Amazons of the North
By Hunter Ash
Ownership: I don’t own Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc etc etc. I’m borrowing them for my pleasure and, hopefully, the pleasure of others for entertainment. Don’t bother suing me, even the government agrees that I don’t have anything of value.
Subtext/Alt Sex: You bet. This story concerns people having sex, both with the opposite gender and of the same gender. If this bugs you or is illegal where you are, leave. Come back when you’re older, have changed your laws, moved or opened your mind.
Violence: It is Xena and Gabrielle we’re working with here. Battle scene, some good fights and a blood lust. Nothing more violent than you see on the show.
Storyline: Xena and Gabrielle travel North to the Siberian Amazons to make amends for Xena’s past history concerning Alti and discover that things aren’t settled.
This is part of the Awakening Series. I hope that it can stand on it’s own as an individual story but you might want to catch some of the rest of the stories before this to have some background.
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
Feedback: always welcome and will be responded to.
Xena pulled Argo to a halt and let Gabrielle move her horse closer to her.
"Why don't you take Sasha for a bit?"
"You're afraid of being recognized and attacked before we can say anything?" Gabrielle frowned as she began unhitching the small child from her harness at her mom's back and moved the child in front of her, taking the opportunity to hug Sasha and get a giggle from her adopted daughter.
"Something like that," Xena said, eyes darting around.
"I don't know why we haven't been challenged yet. It's been two marks since we passed the boundary markers. I know they're out there." Gabrielle complained, looking around the forest they were traveling deeper into.
"I know. You okay, Solan?" Xena glanced back at her teenage son on a horse just behind Gabrielle. Her heart always gave a painful jerk at the sight of the band of cloth covering his eyes.
"You bet, Mom." he answered easily but Xena could tell from his body that he was tense.
The family had only gone a few hundred yards when arrows landed in the ground in front of their horses. The women stopped their mounts and raised their hands in a symbol of peace.
"Solan, Amazons!" Xena said loudly and the boy followed the example of his mothers.
Several figures appeared from behind trees and out of them, surrounding the family with notched arrows and drawn swords.
The leader demanded something in a language Gabrielle didn’t recognize but Xena did and answered and the scout leader switched to Germanic, enabling Gabrielle to follow.
"Who are you? You know the Amazon sign of peace." the obvious leader of the Amazon scouts and guards demanded from behind her mask of leather and fur.
"I am Gabrielle, Queen of the Southern Amazons and this is my Consort and family." Gabrielle answered easily. "We wish to visit your village."
"The Southern Amazons were killed," the leader stated flatly.
"Not all of them, I am alive and so are two others of my tribe. They survived the attack by the Romans, Brutus and Antony." Gabrielle responded, slowly lowering one hand and reaching into the pack nearest her and pulled out her Queen mask, showing it to the band.
"We heard the Southern Amazons joined with the Wine Country Amazons and then went north and were still killed."
"And you are?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Svetlana, Scout Chief."
"I have identified myself as Amazon, are we welcome or not?"
Xena heard the frustration in Gabrielle's voice and resisted grinning. As an Amazon, especially as royalty, the Amazons should have acknowledged the family and extended a welcome by this point. Xena knew that her bard wasn't comfortable with the royal treatment her rank meant but this behavior was bordering on rudeness.
"If you are Amazons," Svetlana said sullenly.
"If?!" Gabrielle shouted and handed Sasha quickly to Xena as she leaped off her horse. "If?"
The bard stomped right into the face of the Scout leader and Xena bit her lip to keep from grinning as the smaller woman got right into Svetlana's face and the tall Amazon backed up two paces.
"I have identified myself as an Amazon and one of royal rank, either take us to your village and your Queen now or we turn and leave!" Gabrielle demanded, her green eyes flashing.
Svetlana slowly removed her mask, showing downcast eyes.
"I apologize, my Queen," the Amazon stammered. "We never get visitors from the southern tribes."
"Enough! Lead us!" Gabrielle demanded and leaped back onto her horse, grabbing up Solan's reins.
Xena resisted grinning as the Amazons quickly began leading them down the trail. A quick glance towards her mate's direction confirmed that Gabrielle was still fuming. Xena decided it might be better to keep quiet for awhile. This was Gabrielle's territory, after all.
A short time later Solan waited outside the Queen's Hut while Gabrielle and Xena went inside to meet with the leader of the Northern Amazons. Unlike the Scout leader Svetlana, the Queen was an older woman of probably 45 winters with gray hair but dancing blue eyes that showed lots of life left even though her legs were twisted and crippled.
"I am Arja, Queen of the Amazons of the North." the Queen said in Germanic.
"I am Gabrielle, Queen of the Southern Amazons and this is my Consort."
"You are welcome, Queen Gabrielle, to my tribe and my home."
"Just Gabrielle, please." Gabrielle smiled, a familiar request whenever she was with the Amazons.
"I understand, please just call me Arja," the older woman smiled. "Why have you come to us?"
"Several reasons, Arja," Gabrielle hesitated as another young woman entered the hut. Both Xena and Gabrielle figured the intense looking woman as the shaman by the way she was dressed in leather, bones, feathers and fur and her headpiece was of leather, beads and stag horns.
"This is Yakut, our shaman," Arja introduced.
"I am Gabrielle of the Southern Amazons and this is my Consort," Gabrielle stated. She glanced over at Xena, noting the warrior's clenched jaw, and reached out to hold her mate's hand. "Many Summers ago my mate wronged your tribe. Since that time she has become a champion of the Amazons throughout the Southern countries but we haven't made amends to your tribe. That's one of the reasons we've come."
"And the other reasons?" Arja asked.
"There are two survivors of my tribe, they are with a friendly Northern family. I would ask permission for them to join your tribe. They are an older woman who is a trained baker and a small child. I would also ask an Amazon recognition and bonding ceremony for the child of my mate as my legal heir as an Amazon." Gabrielle said simply.
"You are not an Amazon, warrior?" Arja asked Xena.
"No, I've been asked to join several tribes over the years but that would always mean taking a Goddess as a patron and I'm not much for serving the gods." Xena responded.
Gabrielle resisted grinning at that understatement. Xena was notoriously known for her dislike of dealing with the gods.
"And how would you make amends, Consort?" Yakut asked.
"My crime against your tribe was great, maybe beyond forgiveness. I'll leave that to your Elder Council and my mate," Xena said softly.
"Your crimes are great, Xena, but you are protected by your status as Consort to a Queen. You would turn yourself over to our judgment?" Arja asked.
Xena's eyes dropped. "You know me."
"Yes, I was waiting to see your business with us." Arja said simply. "Your answer, Consort?"
"I submit," Xena answered.
"Xena," Gabrielle growled and Xena squeezed her hand.
"We knew there would be a price," Xena said softly.
Gabrielle turned to the Queen. "And what would that price be?" she demanded.
"That will be determined. The child you wish named as your heir is the daughter of Xena?" Arja asked.
"Yes, she is our daughter," Gabrielle stated.
"I know of you and your reputation as a Queen, Gabrielle. I will petition the Elder Council myself for this acknowledgment. It will also go far in your behalf, Xena." Arja stretched one of her legs out in front of her. "You have become a champion of our sister Amazons, would you protect us as well?"
"Yes," the warrior answered easily.
"Think carefully," Yakut advised. "We knew it was you, Xena. Even if Arja didn't recognize you, I saw of you in a vision and your journey here."
"You recognized me," Xena repeated softly.
"Yes, I was a seasoned warrior at the time. My legs were shattered when I fell to one of your traps in the trees that day you slaughtered most of the fighters and leaders of this tribe. I lived." Arja answered.
Gabrielle tightened her grip on Xena's hand as the warrior's head dropped.
"I know that telling you that I'm sorry for that isn't enough, Arja, but I am," Xena looked up, fighting back tears.
"I believe you and I accept that. I am no longer the same person I was on that day, Xena, and I believe that you aren't either. Others may not be as quick to forgive you though, understand that." Arja warned.
"You shouldn't forgive me," Xena said grimly, looking at the shattered legs of the Queen.
"Forgiving you is easy, Xena. Forgiving yourself will be the hardest for you, I think, if I read your character right." Arja smiled.
"You do, she has changed." Gabrielle stated firmly.
"You mentioned a vision, Yakut?" Xena prompted, anxious to turn the conversation away from her and the changes.
"Yes, Xena, there were two visions. The first vision was of you killing the Amazon leaders of this tribe so long ago and of their spirits. The second vision is of you fighting our greatest enemy and freeing them."
Xena and Gabrielle frowned. "What do you mean, freeing them?" Gabrielle asked.
"All the Amazons who died that day are trapped in the Land of the Dead," Yakut answered. "They are unable to cross over into Eternity. Our most sacred word isn't enough to free them."
"Cyane?" Xena whispered.
"Yes, and those who were injured that day, when they die their spirits are also trapped." Yakut answered, looking at Arja.
"When you die, your spirit will be trapped as well?" Gabrielle asked, turning to Arja.
"Yes, so it seems." the Queen answered easily.
"Who can do this?" Gabrielle frowned.
"Alti," Xena whispered and Yakut nodded.
"Oh gods," Gabrielle muttered. "Didn't we have enough of her already?" the bard complained.
"You've dealt with her before?" Yakut asked sharply.
"When I went on a shaman journey Gabrielle somehow connected with me and we had to fight Alti in the spirit realm," Xena explained.
"Think carefully of this, Consort, would you fight to free our sisters?"
"I don't have to think about it, Arja. I caused this mess, I'll fix it." Xena answered easily.
"Xena, we'll fix it," Gabrielle corrected.
"Not this time, little one."
"Xena," Gabrielle growled.
"First things first," Arja suggested. "Yakut and I will approach the Elder Council with your presence here, Xena, and your agreement to help with Alti. Then we'll decide which comes first, battling Alti or welcoming your daughter as a member of the tribe and heir to Gabrielle."
"Just understand, Xena, some of us will accept your help but we will remember that it was you who put them there in the first place," Yakut growled and left the hut.
"Her mother's spirit is trapped in the Land of the Dead and is being used by Alti," Arja explained.
Xena nodded, understanding. After a moment she rose and helped Gabrielle to her feet.
"The guards will show you and your family to the guest hut. Your son will have an escort, even though he is blind, he is a male on Amazon land."
"Of course, Arja. He was raised by Centaurs, he understands Amazon custom."
The family was served dinner just after dusk by non-talking Amazon tribe members. Sasha chatted away about the wonderful fur and leather of the Northern Amazon clothing and Solan kept her occupied as Xena was quiet and withdrawn. Gabrielle, knowing her warrior, merely curled up in her lover's arms while they waited.
It was a candlemark after dark when Arja and Yakut entered the hut with three other Amazons, all armed with drawn swords.
Gabrielle felt her warrior growl behind her and squeezed Xena's hand reassuringly.
"Sasha, look!" Gabrielle said cheerfully, "they have swords like your Mom's. Solan, want to put Sasha to bed soon?" the teenager nodded, sensing the tension in the room and the reason for it. "Sasha, we're going to go visit with these Amazons for a little bit, okay?"
The youngster nodded and ran into Solan's welcoming arms. The small child accepted Gabby Mum's cheerful words but she had grown quiet and thoughtful, much like her mom.
Gabrielle stood up and lent a hand to her warrior.
"Gabrielle, only Xena is requested at the Council," Arja stated.
"You think I'll stay behind?" Gabrielle asked with a rueful smile and Arja nodded in understanding and stepped aside for the two visitors to join them outside.
Once outside the hut Xena turned and handed over her sword and chakram. Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in question to the other Amazon Queen.
"No, we don't need your weapons, Gabrielle." Arja answered the unspoken question.
"I've died for my Amazons before but that doesn't compare to what I would do for Xena," Gabrielle answered, handing over her sais. Arja nodded and accepted them.
Inside the meeting hut, the two women sat down on the furs indicated, facing a semi circle of grim faced Amazons.
While Arja and Yakut settled into their positions in the circle, Gabrielle took the chance to look around. The huts were made a little differently than in the South, she reflected. Of large chunks of earth, hides and wood, unlike the wood of the south. Circle in design with a smoke hole in the center of the roof, a fire blazing in the center of the room. Instead of chairs and tables, these Amazons preferred sitting on furs mostly, although some of the older women sat on small stools.
The tension in the room was thick and Xena shifted in her position. Gabrielle once again reached out and held her warrior's hand.
Xena looked over at her mate and gave the bard a small smile. Under different circumstances, the warrior would have trouble concentrating on anything other than her mate. Gabrielle had worn her Amazon royalty clothing, which always caught Xena's attention. The bard carried her mask, waiting to see if formality would be needed before donning it.
Arja sat down in the center of the semi circle and faced the two women.
"We of the Northern Amazons are honored to welcome Queen Gabrielle of the Southern Amazons. We are especially pleased to learn that your tribe is not dead and the spirit of the Amazons live on in you and that you wish to pass this along to your adopted child. We would be honored to assist in this and accept your mate's daughter as your heir and as an Amazon." Arja said.
"Thank you, Queen Arja, I am grateful for this welcome and your acceptance of my child." Gabrielle said carefully, not bringing Xena into it yet.
"Consort," Arja turned her attention to Xena. "You would normally be as welcome to our village and our tribe as Queen Gabrielle but you have a past history with this tribe that must be addressed."
Several of the women shifted on their furs.
"Many Summer seasons ago you committed the ultimate crime against our tribe by killing an Amazon."
Xena's eyes dropped.
"This was made worse by the fact that you killed quite a number of our leaders and best fighters. Normally, nothing could make up for this crime other than your death at our hands. To make the situation worse, we discovered that our beloved tribe members are held in limbo in Tuoni, the Land of the Dead and not permitted to reach Manala, the Isle of the Dead, Eternity. This is because of your slaughter of them for the evil shaman Alti and her power over their souls. Does this state the facts fairly?"
Xena looked up, the struggle evident on her face.
"Yes, Queen Arja, the facts are stated fairly," she said firmly.
"Since that time I have stated to the Council that you have changed drastically and this should be considered. Queen Gabrielle insisted on being here, so I would ask her to speak on these facts."
Gabrielle squeezed her mate's hand again and began telling the Council the shortened version of Xena's abandonment of the dark side of herself and her struggle towards the Light. Xena reflected that her mate was a truly gifted bard, her words having the power to enthrall most any audience, even the rowdiest of drunken soldiers.
Xena listened as the bard weaved her tale of a reformed evil Warlord into a warrior seeking redemption. From the first time that a young girl from Potedaia saw the Warrior Princess, when Xena saved Gabrielle and the other females of her village from slavers; from their exploits in rescuing Prometheus, and thus saving mankind; rescuing Death herself; stopping the war between the Centaurs and Southern Amazons, preventing many deaths and forming a new alliance between the two tribes; saving Helen from the fall of Troy; getting the Helm of Invisibility back for Hades; returning the sacred casket to the Children of Abraham.
Xena did note that her bard skipped over the telling of their first meeting with Callisto and agreed with her mate. Bringing up one of Xena's victims who had turned killer probably wouldn't help her case with the Northern Amazons, she thought.
The bard continued with how Xena had used her battle learned medical skills to help save soldiers and victims from both sides of a war and ended up stopping the senseless fighting; then fighting and defeating Bacchus, saving Gabrielle and risking her own soul in the process. The bard speaking eloquently about saving the Princess Diana from assassins and helping end slavery in that kingdom; helping Ares get his sword and his godly powers back and of Xena's death and her fight to return to Gabrielle, even before they were lovers. The bard especially focused on defeating the Goddess Velasco and saving the Southern Amazons again and of Xena risking permanent blindness in order to rescue Gabrielle. The tale of Xena facing her dark self when they faced the Horde.
Gabrielle gave a summary of all the bandits, slavers, and assassins they had stopped during their travels.
Then Xena heard the bard's voice catch and Gabrielle described how they had hid their feelings from each other, each afraid of rejection and pain. Especially of Xena thinking she would never be good enough for Gabrielle because of her past, no matter what she did to make up for it.
The Queen of the Southern Amazons went on to tell of their Amazon marriage and how Xena nearly went insane with berserker fury when Gabrielle was poisoned by the Romans and how the warrior resisted giving into the darkness even when Gabrielle was in agony from the poison.
Gabrielle hesitated again and looked at her mate for a moment and Xena nodded, sensing the question.
"When Xena was in the darkness, she belonged to Ares, our God of War and Chaos. When she left those ways he became enraged and has worked endlessly to get her back as Warlord. Like Loki of the North, Ares doesn't play fair. He has framed Xena for murder, hoping she would turn to him to get her out of the mess; he has disguised himself as her father to reawaken her warrior rage; he attempted to kidnap me the night of our wedding and kill Xena when she stood in his way; he has also tried to turn me to his cause. The worst was when he took the form of a trusted friend and tricked Xena into sacrificing at one of his old altars and gave her drugged wine. The wine was enchanted and my mate lost her memory of the last two winters and all memory of me."
Xena felt Gabrielle's hand tighten in hers. She knew this was difficult to talk about, especially with strangers.
"He convinced Xena that I was sent by the gods to seduce her and turn her away from her destiny as ruler of the world at his side. He sent her back to me to assassinate me." Gabrielle smiled at her mate for a moment before continuing. "She wasn't able to do it. Even with her memories gone she wasn't able to kill me. Given the chance, I was able to re-establish our blood bond and her memories returned. Nine months later she gave birth to Sasha and I accepted the child as ours."
"May I speak?" Xena asked as Gabrielle hesitated. Xena could feel Gabrielle tense up.
"Yes," Arja answered.
"I lost Gabrielle while I was pregnant with Sasha. She was kidnapped by slavers and a good friend was crippled by them. The only thing that kept me alive was our blood connection, I knew Gabrielle was alive and I would find her. That, and the birth of Sasha. I was almost insane with grief and worry but I still refused to give into the darkness. I credit Gabrielle with it always."
"I got back to Xena and accepted Sasha as my own. Then, even with all the sacrifices we made and the well made plans, our Amazons were killed. Even after we got them out of Italia." Gabrielle's head dropped as she fought back against the tears, remembering her friends and family: Ephiny, Solari, Eponi, Nikkita, all the others. "Xena was beside me during all of that, risking certain death to try and free our Amazons being held captive by Caesar. We went on a suicide mission to free them and she wouldn't turn away from it, even though it meant leaving Sasha without parents."
Gabrielle raised her head to look at the Elder Council. She slowly removed her leather bracers and held up her scarred wrists for them to see.
“I was crucified by the Romans to save my Amazons. The only way I had the strength to face that was because Xena was beside me.”
Gabrielle replaced her bracers and held Xena’s hand again.
"I ask the Council to consider all of this. I know Xena's past crimes are serious but I believe that she is making up for them every day that she resists Ares and the darkness that enveloped her for so many years. She has saved Gods, Amazons, Kings, Princesses, Kingdoms and common people since that time. She is also my Champion and my Consort and the mother of my adopted children. She's my life."
Gabrielle grew silent and wiped away a tear quickly.
"Thank you, Queen Gabrielle. I state that the Council will fairly consider all that you have said. Yakut has asked to speak on this as well." Arja said simply.
"You know me, my sisters. My mother was one that fell on a spiked tree branch and died painfully because of Xena. You also know I am your shaman and have found that the souls of our dead are not traveling onto their Eternity. They are being held in captivity in the Land of the Dead by Alti, the evil shaman that turned Xena away from being a friend to this tribe to its murderer. I publicly forgive Xena for her crime against my mother and our sisters. I also state that I believe Xena may be the only one who can help me free the souls of our sisters from Alti's control. I sense that Xena has shaman abilities, that's probably what drew Alti to her, besides her darkness."
"The Council knows that I became crippled because of Xena that day. I was one of the survivors. I also publicly forgive her this crime against me. I have discussed the situation with Alti and the warrior has agreed to fight against Alti to save the souls of our sisters, have you not, warrior?" Arja asked.
"Yes, no matter what you decide my punishment to be, I would ask that you give me time to face Alti and be given the chance to defeat her." Xena said firmly.
"You would face Alti at the risk of your life and possibly your soul to help us and then still face whatever punishment we decree?" one of the Council asked.
"Yes, I gave Alti the power to capture the souls of your sisters. This is my doing and I want a chance to free them and stop Alti. After these years she's gained a lot of power and needs to be stopped," Xena answered.
"And you, Queen Gabrielle? Would you face this danger for strangers?" another asked.
"Xena and I face danger for strangers all the time. This is even more important, as Amazons, you and those trapped are my sisters. I died once for my tribe and I'm willing to face that for this tribe and I'll face anything with my mate." Gabrielle answered strongly.
"The Council will discuss this and make a decision. Since you came willingly to face us, I suggest that the warrior be allowed to return to the guest hut with Queen Gabrielle to await our decision in the morning. I don't feel the need for chains or guards." one of the Elders spoke and the others nodded.
"Thank you for addressing the Council, Queen Gabrielle. Xena, thank you for facing this with the same bravery that Cyane once saw in you. I'm glad you're living up to the potential she saw in you." Arja said and Xena nodded, not trusting her voice.
Entering the guest hut once more the warrior hurried over to her children.
"Solan, we're both here," she said softly, taking Sasha into her arms and giving the youngster a hug.
"Without your weapons," the teenager commented.
"How can you tell?" Xena asked with a smile.
"Your chakram isn't rattling against your leather tunic," he answered.
"You're the only one who can hear that," she grinned and hugged him with a free arm.
"What happened?" he asked.
"They'll tell us in the morning," Gabrielle answered. "We'll go up against Alti and that'll probably square things."
"How will you fight Alti?" Solan asked.
"I'm not sure, we need to find out how strong she is and what her plans are. She'll know we're here and I expect some kind of move from her soon." Xena said simply, setting Sasha back down on the sleeping furs as the little girl yawned, drifting back into sleep.
"We know that she can hurt us on the spiritual plane," Gabrielle commented, beginning to unlace her boots.
"And we have no idea what she's capable of on the material plane now, either."
"What about attacking her body while she's fighting on the spiritual plane?" Solan asked.
"That's definitely an idea but one she'll be expecting. We'll talk with Yakut in the morning and see what she knows of Alti's powers." Xena suggested, kneeling in front of her bard and beginning to help Gabrielle off with her boots.
Solan shifted on his own furs. "I'm going to sleep," he announced. "Goodnight, Mom, night Gabby Mom."
Gabrielle grinned and threw a rolled up rabbit fur at him. Watching him settle down, the bard smiled. His smile was a lot like his mother's, she thought.
Xena sat next to her bard and let Gabrielle begin to unlace her boots in return.
"Thank you," Xena said softly, surprising her mate. Gabrielle smiled and continued unlacing the boots.
"No thanks needed, my love."
"Yes, there is. I don't tell you enough how important you are to me. I love you so much, Gabrielle."
"You're my life, Xena," Gabrielle responded, leaning up to kiss her mate. "Let's try and sleep."
"Not sure I can," Xena muttered, a frown crossing her face.
Gabrielle gently caressed Xena's cheek. "I know, my love. I'm worried too and I am so proud of you for this. You didn't have to do this."
"Yes, I did. If we ever want any future with any other Amazon tribe, it needed to be done."
"Come to bed and let me hold you for once," the bard offered.
The warrior didn't snuggle in her mate's arms often, her warrior instinct raging against being in a vulnerable position, but when she did, Gabrielle was grateful to be shown that level of trust and Xena welcomed the comfort of her mate's arms and soothing touch.
Both women slept restlessly that night.
The two women found they had little appetite for breakfast and waited impatiently for the Council meeting. Solan raised his head and Gabrielle noticed Xena's head turning as well.
"With you two around, no one will ever sneak up on us," she teased the two of them.
Solan blushed and Xena shrugged.
"I have many......"
"Ack! Don't say it!" Gabrielle begged with a grin and then lost the grin when two Amazon warriors entered the hut. Everyone noticed that they didn't have their swords drawn this time.
"The boy is allowed outside with the child, several Amazons would like to meet them. The Council has asked to see both of you, Queen Gabrielle and Consort Xena." one of them announced.
"Great, how would you like to look around, Sasha? Meet some new people?" Solan said enthusiastically, letting his sister take his hand and grabbing his staff in the other. Sasha led him to the door and one of the Amazons led the children out of the hut.
The two women followed the other warrior towards the meeting hut.
Gabrielle was hoping that it was a good sign that they were being treated with respect and that the guard used Xena's title of Consort. She hoped it was a step forward.
She reached for Xena's hand as they sat down on the furs to face the Elder Council again.
"Queen Gabrielle, our tribe would be grateful to accept your help in dealing with Alti and would be pleased to welcome you and the children into our tribe as Amazons." Queen Arja stated.
"Thank you, we would be honored," Gabrielle answered easily.
"Consort Xena, it has been decided among the Council that we accept your offer to help fight Alti. It has also been decided that this will be acceptable as repayment for your crimes against this tribe. Because you helped cause the situation, if you are successful in defeating Alti, your final punishment will be that you will not be asked to join as a full Amazon of our tribe at this time. Your rank of Consort to Queen Gabrielle will be honored and acknowledged but you will not become a full sister to us at this time."
Xena dropped her head and then looked up at the Council.
"I thank the Council for this opportunity to try and make some amends to this tribe and I won't rest until the danger from Alti is finished. I thank you for honoring my bonding with Queen Gabrielle, as well."
"Then it is settled, you will be considered a guest of this tribe and treated as such. Yakut and I want to meet with both of you immediately to decide upon a course of action. The Council meeting is ended."
Both sighed with relief as they left the meeting hut while the meeting broke up. Xena pulled Gabrielle into her arms for a quick hug and kiss. Gabrielle held the warrior's head, capturing the warrior's lips, turning the quick kiss into a passionate one that surprised Xena. Gabrielle broke the kiss and leaned her head against Xena's shoulder.
"I love you, Xena," she said simply.
"I love you, my Queen," Xena smiled.
They turned at Yakut's call and re-entered the hut and sat across from Arja and Yakut and two of the Amazon warriors, one of them Svetlana.
Xena was amused to see the Scout leader treating Gabrielle with a little more respect than the day before.
The next two candlemarks were spent discussing Alti and the situation. It included a basic crash course in shamanism and fighting on the spiritual plane for the two Queens and Amazon warriors from Xena and Yakut. In turn, Yakut caught Xena up on Alti's rise to power in the region over the years.
"She's got about 75 men and women under her and a number of slaves. The number rises and falls and we can't keep track of how many she has, especially young women." Yakut informed Xena and Gabrielle.
"Why up and down?" Gabrielle asked and noticed Xena's jaw clenching.
"She prefers using the blood of young women and children for her shaman working," Xena muttered. "She wanted me to murder a young Amazon girl named Otere for the shaman journey working, Borias stopped her."
"Otere still lives, she's on scouting patrol on the northern border." Arja commented.
"What else?" Gabrielle asked, eyes narrowing.
"Any Amazon getting close to her territory falls ill until they can't move and die." Yakut continued.
"How far does her territory extend?" Xena asked, looking at a map on the back of a deerhide. Yakut pointed to a darkened area.
"It grows each winter season." Arja commented.
"It's said that Alti has been seen in two places at once, I believe it is her loyly." Yakut said.
"Loyly?" Gabrielle questioned.
"The part of yourself that is separate but together. It is the part of you that goes traveling when you sleep or enter trance. The loyly of a powerful magician can become powerful itself and is called a varjohaltia."
"Shadow Ruler," Xena whispered.
Yakut nodded. "Yes, it can act as a spirit guide and helper. To an evil magician, it helps attack your enemies and drains their life force."
"She's using the haltija of the dead Amazons to power her magic here on the physical realm," Xena commented.
"Haltija?" Gabrielle again questioned.
"Everything has a haltija, a spirit. The life force that defines us." Yakut explained.
"How do we defeat her?" Svetlana asked.
"I don't know, we've been trying to figure that out for years," Yakut complained. "Any warrior sent against her is defeated by the berserker."
"Berserker? She has a berserker warrior with her?"
"Why do I feel like I'm in school?" Gabrielle muttered, "I remember Axel saying something about berserkers. Fierce Viking warriors who can turn into bears or wolves and are impossible to defeat in battle, right?"
"Yes," Arja answered.
"I've met all types of warriors before and Gabrielle has fought all types in the Arena as well, what makes the Berserker different?" Xena asked.
"I watched one of the fights, Erkka, our best fighter in years. She trained for over a year to face Alti and her soldiers. When she went against the Berserker, she did well." Svetlana said. "Then something happened, she was knocked off her horse but the Berserker was more than an a spear throw away. When she stood up to face him, she had blood at her mouth. The Berserker charged her and she knocked him from his horse. When she rushed to finish him she stopped suddenly and grabbed her stomach, falling to her knees in pain. When she looked up, blood was pouring from her nose and then she went flying backwards, as if something hit her. The Berserker walked over and cut her head off with one stroke."
"She was hit by something, Alti." Xena muttered, her eyes narrowing. The others looked at her closely. "Gabrielle and I fought Alti in the spirit realm when I went on a shaman journey to settle something with the gods. Alti used her powers to attack us in the spirit and our bodies took the hits in the physical."
"You mean, if she hit you in the spirit, then your body in a trance was hit?" Yakut questioned closely.
"How did you defeat that?" Arja questioned.
"By focusing our minds. Alti slipped and said that it wasn't the strongest body that won in the spirit realm but the strongest mind. By focusing, we were able to turn her power away and not let it affect us." Gabrielle answered.
"That's it! If we all work together, we could combine our strength in the spirit realm and defeat her there. She can't be strong enough to take on the whole tribe!" Yakut suggested excitedly.
"There's just one problem with that," Xena stated. "We could take Alti that way but she's protected on the spirit realm. We didn't try to fight her, just keep her from hurting us."
"Who would protect her in the spirit realm besides her varjohaltia?" Yakut questioned.
"Your Amazon sisters are held by her. She uses their haltija's power and she uses them as soldiers in the spirit realm." Xena said sadly.
"Our Amazons would fight us?" Svetlana asked in disbelief.
"Yes," Xena's head dropped and her fists clenched.
"How can we get enough warriors focused enough in trance to fight our sisters in the spirit realm, have enough warriors to fight through her soldiers and attack her physical body?" Arja thought outloud.
"We don't have enough warriors talented enough in trance working to accomplish that," Yakut complained.
"May I suggest that beginning with the New Moon that everyone be taught the basics of trance working beyond just celebration dance ritual?" Gabrielle smiled.
Arja nodded in agreement. "I know, something that should have been done long ago." she muttered.
Gabrielle frowned, noticing Xena's withdrawn look and drawn eyebrows.
"What is it, love?" she asked softly.
"Yakut, you said that Alti holds prisoner those that I killed that day and any who were there at the slaughter? What about those who have died since?" Xena asked, eyes flashing.
"They have passed on to Eternity without any problems. Some stayed behind in the Land of the Dead with their sisters or mothers."
"What are you thinking, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"How to defeat an enemy on a two front line," Xena muttered.
"You divide your forces, taking the best and putting them where they're best used." Svetlana prompted.
"Exactly, the problem is that Yakut and I can't be in two places at the same time like Alti can."
"What are you thinking, my love?" Gabrielle asked again.
"We need several fighters to take on the spirit Amazons and keep Alti busy in that realm. I've done that before but I need to be in the physical realm to take on the Berserker, fight through her troops and get to her body and end it. For that I need a lot of fighters," Xena explained.
"How many of your warriors are trained in trance working?" Gabrielle asked the Amazons. Yakut frowned and looked down.
"Not enough, I would risk six of them," she answered softly.
"I killed more than that on that day. How many have died since?" Xena questioned.
"There are at least two hands each," Svetlana answered.
Xena quickly translated the Amazon's difficulty with Germanic from the Amazon's native language. "At least 20," she frowned.
"Cyane is a legend among our tribe, she was a great warrior. None of our fighters could take her." Arja commented.
Xena noticed Gabrielle's pensive look and silence. "What is it, little one?" she asked in Greek.
"You sometimes forget I'm a skilled fighter now and I've faced Alti," Gabrielle answered in Germanic.
Xena turned pale. "Face Alti on the spirit realm? No, please."
"I won't be alone, I'll have the other Amazons with me. You take the rest of the fighters and get to her physical body and we'll end it." Gabrielle suggested.
"You'd still need more warriors than this tribe has trained in trance." Arja frowned.
"Others can still cross into the spirit realm," Yakut said softly.
"How?" Arja continued frowning.
"Those recently dead would cross over into the Land of the Dead and could join us," the shaman whispered.
"You would ask our sisters to kill themselves?" Arja demanded and Yakut blushed. The Amazon Queen got to her feet and began pacing on her crutches, muttering in her Siberian native tongue. Everyone was quiet as they pondered the prospect and the problem, looking for other solutions.
Arja threw her crutches down with an obvious curse. "Any other way around this?" she asked the group.
"How many fighters do you have in total?" Xena asked.
"We can send to the other smaller tribes, they've already pledged aid against Alti. A total number of 50 warriors," Svetlana responded.
"I think I have an idea, can you get Otere here as well?" Xena asked.
"Yes, easily, why?" Arja asked.
"A way to fulfill a prophecy and help us at the same time," Xena's eyes narrowed again and a smile played across her face. "I suggest a break while I work out some details in my head. And send for Otere."
"Good idea, I'm getting a headache," Arja agreed, climbing to her feet once again with the aid of her crutches.
"Gabrielle, go grab some lunch with the kids. I'm going to grab some cheese and bread and take a run. I need to clear my head." Xena suggested.
"You're not keeping anything from me, are you?" Gabrielle demanded in Greek.
"No, little one. No secrets. I just need to stretch my muscles and the mind a bit." Xena grinned and helped her mate to her feet and kissed the bard.
"All right," Gabrielle agreed reluctantly.
Gabrielle was pleased and surprised to find Solan with several of the Amazon scouts and they seemed to be training him on something. When the bard got closer to the training area she was very surprised to find a bow in his hands. She looked down the field and saw an Amazon scout by a hay bale.
The bard stopped short of joining the small group as she watched the young teenager pull a notched arrow back. Everyone grew very quiet and still. Gabrielle wasn't sure if she stopped breathing for a moment.
The Amazon at the hay bale yelled something three times with small pauses between the words and at the ending of the last word, dropped to the ground and lay flat. Solan released his arrow as the word died.
Gabrielle tried to remember to breath as the arrow landed dead center of the target above the Amazon. The Amazon scouts around the boy began cheering and clapping him on the shoulder. The bard smiled widely as the boy grinned and blushed.
Then the Amazons spotted Gabrielle and went to their knees.
"Okay, let's get this out of the way," Gabrielle smiled. "No kneeling unless it's an official function and call me Gabrielle, not Queen Gabrielle or Your Highness. Okay?"
The Amazon scouts got to their feet slowly and then grinned. The bard hugged Solan around his bow. Sasha was sitting on a log nearby and clapping at Solan's achievement.
"Solan, that was great!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"Thanks! I think with the hearing I got from Mom that I could turn this into a talent," he said excitedly.
"Looks like it. How about some lunch and then you can continue. Come on, Sasha, lunch!" Gabrielle scooped up the smiling youngster into her arms and walked with Solan and the scouts to the food hall.
"A couple of the scouts want to teach me to throw daggers, too," Solan said as they walked.
"That'd be great. How's the language thing?" Gabrielle grinned.
"Not easy, especially since I can't see what they're pointing at and trying to explain," the teenager complained. "You guys spent time in the North and picked up the Germanic stuff, I didn't."
"It'll come," she reassured him.
"Where's Mom?" he asked, nose picking up the scents of the food hall.
"Out for a run, thinking," Gabrielle answered, grateful that the warrior's weapons had been returned to her. Even out for 'just a run' could lead to trouble for Xena, the bard knew.
Gabrielle grinned when Xena entered the bath hut. The warrior stopped just inside the doorway, taking in the sight of her very naked mate in the hot springs fed water, a smile beginning on her face as well.
"Get in here, lover," Gabrielle ordered as she lounged back against the edge of the pool.
"Yes, my love," Xena grinned, stripping off her deerskin leathers and boots. "You know me too well, sometimes."
"Yup, and I never get enough of you," Gabrielle smiled. "How was your run and swordplay?"
"Good," Xena responded and sighed with pleasure as she lowered her body into the water. Even in summer the air was a little cool to the Greeks and the warrior had cooled down quite a bit after her run and workout and the hot water felt like paradise on her skin and muscles. Xena opened her eyes and saw her mate's heavy lidded eyes and flushed face and went to Gabrielle to embrace the Amazon Queen, drawing Gabrielle's naked body against hers, both moaning in pleasure with the contact.
When both women broke contact, trying to remember to breath, Gabrielle turned her warrior around and began to run soap over the warrior's back and taking advantage of the situation to nibble at Xena's neck as well.
"This is going to be hard, isn't it?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes, not only are we risking our lives but our souls as well. The only time that's come close was with Bacchus. I'm not sure which would frighten me more, to be a slave to Bacchus or Alti." Xena muttered.
"You have an idea though."
"Yes, but it's dangerous for everyone," Xena said, leaning back into her bard's arms.
"Well, Solan has a surprise for you when we get out of here and Otere came in from scouting just before you got back." Gabrielle informed her mate.
"Great, what's the surprise?" Xena asked, beginning to moan as Gabrielle's hands moved from her back, moving under her ribs and over the warrior's breasts.
"Can't tell you that, it wouldn't be a surprise." Gabrielle grinned, nuzzling Xena's neck.
"I hate surprises!" Xena growled and then gasped as Gabrielle's hand moved lower and she added teeth to Xena's neck. "Oh gods, you keep that up and we aren't getting out of here before dinner!" Xena warned.
Gabrielle laughed but moved her hand back up to hug her mate.
"I can't help it, you're irresistible!"
"So are you, little one."
"We need to get out, don't we?" Xena could feel Gabrielle's mood change.
"Yes, Alti knows we're here. I tested the talismans and charms at the border nearest her and she's pushing and testing them. I could hear her laughing at me." Xena muttered, turning around to hold her mate. "We need to start planning."
"Damn," Gabrielle muttered, running a hand lightly over the warrior's shoulders and down the arms holding her, delighting in the passion building in Xena's eyes.
"Gods, woman!" Xena complained and quickly released her mate and turned Gabrielle around in the pool. "Out! I can't think when you touch me!"
Gabrielle giggled and crawled out of the water, reaching for the towels, her nose and eyes crinkling in amusement as she handed a towel to her mate.
Once again the two Greeks found themselves sitting in front of Arja, Svetlana, two other Amazon warriors and now Otere as well.
Xena looked closely at the young woman. "Do you remember me?" she asked softly.
"Yes, warrior. Borias turned me over to the Amazons after I was orphaned." Otere answered.
"Do you remember Alti?" Xena asked.
"Yes, she wanted you to kill me but I knew you wouldn't."
"Do you remember why?"
"She said I would steal your power from you one day." Otere answered, her face puzzled.
"That day is here, young one." Xena answered cryptically.
"What is your plan, Xena?" Yakut asked.
"Time moves differently in the spirit realm. It's possible for several warriors to be almost killed, fight in the spirit realms and come back before their bodies are gone too long." Xena tried explaining.
"How would they cross over?" Yakut asked.
"The Pinch. I learned how to use pressure points, both to heal and kill. When used a certain way a couple of nerve pinches can kill someone by cutting off the flow of blood to the brain. If the pinch is removed quick enough, the person lives, coming back from unconsciousness."
"But you need to lead the physical warriors against Alti's soldiers to reach her body while she's in trance," Arja questioned.
"Exactly, that's why Otere is going to learn my skills and take my power," Xena grinned.
"Okay, out with it, love of mine," Gabrielle insisted.
"Otere and Gabrielle will lead the spirit warriors on the spirit realm. Otere and Gabrielle know enough of journeying and Otere will temporarily 'kill' the fighters they need. Some of the Amazons will watch over them and be their link to the physical world. Svetlana and I will lead the Amazon warriors against Alti's soldiers. I'll get to Alti's body and kill her and end this once and for all."
"Sounds simple," Yakut commented, "it's also extremely dangerous for everyone."
"Yes, if Alti wins on any level, she'll have our souls captive. That's not how anyone wants to spend eternity." Xena agreed.
"Anyone else have a better idea?" Arja asked, knowing that they didn't.
"Looks like you'll be learning the ways of the Shaman before I expected," Xena said softly to Gabrielle.
"Where do I fit in, Xena?" Yakut asked.
"You'll be the messenger between the worlds. You'll travel both roads, shaman."
The next candlemark was spent working out the details and some advice from Yakut on what Otere and Gabrielle needed to learn quickly.
It was almost sundown when the Greeks stepped back into the common area of the village. Xena stretched and looked around.
"Where's the kids? I want to spend some time with them," Xena said.
"You mean before we start preparing tomorrow?" Gabrielle asked, dreading the coming fight.
"Yeah, before we get wrapped up in this thing."
"Solan and Sasha are with the scouts at the training yard," Gabrielle answered, reaching out to hold Xena's hand and lead her warrior.
Gabrielle was delighted with Xena's stunned expression when the scouts spotted them and got Solan on his feet and a bow in his hand. Gabrielle halted Xena just short of the group as the Scouts set up the demonstration with the hay bale and Amazon sounding out the call for the young man.
Xena's face broke into a wide grin when the arrow hit dead center in the target.
Solan began blushing and grinning when he heard his mom's voice cheering and whistling off to one side. Sasha ran over to her mom's arms as the warrior and bard walked up to the beaming group.
"That was amazing, Solan," Xena commented, noticing all the Scouts looking pleased with their teaching and the praise from the warrior.
"Thanks, Mom. Might come in handy," he shrugged.
"I hadn't thought of archery," she muttered.
"They want to teach me to throw daggers next," he said proudly.
"Good," the proud mother grinned and hugged her son close and began thanking the scouts. Xena knew how hard it was for the young hunter to lose those skills when he lost his eyesight. This just might make up for it in a small part.
The next two days were spent preparing for battle on both sides. The Scouts reported that Alti’s soldiers were seen heading for the main camp throughout the region and the Amazons spent hours training and preparing their weapons and bodies.
Gabrielle and Otere spent hours with Yakut and Xena, preparing their bodies, minds and spirits. Solan practiced his new skill and Sasha began learning both Germanic and the native Siberian language of the Amazons.
Xena wasn’t surprised to find Gabrielle and the kids asleep when she entered the hut on their third night there. Gabrielle had spent the day learning trance working, dancing to induce trance and chanting in Siberian. Xena had split her day between helping Yakut teach Gabrielle and Otere and the rest of the day with the Amazon warriors, helping prepare them and their weapons for the fight against Alti. Everyone was tired and tense.
On the fourth morning, the day and night of the New Moon, Gabrielle and Otere left the village before dawn. Xena and Svetlana watched them go, both with worried looks on their faces.
“They’ll be fine,” Svetlana said simply.
“Yes, a simple hunting task,” Xena agreed, still frowning.
Several candlemarks later both warriors breathed sighs of relief when they spotted the two would-be shamans entering the village, Gabrielle carrying the body of a freshly killed and gutted deer across her shoulders.
Both women had deer blood markings on their faces and hands. Xena noted the flash in both their eyes and nodded. The bard and Otere headed for the hut of the shaman, Yakut.
Xena turned to Svetlana. “The fighters start out just before dawn. Have Arja gather all the tribe, tonight we chant and dance Gabrielle and Otere to the spirit side.”
The blond warrior nodded and dashed off.
“Gabrielle,” Xena whispered. “I wish I could think of another way.”
“Don’t let go of me,” Gabrielle has asked.
“No, never!” Xena had promised. Now the warrior watched worriedly as her bard lay on the ground, eyes staring at the pre-dawn sky but not seeing it.
Yakut placed a hand on Xena’s shoulder and squeezed, trying to reassure the warrior.
“Kilpa will watch over them, we need to go,” the shaman said softly.
Xena looked around slowly. A large number of Amazons waited near the end of the village, waiting for her and Svetlana to lead them into battle against Alti’s soldiers. Another group of warriors sat around the three fires, waiting.
Xena stood, she and Yakut approached Otere. Xena reached down and picked up the bowl of deer’s blood while Yakut began chanting and the drummers picked up the beat. Otere took the bowl from Xena’s hands.
Xena went to stand next to Solan and leaned towards his ear, whispering.
“They’re going to invoke the sacred gods and goddess of the North. It is thought that Otere will be taking on the spirit of their sacred Warrior Goddess, the Virgin. A lot like our Artemis,” she explained.
“O Virgin, unsheathe your mother’s sacred sword. Take up the breastplate of your ancestors. Take up your powerful helmet. Bring forth your steed of black. Fly to the open field there where the great army with countless weapons is found.” Yakut chanted. “O Virgin, cover me with your veil. Protect us against the power of the enemy, against sword and arrows, warriors and weapons, weapons of wood, of bone, of copper, and iron and steel.”
“O Neitsi, utupp sinu ema puha mook. Votma ules seda rind talkdrik ara sinu ode. Votma ules sinu voimas kiiver. Tooma edasi sinu hobu must karbesel seda avameelne olema, seal seda suur armee gaarvutu relv be rajama. O Neitsi, katma mind sinuga loor. Kaitsma mind vastu seda voimas vaenlane, vastu mook ja nool, sõjamees ja relv, relv puit, kont, vask, ja raud, ja teras.”
Solan frowned. “That isn’t Germanic, that’s their own language, isn’t it?” he questioned.
“Yes,” Xena whispered back. “Yakut is going to form the sacred circle that separates those inside the circle from the rest of the world. The circle helps protect those inside and creates a doorway to other realms and makes it easier for the gods and goddesses and such to interact with those in the circle.”
Yakut went to the east of the circle the warriors and shamans had formed.
“Mother Earth, subdue every evil and unclean being so that he may not cast a spell on us or do any harm,” she chanted as she poured out honey mead in offering. “Ema maa, alistama iga paha ja määrdunud olemine niisiis on sellega asjal tema mai ei heitma a haigushoog.”
Then she moved to the west. “Mother Earth, engulf the unclean power in your boiling pits, in your burning fires,” she chanted as she poured out honey mead in offering. “Ema maa, ümbritsema seda määrdunud voimas sisse sinu keetmine kaevand, sisse sinu tuline tulekahju.”
Then she moved to the south. “Mother Earth, calm the winds coming from the south and all bad weather. Calm the moving sands and whirlwinds.” Again the offering of the mead.
Then she moved to the north. “Mother Earth, calm the north winds and the clouds, subdue the snowstorms and the cold.” Again the offering of the mead.
Xena knelt down by Otere.
“Give us a candlemark and then cross over. Gabrielle is in a light trance now, you’ll find her waiting just at the twilight of the spirit realm and the physical one. You’ve practiced the pinch enough and know how to use it, don’t be nervous.”
“Count on me,” Otere said firmly.
“We all are,” Xena responded and stood up, nodding to Yakut and the shaman began walking towards the waiting warriors with the horses. “Yakut will go between the worlds when I get close to Alti’s physical body. Watch for her.”
Xena hugged Solan, “Take care of Sasha for me until we get back.”
“Count on it,” he said firmly.
Otere nodded and watched the warrior look down at her mate once more, her face pained.
“Gabrielle, if this doesn’t work, you won’t be trapped there alone,” Otere heard Xena whisper and the warrior was moving towards the horses.
Otere sat waiting patiently.
Gabrielle knew that Xena had wanted her in the twilight before the others so the bard could adjust to the strangeness of the spirit realm. When she had accompanied Xena on the warrior’s spirit journey, they hadn’t taken much time to look around and hadn’t fallen under the spell of the uniqueness of the place.
Time moved differently, Gabrielle learned, when it moved at all. Birds stopping in midflight, leaves suspended in air, sound trapped in nothingness. Nothing seemed “normal” any longer, colors shifted as they pleased.
Gabrielle spun one of the sais in her hand, its weight reassuring the bard. She knew that it would be useless against Alti but against the other Amazons trapped in this realm, the weapons should prove effective.
Gabrielle frowned, something she had neglected to ask Xena and Yakut. What happened if your spirit died in this realm? Gabrielle knew that if the spirit died in this realm then the living body on the physical realm died, but what happened to the spirit?
The bard knew what Xena and Yakut didn’t want to think about, let alone talk about, the spirit died a sort of death and became a slave to Alti. Gabrielle realized why Xena was so distressed that it was the bard facing Alti on the spirit realm while Xena attempted to attack the physical body, if anything went wrong, Gabrielle’s spirit would be captured by Alti as either a slave or be destroyed forever. After facing Alti before and standing beside Xena, Gabrielle knew that neither option by Alti’s hands would be pleasant.
The bard stood up when Amazons started appearing around her on the ground. With surprised looks they began sitting up, rubbing their necks.
“Well, looks like Otere learned enough of the first part of the pinch, anyway,” Gabrielle muttered, standing up from the rock she had been sitting on, totally focusing on the spirit realm, pulling the other sais from her boot sheath. Alti would sense the large disturbance on the spirit realm. The bard knew the spirit Amazons would be coming quickly.
“On your feet, defensive positions,” she snapped as the Amazons helped their sisters to their feet. The coherent ones quickly moved into a circle around Gabrielle and the ones still waking up.
The bard smiled and felt her body and mind shifting into fighter mode as Otere appeared on the ground next to her. She reached down and helped the Amazon to her feet.
“Glad you could make it,” Gabrielle, once known as Dancer the Gladiator, smiled, eyes darting around.
“Let’s just hope we get back,” Otere responded, pulling out her sword.
“We don’t have a choice if we want any kind of future and I have a wife and kids to get back to,” Gabrielle grinned. “You’re the Scout, where will they come from and how do we fight them?”
“Xena suggested to out Amazon the Amazons,” Otere said simply.
“Yes, Sisters - move! You know the plan!” Otere shouted and the group moved quickly towards the grey trees, away from the general direction they could sense Alti’s power coming from.
Within minutes ropes were flying through trees, branches were being broken and sharpened. Each of the Amazons worked quickly and tried to avoid thinking too much. Gabrielle winced at the progress they were making, shaking her head. Otere landed on the branch next to the warrior bard.
“What is it?”
“We’re planning on killing Sister Amazons the same way they were killed in the first place. This is madness,” Gabrielle muttered.
“I know, we just have to keep reminding ourselves that it’s necessary if we’re going to defeat Alti and save their souls.” Otere said grimly.
“Are the rest up to this? It’s one thing to kill an enemy soldier, it’s another to kill one of your ancestor sisters.”
“They have to be,” Otere stated.
“Who is the Goddess of your tribe?” Gabrielle asked.
“Pieve, she is the Sun.”
Gabrielle smiled a small smile. “In the south the Sun is male and the moon is female.”
“Here she is female. We also honor Metsola of the forests.” Otere answered.
“Then say a prayer to them, I think the others are coming.”
Xena gripped the reins of Argo tightly as she took in the approaching army in the valley below. Her band of Amazons were outnumbered and the soldiers below were wearing light armor while the Amazons wore their usual leathers. More of it than the Southern Amazons, but it was still leather. The women would be superior in movement and possibly fighting skill but not in protection.
“Svetlana, you know the plan. I’m going to take the first group in, let the leaders see me and then drop back. You bring in the two flanks in the pincer move while I work my way around and try to get to Alti’s camp.” the Amazon leader nodded and moved her horse off. Xena turned to Yakut. “Ready?”
“Yes, as soon as her camp is in sight I will find a place to trance out and try and help Gabrielle keep her occupied on the spirit realm.” the shaman stated.
“Let’s do it,” Xena said grimly and raised her hand, signals traveling down the line of Amazons in the tree line above the valley. Xena’s sharp eyes took in the soldiers, looking for the leaders and their battle plan.
With her famous war cry the former Warlord moved forward out of the tree line, letting the soldiers catch sight of her. Three lines of Amazon archers moved out of the tree line, the first line kneeling and firing while the next line fired over their heads. The first line dropped back while the second line knelt and the third line moved forward to shoot over their heads. A continual barrage of arrows met the front lines of the soldiers.
Xena’s eyes narrowed as the screams began to fill the valley and shouts and confusion. The warrior had noted that the soldiers didn’t have a large number of archers and she had the Amazons take advantage of their superior skill with the bow before signaling them to melt back into the trees as the soldiers tried to regroup and send their archers forward.
Xena grinned and turned Argo back into the trees as the soldiers sent a rain of arrows in their direction, almost uselessly.
The Amazon archers had moved into the trees, a very comfortable place for them to fight from, and began to pick off the soldier archers one by one.
Xena spotted the man who was obviously Alti’s general, moving his horse back and forth behind the soldiers, shouting orders and waving his sword. The soldiers pulled close together, huddled behind their shields, as they began to advance toward the Amazon’s positions in the trees.
Xena waited until the soldiers had reached the incline towards the trees and sent another signal along the lines of the Amazons. The warrior grinned as she watched the other General as he realized what was happening, too late to save most of the troops in the front of the advancing ranks.
The Amazons had quickly moved wagons onto the incline and set fire to the large loads of hay and then released the wagons. In moments the fire wagons had crashed into the front lines of the soldiers, again the valley was filled with screams of both men and horses. Most of the soldiers had seen what was coming but had no where to run, the ranks behind them pushing them forward, right into the fires.
The other General was shouting, his face bright red with anger.
Xena signaled again and moved out of the tree line and towards the front ranks with her famous war cry, several mounted Amazons following her.
The warrior felt the familiar blood rush as her sword began cutting through the resistance around her, Argo moving with her unspoken commands. Xena’s eyes danced as soldier after soldier fell to her sword or Argo’s hooves. A glance around told her that the mounted Amazons were also holding well in the confusion after the fire wagons.
Xena spotted the General shouting and trying to move his horse through the foot soldiers towards her. The warrior grinned and moved Argo back towards the front of the lines. The other Amazons followed her as the General regrouped his mounted soldiers, urging them forward.
Xena and the Amazons broke from the enemy’s ranks and raced toward the tree line again with the cavalry enemy close behind. The warrior and Amazons sped by other Amazons coming out of the tree line.
Before the cavalry enemy knew what was happening, the Amazons on foot grabbed up long, sturdy spears and braced them against the ground. The men couldn’t stop their horses in time.
Xena tried to drown out the screams of the horses and then the men as they fell.
By this point most of the foot soldiers were near the tree line and Xena saw Svetlana give a signal off on her far right.
The enemy soldiers stopped in their tracks as they heard Amazon war cries filling the valley from their left and right and from in front. Amazons poured down the valley wall from all three sides, flanking the soldiers and catching them off guard.
Xena spotted the General take in the situation and turn his horse, leaving the battlefield at a run.
The warrior’s eyes narrowed and she urged Argo and her mounted Amazons to follow.
Gabrielle felt the branch under her snap and reached out desperately for the tree limbs unsuccessfully as she fell. The bard landed hard on the pine needles below, the wind knocked out of her, stunning her.
When the bard opened her eyes again, trying to get her lungs to fill with air again, she realized that Otere was standing over her, slashing at three Spirit Amazons. Gabrielle touched Otere’s leg and the Amazon moved slightly and reached a hand down, helping the bard to her feet. The bard was amazed that, somehow, she had held onto her sais. Gabrielle shook her head to try and clear it and took up a position next to Otere, helping in the struggle against the three Spirit Amazons.
Two Spirit Amazons went down, one under Otere’s sword and another to a well placed sai between her ribs. Gabrielle fought off the sorrow that tried to overwhelm her as she watched a sister fall to her hands. The other Spirit Amazon screamed in rage and went to the trees.
“How are we doing?” Gabrielle asked, holding her lower back.
“Better than I thought we would. We’ve almost defeated them all. Something is bothering me, though, I haven’t seen Alti,” Otere answered.
“Well, here I am, bitch.” a voice carried to the two Amazons. Gabrielle felt a chill run over her spine. She knew that voice, she and Otere turned and saw Alti standing in a clearing with a Spirit Amazon.
“Alti,” Gabrielle whispered.
“Well, Xena’s little bitch, I’m impressed. Thought after the last meeting, you’d learn your lesson and keep out of my playground,” Alti grinned.
“If I remember right, it was you who was screaming in frustration, just before you disappeared out of sight.” Gabrielle grinned, sais at the ready.
“Yes,” Alti hissed, anger flashing in her eyes.
Alti turned her head, taking in the figure of Otere moving slowly away from Gabrielle in a flanking move. With a gesture of her hand Alti sent the Amazon flying backwards into a tree. Otere shook her head as she regained her feet, watching Alti warily.
“Well, Gabrielle?” Alti asked.
“How about Amazon Queen to Amazon Queen?” Alti purred, placing her arm around the Amazon Spirit warrior standing next to her. Gabrielle frowned, taking in the striking woman in front of her, the blond hair, cold blue eyes and bearing. The Amazon reminded Gabrielle of Xena, a lot.
“Cyane,” the bard heard Otere whisper.
The legendary Amazon Queen of the Northern Amazons. The only warrior to ever beat her was Xena and she had also beaten Xena before that. The Amazon Queen moved a couple of feet in front of Alti, twirling her sword, just like Xena.
“You know I can’t beat her,” Gabrielle growled.
“Well, it’s either that or this,” Alti grinned and motioned with her hands and Gabrielle screamed, dropping her sais and grabbing her wrists. Going to her knees with the pain as the blood began flowing from wounds in her wrists again. Then she felt her lungs beginning to constrict, laboring to gain breath.
“Gabrielle!” Otere cried, rushing to the bard and standing over Gabrielle with her sword drawn, once again acting as a protector.
“Focus, have to focus!” Gabrielle hissed and narrowed her eyes, holding her wrists in front of her, steadying her breathing. After a moment, Otere saw Gabrielle’s eyes go unfocused and the bleeding stopped and the bard’s breathing returned to normal. After another moment, Gabrielle reached down and picked up her sais and stood up to face Alti and Cyane.
“I’ve played your game before, Alti,” Gabrielle stated simply, eyes flashing with anger.
“Yes, but you haven’t played with Cyane here. Cyane, this is Gabrielle, Queen of the Southern Amazons and lover to Xena, your murderer. Xena, the one who sent you here to do my bidding.” Alti purred and Gabrielle felt a chill, she could see the hatred building in the mostly lifeless eyes of the Amazon Queen in front of her.
“We have to buy time for Xena,” Gabrielle muttered, stepping in front of Otere.
“Wait, here,” Otere said, stopping the bard and handing Gabrielle her sword. “Don’t try and fight fair, Gabrielle. Cyane was deadly in battle.”
“I was a gladiator, I never fought fair. There’s no such thing,” the bard muttered, taking the sword and handing one of the sais to Otere.
Gabrielle moved forward into the clearing to face a legend.
Xena yelled, urging Argo on as she kept the enemy General in sight, the rest of her small band of Amazons trying to keep up. At the edge of a small hill, Xena pulled Argo up and looked down at the encampment below as the General rushed into camp, shouting orders, sending the guards left behind scurrying.
The rest of the Amazons caught up with the warrior.
“Yakut, that main tent!” Xena pointed. “Alti should be in there, it’s heavily guarded and large enough. Your turn!”
Yakut nodded and moved off a little ways with another Amazon and they both quickly dismounted. The other Amazon, Metsa, spread out a fur and Yakut quickly sat down cross-legged as Metsa handed her a flask. Arja pulled up on her horse and joined Yakut on the fur, watching the shaman closely.
Xena watched as the shaman began drinking from the flask and Metsa pulled a drum off her horse and began drumming and chanting behind the shaman.
Xena looked at Metsa. “Alti’s General will try and wake her up, hope that Yakut, Gabrielle and Otere keep her busy in the spirit realm while we get to her.”
The Amazon nodded as Xena and the others turned with a shout and rushed down the horses, screaming war cries.
“Keep them off balance!” Xena shouted.
Gabrielle’s lower spine felt like it was on fire and she limped heavily from a deep gash in her left thigh. Her skills had kept her alive during several clashes with the other Amazon Queen and the bard could see Alti’s eyes growing concerned and Cyane’s growing angrier. Cyane rubbed her jaw where the handle of a sai had connected, only her quick reflexes had saved her from a broken jaw or having her head removed.
Gabrielle stumbled backwards and fell heavily.
Cyane’s eyes flashed and she screamed a war cry as Otere cried out Gabrielle’s name. Everyone could see that Gabrielle was moving too slowly to parry the sword strike with her sword.
Yakut stood up next to Otere and resisted screaming herself as she took in the sight of Gabrielle on the ground and a Spirit Amazon closing in for a killing strike with Alti looking on and grinning.
Xena growled with frustration. She had been pulled off Argo when she and the Amazons reached the edge of the camp and had gone under several fists, feet and sword butts. The Amazons with the warrior had been surprised when the group of soldiers were shaken off with a war cry and Xena stood in the middle of them, blood flowing from a cut above her eye and a slash on her sword arm.
Two of the Amazons rushed in to help and drew back at the look of fury in the warrior’s eyes. Xena drew her chakram and sent it flying as she launched herself in the air, hitting two soldiers on either side of her with her feet and landing back in time to catch the chakram that had sliced through the throats of two other soldiers fighting with the Amazons.
Xena began carving a path towards the tent with the two Amazons following.
The warrior growled and slashed out with chakram and sword, hands moving too fast to follow. The guards were thick and wouldn’t back off. Xena wasn’t surprised with the desperation they fought with, the warrior could well imagine the punishment they would receive if they displeased Alti. They weren’t only fighting for their lives, they were fighting for their souls, just like the Amazons.
That made everyone dangerous and unpredictable.
Xena took out three more soldiers and felt a hot pain at her side and struck backwards with her sword, impaling a soldier behind her. The warrior looked down and grabbed at the wound, blood flowing freely around her hand.
Before she could really take it in, the warrior was fighting again, ignoring the pain and the flowing blood.
Gabrielle growled and turned slightly on the ground, taking the sword strike along her ribs and curled around the sword, twisting her sai around the blade and yanking hard, putting her weight behind it.
Cyane looked stunned when her sword snapped, never having seen a sword-breaker designed weapon before.
Gabrielle rolled back and flipped herself up into a crouch, bringing her sword up into Cyane’s ribs before the other Amazon could react to the broken sword.
“No!” Alti screamed as Cyane went to her knees, looking at the sword sticking through her body and the broken one in her hand.
Gabrielle felt tears streaming down her face as the life left Cyane’s spirit body and the warrior fell onto her side, curling around Gabrielle’s sword.
The bard growled and spun her sai at Alti, hoping to catch the evil magician off guard but the shaman merely gestured with her hand and the sai stopped in midair and then turned towards Gabrielle.
“Uh oh,” the bard muttered, attempting to scramble to her feet.
Otere screamed in frustration and rage again when Gabrielle stumbled back, clutching at the sai buried under her ribs. The bard fell back to the ground and growled when she pulled her weapon out, facing Alti.
“Xena’s taste in playthings has improved over the years. I am impressed!” Alti grinned. “Let’s see how you handle you own demons.”
“Been there, done that, remember?” Gabrielle muttered, trying to get to her feet.
“You merely faced the knowledge, not the actual power. Come to me on the dark side, my little one!” Alti began chanting and motioning with her hands and Gabrielle’s body jerked as if hit by a physical blow.
Otere and Yakut watched in horror as Gabrielle’s head was thrown back and her eyes closed, muscles twitching.
“What is she doing!?” Otere demanded.
“I don’t know! Distract her! Keep her busy, Xena is fighting her way to the tent.” Yakut said and disappeared.
Otere gave a whistle and one of her Amazons dropped out of the trees next to her. “Quick! Arrows!” the Amazon ordered and the Amazon fighter quickly drew several arrows out and began sending them at Alti.
The evil shaman merely looked in their direction and each arrow launched burned in midair. The shaman kept her attention and chanting directed towards Gabrielle.
Otere cursed and began running towards the bard.
Xena was stunned, she and the handful of Amazons fighting beside her were actually being driven back through the camp. Several of their ranks had fallen and the soldiers were fighting back with a fury that had taken the Amazons by surprise.
The warrior glanced back up the hill and saw Metsa watching the battle. The Amazon didn’t send any signals. That meant Alti was still occupied in the spirit realm.
Gabrielle collapsed just as Otere reached her. The Amazon drew the bard into her arms, quickly checking for a pulse as Alti’s laugh reached her.
“She’s mine, Amazon!” Alti laughed.
Otere found herself scrambling backwards as Gabrielle opened her eyes. The Northern Amazon found herself looking into yellow eyes lined with red and a bard with very long canines as Gabrielle sat up.
“Oh Pieve, save us,” Otere whispered. “Vampiir!”
Yakut appeared next to several Amazons at the tree line as they took in the sight of the bard rising to her feet, yellow eyes shining brightly with hunger.
“Mielikki, preserve us!” Yakut whispered. “Gabrielle, fight it! Fight back!” she screamed. “Sisters, surround her but don’t hurt her!”
Xena and the Amazons had rallied and were beginning to push through again. The warrior glanced up and saw Matsa standing and helping Yakut to her feet. The Amazon shaman turned, spotted Xena and gave a series of hand signals.
“No!” Xena whispered, turning in time to slash another soldier across the chest.
“We’ve got to hurry!” Xena shouted, sending out a war cry and fighting back with a renewed sense of desperation.
The hand signals told the warrior that her bard was in trouble in the spirit realm and Alti was winning.
Yakut turned to Matsa and Arja.
“Gabrielle has been cursed by the vereimeja, the vampiir. If we don’t break the hold Alti has on her, we could lose her.” Yakut explained.
“It’s keeping Alti distracted and in the spirit realm, can we sacrifice Gabrielle for that?” Matsa asked.
Arja frowned. “Alti might just leave the spirit realm if she thinks we’ll be distracted by Gabrielle becoming a vampiir. We must find a way to break the hold and keep Alti frustrated and off balance there.”
“How? We can’t hurt Gabrielle and I don’t think of any of us can reach her?” Yakut asked.
“I don’t know, we have to find a way to keep her soul safe!”
Otere and the other Amazons kept Gabrielle surrounded with spears and swords, not letting the bard get close to any of them or letting her break free from their circle.
Alti continued to laugh.
“I could kill you all with just a flick of my wrists!” she taunted. “I could release her and she’d rip your throats out! One taste of unwilling blood in this realm and she’s mine! Only blood can break it and only blood can seal it!”
Otere cursed over her shoulder at the shaman. “Is it true that your mother mated with a paha vaim, a demon?” she spat.
Otere turned with a muttered curse and sent her sword hilt along side Gabrielle’s head as the bard got too close. Gabrielle merely shook her head, yellow eyes glaring and fangs snapping.
Yakut turned from the scene and disappeared again.
Otere began cursing loudly when Alti also disappeared.
Xena flipped over the heads of several soldiers and rolled under the material of one of the tents, disappearing out of sight. The warrior gained her feet and waited to see if anyone followed and grinned when they didn’t. She quickly went to the back of the tent and slit the material open with her sword and began working her way to the main tent, away from the fighting.
The warrior stopped outside, her ears picking up the sounds inside.
“Come on, damnit!” the warrior heard a male voice demanding. “Wake up already!”
“What is it? Merrick?” Alti’s dazed voice demanded.
“Xena! A handful of Amazons and Xena are fighting their way here!” he shouted.
“Then keep them busy!” Alti snapped. “I’m busy elsewhere. By the end of the day I’ll have enough Amazon souls to destroy, releasing enough power to blast the entire country to bits if I wish! You want to know the best of it?” Xena’s eyes narrowed as Alti giggled. “I’ve got Xena’s pet on our side. The Amazons will be forced to kill her or she’ll kill them. Either way, I’ve got them all! Xena won’t be able to live without her bitch and then I’ll have her as well!”
Xena felt her heart skip a beat. What could Alti mean, that Gabrielle was on Alti’s side? Gabrielle could never give into the darkness, that was Xena’s weakness.
“No,” Xena whispered, remembering Gabrielle’s fears.
“Now, go and keep them busy. I just need a little longer and Xena’s bitch will be mine totally and then I’ll deal with Xena out here.” Alti ordered and Xena slipped into the shadows.
Xena growled, waiting for Alti to slip back into a trance state.
Yakut tried to sit up and fell back onto the fur. She looked up into Arja’s eyes.
“Gabrielle is vampiir and Alti isn’t going to be held long. Alti said the first unwilling blood she takes will seal her fate.” Yakut whispered.
“None of our Amazons can die like that! Their souls would be lost!” Matsa muttered.
“I know, if your soul dies to a vampiir you wander the land as a ghost spirit for eternity,” Yakut muttered.
“What would Alti do if the spell on Gabrielle was broken?” Arja questioned.
“Go insane, she wants to use Gabrielle against Xena.” Yakut whispered, trying to regain her strength. Going back and forth between the worlds was taking its toll on the shaman.
“It would keep her distracted,” Arja commented.
“Yes, my Queen,” Yakut agreed.
“Then a sacrifice is needed,” Arja said simply.
“What?” Yakut sat up suddenly, her eyes growing wide with horror as her Queen pulled out her dagger.
“No!” Matsa cried out and started to move towards the Queen. Arja held her hand up in a stopping motion.
“As Queen, this is my place. If we fail here then my soul is already lost to Alti. I give my right of succession to Otere.”
Before either Amazon could act the Queen slit long furrows up her inner arms and began chanting.
“No!” Yakut cried, attempting to grab her Queen’s arms. Arja grabbed the shamans weakened arms.
“Yes, this is my duty to my tribe and maybe our only chance. Get back there and guide me over.” Arja ordered.
“Yes, my Queen,” Yakut said softly.
Alti grinned at the sight of the Amazons trying to keep a vampire bard captive without hurting her and without getting hurt. Two Amazons were sitting nearby, nursing broken arms and the others were getting tired.
“What’s wrong, Amazons? You know you’ll have to kill her eventually.” Alti taunted.
Otere was stunned to see Yakut reappear with Arja by her side. On the spirit side Arja’s legs were no longer crippled and she walked confidently towards the small group of Amazons.
“Oh goody!” Alti cried, “more playmates!”
Arja ignored the shaman and walked up to Otere, watching Gabrielle closely as the young woman growled, baring her fangs, her body bleeding from several wounds and cuts.
“We can’t keep this up, my Queen,” Otere muttered.
“I know. I order you not to interfere,” Arja stated simply.
Otere frowned, as did the other Amazons.
Before Alti could question the change in attitudes, Yakut surprised the shaman with an energy bolt that blindsided the evil shaman. Alti turned with a growl, releasing her own energy bolt, sending the Amazon flying backwards.
Yakut shook her head, getting to her knees. She released another energy bolt, causing Alti to growl in frustration.
Arja took advantage of the warfare behind her and Alti’s distraction to step forward into the circle of Amazons to face Gabrielle.
“Sisters, to break the hold on Gabrielle, willing blood must be shed. Do not interfere.” The Queen stated and grabbed Gabrielle’s hands in hers with surprising strength, forcing the bard to her knees. Arja went to her knees, focusing all of her will into holding Gabrielle’s eyes.
“Gabrielle, I know part of you can hear me! Alti doesn’t have all of you yet. I am Queen of the Northern Region Amazons and I offer myself for my tribe.” Arja said softly, slowly releasing one of Gabrielle’s hands. The bard cocked her head slightly, a curious expression on her face, her body tense, ready to spring.
Arja pulled out her dagger slowly and raised her hand, the one holding Gabrielle’s hand. Keeping Gabrielle’s focus with her eyes, the Queen opened her hand enough to slide the dagger between the palms of the two women, one Amazon and one vampire.
Gabrielle growled and attempted to pull away when Arja pulled the dagger down, slicing open both their hands. Arja surprised everyone by quickly pulling Gabrielle into her body, holding her other hand tightly against Gabrielle’s.
The bard responded by sinking her fangs into the Queen’s neck, taking the other woman over onto her back.
“Stay back!” Otere cried out as the Amazons started to rush forward.
“What!?” Alti suddenly screamed and Otere turned to find the shaman looking at Gabrielle and Arja, rage filling her face.
Otere saw Arja’s body go limp and Gabrielle fall away from the Queen. Otere knelt down beside the bard and pulled the woman into her arms. Gabrielle opened her eyes and Otere glared at Alti in triumph when she saw green eyes instead of yellow.
“She’s not yours!” Otere shouted.
Alti screamed and raised her hands, her face a murderous rage. Otere closed her eyes and twisted to shield Gabrielle as best she could. She could feel the other Amazons crowding around them as well.
“Alti! Open your eyes, bitch!”
The shaman snapped her eyes open and yelped at the sight of the manic blue eyes staring down at her, with Xena’s sword raised above her.
“Xena!” Alti managed to cry out as the sword fell and impaled her through the chest.
Xena fell off the shaman as the woman struggled around the sword pinning her to the furs under her. The warrior drew a dagger from her belt and grabbed up a bowl. She nodded at the terror she saw in Alti’s eyes. Xena grabbed one of the shaman’s wrists and sliced it open and let the blood pour into the bowl.
“I’m going to let Yakut seal your soul with your blood, Alti. We’re going to seal your soul forever in the Land of the Dead, just like you did to the Amazons.” Xena muttered.
“You won’t win all the every time, Xena,” Alti whispered.
“Don’t bet on it,” Xena growled and watched the light fade from Alti’s eyes.
The warrior got to her feet slowly and looked at the sword sticking out of the shaman’s body.
“Glad I didn’t use mine on you, witch. You’d probably melt the damned blade,” she muttered and walked into the sunshine, watching with detached interest at the last of the fighting between the Amazons and the few remaining guards. The main force of the Amazons having caught up with the small band and finishing off the camp guards.
Svetlana ran up to the warrior and grabbed Xena as the warrior stumbled. The Amazon’s practiced eyes quickly took in the blood flowing down Xena’s leg and how much there was. She quickly lowered the warrior to the ground and ripped a tunic from a fallen enemy soldier and wadded it up against the wound.
“You’ve lost a lot of blood, Xena,” the Amazon frowned.
Xena merely nodded. “Alti’s dead, have Yakut use the blood.” she whispered.
“Yes,” Svetlana nodded, holding the makeshift bandage tight. She looked around at the warriors finishing up the fighting and tending to their wounded. “Make stretchers for the wounded. I need help here, Xena is wounded! Also, make a stretcher for Alti’s body! Yakut and Arja will want to bury her with special rituals.” she ordered.
“Gabrielle!” Xena attempted to sit up and was restrained by Svetlana’s strong hands.
“You won’t know anything until we get back to the village, so rest until we get you a stretcher.” the Amazon scout ordered.
“Yakut, Yakut will know, find her!” Xena hissed.
“You won’t rest until you know, will you? Linna! Hold this bandage in place, don’t let her move!” Svetlana ordered and quickly mounted a horse, heading for the small hill overlooking the camp.
“Goddess, no!” the Scout whispered as she slowly dismounted, taking in the scene of Yakut and Matsa sitting next to the very still body of their Queen. Matsa was rocking back and forth and Yakut had tears streaming down her face. The shaman looked up at Svetlana.
“Alti?” she asked.
“Dead at Xena’s hands. Xena is wounded badly and asking for Gabrielle,” Svetlana said softly, going to her knees beside her Queen. Her eyebrows furrowing in puzzlement at the blood and the wounds on the Queen.
“We’ll explain later. Tell Xena that Gabrielle lives and is in the village waiting. Take me to Alti and then see to your Queen,” Yakut ordered, standing to follow the Scout back to the camp.
Xena opened her eyes and attempted to sit up quickly, only to be restrained by Yakut’s hands on her shoulders. The shaman pushed the warrior back down on the furs and then applied a cool cloth to the warrior’s forehead.
“Gabrielle!” Xena whispered, surprised at the harshness of her voice. Yakut reached over and held a cup of water to Xena’s lips.
“She lives, Xena,” Yakut answered.
“Where is she?” Xena demanded, her eyes narrowing at Yakut’s pained face.
“Let me tell you what happened in the other battle,” Yakut said simply and sat down next to the furs.
Xena closed her eyes and listened as Yakut told the warrior of the battle in the Spirit realm. Of what Otere had told them all about the battle, about Gabrielle fighting Atli’s influence and tricks, about Xena’s bard facing Cyane alone. Xena’s hands clenched at the furs under her at the description of the battle between the legendary warrior and her mate. A fierce grin coming over her face when Yakut described Gabrielle managing to defeat Cyane in battle. Then Xena’s hands began to shake as Yakut described Alti’s spell over Gabrielle, bringing her bacchae blood to the surface.
Tears escaped from the warrior’s closed eyes as Yakut described Arja’s sacrifice and how she broke the control Alti had over Gabrielle.
“What happened to her?” Xena asked.
“When we got back I found her withdrawn into herself, curled up. Otere said that when they came out of the trance Gabrielle screamed and curled up. She won’t come out of it, even when I told her you were in the village and wounded,” Yakut said.
Xena frowned. She didn’t think even Cerebus or Hades could keep Gabrielle from her side if the bard knew the warrior was wounded.
Yakut nodded, sensing Xena’s thoughts. “I thought that would bring her running, forgetting her own pain but it didn’t.”
Yakut hesitated, “Alti’s curse, it wasn’t just a random thing, was it?”
“What do you mean?” Xena asked, taking another drink of the water.
“It was already there, wasn’t it? Gabrielle is part vampiir already.”
Xena’s eyes closed again. “If a vampiir is like our bacchae, then the answer is yes. Several seasons ago we went up against Bacchus, our god of wine and bacchae. Women who are bitten by other bacchae, once they drink some of Bacchus’ blood, they turn into full bacchae and are his totally, mind and soul. They live forever, feeding on the blood of others and Gabrielle was turned. We thought we had defeated Bacchus before she drank his blood but she tasted a few drops without us realizing it. She has a bit of bacchae in her.” Xena tried to explain.
“Our vampiir are the dead who have been cursed to roam the night seeking the blood of others until they die and turn into vampiir too.” Yakut explained.
“Almost the same,” Xena commented. “How long have I been out?”
“Two days, we thought those wounds would kill you but you are recovering at a remarkable rate! You have surprised our healers.”
“Left over from being one of the gods’ favorites,” Xena shrugged. “Help me up, I’ve got to see Gabrielle.”
“Arja sacrificed herself to save Gabrielle and our tribe and Gabrielle can’t handle it. It was difficult enough for all of us to fight our ancestor Amazons but to take Arja’s life pushed Gabrielle over, especially the way it happened.”
“I know, it’s been a fear of hers, that she’d lose control over the bacchae craving and hurt me. She’s such a gentle soul, Yakut,” Xena brushed away tears as she sat up slowly. “Even as a gladiator in the Games of Rome, the killing made her sick. To be responsible for Arja, I don’t know what to do for her.”
“I don’t either, Xena. Arja knew what she was doing and did it willing but I don’t think that’ll be much comfort to your mate right now,” Yakut grumbled.
“Help me,” Xena asked and the shaman helped the warrior to her feet slowly and held her steady while Xena tried to regain her sense of balance.
As they walked towards the guest hut, Yakut turned her head to Xena.
“Why didn’t the Berserker show?”
“The Berserker was one of Alti’s soldiers being guided by her loyly, her spirit. She was too busy fighting on the spirit realm to send her spirit into a warrior. We managed to keep her from using that talent.” Xena smiled a grim smile.
The warrior felt her heart breaking as she entered the guest hut, taking in the sight of her son and daughter sitting next to Gabrielle’s sleeping furs, talking to the bard and holding her hand.
Xena could tell that the Amazons had taken good care of her mate while Xena had been unconscious. The bard was bandaged and clean and an Amazon sat just inside the hut, conscious of any of the bard’s needs.
“Solan,” Xena said softly and walked slowly to the sleeping area and knelt down next to the bard, reaching out to touch her son’s shoulder and hug her daughter gently.
“Mom, glad you’re up. They said you were starting to wake up earlier,” he said softly.
“How is she?” Xena asked, looking down at her bard.
Gabrielle appeared to be asleep with her eyes open slightly. Curled almost into a fetal position, hand drawn up under her chin, the other in Solan’s hands.
Xena brushed a lock of hair from the bard’s eyes and got no reaction. Xena looked up at Yakut.
“I don’t know how to reach her, Xena,” Yakut answered.
“Come on, Gabrielle, come back to me,” Xena said softly. After a few minutes Xena frowned and turned to Yakut.
“Can you put Solan and Sasha up in another hut for a couple of days?” she asked.
“What’s up, Mom?” Solan asked, taking Sasha from her mom’s lap and hugging the little one as she watched her mom and Gabby mum.
“I need some time with Gabrielle and it might get a little rough. I know we haven’t spent a lot of time with you two....”
“It’s all right, Mom. You’re the only one who can reach her and we want her back. We want Gabby mom not to be sick anymore, don’t we, Sasha?”
Sasha nodded enthusiastically, bringing a smile to the warrior.
“Thanks. Yakut, for a little while just have food and fresh bandages left outside the door, okay?”
“Yes, anything you need.”
Xena turned back to her mate as everyone began clearing out of the hut.
“Yakut,” the warrior suddenly called out, stopping the shaman at the door. “I learned a word stronger than your sacred word. Give it to your Amazons on the spirit side and they’ll be able to cross now that Alti is defeated.”
“The word of our Amazons is ‘courage,’ Xena. Can there be a stronger word for Amazons?” Yakut questioned.
“Yes,” the warrior smiled, stroking Gabrielle’s hair softly. “The word is ‘love.’”
Yakut nodded, her eyes dancing. If Xena was right, then the trapped Spirit Amazons would be freed.
Xena turned her attention to Gabrielle.
“Okay, little one, time to come back to me or take me with you,” Xena growled.
Yakut had taken up a position just outside the guest hut and spent hours listening and chanting.
Well into the first night, Otere approached the shaman slowly.
“How goes it?” the new Queen asked.
“I don’t know. I’m hoping that the gods show a blessing on those two.”
“They’ve been through enough.” Otere shook her head. “You should have seen her facing Cyane. I’m not sure I could have done that. Doesn’t she realize that Arja knew what she was doing?” Otere frowned.
“No, Gabrielle is trapped in the memories of the blood. She took another Amazon’s life by draining her blood. Even if it was on the spirit plane, it was a death and she can’t handle that about herself,” Yakut responded.
“She’s killed before,” Otere continued to frown.
“Yes, only when necessary, usually to save others and herself only as a last resort. To willingly take a life because of a her craving for blood is too much.”
“Where has her haltija, her spirit, gone?”
“I don’t know, I can’t follow it. She’s either so far into her own mind that she can’t find her way out or her spirit has fled, maybe even snapping the cord holding it to her physical body.”
Otere shivered at the thought. The body would live for awhile but would be soul-less, empty. The soul would wander throughout the different realms, never finding peace and never finding its way back to her soul mate.
“I’ve seen victims of extreme trauma snap like this,” Otere muttered. “Sometimes they don’t come back.”
The second evening sent Yakut jumping to her feet, eyes wide with surprise as another scream ripped from the guest hut. Several Amazons came running from all directions as the screams turned into howls of anguish.
Otere ran up and quickly put her arm across the door, barring the way.
“Those screams! We should see!” one of the Amazons insisted.
“No, we need to trust Xena,” Otere insisted.
Several women grumbled but eventually everyone moved onto their normal routine as Otere and Yakut sat down outside the hut, keeping an eye on everyone and listening closely at the hut door.
The howls subsided into sobs and both women hoped that was a good sign, either Xena was getting through to the bard or Gabrielle had passed over totally, leaving her warrior behind.
Yakut began praying and chanting softly.
It was the morning of the third day when the door opened more than just a crack to reach for food or bandages. This time the door opened totally and Yakut quickly moved to her feet, facing a very exhausted looking Xena.
The warrior smiled slightly. “We’ll be okay,” she said simply.
With a smile Yakut quickly uttered a prayer. “How can we help?”
“Help me get her to the bath hut, both our bodies are stiff as boards,” Xena suggested.
Otere trotted over upon seeing the open door and quickly offered her help. Together the new Queen and shaman managed to help the wounded warrior and bard to the bathing hut.
Yakut and Otere both noticed how pale Gabrielle was and that she wouldn’t meet their eyes yet. Xena just shrugged.
Both of the Amazons were just grateful that the bard was up and moving.
Gabrielle moaned as Xena helped her into the warm water. Most of the wounds had already healed over into light scars and the massive wounds along the bard’s thigh and ribs were closed over. Xena’s wounds also matched her bards in rapid healing. There were definite benefits in being the children of gods, Xena reflected.
Gabrielle began to softly cry as she leaned back in Xena’s arms in the water.
“Shhh, it’s all right, little one,” Xena said softly, holding her mate close, stroking her hair.
“I can’t face them!” Gabrielle whispered between her sobs.
“Yes, you can. No one blames you for anything.”
“I killed Arja! I killed their Queen!” Gabrielle protested, struggling in Xena’s arms but the warrior held firm.
“And I killed Cyane and their leaders and they’re willing to forgive that. Arja knew what she was doing when she cut her hand and offered you her connection and her blood. She figured out that a willing sacrifice would break Alti’s hold on you,” Xena said, once again going over it with the bard. After two days and nights, Xena was tired and mentally drained. It had taken all of her focus to get Gabrielle to work her way back out of the self-induced catatonic state. Hours spent talking, yelling, pleading and crying.
They had been over Arja’s sacrifice but Gabrielle couldn’t get past blaming herself.
“Look,” Xena said firmly, turning the bard around to face her. “We’ve been through a lot in a very short time and we’ve gotten through it. We’ll get through this.”
Gabrielle’s head dropped and then after a moment she raised her eyes to meet Xena’s.
“All right,” she said simply.
Xena drew her into a hug. “Don’t leave me like that again!” Xena whispered. “I couldn’t follow you!”
“I love you, I’ll always come back to you,” Gabrielle promised.
“Besides, little one, the tribe wants to welcome Sasha and Solan as members of the tribe, you too.”
Gabrielle shivered again. “They can’t want me after killing their Queen,” she whispered.
“Gabrielle!” Xena snapped, catching the bard’s eyes. “You fought Cyane, you risked your life and soul for them and they know that. They also understand that Arja sacrificed herself willingly to save them. They know the risks you took and the pain you went through.”
Xena caught a flash in the bard’s green eyes as Gabrielle stiffened and frowned.
“What is it?” Xena asked.
“I’m getting tired of dealing with that damned Bacchus thing!” the bard snapped.
“I have a feeling that we’re not done with it yet, little one.” Xena smiled a tired smile.
Gabrielle sighed and curled back into Xena’s arms.
“I know, me too,” she whispered.
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