Soldier of Apollo
by Leslie Ann Miller
Disclaimers - The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Violence Warning - This story depicts scenes of violence. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story. If you're looking for Xena and Gabrielle to be fighting the forces of evil, you probably won't care for this story, either.
About the story - Based on the episode "Eternal Bonds."
Thanks to XB for being honest. :-) All comments are welcomed
"Keep moving!" Tazor ordered no one in particular, and dug his heels into his horse's ribs, heading back to the front of the column.
I was a soldier, and proud to serve my God. So I obeyed the orders of a man I didn't like and kept moving as he commanded.
"Priests!" Pindar spat in disgust, keeping in step beside me. "What do they know about warfare?" He wiped the sweat from his brow. "Why are we out marching circles in this damned forest, anyway? I thought this territory belonged to Artemis?"
"Word has it we're looking for a baby," Xerxes chuckled in the rank behind us.
Several of the men laughed.
"A baby?!" Pindar repeated. "Apollo has sent out his army to kill a baby?!"
I snorted. "It must not be a human baby. Else `word' has our mission wrong." We all knew you couldn't always trust what the priests told you. Or the Gods, for that matter; but Apollo was a benevolent Godů. most of the time. And Apollo most certainly would not need an army to kill a mortal infant. The Gods could walk undetected amongst men; it would be easy enough to kill a baby if one so desired. Even the best guardian could not defend against what could not be seen.
"Aye, you're right, Acrisius," Pindar agreed. "It must be some Godling. Or monster. Not important enough for Apollo to mess with himself."
I nodded, and shifted the position of my shield so the straps no longer rubbed against the same spots on my arm. My sweat was making the leather straps loosen, and they chaffed uncomfortably against my forearm. Whatever it was we were to fight, I wished we would find it quickly. We'd been marching through these woods in full armor all morning, and as Pindar suggested, it seemed as if we were going in circles.
Pindar removed his helmet and poured some water over his head from his water skin without missing a step. "Tazor should let us rest if he wants us to fight when we reach our destination - if he even knows where we're going."
Xerxes grunted in agreement. "My feet are ready to fall off."
"If you weren't so lazy in drills, Persian, you wouldn't be so tired," Cratus jibed from the rank in front of me.
Even I chuckled at that.
"Even exhausted, I'm more than a match for you, Cratus!" Xerxes replied.
Cratus laughed. "Do you think between the two of us, we'll be able to kill this baby?"
"All right," our Captain said from in front. "That's enough. Apollo himself has sent us on this mission, and the God's business is no laughing matter."
I glanced at Pindar guiltily, and he rolled his eyes with a shrug. So in silence we marched, and marched, and marched.
It was late in the afternoon when the order, "Ahead, double time!" echoed down the ranks from in front. Apparently, we were approaching our destination.
Every soldier knows the rush of energy and excitement that courses through the veins when the time for battle is at last at hand, and I, certainly, was no different. My heart pounded, and the weariness of the day's march fell from my limbs as we began trotting forward, up a hill, toward blue sky. No doubt over the hill was a clearing or field where our enemy awaited.
"Halt!" came the order before our ranks had reached the crest, and we stopped in formation. I could see Tazor mounted on his steed in front of the first rank at the top. He raised his sword into the air, and we drew our weapons even before we heard the command to draw.
My sword was like a friend in my grip. The wooden pommel was worn smooth from the sweat and oil of my hand. I adjusted my shield again, this time into a position comfortable for fighting, and hefted it in front of me to check its weight and balance. Satisfied that it would serve me well, I let my arm fall to my side again. I glanced at Pindar, and he grinned back.
"Apollo's blessing upon you, old friend," he said.
"Apollo's blessing on you," I nodded. We'd been through several battles together, fighting side by side in the shield wall. I was always glad to have him on my vulnerable left where I was frequently blinded by my own shield.
The ranks stirred restlessly, checking armor, weapons, and gear. It was not good to keep soldiers waiting like this before battle without any site of the enemy, and I silently cursed Tazor. It gave us too much time to think.
Indeed, thoughts strayed to my aging parents. I had no wife, no children of my own, but someday I hoped to earn enough dinars to leave the army and start a new life where I could take care of my mother and father in their old age. To find a wife, perhaps. But I would first have to survive whatever awaited us over the hill.
Tazor dropped his sword arm, pointing down the hill in front of him. A cry went up from the army, and the first ranks charged forward. At least we would have the advantage of charging downhill, I thought to myself. Having the high ground was extremely important in battle - the momentum it provided, the advantage of height. My feet were light as we jogged to the crest.
When we reached the top, the sounds of battle filled the air from below, and I quickly looked around to get a feel for our position. My heart leaped when I saw the female warriors of Artemis streaming out of the woods to our right. Apollo and Artemis were allies in this one, I decided gladly. My heart leaped again when I saw another army across from us. Romans! I tightened the grip of my sword. Romans were fierce opponents, and I sent a hasty prayer to Apollo to protect me from their deadly swords. This would be a battle to recount in old age!
I followed the movement of their lines as they charged down the hill. Something was wrong. They were not engaging our front ranks at all.
And that's when I saw them.
In front of the great mandrake tree, two women were fighting side by side. One was tall and raven haired, with a baby strapped to her back in a pack; the other was of shorter build, with hair the color of sunlight glinting off the wheels of Apollo's chariot. Both were breathtakingly beautiful, and both were doing a remarkable job of slaughtering anyone who dared come within their weapons' range, Greek or Roman. My stride faltered, and I almost tripped over my own feet.
Cratus began to swear violently. "That's Xena and her sidekick!"
"Charge!" Tazor screamed at us when our ranks hesitated ever so slightly. "Kill them! Kill the baby!"
"Gods be damned!" Xerxes spat from behind. "We've been brought here to murder two women and a baby?!"
The initial fear I felt at having to face Xena was quickly replaced with horror. I caught Pindar's eye and saw that he, too, was appalled. This was no honorable battle. This was no glorious fight. Though Xena was a great warrior, she and her friend were faced against three armies, and she was obviously just trying to protect the infant.
Sent to murder a baby! The battle lust in my veins was quickly replaced by disgust and revulsion. The feeling was palpable in the ranks surrounding me as we raced down the hill. I could see how the men in front were throwing themselves at the two women with ruthless abandonment, one at a time, with no regard for teamwork or tactics. Ah Gods, but we were soldiers. We obeyed the commands given to us by our leaders, but this time we were betrayed. Sent to murder a baby! How could I forgive myself if I succeeded?! If I had wanted to slaughter innocents, I would have joined a warlord, not the army of the God of Music and Healing!
In a real battle, our ranks would have joined to form a shield wall as we marched forward to meet the enemy. The archers would have peppered the opposing wall with arrows from the high ground behind us; javelins would have been hurled ten steps before the lines engaged. As it was we waited our turn, two by two, to engage the two enemies before us.
I was sickened by the site of so many of my companions falling at the feet of the two women, and yet there was still no desire in me to try to overwhelm them with our numbers. It was better this way, warrior to warrior. If face them I must, it would be in a fair fight.
Their prowess in battle was a thing of beauty and terror. The rhythm of their blows, the skill with which they ducked and blocked; truly I could not help but admire them, even as the fear again rose thick and heavy from the pit of my stomach as my turn to face them rapidly approached. I was on the side to meet Xena, Warrior Princess. She should be a Goddess, I thought, and her sidekick, too. Their deadly skill was mesmerizing.
Cratus and Delphus gave a cry together, and charged. Cratus headed for Xena, while Delphus went for her friend. Two Romans followed close on their heals.
The Romans blocked my view of Xena, but I did not miss the scream of agony from Cratus, nor the site of his lifeless body flying through the air as if thrown by a supernatural force. The Roman soon followed.
When I glanced at Delphus he was on his knees, and I watched in horror as the blonde woman stabbed him through the chest, then kicked his body off her blade with her foot. She spun, ducking the clumsy attack of the Roman, and impaled him with her blood soaked blade.
Our turn. I looked at Pindar, and he looked at me. A wry smile. A farewell. An honorable death at the hands of a brave and beautiful opponent. I wondered, briefly, how my parents would manage without me. I wondered, too, if the baby on Xena's back would live through this day, and why the Gods were so afraid of one small infant.
But I was a soldier, and proud to serve my God. So when Xena turned to face me with a warriors' deadly light in her icy blue eyes, I gave my fiercest battle cry and charged.
alt fic index <> homepage