Cirra Again

by Hunter Ash

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Joxer, etc etc etc belong to someone else and I'm just borrowing them for a bit. No copyright infringement is intended, don't sue me - I haven't anything of value, having lost even my mind long ago.
Alt. Warning: this story assumes a loving relationship between two consenting adults of the same gender. If you are under 18, if this is illegal in your state or country, or if this bugs the hades out of you - go somewhere else.
Sex/Violence: actually the sex is probably rated PG-13, read my other stuff for heated sex. Violence - the aftermath of a couple of brutal beatings and rape - nothing graphic.

"Gabrielle," Xena slowed Argo to a stop.
"I want to avoid the next couple of villages if we can. We've plenty of supplies and Joxer is doing much better after that bout of poisoning he went through."
"Sure, any particular reason?" Gabrielle glanced back and found Joxer watching the countryside around them and not paying attention to their conversation. Eve cooed and Xena reached down and tickled her young daughter's chin with a smile.
Gabrielle shook her head, amazed. No one from Xena's past would believe the sight that the bard was now privileged to see. The mighty Xena smiling gently and cooing at a child. Xena's child.
Xena had missed so many opportunities with Solon, her son, and Gabrielle knew that the darkhaired warrior regretted every one of them. The bard knew that only death could keep her from Eve's side now.
Gabrielle then saw a wave of pain and sadness come over Xena's face and reached out and touched the other woman's arm reassuringly. Xena attempted a smile.
"The next village is Cirra." Xena said simply.
Gabrielle drew in a startled breath. "Oh gods," she whispered.
Xena nodded, dropping her head. She moved Argo into a slow walk. Gabrielle followed, suddenly lost in her own thoughts.

Cirra, a small village in the middle of nowhere. A village that happened to be in the way of the Warlord Xena, the Conqueror. How many summers ago had it been? The destruction of that village had been the destruction of the Warlord and the bane of Xena ever since, and Gabrielle.
Gabrielle cursed under her breath. How many times had that name come back to haunt her love? Cirra, the birthplace of Callisto and her madness, her obsession with revenge. How many times had they died because of Callisto? How much pain and loss had they suffered because of her? Perdicus, Hope, Solon? How many others?
And yet, the ultimate cause was Xena. It ripped Gabrielle's heart to know how much that village caused her love pain. Even though Xena hadn't been in control of her men that day she still felt responsible. The entire village was slaughtered: men, women, children and animals. All but the little girl Callisto and an infant. Xena's men turned against her when she saved that infant and had driven her out, almost beating her to death in the gauntlet.
Yet Xena still carried the guilt of all those innocent death, those and so many others. Gabrielle knew that Xena never would totally forgive herself for her Warlord past, no matter how many innocents she saved over the years, no matter how many wars she stopped or prevented, no matter how much chaos she hindered.
Even with the redemption of Callisto's soul Gabrielle wasn't sure Xena would ever rest with her past of Cirra.
Gabrielle reached over and tickled Eve's chin herself, amazed at the bluest eyes looking back at her. 'Just like her Mom's,' Gabrielle thought to herself with a smile. She continued that smile up into Xena's eyes and awkwardly hugged her love. Xena smiled back, loving the bard even more than ever. She didn't have to be a mind reader to know all the thoughts that had gone through Gabrielle's head. They had been over it enough during the years of guilt and redemption.
"We'll go around," Gabrielle said simply.
Joxer ignored the pain in his chest at the sight of the closeness of the two women. Once again during his poisoning it had become very clear that Gabrielle didn't love him. Well, she loved him but not "loved" him and once again he felt lost. He loved them both but it was killing him to see Gabrielle give the looks to Xena that he craved more than anything in the world. He decided it was time to leave the two today, even though they were probably still in danger because of the birth of Eve.
Eve - the birth of a child that foretold the death of the Greek gods. The infant hunted by almost every god of Olympus. The child whose birth brought about the death of Hera at the hands of her husband Zeus for helping the humans. Eve, whose birth brought about the death of Zeus himself at the hands of his own beloved son, Hercules.

Xena straightened out of the hug, regretting having to pull back from the bard. Every nerve awake and on point. Gabrielle and Joxer both were alert as Xena pulled her sword and stopped Argo.
"What?" Gabrielle questioned.
"Horse coming, dust ahead. Looks like one horse." Xena stood up in her saddle to get a better look. "Something's wrong. Wait here." Xena was surprised when Gabrielle reached out a hand and pulled on Argo's reins.
"No, you have Eve to watch. I'll go ahead. My turn." Gabrielle pulled one of her sais into her hand and trotted forward.
Xena had to smile in wonderment. She looked down at Eve. "When did she become so protective?" Then Xena answered her own question, "Always, I guess. It just took me awhile to figure it out. You'll like having her as a mom, Eve, she is the most special person in the world."
"I agree." Joxer said as he moved up beside Xena. She noticed his sad smile and reached out and touched his arm.
"I know, I know." Joxer turned and watched to road ahead, dismissing the conversation.
"Xena!" Gabrielle's voice carried back to them. They could see her next to a horse that appeared to have someone on it's back, maybe. Gabrielle was waving them on.
The urgency in the bard's voice spurred Xena to move Argo into a trot with Joxer following. When they pulled up they were stunned to see a figure tied to a horse, not knowing if the person was live or dead. Gabrielle had dismounted and was moving behind the horse.
"Oh my gods, no." the bard's whisper carried to Xena and she was off Argo and beside her partner in an instant. Gabrielle turned and buried her head in Xena's shoulder. Joxer quickly came up and turned very pale. Xena wasn't sure if he was going to lose his breakfast or not. Eve smiled, unaware of the horror in front of the adults.
Tied to the horse by his feet had once been a man. The road had done considerable damage to the body, one of the arms was even missing and the head was smashed beyond recognition. If it hadn't been dressed once in human clothing and had two legs none of them would have been able to recognise if this had been a human being or a side of beef dragged behind the horse.
"Come on, Gabrielle, see to the rider." Gabrielle turned and went to the other figure while Xena bent down and cut the rope holding what was left of the one who had been dragged. She turned and spun Joxer around as well.
"Let's help Gabrielle."
"Okay," Joxer choked out, turning away.
They had all seen death before, each of them having killed, most of the time in battle or in self defence. This was different. The battlefield was always a gruesome sight, each of them having seen the aftermath of Are's delight, this was different. This was brutal and vicious.
Gabrielle was cutting the ropes that held the rider onto the horse and Joxer gently lowered the figure to the ground. They were surprised to see the face of a woman under the blood and bruises. Xena stepped forward and handed Eve to Gabrielle. Both Gabrielle and Joxer let Xena's quick hands assess the damages, relying on her healing background to take over.
Xena frowned. "She's badly injured. I don't know if she'll make it. Gabrielle, go and cut a couple of limbs to make a stretcher. Joxer, can you wrap her companion in a blanket and tie him on the horse?"
Joxer clenched his jaw at the thought of handling the shattered body behind the horse but nodded. "Gabby, there's an axe tied to my saddle."
Each went off to their task while Xena continued checking on her living patient with Eve in her sling next to Xena's breast. The woman had obviously been beaten and whoever had done it didn't mean for her to live.

Within a candlemark they were in the woods in a small clearing. Gabrielle was heating water while Xena rummaged through her saddlebags for her healing salves and herbs. Joxer was digging a grave.
Gabrielle brought the water to Xena. The warrior took a dagger and gently began cutting away what was left of the woman's clothing. The fur lined vest, rough tunic and markings suggested someone of the northern tribes, possible even further north than Germania, she thought. What Xena could see from the blood-soaked hair it was blond. There weren't any weapons or armour to judge by, but then, who would beat someone to death and then leave their weapons?
Gabrielle gasped at the extent of the damage. Xena quickly assessed:
Head - broken jaw, broken cheekbone and nose. Blackened eyes, swollen closed. Definite concussion, a head would that would require stitches. Pupils responsive, that's good, she thought.
Bruising around the throat, fingermarks visible.
Arms, left one broken, badly. Cuts and wounds at the wrists, she had been chained while being beaten. Numerous bruises and scratches, one vicious gash on the right forearm. Xena applied salve to that and the head wound.
Torso, broken ribs a definite, maybe a punctured lung. The breasts were bruised, cut and Gabrielle turned pale at the bite marks. "Gods, Xena?"
"I think so." Xena answered the horrible question. She then gently cut away the woman's rough-spun trousers. It was impossible to tell what colour they had originally been. If they had been tan once they were now blood red and covered in grime. Xena swore with language that would have made a sailor under Cecrops blush.
The woman's thighs were caked with blood and ....other. There was fresh blood as well. Xena quickly cleaned the area, watching the woman for any reaction, any sign of pain. There wasn't any. She placed a bandage as far as she dared into the woman's womb to try and stop the bleeding.
As she cleaned the woman the bruises, scratches and bites became even more visible. Xena heard Joxer finished the grave. "Joxer, stay over there please."
Joxer glanced over at Xena's back and the naked legs of the woman victim. If it was possible he turned even more pale than he had been. "Okay."
"I don't think her legs are broken but they were brutal. Help me check her back."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and helped Xena gently roll the woman onto her side. She opened her eyes and a tear escaped one of her green eyes. The back was covered with scratches, claw marks and bruises. What caught both their eyes was the massive bruising at the small of the woman's back. Whoever had beaten her had concentrated on the base of the spine.
Xena rolled the woman onto her back once again. With a frown she went to the woman's feet and ran the blade of the dagger up the bottom of the woman's feet. No response from either foot. She continued with the point of the dagger up both legs. No response.
Gabrielle noticed fresh blood at the woman's mouth and gently turned her head and wiped the blood away.
"The blood is dark, she's hurt internally and I think they broke her spine." Xena said calmly but the bard saw the fury in the ice blue eyes that met hers. Eve, sensing the energy change began to cry. Xena's eyes immediately lost their battlelust and she began to whisper gently to Eve and then handed her to Gabrielle.
"I'll do what I can." Xena said simply and began to work on the victim.

A candlemark later and the three travellers sat by a campfire as water was brewing for tea. The woman had begun thrashing around in pain although she wasn't coherent yet. Xena wanted to get some pain relief herbs into her and try to find out what happened before the woman died.
"You know, Cirra is right up the road," Joxer mentioned.
"Yeah, so?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Well, I've heard tales of people going missing around here," Joxer continued, poking at the fire with his dagger.
"What people?" Xena asked as she placed a cool rag on the woman's forehead.
"Well, uh...." Joxer stammered.
"Well?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Well.... uh, bards and merchants mostly."
"Bards? What?" Gabrielle was stunned, "why would bards disappear? Who would want to hurt them?"
"No one knows. Just that a lot of people avoid Cirra now," Joxer shrugged.
"It was rebuilt with the families of the massacred villagers and they've sworn revenge on me, but why would bards and merchants go missing?" Xena questioned no one in particular.
"Maybe a group of bandits is preying on the village and merchants." Gabrielle suggested. "It doesn't necessarily mean it has anything to do with you, Xena."
"You are Xena?" a voice whispered below the warrior. The woman had opened her eyes as best she could and was looking at Xena with eyes as blue as the warrior's. Gabrielle and Joxer both came over and knelt by her.
"Yes, what's your name?"
"Ich bin ... I am Gudrun." the woman then continued in short sentences in Germanic. Fortunately Xena knew enough of the language and could follow Gudrun's whispers, occasionally giving the woman water to drink. Gabrielle and Joxer waited, impatiently.
Xena looked up as Gudrun closed her eyes. "She and Henrick, her bondmate, are messengers. They travel the land delivering messages between kingdoms and carrying personal messages between villages and families. They had just delivered a message to the Prince a couple of mountains over and stopped in Cirra. They had heard we were in the area and asked if the villagers had seen us. They had a message from Vercionoux for us," tears began to fall from her eyes as she stroked the young German's forehead. Gabrielle reached out and took her other hand.
"The villagers went berserk and attacked them. She watched them beat Henrick to death and then they beat her. We also know the men did more than that."
Xena and Gabrielle both noticed Joxer fight down the bile coming into his throat. Rape always had that affect on him and both of them loved him for it. 'Such a gentle soul that wanted to be a warrior,' Gabrielle thought.
"They did THAT just because they had a message for you?" Joxer demanded, pointing to the bruises that showed above the blanket covering Gudrun.
Xena dropped her head. "Yes," she whispered.
"Damnit to Tartarus!" Gabrielle shouted and jumped to her feet, beginning to pace. "When does this end?! Your men almost kill you, Callisto does kill us, more than once! Our children, Perdicus, you almost lost your soul redeeming her. How many bards and merchants have they killed? Arrrggghhhh!!!"
Joxer flinched when the short haired blond sank her sais into a nearby tree with a vicious force. She wrenched one of them free and then stormed off into the trees. Joxer started to follow but caught a glimpse of Xena and noticed her body was shaking.
"Xena?" he carefully approached the warrior. Was she crying? He gently wrapped his arms around her and he was surprised and pleased when she leaned into him and cried. He was very pleased. He held Xena while she held Eve.
"My past hurts everyone. Gabrielle won't leave me either. All I do is hurt her." Xena cried.
"She won't leave you because she loves you. That means all of you, Xena, your past included. I love you too. I know that doesn't count for much but I do."
Xena lifted her head and looked at the young man.
"You do count, Joxer. You're a good man and my friend."
"And you are one of the best people I've ever known."
Xena sat up and began changing Eve's swaddling cloth. "You didn't know me like those villagers did."
"They don't know the Xena I do and innocent people are dying because of it." Gabrielle's voice caught their attention. Xena had heard her coming back and continued with Eve. Gabrielle walked over and pulled the other sai out of the tree and replaced them at her boots. "We have to figure a way to stop this, Xena."
"I know, I know."
Gudrun opened her eyes again and looked at Xena. "Henrick ist dead, ja?"
"Ja, yes. I'm sorry."
"I will follow soon," it was a statement rather than a question.
Joxer started to protest but Xena held up her hand. "Truth - you are dying, yes. Ja."
"Place with me Henrick. Justice for us." Gudrun tried to sit up and was seized by racking coughs, spitting up a fresh round of blood. Xena wiped the blood away and eased the woman back down.
"Yes, ja. We'll find a way to stop the killing," Xena stated and Gudrun closed her eyes and a moment later her breathing stopped.
Joxer moved away and grabbed the shovel angrily.

Two figures stood outside the door of the inn when the smaller one placed a restraining hand on the taller one.
"Are you sure about this?" Gabrielle demanded from beneath her cloak's hood. Xena's blue eyes looked down at her bard's green ones.
"No, but we have to start somewhere."
They entered the tavern and within moments were seated at a table in the back, both with their backs to the wall. A stout man approached them slowly.
"I understand you are looking for the headman of the village, that would be me. I am Dacon."
Gabrielle fought down an urge to merely beat the man senseless and she heard a similar thought in the form of a growl next to her. She placed a hand on her lover's thigh under the table, out of sight. She motioned for the headman to sit at the table with them.
"We have a message for your village from Xena."
Gabrielle saw rage and surprise flicker across the man's face and he started to stammer and rise when she reached out and caressed his cheek.
A man across the room stood up. "Are you alright, Dacon?" he called. It appeared that the smaller cloaked figure was stroking the headman's flustered cheek. What the villager couldn't see was that the hand was shielding his view of the other hand with a sai at the headman's throat.
"You don't want to cause a scene, do you?" Gabrielle asked sweetly, almost drawing blood.
"No," the headman quickly agreed. "I'm fine, thanks," he called out and the small figure sat back in her chair.
"Who are you?" the headman demanded, stroking his throat and searching for wounds.
"I told you, we have a message to you from Xena. Do you want to hear it or do we leave?"
"What is it?" he demanded.
"The killing must stop. She will meet with you to discuss the situation tomorrow, two marks past dawn at the deserted well just outside the village to the south." Gabrielle had argued and argued over this part of the plan. What was Xena going to talk to them about? How could they figure a solution when neither side could possibly agree on anything, Gabrielle had argued. Xena had been firm. They had to at least try and discuss it, she had won the argument by pointing out that this was what Gabrielle had taught her - try and find a solution without violence.
"How does she intend to stop us, with another army? Does she come back to finish the job she started years ago?" the headman hissed.
"And what of you?" Gabrielle demanded. "How many have you killed in her name?"
The headman didn't answer and Gabrielle suddenly had insight.
"You killed the bards because they spoke of hero tales about Xena, didn't you?" her voice was horror-struck. Dacon averted his eyes away from the prying green ones of the figure. "Why? Why did you kill merchants? Did they tell you of being saved from bandits by Xena? In the name of Zeus, why?"
"Have you ever been raped?"
Gabrielle felt a hand on her thigh tighten painfully. Gabrielle answered simply, surprised at the question. "Yes."
"I'm sorry for that. Was it with many?"
Gabrielle felt her stomach turn over and her blood go cold. "No," she frowned.
"My wife was, as was my teenage daughter. My son was castrated and then crucified that day. Xena's men took turns with my wife and daughter and somewhere in the middle of it they died. That's how many of the women died in this village. Others were burned alive, some who fought back were crucified. I was away selling grain two villages over. When I returned I found Hercules and Iolus burying my village. I found my family before they were buried. You can ask for mercy for that monster Xena?" Dacon demanded.
"I'm sorry about your family, I truly am. Surely you've heard that Xena changed that day. Her men disobeyed her by destroying your village and tried to kill her. Since then she's been a champion to the people." Gabrielle argued.
"Nothing can make up for what happened here."
"Why kill innocent people?" Gabrielle pressed.
"There is a madness that seizes this town when Xena's name is mentioned. The people can't help themselves, they rip anything or anyone to shreds who speaks of Xena in any light other than destruction." Dacon said, looking away again.
"You speak like an educated man and yet you let this happen? Do you know what we found on the road?" Dacon shook his head, still unable to meet the chilling green eyes of the young woman. "The last two messengers who were here. She died a very painful death calling for her husband. Your village didn't only kill them, they violated her!" Gabrielle hissed and fought from rising to her feet and hitting the man right then and there. A restraining hand rested on her thigh.
"There's nothing to discuss between us. When you have lost children to a monster then you can talk to me." Dacon started to rise and Gabrielle reached out a hand to make him stay.
"I have lost children, Dacon, and I've seen many die. That doesn't excuse your actions against innocent travellers. This must end."
"How? It's probably a trap."
"Xena agrees to meet with you and two council members, just her and her travelling companion. Both sides must agree on a truce during the meeting - no violence on either side. Both sides will swear to it."
"Swear to what? To the gods her very child will destroy?"
Gabrielle was startled and it showed.
"Yes, even off the beaten path we hear the news. By Zeus, the gods themselves would pay us handsomely for the head of Xena and her child." Dacon hissed.
Gabrielle wasn't sure how Xena controlled herself at this point and why Dacon was still living having once voiced that threat.
"You would kill an infant? Is that what you need for your final bloodprice?"
Dacon turned away from the angry green eyes again. "No, I couldn't do that. Not even for the gods." He seemed to think. "Alright, I agree to the terms. To what gods would Xena swear to that I would believe?"
"On the life of her child you will not be harmed." Gabrielle answered.
"That would expect me to believe she has a heart and could care about someone, but I'll accept that. We meet tomorrow then."
He started to stand and found a sai held at his groin. He stopped cold.
"No tricks, Dacon, or I'll castrate you before I cut your throat." Gabrielle promised. Dacon merely nodded and she withdrew the sai into the folds of her cloak sleeve. "Let's get out of here, this place makes me sick."

Gabrielle paced the campsite again while Joxer stirred the pot of stew. Xena kept sharpening her sword while Eve slept.
"What can we do?" Gabrielle demanded.
"I don't know for sure. I can't kill the villagers, that's what started this mess. We can't let them kill innocent people because of me either. There aren't any strong princes in the area to bring justice to the town," scrape of stone on metal.
Gabrielle kneeled down in front of her lover, her eyes troubled.
"What are you planning, Xena?"
Xena's eyes were pained when she looked into the green eyes of her bard. "I'm working it out." She tried to smile but couldn't. She moved her sword aside as the bard moved into her arms.
Joxer's voiced carried over to them, "Uh, guys, dinner?"
"Okay?" Xena asked softly.
"As long as I have you and Eve." Gabrielle insisted with a quick kiss to her warrior's lips.
A candlemark later and Gabrielle was sitting between Xena's knees watching the fire while the warrior sharpened her sword some more. Joxer coughed and caught their attention. "Uh, I'm sure there's a stream near here. I'm going to, uh, fill the waterskins. I'll be gone for a .... a little while, okay?"
Neither woman said anything as he left. Xena looked down into Gabrielle's eyes and leaned forward to kiss her. She smiled.
"He's giving us time alone, my wife."
"Do you think he realises?"
"I don't know. It seems obvious to everyone else but he is blinded by his love for you."
"I know, but it's you I love." Gabrielle said simply, pulling the warrior down into an embrace. After a few moments she drew back. "You're planning something dangerous, aren't you? Even Joxer can sense it."
"Yes," Xena said simply, rearranging herself to sit beside Gabrielle and taking the smaller woman into her arms. Gabrielle rested her head in the comfortable shoulder. 'Gods,' she thought, 'this always feels so right.'
"Tell me," she demanded.
"I can't right now."
"Xena," Gabrielle's voice was low and angry.
"I know, no secrets. I just can't talk about it right now. If it works everyone will be safe in Cirra from now on, even you and Eve." Xena leaned down and began kissing her bard and was amazed at the response she received and the response of her own body. Both women thinking that they could never get enough of each other.
Gabrielle became more insistent, pulling Xena on top of her as they rolled onto the blankets. There was a sense of desperation in their lovemaking that brought tears to both women as they snuggled afterwards. Neither of them talking.
Joxer, wisely, didn't say anything as he returned to camp. He merely undressed out of his armour and curled into his own blankets on the other side of the fire, trying to not hear a crying Gabrielle on the other side in the arms of the Warrior Princess.

Dacon and his two council members were surprised to see Xena standing by the abandoned well as promised. They looked around cautiously and were startled when a small young woman jumped out of a nearby tree, armed and ready for battle. She relaxed and motioned them forward.
"They're alone, Xena." Dacon blinked in surprise as he recognised the voice from the previous evening.
"You! You were the messenger!" he pointed at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle merely walked to her companion's side.
Xena looked almost the same as the day her army slaughtered the village, except now she was a little older and it showed in her eyes. She kept her face as stoic as possible.
Dacon and the other men approached, cautiously.
Xena drew her sword and one of the men actually squeaked in fear. Xena placed it on the well's stone wall. Dacon was brave enough to come forward and place his own sword beside hers.
"Let's talk, Dacon." Xena said simply and sat down on the grass. Gabrielle remained standing, alert and ready. The two council members followed Dacon in sitting down.
"I'm listening, Warlord." Dacon said.
"I haven't been Warlord in many years. I'm simply Xena." Gabrielle could sense the tension in Xena's voice and placed a reassuring hand on the warrior's shoulder. Xena almost leaned back into her lover's body but held steady.
"We need to talk about the innocents you've been killing. It can't continue and I have a proposal to try and break the madness infecting your village."
"We're listening," Dacon muttered.
"You desire vengeance and justice for my actions. I propose that I turn myself over to you for judgement." Xena winced at the hand that suddenly tightened very painfully on her shoulder.
"What?!" Gabrielle demanded.
"Quiet, Gabrielle. I propose that you can have whatever justice you deem fit for the sum of one afternoon. As long as it doesn't include death, you can have me for one afternoon. After that everything will be declared settled and you won't touch another innocent person because of your hatred for me. Agreed?"
Dacon and his fellow villagers were too stunned to speak. Gabrielle suddenly pulled Xena to her feet. She glared at the villagers and dragged Xena off several yards away.
"Are you out of your mind?!" she whispered fiercely.
"Yes, with guilt and grief. How do I stop them? Kill every man in the village... again?" Xena demanded. "Can you think of another way?"
"No! There's has to be a way!" Gabrielle grabbed her love in a tight embrace. "I won't let you do it! I'm not going to lose you again!"
Xena gently stroked the short blond hair and held her friend and lover close.
Dacon and the other two men had been arguing as well, heatedly. Finally they rose and approached the two women. Xena looked up at them with cold eyes without releasing her hold on Gabrielle.
"Your decision?" she asked. Gabrielle squeezed tighter.
"We agree. One afternoon you are ours." Dacon said grimly.
"No loss of life. I've probably earned death but you have innocent blood on your hands too, Dacon. You let me live and come back to my child and friend." Xena demanded.
"Agreed, I swear by Zeus you will live. Other than that...."
"Zeus is dead, remember?" Xena reminded him.
"Alright then, by Athene, goddess of justice, I swear that we will let you live." Dacon swore.
"Can't promise what condition you'll be in." One of the men said with a grin.
"I understand that." Xena conceded. Gabrielle released her hold on the warrior at those words.
"What? Xena? No!" Gabrielle whirled around, reaching for her sais to defend her warrior when everything went fuzzy.

As her fuzziness cleared, Gabrielle could feel her feet being bound and struggled to find that her hands had already been tied. She looked up into Xena's blue eyes.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. By the time you get loose from this it'll be time to come and get me from the village." Xena was crying softly as she tied her friend beneath a tree near the well.
"Xena, please don't do this. What about Eve, she needs her mother!" Gabrielle pleaded, struggling against the bonds.
"She'll have me at the end of the day if Dacon keeps his word. If not, then she'll...." Xena's voice broke and she bit back more tears. "She'll have you and I can't think of a better mother." Xena leaned over and kissed Gabrielle's forehead. "I love you. If something goes wrong, don't follow me into death, live for Eve." Xena turned away.
"Noooo!!!!" Gabrielle wailed.
Xena placed a dagger in the ground near the well. "One of the men will stay and watch and make sure you're safe. He won't interfere with you getting the knife and he won't touch you. He also won't help you. By the time you get over here it should be over with."
Xena turned and began to walk away with the men, leaving her sword and chakram on the well. She tried to shut out the cries of her lover as she walked along with the men.
"I can't wait for this, bitch!" the other villager snarled and found himself sitting on his tailbone in the dust, nursing a broken nose.
"I'm not yours yet. Shut up." Xena said simply and kept moving.

Gabrielle, having sworn and pleaded herself horse with the villager who ignored her, kept struggling to get to the dagger. She didn't know how many candlemarks it was when she was about to reach the dagger and heard Joxer's voice at the same time.
"Xena! Gabby!"
"Joxer!" Gabrielle screamed, "Over here! Help me!"
The villager broke into a run back towards the village.
Joxer came at a trot, carefully trying not to jar the little infant in his arms. Eve looked unconcerned about everything. He stopped and stood stunned at the sight of Gabrielle lying on the ground, tied hand and food and covered in grime from crawling across the ground and crying.
"Don't just stand there! Cut me loose!" she demanded, her green eyes flashing.
Joxer knelt and carefully took the dagger and cut the bonds.
"What happened?" he asked as she stood, rubbing her wrists. He flinched when he noticed they were bloody from her struggles.
"No time, come on. We've got to get back to the horses and save Xena." Gabrielle took Eve in the sling and began trotting.
"Xena, what's happened to Xena and why were you tied up? I thought the villagers gave their word." Joxer demanded as they trotted along.
"They did, Xena tied me up and went with them."
"Xena tied you up? Gabby, why?" "To turn herself over to their justice for the day."
"Oh by the gods, they'll kill her!" Joxer cried.
"Or worse, they'll let her live after they're done." Gabrielle said grimly.

Argo protested with a snort as Gabrielle yanked the tall warhorse to a halt at the edge of the village center. Joxer's horse skidded to a stop behind her and Gabrielle heard him gasp.
In the center of the village, chained to a wooden frame was Xena on a platform. Her clothes hanging in ragged tatters. Her head was dropped forward and sweat slicked hair covered her face. Behind her stood a man with a whip. Gabrielle flinched as if she were the one receiving the blow as it landed on the warrior. Xena's head snapped up with the pain. Gabrielle cried out at the sight of her bloody and bruised warrior's face.
"Stop!" she cried out, sliding off Argo and drawing her sais. The villagers stood between them and the platform, some of them carrying staves and some with swords and pitchforks.
Dacon, on the platform with the whipmaster and Xena looked down at her and Joxer.
"She gave us the afternoon, there is a candlemark left. You have no right to intervene," he informed her. "If you do, you'll be killed."
Gabrielle stopped and looked up at Xena again. There were numerous cuts on the warrior's body and the tanned skin was slick with blood. Not only was she being whipped, she had also been beaten and maybe worse. Gabrielle growled deep in her chest and started to move forward but Joxer's hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"I know your traditions, headman. The accused has a right of champion to stand for her." Joxer stated.
"What?" Both Dacon and Gabrielle asked.
"Any accused has the right to have a champion fight their cause. You haven't given Xena that right," Joxer stated firmly.
"That wasn't the agreement, she's already admitted guilt," Dacon argued.
"What about your guilt? What about all the innocent blood on the hands of every villagers?" Gabrielle demanded.
"We're not on trial," Dacon argued with a frown.
"You are now, I demand justice for Henrick and Gudrun, innocent messengers raped and brutally murdered by your people. I hold you responsible and demand that you face me and release Xena." Gabrielle stood battle ready, only little Eve at her chest was causing her to hesitate.
"No, her judgment is decided." Dacon shook his head.
"I claim champion rights for her, I'll fight your best." Gabrielle insisted.
"By what rights? We know you are merely a travelling companion and not blood related. Those are our traditions." Dacon argued.
"She claims it by right of bondmate. Xena is her lifemate." Joxer announced. Gabrielle turned and looked in Joxer's pained eyes.
"You knew?" she whispered.
"Yeah, for awhile now."
"Bondmate? Lifemate? That is not our way here. Her claim is not recognised." Dacon decided simply.
"Then I claim it. These two women are the only family I recognise. They have saved my life on numerous occasions and I've been more than honoured to help them in their adventures."
"Enough, keep out of this." Dacon started to turn back to the whipmaster.
"Stop!" Even Gabrielle was startled by the commanding voice that suddenly came from..... Joxer?
"How many good men did you lose that day?" he asked.
"Too many," someone muttered.
"Here are two warriors who have fought on the side of the Light for many years, even against the gods. How many women were raped that day?" Joxer demanded.
"More than a dozen." another voice answered.
"These two have saved more than double that number from slavers and rapists. Ho many mothers did you lose that day?"
Dacon was frowning but motioned for the whipmaster to hold back.
"Over two score." a woman's voice answered.
"Here are two mothers. Both have lost children to violence and yet they stand here as mothers again. Look at the infant they will be both mothers of. Would you take her mothers away from her? Would you set another child on a path of revenge?"
Eve whimpered, almost as if in response. Several villagers shifted uneasily on their feet and several women moved away.
"How many bards have you killed merely because of their songs?"
No one would answer.
"How many women have you raped in the name of 'justice'?" Joxer demanded.
Gabrielle was more than puzzled. Joxer wasn't normally this eloquent or persuasive.
"Here stands another bard, would you kill her?"
No one would look him in the eye.
"Dacon, you know you and the village have been wrong and innocent lives have suffered. Xena has paid for her crimes. She has been crucified twice and has died. What more justice could you demand?" Joxer demanded.
'When did he hear Dacon's name?' Gabrielle wondered.
Dacon hung his head in thought. He looked at the other council members but they wouldn't meet his eye. Neither would anyone else in the village. He looked at Gabrielle and Joxer.
"No more. Release her. No-one else will be harmed in the name of Xena from this day forth in our village." Dacon announced. The whipmaster moved forward to unlock the chains as Gabrielle forced herself through the villagers to Xena's side. She caught the warriors as the chains were released and cradled the woman's head in her lap, tears beginning to flow.
"Dacon," Joxer's voice caught Gabrielle's attention. She was stunned when he lifted up a glowing owl feather.
Everyone went to their knees, even Dacon on the platform.
Joxer-Athene continued. "You swore justice in my name and have brought my attention to this village. The mortal Xena will fight for her child and possible cause the downfall of the Olympians, I will fight against this. In this matter, however, my choices are clear. You and your village have been wrong in your actions, Dacon, and you swore justice in my name. If you were in your right mind I would condemn your entire village."
"Right mind?" Gabrielle questioned.
"They have been under a curse, left over from Callisto. That is now broken. No more innocents will suffer from this village. Dacon, to make amends, you will personally offer many sacrifices in my temple. The village will offer hospitality to every bard and merchant passing through without charge for the turn of two years. Understood?"
Dacon couldn't take his eyes off the glowing feather, the obvious sign of Athene, goddess of justice and wisdom.
"Yes, Goddess," he whispered.
The feather stopped glowing and Joxer blinked. "Gabrielle?"
"Joxer, get up here and help me get her down," Gabrielle ordered, trying to keep hold of the baby and Xena.
Joxer blinked again, looking around and then jumped through the crowd to help Gabrielle.

The young bard was actually relieved when Xena flinched at the salve Gabrielle was putting on her back. She groaned and tried to move.
"Don't, my love. You've been through a lot." Gabrielle ordered. Xena turned her head and looked into the green eyes of her lover.
"What?" she whispered.
"You're safe and the village of Cirra will never hurt anyone again." Gabrielle reassured her.
"Safe and sound and in Joxer's arms." Gabrielle brushed a dark lock away from the warrior's eyes. Xena sighed and closed her eyes again.
"How bad?" she asked.
"Not bad really. Bruises and cuts, most of which will heal fine. There is one gash on your thigh that I had to stitch. The lashes will also heal but they might scar. They didn't have time to do worse." Gabrielle answered, her voice trying to catch in her throat. It had scared her how badly beaten her love was but she wasn't going to tell Xena that right then.
"Not enough time? What happened?"
"Later, my love. Do I have a tale to tell you. A tale of a brave Joxer," Gabrielle smiled when Joxer blushed. "And a tale of a righteous and indignant goddess."
"Goddess?" Xena started to sit up and was pushed back down by Gabrielle.
"For once one of them was on our side. Rest now. We'll also discuss you tying me up, my warrior." Gabrielle carefully placed a clean cloth over the wounds and waited until the warrior's breath was regular before moving away and approaching the fire. She smiled at the sight of Joxer rocking a giggling Eve.
"Thank you, Joxer."
"For what? I didn't do anything, that was Athene." Joxer's voice held a note of bitterness. His finest moment and it wasn't his, it belonged to a goddess.
"No, you offered to stand as champion for us. That's an act of bravery. Besides, you were there with Athene. I could feel you."
"I'd die for you two," then he looked at Eve, "make that you three." he corrected.
"I know, thank you. Athene may have given you the words but you gave them life and purpose." Gabrielle argued against his self doubts.
"Well," he stammered.
"I'm sorry we didn't talk about me and Xena sooner, we just didn't know how to tell you."
"That's okay," he stammered again, once again Joxer the Mighty, clumsy with words and sword. "I woke up one night and heard you two, uh ..... snuggling."
"I love you," Gabrielle tried to reassure him but was met with a saddened smile.
"I know, just like a brother." he shook his head before she could protest. "Go on, see to your wife." he turned his attention back to the baby.
Gabrielle stood up and leaned over, "No, like a trusted friend and family." She kissed him on the cheek and turned away before he could be embarrassed about the tears he was about to cry. She turned back to her warrior.

the end

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