Disclaimer: Some of the characters mentioned in this piece of fiction don't belong to me. So, yes, I will put them back where they belong. One of these days....I will....really....
Violence: Yes. And please be aware that it will be rather graphic, too.
Subtext: Certainly. Really, is there anything else?
A Final Note: This could be considered an alternative ending to my first story ”Falling”. It isn’t, really, but the idea came from that story. Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Anyway... It is a rather dark piece and will contain scenes of emotional as well as physical violence. Please consider yourself warned!
I think, it took me 6 or 7 years to actually finish this part. Not quite the conclusion yet but a new start as I actually find myself getting into this story again. :)
A revised version (combined PDF-file, some formatting-changes, a few additional scenes here and there) of part 1, 2 and 3 can be found here: http://www.mediafire.com/view/?5usw9rbsaye3n9w (the file will open in a embedded viewer with an option to download it as well)
Any comments on the story are welcome! email@example.com
Silence – Part 4
by Grit Jahning
It's not so easy
It gets so complicated
All the things you gotta be
But you're the truth
I'm amazed by all your patience
Everything I put you through
when I'm about to fall
Somehow you're always waiting with
your open arms to catch me
You're gonna save me from myself
You're gonna save me from myself
love is tainted
by your touch
Well some guys have shown me aces
But you've got that royal flush
I know it's crazy everyday
Well tomorrow may be shaky
But you never turn away
don't ask me why I'm cryin
Cause when I start to crumble
You know how to keep me smilin'
You always save me from myself
from myself, myself
You're gonna save me from myself
know it's hard, it's hard
But you've broken all my walls
You've been my strength
don't ask me why I love you
It's obvious your tenderness
Is what I need to make me
a better woman to myself
to myself, myself
You're gonna save me from my myself
“Save me from myself” written by Linda Perry, Bill Bottrell
- 12 -
The small room was dark. The only window on the opposite wall had been barred and only the barest hint of light flickered into her darkness. If she tried she knew that she would be able to make out a few stars.
But that would mean moving. And at the moment that would take way too much effort.
Green eyes closed and a deep, trembling breath moved a slim frame.
And even as the air suddenly crackled with energy…stirring the silence like a roar of waves crashing on shore…she didn't move. Only small fingers tightening around pieces of fabric an evidence that she was aware of her visitor.
"You are infuriating." A deep, annoyed voice.
A sad smile tugged at pale lips and she moved her head ever so lightly to look at him.
He stood there…clad in dark, tight leathers. His long, dark hair framing cold but handsome features. His beard moving as he smirked at her in his usual fashion. Condescending. Anger barely controlled underneath the surface.
"…I am?…" A soft, tired whisper.
He shook his head and took a step closer. Dark eyes narrowing as he let his gaze wander over her prone frame. Saw the paleness of her skin…the way her eyes seemed to dull with every new breath.
Taking a chair from the wall, he sat down next to her. Getting comfortable as he leaned forward a little. "Guess, it hurts, huh?" he asked. Almost conversationally.
A hoarse, pained laugh. Fading into a muffled whimper.
"Why don't you just let go? Mmh? End this…" His hand gestured in a vague way across her body. He wasn't prepared for the onslaught of pained but determined green eyes trapping him in their gaze.
"Why?" Had lost his arrogant air. Now he was simply angry…and despite himself curious.
She closed her eyes. A single tear tracing down her face. "…I promised…"
A dark brow lifted and he snorted. "Whom? Xena?" He chuckled without humour. "What is it with you two, huh? Never figured that out." He got up. Stalking across the small room. "Even Aphrodite promised me that she had nothing to do with it." A long silence as he simply studied her.
"She is on her way here, you know. Abandoned Athens and her army….her destiny. Because of you." His voice was cold but couldn't betray the hint of pride as he continued. "She is going to tear down Rome with her bare hands to find you."
Trembling breaths. Small fingers tightening around the blanket.
"What kinda hold do you have on her?"
It took all her strength to open her eyes again and to look at him. Simply look at him. In her mind an image of laughing blue eyes. Of that smile. Flicker of memories of gentle caresses. A low voice tickling the deepest parts of her soul…
He turned away in a curt motion. Muscles in his jaw moving rapidly as he tried to regain some control. It took a moment but then he stepped closer again. Crouching next to the narrow cot, his dark head tilted in a strange, curious gesture.
"I could end it…just like that." A brief pause. "Either way."
But she didn't hear him any more. The pain finally taking over her body and mind.
A slow breath as he stayed in his position for another, endless moment. He shook his head and straightened. One hand coming to rest on the hilt of his sword.
It had been a small village. Sheltered against the mountains. A clear blue lake just visible beyond. Lines of trees tickling the horizon.
A beautiful, peaceful place.
Going up in flames, smoke and death as hordes of Roman soldiers had attacked the village just as a new day had broken. A clear blue sky glistening with bright, blinding sunlight.
As they entered the road leading to the village all that had been left were burned reminiscences of huts and human bodies. The earth darkened by drying blood. The air heavy with the scent of burned flesh and death.
The tall body behind her had fairly hummed with the surge of energy. Long fingers tightening on her shoulder almost painfully.
And then these five soldiers had stumbled into their path.
Drunk…covered in blood but apparently unharmed themselves. They had smirked at them. Mumbled incoherent words in broken Greek.
The words had been undecipherable – their screams not.
It had been a blur then…but the following nights had brought back the images in painful clarity. Each time the swords had plunged into their heavy bodies. The way their blood had run from those wounds. Their lifeless bodies high-lightened by beams of sunlight.
The tall dark form standing above them. Laughing…
As slow, trembling breath as green eyes opened and the small frame shuddered as the crisp air of the night brushed against her skin. That still remembered the warmth of another body snuggled close against her.
Pale brows wrinkled in a frown and she sat up slowly. Pulling her blanket tightly around herself as she looked around their small camp. Trying to make out the familiar tall frame.
A carpet of soft noises. Rustle of leaves. Small creatures.
And slow, deep breaths.
It was difficult to make out anything in the dark. The fire had burned down almost completely and only a few dying embers shed any light. Now and then sparkles exploding into the night when another block of wood surrendered to the flames.
Then the darkness shifted and a pair of pale eyes turned to look at her.
"Another nightmare?" A hoarse whisper.
"…I…" They looked at each other for a long, silent moment. Unspoken words trembling between them. "..yes.."
Pale eyes turned away. Strong hands tightening into fists. "I never wanted you to see me like this." A small pause. "…not like this…"
Gabrielle took a hesitant step forward. Closing the distance between them. "Why not?"
A depreciative snort. "Isn't it obvious? Hades, Gabrielle…you have nightmares because of…of what I've done." Xena looked at her. Clouded pale eyes. "Because of who I am."
She released a slow breath. Trying to find the words to explain how she felt.
Xena shifted and got up. Her face an unreadable mask. "We will reach a small village in two days…you can get a room there. … " A pause as if to convince herself of the words. "I want you to stay there…or return to Potedeia if you like."
For a small eternity there was nothing but silence – then, pale brows lifted. "I see."
Xena nodded. But something in her eyes….
Gabrielle actually had to smile. Which earned her a pair of dark brows lifting in a mixture of surprise and indignation.
"I am not leaving you."
"Gabrielle…" The low voice had dropped and now the first hints of real anger coloured the husky rumble.
"I am not. Xena, this is not how love works. You can't just turn it off when it gets difficult." She stepped closer again and her small hand touched warm skin. Felt a drumming heartbeat. "Yes, I have nightmares. Yes, what I saw scared me. Yes, I am afraid. But Xena…" She tried to hold pale eyes. Wanting Xena to understand.
"..I am not afraid of you!"
The mask remained. There was no hint as to what Xena felt or thought. "You should be."
Green eyes blinked. Taken aback by the cold whisper. She swallowed. "I know that. But I also know that you would never hurt me."
All she could do was stare into those green depth. The words hitting her like rocks. How could anyone believe in you so much?
"You don't know that."
Gabrielle smiled again. Soft fingertips caressing along her cheeks. "Yes, I know."
She was only one step away from the edge. One step. And she would tumble into something so frightening she had no words to describe. The touch travelled along her face and against her own will her eyes closed and she simply leaned into it. Drowned in the soft scent overwhelming her senses.
And she actually smiled as she took that one last step. Helplessly but willingly falling into the abyss. Knowing that a pair of gentle green yes would catch her.
- 13 -
A few weeks earlier
A slight smile played around pale lips and the narrow figure leaned back against the wall. Content to simply watch those “honourable” men discussing the situation at hand. He reached for a cup of ale sorting through the events of the last few days. They had met him at the outer borders of Athens. A group of four men hidden within heavy cloaks. Whispering urgently and hurrying through the dark, deserted streets of the mighty city.
It had made him almost laugh out loud in disgust.
To them it almost seemed like a game. They didn’t realise the actual scope of what he was about to do. After so many had failed.
He frowned. That was another thing he had been thinking about throughout his travel towards Greece. All the other men Caesar had sent had been experienced assassins – their capture had been…a surprise to say the least.
His tall, thin frame shifted a little as the group of politicians and members of royalty laughed at something.
He had seen the head Xena had sent back to Rome…what little time, heat and nature had left of it. Had recognised the face of the man it once belonged to. Well…he released a slow breath…no time to worry about that now. He would have to wait until those Athenians were finished with their little scheming because he needed them to get him into the palace. Apparently, there was a banquet of sorts planned for tomorrow night.
Perfect for his kind of work.
Crowded, heated rooms with countless, nameless faces. Thick carpets of noise and an air heavy with the scent of food and drink. An ocean of bodies and colours and movement where one single person simply and easily disappeared from view.
And not matter what people said about Xena. Tomorrow she could be a goddess for all he cared – celebrations like that dulled the attention of any guard. And she couldn’t be everywhere at the same time. The small smile broadened.
Patience. That’s what was required. Patience. And he had loads of it.
"Charisteas...." Their leader, Hedores, an annoying little man, walked towards him.
Dark brows lifted in silent question.
"We think, we found a way to get you into the palace….We were all invited to the banquet and it is custom to bring at least one servant of the house along. You will be mine. No one will question your presence and you will have access to the kitchen…" His voice dropped to an excited whisper. "…from there you will have access to the private quarters and second level of the palace."
Charisteas nodded. It sounded like a good plan he had to admit.
He was about to turn to the back of the small house where they had prepared a small room for him as he felt a hand on his arm. Slowly he turned.
Hedores immediately let go of him and actually took a step back, but his eyes danced with cruel delight.
Behind him the group of men stepped closer.
A thin, ugly smile appeared on Hedores' lips. "How are you going to kill her?"
Charisteas studied them for a long, silent moment. There was something in his eyes. A flicker of something neither of them could name.
"…let me handle the details...you worry about everything being ready when I am done…"
Then he turned with a soft, disgusted grunt and disappeared.
"I always loved that colour on you."
A soft snort. Rustling of cloth.
"No really. You tend to wear a lot of black…it's nice to see you in something more cheery sometimes."
Even with her back turned Xena heard the soft smile in those words. She shook her head and took one last look into the mirror. Cheery. Well, if you could call the deep burgundy robes she wore cheery….
Then she turned and studied the small frame laying quite comfortably on their bed. A cute little smirk playing on pink lips. Pulling herself up to her full height, she scowled down at the small frame. Getting delighted laughter in response. Pale eyes rolled in amused defeat.
Taking the few steps that separated them, she sat down on the bed. One hand reaching for a stray pale lock. Fingertips marvelling at its softness.
"…I'd rather you wouldn't…"
"Xena, don't! We've been through this, right? Besides, I feel a lot better today. And Berra found that incredible dress for me…" A dreamy sigh.
Despite herself, Xena had to smile. "The green one over there?"
"Well…it's a beautiful colour and it would fit your eyes perfectly." Matter of factly but pale eyes not quite able to hide what went through her mind as she imagined Gabrielle in the soft fabric. She felt the bed shift and looked up as Gabrielle slowly pulled herself upright. Noticing with relief that her legs indeed seemed to be willing to cooperate tonight.
A soft touch on her cheek and she found knowing green eyes studying her. A gentle smile as Gabrielle didn't even bother to remark and instead, leaning forward a little, stole a kiss.
"Gonna help me getting dressed?"
Still smiling she stepped into the hallway. Meeting Piraeleus' eyes.
She took a deep breath. "I want you to accompany her to the hall. She is to sit next to me. I want you by her side throughout the evening…no matter what." A brief pause. "Am I making myself clear?"
He simply nodded.
"Good. Is everything ready?"
"Berra informed me that the arrangements have been made and that they finished preparing the food half an hour ago. The first guests should arrive soon."
Nodding slightly, she turned again and studied the closed door behind her for a long, silent moment. And then headed for the stairs.
Piraeleus watched her until she disappeared. Running his hands through his short locks, he tried to straighten them a little, then he shook himself to set his armour more comfortable. He knocked and waited for the soft voice to answer.
Entering, he was met by smiling green eyes. "My Lady." He allowed himself a brief look at the small woman sitting on the bed.
The dress she wore was beautiful. A shimmering pale green, hugging her slim frame in just the right places. Pale locks flowed freely around her shoulders and a delicate, golden necklace caught sparkles of candlelight as she moved.
He swallowed and tore his gaze away. Hoping the faint blush warming his face wasn't noticeable. Stepping closer, he leaned forward and waited for her to put her arms around his neck. A soft, scent reminding him of apricots tickling his senses. "Ready?" A soft breath and then he felt the nod more than he saw it. Slowly he straightened. Waiting for her to adjust her position until she was comfortable. He felt the urge to say something but even though the words tickled his lips, they wouldn't fall. He was about to turn for the door as suddenly a small hand cupped his cheek for a brief moment. "…thank you…" Soft but sincerely.
Not daring to look at her, he simply nodded and then turned for the door. Stay by her side throughout the evening, Xena had said. By the Gods – they would have to cut him into pieces first before he'd leave her side.
He couldn't even say what it was that bound him and so many of the older warriors to the young blonde. It was far more than loyalty and respect. It was...almost a need to make sure she was save. A need to protect her that might have had its source in her gentle nature that seemed so out of place in the world they lived in. Filled with violence and battles, pain and death. But from the very beginning...no matter how devastating a battle had gone there she had been with a smile and a gentle word to ease the passing of those that had been beyond help and a soft touch for those barely making it through -
And that day when Xena had stumbled into camp with the broken lithe form in her arms and pained, all-consuming madness in her eyes...it had been as much her rage as theirs when they had cut every single Roman they had met into pieces on their way to safe ground.
Piraeleus took a deep breath trying to clear his mind of those images. Carefully walking down the stairs that brought him to the main entrance of the great hall where Xena was already waiting.
- 14 -
Gregorios took a deep breath of the cool air. Closing his eyes to enjoy the gentle touch of the wind on his weathered face.
It wasn’t really dark even though the sun had set hours ago. A strange twilight had settled around them. An ocean of grey...devoid of colour. In its emptiness lay a strange peace that had soothed him as long as he could remember.
“...it’s boring, isn’t it?” Next to him, his young friend shifted restlessly. Again and again looking to the palace where the soft sounds of music and laughter drifted their way.
“Boring?” He tore his eyes away from the darkness and studied Nikos.
A sigh. “Yes, boring! I mean…we sit here and watch…what? No one will even dare coming close to these walls!” He straightened his youthful frame. Pride highlighting his eyes.
Gregorios laughed softly. “My young friend…whole wars have been lost on evenings like this. Trust me. At times like this nothing is as important as being watchful.”
Dark eyes turned to him in surprise.
The old soldier smirked. “How do you think we took Corinth?”
Nikos blinked and then broke into a bright smirk. “She’s a smart one, isn’t she.”
Gregorios turned to look at the palace and nodded slowly. “Yes, a smart one.”
Berra stood at the entrance of the kitchen and let her gaze travel across the huge room. Dozens of people strolled around idly. Talking. Laughing. Or just looking around. Evenings like this were for those who like to been seen and there were many of them.
They might have lost the war but they were determined to hold on to those little bits of dignity – and mostly to what they considered their rights as aristocrats. That they had sold out their people, their city and the country to the Romans didn’t seem to bother them much.
The old woman shook her head.
At the back of the hall musicians were playing and her staff was hurrying across the room to offer beverages or food. The tables had been prepared and everyone was waiting for the Conqueror as she had heard the title whispered among the crowd. She wondered if Xena had planned on a great entering but doubted it. She just wasn’t the type to do that…not on occasions like this. Looking around to make sure that all guests were served suddenly a hush fell over the crowd. Coughs and the rustle of clothes the only sounds as even the musicians had stopped playing.
Berra smiled. Already knowing what she would see as she turned.
Sure enough…there stood Xena in all her glory. Long, dark coloured robes. Her dark hair framing a cool, aloof face and pale eyes surveying the scene. She took one step into the hall and admitting a second person inside. Piraeleus towering over her but even from here she saw the gentle way in which he held Gabrielle in his arms.
The young woman smiled and looked around curiously. Meeting the astonished eyes of the guests as they walked in silence to the front of the hall were Xena’s table had been set up and Spyros was already waiting. Smirking.
Piraeleus slowly, carefully settled his precious cargo on one of the chairs and then took his position behind the chair.
Xena lifted a brow at the musicians who collected the instruments and slowly, hesitantly started to play again. She then turned to the assembled guests.
“Please…ladies, gentlemen…take your seats. I believe the food is about to be served.”
It took a little moment but then the mass of people started to move. Again and again chancing a look at Xena but more often at the smaller blonde woman sitting at her side.
Xena turned to Gabrielle and waggled her brows. “Now…how is that for an introduction?”
Dark eyes idly roamed across the room. After the meal the guests had formed smaller or larger groups around the hall and excited whispers drifted through the air. He caught fragments of the conversation now and then but barely paid attention.
How are you going to kill her? Herodes' words echoed in his mind and he turned as his eyes settled again on his target. Kill her...how little they understood. He wasn’t going to kill her. He shifted a little. No, he was going to do something far more effective. Soft laughter and a gentle voice drifted his way and dark brows wrinkled thoughtfully.
Obviously the young woman next to Xena was no slave although he wasn’t quite sure what he was to make of her and her entrance. His confusion was shared by the people around him that shared some rather hideous theories.
His frown deepened as she laughed again at something the taller woman said, tilting her pale head. Reaching out with one hand to straighten the robe Xena wore, her hand travelling slowly over the smooth cloth.
He wasn’t sure what Caesar wanted with that girl but he didn’t get paid to understand why he was being hired. He got paid to do a job. Straightening he slowly moved towards the kitchen. And that was what he was here for. Do the job so many others had failed at.
“What do you think?”
Spyros looked up and smiled at the tall figure that had appeared at his side. He had been watching a group of aristocrats that seemed a little too excited. Always looking around as if expecting something to happen. At first he had thought it was because of Gabrielle but the initial shock and fascination had already faded and had turned into curiosity. Some of the guests even brave enough to actually approach her.
He shrugged in response to Xena’s question. “Most of them are easy to please. As long as their status remains intact they pretty much don’t care who governs Athens.” He smirked. “Or Greece.”
Pale eyes settled on the group he had been watching and she took a step closer. “What about them?”
“I am not sure. They seem to be a bit too agitated. Might want to keep an eye on them.”
Xena’s eyes narrowed as she recognised at least one of them as having been part of the annoying “welcoming party” a few days ago.
Spyros stretched and settled his armour a bit more comfortable. His eyes turning to the back of the room. “Gabrielle seems to be enjoying herself.”
And as always the name alone caused a light smile on Xena’s face. She turned and the smile was mirrored in her eyes. “Yeah…she enjoys these kind of things. Lots of people to talk to.” She chuckled softly.
As they watched Gabrielle just finished a conversation with one of the guests. They saw her brush her hands through her hair and even from their point of view they saw that she released a slow breath and closed her eyes for a long moment.
He heard a soft curse next to him and didn’t even bother to comment as Xena moved away. Dodging several guests as she made her way to the small blonde already smiling at her. Spyros leaned against a column and watched the silent interaction. What a strange pair they were. Chuckling as he remembered how he had met them.
A broad grin as he stretched his small frame out and folded his hands behind his head, his eyes travelling across the other customers of the small tavern. Life was good. A brief look to the remains of one of the best roasted piece of pig he had in a long time. He scratched his belly and sighed contently. Now, all he needed was some entertainment for the night. Someone to laugh with and a warm body to share his bed. Then he would be off to finally collect his ransom.
Idly he let his gaze wander. Now and then stopping to let it travel more thoroughly over a particularly attractive frame of womanhood. The grin got broader still as one of his looks was answered by twinkling brown eyes. Life was good, indeed. He was about to get up as a motion at the door caught his attention. First all he saw was a wave of blonde hair. Then a small frame moving through the mass of people. Then…he leaned forward. A young, gentle face. Soft features that appeared to be looking for something. For a brief moment meeting his gaze with a pair of the most peculiar green eyes. Pale brows wrinkled in an unconscious frown as she seemed to notice his attention but then turned away. Still looking around the inn.
He sat up and straightened his tunic. Running his hands through his hair to assemble them to some kind of order as he got up and made his way towards the young woman.
“May I be of assistance?” He tried his most charming smile. The small figure stopped and seemed to inhale deeply before she turned around and looked at him with a polite smile. At close range her eyes seemed to shift from a deep green into a mixture of blue and pale green he noticed.
“That is very nice of you, but no, thank you.” A gentle, polite voice. A voice he would like to listen to some more, so he reached for her arm as she started to turn away.
“Now, you seem to be new in town and obviously you are looking for something. Maybe I can be of help? I know my way around here.” Again his most charming smile that had worked wonders on other women.
The young woman tilted her head a little and was about to say something, when the look on her face suddenly changed. He blinked. Again the colour of her eyes changed as did the smile on her face. A warmth and…he swallowed.
Then swallowed for a very different reason as something dark appeared at his side. The air around him suddenly prickling with an energy that made the hair at his neck stand up. Quite without conscious thought he cleared his throat and chanced a look at whoever had appeared at his side. And was caught by a pair of cold, pale blue eyes.
“Or maybe…I just let you find your way around yourself, eh? Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, right?” He laughed nervously as he held up his hands and backed away. A dark brow lifted ever so lightly and the blonde woman smiled in amusement as he tripped a little and stumbled against another customer. “No harm done.”
He slumped back onto his chair but watched curiously as the tall dark woman rolled her eyes than winked at the smaller woman in front of her. Getting a warm, gentle smile as an answer and a gentle slap of a small hand against her belly. They both turned and he saw a large hand slowly stroking the blonde’s back as she guided them out of the inn.
Mmh. He scratched his chin pursing his lips. Interesting.
Spyros shook his head softly. His curiosity had got the better of him that night as he actually followed the two for a few candle-marks as they made their way into the forest surrounding the small town. He never got close enough to actually catch any bits of conversation afraid that the tall one would notice his presence. She seemed quite capable as he had studied the armour she wore as well as the sword. At some point they had stopped at a small clearing that opened near a small creak. The tall one had disappeared into the wood as the small blonde had started to set up camp. Chancing his luck he had moved closer, his eyes travelling quite without his permission along the small well build frame.
Only to swallow hard as something cold and metal had touched his throat.
He smirked remembering. He hadn’t fooled Xena even for a moment although he had always wondered why she had let him follow them for as long as she had. He looked up and saw her lean closer to Gabrielle who met her movement somewhere in the middle, touching their foreheads together as something passed unspoken between. A long finger caressed along her chin before Xena straightened again and she motioned Piraeleus closer.
Spyros looked at Gabrielle. Even to this day…he wondered what it must feel like to have her look at you this way. To cause this small, gentle smile that she gave Xena. He knew that many they met for the first time thought Gabrielle a slave. A valued one obviously but a slave nevertheless. They learned to change that assumption very quickly. If anything it was Gabrielle who possessed the tall towering frame that watched her being lifted by the guard and carried away.
Her heart and her soul.
A wistful smile as he swallowed. Maybe even her life. Because he had been there as Xena had brought Gabrielle’s broken body back. Had seen that all that kept her moving was the faint barely noticeable breathing of the shattered body in her arms. A shiver ran down his spine. To imagine what would have happened, had…
He forced the thought away and straightened.
He had a job to do and not wonder about things that had not happened. Straining a little he settled his leather armour in a more comfortable position and then started his round among the guests again.
She had relaxed as much as possible in Piraeleus’ arms and felt herself drifting off a little. The night had been exhausting and sitting for a long time had turned her legs into balls of fire. She felt her body move with every step the huge man took as they made their way upstairs.
Releasing a long breath, she blinked open her eyes and peered into the darkness surrounding them. Torches had been placed along the walls and the flames flickered against the stony walls. Leaving traces of black smoke. The scent of burned wood overwhelming.
Piraeleus stopped and looked down at her. A small smile playing on his lips.
She shifted her weight and allowed him to release one of his arms to open the door to the room Xena had chosen for them. Only to stagger with a hoarse grunt against the wall. Just managing to keep his body between the stone and her legs.
He tightened his grip on her and stumbled into the room. His face had turned pale and pain flickered through his eyes.
And then she saw him. A tall, slim, dark figure that stepped from the shadows. A blade catching sparkles of flames from the torches. With frightening speed he closed the distance between them and with a sickening sound embedded the blade again in Piraeleus’ body.
The world turned upside down as the huge man stumbled to the floor. Yet somehow managing to place her on the bed. Softening the fall for her – if only a little.
"There are two ways of doing this." A voice calm but cold. On the floor she heard the hoarse grunts of pain coming from Piraeleus. The scent of warm blood lingering heavily in the air.
She swallowed and tried to move into a less painful position on the bed. Her body, that had been drifting somewhere between sleep and wakefulness during their walk up to the private quarters had awakened and started voicing its annoyance with the situation. She took a trembling breath and then looked up again at the tall, narrow figure in front of her.
"Who are you?"
The man frowned. "Does it matter? Look, you are aware that I can kill you right here, are you not?"
On the floor Piraeleus started to move with a hiss of pain but his deep grey eyes flashed with anger. "Don't….don't you dare…touch…" He started coughing. His body trembling violently.
The man shook his head and smiled. "Or you're going to do what? Die on me?" He laughed and took a step toward him.
"You'll need him."
Charisteas stopped and turned back to the blonde woman. She seemed to be in pain if the wrinkled brows and the clouded look in her eyes were any indication. "I do?"
She moved a little. Her dress had crawled up her body and allowed him a look at her scarred, bony legs. Despite himself he swallowed. What he had taken as some twisted form of vanity - being carried into a room, presented like a queen – clearly had a different reason. He cursed silently at Caesar for not mentioning this.
"He is the only one who can carry me out of here. Because that's what you want, right?"
Charisteas blinked in surprise. She wasn’t supposed to be this calm, was she? This was slowly getting out of hand and time was running out as he noticed that the sounds downstairs seemed to fade as the party winded down. He scowled and moved towards her. Ignoring the man on the floor trying to stop him. “Do you know why I am here?”
The blonde head tilted. Mist green eyes reaching somewhere inside him. He frowned.
“Caesar send you.” Not a question. A calm, soft statement. She looked to Piraeleus who was slowly getting up. His side was covered in blood and he was shaking but he seemed to have recovered somewhat. She gestured to her legs. “I can’t walk. If you kill him there is no way you will get me out of here.” Another long, silent look. “And he wants me alive, doesn’t he?”
He ran a frustrated hand through dark locks and looked around trying to sort this out. This was not going according to plan.
That’s when the door opened.
And things really got out of hand.
Nikos found himself dozing off. Just to get some energy flowing he started to jump up and down. Shaking himself.
Gregorios had disappeared to get them some food and something to drink and without the older man to talk to he had felt the darkness and silence crowd in on him.
He stretched and turned a little to get a better look at the courtyard. Outside they had already cleaned up and the torches that had been placed around the square had been taken inside. Where there had been a golden ocean of dancing lights there was darkness now. Nikos sighed and leaned against the cold stonewall peering into the yard down below.
“What the...” A soft, surprised whisper as he noticed shadows making their way across the courtyard.
Usually he would not have wondered about this since some of the staff of the palace had been running back and forth all evening but what made him stop and look closer was that one shadow seemed strangely disfigured. Broad, tall and yet something moved within the shadow...almost as if it was holding something.
He blinked again as suddenly alarm rushed through him and he looked around frantically to alert someone. Very aware that the shadows down below were slowly disappearing in the labyrinth that were the city streets. He swallowed, his hands actually shaking as he made a decision and ran from his post to follow them.
Something was very wrong. And he had to find out what it was. He could explain everything later. He hoped.
Xena sighed and rubbed a hand across her face as the last of the guests finally decided to leave and she was suddenly left in an eerily silent hall. She hated it. Hated those pretentious, pompous men and women who had nothing else on their mind than their own good.
She shook her head and turned to find Spyros smirking at her.
“Anything of interest?” A slow stretch as she loosened cramped muscles, a vaguely interested look on her face as all she really wanted was to get out of this robe and wrap herself around a warm, small frame. Feel soft, gentle touches and hear a soft breathing reminding her, that she was still alive. That there was still a reason to go on.
“Na.” He waggled his hand a little. “They still seem pretty unsure of what to make of all this. Can’t really figure you out.” He grinned. “Give them some time and I think we can actually work something out here that will get us the chance to let the army rest and to fill empty slots.”
A slow nod. But even he saw that her mind was elsewhere. He was about to comment on that with a smug smirk as she suddenly got up. Dark brows wrinkled as though she had heard something.
Pale blue eyes turned to him…and she was off, running out of the hall towards the stairs that led to the private quarters. It took a moment for him to comprehend what just happened before he followed her. The chill he had felt early chasing itself down his spine again.
- 15 -
Even as her world exploded into million pieces inside her.
The scent of warm blood was heavy. Distracting her from everything else. Even the dead body in front of her didn’t really register in her mind.
She knew she was shaking. Felt it in the painful cramps of her hands closing tightly around the back of a chair. Its soft groan fading in the sound of her breathing. Behind her she heard the shuffle of boots. Hushed whispers. Could almost feel the confusion and fear emanating from the people at the door. Her look strayed to the empty bed and rumbled sheets. The chair at the window lay in one corner, pieces of clothing scattered around. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, barely detecting a soft scent...a lifeline. Felt something inside her snap even as the back of the chair gave in to her grip and broke.
She straightened. Not knowing where she took the strength from.
“Clear...clear that away.” On a hoarse breath. Turning she found Spyros’ gaze on her. “Come with me. We’re going...” A cold, deadly smile split the mask her face had turned into. “...on a little hunt...”
Spyros turned and looked at Berra's lifeless form on the floor. Her eyes now almost white as they stared unseeing at the ceiling, a pool of already drying blood beneath her. Felt an iron grip on his arms as he was suddenly face to face with pale eyes...mad, pale eyes.
“Did I not make myself clear?”
He swallowed and nodded silently. Knowing from experience that the madness he saw in her eyes had to first run its course before he could even attempt to talk to her.
It was difficult to keep them in his line of sight. Nikos pressed his body against the wall of a house as the three figures he had been following suddenly stopped. Crouching he slowly crept closer hoping to catch pieces of the conversation.
The giant shadow he had recognised as Piraeleus leaned heavily against a cart in the narrow alley and yet managed somehow to keep a firm grip on the small form in his arms.
Nikos frowned as he suddenly heard hurried footsteps and another group of men appeared from the dark labyrinth that were the streets of Athens. Gusts of whispers drifted his way and he tried to get closer still when suddenly a heavy hand dropped on his shoulder and another closed over his mouth.
He started to struggle but then a low, hoarse voice tickled his ears.
“Quiet. Don't move.”
He blinked rapidly and nodded very slowly as Gregorios dropped his hand.
“How...why...what...?” Shock, confusion and relief branded through him as he looked at his friend who studied the shadows in front of them. The expression on his face was...Nikos frowned. He wasn't sure if he could name every emotion that flickered across the weathered face.
“I tried to...I thought if I follow them and knew where they were going. They have...they have the lady with them and...I don't think she is...I just wanted to help.” Nikos got the words out in a hurry, somehow wanting to justify abandoning his post. He fell silent as Gregorios looked at him and smiled, then ruffled his hair.
Then the older man turned his attention to the group of shadows before them. They seemed to be in deep conversation - then suddenly movement as two of the shadows approached Piraeleus.
Nikos was about to jump up but again Gregorios held him back with one hand. Pushing him back against the wall. “Don’t move.” A hoarse hiss layered with silent anger.
„But…they’re taking her away! What if they kill her?” The younger man struggled against the grip on his arm.
A soft sound of pain followed by a cry brought their attention back to the group and Nikos watched in silent shock as Piraeleus suddenly swayed, his massive shadow hitting the cart with a sickening sound, then he dropped to the ground. Another sound of pain, more distinct this time as the smaller shadow he had been carrying rolled away from his body.
The men grabbed the small frame, hushed, frantic voices carried to them and then the group disappeared in the darkness of the streets.
Nikos was shaking and he turned to the older man next to him. He was about to yell at him, actually felt like hitting him…but felt all those feelings drain away as he got a closer look at his friend’s face.
“Gregorios…?” He reached out to him but the older man got up in a curt motion. Tilting his head he listened for something.
Nikos followed him slowly, still shaking and confused about what just had happened.
Around them Athens was strangely quiet. They heard the wind brush through heavy cloth covering market stands abandoned for the night. Leaves whispering, sounds of creatures making their way through deserted streets, now and then the bark of a dog, the desperate wail of a cat.
Grunts of someone in pain and struggling to get up.
“Easy, old friend. Easy.” Gregorios dropped to one knee next to Piraeleus.
The massive frame shook with a cough, then cramped as the tall man reached for his stomach. Even in the dim light of the scattered torches there was no mistaking the tear of flesh, the amount of blood and the scent of organs exposed to air.
“…they…take…her to…” Another cough, another wave of blood now covering Gregorios’ hands as he tried to keep the wound closed.
“I know. I know…we need to get you back to the palace. You hear me? No dying on me.”
“Xena…we need to…”
Gregorios made a hushing sound and waved Nikos closer, already tearing his tunic into pieces and wrapping them around Piraeleus’ waist.
“I know. Save your energy now.”
The older man took a deep breath and turned his gaze to Nikos who seemed somewhat shell-shocked. Every instinct in him told him to go after whoever had taking the little one. But he also knew that Piraeleus probably knew who took her and where they were headed. And for the moment that was more important because he knew…somehow knew that this time they had no intention of killing Gabrielle.
He motioned to Nikos and with some effort managed to each take an arm of the massive man on their shoulder. Still more dragging then carrying him back to the palace.
The horses threw their heads impatiently. Their breaths steaming in the cold air. Soft snorts as a tall, dark form stepped from the stables and looked around then dropped her gaze to her bare arms. She saw goosebumps travelling across her skin – but didn’t feel them.
A numbness had settled around and inside her that made it difficult to focus on anything but the bristling rage in her head. Her fingers closed and opened on her chakram and every nerve-ending screamed at her to leave and find Gabrielle. The name alone made her almost bend over in pain. Her other hand closing painfully around the halter of her horse.
Get her back. And then slowly, carefully slice open Caesar’s body. Cutting off piece after piece until he would be begging her to kill him. And then just watch him die. Slowly. Writhing in agony.
A smile worked its way on her face.
Spyros swallowed as he walked up to her and noticed the smile. It had been a long time since he’d seen that side of her. Of course, there was always this almost palpable energy around her, the joy she took in fighting – and killing. This need to conquer. Her campaign to free Greece at first had been motivated solely out of her need to take revenge for what had happened to Gabrielle. But over time…this need had changed.
The town had provided little of a challenge. Their small army had fallen to their attack within candlemarks. The air was thick with smoke and burned flesh. The desperate cries of wounded and dying mixed with equally desperate cries of people looking for loved ones.
Already lines of dead Roman soldiers framed the townsquare and the road leading towards the gates. Their bloody bodies tied to cart wheels or makeshift crosses. Above scavengers skipped through the clouds of smoke, picking up the scent of death and decay.
They had assembled a large group of townsfolk that they had been told had worked with the Romans. Men mostly, looking at them in defiance. Displaying an air of arrogance that had spurred her ire even more. He saw it in the way she kept twirling her sword as she walked up and down in front of the group.
Suddenly, she grabbed one of the man and in a blur of motion turned him around and without so much as a word or even an emotion slit his throat, a wave of blood drenching her. A gasp drifted through the group, mirrored by the crowd that had gathered behind them.
Xena merely cleaned off her sword on a piece of tunic of the dead body at her feet and turned to the next man. Resting the blade in a casual gesture on her shoulder she looked him up and down. “You worked for Rome. Do you know what happens to traitors that work for Rome?”
She smiled. Her voice sounded almost pleasant as the man swallowed, his eyes briefly flickering to the dead body.
“Exactly. I kill traitors.” Simply stating a fact as she grabbed the front of his tunic and pulled him closer. For a moment he struggled but then his eyes widened for an entirely different reason as the crowd behind them parted with a rush of whispers and slowly someone worked their way into the open.
“Don't.” A soft voice that carried easily across the space that separated them.
Xena stood still for a very long moment before her tall frame slowly turned. Her hand let go of the man, the muscles in her jaw twitching as pale eyes settled on the blonde woman that had appeared from within the crowd.
“Leave.” Anger colouring the low voice. A cold order and no request.
But even as she said it, she took a step towards Gabrielle. Pale eyes a mixture of emotions as she took in the smaller woman. The way she was slightly hunched over, her weight almost completely supported by the makeshift crutches. Pale, sweat-dampened skin and soft features so obvious in pain that Spyros had to swallow. Not sure how much of that pain was physical and how much was pure emotion.
“Please, don't.” Again, soft – a gentle plea.
All eyes turned to the dark form as Xena took another step forward. He saw her take a deep breath as Gabrielle somehow managed to move towards her. Her legs dragging behind her, her arms shaking with the effort of keeping herself upright.
“Not like this, Xena.” Close enough now to touch. “Not for me.”
The young woman released one arm and reached out for the bloody, frozen frame. A trembling hand coming to rest against Xena's chest.
Spyros felt a shiver chase itself up and down his spine, heard the soldiers and people around them shift with unease and fascination as something passed between these two that defied words.
A soft gasp travelled through the crowd as Xena simply let go of her sword, dropping it to the ground with a hollow, shattering sound - and in an impossible slow and gentle motion picked the smaller woman up. The small hand on her chest moved to cup her cheek.
“...not like this.” Repeated on a trembling breath as the pale head dropped forward against a broad shoulder.
Xena closed her eyes, the muscles in her jaw moving rapidly as she seemed to wrestle with her composure.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed as they watched on, shocked into speechlessness. It was long enough for the smoke to settle some, long enough for the first ravens to start tearing at pale, bloody flesh.
Then her low, hoarse voice stirred the heavy silence. “Have them send to the dungeons. I want them interrogated. Cut the bodies loose and burn them unless someone claims them.” Neither her voice nor her face betrayed any emotion as she turned to look at him.
But her eyes did. As did her body as she gently cradled Gabrielle's now still frame closer to her own. Waiting for him to acknowledge her words with a nod, she then turned and slowly moved towards the camp they had set up at the back of the town.
The dark head bent towards pale locks, whispering something that faded unheard in the noise of birds that were chased from the bodies as soldiers started to cut them down.
He knew that it had been the gentle insistence of Gabrielle that had turned this war into something bigger. Better. A greater good that had overshadowed Xena's rage. But he also knew that underneath all that there was still her wish to take revenge.
And now – he looked at her again. Now there was nothing left to keep her grounded any more.
She mounted her horse and looked at him with a stony mask on her chiselled features. Raising a dark brown in a silent request to hurry. He was about to follow her when suddenly three bodies stumbled into the courtyard. Guards jumped to attention, immediately surrounding them.
A sound almost a hoarse growl made them all turn to Xena as she jumped from her horse and approached the small group, puching guards to the side, already reaching for her sword.
Spyros took a few steps that brought him to her side and released a slow breath as he recognised Piraeleus. The older man half dragging his tall frame seemed familiar too and it took a moment before he recognised Gregorios. He chanced a look at Xena.
There was no way to describe what played out on her face. A rush of emotions that chased across her features like clouds before she had herself under control again.
Concluded in Part 5