Stand By You
Written By: Caina Q. Fuller.
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The limbs on the trees of the forest were so intertwined almost no light at all penetrated to illuminate the leaf-covered forest floor. It was mid-afternoon and unbearably hot outside of this sacred forest, yet inside there was perpetual shadow. The air was cool, moist and sweet, and it was a perfect place to hide from the elements, whether it be rain, sun or driving winds.
The air in this cool, shadowy forest was sweet as it was heavily perfumed with the scents of flowers that miraculously grew in this everlasting darkness. The entire place was a beautiful wonder in which one could easily lose themselves in the sites and scents surrounding them. It was a natural sedative to almost anyone who entered, with the exception of one tortured woman.
Gabrielle ran blindly through this forest. Her hurt and rage drowned out the sounds of the birds and other small creatures that went about their daily lives of gathering food for the upcoming winter. She could not appreciate the natural perfumes of this place the same way she would have had her encounter with Apollo almost two months before never taken place. Since that terrible moment her life had gone from exquisite moments of happiness with Xena and Eve to endless days of torment blurred by her heart-breaking misery.
Gabrielle's once peaceful dreams had been replaced with violent images of exacting her revenge on Apollo for what he'd done to her. He'd taken the joy out of life in order to exact revenge on Xena. At times she found herself hating everyone she had once loved. She sometimes hated Xena for killing the Olympian gods and for not arriving on time to save her from Apollo's sick plan of revenge. She sometimes hated Eve for even being born. Worst of all, Gabrielle hated herself for not fighting harder. Part of her knew that she'd given it her best and the fact that her best hadn't been good enough to save her from being raped hurt almost as much as the horrible crime committed against her.
Gabrielle continued to run, hoping that if she moved fast enough she could leave her rage behind. How, she asked herself, could someone who had dedicated her life to the Greater good and loved others so selflessly deserve this kind of nightmare? She had been willing to sacrifice her own happiness, her own life for the well being of strangers and in the end none of that had mattered. A bitter god had decided to hurt her and there was nothing that could have saved her. To Gabrielle there was no such thing as goodness. There was only hate and pure, unadulterated rage. It was like a living thing within her, and she could feel it eating her soul with each second that went by.
The one thing that Gabrielle had left was the possibility that one day she would know happiness again. She knew she would never forget what had happened, but perhaps she would one day be able to accept it as the cold, hard fact that it was and go on with her life. Perhaps one day she every blue-eyed, blond-haired man she saw wouldn't remind her of Apollo. Perhaps one day·she would begin to heal.
Then the sickness came. Every morning she felt the worse nausea she'd ever known. It would last well into the afternoon before she could even think of holding down a sip of water or juice. After that, her menses stopped and Gabrielle knew before the healer Xena had taken her to could tell her the most awful news of her life. Gabrielle was pregnant. Apollo had succeeded in his mission to kill her soul. Now there was no hope that she would one day be able to forget what had happened, for she would have his child to look upon every day. Even if Apollo too the child, she would know she had a son or daughter somewhere in the world. She was going to have to face the same hell she now faced with Hope all over again.
It was too much for her to bear. Gabrielle had stormed from the healer's hut, past Xena and Eve and into this glorious forest. She pushed herself harder than she should have, making nearly every muscle in her body burn and ache until she was barely able to breathe. Now her best friend in life called to her as she attempted to catch up to her.
Xena. How she hated her at this moment. Because she need someone to blame Gabrielle chose Xena. In Gabrielle's mind this was all her fault. Had she not overslept that morning she would have been there for Gabrielle the one time she'd needed her the most. It was because Xena had given in to the selfish urge to turn over and sleep just a little longer, Gabrielle had been left alone and open to Apollo's attack. She blamed herself for not being warrior enough to defeat Apollo on her own, and she blamed Xena for not being friend enough to be there in her moment of need. What angered Gabrielle above all else was that over the past couple of months her friend had steadily pulled away from her. She'd needed Xena's love and friendship, and all she'd gotten was an increasingly distant stare.
"Gabrielle, please! Stop!"
Gabrielle continued to run. Not because she couldn't stop but because she wouldn't. She never wanted anything to do with Xena, Eve or even the rest of the world ever again. Why had this happened to her?
Before Gabrielle could muse on the answer to her question the very earth beneath her gave way and she found herself falling into shadowy darkness. The dim light from above barely illuminated the sharp rock edge of an obviously formed structure. If she hit the corner of that·
Gabrielle twisted in mid air just before she could land on the sharp rock edge. It wasn't lost on her that she'd instinctively turned to protect her belly from hitting the edge. Had she not, she surely would have lost Apollo's child.
Why did I do that? She asked herself. I could have ended this nightmare here and now and my conscience would be clear. I would have lost Apollo's spawn in an accident.
Only it wouldn't have been an accident. She would always know that deep in her heart she'd killed the child on purpose, and that would have just been one more regret in this entire nightmare story. Despite how it was conceived it was still her child. An innocent completely dependent upon her for his life and she just couldn't bring herself to purposefully kill an innocent. At least not yet.
A moment later Xena's concerned face appeared in the small hole in the roof of this place that had opened and swallowed her. The Warrior Princess searched the room from above for only a moment, and Gabrielle could almost see Xena's mind working on a plan to pull her out, though she wasn't sure she wanted to go. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness around her she realized she was in a tomb.
"Don't worry Gabrielle. I'll have you out of there in no time."
"Don't bother Xena. Just leave me and let me die. I don't want to go on."
Xena's voice was full of the love and compassion that showed through in her eyes. "I'll never give up on you Gabrielle. Never."
Xena disappeared and Gabrielle forced herself up into a sitting position. The pain from landing on her back so hard shot all the way down the back of her legs. She forced herself to ignore it and got to her feet to examine the tomb she'd fallen into while she waited for Xena to find a way to pull her out.
Stone pillars lay everywhere around the room, giving a sense of age to the tomb, but the masterpiece was a large Sarcophagus in the center of the room. She had landed right next to it and could consider herself lucky she hadn't hit the sharp stone edge. That same stone edge had faded engravings carved in the sides that told the story of the one buried here. It was a familiar story of the Titan's that had ruled the earth before Zeus had wrested control from him.
There was a massive hole in the center that indicated someone had been here after the body of the giant had been buried here. Gabrielle blew away the dust on the letters that were inscribed at the head of the Sarcophagus and what she saw sent chills through her. Not chills of fear, but of sheer delight at the possibilities this discovery held for her.
"This is the tomb of Cronus!" She whispered.
Gabrielle quickly checked to make certain Xena wasn't watching, then peered into the hole she knew only a god could make in the thick stone. Or should we say, half-god? This was where Hercules had punched through to get one of the ribs of Cronus to save Eve when Zeus worked to kill her at birth. This was where it was rumored Hera had met her end. Right below Gabrielle, in plain sight was what she needed to avenge the death of her soul. The Ribs of Cronus.
Without wasting anymore time, Gabrielle jumped inside. As Hercules had done almost 26 years before, Gabrielle grasped one of the bones from the skeleton. Unfortunately, she didn't have the mighty man's strength and she was unable to pry it loose, so Gabrielle took the next best thing: the vertebra.
Fortunately Cronus had been an incredibly large Titan. Bigger than even the ones Gabrielle had freed from Zeus' prison all those years ago. Even one of his vertebrae was as long as the blade on Xena's sword. She took the two that lay disconnected from the rest of the body and climbed back out.
When Gabrielle emerged she began to fantasize about her revenge. Now Xena wasn't the only one that could kill a god. With this bone she would be put on even footing with Apollo. Now she stood an even chance against him in battle.
If I can get away from Xena, Gabrielle thought. She knew her friend well enough to know that if Xena knew Gabrielle's plans that both she and Eve would work to no end to stop her from killing Apollo. If her barely formed plans were going to work she would have to get away from Xena and Eve, and she would have to do it fast. Gabrielle had a mission and it wouldn't be long before she was too swollen with child to fight
Gabrielle went to the walls, scanning them with her eyes but there was no way out. The last thing she wanted to hear from Xena and Eve was some Elijan sermon about not giving in to the darkness or how killing Apollo won't take away her pain.
"Maybe it won't end my pain," Gabrielle said aloud, "but it'll take away this helplessness."
Gabrielle rested one of the nearly indestructible bones against the wall of the tomb. She had to think. There had to be a way for her to get away from Xena and·A breeze of the fresh, perfumed air from the forest outside blew her whispy, blond bangs from her tear stained face and she looked up to see Cronus' bone had pushed through the rock wall, as if by magic.
"Son of a bitch," Gabrielle said. For the first time in two months her rosy lips split into a smile of genuine happiness that lit up her entire face. She used the other bone to pry open her escape just as Xena dropped down into the tomb. When Xena saw what Gabrielle was doing she froze in place.
"Gabrielle? What are you doing?"
Gabrielle's voice was cold and hard, sounding like a stranger to Xena. "I'm leaving. I'm going put an end to my pain."
Xena's eyes searched the tomb around her and as her eyes took in the inscription above Cronus' tomb she too remembered the location they were at. "We're in the forest of the Titans·you have Cronus' bones."
Xena knew exactly what Gabrielle had in mind and she couldn't let her do it. She hated Apollo for what he'd done to Gabrielle, possibly almost as much as Gabrielle did, but she also knew that giving in to revenge would only worsen Gabrielle's pain.
"Gabrielle, you and I both know revenge doesn't heal, it hurts."
Gabrielle snorted bitterly. "Save your sermons Xena. I've preached them all before and you know what? I was wrong. Now you're not the only one that can kill a god."
"Gabrielle please-" but Gabrielle only turned and stepped through the gate Cronus' bone's had opened for her, and before Xena could take a step forward it sealed shut again. She would have to get out the same way she cam in.
Xena grabbed the rope she and Eve had secured above and climbed back out. When she emerged from the hole, Eve helped her to her feet.
Eve pulled her mother from the tomb. "I heard what Gabrielle said mother. We have to stop her. If she kills Apollo we may never get her back.
Two weeks later
After two weeks away from Xena, Gabrielle had finally completed her new look. She now wore a pair of black pants that would easily stretch to accommodate her growing belly in the months to come, and her loose tunic was as gray as the sky that churned above her. She looked every bit the warrior she'd become since her resurrection with Xena over twenty-five years before.
She held the spyglass to her eye. From a distance the sight of Thad's two hundred man army was impressive. However, upon closer examination by the discerning eye of a real warrior one could see the cracks in the facade. The men were malnourished and weak. Their eyes had a tired, beaten look Gabrielle found oddly tragic. These were the same kind of men she had spent her adult life fighting beside Xena to defeat, but now she planned to fight with them. She would either use them in her campaign against Apollo, or they would kill her for trying. Either way she was going to waste no more time gathering an army.
As she rode closer she noticed the leather of their uniforms was worn, the material ripped and filled with holes. Their weapons were old, unpolished and dull. Their blades couldn't cut up a chicken much less kill an enemy.
However their commander, the warlord Thad, was a different story. He was grossly overweight where his men were dangerously thin. His clothes were new and richly woven whereas his men were dressed in rags. He sat at a banquet table laden with food, greedily gorging his already massive belly with rich foods. Crumbs and grease dropped into a beard already full of these and other...things. His bad manners allowed him to wipe the grease from his food onto his expensive clothes, all the while the men of his army stood by watching, their bellies growling with hunger at the smell and sight of the food their commander selfishly hoarded to himself.
Gabrielle watched all of this from the trees of the forest surrounding the clearing the pathetic excuse for an army had camped themselves in. How they could let this one man treat them so poorly was beyond her, but she was about to put a stop to it. She checked her Sai's once more, then pulled the new sword that hung on her back and the matching dagger in her boot.
These new weapons had been fashioned for her and only her. The hilt had been made for her hand with a fine leather grip. The blade itself, however, was what made this a weapon unlike any other on earth. The metal had been laid over Cronus' bone, which had been sharpened to a razor's edge under the skilled hands of an old and experienced black smith. He had done such an excellent job that unless one held the blade to the light and nearly drove themselves blind to examine it, the bone which was the sharp edge could not be seen. It was this that made the sword and dagger deadly to man and god alike.
Gabrielle had enough of watching Thad stuff himself in front of his hungry men. It was time to prove to them they could do better, and that better was with her as their leader. She rode into the fringes of the camp, without any resistance from the men. She had expected at least a token word of objection to her presence but there was none. How pathetic. These men were so tired and abused they didn't even have the will to fight an intruder. She would have to do something about that.
She made her way through the crowd, the men parting silently to let her through. When Thad looked up at Gabrielle, his eyes filled with lust, but she would quickly replace that with anger when he discovered her motives for being here.
Thad wiped animal fat from his mouth onto the back of his hand and belched disgustingly. Because Gabrielle was down wind from him, she could smell this warlord hadn't had a bath in quite some time. Neither had the men. She would also have to do something about that.
"Who in Tartarus are you?" Thad said in a thick, gravelly voice. He belched again and took a long drink from his wine goblet.
"I'm your armies new commander."
At first Thad was shocked, then his mammoth belly began to jiggle with laughter. He came to laugh so hard he wheezed and coughed to the point of his face turning dangerously red. Gabrielle had never been so disgusted with an individual in her life as she was now with this man. There was simply no excuse to let oneself go to this extent. He could at least take a dip in the river.
"New commander huh? Huron! Kill this bitch so I can finish my meal!"
"Why don't you kill me Thad?" Gabrielle's voice was low and dangerous as she claimed his watery, jaundiced eyes with her own.
The men looked from Gabrielle to Thad without moving and Gabrielle could sense their fear and confusion. She could also clearly pick up on their dislike of Thad, so she decided to capitalize on this.
"You want someone else to do it because you know you can't. You've lost your warrior spirit. I take that back. You haven't lost it. It's just buried under a couple hundred pounds of fat. You couldn't kill the pig you're eating, let alone a real warrior."
Gabrielle's words had the desired effect. Thad came up out of his throne-like chair, somewhat slow, and drew his sword.
"You want me to kill you little girl? Fine, I'll just do that."
Without bothering to dismount to the ground, Gabrielle jumped onto the table, sword drawn and ready to fight. She drew her new sword, using it's indestructible edge to cut Thad's blade in half. Once he was disarmed she put the tip of her sword to his filthy, sweaty neck. Now that she had everyone's attention it was time to do what she did best: talk.
"Boys, let me see if I have the situation figured out correctly here. You are the ones who go into battle. You do all the work and risk your lives, and then Thad here takes all the spoils. Am I correct?"
Thad burned with rage, but he was too afraid to move against Gabrielle with the sword at his neck. He threw his arms up helplessly. "What are you waiting for you scum? Kill her!"
"It's not a good idea to insult the ones you are calling upon for help Thad," Gabrielle cautioned before she went back to talking to the men.
"Look at yourselves, then look at Thad! Your uniforms are outdated and worn. Your spirits are as dull as your swords! You freeze in the winter, and starve year around. He's getting wealthy off the sweat of your brow. Why do you let him do these things to you! Look at him. He can't even defeat a woman in battle!"
The men begin to nod and shift on their feet. She was having a definite effect on them, but she realized how degrading her last words were to her purpose and quickly made amends. "Not that I'm just any ordinary woman."
Thad brought his hand up, knocking the sword away from his neck, but again his reflexes had grown too slow. Gabrielle quickly drew her dagger. It was time to prove her worth to them so she allowed all of her rage and anger come to the surface and she plunged the dagger into Thad's heart. Though she mentally knew she had just committed the act of murder, she was unable to care in her heart.
Thad was dead before he hit the ground and the men looked around at one another, confused. Here this stranger had come into their camp and killed their commander. What should they do with her? She was a stranger to them so there was really no reason to trust her or follow her. Gabrielle wasted no time in trying to convince them she was the one leader capable of leading them to victory.
"Follow me and I will make you wealthy. The spoils of our conquests will go to you all of us, not just me. The world will be our playground, not just mine!"
One man stepped up, and it became immediately clear he was not so easily swayed. "And why should we trust you?"
Gabrielle wiped her blade and re-sheathed it. "Why shouldn't you? You couldn't do any worse with me than you were doing with Thad. Come with me now. I will train you and make you mighty men of Valor. I will do for you all that Thad could and would not."
"What's in it for you?"
"Vengeance, but we'll discuss that later. Right now, give me a couple of months and I will prove to you I am worth following. You won't regret it."
She and this new man held eye contact for a few long moments. He saw something in Gabrielle that his gut told him to trust, so he nodded in agreement. With this, Gabrielle could see the other's follow suit and begin to murmur among themselves.
"My name is Huron. You are?"
His face changed upon mention of her name. "Gabrielle. The Warrior Bard of Potidea? Xena's companion?"
"Former companion. I have a new purpose now. I'm going to conquer the world. Will you join me?"
Huron smiled and drew his dull sword. He rammed its dull blade deep into the earth at his feet and knelt to one knee. "I will for awhile. But the first time I think you're-"
Gabrielle held up a hand, silencing his threat. "I know. The first time you think I'm using you you'll kill me. I understand you."
He nodded after one long last search of her eyes, knowing that if he followed her so would the other men. "All hail Gabrielle! Our new commander!"
"All hail Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Gabrielle!"
The men cheered her name until they no longer seemed like a group of individuals but one living thing. She soaked up the power that came from their worship and for a moment, she remembered the feeling of godhood Ares had shown her when he'd tempted her to follow him all those years ago. She found herself smiling again in satisfaction. Maybe life was worth living after all. Step two in her plan of revenge against Apollo was now complete.
Gabrielle had an army.
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