Champions by Kamouraskan
A sequel to Champion http://www.academyofbards.org/kam_champion.html
Disclaimer: Characters are owned by others, the story is mine. I have been blessed with the help of some the most talented women in the Xenaverse. I am indebted to them all. Unfortunately, I was still the one to write it. But their spirited assistance just proves what a special place this is. I am very grateful to Eve Ng, Maribel Piloto, Barbara Davies, Advocate, Lariel, IseQween, Georgia, Verath, Mary Morgan, Lawlsfan, and my partner in crime , Archaeobard. Quite a list, because I am very fortunate.
Mail is always appreciated and answered at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
Conclusion go to Part one
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we see
I wont be afraid
I wont be afraid
Just as long as You
You Stand By Me
-Ben. E. King
Eponin approached the prisoners cell with a great deal of trepidation. Gabrielle may have had complete assurance that Xena would still be inside, and that there would be no need of a full escort of guards, but the Weapons Master had serious doubts. It was one thing for Xena to stick around to watch her pupil win her match, it was another for her to remain after she had been sentenced to death. And sure enough the cage door was open.
To her surprise it was still occupied by a prisoner whose charisma dominated the cramped space. Xena had taken the opportunity to clean and polish her armor and stood waiting as if she was a dignitary looking forward to the royal summons. The Amazon noticed that once again the chains with which she had been bound the day before were neatly coiled in the corner.
She nervously cleared her throat. "You ready?"
Xena gave a short nod and moved out of the hut ahead of her. She looked about the village and noted the scattered remnants of the celebration that she had listened to throughout the night.
"Quite a party." she commented.
" Ah, you know, Amazons."
"The guest of honour didnt seem in the mood...the Queen didnt stay up very late..."
Eponin looked to see what was going through the warriors mind, but there was no expression she could read. "Yeah, she took the mask. The treaty with the Centaurs is ready to be signed, too."
"Good." was all the warrior said. "I hope she keeps the mask. Shell make a great queen."
Curiosity drove the Amazon to ask "What do you think shes going to do?"
There was a shrug. "Doesnt matter. I agreed to accept her judgment."
This was the woman who had driven armies by the sheer force of her will across the breadth of Greece? "Even...?"
Xena turned her pale eyes on her. "Yes."
They continued to walk along in silence, until Xena asked, "I thought Ephiny was to take the mask."
Eponin nodded. "Ephiny says that if Gabrielle has changed her mind, even if she played each of us like pawns... thats what a great Queen has to do, thats what the Nation needs. And Ive sworn to follow her whatever she does."
In the Queens hut, Gabrielle rinsed her face one more time. She called to Ephiny in the next room. "Wheres Va...wheres the challenger now?"
"The healer took her to a tavern in town. They had enough money to stay there for a few days. Well keep a watch."
The Queen took a towel and mopped her face. "Keep up the watch, but dont waste too many women on it."
"We havent heard the last of her." Ephiny warned.
Gabrielle sighed. "I know, but at least she no longer has any support inside of the Nation."
"Thats true. After she embarrassed her supporters, theyre now your most fervent subjects. And theyll do anything to prove their loyalty."
"Good. That was the idea," Gabrielle said coolly. She made a final adjustment to her leathers and joined Ephiny in the main room.
"You were a long time in the Temple this morning...any luck?" Ephiny asked.
Gabrielle shook her head. "I was hoping that..."
"...if you showed enough respect for Artemis, the priestesses would support your decision? I dont think you have a chance in Tartarus of getting them to go along. Youre just going to have to accept that not everyone will agree with what you do."
"This is different. The challenger said I had neither the Law nor the authority. I think I can find the law, but did yesterday give me the authority?"
Ephiny smirked. "Just take a step outside, your majesty."
Gabrielle took the proffered mask and opened the door of the hut to stand out on the porch overlooking where the Amazons were already gathered. The talking and bustling about in preparation stopped immediately. In the sudden hush, all of her subjects were immediately at attention, and several dropped to their knees. Dazed, Gabrielle returned to the safety of the room. "Whoa!" she managed.
Ephiny grinned. "Ah, dont worry. In a week theyll be blaming you for the lousy food in the mess tent."
It was then that Ephiny caught sight of several objects in the woodpile, recognizing them as Gabrielles story scrolls. "What are they doing there?" she demanded angrily.
Gabrielles face seemed as firm as her voice. "After yesterday, I knew that... I decided they were the things of my childhood, and that part of my life is over."
Ephiny stared long and hard at her Queen before ordering her, "Sit down."
There was a moment of rebellion, before the girl lowered her eyes and sat on a chair.
Ephiny began by pacing about, and then squated, facing her queen. "Gabrielle. There was a king, a wise man, and a mighty warrior. There are many stories of his victories and his wisdom. But what made him special, what made him a great King, is that he was also a poet. A dreamer. Gabrielle..." she said, retrieving a scroll. "... These are not your childhood, these are who you are, a part of your soul. Dont exchange a part of your soul for the mask. Youll end up with neither."
She placed the scroll in Gabrielles hands. There was a moment of silence, and then everything that she had been holding inside burst, and Ephiny found herself holding a sobbing Queen in her arms.
Soon after, the Queen and her Regent stood on the platform, the throne behind them, surrounded by staves and emblems of office.
Gabrielle, masked and looking every inch the rightful Queen, addressed the assembly. "Amazons. Sisters. We are here to sentence a woman for the horrific slaughter that she committed ten summers ago. I have received a communication from what remains of the Northern Tribe detailing the events which occurred and I have been given the authority to pass sentence upon her.
"I ask, is this woman present?"
Xena strode forward, halting only when the spears were crossed in front of her. "I am."
All eyes turned to the tall warrior in the centre of the commons.
"You have already admitted to these crimes?" The Queen asked.
Gabrielle turned to the stocky weapons master. "Eponin, the prisoner is not bound. Why is that?"
Stonefaced, the Amazon shrugged. "There seemed to be little point. I found her unchained with the cell door open again."
Gabrielle looked back to the warrior. "Prisoner. Why didnt you escape?"
"I was bound by my oath."
"Please speak so that all can hear you. You have agreed to submit to Amazon Justice, regardless of the outcome?"
Gabrielle appeared to contemplate the answer for a moment. "You present a puzzle to many of my sisters. Your recent actions are in sharp contrast to your reputation. You nearly destroyed an entire generation of leaders, and yet you are willing to submit to our authority.
"Would the woman who committed these crimes have submitted?"
There was a moments hesitation, then, "No."
"Would she have spent the past moons cycle teaching another in order to prepare her for an Amazon challenge...?"
Xena didnt like where this was going and interrupted. " Gabr... your Highness, I may have changed...somewhat... but I am still Xena, I AM the woman who committed those crimes."
The Queens eyes seared her through the mask. "Do not contradict me. I was speaking."
The Warrior muttered just loudly enough for the Queen to hear. "Oh Gods... could you just kill me now....?" and Gabrielle had to bite back a laugh. Pursing her lips, she continued the interrogation.
"You were nearly killed by the men of your own army over the saving of a child."
"You allowed yourself to be stoned by the people of your home?"
There was only the hollow answer. "I have no home."
Shaken by this statement, Gabrielle needed to collect herself before continuing. "In the last moons cycle, you were intending to take your own life, when I interrupted you?"
There was no answer for a moment. There was a slight flush, but no change in expression. "Perhaps."
"Then we would be giving you what you ask for, if we were to execute you?"
Xena clearly resented this questioning, "I dont know, perhaps."
The Queen then pointed to one of Velascas former lieutenants.
"Ardia, you are our best swordswoman? "
The tall Amazon steeped forward confidently. "Yes."
"You have been very vocal in your demand that this woman be executed?"
Looking both ways to her fellows, she said slowly. "Yes, my Queen."
Gabrielle gestured towards the warrior. "Then, go ahead." Ardia turned to face the warrior, and certain parts of her anatomy began to tighten involuntarily as the warrior only acknowledged her with a smile.
Noticing the discomfort, Gabrielle made a show of being solicitous. "Oh, I see. Youre not an executioner?" Ardia nodded gratefully. "Perhaps if you had some of your sisters to help shoulder your burden? Select the 10 best fighters after you."
Xenas shoulders slumped slightly as Ardia began to select a squad. But she kept her eyes on the girl on the platform.
When the selection was completed, the Queen spoke to her. "Oh Xena? You WILL defend yourself." At this the warrior seemed to grow taller, and Ardis and her squad noted with alarm that the smile had returned with even greater force, and that the blue eyes fairly glowed with anticipation.
Ardia wavered. "She is unarmed."
The Queen tossed a padded practice staff towards the prisoner who caught it, examined the padding and looked to the Queen questioningly.
The Queen explained, "wouldnt want anyone to get hurt." Though her face was hidden by the mask, Xena somehow knew that it covered a smirk. At that moment, Xena knew for the first time that no execution was planned, and almost to her surprise, some of the weight she had been carrying was removed. The Amazons were startled to hear the unfamiliar sound of deep rolling laughter coming from the Warrior Princess.
"Oh boy." Ephiny muttered to Eponin who stood guard to her left.
"All this started when Gabrielle asked me about why warriors seemed to respect each other after theyd fought one another. That led to her challenging Xena. Looks like now shes gonna try her theory on a larger scale."
The Amazons cautiously approached the warrior, but not cautiously enough. Two were struck and disarmed before they could blink. At this, the remaining 9 rushed her. There was a momentary crush, but then, with a shout, they were all thrust back. The warrior stabbed the stave into the ground, and using it as a pivot ran horizontally around the circle they had formed using her left foot to kick away their blades and the right to batter their skulls. Then springing above the group she landed outside the circle, half of whom collapsed. Leaving her with four very nervous Amazons. Who again tried to rush her.
Gabrielle had lifted up her mask in order to watch the fight, and her eyes were gleaming with excitement.
Meanwhile Ephiny and Eponin had moved their heads close together and were making a running commentary.
"Our peaceloving queen seems to like a brawl," observed Eponin
"I dont think its the brawl, more the brawler...."Ephiny replied, as they both continued to enjoy the spectacle.
"Ooh, that one hadda hurt."
"Our Queens not the only one whos enjoying themselves; look at Xenas smile."
"As long as its not facing me in combat, sure."
"But is this going to work?"
Well lets see. " Ephiny mimed an imaginary abacus. "Gabrielle already had her own supporters," she slid a series of illusory beads to the right with her index finger. "Now shes going for all of Velascas people and the warriors...thatll just leave the legal sticklers and the priestesses."
The last Amazon was disarmed and sent flying, and Xena casually spun the staff one more time before tossing it to land neatly with the others on the stage.
"Show off," whispered the Queen.
Xenas lips quirked slightly, but she waited for the Queen to continue.
"Xena, could you please explain to your opponents what their errors were?"
So, for the next quarter candlemark Xena painstakingly recapitulated each parry, each strike. Illustrating to each of the Amazons where they had made the wrong approach, and what alternatives they had missed. At the end, there was a light in each of their eyes that spoke of something more than admiration.
"What is it with warriors?" Gabrielle muttered to Ephiny who shrugged, but smiled.
Standing again, Gabrielle took a breath and addressed her tribe.
"Amazons. Do you see what we have here? This is the greatest warrior in all the known world! A woman. Clearly meant to be an Amazon. Stolen from us by Ares. My friend Ephiny said that Xena was a powerful tool and I agree. How can we let such a tool be wasted? This woman spent only a few days training me for my match, and I was able to defeat a master with the staff. Imagine if she were to teach our training programs regularly?
"Can you imagine her at the head of our forces? A woman who knows every warlord and has beaten most of them in the field? Imagine having her commanding our warriors, defending our land from raiders, Persians, Romans...?"
Ephiny surveyed the warriors as they stood rapt, entranced by their sovereigns pictures. "Imagine?" she whispered. "Theyre creaming their leathers." Eponin slid a few more imaginary beads over.
"But...." Gabrielle interrupted their reverie, "it appears that her crimes are too great. A great tragedy, because shes shown that she can be trusted. That shes willing to follow Amazon law, even if her own life is forfeit.
"A great loss...
"However. I note that the scrolls state that she must PAY for their lives. Money, of course, would only cheapen their loss, but killing this fantastic asset would not bring their lives back either."
"Perhaps..." and several faces now looked to her hopefully, "Perhaps, there is a suitable punishment, that would allow us to spare her. I would first have to consult with our Patron.
"Before I pass this sentence, I call upon Artemis to validate or dispute my decision."
There was no expectation in the crowd. They had seen the ceremonial invocation of the Patron before and this was thought to be no different. So there was a sharp intake of breath throughout the crowd when in front of the stand there was suddenly a tall dark form in leather, armed with a bow and quiver.
Another sparking flash and Artemis was facing Gabrielle on the podium. The Queen began to lower herself to join the rest in kneeling, but the Goddess stopped her. Placing her forefinger under her chin, she stared into the girls eyes.
Gabrielle voice trembled. "I didnt know if you would come. You didnt respond in the temple..."
"I told you before, Chosen." Gabrielle cringed slightly as she felt the shock wave that word caused in the kneeling Amazons, particularly the one by her side "...that until you take that mask, I will not protect you, or interfere when others endanger you."
"Consider yourself lucky," grunted the prisoner, earning a flash of anger, and the Goddess vanished and reappeared suddenly in front of Xena.
Artemis stared into the former warlords eyes. "I dont like you very much."
Xenas only response was to fold her arms across her chest. The Goddess continued. "And you werent supposed to be mine. You were supposed to be Athenas, but you let my brother seduce you. So Im not about to do you any favours. But for her..." The Goddess didnt complete the statement, and merely gestured towards Gabrielle.
"Theres a lot of that going around lately," the warrior deadpanned.
That merited a twitch around the lips from the Goddess. She turned and addressed her Nation. "I will not dispute the decision of my Queen in the matter of this woman." She acknowledged the bow that Gabrielle made to her, then glared once more at Xena before glancing again at Gabrielle. In exasperation She said, "I am going to go and kick Aphrodites ass for this, you know that." and then she vanished. As the stunned silence drew on, green eyes stared into blue, as both considered what those last words might have meant, then they both found something else to look at.
Eponin reached into the air and slid the rest of Ephinys imaginary beads over. "That would be game, set and match, I think," she said dryly.
Ephiny ignored her, and simply stared at Gabrielle for a moment, before roughly yanking her aside, and trying to find her tongue. She finally blurted out. "CHOSEN! Just how long were you planning to keep that a secret? All those years that I assumed that Terreis had just gone nuts when she passed her right of caste to you..." Slowing down rapidly when she saw the expression in the Queens eyes. "Well... maybe not nuts, but Gabrielle! Why did you even fight the contest if you were the Gods be blessed Chosen?"
"I didnt know. Not really. I thought...Anyways, She wouldnt have helped. I had to win it honourably. She doesnt believe in shortcuts."
Pulling away from Ephiny, the Queen turned, and again addressed her subjects. "I am now prepared to pass sentence. I hereby order that Xena be indentured to the Amazon Nation and its tribe, until she can replace those lives she has stolen. Until she has saved two Amazon lives for every one she has taken. Until then, she remains under the sentence of death. I think that this is a far more appropriate form of repayment. The irony and justice of the Destroyer of Amazons being charged with the task of helping us to protect and rebuild the Nation is only fitting."
She turned to look at her teacher.
"Xena, I sentence you to servitude, to be given the opportunity to repay the lives which you brutally stole. To be at the call of this nation for its defense, and for the training of its young. To be its sword, no matter what the personal cost."
There was a slight pause as Gabrielle once more gathered her courage.
"Her first assignment will be to accompany me as bodyguard for my mission to the Northern Tribe, in order to try to help them rebuild, or if necessary, bring them to a new home. And because this tribe needs a full time Queen, I cannot let this tribe stand leaderless. Therefore as planned, I hereby pass this mask to a more capable ruler, to hold it until I am capable of leading this tribe as it deserves to be led."
She removed the mask and with both hands presented it to Ephiny.
Ephiny shook her head. "Gabrielle! What about Artemis? What about your Destiny?"
Gabrielle placed the mask in her friends hands. She stared out across to the warrior in front of her, and found her to be smiling.
"Eph, Im just going on a journey. I accept my responsibilities, and Ill be in your hair more than you may want. But part of that responsibility is knowing that I still have much more to learn. But you know? One thing Ive been learning lately, is that you shape your destiny. With your own hands."
Xena checked Argo one more time so make sure the saddlebags were secured She threw one arm around the golden mare and spoke gently to her. "Bet youll be glad to get away, eh girl? After hanging around here for so long, huh? And we have a new friend..." Argo pulled back slightly. "Dont be like that, youll get along fine..." but Xena noticed with chagrin that it was half command/half plea. She tightened the stirrups as she continued to stroke the horse.
So was it really that simple? All of those years of darkness and bloodshed, papered over by a sentenced blessed by a God?
That wasnt even remotely true..
Gabrielle still had no idea who she really was. And what would happen when she learned? Well, if she was determined to enforce this sentence, shed learn soon enough. Her rapidly growing depression was distracted by a strange sensation that she had begun to associate with the young Queens presence. She turned to see the blonde approaching. She was struggling with a large satchel, and wearing the most hideous green top that Xena had ever seen on a living mammal. Xena tried to ignore the glowing smile and green eyes, and crossed her arms sternly. Time to get things clear.
Gabrielle stopped short. "What?"
"You are not putting that on my horse," she said flatly.
"These are my scrolls. They go where I go. I also have the laws we may need for renewing an Amazon tribe."
The two stared at one another. Frowning, Xena took the bag with ill grace and began to carefully store the cases. "Gabrielle, I dont follow orders very well, so I think were going to have to establish a few rules. Most important being: When we are on the road, everything that I do better than you, Im in charge of."
Gabrielle was taken aback. "Well, thats like... Like what?"
"What we do, when to fight, how we hunt, our general schedule..."
"What does that leave me?"
"I dont think so."
"Look. Youre under a sentence of death. On a mission of redemption. Supposedly my bodyguard for this trip north. I should be ordering YOU around...But we both THATS not going to work either. Im willing to compromise...maybe we could consult about the schedule, diet, and the rest well work out as we go along. Okay?"
"And as for fighting...."
"No. Definitely. I am not having you..."
"....I am not going to sit back and watch..."
When did this start getting away from me again? Xena thought. "Gabrielle? When you said I had to save two Amazon lives for every one I took, were you talking about individual Amazons, or the same one over and over and over...?"
"I thought so..."
"I can look after myself."
"I am going to be very busy arent I...?"
And Ill see your true colors
I see your true colors
And thats why I love you
So dont be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow