Thanks to: BlindzonElyzon, Cath, Claudia, JLynn, Leslie Ann Miller, especially Mary Morgan, MyWarrior, Nancy, Power Chakram, Stacia, Temora and all the members of the Tavern Wall and the Bardic Circle. Two places I can still be proud to call home.
Inspired by the far better writings of Melissa Good, DJWP, and by the woman I love.
Further disclaimers in Part I
In the Heart of the Siege
Me men must be crazy, me men must be mad
Me men must be deep in dispar-o
For to let you away
from my cabin so gay
And to paddle your way to the shore, shore shore
And to paddle your way to the shore
-A Maiden Alone On The Shore
Day 42: After Midnight
Gabrielle stayed there, kneeling in the bracken for a moment before slowly standing, still feeling the shock of her defiance to the God of War coursing through her body. She thought she was once again in control of herself, when like a repeat of the nightmare, Autolycus face appeared between the bushes in front of her.
"Gab? Our guest is on his way. Are you ready to make him welcome?"
Seeing her obvious state of shock, Autolycus expression changed and worry replaced inquiry. "Gab?"
There was a slight hesitation, but it was not in her nature to let anyone take on more danger than they were aware of, or prepared to face. "Auto? Ares just paid a visit. He told me he wasnt planning on getting involved, but I think thats only as long as things are going the way he wants. And us freeing Xena from her obligations isnt a part of that."
Gabrielles skin crawled for a moment as the thief duplicated Ares actions of a moment before, seating himself on the same log and beckoning her over. Nevertheless she sank down beside him, and didnt protest when he pulled her shoulder so that she was leaning against him. Some sense within her could perceive that this really was her friend, and that knowledge allowed her to release some of her tension.
"Im guessing you want to know if I want out?" he asked.
"Im not going to let you go back alone. Not only would Xena eventually remember to kill me if I did, but both your men back there wouldnt let me either." She smiled at that. " I mean it, Salmakis, and Ikaros have really got a thing..."
"I heard. Or at least Ares told me," she interrupted.
"They have good taste. And aside from that, the only money in this whole deal is back in that city, and Im not going to let you cut me out now."
Gabrielle gazed at her friend for a moment longer before stretching her neck to kiss his cheek softly. "Thank you."
Auto chuckled and said, "Im just happy to lend a firm and experienced hand."
Gabrielle coughed. "Okay, but would you please take it off my thigh?"
They both rose with identical smirks and Gabrielle took the offending hand carefully, saying, "Thank you, again."
As he moved off into the brush, he said, grinning, "You think I just did that to distract you, dont you? You dont seem to realise that youre growing into a very beautiful woman, Gabrielle."
She smiled back. "Auto? Did I mention that when Ares first arrived here he was disguised as you? I dont think I can believe anything coming out of that mouth right now."
Chagrined, the thief muttered half to himself, "Im usually better at this. What is it about you and Xena? My timing is always..."
Then without finishing the sentence, he ducked under cover, but as he did, he whispered just loudly enough for her to hear, "And Gab? You can do this."
It wasnt long before she heard the sound of thrashing in the underbrush and an angry General Rukcal appeared in the clearing. "Now. Which of my lieutenants is a spy? And what information is SO vital that I have to meet you alone, just so this traitor wont know about it?"
The girl addressed him calmly. "Xena is about to raid your food stores tonight."
"Xena? Shes taken command in the city? How do you know?"
"Because I know her. She has to strike before you find out shes in command, and she would never have starving men fight off your attack when theres food nearby."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes when the news seemed to invigorate the warlord. He turned away from her and raised two fists in exultation to the darkened skies. "Xena! Ive always wanted to meet her!"
There was no forewarning, just a crack of the staff against his skull and then Gabrielle was speaking to an unconscious man at her feet. "Gee, I guess youre in luck, then."
4)Peace Good Judge, sweet Lord Judge
Peace for just a while
I think I see my sister
Riding by the stile
A little of your gold, ma soeur
And likewise of your fee
To save my body from yonder grave
and my neck from the hangmans tree
"None of my gold now shall you have
Nor likewise of my fee
For I have come to see you hanging
And hanged you shall be"
-A Maid Saved From Hanging
Day 42: Moonset
"Dont you find it quiet?" Ismene asked.
Polybus did not look up from the maps he was studying. "Thats the advantage of the thickness of this tent, dear," he murmured absently.
"Its not simply that. You dont feel its... unnatural? Im used to hearing the men singing songs the night before the battle. Its one of my favorite memories from my fathers campaigns." And one of the few, she thought.
"You know the men are under orders to bank the fires, in all manner of ways. No one is to know how close we are to Namea."
"Yes, but its unnatural. I can feel the excitement and yet... the mens expectations need ..."
At this she received a wide grin. "Yes. The excitement, it needs an outlet." He looked pointedly to his maps. "It will have one soon enough."
She gazed at her husband, and could feel even in the plush confines of the tent that he was also filled with an anticipation that she could not satisfy.
Why does this feel wrong somehow? He is basically a good man. He has acted with honour more times than not, and now he is using his skills at war to shape his destiny and that of his followers. To all of our advantages. To seize this opportunity as it is being presented. That is why I married him.
"By now Parmenion should have managed to slip past Namea along the coast."
Parmenion. She knew him. An ugly squat man, but one with her husbands confidence and admittedly a talent at leading men on scouting forays.
"I wager he made camp last night with almost the entire column intact. Without alerting even the owls in the trees. Hell be prepared to attack the far edge of the Rukcals blockade by the morrows sunset, if the General hasnt begun his offensive by then."
Tomorrow. When many of the boys that were so boldly sauntering about outside would be lying in their own blood, or causing the deaths of many more. The way of the soldier, the way of an army. This is what I wanted
"Weve made good time, dear, and according to the provisioners, weve lost less then a dozen men and horses on the ride! Our appearance will be a complete surprise to both Agathes and General Rukcal."
Do I truly love him? He is the King, someday I might be Queen, and there is no end to the line of women who are envious of me. I can not regret my choice. What else am I asking for?
"It will be glorious. Rukcal and his pathetic excuses for hoplites, and Agathes hired men have never seen what instant destruction a perfectly honed phalanx can cause. Anything or anyone attempting to repel them will fall before the fifth rank can clean their spears."
Her eyes studied the man gloating in front of her. His face was not common, his build and form pleasing to her eye. There was mutual respect; she would always honour him and their marriage bed. Why was there this nagging sense that they were setting foot on the wrong path? Why would she have any misgiving about success? She forcibly crushed a vision of the warrior and her bard bloodily skewered on a sarissa.
Polybus yawned and laid his papers aside. "But let us leave this disposition to the Fates and the Gods for the night. Until we wake there is nothing we can do. Tomorrow, we shall be very busy, and a good nights sleep is called for."
Purposefully casting aside her misgivings about the bloody conflict the next day, Ismene summoned her most seductive smile and rose to aid in his undressing, guiding him towards their bedding. "As you wish, my Liege."
Plow the land with the horn of a lamb
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Then sow some seeds from north of the dam
And then she'll be a true love of mine
Day 42: Before Sunrise
The warrior had been very busy for the last candlemark. She had not only managed to slip unnoticed into Rukcals camp ahead of her hastily assembled strike force and opened the animal pens, but had also sabotaged two catapults before setting fire to the main tents on the periphery of the blockading armys main compound. As the flames began to spread, her forces had charged into the disorganized camp. Shouting and whooping until the cattle had stampeded, then making a hasty exit in high spirits. Now part of that raiding squad was driving and herding the animals towards the gates of Namea and she was watching the rearguard force which had remained behind to maintain the chaos and delay an organised counter attack. Even amid the frenzied cries of Rukcals men trying to create a posse, she had stayed behind looking for a certain golden headed bard.
Finally she had run out of time, and as the last of her soldiers rode past her, she ran her sword through several more guy lines, and striking a poor fool who attempted to stop her team of horses, she drove her cart out of the camp.
With the chaos breaking out, it was not surprising that she was the only one who noticed the wagon joining her convoy. Breaking from the shelter of a group of trees, as if it had been waiting for just this moment. Even in the darkness she recognised the driver as Autolycus, before he slipped ahead and merged faultlessly with the others headed for the city. But she was not focused on that sight for long when she saw, no... felt, the presence of Gabrielle running alongside of her. She reached down and effortlessly hauled the girl on board and up beside her.
Relief fought briefly with anger and lost. "Are you trying to get yourself killed? Are you insane? Have you finally gone completely insane?" she shouted.
The smaller woman squared her shoulders and yelled right back, "Im insane? Thank you very much! Let me tell you, PRINCESS, this isnt exactly the thank you and apology I was counting on!"
The warrior glowered and turned back to the intricate task of keeping the cart ahead of the pursuers that were now spilling out of the camp behind them like hornets from a burst nest.
"Well?" the bard demanded, even as her stomach jumped with the cart as it passed over a series of ruts.
The warrior muttered something that was lost over the rumble of the wheels. "Did you say something?" Gabrielle demanded, "because I wasnt QUITE able to..."
The warrior spun about and Gabrielle felt the tension and anger rolling off of her. So she was prepared for the growled snarl, but not its content.
"I WAS WRONG. I should have waited until I knew, I should have..." Xena looked to the stars above and searched for the words.
Touched and surprised, Gabrielle supplied them. "Believed in me?"
There was a short nod. "Yes. Youve earned that."
"Oh," was all the girl could find to say.
The cart thundered along for a moment without any further words being spoken.
As the open gates of the city came into sight, Gabrielle remembered. "Xena, you dont have to worry about whose side were on. Ive got it all worked out. We can prove were enemies of Rukcal, and by that token, the enemy of my enemy is my..."
The warrior reached over and pulled Gabrielle to the front of the cart alongside her, and though her eyes were almost facing forward, the girl was still able to see them lit in the moonlight, as intense as ever, but with an openness she had only briefly perceived before. It took a moment, but when she spoke, Gabrielle could hear the difficulty she was having in addressing her. "Gabrielle. I thought, I thought my word was the most important thing I had." The warrior paused and cleared her throat. "But I realised that its not nearly as important to me as you are."
The wagon hit another rise, and Gabrielle waited until they were stable before carefully placing a hand on the arm of the troubled woman beside her. "Your word, your honour is not going to be sacrificed for me," she pledged. "Ever. Do you understand?"
Xena turned to look into the girls eyes for one moment.
Right there, gripping on for dear life while being pursued by many times over a hundred men, they somehow lost themselves in each others regard. And when Xena finally broke away, Gabrielle was still in almost too much of a haze to recognise that there had been a blush on the warriors face before she turned aside.
By the time the girl pulled her wits together, she detected a puzzled expression on the other womans face, and shouted above the noise "Whats wrong?"
"Its Rukcals men." Xena called back. "Why are they so disorganised? I expected half of his force would be on our tail by now."
A wisecrack was about to burst from Gabrielles lips that it might be because the general was somewhat tied up at the moment, when she recognized that Xena was disappointed. "You expected this. You wanted this?" And embarrassment and comprehension swept her simultaneously. Of course Gabrielle, she expected this. Ares was right to play you. You were beginning to believe you could out plan the woman who nearly conquered Greece. "This isnt just a raid, is it? Youre luring them into a trap."
Xena gave a curt nod. "With any luck well take out half of his forces in a few minutes."
"Take out? You mean kill."
The blue eyes were colder now, evaluating her in a manner she did not like. "Yes, Gabrielle, kill. Thats what happens in war, remember?"
The bard shook her head. "No. It doesnt have to. Its not necessary... I have a plan..."
There was the barest beginnings of a dismissive head shake, which was halted before it was completed. "Okay. You have a plan?"
"Yes, and no one has to die. Youve got to stop whatever you... We have to stop them!" she said urgently, then halted, remembering their circumstances. "I have to stop them." She looked up to see a dubious expression on the warriors face. "Xena, youre going to have to trust me."
Gabrielle saw an uncharacteristic uneasiness pass over Xenas face. "I trust you Gabrielle, but..."
"Then let me go. Let me try to stop them." Please Xena.
The warrior allowed a dozen variables to trip through her mind before asking, "You can let at least a few hundred of his men enter the gates?"
"If you prom.." The bard caught herself. This was not a negotiation. Trust had to go both ways. "Yes."
There was only another seconds hesitation by the warrior before the decision was reached and then she was tugging the horses in and guiding them closer to the cart being drawn by Autolycus. With no sign of strain and still holding onto the reins, she bundled a surprised Gabrielle into her arms. The thiefs eyes widened as he became aware of their approach, and then grew even wider as he guessed the intent. He shouted to his companions, "Taking a passenger!" They had just one last shared minute as Autolycus drew alongside and matched their speed, while both tried to tell the other with their eyes everything they would not say, until with a careful toss, their connection was abruptly broken and she was flung into Salmakis awaiting arms.
"Welcome aboard!" the thief called out to her. "Staying awhile or do you have another cart youd like to jump onto?"
Gabrielle thanked the blushing giant, and pulled her way to the front of the cart, trying not to trip on the large gunny sack rolling about on the floorboards. Autolycus shouted back over his shoulder. "Learn anything? Like whether shes going to have to have us executed when we arrive?"
He waited for a reply but when he glanced back the bard seemed very involved in brushing herself off.
"Oh no. Gab...?" Auto was cringing inwardly.
The bard gave a weak smile. "Well, theres good news, and theres bad news. The good news is were on the same team, but... only after we stop that army behind us."
Continued in part 6
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