Part 4

Time passes, and things change...for better or worse. Terreis took Eponin as her consort, and they were both very happy. Solari's flirting finally became too much for Ephiny to bear any longer, and they ended up going their separate ways. More time passed. A war with the centaurs was becoming more of a reality every day, and the Amazon Nation was preparing itself....

"My Queen....the rut in the floor will soon be three feet deep if you keep that up..." Ephiny shifted in her seat as she spoke, and patted the chair next to her. "Please rest for a few moments, you will not do any of us any good if you pass out from exhaustion."

Melosa stopped her pacing and turned to the captain of her guard. Sighing, she responded, "Aaaahhh Ephiny...as always you are right." She walked over to the chair and seated herself. "I'm just so on edge...this war seems imminent, and I just can't seem to do anything to stop it." She sighed. "They want our best hunting ground, and if we give that up, the nation will suffer."

Ephiny turned to face her leader. "I know you are doing everything in your power to keep this from happening my Queen, but sometimes there is nothing we can do." She folded her hands on the table. "Despite our best efforts, it seems some things are just meant to be."

A knock sounded on the door frame. "Come." called Melosa.

Eponin moved the curtain aside and entered. "My Queen...the centaurs have sent a messenger." she said, bowing her head.

"A messenger?" The hairs on the back of Melosa's neck were standing straight up. "What is the message."

"They wish to make us an offer."

"An offer, how quaint." The queen stood and crossed her arms. "State the offer."

Eponin unrolled the piece of parchment she had been holding and began to read. "I, Tyldus, King of the Centaurs wish to open negotiations with the Amazon Nation in respects to the hunting ground on their east border. I would be pleased to meet to discuss this issue on neutral ground, each bringing one negotiator and three guards. Follow the path to our shared west border, we will be camped there for two nights. I hope to bring about a peaceful solution to this affair. Signed, Tyldus."

Melosa sighed and turned to Ephiny. "What do you think?"

"I think it's a trap."

"Me too." added the weaponmaster.

"That makes three of us. Question is what do we do about it." She sent up a silent prayer to Artemis, in hopes that the goddess would do something to help them. War was not what she had in mind for the nation during her rule, but it looked like there was no other way if this turned out to be the trap she thought it was. She raised her eyes and prayed...'Artemis, what am I to do? Send me a sign...anything....let me know if this is for the best in the end....'

----------------------------------------------

"Then it's decided."

Melosa whipped around to face her sister. "No, it's not." Her hands went to her hips as she closed the distance between them. "I will not allow you to go Terreis. It's too dangerous."

The redhead's eyes rolled. "My Queen, you cannot go....you know that if you do, something could happen. You belong ruling our tribe, not I." Her eyes cast down to the floor for a moment. "I cannot let that happen...I won't let that happen. It is only right that I should go."

Melosa was doing everything she could to control her anger right then, and she raised a shaking finger to her sister's face. "YOU...." she hissed..."Are NOT expendable!! Don't act as if you are!"

"I am a princess of the Amazon Nation. It is my duty to do this." She crossed her arms as she regarded the queen. "You cannot let the fact that we are sisters stand in the way of doing what is right by the nation. What would that look like to our tribe?"

Melosa could not argue that point. Indeed, if she refused to let Terreis go to meet with the centaurs, it would look like she was coddling the princess. She knew that would not be the best answer for this situation. She glanced up into those sparkling green eyes that were beseeching her to do the right thing. Sighing, she gave in. "Alright, but you take only our best with you."

"Your choices?"

"Ephiny, Eponin and Solari. Take it or leave it." replied the queen.

"Agreed. We'll leave in a candlemark." Terreis turned to go, but was stopped by a hand on her shoulder.

"You know I don't like this one bit....please be careful..." The queen pulled her sister in for a hug. "I love you sister, be well and good luck."

Terreis winked at Melosa. "You know I will." She smiled and was gone.

Melosa just stood there for a moment, trying to figure out why she had this really sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Nope...don't like this at all...." She sat down at her table and put her head in her hands.

----------------------------------------------

Terreis closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Letting it out slowly she stretched her arms over her head. "Aaaaaaah...Pony, isn't it such a great day?"

Eponin lifted her head from where it had been drooping in misery from the heat of the afternoon to gaze at her wife. "If you call riding along with a sweat hut on your back a great day, I guess I would have to say yes." She reached down to peel up a corner of her skirt and flap it wildly, trying to get a breeze going. Glancing ahead, she noticed Ephiny's head snap to one side, then the other. The signal for silence was given, followed by the one to move forward slowly. Terreis and Eponin dismounted silently and crept forward, careful not to snap any stray twigs. As they reached Ephiny and Solari, the blonde pointed through the bushes and down the path.

Pony's eyes narrowed as she spied the warrior and her companion. Cocking her head to one side, she listened for a moment, then pointed up. Into the trees they went, taking positions on either side of the forest trail.

"What was that thing hanging back there from the tree?" Asked the small blonde as she tried out her new walking stick.

"No trespassing signs. This is Amazon country." said the tall, dark warrior beside her."

"Amazons..." Excitement began to creep into the blonde's voice even as the warrior pulled her sword out of the sheath attached to the saddle. "Do you think we'll see any?"

Eponin gave the signal to fire the warning shots.

Eight arrows landed in the ground at their feet. "Almost certainly." replied the warrior, spinning her sword in her hand and plunging it blade first into the ground. She clasped her hands over her head. "Gabrielle..." she said quietly as she motioned with her eyes to follow her lead. The blonde followed suit, and before they knew it four heavily armed amazons were dropping down in front of them. One came forward and spoke.

"You know the Amazon symbol of peace." she said.

"We'd like safe passage through your hunting grounds." replied the warrior woman, as the blonde's eyes went wide with awe and wonder.

The Amazon pushed back her mask and regarded this duo. Her guard did the same. "My name is Terreis. You know the Amazon ways and yet you're not one of us." She glanced at the blonde. "And you're really not one of us."

"Heeey..." she replied. "Don't judge a scroll by its' paper!" (This made Terreis chuckle)

Ephiny spoke up. "They invaded our territory....we should take them to see Queen Melosa."

Terreis eyebrows knit together in thought for a moment. "Ephiny's right. We have to let Melosa decide. Don't worry, she's fair."

Eponin relieved the warrior of her sword, and as she did she made sure the warrior caught her glare as she backed away to stow them on her own mount.

"Going to see the Amazon Queen..." bubbled the little blonde. "This is fantastic! I'm so excited...I wonder what she's like?"

Terreis couldn't supress another chuckle at that comment. "Reminds me of myself a few years ago..." she said to no one in particular. Deciding she wanted to speak more with this young woman, she hurried to catch up.

----------------------------------------

"I want to...read philosophy, and learn about history and science. But they didn't consider me a normal girl." The blonde blushed at her statement.

"Philosophy and history are some of the first things taught to amazon children." replied Terreis.

"Really?"

"It is a man's world Gabrielle. Not because it should be...but because we let them have it. It's based on a woman's weakness."

"Yeah?"

"The Amazon world is based on truth.." continued Terreis as they stopped walking. "On a woman's individual strengths."

"I'm all for that! I've always considered myself a single-minded person." replied Gabrielle. "Of course...if I got married, I'd have to ask my husband if it was ok..."

The Amazon Princess turned a hard stare on the little blonde.

Gabrielle chuckled nervously. "Heh, that was a joke.."

Terreis's eyes softened and her face broke into a smile as they began walking again.

Ephiny was on point, and couldn't help but to turn around and look at this warrior woman every time she had the chance. She was just so beautiful....and dangerous. She stopped next to a tree and let the warrior pass by. (Ok, so sue her for wanting to admire a truly perfect body) As the warrior walked by her she spoke...

"Something about me you find interesting?" she said nonchalantly.

"Yes..." replied Ephiny with a seductive tone in her voice.

"Wanna tell me?"

"No."

"Then stop staring at me before I take your eyes out." said the warrior in barely controlled anger.

They stared each other down for a moment before they both heard the noise. A crackling sound from just ahead and to the right.

"Gabrielle!"

The blonde came rushing over. "What is it?"

At that moment the sky began to fill with arrows. Ephiny yelled as loud as she could..."To the trees! To the trees!" The warrior noticed one of the amazons drop her sword in her scramble to get out of sight, and she picked it up quickly...just in time to ward off a volley of arrows that certainly would have hit Gabrielle.

Suddenly there was a scream as an amazon fell out of the tree, and thumped loudly to the ground below, an arrow portruding from her chest.

"Terreis!" yelled Gabrielle as she sprang into action, racing over to the fallen amazon, and shielding the princess from any more arrows.

As the volley stopped, the warrior ran over to see about the amazon's injury. Xena grimaced...the arrow had pierced her lung. "Don't try to move her..." she warned Gabrielle. "I'll check to see if it's clear." The blonde shook her head, and the warrior ran off into the forest.

Eponin was the first one to the ground, and couldn't move from where she stood. So in shock was she, that the only thing she could manage was "no...no...no..." over and over. She sank to her knees, able only to watch as half of her soul began to slip away.

"Terreis!" shouted Ephiny as she hit the ground running. Solari bolted over to catch Eponin before she fell over. Eph skidded to a halt beside her fallen princess and friend.

Terreis knew her time was short, and she needed to get this out before she passed over. She gasped. Looking at Gabrielle, she spoke haltingly..."You tried to save me..."

"No...don't talk..." replied Gabrielle, trying to keep her quiet and calm til Xena returned.

Terreis continued. "What you did...only an amazon..would do....for another amazon..." A wave of pain rolled thru her body and she grimaced. "I want you to take...my right of caste..."

Ephiny's face registered complete shock. "Terreis!"

The princess met Gabrielle's eyes and pleaded..."Please!"

"A..a.a.a.a..alright, I'll take it..." stammered Gabrielle. "J-just don't...don't..." Her sentence was cut short as Terreis let out her last breath. She looked questioningly up to Ephiny, who's only expression was one of confusion and disbelief. Solari had finally gotten Eponin to her feet and they came up behind Ephiny.

Eponin was clearly distraught. "This can't be real..." she said softly. "She can't leave me..."

Ephiny placed her hand on her best friend's shoulder in support. "She isn't gone Pony...she'll always be in your heart."

Eponin's eyes began to well up with tears, and she bit her lip as she tried to maintain her dignity in front of her fellow amazons. "Ummmm...yeah...of course you're right..." she sniffed and straightened up. "Let's get her home."

Gabrielle turned questioning eyes on Xena as she returned, and the warrior felt the pressure of finding the right thing to say. But nothing seemed right at the moment. All she could do was look back as if to say "I'm sorry...". Gabrielle allowed the amazons to take Terreis from her, and watched solemnly as they gently placed their princess on the back of her horse. Leading their own horses, they slowly began their trek back to the amazon village.

------------------------------------------------

"Awwwww gods Eph! Why me??" Eponin could barely keep the tears back at this point. "Of all the people you could pick for this, why me?" She sniffed. "Why now?"

Ephiny sighed and turned a sad look on her friend. "Pony..." She spat out her next few words..."She is an Amazon Princess whether we like it or not." A pause, then in a calmer tone... "She has to have the best training, and that my friend, is you."

Eponin's chin dropped onto her chest. "Alright, alright. Send her to weapons hut. I'll meet her there."

"Done. Is there anything else you require?" Eponin shook her head no. "Ok then, as soon as Melosa and I have a talk with her, we'll send her by."

"Can't wait..." Ep mumbled under her breath. She sat there for a moment, pondering what horrid crime against the gods she must have done to deserve this. 'I lose my wife to a centaur's arrow, and now I have to train her successor?' And then the tears came. Her shoulders shook violently as the pain and loss finally found a release. After a few long moments, she realized she still had a job to do. Wiping the tears away, she walked over to her basin and splashed some cold water on her face to try to bring down the puffiness that used to be her eyes. "Wouldn't look good for the Weaponmaster to look like a weak-willed crybaby now would it Ep?" she said to herself. Shaking her head sadly, she opened the door and walked out into the bright sunshine. She shielded her eyes with her hand and headed off to meet her new pupil.

-----------------------------------------------

"My Queen....you know I was the next in line for right of caste!" Ephiny's voice was sounding quite whiny at this point and Melosa was beginning to get aggravated.

"Captain...need I remind you of Amazon law?" She cast a stern look toward the blonde walking beside her. Seeing the hurt on her face, the queen's demeanor softened a bit. "I do understand Ephiny, but you know the laws as well as I do. It was Terreis's wish for Gabrielle to have her right of caste...even though we don't understand it, we have to abide by that wish."

Eph's shoulders sagged. "Ok, but I don't like her. She has no skills!"

"And that's what we have Eponin for. Ah, there she is now..." said Melosa. "Let's go have a little chat with her."

Ephiny rolled her eyes as she followed behind her queen. 'This is turning out to be the worst day I have ever had...' she thought as they crossed the compound. 'And if it gets any worse, I'm going to have to run myself through just see if it's all real.' She sighed as she spotted the new princess across the courtyard. 'Well at least Xena is leaving her alone for now. Thank the gods I don't have to deal with her hanging over my shoulder and getting in my business.' By the time she and Melosa reached their destination, a scowl had planted itself firmly across her features. "Gabrielle.." she called out.

The bard turned around at the sound of her name. Seeing the queen approaching, she thought it the most opportune time to get some questions answered. "So are we going to talk about this Right of Caste thing?" She sounded just a bit perturbed about being left in the dark for so long. (just like a bard eh? Always needing to know things yesterday or sooner hehe)

Melosa stopped before the blonde. "With her dying wish, Terreis bestowed all her rights and possessions to you." stated the queen nonchalantly. "And her position."

Gabrielle seemed a bit shocked by this news. "Wait....you mean...I'm an Amazon...?" (Actually she was entirely intrigued.)

"Terreis was my true sister...the next in the royal line." A pause. "You're an Amazon Princess." Turning to Ephiny, she continued. "Make sure she's taught." With that she walked away, leaving Gabrielle in a state of confusion and disbelief.

All Ephiny could think of at the moment was tearing this poor excuse for an Amazon limb from limb. She took a breath and tried to relax, but all she managed was to purse her lips in anger and frustration, and glare coldly at the little blonde. Summoning all the strength of will that she could muster, she spoke...."Follow me."

"Where are we going?" asked Gabrielle as they headed towards what looked like a weapons hut.

It took all of Ephiny's self control not to turn around and beat her to within an inch of her life. In fact, just the sound of her voice was irritating her beyond anything she had ever experienced before....even more than sand in her breeches. "I'm taking you to Eponin. She will be your teacher."

"Eponin? Which one is she?" asked the bard.

Eph stopped so quickly that Gabrielle slammed right into her backside. "Oooops...sorry...heh" stammered the bard.

The captain turned around and affixed a cold stare upon her smaller charge. "She...was Terreis' consort. She has agreed to train you despite the obvious futility of this endeavor."

She turned to continue walking, but Gabrielle's next words stopped her dead in her tracks...

"Now you just wait a minute Ephiny." She walked right up to the captain and tried her best to stand taller as she spoke, like she had seen Xena do so many times. "I didn't ask for this...all I was doing was trying to save her." She raised her left hand and stuck her index finger right in Ephiny's face. "And I don't need the likes of YOU making this any harder for me than it already is!" She lowered her arm.

Ephiny was fuming at the insolence before her. "Then YOU..." (This time it was her finger in the bard's face)..."shouldn't have taken Terreis' right of caste before you knew what it entailed!"

"Oh...as if I had a choice." The bard blew out a frustrated breath. "Need I remind you she was dying? Need I remind you that there WAS no time to discuss the logistics of the situation?" She crossed her arms. "Put yourself in my boots Ephiny...what would you have done?" She pushed past the captain and walked the last few yards to the weapons hut and entered, leaving Ephiny standing there with mouth hanging open and contemplating the words she was left with.

"Yup..." said Eph to no one in particular. "I'm a centaur's ass." She began heading towards the dining hall, scowling all the way. Even though she still didn't like Gabrielle, she had to respect the way the girl had stood up to her. Deciding to reserve her judgement of Xena's companion for a later date, she changed direction and headed back the way she had come...towards the Queen's quarters.

----------------------------------------------

Gabrielle was happily chatting away to Solari and Eponin as Ephiny strode purposefully in. "Come....now." she said, a cold edge in her voice.

The blonde gave her an admonishing look. "I'm sorry...you must have me mistaken for a pet." she said, shaking her head.

Ephiny rolled her eyes. "Would you come with me?" She rephrased.

Gabrielle shook her head. "That's better!" and stepped down off the dressing pedestal.

As the bard walked toward her, she caught the "Oh gods thank you for saving me" look from Eponin, and could only wonder what kind of torture this was for the poor weaponmaster. Nonetheless, she knew they had their jobs to do. "From birth, every amazon is taught to use weapons...pick your first weapon." she said as calmly as she gestured toward the array on the wall.

Gabrielle stepped forward and began to peruse the assortment. "Noooo i don't like swords..." she commented as she passed them by. "Can't hit the side of a cyclops with a bow and arrow..." Then she saw something that caught her eye. "Ahhhhh what's this?" she inquired as she picked up some sort of ornate stick.

"That's a fighting staff." said Ephiny as she took the weapon from the bard. "Eponin?" She turned and tossed the staff to the weaponmaster, who promptly began an impressive display of spins and attack maneuvers.

Gabrielle was in awe, shaking her head up and down in respect.

"Your training begins now." said Ephiny matter-of-factly. "Eponin, take her outside and make sure she knows how to use the staff."

"As you request." replied Pony as she motioned for the bard to follow her.

----------------------------------------------

"No Gabrielle, countersundial-wise!" snapped Eponin, her patience growing slim as the small blonde clobbereded herself in the head yet again with the training staff.

"Ow!" The bard blew her bangs out of her eyes. This was tough, but she was loving every minute of it. 'I'll really have something to show Xena when she comes back!' she thought to herself as she reset her staff to the beginning position. 'Maybe she'll finally respect me a little...' She watched intently as Eponin demonstrated the move yet again. She began the kata and was almost all the way through before she lost control of a spin and clunked herself right in the noggin for the umpteenth time.

Eponin scowled.

Gabrielle noticed the look of frustration on the weaponmaster's face. Leaning on her staff, she cocked her head at the brunette. "Eponin...can we talk for a moment?"

Now this was not something Pony was expecting, but she did manage to look semi-composed. "Whatever you wish Princess."

The bard frowned. "First of all..." she said as she leaned her staff against the nearest hut, "I'm really not comfortable with the 'Princess' thing, so you can just call me Gabrielle." She smiled warmly at Eponin.

"Yes Prin...errrr I mean Gabrielle." Pony raised her eyes, meeting her trainee's, and was instantly drawn into the warmth coming from this little bard. She smiled back.

"Good! Now that that's out of the way!" She closed the distance between them and took a spot next to the weaponmaster. "Secondly..." (Eponin held her breath) "I just want you to know that I truly appreciate you teaching me all this." (Eponin's eyes went wide with astonishment) The bard gestured to the weapons leaning next to them. "I know it must be so hard for you to do this..." Gabrielle held up her hand before Eponin could speak. "Please...let me finish." The brunette shook her head. "Thanks. Anyways..." The blonde moved to stand in front of her teacher. "Ephiny told me that you were Terreis' consort. I know how strange you must feel at having to see me dressed in her clothes, and having to teach me how to fight...but I want you to know that I will do my best not to shame her memory." She placed her hand on the weaponmaster's shoulder. "I'm sorry for your loss. Know that in my heart I understand. So please try to bear with me during this learning process...I'll try to make it as easy as I can for you, but by now I'm sure you can tell I have never done this before."

Eponin watched as the blonde chuckled at her own incompetence. 'Amazing...' she thought. 'She's just amazing.' "I can tell..." replied a grinning Pony. "But I think we can work through it."

"Excellent!" gushed the bard. "Shall we try it again?"

"Sure Gabrielle." Eponin reached for her staff. "Assume the position!"

This got another chuckle out of the bard. "Alright....I can do this...Again!"

Eponin went through the kata once more, and Gabrielle watched intently. She began the maneuver...only a couple more swings and she would be through it without a hitch...CLUNK!..."Ow!" yelped the bard as she rubbed her head. As she looked up, she saw Ephiny approaching. "Oh great!" she said aloud. "Here come the critics!"

Pony couldn't help but laugh at this latest remark. No matter how she tried now, she couldn't dislike this blonde bard. Sighing, she turned to meet Ephiny's greeting.

The captain strode up and pulled the weaponmaster in close for a private chat. "Report."

"She's not bad..." replied Pony with slight shrug. "A little rough..." then leaned in closer and whispered, "She's better than Jalana."

This earned an elbow to the ribs for Eponin, but she still caught the slight smirk upon Ephiny's lips.

Ephiny turned to Gabrielle. "So how are you doing with your training?"

"It's sorta fun when I can keep it going." replied the young bard.

"Gabrielle, war is not a game!" Ephiny threw up her hands in frustration. Gabrielle gulped audibly. The captain paced for a moment, then grabbed her staff and walked over to a nearby horse. What followed was a lesson Gabrielle wouldn't soon forget...one where she finally realized the levity of her present situation. Ephiny finished and walked back over to her. "Still fun?" inquired the blonde.

Gabrielle shook her head no.

"Good." She turned to the weaponmaster. "See that she is bathed before you bring her to lunch."

"Yes Captain." replied Pony. As Ephiny sauntered off she turned to the bard. "Ready for some grub Gabrielle?"

The blonde chuckled. "Oh boy am I ever! I'm starved!"

Eponin laughed heartily. "Alright, let's go then." She gestured ahead of herself. "After you."

"Thank you." smiled Gabrielle as she headed off to the baths with Pony in tow. 'I really like it here...' thought the bard as they crossed the compound. 'I wonder if Xena wouldn't mind staying here for a little while...'

------------------------------------------------

"So it's a regular thing for women to partner with women here?" asked the bard between mouthfuls of stew.

Eponin grinned broadly. "Yes Gabrielle. Although there are some amazons who do partner with men occasionally." She popped a carrot into her mouth as she scrutinized the princess. "That's interesting." replied the bard. Then a serious look came over her face. "Can you tell me about her?"

Eponin stopped in mid chew. She looked up to find innocent green eyes looking at her. She managed to swallow her bite of stew and leaned back in her chair. "Alright." she sighed and her face softened momentarily. "Terreis was the most wonderful person I have ever met. She always believed in finding a person's good points, despite what you might see on the outside." She took a drink of cider before she continued. "She was everything to me...my friend, my confidante, my wife, my lover....my hero...." A tear slowly made its' way down Pony's cheek. "I loved her more than life itself..." Her shoulders sagged and she slid a bit down in her chair.

Gabrielle was crying right along with poor Pony, and went to sit next to her. Circling her arm around the weaponmaster's shoulder, she began to whisper comforting words. Eponin shifted in her chair and leaned into the embrace, beginning to sob uncontrollably into Gabrielle's shoulder. The bard held her till she felt the sobs begin to subside, pulling back a little to see if Pony was ok.

Eponin looked up at her through puffy eyes. "I'm sorry Gabrielle..."

The bard smiled warmly. "There's nothing to be sorry for...I'm just glad I could be here for you."

Eponin smiled back. "Thank you." Her eyes caught a movement near the entrance to the hut. "Ah...there's Ephiny.."

"Oh great!" huffed Gabrielle.

"What?" inquired the weaponmaster. "Haven't you and ol Eph made friends yet?"

Gabrielle shook her head. "Nope...she hates me!"

Pony had to laugh at this one. "Hates you?" She laughed some more. "On the contrary Gabrielle! I have only seen her act like that towards one other person..."

The bard in her couldn't resist asking the question....."Who?"

"Delia."

"Who is Delia?" asked the blonde leaning in closer to Eponin.

"Delia was my consort." replied a voice from over her shoulder.

Gabrielle jumped three feet in the air, so startled was she by Ephiny's voice. Chuckling to herself, Ephiny took a seat on the other side of Gabrielle. "Why were you talking about her?" Her gaze went from Gabrielle to Eponin and stopped there. Eponin's eyes cast down and Ephiny knew she had her culprit. "Pooooonnnnyyyy...." (Eponin gulped) "Spill it, or we will soon be finding out if the old saying of 'You can lead a horse to water...' is true." Ephiny crossed her arms and waited for an answer.

"Pony?" stated Gabrielle. "Did she just call you Pony?" She turned towards the weaponmaster and found her muttering silent curses at the captain behind her back.

"Yeah yeah...ol EPHIE here plastered that nickname on me when we were in training." Eponin grinned now that she had successfully turned the tables on her friend.

"Ephie?" repeated Gabrielle. "She called you Ephie!!" And with that the bard doubled over in laughter. Eponin and Ephiny looked at each other and nodded. Ephiny spoke....

"Excuse me....Gabby?" And now it was the two amazons who were doubled over in laughter while Gabrielle sat there with a stupefied and thoroughly hilarious look on her face. It took a moment for the bard to realize what had just happened here. She smiled. Then she giggled. Then she was laughing with them, and before long they were pointing and calling each other by their nicknames and laughing more.

Eponin finally stood and said, "Sorry to break up this little party boss, but I got a staff lesson in a half candlemark." She cast a wink Garbrielle's way.

Ephiny smiled. "You're excused Pony." and they were all giggling again as the weaponmaster left. The silence between the two grew quickly. Eph cleared her throat and smiled awkwardly at the bard next to her. Gabrielle smiled back and Ephiny felt something strange happen to her....she felt her dislike for this woman leaving her in a rush. She let it go, and felt it replaced with a warm glow down in her gut. She cleared her throat again. "My Princess...I was wondering..."

Gabrielle cocked her head at the blonde. "Wondering what?"

Eph was finding it real hard to get some actual words out at the moment, but somehow she did..."Ummmmm...."

"Yes?" asked the bard, raising an eyebrow.

"I-I was wondering if you might like a tour around our territory this afternoon?"

The look on Gabrielle's face took on one of barely veiled suprise. "You want to show me around?"

"Yes." replied Ephiny.

"You personally?" she asked, a slight upward twitch to her smile.

Eph gulped. "Ummm...yeah...if that's ok with you?"

"I think that would be nice Ephiny. Ok." She stood and brushed a few stray crumbs from her skirt. "I'll see you after my lesson then?" She smiled as their eyes met.

"I'll be there." She was entranced.

"Until then..." replied the bard as she turned and walked slowly towards the door.

Ephiny's gaze stayed upon Gabrielle until she left the hut, and she sat there wondering what had just happened. "I'm losing it..." she snuffed into her drink. Taking three long gulps, she sat back in the chair and pondered the situation. Had she just made a date with Gabrielle? She honestly wasn't sure. She admitted that she did want it to be one though...but maybe Gabrielle wasn't like her! She snuffed into her drink again, chuckling at herself. What kind of idiot amazon was she anyways? She swirled the cider around in her mouth a bit as an image of the blonde bard came to her mind. She swallowed and smiled to herself. She was the idiot amazon who had a date with the princess, that's who she was! She pushed her chair back from the table, stood and headed towards her hut. "Well if it's a date, then I'd better go prepare for it."

And the people who saw a happily whistling Amazon Captain crossing the square had to look twice, since they couldn't believe their eyes. :)

------------------------------------------

Ephiny stopped at the edge of the practice area, and watched Eponin put Gabrielle through a pretty tough kata routine. She raised her eyebrow as every single swipe from the weaponmaster was blocked and returned by the little blonde. The captain watched in amazement as Gabrielle improvised and reversed her motion, effectually taking Pony's legs out from under her. She stepped onto the field as Gabrielle was muttering apologies to her teacher and approached her. "Princess.."

Gabrielle had just stood up and was helping the scowling weaponmaster to her feet. Hearing Ephiny's voice, she turned to greet her....and was shocked at what she saw. The captain was in full uniform! Her armor shined in the bright sunlight, giving her an almost glowing aura to her already dynamic personality. She didn't even know about the smile that had made it's way onto her face. "Ephiny! Hi! I was wondering where you were!"

Ephiny stopped before Gabrielle and bowed. "I had to be presentable if I am going to be escorting the princess." She stood and gave the bard a sly half-smile.

Eponin chuckled and shook her head. "I think I'll just be heading on over to the bathing hut now...." she said between giggles as she slipped away practically unnoticed.

"Ummm yeah...see you later Pony..." replied Ephiny, while waving to no one. Her eyes were firmly attached to some quite mesmerizing green ones at that moment. Suddenly she remembered why she was there, and shook her head to clear it out.

Gabrielle couldn't take her eyes off those hazel ones either. She was now in firm belief that Eponin had been right, that Ephiny might really have a thing for her after all. 'Well let's just be sure...' she thought to herself. "So..." she said.

Ephiny finally seemed to shake herself clear of her wayward thoughts as the bard's voice got through to her. "Ahem...yes. Ummmm, I believe I was going to show you around our land?" she said, glancing around nervously.

"Yes you were." replied the bard with a shy grin. "Shall we then?"

Ephiny looked at the small blonde and smiled back. Holding out her arm to the bard she said, "With pleasure Gabrielle."

Gabrielle slipped her arm through Ephiny's and they set out across the courtyard towards the city gates.

------------------------------------------

"So where did Xena go earlier?" inquired Ephiny as they trekked up a rise.

Gabrielle glanced at her companion. "She went to have a talk with Tyldus."

Ephiny's head whipped around in shock. "Tyldus???" she swallowed. "Is she crazy? He'll kill her on sight!"

Gabrielle had to giggle at this. "Ephiny...when you hang around Xena as much as I have, you come to accept some things." She smiled. "One...If Xena says she'll be back, she'll be back. Two....if Xena says don't worry about her, you don't worry about her." The bard stopped walking and turned to her new friend. She leaned over as if in confidence and whispered..."But I've learned you just don't let her know you worry anyways." She grinned and started walking again.

Ephiny's brow furled at this seemingly revealing information the bard had uttered. 'Hmmmm, she worries about that warrior huh?' She decided it was time to be a little more forward. "Speaking of Xena my Princess...."

"What about her?" replied the bard, a bit suprised at this new turn in the conversation.

Ephiny made sure there was a definite hint of innuendo in her next chosen words...."Might I inquire if I could be in any danger from her?"

"Danger?" Gabrielle was a bit suprised. "From Xena?"

"Yes."

"Why would you be in danger from Xena?" She cocked her head a bit.

Ephiny threw her arms up in the air. "Gabrielle! Are you kidding me? If I'm stepping on Xena's toes with you, you had better tell me now before I'm one dead amazon!"

"Stepping on her toes?" Gabrielle's brow furrowed in thought. "OH!" She began giggling.

Ephiny gave the bard a look of complete exhasperation. "How can you laugh at something as serious as that?" Honestly, maybe she had the blonde pegged wrong all along!

"I'm sorry..." replied the bard as her giggles died down. "I guess I just didn't expect that!"

"Huh?" replied the captain. "Maybe I'm missing something here..." Ephiny looked directly into those green eyes. "Aren't you and Xena lovers?"

Astonishment lit Gabrielle's face. Then she burst out laughing....so hard in fact that Ephiny thought the bard was going to bust a gut. "Wait...you're not?"

"NO! No!" Gabrielle was trying to control her giggles while she spoke. "Whatever gave you that idea?" she asked, wiping her eyes.

"It's not just my idea Gabrielle..." Ephiny shrugged. "Everyone thinks that. You travel together, you do everything together...and I myself have seen the way she looks at you when you aren't aware..." With this the captain turned her eyes away.

"She most certainly does not!" laughed the bard. "She doesn't even know I'm alive!" She looked over at her friend, and her tone became serious. "You, on the other hand, seem to see me..."

Ephiny let their eyes meet again, and boy she couldn't deny it anymore! She was a goner...a hopeless case....mere putty as she stood before this woman. "I see you Gabrielle." she said allowing her emotions give her voice. "I see you..." she repeated as she took a step closer to the bard.

Gabrielle had only a minute to realize that this was "it". She was finally going to know what it was like to kiss a woman! She had fantasized so many times about Xena kissing her, but the warrior had always ignored her advances, or pretended not to notice them. Now here was a beautiful amazon warrior standing before her, practically begging to do just that. "Kiss me Ephiny."

"Are you sure?" whispered the captain as she moved closer, running her fingers along the bard's cheek.

"Yes." she whispered back.

Ephiny ran her fingers up along Gabrielle's neck and into the tangle of blonde locks that fell gracefully about her shoulders. She sighed. "You're so beautifull Gabrielle..." she ducked her head in to brush her lips across the bard's own. "Xena has to be crazy not to want you..." Their lips met softly and Ephiny was suprised to find herself being kissed back so readily. Sparks seemed to jump between them, and she felt a long-forgotten fire begin to burn inside of her. She deepened the kiss, and the fire burned hotter. 'Oh my gods!' she thought as she let the feeling carry her. Air...air! Wait! She pulled back, and was suprised to hear an almost inaudible whimper from the bard. She couldn't speak....she couldn't move.

"Well." said the bard. "That was certainly something Ephiny." She began to fan herself. "I thought this was the eve of the tenth moon cycle, not the seventh!"

Ephiny ran her hand under the bard's chin. "It is." She smiled. "So you felt it too?"

"Gods yes!" She wrapped her arms around Ephiny's waist and drew her close again. "It felt very good."

The captain smiled. "So does this mean I get a second date?"

Gabrielle slapped her companion in the stomach as she pushed her away. Looking up at the sky she proclaimed..."It's getting a bit late. We had better be making our way back Captain." She cast a sly smile Ephiny's way, turned, and headed back the way they had come.

Ephiny just stood there for a second before she had to hurry to catch up to the bard. "Wait! Gabrielle!...I do get a second date don't I?"

---Scene fades on the shot of Ephiny waving her arm and trying to catch up to Gabrielle---

Continued in Part 5 ----->