by lynka ©1997
Xena caught Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye. Gabrielle swung her staff with ease now. Warding off her attackers with the expertise of the Amazon she was. Xena could only afford a fraction of a second to admire her friend's talent; three more attackers were poised for action. The man in front of her was swinging his sword trying to make Xena his chopping block. Xena swung her sword overhead to block his attack. As the two swords clashed, Xena used her right leg to sidekick the man to her right sending him to the ground. Using the force of his blow against him, Xena disarmed her attacker. She again glanced at Gabrielle who was now facing five armed men. Xena reached for her chakram, but it wasn't there. Where could it be? GABRIELLE RUN! She couldn't be sure she actually said anything. But there was no time to ponder the question. Xena backflipped out of the way of a thundering blow just in time to avoid becoming a victim. Quickly the men surrounded her. She could feel the edge of the sword against her skin. Trapped. She heard a laugh. "So, THIS is the great Xena. What a shame I had expected so much more."
Xena couldn't believe her ears; a woman's voice. A voice she had never heard. Her new enemy was standing safely behind a wall of soldiers. As she turned her head, "KILL HER!" rang through her ears. Gabrielle. She could see the sword pierce Gabrielle's breast, bringing her to the ground quickly as she cried out for her friend she couldn't see, "XENA!"
Xena's scream could be heard by the gods, "NOOOOOOOO "
The scream pierced the calm night. Gabrielle grabbed her staff lying next to her and jumped to a ready stance. Frantically darting her eyes about looking for the intruder, Gabrielle realized Xena was still sleeping. She dropped her staff next to the fire and ran to Xena's side. "Xena. Xena " Gabrielle shook her friend trying to wake her. She had never heard Xena scream before. "Xena, are you all right?"
Xena sprang up grabbing Gabrielle's shoulders, looking into her eyes. She gasped, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I wasn't there. I couldn't get to you in time." Xena thought she was talking to a ghost. "Please forgive me, Gabrielle. I would never do anything to hurt you."
Gabrielle could feel her heart beating wildly as she stared back into Xena's cold blue eyes. Could this be possible? She couldn't believe what she saw. Fear. For the first time she could ever remember, Gabrielle saw fear in the Warrior Princess' eyes.
"Xena, what are you talking about? You were dreaming my love well, maybe dreaming isn't the right word "
Xena's senses started to return to her as she concentrated on the soft voice trying to calm her. Xena reached out and pulled Gabrielle to her. "I thought you were dead."
Gabrielle knew the quiet would calm Xena down, so she said nothing. Instead she held her tight stroking her long hair until both their hearts returned to normal.
Sitting around the fire the two women felt very uneasy. Gabrielle was the first to speak, "I'll understand if you don't want to talk about it. It's just that "
"It's all right, Gabrielle." A chill traveled down Gabrielle's spine as she listened to Xena describe the events that unfolded in her dream. "It seemed real. Too real."
"You know, I've had dreams that seemed real too. But, Xena they were only dreams." Gabrielle reached out and held Xena's hand in hers, "It wasn't real and I'm O.K. Maybe your mind was replaying a previous battle. Did you recognize who the warlord was?" Xena shook her head. "Anything about the dream seem familiar at all?"
"No," Xena answered. "It was nowhere I've been. And that voice, a woman's voice, I didn't recognize it. I never got a chance to see her face."
"Well, it was only a dream. Scary, I'll admit. But you're not getting rid of me that easily," She laughed a little nervously. "How about we try to get some sleep? Daybreak is still some time away."
"You go ahead." Xena said as she gave her lover a quick kiss. "I'll be along in a little while."
"Remember, even the great Xena needs sleep." Gabrielle picked up her staff and lay back down under her blankets. She made sure her staff was within arm's reach just in case.
Xena couldn't sleep the rest of the night. Instead she carefully watched over the woman she had come to depend upon. The women she loved. She wasn't sure if she could continue the journey she had to face alone.
The sun's beams bounced off the trees as Xena finished tightening Argo's saddle. Gabrielle just finished packing the supplies as Xena called out, "Time to go. I'll feel better once we get away from this place."
"Let me guess, you didn't sleep at all last night."
"Nope," came the answer.
The two women quietly walked down the path neither wanting to say the wrong thing to the other. Xena trying not to show her concern for her friend, and Gabrielle not wanting to pry into her friend's feelings, which she didn't get to see often, at least not often enough.
"Oh, great," Gabrielle says looking up at the midday skies. "It's going to downpour, Xena, look at the skies. We need to find shelter. I'd hate to get caught in this."
"Come on, I know a place. It's just up the road. We better ride." Xena mounted Argo then extended her hand down to Gabrielle and lifted her up behind her. Gabrielle hugged Xena's waist, holding her tightly as Argo began to gallop. The rain began to fall harder with each passing moment. Gabrielle laid her head against Xena's back trying to shield her face from the rain.
"DUCK!" Xena shouted over her shoulder. The lightening hit a tree branch sending it directly in their path. Xena quickly lowered her head however Gabrielle wasn't as quick. The branch slammed into her forehead throwing the bard off balance. Xena quickly grabbed Gabrielle and steadied her again.
"Ouch!" Gabrielle moved her hand to cover the blood streaming down her face.
"Are you okay?" Xena asked with concern.
"Just get us out of here!" Gabrielle shouted back.
"Hold on, Gabrielle, we're almost there." The wind gusts almost threw them sideways. Thunder clashed and lightening struck the road in front of the cave entrance only 20 feet in front of them. Xena urged Argo on. Argo obeyed reluctantly. A lightening bolt narrowly missed Argo's front hoof. She reared in disapproval of Xena's decision to move forward. Gabrielle couldn't hold on to Xena's slick leathers as Argo reared. As she fell backward, she could her lover dismounting Argo before she ever hit the ground.
"Can you move? Are you hurt?" Xena took a hold of Gabrielle's hand as she lay prone on the ground.
"Only my pride. Of course I had to land in the mud. Can you please just help me up, and get us out of here? I've got a splitting headache."
Xena smiled and lifted Gabrielle to her feet. She looked into Gabrielle's eyes to make sure she understood, "Come on. Stay right behind me."
Xena turns toward the cave, carefully timing the lightening strikes, waiting for the right moment. "I don't think someone or something wants us in there, Xena," Gabrielle shouted over the storm, still holding on to Xena's waist.
"Just stay with me, Gabrielle." Xena slapped Argo's rump as they make a run for the cave. Xena and Gabrielle darted through the lightening strikes to reach the entrance of the cave. Xena grabbed Argo's reins as they entered. Outside the entrance, the lightening clashed, the wind roared, and the rain pelted the ground.
Xena looked toward Gabrielle who was trying to wipe the rain and blood from her face, "Oh, Gabrielle, let me take a look at that gash. You took that branch to your head harder then I thought." Xena grabbed some cloth and the water skin from the saddlebags. "Come, sit over here on this rock." The warrior's touch turned gentle as she washed her lover's wound. When she was done, Xena gently wrapped the bard's forehead with the leftover cloth.
Gabrielle began to shiver and rubbed her hands up and down her arms, hoping the friction would create some heat. Xena took the woman she loved so dearly into her arms, "You're like ice. We need to get you warm." Xena began undressing Gabrielle, untying her green top and slipping it off her shoulders. Xena caught her breath as she noticed Gabrielle's erect nipples. She just couldn't resist the temptation as she gently kissed each one before continuing to undress her lover. She bent down to retrieve a towel from the bag. Slowly Xena moved the towel over Gabrielle's body, drying each wet drop. "Feel better?"
"Yes, thank-you," Gabrielle stood and slowly put on the dry shift that Xena had handed her. Just as Gabrielle lips were to meet Xena's, the wind howled as it entered the cave, catching the two off guard.
Xena stood as if to defy the wind; "We'll need to move further into the cave. I'll check for a site." Xena placed a blanket around Gabrielle's shoulders. "Here this should keep you warm 'til I get back. Stay behind Argo, she'll block some of the wind." Xena turned to Argo, "You watch over her girl, I'll be right back." With that said, Xena lit a torch and headed down the cave's path.
Gabrielle was trying to stay warm but it seemed no matter where she tried to move to get out of the wind, the wind found her again. "It's like it has a mind of its own," she managed through chattering teeth. She couldn't remember the last time she felt this cold.
"As far as I can tell, it's okay. There's a rock large enough to keep us warm just down the path." Gabrielle was happy to hear Xena's voice returning. She reached for her wet clothes. "Let me," Xena said softly gathering everything up in one arm. She extended her other arm around Gabrielle's waist to lead her down the passageway. Xena called over her shoulder, "Come on, girl!" Argo whinnied and followed.
When they were safely behind the rock, Xena spread a blanket over dry ground, helped Gabrielle sit down and adjusted the blanket to better keep the bard warm. Xena inspected Gabrielle's forehead to be sure it hadn't started to bleed again. "How's your head?"
"I feel like I've been kicked by a centaur," Gabrielle moaned, her head in her hands.
"I'm so sorry. Here bend forward, let me help." Xena used one of her touches to relieve the pain. "You should feel better soon." Xena sat next to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle reached out to touch Xena's leg. "You're cold too. You need to get out of your wet leather before you catch your death."
Xena smiled and turned around so Gabrielle could loosen the buckles on her armor. She then unlaced her tunic and slipped out of the wet leather. She unlaced her boots and laid them next to the other clothes hoping they would dry by the grace of the gods. She dried herself off. Putting down the towel she reached for her dry shift but couldn't find it.
"Over here, my love." Gabrielle's sweet voice was teasing her as she waved her shift in the air. Xena walked over to Gabrielle, took the shift, then slowly, ever so slowly, she slipped it over her hard body. Gabrielle watched every move with anticipation.
Xena smiled as she knelt in front of Gabrielle. Bending down her lips brushed her lover's ever so slightly. "Grrrrrrrrr." Xena leaned up. "Hungry?" She asked as Gabrielle's stomach seemed to be making a formal objection to the choice made.
Xena stood to get the saddlebags. "Let's see. We have a bit of cheese, three apples for Argo and this." She gave the cloth wrapped parcel to Gabrielle.
"Umm nutbread," she smiled. Gabrielle looked at the nutbread, then back at Xena, "You do remember the last time I ate nutbread in a cave. Don't you?"
Xena began to laugh, threw her hands in the air and said, "Henbane free, I promise." They both laughed as they split the meal. Gabrielle thought to herself, gods, I love this woman.
Xena just finished tending to Argo when she turned to Gabrielle saying, "Well, my love, we might as well try to get some rest." Xena picked up the remaining blanket and curled up behind Gabrielle throwing the blanket over both of them. She held her close whispering in her ear, "Do you know how much I love you?"
Gabrielle turned to face Xena replying, "Yes, as much as I love you." Gabrielle then pressed herself closer to Xena's warm body, buried her head on Xena's chest and placed one leg between her legs. Xena held her close as they drifted off to sleep.
Gabrielle jumped startling Xena awake. As she opened her eyes, she saw a large snake-like creature slithering next to Gabrielle's leg. In one motion Xena grabbed her sword and leaped to her feet. The creature was just starting to bite into her leg. Xena raised her sword over her head and easily stabbed the creature. She could see blood run from the wound at the edge of her sword. When she looked at the creature again, her eyes met Gabrielle's. Her sword was no longer embedded in a slimy creature but instead had pierced her lover's chest. Gabrielle's eyes were panic stricken as she muttered her last word, "Why?" Xena stood holding the hilt of her sword as Gabrielle's body went limp.
"GABRIELLE!" Xena's scream reverberated throughout the cave.
Gabrielle grabbed her staff and jumped to her feet, her heart pounding wildly. She could see nothing in the cave except Argo standing of to the side of their bedrolls.
"Nooooooo," Xena screamed for the second time. Gabrielle looked down to see her warrior still asleep under the blanket.
"This has got to stop," she muttered to herself. "XENA, WAKE UP!" Gabrielle tried not to touch the warrior. She tended to overreact and attack when rudely awaken. "XENA, PLEASE WAKE UP!"
Startled, Xena snapped her eyes open. Before she could get up, Gabrielle was kneeling beside her. "It's okay. You were only dreaming again." Xena propped herself up on her elbows as Gabrielle moved the back of her hand across her lover's cheek, wiping the tears as they fell.
"Oh, gods, Gabrielle. It was you. You were under my sword," Xena started but her emotions wouldn't let her continue. Tears continue to fall down Xena's cheek.
"It's okay, everything is okay." Gabrielle kept repeating her words as she rocked her warrior holding her tight. After a short time, Xena lifted her head and kissed Gabrielle on her cheek. "You know I would rather die a thousand deaths then hurt you. Don't you?"
"I know," Gabrielle said, wiping away a tear.
The two women sat in each other's warmth for the remainder of the night.
By first light the storm had ceased. Xena knew they needed to get somewhere away from here, anywhere. She slowly nudged Gabrielle, who had finally dozed for a short time still in the warrior's arms. "We need to go," she gently whispered into the bard's ear. The two women slowly stood and silently got dressed in their damp clothes. Xena readjusted the saddlebags on Argo then took her reins. The three of them headed out of the cave. The cave entrance was a disaster. The wind and rain broke down rocks and trees. The ground was covered with the remains of the storm. Xena paused for a moment shuddering at the thought of what could have happened.
As they headed down the path, Xena stopped dead in her tracks. She quickly snapped her head in the direction of the cave. She couldn't believe her eyes. Leaving the destruction behind her, yet just down the path, it looked as if spring continued blossoming with no sign of the violent storm that had pelted the earth just last night.
"Xena, what is going on?" Gabrielle said barely above a whisper with just a hint of fear evident in her voice.
"I don't know. Let's go."
The two traveled quietly until the sun was high above them. The two women were growing tired and hungry from their quick paced escape. "Let's stop for a rest and some breakfast," Xena said. She led Argo and Gabrielle through the trees to the clearing. She put down Argo's reins and quickly unloaded their saddlebags. Argo gently nudged Xena as a reminder to remove the saddle. "Okay, girl. I'll get it." She took off the saddle and laid it off to the side. Xena caught a glimpse of Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye. The bard, her bard, was sitting on a rock with her head in her hands. Xena couldn't tell but she would swear she was crying. Xena walked over to her and laid the saddlebags down by the side of the rock. She knelt in front of Gabrielle. Gently, she took Gabrielle's head in her own hands and wiped away her tears. "I'm so sorry, love. I swear, by the gods, we'll find out what's happening. How's your head?"
"My head is fine, pounding a bit though." After a few moments, she looked into Xena's blue eyes whispering, "Xena, I'm scared."
"I know," Xena said acknowledging Gabrielle's fear. "There's a town not far from here. We'll get there by nightfall. You take care of the fire. I'll go get breakfast." Xena gently kissed Gabrielle then stood slowly. She reluctantly removed her hands from Gabrielle's cheeks, turned and walked toward the woods.
Gabrielle stood and looked to see if there was any wood close by. She headed in the opposite direction of Xena toward a bunch of branches. She gathered them in her arms and quickly returned to the clearing. Gabrielle built the fire near a tree with branches hanging overhead. She heard Xena returning down the trail with breakfast. She decided that it was safe, that she was safe. Gabrielle quickly undressed and hung her clothes over the branch so they would finish drying. Then she laid out their blankets next to the fire and stood by the flames trying to warm her body. She smiled sheepishly as she heard Xena coming.
When Xena came around to the clearing, she almost dropped breakfast. She stood dead in her tracks, her jaw wide open. There stood her heart's desire, her nude body bending toward the warmth of the fire. "Gods, she is beautiful," she said to herself.
"Are you going to stand there all day, or are you going to cook breakfast?" Gabrielle asked.
"Cook you breakfast of course." Xena walked to the fire and put the already skinned rabbit on a spit to cook. She preferred to clean and skin her hunt away from Gabrielle since she usually lost her appetite whenever Xena cleaned and skinned them at camp. But looking at Gabrielle's magnificent body, she was extremely happy she saved every second she could.
"You really should get out of that wet leather," Gabrielle said with a wicked grin on her face. "Here, let me help." Gabrielle reached for the buckles, then the leather laces. Xena stepped out of her clothes and placed them in Gabrielle's outstretched hands. "Come stand by the fire and warm yourself," she said as she placed the wet leather next to her clothes on the limb. "I'll get our shirts until our clothes dry."
Gabrielle turned to get the bags but Xena's hand caught her at the wrist. Xena pulled her against her body. With all her passion and fear Xena covered her lover's lips with her own. Xena pulled her down to the blankets, lying on top of her. Their hunger for each other evident in every kiss, every move their bodies danced to. Their passion exploded when their tongues met. Xena moved slowly down the length of her lover's body. Gabrielle's nipple hardened under Xena's warm mouth. She slide her tongue over to her bard's other breast. Kissing and sucking her nipple. Xena heard the soft moans of pleasure coming uncontrollably from Gabrielle's throat. Xena slid her tongue across Gabrielle's stomach to her waiting triangle of curls between her legs. Xena kissed around the curls, teasing her lover with every kiss. She placed her fingers against Gabrielle's wetness, rubbing lightly as she teased her lover more. "Oh Xena, please."
Xena's tongue found its treasure. Her tongue slid back and forth over Gabrielle's swollen nub, then delved into her as far as she could. She continued to slide her tongue in and out of Gabrielle's opening, then up to find her swollen clit again lapping up the wetness that followed her. As she sucked on the bard's nub she could feel Gabrielle's body stiffen. Gabrielle's breathing stopped as her body shook with waves of passion. As the waves crashed into orgasm Gabrielle shouted, "Ohhhhhh Xenaaaaa!" Her body shook violently one last time then finally went limp. Xena looked up into her lover's face. She could see her chest rise and fall. Her lungs trying with all their might to suck in the oxygen they were deprived of just moments before. Xena slowly kissed her way back up the bard's body 'til she again laid beside her. Xena held her close until the quaking subsided, kissing her with every breath.
Gabrielle reached up, wrapped her arms around Xena and pulled her closer with every kiss. Xena could feel Gabrielle's hunger rising with each passing moment. Gabrielle rolled her over, cupping Xena's breast in her hand. Xena arched her back trying to push herself harder into Gabrielle's wanting hand. A soft moan escaped from Xena's throat. Gabrielle could feel Xena's nipple harden in her hand as she kissed Xena's neck, biting gently under her ear. She then kissed the hollow under her neck, her shoulders, then moved between her breasts, moving slowly to the nipple left untouched. As Gabrielle took her nipple into her mouth she felt it harden immediately. Slowly, she moved her hand across her warrior's body, exploring every inch. Her hand came to rest between her lover's legs. Gently, she teased the pulsing ache under her. Still sucking Xena's nipple, all she heard was "Gabrielle " She couldn't help but smile. Gabrielle moved her fingers across Xena's swollen clit. She moved her fingers into her opening and then back over her bud. Slowly, her fingers circled Xena's clit and she could feel Xena's body begin to stiffen. The moans above her head were getting louder as Gabrielle moved her fingers faster, keeping pace with Xena's hips. Gabrielle rested her head on Xena's breast, as Xena exploded in climax. Gabrielle's heart felt as if it would burst from all the love she felt for her lover. Gabrielle held her warrior close until her body stilled. She looked deep into those blue eyes and whispered, "I love you, warrior."
Xena held her tightly, whispering back, "I love you, too." They laid there wrapped in each other's love.
Gabrielle sniffed the air, raised her head and looked toward the fire, laughing. Xena looked at her then at the fire, raising an eyebrow. She lay back down, laughing as the rabbit went up in flames. "A little overdone for my tastes," Gabrielle teased.
Xena got up shaking her head, trying to remember how many times they had burned dinner because passion had consumed them before hunger did. She grabbed her oversized white shirt and tossed the other to Gabrielle. Without another word, Xena grabbed her chakram and headed off in search of another rabbit.
Xena put the quail on the spit over the fire. She sat on the blanket where she could keep on eye on dinner. Xena was lost in thought while she poked at the fire with a branch. Gabrielle sat down besides her pulling her legs up under her shirt and wrapping her arms around her legs. "Do you feel like telling me about the dream?"
"I already told you."
"Not all of it. Come on, Xena, what happened?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle with sadness only her bard could see. "Gabrielle, in each of the dreams, I think I'm protecting you. But in the end, I'm the one responsible for your death. I have always thought I had to protect you. But now, it may be that very protection that kills you. It was by my sword you had died in my dream last night. I couldn't live with myself if I caused your death."
"Xena, you would never hurt me. I know that."
"I've got a feeling these are more than just dreams, Gabrielle. I just don't know anymore " Xena's voice trailed off, not knowing what else to add.
"Maybe Ares has something to do with this. I wouldn't put it past him, Xena. He wants you back bad enough " Gabrielle let it drop. She didn't have the answers and didn't want to offer more questions. It seemed Xena already had enough of those. Xena's silence disturbed Gabrielle. She needed to get her lover's mind off her dreams. Slowly, she moved behind her warrior and started to massage her shoulders and back. Gabrielle leaned over and whispered in Xena's ear, "I'm okay and you will be too. We just have to come up with something else for you to dream about. Picture this: We go to Athens or maybe Lesbos. Aweek or two at an inn or on the beach. Now that's something to dream about." Xena had to laugh, ever so slightly at the bard's attempt at distraction.
"It's already getting late, Xena. There's only about two or three more candlemarks of daylight left. Do you mind if we just camp here tonight and get a fresh start in the morning?"
Xena couldn't deny her lover anything. "Sure, it will take slightly more than that to get to the next town. After all," she said grinning, "we're already undressed for the night." Xena pulled Gabrielle in front of her kissing her fiercely. "I need to get some more food for the night. Watch the bird. Don't let it burn. And while you're at it secure camp." Xena went off in search of game.
She returned with two more skinned rabbits. She laid them across the fire and sat down on the blanket. Gabrielle returned with a plate full of food for her warrior huntress. "I found some berries not too far away. And we still have a bit of bread." She handed the plate to Xena and sat down across from her.
"I think this can wait 'til later," Xena said playfully. She put down the plate of food then pulled Gabrielle down to her on the blanket. Their kisses were soft and passionate. Before long, the two dozed off still wrapped in the safety of each other's arms.
It was just after nightfall when the two women woke from their sleep. They were enjoying their dinner in their peaceful surroundings. Gabrielle had already finished eating when she noticed Xena staring at her through the flames. "By the gods, you are beautiful." Xena's sweet voice sang to her lover.
Xena could see Gabrielle smile at her. All she could hear was the crackling of the fire. This is perfect. Suddenly, Xena dropped her plate, grabbed her sword and leaped over the fire. She could see the tree roots grabbing Gabrielle and pulling her into the ground. "GABRIELLE!" she yelled as she landed. Xena brought her sword down trying to cut the roots and just barely missed Gabrielle's shirt. Gabrielle quickly moved to the left to avoid Xena's sword. Before she could say anything, she rolled to the right to avoid Xena's sword again. This time Xena's sword pinned her shirt to the ground. Xena started to use her hands to dig through the ground to no avail. Xena lifted her sword again releasing Gabrielle as she did. With each strike of the sword now, Gabrielle tried yelling Xena's name but Xena couldn't hear her. As she rolled to the right, she quickly grabbed her staff. Swinging it over her, she blocked Xena's sword off to the side. Then in one smooth motion brought the staff under Xena knocking her to the ground. As Xena landed her hand let go of her sword and her head hit a small rock.
Quickly getting to her feet a little dazed, Xena saw Gabrielle leaning against her staff trying to get up. Xena rushes over offering her hand for help, "Gabrielle, you're all right. I was so afraid I'd lost you."
Gabrielle slapped her hand away from her. "What were you doing, Xena? You could have killed me!" Her voice still shaking.
Xena looked confused, "What do you mean? That thing had you! I was trying to save you! It was pulling you into the ground!"
"No, Xena. I was right here, trying to avoid your sword. We were talking then you jumped over the fire, swung your sword down, and started digging. LOOK, XENA, look at your hands," Gabrielle shouted, pointing to Xena's hands.
Xena stared at her hands in disbelief. They were covered with dirt. She slowly shook her head in disbelief as she continued to listen to the horrifying details being relayed to her by her bard. "Oh, Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. I don't understand what's going on. In each of my dreams, not only am I responsible for your death, but you die at my hands." Xena could say no more, she just sat staring into the flames wishing she had the answers.
"Xena, you weren't sleeping this time. We have to find out what's going on before " Gabrielle cut herself off, adding before you kill me didn't seem necessary, she already knew that was what her warrior was thinking.
"No, Gabrielle," Xena said standing. She put her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "I need to know you're safe and right now, you're not safe with me. We're going to that town and then I'm going to find out what's going on. Now, come on. Let's get out of here." Xena grabbed the saddlebags and her sword putting them both in their place. She was gathering their belongings and went to put out the fire. As Xena gathered stuff, Gabrielle put their food away and finished rolling the beds. They both got dressed and readied to leave camp. Xena looked over her shoulder one last time at the marks left behind of her imaginary battle with the creature shuddering at the thought of what might have happened.
The two women walked all night by the light of the full moon. There was an uncomfortable silence between them. By daybreak Gabrielle's pace had deaden to a crawl and Xena knew she needed rest. She also knew they couldn't afford to stop. She wouldn't put her lover in any more danger if she could help it. "There's a small village ahead with nice soft beds. Not much further if you can make it," Xena offered trying to inspire the bard to continue.
"Hummm. For a soft bed, a warm bath and a good meal I can make it." Gabrielle smiles, starting to pick up her pace a bit. "Well, what are you waiting for?"
Xena watches her, smiles and shakes her head. "Well, what are you waiting for?" she quietly asked Argo picking up their pace to keep with Gabrielle's.
Dawn had broken, and the sun was just beginning to peek at the new day. Suddenly, the wind started to moan, talking to the trees. The air suddenly had a chill to it. Argo whinnied, pulling against the reins. "What it is girl?" Xena asked Argo. Xena pulled Argo closer and brushed her head trying to calm her steed. She instinctively let go of the reins and whisked Argo away to safety. She drew her sword from behind her back and swung at the stymphalin bird swooping down on her. The bird's claw scratched her left arm above her gauntlet then flew away as quickly as it came.
Gabrielle held her staff at ready. She had learned through the last year to trust her friend's instinct. She glanced over and saw Xena crouched in a defensive posture, sword above her head. "What is it, Xena?" Gabrielle asked as she ran over to Xena's side, staff still poised for action.
"Where is it? Where did it go?" Xena's eyes darted, searching for her attacker, as she stood upright.
"What?" Gabrielle looked also, for what she had no idea. "What are you looking for?"
Xena quickly stared at Gabrielle with disbelief. What am I looking for? Didn't you see that monster? Their eyes locked as Xena looked for an explanation from Gabrielle. The two stood there for what seemed to be eternity to Gabrielle but was only a minute or two. Xena shook her head not sure if the attack happened at all. She may have been convinced of just that except for the warmth of blood she could feel on her arm.
"Xena, your arm, it's bleeding." Gabrielle looked at the small wound, eyes narrowing as she moved to stare into Xena's. "Okay Xena, this has gone way past a few bad dreams. I need to know what's going on, or at least what you think is going on."
Xena puts her hands on Gabrielle's arms, holding her at arms distance. She swallows hard saying, "I don't know, but I intend to find out. I hope you understand I need to do this alone. I won't take another chance with your life. Pydna is just down the road. Take a room at the inn. I will be back for you."
"Xena " was all Gabrielle could say in protest before Xena cut her off.
"Gabrielle, please. For me." Gabrielle lowered her eyes and conceded. Xena kissed her one last time then softly whispered, "I'll see you soon, my love. I promise." Xena mounted Argo and headed to the west, not knowing where to go. Just knowing she had to put distance between her and her love. Tears had started to roll down the warrior's face but she dare not look back.
Gabrielle stood watching Xena with tears streaming down her face. "Oh gods, Xena, please be careful. Please come back to me. I love you." She watched until Xena was out of sight then headed in the direction of Pydna.
Gabrielle glanced around the town as she entered. She spotted the inn Xena had told her about and headed in that direction. Slowly, she pushed the door open and entered. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the shadowy room. It was a small place. Only a counter used for the bar and four or five tables scattered about. Gabrielle couldn't focus enough to figure out if she counted a table twice or not. A dozen or so candles were placed carefully around the room to allow for precise lighting.
"What'll be, little lady?" Ahard scruffy voice startled Gabrielle out of her daze.
"Oh, sorry." Gabrielle approached the man at the bar. "Dinner, a bath and a room if it's available, please sir."
"Five dinars." Was his only reply. Gabrielle laid five dinars down on the bar. "Filia, come here. Get her what she wants." The bard saw a young woman, maybe fifteen or sixteen, peek out from around the curtain.
"This way, ma'am." The young girl squeaked as she came from around the curtain picking up Gabrielle's belongings, and heading for the stairs. Gabrielle walked toward the young woman, mumbled something about being called ma'am, and followed her up the stairs to her room. Filia opened the door for Gabrielle then followed her in placing the bags by the foot of the bed. Gabrielle glanced quickly around the room. Fresh sheets and flowers in a small vase on the table in the corner. "I will fetch water and your dinner, ma'am," she said before leaving.
Gabrielle lay back on the bed, curled up with the pillow and thought of Xena as she fell unconscious from exhaustion. Filia returned with water buckets for a bath to find the women asleep. She placed the buckets over the fire then placed a blanket over the sleeping bard. "I'll bring dinner later, ma'am," she whispered as she left.
Xena knelt in the clearing, the moonlight still bright enough to dimly light up the forest. Slowly, she unwrapped her package. "Great goddess, Athena, I call on thee to appear. I offer up this sacrifice, the heart of the wolf, and call on you to grace me with your presence and wisdom."
A light shines in the forest getting brighter as it approaches Xena. The wolf's heart in Xena's hand vanishes, leaving Xena's hands clean of blood. Then Athena appears in front of Xena looking down at her. Light radiates from Athena's armor blinding Xena at times. Then the goddess stands before her, the blinding light gone allowing the warrior to see the great warrior goddess. Athena circles Xena with her hands on her hips. "Well, well. The mighty Xena. Why have you summoned me here?" the goddess demanded.
"I ask you here, not for me, but for Gabrielle." The goddess turns at the mention of Gabrielle's name. "She is in danger, and I fear one of the gods are to blame."
"And what makes you think it's not me, my dear?"
"Because you once loved her, offering to make her one of your vestal virgins."
Athena cut her short, replying, "Yes, and as I remember, she turned me down. Instead she chose you and ran into your waiting arms."
"I love her with all my heart and soul, my very essence of being. Could you have offered her the same?"
"What do you ask of me, Warrior Princess?"
"I ask that you protect and watch over her, Athena. Please keep her out of harm's way."
"And if that means protecting her from you, my dear Xena, then what? How far are you willing to take this?"
Xena knew the extent of this question. She lowered her head replying, "Yes, Athena, that includes from me. Even if it means my death. I couldn't live if I was the one responsible for her death."
"Very well then, she will be under my protection until you resolve this problem or die. And Xena," Xena raised her head looking Athena in the eyes. "No, I couldn't have offered her as much. And yes, I do still love her and consider her one of my chosen. She is always under my watchful eye."
"Thank-you," Xena sighed with relief knowing her lover was safe.
Athena turned to go but faced Xena one last time. "One last thing, my young warrior. You are in great danger. From who or why, I cannot say. In your quest for redemption, you have made an enemy more great than the darkness in your heart and soul. Nothing you can do will save you from this enemy. But hear this, as with your heart and soul, it will take the courage and wit of your young lover to save you this time, if she can." With this Athena was gone in a flash of bright light.
Xena stood sheathing her sword. She knew what she was up against and knew there was no way to win.
Gabrielle awoke reaching for Xena in the dark. When her hand didn't reach her lover, she slowly raised her head looking around. "Xena?" She had hoped that it was all a dream, but she realized her warrior was gone. She sat on the edge of the bed. She never felt this helpless, not knowing what to do to help Xena. All she could do was cry.
Filia softly tapped the door, "Ma'am, are you awake? I brought dinner." She heard Gabrielle on the other side of the door so she opened the door and repeated her announcement. "Ma'am, dinner?" The young women entered the room placing the plate on the table near the fire.
Gabrielle stopped crying not wanting the young women to see her so vulnerable, but it was too late. Her eyes were red and swollen. It took everything she has just to spurt out, "Thank-you."
Filia walked over to Gabrielle placing her hand on her shoulder. "Is there anything I can do Ma'am?" Filia offered.
"No. Yes, please stop calling me 'Ma'am'. My name is Gabrielle."
"Yes, ma I mean Gabrielle. That's such a pretty name. Why do you cry? I'm sorry, my father says I'm too nosy for my own good. I should be going." Filia turned to leave.
"No, please stay. Filia, right?" Gabrielle motioned for Filia to join her on the bed. She just didn't want to be alone.
Filia brought Gabrielle her plate of dinner. "Please tell me what bothers you so."
In between bites of food, Gabrielle blurted out the whole story. She told Filia about the dreams, the storm, the attack and the blood. She even told her about the tearful goodbye and the fear she had of never seeing her beloved again. Most of all she told her just how helpless she felt at this moment not knowing how or where her love was. "I know a woman who may be able to help you."
Gabrielle looked this young women in her eyes, "You, you may know someone who can help me?" Gabrielle stared at her in disbelief. "Who?"
"There is a seer. She lives outside the village. It'll take half a day to ride there."
"Ride. No, I don't ride. How long will it take for me to walk there."
"It's rough terrain. It would be better to ride. I could take you there."
"But, you're father. Won't he "
"He won't be up 'til evening tomorrow. He won't miss me unless someone comes along and you're the first to want a room in three moons. Please, I know where it is. And I want to help."
Gabrielle replied hesitantly, "Okay, but we have to leave now. I can't wait here not knowing what is going on." Filia nodded. "Meet me outside in a short time, I have to get some things together."
Filia answered, "I'll get some food and meet you out back. It will take me a short while to get my horse ready."
After a short time, Gabrielle left her room carrying her bag and staff. She managed to find her way outside to the back of the inn. The light of the full moon shined down on her. She looked up at the moon with some comfort knowing that Xena was looking up at the same moon . Somewhere.
Filia came around the corner of the building leading her horse. "We'll have to be quiet. We can mount Moonwarrior when we get to the edge of the village." The two walked in silence until it was time to mount the mare. Filia mounted her mare then put out her hand for Gabrielle. A sudden moment of familiarity hit her as Filia helped her mount. Xena was all she thought as the two rode off into the night.
Xena realized how exhausted she was now. She finally lay down by the fire. All she could think of as she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep was how much she missed her bard. She just drifted into a light sleep when the she heard the voice, "XENA!"
Xena woke jumping to her feet. That voice. The same voice from the first dream.
Xena tried to see where the voice was coming from.
"Xena, I've underestimated your love for that little annoying brat. It's your love for each other that has kept her alive." Xena heard the statement as she saw green, feathery eyes appear in the sky overhead.
"Hera," Xena said softly. "Why are you trying to kill her? She's done nothing to offend you."
"You fool! It's not her I'm after. It's you. You think you can defy me without repercussions. You silly mortal. I shall have my revenge and leave you as an example of what happens to those who dare defy me." With that said, Hera brought the winds down on Xena whisking her away. When the winds stopped, Xena found herself on a mountaintop bound by Prometheus' chains.
Filia and Gabrielle approached the seer's cottage. Filia brought Moonwarrior to a stop just outside the door. "I can't go in with you. I'll stay here and guard the path." She helped Gabrielle down and moved to watch the path. "Go ahead, I'll be right here when you are done."
Gabrielle knocked lightly on the heavy wood door. "Hello, I need to see a women, the seer. Please, is anyone home?"
"Come in, Gabrielle. I've been expecting you."
Gabrielle pushed the door open, peering into the dark room. She stepped inside and closed the door. "How how do you know who I am?" Gabrielle stutters cautiously.
"I've been expecting you, my dear. I know why you have come." Gabrielle's eyes adjusted to the light. She saw an older woman sitting at a small table surrounded by candles. "Your heart is torn, and your love is in danger."
"Can you help me?"
"Your path has been chosen and events set in motion. You must seek out the one who adores you and has been chosen to protect you. Only she may grant you the wisdom you will need to face the terror before you. Keep by your side the freshly blossomed flower, for it will protect you though it does not seem capable. Only you can save your heart's desire. For she is helpless in the face of the wrath. Now go my child, there is nothing else I can tell you."
"Thank-you." Gabrielle knew better than to push for more. She really wished the gods and oracles would stop talking in riddles. She turned and left. As she closed the heavy door, Filia rode up to get her. "Thank-you for staying, Filia."
"We need to go, Gabrielle. There are a group of men coming." Filia grabbed Gabrielle and pulled her on top of her mare. They rode toward the town. A short way down the path, Filia pulled to the side of the road behind some bushes. The two dismounted listening for the men. "We should be safe now. What did the seer say, Gabrielle?"
"Will you please tell me why they always have to speak so no one understands what they are saying?" Gabrielle said with slight annoyance.
"I don't know. I guess the gods decided to curse them with their gifts of "
"Seek out the one who adores you and gods that's it! Thank-you, Filia you just helped solve the first part of the riddle."
"You're welcome. Just what was it I did?"
"The riddle. She said, 'You must seek out the one who adores you and has been chosen to protect you. Only she may grant you the wisdom you will need to face the terror before you.' She has to be talking about Athena. Is there a temple near by?" Gabrielle asked with some excitement in her voice.
"Yes, there is one. We could be there by first light. What was the rest Gabrielle?"
"Keep by your side the freshly blossomed flower, for it will protect you though it does not seem capable. Then something about only I could free Xena. From what, I haven't the slightest clue."
"We best be going."
"Wait. Filia, you've helped me enough. I can't ask you to face whatever it is I have to face. The seer said something about the terror I must face. Please, just tell me where the temple is and go on home. I can never repay you for what you've done, but I can be a friend."
"We're wasting time, Gabrielle. Climb on board. It will take the two of us to be sure you get there. I know I'm not much, but I'm all you've got."
Gabrielle climbed atop Moonwarrior with Filia. "Come on, girl. Let's go." The two headed north to Athena's temple.
Filia stopped the mare a short ways from the doors to the temple. She looked at the grounds, not a thing out of place. Gabrielle felt her young friend shiver. The bard dismounted. Gabrielle reached up and placed her hand on Filia's. "I understand," she whispered. Filia only nodded her head. "Filia, I have to go in alone. Whatever happens, I know I've found a good friend."
"Gabrielle, please be careful. For I too have found a good friend."
Gabrielle approached the temple doors with caution. The grounds were freshly kept so the keeper may still be around. Gabrielle pulled open the heavy wooden doors to the temple. She walked in carrying her staff ready for action. The sun was just starting to light up the inside of the goddess' home. Gabrielle took a deep breath, starting for the altar. She laid her staff across the stone and knelt before the statue of the goddess.
Gabrielle took one last long breath, Focus, Gabrielle, focus. "Great goddess, Athena, I call on thee to appear. Please grace me with your presence and wisdom."
A voice from behind Gabrielle offered some advice, "You must make a sacrifice or she will not appear."
Gabrielle jumped to her feet, spinning around on one heel, holding her staff poised for defense. "Athena. You know I won't kill man or beast. Not even for a goddess such as yourself."
"Well, my chosen one. You will have to sacrifice something. Are you willing to give your life to serve me? Are you ready to turn over your heart to me? What will it be my little one?"
"I will sacrifice my soul to you, Athena."
"Your soul, is that all I would get?"
"That is all there is. I have already pledged my heart and life to Xena."
Athena looked at the young women, "Your soul then. What is it you ask of me?"
Gabrielle paused, thinking about her question. She knew Athena would not volunteer any information, she had to ask the right questions. Xena had taught her this. "You have been chosen to protect me. Protect me from what? Or from whom?"
"Very good, my little one. I had been summoned and agreed to keep you out of harm's way. I am to protect you from Xena."
"Athena, Xena summoned you to keep me out of harm's way. This I believe. But it is not her you protect me from since she would never hurt me without someone else interfering. So, I ask again, great goddess, from whom are you protecting me?"
"You, my dear, are but a pawn in this game. Xena has made an enemy far worse then the darkness you seek to remove from her heart. It will take the promise made by a mortal to help you release Xena."
"A mortal? How can a mortal help me here, Athena?"
"A mortal cannot help you now my dear. But a mortal's promise is all you have. It will be the undoing of a god. When you have the answer, call for me again." Athena then looked toward the door saying, "Take care of my child." With that the goddess vanished in a ray of light.
"Take care my child," Gabrielle repeated to herself, shaking her head. She left the temple joining Filia outside. "For Zeus' sake, why do they all have to talk in riddles?" Gabrielle stated rather loudly, throwing her arms in the air.
"I take it didn't go well, Gabrielle," Filia reached out placing her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. Filia's voice suddenly caught Gabrielle's attention. It no longer squeaked with the twitter of a little girl, but rather the boldness of a young warrior.
Gabrielle smiled. "No, it went fine. All I have to do now is figure out Athena's riddle then call on her again. No problem. We need to go somewhere so I can think."
"There's a place not far. We can get food and a room. Let's go."
The two rode the short distance to the village close by. Filia dropped Gabrielle off at the tavern that doubled as the inn. "You go in and get us something to eat. I'm going to stable my mare then I'll meet you here."
"Don't be long, we don't have a lot of time. I have to get to Xena."
"I won't be long, I promise." With that, Filia rode off to the stable.
Gabrielle entered the tavern walking to the table in the back. She had learned a lot the past two years traveling with the warrior, her warrior. Gabrielle ordered the food as she pulled out a blank scroll. Carefully she wrote down all the information she had so far. The seer's words then Athena's words were carefully written on the scrolls. She contemplated the seer's words first. She already figured out Athena's part, but the flower was still a little confusing. Keep by your side the freshly blossomed flower, for it will protect you though it does not seem capable. Only you can save your heart's desire. For she is helpless in the face of the wrath. "What wrath?"
"What wrath indeed?" Gabrielle heard Filia's voice and looked up from her scrolls. She couldn't believe her eyes. Before her stood a women dressed in boots, leather pants, a long sleeve white shirt covered by a black leather vest tied in front, the laces still dangling from the top. Her long, curly, black hair was tied back with a thin leather scrap. She stood holding a staff in her left hand. " The freshly blossomed flower " Gabrielle uttered. "Filia?"
"Don't, Gabrielle. This is what's meant to be. I don't know how I know this, I just do. Now, what about those riddles?" Filia sat down as the man dropped their plates on the table. Filia looked the man in the eyes, "Why thank-you kind sir," she said with just a hint of sarcasm in her voice. The man mumbled to himself as he walked away. She turned her attention to Gabrielle, "Have you gotten any further with Athena's riddle?"
"No, it's rather confusing. A mortal cannot help you now, my dear. But a mortal's promise is all you have. It will be the undoing of a god."
"Sounds serious. You really need to eat. You'll need your strength and your rest."
"I can't eat or rest, Filia. I have to help Xena."
"My friend, how will you help your love if you don't have the strength to help yourself?" Filia reached out snatching the scroll out of Gabrielle's hand. "Now, no more 'til you've eaten and rested." She looked across the table at her new friend. "Gabrielle, it will come to you. I know time is short, but time is what you need right now."
The bard nodded in agreement. They ate the rest of their meal in silence. As the barkeep came to clear the table, Filia asked, "Do you have any rooms for the night?"
"Just one. It'll be five dinars," he answered eyeing the women carefully.
"Great, we'll take it. My friend needs to rest." She tossed the five dinars on the table and stood up. "Let's go, Gabrielle."
"This is sounding all too familiar," Gabrielle mumbled as she followed Filia to the room. Gabrielle collapsed on the bed not able to move or think. Filia reached for a blanket and covered the bard.
"XENA!" Gabrielle's voice pierced the night. She was sitting up in the bed, shaking with fright. The bard felt comforting arms reach around her, holding her, calming her. "Xena?" she whispered.
"No, I'm sorry, my friend," a soft voice answered in the night.
"It was Xena. She was calling for me." Gabrielle steadied herself. Filia moved to light the other candles in the room. "It has to be Ares, but I can't place the rest."
"The 'god' part of the riddle, I suppose."
"I have to know his part when I call for Athena. If not "
"Glad to see you're thinking again. Let's go over this riddle once more." Filia reached for the scroll on the table. She recited the riddle to Gabrielle, "A mortal cannot help you now, my dear. But a mortal's promise is all you have. It will be the undoing of a god. So, you're saying the god is Ares?"
"Yes, it has to be. He's the only one who constantly battles with Xena. He wants her back at the head of his army again. Xena even had to help him get his godhood back once."
"Ares lost his godhood? What happens to a god who's lost his godhood?"
"He was a pitiful sight. A pitiful excuse for a mortal."
Filia's eyes brightened with excitement. "Mortal, Gabrielle."
"Yes, Sisyphus stole Ares' sword, then invited the ten worst warlords to a contest to see who would win Ares' godhood. Anyway Ares asked Xena to help him get his sword back. Of course Xena wasn't Xena then. It's a long story, Filia. Under normal circumstances I would love to spin the yarn but not tonight. I know Ares has to be involved but what promise is Athena talking about?"
"How did Ares get his sword back?"
"Let me remember. Ares and Sisyphus were confronting each other. Hades wanted ten warlords sent to him. Only then would Sisyphus get Ares' godhood. One of the warlords came up behind Ares. Xena yelled, 'Ares duck!' Then Xena threw Ares' sword killing him. Then Ares said to Xena, 'You saved me, I won't forget.' Ares took his sword and regained his godhood. After he was god again he said, 'Couldn't have done it without you, Xena. But as for mortality, you can have it.' I remember I interjected on Xena's behalf. 'Wait a minute, you promised Xena would get her body back if she helped you.' He replied, 'Yes, I did. Didn't I?' Then he disappeared, laughing."
"Xena's body back to her? This is one tale I want to hear when we're done, bard. Gabrielle, Ares' statement could be considered a promise by the gods. It was a statement made after saving his life, and he was mortal at the time."
"But Xena got her body back, so Ares kept his word."
"No, Gabrielle. He promised to return her body to her for helping him regain possession of his sword. His other words, 'You saved me. I won't forget.'"
"Are you telling me that Ares is going to help me save Xena?" Gabrielle asked as she dressed for the chill of the night.
"Looks that way. Think about it, he wants her back. Do you think he's ready to watch her die?" Filia stuffed their belongings into Gabrielle's bag.
"How am I going to convince the god of war to let Xena go?"
"You'll just have to use that wit of yours." Filia let the door to the tavern close behind them as they headed out into the night.
Filia and Gabrielle rode Moonwarrior through the night to reach Athena's temple by sunrise. As the sun's ray's peeked through the trees, the two women reached the entrance to the temple. Gabrielle jumped off the mare and Filia quickly followed. When she reached the door Gabrielle turned to face her new found friend. "Filia, you don't have to come in. I "
"I chose to stay with you and I choose to stand by your side now, my friend," she smiled at the bard. "Let's not keep the gods waiting." Filia placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder leading her into the temple.
Filia stayed a step behind the bard as she approached the altar. Gabrielle knelt in front of Athena's statue. "Great goddess, Athena, I call on thee to appear "
"I've been waiting for you, my children. Rise Gabrielle and speak to me," Athena motioned for Gabrielle to stand. "What have you to ask?"
Gabrielle hesitated before asking her question. "Do Ares' words bind him to release Xena even though he was human at the time he spoke them?"
"Very good, my child. Yes, my brother's words bind him as a promise. Now, what do you ask?"
"Athena, how do I reach Ares to speak with him?"
"I may be of some assistance there. Wait for me, it may take some time to convince him to show." With that said, Athena disappeared in a blaze of silver light.
"Now, all I have to do is convince the god of war to let Xena go. How in Zeus' sake am I going to do that?" Gabrielle remarked to no one in particular.
Gabrielle had paced the small area in the temple refusing to sit down. "What could be taking so long?"
"You know how uncooperative gods can be. Maybe Ares had something better to do."
"Xena, if you can hear me, I Love You. Hold on, please, hold on."
"Very touching," Ares' words startled Gabrielle. Ares stood before her, arms folded across his chest. He slowly circled the bard staring at her with contempt. "Why would I help you?" he snarled. "You are all that is keeping me from getting my warrior princess back." Ares stood inches from Gabrielle. Too close for Filia, as she started to take a step towards him. Athena's hand prevented her from taking that step. Filia stopped, knowing that Athena would keep her friend safe.
Gabrielle started, "You know Xena would never return to you willingly. Is that why you decided to torment her? You tried to use her dreams to convince her I was in danger, then deceive her into killing me. You knew that was the only way to get her back. Or so you thought. She promised never to become that monster again. I believe she will keep that promise no matter what you do. So, Ares, you might as well just let her go." Gabrielle held her breath as she waited for Ares' response.
Ares let out a laugh that filled the room. "So, you think it is I that captured and bound your warrior princess. No, my dear, it wasn't I."
"If it wasn't you then " Gabrielle's voice quivered with a sudden fear as she tried to think.
"It seems Xena interfered where she shouldn't have. She now has to face the wrath of Mother." With the wave of his hand, Ares allowed Gabrielle to see Xena bound on the mountaintop.
"Xena!" Gabrielle gasped covering her mouth with her hands. She quickly recovered her composure, "Ares, you have to help her! You owe her "
Ares rose to his full height towering over the small bard, "I OWE NO MORTAL ANYTHING!"
Gabrielle stood her ground with the god of war, "Yes, you do. Xena saved your miserable life when Sisyphus stole your sword. You said, and I quote, 'You saved my life, Xena. I won't forget.'"
To help drive the point home, Athena moved to Gabrielle's side. "That, my dear brother, was your undoing. You will keep your word or explain yourself on Mount Olympus."
"Very well then, my dear sister." He looked at the bard with disgust. "I will give you the means to free her. I will place a sword of Hephaestus in the caves at the Caucasus Mountains. You must reach it of your own accord," he quickly glanced at his sister, smiling. "I will keep Xena alive until you reach her or you die trying to retrieve the sword. Now, ask no more of me." Ares turned to face Athena again, " I won't forget this dear sister." In a flash, he disappeared.
Filia moved to Gabrielle's side. "I know where to go, Gabrielle," she said softly looking at Athena. Athena nodded in agreement.
"Go now. I will be there when you need me," Athena reassured the two women. "I will be watching over you. Trust me." Then Athena disappeared in a flash of light.
It was nightfall when the duo reached the caves at the foot of Mount Caucasus. Gabrielle jumped off Moonwarrior heading for the caves. Filia motioned for Moonwarrior to catch up stopping just behind the bard. She jumped down grabbing Gabrielle's shoulder. "We need to make camp."
Gabrielle turned, "NO! We can't stop now! We're so close."
"You have not rested going on two days now, my friend. You will be of no use to Xena like this." Filia's eyes stared into the bard's mirroring the bard's concern for her warrior. "Ares promised to keep Xena alive until we get to her or until whatever he has planned gets to us. He won't make this easy for you, Gabrielle."
"But, nothing. We rest tonight. By this time tomorrow you will have Xena back in your arms." Filia's eyes never left the bard's, "I promise." Filia turned away saying a short prayer to Athena that she may keep that promise.
The wood crackling allowed the two would be warriors the luxuries of only brief sleep. By first light, the camp was packed. Filia hid Moonwarrior in the brush, keeping her out of harm's way. The two women grabbed their staffs and headed for the cave.
Gabrielle and Filia stood at the opening of the cave. The cold, damp air of the cave slapped their faces. "Whatever happens, Filia, I want you to know how much I appreciate your help." Her voice trembled as she continued, "If I get to hold my love in my arms again, it will be because you kept me from making some mistakes."
"Gabrielle. Trust me. I will be there when you need me. I will be watching over you. And you will hold Xena again, this I promise."
The two entered the cave cautiously expecting the worst. They encountered no resistance. Neither woman drew an easy breath with this. Before them stood a huge statue. Filia lit the torch holding it up to the statue. The statue had two heads, six arms and no body. "One of Medusa's cousins?" Gabrielle asked to break some of the tension. Filia didn't respond. They went to move past the statue. Filia held the torch up to light the passage moving forward slowly. Suddenly, one of the statue's arms blocked their path. The two try to squeeze between the stone arm and the wall only to be blocked by another arm. The two looked at each other puzzled. "Guess you were right. Ares isn't making this easy," Gabrielle whispered.
"No, he isn't. And I have a feeling it's just going to get worse. Let's try another way. Slowly, Gabrielle let's back out of the cave." As the two backed up they hit a wall. "I thought the entrance was right here." Filia turned to look over her shoulder. "Gabrielle, its another arm."
Fear and anger twisted in the bard's stomach. "Whatever it is, Filia, it will not stop us," Gabrielle shouted. She rose her staff above her head bringing it down against the arm blocking their path into the cave. She felt the arm start to give. "Filia, together we can break it." Together the two raised their staffs bringing them down in unison. The stone broke, smashing into small pebbles.
Before Filia could pick up the torch, Gabrielle went on ahead. "No, Gabrielle! Wait for me." Filia ran off after her friend. She caught up with her as the cave became dark as night.
Gabrielle had slowed in the darkness. As she continued to move forward, she lost her footing. In grand style, Filia grabbed Gabrielle's hand just before she plumaged to her death. The young warrior pulled the bard back to the cave's ledge. She kicked some pebbles off the edge. "Shh. Listen." The two waited but heard nothing. "Maybe we should slow a bit, Gabrielle. I know that neither of us will make it alone. We have to do this together."
Slowly, the young warrior and the bard slid across the ledge. "There, Filia, an entrance to another cave. It looks like there's light there." The two women made their way to the mouth of the entrance. "Filia, look!" Inside the cove laid a sword on an altar. From somewhere above light shone through the rocks.
"Careful, Gabrielle. Let me lead." Filia held out her arm across the bard's chest to stop her from running forward. "Together. Remember." Gabrielle followed the young warrior as she did her own warrior. With each step, Filia's glance went from the walls to the ceiling to the floor. She trusted nothing. She stopped in her tracks as the light shifted the blackness on the floor. "Look! Over there." Filia pointed to a skeleton just before them. She used one of the smaller bones to test the floor between them and the altar. The bone slide in a thick liquid before sinking. She picked up one of the large bones testing the depth. She couldn't feel the bottom. She smelt the liquid. "It's oil. It must cover a good twelve paces between the altar and us. I don't know how we can make it over there."
"I don't know either." Gabrielle looked around desperately seeking an answer. Xena's words spoke to her again, "Act, Don't React." Then Gabrielle stared at the altar again with a newfound confidence. "I know how."
"I'm going to jump it."
"Gabrielle, it's too wide," Filia shook her head. "You'll never make it."
"Now, you'll have to trust me."
"I'll get a running start and plant my staff here," she dug her heel into the ground. It's not as soft. You grab my staff as I let it go. When I get to the other side, throw me my staff and I'll jump back."
"Gabrielle, maybe another plan."
"This is the only plan we have. It'll work." Gabrielle smiled at the young warrior. She measured off her running start, turned to face the oil pit, took a deep breath, then started her run. The staff landed exactly where it needed to. Filia grabbed the staff as it started to fall into the oil, then looked up to see where Gabrielle was. The bard had landed safely with two paces to spare. Gabrielle took the time to thank the gods, whichever god it was that saw to her success.
Gabrielle quickly secured the sword using her belt. Then she turned to Filia standing across the pit. "Filia, throw me the staff." Gabrielle caught her weapon. She dug her heel into the ground to mark her launching spot. She got to her starting point and stopped. Her fingers caressed the staff. She knew she no longer would carry her amazon weapon. Her thoughts drifted to Xena. The staff would be a small price to pay for the life of her soulmate. Gabrielle took off running. As the staff hit the mark, Gabrielle shouted, "Xena, we're coming."
Filia helped Gabrielle off the ground after her rough landing. "The sword?" Gabrielle asked panic stricken. She reached down to her side knowing it was gone.
"It's here. It just fell as you landed. Let's go." The two women headed back toward the entrance. They took their time careful not to trigger any more traps. They made it out just as the sun was high in the midday sky.
"We got the sword. Now all we have to do is get to Xena. How are we going to find her now?" Gabrielle asked to no one in particular.
"I told you I would be watching over you," a voice replied. "You have done well my children. Your task has not been an easy one. But Hera grows tired of the game and is ready to destroy Xena. You must hurry." With that, Athena waved her hand sending the two to the mountaintop that binds Xena.
The two women found themselves on the top of the Mount. "Xena!" Gabrielle gasped as she saw her lover bound. "Oh Xena, how? Why?"
Xena heard the sweet voice of her bard. She thought it was a dream but had to look. Glancing over her shoulder the best she could, she saw her love and another woman coming toward her. She tried to speak but her voice wouldn't come. Slowly she shook she head from side to side. As her eyes locked with Gabrielle's she conveyed her message.
Filia stopped and turned toward her friend. "What is it?"
"I think Xena's trying to warn us. Ares hasn't made this easy. And I don't think Hera is going to like us interfering now."
"I don't see anything between us and Xena, Gabrielle. But no sense in taking any chances I suppose. What do you want to do?"
Gabrielle's eyes met Xena's once again. Tell me what to do my love. Xena's eyes pleaded with Gabrielle not to attempt a rescue. Gabrielle knew she had to try. "I really don't know. Let's take it slow." Gabrielle readied Filia's staff. Filia drew the sword. Their eyes met in a confirmation of ready. Each took in an uneasy breath as they took their first steps toward Xena. Hera's eyes appeared in the sky over them. They heard a woman's voice laugh. It took only a second for Hera's warriors to surround them. "Where did they come from?" Gabrielle inquired half-heartedly.
Xena could only watch in horror as her love and the stranger were about to attempt to fight a force only the gods themselves could defeat. Xena summoned her will. She managed to bring forth a whisper, "HERA, NO! Leave them alone, please." As the men moved closer to the two women, Xena said a silent prayer to Athena for the safety of Gabrielle and the stranger with whom she traveled.
The bard and the warrior circled back to back to keep from being ambushed. "Any ideas? Now would be a good time to share them," Filia offered as she raised the sword in front of her. Gabrielle steadied Filia's staff. One of the men came at them his sword overhead. Gabrielle quickly dodged the blade undercutting the man with the staff. The man lay unconscious on the ground. The others moved in. "Here we go."
Filia blocked the swords from the two men in front of her. She moved without thought, almost effortlessly. She dispensed two men then went after the others. Gabrielle did her share of disarming Hera's men. It seemed that the stream of warriors was unending. The two women found each other again. "We need a plan, Gabrielle." Gabrielle nodded in agreement. "We have to work toward Xena. Hera can keep this up all day. Follow me." Slowly, the two fought their way to the rock holding Xena. Filia turned her head for a moment only to be knocked off her feet by the butt of a sword. As her hand hit the ground the sword was jolted loose. Gabrielle tossed the staff to Filia then headed for the sword. She picked it up and started to climb the rocks. Filia caught the staff in time to block the sword coming at her. She got back to her feet and side swiped the man across the side of his head. She saw the bard out of the corner of her eye. "Gabrielle, No!" Filia fought with more intensity. Suddenly, there was just enough of a break in the flow of the men to get to the rocks. She knew she had to stop the bard from yet another mistake. This one would prove fatal.
Athena intervened just enough not to bring about Hera's attention. She allowed enough space between Filia and the men to give Filia a chance to start climbing. "Nice move, dear sister. Mother will never even notice," Ares appeared next to Athena. Athena smiled to herself. "Either way this ends, I win. If Gabrielle strikes the blow and dies, Xena will exact revenge and I'll get her back. And if Xena dies, I'll get her back."
"I wouldn't gloat just yet, my dear brother." The two gods stood quietly out of sight.
Exhausted, Gabrielle reached the top of the rocks tripping, as she couldn't bear the weight of the sword any longer. She dragged it over to her lover laying it at her side as she bent over the warrior princess. "Xena," she whispered brushing her silk black hair from out of her eyes. Xena smiled back at her bard trying to speak. Quickly, Gabrielle covered Xena's lips with her own. When their lips parted Gabrielle simply whispered, "I know, my love." When her voice failed her, Xena's eyes pleaded with the bard but Gabrielle just shook her head, "I know the consequences, but I have to do it. I love you my warrior." Gabrielle closed her eyes as her hand reached for the sword. Her hand touched a coldness of not steel but rock. She opened her eyes as she felt a panic sweep over her. "Where is it?"
"I can't let you strike the blow, Gabrielle." Filia's voice came from behind the bard.
"What?" Gabrielle stood to face her newfound friend. As she turned she saw Filia with the sword held in her right hand. "Filia, you can't. Do you know "
Filia cut the bard short, replying with a tenderness and calmness that caught the bard off guard, "Gabrielle, you were the vessel the fates called upon to help me fulfil my destiny. Staying with you was something I wanted to do. This is something I know I have to do. I hope one day you will understand." She grasped the Sword of Hephaestus with both hands swinging it overhead. Before Gabrielle could take a step, Filia swung the sword down striking the chains.
Sparks flew as the sword hit the chain binding Xena. Gabrielle covered Xena to protect her from the sparks. All they could see was a flash of light as the chains that bound her lover fell to the rocks. The two women looked back to where Filia stood, they could find no sign of the young woman. "NO!" Gabrielle screamed as tears started to swell up in the bard's eyes. Xena reached up touching her lover for the first time in days. Gabrielle reached back to help her warrior up but Xena instead drew the young woman into her embrace. "She was my friend, Xena. I couldn't have reached you " Unable to speak any longer Gabrielle couldn't stop the tears. Xena held her young lover while she wept.
"XENA! I'M NOT DONE WITH YOU YET!" Xena heard a familiar voice taunting her.
" Yes, you are mother. Xena belongs to me, remember?" Ares appeared next to Xena and Gabrielle. "The annoying brat won this round. Who would have thought?"
"You were supposed to take care of her, Ares. I will speak with you later." Hera left the skies above them.
"And I'm not done with you yet, my warrior princess. We're even now." Then Ares disappeared leaving the two women alone.
"Great! You would think someone would help us down the mount. Xena, how am I going to get you down the mountain? Athena is the one who brought us up here."
"I told you I would be watching over you," Athena appeared before them. With a wave of her hand she restored Xena's strength. "I always watch over my chosen one."
"Athena," Xena stood pulling Gabrielle up with her, "thank-you for watching over her."
"She offered her soul to me for you, Xena. That was all she had to offer. She had already pledged her heart and life to you. So, she sacrificed her soul to me in return for my help." Xena turned to face Gabrielle.
Gabrielle turned to Xena. "I couldn't kill a sacrifice, Xena. I had to offer something."
Xena turned to face Athena again. "Before you say something you shouldn't, hear me, my warrior." Athena stood in front of Gabrielle placing her hand under the bard's chin. "My dear, Gabrielle. You risked your life and sacrificed your soul for this woman. You befriended a kind, gentle soul and allowed her to see her inner strength." Gabrielle lowered her eyes as a tear fell for the friend she lost. "Do not grieve my little one." Athena raised Gabrielle's chin. Filia appeared within a glowing light, almost ghostly. She proudly displayed the Armor of the goddess. "As you can see, you have set in motion the events necessary to bring about her destiny. Filia is one of my children. She needed to prove her worthiness before I could accept her as one of my chosen warriors. Thank-you for allowing her the opportunity to grow." The goddess released the bard.
"Filia," Gabrielle reached for her friend as she wiped her tears from her cheek.
"Gabrielle, it was my destiny. We will meet again friend." Filia moved to stand beside her goddess and Gabrielle moved beside her warrior.
"And as for the other matter, Gabrielle. I'm afraid that your soul would not be enough for me. Nor would your heart be enough for Xena. You must give yourself completely to the one you love. You will always be one of my chosen ones and Xena you will always be one of my warriors. You are both under my watchful protection. Now, are you ready to go?"
"Yes, Athena, we are," Xena answered as she placed her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder. With a wave of her hand Athena brought the warrior and the bard to the trees near the foot of the mount.
Argo whined when she saw her mistress appear nearby. Xena walked over to her mare. "Hello girl," Xena said gently rubbed the mare's nose.
Gabrielle walked over placing her arms around the taller woman's waist from behind, "Mind if I join in?"
"Not at all. You'll never know how much I've missed your touch." Argo whinnied again bringing her nose down to the ground in front of her. The mare's hoof rolled the bard's staff. Xena bent down picking up the staff, "Gabrielle, why did you leave your staff here?"
"I didn't. It's a long story," Gabrielle yawned. "Can I tell it to you later?" Gabrielle swiped her staff from Xena. As she leaned against it she noticed a new mark by the grip. It was the mark of Athena's crest. Thank-you Athena and Filia. The bard started to walk down the beaten path leaning heavily on her staff as she walked.
"Gabrielle, why don't you ride? You look exhausted. We can set up camp at the lake not too far from here."
"I think I will ride," she said as she mounted Argo. She laid her head against Argo's mane holding on tight. Xena gently placed her hand over the bard's sliding the bard's staff into her saddle. Xena grabbed the reins a little tighter and led the mare down the path.
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