General Disclaimer:All characters associated with Xena:Warrior Princess belong to Universal/MCA and Renaissance Pictures...My borrowing them to tell a version of their lives is in no way intended to infringe on any copyright owned by other parties...

 

Alt/Fic Disclaimer:This story may mention or describe the love (possibly expressed physically) of two women.If you are under the age of 18,or if it is illegal for you to access,view or download such material for your reading pleasure,please leave now.No harm will come to you.

 

Violence:If you really consider what an edged weapon will do to flesh and bone,then this could be described as graphic in some parts... You have been warned!

 

Note:Feedback or Helpful Criticism would be greatly appreciated.If you decide to comment,please send all such to ephra5r@hotmail.com

 

ReadMe:The Gabrielle in this story is not the naive young peasant of Season 1...She is a young woman trying to survive in a brutal world where any wrong decision could destroy all she holds dear.

 

New story elements and original characters belong to me and mine and are Copyright Emily1st.

 

 

 

An Echo of Distant Thunder.

by Emily First

 

Prologue.

 

Helios was almost to the land of the Hesperides when horse and rider appeared at the head of the narrow hidden pass which cut through the high hills running up the spine of the peninsula.Pausing to allow the horse to blow for a moment after the steep climb from the forested land which coated the slope behind her,Xena took in the scene before her.

 

The once vertical cliff to her left had collapsed,perhaps due to an earthquake,which,whilst not rare in this region were not common.The resultant fan of earth and boulders had been further eroded over the seasons and now the slope was covered in vegatation consisting of grasses and a few hardy bushes.The waters from the small spring about halfway up had formed a couple of pools,the top one fairly small and emptying over an edge to a more substantial one below.This lower pool,maybe five or six paces across was emptied by a small stream which headed away down the verdant little valley.The small deer which had come down to drink as the sun was setting lifted her muzzle from the water and regarded the intruders quietly,before moving off into the trees which covered the more gentle hillside to her right.

 

Tensing the muscles of her thighs in an attempt to ease the tiredness which was winning the battle against her will to continue the journey,she acknowledged at last that they could both use some rest.

 

Easing the horse towards the water with the firm pressure of a thigh,she climbed stiffly down from the saddle,clinging momentarily to the pommel as her legs grew used to carrying her weight again.Placing her hands in the small of her back she stretched her spine,trying to ignore the feel of her cuts and bruises;the pain which was trying to make her curl around the ache in her chest.She let the mare drink for a moment,and,not wanting to give her enough time to take too much after the recent exertion,took up the reins once more and led her over to a clear piece of ground;where she could roll and shake out her kinks after Xena removed her saddle and blanket.

 

Moving back from the water,she chose a spot between a large boulder and a fallen tree and set out her gear for the night,digging out a small firepit,and preparing a meal from the meager remains of her supplies.With her repast complete,she sat quietly for a moment enjoyed the friendly crackle of the flames,before banking the small fire,and,taking her waterskins moved back to the water and filled them both from the upper pool...

 

Setting the containers aside,she stripped off her battered armor and removed the stained and torn shift before stepping into the lower pool with a hiss of shock at the cold.The water coming up to the top of her thighs,she ducked under,submerging her whole body for a moment;running her fingers through her long raven locks as they flowed towards the edge of the pool in the current created by the stream.As she stood once more she gathered her hair into a rope,with a quick twist removing the excess water,and tying it into a knot on top of her head.Reaching for the soap she had placed on a rock at the side of the pool she began scrubbing her body vigorously,ignoring the stain of red which began to appear in the bubbles generated.Satisfied at last that she had removed all the accumulated sweat and dirt of the day,she once more ducked under the surface,letting her natural buoyancy assert itself and drift her body in the current towards the side of the pool...

 

Her ablution complete,she exited the water,moving back to her small campsite.Settling down on the rough blanket she had laid on the ground,she pulled her small healing pouch out and began to check her wounds.

 

The stitches in her thigh had held and the wound seemed to be healing well,without any redness of infection.She did not know where her ability to heal quickly came from,but she was grateful for the fact that it was there,even if it didn't seem to affect the lesser non-life threatening cuts she had accumulated over the years since she had left home.The stitch she had used to close the cut on the inside slope of her right breast had come out sometime during the day and the wound was slowly seeping fresh blood.The flesh had torn and there was no way she would be able to close the gash with another stitch,so all she could do was keep the wound free of dirt and let a it heal as it could.It would just add another scar to her collection.

 

The lump on her head had diminished somewhat and was no longer tender to the touch so she figured she could leave well enough alone,and the other scrapes and bruises would disappear within the next handful of days.There was nothing she could do about the wounds on her back except keep them as clean as possible, and rely on her natural healing abilities to keep any infection at bay until she could find a healer she could trust.

 

Her shift was beyond repair now so she took the spare out of the saddlebags,and,moving over to the mare led her once more to water before staking her out on a fresh patch of vegetation.Checking her hooves for any stones she may have picked up in the days travails,she used the rag to give the horse a quick rubdown before leaving her to get through the night on her own.

 

Continuing her camp chores she finished by breaking branches from the dead tree beside her and scattered them in circle round her chosen spot;they should give her some warning of anyone or anything approaching.Laying down and pulling her cloak over her exhausted body she listened carefully to the sounds of the night as it slowly settled over the small glen,and,satisfied that any change in the rythym of the nightlife around her would bring her to instant readiness,laid the hilt of her sword to hand and gave herself over to the Realm of Morpheus.

 

**

 

The ambient temperature having dropped to the dew point just before dawn,a fine mist had arisen to cling to the vegetation in the small valley,and Xena lay awake listening to the silence,her senses extending around her...

 

Detecting nothing inimical to her presence,she sat up.Tossing back the cloak she gave a "Brrrr" at the sudden cold,rubbing her arms briskly and quickly moved to the fire.Adding some twigs to the coals still glowing within the ash,she blew softly until they caught aflame,adding ever more substantial bits of wood until she had a nice fire burning.Pouring some water into a small wooden bowl,she added some leaves to steep and placed it by the side of the fire,then moved behind the rock to complete her toilet.

 

Happy at last that she seemed to have stopped passing any blood,she sipped slowly at her tea.As the warmth of the infusion settled in her stomach she took the moment to enjoy breathing deep,aware that the bands of pain around her ribs was less this morning.

 

Gathering her leather armor to herself,she went over the stitching carefully;making sure that her recent repairs would hold and that the new strap which would go over her left shoulder had not come loose again.The wooden scabbard she had carved to fit her sword like a glove had taken a hard blow during her recent difficulties,and the oiled cloth she'd used for waterproofing was torn and ragged.She could do nothing about it now,but it was one of her first priorities for the immediate future.

 

Picking up her sword itself,she ran her eye along the edge.Satisfied that she'd caught all the nicks with her stone last night,she rose to her feet and moved to a flat piece of ground before beginning a series of excercises.

 

Placing her feet a shoulders width apart she began slowly,building up her speed in carefully controlled increments,the blade moving from hand to hand,faster and faster to weave a shield of steel around her body.Bending and twisting her upper torso,exploring the range of movement available to her,she slowly began to move her feet and legs as well;exploring ever more complicated forms.From a standing position she suddenly jumped up into the air,twisted over her own centre and kicked out her right leg to connect with an imaginary foe's head.

 

As her feet came back to the ground,she felt a sharp stab of pain lance up from the wound on her left thigh.Holding the sword loosely in her right hand,she used her left to massage away the sudden pain.'Okay,I heard you:Don't do that again!' At a soft whicker from her mount,she looked over and answered back,"No need for you to laugh at me as well,thank-you." The mare tossed her head.

 

Moving slowly back to the fire,she forced herself to put weight on her ankle,ignoring the tightness that wanted her to limp.Lowering herself to the blanket she continued the massage.

 

As the pain ebbed to a dull ache,she made a decision."Argo,I think we should rest up for another day,what do you say?" At the snort she received in reply,"Agreed then,I can do a little hunting and you can laze about until tomorrow."

 

**

Xena,ignoring the burnt bits,finished eating the remainder of last night's rabbit with some berries that she had found,and began clearing up her temporary campsite...

 

Moving over to Argo,waiting patiently,saddled and ready,she hooked the waterskins over the pommel and mounted with ease.Taking one last look around the small dell,she spoke softly,"Let's go,girl."

 

Chapter One.

The waters were cold with snowmelt from the mountains to the north,and,feeling her way with her bare feet over the rocks and silt which made up the ford,Xena made sure of her footing before committing herself to the step forwards.The flow of water was deceptively smooth and she kept both hands on the body-length branch that she had trimmed from a tree on the bank behind her.Leaning into the staff,which she kept on the upstream side of her;ready to fend off any debris brought down on the waters, she slowly led Argo by the reins tied loosely to her left arm,and as they both scrambled up the bank on the far side,she gave a breath of relief at the relatively easy crossing.

 

She had spotted the suggestion of a shadow crossing the river from the tree lined slope opposite,and,deciding to take a chance,had moved down to the water.Now as she re-tied her boots,which had lain across Argo's saddle during the crossing,she thought about her route.The path she had taken over the spine of the peninsula had saved her a good 60 leagues of travel,and she'd used the time well to rest and recuperate some of their strength,but now she had to decide which way to go...

 

Heading south would take her out of her way again,and heading north along the bank of the river would just take her into a maze of bluffs and canyons she was unfamiliar with.There were the barely visible signs of a trail heading up and over the shoulder of the hill behind her,so climbing back into the saddle,she urged Argo up the slope.

 

Pausing just below the crest of the trail,she swung out of the saddle once more and moved forward on foot,leaving Argo to lip at some vegetation at the side of the path...

 

The suggestion of a route round the hill and down into the series of valleys to the east seemed seldom used;new vegetation covering it in places and the trees which covered the slopes of the hills totally obscuring it for large tracts of land.Only by imagining the route she would have taken herself could she intuit the missing signs of use.

 

Whistling softly to her companion,she moved round the shoulder of the hill,and,wanting to skyline herself as little as possible,she swiftly headed down the slope and into the first wave of pine trees which welcomed her into their cool embrace.The sharp scent of new growth tickled her nose as she waited in the shade provided by the overreaching branches;extending her senses outward,listening to the few birds calling,the occasional rustle as a squirrel moved through the branches overhead.All seemed quiet;no alarm calls sounding.

 

At the sound of needles crushed underneath weight,the soft creak of leather behind her,she asked softly,"What took ya?" The huff of warmth at her neck,the tug at her braid with rather large teeth was the only reply."Hey! Stop that!" With the caress of a warm ear and a pat on the neck,she mounted once more and moved off down through the trees...

 

**

 

Following the contours,she rode along the trail,steadily making her way east and slightly north;at ease in the saddle,her body adjusting automatically to the subtle shift of Argo's gait as she moved over the rugged terrain.With a destination in mind but with no particular timeframe to hold to,she was moving through the landscape with a lack of tension she had not experienced in a long time;enjoying the lack of pressure,the sensation of being responsible only for herself and her horse...She could not know all that the future might hold,but she was determined that this sometimes invisible path she and Argo were travelling would lead to a different destination than any she could have predicted even a moon ago...

 

**

 

The sky overhead was a pale blue,with not a cloud to be seen in the vast expanse.Even sheltered beneath the trees the heat from the sun was harsh and Xena had almost emptied one of her waterskins keeping Argo supplied with water.Considering her options she gazed down at the farmstead in the valley below...

 

The river which meandered lazily between grassy banks was only a few paces wide,but in watering the length of the valley it had been enough to attract a farmer to this area.The main building was a long rectangular shape backing onto the slope opposite,a substantial construction with stone foundations supporting log walls and a roof of new-cut thatch.The window openings on either side of the door she could see,one to the left and two to the right,still had the shutters across them and there was no hint of smoke from the chimney at the left end of the building as she looked at it.

 

The land extending up the valley to her left had been turned over with a plough and was just waiting for the new growth to make its way through the fertile soil;an errant breeze brought the rich and earthy smell to tickle her nose.Where the land began to rise in a south-facing slope an orderly row of vines had been planted.She could disern the movement of sheep higher up in the hills opposite as they made their way through the vegetation,sampling as the mood took them...

 

Chickens scrabbled for feed in the dusty yard and round the corral connecting one end of the house with the barn on the right.Within the corral were nine horses;none of them the substantial draft animals you would normally find on a farm,and all of them were bunched up as far away from the barn as they could possibly be.

 

The doors of the barn were closed as well,only the small door in the upper storey being open.Even from here she could hear the lowing of a cow in distress.A milk cow that had received no relief this morning...

 

Xena leant against a tree beside her as her eyes travelled slowly over the scene,running the soft leather of Argo's reins through her fingers.She didn't know what was happening but she could feel something tugging her towards the main building,urging her to get involved.It wasn't in her nature to slink about in fear of any creature or God,and she revelled in the surge of feeling rushing through her body as she made her decision.Reaching back over her shoulder,she made sure her sword was loose in the scabbard,and began to undo her braid.Shaking her head and raking her fingers through her hair,she let her tresses fall as they would on her shoulders.Tightening the cinch on Argos's saddle she mounted once more and urged the mare down the slope."Let's go find some trouble girl..."

 

Splashing through the shallow waters of the little stream,Xena leant forward as Argo scrabbled up the far bank.With just the toes of her boots resting in the stirrups,she was poised to react...With a squeeze of her thighs she urged the mare forward in a slow walk which would see them arrive at the side of the main building near the corral.There was a wooden trough there and she could see that it had been filled with water,possibly the previous evening as not much had evaporated in the heat of the new day.

 

Dismounting,she looped the reins around the saddle-horn,leaving Argo free to deal with any problems that might come her way.Pausing in the shade before the door to accustom her eyes to a reduced light level,she raised the latch and stepped into the main room of the farmhouse.

 

Even as she took in the scene before her,a voice cried out,"'Ware!"

 

*****

To be Continued in Part 2.

 

 


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