was poor at its best. You were shooed out by the White Huns and ran back to Rome. You are not a Roman. I am. You are a Hun."

Odoacer's eyebrows rose at the audacity of this young emperor. "How dare you defend those savages to me. You don't know anything about them. They are the kind of people that do not bode well in alliances especially with Romans. You will be sorry that you ever allied with them, Anastasius. I bet on it."

"We'll see, Odoacer. It is not me that they will be after. Since they are my ally then that means you are not able to go into their territories and attack them. I want you to put aside your differences for them and send a letter to the White Hun King. Tell him that you will leave the Hun Nation alone forever until I permit you to enter their lands otherwise."

Odoacer laughed and walked towards the exit. "As if I am going take orders from a child. I am old enough to be your father. I wish you the best of luck with your barbarian friends, Anastasius." He blew a kiss to the young emperor and made his way out of the palace.

Anastasia sat on the bed inside her room, breastfeeding her daughter, or trying to. Xena sat beside her and peered over at Arielle fussing. "I don't understand why she keeps doing this," she grumbled, growing frustrated.

"Maybe if you just relax?" her mother suggested and Ana sighed heavily, relaxing her tense shoulders and nestled her daughter close to her breast. Slowly, Arielle stopped fussing and relaxed along with her mother. "See?" Xena smiled.

As Xena sat beside her daughter she couldn't help but feel tension in the room and all the tension was radiating off her daughter. "You know...Anastasia," she began calmly, "Tuya made a room for Arielle. I think you should keep her there instead of in your room. can get some sleep." She said and looked into her daughter's tired eyes.

"But...I want her close to me," Ana said, tears swelling in her eyes.

"I know but she's right next door. You really need sleep," Xena smiled and wiped the tears from her daughter's cheek. "I know you don't really like Tuya very much and neither do I but she can watch Arielle for you while you get some rest. She is very good with her."

Anastasia frowned and switched her daughter to her other breast. "I must look like death. Even Navaz doesn't come near me very much. When am I supposed to go to Pannonia?"

"Soon, but you need more time to rest. Just think about what I said, alright?" she said and Ana nodded silently.

Dengi walked into the room and his face paled when he saw Anastasia feeding her daughter. "Whoa!" he turned around swiftly, facing the wall. "Um, Xena, Gabrielle wants to talk to you about Queen Tomiri." He said. "Sorry."

Anastasia smiled and Xena scooted off the bed and walked over to Dengi. "You should get used to seeing that, Dengi," she teased and pat him on the shoulder. His cheeks reddened and he saw Navaz brush past him. He made a hasty exit to go find Leila and pry her away from his mother.

Navaz smiled and sat on the edge of the bed, peering down at his daughter. Once she was finished feeding, Anastasia slipped her sleeve over her shoulder and held Arielle close to her chest. "Gabrielle suggested that you leave next week to Pannonia."

"But my mother said two months. It hasn't even been a month yet!" Ana cried out.

He nodded. "I know but Tomiri's men were spotted in the mountains a few days ago. I would trust Gabrielle's judgment. Are you well enough to travel so soon? Kreka will be with you."

She sighed heavily. "I guess I will have to be. I don't really have a choice do I?" she said and he wagged his head.

Inside the conference room, Ernak, Dengi, Kreka, Xena and Gabrielle were together talking about the journey to Pannonia. Gabrielle lead the discussion. "Anastasia will leave with Ernak, Dengi and Kreka to Pannonia next week. Navaz's men spotted Tomiri's men in the mountains so we know that she is not far. Scythia is very close to Armenia. We can't have her coming here when Anastasia is here."

Xena nodded. "Right, but I don't know if she is able to travel so soon," she frowned.

Kreka agreed. "She won't be able to ride a horse. We will have to take a caravan," she suggested and Xena eyed her worriedly. "I'll take care of her," she winked.

"Alright, but what about Tomiri?" Ernak interrupted. "Why does she want to come here in the first place?"

"My guess is that she doesn't want Anastasia or any Pannonians nearby," Gabrielle said. "She's after you all and nobody else. She wasn't very kind to us the last time we tried to ally with her. She promised she would wipe out the entire Hun nation if you don't recall..." she eyed the sons of Attila and they dipped their heads.

"So, why do we have to go back to Pannonia? Can't I stay here and help?" Dengi asked and folded his arms.

Xena shook her head. "It's better that you go back to Pannonia. The less Pannonians the better. Tomiri will be enraged when she finds out Anastasia is not here. She's insane. She will come here and ransack Balaam. Have you not heard the stories about her, Dengi?"

He nodded. "I have. She's not fit to be a queen. Isn't her son the general of her army?"

"That is beside the point," the commander interjected and pointed to the map, her finger circling Scythia, which was located directly above White Hun territory. "She is not far. She's gathering her army. It is the dead of winter and the mountains are hard to maneuver through. She's going to have a hard time getting through the mountains and snow to reach Balaam."

Gabrielle smiled deviously. "So we should blockade the mountains, then?"

"No. Knowing her she's not going to come through the mountains. It's a tough terrain. She knows the area well because it is also her homeland." Xena sighed and rubbed her chin in deep thought.

"It will take a long time to march an army of thousands around the Caucasus Mountains," Gabrielle said and lifted her eyes to the pensive commander who stood beside her. "What do you think she's going to do, Xena?"

"I'm not sure," she hated to admit. "She's unpredictable and this is not my territory. I don't know the area well enough."

"But Navaz does," Kreka said and Xena lifted her eyes. "Navaz should lead the charge against Tomiri. This is his homeland. He knows all the inner workings of this area. He will know what to do."

Xena and Gabrielle shared a knowing look and gave a curt nod to Kreka. "Okay. Navaz will be in charge of geographical strategy. Gabrielle and I will handle the mainland."

Queen Tomiri stormed into the Sassan family palace and met with the Shahs, Peroz and Hormzid. She smiled and bowed to them both and they did the same. "I have come a long way to meet with you both."

Peroz smiled. "Of course and we are delighted by your presence, Queen Tomiri. What can we do for you?"

A malicious grin appeared on her face and her brown eyes widened. "I want to attack the Caucasus Huns. It has come to my attention that Pannonians are there and Anastasia, Xena's daughter, is their new queen. I want to annihilate them all and claim the territory under my rule."

Hormizd glanced at his brother and frowned. "And you want our help?"

She nodded. "I know you do not have the best relationship with the White Huns. Allow me to eradicate them for you. I want you both to agree with me to attack Khushnavaz's kingdom. They are small in number compared to my army and yours combined. So what have you? Will you agree to help?"

Peroz chuckled and chimed in, stepping off the dais, approaching the Scythian woman. "If we do agree to help you, what do we get out of it? What can you offer our empire?"

She crossed her arms and watched the Persian circle her like a vulture. "You can have the savage woman, Xena. I will take Navaz's head and his wife's. You are free to do what you wish with Xena but leave Armenia to me. I want full control of the territory."

"Xena killed Emperor Zeno not too long ago," Hormizd interrupted. "She is a formidable foe and she's dangerous. If we are able to capture Xena and bring her to Persia that would be most desirable. But Anastasius is now the new emperor."

She laughed loudly. "Then...make him your ally! Romans always backstab their allies. The Huns are barbarians. Scythia should rule over the Caucasus. So, do we have a deal?" she arched an eyebrow. Both brothers eyed each other and then nodded at the anxious queen. "Fabulous. I have to return to my country and I will notify you when I decide to attack Balaam."

She turned and quickly left the large throne chamber. Peroz frowned and turned to his elder brother. "She is a mad woman."

"But she is ambitious and I like that. She has conquered many territories over the years. I have faith that this raid will not fail as long as she does as she says and does not betray us."

Peroz groaned. "You trust her?"

"For now."

Xena sat in the bedroom inside hers and Gabrielle's yurt. They were eating together on the floor, sitting very close to the open fire in the middle of their bedroom. Gabrielle noticed that her partner was being very quiet since they meeting earlier. Something was bothering her.

Setting the spoon in her bowl, she stared at Xena intensely. "What's wrong with you?"

The warrior lifted her head and twirled her spoon in the rice. "What?"

"You're very quiet. What's wrong?"

Xena sighed. "I don't want Anastasia to leave so soon. I have a bad feeling about this Scythian war that is about to happen. I am tired of fighting to live, Gabrielle. I don't want to be a commander. I don't want to be in charge of an army. I just want to be Xena."

Gabrielle frowned and felt like for the first time that Xena was being sincere. She's mentioned this before but it never stuck. She was always a commander, for Attila, for his sons, and now Navaz and Anastasia. It was the same year after year. Perhaps, Xena was bored of this life, but this life was hardly boring, it was exciting and difficult at times. But could her lover be burned out finally?

"Do you really mean that?" she pried and the warrior nodded, her eyes gazing at her. "What about...after this war with Tomiri, we go back to Pannonia and you don't have to be anyone's commander anymore?" she offered with a small grin.

That suggestion didn't satisfy the solemn commander at all. "I don't want to do that. There will always be war, Gabrielle, especially in Hun territories."

"So, what are you saying? You want to leave Pannonia behind?"

"That's not what I'm saying..." Xena groaned. Now, she was frustrated instead of sad and depressed about this situation.

"Then what are you saying? You can tell me, Xena. I love you, you know that. You can tell me anything. I won't judge you." She reached forward and grabbed the warrior's hand.

Xena took in a deep breath. "I...I am a target everywhere I go. If I leave the Hun nation then all the people I care about won't be targets anymore." She said and Gabrielle creased her eyebrows. "Nobody is attacking us because they are bored, Gabrielle. They are after me and because of me, they are after Anastasia too. I don't want to cause any more pain for anyone anymore."

Gabrielle crawled to the warrior and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, leaning on her arm. "So...then what would you like to do?" she asked and smiled, lifting her eyes to see the confusion on her lover's face. "I'll follow you wherever you go. I won't let you leave my side again."

"I...would like to travel somewhere. Somewhere far from here –to a place that I've never been to!" Xena's face beamed at the thought.

The blonde nodded. "We can do that. Where would you like to go?"

"Tunis," she said and Gabrielle gave her a look. "We should go to Africa. I've never been there. I've been trapped in this area of the world for a long time." She sighed and turned to her partner's puzzled expression. "What do you think? Can they manage without me for awhile?" she gave a crooked smile.

"It a good idea," Gabrielle said, unsure what has come over the warrior. "Why do you want to leave? Don't you want to stay with your family?"

"Of course I do, but I can't right now. The Romans, Persians and now Scythians are coming in too hot and fast. This area is chaotic. I am allowed to travel freely, aren't I?" she nudged the blonde lightly.

Gabrielle chuckled. "Of course you are. I just want you to be sure about this decision." She said and gripped Xena's arm firmly. "We...will come back though, right?"

"I don't want to abandon my people, Gabrielle. I just want to escape for awhile. With you," she grinned and the blonde nodded, nestling her cheek against her arm. "There is a whole world that we haven't seen –that I haven't seen."

"Well, I'll do whatever you want, Xena. As long as it makes you happy. I just...don't want you to think that you are the cause for this chaos and pain. Because, you aren't. I want you to know that." She said and Xena lowered her gaze, her cheeks flushing. "You are not responsible for everyone's pain and suffering. You aren't some powerful goddess that rains blood on the earth!"

Xena laughed lightly. "I get your point." She exhaled deeply and turned to look in the sweet emerald eyes. "Thank you..." she whispered.

"For what?"

"For being you and for listening to me. For putting up with me for so long. For everything. You mean a lot to me Gabrielle."

Now it was Gabrielle's turn to turn bright red at the brunette's compliments. "You've grown too soft. Being a grandmother really took a toll on you, huh?" she teased.

Xena frowned and punched her partner's arm.

"Ow! Xena!"

Chapter Text

Chapter 25 – The Wrath of Queen Tomiri Part II of V

One Month Later

Navaz was in charge of securing the borders with Persia and Scythia. The single stretch of land between Scythia and Armenia was heavily guarded with Gokturks but it was put under surveillance by Tuya, who opted to stay behind in Balaam and help to fight against Queen Tomiri and her army. With everyone gone and already in Pannonia, a month passed and Navaz was beginning to wonder if Tomiri was going to attack at all, but Xena reassured him that the Scythian Queen was not hiding, she was preparing. Marching an entire army around the Caucasus Mountains was no easy feat.

The Sassan Persian Empire also was troublesome and Navaz ordered to blockade the borders so the Shahs could not attack Balaam directly. Although, the border was close to the city of Balaam, it wasn't that close. It was a day's ride away at least, but when they had an army, that was incredibly close –too close in fact.

Xena and Gabrielle stayed in the mainland of the White Hun encampment and entrusted the Magyar army to surround the city and kept few soldiers inland for safety purposes. Gabrielle wrapped the fur coat around herself and stood next to Xena. They both gawked at the mountains ahead and saw Navaz's army of black armored men blocking the entrance towards the kingdom.

Gabrielle was feeling a bit skeptical and worried. Snow was falling lightly early in the morning and the sun had yet to make an appearance. There were no sign of Tomiri's men in the mountains and the Gokturks were hidden in their yurts up in the mountains, but they were not going to attack, not now. Something felt so wrong about this war. Very wrong.

"Xena, I don't know about this. It's too quiet. We've seen no sign of Tomiri and her army. Are you sure they are going around the mountains?" she looked up to the commander.

The dark haired warrior covered her face with a thick scarf and squinted her eyes at the tall mountain peaks. "She will come. I promise you she will."

Gabrielle knew that being an adviser was not easy especially when Xena was on a mission, but this felt so wrong. "I don't think she's going around the mountains like you think she is." She said and the warrior turned, looking down at her with dark eyes and an imminent frown on her face.

"You seriously think that she is going to march an army of thousands through the mountains?" Xena implied how ridiculous that sounded.

Nodding her head, the blonde responded, "I think she isn't coming through the mountains or around them. I think she's already here somewhere."

"Impossible!" Xena scoffed. "We would have spotted her army."

"You said it yourself. She knows this land like back of her hand. She has the advantage, we don't. This isn't right, Xena. We've been preparing for a month. She would have already attacked us but she hasn't. She's hiding somewhere."

Xena sighed and whistled to one of the Magyar men. A group of soldiers ran to her and Gabrielle. "Scout the east border and look for Scythians. If you find anything, report back to me and do not attack. Do not attack, you understand?" she ordered.

They nodded. "Yes, commander."

"We're about to see if your theory is correct, Gabrielle."

In the hidden alcoves in the side of the Caucasus Mountains, General Sparga and a few scouts were buried beneath the snow wearing white and silver armor to hide easily in the thick snow banks. Sparga covered his mouth with a white scarf and saw the White Hun army marching through the mountains in the middle of Gokturk territory.

He turned to the commanding officer behind him. "Go tell the queen that the Huns are coming towards us. Ask if she wants to attack or not," he whispered.

Navaz breathed out heavily and adjusted the fur hat on his head. He eyed all of the mountain peaks and saw a lot of yurts mounted on flat parts of the mountains. Gokturks lived here but they didn't seem to be part of the problem. He sent men to scout out the area for a month now and so far they found nothing.

Zolten rode up to his king and uncovered his face. "We haven't found any Scythians, your majesty. Do you want us to ride back to Balaam?"

"No. We're staying here. They can't be far..." the king rubbed his chin and frowned. "This isn't right."

"Pardon?" Zolten asked.

"Queen Tomiri should have already shown her face. She hasn't and that's what worries me. Keep scouting the mountains. Look for hidden alcoves and report back to me." He ordered and Zolten rode off to alert the other soldiers.

Scythian Queen Tomiri was stationed at the top of one of the mountains, laying down in the snow dressed in a white cloak and armor. She narrowed her eyes when she saw the Hun army searching the mountains for hidden areas.

Her commanding officer climbed up to the top of the mountain and breathed heavily. "My queen..." he began and she lifted her head, glaring at the young officer. "The General asks if you want us to attack or not. The Huns are coming near our first group in the west side of the mountains."

"No. Do not attack or our position will be given away. Have the men retreat from their positions and come back to our stronghold on the peaks. We will allow the Persian brothers to attack Balaam first on the eastern border. The Huns have no idea about the alliance I've made with the Shahs." She smiled and stood, walking back to her horse.

"When will we attack instead of laying dormant?" he asked as he watched her mount her dark horse.

"When I say!" she hissed and rode off with her elite soldiers back to their camp on the top of the mountain.

Later that evening Xena, Gabrielle and Navaz were gathered in the conference room hovering over the table with the large map sprawled in front of them. Xena threw her hat on the table and growled, glaring at the map.

Navaz sighed heavily and shook his head. "I don't understand this."

Gabrielle nodded. "Tomiri should have attacked already. I know she is here somewhere."

"We searched all of the mountainous areas but we couldn't find anything except Gokturk yurts. If she is here then she is good at hiding," he looked over at Xena. "What do you think?"

"This is a trap," Xena gathered and pointed to the mountains. "There are several areas where they could be hiding. She knows this area better than all of us. If she really is here then we can't wait for her to attack us."

Gabrielle frowned and tapped her cheek. "What do you propose we should do then? We can't go on like this, waiting for days until she decides to attack. The soldiers are becoming restless waiting outside day after day in the cold."

Navaz agreed and circled a section of the mountains that lead right into Balaam. "This area is heavily guarded by my men. I told them to report back to me if they find anything, but we know that Tomiri is hiding."

"Mountain soldiers," Xena said and the king and adviser eyed her curiously. "She isn't going to bring her entire army through the mountains. It's too dangerous and they would be spotted instantly. She doesn't have a lot of men with her if she's hiding. She's not stupid and knows how to use the mountains to her advantage."

"So, what does that mean? We go back and search the mountains for the millionth time?" Gabrielle asked, folding her arms.

Xena shook her head and a malicious smile appeared on her face. "No, we're going to blow up the mountains."

Navaz's eyes widened. "Excuse me? Gokturks live there. If we blow up their territory we will start a war with them too!"

"What do you suggest then? We either blow up the mountains to save thousands of lives or allow her to invade and we lose everything. Think realistically, Navaz. You can't save everybody," she said and narrowed her eyebrows at the young king.

Gabrielle interrupted, "I think we should ask Anastasius for help. We gave him the position of emperor. Now it is his turn to return the favor."

"Good idea, Gabrielle," Xena smiled. "You write the emperor a letter asking for aid."

"So, what are we going to use to blow up the mountains?" Navaz asked and saw the look in his commander's eyes. Dangerous. Sly and conniving. "You do realize we're going to start an avalanche if we do this."

Xena smiled. "Precisely. Then she won't be able to pass through the mountains any more. We have catapults. We'll use those before sunrise. If Gabrielle is right about this and the queen is hiding then we can wipe out her spies with a few bombs. It's a great plan. What do you say?" her eyes grew with excitement and Navaz arched an eyebrow.

"I trust you that's all I'm going to say..." he turned and walked out of the room.

Now with Navaz out of the room Gabrielle inched closer to her partner and also commander. "You are willingly to destroy another nation's territory to get rid of Queen Tomiri?" she asked barely above a whisper.

Xena turned and saw the concern and worry in the blonde's eyes. "This is war, Gabrielle. If Tomiri wants to come here and destroy us then we have to be ready to lose a lot of people in the process even if it means destroying Gokturk territory."

"Can't we get them to safety?" she offered some hope in this situation.

"If we go in and move the Gokturks then we will give away our plan. If Tomiri is close by and I believe that she is, then we need to blow up the mountains so she can't come into Balaam. I don't want to kill innocent people but Gokturks are far from innocent people. They are worse than Visigoths." She sighed.

Gabrielle frowned. "But we haven't had any problems with the Goths for over ten years since Attila died."

Xena smiled and tapped her fingers on the large parchment map. "They have no desire to attack Hun territory anymore. They are busy fighting with Odoacer and his Roman army trying to invade Gaul."

"I don't know about this but I trust you." Gabrielle rubbed her arm, looking at the daunting map before her. She couldn't help but feel very nervous about the Scythians invading. Hopefully, Tomiri would stay away from Pannonia and other Hun lands. If they were lucky, the destruction of the mountains would deter Tomiri and her army for good and buy everyone some time. But how much time is the real question.

The women occupied the infamous Adame of Attila in Pannonia while the men stayed in yurts outside in the rest of the territory. There were hardly any women in the land since everyone left for Armenia almost two years ago. The Bulgur women had harsh feelings for the Pannonian women living in the reclaimed land by the two sons of Attila. Ernak was told by Navaz to govern the land on his own accord since he was king before Zeno came in and ransacked the place.

Dengi, still a prince of Pannonia, son of Attila, was appointed by his younger brother to be the governor of Pannonia, which was unheard of. Attila had a court that was disbanded by Dengizich when Ellac died in battle. Now, the Bulgur Huns and Pannonian Huns were forced to live together since the Bulgurs couldn't go back to Thracian territory of fear that Odoacer would invade that area next. He was already after Gaul which now belonged to the Visigoths, one of the enemies of Attila.

The three women, Kreka, Anastasia and Leila stayed in the Adame by themselves in the women's quarters and the area that once belonged to Kreka when she was queen of the land. Ernak and his brother stayed in the other quarters on the far side of the Adame.

Being in Pannonia for only a couple of weeks was difficult because the women feared the Bulgurs would revolt and begin to fight against Ernak and Dengi like they did before. Kreka once had faith in her sons to restore Pannonia but now she was not so sure. Anastasia on the other hand, put complete faith in Ernak to bring Pannonia back to the way it was when he was king. Pannonia would be great again and belong to the rightful owners once more. Although, sharing the land with the Bulgurs was going to be tasking and tricky.

Anastasia and Kreka were busy cleaning up the women's quarters and it looked like it hadn't been touched in over a year. Kreka coughed as she blew dust off of a large vanity set. "Those savages," she muttered and pushed over a chair and it broke in several pieces, she yelped.

"We should just throw everything out of this room," Ana suggested. "We can bring in new furniture. Besides, who knows what Basil did in this room with several women."

Kreka cringed. "Don't even remind me." She picked up a few pieces of jewelry and threw it into a box. Lifting her eyes she saw Leila sitting by the window, watching the Bulgur men huddled in a circle with Ernak and Dengizich, talking together.

"Leila!" she called and the young Caucasian women turned around swiftly. "Are you going to gawk out the window like a little child or help us?" her eyes darkened.

Leila smiled nervously and hopped off the window ledge to help clear the area. She eyed the queen and saw her moving around tapestries and clothing. "Where is Arielle?" she asked.

Ana turned and set one of the tapestries into a large box. "In the next room, sleeping." She smiled softly and Leila nodded then continued to aid Kreka with the numerous amounts of jewelry. "We can't clear this room by ourselves. We should find some servants to take care of the Adame."

The khatun groaned and rose from the floor, rubbing her back. "And where would we find servants, Anastasia? The Bulgur women?"

Ana shrugged her shoulders. "Why not? It would give you a chance to get to know them better. I'm sure these people aren't that bad."

Kreka scoffed and folded her arms, looking at the young queen. "You do realize that these people are from your mother's motherland, do you not?"

Leila gasped and Ana rolled her eyes. "Your mother is from Thrace?"

"Yes, she is. But these people are nothing like the people that my mother lived with. They don't even like her!"

"That's because they don't know she is from their land, Anastasia." Kreka said and eyed Leila's shocked face, a little bit amused by her reaction.

"So what are you saying? I should tell them my mother is from their land?" Ana implied.

Kreka nodded. "They might like you more if you tell them that."

Ernak knocked on the door, shielding his eyes. "You ladies dressed?" he asked with a sly grin.

"Yes, Ernak," Ana said and he opened his eyes, walking into the room.

"Whoa, this place looks like shit." He kicked over a broken chair and eyed his mother. "I've sent Dengi on a mission to negotiate with the Atlyn Huns to unite under one nation. If their Bey agrees then I will go to the Onogurs and Akitziri to ask for their allegiance as well."

Kreka's eyes widened, surprised to hear that her son was willing to go ahead and unite all the tribes under one nation like his father once did before he died. "You are going to recreate the Hun Empire?" she asked with a bit of skepticism.

He smiled and nodded. "We are stronger in numbers. We should be working together, not against each other. I will need your tribe to unite with us, mother."

"But the Ashina tribes are so far from here," Ana commented and Leila stood in the middle of everyone, completely oblivious to this. She had been living in a bubble her whole life. She had no idea there were so many Hun tribes.

"Precisely. If they show their allegiance to me and Pannonia we will grow in number. I will need to send a letter to the Nezaks too. Also, I want to liberate the Khazar Huns from Persia. They are trapped in Persian territory and can't leave because of the Shahs. They can relocate to Armenia since it's nearby. What do you say? Good idea, right?" he smiled, placing his hands on his hips proudly.

All the women gawked at him with wide eyes and the room tensed with a long silent pause.

He wasn't going to let this mood of the women sway him from his plans. "I'll need some help from your husband, Ana." He said and she arched an eyebrow and gave him an incredulous look. A look he had seen from Xena several times.

He added, "instead of separating the tribes, I believe everyone should be a Pannonian Hun. They will be called Pannonian-Avars –supporters of the great Hun Nation!" he cheered. "Great plan, huh?"

Kreka cleared her throat and stepped forward, very close to her eager son. "And how exactly are you going to convince the arrogant Beys of all these tribes to submit to you?"

Placing his hands on her shoulders, he smiled. "Mother. I'm not going to make them submit. I want them to join me peacefully. I won't force them to join the Pannonia Empire –"

"Pannonia Empire?!" Ana interjected.

"Well...yeah?" he frowned. "You could be my political adviser, Ana!" he smiled and her mouth gaped. "You're great at talking to people. You could convince the Beys to join us. I will follow in my father's footsteps and make this empire great again. You'll see."

"For one," Kreka began and eyed her son's dark eyes, "you shouldn't call it the Pannonia Empire. They will never join you."

He sighed. "Fine, fine. Hun Empire but everyone will be a Pannonian under my laws. You'll see, it's going to be great if the gods will it." he winked and slowly backed away. "I'll let you ladies get back to what you're doing. I have many things I need to do." He turned and waltzed out of the room.

Anastasia and Kreka turned to share a knowing look with each other. Meanwhile, Leila was standing in the middle of the two women, star-struck.

"You're actually going to let him go through with this plan?" Ana asked.

"He is the king. I can't stop him from doing anything." Kreka sighed and picked up the box of jewelry and frowned at the girl. "Leila! Take the large box and bring it to the foyer. Anastasia isn't to lift anything while she's here."

Leila nodded and picked up on the boxes. "Right, of course, khatun." She dipped her eyes and hurried out of the room.

Anastasia smirked. "Kreka. Be nice to her. She is going to be your daughter in-law."

"She's like a gazelle that is too curious for her own good. Is it as if she has lived in a yurt her entire life." She sighed and took one good look at the mess around her. "Perhaps we should make use of some Bulgur women after all..."

Xena walked behind a line of twenty catapults and they already hit the mountain with one round of bombs. Although, that didn't seem to do much. Snow fell from the mountain tops but it didn't seem to do a lot of damage. It was dark outside still but morning light would come soon enough.

"Fire again," she instructed and walked back to the front line. The men loaded the catapults again for the second round.

Gabrielle stood at a fair distance behind Xena carefully eyeing the mountains. She frowned and walked forward. In the darkness she spotted a black horse riding along the mountain side with a horde of men behind.

She pointed to the west mountain. "Tomiri!" she yelled and Xena whipped her head around and there she saw the Scythian Queen riding down the mountain on a man-made trail.

Xena growled, "aim for the west mountain!" she yelled.

Gabrielle took a few steps and covered her ears right before the catapults were set off. She felt something grab her ankle and she gasped. Looking down she saw a gloved hand and another, pop out from beneath the thick snow. "Xena!" she yelled and drew her sword, stabbing the soldier in the snow.

Xena frowned and felt two hands grab her ankles. She unsheathed her sword and stabbed the man under the snow. "What is this..." she grumbled and pulled out the soldier from under her. "Persians." She ran far from the snow banks close to the mountains and Gabrielle followed shortly.

"Get off the hill!" she yelled and she saw Persians emerge from the snow in large numbers. She skid to a stop and gasped. Crying out loudly she drove the blade into the Persian's chest and he fell to his knees.

Navaz and a few of his men that were scouting the east border were riding furiously back into Balaam. He eyed Gabrielle and grabbed her arm, hoisting her on his horse abruptly. "There's Persians in the snow!" she yelled and he guided the horse to the left, evading the hidden Persians.

"Oh I know!" he said, then added, "don't look back."

Instinctively, she turned her head and saw a horde of black horsemen riding behind them down the hillside and her eyes widened in fear. A sea of black filling the snowy terrain had to be the scariest sight she had ever seen in her life. Nobody was prepared for this invasion. This was an ambush.

Xena kicked down a Persian soldier and felt the soil shake beneath her. She looked up and saw the entire Sassan army riding down the hill from the eastern border. "Son of a bitch," she muttered and ran to grab the nearest horse. She saw Navaz and Gabrielle ride right past her.

She rode up beside Navaz and he swiftly turned his head. "What do we do now?!" he yelled.

"We use a Roman strategy." She said and he gave her a confused look. "Use the brake through strategy. Gabrielle knows it!" she rode off to the left and he kept riding forward.

"Go to the right," Gabrielle instructed and Navaz shook his head but did as told and rode to the right. She waved her hand to the Magyars on horseback and they followed them. "Now, turn around and go back."

"What?!" he yelled.

"Just do it!" she growled and he turned his horse, leading the Magyars and his own men behind him right into the thick of the Persian army heading right for them. She eyed Xena from the opposite side and saw she was doing the same thing, leading the men right towards the Persians. Come on, Xena, I need the signal.

Xena looked over and waved her hand to Gabrielle and she smiled. "Okay now go to your right," she tapped Navaz's shoulder and he steered himself and the army to the right. He saw Xena riding towards him with the other half of the army. He felt like he was making a giant circle for no reason and the Persians were coming closer and closer. Only about two hundred yards away now, he guessed.

"Now, cut through the center and ride forward away from the Persians!" she said and he did as told and was met with Xena again riding next to him.

Xena smiled at the nervous king. "Halt your men!" she said and he held up his hand with a bemused expression. The men behind him halted their horses and she turned around on her horse. Both sides, the one Xena lead and the other he lead, were now in two large semi circles, facing outward towards the Persian army.

Navaz turned around and the Persians were still riding in and they were standing stagnant. "Now what?" he turned to his commander.

"We leave two flanks in the front of the semi circles. On my signal, we charge through the center and split up. You go left and I go right. We guide the army to enclose the Persians inside a big circle."

"What is it with you and these circles?" he mused.

"It's a tactic I learned when I worked in Rome. It works, trust me. It's very effective." She smiled and covered her face with a scarf, leaving her eyes open to see the Persians charging right at them. "It's a trap strategy."

One hundred fifty yards.


One hundred yards.

Eighty yards.

"Now!" she yelled and charged forward, riding through the narrow path in between the Hun army. Gabrielle slapped the back of Navaz's shoulder and told him to ride. He followed Xena and split off to the left like she told him to. Each half of the back flanks followed them, riding around the Persian army, confusing them and creating a huge circle around them on both sides. Trapping them in the middle.

Queen Tomiri stood beside Shah Peroz, watching the Huns entrap the Persian army. She frowned and folded her arms. "Fascinating." She remarked. "A Roman strategy used by Huns. I am quite surprised."

"How do they know the Roman military tactics?" he groaned and watched Xena riding around and crossed paths with Navaz and now she was on the other side with the army, not attacking, but creating a diversion.

The Shah witnessed his men being slaughtered from the inside and there was nowhere to run because they were being blockaded by Huns. They were literally trapped in a circle. There were also archers from outside the large circle shooting at his army. There wasn't enough room to spread out and fight. The Huns had them at their hands and knees.

Tomiri's upper lip quivered. "Call a retreat," she ordered.

"A retreat?!" Peroz snarled.

"Retreat or lose all of your men!" she said and he snapped his fingers to the horn sounders behind him and they sounded the retreat signal. She wagged her head and walked off. "Huns..."

"Where are you going?" he called out as she mounted her horse.

She smirked at the young Shah. "To my tent to devise another plan. Care to join me?" she gave him a wink and a seductive smile then rode off with her elite men.

Xena saw the Persians retreating and stumbling over one another trying to reach their horses. She raised her hand high in the air. "Hold your fire!" she yelled to the archers behind her.

Navaz rode up beside her with Gabrielle strapped behind him. "They're retreating," he smiled, feeling somewhat accomplished.

"They'll be back," Gabrielle noted as she saw many dead Persians lying in the snow. "Tomiri and the Persians are going to come up with a new plan to attack again."

The king sighed. Victorious moment crushed in an instant. "When will they attack again?"

Xena frowned and ripped the scarf off her face. "Could be tomorrow. Could be days. Could be a week."

"A week?" he said with disbelief.

"They were caught off guard," she said and eyed Gabrielle nervously. "And so were we."

Gabrielle averted her gaze to the wounded Magyars and Huns in the battlefield. "We need to help them." She hopped off Navaz's horse and ran over to the injured soldiers.

Xena nodded. "Have every able bodied man tend to the wounded in a secure area. And burn the Persian corpses." She turned and clicked her tongue to ride off back to the Adame.

Navaz turned, "where are you going?!"

"To devise a new plan." She said with a dark frown then took off.

The morning came and went faster than everyone realized. The Persian army was camped out on the hill. They were close enough to see but far enough so they couldn't be attacked. Afternoon would soon turn to the night sky and Xena was inside the Adame's office –the king's office –conducting a new strategy to combat the Persians and Tomiri.

Gabrielle walked into the office, wiping her bloodied hands on a cloth. Xena didn't even bother to lift her head as she was moving wooden totems across the map, eyeing the map as if it was a true battlefield.

"The wounded are stitched and sewn up. A few of the men have broken limbs and can't fight but are willing to go and fight again," she smiled softly.

"Hm," Xena answered curtly and moved one of the "Hun" totems across the map. "Nope," she shook her head and crossed off one of her plans from her long list of strategic tactics written on a piece of paper.

Gabrielle rounded the table and came to Xena's side, overseeing the map and several totems. Obviously the silver pieces were the Persians and the brown were Huns. "Have you got a plan?"

"Not yet." Xena groaned and plopped down in the chair, running her hand across her face. "I should have seen that coming."

"Xena," the blonde sat down beside the commander. "You didn't know that was going to happen. None of us knew."

"Tomiri sided with the Persians. It's so obvious. Scythia and Persia have always been friends. How could I have been so blind?" Xena frowned and rubbed her chin as her eyes were fixated on the map that continued to taunt her for hours.

"Well, now we know why we couldn't spot any of her men. She doesn't have her army here at all. She's using the Persian army to her own advantage." Gabrielle said and saw Xena was completely focused, not listening. "Xena?"

The commander waved her hand. "Yeah, I heard you." She leaned forward and moved the Persian totems to the far east on the map of Balaam. "She's going to wipe out the Persian army and then use her own army against us."

"She's going to betray the Shahs?"

Xena nodded. "She's just using them. Don't you see, Gabrielle?" a smile appeared on her lips. "She's trying to wipe everyone out. Not just us. She wants everyone gone and the Persians are too greedy for power to see what is happening right before...their..." she frowned and moved the totems across to Scythia, "eyes."

She stood up abruptly and Gabrielle lifted her chin. "I know what to do." She said and her smile grew. "We're going to bomb the Persian camp."

Gabrielle frowned and rose from the chair. "That's your big plan? Bomb their camp?"

Xena nodded. "Yes. We bomb them from afar in the middle of the night. We'll send in men to sneak through their camp and assassinate the Shah. They will be too distracted by the catapults to notice the assassins."

"Assassins. This isn't your normal strategy, Xena. I'm a little shocked."

"We must try new things, right?" Xena grinned and wrapped her arm around her petite partner. "By the time Anastasius receives our letter it might be too late."

Gabrielle sighed. "At least he'll be aware of what's going on. We don't know how long this is going to last. Should we send a letter to Pannonia to let them know what's happening?"

Xena shook her head. "No. I don't want any communication with them. I don't want Tomiri finding out that Anastasia is not here. She is insane but she's smart."

Kreka invited a group of Bulgur women into the Adame and was trying to explain to them that they could work in the Adame, but they continued staring at her blankly. She was beginning to realize that these women didn't understand what she was saying.

She pinched the bridge of her nose and decided to take a different approach. "Temizlemek," she said and the women arched their eyebrows and looked to each other. "Binayi temizle." She said and growled. "Oh for god's sake!"

Anastasia walked up to see a very frustrated woman and a group of Bulgur women. "What's going on here?"

"I'm trying to tell them to clean the Adame but they don't understand what I'm saying!" Kreka folded her arms, glaring at the confused women.

Ana frowned and stepped forward. "Dilimizi konusuyor musun?" she asked if anyone spoke their language and the women stared at her with doe-eyes. "Hunlu? Latince?"

"I've already tried that."

The women continued gawking at her and she turned to Kreka. "I don't think these women are Huns. They don't understand anything I am saying."

"Really? I didn't notice." Kreka rolled her eyes and exhaled exaggeratedly.

A woman spoke up in a soft voice. "Mesr..." she said.

"What?" Kreka frowned, leaning down towards the young woman.

"We..." the woman held her arm around to the women behind her, "from...Mesr."

Kreka eyed Ana. "Where the hell is that?"

"Egypt. These women are Egyptian," Ana said and then looked at the young women, couldn't have been no older than she was. "Why do Bulgurs have Egyptians in their custody?"

"They must be slaves but Huns don't keep slaves," Kreka frowned, thinking of how awful these people were. She was glad that they were back in Pannonia. "Savages. What are we supposed to do with them now? They can't understand a word we are saying."

Anastasia smiled. "We will teach them." She walked forward, grabbing one of the woman's hands.

"Are there any real Bulgur women here then? Or are these women all slaves?" Kreka asked, wondering what really went on in Pannonia during their long absence. And really, she wasn't sure if she wanted to know.

"We can find out," Ana brushed by the slave women and walked outside. "You!" she pointed at a young Bulgur, probably a few years older than her own son. She walked down the stairs, lifting her dress. The teenager panicked and began backing away.

"Stay!" she ordered and he froze. "These women are Egyptian slaves. Are all the women here from Egypt?" He shook his head and was almost afraid to answer her. He knew exactly who she was and feared her. "Well, out with it boy. Tell me."

His hands shook as his nerves began to overcome him. "The...Bey bought...them."

Her eyes grew with fury and shock. "From who?" she asked and his head dipped. "Who?!"

The boy winced. "The Romans! He bought the women from the Romans!" he put his hands close to his face. "Don't hurt me."

She scoffed. "I'm not going to hit you. Get out of here." She shooed him away and he ran back to his home. "Those sick bastards," she muttered.

Kreka came to join her and saw the boy running to a yurt on the other side of the encampment. "What did he say?"

"The Romans sold these women to Basil." Ana pursed her lips and now looked at all the Bulgur men differently. She saw a huddle of women outside, sewing together. She was now skeptical of all the women here and wondered if they were truly Huns or if they were slaves. "We don't have slaves in our tribes."

Csaba walked out of the Adame, holding his crying baby sister in his arms. "Mom!" he yelled out and Anastasia turned around. "I need help!" he had the look of fear and panic in his eyes.

She sighed. "I'll be right there just go back inside," she said and he trailed back into the Adame. She turned to Kreka. "Talk to the other women. Find out if they are Huns or not then report back to me." She whispered then hastily made her way to rescue her son from his babysitting task she gave him.

Kreka turned to the Egyptian women behind her and smirked. "Come with me," she ordered and they stood frozen. "Come..." she waved her fingers and slowly they descended down the steps.

Chapter Text

And finally, some excitement lol. Good luck ya'll and thanks for reading :)

Chapter 26 –The Wrath of Queen Tomiri Part III of V

Peroz was welcomed into Tomiri's tent within the campgrounds. He saw she was wearing a long white gown and not the white armor she wore yesterday during that disaster of an ambush. His cheeks flushed at the moment he looked into her dark eyes. The Scythian Queen smiled and rose from her chair and waltzed over to the flustered Persian Shah.

"We are allies are we not, Persian?" she asked with a sly grin on her lips. Waltzing around the nervous Shah, she traced her fingers on his black leather sleeve.

He kept his gaze forward and refused to look into her seductive chocolate colored eyes. "Yes, your highness."

"We don't need to have formalities. I am Tomiri in my tent. I am not higher than you. You are a Shah, a king, a khan, Shahanshah –king of kings. We are friends and we both have something in common. We hate the Huns and they must be eradicated."

Perzo cleared his throat and watched her take a seat in her chair at the desk. "Yes. They will cease to exist after this war and we will remain allies. You will claim Armenia and all of the Caucasus. I trust that you will not dare invade my empire, right?"

She chuckled, "oh well, let's not get ahead of ourselves, Persian. You are my ally now but when I take Armenia you will be another enemy of mine. Lest you not forget that," she winked and his lips parted.

"You mean that you will seize our agreement and invade my empire?" he spoke in a soft voice as if he were surprised.

She gave a simple shoulder shrug and smiled, twirling her long dark hair around a finger. "Allies don't last forever now do they? I just wanted your alliance to defeat the Huns. When I've claimed Armenia I will go after the rest of the Huns and destroy them. I will paint portraits with their blood."

He was beginning to regret everything he agreed to with this insane woman. His brother was right. She is a mad woman but she is very smart. But so far her strategy to winning this war had not been seen yet. She was holding back or perhaps she wasn't a good strategist as everyone said she was.

"I assume that you've come up with a plan to counter their previous attack?" he asked, ignoring her last comment about alliances.

Tomiri sighed heavily and pointed to the map of Balaam. "But of course. My army will be here in a few days. When they arrive that is when we attack Balaam full force. I get Khushnavaz and you get Xena as promised."

"And if they decide to attack before your army arrives? What then?"

She smiled. "Then we will just have to fight back now won't we? Your army is strong, Peroz. I know you can handle those savages. You have three times the men that they do."

"But Xena is the commander. She has fought off an army of thousands with only a few hundred men. I think you are underestimating her, Tomiri."

"You put too much faith in that woman, Persian!" she growled and stood from the chair. "Xena was the best commander when Attila was alive but now she is washed up. Her tricks won't work anymore. She is fresh out of ideas. She is too soft now. She is the one who is responsible for killing your father years ago. You have no idea what she was like in her prime. Xena is not as good of a commander like she used to be."

He frowned and folded his arms. "What makes you so sure? She did just fine blocking my men using a Roman military strategy."

Tomiri nodded. "Yes, she is inventive. I did not say she was stupid I merely said that she has grown soft. She will not kill you."

"She killed Zeno."

"Well, she has a thing for Romans you know," she laughed lightly. "Anyway, we will remain inactive until the Huns attack."

Gabrielle rolled up her cloak and set it on a chair nearby their bed. She felt like she hadn't been able to sleep properly in weeks and this night was no different. She stayed awake with Xena and Navaz yesterday trying to come up with a feasible plan to oust Tomiri and assassinate Peroz. She had her doubts about the plan because assassin techniques weren't Xena's forte. Xena was more of a brute force commander and relied on tricks and schemes to win a war. She didn't use assassins to finish the job, but maybe this is better.

She looked on at Xena who sat on the bed, taking off her boots. The first time the two were alone together in an entire month. They now slept in the Adame but tonight, Xena wanted be in the field so they slept in the yurt together, but Xena knew they weren't going to sleep much tonight. Her mind was on the Persian camp that was not too far from Balaam.

"Xena," the blonde began and the commander lifted her eyes briefly. "Did you mean what you said about going to Africa?"

Xena smiled. "Yes, I did. When this is over I want to leave for awhile. Of course, we will make sure everything in Pannonia is squared away. I have faith in Ernak keeping the peace."

Gabrielle nodded and sat on the floor, wrapped in a warm wool blanket. "And what kind of things do you want to do in Africa?" she asked curiously. She, herself, had never been there before either and wondered why Xena would pick such a place to explore.

"I don't know," Xena shrugged her shoulders. "I just want to see what else is out there. Not everything revolves around the Huns, Romans and Persians. Maybe one day we can go to China."

"China?!" Gabrielle blurted out. "I think we should stick with Africa first. It's a big place, I've heard. I also heard that Romans have control of Egypt."

The thought of Romans made Xena sick to her stomach. She didn't want Romans to ruin her new adventure. "Then we will stay far away from Egypt. I can't promise that if I see a Roman I won't kill him if we visit that country."

"Good to know that you still keep your promises and your word," Gabrielle chuckled. As much as she hated to think about Tomiri, the subject was inevitable and unavoidable. "When are we going to attack the Persian camp?"

Xena lowered her eyes and picked at her nails. "Tomorrow night. Right now, we will rest. The men are wounded and tired from sleepless nights."

"But you aren't going to go to sleep, are you?" Gabrielle implied and Xena smirked. "I thought so. Your mind is focused on battle. You can't ever turn it off."

"And that's the problem. I've lived like this my entire life. Always paranoid that someone is out to kill me and they were –are. I want to experience the feeling of what being safe is like and I can't do that if I stay here. As much as I love my family, I need to spend time away. With Zeno gone life be easier for them in Pannonia. Odoacer is too chicken-shit to come to Pannonia with his empty threats."

Gabrielle nodded and lay down on the rug, staring up at the dark haired warrior woman. "You don't think you're going to be bored?"

Xena smiled and stopped picking at her nail beds. "With you? Never."

"Not with me. I mean, no fighting, no commanding an army. Don't you think you'll get bored of it all?" she asked.

"I don't think so. I don't know why everyone hates us anyway. Tomiri needs to go. She needs to be obliterated. Nobody should have given that woman the power she has. She has done horrible things to her own people. She doesn't deserve to reign over her land. Her head belongs on a pike." A malicious smile crossed her face and then she saw the concerned blonde below her.

She added, "and maybe staying in Africa for awhile will get rid of this violent streak I have from time to time," she sheepishly said, running her fingers through her messy hair.

Gabrielle scoffed. "From time to time? Do you hear yourself?" she teased. "Don't change for anyone, Xena. I like you just the way you are. Violence and all. But you aren't mindless and kill people for fun. Even I know that."

"Let's just try and get some sleep for tomorrow," Xena said, brushing the subject off and climbed into bed, still clad in her pants and tunic. Her sword stayed nearby ready to attack at any moment.

Anastasia sat on a bed holding Arielle in her arms while Kreka was coming up with some solution to help these women. "So, you say that none of these women are Bulgur Huns? They're all Egyptian?" she asked.

Kreka frowned and threw the quill on the bed, frustrated at every little thing today. "They aren't just from Egypt. Some of them are Gaul and Visigoth."

"Visigoth?!" Ana spat and her daughter began whimpering softly. She smiled softly down at her daughter and touched her warm flushed cheek.

"I wouldn't be too concerned about them. Visigoths have their own problems to worry about. These women are afraid of everything and everyone. They think that we will treat them as horribly as Basil did."

Ana frowned and placed her daughter on the bed, swaddling the blanket around her tightly. "What do you think he did to those women?"

Kreka shook her head. "I don't want to know and don't care. We need to teach them our language so we can communicate." She lifted her eyes and smiled deviously. Anastasia arched her eyebrow, cautiously gawking at the look in the khatun's eyes. " are very good at writing. Your mother taught you how to read and write in Latin and our language. You also know Greek."

"My Greek is very bad. I hardly remember anything from the time I spent in Thebes and Athens!"

Kreka's eyes grew and she scooted closer to the young Hun queen. "But you know enough to get by. I'm sure those Egyptian women know some Greek. You could be our translator!"

"Oh no, no, no!" Ana crossed her arms. She suddenly wished Gabrielle were here. She was so much better at teaching than she could ever be.

"Why not?" Kreka frowned. "You'd be great at it and besides, you don't have to do any queening while you're here. You're free to do as you wish have to go back to Balaam that is."

So far, the last few weeks in Pannonia had been quite boring and she felt useless around here, not like before. In Balaam she was always busy doing something. Now she just had to take care of her daughter and Csaba found some Bulgur kids his age to hang out with so she didn't really have to watch him anymore like she did in Armenia. Also, her mother wasn't here to stop her from doing anything.

Smiling she nodded. "Alright, I will do it." she said and Kreka grinned. "But I am going to need some time to form a lesson plan for them. This is going to take a long time. They aren't going to learn how to speak and write in our language in one night."

"I think we have a lot of time on our hands. Tomiri has everyone on their toes in Balaam." She eyed Arielle and saw her eyes wandering around the room. She picked up the baby in her arms and Ana's mouth gaped. "And I will take her off your hands for awhile." She got off the bed and took Arielle away.

Ana gasped. "But Kreka!"

"You have a lot of work to do," the khatun smirked and walked out of the room, kidnapping Ana's daughter.

"She's worse than mother," Ana grumbled. She then spotted Leila waltzing into the room."Hello Leila."

"Your highness," Leila bowed her head.

Anastasia sighed. "I'm not your queen here. I'm just Anastasia. So call me that."

Leila nodded nervously. "Alright...Anastasia..." she said awkwardly. "Pannonia is really beautiful. I like it here. I've never been outside of Balaam before!"

Ana knew the feeling. She was confined to Pannonia her entire life until she was thirteen. Then she traveled to so many places after that. This young woman was only a few years younger than her and was incredibly naive. Somehow, she felt lucky that her mother gave her the opportunity to study in Greece and she took that for granted.

"Well, I'm glad you like it. I'm sure you will be very happy here and Kreka will throw a big wedding for you and Dengi," she smiled softly. She wished that her own mother allowed her to marry Ellac long ago, but her stubbornness got in the way. Then when she married Navaz she also wanted her mother there, but that wasn't possible.

She saw the fear in the girl's eyes and couldn't help but smile. She recalled her own wedding with Navaz and it was nothing like the weddings in Pannonia. "You know, our weddings are a bit different here," she said.

Leila's eyes grew. "Really? What's so different about them?"

Ana sighed heavily and quirked her mouth, lifting her eyes to the ceiling, drifting off in her own thoughts. "Well, for one, the wedding lasts a long time. It's a huge party here not like the private weddings in Balaam. Everyone in the territory comes to celebrate. Dancing, a lot of food and drinks. It's very fun."

Leila grinned from ear to ear. "That sounds exciting!"

"Yeah," she frowned sadly. "Would you like to help me gather a lesson plan for the slave women? Kreka put me in charge of teaching them our language but I could use some help."

Leila nodded. "Sure, I can help you, your majesty." She said and Ana narrowed her eyebrows. "Anastasia..." she corrected and lowered her eyes. "I have one question."

"What is it?"

"What do I call Kreka Khatun now that we're in Pannonia?"

Ana smiled. "She is the queen of Pannonia so you have to address her like one. Although I'm sure she won't mind if you call her by her title instead."

"She kind of scares me."

Anastasia chuckled softly. "She used to scare me too but not anymore. She's got a hard shell but she's nice."

Leila nodded and felt the pit of her stomach knot just thinking of that woman. "And your mother, the commander. Is she nice too?"

Ana shrugged her shoulder. "Only to a few people. She has a hard exterior too but don't be afraid of my mother. She doesn't care about you." She said and Leila gasped. "I mean, not like that, but just...don't get in her way. I doubt you will have any problems with her."

"She didn't seem to like me very much the first time she saw me," Leila said softly.

"You should be more worried about Kreka instead of my mother. She will be your mother in-law. My mother already has a son in-law. You are of no concern to her," Ana smiled. "Now, let's go find some parchment and ink in this place."

"Fire!" Xena yelled and the men released the catapults directly into the Persian camp. She grinned and looked behind her to see Gabrielle commanding the defense fleet in case the Persians decided to invade. Navaz was busy with the front legion instructing them on how to attack.

Her head spun around and she saw the Persians scattering around like chickens with their heads cut off. A malicious grin appeared on her face and she knew the assassins were heading into the camp now. She saw Peroz commanding his archery fleet in the back row from afar. Even in the darkness her eyes saw daylight and this was not good.

"Archers!" she yelled and the Huns ran into a huddle, holding their shields above their heads. She ran behind the wall of catapults and ducked, watching the rain of arrows clash onto the shields and snow.

Gabrielle held up her shield and blocked the rain of arrows. She spoke to all the soldiers as they were huddled together. "Go to the right flank. Run and don't look back! Block all the arrows and then charge into the Persian camp. Don't stop until the front line is defeated!" she said. "Understand?" she asked and they nodded.

"Go, go!" she yelled and stood up, still blocking the arrows as she walked backwards away from fire range.

Meanwhile in the Persian campgrounds, Huns stormed into Tomiri's tent and frowned. It was empty. "She isn't here!" one shouted.

Tomiri jumped out threw the top of the tent and slit the Hun's throat and spun around with her sword to the other Huns with a wild smile. "Assassins. Well played, Xena. Very clever," she chuckled. Swinging her sword she pushed the Huns out of her tent and stabbed one in the gut and the other two ran off into the darkness.

"But not clever enough," she muttered.

"Mother! The Huns are bombing us!" Sparga ran up to her with baited breath.

She wiped the bloody sword on her white armor and walked to the top of the hillside. She smiled seeing Xena commanding the ballistic fleet while Navaz handled the front fleet and that blonde girl, that blonde Greek that Tomiri remembered from so long ago.

"Xena's bitch I see is still alive." She smiled and sheathed her sword and ran to her horse.

"Where are you going?!" Sparga yelled.

She turned to her son with wild eyes. "To catch a fish." She kicked the horse and took a back road to the entrance of Balaam.

Gabrielle saw Peroz still alive on the hill top and realized this plan was going downhill very fast. Eyeing Xena she saw that she was yelling at the men handling the catapults. They kept firing at the Persians. Navaz hadn't sent out the first fleet first and instead Gabrielle sent her defense out first. This was not a good idea at all.

She felt something pierce her shoulder and cried out. She looked at her shoulder and saw a huge arrow sticking out of her collar bone. Swiftly she turned around and saw Queen Tomiri holding her large bow in hand with a devious smile.

"Greek woman," Tomiri cocked her head and Gabrielle unsheathed her sword. "Oh please." She rolled her eyes and unwrapped her whip and flung it around Gabrielle's neck, pulling her across the snow. Gabrielle grunted and held onto the whip that choked her.

Now she sat on her horse, towering over the terrified blonde. "Xena is never distracted. She is too focused on the battle to notice you. What a pity." She winked then kicked Gabrielle in the face, rendering her unconscious. Tomiri grabbed Gabrielle's arm and hoisted her on her horse then took off, but not before she drove her blade into a Hun coming straight for her.

Navaz turned around when she saw Tomiri riding off back up the hill with Gabrielle draped over the back of the horse. "Gabrielle!" he yelled out. He turned and saw Xena was too immersed in the Persians finally attacking back to realize what was going on. He decided to take matters into his own hands.

"Go to the front archery line and wipe out those Persians!" he yelled at his men and then mounted his horse, following Tomiri.

The Scythian Queen looked over her shoulder and saw the White Hun king following her. She grinned and quickened her pace through the snow and diverted away from the Persian camp into her territory far from here where her army lay dormant.

"Tomiri!" Navaz called out.

"You should turn back, Khushnavaz!" she yelled and then laughed as she rode through the rough snowy terrain.

Miles away she finally halted her horse and came to her camp. She dismounted her horse and a horde of her men surrounded her. Navaz slowed his pace and his eyes grew once he saw the thousands upon thousands of soldiers hidden in this secluded part of the Caucasus. How could they have missed this?

"I told you, you should have turned back, Khushnavaz," she chuckled and snapped her fingers. "Take the Greek woman and put her in a cage!" she ordered. The men grabbed Gabrielle and drug her through the snow while she was still unconscious.

He frowned and unsheathed his sword. It was pretty foolish for him to come alone but he couldn't let this insane woman kill Gabrielle. That alone would drive Xena mad and he didn't want to see that side of Xena.

"Stop this madness, Tomiri." His chest rose and fell heavily as he pointed the blade directly at her.

Daringly, she stepped forward and the tip of his sword poked her throat. "So why don't you just kill me then? Are you not the mighty Hun king? You are no Attila that's for sure but I must give you credit for trying." She smiled and stepped away. "Detain him!" she pointed to the king.

Her men surrounded Navaz with javelins and swords. He frowned and realized he couldn't defeat them all. He was alone. He looked ahead and saw Gabrielle being gagged and tied by her ankles and wrists. The arrow still in her shoulder. What a disaster this was. He truly underestimated this woman.

"It was pretty stupid of you to come here by yourself, Hun King." Tomiri folded her arms. "Tie him up!" she snarled.

"Xena will kill you!" he yelled and the one man smacked him in the jaw with a javelin and he fell off the horse.

"I'd like to see her try."

Zolten ran up to Xena in the midst of the battle. "Commander!" he yelled and she whipped her body around. "Queen Tomiri took Gabrielle and Navaz went after her!"

Xena's heart stopped for a moment and turned to see both of them gone indeed like Zolten said. Then a feeling of vengeance filled her body and her eyes darkened. "Call a retreat," she ordered.

"But commander..."

"Do as I say or I'll drive a pike through your body!" she snarled and he backed away slowly, nodding his head. "Tomiri..." she growled. She promised herself that she wasn't going to lose anyone else in her life and Gabrielle was her number one. She couldn't start breaking her promises now.

A couple of hours later, the body count was nearing one hundred after this one battle against the Persians. Xena felt like she was losing very badly. These men weren't skilled enough to take on the Persian army. There were too many men against her but the Persians weren't very good fighters but there were so many of them that it didn't seem to matter. And now Tomiri had Gabrielle and of course Navaz followed her instead of getting help. He was still such a young king. He didn't understand how wars worked and Tomiri wouldn't kill them both. Not yet.

Tomiri wanted Anastasia, Xena and Navaz, but why take Gabrielle? Xena sat in her yurt contemplating on the bed, staring at the fire pit intensely for the last two hours. The only logical explanation was that Tomiri wanted Xena to find her and fight her. That had to be hit, Xena thought. That was the only reasonable thing she could think of.

Gabrielle was probably confused and no doubt drugged or injured by now. Tomiri was ruthless. She burned her own people publically for entertainment. Xena didn't want to begin to think of what that insane woman could be doing to Gabrielle at the moment. And she also had Navaz, but was Peroz aware? Most likely not.

He was just a pawn in all of this, Xena thought. She began to think that this war was going to be lost and Tomiri would win. She needed a new strategy –a strategy that she hated using but it worked sometimes. She had only used it twice in her lifetime and this was something she had to do.

She stood and grabbed her sword, storming out of the yurt. Many of the Huns were gathering corpses to be burned. She head straight for the Adame and Zolten eyed her, fearful that she'd lash out at him.

Xena entered the queen mother's quarters and saw Tuya talking with a few of her maids. "Get out," she told the servants and the young girls quickly left.

Tuya frowned. "I know what happened. Tomiri has my son and Gabrielle." She folded her arms.

"We need to rethink this entire war, Tuya. We are going to lose." She said and saw the Hun queen's face contort in shock and fear all in one expression.

"What do you mean? Aren't you going to go after them?!" she cried out.

Xena shook her head. "No because that's what Tomiri wants me to do. I need to beat her at her own game." She sighed and rubbed her chin. "But how is the real question..." she muttered.

"They could be dead!" Tuya yelled and buried her face in her hands. "My son could be dead," she said softly.

"They're not dead." The commander touched the queen mother's shoulder. "Tomiri won't kill them. She's waiting for me to come to her but I'm not going to do that."

Tuya lifted her head and wiped her tear stained cheeks. "Then...what will you do?" she brushed the wrinkles out of her dress, trying to compose herself.

"The unthinkable," Xena turned her back to the Caucasian woman. "I'm going to make Peroz ally with me against Tomiri."

"I beg your pardon!" she yelled and Xena spun around. "You can't do that!"

"I can and I will." Xena smiled and pulled out a dagger from her belt. She grazed it against her palm and drew a small amount of blood. "It will take some...persuasion..."

Gabrielle awoke in a large iron cage outside. Her vision blurred and then she was suddenly reminded of the awful wound. The large arrow was still stuck inside her shoulder and then panic set in. her ankles and wrists were bound. Struggling, she banged her backside against the iron bars, trying to set herself free.

"A caged golden bird," Tomiri said and Gabrielle jumped at her sudden appearance. "Frightened so easily. I wonder what Xena sees in you. You're a small little thing." She chuckled.

"Go to hell!" Gabrielle spat and the Scythian arched a thick dark eyebrow.

"Wouldn't be the first time someone said that to me." The queen stood and walked around the large human-sized cage. "I wonder how long it will take Xena to come looking for you. You remember me don't you?"

Gabrielle breathed heavily and watched the woman round the cage like a vulture. "Yes, I do. You wanted to kill everyone in Pannonia because we declined your offer."

Tomiri grabbed onto the bars and knelt down behind Gabrielle. She whispered, "that's right and Anastasia's little toy king was so foolish. He tried so hard to be a good king. Too bad he was killed in battle. My heart goes out to the little Hun queen." She smiled and stood, rounding to look into the emerald eyes of the Greek.

She continued, "and where is the little spawn of Xena?" she folded her arms.

"As if I'd tell you," Gabrielle smirked.

"Oh but you just did." Tomiri's eyes grew as did her smile. Gabrielle's face paled. "So she's not here in Balaam, is she? Where is she?" she knelt down and was eye level with the Greek woman.


"Alright, Greek," Tomiri sighed and stood. "I will find her and when I do...I will take her crown and head. When Xena comes for you I intend to finish what Zeno couldn't. And I'll make sure you'll have the front row seat." She grinned.

Snapping her fingers to her guards. "Clean her wound. I want her alive for when Xena comes." She ordered and turned back to the petite blonde. "If she comes." She winked then sauntered off.

Anastasius rode into Pannonia as it was on the way towards Armenia. He spotted the young Hun king in front of the Adame. "Ernak!" he yelled and the Hun turned at his voice.

"Anastasius," Ernak smiled and walked forward. "What brings you to Pannonia?"

The emperor sighed. "I received word from Gabrielle. She says that help is needed in Balaam."

Ernak frowned at that. "Xena never asks for help. Things must be going to shit over there." He rubbed his chin. "Are you on your way to go help?" and the emperor nodded. "It will take you a week to reach Balaam."

He felt almost embarrassed to ask but he really didn't have a choice. "I was going to ask if you wanted to accompany me to Balaam. I'm sure your skills would be very helpful. I've never fought against the Scythians."

The Hun's eyes grew wild. "Of course I will come with you!" Ernak exclaimed. "I will need to gather the Bulgurs...I mean, my men, some supplies and horses."

"God shines upon you all, Ernak," Anastasius smiled. He felt somewhat relieved that he had some help. Truly, he had no idea how to fight with Huns and their tactics were obviously different than Roman strategies. He was lucky enough to be put in this position. He had Navaz and Xena to thank for that.

Anastasia exited the Adame and saw the young emperor on his horse. He smiled and waved at her. She made her way over and grinned. "Anastasius. I am surprised to see you here."

He nodded. "I'm surprised to find you here as well. I am going to Balaam to help your people fight against the Scythian Queen." He said and immediately, her smile disappeared. "You had your baby," he said to change the subject.

She smiled and folded her arms. "A girl," she said.

The emperor's smile grew. "Congratulations to you. I am sure she will be just as beautiful as her mother," he bowed his head and she raised an eyebrow at his charming flattery.

"What is going on in Balaam?" she asked abruptly.

"Tomiri ambushed them. I've asked Ernak to aid me in this fight. I hope we are not too late," he sighed.

She felt her stomach churn at the thought of her people losing and even dying. She didn't want anything to happen to Gabrielle, her mother or Navaz. They all meant so much to her, especially her mother. She wouldn't and couldn't lose her again.

"I would come with you if I could..." she lowered her eyes.

Anastasius smiled briefly. "I am sure you are a great fighter like your mother. It would be an honor to fight alongside you, Anastasia. In the future, I hope to have that honor." He gave her a curt nod and she responded with a simple weak grin.

Ernak rode up to him on his horse. "I am going to gather the men. We may leave at the end of the day." He instructed and the Roman nodded. He turned to Anastasia. "We're going to wipe out Tomiri and her entire army, sweet Ana." He winked and pat her cheek.

She swat his hand away and walked back to the Adame, sulking. Ernak sighed and turned back to the Roman emperor. "Women and their hormones." He joked then trotted off, yelling at the soldiers.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27 –The Wrath of Queen Tomiri Part IV of V

Two Days Later

Tomiri slapped Navaz across the face and he breathed heavily. His head hung and blood dripped from his mouth. She grabbed his chin and looked into his tired brown eyes. Snarling, she demanded, "where is your wife?!" she spat in his face.

Navaz's nose crinkled and he opened one of his eyes, gaping into the mad queen's eyes. His other eye was closed shut from the beatings he received by two of Tomiri's men. " you want...her?" he croaked.

"You didn't answer my question, Khushnavaz," she grinned and pinched his badly bruised cheeks together. "Where is your wife?" she asked again and once more he refused to answer. Tomiri chuckled lightly and let go of the king's face then walked away, grabbing a whip.

"You must love her a lot," she mused and he spat some blood onto the floor beneath him. "This would be a lot easier if you just cooperate and tell me where she is. If you tell me then I will release you."

He scoffed and she spun around with whip in hand. "No you won't. You'll kill me." He half smiled.

The Scythian Queen grinned maliciously and uncoiled the whip. "Very good. You think you have me figured out, don't you, Hun king?" she stepped backward and the end of the whip dropped to the floor. He glanced at the tight grip she had on the whip's handle and felt his entire body tense, waiting to embrace the pain.

"Too bad I did not get to torture your wife's previous lover," she smiled. "I would have so loved to see his face when he was met with one of my men in the battlefield."

Navaz frowned and lifted his head, staring at her with his unharmed eye. "He was killed by a Gepid not a Scythian..." he remembered that Anastasia told him that a long time ago.

Tomiri laughed. "Is that what she told you?" she said and his mouth gaped. "Well, he was a Gepid yes, but I allied with them and told them to kill Ellac." Her smile widened at the shock and horror on his face. "Or did I?" she winked. "She must have told you that his body was sent back to Pannonia for his royal funeral, right?" she said and added, "your wife is naive, Khushnavaz."

She leaned on the armrests, inches away from his beaten face. "And I'm sure the funeral was magnificent and wonderful," she hissed. "But what your wife probably doesn't know is that Ellac's body was burned before he got to Pannonia, right?" she said and he averted his gaze. "Look at me!" she yelled and grabbed his chin, forcing him to look into her eyes.

"I'm going to tell you something that even your wife doesn't know. It'll be our little secret," she whispered. "Those stupid Huns brought the wrong body back to Pannonia." She said and his eye grew in fear. "That's right. They didn't bury the young Hun king. He yet lives, as my slave and captive. I've kept him alive for...what is it now? Eleven years? Twelve? I forget." She sighed.

" alive?" he asked. Now he felt like this woman was truly insane. "Why...why would you keep him alive?"

She shrugged a shoulder. "For my own amusement, of course. You should have seen Anastasia's face when she found out her dear lover was killed in battle." She grinned. "Oh, I see you are crushed now. Your wife's lover is alive and there's nothing you can do about it."

He struggled to break the chains that were wrapped around his chest. "You will burn in hell, Tomiri."

"I'm sure I will." She cracked the whip against the floor of the tent. "Now, tell me where Anastasia is. Tell me or the Greek woman dies and so does Ellac." She smiled. "Tell me or they both die!"

Navaz lowered his head and thought this was such a tight situation. First, he didn't know if the queen was lying or not, but he did know that she would definitely kill Gabrielle. But what about Ellac? If he was truly alive after all this time why would she tell him? Of course, she'd kill him anyway and that's probably why she told him this important piece of information.

He cared too much about Anastasia to give her location away, but he also cared about Gabrielle. What about Xena? She would be forever traumatized and would never forgive herself if he was the reason Gabrielle died. And if Ellac was truly alive, he didn't want him to die either even though Tomiri could be lying about this entire thing but why would she? She's insane but she doesn't seem the type to bluff.

"I'm waiting, Hun," she frowned deeply. "Ellac and Gabrielle will die. Give me your wife's location."

He lifted his head and spat in her face. She growled and wrapped the whip around his neck, cutting off his airway. "Their fate rests in your hands!" she snarled and tightened the whip around his throat. "Tell me!"


She released the whip and coiled it around her arm. "Pannonia," she smiled. "Oh Xena, you are very smart. Keeping your daughter safe from me." She turned to the badly beaten king. "Thank you for your cooperation." She turned and walked off.

He coughed and wriggled his wrists behind the chair. "Wait!" he called out, barely able to speak. Tomiri turned back around and stared at him intensely. " about Ellac?" he asked. He had to know.

The Scythian woman grinned. "Why would I lie about that? I'm many things but a liar isn't one of them. Don't worry, when this all over I will kill your wife and then I kill him too. They will finally be reunited! Til death do them part, right?" She briskly walked out of the tent out into the cold.

Navaz groaned and looked around the tent filled with weapons. He needed to get something so he could escape from these chains. His ankles were chained to the legs of the chair. He scooted the chair over and saw some powder. Smiling, he hopped over to the explosive powder. He wasn't going to be responsible for all of these people dying.

Gabrielle saw Tomiri exit from the tent where Navaz was. She didn't want to know what she was doing to that poor man inside that tent. She was sure that he was probably beaten, burned or worse. She saw the queen coming towards her with a malicious smile on her lips.

Tomiri folded her arms. "Well, Khushnavaz gave me Anastasia's location. You know, I was expecting Xena to be here already. Maybe she doesn't care about you anymore?" she winked.

Gabrielle frowned deeply. "She will come and when she does, you'll be sorry."

"Oh, so cute you are, little gold bird." Tomiri sighed. "I see your wound is patched up. You're welcome." She knelt down in front of the iron cage. "You know, perhaps I will keep you alive and when Xena is dead I'll keep you as a slave. How does that sound? Scythia is beautiful in the summer time."

"Not a chance in hell. I would rather die than serve you," Gabrielle hissed.

"That can be arranged too," Tomiri stood and waved at her men. "Take her to the river," she ordered.

The men unlocked the cage door and hoisted Gabrielle to her feet, firmly gripping her arms. She snarled at the queen as she was being pushed out of the cage. Tomiri walked behind them and eyed the tent Navaz was held in.

"Dunk her in the water a few times," she ordered and Gabrielle gasped. The water here must be freezing. She grabbed her son's arm before he was about to accompany the soldiers. "Go spy on Peroz and his men. Tell me what the Huns are doing."

He nodded, "yes mother." He ran off to his horse and whistled at the elite guards to follow him.

Xena arrived at the Persian camp on horseback alone against Zolten's advice. She was immediately surrounded by the Persian front fleet. She unsheathed her sword and dropped it in the snow then raised both of her gloved hands.

"I want to talk to your Shah," she said and peered over at the large tent, which she assumed belonged to Peroz.

"Have you come to surrender?" one of the soldiers asked skeptically.

She smirked, "no but I've come to make an offer. Allow me to pass so I can speak to the Shah. I've come alone and unarmed."

Peroz stepped out of his tent and saw Xena at the front line, surrounded by his men. She was irritated and frustrated. He smiled and walked forward. "Let her pass!" he called out to his soldiers and the circle of armed men slowly dispersed. Xena trotted over to him and he folded his arms.

"Xena. What brings you here? I know you aren't here to surrender."

She hopped off her horse and frowned deeply, staring into his dark eyes. "I want to have a word with you about Queen Tomiri," she whispered harshly.

He stepped to the side and motioned to his tent. "Ladies first," he said with a charming smile. She briskly brushed by him and entered his tent. He turned to his men and gave a curt nod. The soldiers went back to their posts to guard the front fleet and watched the Huns below in Balaam.

Walking into the tent he saw Xena looking at his map. He cleared his throat and she lifted her head, though did not even bother to move. So arrogant, he thought. "You've risked your life to come to talk to me."

She smiled and crossed her arms. "You won't kill me, Peroz. And if I wanted to kill you, I would have done it already," she said and he creased his dark brows. "You shouldn't have allied with Tomiri. She is going to betray and kill you. She wants you to use your entire army to fight against us. Once your army is finished, she will use her own army to attack Balaam."

He lowered his eyes and knew that Xena was right. What Tomiri said to him about not remaining allies was a big clue to him. She was insane and smart. She was using him and his brother's empire to her own advantage, but why would Xena come here to tell him that? It couldn't be because she actually cared.

"So, you've come here to warn me is that it?" he mused.

The Hun commander shook her head and stepped closer to the anxious Shah. "No. I'm going to ask you to join me. You and me against Tomiri and her army."

He laughed. "Persians and Huns working together?! You're just as mad as she is!" he side stepped her and walked over to his map on the table.

She groaned and turned around. "Peroz, this is pointless. Don't you see what she is doing? She's trying to wipe us both out! What would become of your empire if she wins? She will be the queen of Persia, Scythia and the Caucasus. We can't let her win. I've made deals with people I don't like, including your father. We worked together to defeat the Romans until he betrayed me. Do not be like your foolish father and allow pride to overcome you."

"You killed my father." He said flatly.

"No, I didn't. I wasn't even in Constantinople when he died. Attila killed him because he sided with the Romans. He betrayed our agreement. I don't betray allies, Peroz. Make this deal with me and we can get rid of Tomiri together. You and I both know that she will bring the reign of terror upon our people."

The unfortunate thing is that he knew she was right and he hated to admit it. He didn't want Tomiri to succeed and destroy his family's empire that had been active for thousands of years. Persia was strong and though he hadn't had the best relationship with the Huns in the past, perhaps a short alliance was needed to get rid of an evil that roamed the earth.

"What...happens if I ally with you? Will I be entitled to treat your people differently?" he asked, already considering to ally with her.

She smiled and walked to the table. "How about this, Peroz. I will be fair with you and I'm willing to put aside our differences just this once. If you ally with us then we build a treaty. You won't attack Armenia or any Hun province and we won't come into Persia unless given diplomatic permission."

He eyed her hungry eyes and quirked his mouth. "Alright," he relented.

"And release the Khazar Hun prisoners in your empire. They don't belong to you. And one more thing," she added and saw his nostrils flaring. He was fuming inside. "Leave the Nezak Huns alone. Do not tax them. Do we have a deal?" she held out her hand.

He balled up his fists and stared intently into her icy radar eyes and crinkled his nose in disgust. "You're making a lot of demands for this one time alliance, Xena. If I do this for your people, I want something in return."

She lowered her hand. "What do you want?" at this point she was desperate and all she could think about was Gabrielle and Navaz in the hands of Tomiri. She was willing to do almost anything to get this Persian Shah to agree to the alliance.

He smirked. "Since your daughter is already married I want the grandson of Attila to marry one of my cousins for an alliance."

Her eyes widened. "You what?"

He nodded. "That's right. I want the little Hun Prince to marry my cousin. It will seal the alliance."

"He's only thirteen!" she clenched her teeth and couldn't bear for her grandson to marry a Persian. Although, if that was his only condition, perhaps it could be worked out somehow in the future.

"I know and my cousin is the same age as him. They can get married when they are of age in a few years. It will assure me that your people won't attack my empire. So, what do you say? Deal?" he held out his hand this time.

Xena breathed out heavily and then shook his hand. "Fine." She could only imagine the wrath of Anastasia when she had to give her this horrible news.

He cast her a smile and then pointed to the map. "So, how do you want to go about this? When do we attack Tomiri?"

"First, we need to find out where her army is. She has Navaz and...Gabrielle as captives. I need to get them back alive and then we attack her and her army. Both of our armies combined should be enough to combat hers."

"I see. Should I send scouts to different areas?" he suggested.

She nodded. "Yes, but be careful. If she has them both then I know her army is not far. She is very close. She knows this area better than I do."

"But I know the area as well as she does. If she is smart she will be in Persian territory, just outside of the Caucasus region. If that's where she is then she's on my land. I will make sure to tell my men to be as stealthy as possible. What will you do in the meantime?"

She sighed and rubbed her chin. "I will wait for your signal to attack. This must be done carefully. I don't want Navaz or Gabrielle to die if we ambush her."

Peroz smiled. "Of course. So, what tactic will we use? Roman, perhaps?" he hinted and she smiled.

Navaz was able to free himself from the chains after he tried several times to break the chains with various weapons. Once he was free he grabbed his black scarf that was on a table and wrapped it around his face. He stuffed his boots with two daggers and took a sword for precaution. He sliced through the back of the tent and crawled on the snowy ground.

He crawled behind several tents and was able to see Gabrielle trapped in a cage, shivering and breathing steadily. At least she was alive. That is good, he thought. He crawled over to the cage, making sure no guards were around. He noticed most of them were around campfires in front of their huddled tents. Also, he saw a huge tent and assumed Tomiri was inside there.

He quickly ran across the field and knelt down behind Gabrielle and wrapped his hand around her mouth. She panicked and screamed. "Hey, stop it!" he hissed. "It's just me, Navaz," he whispered. He took his hand off her mouth and she turned around with a weak smile.

"Navaz..." she was so happy to see him. Then she saw his face. "God...your face. What did she do to you?!"

"Don't worry about me," he said and took out a dagger and began sawing through the ropes around her wrists. "We need to get out of here."

She agreed. "We can't just leave. We will be caught and then she'll definitely kill us."

He sighed and then her hands were finally free. She untied the ropes around her ankles and then turned to him again. "Gabrielle..." he began. She grabbed onto the iron bars, staring at his bruised face and he was barely able to keep his one eye open. "Tomiri told me she has Ellac. He's alive."

Gabrielle gasped. "Ellac? Are you sure?"

He nodded. "I'm sure. She says she's been keeping him alive all this time."

She smiled, now feeling hopeful about this. If they were able to make it out of here alive and get Tomiri to surrender or even kill her then they could get Ellac and bring him to Pannonia. She could only imagine the happiness in Anastasia's eyes when she lay eyes on him. Then she realized, Navaz was Anastasia's husband now. And he loved her a lot.

"Oh..." she lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry. That must make you feel...awful."

He smiled softly. "I told Anastasia that I would do anything for her. If Ellac is alive then I will rescue him."

She grinned. "You must love her a lot to do something so selfless."

"I do love her, but...Tomiri knows where she is." He admitted.

Gabrielle frowned and she spun around, glaring at the queen's tent. "She isn't going to leave this place alive. That's a promise." She turned back to the king. "What's the plan?"

He slipped her one of the daggers. "Tie yourself back up and keep this close to you. I'm going back to the tent. Don't attack until I come for you." He whispered then crouched down to crawl back to the tent.

"Wait!" she hissed and he looked over his shoulder. "Where did she say Ellac was?"

"She didn't." he frowned and crawled through the snow back to his tent he was kept in.

Sparga entered his mother's tent and saw she was sharpening one of her long swords. "Mother, the Huns and Persians are at a standstill. They are not attacking each other."

She smiled. "Good." She lifted her sword and looked at the sharpened edge.

"Are you not going back to Peroz's camp?" he asked.

"I will be traveling to the camp tomorrow. Must keep up our appearances, right?" she winked and then stood, tossing her sword on her bed. "I want you to round up a group of men and take them to Pannonia."

He frowned. "Pannonia? What is there?"

"Anastasia is there. I want you to go there and kill her. Bring me her head." She snarled and his eyes widened. "Leave tonight while the Huns are not attacking. Take the back roads."

He bowed to his mother. "As you wish..." he turned and left his mother's tent.

In the Scythian stronghold beside the palace, Tomiri kept all of her prisoners in one secluded area of the barren snowy desert. Her guards were surrounding the entire place and she had over two hundred prisoners from Scythia and other lands surrounding her kingdom.

Most of the prisoners kept in the stronghold were held for minimal crimes, although she had some Visigoths kept there for over a decade for attempted assassination. She was sure to keep a tight hold on those people. And then there were others that stole food from her palace. The women and men were kept in the same area and each had their own cells, except for the newcomers. They had to stay in a giant cell until she gave them their jail sentence.

In the midst of all the prisoners she kept one Hun close and he had his own cell for the last ten years. She kept him in her stronghold as bait and felt his life was worth more alive than dead. She waited a long time to use Ellac to her own advantage and now was the best opportunity. With Xena and her daughter alive, she could use Ellac to entice them somehow and some way.

Ellac, inside of his lonely cold cell, wore nothing but long baggy pants and had no shoes or shirt. His hair was long and his beard he kept trimmed while he was imprisoned. When he first came to Scythia, he asked her several times to kill him but she wouldn't allow it. As the years went by he realized that she was just using him, but for what? He didn't know. He didn't have any knowledge of the outside world.

In order to keep himself sane he resorted to keeping his body strength up by doing various exercises in his cell. At least his cell had a small window. Although the view was awful especially in the winter.

Breathing heavily, he finished doing over one hundred pushups. Sweat dripped from his forehead and he stood up, stretching his arms over his head. He sat on the floor and pulled out a stone that held a sharp wooden stake he had been sharpening for over a month now. He was able to break it off a chair that he used to have in his cell. He planned to get out of here, eventually.

It had been awhile since Tomiri made her weekly visit and he thought that was odd. He put the weapon back into the wall and got up, making his way over to the door. He knocked on the door, calling for the guards.

"Hey!" he yelled and one Tomiri's men walked over.

"What is it, swine?" the guard spat.

Ellac smiled. "Where is the queen? She normally makes her weekly visit by now."

The guard snarled. "She is not in Scythia at the moment."

"Oh?" Ellac grabbed onto the bars. "And where is she?" he asked, leaning against the large wooden door.

The man smiled deviously. "In the Caucasus where the White Huns are. I'm sure you've heard of them..." he said and Ellac raised an eyebrow. "She plans to kill their queen –Anastasia. Your lover. You remember her don't you?"

Ellac gasped and gripped the bars, snarling at the Scythian. "What?! She's alive? Tomiri told me she was dead!"

"The queen says a lot of things." He poked his javelin through the bars and Ellac stepped away. "Stay back from the door, Hun!" he growled then walked away from the cell.

Ellac punched a wall and snarled. He then started pacing around the cell with his hands over his head. He knew he couldn't stay here now. Anastasia was alive and Tomiri lied. Now everything was starting to make sense. He recalled the guard calling Anastasia a queen, which only meant one thing. She was married to a Hun king. He wondered how long she had been married to this king. He couldn't blame her. She thought he was dead and needed to move on with her life. He knew he had to get out of here, but he was trapped.

But at least there was one good thing about this news. Anastasia was alive and that meant his son was alive too. He wondered what he looked now. He had to be at least fourteen or so. He didn't know how old his own son was. He also began wondering what Anastasia looked like. Was she was beautiful as he remembered her to be? Would she look the same and act like she used to when they were younger? He hadn't seen Ana since they were both seventeen years old. He could only imagine the horror on her face when someone told her that he was dead. He didn't want to see that face in his mind so he chose to remember the good times they had together.

And now, he was determined to get out of Scythia. He needed a plan. He couldn't stay here in this prison for the rest of his life. Tomiri was after Anastasia and he couldn't just sit here and think of all the horrible things that insane woman was going to do to his people. He had a purpose in his life again and he wasn't going to waste any more of his time in this god forsaken place.

"Your highness!" a soldier ran up to Peroz and Xena. "Tomiri is on her way over!"

Xena grinned. "Invite her in the tent. I'll be waiting." She walked off and Peroz nodded.

He anxiously stood and waited for the queen to make her appearance. Moments later he saw her riding towards him with a slow trot. He put on a false smile and she hopped off her horse. "Tomiri, I was wondering if the Huns had killed you."

She waved her hand. "Oh please. I had some business to take care of." She peered down the hill and saw the Huns were still guarding their campsite. "I see the enemy has not attacked."

He nodded. "We must have frightened them. Why don't we discuss how we are going to attack them? You said your army should be here in a few days. It's been two and a half days."

"Ah," she grinned. "Of course I did not forget..." she walked by him and entered his tent. He frowned and trailed behind her. He was beginning to see right through this woman after spending hours talking with Xena. Perhaps the Huns weren't as awful as he thought they were.

Once they were both inside the tent he walked over to the table and unrolled the map out again. A fresh one, not the map that he marked up with Xena the night before. "So, when will your army be here?"

She folded her arms. "You really want my army here, don't you?" she smirked.

"Well, we are allies for now, right? We are working as a team. I'm sure Xena is coming up with a new strategy to attack us."

Tomiri chuckled lightly. "I'm surprised she hasn't attacked you yet! I have something very precious to her. I have the Greek woman and Khushnavaz in my camp. Sorry I did not come back sooner but I had to make sure they were well taken care of if you know what I mean..."

Peroz half smiled and saw Xena appear from a dark corner of the tent and slowly walked behind Tomiri. He lowered his eyes, focused on the map. "And you haven't killed them?"

"No, I'm waiting for Xena to come to me but I see she is too focused on the battle ahead. I do have her daughter's location. She is in Pannonia and I've sent my son to get her. I knew she couldn't be here otherwise why would the Adame be so open and unguarded." She shrugged a shoulder.

Xena's upper lip quivered and then she took out a rope and wrapped it around the queen's neck, choking her. Tomiri gasped for air and grabbed onto the rope. "What's the matter, Tomiri? I thought you were into this kind of foreplay!" she snarled.

Tomiri's eyes widened and she snarled at the Shah. "You traitor!" she coughed as the rope was cutting off her air supply.

He frowned and stepped forward. "No, Tomiri, you are the traitor. You are just using my army. You have no desire to be allies with me and my brother. I knew that the moment you implied you would attack me as soon as you would take Armenia for yourself."

" allied with a Hun?!" she choked and Xena tightened the rope then took Tomiri's sword then kicked her in the back and she face planted into the floor, groaning. "She will betray you!"

Xena smiled. "You're wrong, Tomiri. I don't betray allies unless they betray me first. You should have paid more attention to history. " She yanked on the ropes and then tied the queen's ankles and wrists together like a hog ready for the fire spit.

"Now...where are Gabrielle and Navaz? Where is your army held?" Xena asked and pointed the sword in the queen's face.

"Siktir!" Tomiri spat and Peroz raised an eyebrow.

Xena smirked. "What a foul mouth you have. Tell me where your army is! You are in no position to fight me, Tomiri. Just cooperate with me."

The Scythian woman smiled and groaned as she felt the small her back twinge from the uncomfortable position she was in. "And why should I? Aren't you going to kill me anyway?"

"No. I'm handing you over to the Persian empire. You will be their prisoner. Your blood will not be on my hands."

Peroz sighed, growing tired of this back and forth. "Tomiri you are defeated. You need to surrender. Tell us where your army is!"

Tomiri laughed and then choked as the rope tightened around her throat. "You'll find out soon enough. My army is marching over here as we speak."

Xena lowered the sword and shared a nervous glance with Peroz. "I will go tell Zolten to prepare the soldiers. Don't leave this tent!" she ordered and ran out of the tent.

The entire Scythian army left the camp and Gabrielle was left with two guards standing by the cage. There was hardly anyone here. She looked over and saw Navaz walking towards the cage with a bloody sword. She smiled and the Scythians ran over to him.

She untied her loosely tied wrists and ankles and ran over to the cage. She took out the dagger from her boot that Navaz gave her and picked at the lock while the guards were fighting him off.

Navaz swung the sword, slicing one of the Scythian's arms and kicked the other to the ground. He felt incredibly weak and hadn't eaten in three days now. One Scythian head butted him in the forehead and he dropped to the ground, groaning lightly. Gabrielle saw the young king was down and panicked, trying to pick the lock with the dagger as quickly as she could.

She saw a sword about to be driven through Navaz and acted quickly. She threw the dagger at the Scythian's backside and it landed directly through his throat. The soldier gasped and blood poured down his chest and mouth. He fell to the snow and Navaz quickly got up and grabbed the other Scythian, flipping him over onto his back and then cried out before driving his blade through the man's gut.

Gabrielle smiled and she rattled the iron cage. "Hey! Hello!" she yelled and Navaz turned. He ran over and she stood back as he swung his sword down on the lock and he opened the door. She embraced him warmly. "We need to get back to Balaam. Tomiri's army is heading that way."

He nodded and spotted a horse. "Come on." He grabbed her hand and they ran over to the horse.

She climbed on the horse and he swung his leg over, mounting the steed, wincing at his sore legs. "I saw a group of men leave last night. I think they are going to Pannonia."

Navaz frowned. "First thing first. We get to Balaam and help Xena defeat Tomiri's army."

"And then we go find Ellac?" she hoped.

He sighed, "yes and we will find out where the queen has hidden him." As much as it pained him to say those words, he wanted to help and he wanted to make Anastasia happy but he couldn't do that if someone else special to his wife died –Xena.

Chapter Text

And the last of the war, finally. :)

Chapter 28 –The Wrath of Queen Tomiri Part V

Gabrielle and Navaz rode into Balaam and saw chaos everywhere. Tomiri's army was attacking the Persians and Huns at once. Navaz drew his sword and Gabrielle frowned, eyeing the Persians and Huns working together. Xena was in the back row instructing the Persians on where to go and what to do. Navaz was about to slice through one of Peroz's men and Gabrielle grabbed his wrist.

"Wait!" she yelled and he turned to her. "They're working together." She said and he lowered his sword. She hopped off the horse and ran over to Xena.

Xena had her arms folded as she watched the Scythian army ransacking the entire city of Balaam. Although the Persians were doing their best to push them back away from the Hun army. She had never seen such an organized Scythian army before in her life. Surely, Tomiri's brother was not a very good strategist because the Scythians weren't known for organized warfare. In fact, they were usually very bad at strategizing on the battlefield, until now.

The Persians were not known as being very good fighters on the field, but their archers is what saves them every time in a battle. There were hundreds of archers and very seldom did they miss their targets. She decided to organize the archers on all sides of the field below to aim directly at Tomiri's army.

"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled out and the commander turned at the familiar voice.

The commander grinned, "Gabrielle!" she embraced her warmly and the blonde gently pushed her away, focused on the battle. She ran her gloved hand across her partner's face. "Are you alright? How did you escape?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine. Navaz came up with a plan for us to escape," she answered. "You allied with Peroz?" she eyed her curiously.

Xena nodded. "It is the only way to defeat Tomiri's army." She looked out on the field and saw explosions in the middle of the field. She frowned and stepped forward. "What the hell is this?!" she growled.

"Land mines," Gabrielle said breathily. "Where is Tomiri?" she asked, shaking Xena's arm.

"She's tied up in Peroz's tent. I told him to stay in the tent with her."

Gabrielle exhaled heavily. "Listen, Xena, we have a problem," she said and the commander ignored her. "Xena!"

"What?!" she hissed.

She looked into her partner's blue wild eyes and then suddenly felt extremely nervous. "Tomiri has Ellac." She blurted out.

Xena scoffed, "she's lying. He's been dead for over ten years. She's a sick woman to tell such a lie."

"Xena! She is not lying! She told Navaz that if he didn't give her Anastasia's location that she would kill me and Ellac! She has him. She isn't lying..."

Then, Gabrielle saw the look of sadness, horror and confusion written all over Xena's face. She had never seen that expression before in her entire life they spent together. Gabrielle wasn't one hundred percent sure that Tomiri was telling the truth but if she could have a word with her then they would know she is telling the truth. Attila's son could be alive and he was a Scythian prisoner this entire time. Everyone was spent apart for years and had no idea of their whereabouts. Gabrielle wasn't sure this was the best time to tell Xena this but what good time was there?

A loud explosion interrupted their conversation and Xena ducked, shielding Gabrielle from the flying debris. Gabrielle felt the warmth of Xena's large coat encompassing her and felt her heavy hot breath against her cheek.

"Xena...we need to ask Tomiri if she's telling the truth. If Peroz has her then she needs to surrender! This war is pointless!"

Xena sighed and stood, turning to the Persian Shah's tent. She unsheathed her sword and grabbed Gabrielle's shoulder. "Command the fleet. I have to talk to the queen..." her eyes darkened and she stormed off.

Gabrielle's heart raced. She couldn't believe that Xena gave her the task of commanding the Persian fleet. She had never done that before and by the looks of it down below, things weren't going well for the Huns or Persians alike. She whistled over at Navaz.

He trotted over and dismounted the horse. She wrapped her arms around her cold body and stared at the soldiers waiting on the sidelines. "Xena told me to command the fleet..." she said nervously.

"That's it? She didn't give you any instructions?" he asked and she wagged her head. "Alright..." he folded his arms. "Tell them to spread out to the west and east sides of Tomiri's army and blockade them."

"Trap them again? Are you sure that's going to work? Tomiri's men have bombs!" Gabrielle was feeling panic set in as she saw the entire Hun territory being blown into smithereens.

He half smiled, "well, Xena isn't here to command so I guess we'll just have to take our chances." He waved his hand to the men, instructing them to spread out.

"I hope you know what you're doing," she grumbled.

"Only one way to find out!" he hopped on his horse.

She gasped. "Where are you going?!"

"To the front line, of course. I can't leave my men without a commander or a king. You stay here," he smiled and rode off behind the Persians down the hill.

Xena stormed into the tent and found Tomiri still tied up on the ground. Peroz stayed inside just as he was instructed to do. He stood from the chair upon her entrance. Xena grabbed the rope and choked Tomiri abruptly.

"You are a snake, Tomiri!" she yelled and the queen gagged. She cut the ropes around her ankles and wrists and hoisted the queen up to her feet.

"Xena, what are you doing?" Peroz drew his sword and saw the wild look in the Hun woman's eyes. She wasn't even listening to him.

Xena punched the queen in her nose and then kneed her gut. She threw her against the table, breaking it in half. Tomiri coughed and groaned lightly. Xena stomped her boot on the Scythian's chest. "You have Ellac –son of Attila, don't you, Tomiri?!" she growled.

The queen smiled up at the angry woman standing over her. "I see your golden bird escaped..." she coughed as the boot on her chest felt so heavy, crushing her lungs.

"Where is he?!" Xena yelled.

"Where I keep all my prisoners of course. He is a fine young man now," she winked and Xena grabbed her by hair, lifting her to her feet. She winced and breathed heavily, staring into the irate blue eyes in front of her.

Xena drug the woman by her hair out of the tent and Peroz followed her. "Xena!" he snarled, "what do you think you're doing?!"

"Put up the white flag for surrender!" she ordered.

"Excuse me?"

"Do it!" she hissed and he shook his head. He ran over to grab the flag and ordered one of his men to plant it at the front of the hill so everyone could see. Xena drug the Scythian queen to the top of the hill and kicked her to her knees.

Tomiri smiled as Xena held the sword dangerously close to her throat. "I thought you were handing me over to the Persians?"

"I changed my mind," she said through clenched teeth. Lifting her eyes she saw the Scythian army pulling back. The Persians and Huns were confused and lowered their weapons as soon as they saw the white flag of surrender at the top of the hill.

Gabrielle turned her head and saw Xena holding her blade against Tomiri's throat. "Oh no..." she whispered and ran over to her through the thick snow, barely able to pick up her tired legs. "Xena! Wait!"

Xena whipped her head around and creased her eyebrows. "Stay out of this Gabrielle. She is mine."

"No! You aren't thinking clearly!"

"I have never thought so clearly in my life," Xena's smile widened as she gaped down at the defeated queen. "You know that harboring a king is punishable by death, Queen Tomiri. These are the rules."

Tomiri grinned. "You are so filled with anger, Xena. Had I known that you were so attached to Attila's son, I would have killed him long ago." She said and a frown graced the commander's face. "Oh but, perhaps you only have feelings for him because he is your daughter's lover, or shall I say old lover. Anastasia has a husband now. The boy king will be of no use to you now..."

Xena's eyebrows lifted and Gabrielle shook her head. She drove her sword through the queen's throat and Gabrielle cringed, closing her eyes tightly. She took the sword out from the queen's throat and then with one clean swipe, she decapitated Tomiri and blood spewed from her neck, her body dropping into the snow.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and saw the white snow run red with the Scythian Queen's blood and Xena held onto Tomiri's head by her long hair. Xena lifted her eyes and saw the horror on the queen's men's faces. She tossed the head to the side and wiped her sword on her pants casually.

"This war is over!" Xena shouted to all the men below. "You belong to the Persian Empire now!" she spoke to the Scythian soldiers. She then walked off down the hillside to Balaam to get her horse. The Persians drug off the decapitated queen's body through the snow.

Gabrielle frowned and ran after her partner. "Xena!" she yelled in a gruff voice. "What was that?!"

Xena ignored her and kept walking to the inner city to retrieve her horse.

"You killed her! You killed her out of anger and rage!"

Xena finally spun around and the blonde nearly bumped into her. "She is a liar, Gabrielle! She would have kept going until she wiped us all out! She deserved to die!"

"I don't know what kind of deal you worked out with Peroz but we weren't supposed to kill Tomiri! We were supposed to imprison her!" she yelled and Xena pursed her lips and stormed off. "I'm not done talking to you!"

"Yes, you are!" Xena snapped and grabbed her horse that was tied to the Adame post outside. She mounted the horse. "I'm going to Scythia to get Ellac. I made a promise to his mother before he was born and I intend to keep my promise to Cera."

Gabrielle huffed and placed her hands on her hips, glaring up at the stubborn commander. "His mother must have been very important to you," she said almost bitterly.

Xena's gaze dipped to the snow below her. "She was a very nice person, Gabrielle. Her life on this earth was too short. If I have a chance to redeem myself then I will. And the only way I can do that is to bring Ellac back to Pannonia."

Navaz rode up in between the Scythians who were now retreating. "You killed her," he stated and Xena frowned sourly. "Are we going to rescue Ellac?" he asked.

Xena's eyes widened and Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Navaz...I think you should stay here and have your wounds tended to. I will go to Scythia to get Ellac."

He smiled softly. "I won't let you go alone. Zolten can handle the aftermath. Scythia is not far from here. I'm not taking no for an answer."

She sighed. "Alright." She turned to the irate blonde. "Are you coming?"

"No," Gabrielle said, creasing her eyebrows. "I'll stay here and help the wounded soldiers."

Anastasius and Ernak guided the Bulgur Huns and Romans through the rough terrain. Now only a couple of days away from reaching Balaam, they both hoped that they weren't too late. Ernak scouted ahead of everyone else since he knew this area better than Anastasius. He then spotted a group of white armored men coming in their direction.

He recognized that armor anywhere and the symbols on their horses were a dead giveaway. "Scythians!" he yelled. The Romans took out their swords and halted behind their emperor. Ernak grinned, "look alive, boys!"

He rode out by himself and Anastasius frowned. "Follow him!" he shouted at his men.

Sparga saw a horde of Huns and Romans riding and running right towards him. He only had a group of about six men with him. There's no way he could fight against them all and win. He also thought it was very odd that the Romans were working with the Huns. That hadn't been done in many years. It appeared the new young emperor was very loyal to these Hun people.

The plan to ride to Pannonia to get Anastasia was now out of the question. He felt like he failed his mother but there was no way he could face off hundreds of Romans and Huns. "Do not take out your weapons!" he ordered the elite guards and they all looked at him as if he were crazy.

Ernak pulled up the Scythian general with a big grin on his face. He pointed his blade at Sparga. "What brings you to Hun territory, Scythian?"

"Orders from the Scythian Queen," Sparga said, lifting his chin proudly.

"Yeah right," the Hun king scoffed. "Detain them!" he ordered the Bulgur men. Sparga frowned. "You aren't even gonna put up a fight? Wow you give up easily don't ya?" he winked and the Bulgur Huns grabbed the general and tied his wrists. Then the horses were tied to one another.

Anastasius rode up and saw all of the Scythians tied up. "What are we going to do with them?"

Ernak turned and sheathed his sword. "We're taking them to Balaam. I'm sure they were sent by Tomiri to go to Pannonia. That's the only explanation I can come up with since there's only a small group of them."

"You will all burn in hellfire," Sparga spat.

"Yeah, yeah," Ernak smiled and yanked on the ropes, pulling the Scythian horses along. "We make a good team, Anastasius. I am proud to call a Roman my friend."

The emperor gave a crooked smile to the young king. "Likewise." He turned back to the irate Scythians. "Why didn't they fight back?" he whispered.

"They're cowards. They won't even put up a good fight. This is turning out to be a very boring journey so far." Ernak sighed. "I hope that Balaam hasn't been destroyed too much."

"We'll find out soon enough. How far are we now?"

Ernak shrugged, "maybe a couple of days if we don't stop for camp along the way."

Xena and Navaz rode out to Queen Tomiri's palace in Scythia, which took them a full day's ride to reach the destination. Navaz was beginning to worry that they should have brought some backup with them but Xena reassured him that they would be fine because she took Tomiri's flag before they left Balaam. The ultimate sign of defeat.

They rode up to the large hill and saw the huge palace that was located in the middle of nowhere it seemed like. The queen obviously didn't like anyone to be around her. Not much of a surprise. Navaz's eye healed somewhat and his vision was still blurry, though he was starting to feel a bit better even though he hadn't slept in days and neither had Xena. He wondered how she was able to keep carrying on and on like this and she was twice his age.

"Are we just going to go into the palace and ask where the prisoners are?" he asked as they trotted down the hill towards the palace. He already saw four guards getting their weapons ready. He was not in the physical condition to fight anyone anymore at the moment.

"That's the plan. I have her flag so they will know that she is defeated," Xena smiled as they casually trotted through the snowy desert. She looked beside her and saw the young king was a bit anxious and it wasn't because of the guards.

She pursed her lips and looked on ahead at the huge palace. "Navaz, you should know that Ellac was very special to my daughter and to me as well. I don't want you to think that you mean nothing to Anastasia. She cares a lot about you and her feelings won't change for you after this. It is very brave and kind of you to come with me to rescue Ellac."

He half smiled and wrapped the scarf around his neck tightly. "I just want her to be happy, that's all. She has known Ellac much longer than we've been married. I don't what to feel right now so let's just get this over with." He frowned and rode off to the palace without her.

Xena sighed and rode after him. The Scythian guards immediately put up their weapons and Xena snarled. "Stop!" she yelled and the men eyed her. She unraveled the flag in her lap and the men's mouths gaped. "Your queen is dead and defeated by the Huns and Persians. Her army is now in the hands of the Shah."

The men lowered their weapons and smiled at the two intruders. "She is dead?" one of the men asked.

"Yes, she is," Navaz answered. He saw they were all smiling and that confused him.

"We are free. At last!" the men hugged one another and Xena smiled and tossed the flag into the snow. "Thank you," one of the men said, bowing his head at Navaz and Xena.

Navaz turned to Xena with a bemused expression. "She must have been a horrible person if her guards are celebrating her death," he muttered.

Xena clapped her hands grabbing the Scythians' attention. "Where are the prisoners kept?"

One Scythian pointed beyond the palace, "there. In that stronghold." He said.

"Thank you. Come on Navaz," she trotted off and was able to see the prison in the middle of the desert. It was almost as large as the palace. She wondered how many people were kept in there. She almost didn't want to find out.

Ellac sat on the floor inside his cell, sharpening his wooden shank on the floor to a fine point. He had been sharpening this tool for hours now. He planned to stab one of the guards through the iron bars and somehow escape from this place. He was waiting for the right moment to do it. Supposedly, he was supposed to be given food in the next hour or so given by the sky. He didn't know what time it was inside this place and the small window didn't help much.

He sighed and heard swords clashing against one another outside the cell. He frowned and stood, holding the wooden shank close to him. He heard a loud thud and then another thud. Inching closer to the door, he breathed heavily. This must be the moment when he was about to escape.

Keys jingled outside the door and he saw the knob turning on the large wooden door. He readied himself and as soon as the door opened he was ready to attack. Barely two feet from the door, he said a small prayer to himself and the door creaked open and his eyes widened.

Xena smiled upon seeing Ellac and he dropped the wooden shank on the floor. "Xena..." he whispered and nearly jumped onto her and hugged her tightly. She felt like she couldn't breathe but she wrapped her arm around his slim frame. "I thought you were dead," he whispered, his eyes teary.

She pulled away and looked into his bright green eyes. "I've been hearing that a lot lately." She wiped the tears from his cheeks and looked at his pale face. "Tomiri kept you here...this whole time?"

He nodded. "Yes! I wanted to tell you –tell everyone but I couldn't. I found out that Anastasia was alive and wanted to escape. But now I thank the gods that you are here!" he smiled brightly and hugged her again. He saw a tall black cloaked man standing behind Xena with his arms folded. He pulled away from Xena and nervously eyed the man.

Xena turned and Navaz lowered his dark eyes. "Ellac," she grabbed his shoulder, "this is Navaz, King of Armenia."

"White Hun King," Ellac nodded and smiled. "Very nice to meet you." He said and Navaz nodded.

"He is also Anastasia's husband," she said in a flat tone.

Ellac's cheeks flushed and he dipped his head. "Oh, I see. Thank you for coming to rescue me." He extended his hand Navaz half smiled and shook his hand firmly.

Xena smiled and took off her cloak and wrapped it around Ellac's bare torso. "Come on, we have to get back to Balaam. Plenty of time to talk when we get the hell out of this place."

"Wait! How did you get here? I mean, what is going on?" Ellac asked.

"I killed Tomiri. She tried to outsmart us and she told Navaz that you were alive. We need to get out of here." Xena said.

Ellac turned and eyed all of the prisoners. "We should set them free since Tomiri is dead," he grinned and Xena sighed. "It's the right thing to do, Xena." He said and she rolled her eyes then grabbed the keys and began opening the next cell.

Gabrielle was finishing fixing a man's broken leg when Tuya came into the medical room. "They are back, Gabrielle," she said and the blonde sighed, throwing down a cloth and looked at the man who was shaking in pain.

She turned to one of the men that was helping her these last couple of days. "Give him some medicine. I'll be back later." She ordered and left the room and stormed down the halls of the Adame.

She walked outside and saw Xena with Ellac and Navaz. She smiled and met eyes with Ellac. He looked very different from the last time she saw him. Ellac ran over to her and hugged her, picking her up off the ground. "Ellac!" she squealed. "Put me down!" she said.

He chuckled and looked into her emerald eyes. "Gabrielle! You haven't changed at all!"

She touched his long dark hair, "I can't say the same about you..." she arched an eyebrow.

"I think it looks nice," he wriggled his eyebrows and she playfully hit him in the shoulder. She looked behind him and saw Xena and frowned sadly. By passing Ellac she walked over to Xena.

"Listen..." Xena began and Gabrielle held up her hand.

"No. I'm sorry for what I said. I was expecting you to turn Tomiri over to Peroz but now I realize that she wouldn't stop and keep trying to destroy everything in her path. I shouldn't have lost my temper and I'm sorry."

Xena grinned. "You don't have to apologize to me, Gabrielle. You were right, I acted out in anger and I know better than to do that but...I had to kill her."

"I know," the blonde sighed and looked over at Navaz who was talking to his mother. "So, how's it going with him?" she whispered.

The commander leered over and saw the forlorn look on the king's face. "I don't know what he is feeling at the moment. We didn't talk the entire ride back."

Gabrielle sighed and folded her arms. "He must feel displaced now that Ellac is here."

"I told him not to worry about it, but that's easier said than done." Xena wrapped her arm around Gabrielle, "come on, let's go inside. It's freezing."

"Oh, you're cold?" Gabrielle teased.

Hours later after Ellac was allowed to use the baths and wash his hair and body he joined Gabrielle and Xena in their yurt far from the Adame. He had his long hair tied up into a bun and sipped the hot tea. He stared at the two women and suddenly felt a little awkward while they kept staring at him. It reminded him of the time Xena kept glaring at him when Anastasia was pregnant with Csaba and he'd never forget that look.

"So, you live here now?" he began and the two women nodded in silence. He sighed and set down the tea. "How is Ana?" he asked.

Xena lowered her eyes and Gabrielle picked up the warm glass of tea and averted her gaze. "She's alright. She's in Pannonia with Kreka right now."

His eyes lit up as soon as he heard that. Pannonia. A place he missed dearly but he assumed much has changed since he last step foot in his homeland. "What does she look like?"

Xena smiled softly, "definitely not like the seventeen year old girl that you remember her to be," she said and his eyes widened. "I'm going to take you to Pannonia so you can see her."

"Really?" he beamed with a boy-like grin and eagerness in his bright green eyes. "What about Csaba? How old is he? Is he with Anastasia? What does he look like?"

"A man with many questions," Gabrielle joked.

Xena sighed, "Csaba looks just like you. He just had his thirteenth birthday not too long ago." She said and Ellac smile grew as he nodded. He tapped his fingers against the tea cup. "Ellac, you should know that Anastasia has a daughter with Navaz."

He lifted his eyes and the smile never left his face. "That's nice. She deserves everything in the world. I can tell that Navaz really cares about her."

"You can?" Gabrielle interrupted and nearly choked on her tea.

He nodded. "He came all the way to Scythia to rescue me. He is a good man. Anastasia deserves him." His smile finally faded and he took another sip of the tea. Xena and Gabrielle shared a wary glance with one another. "I just want to see her and that's all. I don't want to take her away from the family she has now."

"You are her family, Ellac," Xena said. "She talks about you all the time," she said, hoping to lighten the mood.

Ellac's face lit up and his eyes crinkled as the smile on his face widened. "She does?" he asked, a bit surprised.

Gabrielle shot a knowing look at the young Hun. "You act as if you are surprised..."

"Well, it's been a long time since I've seen her and she is married to someone else so I don't think she would be thinking of me," he shrugged his shoulder and eyed Xena's contorted face.

Gabrielle rubbed her arm anxiously and licked her lips. "Ellac," she began while Xena was still gawking at him, "Anastasia has only been married to Navaz for little over a year. She just had her daughter a couple of months ago."

He blinked rapidly and then saw Xena's face had yet to change from the same expression. "Why are you looking at me like that?" he asked nervously, his heart beat quickened and then he touched his freshly trimmed beard. "What?"

Xena pursed her lips and lowered her eyes finally. "Nothing. Are you still afraid of me?" she teased with a sly grin.

"Of course I am," he smiled. "I'm sure Navaz got the same treatment when she got pregnant." He chuckled and Gabrielle swallowed her tea and Xena looked elsewhere. "Right?" he said and looked at both women. "Right?"

"I wasn't exactly there when it happened," Xena remarked.

"Well you weren't there the first time either," he said and her eyes widened, reaching over to hit him and he scoot away with the hot glass of tea. "Okay, okay! Sorry..." he smiled. "I see you haven't gotten over it yet."

"Yes, I have." Xena creased her eyebrows and she heard Gabrielle scoff. "What?"

Gabrielle swished her tea and gave a knowing look to her consort. "Please. You hate it when Csaba calls you grandma."

Ellac gasped and Xena groaned. "You let him call you that? Xena, I'm a little shocked."

"I lost in a game of chess alright," she muttered.

He shared a smug grin with Gabrielle and chuckled lightly. He finished his tea and stood from the floor. "Well, I'm going to bed. Thanks for...saving me. You two are the best women in my life," he said and both of them beamed at the compliment. He gave a curt nod and disappeared from their bedroom to sleep in the sitting area on a floor of pillows and warm blankets.

Now the two were alone and Gabrielle hopped onto the bed, exhausted from the last month and especially these last few days. She eyed Xena setting the empty tea glasses on a tray. "What do you think Anastasia is going to do when she sees him?"

Xena shook her head and walked over to a table to set the tray down. "I'm not sure. If she wasn't married to Navaz I think this would be a different situation."

Gabrielle nodded and lay down on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "It took her a long time to finally warm up to Navaz and finally put Ellac aside but now..."

"I know." Xena let out a light sigh and lay down next to her consort. "She still loves Navaz but it's different. Everything was forced between them."

Gabrielle lolled her head over to the side and stared concernedly at the dark haired warrior. "Do you think she would divorce him?"

Xena bit her bottom lip and frowned, gawking at the ceiling. "Hun women are free to divorce whoever they want, whenever they want, but I'm not sure if she will do that."

"But she really loved Ellac so much. She didn't want to be with anyone else after he...died," she said awkwardly. "I wonder what is going through Navaz's mind. He must feel really hurt."

Xena smiled softly and turned to her side, staring into the green eyes she admired so very much. "If you love something, you let it go. You can't hold onto something you'll never have."

Gabrielle's cheeks flushed. "Who's the philosopher now?" she joked and playfully pinched Xena's arm.

"I couldn't have done any of this without you."

"Well, you did most of the work and you killed Tomiri, not me –"

"No, Gabrielle, I mean...everything. You stayed with me the entire time –through all these years and you've always been very patient with me." Xena said and Gabrielle's face lit up. She laced her fingers with her consorts, squeezing firmly. "You mean the world to me."

Gabrielle shared a warm smile with her and then kissed her hand gingerly.

The following morning Anastasius and Ernak strode into Balaam with the captured Scythians. All of Huns were very confused to see yet more Scythians and even more confused to see the Romans here with a Hun horde riding into the city. Ernak searched the area and saw Xena with Gabrielle talking to Tuya and Navaz in front of the Adame.

"Fellow brothers!" Ernak grinned and waved his hand. Xena turned at the sound of the young king's voice and he trotted over to her. "I brought you some more Scythians but I see...the fight is over." He frowned, a bit disappointed that he missed everything.

Navaz folded his arms and glared at Ernak. "Zolten will take care of the runaway Scythians." He said and the Romans had the captured invaders and were soon taken away from them by the White Hun soldiers.

Ernak hopped off his horse and eyed the serious look on the king's face. "What's with him? You guys won, right?" he whispered.

Xena nodded. "Yes, Ernak..." she turned to Gabrielle with a wary look in her eyes.

Ellac walked out from the yurt, dressed in clothes that were provided to him by Tuya. He wrapped the fur coat around himself and ran his fingers through his long thick hair and spotted his youngest brother standing beside Xena. A big smile appeared on his face.

"Ernak!" he called out and started walking towards him.

The younger brother whipped his head around, recognizing a voice that had long left his memories and life. His eyes grew in shock when he saw his oldest brother walking towards him with a big smile. He stood frozen, gawking at the ghost that was coming closer and closer.

Ellac smiled and placed his hands on his brother's shoulders. "Brother!" he beamed and Ernak's mouth was left agape. "It's me, Ellac..." he said and Ernak cupped his brother's cheeks, staring into his green eyes.

"" he stuttered.

Xena interrupted, "Queen Tomiri has been keeping him imprisoned this entire time. We brought him here a couple of days ago."

Ernak broke into a smile and wrapped his strong arms around his brother, crushing him. "I can't believe you're here! Dengi will be so glad to see you and my mother too! And...Anastasia," he muttered and pulled away, casting a glance at Navaz. No wonder he wasn't in the best of moods. "I missed you and I can't believe you're really here. Everyone is here, this is great! Are you coming back to Pannonia with me?"

Ellac nodded. "Of course. We're supposed to leave soon."

"And I just got here," Ernak sighed. "Well, no matter, I'm just disappointed that I missed the war." He said and his brother pat his cheek teasingly. "We should have a huge party!" he suggested.

"Maybe, Ernak." He said and then eyed Navaz standing beside his mother. "I'll be right back. Let me know when Xena says we're leaving," he pat his brother's shoulder and left to go talk to Navaz.

The Hun king eyed Ellac and raised his eyebrow. Tuya frowned and crossed her arms. Ellac cleared his throat and spoke softly, "I wanted to thank you again for coming to save me. You are a good person and I know that because not just anyone would do that." He said and Navaz stood frozen with a blank expression. "And also, I want to let you know that Anastasia really deserves someone like you." He smiled softly then walked off.

Navaz's face softened after Ellac left his side. At first, he hoped that Tomiri was lying and that Ellac wouldn't be imprisoned but he was very much alive and present. He completely forgot about what his wife was going to do when she lay eyes upon Ellac again after so many years since his supposed death. He didn't think about his wife at all and felt selfish. Ellac was special to Anastasia and he respected that before but now, he wasn't sure what to think anymore. He could have his wife ripped away from him in an instant when she saw Ellac. It was at that moment that he set it in his mind to expect that to happen and to be at peace with it if it so happened.

Anastasia sat on the floor in a circle with the slave women, teaching them how to read and write for the last couple of weeks and some were quicker learners than others so she made sure to give special attention to those who struggled. They were much better at speaking than reading and writing which was probably better because they couldn't pass notes all the time and Anastasia realized her Greek was really quite bad and the Egyptian women's Greek wasn't all that great either.

In the middle of the lesson she saw Leila appear from the adjoining room holding a whimpering Arielle in her arms. "Anastasia, I see Navaz's army coming over here!" she said with a big smile and then paid attention to baby Arielle in her arms.

Ana turned and looked out one of the windows and she did see her mother approaching the entrance of Pannonia. She had been waiting so long for this moment. "Okay, we'll call it a day and we can start again tomorrow?" she told all the women and stood up, walking over to Leila, holding her daughter.

Leila handed off Arielle and ran over to the window to see the Huns approaching. She frowned, "I don't see Navaz."

Anastasia tried calming her daughter and frowned at her fussiness. "I'm sure he's still in Balaam. Will you go tell my mother I will be outside in a minute?" she asked.

"Sure," Leila quickly left the room and left the door slightly ajar.

Arielle kept crying loudly and Ana smiled, sitting down in a chair and wiped the tears from her daughter's flushed cheeks. "Why are you so upset?" she asked and bundled up her child with the warm blanket. "You don't need to cry, tatli kiz," she whispered.

Ellac wandered through his old home, his father's home and was able to bypass everyone, eager to see Anastasia. He walked down the hallway, leading towards the women's quarters and heard soft humming in the room at the end of the hall.

He walked quietly to the room and peered in the crack of the door to see Anastasia holding her daughter in her arms, humming in a soft soothing voice. A smile came to his lips and he remembered that same tune when she used to sing to Csaba when he was a baby and small child. She rose from the chair, her back turned to him and he saw that she kept her hair long still, hidden behind a long burgundy veil much like Kreka's.

He opened the door a little more to get a closer look at her. He quietly stepped inside the room and she set her daughter in a bassinet. He leered over and tried to see her face, but he couldn't. When she stood upright he slowly backed away, now afraid and instantly regretting coming here in the first place. But he couldn't turn back now.

Holding his breath he knocked on the wall and Ana continued gaping at her sleeping daughter. "I'll be outside in a minute," she said and he smiled nervously.

Bracing himself, he finally decided to say something. "Anastasia..."

She froze and he saw her shoulders tense at his voice. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. Slowly, she turned around and he leaned against the doorway with a big smile on his face. Now, he was able to see her face and she looked better than he imagined she would. Her slender figure had long gone and her face was more mature, her stature the same and her high cheekbones, her dark eyebrows, framing her big blue eyes.

He took a step closer and she backed away. "It's me," he said softly and extended his hand, cautiously approaching her. He touched her arm and her eyes grew wide. She kept staring into his green eyes, unable to move. He grabbed her hand and she gasped.

He gripped her hand tightly and this time she didn't flinch or tense at his touch. She reached out and ran her fingers across his face and traced her fingertips along his lips then to the short trimmed beard that framed his strong jaw.

Ellac smiled and touched her soft cheek and then she started sobbing. "Don't cry," he whispered and Anastasia abruptly wrapped her arms around his neck. He felt her entire body shaking as she sobbed on his shoulder. He circled his arms around her and brought her close to him, smelling her hair. That smell of embers and perfume that he missed.

She pulled away from the embrace and kissed him on the lips, cupping his cheeks. His eyes widened, surprised by her reaction. Anastasia grinned and gently pulled back, gaping into his shocked eyes. He then half smiled and wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"How..." she was barely able to speak.

"It's a very long story." He eyed the veil covering her hair and smiled. "You look nice in a veil," he mused and she lowered her eyes, now reminded that she was a queen and married to someone else.

"I...I am married now," she said softly.

"I know," he said and she raised both her eyebrows. "Navaz is your husband. He's a good man."

She turned around and buried her face in her hands, sobbing quietly once more. Ellac frowned sadly and grabbed her shoulder. "Hey, I'm sorry. I don't want to make you upset."

She exhaled heavily, calming herself and turned to him with teary eyes. "This is all too... confusing. It's too much for me. I can't –"

He gripped her shoulders firmly and stared into her eyes. "If you want me to leave, I can."

"I don't want you to leave." She grabbed his hand, intertwining their fingers together.

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

Ellac stayed up with Anastasia all night and together they talked about everything that happened in the last eleven years. She told him about the siege in Pannonia and their great escape to Armenia and within the first few months she married Navaz out of necessity to survive and also Kreka was pressuring her to do so. He was beginning to understand why she was so confused. Navaz was a good man and he cared for her.

She also told him that she said she loved Navaz, but it was different. They hadn't really known each other very long and the only thing that was special to them both was Arielle. She was the key to keeping their relationship stable. This wasn't the case with her relationship with Ellac all those years ago. Their relationship was special because they spent their entire childhood and teen years together as friends and later lovers then as parents. Unfortunately, they were never able to get married due to her mother's stubbornness, although Kreka wasn't too keen on the idea either.

Ellac wasn't able to spend time with his brothers and stepmother until the morning. Even though he hadn't had much sleep he felt like he was on a high and was able to stay awake. The following morning he was able to meet his son again. He hadn't seen Csaba since he was two years old and that was probably the highlight of his life.

Anastasia stood by the entrance of the Adame and watched Ellac sitting with Csaba, talking together, catching up on many lost years that they were never able to get back. She smiled tiredly, watching for the last couple of hours.

Xena walked up behind her daughter and oversaw the entire land outside. She witnessed Csaba and Ellac talking and her grandson had a big smile on his face as he was describing something. Probably his new bow he got for his birthday, she guessed. She took a step closer to her daughter and realized Anastasia was too fixated on her son and Ellac to notice her.

"Ana," she spoke softly and her daughter turned, a bit startled. "Did you two talk?" she asked.

Anastasia nodded. "Yes, we did. All night, actually." She cocked her head and her smile grew, watching her son interact with his father excitedly. "They're getting along really well, aren't they?"

Xena sighed and grabbed her daughter's hand, pulling her away from the beautiful scene outside. "Anastasia. What are your feelings for him? What about Navaz?"

This was something she didn't want to talk about. She still felt so conflicted about the idea of having Ellac and Navaz in her life. She couldn't make a decision right on the spot, but Ellac was very understanding, just like he always was. He hadn't changed much except for his looks. She still felt the same connection she had with him so long ago. It was like time stood still and they could revert back to their old behavior and habits together despite everything that happened to them.

"I do love him. I've always loved him," she began and Xena waited patiently for the 'but' coming up. "But I love Navaz too. I can't decide. I don't want to push Navaz aside. That would be cruel of me and he really cares a lot about me. We have a child together too but I've missed out on so much with Ellac and Csaba grew up without a father. I can't...I –"

Xena nodded and held her daughter's hands firmly. "You don't have to make a decision right now. Navaz said you should stay in Pannonia and if you want to come back to Balaam you can."

Ana blinked several times. "He said that?" Now, she was really feeling guilty for having these conflicting thoughts over these two men in her life.

"He knows that you love Ellac. He cares about you and wants you to be happy. So, do what makes you happy, Anastasia."

Her daughter dipped her head and let go of Xena's hands. "If I decide to leave Navaz then I won't be a queen anymore."

"I see you've already thought about this..." Xena lifted her daughter's chin and cast a big smile. "You still have a child with him and Arielle is a princess you know. If you decide to denounce your position as queen, he will not be gone from your life completely."

Anastasia nodded. "I know I've thought about it. I'm not sure what to do yet. I need more time." She folded her arms and saw Csaba coming inside the Adame with Ellac. "I wish women could have several husbands like the men have many wives." She joked.

"That would be something to see," Xena teased.

"Mom!" Csaba ran over to her and Anastasia smiled. "I was just showing my bow that Navaz gave me to...father," he said a bit awkwardly and Ellac placed his hands on the boy's shoulders. "Are we staying here? I want to stay in Pannonia."

Xena folded her arms and eyed her daughter. Ana sighed, "we'll see."

Kreka walked through the hall and saw Csaba with Ellac and grinned seeing them both together. She hated to interrupt but cleared her throat and Anastasia turned her head. "Arielle needs you."

Ana nodded and ruffled her son's hair then briskly walked to the women's quarters to tend to her daughter. Ellac watched her round the corner and Xena raised an eyebrow. Obviously he couldn't keep his eyes off of her. Nothing had changed despite all these years apart.

Csaba turned and looked into his father's eyes. "Can we go practice outside with the bow?"

Ellac looked down and smiled. "Yeah, sure." He wrapped his arm around his son's shoulder and walked out of the Adame together.

Kreka folded her arms and stood beside Xena watching her stepson saunter off with Csaba. "He still loves her," said the khatun.

"I know," Xena answered softly.

"This is a problem. What did Navaz say?"

Xena frowned. "He said he wants Anastasia to be happy."

"Looks like he knew what was going to happen."

"He knew what was going to happen the moment he found out Ellac was alive." Xena turned and shared a solemn stare with the khatun.

"If he loves her then he will let her go," Kreka said with a small grin then walked off to go see the training session between Csaba and Ellac. She took the words right out of Xena's mouth. A tough woman she claimed to be, but she has a soft heart despite what others think of her.

Two Months Later

Winter slowly was beginning to fade and turn to spring. Although in Armenia winter was still very prevalent and Gabrielle for one, was grateful that they weren't in Balaam anymore. She really hated the blizzards and harsh weather there. Pannonia was more tolerable and certainly less frigid. She was really enjoying living in Pannonia again and for once, there was no war to worry about and nobody was attacking them as of yet. As long as Anastasius stayed on their side, they would be safe.

As per tradition, when spring approached, the men were off on a wild boar hunt in the forests surrounding Pannonia. Xena offered to accompany Ellac and Ernak on the hunt. She coaxed Gabrielle into coming with her as she had never been on a hunt before.

Ellac and Ernak teamed up and made a bet with Xena and Gabrielle. Whoever caught the boar first would have to face the punishment of gutting the animal. Xena, being more competitive than everyone, was not going to lose. She already set her mind to it. Although, Gabrielle was unsure if they were going to win, considering the two men were very skilled hunters and she wasn't.

In the depths of the forest Xena and Gabrielle crept around silently and steadily. Xena held her bow close to her, ready to strike at moment. Gabrielle held a javelin and she felt her hands shaking as she trailed behind the warrior.

"Are you sure we're going the right way?" Gabrielle whispered.

"Shh!" Xena held up her hand and her ears picked up a small sound. She turned around swiftly and pulled her bow back, aiming at the moving bushes from afar. "Got you," she grinned and inched closer to the bushes and then released the arrow.

She heard a loud squeal from the animal and ran towards the bushes. Gabrielle sighed and reluctantly followed. Xena pulled back the bushes and saw a coyote with an arrow pierced through its heart. "Dammit," she cursed under her breath, then stood. "It's not the boar."

"What was it?" the blonde asked, though she wasn't sure if she wanted to know.

"A coyote." Xena frowned and heard a loud squealing sound from afar but close enough. A devious smile came to her and she ran through the thick forest. Gabrielle gasped in horror when she saw the coyote lying dead in the brush.

She looked up to see Xena running through the tall trees. "Wait for me!" she ran and nearly tripped over a tree branch. She obviously was not a hunter, but she knew that this was more than about food, Xena was playing a game.

Ellac and Ernak held their bows at the boar running through the trees and then Xena jumped out of the bushes and the two men glared at her. "This is ours, Xena! Back off!" Ernak yelled.

Xena grinned and grabbed an arrow, focusing on the frantic wild animal. "You said whoever kills the animal first wins, not whoever found it first." She laughed and pulled back her bow tautly, focusing on the boar.

"Xena, come on! Be fair," Ellac whined and squinted an eye, following the direction of the animal.

Xena smirked and then knelt down, releasing the arrow and the boar cried out in agony then fell over on its side. She stood and Gabrielle heaved heavily, finally catching up with her. "I win."

Ernak rolled his eyes and threw his bow on the ground. "Nice job, brother," he folded his arms and Ellac groaned. "We definitely had him! Why didn't you shoot?!"

"I couldn't get a clear shot, okay!" Ellac griped.

Gabrielle chuckled lightly at the bickering brothers. Xena sighed and threw her bow over her shoulder. "Looks like you two will be doing the cleaning. Make sure to skin the hide. I need a new rug," she winked and then walked off. "Come on Gabrielle."

"Fuck this," Ernak muttered. "This is your fault, I hope you know that."

Ellac gasped. "My fault?! I'm not the only person with a weapon!" he shoved his younger brother and Ernak growled and shoved him back.

A couple hours after the victorious hunt, Xena and Gabrielle went inside the women's bath house together. Gabrielle was nervous to enter but at least she wouldn't have to worry about Kreka or Tuya coming in like last time. That was embarrassing a very awkward. There were hardly any women here and most of them minded their own business.

Xena slipped into the steaming water and saw the blonde's wandering eyes. "Kreka isn't coming in here," she teased.

"I know that..." Gabrielle cast a mocking smile and quickly slipped in the water. "I haven't seen you this relaxed in awhile."

"No Zeno. No Tomiri. Peroz and Hormizd off our backs. What's more relaxing than that?" Xena grinned and dipped her long locks in the water.

Gabrielle couldn't disagree with that. She waded in the water and lathered her arm with scented oil. "Have you told everyone about your plan?" she asked and Xena eyed her with a bemused look. "About you not wanting to be a commander anymore?"

"Oh, that plan." Xena nodded. "Not yet. I am enjoying living in Pannonia. No need to ruin everyone's fun, right?"

"But you're going to eventually tell them, right?"

"Yes, Gabrielle," Xena mocked in a snide tone. "What's the rush?"

The petite blonde shrugged a shoulder. "No rush. It just sounded like you wanted to pack up and leave as soon as possible."

"I don't want to leave just yet, besides, I'm sure Kreka is going to make me stay for Dengi's wedding with Leila." She rolled her eyes and Gabrielle swam over, sitting on the ledge in the bath.

"You know, I've never been to a wedding in Pannonia. After all these years I finally get to witness one!" Gabrielle beamed and Xena groaned. "Come on, Xena, don't be a grumpy old lady," she splashed some water in her face.

The warrior gasped and splashed her partner back. "Stop calling me an old lady!"

"Then quit acting like one," she teased.

"I'll work on it..." Xena smirked and rubbed the back of her sore neck. Gabrielle swam up behind her and began massaging her shoulders. She relaxed her tense muscles and lowered deeper in the water.

Gabrielle creased her eyebrows and as she was rubbing through the knots on Xena's back, she couldn't help but ask, "how come Kreka never married anyone else?"

Xena's eyes shot open and frowned. "Why would you ask something like that?"

"I'm just curious. She chose to stay in Pannonia instead of going back to her tribe to marry someone else. Is that normal?"

Xena pursed her lips and now the relaxation was gone. "She is still queen of Pannonia. It is her duty to rule over her land. Besides, who would want to marry someone else after being married to the king of the entire Hun Empire?" she scoffed.

"Fair point..." the blonde smiled. "How come you didn't let Anastasia marry Ellac all those years ago? She would have been queen of Pannonia."

"Because I...was stupid," Xena finally admitted aloud. She had thought about that more recently since Ellac was back. She felt responsible for a lot of the pain that happened to Anastasia. She remained unmarried to Ellac even after Csaba was born. "I didn't want her to get married because then she wouldn't be mine anymore. Sounds silly, I know."

Gabrielle grinned coyly. She really liked seeing the softer side of the commander every now and then. "It's not silly. She's your only daughter. It's only natural that you want to keep her safe."

Xena looked over her shoulder. "How come everything becomes so obvious when you say it?"

"I'm just gifted," the blonde gloated. "I don't think you have to worry about Anastasia. She's a strong woman now."

Xena sighed. "She and I are nothing alike. She's soft like her father."

"I beg to differ!" said Gabrielle. "She is a lot like you, Xena, you just don't see it. I'm not talking about the eyes that you two share or the warm smile. She is strong like you and when she sees something she wants, she takes it."

Xena scoffed, "you make it sound like we don't take 'no' for an answer."

" don't," Gabrielle teased. "It's not a bad thing, Xena. You were always so hard on her when she was growing up."

"Is that bad?" the warrior asked.

"It made her a stronger person and besides, she still runs to you for help all the time. She admires you, Xena. A lot of people do. I know I do," she grinned and Xena turned with a bemused expression. "Don't look at me like that."

Xena chuckled. "You always have nice things to say about me."

"You're a good person, Xena. I wish you would see that for yourself."

"One day..." the commander said in a soft tone.

After Anastasia finished a long teaching session with the foreign women she decided to check on her daughter that she left with Leila. As she tread down the hallway she was stopped by an Egyptian woman. "Üm Anastasia," she bowed her head and pulled out a letter. "For you."

Ana smiled briefly. "Thank you Amira," she said and opened the letter. She instantly recognized the handwriting and knew it was from Navaz. She regretted not writing him at least since she opted to stay in Pannonia for the last couple of months. She stayed longer than intended but she hadn't realized how time flew by when she was here. It was like time stood still and she never left her homeland. Everyone important was here with her. Everything that she could want was right in front of her. She almost felt complete, but something was definitely missing.

She showcased a small smile as she read the letter. It was a long letter and the more she read, the more her smile faded. She folded up the letter and held it close to her chest. Navaz wrote that he wanted to divorce her and it wasn't because he didn't love her or hate her. He merely said that he wanted her to be happy and he wasn't the person for that task. She knew exactly what he was talking about but didn't want to admit it herself.

She spent these last two months distancing herself from Ellac when they were caught alone together. She kept reminding herself that she was married and he knew that. Of course, he respected her wishes and left her alone. But now, Navaz was asking for a mutual divorce and she wasn't sure what to do. She needed to talk to someone. Her mother was the first person who came to her mind.

First, she needed to check on her daughter and then she would find her mother to tell her about the letter. Anastasia came to the women's quarters and heard a male voice inside. She frowned, knowing that no males were allowed in this area of the Adame except children and her own son of course. She opened the door and saw Ellac leaning over her bed, playing a game with Arielle.

She raised an eyebrow and heard the small giggles from her daughter. She rolled up the letter and stuffed it inside of her belt and folded her arms. "What are you doing in here?" she asked.

Ellac gasped and turned with a big smile on his face. "I am watching Arielle. Leila had to step out for awhile so I am covering for her."

Ana nodded and walked over. She saw the beaming smile on her daughter's face. "You...don't have to do that. She's not even your child."

He shrugged. "I know that but she is a part of you," he said and smiled down at the gurgling baby on the bed. "Besides, who can resist that adorable face."

She smiled and then he turned to look into her eyes. She suddenly felt self conscious and looked away. "Listen, Ellac..." she grabbed his hand and pulled him away from the bed. "You know that I care a lot about you." She said and he nodded. "And I care a lot about Navaz too."

He stared at her intensely and she exhaled deeply. "If I had known you were alive I would have never married Navaz."

Ellac cupped her cheeks. "You don't have to explain yourself to me, Anastasia. I don't blame you for marrying him. He's a good person and you deserve the best. When I told you that I didn't want to marry anyone else but you, I meant that and I still do. In another life perhaps." He smiled and kissed her forehead.

She lowered her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself. Now she truly understood Ellac's feelings for her. And the worst part of it all was that he was being so nice and so patient. He was probably the most patient person that she had ever known. Of course spending a decade in a Scythia prison was probably the reason behind his abundance of patience.

"I have to go to a meeting with Dengizich and Ernak in a little bit. If you see Csaba could you tell him that I'm going to take him scouting tomorrow?" he asked.

Her eyes widened. "Scouting?"

He nodded. "I'm going to teach him how to scout. I promised I would." He smiled. "I just don't want him to think that I forgot. You'll tell him, right?"

Anastasia furrowed her eyebrows and lowered her gaze. "Yes, yes. I'll tell him."

"Thanks," he pat her shoulder then left the room. She slumped into a chair and buried her face in her hands.

Gabrielle pointed to the map and set her wine glass down. "I think we should go to the Maghreb first!" she suggested and circled her finger around the west side of Africa. Xena frowned and leaned over, observing the vast amount of land that was called the 'Maghreb'.

"That's a big area," said Xena.

"Exactly. We could explore all of it!"

"It's a big pile of sand. What could be there?" Xena scoffed and sipped her wine. "I heard there are pirates near Tunis," she smiled sneakily and Gabrielle didn't like that look. "We should definitely hang around them for awhile."

Gabrielle gasped. "Xena! Pirates are criminals and thieves!"

"According to who?" Xena snickered. "People call us savages and barbarians all the time because we don't fit in their society. What makes those pirates so different?"

"Well...I...I..." the blonde groaned. "You got me there. But, I don't think we should hang around pirates, Xena. I've heard they're very dangerous."

"Aren't I dangerous?" the commander wriggled her eyebrows and Gabrielle crossed her arms. "Alright, fine. We'll see what's it like when we get there." She surveyed the rest of the map of Africa and pointed to the east, focused near the Red Sea. "What about here? We could go to the sea. I've never been near a sea before."

Gabrielle arched an eyebrow. "But didn't you used to live near the Caspian Sea?"

"That's not even a real sea, Gabrielle! It's so small. Besides, this will be different." Xena grinned. "Looks like we'll have to pass through Egypt to get there..." she grumbled, reminded immediately of the Roman occupation in north Africa. She didn't want to have any contact with Odoacer's men.

"Hello?" Anastasia walked into the yurt, holding Arielle in her arms. She crept through the yurt and entered her mother's room. She remembered this yurt all too well and her room was just across the way. She smiled seeing Gabrielle and her mother sitting on the floor. Then she saw the map.

"What's going on?" she asked, now a bit concerned.

Gabrielle eyed Xena briefly and looked at Ana. "Nothing, we're just looking." She said and eyed Arielle. "You brought my favorite person," she beamed.

Xena extended her arms and smiled up at her daughter. Ana sighed and handed off Arielle to her mother and sat down beside her. Xena looked into Arielle's blue eyes and poked her nose. The infant laughed loudly and Xena grinned from ear to ear. She set her granddaughter on the floor and fixed her green and gold dress.

"Well, don't you look pretty," she said and Arielle stretched her arms over her head, yawning. "Tired, huh? Me too." She smiled and Gabrielle shook her head. Arielle began fussing and tried to turn over on her side. Xena picked her up and rolled her over onto her stomach. Arielle grinned and looked up at Gabrielle, she attempted to crawl towards her and Gabrielle leaned forward, extending her arms out on the floor.

Anastasia gave a crooked smile and then turned to her mother who was completely enraptured with Arielle. "Mother...I got a letter from Navaz."

"Uh huh, and..." Xena said and smiled, watching Arielle crawling over to Gabrielle slowly.

"He wants a divorce," she said and Xena whipped her head around with her mouth agape. "What should I do?" she pleaded.

Xena sighed and ran her fingers through her hair then looked over at Arielle. "Seems like a yes or no answer to me, Ana."

"But it's not that simple!"

"Isn't it?" Xena frowned at her daughter. "You love Ellac. You need to stop lying to yourself. You need to ask yourself this, Anastasia. Who would you rather spend the rest of your life with? Navaz or Ellac."

When she put it in those words, the answer was so clear. "Ellac," Ana smiled shyly.

"And Navaz knows that otherwise he wouldn't have sent you that letter. Tell him that you will agree to his decree and divorce him." Xena said simply and smiled over at Arielle once more.

Gabrielle grabbed the baby and held her close. "Good job, little one," she said and Arielle grinned, reaching forward and touched Gabrielle's hair.

Anastasia sighed and anxiously scratched her arm. "But I don't want to hurt Navaz's feelings. He really cares for me."

"And that's exactly why he's letting you go," Xena said and grazed her daughter's cheek gently. "Two people that are miserable in a marriage is no way to live. You know it and so does he."

Gabrielle set down Arielle and she began crawling back towards Xena. "Yeah, that's right. Crawl back to grandma," she teased and Xena shot her a glare. "Love you..." she said with a cheeky impish smile. Xena mocked her and turned back to Anastasia.

"So...if –when –I divorce Navaz..." Ana nudged her mother's arm. "Will you let me marry Ellac for real this time?" she asked and batted her long eyelashes.

Xena raised her eyebrow and folded her arms. Ana gripped her arm and leaned her head on her shoulder. "Please?" she begged.

"Come on Xena," Gabrielle chimed in.

Xena rolled her eyes and exhaled deeply, annoyed at these two. "Fine." Anastasia wrapped her arm around her mother and kissed her cheek. Xena cringed and swatted her daughter away. "Alright, alright. That's enough."

"I must go tell Ellac," Ana reached for her daughter and Xena snatched Arielle into her arms. "Mother!" she gasped.

Xena held her granddaughter close to her and smirked. "She's mine for the afternoon." She winked over at her daughter and Anastasia grumbled. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"

Anastasia stood and smoothed the wrinkles out of her dress. "I'll be back in one hour." She eyed her mother then left the yurt.

Gabrielle snickered. "She's not coming back in an hour."

"Nope." Xena sighed and Arielle tugged on her long hair. She set Arielle down on the map. "Alright, Arielle. Where should we go first? Tunis or Maghreb? Your choice." She folded her arms and the infant smiled. "Pirates or desert people, what do you think?"

"Xena!" Gabrielle griped.

Arielle crawled over the map and sat down on Tunis. Xena grinned smugly. "Pirates it is then."

"We are not letting your granddaughter decide our destination." Gabrielle sipped her wine.

"Quiet, Gabrielle. Princess Arielle has made her choice." Xena teased.

Gabrielle chuckled. "I think the princess should reconsider..." she glared at Xena.

"The princess's word is final. You shouldn't argue," Xena grabbed Arielle and placed her down in her lap. "Right?" she peered down at the baby and Arielle cooed softly. "Exactly," she eyed her consort and smiled sheepishly.

"We aren't going to Tunis." Gabrielle ordered.

Xena stood and Arielle began howling. "Look what you did, Gabrielle. Now you've upset her." She smiled and walked out of the bedroom.

The blonde gasped and hopped to her feet. "Hey, we aren't done here! Xena!" she groaned and trailed behind her.

Anastasia waited outside the king's office and heard all the brothers talking among themselves. Ernak was doing most of the talking and she occasionally heard Dengi arguing and Ellac attempting to sway his brother towards Ernak's decision, which she couldn't quite make out clearly enough.

Kreka passed by and then backed tracked when she saw Anastasia with her ear against the door. She smirked and walked forward and folded her arms. "What are you doing?"

Ana gasped and spun around, holding the letter behind her back. "Nothing." Her cheeks flushed bright red.

"Right, tatli kiz," the khatun mused. "Where's Arielle?"

"My mother is watching her. I was just waiting for their meeting to finish so I could talk to Ellac." Said Ana and she saw the smug look in Kreka's eyes, the same look that her mother gave her when she spoke of Ellac. These two women were going to be the death of her. "Where is Csaba?"

"He's off playing with some Bulgur boys. He's showing off his bow," she rolled her eyes. "What's that you have behind your back?" she hinted and Anastasia smiled.

"Oh nothing..."

The door opened and Anastasia spun with around. Ellac's eyes widened upon seeing her and both smiled at each other. Ernak pushed through his two older brothers and embraced her, picking her up off the ground. "Ernak!" she snarled and Ellac pried his brother off her and shoved him away. She exhaled heavily and fixed her dress, glaring at the young king.

"Jeez," Ernak smirked and saw his mother standing behind Anastasia. "Mother..."

Kreka raised an eyebrow and he kissed her cheek. Dengi eyed her cautiously and saw she wasn't exactly happy to see him. She narrowed her almond eyes and he slowly began slipping away. "Dengizich!" she hissed and he halted, groaning lowly.

"Yes?" he muttered.

"Your fiancée is getting on my last nerve. Everything I ask her to do she does it wrong," she said and Ernak snickered. "I don't see what's so amusing about this," she turned to her youngest son and he zipped his lips.

"Come on mother, don't be so hard on her. She's not from here," Ernak lamented and she shot him a glare. "Okay well, I gotta go. Hey, Ellac, remember tonight we have things to do."

Ellac nodded. "I remember."

Anastasia frowned and turned to him. "What's going on tonight?"

He smiled briefly, "I can't tell you that. So, what are you doing here? Where's Arielle?"

"She's with my mother," she said and grabbed his hand. "I have to tell you something. Come with me." She pulled him down the hall towards her bedroom in the Adame.

Anastasia pulled Ellac into her bedroom and closed the door behind them. She then sat him down on the bed and he smiled. "What's going on with you?" he asked and she sat next to him, pulling the letter out and set it in his lap. "You aren't going to make me read are you? You know I'm not very good."

"It's a letter from Navaz," she said and his smile soon faded. "He asked me to divorce him and I'm going to say yes."

His eyes widened and he set the letter aside. "Anastasia," he grabbed her hands, "I don't want you to do that if you don't want to."

"I do want to," she said with a big smile. "Ellac, I didn't marry Navaz because I loved him. I married him out of necessity. It was only because of Arielle that we were able to grow closer together but even then, we never agreed on a lot of things. So, after talking with my mother, I'm going to sign the paper he sent and then...I won't be a queen anymore," she frowned sadly.

He grinned and kissed her hands. "Only if that's what you want."

She nodded. "I already made my decision." She said and then looked into his sparkling eyes. "And I want to marry you..." she said and his face paled. Then she started to get nervous from his reaction. "If that's what you want. We don't have to, I just thought that we could finally be together, you know?" she sighed. "Say something."

He cleared his throat. "I...want to marry you, I've always wanted to but..." he stood and paced back and forth. "Your mother is going to kill me."

Is that all he was worried about, she wondered? She chuckled and he spun around. "This isn't funny, Ana!" he griped.

"I already asked her and she said it was okay." She said and he breathed out with a sigh of relief. "Well, she didn't say it was okay, she just said 'fine'." She said and he frowned.

"That is never a good answer, but I'll take it," he finally smiled. He grabbed her by the waist, hoisting her off the bed and kissed her generously. He brought her close, wrapping his hand on the small of her back and she winced. He immediately pulled away and looked at her pained face.

"What is it? Did I do something wrong?" he asked, concerned and cupped her cheeks.

She shook her head and took a step back. "No, no. I...I'm just still a bit sore," she said awkwardly and his blushed, nodding with a small grin.

"Right, of course," he took a step back and kissed her forehead instead. "I can wait," he said with a big smile and she raised an eyebrow. "What? I've waited ten years, what's another week or so, right?"

"A week? Try another month," she corrected and his jaw dropped.

"A month?!" he whined and she shot him a glare. He put up his hands. "Alright, a month it is. I can be patient."

She smirked. "And I'm sure you'll be counting the days," she teased.

A couple of days later Xena was outside with Gabrielle teaching the Bulgur young teenage boys how to use swords and a variety of weapons. Gabrielle was starting to realize that Xena was a good mentor and knew how to use all kinds of weapons. These boys on the other hand weren't exactly the best listeners.

Two teenagers, probably a couple of years older than Csaba were giggling and telling each other jokes. As Xena was helping one of the boys how to hold a javelin she spun around and smacked the boys in their shins with the staff and they both whined and dropped their swords on the grass. Gabrielle stifled a laugh but tried to keep her focus.

"Is there something funny about this training exercise, boys?" Xena asked and the teens shook their heads as they rubbed their legs. "I didn't think so," she smiled. "Now pick up your swords and be quiet."

Gabrielle held her sword in hand and carefully eyed all of the boys who were now nervous to make any subtle move. She looked on ahead and saw Peroz riding into Balaam with his royal guards. She frowned and nudged Xena's arm.

"We have guests," she whispered and the boys turned around. "Don't look at them!" she yelled and they swiftly turned back around with wide fearful eyes.

Xena grimaced, "Let's just keep practicing. Ignore them. Ernak will handle him," she whispered. "Okay," she turned to the boys. "Hold your weapon like so," she put both of her hands on the handle of the long sword and held it out in front of her. "Make sure you have a good grip on it so the enemy can't knock your weapon out of your hand." She said and the boys did as they were told.

Gabrielle walked behind the row of boys and examined all their stances and fixed a few feet and hands during her surveying. Xena briefly eyed Peroz speaking with Ernak and Anastasia. She then saw Anastasia yelling at the Shah and frowned.

Then Xena saw her daughter marching over to her with a very ugly angry face. She sheathed her sword and kept her eyes on her daughter. "Gabrielle, take over for awhile." She said.

"Alright..." Gabrielle ran to the front of the boys and smiled. "Okay so, back to swordsmanship. Once you have a good grip on the sword then you will learn how to swing it properly from side to side. Make sure that you swing it at the right angle or else you won't be able to damage your enemy. Got it?" she asked and the boys gawked at her. "Okay..." she sighed. This was going to be harder than she thought.

"Mother!" Ana snarled and grabbed her arm. "A word..." she growled and brought her to the side away from the young trainees. "Peroz tells me that you promised Csaba to his cousin. Is this true?"

Xena sighed. " was the only way to get him to side with me against Tomiri."

Anastasia gasped and hit her mother's shoulder. Xena widened her eyes, but she was expecting a reaction like this. "How could you use my son as bargaining tool for war, mother!"

"I didn't have another choice! He doesn't have to marry her but it will keep the peace between us and the Persians if you don't agree to this deal."

Ana crossed her arms and glared at her mother. "And when were you going to tell me about this?"


"Eventually," Ana nodded. "Ellac is going to be furious when he finds out about this." She said and Xena remained silent. "When he returns with Csaba from scouting, we're supposed to invite Peroz into the Adame. I would appreciate it if you were there since you're the one who caused this problem in the first place. Do you think you could do that?" she turned and walked off without allowing her mother to answer.

Xena groaned and Gabrielle ran up beside her. "What just happened?"

"The only way to get Peroz to ally with me against Tomiri was to promise Csaba's hand in marriage to his cousin. And now, he's brought his cousin..."

Gabrielle gasped. "Xena, what on earth made you do something like that?!"

"I was caught in a bit of a situation at the time!" she snarled and the blonde backed off. "Let's just finish training these kids and then we have to go in the Adame tonight."

"Sounds like fun..."

Anastasia pushed her son forward into a large room within the king's quarters and he frowned, trying to resist her. "But I don't want to sit with a girl!" he complained.

"You're going to sit next to her just for tonight and you aren't going to say a word, understand?" she said and squeezed his shoulders.

Csaba cringed. "Okay, okay!"

Ellac walked alongside Anastasia and searched around in the long hallways. "Where is your mother?" he whispered.

"I'm sure she's inside the room by now," she answered and kept pushing her son forward.

"Well, when I see her I'm going to kill her." He opened the door and allowed Ana to walk inside first with Csaba.

Gabrielle nudged Xena's arm and they both looked at Anastasia and Ellac, the same look of distain and anger written all over their faces. Csaba sat down on the floor rug in front of Peroz and his cousin. He eyed the veiled girl curiously and couldn't see her face at all, except her big brown eyes.

Xena realized that Peroz obviously wanted to get rid of his cousin and since he had no sons or daughters of his own to pawn off then of course he used the next person in line. Surely, Hormizd's daughters were too old to wed or they were already married to someone within their family.

Peroz's eyes widened and stood at the sight of Ellac. "Son of Attila," he said and Ellac folded his arms, glaring at the Persian. "I thought Queen Tomiri had lied about you being imprisoned."

"Oh, I'm sure you thought that. Xena didn't tell you?" Ellac smirked and briefly glanced over at the commander sitting beside her blonde consort. "She is full of secrets, apparently." He sat down next to his son and Ana sat on the other side. Csaba felt awkward sitting in between both of them and felt more awkward sitting across from this Persian veiled girl.

"Sit, please," he gestured to the pillow and Peroz slowly sat down, eyeing the Hun warily. "So, you want your cousin to marry my son?" he asked.

The Shah nodded. "Xena agreed. Of course they will not be married until they come of age." He smiled smugly and Xena rolled her eyes.

"And if I refuse?" Ellac asked.

"Then I will become your greatest enemy," he grinned and Ellac lowered his eyes and Csaba gawked at the Shah in horror. "I will allow my cousin to stay with you Huns in Pannonia for awhile so the two can get to know one another. To appease you, I should let you know that my uncle married a Khazar Hun woman. My cousin is half Hun and half Persian." He said and the girl looked over at Csaba, batting her big eyes.

"You want two teenagers to spend time alone together? You must have lost your mind," Ellac snarled.

Xena scoffed, "learning from your mistakes, Ellac?"

"Be quiet, Xena," Ellac turned to her and she frowned deeply. Gabrielle grabbed her arm, holding her close. "If you would have just –"

Anastasia grabbed his arm, "not here. Not now," she whispered and he sighed heavily, turning back to the arrogant Persian.

"I fear that when my cousin comes of age nobody will wed her because of her mother's blood. She is half Hun and if I recall, the Queen of Armenia is also...half Hun, isn't that right?" Peroz eyed Anastasia. "Per my agreement with Xena I have released the Khazar Huns and decided not to tax the Nezak Huns. So all I need is your consent on this engagement with your son and my cousin. We will be allies. Do we have a deal?" he smiled.

Ana gasped and turned to her mother. "You ordered all of this?"

"Yes of course I did. I wasn't going to let anything slide in an alliance even if the ally is an enemy. Isn't that right, Peroz?" Xena narrowed her eyes and the Shah nodded.

"Correct. So are we allies or not?" he asked Ellac.

Now that Ellac was free from Tomiri's prison and everything was going so well until now. He didn't want to hand off his son to be married in a few short years just like his father did to him, but this was alliance or war. He didn't want his people to go to war with Persia and he didn't want his son to marry the Shah's cousin either, but it seems Xena had conjured quite a plan without telling anyone else, including Gabrielle, as he noted she looked just as surprised as everyone else did.

"Fine. I agree to the terms," Ellac shook the Shah's hand and stood.

Peroz grinned. "Wise choice." He took the hand of his cousin and pushed her forward gently. "This is Erzibet. I trust that you will take good care of her." He smiled then nodded at his men to leave the room and his cousin in the care of the Huns.

Csaba looked at Erzibet's brown eyes and cocked his head. She shied away and turned her eyes to the floor. Ellac marched over to Xena, brushing by Ana.

"You are insane!" he spat in her face and Xena's lip quivered. "How could you keep that from everyone, Xena? Why did you do that?"

"It wasn't the right time," she explained herself and he scoffed.

"Right, sure. Now I have to keep this alliance that you made with the entire Persian Empire! And you basically married my son off without telling me or Anastasia."

"We were in the middle of a war!" she snarled and Gabrielle stepped in between them.

"Listen, we can discuss this later." Gabrielle said. "Maybe tomorrow when everyone isn't so upset?" she suggested and Ellac shook his head then stormed off.

Csaba kept looking at Erzibet curiously. "Why do you wear that?" he asked and she lifted her eyes. "The veil," he said, "I can't see your face."

"My father said husband is allowed to see my face," she answered quietly.

He nodded slowly. "I see...and where is he?"

"In Persia with my mother," she said. Anastasia sighed heavily and grabbed the girl's hand.

"You will stay with me. Csaba go to your room." She said and ushered the girl out. She looked over her shoulder and glared at her mother.

Gabrielle folded her arms and sighed. "You made a huge mess, Xena."

"I am aware, thanks Gabrielle. I wasn't thinking about the aftermath. I just wanted Tomiri's army to stop attacking us in Balaam! I didn't even think Peroz would be so quick to present his cousin to Csaba."

"You should go talk to Anastasia tomorrow. She is really upset with you. I can talk to Ellac tomorrow too, if you want?" she suggested. Xena groaned and walked out of the room, ruffling her dark hair. Gabrielle ran after her.

Kreka sat in a chair, holding Arielle as she slept soundly. She turned when she saw Anastasia enter the room. "Oh good you're back," she got out of the chair and then frowned at the guest beside her. "And you brought a Persian girl with you?" she said, a bit miffed.

"I don't want to talk about it," Ana said and pulled the girl. "Sit," she said and Erzibet sat down as instructed. She eyed Kreka glaring at her with her almond hazel eyes. The girl sunk in the chair and looked to the floor, finding it more interesting.

Anastasia walked over and grabbed her daughter from Kreka's arms and sat down on the bed. Kreka walked over to the young girl and bent over, eyeing her cautiously. Erzibet's brown eyes widened when she saw the khatun close to her face.

"And who is this girl?" Kreka asked.

"Csaba's soon to be wife," Ana answered bitterly and Kreka spun around with a shocked expression. "I told you I don't want to talk about it. It's my mother's fault."

Kreka frowned and turned back to the scared girl. She lifted up the veil and Erzibet gasped. She examined the girl's pale face, her plump lips highlighting her oval shaped face and her huge chocolate brown eyes, matching her long dark eyelashes and sculpted eyebrows.

"Well," she mused, "she is a pretty little thing," she smirked and Erzibet blinked, gawking up at Kreka.

"Her mother is a Khazar," Ana said as she held her slumbering daughter in her arms.

Kreka smirked, "a Hun. You are one of us. What is your name, tatli kiz?"

"Erzibet Sassan..." she answered in a meek voice.

"Sassan?!" Kreka stood irate. "You're Persian royalty?!" she spat and Erzibet breathed heavily, gripping the armrests. "Well..." she grinned, "I'm sure you will enjoy living with us, Erzibet."

The girl gaped. "Yes...Malika."

Kreka's upper lip quivered. "My name is Khatun here. No Persian will be spoken here, tatli kiz. You understand?" she hissed and Erzibet fretfully nodded her head.

Chapter Text

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers! I have big plans ahead for Xena and Gabrielle. So, stayed tuned ;)

Chapter 30

Two weeks later, Xena tried to talk to Anastasia about what happened when Peroz arrived with his kid cousin Erzibet but she refused to talk to her. Gabrielle, also tried to talk to Ellac, but he too didn't want to speak with her or Xena just yet. The tension was thick between everyone and these last couple of weeks crept by because of the awkwardness within the large family. Xena and Gabrielle continued training the young teenage boys how to use weapons as well as hand to hand combat.

All boys learned how to use weapons so they could fight in wars later. Hopefully, they would not see another war when they were so young, but everyone had to remain vigilant. Just because it was peaceful in the Hun Nation, meant nothing. There would always be war. Xena knew what she was doing when she made that deal with Peroz, but Ana and Ellac didn't see it that way.

Kreka was too busy making Leila's wedding dress and preparing for the ceremony that would take place soon. Dengi, Ernak and Ellac had their meetings every night it seemed like and everyone else was kept in the dark about them all. They didn't bother to ask for anyone else's input and Ellac didn't want Xena anywhere near their meetings anymore. Little did they know that Xena would denounce her position as commander and leave Pannonia, but she couldn't leave anytime soon, especially after what just happened.

She had no idea that Peroz was going to propose the engagement so soon. She thought it would take a year at most, instead of a couple of months after the massive and chaotic war with Queen Tomiri. Now the Persian Empire had control of the Scythian army at their disposal, yet Scythia was undecided territory. It was too close to Armenia and could not be claimed by Peroz and his elder brother just yet. The Persians would have to make a treaty with Navaz in order to gain control of the barren territory that once belonged to the vicious Scythian queen.

After Peroz made that deal with Xena he was going to keep his word as long as the Pannonian Huns kept theirs. He was not to enter Balaam or any Caucasus territory unless he had permission. He needed an alliance with someone else since Constantinople was out of the question. Anastasius was loyal to the Huns. Hormizd was not thrilled that his brother agreed to marry off their cousin to a Hun, but at least it was from Attila's bloodline, so that was good enough. And besides, Erzibet would be no good to a Persian suitor since she was a half breed. She was considered almost worthless, but Peroz knew that the Hun people were no strangers to marrying people of a different ethnicity. It had been done several times before. Whoever married a Hun then became one themselves and it was even better that his cousin was half Hun herself.

In the middle of the large field, Gabrielle stood beside Xena watching the teenage boys spar with each other. Xena quickly decided that they should not use swords especially after what happened yesterday. One of the boy's faces got sliced and another boy's arm had a huge gash. She would sure that their fathers would coming hunting for her if she kept allowing them to use swords. So, now, they resorted to using javelins with dull ends instead.

Gabrielle watched a pair of boys knock each other down repeatedly and saw they were both getting frustrated. She ran over to them and broke up their fight. "Hey, hey!" she yelled and the boys backed away from one another.

"You both are supposed to be working together, not fighting. Pick up your staffs and try again and don't kill each other this time," she said with a smile then ran back to stand beside Xena. "This is really difficult," she muttered.

Xena looked at the other pairs. "Hmm," she answered.

Gabrielle frowned. "Is that all you have to say? You haven't said anything all day!"

"Sorry," the warrior said. "I can't get Anastasia to talk to me. I hope she doesn't hate me."

"She doesn't hate you, Xena, but she has a right to be angry. You technically married her son off without her consent."

Xena groaned. "It wasn't like that! I was desperate and we were going to lose to Tomiri. Besides, in three years, if Csaba doesn't want to marry Erzibet then he doesn't have to."

"I know I'm not really from here and all but even I know that's not how things work here, Xena. Ellac was supposed to marry a girl that Attila picked out for him and it didn't happen because he got Anastasia pregnant. If that never happened then he would be married to that girl with no questions asked. He was forced to do it. Csaba is in the same position. He will be forced to marry Erzibet or we will go to war with Persia again. This is a lose-lose situation."

The commander pinched her bridge of her nose and was in basic denial of what she had done. She didn't really comprehend everything in the midst of the war until now when her plan came to bite her in the butt. She knew Gabrielle was right and inside, she knew it all along. The only thing she regretted was that she didn't tell Anastasia sooner.

"This whole marriage-alliance shit is so outdated," Xena grumbled. "It shouldn't have to be this way."

"Then you shouldn't have proposed the idea to Peroz." She combated.

Xena turned with a huge frown on her face. "I see. Well, miss philosopher, what should I do now?"

Gabrielle shrugged, "I don't know, Xena. You made this mess. You fix it. You're good at getting yourself out of these situations." She spotted another pair of boys rolling around in the grass. "Hey! Boys! Come on, this is not how it's supposed to work!" she yelled and ran over to them.

The problem now was that Xena wasn't sure she could fix something like this unless they went to war with Persia and she didn't want to go through that again. She began to feel selfish thinking about her plan to go to Africa with Gabrielle.

The more she thought of war, the more it made her cringe and the more it made her want to leave Pannonia. But she couldn't leave yet, especially after what a mess she caused. She couldn't think of another time when she had done something like this. In fact, she was acting out of character when she proposed the idea to Peroz. She so desperately wanted to win and instead of arguing and coaxing Peroz to agree to something else, she caved. Years ago, that would have never happened. She wouldn't let her grandson be a pawn in war, or anyone for that matter, but she did this time. She was responsible for this mess and she needed to fix it somehow, but how was the real question now.

Csaba walked with Erzibet in the forests of Pannonia and he looked behind them and frowned. Two of his father's men were following them wherever they went. He sighed and looked at the veiled girl beside him. He was supposed to spend a lot of time with her since she got here two weeks ago and he had spent every day with her and was missing out on hanging with his new friends. Though, his mother said it was important and his father was less than enthused about the idea but told him to do as his mother says.

"They're pretty annoying, huh?" he said speaking of the guards, trying to make small conversation.

She smiled beneath her veil and dared not to look into his green eyes. "A little bit..." she answered softly.

"Sorry, I'm not very good at talking to girls," he said awkwardly. "There were no girls in Pannonia when I grew up here and there were hardly any girls my age in Balaam either."

She nodded and kept quiet. They walked out of the forest and he spotted his grandmother sitting outside of her yurt, sharpening a sword. He wanted to go talk to her and get away from these guards but he promised to spend time with Erzibet.

"Sooo..." he sighed heavily. "Do you have a sword or a bow?"

Erzibet frowned and turned to him with her big brown eyes. "Ladies don't use weapons."

He scoffed, "but you are a Hun. All women here know how to use weapons! I could teach you," he said with a big smile.

"I'm not supposed to use any weapons."

"Come on, I can show you. It's really easy," he offered and she lowered her gaze, tightening the veil around her face. He sighed. "Okay how 'bout this. I teach you how to use a weapon and you teach me...whatever you're good at it."

Erzibet halted in step and stared at him, cocking her head. "You're a weird boy." She stated and his face paled.

"Well, you're a weird girl. I don't even know what you look like," he chuckled and she hid her smile. "I see you are smiling. So, you think I'm pretty funny, huh?" he mused and her cheeks flushed. "So, what do you like to do then if you don't use weapons and stuff?"

"You're not going to stop are you?" she asked and he shook his head. She tapped her veiled cheek. "I know how to sew, spin and weave rugs."

Csaba raised his eyebrow. That wasn't exactly what he was expecting, but he was going to honor his offer. "Alright. You teach me how to sew something and I'll teach you how to use a weapon. Deal?" he held his hand out and she looked down at his hand.

She smiled and shook his hand. "Okay," she said and he grinned happily.

"Will I ever get to see your face?" he asked curiously. He desperately wanted to know what she looked like. He knew that his mother and other women inside the Adame knew what she looked like. The only thing that he saw were her eyes and not that they weren't beautiful, but that was the only thing he could see.

She smirked. "If I marry you then you will see."

He pursed his lips and continued walking towards the Adame. "Well, we can just be friends for now, right?"

"Friends," she repeated. "That sounds nice I suppose."

He stood by the Adame to drop her off and he desperately wanted to get away to go hangout with his friends. "So, tomorrow we begin our training, right?" he said and she nodded. "Until tomorrow then," he smiled then ran off to meet up with his friends.

Xena sat on the floor in her bedroom, drinking a glass of wine to herself. Gabrielle finished washing her hair in the bathhouse across the field. She came inside the yurt, expecting to see Xena in the sitting area but when she wasn't, she supposed that she was in the bedroom looking at the map of Africa.

Although, when she entered the bedroom she saw Xena was drinking wine by herself on the floor. She also still had her leathers and furs on from today's training session with the young teens. "Are you sulking?" she asked and Xena lifted her eyes. "You are!"

Gabrielle sat down on the bed and grabbed the empty bottle of wine. "You drank all of this by yourself?" she glared down at the warrior.

Xena scoffed, "it was only half empty..."

"We're not doing this again. First the opium, now the wine." Gabrielle snatched the half filled glass from Xena's hand. "You can't do this to yourself." She walked over to the fire pit and poured the wine directly into the fire, feeding it.

"Gabrielle! You can't tell me what to do! You aren't my mother!" Xena stood and Gabrielle smiled mockingly.

"You're upset. I get it. But you can't do this to yourself. Just go talk to Anastasia." She folded her arms.

Xena groaned and plopped back down onto the floor, digging her nails into her messy mane. "I already tried. She won't talk to me."

Gabrielle sighed and then took a seat down next to her. She brought her knees close to her chest and looked over at Xena hiding behind her veil of hair. "I've seen the way you talk to her, Xena. She's not a child and she's not one of your soldiers nor is she one of your prisoners. She has told you before that you can be controlling and that you interrogate her. We've had this exact conversation before when she was a teenager. She's not a little girl anymore and you still think that she is."

Xena lifted her head and ran her hands down her face. She gawked at the fire in front of her and felt Gabrielle's eyes on her –glaring. "But she will always be that innocent little girl that I remember her to be. I wasn't trying to...upset her. I wasn't thinking at all when I gave Peroz that proposition."

"I know that you love her and you'd do anything for her. We both know that and she does too, but Xena, she is a mother just like you. If I remember correctly, you were furious when Attila suggested that Ellac and she get married. I think you should remember that the next time you attempt to talk with her again."

"Just because she is pregnant doesn't mean she has to marry him," she folded her arms defiantly, "I refuse."

Attila stepped forward, close to Xena's face and both glared at one another, "I am the king of this empire. You are not in charge here, Xena. This is my territory, not yours," he reminded her of her place.

"I don't care if you are king of the world," she smirked, "she is my daughter and she is not marrying your son, end of discussion."

Xena caught herself in a daze and felt Gabrielle grab her arm. She abruptly turned her head and stared at her consort's sweet face, her soft smile and warm eyes. "You would think I would learn from my mistakes." She said softly.

"You have, Xena, in many ways. But you can't keep doing this. You treat your daughter like she is a child sometimes. She is an adult! You undermined her authority as queen, took her position away from her –"

"I only did that to help and protect her," Xena was quick to remind her.

Gabrielle nodded. "I know, but she didn't see it that way. And now, you are doing it again. You did something that you yourself would never allow. You would never let her be married off to someone without your permission. I think you should try and go talk to her again and maybe you should start off apology."

"An apology?!" Xena spat and the blonde frowned. "Right. Apologize. I can't fix what I did, Gabrielle. You heard Peroz. He said that he would go to war with us again if the engagement was off. Ellac was forced to agree and it's my fault."

Gabrielle smiled softly and brushed Xena's hair away from her face. "Listen, Ellac has been gone for a long time. We all thought he was dead and now that he isn't, he wants to be involved with his son as much as possible. I don't think he wants to be like his father and marry off his son to someone like Attila almost did to him." She said and Xena stayed quiet.

"You loved Attila, right?" she asked and Xena quirked her mouth. "He was a great friend to you. You both had a great relationship together and you worked very well together. He was a kind person," she frowned, "well, not to his enemies." She then saw Xena break out into a small grin. "He never got to meet Csaba. Ellac has no parents, not any biological ones anyway. He thinks of you like his mother, more than Kreka, I think. He feels hurt by what you did. He's angry, but anger passes. Anastasia on the other hand is probably just as furious as you were when Attila proposed marriage to Ellac many years ago. should talk to her."

Xena let out a big heavy sigh and turned to Gabrielle. "Thank you," she said. "I know I can count on you to point out my flaws," she teased.

The blonde chuckled and nudged the warrior's arm. "Your flaws are what make you special and you are very special to me. I love everyone here and I love you very much. I hate to see you fight with your daughter. She is like a daughter to me too."

Xena nodded and leaned over, pecking Gabrielle's lips softly. "Maybe Tomiri was right. I have grown too soft."

"Soft all in the right places," said the blonde and her cheeks flushed. "You still cut off her head. I don't think that was a sign of weakness."

Xena laughed lightly. "She had to go. She needed to be stopped and the only way to stop that was to kill her. You know that, right?"

"I know, I know. But I don't know if I'll ever be able to get used to you doing that."

"I don't kill people for fun, Gabrielle. I kill people that need to be gone from this world. This earth doesn't need leaders like Tomiri, Zeno or Odoacer. They instilled fear into innocent people, not their enemies."

Gabrielle nodded. "Philosophizing again, eh?"

"I learn from the best," Xena playfully nudged Gabrielle's arm. "I promise when all of this chaos dies down, we will leave Pannonia and go on our adventure. I'm sure we'll find interesting things in Africa," a devious smile crossed her lips.

No, not that look again, Gabrielle thought. "We aren't going to Tunis to 'hangout' with pirates."

"You're no fun. Live a little, Gabrielle. There is so much we haven't seen!" Xena stood and ruffled her long hair. "I'm going to talk to Anastasia."

"Don't interrogate her," she warned.

"I promise." Xena smiled then walked out of the bedroom.

Gabrielle sighed and leaned against the bed, staring up at the ceiling. At least she could count on Xena when she made promises. She had yet to disappoint her in that department.

Csaba stood in his mother's bedroom and watched her tend to his baby sister. He waited patiently and heard his sister fussing while his mother was changing her clothes. "Have you been spending time with Erzibet?" she asked.

He rolled his eyes while her back was turned to him. "Yes, every day just like you said, mother."

"And how is it going? What do you think of her?" she asked and smiled down at her fussy daughter.

"She's really quiet, but I like spending time with her. I wish she'd take that veil off. I can't see her face and it's really annoying. I promised to teach her how to use a sword."

Ana frowned and picked up Arielle into her arms, turning to her son. He immediately straightened up. "Did you?" she narrowed her eyes and he nodded. "Just because she is technically a Hun doesn't mean anything. She was raised in Persia and knows nothing of our customs and traditions. You need to be mindful of that."

"Yes mother," he said, lifting his chin. She walked by him and set Arielle down in the bassinet. "You...have seen her face, right?" he asked and she said nothing. "What does she look like?"

Anastasia groaned and turned around, facing her anxious son. "I can't tell you that but...she is very beautiful," she said and he smiled, nodding his head.

Xena knocked on the doorway and stood, leaning against the wall. Csaba turned and smiled at her. Anastasia frowned and crossed her arms at the sight of her mother. "I need to borrow your mother," she said to her grandson and he turned to his mother briefly. Ana curtly nodded and he smiled at his grandmother before leaving the room. Xena winked at him then entered the room.

"What do you want?" Ana said.

"You're on the defense , I see," Xena mused and walked over to see Arielle in the bassinet. She smiled at the baby and Arielle grinned up at her. "Anastasia, I want to talk to you. I know you don't want to talk to me but –"

"No, I don't."

Xena sighed and turned to her irate daughter. "I want to apologize. I was wrong and should have told you immediately about my agreement with Peroz. I want you to know that I wasn't thinking at that moment. Tomiri's men were invading and I had to ally with him. You know I am not one to befriend Persians. It didn't go well the first time, but I was desperate. I shouldn't have used your son as a wager for war."

Anastasia uncrossed her arms. "Say it again."

"Say what?" Xena eyed her confusedly.

"Say that you were wrong."

Xena bit her tongue. She felt like this was draining enough, but she wanted to appease her daughter. "I was wrong."

"Apologize again." Ana said with a deep frown.

"Anastasia, I'm not going to play this game with you."

"Apologize!" she snarled. "You never apologize for anything! Say it!" she yelled and her mother kept staring at her blankly. "Your face. I've seen it many times in my life. You are not sorry for what you did, mother. You just want to make yourself feel better. You are very selfish sometimes, you know that? Instead of using a different tactic to coax Peroz, you used my son, your grandson. How could you do something like that? I thought you were better than that."

Xena raised an eyebrow and ran her fingers along the back of a chair. "Alright. I deserve that," she said in a soft tone.

Anastasia scoffed and folded her arms once more, giving her mother the cold shoulder. Xena stepped forward and decided to take a different approach, like Gabrielle suggested. "Anastasia, I'm very sorry. For everything. I tried my best to raise you by myself. I