Best Argo General Story
Friends Will Be Friends
by Andreas Hloupy
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent
"I need a horse." The man, this voice was directed at, lifted his head in surprise, unprepared for business talk that early in the morning. The peacefully aged, grey-haired horse dealer, not fully dressed, still only wearing knee-length leather trousers and a wide cotton shirt above bare feet, was at the moment leaning over a full rainwater barrel next to a large enclosure, holding at least fifty horses of different age, colour and quality. He had just splashed water in his face in some kind of morning ritual and when he looked up to see who was talking to him he had to clear his eyes before he was able to notice the dark-haired women that stood right in front of him.
She was at least one head taller than the dealer and the tight leather armour with its metal coverings showed off a well trained, young body that made the man swallow hard. Of course, the battle-hardened look and the cold, piercing eyes quickly brought the dealer back to his senses and a very business-like behaviour. "I have a broad selection available … the best in the area. I can see that you know a lot about horse handling so I won’t bother you with advice. Take your time … make your choice." The horse dealer made a wide gesture towards the enclosure, showing an artificial smile. The woman made a few steps towards it and putted both arms on the top log of the surrounding fence. There was immediate unrest amongst the animals; the horses that moments ago were just standing quietly in the raising sun started to move around, some avoiding the stranger, some curiously coming closer.
The eyes of the female warrior first wandered slowly over each horse, no matter how old, used or tired it looked, but than she narrowed the selection down to two candidates, observing them more thoroughly. Both were mares, the first one a black beauty, young and still a little wild, constantly moving around between the other horses. The second animal, the warrior showed interest in, was a light brown one - almost golden - with a white mane and a more quiet character. She was obviously older, calmer and actually moved closer when the woman stared at her for some time.
"May I ask what you are planning to do?" The warrior woman didn't turn when she answered. "I'm going home." The horse dealer, standing a few steps behind her and waiting patiently, just nodded. After a few more silent moments the women pointed at the black horse. "Let me take a closer look at that one." As no one else was around, the dealer - gruntingly - got the horse himself, putting on a bridle and carefully leading the nervous animal out of the enclosure. The woman stepped to the horse and examined it. "She's an excellent choice. She's maybe a little rough on the edge, but she's still young … she will get used to you very quickly."
The light-brown mare meanwhile had moved to the edge of the enclosure and seemed to watch the warrior woman as she checked the other one. After a thorough examination the women seemed satisfied and a short negotiation later she paid the old man from of a full purse. The deal seemed to include a saddle and other accessories, which were quickly fetched. The woman saddled her new horse fast and efficiently, showing a lot of experience with horses. Even so the black mare was still very nervous she was able to quiet her down to a manageable state. The golden mare at the fence in turn got more restless, neighing and rearing, hitting the logs of the fence with her forward hoofs. The dealer, finished with the woman, angrily walked towards the enclosure and shouted at the horse, trying to drive it back from the fence. When the warrior woman finally mounted her new horse and rode away, the other animal slowly quieted down, still standing at the fence.
"Where did she go?" Maybe an hour had past since the warrior woman had left the horse dealer who seemed fairly satisfied with the deal. But according to his face the customers that now approached him weren't the one he liked to see. First of all - from the point of view of a horse dealer - they all already had horses. They were not of the best kind, poorly treated and fed, but they seemed to fit the riders. The four men, having stopped their animals in a half circle around the dealer, looked like thugs. And more than that, they looked like the type that had to prove that he is dangerous through appearance, gesture - and action.
They wore different kinds of clothing and armour, ranging from a simple padded jacket over some leather pants to a heavy breastplate with hard-leather protection for arms and legs. The weapons ranged from swords and bows to axes and spears, but the most noticeable feature on all four of them were large tattoos, covering their bold heads with the images of nightmarish monsters. Their leader and spokesman - the one with the breastplate - straightened up in his saddle and laid one hand on his sword.
"I asked you something. Where did she go?" The old man, who had just stared at the four warriors the whole time, stumbled back a step, looking nervous and scared. "Who?" "Don't play with us, old man. I mean the women, the one you've sold a horse today. The tavern keeper told us she was heading your way" The horse dealer fell back another step and ended up with leaning against the enclosure. The horses inside were again getting nervous and started moving around, sensing danger.
The leader allowed his horse to advance a few steps and only stopped it when right in front of the old man. Then he leaned down and forward, his face slowly turning from bored to angry. "We don't want to hurt anyone, but I'm on her trail for over a month now." "She didn't tell." The fear in the voice of the horse dealer was easily recognizable and the thugs laughed out loud, knowing that they are close to get what they want. "I hope for your sake that isn't true."
While the other horses in the enclosure were getting more and more nervous, the light-brown mare with the white mane stayed calm, trotting towards the end of the fence farthest away from the four riders. There its intelligent eyes seemed to follow every move the thugs were making. Obviously unsatisfied with the answers the dealer was willing or able to give in his scared state, the leader of the thugs had drawn his sword, threatening the old man. The horse dealer started to babble out a series of unrecognisable words as fast as he could, but the warrior didn't seem to like what he heard, shouting at the man.|
At that moment more people appeared near the enclosure - two stable workers were running towards their boss, shouting at the thugs, while a third one was running away from the stables, maybe to fetch help. The reaction of the four riders was quick - and ruthless. Their leader raised his sword and struck down upon the old man who tried to cover his head with a desperate gesture, holding his arms above it. The blade easily overcame the resistance, cutting into the arms and pushing them down, so the head was hit with enough force to break the skull and kill the old man instantaneously. The two workers stopped in shock - and all Tartarus broke loose in the enclosure.
Many horses, sensing the danger, the violence and especially the blood, went crazy, running and rearing around uncontrollable, hitting the fence or one another, neighing loudly. Even the horses that stayed relatively quiet at the beginning were pulled into this frenzy. The thugs on the outside more or less ignored the enclosure. Instead two of them galloped towards the two stable workers while a third one followed the man who was running towards the village, shouting, obviously to get help. Weapons drawn, the thugs made their intentions clear and their targets now were all running away from them, trying to reach safety either in the village or the stables. The leader of the four meanwhile had dismounted and searched the dead horse dealer; amongst other things taking away the money he has received earlier from the warrior woman.
While the thugs followed the two fleeing workers into the stable the third man - the messenger - had stumbled and fallen, almost reached by his hunter. The light brown mare - one of the few still relatively calm - was slowly trotting alongside the fence, avoiding the more crazed horses. Suddenly the two riders that had disappeared into the stables came out again, galloping. Each had a lit torch in his free hand, guiding his horse with the other. Behind them the first flames could be seen at the doors and openings. Sensing the flames the animals within the enclosure finally lost it.
Fleeing from the side next to the stable they moved towards the other end, hurdled together, kicking and rearing to find some space. The horses at the back were pressed against the fence and a few of the animals stumbled, even fell, pushed and almost trampled by the others. Fear and panic had taken control collectively, although no real danger was immanent. Only the golden mare kept her cool, avoiding the other horses, even if it meant staying relatively close to the burning stables.
Down the road the fourth rider had meanwhile reached the man who was still shouting for help, still calling to alarm the village. He didn't bother stopping his horse, swinging down on the man - who was just standing up from his earlier fall - with his axe, hitting him in the back. The man, his spine immediately broken and with only a few moments to live, was thrown forward, reeling, rolling over the ground, ending on his back in the middle of the road, his dead eyes looking straight up into the skies. The rider continued on, making a wide turn and galloping back towards the burning stables.
Meeting in front of the enclosure, the four riders talked for a moment and than lead their horses, which were getting nervous too because of the fire, back onto the street, galloping away into the direction the warrior woman had taken.
Inside the fence the light brown mare, still unaffected by the panic around it, had started to slowly trot to the other side, crossing the entire enclosure. Along the way it got faster, moving from trot to gallop, flying towards the fence. A few more wide strides and the point of last return was reached - another one and only a jump over the top log could prevent injury. The mare pushed herself off the ground with her back legs, raising her upper body high into the air. Lightly tipping the wood with her front hoofs she past the log with the top half of her body - kicking her back legs high into the air she tried to avoid another contact. One of her legs brushed along the log, but a few splinters were all that happened. When the front legs hit the ground the body of the animal had already completed the impossible jump, crossing a height only few people reach in size. The mare brought her backside down safely, too, and continued to gallop, away from the fence, the stables, the other horses.
When she reached the road the animal stopped, turning its head into different directions, almost like trying to decide which way to go. The mare made a few hesitant steps towards the hills that lay to the west, but then it stopped. Turning her head again it looked to the east, down the road were the warrior woman and her four pursuers had vanished. It made another step towards the hills, once again stopping and turning. Finally the golden mare turns around and gallops along the road, following it to the east, while the first villagers appeared at the other road, to late for the bloodshed and destruction.
"Father!" The little girl, maybe ten or twelve, was running as fast as her legs would carry, jumping over roots and branches, slipping through small openings between trees, all the while shouting as loud as the overused lungs would allow. She wore a dress of blue and white patches but no shoes, desperately clinging to a closed basket with her right hand while using the left arm to protect her face. Her short, black hair as well as her face and body were covered with sweat, from exhaustion - and fear.
It was obvious that fear was driving this girl to her extreme effort. The reason for it wasn't far behind - a big wolf was following her and was closing in. The wolf was an old one - and obviously a lonely one, as there was no pack to help him. He was probably black in his youth, but now grey has taken over on many parts and even white patches could be seen. Still, even in this stage it was clear that he would eventually reach the girl, being a lethal threat to her in his stage.
"Mother!" The edge of the forest was finally there and a desperate jump brought the girl onto the grass that followed. Slipping, she was rolling forward a few yards over the wet ground on top of this grassy hill. At some distance a lone farmhouse was standing at the edge of the hill, bordering on a few cultivated fields. Before the girl could stand up again the wolf also broke out of the woods, hurling forward towards the frightened girl. At the very last moment the girl was able to scramble to her feet and - instinctively - threw the basket towards the animal. Hit by the basket and it's hidden content the wolf was thrown off his stride. He stumbled over his front legs and slid along the slippery grass, passing the standing girl only a few feet to the left.
After freezing for another moment the girl turned and started to run again, towards the farmhouse. The wolf, quickly getting back on his feet, was immediately on the chase again. Without the obstacles of the wood the difference in speed seemed to increase, with the wolf closing in on the girl at an alarming rate. Two figures had meanwhile appeared at the house, a man and a woman. They immediately started running towards the hill when they saw the fleeing girl and her pursuer. But it had to be clear for every observer that the wolf would reach the girl well before her parents could. "Father!"
The light-brown mare had followed the road a while but wasn't able to catch up with the thugs or the woman - it seemed they had both left the road. Unable to find whatever it was looking for, the horse eventually slowed down it's exhausting pace and left the road, too. More following its instincts then any distinguishable traces its way led over green hills and through small woods. Avoiding people and signs of civilisation the mare followed a general direction towards east.
When it first heard the shouting from a children's voice it stopped on the spot and listened. Coming roughly from the north the animal immediately changed direction and galloped towards the sounds, coming from a little wood next to a hill. Far to the left a farmhouse was standing at the edge of the hill, but the people there hadn't heard the shouting yet - so it seemed. When the horse was halfway on top of the hill a girl broke out through the branches on the edge of the trees, stumbling forward, falling. Right behind her an old, grey wolf, scared from fights - probably with other wolfs - also came out of the wood. The horse tried to go even faster, flying straight towards the wolf and its pray.
Not noticed by the girl or the wolf so far, the golden mare had almost reached the two when only a few steps were separating them. The wolf used his last reserves to push himself forward for one last jump, targeted to hit the girl right in the back and bringing it down. The parents, still running uphill - but to far away to help - were the first to notice the light-brown horse that was galloping towards their daughter - without a rider. But their main concern was their child and when the wolf was in the air for his final attack both cried out, helpless and frightened.
Moments before the wolf reached the girl, his body high in the air and stretched out as far as possible, he was hit from the side by the charging mare. The wolf was pushed out of the way, hurled through the air with his legs kicking to stabilize himself. While the girl was still running, too scared to look back for the strange noises behind her, the horse stopped as quickly as it could, always keeping the wolf in its eyes. The wolf did hit the ground twenty feet or more away from the point of impact. Trying to get back to his feet immediately he couldn’t, with at least on leg broken. He hauled in pain and frustration, trying to drag his body back towards the forest.
Knowing the danger was gone, the golden mare turned around to look after the child. She had continued to run and had just reached her parents. She jumped into her mother's arms, immediately calmed down by her parents. Her father pointed towards the horse and seemed to tell her what had happened behind her back. But the animal didn't wait for the tale to be finished. It looked at the reunited family for a last time and then, in a fast trot, disappeared were it had came from.
" I should have been even more careful." The dark haired women had left the road immediately after she was out of sight, having suspected for quite some time now that she was followed. But she had staid on the same general direction as when she had left the horse dealer. It was now obvious that this, and any tracking ability the four riders that have caught up with her, might possess had been enough to find her here, in the middle of nowhere.
She didn't try to outrun them, although they have met on open field and her black mare seemed more than able to do so. Instead she smiled confidently, waiting for the four thugs to make their move. The four riders seemed determined and well organized. They split up into two groups, one trotting slowly towards the warrior woman, the other two galloping around her, trying to reach her back and cutting her off from any escape. But even this move didn't impress her and she continued to just sit on her horse and wait.
Finally, the other group was in position behind her and all four men had drawn their weapons, now within shouting range of the woman. Giving the signal to attack, the leader of the four urged his horse forward, soon followed by his three companions. All four of them started shouting and screaming loudly, failing to impress the warrior woman - but benefiting from it nevertheless. The black mare, obviously not trained for battle, reared backwards, raising its body almost straight into the air. The woman, although without doubt a good rider, was unable to stay mounted, being thrown backwards off the saddle.
The black horse, still panicking, galloped on towards the nearest trees. Also unprepared to avoid dangerous ground in this state the front legs of the horse got caught in a crack and the horse, only a few strides away from its owner, reeled forward, its body turning upside down over its front legs, landing hard on the back and rolling to the side. It immediately tried to stand up, but both front legs were obviously broken and nobody could help this animal anymore.
The thugs, now turning their motivational screaming into triumphant shouts, were almost upon the woman. She had hit her head hard on the ground, but was able to scramble to here feet in a hurry. When the first two riders reached her she jumped to the side in an almost instinctive move, avoiding the blades of a sword and an axe. The two horsemen stopped their steeds quickly and turned on the spot, while the other two riders prepared for their first charge. The woman put her hand to her belt, but she had lost all her weapons during the fall. Letting out an angry shout she awaited the second attack. "You will pay for that!"
The horse reached the fighting ground almost too late. When it had heard the voice of the woman shouting, the golden mare had immediately galloped towards the sound. It found the warrior woman standing in the middle of a field, her left arm hanging down at her side, cover with her own blood coming out of a deep cut near the shoulder. Beside a few minor bruises another deep cut ran along her right thigh, making her stand unstable to say the least.
While closing in on the battlefield the horse could see that three of the four thugs were already dead. The fourth one, the leader, had dismounted his horse and was standing a few steps away from the woman, moving his sword from one hand to another. The warrior woman herself didn't have a weapon; an axe with a broken handle was lying at her feet.
Neither of the two fighters noticed the horse that tried to cross the field as quickly as possible. The man in the breastplate slowly moved forward, towards the woman that was barely able to keep standing. Even so the two major wounds involved heavy blood loss, the most important factor in her current condition was probably the concussion she had to have according to the injury on her head. So when the man reached her, the fate of the warrior woman seemed to be sealed.
Raising his sword he pressed forward and the woman tried to avoid the upcoming attack, stepping backward, stumbling. She couldn't keep her balance and fell backwards, only managing to soften the landing with her healthy arm. The attacker jumped forward and prepared the final blow against his now helpless victim. But in the moment of final triumph he was robbed. Finally noticing something wrong the man turned around - but turned around too late.
The golden mare had already reached him and turned, about to kick out with her back legs. The fighter raised his sword, but that was a feeble gesture against the two hoofs that smashed against his chest. Every rip broken he was thrown backwards, dropping to the ground a few steps away. Letting go of his weapon, he gripped his chest with both hands - but the lungs were pierced and his death immanent. The horse turned again and dropped his head towards the almost unconscious woman bon the ground. He pushed her slightly, trying to get a response.
"Look, it’s the horse!" The little girl, obviously having overcome the shock of her earlier clash with the wolf pretty well, had played in the shadow of the farmhouse when the light-brown mare appeared on top of the hill, slowly trotting towards the farm. When father and mother of the girl came out of the house and looked at her questioningly she just pointed at the approaching horse. While the mother send the girl into the house, the father walked towards the animal, obviously unsure and nervous about the whole incident. "It's carrying someone!"
The golden mare carried the woman as careful as possible. Having lost her consciousness soon after she had climbed onto its back, it was left to the animal to keep her on there and bring her into safety. It had passed through fields and woods, following a well-developed sense of direction - and more. Probably not really knowing what to do, the animal still seemed to have a plan. Finally its target was reached - the lonely farmhouse it had passed today became visible at the edge of yet another hill.
Slowly the mare approached the farmhouse. When the man came towards the horse its instincts told her to back away, but her loyalty was already bound to the woman on its back - so it allowed the man to approach and take a look. The man carefully lifts the body from the horse, shouting for his wife to help him take care of the injured.
When the body lied safely on the ground, the horse slowly backed up a few steps, watching the man carefully. The animal didn't take its eyes from the woman and its helpers, not while the man was examining her wounds, not while the woman was helping bandaging them, not when they finally decided that its now safe to carry her into the house.
"It's okay, I can walk on my own." The sun was slowly setting over the hill with the shadows quickly approaching the quiet farmhouse. The mare had continued to resist any try to catch it or lure it towards to house. It was still standing a short distance away, watching the house, waiting.
Suddenly, the door opened and the warrior woman slowly came out of the house, holding her injured arm with her healthy one and limping noticeable. She stopped after a few steps and looked over to the mare, which seemed to match her gaze. Slowly the woman walked towards the horse, trying to display calmness and friendliness. The horse waited patiently until the warrior woman reached it. "I think I owe you."
Carefully stroking the white mane with her healthy hand, the woman leaned against the side of the horse, closing her eyes, finally showing some calmness and content.
"Obviously I don't need a horse …"
The woman opens her eyes again.
"I need a friend."