The Keeper of My Soul--Always 8
by: Alex P.
Gabrielle heard the sounds of a battle approaching and saw the worst of her fears come to life. One of her Amazons was fighting bravely against impossible odds, she could see the many wounds covering the young warrior and the blood flowing freely from the woman's injuries.
It was obvious to Gabrielle that the woman was in bad shape and about to go down, but when she started to go to the young woman's aid Gabrielle, felt a hand grab her upper arm holding her fast. She turned and looked into the almost black eyes of Rapa.
"Let me go help her," Gabrielle hissed, angry at being held back.
"Would you belittle a warrior's sacrifice my Queen?" The dark scout asked calmly. "She and her mate have given their all in service of their Queen, don't make their deaths meaningless, please."
Gabrielle stopped and realized what she was being told, it sank in that not only was Tauria about to die defending her, but her mate, little Kala,
was probably dead already.
Tears began falling from the Queen's dark green eyes, but she held her ground even when she saw the brave woman taken down by three large men and fail to rise.
Gabrielle felt grief tear at her heart but refused to belittle the efforts of her loyal subjects. She vowed silently that if she got through this alive, she'd make sure that everyone, especially her fellow Amazons, would hear of the bravery and sacrifice of the two Amazon scouts.
The fighting in the city slowly worked it's way through the city streets heading in the direction of the three self appointed guardians of the city's non-combatants.
Several times, the three women held off groups of marauders that were trying to get to the innocents hiding in the shed. Still, the three fought on, defending the people who the day before had treated them as freaks of nature.
Eventually, the rest of the city fell to the invaders leaving only Gabrielle and her two Amazon escorts standing against an army. Sensing inevitable defeat, Gabrielle began taking precautions to save her two loyal scouts and herself unnecessary problem.
"Alright, I need you two to listen to me and do as I say," Gabrielle hissed, hoping the two proud women wouldn't put up too much of an argument. "I want you to remove everything on you that shows that you are Amazon."
"But, your Highness," Rapa began, "that would be dishonorable."
"Is it more honorable to die and leave your sister Amazons in danger?" Gabrielle whispered, her eyes drilling into the over-sensitive scout. "I am your Queen and I say we must hide our Amazon identity in order to live long enough to help these weaker women and children."
Neither woman could argue with the bard's logic and reluctantly removed all the items they had that would proclaim them to be Amazon. Gabrielle had them put everything in a leather pouch and, along with her intricately carved staff, she hid them in a hastily hollowed out section of the shed wall, then replaced the large rock that fit over the hole.
Then she put a mark on the stone that her warrior would recognise just in case Gabrielle wasn't able to retrieve the items herself.
That done, the three warriors turned to face their attackers, it wasn't long before they were so completely out numbered, that it was obvious to everyone that defeat was impossible to avoid.
When all three women were
forced back against the shed wall, the enemy stopped advancing. The men parted and made room for a tall, well-built man wearing brightly polished
bronze armor and riding a huge coal black war-horse to ride through.
He looked down at the three exhausted women and pointed his gleaming sword at them. looking at them like he would a small rabbit that had suddenly stood up and fought not to be his dinner.
"You are brave, ladies, but it is hopeless," the man's booming voice filled the air. "Lay down your weapons and you and those you protect will be taken alive. I swear it in the name of Karcax"
"And if we don't?" Gabrielle asked with far more defiance than she felt.
"Then you and all the others die," he said calmly. "It's nothing to me, your choice."
Gabrielle looked at her two companions and saw how exhausted they were, then she thought of the women and children she was defending. She knew they counted on her to keep them alive, and without another word she threw down her sais at the warlord's horse's feet. Her two comrades followed their Queen's example and their weapons joined hers on the ground.
The warlord's men rushed forward and quickly bound their hands behind their backs.
The three women were chained and their collars linked separately from the other prisoners to keep them from encouraging the others to escape or create some other problems for their captors. Within less than a day, the warlord was ready to move on and the group of new slaves were herded from the city to their fates elsewhere.
A tear fell from Gabrielle's eye as she remembered the last two days and the humiliating things she'd endured in order to save the lives of the small children. As with other men as cruel as slavers these were ready to murder every child under 6. To them it was a simple business decision, to Gabrielle it was an abomination.
In order to save the children she had offered the greatest sacrifice, herself. Some of the men had taken her up on her offer and had begun to closely examine their prize over the outraged cries by Rapa and Mallika. A senior officer came to check out what was causing the commotion, and put an immediate halt to Gabrielle's violation.
When he learned the reason his men were disobeying orders he ordered her flogged for tempting his men,but he also ordered the children spared.
She had won her quest but the bard was under no illusion that her situation wasn't going to get a lot worse if help didn't arrive soon. She breathed a silent prayer to Artemis that her note would be found where the trails split and help was coming.
As night fell, the rest of the prisoners were herded into a hastily erected rope corral and left. Gabrielle and her two Amazons were taken to a supply wagon and chained to the wheels.
The leers of their captors had been getting bolder since the groups had split up the day before. The main body of the army had turned inland and the group that had the future slaves continued on, following the river toward a port where the soldiers would be able to sell their captives with little worry about the law.
It was fully dark when their captors brought Gabrielle and her two companions each a bowl of a thick gruel. All three women ate the foul tasting stuff knowing they needed to keep their strength up in order to take advantage of any opportunity to escape. Gabrielle finished choking down her "meal" and lay her head back and let the horrors of the last few days wash over her.
It had been four days since they had been forced to surrender, and three of those days on the road moving further from her beloved warrior. With every day the small party was farther away from Ciros and farther away from any hope for rescue.
The Queen wept silently trying not to let her companions know how hopeless
their predicament truly was. She was afraid that if the weren't found soon, all hope would be gone.
She was also afraid of Xena's reaction when she found out about the sacrifice the compassionate bard had made to save the little ones from a horrible death, their brains bashed out on the rocks (the vision that invoked made her shudder violently). Would her fiercely proud lover be able to forgive her and understand why she'd let them touch her like that?
The bard found herself praying to any god that would listen to help Xena find her and take her away from this waking nightmare.
<>Please Xena, my heart, hurry<> the bard thought desperately<>I don't know if I can take it much longer without you. I need you my love.<>
The tears continued to fall from Gabrielle's eyes even after she fell into an exhausted sleep. Her two companions took turns watching over their Queen as she slept, each knowing the self-imposed burden the small woman carried.
They knew she was not only worried about her own fate but she also felt responsible for the fates of the two Amazons as well. They'd seen her flinch when the slavers had whipped them for not following orders as if she was receiving each stroke herself.
They tried to interfere with Gabrielle's punishment for defending the weaker ones among the other prisoners.
Both of them had seen their Queen not move or make a sound as she accepted her own flogging, but they'd also heard her cry out and beg for mercy for them as the commander had given them ten strokes each. Her bravery and compassion were an inspiration to the two scouts.
After their Queen was asleep, both Mallika and Rapa quietly made a blood oath to avenge their Queen's indignity at the first opportunity.
Later that night as the rest of the camp slept, Mallika heard the call of
a night bird that made her heart race. She silently woke her partner and bade her to listen and confirm that this was a very special and welcome night bird.
They woke their Queen and the trio waited for the first opportunity to answer that plaintive call that meant freedom.
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