Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually, as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
Post FIN, I guess, though I have kept specific references to a minimum.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
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After the tomb-like atmosphere of the tunnel, the moon's light almost blinded them both. Both women instinctively shielded their eyes with their hands, but it was Gabrielle who was struck dumb as she lowered hers. “By the Gods,” she gasped.
They were standing on a rise surrounded by the most spectacular series of gardens she had ever seen. Massive lattices draped with grape vines enclosed perfectly manicured bushes, dotted with statues and fountains. Above and surrounding it all, the vast bowl of the sky was pricked by stars and pierced at its lower rim by the seven hills and the landmarks built upon them. To their right, the city of Rome rose and dropped on its mounts as though tossed on waves. To their backs, the shadow of the Coliseum's peak loomed menacingly against the darkness. To their left, the Palatine hill dropped away, past the Circus Maximus to the Tiber . But in front of them, enclosing the gardens, were the palaces of the rulers and Emperors. Architecture designed to stagger and astound by the best and the brightest, for the richest and most powerful.
Xena was somewhat less affected as she stared out over to the city. “Up this high, where you can't smell the stench, it doesn't look half bad. Still Rome , though.”
At that reminder, Gabrielle forced herself back to a working state of mind. She looked down at the unconscious soldier under the rubble. “Someone will come looking for him.”
Xena was already listening to the breeze. “Armed somebodies.”
Gabrielle listened as well. “Like the dozen or so coming now?”
Xena nodded. “Six on the right, six on the left, a dozen coming right for us.”
“Don't these guys sleep?”
Xena shrugged and indicated the wealth surrounding them. “Round the dial Security.”
Both began analysing their choices. “So?”
“Three choices,” Xena reckoned.
Gabrielle ticked them off on her fingers. “Give up. Take them. Evade.”
“Evade?” Xena asked.
Gabrielle thought before nodding. “Agreed.” Then turned to her partner in curiosity. “Why didn't you go for letting them capture us?”
“Couldn't be sure where we'd be taken.”
“Ah. Funny. I didn't think it would be very impressive for the negotiations if we arrived tied up.”
Xena grinned. “Different paths…”
Gabrielle returned the grin. “Same destination.” She looked about them, this time evaluating the land. “So how do we evade?”
Xena pointed up. “You should like this, Amazon.”
Gabrielle followed her finger to the long rows of lattice that ran above the gardens and swallowed. “It'll never hold us.”
Xena ignored the sour expression and cupped her hands together. “Leg up?”
With a sigh of frustration, Gabrielle placed her foot into the handgrip provided and sprung to the top of the wooden pergola. Even as Xena made the leap unaided, the sound of the hobnailed boots of Roman soldiers came closer.
The passage of centuries had not diminished Gabrielle's fear of heights. While the soldiers marched underneath, she lay along the crossbeams of the pergola, clutching the supports with her fingernails deep into the wood. On the other side of the pergola, Xena stood absolutely straight, her body's shadow lost in the lines cast by moon on the ground below. Gabrielle marvelled at how she remained so still, even as the agitated soldiers discovered the collapsed wall. There was a muttered discussion beneath their feet as to whether the injured soldier had collapsed the wall on his own, by accident. The soldiers then split up into groups to investigate the passage and carry the injured man to a healer.
Once again the garden was silent. Gabrielle carefully rose to her knees, and then slowly raised herself on her trembling feet. With a nod to Xena, she leapt to the next crossbar, nearly toppling over by overbalancing. Instead of falling, she pushed off to the next, and then the next after that. Xena ran alongside, at first matching her speed, but once it was clear that Gabrielle had found her stride, the warrior increased her pace. Gabrielle began to fall behind, but her blood seemed to be humming as she took in the experience. High above the gardens, she felt as though she was immersed in the night. Her nose caught the scents from bushes, flowers and herbs gathered from around the world at her feet, the stars scattered carelessly above her. Xena had already sped ahead, crossing the beams with an effortless pace that drove Gabrielle to increase her own jumps. She quickly realised that the spacing between the crossbars was the same for both of them, and for once, Xena's longer legs would not give the warrior any advantage.
With a stadium's length still to go, she drew parallel with Xena, and flashing a grin, began to pull ahead. Xena increased her own speed, and the two began racing full out. The scents of the garden wafting up, the great dome of the sky surrounding them, Gabrielle felt exhilarated like no time in her life since, no, only since she had last been with this woman. Then one of the pillars moved, and unable to slow her momentum, she began to tumble. Some part of her mind scanned ahead to one of the garden statues, and she laughed as she realised whose it was. She placed a foot on the tip of the helmet of Mars, pushed upwards in a tuck, tumbled and landed perfectly on her right foot on the next pillar without breaking her tempo.
They arrived in a dead heat and as Xena began her patented leap upwards, Gabrielle fired herself forward tucking herself into a ball. She skidded lightly over the earth, and kicked against the ground for one last flip, landing upright on her feet. A split second later, she heard Xena's boots contact the ground behind her. She stared at their relative positions for a moment.
“I beat you.” There was wonder in the breathless whisper.
They had landed in front of their target. A sumptuous palace that gave credence to the name. A small entrance led inwards to a sunken garden, lined on three sides by pillared archways. Two of the Emperor's Praetorian Guard stepped forward into the doorway, drawing their swords, only to be lying unconscious on the ground seconds later. They might have been somewhat annoyed to realise that their dispatch had barely caused the two women to pause in their conversation.
“You could have hurt yourself tumbling-“
“I beat you,” repeated Gabrielle gleefully as they slipped into the garden. A water feature lined the garden and the quiet gushing of water covered the very slight sounds of their footsteps.
“You got your toga all dirty,” Xena whispered.
Gabrielle gestured at the long since darkened fabric. She grinned.
Xena laughed in response. “Yes, you beat me.”
“YES!” To Xena's increased amusement, Gabrielle began to silently imitate a dance Xena had once done when under the influence of the Furies. She waited while the smaller woman shook her butt and pumped her arms in satisfaction. Finally, Xena took one arm and said quietly, “You do know, that there are hundreds of things you can do better than me, don't you?”
As the thought flashed through Gabrielle's mind, ‘ No. No, I didn't, ' out of the silence came a scrunching sound and both slipped into the shadows of the pillars. Gabrielle's ears identified it as a giant snail being crushed on marble, likely by a hobnailed boot. Before she could congratulate herself on her perspicacity, she realised that Xena probably could have told her the kind of marble and the complete physical build of the soldier treading on the shell. ‘ Has that been a part of our problem? Me just being so damn competitive?'
A throat cleared and a deeply modulated voice reached across the garden to them. “If you're here to speak with me, come forward.” He spoke in Latin, but immediately the same phrase was repeated in Greek.
The figure remained in the shadows but a single hand was illuminated in the moonlight with a finger indicating the direction for the two to go. With some misgivings they passed under the archway to enter an inner courtyard, where the moonlight now fell on the polished brass of several dozen of the Praetorian Guard, who quickly closed around them.
"Oh good,” breathed Xena and reached for her sword. Without being quite aware of it, their movements brought their shoulder blades closer until they were back to back. “This is really unnecessary,” said Gabrielle as they slowly turned, matching each other in step to watch their opponents “We came here to talk.”
“Yeah,” added Xena. “If we'd just wanted to kill a whole bunch of Roman soldiers, we would have done it on the way here.”To be continued...
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