Official Disclaimer: Yup, it really
is true, Xena and Gabrielle actually do not belong to me, but are the sole property
of Renaissance, StudioUSA and whoever else has a stake in the show. This story
is written just for fun, though I have to admit it's hard to have fun if you
have a five page limit ;-)
Violence: Always. I enjoy a good trashing, as does Xena, and Gabrielle doesn't mind slamming that staff around a little either. But I'll try to calm my bloodlust and refrain from tossing any heads around or removing vital body parts, OK?
Subtext: Not that much really. There are some references to a former relationship between Xena and another woman, so if that makes you skittish, don't bother with this one, all right?
When cutting off a serpent's head…
"Are you dead?'
"Hmmm." Gabrielle murmured in thought as she paced beside the warrior. "Did you kill you?"
The bard shook her head. "You know, you always pick people you've killed."
Xena shrugged. "Larger group, harder for you to guess."
"Right." Gabrielle muttered, scratching her jaw in thought.
Xena chuckled, then looked up at the sky to judge the time. The sun had almost reached it's zenith. The warrior was just about to comment that they should stop for lunch soon, when a cloud of dust in the distance caught her attention. "Company." She muttered softly.
Gabrielle cocked her head. "You know who?"
"No, too much dust." Xena answered. "But he's going fast and has been for quite a while now… I can hear the horse's breathing…"
They walked closer, then halted, waiting for the horseman to approach. Xena narrowed her eyes, focusing on the cloud of dust. Finally she could make out the shape of a man through the haze of sand. A soldier, dressed in a bright yellow shirt and dark leather pants. As he rode closer she could even make out the small crest on his shirt. An X shaped out of two swords… "Damn."
Gabrielle looked up at her friend. "What?"
"I know who he is."
An blond eyebrow raised. "Who?"
"He's a soldier."
Gabrielle gazed up at the dark face above her. "Which army?"
A moment of silence before Xena answered. "Mine."
Gabrielle was just about to launch into a series of questions, but was interrupted by the now thunder like sound of hooves. Xena handed the bard Argo's reins without comment, then stepped forward as the horse pulled up and it's rider jumped off. A man, only slightly younger than Xena, let himself slide off the stallion's back, landing on the sand with a soft thud. He walked over to where Xena was standing, then tapped his chest and bend his dark head. "Hail Xena."
"Demitri." The warrior stated, waiting for the soldier to raise his eyes. "What is your business?"
"I come with word of the commander Diotima, Princess. The debt you owe is to be repaid." The man answered, then reached in one of his pockets and removed a folded piece of parchment, handing it to the warrior.
Xena took it quietly, staring at the seal for several moments before breaking it and letting her eyes scan over the written words.
I'm calling in the debt you owe, I have a job that will suit your skills.
Then she nodded. "All right." She stated, folding the parchment and tucking it away. "Where is she?"
"The army is stationed near the township of Gracius, Princess."
Another nod. "Very well. Ride ahead, tell her I'll be there within the day."
The man bowed his head. "Yes, Conqueror."
"Good. And Demitri?"
The soldier turned and looked at her in question.
"You ever call me that again and you're dog food. Catch my drift?"
The man's eyes widened slightly, then he quickly nodded, mounting his horse and galloping off into the distance.
Gabrielle stepped up beside the warrior. "What was that all about?"
Xena sighed, then removed the folded note from it's hiding place and handed it to the bard. "After Caesar, I decided I'd had enough of the sailing life and started roaming around the country, soon followed by a new army. It started off quite small, but soon enough a good thousand men and women were following me. Diotima was one of my lieutenants. She soon became a…" Xena hesitated a moment, looking for the right words. "…a very close friend of mine." She stated, emphasizing the word 'close'.
Gabrielle nodded quietly as she scanned over the few words on the parchment.
"I headed for Thebes, the largest city in the area, thinking that I could take the city by force." A breath. "I was wrong. Only fifty men came out of that battle alive. The only reason I was one of them was because Diotima took an arrow aimed for my heart."
Gabrielle cocked her head. "Because she loved you?"
Xena managed a sad chuckle. "Love wasn't really a word in my vocabulary back then Gabrielle, nor in hers. No, she did it because she knew I'd owe her. She's a good fighter, but a lousy tactician, strategy was never one of her skills. She needed me, and she knew it. This was just her way of getting some leverage over her adversaries."
"Right." Gabrielle nodded, taking this all in. "And now she's calling in your debt?"
Xena nodded absently, then turned towards the bard, looking down at her. "Gabrielle… I don't know what she'll want me to do, but it probably won't be pretty, so it might be better if you'd…"
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms, stopping the warrior's plea. "Xena, we've been through this."
Xena looked at her, then sighed. "I know, but you can't blame an ex-warlord for trying, right?'
Gabrielle quietly shook her head, then gave Xena a light shove. "Come on, let's just get going. The sooner we get there, the sooner this'll be over with."
Xena smiled, then pulled herself in the saddle and extended a hand down to pull Gabrielle up behind her. The bard settled behind the saddle and wrapped an arm around Xena's waist.
The warrior half turned in the saddle. "Hey Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle just smiled. "That's what sidekicks are for right?"
Xena chuckled softly. "Right."
It took them about half a day to reach the large plain Xena knew would be the spot where Diotima would set up camp. It was a spot they'd used before, some five years ago. As they road down the path towards the clearing the sound of a hooting owl sounded from one of the trees, followed by a series of other bird cries as she neared the camp. "She never did come up with something original, now did she?" Xena muttered to herself, having developed the system herself all those years back. They drove into the camp, Xena alertly flicking her eyes from one side to the other. A few of the soldiers she still remembered and they all acknowledged her presence, bending of their heads. Most were younger soldiers though, and one of these stepped closer. "The commander has ordered me to take you to her tent."
"Oh has she now?" Xena muttered, pulling Argo to a halt and letting herself slide of the mare's back, before turning around and helping Gabrielle off. "Very well. Lead the way."
The boy nodded, then turned and strode off, marching towards the largest tent in the middle of the clearing.
He walked in before them, dropping to a knee before the wooden desk where a woman was sitting in a chair, her back turned towards him. "Xena of Amfipolis has arrived, my liege."
"Good." A low voice purred. "Leave us."
The boy bend his head, then saluted her and walked out of the tent.
Slowly the woman stood, turning around. She had shortly trimmed red hair and wore leather pants and a top, covered in gold decorations. "Well well, Xena…" She said, then looked slightly taken aback by the third presence in her tent. She quickly recovered her pose however. "You've brought a…" A chuckle. " a friend, I see."
She aimed a smile at Gabrielle. "Any friend of Xena's is a friend of mine."
Gabrielle smiled back sweetly. "Wish I could say the same."
Diotima watched her for a moment, then laughed loudly. "And spunky too… Xena you did always have a knack for getting involved with trouble, now didn't you?"
"Obviously." Xena retorted calmly, giving the commander a meaningful look. Then she stepped forward, placing her hands on the wooden surface of the desk and leaning forward dangerously. "Enough of the chit chat. You called me here to repay my debt. Tell me what you want me to do, so I can get it over with and then get as far away as possible from your tiring presence."
Diotoma gave her a hurt look. "Now Xena, that's no way to treat an old friend, let alone lover, now is it?" She leaned closer as well, her gray eyes piercing into Xena's. "I bet, given time, you and I could become very, very good friends again."
Xena leaned slightly bringing their faces within inches of each other. "I doubt it." She grumbled, before pulling back and straightening to her full height.
Another chuckle as Diotima straightened as well. "I should have know that, I guess… You're into blondes now, right?" She shot a grin at Gabrielle, then pulled her chair over and settled in it quietly. "But I'll get to the point. I take it you've figured out my plans?"
Xena crossed her arms. "You're heading for Thebes."
The commander cheerfully applauded her. "Very good Xena, very good. And I thought about what would be the best way to achieve my goal, considering your 'kill 'm all' theory wasn't quite successful." She shot a sweet smile at the warrior, who merely raised an eyebrow. "Then I remembered what you used to say… You know, about cutting off the head of the serpent?"
A second eyebrow raised. "You want me to take down the king of Thebes?"
Diotima gave her an impressed look. "You are so smart." She stated with a grin. "Yes, that's exactly what I want you to do. You take the head of Thebes out of the picture, and in the chaos afterwards my army will strike. Victory is a sure thing."
Xena stood quietly in the room, looking down on the red head, then she nodded slowly. "Very well. I do this for you, and my debt will be paid?"
"Absolutely." Diotima grinned. "You know, it's a waste of good talent, you fighting for good and all… It doesn't become you Xena, your dark side was much more interesting."
"Are we done?" Xena asked bored.
Dark laughter filled the tent once more. "Of course." Then Diotima leaned forward, gazing up at Xena. "My army will attack at dawn the day after tomorrow. Make sure you're ready."
Xena smiled sweetly. "O, don't you worry, I will be." She stated, before turning and walking out of the tent, leading Gabrielle out before her.
Xena took Argo's reins quietly, mounting up before extending her hand down to Gabrielle. She pushed Argo into a canter and turned the mare towards the city gates that were looming darkly in the moonlight.
"Ugh, she makes me sick." Gabrielle commented behind her.
Xena chuckled. "Yeah. I have to say she's improved though, she's a lot smarter than she used to be. Before her temper used to snap like that." The warrior stated, snapping her fingers.
"If she'd gone on any longer my temper would have snapped like that." Gabrielle stated, making a similar gesture. A short silence fell "You're not gonna do it, are you?"
Another chuckle as they neared the outskirts of the city. "Oh I'm gonna cut of the head of the serpent all right." A grin. "Only thing Dio forgot is that some serpents have a nasty habit of growing an extra head."
A full day passed before Diotima ordered her troops towards the gates of Thebes.
As she pulled up the dark stallion she was riding and turned, one of her scouts came riding towards her. "My liege." He greeted her, bending his head. "We've studied the city, commander, but there has been no real change.. Maybe it is to early…?"
Diotima narrowed her eyes at him. "I've given Xena a deadline. She's done what she had to do by now."
"Oh, I have, trust me."
Diotima's head shot up at the familiar voice. "Well Xena…" She purred, slipping off of her horse. "So nice to see you again. I take it our business is taken care off?"
"Oh yes, quite." Xena retorted, stepping slightly closer. "The king of Thebes is safely locked away in my dungeons."
Diotima smiled. "Good, that's…" Then her face darkened. "Your dungeons?"
Xena smiled sweetly at her, and shrugged. "I did what you asked, I took him out of the picture… My debt paid, I saw a clean shot at taking over Thebes, and well..." A grin. "I took it."
Diotima stood in complete silence for several moments, then she narrowed her eyes. "You double-crossing daughter of a bacchea." She spat out.
"Actually, my mother is an innkeeper." Xena corrected her quietly. Then she took several steps, towering over the red head. "I suggest you back away Dio."
"Never." The commander shot back. "I will not be defeated by you."
"Very well then." Xena stated quietly. "But leave the armies out of this."
Diotima looked at her for a moment, then grinned. "Are you challenging me to a dual, Xena?"
"Very perceptive." Xena muttered sarcastically.
A low chuckle sounded. "Very well Xena. Pick your weapon."
"Staffs. And it's not my weapon actually." She turned to look back towards the city gates. "Gabrielle!"
"What…?" Diotima managed, not understanding, then the light dawned. "You're gonna let the blond fight me?" She asked in disbelief.
Xena shrugged. "She asked for some practice, I said 'sure'."
Diotima looked at Gabrielle as she stepped up beside Xena, leaning on her staff quietly. Then she laughed. "This will be too easy." She turned. "Darren!"
One of the younger men stepped forward and handed her his staff. She balanced it in her hand for a moment, getting a feel for the weapon, then looked up at Gabrielle with a grin. "Very well blondy, show me what you've got."
Gabrielle shrugged, then stepped forward, launching her staff at the woman's left side, then suddenly changing direction, kneeling down and swiping Diotima's legs out from under her, dumping the commander ungracefully on her butt. "I prefer Gabrielle to blondy actually, if you don't mind."
Diotima glanced at her, then scrambled up again, now taking the threat the girl served more seriously. "Well well, I see you found yourself a protÈgÈ Xena." She commented to the warrior without taking her eyes off Gabrielle as she started to circle the woman. "Well done."
Gabrielle shivered. "Ugh, I am so gonna enjoy beaten the stuffings out of you."
"Well, aren't we sure of ourselves." Diotima muttered sarcastically, then launched her staff towards Gabrielle's head.
Which Gabrielle blocked with easy. "I have a reason to be." She stated, then launched into a series of attacks.
The commander barely managed to jump over the last lunge aimed at her feet. Then she aimed her staff for the bard's side. Gabrielle diverted the initial blow, but missed the second and the staff impacted with her shoulder harshly. The bard stepped back a few paces, then regained her composure.
Diotima chuckled as she stepped forward, slamming her staff towards Gabrielle's head. "It's over blondy, just give up and I might consider sparing you."
A thud as Gabrielle's staff blocked the commander's. "Gee thanks, but no." They exchanged a few more blows, in which Diotima mostly lunged forward and Gabrielle simply parried the blows, tiring her opponent out.
Xena waited impatiently at the side lines. "Come on Gabrielle, I wanna make it to Santius before nightfall if you don't mind!" She called out to the bard, as she ducked under another blow.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Always the critic." She muttered, then she looked up at Diotima, who was focusing all her energy on the battle. She chuckled slightly. "Sorry, I've been really enjoying this, but we're gonna have to quit the fun and games now."
Diotima looked up, taken out of her concentration. "Fun and…" Her voice stopped as Gabrielle chose this moment to launch herself up and flip over the commander's body. With a simple flick of her wrist, she slammed the staff against the unprepared neck, then turned to watch Diotima crash into sand.
She turned, then dusted off her hands, before walking back towards Xena. The warrior gave her a pat on the shoulder. "Not bad… A bit slow, but not bad." She grinned. "How's the shoulder?"
"Painful, but by the gods it was worth it, smacking that smug look off her face." Gabrielle stated cheerfully, watching as three of the soldiers picked up Diotima's unconscious body and lifted her onto one of the horses.
Gabrielle grinned, then looked up. "So, what did you think of the flip?"
"It was all right." Xena commented casually.
"All right?! Aw, come on Xena, admit it, I'm getting good at all the Warrior Princess stuff. Before you know it I'll be throwing your chakram around."
"Sure." Xena chuckled, then wrapped an arm around the bard's shoulders, guiding her towards the gates. "Come on, let's go inside. I have a throne to renounce."