"ALALALALALALA!" Xena cried out as she flipped into the city in which a group of warlords was attacking. Gabrielle ran in following Xena with sai in hand. Xena drew her sword and the team began to work their way into the fray, defending the villagers against the fearsome warriors. Once they had fought off enough of them to rest, Xena spoke to Gabrielle.
"All right. Take as many people as you can out to that cave we saw near the edge of the village. Once they're all inside come back for more."
"Right," Gabrielle said, sheathing her sai and turning away.
Xena grabbed the shoulder of her friend. "Make sure no one follows you. They're all around so be careful."
With that Gabrielle went around gathering together as many villagers as she could without being noticed. Once she got about six or seven people together she hurried them out of the village. As they ran, Gabrielle listened to make sure no one was behind them. She couldn't hear much as the heavy noise from the village was the primary thing that reached her ears.
They arrived at the cave.
"In here!" Gabrielle cried to the villagers. They all began to pile into the cave.
"Go all the way in, and be quiet."
"YA!" cried a warrior as he jumped out of a tree followed by several others.
Gabrielle quickly drew her sai as the last of the villagers entered the cave. She defended herself against the warriors, striking the swords away with her weapons. She was up against four highly skilled warriors who seemed not to tire out quickly. She finally struck down two by jump kicking them in their stomachs and backhand punching them with her sai. The other two, however, started to make their way into the cave. Gabrielle quickly turned to them, flipped her sais so she was holding them by the pointed sides. She threw them, lodging them into the warriors' backs. With a sigh of regret, Gabrielle slowly walked forward to retrieve her weapons from the backs of the slain warriors.
Before she could retrieve her sai, another warrior fell on top of Gabrielle from the trees tackling her to the ground. He then delivered a quick and strong punch to Gabrielle's face knocking her out. As the warrior rose, a wagon approached, carrying in it 15 or so unconscious and restrained villagers.
"Looks like you were right about this cave," said the warrior with Gabrielle.
"I knew Xena would want to hide the villagers until after the battle," said the wagon driver. "This cave seemed like the perfect spot."
"You didn't tell us she'd be sending someone to defend them, and now two of our men are dead."
"It doesn't matter now. Two men are worth what we now have to entice Xena."
"Who? This girl?"
"Xena's partner, Gabrielle. Xena will do anything to get her precious little bard back. Now hurry!" the driver yelled, jumping off of the wagon. "Tie her up and put her in the wagon. I'll take care of the others inside."
The driver approached the cave where the two warriors laid dead. He stopped and called to the warrior.
"How did these two die?"
"The girl threw her sai in their backs. Why?"
The driver slowly approached the slain warriors more, and noticed that the weapons that should be sticking out of their backs were not there. He drew his sword.
"Keep alert," he said. "One of the villagers took Gabrielle's weapons."
The warrior finished tying up Gabrielle and stood with his sword, ready to fight.
The driver chased the villagers out of the cave. The two warriors easily knocked out all of the villagers and quickly restrained them. They then proceeded to pile the villagers and Gabrielle into the wagon with the others.
"So, who had the sai?" the warrior asked the driver.
"Whoever it was, I didn't fight them."
"Well neither did I."
"Wait, then if none of the villagers had the sai, who took them?"
The driver looked around for a bit and then smiling said, "C'mon. Let's get out of here before Xena realizes what we've done."
The warrior and the driver got in the wagon and with a crack of the whip and a "YA!" galloped away.
Meanwhile, Xena continued to fight in the village.
"SHIIIIIIIII-YA!" she yelled as she flipped onto a rooftop. She readied her chakram and launched it. Her weapon hit six warrior's heads and then returned to her hand. With that, the small amount of warriors still standing, retreated out of the town. Once they were gone, the remaining villagers emerged from their tattered homes.
"Thank you, Xena," said one of the village women. "You are Xena, aren't you?"
"Yes. Now, where is my friend? She was coming in here taking people into the forest."
"Yes," said the woman, "I remember a blonde girl taking some people out earlier, but I didn't see her come back."
"Neither did I," Xena said thinking, "but she must be here somewhere."
Xena proceeded to walk through the town shouting for her friend.
"Have you seen a woman with short blonde hair?" she asked another villager. "She may have been taking some people out of the village."
"No. No I haven't."
Just then, an arrow flew by Xena's head and stuck in the wall of a house. Xena looked at it and noticed a piece of paper attached. She quickly untied the note. "The golden sun rises no more for you, and she takes the rats with her."
"What's that?" the villager asked.
"A warrior's attempt at symbolism," Xena replied crumpling the paper and throwing it to the ground.
"But what does it mean?"
"It means that the warriors who attacked us have Gabrielle and the villagers she took." Xena looked around at the lack of people around. "Probably more."
"By the gods! What'll become of them?"
"Nothing," Xena said with determination. "I'll get to them before anything happens."
"We're ready to help," said another man approaching Xena, with a band of armed villagers behind him.
"Thanks for the offer, but I'll be going into their camps looking for Gabrielle and the prisoners. It'll be too dangerous for you."
"Xena, most of the people they took are our family. We have to at least try to help them."
Xena turned and looked the man straight in the eye to say, "No! The best chance they have of being rescued is if you don't interfere with my plan. Now you stay here and I will return with your families soon. I promise."
With sounds of discontent from the villagers, Xena ran toward the cave where she had directed Gabrielle. Sure enough, the wagon tracks were still there, and Xena ran after her friend.
In the warriors' camp Gabrielle was in the center of a dark and dank cell, seated and tied to a post. Now awake, she was struggling to get the chains around her wrists loosened.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said a voice in the dark.
"Who's there?" Gabrielle nervously asked, turning her head toward the voice. After waiting a while for a response, she began to struggle again. Suddenly, Gabrielle's face was knocked to the side with a club.
"We told you to stop that," said a different voice.
"I might be more cooperative if I knew who the orders were coming from," she said, turning her head to the other voice.
"They're coming from us," said a third voice. "That's all you need know."
"I know that there are at least three of you," said Gabrielle. "I also know that I took care of four back at that cave. And I know that I can do it again."
"Let's find out," said the second voice. With that Gabrielle's chains were broken and a staff was thrown at her feet.
Quickly, Gabrielle picked up the staff and stood in a readied pose. A kick was given to her back. She turned and swung her staff, hitting nothing. Gabrielle was then clubbed on her shoulder making her drop her staff. With that, she was kicked and punched repeatedly from all directions. She could barely see anything and could hardly block any of the hits thrown at her. Finally, someone swept Gabrielle's feet out from under her, and she fell to the ground, battered and bleeding.
"Now that's more like the Gabrielle I remember," said a fourth voice.
"How . . ." Gabrielle said breathing heavily, "how do you know my name?"
"Does this ring a bell?" Mustering up his best Gabrielle voice, the warrior said, "'Take me. Let the others go.'"
In a weak voice, Gabrielle muttered, "Poteidaia." All she could see as she strained for consciousness was a man's boot; the boot that swept her feet from under her; a brown leather boot with three brass coins up the side. With that, her head fell to the ground and she blacked out.
After running about five miles, following a twisted path of tracks left, Xena found herself on the top of a hill looking into the greatly protected fortress. She began to look around to see how she would get in and find her friend. Just then, she spotted a group of slave girls being led to the river to collect water. She spotted only one guard with them.
Xena quickly ran down the hill, careful to not be seen by anyone. She stayed above them on a ledge, and followed them until they stopped at the river. When the girls were in the water filling their jugs, the guard stood by a tree and rested. Xena jumped behind the tree, grabbed the guard by the shoulders, and banged his head into the tree. Before he could fall to the ground, Xena pulled him behind the tree, stripped him, tied him up, put on his uniform, and stepped into his spot before any of the girls noticed. Luckily, the helmet worn by the guard came complete with a mask, so Xena could disguise herself better.
Xena's first instinct was to set the slave girls free, but she knew that it would look suspicious if she returned to the fortress without the slaves that left. Quickly she gave the order. "All right. Hurry it up!" Though a little surprised at the octave change in the guard's voice, the girls took their jugs and hurried back in line. Xena stood where she had seen the guard had before and marched the girls back to the camp.
When they reached the camp the front guard opened the gates and Xena walked into the fortress. She followed the girls, as they went on their normal way. She knew that the girls would most likely lead her to the holding cell where the slaves and prisoners were.
Sure enough, after a few minutes Xena was approaching a walled up, heavily guarded building. She knew that it would be tough for her to get inside without a good excuse, but she followed the girls in, hoping no one would notice.
"Hey!" the prison guard said. "Why are you going in?"
Disguising her voice, Xena quickly came up with an excuse. "Uh, one of the girls tried to escape." She grabbed one girl out of the line. "I'm taking her in there to personally punish her." With a smirk, the guard waved her in.
Just as Xena walked under the doorway, she began to hear commotion coming from the edge of the fortress. She let the girl go and looked around to see what was happening. Just then, a warrior ran up.
"What's going on?" the prison guard asked.
"There are a group of villagers trying to crash through the gate," said the warrior.
"Villagers?" Xena said. When she saw the suspicious look given to her by the guard, she once again disguised her voice. "How many of them?"
"20 or 30," the warrior said. "Don't worry. We have our men taking care of them."
Xena looked at the cell and then back to the wall. She knew that the fight would give the perfect distraction to rescue Gabrielle, but she knew that the villagers would be like sheep to the slaughter without her help. All of a sudden, a fire boomed from the ground, then another, then another. Another warrior ran up to the three at the jail.
"Now what's happening?" the prison guard asked.
Breathing heavily the second warrior said, "Someone else is attacking the back of the complex! They have catapults and 100 to 200 soldiers!"
Just then, the army from the back stormed into the village. The warriors ran off to aid the fight.
"How could this happen?" the prison guard asked.
"Easily," Xena said in a whispered voice. With that, she elbowed the guard in the face. The guard drew his sword and Xena followed in suit. They began to fight it out. They clanged swords and exchanged blows.
Suddenly, a warrior clad in a red cape and silver armor, flipped over the jail complex with a loud "YAAAAAAAAAAAH," and landed in between Xena and the guard. He quickly joined Xena in her fight against the guard delivering punches and kicks while Xena slashed at him with her sword. Finally, the guard was knocked down, unconscious.
Xena sheathed her sword and turned to the tall warrior. "Who are you?"
"I'm the leader of the army that's attacking the city."
"Well, thanks, but I could have handled it myself," Xena said as she took off the soldier's armor revealing her own underneath.
"I know," the man said, "but we don't have that much time. Listen, I know why your here and I can help you."
"What do you mean?"
"Look, you free the prisoners from in here and bring them to the back of the complex, and I'll see you all safely away."
"Obviously you don't know why I'm here. I'm here to rescue my friend . . ."
" . . . Gabrielle. Yes, I know. Well, she's not in there."
"Where is she?" Xena asked walking away from the jail to look for her.
The man grabbed her and stopped her. "Listen to me. I saw where they're holding her. You get the prisoners and I'll retrieve Gabrielle."
"Maybe instead of worrying about Gabrielle you should help those villagers on a suicide mission at the front gates."
"With my army here, most of their warriors have gone to the back. The villagers should be able to manage the rest. Why do you think I attacked when I did? Now, you free the slaves, and I'll get Gabrielle."
"I don't think so. Gabrielle is my friend, and I will not trust her with some man who I barely know."
"Xena, you can't free the prisoners and Gabrielle all at once without my help. It's for the greater good. We've wasted too much time already, and we'll only waste more if I have to tell you where to go. Look," the man said as he pulled out Gabrielle's sai from his belt. "I saved these from the warriors who attacked Gabrielle. When I save her, she can help me fight our way out of here."
Xena looked at her friend's weapons. She took a leap of faith and decided to trust the man. "If she gets so much a cut because of you, you will live to regret it, and die begging forgiveness."
"Your welcome," said the warrior. With that, he flipped back over the jail, and made his way toward Gabrielle, while Xena entered the jail.
The man broke down the door to Gabrielle's cell and flew down the stairs. All the guards that were in the cell had now gone into the fray. He kneeled by Gabrielle and gently woke her.
"Gabrielle," he softly said.
Gabrielle blinked and slowly opened her eyes. "Who . . . who are you?"
"Don't worry," he said. "I'm going to get you out of here." He then helped Gabrielle to her feet. He took out the sai and handed them to her. "I thought you might be missing these."
"My sai. But how did you . . ."
"It doesn't matter right now." Just then a large boom came from outside. "Listen, do you think you can fight?"
"Yeah. Yeah I think so," she said beginning to regain her strength.
"Then let's get out of here," he said starting to walk away.
Stopping him, Gabrielle asked, "Wait, where's Xena?"
"We're meeting her back with the army, after she rescues the prisoners. Now c'mon! We have to hurry!"
Gabrielle readied her sai and followed her rescuer out of the cell. They fought their way through the complex, striking away their foes. Shells from catapults were landing all around them. They could barely see the people whom they were fighting.
Finally, they were with the army at the back of the complex. Gabrielle looked around in the haze. "Where's Xena?"
"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled as she ran up with about 20 slaves. She ran over to her friend and looked at her battered face and body. "Are you ok? What happened?"
"I'll be all right. This man helped me here."
Just then, the army stopped launching catapults into the complex. As the haze cleared Xena and Gabrielle looked over the blood-reddened battlefield. They heard galloping and looked to the hill outside of the complex. A group of men from the opposing army was galloping away.
"Quickly!" yelled the man who rescued Gabrielle. "Five men spread out and see where they go. Report back to camp as soon as possible."
"Yes, Alexander," the man said as they mounted up.
"Alexander?" Gabrielle said in disbelief. "As in Alexander the Great?"
"Is that what they're calling me now?" he asked a bit apathetically.
"I've heard a lot about you. You're a king. You're a hero!"
"Some hero," Xena said.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said confused at her tone.
"Is there some problem?" Alexander asked.
Xena and Alexander approached each other. "I just think it might have been a bit more heroic for you and your army to stop this one before it raided the town and killed its people," Xena hissed at Alexander.
"Listen, Xena, you can think whatever you want about me. The truth is I did what I did out of strategic planning. Plus, as you know, it takes time to organize an army. I had to wait until the other army was all together in order to wipe them out."
"Some job you did. What was that, seventy of them that escaped?"
"Only about fifty, and I never said every plan I have works out just as I'd like it to," Alexander said almost yelling.
They both stared angrily at each other, almost nose to nose. Gabrielle was afraid they might begin to fight. She walked up to her friend and touching her shoulder said, "Xena, can I talk to you?"
Gabrielle took her friend aside. "I think blowing this a little out of proportion, Xena. Yes, he could have helped us in the village but since we were there, there weren't as many casualties as there would have been."
"If they were there, you wouldn't have gotten kidnapped."
"Yes, but Alexander made up for that by rescuing me. And since all the slaves and prisoners were freed, what harm is there? He's not the enemy Xena. He's our friend. He's proven that."
"Gabrielle, don't be too quick to trust Alexander. You've heard only the valiant stories of him. The truth is he rides across the continent taking territories for Greece by force. He's been compared to Caesar that way."
Now cooled off, Alexander spoke to them, "Once my scouts come back and tell me where the warriors got off to, we'll be heading off to stop them. I've heard the tales of the warrior princess and her sidekick . . ."
Gabrielle stared at him with a look of discontent.
". . . I mean the battling bard of Poteidaia. And while we may not agree on some things, you're both a welcome addition to my army. That is of course if you will accept."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at one another.
"We'll join you," Gabrielle said.
With that, Alexander mounted up and slowly went toward his army's camp, as Xena and Gabrielle followed.
Night fell as the soldiers waited for the scouts to return. Xena, Gabrielle,
Alexander and a few soldiers started up a fire as about 15 others sparked up around the field where they had set up camp. They sat around the fire eating the day's catch of fish, in silence. Gabrielle looked at Alexander and then back at Xena. She felt the tension fall over the campfire darker than the evening sky. She thought something ought to be done to break it. She decided to appeal to Alexander.
"So, where were you and your men before you heard of this situation?" Gabrielle asked looking over the flames toward Alexander.
"We were just coming back from northern Africa."
"Oh," said Gabrielle seeing an opening, "Xena and I were there not long ago. We had a family matter to deal with."
"And why were you there?" Xena questioned.
"Does it matter?" returned Alexander.
Xena leaned in closer to Alexander, "Does it?"
The sound of silence returned for a time. Xena then stood. "I'm going to go sharpen my sword. Come get me when the scouts get here."
Still seated Gabrielle turned and watched her friend walk away. She then got up and sat by Alexander on his side of the fire.
"Well," said Alexander, "I see Xena doesn't have that high an opinion of me."
"She's heard some things about your conquests." Gabrielle turned to Alexander. "Is it true that you conquer other nations simply to make them Grecian territories?"
"It's not that simple," Alexander said turning to her. "We go abroad telling the world how wonderful and peaceful a place Greece is. We tell them the benefits of our society, and the security and prosperity they can gain by becoming part of it. If they don't decide to become a territory, we have to take them over by force."
"But don't you see something wrong with that? The beauty of other cultures is the fact that they are different. By making every nation Greek, you're taking away the individuality of different cultures."
"Not really. Those people are free to keep their cultures as long as they hold true with the laws of Greece. By doing that, we eliminate the bad things of some cultures."
"I don't know," said Gabrielle now unsure Alexander.
"Take, for instance, cannibals. Since they do not comply with our laws, we have to eliminate them. And isn't the world a better place without a few cannibals?"
"Maybe. But you don't only conquer cannibals."
"We try not to conquer at all. It's our last resort. But our main goal is securing the well being of Greece and all the people therein. By keeping track of surrounding territories, we ensure that they are not a threat. Do you understand?"
"I think so," Gabrielle said beginning to see Alexander's side of things. She looked up at the sky and said, "It's getting late." With that, she stood up. "I think I'm going to go get some shut eye before we set out."
Alexander stood up. "I'll be sure to wake you when the scouts get back."
"Thanks. Good night."
Alexander took her hand before she turned to leave, and kissed it gently. "Good night."
Gabrielle walked off to where Xena had gone. She was still thinking about Alexander and what he had said. She did understand his position. " . . . securing the well being of Greece and all the people therein." It sounded as if he was fighting for the greater good. But a part of her was still weary of him and what he was doing. And what was that kiss about? Did he like her? Did she like him? So many thoughts we swirling around in her mind, she almost didn't hear Xena call for her."
"Gabrielle! Over here!" Gabrielle walked to over to her. "So, what did you and the hero talk about?"
"I think you know. Xena, I think his heart is in the right place with his missions. He does what he does for the betterment of Greece. That's what he told me."
"Of course that's what he told you. It's probably what he tells to all of his soldiers who are questioning his validity."
"Are you saying I'm naïve to believe him?" Gabrielle asked rolling out her bed skin.
"No. I'm just saying wait until you know more about his conquests until you make a judgment." Xena unrolled her sleeping skin and sat next to her friend. "And maybe I was a little harsh to him. I'll try to see him for what he's doing here, which from what I've seen is a good thing."
"Xena, over these last few years, I've seen you become more and more trusting and accepting. It really shows a . . . for lack of a better word maturation in you."
"Gee, thanks," Xena said feeling a bit patronized.
"You know what I mean. I really admire that about you."
"Well, I had good help," Xena said putting her hand on her friend's shoulder. With that, they both lay down to rest.
Alexander approached. "The scouts are back," he said as Xena and Gabrielle sat up.
"So much for shut eye," Gabrielle said.
"Well," said Alexander looking at the sky, "since it is so late, and we know where they are, we'll wait until first light to go after them."
"All right," said Gabrielle with a yawn.
"See you both in the morning then," said Alexander turning away.
"Alexander," Xena said going toward him, "can I have a word?"
"Sure," Alexander replied as they walked a little bit away from the already dozing bard.
Xena stood across from Alexander and spoke to him. "Alexander, I just want to say, I'm sorry for being rash today. After saving Gabrielle, you deserve my thanks, not my criticism."
"Xena," he said stopping her, "I know how hard it is to trust someone when you've heard bad things about him. I don't blame you. But I thank you for apologizing."
"Well I better rest up if we're leaving at first light," Xena said.
"Right. See you in the morning," Alexander said reaching out his hand.
"Right," she said shaking his wrist. With that, she walked back and joined her friend.
Suddenly, a pebble hit Alexander in the ankle. He looked in the direction the stone came from and another hit him on the forehead. He drew his dagger and slowly approached the person obviously hidden in the brush. He slowly walked through the dark forest only seeing by the gods' grant of moonlight. He looked left and right as he went. Suddenly he stopped, seeing a figure to the right of him. He flung a dagger at him hitting his vest at the shoulder and securing him to a tree. Alexander flipped over to him and drew his sword. Holding his steel to the mans throat he spoke, "Hephaestion."
"I thought you'd never get here," the leather clad warrior said to Alexander.
"I wouldn't leave you waiting long," Alexander said pulling the dagger from the tree, freeing Hephaestion. "How's your army?"
"Small, thanks to you."
"I told you I wouldn't hold back. It would have looked suspicious. Your men should have been more prepared."
"At any rate, thank you for letting them rest tonight instead of storming us."
"No problem. We need the rest too. Now," Alexander said rubbing his forehead, "what's with the pebbles?"
Hephaestion reached his hand to Alexander's forehead and rubbed it lightly with his thumb. "Sorry about that. It was the only way I could get your attention without Xena or Gabrielle hearing."
Alexander took Hephaestion's wrist and pulled his hand from his forehead. "So what's the news?"
"I just want to make sure the plan is still in motion."
"Ah yes, the plan," Alexander said clasping his hands behind his back and pacing a little. "Of course it is. Luckily, for you, I think Gabrielle has gotten Xena to trust me . . . for a while."
"Good. That bitch will finally pay for what she did to me!" Hephaestion said taking out his dagger and slicing through the air.
"You really want revenge don't you?" laughed Alexander as he leaned on a tree.
Hephaestion threw his dagger, planting it into the tree, right next to Alexander's head. "When Xena decided to turn good, and defeated Draco in Amphipolis, his army slowly began going downhill. Once Draco was no longer obsessed with killing Xena, and was instead obsessed with loving Gabrielle, there was no more army. I was that army. A couple more years and would have been leading along side Draco. I would have made that army the most powerful in Greece, more powerful than Caesar's army in Rome, more powerful than yours. But instead, I had to start from scratch. And who's going to listen to a nineteen-year-old headstrong kid. No warrior worth their weight. So, I wait. 25 years later, Xena's back, and I have my mission. Kill the Warrior Princess and her Battling Bard! With those two dead at my hand, people will be beating down my tent to join my army. And I'll be the most powerful warlord in the world." Hephaestion looked to Alexander and slowly walked toward him. "And once you and I join forces, we'll be unstoppable."
"Like I said," Alexander said walking toward Hephaestion, "the plan's on track." The two cohorts were now standing almost nose to nose. "By sun down tomorrow, Xena and Gabrielle will be in you hands."
The two clasped hands in front of their faces signifying their union. With that, Hephaestion retrieved his dagger from the tree and began to walk away from their meeting place.
"Hephaestion," Alexander called.
"Like I said, my men won't hold back. Be careful. I don't want you getting hurt. Especially at my hand."
Hephaestion approached his companion and embraced him. "Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself. Worry about the plan."
Hephaestion once again walked away, mounted his horse and left. Alexander then returned to camp to get some rest.
As the sun appeared over the horizon, Xena and Gabrielle headed back towards the main campsite. They looked around at all the men getting ready for battle. They saw Alexander outside of his tent putting on his gauntlets.
"Alexander," Gabrielle said walking a bit ahead of Xena. "Good morning."
"Good morning, Gabrielle," Alexander replied as Xena followed up. "And good morning to you, Xena."
"So what's the plan?" Xena said wasting no time.
"You're both just in time. We're heading out right now. We've already sent the scouts ahead to observe their current condition. When they we catch up to them, we'll set up a battle plan and go in for the attack."
"Seems sensible," Gabrielle said. "Right, Xena?"
"Good then," Alexander said mounting his horse. "Two of my best steeds are waiting for you on the other side of my tent. Since you are my guests, I would hope that you ride with me."
"Actually I was wondering if we could go ahead with the scouts? I like to see what I'm heading into when I'm entering into a war zone."
Alexander shrugged and looked to Gabrielle, "If that's what you two want . . ."
Gabrielle looked at Alexander, and then to Xena. "Maybe one of us should stay with the army, just in case there's trouble."
Xena looked at Alexander and Gabrielle. She recognized that expression on her friends face. She'd seen it before with Talus and Khrafstar. Though Gabrielle had only known Alexander for a short while, she had begun to have feelings for him. Xena could tell. She wanted to insist that Gabrielle come with her to scout ahead, but she knew Gabrielle would feel patronized. She would think that Xena didn't trust her to protect herself. And if Gabrielle did have feelings for Alexander, Xena didn't want to seem jealous at all. Possessiveness was not what their friendship was about. She knew that she had to let Gabrielle do what she wanted.
"Good idea," Xena said. She and Gabrielle then headed behind the tent, mounted their horses and joined Alexander.
Xena rode ahead a bit, then turned around and shouted, "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"We'll miss you," Gabrielle shouted back.
Xena smiled at her friend as she turned around and galloped away to catch up to the scouts. Gabrielle and Alexander rode to the front of the army and looked around. Alexander then yelled out the order, "Let's head out!" Everyone gave a yell signaling their horses to go and the horde of men started into the forest.
Hours passed as the horses clip-clopped their way through the heavily clustered forest. Gabrielle and Alexander had been talking the whole time. Sharing stories of their lives, adventures they've had, hardships they've experienced.
Alexander laughing said, "You've had an amazing life. Do you ever wish that you'd stayed with your family in your hometown?"
"Sometimes I miss the security. Always having a warm bed, knowing where and what your next meal is going to be. And I miss the peacefulness of Poteidaia."
"What about your family? Do you ever miss them?"
"Occasionally I think about them. I miss my mother and father. They died when Xena and I were asleep."
"It's all right. I know they're in a better place. Aside from that, I sometimes wonder how my sister and niece are doing. The thing is, when I'm with Xena, I feel like I'm with family. I know that my place is with Xena. It just feels right. So, although I'm away from family, I don't miss them as much because Xena's by my side."
"You two really have a connection."
"Yes, we do."
"Aside from Xena, do you have anyone in your life?" Smiling a bit, Alexander completed his question, "A man?"
Gabrielle laughed a little. "Well, I don't have the best of luck with men. I told you about Perdicus?"
"Well there hasn't been anyone really serious since him. He was my first love."
Alexander and Gabrielle slowed to a stop as he replied, "I hope there's room for another."
"Alexander," Gabrielle whispered looking at him.
"Yes?" Alexander softly said leaning in closer.
"There are about 10 men in the bushes ahead."
"Let's do it."
Gabrielle and Alexander quickly leapt from their horses, followed by five other men from their army. Gabrielle drew her sai, Alexander drew his sword and together they fought off their enemies, striking them away with intense fury. Suddenly, a warrior knocked down Alexander causing him to hit his head on a stone. He became dazed and could not recover right away. The warrior who struck him down slowly raised his sword over Alexander. Just as the sword was coming down Gabrielle crossed her sai and blocked the blade from Alexander. She spun around and kicked the warrior into a tree, unconscious.
The warriors all began to flee. Gabrielle helped Alexander to his feet. "Are you all right?" she asked as she put his arm over her shoulder.
Shaking his head he replied, "Yeah, I'm just kind of dizzy."
"You hit your head pretty hard."
"Yeah. You, you saved me. Thank you."
"It's all right." Gabrielle said helping Alexander back on his horse. "You would have done the same for me. In fact you did."
"True, but you're the kind of person who save someone even if they wouldn't necessarily save you. You're really an amazing woman."
Gabrielle smiled at the compliment as she mounted her horse. Then partly joking, partly serious she replied, "I'm just an over ambitious girl Poteidaia. Xena's the amazing one."
"You really don't give yourself enough credit," Alexander said. "For instance, those sai. You use them remarkably."
Alexander, now pretty much recovered from the brief clash, gave the signal to move out again. As they started moving, Gabrielle began to wonder about something.
"Alexander, how did you get my sai? I thought for sure the other army would have taken them when they knocked me out."
Alexander knew very well where he had gotten them, but he couldn't tell Gabrielle he stayed in a tree while she and many villagers were being taken by the supposed enemy. Quickly and a bit stuttered he said, "I, well they, were on the door outside of the place they were holding you in their camp. It was like a marker. That's how I knew where you were."
"Oh. Well, how did you know they were mine?"
"I . . ."
But before Alexander had to make up another response, Xena rode up. The posse of scouts she had set out with followed her. Alexander called the army to a stop.
"Xena," Gabrielle said smiling at her friend.
"Welcome back," said Alexander thankful at her convenient timing.
"Thanks," Xena said.
"So, what's the story?" Alexander queried.
"The story is they're prepared for us. They've set up defenses. Some barrels, a small stone wall, nothing too bad."
"You're telling us," Gabrielle said with a smirk. "We just ran into some of their defenses."
"Oh," said Xena walking over to a horse, "Then that must be where he came from." Xena pulled the horse forward. The rider dismounted revealing a bruised and dirty many bound with rope and a gag behind him.
"That's one of the men who attacked us," Gabrielle said.
Xena pulled him off the horse as both Gabrielle and Alexander dismounted and joined her.
"What should we do with him?" Alexander asked.
"You don't know Xena very well, do you?" Gabrielle said smugly.
With that, Xena ripped the gag out of the captive's mouth and quickly threw the pinch on his neck. "All right, you've got thirty seconds to tell me how you got away from your camp. I didn't see a single one of you leave."
Struggling, the man said, "There's a tunnel . . . from a tent in the camp . . . It leads into the forest a ways. That's how we get in and out."
"Is that all?"
"Yes, I swear."
Xena took off the pinch, and threw the man back on the horse.
"What are you going to do with me now?" the man said confused that she didn't kill him.
"Well," said Xena mounting up, "Since you're the only one we caught, you get to lead us to your little tunnel."
"And what if I refuse?" the man said trying to be brave as Gabrielle and Alexander mounted back up.
"If you refuse?" Xena said in a threatening voice as she rode up next to him. "If you refuse, we tie you from a tree, and cut you open. Not enough so you die, just enough so the smell of blood draws the bears.
"Bears. And they won't give you a chance to tell your story, either," Xena said as Alexander and Gabrielle smiled at each other. "No, they'll just start eating."
The man looked around the forest debating it in his mind. He heard a slight growl from far away. "Follow me!" he said abruptly.
Xena hopped back on her horse and rode beside Gabrielle and Alexander as they followed the man to the camp.
"Where did you learn that neck thing?" Alexander asked.
"It's a long story," Xena said. "Well, it turns into a long story anyway."
"All right," he said. "Another time, then."
"So what's the plan?" Gabrielle asked Xena.
"Well, I thought Alexander could lead the army into the camp from where they're expecting us. Then, I'll take about twenty men through this secret tunnel. With our army on both sides, we'll trap them and go in for the kill."
"Where do you want me?" Gabrielle asked.
"Gabrielle," Xena said with regret in her voice, "I want you to stay with the main army."
"OK," said Gabrielle a bit confused. "If that's what you want, Xena."
"Gabrielle, I'd like nothing better than to have fighting by my side. But if they know we're with the army, as they probably do since they captured you, and they don't see us in the main army, they'll be suspecting a second attack. With you there, they'll suspect that I'm close by. Plus, I know that you can take care of yourself."
"Thanks," Gabrielle said feeling a little better.
"Here," Xena said as she took her chakram from her side. "Before the army charges, toss this into the camp and take out a few men. When you use it, make sure you're out of sight. That will really make them think I'm with you. I don't think many people know you can use this yet."
"I know I didn't," Alexander said a bit concerned that Xena's plan might work too well.
"Sounds good," Gabrielle said taking the chakram.
"All right. Good luck," Xena said to Gabrielle and Alexander.
"You too," Gabrielle replied.
Xena turned to the captive man and said, "OK, little man, let's see this tunnel of yours."
Xena and about 20 men followed the captive as they branched off from the main army. The attack plan had begun.
It was a couple of hours past noon when Alexander, Gabrielle and the army took the hill that overlooked the enemy's camp. They stayed low so the were not seen. Alexander and Gabrielle peered over the crest to see the condition of the other army.
"It's just like Xena said," Gabrielle whispered to Alexander. "We should be able to take it."
"You're right," Alexander said. "Can you see tent with the tunnel?"
"I think it's the big one toward the back. It's heavily guarded, too." Gabrielle said looking closely. "When that man didn't come back they must have suspected something was up." Gabrielle took the chakram from her side. "I guess I know which men I'm taking out with this." Gabrielle held the chakram strong in her hand, and threw it as far as she could. It hit the helmets of all the ten men surrounding the tent, knocking them out. Thee warriors saw this happening and watched the chakram fly back up to the hill, not seeing who caught it.
Immediately, Alexander stood up and yelled, "Attack!" With that, the first wave came over the hill. Gabrielle placed the chakram at her side and drew her sai as they ran toward the camp. The opposing army held their position and began firing arrows at the on coming army. Men fell down to the left and right of Gabrielle as she knocked arrows away with her sai.
Only about 3/4 of the first wave made it to the opposing army. As Gabrielle, Alexander and some of the army climbed over the barrels, a torch was thrown at both ends of the row. The barrels instantly caught fire scorching some of the men and preventing the others from crossing. Gabrielle and Alexander were left with about ten men, and only a small stonewall between then and about 50 men from the opposing army.
As their army began running around the burning barrels, Gabrielle and Alexander waited, crouching below the wall. Alexander grabbed an archer beside him and said, "Send the signal to fire the catapults, now!"
"Catapults?" Gabrielle yelled. "You didn't tell Xena you were going to use the catapults. She won't be expecting it!"
They both heard Xena's war cry, signifying she was now in the camp. "Xena can handle herself," Alexander said as a flaming arrow was fired into the air.
Gabrielle watched the arrow as it flew. She heard the snap of a catapult launcher. Quickly she stood up and yelled to her friend over the wall, "Xena! Catapults!" Alexander's army took that as a charge signal. They quickly climbed over the wall and approached the army standing only 50 feet away.
Xena barely heard the warning as the first catapult landed. About half of the army had come back to fight off the warrior princess and her men. With the catapults landing all around, she thought Gabrielle might be in danger. Xena punched, kicked and sliced her way through the twenty-five men, trying to reach her friend to make sure she was all right.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle, Alexander and the army were taking care of the rest of the opposing army. Gabrielle struck her opponents away with fierce strength trying to reach Xena. Why would Alexander not tell Xena or herself that he was going to use the catapults? Something was very wrong here. She could feel it. Gabrielle continued fighting her way through the army. She struck away what seemed to be her last opponent between her and Xena. She could see her friend about 20 feet away fighting someone. Before she could yell to her friend, a man stepped in front of Gabrielle.
"Hello Gabrielle," the man said to her.
"You," Gabrielle said recognizing the voice. "You were in that cell with me."
"That's right. My name is Hephaestion, and I'll be the last man you ever fight, little girl."
"Don't call me 'little girl,'" Gabrielle said in a hate filled voice as she swung at him with her sai. The two fought together for a while, neither getting in any good hits.
When finished fending off her opponent, Xena looked over at her friend to see if she was all right. She saw Gabrielle fighting someone, but since she seemed to be holding her own, Xena continued to fight the enemy and left Gabrielle to handle the warrior.
Gabrielle and Hephaestion came to a standstill. "What do you want with me?" Gabrielle asked, swinging her sai at him. "Obviously you recognized me, and took me prisoner because of that. Why?"
"Same reason everyone else does." Hephaestion said kicking her in the stomach. "Taking you is the fastest way to get to Xena. You should know that by now. Plus, I wanted to see why you got the name 'the battling bard of Poteidaia.'"
"You also know of my hometown," Gabrielle said backhanding him with one of her sai. "How?"
"I'm insulted. You don't even remember when we first met," Hephaestion said as he slashed at Gabrielle just barely missing her.
Gabrielle thought back to Poteidaia. She remembered the day her village was attacked. The day she and Xena first met. She remembered a young warrior herding her and the other women of her village into the forest. She then looked back at Hephaestion and saw a much older version of that same warrior.
"By the way," Hephaestion said, "I wasn't the only one in that cell." With that, he kicked Gabrielle in the face sending her flying 10 feet away. She landed at the feet of a warrior. She looked at the boots the warrior was wearing. The brown leather boots, with three brass medallions. This man was the one attacking her in the cell.
As Gabrielle rose to see who it was, she looked up only to stare directly into Alexander's eyes.
"No," Gabrielle said with a look of shock in her eyes.
As Gabrielle turned to run, Alexander restrained her, grabbing her arms.
"So now you know," Alexander said.
"Joining up with you was all part of the plan," Gabrielle said with fright in her voice. "This was a trap to kill Xena and me."
"Yes, but it doesn't have to be that way," Alexander whispered to her.
"What?" she asked.
"During the past couple of days, I've felt a connection with you I've never felt with any other woman. I've come to know you better than any one I've ever known. I think I'm beginning to love you," Alexander said as said as he let go of her arms.
Gabrielle turned around and looked into his eyes, hoping that there were someway his feelings for her would make him let her and Xena go. "Alexander . . ."
"Just let Hephaestion have his revenge on Xena," Alexander interjected. "When it's all over, you and I can lead my army out of here. What do you say?"
Gabrielle looked over at Xena still battling, and then back at Alexander. She sighed and said to Alexander, "You don't know me at all." With that, she knocked Alexander in the head with the blunt end of her sai.
"Xena, It's a trap!" Gabrielle yelled as she grabbed the chakram from her side and threw it to Xena.
Xena heard her friend's warning and caught the chakram. She looked to Gabrielle just in time to see Alexander club her over the head.
"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled as she kicked the three men she was fighting to the side and flipped over to her friend. She landed over Gabrielle's unconscious body, and barely knocked away Alexander's sword.
"What are you doing?" Xena asked Alexander in a low, angry voice. "Gabrielle trusted you."
"Maybe she should have been more like you," Alexander rebutted.
The two fought each other for a while. They bruised and cut each other a bit until someone knocked Xena down from behind. She looked up to see Hephaestion standing over her and Gabrielle.
"Well if it isn't Draco's second hand kid," Xena said recognizing the aged face of the boy she once knew. "I heard you were still looking for revenge, but I thought it was too pathetic to be true."
Hephaestion laughed as both armies surrounded Xena, Gabrielle, Alexander and himself. They stood ready to attack at any moment. Hephaestion raised his hand over his head. "When I drop my hand," Hephaestion said, "both armies will seize you and Gabrielle."
"I don't think so," Gabrielle said as she reached up and plunged her sai into the chest of Hephaestion.
"Hephaestion!" Alexander screamed as he went to his friend. As he ran, Xena drew her dagger from her boot and stabbed Alexander in the stomach. Alexander and Hephaestion fell to the ground in each other's arms.
Xena stood and drew her sword pointing it at the men surrounding her. "If we did this to your fearless leaders, think of what we could do to you." Afraid, the armies lowered their weapons and dispersed.
Alexander looked into the eyes of his wounded partner. "I told you to be careful," he said.
With a half smile, Hephaestion's body fell limp and his eyes glazed over.
A tear ran down Alexander's face as Gabrielle sat up to see how he was. Alexander turned over onto his stomach and looked at the dagger lodged hilt deep in his abdomen.
"I'm sorry I betrayed you, Gabrielle," Alexander said weakly.
"You said it yourself," Gabrielle said cradling him in her arms, "it didn't have to end this way."
"I meant it, you know," Alexander said wincing. "I was in love with you. If things had gone differently, could you have ever loved me?"
Before Gabrielle could answer, Alexander convulsed a bit and then lay silent in her arms.
"I guess we'll never know," said Gabrielle. With that, she lowered Alexander to the ground, kissed her fingers, and touched them to his pale cheek.
Xena made sure all the warriors had gone and then walked over to her friend. "Are you all right?" she asked.
Gabrielle stood and took her sai out of Hephaestion's chest. She looked at the blood on it and the two men lying dead at her feet. She knew that they had to die, but she still felt it, that feeling of regret; the guilt of being responsible for death. Especially one of someone she had grown to know. She wiped her sai off on her boot and responded to Xena. "I will be."
Gabrielle sheathed her weapons and with tears in her eyes walked away with her friend. "You were right, Xena. I shouldn't have trusted Alexander. I guess my opinions of people can sometimes hinder my common sense."
"Gabrielle," Xena said stopping her friend, "your continued faith in humanity is something that inspires me. I don't think anyone could trust people the way you do with all the evil you've encountered. I know I can't."
"But what good is trusting people if most of them will eventually let you down?"
"You trust me, don't you?" Xena asked.
"With all my heart."
"Well, I promise that I will never let you down."
With that, they wrapped their arms around each other's backs and walked away with the ones that, come what may, they knew they could trust with their lives, their hearts and their souls.
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