by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1998, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved
(Xena & Gabrielle, Mythical Babes series - 2)
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle & Argo belong to MCA/Universal. I am merely borrowing the characters and will return them no worse for the wear. Any other characters are the product of my vivid, over-active imagination and I claim copyright to them and their actions. Oh, there might be some interaction between women, then again, there might not. Who knows?
Do not fold, spindle or mutilate. Tags may be removed only by the consumer. Please fasten all safety harnesses.
Enjoy the trip.
Atrius pounded his fellow soldier on the shoulder (say that five time real fast), slurring, "Didja see those bastards running with their tails tucked 'tween their legs? Hey barkeep, 'nother round, we's powerfully thirsty!" Atrius dropped his hand on the bar, trying to focus on his next drink. Damn, he felt good! A fast, hard victory, few casualties, the wife and kids at home, ale in his belly, pay in his pocket, life was good. The barkeeper gave him another drink, which he drank sloppily, spilling at least a third of it down his shirt. "Ya know," he mused, suddenly more serious, "I should go give thanks to Ares for our victorious victory. Indeed, I think I'll go to Ares' temple and offer him thanks for our victory, then I'll go get in bed with Cyrene and ride to the sky, if ya know what I mean," he concluded leeringly. His buddies just waved at him as he slammed down the approximate number of dinars he owed for his drinks, watching him wobble out the door. The barkeeper pocketed the money, then shook his head. At least Atrius left before he got violent this time.
Atrius swayed before the altar, trying to sober up enough to recall the proper form of prayer to offer to the God of War. He scratched his grimy face, then finally gave up and bellowed, "Hey Ares! We beat them good today! We had them running with their tales between their legs, you shoulda seen us.Thanks be to you!"
"Oh, so you come in, stinking drunk, not even offering the proper prayers to me? Tut, tut, Atrius, is this how one of my finest soldiers should act?" Atrius swerved around and focused on the speaker. "Shit," he whispered as he faced the God of War himself. Ares wrinkled his nose delicately, saying, "You should have at least bathed first. I know, war is nasty, but you finished that battle, so next time, clean up some first. Now, why did you come here tonight, Atrius?"
Atrius bowed, staring at the God of War's boots as he said "Ares, I came to offer my thanks for our victory."
Ares waved airily, an evil grin creeping up on his face. "I gave you a stunning victory, Atrius, so are you willing to make a sacrifice to keep the victory?"
"Sacrifice?" the soldier asked, feeling suddenly uneasy.
"Yes, my soldier, a sacrifice. I don't give without expecting payment, you know. Your infantry called on me in the heat of battle, and as their captain, you must follow up by making a sacrifice. Are you willing?" the god asked.
Atrius felt a stab of fear bloom in his belly, but nevertheless answered cautiously, "Yes, my lord Ares. What sacrifice do you wish me to make? Goats? Pigs? Dinars?"
The God of War's dark eyes glittered greedily. "I want your daughter, Xena," the dark-haired god purred.
Atrius paled, lifting his head, fear pounding through his entire body now. "Xena? No, Ares, she is the delight of my life! Surely you need prisoners or goats or gold or--"
Ares grabbed the puny mortal and slammed him against the wall, growling, "I want Xena. Sacrifice her to me, I promise that she will be made immortal and be my best warrior." He shook Atrius, hard. "Promise!" he bellowed.
"I promise," the man squeaked, terror overwhelming him. Ares dropped him in a heap, then dusted off his hands. Atrius waited until he was sure that Ares would not reappear, then turned heel and ran out of the temple. He had a mission to accomplish.
By the time Atrius arrived at the inn that Cyrene managed in his absence, he was still frightened, but was also furious. Xena was his favorite child, how could he just sacrifice her to Ares? What kind of sacrifice? Just giving her to him, or would he have to kill her? Wouldn't her death be necessary for her immortality, as Ares promised? He was more sober now than he had been an hour ago, but the alcohol was still singing through his veins, making his agitation and indecision worse. He stomped into the inn, hunting for Cyrene, finally finding her in the stable out back. "Cyrene!" he bellowed.
"Hush, Atrius, it is late and our guests are asleep. Back from battle so soon?" Cyrene asked wearily.
He puffed up with sudden pride. "Yes, wife, and we beat the balls off of them, thanks to Ares, our God of War."
Cyrene narrowed her eyes, repeating slowly, "Thanks to Ares?"
"Yes, Cyrene. Come here, gimme a kiss," he said, fear receding and sudden lust singing through his veins.
"I'd rather kiss the horse," Cyrene replied dryly as she finished adding feed to the last bucket. She wrinkled her nose as her husband got closer. "Why didn't you at least bathe before coming home? They run out of hot water at that tavern you and your soldiers enjoy?"
He grabbed her suddenly, pulling her to him. "Woman, be glad that your man is home! Don't go putting on airs, telling me to bathe! Ares wants our daughter for a sacrifice, a great honor," he shouted.
Cyrene went cold with fear and dread. A sacrifice? "No," she whispered.
"Yes. Get her up, I'll take her to the temple tonight," he growled.
"You can't, you're her father," the innkeeper said, fear and disgust warring in her belly.
Atrius' temper flared; he slapped Cyrene as hard as he dared. "Get her or I'll drag her out myself! We can't keep this victory if I don't sacrifice Xena to Ares! He will make her immortal, make her his warrior! He said so himself, tonight, in the temple!" He shook Cyrene, emphasizing each word.
Cyrene stared at her husband, wondering how he became insane over the course of a day. She tried to slip away, but he was too strong for her, grabbing her by the wrist and yanking her to him, suddenly trying to thrust against her in a mockery of intercourse. Without thinking, Cyrene flailed her other arm wildly, trying to find some way to make him stop. He laughed crazily, shouting, "My daughter will ride with the God of War! She will be famous! I'll be famous! Come here, woman, let's hurry and make more children for Ares!" Strengthened by fear, Cyrene found the handle of a tool and swung it on her husband's head, slamming it as hard as she could. He sank bonelessly to the ground, eyes blanking out as the blood and brains gushed out.
"Oh, gods, no," she whispered as she stared at the axe buried in Atrius' head. It wasn't the hoe, it was the axe! Gulping to keep her supper down, she stared at the body of her husband, wondering what to do. While she stared, she became aware of another being in the stable and slowly turned, praying it was not one of her children.
Ares stood lounging in the open door frame, shaking his head and making tsking noises. "My, my, Cyrene, you seem to have killed your husband. I was counting on him to bring me Xena."
Cyrene stared at the God of War as fury took the place of horror. She advanced on the god, pushing her face in his, hissing, "You might try, Ares, but you will never have my Xena. Take your servant's body, bury it or burn it. I'll tell the children he died in battle. Go, do not darken my door again or I promise you, I will move Olympus and earth to defy you."
Ares stared into the hate filled eyes, shocked at her defiance, but also secretly proud. This woman would raise Xena right, better than that sloppy drunk soldier. He kissed her on the forehead, laughing, saying. "Sure, Cyrene. Just remember, though, I will have my way with Xena eventually. The battle Atrius just won? Won't mean a thing, Typhus' son, Cortese, will remember this battle, and will remember how your husband killed his father." Ares snapped his fingers, disappearing in a puff of air. Atrius' body disappeared as well. Cyrene sighed, suddenly trembling so hard that she had to sit down. She sat for a long time, staring at the spot that her husband's body had been, until she heard hesitant footsteps.
"Cyrene? My name's Hesphas, I was your husband's sergeant. Um, I have some very bad news, ma'am, he died on the road home from our victory party, slain by robbers we guess. What do you want us to do with the body?" the soldier asked as he stood in the doorway.
She looked up wearily at the young man. "Just bury him where he fell," she whispered. He nodded, then turned and left.
All three of the children were stunned by the news that their father was dead. Cyrene arranged for a memorial service, feeling like she was going through the motions, not feeling anything. Sometimes, she convinced herself that he had died by the roadside and not by her hands. She guessed that she was in shock, like she had heard some of her husband's men talk about soldiers in battle, or after battle. Xena took it the hardest, she was a daddy's girl, but she eventually rebounded. Cyrene couldn't seem to shake her lethargy, however.
One evening, Diedra, Rebeka and Diana came over to the inn for a late supper. Rebecka agreed to supervise the four children while they ate their dessert as Diedra steered Cyrene down by the river for a private chat. They found their private nook, sitting on tree roots, watching the river. Cyrene did not say anything for a long time, just stared into the water, then finally laid her head on her best friend's shoulder and shed the tears that had been bottled up for the past month. Diedra wrapped her arms around Cyrene, rocking her, letting her weep until she had no more tears.
"Cyrene, tell me, what happened?" Diedra asked gently, stroking Cyrene's face, wiping traces of tears.
Cyrene snuggled against the other woman, taking comfort in her embrace before finally sitting up. She stared at the ground, taking a series of deep breaths, then looked at Diedra and said calmly, "I killed Atrius, Diedra. He was drunk and threatening to sacrifice Xena to Ares. He threatened our daughter, he tried to rape me, so I grabbed the first thing I could and crashed it on his skull, intending to knock him down, but I killed him instead. Ares appeared and told me that we would pay the consequences, that he would get Xena one way or the other." She shuddered, but then continued. "I told him to get the body out of the stable, which he did. You know the rest."
"Gods, Cyrene, what a burden to bear," Diedra said, rubbing circles on her friend's back.
Cyrene looked up. "Yes, but I'll gladly bear it. I loved my husband, but he had a violent streak in him, I had seen it before. It was only time he ever slapped me, though, but it was one time too many. I guess I feared that he really would kill our daughter, whom I thought he loved dearly." She dropped her head against Diedra again. "Now what do I do?"
Diedra slipped a hand under Cyrene's chin and gently lifted her head up. "My dear friend, you just carry on. Don't let the children know that you killed their father, it was self-defense, but let them think he died a hero. Rebecka and I will help you as much as we can."
Cyrene hugged her friend, murmuring, "What would I do without you?"
Diedra shrugged. "Gee, I don't know, what would you do without me? Seriously, I'd do anything for you, Cyrene. After all, you gave me a new start in life when I walked in here two years ago, pregnant and homeless. You found me work, you found me a partner, you gave me your friendship. Now, let's get back before they call out the guards."
The two women slowly walked back to the inn, each lost in their own thoughts. Ares watched them, silently swearing that he would get Xena.
But, he could be very patient when he needed to be. He would start by watching Cortese, guiding him more carefully...he grinned wickedly, stroking his beard as the plan hatched...
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