See part 1 for disclaimers
The Keeper of My Soul--Always 15
By: Alex P.
The tired defenders worked through the night, reinforcing the weakened sections of the walls with whatever they could find, while Gabrielle and Aentia, along with several other Amazons, set up as many traps as they could in the clearing that separated the small fortress and the surrounding forest.
One thing in their favor was Xena's prior knowledge of the area. She knew hidden pathways through the dense undergrowth that allowed someone on horseback to maneuver easily through the forest while their enemy had absolutely no idea of what lay ahead of them.
The sky was streaked with the first light-purple of sunrise when Xena and her archers entered the forest, instantly disappearing into the trees.
Xena recruited four Amazon archers to harass the mercenaries as they tried to navigate their way through the few open trails that were obvious. This narrowed the enemy's maneuvering room and made them easy targets for the hidden archers.
It was just a little before noon when the little group appeared from the dense foliage and made their way carefully through the treacherous clearing, deftly avoiding all the traps left by Gabrielle's detachment.
A little over a hundred men went into the forest, but by the time they reached the fringe of trees and were able to see the repaired fortress, there were less than sixty left. When the group came to the clearing, they
were just in time to see the last of Xena's detail enter the fortress, slamming the
gate shut behind them.
Thinking that they faced only a few scared village women, the leader of the slowly dwindling band of mercenaries rode right up to the gates and demanded their immediate surrender.
"In the name of the great lord Karcax, I order you to get down here and open
these gates, NOW!" the big man bellowed at the women manning the walls. "If you don't hurry up, then you will suffer the same as any other slave."
"Oooo, now I'm really frightened," Gabrielle called back. "Look ladies, the big fat man going to 'get' us."
The other women on the wall, most of which were Amazons, laughed at their Queen's taunting, infuriating the 'captain' of the mercenaries even
further. Xena watched from a hidden window next to the gate. From there she could see the enemy outside the walls but they couldn't see her. A proud smirk crossed her lips as the petite blonde carried out their plan to perfection.
The idea was to make the mercenaries so angry that they would make a mistake. As soon as she saw her opening, Xena and most of the Amazons would begin firing arrows into the undisciplined mob. Her thoughts were to wound more of the professional soldiers than kill them because it would take more of their resources and manpower to care for the wounded than it would to clear away the dead.
"How you going to catch me, lard bucket?" Gabrielle yelled down, trying to be heard over the other women. "You can't possibly think you could haul that fat carcass up here fast enough to catch anyone. By the Gods man, a baby with broken legs could out run you!"
"Have it your way, bitch," the infuriated mercenary roared. "Don't come whining to me for mercy when it's time for your punishment."
He wheeled his horse and was about to order his men to attack, but when he opened his mouth, nothing came out but blood. It only took him a heartbeat to realize there was an arrow sticking out of his throat. That registered just in time for him to fall from his mount; he was dead before he hit the ground.
The rest of his escort tried to turn to run, but the air was suddenly filled with arrows. The toll in human life was devastating, the earth in front of the gates was littered with bodies, some dead others dying, all of them with two or more Amazon arrows protruding from their bodies. The dirt in front of the gate was made muddy from all the blood. The few that made it safely out of range quickly rejoined their comrades at the forest's edge several of them injured by the traps.
The women let out yells of victory, and Xena let them enjoy their moment of triumph, but she knew the battle was far from over. She looked up at the parapet and located Gabrielle. Even from that distance, the warrior could see the concern in the small woman's eyes while she went around congratulating her comrades-in-arms. Sky-blue met forest-green, speaking volumes, conveying to each other their worries about what would happen next.
By her count, Gabrielle saw some forty remaining battle-hardened mercenaries left to face her thirty or so women, most of whom had never held a weapon of any kind in their lives. She also knew that they had lost the element of surprise, and the enemy would be far more cautious when they attacked.
Xena joined her at the top of one of the towers and looked out over the battlefield. They were in trouble. They had maybe eight Amazon scouts left in fighting condition and maybe twenty of the villagers that could handle a weapon at all; of that there might be five that had any true skills.
The dark warrior shook her head. She didn't like the odds at all, and she didn't like that their only hope was the minute chance of a rescue attempt from the nation that she had no idea when it would arrive, if at all.
"It doesn't look good does it, Xe?" Gabrielle said knowing the answer before she asked. "How long do you think it will be before they come back?"
"I don't know, Brie." Xena answered her bard truthfully. She figured that
her lover and Amazon Queen deserved the truth no matter how bleak. "The way I figure it they'll regroup and lick their wounds, then beginning about sundown, the first part will start. When the time comes, I know of a
possible escape route, if it's still open. If not, well I don't know."
"What should we expect?" The little bard asked her warrior, counting on her lover's experience to help them prepare. "Maybe we can set up something so the others can get some rest before this all starts again."
"Look, I don't know for sure how this guy thinks," Xena, the known world's most renowned strategist, began, her mind searching her vast stores of knowledge in an effort to out think the enemy commander and save as many lives as possible. "But if it was me over there and I just saw my commander and most of his guard wiped out, I would wait until I was sure my unknown opponent had relaxed his vigilance and then I would either attack in force, or more likely I would send out small parties of men to probe the defenses so I could assess my enemy's strengths and weaknesses. I probably wouldn't start until around sundown just to see if my
counterpart would be fooled into letting down his guard or allowing his people to slack off."
"Okay, love, lets just say this guy is as smart as you, what should I do to prepare for tonight?" the studious Queen asked relying heavily on Xena's advice. "I figured to divide the women into groups so we would have
rotating guards, say one hour on and two hours off."
"Excellent idea, Brie, you're thinking like a Queen," Xena whispered into
her lover's ear, bringing a huge smile to the young blonde's face. "Now you have two things to do. First, you need to figure out how to divide the women up, and you need to assign a detail to fix this bunch something to eat. Now, my Queen, what do you think?"
Knowing what her partner wanted her to do, Gabrielle sat back and thought for a minute. Xena was always doing things like this, a kind of learn-by-doing exercise for her partner. She knew her little bard was smart and that it was only a matter of experience that made her less capable to command.
Xena was determined to take care of that problem and allowed Gabrielle to come up with the defense or attack strategies whenever possible. The little farm girl from Poteidaia was a quick study and by now was almost as
good as anyone the ex-warlord had faced.
Xena couldn't help but watch as the young woman sat deep in thought, weighing all the possible scenarios and sifting through all the things she'd learned from her experiences over her years of travel with the Warrior Princess. Xena knew her student was ready when her beautiful green eyes looked into the light-blue ones across from her and smiled like the cat who just figured out how to get the canary.
"I think I've got it, Xe," the anxious blonde told her tutor. "Want to hear it?"
"Of course I do, love," Xena reassured her beloved Queen. "That's why we do this, and besides, you're good enough now, you don't really need me to plan
your battles, so let's hear your plan."
Gabrielle took a few heart-beats to bask in her lover's praise. She knew the warrior well enough to know she never gave out false compliments, so her praise of the young Queen was genuine and it made Gabrielle proud to know her lover thought that much of her capabilities as a leader.
"So now, my Amazon Queen," Xena asked with a mock bow and a genuine smile, "what measures do you propose and how do you plan to execute them?"
Gabrielle couldn't help but chuckle at her partner's light-hearted banter, it dawned on her that this was what she missed since her lover had rescued her.
Xena had been sympathetic and supportive but her guilt kept her from being close to her lover and that distance from the woman that held her soul was more than she could stand.
>From the moment she'd felt the warning that her lover was in danger,
through learning of her capture, the rescue right up until their reconciliation the night before, Xena could feel the darkness closing in on her. It was like a black velvet blanket was enveloping her very being. Whispering to her mind to give in to those dark urges that lurked in her heart and mind.
Seducing her to give in to the shadowy side of her being, to unchain the beast that resided in her, and loose it's uncontrollable rage and blood lust to run free in the world again. The voice became almost too much to ignore and the warrior was almost ready to surrender to the beast, when a mere slip of a woman told her no. Just like that, the beast was securely chained and controlled again.
Both women knew how close they'd come to giving in to the forces that would have plunged their lives into a living Tartarus on Earth. Xena now realized that if anything ever happened to the little blonde center of her universe, that she would revert back to what she'd been before, maybe
worse because Xena knew that without Gabrielle there to keep her soul safe, there was no chance of redemption. Xena looked into the shining green eyes and once again marvelled at the youthful enthusiasm that shone through her eyes from her soul.
<>Gods how did it come to this<> Xena wondered happily. <>How did this beautiful little farm girl become the keeper of my soul and the owner of my heart? All I know is I am the luckiest woman ever.<>
Gabrielle watched her lover and when she saw the slow loving smile come to her lips, the bard knew her lover's mind was far from battle tactics and logistics. It was good for the Queen to see her lover's focus wander at that point, it showed that the warrior had her beast well confined in her heart.
Gabrielle reached out and lay her hand on Xena's trying to tell the woman she loved more than life that she believed in her warrior and even more importantly the bard was letting her wife know that she believed in them and their future together.
They sat like that enjoying each other's company for a moment, but the noises of the women trying to figure out what to do reminded them of the reality and the need for them to do what was expected of the Queen of the Amazons and her Champion and Consort.
"You were going to tell me your plan, your Highness," the warrior quipped,
breaking the mood and let out an oof when Gabrielle smacked her across the abdomen.
"Fine, wise-guy, I'll do your job for you and as always, gracefully step aside and let you have all the credit." Gabrielle sighed trying hard to sound like a martyr and failing miserably. "My plan is to divide the women into four groups. Three for guard shifts and the fourth will be the
ones that can't fight for whatever reason. The fourth group will do the cooking, and other required domestic chores around the camp. The other three
will pull night watch on a rotating basis. You'll be in charge of the first
group, and because you know more about this kind of thing, I also hoped that
you'd be able to kind of keep an eye on all of us to make sure we don't mess
up too badly.
I thought I'd put Aentia in charge of the third group because she has more experience with sieges and combat than I do, and I'll take the second group. That way I have you at the beginning of my shift, and Aentia at the end, so if I'm making a mistake, one of you will catch it and make it right."
Gabrielle stopped there and looked over at her friend and tutor searching the incredible azure eyes for approval. Xena gave her beloved student the smile that was reserved only for the bard, letting her know that her warrior approved of her plan completely.
"Sounds like a plan to me, love," Xena said rising and offering her hand to her Queen to help her up. "You're getting good at this. Your plan was simple, precise, and took into account the possibility of problems that weren't foreseen when the plan was conceived. Now let's go see if we can find enough of these farmers wives that know which end of the spear to hold to
make three decent guard shifts."
With that, the two women linked arms and headed down the tower stairs to rejoin their charges, each muttering a prayer to any god that would listen to get all of them safely through this mess, and hoping help would be arriving soon or they were certain they would die here.
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