Trouble after the storm
Iro B. Hunter
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me. I only wish they did. But they don’t. My therapist says I’ll get over it eventually.
Not much violence or graphic sex in this story.
A huge (((thank u)))) goes out to my mate Crystaline, who also happens to be my beta reader, girl I seriously hadn’t seen that much red since elementary school. Thank u for the flashback.
I’d also like to thank John and Kym for their help and support J.
Any feedback would be appreciated… (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Waking up was always a difficult task for Gabrielle. Even when she was back home, she was always the last one to wake up in her household and probably in the whole village too. Nevertheless, while in Potidea sleeping in only caused some teasing remarks from her sister, she now often woke up, unprepared, in the middle of a big, ugly fight.
This was one of those times.
She never heard those men closing in, never sensed them lurking over the sleeping furs of Xena, and of course never saw their surprised faces when they stirred the furs up and found nothing in there. She woke up to a familiar battle cry that sounded like it was coming from up a tree. Abruptly brought her to her senses, she grabbed her staff with hands that were sleeping just seconds ago but were now pumped with adrenaline and ready to fight.
“Oh come on, Xena,” the bard exclaimed while watching the marauders running away, limping. “You could’ve at least saved one for me!”
“Saved one?” The warrior replied. “Gabrielle, there were only five of them. I honestly thought that you would have slept through the entire fight without so much as rolling over to your other side.”
“Well maybe I would have managed that just fine if it wasn’t for your yelling, Warrior Princess!” Gabrielle shot back jokingly. “Why do you always have to do that? You want your enemies to go deaf before you kick their behinds or something? And by the way, who were those guys?”
“It helps my fighting momentum, not necessarily, and probably bounty hunters after my head,” Xena replied with a grin on her face. “How ‘bout I go fishing for breakfast and maybe you’ll get all our stuff ready? It’s nice to actually get an early start once in a while, sleepyhead.”
Gabrielle thought about that for a moment but then a better idea came to her… “How about we go to the closest village and I buy you breakfast at the inn there? I have some dinars to spare from my performance at the last inn and we don’t really have anywhere specific to be today…”
Well, what a nice gesture, Xena thought. She was really glad Gabrielle did things like that. It was the first time after many years that she was experiencing unconditional friendship and she really enjoyed it. She never had a friend besides her horse, Argo, for a long time. Her memories with Lyceus were a bit fuzzy and he was after all her brother, so love and friendship were expected to be there. “Okay, let’s start packing,” was the warrior’s only response and not long afterwards they were on the road.
Xena quickly went through the mental maps in her mind, calculating where they stopped last night and which direction they were going, and decided that the closest village was Mili, a small little fishing village known for its peaceful ways and good food. They were in the Peloponnese for quite a while now, roaming the countryside, helping people when they could but they hadn’t found any real trouble yet. Xena remembered an old adage that her mother used to say ~its always very calm and quiet before a great storm~ and was actually very intrigued to see what mess they would find themselves in this time.
Finding Mili was not difficult. On the road they saw many merchant caravans heading that way. The merchants there bought fish from the fishermen of the village very early in the morning and then quickly moved to the mainland villages to sell them while still fresh. They stuck close to the merchants just in case something happened but nothing did, so they quickly found themselves at the village inn, enjoying a nice full breakfast.
“Where do you think we should go from here, Xena?” Gabrielle asked.
But she didn’t get a reply. She saw Xena focused somewhere and decided that something was going on that she would find out soon enough, so she’d better leave her alone to do... whatever she was doing.
Xena’s attention was actually caught in the conversation that was going on at another table in the inn. The two merchants that were sitting there were at first talking about their plans for the day, which didn’t really interest Xena, until one suddenly said to the other: “I’m telling you, Yanni, we shouldn’t be going all the way to Nauplio. It’s pointless. No one’s buying or selling anything, there’s panic everywhere.”
“But…” the other merchant started to say when he was cut short by the sight of a female warrior who was making herself comfortable in the chair next to him.
“Mind if I join in?” Xena asked.
The two merchants gulped hard, thinking that they were in trouble and suddenly became very, very afraid for their lives. Even though the warrior didn’t do anything to scare or threaten them, her aura did scare the willies out of them so they thought that their best chance to make her go away was to actually cooperate.
“What do you want?” Yanni asked.
“Well I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation and I just wanted to know what’s wrong in Nauplio,” Xena replied in a gentle tone, realizing that this actually made her even more intimidating to the merchants. “You see”, she continued, “My name is Xena. And I’m a problem-solver.”
With that, the two merchants seem to relax a bit, becoming aware that she just wanted information and nothing else, so Takis, the other merchant, felt his loudly pounding heart relax a bit and answered.
“I really don’t know much. Just heard that they’ve trouble in the local prison. Everyone is scared so it’s not a really good place to be a merchant right now.”
“Thanks,” Xena said, and left their table as abruptly as she joined it. But she didn’t return to her table either. “Gabrielle, get up. We’re leaving,” she motioned across the room at her friend.
“Huh?” the bard asked. She had gathered from Xena’s reaction that something was wrong but she never expected such an urgent request to leave from the warrior. “Okay, okay, I’m coming,” she said through a mouthful of bread and feta cheese.
The weather outside was just getting warm. It was the typical Greek summer weather that made you so sleepy at noon that you couldn’t think of anything else other than well…sleeping, or finding a beach to swim around in the waters. Nevertheless, that time of the day, just after breakfast, was just ideal for walking after a warrior who didn’t quite let you in on what was really going on, Gabrielle thought. Why does she do it? She silently asked herself. Do I not matter that much? I thought we were best friends or something. She lingered on that thought for a while. She didn’t really have many friends back home. She mostly hung around with Lila, her sister, and Perdicus, her betrothed. She never had had a best friend until now, and in her mind she picked the ideal person to be friends with. Full of adventures and surprises. Experiencing friendship with Xena was the best way to do it. If only she let me in more once in a while…Gabrielle mused, as the warrior started talking.
“The merchants said they were avoiding Nauplio because there is trouble in the local prison. This is not good because it’s one of the biggest prisons in Greece. So I thought we should get there fast to see if we can sort the whole thing out.”
“By the gods!” Gabrielle exclaimed. “You’re doing it!” She was so happy the warrior let her in without being asked that she just couldn’t help being overjoyed.
“Doing what Gabrielle? Of course we’re going to do it. I’m telling you, this is the biggest prison in Greece. We have to go help”... Jeez, the warrior thought. It’s too early in the morning for her to have sunstroke already, isn’t it?
“Oh! Right! Of course!” Gabrielle replied, feeling completely stupid. Damn it Gab, she mentally scolded herself. If you do this every time she lets you in, she probably has good reason she doesn’t do it more often.
Nauplio was just a day’s walk from Mili. Yet, with the heat, they would have to stop at noon to get some rest under a shadow that would block off the sun and keep them from seriously dehydrating. The warrior hated the summertime for that. Stopping at noon meant that they would miss reaching Nauplio until the next day and the delay in getting there probably meant that there would be even more trouble to sort out when they actually arrived. Xena knew the prison well. It was one of the prisons in Greece that even had a name, which was Bourtzi, and she herself had sent many warlords and villains there.
She wondered what could have happened. It was a very well guarded place and it had a strategic position that made it unreachable. Nauplio was also a seaside city, like Mili, but it was on a gulf and had a very small island just outside. That’s where they built the prison. With water all around and experienced guards there, no one could break out without being spotted. The city militia was always on alert as well, so anyone who tried to escape ended up recaptured or dead. This system had run like clockwork for decades now and it was very strange that something had gone wrong.
They stopped when it got too hot to continue. “I was hoping we could take a break here. I found this spot on my last trip to Nauplio and I think you’re gonna like it,” Xena said and then trotted off through the bushes with a surprised looking Gabrielle following her trail.
“Sweet Zeus! It’s beautiful!” the bard exclaimed.
It was a small lake that was fed by a waterfall and surrounded by porcupine trees that were very tall, creating a very good shade. As she closed in she felt the temperature significantly dropping and she turned to leave her bag under a tree, anxiously looking forward to a refreshing bath in the lake.
When she turned again, there was no sign of a certain warrior princess.
Instinctively, she turned her head to the top of the waterfall, and saw her friend diving in headfirst and emerging seconds later at the further end of the lake.
When they started traveling together, she was apprehensive every time Xena disappeared like that, but through time she gathered that lakes and waterfalls meant a head dive, and that Xena and water meant splashing around like a kid. She liked the fact that Xena had such a childish side to her character and was happy that she got to see it. Most of the time she forgot that her best friend was the ex-Destroyer of Nations.
Gabrielle quickly joined in, wanting to take the heat off her body and after some splashing around they got back on solid ground, in a much better mood.
Xena had –surprise, surprise- caught some fish also that were now grilling in a small fire she started while the bard worked on her scrolls.
“Any ideas about what’s going on in Nauplio?” Gabrielle suddenly asked.
“Nope. They had a pretty good security system. All I know is that I’ve sent some men there that I would really hate to have to recapture again.”
“Is it possible that it’s nothing serious?”
“I don’t know. But when merchants stay away from an area it usually means trouble.”
“Oh. That’s true.”
“Well, let’s get going. The heat’s down and I want to make good time today so we’ll be there by noon tomorrow without having to stop again.”
And so they did. The afternoon walk was pleasant yet vigorous and Xena was satisfied with their progress. They would probably make it to Nauplio before high noon the next day so everything was going according to plan. They made camp and ate leftover bread and cheese that Gabrielle picked up from the inn before they left. When they finished up, Xena started sharpening her sword while making a mental note to buy a new sharpening stone when they reached the city.
She also thought that she should buy something for Gabrielle as she knew that little gestures like that made the petite bard very happy. It’s very nice to have a best friend, she mused while watching the bard’s sleeping form.
It was indeed just before noon when they saw the outskirts of the city. It was very quiet there, more quiet than it should be, actually.
“What’s wrong?” Gabrielle asked.
“I can smell the fear in this place,” Xena casually replied. The city wasn’t deserted but there wasn’t much movement either. Most of the townsfolk were in their homes and only the bravest of the merchants kept their stores open.
Xena headed straight to the house of Sakis, the head of the local militia. She had met with him many times in the past, when she was clearing the local country from warlords and such.
“I’m here to see Sakis,” Xena said to the guard that was posted outside the Sakis’ house.
“He doesn’t want any visitors, lady.” The guard barked at her.
Hmm we think we’re tough, don’t we? Xena thought to herself. “Okay. We can do this one of two ways. You can either let me in, or I can knock you unconscious and get in myself.” Her icy stare convinced the guard that she was perfectly capable of delivering on that threat. “Besides, he’s gonna want to see me,” she continued. “Why don’t you announce me to him and make his day?”
“Who are you?” he asked, in a much gentler tone.
“Xena,” was all she stated.
The man cleared his throat; suddenly realizing that if he pushed the argument further he might not finish off the day with his head still attached to his shoulders, and opened the door to Sakis’ house.
“Follow me,” he said and then pointed at Gabrielle, “but she stays here.”
“Well it just isn’t your lucky day now, is it?” Xena shot back at him. “Gabrielle, come with me,” she said to the uncertain bard that was just a few steps behind her.
“Xena wouldn’t leave me out here alone, I’m her best friend,” she explained to the guard with a touch of pride and a big smile on her face and quickly followed Xena’s footsteps inside.
Sakis was a middle aged man, very fit for his age, with black eyes that seemed even darker because of the black circles that had formed around them. He wore a military uniform and was quietly waiting for the duo in his sitting room.
“Xena! I am so glad to see you! I am afraid I’m in so much trouble this time that even you can’t help me.”
“Is that a challenge?” Xena smiled at him while grasping his forearm.
“Well, if it’s gonna get you motivated, it sure is,” he replied, trying to make a joke but his voice showed off the tiredness that prevailed him.
Gabrielle stood behind them, making no sound while examining the interaction between Sakis and Xena. They seemed to go a long way back, and they both had respect for each other.
“We have an ugly situation here, Xena. The prisoners took over Bourtzi and they are holding the guards hostage. They threatened that they will start killing them if we don’t give in to their demands,” Sakis said.
“How many guards do they have?” Xena asked in a confident tone. “And what are their demands?”
“They’re holding 15 guards, and they gave us a week to give in before executing them. They want safe passage out of here and 10,000 dinars loot. We’ve sent word to Sparta and they are shipping the money soon but you know how it is, Xena. We can’t let all those scoundrels go!”
“How did this happen?” Gabrielle asked the man.
“Who is that?” Sakis asked, with a mildly derogatory tone in his voice.
“She’s my friend,” Xena casually replied, “and you’d better answer her questions ‘cause most of the time they’re right to the point.”
Sakis nodded at Gabrielle, and answered her question. “Well, I hate to say it, but it is mostly our fault. The prison worked so well all these years, that we became overconfident, even arrogant... instead of having many guards with rotating shifts, we stationed 20 guards permanently there and just sent supplies whenever they were needed.”
“You said you stationed 20 guards, but the prisoners have 15 hostages... how is that?” the bard asked further.
“Well, they shipped 4 dead guards back here and a seriously wounded one to tell us what happened. He didn’t make it though; he died a few candlemarks after he spoke to me.”
“How much supplies do they have?” Xena asked Sakis, while the wheels in her mind were vigorously turning.
“They have enough for 5 months, and they also have a stock of pigeons through which they have contacted us today. We’ll try to do what he wishes.”
“What did he ask for?”
“Well he asked for two female slaves, you know...to satisfy him. It’s actually the first time that he’s asked for something to be sent there. They’re pretty much autonomous with the supplies and all.”
“Did you send them?” Xena asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
“We have them ready for him, they are leaving momentarily,” Sakis answered.
“Don’t bother. We’ll go,” Xena informed him. “I want to take a look at what’s going on inside.”
“But Xena,” Gabrielle argued, “you said you’ve sent many people in there! What if someone recognizes you?”
“I suppose we play it by ear at that case,” Xena smiled to the bard. She could feel Gabrielle was uneasy with the situation but she also knew that she was hurt when she was left behind. “And you know I’ll watch your back, right?”
“Always,” Gabrielle smiled back.
A little while later, they were set to go. They both dressed in slave garb before they left Sakis’ house. It made the warrior uneasy to leave her armor behind but it was a good disguise and made it harder to be recognized. She wore veiled pants and a top that left little to the imagination, and a veil was also covering her mouth, exposing only her blue eyes.
If someone had met the warrior princess in her usual dark leathers, she was unrecognizable when pretending to be someone else. She could easily change her body posture and the way she talked, and then she could blend in just as a tall, dark headed beautiful woman. And that was a fatal mistake for her enemies. She couldn’t take her sword with her, and she was anxious about it, but she took her chakram in a small bag she could carry and her whip, just in case. Gabrielle was dressed similarly to Xena, but without the veil, which she didn’t need. Xena estimated that there wasn’t anyone there that could identify the bard, and Gabrielle was just happy with that.
Unfortunately for Gabrielle, the prison being on an island meant a boat ride there. Xena gave her some herbs before they boarded the small boat which would help the nausea, hopefully.
It didn’t really work.
“Gabrielle, if you keep your eyes on the horizon, you will feel much better. It’s all in your mind,” Xena advised.
“Easy for you to say. And by the way, where did you learn to sail?”
“I have many skills, Gabrielle,” the warrior said and smiled at her. This was a line usually reserved to intimidate people but it was also funny to use on your best friend.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Gabrielle smiled back. “Did I tell you that you’re beautiful in this outfit? No wonder I can’t get a boyfriend!”
“Huh?” Xena said, confused.
“Well, really. What guy would choose me over you, Xena? Not that I really want one. Just making conversation.”
“No, really. I much prefer being with you, out there, you know, adventuring.”
“Do you really have to go like that every single time I try to make chit-chat with you?”
“At least I got over the seasickness.”
With that pleasant change of subject, the warrior felt she could start to talk again.
“We’re almost there. I want us out tonight, so we have to make sure that the boat doesn’t get destroyed or taken away from us.”
“Hmm,” the bard replied. Well, everyone had an inclination. Some subjects suited you, others didn’t. Gabrielle felt that breaking in and out of a prison that was being held by prisoners was definitely Xena’s subject. Definitely.
As they approached the rocky beach, Xena realized that they were already spotted by some prisoner-guards that started heading their way with swords at hand. She tied up the small boat firmly on a rock and she motioned Gabrielle to move away from it as quickly as possible in order to divert attention from it. They walked towards the men and met them half way to the entrance of the prison.
Gabrielle, instructed by Xena, spoke first while looking down. “We are here to offer our services to Arkas, my lords.”
“Yes, come,” the one that seemed to be the leader grabbed them both and pushed them forward.
He didn’t say another word as he led them both to the prison yard and then up some stairs. From the looks of it, they were headed towards what was supposed to be the chamber of the prison director. A man, probably a personal guard of Arkas, was at the entrance, opened the door and then pushed both of them inside. Xena was clenching her teeth and trying to be as patient as she could; being shoved around wasn’t really her thing. “Wait in here. Don’t touch anything. Arkas will soon be here for you,” he barked at them and then closed the door.
Xena was happy not to see any familiar faces up to now. And she didn’t know anyone by the name of Arkas either, so she assumed she never met him as well. That was fine. She examined the room, and then quickly went to look out of the window. They were not too high above the ground, and these chambers were on the other side of the island from the one that they disembarked, so she just wanted to check their possible ways out. Peering out the window, she saw something she didn’t like. At all.
A big sailing ship was anchored away from the shore. One that looked like it was all set and ready to go at any time.
“Xena? What is it?” Gabrielle asked.
“They have a boat… a way out of here now… but they’re not using it, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, you know… Sakis said they asked for money too, they’re probably hanging around for that.”
“They cou…” Xena’s sentence was cut short as the door opened and a man came in.
The man was tall and muscular; his face was clear from scars and something was definitely wrong with his aura, Gabrielle thought.
“I am Arkas,” he informed them, “and I see I got myself two pretty ladies for the evening. I must’ve been a good boy,” he laughed. He then sat on the bed and motioned to Gabrielle. “You. Feed me,” and pointed to a tray with food on his desk. “And you,” turning his attention to Xena, “dance.”
Gabrielle was curious how far Xena was willing to play along with it. Feeding him was harmless, but it did put her within arms reach of the man. Nevertheless, she complied, positive that her friend would stop anything that got messy.
He didn’t make a move on her though. He just ate from her hands and watched Xena, and that even struck Gabrielle as odd. She’d seen how villains treat slaves and this wasn’t anything like that. What’s wrong with this picture? She asked herself.
When Xena first saw Arkas, she immediately realized that there was something... missing there. Something she was very familiar with. He had the muscles to be a warlord, but there was something just odd about his body posture. She started to dance, while always keeping an eye on Gabrielle. She wouldn’t let this Arkas guy even remotely touch her, but after a while she gathered that he didn’t have such an intention either. Odd.
Suddenly, Arkas took the tray Gabrielle was holding and without a word nodded to her to get up. “Go next to her.”
Again Gabrielle did what she was asked and approached Xena without looking either in the eyes.
Arkas sat more upright at his bed and told them with a smile, “Now, I want to see you two girls kiss.”
Say what???? Gabrielle thought to herself. This guy is actually asking me to kiss my best frie… her thoughts were intercepted by a kiss. A passionate one.
She never expected a kiss from Xena to be like that. Well, she had gathered that Xena was a great kisser and had many skills and all that, but kissing your pal sounded to her kinda like kissing your sister. And kissing your sister definitely didn’t make you blissfully forget that you were in a director’s chambers in a prison that was being held up by the prisoners.
Her thoughts were again interrupted by a clapping sound that could have only been coming from Arkas’ direction. “Alexis, get in here,” he barked at the door.
She opened her eyes to see Arkas approaching them with a sword in his hands while the personal guard, Alexis entered the room from behind their backs with another one.
“Tell me now, Xena,” Arkas said to the warrior with a gentle and teasing tone, “how much longer would you keep this up? I’m impressed.”
Xena quickly went through her choices. She could definitely outfight these two men without even getting scratched but if her presence in the prison was known to everyone they could be in trouble. What did she tell Gabrielle before? Play it by ear? Well let’s see what those two had for her to listen to, she thought.
In a flash, she grabbed Arkas by his shoulder and conveniently broke it, making him drop his sword, which she snatched as it was falling down and then jumped behind Alexis and kicked him in the neck, making him fall down unconscious.
“Gabrielle, tie this one up,” she pointed towards Alexis.
“I’m on it,” the bard replied and quickly picked up Xena’s whip from the bag that the warrior had hid behind the couch earlier.
“Bitch!” Arkas exclaimed. “Why didn’t you just let us be? We didn’t harm anyone.”
“You did kill five innocent guards, I suppose because they didn’t want to be part of your trick? You haven’t been good Arkas,” the warrior told him.
Gabrielle suddenly realized what was going on. These men were not prisoners here… they were the guards themselves! Why would they do such a thing? And Arkas… conveniently asking for two slaves when they showed up…
“Xena,” she finally said, “this means Sakis is in this too!”
“Mhm… probably,” the warrior replied to the bard and then turned her attention to Arkas again. “Arkas, are you familiar with my pinch routine?”
The renegade guard only nodded.
“Good. ‘Cause I’m getting tired of having to repeat the same lines every now and again,” Xena replied casually while squeezing the pressure points on his neck.
Arkas felt an excruciating pain in his head and chest. He was unable to breathe evenly and he felt all his body parts going completely rigid. He wasn’t stupid enough not to cooperate.
“How many people know we’re here?” the warrior got to the point.
“J…Just me. Sup…posed to tell others,” Arkas mumbled.
“But ya didn’t.” First mistake, Xena thought.
“When did Sakis send word to you?”
“Half a candlemark before you...g…got here.”
Hmm... The warrior thought, well at least they could get out of here easier than she estimated. She released the pinch and continued her interrogation.
“Remember, Arkas, I can make you feel like that again if I think that you’re lying. And maybe next time I wont release it,” she stated while staring at him with icy eyes.
“What’s the plan, Xena?” Gabrielle asked.
“We’re taking this prison back, and then we’re dealing with Sakis.” Xena replied.
That’s the outcome, not the plan, Gabrielle thought. Jeez... warriors!
Xena turned her attention to the guard again. “Arkas, why did you do this?”
The guard replied, with an honest look in his face. “We’re not criminals, Xena. Just wanted to get what Sparta owes us. We spend all our lives in this prison, with pitiful salaries, to make sure that the criminals stay here. Everybody else is living in peace because of us. That’s why.”
“No one owes you anything. You’re doing something for the greater good,” Gabrielle informed him.
“That may work for a dreamer, little girl, but not for a man with a family to support,” Arkas barked at her, and then looked away clutching his arm.
“Hmm,” was all Xena said; she hadn’t paid much attention to the interaction between the bard and Arkas. A plan was already forming in her mind, and the whole situation became clearer for her.
Alexis started to regain his consciousness, and the warrior kneeled next to him. “I want you to gather every guard in the yard,” she said. “This,” she pointed to her chakram that was lying on the floor next to her opened bag, “is going to be aimed towards your neck.” She paused for effect. “The moment you say something wrong, you lose your head, got it?”
“There’s a bell,” the guard said with trembling voice. “If we sound it, it means that we have to gather.”
“Nice,” Xena said. Then she stood up, broke the wooden leg off a chair, and turned towards Gabrielle. “Wait here with Arkas. If he tries to move, whack him with this.”
Gabrielle nodded, and then watched as Xena untied the other guard and picked up Arkas’ sword and her chakram.
“Let’s do this,” she told him.
Right after Xena untied him, the guard got up and walked out the door of the quarters. He stood near the railing of the balcony and sounded a small bell that was on it, and then tried to maintain a casual posture. Xena was kneeling behind him, the guard’s huge form covering the warrior just enough not to be visible. If someone knew that there was a person behind Alexis, they could just make her out. But nobody knew. As far as the rest of the guards were concerned, Arkas was entertaining himself with two slaves that Sakis sent to his first boy.
When Gabrielle was left alone in the room, she was at first afraid of whether she could handle Arkas on her own if he tried something funny. Sure you can, she reassured herself. He is after all beaten up, with a broken arm, and an equally broken morale. Arkas wouldn’t even look at her. He stared at the floor intensely. Is it because of remorse, or is he just pissed because we ruined his plans?, the bard asked herself. Then her mind went off to a completely different subject, one that involved a Warrior Princess, and a kiss.
After a couple of moments of waiting, Xena asked Alexis in a very soft whisper: “is everyone here yet?”
The guard slowly nodded yes, and then felt unconsciousness kicking in as the warrior quickly rose from behind him and pressed some points in the back of his neck.
All the renegade guards were taken by complete surprise, and only watched as Xena jumped off the balcony and landed on the yard. Some of them were carrying swords and others didn’t. Xena had Arkas’ sword in one hand and her chakram in the other.
“It’s time to surrender,” Xena yelled.
The men, moments ago waiting for Alexis to make an announcement and now struck with the view of a half-dressed woman carrying a sword and asking them to “surrender,” were for a few moments confused. They looked at each other, and then attacked her.
..Or we can play, Xena thought.
Xena kicked and punched, hit with the hilt of the sword, jumped, turned and soon afterwards seven men were lying on the ground grasping aching body parts and the remaining six weren’t so confident anymore. The warrior hadn’t even broken a sweat.
“Whenever you boys are ready to surrender, just say so,” she gently told them and started moving towards them. Those carrying swords dropped them on the ground, and those who were not didn’t even move.
“Good,” Xena said.
She then guided them inside the prison, found four unoccupied cells and locked them in. The villains in the other cells were startled but since some recognized Xena, no remarks were heard. Xena then turned to the guards again. “If you don’t behave, I’ll mingle you with the prisoners,” she said with a smile on her face. No one spoke.
Then she headed back to the director’s chamber, walking past the still unconscious Alexis, and was glad to see Arkas in the same position. Gabrielle was staring at the wall above Arkas’ head with a look of confusion in her face.
“Everything ok?” the warrior asked her.
“Yeah, hmm… just fine,” Gabrielle quickly snapped out.
“I locked up the guards in the cells, let’s move those two down there also.”
“We wait ‘till nightfall, and we head back to Nauplio. I don’t want our boat spotted.”
“Aye, aye, captain,” the bard joked and smiled.
The night was moonless, which suited Xena just fine; even if someone was looking, it would be hard to distinguish their small boat in the dark waters. She nevertheless decided to keep the white sail down, just in case, as it wasn’t at all windy anyway. She was navigating the boat by the city lights, though she wasn’t headed towards the marina but to its right, in order to disembark on the empty beach. Rowing the boat was hard to do, but it hadn’t been a tiring day, so the warrior had many reserves for the job.
The physical labor was also welcome, as it kept Xena from surrendering to her thoughts about an earlier kiss that had made her world turn upside down. It was just something that we had to do, she thought, but the beauty of it was something that she hadn’t expected.
“Won’t the prisoners need food, Xena?” Gabrielle suddenly asked, breaking off the silence of the night.
“They have water in the cells. Hopefully everything will get sorted out soon,” the warrior replied.
Silence fell again.
Gods, why does it always have to be on a boat? Gabrielle silently asked herself.
“Xena, look, about what happened before…”
Xena immediately knew that from all the things that had happened before, the bard was mostly anxious about their kiss. Touchy stuff, she thought.
“Gabrielle, we had to play our part. It doesn’t mean anything, so don’t sweat about it, okay?”
“Right,” was all the bard said and smiled.
Right, Xena repeated in her head. Then why did you enjoy it so much, Warrior Princess? Why did you seize the moment and not end the masquerade earlier? You did want to take back the prison anyway…She stopped her thinking, and concentrated on her course of action from there on.
They reached the beach and came ashore. Xena didn’t want to leave Gabrielle all alone on that beach. Anyone who would spot her would probably think that she was a runaway slave. And that would mean more trouble. She couldn’t take her along to Sakis’ either as it would be too difficult for the bard to sneak in with her.
“Xena, what’s the plan?” Gabrielle asked, as they started walking towards the city.
“You’ll see. But you’re not gonna like it,” the warrior informed her with a faint smile.
Goody, Gabrielle mused. That probably means I’m gonna be left behind somewhere.
Indeed, as the reached the first houses of Nauplio, Xena motioned Gabrielle to stop before a small house with a wooden fence. Xena jumped in its yard, and moments later she reemerged with a bundle of clothes taken from the line.
“Here, wear those,” she told Gabrielle, “Anyone that sees you in what you’re in now will take you for a runaway.”
“Aw come on. These are like the clothes I left my house in,” she pointed at the bundle offered to her. “And why exactly are you not changing also?” the bard protested while taking the clothes from Xena.
“Two reasons. No one’s gonna see me unless I want them to, and the slave clothes are actually pretty comfy to fight in,” she teased her and performed a back flip.
“Show off,” Gabrielle mumbled and then headed behind a bush to change. She didn’t have a problem getting undressed before Xena, but being on the outskirts of a city, well, you never know who might see you, she thought.
“You know, I knew I would be left behind for a while now,” she informed Xena with a teasing tone as she returned from the bushes.
“Don’t worry. I won’t forget you,” Xena teased her, “I want you to go and…”
“Wait for you at the inn, yeah, yeah,” the bard laughed again and headed towards the city. “And if you’re late I should get a room, right?”
And they parted.
Even though the streets were virtually empty, Xena mingled with the shadows of the night, part for precaution and part for fun, and reached Sakis’ house unnoticed.
When they were there earlier, she had noticed that it was not heavily guarded. There was a guard at the gate, and two more guards that made circles around the perimeter of the house. She stood in silence for a while, watching the guards and studying their movement. When she was positive that it was clear, she made a run from where she was hiding and jumped through a window of the house that she estimated was the sitting room where they met with Sakis before.
No one was in and there was only a small candle lit, making the room half dark. She looked around and confirmed all her gear was there, and Gabrielle’s also, but decided not to change yet as Sakis could step in at any time. Instead, she began heading out of the room to explore the rest of the house, but heard footsteps. She hid behind a pot that had big leafy plant in, and watched.
It was Sakis, all alone, sitting in the dimly lit room and drinking out of a big jug of... something. Probably alcohol, the warrior thought. She waited for a few more moments, and when she was sure no one else was joining him, she emerged from the shadow.
“Wha…Hu?!?!” Sakis didn’t really know how to react when he saw Xena rising through the dark in front of him. But he stayed seated. He knew how deadly she was, and had witnessed her handling the worst criminals around.
“Sakis,” she said in a deadly whisper, “I don’t appreciate being ambushed.”
“Xena,” he said in a trembling voice, “…how…they… I gave them orders not to hurt you… just…slow you down.”
“You had a good scheme going on here, Sakis,” Xena continued.
“It... it should’ve been harmless. Get the money, and then send word that we re-caught the scoundrels but the money was gone, and then you showed up… I… sending you there was the only option I had,” Sakis continued.
“And how ‘bout the other guards, Sakis? The dead ones?”
“I wasn’t happy with that… but… the men in the prison were too determined… they feel like they’re giving away their lives and getting nothing back…”
Xena had heard enough. These were all men blind with money lust that didn’t even see that they had become murderers.
“Who is your next in charge, Sakis?”
“A lieutenant… Panos.”
“Is he in on this?”
“No,” Sakis replied in a truthful manner, “he was gone the past week, training troops in the forest. We expected him back tonight… he’s not here yet.”
“Hmm..,” Xena said. She tied him up with her whip and picked up her sword from the pile of their things. “Now call your guards.”
“What??” the head of militia was taken by surprise.
“Just do it.”
He didn’t delay any longer. “Guaaaaaaards!!” he shouted in a not very confident tone.
Xena heard the sound of the men running, and seconds later, the three guards were in the room. Xena was pressing the sword against Sakis’ throat.
“Sir…” the first guard started to say and move towards Sakis, when Xena interrupted him.
“You,” Xena said. “Go wait for Panos. Tell him he’s in charge now and I’ll see him in the morning to explain the situation.”
Then she turned to the next one. “Send word to Sparta. The money is no longer needed, but they have to send in new prison staff.”
And finally, she turned to the third one. “Get more guards and keep Sakis somewhere until I meet with Panos. Make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.”
None of them moved, unsure of what to do. This warrior woman was probably accusing Sakis of having something to do with the mess at the prison, but they couldn’t make sense of her orders. They were torn between their duty to protect Sakis and that warrior’s commands that somehow felt honest.
“Am I not making myself clear?” Xena asked in a low voice.
Two of the men disappeared out of the door, but the third approached.
“Did he help the convicts?” He reluctantly asked Xena.
“The prisoners had nothing to do with this. He and the prison staff made the whole thing up to get money from Sparta,” she tried to sum up the events to him.
“Oh,” he replied, giving Sakis a disgusted look, and went out the door.
Less than half a candlemark later, he was back with three more guards.
“We’ll take it from here, Xena. Thank you.” They went out the house while shoving Sakis around.
Xena, all alone in Sakis’ house changed back into her leathers, picked up Gabrielle’s gear also and went looking for the bard.
When she got into the local inn, she gazed around at the patrons, but didn’t see Gabrielle. The innkeeper informed her that her friend had gotten a room for the night and she had dinner sent there. It didn’t take me that long, Xena thought. I wonder what made her head to a room that fast...
As she was heading up the stairs to their room, a young blond man walked past her. As he brushed next to her, Xena smelled a faint scent of Gabrielle on him. The warrior was confused, a million thoughts crossing through her mind. She thought of going after the man, maybe he had hurt the bard. No, she’d have fought him off easily, he was quite skinny and petite, she thought. Nevertheless…
She quickly went up to the room, and found her friend sitting on a small couch.
“Everything ok?” Xena asked.
“Here? Yeah.” The bard was confused with the question, seeing that she spent the last candlemark at the inn, whereas the warrior was off in the mission. “How about you?”
“Sakis is held by the guards, and his replacement will see me tomorrow. So all is good.”
“I saved some food for you,” the bard pointed at a platter on the table.
The warrior wasn’t really in a mood for food, so she mumbled a “thanks” and started taking off her armor.
“Xena?” Gabrielle suddenly asked when she saw that Xena wasn’t going to head for the food. “I met this man earlier, and invited him here to talk...”
Here we go, Xena thought, another cute guy story. She hated those.
“He’s one of those men…you know… who like other men? Sexually, I mean,” Gabrielle continued talking noticing the sudden change in the warrior’s posture.
“Hmmm,” Xena said, while feeling a bit… Relieved? Why am I relieved? She mused, and sat on the other edge of the couch, opposite to the bard.
“Anyway, we talked for a while and he told me his story,” she paused.
“Is he in trouble?” Xena asked out of habit, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh no,” Gabrielle smiled, “nothing like that. His story was about…” Well, I might as well get it over with, she thought and continued. “He was in love with his best friend, and he didn’t know it at that time because he didn’t know what a best friend was and what being in love was,” the bard said quickly.
“Oh,” Xena said. A million pieces of a puzzle connected in her mind instantly. Looks, touches, presents, hugs… everything. “Oh,” she said again.
“Xena, do you think…” Gabrielle started, but was silenced by a finger on her lips.
“I dunno. Let’s see,” Xena said in a low voice, even though now she knew exactly what the answer was. She leaned over and kissed Gabrielle, and that kiss only ended long moments later, leaving the two women smiling at each other.
What was it my mother used to say? The warrior thought. It’s always very calm and quiet before a great storm? Well, the situation at this city was pretty easy to clear up. We got in the prison, took care of the renegade guards, confronted Sakis… The real trouble… just started.
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