by Leslie Ann Miller
Disclaimers- The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Violence - Yes, some. Nothing worse than what you'd see in the show.
Subtext / sex - Yes, this story depicts sexual acts between women. If that is illegal where you are, or it gives you the willies, you should try reading something else.
Hurt / Comfort - Yes
Other - This story is loosely based on the Hercules episode "Armageddon Now"
Thanks - I'm especially grateful to Fizz for all the help. Also thanks to Ellen and the ex-guards for their feedback and assistance.
Let me know what you think, good or bad! My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
I learned two important things on the journey to Shark Island. First, I learned that I easily became seasick. It was not a pleasant revelation. Second, I learned that while I had extraordinary balance on dry land with my one leg, I apparently did not do so well on the heaving deck of a ship. While I'd often cursed the necessity of marching through rough and mountainous terrain with the army, I now thanked the gods that Alexander had largely won his war on land. I could hardly stand up even with the help of crutches, and I spent most of the journey to the island being sick in the captain's cabin.
At first sight, Shark Island appeared to be as cheerless as its name, but I could have kissed the ground when we arrived. The prison warden's name was Thelassa, and she met me at the dock with her Captain of the Guard, a dour looking man by the name of Braxis. I was surprised to see that Thelassa was missing an arm, and I felt an instant kinship with her when she smiled at me warmly.
"It's an honor to have the Poet of Potidaea here," she said. "I've had special quarters made for you near the kitchen. They open directly on the courtyard, so there aren't any stairs, just as the Emperor requested."
"Thank you," I said gratefully. Alexander hadn't told me he'd requested special quarters for me on the island, but as sick as I was still feeling from the trip here, I was not going to complain.
Apparently, Thelassa saw it in my face. "I had planned to give you a tour of the prison, but perhaps you'd prefer to go to your rooms to rest? You must be tired from your journey."
"I'm afraid I got terribly seasick," I grinned.
"I understand." She turned to the Captain. "Make sure Gabrielle's things are brought to her rooms. I'll show her the way myself."
The next morning I was invited to eat breakfast with Thelassa in the guards' dining hall. She was attentive and courteous, and I thought that while my job here would no doubt be unpleasant, my stay would not necessarily be.
"May I ask why you've come?" she asked. "Alexander's message simply said you had business to conduct with Xena."
"I'm writing Alexander's histories, particularly about the war. But Xena has information I need to make the story complete. I'm here to interview her."
"You're wasting your time. She won't tell you anything."
"How do you know?"
"Trust me. I know Xena."
She spat the name, and I was surprised by the abject hatred in her voice.
"Of course, I could always torture her for you," Thelassa continued, almost hopefully.
"I'm sure that won't be necessary," I said slowly. Although I was appalled by the idea of torture, the thought of seeing Xena suffer had a certain unspeakable appeal.
"Oh, but it has been necessary," Thelassa said, darkly.
"Really?" I asked, unable to stifle my morbid curiosity.
"Well, you know Xena. I cannot let her crimes go unpunished."
"How…how do you punish her?"
Thelassa's eyes gleamed. "The first time, I threw her into a pit full of rats, and let them chew on her for a few days." She laughed. "She still has the scars on her legs."
I was both horrified and fascinated. How many times had I dreamed of hurting Xena in revenge for what she'd done to me? "But they didn't kill her?"
"Oh no," Thelassa said. "She finally scared them off, after killing a dozen of them or so with her own teeth."
"With her teeth?!"
Thelassa nodded. "Not that I'd let her die right now, anyway. I want her to suffer a long time before…"
"Before she finally dies."
I was certain that wasn't what she'd intended to say, but it didn't matter. I thought to change the subject. "Do you mind if I ask what happened to your arm?"
Thelassa grimaced. "Xena. Many years ago she tied me up and left me to be eaten by flesh eating crabs."
Flesh eating crabs? Well, that was a new one. "Oh," I said, at a loss for other words. So much for changing the subject. At least now I understood the hatred in her voice when she mentioned Xena's name, and why she was so eager to let her suffer.
Thelassa smiled and touched my face with her hand. "I know what she did to you," she said quietly, and I saw understanding in her eyes. "But she's paying for what she did, now. There is justice in this world."
Her words were warm, but they sent a shiver up my spine. I wondered just what she'd done to Xena in the past year.
"Let me show you around the prison," Thelassa offered, and I gratefully accepted.
During the tour I learned that Xena was the only prisoner here now; the old cells had been converted into a comfortable barracks for the soldiers guarding her. There were nearly sixty people stationed here with soldiers, cooks, the warden, and a retired healer from Elis. Almost all of them were from Athens.
Xena herself was never let out into the weed-ridden courtyard. In truth, she was never let out of her cell. The cell itself was specially built. It was a cage in the center of a cold, dark room with one torch providing illumination at the very base of the stairs. The floor was granite, and the bars on her cell were forged by masters in Chin. Both her arms were manacled and chained. The chains were anchored to the wall and then ran to a hand crank near the stairs. When it was time for her two meals a day, two guards manned the crank, pulling her to the back of her cage so she couldn't harm the guard who left the food in arm's reach outside the bars.
Since even ordinary objects became deadly weapons in the hands of Xena, she was given no utensils. The food was always served on planks of stale bread, or in bowls of bread, and she was kept hungry enough that she would likely eat the bread, rather than try to save it to use against a guard. She'd nearly killed one of the soldiers manning the crank with an apple, so now she was only given soft foods, with no bones.
Water was delivered three times a day through a hole in the ceiling above one corner of her cell. The water streamed down between the bars, and she could use it to drink, bathe, or wash her filth down the small iron grate that served as a drain beneath it. So far, at least, the system seemed to work. Xena was still alive; she had not managed to kill any guards; and she had not escaped.
It was two days before I worked up the courage to go see her for the first time. The warden told me that she frequently burst into rages that bordered on madness; the guards told me she'd stopped trying to kill the rats and now talked to them instead. I didn't know what to expect.
I wanted to go alone, but Thelassa wouldn't hear of it. "I'll come with you," she said, grabbing a whip from the wall. "I'll show you how we teach the great Conqueror the error of her past ways."
Four guards escorted us down the narrow stairway, two holding torches, the other two armed with swords and shields. The shields, Thelassa told me, were to protect us if Xena found something to throw.
The armed guards entered first, shields in front; the two guards with torches put them in sconces at the base of the stairs. They then proceeded to man the crank. I heard the sound of chains rattling as they turned the crank, but my view of Xena was blocked by the soldiers in front of me.
Finally I heard a grunt of pain, and Thelassa said, "That's enough."
The guards in front parted, and the warden stepped forward, whip in hand.
I followed Thelassa and got my first glimpse of the infamous Destroyer of Nations in her new abode.
Xena was pulled to the back of her cage by her manacled arms. They were stretched out behind her at a painful angle toward the wall. She looked haggard, thin, and pale, and the hatred in her eyes as she watched Thelassa approach was clearly evident.
"Hello, Xena," the warden smiled. "There's someone here to speak to you."
Her eyes shifted to me, but if she was surprised to see me, it did not show. "Well, well, well," she said. "If it isn't Alexander's little pet poet. What, did he decide that having me tortured by one pathetic cripple wasn't enough, so he had to send another?"
I was shocked by Xena's words, but Thelassa was enraged. She walked around the cage with a snarl until she was standing near Xena's outstretched arms. "You'll pay for that, Xena," she said coldly, and lashed the woman's arms cruelly with the whip.
Xena grimaced but did not cry out as Thelassa proceeded to whip her arms mercilessly. I watched, oddly detached, as welt after welt rose on her exposed flesh. I counted six, seven lashes before the warden finally stepped back. She turned to me. "Would you like to try, Gabrielle?" she smiled.
It occurred to me that some god on Olympus must have heard my prayers and was now offering me my chance at vengeance. I moved around the cage, shifted my balance on my crutches, and took the whip in one hand. Then, I noticed the blood dripping down the braided leather. I swallowed.
"Go ahead," Xena goaded without looking at me, "Do your worst."
There were times during the war when I'd been forced to defend myself. Most soldiers were not expecting to get hit by a crutch, particularly one being wielded by a defenseless looking crippled girl. So over the years, I'd shed my share of blood, fractured my share of skulls. But I'd never killed anyone, and I'd only acted out of necessity, usually defending myself as a last resort. A warrior I was not.
This was different. Xena had murdered innocent hundreds, maybe even thousands. She'd razed entire cities, and she'd left me to die on the cross for a crime I hadn't even committed. The pain of the welts on her arm were nothing compared to the agony of having nails driven through your flesh, of having to try to support your weight on impaled feet and broken legs just so you could continue to breathe for one more minute. They were nothing compared to the anguish of being tied to a bed and having your leg sawed off above the knee.
I raised the whip to strike. Xena should know something of pain.
"Yes," Thelassa whispered.
The excitement and dripping desire in her voice was like a slap to my face. If I were to strike Xena now, helpless as she was, I would cross a line that I knew I should not cross for any reason, no matter how badly I desired it. Alexander decreed Xena's punishment to be imprisonment until she admitted she was conquered. He did not intend for her to be tortured. This was wrong.
I closed my eyes and lowered the whip. "No, Thelassa, not today."
"Weakling," someone said, and I wasn't sure if it was Xena or Thelassa who spoke. When I opened my eyes again they both were looking at me in disgust.
I handed the whip back to the warden with a shaking hand. "I would like to speak to Xena alone, if you wouldn't mind."
"You won't get anything out of her except by force."
"I'd still like to try."
"I won't leave you here without a guard."
"Thelassa, I'm not stupid or helpless, and I can take care of myself. Please?"
Even Alexander had trouble resisting me when I used that word, and Thelassa was no exception. Finally, we reached an agreement. The four guards would stay at the top of the steps. If they heard me call, they would come to my rescue.
When they released the crank, Xena retreated into the corner of her cell farthest from me, watching me warily. She reminded me for all the world of a lioness I had once seen caged in the back of a wagon on its way to the palace in Corinth. She had the same hunted, almost crazed, look. With her bloodied arms, I could almost feel sorry for her. Almost.
I drew a breath and spoke. "Lord Xena," I said, wondering why I bothered to use the title. "I would like to ask you some questions."
Suddenly, Xena smiled. "What's it like having only one and a half legs?" she purred, her eyes raking my body derisively.
Despite myself, I felt my cheeks go hot, and what little pity I felt for her was quickly replaced with anger. "I'm not here to discuss myself, Xena. I'm here to talk about you."
"That's a boring subject," she said. "I'm locked up here all day and night, with only the rats for friends."
"I'm surprised they can stand your presence," I said.
Xena grinned. "I've always had rats for friends." Her eyes narrowed. She looked feral, predatory. "But at least I have friends. I'm sure you find that difficult, don't you - making friends, that is - being crippled as you are? No one wants to be around an otherwise beautiful woman who is…so incomplete, so marred. I'm sure everyone around you must find it terribly uncomfortable. I bet you'd be a great fuck… too bad about the crippled part."
I stared at Xena in shock, realizing numbly that in less than a minute alone in her presence, she had found my most sensitive spot and driven the dagger home. I did not want her to see how badly her words hurt me, so I feigned anger, and turned away before she could see my tears. Her laughter followed me as I hobbled back up the stairs.
I lay in bed that night and wept. How could I ever face her again? How could she be so cruel? She ruined my life seven years ago, stealing the innocence and joy of my youth, and filled me instead with hate and pain.
And then she rubbed my nose in it.
She was right, of course. I had very few close friends. Many people were moved by my words and my works. To some extent, I was famous. I know I was respected and admired by many people in many lands. But they always kept a distance from me. I suppose part of it was Alexander's protectiveness, but I knew it also had to do with my missing leg.
My disfigurement…. I wanted so badly to be loved, to be loved like Alexander loved Hephaestion, like Orpheus loved Eurydice. But who could ever love me, a cripple, a one-legged wonder with words? When the healer cut my leg off to stop the spread of gangrene, he'd cut a hole in my heart, as well. I ached for a partner; I longed for my other half. But I was grotesque and incomplete, and nothing, nothing could ever make me whole again.
Sometimes the truth hurt worse than crucifixion.
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