Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and any other characters or text mentioned from the original series are owned by Renaissance Pictures, Studio USA. or whoever has the rights now. No copyright infringement is intended. This is fan fiction just for fun. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Some of the characters may be theirs but the story is mine. Copyright Jan, 2002. Rev 1b
Rated as adult material for some violence and a loving relationship between two consenting adults and because anything can happen in my stories. If you are easily offended please read something else.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Constructive comments and criticisms or just plain chats, good or bad are most welcome. No flames please.
Suggestion: If you haven’t seen ‘The Last Battleground: A Friend in Need you may want to wait to read this as it contains spoilers!
By Ken Rogers
It was the fifth day of the most horrendous battle I had ever been part of. Our army was nearly seventy thousand strong when we met the enemy, a force as great as our own, on the Plains of Solitude; the most desolate valley we had come across so far on the eastern steppes. We had twenty thousand heavy horse and they had twenty five thousand. We had eighteen thousand archers and they had nineteen thousand. Twenty thousand lancers faced twenty four thousand and nearly thirty thousand men at arms with sword, mace or axe, shield and dagger faced close to forty thousand equally armed.
The first battle decimated the heavy horse of both sides and cut our lancer strength in half. We lost nearly six thousand men at arms and two thousand archers, but we matched our dead with at least the same numbers of the enemy and perhaps a bit more.
The second day was fought by archers, and a few minor skirmishes between our men at arms and theirs, while we both licked our wounds and plotted what to do next.
On the third day we clashed headlong with them again, though we had to climb over the dead to get to them, and they to us. Thousands more fell on both sides. The heavy horse of both sides were cut to ribbons with less that two hundred left to us and half that number still battle ready on the other side.
On the fourth day a fierce dust storm blew through the valley blinding friend and foe alike, making it difficult to breath, and we cowered in our defenses, beaten by the raging fury of the wind goddess. No battle could be fought even were the combatants but a step or two apart. It was a day of misery and thirst, like few could remember. The winds howled their anger into the early hours of the fifth day, and cautiously each side looked to see what was left of their own forces, and those of the enemy.
By noon we were up and doing, antagonizing the enemy with frequent flights of arrows and receiving the same in turn. Our leaders made several sallies to show the enemy we weren't beaten, but they were timed to avoid the sallies of the enemy; more for show than real fighting. Then barely an hour after noon, two riders were seen in the western distance, racing towards our lines, side by side, both under flag of truce. When they were near, one turned to our camp, and the other turned to the enemy camp.
In the trenches we thanked the arrival of the strangers as a diversion likely to postpone any battle for another day. I lay back in my partially sheltered position thinking only that my filthy, blood covered hide would survive to see another sunset, and with luck a sunrise as well. My only thought was a craving for water; something we were sorely lacking because it had to be carried three leagues by horse and cart. The carts weren't due back for at least another hour so I popped my little smooth stone in my mouth. I was not sure if it really helped or not, but it did help occupy the mind with something other than the craving for water, in this arid hell.
For five days we had always retreated to this spot, a spot barely out of the killing field, a place where the stink of death seemed stronger by the hour. The place we temporarily called home. The place where more than a few of us had died from the frequent rain of arrows.
I had been lucky, or at least spared. So far I had but a few minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises to show for my participation in some of the fiercest, most desperate fighting I had ever done, in my two years as a man at arms. My shield had shattered near the end of the first day's battle but by then there were many for the taking. I had left my dagger in the dying body of an enemy three times and had had to rob the dead to replace it each time. My sword was heavily nicked and blunted when it shattered against an axe. Fortunately for me the axman slipped and died with my dagger in his throat, and I was quick to lay hands on another sword.
Two years, and I was a seasoned man at arms, at the ripe old age of seventeen, mostly by the simple fact that I had survived. Yet what I wanted more than anything was to return to my home and the life of a simple farmer, the life I had scorned when I went to seek my fortune. The bitter truth had long ago shown itself to me. For simple lads like me there were no fortunes, only servitude in some army or other for a pittance. There was no glorious adventure, only fighting and death amidst fear and terror. Worst of all, while there were foes to be fought, there was no way out of the servitude I found myself in. Nothing short of peace would allow the leaders to disband the large part of their armies.
Now, we had come to this battle, and I knew with the assurance of the long time veteran and my private superstitions and fears, that I would never leave this place of death. One day, one hour, one minute, very soon, I would lay a rotting corpse, staring sightlessly into the blazing sun with the thousands of other corpses, friend and foe alike.
Strangely, a peace was upon me. It was the peace of a very young man, old before his time, and steeped in the knowledge and certainty of his own imminent and unavoidable death. Yet I continued to play out my roll to the bitter end. Fighting and killing men indistinguishable from me, except for their livery. On command we farmers killed each other for some unknown insult or slight, some worthless piece of land, or hollow eyed damsel. Some goal that had nothing to do with us save only that we shed our life's blood that some other could attain it.
So when the riders came into the camps, it was the farmers that prayed, without real hope, that they would bring an end to this senseless killing, and provide us the chance to live for another day. Another day of this stinking hopeless life we wallowed through on bad water, worse food, and the occasional bleary eyed raucous besotting, in bad ale, that made it tolerable, at least for the moment.
We hoped, without real hope for most of an hour then watched the hope die as the rider was tied roughly to a pole and whipped, and then left to trickle blood into the thirsty earth. The very same thing happened to the rider in the other camp.
Several hours later I had occasion to go near the leader's tent, though it was not my choice, and was stunned to see that the rider was a woman and that she was still alive and awake.
It sickened me that I was in the service of someone that would dishonor a flag of truce and beat the rider. It sickened me even more to realize they would do it to a woman. Without conscious thought I stepped to the woman and held my recently filled waterskin for her. Large golden brown eyes studied me a moment, seeing my shame, then took the water gratefully. She nodded her thanks and I turned, stumbling blindly away from her. She called to me in a gentle, soft voice, and I turned back. She smiled and said, "When the Dragon Princess comes, lay down your arms and she will not harm you."
The Dragon Princess. I had heard wild tales of her as they circulated through our camp for the past two years. It was rumored she came from the east, after conquering the heathen that lived there. Wild tales of her prowess as a warrior filled the air around a campsite on boring evenings. It was rumored she had fought a great battle with a demon, in the company of one of the greatest warriors to ever live, Xena, the very battle in which the great warrior had given her life. It was even rumored that she had been a student of Xena, a student that now surpassed her mentor, and overshadowed her mighty feats.
I heard the whispers spread through the camp like wildfire as I told of the coming of the Dragon Princess, a wildfire that brought fear into the resigned eyes of thousands.
It was mid afternoon when I saw her on the top of a nearby knoll, and I knew she was the one the rider had spoken of. She sat astride a blaze faced roan warhorse and though the distance made her and her mount seem small, there was something about her casual gaze that made me shudder. In the afternoon light her hair was spun gold, framing a soft gentle face. She wore wrist and arm braces. A tight strip of red cloth covered her breast but the smooth softness of her belly was exposed to any and all weapons. A red skirt covered her hips to half way down her thighs, belted with an ornamental linked silver belt. Soft doeskin boots covered her feet and ankles. She looked an unlikely warrior, yet at her left hip I could see the hilt of a sword and on her right hip a round disk of metal glittered in the sun. The hilt of some sort of dagger protruded from the top of her boot. She sat erect, proud, and fearless.
Both armies watched her, and then nervously began to taunt her when she didn't move. The taunting rose to a roar as we gathered our nerve, shaking our weapons at her. There was nothing to fear from this woman!
A warrior from amongst the enemy loosed an arrow at her. Her right hand blurred into motion and then she was holding the arrow in her hand. The shouting stopped as if cut off, as an axe severs a head. The fear returned and I heard the nervous muttering begin again. Still she didn’t move, continuing to survey us. We watched her, until the setting sun caught her in its final red-eyed glow. She turned then, and rode away from us, and all saw the dragon on her back highlighted in the blood red of the dying sun.
Sleep came hard and uneasy to most of us that night. I woke many times in a trembling sweat, from unknown terrors, and by the restlessness around me I could tell I was not alone. Brave men were we all, and the enemy we did not fear, nor even death, but the Dragon Princess was another thing entirely.
She was a myth, a legend, a goddess some said, invincible, able to destroy armies; armies rendered impotent against her wrath. No one believed the incredible stories of her, and everyone passed them on. She was said to be gentle and kind to the helpless and needy, an avenging angel against the thief or murderer, and even worse to the rapist or those that would harm a child. She was the stuff of grand and terrifying tales to while away the boring hours, a fabled goddess to be admired and even lusted after, but only a fable. Yet that fable, that entertaining myth, had sat silently atop a nearby hill and curdled the blood of many a brave man that day.
Morning was long in coming, and when finally I could stop my pretense of sleep I sat up rubbing my gritty eyes, and felt as though I had slept not at all. I looked around our still slumbering camp and then to the enemy's, as was my normal ritual. Both camps seemed smaller and I realized that many men had disappeared into the night rather than face the wrath of the Dragon Princess.
A shout went up from near the leader's tent and I looked to see that the rider no longer hung from the pole. Rather, one of our own guards hung limply in her place. I turned to the enemy camp and could see that that which hung from the pole was different than yesterday, though they had yet to discover it. A shiver went down my back. The Dragon Princess had stolen brazenly into both camps and recovered her riders! Word of this impossible feat flew around the camp waking all from their pretended slumber, for few were truly asleep. Then another rumor swept the camp. The Dragon Princess had left a note pinned to the hanging guard's chest by a dagger through his heart. She would avenge her warriors and punish those that would dishonor a flag of truce.
As the sun climbed over the low eastern hills I turned and my blood ran cold. The Dragon Princess sat astride her warhorse, on the same hill, watching us again. She held a strange looking bow in her hands but she didn't move, just watched. She was waiting for something.
The enemy discovered that their captive had escaped and found their note. I could just see the knife plucked from his chest, and the note held up. Then the reader turned to his leader's tent. A short time later their leader stepped into the open. I looked and so had ours. I could see that he was angry and hear his yelling though I could not make out what he said.
I almost missed what happened next, it happened so fast. As I turned back to look at the Dragon Princess, she raised her bow and in little more than a breath had fired two arrows. I could not follow the one, as it sped towards the enemy camp, but the second flew straight and true into the throat of our leader, above his armor. I turned to the enemy camp and saw their leader fall. In the blink of an eye the Dragon Princess had killed both leaders! When I turned back she was gone!
Panic swept through the camp and fighting broke out within our ranks. It was over an hour before things settled down. In that time the enemy could have walked through our camp and killed us all, but they were having the same problems. When I finally had time to look she was back, sitting silently watching us. Again some fool fired an arrow at her but she plucked it out of the air, and tossed it casually away. No one fired a second. Uneasily each camp settled down to watch and wait. She sat there until about an hour after noon, then drew a strange thin bladed sword from the scabbard on her left hip, raising it high, then brought it down across her lap and I shuddered.
It was true then. It was said that her sword was a sacred weapon, once drawn, never to be put away without shedding blood, and so sharp it could cut through another sword or sever a neck like cutting a blade of grass. She slowly turned her horse, starting down the hill towards us, and panic reigned again. Men pushed and shoved each other to get away from her approach. I could see the enemy fleeing into the west and many of our men doing the same, but I was rooted to the spot, unable to move. Remembering the messenger's words I dropped my sword and dagger then stood awaiting my fate.
To my surprise, four of our heavy horse, and six of the enemy rode out to meet her. No words were spoken but the ten men closed together and turned to her, drawing their swords. She halted in front of them and smiled sadly.
"You do not have to do this," she said, and her voice was soft and gentle.
"It will be a great honor to claim the head of the Dragon Princess," one of them shouted.
"You will need more men," she replied.
"I think we have more than enough!" he shouted back. "Prepare to die!"
"I am always prepared to die, are you?" she answered.
The man who had spoken kicked his mount and it leaped towards her. She waited for him without moving, seemingly without concern. He charged down on her shouting wildly and swung a mighty blow. Somehow, in movements too fast to follow, she managed to dodge his blow and in a blur her sword arced through his neck, and his headless body rode past her. She had hardly seemed to move.
"Call it a day. One death is enough," she said to the others.
"Bah! He was a slovenly fool!" shouted another and charged her, with the same result.
This time she did not speak but stood waiting their decision, her bloody sword held for them to plainly see. As one they charged her and she responded by attacking them. As she came close to them she dropped her reins, and lifted the shiny silver disk from her right hip with her left hand. The rider on her right and left swung at her head, and she lay back on her horse's rump, her sword, and the disk both opening a belly. Before the other riders could turn she had turned and was among them. I do not know how she controlled her mount, or if it was magical, but it seemed to turn just where she wanted it to without her ever touching the reins. In a short time she sat her horse facing a single rider and he was bent nearly double.
"You should have taken my advice," she said softly.
He groaned in pain but managed to sit straight in his saddle. "It is a good day to die against a valiant opponent."
"You are wrong, my friend. It is never a good day to die if you don't have to."
He sat stiffly in his saddle staring at her for a long moment. "Perhaps you are right, but…" He brought his sword up in front of his helmet in salute, then fell from the saddle.
She looked around, studying both camps. Her eyes landed on me, and my heart froze. Slowly she walked her horse towards me. I wanted to run but my legs refused to move and I knew that soon I would feel that strange sword lift my head. Instead she stopped her horse a short distance away, leaning on the pommel, looking into my eyes with the most beautiful green eyes I had ever seen.
"You're the boy that helped my messenger," she said.
I could do nothing but nod, astounded that she would know.
"What did you do before you took to killing people?"
"I… I was a… farmer."
"Do you like killing people better than growing crops?"
"Then go home, boy. Do something that helps people."
She started to turn her horse then stopped. "What's that sticking out of your carry bag?"
I looked down and opened it further. "A scroll. I… Sometimes late at night I like to write down stories I have heard."
"Do you tell stories as well?" she asked.
"Go home. Try entertaining people instead of killing them. And when you write this tale remember a bard sent you home to be a bard."
She turned and rode away leaving me to puzzle out her final words as I watched her disappear into the distance.
The crowd cheered me and many of them came up to shake my hand and offer me coin and drink. I thanked them all, declining the drink, but accepting the coin, then gathered my belongings. Mirina met me at the door and we headed home.
"That was a grand story you told tonight. Did you really talk to the Dragon Princess, or was that something you just stuck in?"
"Mirina! You wound me deeply!" I said laughing. "Of course I spoke to her!"
"Was she pretty?" she asked, looking sidelong at me, and little alarm bells sounded in my head.
"Not as pretty as you, my love," I said, grinning at her.
She wrapped her hands around her big belly and scoffed. "Oh, right! Have you actually looked at me lately, Tylan? I look like a fat sow ready to litter!"
"No, Mirina, you look lovely," I said tenderly, as I put my arm across her shoulder. "And that's our first born you carry, not a litter!"
She leaned in to me and laughed. "Gods! I hope there's only one!" she said lightly as we walked happily down the lane to our little home.
"Was I right, or what?"
Gabrielle grinned softly up at the warrior. "Yes, you were right. He is very good."
Xena grunted. "You better agree. Took me long enough to find him again."
Gabrielle chuckled as she pulled her concealing robe about her and turned into the nearby woods with Xena by her side. "Yes, Xena. I agree completely. Can we go now? Your little side trip has made me late."
"Don't worry. Your warriors will keep them confused long enough for you to get there."
"People could die needlessly while we dawdle, Xena."
"They're warriors, Gabrielle. That's what they do."
"Your bard was a warrior, remember?"
"Point taken. So let's get moving."
"I couldn't have said it better myself," Gabrielle said as she climbed into her saddle. "Hang on."
"I'm right behind you, Gabrielle."
A moment later the long legged warhorse shot out of the woods and took to the trail at a gallop, her lone rider leaning forward against the rushing wind. Silver moonlight highlighted the racing warhorse and her rider as they chased their shadow into the distance and out of sight.