An Awakening - Part 11
Settling With Brutus
by Hunter Ash
I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. This story is for entertainment purposes and no copyright infringment is intended. Don't bother suing me, it wouldn't be worth the court costs.
Sex/Subtext/Alt Fiction: this story assumes a consensual loving and sexual relationship between characters of the same gender. If this is illegal where you are, if you are too young or this type of story bugs you: leave. Come back when you're older, have an open mind or have changed your laws. There is sex and they enjoy it.
Violence: Major trauma to two continuing characters, it's not graphic but it is there. Some Romans die, it's not graphic. We are dealing with Xena and she's not happy in some parts.
Joxer alert: he's here but not as obnoxious as usual.
Storyline: Joxer returns after three years away on a job and Xena is forced to catch him up on all that's happened in her and Gabrielle's lives, including their marriage and birth of Sasha. Then Xena and Gabrielle go after Brutus after he kidnaps Sasha, their daughter.
I hope this story can stand on it's own. It's also part of a series so you may want to check out the previous stories.
A Visit Home, An Awakening
Gabrielle's Awakening - from Gabrielle's Point of View
An Awakening, Discovery
Gabrielle's Discovery - Gabrielle's POV
Gabrielle, Amazon Bonding - Gabrielle's POV
Trial of a Roman
Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother
Ides of March
Children of Gods
Even with Ares
Cyrene moved with the practice of a long time innkeeper through the dinner crowd of the tavern with her tray of mugs. She silently cursed as Torris dashed by with another serving tray of full mugs. Her one serving girl had decided to run off with her boyfriend and Gabrielle was off visiting her family.
As she wiped her forehead with her apron, Cyrene gave a thankful prayer that the bard was due back in a couple of mornings. It was summer and Cyrene could use the help. Xena's mother hoped that her serving girl was going to be happy but she still cursed the fact that the girl left her without adequate help. Cyrene gave her son a smile of thanks as she moved to grab more empty mugs. He grinned a lopsided grin and then lost it as the door opened. Cyrene glanced over quickly and frowned.
Xena, once the Destroyer of Nations and Warrior Princess, entered the tavern with quick practiced glances, taking in all of the guests, her mother and her brother. She smiled at her mother but ignored Torris.
Cyrene again cursed under her breath. It had been months since Xena and her brother had come to blows over her relationship with Gabrielle and they still weren't talking to each other. Cyrene was just grateful they weren't trying to kill each other. Not many people tried to hit Xena and lived and no one except Torris had ever struck Gabrielle and lived, Cyrene knew. It was only because he was Xena's brother that Torris had gotten away with only a broken nose and almost broken jaw. It had taken Gabrielle more than several minutes to calm her enraged lover enough not to kill her own brother.
The siblings had settled on an uneasy truce since then. Torris didn't talk to Xena or Gabrielle and they responded in kind. Having to rely on Torris for help around the inn didn't help but Cyrene had no choice. All the girls in the village were either married with children or had jobs of their own already and Xena had a full time position with the blacksmith.
Xena settled into a chair at a table near the door, her back to the wall. Cyrene smiled at her daughter's habits. Even though Xena no longer wore her armor, she still wore her gauntlets and sword, now at her side for work, sword, now at her side for work, her mother didn't think the warrior would ever lose her training and instincts.
Torris frowned but carried a dinner tray and mug of port to his sister without a word and moved onto the next table demanding his attention. Cyrene shook her head with an exasperated smile. Sometimes siblings were harder to deal with than feuding families.
Cyrene occasionally glanced over to her daughter, taking in the frown and the warrior's quick eyes. Xena's mother hated it when Gabrielle was gone, even overnight, it could send Xena back to her scowling warrior days. Then the former Warlord's face lit up brightly when Solan walked in with Sasha in tow. Cyrene grinned at the sight of her grandkids as well. The small child and growing teen were a constant in the village and had won the hearts of everyone who met or saw them. Except Torris.
"Momma!" Sasha shouted and ran to the open arms of the warrior and Solan grinned and sat down at the table.
"Thanks, Mom," Xena said as Cyrene brought their dinner and ruffled her grandson's hair.
"Sure, how's the training with the militia going?" she asked the young teen.
"Okay, I prefer the hunting, though."
"My son, thankfully, didn't inherit my warrior lust," Xena grinned. "but he did inherit my tracking skills."
She smiled as he blushed with the praise. In truth, she was very proud of Solan and his skills. He may not have inherited the blood lust but he had his mother's skill with a sword and was even better with a bow than she was. He was kind, gentle and skilled, everything Xena could hope for in a son. She knew his father, Borias would be proud.
In addition to working with the local blacksmith, Xena also helped train the militia of the village and the village guards. No one could dispute the warrior's skills in battle, tactics, and defenses. Even Torris had to admit that she was a natural for the training of their men and women.
A candlemark later, Cyrene smiled as Xena picked up a sleepy Sasha and placed an arm around her son's shoulder. The warrior gave her Mom a smile as they headed out the door, heading home.
"Xena?" the warrior looked up from her work at the blacksmith shop and blinked in surprise.
The would-be warrior had at least replaced his home-made armor with a decent quality Byzantine-type with a chainmail shirt and a leather tunic vest over that. Heavy boots and an iron helmet completed his armor. His sword was also now of decent quality and his shield was of typical Roman design, wood and leather with metal reinforcement.
What hadn't changed was his goofy grin, which was huge upon seeing the warrior female.
Xena dropped the piece of iron she was working on and came around the short wooden shelving that separated the working area from the selling area of the blacksmith shop. She grinned and hugged the young man tightly.
"Gods, it's good to see you!" she said easily.
"You too, it's been too long!" he agreed.
"What, three years?"
"Yup, I've been in the East, working as a guard for merchant caravans."
"That explains the upgrade in armor," she grinned.
"Yeah," he looked around and then grinned at the warrior again. "Wow, I had heard you were settling down but I couldn't quite believe it. Where's Gabrielle?"
Xena felt her stomach tighten, Joxer had been out of the country for the last few years, odds were he didn't know about the change in her relationship with Gabrielle and she'd have to be the one to tell him. This was not something she was looking forward to.
"She's visiting her family and should be back either today or tomorrow. We've got a lot of catching up to do."
"Yup," Joxer hesitated. "She didn't get married, did she?"
Xena's face didn't change expression, only by years of self imposed training of controlling her emotions and expressions as a warlord.
"Joxer, wait until dinner. Go over to the inn and get yourself some lunch. I'll finish up here in a bit and we'll head out to my place. You'll get to meet the Solan and Sasha." Xena added with a grin, a sense of playfulness coming over her.
"Solan and Sasha?" he questioned.
"Yeah, the kids."
Before the stunned man could ask any more questions, the warrior turned back to the blacksmith work area. She barely controlled her grin as he turned to wander towards the inn.
"Kids?" she heard him mutter.
Xena resisted laughing and then lost her smile. No, she was not looking forward to telling Joxer exactly what had been happening the last couple of years with her and his beloved bard. The one true love of his life, Gabrielle. The same one true love of Xena's life.
Xena had to give her friend credit, he held his questions back over dinner, even after the stunned expression on his face upon seeing Sasha, with her raven hair and blue eyes.
The warrior handed him a mug of port as they sat down next to the fire while Solan put the little girl to bed with a story.
"Okay, talk," Joxer ordered.
"Gods, where to begin?" Xena complained. Not only where to begin, how to tell him everything?
"Gabrielle's married?" he demanded, eyes suddenly becoming bright.
"Joxer," Xena began, trying to sort out her feelings and thoughts, "Gods, I wish Gabrielle was here, she's better at the explanations."
"You're here, she's not." Joxer snapped.
"Joxer, Gabrielle and I were married in an Amazon bonding ceremony and a public one three Springs ago," she said bluntly.
Joxer sat back in his chair, blinking in disbelief. Xena turned to watch the fire, giving him time to absorb the news.
"Yes, we finally admitted to each other how we felt about each other."
"But," he stammered, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Gabby doesn't go for females?"
"She told me she's always been attracted to females and males, mostly females." Xena said softly as he shook his head again.
"You?" he muttered again and Xena resisted narrowing her eyes in growing impatience. She reflected that she and Gabrielle had been together three years, Joxer was just now finding out about it.
"I can't explain it, she loves me." Xena shrugged.
"She always did, I guess," he admitted with a heavy sigh, trying to blink away tears.
"Joxer, we never meant to hurt you with any of this."
"I never had a chance, did I?" he asked bitterly.
"Joxer, I'm not going to help you beat yourself up over this. Gabrielle loves you very much and I care for you too."
The young man frowned and turned his eyes to the fire. Xena let him brood.
Solan came out of Sasha's room and questioned his mom with his eyes, she motioned for him to join them.
"Solan is my son and Sasha is my daughter," Xena began another track of conversation. "When I was a Warlord, I had Solan. I knew that was no life for him and I wasn't fit to be a mother to anyone. I left him in the care of the Centaurs. I knew he'd be raised well and no one could use him against me or me against him."
"Makes sense," Joxer agreed. "And Sasha? She's younger than three years." he noticed with narrowed eyes and Xena blushed.
"When Gabrielle and I were bonded," she began, holding up her wrist to show him the bonding bracelet the bard had given her and then opened her left hand to show him the scar running across her palm. "The gods themselves stepped in and gave their approval for a blood bonding, a soul mate match."
Joxer's head began reeling again. A blood bonding, soul match? Such a bonding was rare and it was unheard of for the gods to show approval.
"Oh gods," he muttered, realizing the depth of a relationship required for a soul mate and blood bonding.
Xena and Solan let him struggle with the knowledge of the depth of her relationship to Gabrielle.
"Ares wasn't amused," Xena continued and smiled at Joxer's goofy grin in agreement. "He crashed the wedding and Hercules chased him off after Solan here tackled him."
"After Mom threatened him with only....." Solan yelped as the warrior's foot connected with his shin. He grinned but didn't finish the sentence.
"With only a ceremonial sword, it broke. Hercules saved my life." Xena continued for her son, glaring at him. Joxer didn't need to hear that the warrior had stood up to Ares in the common yard of the Amazon village dressed only in her wedding skirt, Gabrielle having removed the tunic moments earlier. That was one image Xena didn't want roaming through Joxer's head.
"Hercules was there?"
"Yes, and Iolaus. They were and are our Kumbada's, godfathers to Sasha."
"Go on, about Sasha?"
"Some of the Roman delegates poisoned Gabrielle at the wedding." Xena said flatly.
Solan caught Joxer's mug as the young man dropped it, sitting upright in shock.
"Gabby?" he muttered as Solan handed him back the mug.
"Yes," Xena looked back into the fire, tears springing to her eyes, remembering. "She almost died, Joxer, painfully. I almost lost her on our wedding day and for days after that." she struggled to keep her voice from cracking.
"She recovered though," he said, hopefully.
"With time." Xena answered and Solan reached out and held his mom's hand, his own face reflecting his own painful memories of that time. "When she was well enough to stand, I escorted our families back home. Along the way we ran into you.
Joxer frowned. "Me?"
"I thought it was you, but something was wrong. I was tired and not on top of things. Your look-a-like and I dropped Gabrielle's family off and we stopped in the woods to make an offering at an old abandoned altar to Artemis. The problem was it wasn't an altar to Artemis." Xena looked away from his questioning eyes.
"It was Ares," Solan said softly.
"Ares? Ares made himself look like me?" Joxer demanded.
"Yes, he tricked me into giving an offering to him at one of his altars and gave me enchanted wine. It made me forget the last couple of years. I forgot Gabrielle, I forgot that I had changed, I forgot all the good things."
Xena jumped to her feet and began pacing behind the chairs.
"Ares tricked her into attacking and almost killing Gabrielle," Solan continued.
Joxer's face went pale and the young teen heard a growl come from him as he watched an agonized Xena pacing.
"Gabrielle brought Mom back by their blood bonding and Mom told Ares to take a hike. Because of her lost memory, Mom was with Ares for a couple of days and Sasha was born later."
Xena was grateful to her son and his understanding, the warrior wasn't sure that she would have been able to finish that part of the story, she still carried guilt over that.
"You slept with him?!" Joxer demanded and Xena looked elsewhere, brushing away tears. "Gabrielle accepted that?"
"Not happily," Xena muttered.
"She knew Mom wasn't herself," Solan protested. "Gabrielle's sister, Lila, had followed them and saw what happened. Gabby Mom thinks of Sasha as her own."
Xena placed her hands on her son's shoulders to relax him and thank him.
"It's okay, Solan," she said softly. "It takes some getting used to."
"Ares used me?" Joxer suddenly shouted. "After I've been devoted to him? All those offerings and prayers and he uses ME to trick you?! To hurt Gabrielle?" the young man was on his feet and had taken up Xena's position of pacing.
Solan and Xena tried not to look amused. As Xena had pointed out to herself, they had years to get accustomed to the situation, Joxer hadn't yet.
"Well, his goal was to get me back," Xena said, "but yeah, he sent me to kill Gabrielle so she wouldn't have an influence over me anymore."
"I'll kill him!" Joxer threatened.
"Joxer, calm down! Gabrielle and I have a beautiful daughter and found a way to keep Ares out of our lives, mostly."
The soldier sat down with a frown and gladly held up his mug when Solan offered to refill their mugs with port.
"Okay, what else?" he muttered. "You know, you two may have settled with him but I haven't!" Joxer warned and Xena smiled.
"Okay, I understand that."
Xena felt her stomach tighten and her hands start to shake. Solan quickly hugged his mom and motioned for her to sit down.
"Mom and Gabrielle decided to get out of Greece when they found out Mom was going to have Sasha. They were afraid of what Ares would do if he found out about Mom being pregnant. Hercules and Iolaus went with them, heading for the northern tribes, to try to get away from Ares and Caesar," Solan began explaining.
Joxer noticed Xena's shaking hands and was astounded, he had never seen her shake before except when wounded. Or, when Gabrielle was in danger.
"Iolaus and Gabby Mom were attacked by bandit Roman soldiers," Solan said softly, watching his Mom as she closed her eyes in pain. "Iolaus was crippled and Gabrielle taken and sold to slavers."
"Romans? Slavers? Gabrielle?" Joxer repeated in a whisper. Solan nodded. Joxer saw Xena's clenched jaw, hands clenched until the knuckles were white, and her face gone pale . The young man had become a soldier and knew what other soldiers were capable of, especially slavers. It hit him like a physical blow. He realized what his beloved bard probably went through and the soldier dived out of the house at a run, running blindly in the dark to a tree.
When he returned a few minutes later, his hands matched Xena's shaking. He sat down unsteadily and quickly drank the rest of his port and held out his mug for more.
"What did they do to her?"
"They hurt her, Joxer," Xena said softly. "Then she was sold to a gladiator school and became a gladiator. She was branded, raped and she had to kill." tears began falling from Xena's closed eyes.
Joxer fought to maintain the rest of his dinner down in his stomach.
"She became friends with an Amazon gladiator trainer and became a fighter," Solan continued for his mom. "Gabrielle then won her freedom in the Arena in Rome from Caesar himself."
Joxer's head was reeling even more now. He shook his head to try and clear it. His Gabrielle a gladiator? Fighting to the death in the Arena? He couldn't picture it.
Xena opened her eyes and watched the soldier struggle with the images and knowledge. She remembered feeling the same, going through the same struggle when she had learned where her beloved had been for a year and a half.
"She became a great fighter and got her freedom. The Roman, Brutus helped get her and the trainer, Nikki, back to Mom, Hercules and Iolaus at the northern border." Solan finished.
"Sasha?" Joxer reminded the boy.
"Mom, Hercules and Iolaus traveled north with a tribe of Northerners, they were adopted into the clan and Sasha was born in the north. Iolaus and Mom stayed with them while Hercules and most of Greece was looking for Gabrielle. Caesar had heard Gabrielle was missing and so Rome was also looking for her."
"Wait a minute!" Joxer held up his hand. "You said Gabby won her freedom from Caesar." he protested, unable to tie all the threads of the story together.
"He didn't know who Gabrielle was when he set her free. She kept her identity hidden while she was a slave." Solan explained.
"Wow. So then you all returned to Greece?" Joxer questioned.
"No, we took some time to heal," Xena continued. "Gabrielle had been gone a year and a half. Then we got word that the Romans had attacked the Amazons and Centaurs." this time the mother watched the son's face for the pained expressions of memories.
"Centaurs, where Solan was?" Joxer asked.
"Yes, some of the Amazons and Centaurs escaped but some were taken captive." Xena's face grew hard again. "Gabrielle and I went to Rome to settle with Caesar."
"Oh gods," the soldier muttered, causing Xena to nod in agreement.
"Yes, it was insane but we couldn't think of any other way to save the Amazons he had. I tried to assassinate him but he was expecting me and I was caught." Xena growled and started watching the fire again.
"Gabrielle traded herself for the Amazons." Solan continued.
"What!?" Joxer sat up straight again, spilling his drink. "You let her?!" he demanded and Xena's eyes narrowed.
"Do you think anyone could have stopped her?" she snapped back. "You know Gabrielle when she makes up her mind about something! We had seen Brutus and found out that a large group of Senators were planning on assassinating Caesar. She was counting on being crucified and surviving long enough for Brutus to save us."
"She planned on being crucified!?" Joxer shouted in disbelief and Xena nodded unhappily.
"Caesar had them fighting in the Arena for the day and then crucified Gabrielle in front of Xena to torture them both." Solan said softly.
"Oh my gods," Joxer began to cry softly, matching Xena's tears.
"Brutus got them out of Rome and back to the Amazons. Gabrielle made a deal with the Senate of Rome to take the Amazons and few centaurs left to the north where the Romans wouldn't see them again. She forfeited the Amazon and Centaur lands to get them out." Solan continued.
"Was she hurt bad?" Joxer whispered, wiping at his tears.
"Very bad," Solan answered, standing behind his mom and placing his hands on her shoulders. "Recovery was fairly quick, though. Artemis brought Gabby Mom, Hercules, Iolaus, Mom, Sasha and me here and promised to keep Ares busy while everyone had a break."
"I heard that the Romans slaughtered the Amazons, though," Joxer said with a frown.
"They did. Brutus led Marc Anthony's troops right to their new home. No one survived." Solan said, choking back his own tears, not mentioning the little girl and old woman Amazon that were now living with the Germans. They had all agreed that no one needed to know that even one Amazon survived outside of Gabrielle.
"What about Ares?" Joxer asked.
Xena grinned at that one. "Ares did find out about Sasha and I found something out about my parents."
"Like what? Don't tell me Ares is your father?!"
"No, thank the gods! No, the goddess Hecate had a fling with Zeus awhile back and asked my mother to bear the child, me." Xena said simply.
Joxer blinked several times again and Xena couldn't help but laugh at his expression this time.
"You're the daughter of Zeus AND Hecate?" he whispered.
"And Cyrene," Xena added.
"And Gabrielle is the daughter of Apollo," Solan threw in, getting in on the fun part of the story.
"That's what saved her when she was poisoned and helped her recover so quickly from the crucifixion." Solan answered.
Joxer shook his head, regretting either that he had too much to drink or not enough, he couldn't decide just yet.
"Ares?" he whispered again.
"He tried to take Sasha from me, he hurt Solan and me and set a trap for Gabrielle. She killed his warrior priests and then kicked his ass." Xena answered with a grin.
Joxer hung his head, moaning with information overload.
"A gifting from Apollo and Hecate, we have the ability to injure Ares and when he hurt Solan and me, Gabrielle lost it and fought him. She injured him pretty good too."
"He's been a no-show since," Solan added with a grin.
"Is there anymore?" Joxer whispered, almost afraid of the answers.
"No, just that we've bought this place and have settled down here. I work with the blacksmith and Gabrielle works at the inn with my mother. Everyone helps with Sasha and Solan is an excellent hunter and tracker."
"I think I need to sleep," Joxer muttered and yelped in surprise when Xena hauled him to his feet and kept him from falling over.
"Come on, Joxer," she said with a soft smile.
Fortunately for his overworked brain, Joxer was asleep in minutes of hitting Solan's bed. Xena and Solan helped get him out of his armor and boots, both grinning.
Xena knew that probably wasn't the last of the questions or outrages from the soldier. It was a lot of information to absorb, especially about his beloved Gabrielle. A lot of painful images to deal with.
Not the least was that she was married to Xena.
Xena glanced up from her hammering and frowned and felt her heart skip a beat. Coming into town was a mandible of Roman soldiers. The ex-warlord watched the troops split apart at a trot, moving in all directions.
"Xena, quick!" Dex's voice broke the warrior's concentration on the soldiers. She turned to find him at the back of the shop motioning for her. Xena quickly grabbed up her sword from under the selling shelf and moved past her friend and boss into the back room. He quickly followed and surprised the warrior by moving several heavy chests out of a corner.
The large blacksmith took out his dagger and dug at one of the wooden boards to reveal a trap door.
"In here, quick!" he hissed.
Xena rushed over and was surprised to find a fairly good sized room under the blacksmith shop.
"I keep the special weapon consignments in there. Get in, it's well known that you're not a friend to Rome."
Xena grinned at that one and jumped in. The warrior fought down momentary panic at the thought of being locked in a darkened cellar with a heavy chest holding the only exit door down.
She knew Dex was right, she and Gabrielle were wanted by Brutus and possibly Marc Antony as well. Brutus wanted the warrior dead so he could have Gabrielle and he wanted Sasha to gain the favor of Ares, God of War. The father of Sasha.
Xena growled to herself and sat down on a chest to wait. The warrior didn't want to take on 120 well trained Roman soldiers by herself without a plan and some backup.
She only hoped that Gabrielle wouldn't be caught coming back to the village.
Gabrielle had heard the clank of the Roman armor and had left the road leading to Amphipolis. She hid her horse and took to the trees to get a better look, Amazon style.
The warrior bard growled and narrowed her eyes at the sight. Roman Legionaries were setting up road blocks while others set up a perimeter around the town's edge. Gabrielle moved silently through the trees to get a closer look, and saw Legionaries rounding up villagers into the village common grounds, next to the well.
A quick scan of the villagers showed Cyrene, Torris and Dex in the group but Xena was missing and so were Solan and Sasha. Gabrielle figured the soldiers hadn't reached the homes on the outer part of the town yet where Solan and Sasha probably were for lunch. She had no idea where Xena could be except to say a thankful prayer her mate wasn't among the crowd.
"All right, Greeks," the Centurion in charge yelled from his horse. "I am under orders to arrest the following citizens of Amphipolus: Xena, known as the Warrior Princess, her daughter Sasha and Gabrielle, bard. Where are they?"
"Oh gods," Gabrielle whispered. This was not good.
No one answered or looked at each other.
"Just tell us where they are, none of you fit the description, so where are they?" the Centurion demanded.
Gabrielle felt her heart swelling with pride. It would have been a different story several years ago, she reflected. At that time the villagers would have gladly handed Xena over without even being asked, now they were protecting her and Gabrielle.
"All right, who is her family? Where's the innkeeper?" the Centurion snapped.
"No!" Gabrielle whispered as Cyrene stepped forward to stand at the edge of the crowd. Torris quickly joined his mother, placing an arm around her shoulder.
"Where are they?" the Centurion demanded.
"Away from town," Torris answered.
"Who are you?"
"I am Torris, one of the Elder Council of this town and Xena's brother."
Gabrielle was surprised, given the state of Xena's relationship with her older brother, the bard was stunned he'd admit being related to her.
"I don't believe you," the Centurion responded.
"They aren't here, you've already searched the town, they aren't here." Torris responded.
Gabrielle ducked further into the shadows at the sound of shouts off to her right. The bard almost fell out of her tree when she saw several Roman soldiers dragging an unconscious Joxer between them. Also among the group was Solan and Sasha.
A Roman soldier hit Torris across the back of the head and another grabbed Cyrene as they both shouted and tried to run to the children. The Centurion grinned at the older woman as she struggled in the arms of two of his soldiers.
Gabrielle fought very hard to control her emotions, trying to calm her breathing as Joxer was dumped in front of Cyrene and Solan made to kneel beside the unconscious soldier.
"Who's this?" the Centurion demanded.
"He's a friend of Torris' and that's a serving boy." Cyrene answered.
"The child is Xena's."
Cyrene refused to answer.
Both the innkeeper and Gabrielle could see several wounds on Joxer, blood beginning to pool under his body.
"I'll ask again, where is Xena and Gabrielle?" the Centurion demanded.
Cyrene and the villagers remained quiet. Gabrielle looked around desperately, trying to think of a way to break through and get to Sasha, Solan and Joxer. She knew that her bow couldn't take down enough soldiers before the Centurion would find her or take off with Sasha. None of the villagers were armed and they were surrounded and so was the village.
"Soldier, take your dagger and blind the boy at my command," the Centurion ordered.
"No!" Cyrene screamed and struggled against the soldiers holding her. Several villagers surged forward but were driven back by the Roman javelin spears.
"Then tell me where they are!" the Centurion shouted.
"They aren't here! Xena left on business yesterday and Gabrielle is off visiting her family!" Cyrene cried, desperately reaching for Solan.
Gabrielle could see the young man trembling as soldiers tied his hands behind his back. The bard couldn't get a clear shot at the soldier with the dagger on Solan.
"We've been watching this village for three days and Xena did not leave here! Blind him!"
Gabrielle let her arrow fly just as Solan screamed. She had already notched another arrow as the Centurion realized that he had an arrow sticking through his neck. As the next arrow flew and buried itself in the eye of the soldier who had just attacked Solan, the Centurion dropped from his horse.
As the Roman soldiers looked around, the villagers took advantage of the distraction to rush the soldiers guarding them.
"Retreat, reform!" a sergeant ordered, grabbing up Sasha as he grabbed the reins of the Centurion's horse.
He kept the horse between him and the direction of where the arrows had come from as he and the rest of the soldiers trotted towards the north end of town, the ones in the rear keeping the unarmed villagers back.
Gabrielle dashed for the village, having to fight through three soldiers that had been on the perimeter watch. They had proved no match for the trained gladiator who was also enraged.
As she skidded to a stop next to Solan, Joxer and Cyrene, Dex ran towards the blacksmith shop.
"Oh gods, no!" she cried as she saw Solan's face. Cyrene quickly took off her apron and held it to the boy's eyes.
"Hold that there, Solan," she instructed and moved to Joxer. Together, she and Gabrielle pulled the leather tunic vest and chainmail shirt off of him and found that a Roman sword had managed to get through the excellent protection into his ribs, shoulder and he had a bad gash on his head. Cyrene quickly tore strips off the end of her skirt, folding them into bandages. Several villagers ran up.
"They've taken the child and are heading north." one said, trying to catch her breath.
"Get a couple of the men and take Solan, my son and Joxer here into the inn. Moria, get the healer, quick!" Cyrene ordered.
"Where's Xena?" Gabrielle demanded as she applied pressure to Joxer's wounds.
"I don't know, I was in the tavern when they came." Cyrene answered.
The bard breathed a sigh of relief as the warrior came running at full speed, sword in hand. She quickly lifted the bandages up on Joxer and then turned to Solan. Gabrielle's heart wrenched almost apart as the warrior turned pale looking at her son.
Several other villagers moved forward to carry the injured into the inn. Xena quickly cleared several tables and then she and the healer were barking orders to several pairs of helping hands.
Dex pulled Gabrielle aside, "I hid her in the shop," he explained. "What do we do?"
"We make sure our friends and family will live and then we get Sasha back!" she hissed, green eyes flashing brightly.
"I've sent one of the militia to follow the Romans and leave trail markers." he said.
"Thank you, Dex. They would have killed her."
It was a couple of candlemarks when Gabrielle looked up from her chair to see a bloody and exhausted warrior standing in front of her. Xena knelt down and buried her head in the bard's lap, body shaking from tears. Gabrielle held her warrior close, stroking Xena's hair. She looked up into Cyrene's tired and suddenly aged face.
"How are they?" she asked.
"Torris will be fine, he's already awake. A major headache but he has a hard head. Solan is blinded, his eyes can't be saved."
"Oh gods, no!" Gabrielle whispered, tears falling again.
"Joxer might not live, Xena did everything she could and the healer is still working on him."
"What happened, Cyrene?"
"The Romans marched into town, rounded everyone up and demanded you, Xena and Sasha. Apparently they didn't know about Solan. He says that Joxer fought the Romans and killed four of the soldiers when they reached your house. Solan killed two, himself."
"Joxer, oh gods."
"He came in yesterday and spent the night with me and the kids," Xena said softly. "He's been in the East working as a caravan guard."
"He's awake!" the healer called.
The three women quickly moved to Joxer's side. Gabrielle took his hand in one of hers and gently stroked his cheek. The soldier attempted to smile when he focused on her.
"Hey, your hair got short," he whispered.
Gabrielle smiled through her tears and looked at the healer.
"I don't know, Gabrielle." he said with a shrug.
"Are the kids okay?" Joxer whispered.
"Yes, they're fine. You helped save them." Gabrielle reassured him.
"Guess I did something right for you," he whispered, closing his eyes again.
"Let him sleep now. I've given him some sleep herbs, the boy too." the healer instructed.
Gabrielle laid the soldier's hand back down and lightly kissed his forehead. She reached out and grabbed Xena's hand and let the warrior lead her outside into the darkening village. She turned and buried her head into her warrior's chest as they held each other.
Gabrielle raised her head from the table and looked up to see Xena's tired face, the warrior's hand on her shoulder. Xena sat down in the booth across from the bard. Gabrielle could see that it was early morning and that Cyrene was asleep in a chair near the fire and the healer was changing Joxer's bandages.
"He's ready to be moved to a bed here in the inn, Solan's already in one and Torris went home." Xena said simply.
"What's the plan?" Gabrielle muttered.
"I've been talking to some of the traveling merchants and catching up on the latest news from Rome and the Roman Empire. Seems that Marc Antony and Brutus are at war with each other. Brutus is in Macedonia with Crassius and Marc Antony and Octavian are moving to battle them. They'll probably meet somewhere near the Macedonian border."
"That's why Brutus wants Sasha, he wants to gain Ares' favor before facing Antony and Octavian." Gabrielle noted and Xena nodded in agreement.
"Now we've got to get her back before Brutus or Ares gets her. Then we settle with Brutus." Xena said grimly.
"We can catch them easily on horseback."
"They doubled back and set sail on the morning tide. I have no idea where they intend to land, I'm betting somewhere close to the Macedonian border." Xena said.
"Then we have to be there when the ship lands," Gabrielle said simply.
"Yup. I've been looking over the maps of Macedonia and I know where I'd want a showdown if I were Antony or Octavian. Somewhere near Philippi, it controls a mountain pass that is perfect for a battle. That's where we're headed, hopefully to head off the soldiers before they can turn Sasha over to Brutus."
"What about Joxer and Solan?" Gabrielle asked, standing up and trying to stretch out the kinks from sleeping in a booth with her head on the table.
"Joxer will live but it'll take awhile and Mom can take care of Solan while we're gone. I just hope Torris doesn't give Joxer or Solan a hard time."
"Xena, there's something you should know about Torris."
Xena's expression was one of surprise after Gabrielle described Torris' actions to the Romans.
"Wow, he didn't turn me in?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "He tried to get through the soldiers to protect the kids."
"I need to talk to him," Xena said, standing up.
"I'll go pack our bags."
Xena found Torris in the kitchen helping two of the village women prepare breakfast for the guests and travelers.
"Torris," Xena called softly and was pleased when he didn't scowl at her. He wiped his hands on the apron of one of the women with a comfortable gesture. Xena suddenly remembered that the woman was widowed and had been hanging around the inn quite a bit. Her brother approached her cautiously.
"I wanted to thank you for yesterday. Gabrielle says you tried to help the kids and you had a chance to turn me into the Romans."
"Xena, I may not approve of your choice of gender when it comes to bedmates but you are my sister and they are my blood. I'm your brother, I'm the only one that gets to hit you." he suddenly grinned.
Xena found herself grinning as well. "Thanks, can you help Mom while Gabrielle and I are gone?"
"Of course," he said with a shrug.
Compared to other travels, the ride to Philippi was short but not fast enough. Xena cursed for five minutes after finding the Roman maniple had landed and already joined up with Brutus and Cassius' forces on the outskirts of Philippi. The curses were enough to even raise the eyebrows of several of the dockworkers nearby as Gabrielle led her warrior away.
"Okay, he has Sasha, now what?" Gabrielle demanded, trying to get Xena to focus.
"I go in and get her out," Xena said simply.
"Oh no, I don't think so," Gabrielle protested as they walked along the docks. "He'll remember you tried to assassinate Caesar and how talented you are. Sasha will be well guarded and they'll be waiting for you."
"What would you suggest?" Xena asked in a flat voice.
"He wants me, trade me for Sasha."
"Won't work," Xena said simply. "One, he can't be trusted, he's already betrayed our friendship. Two, he needs the blessing of Ares, there's a good chance Antony and Octavian can beat him and Cassius. Three, I'm not letting you fall into Roman hands again."
"Then what do you suggest?" Gabrielle demanded, trying to keep her voice low.
"I help Antony and Octavian and let Brutus see me in battle. While he's distracted, you sneak into the Roman camp and get Sasha out with help from some of Octavian's troops."
"We're siding with Octavian?"
"I've been watching all of them. We owe Antony and Brutus for our Amazons and Centaurs and I think Octavian is the best choice for Rome and Greece. He's young but a good choice. Antony is brutal and won't hesitate to kill anything in his way and Brutus is no better. Some of Octavian's ideas are good ones."
"Even if he is related to Caesar and Caesar's choice?" Gabrielle smiled a quirky smile at her lover.
"Especially because Caesar picked him," Xena smiled at Gabrielle's raised eyebrows. "One thing Caesar was always very clear about, Rome came first and foremost to him. His problem was that he thought he was Rome. I would trust his judgment in choosing a successor. Caesar intentionally didn't adopt Brutus or name either him or Antony."
Gabrielle shook her head, "Never thought I'd hear you praise Caesar for anything."
"I may have hated him but I have to admit to his genius."
"So, how do we get close to Antony and Octavian?"
"Uh oh," Gabrielle muttered.
"One thing the Romans can be counted on, they are very predictable. I could tell you easily which tent is Octavian's and Antony's without looking at the camps."
Marc Antony grabbed for the dagger under his pillow as a hand clamped down over his mouth but found a heavy weight bearing down on his chest and pinning his arms. He stopped struggling when he felt a blade at his throat.
"Be quiet and live, I'm not here to kill you unless you make me." a voice ordered him and he nodded around the hand over his mouth.
Someone struck a light and then lit a lamp. Antony's eyes went wide at the sight of Xena, the warrior woman, straddling his chest with a dagger at his throat. Part of him knew that he was dead and another part was thrilled to see her up close and personal. She was magnificent! he thought to himself.
Xena held up his knife to inform him that it was no longer under his pillow and sat back on her haunches and removed her other hand from his mouth. She moved off of him and stood at the end of the bed. Antony had no doubt that he would be dead long before his guards could ever get in the door.
He frowned when he looked around and saw a blond woman holding a gagged and bound Octavian across the tent from him. She reached up and removed the gag from the handsome young Roman and sat him down in a chair.
What was that she was holding on the other Roman? Antony questioned, some strange weapon he hadn't seen before. Still, it looked deadly in her hands, even if she was a small thing.
Xena snapped her fingers to get his attention again.
"I didn't have time to go through the usual channels to see you two. Sorry about waking you both up in the middle of the night." she said easily. She stuck Antony's dagger into her belt and held up her chakram. "See this?" Antony nodded, "You know about it? It's my chakram, it can cut your throat and be back in my hand before you hit your bed. Understand?" Antony nodded again.
The Roman General was impressed, somehow the two women had gotten into the Roman camp, kidnapped Octavian and got him across the camp and into the second Roman camp and into Antony's tent without being seen. Very impressed.
"I thought your war with Rome was over," he stated. The first time he had seen the Warrior Princess she was in the back of a wagon after spending a day in the Arena and a night chained like an animal watching her lover die. Was the blond the same woman? he wondered.
"Brutus has a member of my family as a political hostage. I want five of your best recon soldiers, in exchange I'm going to help you defeat Brutus and Cassius." Xena offered.
"You have to tie me up and gag me for that!?" Octavian demanded, his eyes flashing angrily.
"Quiet, pup!" Antony snapped. "Why do you need the recons?" he asked Xena.
"To go with my friend and get my family out of the camp while we're slaughtering Brutus and Cassius."
Antony looked over at Octavian, both glaring at each other for a moment. Finally, Octavian looked at Xena.
"I've heard of you and your talents and I also know that you have no love for Rome."
"I have no battle with Rome, that was with your uncle specifically." Xena corrected.
"Brutus saved your life, if I remember right," Antony commented.
"He also betrayed us by slaughtering the Amazons." Gabrielle spoke up finally.
"I was there too," Antony said simply.
"We'll deal with you some other day," Xena promised.
Antony laughed. "How refreshing! An enemy who admits it! I like that. I have your pledge that you won't stab me in the back until after Brutus is dead?"
"Yes, we defeat Brutus and get my family back and we walk away." Xena agreed.
"What makes you think that we need your help? Romans are experts at war." Antony countered.
"You're fighting Romans. Both of you need to think, how did I know where to find both of you in the dark among hundreds of tents?" Xena urged.
Both men frowned. "By the banners?" Octavian guessed.
"No, you can't read banners in the dark, even among torchlight we'd be roaming around the camp forever trying to find you." Xena shook her head.
"Because a Roman camp is set up the same every time, no matter where we go," Antony smiled.
"Exactly, you Romans are very predictable. Once you find something that works you stick to it until the end of time. Fortunately for you, no one has figured out how to counter that."
"What do you mean?" Octavian asked, suddenly curious.
"When you're marching it goes something like this: cavalry and auxiliary units scouting ahead, then comes the vanguard of a legion and cavalry, then camp surveyors and pioneer troops up next. Next comes your baggage and mounts, then the two of you and your bodyguards. Next comes more cavalry and siege engines on mules. Senior officers next, then the legions with their standard bearers and baggage. Auxiliary cohorts and then the end of the column, both light and heavy infantry and some cavalry. Bringing up the unofficial rear would be merchants, common-law wives, slave dealers and prostitutes." Xena rattled off easily.
Octavian snapped his gaping mouth closed and Antony grinned.
"She's right, she does know us." Antony grinned.
"So will your enemies eventually. Brutus and Cassius already know how you will attack under each situation. I can be unpredictable."
"Believe her when she says that!" Gabrielle grinned.
"All right, you've got my curiosity. What do you say, Octavian, want to hear more?"
"Yes, now untie me." he ordered. Gabrielle looked over to Xena, who nodded. The bard pulled out a dagger from her belt and cut the ropes holding the Roman General. He glared at the young woman and crossed the tent to the tent flap.
"Guards! Bring my maps from my tent in the other camp and have my aides bring my clothes. Don't ask questions, do it!" he ordered.
With the one lamp, the young Roman lit two other lamps at a table covered with maps, documents and other such items. Antony wrapped his sheet around him like a toga and joined the other General. Xena grinned at Gabrielle and joined the Romans.
Antony then moved to the tent flap.
"Guards, bring food and wine, I have guests here. Also, wake my officers and send for Octavian's. We're having a planning session." the handsome Roman ordered.
He walked up to Gabrielle and smiled at her.
"If you'll hold up the blanket, I'll get dressed behind it." he offered and laughed when the bard blushed but grabbed the blanket up. A moment later a voice caught her attention from behind it.
"Are you the same woman I saw in the wagon? After Caesar was assassinated?"
"Yes, I think so. Xena told me that you helped convince the Senate to accept the proposal to move the Amazons out of Roman territory and release Xena and me." she answered.
"I thought you had died from your wounds, Brutus said you had."
"Brutus wants me for himself." she said simply.
"At least he has good taste," Antony said as he lowered the blanket.
A candlemark later and Gabrielle settled into a comfortable chair after eating a wonderful selection that Antony had ordered brought to the tent. She grabbed up the blanket Antony had dropped and pulled it over her as she threw her legs over the arms of the chair.
By the sounds of the arguments coming from various officers, Antony, Octavian and Xena, it was going to be a long session.
"Gabrielle," a voice brought the bard upright in the chair, sai in her hand. "Easy, little one, it's me."
"Xena, what's up?" the bard asked as she looked around. It was just at dawn and several officers and Antony were still debating over the maps and Octavian was no longer in the tent.
"Let's take a walk," Xena suggested, helping the bard to her feet.
Neither woman were surprised by the activity going on in the camp at this hour of the day. Everyone had a job and seemed to be doing it or getting to it. Gabrielle was surprised that no one challenged their presence in the camp as they walked along.
"Octavian had the guards spread the word about our being here," Xena answered Gabrielle's confused looks.
"What was decided?"
"I'll lead several ambushes once Brutus and Cassius begin to move and then Antony will lead the main battle while you sneak into Brutus' camp and grab Sasha and join me at the docks." Xena said simply.
"Where's Octavian in all of this?"
"He's going to be very sick, he just doesn't know it yet."
Gabrielle noted her warrior's clenched jaw and placed a hand on Xena's arm. The warrior's face softened and she smiled down at her mate.
"Octavian and his generals couldn't see it but Antony has set him up to take the worst of the fighting. Either Antony is hoping that Octavian will be killed or, at the least, most of his troops will be and he'll lose a lot of support he'll need later when he and Antony fight."
"When they fight?"
"It's coming, Gabrielle, and everyone knows it. Two strong willed and powerful men. They'll work together for awhile, maybe even divide the Empire among them but eventually one will break and force the fight, probably both of them. Everyone knows that Antony desires Cleopatra and Egypt." Xena talked easily as they walked, careful not to talk when anyone was close.
"But Antony is marrying Octavian's sister," Gabrielle protested.
"Roman political marriage. It's more like a hostage situation than a marriage. Antony ties his power with Octavian and they both tie each other's hands with the marriage, forming a stalemate. Antony wants Rome, Cleopatra, and the Empire."
"Will he kill Octavian to get it?" Gabrielle asked with a frown.
"The first chance he gets," Xena said grimly. "He's brutal and wouldn't hesitate to kill anyone. I've heard of his revenge against Brutus and others involved in Caesar's assasination. Friends of friends have been killed in revenge. Distant cousins have been killed because they might be related to the assassins."
"When will the battle take place?"
"First thing in the morning."
"Terrific, a day with the Romans, just what I always wanted." the bard muttered and Xena wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders, noticing the bard trembling a little at the sight of all the Roman soldiers.
Neither of them had good memories about Roman soldiers.
"Do you think Brutus already handed Sasha over to Ares?"
"No, he'll keep Sasha until after the battle to ensure Ares' cooperation. That's why we have to get Sasha out of there during the battle. Ares will turn away from Brutus and it might turn the battle to Antony and Octavian's favor."
"Count on me," Gabrielle said simply, reaching up to kiss Xena's cheek.
Less than 24 hours later found the couple separated and both tense as stalking tigers.
Gabrielle stumbled as she was shoved into the main tent of the Roman camp. One of the soldiers pushed the bard to her knees. She looked up into the hostile faces of Roman officers, her green eyes blazing.
"What's this?" one of them demanded.
"Lord Cassius, we caught this woman trying to sneak into camp. Lord Brutus said to watch for a tall dark haired woman or a shorter blond." one of the guards answered quickly.
Cassius looked down at the bruised face and short blond hair.
"You must be Gabrielle, gladiator, bard, Amazon Queen and Xena's playmate." he grinned.
Gabrielle's eyes blazed but she kept silent.
"Brutus!" Cassius yelled at the group of officers bent over the map table. Gabrielle watched as Brutus approached slowly.
"Gabrielle?" he muttered. "I didn't think you'd actually try it."
"You killed my Amazons and kidnapped my daughter, what did you expect?" she snapped.
"You're right. Unfortunately, I don't have time for you. I'll deal with you after I kill Antony and Octavian once and for all." he started to turn away and then turned back with a frown. "Where's Xena?"
"Go to Tartarus!" the bard snapped.
A fist from Brutus sent the bard to the ground. With her hands tied behind her back, she had difficult time getting back on her knees.
"You've already had a sample of our crucifixion punishments, Gabrielle, don't make me send you to the torturers, they're very good at what they do." Brutus threatened.
Gabrielle merely glared at Cassius and Brutus.
"Would she join with Antony or Octavian?" Cassius asked, kicking the bard in the ribs and sending her onto her back, painfully on the tied hands. She resisted crying out as a guard pulled her back to her knees.
"No," Brutus answered. "She hates us as much as some of those northern Gauls do. She's probably sneaking into the camp from another direction. Take this one to my tent and alert the guards. You four," Brutus pointed to the guards accompanying Gabrielle, "join the guards in my tent watching this prisoner and the child." he ordered.
"Yes, sir." they responded.
Gabrielle was pulled roughly to her feet and dragged out of the tent.
"Brutus, I'll see your head on a pike!" she yelled.
"And I'll see you in my bed!" he yelled back to the cheers of the officers present.
Xena and a small troop of Roman soldiers, from both camps of Antony and Octavian, had been working all night under Xena's direction. Now she waited patiently on a mountainside, overlooking a pass. The one pass Brutus and Cassius had to go through to reach the open fields to meet Antony and Octavian.
Xena shook her head when she saw the marching Romans in the distance. This pass was perfect for a major ambush but Brutus and Cassius were expecting to fight Romans. She and the other soldiers ducked out of sight as the recon soldiers of the enemy Romans came through the pass, barely looking up the sides for traps or the enemy.
Xena and her soldiers let the scouts move ahead of them and waited until the cavalry and foot soldiers came into the pass. Xena motioned with her hand and was pleased to see the soldiers under her command move quickly and efficiently.
The warrior woman waited until the cavalry and foot soldiers were directly in line with her and her troops and then let loose with her famous battle yell.
The startled Romans below looked up the mountainside in time to see flaming logs hurling at them, picking up rocks and other debris as they flew down the mountainside towards the troops. They looked to the otherside for escape only to find another set of flaming logs coming at them from the opposite direction.
Then began a rain of arrows that took out horse and man alike.
The Romans began to run either forward or back. Those running forward found their way blocked by falling trees and those running back ran into their officers and more troops behind them.
Officers were shouting conflicting orders, men and horses were screaming, and the fire logs hit the pack of soldiers with an awful crash. The screams became higher pitched and horrible.
Xena raised her hand in a signal and her soldiers melted away. She followed on Argo, face grim as the screams of the injured and dying and the enraged officers filled the pass.
It didn't take long for Brutus and Cassius to regain control of their troops once the arrows stopped and the logs were no longer falling down the mountain. The dead, both soldier and horse, were tossed to the side, the logs hauled next to their victims. The dying were put out of their misery and the injured taken to the rear for transport back to camp in wagons.
The officers re-formed their troops and waited for Brutus and Cassius in the pre-dawn hour.
"Brutus! That war cry, that was female! Was it Xena?" Cassius demanded as he rode up to his fellow Roman General.
"Yes," Brutus answered with a curse.
"Then she's joined with Antony and Octavian!"
"No, this was probably her own attack. She could care less about Rome and she despises both me and Antony."
"I hope you're right, I don't want any more surprises!"
When Gabrielle was led into the tent it took her a moment for her eyes to adjust but the first thing she saw was Sasha sitting in a Roman chair. The child also saw her.
"Mum!" the child cried out and ran to Gabrielle as the woman knelt down. "Mummy! I knew you'd come!" Sasha cried as she clung to Gabrielle's neck. Then Sasha noticed that her Mum wasn't hugging her back and looked at the tied hands. "They hurt you!"
"No, it's not bad, Sasha. I'm okay. Are you okay?" Gabrielle reassured the child.
"Yes, but they won't let me see you or Mom."
"I know, but I'm here now. Let's go sit down, okay?"
One of the soldiers accompanying the bard, reached down and pulled Gabrielle to her feet roughly and shoved her towards the other three guards.
"Lord Brutus says we are to join you to watch the woman and child."
"Good," one of the guards grinned as Gabrielle stumbled into him. He caught her easily and looked her up and down. "Too bad we can't have any fun with this one." he commented.
"I don't know about that," Gabrielle muttered.
The soldier suddenly looked pained and glanced down to find a dagger sticking between his ribs. Gabrielle, with eyes flashing brightly, twisted the knife while the other guards took out Brutus' other guards.
Gabrielle swept Sasha up into her arms, hugging her tightly.
"Let's go see your Mom," Gabrielle suggested, trying to keep the child's mind off the slaughter she had just seen.
Sasha nodded eagerly as one of the guards handed Gabrielle her sais and a sword from under his cloak.
The warrior bard grabbed a cloak from near the tent opening and threw it over her shoulders and Sasha.
"Sasha, I need you to keep quiet until we get to the woods, okay?"
The child nodded and laid her head on Gabrielle's shoulder.
Gabrielle nodded to the soldiers with her and they separated once outside the tent, grabbing torches up and each of them began setting tents on fire. Gabrielle waited a moment until they had scattered a good distance in all directions and had dropped their torches.
"Fire! Fire!" she began screaming. Within moments the camp was in an uproar, especially with the soldiers away for a battle.
Gabrielle began moving through the camp with Sasha as the guards rejoined her one by one.
Brutus cringed when he heard the dreaded war cry again and ducked instinctively.
"Shields! Shields!" officers were shouting as arrows began raining down on the soldiers from both sides of the pass. In a moment it had stopped and there was no sign of the enemy. Moans and screams plagued the Roman General as soldiers scurried about, tending to the wounded and the dead.
"Damnit, Brutus! She's slowing us up!" Cassius shouted.
"I know, I know. Move the troops up, no delays, no matter what comes at them!" Brutus ordered.
"Lord Brutus! Lord Brutus!" a mounted officer was shouting as he rode towards the two generals.
"Yes, what is it?" Cassius demanded.
"At the front, my lords. Our recon soldiers have been ambushed and slaughtered. The officers have been crucified!"
Brutus went pale and Cassius turned beet red. "Crucified?!" he demanded. "She dared to crucify Roman soldiers!?"
"Take them down, don't let the main troops see them." Brutus ordered.
"But, sir, they are on exceptionally high crosses, it will take time to get them down." the officer protested.
"Then cut the crosses down!" Brutus shouted and the officer turned his horse back towards the front, shouting directions at several soldiers.
"Damn your personal war with her, Brutus!" Cassius cursed and moved his horse towards the front of the line.
"I probably am damned, I agree." Brutus muttered.
Gabrielle jumped down off the horse and let Sasha down gently. She looked up at the four soldiers who had helped her.
"Thank you. I don't even know your names." she complained.
"I'm Cyprian, that's Barita, Mikolaj, and Rianorix." the sergeant grinned, clasping Gabrielle's hand in a warrior's handshake.
"I'll remember those names. Xena and I are grateful."
"Thank you, MiLady. Vale!"
The soldiers turned their horses back towards the battlefield.
Gabrielle picked Sasha up in her arms and moved towards a tavern to get Sasha and herself some food and wait for her mate.
Xena watched the battle from the top of the pass, fighting the urge to join the battle, reminding herself that this wasn't her fight except to ensure the death of Brutus. The warrior and her troops moved down to the back of the battle when the day wore on and it became clear that Brutus and Cassius were losing In part due to Xena's planning with the generals of Antony and Octavian and some in part to the demoralizing Xena and her small band of soldiers had inflicted on the enemy troops.
Xena and her band made sure their white headbands were in place. The troops of
Antony and Octavian knew that a small band of Roman soldiers were fighting in skirmish actions without helmets and wearing white headbands. Xena didn't want her temporary soldiers getting killed by their fellow soldiers.
With a war cry she led the way into the battle with her small band from the rear. Her strategy was simple, hit and run. Hit and retreat, keeping the rear guard off balance and cutting off any escape route for Brutus and Cassius.
A rumble behind her told the warrior that the engineers assigned to her had completed their task, a rockslide now blocked the pass and Brutus and Cassius had nowhere to run. With a signal she pulled her troop back and watched closely.
The battle lasted well into the afternoon, the slaughter going on forever, it seemed. Xena's troops were better rested than the soldiers they were fighting and they began making headway into the rear guard troops and Xena was pleased with the skills of her soldiers, they were good fighters.
The warrior's eyes narrowed as she spotted the fancy helmet of a Roman General and realized it must be Cassius. Before she could move her horse through the fighting she spotted Antony's flashing helmet and sword working his way to the other General.
Cassius also saw Antony heading for him through the sea of soldiers. The Roman General jumped off his horse and looked around him, seeing defeat.
Antony roared his rage when Cassius turned his sword to his chest and fell on it. Xena merely watched, her face expressionless.
It turned to one of rage when she saw Brutus, however.
The Roman General turned very pale when he heard the warcry of the warrior woman. He had seen Cassius go down under his own sword and knew his time was done. Either he'd be captured or killed by Antony to face the executioner's block in disgrace, or he'd face the warrior woman.
Brutus jumped off his horse and quickly turned his sword to his chest. He heard Xena's scream as he fell forward.
Xena leaped off her horse and turned the general onto his side and glared down at him. He was still alive but she knew it wouldn't be long.
"Brutus! Do you know what your soldiers did to my son?" she hissed, bending over him. She vaguely noticed one of her soldiers standing at her shoulder, holding off any enemy soldiers from her and Brutus.
"I have a son and they blinded him!"
"And I killed the Amazons and Centaurs and I kidnapped your child, don't expect me to be remorseful at this late time in the game, Xena," the Roman General coughed around the blood flowing from his mouth.
"You'd better pray I don't end up in Tartarus with you!" Xena growled.
"I have Gabrielle and your child, orders to be killed if I die. I'll see you in Tartarus, Xena."
The warrior screamed in rage as Brutus closed his eyes.
After a few moments the soldier guarding her back placed a hand on Xena's shoulder.
"Listen to me, Greek!" he shouted in her ear.
Xena turned to look at him, eyes blazing in berserker fury.
"Can you hear me?" he shouted again.
Xena's eyes calmed after a moment and she nodded.
"I have orders to kill you, we all do, from Antony. All the soldiers with you have decided to be elsewhere, get out of here before the regular troops get here."
"Thank you, I expected something like this. What's your name?" she asked.
Xena was stunned but grabbed his forearm in a warrior's handshake and mounted her horse again. The same name as her beloved dead brother. The Fates were strange, she thought, fighting her way past the soldiers towards the mountains.
It was almost nightfall when Xena walked in the door of the inn, her eyes bright from the battle. Her dented, dusty and bloody armor hidden by her cloak. The barkeep and the locals quickly turned away from the sight of the woman warrior's eyes. They had all known of the battle raging around them in the Pass of Philippi but most didn't care either way about it and decided that if this soldier was involved, they didn't want to know about it.
Xena spotted Gabrielle and Sasha in a booth at the back and quickly made her way to them, grabbing the small child up in her arms, the warrior's eyes softening for the first time during the day. She frowned again when she took in the various cuts and bruises on Gabrielle's face and arms.
"I'm okay, we had to make Brutus think I had put up a fight." Gabrielle explained, standing up. "I have a room and have ordered a bath and dinner for us."
"Good, Antony will expect us to head straight for Amphipolis. We'll stay here overnight and travel by boat tomorrow at tide."
"Brutus?" Gabrielle asked, her eyes becoming as intense as the warrior's.
"Dead by his own hand but I was there." Xena frowned.
"Let's get upstairs, away from eyes."
Once inside the room both women began to relax a little and, after sitting Sasha down in a chair, Gabrielle grabbed her mate for a rough kiss and embrace that left both women breathless.
Both could feel their hearts pounding, blood lust still lingering with both of them.
"Oh gods, Xena, I will never get enough of you!" Gabrielle whispered, bringing a moan from her mate at the husky tones of her bard's voice.
"Bath, food and bed." Xena said simply.
"You bet. Sasha, time for a bath! I bet your hair hasn't been properly brushed for days! Guess what? I brought your brush," Gabrielle said as she dug into her packs, smiling at the look of delight on the child's face. Sasha loved to have her hair brushed, especially when Mum or Mom brushed it.
A couple of candlemarks later Gabrielle watched the warrior and child with devoted eyes. Xena was leaned back in a chair while Sasha sat on the floor playing with a toy wooden horse and soldier Xena had carved for her at Yule. Gabrielle smiled and Xena looked at her mate with raised eyebrows.
"Just thinking how much I love both of you." Gabrielle answered.
"Back at you, little one."
"Was it bad today?" the bard asked, having noted the condition of Xena's armor and leathers.
"No worse than any other battle. Men killing each other on the orders of men playing politics."
"You once lived for that," Gabrielle mentioned.
"Yes, I know but I couldn't do that anymore. Not for power or politics." Xena said softly, watching Sasha play, grinning when the little girl rubbed at her eyes with her fists, trying to hide a yawn.
"Was Octavian sick today?" Gabrielle asked with a smile.
"Yes, seems he has a sensitive stomach. Antony was forced to split the victory with Octavian's troops and take most of the battle himself. He wasn't happy that Cassius and Brutus both fell on their swords before he got ahold of them. He probably wasn't happy that I escaped either." Xena grinned.
"He did plan on killing you," Gabrielle was aware of Xena's suspicions and the warrior's plans on leaving the battlefield before Antony could get ahold of her.
"Yes, only the troops he assigned to me decided to look the other way when I rode out."
"So did my soldiers, I think Antony's troops were ordered to kill me, Sasha and Octavian's soldiers."
"It's hard to kill the mother of a child, especially with the child there, even for some Romans." Xena commented.
Gabrielle grinned and picked Sasha up from the floor and dumped the child on the bed, Sasha squealing with delight as Gabby Mom began tickling the little one. Xena jumped up and launched herself onto the bed to get in on the action. In moments the bed was a mass of giggling females.
Within minutes Sasha was sound asleep between her two moms.
"Xena," Gabrielle whispered.
"Yes," Xena answered and untangled herself from the bedding and pulled Gabrielle to her feet and into her arms.
Gabrielle felt her knees go weak at her warrior's lips on hers and Xena's strong arms holding her. She broke off the kiss with a gasp.
"Gods, even after all this time, I still can't stand when you do that!" she muttered, nuzzling Xena's chest.
The warrior reached over to the bed and pulled a blanket off, still holding tightly to her bard. She gently lowered Gabrielle to the blanket, following the smaller woman down to the floor.
Gabrielle wrapped one arm around Xena's back and the other through the warrior's raven hair and pulled Xena close for another kiss. Both women moaned as their bodies touched, Xena's leg coming up between Gabrielle's legs.
The bard could almost feel the heat radiating from her warrior and knew what Xena was still feeling. Even after a bath and meal, she knew they were both still on fire from the fighting energy, the blood lust running through their veins and bodies.
Gabrielle shifted slightly and grabbed Xena's neck with her teeth as she impatiently pulled at Xena's leather shift. Xena moaned loudly and managed to raise up enough for Gabrielle to remove the shift, barely letting go of Xena's neck long enough to slip the material over the warrior's head. Somehow Xena helped the bard remove the warrior's undergarments but Gabrielle was too impatient to wait for the warrior to strip out of her leather skirt.
The bard let one hand run softly over Xena's nipples while the other began a familiar exploration between the warrior's legs. Xena growled and threw her head back with the sensations running through her body. Gabrielle increased her pressure on the warrior's nipples, bringing a hiss from her warrior.
Gabrielle knew that it was difficult for Xena to maintain her position over the bard on her arms when Gabrielle was doing various things like this to the warrior's body. The conflict between the sensations running through her body and the demand on her arm muscles was enough to heighten the sensations and pleasure and Gabrielle knew it.
The warrior cried out as one hand pinched one of her nipples and the other sank several fingers into her. Xena pulled Gabrielle's head back by her hair and looked deep into the heavy lidded green eyes of her bard. The warrior began kissing her mate roughly as her body began to rock back and forth on Gabrielle's hand.
Gabrielle relented and rolled Xena over onto her back and sat up between the warrior's legs, amazed always at how wet Xena was for her. Xena's eyes begged for release as she clutched at the blanket below her.
Gabrielle took a quick moment and pulled her tunic shirt off over her head and then pulled Xena's leather skirt off her. She leaned over Xena's body and slowly lowered herself onto her warrior, both groaning together at the feel of naked skin. Then Gabrielle crawled down the warrior's body, kissing her way down every inch of the way.
Xena was writhing on the blanket, one hand clutching the blanket and the other laced through Gabrielle's short hair, urging her bard lower.
"Please!" she moaned and then groaned as the bard chuckled at her mate's impatience.
Xena jumped as Gabrielle's tongue darted over her clit a couple of times and then stopped. Two fingers lingered at her opening, just enough to tease. Xena growled loudly and started to sit up to face her bard when Gabrielle's tongue and hand claimed whatever complete thought the warrior just had. Xena's back arched and both hands were clutching at the blanket, her body beginning to rock again.
"Oh gods, Gabrielle, don't stop!" the warrior whispered desperately.
Xena could feel Gabrielle working her body like it was a fine lyre or harp, pulling more and more out of the warrior than anyone had ever gotten close to reaching. The warrior felt herself giving over control to her bard and letting her body follow wherever the bard was leading.
Only Gabrielle could do that, she thought.
The warrior found she couldn't control her shaking hands and legs and was almost to a screaming point of frustration when she felt Gabrielle's small hand totally claim her. It was the most incredible sensation the warrior had ever felt and, again, only Gabrielle had ever been able to get Xena turned on and relaxed enough at the same time to do that for her warrior.
Slowly, Gabrielle began moving her fist slowly within the warrior, pulling back to rub against the pelvic bone and then deep again, rocking the warrior's body. When Xena began climbing even higher and higher to the point of climax, Gabrielle whispered to her warrior.
"Let go, my love, I'm here." and returned her tongue to Xena's clit, sending the warrior crashing over the edge. The warrior always fought against giving up total control to anyone, even Gabrielle.
The bard knew it was the ultimate trust Xena could give her. The warrior grabbed Gabrielle's tunic and bit into it to keep from screaming loudly as waves of orgasm swept over her again and again.
Gabrielle crawled up along Xena's body again and began kissing the warrior before Xena had totally gotten her breath back, surprising the warrior as their tongues began dueling for dominance over each other's mouth.
Xena reached between Gabrielle's legs and quickly entered the bard, pulling a groan out of her bard. Xena's thumb began stroking the bard's clit and caused Gabrielle to give up the fight of tongues to grab Xena's shoulders as her body reached for more of Xena's hand on it's own.
The warrior obliged her mate and bent forward slightly to grasp a nipple with her teeth and then the other, pulling the bard into a sitting position. Gabrielle clung to her warrior's shoulders, sinking her teeth back into Xena's neck to keep from screaming.
Gabrielle was so turned on by her mate that she knew it wasn't going to take long on this night. Feeling the bard's rising energy level, Xena increased the depth and intensity of her stokes, feeling Gabrielle's body begin trembling all over.
"Oh gods, little one, you are incredible," she whispered in Gabrielle's ear as she trailed a kiss along the bard's neck and back down to Gabrielle's full breasts.
Gabrielle moaned again, feeling the scream building in the back of her throat. Xena felt the bard's body stiffen in her arms and around her fingers and felt the scream being muffled by the bard's teeth at the warrior's throat. With another muffled scream and then a whimper, Gabrielle collapsed into Xena's arms.
The warrior somehow managed to lift Gabrielle in her arms and placed the bard on the bed with Sasha and then crawled in beside her mate, pulling the blanket up over them and wrapped her arm around Gabrielle's waist. The bard mumbled pleasantly and interlaced her fingers with Xena's and was fast asleep.
Xena began to drift into sleep and noticed the pain at her neck. Curious, she untangled her fingers from Gabrielle and touched the spot where Gabrielle had screamed and bitten at the same time. The warrior was surprised to find blood on her neck and some tender skin.
With a frown she interlaced her fingers back with Gabrielle's hand and drifted into sleep.
Xena decided that they needed to deal with other things first rather than the bard's sharp teeth. A wounded Joxer, a crippled son and a life to rebuild.
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