The Keeper of My Soul--Always 12

by: Alex P.


As they ate, Xena explained what she remembered about the fortress she was taking them to. She drew a map in the dirt to show them the trail she planed to follow.

Aentia called over two of her scouts, then she and Xena explained the route to them. When they were sure the scouts understood, Aentia told them to take one other sister and go ahead of the group at their best possible speed to the fortress.

"Once you get there," Xena instructed, "one of you get back here to us. We'll meet you on the trail. I want to know what we're walking into. The other two do whatever you can to make it more comfortable for the civilians. I figure it will take us two to two and a half days to get there with the wounded and weak. A true Amazon should be sleeping inside the

fortress walls by midnight tonight."

The two scouts looked up at their Queen and her champion, pride shining in their eyes at the confidence the warrior princess had in her Amazon allies. They acknowledged their understanding of their orders and after saluting their Queen, the two women went over to another Amazon who was eating by herself.

They said something to her, a huge smile came to the lone woman's face. She leapt to her feet and the three took off into the trees to carry out their mission. Gabrielle gave the Amazon commander a questioning look.

"Her mate and child were killed in a border raid two moons ago while they hid in a cellar. She was wounded but survived," Aentia explained, tears of pride shone in her eyes at her scouts' actions. "Many blamed her

for it and have refused to serve with her; as if surviving was a bad thing.

Since she was a war orphan and has no clan to defend her, she's been treated as outcast, until those two convinced her to join the scouts. We have no outcasts. Those two obviously feel she's proven herself, and so have asked her to accompany them on this important mission for their Queen."

"Aentia, I want you to make sure they receive recognition for their service to their Queen and her champion," Xena said gruffly, she knew what it was like to be shunned even though you did nothing wrong. "If I'd had troops like your's when I was a warlord, the history of Greece would have been very different."

"And since she's clanless," Gabrielle added, "see that she is invited to join the Queen's clan at the next celebration."

Aentia was speechless at the queen's offer and Xena looked at her bard smiling her approval. Gabrielle knew that look well, it told her that her

warrior not only approved her action, but she would have done the same if

she could.

Once again her bard had shown why the Amazons loved their queen above all others. Xena smiled at Aentia who sat slack-jawed at the young Queen's generosity.

<>When little Fila was seated at the Queen's table at the next celebration,<> Xena told herself <>many wagging tongues would be stilled.<>

After the three leaders finished their combination meal and planing session, they began issuing assignments and got their cumbersome group ready to begin their run for shelter.

It was nearly three hours later when the first of the main party was moving, and the remaining Amazon scouts had been deployed around to act as look outs. Xena fell back to act as rear guard with two Amazons.

Gabrielle wasn't happy about having to stay with the main party while the lover she'd just been reunited with took up a post in the rear, but Xena convinced her it was necessary.

Gabrielle got the distinct feeling

that Xena was avoiding her.

The warrior only hoped that this Karcax wasn't canny enough to rush them before they reached the fortress. Her only real chance was if he was like the rest of his ilk and didn't know enough about the surrounding country to know of the fortress' existence. If he knew and came on them, well

it would be bloody, but he was sure to win. She wasn't quite ready for that


That night after Xena and Aentia had set up the night guard, Gabrielle pulled her warrior to a secluded spot under some old oak trees next to a small pond that was fed by a hot spring. She had made sure that everyone in their party took advantage of the opportunity and got a chance to clean off the road grime and the less savory reminders of their capture, slavery, and the bloody battle that freed them.

By the time everyone else was done, Xena was finished securing the camp and her bard decided it was time to clean and care for her beloved rescuer.

Taking her warrior by the hand, Gabrielle led her to the edge of the pool. She turned and tried to look into those sky-blue eyes she knew and loved so well, but as she had noticed before, Xena kept looking everywhere except into her lover's eyes.

To the bard, this was a sure sign that there was something really bothering her warrior.  It was something that would continue until it festered in Xena's already tortured soul and drove her to do something desperate and unnecessarily foolish in the name of her honor.

As she helped her lover out of her armor, boots and leather battle dress, Gabrielle babbled away about anything that popped into her mind, trying to gauge Xena's mood. Although the often stoic Warrior Princess was usually at least responsive to the bard and was always listening, tonight she was distracted and had to ask Gabrielle to repeat herself several times.

Once Gabrielle had her warrior's clothes off, she led the incredibly gorgeous woman to the pool and helped her into the warm water. Xena let out a groan of pure delight as the warm springs worked their magic on her overexerted muscles. While Xena lay back and enjoyed the relaxing warmth, her lover slipped out of her own clothing, took up a sponge and a bar of the women's favorite scented soap, then slid slowly into the

pool behind her lover.

She was trying to keep her lover from seeing the lash marks across her back, the warrior felt bad enough about her bard's capture already. She wasn't aware that Xena already knew all about them.

Gabrielle lathered the sponge and began gently washing the dirt and dried blood from her lover's body. Instructing Xena to wet her hair, the bard picked up a flask of liquid soap and began washing the chunks of dried blood from the warrior's long black hair and massaging her scalp. Xena closed her eyes and moaned.

"Gods woman you have wonderful fingers," the warrior nearly purred and tilted her head back to allow her lover better access.

"Xena," Gabrielle said softly. "What's wrong has something happened?"

She felt every muscle in Xena's body go rigid at her question.

"You mean besides you being taken by slavers," Xena said through clenched jaws. "And don't tell me they didn't hurt you, I talked to Mallika and her friend, you know the quiet one, they told me how you let yourself be touched by those pigs so they wouldn't kill the young ones and

that you suffered the lash for your troubles."

Gabrielle drew in a sharp breath, surprised. She had hoped that no one had seen her allowing the filthy smelly slaver feel her up and drool on her, promising him future delights if he would allow the mothers to keep and care for the small children instead of either just abandoning them or worse kill them, for the sake of expediency.

They hadn't actually done any more than run their hands over her body through her clothes. As she'd hoped, Xena and her Amazons had arrived before they could find time to do anything else. She had also hoped that no one would feel it necessary to fill her warrior in on the facts of the flogging.

"Did they tell you the slavers did a lot worse to some of the others than they did

to me?" Gabrielle whispered, a tear fell as her fear of her proud warrior's reaction to what had happened. "I..I didn't mean to hide it Xena, I was going to tell you, but we haven't been alone since you saved me and the others and you were so busy with getting everyone away that I just haven't had a chance. Please, don't be mad, I... I... I'll release you

from our vows if you wish. I know I'm no..."

With a roar of pain and anguish Xena whirled around and grabbed the sobbing woman, cutting off her offer, pulled the little bard to her, and locked eyes with the reason she breathed.

"What do you mean release me from my vows?" The warrior growled. "Do you wish to leave me? If so then fine, when this is over I'll tell the council you wish to be rid of me and I'll leave. I don't blame you-- I failed you. I love you, Gabrielle, but if that is what you wish, then I

will go."

Xena rose swiftly an stepped out of the pool and began putting her still soiled and bloody leathers back on.

Gabrielle was stunned speechless at Xena's outburst. By the time she realized what the tall, silent warrior was doing, Xena had already gotten

dressed, and before Gabrielle could call out to her, the one-time warlord had slipped into the shadows and was gone.

"What the Tartarus just happened here?" Gabrielle wondered out loud. "I meant I thought she would be upset with me for allowing that slaver to grope me but I didn't think she'd leave...huh? She failed me? What is she thinking?"

Realizing she was still standing in the water, Gabrielle jumped out, and without drying off, threw on her night shift and ran bare-footed after her confused warrior.

She ran to their camp area but Xena wasn't there and her saddle, armor, and weapons were also gone. Not sure what to do, the bard went to the main camp, and as she entered the area she saw her lover talking to Aentia and Rapa.

As if she knew of Gabrielle's presence, Xena cut off her conversation and

left before the frightened and confused bard could reach her.

Gabrielle couldn't decide whether to chase after her lover or wait for her to cool off. Before she could make up her mind, the decision was taken from her hands when she heard the distinctive sound of Argo's hooves pounding out a beat that faded into the surrounding darkness.

She couldn't believe it. Xena was gone and she didn't even say good-bye. Hot

tears of grief stung the Queen's eyes as she realized that her warrior might not return to her.

In desperation, she approached Aentia and Rapa to ask their advice, but before she could speak, the older Amazon walked away mumbling something about insensitive bards, and pigheaded warriors. That left only Rapa, so Gabrielle cornered her to demand an explanation of Xena's strange behavior.

"Rapa, can I speak with you for a moment?" Gabrielle asked, looking into the tall, thin, serious woman's dark eyes trying to find a hint of what was happening. What she saw was a look of anger and, on some level, extreme


"At your command, my Queen," Rapa replied formally and looked at the small blonde, her emotionless warrior's mask in place for the first time since Gabrielle had met her.

"Where did Xena go?" the Queen asked. "And when will she return?"

"The Warrior Princess said she was going to check our back trail," Rapa said in that same stiff, formal tone in her voice. "She said she would sleep along the trail somewhere and would join us in the morning at first light."

"Rapa, did she say why she left me?" Gabrielle pleaded. "I don't understand, was it because of what happened with the slavers? Does she think I'm no longer worth loving? Tell me why isn't she here?"

"I can not tell you that, my Queen." Rapa answered, her stoic facade fading a little with the bard's tears. "All she said was that she would see that we made it to the old fortress, and stand with us against Karcax until we are reinforced. Beyond that she didn't say, but it sounded to me as if she means to leave after we are safely home."

At Rapa's words Gabrielle's world began to collapse around her, she fell in a heap to the ground and began to weep openly, sobs wracking her small

body. She was seeing the end of her entire universe and was at a total loss at what she could to stop it. It was obvious to her that her proud warrior felt that Gabrielle was unworthy of her, and didn't love her any more.

She told Rapa as much, and when the woman didn't answer her, she looked up to see the normally emotionless woman staring at her in total confusion.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" The bard screamed hysterically. "Haven't you ever seen someone's life end? She is the other half of my soul Rapa, how can a person live with only half a soul?"

"B-but, my Queen, she said that you didn't...you were," Rapa stammered not understanding her Queen's words or actions. "The Champion said, you thought she'd failed to protect you properly, and wanted to have the council release you from your vows. I don't understand. Are you saying that it isn't true?"

"She said what?" Gabrielle exclaimed. "Oh sweet Goddess no, she can't think that, that's impossible. She wasn't even there how could she think such a thing."

"I d-don't know, your Highness," the dark warrior blurted out, clearly sensitive talks were not her area. "It started after the Champion learned

of your flogging. Her eyes turned almost silver, and all the color drained from her face.

Her look made me glad I wasn't who she was angry with. I'm not very good at this, my Queen, I think you should find someone else to talk to."

"I'll take it from here, love," said a soft melodic voice from the darkness. "You truly aren't very good when the tears start."

Rapa's friend and lover Mallika stepped out of the shadows and knelt next to her Queen.

"Why don't you go on to bed, my love." the tall, voluptuous blonde told her dark warrior. "I'll stay and care for the Queen and join you later."

Mischievous blue eyes looked into grateful dark-brown eyes and Rapa nodded her head in agreement. The woman put a comforting arm around her Queen and took a moment to watch the woman she loved more than life walk away toward where they'd left their remaining gear. She smiled and shook her head at the swagger in her Rapa's stride.

"Warriors, gotta love em, huh," Mallika said softly. "Now, my beloved Queen, what seems to be the problem and how can I help?"


END 12



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