by B.S. Barber
I make no claims on Xena or Gabrielle or any gods mentioned. I do claim the story idea and other characters.
Yes, there be violence here. When people chose to play with sharp objects, someone always winds up hurt.
Subtext - I hope so, or I just have a strange way of looking at things.
Thanks for taking the time. Comments are read.
"Gabrielle, Argo doesn't hate you," Xena replied laughingly to my comment.
"See that," I retorted hotly as the horse crowded me to the edge of the path. "She does too!"
"She does that because she can," Xena stated.
I stopped to give the horse my best glare. "What do you mean, because she can'?"
Xena stopped Argo. "An animal, any animal, can sense when you're afraid of it, and the more you show your fear, the more aggressive the animal gets; because they know they can. And until you learn not to show your fear, they'll keep on dong it."
"Yeah, well maybe if she didn't hate me, I wouldn't be afraid of her."
"She doesn't hate you!"
With that, Argo crowded me completely off the path, causing me to trip and fall into the bushes. As I thrashed about trying to extricate myself, a soft thump on the top of my head, followed by hot, moist breath in my face when I looked up, brought all activity to a complete halt.
"Xena?!" came out more a bleat than a word.
I could hear her feet hit the ground as she jumped from Argo's back, and the comforting rasp of her sword as she drew it from its scabbard. Upon forcing her way through the brush, Xena found me on my hands and knees, nose to nose with a huge gray horse. She stopped dead in her tracks.
"Gabrielle, be very careful," Xena said softly, trying not to frighten me or the horse.
But, for once, I wasn't scared, even when the huge animal gently nuzzled my hair and gave a soft nicker. A laugh escaped me as I grabbed the reins to pull myself up.
Xena reached to help me, but stopped when the horse put back his ears.
"Why," I asked, scratching the horse between the ears as I'd seen Xena do with Argo. "Unlike another horse, who's name I won't mention, he seems to like me."
"That's a battle trained war horse," Xena answered tightly. "And they're not exactly known for their friendliness."
The horse nudged me, making me stumble back a few steps, then nudged me again.
"Looks like he wants me to go somewhere."
"Or maybe he just wants to get a running start at trampling you." Xena wasn't big on trust at first sight.
The horse whinnied and moved away several paces, turned, and looked back at me as though waiting for me to follow. I looked to Xena.
"All right!" Xena sarcastically addressed the horse. "Lead on."
The horse led us down a short trail into a large grass clearing. At the far edge, a dark form could be seen crumpled on the ground. As we drew nearer, the form turned into a body lying face down in the grass, dressed in black leather pants and vest and bleeding from the back. Xena hurried to it, knelt, and gently turned the form over.
"Jamie," she gasped.
The body was that of a woman, short blonde hair matted with blood, cuts and bruises covering her face and torso. Xena carefully lifted the woman into her arms, looking for a better place to find shelter.
While Xena tended to Jamie's wounds, I tended to the fire, my curiosity running wild till I could stand it no longer. I seldom questioned Xena about her past, knowing she would answer only if she felt I had a need to know. But if I was going to help her protect this woman, then I felt I had a right to find out all I could.
"You called her by name." I braced for Xena to tell me to mind my own business. "Are you two friends?"
"We used to be," Xena began hesitantly, staring into the flames. "It's been so long since I've heard about her, I was beginning to think she'd finally succeeded in getting herself killed."
"Looks like she almost did. Is she going to be all right?"
For some reason, this brought a short laugh from Xena. "If you mean, is she going to live, yes. As for her being all right, I don't know if that's possible."
"What do you mean?"
"I call her Jamie, but to most people she's known as Jamella."
"Jamella! Athena's daughter," I began, startled. "But I thought she was an Immortal?"
"She is." Xena cast a sidelong glance at her me. "But with a catch. The story goes, that Hera was mad at Athena, but couldn't do anything to her directly, so she decided to take her revenge on Jamie. She couldn't take away her immortality because she was Athena's daughter, but she could make it so Jamie felt everything. Every blow, every wound, every pain ever inflicted on her. Hera couldn't kill her outright, but she made damn sure Jamie pays a heavy price for her Immortality." Xena looked with sad eyes at the still woman. "When I first met her, she'd just lost her lover in battle and blamed herself for the death. She felt that, since she couldn't die, she should at least have been able to save Sasha."
I pondered this for awhile, trying to make some since of it all. "So, she can't die, but in every other way, she's just like us?"
Xena nodded, gently wiping a stray hair from Jamie's face.
"It must be hard; to watch as everyone and everything you care about dies, and there's nothing you can do about it." Strange, that I could feel sympathy for an Immortal.
"She told me once, that when it gets too bad, she goes off, away from everything and everyone, to let the wounds heal." Xena spoke softly. "I guess she wasn't just talking about the physical ones."
"Maybe that's why you haven't heard from her in so long." I was trying to reassure Xena?
I almost didn't hear her.
In the distance, several male voices could be heard, calling to one another.
"Keep looking. She's got to be here somewhere!"
"She's hurt bad enough, even she couldn't have gone far."
The sounds of a search through the bush came steadily nearer. Xena stood and unsheathed her sword.
Half a dozen men broke into the camp, swords drawn, and advanced on Jamie. Xena pushed me behind her and stepped forward to greet them.
"Why don't you boys just turn around and go back where you came from. There's nothing here to interest you." I could hear the warning in Xena's voice though she spoke quietly.
One of the men stepped to the front, pointing his sword at Jamie. "She interests us. And when we're done with her, maybe I'll let you interest me." He laughed harshly, leering at Xena, then signaled his men to advance.
Xena sighed, shook her head in resignation, and set for the fight. Four of the men immediately surrounded her; one came after me. Their leader chose to stand back and watch.
The man at Xena's back tried a sneak attack, but she went to one knee and blocked the stroke with an over-the-back swing of her sword. Pushing him off, she came up landing a side kick to the body of the one to her right, followed by a vicious kick to the face, sending him flying. Her momentum carried her into the rear attacker, her sword striking him in the ribs. As he went down, another took his place. Xena slammed the pommel of her sword into the man's face, then did a leg sweep that took him to the ground.
While Xena was keeping the others busy, I had grabbed my staff and prepared to take on my one assailant. Since they didn't seem to think I was much of a threat, I was intent on proving them wrong. As soon as the man was in striking distance, I landed a quick left-right to his ribs, followed by a hard strike to his left knee and an upper-cut to the jaw. Just to make sure he was out of the action, I clobbered him in the head with the butt of my staff.
With his men losing badly to two women, the leader decided it was time for him to join the fight and show them how it was done. By this time, however, only one man remained standing. Xena feinted at this poor soul, causing him to stumble back into his leader as he tried to get away.
"You're going to have to do better than that," Xena said, grinning.
Infuriated, the leader shoved the man back at Xena, who immediately switched her sword to the other hand, and punched the man in the face, dropping him like a rock. With a bellow of frustration, the leader attacked Xena with a double-handed swing at her ribs, which she blocked one-handed. He then tried the same stroke from the other side, which she also blocked one-handed. One of the men, having regained consciousness and his courage, started to join in, but I managed to trip him with my staff. Xena, glancing in my direction to make sure I was unharmed, failed to see the leader's fist before he struck her in the face, sending her staggering back a step. He quickly followed this with a knee to her ribs, a fist to the stomach, then another blow to the face. Xena shook her head to clear it and, the look I have come to call the "you shouldn't have done that" look, spread across her face. I stepped back to watch; the poor man didn't stand a chance.
Xena struck, with a savage over-hand blow that sent him stumbling backwards. The next blow caused his sword to drop from numb hands. She finished it with a fist to the chin that sent him flying. His men carried him off as they all fled into the surrounding forest.
"Gabrielle, are you alright," Xena asked anxiously. She'd obviously been too busy to see how I had fared.
"Yeah, I'm fine. But I'm not sure she is. Looks like your friend has a few enemies around here."
Xena went to restrain Jamie, who was trying to gain her feet, sword in hand.
"Jamie, it's ok. It's me, Xena." Xena took the sword from her and eased her back on the mat.
With an effort, Jamie focused on Xena's face.
"Xena? What're you doing here," she mumbled.
"Risking her neck protecting you, right now," I retorted.
"Gabrielle," Xena snapped, a little exasperated at my behavior.
Jamie looked a question at Xena I was unable to decipher.
"It's ok. She's a friend of mine," Xena responded, indicating me.
I began straightening up the camp as Jamie settled down, knowing the two had much to talk about, in private.
"Xena, is it really you?" Jamie couldn't take her eyes from Xena's face, as though she'd never thought to see it again.
Xena laughed softly. "Yeah, Jamie, it's really me."
Jamie sighed heavily. "Been awhile, hasn't it?"
"Awhile," was Xena's only reply.
Jamie seemed to relax a little, settling herself more comfortably on the mat. "I've been hearing a few stories about you lately. I didn't believe half of them."
Jamie's laugh ended in a cough. "I see. Well, even the best of us loose sight of our path occasionally. At least you were able to find yours again."
"With a lot of help," Xena replied, with a soft gaze in my direction that wasn't missed by Jamie. Xena gently squeezed the warrior's hand. "Thank you, my friend."
"So what was all the ruckus about? Friends of yours?" Jamie quickly changed the subject, apparently uncomfortable with any show of emotion.
"Actually, they were looking for you. Mind telling me what's going on, and who did this to you?"
Jamie sighed, easing herself into a more comfortable position. "Ever hear of a disgusting little rat named Zarkus?"
"The wanna-be Warlord? I've heard of him."
"Yeah, well now he wants to be king. Only problem is, there already is a king. Nice old guy named Thelonious. The people love him. But, he's no match for Zarkus and his goons."
"So you just decided to lend a hand," Xena asked sarcastically.
Jamie grew quiet for a moment. "Remember Sasha? Thelonious is her uncle. And Zarkus is holding his granddaughter hostage."
"And I suppose you were trying to be a one-woman rescue team."
"Don't look at me like that," Jamie groused. "I would have made it if Zarkus hadn't shot Aerial's horse out from under her!"
"Looks like he did a little more than that."
"Yeah, well, I always did have trouble dodging arrows," Jamie answered impishly. "I'm not as good at catching them with my hands as you are."
"And it's a little hard to fight an army with an arrow in your back, huh?"
"A little. But I'll be all right."
"Sure you will, but right now, you need rest. Gabrielle," Xena called. "Keep an eye on her while I take care of the horses."
"Oh, by the way, his name is Ghost." Jamie gave name to the gray.
As Xena went to tend the horses, I sat next to Jamie to keep her company, and hopefully get some information out of her before Xena returned.
"Gabrielle, isn't it," Jamie asked as I settled down.
"And you're Jamella."
"People who fight for me usually call me Jamie."
"I was fighting for Xena," I replied tersely, not yet willing to call this one friend, even though Xena did.
Jamie looked at me with a puzzled expression. "We don't know each other well enough to be enemies yet, so why is it you're so angry with me?"
Her question startled me. I hadn't realized my anger was so evident, or so strong.
"Because, you're going to go back and try to rescue your friend, and Xena is going to go with you."
"And that's why you're angry?"
"Not because she's going to go," I answered bluntly, before I lost the courage to continue. "That's what Xena does. But because she'll risk everything to help you, and I really don't want to see her die just because you can't."
Jamie looked as though I had struck her, the blood slowly draining from her face.
"Xena called you friend." She spoke slowly, carefully choosing her words. "She doesn't say that of many and I can see why she chose you. But I am also her friend. And I don't want to see her hurt, either."
"But you can't always keep that from happening, can you?" The words came out before I could stop them.
Jamie sighed, a deep, hurting sound. "Xena told you about Sasha. You're right, Gabrielle, I can't guarantee Xena's safety; I can't guarantee anyone's safety. Why do you think I've stayed away all this time? Everyone I call friend is a target for Hera, and I learned the hard way, I can't save them all. All I can do is what you and Xena and everyone else does; the best I can."
Before I could reply, Xena returned from tending the animals.
"I see you two are getting acquainted," she remarked, glancing from Jamie to me.
Jamie was the first to answer. "Yes. You have a good friend here, Xena, she has more insight than her age would indicate."
Xena locked her gaze on me as if she would read what had happened in my eyes. I merely shrugged and went to start dinner. Let her friend explain, I could be as cryptic as either of them.
It was barely light when the sound of voices woke me. Jamie was in the process of saddling Ghost, Xena standing behind her.
"And just where do you think you're going," Xena angrily demanded.
Jamie tightened the cinch before turning to face her. "Back to finish it right this time."
"All by yourself?"
"Yes, all by myself." Jamie bent to retrieve her saddle bags.
Xena grabbed her arm. "I don't think so."
"You going to stop me," Jamie softly asked.
"I'm gonna try," was Xena's even softer reply.
Ice blue eyes locked onto steel gray ones. So engrossed were they in their argument, neither heard me join them.
"I'm going too."
Both turned on me simultaneously. "No!"
I tried to give my best offended glare.
"Gabrielle." Jamie stepped towards me. "I'm not doubting that you would be a good ally, anyone that can keep up with Xena has to have something special. It's just that, they almost killed me. I won't take that chance with someone else's life."
I was not to be put off that easily. "If I can get killed, so can Xena. You're the Immortal one, not her."
"Gabrielle," Xena began, warning.
"No, Xena, she's right," Jamie interrupted. "If I won't risk it with her, I can't risk it with you. I thank you for you're offer, but I must refuse."
Even in the half-light, I could see the fire ignite in Xena's eyes. "You can refuse all you want, but it won't keep me from going. We all go. And no comments from either of you!"
I guess Jamie saw it too, for she quickly capitulated. "Ok, ok! I know better than to try to argue with you when you get that look on your face."
With that, Xena turned on her heal and stomped back to camp. I hastily followed, leaving Jamie to ready the horses while Xena and I broke camp.
We were soon on a hill overlooking a small war-camp spread out before us.
Jamie pointed out a large tent set up in the middle of the camp. "That's Zarkus' quarters, Aerial is in there."
"I suppose you have a plan," Xena asked of Jamie.
"Of course. I go in and get her out."
"Good plan," Xena stated sarcastically.
Xena and Jamie studied the camp awhile longer, then the three of us crept back to where we had left the horses tied.
"All right, here's the plan," Xena announced. "First, we need to set up a diversion, a few fires in their camp ought to do that; then, while Jamie and I keep everyone busy, Gabrielle can sneak in and get Aerial out."
"I like it." I actually got to do something important for a change, instead of being forced to stand back and watch.
"Works for me, too," Jamie agreed brightly. "But I have a better diversion; me."
Xena eyed Jamie suspiciously. "What are you going to do, call out the whole army?"
"Why not? What's the worst that can happen, they kill me?"
"That's not funny," Xena replied quietly.
"It wasn't meant to be. Xena, don't fight me on this, please. I've lost enough people I care about, I don't want to loose you, too. The one thing about not being able to die I hate the most is, the pain of losing someone you love never dies either."
"And do you think I could just stand by and watch someone I care about get hurt?" The anger in Xena's voice matched the fire in her eyes. "You're barely able to stand, let alone take on a whole army by yourself!"
"You might as well give up, Jamie," I chimed in, hoping to head off the impending confrontation. "No-one can argue with Xena when she has her mind made up. You should know that if you know anything about her."
Jamie showed more good sense than I gave her credit for.
"It has been awhile, but yes, I do seem to recall seeing that look before, too." She chuckled. "All right. But I do have a better plan. Zarkus doesn't know that you no longer lead an army, Xena. If you were to ride just into the clearing and challenge him, he might believe you had them with you here. I still have my bow, and can start a few fires inside his camp to add to that belief. Your presence alone will cause half his men to bolt."
"And if it doesn't?" Xena didn't believe in her own reputation.
"We improvise," I cheerfully answered.
Xena turned on me. I shrugged and gave her my best smile.
With a sigh, half exasperation, half resignation, Xena laid out the plan. "When Zarkus and his men come out, Jamie and I will attack from the front; that should give you a better chance to get Aerial out safely. Gabrielle, once Aerial is free, head straight for our camp. They should be too busy to worry about anyone coming out of there so you shouldn't be followed."
She looked hard at us both, stood quickly, and went to check Argo. I left to start working my way around to the back of the camp while Jamie made ready her fire-arrows.
I didn't see Xena watching me. "If anything happens to her, I'll never forgive myself."
Jamie put her hand gently on Xena's shoulder. "I know," was her soft reply. I'll just have to make sure nothing does', was her silent promise to her friend.
I managed to sneak by the sentry at the rear of the camp while Xena and Jamie took out the others. Using a small knoll as my vantage point, I watched as Xena rode Argo to within hailing distance of the camp and sat there, waiting to be noticed.
"Zarkus," she called loudly.
Movement could be seen in the camp as shadowy figures began running around.
Xena called again. "Zarkus, I'm waiting!"
More figures could be seen running, some in Xena's direction, some away from camp. A flaming arrow streaked the sky to land on a tent roof, bursting into small flames as it struck. Another arrow was launched and the camp broke into a frenzy of activity as men fought the blaze. More fled.
Zarkus managed to round up twenty of his men to face Xena.
"So, you're Xena. What do you want," Zarkus sneered.
Xena dismounted from Argo and sent her away.
"I wanted to see for myself if you're as big a coward as I've heard."
Some of the men snickered, causing Zarkus to turn red.
Xena laughed. "I guess the stories are true."
Zarkus growled and drew his sword. "Coward! I'll show you who's a coward!"
Zarkus charged Xena but she deftly sidestepped and kicked him in the rear as he blundered past. Zarkus turned and charged again. Xena, with a grin, tripped him this time. He fell face first into the dirt, sat up glowering at Xena, then at the men watching.
"What are you fools looking at," he snarled in fury. "Get her!"
When the men started advancing on Xena, Jamie came roaring down the hill on Ghost, bowling through them, and did a running dismount with her sword drawn. Half the men attacked her, the other half went after Xena.
That was my cue to get moving.
Sneaking tent to tent, with the sounds of the fight in the distance, I didn't notice the man running around the other side till we collided. He must have been more frightened than I, for he dropped his knife and fled out of the camp. Picking up the knife, I continued my surreptitious journey to Zarkus' tent, slit the back and snuck inside. Aerial was tied to the center post.
Before she could make a sound, I put my finger to my lips implying she should remain silent.
"Shhh. Jamie sent me to get you out."
Startled, Aerial gasped. "Jamie! Is she all right?"
"Hear that?" I indicated the sounds of battle coming from the front of the camp. "That's Jamie and my friend Xena. They're keeping Zarkus and his men busy so we can get out of here. So let's go!"
Just as I cut the last rope binding Aerial, a guard entered the tent. Not really thinking about what I was doing, I pushed her through the slit, grabbed the bottom of the pole, and pulled sharply. Luckily, I managed to hit the guard in the stomach with the end of the pole as the tent collapsed around him, barely making it out myself before it trapped us both. Hauling Aerial behind me by the wrist, I ran from the camp, desperate to gain our freedom without further encounters.
From a safe vantage point, we viewed the remainder of the battle. Several bodies lay on the ground around Xena and Jamie as the fight continued to rage. Jamie, blood streaming down her arm, was trying with reckless fury to clear a path to Xena's side.
Xena did a jumping double kick, taking out two men in front of her, turned to face a third rushing from her left, blocked his sword stroke, and executed a 180 degree spin to land the pommel of her sword to his head. He dropped in his tracks. The next man coming at her managed to land a rib shot with the shaft of his pike, but on the second attempt, Xena dropped her sword, grabbed the pike, and swung him around into three more attacking from behind, taking out all four. She quickly retrieved her sword and turned to face the next onslaught. The man, seeing the maniacal grin on Xena's face, however, dropped his own sword and fled.
In the mean time, Jamie had almost succeeded in clearing a path to Xena; only one man stood in the way. While she confronted this last obstacle, Zarkus grabbed an archers bow and aimed at Xena, who's back was to him. Jamie, realizing what Zarkus was about to do, quickly dispatched her opponent and made a diving body block at Xena. She and the arrow arrived at the same time. Xena turned as Jamie fell to the ground, the arrow meant for her now sticking out of Jamie's chest. She gently gathered Jamie in her arms.
"You've really got to stop doing this, you know." Concern showed in her voice.
"I know," Jamie impishly replied, then collapsed.
Xena glared at Zarkus in cold rage, laid Jamie on the ground, picked up her sword, and advanced on him. She swung her sword over her head for momentum, then brought it crashing down in a vicious double-handed stroke that shattered Zarkus' sword when he attempted to block it. As he stumbled back from the shock, Xena delivered a solid kick to his mid-section followed by a backhand that sent him spinning to the ground. He slowly gained his feet, only to be met by Xena's foot in his face as she executed a jump kick that sent him flying.
Seeing their leader beaten, those remaining of the army still standing, fled into the woods. Xena ran back to Jamie to find Aerial and I at her side.
"Easy," Xena cautioned. "We have to get this out of her." She indicated the arrow in Jamie's chest.
Xena expertly removed the arrow while I set to defend us against the men now rising from the ground. Much to my relief, they also fled into the woods.
Jamie, now resting with her head in Xena's lap, slowly regained consciousness.
"Did we do it?"
Xena nodded in Aerial's direction. "We did it."
We were met at the gates to the city by Thelonius and his guards. Aerial rushed into his embrace, returning it with equal ferocity. After several minutes, they parted; Thelonius finally taking notice of the rest of us. Xena held Jamie firmly supported before her in Argo's saddle while I rode behind on Ghost.
"Grandfather, I would like to present my friends, Jamie, Xena and Gabrielle. They came to my rescue and have rid us of Zarkus and his menace."
Thelonius, seeing Jamie slumped in Xena's arms, motioned his guards to help her, but Xena wouldn't relinquish her burden so easily to strangers.
"Then come," he stated, perhaps understanding Xena's reluctance. "Your friends must be tended to. And we must celebrate our victory and your safe return. They are welcome in our city for as long as they wish to stay."
Which turned out to be just long enough for Jamie to recover from her wounds.
As Xena and I were preparing to leave, Jamie came up leading Ghost.
"So what great adventures are the two of you off to now?"
"I guess whatever finds us," Xena answered lightly. "How about you?"
"I don't know. I've been pretty much behaving myself for awhile, now; maybe I'll go see what I can do to irritate Hera," was Jamie's laughing reply.
"You sure know how to have fun." I was amazed at the levity with which she approached the subject of Hera.
"It's all in how you look at it, Gabrielle. I must admit I take great pleasure in annoying someone like Hera. Hopefully, as long as she's concerned with what I'm doing, she's not creating as much trouble for others as she might."
"And we all know what kind of trouble she can create," Xena ended for her.
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