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My Immortal Love

Chapter Text

My Immortal Love

by Red Hope

 

Prologue

"Oh come on, Gabrielle!" Nikon called. He darted around a merchant's stall, in the agora. "It was only a joke."

Gabrielle slipped between two merchant stalls. She was bent forward and heard the boy's words. Her breaths were heavy after running so hard from Nikon. She backed up a few steps and bumped into somebody.

"Watch it, girl," the merchant snapped.

Gabrielle jumped and spun around him.

"Gabrielle!" Nikon hollered. He heard the merchant's words and quickly gave chase when Gabrielle ran out from between the stalls. Nikon was amazed by Gabrielle's speed, and he could barely keep up.

"Leave me be!" Gabrielle yelled at the boy. She veered around patrons in the agora.

Nikon was huffing as he tried to catch up to Gabrielle. Damn farm girls were fast in Potidaea. His chunky cheeks were flushed now. "You do not… have to touch it," he teased loudly. He then nearly collided with a slave, who snapped at him. Nikon glared at the slave and ran off again before he lost Gabrielle.

Gabrielle peered over her shoulder and saw Nikon was losing ground. She came out of the agora and onto the busy street. Just in front of her a horse drawn cart nearly hit her, but she jumped aside in time.

"Watch it, girl!" the butcher on the wagon hollered. He waved his whip at the girl, who stumbled to one side.

Gabrielle ignored his warning and continued running from Nikon. She heard his torments further, but she was far ahead of him thankfully. Gabrielle made a few turns and hoped to lose Nikon. But, he was relentless even if he was slow. She was also getting worn out from the chase. Then straight ahead, her eyes filled with the large, stone temple that drew her closer.

Nikon was still behind Gabrielle, and he saw the temple too. He recognized it as a temple to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.

Gabrielle hurried up the numerous steps, but she tripped once thanks to her long dress. She slammed her knee into a step, but she scrambled up and continued to the top.

Nikon huffed hard and came to a slow stop at the base of the steps. He gazed up at Gabrielle, who was in front of the doors. He shook his head and yelled, "I doubt even the Goddess of Love could love somebody like you." He gave up on her.

Gabrielle watched Nikon leave, but she still went into the temple. She was catching her breath as she limped her way. A few voices caught her ear, and Gabrielle hastily hid behind a short pillar. She tilted her head and listened yet the women were too far. Then she tilted her head back and peered up at the statue on the base of the pillar.

A beautiful marble sculpture of the Goddess of Love stood tall at the entrance of the temple. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, held out her hand to the entrance way, welcoming any disciples. Her hair was long and straight. Her toga wrapped in normal fashion and held with a girdle. The sculpture made her features soft with a radiant smile.

Gabrielle moved away from the statue and ascended a few steps to an overlooking level. Off to her left was a square pool filled with water. The sunlight, from the round opening in the roof, shined down and sparkled in the water. Gabrielle spotted a few priestess talking beside the pool then another woman seated at a bench.

After watching them, Gabrielle went over the wall and sat down. Her knee hurt a lot, and she wanted to rest it. She was afraid Nikon was outside of the temple, waiting for her. Gabrielle leaned her head against the cool stone and let out a sigh. She recalled her earlier confrontation with Nikon, just outside the agora. A soft tremble went through her body, and a few tears started down her cheeks.

Nikon was no better than a monstrous dryad. He had approached Gabrielle first and made fun of her family. Gabrielle walked away first until Nikon grabbed her. He then wanted to show her something and reached inside his chiton. Gabrielle shoved him aside and hurried into the agora. The chase shortly started after that point.

Gabrielle drew up her knees and the pain in her left knee made her cry more. She closed her eyes after she put her forehead against her knees. She despised Nikon, who teased her any chance he had when she came to the agora alone.

"Why are you crying?"

Gabrielle jumped and scrambled onto her feet until her hurt knee made her fall down to the cold floor. She was completely caught off guard by the tall woman that had quietly come up to her.

"I am sorry," the woman hastily apologized. She knelt down beside the girl. "I did not mean to frighten you." She helped Gabrielle sit up again and held onto her arm.

"I-I-I am sorry," Gabrielle rushed, "I know I am not allowed in here."

"Do not be silly," the woman argued. "Everybody is welcomed here."

Gabrielle studied the woman's beautiful blue eyes that seemed almost godly to her. She had only seen such a blue hue in the sky when it was a crisp, clear day. For a moment, she forgot herself.

The woman was on her knees, in front of the girl, and worriedly studied Gabrielle. "Is there anything I can do?"

Gabrielle shook her head and drew her knees to her chest again.

"What is your name?" the woman asked. She could tell the girl was unsure of her. "I am Aphrodite." She enjoyed the girl's puzzled look.

"Like the Goddess of Love?" Gabrielle softly checked.

The woman, Aphrodite, smiled and reached up to brushed a curly, blond lock of hair behind her right ear. "Spelled the same way too." She wore a soft pink chiton.

"My name is Gabrielle."

Aphrodite had a curious expression before she smiled warmly again. "It is nice to meet you, Gabrielle." She placed her hands on her thighs. "You can call me Dity, for short." She tilted her head and tempted, "You have a short name too?"

Gabrielle crinkled her nose and softly replied, "Some call me Gabby."

Aphrodite had a lopsided smile and deduced, "You must not be fond of it." She tilted her head and asked, "How about Gabs?"

Gabrielle had a few short names but that name was the first. She actually liked it, and she nodded.

Aphrodite decided to tempt fate and moved around until she was seated next to the girl. "So, what brought you in here?" She gazed about the interior of the temple from her spot beside the girl. "Not exactly a cool spot."

Gabrielle shook her head.

Aphrodite saw the girl's head movement, but she still joked, "And it kind of smells like fish too." She earned a laugh from Gabrielle this time. "Fish is so gross." She was further rewarded with a smile.

"It tastes good," Gabrielle argued. She often ate fish that her and her sister caught out of the creek beside their farm.

"I do not believe that," Aphrodite debated. "You cannot tell me one of those… gross things flopping around on your plate is good."

Gabrielle gave a soft giggle. "You have to cook it first."

"Oooh." It now seemed to dawn on Aphrodite. "That might explain why."

Gabrielle had a cute smile. "You clean it first, cut a slit across the belly, and pack it with herbs. Then you put it over the fire for awhile."

Aphrodite tilted her head and smiled at the girl. "You must cook."

Gabrielle shrugged and replied, "My momma teaches me." She then asked, "Your mom did not teach you?"

Aphrodite grinned this time. "No, I never learned."

Gabrielle seemed baffled by this.

Aphrodite bumped her shoulder against the girl's smaller one. "So, what had you upset, Gabs?" She expected the girl to look away and frown. She leaned in closer and softly promised, "I will not tell anybody." She found hooded green eyes peeking up at her. "I promise."

Gabrielle hugged herself a bit more, but she quietly told Aphrodite. "A boy named Nikon was bothering me again." She continued to tell Aphrodite what happened earlier.

Aphrodite's eyes slowly darkened as Gabrielle gave her story. She waited until the girl was finished then she saw the tears again. "I am sorry, sweet pea." She gingerly touched Gabrielle's forearm, which was bare.

Gabrielle quickly noticed Aphrodite's soft touch, which was also very warm. She wiped away the few tears.

"I will tell you the best piece of advice," Aphrodite started, "Okay?" After Gabrielle's nod, she cleared her throat before she spoke again. "If another boy or even a man ever tells you to touch them there, you respond by kicking them there in that exact spot." She enjoyed Gabrielle's wide eyes. "And you kick as hard as possible, okay?"

Gabrielle had expected a lot of advice, but hardly what Aphrodite told her.

"After you do that," Aphrodite explained, "He will never bother you again." She squeezed the girl's arm. "Okay?" She needed the girl's agreement.

Gabrielle nodded and softly added, "Okay."

Aphrodite was pleased and patted Gabrielle's arm. "That's my girl." She and Gabrielle traded a grin. She then put her head to the left and better studied Gabrielle's profile. "Are you far from home?"

"I… I live on a farm, just outside of town." Gabrielle was hesitant again, for some reason.

"That's not a long walk from here." Aphrodite was quick to pick up on the girl's concerns. Most likely Gabrielle was worried Nikon might be waiting for her. "How about I walk you home?"

Gabrielle was surprise by the offer. "B-b-but you have to stay here, right?"

Aphrodite chuckled at how little the girl knew about her. "I may go anywhere I wish." She then held out her hand. "Come on."

Gabrielle took the larger hand and started to get up until her knee pained her. She had forgotten about it, but it made her yelp in reminder.

Aphrodite was startled by the girl's pain. She held onto Gabrielle's arms and steadied her. "What is it, sweet pea?" She felt badly for the girl.

"I hurt my knee." Gabrielle hated to admit to her own clumsiness. "I… I fell on the steps."

"Oh." Aphrodite released Gabrielle and knelt down. "Let me see…" She slowly raised the girl's brown, wool skirt to her knee. She gave a sympathetic hiss at the bruising and redness. "Oh yeeeah, it's hurt." She reached for the hurt knee until Gabrielle's rushed voice.

"Please don't touch it."

Aphrodite paused and peered up at the girl. "I just want to make sure you did not break anything." She softly smiled and promised, "I will be gentle." After the girl's faint nod, Aphrodite pressed her freehand's fingertips against the damaged skin.

Gabrielle hissed in pain but then a warmth soothed it away.

"Maybe it's not so bad," Aphrodite whispered. She now brought her thumb against the skin and ran it across the bruise, which was slowly fading away. She withdrew her hand and released the skirt. "Does it still hurt?"

Gabrielle was confused as she tested her knee, which felt a lot better. "No." She gave a dazzled look at Aphrodite, who stood up again.

"I am glad." Aphrodite smiled at the girl's expression. She held out her hand.

Gabrielle took Aphrodite's larger hand and followed her out of the temple. She scanned around for Nikon, but he was nowhere nearby them. She was relieved too.

Aphrodite allowed Gabrielle to lead the way. "Are you having fish tonight?"

Gabrielle giggled at the fishy topic. "Momma did not say."

Aphrodite considered the fact the girl was by herself. "Do you come to town alone often?"

"Sometimes when Poppa needs me to do things for him." Gabrielle still held onto Aphrodite's hand. "Sometimes my sister, Lila, comes with me, but she was busy helping Momma."

Aphrodite quietly considered the fact the girl was alone in the town. It was fairly dangerous too. "Well, you can always come to the temple."

Gabrielle passed a few people as they came out of town. "Do you like it there?"

Aphrodite was briefly confused by the girl's question then she grinned at the assumption. "It gets a bit boring."

Gabrielle softly laughed and asked, "What you do for fun?"

Aphrodite shrugged and considered the many things she did with herself. However, most of those things were not meant for Gabrielle's young ears. "I play swords with the fish some times." She then frowned and added, "But I can never get that fishy smell off my hands."

Gabrielle laughed at the image of Aphrodite using a fish as a sword. "They can by smelly."

"Totally," Aphrodite agreed. She noticed the girl's peculiar look, most likely from her word.

Gabrielle looked ahead and pointed at the small thatch house. "That's my home."

Aphrodite knew that the house could fit in the temple back in town. She blew out a low breath and murmured, "It looks… quaint." She spotted a barn behind it. She and Gabrielle stopped beside the dirt path to the house.

"Thanks for walking me home." Gabrielle released the woman's hand.

"You're welcome, sweet pea." Aphrodite crinkled her nose and smiled. She put her hands on her hips. "Come by the temple anytime, okay?"

"Okay." Gabrielle took a step towards the path, but she hesitated and suddenly jumped forward to the woman. "Thank you, Dity."

Aphrodite was surprised by the warm but quick hug then the girl ran off. For a moment, Aphrodite watched Gabrielle hurry to the house. She had a silly smile. Once Gabrielle was in the house, Aphrodite turned and headed back to town, but she eventually faded away once nobody noticed her on the road.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

Gabrielle of Potidaea playfully shoved her friend, Perdicus, away and laughed at his joke. "I do not believe you."

"Well if you do not believe me then we should try it," Perdicus argued. He was seated beside his friend along the creek. He had yet to catch any fish, but Gabrielle already had two of them.

"No, no." Gabrielle shook her head several times. "We will get in trouble."

Perdicus grinned like a cat. "Who will know?"

Gabrielle was seated on a log beside her friend. To her left were two fish that had stopped breathing awhile ago. "Your father will figure it out." She leaned closer to Perdicus. "Then he will tell my father."

Perdicus chuckled and teased, "You do not want to do it because you know the sheep will not go back down the steps."

Gabrielle knew Perdicus was lying to her just so he could dare her. However, Gabrielle refused to find out if it was true that a sheep could only go upstairs, not back down them. If they attempted it in Perdicus's house, as he suggested, then they would get in big trouble.

"Come on. It will be fun," Perdicus tried again.

Gabrielle swatted her friend and stated, "No." She returned to her fishing.

Perdicus still had his grin. He admired his friend's beautiful features. He remembered when she was a bit chunky as a kid. Now as young teenagers, he could see that Gabrielle would grow into a gorgeous woman. He prayed his father could seal an agreement with Gabrielle's father and give enough in dowry for him to marry Gabrielle. In the next seasons, his father would start arrangements with Gabrielle's father. Thankfully Pericus's family had slightly more wealth due to their success with the sheep herding business.

For awhile, the friends continued to fish until it was just after noon high. Gabrielle reminded her friend she had to go home, especially with the fish. She gave him one then said goodbye to him, with a quick hug. She promised to see him in the next day or so. Gabrielle was looking forward to going home because her friend, Melitta, was due to stay with her for the night. Melitta was also close to Lila too.

"Hello, Gabrielle," Hecuba greeted her daughter.

"Hi, mom." Gabrielle gave the fish to her mother then went to put her fishing items away.

Hecuba was happy to add the fish to tonight's menu. She turned her head and called, "Melitta is here."

Gabrielle went to her shared room with Lila and found Melitta already settled into the guest bed. She and Melitta exchanged warm hugs before they sat on a bed and chatted about recent events. Shortly, Lila arrived and the same greetings passed between friends. Shortly, Hecuba announced that dinner was ready for everybody.

Gabrielle was famished and ate the fastest. Her mother told her to slow down, but it rarely worked for her. After dinner, she and Melitta went outside to play before sunset. Lila only joined them after she helped her mother clean up the kitchen.

By sundown, the girls were exhausted and returned home for a quick snack before bed. Lila settled into bed first and rolled onto her side after she heard her sister and Melitta get into bed. She was happy when the candles were blown out.

Gabrielle lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. She sighed at her sister's soft snores. She turned her head to the right and wondered if Melitta was still awake. Not quite ready to sleep, Gabrielle slid out of bed and went over to Melitta's bed.

"Mel, you asleep?"

"Not yet," Melitta replied. She scooted over when Gabrielle moved under the blanket with her. "That fish you caught was really good."

Gabrielle smiled brightly. "It's one of my favorites."

"What kind of fish was it?"

Gabrielle considered it for a moment. "I think a pike fish."

Melitta had no idea what a pike fish was other than the taste of it. "Did you go with Perdicus?"

"I did."

Melitta smiled and asked, "How is he?"

"He is good." Gabrielle had always liked Perdicus since they met a few anni ago by the river. They had both been fishing but on opposite sides. Perdicus had crossed over and joined her. His home was on the other side.

"You think you and Perdicus will marry?" Melitta questioned.

Gabrielle snuggled in closer to her friend, glad for the warmth. She considered the question and looked at Melitta.

Melitta was an annus younger than her. She had the classic Macedon features with a round face, larger nose, and dark curly hair. Her eyes were honey brown in the right light. She was quite beautiful and more beautiful than Gabrielle, in Gabrielle's opinion.

"I don't think about such things," Gabrielle admitted.

Melitta giggled and challenged, "Why ever not?" She poked Gabrielle in the side. "You are almost marrying age."

"So are you," Gabrielle challenged. "Do you think about it?"

Melitta pushed her hair out of her face. "At times I do." She grinned and added, "I want a little girl so much."

Gabrielle smiled at the idea of children. "I want both."

"A boy and a girl?" Melitta saw her friend's nod. "Girls are so much easier than boys."

"But boys can do more than girls," Gabrielle reminded. "I wish I could do half of what Perdicus gets to do."

Melitta softly laughed at the idea.

"I am serious," Gabrielle argued.

Melitta bit her bottom lip but quietly asked, "Like what?"

"You know, like ride a horse."

Melitta giggled and teased, "You of all people. You are liable to hurt yourself, Gabby."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "I could learn."

Melitta picture her friend riding a horse then falling off, and it made her giggle again.

"Oh come on, Mel." Gabrielle poked her friend's side a few times. "I could work in the fields and actually own the land."

Melitta listened to Gabrielle's rant.

"I could learn how to use a xiphos."

Melitta's eyes went wide and a gasp passed her lips. "A sword, Gabrielle?" She shook her head and teased, "You would kill yourself in that case."

Gabrielle swatted her friend this time. "I am not that clumsy."

"Why sure you are," Melitta insisted.

Gabrielle was offended shoved hard against Melitta.

"Ouch," Melitta complained. She was surprised by her friend's strength. "You must wrestle with Perdicus."

Gabrielle chuckled and nodded. "I do, sometimes." However, lately their wrestling had grown different. Gabrielle did her best to stay away from such things with Perdicus. She became serious and softly stated, "I could also marry whoever I wanted to rather than who my father says so."

Melitta was quiet and then quietly asked, "Who would you marry then?"

Gabrielle seriously considered the question. "I would marry my best friend." She studied Melitta's gorgeous features, which were slightly distant.

Melitta considered her friend's idea for a bit until a warm hand was against her cheek. She was startled to find Gabrielle's face so close to hers. Then without warning, Gabrielle's lips were pressed against hers in a feather light kiss. Melitta was so stunned that she remained paralyzed until Gabrielle withdrew from her. She let out a low, shocked gasp.

Gabrielle briefly had a lost look, unsure what just happened a heartbeat ago. The awkward moment replayed in her mind, and she became suddenly scared. "M-m-mel, I-I-I am so sorry."

Melitta came out of her shock after those words. She suddenly started pushing Gabrielle away, to the edge of the bed. "Get away from me," she hissed.

Gabrielle tumbled out of the bed and hit her side against the wood floor. The air was knocked out of her lungs, but she quickly sat up on her knees.

Melitta was sitting up too. She had a dark look and pointed at Gabrielle. "Get away before-"

"Melitta, I'm sorry," Gabrielle hastily attempted again.

"I am going to scream and tell your parents if you don't…" Melitta's threat fell short when Gabrielle had already rushed out of the bedroom. She trembled as she heard Gabrielle's soft footfall fade away.

Gabrielle hurried out of the house and nearly fell down the steps. She felt a brief, false sense of freedom by getting outside into the warm, dark night. However, the house and Melitta were just behind her so she took off at a run. Her bare feet scraped against the stone pathway until she was onto the grass beside the barn.

Panic set in deeper and caused Gabrielle to run faster, past the barn. She entered her father's tilled field, but she ignored the soil that coated her feet. Gabrielle raced through the field to the only place she felt safe.

The lone Juniper tree waited for her. As she neared it, the tree almost seemed to extend its branches down to her. Gabrielle hurriedly climbed up to a thick branch. Her feet were dirty, scraped, and her ankles had a few scratches. However, Gabrielle noticed none of it as she curled up in her favorite spot in the Juniper tree. She felt as if the tree enclosed its leaves around her so that she was hidden from the world. High above her, the crescent moon provided a soft, silver hue over the tilled fields that surrounded the tree from all sides.

Gabrielle shivered from her spot in the tree. It was a warm night, but her fears about what she had done to Melitta scared her. She started to pray, to any god or goddess, that Melitta did not tell her parents about tonight. If Melitta did then Gabrielle had no idea what her father would do to her. Tears started rolling down Gabrielle's flushed cheeks.

Distantly in the field, a tall figure slowly formed behind Gabrielle. Under the moonlight, a beautiful woman glowed in her pink chiton. Her blond, curly hair seemed like gold under the moon's rays. Aphrodite gazed on in despair and listened to Gabrielle's soft sobs. However, she remained rooted in the field, unable to comfort Gabrielle and instead could only sense Gabrielle's emotions. Aphrodite remained there, vigilantly watching over the young mortal.

Gabrielle's tears slowed after half a candlemark. Her trembles halted shortly afterwards, and she realized just how drained she felt after tonight. Yet, Gabrielle refused to go back in the house and to her room.

Carefully, Gabrielle climbed out of her favorite tree. She started through the field and back towards the house. She entered the barn and climbed up to the loft where there was lots of straw. Gabrielle found a comfortable spot and curled up for the night. She moved some of the straw over her body, and she quickly warmed up.

Once Gabrielle slipped into a dreamscape, Aphrodite emerged from the shadows of the loft. She almost seemed to glide across the loft, not one straw moved in her wake. She knelt beside Gabrielle and cupped the teenager's flushed cheek. She could see the puffiness in Gabrielle's eyes from the tears.

"Rest easy, sweet pea," Aphrodite whispered, "Everything will be okay." Her hand briefly glowed wherever it touched Gabrielle's skin. She stood up and silently vanished into the night.

Aphrodite traveled through space and reformed in a familiar place she and many others of her kind called home. She stood at the edge of the acropolis and gazed upon the mortal world below Mount Olympus. Even from here, she could still see Gabrielle among all the mortals. None stood out so brightly to her than Gabrielle.

"That was just her first taste," spoke a calm, female voice.

Aphrodite turned and faced her half sister. "Art, I am so not in the mood."

"Now is a perfect time," Artemis argued. She came to Aphrodite's side and also gazed beyond Mount Olympus. Like Aphrodite, she centered her eyes on the sleeping mortal, Gabrielle. "Are you really going to let her continue this way?"

Aphrodite crossed her arms and glared at Artemis. "We both know how father feels about intervening."

Artemis chuckled and grinned at her half sister. "Oh please do not give me that Centaur shit." She folded her arms too, but she bore armor and a bow with a filled quiver at her back. "It's not as if you have not already intervened in her life."

"She was a child then," Aphrodite argued. "She thought I was like a priestess or something." She chuckled and joked, "Can you imagine being around that smelly fish all day?"

Artemis was hardly detoured by Aphrodite's attempt. "And what do you call tonight?" She glanced one last time at the mortal, who slept soundly tonight. "As if a sleeping spell isn't divine intervention?"

Aphrodite rolled her eyes, dropped her arms, and walked away. "She had a bad night, Art." She glared at her sister from over her shoulder. "Get off my back."

Artemis slowly followed her sister's footsteps. She had her hands behind her back, under the quiver. She held back a grin by biting her lower lip. "How about I do better than that?"

Aphrodite pretended to ignore the Goddess of Hunt. She remained poised over the edge of a grand, illuminated map of the celestial stars in the center of the acropolis.

"If you take your precious mortal to my Amazons then I promise she will not suffer any harm in the nation." Artemis stood at the Goddess of Love's side, and she watched Aphrodite's profile.

Aphrodite was quiet until she met Artemis's gaze. "She would leave her family and home?" She shook her head. "I don't think so, Art."

"And what is a home… or a family?" Artemis debated. She held out her hand towards the land of mortals. "It is not as if her family will ever accept her." She lowered her arm. "But, my Amazons will."

Aphrodite stared hard at the stars mapped out in the floor. She loved how they twinkled back at her. "So what's the catch?"

Artemis fidgeted and quickly replied, "There is no catch." She was about to say more until Aphrodite looked at her, coldly. Artemis stiffened at the red shine in Aphrodite's eyes, and she knew not to toy with her sister.

"I totally know you are lying, Art." Aphrodite's eyes continued to shine a bright red in warning.

Artemis sighed and finally revealed, "The Amazons could use somebody like her."

Aphrodite faced the Goddess of Hunt and slowly approached her. Her eyes had yet to calm as she spoke slowly and dangerously. "You want my precious mortal there so she can better your nation." She smiled, slyly. "Are your precious Amazons not able to hold their own?"

Artemis shifted on her feet and sighed. "The nation is weakening," she softly admitted to Aphrodite.

For a moment, the Goddess of Love read further between the lines, and her eyes calmed to normal. "This is far beyond what the Fates chose for her." She shook her head and walked away from her sister. "You can totally forget me taking her from her home."

Artemis watched Aphrodite glide through the celestial map to the other side of the acropolis. "You may think otherwise once she marries her prison," she called across to the Goddess of Love. "Think about it."

Aphrodite paused before she vanished in a soft glow of pink.

Artemis heavily sighed and muttered, "That could have gone better." She shook her head because her sister was so stubborn, just like their brother, the God of War. She could only hope that Gabrielle's future would force Aphrodite's hand.

As time passed on Earth, Gabrielle grew older and closer to the age of marriage. Her father had agreed to a fine dowry from Perdicus's father. It was only a matter of time before the ceremony would take place then Gabrielle could live in the house Perdicus was building with his father. For Gabrielle, the pending wedding ceremony felt like an approaching ice storm that would freeze her to death. She prayed that day would never come for her. However, next spring seemed to be when the ceremony would take place.

Hecuba spent the winter preparing for her eldest daughter's ceremony. She wanted it to be perfect as possible for Gabrielle. Lila was also excited for it. Herodutus was simply thrilled to have a wonderful dowry for Gabrielle's hand and beauty.

Once winter thawed away, spring felt closer to death than life for Gabrielle. Her world was pressing inwards and would crush her soon. She started to spend much less time with Perdicus and many noticed it. Hecuba assumed it was the jitters about being wed soon. But it was Lila that noticed Gabrielle actually spent her time with another girl about Gabrielle's age.

Her name was Helena, whose family was the local butcher in town and quite wealthy. Gabrielle had met Helena at the agora about an annus ago. Helena often came over for a night or two and played with Gabrielle. They fished a lot and enjoyed long talks in Gabrielle's favorite tree. Other times they went for walks and went shopping in the agora. On occasions, Gabrielle would help Helena and her father at the butcher shop. She made a few extra coin for her trouble. Gabrielle never spent her coin and instead hid it away in her room, not quite sure for what though.

On a beautiful spring day, Gabrielle and Helena walked hand in hand to the river. They had their fishing rods in their free hands. Gabrielle had enjoyed a nice morning in Helena's bed because Lila had awoken early to help their mother. Now they planned to enjoy time alone after they did a few things in the garden.

"In a fortnight is your wedding," Helena brought up. She regretted the topic instantly because Gabrielle let go of her hand. She said nothing and went around the brush to their favorite spot to fish.

"I haven't forgotten," Gabrielle quietly replied. "Everybody likes to remind me."

"Are you not excited?" Helena pressed. She unraveled her fishing line and casted the bait into the water. "Mine won't be long after yours."

Gabrielle had a bad taste in her mouth at the mere mention of Helena's wedding. She was thankfully betrothed to a dull but gentle man. But Helena's betrothed was a greedy handsome man. She loathed him, in many ways.

Helena noticed Gabrielle had yet to cast her bait. She was about to ask what was wrong until Gabrielle took her wood pole. Both hers and Gabrielle's rods were set on the ground.

Gabrielle moved in close to Helena until their bodies were pressed together.

"What is it, Gabrielle?" Helena cupped Gabrielle's cheeks.

Gabrielle leaned in and softly kissed Helena. She felt slightly better when Helena returned the tender motions of their lips. She then leaned her forehead against Helena's head. She inhaled the soft golden olive scent that was Helena. "I do not wish to marry," she confessed. Her eyes fluttered a few times. "At least not to Perdicus."

Helena lifted her head and stroked Gabrielle's cheek. "But you are already betrothed to him."

"That doesn't mean I have to marry him," Gabrielle argued.

"Of course you do, silly." Helena ran a thumb across Gabrielle's full lip.

"You don't have to marry Straton," Gabrielle continued.

Helena frowned and cupped Gabrielle's cheeks again. "Gabrielle, what has gotten into you?"

Gabrielle reached up and took Helena's hands into hers. "We could runaway together." She watched Helena's hazel eyes grow. "I saved up enough coin." She squeezed Helena's hands and hastily explained, "We could leave here, find another village, and live together… forever."

Helena softly laughed, out of mere shock. She shook her head and replied, "Gabrielle, you talk as if we could… could live together like husband and wife."

Gabrielle had a small smile now. "We could."

Helena shook her head repeatedly this time. "Two women can't marry, Gabrielle." She was dumbfounded by the idea. "We could not have kids or… or own the land."

"We could find kids to taken in," Gabrielle argued. "And we don't have to own the land to live together."

Helena could tell that Gabrielle had thought a lot about the idea. She was still in shock.

Gabrielle leaned in and kissed Helena again. After the sweet kiss, she softly pleaded, "Come with me." She swallowed hard and harshly whispered, "I don't think I can watch you marry Straton."

"This is crazy, Gabrielle." Helena was starting to absorb Gabrielle's idea more. "And impossible."

"But I love you, Helena," Gabrielle desperately told her. Her eyes started stinging and her stomach pitched down. "I want to always be with you."

Helena bit her lip and squeezed Gabrielle's hands harder. "I want to always be with you too, Gabrielle. And we will always have each other. It's not as if we will no longer see each other." Helena swallowed hard as Gabrielle blinked a few tears. "But, this just… isn't right or real."

Gabrielle felt as if the water from the river was rising up, coming up to her head, as Helena spoke to her.

"We are both betrothed and will have fine husbands." Helena freed her right hand and held Gabrielle's cheek again. "You will have beautiful children, like you." She weakly smiled. "You will be happy, Gabrielle."

"But I won't be," Gabrielle breathed out. "That life… that's not real." She gritted her teeth and hotly argued, "This is real. What we have is real."

Helena bit her lip then hoarsely confessed, "Soon it won't be real anymore." She leaned in and softly kissed Gabrielle. "What we have is special, but it's just not right." Yet, Helena felt so wrong as Gabrielle suddenly went cold on her.

"I… I understand." Gabrielle broke her contact with Helena. She walked away from Helena, who hastily called after her.

"Gabrielle!" Helena grabbed onto her friend's arm. "Gab-"

"I will walk you home," Gabrielle cut off.

Helena nearly protested but closed her mouth when Gabrielle continued without her. She followed after Gabrielle, who moved at a fast speed.

The fishing rods beside the creek were long forgotten.

The walk back to town was a silent and long one that normally was very enjoyable. Gabrielle kept a certain distance from Helena. She took her friend directly to her home. Helena tried to kiss Gabrielle goodbye, but she was rejected by Gabrielle stepping away from her. Helena was in shock and watched her friend leave, like it was the last time.

Gabrielle walked faster and faster so she could get away from Helena. She was at a full sprint and was drawn to the one place she had not visited since she was a child. Gabrielle hurried up the steps of the temple and cleared the steps with a newly developed grace. She entered the quiet temple and went directly to the pool.

A priestess was seated by the pool, on a bench. She was reading scripture and paused when the newcomer came to her. "Can I help you?"

"I uh…" Gabrielle was unsure where to start and decided to be direct. "I'm looking for a priestess. She is rather tall with light colored hair… that's curly."

The priestess had a baffled look because she had been tied to this temple for many anni. There was no such priestess such as the one the young women described to her. "Do you know her name?"

Gabrielle licked her lips in a nervous habit. "She..." She knotted her hands together and finally answered, "She said her name was Aphrodite, but perhaps it wasn't her real name."

The priestess chuckled at the young woman's uneasiness. "I see." She patted the open space on the bench next to her. She sensed the young woman was trouble by something. "I have been here for quite some time. I do not recognize anybody by that description."

Gabrielle slid into the spot. "Oh," she murmured, quite disappointed. "Perhaps she was not a priestess, I just thought…" She shook her head. Her thoughts were quieted when the priestess touched her knee. She peered up into concerned features.

"What is wrong, child?" The priestess hoped she could help the young woman.

Gabrielle gathered some of her skirt's material into her hand. She was uneasy to tell the priestess everything, but she decided some of it she could tell her. Gabrielle softly told the priestess about her pending wedding ceremony and how she wished not to marry Perdicus.

The priestess carefully listened to Gabrielle's troubles. She was hardly surprised because many women at Gabrielle's age were quite nervous about such a major change in their life. After the young woman quieted, the priestess gathered the petite hand into hers.

"I understand your fears." The priestess squeezed Gabrielle's hand. "It is very normal to feel this way before your wedding."

"It is?" Gabrielle countered. She was confused and was sure the priestess was more confused than her.

"Of course." The priestess softly smiled at the young woman. "It is hard to leave one's family and start a new life with a husband." She leaned in and promised, "But it will get easier. You will start a routine with your husband and eventually you will have children."

Gabrielle sharply jerked her hand free and stood up. "That is exactly what I do not wish to do."

The priestess stared wide eye up at the young woman. "That is what every young woman your age does with their life." A furrow creased her brow. "What else could there be other than a life like my own?"

Gabrielle was starting to gather such a life may be better than her future. She shook her head several times and took a step back. "It's not going to be my life," she hissed. Gabrielle stormed off.

The priestess's eyes followed the young woman. She hollered, "It's not your choice." She frowned because Gabrielle left her.

Gabrielle rushed out of the temple. She hurried back home. Her mind went in millions of directions, but she knew that the priestess was right. She had no choice. Even if she ran away, there was nowhere she could go and would eventually be caught by a slaver. Gabrielle truly had no choice in the matter.

Once home, Gabrielle discovered her mother was washing clothes outside. She entered the kitchen and sought out only one item. She grabbed her mother's kitchen knife, which was her freedom. Gabrielle charged out of the front door and hid the knife in her clothes in case anybody saw her. As she passed the barn, she heard her father in there working on something.

Gabrielle could hardly care and instead went through the field to her favorite hideaway. The old, large Juniper tree warmly greeted her with a bow of its leaves. Gabrielle placed the knife between her teeth and started up the tree. She nestled into her favorite spot and sadly admired the rolling landscape beyond her father's field.

In her hands, Gabrielle turned the sharp knife a few times. She studied the blade that once had a mirror finish but now was dull. However, the actually blade was rather sharp because her mother kept it that way. Gabrielle felt just how sharp when her thumb went across it.

The broad, gorgeous landscape rolled for a long distance, beyond Gabrielle's view. It seemed like freedom, but Gabrielle was at a loss. Nothing could be done to change her future. She lost hope once Helena rejected her and her love. There was no reason to keep her life.

Gabrielle held the knife in her right hand and then placed the blade over the inside of her right wrist. She had no idea how deep to cut, but she planned to use all her strength to dig out her life from her veins. Then she could go to the Underworld where there would be peace. She started to apply pressure, and the initial sting started on her wrist.

"Stop, Gabrielle!" a strong voice yelled at her.

Gabrielle was both startled and frightened that she dropped the knife. Then she lost her balance and tumbled out of the tree. She gave a low cry and waited for the ground to strike her. Yet, she was snared out of the air and found herself neatly held into a set of arms. Gabrielle opened her eyes and found the most beautiful blue eyes worriedly looking at her. Gabrielle had never forgotten those eyes that she often saw in her dreams.

"Aphrodite," Gabrielle breathed.

"Yeah… it's me, sweet pea." Aphrodite carefully set the young woman onto her feet and waited to see if Gabrielle could stand okay. Her eyes cut to the knife, which was standing upright in the tilled soil.

"I… I tried to find you."

Aphrodite focused on Gabrielle again. "I heard," she simply replied. She frowned and demanded, "What are you thinking?"

Gabrielle opened and closed her mouth a few times. She realized Aphrodite was her last hope, and she repeated what she had told the other priestess at the temple.

Aphrodite shook her head and argued, "That is no reason to kill yourself." She knew Gabrielle would have gone straight to Tartarus for committing suicide.

"But-"

"You are very special. You are worth far more than a million Helenas," Aphrodite stated.

Gabrielle was about to reply until it occurred to her that Aphrodite knew about Helena even though she had said nothing about Helena. She snapped her jaw shut. "How… how do you know… about Helena?"

"I know every little piece of your life, Gabrielle." Aphrodite softly smiled and cupped the young woman's cheek.

As Gabrielle studied Aphrodite's eyes, she caught sight of a red shine in them that was anything but normal. She took a step back and whispered, "You're…"

"Yes, I am the totally badass Goddess of Love." Aphrodite grinned and held up her hands to her side. "I am that Aphrodite." She placed her hands on her hips.

"I must be dead," Gabrielle breathed. She looked at her left wrist, but it only had a tiny nick in her skin.

"Thankfully not." Aphrodite held up her right hand, palm up. Suddenly the kitchen knife appeared in it. "And you can go back to your home." She glared at the knife before she made it vanish back to the kitchen in the house.

Gabrielle was awestruck and felt her knees start to give way to her shock. However, Aphrodite vanished and reappeared instantly in front of her. Gabrielle's waist was hooked by the quick Goddess of Love.

"Easy," Aphrodite advised. She leaned down, closer to Gabrielle, and whispered, "Do not ever try that again or else I will tie you to one of my temples for the rest of your life." She lifted her right eyebrow and teased, "Right near the fish too."

Gabrielle laughed and held onto the goddess's arms. She was happy for a laugh after such a bad day. It had been a long time since she laughed at all. "I'm sorry. I just…"

Aphrodite sighed and drew Gabrielle in closer.

Gabrielle was warmed by the hug, and the goddess's heat soothed her upset emotions.

"I know," Aphrodite murmured near Gabrielle's ear. "I know, sweet pea."

Gabrielle withdrew after the hug and asked, "What do I do?" She gazed upon the Goddess of Love, who surely would know the answer. "I cannot marry Perdicus," she rasped. "It will kill me."

Aphrodite opened her mouth to reply, but she faltered at the desperate expression on Gabrielle's face. "Gabs…"

Gabrielle tensed at what she believed the Goddess of Love would tell her. She jerked free and harshly snapped, "I refuse to marry him." She shook her head and snapped, "You are just like everybody else." She quickly left the goddess until suddenly Aphrodite appeared in front of her.

The goddess held out her hands and argued, "That is not what I was going to tell you."

Gabrielle swallowed hard and waited this time instead of assuming Aphrodite's advice.

Aphrodite lowered her hands and moved in closer. "You have another option." She hated that Artemis was right. However, it was much better and safer than Gabrielle committing suicide. Aphrodite just hated to take Gabrielle from her family and home, but it seemed as if they were part of the problem.

"What is that?" Gabrielle pleaded. She was frantic to live a free life and be herself.

"You can go to the Amazons." Aphrodite hoped it was the right choice for Gabrielle.

"Amazons?" Gabrielle repeated. She was quite confused and stared oddly at Aphrodite.

"They are a nation of women that… live and bond together." Aphrodite was hardly an expert on the Amazons, yet she knew it was better place for Gabrielle. "You could be happy there." She finally admitted it was true, for Gabrielle's sake.

"Where are they?" Gabrielle's hopes climbed higher.

"They are west of here, towards the setting sun." Aphrodite saw the excitement grow in Gabrielle's eyes. "It's a long journey, about a fortnight by foot."

Gabrielle grabbed the goddess's hand and pleaded, "Take me there, right now. Please!"

Aphrodite understood Gabrielle wished her to transport her there. "If I could, I would this instant." She held Gabrielle's hand, tenderly. "But you are mortal and cannot travel through space like I do otherwise I would do so."

"But… how can I get there?"

Aphrodite nibbled on her bottom lip. She nervously glanced over at the house and then back to Gabrielle. "We can travel there together."

"On foot?"

Aphrodite nodded.

"We can go now," Gabrielle decided. She started towards the house. "I only have a few things." However, her wrist was hooked by the goddess, and she was drawn back to Aphrodite.

"We should wait until your family is asleep." Aphrodite could see Herodutus catching up to them once he borrowed a horse from a friend. "It'll be way safer."

"To travel at night?" Gabrielle knew better. Once nightfall started then the bandits and rapists came out.

Aphrodite squeezed the mortal's hand and asked, "Do you trust me, Gabs?"

Gabrielle smiled and softly replied, "I do."

Aphrodite nodded once. "Then meet me by this tree after your family has gone to sleep."

"How will you know I am ready?"

Aphrodite smiled and promised, "I will know."

Gabrielle had forgotten that Aphrodite was the Goddess of Love. "Right," she murmured.

Aphrodite's smile turned into a grin. "See ya tonight."

"Okay." Gabrielle mirrored the goddess's smile before she hurried to the house.

Aphrodite briefly watched Gabrielle go then she let out a low sigh. "Damn you, Art." She was going to hear it when she returned to Mount Olympus. She planned to turn it back on Artemis. She vanished from the field and returned to her personal space on Mount Olympus.

Aphrodite was hardly surprised to find her sister, Artemis, standing there with a huge smirk.

"Good choice, sis."

Aphrodite shot a glare. She approached the Goddess of Hunt. "Do we still have a deal?"

Artemis had her arms folded and the largest smug look. "Yes." She freed her right arm and held it out. "I swear to protect her so long as she is in my domain."

Aphrodite clasped arms with her sister. "Until her death?" she clarified.

Artemis nodded. "I swear it."

Aphrodite sighed and released arms after they shook on it. "I swear, you warrior types are so damn dramatic." She walked past her sister.

Artemis was amused because the Goddess of Love could be far more dramatic. "You will not regret this, sis."

Aphrodite peered over her shoulder. Her eyes flashed red, and she stated, "If I do then so will you." She snapped her fingers, which forced her sister to leave her personal quarters on Mount Olympus. She still heard Artemis's low chuckle, which made her sigh. Then another thought came to mind. "What in Hades does one wear for a fortnight on the road?" She realized exactly what she had promised Gabrielle. "What was I thinking?" Aphrodite knew she had not been thinking clearly, even though she was doing it for Gabrielle.

"This totally blows!"

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Gabrielle grabbed the next branch and lifted herself up higher. She wedged her boot into a knot in the trunk and used it to get to her destination. She smiled once she stood on her favorite branch that overlooked the valley below her. From the pistachio tree, Gabrielle was able to gaze upon the Amazon village nestled in the foothill of the valley. Even though it was dark, she saw the torch light and slight movement from within the village's walls.

Gabrielle sat on the branch, legs straddled the branch. She leaned against the trunk and mused about her day. She had performed a lot of training with the weapons master, Eponin. Several times she was paired with either Ephiny or Princess Terreis for practice. Ephiny was a strong fighter, and Gabrielle had learned a lot from Ephiny.

Princess Terreis was also an excellent fighter, but she and Terreis often chatted while they fought. Eponin was displeased every time she caught the pair talking so much. On occasions, it was bad enough that she and the princess had do long distance running as punishment. Gabrielle rarely minded because it meant more time with Terreis. It seemed as if Terreis felt the same way. Gabrielle considered whether Master Eponin would ever figure out the punishment was more a reward. She hoped not.

For over two years, Gabrielle was growing into a strong Amazon in the nation. She was well liked by all, even the stoic Queen Melosa. Gabrielle had developed several friendships with Ephiny, Terreis, Solari, and Rhode. However, Gabrielle often found excuses to spend more time with Terreis. She greatly adored the princess's personality and admired Terreis's body.

Gabrielle grew flushed at the memory of having to perform hand-to-hand combat with Terreis. Their practice finished with a good wrestle on the ground and several Amazons hooting at them.

Gabrielle pushed away the memory and was thankful the evening summer breeze eased her heated face. She had been a little too close to Terreis that day, even if she loved it. Thankfully Terreis never showed any signs of being leery of Gabrielle. She wished to keep her friendship with Terreis and especially not anger Queen Melosa.

Gabrielle dropped her head against the trunk. She tilted her head to one side and smiled at the Amazon Nation. She was eternally grateful that Aphrodite had brought her here. In Potidaea, her wildest imagination would have lacked to conjure up such a life as this one. If she had remained in her hometown, she would have bore a child by now and be pregnant with another. Gabrielle still wanted a child or two, but she was happy to be an Amazon and free. Aphrodite had saved her life that day.

On occasions, Gabrielle still saw Aphrodite, who usually visited her and asked what was new. Lately she missed the Goddess of Love and had yet to see her in nearly three moons. She hoped Aphrodite was okay, even if she was a goddess. Still, Gabrielle looked upon Aphrodite as family after leaving her real family.

For a fortnight, Aphrodite guided and led Gabrielle west to the Amazon Nation. The first night on the road was the scariest because there was no safe location between Potidaea and the next village. Gabrielle had grown too tired to travel further. Like the mortal, Aphrodite understood the dangers the open roads posed, especially to a young woman.

Aphrodite took one of Gabrielle's ideas to heart and instructed Gabrielle to climb into a tree. Gabrielle had done so and asked what next. Aphrodite vanished and reappeared on the branch behind the mortal. She instructed Gabrielle to rest against her.

For the night, Gabrielle slept in her protector's arms. She was warm and safe from the world. She and Aphrodite were left alone, never seen by the few bandits that passed by on the road. At day break, Aphrodite used her powers to feed the hungry mortal. Then their journey west continued until they made it to the next village. Aphrodite had Gabrielle sleep in her temple at the village. From there, they were able to travel from village to village and used each of Aphrodite's temples as an inn. They arrived at the Amazon Nation in a fortnight, as Aphrodite promised. Her following anni were filled with excitement as she learned to be an Amazon.

Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes. She considered what her future would be like as an Amazon. She had learned so much and earned just as much. She could ride horses, bareback. Then she learned how to wield a sword. Her skills as a fighter were excelling, which amazed her after her clumsy adventures as a kid. And the Amazons pressed education, including reading and writing. Gabrielle was an academic star and especially loved to read and write. There were numerous gifts Gabrielle loved about her life that she would have lost if she married Perdicus. Thank the gods. Gabrielle corrected herself and instead thanked Aphrodite. She also thanked Artemis because she was the patron goddess of the Amazons.

Opening her eyes, Gabrielle decided it was time to retire for the night. She had a long day of training and felt rather sore from it. She liked the soreness because it reminded her how hard she worked today. Carefully, she descended the tree and brushed the dirt off her hands. Gabrielle started down to the nation.

On the village's wall, an Amazon waved Gabrielle through the gates. She stood near the open gate and watched Gabrielle enter the village. She then returned to her patrol duty and kept an eye open for trouble.

Gabrielle weaved through the village until she came to her hut. She had considered going to see Terreis, but it was a bit late. She retired to her own hut and decided to get ready for bed. She unhooked her sword from her back first and placed it near her bed roll. She then started with her boots. Once only in her leathers, she went into the small bathroom to wash up.

Gabrielle exited the small bath and went to the open window. She hooked the mat over it and then grabbed her clean shift. Just as she was about to change, she sensed a tingle across her chest. Gabrielle smiled as the Goddess of Love formed in front of her.

"Aphrodite," Gabrielle warmly greeted.

"Hey, sweet pea." Aphrodite opened her arms.

Gabrielle laughed and tossed her shift onto the bedroll. She jumped into Aphrodite's welcoming embrace and hugged her tightly.

Aphrodite held the Amazon close and felt happy to see her. "How's my favorite Amazon doing?"

"Great," Gabrielle quickly answered. She withdrew but Aphrodite held her shoulders. "I've missed you," she admitted.

"Aw, Gabs." Aphrodite now cupped the mortal's cheeks. "I am sorry." She ran her thumb along Gabrielle's jaw line. "Does it help I'm here now?" She enjoyed how Gabrielle's nose crinkled up.

"Always," Gabrielle whispered. She had a genuine smile at seeing her favorite.

"So what's been shakin'?" Aphrodite released the Amazon and placed her hands on her hips. She wore her usual pink chiton, but she had an armband over her right bicep.

Gabrielle took a deep breath.

Aphrodite raised an eyebrow and drew out, "Is there something going on, sweet pea?"

Gabrielle bit her bottom lip then admitted, "I could use your advice."

The Goddess of Love held up a hand. "You got it." She indicated the unlit fireplace and offered, "Let's girl talk." She started over to the fireplace.

Gabrielle was prepared to start a fire until a small bolt of light hit the fireplace. She shook her head at the roaring fire.

Aphrodite sat on the bear skin and waited until Gabrielle was next to her. "Is there something wrong?" She had a serious look.

"No… no." Gabrielle rubbed the back of her neck.

Aphrodite leaned to the side and went wide eye. "You cut your hair shorter."

Gabrielle dropped her hand to her lap. "Yes but that's not it." She noticed Aphrodite was admiring her short hair that went to her shoulders. "It makes it easier to fight." She ran her fingers through her blond hair. "I might make it shorter, actually."

"Totally go for it." Aphrodite adored the look and loved the idea of an even shorter style. She then mentioned, "You look older somehow."

"I am almost seventeen."

"I know… end of the summer," Aphrodite whispered. She knew the exact day and time of Gabrielle's birth. She switched back to the original topic. "Sssoooo?"

Gabrielle sighed and looked down at her lap. "Everything is going well." She peered up at the goddess. "Truly," she insisted.

"But?"

Again, Gabrielle bit her lip in nervous fashion.

"Come on, Gabs." Aphrodite poked the mortal with her elbow. "You know you can tell me anything."

Gabrielle nodded then finally whispered, "I like Terreis." She cleared her throat. "I mean really like her."

"The princess?" Aphrodite checked. After the mortal's nod, she grinned and teased, "Of course you would pick somebody from the royal line."

Gabrielle groaned, loudly. "That is the problem." She clenched her hands in her lap. "Queen Melosa will have my head if I try anything with her sister."

"That is if Terreis is not interested," Aphrodite countered. She curiously studied the Amazon. "Is she interested in you?"

Gabrielle parted her lips, about to reply. But, she shook her head and looked down at her crossed legs. "I'm…" She met Aphrodite's curious gaze. "Not sure."

Aphrodite gave a wicked grin and asked, "Have you asked her?" She could tell Gabrielle's answer so she pressed on by suggesting, "You should totally talk to her, Gabs."

"But what if she is not interested in me?"

The goddess shrugged and countered, "And what if she is?"

Gabrielle sighed heavily and looked over at the fire, which was quite warm. "I understand your point."

Aphrodite reached over and touched the Amazon's knee. "Talk to her." From what she had learned about the Amazons, she knew that Terreis was a talker, like Gabrielle.

"I just…" Gabrielle sighed and met the goddess's eyes. "After what happened before… in Potidaea."

Aphrodite frowned at the mention of old memories. "Sweet pea, you are not in Potidaea anymore." She squeezed the knee under her palm. "You know yourself that many Amazons have another for a life mate."

"Yes but what if Terreis is not…"

"Like you?" Aphrodite finished. After Gabrielle's nod, she sighed and patted the Amazon's knee. "That is part of the risk." She had a reassuring smile now. "But, I think you would rather know than never at all."

Gabrielle had to agree that she needed to know Terreis's feelings, good or bad. "It's been so long."

Aphrodite was still concerned about her friend's worries. "Helena was a long time ago, Gabs." She found curious green eyes locked on her. "And you are safe here."

Gabrielle sadly smiled because the goddess was right. She nodded and promised, "I will talk to her… tomorrow."

"That's my girl," Aphrodite whispered. She was proud of her friend confronting old fears.

However, Gabrielle's thoughts remained on her hometown that she had left two years ago. She hung her head, which was unusual for her. She cleared her throat and whispered, "I still think about my family…even Perdicus."

"Do you regret leaving Potidaea?"

Gabrielle flexed her taut jaw a few times, and it helped calm her emotions. She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "I do not regret it." She looked at the goddess again. "I miss Lila and mother often. I wonder if they think I am dead or a slave."

Aphrodite reached over and took the Amazon's hand into hers. She squeezed gently. "They are okay." Many times she had checked on Gabrielle's family, but she kept that secret to herself because she interfered enough in Gabrielle's life.

"One day I wish to go back," Gabrielle voiced. "Not to stay but to… see them."

Aphrodite considered her friend's wishes and squeezed the smaller hand in hers.

"I know it may not be safe," Gabrielle whispered. "But I do not believe mother or Lila would harm me."

"But your father…"

Gabrielle ran her hand over her face to wipe the worry off. "I am unsure," she weakly admitted. She suspected her father would be after her, especially after losing the dowry. She trembled at the thought even though she was becoming a trained warrior. Gabrielle remembered her father's heavy hand.

"It's not something you must decide now," Aphrodite reminded.

"I know," Gabrielle whispered. It was Aphrodite's way of telling her to put the idea aside for later. She happily did so. "How have you been?"

Aphrodite gave a smile and shrugged. "Nothing especially new." She released Gabrielle's hand and leaned back onto her hands. "A new temple in Corinth has kept me so busy."

"A new temple?" Gabrielle was amazed by the news.

Aphrodite tilted her head. "Well, the first temple was small and way crowded so they built a new one."

Gabrielle chuckled and then mentioned, "I have always wanted to see Corinth… and Athens… Sparta too."

Aphrodite grinned and explained, "Each city it quite different than the other one."

"Have you visited Crete?"

Aphrodite sat up and waved a hand at Gabrielle. "One of my favorites, after the island of Lesbos."

"I know that island's name," Gabrielle muttered.

Aphrodite chuckled and simply stated, "Sappho." She enjoyed Gabrielle's bright look.

"That is why." Gabrielle had a huge smile. "She is a famous poet from Lesbos." She sighed and murmured, "I would love to see her perform."

Aphrodite smirked and joked, "Perform what?"

Gabrielle had befuddled look and replied, "Her poetry."

The goddess still had her smirk, and she gave a nod. "I am sure." She patted the Amazon's thigh and started to stand up.

"You are leaving? Already?" Gabrielle popped up and tilted her head back. She realized she would never match Aphrodite's height.

Aphrodite nearly replied until Gabrielle cut her off first.

"Can you stay?" Gabrielle took her friend's hands into hers and stepped closer. "Stay the night with me."

Aphrodite bit her bottom lip as she considered Gabrielle's dangerous request. There were past times that Aphrodite held Gabrielle at night early on because Gabrielle wept for her family. Once Gabrielle adjusted to her new life in the nation then Aphrodite left her alone at night. Nowadays it was a different matter because Gabrielle was growing into an adult. Gabrielle was a woman to be admired and wanted, on many levels.

"Gabs, I-"

"We hardly see each other anymore."

Aphrodite swallowed hard. She was losing against the mortal's demands. Like Gabrielle, she had missed their time together. Aphrodite struggled to keep a certain distance from her friend as of lately, but right now she was failing at it. Gabrielle's beautiful green eyes broke her resolve.

"Alright," Aphrodite softly consented.

Gabrielle was pleased and smiled brightly. "Thank you," she sincerely offered. She moved away from the goddess.

Aphrodite blew out a low breath and muttered, "Way to hold your ground, Dity." She looked over at Gabrielle and quickly averted her eyes because Gabrielle was changing into a night shift.

Gabrielle was ready to lie down. She set her leathers on the chair before she crawled into the bedroll.

"Oh for Zeus's sake… I hate these damn things." Aphrodite loathed the hard bedrolls and wished she was on Mount Olympus with her bed.

Gabrielle softly laughed as she became comfortable under the furs. She shifted to her right, which gave her friend more room. "Perhaps I will be queen one day so I can have a bed too."

"I would be so lucky then." Aphrodite traded a grin with her friend. She removed her sandals and used her magic to change into a pink night shift instantly. "What I do for you, mortal."

"That's because I am your favorite," Gabrielle teased. She turned on her side after Aphrodite settled into the bedroll beside her.

"Well listen to you." Aphrodite huffed as she adjusted the furs around her body. "I do have other mortals I favor."

Gabrielle smirked and teased, "But not like me."

Aphrodite turned on her side and studied the Amazon, but Gabrielle's face was turned away from her. She sighed, loudly. Gabrielle's words were a tease, yet they were true too. Aphrodite moved in closer and snaked her arms around the mortal's waist.

Gabrielle closed her eyes once her back molded into Aphrodite's larger figure. Instantly her troubles about Princess Terreis and the future talk faded from her mind. Slowly Aphrodite's warmth eased Gabrielle's sore body from today's training.

"You totally are my fav," the goddess whispered into Gabrielle's ear. Aphrodite could admit it to Gabrielle, only.

Gabrielle softly chuckled. "I know." She shifted her arm until her hand covered Aphrodite's own. She released a content breath and started to drift off.

"Sleep well, Gabs." Aphrodite heard a low murmur from her friend then came Gabrielle's soft exhales. She wondered how Gabrielle could fall asleep so quickly, as if Aphrodite had placed a sleeping spell on her. For some time, Aphrodite considered the recent changes her favorite mortal had gone through since Gabrielle joined the Amazons.

Once upon a time, Gabrielle had been a depressed and betrothed village girl about to hastily visit Hades. However, Aphrodite changed Gabrielle's path for the better. Within the Amazon Nation, Gabrielle was guarded by Aphrodite's half sister, Artemis, and given a safe haven from bigotry. The Fates had forecasted a different life for Gabrielle, until Aphrodite intervened in Gabrielle's destiny. Now the Fates were at a loss as to the mortal's future, but it was a future directed by Artemis. Aphrodite only cared for Gabrielle's well being.

Gabrielle was growing into an extraordinary warrior. It was plainly obvious to Aphrodite as she held the muscular body close to hers. Where there had once been a kid's pudgy body now was molded into a strong woman. Aphrodite was well aware of many Amazon's keen eye for Gabrielle. On several occasions, Aphrodite visited the nation under the cloak of invisibility and watched Gabrielle's development in secret. Plenty of times she saw Amazons goggle over her favorite mortal. Aphrodite had been tempted to zap an Amazon or two for some of their more lustful thoughts. The goddess withstrained herself though.

Tonight's talk about Princess Terreis was hardly a surprise to Aphrodite. She had considered how long it would be before her friend selected a potential partner. In the goddess's opinion, Princess Terreis would be a fool not to return Gabrielle's affections. However, Aphrodite left that up to the mortals rather than making Gabrielle's wishes come true. There was a major difference between true love and enchanted love.

Not able to truly sleep, the goddess slowed her mind until she was able to rest. She rarely spent quiet time because she had so many things to attend to as a goddess. She in fact was thankful to have this time with Gabrielle. Aphrodite drew her favorite mortal slightly closer because as she did so, she realized that it perhaps was the last time.

By dawn, Gabrielle started to stir awake. She stretched in the bed roll and then only noticed the fact she was alone. She peered over her shoulder and discovered that her sleeping partner was long gone. Gabrielle was unsure when Aphrodite left her, but it was quite normal.

Gabrielle sat up and scrubbed her face. She cleared her throat and whispered, "Thank you, Dity." She hoped the goddess heard her.

Shortly, Gabrielle was out of the hut and headed directly to the dining hut where her friends most likely waited for her. She wore her usual leathers that she practiced in since she joined the nation. On occasions, she had them refitted as she grew and also developed muscle. She was now on her third pair of boots.

"Good morning, Gabrielle," Ephiny greeted.

Solari offered the same greeting when Gabrielle sat down with them at a round table. She then spotted Princess Terreis coming in next.

Gabrielle followed Solari's gaze to Princess Terreis, who was getting food. Her heart fluttered, and she quickly turned back to her food. She cleared her throat.

Ephiny raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle's strange motions, but she said nothing. "I think we are practicing archery on horseback today."

"Oh gods," Solari complained. She covered her face with her left hand. "My two least favorite things."

Gabrielle chuckled and traded a grin with Ephiny.

Ephiny's eyes cut to the entrance again, and she noted Rhode coming in last. Shortly, the entire group sat at the table together while other Amazons came and went in the dining hut. Princess Terreis took her usual spot between Gabrielle and Rhode.

"You hear we are suppose to do archery on horseback," Solari brought up to Princess Terreis.

Terreis brightened at the news. "I love archery."

"You are so good at it," Gabrielle compliment.

Terreis turned to her friend and argued, "But you are better at horseback."

Gabrielle prayed she held back from a blush. "Perhaps we can trade pointers."

Ephiny rolled her eyes and looked at Solari.

Solari shook her head because this was fairly normal for the pair.

Rhode nudged the princess and teased, "As long as it's only pointers you both trade because Master Eponin has you two in her sights."

Terreis laughed and argued, "Yet we are her best pupils."

"Oh please," Ephiny cut into the conversation. "Solari just beat you yesterday."

"I was having an off day," Terreis debated.

"I bested Solari the day before that," Gabrielle spoke up.

Solari held up her hands for silence then pointed at Rhode. "I bested Rhode three days ago."

Rhode popped up to her full height but leaned over the table, towards Solari. "You want to have another go?" A twinkle shined in her eyes.

Solari smirked at Rhode. "I rather not put your face in the mud again."

After those words, Rhode glowered and pointed at Solari. "You will have your chance in the mud." She sat down calmly, too calmly.

Ephiny's attention had been drawn away by the newcomers at the entrance. "Look," she softly told the others.

All four heads turned at the same time. Five curious Amazons studied the newcomers, who were Amazons but not from their nation.

"Who is that?" Gabrielle questioned.

Princess Terreis took the question. "My sister said two new Amazons were transferring to our nation."

"From what other nation?" Solari asked.

Terreis looked at the group. "I think the nation down in Lacedonia."

"Do you know their names?" Rhode prompted.

Terreis shook her head. "No."

Gabrielle considered the two newcomers' awkward motions in the dining hut. It was obvious they were getting their bearings. She popped out of her chair. "We shall learn them then." She left her group of friends.

"What is she doing?" Solari asked first.

Ephiny glanced at Solari then back to Gabrielle approaching the newcomers. "I believe inviting them to our table."

"That is nice of her," Terreis stated.

Solari sighed, dramatically. She earned a smack to her side from Ephiny.

"Hi," Gabrielle offered to the two strangers. She smiled when the two Amazons turned to her. "I am Gabrielle." She held out her arm to the Amazon on the right.

The Amazon took a step closer and took the arm in a strong grip. "My name is Velasca." Her features were stoic and slightly removed.

Gabrielle nodded and then turned to the other Amazon, who had wavy blond hair. Again, she offered her arm.

"I'm Callisto," the second Amazon introduced. She had a genuine smile and held tightly to Gabrielle's arm. There was a hint of appreciation in her eyes as she looked over Gabrielle.

Gabrielle released arms and offered, "Welcome to the Macedon Nation." She half turned and pointed at her table of friends. "When you're ready to sit, you can join us."

"Thank you," Callisto offered. She glanced at Velasca, who seemed less inclined to join them. "We will do that."

Gabrielle nodded and broke away from the newcomers. She returned to her seat with her friends. She waited for the questions to start, but she told her friends that they would learn more shortly.

Callisto and Velasca soon joined the group and sat side by side. Callisto sat to Gabrielle's left while Velasca was closest to Solari. Gabrielle politely performed introductions then sat down again.

"You both are from Lacedonia?" Princess Terreis questioned.

"Yes, Princess," Velasca replied.

Terreis shook her head and insisted, "Just call me Terreis."

"Very well," Velasca granted.

"Why did you both transfer here?" Solari asked next.

Velasca allowed Callisto to go first.

"I am from Cirra," Callisto started.

"You wanted to be closer to home," Rhode suspected.

"My brother still lives in Cirra," Callisto added. She then looked at Velasca.

Velasca sighed and simply answered, "I wished for a change." She felt Callisto's smirk so she met it with a glare.

Ephiny suspected there was a lot more to it than just a change of scenery. Most likely Callisto knew more about Velasca's history since they came from the same nation.

"Well, you will enjoy it here," Gabrielle promised. "Have you been given a tour of the nation?"

"Not yet," Callisto answered. She tilted her head and added, "We are to meet Queen Melosa after breakfast."

"Is my sister giving you a tour then?"

"She is," Velasca answered the princess. She then looked at Callisto, who was done her meal. "We should go too."

Callisto revealed a wolfish smile. "Of course, dearie." She picked up her wood plate and bid goodbye to everybody. She noted Velasca's rushed attitude.

Solari's eyes followed the newcomers out of the hut. She frowned and quietly stated, "Lacedonian Amazons are always abrasive and rude."

"I thought they were nice," Terreis argued.

Rhode huffed. "You would think Cerberus is nice."

Terreis smacked Rhode on the side. "They didn't have three heads and snarling at us."

Gabrielle chuckled at the pair. However, she felt different about the newcomers than the princess. She was uneasy about Velasca, for an odd reason. And Callisto was simply different. It was true that Lacedonian Amazons could be abrasive, but it was their culture.

After breakfast, the group of friends started to the training fields where Master Eponin waited for them. Their first order of business was to warm up followed by the usual sword drills, performed solo. Then they practiced sword techniques in pairs. As usual, Gabrielle was paired off with Terreis. However, this time, Gabrielle and Terreis were rather quiet than normal. Master Eponin assumed her threats about long distance running had finally paid off with them.

By early afternoon, the trainees had finished their midday meal and then were sent to the stables. Gabrielle looked forward to riding, but she was a bit leery about the archery. She would do her best though. Solari, on the other hand, complained the entire time while they were in the stable and tacked the horses.

As the group exited the stable, Master Eponin arrived with the two new Amazons that had transferred to the nation. Master Eponin prepared to introduce Callisto and Velasca, but Gabrielle explained they had already met this morning. Master Eponin was pleased and instead directed Callisto and Velasca into the stable. She showed them how to prep a horse to ride.

Meanwhile, the five Amazons outside the stable vaulted into the saddles and patiently waited for Master Eponin.

Shortly, the entire group joined together outside of the stable. Master Eponin remained on her feet, but she guided her gelding through the village. She indicated they would go to the weapons hut first. Once at the hut, she ordered Gabrielle and Callisto to help her. She hitched her horse then led the way into the weapons hut.

"We need bows and quivers for everybody," Eponin ordered the pair. "Make sure there's enough arrows in the quivers." She went to a scroll that the nation used as a log. She took a quill and started writing what she was taking from the hut.

"Come on." Gabrielle had Callisto follow her deeper into the hut. "Have you been back to Cirra?" She went around a table and stepped in front of a tall rack that held numerous strung bows.

"Once… about two anni ago." Callisto studied the wall of bows. "Which do we need?"

"Recurve," Gabrielle replied. She stepped forward and pulled a few off. "Cirra is not far from here."

Callisto smiled at the other Amazon's knowledge. "Not at all." She took three bows, and Gabrielle took the other four. She followed Gabrielle out of the hut to the others. They distributed the bows quickly then returned to the hut.

Gabrielle came to the table full of various arrows. She ran her fingertips through the fletching but looked at Callisto. "How did you end up in Lacedonia?"

"I was a slave," Callisto answered.

Gabrielle paused beside the table.

Callisto continued past and went to the opposite wall from the bows. She studied the filled quivers that hung on pegs. "An Amazon purchased me from my owner before he beat me to death."

Gabrielle let out a low breath. She joined Callisto's side. "I'm sorry."

Callisto smiled, darkly at Gabrielle. "I am not." She stepped forward and pulled the quivers free. She hooked several of them in her hands.

Gabrielle did the same and listened to Callisto's next words.

"If it was not for the Amazon, my brains would be dried all over the stones in Sparta by now." Callisto chuckled at Gabrielle's wide eye expression. "When you are a slave with a mouth, you can only pay for it in blood, not coin."

Gabrielle blew out a breath and followed behind the other Amazon. "I am glad you are an Amazon now." She passed Callisto and started distributing the quivers.

Callisto glanced over at Gabrielle, who had her back to her. She smiled at Gabrielle's last words then she focused on handing out the quivers. The last one she slung over her shoulder and lifted the strap over her head.

"Mount up," Master Eponin ordered Callisto and Gabrielle. She waited until they were on the horses, like her, then started out of the village. She announced that today was their first practice with mounted archery. Behind her, she distinctly heard Gabrielle and Princess Terreis chatting about something. Eponin sighed heavily and prayed for those two's sakes.

Perhaps Artemis or even Aphrodite would smile down upon them because Master Eponin had other plans for the two obvious love birds.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Gabrielle instantly ducked as the sword blade went over her head. She nearly stumbled to get away from her opponent, not quite ready for such a rush. Gabrielle raised her sword in time, and it connected with the other blade.

Callisto hissed and brought her blade around towards Gabrielle's side. Her attack was parried. She surged forward and pressed the other Amazon harder.

Gabrielle was surprised by Callisto's fast pace, but she hastily adjusted for it. She matched Callisto's attack each time and finally started on the offense.

Callisto laughed once Gabrielle countered her attacks. She loved a good opponent. All around her, the other Amazons were sparring on the field. She was happy that Velasca had been paired with somebody other than her. For the past fortnight, she had sparred with Velasca, and it was a total bore. Gabrielle was far more exhilarating and encouraged Callito's skills.

"You fight… differently than… us," Gabrielle said in a gasp. She shoved Callisto's blade from her face.

Callisto jumped back and bounced on her feet. Her left hand was up while her blade was diagonal to her chest. "Lacedonian Amazons are taught to blitz attack their opponent."

"I will keep that in mind," Gabrielle noted. She lunged at Callisto, who gave a low, sharp cry.

"You fight… well," Callisto complimented. Her words caught Gabrielle off guard, and Callisto took the advantage. She knocked Gabrielle's feet out from under her then brought her blade around until the tip was under Gabrielle's chin. "Almost," she taunted.

Gabrielle remained still. She mentally berated herself for her own foolishness. She felt Master Eponin's icy glare on her.

Callisto drew the blade tip away, stepped forward, and knelt some with her hand extended to her opponent. Her long fingers locked around Gabrielle's wrist, and she helped Gabrielle up.

"Again, Gabrielle," Master Eponin ordered.

Gabrielle sighed and looked at Callisto, who chuckled at the situation. "She can be Master Pain in the Ass at times," she softly joked. She traded her xiphos between her hands until she settled it in her right hand.

Callisto chuckled again and pointed a finger at Gabrielle. "You should hope she has bad hearing."

Gabrielle shrugged and mentioned, "We sometimes call her Master Epic because of the drills she has us do."

Callisto tapped her blade against Gabrielle's sword. "You will thank her later." Suddenly, she came at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle spun out of the way and felt Callisto breeze past her. She smirked at Callisto's glare. She waved Callisto on and grinned as they met blades.

A few rows down, Princess Terreis stole another glance at Gabrielle and Callisto. She was jarred by Ephiny's kick at her sword hand, but she retained her sword.

"Mind your surroundings, princess." Ephiny traded strikes with the princess. "A little put off that Gabrielle was paired with Callisto rather than you."

Princess Terreis shot a glare at Ephiny. She went on the offense and quietly replied, "Have you not noticed how she looks at Gabrielle?"

Ephiny shrugged. "Callisto has good taste." She twisted on her boots just before Terreis's blade nicked her bare stomach. "Why so concern?" she asked as she back stepped twice.

"No reason," Terreis snapped. She was normally cheery, but Ephiny's question grinded against her chipper mood.

Ephiny moved fast and went between Terreis's defenses. She hooked Terreis's sword arm with her arm then jerked the princess closer. "Then why are you so jealous?" Ephiny whispered into Terreis's ear.

"I am not," Terreis snapped.

Ephiny added pressure to Terreis's locked arm. "Don't lie," she murmured. "We have been friends for too long."

Terreis deserved the pain that Ephiny applied to her arm. She gritted her teeth and asked, "You have not told her?"

Ephiny leaned in closer, her strength warred with Terreis's own for dominance. "No," she promised. She looked across the field towards Callisto and Gabrielle. "But, you should talk to her soon… before it's too late."

Terreis gritted her teeth then broke the lock with a fast knee to Ephiny's gut. She wrenched free and drew a few steps back. She pointed the blade towards Ephiny. "I will."

Ephiny smiled at Terreis's words. She continued the sparring until Master Eponin told them it was time to break. She, Terreis, and the other Amazons gathered around Eponin, who spoke about the next practices.

"We have been working hard at the mounted archery for a fortnight now," Master Eponin started. "Tomorrow we will have a small competition for mounted archery."

Solari softly groaned and bowed her head. She hated mounted archery the more they practiced it.

"But," Eponin started, "there is one thing we will do differently that we have not done yet." She studied her students' faces. "You will wear your armor… full armor."

Princess Terreis smiled brightly at the prospect to compete tomorrow.

Callisto chuckled at Solari's dramatic sigh. She folded her arms and gazed over at Gabrielle, who stood next to Terreis and Rhode. She let out a frustrated breath and focused on Master Eponin. It was plainly obvious to Callisto that the princess and Gabrielle had eyes for each other.

After Master Eponin finished her explanation about tomorrow, she told the Amazons to complete their afternoon with a few laps around the sparring field. She left the sparring field as her students completed the laps.

Princess Terreis and Gabrielle ran together, like most times. After the laps, the young Amazons headed back to the villas as a group. They chatted about tomorrow's competition that would be no easy task, especially knowing Master Eponin. Just as everybody parted ways so they could prepare for supper, Princess Terreis pulled Gabrielle aside.

Gabrielle grew nervous even though she seemed calm on the outside. Over a fortnight ago, she had planned to talk to Terreis about their friendship. However, Gabrielle lost her nerve and continued to swear to do it the next day. Now a fortnight had passed since she and Aphrodite spoke about it.

"Do you want to go for a walk later? Maybe after supper," Terreis offered.

Gabrielle smiled and nodded. "I would love that." It would be a warm night with a nearly full moon.

Terreis returned the smile. "Great… then I will see you at supper."

Gabrielle nodded and watched the princess leave. She let out a low breath and ran her fingers through her short hair. She returned to her hut and washed up after such a long day of training with Master Eponin. She prayed she would pass her final test by the end of the summer.

At supper, the dining hut was lively with chatter from all the Amazons. Everybody sat in their usual groups and some moved between groups. The priestess performed the typical blessing for the food and nation. Gabrielle sat on the edge of her seat the entire meal, and she ate less than normal. She noticed Terreis had the same difficulty.

After dinner, the two friends left together and started to the gates that were always guarded by two or three Amazons. The guards allowed them to pass and told them to be safe. Gabrielle had her xiphos hooked at her back and Princess Terreis carried her blade but also a bow and arrows. Together, they traveled up the hill and headed towards Gabrielle's favorite tree.

"You did really well today," Terreis mentioned.

Gabrielle blushed at the compliment. "Thank you." She hesitated some but brought up what she saw on the sparring field. "I saw you had trouble with Ephiny." She groaned at her own words and hastily added, "She always bests me."

Terreis chuckled and shook her head. She put more effort into her hike up the hillside. "Eph is such a skilled warrior." She offered Gabrielle a smile. "Just like you."

"I am not as good as Ephiny."

The princess waited until she was over the top and on the ridge. "I think you will be better than her one day." She waited until Gabrielle was at her side. "I love it up here."

Gabrielle studied Terreis's soft features under the moonlight. "It is beautiful." Like the princess, the studied the rolling hills of Macedon. She felt blessed to live in such lands. "It's nothing like Potidaea."

"It was flat lands?"

"Not flat but… we were surrounded by water." Gabrielle shook her head and looked at Terreis. "It was different than here."

Terreis understood what Gabrielle meant by her words. She held out her hand in offer. "Come with me."

Gabrielle faltered for a beat as her mind skipped to her childhood days with Helena. She shoved them away and finally took Terreis's warm hand. She and Terreis continued the walk along the ridge, further from the nation's eye.

"How did you like sparring with Callisto?" the princess inquired.

Gabrielle still held the princess's hand. She looked away from the rolling lands to Terreis's features. She thought she heard a strangled tone in Terreis's voice. "She is very good. She fights rather different than how we fight."

Terreis nodded. She was quiet as she considered her next words carefully. "Callisto seems to..." She faltered and came to a slow stop along the ridge. She turned to Gabrielle. "Well she seems to have taken a liking to you."

Gabrielle was startled by the statement. She stared at Terreis as if she had two heads. "I… I don't think…"

Terreis squeezed the smaller hand in hers. "Gabrielle, it is pretty obvious." She shook her head and added, "Even Ephiny noticed it."

Gabrielle frowned because she hardly noticed Callisto's affections for her. "It's hardly… it's not…" She lost her words.

Terreis moved in closer and decided to take the first risk. "Do you return her interests?"

"No," Gabrielle sharply answered. She sighed and more calmly repeated, "No… I do not, Terreis." She caught the relief in Terreis's expression. "I actually… I…"

Terreis smiled at Gabrielle's hesitation. She reached up and hooked Gabrielle's arm with her freehand. "You what?"

Gabrielle swore her heart was pounding directly in her ears. Yet, her chest hammered hard even though the next deep breath did nothing to help her. She gathered her courage and whispered, "I… I've been…" She sighed and willed herself to say it aloud. "I've been interested in you… for awhile now." Gabrielle swore her knees were reverting to childhood when she was clumsy and would fall all the time. Any beat she would collapse to the ground. However, Terreis's broad smile gave her hope.

"I have too," Terreis softly confessed. "Ever since you came to the nation, I have had my eyes on you."

Gabrielle released a huge breath and hung her head. But, Terreis hooked Gabrielle's chin and lifted her head up again. "Terreis, I thought…"

Terreis sadly smiled at Gabrielle's unfinished words. "You thought wrong," Terreis stated. Her smile warmed again when Gabrielle started to smile too. She then lowered her hand from Gabrielle's arm to her hip. Terreis leaned in closer and started a soft kiss.

Gabrielle squeezed Terreis's hand tighter. Her initial panic made her still until she felt Terreis's soft touch against her cheek. Gabrielle remembered how to kiss and allowed her lips to respond to Terreis's fuller ones. She pressed their lips closer and slowly their tongues met in an unsure touch. Gabrielle leaned into Terreis as their tongues moved against each other.

Terreis softly hummed as they drew apart. She still held Gabrielle's hand, and she ran her thumb across Gabrielle's flush cheek. She had never experienced a sweeter kiss.

Gabrielle cleared her throat and hesitantly asked, "What… does this mean?"

Terreis chuckled and parted from Gabrielle but kept their hands together. "Come on." She pulled Gabrielle with her. "We were going on a walk together."

Gabrielle nearly tripped over herself, but she took Terreis's side again. "Terreis?" she attempted again.

The princess softly smiled at Gabrielle. "I am not completely sure what this means. What would you like it to mean, Gabrielle?"

Carefully Gabrielle thought about it and then posed, "I am just concerned about Queen Melosa."

Terreis went a few more steps then stopped and faced Gabrielle. "Why does my sister matter?"

"Because she is the queen," Gabrielle reminded.

Terreis sighed. She understood many Amazons' reservations about her sister. Queen Melosa was forthright and quite headstrong. She was rather different than her sister, sometimes. "I actually talked to Melosa about it."

Gabrielle went wide eye.

Terreis held up her freehand between them. "I did not bring your name into it."

Gabrielle let out a huge breath. "Then what was said?"

"I asked her if she was okay with me being with another Amazon," Terreis explained.

"And?"

Terreis shrugged and replied, "She said yes, in a few… specific words."

"What does that mean?" Gabrielle countered.

The princess grumbled and moved in closer to Gabrielle. "It means she would be okay with this." She indicated their close bodies.

"Are you sure?"

Terreis leveled a stern look that mirrored an expression Melosa would give to her senior officers. "Yes, Gabrielle."

For a moment, Gabrielle considered it then nodded. "Okay."

Terreis gave a slight smile. "Okay what?"

Gabrielle smiled at the princess. "Okay I want to try this."

Terreis was pleased and squeezed Gabrielle's hand. "Thank you." She knew it was difficult for Gabrielle, on many levels. "Now, come on." She tugged on Gabrielle's arm. Together, they continued their pleasant walk and held hands for the first time. Eventually they looped around and started back to the Amazon Nation.

Terreis called to the guards, who allowed them to pass. She then headed directly to her hut with Gabrielle at her side.

Quickly Gabrielle realized Terreis's intent so she attempted to stop Terreis. "I don't think this is-"

"It's okay," Terreis insisted. She gave a soft smile. "My sister will be happy for me… both of us. And you have to start at some point... right now is the best time."

"Terreis-"

"Just walk me to my hut," Terreis attempted.

Gabrielle considered it then nodded. She kept her hand in Terreis's larger one. They continued through the villa until they were at the royal hut.

Terreis pushed open the door and was greeted by Melosa seated at the fireplace.

"Hello, sister." Queen Melosa's dark eyes cut from Terreis's happy features to the interlocked hands. Gradually her eyes followed up Gabrielle's arm to her face. "Hello, Gabrielle."

"Good evening, my queen." Gabrielle gave a slight bow. She then turned to Terreis. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"For the competition," Terreis promised.

"Do not forget your armor," Gabrielle reminded. She and Terreis traded a grin. She then hugged Terreis goodnight and whispered a thank you for their walk.

Terreis closed the door after Gabrielle left the hut. She went over to her sister and sat beside her.

"Do you want some cider?" Melosa asked. She still had some warm by the fire.

"That would be nice." Terreis received a warm mug after Melosa poured it for her.

"How was your walk, sister?" Melosa had her mug between her hands. She sat cross legged in front of the fire.

Terreis sipped on her cider then set it down, her hand balanced it. She had her left leg propped up while her right was underneath it. "It went well."

Melosa scratched her nose and considered what she had seen earlier. "You could have told me it was Gabrielle."

Terreis puckered her lips some then she looked at her sister. "Would it have changed the conversation last night?"

Melosa met her younger sister's stare. "Yes." She looked at the fire. "If I had realized it was Gabrielle, I would have been less concerned."

Terreis shrugged and argued, "It is my choice… whether it is Gabrielle or another."

Melosa was quiet for a long moment. She then explained, "Gabrielle is far more competent than many of the others your age." She tilted her head. "I would trust her to do well by you. She will make a fine consort for you."

Terreis went wide eye. "Consort?" She shook her head and explained, "We only kissed tonight and confessed our feelings, sister." She chuckled. "We are not betrothed."

Melosa chuckled and smirked at her younger sister. "However, you both would be married by now in the Man's World."

"Thank Artemis that is not the case," Terreis proclaimed.

"Agreed." Melosa drank the last of her cider. "So, I take it Gabrielle returns your feelings?"

Terreis chuckled and looked at her sister. "Yes." She became serious. "Gabrielle is careful though."

"I suspect prior history," Melosa whispered. She was quiet for a bit then added, "She left her home and family for us." She looked over at her sister. "Have you asked her why?"

Terreis shook her head. "Not yet, but I will one day… soon."

Melosa considered Gabrielle's adventure to leave Potidaea and come to her Amazon Nation. "Gabrielle has more courage than three Amazons combined." She saw her sister's curious look. "It takes a brave young woman to leave her home and travel here alone."

Terreis blew out a low breath. "You are right." She drank the last swallow of cider. She set the mug aside. "How many women do you have that just walk through the gates at random?"

"One a lifetime," Melosa murmured, "And they are always the finest warriors."

Terreis was quiet as she considered her sister's words. It was true that very few women simply walked into the Amazon Nation on their own accord. Most women were brought here by other Amazons. Terreis decided she would ask Gabrielle more about her past.

"I am going to get some rest," Terreis mentioned. She patted her sister's leg. "Thank you for the cider." She leaned over and kissed her sister's cheek. "Night, sister."

"Sleep well, Terreis." Melosa watched her sister go. She sat quietly by the fire and listened to Terreis's movements in the smaller bedroom. She remained in the gathering room until the fire burned out. Melosa finally went to her own room and crawled into bed after a long day.

By dawn, Terreis stirred and found that her sister had already gone. She readied herself and left with her bronze cuirass in hand and helmet tied to it. She already wore her greaves though and left her shield because it was the only item not necessary for the competition. She joined her friends in the dining hut. She took her usual spot beside Gabrielle and Rhode.

Gabrielle already donned her armor. At first, she hated the cuirass until she learned how to maneuver with it. Now she found a certain security from it rather than only being in her leathers. She had it recently modified to accommodate her growing body, and it was becoming a second skin. Her bronze xiphos was sheathed at her side rather than her back. On the table, her helmet sat on its side.

"Good morning," Terreis greeted Gabrielle.

Gabrielle returned the smile. "Hi." She sensed Ephiny's keen observation on them. She returned to her breakfast.

The princess was hardly deterred by Ephiny's watchful eye. She started conversing with the others at the table. They mostly chatted about Master Eponin's competition. It was most obvious that Solari lost sleep over it.

As the group headed to the stables, Ephiny hooked Terreis's arm and drew her a few paces behind everybody. "Did you talk to her?"

"I did," Terreis replied.

Ephiny smiled because she suspected it went well. She looked ahead at Gabrielle, who walked alongside Rhode. "I am really glad."

Terreis let out a low breath. "Me too."

Ephiny grasped her friend by the back of her neck. "You two are…"

"Together?" Terreis finished. "Well, we are working out the details so it's not official." She felt Ephiny's hand go to her shoulder. "Gabrielle is very careful."

Ephiny blew out a breath. "Tell me about it." She had decided days ago to approach Terreis rather than Gabrielle. She knew Terreis much longer than Gabrielle, but Ephiny had grown quite fond of Gabrielle in the last two years. "I can talk to her."

The princess considered the idea and nodded. "I think that would help her."

Ephiny smiled. "Good." She set her mind to it. She and Terreis rejoined the group at the stables. "You better put on your armor before Eponin shows up."

Terreis readily agreed and hastily put on her cuirass. Ephiny helped her tighten the buckles.

"Here comes Master Epic," Solari warned the group. She could tell from Eponin's gait that they were in for an extra hard day. "Oh sweet Artemis, please spare us."

"Too late for that," Velasca piped up.

Everybody went quiet when Master Eponin came up to the seven young Amazons. "Good morning, Amazons." She continued to talk about today's competition and then hastened them to get their horses ready.

The first out with their horse and archery items was the princess. Rhode followed next and mounted her mare. Shortly the entire group was ready, including Master Eponin. Together, they traveled through the nation and left through the gates. It was a short ride across the countryside until they came to the competition field.

Callisto gave a low whistle of appreciation. "Oh my, Master Eponin… how you spoil us."

Eponin smirked at Callisto and shifted in the saddle. "Everybody line up your mounts side by side, and we will go over things."

Gabrielle was on the end with Terreis next to her. She carefully studied the course that Master Eponin had laid out for them. She shook her head and prayed that she could perform well enough for Master Eponin. She looked over at Terreis, who met her gaze.

Terreis winked at her friend then focused on Master Eponin.

After the long explanation, Master Eponin had her students start with a few practice runs. She knew this would take all day, but she planned for the results to tell her about each Amazon's place in the army. It was an important trial for placement. She had certain expectations and also certain guesses, but she allowed her students to show her what they were capable of on horseback and as archers.

The competition started after their midday meal. Ephiny volunteered to go first on the course. Her accuracy was strong, and she hit every target. Many were perfect strikes, but not all of them. She was followed by Rhode and then Velasca. Each Amazon became antsy as their turn approached them. Last to perform the course was the princess.

Master Eponin had long ago dismounted from her horse and stood on a large wood trunk that had been brought out yesterday, just like the competition course. She allowed her horse to graze while she watched each student handle the course. She was rather pleased with their abilities. However, the scores told her that the princess and Gabrielle were tied. It was damn close.

"Solari," Master Eponin called.

Solari was on her feet, beside her horse. She warily went over to Master Eponin. "Yes, Master Eponin?"

"Can you remove the item from this trunk?" Eponin tapped it once with her foot then jumped off it.

Solari unlatched the trunk, lifted the lid, and she sensed everybody looking over her shoulder. She reached in and retrieved a large stuffed figure. She held it up.

"You will need the ropes in there too," Eponin instructed.

Solari picked up the ropes with her freehand. "And then?"

"Then you are to lash the dummy to my horse's saddle."

Solari pieced together what this might mean. She went over to the horse then gave the special whistle. Once Master Eponin's horse laid down, she was able to place the dummy into the saddle. She used the ropes to lash it down tightly.

"We have a tie," Eponin explained. She kicked the lock's bolt across the trunk's lid. She then hopped on the trunk again and folded her arms. She faced the mounted Amazons. "So, we will have a tie breaker." She saw that Solari was done with the dummy. She gave a different whistle, which caused the horse to stand up again. "Solari, please mount your horse."

Solari quickly did so.

"Princess Terreis and Gabrielle, you two will compete for final place." Master Eponin had a sly grin because the pair exchanged quick looks. She loved her tie breaker idea. "You each will take a turn to shoot the dummy. You will have six arrows that you may use." Eponin looked over at the lashed dummy. "You will earn more points if you hit the target in critical areas, such as the head, chest, and stomach."

Both Terreis and Gabrielle nodded their understanding.

"Who wishes to go first?"

Gabrielle shifted in her saddle and looked at the princess. She was uneasy about competing against the princess.

"I will go first."

Master Eponin smiled at the princess's offer and nodded. She then turned on her heels and looked directly at Solari. "And since you had the lowest score, Solari, you will be galloping with my horse in tow."

Solari blinked and stared agape at Master Eponin. "But what if-"

"The target will be moving?" Gabrielle cut in.

Master Eponin's smile turned catlike. "Oh yes." She chuckled and looked over at Solari. "Do not be concerned, Solari. Your friends have excellent aim… pray it is even better under these circumstances."

Solari gulped then looked over at Princess Terreis and Gabrielle. "I swear if either of you shoot an arrow near me, I will make you eat dirt in the next hand-to-hand combat session."

Terreis chuckled and offered, "If we do, it is merely a mistake… surely not intentional." She looked at Gabrielle. "Right?"

Gabrielle bit back a grin. "Definitely."

Solari rolled her eyes and turned her horse. She scooped up the other horse's reins. She guided the target horse with her and went to the open field. Carefully, she tied target horse's reins to a rear saddlehorn behind her.

"Six arrows, princess," Master Eponin reminded. "Give Solari a slight lead." She looked at Solari and instructed, "Be sure not to gallop in a straight line."

Princess Terreis nocked her first arrow.

"Oh and princess," Master Eponin called, her voice deeper than normal. "Do not dare hit my horse."

Now it was Terreis's turn to swallow hard. She blew out a breath then looked over at Solari. She gave her friend a nod to go with the target horse.

Solari tapped her horse's sides and yelled, "Yah!"

Terreis counted to ten then she tapped her mare's sides. She tightened her strong legs around the horse as she chased after her target. She lined up her sight on the horse. Terreis drew a long breath as she released the arrow.

The arrow whizzed through the arrow and brushed past the moving target dummy.

Solari though had to lean forward as it missed her shoulders. She cursed at Terreis and decided to give the princess a better run for her coin. Solari spurred the horses a bit faster then made a sharp turn.

Terreis was better prepared and released her second arrow. She hit the dummy in the shoulder this time. She smiled at her first hit. She had four left. The princess retrieved her next arrow, nocked it, and used her legs to steer her horse towards the target.

Solari gritted her teeth and glanced at Terreis's posture. She timed it and pulled on the left rein. She turned the horses towards Terreis, who was startled by the switch.

Terreis released the arrow and expected it to hit the target in the stomach, but instead it hit the target in the left arm. She cursed because she was making less points. "Damn you, Solari." She pulled the fourth arrow.

Solari rather enjoyed herself. She looked over her shoulder after Terreis slowed and followed behind with an arrow at the ready. Solari again turned the horses.

Terreis was prepared and released the arrow at the right moment. She smiled broadly after the dummy took the arrow to the head. She heard a distant cheer from her friends.

"She is quite good," Velasca commented.

"She's the best," Gabrielle replied. She was sure of it.

Velasca looked over at Gabrielle, who was competing against the princess. "You already second yourself to her?"

Gabrielle crinkled her nose a little then shrugged at Velasca. "I know my strengths… and weaknesses."

Velasca gave a low hum then looked at Princess Terreis again.

Ephiny cheered for the princess after the last arrow hit the dummy in the stomach.

Solari and Terreis trotted back to the group.

Master Eponin looked at the five arrows planted in the dummy. She was pleased and stated, "You missed my horse." She grinned at the princess. "I commend you." She kept mental score of Terreis's hits. She turned on her heels towards Gabrielle. "You are next."

Gabrielle shifted in the saddle. She retrieved her bow from the clip at her back. She adjusted her armor as she went over to Solari and the target horse.

Solari had pulled out the hits from the dummy and tossed the arrows to Master Eponin. She looked over at Gabrielle. "Are you ready?"

Gabrielle had her bow in hand but had yet to nock an arrow. "Go ahead." She allowed Solari to ride off with the target horse. She carefully watched how Master Eponin's horse moved and then observed the dummy's motions in the saddle. Gabrielle spurred her horse and chased after them.

Ephiny shifted in the saddle and was amazed how fast Gabrielle was moving to catch up with Solari. She looked over at the princess, who took her side. "She is a skilled rider."

Terreis had her eyes on Gabrielle. "She is hardly as confident with the bow compared to her kopis."

Ephiny silently agreed with Terreis's assessment. She continued to curiously watched Gabrielle.

Solari looked over her shoulder as Gabrielle approached from the side.

Gabrielle drew an arrow from the quiver on her side. She nocked the arrow and lifted her body from the saddle with her strong legs. Carefully Gabrielle lined her sights with the dummy. With carefully precision, she watched the movements of the dummy.

Solari smirked at Gabrielle's concentration on the target horse. She jerked on the right rein.

From the corner of her eye, Gabrielle saw the change of direction. She adjusted for it and released the arrow.

Solari heard the arrow and saw it sink into the dummy's head. "Hades," she hissed in surprise.

Gabrielle lowered her bow then took the reins into her left hand. She used her legs to tell the horse to go left. She galloped down a hill and vanished from sight.

Solari was stunned by the change, and she slowed the horses. She looked for Gabrielle and decided to head towards the ridge line.

"What in Hades is she doing?" Rhode asked.

Terreis grinned at Gabrielle's skill.

Solari peered over the ridge, but a whistle caught her ear. She looked to her right to see Gabrielle on the other side of the ridge. Solari looked at the dummy and saw an arrow in the dummy's right leg. It was awfully close to Eponin's horse.

Gabrielle listened to her friends' cheers. She continued controlling the horse with only her legs. She strung another arrow as Solari spurred the horses. She slowed her own horse and lined her sights on the target.

Solari decided to be smart this time. She estimated Gabrielle's next release. As soon as she saw it, she halted the horses dead in their tracks. Dirty spewed in the air, and the arrow flew past her nose by a few hands length.

"Hades," Gabrielle growled. She instantly grabbed another arrow, nocked it, and fired again to hit the dummy in the shoulder.

Solari grumbled and ordered the horses forward. "Yah!" She galloped directly at Gabrielle, who stayed in place.

Gabrielle had her fifth arrow aimed at the dummy over Solari's shoulder. She was playing a dangerous game with Solari, who was coming head on with her.

"I dare you," Solari hissed. Her body mostly protected the dummy as a target.

Gabrielle licked her lips and waited for Solari to get closer. She could see the target just past Solari's shoulder. She gave a low breath then released the arrow.

Solari grew wide eye when the arrow came at her. "By the gods!" she yelled and duck under it. She heard the arrow hit the target. Solari was still on a collision course with Gabrielle.

Barely worried, Gabrielle pulled out her last arrow and tapped her horse's right side. She felt her world spin as the horse danced in a half circle and away from trouble.

Solari sped past Gabrielle's horse, nearly touching. She tried to regain her bearings before Gabrielle had a chance to strike.

However, Gabrielle lined her sights and had a perfect sight of the dummy's chest. She would beat Terreis if she hit target's chest. She realigned her aim and released the arrow.

Solari turned the horses, but it was too late. She saw the arrow pierce the dummy's left forearm. She was amazed by Gabrielle's weak hit because she had ample time to get the dummy in the head or chest.

Gabrielle lowered her bow and smiled that she completed the trial. She waited for Solari, who joined her side.

"Nice shooting," Solari complimented.

"Thanks." Gabrielle rode alongside her friend back to the group.

Ephiny replayed the last arrow and wondered why it seemed off. She glanced at Terreis, who seemed just as confused by the results.

Master Eponin waited until Solari and Gabrielle rejoined them. She then called, "Congratulations, Princess Terreis." The other students followed Eponin's example. She then ordered the group to organize things and head back to the nation. As they rode, each Amazon chatted about today's competition.

Gabrielle and the princess fell behind the group and chatted together about the last challenge to break their tie. They both chuckled at Solari's attempts to make it even harder.

Terreis went quiet for a moment. She then edged her horse closer to Gabrielle. "You did that on purpose?"

"What?" Gabrielle seemed confused.

"You let me win," Terreis explained.

Gabrielle shook her head and stated, "You won… fair and square."

Princess Terreis eyed her friend and still disbelieved it. For whatever strange reason, Gabrielle allowed her to win the mounted archery competition. She considered whether or not Master Eponin was suspicious of it. Regardless, she had fun today compared to many other days of training.

"After supper, would you like to come over to my hut for a bit?" Gabrielle offered.

Terreis came to the present. "I would." She smiled, which Gabrielle mirrored back. She looked forward to quiet time with Gabrielle. She hoped they could talk more about their relationship after Gabrielle probably had time to think it over last night. She could ebb Gabrielle's concerns about her sister, Queen Melosa. Perhaps she would even learn more about Gabrielle's past in Potidaea.

Gabrielle waited outside the dining hut. In her left hand, she tossed an apple a few times in the air. She smiled when Terreis came out and joined her.

"Hi," Terreis greeted. She and Gabrielle exchanged smiles. "What's that for?" She indicated the apple.

Gabrielle held up the red apple and replied, "A reward." She lowered the apple. "For the horse I rode today."

Terreis chuckled and informed, "You will make that horse spoiled."

"Everybody needs to be spoiled," Gabrielle argued. She started away from the dining hut with Terreis. "Do you mind going to the stables first?"

"No." Terreis accompanied her friend across the nation to the stables. "Do you always feed the horse an apple?"

Gabrielle shrugged.

The princess eyed her friend and guessed, "You do."

Gabrielle tossed the fruit between her hands. "Whenever I ride one." She shrugged and explained, "It's how I thank them for letting me ride on their back."

Terreis smiled at her friend's obvious love and care for the horses. She and Gabrielle entered the stable and located the horse that Gabrielle had ridden today.

Gabrielle retrieved a small dagger from her boot, and she started cutting the apple. Instantly the sweet smell brought the horse over to her. "Hey, girl." She gave the horse the first slice.

"You two rode well together," Terreis mentioned.

"We did." Gabrielle gave the next slice to the horse. "I rode her once before." She continued cutting the apple and fed it to the horse. "She responds the best to my commands than the others."

Terreis leaned against the stall wall. "You enjoy riding a lot."

"I love it," Gabrielle admitted. She glanced at Terreis before she focused on the horse. "It's so freeing." She smiled as she thought about being on the horse's bare back. "I feel as free as the horse when we gallop through the valleys and across the ridges."

Terreis folded her arms and smiled.

"I have wanted to ride since I was a little girl." Gabrielle gave the horse the last morsel then she put the dagger in her boot's hidden sheath. She petted the beautiful horse a few times.

"You did not have horses in Potidaea?"

Gabrielle glanced at Terreis. "Not many." She patted the horse's neck then brought her hands through the mane. "Potidaea is known for sheep herding."

Terreis tilted her head. "Is that what your family did? Sheep herding?"

Gabrielle was quiet for a long moment. She focused on the horse.

The princess wondered if she had pushed too far with Gabrielle. She thought perhaps the conversation was over until Gabrielle turned to her.

"My family is field farmers." Gabrielle pushed off the stall door and started towards the stable's entrance. "We have been for many generations."

"Did you have any siblings?" Terreis hoped her friend would continue to talk about her previous life, before the nation.

"A sister… younger sister." Gabrielle walked slowly back towards her hut. "She is fifteen now… and probably married."

Terreis walked with her hands behind her back. She had long ago taken off her armor after the competition today. She wore her plain leathers that were similar to Gabrielle's own. "Do you miss home?"

Gabrielle considered her former life in Potidaea and her blood family. She swallowed hard and came to a slow stop in front of her hut's closed door. She faced the princess and softly replied, "I am home now."

Terreis had a sad smile and took a step closer to Gabrielle. "I know you must miss your family though." She shook her head and thought about Melosa, who was her only family member left. "You do not just stop loving your family."

"No," Gabrielle softly agreed, "But I can still love them, even from a distance." Some days she still ached for her mother and sister. However, she learned how to weather her down points.

Terreis moved into Gabrielle's space and placed a hand against Gabrielle's firm, bare stomach.

Gabrielle nearly spoke until something pulled at her attention. She looked over her left shoulder and only saw a few Amazons pass them.

Terreis placed her freehand against Gabrielle's cheek and turned her head back. "You know, you will not have to do this from a distance."

Gabrielle realized that Terreis understood the guard she kept up, even around her friends. She felt guilty for it, but she had learned to be careful for good reason.

"If you do not wish to anymore," Terreis gently added. She hoped her friend would trust her completely, especially so they could build a relationship.

Gabrielle leaned in until their foreheads touched softly. "I am willing to try, Terreis."

"That is all I need to hear." Terreis cupped Gabrielle's cheeks and lifted her head. Her blue eyes shined brightly in the last bit of sunlight.

Gabrielle admired the blue, which echoed another set of beautiful blue eyes. She carefully leaned in, and Terreis's fingers snaked through her hair.

Terreis leaned down again and met Gabrielle's lips in a soft kiss. She could sense that Gabrielle would start to trust her more. With that hope in mind, Terreis drew her friend into the hut. "Come on." She took Gabrielle's hand into hers.

Gabrielle followed the princess into the hut, but she stole a last glance at the villas. She had a confused look, but she let it go and focused on Terreis after she shut the hut door.

Beside the neighboring hut across from Gabrielle's own, Aphrodite remained hidden to the human eye. She heard every word that passed between Princess Terreis and her favorite mortal. She placed her hand against the hut's side, and she considered the conversation between the two. Aphrodite imagined it would only take a few moons for Gabrielle's heart to unravel for Terreis.

Aphrodite let out a low, heavy breath and whispered, "My chosen… my Gavriila."

Aphrodite faded away and returned to her new temple in Corinth. She had several things to check on in the temple, especially her new disciples. However, she only made it a few steps before she heard the one voice she wished not to hear.

"How does your mortal fair, Dite?"

Aphrodite closed her eyes and kept her back to Artemis. She counted to five then slowly turned around and faced her sister.

Artemis was behind the sacrifice table. She picked up a dead fish and smirked. "They already know what your favorite sacrifice is."

Aphrodite glowered at her sister.

Artemis dropped the fish onto the table. "So, how does your mortal fair?" she repeated.

"Please," Aphrodite replied, "You know."

Artemis casually strolled around the table, down the steps, and stood in front of her taller sister.

"Did you come to gloat, sister?"

"Diiiite," Artemis drew out.

Aphrodite rolled her eyes at the nickname. She loathed it and much preferred Dity. "I so do not have time for this." She waved off her sister and started leaving again. Yet, Artemis appeared in front of her.

"I see she has chosen my princess," Artemis stated. She rested a hand on her sword hilt. "Your chosen has fine taste."

"It's more that your princess chose my mortal," Aphrodite clarified.

Artemis held up a finger at her sister. "How sure can you be of that?" She chuckled and returned her hand to the sword hilt. Across her back, the golden bow glowed in the sunlight from the decorative opening in the ceiling. She then smiled and shrugged. "Well it matters not since your precious mortal is happy."

Aphrodite shook her head and stepped around Artemis. "Art, if you wish to have my mortal in your nation then you need to back off." Her anger shined red in her eyes.

Artemis chuckled and argued, "And where would you take her?" She smirked and teased, "To Sappho?"

Aphrodite growled and lifted her right hand, about to snap her fingers.

Artemis held up her hand and stated, "I can remove myself." She waited until her sister lowered her hand. She then leaned in closer to Aphrodite. "She is happy, Dite. And you should be happy for her." For once, her words were honest.

Aphrodite ignored Artemis's true statement. She hated that Artemis was right and what it meant for her future relationship with Gabrielle. She walked past Artemis but softly called, "Just because your princess has blue eyes and blond hair hardly means anything." She paused and peered over her shoulder. "You can dress up as many pigs as you wish, but none will be me." Aphrodite loved Artemis's insulted expression. Before her sister could yell at her, she snapped her fingers and sent Artemis out of her temple. Aphrodite shook off Artemis's taunt and continued with her plans. She needed to play Goddess of Love to her followers.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Princess Terreis snuggled into Gabrielle's strong body. She sighed contently and continued enjoying the peaceful night with Gabrielle. Together, they stayed warm by the fire and enjoyed hot cider. It was one of Princess Terreis's favorite times of the year.

"You remember that first night we snuggled?" Terreis brought up. She sipped on her cider and continued staring into the fire. "It was the night after we confessed our feelings."

Gabrielle chuckled and set her half empty mug on the floor, off the bear fur. "Yes." She encircled Terreis's waist and drew in closer, her front against Terreis's back. "I was so nervous then."

"I do not understand why." Terreis turned her head sidelong. "You already knew I was interested in you."

Gabrielle softly laughed and nuzzled Terreis's neck. "It was new to me," she reminded.

"It was my sister," Terreis concluded.

Gabrielle groaned and admitted, "She did not help my nerves."

Terreis shook her head. "And yet Melosa loves you."

"Thank Artemis for that." Gabrielle was grateful that she had developed a strong relationship with Queen Melosa. It had only taken off after she had a private meeting with Melosa about Terreis.

After four moons of being with Terreis, Gabrielle spoke to Melosa about wedding Terreis. At first, Gabrielle was convinced that she had overstepped her place because Melosa eyed her so dangerously. Then after she said her piece, Melosa cracked a smile. Gabrielle thought she would die due to a heart attack. Melosa then conversed with Gabrielle and explained what it meant if Gabrielle became Terreis's consort. Such future responsibilities still weighed heavy on Gabrielle's shoulders, but she would do anything for Terreis.

Today, Gabrielle had grown into a confident Amazon compared to her early days as an Amazon. She often credited Terreis with helping her improve so greatly. However, Terreis would merely argue that Gabrielle had developed on her own. Nearly at the age of nineteen, Gabrielle had already succeeded much further than most Amazons her age. Only a moon ago, Gabrielle had been promoted in the army's rank, and she was now an officer of twenty-seven mounted Amazons. Her title was an ilarchès, which she had yet to become accustom to since receiving the title. Upon receiving her new position and duties, Gabrielle also was given her own horse and a bronze kopis to perform her duties properly and to honor her achievement.

Similar to her consort, Princess Terreis had done well and was one of the finest archers in the nation. Few could match her skill, and some said she was blessed by Artemis. At the start of the year, Terreis had become an officer too. She was in charge of a squad of archers, which made her a dekatoxotès. Thankfully, her subordinates simply called her Princess Terreis rather than Officer Terreis. Gabrielle was less lucky and had to be formally called Officer Gabrielle.

"In a moon it will be our second annus," Gabrielle mentioned. She leaned her temple against Terreis's head. "Do you wish to do anything special?"

Terreis considered that she and Gabrielle had wed almost two anni ago. She smiled at the memory of their beautiful ceremony. "I would like to," Terreis murmured. "I am just not sure what." She lowered her eyes to her left wrist. She studied her ceremonial bracelet that bound her to Gabrielle, for life. She touched it with her right hand and ran her thumb along one of two bands that were twisted together in an internal dance. It was impossible to remove the bracelet without a blacksmith's help.

"Perhaps we should go on a trip," Gabrielle offered.

Terreis chuckled and turned in her consort's arms. "Of course. On horseback shall I wager?"

Gabrielle smiled and replied, "You know me so well."

"You will be burned on the pyre with that gods be damned horse."

Gabrielle chuckled and teased, "You do not mind our ashes mixed with my horse's ashes?"

Terreis rolled her eyes and smacked her consort's muscular leg. "You are incorrigible at times."

Gabrielle smirked and leaned in closer to her partner. She softly kissed Terreis's freckled cheek. "Skylla is family."

"Oh gods, do not start again," Terreis warned. She enjoyed Gabrielle's low chuckle. She went back to the original topic. "Where is it you would like to go?"

Gabrielle rested her chin on the princess's shoulder and seriously considered the idea of a short trip. She wondered if Melosa would even allow them.

Terreis toyed with her empty mug as she thought about one particular place. She braved to bring it up with her consort. After she cleared her throat, she softly asked, "What of Potidaea?" She felt Gabrielle's instant tension.

Gabrielle released a low breath and straightened up. "That sounds like a death wish rather than celebrating our bond."

Terreis was quiet for a beat then sighed. "I have yet to meet your family." She shifted in her spot until she sat across in Gabrielle's arms. She studied her consort. "You have met my family."

"That's because Melosa is the queen," Gabrielle reminded. She lowered her arms then her legs to the fur.

"I wish to know where you came from," Terreis argued.

Gabrielle shook her head. "You know where I came from."

Terreis leaned in closer. "To see where you came from."

Gabrielle hooked the back of her neck and worriedly studied her partner's serious features. "It is a sheep town." She lowered her hand to her lap. "I…"

"Your sister?" Terreis asked, "Your mother?" She took her consort's smaller hand into hers. "You have not seen them since you left Potidaea."

Gabrielle chewed on her lip and looked down at the small space between her and Terreis.

The princess reached over and lifted her consort's head, much like she had done years ago when they first confessed their feelings. "To see where you came from would be a grand gift." She smiled and ran her thumb along Gabrielle's bottom lip. "If you truly wish not to go then we will not."

Gabrielle was uneasy and caught off guard by her partner's request. She ran her fingers through her short, blond tresses. She peered over at Terreis again.

The princess lowered her hand from Gabrielle's face to her neck, and she started tracing the black tattoo that began halfway on Gabrielle's neck. She followed its path as it trailed down Gabrielle's neck, over her shoulder, and intersected with other thick black lines. Each line connected along Gabrielle's shoulder, over her right chest, and down part of her right arm. Joined together, the wispy and rounded lines formed a soft image of a horse galloping towards Gabrielle's heart and mind.

Gabrielle enjoyed Terreis's soft touch, and it eased her emotions about Potidaea. She truly wished to see her mother and sister again. Nearly four anni had passed since she left her family. She would be nineteen by the end of this summer. She reached up and hooked Terreis's hand into hers. "Alright," she murmured. "But…"

Terreis patiently waited and tilted her head.

"I cannot promise we will go to the farmhouse."

Terreis nodded and decided to leave the topic there. She was pleased that Gabrielle would take her. It meant a lot to her that Gabrielle was willing to go back. Happy about the pending trip, she stood up and softly encouraged, "Come to bed."

Gabrielle was drawn onto her feet, their mugs forgotten, as they went to their bed. Her bare feet cooled against the wood floors.

Like Gabrielle, Terreis was only in her leathers after a busy day. She enjoyed the few quiet nights with her consort. She refused to waste the time. Terreis backed up to the bed and sat down on it. She pulled Gabrielle between her open legs.

Gabrielle smiled tenderly and bent forward until her forehead touched Terreis's own. She cupped her partner's cheeks and kissed Terreis's nose.

Terreis chuckled and leaned back further so she could see Gabrielle's beautiful features.

"These past two anni have been the best ones of my life," Gabriele whispered.

Terreis softened at her lover's rare, sweet words. Many times she had seen Gabrielle's gentle heart, but she hardly heard such words. She always saw Gabrielle's feelings in her eyes. "For me too." She hooked Gabrielle's wrists and suddenly pushed back onto the bed.

Gabrielle yelped as she fell forward. She barely caught herself before she hit her partner. Terreis's laughter filled her ears. Gabrielle lifted her head, her hair slightly messy. She gazed down at Terreis's amused features.

The princess reached up and caressed her consort's flushed cheek. "There is nobody else like you, Gabrielle." She smiled until a shadowy look drew across her consort's features. "Gabrielle…"

For a long beat, Gabrielle stared distantly at her lover. Her eyes were lost as Terreis's last words pulled against her.

Terreis became worried and placed a firm hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. She squeezed and urged, "Gabrielle?"

Finally Gabrielle blinked, and she refocused on the princess under her. She blinked a few more times and muttered, "Sorry."

"What happened?" Terreis started to sit up until Gabrielle pushed a hand against her shoulder. "You acted as if you saw a ghost."

"I'm sorry," Gabrielle repeated. She leaned down and softly kissed her lover. "It was nothing," she promised after the kiss. And she pushed it further back in her mind. She focused on Terreis and their love tonight.

Terreis let it go and drew Gabrielle further over her. She soon worked Gabrielle's leathers free followed by her own. Their night filled with soft touches and passion.

By dawn, Gabrielle stirred earlier than normal. She use to hate mornings as a kid, but as an adult, she learned to take advantage of her time. She allowed Terreis to sleep in since Terreis had been on patrol later than Gabrielle.

Quietly, Gabrielle left the hut with her new leathers on that she had recently been made for her. The new leathers were red and set off her tattoo compared to her older brown ones. Her bronze xiphos was strapped across her back. Her boots were black and better suited her attire. Last annus, Terreis had given her a silver arm bracelet for her birthday, and she wore it every day on her right bicep, over the tattoo. However, her black and red duster hid most of her body because the mornings were still so cool.

After a quick breakfast, Gabrielle decided on a horse ride with Skylla. She grabbed an apple for her horse and went directly to the stable. She first set the apple on the stall partition then tacked her horse.

Skylla eyed the pretty apple and knew she would get it later. She danced on her hoofs after Gabrielle finished with the saddle and reins. She followed Gabrielle out of the stall.

Gabrielle strolled through the nation and went to the gates. She waved at the wall guards and said hello to a gate guard. She continued with Skylla behind her.

As she hiked up the hill, she sensed another presence at the top of the ridge. Gabrielle was hardly surprised to find three Amazons taking a break by the pistachio tree. She went down to the three familiar Amazons.

"Hello, Officer Gabrielle," Eutychia greeted.

Gabrielle smiled at Eutychia, who was one of her riders in her unit. "Good morning, Eutychia." She turned her smile on the other two Amazons. "Velasca, Callisto."

"Consort," Callisto returned. She gave a soft bow, like the others.

Gabrielle sighed at the formal titles. "How goes patrol?"

"All is quiet," Eutychia promised.

"No trouble with the Centaurs?"

"Nothing yet," Velasca answered.

Gabrielle was pleased and hoped that the recent troubles between the Amazons and Centaurs would stay quiet. Terreis, Ephiny, and Gabrielle had struggled to appease both the Amazons and Centaurs. Constant battles over territory flared bitterness and both sides had hot tempers.

Gabrielle nodded at the group and was about to go until a thought came to mind. "Callisto…" She had the Amazon's attention so she ordered, "Walk with me for a bit."

Callisto broke from the group and took Gabrielle's side. Together, they traveled along the ridge and only spoke once further from Eutychia and Velasca.

"How have you been?" Gabrielle rarely had a chance to visit with Callisto lately. Even though Callisto was in her mounted unit, they were usually handling training or patrolling for Centaurs.

"My head is healed," Callisto replied.

Gabrielle was happy to hear so. Nearly a moon ago, they had been on patrol on a rainy, nasty day and Callisto's horse went lame unexpectedly. The horse toppled to the ground on a hillside. Callisto was thrown out of the saddle and hit a protruding stone with her head. She had at first brushed it off and attempted to return the horse to the stable. However, a headache and dizziness nearly put Callisto on the ground again.

In a beat, Gabrielle was at Callisto's side and aided her. She then volunteered to take Callisto and the horse back to the village. She had her second in command continue patrol while she took care of Callisto. The ride back to the nation had been concerning for Gabrielle because she had grown fond of Callisto. It had only been Gabrielle's second day as an ilarchès.

"Has the healer cleared you?" Gabrielle checked.

"She did," Callisto confirmed. She then grinned at Gabrielle and asked, "How is Terreis?"

"She is well." Gabrielle curiously peered up at Callisto. "Tell me you have found somebody, by now."

Callisto gave her deep, amused laugh and joked, "Dearie, you know how my reputation precedes me."

"The Killer of Relationships?" Gabrielle teased.

Callisto shook her head. "Do I look like marriage material?"

"Nobody said marriage." Gabrielle came to a slow stop and faced her friend. "You at least cut off Velasca, right?" After Callisto's dark smirk and raised eyebrow, she had her answer. She sighed heavily and muttered, "Right."

Callisto was highly amused and placed her hands on her hips. "She keeps my bedroll warm… and fun."

Gabrielle shook her head and continued the walk along the ridge. From the first day, Gabrielle was unsure about Velasca. Many had tried to poke and prod Callisto for Velasca's history in the Lacedonia Nation, including Gabrielle. However, Callisto refused to be spread gossip about somebody, and Gabrielle respected Callisto's principles. It also did nothing to ebb Gabrielle's worries about Velasca.

"One day," Gabrielle muttered.

Callisto tilted her head at those words. She smirked and argued, "Only if your bracelet comes off."

Gabrielle swallowed hard and glanced at her marriage bracelet. She shook her head and ignored the comment, like always. Similar to Callisto's other principles, she had no fears of anything but smart remarks on occasions.

"Listen," Gabrielle started.

Callisto grew slightly tense because she thought a lecture was coming to her.

"Terreis and I are taking a short trip to Potidaea," Gabrielle explained.

"And?" Callisto prompted. She relaxed now that it was a different topic.

"I wanted to see if you wished to travel with us. Cirra is on the way to Potidaea." Again Gabrielle stopped and faced her friend. "I thought perhaps you would like to spend time with your brother and his family."

Callisto softened after the kind offer. She had last seen her twin brother a fortnight before Solstice. "Is the princess okay with that?" Slowly a grin spread across her lips after she saw the answer in Gabrielle's eyes. "Did you even speak to her first about this?"

Gabrielle sighed. "She will be fine with it."

Callisto's grin twisted into a wolfish smirk. "I'm sure… and better reason to go."

"Caaallisto," Gabrielle drew out. She shook her head at her friend's continued torment of Terreis, even after marriage.

Callisto chuckled and shrugged. "I have to find some enjoyment in life."

Gabrielle let out a low, steady breath and promised, "You press her enough, and she will put an arrow in your ass."

"That's only if I don't catch it." Callisto was hardly concerned.

Gabrielle shook her head. "I will speak to her tonight."

"And Queen Melosa?"

"Probably tomorrow."

Callisto nodded and decided to return to patrol. "Enjoy your ride." She often saw Gabrielle take long rides in the morning.

"Thanks." Gabrielle then moved in for a one-armed hug and said goodbye to her friend.

Callisto returned to the other two Amazons by the pistachio tree.

Gabrielle continued walking for a bit before she mounted her horse. Her ride took her across the rolling hills and down into the valleys. She went to her second favorite tree that overlooked a village by a small river. She watched the locals move about the village, and it made her think about Potidaea.

In the village, a small temple had recently been erected for the Goddess of Love. It was the closest temple to the Amazons, besides the temple in the nation for Artemis. Gabrielle had yet to see the new temple. Today she considered going down to the village. It was a friendly village towards the Amazons and often traded with the Amazons.

Gabrielle made her decision and remounted her horse. She squeezed Skylla's side and went down the hillside to the village's main road. The village had no walls and barely any patrol unless there was known trouble then the militia would be raised for battle.

In the village, the townspeople went about their normal activities. Many greeted Gabrielle because they were use to Amazons coming and going from the village. Once by the agora, Gabrielle dismounted and hitched her horse to a post. She decided to see what was new in the agora but hardly anything excited her. Although, she was low on ink for her quills, and she went to the vendor who knew her best. She received her usual price on the ink.

Just as Gabrielle turned to leave, she heard a vendor call out about fresh fish. An evil idea caused a slight pucker to her lips. She could hardly resist so she went to the vendor and bought the smallest but oldest fish. She then returned to her horse and collected Skylla's reins in her left hand. In her right hand, she carried the smelly fish by the tail.

Gabrielle crossed the village and hitched her horse again, beside the new temple. She ascended the steps, passed the columns, and entered the temple. She passed the pool and went directly to the line for sacrifices. In front of her were five other worshippers, who brought sacrifices too. Gabrielle looked over her shoulder when people lined up behind her. She noted their upturned nose thanks to her smelly fish. Gabrielle bit back a grin.

The worshipper in front of Gabrielle gave his bountiful wheat offering on the table then knelt down for prayer. Gabrielle stood there with her weight on her left foot. She could only imagine what the man prayed for from the Goddess of Love. Perhaps a mistress alongside his wife. After he was done, she approached the table and smirked at the priestess on the other side.

"Good morning… my child." The priestess had yet to see an Amazon pray to Aphrodite. She wondered if the Amazon was mistaken. "Aphrodite welcomes all," she kindly offered.

Gabrielle held up the fish and smiled, wide. "I hear she loves fish." She then tossed the smelly offering onto the table and knocked several coins to the floor. Behind her, several gasps carried through the temple.

The priestess peered up from the smelly fish with mild shock. She tried composing herself, but suddenly she changed appearance from a short, dark haired woman to a tall, blond beauty.

"That is so gross, Gabs!"

Gabrielle folded her arms and smirked at the Goddess of Love on the other side of the table. "I thought perhaps that would get your attention."

Aphrodite reached forward, about to touch the fish.

"I wouldn't do that." Gabrielle shook her head a few times. "You will never get that smell off, god or not."

Aphrodite groaned and decided she would have a priestess remove it.

Gabrielle chuckled then looked over her shoulder. She noted all the worshippers and priestesses were gone as if they never existed in the temple. She curiously looked back at Aphrodite.

"A perk to being a god," Aphrodite explained. She had altered reality so that she and Gabrielle could speak together and alone.

"It's been a long time," Gabrielle mentioned. She placed her hands on the offering table. "It's been six moons since we last saw each other."

Aphrodite hid her guilt and stated, "I have been busy."

Gabrielle tilted her head and needled, "Causing more Trojan Wars?"

"Ooooh." Aphrodite placed her hand against her chest, which bore a gold necklace. "Bitter much?" She lowered her hand to her side.

Gabrielle straightened up and turned around to face the temple. "I guess too busy with all these new temples." She listened to Aphrodite's steps coming around the table.

"You have been busy yourself," the goddess pointed out.

Gabrielle faced her friend and argued, "It's called making time?"

"Oh and what time is that?" Aphrodite sarcastically started, "Perhaps when you're straddling the princess in bed." She enjoyed Gabrielle's dark glare.

Gabrielle let out a low breath and allowed her annoyance to pass. "Fine." She walked down the two steps of the altar. "We both use to have time for each other." She went to the bench beside the pool and sat down.

Aphrodite followed in the mortal's wake.

"I just feel as if you are avoiding me," Gabrielle honestly brought up.

Aphrodite took a seat beside her friend. "Perhaps I am," she admitted. Instantly she had Gabrielle's upset features on her. It was quite unusual to see Gabrielle's emotions so clearly written on her face. Over the years, Gabrielle had hardened herself and became a true warrior. However, it was hard to hide from Aphrodite, who was there for her over the anni.

"Why?" Gabrielle pressed.

Aphrodite played with a fold of her chiton and stared at the pool of water. "You have a life now." She looked at the mortal finally. "You no longer need me."

"But I do," Gabrielle argued.

Aphrodite shook her head. "I am just a goddess."

"You are my friend… and family." Gabrielle collected Aphrodite's hands into hers. "And now you are making yourself a stranger."

Aphrodite swallowed hard and struggled to confess many things to Gabrielle. Several times she had hidden in the Amazon Nation and checked on Gabrielle. She was very proud of Gabrielle's progress from marriage to duties as a new officer. However, Aphrodite vanished without ever saying hello to her favorite mortal.

"I miss you," Gabrielle softly confessed. Her normally stoic features were broken by her emotions.

Aphrodite looked from the pool into moist green eyes that pulled against her heart. She tightened her hands against Gabrielle's smaller ones. "And I miss you," she rasped, for the first time. She remembered the last time she spoke those words, and they still hurt her so deeply. Some days she hated the Fates and even Zeus, her father. She could only be thankful for Artemis, who gave her chosen a safe haven in the Amazon Nation.

"You are a part of my life," Gabrielle hoarsely whispered. "You have been there longer than the Amazons. You have been there for me more than my family... my blood family." Gabrielle shook her head and begged, "Please do not believe I no longer need you."

Aphrodite wondered if Gabrielle ever spoke such words to Terreis. She stared bitterly at the marriage bracelet bound to Gabrielle. She could break the bracelet, with her own hands, then throw it in Artemis's face. But, too many times she had seen her favorite mortal so happy with Terreis. She was bound to her silence and instead kept a distance from Gabrielle, until this moment. Gabrielle's forthright emotions dug under her wall and cut into her heart.

"Say something," Gabrielle softly urged. She felt as the moons passed that she was losing Aphrodite, for good. The goddess had saved her from an ugly death and changed her life. Whatever had scared off Aphrodite, Gabrielle would fight against it because she valued Aphrodite above all.

"Gabrielle…" Aphrodite met her chosen's broken features. She nearly broke too, about to confess every detail. She steeled just enough to hold down the forbidden truth. Aphrodite was a goddess, and she could truly take whatever pleased her, but she had more moral than other gods. And she wished for Gabrielle to have a life of choosing, not control.

"Gabs, I am sorry."

Gabrielle squeezed the goddess's hands so hard. If Aphrodite was mortal, it would have crushed her bones.

"So sorry." Aphrodite felt the mortal's deeper pain. She closed her eyes and whispered, "I did not mean to hurt you." Again, her eyes opened to the mortal.

Gabrielle had forgotten just how blue Aphrodite's eyes were compared to any human, including Terreis. She thought perhaps the sky was captured within them. She released the goddess's hands and moved in for a hug.

Aphrodite returned the emotional hug.

"Please just do not leave me," Gabrielle whispered.

Aphrodite inwardly trembled at the request. "Never, sweet pea," she breathed. She tangled her fingers into blond locks. "Never," she softly promised again.

Gabrielle tightly clutched Aphrodite, who had always been her most solid foundation in life. She had grown trust in the Amazon Nation and later in Terreis. However, Aphrodite was the first to believe in her and give her a real chance at life. Nobody could replace Aphrodite in her heart.

For a long time, Gabrielle held onto the goddess. Her eyes screwed shut to hold back any tears. She usually had a strong control of her emotions, until it came to Aphrodite. Their hug renewed her, and she took every bit of it.

Aphrodite lifted her head and tenderly kissed Gabrielle's temple, like many times in the past. She swore, "I will always take care of you."

Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and became confused as she was standing in front of the offering table. In front of her, the priestess looked at her oddly.

"Um… thank you for your offering, my child." The priestess watched how the Amazon refocused on her. "I am sure the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, is… pleased by your gift." She moved on her feet and glanced down at the fish, which was wafting a smell under her nose. She would have to get rid of it if she were to keep the goddess's favor.

Gabrielle cleared her throat as her emotions sunk down under her self control. She gave a weak smile and replied, "Oh I know she is." Without another word, she turned on her heels and left the temple. As she passed the pool, she studied the bench she swore she sat on with Aphrodite only moments ago. Aphrodite's last promise echoed in her mind as she left the temple.

Outside the temple, Skylla greeted her friend and stomped a front hoof. She was ready to ride.

Gabrielle unhitched her horse, and they walked out of the village. Once on the main road, Gabrielle gave the short whistle that made her trained horse lay down. She then mounted Skylla and whistled again.

Instantly Skylla was up and started on a slow walk away from the village. Beyond the main road, she broke into a gallop and followed her friend's directions back to the nation. She was full of energy and happy to be out in the open.

Gabrielle enjoyed her horse's excitement, and they took the long way back to the nation. Like her horse, she had energy to burn and felt a sense of relief once they returned to the gates. She dismounted and walked her horse back the stables. She still had plenty to do, including talk to Terreis about their trip to Potidaea. She sighed at the pending argument about Callisto going with them, part of the way. But, it was better to have three swords rather than two on a trip.

For most of the day, Gabrielle carried out several duties and finished her last one at the stable with Eponin. She and Eponin had plans to rebuild a part of the fifth stable, which had terrible roof rot. Gabrielle wanted it completed by the end of the summer. It was more than feasible.

Eponin exited the stable with Gabrielle, still chatting about the structure.

Ephiny approached the pair after taking time to track down Gabrielle.

"Ephiny," Eponin greeted.

Ephiny returned the greeting and then smiled at Gabrielle. "Do you have some time?"

Gabrielle considered it and countered, "For?"

"I need a sparring partner," Ephiny admitted.

Gabrielle chuckled and looked at Eponin. "I think Master Epic has time."

Eponin gave a dangerous glare for the distasteful nickname her former students used on her. Today, it was still used by her new students thanks to Solari's efforts.

"I am busy." Eponin placed her hands on her hips.

Ephiny chuckled and focused on Gabrielle again. "I won't beat you, too badly."

"Unless you want the princess after you again," Eponin taunted.

Gabrielle held up her hands. "Fine." She brushed past Ephiny. "Let's go."

Ephiny mouthed a silent thank you to Eponin.

Eponin smirked and continued on her way.

Ephiny took Gabrielle's side. "Terreis said you may be returning to Potidaea."

"Visiting," Gabrielle corrected. She peered up at her friend. "And no, you cannot go."

Ephiny grumbled but nodded. "Terreis will tell me everything when she returns."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

"But you should be careful," Ephiny mentioned. She found curious eyes on her. "There's talk about a warlord in Macedon."

"Oh?" Gabrielle prompted.

"A woman at that," Ephiny added.

Gabrielle was surprised that there were any female warlords. "When did you hear this?"

"Just today actually." Ephiny saw the sparring field ahead. "Are just you and Terreis going?"

"I asked Callisto join us, part of the way." Gabrielle sighed when Ephiny cringed quite dramatically.

"And Terreis agreed to this?" Ephiny now sighed when Gabrielle shook her head. "Gabrielle, she would travel with anybody but Callisto. You know how she feels about Callisto."

Gabrielle came over to the wood bench beside the field. She removed her duster. "Callisto has never made an attempt. She respects our marriage." She set the duster on the bench.

Ephiny indicated Gabrielle's well-honed body that was before her. "She has ever reason to."

Gabrielle folded her muscular arms and settled a glare on Ephiny. "She is talk."

"And there is truth in it." Ephiny placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "I care for Terreis."

"And I do not?" Gabrielle countered.

Ephiny frowned. "I did not say that, Gabrielle." She saw Gabrielle's defenses break down. "I care for you both, and I am just concerned." She lowered her hands to her side.

Gabrielle nodded and explained, "And Callisto is not an outsider to this nation. She is family, like all Amazons. She has never wronged Terreis or myself."

Ephiny let out a low breath. It was true that Callisto greatly respected the relationship even though she had feelings for Gabrielle. Ephiny gave a nod and replied, "And you will have to remind Terreis of that."

Gabrielle relaxed now that she and Ephiny had an understanding about Callisto. "You said something about sparring?"

Ephiny smiled and hooked Gabrielle's arm. "Come on." She reached behind and extracted her xiphos. "I have a new move I want to try."

"Oh great." Gabrielle groaned and slumped her shoulders. She hated being Ephiny's test dummy, but she was willing to do it because she often learned new things too. She set aside her thoughts about the trip to Potidaea and instead focused on her opponent, who faced her.

Ephiny revealed a grin and spun her xiphos once.

Gabrielle reached behind and extracted her blade. She mentally prepared for a good spar with her best friend. She waved on Ephiny and laughed when Ephiny came at her with a swipe. How she loved to spar with an excellent opponent like Ephiny. Gabrielle would never stop training to be a fine warrior until she could no longer lift a blade. She was an Amazon to her last breath.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

"You were right," Princess Terreis brought up, out of the blue.

Gabrielle was confused and looked over at her partner, who rode on a taller horse. She curiously studied Terreis.

"About Callisto." Terreis smiled at her consort and nudged her horse close to Gabrielle's own. "This trip with her is helping." She, Gabrielle, and Callisto had left the Amazon Nation over five days ago. Callisto had parted ways once they came to Cirra then Terreis and Gabrielle continued to Potidaea.

Gabrielle's mind had been on Potidaea, which loomed ahead. The conversation was a welcoming distraction. "I am glad." She smiled at Terreis, who had found middle ground with Callisto.

"I guess I never truly let go of my jealousy and fear that she would sway you." Terreis admitted it aloud for once.

Gabrielle reached across the short distance and managed to graze her lover's knee. "There is no part of me that can be swayed from you."

Terreis smiled at her consort. "I know." And she did know that Gabrielle was devoted to her. "And I know under Callisto's cold exterior she has a gentle heart." She saw glimpses of it, especially the other day when Callisto's nephew raced out to his aunt. Terreis was surprised when Callisto had gathered him up, spun him in the air, and showered him with several kisses.

Gabrielle sadly smiled because she too agreed with Terreis. However, Gabrielle had figured out Callisto's gentler side a long time ago. Perhaps it was why Gabrielle cared for Callisto and was the one to form a bond with Callisto first.

"Thank you," Terreis added. She was glad that Gabrielle helped her work through her troubles with Callisto. There were still a few small bumps, but Terreis had dealt with the major issues.

Gabrielle was still smiling, until she saw Potidaea again. She shifted in the saddle and stilled her fears. Potidaea loomed with darkness, in Gabrielle's eyes. Suddenly her horse was cut off by Terreis's own.

"We do not have to do this," Terreis offered. Her body cut off most of the view of the village. She had seen the earlier look on Gabrielle's face.

After a beat, Gabrielle shook her head and stated, "I want to do this." She directed Skylla around Terreis's horse and continued the last of the trip to the village.

Terreis turned her horse and caught up to Gabrielle. "I am looking forward to seeing your hometown."

"At least that makes one of us," Gabrielle weakly joked.

Terreis let it go and enjoyed the short ride to the village. She looked at Gabrielle. "You said your home is on the other side?"

"Yes." Gabrielle warily eyed the short walls of her village. She wondered if much had changed, if anything. "We will go to the agora first."

Terreis nodded and followed her partner down the main road to the opening in the wall. She and Gabrielle dismounted by the wall then continued on foot.

"Are you hungry?" Gabrielle asked.

Terreis placed her hand over her stomach, which was clad in armor. Both she and Gabrielle wore their full armor over their leathers. On the horses, their wood shields hung from the saddles. The round shields were shiny under the sunlight thanks to the bronze coating on them. A half crescent moon symbol represented their ties to the Amazon Nation.

"I am hungry."

"Me too." Gabrielle decided to go to the taverna, which usually only locals went to in villages. Gabrielle figured they would still receive service, even if she had to tell them she was Herodutus's daughter. She made her towards the agora and noted many villagers were looking at them. She grumbled and tried keeping her hand off her sword hilt.

Terreis was walking beside Gabrielle. "I'm guessing they do not see many Amazons."

Gabrielle huffed and grinned at her partner. "They're only a myth told by bards."

Terreis exchanged a low laugh with her consort.

"Gabrielle?"

Terreis looked over her shoulder and slowed, like her consort.

Gabrielle recognized the voice instantly and halted. She turned towards her sister, who was in front of a vendor's stall alongside the street. "Lila?" She swallowed at her sister's awed features.

Lila hastily gave the vendor his coin, grabbed the satchel of produce, and raced over to her sister. "Is it really you?" She had heard Gabrielle's voice and laugh moments ago. But, she thought it was strange until she saw Gabrielle's face.

"It is… me." Gabrielle stood still and noticed all the onlookers around them.

Lila continued staring at her older sister and tried grasping how the women before her was the same person as the kid sister that vanished from her home several anni ago. "I… I can't believe… it's really you."

Gabrielle sadly smiled and was unsure what else to say. Then she was stunned by Lila's next move. She suddenly found herself in a huge hug.

Lila had dropped her satchel of supplies and threw herself into a strong hug. "I thought you were dead… or worse."

Gabrielle released Skylla's reins and returned the hug. She still had her smile. "I'm perfectly fine, as you can see."

Lila withdrew and shook her head. "What… where… I do not even know how to begin."

Gabrielle understood and nodded. "We can talk about it." She hooked Lila's shoulder.

"And what are you wearing?" Lila looked up and down her sister's length. "You're a warrior?"

"An Amazon actually," Terreis cut in.

Lila blinked and looked at the other woman, who stood behind Gabrielle. She just realized Terreis was there too.

Gabrielle pivoted and held out a hand to Terreis. "This is Princess Terreis, Lila."

The princess stepped forward and held out her arm. "It's nice to meet you, Lila."

Lila followed the motions and shook arms. "Princess? Of what?"

"The Amazon Nation," Terreis helped. She released arms and glanced at her consort. She allowed Gabrielle to handle the complications of relationships and such at her own will.

"Oh." Lila blinked and looked at her sister for help.

Gabrielle cleared her throat and explained, "Terreis and I were going to get a midday meal. Would you like to join us?"

"I already ate but…" Lila smiled. "I will still join you."

"Great." Gabrielle returned the smile. She then took Lila's forgotten supplies and lashed the pack to her horse's side.

Skylla twisted her head around when she smelled the distinct sweet scent. She whined at her mistress.

"Hush," Gabrielle ordered Skylla. She took the horse's reins and murmured, "You have your own."

Lila curiously watched then took her sister's side as they continued to the taverna. She was unsure what to say and stayed quiet as they came to the building.

Gabrielle hitched her horse, like Terreis. She then looked at Terreis and explained, "We may have to leave our weapons at the door."

"Weapons?" Lila squeaked.

Terreis grinned at Lila's small world. "Amazons are warriors."

Gabrielle smacked Terreis's side in silent warning. She turned to her sister. "I'm sorry, Lila. Terreis does not get out of the nation often to understand our village life."

Terreis still had her smirk, but she followed them into the taverna. As soon as she and Gabrielle stepped into the taverna, the owner hollered down to them.

"There are no weapons in…" The owner was around the bar and paused once he saw the warriors were female. "No weapons in my taverna," he finished. He focused on the one familiar face.

"It's my sister, Myron." Lila indicated her older sister.

Myron looked from Lila to Gabrielle, and he somewhat recognized her features even though it had been so long. "Alright," he granted. "I just don't like trouble."

"We won't be," Terreis promised. She noted the few patrons turned back to their business.

Myron went behind the bar and signaled his barmaid to handle them.

Lila took a seat at a round table. She waited until her sister was seated next to her. Again, she stole glances over her sister, who had changed so greatly since they were kids. She finally spotted the tattoo on Gabrielle's right arm, and she goggled at it.

"By the gods, is that real?" Lila reached over and touched her sister's arm. The black markings remained and did not wipe off onto Lila's hand.

Gabrielle looked at her partially showing tattoo and smiled. "It's real, Lila… like the rest of me." She went quiet as the barmaid came over. She and Terreis ordered food and wine for their meal.

Lila tore her eyes off Gabrielle's neck, which showed another portion of the tattoo. She realized it was a horse. She peered up at the barmaid. "I only need water. Thank you." After the barmaid left, she focused on her older sister. "I am not sure what to say. I just thought… I'd never see you again."

Gabrielle sighed and moved her chair so she could better face her sister. "I'm sorry, Lila."

"For what?" Lila asked.

Gabrielle frowned at her sister's light heart. "I just left and never said goodbye."

"But you came back," Lila countered. "That's what really matters."

Gabrielle's frown turned up into a sad smile. How she missed her sister, who was so loving and caring. "Thank you." She shook her head. "I am not sure father would feel the same way."

Lila was quiet for a long moment and honestly explained, "If he knew you were alive… still a freewoman, he would be angry."

Gabrielle bowed her head for a heartbeat then peered up. "And mother?"

Lila captured her sister's hand. "You know mother loves you, always." She now noticed the hard calluses under her sister's hand.

"I suppose father lost his dowry." Gabrielle looked to the barmaid, who returned with their food and drink.

Terreis was happy to have food after a long ride. She continued to listen to the sisters, happy to see them reunited again.

"No, he still received the dowry." Lila played with her bread.

Gabrielle shook her head because she was confused by such news.

Lila nibbled on her lower lip.

Gabrielle remembered that old habit as a sign of her nerves. "What happened?"

Lila focused on Gabrielle and replied, "Perdicus is my husband."

Gabrielle stiffened at the news. She would have never guessed such circumstances and stared at Lila. "Sister… I am sorry. I thought he would return the dowry."

Lila shook her head and touched Gabrielle's bicep, which was hard as iron. She was amazed and tried not squeezing it to confirm its sure strength. "Perdicus is a good husband." She returned to her food. "Father is content."

Gabrielle ate some of her fish, which was freshly made a candlemark ago. How she missed pike fish. "He would be angry though if he knew he missed out on another dowry."

"I imagine so," Lila weakly admitted. She then looked at Terreis, who had been quiet the entire time. "Tell me about the Amazons." She smiled brightly. "What is it like?"

Terreis smiled over at Lila. She saw hints of Gabrielle in her younger sister.

For a candlemark, the three talked about the Amazon Nation. Lila listened on in awe and pictured everything Gabrielle or Terreis told her. She could understand why Gabrielle had gone to the Amazons. Such freedoms as a woman were unheard of except in Sparta.

"How long will you stay?" Lila asked.

Gabrielle pushed her empty plate aside and leaned against her chair. "Perhaps a day." She tilted her head. "I wish to see mother… if she will see me."

Lila considered this for a moment.

"Perhaps she will meet us somewhere," Terreis offered.

Lila brightened and focused on the pair. "Father is expected to leave tomorrow for most of the day. He plans to leave mid morning and come home before sunset."

Gabrielle smiled at their perfect timing.

"Then you could meet Sarah." Lila grew excited at the idea.

Gabrielle had a slight furrow in her brow. "Sarah? Is she your daughter?"

Lila nodded and warmed at the thought of her child. "Yes, she is with mother now."

Gabrielle brightened at the news of a niece. "I have a niece."

Terreis chuckled and gripped her consort's leg under the table.

"She would love to meet Auntie Gabby," Lila teased. She grinned at Gabrielle's low groan.

"Gabby?" Terreis echoed.

Gabrielle shook her head and shot a warning look at her lover. "Do not dare use that nickname."

Lila giggled and covered her mouth when her sister slotted her eyes at her. "You were so clumsy as a kid. It's hard to believe you can use a sword or ride a horse."

Terreis started laughing, softly.

Gabrielle sighed loudly and protested, "That was a long time ago."

"Gabby, you tripped over your own feet."

"Lila," Gabrielle fussed.

Lila giggled again and smiled at her sister. "What will you do this afternoon?"

"We will make camp outside of town and rest." Gabrielle exchanged a glance with her partner before she looked at Lila again. "We have travelled quite a bit."

Lila nodded. "You could stay at the inn."

"We will be fine making camp," Terreis insisted.

"Then will you come to town in the morning?"

Gabrielle nodded at her sister. "Will you meet us in the agora?"

"Yes." Lila thought about her plans. "I will come fetch you after father leaves."

"Thank you." Gabrielle gathered her sister's hands into hers. "It's good to see you, Lila."

"You too, sister." Lila had a tender smile and squeezed her sister's hands. She then let out a low breath. "I must return home and pick up Sarah."

Gabrielle nodded. She stood up with her sister.

Terreis fished out the coins and tossed them on the table for the barmaid. With the sisters, she left the taverna and returned to the horses.

Gabrielle exchanged a long hug with Lila and promised to see her tomorrow. For a moment, she watched her sister leave then she took Skylla's reins from Terreis.

"That went well," Terreis commented during their walk out of town.

Gabrielle considered it and thought about tomorrow. "Let us hope it goes so well tomorrow with my mother."

Terreis touched her consort's arm and smiled. "I'm sure it will go fine."

Gabrielle had the same hopes, but she expected worse. It was hard to say what her father was feeding her mother about Gabrielle's disappearance. However, Lila's reaction was rather welcoming.

Once beyond the village, Terreis moved closer to her consort. She reached out and took Gabrielle's hand into hers.

Gabrielle sadly smiled at her partner's tenderness. She cleared her throat and asked, "So is this really a good anniversary gift?"

Terreis tilted her head, her blue eyes shined at Gabrielle. "Is it to you?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "You cannot answer with a question."

Terreis chuckled and squeezed her consort's hand. "It is for me."

"Then it is for me too." Gabrielle ran a few fingers through her hair, the reins touched her shoulder. "Mostly," she muttered.

Terreis bumped Gabrielle's thigh with their locked hands. "I am happy we have each other."

Gabrielle smiled in agreement. Then Terreis's words stirred a thought, and she looked at the princess. "Do you think your sister will ever find somebody?"

Terreis was quiet as she thought about the question. She glanced at Gabrielle. "Melosa is complicated when it comes to relationships."

"How so?" Gabrielle had yet to fully understand Melosa.

Terreis and Gabrielle turned off the main road and headed west. Gabrielle was leading the way, which was closer to the seas.

"My sister only wishes to have companionship, nothing more."

"You mean a friend?" Gabrielle tempted.

Terreis tried recalling how Melosa explained it to her. "Like a romantic friend, but nothing physical."

Gabrielle found it peculiar and studied Terreis for a beat. "That does sound complicated."

Terreis nibbled on her bottom lip. "Melosa finds herself more inclined to be romantic but less inclined to be sexual."

Gabrielle considered Terreis's explanation and gave a faint nod. "I believe I follow."

Terreis grinned and added, "So it's hard for her to find somebody that would be interested in being romantically involved but not so much sexually involved."

Gabrielle glanced ahead and started to see the seas. "Is that why the council has given up pushing her to have a child?"

"Perhaps," Terreis replied. She shrugged because she had yet to discuss it with her sister. "It could mean the end of our line."

Gabrielle frowned then stepped in front of Terreis. She faced her partner and asked, "You don't want any children?"

Terreis opened her mouth to reply, but she faltered for a heartbeat. "Do you want children?"

Gabrielle shook her head and pressed, "Terreis."

The princess squeezed her consort's hand and explained, "I do wish to have children, but I do not wish to be unfaithful to you."

Gabrielle clenched her jaw at Terreis's subtle point. "It is…"

"Ceremonial?" Terreis shook her head and stepped around her consort. She pulled Gabrielle with her and the horses. "It is a difficult topic."

Gabrielle agreed and knew they needed time to figure it out. She needed time to think through it.

"Right this moment though…" Terreis slowed as she saw the seas before them, a grand view. "I just want to enjoy this evening with you."

Gabrielle followed her partner's eyes and smiled at the beautiful view. She actually missed it. Shortly, she and Terreis had camp made and the horses enjoyed grazing nearby in the grasses. For supper, Gabrielle put together several snacks because they both had plenty to eat at the taverna. By dark, they cuddled by the campfire and chatted until they went on their backs on the bedroll to watch the stars. Gabrielle was tired but her worries about tomorrow sat heavy on her chest. Terreis soothed her to sleep.

At sunrise, the campfire had long died off. Gabrielle woke up and put on her duster to take off the morning chill. She had moved closer to the cliffs and listened to the seas. She heard them whisper to her, but she was unsure what they told her. Behind her, Terreis slept soundly for awhile longer.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and thought back on many of her childhood memories from Potidaea. One of the strongest was of Aphrodite, and how they first met at the temple. Gabrielle smiled at her own naïve self because she had no idea Aphrodite was the Goddess of Love.

"You were so young then."

Gabrielle gradually opened her eyes and smiled at the fact the goddess was seated next to her in the grass.

Aphrodite studied the mortal's beautiful profile under the morning sun.

Gabrielle looked over at the Goddess of Love. "Good morning."

"Good morning, sweet pea." Aphrodite smiled at her favorite mortal.

Gabrielle mirrored the smile before she looked back at the princess, who still slept soundly under the furs.

"She will sleep," Aphrodite promised her. She made sure of it.

Gabrielle chuckled and looked at the goddess.

"How is the visit so far?"

Gabrielle nodded. "Lila was very receptive."

Aphrodite was pleased to hear it. "And your mother?"

"I will find out." Gabrielle looked down at her duster. "I am nothing like the daughter she had before."

Aphrodite reached over and lifted her chosen's head. "You are still her daughter."

"Perhaps she will only want one daughter," Gabrielle stated.

Aphrodite sighed and argued, "Don't sell yourself short, Gabs."

Gabrielle smirked, weakly. "Well I am short."

Aphrodite lowered her hand and shook her head. "You are a total warrior… until it comes to your family."

Gabrielle grumbled and asked, "Does your family do that to you?"

"Totally." Aphrodite considered the number of times she broke down around her family members, especially her father. "As we say on Mount Olympus, family is fun."

Gabrielle chuckled because she fully agreed with the goddess.

"Just be you, Gabs." Aphrodite noticed the Amazon's doubts about the idea. She then stood up.

Gabrielle twisted her head up and was surprised that Aphrodite sat down behind her. She found herself pulled back into Aphrodite's warm embrace, and she allowed it. Gabrielle could not recall the last time she snuggled with the goddess, but it was before her marriage.

"You will do great," Aphrodite promised. "Even if your mother has a hard time with things, I think she will come around." She had her arms around Gabrielle's waist. "You have a lot of your mother's personality."

"Is that a good thing?" Gabrielle countered.

Aphrodite chuckled. "Yes, sweet pea."

Gabrielle blew out a breath. "I hope you're right."

"I am a goddess so I am always right."

Gabrielle softly laughed and placed a hand over Aphrodite's arm. "Thank you."

Aphrodite leaned forward and after a long silence, she muttered, "You smell like campfire and horse, Gabs."

"I have been riding for six days now," Gabrielle snapped. Her tone was still playful.

"Yes, and you need a bath." Aphrodite cleared her throat and cautiously added, "Perhaps before you see your mother."

"Thanks a lot." Gabrielle swatted her friend's arm for good measure. She grumbled at the goddess's laugh.

"It hardly compares to that fish smell."

Gabrielle smirked at the mention of fish and remembered the one she brought to Aphrodite's temple. "Have you eaten one yet?"

"Please," Aphrodite muttered.

Gabrielle twisted her head around towards the goddess. "One day I will cook one for you, Dity."

Aphrodite smiled at hearing her nickname. "Promises, promises." She then grinned and teased, "Do you still even know how to cook?"

Gabrielle gave a low growl.

Aphrodite chuckled and taunted, "Spoken like a true warrior."

"That's it!" Gabrielle started to get up until the goddess hauled her down again. She flopped onto the ground.

"Perhaps one day," Aphrodite softly agreed again. She bowed her head closer until her lips were near Gabrielle's ear. "Good luck today." She started to fade but whispered, "I will be there with you."

Gabrielle turned her head sidelong and saw the last of the goddess disappear. "I know," she murmured. Once Aphrodite was gone, she heard Terreis stir in the bedroll. Gabrielle gazed at the seas one last time and finally stood up. "Smell like horse and campfire," she muttered under her breath. "What does she expect?" She shook her head, brushed any dirt off, and went over to her rising partner.

Terreis and Gabrielle prepared for their day after having a quick breakfast. The walk back to Potidaea was short, and they spent time in the agora. Their supplies were low so they had plenty of time to restock their saddlebags. It was nearly sun high when Gabrielle debated about an early supper, but her plans were happily changed by Lila's arrival.

Gabrielle hugged her sister then started out of the village together. Lila asked about their night, and Terreis replied to most of it. From the corner of her eye, Gabrielle noticed how her sister would continual glance at her. It was obvious that Lila was still overwhelmed by Gabrielle's changes. Lila considered whether her childhood sister was even left, especially because Gabrielle was rather quiet as an adult.

Gabrielle slowed once she spotted the old house. Her horse, Skylla, nearly bumped into her. She increased her pace again and followed Lila to the house. She restrained from trembling as the house grew taller than her.

Terreis sensed her consort's distress. She gingerly touched Gabrielle's arm in silent console. She hoped it would go well. She cleared her throat and offered, "I can take our horses to the stable."

Gabrielle had halted in front of the steps to her old home. She stared at the door. She was lost until Terreis's firm touch on her shoulder jarred her.

"Gabrielle?" Terreis worriedly looked into her consort's eyes.

Gabrielle shook her head and focused on her partner. "I'm sorry."

"I can take the horses," Terreis offered, again. She received Skylla's reins, and she slipped behind her consort and Lila. She started to the small barn where the horses could rest in peace for awhile. She planned to give Gabrielle a private moment with her mother.

Lila waited beside the front door. "Come on, sister." She started into the house.

Gabrielle steadied her nerves and reminded herself she was a trained Amazon. She struggled to keep her hand off the sheathed xiphos at her hip. She climbed the steps and suddenly all her armor and leathers felt much heavier than a heartbeat ago. Yet, she willingly followed Lila into the old farm house.

Lila closed the door after Gabrielle entered the house. She smiled at her mother, who was preparing a meal in the kitchen, to her left. "Mother," she called.

Hecuba's full attention was on cutting slices of lamb. "Sarah is resting in the bedroom."

Lila bit her lip then tried, "Somebody is here to see you."

Hecuba paused and looked up from her work. She gazed over her left shoulder and went very still once her hazel eyes rested upon her visitor. Sharply her heart jumped against her chest, and she dropped the knife onto the board. "By the gods…"

Gabrielle clenched her jaw and stared at her mother, who was her same height and honey blond hair. She had removed her hand from the sword hilt earlier, but she now fisted her left hand.

Hecuba cautiously closed in the small distance between her and Gabrielle. Her wide eyes seemed even larger and shock filled her features. Once close enough, Hecuba confirmed that it was truly her eldest daughter before her.

"Is it… really you?" Hecuba whispered.

Gabrielle swallowed a sharp lump and nod. "It is me, mother."

Hecuba stared in awe and struggled to believe her daughter was before her. She inhaled sharply, and she plummeted into a rage of emotions. Her first, strongest emotion made her raise her right hand.

Gabrielle saw the warning, and she withheld her trained defenses. The harsh smack echoed through the kitchen and was followed by Lila's low gasp. Gabrielle's cheek burned from the strike, but she blinked away the sting in her eyes. She briefly kept her eyes closed as her mother spoke to her.

"That is for making your mother think you were dead all these anni," Hecuba rasped, and tears trickled down her flushed cheeks.

Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and met her mother's hurt gaze. She let out a pained breath and continued to hold her ground.

Hecuba closed the last distance and pulled her eldest daughter into a fierce hug.

Gabrielle was stiff at first until her mother's weight firmed against her body, despite the armor between them. She brought her arms around her mother. She felt a warm hand thread into her short hair.

Hecuba kissed her daughter's untouched cheek and started crying. Her knees slackened slightly but strong arms kept her upright. "Oh gods," she whimpered. "My little one."

Gabrielle tightened her closed eyes and held her mother close. "I am so sorry, Momma."

Hecuba weakly nodded as relief about her daughter's wellbeing surfaced to the top. She had lost anni of sleep thanks to one twisted nightmare after another about her daughter's fate. She had prayed to Hestia that her child was safe, somewhere. Her grandchild, Sarah, had offered some solace, but Hecuba's heart still ached for her eldest to come home, like today.

Lila stood to the side and watched her sister and mother reunite after so long. She wiped her tears from her face and thanked the gods this day had come to them. Once her sister and mother separated, she curiously watched her mother take in Gabrielle's obvious changes.

Hecuba held her daughter by her bronze clad shoulders and took in every detail, including the hardness in Gabrielle's eyes. She shook her head and worriedly whispered, "What have you become?"

Gabrielle clenched her jaw for a beat then stated, "I became myself." She found lost hazel eyes locked on her. "I am an Amazon."

Hecuba parted her lips, about to ask more. However, the door creaked open, and another female warrior entered her home.

Terreis was hesitant to come inside, but she worried for her consort. She looked from Lila to the woman she presumed was Gabrielle's mother. "Hello," she attempted, first.

Gabrielle took a step back, out of her mother's reach. She held out her hand to her partner. "Mother, this is Princess Terreis."

Hecuba looked from her daughter to the stranger, who was similarly armored except for a bow and arrows. Her eyes darted to Gabrielle, and she was obviously confused by the new, strange life Gabrielle had taken on in the past anni.

Gabrielle stilled her fears as she looked upon her stricken mother. "We do not have to stay long… if at all."

Lila tensed at her sister's words, and she quickly cut into the conversation. "I think mother just needs a moment to catch her breath." She looked at her mother. "Perhaps we should go sit down by the fire."

Hecuba nodded and cleared her throat. "That is a good idea."

Gabrielle nodded her agreement. She then turned to her partner and softly advised, "It is best we leave our weapons by the door."

Terreis readily agreed and unhooked her bow, filled quiver, and sword. Like Gabrielle, she left them propped up beside the door then followed her consort into the next room.

Hecuba took a seat in her usual worn chair, near the small fire.

Lila checked the fire before she sat on her father's chair. She noted Terreis and Gabrielle sat on the fur across from them. She decided to tempt fate and offered, "Gabrielle was telling me a bit about the Amazons."

Hecuba was quiet and listened to Lila's words.

Lila continued explaining what she learned about the Amazons. Terreis helped fill in a few holes.

Gabrielle and her mother remained quiet. They occasionally exchanged glances but no words. Finally an awkward silence fell in the room, except for the fireplace's crackle.

"So what was so horrible about this life... your family?" Hecuba asked.

Lila clenched her hands in her lap and hoped her sister would handle it okay.

Gabrielle sat with her legs crossed and neutral features. However, her eyes coolly regarded her mother. "I wished to do be more than a village girl… a wife… a mother."

"And a warrior is a life?" Hecuba countered. She indicated her daughter's changed body and appearance. "You are hardly the daughter I raised all those anni." She was dumbfounded by the black markings on Gabrielle's right arm and up her neck.

Gabrielle struggled with her next words and finally replied, "You are right… but I am still your child."

Hecuba let out a low breath and considered such a statement. She tried fathoming Gabrielle's new life as an Amazon. It was beyond her imagination. Of all the possibilities, Hecuba had missed this one. "Why did you even come home?"

Gabrielle looked over at Lila then back to her mother. "To see you both."

Hecuba noticed that her husband was out of it. She understood why too.

Gabrielle kept calm even though her stomach was knotted into a large ball. "I..." She hesitated, but Terreis's fingertips scrapped over her thigh in silent support. "I have missed you both greatly."

Lila sadly smiled and quickly replied, "We have missed you." She looked at her mother.

Hecuba glanced at her youngest before she turned back to her oldest child. "We have," she softly agreed.

Gabrielle released a heavy breath and looked at the small space between them.

"How long will you stay?" Hecuba inquired.

"Perhaps a day."

Terreis quickly cut into the conversation. "More like two or three." She saw the disappointment in the family members' eyes when Gabrielle said only a day.

Gabrielle faintly slotted her eyes at the princess.

Terreis slowly raised an eyebrow, in silent warning. She hoped her authority look paid off.

Gabrielle gazed back at her mother. "Perhaps two or three," she granted.

Hecuba nodded and then considered what to do next. She placed her hands against her knees and asked, "Is anybody hungry?"

"Famished," Lila replied. She grinned at her sister and teased, "I'm sure Gabby is too."

Gabrielle sighed at the old nickname that she hated as a kid, and now as an adult.

"I will finish making supper." Hecuba stood up. "It will take a little while. Perhaps you both would enjoy a warm bath."

Gabrielle considered whether that was her mother's hint that she smelled like horse and campfire. She grumbled and glanced over at Terreis, who seemed rather interested in the prospect.

"I will help warm the water," Lila offered. She stood up next.

Hecuba started out of the visiting room. "There's plenty of time." She returned to the kitchen. She was grateful to return to her cooking so that she could think.

Terreis and Gabrielle were on their feet. Gabrielle turned to her partner and mentioned, "I wish to check on Skylla."

Terreis understood Gabrielle's unspoken need to be alone for a beat. "Then I will help your sister ready a bath for you."

Gabrielle nodded and silently thanked the princess for her understanding. She quickly left the house and went directly to the barn. She found Skylla and Terreis's horse in a large stall together.

Skylla seemed to sense her human friend's distress. She came over to the door and hung her head over it.

Gabrielle placed her hands on either side of the horse's head and leaned her forehead against Skylla's own. She shut her eyes and muttered, "This is as hard as I expected it to be." She ran her right hand along her friend's cheek.

Skylla gave a heavy sigh. She continued flicking her tail.

For a long time, Gabrielle remained still and silent. She calmed her racing mind then an unusual sensation distracted her. Gabrielle raised her head and focused on the sensation that was both strange and familiar to her. She turned on her heels as it grew stronger across her chest and neck.

A few paces away, a familiar figure appeared and smiled at her.

Gabrielle moved away from the stall and ignored Skylla's low whine. She had a thin smile and greeted, "Aphrodite."

"How's it going?" Aphrodite placed her hands on her hips. "Is it a happy reunion?"

Gabrielle curiously tilted her head at the goddess. "It's as expected." She took another step closer. "But, better than worse." She carefully studied the Goddess of Love with peaked interest.

Aphrodite nodded a few times and seemed to consider Gabrielle's words. She was about to say something but faltered and puckered her lips.

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the goddess's strange motions. She folded her arms and asked, "What is it?"

"You have heard about the warlord in Macedon?"

The Amazon remembered Ephiny's warning about a female warlord, but she had yet to see any traces of the warlord in their travels. "Yes, I have heard word."

Aphrodite hesitated in a worried manner. She lowered her hands from her hips and hastily explained, "She is headed to the Amazon Nation."

Gabrielle slotted her eyes. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, and you should return quickly to the nation." Aphrodite approached Gabrielle and quickly explained, "The nation will need your skills to defeat her."

Gabrielle tilted her head back and peered up with hooded eyes at the goddess. She read deep into the goddess's eyes and shook her head once. "No." She took a step backwards.

"Gabrielle-"

"You are not Aphrodite." Gabrielle unfolded her arms and bent her knees. The goddess's motions were wrong, lack of care missing, and Aphrodite rarely called her by her proper name. "Aphrodite would never send me into danger."

The goddess lifted her chin and slowly her pink chiton dissolved into armor. Her blond curls straightened into brown strands. Her honey-brown eyes bore into the Amazon.

Gabrielle stared at the Goddess of Hunt, who was the patron goddess of her nation. She had heard and read much about Artemis, but she had yet to meet another god. Gabrielle tensed at the sight of the Goddess of Hunt.

"Hello, Gabrielle." Artemis stood in her glory as a warrior. Her golden bow shined like her gold armor. She wore a golden headband that kept her hair swept back from her face. She returned her hands to her hips. "You are a very perceptive mortal."

"I was trained well," Gabrielle countered. She wearily eyed the goddess.

Artemis smiled at such truth, but she became serious. "The warlord is marching to the Amazon Nation, and you must return in haste."

"How does my presence make a difference?"

Artemis neared the Amazon and explained, "You are my finest warrior. Your nation needs you to help stop this warlord." She shook her head and became worried about the future. "The warlord is extremely powerful."

Gabrielle quietly considered the goddess's request. She gave a low nod but because the Amazons were her family, not for the goddess. "We will return quickly." Her eyes flickered to the open barn doors and beyond to the old farm house. "At first light," she decided after a beat.

Artemis nearly argued it but allowed it to pass.

Gabrielle moved forward and started towards the goddess. "I am your follower." She passed the goddess on her way to the doors, but she paused and turned her head sidelong. From the corner of her eye, she saw the goddess. "But my loyalties lie with Aphrodite first." She left the barn without another glance. She missed Artemis's smirk.

Artemis started to fade away, but she whispered, "They always have… they always will." She then was gone.

Gabrielle returned to her mother's home. She put away the warlord warnings and focused on her time with her mother, Lila, and later Sarah. She was excited to meet her three month old niece, who passed no judgments on her life as an Amazon. Tonight, Gabrielle would explain to Terreis that they had to return to the Amazon Nation. It would be difficult to explain it to Terreis, but she hoped her partner would trust her word because the nation needed them.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Princess Terreis carefully studied her consort, who stood beside a fireplace. Her features were twisted from concern and worry. "Gabrielle, it was just gossip."

Gabrielle sighed and unfolded her arms. She moved away from the warm fireplace and grasped her partner's shoulders. Her hand warmed against Terreis's skin. "It's a little more than village gossip." She mirrored the princess's worried look. "If that warlord strikes the Amazon Nation then they will need our help."

Terreis ran her fingers through her strawberry blond hair and argued, "We told your mother that we would stay a few days."

Gabrielle lowered her hands until she had Terreis's own in hers. "I know, but we can come back for a visit another time."

Terreis had a frown and stared at the floor for a moment. She peered up at her consort again. "You really have a bad feeling about this warlord?"

Gabrielle gave a low nod.

Terreis squeezed her consort's smaller hands. "Alright," she murmured. "How about we leave midday? At least have a morning meal with your mother and sister down at the taverna."

"Alright," Gabrielle agreed. She and Terreis had opted to stay at the local inn rather than camp again. It was suppose to be a chillier night than last night, especially if they were beside the sea.

Terreis drew her consort into her space, and she shared a tender kiss with Gabrielle. She was pleased by her consort's softened features after the kiss. She traced Gabrielle's bottom lip. "Come to bed with me."

Like Terreis, Gabrielle was only in her leathers after removing their armor and weapons awhile ago. Together, they went to the bed, which was quite inviting after sleeping in bedrolls for many nights in a row. Gabrielle felt spoiled by their bed back in the nation.

Terreis had a sweet smile as she ran her fingertips along the lines of Gabrielle's horse tattoo. She then slid off the leather strap from her consort's top. Shortly, she and Gabrielle were tangled in the bed's furs. After their lovemaking, Terreis dozed off in her consort's strong arms.

Gabrielle remained awake, eyes unfocused and on the fire. She considered today's events that started with Aphrodite's visit, followed by seeing her mother, and then meeting Artemis for the first time. But a smile came over her when she thought about her niece, Sarah, who had been so adorable. Sarah's blond hair and cute smile reminded Gabrielle why she wanted a child or two later.

However, her pleasant thoughts were broken by the looming concerns of a warlord. Gabrielle had not learned the warlord's name, but she suspected she would forever remember it. Artemis's warning made her worry. Without knowing the size of the warlord's army, Gabrielle suspected they may need the Centaur's help. However, such help from the Centaurs could be difficult, if not impossible. In recent years, Gabrielle had managed to forge a few friendships with certain Centaurs. But, Queen Melosa kept the relations volatile rather than mending them. Unlike most Amazons, Gabrielle lacked anni of bad blood with the Centaurs.

Eventually Gabrielle fell asleep from mental exhaustion. Morning came sooner than expected, and Gabrielle readied before Terreis. Her early rise stirred Terreis later, and soon they left for the agora. When Gabrielle came to the opposite side of the agora, she was able to see the temple to the Goddess of Love.

Terreis joined her side and studied the temple that had Gabrielle's eye. She tilted her head and mentioned, "Her faith has grown in recent anni."

Gabrielle nibbled on her lower lip then she looked at Terreis. "Do you believe in the gods? Truly believe in their existence?" She had never once spoken about her friendship with Aphrodite to any other mortal. She doubted any mortal would believe her.

Terreis seriously considered it as she stared at the temple. She finally met her consort's curious gaze. "I rather believe in their existence and be right or wrong than not believe at all and be damned to Hades for eternity."

Gabrielle huffed and placed a hand on the xiphos's hilt.

"But, I dislike that we may not control our own fate," Terreis admitted. She indicated the temple. "That our fate is already predetermined by the gods."

Gabrielle continued staring at the temple. "I believe in them." She looked at Terreis. "And I believe we control our final fate... not the gods." She turned on her heels.

Terreis followed alongside and teased, "Blasphemy."

Gabrielle chuckled and shrugged because she was hardly worried about it. She and Terreis traveled through the agora again and were met by Lila and Hecuba. Gabrielle exchanged hugs with her family members then Lila led the way to the taverna. Over a warm meal, Gabrielle explained that she and Terreis had to return to the nation due to word about a warlord. Lila stared wide eye at her sister and asked about battle. Gabrielle explained that a battle was possible. Her words only heightened Hecuba's worries.

After the meal, everybody went to the stable by the inn where the horses waited for them. While the Amazons readied their horses, Hecuba and Lila quietly conversed about the change of events. Lila could tell her mother was very worried about Gabrielle's safety even though Gabrielle was a trained warrior.

Gabrielle came out of the stable first with her horse in tow.

Hecuba was amazed by the tall horse that her daughter rode on nearly every day. She truly realized how different her daughter had become over the anni. She smiled at the horse's name after Gabrielle told them.

Lila was petting the horse and came over to her sister. "You will give me a ride on your horse next visit?"

"Lila," Hecuba warned.

Lila chuckled at her mother and smiled brighter at Gabrielle. "Please, Gabby."

Terreis gave a low snicker at hearing the nickname.

Gabrielle ignored her partner and kept focused on Lila. "Of course." She put the reins over Skylla's head. She then pulled her sister in for a hug.

Hecuba exchanged a long hug with her daughter next. She held tightly to Gabrielle and whispered, "I love you, little one." She kissed Gabrielle's temple and withdrew from the hug. "Send us word that you are safe."

"I will," Gabrielle promised. She turned to her horse, whistled low, and waited until Skylla was down. She climbed into the saddle and repeated the whistle. She noted that Terreis had already mounted her horse.

"Safe travels," Lila called to her sister.

Gabrielle pulled on the right rein and directed Skylla towards the gates. She waved to her sister and mother before she and Terreis disappeared into the crowd. Once out of the village, she and Terreis started in a gallop towards the north-west. They had a long ride to Cirra and even longer to the nation.

The two Amazons traveled all day and switched between a gallop, walk, and traveling by foot to give the horses a break. At night, they traveled for a few candlemarks before they searched for a quiet location off the main road. They made camp in a glade that was busy with wildlife.

For several days, the Amazons repeated the same day until they finally arrived at Cirra. On foot, Gabrielle followed her memory through Cirra to the home of Callisto's brother. She hoped Callisto could travel sooner than later. Once at the familiar home, Gabrielle found Callisto's brother and discovered that Callisto had gone for a horse ride with her nephew. Callisto's brother, Tychon, welcomed the Amazons into his house until Callisto's return.

By late afternoon, the three Amazons were leaving Cirra and continued the two day trip back to the nation. Terreis was weary and hoped the rush home amounted to nothing. She was thankful to sit by the campfire shortly after sunset. She watched her consort make a small meal after Tychon and his wife made them supper earlier.

Callisto had finished freeing the horses from their tack. She set it aside then went over to the campfire. She sat on her bedroll by the fire. "So you have a bad feeling, dearie?"

Terreis looked up and stopped from sharpening her blade. She rested the sharpening stone near the tip.

Gabrielle was making a vegetable stew. She finished dicing the tomatoes and looked pointedly at Callisto. "Yes."

Callisto smiled and then looked at the campfire. "For good reason."

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes and wondered what Callisto meant by those words. "What do you know?"

Callisto's smile grew dark, and she turned it to Gabrielle. "The warlord is Xena."

Gabrielle shook her head because the name was hardly familiar to her.

"Not many know her name," Callisto agreed. She lost her smile as she stared at the fire, which brought back bad memories. "But I know it."

"From where?" Terreis asked.

"From a long time ago." Callisto continued staring at the flames as the bad memories grew to life again. "When I was a child, a warlord named Cortese came to my village." She was quiet for a beat then explained, "He burned my village and enslaved the women, including me."

Gabrielle lowered her knife. It was the first time she had heard details about Callisto's past. She noted Terreis was listening carefully too.

"He continued through Macedon and hit other villages. He finally came to Amphipolis." Callisto went quiet again.

"Amphipolis is near the Macedon border," Gabrielle recalled from her mental map.

"It is," Callisto murmured. She slowly looked over at Gabrielle. "Like normal, Cortese planned to attack Amphipolis, but he found strong opposition." Her grin returned. "A young village girl had raised arms with every young man, and they defeated Cortese."

"It was Xena," Terreis concluded.

"Yes." Callisto turned her wicked smile on Terreis.

Gabrielle tapped her dagger's blade on the small stew pot. "If she has been fighting since then... battling since then..."

Callisto had a full smile that showed her teeth. "She will be a powerful enemy." She chuckled, deeply. "We are facing a cunning and strong warlord. I believe Melosa will have her hands full."

Terreis tightened her grip on the whetstone. She looked over at her consort.

Gabrielle stood and hooked the pot over the fire. "Everybody has a weakness," she argued.

Callisto cut her eyes up to Gabrielle. "Yes. But, what do you think a blood thirsty warlord has for a weakness?"

Gabrielle was barely deterred by Callisto's question. "We will find it and defeat her." She went over to the horses and found an apple from her saddlebags. She cut it up for Skylla.

Callisto chuckled and stared at the campfire. She hoped Gabrielle was right. Even though Xena had grown into a warlord, Callisto secretly admitted some part of her admired Xena's skills. Callisto had attempted to help Cirra battle Cortese and failed at it. However, Xena managed to defeat Cortese. It was a success that Callisto admired in the past and continued to do so today. In Callisto's mind, anybody willing to risk their lives to protect their home and family could still have a good bone in them.

By dawn, the Amazons packed and tacked the horses. Their ride home to the nation took another two days, but they slowed once they saw the nation in the distance. Terreis was relieved that everything seemed calm and normal. She prayed that the warlord, Xena, was far from her nation. However, once they entered the nation there was a slight buzz to the air.

Gabrielle was tense and went directly to the stable.

"I will take care of your horses," Callisto offered.

Gabrielle nearly protested, but she trusted Callisto to care for her horse. She gave a soft thank you and followed Terreis through the village. Her pace increased as her worries heightened to another level.

Terreis kept to her consort's side. She remained quiet and opened the door to the hut in front of them.

Gabrielle slipped past and waited until Terreis was at her side. She was hardly surprised to find Queen Melosa in the center with seated officers around her.

"Hades," Terreis muttered.

Gabrielle silently agreed, and they sought out a seat together. She glanced at Eponin, who was next to her.

Eponin inclined her head to Gabrielle before she focused on Queen Melosa again.

"She arrives on peaceful terms," Queen Melosa announced. "But, I still want the army readied in case those terms change."

"How can we be sure this is not a farce?" one officer spoke up. She was far off to the left.

"Perhaps she has comes in peace to learn our village and then battle us," another officer conceded.

Queen Melosa sighed and nodded at the concerns. "It is possible." She placed her hands behind her back. "But, we also cannot endanger possible peaceful terms." She saw many agreeing faces. "It is a delicate situation."

"And what of the Centaurs?"

Queen Melosa looked to the next Amazon that spoke. "That is another tricky situation."

"The warlord could be seeking terms with them… in hopes to join forces and battle us."

"Or the warlord wishes to join with us to battle the Centaurs."

Suddenly voices rose within the hut and strong din filled the hut until Queen Melosa hollered for silence. She finally repeated that the army should be ready at a moment's notice for war. She promised to carry the relations outside of the nation, if at all possible. Until then, the nation was on alert as the warlord marched towards the nation.

After the meeting, Gabrielle and Terreis went to Queen Melosa. The queen warmly greeted her sister's return and hugged both of them. She asked about the trip and was displeased that they had returned from their vacation so soon.

Gabrielle shifted the topic to the warlord. "This warlord could be quite cunning."

Melosa went serious and focused on Gabrielle. "A war should be our last option."

"Do we know how big her army is?" Terreis inquired. She and Gabrielle had missed the opening part of the meeting.

"She commands over five hundred hoplites," Melosa replied.

Terreis paled and whispered, "That's enough for two phalanx."

Melosa nodded.

Gabrielle shook her head and urged, "She is not here for peace."

Melosa frowned at Terreis's consort. "Her messenger brought word confirming otherwise."

Gabrielle balled her hands at her side. "Let me seek out the truth."

Terreis grabbed her consort's arm. "Gabrielle-"

"If she's been traveling through Macedon then surely others can confirm her peaceful terms, or otherwise." Gabrielle ignored her partner's fears.

Melosa looked from Gabrielle to Terreis then back at Gabrielle. She could hardly argue Gabrielle's logic that possibly others would give more information about the warlord. "You are my finest ilarchès, Gabrielle."

"Then you know I won't fail you," Gabrielle firmed.

Queen Melosa struggled with her sister's silent plea to deny Gabrielle. However, she had to put the nation ahead of their self desires. She let out a low breath. "Very well."

"Melosa," Terreis hissed.

The queen gripped her sister's shoulder and silently demanded to be quiet. "You must leave now, Gabrielle. Come back with word about this warlord."

Gabrielle slightly bowed then looked at her partner, who was quite upset.

Melosa released Terreis and then left the pair. Once she was gone from the hut, she faintly made out the couple's words, but she continued on her way.

"We have to know the truth," Gabrielle fought. "Melosa needs to know what she's facing, Terreis."

Terreis shook her head and stated, "I am coming with you then."

"No." Gabrielle moved in closer. "You must stay here… and help Melosa." She grabbed Terreis's shoulders. "I need you to speak to the Centaurs."

Terreis stared at her consort with worry and surprise.

"You, Ephiny, and I have the best relations with them." Gabrielle squeezed her lover's tense shoulders. "If this warlord rallies the Centaurs to fight us then we are doomed, but if you and Ephiny can convince them to join us then we stand a chance."

Terreis sighed heavily and leaned her head down until her forehead touched Gabrielle's own. "I am worried."

Gabrielle encircled her partner's waist. "I am too," she softly admitted.

Terreis was quiet for a bit then lifted her head. "Will you please ask Callisto to join you?"

Gabrielle was remotely surprised that Terreis was comfortable with Callisto coming with her. She suspected Terreis trusted Callisto to protect her. "I will ask."

Terreis gave a faint nod then she exchanged a kiss with her consort. Together, they left the hut and went in different directions.

By nightfall, Gabrielle had returned to the roads on horseback with Callisto at her side. She was thankful that Callisto agreed to join her. Her mission seemed just as daunting as it seemed important. She prayed she could learn more about the warlord, who would arrive at the nation in four days. They had little time.

In the morning, Gabrielle and Callisto rode into a small village to the northeast. They sought out any who knew information about the warlord. There were few in the taverna that knew anything, except that the warlord had come from the east. Once on horseback again, the pair rode further east, deeper into Macedon. They came to another small village just before dark, and paid for a room. The innkeeper had heard about the warlord and suggested they go to the agora in the morning to see if any merchants had news.

At first light, Gabrielle and Callisto had a quick meal from the innkeeper then went to the agora. The merchants were already preparing for what they hoped was a busy day. Gabrielle pretended to shop as she propositioned for information. She was having barely any luck.

Callisto went to a neighboring stall and smirked at the short man that sold a variety of wares. She wondered how often he cheated people of their money. She could tell his weapons were poor quality.

Callisto picked up a dagger and inspected its inferior craftsmanship. She considered whether the blade was even sharp. She run her thumb across it just as the merchant bustled up to him.

"You picked the finest blade in my collection," he declared. He had a huge, fake smile. "And it's only six drachmas."

Callisto was highly amused and continued turning the dagger through her hands. "What a steal," she exclaimed with a low life. She showed her teeth in a wide grin. "For you."

The merchant laughed it off and argued, "It was made by a fine blacksmith from Amphipolis."

"Amphipolis?" Callisto repeated. She pointed the dagger tip at the merchant. "You have been to Amphipolis?"

The merchant was a little nervous when the warrior woman pointed his own blade at him. "Several times, yes."

Callisto smiled and then called, "Gabrielle."

The merchant's dark eyes flickered to the other warrior woman that joined the first one. "Listen, the blade is for sale."

"We just want information," Callisto explained. She still held up the cheap dagger at him. She sensed Gabrielle at her side. "He's been to Amphipolis."

Gabrielle was keenly interested and focused on the merchant. "Do you travel a lot?"

The merchant puffed his chest and replied, "All over, actually."

Gabrielle had a sense of hope. "Have you heard of a warlord named Xena?"

The merchant went still and carefully eyed the women. He then smiled, evilly. "Information is not cheap."

Callisto suddenly jumped forward and grabbed the man by his blue chiton. She jerked him over the table between them. "How about your life?" She brought the dagger near his throat.

"Callisto, release him," Gabrielle ordered.

Callisto grumbled, but she freed him.

Gabrielle focused on the merchant, who was fixing his chiton. "I'm sorry." She decided restarting the conversation was worth it. "I'm Gabrielle."

The merchant cleared his throat and weakly smiled at Gabrielle. "The name is Salmoneus." He wearily eyed the blond that had a wicked smile. "I already have your name."

Callisto chuckled and gingerly set the dagger down like it was fragile. "We are just looking for information about the warlord. Can you help us, dearie?"

Gabrielle retrieved a bronze obol and held up the coin between her fingers. "We might make it worth it to you." She noticed how Salmoneus's eyes honed in on the coin. She knew his weak spot.

Salmoneus focused on Gabrielle again and replied, "She is a warlord from Amphipolis, originally."

"Tell us something new," Callisto drew out.

"Have you seen her?" Gabrielle tried.

Salmoneus licked his dry lips. "No." He then brightened and exclaimed, "But, they call her the Destroyer of Nations." He puffed his chest and sang, "The Destroyer, the Destroyer of Nations roams the countryside and into your home. She will break your legs then later take your coin. O how the mighty Warrior Princess fights day and night until she conquers Greece." He prepared to sing more until Gabrielle cut him off.

"Thanks for that but…" Gabrielle shook her head and tried to rid of the horrible song from her memory.

"Such a cheery song," Callisto taunted.

Gabrielle glowered at her friend before she looked at Salmoneus again. "Do you know what villages she may have conquered already?"

"Let's see…" Salmoneus held up his right hand and started ticking them off one by one.

Callisto smirked at the decent list.

Gabrielle sighed and asked, "What's the closest one to here?"

"I would say Leta," Callisto answered.

Salmoneus brightened at Callisto's geography knowledge. "You are so right, oh fair Amazon."

Callisto dangerously eyed the merchant. Her finger twitched next to the dagger.

Gabrielle decided it was best to insert herself before Salmoneus's face was carved out by Callisto. "Thank you for your help." She tossed him two obols for his trouble. "Come on." She hooked Callisto's wrist.

"Oh beautiful Amazons," Salmoneus called.

Gabrielle pivoted and gazed back at the merchant.

Salmoneus had a slightly serious looked. "The mighty warrioress is called the Destroyer of Nations for a reason." He then waved and added, "Good luck."

Callisto was further pulled away before she had a chance to go after the annoying merchant. She allowed to be taken out of the agora.

Hastily the Amazons left the village and went south-east to Leta. It took them the rest of the day and by sunset, they stood on a ridge with their horses and stared at the village nestled beside a hillside and river. Everything seemed normal.

"It appears safe," Callisto softly stated.

Gabrielle was less sure and tugged on Skylla's reins. "Come on," she ordered.

Callisto casually followed behind and continued studying the quiet village. "I doubt they even attempted to fight Xena."

Gabrielle had thought the same. "How could they win?" She glanced over at her friend. "Five hundred hoplites pointing their dory at them." She huffed and muttered, "It would have been a slaughter."

As they drew closer to the village, Callisto grabbed her friend's shoulder and pointed to the east side of the village. "Look there."

Gabrielle studied the flag that had an image of a lion on it. "I have never seen that flag."

Callisto suspected what it meant about the village. She and Gabrielle trekked into the quiet village and went to the local inn. After they paid for a room and stall in the stable, they went to the local taverna. It was the best location to find gossip and fast.

Callisto and Gabrielle sat in a quiet corner and ignored the odd looks. After a bit, they talks continued in the taverna but were obviously more subtle. A barmaid served the two out-of-towners before she returned to her other tables.

Callisto quietly chatted with Gabrielle while they ate their meal. Several times they tried listening to the chatter, but it was hardly anything important. Callisto could tell her friend was quite frustrated so she came up with her own idea. She fished out a silver drachma, stood up, and went to an empty table nearly in the center of the taverna. Callisto slammed the coin down and brought everybody's attention to her.

Gabrielle stood and warily eyed her friend then noticed all the patrons looking at them. She blew out a breath and kept her hand off her xiphos.

"The first person to tell us about Xena gets this drachma and another after you answer our questions," Callisto announced to the locals. After a brief silence, she drew her hand off the silver coin, which caught everybody's eye. In a heartbeat, several men struggled to the coin, and one man won it.

The winner bit the coin then smiled at the two female warriors. "Xena came through our village over a moon ago."

Gabrielle looked at the man then scanned the curious faces in the taverna. She soon realized that the men were older and no young faces.

"Come sit with us," Callisto ordered him.

The man wanted another coin so he sat at their table.

"What is your name?" Gabrielle asked him.

"My name is Apion."

Gabrielle nodded. "I'm Gabrielle." She indicated her companion. "And Callisto."

Apion nodded back and went back to the original topic. "Xena was here over a moon ago. She came here with over three hundred hoplites."

Gabrielle briefly glanced at Callisto then focused on Apion. "What happened?"

"Her army surrounded our village then she rode in with her commander," Apion explained. "We only had seventy-five or so in the militia. It was impossible for us to win." Apion sighed. "She told us we had a choice."

"To surrender or die," Callisto guessed.

Apion gave a faint nod. "She said if we allied with her then she would not slaughter our families and burn our homes." He swallowed hard. "Our leaders signed the agreement that day."

"That is her flag?" Gabrielle posed.

"Yes." Apion looked between the two strangers. "We promised to supply her anytime she was in the area."

Gabrielle was hardly surprised and looked from the patrons back to Apion. "Where are all the young men?"

Callisto realized Gabrielle was right.

"Conscripted by Xena," Apion replied. "She then pays them handsomely to buy their loyalty."

Callisto huffed. It was obvious that Xena was cunning.

"But we fared well compared to Kelle." Apion shifted in his seat. "Kelle is about a half a day ride from here. They refused to surrender to Xena."

"I take it she attacked them." Gabrielle could already tell.

"Ruthlessly." Apion placed his hands on the table. "She burned half the town, several fields, enslaved some of the women, and conscripted all the young men." He shook his head. "But, I heard she left the children alone."

Callisto smirked at this. "How noble."

Gabrielle glanced at her friend, but she made a mental note that Xena did have a scrap of integrity. She and Callisto conversed a little longer with Apion before they paid him. With worry, Gabrielle returned to the inn with Callisto at her side.

"We must leave at first light," Gabrielle decided.

Callisto traveled through the inn and opened the door to their bedroom. "Fours days have nearly passed."

"I know," Gabrielle worriedly murmured. She entered the room and started preparing for bed. Part of her wanted to travel tonight, but their horses needed the rest.

Callisto sensed her friend's worries. "We can travel through the night tomorrow. Perhaps we will return in two days."

"If we are so lucky," Gabrielle argued. She feared they had been gone too long.

Callisto let it go because there was little they could do now, except ride back to the nation. She and Gabrielle readied for sleep and rested in their bedrolls by the fireplace. At dawn, she woke Gabrielle, and they were soon on the road. The day's ride was extremely wearing and the walk at night pushed them towards exhaustion. They made a temporary camp at daybreak and rested for a few candlemarks.

Gabrielle slept restlessly and returned to the road about noon high, except the sun was hard to see overhead. Clouds had thickened that morning and by the afternoon, rainfall had started. Their journey was slowed by the constant rainfall, but they still travelled through the muck.

A couple of candlemarks before the nation, the rain had lightened to a faint mist. The sun pushed through the clouds and warmed their faces. Gabrielle was relieved and removed her wax coated duster. She hooked it to her saddles and allowed it to dry.

Callisto suggested they finish the last of the ride at a gallop, in hopes the horses' footing would be better. She followed behind after Gabrielle started the gallop.

Gabrielle pressed Skylla hard and promised extra apples for the hard work. She felt antsy as they drew closer to the nation. They came down the second to last hill before the nation, and Gabrielle had to slow Skylla. A distinct noise tickled her ear. She halted Skylla and listened more carefully.

Callisto tugged her horse's reins and narrowed her eyes. She met Gabrielle's darkened features. "It has already begun."

"No," Gabrielle breathed out. She disbelieved the truth and kicked Skylla's sides.

Callisto spurred her horse and chased after her friend.

Skylla huffed hard as she bolted up the next hillside and only slowed thanks to her friend's pull on the reins. She danced on her hoofs from all the noise down in the valley.

Callisto's horse slid to a stop in the wet grass. She stared wide eye at the two forces of hoplites in phalanx formation with their dory pointed forward.

"By the gods," Gabrielle breathed. Her eyes skipped from the marching phalanx to the line of armored Amazons. Her mind and heart jumped to Terreis, who would be in the thick of it. "We are far too late."

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Gabrielle listened to her orders that were hollered to her unit. She continued unsheathing her kopis from her back while her xiphos remained sheathed on her left side. With her left hand, she cupped her bronze helmet, which she slid over her head. Behind her were twenty-seven other riders while the entire unit comprised of fifty-four riders. Just slightly north, another two units of riders were mounted and ready for battle.

Far ahead of her, Gabrielle saw Queen Melosa and another Amazon, who carried a horn. She started breathing harder as her heartbeat increased with the yells and screams from down in the valley. However, she was too far to witness the battle down in the valley. Her eyes flickered to the northwest where two units of archers rested flat on their bellies against the wet grass. Gabrielle knew Princess Terreis was among them and waited for the signal, like Gabrielle.

Queen Melosa stood on the ridge and worriedly watched her army that seemed trapped in the crescent shaped valley below her. She had the strategos keep the army's formation in two connecting wedge shapes so that the mouth of the open "v" faced the warlord's phalanx. Melosa's strategy had worked well against the Destroyer of Nations. The warlord's front phalanx was driving into the valley, after the Amazon army, and filled the mouth of the "v" opening.

Behind the first phalanx, another lighter phalanx acted as an auxiliary unit to the main phalanx. They carefully followed behind the front phalanx, ready to reinforce the heavier phalanx at any heartbeat.

"Should I give the signal?" the Amazon asked her queen.

Melosa kept silent and continued watching the how the hoplites spilled deeper into the valley. She held up her hand towards the Amazon next to her. After a few heartbeats passed, she sharply ordered, "Now."

The Amazon raised the horn to her lips, which she blew with a surge of air from her chest. Her horn howled the signal through the valley and across the ridge. The signal initiated a chain reaction everywhere.

Down in the valley, the Amazon army split at the weak point of their "v" shape and became two separate wedges. Their sudden absence caused the warlord's hoplites to uncontrollably surge forward, deeper into the valley. The Amazon army's two wedges hastily drove forward, past the hoplites, and towards the mouth of the valley.

From atop of the ridge, to the north and south, four units of Amazon archers gave war cries and popped up from the grass. The archers raced to the ridge's edge and started raining arrows on the hoplites in the center of the valley.

To the east, the two units of Amazon riders split and galloped northwest or southwest around the valley. Gabrielle's unit went southwest, under and around the valley. Their weapons were drawn as they galloped downhill and past the valley's mouth. From the right, they saw the heavy phalanx army being fired upon and attacked from the sides by the Amazon army. The warlord's lighter peltasts pressed forward to assist in the battle.

Gabrielle raised her kopis as she and the other ilarchès led their units towards the rear of the warlord's lighter peltasts. She gave a sharp cry and yelled, "For Artemis!" Behind her, the riders echoed the cry to the goddess. Gabrielle spotted the other unit of riders from the north and knew it was time to make the turn.

Simultaneously, the two units of Amazon riders from the north and south, banked and headed for the rear of the warlord's light unit. Horse hooves boomed around the peltast unit, but nothing could be done. The Amazon riders attacked the rear of their unit.

Gabrielle slashed her way along the rear of the phalanx. Her bronze kopis was bloody as she decapitated one peltast after another. She tasted iron in her mouth, and she yelled with thunder. Behind her, the rest of her unit slashed through the warlord's unit.

Far to the east, the warlord remained astride her golden mare and darkly watched the sudden change of the battlefield. Her eyes slotted at the Amazon Queen, who stood at the top of the ridge. She had hardly expected Queen Melosa to be so apt at warfare. She smirked with appreciation. She loved a good battle.

"My liege?" a hoplite prompted.

The warlord, Xena, cut her eyes to the archers on the ridge. She knew her hoplites in the valley were sitting ducks under the rain of arrows. "We must kill those archers." She looked at her commanding ilarchès. "Send two units of hippeis after them."

"And you, my liege?" the ilarchès inquired.

Xena peered over her shoulder at her unit of sixty hippeis. "We will reinforce the peltasts." She extracted her xiphos. "Now go!" she barked.

The ilarchès gave the order to the two units of hippeis. He led the one unit to the northeast while the other unit went to the southeast.

The warlord commanded her unit to charge into battle against the Amazon riders. She spurred her horse into a full gallop. She raised her sword and yelled, "For Ares!" Behind her, the hippeis repeated the cry.

At the rear of the peltast unit, Gabrielle continued hacking away and breaking through the line. Skylla danced around each peltast's attempt to spear her. Occasionally, she kicked from behind and sent an enemy airborne. However, Gabrielle's attention was drawn to the west when she heard galloping horses. Her eyes widen upon seeing the warlord leading a charge.

"Brace yourselves, Amazons!" Gabrielle called out. From the corner of her eye, she saw a unit of hippies charge to the northeast. Fear flooded Gabrielle, and she rasped, "Terreis…. No!" A peltast came at her, and she was forced to fight again. She slashed at him and cut him across the chest. Just then, she heard a fierce battle cry that she would never forget.

The Destroyer of Nations slammed into the Amazon riders. She stabbed an Amazon in the chest, and the Amazon horse reared up until a peltast speared it. Xena spun her xiphos and pushed her horse deeper into battle. She came at another Amazon.

Gabrielle took out two more peltasts. After the next fell, she came face to face with the warlord. She gritted her teeth and raised her kopis at the warlord.

Xena smiled darkly at the blood covered Amazon. She surged forward and brought her xiphos down. Her blade connected with the kopis.

Gabrielle held her blade against the warlord's own. Her left arm bulged in protest. She drew her kopis off the warlord's blade and brought it around, the tip almost caught the warlord's throat.

Xena hissed and had leaned back far enough. She attacked faster, but she was matched every time. She had underestimated the Amazons' skills as warriors.

"Flee now," Gabrielle warned. She received a laugh in response.

"This battle has only begun," Xena swore.

Gabrielle growled and tried to move forward except two peltasts cut her off from the warlord. She hissed and battled with them.

Xena drew away and fought other enemies. Her attention occasionally switched to the overall battle as the two opposing forces started melting together.

From upon her horse, Gabrielle saw the Amazon archers battle against the hippeis and the arrows had stopped flying at the hoplites in the valley. The Amazon army hacked away at the sides of the phalanx now that the phalanx hoplites were jammed so closely together. The hoplites could barely move to fight back, and their numbers started to thin rapidly. However, the peltast unit engaged the Amazon army as well. Cries and screams echoed throughout the valley as the battle continued for some time.

After much work, Gabrielle broke from the center of the battle and galloped towards the hippies that engaged Terreis's unit. She could tell that Skylla was worn from the ride to the nation and now the battle. She had to go on foot or else Skylla would be killed next time. As Skylla neared the skirmish, Gabrielle sheathed her kopis and instead pulled out her xiphos. She then lifted her body until her feet were on the saddle.

Skylla huffed hard but pushed up the hillside towards the skirmish. A few paces from outside the fight, her reins were tugged on very hard. Skylla whined loudly and braked against the wet grass. Her built up momentum sent her human friend into the air like a launch pad.

Gabrielle cried out as she flipped through the air. She landed neatly into the fight, between an Amazon and mounted hippies. She yelled and drove her sword into the mounted hoplite's thigh. She spun around the horse, grabbed the hoplite's injured leg, and yanked him down to the ground. She spun her sword then drove the tip into his chest, through the armor. She jerked her head up after the hoplite died.

Skylla danced around, unsure what to do. But her human friend gave a distinct call, and Skylla cantered off after hearing the order. She knew to find safety.

"Terreis!" Gabrielle called.

"Gabrielle, over here," the princess yelled back.

Gabrielle cut her way to Terreis and saw that they were beating the hippeis unit. Amazons were well apt in injuring enemy horses after learning how to take down Centaurs.

Terreis sensed somebody behind her, and she turned with her xiphos ready. Slight relief showed on her face once she realized it was her consort. "By the gods."

Gabrielle ripped her helmet off and touched Terreis's bruised cheek. "Are you alright?"

"Yes," Terreis promised. She gazed over her consort's shoulder as a mounted hoplite came at them. "Get down and over."

Gabrielle did so and moved out of the way before she was trampled by a horse.

Terreis silently apologized to the horse as she plunged her xiphos into its chest. She slid the blade out as she spun away. Her blade flung blood into the crowd of Amazons and hoplites. She hit the ground, on her back. The bow and quiver caused extra pain to her spine. She let out a gasp.

Gabrielle was on her feet and rushed to Terreis's side. "Get up. Come on." She helped her partner to her feet. "If we can draw these hippeis to the army then you can rally your archers."

Terreis agreed because the Amazon army carried spears that would easily stop the hippeis. She gave a low nod. "Amazons," she called out, "To the valley!" She saw many break from their losing fights and sprinted down to the valley. Thankfully the combination of a downward hill and wet grass made it difficult for the mounted hoplites to catch up.

"Go with them," Gabrielle ordered.

"What about-"

"Lead them!" Gabrielle shoved her partner away. "I will find you."

Terreis rushed off and hastily followed after the remaining archers. She glanced over her shoulder at her consort.

Gabrielle pulled her kopis from her back sheath. She raised the kopis with her right hand while she kept the xiphos in her left. She barred her teeth as the dozen or so hippeis charged after the archers. Due to their slow speeds, it gave Gabrielle ample time to attack a few.

Gabrielle took aim and threw her kopis at a mount hoplite. She hit him perfectly in the throat. With her xiphos, she ran forward at another horse and also apologized to the beautiful horse. She fell to her knees, slid a little, and rammed her blade up into the horse's chest. By nature, the horse jumped over the human but took the sword too. Gabrielle hunched forward and felt the hoof scrape over her head. She thanked Artemis.

Once clear of the horse, Gabrielle stood and quickly collected her kopis first from the dead hoplite. She scooped up her helmet and put it on for protection. She turned on her heels and eyed the fallen horse that had her xiphos. She needed it, but she first had to kill the hoplite that stumbled from the fallen horse.

Gabrielle started for the hoplite that pulled himself free of the fallen horse. She reached behind and unsheathed her dagger from her belt. With a tight grip, Gabrielle rushed the dazed hoplite from behind. She slit his throat from behind then kicked him to the ground. She wiped the blade clean on his red tunic then grabbed the xiphos from the horse's chest.

Gabrielle had put her dagger away and turned towards the ensuing battle down in the valley. She needed to stay close to Terreis. After a brief scan, she located Terreis thanks to her strawberry-blond hair standing out in the crowd.

Princess Terreis had ordered her unit of archers to continue firing on any hoplites or peltasts until engaged by the enemy. It was not long before she and her unit were absorbed by the battle. The Amazon archers resorted to their blades rather than arrowheads. Terreis counted that half her unit was gone, and she hoped the rest would make it. A distant but familiar yell caught Terreis's ears, and she pinpointed her sister, who was in the thick of the battle.

Terreis started pushing her way through the battlefield. She dodged blades and kicked hoplites out of her way. She was nearly speared by a peltast, but she managed to grab his spear and jammed it into his leather-clad stomach. After a soft curse, she used all her strength to ram the pointed butt end of the spear into the peltast's throat. Blood sprayed onto her arms, and she released the spear. She continued fighting towards Melosa.

Queen Melosa was formidable as a warrior. Several dead hoplites and peltasts had fallen around her. She was swift and cunning when she took on an opponent. Her strength was that of two average warriors. However, she gave pause when the Destroyer of Nation's war cry rang close to her ears. She slotted her eyes at the warlord fighting towards her.

The Destroyer of Nations had long ago dismounted from her horse, which waited just outside of the battlefield. Xena sliced her way through Amazons until she met her counterpart. She hungrily smiled at Queen Melosa. "So we meet again."

Queen Melosa watched the dark smile form behind the warlord's bronze helmet. She raised her xiphos and promised, "And it will be the last time."

Xena gave a low laugh, reached up, and tore off her helmet. She let it slip from her fingers. Her bright blue eyes were centered on Queen Melosa. A soft breeze caused her wild, black hair to dance around her face. There were spots of blood on her face where the helmet had slits.

"You should surrender," Xena advised. She started forward with her xiphos at the ready.

For an instant, Melosa's attention was on the strange, circular weapon tied to the warlord's waist. Instantly her eyes rose after the warlord's words. She narrowed her eyes and lifted her blade. "We are Amazons. We do not surrender."

"Pity," Xena muttered. "I could have used Amazons in my army." She rushed the Amazon Queen.

Melosa parried the attack. She and Xena started their dangerous battle. Her blade rang loudly against Xena's xiphos each time. She matched each of Xena's blows. Behind her, she sensed a hoplite come in for an attack. Melosa moved before a blade went through her backside. She kicked behind and sent the hoplite into the crowd.

The warlord chuckled and spun her sword. She raised her sword when Melosa came at her. Again, they battled with such force, like their comrades. Melosa's yells matched Xena's war cries. When Xena thought she was winning, Melosa regained her strength and retaliated. It had been a long time since Xena was stalemate with an opponent. She loved it.

However, around them the battle's tide had changed greatly. Hoplites and peltasts were falling faster to the Amazons. The Amazons pressed forward and started recovering ground as the hoplites fell to their blades. One commanding hoplite hollered for their leader because he needed orders.

Xena slammed her elbow into Melosa's jaw and knocked the Amazon Queen back a few steps. She swung her blade around, and the tip sliced across the base of Melosa's neck. But, it was hardly enough to kill the powerful queen. Xena saw Melosa's own startle, and she seized her chance by grabbing Melosa's sword arm.

Queen Melosa hollered in protest, but she was lifted into the air. She briefly thought she heard her sister's cry. It was too late, and she struck the bloody grass hard, a dead Amazon's arm under her back. Once her eyes focused, she found a blade coming down at her face. She scrambled for her sword, which had slipped out from her hand after the earlier impact. Her cry rang out.

Xena's furious war cry echoed through the entire valley. She saw victory in her hands until her blade slammed into another's own. She jerked her head to the right.

"You, bitch," Terreis snarled at the warlord. Quickly she kicked and slammed her boot directly into Xena's shoulder. She sent the warlord away from her sister. Her tangled strawberry hair set her ablaze like her temper. She lunged for the Destroyer of Nations.

Xena parried the rapid attacks from Terreis. She was impressed by the girl's will to protect her sister. She finally went on offense and landed a punch to Terreis's jaw.

Terreis backed off and spit out blood. She pointed her sword tip at the warlord. "Get up, Melosa!"

Xena shifted to her right and eyed the princess, who was breathing hard. Behind her, she heard her general calling for her. But, she would finish what she had started with the queen. "Back off, girl." She only wanted Melosa.

Queen Melosa was on her knees with the aid of her sword. She slowly climbed to her feet after a pained breath. She worriedly saw her sister attack the warlord again.

Terreis was incited by the warlord's disrespect. She came at Xena again, but she was parried a few times then kicked hard. Terreis went down on one knee and clutched her pained stomach. She started to cough, but she caught her sister stepping in front of her.

Melosa faced the warlord and protected her sister.

Terreis started to get up and sudden help from her consort brought her to her feet.

"Are you alright?" Gabrielle checked.

Terreis inhaled sharply but still nodded. She leaned into her consort, who supported her weight for a moment.

"We're winning the battle," Gabrielle mentioned. All around her were Amazons while the enemy was nearly pushed back behind the warlord.

"Not quite yet." Terreis locked her cold stare onto the warlord, who fought her sister still.

Gabrielle wanted to say more but Callisto's arrival drew her attention away.

"Ilarchès," Callisto started, "The enemy is about to retreat."

Gabrielle agreed and was about to order Callisto to take their rider unit after the retreating hoplites. However, her words were derailed by Terreis sudden yell for Melosa. In a heartbeat, her partner rushed off to defend Queen Melosa. "Terreis!"

Callisto watched it all happen in horror. Melosa had taken the warlord's sword in her shoulder after stabbing Xena in the stomach with a dagger. Callisto had never seen the great Queen Melosa kneel until today.

Princess Terreis rushed in to save her sister, again. Her tactic was clumsy and frantic because her sword thrust went past the warlord's side. She completely missed the warlord.

This time, Xena latched onto Terreis's wrist. In half a heartbeat, she jerked Terreis towards her until their bodies slammed into each other.

Terreis wrenched once then stiffened against the Destroyer's taller frame. She peered up into merciless blue eyes.

"I told you to back off," Xena hotly whispered. She released Terreis's wrist then reversed step by step. Her xiphos's blade slid out of Terrei's lower stomach.

Melosa had recovered from her injury too late. She yelled for Terreis but came at the Destroyer of Nations.

Terreis stumbled back a few steps until her body molded into her consort's own.

"Terreis," Gabrielle pleaded. She encircled Terreis's body.

Terreis lost her footing and went down with her consort.

Gabrielle fell to the ground with Terreis. She tore off her helmet as Callisto's piercing battle cry rang in her ears. She barely registered that Callisto helped Melosa engage the injured warlord.

"Gabrielle." Terreis reached for her consort's hand.

"You're alright," Gabrielle insisted. Terreis's hand coated her own in blood. "I'm going to get you to a healer." She started slipping one arm under her lover. She found her own body weakened from shock.

"No… it's okay," Terreis insisted.

"You need a healer," Gabrielle hotly argued. Her eyes cut back and forth from Terreis's face to her bloody stomach. There was so much blood, everywhere. Terreis gripped her hand harder.

"Just stay here with me," Terreis pleaded.

Gabrielle shook her head. "Please, Terreis." She pushed the wild strands of strawberry hair from her partner's face. "Don't do this."

Terreis felt her heart slowing down. Gabrielle's hand felt cooler too. "I love you so very much."

"No, no," Gabrielle softly pleaded. She curled forward and brought her lips to Terreis's red ones. Terreis barely responded to the blood tainted kiss. "Please… I love you too." Gabrielle clutched Terreis harder. "Oh gods," she breathed.

Terreis gave a weak squeeze before her grip loosened around Gabrielle's own hand. Slowly her body relaxed against her consort's heaving chest.

Gabrielle sensed the difference, but she tried denying it was real. "Please," she begged, "Terreis." Behind her, several Amazons had gathered and struggled with what to do when the princess gave her last breath. Ephiny was among them, and she frantically shook her head.

Gabrielle lifted her head and tried controlling her emotions, but her rage went unchecked. She looked to the right and spotted the Destroyer of Nation, who was fleeing with her hoplites. Gabrielle had survived a lot in her short time, and Terreis was a gift, now gone forever. She released her partner's limp body then retrieved her two blades.

Ephiny moved towards the fallen princess and her consort. She reached for Gabrielle shoulder, but Gabrielle suddenly stood up. From her position, Ephiny was able to see the fury written on Gabrielle's face. "Gabrielle, no!" She tried for the ilarchès, who bolted after the Destroyer of Nations. "Gabrielle!"

Xena, the Destroyer of Nations, had been absorbed into her retreating hoplites. She cursed her general for giving the retreat, but she would regroup them later. Her smaller auxiliary army was back to the east, and she could use them for another battle.

Queen Melosa was seething and watched the Destroyer of Nations flee. Her injured shoulder and broken ribs had slowed her and cost her sister's life.

Callisto stood next to Melosa and was about to help her until Gabrielle rushed past. "Gabrielle," she hollered.

Gabrielle crashed into two hoplites. She tore their heads off with a dangerous swipe of her kopis. She pushed through the hoplites and gave chase to the warlord. Her rage fueled her further than anytime in the past.

"Stop her," Queen Melosa ordered Callisto. "Before she kills herself."

Callisto hurried after her ilarchès and followed in Gabrielle's bloody wake. A few times she had to gut a hoplite or peltast.

The Destroyer of Nations was near the edge of her fleeing army. She whistled for her golden mare. Familiar hoof beats started towards her.

"Xeeenaaa!" Gabrielle yelled until her throat was raw. She decapitated another hoplite and continued catching up to the warlord.

Xena paused and gazed back at the Amazon that she had matched swords with early on in the battle. She raised an eyebrow and smirked at the Amazon's hot rage. She turned her head forward and spotted the golden mare. Xena hurried and grabbed the reins. "Good, girl."

"No!" Gabrielle slashed her way through hoplites, who either moved out of her way or weakly attacked her. Behind her, Callisto was closing in next.

Xena's wicked laugh echoed around after she mounted the horse. She was so amused by the Amazon's attempt to get her. She decided to further taunt the Amazon and waited. Her fingers inched to her round weapon hooked to her side.

Gabrielle battled the last two hoplites with her two swords.

Xena had guided her horse away from the rear line of the army. She unhooked her chakram and held it up at Gabrielle. "Nobody listens well." She gave a loud war cry and threw her chakram at the Amazon.

Gabrielle heard the strange weapon and briefly saw it. She frantically killed one hoplite but the other one kept her at bay. She grew wide eye and panicked because the strange weapon was coming right at her.

"Gabrielle!" Callisto hollered. She raced forward.

Gabrielle slammed her xiphos's hilt into the hoplite's temple. She turned to face the circular weapon coming at her head, but it was too late.

Callisto jumped forward, with an outstretched arm. Her long fingers curled around the chakram's round body from the inside of it.

Gabrielle stumbled several steps, out of range now.

Callisto nearly turned a full circle to go with the motion of the weapon. She jerked her arm up and held up the dangerous chakram. She looked from the chakram in her palm to the Destroyer of Nations high upon the golden horse. Her smirk slowly formed because she was quite proud of herself.

Gabrielle blinked in awe, so amazed and thankful for Callisto's skill.

Xena barred her teeth and snarled, but she had no more time for games. She spurred her horse in the side and yelled, "Yaaa!"

"No," Gabrielle rasped. Her rage climbed again, and she ran after the warlord.

"Hades," Callisto snarled. She raced after Gabrielle, who was an amazing sprinter.

Gabrielle bolted across the open field, after the escaping warlord. She tossed her kopis and xiphos because their weight slowed her. She clenched her teeth as the war horse pushed into a gallop. Gabrielle reached behind and unsheathed her dagger.

Callisto slowed and quickly grabbed Gabrielle's xiphos. She looked over her shoulder at the retreating hoplites that would come towards them. She cursed again and raced after Gabrielle to protect her.

Gabrielle clutched the dagger by its blade. She retracted her arm and continued running after the fleeing warlord. Gabrielle furiously yelled and threw the dagger with the last of her strength. Her aim with daggers was as true as her skill with arrows. Slowly her run slowed, but she watched the dagger sail through the air. She prayed she had calculated it enough.

Xena had barely registered the dagger's flight. She never anticipated such skill from a girl, and she paid for it. She groaned heavily when the dagger sunk into the right side of her back. She slouched against the saddle's two pommels.

With a gasp, she slowed her horse, Argo, and looked back at the angry Amazon. She reached behind and yanked the dagger from her back where it had impaled her just under her armor. Xena almost tossed the dagger but decided to keep it. She clicked her tongue at the horse and galloped off.

"Gabrielle, your blade!" Callisto snapped. She tossed the xiphos when her ilarchès faced her.

Gabrielle caught the blade in midair and hurried to Callito's side. Together, they protected each other as the retreating hoplites ran past them.

"That was stupid," Callisto hissed at her friend.

Gabrielle ignored the lecture and parried any attacks from the beaten enemy. She could give a damn after Terreis was killed by Xena.

Callisto gritted her teeth when Gabrielle stayed silent. Like others, she knew what Terreis's death would do to Gabrielle. It caused Callisto to lunge at a hoplite, and she ran her sword hard into his gut. At her side, the tied chakram flashed in the sunlight.

As the battle finished, Gabrielle started to numb from her consort's death. She stood beside Callisto after the last of the enemy left their lands. She stared coldly towards the direction that Xena's army had gone. She barely heard her fellow Amazons call for her. She was only broken from her lost world when Ephiny grabbed her arm.

"Gabrielle, I'm so-"

"Don't," Gabrielle cut off. She pulled herself free and brushed past her friends. She sheathed her xiphos at her side, collected her kopis off the ground, and continued towards the Amazons.

Ephiny worriedly glanced over at Callisto. She and Callisto said nothing that they both did not know already about Terreis's death. Instead, they followed behind Gabrielle.

Shortly, Gabrielle returned to where Terreis had been killed by the warlord. She slowed when she saw Queen Melosa stand up with her dead sister in her arms.

Queen Melosa locked eyes with her sister's consort. Like Gabrielle, she held her emotions at bay. She swallowed then calmly ordered, "Walk with me, Gabrielle."

After a faint nod, Gabrielle clenched her jaw and took Melosa's side. Together, they started the march back to the village. She barely heard Melosa give a few orders to different officers as they passed the valley's mouth. The walk to the village felt like a lifetime, and they paused about halfway.

Melosa struggled to carry her sister's weight any further. Her injured shoulder screamed in agony from it. She could no longer ignore it or else she would blackout. "Gabrielle, take her."

Gabrielle hastily moved in and retrieved her lover's cold body. She adjusted Terreis in her arms then continued the journey. She kept her eyes forward and off Terreis's still features unless she wanted to break down before the queen. Each step felt like a walk into Tartarus.

Nothing prepared her for this outcome. She believed the Fates were done being cruel to her, but she was wrong. Gabrielle prayed it was a bad nightmare, but Terreis's blood on her was real. Never had blood smelled so strong under her nose. She promised Terreis she would avenge her.

Xena's life would pay for Terreis's death.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Smoke continued rising from the charred ground and reached towards the heavens. The sun had set moments ago, and its last light bled across the sky. One bright star already guided the dead Amazon's spirit to the afterlife. All that was left at the pyre were ashes and one onlooker. Everybody had left one by one until only the Amazon Princess's consort was left beside the pyre.

Gabrielle smelled of fire and death, of battle and victory. Yesterday the Amazons had defeated the Destroyer of Nations, but the price was heavy. Many Amazons had fallen, including the Amazon Princess. Still caked in dirt and blood, Gabrielle remained awake through the night and beside her consort's body in the Passing hut. Throughout the night, she spoke to Terreis and made a promise of vengeance. Terreis never replied to her, never touched her, or eased her rage. Gabrielle was only one again.

As the ambers started cooling, Gabrielle approached the former funeral pyre. In her right hand, she carried a clay jar. She took off the lid and knelt beside the darkened earth. She carefully scooped ashes into the jar until it was full. She replaced the lid then noticed a familiar item hidden in the gray ashes. Gabrielle reached until her fingers wrapped around a piece of jewelry.

In her hand, Terreis's matching marriage bracelet was blackened by the funeral pyre. It was still warm as if Terreis had been wearing it moments ago. Gabrielle ran her thumb over part of it, and the soot came off to reveal the shiny metal still under it.

Gabrielle gritted her teeth and clenched the marriage bracelet that mirrored her own. She gave a low growl that hardly eased her pain and rage. She stood up with the jar in her left hand and the bracelet in her right. Gabrielle was breathing heavy and took a few steps backwards, her eyes locked on the burned earth where her consort had been sent to the afterlife through fire.

Her next step brought her against a taller frame then two strong hands clasped Gabrielle's tense shoulders. Gabrielle's eyes fluttered shut, and she grounded her teeth harder. "Did you know?"

Aphrodite tightened her grip on the angry mortal's taut shoulders. She trembled from the fury that flooded off every piece of Gabrielle and washed over the goddess.

"Did you know this would happen?" Gabrielle demanded harder.

Aphrodite took a steady breath then stepped around the Amazon. Her tall frame cut off Gabrielle's view of the funeral pyre. "I had no idea, Gabrielle." She swallowed hard when icy green eyes locked on her. Aphrodite suddenly felt as if she were the mortal under Gabrielle's cold gaze.

Yesterday from the hill, Aphrodite had watched the intense battle between the Amazons and the Destroyer of Nations. All her attention was centered on Gabrielle during the battle. She breathed a sigh of relief each time Gabrielle dodged a blade, kicked an enemy away, or killed an opponent. But when Terreis was killed by the warlord, Aphrodite trembled in fear and worry. She achingly watched Gabrielle huddled over Terreis's dead body, pleading with the Fates. Once Gabrielle let go of Terreis, Aphrodite felt her connection instantly severed with Gabrielle. In a heartbeat, Gabrielle's wrath for Xena fractured what was special between a god and a mortal, only between a god and her chosen. And Aphrodite was powerless to control any of it.

Now as she stood before Gabrielle, she was still helpless and could only wonder what would happen to her favorite mortal. Aphrodite had fought so hard for a better future for Gabrielle, and it was killed in a heartbeat by one woman's blade. Her powers as the Goddess of Love broke under her mortal's hatred and rage. She feared that despite her attempts for a better life, she could never truly give it to Gabrielle.

After a hard, cold stare, Gabrielle stepped around the goddess. She believed Aphrodite's words, but yet she still felt betrayed by the goddess, somehow. Perhaps she expected too much from a god that favored her. She had grown too accustom of Aphrodite protecting and sparing her from the real hardships of life. After all, Gabrielle had accepted her cast as an Amazon and nobody made her. An Amazon life was always riddled with war, death, and blood.

Aphrodite turned on her sandals' heals. She was startled by the mortal's sudden departure. "Gabs?" she called. "Gabrielle?" she attempted more seriously.

However, Gabrielle ignored the goddess's plea. She continued towards the village, her hands full with the last of Terreis's body. She vanished through the open gates and went directly to her hut. Gabrielle half expected Aphrodite to be in the hut, waiting for her. It was empty of human life, but it was full of stories from her days with Terreis. It was the first time she had stepped foot into the hut since the battle.

Gabrielle went to the nightstand on her side of the bed. She placed the urn there then gently positioned the marriage bracelet on top of it. Her eyes wandered through the hut, and Gabrielle started panicking. She breathed harder and sweat beaded along her brow even though it was a cool day.

"I cannot do this," Gabrielle muttered. She shook her head and went to the empty rucksack that hung from one of the pegs along the wall. She pulled it off, opened the worn flap, and started filling it with certain items, the most important being a pouch of coins. She tossed a small, sealed jar in the pack then closed up the flap.

Gabrielle hurried to the door, but she halted abruptly beside the peg board. She raised her hand and fingered the soft fletching of several arrows. Beside the filled quiver was a worn bow that had been Terreis's very first. Gabrielle clenched her jaw then sharply grabbed the quiver and arrow. She then hurried to Terreis's trunk, which was ornate with horse carvings. It was one of Gabrielle's favorite pieces. But, she disregarded that part and instead lifted the lid. She rummaged through Terreis's belongings until she found it.

In her hand, Gabrielle held a clay vile that had a cork in the top. She wiggled it off with her thumb then brought it to her nose. She recognized the smell, and she was pleased. Gabrielle pushed down on the cork until it was tight again. She slipped it into the rucksack as she made her way to the door.

Outside, it was dark already and Amazons quietly moved about the village. Many were headed to the food hut for dinner, but Gabrielle went to the stables. She ducked into the torchlit building and went to her horse's stall.

Skylla whined and still warmly greeted her friend even if she was exhausted from the long journey.

Gabrielle rushed to tack her mare. She was cold with the horse and fell into the tack routine.

Skylla whined again, but in worry. She had last seen Gabrielle during the battle. She easily sensed something very wrong with the human.

"Come on, girl." Gabrielle guided her horse out of the stall. They left the stables and went to the gates. Many passing Amazons gave her a long stare, but nobody questioned her until she made it to the gate.

"Ilarchès, where do you plan to travel?" the guard inquired. She tensed when cold eyes locked on her.

"I plan to make camp outside of the village," Gabrielle explained. "I will return at first light." She gently tugged on Skylla's reins.

"With your horse?" the Amazon challenged. She regretted it because the ilarchès turned on her.

"With my horse," Gabrielle hotly stated. "Is that a problem?" She dared the Amazon to defy her further. Gabrielle held more rank.

"No," the guard weakly replied. "Please be safe." She took in Gabrielle's dirty features and bloody armor. It was obvious the ilarchès had yet to attend to herself and still may not.

Gabrielle turned and continued across the landscape. Once a little further, she mounted Skylla and continued at a walk. She hardly wanted to push Skylla after so many long days of previous travel.

Skylla climbed the hill and followed the ridge towards the east. She had slept many candlemarks after her return to the stable yesterday evening. Skylla was still worn, but she pressed forward for Gabrielle's sake.

Gabrielle focused on the ride east, away from the village. Her mind continued turning over the battle between the Amazons and the warlord. If Gabrielle had been there sooner, she could have protected Terreis. She had yet to stop thinking about her mistakes yesterday. She forced herself to think about what she could do now.

The battle had ended yesterday afternoon, a candlemark before sunset. The warlord's army retreated east and probably would have only traveled for that last stretch of daylight. Gabrielle had heard a broken report to the queen when the queen briefly joined her in the Passing hut. Apparently the Amazon scouts located the warlord's army that made camp by a large lake only a half a day's ride to Leta. Gabrielle suspected the warlord planned to lick her wounds in Leta before carrying out her next plan. She would find the right opportunity to visit with Xena.

Gabrielle rode for a solid candlemark and went past the Amazons' territory. She had knowledge about the patrol's timing, and she easily slipped out of Amazon lands undetected by anybody. She wished to break for camp, but she was near the woods that could provide her with cover. She pushed Skylla for another half of a candlemark. She eventually found a quiet glade beside a creek. Gabrielle built a quick camp because she planned to leave at first light.

Skylla was freed from her tack and ate grass within the glade or forged water from the creek. She rarely strayed from Gabrielle.

Beside a campfire, Gabrielle stared into the flames and remembered Terreis's funeral. Melosa had been at her side as they watched Terreis's wrapped body be lifted onto the top of the pyre. Melosa held a torch and spoke the Amazon's Last Prayer and wished Terreis a safe journey to the Amazon afterlife. She should have placed the flame to the pyre, but she instead turned to Gabrielle and held out the torch.

Gabrielle accepted the honor from the queen. She whispered her last words of love to Terreis before she put the torch's flame into the kindle. Step by step, Gabrielle went around the funeral pyre and lit it from all four sides. She returned to Melosa's side and watched Terreis's body be committed to the flames. Gabrielle had no tears, all of them left in the Passing hut when it was only her and Terreis. She refused to cry before the other Amazons and the queen.

Gradually the funeral pyre faded into the campfire before Gabrielle. She was alone, besides Skylla. She refocused on her plans to avenge Terreis. It was all that mattered to Gabrielle. At such thoughts, she pulled a sharpening stone from the rucksack and unsheathed her xiphos from her back. She started sharpening the blade that had killed many hoplites yesterday.

Time passed unknown to Gabrielle as she methodically worked on her xiphos. She later retrieved her kopis from the sheath where it was strapped on the side of the saddlebags. She wanted to make sure her blades were ready for battle again. Last was her dagger, a twin to the one that had been sticking out of Xena's back. Gabrielle prayed this dagger met the warlord's heart. Her sharpening haze was only broken when she sensed a familiar presence in the glade.

"Leave me," Gabrielle coldly ordered. She eyed the goddess off to her right.

Aphrodite ignored the command. She was a god and was extremely worried about her chosen. "This is suicide, Gabs." She started over to the seated mortal.

Gabrielle stayed silent and narrowed her eyes at the approaching goddess.

Aphrodite knelt down in front of the Amazon. "Please do not do this."

Gabrielle's jaw tightened before she hotly whispered, "I said leave me."

Aphrodite felt as if she was stripped down to a mortal, again powerless. She studied the blood and dirt leftover from the battle still on Gabrielle's face and matted in her hair. Even the bronze armor reflected streaks of dried blood. Aphrodite's stomach knotted harder at the savage-like appearance Gabrielle gave off.

"Terreis would not want this," Aphrodite argued. She wanted to add that it was against her wishes too, but she held her tongue.

"Terreis isn't here," Gabrielle stated, bitterly. "And it's what I want," she snapped.

"You could be killed," Aphrodite pleaded. Her eyes were wide with fear.

Gabrielle sheathed the dagger at her back. "Maybe." She clenched the sharpening stone in her right hand. "If so, I will see Terreis soon."

Aphrodite closed her eyes and wished she could control Gabrielle. She wanted to lock the mortal away until she came to her senses. Or cast a spell that put Gabrielle to sleep until the fury was gone. Yet, Aphrodite knew nothing she could do would truly take away Gabrielle's pain. If she were Hades, she would consider bringing Terreis back for Gabrielle. However, she was just the Goddess of Love.

"Somebody must kill her before she destroys anymore lives," Gabrielle whispered. She found blue eyes on her again.

"Please," Aphrodite desperately whispered. "Please stay away from her, Gabrielle." She placed her hand on the Amazon's knee. "Please," she begged one last time.

Gabrielle turned her features away. Her right bicep grew as she tightened her grip on the sharpening stone. "Blood will have blood."

Aphrodite bowed her head after the Amazon's old traditions surfaced in Gabrielle. She had often heard Artemis say such words, and it echoed among her Amazons. There was nothing Aphrodite could do to change Gabrielle's mind. She wanted to protect Gabrielle during the battle. Now she wished to control Gabrielle. However, a god was forbidden to intervene by Zeus's decree. At times, Aphrodite could supply help, but to force anything upon a chosen was treacherous.

After resigning herself, the goddess stood up and crossed the glade towards the creek. She felt Gabrielle's eyes follow her. She knelt beside the creek and dipped her right hand into the water. Instantly a bowl formed in her hand, and she lifted it from the cool waters. Aphrodite returned to the Amazon and knelt down in the same spot.

"At least let me clean you," Aphrodite murmured. She reached into the bowl, and she pulled out a wet cloth that had materialized in the water. She lifted the wet cloth and waited for permission, which still had not come to her.

Gabrielle swallowed hard then gave a low nod. She closed her eyes after the cool, damp cloth started on her forehead. After a bit, she found herself leaning into the tender administrations from her friend.

Each time Aphrodite dipped the cloth into the bowl, the blood and grime seeped off then vanished in the water. She lifted the clean cloth and continued wiping the battle away from Gabrielle's face. She slowly made her way down to Gabrielle's neck.

Gabrielle released a low sigh and kept her eyes closed as the cool cloth took off the blood from her throat. Aphrodite eventually stood and went behind her. Gabrielle dropped her head forward when the cloth went over the back of her neck. She could hardly stop her low moan.

Aphrodite swallowed hard but continued wiping off the blood from any exposed skin around the armor. She then attempted cleaning some of the blood in the Amazon's blond strands. She come in front of Gabrielle again, knelt once more, and set the bowl down. She dipped the cloth in the still clear water then started wiping Gabrielle's exposed arms. She was saddened by the silver arm bracelet above Gabrielle's bicep. She knew Terreis had gifted it to Gabrielle.

Gabrielle was still bent forward, elbows on her knees. She held out her arms and finally opened her eyes. She noticed the goddess's intrigued interests in her arms.

Over the anni, Aphrodite had watched her chosen grow from a girl to a warrior. As she wiped the remnants of battle away, she exposed the toned muscles under Gabrielle's skin. It was the first time Aphrodite allowed herself to pay attention to such detail. Many times in the past, Aphrodite had watched Gabrielle wrestle other Amazons for training and losing at first then later winning every time. Nobody could best Gabrielle in wrestling, and Aphrodite now saw why it was so.

Gabrielle fisted her right hand after Aphrodite cleaned her palm. She was well aware of the tension between her and the goddess.

Aphrodite cleared her throat and whispered, "Let me take off your armor." She placed the cloth into the bowl and first removed the bronze greaves. Next she unhooked the leather straps that held Gabrielle's breastplate together. Aphrodite carefully pulled it away from Gabrielle and set it beside the greaves, near the swords. She turned back to Gabrielle with the wet cloth in hand.

Where the armor had been, blood had trailed past and left red lines over sweaty skin. Gabrielle's red leathers were just as dark as the dried blood.

Aphrodite bit her bottom lip after she saw a small wound at Gabrielle's waist, just below where the armor would stop. She suspected it hurt a lot less than the blade cuts to Gabrielle's arms. She had cleaned those cuts as best as possible, in hopes they would not get infected later. However, it could already be too late. Aphrodite knew her friend could give a damn about infection and would put up with a fever. She was grateful Gabrielle had allowed her to clean her because she prayed the enchanted water in her bowl would sterilize the wounds.

Aphrodite continued her administrations but now with Gabrielle's legs. Similar to earlier, she awed at Gabrielle's developed muscles in her calves and thighs. Whatever was left of a village girl was long gone. Aphrodite dipped the cloth into the clean water and asked, "Can you straighten up?"

Gabrielle silently responded by doing so. She lowered her hands to the stone under her and gripped the corners. She curiously watched the hesitant goddess.

Aphrodite bit the inside of her mouth as she steeled her emotions. She started at what she thought was the hardest spot, along Gabrielle's chest. She rid of the blood and sweat then cleaned the cloth in the enchanted water. However, Aphrodite found it far more difficult to deal with Gabrielle's stomach. Even with the cloth between her hand and Gabrielle's skin, Aphrodite felt every defined muscle in her hand. Her eyes were fixated on the muscles' curves that shined under the firelight as the cloth moved off each one. Aphrodite realized she was breathing harder than necessary. She also sensed Gabrielle dark eyes on her. She quickly broke the moment by standing up.

Gabrielle turned her head sidelong as the goddess went behind her again.

Aphrodite brought the wet cloth across Gabrielle's shoulders. She pushed forward in silent order.

Gabrielle leaned forward, her arms across her knees. She dropped her head down and waited for Aphrodite to be done.

The goddess had control of herself again and focused on cleaning the last bit of blood off the Amazon's body. She knelt and took away the sweat from Gabrielle's lower back. Similar to the front of Gabrielle's body, she was able to see the tone and definition in Gabrielle's body. It amazed her how much Gabrielle's body had changed.

Just like her body, Gabrielle's mind had also been trained into a warrior. Once Gabrielle had been a chatty girl was now replaced by a quiet warrior that only spoke pointedly.

Aphrodite dropped the cloth into the bowl and stood up. "All done," she stated. She wanted to clean the armor, but she doubted Gabrielle would take kindly to water on her armor, enchanted or not.

"Thank you," Gabrielle offered. She indeed felt a sliver of humanity under her skin again. She stood up after she picked up her sheathed weapons in her right hand. "But you should go," she said it more gently than earlier.

Aphrodite lowered her hand that held the bowl. It started to fall then vanished into thin air. Once upon a time, her friend would rather have company than be alone. However, Gabrielle wanted to heal by herself. Aphrodite had to honor the request so she gave a low nod. She studied the hard eyes in front of her.

"Think about what I said," Aphrodite attempted again, "Think about what Terreis would want." She wanted to pass a kiss onto Gabrielle's cheek, but she relented and instead faded away like the bowl had done earlier. "And what I would want," her voice whispered.

Gabrielle walked through the space that Aphrodite had occupied a heartbeat ago. She went to the saddlebags and put the sharpening stone away. She grabbed bread that had been in her pack since Potidaea. Her mother had made it, and she should have refused it because it was against her diet. However, she needed something quick and heavy to settle her stomach for the night.

The nut bread was sweet and took Gabrielle back to her parents' home. She remembered sneaking pieces to her bedroom with Lila. It was her favorite bread, and her mother knew it. Gabrielle found it difficult to eat because she had planned to share it with Terreis when they returned home to their hut. Now she ate it alone, and it almost left a sour taste in her mouth. She folded up the other half and tucked it away in her saddlebag again.

The night wore on but Gabrielle never slept because her mind refused any peace. She left the furs tied to the saddlebags, not even making a slight attempt. At first light, she stirred Skylla and tacked the horse. She went to the creek and quickly washed her face and hair. The last of the blood was gone from her hair. Finally she wiped down her armor with an oiled rag before she put it on again. She looked renewed on the outside, but she was so very broken.

Skylla stomped her right hoof when Gabrielle came to her. She huffed after the Amazon was in the saddle. At the signal, she turned and started through the woods.

Gabrielle traveled at a slow pace through the woods until she came to the road that ran east and west. She knew it would take her directly to Leta from here. She would pick up the warlord's trail soon.

About three candlemarks east of Leta, Gabrielle indeed found where the warlord's broken army came from the lands slightly north and then returned to the main road. Gabrielle studied the war wagon's ruts made in the still soft ground from the earlier rains. She pulled on her armor for a beat then tapped on Skylla's sides. She went after the slow moving army.

The ride to Leta went quickly, but Gabrielle stayed away from the town's entrance. She instead took refuge on a hilltop after she left Skylla hitched to a tree branch in hiding. Gabrielle had climbed the hill then laid on her belly at the top. She grunted from her armor's slight pressure against her chest, but she focused on the village nestled below her.

Leta was busy with activity because the warlord had returned with her army. Outside of the village, the army had made camp and several fires were spread out over the landscape. One farmer was probably quite annoyed that his field was decimated by the warlord's army. However, little could be done about it since the village swore allegiance to the Destroyer of Nations.

The army's camp had several tents but only one was slightly larger than the rest. It was centrally located in the camp and also guarded by two hoplites. All around the camp hoplites moved around and reorganized themselves after a loss. Healers were busy dealing with the ailing hoplites.

From Gabrielle's observations, it was obvious that reaching Xena was too difficult at the moment. She needed to wait until later. She would follow the army until the right opportunity came to her. Gabrielle returned to Skylla and took the horse's reins. She needed to locate a safe spot so that Xena's scouts missed her.

Once hidden in a cave with Skylla, Gabrielle went on a hunt using Terreis's bow. She caught two rabbits and returned to the cave. She cooked them with spices and ate every morsel. She needed her strength for when she faced the warlord. She had made a promise to take down the warlord.

Yet, Gabrielle's hands trembled from pure exhaustion. She refused to the sleep though. She wished to keep the nightmares away for as long as possible. Gabrielle forced herself to stay awake. She used her journal to keep herself occupied. She sketched a drawing of the battle, from how it appeared overhead during the heat of it.

Gabrielle shifted against her hard spot on the cave's wall. She lowered the journal and quill to the side. Her head rested against the cave's wall.

Aphrodite formed from the darkness at the cave's mouth. She left herself unseen by mortal eye, including Gabrielle's own. She studied the Amazon propped against the cave's wall. She had wanted to check on her friend, who was lost to her now due to Terreis's death. Aphrodite approached the Amazon and knelt down beside her.

Gabrielle lifted her head off the wall and opened her eyes. She needed to get up and rekindle the fire. As she moved her hands, she noticed they were shaking again so she fisted them hard. Her veins protruded further against her muscles and skin. But, the shakes continued despite her wishes.

Aphrodite followed Gabrielle's downward gaze and sadly watched the trembles. She sighed heavily and lifted her eyes. She studied the dark circles around Gabrielle's own eyes. Aphrodite hoarsely whispered, "Gabs." She had to make her friend sleep, especially if Gabrielle were to face Xena in the coming days.

Aphrodite lifted her hands and placed them against Gabrielle's cheeks. She shut her eyes and concentrated on her friend.

Gabrielle released a sigh at the warmth across her face. She felt flushed, but it was comforting too. It reminded her of one person, and she hoarsely whispered, "Dity." She could hardly control her heavy eyelids. Her grip on reality slipped, and she went to sleep in moments. Her body slumped against the cavern wall.

Aphrodite raised her head. She had a worried look after she had heard Gabrielle call for her. "I'm here, sweet pea." She still held Gabrielle's cheeks. "Always." She silently promised Gabrielle she would be safe, in her dreamscape and in the living world. Aphrodite rose up and crossed to the cave's mouth. Similar to earlier, she faded away into the darkness, but she waved her hand in the air. The cave behind her suddenly vanished from any humans' eye so that Gabrielle would be safe. Aphrodite prayed the sleep was enough for her chosen. Tonight's rest was Gabrielle last moment of peace before she avenged her consort. She would have Xena's life for Terreis's death.

As Artemis taught her Amazons, blood would have blood.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

My Immortal Love
by Red Hope

 

Chapter 9

Gabrielle jerked awake and sat up quickly. She groaned from the stiffness in her muscles after a night against the cave wall. She blinked away the weariness then looked towards the cave's mouth.

It was daylight, about a candlemark after sunrise. The morning birds were done their song. Skylla whined in greeting to her friend.

Gabrielle rubbed the back of her neck and replied, "Mornin', Skylla." She was annoyed she had slept through the night, but she felt better too. She had slept so hard that she had no dreams or nightmares. Gabrielle picked up her journal, quill, and sheathed xiphos. She began organizing her things.

After a quick breakfast, Gabrielle tacked her horse and hooked the xiphos to her side. She guided Skylla out of the cave. As she passed the mouth, her departure triggered the end of Aphrodite's cloaking spell. The cave reformed to all mortals' eyes, unbeknownst to Gabrielle.

With Skylla at her side, the Amazon trekked back to Leta. Again Skylla was hitched to the same tree, and Gabrielle climbed the hill again. Similar to yesterday, she went on her belly and crawled to the peak of the hill. She slotted her eyes from all the commotion from the warlord's army. She concluded the army was mobilizing, but the concern was the army's destination. Gabrielle doubted it was back to the Amazons because the army was still weak. She planned to follow them and make her move at the right time. Her patience would pay off.

At nearly sun high, the army marched out of Leta and onto the main road, headed east. At the head of the army, Xena led her hoplites. She had plans to rebuild her army and would keep her promise to Queen Melosa for another battle. A small unit of a hundred and fifty hoplites to the east offered reinforcements, but Xena needed more warriors, weapons, and supplies. Such things also required coin, which had been depleted recently. There was much to be done before Xena could  face the Amazons again.

Gabrielle watched from her hidden spot in the trees as the warlord's army passed before her. She estimated the army was down to a hundred and sixty hoplites and a hundred peltasts. She smirked at her nation's skill and strength against the warlord. Once the army was gone, Gabrielle climbed down from the tree and went to Skylla.

Gabrielle opened the saddlebags and pulled out her duster, which she set on the ground. She then removed her armor and tied it together. She picked up the duster and shrugged it on but left it open, for now. Next she reorganized the items in her saddlebags and rucksack until she had the essentials items in the rucksack. Last, she grabbed rope and lashed her armor, bow, and quiver all together.

Skylla twisted her head around when her human friend climbed into the tree. She curiously watched Gabrielle lifted the armor and bow up into the tree.

Gabrielle hastily tied off the armor and weapon in the tree, hidden from sight. She returned to the ground, hefted the rucksack over her shoulder, and took Skylla's reins. She headed for the village. Before she forgot, she buttoned up her duster and hid her well tone body from prying eyes. Gabrielle wanted to leave no impression upon the villagers of Leta, who followed the warlord.

Once in the busy village, Gabrielle located a stable and spoke to the owner. She worked out a deal with him so that he cared for Skylla and also took care of her few belongings in the saddlebags. Gabrielle took her horse into a stall and spent a few moments with her horse. She promised Skylla she would be back soon. On her way out, she paid the stable owner well and said she would be back within a fortnight, perhaps sooner. The stable owner asked nothing and accepted the three silver coins. He was promised two more once Gabrielle came back for Skylla.

At the agora, Gabrielle purchased a few items for her next meals, but she planned to mostly hunt. Hastily she left the town and returned to her armor and weapon. She retrieved the items and put on her armor again.

On the road, Gabrielle easily followed the army's trail. She worked out various scenarios on how she would get close to Xena. When she had the chance to isolate the warlord then she would strike. Gabrielle had the strength and skill to challenge Xena, but she was outnumbered if she had to face multiple hoplites.

The journey east continued for a day and half until the army went north on a less traveled road. Shortly a smaller unit rejoined the army and doubled the weakened army's size. Gabrielle had frowned in annoyance and considered what the warlord may do now. At dawn, she was amazed that the army continued north.

Just a candlemark march from a large village, the army made camp and prepared for a day of blood tomorrow. Gabrielle hid among the trees, well taught by her people. Several times she listened and saw hoplites patrol past or near her. She kept alert but never engaged them. Instead, she learned bits and pieces about the attack for tomorrow, at first light.

For awhile, Gabrielle weighed whether or not to alert the village. However, she doubted it would be even enough time for the militia to rally. It was a hopeless cause, or so she believed in her head. Some part of Gabrielle wished for the attack to take place so that she had a chance to corner Xena. She could almost taste the warlord's blood in her mouth. She pictured how tomorrow would play out and looked forward to it. She would avenge Terreis's murder or die trying to honor Terreis.

Two candlemarks before dawn, Gabrielle noticed the army's patrol had ended its routine checks. She knew it meant the army was mobilizing for war. She climbed down from the tree and neatly landed on her boots. She swung off her rucksack, squatted down, and opened the flap.

Similar to the army, Gabrielle prepared for battle. She first retrieved the clay vile, popped off the cork, and put a drop of the amber liquid onto her fingertip. She carefully tasted it for its potency. It was perfect so she spit it out from her mouth. She retrieved her dagger from behind her back and then carefully allowed the thick amber liquid to coat the blade. Satisfied, she slid it back into the horizontal sheath attached just under her armor.

Next, Gabrielle unhooked her xiphos from her back and placed it on the ground beside her. She rummaged through the rucksack again. This time she pulled out the small clay jar and pulled the top off it. Inside of it was a thick white paste that had been used in the past. It was Terreis's war paint that she had earned after training, similar to her bow that Gabrielle had brought with her.

Gabrielle set the jar of war paint on the ground in front of her. She pulled her xiphos free from the sheath and stared coldly at the war paint. She pictured Terreis and felt her consort's touches ghost across her skin. She went cold when she remembered Terreis's last moments.

"I will avenge you, Terreis. I will have her life for yours." Gabrielle tightened her grip on the xiphos and brought the blade to her left hand. She opened her palm and pressed the blade into the center. "Blood will have blood." She gritted her teeth at how good the blade felt cutting open her skin. She lowered the xiphos and fisted her left hand as the blood rushed from the wound.

Gabrielle turned her fist upward and allowed the blood to drip into the war paint. Once she had deposited enough blood into the war paint, she yanked a cloth from out of the rucksack. She tightly tied her hand to cut off the blood flow. She picked up the jar of war paint and used her two fingers to mix the blood with the white paint. In moments, she had red war paint, which she coated over her fingers.

With precision, she dragged her three fingers from her right temple, past the corner of her eye, down her cheek, and stopped part of the way down her neck. She recoated her fingers, closed her eyes, and applied more war paint horizontally from her left temple, over her eyelids, the bridge of her nose, and to her right temple. A few times she had to recoat her fingers to fully create the band across her eyes, nose, and temple.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and breathed in deeply, a sense of great strength filled her. She hastily closed the war paint and returned it to the rucksack. She had a little bit of time so she built a tiny fire. As it grew, she took a moment to hide her rucksack in the tree for later. By the time she was on the ground again, the small fire was strong enough so Gabrielle put the xiphos tip into the flames. As she waited for it to heat up, she untied her left hand and studied the open wound.

Gabrielle pulled the xiphos out of the fire and lifted the bright orange tip. Without a second thought, she sharply gripped the flat of the hot blade with her left hand. She seared her wound shut and only hissed from the pain. She jerked her hand away and clenched her jaw against the momentary pain. Soon it would hardly be noticeable once she was focused on her pending kill.

Quickly, the Amazon sheathed her xiphos and hooked the weapon to her left side. Next, she picked up the bow and quiver, which she strung over her back. After the stomped out the fire, she hurried towards the mobilized army.

The warlord's army had broken camp and split in half with the peltast flanking each side of the hoplite units. Xena headed one unit towards the village's gates while the other went around the village. Her arrival stirred a horn signal.

Gabrielle had entered a field, which had cattle. She went directly to an old yet large olive tree. She quickly climbed into it and found a perfect spot higher up. She had a great view of the army besieging the sealed gates.

A commotion from the north sounded, and Gabrielle was unsure until she realized there was another gate on the north side of the village. It had been open long enough for the village's militia to exit. Gabrielle curiously watched the militia collide with Xena's unit, in hopes to surprise them. However, their attempt was bested by Xena's second unit coming from the east. The militia was shortly crushed, and dying screams faded off one by one.

The warlord's army continued its siege on the weakened wood gate. After several more booms, the wood gate collapsed in a loud explosion. Cheers from the warlord's army thundered around the walls. Like a flood, Xena's army filled the village.

Gabrielle darkly smiled and hastily climbed out of the tree. She adjusted the bow then took off at a sprint for the village. She snuck into the village and was absorbed by the chaos. In a fluent motion, she unsheathed her sword and started winding through the streets. Several times, she went under a blade swing and sliced a hoplite in her way. Her blood pulsed with need, and she ignored all the villagers' cries for help.

With slight frustration, Gabrielle decided she needed an advantage point. She climbed onto a house's thatched roof. She jumped onto the next building, which was stone. It was also taller, and she took in more of the city than she did on the street. Distantly, she heard a very distinct war cry. Gabrielle zeroed on the location and started in that direction.

Xena, the Destroyer of Nations, slashed another militia in half. She took a deep breath and scanned her immediate surroundings. She landed her dark features on one familiar hoplite. "Bring her here."

"Yes, my liege." The hoplite wiped his blade clean on a dead peasant's shirt. "Will she be at the gates?"

Xena nodded. "Go." She watched him depart before she gazed upon the stone steps up to the temple. She knew there would be wealth hidden the temple. One by one, she climbed the steps to the sealed doors.

After another war cry, the warlord slammed her boot hard against the sealed wood door. She was hardly surprised that it was bolted on the other side. Again and again, Xena kicked it until the latch was torn from its bolts in the wood. She shoved open the doors and entered the quiet temple.

From a deep inhale, she could already tell it was a temple to Aphrodite. Nothing smelled more fragrant than the Goddess of Love's temple. Xena darkly smiled because Aphrodite's temples were one of the wealthiest, behind Zeus's temples. Too many villagers were idiots and believed in the goddess's trivial powers.

Outside of the temple, Gabrielle launched off a building's wood roof. She had already counted three hoplites between her and the temple. She sheathed her sword and freed her bow. In quick succession, she fired arrows into each hoplite's neck. Gabrielle swung the bow across her back and strolled past the dying hoplites then climbed the temple's steps.

Aphrodite's temple was usually a welcoming place, but Gabrielle was after blood. She silently apologized to Aphrodite if she spilled Xena's blood here. As she walked past the columns at the vestibule, she heard Xena's yells.

"I will bring this door down!" A boom echoed through the temple. "Your goddess could not save you from my hands!"

Gabrielle slotted her eyes and entered the sanctuary at a sprint. All around her, she was greeted by statues and icons of the Goddess of Love. But she was hardly here for worship, and she passed through the sanctuary into the flanks of columns that went around the temple. She ran harder as the booms grew even louder. She was very close.

Another sequence of booms resounded when stone collided with metal. Gabrielle drew her xiphos as she came to the corner of the adyton. It was the room where the priestesses would store the most precious artifacts and themselves to guard it, in vain. They would give their lives to protect their goddess's offerings. It would cost them their lives at the tip of the warlord's sword.

Xena continued ramming the locked door with the statue of Aphrodite. The statue's head had created a round dent into the bronze door. Chips of marble had fallen to the floor. She drew back and prepared for another surge. She drove forward hard and fast.

The bronze door gave way this time and flung open, slightly twisted from the destruction. Xena was relieved and dropped the statue. She smirked at the priestesses' gasps, and she started for them. She swiftly extracted the sword from her sheath. She counted four priestesses and one of them had to be the head priestess.

Xena stalked forward, blade at the ready. She smiled wolfishly at the scared women. "I will not kill you, but you will wish I had once my…" She caught the right priestess's attention flicker past her. Xena gave a low yell and spun around with her blade up in time. She had stopped a xiphos from slicing her. She stared wide eye at the shorter woman before her.

Gabrielle held the xiphos with both hands. Her wild green eyes were locked with Xena's own.

The warlord inhaled deeply, and it caused her nose to flare wide with outrage. "You," she whispered. She still had the Amazon's dagger in her boot from the battle. She was impressed that the Amazon had tracked her down, on an obvious hunt for revenge. "How was the funeral?"

Gabrielle yelled and kicked at the warlord's exposed stomach. She watched the warlord collide with a column. She started for Xena with dark intent. There was murder in her eyes.

Xena was briefly stunned, but she pushed through it and straightened up. She spun the sword once then waited for her enemy. She saw the first attack and tilted to the right, the blade narrowly missing her face. She gave a cry and attacked the Amazon.

Gabrielle parried the swipe and then the thrust. She matched Xena's blows with ease. She was nicked once on her forearm, but she hardly noticed it.

Xena was impressed by the Amazon's skill and drive to win. She understood how rage could provide its own focus and strength.

The priestesses remained in front of the offerings while the two warriors battled each other. The high priestess finally snapped out of it and ordered her three priestesses to go. They refused her at first until she made them go. She then looked back at the two warriors and a hard smack made her cringe.

Gabrielle had taken a blow to the side of her head. Briefly her vision went fuzzy, but she was able to back away from another kick. She ignored the throb in her head and adrenaline kept her pace fast. She went under Xena's next swipe, popped up, and grappled Xena's arm. With skill, she spun Xena around and slammed her into a column.

The warlord groaned and dropped her sword after all the impact went into her back, transferred from her bronze cuirass. She gasped for air but the Amazon already grabbed her by the breast plate. For a brief heartbeat, she was airborne until she was slammed onto the marble floor.

Gabrielle raised her sword and brought it down. She missed though because Xena recovered fast enough.

The warlord had rolled away, popped onto one knee and foot and then kicked out Gabrielle's sword from her hand.

Gabrielle growled and lunged for the warlord. She was hardly deterred by the fact she lost her sword.

Xena gave a low cry until she and the Amazon collided into another column. She matched Gabrielle's strength and rolled them so that Gabrielle was pinned against it. She towered over the Amazon and forced her downward.

Gabrielle gritted her teeth and peered up into cold blue eyes. Her eyes were as dark as her red war paint. Her muscles coiled tighter in her legs and arms as she pushed back against the warlord. She curled her fingers around the edges of the warlord's armor and had a better grip. Gabrielle gave a yell as she pushed up and forward.

Xena was losing the display of strength to the Amazon. She struggled as her boots slid against the marble. Chaos broke lose as her cry and the Amazon's own mixed in the air. Xena lost control, and they went to the floor together. She ended up on her back with the small yet bulky Amazon over her chest.

Gabrielle instantly had her hands around Xena's neck. She tightened her grip around Xena's throat.

Xena grappled again with the Amazon's arms, but the sweat between them made it even harder to get a strong grip. She gasped for air but black spots started forming in front of her vision.

Gabrielle barred her teeth and enjoyed every heartbeat of the warlord's death. She savored how she slowly strangled the life from the dark warlord. But, it was not enough so she reached behind with her left hand.

Xena's weakened state was nothing compared to the well trained Amazon over her. Her nails continued clawing into Gabrielle's right arm, but it was hopeless. Her eyes widen when a dagger came at her throat.

Gabrielle seethed with rage, and she bent forward. She pushed the dagger's poisoned tip against the warlord's throat. She brought her lips close to Xena's ear and hauntingly whispered, "Your blood will repay my consort's death." She shut her eyes when one of Xena's hands pressed into her face, but she held all the power. Gabrielle soaked in the warlord's fear for death and loss of greatness. She tightened her hand around the warlord's throat after Xena's nails dug into her cheek. Her war paint smeared over her face and Xena's palm.

The high priestess had remained in the adyton and was frozen by what she saw before her. She pushed off her table and demanded, "Blood cannot be spilled in the temple of Aphrodite!" She only made it a few steps before a new arrival entered the adyton. She trembled from the darkness that radiated off the new comer.

Gabrielle finally decided to complete her promise to Terreis. She breathed out, "Blood will have blood." She applied more pressure to the dagger, and its edge prepared to slice through the skin of Terreis's killer until long fingers tangled and jerked in Gabrielle's hair.

Gabrielle barely had a chance to lift her eyes before excoriating pain erupted through her entire body. Crazed images from war and battle flashed through her mind. Screams exploded from her lips, and she blacked out when it was too much. She fell off the still breathing warlord and went limp.

Gabrielle had failed Terreis.

Her failure terrorized her even in her unconscious state. Terreis berated her for not completing the kill in time and bringing her blood justice. Gabrielle roared with fury and sharply woke up from water hitting her entire body. Her dreamscape's yell exploded from her lips and thundered between the temple's columns. She was seated against a column and quickly realized her wrists and ankles were bound by rope.

A hoplite stepped aside after he lowered the bucket in his hand. He peered over at his leader. He was flanked by six other hoplites, whom were covered in various blood and dirt from battle.

Once he stepped aside, Gabrielle had a view of the warlord that towered before her.

Xena had her left hand resting on her sword's hilt. She slotted her eyes at the awakened Amazon at her feet. "Welcome back."

Gabrielle slotted her eyes at the warlord.

"You travelled a distance to find me." Xena took a step closer and knelt down until she was level with the Amazon. "What is your name, Amazon?"

Gabrielle grounded her teeth and remained silent. But, she noticed the markings across Xena's neck from the earlier chokehold. She could barely hide her pleased smirk.

Xena matched the Amazon with her own glower. She reached for the dagger that had been at her throat a candlemark ago. "You came well prepared." Off to her right, were the Amazon's weapons piled together. Xena held up the dagger to her nose and smelled the poison. She brought the dagger forward, pointed at the Amazon. "I am not done with your people." She tapped the tip against the Amazon's bronze chest. "And I think you will be of use in the next battle."

Gabrielle lifted her chin and remained silent.

Xena leaned in closer and tilted her head. "I know the woman I killed was your consort." She pointed the dagger tip at the marriage bracelet on the Amazon's right wrist. "I remember Princess Terreis at the peace talks. It was a shame you weren't there with her. We could have met under better circumstances." She tapped the tip against the bracelet. "She wore the same bracelet." Xena studied it for a beat before she met the Amazon's dark eyes. "Princess Terreis was sweet… and naive."

Gabrielle started breathing hard, but she otherwise kept calm. She refused to be baited by the warlord.

Xena licked her lips and read the ire in the Amazon's eyes. She was getting under the Amazon's skin, even deeper. "You know what else I know?" Xena tapped the bracelet a second time. "After I put my blade through your consort's stomach, I immediately gave you her caste as princess." She smiled, darkly. "I know you will be of use in the next battle, princess."

Gabrielle was seething at the fact the warlord knew about her people's culture and traditions. She was now a bargaining chip for the warlord. She started moving forward, after the warlord. But the hoplites grabbed her by her arms, and she was held in place. She was still weak from whatever had hit her in the adyton.

Xena chuckled and held up the poisoned dagger. "Let's hope I do not knick you by accident." She stretched her arm out and brought the dagger to the Amazon's side. "Hold still now." With fast movements, she sliced through the leather straps that held the two-piece cuirass together. She almost grazed the Amazon's skin with the poisoned dagger.

"Remove her armor," Xena ordered. She stood up and stepped back as the hoplites forcefully removed the bronze cuirass and greaves. As she watched the armor be pulled away, she received an eyeful from the Amazon's impressively honed, muscular body. The partial hidden tattoo was now fully exposed, and Xena secretly admired the wispy horse tattoo. Xena now understood why she had been outmatched in strength.

"Bring the healer to sedate her," Xena further commanded. She sheathed the poisoned dagger. "Then shackle her arms and legs." She took more steps away, headed in the direction of the adyton. "She will break free of those ropes." Her heavy footfall echoed through the temple.

Xena returned to the adyton, which was busy with hoplites gathering the valuable offerings. They would need them to recoup their supplies and obtain new weapons. Xena spoke to a few hoplites but made her way over to the knelt figure at the side of the altar table. She squatted down and laced her fingers together.

"These priestesses of Aphrodite are always weak."

Xena studied the dead high priestess collapsed in front of her. She peered up into dark eyes and replied, "But much stronger than the peasants of the village."

"Hardly," the woman huskily argued.

Xena toothily smiled. "Alti, you have yet to go to Athena's temple on the other side of town."

Alti stood up and so did the warlord. "I will." She stared down at the dead priestess, whose soul now resided in Alti. "Is she awake?"

Xena knew who Alti meant, and she replied, "The little Amazon Princess is awake."

Alti chuckled and argued, "She was hardly little when she nearly strangled the life out of you." She reached up and touched the dark marks on Xena's throat. "She seemed to have acted alone."

Xena brushed Alti's hand away. "Yes." She moved away from Alti.

"I will interrogate her," Alti stated. She followed Xena through the adyton. Her sandals softly hit against the marble floor. Her dark chiton was long and only had one shoulder piece, her other exposed to inquiring eyes. She wore a gold girdle across her waist.

"I want to keep her alive." Xena slotted her eyes in warning to the shaman. "Your methods, if fought against, can kill the prisoner." She folded her arms. "And she will fight you."

Alti gave a low hum. "Very well," she agreed. She continued out of the adyton. "Tell me when you tire of her silence." She started out of the temple from the backside. She had a date with Athena's priestesses.

The warlord turned her head sidelong and ordered the hoplites to hurry up. She wanted to march further north and make camp before sunset. Today had been successful and gave them plenty of supplies. The unexpected bonus was the Amazon Nation's new princess as a prisoner. Xena left the adyton and heard the angry yell. She rounded the adyton and curiously watched the scene unfold before her.

The Amazon had spit out the laced water that the healer gave her. She was still bound with ropes but was on her feet and leaned heavily against a column.

An angry hoplite moved swiftly and delivered a blow to the Amazon's stomach. He grunted at the hard impact against her solid stomach.

Gabrielle flinched from the blow, but she mostly remained upright. She growled at the hoplite that had struck her. She dared him to do it again, and he did punch her. Another hoplite then grabbed her by the jaw and forced her mouth open. The water was poured into her mouth and rushed down her throat. She tasted the drug's potent flavor, but she had no control.

Xena remained in the distance and watched the battle of wills. She admired the Amazon's great strength, even warring with the water's drug. She tilted her head as the Amazon started to fall to her knees, succumbing to the drug. The Amazon finally collapsed to her side and softly moaned, her eyes glossy.

A hoplite with the shackles moved forward and started replacing the ropes with the chain. He and another hoplite had to lift the Amazon together. They found it a slight struggle to support her weight. Even if she was small, she was made up of a lot of mass. They dragged her out of the temple.

Gabrielle's head rolled from side to side. She struggled against the drug in her system, but she had no control. She was dragged out of the temple, down the steps, and her boots created trails through the dirt on the streets. Her mind grew fuzzier because the drug set in deeper. For a moment, she became weightless then her body harshly slammed into wood. She smelled straw around her, and she lifted her head.

Four hoplites mounted into the wagon and sat on the benches on either side of the wagon. One hoplite noticed the Amazon's attempt to get up. He grunted then bent over to his left. He brought his fist against her head.

Gabrielle slumped against the straw after the blow. She was still conscious and moved yet again until a second blow put her under. When she came out of her nightmare, she first noticed the low sunlight and straw still surrounded her. Gabrielle realized somebody knelt beside her was what woke her. A strong hand sharply latched onto her jaw and again water was forced into her mouth. She had no strength to stop it, and she was even thirsty despite the water was laced with a sedative. Gabrielle fell back into the straw. Her green eyes rolled many times.

"Gabrielle," a worried voice called.

Gabrielle blinked a few times then twisted her head around, a confused look on her face. She expected a seated hoplite to be above her, but she instead found her consort's concerned features. "Terreis?" she murmured.

Terreis was bent forward with her elbows on her knees. She had her full attention on Gabrielle. "I never thought you were this foolish."

Gabrielle frowned and argued, "She took you from me."

Terreis narrowed her eyes. "You took me from yourself."

Gabrielle was breathing heavy, and her heart raced. "You are all that I had."

"And the rest of the nation?" Terreis countered. "Do they mean nothing to you?" She was clearly upset. "You abandoned them to seek revenge." She shook her head. "You dishonor my memory and our people."

"Terreis…" Gabrielle struggled to move her hands, but they were far too heavy.

"I could have chosen any to be my consort," Terreis reminded. "But I chose you because you are different." She straightened up and sadly whispered, "Have I chosen wrong?"

Gabrielle dropped her head back and shut her eyes. She fought against her emotions that Terreis stirred in her chest. She hurt more than her body. Even with Terreis here, she felt alone and broken. She clenched her hands, but a gentle touch on her leg made her lifted her head again.

"I am always with you."

Gabrielle blinked several times, and she barely made out Terreis's outline. Finally the fog cleared from her mind, and she stared back at Aphrodite.

"Always, sweet pea," Aphrodite swore. She was knelt beside the Amazon in the straw.

"Aphrodite?" Gabrielle whispered in awe.

"Sit up, Gabs." The goddess helped her friend lean against the back of the wagon. She swayed with the wagon's motions.

Gabrielle was completely cleared headed now as if the drug was gone. She noticed the four hoplites had vanished, and it was just them.

"The first chance you have to escape," Aphrodite explained, "You must take it."

Gabrielle looked down at the manacles around her wrists. She peered up at the goddess.

Aphrodite gripped the Amazon's biceps. "I fear for you," she softly admitted. Her voice trembled, but she continued telling Gabrielle what she knew. "She is Ares's chosen. She travels with a shaman that can harm you far greater than anything on this Earth."

Gabrielle licked her cracked lips and weakly asked, "A shaman?"

"One who takes somebody's soul and harnesses it for power." Aphrodite had never shown fear until today. "I cannot lose you," she pleaded. She understood the depth of danger Gabrielle faced with a shaman so eager to steal her chosen's soul.

Gabrielle swallowed hard against the dread she felt from the goddess. "Aphrodite-"

"Promise me," Aphrodite demanded. Her hold tightened on the Amazon's biceps. "Promise me you will escape."

Gabrielle flinched from the grip against her arms. She finally nodded and roughly promised, "I swear it."

Aphrodite was hardly relieved because she was unsure how Gabrielle could escape, but it was important Gabrielle would do so. She freed one hand and pressed it against Gabrielle's cheek. Through the smeared war paint, Aphrodite still saw the girl she had first met in Potidaea. She bit her lip then whispered, "I will not stop you from what you seek, but I will catch you every time you fall from the tree."

Gabrielle gave a low laugh at a moment when she was at her ugliest, again. She closed her eyes when the goddess's thumb brushed against her lips.

Aphrodite sadly smiled because she felt her broken connection with her chosen start to rebuild itself. "I will be here," she promised, again.

Gabrielle's entire body became heavy once more. Her head rolled, like her eyes, and the drug seeped through her veins.

Aphrodite faded away and reformed in a dark temple on Mount Olympus. A chill settled over her shoulders, but she started towards the black throne at the top of stairs. She stood out against the décor of blades, skulls, and furs. She narrowed her eyes when a tall, dark hoplite materialized in the black throne.

The hoplite shined in his bronze armor, and he gripped a dory in his right hand. With his freehand, he reached for the helmet that had a large red horsehair plume. He pulled it off and set it in his lap. His dark, curly hair framed his handsome features.

"Sister," the God of War greeted. "What do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"

"Cut the Centaur shit, Ares." Aphrodite stood in front of the God of War. She folded her arms across her chest. "Your chosen has taken mine."

Ares shrugged and grinned. "That is your mortal's choosing." He flexed his grip on the bronze dory. "Xena is only doing what is best for her ascension to power."

Aphrodite's blue eyes brightened, and she challenged, "How wise do you think it is for her to hold a chosen of mine, marked by Artemis, and now a princess to the Amazons?"

Ares seriously considered the question, and he shifted in his throne. He then smiled and chuckled after he realized Aphrodite's real fears. "The shaman… it's the shaman." He shook his head and stood up.

Aphrodite clenched her fists at her side.

Ares descended the throne and approached his sister. "I see now." He tucked the helmet under his left arm. "Shamans are like a black hole to our chosen." He dragged his teeth over his bottom lip then smiled, evilly at his sister. He leaned in closer and whispered, "A little scared are we, hmmm?"

Aphrodite reached up and pushed her brother's face away from her own. She ignored his last remarked and turned away.

"Perhaps I can help," Ares offered. He noticed the stiffness in his sister's shoulders. "My chosen has always had a soft spot for yours… even now." He started for the goddess. "She protects her from the shaman."

Aphrodite faced her brother and reminded, "A shaman answers to none, including your chosen." She shook her head. "You're totally idiotic if you think you or your chosen can control that shaman."

Ares tapped his spear's end against the stone floor. "I like to think of it as more of a… symbiotic relationship." He had a wide grin.

"You are totally idiotic," Aphrodite concluded. She turned on him again and continued towards the front door that would lead her out to Mount Olympus.

"Was that a yes or no?" Ares checked. He leaned against the dory and was rather smug.

Aphrodite took a few more steps as she considered taking her brother's help. She had taken Artemis's help years ago when it came to Gabrielle. She was still paying that debt, but it was a mutual debt. In this case, Ares held all the cards, and it would be a heavy price. She paused and half turned towards the God of War.

Ares straightened up and was still smug. His smile grew when bright blue eyes locked on him.

"No," Aphrodite finally answered.

Ares face dropped, and he slotted his eyes. He thought for once he had the upper hand. "Fine." He held out his helmet in his left hand. "Your chosen's obliteration."

Aphrodite ignored him and continued out of the temple.

"And the end of your influence in the mortal world," Ares yelled.

Aphrodite's eyes fluttered at the cold, possible truth. She inhaled deeply and made herself leave the temple.

Ares frowned when his sister vanished through the sealed doors. "And I'm the idiot?" He huffed then put on his helmet. He disappeared and went to the mortal world.

Aphrodite crossed the beautiful landscape that was Mount Olympus. She was surrounded by nature's grand trees and flowers. Normally she would enjoy the sweet smells, but her mind was on the mortals, her mortal. She entered the Ge room where the floor was filled with the stars and the Earth rested on Atlas's shoulders. Aphrodite stared at the turning orb in the center of the room.

"She is in great danger," Artemis softly spoke.

Aphrodite looked from the orb to the Goddess of Hunt, who was seated on one of the many sills between the columns of the round room.

"And so are you," Artemis added. She was clearly bothered by the situation. "But you are hardly concerned about yourself," she realized aloud. She pushed off the sill and went to the Goddess of Love.

"I will lose her, Art… forever." Aphrodite stared hard at the other goddess. "Once the shaman takes her soul…"

Artemis touched the goddess's arm. "I know." She was sympathetic to Aphrodite. There were many chosens in the mortal world, but Aphrodite's favor over Gabrielle was the most legendary on Mount Olympus. Artemis speculated that it had to do with Aphrodite's own realm of love. She seriously considered Gabrielle's fate. Like Aphrodite, she knew it was only a matter of time before the shaman went after Gabrielle, whose soul was a powerful fuel to a shaman.

"Dite," Artemis carefully offered, "We have our laws… but a shaman plays their own game." She found worried blue eyes set on her. "Not ours," she softly offered. "So what are our laws really worth then?"

Aphrodite cut her eyes back to the blue orb. Her keen eyes centered on her drugged mortal, who was being dragged out of the wagon just before sunset. She felt Gabrielle's deep pain, and she closed her eyes. Aphrodite clenched her hands against the internal war in her head and heart. From Mount Olympus, she could watch the last of Gabrielle's future unfold and then unravel. Aphrodite could feel the end at her fingertips. It was cold and crept closer to her heart then would freeze her in time. By Zeus's decree, she could only watch it happen to her chosen.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

My Immortal Love
by Red Hope

 

Chapter 10

Gabrielle earned another smack across her cheek. She blinked away the sting then turned her dark eyes back on the hoplite in front of her.

"Eat," the hoplite growled. He held out the food to her.

Gabrielle continued refusing food for the third day now. She would have refused water as well, but it was always forced down her throat. For the last three days, she was kept sedate and put into a wagon for travel. She suspected they had turned east yesterday, but to where, she had no idea. It was only at night that she was given regular water because they kept her chained to a post in the ground.

The hoplite threw the bread in pure frustration. He stood up and nearly spoke until a tall presence entered the tent. He faced his leader and bowed to her.

Xena studied the chained Amazon seated on the ground. The red mark across the Amazon's cheek was enough information. She noted the discarded bread so she looked at the hoplite standing and the other one on a stool at a small table.

The second hoplite that guarded the Amazon was eating his meal. He quickly stopped and stood up.

Xena summarized that the Amazon still had yet to eat. It would do her little good if the Amazon died on them. She lowered her eyes to the muscular Amazon and considered the dirty bread off to the right. She puckered her lips and looked at the food on the hoplite's plate.

"Give me your plate," Xena ordered him. She released her sword's hilt and accepted the half empty plate.

Gabrielle lifted her chin as the warlord came to her side and knelt down with the plate. If her hands were free from the post, she would have loved to strangle the warlord again. She kept her eyes trained on Xena. Yet, her body could hardly ignore the delicious smells from the hot food.

Xena picked up a piece of white chicken meat and held it out in offer. "Why fight it further?" she softly asked. "You will continue to lose strength."

Gabrielle grounded her teeth, and her jaw flexed a few times. She knew it was true. She loosened her jaw and gave a faint nod.

Xena accepted the response and held out the meat. She was pleased when the Amazon indeed took it. She continued taking food off the hoplite's plate, but she was particular about what items.

The hoplite who had the plate of food shifted on his boots.

Xena ruefully smiled at the hoplite's agitation, but she stayed focus on feeding the Amazon. "How do you think she became this way?" Her open-ended question fell upon the two hoplites. "Intense training over the anni," she explained and held another piece of meat. "And a very strict diet."

Gabrielle considered what else the warlord knew about her people. She disliked feeling exposed to the warlord and even the hoplites.

"Not a diet filled with bread or other grains," Xena coldly stated. Her tone berated the two hoplites.

The two hoplites looked at each other, one silently accusing the other.

"Leave," the warlord ordered them.

"My lieg-"

"Leave," Xena yelled at them. She let out a low breath after the two hoplites shuffled out of the tent. She refocused on her task to feed the Amazon. She mulled over her future plans for the Amazon, who was now a princess among her people. She considered how deeply rooted the Amazon was with her people and how big of a ransom, or otherwise, Xena could seek from the Amazon Nation.

Once the plate was empty of all valuable food, Xena put the plate onto the table. She came back to the Amazon's side, knelt down. She rested her left hand on her xipho's hilt. "You have a name yet, princess?" She only received silence and a cold stare.

"Your value to your nation will be tested soon." Xena tilted her head and asked, "How much does Queen Melosa value you?" She reached forward and touched the Amazon's muscular thigh. She was hardly surprised by the rise in tension. "But, I've been thinking about other options too." She smiled darkly at the Amazon. "We both know what dishonor you have brought to your people."

Gabrielle's lips pulled with a slight sneer.

"How likely you think they will so easily accept you again?" Xena squeezed the Amazon's thigh, and the thick muscle filled her hand. "But I admire your skill, determination, and…" She raked her eyes over the Amazon's well-built body. She freed her hand and pressed her palm flat against the Amazon's stomach muscles. "And strength." She smirked at the Amazon's dark glare. "Join my army," she offered as she withdrew her hand.

Gabrielle fisted her hands behind the post. She leaned forward and stretched out her neck. She came as close as possible to the warlord. She locked eyes with Xena and hotly whispered, "No."

Xena laughed and was amused by the Amazon's simple yet definite answer. She shook her head after the Amazon leaned against the post. "You think you are better than me?" She smirked and a glint entered her eyes. "I killed your consort in combat. She made her choices. And you made your choice to attempt murder." Her hand shot out, and she roughly gripped the Amazon's jaw.

Gabrielle dug her heels into the ground, but she made no other movements. She was forced to stare into blue eyes that reminded her of her dead consort, except Terreis held love for her. Xena only wanted her life, either at the end of a blade or sworn as an allegiance to her.

Xena gave a soft jerk to Gabrielle's head. She leaned in and softly whispered, "I understand your hatred towards the world and the Fates. I can help you." She revealed a wolfish smile. "You and I… we are not that far different." She released the Amazon and stood up. "My offer still stands, until first light." She headed to the tent flap. "Think about it because you may not like your nation's answer to my demands," she added before she was gone.

Gabrielle lowered her head against the post and watched the two hoplites reenter the tent. She shut her eyes and ignored them. She repeatedly went over the warlord's offer and especially what her fellow Amazons thought of her. It was true that Melosa would be very disappointed and angry with her. But, to join the warlord's army would further disgrace herself and the nation. There would be no return from such a costly mistake.

Outside in the camp, Xena spoke to a few of her officers. She was pleased with the recovery of her army. They had conscripted more hoplites from other towns. However, it was still too early to return to the Amazon Nation. Xena truly wanted more mounted hoplites, which took time, money, and training.

The warlord entered the large tent setup for meetings between herself and her officers. She went to the large table that held a map of Greece. She stood over the map and considered her next plans. There was time to decide just yet because the army was staying in their current camp for the next fortnight. However, after that point, Xena needed a new plan of attack.

The tent flap was shoved aside and a tall, dark haired woman beelined to the warlord. Alti had an amused look and grinned at the warlord. "As much as I enjoy a vacation," she teased, "When do we continue the campaign?"

"Alti," Xena greeted. She had her hands flat against the table, but her head turned in the shaman's direction. "The army has earned the break."

Alti leaned her hip against the table's side. "You should not let them get any duller… or stupider."

Xena straightened up and faced the shaman. "What do you want?"

Alti chuckled and placed a hand on the table. "Any luck with your little Amazon Princess yet?" She could tell by the drawn out silence that Xena had made very little headway. "My offer still stands." She had a wider grin now. "I can get her to talk."

Xena moved in closer to the shaman. "To tell me what?" She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. "I already know what I need to know."

Alti considered it for a beat then finally nodded with a serious look. "Very well." She pushed off the table and went to the exit.

"Alti," Xena called. She waited until the shaman turned to her. "Her guards have orders to keep her in and others out." She explained nothing else and returned to the map.

Alti slotted her eyes but left without a word.

"How long do you think you can keep her away?"

Xena had her eyes down on the map. She carefully studied her current location and what was around her. "As long as it takes," she softly responded. She lifted her head and met the God of War's serious features.

"That Amazon is the only leverage you have over them right now," Ares added. "And your shaman is quite keen on her."

"And I wonder why that is." Xena folded her arms against her bronze chest. "It's like flies to shit." She tilted her head. "Perhaps she is a chosen of Artemis."

Ares gave a grin. "Perhaps so." He tilted his head and matched the warlord's stance. His helmet was gone and so was his dory, but he wore his usual hoplite attire otherwise. "But I would keep a careful eye on her."

Xena was staring back at the map. "The shaman or the Amazon?"

"Both," Ares replied, distantly.

Xena lifted her head and slotted her eyes. The God of War was gone from her tent, but she knew he would be back again. His words were hardly lost on her. But right now, she focused on her task well into the night.

By the middle of the night, Alti left her personal tent and found the camp mostly quiet other than regular patrol hoplites. She passed several campfires, but only a few hoplites remained by them. She went directly to the single guarded tent and was hardly surprised that the two guards were inside, rather than at their outside posts. She smiled and slipped in without a sound.

Gabrielle stirred first after she sensed the shaman's presence. She hastily climbed to her feet, and it woke the hoplites.

Alti had already jumped after the two hoplites. She wrapped one hand around each of their throats and focused her powers on them. She was swift and released them.

The two hoplites groaned before they fell to the ground and remained unconscious.

Alti looked up from the hoplites to the chained prisoner in the center of the tent. She smiled, wickedly. "We have not been introduced properly." She headed towards the Amazon. "I am Alti."

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes and strained against the shackles that kept her hands behind her back. Every muscle in her body tensed as the shaman grew closer to her. She had hardly forgotten their last meeting in the temple. The chains around her ankles softly protested from her movements.

"And you have something very special about you, little Amazon." Alti raised her hand. "I intend to find out what."

Gabrielle growled low and bent her knees as Alti closed in on her. She mentally counted down then suddenly gave a low cry. She jumped straight up, lifted her legs up, and then kicked with both feet. She slammed her boot heels directly into Alti's chest.

Alti hollered and sailed backwards until she collided with the unconscious hoplites. She gave a low groan and rolled to one side.

Gabrielle dropped to a seated positioned again and stretched her legs out to the nearest hoplite's sheathed sword. Her boot tip scraped over the handle a few times. She softly cursed and continued to strain against the shackles.

Alti groaned and slowly recovered from the strike. She lifted her head and blinked a few times until the Amazon came into view. A furrow wrinkled across her brow when the Amazon's boot tips managed to wiggle out a hoplite's xiphos from a sheath. She hissed and quickly moved forward with her right arm out.

Gabrielle cut her eyes from the hilt between her boots to the shaman. She growled as the shaman rolled off the hoplite.

Alti stretched out her arm further. Her hand curled around the Amazon's thigh just after the xiphos was freed from the sheath. She invoked her powers with fury.

Gabrielle dropped her head back and let out a cry. Images from a battle unknown to her struck her again and again as if she were there. It cut off sharply, and she slumped against the post.

Alti recovered and hastily crawled over to the Amazon. "Tell me who you are," she snarled and wrapped her hand around the Amazon's throat.

Gabrielle jerked against her chains, but Alti's powers already coursed through her body. She opened her mouth to yell, but only silence came out from her. Her body started convulsing against the post.

Alti grew stronger. Her powers ate away at the Amazon's own strength. "By the gods," she gasped and jerked her hand free. She smirked at the weakened Amazon. "The chosen of Aphrodite." Alti was quite pleased by her find. "And marked by Artemis."

Gabrielle's head rolled twice, and she struggle with her pain. She barely made out Alti's words.

"How incredibly unusual," Alti murmured. She was very pleased and wrapped her longer fingers, one by one, around the Amazon's neck. "You have so much power. Your past lives have filled you."  Her dark smile grew. "And I will have that power."

Gabrielle arched against the post when Alti's attack started again. She pulled hard against the chains. Every muscle coiled like rope against her damp skin, and her veins formed thickly. She could do nothing against the shaman's attack. She had suffered emotional pain so great, but this physical pain cut beyond just her body. Her very spirit was being ripped from her, and it screamed out in agony.

Alti's eyes were brightening each heartbeat. She had a smile of death. She felt the Amazon's powerful soul tear apart from her body. Alti would inhale it like the finest wine. She was so close until the tent flap broke her concentration. Alti jerked her hand away and gazed up at the hoplite.

The hoplite looked from the slumped prisoner to the shaman. He was furious and rushed forward.

Alti was on her feet and threw a punch that connected with his jaw. She felt how hard the impact was and expected him to drop, but she lost her smirk.

The hoplite's head jerk to one side. He then turned his head towards the shaman again.

Alti instantly tensed when the hoplite's eyes shined red at her. In a heartbeat, she realized the hoplite was anything but mortal. She was powerless against her attacker.

The hoplite barred his teeth and grabbed the shaman. He lifted her up into the tent and held her by the throat. How he wanted to end her life, but he instead cut off her breathing until she blacked out. He then tossed her aside like a ragdoll.

Gabrielle groaned heavily but remained slouched against the pole. She slightly stirred when two hands lifted her head.

"Gabrielle?" the hoplite called. He gently patted her left cheek. "Wake up."

Gabrielle blinked once and slowly focused on the person in front of her. She shook her head and murmured, "Aphrodite?"

The hoplite smiled, but he was now the Goddess of Love in full armor. "That's right, sweet pea." She held up Gabrielle's head.

"What…" Gabrielle could barely form her thoughts let alone speak.

"It's time to go," Aphrodite explained. She first took the ankle shackles, wrapped her hands around the chain, and gave a quick tug. She broke three links and separated the shackles. She repeated the same with the manacles around Gabrielle's wrists.

Gabrielle was relieved to bring her arms forward and tried moving her legs. She went back down, far too weak.

"I have you," Aphrodite assured her. She lifted the broken Amazon and supported her weight. "You have to escape." She turned her head to the right. "But there's not much time."

Gabrielle took one step towards the tent flap and nearly fell until the goddess grabbed her. Just the tent flap alone felt so far. "I'm too weak." She felt drained to her very core thanks to Alti. She attempted another step, and it truly hurt to move her body.

"I don't care," Aphrodite snapped. "You have to leave." She adjusted Gabrielle's weight against her body. "Come on."

Gabrielle was dragged by the goddess a few paces. She forced her legs to obey her command, and she hissed from the intense pain. "Oh gods," she groaned.

Aphrodite pushed through the tent flap. Her powers masked her again as a male hoplite. She continued helping Gabrielle through the camp. "This way," she ordered softly.

Gabrielle gritted her teeth and moved her legs even if they felt broken. She contained her painful cry and forced her muscles to respond to her demands. Slowly she started moving on her two feet more.

Aphrodite saw a campfire with three hoplites. She quickly detoured around a tent and continued to the closest escape point. "There's a woods ahead."

Gabrielle nodded and understood Aphrodite's idea. "Get me there."

Aphrodite silently agreed. She weaved Gabrielle through the camp and ducked around tents when a hoplite came near them. At one point, she held Gabrielle close at the backside of one tent. After the two patrolling hoplites left, she guided Gabrielle further west.

"We're close," the goddess promised.

Gabrielle had regained some strength and carried more of her own weight. She kept her left arm around the goddess's bronze waist. Just ahead, past several tents, she saw the woods. A sense of freedom came over her.

"You there!" a hoplite called. He hurried towards the tall hoplite that had somebody with them. "Halt!"

Aphrodite cursed and realized she could do very little at this point. "You have to go." She released the Amazon.

"Dity-"

"Go. I will find you," Aphrodite insisted.

Gabrielle broke away and took a step under a tall torch. Her golden hair and distinct features rallied the approaching hoplite.

"The prisoner has escaped!" the hoplite yelled in alarm. He unsheathed his blade and raced after the prisoner and other hoplite.

Gabrielle took off at her best speed. Her head pounded like a crazed war, and she tasted blood in her mouth. Every step shot pain up her back. Yet Gabrielle ran to the woods with hoplites coming for her. She heard their shouts and luckily ducked past a few that stirred from their tents. She made it to the woods and pushed through several bushes then finally into the darkness.

The hoplites gave pursuit and yelled for the prisoner or to each other. Their voices echoed deep in the woods. They easily followed her trail and began catching up to her.

Gabrielle tried running faster because she knew she normally could sprint at top speeds. But the increased strain made it even worse for her. She never had her well trained body failed her like now. Gabrielle struggled with her heart rate. The pain coursed through every vein in her. She fought for air and eventually was forced onto her knees. She wanted to give up.

"Get up!" Aphrodite yelled. She appeared a few steps in front of the Amazon. She hurried forward and lifted the Amazon by her arms. "On your feet."

"Dity," Gabrielle rasped. "I can't… I'm too weak."

Aphrodite opened her mouth to argue, but as she studied the mortal, she saw the life nearly gone from Gabrielle. Whatever Alti had done to Gabrielle it was severe. She was amazed Gabrielle had made it this far. If she had been sooner then she could have stopped Alti from hurting her chosen.

Gabrielle turned her head when she heard the hoplites getting closer to her. She closed her eyes and resigned herself to defeat. It mattered little to her anyway.

Aphrodite was thinking quickly. Her gaze lifted to the tall tree beside them, and it seemed to call to her. "The tree."

Gabrielle was confused but peered up at the tree too.

"Get into the tree. Hurry." Aphrodite brought Gabrielle over to it. "Into the tree." She helped Gabrielle get a start to the first branch.

Gabrielle clutched the first branch and then pulled her body up. She whimpered at the shots of pain through her arm muscles then her legs.

"Higher," Aphrodite ordered. She watched Gabrielle go the next branch, but then she heard the hoplites' yells grow closer.

Gabrielle nearly lost her grip on the third branch, but she pulled up onto it. She gasped and laid flat against it.

Aphrodite tilted her head back and closed her eyes. Quickly her body shortened and built muscles. Her hair was still golden but short and straight. She opened her eyes now that she looked exactly like her chosen.

Gabrielle had curiously watched then her attention was drawn to the right. She lowered her head against the branch and bit her bottom lip. She watched Aphrodite run off to draw the hoplites away from her. From her hidden position, she was able to count ten hoplites that gave chase to Aphrodite. Once they were far enough away, Gabrielle fought to sit up and leaned her back against the trunk. She groaned once her head rested on the tree.

With slow, deep breaths, Gabrielle prayed her body would recover from Alti's attack. Yet, each draw of breath hurt just as worst as the last one. She bit her bottom lip hard and nearly drew blood. She noticed how her entire body burned like it was set on fire or scorched under the sun's heat. Whatever Alti had done it to her, it was beyond a healer's means. Perhaps she would still die from it.

Gabrielle felt broken by Terreis's death and now shattered by Alti's attack. She painfully gasped and slowly lost her last drop of control. Her soul bled and her heart was silent. Gabrielle could no longer bare it or even cared to heal from all that had happened to her in the last days. She simply let go, rolled to the side, and started to fall. Air rushed past her ears, leaves hit her, and the weightlessness was a blessing. But, she never struck the cold ground and instead was caught by a goddess's arms.

"I'm here, Gabs." Aphrodite drew the broken mortal closer to her body. "I'm always here," she sadly promised.

Gabrielle groaned and dropped her head against the goddess's shoulder. "Please, Dity," she pleaded, weakly.

Aphrodite understood what Gabrielle asked of her, but she refused the request. She instead started through the woods. "I don't think so." She was headed southwest to the closest town. She would find a safe refugee for her chosen until she could heal.

Gabrielle closed her eyes after the denial. Her pain eventually made her slip into unconsciousness. She was plagued by nightmares until finally Terreis found her. Gabrielle and Terreis spoke about many things, especially Gabrielle's future. All that had made Gabrielle strong was taken, and she was weak. Terreis told her a new path was before her, and Gabrielle had a choice. Gabrielle feared Terreis's ideas and began weeping all that she had lost. Terreis held her close and whispered love into her broken soul. Each time a tear came down, Terreis wiped it away.

Gabrielle opened her heavy, swollen eyelids as if it were the first time in many days. Through her blurry vision, she saw Terreis's silhouette, yet it changed as Gabrielle's eyes sharpened on the figure. Even in a weakened state, Gabrielle reacted to the stranger's touch and latched onto a petite wrist.

The woman gasped and stared wide eye at the weakened warrior in the bedrolls. She had seen many parts of the warrior's body, but it was the first time she saw her eyes. They were bright green and held a wild intensity. She imagined an animal locked behind those eyes. Her own fears calmed the warrior, and she was released from the iron grip.

"I am s-s-sorry," the woman stammered. She clambered to her feet but a steady hand settled her nerves.

"It is alright, Iola." The Goddess of Love had formed behind the startled priestess. Her calm nature had eased the priestess. "I will care for her." She retrieved the damp cloth from Iola's hand.

"Goddess," Iola greeted. She bowed before she softly excused herself from the room.

Aphrodite knelt beside her favorite mortal. "Gabs… how you feel?" She brought the moist compress to the Amazon's cheek.

"Like I was run over by several chariots," Gabrielle admitted. She softly moaned after the cool fabric pressed against her hot features. "Where am I?" She knew she was in one of Aphrodite's many temples, a safe haven for her.

"Pella," Aphrodite replied. She did her best to wipe the sweat beads from Gabrielle's face. "You have been asleep for several days."

Gabrielle groaned and reached up. She pulled the cloth away from her face but kept her hand over Aphrodite's own. "How long is several days?"

Aphrodite frowned and softly answered, "Today is the fourth day."

Gabrielle released a low breath. There was nothing that could change the lost time. "How did I get here?" She barely recalled climbing into the tree before her memory ended there.

"I brought you here," Aphrodite replied.

Gabrielle stilled after just pushing the furs off. "You carried me all the way to Pella?" She narrowed her eyes at the goddess. "That's a solid day's walk."

"Twenty-seven and half candlemarks to be exact," Aphrodite stated, but she shrugged. "As if it matters."

"Dity…" Gabrielle was unsure what to say. She instead shook her head and started getting to her feet.

"Slow down, Gabs." Aphrodite still helped the mortal get to her bare feet.

"Where are my boots?"

Aphrodite realized she would lose the battle to keep Gabrielle bedridden any further. Although, she knew the Amazon was hardly fit for travel. She guided the Amazon over to the items on a marble table.

Gabrielle stilled upon seeing all her items, including what she had left outside of the village that the warlord attacked many days ago. She curiously peered up from her rucksack, armor, and weapons to the goddess.

"I can travel through space with inanimate objects."

Gabrielle nodded. "Thank you." She took her boots and painstakingly put them on with slow movements. She was nearly breathless after she was done.

"Please tell me that you do not plan to travel," Aphrodite insisted. She sadly watched her chosen stand up with gritted teeth.

"Soon," Gabrielle replied. She took her sheathed dagger and hooked it to her side. She could forgo the rest because it would be too much. She started out of the room, which was the adyton. She noted that Pella was good to Aphrodite by all the gifts and wears on the main table.

"I will have a priestess bring you a meal," the goddess promised. She followed the mortal out of the adyton.

"Thank you." Gabrielle hoped she could keep it down. She needed to regain her strength that had been drained from her by Alti. She seethed at the thought of the damn shaman. She had been so close to avenging Terreis until Alti stole her chance.

Aphrodite felt uneasy and mentioned, "I will return to check on you."

Gabrielle paused and faced the goddess, who was starting to fade away.

"It is best to stay in the temple, for now." Aphrodite's last words were gentle, and she was gone.

Gabrielle sighed and continued through the temple. She entered the vestibule and found a quiet spot on a stone bench between two columns. She tried gathering her thoughts while she watched various disciples come and go from the temple. Gabrielle could tell which sacrifices were for lust versus true love, both equally important to the Goddess of Love.

"Elita," the priestess greeted. She was a different one than the one that had tended to Gabrielle's wounds.

Gabrielle sighed at the honorific that priestesses of the goddess used with her. She loathed it because she was anything but elite. However, the priestesses insisted on using the title once they learned that Aphrodite favored her. She had no idea why the priestesses insisted on the foolish title. "Gabrielle," she corrected. She peered up and added, "My name is Gabrielle."

"Yes, elita." The priestess held out plate of food in offer.

Gabrielle grumbled but took the food. She need the nutrition more than an argument. "Thank you."

"If you need anything," the priestess started, "We are here to assist." She started to go until the chosen's voice halted her.

"What is your name?"

The priestess turned and revealed a faint smile. "Melina."

Gabrielle nodded. She focused on the food.

The priestess, Melina, quietly took her leave. She tried imaging why the Goddess of Love had selected an Amazon as her chosen. There were some things beyond her understanding, as it was not her place.

Gabrielle appreciated the priestess's choice in foods. There was only food that would help her regain her strength. She wondered if Aphrodite had advised the priestess of such. After she was done, the priestess returned shortly and took the plate. She also gave Gabrielle a full waterskin, which she truly needed after days with little water.

After such a good meal, Gabrielle needed to walk so she did a few loops around the parameter for the temple. Once she returned to her start point, she passed through the columns and went outside into the late afternoon. She inhaled the cool air then took a seat on a step. She suspected she was safe enough since she was still on the temple's grounds, even if she was past the columns.

Gabrielle watched the people travel by the temple. She had always wanted to see Pella, which was known for its amazing mosaics. It was also the birthplace of Alexander the Great, and Gabrielle imagined there were mosaics or statues dedicated to him peppered throughout the city. If she was lucky, she would steal a tour of the city.

"Xena's men are hunting for you."

Gabrielle turned her head to the right and took in the goddess seated next to her. "I know I am protected here."

"I can only do so much, Gabs."

The Amazon tilted her head and argued, "It already seems as if you did more than you should have done ."

Aphrodite laced her hands together in her lap. She turned her attention to the street and watched the mortals going about their daily life.

Gabrielle sensed the goddess's rise of tension, and it worried her. "Will something happen to you?"

"I will be fine," Aphrodite promised. "But you are the one that's at a crossroad."

Gabrielle was silent for awhile then muttered, "So it would seem." She considered what had happened to her in the last fortnight. She remembered her mother and sister then the battle against the warlord, Terreis's death, and then seeking revenge. Her last memories were of Alti in the tent and the desperate attempt to flee the camp, with Aphrodite's help.

The goddess forced her attention to remain on the people that walked by them, without a care. She enjoyed how she could mingle with the mortals and only be known as a goddess if she so wished it.

"Aphrodite…"

The goddess tensed after her favorite mortal used her full name. She slowly looked at Gabrielle, who was staring intently at her. Gabrielle was the only being, mortal or otherwise, that could read into her. In that instant, Aphrodite sensed her relationship with Gabrielle step out onto a precipice.

"Alti said I was your chosen."

Aphrodite treaded carefully and gave a low nod. "I do favor you."

"And that I am also marked by Artemis."

Aphrodite tore her eyes off the Amazon. She curled in fingers together in her lap.

Gabrielle reached over and touched the goddess's bare arm. "These things she spoke of she saw from my soul, Aphrodite." She squeezed and insisted, "Tell me what she saw."

"Gabs…" Aphrodite met the Amazon's hardened features. "These are not a mortal's concern."

Gabrielle leaned in and softly but firmly argued, "Then why would a shaman want my soul?" She sighed at Aphrodite's continued resolve so she tried with more emotion. "Please tell me what it means, Dity."

Aphrodite swallowed and worried her bottom lip before she met the mortal's desperate features. "There are laws, Gabs that I must follow."

"My guess is you have broken them lately."

Aphrodite flushed after the mortal pegged her. Her eyes fluttered a few times as she looked down at the street again.

Gabrielle withdrew her hand and waited out Aphrodite's own turmoil.

The goddess brushed a curly lock behind her right ear. She sighed and whispered, "Many anni ago, I made a deal with Artemis." She felt Gabrielle's intense gaze on her again, but she ignored it as she spoke. "Artemis wished to have you in her nation so I agreed under the condition that she protected you." She finally looked at Gabrielle. "As long as you were in her domain."

Gabrielle let out a low breath as she absorbed the fact her fate was not her own.

Aphrodite indicated Gabrielle's Amazon attire and softly added, "You are marked by Artemis. Her favor has turned you into the finest warrior." A slight grin pulled at her lips as she admired Gabrielle's transformed body from over the anni. "You totally are the finest I have seen." She smirked. "Not many could best the Destroyer of Nations."

Gabrielle grumbled at the heat in her cheeks. She toyed with her short hair and recalled she needed a bath soon. She probably smelled worse than horse and campfires, by Aphrodite's opinion. She blew out a breath then asked, "Why does Artemis want me in her nation?" She considered what she knew already. "Because I am your chosen?"

"Yes," Aphrodite whispered. She stared out distantly, her great mind flying in thousands of directions. She weighed what the truth would do to her chosen. Her eyelids slid down, and she placed her hands flat against the stone step under her.

Gabrielle reached out and touched the goddess's opposite cheek. She turned Aphrodite's face towards her. She found radiant blue eyes upon her again. Gabrielle leaned in closer and softly pleaded, "Tell me."

Aphrodite inhaled sharply as Gabrielle's voice reached into her. She had sworn to stay true to the laws this time. Zeus would make her adhere to it. And yet, Aphrodite unraveled for Gabrielle, again and again. She finally reached up and took Gabrielle's hand into hers.

Gabrielle sensed the charge between their skins. She studied their hands, but she saw nothing there with her eyes. She peered up with hooded eyes. Her question was written across her features. Gabrielle had to understand it.

"You are my chosen. A god only has one chosen, ever." Aphrodite squeezed their hands tighter. "It means you carry half of my soul, Gabrielle." She watched the astonishment fill the bright greens eyes. "A god may choose to keep their soul or split it in half. I chose to split mine."

Gabrielle shook her head. Her gaze flickered between their hands. "Why?"

"So that we can increase our influence on the mortal world and…" Aphrodite lifted her freehand and cupped the mortal's cheek. "And feel what you feel otherwise a god knows no emotions."

Gabrielle released a low breath and turned her head. She broke the contact between them and started standing up.

Aphrodite quickly stood and tried, "Gabs…" She faltered after the mortal's headshake.

"I need time to understand this." Gabrielle went up one step. "I just thought my fate was my own." She reentered the temple and felt frazzled by the truth.

Aphrodite sadly stood there and watched her chosen leave. "It is," she murmured. She vanished and allowed Gabrielle time to digest the news. She hoped they could talk more about it later.

Gabrielle wearily continued through the temple. Her mind was spinning, and she felt physically weak again. She prayed she could make it back to the adyton. Her pace grew slower, and the world started slipping from her grasp. The next few steps were far more difficult than her first ones as a child. Gabrielle moaned and felt her eyes roll upwards. Her weakened knees gave out, and she slid towards the stone floor until sure arms hooked her.

Aphrodite lifted the Amazon's bulky weight. "I am here, Gabs," she softly promised.

Gabrielle's head dropped back, and she passed out from physical and mental exhaustion. She had never been this broken, but she could afford it in Aphrodite's care.

The goddess moved her other arm under Gabrielle's knees. She then straightened up and carried the fallen Amazon back to the adyton. She sighed because her chosen still needed several more days of rest. With a warlord and shaman on a hunt, Gabrielle had to be at her best before travel. Aphrodite would make sure of it.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

My Immortal Love
by Red Hope

 

Chapter 11

Gabrielle ran her fingers through her blond strands. She sighed contently and lowered her arm back to her side. She rested her hand on the xiphos's hilt. All around her the agora was extremely busy with business. It was also a beautiful autumn day, a little warmer than normal. The weather most likely encouraged citizens to come out and patronize the vendors.

For a few days, Gabrielle had recovered from her weakened state. Today, she felt her best since she had left the Amazons. Her energy level was almost back to normal too. This morning, she had eaten a healthy morning meal and then went for a jog around the city. Gabrielle was relieved her body was healing so well.

Leaving the agora, Gabrielle caught wind of food cooking from the local tavern. Her mouth watered automatically, and she made a beeline for the tavern. She rounded a corner and eyed the tavern but slowed down when she noted the tall beauty standing by the door.

Aphrodite nervously toyed with a golden ring on her finger as she watched the Amazon. She and Gabrielle had brief conversations off and on the last couple of days. They had danced around a serious conversation, both not quite ready. Aphrodite remained by the tavern's open door and waited to see if she could accompany Gabrielle into the tavern. She was grateful when the Amazon continued towards her. Aphrodite's nerves still were shaky.

Gabrielle came up the single step and paused in front of the goddess.

Aphrodite bit her bottom lip then attempted, "You look much better."

Gabrielle nodded. "I feel better."

Aphrodite gave a thin smile. She was happy to see Gabrielle back in her Amazon armor with her weapons.

"I was going to grab a bite to eat," Gabrielle mentioned. She offered a smile. "Join me?"

Aphrodite's smile grew wider. "Love to, Gabs." She followed the mortal into the tavern. She sat down at a small table and sensed every mortal looking at them. She easily ignored it.

Gabrielle was just as used to it. She knew her coin was as good as any other patron's coin. "Thanks for coming by to check on me."

Aphrodite gave a nod then her attention was drawn to the barmaid that came to them. She ordered wine and olives.

Gabrielle ordered a full meal and thanked the barmaid. Once they were alone, she looked back at the goddess. She realized it was the first time that they were sitting down to a meal together.

"You will leave soon," Aphrodite suspected. She curiously studied the mortal. "Where will you go?"

Gabrielle had considered many ideas, but she returned to the same one each time. She sighed and mentioned, "I talked to Terreis."

Aphrodite narrowed her eyes slightly. Her curiosity grew and shined brighter in her eyes.

"In my sleep," Gabrielle explained further. "I know it's her."

Aphrodite shifted in the seat and leaned against the table, closer to the Amazon. "As my chosen you can…" She searched for the right word. "You can connect with those you love."

Gabrielle leaned back in the seat, still unsure about being Aphrodite's chosen. "Even those that are dead apparently."

Aphrodite moved her head in agreement. She shifted in the seat again. "What has Terreis said?"

Gabrielle folded her arms, which caused the thick muscles to stand out against her tan skin. "She wishes I return to the nation."

"Do you wish to?" Aphrodite softly asked. She watched the mortal's eyes grow distant for a beat.

"Yes… and no." Gabrielle focused on the goddess again. "I will have to face punishment for abandoning my post." She clenched her jaw. "But…"

Aphrodite watched the mortal's features carefully. She sensed the punishment was less of a concern than something else. She nearly prompted Gabrielle until the barmaid came with their food and drink.

Gabrielle waited until the barmaid left then she admitted, "I am just not sure I am ready to…"

Aphrodite sadly studied the Amazon and encouraged, "Ready for what?"

Gabrielle sighed and unfolded her arms. She straightened up. "I will become princess… if they do not take the caste from me as punishment."

Aphrodite had taken an olive, but she paused and looked at the Amazon. "Gabs, you would totally be a badass princess."

Gabrielle huffed and started pulling the chicken meat off the bone. "It is a lot of responsibilities."

"But you knew that…" The goddess had curious green eyes on her. "You knew when you married Terreis."

Gabrielle nodded but quietly confessed, "I just never thought…"

"This would happen," Aphrodite finished. She sighed and popped a few olives into her mouth. She considered her chosen's future, with the Amazons. "But Terreis knew."

Gabrielle looked up from her plate.

"She knew this could happen," Aphrodite argued.

Gabrielle swallowed hard and gave a faint nod. She controlled her emotions but bitterly stated, "If we had remained in Potidaea longer as we planned then…" She shook her head.

Aphrodite saw the angry fire in Gabrielle's eyes. She hoped it would calm someday.

"If I had rejected Artemis's request to return to the nation early," Gabrielle growled. She lowered the chicken she had between her fingers. A few deep breaths calmed her down again.

"Artemis?" Aphrodite echoed. "What?" She slotted her eyes and asked, "She came to you?"

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the goddess and nodded.

Aphrodite straightened up and started processing the new information. She had wondered why Gabrielle so hastily returned to the Amazon Nation. "Gabs, what did she tell you?" The goddess reached across the table and clutched her chosen's forearm. "Tell me."

Gabrielle opened and closed her mouth twice as her mind jogged backwards to that day. "I had gone to the barn by my parents' home. She appeared beside me but…" She grew uneasy about what happened with Artemis. "She looked like you." Gabrielle caught an unusual red flash in Aphrodite's eyes that had never happened in the past. As fast as it was there, it was also gone. "She told me that Xena was coming to attack the nation and that I needed to return quickly."

Aphrodite's anger raised each heartbeat that Gabrielle told her more. She heard her own teeth grinding against each other.

"I realized it was not you then she revealed herself." Gabrielle shook her head. "She asked again that I return to the nation because they would need me."

Aphrodite took a deep breath and then softly agreed, "They did need you, Gabs." She gave a last squeeze then released the Amazon's arm. She bottled her anger for later.

Gabrielle shook her head then peered down at her half eaten meal. After a low breath, she tried eating the rest rather than wasting it.

Aphrodite returned to the earlier topic and mentioned, "I wish for you to be happy, sweet pea." She found calmer green eyes on her. "Whether that is with the Amazons or another place." She tilted her head. "Your path in life is totally your own."

"I could travel," Gabrielle mentioned. "I have always wanted to see faraway lands."

The goddess had a bittersweet smile. She knew Gabrielle wished to go places, but she also hated the idea of Gabrielle being alone. There were very few mortals that had a life of travel and that meant Gabrielle may have trouble finding a mate. Aphrodite knew her chosen had a tender heart under all the bronze armor.

"I could help people," Gabrielle further ventured. She had obviously considered the idea rather heavily the past few days.

Aphrodite put down the goblet of wine and then argued, "You can also help the Amazons." She rolled the next olive between her fingers. "Xena will return for another attack."

Gabrielle heard echoes of Terreis's arguments in Aphrodite's words. She clenched her jaw for a moment then stated, "It's not as if there's anything else she can take from me."

Aphrodite tilted her head and reminded, "Your friends and family… your nation." She watched the play of emotions in Gabrielle's eyes. "You totally have hundreds of reasons why to help and fight." She could feel her chosen's reluctance to take the mantle as an Amazon Princess. "She does not have to be the destroyer of your nation."

"I know," Gabrielle murmured. She needed time still. Originally, she had gone to the Amazon Nation to find freedom and to be herself. The idea that she would take on such a major leadership role as a princess was beyond her grasp. However, she had done well so far as an ilarchès. She let out a low sigh and played with her food.

Aphrodite allowed the silence to pass. She would talk to Gabrielle about it at another time. It was quite obvious that her chosen was still conflicted about the pending future. Aphrodite could easily understand why. She plucked another olive from the bowl.

Gabrielle continued enjoying the last of her meal. She put aside her thoughts about her future. She still had time to decide, even if she planned to leave tomorrow. She glanced over at Aphrodite, who finished off the olives.

"So about what you told me the other day..." Gabrielle trailed off because Aphrodite shook her head.

"Not here, Gabs."

The Amazon scanned the quiet interior of the tavern then focused on the goddess again.

Aphrodite leaned back in the chair. "There are eyes and ears around us that you cannot see."

Gabrielle puckered her lips slightly, but she nodded. She then indicated the goddess's empty bowl. "Are you done?" After the goddess's nod, she stood up. "I am going to pay." She slipped away and found the barmaid, who took her coin.

Aphrodite went to the door and followed the Amazon out after the tavern. She and Gabrielle walked closer as they went through the streets, towards the temple. "How do you like Pella?"

"It's beautiful," Gabrielle replied. "The mosaics are exceptional." She looked at the goddess. "I wish I could create such art."

Aphrodite tilted her head and argued, "As I recall, you use to with words."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and placed her left hand on her xiphos's hilt. "I was a kid then, Dity." She smirked. "I speak with a sword now."

Aphrodite chuckled but shrugged after a moment. "I think you are selling yourself short."

Gabrielle shot a glower at the taller woman.

"Totally did not mean that pun." Aphrodite placed a hand on the Amazon's bronze shoulder. She knew how her chosen felt about short jokes. "I just think you need another hobby than just... swords and armor." She lowered her hand.

Gabrielle mimicked the shrug.

Aphrodite brushed her own hair back and sighed at the Amazon's silent reply. "You use to talk way more as a kid." She pouted slightly.

"I wish to talk," Gabrielle argued. "But we cannot 'til we return to the temple."

Aphrodite sighed even louder this time. Her mortal was more about business than small talk these days. However, she became serious and explained, "My temples are my domain. Other gods cannot hear or see what we do there."

Gabrielle gave a faint nod. She was learning how things worked for the gods. "Thank you, by the way."

Aphrodite glanced at the mortal and took a heartbeat to understand the praise. She softened at Gabrielle's gratefulness for taking care of her over the last fortnight. She wished to respond, but she held her tongue. Unsure of her own words and emotions. Aphrodite cleared her throat and rounded the next street. Right in front of her was one of her most favorite temples in Greece.

Gabrielle studied the tall columns of the beautiful temple. She absolutely loved the mosaic flooring done in the sanctuary. After she and Aphrodite passed the columns, Gabrielle admired the mosaic of Aphrodite.

The goddess looked from the floor mosaic to her chosen. She crinkled her nose and joked, "I look way better in person."

Gabrielle chuckled and shook her head. "So vain." She continued shaking her head when the goddess smirked at her.

"Do not believe that you received all your good looks from your parents." Aphrodite reached up and toyed with the Amazon's short, blond hair.

Gabrielle fixed her hair and pulled away from the goddess. The comment rekindled her earlier thoughts about being Aphrodite's chosen. She started around the mosaic, her hand still on the sword hilt. For another beat, she studied the mosaic of the topless Goddess of Love, who was seated on a rock by a shoreline.

Aphrodite sensed the shift in the mortal. She cautiously followed her through the sanctuary.

Gabrielle passed the mosaic and walked alongside the columns that supported the massive temple's roof. She came to one of the pools and stood beside its edge. She stared into the dark water. A few times, she slid a little of the xiphos out then pushed it back into the sheath.

Aphrodite took the mortal's side and waited for the start of the conversation.

"I have had a lot of time to think about this," Gabrielle mentioned. She fell silent again, still off step with her words and emotions. "I am unsure what this means... for me." She finally peered up at the goddess. "I do not understand if I am suppose to do something in life because I am your chosen." She shook her head and angrily mentioned, "Is my life even my own?"

"Gabs..." Aphrodite turned to the distraught mortal. "You are your own self." She placed a hand on the mortal's tense shoulder. The cool armor started to warm against her palm. "To be a chosen does not mean you are some... puppet tied to strings." She smiled and argued, "It is quite the opposite in fact."

Gabrielle heavily sighed and fully turned to the goddess.

Aphrodite moved her other hand onto Gabrielle's shoulder. "The Fates have little to no control over a chosen's life, like they do with regular mortals."

Gabrielle weighed the goddess's words. For days, she tried fathoming what it meant that she was Aphrodite's chosen. She carried half of Aphrodite's soul. "Why did you choose me?"

Aphrodite chuckled but went quiet after she read the distraught in the mortal's eyes. She sighed and started over to one of benches between two columns.

Gabrielle followed and sat down next to the goddess.

"Gabs..." Aphrodite reached over and rested her hand on the Amazon's bare knee. She remembered how she had healed that knee many anni ago when Gabrielle was a child. She peered up after she broke away from the memory. "There was no choosing. This whole 'chosen' thing is a total misnomer around you mortals."

Gabrielle opened her mouth but Aphrodite stopped her.

"Let me explain it first." The goddess watched the Amazon's nod. She took a deep breath. "When a god decides to split their soul then a mortal is born with the other half of the god's soul." Aphrodite shifted on the bench, uneasy about telling the rest. She had given too much information to Gabrielle already. But when curious green eyes peered up at her, she gave into the mortal. "When... when you die..." She cleared her throat. "You will go to the underworld, for a short period."

"I am reborn," Gabrielle guessed.

The goddess nodded and further explained, "Hades releases your spirit so you may go to a new body."

"And the cycle continues." Gabrielle blew out a low breath. "Wow." She tried grasping the idea. She bit her lip. "How many lives now?"

"This is your twenty-sixth," Aphrodite replied.

Gabrielle released another deep breath. It made sense now what Alti said about her past lives filling her. "Have you told me this before?" She looked straight ahead, across the temple. "In my past lives."

"Sometimes," Aphrodite revealed. "It is not allowed, but I have broken the laws."

"Why?" Gabrielle met the goddess's gaze. She noticed her own heart was fast, matching Aphrodite's nerves. So much pressure pushed against her chest, but she also felt a sense of relief at knowing the truth.

Aphrodite shook her head and hoarsely admitted, "I can never lie or hide anything from you, Gabs."

Gabrielle considered the reply. She wondered about her relationship with Aphrodite, even the past ones in other lives. She tilted her head. "Are all chosen this close to their god?"

Aphrodite chuckled and shrugged. "By the nature of the split soul, it kind of happens but..." She squeezed Gabrielle's knee. "You and I... we tend to be closer than other gods and chosens."

"That figures," Gabrielle muttered. She rubbed her face and needed a slight change in the conversation. "Is Xena a chosen?" She canted her head and narrowed her eyes. "A chosen of Ares's?"

Aphrodite softly laughed and nodded. "Yes."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes because it made sense to her.

"In some lives, you two are like oil and water." Aphrodite's memory about Gabrielle's other lives. "Other times, you both are Greek fire."

Gabrielle leaned back on the bench and placed her hands against it to balance herself. She considered the Destroyer of Nations and whether she could ever get along with her. In this lifetime, she and Xena appeared to be water and oil, at odds. "She is my counterpart, just like Ares is for you."

"Yes." Aphrodite drew her hand away and laced her fingers together in her lap. "It will always be a turbulent relationship, like it is for Ares and I."

"I still wish to kill her," Gabrielle admitted aloud.

Aphrodite peered over her shoulder at the Amazon. "Love is not always pink and fluffy. It can be full of fire and rage."

Gabrielle briefly met the goddess's features before she pushed off the bench and continued through the temple. She sensed Aphrodite take her side again. "Why does she travel with a shaman?"

"For power," Aphrodite replied. "Alti has promised her power... promised her Greece."

"But shamans steal souls," Gabrielle argued.

"She may not know," Aphrodite explained. "Or she does and rather use her for her powers."

Gabrielle shook her head. "If she had taken my soul..."

Aphrodite stayed at the Amazon's side as they continued to the back of the temple. "I would have lost you, Gabs." She grasped the Amazon's bicep and halted her next step. "I do not if I could get you back."

Gabrielle saw the fear on the goddess's face, for the first time.

"I can barter and steal you from Hades, even for suicide." Aphrodite swallowed hard. "But from a shaman..."

"It did not happen," Gabrielle reminded. "You took me out of there." She moved out of the small space between her and the goddess. She returned her hand to the xiphos's hilt. "And I will kill her the next time I meet her," she muttered under her breath.

Aphrodite clenched her jaw. She heard the whispered promise, and she knew it held weight. She started fading and mentioned, "I will come back later."

Gabrielle paused and half turned around to see the goddess vanishing before her eyes. Once the goddess was gone, she continued to the adyton.

Aphrodite returned to Mount Olympus and formed at the temple for the Goddess of Hunt. She entered the golden temple and searched for the other goddess. She passed several trees and foliage before she found the goddess. As much as she enjoyed Artemis's natural temple, she was on a mission. Her features set in hard once she pegged the other goddess with her eyes.

Artemis lifted her chin and stepped away from two fawns that were in her temple. "Dite," she greeted. From the fire in Aphrodite's eyes, she knew it would be an unpleasant visit. Out of all the gods, Aphrodite's emotions were always clearly written on her face.

"You went to my chosen and intervened," Aphrodite snapped. She fisted her hands, but she held back her temper one notch.

"I requested," Artemis argued.

Aphrodite took a step into the Goddess of Hunt's personal space. "You wanted her to return early, with Terreis." She slotted her eyes. "You wanted Terreis to die so that my chosen would become princess."

Artemis lifted her chin then coolly remarked, "She will make a fine queen."

Aphrodite's nails dug into her palms. She resisted her desire to physical react to Artemis's undermining plans. Everything made sense to her now. Terreis's very existence was nothing but a ploy to reel in Gabrielle as the future queen of the nation. Every vein under Aphrodite's skin boiled with rage.

"We agreed many anni ago that she would help my nation and in return, I will protect her." Artemis moved away from the furious goddess. "I have upheld my part, and I will continue to do so." She went over to a tree and pressed her palm against it. "As long as she remains an Amazon."

"There was absolutely no discussion about her becoming princess or queen," Aphrodite chewed off. She followed the Goddess of Hunt.

Artemis kept her back to the Goddess of Love. She had both hands against the tree's trunk. "Do your truly believe she could sit by and be a common Amazon?" Artemis countered. She chuckled then focused her energy on the tree, which started growing towards the roof of the temple. "She is, afterall, the chosen of Aphrodite."

"You manipulated the situation," Aphrodite hissed.

Artemis released the tree and faced the Goddess of Love. She noted the red wisps that now floated off Aphrodite's body. It was a clear indication of Aphrodite's fury.

"You took a mortal's life for your own personal gain."

"It is for the better of the nation," Artemis argued. She folded her arms and matched Aphrodite's stance.

Aphrodite was breathing hard and stepped in closer. "You manipulated my chosen and me."

Artemis tilted her head and calmly stated, "I am helping my nation." She stepped around the Goddess of Love. But a strong hand shot out and grabbed her arm. She peered up into red eyes.

"Gabrielle is deciding between returning to the nation or never returning to it." Aphrodite slotted her eyes. "I will encourage her not to return after what you have done to her."

Artemis leaned in and whispered, "I only made her stronger." She smirked. "I always make her stronger while your soul makes her weak." She jerked her arm free. "Besides, how will you protect her if she leaves my domain?" A glint showed in her eyes, and she mocked, "With love?" She strolled off.

Aphrodite was seething and watched the departing goddess fade in a glow of gold. She wanted to strangle her half sister, who hardly understood love's power. Artemis was one of the gods that retained her full soul and never learned what it meant to have emotions. Artemis's sole purpose was to better her Amazons as if it was a measure of her wealth as a goddess. And Aphrodite knew Terreis's death was a means to an end, in Artemis's eyes. A god with a full soul, like Artemis, had yet to learn the value of mortal life.

After a heavy breath, Aphrodite vanished and entered her own temple on Mount Olympus. She needed to calm herself before she returned to the mortal world. She refused to allow Gabrielle, or other mortals, see her this rattled by another god. Many would consider it one of many downfalls to having a split soul.

Aphrodite slumped in a long kline and tried gathering herself. Her time alone was short lived because lightning bolts in front of her signaled the arrival of her father. Aphrodite hastily stood up and greeted, "Father."

Zeus had formed from the bolts and lowered his silver staff's end to the floor. He wore a white toga, and his aged features showed his wisdom. Like Aphrodite, he had tight, curly hair that was white as snow. His trimmed beard hid old scars from his past. Behind all the white, his blue eyes still shined brightly.

"Aphrodite," Zeus started, sternly.

The Goddess of Love struggled to stay calm in front of her father. By his stony features, she already knew his thoughts and pending words.

"You have been busy," Zeus brought up. He started over to the klismos next to the kline. Despite his age, his movements held that of a youth. "With breaking the laws."

Aphrodite sat in the center of the kline. She wearily eyed the God of Thunder. She released a low breath and remembered her own reasoning. "It was not without merit."

Zeus lifted an eyebrow at his child. "It never is when it involves your chosen."

"A shaman attacked her," Aphrodite stated. A slight fire entered her eyes.

Zeus leaned back in the chair. He curiously studied his daughter. For centuries, his daughter had been protective over her chosen, more than any other god. He watched over his own chosen, but his daughter was far more fierce about hers. Like many, Zeus suspected it had to do with Aphrodite's realm of love.

Aphrodite held her ground and waited for her father's next words. She would intervene again and protect her chosen from the shaman, without a second thought. Whatever punishment she suffered from Zeus would be worth it.

"I have carried out many punishments with you and even your chosen," Zeus started. "Yet, you still take it upon yourself to intervene in your chosen's life." He tapped his staff once. "I designed these laws not just for our chosen, but ourselves too."

Aphrodite narrowed her eyes and argued, "I am so not letting a shaman take my chosen." She stood up sharply. "Take the other half of my soul." She fisted her hands at her side.

Zeus rose up. His height matched Aphrodite's own. "That is not the discussion here." A white glow highlighted his blue eyes. "It is the sheer amount of times you have broken the laws for your chosen." He tilted his head. "Perhaps even for yourself."

Aphrodite was annoyed at the accusation. "Myself?" She pointed a finger at her father. "You want to compare. Let's totally do that." She held up her hand and held out a finger as she went down a list. "Alcmene, Antiope, Danae, Europa, Leda-"

"Enough," Zeus cut off.

Aphrodite lowered her hands and continued matching her father's rage.

Zeus took a deep breath then calmly stated, "I understand the dangers of a shaman." He kept his stern features on his daughter. "However..."

Aphrodite clenched her jaw.

"If you continue on this path, I will be forced to rejoin your soul," Zeus declared. He started around his daughter but paused and looked back at Aphrodite. "Permanently."

Aphrodite wanted to say many things, but she knew her words would only make it worse. She held her silence but her eyes yelled her thoughts anyway. She turned her features away from Zeus. She listened to the crackle as he left her alone.

Back on the kline, Aphrodite now felt defeated by her father's threat. She had suffered several punishments in the past, in hopes she would learn to stay out of her chosen's life. But, it was difficult to keep a moth from a flame. Many gods with split souls understood the difficulties of being drawn to their chosen.

Aphrodite rested on the kline, head back on the pillows. She gave a low groan and covered her face. Her mind sped into different directions at the mere idea that her soul would be rejoin. She had no idea what it would mean for Gabrielle. Aphrodite's worse fear was that it such a rejoining meant death for Gabrielle, who had no control over it. A chill heavily settled over her chest. She had to act more carefully now.

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

My Immortal Love
by Red Hope

 

Chapter 12

Gabrielle sat up sharply from the hot bedroll. She was coated in sweat after the nightmare terrorized her for the past four candlemarks. She blinked a few times until the adyton came into focus in the low candlelight. She tossed the furs off and stood up onto her bare feet.

Gabrielle shoved her feet into her boots, but she left them unlaced and instead exited the adyton. A breath of fresh air would help settle her nerves. Beyond the adyton's sealed door, she came out into the moonlight temple. A low sigh relieved her initial tension from the nightmare.

Many nights brought Gabrielle back to the battle outside of the Amazon Nation, to the moment she lost Terreis. She hated reliving it nearly every night. Xena and her crimson sword were there every time. Occasionally Alti would appear in the dream and attack Gabrielle after Terreis's fell to Xena's sword. Just before Gabrielle died from Alti's hand, she would wake up to reality. Alti's powers still caused ghosts of pain throughout Gabrielle's body. Her body remembered the agony.

Eventually Gabrielle found herself pressed against the column above the step she and Aphrodite had shared days ago. For a moment, she recalled when Aphrodite confessed to her that she had the other half of Aphrodite's soul; a god's soul no less. She was unsure if she was supposed to feel special or unique. She felt hopeless and lost.

Her rampage of thoughts was silenced by the warmth that settled over her body. She twisted her head around and barely made out Aphrodite in the moon's pathway between the columns. Gabrielle straightened up as the goddess came to her side.

"Restless?" Aphrodite asked.

Gabrielle gave a faint nod and leaned her head against the column. She folded her arms against her chest. She only wore her leathers and carried her sheathed dagger at her back. The rest of her things remained in the adyton.

"You wake up at the same time each night," Aphrodite mentioned.

Gabrielle swallowed then whispered, "It's the same dream every night."

Aphrodite understood and placed her hand flat against the small of Gabrielle's back.

Again, the Amazon rested her head on the column and watched the city for any life. She released a low sigh and tempted, "It's been a hard night for you too."

Aphrodite cut her eyes from dark city to her chosen. She composed several replies and settled on the most evasive one.

"I can sense you are upset," Gabrielle cut off. She lifted her head and eyed the goddess. "What did Zeus say?"

Aphrodite snapped her jaw shut. "Gabs, it is nothing for you to be concerned about."

Gabrielle was hardly deterred and turned to the goddess. "What did he say?" She watched the goddess's face, carefully.

Aphrodite had hardly worked through Zeus's threat and refused to worry her chosen. She finally answered, "He warned me for intervening but understood a shaman as a threat." She decided to shift topics. "You will leave tomorrow?"

Gabrielle sighed and allowed the change. She gave a nod and looked at the city again. "Midmorning or so." She was quiet then softly added, "I will go get Skylla."

"Then?" Aphrodite prompted.

"I do not know," Gabrielle admitted.

Aphrodite decided to wait until later to discuss it further. "You should rest more." She studied the Amazon's worn profile. "You have far to travel to get Skylla."

"I know," Gabrielle sadly murmured. She disliked her bedroll at the moment. She glanced at the goddess.

Aphrodite now sensed an internal struggle for Gabrielle. She slowly pieced it together and sadly smiled at Gabrielle's resolve as an Amazon. She considered the best approach and cautiously asked, "Do you wish me to stay?"

Gabrielle shuddered at the offer from the goddess. It had been some time since she had shared a bedroll with Aphrodite. She recalled the last night long before her marriage to Terreis. To do such now filled her with guilt.

Aphrodite's eyes fluttered a few times as she realized the difficulty for the Amazon. She weakly tempted, "Like maybe another time." Too embarrassed, the goddess started fading away to return to Mount Olympus.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and allowed the goddess's exit. She blew out a heavy breath then pushed off the column. Her steps towards the dark adyton were difficult. Gabrielle's earlier guilt surfaced even more. As she came to the jarred door, she hurt to breathe and stood in front of the empty bedroll. Her reject towards Aphrodite had opened a dam of pain. In a heartbeat, Gabrielle crumbled to her knees beside the bedroll.

Tears tracked down her flushed cheeks. Gabrielle bent forward, over her thighs. She clawed at the stone floor with one hand while she held her throbbing chest with her other hand. She gasped for air. The sudden rush of warmth around her only made the tears worse.

"It's okay, sweet pea," Aphrodite whispered. She was knelt down, behind the Amazon. She had her arms around the broken Amazon. She lifted Gabrielle off the cold floor and held her closer.

Gabrielle leaned her forehead against Aphrodite's temple and placed her hand on Aphrodite's opposite cheek. She wanted to say so much to the goddess, but she failed at it. She crumbled further into herself. Her tears continued burning down her cheeks.

Aphrodite followed her heart this time. She took a step to the bedroll and carefully deposited her chosen into it. She easily pulled Gabrielle's boots off and set them aside.

Gabrielle quickly warmed up when the goddess snuggled under the furs with her. She released a shaky breath and rolled onto her side.

Aphrodite toyed with the furs until they became comfortable against her body. "I totally hate bedrolls." She enjoyed Gabrielle's choked laugh. "At least they do not smell like fish."

Gabrielle sadly smiled at her friend's attempt to calm her. She reached behind her back and extracted the dagger. She carefully pulled it out from the furs and placed it above her head, on the stone floor.

"Gabs," Aphrodite softly encouraged. She reached over and pulled the mortal into her body. Like Gabrielle, she was uneasy at first, but they settled into a comfortable spot together.

Gabrielle remained partially on the goddess with legs tangled together. She rested her head on the goddess's chest. Again, her guilt swelled up until Aphrodite's fingers tangled in her blond strands. She settled again and eventually drifted off from pure exhaustion.

Aphrodite rested through the night with her chosen against her. She struggled to keep Zeus's threat out of her mind, but it was too heavy. Over the lifetimes, she had done many things for Gabrielle, including breaking the laws. Aphrodite often could restrain her desires until it came to her chosen's pain. Many things in the mortal world made Aphrodite ache, but Gabrielle's pain drove through her.

By first light, Gabrielle stirred awake and found herself alone again. She had slept hard through the night. She was grateful that Aphrodite helped her sleep.

Shortly, Gabrielle had her things organized and the bedroll tied to her pack. She carried everything out into the sanctuary. She was greeted by a priestess, who offered her a morning meal. Gabrielle thanked the priestess and quietly ate by herself. After she was done, she located the priestesses and again thanked them for their care. She imagined they were somewhat relieved that she was on her way. Truthfully, Gabrielle was ready to move on and be out of the area.

Beyond Pella, Gabrielle traveled the western road that would take her back to Skylla. She hoped her horse was fine or else she would have her hands around that stable owner's throat. She huffed at the idea of her horse being gone.

The open road was busy near Pella, but once Gabrielle went south, it started to quiet. She was grateful for the peacefulness so she could think rather than being polite to each traveler. Her candlemarks of thoughts were cut off by the arrival of Aphrodite. Gabrielle had a slight grin at how the Goddess of Love magically formed beside her and walked along as if she had been there the entire time.

"Skylla is fine, by the way." Aphrodite tilted her head.

"You checked on her," Gabrielle concluded.

"Duh." Aphrodite grinned. "You would totally be a worse wreck if she was gone."

Gabrielle chuckled and admitted, "You are right."

Aphrodite held her grin, but it slipped after a beat. "Any decision yet?"

Gabrielle only shook her head. She sharply tensed up all of a sudden.

Aphrodite had gone another step or two and paused once she sensed what worried the mortal. "There are three of them."

Gabrielle gave a faint nod and extracted her blade. She kept it at her side while she waited for the clink of metal to grow louder.

"I think I will sit this one out," Aphrodite murmured. She was hidden from mortal eye, including Gabrielle. She moved to the side of the road and watched the three bandits form ahead of them.

Gabrielle stood in the center of the road with a casual stance.

The three bandits rallied each other's attention once they spied the female dressed in bronze armor. They continued towards the woman and muttered amongst each other. They halted several paces in front of Gabrielle. The far left bandit moved forward and revealed his dark teeth in a grim smile.

"We aren't here to cause trouble," the bandit explained. His smile grew darker. "We only want your coin."

"And that xiphos too," the middle bandit chimed in.

Gabrielle bobbed her head and started grinning at them. She reached behind, which caused the bandits to tense up. She merely freed her rucksack and held it with her free hand. "All my coin is in here." She held up the sack. "You are welcome to it and anything else." Other weapons like her kopis and bow clung to the pack.

The lead bandit started forward until the woman pointed her blade's tip at his face. He reached for his double-headed axe that dangled at his side.

"If you kill me," Gabrielle added. She let the rucksack slide from her fingers and fell to the ground.

The bandits looked from the rucksack to the small woman that pointed a xiphos at them. For a few heartbeats, nobody twitched a muscle as enemy assessed enemy. Gabrielle only needed those crucial beats to determine her opponents. She heard the first inhale from the closest bandit, and she readied for his attack. Gabrielle surged forward with a cry to meet his axe.

The other two bandits grabbed their swords and charged into the battle. They surrounded the woman and attacked her as a team. The bandits expected a quick, easy kill. They were wrong and found themselves outmatched by the woman's skill and ferocity.

Aphrodite remained hidden from mortals' eyes. She had watched Gabrielle fight many times in the past. But it was the first time that Aphrodite had a careful eye on each of Gabrielle's movements. She studied the muscles in Gabrielle's arms that coiled and released with each slash of the xiphos. Under the armor, Aphrodite pictured the Amazon's well toned stomach ripple with the motions.

Gabrielle drove two bandits back. The closets one she performed her new favorite move that Ephiny taught her. She laughed wildly when the closest bandit's xiphos went airborne. Gabrielle smirked at his shock, and she surged forward with her own blade. She ran him through the stomach.

Another bandit hollered after his friend fell with a bleeding hole in his stomach. He came at Gabrielle with his xiphos.

Gabrielle ducked under the blade then saw the axe next. She cursed and dropped to the ground but used her speed to roll over to her pack. She twisted around and reached towards her pack.

Aphrodite took a step forward as the axe came around towards Gabrielle's head. "Gabs!" She raised her hand, which pulsed red. But, she paused when Gabrielle extracted her kopis.

Gabrielle raised both blades, crossed together just before the axe hit her. She popped up and drove the bandit back two steps. She performed a strong kick to his chest. The other bandit came at her right side, but she used the kopis to defend herself. Gabrielle took on both bandits simultaneously and used her two blades to wear out the bandits quickly.

Aphrodite shook her head and stared in amazement. She lifted her right hand and fanned her chest. "Wow," she breathed. She chuckled when Gabrielle landed a punch to one bandit's face and sent him down.

Gabrielle then kicked the axe from the other bandit's hand. She then drove her boot heel into the already fallen bandit's head. Now that he was down, she rushed the last bandit, who darted off. Gabrielle dropped her swords and sprinted after him before he vanished into the woods.

The bandit hollered just before he was grabbed from behind by the woman. He stumbled two steps then was snared by the strong woman. He was spun around, and his back slammed into a tree.

Gabrielle drove her left arm into the man's throat, to hold him in place. She gritted her teeth once he grabbed her by the throat. She hastily reached behind and wrapped her fingers around cool metal.

The bandit struggled against the woman. He then went stiff from the white flash in his side. His grip started to weaken and so did his control.

Gabrielle felt the warm liquid coat her fingers. She continued pushing the blade deeper into the man's gut. She jerked it in suddenly then her throat was released finally. After the bandit's eyes rolled up, she extracted the dagger and turned around towards the last bandit. Behind her, the dead bandit collapsed to the ground.

The last bandit had recovered and climbed to his feet. His eyes cut back and forth between his dead friends. He panicked and started running before it was his own death.

Gabrielle cursed and raced over to her rucksack. She fell to her knees and hastily jerked her bow free and an arrow. She nocked it in record time and lined her aim on the running bandit's mid back.

Aphrodite emerged beside her chosen and placed a calm hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Let him go."

Gabrielle had a perfect shot, but she remained still. Aphrodite's words echoed in her ears. Gradually, she lowered the bow and released the arrow. She watched the bandit flee down the road. She sighed and started putting the bow and arrow back in their homes.

Aphrodite knelt on the other side of the rucksack, and she opened it. She retrieved a clean cloth and whispered, "Let me see."

Gabrielle silently conceded and held out her bloody hand. She watched Aphrodite wiped away the blood. She peered up with hooded eyes. "Is this what the chosen of the Goddess of Love is supposed to do?"

"There are many sides to love, Gabs." Aphrodite tucked the cloth away in the rucksack. She matched the mortal's stare. "You are no different."

Gabrielle shook her head, resheathed the dagger, and grabbed the rucksack. "Perhaps I am better suited to be Ares's or Athena's chosen." She climbed to her feet in a rush. However, Aphrodite popped up and grabbed her before she went to her swords.

"You are marked by Artemis," Aphrodite reminded. She shrugged and offered, "So perhaps in this lifetime you are more a warrior of love than… a bard or artist of love."

Gabrielle tightened her hold on the rucksack's handle. She bitterly held Aphrodite's gaze. "I kill in the name of love… a little contradictory, do you not think?" She pulled her arm free and stepped around the goddess.

Aphrodite turned on her sandals and stated, "Love has no requirements, Gabs… or boundaries." She watched the Amazon sheath the kopis.

Gabrielle hefted the rucksack over her shoulders but still had the xiphos in her other hand. She looked back at the goddess as she sheathed the xiphos. She said nothing and continued down the road towards Skylla, who hopefully patiently waited for her.

"You were a warrior seven lifetimes ago," Aphrodite called.

Gabrielle had paused and lowered her head a bit.

"I watched you die then… at an early age." Aphrodite swallowed hard against the memory. "About two anni older than you are now."

Gabrielle closed her eyes.

"You died protecting the woman you loved," the goddess revealed. Her voice shook as she revealed an old piece of Gabrielle's past lifetime. "Your sacrifice for her life changed everything."

Gabrielle licked her lips then continued down the road. She had heard too much, and it overwhelmed her at the moment.

"It changed me," Aphrodite whispered. She slowly faded away and ventured off to see to her temples. Eventually she returned to Gabrielle by sunset. She hoped the Amazon was in a better place mentally. She found the Amazon had made a camp in a clearing not far from a creek.

Gabrielle was cooking a rabbit that she had caught earlier. She occasionally rotated the rabbit on the spit while she sharpened her xiphos. She returned to her blade that was balanced between her knees.

Aphrodite emerged from the darkness and stared at the Amazon, who only wore her leathers. For a moment, Aphrodite admired Gabrielle's arm muscles that glowed in the firelight. Slowly her eyes traveled over the well formed muscles across Gabrielle's shoulders and down her back. Aphrodite's eyes fluttered at the rush of warmth over her.

"You will burn a hole through me if you continue to stare at me that way," Gabrielle declared. Her gruff tone cut off Aphrodite's stare.

The goddess suspected she was flushed thanks to the remark. She swept a curly strand behind her ear.

From the corner of her eye, Gabrielle saw the nervous motion. Her earlier suspicions were starting to confirm in her mind. She released a low sigh and set the whetstone on the ground.

Aphrodite approached the Amazon and took a seat next to her. "No fish tonight?"

Gabrielle huffed and shook her head. She removed the xiphos from her lap and placed it next to the sharpening stone. "I will cook one for you… one day."

"One day," the goddess agreed. She liked the idea. She laced her hands together in her lap. "You are still headed west."

Gabrielle nodded. "Towards the nation," she whispered.

Aphrodite considered her chosen's future. Her thoughts skipped back to her argument with Artemis. Again, her blood started burning under her skin. She cleared her throat and concentrated on Gabrielle. "Like maybe you were right… about traveling."

Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows and curiously looked at the goddess. "I thought you disliked that idea."

Aphrodite shrugged and looked at the mortal. "Maybe the traveling would be good for you. It would totally get you away from here… and what happened."

Gabrielle continued staring hard at the goddess. She knew it was in fact Aphrodite next to her and not a trick. She stood up and went to the rabbit to turn it again. "What changed your mind?"

Aphrodite hid her guilt well and watched the rabbit turn on the fire. She was about to explain herself until Gabrielle cut her off.

"Who changed your mind?" Gabrielle approached the goddess and knelt in front of her. "Zeus?"

"Gabs-"

"Artemis," Gabrielle concluded. She knew she had pegged it by the brief startle from the goddess. She touched Aphrodite's knee. "What did she say to you?" She watched Aphrodite struggle with herself. "Dity, did she threaten you?"

Aphrodite chuckled and replied, "It was totally the other way around." She admired Gabrielle's sudden protective nature. There was hardly anything a mortal, like Gabrielle, could do when it came to gods. However, aged memories from a long lifetime ago came back to Aphrodite.

"What happened?" Gabrielle demanded.

Aphrodite came back to the present and sighed heavily. "Artemis wanted you to return to the nation for the battle."

Gabrielle gave a low nod. "And?"

"And she planned on Terreis to be killed in battle," Aphrodite replied.

Gabrielle clenched her hands. A fire started burning in her green eyes.

"So that you would become princess." Aphrodite watched the play of emotions on the Amazon's face. She tensed as it grew more volatile.

"It's too coincidental," Gabrielle argued. She shook her head and stood up. "How could she even be sure that I would fall for Terreis?" She walked around the fire.

Aphrodite swallowed hard and watched Gabrielle's tense back. "Helena and Terreis are similar," she whispered.

Gabrielle whirled around at the sheer idea that she was setup to fall for Terreis so that she would become princess and possibly queen one day. She stared coldly at Aphrodite and struggled to grasp the idea. As she looked at Aphrodite, she started seeing pieces of Terreis and even Helena in the goddess. Each piece fit together in a perfect match, and Gabrielle felt weak in the knees. "By the gods," she rasped.

Aphrodite sadly witnessed her chosen come to the realization that it had all started a long time ago. Artemis was a master at the game. Aphrodite had even fallen behind Artemis's skill because she was too raveled in her emotions. Aphrodite's lack of foresight turned into a raw punishment when Gabrielle succumbed to Artemis's great will.

In a heartbeat, Aphrodite crossed the short distance around the campfire. She caught the weakened Amazon, who was going to her knees. Aphrodite lowered to her own knees and kept Gabrielle in her arms. "I'm so sorry, Gabs." She had failed to watch over her chosen.

Gabrielle hit a storm of anger and hurt, thanks to the Goddess of Hunt. She had followed Artemis for many anni once she became an Amazon. Yet, all this time, Artemis was setting her up from the first day. She gritted her teeth and dug her fingers into the ground.

"But this is our chance to walk away from her," Aphrodite softly spoke.

Gabrielle agreed it was her chance to leave the Amazons and break from Artemis, who expected her to become queen one day. She would have to lead the Amazons. She would lose her mark as Artemis's favored though. But what clenched hard against her chest was leaving those she considered family in the nation. Overtime she had formed close relationships with friends and even Melosa. Nothing could be simple for her.

Gabrielle bottled her emotions for now. She still needed time to think it through before she made a rash decision. She closed her eyes and whispered, "We have been together… in the past." It explained her natural attraction to fair haired women with blue eyes. She started to get up, with the goddess's help.

Aphrodite worried her bottom lip with her teeth. She took a deep breath after she sat on the log again with the Amazon. "Sometimes… yes."

Gabrielle ran her fingers through her hair. She stared at the fire. "Is it allowed?" She knew the answer before she asked it.

Aphrodite looked at Gabrielle's stern features. Even if Gabrielle's face was a mask, Aphrodite could still tell what was going through her. "No," she quietly replied. She clenched her jaw and then sadly confessed, "It never ended well." She found green eyes on her. "For you." She swallowed hard. "I will not make that mistake again."

Gabrielle carefully listened and started remembering a bard's story from when she was a kid. She tilted her head after a long silence then whispered, "Once, a long, long time ago, all people had four legs and two heads.  And then the gods threw down thunderbolts, and split everyone into two.  Each half then had two legs and one head. But, the separation left both sides with a desperate yearning to be reunited because they each shared the same soul.  And ever since then, all people spend their lives searching for the other half of their soul."

Aphrodite had a bittersweet smile at the old tale.

"I use to believe in that story as a kid," Gabrielle admitted. She remembered the day she heard the story from the bard in the local tavern. She sighed and looked at the goddess on her right. "I believed Terreis was mine."

"Whether you were joined in spirit or not," Aphrodite argued, "You both were joined in hearts."

Gabrielle gave a faint nod. She was staring at her marriage bracelet that bound her to Terreis. Yet, it was a bond of minds and hearts, but it could never match the bond she shared with Aphrodite. She felt sheer guilt for it, as if she betrayed Terreis somehow. She clenched her right hand into a fist.

Gabrielle sighed and stepped forward off the log. She took the cooked rabbit from the fire. She left it propped up, near the fire. She allowed it to cool off. Once she sat next to Aphrodite again, her mind drifted back to the old tale about soul mates. Gabrielle never imagined another tale about a god splitting their soul in half. She was hardly ready to accept the truth of the matter, when it came to her and Aphrodite.

At a loss for words, Aphrodite merely brought her arm across the Amazon's stiff shoulders. She waited awhile before Gabrielle relaxed against her. She felt every piece of Gabrielle's inner turmoil. A part of Aphrodite regretted telling Gabrielle what it meant to be her chosen. She hoped it would get easier for her chosen.

The heavy silence had settled in both their chests, and Aphrodite knew her chosen needed time alone. Aphrodite leaned into her chosen and turned her head until her lips pressed into Gabrielle's temple. She shifted her head so her forehead rested against Gabrielle's head, her lips near Gabrielle's ear.

"Call for me when you need me, sweet pea," Aphrodite softly told. She placed another chaste kiss to Gabrielle's temple, but her lips dissolved and left a whisper touch.

Gabrielle felt entirely alone once the goddess was gone. Her body had since recovered from Alti's attack and being held hostage by the warlord. Yet her spirit was still fractured by the aftermath of the past fortnight. Now the truth about Artemis's game made it even harder.

Gabrielle put aside her emotions and took the skewered rabbit. She quietly ate and logically considered her next move. She soon would have Skylla back then she would have to decide from there. After dinner, she continued thinking about it while she finished sharpening her swords.

Later that night, Gabrielle smothered the campfire and propped herself up against a tree in the dark. She kept her xiphos in her lap and the kopis by her side. She leaned heavily against the tree and allowed herself to drift off into a light sleep. Gabrielle suspected that Aphrodite's watchful eyes were never far either.

However, Gabrielle's sleep was hardly peaceful as she was wrought with worry and heartbreak. Eventually her dreams smoothed into a calmer dreamscape once Terreis found her. Terreis greeted her with a strong hug and a soft kiss. She and Terreis hiked up a hill that overlooked the beautiful landscape, similar to that of Greece.

Terreis sat down first and pulled Gabrielle down with her. She tangled her fingers through Gabrielle's own. "I wish that you were at peace, as I am."

Gabrielle swallowed hard and closed her eyes.

Terreis looked from the landscape to her consort. She reached over with her freehand and brushed Gabrielle's chapped lips. "Will you go home?" She found lost green eyes upon her. She sighed at the answer in her consort's eyes. "I will not ask you to go back to the Nation… not for me." She lowered her hand to her lap.

"There is nothing there for me now," Gabrielle argued.

"Is there?" Terreis countered. She leaned in closer to Gabrielle and softly asked, "Why did you first come to the nation?" She tilted her head. "It was not to be with me."

"I wanted a place… where I would be accepted," Gabrielle recalled. "Where I could be myself."

Terreis sadly smiled and nodded. "That place is still there." Her smile bent into a frown of concern. "For now."

Gabrielle looked away. Terreis's fears rippled over into her, but she clenched her teeth. "Artemis…" She breathed deeply then revealed, "She wanted you to die so that I would take your place as princess."

Terreis chuckled but went serious after Gabrielle's dark features swiftly turned on her. "If it were true, we cannot fault our goddess for doing what she believes is best for our people."

Gabrielle slotted her eyes and was about to explode until Terreis silenced her with two fingers against her lips.

"We both took an oath to Artemis and our nation, Gabrielle." Terreis lowered her fingers. "If you taking my place as princess ensure the future of our people then it is a sacrifice I will honor." She had slid her fingers under Gabrielle's chin. "But will you honor my sacrifice now?"

"Terreis…" Gabrielle painfully murmured.

Terreis grazed her fingertips to the right and caught the few tears that fell from Gabrielle's eye. She leaned in and sealed her lips against Gabrielle's own. She shared her love to Gabrielle and hoped it would inspire her. Terreis wanted to take Gabrielle's pain away, and she could only hope that Gabrielle would wake up from it. As she drew away, she tenderly promised, "You will always be my consort."

"As you will always be mine," Gabrielle rasped. She opened her eyes to total darkness and realized she had awoken to reality, alone. Terreis and the dreamscape were gone. She released a low whimper and dropped her head forward. "I miss you, Terreis." Slowly, Gabrielle got up with her weapons in hand. She no longer wished to sleep and decided to get an early start. In the dark, she would travel slowly but the sun would be up in a few candlemarks.

Her travels offered more time to think and weigh the future. It was a great burden ahead of her if she returned to the Amazon Nation. However, she knew Terreis was right that she could honor Terreis's death rather than making it meaningless or smearing it with revenge. If Gabrielle truly had the ability to lead their people then she could help them, especially against the warlord.

Once on the road, Gabrielle hoped to have Skylla within two days or closer to three. At least Skylla's presence would offer a sense of normalcy, however false it may be. For now, she endured her mental torment alone on a quiet road towards the west, where the Amazon Nation rested in the foothills of Greece.

 

To be continued.

 

Chapter Text

My Immortal Love
by Red Hope

 

Chapter 13

A slight smile graced Gabrielle's lips as she continued leaning her brow against Skylla's own. She released a strained sigh that freed a handful of her anxiety. She continued rubbing her hand across her friend's neck.

"It is good to see you, girl."

Skylla whined, happily. She had assumed the worst about her human friend. She then stomped her front hoof.

"Come on," Gabrielle ordered, more to herself. She hastily tacked the horse and loaded the supplies she had purchased at the market earlier. She left the stable, after she paid the stable owner. She hurried out of the town and finally mounted Skylla. From the saddle, Gabrielle felt a sliver of control wash over her again. She clicked her tongue once and guided Skylla onto the western road.

The sun hung low in the western sky. There was enough time to locate a safe spot for Gabrielle and Skylla. Gabrielle could have travelled tonight under the nearly full moon, but she wanted the time tonight to think more about her direction tomorrow. It was both a direction in travel and direction in life. Tomorrow she had to make a final decision.

Skylla was free to roam, but she stayed close to camp. She munched on grass that was lush from the recent rains. She whined when the campfire crackled louder than normal.

Gabrielle was making a small soup from supplies she had picked up in town. She also treated herself to fresh olives and wine. Already, she had drunk from the wineskin and was warmed by the alcohol. Tonight would be a little chilly than the other nights as she continued further west. With a long spoon, she stirred the small pot that was filled with broth, vegetables, and ground lamb. Earlier she had snacked on smoked fish for a late lunch.

Gabrielle went over to her saddlebags and pulled out a wooden bowl and spoon. She pulled the flap over and started rising until a distant sound caught her ear. She sunk back to her knelt position and tilted her head. Carefully, she pinpointed the movement behind her back. An intruder was hoping to sneak up on her, but they were failing at being totally silent.

After putting a plan together, Gabrielle set the bowl and spoon on the ground then retrieved the sheathed dagger from her saddlebags. For a beat, her mind went over who it could be, but she needed to focus on dealing with them first. The questions could come later.

The Amazon unsheathed the dagger but turned the blade under her wrist so it was somewhat hidden. She took the bowl and returned to the fire. She pretended to take interest in the soup, but she was listening to her intruder, who was edging closer to the campsite. Metal squeaks became clearer each time the intruder took a step.

Gabrielle set the bowl down. Her fingertips played with the dagger's handle. Slowly a wolfish smile spread across her full lips. As each heartbeat passed, Gabrielle became the predator she was trained to be by the Amazons. From the corner of her eye, she saw metal reflect a soft light, and she took her opening with precision movements.

The Amazon dagger once owned by Terreis now sailed through the air and met its mark in the intruder's shoulder. A howl of pain echoed into the camp, and it scared Skylla away. A warrior's battle cry erupted next, and Gabrielle raced across the camp. Her xiphos was in her right hand, and she charged her enemy.

A surprised yelp went out just before two blades met in the distant firelight. Another yelp followed as the Amazon attacked her opponent without mercy.

Gabrielle disarmed her enemy in five moves then she sent him on his back with a solid kick to the odd, round disc attached to his chest. She stood tall over his fallen form as his pointed helmet rolled off his head. Gabrielle took a step forward, right arm stretched out, and the xiphos's tip pressed into his throat.

"Who are you?"

A stranger released a groan and blinked a few times. Slowly, his swimming vision centered on the beautiful, blond Amazon that stood over him. He stiffened at the blade pressed against his throat. But, he still stared at her with slight awe.

Gabrielle slotted her eyes at his dazed look, and not from his fall. She raised an eyebrow, pressed the blade tip forward, and growled at him. It was her last warning before she beat the answers from him.

"J-J-Joxer… the Mighty." The startled, hurt man named Joxer swallowed hard.

Gabrielle's fierceness drew back. She was hardly concerned by Joxer's skills, or lack of skills. She withdrew her sword and knelt down with her blade between them. "Come near me again, and I will kill you."

Joxer released a low breath.

Gabrielle stood up and took a step away from Joxer. She turned her head sidelong when the strange man climbed to his feet.

Joxer blinked back the sting in his eyes. His shoulder screamed in pain from the dagger, but he glared at the Amazon's back. "You seriously just made me mad, little girl."

Gabrielle barked out a laugh and faced Joxer. "Do you wish to die tonight?" She raised her xiphos.

Joxer clumsily unsheathed his sword and lifted it in defense. "There is only one of us dying tonight, and it's not me." He lunged forward, sword up.

Gabrielle ducked under, turned on her heels, and smacked her blade's side against the man's back. She amusingly watched him stumble into the campsite. Gabrielle followed after him. "Why are you… attacking me?" She could barely consider it an attack though, more of an entertainment than anything.

"I am a warrior!" Joxer declared. He faced the Amazon and readied for another attack.

Gabrielle chuckled and leaned her xiphos against her shoulder. "I can tell by your skills." She pointed at his shoulder wound. "But you might want to think about taking care of that first before you hurt yourself further."

"Just a flesh wound," Joxer brushed off.

Gabrielle shook her head because she could tell he was growing pale from the wound. She spun her sword and drove the blade into the ground. "I will make it easier for you." She held out her arms. Her muscular body glowed in the campfire light.

Joxer gulped hard, again. He was nervous and intimidated by the Amazon's built body and confidence. He steeled his fears and charged her again with another cry.

Gabrielle moved fast, reached forward, and grabbed his arm that held the sword. She locked his elbow joint in placed with one hand and grabbed his body with her other hand. She spun him around and tossed him towards the campfire.

Joxer hollered and landed on his side, jarring the dagger in his shoulder. He whimpered, let go of the sword, and rolled onto his back. Joxer released a painful gasp.

Gabrielle walked over and ordered, "Stay down." She was about to go over to the saddlebags until Joxer moved again. She grumbled and turned to him.

Joxer had barely grabbed the sword hilt. Suddenly it was kicked from his hands, and he peered up at the annoyed Amazon.

"I said stay down," Gabrielle snapped. She hastily knelt and grabbed the dagger buried in his shoulder. She yanked it out with force. She almost had to cover her ears when Joxer screamed so loudly.

Joxer rolled onto his good shoulder. He was gritting his teeth and gasped for air. Slowly everything faded away, and he passed out from the pain.

Gabrielle shook her head but was relieved he was unconscious. She went to the saddlebags and retrieved her medical kit. Before she forgot, she removed the soup from the fire. First, she tended to Joxer's wound then tied him around the waist to a tree. She made sure to remove his weapons and piled them along with his helmet by the campfire. She then finally had her meal.

A few candlemarks later, Joxer awoke with a low groan. He lifted his head up and confusingly looked around at his surroundings until it came back to him. He was after an Amazon, who had a lot of luck and got the upper hand on him. Joxer frowned at the Amazon sitting in front of the campfire.

Gabrielle knew Joxer was awake when his breathing pattern changed a moment ago. She sighed because she wished to be alone tonight, not dealing a with half-baked attacker. She ran her fingers through her hair and called, "Did Xena send you?"

Joxer was studying his injured shoulder that was now wrapped and a little less painful. He drew his eyes over to the Amazon's back. He could no longer make out her tanned, muscular body due to a duster. He licked his lips.

Gabrielle turned her head to one side and tapped the whetstone against her xiphos's blade. She was getting annoyed with his silence. She quickly climbed to her feet. The white and brown duster fell around her body, but she had yet to button it up. Quickly she crossed the short distance with the xiphos in hand.

"Are you as deaf as you are dumb?" Gabrielle snapped. She knelt to his level and held his brown eyes. "Did Xena send you?" she repeated with less patience.

Joxer lifted his chin. He held his tongue.

Gabrielle reached behind with her freehand and produced a dagger that was sheathed at her back, in the duster. She brought the dagger tip close to the shoulder wound. "This is not a game, and if you think it is…" She leaned in closer and hotly whispered, "I will win."

Joxer bit his bottom lip to keep it from quivering anymore.

Gabrielle wished for the silly warrior to speak rather than harming him to get answers. She moved the dagger's tip closer and snarled, "Last chance." She prayed he would give in to her threat.

"There's a bounty," Joxer poured out in a fast breath. He inhaled sharply. "On your head."

Gabrielle withdrew the dagger and resheathed it. "Xena put the bounty on my head?"

Joxer nodded once.

Gabrielle huffed. "That bounty is not worth your life."

Joxer's frown returned, and he argued, "But I can make a name for myself."

Gabrielle placed her freehand against her knee. "Yes, Joxer the Dead, perhaps. I beat you easily."

"Listen," Joxer started with a hint of desperation, "You don't understand. I come from a long line of warlords. It's like a family tradition!"

Gabrielle chuckled and informed, "Well, I am really sorry to tell you… but you are no warrior."

Joxer seemed dumbfounded and even a touch hurt. "You do not think so?"

"No," Gabrielle said flatly. She started rising and suggested, "You should think of another lifestyle… like comedy." She walked away and returned to her spot by the campfire.

"They also call me Bloody Joxer!"

Gabrielle rolled her eyes and sat back in her original spot. She continued sharpening her sword and later heard Joxer fall asleep again. She imagined his wound would be better in the morning. However, that was little help to what she should do with him. She sighed and put aside her concerns about Joxer. Right now, Gabrielle needed to focus on her own future rather than Joxer's fate.

For days, Gabrielle had not seen Aphrodite. It bothered her a great deal, but the space gave her a chance to work through her feelings about her situation. Gabrielle had refrained from calling on the goddess. It was hard and yet necessary. For once, Gabrielle had to make her own choice without any influence from a mortal or immortal. This was her fate, not any other's life.

Eventually she went to her bedroll and had a restless night. At first light, Gabrielle rekindled the fire and made a breakfast, for two. She had hunted for breakfast and came up lucky with quail eggs, especially late in the season. She returned to camp and found that Joxer was awake too.

Joxer said nothing but kept his eyes trained on the Amazon. His stomach rumbled when he smelled the eggs frying on the pan.

Gabrielle carried two bowls, filled with vegetables, fruit, and a fried egg on top. She set the bowls on the ground near Joxer. "I will untie you so you can eat. But if you attack me, I will tie you up to the tree by your throat."

Joxer nervously dug his boot heel into the ground. He nodded his understanding and was relieved when the Amazon released him.

Gabrielle sat down, facing the wannabe warrior. She took the closest bowl and started with the fried egg.

Joxer took the other bowl. "You cook too?"

Gabrielle slotted her eyes at his remark. She watched him bite into the fried egg then replied, "I laced it with poison."

Joxer instantly choked on the egg and hesitantly peered across at the Amazon.

Gabrielle smirked at him and continued eating the food. She let him decide for himself whether her words were true or a lie. She indeed still had poison in her bag.

Joxer concluded he was hungrier than anything. If it was his last meal, it was a very good one compared to his recent ones.

Gabrielle sat cross legged, in front of the strange warrior. She kept her attention on him, in case he tried anything. Her fingertips were never far from her sword's hilt. "Where are you from?"

Joxer covered his mouth and replied, "Athens… originally."

Gabrielle nodded and popped a carrot into her mouth. She plucked another from the bowl and pointed it at him. "How long were you following me?"

"Two days," Joxer answered.

Gabrielle considered his skill at finding her, even though his other skills were poor. "Why did you not attack me sooner?"

Joxer was eating the sliced apples. He glanced over at Skylla then back at Gabrielle. "The horse." He shrugged and left the rest unsaid.

Gabrielle realized Joxer would no longer be able to keep up the same pace, on foot. She wondered how long Joxer struggled with himself to plan an attack. She inwardly sighed and peered into the bowl. She finished the apples and came to the bottom, which was lined with grapes.

"I guess there is no poison," Joxer muttered.

Gabrielle's eyes gleamed in amusement. She then indicated his wounded shoulder. "How's it feel?"

"Better," Joxer replied. He glanced at his wrapped shoulder then looked over at the Amazon. Even though the Amazon's head was briefly down, he could tell she was well aware of her surroundings, especially his movements. It reminded him of a coiled snake prepared to attack at any heartbeat.

"Thanks for cleaning and wrapping it," Joxer tempted. He found hooded green eyes on him.

"I made the wound, remember?"

Joxer shrugged with his good shoulder. "You could have killed me too."

Gabrielle was jarred by his insight. She moved her feet under herself and took his empty bowl. "I still may," she threatened him. She left him alone and free, for a beat.

Joxer stood up, grateful to be on his feet finally. He made no other moves, afraid to anger the Amazon.

Gabrielle stalked back after depositing the bowls by the other dirty dishes. She collected the forgotten rope that held Joxer earlier. "Give me your hands," she ordered.

Joxer lifted them and watched the Amazon lash his wrists together. "What happens to me now?"

Gabrielle jerked the knot hard then met the strange warrior's worried features. "I ride and you walk." She had the rest of the rope setup as a lead to him. She tied off the rest of the rope to the tree's lowest branch.

Joxer stayed standing but later leaned against the tree. He watched the Amazon pack up the camp. He sighed when the Amazon stowed his family sword and dagger into her bags.

Gabrielle smothered the fire after she was done everything. She took Skylla's reins into her hands and walked her over to Joxer. In her other hand, she carried all her bronze armor that she had taken off before Joxer's attack last night.

Gabrielle released Skylla then took off her duster after she set her armor on the ground.

Joxer curiously peered over at the Amazon's well toned body. He had missed the tattoo last night and this morning due to the duster. But, he had a clear view of it now.

"If you slow me down then I will drag you behind my horse," Gabrielle warned him.

Joxer swallowed and nodded at the order.

Gabrielle was putting on her armor in familiar fashion. She kept her xiphos at her side but hung the kopis at her back. She adjusted her bronze greaves then rose up. The last item in her hand was Joxer's helmet. She came to him and put it on his head. She untied his lead and went to her horse.

Joxer watched in amazement as the Amazon took a wide step, jumped with one leg going over the saddle, and neatly slid into place.

Gabrielle first tied Joxer's lead to one of the saddle's horns. She then collected Skylla's reins and clicked at her to go. She steered Skylla to the road.

The journey on the western road was quiet. Joxer kept up pace alongside the horse, but he held his silence. He could tell the Amazon had much on her mind. He was grateful when they took a break. The Amazon gave him diluted wine that soothed his parched throat. He was surprised when she checked his wound and rewrapped it with a fresh poultice.

"Why did you leave your nation?" Joxer tempted. Again, he was walking alongside the Amazon's horse.

Gabrielle's thoughts were sliced, and she looked down at the wannabe warrior. "What?"

"Why did you leave?"

Gabrielle shifted in the saddle. "What makes you think I left?"

Joxer tilted his head and argued, "Amazons only travel in groups."

Gabrielle's lips thinned after she realized he was not so dumb. Perhaps just thick headed. "And you are an expert on Amazons," she snidely concluded.

Joxer flinched but licked his lips and tempted, "I am not an expert but… who travels by themselves?" He gulped at the glare he received from the Amazon. "I am an expert on being an outcast."

Gabrielle continued glaring at him for good measure. She finally looked at the road ahead of her. "I was on a mission… and now I am returning to my nation."

Joxer could hardly argue they were headed towards the Amazons. He was no fool to their location. "A mission to murder the Destroyer of Nations?"

Gabrielle tensed, visibly. She halted Skylla and suddenly dismounted in a single motion.

Joxer tripped backwards when the angry Amazon came at him.

"Do not pretend to know me," Gabrielle growled. Her rage was loud in her eyes.

Joxer stumbled another step but the rope tightened and made him fall. He cringed when the Amazon squatted down and latched onto his round armor at his chest.

Gabrielle growled low and warned, "What else do you think you know about me?" Her eyes danced wildly.

Joxer bowed his head and quietly replied, "You are an Amazon Princess." He shook his head and explained, "A thousand drachmas are on your head." He peered up and revealed his fears for life or death. "I swear I know nothing else."

Gabrielle released a low breath after she saw his untamed fear. She released him and ordered, "Get up." She kept her voice more even. She went back to her horse.

By the time Joxer was on his feet, he saw the Amazon was on her horse. He sighed and followed again, but a few paces behind. He kept his head down.

Gabrielle was tense in the saddle. Skylla softly whined at her bad mood. Gabrielle rolled her head and broke some of the strain in her neck. She let out a low breath after her outburst with Joxer. She needed to get a handle on her anger. Gabrielle was always focused and controlled her emotions, until Terreis's death. Again, she became lost in her thoughts.

Joxer kept his head down and silently followed his captor. Eventually his feet started to hurt from the four candlemarks of walking, especially up and down hills. He knew they were growing close to the Amazons. He wondered if the Amazon would take him there and hand him over for trial. After all, he had attacked an Amazon Princess.

Gabrielle directed Skylla off the path and down to a creek that flowed between two valleys. She untied the rope for the saddlehorn, dismounted, and allowed Joxer to sit on a rock. She was happy to stretched her legs while Skylla grazed or drank water.

Joxer was grateful when the Amazon handed him the wineskin again. He drank from it with the skin between his tied hands. He returned it to her.

Gabrielle drank the rest then put the skin into a saddlebag. She returned to her prisoner and forcefully grabbed his hands. She started untying the knot while she spoke, "You are free to go, but if you follow me further, I can do nothing to stop my people."

Joxer rubbed his wrists and peered up at the Amazon.

Gabrielle was returning to her horse to get Joxer's weapons and a few supplies for him.

"Are you not afraid?" Joxer questioned.

Gabrielle paused halfway to Skylla. She turned and gave him a questioning look.

"That they might not take you back," Joxer added.

Gabrielle continued to her horse and muttered, "It is worth the risk." She toyed with her marriage bracelet until she came to Skylla. She retrieved Joxer's weapons and then a small satchel that she put food in for him.

Joxer had his helmet in his lap. He lifted his head when the Amazon came back to him. "You do not have to go back," he suddenly offered.

Gabrielle had set the weapons and satchel near him. She hesitated at his words. She struggled with a reply, if any. She finally stated, "I have a duty to my people."

Joxer frowned then gave a nod. "At least you have a place to go," he softly replied.

Gabrielle folded her arms, which caused her muscles to stand out against her bronze chest. "You have none?"

"I have been on the road since I was fourteen." Joxer toyed with his helmet.

Gabrielle was amazed he could stay alive all this time. She sighed heavily.

"I wished I belonged somewhere."

Gabrielle heard his low whisper, and she met his gaze. "Perhaps this is your chance now." She tapped his foot with her own boot tip. "You would make a fine hunter with your tracking skills." She left it at that and walked away from him.

Joxer perked up at the compliment from the Amazon. He softly hummed and stood up with the helmet between his hands. "Joxer the Huntsman." He liked the ring of it.

Gabrielle gathered Skylla's reins into her right hand. "Be safe, Joxer and…" She paused near the start of the hill's incline. "Perhaps we will meet again." She started up the hill.

"Wait," Joxer called. He took a step in her direction. "What is your name?"

Gabrielle hesitated and realized that the Destroyer of Nations never learned her name. The bounty would only have a description of her, nothing more. She weighed Joxer's request and whether it had an ulterior purpose. She read the honesty in his eyes, even from a distance.

Joxer played with his helmet's buckle. He expected his question to go unanswered, especially when the Amazon continued up the hill.

"Gabrielle."

Joxer sadly smiled after he learned her name. He watched the Amazon, Gabrielle, climb up the hill and disappear over the ridge. He reclaimed his seat on the rock and rested further. "Gabrielle… Gabby." He chuckled at the nickname. A silly grin remained plastered to his face after his encounter with Gabrielle. It hardly turned out how he expected it, but it left a mark on his life.

Gabrielle returned to the gravel road. She continued westward on it and knew she was about a candlemark away from the territory. She was quite familiar with the lands now. As she continued on foot, Gabrielle considered every angle again. Half of her feared returning to the nation, and the other half faced it like a challenge she could overcome.

Skylla sensed her human friend's apprehension. She huffed occasionally but stayed close to Gabrielle's side.

Not far from the territory's borders, Gabrielle took a break beside a lone olive tree. It was one she had climbed once or twice in her early days as an Amazon. She now leaned against it, for support and for comfort. She stared at the lands that she called home now. And yet she had walked away from them, to seek revenge or to seek murder. She was unsure. But Gabrielle knew it was something dark within her that misguided her after Terreis's death. Perhaps she was hardly that different than the Destroyer of Nations.

But today, Gabrielle had a choice to reign in on her anger and hatred for who and what was taken from her. She could still feel Terreis's emotional plea to return to the nation, stand beside Melosa, and perhaps one day rule. Terreis believed in Gabrielle's abilities to become a leader one day. There were many uncertainties though.

A heavy, cool breeze brushed by and rustled Skylla's mane. She whined and lifted her head. She stomped one hoof then looked impatiently at Gabrielle.

For a moment, the Amazon held the horse's gaze. Gabrielle sighed and pushed off the olive tree. Her eyes cut back to the Amazon lands that were lush green hills in front of her. She felt the lands draw her back. They wanted her and needed her. Gabrielle had so much to offer the women that found salvation in these beautiful hills. What the roads offered in freedom paled to what the nation had flourishing among its lands.

Gabrielle went over and collected Skylla's reins. "Come on, girl." She guided her horse to the worn path that would take her to the Amazons. "Time to go home."

Skylla whined happily and followed her friend. She knew these lands and loved them, as much as her friend.

Shortly Gabrielle entered the Amazon territory. She tensed from the stillness other than her and Skylla's own movements. She scanned her surroundings because she expected patrol anytime. They could have already seen her. As Gabrielle continued along the ridge, she spotted the outline of four females on the next, distant ridge. She fisted her freehand but continued towards them.

The four females were on foot rather than mounted units. They remained poised on the ridge and waited for the newcomer, who was all too familiar. One of the three stepped forward once the newcomer came into clear view.

Gabrielle bit her bottom lip then straightened her back. She kept her hand away from her xiphos. Finally the four women's faces became recognizable, especially two of them. She centered her attention on the one Amazon in the lead. "Ephiny."

After another step forward with her sword out, Ephiny hastily scanned over Gabrielle's features. She inventoried any injuries, but the armor could hide wounds. She finally settled her eyes on her friend that had vanished over a fortnight ago. "Gabrielle, you have… returned to us."

Gabrielle dipped her head but held her tongue as she waited for the command that would damage her caste.

Ephiny sheathed her blade at her side. "And you are to be imprisoned for abandoning your post." She signaled the other three Amazons to capture Gabrielle. "Until Queen Melosa has passed judgment upon you."

Gabrielle released Skylla's reins as the three Amazons swarmed around her. She closed her eyes as her xiphos was taken followed by her kopis, dagger, and finally Skylla was led away from her. One Amazon moved forward with Skylla. Another Amazon fell into step in front of her with Ephiny. But the fourth Amazon clutched her bronze shoulder.

"Welcome home, Gabrielle," Callisto sadly offered.

Gabrielle peered up at her friend, who held her shoulder. "It's good to be home," she murmured. She fell into step beside Callisto.

"You were missed," Callisto whispered.

Gabrielle's eyes fluttered. She remained silent for the rest of the walk back to the nation. At the gates, words were carried across the air about her return and arrest. She was taken directly to the prison hut and escorted into it.

"Remove her armor," Ephiny ordered Callisto.

Callisto conceded as she followed Gabrielle into the center of the hut. She then started stripping the bronze armor off her friend.

Ephiny now had a chance to look for any other signs of injury. She eyed nearly healed stab wounds, but she wondered if they were from the battle prior to Gabrielle's disappearance. She decided it was best a healer checked on Gabrielle anyway.

Callisto had the armor tangled together in her hands. She nodded at Ephiny and quietly left the prison.

"I will send a healer," Ephiny mentioned.

"I am fine."

Ephiny was halfway out of the door, but she looked back at her friend. "It was not an offer." She stepped out of the prison.

"Thank you," Gabrielle called.

Ephiny briefly met her friend's gaze and nodded before she shut the door. She stepped back as another Amazon locked it with a key then took up residence as a guard. "I will be sending a healer and food."

The guard nodded.

Ephiny quickly hurried off but told Callisto to return to patrol with the others. She would join them at the gates.

Gabrielle turned in a full circle, surveying her new quarters for however long. She sighed and went over to the wood bench. She sat heavy, bent forward, and head hung down as she thought about her future. She knew she made the best decision, and now she had to prove it.

The prison's creaking door made her look up. The master healer entered the prison and eyed the young Amazon that was the talk of the nation for the past fortnight.

"So you have surfaced," the healer chided. She carried a satchel of supplies. "Did you find what you were looking for out there?"

Gabrielle had stood up and greeted, "Hello, Reah."

The healer, Reah, came over to the bench and set her bag down. "Anything broken or infected?"

"Not anymore," Gabrielle replied.

Reah started looking over Gabrielle, carefully.

"And no," Gabrielle mentioned.

Reah paused and peered down at Gabrielle. She was a few hand lengths taller than the young Amazon.

"There was nothing to find," Gabrielle admitted.

Reah gave a low grunt and continued inspecting the Amazon. "They use to call your kind the wandering soul back in my day." She stood behind the Amazon and was touching common places for injuries. She visually checked the healed wounds that would only leave scars.

"Wandering soul?" Gabrielle echoed.

"Mmmm." Reah was at Gabrielle's side. She took Gabrielle's arm and started moving it in different directions. She tested for normal range of motion. "Your kind constantly wander the Earth… seeking something that cannot be found here in the mortal world."

Gabrielle's eyebrows almost knotted together, and she stared oddly at the healer. "Why do you think I'm a wandering soul?"

Reah was at Gabrielle's other side. She checked that arm too. "Your eyes are always searching, Gabrielle." She returned to the medical kit. "You look past us instead of into us." She picked up her bag.

Gabrielle was baffled, and her mouth was slightly parted with an unformed question. She looked over at Reah, who went to the prison door.

Reah paused in the doorway. "I am glad you have recovered from your wounds, Gabrielle." Her departure signaled for the door to close and lock.

Gabrielle blew out a breath and toyed with her hair. She shook her head at Reah's words about a wandering soul. She reclaimed her seat on the bench. It was candlemarks later that the door open and somebody entered with dinner. Gabrielle was surprised that it was Ephiny.

For a moment, Ephiny stood still and balanced the plate of food in her right hand. A wineskin hung off her right shoulder.

Gabrielle stood up when her friend brought over the food.

Ephiny carefully placed the plate and skin onto the bench. She then turned to Gabrielle with open arms.

Gabrielle took the invite and pulled Ephiny into a fierce hug.

Ephiny held her friend close and tangled her fingers into golden strands. "I missed you greatly."

Gabrielle closed her eyes tighter and tightened her hold. She was almost sure that she would crush Ephiny in her arms. "I have missed you too," she murmured.

"Thank Artemis you came back to us." Ephiny withdrew slowly but kept her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "As much as I missed you, I am also angry with you."

Gabrielle hung her head then peered up again. "I know. You have a right to be."

Ephiny cupped her friend's flushed cheek. "But you came back to us."

Gabrielle took her friend's hand into hers. "This is where I belong."

Ephiny softened at Gabrielle's confident words, but she sighed and argued, "You will have many disbelievers." She indicated the food. "You should eat before it cools."

Gabrielle understood Ephiny's warning about disbelievers. She took a seat on the bench and received the food that Ephiny handed her. "Is Melosa one of them?"

"I do not know," Ephiny admitted. She sat with Gabrielle. "She did favor you greatly… and not for being Terreis's consort."

Gabrielle was eating the fish but faltered at the mention of Terreis. Just her consort's name cut between her chest.

Ephiny sensed it and placed a comforting hand on her friend's knee. "Where did you go?"

Gabrielle shook her head and replied, "It is not worthy to speak of."

Ephiny squeezed the knee under her hand then withdrew her touch. "Perhaps one day you will tell me."

"Perhaps," Gabrielle murmured. She enjoyed the meal and recalled how much she missed her nation's culture. Everything here from the buildings to the food spoke uniquely Amazon. For many anni, Gabrielle had found security and acceptance among the Amazons.

Ephiny was surveying her friend's body in careful detail. She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "You have loss some muscle." She pressed her fingertips into Gabrielle's formed bicep. She knew it was unlike Gabrielle, who took pride in her body's muscular structure. Ephiny grumbled at Gabrielle's lack of care.

"It will return," Gabrielle assured. She held back the truth about her starvation under Xena's capture. Nor was the food at Aphrodite's temple ideal, but it was better than breads.

"Melosa will come see you, but I do not know when." Ephiny received the cleared plate. "If anybody is to understand why you left, it will be Melosa."

Gabrielle studied her friend's serious features. "And if she does not?"

Ephiny shrugged and argued, "What do you have to lose then?" She stood up. "I will see you in the morning. Get some rest."

"Thank you for dinner, Ephiny."

Ephiny stood by the reopened door. "Welcome home, Gabrielle." She slipped out and reminded the guard about duty rotation.

Gabrielle sat heavy on the bench again. After awhile, she looked over at the bedroll and furs on the floor that called to her. Yet she refrained for awhile longer while she drank from the skin. She realized Ephiny had left her a pouch of nuts for snacking later. She sadly smiled at her friend's care.

Finally in the bedroll, Gabrielle curled up and slowly started to warm under the furs. Later, she briefly heard the guard come in and light a torch for her. She thought little of it and dozed back off for the night. Her dreams drained her as she faced her nonbelievers, and their masks of contempt. Gabrielle had been stripped of her weapons and armor, her horse taken, and she only had her dignity to hold onto now.

Gabrielle would fight, for her caste and for her place among her people.

 

To be continued

Chapter Text

My Immortal Love
by Red Hope

 

Chapter 14

From the single, barred window, Gabrielle stared at the low western sun. For nearly twenty-four candlemarks she had been locked away in the quiet hut. She was breeching insanity other than a few visits from Ephiny, which included a light morning meal and a filling mid afternoon one. Gabrielle's only other, brief company was a brown mouse that had squeaked at her and scurried off.

Most of the day went by with much pacing from one corner to the other. Once Gabrielle managed to nap for about a candlemark, but it still left too many candlemarks in the day. If the queen's plan was to bury Gabrielle in guilt and misery then it was working well. Gabrielle slipped away from the window just as the door's metal bolt was slid and rang heavy in Gabrielle's ears.

Gabrielle faced the door, which creaked on its bronze hinges. She grew apprehensive that it would be Queen Melosa. However, it was snowy blond hair that slipped through the cracked door.

"Hello, dear."

Gabrielle sadly smiled at her friend. "Callisto," she warmly greeted.

"I thought you could use a visitor for a bit." Callisto neared the other Amazon after the deadbolt slid into place behind her back. "Going a little insane yet?" She had a slightly evil air around her.

Gabrielle sighed and took two reverse steps until the back of her knees bumped the wood bench. "Perhaps more than a little." She sunk down onto the bench.

Callisto slipped over and sat beside her friend. "Well then, I have something for you."

Gabrielle raised a curious eyebrow. "A shovel so I can dig the Hades out of here?"

Callisto chuckled and reached behind her back. "Something close to that." She retrieved her gift and held it between her hands, on display to her friend. Her palms cushioned two wooden roller ends so the object was in midair.

Gabrielle opened her mouth slightly, but she faltered and peered up at Callisto. "I... I uh…" She shook her head once then asked, "Why?"

Callisto stretched out her arms and offered the item to her friend. "An Amazon birdie once told me you liked stories." She patiently waited for her friend to take it.

Gabrielle took a deep breath then reached for the gift. Her fingers slowly curled around the dry, thick material that softly rustled as she took claim of it. Once Callisto's hands dropped, she was the new owner of a blank scroll.

Callisto shrugged and explained, "I thought since you cannot escape the hut physically… you can mentally until you are free." Now she worked to undo a leather satchel tied to her hip.

Gabrielle gently clutched the scroll by its parchment. With her other hand, she ran her fingertips down the parchment material, which had a leathery feel. A few leftover hairs tickled the pads of her fingers.

"This will help too." Callisto gave her friend a small leather pouch. Even though the top was tied closed, a feather's upper body stuck out of the bag.

Gabrielle had the items in her lap. She stared down at them as if they were rare objects from a foreign land. She met her friend's features and smiled. "Thank you."

Callisto shrugged it off and placed her hands on her bare knees. "I was saving it for your birthday but…" She had purchased the items in Cirra when she visited family. "I thought it would help more now than this summer."

Gabrielle was staring again at the scroll and pouch that held a quill and ink. She mostly listened to Callisto but a fragment of herself broke away and drifted to a past life. She finally returned to the present and stretched out her arm.

Callisto looked over after Gabrielle clasped her hand.

"Thank you again," Gabrielle sincerely pressed. "This really means a lot to me." She squeezed Callisto's hand tightly before she let go. "And who was the birdie that told you?" A few suspects went through Gabrielle's mind.

"Terreis," Callisto softly answered. "On the ride out to Cirra."

Gabrielle recalled how much the relationship between her consort and Callisto improved during the trip to Cirra and Potidaea. She could tell that Terreis's tentative friendship with Callisto had helped all of them. Gabrielle was grateful for it. She squeezed Callisto's hand one last time before she gently toyed with the scroll and ran her fingers through the quill's soft barbs that were attached to the shaft of the feather.

Callisto quietly watched for a moment. She was transfixed by the peculiarity of a well-built warrior tenderly stroking each of the feather's veins. A nearly silent hum rolled in the back of Callisto's throat as she stored away the precious moment.

Gabrielle's index finger finally stilled when it reached the tip of the quill. "Do you still have her weapon?" she whispered.

Callisto was jarred from her own serenity and peered up at her friend's calm profile. "Yes," she quietly answered back. Memories from the battle field came back to Callisto. She had wanted to practice with the warlord's strange weapon, yet she had restrained herself, mostly.

Gabrielle gave a faint nod. "Good."

Callisto peaceful features were broken by a smirk. "Did you get your dagger? Or is still sticking out of her back?" She chuckled, darkly.

Gabrielle trailed her fingertip down the feather one last time. She weighed her answer because she had yet to disclose where she went to anybody. However, every Amazon knew why Gabrielle left the village. What had surprised them was her return.

"Not yet," Gabrielle murmured.

Callisto still had her smirk. Her eyes were bright with mischief. "If only you had asked me to join you, dear." She leaned in closer and whispered, "I always love a good adventure."

Gabrielle huffed and slightly turned her head towards the other Amazon. "It was my journey to make alone."

"And it brought you back here." Callisto straightened up. "Many thought you would not return… or were dead."

Gabrielle shook her head and met Callisto's more serious features. "It was a suicide mission."

Callisto tilted her head. "Then why are you still alive?"

Gabrielle parted her lips, but she faltered to really answer it.

Callisto wanted to press further, but voices outside of the cell drew her attention to the door. She narrowed her eyes.

Gabrielle listened carefully and sucked in a low breath. "Melosa."

Callisto reached over and grasped Gabrielle's shoulder. "Do not get on your hands and knees for Melosa." She stood then made her way to the opening door.

Like Callisto, Gabrielle climbed to her feet but quickly put the scroll and pouch onto her bedroll for now. She neared Callisto's side and whispered, "Thank you again, my friend."

Callisto flashed a smile before she turned to the queen. She greeted Melosa with respect then excused herself from the hut.

Queen Melosa stood between Gabrielle and the resealed door. She waited until the deadbolt announced the finality of the situation.

Gabrielle bent forward in a proper bow and greeted, "Queen Melosa."

Melosa kept her hands behind her back. "Gabrielle."

In that single instant, Gabrielle knew exactly where she stood with Melosa and with the queen. Even if they were one in the same, Gabrielle had learned the slight differences and what it meant to answer to the queen versus speaking with Melosa. She had steadily learned how Melosa carried the queen's mask with strength and even finesse. Gabrielle admired Melosa for it.

"The healer reported that you are in decent health." Melosa was already visually assessing the Amazon. "Some improper nutrition from starvation." She canted her head and locked stares. "I highly doubt self-imposed starvation." She knew Gabrielle quite well.

Gabrielle briefly bowed her head but peered across at the queen.

"A search of your belongings told me very little… except one thing." Melosa brought her hands forward. In her right hand, she held up an empty vial. Earlier today, she had carefully smelled for any hints at what was once in it. The mousy odor had overwhelmed her at the time.

Gabrielle shifted on her boots but continued holding the queen's gaze. She could not undo her actions now.

Melosa cradled the vial between her index finger and thumb. She slowly approached her imprisoned Amazon. "Murder? Revenge?" She held the vial closer to Gabrielle's face. She expected her sister's consort to recoil and shrink, yet Gabrielle remained firmly in place.

Gabrielle swallowed and stated, "Blood will have blood."

Melosa slightly shook her head and clamped her hand around the clay vial. "Gabrielle…" She lowered her hand to her side. "That is not our way, anymore." She frowned, deeper. "Blood cannot answer blood." Melosa watched Gabrielle blink several times as if keeping a lock on emotions. "You know that is what will destroy our people… what has been destroying us."

Gabrielle briefly lifted her eyes to the ceiling of the hut.

"We have worked so hard to end the blood war between us and the Centaurs." Melosa felt Gabrielle's resolve start to shatter. "You and Terreis have worked so hard for a better future."

Gabrielle swallowed, but it felt like something was strangling her throat. "That future died with Terreis."

Melosa stared oddly at the young Amazon. She realized just how fractured Gabrielle was by Terreis's death. She raised the vial and stated, "Yes, I am afraid you have killed it." Melosa shook her head and turned away from the Amazon. She started towards the door.

"I have to start over," Gabrielle softly called to the queen.

Melosa hesitated yet kept her back to Gabrielle.

"I have to remake myself."

Melosa's eyes fluttered for a moment because Gabrielle's words ate at a hollow spot in her own heart. She faced her sister's consort and continued listening to what Gabrielle had to say.

"I made Terreis my everything," Gabrielle declared, in a shaken voice. "And I had nothing after her death."

Melosa fought the burn in her eyes. She trembled at the few tears that started tracking down Gabrielle's flushed cheeks.

"I do not want to live with nothing." Gabrielle closed her eyes briefly. She looked back at Melosa. "And I do not want to make one person my everything again." She bit her bottom lip before she hoarsely explained, "I came back because I want my everything to be this nation." As she spoke, she better realized what Terreis wished for her to do. She better understood what Melosa chose when she took on the caste as queen. Gabrielle took a deep breath. "My people will be everything to me."

Melosa stood quiet for nearly a minute as she weighed Gabrielle's mindset. She licked her dry lips then she finally moved forward towards the Amazon. Perhaps she had misjudged Gabrielle's state. Melosa silently admitted that Gabrielle's return was a surprise, but she had secretly expected it too. There were so few as strong as Gabrielle.

Quietly, Melosa took a seat on the bench then signaled for Gabrielle to sit with her. The poison vial remained hidden away in her cupped hands. "If it were not for my position as queen…" She leaned in closer to Gabrielle and uttered, "I would have done as you did."

Gabrielle lowered her head for a beat before she peered up to find only Melosa in front of her. She was no longer faced with the queen. "It is not a thing to be admired for."

"No," Melosa agreed. "But it is a thing to be understood. We are all human."

Gabrielle cut her gaze away from Melosa. She walked the Earth as a human, but she carried a goddess's spirit. And it was the Goddess of Love's soul no less.

"Is she still alive?"

Gabrielle focused on the present and looked at the queen. "Yes."

Melosa gave a low nod.

Gabrielle was almost certain she saw annoyance flash across Melosa's features. It was gone so quick, and she made no comment.

"Terreis's right of caste as princess has passed onto you," Melosa informed. She straightened up slightly. "Many no longer see you fit for the caste."

Gabrielle chewed on her lip then posed, "Do you?"

"I am… undecided," Melosa replied. She withheld her real answer because Gabrielle needed to make her own decision now. "At this moment, I will give you a choice."

Gabrielle remained quiet and nervously waited for the queen's options.

"You may retain your caste as an Amazon after you have completed your punishment." Melosa studied the Amazon's features carefully while she spoke. "Your caste as princess will hang in the balance until a later time." The queen shifted on the hard, wood bench. "Or you may freely relinquish your caste as an Amazon and avoid punishment, but you must leave these lands… never to return to us."

Gabrielle breathed in deeply, but she had already made her decision when she first returned to the nation. "I refuse to leave, and I refuse to give up my caste." She would weather what punishment the queen saw fit for her.

Melosa stayed quiet for a moment and waited for Gabrielle to change her mind. After a long silence, she nodded and stood up. "I will return tomorrow with your sentence." She took a few steps towards the door.

Gabrielle got up and nearly took a step until the queen faced her again.

With her freehand, Melosa picked up Gabrielle's hand and placed the empty poison vial into Gabrielle's palm. She closed Gabrielle's hand around it and gave a slight smile. "Welcome back home, Gabrielle." She turned on her heels and crossed the short distance to the door. She knocked on it a few times to get the guard's attention.

Gabrielle waited until the queen was gone before she looked down at the vial in her hand. She turned it a few times between her fingers. She recalled the day she had uncorked it and poured the poison onto Terreis's dagger. Never again would she allow her heart to be swallowed wholly by one person. She tightly clutched the vial and went over to the bedroll.

The vial finally came to rest on the cool, dirt floor beside the bedroll. It was void of any poison, but a musky odor still lined the insides of the vial. All that was contained in the vial was a brief lapse into revenge and darkness. It would stay corked away in the vial.

Gabrielle picked up the scroll and gingerly opened it. She ran her fingers over the first blank page. She had touched rolled up scrolls in a few agoras. This was the first time she had one in her sole possession. In the past, the few scrolls and quills Gabrielle had used were for the nation's purposes. This was her own.

There was an initial charge in Gabrielle's hand then it crawled up her arms and bled deep into her chest until her heart was shocked to life. Instantly the Muses started whispering into Gabrielle's ears. Her imagination awoke from its dormant sleep since her childhood.

With hungry intent, Gabrielle freed the quill from the leather pouch and also set the inkwell on the ground next to the bedroll. From careful inspection, Gabrielle realized that the quill already had its own history. Former droplets of ink stained the quill's tip and a soft dip in the quill's shaft was a sign of a former bard. Gabrielle found that her grip matched the former owner's hold.

It took a few deep breaths for Gabrielle to master the courage. She first inked the quill and watched the black drops fall back into the well. Gabrielle nibbled on her bottom lip and concentrated on the leather parchment that beckoned her.

The first moment that the quill's tip touched the soft canvas, a freeing gasp slipped between Gabrielle's lips. The ink scratched into the material and formed a first letter then a second followed by a third. A soothing scrape started as the letters formed into a word. A pause came but more letters inked across the canvas. As the beats passed, Gabrielle's pace slightly increased and signaled the slow freeing of her buried dreams.

Candlemarks transformed into brief moments and sunset went unnoticed to Gabrielle until the door's deadbolt announced a newcomer. Gabrielle easily finished her current sentence then set the scroll aside with her tools. Much to her surprise, she had a new visitor this time.

"Dinner is served, my princess."

Gabrielle was on her feet and shook her head at Solari. "I think it is a little premature for that title."

Solari went to the bench and set the plate down. "Well, you are still my princess."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes, but she sadly smiled when Solari engulfed her in a hug.

"I am so glad you are home," Solari whispered near her friend's ear. She withdrew but held Gabrielle's shoulders. "You were missed, greatly."

Gabrielle slightly shook her head. "You lie."

"Me?" Solari huffed and dropped her arms. "I am the Goddess of Truth."

Gabrielle chuckled and went over to the bench. She was actually hungry for once after being devoid of an appetite since Terreis's death.

Solari sat down too. "Okay so Velasca is slightly moody now that you are back."

Gabrielle was eating the nuts, which she had gathered in her hands. "Her chance at the princess caste is lost," she teased. However, she noticed how Solari acted suspect rather than laughing at the joke. Gabrielle hesitated from eating more nuts. "By the gods… is she…"

Solari looked at her own lap.

"Solari," Gabrielle demanded, "What you know that I do not know?"

Solari swallowed and peered up guiltily at her friend. "Ephiny asked me not to discuss it because you have enough problems."

Gabrielle huffed. However, she hastily put the pieces together without any details. "She wants Terreis's princess caste."

Solari stayed quiet, for about two beats, and she suddenly gushed out every tidbit. "Velasca barely waited two days after your disappearance before she went to Queen Melosa and demanded she have Terreis's caste."

Gabrielle narrowed her eyes yet held her silence.

"Velasca argued you abandoned your post and that even if you return, you would not be fit for the caste." Solari shook her head. "The queen disregarded Velasca's demands and said she would choose a successor to Terreis's caste if indeed you did not return."

Gabrielle smirked at how Melosa handled Velasca.

"Gabrielle, she will continue to argue that you are not fit for the caste." Solari was truly worried about Velasca. "And she has support."

Gabrielle started eating the nuts again. "For now," she whispered.

Solari sighed at her friend's iron confidence. "Velasca may challenge you for it."

Gabrielle flashed an evil smile at her friend. "She already knows I can beat her."

Solari chuckled this time. She shrugged and agreed, "Some think you have Artemis's favor."

Gabrielle hesitated from popping the last mouthful of pine nuts into her mouth. She remembered Aphrodite telling her that she was indeed marked by Artemis. She did in fact have Artemis's favor. "Perhaps I do." She met Solari's stare. "And it should worry her."

Solari was briefly quiet as she thought about Velasca and Gabrielle. Like others in their training group, Solari had watched Gabrielle transform herself from a ghostly farm girl into a brawny warrior with skills and intelligence to match her strength. Nobody among their circle expected Gabrielle to reinvent herself. As a result, Gabrielle earned every young Amazon's respect, admiration, and obvious jealousy from a select few. Solari also knew plenty of Amazons that would fall to their knees to be taken to Gabrielle's bed, especially with Terreis now gone.

"Solari…"

For a beat, Solari was still distant then slowly focused on Gabrielle. "Hmmm?" Her brown eyes sharpened on Gabrielle.

"The next time you… find yourself in Velasca's company, make sure you talk about my unwavering determination to become princess."

Solari's eyebrows hiked up towards her hairline. "You want me to purposely infuriate her?"

Gabrielle chuckled and leaned closer to her friend. "No, that is my job." She smiled. "I just want you to gossip."

Solari smirked and nodded once. "Oh... I can do that." She would enjoy it too. She popped up from the bench. "I should be going because supper is soon." She walked backwards towards the hut door. "Ephiny and I might sit with Callisto and Velasca tonight."

Gabrielle softly laughed at her friend's plans. She adored Solari's unwavering loyalty to her. "You do not want to be late."

"No." Solari rapped on the door to get the guard to open it.

"Is Callisto and Velasca…"

Solari glanced from the opening door to her friend. "Yes… still." She rolled her eyes. "Goodnight, Gabrielle."

"Thank you for supper." Gabrielle received a warm smile from Solari then she was alone again. She slowly frowned once she thought about Callisto still having sex with Velasca after all this time. She hated how it dug under her skin, but Gabrielle refused to question Callisto, much. Despite the nature of Callisto and Velasca's relationship, Gabrielle was confident that Callisto would stand beside Gabrielle if a line was drawn in the dirt. She prayed that the battle for the caste would stay peaceful, but Gabrielle had her doubts.

With heavy thoughts, Gabrielle returned to the bedroll and attempted to escape reality for awhile longer. Callisto's gift helped her get away from her current fate inside the hut. She silently thanked her friend again for her thoughtfulness.

Eventually the night wore on and Gabrielle curled up under the furs. She sighed heavily and prayed that she could sleep tonight, unlike the restless nightmares since Terreis's death. Sometimes her consort would visit her in a dreamscape. It was a short moment of peace between all the bloody nightmares.

At first, the dreams were tranquil until Gabrielle slipped into a battle. It was the same battle, every time. As the battle climaxed closer and closer to Terreis's inevitable death, Gabrielle started thrashing under the furs. Then a soft hand cupped her damp brow, and she went still under the furs.

"Rest in peace, sweet pea." Aphrodite kept her palm over her chosen's forehead until the sleeping spell was complete. Gradually the light under her hand faded away, and it was dark again. She then trailed her hand down and grazed Gabrielle's flushed cheek. "I'm here… always." She had made the promise to Gabrielle eons ago. She would keep it, for ever.

With a worried sigh, Aphrodite faded away and left her chosen with much more peaceful slumber. She could never end Gabrielle's nightmares, but she could chase them away on occasion without raising suspicion from Zeus. It was always worth the risk to Aphrodite.

At daybreak, Gabrielle was jarred from her sleep by the sudden arrival of the queen. She was barely on her bare feet when Melosa entered the small confines.

"Good morning, Gabrielle." Melosa absorbed the Amazon's sleepy features. A grin wanted to break her stoic expression, but she managed to remain queenly.

Gabrielle ran her fingers through her disheveled hair. She seemed disoriented and caught off guard by the queen's presence. She must have been sleeping hard and vaguely recalled a nightmare. However, she slept well, for a strange reason. After clearing her throat, she roughly greeted, "Good morning, my queen."

"I see you are well rested," Queen Melosa pointed out.

Gabrielle slightly narrowed her eyes when she thought there was a teasing note in Melosa's voice. She cleared her throat again and nodded. "Yes, my queen."

"Excellent." Melosa took a side step and indicated the door, which was left wide open.

Gabrielle realized it for the first time. She arched an eyebrow once she noticed the guard was also gone. She questioningly studied her leader.

"You are free to go now," Melosa explained.

Gabrielle remained still and unsure by the news. She carefully tempted, "But…?" She tensed at the queen's sudden wolfish smile. There was definitely a catch to her freedom.

"Walk with me, Gabrielle." Melosa left the hut and waited for Gabrielle to accompany her.

Gabrielle hastily jammed her feet into her boots and tied them off. She rushed to the door after she swiped her leather duster off the ground. She could come back for her other things at another time.

Melosa studied how the formerly imprisoned Amazon inhaled the fresh outside air. She admired Gabrielle's own appreciate of the early morning.

Gabrielle straightened out her wool collar and peered over at the queen.

Melosa nodded and guided her Amazon through the village. She noticed that other Amazons were stirring from their huts to begin their day. Often Melosa was the first to rise, besides those on patrol all night. She greeted a few individuals that they passed and realized Gabrielle only traded a nod with each Amazon. She knew Gabrielle would need time to rebuild many relationships and garner respect again.

Gabrielle became curious as she and Melosa exited the village's gates. She wondered what the queen had in mind. She said nothing and merely enjoyed the walk through the lands.

Melosa also loved the early morning trek across the hills. She followed a worn path that eventually came to a fork. The right trail showed less wear and was becoming overgrown due to less foot traffic.

Gabrielle was surprised by the queen's choice to go down the path on the right. She faithfully followed and eventually slowed because they entered ruins.

Melosa slightly smiled at the fellow Amazon's keen curiosity about the ruins. She knew Gabrielle was aware of the ruins, but so few came this way these days. "It was an early temple to Artemis."

Gabrielle shook her head and gazed at Melosa. "What happened to it?"

"It was destroyed in the early wars with the Centaurs," Melosa replied. "During my mother's reign actually." She had a slightly dismayed expression. "We had to abandon these lands during that time. We moved further east to put more distance between our nation and the Centaurs."

Gabrielle had heard such history. There were so few that talked about the old days, as if it were a sin. She remained quiet and noticed they entered a canyon passageway. Yet, their journey was cut short by a wall made of boulders. Gabrielle had seen it once before many anni ago. At the time, she was still in training and was learning the local lands.

Queen Melosa stared at the roadblock before them. It was one rock piled on top of another between the canyon's walls. She tilted her head back slightly because the wall climbed a few hands length higher than her. It was designed to halt their enemy, at the time. Slowly, she looked to her Amazon, who was at a loss for the moment.

"My queen?" Gabrielle called, gently. Questions glowed in her eyes.

Melosa stepped forward and placed a palm against a large stone that protruded out. "After we abandoned the temple and small village, we caused a rock slide… to block the pass."

Gabrielle gave a faint nod. She recalled the history when Master Eponin was teaching her and her classmates the local terrain. "To stop the Centaurs."

"To cut them off," Melosa softly agreed. The rock slide had created a block that was too difficult to climb as half humans, half horses. It was also too high for a Centaur to jump over. Melosa dropped her hand. "On the other side, there is a wooden bridge that crosses the Acheloos." She took a step back to her Amazon's side. "This was the quickest way between us and the Centaurs."

Gabrielle nodded. The current route to the Centaurs took over a candlemark by foot because the closest bridge across the Acheloos River was further north. It was a well built bridge that was maintained by the nearest village called Dodona. It was the same village that had the closest temple to Aphrodite.

"In the days since your disappearance," Melosa started.

Gabrielle flinched out of her daze and focused on the queen. She struggled with her internal guilt about leaving her post, her people.

"The Centaurs and I have decided we should reopen this pass." Melosa folded her arms. "It would save much travel time, make trade easier, and allow for reinforcements to aid each other."

Gabrielle noted that the queen ignored the fact that the Centaurs failed to aid them in the battle against Xena. However, she suspected the Centaurs were still leery to fight for the Amazons. What was a relief to every Amazon was the Centaurs denied the warlord's very own request to destroy the Amazons. It was a step in the right direction.

After biting her bottom lip, she looked from the rocks to her queen. "That is good news, my queen."

"It is," Melosa softly agreed.

Gabrielle grew slightly more excited as she considered what this could mean for the Amazons and Centaurs. Their relations were certainly improving if Melosa and Tildus wanted faster means of travel and communication. She put aside her thoughts and asked, "When does work begin?" She indicated the roadblock before them.

"Today." Queen Melosa now turned to her Amazon. She had a broad smile, and her brown eyes glowed bright in the early sunlight.

Gabrielle tensed at the glint in her queen's eyes. "Today?" she worriedly repeated.

"Yes." Melosa raised her hand and gripped Gabrielle's shoulder, which was firm under her hand. "You will remove this roadblock… stone by stone, Gabrielle." She squeezed her Amazon and felt as if she was gripping one of the very rocks before them.

Gabrielle stared dumbfounded at the stone wall in front of her. "By hand?"

Melosa gave a firm nod. "And alone." She too looked at the roadblock. "I suspect there are as many rocks as there are Amazons in our nation." She focused on Gabrielle again. "You will learn what it means to carry each and every one of your people, Gabrielle."

With a concerned look, Gabrielle attempted fathoming how long it would take for her to remove the roadblock. A ball of worry twisted low in her belly. She continued listening as Melosa laid out her punishment.

"You will place the stones over there." Melosa pointed past Gabrielle's shoulder. When Gabrielle twisted her head in that direction, she further explained, "It will be a testament to your devotion to your people."

Gabrielle peered back up at the queen.

"Focus on the goal, Gabrielle... not the task at hand. What you will give your people," Melosa declared and smiled warmly this time. "You will help mend what has been broken for so long." Again she held Gabrielle's shoulders but with both hands. "And you will truly honor Terreis's memory." Melosa gave a final squeeze before her hand slid down Gabrielle's mid-back. She directed her Amazon away from the rock wall and back through the ruins.

Gabrielle was still digesting the challenge ahead of her. She realized that Melosa was right. To remove the roadblock would build trust between the Amazons and Centaurs. It would hasten to heal the relations. Such a positive change would be something that Terreis would want for her people.

"Now listen carefully, Gabrielle." Melosa stayed close to her Amazon's side as they traveled back to the village. "There will be guards posted near the pass. They will be there to protect you because you will be too focused on the labor."

Gabrielle agreed and silently thanked her queen for the protection.

"I expect there may be a few boulders buried deep. If there are, you will have help, of course." Melosa paused and considered her other thoughts about Gabrielle's great task. "You are not to overwork yourself." She knew her Amazon well enough. Gabrielle would push beyond her limits and possibly hurt herself. It was another reason to have guards, who would monitor Gabrielle's devotion versus outright stubbornness.

"You must take breaks," Melosa continued. "Drink and eat adequately." She glanced at the Amazon's stern profile. "You may begin a candlemark after sunrise and must stop a candlemark before sunset."

"Yes, my queen," Gabrielle promised. She inwardly sighed at her queen's restrictions. The queen knew her too well.

"But this is your one and only task until it is complete," Melosa stated. "You will work every single day, in rain or shine, until the passageway is open again."

Gabrielle licked her lips and curiously studied the queen's features. "When shall it be complete?" She was thankful it was spring time when the days were warm yet still cool enough.

Melosa chuckled and replied, "It takes as long as it takes, Gabrielle. That pass has been blocked for longer than I have existed." She tilted her head and quietly added, "But, I do expect it complete before my death."

Gabrielle heard the humor in Melosa's voice. "Yes, my queen." She grateful there was no limitation on time. She could work at a steady yet efficient pace that would keep her from over straining her body.

Melosa sensed that her Amazon had silently accepted the task. Late last night, she had realized the great opportunity that the roadblock offered Gabrielle. It would challenge Gabrielle. It would punish Gabrielle at times. It would rebuild Gabrielle's muscles. But above all, it would make Gabrielle grow stronger as an Amazon and possibly a leader one day. Somehow, it was a blessing from Artemis that would heal both Gabrielle and the nation.

After a long silence, Melosa recalled what minor punishments she had to place upon her sister's consort. She knew each of them would be more difficult than the removing the roadblock, especially one of them. "Gabrielle…"

The Amazon broke from her thoughts and glanced at the queen. She waited for whatever Melosa had to tell her.

"There are a few… penalties you must pay," Melosa informed.

Gabrielle weakly nodded and listened to her queen.

"As you may have already suspected, you have been stripped of your position as ilarchès. Perhaps one day you will earn back your mark," Melosa explained. She felt how difficult it was for Gabrielle to hear the punishments. "You also will not be able to carry weapons for one moon unless there are extenuating circumstances. I will allow for you train with them, but they must be returned to Master Eponin." She nibbled on her bottom lip. "And you may not ride for two moons… that includes riding Skylla."

Gabrielle's eyes fluttered a few times, but she gave a curt nod. She swallowed and softly replied, "Thank you, my queen." She met Melosa's curious stare. "For not taking her from me."

Melosa understood Gabrielle's fear of completely losing Skylla. Similar to Terreis, she understood Gabrielle's bond to the horse. It would be cruelty, not punishment, to take Skylla away from Gabrielle. After a second, she sighed and offered "I suggest you ask your friends to ride Skylla."

Gabrielle agreed with the idea. "May I still visit her?"

Melosa weighed the request and after a moment, she nodded. She heard the low rush of air from Gabrielle. Just ahead, the open gates greeted them. Once they entered the village, she turned to her sister's consort.

Gabrielle turned to her queen. She searched Melosa's calm features, and it helped sooth her worries about her place in the nation.

Melosa moved closer to the Amazon. "Your return to the nation was the most difficult step, Gabrielle." She watched the stormy emotions in Gabrielle's eyes. "Now you will learn to bear the nation's weight rather than just one Amazon's." She sadly smiled and softly added, "I have faith that you will make this nation yours." Then she stepped around Gabrielle and went on her way.

Gabrielle turned on her heels and watched Melosa until she was absorbed by the other Amazons moving throughout the village. She released a low breath before she headed to the jail hut.

The queen's words repeated over and over in Gabrielle's head. She wondered how Melosa could still place faith in her. Gabrielle had deserted her post, her duties, and her nation to seek out blood for Terreis's life. And yet, Gabrielle recognized too that she found the strength to come back.

Once at the jail hut, Gabrielle organized her things and carried them through the village. She exchanged few greetings with fellow Amazons, but they held hints of animosity in their eyes and features. Indeed Gabrielle saw the long road ahead of herself. She hoped she could repair the damage. She tucked away her thoughts when her hut came into view.

The sealed door to Gabrielle's hut kept the heartbreak at bay. On the other side of the door, memories from a happy yet painfully raw life screamed at Gabrielle. They threatened to break through and swallow Gabrielle whole. Slight panic set into Gabrielle's chest, and she nearly ran from it. But then calming warmth washed down her shoulders and gave peace to her erratic heart.

Directly behind Gabrielle, the Goddess of Love easily towered over her chosen and remained cloaked from any mortal's eye. Her hands hovered over her chosen's shoulders and a golden glow continued emitting from her palms. Aphrodite bowed her head until her lips nearly touched Gabrielle's ear. She tenderly whispered, "You can do this."

Gabrielle breathed in the words and murmured, "I can do this." With great strength, she raised her freehand and slid the iron bolt back. She pressed her palm flat against the door yet wavered to push it open.

Aphrodite briefly closed her eyes as felt every drop of fear coursing through her chosen. She remembered this sensation from many anni ago when Gabrielle nearly slit her wrists. Aphrodite took a deep breath and lowered her head again. "I am right here, Gabs." With hooded eyes, she painstakingly watched Gabrielle begin pushing the door.

Gabrielle was breathing slightly hard again yet more in control. She blinked against the sting in her eyes then started forward into the hut. Everything was dim because the mats still covered the windows. Whispers from the past ghosted through the hut and clawed at Gabrielle's heart. She still fought to move forward, to the lone bed in front of her.

On the bed's foot, closest to Gabrielle, were the full saddlebags. Somebody had brought her belongings after her return. Gabrielle placed the few items in her left arm onto the saddlebags. Slowly, her eyes traveled up the length of the bed that she shared with Terreis. Behind her, the Goddess of Love remained faithfully there.

Aphrodite followed Gabrielle's eyes to the bed. With each breath, she spiraled down into a storm of emotions from her chosen. She was shaken by Gabrielle's first whimper.

Gabrielle was unraveling as she saw herself and Terreis in each other's arms in the bed. She heard Terreis's distant laugh. She could almost touch Terreis's skin, but it was all burned away to ashes. There was nothing left but the walls of the hut, the old scent of what was home, and painful memories from a happy life. Gabrielle's broken spirit stole her earlier strength.

"Oh gods… no," Gabrielle rasped. She began sinking down. "Gods… please, Aphrodite," she begged, desperately. Her knees neared the wood floor yet hovered there because something solid and warm had caught her. Gabrielle was not crashing onto the floor but into the goddess's warmth. All around her, Aphrodite formed into a solid foundation. Lithe yet firm arms secured around Gabrielle's waist.

Aphrodite was real and whole. She held Gabrielle in her lap and leaned her forehead against her chosen's temple. "I will always catch you if you fall," she softly swore.

Gabrielle lost the last thread of control after Aphrodite's promise. She desperately reached up to make sure Aphrodite was truly here. Her fingers tangled into curly, golden locks. Her other arm hooked across the back of Aphrodite's shoulders, nails digging into soft skin.

"It's okay, sweet pea." Aphrodite rocked their bodies together. "It will be okay." Gabrielle's tears touched her neck and burned a trail down her chest. Aphrodite closed her eyes tighter against the ugly emotions, but her chosen's sharp sob brought tears to Aphrodite too. She buried her face deeper into Gabrielle's hair and shakily rasped, "I swear it'll be okay."

 

To be continued.

Chapter Text

My Immortal Love
by Red Hope

 

Chapter 15

The sun had awoken candlemarks ago and was nearly at its highest point. Soon, Apollo would ride down the western sky and allow for the moon to begin its life. It was a fairly warm day, but the equinox had already passed and welcomed the spring time. Within a fortnight the days would become even warmer.

Gabrielle certainly appreciated the day's heat. She already promised herself a bath after today's labor. This morning she had started with her wool and leather duster, but she quickly tossed it onto a fallen pillar among the old ruins. Next to the broken pillar, Gabrielle had a satchel filled with food and water skins.

However, all her attention was placed on the large rock between her hands. With a powerful grip, Gabrielle kept the rock level with her bare stomach and carried the dead weight to the small pile. It was a small pile of about eighty rocks that Gabrielle had transported from the blocked passageway to their new home. She was on her sixth day of labor.

Off to the Amazon's left, the Goddess of Love quietly shaped and formed from thin air. She was seated upon a broken statue of Artemis. Her butt was comfortably cushioned between the statue's breasts. Aphrodite was wearing a white chiton today, hair pulled up into a perfect bun, and a few curly locks framed her soft features. She wore a golden arm bracelet and matching necklace.

Aphrodite casually crossed her legs and continued admiring the Amazon's hard work. From her point of view, she appreciated every stressed muscle up Gabrielle's back and then there were Gabrielle's arms. Aphrodite propped up her right elbow on her knee and dramatically fanned herself. With hungry eyes, she devoured each arm muscles' coiled tension then the gradual release of power when Gabrielle slowly deposited the rock onto the pile.

After Gabrielle let go of the rock and straightened up, Aphrodite released a low gasp and cleared her throat. She silently cursed Artemis for giving her favor to Gabrielle. Aphrodite may have blessed Gabrielle with beauty, but Artemis gifted Gabrielle with strength.

Gabrielle dusted off her hands and turned on her boots. She eyed the goddess seated upon the fallen statue. She barely contained her amusement at the scene before her. She started towards the roadblock but paused and studied the beautiful goddess.

Aphrodite slightly tilted her head back. She breathed in deeply and could barely control her chosen's affect on her. She placed her palm against her chest, over top of her jewelry. For a moment, Aphrodite memorized the muscular built Amazon that glistened under the sunlight. She was grateful she was seated already.

Gabrielle shook her head once and placed her hands on her hips. She parted her lips, about to speak, yet faltered and glanced back towards the two guards. They were fairly far away but within eyesight and yelling range.

The goddess followed the concern towards the guards. In a heartbeat, she waved in her hand in the air and promised, "They can't hear us or see me."

Gabrielle cut her focus back to the goddess. "Have you come to tease me?" She continued to the roadblock.

Aphrodite feigned shock and countered, "Me?" She lowered her hand to her lap. "Why no. I totally came to see the show."

Gabrielle had her back to the goddess and rolled her eyes. She latched onto a rock, but it was smaller than the last one. She had learned to alternate between heavier and lighter ones. "You seem to like…" She paused and focused on lifting the rock off the ground. Once it was adjusted in her grip, she slowly walked to her destination. "You seem to like what you see."

Aphrodite should have hid her evil smile, but she had no control. "You could definitely give Hercules a run for his dinars."

"I am not a demi-god," Gabrielle reminded. She heard the goddess's low hum. After depositing the rock, she approached the goddess this time. "I am just a chosen."

Aphrodite was forced to drop her head back because Gabrielle was closer. "A chosen afforded a few perks." She raked her eyes down one of Gabrielle's physical perks.

Gabrielle sighed and walked away from the goddess.

Aphrodite was contently admiring her chosen's strength. She sighed happily when Gabrielle carried another large rock across the distance. "So I noticed there are still a lot of rocks left." She tapped a finger against her chin while she studied the roadblock. "I would say there are probably as many rocks as there are Amazons in your nation."

Yet again, Gabrielle dramatically rolled her eyes. She was standing in front of the roadblock yet turned towards the goddess. "Yes. I figured out the philosophical meaning of removing this roadblock… of picking up, carrying, and rejoining each one of these rocks." She stood there with her hands on her hips. "Thank you, Dity." She returned to her labor.

Aphrodite chuckled and teased, "That Queen Melosa is a clever one." She tilted her head to one side. "I can see why Artemis likes her so."

Gabrielle knelt beside the next rock. "More so than Terreis." She grabbed the rock. "Since she was willing to sacrifice Terreis for the glory of her nation."

Aphrodite flinched at the venomous remark. "As terrible as this sounds, you do not understand the gods and their ways."

Gabrielle dropped the rock next to the earlier one. It rolled slightly then settled against the ground. "I have known you, a goddess, since I was a child." She neared the seated goddess and knelt by her satchel.

"Yes, me," Aphrodite agreed. She watched her chosen dig out a water skin. "And I am different than most of the gods, Gabs."

Gabrielle took a few steps over and sunk onto the steps near Aphrodite's spot.

"I split my soul," Aphrodite reminded. "Artemis has not."

"A god is a god," Gabrielle debated.

Aphrodite shook her head and briefly held out her hand towards her chosen. "A god with a split soul is nothing like a god that has a whole one." She found intense green eyes on her. "A god with a whole one does not feel what I feel… and they never will unless they split their soul."

Gabrielle had propped her legs up on the step below. She leaned her arms against her knees and balanced the water skin between her legs.

"Artemis will never experience pain… remorse… sadness." Slowly Aphrodite's gaze drifted off. "Anger or hatred."

"You name all the pleasant emotions," Gabrielle jabbed.

"Compassion, forgiveness, devotion or happiness," Aphrodite whispered. She had heard Gabrielle's quip. "Love," she tenderly finished. She gazed at her chosen with affection. "A god, like Artemis, only sees the world in black and white."

Gabrielle sighed and gave a low nod. She better understand the goddess's point.

"Artemis's sole purpose… the purpose to her existence is keeping her Amazons." Aphrodite shook her head and explained, "And if sacrificing Terreis to better her Amazons serves her purpose then it will be done." She leaned towards Gabrielle. "Artemis cannot feel the value in Terreis's life."

Gabrielle hoarsely whispered, "She was only a tool… a means to an end."

"Yes." Aphrodite straightened up. For a moment, they were both quiet until Aphrodite gently reminded, "But in the end, Artemis and I have the same goal… we want you here."

"No." Gabrielle saw it differently, ever since the truth about Terreis's death. "Your reasons are different. You want me here so I am happy. She wants me here so I will lead the nation to greatness."

"And it's your choice," Aphrodite reminded. "You can totally leave, Gabs."

"I know." Gabrielle was playing with the water skin's cork. A darkness settled over her features. "I cannot go back to how things were before." She struggled with the emotions that pushed against her chest. "I refuse to love someone again." She met the goddess's worried gaze. "I would rather love this nation than fall into that same trap again."

Aphrodite reached across and clutched her chosen's arm. "You deserve to be loved, Gabrielle." Yet, she was overwhelmed by Gabrielle's despair.

"I have you," Gabrielle reminded. "I am loved." She tossed the water skin by the satchel and climbed to her feet. She strolled over to the roadblock.

Aphrodite was upset and touched at the same time. Gabrielle's reply made her heart pound with bittersweetness. She sighed and looked over at the Amazon. Much to her surprise, her chosen was climbing the rock wall. She considered Gabrielle's goal until Aphrodite became distracted by the display of muscles.

Gabrielle flexed and strained every muscle in her arms, back, and legs. When she twisted and climbed onto the rock pile, she was somewhat turned in Aphrodite's direction.

Again, Aphrodite had to fan herself due to the beautiful show before her. She admired the thickened muscles across Gabrielle's bare stomach. Nearly a moon ago, Aphrodite had wiped clean those very abs. The memory sent an excited shiver down her spine and sparked a burn in her lower stomach. "Damn you, Art," she muttered under her breath.

On top of the rock pile, Gabrielle crouched down and carefully pushed several rocks off the top and down to the ground. Most of the time, it was safer to take from the top than the bottom. Over the days, she was chipping away at the roadblock. She was still unsure how much longer it would take until all the rocks were moved and the passageway cleared for travel.

Gabrielle hastily climbed down from the rock pile and picked up one of the smaller ones. She was being cautious about over extending her body, especially since she had lost some muscle during her journey. She expected to be back to normal by the time she was done her punishment.

Aphrodite stood from the statue and casually strolled over to the smaller pile where Gabrielle came over with the rock. "The gods bless Melosa for this… punishment." She sighed happily as Gabrielle squatted with the rock.

Gabrielle shook her head but focused on placing the rock down. She straightened up and went over to the goddess. "This has to be against the laws." She placed her hands on her hips.

Aphrodite smiled, pleasantly. "There is nothing in the laws that say I can't look." She let her smile slip into a grin. "And admire."

Gabrielle canted her head and posed, "But touching?"

Aphrodite's head bobbed a few times. "It's a heavy price." She shrugged and casually whispered, "One always worth paying." She enjoyed Gabrielle's eyebrows hiking up her forehead. She chuckled and strolled off towards the rock wall.

Gabrielle hastily caught up to the goddess's side. "How many times have we been lovers?"

Aphrodite slowed in front of the roadblock. She weighed the real answer to Gabrielle's question. She and Gabrielle were treading dangerous ground, like always. She could sneak by with the occasional cuddling but sex always went noticed by the other gods. Aphrodite easily recalled her father's most recent threat, which was dire.

Gabrielle felt the mood sink into worry and sadness. She became serious and gently clasped the goddess's arm. "Dity?"

Aphrodite attempted smiling at her chosen. "It has been enough times that one more would be the last time." She saw a fire build in Gabrielle so she hastily added, "But it's nothing serious."

Gabrielle stepped in front of the goddess. "Then it is serious," she debated.

Aphrodite had told too much. Her chosen was incredibly perceptive, always. Their link also made it much harder to hide anything. "Gabs-"

"You are not telling me something," Gabrielle cut off. She shook her head and further pressed her point. "Ever since that night at your temple in Pella… you have been holding something back."

The goddess shook her head and continued smiling. "It's old history." Her confidence pitched and sank when Gabrielle slotted her eyes.

"You are lying," Gabrielle stated. She grabbed Aphrodite's upper arms and held firmly to the goddess. "What are you hiding from me?" She could tell the goddess was going to deflect again so she demanded, "What did Zeus threaten?"

"Gabrielle," Aphrodite gently tried. She hoped to defuse her chosen's fiery concern.

Gabrielle softened her grip then reached up and cupped the goddess's cheek. "Please tell me."

Aphrodite lost her thin control after the soft plea. She was a goddess and yet so mortal once in Gabrielle's hands. She would move Mount Olympus if it meant protecting her chosen. Every punishment and every price over the eons could never divide Aphrodite and her chosen. Each lifetime was nearly the same story for them. One day, Aphrodite accepted their entangled destiny until Zeus, her father, threatened to rejoin her soul. Indeed it was a price even Aphrodite refused to pay because there was no return from it.

In those seconds, Aphrodite saw her earthbound soul pleading with her through forest green eyes. She realized that the truth may just keep them both from making the final mistake. The truth was a means to an end that was most important to Aphrodite.

After a heavy breath, Aphrodite softly confessed, "Father has sworn to rejoin our souls if I continue to break the laws for you." She watched the storm enter her chosen's eyes. She reached up and took Gabrielle's hand into her own. "It would mean you would die." She placed her other hand over their entangled ones.

Gabrielle shook her head and whispered, "Can he really do that?"

"Yes," Aphrodite murmured. She squeezed her chosen's smaller hand. "A god's soul can only be split by his lightning bolt… or rejoined by one."  She bowed her head closer. "And I cannot let you die."

Gabrielle closed her eyes as the weight settled onto her shoulders. A soft tremble of fear shook her body. She lowered her head and latched onto Aphrodite's hip with her freehand.

Aphrodite leaned her forehead against the top of Gabrielle's head. She absorbed her chosen's shaken emotions. She was about to sooth it away except Gabrielle spoke first.

"Why?"

Aphrodite considered the angle of her chosen's question and checked, "Why what, sweet pea?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Why would you care if I live? If we were rejoined, it would change nothing for you." She huffed and lifted her head after the goddess moved her own. "I am nothing without-"

"Now that is total Centaur shit," Aphrodite sharply cut off.

Gabrielle swallowed hard at seeing the goddess's angry look.

Aphrodite inhaled and exhaled twice just to calm herself. She looked calmer and kept an even tone this time. "I have had other gods say the same Centaur shit to me." She rolled her eyes. "At one time, we were one person but that completely changed when I split my soul." She smiled at her chosen. "You have spent so many lifetimes on this Earth. Your experiences on Earth totally outweigh my own. You are your own individual from me." She hooked Gabrielle's chin with her fingers. "And nobody will ever take that from you, Gabrielle." Aphrodite's bright blue eyes burned with Gabrielle's earthy emerald ones.

Gabrielle released a strained breath that relaxed her taut muscles. She then sighed and leaned her forehead against the goddess's chest.

Aphrodite bowed her head and briefly nuzzled her chosen's temple. She tenderly whispered, "I am more whole when my soul is half god and half human." She kissed her chosen's temple. "Thank you for this gift, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle peered up at the goddess. "But it is you who gave me the gift of life."

Aphrodite smiled and softly countered, "It is totally the opposite, sweet pea." She cupped Gabrielle's face with both hands. "Without you, I would never have a heart." Her smile filled with sadness. "I would hardly be the Goddess of Love then."

Gabrielle had a smile after days of despair. "I guess we gave each other life."

"Yes," Aphrodite softly agreed. She brushed her thumb across her chosen's warm cheek. "And that's why your life is no less valuable than mine." She bowed her head and kissed her chosen's forehead. "Okay?" she asked after straightening up.

Gabrielle gave a faint nod.

Aphrodite was pleased. She then pulled Gabrielle in for a hug.

Gabrielle returned the hug's strength until the goddess released her.

"I have to go," Aphrodite mentioned. She took one step back and looked over at the roadblock. "But… I will totally pop in later to see who is winning." She smirked at the human.

Gabrielle folded her arms, which emphasized her biceps further.

Aphrodite pointed at the beautiful Amazon. "I think I know who will win." She winked and vanished before the human.

Gabrielle released a low sigh but was glad she had seen the goddess. They had been on indifferent terms several days ago. She looked at the marriage bracelet that bound her to Terreis. She toyed with it for a moment then peered across at the roadblock. Without doubt, she knew Terreis would be happy about the healing relationship between the Amazons and the Centaurs. Gabrielle took a deep breath and approached the stone wall.

Every rock removed was in Terreis's name, Gabrielle silently swore. She strained each muscle in her body. She labored with promise and love, for Terreis. She worked long candlemarks over many weeks until she lost track of time. Gabrielle could only measure time by how the roadblock became smaller.

One exceptionally difficult day had been warmer than normal. Gabrielle had been exhausted and barely managed a bath. She missed dinner and collapsed into her bed. The day had been taxing and immediately took her to Morpheus's realm, which carefully blended and molded with the Underworld.

"Gabrielle," a loving voice called. Silky warmth spun around Gabrielle's dreamscape and drew her into a safe place.

Gabrielle focused on the familiar voice until she found Terreis before her.

Terreis smiled happily and opened her arms.

Gabrielle scooped up her consort in strong arms. "Terreis," she breathed. She held onto Terreis in hopes she would stay with her.

Terreis happily sighed and breathed in Gabrielle's scent. "It's good to see you again."

"I have missed you," Gabrielle whispered. She painstakingly withdrew from the hug yet still held her consort's hips. She briefly scanned their surroundings, which were green and warm. She had been here before with Terreis. She was nearly positive it was Elysium.

"And I have missed you," Terreis returned. She pressed their bodies together and softly kissed in hopes they could forget the past.

Gabrielle whimpered after the kiss. She gently traced Terreis's features.

Terreis captured Gabrielle's hand and twined their fingers together. "I hear you labor everyday to remove the roadblock between the Amazons and the Centaurs."

Gabrielle stiffened and curiously stared at her consort. "How…"

"Aphrodite," Terreis softly revealed.

Gabrielle had confused furrow across her features. She shook her head and tempted, "Aphrodite?"

"Yes." Terreis lost her smile but squeezed her consort's callused hand. "Come sit with me." She guided Gabrielle across the hilly lands that were so similar to the Amazon landscape. She drew Gabrielle to a comfortable spot under a pistachio tree. Together, they sat in the shade and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

"Aphrodite came to you?" Gabrielle hastily asked. She was distraught by the news.

"Yes." Terreis had a bright smile. It was the very smile that Gabrielle had fallen for years ago. "She is amazing." She squeezed her consort's hand.

Gabrielle was completely unaware that the goddess had come to her consort. She considered why Aphrodite had yet to tell her. However, Gabrielle had been so busy since their last visit several days ago. Aphrodite had promised to visit again soon, but she knew Aphrodite could be just as busy.

"Why did she come to you?"

Terreis ran her thumb across Gabrielle's knuckles. "She came to me with an offer."

Gabrielle was again confused and shook her head. "What offer?" She was hardly worried by Aphrodite's plans. She wholly trusted the goddess.

"To live again," Terreis whispered. She shifted her gaze out towards the lands of Elysium. "Not as I was though." She took a deep breath. "But to be born again." She sadly smiled at Gabrielle. "She said she could free me from Elysium."

Gabrielle grabbed at all the details as her consort told it. She blew out a low breath. She recalled that Aphrodite had freed her own soul many times over so that she could be reborn again. She swallowed and softly asked, "What did you say?"

"I said yes." However, Terreis looked down in her lap.

Gabrielle knew something was wrong so she tilted her consort's head up with her freehand. "Then why are you still here?"

Terreis briefly closed her eyes then opened them again. "Aphrodite tried to take me from here, but she could not." She bit her bottom lip for a beat.

Gabrielle shook her head and argued, "Aphrodite will find a way."

"Gabrielle…" Terreis hesitated and yet already knew her next words. In Gabrielle's eyes, she saw what she had missed over all those years. Terreis now understood Gabrielle knew about the gods for a long time. She gathered her wits and explained, "She said my soul is not ready to part with my old life. That something is left unresolved with loved ones."

Gabrielle was filled with guilt after such words. She parted her lips slightly but failed to say anything to her consort.

"It is an unresolved matter with you," Terreis sadly stated. "I cannot begin a new life until…" She looked down at herself. "Until this old life is resolved first."

"But we are okay," Gabrielle insisted. She held both Terreis's hands now and held firmly, to reinforce her words.

"You are not okay though," Terreis declared. She held green eyes with her blue ones. "You are not okay."

"I am…" Gabrielle faltered and buckled under her unfinished lie's weight. She lost her own power to lie about her mental health. She had yet to be okay since Terreis's death. And the added salt on her wound was that Aphrodite had the other half of her soul. Terreis was never meant to be hers, ever.

"Not okay," Terreis sadly finished for her consort.

Gabrielle looked away from Terreis and stared hauntingly at the beautiful landscape.

Terreis remained quiet for awhile and waited for Gabrielle. But, it would be a long wait if she said nothing first. She licked her lips. "On that ride back to the Nation from your home, I kept thinking about our conversation about the gods."

Gabrielle bowed her head slightly and stared at her lap.

"You asked me if I thought they were real," Terreis whispered. She looked at her consort's profile. "You already knew they existed." She touched Gabrielle's bare knee. "For how long?"

Gabrielle peered up and stared at the lands again. She whispered, "Since I was a little girl." She quietly huffed and countered, "Well, not right away, but I figured it out."

"How?"

Gabrielle shook her head then met her consort's curious features. "I met Aphrodite when I was a child."

Terreis suspected it and felt slightly settled that she better understood why her consort was different. She was still at a loss as to why the goddess appeared to her consort. "Why are you special to her?" Terreis was confident Gabrielle meant something to Aphrodite.

Gabrielle shook her head a few times, but she refused to speak about it or lie to her consort.

"Gabrielle?" Terreis gently tried. She squeezed her consort's hand and hoped Gabrielle would open up to her. She was taken back to years ago when Gabrielle first arrived at the nation and remained closed off from everybody. It had taken time for Terreis to earn Gabrielle's trust. Now it seemed as if they had taken steps back to those old days. "Gabrielle, please talk to me."

Gabrielle again shook her head. She stared, bitterly at the landscape. This was a place of peace, but she felt her anger tainted it. She clenched her jaw for a moment. "It will only break your heart."

"How do you know?" Terreis argued. She leaned in closer to her consort and softly added, "Let me be the judge of that."

Gabrielle lowered her eyes and bowed her head. She took a deep breath. There were things she owed to Terreis. Silence certainly was not on the list. She licked her lips and met Terreis's open features. "I am her chosen." She was prepared for different responses but hardly for Terreis's beautiful smile.

"That explains a lot," Terreis whispered. "You have always had quite the heart, Gabrielle."

"Hardly," Gabrielle countered. She thought to how she went on a suicide mission to kill the Warrior Princess. She secretly admitted that she was glad she failed because if she managed to murder Xena then she would have disgraced Terreis's memory. They would never be sitting here, together now. "I am a warrior, Terreis."

The former Amazon princess continued smiling at her consort. She stretched out her hand until her palm pressed against Gabrielle's chest. "You have a lot of armor but under it all… there is so much love." She reached up and turned Gabrielle's face towards her. "You are just very good at hiding it."

Gabrielle sighed and looked away again. She thought about what it meant to be Aphrodite's chosen. She doubted Terreis's understood the implications. It caused Gabrielle's stomach to pitch down suddenly. She gritted her teeth and held down an aching whimper. How she felt so guilty about being Aphrodite's chosen. She was riddled by betrayal. Her own vows on their ceremony day seemed nulled by the truth.

"I am her chosen because I have half of her soul," Gabrielle confessed. She refused to look at her consort.

Terreis remained quiet as she thought about the truth. What it meant for Gabrielle, for herself, and their relationship after so many years. A special Amazon ceremony had bound them together long ago. Even now, Gabrielle still wore the marriage bracelet.

"Gabrielle?" Terreis sighed when Gabrielle refused to meet her gaze. She reached up and turned Gabrielle's head with the opposite cheek. "She may have the other half of your soul... but I have your heart."

Gabrielle broke after the deceleration of love. "Terreis," she rasped.

Terreis quickly pulled Gabrielle into her arms. "I love you, Gabrielle." She held her consort tightly and whispered, "I have never questioned your love for me... your devotion to me."

Gabrielle gripped the forearm across her chest. She softly wept for Terreis. "I feel so a shamed and that I betrayed you."

Terreis lowered her head and nuzzled the sunny hair that still smelled liked home, in their hut. "You are special, Gabrielle and not because you are a chosen." She kissed her consort's bare shoulder. "But because of your capacity to love despite all that has happened to you." She leaned her head against Gabrielle's own and whispered, "You never betrayed me." She continued holding her consort until she calmed down.

Slowly, Gabrielle straightened up and found her strength again. "I can never stop loving you."

Terreis smiled at her consort. "I know." She cupped Gabrielle's hands in her own. "Perhaps your guilt will be put to rest once you complete the roadblock."

Gabrielle admitted that Terreis's honor was a driving force in removing the roadblock, more so than reclaiming her caste as an Amazon. She nodded and then leaned in for a long hug. As she drew open her eyes, she found her arms empty and the darkness of the hut greeted her.

"Terreis," Gabrielle whispered into the night, "I love you." In her heart, she felt Terreis's return her love. With a turn, Gabrielle settled under the fur and drifted off to sleep again for a few more candlemarks. She had another long day ahead of her.

As days passed, Gabrielle came closer to removing the last of the rocks at the pass. Word had spread throughout the nation and excited so many. Melosa had often inspected Gabrielle's work and ensured Gabrielle remained in health. But when it was clearly obvious that Gabrielle's labor only had one day left, Melosa called for an grand witness.

Amazons crowded around the ruins and filled every piece of space possible. On the other side of the roadblock, Centaurs gathered to watch the block be removed of its last rocks. Tildus and Kaleipus stood at the front and excitedly waited for Gabrielle to remove the last ones. Tildus saw that Queen Melosa stood on the other side, a smile on her face.

Gabrielle carried another heavy rock to its new resting place. She then walked the open path among the Amazons back to the tiny roadbloack. The block was at the point that it could be easily crossed, but Melosa expected every last rock to be removed from the pass. It was a great symbol of the new relations between Amazon and Centaur.

"I can't believe she's done it," Solari whispered to Ephiny.

Ephiny jabbed an elbow into her friend's side. "Have more faith than that." Like Solari, she had a higher advantage point from the temple ruins to watch the last moments.

"She looks a lot better," Solari mentioned. Even though the labor had been taxing on Gabrielle, she seemed healthier than when she first returned from the suicide mission. Solari was proud of her friend. A scan of the many Amazons' faces told her that she was not the only one. She then smirked at Velasca's irritated look. She poked Ephiny in the side and nodded her chin at Velasca on the other side.

Ephiny followed Solari's gaze and chuckled at Velasca's constant, foul glare on Gabrielle. Many knew this was Gabrielle's first step to reclaiming the caste for princess. Ephiny damn hoped it worked because Velasca being the princess was a possible nightmare.

Solari decided she wanted to incite Velasca further. With a slight lean to the left, she counted three rocks left for Gabrielle to remove in the pass. She took a deep breath and called, "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, Gabrielle."

Rhode was on the opposite side of Solari, near the canyon wall. She decided to join in and chanted, "Gabrielle! Gabrielle!"

Callisto was beside Rhode and echoed the chant too.

Quickly Gabrielle's name started singing from many Amazon's lips and all of the Centaur's own. For a brief moment, Gabrielle hesitated by the last rocks at her feet. She saw Melosa kept a stern look but there was a proud glow in her eyes.

Solari looked over at Velasca and giggled at the furious expression on Velasca's face. She loved it.

Ephiny sighed at Solari's antics but chanted anyway. She too was proud of Gabrielle.

Carefully, Gabrielle removed each of the rocks. She came to the last one, which was rather large but ready to be gone. Gabrielle bent down and wrapped her hands around it. She clenched her stomach muscles, prepared to lift it. Her name continued echoing, and it actually gave her more strength. Just as she began lifting, two bodies formed in front of her, and they were distinctly female. Gabrielle slowly rose up and met the two beautiful faces that she loved the most.

Terreis stood in front of Aphrodite. She smiled broadly when Gabrielle straightened with the last rock in her hands. "You've done it." Tears slipped down her cheeks.

Gabrielle tried holding down her own, but a few tears escaped her eyes. "I did this in your honor, Terreis."

Melosa heard Gabrielle's words over the crowd's roar. She withheld her emotions at the mention of her dead sister's name. She fisted her hands behind her back and waited for Gabrielle to remove the last rock.

Gabrielle had a sad smile then lifted her eyes to the goddess behind her consort.

Aphrodite smiled tenderly at her chosen. She placed her hand on Terreis's shoulder then nodded at her chosen.

Gabrielle swallowed and whispered one last thing to her consort. "I love you."

Terreis held her smile even though her heart ached for Gabrielle. "And I you." She inhaled a shaky breath as Gabrielle turned away with the last rock. Aphrodite's hand tightened on her shoulder, and she knew it was time. She softly promised, "We will meet again, Gabrielle." She faded away with Aphrodite once Gabrielle set the rock down on the other side.

And Gabrielle felt her go. She felt the thin tie be cut between her and Terreis. For a moment, her heart sank low, but she reminded herself that Aphrodite was giving her a new life. Terreis's soul was robbed of life too soon. She silently wished Terreis all the best the next life could give her.

The feverish cheers from the Amazons and Centaurs sliced through Gabrielle's dismay. She turned after putting the last rock down on the new pile. She smiled at seeing Queen Melosa clasp Tildus's arm.

The newly reopened pass filled with clamor and excitement thanks to Gabrielle's labor for the past moon. Amazons mixed with Centaurs and discussed simple things about local news to more complex topics like the infamous Warrior Princess threat. Several Amazons and Centaurs clapped Gabrielle on the back or shoulder and thanked her. Tildus was the most appreciative to Gabrielle and insisted she visit the Centaur nation soon.

Eventually, Gabrielle snuck away from the crowd and found a quiet overhead spot on the cliff, near the pass. She sat on a boulder along the edge and admired her people socializing with the Centaurs. She sadly smiled at her accomplishment. But her thoughts slowed from the warm tingle across her chest.

Aphrodite glimmered for a few heartbeats until her form became solid next to Gabrielle on the boulder. She too had a smile at the happiness down in the pass. She then dragged her eyes over to her chosen.

Gabrielle propped up her legs on the boulder then rested her arms across her knees. She sighed contently. "Will the next life be better for her?"

Aphrodite bowed her head. "It will," she softly promised. She stretched out her arm and curled her fingers over Gabrielle's hand. "I'm proud of you, Gabs."

Gabrielle weighed the goddess's praise. She was warmed by it and also felt lighter now. She was moving forward finally and not being drawn into the darkness further. "I thought going after Xena was a mistake." She met the goddess's bright blue eyes. "Maybe it was the best thing."

Aphrodite squeezed the smaller hand. "You will be stronger from this."

"I already am." Gabrielle gazed upon the people below until distant footsteps caught her ear.

"Good luck with Big Feathers," Aphrodite teased before she faded away.

Gabrielle released a low huff. From the corner of her eye, she saw Big Feathers, Queen Melosa, weave along the path up to her.

"Hello, Gabrielle." Queen Melosa easily occupied Aphrodite's spot. She canted her head and studied the tired Amazon's softened features. Like Gabrielle, she was happy that the pass was reopened and their relations with the Centaurs could continue to grow. It was exactly what Terreis had wanted before her untimely death.

"You have done well," Melosa commented, "And you finished sooner than I expected."

Gabrielle smiled at the queen's rare compliment. She nodded and said, "It was less a punishment and more of an honor, my queen."

Melosa mirrored the smile at Gabrielle's returned positive light. She had feared it had died with Terreis. The pass's reopening not only strengthened the Centaur relations but also Gabrielle. "You have saved face among our people." From gossip, Melosa learned many Amazons held renewed faith in Gabrielle. There were still doubters and perhaps more time would aid those few.

Gabrielle swallowed against the formed lump in her throat. A heaviness rolled off her shoulders, and she released a breath.

"Tonight we will celebrate many things," Melosa whispered. She slid off the stone and squeezed Gabrielle's shoulder before she quietly left. She had much to plan for tonight's celebration including reinstating Gabrielle's caste as Amazon. She greatly looked forward to it. Her hopes were renewed, especially for her people if Gabrielle continued on the right path.

 

To be continued.