Father of All Evil


Alaran led his horse into the large tent that had been set up after they'd arrived at the border. Most of the horses were already unsaddled and were chewing on their well deserved hay. The lieutenant spotted an empty box, then gave the reigns a tug and walked towards it. "Come on Mac, in ya go."
The horse snorted as he trotted inside, quickly spotting the barrel of water. "Thirsty huh?" Alaran patted the stallion on his neck, then loosened the girth and removed the saddle from the horse's back.
"Are you talking to your horse again, old man?"
Alaran grinned, not even looking up as he brushed the stallion's flanks. "Halys, I heard I missed out on some action."
"Not much." Halys stated, leaning against one of the wooden side panels. "Xena rode down, cut some Persians into pieces…You missed seeing her do her magic though…" The woman shook her head quietly. "I'd forgotten…"
Alaran nodded quietly, wiping some of the sweat off his horse's back. "Is she as good as she used to be?"
The lieutenant peeked over the stallion's back and raised an eyebrow. "You mean that's possible?"
"Apparently." Halys muttered, straightening as Alaran finished his job and ducked under the horse's strong neck. "It's a good thing though. I hate to admit it, but she is the key to winning this."
Alaran nodded as he tied the rope in front of the box' exit. "True… To be honest, I didn't really believe… I mean, she's so different now… so…" He snapped his fingers, searching for the word. "So focused, I guess… Not like she was before… I almost can't imagine her now, doing what she did, raging across that battlefield…"
"She still rages, trust me." Halys stated, as she pushed the tent flap aside. "She scared those Persians out of their wits… She just rode across that bridge full speed and bam…" Halys swiped an imaginary sword. "Off with their heads…"
"Ouch…" Alaran looked up and spotted the woman in question, smiling as she talked with Alexander, Gabrielle completing their three men circle. "What about Gabrielle, was she OK?"
"OK?" Halys snorted. "She orchestrated the whole thing. Xena raced off and she just took command, handing out orders…"
Alaran shot the blonde an impressed look. "Wow."
"You know what's the bad thing?"
Halys sighed. "She's half our age. I mean really, Alaran, where did we go wrong? Why didn't we turn into wonder people, huh?"
The lieutenant laughed, then steered his friend towards the communal area. "Come on grandma, I'll buy you diner."
"You're so generous." Halys muttered, but smiled as they walked off towards a large tent in the center of their camp.

Alexander nodded as he took in the details about the first small battle. "Did any escape?"
Xena shook her head. "No, It was only 15 or so, five were killed, the rest we tied up and they're in one of the tents now, under guard. Most of 'm are still unconscious."
"Good." He turned his gaze to Gabrielle. "How did they do? The guys you took along I mean?"
"Fine." Gabrielle stated. "Some were a bit scared I think, but they followed orders perfectly. Halys did very well."
Alex smiled. "Good to hear. Now you two go on." He shoed them of with his hand. "Get some rest. We'll have a meeting tonight probably, discuss what we 'll have to do when we enter enemy territory."
"Agreed." Xena nodded. "See you tonight."

"So, up for some diner?"
Xena looked down at her friend and smiled. "You bet." Then a familiar feeling tugged at her conscience. "Why don't you go on ahead, find us a spot to sit somewhere… I'll be right there."
Gabrielle shrugged. "OK. Just don't take to long, you're grub'll get cold."

The warrior chuckled, then patted her shoulder before walking off. She passed rows and rows of tents, walking towards the river. A small steep slope led down into the riverbed, where she spotted a lone figure staring across the water. She walked up, then stopped beside him.

Ares turned his head and smiled at her. "It's good to see we're still 'in tune', so to speak."
"I won't comment on that." Xena muttered, still not taking her eyes off the water.
The god of war chuckled. "I liked the severed head in the bag. Nice touch."
"I learned from the best." Xena stated, meeting his brown eyes.
"Well, I'm flattered." Ares grinned at her. "It's too bad I won't get to see you work over there." He waved a head at the land across the water.
"Good to know you realized you're not coming along."
"Oh, you are wrong there Xena." Ares grinned up at her. "I might not be going across that border in person, but you'll be taking me with you where ever you go… I am a part of you."
"You're the part that'll keep me alive." The warrior stated, returning her gaze to the swirling river water. "That'll keep others alive."
Ares chuckled. "Keeping people alive has never been one of my goals, but I'll take it as a compliment." He watched as Xena grinned reluctantly, then took a step back. "Good luck. Cut off some heads for me."
Xena looked up at him, then nodded. "Done."
A wicked grin crossed Ares' face, then, with a flash, he was gone.
Xena stared at the empty space for another moment, then turned and climbed up the riverbank, heading back into camp.

"General! General!"
Arsites' head shot up as a young Persian soldier barged into his tent. "What do you think you're doing, striding into my tent like this!"
"I'm sorry, my lord." The soldier fell to a knee. "I don't wish to disturb you, but one of the horses you send out yesterday, it has returned… Without a rider, sir."
Arsites' dark brows frowned, then he stood, pushing himself up by the arms of his chair. "Lead me to it."
The boy hastily nodded, then walked out before the general.

Outside men had gathered around, flairs of conversation drifting up. "Arsites!"
Another dark haired men, dressed in expensive robes, walked closer. "I've just been told, what's going on?" Arsamenes asked, stepping up beside him.
"We'll find out in a moment." The Persian general stated, then walked towards the crowds.

The men hastily stepped aside as Arsites walked towards them. In the center of all the attention was a peacefully grazing horse, which looked up at the general as he stepped closer.
The general looked at the animal, then spotted the red stained saddlebag, lying across his hindquarters. A few steps closer and he unbuckled the strap holding the bag closed.

A horrible stench drifted up. The horse snorted in irritation, and looked around as the general leaned forward and reached into the bag.

Several gasps and then everybody fell quiet, gazing at the head of the captain that had been alive a few days ago.
"By the gods…" Armenes managed, swallowing audibly.
The head thudded on the ground as Arsites' hand went numb and rolled over several times before coming to a halt, face up, eyes staring skyward in complete terror.

Then a low laughing broke the silence. Arsites looked up in annoyance. "Memnon!"
"Ah." Memnon wiped a tear out of the corner of his right eye. "Sorry, but this is just so funny." He walked closer, and bent down to pick up the severed head. "I have to say, I'm starting to like this Alexander guy… I always say, all good comes from Greece…"
"Memnon! I've had enough of this!"
"Oh, come now Arsites, you can't forbid a man to be proud of his homeland, now can you?"
"Then why don't you go back to your precious homeland and leave us in peace!" Armenes sneered.
"Because Xerxes pays me better." Memnon simply stated, with a smirk. "And you don't really want me to go, do you? After all, I'm the one who always cleans up your mess. All this…" He stated, lifting the captain's head. "…would've never even happened if you'd only listened to my advise."
"Shut it." Arsites stepped closer and grabbed onto the mercenary's collar. "I will not have you discuss this in public." He hissed. "Xerxes may be fond of you, but he is not here now, is he?"
Memnon grinned at him. "Whatever you say, my lord."
Arsites glared at him, then rolled his eyes and released his hold, stepping back. "Dispose of that." He stated, waving his hand at the severed body part. "Make sure the vultures get it, understand?"
"But of course, my brave general." Memnos bowed over-politely, then turned around, swinging the head over his shoulder, bulging eyes staring back at the Persian commander as the mercenary strode off.

Gabrielle looked up as Xena walked into the tent, then returned her attention to the protesting strap on her armor. "Just about." 
"Here, lemme get that." The warrior walked closer, then adjusted the strap and tightened another few buckles. "How's that?" 
Gabrielle took a deep breath, settling her armor more firmly onto her shoulders. "For obnoxiously warm and heavy armor, it's all right." 
Xena chuckled. "Its nice and safe." 
"I know, I know." Gabrielle sighed as she lifted her staff and walked out of the empty tent. "It's just so… abundant, you know… I'm used to the Amazon getup, it's a lot more comfortable." 
"Amazon fight in different territory. They climb up trees and stuff, they don't need armor… But there's gonna be a lot of people out there with sharp pointy things. You've had enough holes pierced into your stomach for this month, I'd rather keep those abs nice and safe." Xena lightly backhanded the bard's stomach. 
Gabrielle grinned as she started to untie the ropes that held their tent up. "I guess you're right about the sharp pointy things… I'm not too fond of those." 
"Well there ya go." Xena's muffled voice sounded from inside the tent as she pulled down the large stick that held up the interior.

They finished packing up, then walked up to the already saddled up horses and strapped the extra baggage onto the back of their saddles. Gabrielle placed her foot into the stirrup and pulled herself into the saddle, settling back as Chilon restlessly took a few steps forward. "Easy there." She patted the large stallion on the neck as she waited for Xena to mount up. "So how far ahead will we be riding?" 
"Not too far." Xena stated, turning in the saddle to adjust the rolled up tent more comfortably. "We want too keep the troops just in view. It's just a precaution against ambushes, but like I said, I don't expect any really." 
"Cause they can pick their battlefield, right?" 
"Exactly." Xena confirmed, gently nudging Argo forward. "They have a big advantage if they pick the right spot. They would be stupid to come out and attack us out in the open… But stupidity is not uncommon, so…" 
"Gotcha." Gabrielle muttered as they rode towards the group of mounted soldiers waiting for them up ahead. Xena guided Argo around the troops easily, giving them all a polite nod. "Good morning everybody." 
"Morning chief." Was the yelled response. 
Xena chuckled as she rode on and met the patiently waiting lieutenant. "Hey Alaran." 
"Hi." Alaran smiled brightly as he watched his two commanders step closer. "Heard I missed a nice display of your wondrousness yesterday." 
"Pffff." Xena waved him off with a simple hand gesture. "It was just fifteen of 'm." 
"And they didn't even seen us coming." Gabrielle added as she moved Chilon beside Argo. "Where's Halys?" 
"She'll be right there, she was struggling with her tent last time I saw her. Oh, there she is." They turned and watched the woman trot over on her small brown horse, then drop back into a slower gait as she got closer. 
"Morning." She gave everyone a quick nod. "So we're the scouting party huh?" 
"Yup." Xena stated, leaning back, catching a glimpse of the approaching Alexander out of the corner of her eye. "Morning Alex. You ready for a tour of Persia?" 
Alexander chuckled, looking up at her seated form. "All set. The troops are about ready. We'll mount up as soon as you guys take off. I think we…"
The young king's head shot up, then watched as Lucius hastily came running over. "What's wrong?" 
Lucius took a deep breath of air. "I just counted my men this morning… We've got a problem." 
Gabrielle sat up. "Someone's taken off?" 
The lieutenant sighed. "Yeah. I think his name was Parsus. He's been around for half a year or so…" 
"Darn." Alex muttered. "We can try to chase him down, but he's long gone by now I bet…" 
Xena nodded. "Don't waste energy on that Alex. Let him go, there's nothing we can do…" 
"But won't this change plans? I mean, you didn't want him to know that you were here, right?" Gabrielle frowned. 
The warrior shrugged. "I didn't want Xerxes to know because he would make sure we were completely outnumbered in the first battle… It's too late for that now. We'll reach the battlefield today, there's no way he can bring extra troops in before we launch our attack…" A grin. "And who knows, if my reputation does its job, maybe they'll be so scared they'll turn back and run." 
"I wish." Alex chuckled, more relaxed now. "All right, so we stick to the schedule. If all goes well, we'll reach Granicus a little after midday. If there's any trouble, let me know." 
"If there's any trouble we'll pulverize it in the core." Alaran stated cheerfully, punching his fists at unseen adversaries. 
This was greeted by a round of laughter, then Alex gave them a wave and walked back to the waiting circle of lieutenants.

"All right people." Xena grinned at her small group of cavalry. "We ready?" 
Confident nods were her answer, together with an enthusiastic 'Hades yeah!' from Alaran.
"Ok then, let's get going." Xena pushed Argo forward, shortly followed by Chilon, and steered the mare over the bridge across the Dardanelles. 

After they'd crossed the border, Gabrielle pushed Chilon into a trot, pulling up beside Xena, who was attentively watching her surroundings. She glanced behind her, to see Halys and Alaran take up their places at the rear of the neat formation of cavalry. She settled deeper into the saddle, glancing around at the hilly plain stretching out before them, lines of trees in the distance. A falcon circled above their heads, its long shadow drifting across the grass in front of them. "It feels different today…" 
Xena glanced at her for a moment, then returned her gaze to her surroundings. "What do you mean?" 
"Different than before. I mean, I rode here just yesterday and it was just normal, you know? But today…. I guess it's more definitive today… like there's no turning back…" 
"You can always turn back, Gabrielle." Xena stated calmly, as she watched a small bird of prey land on a branch of a lone tree and regard them curiously.
"In theory, I guess I can…" The bard murmured, straightening her armor. She pulled down her collar a bit, touching the pendant hanging around her neck. "But I think things happen for a reason. We're here to change things, change history even. And no bard with any sense would ever turn away from a chance like that, right?" 
Xena smiled briefly, patting her friend on the shoulder. "Right." 

"Father!" A young dark haired man hastily stepped through the open doors leading into the palace. "Father! She's here!" 
"Would you be quiet!" Haoma hissed, frowning his dark brows at his brother. "Father is sick enough as it is. He doesn't need you racing across the palace grounds like some mad man." 
"But I have good news!" 
"You always say you have good news and it always turns out to be nothing. Mithras, why can't you understand that good news means nothing in bad times. I just want you to…" 
"Haoma…" The tired voice came from the large bed in the center of a gigantic room, all covered with golden decorations. "Let him pass. I want to speak with my son." 
The god of medicine sighed, then stood aside and waved his younger brother through. "Just make it quick. He has to rest." 

Mithras hastily nodded, then walked up to the bed as calmly as he could as to not disturb his ailing father. As he approached the young god was again shocked at how old his father looked now. His face was covered with wrinkles, his hair turning whiter every day and the radiant glow that drifted around all the Persian gods was fading slowly, glowing dimmer and dimmer as his health faded. 

Mithras knelt down softly. Ahura lifted his hand and softly touched his cheek. "And what news do you bring me today, boy?" 
The young god of justice took his father's hand in his own. "Good news father. Great news. She's come, she's in Persia." 
"Your Chosen?"
Mithras nodded enthusiastically. "The army of Alexander the Great is at the Dardanelles. They're crossing over as we speak." 
"That is indeed…" Ahura fell into a coughing fit, sucking in raspy breaths of air as he recovered. "…good news." He finished weakly, managing a smile for his son's concerned eyes. "And not a moment too soon…" He glanced up into his son's restless face. "Are you absolutely sure?" 
"Positive." Mithras stated confidently. "But they will be tested by faith, so the other gods will realize what I already know." 
His father smiled. "This is what I love about you, Mithras, always so full of life, even when things go badly." 
"My job is to make sure justice is served. And it will be father, I promise you. The end of Angra is in sight." 
Ahura cleared his throat, obviously repressing more coughing. "I believe you. Really, I do. But remember Mithras, you can't help them. You are the one who has most of his strength left. We can't risk Angra getting his hands on you…" His father turned his eyes towards the ceiling, staring at the golden swirls thoughtfully. "It would be the death of me." 
Mithras bit his lip, watching old blue eyes flutter close. "I know that, father." He then whispered softly, watching quietly as his father slowly drifted back into a restless sleep. Then he leaned forward, kissing his father's forehead gently, before turning and walking out of the room, Haoma's tired eyes watching him as he left. 

Xena pulled Argo to a halt as they reached the top of another hill. Gabrielle soon pulled up beside her, looking up at the warrior. 
"This is it." Xena murmured, gazing down into a large valley. A wide river wound its way through the landscape, splitting the land in two. On the right stood a higher hill, small roads barely seen circling upwards. And across from them a slight slope led down into the valley. On top a yellow flag with black edges fluttered in the wind. 
"This doesn't look too good." Gabrielle muttered, seeing their great disadvantages clearly in the territory. The river, fighting up hill, the woods on the hilltops that would make for easy ambushes… 
"No, it doesn't." Xena agreed quietly, then turned as Alaran came riding up from the left. 
"Nothing in sight, genr'ls." He grinned as Xena rolled her eyes and Gabrielle gave him a tired look. "Alex and the others just reached that last hilltop. They won't be long." 
"Excellent." Xena stated, waving her hand at the rest of the group, soldiers riding up from various directions. "We'll ride down now, start setting up camp. Then we can start scouting the perimeters tomorrow, to see if nobody's hiding up there." She stated, pointing at the forest covering the large hill on their right.

Gabrielle let her gaze drift up, her eyes following the road winding upwards…

They were riding over a small mountain path, a huge depth beside them and a hillside to their right, slightly sloping up and covered in trees.

She grasped for her head, the intensity of the dream slamming against her skull like a wooden club. 
"Gabrielle? Hey, are you OK?" Xena's concerned voice drifted through. 
The bard rubbed her temples for a moment. "Yeah." She managed. "Just a bit of a headache, I'm fine." 
"You sure?" 
Gabrielle managed a smile for the warrior. "Positive." She patted Xena's thigh in reassurance. "Come on, let's get going." 
The warrior regarded her for another moment, then nodded and set off down the hillside. 
Gabrielle gave the dark forest a last look, then pushed Chilon forward and followed the rest of the group into the valley. 

"We could put the cavalry here and here." Arsites pointed at the map of the valley. "When they cross the river we can send our infantry down here, then let our cavalry swing sideways and circle them." 
"Brilliant." Armenes complimented the king of his neighboring province. The other lieutenants sitting around the table hastily muttered words of agreement.
"Very well then, does anyone have anything to add?" Arsites asked smugly, glancing around the circle. 
"Yes, I'd like to add that you're all complete nitwits." 
"Hey, you asked!" the leader of the mercenaries stated, leaning back in his seat.
"Well, if you have a better idea I'd love to hear it." Arsites muttered angrily. 
"We burn this place and fall back." 
"What!?" The two kings jumped up almost simultaneously, looking at the mercenary in outrage. 
"Crash burn and destroy, that's what I'm saying." 
"But we seriously outnumber this ignorant." Armenes looked at the Greek in disbelief.
"Yes, but not only does your leadership suck, your cavalry isn't much better. And Greeks and horses go together like me and money, Armenes. If that lovely present of a few days back is any indication this guy's got guts and with that strategy he will squash your army. Fall back now and deprive him off any nourishment from nearby towns and he'll have no choice but to pull back. And while he's in disorder we pull up and take Macedonia in one go." Memnon snapped his fingers. "Just like that." 
"You are being ridiculous." Arsites stated, giving the mercenary a foul look. " I'm not going to burn all I've built up in all these years for nothing! What would the Great King say?" 
"That you finally grew some brains." Memnon muttered, receiving more angry stares from the rest of the circle. 
"Now you listen, Memnon, I will not…" But Arsites was interrupted by loud voices sounding outside the tent. "What is this?" He asked no one in particular, annoyed at yet another interruption. 

Then a tall man stepped inside, his eyes roaming around the gathered men with a scaring intensity.
Arsites quickly recovered his pose though and stood, staring at the men dressed in raged clothing intently. "Why do you step into my tent uninvited. Strangers will not…" But his speech halted immediately as the man lifted the right sleeve of his tunic, revealing a large snake tattoo spread across his skin. 
"Oh my.." Armenes murmured, staring at the man in shock.
Arsites sagged back in his chair. "My apologies." 
The man simply nodded. "I have left the forces of Alexander last night. I can give you information on their status." 
The king's eyes lit up and he spared an enthusiastic grin with Armenes. "That's excellent… I uhm.. I assume there were two others with you in the enemy's lair…"
"They've died in the service of the Great King. Their mission was unaccomplished. I would have died with them, but the information I have gathered is of great importance." 
"Well, do tell…" Armenes encouraged him. 
The Persian gave the king a short intent stare, which made the king quickly hide behind his glass, gulping down a big amount of wine to hide his fear. The spy ignored him and went on. "Two months ago the king Alexander called in the help of two women." 
Armenes almost choked on his wine. He coughed hastily, clearing his windpipe. "You came back here to warn us about two women!?" 
The spy gave him an annoyed look. "I'm sorry if this surprises you. However, they are both very skilled warriors. One in particular. I have seen her do things I did not think of as possible."

Memnon, who had been surprisingly quiet for the last few moments, stood and walked closer to the man, who immediately focused his attention on the Greek mercenary. "Was she tall? Dark haired, piercing blue eyes?" 
The man nodded.
"Sharp round thing she tosses around?" 
Another nod.

Memnon went quiet for a moment, then a grin started to spread across his face. "Xena." 
Arsites frowned, looking at the mercenary with a despising look. "What?" 
"No, 'who'." Memnon corrected him with a grin. "The destroyer of nations, the sacker of cities, the warrior princess herself." 
Armenes gave him a non understanding look. "You know her?" 
"Know her?" Memnon laughed. "Man, I worked for the woman. She's the one who could turn war into an art. Served her loyally for about half a year... until her enemy offered me more." 
"Well, I'm sure we can handle some woman, 'warrior princess' or not." 
"Your stupidity still surprises me sometimes." Memnon chuckled, ignoring Arsites' outraged look. "May I inform you that this is the woman who averted our Great King's victory over Greece… twice. First time she sacked his ships at Salamis" A grin. "Man, I barely got out of that one alive. Second time she defeated a whole bunch of Xerxes' Immortals." A chuckle as Memnon paced across the room energetically. "Guess they weren't that 'immortal' after all, huh?" 

Arsites stood, slamming both fists on the table. "I've had enough of this nonsense Memnon! Get out, go entertain some of your Greek friends with of the woman wonder stories!" 
Memnon gave him a look, then waved him off. "Fine. You decide what you want and send your men into their deaths. As a faithful mercenary I'll go along with whatever plan your oh so brilliant mind comes up with, my lord." Another over polite bow and Memnon strode out of the room. "I'll enjoy watching her slid your throats." He muttered as he swept the tent flap aside, then walked towards the edge where the hillside led down into the valley. A small group of armed riders was moving down into the valley, a large palomino mare riding in front. "Well well..." Memnon grinned as he watched the riders reach the riverbed. "Welcome to Persia, Xena."

"Thanks." Xena muttered as she took the bowl the army's cook offered her. The smell of bland curry drifted into her lungs as she sniffed the suspicious looking mixture. "I say we put the cooks in the front lines, day after tomorrow." The warrior commented as she dropped down beside Gabrielle, who was stirring her brew pensively. 
"Huh?" The bard looked up, then the sentence registered. "Oh, yeah." 
A dark eyebrow lifted. "Are you OK? You've been a bit distracted since we got here…" 
Gabrielle sighed. "I'm sorry… Just… Just a lot on my mind, I guess…" 
Xena lifted her spoon. "Wanna share?" 
Green eyes glanced up at her for a moment, then back down again. "I guess it's just this place." The bard waved her hand at the space around them. "Knowing how this field will look in only two days from now." She watched as a small bird flew over, cheerfully piping its song as it circled overhead. "It's just strange…" Gabrielle shrugged. "I've been having weird dreams and all. I feel like my mind's running in circles." 
"That won't get you anywhere." Xena commented as she stretched her legs on the green grass and watched the sun drop behind the hills on their right. "But dreams are just dreams, Gabrielle." She ruffled the bard's hair, then dropped an arm across her shoulders. "You shouldn't worry. We'll be fine." 
"I guess you're right." The bard muttered as she took a bit of her diner, then winced. "You're definitely right about the cook though." 
Xena chuckled, balancing her bowl on her knee. "I was hoping you could give them some cooking tips. Show 'm what salt is for and stuff." 
Gabrielle grinned. "Bard, sidekick, chief lieutenant." She counted the words on her fingers. "Cook… Who's the one with the many skills now, warrior princess?" 
Xena laughed, then scraped the last bit of diner out of her bowl before standing up. "I've got to get going, it's almost dark." 
Gabrielle nodded, then extended her hand and let herself be hauled up. 

They walked towards their tent and entered. Xena picked up the cloak that was folded over the backrest of a chair and tied it around her neck. "I'll try to be back before midnight." 
"Don't pick a fight with the Persian army, OK?" Gabrielle adjusted the hood a bit. "Be careful."
"You worry too much." The warrior smiled, then patted the bard's cheek. "Don't wait up for me, OK? Get some sleep." 
"Easy for you to say." Gabrielle muttered, watching the warrior grin before she lifted the hood over her head and sneaked out, managing to disappear out of the tent almost soundlessly.

The trees covered her in shadows as she soundlessly made her way up. She'd found her way up onto the sloping left hill, where she was able to hide from sight in the safety of the dark forest that covered the top. Xena extended her senses and listened carefully, but except for some animals scurrying through the fallen leafs and the wind whispering through the foliage, there was nothing. An owl hooted at her, his large shimmering eyes watching her suspiciously as she passed. 

She stopped as voices drifted through. Up on a small platform in a nearby tree were two young soldiers, huddling in their red cloaks. "This is so stupid." A deep Persian voice muttered tiredly, as the boy straightened the flat helmet he was wearing. "It's not like any of those Greeks will even try to get into our camp. They're not that stupid." 

"Guess again." A low voice burred into his ear, but before he could even turn around, Xena had grabbed onto his head and snapped it aside, breaking his neck. The second reached for the horn they used as an alarm, but before he could even touch the instrument a pain seared through his chest. 

Xena watched him thud on the wooden platform, then reached down and pulled her dagger out of his back, wiping the blood off on her cloak. Then she picked up her first victim, loosening the cloak from around his neck.

Finally the forest ended. The trees spread and revealed a large open space, covered with tents. Campfires burned brightly, lighting up the night's sky. Xena hid in the shadow of a large tree at the forest's edge, taking in the enemy's camp. 

She'd known before they were outnumbered. There were at least twice as many campfires, and she quickly spotted the tents serving as stables, the feint smell of horse drifting into her nostrils. 

She led out a deep breath, then spotted the commander's tent, the largest, in the center of the camp. She hid her hair under the Persian helmet she'd taken from the guard, straightened the cloak, then walked into the camp calmly. 

"I don't know about all of this Arsites. What if…" 
Brown eyes looked at him in annoyance. "I will not take precautions against a couple of women, Armenes. We'll watch for them, but I want the main cavalry focused on the Macedonian king. Cut him down and the army will fall to shatters." Arsites stated, leaning back in his chair and placing his booted feet on the table. 
Armenes shook his head. "But if what the spy says is true…" 
The Persian regent waved him off. "Embellishments." He yawned. "Don't believe everything you hear Armenes…" Then he pulled his feet off the table and leaned forward. "Look, my friend, if we pull this off, by ourselves… If we capture this Alexander and bring the Great King his head, we will be rewarded very, very well… Do you understand that? No more boring colonies to govern, no more battlefields, no more wet tents to sleep in…" 
Armenes sighed. "Then I do hope we come out victorious, because you have no idea how I abhor being here. This boring farmland, peasant villages… I'm ready to live in luxury in the big city." 
"We're nearly there, Armenes. With this army we will crush the Greek forces and get our well deserved reward." Another yawn, then the regent stood, stretching. "Anyhow, enough for today. I will speak with you in the morning." 
Armenes gave him a quick nod, then exited the tent. 

After a quick tour of the Persian compound, Xena found her way towards the forest, hiding in the shadows of the tents. Soon enough she reached the safety of the trees and started her way back, when suddenly a soft motion edged into her hearing. Quickly she spun around…

"Boo." Memnon laughed as Xena's eyes widened in surprise then dangerously narrowed. "It's nice to see you too, Xena." He grinned at her. "When was the last time I saw you, huh? Was it when I hang Elis' lifeless body on that flagpole or did we run into each other at Salamis… I keep forgetting…" 
"Traitor." The warrior hissed. 
"Nuhuh." Memnon shook his finger at her. "Mercenary, Xena, you keep forgetting that. I fight for whoever pays me the best, it comes with the job…." 
"You've killed hundreds with your betrayal." 
"And you've killed thousands, you're point being…?" Memnon deadpanned. "But enough of these pleasant memories, let's get to business… I like to fight for the winning team, Xena, so I'm offering you my services… Outbid my Persian friends here and I can give you valuable information. That and a couple of thousand mercenaries at your full disposal…" Memnon edged closer. "So what do you say?" 
An unpleasant grin crossed Xena's face. "I say, I'm gonna enjoy cutting some vital body parts off your corps on the battlefield." 
Memnon looked at her for a moment, then chuckled, tossing up his hands. "Well, too bad for you… Too bad you let emotions get in the way of a good deal…" A grin as he lifted a small horn in his right hand. "I'd start running if I were you, Xena." 
Blue eyes narrowed at him dangerously, then the warrior turned and started down the hill, speeding up with every pace as the sound of the alarm echoed behind her and heavy footsteps and the clattering of horses' hooves edged their way into her ears. 

Gabrielle looked up from her scroll as she heard soft boot steps approach. Moments later Xena entered the tent, raising an eyebrow at the bard. "I thought I'd told you to get some sleep." 
"And when was the last time I did what you told me to do?" Gabrielle asked, yawning as she rolled the scroll up and tucked it back into her saddlebag. 
The warrior chuckled as she loosened the red cloak from her shoulders and folded it over a chair. "Good point." 
"So, how did it go?" 
Xena shrugged. "Got in, got some information, picked a fight with the Persian army, got out…" 
"I told you not to do that." Gabrielle shook her head at her friend. 
"And when was the last time I did what you told me to do?" 
The bard laughed softly as she rolled onto her side and watched Xena slide onto her bedroll. "Did you find out anything interesting?" 
Xena shrugged as she folded her hands under her head. "I got Alex some numbers, overheard some plans…" A moment of silence. "I also ran into an old acquaintance of mine…" 
A shake of the dark head. "A Greek mercenary named Memnon… He used to be in my army a long time ago…" 
Gabrielle regarded the quiet profile for a moment. "What happened?" 
"He sold me out. I was launching an attack on a fellow warlord, who had a big camp up in the south. His camp was surrounded by a river, so he only guarded the open northern entrance into the camp. I planned on rowing across the river and taking the compound by surprise… He wouldn't have suspected a thing…" A breath as Xena turned to lie on her side and faced the bard. "A lot of my men died that day, because of him… I think he started working for Xerxes shortly after that… Last time I saw him he was dragging Elis' body into the flagpole, grinning when he spotted me looking at him…" 
Gabrielle reached out and softly stroked an errant lock out of the warrior's face. "You OK?" 
"Yeah." Xena sighed, managing a smile. "I didn't expect him, that's all… He's a nasty piece of work, Gabrielle. Very smart, very skilled. We have to be careful of him." 
The bard nodded softly, then shuffled a bit closer, pillowing her head on the warrior's shoulder. 
Xena closed her eyes, calming her shattered nerves as she wrapped an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders and pulled her closer. She lay silently until the echoes of her memories blurred and faded away slowly, then she let herself slide off into a wakeful slumber. 

Alexander leaned back in his chair, listening to Xena stating her findings of the previous evening. "How many horses do you think?" 
"Can't be exactly sure, but I'd guess about five thousand or so… We're seriously outnumbered as far as horses go…" 
"Is their cavalry any good?" 
Xena shrugged. "I didn't see any of Xerxes' elite Immortal forces, so we won't be dealing with the best of the best, if that's what you're asking. At Athens, their infantry was lots better than their cavalry though, but that was six years ago, I've got no idea if they've gotten any better since then."
Alex nodded calmly. "I'll figure something out…" He stated, then stood and stretched. "So you were planning on checking out the perimeters today?" 
The warrior nodded. "I want to get up that hill on the right. If they've got spare troops stationed up there and they attack us from behind we're in big trouble." 
"Were there no problems on the left side?" 
"No." Xena shook her head. " I walked through there yesterday and there was nothing. One outpost, near their camp, but I took care of that one." 
Alex chuckled, holding the tent flap aside and letting Xena pass before him. "Well, take along who ever you need today, okay? I'll start working on a strategy. I've ordered Par to get the troops to do some drills and practice." 
Xena nodded as she paced beside the young king. "Make sure they do them in the open, where the Persian's can get a good view." 
"Consider it done." 
"Good. I'd better get going. If all goes well we'll be back around midday. We can discuss strategies then." 
"All right." Alex gave her a smile. "Be careful Xena." 
Xena waved him off. "Don't worry about me. See ya Alex." 

Gabrielle looked up and over Chilon's strong back to see Xena leaning against one of the wooden side panels of the stables. "Oh, hi." 
"I'm heading out. Wanna come?" 
"You have to ask?" 
Xena chuckled as she pushed off from her leaning position. "I'm gonna get some others rounded up and slip into some armor. I'll meet you outside, okay?"
"Okay." The bard nodded, then watched Xena turn and walk outside.

Gabrielle tugged on Chilon's reigns, leading the horse to the clear space where they were gathering before departure. A group of riders was standing around patiently, chatting among each other. A familiar head popped up and then Esta enthusiastically waved at her. Gabrielle smiled, walking over to the Athenian. "Hey Esta, long time no see." 
The woman grinned. "Hey Gab. Where's the great Xena gone off to? We've been waiting here for a while now…" 
Gabrielle shrugged. "Don't know, I saw her about a quarter candlemark ago…" A sound from behind her made her turn. "Never mind, here she is." 
Esta looked up as well. The warrior had left most of her armory behind, wearing only a tunic and the metal gauntlets Nicias had made for her. She had stripped her new sword across her back and had another sword attached to Argo's saddle. A dagger hilt was sticking out of her left boot. The Athenian shook her head. "Did you bring enough metal Xena?" 
The warrior chuckled as she trotted over, pulling Argo to a standstill as she got close to the group. "I just like to be prepared, Esta, you know that." 
"Right." The lieutenant murmured, taking hold of her horse's reigns and then puling herself into the saddle. 
Gabrielle grinned as she saddled up as well, then trotted after Xena, who waved the rest of the group forward with a simple flick of her hand. 

Gabrielle wiped the sweat off her forehead. The sun had risen higher and higher as they followed the path swirling its way up the hill. The heat was manageable in the shadows of the forest trees, but out in the open it was hard to keep cool and focused. The bard took another big breath, leaning slightly forward in the saddle to relieve Chilon, as the horse managed its way upward. 
Even Xena was having a hard time with the heat, blinking some drops of sweat out of her eyes as she guided Argo up the path. 

They'd gotten pretty high now, Gabrielle realized as the path made another turn and faced the valley. The road seemed to almost fall off the hill, a huge depth looming right beside her. Down below she spotted their camp, and she followed the movements as the troops preformed their drills. She smiled as she could make out certain people even from this height, Alexander impatiently pacing towards his tent and Parmenios walking through the rows of training men. With a sigh she faced forward again, to see the road turn slightly up ahead, bending out of sight. 

She stopped dead, pulling back Chilon in pure reaction. A falcon cried overhead. 

"Gabrielle?" Xena's concerned voice drifted through. She looked up at the warrior, who immediately turned Argo and guided the mare back down, stepping up beside the bard. "Hey, what's wrong?" 
Green eyes flicked around restlessly, finally focusing on her. "We have to go back."
"There…" Gabrielle took a breath to calm herself, spotting the soldiers and Esta out of the corner of an eye, watching them with interest. "There's gonna be a Persian ambush." She managed in a whisper. "Around the bend." 
Xena's dark brow's frowned. "Are you sure?" 
The bard hastily nodded. "Yes, positive." She reached out and took hold of the warrior's arm. "Xena, please, let's turn back." 
Blue eyes regarded her in concern, then Xena slowly shook her head. "If there's Persians waiting for us there, we have to take them out of the picture… I'll… I'll go and take a look, then…"
"No." Gabrielle interrupted her. "You're not going anywhere without me… Please?" She pleaded when she saw the warrior was about to argue. 
Xena gave her another look, then sighed and nodded. 

Xena crouched down, listening intently to the sounds around her. Gabrielle knelt down beside her, listening as well. "Do you know where they are?" The warrior whispered, looking around intently. 
Gabrielle shook her head "I just know they were around that bend, not exactly where…" 
Xena nodded, then moved on again, silently sliding through the forest. A few more paces, then she suddenly stopped again. She turned, then silently informed them to stay put, before moving towards a nearby tree, grabbing onto a lower branch and pulling herself up. 

Esta crawled up beside Gabrielle, who was watching the warrior's movements anxiously. "What exactly is going on here?" She hissed, looking at the bard. 
Gabrielle spared her a quick glance, then looked back at the warrior, who disappeared into the thick foliage. "I saw this place before… There's a group of Persians hiding out here to ambush us." 
"You saw…" Esta fell quiet. "Are you sure about this?" 
A nod.
"Well… I don't really think…" Then there was a sudden shifting of air and a thud as a young man, dressed in a red cloak, dropped onto the forest floor, a knife hilt sticking out of his back. Moments later Xena dropped down beside him, silently pulling the blade from his back before waving them over. 
"Freakin' mother of Zeus." Esta managed, looking from the lifeless body to Gabrielle, then back to the Persian…

Blue eyes locked with green as Gabrielle walked over, then Xena nodded. "He was a look out." She whispered as the bard got closer. "Mercenary. Memnon must have send him out."
Gabrielle nodded quietly. "Are you okay?"
"Fine." Xena murmured. "We have to stay alert though, there have to be more of them around here. I…" 

Then there was a loud noise echoing through the forest as a horn was sounded. Xena immediately straightened, then reached for her sword. "Get ready people." She stated to the rest of the small group, who hastily armed themselves. Another few moments, then footsteps rushed closer and a few dozen men came into view, running towards them. 

Gabrielle grabbed onto her staff firmly, then twisted and slammed the wooden weapon forward, taking out the first of her attackers. She dropped to a knee, taking the legs out of under another soldier, then smacking the end of her staff against his head and knocking him unconscious. Beside her Esta lunged forward, pushing her sword into an attacker's stomach. 

Another few well aimed smashes and she'd cleared some space around her. She looked up to find the majority of the soldiers either killed or unconscious, most of them lying scattered in a circle around Xena. The warrior was fighting off the last few, who persistently kept coming at her from all directions. 

A sudden movement caught her attention and she focused on a figure behind the warrior who was running forward, sword raised above his head. 

She immediately recognized his face, the face that had haunted her dreams for these last few days. She reacted on pure instinct, pulling a dagger out of her belt and then flicking it forward, searing past Xena to thud into the Persian's chest just before he was about to lunge his sword forward. 

The soldier staggered back, losing the grip on his weapon. He looked down, then back up, staring straight at her before he fell backwards. His body thudded to the ground, then lay completely still, unseeing eyes staring up at the bright blue skies. 

Xena smacked her sword hilt into a final onrusher, then her head shot up as a dagger seared past her, then found its way into the heart of a soldier that had been racing towards her. As the soldier fell to the ground the small X on the dagger's hilt glimmered dully in the sunlight. The warrior gazed at the scene for a moment, then turned to look at her friend. 

Gabrielle stood silently for a moment, then she stepped forward and walked to her victim's lifeless body, kneeling down beside him before pulling her dagger out of his chest. Familiar footsteps edged closer, then halted beside her. "You didn't see him, did you?" The bard asked softly, not looking up. 
"No, I didn't." Xena admitted , staring down at the bend head, then turning to the anxiously waiting Esta. "Check out the perimeters. We'll meet you back where we left the horses." 
The Athenian gave her a quick nod, then shooed her men forward and away from the clearing. 

Gabrielle sighed, then pushed herself up, tucking the dagger back into her belt. "I'll… I'll go a little up that way." She stated, pointing north and avoiding eye contact with the warrior. "Maybe I can…" 
Soft fingertips touched her cheek and forced her to look up, meeting hurt blue eyes.
Gabrielle managed to look into those eyes for only a few moments before caving in helplessly. Trying desperately to hold back her tears, she fell forward, feeling strong arms wrap themselves around her. 
"Shh… it's OK." Xena murmured softly, kissing the top of the bard's head.
"I'm sorry." Gabrielle managed, leaning back and wiping a single tear out of her eye. "I didn't mean to get all mushy on you." She managed a weak smile, which faded after a short moment. "He was going to kill you, I couldn't let that happen." 
Xena closed her eyes, leaning her head against the bard's. "I know." 

They stood quietly for another few moments, then Xena wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulders and guided her back towards the path. "So, your gift of prophesy has returned…" 
Gabrielle nodded quietly, pushing some haunting memories back. "I had a dream. Just like before, remember, at your armory near Tripoli…" 
"How could I forget?" Xena stated. "Why didn't you tell me?" 
A shrug. "I thought it was nothing, just jitters because of all the hectic stuff that has been going on lately. I haven't had any of those visions in a long time… I thought it was nothing…" 
"From now on, any more dreams involving Persians I'd like to hear about, OK?" Xena told her, ruffling the bard's hair. 
"I had a dream about the two of us attacking the Persian army…" 
Dark eyebrows frowned. "What happened?" 
"They turned into chickens." 
"Yeah, and we were naked." 
Xena raised both eyebrows. 
"And Argo turned into an elephant." 
The warrior laughed, shaking her head as they exited the forest. "I think we can assume that was a real dream… Though I'd love to see Memnon turn into a chicken." 
Gabrielle chuckled, patting the warrior's side affectionately before walking towards the anxiously waiting Chilon, untying his reigns from some branches. 

Meanwhile Esta and company had emerged onto the road. "Nothing in sight… I picked up some trash." She stated, indicating the soldier dangling over her shoulder. "maybe he can give us some info… Unless you wanna take the whole lot, there's about eight or so…" 
"Nah." Xena shook her head. "It's to hot too bother, besides, we have some spares left at the camp from our last fight. I think we've got enough Persians for our collection for now. Let's just saddle up and head back down." The warrior stated as she walked over to Argo, untying the mare's reigns before starting to lead the horse down the path. "Come on Dumbo." 

"Phew." Xena unbuckled the leather strap that held her sword scabbard on her back and let the weapon slip down, unhooking her chakram and placing it on top of her other weapons. The temperature had risen even more on their ride back, making the traveling pretty uncomfortable. The complete silence from their companions, who were still trying to get a grasp on what had just happened, hadn't really helped either. Even Esta had been uncharacteristically quiet. 
"Yeah." Gabrielle muttered , unbuckling her belt, folding it double before lying it down beside her bedroll. "Do we have some water left?" 
"It's gonna be steaming hot by now, I'll go get some out of the river." Xena stated, picking up the nearly empty barrel they kept in their tent as a water supply. 
"You don't have to do that Xena, really…" Gabrielle argued. "I'll..." 
"Hey." Xena interrupted. "I feel like getting us some cold water…" An eyebrow raised. "Indulge me, okay?" 

Gabrielle chuckled, then watched the warrior stride out of the tent. She shook her head slightly, then pulled her diary out of her bedroll and dug into her bag, fishing out a quill and some ink. She'd just set everything down the way she wanted it and was about to dip the quill in the black liquid when there was a soft tap on the fabric of the tent. Gabrielle frowned. "Come in…" 

Esta poked her head in. "Hi." 
"Hey." Gabrielle smiled at her, then patted a space beside her. "Sit down." 
Esta looked at her for a moment, then walked closer and settled down crossed legged beside the bard. 

They were both silent for a moment, then Esta decided to get o the point. "Are you a seer?" 
Gabrielle chuckled, shaking her head. "No… not really… I… I just see stuff sometimes…" 
"Sounds pretty seery to me…" Esta muttered." 
"I had visions when I was little." Gabrielle stated, twirling the quill between her fingers. "Of small things… My sister falling from a tree and hurting her leg, storms … Xena." A small smile. "But after we started to travel together, there was nothing." Gabrielle shrugged, looking up at Esta who was regarding her with interest. "I figured they had stopped. Didn't see anything for three years. Then one more vision, almost a year ago now, and now this…"
"Wow," Esta managed. "Must be pretty creepy…" 
Another shrug. "Sometimes, but it saved us several times now, so I can't complain." A breath. "I'm sorry if it freaked you out, I didn't mean to do that…" 
"Hey, don't apologize." Esta hastily interrupted. "If you hadn't seen nothing I'd be shish kebab by now." The Athenian grinned, giving the bard a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "I owe you, Gab. If you need anything, let me know, okay?" 
Gabrielle smiled, watching the woman get back on her feet. "I'll keep it in mind." 
A smile crossed the Athenian's face when she looked back. "Sure. Get some rest, the both of you… Big day tomorrow, right?" 
Gabrielle managed a smile and a nod, then watched Esta step outside. 

She dipped the quill into the ink, then put it to parchment.
"What was she doing here?" 
With a defeated sigh Gabrielle put the quill down and rolled her scroll back up, tucking them back into her saddlebag. "She said hi." She informed Xena, who lifted the barrel of water off her shoulder, placing it beside the table. 
"And was meddling in your business I bet." The warrior replied with a frown, handing the bard a cup of cold water. 
Gabrielle sighed contently, gulping down the water, then placing the still cold tin cup against her forehead. "She has a right to know Xena." 
"Hmm." Xena muttered, settling down beside the bard on her own bedroll. 
Gabrielle smiled at the grumpiness, lifting a hand and gently squeezing the warrior's leg. "Don't get so overprotective. It's okay, I don't mind telling her." 
Xena swallowed. "You realize the whole camp will know sometime soon. You'll be turned into the next Phythia. Gabrielle the Great, the seer of Potedaia." 
Gabrielle chuckled, standing and dipping her cup into the cold water again, splashing some of the liquid over her head. "I don't think it'll be that bad." 
"You haven't known Esta that long." Xena stated simply, pushing some hair out of her face. "She's a lot like you, when she starts talking, she never stops." 
"Hey!" The bard poked her in the side. "I resent that!" 
Xena chuckled, tickling her friend under the knee and making her squirm. Gabrielle managed to grab hold of the offending hand, then sighed and fell back against the warrior's sturdy form. 

She closed her eyes, then opened them and studied the hand she was still holding onto, tracing some of the lines on the warrior's palm. "Xena?" 
"Does it ever stop hurting?" 
Xena leaned her head on the bard's, breathing in deeply. "No. And it shouldn't, because it only stops hurting when you stop caring." 
Gabrielle sighed, tipping her head back slightly. "I know he's the enemy, but…I just don't like it… this… the killing… It seems so pointless sometimes."
"It's a circle. Some people start to kill, others take up arms to defend." 
"I know… and.. and maybe some people… I mean, I don't mind Callisto being dead, or Valeska, or Bacchus…" 
"Those are very specific cases of crack heads, Gabrielle." 
A small smile crossed the bard's face. "I know…" 
"You only kill people when you need to Gabrielle. Only to save lives. Without you I would've been dead today. I owe you one." 
"You owe me one, I owe you three hundred…gee, my debt is nearly paid." Gabrielle chuckled, looking down at Xena's palm. 
The warrior watched her for a moment. "See anything interesting, miss Seer?" 
Gabrielle laughed softly. "I see… I see danger…" 
"Pff, what else is new?" Xena muttered, getting another laugh from the bard. 
"I see a lot of strange soldiers with funny flat helmets." Gabrielle continued. "And I see a really obnoxious blonde following you wherever you go." 
Xena chuckled. "Sounds like a pretty good life to me." The low voice burred in Gabrielle's ear. Her friend smiled as she covered the warrior's hand with her own, peacefully letting time pass listening to the sounds of the camp preparing for nightfall.

A tap on the tent fabric made Xena look up. "Yeah?" 
Alex poked his head in. "Hi!" 
"Shhh." Xena hissed at her, then pointed at the peacefully sleeping bard, who had pillowed her head on the warrior's leg. 
Alex grinned, then tiptoed over and settled down beside the warrior. "That tired huh?" 
Xena nodded. "Been a long day…" 
"So I heard." The young king stated, giving her a meaningful look. "I'm glad you guys came back in one piece." 
"So am I." Xena stated. "It was a close call there for a moment." 
Alex nodded, leaning back on his hands and watching the small bugs fly around the small lantern that hung in the center of the tent. "I brought some papers along. Figured you might wanna have a look at what I thought up." 
"Sure." Xena stated, then reluctantly placed a gentle hand on Gabrielle's cheek. "Hey, Gabrielle." The bard muttered something, then turned her head away and snuggled closer to her pillow. Xena chuckled. "Hey sleepyhead, we've got company." 
"Hmmm?" Gabrielle blinked, then reluctantly sat up, turning to Xena with sleepy eyes. "What?" 
Xena just pointed sideways at the young king watching her with a smirk. 
"Oh." Gabrielle sat up a bit straighter, pushing her disarrayed hear back. "Hi Alex." 
"Good evening. Did you have sweat dreams?" 
Gabrielle grinned, sitting crossed legged. "Yeah, finally." 
"Well, that bodes well for the morning then." Alexander smiled, then stood, soon followed by the two women. He took some of the maps he'd brought along and rolled them out on the small wooden table in the back of the tent. "This is my map of the area." He stated, picking up a pencil. "We're here and the enemy is on this ridge here." He drew circles. "Now Xena told me they'll be aiming most of their attention on me, so we're gonna take advantage of that." 
"How?" Gabrielle wondered out loud. 
"We'll have to cross the water as soon as possible. I've had some bridges built that we can lay across the river." He pointed with the tip of his pencil. "When we cross I'll take over the right flank cavalry and position them here. When I do that I expect them to pull men out of the middle ranks and pile them up on the right…" 
"And when they attack you'll swing your cavalry into the middle ranks, which are weakened and an easy pray…" Xena deducted, looking up at the young king with a grin. "Brilliant, Alex." 
"I learned from the best." Alexander chuckled, then went on. "Their right flank will be in disarray, but they'll still be powerful." 
"Then we have to move people from the left flank over there." Gabrielle stated. 
Alex nodded. "But that'll leave the left flank weakened…" A grin. "And here's where my surprise comes in." 
Xena raised both eyebrows and gave him a questioning look. 
"I want a group of cavalry here." Alex pointed to the hill on the left side of the battlefield, the wood covered hill Xena had walked over the night before. "Two hundred cavalry or so, it doesn't have to be too big a group. When the Persian's figure out that the left flank seems easy pickings our surprise can come racing down that hill and catch them off guard." 
Xena regarded the map for a moment, then gave an approving nod. "Good plan." She stated. 
Alex let a proud grin cross his face. "Thanks." He looked at Gabrielle. "So I guess it's a good thing you got some sleep just now. You'll have to be up early tomorrow to lead that group of cavalry up the hill." 

Green eyes shot up. "I don't think so." 
Alex blinked. "Sorry, what.." 
"I'm not gonna hide up there while all of you get wiped off the face of the earth." 
Xena sighed. "Gabrielle…" 
"No!" Angry green eyes met blue ones. "You're not gonna place me outside of this Xena, dammit!" 
Xena regarded her for a moment, then turned to Alexander. "Alex, leave us for a moment, will ya?" 
"Uhm… Sure…Right… " He hastily stepped outside, leaving the two women in silence.

"Don't even try." Gabrielle snapped, turning away from her. 
"Now you listen to me." Xena stated, her temper rising. "I am NOT doing this because I want you out of harm's way." 
"It's just a nice coincidence, right?" 
Xena threw up her hands. "I did not make these plans Gabrielle, remember?"
"No, but you're all too willing to send me up there and off the battlefield." Gabrielle stated, crossing her arms. "Why don't you go up there?" 
"Because they know me. Don't you think Memnon will notice if the Warrior Princess isn't on the battlefield? Don't you think they'll notice if King Alexander isn't on the battlefield?" 
Gabrielle sighed in frustration. "Then let Parmenios go." 
"Par has to stay to protect Alex. Alex is gonna get hit full on, he needs his help." 
"Then send Alaran, or Ptolemaios…" 
"They don't know how I think." She lifted a hand and turned the bard's chin so they faced each other. 
"You do." 
Gabrielle sighed, looking down. "If something happens to you, I won't be there… If you die…" 
"I won't." Xena stated firmly. "Look, when we attack tomorrow and some of the left flank turn off to help Alexander, I'll be fighting against all the odds… If this surprise of Alex' is to work, the timing will have to be perfect…" 
Green eyes peeked up. "And you're saying only I can do that?"
"You'll know." The warrior stated simply.

Gabrielle shook her head softly, then turned and hid her face in her hands. "I don't…I…" 
Xena sighed, then stepped closer, laying both hands on the bard's shoulders. "Look, if you want to, you can forget all this… You can drop out of the position of chief lieutenant and just join my forces, fight beside me. I'll get Alaran to ride up there, he'll…" 
Gabrielle turned. "But you just said…?" 
"I said you'd do better, which is true, but if you don't want to, Gabrielle… Look, I'm not going to force you, okay? I'm offering you a chance out…" 
The bard shook her head softly. "You know I can't do that." The bard took another breath, then sighed. "Okay, okay." She tossed up her hands. "I'll do it…" 
Xena smiled, then kissed the bard's forehead and pulled her into a hug. "Good girl." 
Gabrielle let out a deep breath into the warrior's shoulder. "I'm gonna hate myself for this tomorrow." 
"Nah." Xena shook her head, then pulled back and smiled at the bard. "It'll be okay, Gabrielle, really." She stated, then patted the bard's back before releasing her. "I'll go get Alex, I think you scared him out of his mind, ruining his plans like that." 
Gabrielle managed a smile. "Sorry." 
"'s Okay." Alex stated as he walked into the tent again. 

Xena raised an eyebrow. "You weren't spying, were you, little Alexander?" 
Alex chuckled, shaking his head. "I just waited for the yelling to stop." 
Gabrielle chuckled softly. "Sorry… I…" She looked up at Alex apologetically. "I'm sorry if I scared you Alex, I didn't mean that… I just don't want to be out there and not be able to do anything, you know?" 
"If there was any other way I'd take it, Gabrielle." Alexander stated honestly. "But we're outnumbered, fighting uphill… There is no other way…." 
"I know." Gabrielle stated simply. "okay, fill me in, who do I get to take up there." 
"Your pick." Alexander stated, settling in a chair behind the table. "I want this to work out, so take two lieutenants up there that you can work with. 
"Halys and Alaran." The bard stated without hesitation. 
Alex nodded, scribbling down names on his map. "You've got it." More scribbling. "Okay, Xena, I need you here, leading the left cavalry. Ptolemaios will back you up with his infantry. Lucius will fall behind with the archers, here and here." Alex pointed to the map, then circled area's, enthusiastically working out his plans. 

Gabrielle had realized quickly enough that she wasn't going to drift into the land of dreams again that evening, so she'd just remained awake, pillowing her head on her friend's shoulder, watching the moon rise and reach it's zenith. Xena had forced herself into a slumber, needing to gain her strength for the coming day. Gabrielle lay still for another moment, then untangled herself from the warrior's grasp carefully. Not carefully enough of course, and blue eyes blinked open and watched her get up. "Time?" Xena's sleepy voice sounded loud in the complete silence around them. 
"Yeah." Gabrielle nodded as she slipped into her tunic, then pulled on her boots. "It's a little past midnight." 
Xena nodded, sitting up. 
"Get back to sleep." Gabrielle urged her as she settled the heavy armory over her shoulders, letting the breastplate fall into place. 
"Don't be stupid." Xena muttered, stretching and walking over to her friend's side, pulling on some straps and securing them. Gabrielle tied the belt around her waist, then took hold of her staff and the sword Nicias had made for her, still tucked away safely in its scabbard. 

They walked outside where a large group of horses was puffing out clouds of air into the night's sky. Xena looked up at the moon, small clouds drifting in from the east and obscuring the light from time to time. 
A younger boy walked up to her, tugging Chilon down behind him. The dark stallion had leather armor covering his flanks and his head for protection, and strips of fabric were wrapped around his legs for support. 

Xena walked over to Alaran and Halys, who were standing talking nearby. She offered her hand. "Good luck." 
Alaran took it with a smile. "You too Xena. We'll come save you in the nick of time, don't worry." 
Xena managed a chuckle, then turned to Halys, who regarded her for a moment, then gave her a polite nod. "Good luck." 
Xena nodded back. "You too Halys…" She glanced at Gabrielle, who was checking on Chilon's saddle. "Take care of her for me…" 
Halys looked at her for another moment, then nodded again. "I'll die before she does." 
"Dito." Alaran stated simply. 
Xena managed a smile for them, then gave them a nod as she walked off, giving a few soldiers a pat on the shoulder or a reassuring grin. 

Gabrielle turned around to face the warrior. "Yeah, I guess so." With a sigh she stepped forward and into Xena's embrace, closing her eyes as she hid her face in the warrior's shoulder. 
"Be safe." Xena whispered. 
"You too." Gabrielle managed, pulling back slightly. "See you on the flip side, huh? Wherever that may be…" 
Blue eyes regarded her for a moment, then nodded, before leaning her head against the bard's. "I love you." 
Gabrielle smiled. "Love you too." Then she pulled back, giving the warrior's hand a squeeze before turning to Chilon, pulling herself into the saddle. 
Xena looked up at her. "Ride up the hill there." She then stated, pointing towards a point across the river. "There's a small clearing halfway. About there." She pointed to another point on the hill. 
"Okay." Gabrielle nodded. 
"Maybe they moved Persian forces in yesterday, I don't know. Keep a lookout." 
"Got it." Gabrielle glanced around at the saddled men around her. "Are we ready?" 
Confirming nods and 'yes chief' 's were the answer. 
"All right." Gabrielle nodded, looking at Alaran and Halys, who stepped up behind her. 
She gave the warrior a last look. "Get some sleep?" 
Xena grinned "Maybe." She gently squeezed the bard's bare knee. "I'll be ready tomorrow, don't you worry." 
"I'll try not to." Gabrielle smiled back, then shot a last look behind her and raised her hand, swiping it forward. "Let's go."

The soldiers moved, the formation splitting as they circled around Xena. "Knock 'm dead, people." She grinned at the soldiers, who chuckled and grinned back at her. She turned as the last of the horses moved past her, watching as the cavalry moved into the shadows, Gabrielle looking back at her one more time before she too vanished into the dark night air.

Alexander turned around restlessly on his bedroll. His active mind wasn't even considering sleep, thinking about the morning ahead. Whether his plans would be successful and he would finally fulfil his father's prophesies about him … How many deaths this quest would cost… If one of these deaths would be his own…

Another turn and he stared up into the darkness. He lay still for another few moments, then realised how useless it was lying here doing nothing, so he got up and pulled on his tunic. He tied the belt with his sword around his waist before striding outside. 

It was still early, the moon already halfway down the western skies. Clouds were drifting in from the east. The hot weather of the last few days would soon be interrupted with the coming of the rain. 

A flicker of light caught his attention and he stared at the sword that reflected the moonlight as it sliced through the air. He watched as Xena pulled herself into a flip, then lashed out again at unseen enemies. 
The young king walked closer, watching the warrior's movements intently. 
"You should be sleeping." Xena's voice cut through the silence, not interrupting her drill. 
Alex smiled as he stepped up to her. " So should you." 
"Already did." The warrior stated, swiping her sword overhead, then bringing it back down, slowing her motion to a stop. "You should stop worrying Alex, there is nothing more for you to do…" 
"There's nothing for you to do either, and still you're here." Alex countered.
Xena chuckled, then settled down on the ground crossing her legs and closing her eyes. "I can either lie in my bed and worry or I can worry here and do some drills while I'm at it…" 
Alexander managed a smile, then settled down beside his friend. "Are you worried about Gabrielle?"
"I shouldn't be."
"But you are?"
"Yes." Xena stated, her eyes still closed. "If something happens to me, I don't know if she'll stick to the plan… I know I wouldn't…" She added releasing a breath.
Alex shook his head. "Xena, if something happens to you the plan is lost anyway, it won't matter." 
Blue eyes opened and regarded him for a moment, then she nodded. "Maybe." A moment of silence as she regarded the grass near her feet thoughtfully. "Alex, promise me something?"
"Sure…" Alexander stated, staring at the bend head. 
"If something does happen, and things go wrong… I want you to make sure Gabrielle gets home…"
"I can't promise that."
Xena's head shot up and regarded him. 
"Xena, the girl can beat me to a pulp, how exactly do you plan for me to drag her across the border?"
The warrior regarded him another moment, then chuckled in spite of herself. "I guess you're right…" She took a deep breath, then let it out, leaning back an staring up at the stars. "It's a sword."
"Huh?" Alex gave her an odd look. 
Xena chuckled. "The stars… if you connect them you can form a sword, right there…" She pointed to the sky, drawing a pattern. 
Alexander tilted his head up and watched the stars for a moment, then he looked back at Xena. "You've changed so much, you know that?" 
Xena smiled. "I guess I have…" A moment of silence as she tipped her head back and stared back up at the stars again. "But don't worry… This morning you'll get the old Xena back."
"I didn't say that I wanted that."
"No." Xena stated simply. "But that's what you need."
The young king considered this for a moment. "I guess that's true… I don't like killing, but when I fight, it's… it's like you put a lock on your heart. You see you're killing people, you know you are, but you don't feel it…. Do you know what I mean?"
"Sort of. I slip into automatic… I don't see, or know, or feel…"
Alex considered this for a moment, then nodded. "I guess you need that sometimes…"
Xena just nodded, staring up. She watched as Alex stood, then stretched. 
"So… Now that we're both up… Mind teaching me how you do that swipe thing, with your sword?" Alexander asked, trying the move himself, almost cutting off his own arm. 
Xena chuckled. "Well, definitely not like that." She stood herself, then lifted her sword and swiped it above her head in slow motion. 
Alex tried again, not with much more success. He grinned sheepishly at Xena, who laughed. "Good thing we've got all night to practise."

The soft morning light found it's way into his tent as the tent flap was pushed aside. "My lord!" 
Arsites shot up, sitting up straight in his bed , staring at the soldier that had just entered his sleeping quarters. 
"The Greeks are active this morning, my lord. It looks like they are preparing for the attack."
Arsites hopped out of his bed, walking to his armoury. "Wake up the lieutenants that aren't awake yet. Get the men ready. Get my horse ready."
"Yes, my lord." The soldier nodded then hastily exited the tent.

"Are they attacking?" 
Arsites looked around as Armenes came running up to him, dressed in his golden armour, a sword strung across his back. 
"It appears to be so…" Arsites stated as he walked to where the hill sloped down. All the Greek soldiers were out and about, dressed in their armour. A golden flicker as the sunlight caught on the shield of a young, blond haired man, dressed in expensive golden armour. "That's him…"
Armenes followed his fellow ruler's gaze. "The boy?"
Arsites nodded. "Young, but he seems confident… Don't underestimate him, Armenes." He stated, then turned to where most of his men were gathered together, watching him anxiously. Except for the obnoxious Memnon of course, who was staring at him with a big grin on his face. 
"It appears that the Greek attack will come sooner than expected." Arsites raised his voice and addressed his troops. "That's good." He smiled deviously. "That means we get to kill them sooner."
The men around him laughed, looking at him confidently. 
"We will await their attack, then crush them. At the end of this day, I want the Macedonian King's head. The one who brings me his head will be rewarded handsomely." 
Enthusiastic mutters ran through the crowd. 
"Be ready for my signal." Arsites finished, then turned and walked back to where Armenes an a few of his lieutenants were discussing status. 

Memnon watched him walk off, shaking his head softly, before turning around and walking to his on mercenaries. "All right guys, let's get ready." He told them, adjusting the dagger attached to his waist. 
"Is she out there?" One of the men asked, stepping forward. 
Memnon nodded calmly. "Oh yes."
"Do we get a reward too, Memnon, if we bring you her head?"
Memnon looked up at him, then grinned. "If you bring me her head, I'll cut off yours." Another grin, before he turned and looked down onto the battlefield. "Xena's head is mine."

Xena took a deep breath, settling her armour more firmly on her shoulders. She pulled out her sword, watching the black dragon's head grin at her as she checked whether the blade was sharp enough… for the third time. Satisfied she tucked it back into it's scabbard, then attached the second sword across her back as well. 

Faces looked up as she strode outside, then walked towards Alex, who stood near the riverbed with a few of the lieutenants, pointing and gesturing. 
"Xena!" He yelled enthusiastically as he saw her. 
The warrior smiled, giving him a nod, then nodded at the rest of the group as well. "Lovely morning for a bloodbath, isn't it?" They all grinned at her, some more confident than others. "What were you talking about?"
"I'm just discussing the details of the plan."
"For the tenth time." Parmenios muttered in an undertone, getting some chuckles from the others and a foul look from Alexander. 
Xena gave the young king a pat on the back, then glanced back at the troops, who were lining up. "How about we get this over with, huh?" She glanced across the anxious faces. "Are we ready?"
They all nodded, silently.
Alexander straightened. "Whatever happens today, I am proud to have fought beside such great warriors."
"I'm proud to fight for such a great king." Parmenios told him, getting nods and approving murmurs from the rest of the men. 
The young king watched his friends for a moment, then smiled. "Thanks." He stated, then let out a breath. "Now, let's go kick some Persian butts, OK?"
"My sentiments exactly." Xena stated, getting a chuckle out of the group, before they split and went to their own legions. 

Xena walked beside Alexander. "Any last instructions general?" She asked with a grin. 
Alex laughed, then patted her on the shoulder, the armour rattling as he did so. "Just do what you do best, Xena."
The warrior chuckled, then nodded before walking to her group. 

A boy was holding onto Argo as she walked up to the group of mounted soldiers she was leading into battle. She adjusted some of the straps and checked on Argo's leather armour before she took the reigns and pulled herself into the saddle. The men and women in her group soon followed her example. 

Xena pushed Argo forward, guiding through the ranks of mounted soldiers. "Today is a special day." The warrior raised her voice, making it ring across the square. "Today is the day we defeat all the odds. Today is the day bards will sing about for years to come…" She looked around at the soldiers. "If we are remembered, we live forever… Today is the day you all can acquire immortality."

"Today is the day we liberate our fellow countrymen from their tormentor." Alex continued, raising his voice to address the whole army as he guided his stallion to the front. "Today is the day we take down an enemy feared by our nation. Today is the day we revenge the deaths of those who died to assure our safety." Alex straightened in the saddle. "Make sure they did not die for nothing." He reached behind him then drew his sword, raising it above his head. "For Greece!"
A cheer went up, echoing through the valley loudly. Alex glanced at Xena, who nodded at him, then he looked at his other lieutenants before turning around and pushing Bouchefalos into a gallop, bridges falling across the river Granicus as he approached. 
Xena let out a battle cry, yells flying up around her as she pushed Argo forward, leading her forces to the left, speeding across the river. 

For a moment there seemed to be no response from the Persian side, then suddenly with a roar mounted men surged over the hillside, racing down the slope like water down a waterfall. With a swipe of her hand she ordered Esta to circle around to her left side, before racing forward, plunging herself into the battle.

Gabrielle had found the clearing Xena mentioned soon enough and they had settled down, waiting for daybreak and the beginning of the battle. The bard had send out some of the men to scout the perimeter and guard their backs, but all seemed to be fine. Chilon grazed peacefully, together with the rest of the horses. Gabrielle took a deep breath, leaning her back against a tree, closing her eyes and trying to ignore the trickle of rain. She hated waiting. She really, really did…. 

Footsteps approached and Gabrielle opened her eyes to see Alaran step up closer. The lieutenant smiled at her, and she managed a smile back. "Hey Alaran."
"Hey chief." He grinned at her. "What ya sitting around here for, worrying by yourself?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "I just have a lot on my mind." She regarded the lieutenant for another moment, his face barely seen in the shadows. "You seem pretty calm though…"
"I have nothing to fear…"
"How's that?"
Alaran shrugged. "Either I live and spend some more time with my friends here, or I die and go to Hades, to see my family again. My wife is waiting there for me…"
Gabrielle gave him a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be." Alaran waved her off. "It was a long time ago. Almost three years now. In a way, it's made me appreciate life more, cause I know that everything can disappear…" He snapped his fingers. "Just like that." A moment of silence. " But I do miss her a lot. There was a moment that I wanted to die too, but she told me I still had something to do in this life…"
A blonde eyebrow raised. "She told you?"
Alaran grinned. "You're not the only one with prophetic dreams around here, chief."
Gabrielle chuckled softly, then suddenly her head shot up as Alex' voice echoed across the hills, followed by a roar and the thunder of horses' hooves. Topping it all was a very familiar war cry.

She scrambled to her feet and ran towards the ledge where she got a clear view on the battlefield. She got there just in time to see Argo race across one of the bridges, to see Xena raise her hand as the Persian forces started pouring down the hill. "There's so many." She managed as Alaran stepped up beside her. 
"Not by far enough to hold the Warrior Princess back." Alaran stated, watching the approaching enemies calmly. 
"I hope not." Gabrielle whispered, watching the first man reach Xena only to have the sword slammed out of his hand with such force it was tossed halfway across the battlefield. The warrior then twisted the blade in her hand and pushed it backwards as the enemy soldier passed her, edging into the attackers heart. 

Her dark side laughed, and she let it. The next attacker lost his head as his horse raced past her and kept riding on until his lifeless corpse finally lost it's momentum and crashed to the ground. From the corner of her eye she saw Alexander race his soldiers through the middle ranks successfully. Horses sped up at her from all sides. Argo took care of one of them, bucking and tossing the Persian out of his saddle, to be caught under the clattering of hooves. 
She dropped her reigns and pulled out her second sword, holding them both out and ducking under one of the oncoming blades, feeling the pressure on the hilts as both swords passed through flesh. Esta rode up to her, taking out two of her adversaries. "Esta!" 
The Athenian looked up momentarily, then parried another sword that was aimed for her. 
"Fall back! Go help Alex!"
The woman watched, seeing the next wave of Persian's racing down the hill and towards the right flank. She gutted another opponent then turned her horse back, yelling orders at her troops. 

"Damn it!" Arsites cursed as he watch the Macedonian General lead his forced through the centre of their ranks. 
Armenes looked down in horror. "It was a trick…"
"Damn it all…"Arsites covered his face in his hands , then looked back up at the scene below him. 
Armenes scanned the battlefield, then pointed. "Look, they're pulling back people from the left to make up for the hole in their defences."
Arsites watched the forces fall back and regroup before storming towards the outnumbered right side. "Their left flank is weakened…." He regarded the scene, shaking his head. "It's almost too easy…" The king frowned his brows, regarding the scene. 
"Come on." Armenes urged him on. "We have to act now or they'll regroup again and this opportunity will slip."
"Something's wrong…" Arsites muttered, staring down.
"What could possibly be wrong?!" Armenes threw up his hands. "We can't let this chance pass us…"

Arsites watched for another moment as his right flank was being circled by the cavalry of the Macedonian King on one side and the horses from the left flank on the other. "Very well." He stated, not seeing any better alternatives. "But I won't let any of my people go in there… " He turned to one of the soldiers, that was standing by his side. "Alert the Greek mercenaries. Pull them back from the right and let them swing to attack the left Greek flank." The boy nodded, then hastily ran off. 
"Well Memnon." Arsites informed the absent mercenary. "I guess you get to fight your woman warrior after all."

"They're sending in the mercenaries." Halys stated, barely making out the battlefield through the fog of rain. 
Gabrielle nodded, taking a deep breath. "Get everyone saddled up." 
Halys gave her a nod, then walked back to the soldiers, ordering them to get ready.

Alaran shot a sideways glance at the bard, who was staring down, watching the mercenaries regroup, then storm forward. "Do we attack now?"
Gabrielle watched the men and woman below her, wincing as she saw one of the soldiers in Xena's legion fall. "No." She managed. " We wait till they've reached our people, when they're distracted. The moment they don't expect any more surprises, that's exactly what they're gonna get… "

A javelin launched into her direction, which she caught on pure instinct. She recognised the Greek design almost immediately. A look up showed the legion of mercenaries storming down the hill at a frightening speed. Another spear was launched at her, but was aimed lower. Argo reared as the blade seared past the mare's flank, the edge digging a wound into the horse's skin. 

A toss of her chakram and the thrower was dead. Xena jumped off her horse, then smacked Argo's side. "Go!" 
The mare seemed to hesitate for a short moment, then she took off in a canter, heading back across the bridge into the Greek camp. 

Xena flicked one of her daggers toward the oncoming attackers, then pulled her second sword again, twisting them in her hand and awaiting the oncoming wave. 

The first attacks were easily parried and bodies were added to the circle all ready lying around her. Soon enough though she spotted Memnon's smug face heading closer, an attack from one of Ptolemaios' men stopped dead when the mercenary's sword forced it's way into his chest. The mercenary laughed loudly, sending shivers down her spine. 

"Hey Xena!" Laughter as she looked up and narrowed her eyes at him dangerously. "Got a friend of yours here who wants to say hi."

She just managed to duck under the sword aimed for her heart, the blade grazing past her shoulder as she tried to avoid it. 

Memnon chuckled as he lifted his sword again and lunged forward. "You seem tired Xena. Long day?"
Blue eyes narrowed and Xena shook the memories out of her head roughly, sparing a brief look for the wound in her shoulder, before easily parrying his next stroke. "We've been here before Memnon. I won every time, remember? And then it was just play… " A pause as she pulled herself into a flip to avoid his weapon, then slammed her second sword aside to take down another one of his mercenaries. "Today you die."
Another chuckle as the Greek mercenary hopped over a low aimed stab, then jumped aside to avoid her second blade. "Well, you haven't lost your bravado, that's for sure… But have you lost your skills? This was a bit easy, wasn't it?" 
Xena didn't reply, putting all her concentration into her next blow instead. 
"Aw, come on Xena." Another chuckle as Memnon ducked under another lunge from the warrior. "What kind of surprise have you got in store for me, huh?"

"This kind." A voice behind him stated, then a wooden staff slammed into his back, knocking him down. 
Memnon scrambled up and looked to take in the blond woman, green eyes meeting his, before she lifted her staff and brought it down on him again. This time he parried the blow with the edge of his sword though. A quick look behind him showed a large group of Greek cavalry storming down the hillside, right towards his mercenaries. 

He ducked under the staff's next blow, then made a run for it, grabbing onto the reigns of a fallen man's horse and jumping on, galloping up the hill and back to the Persian camp as fast as he could. 

Xena watched him go, for a moment considering giving chase, but she realised he'd be long gone before she could even make it up the hill. With a silent curse she knocked her sword hilt into another attacker.

A smile crossed her face as she felt the bard's presence closing in, guarding her back. "Nice timing."
"You're hurt." Gabrielle's voice drifted over.
"Just a scratch." She replied, ducking as a Persian passed over her, then kicking the legs out of under another. 
An audible sigh behind her, followed by the sound of wood hitting bone. "You and your scratches…"
Xena chuckled, then led out a battle cry, pulling herself into a flip while Gabrielle turned and slammed Xena's stunned attacker unconscious.

"Memnon! You coward!"
"Hah! And that from the man who didn't even go into battle." Memnon stated, as he pulled on the reigns, making the horse halt. "I'll give you some last good advise. And I'd like you to listen to this bit before you discard it as waste." He snapped, before stepping closer and lowering his voice. "Run. While you still can."
"But if I run, the Great King…."
"He might kill you, yes… But look at that!" The mercenary pointed at the battlefield, where Greek forces were now circling around the Persian men. "Retreat, before you have no men left, you idiots!" He stated, then pushed his horse into a gallop, racing south as fast as his horse could manage. 

Arsites watched him go, the shook his head. "All right…" He turned to one of the messengers. " Sound the horn, tell the men to retreat." The boy ran off, before he turned to Armenes. "Let's get the horses and get out of here."

A cheer rose up around them as the enemy soldiers scrambled back up the hill, the small numbers that remained retreating as fast as they could. 
Xena watched them go. "We have to go into pursuit. I'll…"
"Oh no you don't." Gabrielle stated, walking up to her and gabbing onto the warrior's arm. Icy blue eyes turned to look at her, but the bard just stared back unimpressed. "Xena, it's over…"
A moment but then the warrior's eyes softened, and she nodded. 

Gabrielle turned around to see Alaran riding up, covered in mud and bloodsplatters, but with a huge grin on his face. He yelled out a loud cheer of victory as he hopped of his horse. "What did I tell ya chief, piece of cake." 
Gabrielle chuckled. "You still up for some chasing?"
"Anytime, anywhere, anyhow." Alaran cheerfully informed her. "You want me to head after 'm?"
"Just scare them a little and find out where they're going."
"You've got it. I'll pick out some guys to come along. You two get some rest, huh?" He turned to the warrior. "Wicked performance Xena. Remind me to not piss you off any time soon."
The warrior chuckled, then watched the lieutenant get on his horse and ride around, ordering some of the men to follow him. 

The cheers around them faded as the men returned to camp to get some well deserved rest. Gabrielle stared ahead of her quietly, gazing at the battlefield. She looked at the bodies, that were scattered around everywhere. Mostly Persians, she realised as she scanned the grounds, but she could detect a few of their troops too. Familiar faces, staring up into the rain with wide eyes. The rain that was washing the blood from their bodies, letting it seep into the earth. 

A hand touched her shoulder and she looked up to see compassionate blue eyes staring back at her. 
The bard ignored the blood and gore and pillowed her head on the warrior's shoulder. "We won." She stated quietly. "…but did we?"
Xena softly kissed the top of her friend's head. "You can't win a war without loosing as well…" She stated, before giving the bard a pat on the back. "You go inside. I'll check for any wounded."
But the bard shook her head. "No, I'm checking for wounded…" She glared up at the painfully red gash in the warrior's arm. "Oh, and look, I just found you."
"Nu huh, no complaining." Gabrielle pointed a finger at her friend. "We've got the healers looking after the wounded, they don't need you getting in the way."
Xena raised a dark eyebrow at her, but Gabrielle ignored her, then turned and whistled. Chilon came trotting over, neighing softly as he got closer to her. The stallion gave her a nudge and she patted his strong neck, before grabbing onto the saddle and pulling herself up. Then she extended a hand down. "Come on."
Xena sighed, then let herself be hauled up, wincing as the wounds she'd gotten made themselves known. "This is not the way a great warrior is supposed to ride back into camp, you know?"
"Hey, if ya wanna complain, you can walk."
"Never mind." Xena muttered, wrapping an arm around the bard's waist as Chilon started to head towards their camp. 

After quickly dropping Chilon at the stables and checking on Argo, Gabrielle pushed open the tent flap and walked inside. She found Xena lying on her bedroll, with closed eyes, her armor piled up beside her. 
The bard smiled to herself, slipping into a clean shirt, before she dug up a healing kit out of their saddlebags and filled a small bowl with fresh water. 
"Hmmm" Was the mumbled reply, then Xena lazily pried open an eyelid. 
Gabrielle smiled at her as she sat down beside the warrior. "Sorry to wake you, but we have to patch those wounds up."
Xena nodded, rubbing her eyes before sitting up. "Wasn't planning on falling asleep."
"Well, that usually isn't something you really plan, Xe, so I wouldn't worry too much." The warrior rolled her eyes. Gabrielle just flicked some water at her, getting an outraged stare in return. Then the bard dipped a clean rag in the water. "Okay, where does it hurt?"
Xena sighed, then turned around. "My back."
"Okay," Gabrielle squeezed the excess water out of the rag and turned to sit cross legged behind the warrior. "Strip." 
Xena grinned, but did as ordered, pulling the tunic over her head, wincing as the wound in her back stung. 

She heard a gasp behind her, then the cold pressure as Gabrielle gently cleaned the blood off. "That bad huh?"
Gabrielle bit her lip, trying to clean around the angry red gash carefully. "I think you took a dagger in the back, Xena."
"I did feel a bit of a sting at the end… I was wondering what that was…."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, before picking up the needle and thread and starting to stitch the wound. 
"How about you?" Xena's voice drifted over. 
Gabrielle stopped her sowing and looked up. "Sorry?"
"Did you get hit?"
Gabrielle shrugged, unseen by the warrior, before returning her attention to her task. "I got a knick on my leg, but it's nothing, I'll fix it up later."
"Nu huh." Xena shook her head. "Gimme the leg."
Gabrielle chuckled, then reseated herself and stuck her left leg forward, across Xena's lap. "They tried to stick a dagger through my boot, I think. Didn't get in deep though. Long live leather."
Xena smiled, then muttered a 'hold on' before pulling the boot off Gabrielle's foot. There was indeed a small wound on the side of the bard's lower leg, about half an inch deep. "Hand me the water and rag, will ya?"
Gabrielle stilled her motion once more, and passed the wanted items forward over the warrior's shoulder. "I'm not gonna get anywhere this way you know." She shook her head, then returned to her stitching. 
"Sorry." Xena grinned. She gently swiped some of the dry blood off the bard's leg. 

Gabrielle finished her work, tying of the thread before regarding their awkward position. "Hey Xena?"
"If someone walks in here and asks us what the Hades we are doing sitting like this, what do we tell 'm?"
"Social grooming" The warrior deadpanned, cleaning off the last bits of blood. 

"I'd buy that." Alex voice stated cheerfully, walking into the tent. 
Gabrielle grinned up at him sheepishly. "Hi Alex."
"Hi." The king grinned back. 
"When do we leave?" Xena asked practically without looking up from her task, fishing some bandages out of her saddlebag and tying them around the bard's leg tightly. 
Alex laughed, sitting down cross legged beside the two. "I was coming in here to say 'great going' and 'nice job' and all of that, but I see you're busy so I guess I'll get to the point."
Xena rolled her eyes at him, then frowned as she touched a bandage on the back of his neck. "What happened?"
"Had a bit of a run in with a big double edged sword." Alex informed her. 
Gabrielle gave him a sympathetic look. "Ouch." 
"Yeah, well, it's okay… Par cut off some limbs for me and got me out of that mess safe and sound… They were all just coming at me, it was creepy."
"They probably put a bounty on your head." Xena reasoned, giving the bard's knee a pat.
Alex nodded, touching the back of his neck softly. "Well, they nearly got it… How about the two off you?"
"Just a few scratches." They managed to say simultaneously getting a chuckle from the king. 

A short silence fell, before Gabrielle looked up into Alexander's brown eyes. "Did we loose a lot of people?" 
"Three hundred or so." Alex stated, looking at the grass between his feet. "I know that's not much for a battle as this one, but still…" He shook his head. "It's sad… They were good people…" A moment of silence, before Alex looked back up. "I've uhm… I've ordered some of the men to give them a descend burial and the wounded are looked after as well by the healers… Some of them can't be moved yet, so I want to set up a temporary camp here until they're healed. The army has to move up, before they can retake the Greek cities though. I want to move in a candle mark or so. Alaran should be back soon enough."
Xena nodded. "Okay, we'll be ready. 
"Good." Alex straightened , standing up. "Good luck with the stitching." A pause, then he patted Xena on the shoulder. "You really were great today. Both of you. I could never have done this without the two of you…" He smiled down at them. "Thanks. I think if my father had been here today… he would've been proud…"
Xena returned his smile with one of her own. "I know he would've been, Alex." 
The king managed another smile for her, then he stepped out of the tent, leaving the two women in silence.

"Okay, next wound." Gabrielle broke the silence. Xena turned to face her, pointing at her side, where a sword had slashed through her skin. Gabrielle leaned forward and started closing this wound as well. "Alex is so concerned about what his father thinks… " She started, a concentrated look on her face as she worked. 
"You never knew Phillip." Xena stated, cleaning the blood splatters off her shoulder. "He was a very focused man… A good person, don't get me wrong, but very focused. He was someone who got an idea in his head and then had see to it that whatever it was got done. One of these things was that Alexander was to be a great ruler. Especially after Elis died. Par told me Phillip wanted Alex to be everything Elis had been… and more…"
Gabrielle shook her head. "That's no good…"
"No, probably not…" Xena conceded, dipping the rag into the cold water and rinsing it out. "And Phillip did put a lot of pressure on Alex… But I'm not sure if things would've been that much different if he hadn't…" The warrior shrugged. "Alex takes after his father. He's stubborn as Hades. He thinks his destiny is to take back what was taken from him, and from Greece, so he'll do anything to turn that vision into reality…" A short pause. "At least his quest helps people too… People like Ptolemaios, and Telamon… They might just get their homeland back because of him…"
Gabrielle let out a breath, finishing the last stitches. "I guess that's true." She looked up. "Any more?" She asked, pointing at the wound she'd just stitched up. 
Xena shook her head. "Nothing mayor." A blonde eyebrow lifted. "Honest." 
"All right." Gabrielle sighed, getting up and placing the healing kit back in their saddlebag. She picked up a cup and dipped it into the cold water, taking a sip before settling down beside Xena again, handing her the cup. The warrior swallowed some of the liquid down as well, then gave the cup back, before falling backwards on her bedroll. 
Gabrielle smiled. " You didn't go to sleep last night, did ya?"
"Nah." Xena mumbled, closing her eyes. "Wanted to do some drills and stuff."
Gabrielle shook her head quietly, placing the cup beside her. "Stubborn warrior." A blue orb peered at her, before the eyelid closed again. Gabrielle chuckled. "Can I get you anything. Some lunch or something?"
"All I need is a pillow." Xena's sleepy voice mumbled, before the warrior patted the space beside her. With a smile Gabrielle settled down beside her friend, leaning her back against the tent pole as the warrior pillowed her head on the bard's thigh. Gabrielle gently reordered the disheveled dark locks, watching the warrior slowly sink into sleep. 

She wasn't tired though. The last few candle marks were still too clearly visible, pictures of the battle running through her head. She leaned her head back and looked up, listening to the soft sound of raindrops ticking against the fabric of their tent. 
Another tap sounded and Gabrielle looked up as a head poked inside. She recognized one of the soldiers that had been in her group and smiled at him as he saluted her, lifting a finger to her lips before pointing at Xena's sleeping form. He nodded and stepped closer softly, kneeling down before laying three small daggers beside her. "I helped search for wounded and I found these chief. They're yours, right?" 
Gabrielle regarded the bloodstained metal for a moment, then managed a smile as she looked at him. "Yeah. Thanks." She patted his shoulder. 
He beamed back at her. "Anything for you chief." He gave her a polite nod, then stood, saluting her before he strode out of the tent. 

Gabrielle let out a breath. She looked at the warrior, seeing Xena was still fast asleep before picking up one of the daggers, balancing it in her hand. The blood on the hilt left it's marks on her palm and she regarded the red streaks for a moment, before she leaned over and pulled the bowl of water closer. She picked up the rag and then started cleaning the blade, wiping off the memories of the battle meticulously.

Part 7

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