Father of All Evil
The young god smiled at her and nodded.
"She's alive…" A smile grew on the bard's face, then she scrambled up and threw her arms around Mithras. "Thank you…"
The god smiled. "I'm glad this news makes you happy, Chosen… However, I'm afraid her being alive now is not our main concern."
Gabrielle stepped back and looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"Your friend's death is scheduled to be only four days from now. Xerxes means to execute her as a symbol of the end of his defeats at the end of a festival the city of Tyre is holding." He gently touched her shoulder. "You must realise Tyre is a fortress, the best defended city in Persia. To release your friend will be near to impossible… You'll be putting yourself at high risk…"
The bard shook her head firmly. "It doesn't matter. If Xena's in there, I'm gonna get her out…"
Mithras nodded, dropping his eyes to the sand. "So be it." He looked back up, managing a smile for her. "I can not help you much, Chosen. If Angra finds me, my family is doomed and I simply cannot risk that now. I…" Then his head shot up. "Someone's coming. I have to leave." In a flash he was gone and a falcon flew up and into the distance.
"Gabrielle! Gabri.." Esta stopped abruptly as she spotted the bard, then ran towards her. "Thank the gods… For a moment there I… Whoa…" Esta barely managed to keep upright as the bard flew at her, pulling the lieutenant into a hug. "Hey, are you OK?"
"I'm perfect…" Gabrielle pulled back and smiled. "She's alive and I'm gonna get her back." The bard turned and whistled, waiting for Chilon to canter over before grabbing on and pulling herself into the saddle. "Come on, Esta, bring Argo back with you…."
"Bu… I…Wh…?" Esta stared after the cloud of dust as Gabrielle cantered back towards Badkar. "How…?" The lieutenant scratched the back of her neck, then threw up her hands, walking towards the patiently waiting mare and grabbing onto the horse's reigns. "I have a really tough time understanding that girl sometimes, you know that?"
Argo snorted in agreement.
Halys shoveled up another pile of earth. She hated this. Death seriously sucked. Halys shook her head tossing another heap of earth on the grave. It was strange… Xena's death was what she'd always wanted. But now that the warrior was gone, her pain still wasn't… Seeing the warrior dead, didn't make her loss easier at all…
Her brows frowned as she heard the clattering of hooves and she looked up to see a large black horse thunder closer. She closed her eyes and took a breath in relief. She spitted her shovel in the earth, then walked towards the stallion. "Gabrielle…"
The bard hastily slid off Chilon's back. "She's alive, Halys. I need to go to Tyre…"
The lieutenant blinked. "Excuse me?"
Green eyes looked at her. "They've taken her to Tyre, locked her up…" She took hold of the woman's shoulders. "I saw her, Halys…"
"You saw her?" Blue eyes regarded her calmly. "Gabrielle, I know you wanna believe this is true, but don't you think…:"
"No." Green eyes pinned the lieutenant down. "I don't think, I know."
Alaran, who'd seen the bard ride in as well, stepped closer. "Gabrielle, how could you have seen her if she's in Tyre? I mean, really… "
His chief swiveled around. "I saw her."
Alaran shook his head. "But…"
"Hey, if Gab says she's seen Xena, she's seen Xena." Another voice dropped into the discussion as Esta trotted into the clearing.
Gabrielle turned and shot Esta a smile. The Athenian gave her a nod, before the bard turned back. "I'm gonna go to Tyre and get her out. You guys go back to Alex and tell him…"
Alaran took a breath. "OK, look, assuming you're right and they did take her to Tyre… That place is a fortress, Gabrielle, you're never gonna get in alive, and even if you do, you'll definitely not get out…"
"You just let me worry about that." Gabrielle stated, before walking back to Chilon. "I'll be back in about four days with Xena, or I won't be back at all…"
"Or we won't be back at all." Esta corrected her, nudging Argo closer to the stallion. "Hey, you ain't gonna leave without me, Gab." She responded to the look she get from the bard. "If I get her out, the Princess'll owe me. I'm not gonna pass up an opportunity like this, no way…"
The bard grinned, then nodded. "Thanks Esta."
"Thank me when this is over." The Athenian stated simply.
Halys glanced from Gabrielle to Esta and back, then sighed. "Just wait for a moment, let me get my horse…"
Green eyes focused on her. "Halys, you don't have to come…"
"Yes I do." The lieutenant stated simply, then walked to the mare she'd tied to one of the branches of a large tree.
Gabrielle shook her head, then her eyes fell on Alaran, who was just opening his mouth to speak. "No way, Alaran. I need someone to take these guys back to Alex and tell him.
"Aw, crap." The lieutenant muttered. "I always get the boring jobs, don't I?" Gabrielle chuckled, then watched Alaran step closer. "You go get her back, Gab. Kick some Persian butt for me, will ya?"
"I'll see what I can do." She smiled back at him, patting his shoulder. "Take care, all right? Tell Alex he should move up his army to the gates of Tyre and watch his back."
"Gotcha." Alaran nodded, then looked up at the other two women, Halys having trotted closer and taken up position on the other side of the bard. "Take care, ladies."
They all gave him a nod, then Gabrielle pushed Chilon into a gallop, thundering away from Badkar and towards the city of Tyre…
Xena blinked, then winced as an incredible pain seared through her skull. "Oh, this is not good." She muttered, then let her eyes glance across the space she was in. The cell was small, thick stone walls surrounding her. The only illumination came from the small window in the wooden door, three thick bars casting shadows across her face. Her arms felt heavy, large chains strapping her against the wall. Her
armor was gone, leaving her only in her tunic, which was covered in blood and dirt.
She stirred, trying to move into a more comfortable position. Pain seared through her, her head throbbing. She closed her eyes, the red spots dancing in front of her eyes making her nauseous. Concussion… Not good at all…Tiredly she let her mind go over what had happened. She remembered the fight, the satisfying gurgle as Memnon sagged onto the ground… But there had been too many and they'd overtaken her, knocking her down. She remembered Xerxes' smug face as he walked in, all royal robes and fancy jewellery. "You know, I'm supposed to kill you… But we're gonna have some fun first, you and I…" She remembered being dragged behind the horse, the fight having drained her reserves completely.
She let her eyes glide across the stone walls once more. Tyre. This had to be Tyre. It was the only city in the vicinity that could have walls this thick. And if this was Tyre… She let out a breath, letting her head fall forward. If this was Tyre, she was going to die…
Not quite the heroic death she'd imagined… A thought occurred to her and she closed her eyes. Gabrielle had been right, her vision of Memnon, the battle inside… She should have been more careful, she should have realised the Persians would circle them. She'd promised Gabrielle…
She dangled in her chains tiredly, all her weight resting on her arms, watching the shadows slide across the stone floor. They'd torture her, probably, but she'd been through that, it didn't matter much. It didn't…
Her head shot up as she felt a touch against her cheek. Only a moment, then it was gone, but she could have sworn she'd seen… "Gabrielle?" She managed in hoarse whisper.
A chuckle was her response, but it wasn't the bard's. "You calling for your little friend, Xena?" The door creaked open and Xerxes stepped in. "That's…cute…" He laughed, stepping closer until he was only inches away from her, before drawing a dagger from inside his sleeve. "Your death will be in four days from now. Now, in those four days…" He let the metal slide across her skin slowly, drawing blood and watching it trickle down her cheek. "…I could have a really good time at torturing you…" He smiled charmingly at her, then withdrew the blade, cocking his head at her. "However, you do have information I need… About your little army, Alexander of
Macedonia…" He crossed his arms. "Give me that information, and I'll make the days until your death less painful."
Blue eyes glanced up at him, then Xena chuckled humorlessly . "Do your worst."
The king looked at her, then grinned, rubbing his hands together. "I'm gonna enjoy this…" He lifted a hand, not taking his eyes away from Xena's and motioned one of his soldiers closer. "Make sure no bone in her body is left unbroken."
They rode on for hours on end, the moon slowly rising overhead until it reached its zenith, before starting its descend again.
The bard pulled Chilon back a bit, dropping into a trot.
Halys rode up beside her. "I know we have to move fast, but if we ride on like this, the horses won't last more than a day. They have to rest… And so do we…"
Gabrielle looked down at the heavily breathing Chilon, his thick neck covered in sweat. She gently gave him a pat, sitting back and letting him slow down. "You're right…" She nodded at Halys. "We'll take a break for a few hours. Ride at dawn. That way we should reach Tyre by nightfall."
The lieutenant nodded back, pointing at a small oasis up ahead.
They rode towards the spot and settled down, letting the horses drink while setting up camp.
Esta snapped two flints together harshly, trying to get a spark across into the dry leaves. "I hate campfires." She grumbled, knocking the stones into each other once more, again to no effect.
Footsteps got closer, then Gabrielle dropped down beside her, taking the flints from the Athenian's hand and lighting the fire in one go. "It's not that hard…"
"Hmm.." The Athenian grumbled, uncharacteristically.
The bard cocked her head, watching the woman. "What's up with you?"
Esta glanced up at her, then nudged her head in the direction of Halys, who was filling their water bags. "Why'd you have to let her come?"
A blond eyebrow lifted. "What do you mean? Halys is my friend, she..:"
Esta snorted, interrupting her. "Nice friend that is…" She looked into the bard's green eyes. "She wanted you dead, Gab. She didn't even come after you when you… Well… Left, you know…"
Gabrielle let her eyes trail to the lieutenant, then looked back. "She was just doing what she thought was best for me."
Esta shook her head. "Yeah, right…" She muttered, absently tossing some sticks on the fire.
A blond eyebrow raised. "Esta, do you really think that if I'd wanted to kill myself, you could have stopped me?"
The Athenian's eyes lifted and met determined green once. She sighed, poking at the flames. "No."
"My point exactly." Gabrielle smiled at her, then patted her shoulder. "Thanks for trying though."
Esta scowled, then shrugged her off. "No problem."
Gabrielle pushed herself up, then walked over to her saddlebags. "I only have some trail rations… Maybe I can make you guys some soup…"
Esta chuckled in spite of herself, watching the bard rummage around. "And you cook too? Gods, girl, is there something you can't do?"
Gabrielle grinned, taking some herbs and vegetables out of her pack. "Well, I can't sing, for one…" She grabbed a dagger out of her boot and started cutting up an onion. "And I'm lousy at eating with chopsticks, but except for that…" She snickered as Esta stared blankly at her.
Halys walked over and placed the cooking pot on the edge of the fire, in the hot ashes, before sitting down, drawing circles in the dry sand with a stick.
Gabrielle mixed some herbs and vegetables in her creation, then waited for the mixture to boil before filling three bowl and handing the food to her silent companions. "Here."
Esta glanced at the bowl, then took a tentative sip. "Hmmm…" She licked her lips. "When we get back to camp, remind me to fire the cook and hire you."
Gabrielle smiled, swallowing down some of the warm liquid herself. She let the bowl warm her hands, allowing her eyes to glide around the camp they'd made, watching the horses huddle together a little way off. She'd wrapped a thick blanket around poor Chilon, so he wouldn't cool down too quickly. She'd slaved the poor animal off today and the horse was exhausted, but he hadn't complained even once. It was a funny thing about horses…They seemed to realise some things more then other animals did. Xena had once told her that Argo would always stay near camp, when the warrior was ill or wounded, somehow sensing that she could use some extra protection.
Gods Xena, you could sure use some protection now, I bet. The bard took a breath, closing her eyes. Hold on, all right? It won't be much longer.
Esta's voice broke through and made her look up. "Yeah?"
"You should get some sleep…" The Athenian stated, giving the bard a slightly worried look.
Gabrielle managed a smile for her, but shook her head. "Even if I tried I couldn't get to sleep anyway, Esta… But you guys get some sleep, all right? I'll stay up, keep an eye out."
Esta regarded her for a moment, then reluctantly nodded, pulling her bedroll closer to the fire and settling down on it, closing her eyes.
Halys looked at the Athenian for a moment, then moved a little closer to the bard. "Gabrielle… I…"
"Halys…" The bard cut her off, then smiled at her. "I know. It's all right. Just get some sleep."
The lieutenant regarded her for another moment. "This isn't your fault, you know that, right?"
Green eyes tracked to hers, then dropped. "I told her to stay behind…"
"Gabrielle, you couldn't have known…"
The bard let out a breath, watching it drift up in a small, thin cloud. "Probably not… But that doesn't make me feel any less guilty…"
Halys looked at the quiet profile, then gently patted her shoulder. "We'll get her out."
Gabrielle covered the lieutenants hand with her own. "Thank you, Halys."
"Anytime." Halys gave her a smile, then settled down on her own bedroll, tucking the sheets tightly around her.
Gabrielle leaned back against a fallen tree trunk, looking up at the star filled sky. Her eyes automatically found some new patterns and her heart sank as she realised she had no one to share them with.
Branches cracked softly and Gabrielle looked up to see hooded eyes glancing at her from one of the treetops. She managed a smile. "Hi."
The bird hopped off the branch, soaring down. Feet touched the ground gently, without a sound, and Mithras stepped closer, settling down on the log she was leaning against. "I'm sorry I had to leave so suddenly, Chosen." He stated softly. "But the less people see me, the safer it is."
Gabrielle nodded quietly. "I know."
"You have questions."
Green eyes looked up at him, then back down, shuffling some of the sand into a pile with her feet. "You keep calling me Chosen… Why?"
Mithras smiled gently. "You know why."
Gabrielle let out a breath. "Angra."
"Yes, Angra." The god of justice nodded. "You are the One, the Phoenix, who will rise from death and destroy evil in its core."
The bard closed her eyes, leaning her head on her folded hands. "Great."
Mithras smiled. "I'm sorry, Chosen, it was faith's decision, not mine."
Gabrielle cocked her head, gazing up at him. "The visions…?"
"Now those were mine." The god looked back at her calmly. "You see, I can not reach across the border into Greece. I couldn't enter your land and help out. But as a Chosen, you are more sensitive than most to the supernatural. Your warrior friend knows this as well…"
Gabrielle considered this for a moment. "She senses Ares…"
"Exactly. And you sense events, the visions that I send you. But I could only send them your way when you were close to me. Potedeia is near the border, but when you left with Xena you traveled too far, so I could not help you, until…"
Mithras nodded. "Until Tripolis."
"But the last one, of…" She took a breath. "Of Badkar… That wasn't yours…"
The god shook his head. "It was Angra. He knows, Chosen. I tried to hide you from him, but he knows. He has known you were the One for a long time all ready…" Brown eyes glanced up sympathetically. "It is why you mothered his grandchild, became grandmother to The Destroyer. He wanted to break you, before you could break him…"
Gabrielle stared ahead mutely for a moment, allowing her brains to soak up this new information. It placed parts of her life in a completely different context. "And he nearly did…"
"But you beat him and you will again now." Gabrielle wanted to speak, but Mithras lifted his hand. "Enough of this. My problems are of no concern now. Your friend needs help. This is why I am here."
Gabrielle pushed herself up onto the tree trunk next to him. "Can I see her again? Could she see me?"
Mithras shook his head. "She cannot see you, no. You are there in spirit, not in body. You are like the air, always present, yet never seen."
The bard considered this for a moment. "But when I touched her, she looked up at me."
Dark brows frowned. "Did she?" He cocked his head, thinking. "I have never heard of such a thing, but then again, it is not everyday I allow mortal spirits to travel, so maybe it is possible. I'll have to ask my father." He shook his head. "Anyway, I've come to offer you my help. As I said, there's not much I can do for you, Chosen. However,…" He held up his hands and a small pile of dull red habits appeared. "The priests who attend the ceremonies on the island wear this. It will help you get into the city. The priests stay on a small island south of Tyre and are rowed across. You can use this to your advantage."
Gabrielle nodded eagerly, ideas forming in her mind. "OK, I can do that." She gazed up at him. "Thank you."
Mithras smiled at her, softly touching her cheek. "You have made great sacrifices because of us. This is the least I can do. I only wish I could do more…" Then he reached out and softly pulled the small necklace Athena had given her out from under her armor. He slowly closed his hand over the pendant, his hand glowing a bright white until he let go. "This is your link to me, Chosen. If you need me, wear this and call for me and I will come. However, you must realise that I can do only little. Against Angra, I am helpless."
Gabrielle nodded. "I know that…"
"Good, I…" A flash of lightening shivered through the air, although there were no clouds, no thunder. Mithras looked up at the sky, then stood. "My father calls for me. Angra is near, I have to leave before he realises I am here." He hesitated for a moment, then knelt beside her, reaching out and taking her hand, gently squeezing it. "Have faith, Chosen. We will meet again when this is over and your friend is safe." He smiled at her, then his hand was gone and a claw was balancing on her arm. The falcon pushed off and soared up, straight into the night sky.
Xerxes leaned against the windowsill, staring out across the courtyard with a grin. In the
center stood a large pole, a broken figure chained against it. A whip was drawn back, then snapped forward loudly, the sound echoing across the courtyard. He could almost hear the scraping as the warrior's nails edged it's way into the wood. The king's grin grew even wider. "Oh, this is so much fun…"
"I'm glad you're enjoying it." A deep voice sounded behind him, hinted with danger.
"I told you I wanted her dead."
The Great King nodded. "I realise that, my Lord…"
"Then why do you disobey me?"
Xerxes took a breath. "Moral is down, you must realise this. If I use her as a public display, my people will realise that I am still invincible."
"I think you just like watching her squirm."
"Well, yes, that too of course…" The king couldn't repress a chuckle. "But this is Tyre, my Lord. No one can enter Tyre."
A pause as the voice seemed to consider this. "I cannot locate the Chosen. They are keeping her hidden from me."
"She's just a girl, what could she possibly do?"
"Destroy me." The voice stated, matter of factly. "You do realise Xena is merely a pawn? It is her I want…"
"If she comes here, we'll capture her and I'll sacrifice her to you personally, my Lord." Xerxes smiled as the whip echoed across the square once more. "This way, we both get what we want."
"As long as you make sure I get what I want. Cause if you don't, you realise what will happen, don't you?"
The king swallowed, then nodded hastily. "Yes, my Lord."
"Good." Was the burred response, before silence settled across the room once more.
Gabrielle tightened the girth on Chilon's saddle, then gave the horse a pat on the neck. "I'm sorry Chi, but you know why we have to get moving, don't you?"
The horse snorted, then nuzzled her tunic.
The bard stroked his mains affectionately, then looked up as Esta guided Argo closer. "Ready?"
The Athenian nodded, then cocked her head. "Hey Gab?"
"I don't wanna sound like a disbeliever or anything, but exactly how are you planning to get onto an island and into a highly protected prison without anybody noticing?"
Gabrielle chuckled, as she pulled herself onto Chilon's back. "I'll tell you while we ride. C'mon…"
Xena's eyes narrowed dangerously as she slowly lifted her head and gazed at the Persian King. She winced as her soar muscles spoke up, her body tired from being tied to the pole the whole night.
Xerxes chuckled. "Now now Xena, don't give me that look… I've decided to be nice and offer you a second chance…" He smiled at her charmingly. "A few words will end your misery…"
Blue eyes focused on him. "Get lost." She managed in a hoarse voice.
The king laughed. "Not the few I was looking for…" He circled around her, sparing a glance for the few people that were walking across the square in the early morning. "You know, I've been thinking about how exactly I want to execute you… I thought about crucifixion, but I heard you've sort of been there and done that, so that's no fun… Hanging is a death far too gentle, burying you alive won't allow me to watch you squirm…"He leaned over her shoulder, close to her ear. "What would you do, Xena? If you had finally captured me, what would you do?"
The warrior looked at him, then managed a smile. "Nothing."
Xerxes straightened, crossing his arms. "Excuse me?"
"I would do…" A cough racked through her body, and she took a moment to let it pass, before drawing in another raspy breath. "…nothing. You're not worth it."
Brown eyes flashed and Xerxes grabbed onto her chin, jerking it back harshly. "Not worth it? And this coming from the beaten form of a woman sentenced to death?" His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Take that back, Xena, or you will stand here for another day."
Blue eyes gazed at him, then Xena managed a tired grin. "Bite me."
Xerxes growled, then turned away from her briskly, his robes swaying behind him as he walked back towards his castle.
Xena watched him go, then leaned her head against the wooden pole she was leaning against, letting out a breath. "Great going, Xena." She muttered to herself. "Another day of pleasant torment, that's just what you need."
She glanced up at the chains holding her arms high above her head. She tried tugging on them, tried to worm her hands free, but the chains were locked securely. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath of the damp morning air. There was no way out. And if she did manage to escape from the chains, she would never get out of the city, not in the state she was in. The warrior let out a breath, then looked up as her sensitive hearing picked up heavy footfalls. She sighed, tensing her muscles for what lay ahead.
Her tormentor of the day before stepped closer. "Well, hello again." He flashed a smile at her. "My lord Xerxes doesn't seem to like you much, does he?"
"The feeling's mutual." Xena managed in a grumble.
"And how's your back feeling today?" The man continued on pleasantly. "Any better?"
The warrior didn't even dignified that with an answer as she just braced herself for what was about to come.
The pain seared through her back. It was something sharp, daggers maybe… She didn't really know. She didn't want to know, pushing the pain aside roughly, forcing her mind to think of other times.
"This place is so beautiful." Her new travel companion sagged down, falling back into the high grasses happily.
"Hmm." Xena had grumbled in reply, not being too happy with their camping spot at all. It was an open stretch of land, covered with rich green grass and wildflowers. No good space for a fire anywhere…
"You don't think it's pretty?" The bard had sat up, looking at her.
"It's not practical." The warrior had stated simply, shooting a look at the young girl, before busying herself in trying to make the dry grasses she'd found burn.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the woman, then stood and walked closer , sitting down crossed legged beside her. "Has anyone ever explained to you that not everything's supposed to be practical?"
Blue eyes glanced up at her, then back down. "Nope."
"Well, then I'm telling you now. I mean, really Xena, you need to relax a little sometimes, you know?"
A dark eyebrow edged up. "Relax?" The bard nodded eagerly. "Gabrielle, if I relax and a bunch of scum decides to head our way, we'll both end up quite dead. Is that what you want?"
Gabrielle considered this for a moment. "No." She shook her head. "But you can't just be keeping an eye on things 24 / 7, you know? I mean, even Warrior Princesses have to rest once in a while…"
"Yes, I do, and your chattering isn't helping much…" The remark had been really uncalled for, and she regretted it the moment she'd said it.
"I'm… I'm sorry…" The girl managed, quickly standing and moving away a few paces. "I didn't mean… I…" The bard turned and walked off.
The warrior let out a breath. "Nice Xena, really nice. Scare the kid, why don't you… " She muttered, shaking her head. She pushed herself up, then walked after the girl. Her long steps caught up to the bard's shorter ones in no time and she gently reached out, placing both her hands on the girl's shoulders "Hey."
Hooded green eyes peeked up at her. "I didn't know I was…"
Xena raised a hand, stilling the comments. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry." She dropped her arms to her sides. "I… We just have a very different way of looking at things sometimes."
The blond head nodded softly. "I guess. It's just…" The bard sighed, then sat down on the slight slope, pulling at some stalks of grass. "I worry about you…"
Both the warrior's eyebrows raised at the comment. "Excuse me?"
A shrug "I know it's stupid, cause you're… well, you're you, you know?"
Xena sat down beside the bard, crossing her arms.
"But you just… You never seem to enjoy things…life… And…"
Xena let out a breath. "Life out here is pretty dangerous, Gabrielle. There's just always something to look out for. I can't take my guard down."
"I know." The bard sighed. "But I just… You should smell the flowers a bit more, you know? I mean, really…" She picked a flower with large blue pedals and turned towards the warrior. "I mean, just smell…" But her co-ordination, as always, had been off, and in stead of stopping in front off the warrior's face she'd pushed the flower too far, painting a bright yellow dot of pollen on the tip of the warrior's nose. "Oh…" She dropped the flower, scrambling back just a little. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…"
Xena slowly lifted a finger, wiping some of the yellow stuff off her nose. She regarded her fingertip for a moment, then turned to the bard, who was looking at her anxiously. She managed to keep a menacing look on her face as her hand reached out, grabbed onto a bunch of flowers and then pushed them straight into the bard's face.
Gabrielle coughed, waving at the cloud of pollen that surrounded her. Slowly the cloud cleared and she focused her attention on the warrior.
Xena watched the annoyed face with blobs of yellow spread across it for another moment, then started laughing helplessly.
The bard looked at her for a moment in utter shock, then watched as the warrior got up, still chuckling, and extended a hand down to her. "C'mon. Let's get dinner started, OK?"
Gabrielle smiled, then took the offered hand happily, allowing Xena to pull her up.
The warrior strode back to where they'd left their things and Gabrielle hastily trotted along, trying to keep up.
Xena looked at her for a moment, then slowed her pace a little, allowing the bard to walk along beside her. "Hey Gabrielle?"
"Thanks for worrying."
A charming smile spread across the bard's face slowly, lighting up her whole face. "Anytime."
So much had changed about Gabrielle through the years, but never that. Never that smile. And she focused on it, on the flowers and the grass, almost feeling the gentle breeze against her skin, pinning the quiet picture in her mind as her body dealt with another surge of pain.
"And you're sure this is gonna work?" Esta hissed, not trusting their disguises all that much, as they walked closer to the gates of Tyre.
Halys uncomfortably pulled at the habit she was wearing. "Just shut up and act priesty." She muttered in an undertone.
Esta wisely kept quiet, eyeing the well armed soldiers that stood at the gates suspiciously from under the thick hood.
The first guard peered ahead, into the shadows the twilight was casting around them, then gave the second a light poke. "I didn't know we were suspecting any more sacred men for the festival?"
The second studied them closely. "Probably got lost somewhere. Don't give 'm trouble, just let 'm in… Unless you wanna get cursed or something…"
"Nuhuh." The guard hastily shook his head, then turned to the gates and pulled them open, letting the threesome in.
"Well, that was easy enough…" Halys muttered, ignoring the polite bows and nods they were getting from the
people around them.
"Yeah, well, th…" The breath got stuck in her throat and Gabrielle stopped dead, staring at the center of the market, where a shattered form was dangling semi-unconsciously from a large wooden pole. "No…" She took a few shaky steps forward, then hands held her back and pushed her in the opposite direction.
"You're not acting priesty, Gab. People are looking…" Halys hissed into her ear.
"Think of the plan. We're not gonna get her out by rushing to her side now, OK?" Halys reasoned, feeling the slump in the bard's body as Gabrielle realised she was right.
The bard closed her eyes and nodded. "OK." She took a deep breath, clearing her spinning head. "We… We have to wait until it's fully dark. Less people…"
Esta nodded, glancing around to see most people had lost interest in them and were looking elsewhere. She glanced up and gave Halys a meaningful look over the bard's back. "All right… Gabrielle and I will check out that boat across to the island, you stay here and watch Xena."
Halys nodded, wanting Gabrielle away from the square as much as Esta did. "Gotcha."
"All right." The Athenian put a hand on the bard's back. "C'mon, chief…"
Halys watched the two cloaked figures move away, then looked around, spotting an dark area in the shadow of a large building. The lieutenant walked towards it, then turned and watched the square, unseen in her corner. Night was falling slowly and people started to head for their houses. Lanterns were lit and casted a little light over the square, the light reflecting off the helmets of the guards circling Xena's slumped form. Halys shook her head. The woman was covered with wounds and bruises, locked against a strong pole by heavy metal chains and they still had her guarded. They were definitely not taking any chances. Which was smart, probably, since she'd seen Xena get out of pretty bad spots loads of times before… This was the worst yet, though, and the warrior would definitely not get out of this one without some help. Her help, ironically enough. The Fates really did move in mysterious ways, didn't they? Halys looked up, the sky slowly changing from a light blue to darker shades of the same color.
A door creaked and another soldier paced onto the square, walking straight for Xena's guards. He gave them some orders, which Halys couldn't understand since he spoke Persian, then the guards nodded and walked up the small platform, loosening the chains from around the pole, then tugging on them. The warrior tried to stand, but her legs gave way and she crashed to the ground. The guards seemed oblivious of this, however, and simply dragged her along, one holding onto each arm and another two following behind with spears, pointing at the warrior's back. They strode towards a large wooden door at the far end of the square and opened it, pulling the warrior along behind them down the steps. A few moments passed, then the four guards returned, one staying posted outside the door while the rest walked off into the shadows.
Esta glanced at the small rowboat, tied to the dock and guarded by two soldiers, then back up at Gabrielle. "And we're gonna get passed them with Xena without making a sound exactly how?"
"Just trust me." The bard muttered, judging the distance between where they stood and the mainland. Then she looked at the small island in the distance, that was slightly illuminated by the moonlight.
"You know I trust you, but this is gonna be a toughie, Gab… Are you sure this is all gonna work?"
Gabrielle nodded. "It has to…" She glanced up at the dark skies, then turned back towards the square. "Come on, it's time…"
Esta followed her, pulling the hood of her habit up a bit further over her head. "Hey Gab?"
"If this somehow doesn't work, I… I just wanna say it's been an honer fighting with you…"
Green eyes turned to her and the bard managed a smile. "Thanks for coming, Esta."
The Athenian waved her off. "I'd follow you to Hades and back."
Gabrielle faced forward again, the hood obscuring her face. "Let's just hope you don't have to…"
Halys spotted the two figures from her hiding spot and waved them over hastily.
"Where is she?" Gabrielle asked, her eyes darting restlessly across the square.
"They've taken her in there." The lieutenant stated, pointing at the door with the guard, who was now leaning against his spear with a bored expression.
"The prison." Gabrielle muttered, glancing at the other guards that were positioned on several places around the square. She took a breath, then looked at the two other women. "OK, you both know what to do, right?"
The two nodded.
"Good." Gabrielle patted Halys' shoulder. "Just stay back, let me do the talking." She stated, then started moving forward, out of the shadows and towards the yawning guard.
The guard straightened as the three figures approach, then he gave them a respectful nod. "Hail, sacred ones."
The first nodded at him in acknowledgement. "We're here to give final prayers to the one sentenced to death."
The accent was a bit strange, the guard noted, but these wise men came from all over the country. Different dialects were spoken and he decided not to bring the fury of the priest upon him by asking about this.
"Just follow me." He turned and fished a set of keys out of his pocket, unlocking the large wooden door and walking down the stairs, footsteps echoing behind him.
The hallway was as she remembered it, rows of doors, slightly illuminated by a few torches placed in holders along the walls. They paced along, walking towards the last door on the right.
"Be careful. This one's dangerous." The guard informed them, turning a key to unlock the door.
A rattling outside her door sounded and Xena blinked, trying to clear her foggy mind. Her body was tired, but it hurt too much to sleep in the awkward position she was in, dangling from the chains that locked her to the stone wall of her cell. Another rattle, then the lock squeaked and the door was pushed open. A long shadow fell into the room, several forms obscuring the doorway. The warrior dug into the last energy reserves she had and managed to lift her head.
Three cloaked figures stepped inside, then the door was closed behind them again. The moment the door fell shut the first rushed forward and fell to her side, pushing back the hood.
The warrior's mind stopped, then started spinning around the images her eyes were sending her. It couldn't be… "Gab… Gabrielle?" She managed in a hoarse voice.
"Shhh…" The bard gently reached out and touched her cheek. The green eyes darted across her face, taking in the cuts and bruises. "Gods, Xena, what have they done to you?"
The warrior tried to reach out to her, but the chains rattled and held her hands in place.
Gabrielle glanced up, then looked back at the two other shapes, who gave her a nod.
The guard's face shot up as a yell sounded from inside the cell. Chains rattled loudly. "Hey, what's going on? Sacred ones?" When there was no reply he hastily pulled back the door and stepped inside, holding onto his weapon tightly.
He blinked as his eyes took in the scene before him. A blond haired girl was sitting beside the warrior woman, gently muttering reassuring words. "What the…?" He managed, then a sharp blow struck the back of his neck and his world turned dark.
Halys pulled the keys from his grasp, then tossed them over to Gabrielle. "Catch."
The bard caught them single handedly, then hastily searched the chain of keys for one that could unlock the warrior's chains, finally finding one and reaching up to stick it in the lock around Xena's wrists.
"Sacred ones?" A dark eyebrow lifted slowly.
"Long story." Gabrielle muttered, then turned to the second lock.
The warrior slumped down on the ground, now that the chains that had been holding her upright were released. She winced as her body screamed out in pain. The bard hastily dropped beside her, gently touching her face. "Can you walk?"
Xena shook her head. "Broke my leg." She managed in a croaking voice.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, then gently laid her forehead against the warrior's. "I'm so sorry, Xena." She whispered.
Gabrielle looked up. Esta reached over and handed her one of the habits. Meanwhile, Halys was tucking her hair into the soldier's helmet, after having straightened the Persian armor she was now wearing. The guard's naked body was lying unconsciously on the ground.
"Help me get her up." She motioned for Esta, who quickly wrapped her arm around the warrior and pulled her upright. "Hey, Big X. How are ya feeling?"
Xena managed a wry smile. "Never been better." She managed, before pain seared through her as she put some weight on her legs. She blinked, trying to get her eyes to focus.
"Easy…" Gabrielle's voice drifted in. "You OK?"
She managed a nod, then weakly gestured towards the habit Gabrielle had lying over her shoulder. "Do I get to dress up too?"
"You betcha, sacred one." Esta stated from beside her, reaching out and helping Gabrielle pull the habit over her head.
Halys looked up, then nodded at her commander and switched places with Esta.
Gabrielle turned to the Athenian. "Esta, just stay behind us a little. Be ready, OK?"
"Absofreakinglutely." Esta nodded, then walked to the door and opened it for them.
"Hey, what's that?" The Persian guard tapped a second soldier on the shoulder. The soldier looked away from the sea he'd been staring across and turned, peering into the darkness. Four shapes were slowly coming closer. Three wise ones and a soldier. The soldier was supporting one of the priests, who was limping along slowly. "That's odd…." He muttered, then stepped forward as they approached the dock. "Hail!"
"You should work on your security." One of the wise ones snapped angrily.
The guard blinked. "Excuse me? Wha…"
"We were attacked by that wild woman in your dungeons. We barely got out alive." The priest motioned for the soldier, who's face was hidden in the shadows of a large helmet. "This one will come with us, bring us to the island safely."
"But…" Then the guard hastily nodded. "Of… Of course. Anything you wish, sacred one…" He bowed politely, then hastily walked over to the small rowboat, turning his back to them.
A thud, and he grabbed for his chest, then fell forward and onto the sand, a dagger sticking out of his back. The second guard looked up just in time to see Esta's sword edge its way into his stomach.
"Go!" Esta rushed them forward, hopping into the rowboat and jumping behind the oars. Gabrielle hopped in as well, then lowered Xena into the small vessel, seating the warrior on a bench beside her while Halys crawled next to Esta, pushing the boat off with one of the oars.
"You all right?" Gabrielle asked, wrapping an arm around Xena, who was leaning against her in an attempt to stay conscious.
The warrior nodded weakly. "Tough walk."
"I know…" The bard stroked her cheek, pushing some dark locks out of her face. "It'll be over soon. Just hang on…."
"Gab!" Halys' voice spoke up in alarm, and she nodded her head in the direction of the dock, where some soldiers stood, barely seen in the distance, pointing at them.
"Crap…" The bard muttered. Then turned back to Halys. "Just row as fast as you can, all right? Just…" The body in her arms stirred suddenly and reached forward in a flash. The arrow halted as the warrior's hand closed over it, stopping the arrowhead right in front of Halys' heart. Blue eyes looked up at the lieutenant for a moment, before Xena sunk back tiredly into Gabrielle's embrace, closing her eyes.
The bard softly stroked her hair. "Did anybody ever tell you you're amazing?"
A small smile spread across Xena's face, then faded again. "Gab?"
"Tired. Have to go under…"
Gabrielle gently kissed the top of the warrior's head. "I know. Go to sleep. I'll get you out of this…"
A faint nod was her answer, then Xena's body went limp in her arms.
Gabrielle glanced back at the slowly fading dock. Another arrow was launched into their direction, hitting the side of the boat. "We're almost out of range." Gabrielle informed the other two women, who were pulling on the oars with all their strength.
Esta glanced up, then shook her head. "We've got worse problems now…"
Gabrielle followed her gaze to the gates of Tyre, that were opening and the large drawbridge into the city that was being lowered. Moments later armed horsemen started to pour out of the city gates.
Gabrielle let out a breath, then glanced across the water at the land they were approaching. "We have to move fast." She lifted her fingers to her mouth, then let out a high pitched whistle. She hastily pulled off the habit she was still wearing, before turning back to Halys. "When we reach the main land I want you to climb up on Argo. I want you to take Xena and get her back to camp."
The lieutenant's eyes narrowed in alarm. "But wh …"
"That's an order." Green eyes looked at her sharply. "Just don't stop until you reach the camp. Esta is gonna follow behind, provide cover."
"Like Hades I am."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Esta…"
"Can't order me around, Gab. As the commander of the forces of Athens, I decide to stay." Esta informed her clearly. "Now just shut up and tell me how far we have to row…"
"Nearly there…" Gabrielle stated, realising she didn't have time to argue with the Athenian. "We have to move quickly, the Persians are closing in."
A horse neighed and she spotted Argo, standing at the water's edge as they got closer. A few more strokes and the boat struck land and Gabrielle hopped out, lifting Xena's slumped form out of the boat and wading through the water. Halys ran up on land as well, pulling herself onto Argo's back. The mare snorted, but remained calm as Gabrielle lifted Xena off her shoulders and Halys pulled her up, lying her across the saddle in front of her. Gabrielle gave the horse a short pat. "Go Argo, get her out of here…"
The mare snorted, then took off, Halys hastily grabbing onto the reigns as the horse galloped into the distance.
Gabrielle ran over to Chilon, who's brown eyes were anxiously watching the approaching Persian forces. She pulled herself into the saddle, then reached behind her and unsheathed the two sword she had strapped across her back, Xena's and her own. "Esta?"
The Athenian pushed her horse up beside her. "Yeah?"
"Hold 'm back as long as you can…"
Esta drew in a breath, flexing her fingers around her sword hilt. "Gotcha."
They both stared ahead calmly as the Persian horses thundered closer and closer…
Suddenly the horses were yanked back harshly, stopping dead several meters before them.
"What in the name of…" Esta muttered, then suddenly horses sped along beside her, racing towards the enemy.
Gabrielle turned Chilon around and watched the thousands of Greek soldiers circle around her, speeding down the hill, yelling wildly.
Alaran sped past, waving at her with a big smile. "Hey Gab! Cavalrymen to the rescue!"
A laugh slowly bubbled up and she let it, looking back at Esta, who was flashing a grin at her.
"Gabrielle!" Alexander's voice drifted through the drumming of hooves and moments later the young king pulled up beside her. He took a moment to regain his breath, then reached out and grabbed onto her arm. "You did it…"
"We did it." Gabrielle corrected him with a smile, reaching over and patting him on the shoulder. "Great timing, Alex."
He chuckled. "Don't thank me. It was Alaran, he saw your boat while he was scouting and alerted the army."
"Yup." Alex nodded. "I left Ptolemaios with Xena, to look after her wounds." He let out a breath. "She looked pretty beaten up…"
"Yeah…" Gabrielle let out a breath. "But at least she's alive…" She glanced up to see Parmenios trot closer, beaming a smile at her. "We chased them back into the city."
Alex nodded. "Good, tell everybody to fall back, return to camp."
Parmenios nodded and was about to turn, when a voice stopped him. "Wait…"
Gabrielle looked at them. "Alex, could you hand me that banner, please?" She asked, pointing at the large blue flag with the royal emblem that the king was carrying along.
"Sure…" Alex shrugged, then handed her the thing and watched her ride off towards the city.
Gabrielle glanced up at the large gates. A short, gray haired man was staring down at her, royal robes tucked around him tightly. She pushed the banner down into the ground beside her, the wooden pole digging into the earth until it stood securely, the blue fabric rustling softly in the wind.
She glanced up at the Persian king. "Today I took my friend from you." She informed him, letting her eyes meet his. "Tomorrow, I'll take your city." Then she turned and pushed Chilon into a canter, riding back towards the army that was slowly pulling back, returning to camp.
Xerxes growled as he watched the army recede. "Damn it!" He slammed his fist on the stone wall. "I was so close…" He turned to the soldiers standing beside him. "Go. Start preparing the
defenses." A short pause. "And find me the guards that let them slip through their fingers… make sure they have no more fingers before the sun rises."
The soldier nodded and bowed. "Yes, Great King."
Xerxes looked ahead of him again, staring at the blue banner positioned in front of his gates, softly blowing in the wind. He couldn't take it down. The moment he'd start lowering his gates, the Greek army would be waiting for him. "Damn it." He cursed again.
"You screwed up again, didn't you?"
Xerxes took a breath, then straightened. "It wasn't my fault, my Lord."
"No, that's what you said the last time too, when Xena killed hundreds of your soldiers single handedly." The voice mocked him.
"You have to help me. Protect my city." The king of kings pleaded.
"Forget it. I helped you long enough and lost too much in the process. You're on your own, Xerxes. I must prepare for her arrival."
Xerxes gazed up at the sky. "No, my Lord, please! I will not fail you again, I promise…"
There was no reply.
Alex patted Gabrielle on the back as she rode closer, then turned his stallion and rode up beside her. "That was great! Did you see all those Persians shiver?" Alex laughed happily.
The bard smiled. "Xena always says, you have to let the enemy know you're better than they are, even if you're not. Moral is half of the strength of an army, and when soldiers are scared, their moral is low…"
"Makes sense." Alex nodded, raising his hands at some of the soldiers cheering at them as they rode into camp.
Gabrielle hopped off her horse, then turned to Alex. "You…uhm.. You probably want a report of what happened or something and…"
"Gabrielle…" Alex smiled at her. "Just go. I'll get the story from Esta, I'm sure she'll love to splurt everything that happened out in glorious detail." He patted her shoulder. "She's in your tent, I figured she'd like that more than the healer's tent. Tell her I said 'hi'. I don't wanna see either of you before midday tomorrow, got it?"
"Got it." Gabrielle nodded with a smile. "Thanks Alex."
"No prob. I'll take care of this horse of yours." He stated, taking the reigns from her hands.
The bard nodded, gave Chilon a brief hug, then strode off towards her tent hastily.
Softly, she pulled the tent flap aside and walked in. Ptolemaios, who'd been huddled over Xena's still form, straightened, then walked towards her, flashing her a smile. "I took care of her wounds." He whispered, motioning towards the warrior. "She has remained unconscious the whole time. You should try to keep her off her back, it does not look good and will need much healing. She'll have many scars to remember this adventure by."
Gabrielle spared a glance for the warrior, who was lying on her side, facing them, then turned back to the Egyptian and nodded. "OK."
He smiled, then pulled her into a hug. "Well done, my friend. The word 'impossible' takes on a whole different meaning with the two of you."
Gabrielle chuckled, returning the hug.
He pulled back. "I'll make sure no one disturbs you for a while, so Xena can rest. Get some sleep. You seem tired…"
She nodded, then watched him turn and walk out of the tent, leaving her in silence.
Gabrielle placed the weapons she was still wearing in a corner, then slowly stepped closer, gently sitting down on the edge of pallet the warrior was lying on. She picked the rag Ptolemaios had been using off the small table at her bedside, then dipped it into a bit of water. Gently, she reached over and cleaned some blood splatters from the warrior's face.
Xena stirred. Blue eyes opened, blinking a few times against the light the lantern was spreading around their room.
"Hey." Gabrielle smiled, pushing some hair out of the warrior's face.
Xena's eyes found Gabrielle's. "Hi." She managed, her voice still hoarse.
"Sorry if I woke you up…" The bard muttered, cleaning out the cut on the warrior's cheek.
The warrior just shook her head, wanting to speak. But her tired mind was unable to find the words, so she just reached out and took hold of the bard's hand, intertwining their fingers.
Gabrielle just gazed down at her for a moment, then pressed other hand to her mouth, suppressing a sob. "I was so a.. afraid I lost you." She managed, dropping her hand and stroking Xena's cheek. "Gods, Xena, I'm so sorry, I…"
Xena shook her head. "You're sorry?" She chuckled softly, ignoring her tired body's protests. "Gabrielle, you just got me out of the dungeons of an island fortress. If there's one thing you shouldn't be, it's sorry…" She stroked the back of the bard's hand with her thumb. "Thank you."
"Anytime." Gabrielle murmured, wiping the tears out of her eyes and forcing her guilt back. "Just 299 saves to go and we'll be even, right?"
Xena grinned, then closed her eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath.
"You uhm… You should get some rest. I'll just go and…" The bard tried to untangle her hand from the warrior's, but the fingers tightened around hers and she looked up to find blue eyes studying her.
"How long has it's been since you got some sleep?"
Gabrielle shook her head, letting out a breath. "You don't wanna know…"
"Figures." She heard Xena say, then her world suddenly shifted as Xena tugged on her hand with surprising strength, rolling over and pulling her onto the pallet beside her.
"Xena!" Gabrielle looked at the warrior indignantly, but couldn't help a small smile from crossing her lips. "You're supposed to rest…"
"Shush. Be quiet." Xena ordered, pillowing her head on the bard's shoulder and closing her eyes. "Don't want my pillow moving."
Gabrielle looked down at her, wanting to protest, but she reconsidered and shook her head, gently kissing the top of the warrior's head. "If you're uncomfortable, you'll tell me right?" She asked in a whisper.
There was no reply as Xena's breathing deepened and the warrior drifted off into peaceful sleep.
"And then she just reached out and whoosh…" Esta grabbed at the empty air. "Just snatched that arrow out of mid air."
Parmenios shook his head. "She's such a show off."
"It was amazing." The Athenian went on enthusiastically. "And than she lost consciousness and Gab thought up this whole plan of escape and sent Halys off with Xena."
Alaran leaned closer to the lieutenant sitting beside him. "That must've made you happy…" He muttered into Halys' ear.
Halys rolled her eyes at him. "She ordered me. Otherwise I wouldn't have done it."
"I know." Alaran patted her on the back. "You're such an obedient little woman after all."
"Shut it, old man." Was the grumbled reply, which got a chuckle out of Alaran.
"And then we just sorta armed ourselves, you know, and we were standing there, watching this horde of Persians race closer and closer…"
"And then we saved the day." Alaran added cheerfully.
"Well… yeah…" Esta shrugged. "So, that's about it, Alex… Basically we were just along for the ride, Gab organised the whole thing."
Alexander shook his head. "Incredible… Those two keep amazing me…" Nods and agreeing mutters drifted up. "I'm glad everything worked out all right though. Well done, everybody." He smiled at his lieutenants. "That was great teamwork today, getting that army moving as fast as we did. I think we all deserve a bit of a feast to celebrate, don't you agree?"
An enthusiastic cheer was his reply and he chuckled, waving over one of the cooks and whispering some instructions to him.
Halys looked up, then took the offered mug of ale from Alaran's hands. "Thanks." She stated, taking a big gulp of the liquid.
"So, explain something to me…" Alaran started, sitting down beside her. "Why did you go along to save our beloved Warrior Princess? She isn't one of your favourite people, last time I checked…"
Halys looked up at him, then stared back at the contents of her mug. "You know why I went along, Alaran."
"You felt guilty…"
Halys nodded. "That and I'd told Xena I'd die before she did. I don't break promises like that, even if they're to a woman like her."
Alaran nodded, then swallowed another mouthful of ale. "And then Xena saved your life…"
"And I saved hers. Nothing has changed."
Alaran studied her for another moment. "Hasn't it?"
Halys looked up, then back down, staring into the flames of their campfire. "Gabrielle loves her a lot."
"Like you loved Charis?"
Halys considered this for a moment. "Maybe… Maybe even more…" She shook her head. "The thing is, I trust Gabrielle. She's a good person. So the person that she cares for, trusts in, has to be a good person as well…" The lieutenant tossed up her hands. "I just have a hard time uniting the Xena I remember, the Xena I hate, with the Xena she travels with…" A short pause. "Do you know what I mean?"
"Absolutely." Alaran nodded. "I mean, remember, when she first came to Pella, I wanted to kill her."
Halys grinned. "And you got your butt kicked."
Alaran chuckled ruefully. "Well, yeah… But my point is, I hated her guts, big time, for killing the royal family, in a way…" A shrug. "But she's changed now and I've accepted that… I know it's different for you. I just lost a friend, and that wasn't even really her fault…. You lost your soulmate…"
Halys closed her eyes. "It's just strange, sometimes.. Ever since then, all I've wanted was to kill her. To see her dead, bading in her own blood… And a few days ago I though she was dead, cut into pieces by Persian blades and…" She shook her head. "It didn't change anything… I didn't feel better… I actually felt worse…" She looked up at Alaran. "And when I saw her in that square, dangling from that pole, beaten… I felt sorry for her. I've wanted to see her dangling like that for five years and now…" She shook her head at herself. "What's wrong with me, Alaran?"
The lieutenant chuckled. "You're getting soft at your old age, granny."
Halys rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, right…"
Alaran smiled, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Maybe it's time to forgive, Halys. And to let the past be the past for once."
"Maybe." Halys agreed in a whisper. "But… I feel like… Like I'm betraying her…"
"Do you think Charis would have wanted this? I didn't know her that well, Halys, but I don't think she would've…"
Halys let out a breath. "I guess not… It's just…" She folded her hands together, leaning her elbows on her knees. "Hating her has kept me going, and if I lose that…" She shook her head. "Where do I go from there…?"
Alaran shrugged. "Where do you want to go?"
Halys shook her head at him. "Life is so simple to you…"
"Life is as hard as you make it." The lieutenant stated, taking another sip of his ale. "I've lost all I cared about before, whatever life tosses at me now can't be any worse than what I've already been through…"
Halys looked at him for a moment, then wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "You know, old man, we're just really unlucky in love, aren't we?"
Alaran chuckled. "I guess we are… But that's all right, you know. We'll learn from this. We'll do things right in our next life."
Halys smiled, gazing at the snapping flames calmly. "I'm looking forward to it all ready…"
Gabrielle woke up as a ray of sunlight forced it's way into their tent and onto her face. She lifted her hand, blocking the light, then blinked, trying to get her eyes to adjust to the brightness. From the looks of it, the sun had already risen quite a bit and it was already halfway up the eastern sky.
Gabrielle spared a glance for the head tucked against her shoulder and she smiled, when she found the warrior still sound asleep. That was good, the rest would give her body some time to heal. Gabrielle shook her head, tracing the small cut on Xena's cheek. It would be a while though, before Xena would be fully healed. She hadn't seen all the wounds yet, but the fact that Xena was still asleep halfway through the morning really said enough.
The body beside her shifted a little, then winced and blue eyes blinked open, grunting as the sunlight beamed into her face.
Xena yawned. "Morning."
Gabrielle patted the warrior's side gently. "How are you feeling?"
Xena considered the question for a moment. "Stiff." She then stated. "But better than yesterday."
"Always nice to know that being here with me beats hanging on a pole in the town square of Tyre."
The warrior chuckled. "You bet. You're much nicer to lean against than a wooden pole."
"I'll take that as a compliment." Gabrielle muttered, then slowly untangled herself from the warrior. "You feel like some breakfast or something?"
"Don't think I can keep it down… Haven't eaten anything in a few days…"
Gabrielle winced as she slipped into a clean tunic.
"They'd have just beaten it out of me again, wouldn't have done me any good…" Xena stated matter of factly, tentatively flexing some of her muscles and wincing at their slow response.
Gabrielle filled a mug with some water, then settled down beside the warrior. "You want some painkillers?"
Xena considered this for a moment, then shook her head. "Not yet."
"OK." The bard nodded, then held the cup to her lips, letting the warrior drink a few sips of water.
"Thanks." Xena smiled at the water soothed her sore throat. "That's much be…"
Her sentence was interrupted by a soft cry and the fluttering of wings. A falcon soared in through the small gap between the tentflaps, then settled on the edge of her pallet.
Xena blinked. "Wh…?"
"Hi." Gabrielle smiled, walking closer to the falcon.
The bird hopped onto the ground, then grew, changing, and moments later a young man stood in their tent.
Xena shook her head. "Figures. I wish birds could just be birds sometimes, you know?" She muttered to herself.
Mithras smiled brightly. "You did it, Chosen. Well done."
"Couldn't have done it without you." Gabrielle smiled, then gave him a hug. "Thank you…"
He waved her off. "I will hear none of it." He told her sternly, then turned his gaze to meet Xena's. He smiled and stepped closer. "It's an honor to meet you, warrior."
Xena nodded at him. "Mithras, I presume?"
The young god grinned. "You presume correctly." Then he extended his right hand towards her, placing it flat on her forehead. A light emanated from his fingers, slowly growing brighter and brighter, until it encompassed Xena's whole body. Another moment, then Mithras let go, staggering back, breathing heavily. Gabrielle rushed toward him, catching him before he could fall.
"I forgot how much energy that takes." The god breathed, shaking his head. Gabrielle shot him a worried look, then spared a glance for Xena.
The warrior blinked, slowly flexing some muscles. They were still sore, but the throbbing pain had receded and had turned into a dull ache. She touched her cheek, to find the wound Xerxes had caused with his dagger gone. "What the…?"
"I'm afraid I do not have enough power to heal you completely, warrior." Mithras managed, leaning against the table for support. "But this should help a little, at least." He turned to look at Gabrielle, who was still staying close to him, in case he would fall again. "Angra has returned to his greatest temple in the north east, Chosen. He will gain strength there, feeding on the souls of the dead until he feels strong enough to defeat you."
Gabrielle nodded, taking this in. "All right… I'll need a little while to rest and process everything that's happened. I'll contact you when I'm ready."
The god inclined his head towards her. "As you wish. I will be there when you need me." He flashed her a smile, then he was gone and a flacon flew up, soaring straight up through the top of their tent.
Gabrielle watched him go, then looked back down to see Xena looking at her.
The warrior raised an eyebrow. "Chosen? What's this?"
The bard gave her a sheepish grin. "I'm the One, who'll rise from the dead and defeat evil in it's core…"
"Great." Xena rolled her eyes. "And I thought you being an amazon princess was bad…"
"I missed out on quite a lot, didn't I?" Xena muttered, now sitting up, swallowing another spoonful of soup.
"Sorta." Gabrielle stated, fumbling with the edge of her tunic. "So, what do you think?"
"What do I think?" Xena repeated the question, with a pensive look. "I don't know, Gabrielle, it changes the way I look at a lot of things that happened, you know?"
The bard nodded quietly. "I know."
"All of this doesn't change anything though… I came here to find Angra, and that's still the goal."
Gabrielle crossed her arms. "We came here… You keep forgetting the to say 'we'."
Xena let out a breath, stirring her soup absently. "Sorry…"
Gabrielle leaned against the wall, next to the warrior. "I know it gets more scary as this whole thing comes closer. But I think I'm ready… I wanna have done with this, finally really put it behind me…"
"I have no problem with you putting this behind you. And I don't have no problem with the 'destroying evil in it's core' part… What I have a problem with is the 'rising from death' bit, cause to rise from death, you first have to be dead…"
Gabrielle shrugged. "Maybe it's just a metaphor…"
"And maybe it isn't." Xena retorted stubbornly. "Either way I'm not taking any chances."
The bard raised an eyebrow at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"That means…" The warrior took a breath, trying to calm herself. "That means I want you to be careful…"
Gabrielle looked at her, then leaned against the warrior's shoulder. "Sorry, didn't mean to snap at you."
"'s Okay… It's just… a bit of a touchy subject…" Xena muttered, wrapping an arm around her. "But you know I just want you to be safe, right?"
Gabrielle just nodded. "I know."
"Good." The warrior stated, then put her empty bowl down and pushed herself to the edge of the bed. "Now, let's see if my legs can hold me upright, so we can get going…"
Gabrielle gave the woman a look. "Are you sure?"
"Yup." Xena nodded firmly, then pushed herself off the pallet, letting her feet touch the ground. Gabrielle hastily jumped to her side, and she was glad for the support, as her knees had trouble adjusting to suddenly supporting her full weight again. It didn't hurt though, which was good. The Persian God had apparently managed to fix her broken bones. She took a few tentative steps, then felt her legs gaining strength and she stood up a bit straighter. "Not bad… Curing gods beat painkillers anytime…"
Gabrielle chuckled. "Good. I wasn't really looking forward to strapping you to that pallet for weeks, this saves me the trouble."
A tap on the fabric of the tent made them look up. "Come in."
Ptolemaios walked inside. He took one look at the standing warrior, then his eyes widened and he staggered back out the tent again. Gabrielle pulled the tentflap aside as a thud sounded and they saw the Egyptian had ungracefully fallen on his butt and was looking up at them, blinking.
Xena wiggled her fingers at him. "Hi."
Ptolemaios blinked. "Th… This is not humanly possible."
"Not humanly, no." Xena informed him cheerfully, taking another few steps, a bit steadier than the last ones, then extended a hand down to him. "Had some godly help."
Ptolemaios gave her another look, then decided not to take any chances and scramble to his feet himself. "I…uhm… I came to check on my patient, but I see it is no longer needed…"
"Nope." Xena shook her head cheerfully. "I was just going to see my horse. Wanna come?"
"Uhm…" Ptolemaios shook his head, trying to get his brains working again. "I'd better go and tell Alexander that you are uhm… healed…" He stated, then turned and walked off again.
Xena chuckled as she watched him go, then turned her eyes to see Gabrielle step up beside her with a grin on her face.
"You're such a brat…" The bard shook her head at her.
Xena laughed. "Hey, I didn't even do a flip or anything. I was good…"
Gabrielle sighed, then wrapped an arm around the warrior's waist. "Come on, let's go see your horse. I think I owe mine an apple or something too."
"You owe the poor boy a whole crate."
"You're just saying that so I'll get that crate and you can steal the apples and eat 'm yourself."
"Now would I do a thing like that?" Xena drawled, then grinned wickedly as Gabrielle rolled her eyes at her.
The mare's head poked up and brown eyes looked at her for a moment. Then the horse snorted, shaking her head.
Xena chuckled, edging closer and giving her horse a pat. "You're getting used to this, right girl?"
Argo nudged her in the side gently.
"Thought as much." The warrior smiled, then picked up one of the carrots she'd taken along and held it up to Argo's lips. "Here, that's for getting me to safety yesterday, OK?"
"Oh yeah, she gets a carrot, and what do I get?" Gabrielle's voice muttered from the box next to her.
"Gabrielle, you don't even like carrots." Xena retorted, giving Argo another piece.
The bard poked her head over the wooden side separating the two boxes. "It's the thought that counts."
Xena rolled her eyes, then tossed over one of the vegetables, which the bard caught with one hand. Gabrielle grinned at her, then held the carrot up to Chilon, who immediately scooped it out of her hand.
"You feed my presents to your horse?" The warrior gave her an indignant look. "I'm hurt…"
The dark stallion's head poked up, then he snorted at her, sending pieces of carrot flying back in her direction.
Gabrielle burst out laughing, leaning on the wooden side for support. "Good boy." She patted her horse enthusiastically.
Xena swiped a piece of sticky orange off her forehead, then shot it at the bard, who just managed to duck under it.
"Heh." Gabrielle chortled. "You're not ready for a carrot fight yet, warrior princess."
A dark eyebrow raised. "Is that a challenge?"
The bard grinned, but then decided against it, shaking her head. "Nah, I want you to heal completely before I start trashing you again."
Xena chuckled, walking out of Argo's box and into the hallway, picking up the brushes they'd brought along. She straightened then came face to face with the entire army, staring wide eyed at her from outside the tent. "Hi guys." She smiled charmingly, biting back a grin as Esta fell back unceremoniously.
Gabrielle poked her head around Chilon's box, peeking out at the watching crowd.
There was another moment of complete silence, then Alex staggered forward, pointing a finger at her. "Bw…H…How…?"
"I think we have to work on your grammar, Alex."
Gabrielle chuckled, giving her partner a poke.
"B… Yesterday you were… And now… How?" The king blinked at her.
Xena flashed a smile at him. "I have amazing recuperative powers."
Another poke from Gabrielle, then the bard sighed and walked out into the hallway, wrapping an arm around Alex's shoulders and turning him around. "Lemme tell you a little story, Alex…" She stated, guiding him out of the stables.
Xena watched as Gabrielle slipped into bard mode. Then she turned back to the horses, handing two of the last three carrots to Argo, and giving the other to Chilon, who snorted another piece of the vegetable at her in indignation. She ruffled his manes affectionately, then walked out of the stables, towards where Gabrielle was trying to get through to a bunch of incredulously staring soldiers.
"So that's what happened."
There was a long silence, then Alex took a breath. "So you're saying that bird that attacked you was actually a Persian God, who's been sending you visions since you were a kid and that you are actually his Chosen, and you have to seek out this Angra and destroy him and that this Mithras just dropped in this morning and healed Xena's broken bones in a matter of seconds?"
Gabrielle considered this for a moment. "In a nutshell, yeah."
"Right…" Alex scratched the back of his neck, then looked back at Xena. "So you're all better now?"
"Close enough." Xena stated, sitting cross legged on the ground. "My back still hurts a bit and I have some cuts here and there, but I'm feeling a lot better."
"Right..." The young king repeated. "Well… I'm… glad you're feeling… well…"
"Thanks." Xena replied cheerfully, then regarded the rest of the group. "I guess I owe all you guys a thank you, for saving my butt yesterday…" She paused. "So… Thanks."
"Just remember that you owe me, W.P." Esta stated with a smirk, leaning back on her hands. "If I get hurt sometime, make sure you have that Mithras fellow standing ready, OK?"
The warrior chuckled. "I'll see what I can do…"
"Super." Esta grinned widely. "You know, Athens is gonna be so boring after all of this… I mean, we've only been going for a little over a week, and all ready we've had a big battle, and miss seery amazon-warrior-bard person over there having strange visions…" She stated, pointing her hand at Gabrielle, who raised an eyebrow at the title. "And Xena's gotten kidnapped…"
"KIDnapped?" The warrior in question interrupted, giving the Athenian a look.
"Oh well, warriornapped, whatever." Esta waved her off. "And we've been sneaking into the greatest city in Persia and met kings and gods and…" She took a breath. "This has been so much fun! Can we do wage war again when this one is over?"
The soldiers around them laughed.
"Let's just finish this one before we start on the next, OK?" Alex chuckled. "Besides, we're not done just yet. It will take quite some time before we can get Tyre to fall…"
"Hey, it took them ten years to sack Troy. I'm sure we can beat that…" Alaran grinned at his king. "And besides, it'll be nice to stay put for a while. All this traveling was making me tired. For some reason I just can't keep up with miss 'I had this vision and now I'm just gonna get into the most well fortified city in the whole of Persia' and the 'I heal from nearly fatal wounds in only one day' warrior princess."
Another round of laughter drifted up.
"Nicely put." Alexander grinned, then stood, dusting the sand off his tunic. "All right people, let's get back to action, shall we? I wanna have a meeting of the lieutenants tonight. Par, I want you to set up around the clock scouting parties and guards, OK?"
"You got it." The lieutenant stated cheerfully.
"Good." He paused a moment, then spared a glance from Xena and Gabrielle. "We probably need to talk?"
The bard and warrior exchanged glances, then nodded simultaneously.
"All right." The young king waved towards his tent. "Step into my office."
"So…" Alex sat down behind his desk, looking up at them. "When do you two leave?"
"It sort of depends..." Gabrielle glanced up at the warrior standing behind her. "When are you gonna be ready to travel?"
Xena shrugged. "Now." She rolled her eyes at the bard's raised eyebrow. "Really. I mean, I think I read about the place Mithras was talking of, and that's still a few days away. I'm just a bit stiff, but that'll heal while we travel."
Gabrielle looked at her suspiciously for another moment, then nodded, turning back to Alex. "In that case, we'll leave tomorrow."
"Tonight'll be better:" Xena interrupted. "It'll be colder, better traveling then, instead of in that heat."
Alex nodded. "All right… I guess we'll just have to do without the two of you for a while…" He gave them a smile. "You'll be missed, that's for sure…"
"I'm sure you can do without us causing trouble for a few days." Xena chuckled.
Alex shrugged. "You may cause trouble, but you also solve it, so I don't mind." He grinned, then stood, patting Xena on the shoulder. "I really am glad you're feeling better Xena, I was just a little… well… shocked, really."
"'s Okay." The warrior waved him off. "Don't worry about it."
"Tell me before you guys leave, OK?"
"Sure." Gabrielle smiled at him, then tugged on the warrior's tunic. "C'mon, let's pack."
"Right behind you…" Xena muttered, allowing herself to be dragged along.
"You're really anxious to leave all of a sudden." Gabrielle murmured, walking beside her friend.
Xena shrugged. "Just being practical. It'll be much better for the horses to travel at night and rest in the day time. Better for us too…" She paused. "And besides, I look forward to getting on the road again… This army stuff is getting boring…"
Gabrielle chuckled, shaking her head at the warrior. "Always the critic. But I look forward to sleeping under the stars… I've been missing that…" The bard stated, pushing open their tent. "I wanna see those wounds on your back though, before we take off. I don't want you traveling if you're not ready…"
Xena rolled her eyes, then dropped down on her pallet. "Go on, check… You can put some of that salve on it, actually…" She muttered, pointing at a small wooden bowl standing on the table.
"OK." Gabrielle stated, picking up the bowl, then sitting beside the warrior, loosening her tunic and pulling the fabric off her back. There was a pause. "If this is looking good, I really don't wanna know what it looked like before, do I?"
Xena smiled, pillowing her head on her crossed arms. "Probably not. I know it probably looks bad, Gabrielle, but it'll heal in a few days, really."
"Hmm…" Gabrielle didn't sound too sure, as she dipped her fingers in the salve, then started spreading it across the warrior's back. "We're just gonna take it real slowly, OK? It's not like I wanna get to where we're going all too quick anyway."
"Sure." Xena agreed amiably, closing her eyes.
They spend a moment in pleasant silence, then there was rustling near the tent. Xena frowned. "It's Halys…"
"Halys?" She looked at the warrior, then at the tent flap as there was a soft tap on the tent fabric. "C'mon in…"
The lieutenant poked her head in, then stepped inside completely, walking towards them as Xena closed her tunic and sat up. "I need to talk to you."
Gabrielle looked from one to the other then cleared her throat. "I'm just gonna…uhm… get us some lunch… or something…"
"Sure." Xena looked at her. "See you in a bit…"
Gabrielle nodded, then hastily exited.
They regarded each other for a moment, then Xena decided to break the silence. "So…What do you wanna talk about?"
"I…" Halys stopped, ordering her thoughts for a moment. "I heard you were leaving tonight and I just wanted to have a few things said before you get a change to die again. Just in case you don't miraculously heal this time along…"
Xena repressed a grin.
Halys took a breath and straightened. "Yesterday, I realised I didn't hate you anymore…And… I mean, I'll never forget anything that happened, but I guess you're… forgiven…"
The warrior watched her quietly for a moment. "Thank you." She dropped her eyes. "Halys, if I'd realised what it was you lost back then,…"
"I know." He lieutenant interrupted, then she fell quiet for another moment. "I envy you, Xena. You're very lucky to have what you have…" She looked into the warrior's blue eyes. "Just make sure you don't loose it."
Xena nodded quietly. "I will."
"Good." Halys managed a smile, then straightened. "Well, I'd uhm…" She waved towards the door. "Better let you get to lunch and all…" She muttered, giving the warrior a last look before walking out.
Moments later Gabrielle trudged into the room again, balancing a tray of selected
eatibles. "What was up with her?"
Xena scuttled over, patting the space beside her, then fished a piece of cheese off the platter and started chewing contentedly. "Just wanted to chat…"
"When did you start 'chatting' with Halys?"
"Just now." The warrior informed her, putting the remainder of the cheese on a piece of bread.
"Good." Gabrielle nodded. "I'm glad for her, that she's moved on and all."
"Hmm…" Xena mumbled, taking another bite out of her lunch. "Don't know if I would've been able to do that though… I mean, if she'd killed you…"
"If she'd killed me, she'd be dead."
Xena considered this for a moment, then smiled reluctantly. "True."
"You're so predictable." Gabrielle muttered around a mouthful of nutbread, leaning her cheek against the warrior's shoulder.
Xena looked down at the blond head with a grin. "Now, that's a first…"
"No, it's not. I had some great talks with your mom. She was always 100% sure that whenever you went outside to play, you'd get into trouble... and you always did." She chuckled, giving her friend a poke. "And you always made me believe it was my fault… Fraud…"
The warrior smirked. "I never actually said it was your fault."
"No, not literally, but you always gave me these looks…" The bard demonstrated, slowly raising an eyebrow at the warrior. "Like that…"
Xena laughed, then ruffled the bard's hair. "Very good."
Gabrielle chuckled. "I used it on Alaran a few times. He was so scared… Maybe we should teach that to the whole army, then we can line up in front of the gates of Tyre and just raise our eyebrows…"
The warrior nearly snorted out her milk. "Oh gods… Now there's a mental picture…" She managed, hastily swallowing.
Gabrielle grinned, then stood, wiping some bread crumbs off her tunic. "So… What do we pack?"
Xena shrugged. "Just minimum supplies, the usual… Armour, weaponry…"
"Do we need all of that?" Gabrielle asked, pulling her saddlebags closer. "I don't think swords are gonna work on a god…"
"Probably not, but you never know…" The warrior retorted, standing and walking to where her weapons were piled up. "It's too bad I lost all my fancy armor. Nicias will be furious." She muttered, digging out her old leathers and armor. "It's back to the basics, I guess…"
"Your sword's over there." Gabrielle pointed to where she'd left her own armor. "I cleaned it off, after I found it…" She paused for a moment. "But it'll probably need sharpening or something, you know I'm not that good with swords…"
Xena picked up the scabbard, then unsheathed the blade, judging the edges. "It's still pretty sharp.. You did a good job on that."
"Thank you." Gabrielle said softly, putting some fruit in her saddlebags. "How much food will we need to bring?"
"Enough for about three days. I'm sure I can hunt down something while we travel."
"OK. I'll go check with the cook." The bard decided, then walked out of the tent.
Xena watched her reflection in the well polished blade for a moment, her face mixing with the black dragon swirling up the metal. She gripped the blade a bit firmer, then swung it around her body a few times, wincing as her still sore back objected. With a sigh she resheathed the sword, putting it on the pallet, then she picked up her leathers and started dressing. The blade would probably be useless against Angra, she had to admit. That annoyed her, since in almost any other field, Angra would have the overhand. He had enough demons to taunt her with, things that she still felt guilty for. The warrior shook her head, sitting down and pulling on her boots. They somehow never managed to escape the meddling of the gods, did they? She was actually looking forward to returning to Greece now, to the gods she at least understood, and knew how to deal with…
Xena stood, picking up the scabbard and swinging it over her shoulder, clipping it to the back of her armour. But at least she'd get a change at revenge. Angra would pay for everything he did to them, to Gabrielle in particular. She reached down and picked up her chakram, the metal blinking dully in the sunlight. If this guy had a head, she was gonna make sure she'd be the one to cut it off.
A dark head poked up and regarded the two figures that were walking towards him.
Gabrielle stepped into his box, putting the saddlebags down on the ground beside her. "Time to get going, boy."
The stallion snorted, nudging her in the side.
Gabrielle smiled, picking up a brush and wiping the dust from his back. "Sorry, it wasn't my plan, go complain to her." She pointed a thumb at the warrior, then patted the stallion's neck. "I'm sorry, but we'll take it nice and slow this time, I promise." She bent down, sliding her hand down Chilon's leg until the stallion shifted his wait and allowed her to check his hooves.
Xena lifted the saddle onto Argo's back, reaching down and securing the girth. "Just give him a apple and he'll stop complaining. You know what they say: like rider, like horse…"
"Oh shut up." Gabrielle muttered, getting a chuckle out of the warrior.
"You guys about ready?" Alex' voice drifted in, as footsteps came closer.
"Yup." Xena nodded, attaching her saddlebags to Argo's saddle. " I think so."
Gabrielle tugged on Chilon's reigns, then led the stallion out of the stables, where a large part of the army was waiting for them. One of the stableboys took Chilon's reigns from her and she turned to the waiting lieutenants, circling her. Esta stepped forward, and she pulled the Athenian into a hug. "Take care, Esta."
"Come back safe, Gab. Look after the woman wonder, OK?"
"You got it." Gabrielle murmured, then moved onto the next person in the line up.
"Good luck, Alex." Xena grabbed onto the young king's arm.
"You too, Xena." Alexander smiled, patting her shoulder. "You sure you don't wanna take some of the men with you?"
The warrior rolled her eyes at him. "Yes Alex, I'm sure." A smile. "Thanks for the offer though."
"Anything for you."
"I'll remember that." Xena grinned at him, then grabbed onto Argo's saddle and pulled herself up. She watched as Gabrielle finished hugging Alaran, then turned to Chilon and mounted as well, giving her a nod as she seated herself in the saddle. Xena nodded back, then pushed Argo forward. "Bye everybody. I expect that city to have fallen before I get back, got it?"
Laughter drifted up into the air, then Parmenios called the men to attention and they saluted as one, getting a wave back from Gabrielle, before both riders disappeared into the darkness.
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