Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to the characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Perdiccus or Solon. These are the property of Universal Studios. This is a work of fan fiction not intended to infringe upon their rights or the rights of the actors who portray them. No part of the Stand By You series is to be copied or used for public use without the permission of the author Caina Q. Fuller.
Stand By You-Part 3.
Written By: Caina Q. Fuller
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Two months passed since Gabrielle has taken control of Thad's army. In that time, Gabrielle had used all the knowledge she had gained during her travels with Xena to nurse these men back to health. She'd fed them, clothed them, taught them the meditative techniques she'd learned in India and with Eli. She also did something no other leader had done for them before: She cared for them. The men could sense her genuine concern and loyalty for them, and they returned it everyday tenfold, though is had taken some work to instill in them a different moral code than the one they had always lived by: kill anyone weaker than them.
Gabrielle was also honest with these men. Another thing they were unaccustomed to. She told them of what Apollo had done to her and it seemed to enrage them. In many respects, Gabrielle had become these men's mother. Almost miraculously she'd formed a close bond with each and every one of them. It was love, in an odd way, that they felt for her. Gratitude. Through her guidance they had become a team. They treated each other like brother's instead of rivals, and that only served to strengthen them as an army.
Never before in their entire existence had someone came along and taken an interest in their well-being. To repay that act of kindness they'd pledged their lives to Gabrielle. They were ready to face man, beast or god, and die for her honor, and Gabrielle was ready to do the same for them in return.
The men had laid down their swords and taken up the staff and Sai, and not a day passed when they did not train with their new weapons. Their carried their staffs on their backs in a specially designed clip as a back up weapon, and their sai were holstered on their waists, unlike Gabrielle's. Under her tutelage they'd become deadly warriors with these weapons. They would be an army to be feared, and when she killed Apollo, Gabrielle herself would be respected by man and god alike.
Gabrielle emerged from her tent early in the morning. As had become her new custom, she would go away to be alone, to watch the sun rise and meditate before she returned to nurture her men. Though it really wasn't necessary yet, she wore a loose-fitting black and gray pant outfit that allowed her to move easily. She was three months and barely showing, but she didn't want to restrict, or hurt, herself in any way should an attack come unexpected.
She watched the sun rise in the east, staining the sky with a montage of color and cloud. She could feel rain in the air. She could smell it. No matter. Her men were riding against Apollo's temple in Torone today. This would make their third raid against the sun god and he had yet to make an appearance, but Gabrielle wasn't worried. This raid would be different. In addition to this being Apollo's oldest temple, it was his favorite. It was this temple in which he kept is precious Urn, and according to the local tradition today was the day a Mass would be held in which the townspeople could come and receive forgiveness of sin from an anointing of oil from the Urn. It was the perfect time to strike.
The now familiar sound of Huron's boots, moving over the wet grass of this glorious morning told Gabrielle she was not alone. She stood to face her general.
Huron bowed in a respect born of love not fear. "My Lady. The men are ready to ride against Torone."
Gabrielle nodded her acknowledgment. "The Mass? Is it today as I thought?
"It is. The idea that anyone would ask that bastard for forgiveness when he needs so much forgiveness himself is absurd!"
Huron appreciated Gabrielle's feelings, and she his. Perhaps that was why they ruled this army together so effectively.
"Mmm. Huron, you know Xena will be there. If she is, we may loose people."
Huron spoke softly to Gabrielle, and she could feel his growing love for her. Part of her responded to his warmth and wanted to return it, but she just could not. All she was really able to feel anymore was hatred and bitterness.
"I've discussed that with the men as you ordered. Gabrielle, we would all gladly give our lives to see you get your vengeance. Especially me."
Huron took a daring step closer but Gabrielle quickly held a hand to his chest to keep him at bay, but not as roughly as she knew she should have. She was very aware of what could be started between them so easily.
"We've discussed this."
Her almost unnaturally handsome general made no move to hide his disappointment. That was what Gabrielle lo...liked about him. He was so open and honest with her, reminding her a great deal of Perdicus...and of Xena.
"Yes. We're soldiers in the fight against Apollo and nothing more."
Gabrielle decided her best plan of action would be to retreat and head back to camp. She would deal with this issue later, when she wasn't feeling so vulnerable, but Huron had a couple of words left to say.
Never had Xena known such frustration. She'd used every tracking skill she had to locate Gabrielle but to no avail. It was as if her friend had vanished from he face of the Earth. Every time Xena had gotten close to finding her, Gabrielle would disappear again, leaving behind so many false trails it would be a waste of time to pursue them all. It would seem Xena had taught her too well.
For what must have been the thousandth time since she'd found Gabrielle on the road, beaten and broken, Xena wracked her mind, calling up all the things she could have done differently that would have prevented all of this. If only she and Gabrielle hadn't separated after attending the wedding of King Gregor's son Gabriel, this wouldn't have happened. If only she hadn't drank so much the night before. If only she hadn't overslept or stopped to fight Apollo's henchmen. If only, if only...
Eve appeared, breaking Xena's reverie and placed a plate of fruits and vegetables on the table before her, but the Warrior Princess wasn't any more hungry this morning than she had been any morning since Gabrielle's disappearance. Of course, her daughter didn't approve of her lack of appetite.
"Mom, you have to start eating again. Starving yourself isn't going to help us locate Gabrielle any faster."
Xena decided against arguing with her daughter. She'd found Eve had not only an iron will but she'd been blessed with an unfailingly logical mind as well. Xena began to eat the food with an enthusiasm she didn't really feel. Who knew? Maybe it would perk her up after all. Eve smiled with satisfaction at her small victory and began to eat her own breakfast. As they shared this quiet moment in the quaint little Inn, a caravan of happy, laughing travelers passed by outside.
"Wonder where they're headed," Eve said around a mouthful of carrots and celery.
"Apollo's temple for Mass. The High Priest is offering Apollo's forgiveness for sins past. Isn't that a kick in the head?"
"Mmm. You know, I've been reading Gabrielle's scrolls lately since we have them all with us."
"You two love each other so much, I see that. I can understand how much you miss her, but you have to stop blaming yourself for Apollo's sin."
Xena shook her head no. "No, I don't think you do Evie. I don't think anyone can understand the way I feel right now. Gabrielle and I are like lines in the Mehndi. Separate-"
Eve finished Naima's words for Xena. "-but forever connected. I know. I read that scroll too. Sometimes I..."
Xena urged Eve on when she didn't finish her sentence. "What?"
Opening up and sharing all of one's emotions with another was still very new to Eve, but this was a lesson her mother was teaching her quickly and ever so lovingly. Eve finally forced herself to say what was in her heart. "Sometimes I feel like you love Gabrielle more than you do me."
This hurt Xena in ways Eve couldn't know or understand. Tenderly, she reached across the table and took her daughter's hands in her own and kissed them.
"Eve, you are my daughter. I could never love anyone more than you, just differently. I love Gabrielle in a way I don't always understand myself. She's half of my soul, but no matter what, I will never love anyone over my Evie."
This warmed Eve, and reassured her. "I love you too Mother."
"I know you do Sweetheart. Now, what do you say we finish eating and..."
Of course! Why didn't Xena think of it when she saw the caravan? Apparently she and Eve were sharing the same thought because they spoke it aloud in unison.
Gabrielle and fifty men of her army arrived at the Temple to Apollo to find an impressive line leading from the elaborately decorated altar to the courtyard. It would seem that the followers of the now dead Athena and the other major gods to fall at Xena's hand had turned to worshiping either Eli or the remaining gods of Olympus. Gabrielle didn't care anymore one way or another which god these people worshiped, as long as they didn't interfere with her plans of revenge.
She and her men drew to a stop at the bottom of the temple steps. The people eyed them with every emotion from fear to annoyance, and one particularly brave, or stupid, man went so far as to block Gabrielle's way.
"Wait at the back of the line like everybody else has to!
In seconds Huron had a knife to the mouthy peasant's throat. With a little encouragement from her General, he and the rest of the crowd parted to allow Gabrielle easy passage, and most of the people at the rear of the line had the good foresight to turn tail and run, getting as far away from this place as possible.
Gabrielle entered the temple, which was made too warm by the combined body heat of the crowd, and made her way to the altar. Her men took up their position behind her, blocking the exit. No one would leave without her permission. The Head Priest, now aware something was amiss, stopped in mid sermon and gave her his full attention. Everyone present could feel that something big was about to happen, and none of them wanted to be there to witness it.
Especially this Priest.
Gabrielle stared into the frightened eyes of the priest and the guard behind him. The guard was so young, barely out of his teens, and had no experience to deal with such a situation, so he stood in his place behind the priest, holding tightly to the Urn and no doubt praying to his god for divine intervention. How she hoped his prayers would be answered. If Gabrielle were any other warlord, she would be enjoying the fear she was inspiring. However, she was not just any warlord, and she found all of this nothing less than tragic.
She also knew in her heart that this was it. This was the moment she would really earn her men's loyalty. She still had one last trial to prove herself in: the shedding of innocent blood. Could she do it? Could she kill this un-armed priest just to bait Apollo into a fight? Or better still, could she dash all of these people beliefs by destroying Apollo's Urn?
Gabrielle stared the priest in the eye so long, people began to shift on their feet, but her men remained rock steady. She appreciated that more than they could know. This delay in action gave the priest the nerve to speak.
"My child, is there something I can do to help you?"
"Yes. Call Apollo."
"So I can kill him."
The people began to snicker beneath their breath, but to Gabrielle's pride, her men held position. They would do nothing without her word. Good. Very good.
"Not that you can, but why would you want to do something like that?"
Gabrielle faced the people in the crowded temple and held up her loose-fitting gray tunic to expose her distinctly pregnant mid-section.
"Do you see my condition? I am pregnant not by choice, but by brutal violence and hatred. This is the god you have come to ask forgiveness from! A savage beast who doesn't give a damn about a persons rights. Do you honestly believe he cares anything about you?"
The people's faces went from amused to annoyed. Even the women were having an obviously
difficult time understanding why Gabrielle was so upset. Apollo was a god after all. He could do as he pleased, and any one of them would give their right arm to have Apollo himself father their child. They saw her as lucky, not as the victim she really was. As far as the men were concerned, this was not enough reason to interrupt their precious little ritual. Gabrielle was disgusted to say the least, and when the priest voiced the people's obvious view on the matter, Gabrielle's disgust turned to pure rage.
"My child, you shouldn't be angry. You should feel honored that Apollo would choose to love you and bless you with his child!"
That did it. All this time Gabrielle had been standing on the edge of the Abyss of evil, and with one quick motion she drew her sword, then stepped over the edge. The priests body hit the floor with a sickening thud as his head rolled past the line of shocked worshipers and came to rest at Huron's feet at the back of the temple. As if it were one physical being living within her, Gabrielle felt her conscience and soul die. Now all that was left of her was an empty shell of the woman she used to be. She'd spilled innocent (if not misguided) blood, and she knew in her soul that blood could never be washed from her hands.
The crowd cowered in fear as they began to realize just how serious their situation really was. This wasn't just some disgruntled ex-concubine. This was a warrior with a lust for Apollo's blood. Although they couldn't understand how she was going to get it, they knew that Gabrielle was going to get it.
"Huron," Gabrielle said, her voice weaker than she wanted it to sound.
"Yes my Lady?"
"Empty the temple."
"Yes." Huron opened the doors. "Everyone out!"
He didn't have to tell them twice. People practically tripped over the priests head and one another to escape Gabrielle and her men. When the temple was empty, Gabrielle turned back to the child-guard, now holding Apollo's precious Urn.
"Give me that Urn. If I have to kill you to take it, I will. Think about it boy. Apollo just allowed me to kill his Head Priest. Don't be fool enough to think he's going to charge in here and save some lowly little temple guard. Do you want to die for a god like that?"
With eyes as wide as saucers the guard shifted from one foot to the next, unsure of what to do. Die now at this woman's hands, or die at Apollo's if something happened to this precious artifact? He was still contemplating this conundrum when the rear exit to the temple opened and Xena strolled in with Eve.
Gabrielle snatched the oil-filled Urn while the guard was distracted and motioned for Huron to come forward.
"Take the boy. He'll be useful to us later."
Huron grabbed the boy and pulled him out of the temple as Eve and Xena faced Gabrielle. Xena eyed the body of the dead priest, fear tickling her gut. If Gabrielle had shed innocent blood, would Xena be able to save her from repeating the mistake?
"Kill the priest?" Gabrielle finished for her. "Yeah, I killed him. I killed him because he said something he shouldn't have."
Eve's voice reflected her heartbreak. "Oh, Gabrielle."
"You two might want to get out of here. I'm about to call an old friend in for a visit."
"Gabrielle, put the urn down and come with me. It's not to late to find redemption."
Gabrielle's response was a bitter snort. Never had Xena seen her companion's eyes so cold. Gabrielle looked...dead inside.
"Redemption? What do I need with redemption? I'm the one that was wronged here!"
With all her might Gabrielle hurled the Urn against the far wall. Oil oozed onto the floor, and Gabrielle grabbed hold of the nearest torch. Eve touched Xena's arm.
Before Xena could respond Gabrielle tossed the torch onto the oil. The entire wall became consumed in flames which quickly spread to the hanging tapestries and other flammable materials in the room. Xena, Eve and Gabrielle took off for the main entrance and barely escaped outside before the fire exploded out of the doors like the flicking tongue of a deadly snake.
Apollo appeared before Gabrielle, half-dressed and full of rage that this lowly mortal would dare defy the mighty god of the Sun.
"You bitch! This was my oldest temple! You destroyed my Holy Urn!"
"I had to get your attention somehow."
"If I knew I couldn't hurt our child in a-"
"Your child. I want no part of it."
Apollo continued as if she hadn't interrupted. "-fight, I'd kill you."
Xena stepped forward, sword drawn. "Let's see who dies today, shall we?"
"Xena! He's mine, don't you dare try to take this away from me!"
The hatred that burned in Gabrielle's eyes was frightening, and Xena stepped away from it. Xena also knew Gabrielle was right. If anyone deserved to take Apollo down, it was Gabrielle. After all, she was the one hurt most by Apollo. Xena pulled Eve back and everyone else stepped back to give the two room to spar. Apollo, not knowing how much of a threat Gabrielle really was, only laughed. He held out his hand and his sword magically appeared. In a cold voice Xena didn't even recognize as belonging to her friend, Gabrielle spoke.
"Let's do this thing."
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