Black Lily

In the Hall of the Mountain Queen (Part 01)

The Usual Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Argo belong to MCA, Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The rest belongs to our collective unconscious and is most likely not actionable. No copyright infringement is intended, etc., etc.

This is a story that has within it several versions of a love story. This love story is between two women and may have some graphic scenes of sex and/or violence. If this offends or you are underage, I wish you no ill-will and would like to have you feel the same way. We can part amicably right here and remain friends.

This story is, at least in part, an Uber-Xena story. I would like to thank all those who have pioneered the Uber-Xena genre, especially Bat Morda, for inspiration.

I can be emailed at yuricon@gmail.com and I love positive feedback.

May the Immortal Gods bless us all.

 

In the Hall of the Mountain Queen

 

Prologue

 

Gabrielle pushed aside the loose curtain that blocked the doorway of the cabin. She passed through, but held the cloth until she felt Xena take hold of it. The bard stepped into the room and glanced around curiously. She had expected it to be small, dark and smelly, but was surprised to find the room airy and light, although it was indeed small. She looked around but saw no signs of life. She did see piles of scrolls, books and various interesting oddiments laid about in haphazard piles.

“Hello? Excuse me?” She called gently. There was some movement in the next room, and another hanging was pulled aside. A surprisingly large woman moved lightly into the front room, casting a pleasant smile in front of her in greeting.

“Hello there.” She answered. “Welcome to my humble home. I am Hebe, how can I help you?” The woman stepped into the light and Gabrielle was startled to notice her flame-colored hair was all tied in small, delicate braids, many with beads and ornaments woven into them. Even woven, her hair hung long down her back and chest. The woman’s freckled face was open, friendly, with disconcertingly blue eyes that seemed to laugh at some inner joke.

Gabrielle smiled in return. “I’m Gabrielle, and this,” she waved behind her, knowing full well that Xena had taken up a position by the door, “is Xena.” The bard paused. The freckled face looked at her, blankly welcoming and Gabrielle was surprised at her lack of reaction to the fearsome warrior’s name.

Hebe laughed. “By your dramatic pause I guess I should react in some way. Is that right?”

Gabrielle nodded. “I assumed you’ve heard of Xena. I thought everybody had.” She was at a loss to explain this non-reaction.

“Oh, I’ve heard of her. But I haven’t ever met her. So I have nothing to react to, yet. Why don’t you sit down and make yourselves comfortable?” Hebe gestured to several cushions on the floor. Gabrielle glanced at her companion, who shook her head once and gestured for her to sit. The bard did so, arranging cushions until she was comfortable. Hebe was moving around, gathering cups and herbs, preparing to prepare tea. She looked over her shoulder at Gabrielle.

“So, what is it that I can do for you, Gabrielle?” There was no impatience in her voice, just curiosity.

The bard thought for a moment. “I, we, heard that you are a seer of truth, a…,”

“Witch?” Hebe’s smile was infectious. Gabrielle returned it.

“Oh, well, that’s only because I am.” Hebe waved away any negativity the word had acquired. “So, you want me to tell you the future?”

Gabrielle glanced up at the silent warrior, wondering what she thought of this woman. The blue eyes met hers and rolled, just a little. Hebe handed the bard a cup and then the warrior, then sat among her own set of cushions.

Gabrielle sipped. “Oh, this is lovely! Just what I wanted, mint tea.” She looked into Hebe’s laughing eyes and relaxed completely. “No, we don’t want to know the future. I just wondered if there was anything we should know. Past, present or future. Our lives, Xena’s and mine, are, um, uncertain and the road is sometimes hard. I wondered if there was something we might need to know.”

Hebe nodded. She looked frankly at the warrior, who still stood in the corner, apparently at ease. Xena nodded and held up the cup.

“Are you always this silent, or only when you wish to project distrust?” The seer said quietly to the warrior. “Do you also want to know?”

Xena shrugged. “This was Gabrielle’s idea….” She stopped, at a loss for a moment.

Hebe picked up the thread, “…and what the young bard wishes, the warrior grants. Uh-huh. Well, that is something. Okay, I have what you need.” She motioned Xena to join them. This time the tall woman consented. When her long legs were arranged to her liking, Hebe went on. Her eyes closed partially, but she scrutinized her guests from under her lids.

“There are two types of joining.” She spoke evenly, calmly, with no sign of oracular madness or other divine touch. “There is the one we celebrate for this lifetime, or a portion of a lifetime. It is generally based on political, social or economic need. Love may come, but not always. In the far north, they celebrate this match as a lunar joining. It is in effect for a year and day, then can be renewed or broken with no ill will. Here, we have no such freedom, but the idea is the same. Two people joined for reasons other than love. The second joining is different. It is called a solar joining in the north, and exists not just during this one lifetime, but throughout time. We Hellenes have no such thing, but occasionally, despite our customs,” she smiled, “this type of joining happens. Usually against common sense and families wishes, of course.” She glanced at Gabrielle, who was mesmerized by the woman’s voice, so soothing, yet not soporific. This was a guide one could follow back from the dead, the bard thought.

“Of course, Gabrielle, you know this – how many of your tales are based on this theme of timeless love?” Hebe sipped at her drink. “Do you see where I’m going here?” She teased. Gabrielle nodded eagerly, her eyes shining, Xena was more reticent, but her free hand was laid gently on the bard’s thigh.

“It seems like a good thing, to be joined forever. But think on it. Life after life after life, joined together, for better or worse. The same expressions, the same gestures, the same maddening habits. Millenia from now, there you are, a slug on a rock and you turn around, only to find that once again, there is your partner, another slug on the same rock.” By now all three were smiling with equal amusement. Even Xena seemed to have let her last reserve of caution go.

Hebe leaned back. “So there you are. You’re two slugs on a rock. That’s the wisdom you’ve come to get.” Her smile had no meanness, but her words were barbed. Gabrielle decided she was in no position to determine if she had been made fun of – this woman was too subtle for her. They sat companionably, as Hebe asked a few questions of her guests.

Making ready to go, Gabrielle asked Hebe what they owed her. The woman looked startled at the question. “Owe me? You don’t owe me anything. When I do something for you, then you pay me. I didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know.”

Gabrielle was about to protest, but thought better of it. She reached out an arm, that was grasped firmly. “Hebe, if you ever need us, just let us know. We have things we can not do for you, as well.” The two red-heads smiled at one another. Xena thanked Hebe and the travelers took their leave.

As they walked down the path, Gabrielle asked, “What do you think of Hebe?”

Xena muttered, “Two slugs on a rock, huh?” and the bard giggled.

“Seriously…”

The warrior was silent for a moment. “She served me a tea I had had before.”

The bard looked up at her companion and waited.

“In Chin.” The sentence was spoken with no inflection. The two women walked in silence.

Gabrielle pondered. “And she served me mint tea.”

“And you said it was just what you wanted.”

The bard nodded. “It was, I had just been thinking about mint tea this afternoon.”

It was Xena’s turn to nod. “And I had been thinking about Chin.”

“Oh.” The bard said, awed.

They walked down the path towards the hills, each lost in their own thoughts.

 

Chapter 1

 

“Are you going to be alright?” Gabrielle asked for the umpteenth time. Her leg was pounding and she needed distraction. Anyway, she defended herself, it’s obvious Xena’s hurt.

Xena gritted her teeth before replying. “I’m fine, Gabrielle – stop worrying. It was only a scratch. Really.” She knew it was futile to continue this line of thought, so she tried to distract the bard. “How about you? You took a pretty bad blow back there.” The warrior tried to turn around to look at her friend, but her wound limited her movement.

“I’m fine, Xena.” The bard was sulking. She hated this feeling of being a sack tied onto Argo’s saddle. On the other hand, she did like riding behind Xena. I must be tired. I’m most definitely cranky. I wonder when we’re going to get to wherever it is that we’re going? ”Really, I feel I could walk just fine now. Why don’t you let me down and I’ll…”

Xena shook her head. “No way. You’ve got a broken bone. There’s no way I’m letting you walk.”

“And you shouldn’t be riding. Why is it that…” Gabrielle cut herself off in mid-harangue as Xena lifted a hand to silence her. The bard heard a low snuffling noise coming from the woods on the side of the path.

“Did you hear that?” the warrior tilted her head. “It’s coming from down there.” she pointed off the road, down a short embankment. “Wait here.” Gabrielle huffed with impatience. Like she could do anything else. Xena had lifted her onto Argo’s back and tied her leg up to a stick. The bard was effectively immobilized. And seriously annoyed.

Gabrielle looked up as Xena came back through the woods carrying something. Something heavy. A body. The bard’s annoyance increased as she realized she could not help the warrior with her burden. Xena slung the body over the saddle and took Argo’s reins in one hand. She began to lead the horse along the road.

Gabrielle said nothing. Xena’s face as she returned with the body had been pale and tight. The bard knew enough to wait her friend out. Not much got through Xena’s mental armor, so if this did, it must have been pretty bad. Bad enough that the warrior did not want to upset her with it.

The young woman leaned forward to look at the unconscious form laying limply in front of her. She caught glimpses of a blood covered face, but not much else. the clothes were poor, but well made. No insignia or mark was visible. Gabrielle sat back, no more informed now than before about the man in front of her.

“He was with a retinue of soldiers. They had all died to save him.” Xena’s voice was cold. Gabrielle ached to touch the warrior, draw the story and the tension out of her friend, but was confined to her position on Argo. She silently cursed her broken bone. There was blood seeping along Xena’s side, Gabrielle noticed. The bard wanted to lay a comforting hand on the warrior, to sit her down and tend her wounds, but she did nothing. There was nothing to be done, or said, until Xena allowed it. Gabrielle sensed that the man’s condition worried Xena far more than her own.

“How much longer?” Gabrielle asked quietly, not wanting to be perceived as whining. “This man needs help, and pretty soon.”

“We’re almost there. The entrance is just around this corner and into the mountain pass. And Queen Dione knows we’re coming.” Xena sounded tired, more than she had before the appearance of the wounded stranger.

“How do you know she knows? You didn’t send a message, did you?” Gabrielle couldn’t imagine when the warrior could have done so. They had left Tiryns about a week ago, spent all their nights on the road and only come into town today, where they had been attacked by raiders. My leg aches, Gabrielle thought, it’s making me stupid. I must have just missed Xena sending the message.

“No. Queen Dione always knows when someone’s coming.” Xena answered with a small, knowing smile.

“Oh.” Gabrielle shut her mouth with a snap.

 

Chapter 2

 

Queen Dione rose from her seat. She clapped her hands. “We will be having guests. Prepare three rooms.” She paused and smiled. “Two rooms. One for two people. And we will need the chirurgeon. Quickly – there are grave wounds to tend.”

Servants and retainers bowed and moved with alacrity. They were used to their Queen and knew her powers. And they were proud of her. She kept them free from violence and hatred. Many of her most loyal retainers had fled from other kingdoms, only to find themselves welcomed here as if they had been long lost kin. No place was Olympus, but this place was close. If their Queen ordered them to prepare for guests, the guests would be made welcome.

Dione pondered her vision. Dreaming before the altar she had seen many things. Some were, some are and some would be. Xena she knew. They had met in this past and others, as well, but this girl, now, she *was* interesting. Xena’s thoughts were filled with her. More interesting, she filled many of the future Xena’s’ thoughts. Well, she would know more when she had met the young woman and could dream her dreams, as well. In this now, she had wounded to take care of. She began collecting supplies into a convenient place, gave the healer his instructions and awaited her guests.

 

Chapter 3

Xena turned the corner and headed into a seemingly impenetrable ravine. Gabrielle was lost within seconds, but she valiantly tried to sight landmarks as they passed. In a few moments they came to a clearing. The rocks seemed to sheer away into a limitless height and Gabrielle became dizzy looking at them. She tore her eyes away and watched as Xena left Argo and moved forward to greet a woman moving towards them. The bard openly gaped at the matron who approached. In her late forties, the Queen was dazzingly beautiful, her grey hair bound at her neck, her face filled with wisdom and depth that shone forth like a torch. She and Xena spoke briefly and the Queen looked up at Gabrielle. Her grey eyes were filled with a clear light that held the bard captive. This was a Queen to die for. Purple robes shimmered in the sun as the Queen moved forward to greet the young woman.

“Gabrielle.” Dione’s voice was low and melodic. Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to lay before her in obeisance.

“Your Majesty.” The bard tried to loosen her leg from the saddle and speak at the same time.

Dione laughed. “Don’t worry yourself on my account. There will be plenty of time for formalities later. Besides which,” Dione’s eyes twinkled with merriment. “you are yourself a Queen. I should just as much lay myself before you in welcome.” Once again, the bard gaped in wonder. Two retainers leapt forward to assist Gabrielle off the horse and two more took the still unconscious form from the saddle. The bard, leaning heavily on her staff and trying not to show discomfort, limped over to where Xena was standing.

“Our healer awaits. Please come this way.” Dione led the way into a spacious and well-lit hall. Gabrielle wondered at the light that dazzled and shone around her. “It’s so bright here. I would have thought, well, that it would be dark.”

Xena nodded. “It’s done with angles and prisms. The whole palace is designed by Daedalus. He’s a real genius.” The warrior was holding her side, but made no noise of discomfort as she was led to a bench and motioned to be seated. Gabrielle sat next to her, her leg arranged awkwardly before her.

“*THE* Daedalus? Daedalus of the Minoan labyrinth?” Gabrielle could not believe her ears.

Again Xena nodded. “When his son Icarus died, Daedalus was a wreck. He came to Dione for healing. As payment, he built her this palace. I met him when I was here last, but I don’t know if he’s still here.”

Gabrielle gave a low whistle. “Wow. Daedalus. I bet he has some stories to tell…” Xena smiled at that, but said nothing. Two young healers approached and led the women to raised pallets, covered in clean linen. Gabrielle arranged herself and a young man with a serious face unwrapped her leg. He felt it gently, probing for fractures and swelling. Gabrielle was surprised at the gentleness of his touch. Or actually at the memory of Xena’s gentle touch that it aroused. She wandered off into thoughts about the hard warrior princess, how hands that dealt death could also save lives. She was in the beginning stanzas of a new poem when the healer’s voice brought her back into the present.

“Who set this? It was well done. I can find no weakness in it. With the blessing of the Gods, you will walk again, with no deformity or weakness.”

Gabrielle beamed at him. “Really? Great! I didn’t realize how worried I was, until you said something.” She noticed he was looking at her quizzically. “Oh, um, Xena set it.” She motioned to the next pallet where Xena was in the final stages of having her armor removed. He looked over at the warrior and back.

“She did it? But she’s a warrior.” The healer looked genuinely puzzled.

The bard leaned forward to catch his eyes. “Who better to know the extent of damage a warrior can do? She heals now what in the past she has hurt.” The young man’s face cleared and he nodded. With a few deft strokes he had rewrapped the leg and fixed a new binding to it.

“Stay off the leg for a while, if you can. Our Queen has said you may rest here as long as you need or like. Come back in a fortnight and I’ll look at it again. Just ask for Gelonus.” He smiled at the bard and patted her on the leg.

Now that her wound had been tended, Gabrielle felt herself overwhelmed with concern for her lover. She hadn’t seen the ax that had cut Xena, but she had seen the man wielding it. The blow had knocked Xena off her feet, but the strong warrior had recovered almost immediately. The axman had made a very satisfying sound as he hit the ground, all 7 feet of him. At the time, Gabrielle had been too preoccupied with her own opponent to notice Xena’s wound. After the fight, the warrior would not allow the bard to touch her, insisting they get back on the road immediately.

Gabrielle walked over the Xena’s pallet and watched as a healer washed the crusted blood away from the wound. The bard noticed the skin twitching in irritation, but no sign of pain crossed the warrior’s stoic face. Gabrielle sighed inwardly. It would be nice if Xena didn’t always have to be tougher than oak. Without thinking, Gabrielle reached out to put a hand on the dark hair that cascaded over one shoulder and stroked the raven hair that lay on the pallet. Xena looked up and smiled at her touch.

The healer began stitching up the wound and Gabrielle glanced at it over his shoulder. It wasn’t deep, just long. By Xena’s standards, it really was just a scratch. The bard felt relieved, but asked the healer for his opinion.

Gelonus spoke as he sewed. “It’s not deep, but it was a strong blow that landed it. I expect your friend’s feeling pretty bruised – she may even have a cracked rib. That’s more painful than this scratch.” Xena nodded in agreement. Gelonus finished up bandaging wound and ribs, gave Xena some salve and some advice and left them to assist with the unconscious man Xena had rescued. Gabrielle helped Xena sit up, took the salve from her hand and looked around.

“I don’t know about you, but I could use some food.” The bard said brightly. The smile that rose to Xena’s face made Gabrielle color with pleasure.

“Then we’d better get you fed. We wouldn’t want you dying from malnourishment.” As they stepped away from the pallets two servants entered the chamber. One headed directly for them, one, burdened under a heavy load of medical supplies headed for the third occupied pallet. Xena turned towards the servitor and gestured over her shoulder. “Will he live?”

The servant, a man of middle years, shrugged. “He may yet. His injuries are mostly internal. The healers will want to speak with you about him. There may be things you can tell them…”

Xena cut him off. “I can’t tell them anything. I found him, he wasn’t dead. That’s all I know.” Gabrielle looked up at the sharpness in the dark warrior’s voice. The servant opened his mouth, then closed it again. He motioned to the women.

“Please follow me. The Queen has had food and clothing laid out for you in your chamber. She sends the message that you are to rest first, then she will see you.”

**********

Dione finished her ablutions and took the towel from her assistant. After drying herself thoroughly, she stepped into the robe being held out for her. Her hair was unbound, flowing like silver water over her back. When her preparations were done, she dismissed the servants and acolytes and proceeded alone to her couch. She lay down, ready to dream of her guests, these strange and beautiful women who had come to her domain.

Her eyes closed as she recited the formula in praise of Mnemosyne. The world grew dim and dark. Grey mist swirled around her ankles and she was drawn forward into the fog. A light grew in the center of the mist and the Queen headed towards it. One more step and she found herself in a hideous place, hot and foul…

 

Gabby drew her sleeve along her forehead, wiping off the sweat. She hated this part of her job, she hated this job…

“Just a few more months, then….” Graduating college, then, and a job as a journalist. She couldn’t wait. Gabby counted the days before graduation, adding another garbage bag to the dumpster for each week left. She wiped her hands on her jeans and jumped at the sound of another voice.

“I said, are you done out there? I want to lock the door.” Ami raised her voice this time, which perversely annoyed Gabby.

“I’m not deaf, Ami. Just one more load and I’m done.”

“I’ll help. I’m not happy about you being out there alone. Ever since that girl went missing…” Ami’s slight British accent came back with the slang. Gabby smiled at her fellow employee.

“It’ll be okay. But I’d appreciate the help. This is the worst part of the job. And the lighting out here is worse than nothing, because it makes it impossible to see what’s out there.” Gabby gestured at the dark, entered the store and headed for the pile of tied bags.

As the two girls grabbed the last of the garbage and headed out into the darkness behind the store, they chatted about the night’s customers. Gabby threw one bag in, waited for Ami to heave her bag into the overful bin and leaned down to grab her last bag, a heavy one. A hand covered her mouth. She stiffened in annoyance, thinking it was Ami playing a childish prank. A smell of alcohol wafted towards her nosed and she gagged. A voice rasped right behind her ear.

“Don’t fight and you won’t get hurt. Heros die young, y’know.” The voice laughed harshly. She struggled, but the hands that gripped her were too tight. Gabby searched wildly for Ami out of the corner of her eye, but was unable to see her friend.

“Don’t you worry about your little friend. She’s very well-behaved.” The hands roughly forced Gabby towards an even darker section of the parking lot. This section was practically invisible from the erratic lighting, but Gabby could still make out the shape of a van. She didn’t know if she was being abducted, but she wasn’t about to get into that van. Panic started to rise, a scream built within her, fighting with anger for air. The scream rose in pitch, threatening to burst out of her head.

Gabby picked both her feet up at the same time, and as her captor stumbled she thrust them both down on the ground and pushed. The scream rose to an unbearable pitch, and as she was about to let it out, Gabby realized that it wasn’t a scream at all. It was the whine of an engine at full throttle. She turned her head in the direction of the noise and saw Ami, limp in the arms of a large man in dark clothes. Then she saw the reflection of a light off of a large motorcycle. A large, black motorcycle, approaching them at top speed. In the thick, hot, August air, she could barely make out the rider, also clothed in black. The man who held Ami dropped her and began to run towards the van. The motorcycle came up behind him, and he dropped to the pavement without a sound. Gabby hadn’t even seen the rider move. The bike rode off and Gabby felt the hands tightening around her once again, She pulled a leg up, ready to kick, when the whine of the bike began to grow. This time the hands let go completely and Gabby sagged in relief. The man who had grabbed her stood, open-mouthed and still, as the bike came alongside her captor. The rider lifted an arm and the man sank to the ground like a deflated balloon. Once again the bike disappeared from sight.

 

Gabby found herself staring up at the orange-tinted black sky, damning the makers of sodium lighting. She blinked and sat up. She looked at her hands and inexplicably, they began to shake. She couldn’t understand why they were doing that. A moan interrupted her thought and she looked around. She saw Ami, motionless on the ground. *Who was moaning?* she wondered, until another groan escaped her lips. She sat on the asphalt, rocking, until a movement from Ami brought her back to the present. Whatever shape she was in, she was better off than her friend.

Gabby walked over to Ami, and found the girl looking back at her, confused, but alert. “What happened?” Ami asked, looking around.

“I’m not sure. I think two guys tried to abduct and rape us.” The words were out before Gabby could stop them. Ami looked ill, but she didn’t faint again.

The two girls leaned on each other and got up from the ground. Slowly they made their way to the store’s back door. They sat on the stoop for a moment and caught their breath. Ami looked puzzled.

“What happened? I mean, if two guys tried to…then why aren’t we…? What happened?” Ami tried weakly. Gabby smiled, equally as weakly.

“Do you believe in knights on chargers?” She looked Ami in the eyes. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Go get your stuff and I’ll drive you home.” She motioned for the younger woman to leave her. Ami stood up shakily, took a deep breath and headed into the store. Gabby sat, her head in her hands, and tried to make some sense of the events. Shock and panic made it difficult and incredulity made it downright impossible. She tried to arrange the facts as a journalist would, but the facts she had sounded like they came from a cheap novel.

“Are you okay?” The voice startled Gabby almost out of her skin. She jumped to a standing position, her eyes wild.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to scare you.” The voice was low,muffled, and came from within the confines of a full black motorcycle helmet. Gabby found herself taking in the boots, pants, jacket and the visor, all black as the bike itself.

Gabby pulled herself together. “I’m fine. Just shaken up, actually. Uh, thanks. I guess you saved our lives.” Inside her head she was yelling a dozen questions, her internal editor screamed in frustration, but all she could get out was another weak, “Thanks…Mister, um? I guess that makes you a hero, uh, sir.”

The rider laughed and dismounted. As soon as the second boot touched the ground, Gabby found herself mesmerized. The figure before her was lean, long-legged, almost a full foot taller than herself. The rider lifted gloved hands to the helmet and began to remove it. Gabby looked at the small waist and wide shoulders and gasped as a cascade of sable hair fell from the helmet . The rider shook it out, smiled and said , “Wrong on two counts.”

Gabby stared. Now that she knew the rider was a woman, and a beautiful woman at that, she cursed her own stupidity. The rider slowly lifted a gauntlet and held it out. Gabby pulled her eyes away from the figure in front of her and lowered them to the hand. A slow moment later she realized what the hand meant and she reached her own to clasp it.

“You must think I’m a complete idiot.” Gabby had not meant to speak out loud.

The rider laughed melodiously, then became quiet and serious. “No, I think you’re in shock. You should get some fluids and some sleep, in that order.”

Gabby kept looking at this woman in front of her, trying to make the story come together.

“Actually you should both go to the hospital, but that would mean a police report and …”

“No.” Gabby was firm. She had noticed that the men who had attempted to abduct them had not yet moved, and she concluded that they weren’t about to. Ever again.

The rider nodded. “Be careful then. Get your friend and go home.”

Gabby realized that she still held the woman’s hand. She quickly let go and blushed. The rider put the helmet back on her head and remounted the bike. Just as she went to start it Gabby quickly interrupted, putting a hand on her arm. The rider looked at the hand, which Gabby jerked away.

“Wait….what’s your name?” The soon-to-be journalist finally managed around a dry mouth.

“Alex.” The engine was turned on with a beautifully tuned purr. As Alex began to pull away, Gabby spoke loudly, trying to be heard over the engine.

“I’m Gabby.”

The bike turned, and with a small wave, both bike and rider disappeared into the hot night again.

Gabby stood, not knowing if she had been heard. “Alex,” she repeated.

She retreated into the store, found Ami and drove the girl home. It wasn’t until she pulled into her own apartment lot when a thought occurred to her. How had Alex snuck up on her like that, with such a loud bike? That thought, and many others kept her awake for most of the night.

In the darkness, outside the apartment building,sat a shadow. A rider in black on a black motorcycle watched until the lights in a particular apartment went off. Then the rider started the bike, and pulling out of the lot, quietly spoke to herself. “Gabby.”

 

Dione awoke to find herself smiling. “I think,” she said aloud to no one in particular, “that these two are going to be very interesting guests.”

 

Chapter 4

 

“Good morning sleepyhead.” The chipper voice penetrated into Gabrielle’s mind like a seagull’s raucous cry. She opened one eye up to see the smiling face of her early-rising companion. Her eye closed.

“This won’t work out Xena. All eternity with a morning person? I can’t do it.” She moaned and tried to roll over, protectively clutching the covers to her body. Xena chuckled softly and sat next to the bard. Strong hands massaged Gabrielle’s neck, finding tense places with ease. Gabrielle sighed contentedly and squirmed her body closer to Xena’s, placing her head against the warrior’s thigh. One hand snaked out from beneath the covers and began stroking the muscles in the thigh. Gabrielle moaned again and kissed the leg where her lips touched it. Gabrielle felt Xena’s hands move around her, turning her over and lips pressing firmly against her own. She sighed again this time with more energy.

The bard threw her arms around her lover, drawing the tall warrior in closer for a long and lingering kiss. When they parted Gabrielle yawned and stretched luxuriously and opened her eyes fully to see her lover watching her, smiling hugely.

“Okay, maybe I *can* do it.” The bard laughed and sat up. Xena stood, pulled two chairs over to a small table and sat on one of them. A tray of food and drink was already on the table. Gabrielle maneuvered herself out of the bed and hopped into the other chair.

“How’s the leg?” Xena asked around a mouthful of fresh bread.

“Fine, it hardly bothers me. How’s the ribs?” Gabrielle returned around a mouthful of fresh fruit. The food here in Dione’s world was exceptional. *I’m going to have to get healthy soon, or I’m at a real risk of gaining alot of weight here,* the bard thought.

Xena shrugged. “More annoying than painful. I tried to do a light workout this morning,” She held up a hand to forestall Gabrielle’s protest, “but I couldn’t do much without pulling the stitches, so I took it easy.”

“Don’t tell me, I don’t want to hear it.” Gabrielle said firmly. “It was probably just a few bouts with the trainers here and a quick climb up the cliff. Nope,” the bard put her hands over her ears, “I don’t want to know.” Xena just smiled knowingly.

They finished breakfast quickly and Gabrielle got herself bathed and clothed with her usual alacrity.

“Are we formally meeting with Dione today?” The bard asked, as they slowly made their way through the cavern passages.

“As formally as she’ll have us. Dione’s not usually one for formal meetings. More for lavish meals and long baths.”

“A Queen after my own heart.” Gabrielle laughed.

“I would have said the same thing about you,” a melodious voice interjected. Queen Dione stepped forward to greet them, and accompany them to the main hall. She looked at Gabrielle’s bound leg and frowned.

“Really, Xena, I must protest. You may be able to move naturally with a serious wound, but you shouldn’t subject Gabrielle to that…if you had told me, I would’ve sent a palanquin for you.” The bard watched this exchange with surprise. Dione spoke as a teacher to a recalcitrant child. To Gabrielle’s surprise Xena bowed her head.

“You are quite right, your majesty, I didn’t think.” The warrior looked up, her eyes serious. “I’d carry Gabrielle before causing her any pain.”

“I’m really feeling fine. The leg is mending nicely and the binding supports it. If I couldn’t walk, I wouldn’t.” The bard spoke a little defensively. Dione looked at her now, and she felt a bit defensive on Xena’s behalf.

“You would though, you know that. Gabrielle, you don’t know me as Xena does, but you cannot tell me such brave lies as this, and get away with it.” Dione’s eyes radiated good humor and Gabrielle blushed. She shot a glance at Xena, who smiled back.

“Okay, you caught me. I’d crawl a thousand miles over broken glass, broken leg or no, to be with Xena, okay?” All three women laughed at this, and they entered the main hall.

As she heard the intake of breath from the two women behind her, Dione outstretched her arms, turned and said, “Welcome, Gabrielle and Xena, to the Hall of the Mountain Queen.”

 

Chapter 5

The chamber was carved out of sandstone and seemed lit with an inner glow. Murals of thinly carved gemstones glowed with luminesence that seemed to originate behind them. The upper reaches of the cavern the walls almost seemed to be lit with a brilliant sunshine, refracted and reflected from colored surfaces. The effect looked like a rich autumn sunset, lush with color and warm light.

“This is miraculous.” Gabrielle breathed. Xena’s arm snaked around her shoulders, and the bard leaned into her lover’s side.

“Dione, this is truly breathtaking.” Xena agreed. “Daedalus hadn’t started this hall when I was here last…”

The Queen stood regally, robed in colored light, smiling proudly. She pulled the two women by their arms towards a small dais, where two chairs had been placed near a throne of carved dark wood. They sat. Servitors brought food and wine and left them alone in the hall. Dione had said no word, but her smile was communication enough. They were welcome guests here, friends, even family. Gabrielle couldn’t help but think she could live here happily, even more happily than in the Amazon village where she was Queen.

Water trickled lightly over unseen rocks, causing a light music to fill the hall. The three women sat in contented companionship for a time. Finally Dione stirred and smiled at her two guests.

“Royal payment, indeed, for what amounted to a few paltry meals and a place to sleep.”

“Is Daedalus still here?” Xena asked.

Dione shook her head. “He wasn’t content here when the work was done. He left, claiming he need to find someone. I heard that he traveled into the far north – even further than Brittania, but have had no word from him. It’s a shame, his brilliance lights up my every day and I have no way to thank him.

“He always was a loner. Or at least since his son died.” Dione tightened her lips suddenly and looked at Xena. “I’m sorry, it’s not like me to be indiscrete…”

Xena waved away the comment. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

Gabrielle had been looking at the murals. The figures were men and Gods of the earliest stories. “I’ve noticed that the stories seem to deal with the creation of the world and men, very early stuff….” She commented, to change the subject.

“Yes, they are my favorite stories. Daedalus asked me to tell him the stories I loved and he built this hall to tell those stories back to me. He knows how important Memory is to me. He is a kind and gentle man, really.” The Queen gazed with fondness at her hall.

The three women spoke of inconsequentials, of traveling and news of the world for a while. Finally Dione turned to the warrior and her face grew serious.

“We need to speak of the guest you brought with you.”

Xena nodded. “I don’t know who he is…” she began.

“I do.” Dione interrupted. “He is the son of Ioxus, a warlord. His name is Hylas.”

Xena’s eyebrow lifted. “I thought he had disappeared.”

“So did we all.” Dione agreed. “You know what this means. As soon as Ioxus hears that his son was wounded, he will come for him.” She looked grim.

Gabrielle looked askance at the two women before her. “I’ve heard of Ioxus, haven’t I? He’s the warlord who doesn’t take prisoners and accepts no ransom.”

Dione nodded. Xena seemed lost in thought.

When she spoke, the warrior’s voice was steely. “We’ll go as soon as we can. If Ioxus hears that we’re here, he’ll intensify his attacks, assuming we’re protecting his son. Have your healers stabilize the boy and we’ll leave as soon as possible.” Gabrielle voiced her agreement, but Dione waved them both down.

“I think it would be better for us, not worse, if people knew that we were under the protection of Xena, the Warrior Princess. And it might make Ioxus cautious. No, you will not leave. Not until you are both healed.” The travelers immediately began to argue, but the Queen was adamant. “You will not leave.” She said sharply. Gabrielle jumped at her tone. The bard was positive she heard a “click,” as if a door had suddenly shut. Xena looked icily at the Queen, but suddenly relaxed and laughed.

“As always, you know what’s best, Dione. I’ll trust to your superior judgement.”

The Queen smiled dazzingly. “I knew you would. You are not bound here, but I really think you should stay.” She stood and put her hands out to assist the two women to their feet. “I must sleep now, but feel free to wander where and as you will. Ask for anything, and you shall be given it. All here know who and what you are. Fear nothing in my demenses.” And with that she kissed each woman on the cheek and departed out of the chamber by a back passage.

Gabrielle stood, looking at Xena, puzzled. “Sleep?” She said. “It’s only mid-morning.” Xena smiled at her and put out an arm.

“Let’s go for a swim and I’ll explain.”

**********

“You mean she’s a *Titan*?” Gabrielle asked in disbelief. She put her head under the cool water, trying to dispel the cobwebs that were surely clouding her thoughts.

When she came up and shook her hair out, she turned to see Xena sitting calmly in the corner of the rock pool, her breasts floating slightly in the clear water. Gabrielle pulled herself along the ledge and laid her body against the warrior’s.

Xena smiled down at her.

“In a sense, yes. She’s one of the old ones, like the Fates, or the Furies, or her Master, Mnemosyne. Dione’s powers were old when the Greek Gods were young.”

“Hmph.” Gabrielle said. She couldn’t say more, since her mouth was preoccupied with searching out an area just below Xena’s ear. Xena returned the nuzzle and the two spent a moment lost in tasting each other. Reluctantly, Gabrielle removed herself from the pool and her lover. Her leg felt strange and she didn’t want it in a prolonged soak.

As she toweled off, she pondered what she had heard from Xena. The tall warrior had pushed off from the wall and was lazily swimming laps across the pool with a languid stroke. *Trying not to pull the stitches.* Gabrielle noted and hmphed again.

“So what does this have to do with her sleeping?” Gabrielle voiced the thought as Xena surfaced. The bard handed over the towel and watched as the warrior swept the moisture from her skin. Green eyes followed every movement, glinting with pleasure and excitement. Blue eyes looked up and their gazes locked for a moment. Xena handed back the towel and stood as the bard took it and began to, very precisely, very diligently, dry off the warrior’s skin. Each body part recieved the attention of cloth, then lips. Xena’s lips parted and her head lolled back. *I could really get used to this* she thought, as the bard’s touch lightly swept across her ribs and under her breasts.

“Sleep?” The bard reminded her with a light kiss on the lips. The redhead immediately disappeared to dry off her back.

With an effort Xena focused her mind on the question. “She is in service to Memory, Mnemosyne. She dreams to understand people’s memories, their hopes and dreams, their strength and weakness. And to find out what is wrong with them, and to heal them.” She gasped as a hand slipped between her legs.

“Is that why you came here originally? To be healed?” Gabrielle asked from behind Xena. The warrior could feel hands on her back, arms and shoulders.

“When did you get so many hands?” Xena asked, as she caught her breath. Gabrielle laughed lightly. “I was wounded, yes, but more than that, I was lonely. I commanded a huge army and was feared by many, but I was a lonely woman, Gabrielle. Not one of my soldiers, not even those I took to my bed, could assuage the emptiness.”

“How did she heal you? Did she dream for you?” Gabrielle pushed Xena down onto the ledge of the pool and began drying her hair.

“That too.” Xena became still. Gabrielle stopped her motions.

“Oh.” The voice was small.

“Does that upset you?” Xena turned to look at her lover. She was surprised to find the look on Gabrielle’s face was wonder, not disgust.

“Xena, I knew you had had a lot of lovers before me. And I even guessed you had been with women, but really! How many people *did* you sleep with? I’m feeling a bit, um, out of my depth.” The bard joked a little tightly.

“I have only loved two people in my life, Gabrielle. That’s all that counts.” Xena drew the bard around her and onto her lap. The warrior grasped the younger woman’s face gently and kissed her. Gabrielle returned the kiss with a fierceness that surprised Xena. The fierceness was returned, and they found themselves on a woven rug on the floor, driven by their need and their desire for each other.

When she climaxed, Xena called out for Gabrielle, thrashing her body in spasms that shot through her young lover. Gabrielle practically came along with Xena as they rocked back and forth. Xena took Gabrielle in her arms and made sure that the bard knew exactly, to a measure, the depth of her feelings. Gabrielle’s climax was quieter, but no less intense, as they locked eyes through the climax and afterwards as well.

Gabrielle lay on the rug, playing with Xena’s hair. She laughed. “It’s dry, but now its all knots. I’ll have to wet it down again before I braid it.”

Xena turned to Gabrielle, pulled the hand out of her hair and brought it to her mouth. She kissed every finger. “You are the only person to fill the emptiness inside me, Gabrielle. You have to know that. Not Marcus, no one, not even Solon, has made me as complete as you do.”

“I do know it, Xena. And you have to know that I didn’t even realize how much love a person was capable of, until I met you.” She kissed the hand that held hers and gazed into sparkling eyes. “But that still doesn’t make me feel any less inexperienced around you.” She smiled brightly, teasing.

Xena leaned on an arm and looked down at the green-eyed Amazon Queen beside her. “It’s not quantity, its quality that counts.”

Gabrielle rose and took her comb firmly in her hand, motioning for Xena to join her again on the ledge. “Then it’s a good thing that you had a lot of practice before I came along.” She laughed happily at the color that darkened the warrior’s face.