An Awakening - Part 19

Death and Rain

by Hunter Ash


Ownership: Repeat after me: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, etc. I'm borrowing them for entertainment purposes, please don't bother to sue me, you wouldn't even get court costs.

Violence: not much, less than a typical TV episode.

Subtext/Alt Sex: the story assumes a loving and sexual relationship between people of the same gender and of the opposite sex. If this offends you or is illegal for you then please leave. Come back when you are older, have an open mind, moved, or changed your laws.

Feedback: always welcome and responded to!

Storyline: Passing through a village becomes difficult when Gabrielle becomes trapped in a village struck with plague or worse.

The story can stand on it's own but it is part of a series and you might want to catch some of the earlier parts to know exactly who is whom.

A Visit Home, an Awakening 1
Gabrielle's Awakening 1a- from Gabrielle's Point of View
An Awakening, Discovery, 2
Gabrielle's Discovery 2a- Gabrielle's POV
Amazon Bonding, Awakening 3
Gabrielle, Amazon Bonding 3a - Gabrielle's POV
Healing, Awakening 4
Trial of a Roman, Awakening 5
Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother; Awakening 6
Reunited, Awakening 7
Ides of March, Awakening 8
Children of Gods, Awakening 9
Even with Ares, Awakening 10
Settling with Brutus, Awakening 11
Darkness Awakening, Awakening 12
Amazons North, Awakening 13
Amazon Darkness, Awakening 14
The Wild Hunt, Awakening 15
Bard Scrolls, Awakening 16
A God's Twilight, Awakening 17
Chakram, Awakening 18
Death and Rain, Awakening 19
Grendel and Beowulf, Awakening 20 – coming

"Xena, I can see a sign for the next village up ahead," Gabrielle stated.

        "Good, ride on and get out of this rain. I've got to adjust Argo's straps or my saddle is going to drop me on my ass," Xena suggested.

        "Can't you make it on in?" Gabrielle frowned, shaking the rain off her cloak hood as she looked into the blue eyes of the Warrior Princess.

        "It'll only be a minute," Xena reassured the bard.

        Gabrielle waited patiently.

        "I think someone is behind us and I want a look," Xena finally admitted with a slightly sheepish smile.

"Only one?" the bard frowned, resisting the urge to look back.

        "Yeah, I don't think it's anything, just want to be sure."

        "Okay, don't take too long, I know you've got to be tired of this rain, after two days of it," Gabrielle smiled. Sasha, riding behind Gabrielle, smiled at her mom too.

        Gabrielle knew that Xena was being cautious, the warrior's instincts always on alert but the bard knew that not much was likely to happen this close to a walled village and moved her horse towards the village gates.

        The bard began frowning as she got closer. The walls of the village were high, probably three men high and of thick stone. The gates were wooden and thick and would take effort to open or close.

        What was beginning to bother the bard was the fact that there weren't any guards on the wall and it didn't appear that there were any at the gate either. Gabrielle reached down and drew her sais as she slowly moved her horse towards the gates again. The bard felt her body begin humming with energy as she went on high alert, taking in every sound, every scent, and every movement around her.

        "Sasha, I want you to get down from the horse and climb that tree up there and wait for me, okay? I want to check this out," Gabrielle said softly, lifting the child down to the ground.

        "Something's wrong inside," Sasha said, looking at the gates of the town.

        "Can you tell what it is?" the bard asked, trusting the child's god-given psychic gifts once again.

        "No, but it's not..." Sasha frowned, looking for words to fit her feelings. "It's not war."

        "Good, let me go check it out and you wait for me, okay?"

        The child nodded and then scampered off the road and up the tree like the true energetic kid she was.

        Gabrielle let the horse move through the gate cautiously, eyes darting around for any sign of a trap. The bard felt a chill overcome her as the silence of the village reached her. There were no dogs and no people in sight.

        "Hello? Anyone here?" she called out loudly with a frown. There were no signs of fire or attack and no signs of things having been moved out quickly. Gabrielle dismounted and entered the tavern, one place where there was usually someone around, if only the innkeeper.

        The bard felt herself go very pale when her eyes adjusted to the inside light.

        There were several men lying with their heads on their arms on the tables, none looked up at the bard but the stench almost knocked Gabrielle off her feet. The smell of death and illness. The innkeeper was lying on his bar and when he looked up at her, she backed out of the door. His face was covered with horrible red splotches and his eyes were yellowed with illness and fever.

        Gabrielle turned and ran for her horse and ran smack into an old woman coming around from the other side of the bard's horse. The bard and woman fell backwards together into the mud and Gabrielle looked over in horror at the woman, realizing the woman was sick with the same thing the men in the inn had.

        Everything became clear, the village wasn't deserted, it was dying.

        "Don't touch her!" a voice demanded.

        Gabrielle and the old woman looked up and saw a middle aged man stagger out of the inn towards them. The bard scrambled to her feet and backed up several feet away from both of them.

        "She already did," Gabrielle muttered.

        "Then you've been exposed," the man shook his head.

        "Yes," Gabrielle agreed, trying to get her fear and emotions under control. She knew she couldn't very well tell these suffering villagers that she was immune to sickness because she was the daughter of a god. They would resent her or expect her to cure them and then would resent her when she couldn't.

        "I set guards on the gates but they must have gotten worse," the man muttered.

        "Come help me close them," Gabrielle ordered and approached the man.

        "No, don't touch me! You might be safe if you don't touch anyone else!" he protested.

        "I've been in the town for a quarter of a candle-mark and I've touched her, I'm already dead if it's going to happen. In the meantime, let's make the town secure so no one else gets in," she ordered, placing his arm around her shoulder. The old woman went into the inn without a word.

        "I'm Urban, Captain of the Guard," he introduced himself.

        "I'm Gabrielle," she muttered as they made for the gate.

        "Hey, slow down, I'm afraid I don't have a lot of energy," he protested.

        "I've got a friend heading for town and I don't want her in here. We need to close that gate," Gabrielle explained.

        "Well, you're better hurry, I think I hear a horse," Urban urged.

        "Damnit! Sasha!" Gabrielle got out from under Urban's arm and darted for the gate. She could hear a horse as well and broke into a run. Even if it wasn't Xena, the bard didn't want anyone else coming into the village unless they were a healer with medicine. She also had to keep Sasha out of the village at all costs.

        Gabrielle got to the gate in time to see Xena riding up at a trot. The bard managed to get one gate totally closed before Xena got close enough for the bard to see the questioning look on her face.

        "Xena! Stay back!" Gabrielle shouted.

        The warrior reined Argo in and frowned as she saw Gabrielle struggling to close the other gate. Xena set Argo into a run towards the gate, determined to help her mate with whatever was wrong.

        Gabrielle stepped outside of the gate and raised her sais in a throwing position. Xena reined Argo back as the bard sent one flying, landing in front of her mate's horse. Argo reared up, almost looking indignant at the bard for attacking her.

        "Xena, stay back!" Gabrielle shouted again. "The village is down with the plague. I need you to get a healer, medicine and supplies. Don't come in the village!"

        "Let me in to help, you know we can't get sick," Xena protested. "Where's Sasha?"

        "Here, Mom!" Sasha called as she scurried out of the tree and ran up beside Argo, watching her Gabby mum with wide eyes. Xena leaned down and pulled the child onto Argo with her and glared at her bard with concern.

        "Xena, we don't know about the plague. Your mother said we can't get sick, she didn't say we were immortal and this stuff kills. Someone needs to go for help," Gabrielle countered.

        "Keep your friend out of here, everyone is dying," Urban urged from behind the gate.

        Gabrielle turned back towards Xena. "It's killing people, you've got to keep out."

        The warrior frowned and looked back at her mate. "If there's a chance it can harm us then get out of there and we'll both go for help."

        "I've already been exposed, I've had contact."

        Xena could see the distress on Gabrielle's face and cursed under her breath, wanting to dash forward and grab the bard away from the danger but she knew Gabrielle was right.

        "Damnit!" she swore. "Alright, what are the symptoms?"

        "Urban?" Gabrielle called over her shoulder.

        "Headache followed by chills and fever. Then the red splotches appear and weakness. You can't keep food down and then delirium from the fever. Death follows within four days," the Captain answered.

        "Do the splotches cover the entire body?" Xena called.

        "Yes, head to toe," Urban called back.

        Gabrielle listened as the two talked back and forth for a few moments, Urban describing the illness and Xena questioning the Captain. Then the bard caught her mate's eyes and they left the words unspoken between them. She could see the concern and fear in both Xena and Sasha's faces. Gabrielle nodded and waved slightly as Xena turned Argo back onto the road.

        "Your friend will be too late, most everyone is dead or dying," Urban said behind her.

        "Then we'll have to work at keeping them alive. Find some paint and a brush," she ordered.

        "Whatever for?" the Captain asked, shivering in the rain.

        "Because I'm going to paint a warning on the gate to keep people out, we don't want anyone else wandering in," she responded.

        "Good idea," he agreed.

        "Urban?" he turned to look at her, his face fevered. "Is anyone not sick?"

        "No, every single person in the town and anyone who was caught here is sick or dead, including the horses.”

        “Horses? That is unusual.”

        Gabrielle felt a twinge of fear come over her as she walked over and retrieved her sai, watching Xena disappear in the rain.

        "I hope your friend can ride fast," Urban commented as Gabrielle helped him towards the inn.

        "How many in town?"

        "Sixty, we're off the main road and so the outpost remained small. Only the one road. Why were you two taking this route?"

        "We were going to drop off a message in the next village over for a friend before going to Poteidia," the bard answered.

        "Bad luck for you," he muttered, a grimace on his face.

Gabrielle helped the Captain into a chair in the inn and then took a good look around at the villagers. If Xena could have seen the bard, the warrior would have recognized the familiar stubborn set of Gabrielle's jaw.

        The bard spent the next two candle-marks exploring the village. She was able to find four farmers not too far gone with the illness and together they made two litters while she tried to dry off.

With a muttered curse she had discovered everything in her packs was wet except her scrolls and parchment. Once again the bard gave thanks for Xena fixing the one pack, sealing it again and again with oil and wax until the thing was waterproof for her bard's writing things.

There were times that Gabrielle cursed the hardiness of her mate. Xena usually didn't mind traveling in the rain or snow as much as Gabrielle did. After two days of rain the bard was wet, muddy and grumpy.

        "Alright, the stable may be the largest building in town but the horses are dead and damned hard to move. Okay, gather anyone still alive and start bringing them to the temple. I'll start clearing out the benches and chairs," she ordered the young men.

        "Shouldn't we keep everyone separate?" one of them asked.

        "I'm the only one who isn't sick yet and I need everyone in one place if we're going to help them," she insisted. "My name is Gabrielle, what's yours?"

        "I'm Patron, this is Sidor, Deimachus, and Iobates," one of them introduced himself and the others.

        "Okay, let's get moving while any of us have any strength left," she encouraged.

        It was dark when the men finished bringing in the sickened villagers and collapsed against the wall themselves, breathing heavily and sweating, despite the cold rain.

        Gabrielle quickly checked each of them and handed them a goblet of water and a towel.

        "I checked the well, it seems fresh and has plenty of water. Drink as much of it as you can," she instructed.

        "How can we help?" Patron asked, panting.

        "Just rest for awhile. A couple of the village girls are able to go from bed to bed with water and cool cloths. I'm going to make some broth for those who can keep it down," Gabrielle stated simply.

        Gabrielle made a count of the villagers still living and found that out of 65 only 40 were still alive and she didn't think 10 of those were going to make it through the night. Thrashing in delirium or comatose with fever, five of them were almost dead before they were moved.

        Of the remaining 30 only five of them were able to get to their feet; the Captain, the young litter carriers and the two women assisting Gabrielle. Iobates and Sidor were showing signs of weakening. No one looked to be getting better and the bard frowned. She had learned to handle her fear in battle, this was a different kind of fight.

        Gabrielle found clothes in a house with three dead occupants that would fit her and quickly changed into dry clothes, knowing they wouldn't stay dry long but might give her own clothes time to dry out. Once more the bard cursed the rain that didn't seem to ease up any.

        Xena cursed as it became too dark to travel along the road and Argo needed a rest. The warrior quickly pulled Argo off the road and loosened the horse's saddle and grabbed some cheese and bread out of the packs for herself.

        "Damnit, Argo! What if Gabrielle is right and we can get sick? She's right in the middle of an outbreak!" the warrior cursed as she sat against the tree, letting the horse graze beside her on the grass.

        The warrior pulled her cloak around her, missing her mate and barely noticing that the rain had stopped.

        Sasha curled up in her Mom's arms and they held each other throughout the night. Daughter trying to comfort her mother for once.

        "I remember when Gabrielle and I went up against the Persians," Xena told her child. "It was up to us to warn the next major towns and Athens and Gabrielle was shot by a Persian arrow."

        "Was she hurt bad?" Sasha asked.

        "Yeah, the arrow was poisoned. I was hoping to find the antidote at the next town, only the town was deserted and the medicine gone or broken," Xena continued, her heart tightening at the memory of Gabrielle struggling against the poison. "We had to make a choice; stand and hold off the Persians at the bridge or I could ride to Athens for the antidote and leave the way open for the invaders. I couldn't do both and your Gabby mum was dying, slowly.”

        "You didn't let her die," Sasha pointed out.

        "No, but I made the choice to stand. Gabrielle made it actually. She was so brave, Sasha. Braver than I was. I'm not afraid to die in battle, that's something I've always accepted would be my fate. In fact, I never expected to live as long as I have ," the warrior grinned at her child. "I couldn't stand seeing Gabrielle die though. We weren't even a couple yet but I was willing to let Greece take its chances against the Persians to save her life. She insisted I stand and hold them off, even if it meant her life."

        "She wanted you to fight even though she would die?" Sasha questioned.

        "Yes, Gabrielle said it was for the best, for the greater good," Xena answered.

        "But she lived," Sasha pointed out.

        "Yes, while fighting the Persians I found poisoned arrows and knew someone among the bunch had to have the antidote and found it. It was close, though. She almost died and I thought I would die with her. Gods, Hecate said we can't get sick but Gabrielle is right, Hecate didn't say we couldn't die."

        Sasha hugged her mother tight, trying to reassure her in the only way she knew how.

        Gabrielle spent the night caring for the sick and moving the dead out of the temple. The sounds of moaning, thrashing patients and crying kept everyone not comatose semi-awake and the bard busy throughout the long night.

        Buckets of water to be carried, waste buckets to be emptied, bedding to be changed, all requiring time and energy. Something Gabrielle was running short of by morning. And always there was the rain, making tiny rivers in the middle of the village roads, turning everything into mud and getting on the bard's nerves.

        Urban was thrashing on his blanket by mid-morning and Sidor was having trouble focusing on anything and throwing up what little water the bard could get him to drink.

        It was past noonday when Patron walked up behind the bard and gently put his hands on her shoulders. Gabrielle, tears streaming down her face, pulled the blanket up over the child she had been tending. The little girl couldn't have been more than five winters, she thought.

        The young farmer knelt beside the bard and lifted the child in his arms and headed out the door. No one had the energy to bury the dead so they planned to burn the dead in the evening. Gabrielle just hoped they still had the energy to do it by nightfall.

        Patron came back in with some cheese and a loaf of bread and tried to hand them to the bard but Gabrielle shook her head no.

        "Go on, you've got to eat," he insisted. "You'll make yourself sick if you don't."

        "I ate some this morning but you're right," she said, taking the cheese and bread. "Have you eaten?"

        "I can still keep soup down," he said with a small smile. The red splotches on his body and face were getting worse.

        "If we can keep the fever down some of the villagers might live long enough for Xena to get back with healers and medicine," Gabrielle said thoughtfully, rubbing her temple.

        Patron frowned. "Headache?"

        "Yeah, but I've also been up for over twenty candle-marks, so don't panic yet," she smiled a tired smile.

        "Then get some rest," he encouraged.

        "We need more water," she countered.

        "I'll get it."

        "You can't hardly move anymore, Patron. I'll get the water. Just try and keep that soup down," she ordered and rose to her feet slowly and headed for the well with two buckets.

        Gabrielle leaned against the well and closed her eyes for the moment. Patron was right, she was exhausted and it would be at least another day before Xena could return with help. She wasn't sure she could get through another night without some rest but there were so many sick people that needed tending to and none of them recovering, only getting worse.

        The bard filled the buckets slowly and began the short walk back to the temple. Gabrielle couldn't tell if she was shivering from the illness beginning to hit her or from being wet all the time from the rain.

        She found Patron and Deimachus still on their feet.

        "Hey guys, we need an inventory of the food in the village and we need to keep the patients cool, who wants what?" she asked with a slight smile.

        Deimachus was sweating heavily and breathing hard but attempted a small smile himself. "I'll help keep the others cool with the water," he volunteered.

        "I can empty the buckets, I've still got a little strength left and you're the bard and good with the writing stuff," Patron suggested.

        "How do you know I'm a bard?" Gabrielle questioned.

        "You called your friend Xena and you're Gabrielle. There's only one Warrior Princess named Xena and bard named Gabrielle."

        "Yeah, I guess so.” The bard smiled a small smile and nodded, acknowledging the comment. “I'll inventory the food."

        "There should be plenty of dried supplies, grains, potatoes, stuff like that. Fresh meat will be a little difficult," Deimachus said.

        "No one can keep fresh meat down anyway. With the barn separate from any other building, do you think we can burn it without endangering the other buildings in the village?" the bard questioned.

        "Even with the rain, the insides and the dead horses should burn completely before the rain dampens the fire. There's the rain so it shouldn't spread. You're worried about illness from the rotting corpses?" Patron asked.

        "Yes, we've already got our hands full without adding more disease on top of this plague," the bard confirmed.

        "Okay, let's do that and then inventory the food."

        "Before checking our supplies?" Gabrielle frowned.

        "You'll need help to set the barn on fire in the rain and I'm not going to be able to stand up much longer," Patron stated with a small smile.

        "Okay, let's go."

        The sun was just setting when the last of the barn collapsed with a scream of timber. Both Patron and Gabrielle held pieces of cloth to their noses against the smell of burning horseflesh and human flesh. The bard was saying prayers of thanks that her horse hadn't come down sick yet.

        "Why don't you sleep for a little bit before you drop?" Patron suggested.

        "The others need me," she protested, leaning heavily on a rake.

        "And you won't do them any good if you're too exhausted to move," he insisted.

        "Alright," the bard said wearily and let the young man lead her to the temple and a blanket in the corner. Gabrielle was asleep before he finished covering her.

        It seemed like only minutes when the moans and cries of the villagers woke the bard up again but it seemed well into nighttime so Gabrielle knew she must have gotten some rest. The bard moaned with weariness as she got up from her bedding, moving to the first villager next to her.

        It was another long night for Gabrielle, Patron and Deimachus. Sidor and Iobantes now too sick to be of any help and the village girls were all thrashing on blankets with high fever.

        The morning was spent burning the bodies of the villagers that had died in the houses on the far side of the village, the more run-down area of the village inside the wall. Then Gabrielle found herself helping Deimachus back to the temple when he collapsed at the burning. The bard looked over at Patron as they lowered his friend onto a pallet and covered the shivering farmer. Gabrielle recognized the look in Patron's eyes as one of hopelessness. He leaned back against the wall and looked around at the villagers and shook his head.

        “Don't give up on me, Patron,” Gabrielle urged, kneeling down in front of him and feeling his forehead.

“I think I need a shave,” he muttered, his hazel eyes looking back into hers as he attempted to smile.

Gabrielle attempted a small chuckle. “We could all do with a very long bath,” she agreed. “Don't give up on me yet.”

“I'll try,” he promised and looked deep into her tired face. “We're the only ones left standing and I'm almost done in.”

“I know, none of the others are recovering. Hasn't anyone survived this?” she questioned.

“Not that I know of. All the villagers are here and the couple of merchants who were here when it hit. They were the first ones to get sick,” he said.

Gabrielle frowned, trying to think around her exhaustion. “What were they selling?”

“Grain from the midland and fish from the coast.”

“They got sick first, right?” she asked.

“Yeah, day after they got here.”

“When did the villagers start eating the grain and fish?” she asked.

“Immediately, we were short of grain. Even grain for the horses,” Patron's face took on a look of shock. “Grain? We've been poisoned?”

“It's really rare for someone not to survive an illness, even the plague. Someone is always resistant but no one here is, including the horses. The dogs and pigs are fine, the people and horses are dying,” she said thoughtfully. “Horses don't eat fish but they do eat grain.”

“By the gods, if it's poison or diseased grain, what do we do?” he asked.

“Just what we're doing, no one can keep anything in their stomachs now as it is. We keep pushing the water and the broth and try to flush it out of our systems. Think back, when people started feeling better after throwing up, did they start eating again?”

Patron frowned. “Yes, simple things, bread and broth.”

“More grain, poisoning themselves again,” Gabrielle reasoned.

“Yes, and then dying the next day.”

“Then if we can get some of them to eating solid food and not give them the grain, maybe some of them can live.”

“If you're right,” Patron concluded.

“If I'm not then there's no harm done, we're all dead if I'm wrong anyway and may have a chance if I'm right,” she said simply.

“Give me a minute and I'll help haul the water buckets with you,” he said as he leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes.

“Just rest a bit,” Gabrielle muttered, feeling her own eyes growing heavy. She yelped with surprise when she felt Patron's arms reach out and pull her against him against the wall.

“Just rest, little bard,” he muttered.

Gabrielle laid her head in his lap and fell asleep, fighting the headache crowding her thoughts.

"Listen, damnit!" Xena snapped at she faced the gathering of healers from the nearest four villagers and their apprenctices. "My friend said the entire village was sick, they need your help and supplies."

"Warrior, the symptoms you describe aren't from an illness," a middle-aged healer stood up and spoke. "The grain has been poisoned by a local plant, the merchants attempted to bulk up their stock by mixing in the contaminated local grain. We've heard of these merchants but they disappeared before the militia could grab them. Now we now where they went. By the time we could get to this isolated village they will all be dead, including your friend."

"I won't believe that," Xena growled. "My friend is smart and resilient. You can't turn away just because they 'might' be dead."

The healer looked around and found several of the others nodding and turned back to Xena.

"We agree. We will gather the supplies and as much antidote as we can work up or have stored. We'll leave first thing in the morning," he stated.

“You know the type of poison?” Xena questioned.

“Yes, the symptoms and red splotches tell us which it is,” the healer answered.

"In two candle-marks," the warrior snapped.

"We can't travel at night," one of the healers protested.

"We'll travel by candlelight if we have to!" Xena growled. "If it was your family in that village, would you wait?"

The healer looked away from the warrior's piercing blue eyes and nodded in agreement.

The bard woke up a couple of candle-marks later with people calling for water and help. She found Patron still asleep against the wall and feverish. Gabrielle managed to get up and carried water to everyone, somehow. She thought a couple of the villagers looked better than they had earlier that morning but she wasn't sure if it was just wishful thinking on her part.

“Oh gods,” she muttered when she walked into the rain of the late afternoon and felt her body shivering uncontrollably. “I could do without being poisoned again.”

She moved slowly towards the well with her buckets, her feet feeling like her boots had lead weights in them. Trying to walk through the endless mud with her cloak hanging loosely on her shoulders was difficult. Gabrielle stopped, staring at the dagger in the mud in front of her, trying to process its sudden presence when a voice broke through her headache and she turned towards it.

“Gabrielle! Queen of the Southern Amazons!”

The bard turned with a puzzled look and found two strangers standing just inside the gates. Both were cloaked and hoods hid their faces from Gabrielle's eyes. What little clothing she could see didn't help her identify either of them, simple woolen trousers and boots and bracers on the arms.

The tall figure in front was holding another dagger in her hand.

Her? Gabrielle's mind tried processing.

“Who are you and how do you know me? Didn't you see the signs?” she demanded. “This village is sick with plague, get out while you can!”

“We saw you enter the village two days ago and Xena leave. I won't wait any longer to face you, Gabrielle,” the taller one stated.

“Who are you and what do you want with me?” Gabrielle dropped the buckets and slowly lifted her sais into her hands.

The figure in front slowly pulled her hood back, revealing a familiar face, even with the scar and the patch over one eye, the face was familiar. Gabrielle shook her head, trying to comprehend that the woman standing in front of her was real.

“Eponin?” she whispered. “Pony?”

“Yes,” the Amazon weapons-master nodded, holding her dagger at the ready.

“Hercules and Iolaus said everyone else had died,” Gabrielle said, trying to clear her fuzzy head.

“Nice of you to come and find out for yourself,” Eponin snapped.

“Pony, you have no idea how happy I am that you're alive and I have no idea why you're upset with me but I really don't have time for this. I'm the only one standing in this village and the people need my help.”

“I've come to challenge your right to be Queen, Gabrielle!” Eponin growled, moving closer to the bard.

“Fine, you can have it if there are any more Amazons to lead. Right now, I'm needed back inside with water. We can discuss this later,” Gabrielle snapped back, putting one of her sais away, her sharp eyes keeping watch on Eponin and the other figure.

“I accuse you of abandoning your tribe to the Romans,” Eponin snapped.

“Great, whatever! As your Queen for the moment, I declare that we will settle this later and right now you either get out of here and save yourselves from possible plague or grab a bucket and begin helping me!” the bard shouted and then cried out as everything began spinning. “No, damnit!” she whispered, feeling herself fall.

When her eyes cleared Gabrielle found she was on the ground and in Eponin's arms looking up into Eponin's brown eye.

“Damnit, you shouldn't have touched me!” Gabrielle whispered. “Get out of here Eponin, please.”

“No, we have unsettled business. If that means I have to wait until you and this village is on its feet again, then I will. Jaeger and I will take over while you rest,” Eponin stated and lifted the bard into her arms.

“No, get out of here,” Gabrielle protested weakly as Eponin headed for the temple.

“Too late, my Queen,” the Amazon said simply as Gabrielle's head dropped back, unconscious.

Xena swore to several deities at once and suggested things that the healers had never heard before which made a couple of them blush.

Clement, the oldest healer, jumped down off of the lead wagon and walked up beside Argo as Xena dismounted, still swearing profusely.

They both walked up to the rockslide and quickly took in the massive landslide that now blocked the only road to the village.

“Sometimes I hate Greece's mountains,” Xena complained.

“I know, that's one of the reasons this village is so isolated. On one hand it's a good thing if it is a plague, we can contain it. On the other hand, we can't seem to get there,” Clement agreed.

“Damnit! We need to get to that village!” Xena growled.

“I know and it's going to take at least two days to clear the rocks enough to get the supplies through,” Clement argued.

“Then lets get started,” Xena growled and turned back to the three wagons of supplies and healers. “Let's go, people, we've got to clear a path to get through.”

“We're healers, not laborers!” one of the healers protested.

“Unless you want to learn how to heal yourself of broken bones, I suggest you start moving some rocks. An entire village is dying on the other side of this mess and one of them is my best friend. Which do you want, a little hard work or a broken leg?” the warrior threatened.

The healers began jumping down off the wagons and the warrior set about arranging work shifts and getting a temporary camp set up.

Xena looked back at the rockslide and then at the sky and the rain. The warrior cursed again. If the healers were right about the symptoms then it wasn't a plague but poisoned or diseased food. Gabrielle was right, Hecate had only said they wouldn't get ill from common stuff, Xena figured they weren't immune to poison. Especially Gabrielle after being poisoned by the Romans on their wedding day.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and found herself looking at Eponin as the weapons master of the Southern Amazons put another cold cloth on the bard's forehead.

“Terrific,” Gabrielle muttered, “I'm delirious already.”

Eponin smirked at her. “No, I'm real, Gabrielle.”

“Hercules and Iolaus said they only found three survivors and one of them died later. Why didn't they find you? Did any others survive? Why didn't you let me know sooner? What happened?” the bard demanded, attempting to sit up and falling back onto the pallet holding her head.

“They didn't look close enough. Several of us survived. I was wounded badly and it took a long time to recover. There are ten of us now in the Black Forest. Five survivors, three women that have joined us and two infants that were left out by their families to die of exposure,” Eponin answered simply. "Like we were left to die."

“Why didn't someone send word to me?”

“We thought you were dead. Brutus bragged that he had killed you and Xena before marching against us. We just found out two weeks ago from a traveling skald, a Viking bard that you lived. She told us about your adventures with the Vikings up north.”

“I think I remember you challenging me, why?” Gabrielle was finally able to sit up against the wall and looked around at the other suffering villagers and spotted Patron moving between the pallets, carrying water to those still conscious. She also saw a female warrior moving along, helping cool down the cloths on the villager's foreheads. The bard reasoned that this must have been the other cloaked figure with Eponin.

“You abandoned us to the Romans, leading Marc Antony and Brutus right to us!” Eponin hissed.

“Pony, I swear we knew nothing about the attack and didn't learn of it until Hercules and Iolaus came to tell us,” Gabrielle insisted.

“Brutus showed us your sais and staff and said you had betrayed us to save Xena's life just before he killed you both,” Eponin frowned.

“Am I dead? Is Xena dead?” Gabrielle countered and pointed to her sais along her boots. “Brutus could have gotten those sais from anywhere and I haven't carried a staff since I was a Roman slave.”

Eponin continued frowning.

“You are right, though,” Gabrielle continued. “I should have gone to the Black Forest but I couldn't face that, Pony.” The bard angrily brushed away a tear. “Hercules and Iolaus told us how they found Ephiny and the others crucified. I know how they suffered and I couldn't face that. I'm sorry.”

Eponin growled and looked around the temple.

“So you just shed a few tears and then continued on your happy life with Xena?”

Gabrielle's eyes flashed angrily and then she sighed. “I guess that's close to the truth. We grieved, swore vengeance, and dealt with life.”

The bard's eyes began unfocusing and she grabbed at her head, falling over onto her side with a groan.

“What in Tartarus is wrong with everyone, this isn't like any illness I've ever seen,” Eponin demanded.

“I think the grain the merchants sold the village was bad, either diseased or poisoned. I'm guessing poisoned because it's affecting me,” Gabrielle whispered as chills began racking her body again.

“Who would poison a small village in the middle of nowhere?”

“I don't think it was meant for this village. The merchant was headed for Poteidia but decided to sell his grain here when he started getting sick,” Gabrielle answered softly as Eponin covered her with a blanket.

“Your home village?”

“Probably some minor warlord or pirates,” the bard muttered.

“What do we do?”

“Keep pushing the water, try and get it out of their systems,” the bard said softly.

“You'd better not die, Gabrielle,” Eponin threatened. “We've got unsettled business.”

“Later, Pony, right now I'm busy dying, okay?” Gabrielle attempted a small smile and drifted into the darkness.

Several candle-marks later and a long series of throwing up what little food she had eaten in the last couple of days, Gabrielle felt a little better and was able to sit up again.

Patron, however, was thrashing on his pallet in fevered delirium. Eponin walked over and sat down next to Gabrielle, obviously very tired.

“How bad?” Gabrielle asked.

“Twenty left alive, most are unconscious or delirious. Jaeger is outside burning the most recent bodies.”

“Who's Jaeger?” the bard asked, drinking the water Eponin handed her.

“One of the Amazons, she was outcast by her family and village and joined us last winter,” Eponin said.

“Eponin, I am sorry for not coming to you,” Gabrielle said softly.

"Do you know what it's been like while you've been moving on with your life?" Eponin demanded.

"No, I don't," Gabrielle admitted.

"We barely survived the first couple of winters, struggling just to find enough to eat. I couldn't help, all I could do was lay there, and trying to heal while my sisters struggled." Eponin growled.

"Pony, if I had known we would have been there."

“We heard that Brutus was defeated at the battle of Philippi, you didn't take revenge right after the attack? Why?” the Amazon demanded.

“We found out about the attack and then Ares got in the way and we had to find a way to deal with him. Xena, Solan and I almost died fighting him again and Ares almost got his hands on Sasha, our daughter. We were also watching the developing war between Octavian and Antony against Brutus and Cassius, waiting for a good time to take our revenge without getting ourselves killed and without helping the worst Roman of the lot. It took awhile to figure out which one of those bastards that was,” Gabrielle explained. “We were just about to plan how to go up against Brutus. He surprised us, he had Sasha kidnapped to gain favor from Ares. His soldiers blinded Solan, trying to force Xena's mom into revealing where we were to the soldiers. They almost killed Joxer as well.”

“Oh Gods, how old was he?” Eponin questioned.

“Fourteen springs. We went after Sasha, both of us were determined that Brutus wouldn't survive very long. Xena and I were at Philippi, I rescued Sasha and Xena was there when Brutus was killed. He died knowing that we lived and he was paying for his attack against the Amazons.”

Eponin nodded, obviously pleased with that news.

“Do I know any of the survivors?” Gabrielle asked.

“Byblos, the scholar, you'd remember her,” Eponin began and Gabrielle nodded. She did remember the Amazon scholar from the trial of the Roman who had attempted to assassinate Gabrielle. “Everilda, Aetna, Pitane, Theronice, and me. Jaeger, Isgeror, and Guoleif are our new Amazons. The babies were named Birna and Ephiny.”

The Amazons brushed away tears as they both remembered their friends and family.

“Listen, Pony,” Gabrielle said, grabbing at her head from the pain from the massive headache she was trying to concentrate through. “Fever and the splotches come next.”

“But you're doing better!” Eponin protested.

“For now, are any of the others getting better?” Gabrielle asked.

“A couple seem to, and we've just been giving the villagers broth even though they're hungry for solid food.”

“Good, maybe we can get some of them by this,” the bard nodded.

“What about you?”

“I ate some of the bread before we figured it out and I think my body hates poison more than others. Given my rapid healing abilities - it probably evens out to normal reactions.”

“Which means you're as likely to die as the rest of the villagers have,” Eponin frowned.

“Yes,” Gabrielle agreed.

Clement walked up beside the warrior and placed his arm on hers, Xena stopped trying to lift a heavy stone and glared at him. The healer refused to release her arm and she finally stood up.

“Do I have to slip a sleeping herb in your tea?” he asked. “You've worked well into the night. You need to rest, killing yourself moving these rocks isn't going to help your friend any.”

Xena angrily brushed away a lock of hair but then nodded and followed him back to the temporary camp under tarps. She raised her eyebrows as he handed her a cup of tea.

Clement grinned. “No, it isn't drugged. I figure all the work you've done will catch up with you and force you to sleep some tonight.”

“I'm just worried about the village,” Xena commented, sipping her tea slowly.

“You mean about your friend,” he said gently.

“Her too,” Xena conceded with a smile.

“We'll be able to get you and your horse through by tomorrow afternoon with the antidote, I'll keep them working until we can get the wagons of supplies through,” Clement promised.

“Thank you, Clement,” the warrior said gratefully.

“You said Gabrielle has been poisoned before?” he said as he sat down next to the warrior.

“Yes, on our…. Yeah,” Xena answered. “Once by the Persians and then she was poisoned with strychnine and cowsbane. It… it was bad.”

“By the gods, how did she survive?” Clement asked softly in disbelief.

“The gods like my friend,” Xena grinned but Clement could see the memory and the pain with it in Xena's eyes.

“We'll get you to her, Xena,” he smiled a sad smile. “I know you need to be with her.”

“How did you get to be so wise, Clement?” the warrior grinned.

“I've heard the rumors about you and your bard, I suppose most everyone has,” he commented easily. “I see your face when you talk about her and how worried you are and I know how that feels. I lost my wife while I was away from our village. I'll never know if I could have saved her if only I had been there.”

“Clement, I'm sorry,” Xena said softly.

“Thank you, now get some rest and hope your bard is doing the same,” he suggested.

Gabrielle came to awareness with someone forcing her to try and drink some water through her chattering teeth, as her body shook with chills and sweated with fever at the same time.

“Come on, Gabrielle!” someone's voice ordered. “Fight this, damnit!”

Then strong arms were wrapping around her and pulling her close, bringing a blanket over her.

“Xena?” she whispered softly.

“No,” Patron's voice answered. “Maybe I can be a temporary substitute, bard. Just rest." The young man wasn't sure if Gabrielle even heard him.

"She's getting worse," Eponin commented with a frown.

"Yeah, you may have to wait for your revenge," Patron snapped as he held the bard close, trying to keep her warm with his body.

Eponin resisted the urge to put her dagger through his throat, rubbing her hand over her face. "Too tired, we're all too tired," she muttered.

"Why do you hate her?" he demanded.

"She abandoned us and we were wiped out by the Romans. Some of us lived though," Eponin growled.

"I heard about the Roman Generals Antony and Brutus attacking the Amazons up north, that was your tribe?" he asked.

"Yes, that was us."

"I'm sorry for your loss but are you sure about Gabrielle? I heard you arguing, you first thought she was dead, how do you know anything they told you was true?"

Eponin frowned and stomped away into the rain and her thoughts.

The bard woke up with someone changing the cool cloth on her forehead and looked up into unfamiliar gray eyes.

“Hi,” she whispered.

The woman smiled a tired smile and helped Gabrielle sit up slightly and drink more water.

“Are you Jaeger?”

“Yes,” the warrior answered simply.

“Nice to meet you,” the bard whispered as she lay back on the pallet. “How long was I out of it?”

“All of a day, it is the fourth day since Xena left you at the gate,” Jaeger answered.

“Isn't Jaeger Northern for 'hunter'?” the bard questioned.

“Yes, it is the name I took when I was exiled from my tribe,” the woman explained.

“I understand. How many are left alive?”

“Five more died but it looks like the rest might live, you included,” Jaeger grinned and sat down next to the bard's pallet.

“Any sign of you or Eponin getting sick?”


“Good, then it probably is the grain,” Gabrielle whispered still shivering.

“You have not developed the splotches either,” Jaeger commented. “Maybe you only got small measure of poison, ja?”

“I hope so, I prefer to live a little longer,” the bard attempted a small smile.

“Gabrielle!” Eponin shouted, running into the temple and sliding to a stop next to the bard and the rising Jaeger. “Bandits outside the gate, they're demanding that we turn over all the money and valuables or they'll come in and burn the village to the ground.”

“What in Tartarus? Didn't they see the signs? Don't they know they'd be risking the plague?” Gabrielle demanded, letting Eponin and Jaeger help her to lean back against the wall.

“They said they'd shoot fire arrows in and collect the gold and silver after the village burned to the ground,” Eponin answered.

“Damn! Where are they now?”

“Rode off, said they'd be back in a candlemark for our answer,” Eponin growled.

“How many?”

“I saw fifteen, I don't think there were any more. They were scruffy and ill equipped and probably not smart enough for any strategy,” Eponin frowned.

“Any villagers on their feet?” Gabrielle asked.

“No, Patron might be able to lean against something but fighting is out for everyone except Jaeger and me.”

Patron sat up off his pallet and looked at the women, “I can fight,” he insisted, his face still flushed with fever and splotched.

“Eponin, they probably aren't strong enough to break the gates open and a couple of us on the walls could keep them out. Can you and Jaeger take to the trees outside and pick them off one by one from behind?” Gabrielle asked.

“No, I have no depth perception and can't shoot a bow and arrow anymore. I can only fight up close,” Eponin frowned, shaking her head. “Jaeger was wounded when she was exiled and can't climb. Amazons who can't take to the trees,” Eponin said bitterly.

“Okay, then we'll have to think of something else,” Gabrielle muttered.

“Why not give them what they want?” one of the nearby villagers asked.

“Because they'll burn the village to the ground once they have whatever is valuable out of fear of getting sick. Besides, you'll need what little you've got to buy new supplies,” Gabrielle explained her reasoning.

“The four of us can't keep track of fifteen raiders, someone will get over the wall,” Eponin muttered. “You and Patron might be able to stand but neither of you can fight.”

“Then we'll have to outsmart them,” the bard muttered.

Xena cursed as the work progressed slowly and the time ticked by with no end in sight for the warrior.

Sasha walked up to her mom and handed her a flask of water. Xena smiled and wiped her forehead as she leaned against a particularly large and stubborn boulder. The warrior's daughter hugged her mom and looked around the rocks over the cliff.

“Careful, little one,” Xena, ever the cautious Mom, said easily.

Sasha, looking very much like a smaller and younger version of her mother, grinned back at her Mom.

“You can get through later today, I think,” Sasha commented.

“I think so too. Will you be okay riding with Clement later?” Xena asked.

“Yes, he's nice.”

It was indeed late afternoon when enough of a treacherous path had been cleared.

"I'm going to try it," Xena said firmly.

"You can't! Think of your family!" one of the healers protested, wiping his grime covered face off with the sleeve of his tunic.

"I am, my mate is on the other side of those rocks and may be dying," Xena's bright blue eyes flashed.

The warrior looked down questioning into the blue eyes of her daughter.

"You can make it, mom," Sasha said, giving her mom a firm nod.

With barely room enough for a human being to slide past the rockslide onto the other side and open road, Xena carefully began leading Argo slowly along the track over the protest of several of the healers.

Clement shook his head in amazement when the warrior reached the other side. He knew it must have been only the bond between the amazing woman and her horse that had kept the animal calm and stable at such dangerous footing.

“Take care of Sasha,” she called to Clement and the healer and her daughter both waved and smiled at Xena.

The warrior grinned and mounted her horse easily and was flying down the road towards the village before most of the healers had started breathing normally again.

Clement turned to the rest of them. “Come on, we've still got to clear enough room to get the supplies through.”

“Patron, what's the must secure building in the village?” Gabrielle asked while Jaeger and Eponin were going through the village collecting weapons and placing them along the upper battlements of the wall and near the gate.

“The temple,” he answered with a frown and both he and the bard looked around at the building they were in.

Unlike most of the buildings in the village, which were made of wood, this building was made of stone with windows that were very narrow and high set in the walls. The doors were of thick wood and solid. The bard began to nod slightly and her eyes narrowed.

“What are you thinking, Gabrielle?” Patron questioned.

“Of giving them what they want,” she answered distractedly.

Eponin and Jaeger entered the temple and went immediately to the Amazon Queen.

“When the bandits come back tell them we need time to gather the valuables together. Buy us another two candle-marks, tell them everyone but you is sick and it'll take you time to gather everything together, especially in this damned rain,” Gabrielle instructed, trying to keep her eyes focused.

“Okay,” Eponin said questioningly.

“Next, we need to move all the villagers to the inn and get them out of here. Then we need to move in several large chests and weigh them down with rocks, bricks, whatever you can find to make them very heavy and top them off with some of the gold and silver the villagers have stashed,” Gabrielle instructed.

“What have you got in mind?” Patron demanded.

“How do you catch mice in a trap?” she asked with a smile.

“Bait a trap with cheese or bread,” he answered with a smile. “You make them think we've got a fortune in the chest and that it'll take several of them to move those chests and lock them in. What about the ones waiting outside?”

“Well, I know how well Eponin can fight, I'll trust her word about Jaeger and I think I can get a couple of shots off with a bow. We hope to take enough of them out and cause the others to run or we fall back to plan Beta.”

“Which is?” Patron questioned with a smirk, admiring the bard's quick mind.

“Any villagers that can stand and walk a few feet come out of buildings and begin walking towards the bandits but not close enough to be stabbed,” Gabrielle said grimly.

“By the gods!” Eponin exclaimed. “You're hoping the sight of the villagers will scare them off!”

“It scared me the first day,” Gabrielle admitted. “All I wanted to do was get out of here before I caught whatever it was.”

“What would stop them from torching the village from the outside once they run?” Patron asked.

“They'd risk burning their mates alive in the temple,” Eponin responded with a grin.

"And this damned rain," Gabrielle muttered.

“Let's get moving,” Patron suggested, leaning against the wall for support as he stood up. He motioned Gabrielle back down onto her pallet. “You stay there! You're going to need your energy soon for your plan. I'll get some of the villagers on their feet and positioned around the temple for your play, bard,” he grinned.

“Make sure they know not to get too close to the bandits, I don't want them killed when the bandits panic,” Gabrielle reminded.

“Got it,” he said and stumbled to begin helping the villagers out of the temple and towards the inn. Eponin and Jaeger were already moving pallets out of the stone building.

“Xena,” the bard whispered as another wave of stomach cramps seized her. “I wish you were here.”

As Gabrielle expected, the bandits granted them the extra time that Eponin asked for and the trap was baited and all the villagers moved barely within the time but everything was set. The bard was sitting behind a barrel near the inn with a bow and a quiver full of arrows and she knew that Patron was waiting just inside the door.

Eponin had ordered the young man to stay near Gabrielle and help her to stand if necessary.

The only “villagers” in sight were Eponin and Jaeger. Both were in their cloaks, hiding their swords from the bandits and Jaeger was leaning heavily on a crutch as they opened the gates.

The bard couldn't hear the words exchanged between Eponin and the bandit leader but he seemed pleased and rode into the village easily, not even really looking around. Gabrielle shook her head, wishing for four more people on their feet with bows on the walls. The rest of the bandits followed him into the gates and again the bard shook her head at their obvious lack of experience in raiding.

Eponin pointed to the temple and the leader spurred his horse into a trot and dismounted quickly, running into the temple without even looking around. Gabrielle could see Eponin's exasperated look as she caught up with the bandits at the temple and shook her head at Gabrielle.

Within moments the bandit leader was back at the door.

“I need most of you inside to move these chests, they weigh a ton. Two more of you go hitch your horses to a wagon and bring it here,” he ordered.

Gabrielle's eyes narrowed as she watched seven of the bandits follow their leader into the temple and two more head towards the nearest wagon, beginning to throw the sacks of grain stacked in it. The rest of the bandits dismounted and stood waiting.

Eponin and Jaeger moved closer to the temple door and looked at Gabrielle. The bard stood up, leaning heavily against the tavern wall and Patron moved out of the door quickly to stand next to her. The bard nodded as she pulled the bow upright.

Eponin and Jaeger threw their cloaks back and drew their swords swiftly, surprising the bandits standing nearby. As Eponin jumped off the steps of the temple to meet the first ones Jaeger turned and slammed a bar across the doors, in between the handles. In a moment pounding and shouting were coming from inside the temple.

Jaeger began swinging her sword and her crutch, using both as weapons with a battle cry that sent a chill up Gabrielle's spine.

Patron leaned over and helped Gabrielle pull the string of the bow back and the bard quickly aimed and watched as one of the bandits fell with an arrow in his back.

Two bandits fell to Eponin's sword and another one fell permanently under Jaeger's sword and crutch. The two who had gone for the wagon began running up to help their friends and Patron helped Gabrielle pull the bow back again and one fell with an arrow in his side and the other turned in surprise and was flattened by a crutch whacking him over the head.

The remaining two bandits grabbed the reins of their horses and mounted quickly and headed for the gate.

Eponin checked the wooden bar holding the temple doors shut and then turned with Jaeger and rushed over to the bard.

Gabrielle smiled and dropped the bow.

“My Queen, your plan worked wonderfully!” Eponin grinned.

“Queen?” Patron questioned, his eyebrows raised high and Gabrielle couldn't help but smile at his confusion.

“Meet Eponin and Jaeger of the Black Forest Amazons,” she said simply.

“And this is our Queen, Gabrielle,” Eponin continued.

“I thought you wanted the job,” Gabrielle asked with a slight smile.

“Only if you're tired of it, my Queen,” Eponin said seriously. “I was wrong.”

Gabrielle looked down at her trembling hands and back up at Eponin. “You are my Regent, Eponin,” she said firmly and held up her hands, now covered in splotches. “You may get the job sooner than you wish.”

The bard felt darkness claiming her once more.

“Come on, swallow, little one,” a voice commanded and the bard fought against it and the foul tasting stuff but someone quickly held her nose, forcing Gabrielle to swallow in order to start breathing again.

Gabrielle flailed on the bed and felt her arms being held tightly and a voice soothing her.

“It's okay, shhhh, it's okay, little one.”

The bard opened her eyes and smiled at the blue ones looking at her.

“Xena!” she managed to whisper.

“I'm here,” Xena smiled down at her mate, running her hand gently over the bard's hair.

“You're late,” Gabrielle muttered.

“I know, I'm sorry. I could only move a mountain so fast,” Xena said softly.

“Are the villagers okay?”

“They're going to be fine, thanks to you keeping them alive. I came with the antidote for the poisoned grain.”

“How's Patron? And where's Sasha?”

“Better than you, little one,” Xena smiled. “He's up and moving slowly. Sasha is with the healers, they're following behind.”

“How am I?” the bard finally asked.

“The splotches are fading and you should be on your feet in a couple of days. I wouldn't go running up and down the mountain for a week though,” the warrior reassured her mate.

“I've missed you,” Gabrielle said simply as she drifted off toward sleep again.

“Me too, my love,” Xena said softly.

Xena smiled as Eponin stood in the doorway of the room in the inn where they had moved the unconscious bard. She stood up and walked over to the Amazon.

“I still can't believe you're alive,” Xena said.

“Yeah, I couldn't believe it when the bard traveling through the area said you both were alive and in the North,” Eponin answered and walked into the room past Xena and sat down on the bed next to Gabrielle. “Xena, Brutus told us that Gabrielle betrayed us to save you as he nailed Ephiny and Solari to those crosses.”

“Oh gods,” Xena said softly. “They died thinking she betrayed you?”

“Yes, we all thought that and then I found out you were alive, I lost it. That's why I came looking for Gabrielle, to kill her in a challenge.”

“We didn't betray you, Pony,” Xena said softly.

“I know that now,” the Amazon responded. “Ephiny and Solari will know it on the other side too. It took a long time to heal from my physical wounds, Xena, and it will take even longer to heal from the emotional ones. I watched Ephiny and Solari crucified.”

“I know what that's like,” Xena said softly, remembering how Caesar had Gabrielle crucified in front of her while Xena was chained, forced to watch as Gabrielle slowly died a painful death.

“They thought I was dead and threw me on a pile of Amazon bodies. I was able to crawl away after sunset. I… my mind snapped,” Eponin admitted. “Clawing my way through the bodies of my sisters was too much. Byblos found me hiding in a hollow log the next evening when the Romans became lax in their security.”

“Brutus died looking in my eyes, Pony.” Xena growled, remembering the blood of the Roman general on her hands and the life fading from his eyes on the battlefield.

“Gabrielle told me, thank you for avenging us,” she said simply.

“We're not done yet. Antony still has to pay,” Xena growled.

“You're still going to go after him after all this time? It's been six summers.”

“Gabrielle swore a blood oath at our grieving ritual and I swore one to my Queen as Consort and Champion,” Xena said easily.

“Why haven't you gone against him before?” Eponin questioned, watching Gabrielle sleeping.

“He's in Egypt with Cleopatra most of the time. Cleo is a friend and I don't want to move against her to take him out. War is coming between Octavian and Antony, that's when I'll move,” Xena stated.

Eponin looked up at Xena and frowned. “Tell me something, Xena.”

“Anything, Pony.”

“When did you two become immortal?”

Xena's eyebrows furrowed as she tried to sort out the question. “Immortal? We're not immortal,” Xena protested and pointed to Gabrielle, “And there's your proof, she almost died from that poison.”

“Xena neither one of you have aged in the last six years. Not a gray hair on you and you're how old?”

“Almost 38 summers,” Xena continued to frown.

“Not a wrinkle and not a gray hair on you nor on Gabrielle,” Pony pointed out. “How old is Solan?”

“Sixteen, almost seventeen,” Xena answered quietly. “We are not immortal, Pony.”

“Then I want the recipe to whatever you two are drinking,” Eponin grinned.

Xena managed to smirk back at the warrior.

“What now, Eponin?”

“We go back to the Black Forest,” Pony shrugged. “We continue rebuilding and stay away from anyone else.”

“I think Gabrielle and I will want to go with you. There were two survivors that Hercules and Iolaus found and they're with Eddval, our adopted German family. We were going to take them to the Northern Amazons but things got a little complicated.”

Eponin smirked, “When doesn't it get complicated with you, Xena?”

The warrior glared but smiled after a moment and shrugged, admitting the truth in the words.

“Who survived?”

“The baker Sterope and the child Tyro,” Xena answered.

“Sterope's a good Amazon, will they return to us?”

“They wanted to go to the Northern Amazons but it wasn't safe for us to take them there when we were at Eddval's last time. Sterope will want to be with you again,” Xena smiled.

“We will rebuild, it'll take time but we will rebuild,” Eponin promised.

The warrior could hear and sense the other woman approaching as Xena sat on the north wall of the village, keeping an eye out for the healers and the supplies desperately needed by the village that evening.

Jaeger leaned against the battlement, seeming to watch the road with Xena.

“Guten Abend, meine freund,” the German Amazon said simply.

“Evening,” Xena answered easily. After a moment she glanced at the warrior next to her and took in the young woman closely. “You want to try and kill me like you promised?”

“Nein,” Jaeger said simply.

The Viking was taller than Gabrielle but not as tall as Xena, with a shock of black hair that seemed to always be ruffled and spikey. Jaeger had clipped the sides short but the back was long and braided, Viking style. The grey eyes were bright and quick and the body lean and muscled.

“You know what Eponin asked me earlier?” Xena ventured.

“Of course not,” Jaeger responded. “What?”

“How I became immortal, she swears Gabrielle and I haven't aged in six years. I told her we weren't immortal but I think I should be asking you that question, you haven't aged any, Hallvor,” Xena commented, her eyes watching the warrior closely.

“No, just a bit,” the warrior agreed. “You grew up from the young and angry warrior you were then.”

“I've changed a lot,” Xena admitted. “You haven't. It's been almost twenty winters and you were, what? About seventeen?”

“Yes, that would make me what, Xena? Almost 35, almost as old as you, yes?

“Have you aged any?”

“A couple of years, maybe,” Jaeger answered.

“The Amazons don't know?” Xena frowned.

“No, I may not have aged much but I have learned a few things, my friend,” Jaegar stated. “Including how to control certain things.”

“Seems we've both changed,” Xena stated.

“Yes, and I've seen the reason for your change,” Jaeger grinned at Xena's raised eyebrows. “Gabrielle seems remarkable.”

The warrior felt herself begin blushing slightly. “She is, best thing that ever happened in my life.”

“Good, maybe someday I'll find my mate,” Jaeger said somewhat wistfully, turning to watch the road.

“Hallvor,” Xena began to speak and the Viking held up her hand.

“You rescued me, Xena, but my heart was never yours and you never pretended different. Then you used me and threw me aside when I was no longer useful. What happened simply was, that was a very long time ago. It's a small thing.”

“What have you been doing for the past years?” Xena asked, grateful to change the subject.

“Mercenary mostly, even served with a Northern Roman Legion for awhile,” the warrior grinned at Xena's raised eyebrows and then laughed. “It was…. Interesting. None of them ever figured out I was female during the five years of my service. I learned a lot about the Romans and their fighting, it will come in handy when they move against the North again.”

“Not as reckless and blind as you once were?” Xena teased.

“No, I don't want to behead every single Roman I see now. I learned how to think and plan ahead,” Jaeger grinned.

“Not so much the berserker? Rushing headfirst into battle, the odds be damned?”

“Werserker,” the Viking corrected with a smile. “It's still there.”

Xena nodded and looked back at the village and smiled. Some of the villagers were beginning to get back on their feet and move around slowly, cleaning up and moving things back into place and drawing fresh water from the well for the animals and humans still sick from the grain.

Jaeger grinned at Patron and two other villagers guarding the doors to the temple and at the shouts from inside. So far the doors were still holding the bandits trapped inside.

“If the healers don't get here tonight then they should be in the morning,” Xena commented.

“Good, then you can send for the militia from the next village to come and get those idiots,” Jaeger grinned.

“You know, you're Greek has gotten a lot better except when you're around Eponin,” Xena questioned with a grin.

“Yeah, I can't tell them that this young and lost German has actually been running around the world for the past sixteen years without explaining a lot of things I'm not ready to yet,” Jaeger commented.

“I won't say anything, I know what it's like fighting against your past,” Xena said softly.

“Thank you,” Jaeger said, sighing with relief and then frowned. “That would mean you not saying anything to your mate?”

“I won't,” Xena stated.

“Hmmm, not sure if I like that, Xena,” Jaeger frowned. “Mates shouldn't have secrets.”

“Friends sometimes keep secrets for friends,” Xena countered. “Don't you think that Eponin and the others would accept everything about you?”

“I don't know and I'm not sure I want to risk that.”

“I didn't think Gabrielle wanted me as a mate and I was willing to keep my feelings a secret from her and live with it. I almost lost her because of it,” Xena advised.

“You know me and how I got my back broken by my own people, would you accept me?” Jaeger countered with an angry look.

“I already did, remember? I didn't leave you because of what you are, Hall,” Xena asked and then turned towards the steps, leaving the Viking with her thoughts.

It took five days for the bard and the village to be totally on its feet again. The total remaining villagers numbered fifteen with four of those being children.

Gabrielle reassured Xena and Sasha with a smile as the bard tied on her travel packs to her horse, it having survived as well by eating grass instead of grain.

“Hey, Hall,” Xena called and tossed a pack to the Viking Amazon.

Xena didn't notice Gabrielle's narrowed eyes.

Gabrielle turned to the villagers who stood around to see the women on their journey. She grinned and hugged Patron tightly.

“Thanks for everything,” he said with a smile.

“You're welcome, and thanks for holding me.”

The young man began blushing and quickly looked at Xena and began stammering at her withering gaze. “I… uh… you're welcome. I know you and the warrior are together but if anything ever happens, I'd be glad to hold you again,” he whispered.

“Thank you, Patron,” Gabrielle smiled and kissed his cheek and began hugging some of the other villagers she had gotten to know.

Urban bowed slightly and hugged her. “You saved the village and almost died doing it. Is there any way we can repay you?” he asked.

“Just rebuild, Urban,” Xena grinned, answering for both of them.

“We will, thanks to all of you. You will always be welcome here as honored guests!” he announced loudly to the cheers of the villagers and Gabrielle blushed as she mounted her horse.

The cheers followed them out of the village gate.

Eponin grinned at Gabrielle's blush and Jaeger merely shrugged as they followed Xena and Gabrielle down the road.

Gabrielle fell back to ride alongside Eponin after they had been on the road for a couple of candle-marks.

During her recovery from the poisoning, the Amazon Queen and weapons-master had talked endlessly about how Eponin had survived the Roman attack. They also talked of how she had begun to rebuild the tribe with the few survivors and were beginning to take in outcast women from the surrounding Germanic families and villages.

Gabrielle had told Eponin about her life with Xena after the Amazons had been attacked. Pony had grinned at the thought of Xena finally getting Ares out of their lives, even if it had almost killed the warrior and Gabrielle again.

Eponin pointed to the sais at the bard's boots.

“I remember teaching you the beginnings of how to fight with a staff because you wouldn't kill,” the Amazon stated.

“I remember,” Gabrielle smiled sadly. “I never really changed in that viewpoint, I just didn't have a choice.”

“Everything happened so fast when the Romans attacked us and you exchanged yourself for the ones who had been captured. When I saw you after the Ides of March and Caesar assassination, you were deathly sick from the crucifixion and couldn't use your hands yet. We never did catch up on how you became a fighter,” Pony said.

“What did you know?” Gabrielle asked.

“We received word from Hercules and Iolaus that you had been found and returned to Xena while she was still in the north, keeping her pregnancy a secret from Ares. The message said that you had been a slave but were healthy and safe. Later, after you sent us north towards the Black Forest, word spread that you had been a gladiator in Rome for Caesar,” Pony frowned. “We knew that couldn't be right because Caesar was looking for you to hold you hostage against Xena.”

“It was true,” Gabrielle grinned slightly at Eponin's surprised look. “He didn't know who I was. I had been taken as a slave and sold to a gladiator school. I had to learn to kill and fight or die. I choose to learn and survive to get back to Xena,” Gabrielle began explaining. “Brutus recognized me but kept quiet, protecting me and eventually bought me. Caesar found out his favorite General had taken an interest in female gladiators and demanded to see me. I became one of his fighters and won my freedom in the Circus.”

“Oh Sweet Artemis!” Pony whispered. “A gladiator?”

Gabrielle nodded unhappily. “Yes, I became a trained killer,” she said bitterly.

“You survived for your mate and then you survived being crucified to save the Amazons,” Epony frowned. “Gabrielle, I'm sorry I doubted you.”

“Forget it, Brutus betrayed all of us,” Gabrielle said.

“What happened? He was your friend and then he betrayed us and Xena said he kidnapped Sasha?”

“I don't know. When he returned me to Xena we were friends. I knew he was in love with me, or lust, I don't know,” Gabrielle said thoughtfully. “I don't know what happened. I think something snapped when he killed Caesar somehow and he found himself fighting Antony for control of Rome. I think he crossed a line somewhere in his soul and was determined to have everything that he wanted, no matter what the cost.”

“And he wanted you,” Eponin said grimly.

“Yes, he kidnapped Sasha to gain favor with Ares and he was hoping I'd be captured. If he couldn't have me willingly, he was willing to force me.”

“Gods, does everyone fall in love with you?” Pony grinned at the exasperated look the bard gave her.

“Not everyone!” Gabrielle protested. “You didn't! Your heart is elsewhere!”

Pony's eyes went wide and the Amazon began blushing. “I don't know what you mean!” she whispered, her eyes glancing at Xena and Jaeger riding in front of them, with Sasha riding with Xena.

Gabrielle's eyes caught the glance and grinned even wider.

“Tell me something, Pony,” she lowered her voice. “Why aren't you with Jaeger?”

“I don't know what you mean,” Eponin mumbled. “Oh Hades, is it obvious?”

“Just a little, but then people tell us Xena and I were the same way, everyone knew but us.” Gabrielle grinned.

“I don't know. I think she's interested and then she turns cold,” Eponin complained.

“Well, I think she's got it bad for you,” Gabrielle smiled.

“Don't take this wrong, but have you noticed something different between Xena and Jaeger? I don't mean sexually, but…”

“Yeah, there's something there, it's like they know each other somehow,” Gabrielle agreed.

“Have you asked Xena?” Pony asked.

“Yes, she says it's nothing.”

Eponin and Gabrielle continued on, both reflecting on their thoughts as they watched their warriors ahead of them.

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