The Keeper of My Soul 5
By: Alex P.
The short ride to Ciros was made even easier by the lighthearted and excited banter between the bard and her escort.
Two of the young women had only been joined for two moons, and spent most of their time holding hands and whispering lover's secrets to each other.
The couple, Kala and Tauria, made Gabrielle smile, reminding her of the first days after she and her warrior had finally confessed their love for each other.
The unbridled passion of those days brought a slight blush to the queen's face and gave rise to memories of how gentle and loving Xena was when she first took her young, inexperienced, lover to her bed.
Then she remembered how brazen and insatiable she had been once she'd been shown the joys of the new physical relationship with her warrior.
In a way, she envied the two youngsters for the newness of their love, and how they'd grown up in a society that accepted their love as natural and normal.
The other two scouts were so different that Gabrielle thought of them as day and night.
Mallika was a tall muscular blonde woman. She was boisterous and friendly with a lyrical laugh that seemed to fill the air, and a mischievous sparkle in her hazel eyes. Life was never boring around Mallika
(or Mal to her friends). She was the master of the practical joke and would
laugh as hard at a joke pulled on her as on one pulled on someone else.
Her companion was Rapa, a thin brown-haired, willowy-figured woman. She was always serious and introspective. Her hard, cold, dark brown, almost black, eyes showed all that she'd tolerate no interference.
The one person was able to even get her to get an amused smirk on her thin lips was her only friend Mallika.
No one, not even the two women themselves, could explain why the two even
tolerated each others presence, much less why they were close, inseparable friends and constant companions-but they were.
The small group made short work of the journey to Ciros, and by noon of the second day they were entering the main gates of the bustling town. After asking one of the city guards for directions, the four travelers headed for the Hag's Head Inn.
It wasn't the most inviting place Gabrielle had ever stayed in, but the beds were soft and the bedding was clean. Finding the inn keeper, a rotund little bald man named Abro, the bard managed to secure two rooms for her and her companions. After seeing to their horses and taking their belongings to their rooms, the four younger Amazons were anxious to see what the town had to offer.
It took some convincing but they finally got their queen to accompany them on a short tour of the city, focusing on the market in the square in the center of town.
Although all four women had seen combat as scouts, they had never been out of Amazon territory, and had never seen an "outsider" settlement. They were anxious and more than a little frightened to be mingling with so many different people, especially so many men.
Before their little excursion was called off and Gabrielle had gotten them back to their rooms, the news that there were Amazons in town was well circulated. Mostly because Gabrielle had been forced to step in and stop the women from killing someone twice in less than one candlemark.
The first time, Tauria thought some merchant was paying to much attention to her Kala's well displayed anatomy, and was about to slit the hapless man's throat when her queen stepped into the shop and commanded her to stop.
"What did you think you were doing Kala?" Gabrielle scolded the young warrior once they were outside. "Do you have any idea what would have happened if you had killed that man?"
"But, your Highness, he was insulting my wife!" Kala pleaded. "He was ogling her...her body if that had been an Amazon..."
"That's just it, " Gabrielle responded. "He isn't an Amazon and he couldn't help but stare at her. By the gods girl, she's beautiful, don't you see that? These people don't know or understand Amazon customs. To them it's alright to ogle each other's wives. It's even considered a compliment by some..."
The queen's lecture on outsider customs was interrupted by someone yelling for help and the sound of clashing steel.
"Oh please tell me it's not one of mine," she moaned as she ran toward the sounds of a fight. "What's going on?"
Gabrielle tried to push her way through the crowd that had gathered around the combatants.
"Can you believe that idiot?" A man said to his neighbor. "That woman's obviously a warrior. Why would Derka be so stupid and challenge her, she'll kill him before anyone can even lay a bet on the fight?"
Gabrielle heard the entire conversation and she knew that once she was through the crowd it would either be Rapa or Mallika, probably killing someone.
Sure enough when she pushed past the last person and could see, a groan escaped her throat at the sight that greeted her.
In the center of the roughly formed circle was a frightened young man in light armor, holding a short sword (not very well), facing a confidently smiling Rapa, who was holding a long razor sharp dagger in each hand. She was slowly circling the young man the feral smirk on her lips that made even Gabrielle shiver. Stalking her prey, looking for the final opening that would end the fight and leave the young man dead in the dusty city street.
<>She's enjoying this too much<> Gabrielle thought to herself <>How do I keep her from cutting this arrogant young fool to pieces<>
The bard did the only thing she could think of and counting on Rapa's ingrained training and obedience to Amazon law, Gabrielle stepped in between the man and his attacker. Gabrielle couldn't help but notice that he was sporting several deep cuts over his body.
<>Oh Goddess, she has been just playing with him like a cat with a mouse<>she thought, hoping her plan would work <>I hope she recognizes me before she hacks me to pieces with him<>
"RAPA!!" Gabrielle commanded in her loudest voice short of yelling. "Stop this nonsense right now."
Recognizing her queen and hearing the command, Rapa instantly sheathed her daggers and dropped to one knee in front of Gabrielle, with her fist over her heart in salute.
"By your command, Highness," the dark Amazon said meekly, knowing she was
in deep trouble.
According to Amazon law she had committed treason by disobeying a royal command and could be summarily executed if her queen wished.
"I had expected more from you, Rapa." The bard sighed. "What is the meaning of this?"
Gabrielle knew that by acting disappointed in this warrior, she was punishing her far worse than anyone would know.
"The man questioned my right to bear a warrior's arms," Rapa began her, voice nearly breaking, as was her heart, believing she'd disappointed the small blonde before her. "True honor forbade me from turning aside his challenge."
Gabrielle was stunned, she found it hard to believe that in this day and age someone could be that small minded and stupid. Surely no one in their right mind would challenge an Amazon's right to carry weapons--it was unthinkable.
"Is what she says true?" Gabrielle asked, turning to the wounded man, flinching a little at the sight of the several deep cuts Rapa had given him. "Did you question her honor?"
When the man didn't answer she turned her compelling emerald eyes on the crowd around the combatants.
"Aye, he sure did," said a voice from the crowd.
When she looked toward the voice Gabrielle saw a short, thin, weather-beaten
old man. He gave her a wide, nearly toothless grin.
"The lady weren't doin' nothin' but havin' an ale," the old man continued. "That young fool, Derka, kept runnin' off at the mouth sayin' as
how no woman could be a warrior, an that they shouldn't ought ta be allowed ta carry a warrior's weapons.
Yer girl there tried ta get away but
the idgit kept at her. She done the right thing and if ya' be who I think ya'
are don't be punishin' the youngun too hard. Seems ta me she done you and the
Nation proud with her skills and restraint. I'da kilt the dumb pup."
"Thank you, sir for your honesty," Gabrielle said to the old man and extended her hand to him. "And for defending my young hothead here. I suppose I'll have to let her off the hook."
She gave the man a 1000 watt smile and held out her hand in greeting. Rapa looked up at him with gratitude and curiosity. She couldn't understand why an outsider would come to her defense, especially a man. This was a question she would ask he queen later.
"Tis an honor an a privilege, yer highness," the man said, bowing low and
kissing the knuckle respectfully then released it instantly. "But it weren't nothin', twas only lookin' out for what's fair, and sides I couldn't stand ta see a pretty young thing like her getin' trouble she didn't deserve."
Gabrielle looked down at Rapa and was barely able to stifle a laugh when she saw the young warrior blushing bright red at the old man's comment.
"Well then, kind sir," Gabrielle continued, being her charming self. "Would
you then please join my friends and myself for dinner tonight at the Hag's Head Inn? We would be most grateful to have such a fine, and honorable
gentleman as our guest. Please, I insist."
"Ah a good meal and such pretty company," he said, Gabrielle could see the ghost of the proud, and fine young man he'd been and the ageless good-natured twinkle in his blue eyes. "A man would be a fool ta turn down such an offer. You bet, your highness. I'll be there round supper time."
Later that night, all five were enjoying the old man's company, as he regaled the women with stories, and jokes from his many years as a boatman, plying his trade up and down the many rivers and coastal towns.
The man told them his name, Braxsis, and that he'd come to this town to retire, and open up a small shop catering to the river trade. According to him, he was doing quite well because of his many connections still on the waters.
Braxsis had the five women blushing and laughing the entire visit and Gabrielle decided she liked this man very much, but there was something about him that she just couldn't shake off, and when he revealed his name alarms went off in her brain, but she couldn't think of why.
Aside from being personable, and truly charming in a rough, backwoods kind of way, he had a way of speaking that made you feel as if you were the only person in the room, and it was clear to Gabrielle that all of her Amazons were quite taken with him.
As much as she was enjoying the company, Gabrielle was beginning to feel the day she'd spent on the trail, and to be honest she wanted to get away from this man so she could wrack her brains to recall what it was that bothered her when she'd learned his name.
"Oh my," Gabrielle said as she yawned and stretched causing two vertebra to pop loudly back into line. "I'm afraid I'm getting too old for these late night festivities. I think it's time to turn in."
She could read the disappointment clearly on the faces of her young companions, and she felt bad for ending their fun but she also knew that something wasn't right here, and until she knew exactly what was bothering her, she wanted both herself and her young friends well rested, and ready for anything.
"I'm sorry Braxis, but it is well past time for my party and I to retire." The queen stood and offered her hand to their guest that rose with the others. "I'm sure we will be able to get together again before we take our leave of the city. I'm anxious to see your shop and browse. I'm always looking for anything that could prove useful."
She couldn't help but notice the strange look that crossed the man's face for a heartbeat then his congenial riverman's mask was firmly back in place.
"I'm sorry, my lady," Braxis said as he kissed her offered hand "but I'll
be headin' out come sunup. I've got business to attend inland, but feel free ta visit my shop. I'll tell my helper ta give ya' the royal treatment but you might wait and go tour the countryside tomorrow there be some intrerestin' sights there."
"Why thank you," the suspicious bard answered, curious as to his business
inland might be and what he meant by his strange suggestion. "Then I will
say until we meet again."
With a wave, the man walked off. Gabrielle watched him leave with narrowed eyes. Spending so much time in the company of her warrior had taught her to be aware of her surroundings, and observant of others, and it struck her that the man didn't walk like a retired boatman.
No, the last time she'd seen a walk like that was an older warlord friend of Xena's. He'd received a horrible wound to his spine and while he fully healed he was left with a slight limp, and in almost constant pain.
Then the light went on in her head. When she'd seen the old warlord he hadn't seen her, in fact, she had only seen him once.
She was sick, and Xena had insisted she stay in bed, while she met her friend in the courtyard of the inn they were at that was situated just below the window of her room. Gabrielle remembered how jealous she'd felt listening to the two of them laugh and joke just below her open window, and when she heard their good-byes how she rushed to the window to get a look at him, but all she saw was the old friend of her wife walking out the gate.
<>What was his name?<> she pondered a little confused as to why he seemed so important to her here and now <>Abraxis, that was his name.<>
"That's it!" The bard exclaimed getting curious looks from her companions. "That's who he is or was!"
<>I think he knows who I am<> she reflected, remembering that Xena told her she'd told Abraxis all about their relationship <>I wonder why he didn't rec...<>
"He did recognize me," Gabrielle whispered to herself, as she and the four Amazons went up the stairs that led to their rooms. "He was trying to be subtle, and I'm just too dense. He was trying to warn me to get out of here tomorrow!"
Gone suddenly was Gabrielle, bard and friend and in her place was Gabrielle, Queen and commander.
"Kala, Tauria, I want you to get your things and join us in our room for tonight," their queen commanded. "I want everything packed and ready to leave in the morning. I want to be gone before the sun has risen far above the horizon."
"Yes, my queen," was all the four Amazons said, and hurried to follow their queen's orders, never once asking why.
Before she lay down on the pallet she'd made (as queen Gabrielle felt it unfair to expect her subjects to sleep on the floor, while she was in a nice comfortable bed), Gabrielle made sure the four warriors had set up a watch and had put a chair under the doorknob.
She also made sure that she would be wakened as soon as the eastern sky was light enough to see by.
Having taken her precautions, the tired bard pulled up her covers, and attempted to sleep.
It took her awhile for the worried bard to fall asleep, her mind was going over the preparations she'd made for their departure over and over again looking for any flaw or error she might have made that could possibly come back and get them later when they least expected it.
Finally exhaustion conquered worry and Gabrielle surrendered to the sweet temptation of sleep. She rested knowing that she had done everything possible to assure their quick and quiet withdrawal from the city. Every problem she could think of was covered, save one.
They were running out of time faster than anyone knew...it was already too late.
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