2nd Part of The Darkness and The Light series
By Mikael Helbo Kjaer
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and all other original characters portrayed in the TV show Xena, Warrior Princess are the exclusive property of Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA and Universal Television. No infringement is intended by this piece of fiction. The story is however the exclusive property of the above mentioned author. This story can be freely copied and distributed online under the condition that any website or list informs the author about the posting or the author approaches the website or list with the story for posting. The story and this note must be presented unedited except for any HTML added for presentation purposes. All other situations must be negotiated with the author.
Setting: Post FIN
Sexual references: GEN (with subtext)
Violence: This story contains scenes and descriptions of intense violence
Summary: 2nd installment of the series ‘The Darkness and The Light’, which follows the adventures of first Gabrielle alone and then the girls together after the end of the 6th series, which I found unsatisfying to my need for XWP action. This 2nd story follows Gabrielle as she comes home to stay for more than a few days for the first time since her leaving Poteidaia in “Sins of the Past”; she must make peace with her past, her family and handle a major discovery about herself, while stopping a local warrior from kindling a deadly war.
Author’s notes: English isn’t my first language (I am a Dane) so please forgive my hopefully not too bad grammar and writing style. Also send me reviews and constructive criticism (no flames please, I am so not interested).
Xena looked out the window, while she slowly flexed the muscles in her legs one by one. She had been lying there for almost a week now, while her body seemed to reconstruct itself bit by bit. She was beginning to feel alive inside. She felt alive, something she hadn’t allowed herself to feel the entire time she had traveled with her bard. Now she could live, but she had returned to desolation. “What did you expect?” She chastised herself. “You couldn’t just be gone for years and expect her to be there the moment you awoke. You gave her the skills needed to be the hero she already was in her heart and now you find that she used those skills without you. And you’re surprised that your brave bard did it. Don’t let your own notions blind you to her again as they have done so many times before. You have to focus on finding her. She is alive, she must be. Or it will be your fault for not being there to save her”, she admonished herself in her thoughts. She forced herself to stop mulling over that. There was no point in sitting in her bed and thinking about something, when she couldn’t change the past. She relaxed for awhile letting the sounds of the world around her intrude again. Still her mind kept coming up with the hundreds of ways Gabrielle could’ve passed away in the lands beyond the reach of the Amazon Nation.
It had been three days now. Three days ago she had finished Gabrielle’s tale about her adventure with the Romans in Egypt. After that scroll she had caught some infection according to Eve. She had spent these last few days fighting an intense fever as well as her barely resurrected body’s weakness. But she had managed to pull through without problems. Now she was again waiting on her recalcitrant body to finish healing.
Eve came in. Xena thought she looked tired and worn. “Is something wrong my dear?” She asked. Eve raised her eyebrows and struck a pose that seemed and eerie reminder of her. She knew from studying and perfecting that look in mirrors standing in her various tents during her campaigns around the world that it was supposed to intimidate and often did. Unless you were the inventor of that look, her daughter or a small green eyed warrior bard.
“You shouldn’t be sitting up”, her pacifistic daughter admonished her and walked over to her bedside.
“I am fine. I am feeling better now”, she explained and suddenly again had that empty feeling like she was missing something essential. She felt off her game. She felt unbalanced by the lack of her little blond amazon at her side. “Eve, could you hand me her scroll bag. I want to read a little”, she asked and held out her hand.
“How far did you get?” Eve asked as she carefully handed Xena the saddle bag.
“The last part I read Gabrielle had just left Egypt with that amazon friend of hers Mytilene”, she said and looked through the scrolls.
“Oh… Mom, the next part was slightly painful for her, but you’ll soon understand yourself”, Eve sat down on the bed that she had begun to regard as a prison these last few days.
“Why?” Xena asked and looked at her beautiful daughter.
Eve seemed to look out the window for a while, and then explained: “Gabrielle’s trip back from Egypt to here was longer and harder than she had expected. She fell into a deep depression, when every step and stone brought on thousands of memories of your lives together. She couldn’t even bring herself to write about it in her scrolls so much did it hurt her. When she came here, I was shocked to see her so pale and unhappy, unlike even when she planned to go murder her parent’s murderer”.
“Wait a minute, why were you here? How did you come to be here, last we met you were off to Indus”, Xena asked and looked intently at Eve.
Eve looked away from her mother again as if that subject was a touchy one. “I came back because I… no longer believed in my mission as a messenger of Eli. I spoke to Eli about it and we agreed that I should only choose to do what I felt was the right path for me. So I went back here to start a hospice and become a healer. I was happy with that decision and still am. I was just getting settled here, and then you died. I felt it. I knew it. I don’t know how, but I felt it and I mourned a long time. Then Gabrielle limped into Amphipolis and nearly fell of her horse from some disease or maybe it was heartache I don’t know. I found her and nursed her back to health. Well her body healed in a few days anyway. And she told me the stories of your lives after our parting ways. I saw immediately that she had deep scars on her soul from your death and an immense amount of repressed sorrow in her over you and her own actions. First I thought that it meant that she should end the life that caused her so much pain and pick up the one of peace and love as a new messenger of Eli instead of me, but then I realized that to make Gabrielle into a healer, a wife of some farmer or even the first disciple of Eli was to deny the fact that Gabrielle really wasn’t just some average woman with some combat skills. She was meant to be a hero from the very beginning. Gabrielle has a soul of pure light honed through many lives, but that very same soul is capable of violence and fighting with fierce ability none the less, and that is exactly how she should be. She was never meant to be just a bard or just a healer or some man’s doting wife, she was like you capable of greatness and bordering on attaining it when you parted ways. I had to bring the faith in a continued life out in her, I had to soothe her soul that was so hurt by each act of violence but still needed to fight for the greater good no matter that it afforded her soul great pain to do so”.
Xena sat staring at her daughter in silence. Her own thoughts were locked on that very same situation. She had always thought that Gabrielle would turn to one of those paths when she was gone. But her own daughter had seen and accepted a truth she had never been able to. She had always, even after Gabrielle turned into a skilled warrior, wanted a life of peace and tranquility for her. Had she been wrong there as well? Would she always consistently underestimate her little bard like that? And was the fact that she still thought of her as her “little” bard not a clear indication of her continuing failure of seeing Gabrielle for her true self. Had she even held her from achieving her true path? Held her from finding her own way?
“It took me a week of carefully planned talking to get to the core of her problems and get her to talk to me about it was even harder. She wanted to bury you and be on her way, but I wouldn’t allow it before she was capable of happiness again. So I got her to help me in the hospice under the pretense that I needed to prepare a proper funeral for you. I don’t know if she was tricked by that.
She showed a great gift for healing not only the body but the mind. I learned many little tricks from her. And she began attracting people from far and wide. They came not just to see her performances and meet the legendary bard; some people would come just to be near her. She used her performances to raise money for me, but I suspect they in part were responsible for more than a little of her healing. When she began smiling again a moon had passed, and I held a grand funeral for you with some of your friends attending, I hoped that would help her a little. She needed to let you go and at least allow that wound you opened to close even if it would never truly heal.
The time for the burial came and so did all my guests. Xenan and his family, whom Gabrielle had told me about, Hercules and his old friend Iolaus, Virgil and Aphrodite were the guests of honor. I tried to call Ares too, but he didn’t come. At least not to me, but the rest is in there in the scroll. You see, she began writing again after the funeral service. She left a few days later, just saying goodbye, smiling and riding off in the morning sun. That was the last time I saw her. And I didn’t understand her leaving, and I admit I was a little angry until I read that”, Eve explained and pointed at the scroll.
“So she had a little peace and then she left. Where did she go next?” Xena asked as she opened the scroll.
“Poteidaia”, Eve answered and rose as one of her helpers downstairs called for her.
“Ah, she went home”, Xena whispered and rested her eyes on the scroll in front of her.
“No, she went to Poteidaia. That was never really her home”, Eve said and stopped on the doorsill, “Read the scroll then you’ll understand”. Eve disappeared into the dark opening.
Xena looked after her daughter for a while, then turned her eyes back to the scroll and began to read.
The day after her funeral and I was still there. I had secretly hoped that the world would have collapsed on that day, but it didn’t. Even after we put the lid on her sarcophagus and Hercules finished his speech I still felt the pain in my soul. It will remain there until we meet again in another life…
A few weeks ago I would have asked that happen soon, but I know that it would just be as wrong as Xena’s death. Late that day after Hercules and all the others said goodbye. Well I had to tell Virgil to leave and that I really wasn’t interested in ‘traveling’ with him even after Xena’s death, but I will count that as simply leaving in his case. He seems to have inherited his father’s infatuation of me. At least his writings are getting much better. I think he will be remembered as a great bard someday if he keeps it up. The night of her funeral I found myself attracted to her resting place. And I found someone in there. Ares was standing at her grave.
He greeted me like he always did with blame and pain in his eyes. I know that I in some ways was responsible from Xena never succumbing to his temptations, so I guess I am in some ways a source of pain to him even if his way of living would have killed her more completely than my travels with Xena could ever do. At least with me she found her way to redemption. “So she died”, he said. How could I respond to that other than with the truth? “Yes, it was a glorious battle. You would have been very proud. She fought even though outnumbered a thousand to one and if she hadn’t needed her own death to fulfill a task I think she could have won. She defeated a threat to all souls in that faraway country”, I explained. But pain or something else must have been visible in my eyes because he just looked at me funny and said: “Go on, there is more. Isn’t there? She wouldn’t just have sacrificed herself like that. That was never her way”. “She had the plan for her resurrection all planned out in advance. I had to recover her body and put its ashes into a holy fountain, then she would come back to life”, I explained.
And he got very angry. I hadn’t expected otherwise. “Why didn’t you! You failed again didn’t you? It was always you. You were her weakness. You were always the reason for her failures. I bet you even caused her to get into the battle that killed her in the first place”, he screamed at me. Suddenly he threw one of his bolts at me. I nearly got singed by that blue gob of energy. I managed to talk as I dodged his attacks.
“No! I didn’t fail”. I dodged a bolt that smashed into Lyceus’ sarcophagus leaving a smoking black mark on it. “I had to fight soldiers and samurai for her corpse”. I jumped over Cyrene’s grave as another one whizzed past me. “I had to take her mistreated and beheaded corpse as well as the head. I burnt them and got all the way to the holy well with her ashes fighting a samurai warlord for each step.” I rolled forward and got into hiding behind Xena’s sarcophagus. The floor where I had been became charred from another bolt. ” A man I finally had to kill to get there. And I did all those things, even crawling around on a sheer cliff wall to recover her urn... Xena stopped me at the very last moment”. And then abruptly he stopped throwing bolt of energy after me.
“She decided to stay dead even with you there. Even when you had met all the requirements of the ritual”, he asked me sounding deeply surprised and looking at me with pity and even a little understanding. “Yes. She believed that she needed to stay dead, because if she wasn’t dead the souls of those she had killed in life wouldn’t be avenged and would be lost forever. She thought she had reached the point of her redemption. I didn’t believe that was true or right, but I couldn’t come up with an argument other than my feelings and they were overshadowing my logic then as well as now. I couldn’t go against that decision Ares. I couldn’t. If she was right then that would be going against both her wishes and the greater good. Something I would never do. We are talking about 40000 souls. That is an intimidating number to go up against with just your selfish love for a person. So yes, I let her go. And I regret it every second of every day. And I must live with that and the memories of all my life with her, but live on without my soul mate having known her. It hurts inside my soul”.
Ares just stared at me for a while, then he said: “I am sorry I attacked you. I wasn’t thinking clearly… I knew the exact moment she died. Yet she was outside my reach. There was nothing I could do. Nor is there anything I can do now, she has been dead for too long and her body is just ashes... I really am sorry… Why did she have to be mortal? Why didn’t she eat one of Odin’s apples, when she had the chance? I would have been more than happy if she had shared that with you so would Aphrodite for that matter. We won’t like a world without you two”. I just looked at him and saw both his own sorrow and surprisingly compassion for me. We fell silent for a while. Then he suddenly spoke.
“I could offer you her former position as my Chosen right now, but we both know that you would never take it. But I have something to admit to you instead”, he turned to look at me and somehow I felt that he was being honest. Of course, he was right there was no chance of me ever going over to his side. “I remember you asking me once why I saved you and I said that you were just an afterthought. That was a lie. I... I have a thing for you as well. It developed all the time you and her traveled together but especially the year after your deaths on the crosses of Caesar. I realized that in many ways Xena had something right and meaningful in her life and you were at the core of that. So I began watching you and somewhere in there I even began to care a little. Something about you makes even the gods care about you. That is a unique gift by the way. I chose to save you, because I knew that neither Xena nor I would have liked a world without you”, he told me. And I felt even stranger maybe even a little disturbed, but then deep down I knew and had noticed that he felt something for me as well over the last year of my life with Xena. “Don’t tell me you’re in love with me”, I blurted. “You know me Gabrielle, I love any good fighting woman and I admire amazons, but no I don’t love you. I loved Xena. I love Xena. But I would be happy if you allowed me to visit you from time to time… And talk…” He seemed earnest up to that moment, then he did something I have seen him and many other insecure men and women do before. “Unless you want something more physical”, he tried to cover it up with a blatant comment involving sex. I just smiled and answered him honestly: “No, nothing physical… Listen. As long as you’re not going to be traveling around making trouble for me just like you did for Xena just to see me fight then yes I would like to see you again from time to time. We are old comrades in many ways. And we both loved her”. “I will settle for that. Then I will start our little talks by giving you a tip. Go home… Soon”, he suggested and disappeared in a shower of bluish sparks.
I don’t know why he wanted me to go home. However now that I write this I am only a few days of travel away from Poteidaia. I am going there to my ancestral home. I am going there, be it on instinct or habit. Or it could be plain old fear generated by Ares’ comment. I have few other places I could go and be welcomed, but I haven’t been a good sister again. I haven’t been in contact, since we got Sarah back to Lila, but I hope that more than a year’s separation hasn’t angered Lila too much. If she even cares. What can I say? That I slept in a ring of fire in a far away land for a year and nearly never made it out of there or that I have been to the other end of the world to watch my soul mate die. And what of all the changes that has happened after we last saw each other and all those before that which I never managed to explain to her. I have killed an innocent now. I have had command over the amazon armies and made sacrifices in the name of war I know she could never understand. Are we even related by anything but blood these days? And does that mean anything to her anymore? The connection I felt with my sister, when we were younger has proven to be increasingly weaker each time I have seen her. I worry over that, but I tell my mind to be at peace, as I will know soon enough if we are still related at all.
Xena set the scroll down for a few seconds in puzzlement. Ares’ revelation about him actually caring for Gabrielle had her puzzled for a few seconds. In some ways it made sense. Gabrielle was a complex person, but had sides that would appeal to and attract him to her. Ares was not the first or only god to express interest in Gabrielle. She seemed to invoke feeling in almost everyone they met sooner or later be they god or mortal.
Xena thought about Gabrielle’s going home. It reminded her of the times, she had returned to Amphipolis. It had not gone well even the times she had been welcome after her turn to good. She had outgrown her little peasant village only a short time after her leaving and so had Gabrielle. And Gabrielle had to know it. She was a warrior, a bard, a legend and even beloved royalty to an entire nation of amazon. But maybe she didn’t. She did often ignore her own value. They had never really been able to spend much time at their homes neither in Amphipolis or Poteidaia, since they had met. There had been messages and short visits of course. But she knew for sure that neither of them had been home for more than a few days since that time over 32 years ago, when Draco’s slavers tried to capture the women of Poteidaia and Gabrielle decided to follow her. That was it really. It would be interesting to learn how Gabrielle had fared in her return to her home and to her family. Maybe this time at least it would be a happy return for her beloved bard. Xena looked at the next entry.
It all began a few days ago, when I was only a few hours ride from Poteidaia…
The sun shone warm and orange from the cloud free cerulean sky. Gabrielle’s latest horse, a grey white mare, rode along peacefully on the road towards Poteidaia. More and more the road and places seemed familiar yet distinctly different. The world had grown older in her sleeping absence, but it lacked none in beauty in her eyes. The deep green of the grasses and bushes, the perfectly crowned trees and here and there peaceful farmsteads seemed to greet her with each glance of her sea green eyes.
She felt a peace and calm in her heart that hadn’t been there since she had jumped overboard and swum to Higuchi. Xena’s burial and her stay at Eve’s hospice had done her some real good after that depression she had developed on seeing Greece again. There were still lingering thoughts of that and her mysteriously openhearted talk with Ares, but all in all she was feeling like she was in the middle of a month long vacation. Her propensity for attracting trouble seemed to have faded somewhat since she had left Xena’s quest in Egypt.
Gabrielle reined in her horse and looked around as came to the final bridge before she headed into the valley surrounding Poteidaia. It seemed well kept and strong enough to carry her and her horse. Suddenly she heard a faint sound from across the river. She focused her senses. The ability was getting easier and easier to call forth. It was just a question of focusing on her hearing and sifting through the sounds then letting her soul see and understand what lay behind those sounds. She was beginning to think that this ability to focus using her inner being could be used for other things.
She heard the sound of metal hacking into wood. She heard the sounds of rapid foot steps followed by the sound of men yelling and a woman cry out in pain. Quickly her mind and soul connected the clues for her. At least three men were attacking a man and a woman and he was defending her with a staff or stick. “Yah”, she yelled and spurned her horse into a full gallop, thundering across the wooden bridge and heading towards the battle close by.
Aikaterine felt the cold ground underneath her. Somewhere around her she could hear someone throwing their belongings of the cart probably in search of money or goods. She knew with chagrin that they would only find sacks of grain that they had been planning to sell at the markets of Poteidaia. Now their plans for a farm of their own would be dashed again and they would have to continue slaving away on the fields of Nikodemos for another year at least. She heard Ianos grunt in pain again. He had tried to stop the robbers with his walking stick, but he was not even capable of fighting in a barroom brawl much less against these thugs with their deadly weapons. She wished that she hadn’t caught that heavy blow from the other robber’s club, but otherwise Ianos would have been dead by now. Again Aikaterine prayed to the gods that her unborn child would survive this battle and that her pregnancy would go well. The haze of pain was slowly lifting and she managed to open her eyes and turn her head just in time to see her husband be thrown to the ground by two of the three robbers, while the last one was probably the one looking for loot in the cart. Their leader a massive dark and dirty man in dark leather lifted his double edged sword. “You’ll die for resisting us”, he said in a heavily accented voice.
Suddenly a piercing and shrill sound resounded between the trees and a metal ring clipped the robber’s sword down to half size, destroyed the other one’s club in the same manner, rebounded on an old tree and whirled back down the road. Aikaterine became aware of hooves hammering into the ground then silence. Was the Poteidaia militia coming to their rescue? She slowly turned her head to look in the same direction as the thieves. There no more than a couple of yards down the dirt road a woman sat astride on a large white horse. Her red clothing and silver jewelry looked very expensive and beautiful; her form was equally beautiful and even more surprising it was tanned, muscled and athletic. She was hooking the metal ring to her silver plated belt and quietly got of her horse. The thieves gathered in the middle of the road facing of against the woman, leaving her and her husband lying on the ground.
“Why don’t you guys get away from this valley and head somewhere else”, the blond woman suggested with no mirth in her voice.
“Why don’t you get on your horse, little girl, and ride off to your parents and tell them that there is no festival around here, so they shouldn’t let you ride around in a costume”, the leader of the thieves suggested while a broken toothed smile.
“I think not. You should leave. I am a better fighter than you and I don’t like killing people even scum like you, so why don’t you give this up and leave”, she suggested again, while she bent down and lifted two very foreign looking daggers from her boots. She unceremoniously whirled them around them held them with the butt end pointing towards the thieves.
“Get her. Her jewelry alone will pay for an entire night in the hore house”, the leader yelled and ran towards her.
Aikaterine noticed how the woman neither flinched nor seemed frightened as the three thieves attacked. Of course only one was still armed with a club, but Aikaterine had seen many a single fighter taken down, when attacked by several enemies back in the days she served in the tavern. She gasped as combat was initiated.
Gabrielle took initiative immediately as the three thugs ran towards her. She ran a few steps forward and high kicked the man with the club in the throat, while parrying the fist of the leader with a sai supported forearm. She whirled about and turned the movement into a spinning kick to the back of the man’s lower legs. He tumbled to the ground. She came up to stand and had to leap out of the way as the third thief tried to hit her with the club of his friend.
Aikaterine could barely believe her eyes. The woman fought better than anyone she had ever seen. She danced and leapt around her opponents, kicking and hitting them hard. The blows of her strange weapons seemed to be hard enough to lay the men down and she did all of this with a white smile pasted on her face and a look of fierce joy in her eyes. Then she thought the woman’s luck ran out. The leader managed to hammer a hard blow into her stomach. Surely this meant the defeat of the now weakened woman.
Gabrielle felt his blow ramming her in the gut, but she had seen it coming and rolled with the blow, while tensing and relaxing her muscles knowing from experience and instinct that doing so would lessen the damage and pain. She forced herself to ignore it. She had to make a decision. Would these men give up? Her gut instinct told her that the two followers would, but their leader had a fanatic look in his eyes and demeanor. He could not conceive of defeat to a woman. She would have to disable him fully or even worse possibly kill him to win. Either that or get hurt and as Xena had taught her. Better them than she. Gabrielle felt her high spirits drop a bit as she did a flying back kick into the one of the two standing thieves. “Surrender”, she pleaded their leader. But his eyes showed that he only believed her to be bluffing or even worse on the edge of giving up. He wouldn’t change his mind. She came to a grim decision.
Aikaterine saw the joy and smile disappear from the woman’s face. Something had turned this fight serious. She realized that the woman hadn’t even been taking this fight seriously until now. That was an unsettling thought seeing as the woman’s fighting ability already outclassed that of any warrior she had seen in her life until now.
She managed a drop kick onto the leader’s shoulder and sent him down for a breath, but the first guy she kicked in the throat was in need of some more attention. He charged at her from behind. She did a backwards flip and soared over the club and past his onrushing attack to stand behind him. She quickly kicked him as hard as at all possibly in the right kidney. He dropped to the ground screaming hoarsely, he would need a healer for both neck and back now. Almost too late she saw the leader, who was again back for even more to add to his already black and blue beaten body, rushing towards her brandishing the leftovers of his sword. She easily ducked below his swing and attacked upwards from her crouch. Gabrielle hammered the pummels of her Sai’s into the leader’s chest and sent him to the ground. For a few seconds the fight stilled then he rose and charged her madly with a roar, this time seeming to want to strangle her with his bare hands. Gabrielle felt sorry for him as he did exactly as she had known he would. In rage he tried to use his size and weight to his advantage to bowl her over. Gabrielle easily sidestepped him and got ready to skewer him, when suddenly an idea came to her and she smacked the two iron sai into the back of skull of the man. He fell heavily to the ground and remained there.
She turned towards the last thief standing out of her range seemingly ready to bolt. “I am sorry. I didn’t want to, they made me do it”, he claimed and Gabrielle took a slow step towards him. He hobbled off in the direction of the bridge immediately. Gabrielle just looked after him, deciding that he wasn’t forth running after. Then she smiled. She was happy that she hadn’t been forced to kill anyone. She whistled for her horse.
Aikaterine finally got off the ground and woozily staggered over to Ianos, who was still lying on the ground nursing a bleeding cut over his brow. She quietly cared for the wound trying to stop the bleeding using a piece of her own clothing, when suddenly a shadow fell over them. “I might be able to help”, a sweet female voice with a lot of timbre and the accents of a thousand places offered.
Aikaterine rose and curtsied to the heroic woman, who had saved them. That immediately got her a hasty and seemingly irritated suggestion: “Don’t do that”, from the mighty woman. Aikaterine looked at her without understanding as the woman, who she now realized up close looked even more grandiose and rich than she had from afar, sat down besides her husband with her waterskin and some things she had retrieved from her saddlebags. Barely a hair was out of place on this mighty warrior after defeat three robbers. She suddenly saw the magnificent green tattoo of some wondrous beast, which adorned her entire back.
Suddenly puzzled Aikaterine looked around to see that the two remaining thieves had been tied to a tree with what looked like a whip and were both still unconscious. She looked back to see the woman carefully dapping something on her husband’s forehead. He winced in pain. “What are you doing?” She asked hesitantly. “The wound needs to be cleaned now. I will stitch it up, when it is clean. It is going to be a little painful, but if I do it like this there should be nearly no scarring. Believe me, I have done it before and had it done to me many times”, she explained and began the careful work.
Later as they had gotten their stuff together and Ianos was feeling better, they sat out again for Poteidaia. The warrior was going in the same direction, so they traveled together. Finally she worked up the courage to ask the warrior some questions.
Gabrielle rode in silence besides the ox cart of the farmers, while the tied up thieves bitched and moaned as they either walked or were dragged by her horse towards their coming appointment with the magistrate. The farmers seemed like fine people, even if she didn’t recognize their family name; they were probably some of the new people attracted to the flourishing Poteidaia. “Excuse me my lady”, the timid farmer wife suddenly spoke. Gabrielle smiled, while her title entitled her to a Lady or even a Majesty, she had never been addressed as that outside the Amazon nation.
“Please don’t call me that. My name is Gabrielle and I am not a noble. At least not around here”, she explained.
“Gabrielle? I’ve heard that name before, but I can’t remember”, Aikaterine blurted out loud, while she tried to remember that story. It had been good and about someone famous, someone from this very valley. She had been told about it by some of the old women at the well. It was about some bard, who had left Poteidaia and become a legend. Suddenly she remembered and looked back at the blond woman again. She fit the description like a glove.
“You’re Gabrielle of Poteidaia”, she stated in awe of the legends told about her and the brilliant stories made by Gabrielle that she had loved as a child.
The blond woman looked at her for a long moment then smiled at her indulgently. “Yeah, I am Gabrielle, The battling bard of Poteidaia”, she admitted with what sounded like a sigh.
Aikaterine and her husband both gasped in surprise then noticed that the thieves had also done so. She decided not to speak for a while as memories of those stories flashed around in her mind. She suddenly remembered the stories clearly. That Gabrielle the gifted bard was the best friend and traveling companion of Xena the Warrior Princess that she had been at Xena’s side against the Olympians, that her stories were considered some of the best in the known world and that she was an actual Amazon queen. She had seen hundreds of battles and several wars. She had stood against the gods and their servants on her own and with her friend the god slayer. She was known as merciful and good to the core, but she would fight for the greater good and only killed when it was merited. She was truly a living legend believed dead and possibly even had been killed several times, but the stories told that she had survived or come back from the dead to keep on fulfilling her mission to fight for the innocent everywhere at the side of her friend. Yet here she rode and seemed very real and non legendary. Her boots were dusty from the sandy road; her brow was still wet from the sweat of fighting and the heat of the day. This was a real life woman. A woman she could have grown up with. In fact she realized some people around Poteidaia had, even if only the older people around here remembered that now.
“Not far anymore”, she heard Gabrielle whisper to herself. Did she imagine or did the woman actually sound wary.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what brings you home?” Aikaterine asked with a friendly smile.
“So you finally decided to talk to me like I am a real person. Good I am no more a hero than you are, so I dislike being treated as one. I am just Gabrielle”, Gabrielle replied with an equally friendly smile, “I am coming here to see my remaining family. I hope they are okay; it has been more than a year since I was last home. I’ve been gone for a long time without sending word again. I bet my sister is really angry with me. But hey at least it is better than the last time, then I was gone for over 25 years and everyone thought I was dead”. Gabrielle felt the intense regret over that. Even Ares had admitted that his actions had been a huge mistake. It had in a way cost Joxer his life and Eve her upbringing with a loving family. Many things in the world would have been different if he hadn’t done what he did. But that was in the past and the things she had said to Xena in the beginning still held true. You had to leave the past behind, while learning from it so that you didn’t repeat it.
The day carried on as they rode through the final stretch of woodland before they reached the town of Poteidaia. Gabrielle saw the white clutch of houses and town wall which constituted the town centre and markets; however a newer clutch of thatched wooden houses, probably owned by artisans, surrounded the town wall and Gabrielle had already noticed a larger amount of farmsteads in the valley. Everything looked peaceful and prosperous like the last time. Maybe Ares had only wanted for her to go home; she contemplated for a mere moment, and then discarded the thought. No, she realized that he was more likely warning her of some brewing war that was coming to Poteidaia soon. Maybe her hometown needed her help.
Suddenly a group of warriors approached on horseback. “Ah, here we go”, she thought with little mirth. “It seems my gift for attracting trouble was only taking a vacation. Welcome back then old friend”. Gabrielle looked around for a second making sure that she knew where everything was in case of a skirmish. She checked her weapons and then looked up just as the riders stopped a couple of yards away.
A young man clad in traditional brown leathers and blue cloth, pulled off his heavy looking helmet and looked at her. She judged him to be around her age. He had a serious face with grey eyes, light skin and brown hair. “Ho there warrior”, he greeted her.
“Hello there. Should we get out of your way?” She asked with a mischievous smile.
“No, actually we are the Poteidaia militia and we were going out to capture some thugs roaming the borders of the valley. It seems to no longer be necessary”, he said with a smile and looked at the two thieves with recognition easily seen in his eyes.
“Yes, I stumbled on these fools attacking these two, when I entered the valley. I was planning to take them to the Magistrate”, she explained and unhooked the whip from her saddle.
The man indicated to two men to unseat and take the thieves in custody. The thieves were smacked in manacles immediately. The man turned back to Gabrielle who was coiling her whip and replacing it onto its place on her saddle. “Now if I may. We don’t get many amazons in Poteidaia; may I ask your business here?”
Gabrielle looked at him for a second realizing that this man was educated enough to recognize the abundance of amazon symbols on her clothing and possessions. Of course the fact, that she was a female and a warrior, was a dead giveaway as well. “I am here to see family actually. I am only an amazon by adoption”, she explained with a smile at his incredulous expression, then he indicated that she could move on, while he asked the two farmers to accompany him to the Magistrate so that they could give evidence again those thieves. Gabrielle smiled happily at another small task well done and put her horse into a slow trot towards her family’s homestead.
She approached her old home and immediately another big smile sprung into place as she realized how well the day was going. She had saved two people from certain death, defeated three robbers and brought two to justice. Now she was just a few hundred yards from her ancestral home. She looked around. The fields that had looked so badly kept the last time they had been here; were now filled with grain and a few fields held grass where some sheep were laying about. The fences seemed freshly made and she could see that their old home was looking splendid with new thatching on the roof of the main building and a fresh coat of paint on all the buildings together with some rather complete looking repairs. She wondered for a few seconds, if Sarah was some kind of handywoman wizard or if Lila had hired help to do such a large job, but then she reminded herself, it was over a year and a half since she had last been around here.
Gabrielle swung herself from the horse with practiced ease and mused for a second as she remembered the many years, she had traveled without out a horse first because of her memories of her beloved pony, then as a matter of habit. In the end the massive changes she had decided on after her crucifixion had brought her past that limitation and now she wouldn’t go without one most of the time. They were a darned practical thing to have around that she would have to admit. She took her saddle bags of the horse and hoped that Lila could find a good place for it in her stables. She realized that she hadn’t named her yet, but she would do it soon that she promised herself. She was no Argo, but she was quickly picking up her training and would be a great warhorse soon. Maybe she would name her Ghost, Gabrielle thought as she walked towards the wooden front door. Suddenly it was torn open and two children ran out. The boy and girl stopped and stared in surprise at the strange woman standing in front of them, she realized in her surprised daze. They were both too old to be either Lila’s or Sarah’s, maybe they were the neighbor’s kids and Lila or Sarah was caring for them that had happened a lot in her childhood. “Excuse me, but do either of you know where Lila is”, Gabrielle asked.
The girl, who was a cute little blond and obviously older than the boy, looked at her. She smiled shyly and looked up to the tall woman her curly locks falling into her eyes as she said: “No. But my father might know. He is very smart”, she explained with the absolute conviction of a five year old. “Daddy”, she called out, “A rich woman is here to talk to you”.
Again Gabrielle sighed. She couldn’t for the life of her figure out, why people went around claiming she was a noble or rich woman. She looked down at herself and then as slow realization dawned on her, she looked back at the man in brown and grey cloth and leather with patches that came walking out the door. She suddenly realized that she had in a way been leading the life of a rich woman since they had gone to India. Their fortune had built up over the years as unused rewards, prizes for her performances and payments for her scrolls, then the money she constantly received from her amazons even if she asked them not to give her what was theirs and things seized from the warlords they had defeated without anyone to give them to, had accumulated in their possession, when they had only their traveling expenses to cover. So over time they had gotten rich on adventuring without even trying or wanting to. Xena had wisely decided to quietly shift the money away into different nations, lending it to people she trusted with it like her mother, but in the end most of it they had buried in the ground in spots known only to them. That was the way they had survived their 25 year snooze in the beginning and even now their caches around Rome were a little smaller than here in Greece. In a way she was really a rich woman with little fortunes hidden all over the known world. Of course she still lived of the meager remainders of the gems she had been given in Japan so there was no reason to go to the cache buried near Amphipolis. With a meek smile she greeted the puzzled dark haired man who seemed confused by her continuing silence. “Excuse me, but where is Lila?” She asked surprised that it looked like he had just come out of the living room of her childhood home.
“I am sorry, but I don’t know anyone named Lila”, he claimed and looked at her in confusion.
“But this is her farm, the farm of my family, it has been our farm for generations”, she stuttered in shock, fears welled up inside her and she almost cried out in alarm.
“Well, if that is the case, then I am sorry to tell you that whoever they were, they must have sold it to Nikodemos the merchant, because I bought it off him over a year ago when we moved here. I never met any Lila or any other owner of this place”, he explained with pity in his eyes as he beheld the complete and utter despondence that had just appeared in her eyes.
“What now”, her mind cried out, while her mouth spoke in an even unemotional tone: “I am sorry to have disturbed you. I’ll be on my way then”. Gabrielle walked towards her horse, picking up speed and nervous energy with each step. She would have to find someone, who knew Lila or Sarah or maybe even her. Someone who knew what had happened. Somewhere inside her mind that meager little voice of hate and violence that had grown slowly over the years demanded that whoever had forced her family into exile would pay for it with blood. Gabrielle silenced it and slipped her foot into the stirrup and lifted herself into the saddle in one quick and trained movement. She spurred Ghost with her heels and set off in the direction of central Poteidaia in search of someone or something that would tell her where Lila was. That thought dominated her mind as much as the thought that her sister was one of the few things left of her entire life aside from thousands of nameless people saved by her and Xena’s adventures. She was in many ways her remaining link to the regular world, to the common people. The white horse thundered towards the collection of white buildings that made up the center of town.
Her white horse felt warm under her. She was riding her hard, even if she knew that one more moment, one more minute wouldn’t make a difference, if another tragedy had wiped even more of her remaining family from the world. She thundered past the buildings huddled around the town wall and passed through the very busy gate. Suddenly she was forced to slow down as the mass of people milling around on the market square would barely even allow for one person pulling her horse. Frustrated she jumped of the horse and petted it thankfully as she looked around.
The last time she had been in Poteidaia, they had never made it past the outskirts and had instead gone directly to the farm. The square had been widened slightly by the removal some of stables and now many stalls lined the outside of the entire square, while the centre of the square was taken up by a large market of vegetables, grain and the like. It looked like she had caught Poteidaia only a short time before the beginning of the main harvest. Soon there would be a large festival and many families would use the happy times to hold festivities like marriages and the like. Here the dress style was also a little less drab and much of the colorful nature of the Poteidaia she remembered lay before her. In one corner a group of musicians were busying themselves by playing a jaunty tune. Unwillingly she allowed herself a nostalgic smile even if she had more urgent business than her personal enjoyment. She looked at her horse; she would need to get it stabled, while she began looking for someone, who knew about Lila or Sarah. She looked around again, this time looking for the sign of an inn as the building that had held the old one now looked like it served as a stall for a merchant selling many different wares. There just at the beginning of an alley she saw the clear sign of a proper inn. It didn’t look big, but the stables were readily apparent and that was hopefully all she needed for now. She navigated the crowds with her horse.
Gabrielle walked into the taproom and was pleasantly surprised by the quiet atmosphere in the place. The tables looked clean and the smells coming from the kitchen was pleasant enough. She lifted her saddle and many bags easily and walked over to the innkeeper, who seemed to be busying himself with cleaning off some mugs. “Excuse me. I need a room and a stable for my horse”, she asked.
The man lifted his eyes from his work and smiled with a mouth full of broken teeth. “Of course… For how long”, he asked eyeing her greedily.
“We’ll take it one day at a time for now. How much for that, feed for my mare and some mead”, Gabrielle asked again.
“4 dinar”, he demanded.
Gabrielle stared at him with sullen eyes, and then said: “3 dinar! I don’t feel like paying extra dinar because I am a woman”. She slapped the 3 coins on the counter and gave him the brilliant and winsome smile she knew would help the man to come to the right decision.
The man seemed to consider it for a moment and then took the money. He handed her a key and said: “It’s up those stairs and the third room on the right. I’ll get one of my stable hands to take care of your horse. Your mead will be ready, when you return”.
Gabrielle headed to her room and put all the least important stuff on the floor by the small bed, and then packed all her important possessions into the smallest saddle bag, which she carried as a satchel as she went back down stairs. Years of habit with taprooms and bar fights made her not even think about leaving any of her weapons. She walked into the room and strode to a table, while catching the eye of the innkeeper. He nodded; her mead would soon be on its way. Her stomach suddenly growled informing her that she should eat rather soon. Sniffing the air again, she decided on eating here, before she headed out into the town looking for Lila.
Gabrielle hoped her body felt content for a while, she had scarfed down a large portion of some mutton stew and some great fresh bread along with her mead and now she could search through the town, looking for people she could recognize or at least ask around for Lila and Sarah.
Hours later as the chariot of Apollo was glowing redder by the minute she stood back at the very same spot outside the Inn and she was none the wiser. She looked around the rapidly emptying square. She nearly growled with frustration. She had spent the entire afternoon running around in Poteidaia and everywhere she had gone, she had been treated like either a complete stranger or a potential customer and all the time she had been seen as a complete outsider. None had been willing to give her an answer and she knew it. Their feigned ignorance was just typical of villagers such as all the others she and Xena had encountered over the long years. She was not one of them anymore. For a few seconds she stopped and found herself contemplating, who she was then and where she really belonged. She decided on heading back to the inn, while she contemplated her next move instead of the weightier examination of her life that she would have to postpone until she had found her family.
Gabrielle sat down at an empty table after ordering ale for herself. Years of life with Xena and coming into places many times rowdier than the village inn of a backwater like Poteidaia made her careful. She carefully watched the crowd sitting in the taproom. There were a few locals, probably farmhands and farmers enjoying a drink before turning in. There were groups of travelers, which she judged to be traders from Athens; they were probably headed towards Thrace. To her surprise the strangers in the room also included two roman nobles and a few of slaves as well as a group of what looked like a few traveling mercenaries from somewhere close to Macedonia judging from their armor and weapons. No one seemed drunk enough to start a fight or looked to be spoiling for one, so she focused on drinking her ale. Soon after she ordered a chicken for dinner and sat down again to enjoy her meal, which reminded her of her ancestral home with its taste and texture. It was probably just her nostalgia over being home for once. She was learning why Xena had been heading for Amphipolis after passing through the gauntlet. Whatever you did in life, there were certain people or places that could never be abandoned or left behind forever.
Suddenly one of the farmers and the leader of the mercenaries began discussing over who had bumped the other while leaning back to drink. She followed it out of the corner of her eyes, but again her experience told her that she didn’t need to involve herself into every fight that broke out around her. Sometimes these things had to happen and as long as it didn’t escalate and weapons were drawn, she wouldn’t get involved. She bent over her chicken and tore of a large portion of the chest just as the first punch was thrown.
However destiny had other things in mind. The friends of the dazed farmer rose and attacked the mercenary. That provoked his friends and the innkeeper also stepped forward, yelling for them all to take it outside or suffer the consequences. However all hell broke loose, when one of the mercenaries punched one of the romans in the mouth, because of a snide comment on the smell of the mercenary as he passed the noble to join the fight evolving with the farmers. Gabrielle looked up; when she heard the distinct sound of roman short swords being drawn from leather scabbards. She turned her head to see that the two slaves, who she had carelessly ignored before, were attacking the mercenary with their weapons. It was quite obvious that they were gladiators or former ones at least. She cursed and rose from her seat, just as one of the milling crowd of farmers and mercenaries managed to put the bartender to sleep with a thrown clay jug full of ale. Gabrielle shook her head and quickly walked towards the advancing slaves, while drawing up her Sais. The mercenary also drew his wide bladed sword.
“Stop fighting! Please there is no reason for anyone to get hurt”, she yelled out over noise of the room. But that only earned her a scornful look from a few of the farmers and mercenaries involved in the fist fight, which continued on unabated. The mercenary threatened by the two slaves carefully backed away from the advancing slaves. Gabrielle could see the ease and familiarity of the slaves with their weapons, and the relatively nervous and unschooled way the mercenary held his sword. He was outclassed and knew it. He was probably some man out for adventure with very little real battle experience and a big mouth, she judged, but kept that opinion from showing in her expression. She walked quickly up to the impending battle, drawing breath to speak, when suddenly the voice of the roman noble, who had been hit, rang out in the mass of growls, pained yells and cracking of wood: “Kill him”. Gabrielle winced as she saw the faces of the slaves showing their intent to carry out the order. There was even a certain amount of glee in their eyes, like they were happy about their chance to finally slaughter someone.
Suddenly the slaves lunged forward, attacking the mercenary from both sides. The mercenary desperately swung his sword to the right, while scrambling backwards. The other sword dove for his leather armored back.
A sai intercepted the other sword and Gabrielle stepped forward to stand at the left side of the beleaguered mercenary. The two slaves slowed their attack and carefully studied her. Suddenly the slave opposite Gabrielle struck out with his short sword. She quickly parried the skilled and hard blow with her left sai, turning with the move of her arm and kicked the man in the chest with her heavy boot. He flew backwards onto the table, but immediately jumped back onto his feet.
Gabrielle forced her senses out to make her aware of the movements of not only her enemy, but also of the mercenary, his enemy and all the other things that could be a danger to her. The slave charged her, lunging forward with a move that she had seen made by hundreds of legionnaires before. Quickly she jumped back and to the left. She hit some chairs and the back of a table and immediately rolled onto it to stand over her opponent. He walked forward slashing at her feet. She simply jumped over the oncoming sword. Then as he returned for another slash in a slightly higher curve, she vaulted forward, hitting the man hard in the chest with both her feet and knocking him to the ground. She finished him with a quick one-two punch to his forehead with her Sais’ pummels.
Meanwhile the mercenary and the other slave had fought each other to a wary standstill of thrust and parry. Gabrielle walked towards them and did something she had seen Xena do many times before. She hit the two men on their arms with her Sais, numbing their arms and making them both drop their swords.
Suddenly her senses screamed a warning and reflexes painstakingly trained over the years made her hand move up and around catching the throwing knife before it hit her heart. Her sai swan dived to the floor. She felt the sharp edge of the blade cut slightly across the surface of her hand, but she ignored the pain easily. Instead she looked icily at her attacker. The roman noble, who had been hit, was standing with a big red bruise on his eyebrow and his mouth open with absolute astonishment. Gabrielle didn’t even contemplate throwing it back at him, but she made a grand show of throwing the knife back at his head, planting it inches from his right ear in a wooden support, while commenting: “I think you lost something”.
The still standing slave had used the opportunity to get his sword and attacked her, just as Gabrielle managed to the same with her sai.
Gabrielle was ready, however and parried the thrust towards her stomach. She pressed to sword out to her right and stepped forward to deliver a hard blow with her other sai. The slave staggered a step back and swirled his sword out and down, trying to slash her on her blind side.
Gabrielle quickly parried the thrust and tried to follow up, when her opponent used her momentary distraction to punch her hard in the chest, seeking to punch the wind out of her. Gabrielle staggered back and to the right. He followed up with another hard thrust, seeking to impale her on his sword. His face seemed set in anger.
This time however Gabrielle had the footing to make another of the combat moves she had learned in her time as a warrior. She caught his short sword with one of her sai, moved it so that it was no longer aimed at her belly, while ramming her other sai into the now exposed arm. The slave immediately dropped his weapon and screamed in pain as the sai left a large round and profoundly bleeding wound in his arm. Gabrielle finished up charging an elbow into his now exposed chin, dropping him like a stone thrown into a river.
The fight was ebbing out, when suddenly a thunderous voice yelled: “Everybody stop! Or we will kill you where you stand and let your gods sort you out”. Gabrielle turned with a smile to see a huge bearded man with beautiful and well kept brass armor and axes clearly of Spartan make as well as the young man who had welcomed her this afternoon standing with several other guards in the door to the street. The fighting stopped instantly. Gabrielle carefully backed away from the still angry roman nobles, while looking around for any other dangers. She stopped at her table and remained standing as the militia took a tour of the room and began questioning people with the big man clearly in charge, while one of the men tried to bandage the wound she had caused.
Suddenly person with curly blond hair came dashing out of the door to the kitchen and ran to the young subcommander of the militia. “Pavlos I am so glad you came”, the woman said part with fear, part with love tingeing her voice. Gabrielle gasped as she recognized the face of her niece as the woman ran to embrace the man.
“So what happened here?” The huge militia leader asked and eyed the disheveled looking farmers and mercenaries.
“A bar fight happened”, one of the farmers supplied in a meek voice.
“Right and why was there a bar fight?” The man was quickly dispensing justice, so she focused instead on Sarah. She casually walked over to greet her.
“Hello my dear niece”, she teased as she came to a stop behind her.
“What”, the girl squealed and turned around. Surprise and happiness was written across the beautiful face, which seemed made for such haughty expressions and which had born an arrogant scowl for many years in the harem of Gurkhan. “Gabrielle”, she breathed and gave her a warm embrace.
At least her time in Poteidaia seemed to have returned some measure of human warmth to her niece, Gabrielle mused as she felt the welcome warmth of a part of her remaining family pressed against her.
“When did you come? Have you seen mother?” The young woman asked breathlessly.
Gabrielle fell silent for a moment then said: “How could I? I have no idea, where your mother is. I went to the farm, but another man claims to live there now”.
Sarah looked confused for a few moments then seemingly realized something. “Oh, I forgot. You haven’t heard about what happened. Of course not, you were off to travel the world as soon as I, Virgil and Eve left the ship and we haven’t heard anything from you since”, she paused as if to emphasize that point. Gabrielle winced at what Lila would say if this was how angry her niece felt. “Mother and I couldn’t manage the farm, so we sold it and all the jewelry and stuff I brought home from Gurkhan to buy this place. We own this inn now”, she explained, while it dawned on Gabrielle why the food had been so good and familiar. Lila was probably responsible for the kitchen.
“It is so good to see you Sarah, but you’ll have to let go of me, before the Romans tell too many lies about how I got involved this little brawl”, Gabrielle explained and freed herself from the grasp of her niece, who again held her in an iron embrace.
“I’ll go get mother. Pavlos, couldn’t you help my aunt explain herself?” She added and dashed off in the direction of the kitchen, while Gabrielle explained to the man, what had happened, what she had done and why.
“Gabrielle!” Her sister’s voice pierced the veil of noise in the room just as Pavlos and the militia commander Dareios were herding the assorted mercenaries, farmers and roman arrested towards the prison.
She whirled about and once again looked upon the aged visage of her sister. She was always shaken by the fact that her formerly younger sister, who had inherited so much of her father’s dark looks, had become her senior in age, had been married to a man she had never met and that she had missed all that. She hadn’t been there to save her sister’s child and that had cost her family so much. “Don’t go there Gabrielle. You can’t blame yourself for something you neither knew about. Nor should you punish yourself for a nonexistent crime, created from the good intentions of Ares after he thought you had died a pointless death in battle”, she berated herself, while she ran smiling to her sister and embraced her now unfamiliar form.
“What happened out in the barroom?” Lila asked her daughter as she was sitting down in the kitchen of the inn. Gabrielle noticed how the room was set up just like her mother’s kitchen and even smelled the same way. For a few moments she thought about the fact that she would never be able to ride up to her old home again and go into that kitchen. It belonged to another family now. Lila had sold it. But she decided even though she was oldest and in a legal sense the proper inheritor of the farm, Lila had long ago taken over that role and those rights. She could not and would never think to take that right away from her. She had given all that up when she left with Xena. She had disowned herself. And the sale of her old home was not her decision. In fact if Ares hadn’t hidden them in that ice cave, neither she nor Xena would be alive today. The life of adventure they led would have killed them a long time ago as it had already been close to or had done many times. Sarah’s description of the fighting in the taproom drew her slowly back to reality.
“I am sorry I didn’t see you fight Aunt Gabrielle, I ran out back to call for Pavlos… The militia as soon as I saw the mercenary hit the romans. We didn’t even know that you were here”, she commented and smiled at her aunt, the look taking years of her face.
“It’s alright, Sarah. I was here looking for you two, so at least some good has come of that pointless fight out there”, she said and looked at her barely dark haired sister. Suddenly the last of the heat of battle drained out of her and she felt a searing pain in her left palm. “If you don’t mind I would like to have some wine and a rag and some clean cloth that you won’t miss”, she asked with her left hand still clenched at her side.
“Why?” Lila asked curiously, while she rummaged around for a clean rag, and Sarah got a bottle of wine from a shelf over the kitchen stove.
Lila handed her a rag. “I need it to bandage my palm. I scratched it catching a dagger”, she explained in a dry common place tone, as she had done that a couple of times before not even thinking that her description of such actions and her casual mentioning of wound surprised her family. She leaned over the table with the wine drenched rag and carefully cleaned the wood, wincing slightly as she felt the familiar burn of the wine in her wound. She saw a long thin piece of white linen being lain down besides her hand. “Thank you”, she said and smiled as she professionally set about tying it around her palm. She made a tight knot on the back of her hand, but gave the bandage enough slack in it to allow her freedom of movement. “At least it didn’t need to be stitched together this time”, she mused and tested her hand so that she could gauge how much less she could depend on it the next few days. At least her body had begun healing faster. Xena had been right; it was all just a question of treating it well, training it hard and maybe a little natural ability. Of course she couldn’t rival Xena’s abilities, but then again there were no race between them. She had grown past that and now it no longer mattered.
“If father or mother had heard of you taking part in a barroom brawl like this, they would never have believed it”, Lila commented, as Sarah walked away to be with the man that was obviously her boyfriend or betrothed. Gabrielle focused on her sister.
“I guess you’re right. But I couldn’t very well let the romans kill a man just because of a petty insult”, she idly commented not thinking about the many experiences and decisions in her life that Lila couldn’t know about.
“It’s not that it’s…” Lila paused and took a breath. “Why don’t we find something else to talk about? We should not be fighting when you’re home. It happens so rarely”, Lila said with regret.
“Lila…” Gabrielle said with a sigh and hugged her sister.
Lila freed herself from the hug and went over to sit down by the hearth. “Are you staying at the Inn?” She asked and gestured towards the 1st floor where she had a room.
“Yeah, I have a room and a horse in your stables. I hope you give some kind of family friendly price to people planning on staying a while”, she asked and saw a flicker of happiness in the eyes of her now older sister.
“Of course, you won’t be paying anything for your stay. We make enough money. I would never let you pay me anyway”, Lila said with some of the spirit Gabrielle remembered from the past coming forth in her eyes.
Still her code of honor wouldn’t let her stay here and leech on her family’s good fortune. “At least let me help out around here. I could tell stories and keep the peace while I stay”, she offered. Lila looked at her then smiled and nodded.
“So how long time will you be staying? Or should I ask how long will it take Xena to get here?” Lila asked with a lot of bitterness and jealousy in her voice. For a few moments Gabrielle was amazed that her sister still nursed that yellow eyed jealousy in her soul, but those thoughts were washed away by the intense pain of remembering Xena as well as her dead and headless body outlined by lightning in the rain. The sadness churning in her soul spilled forth into her face and eyes. Subconsciously her right hand drifted down to rest on the chakram now gracing her side with its presence.
“Xena won’t be coming to get me ever again. She is dead”, her voice was tight and a little hoarse as she spoke those hated words. Too many times she felt had she been pushed to tell the horrendous story of Xena’s demise recently. She felt that she had neither the strength nor inclination to do that again on a day that should have been much happier.
Lila looked at her. For second Gabrielle perceived indecision in there, and then pity tinged them. She forced herself not to think of the other emotions that her sister probably had felt at those words.
“So are you here to stay?” She asked with a shaking voice, like she gave words to an old and secret wish of her soul.
Gabrielle looked at her sister. For a moment she listened to her own heart as she asked the very same thing of it. And all she got back was an intense feeling of unhappiness and unending emptiness. She didn’t feel like staying here. Nor did she feel like staying anywhere. Poteidaia had never offered her more than emptiness.
That emptiness that had been filled with Xena, when they had met in the woods not far from here, and which was now only filled with the ringing echoes of the intense love she felt for her fallen warrior, was what drove her to go on. She had vowed at Xena’s death to become her replacement and in secret hoped that this would allow her to continually be close to the spirit of her love and keep that void inside her filled enough to continue on day by day. “No”, she said with finality and turned away from her sister so that she wouldn’t see the tears coming from her eyes.
Lila remained silent for a time. “I don’t understand you anymore”, she said with intense bitterness in her voice and wandered away. Gabrielle heard the almost soundless steps of her niece walking up to stand behind her.
“I don’t understand you either. Mother always said that you were only on the road because Xena was there. If Xena weren’t around, you would never have left home, she used to say, when I was little and thought you were… dead. Do you think us to be beneath you? Are you too good for us normal people?” Sarah said with her voice raised in anger and put a hand on her shoulder to draw her around.
Gabrielle turned and looked the taller woman right in the eye. “No that was never been an issue. Lila should have remembered that. We have discussed it twice. I didn’t leave because of Xena, but because I didn’t belong in Poteidaia. No one here would ever allow me to be the person I felt I was meant to be. I had dreams pulling at me. I wanted to make more of myself than just a farmer’s wife”.
Gabrielle drew Sarah with her and sat down at a table with her niece in tow. “I was always an outsider here in Poteidaia. I was loved by some, but I was never apart of the group. I stood out even when I was little. I didn’t just say yes and follow the commands of my parents or anyone else for that matter. I had great dreams for my self. I was a dreamer. I forced your grandparents to let me learn to read and write. I sought out passing bards and philosophers. I studied everything I could find. I was always looking for something and then one day the cause of my longing came to our little town. You must understand Sarah that much more than friendship bound Xena and me. We share a bond stretching back through time into the ancient past and forward into the future. Our souls are bound by bonds of love stronger than any god or dark destiny. Each time we are born again our souls yearn and search for each other. We go through life unfulfilled until we come together and when we come together we can never ever truly be taken apart without causing each other almost unbearable anguish. We were each other’s home. Now that she is gone I feel lost and homeless. I have nothing against Poteidaia, but it is not my home anymore. It really never was more than the place where I grew up and where my family made their home. My home is… was Xena”. She explained putting all her sincerity and belief in her eyes and voice.
Sarah looked at her with amazement. “But where can you go from here?” She asked her voice falling to a mere whisper.
“I have asked myself that. I have all of the world open for me to travel. And I believe that I will always be able to visit Eve in Amphipolis, the amazons up north or you here. But I won’t have a home for a long time to come”, Gabrielle explained with the infinite sadness that was the deciding factor in her life right now clearly audible in her voice. Gabrielle rose slowly and smiled wanly at her niece. “I guess we should call it a night. Maybe I can make Lila understand in the morning”, she explained and walked away.
Sarah sat a long while in the candlelit kitchen and looked out the open window at the large garden hidden behind the inn. A gentle wind rustled the leaves of the tree out there, but she barely noticed as she contemplated the enigma that was her beautiful aunt.
Next morning Gabrielle started the day by taking a long hot bath. She chose to wear the more subdued brown leathers reminiscent of those destroyed by her demonic possession last year in Amphipolis. She had made them together with Eve during her stay at the hospice. Their lack of ornaments and expensive jewelry would allow her to more easily blend in with the people of village.
She took stock over her possessions and was reminded of her old friend Meleager as he had dictated his last will to her. She felt a lot like him, all her worldly memories and possessions was in the collection of bags lying on the floor besides her bed. Some things bore symbols of the high north, some had obviously been made in Chin, some things were of simple Greek make, while only a little of Egypt and Rome remained in her possession. The mainstays of her belongings however were from her adopted people and nationality. She looked and felt like an amazon. The only thing she had taken with her from Japan now rested safely in a sarcophagus in Amphipolis. A soft knock on her door tore her from her musings.
“Gabby are you up?” Lila’s voice called out through the wooden door.
“Yeah”, she answered while an easy smile danced on her lips. She hoped that she could avoid too many heavy conversations like the one’s she had lead last night. She unhinged the door and allowed her sister to come inside. To her surprise the smiling dark haired woman bore a large tray with a breakfast for two measured in the portion common in her family.
“Sarah suggested that we needed to get reacquainted and I remembered that you were almost always hungry so I thought we could…” Gabrielle smiled and led the older woman to sit down on her bed.
“Well, your bed sheet will probably get crumbs on it, but you won’t find me complaining. I wonder what the innkeeper will say though”, she quipped. Lila smiled at the remark and took up a knife to cut the freshly baked bread.
They ate a while in silence, when suddenly Lila said: “Gabrielle. I don’t feel like I know you anymore. You’re so different from when I last saw you and even then I didn’t understand the huge changes in you. But I would very much like to. I need to”.
Gabrielle looked at her for a while and decided to approach the telling of her past slowly. “How many of my scrolls have you heard stories from?” Gabrielle asked.
“I’ve heard a few of them told here, but they’re all focused on Xena. I want to know what you did, how you ended up here like you are now. I know a little of what happened to you, I’ve sporadic stories, but I never got the details. You never had the time on your visits or in your messages to fill me in. Couldn’t you start at the…” Again Gabrielle interrupted her and said: “At the beginning”. She laughed and nodded to her sister. “We’ll have to take large parts of the story in general terms, but I think if we start now we’ll be finished some time tomorrow. Are you sure you want to sacrifice all that time?” Lila nodded and said: “Sarah will take care of business. Most of the time she is actually better at it than me anyway”.
“Alright let’s get started then”. Gabrielle said and drank a large portion of the milk in her cup. She started from the very beginning telling of what happened the first days as she followed Xena, she told in broad terms of their first adventures together only going in detail a few important places like how she had become an amazon princess. She told of her first encounter with Joxer and Callisto. She explained her temporary death in the Mitoan Thessallian war. She focused on how she had learned to fight with a staff instead of a sword and of the need for someone to stand up from the greater good. Then she told of her second year with Xena. She explained her marriage with Perdicus, Callisto’s return and death. She told of Xena’s death, her crowning as amazon queen, Xena’s return and their fight against Velasca and Callisto. She told about the type of heroic routine their life settled into until their deepening love for each other peaked after their battle against the Horde. As the afternoon unraveled she finally reached the darkest part of their journey as she lost her blood innocence, had the daughter of an evil god, lied to Xena then betrayed her on their first trip to China. She told in excruciating detail of how Callisto and Hope conspired to kill Solan and how she had poisoned Hope. She told of the rift between them and their hatred which lead them to Illusia and reconciliation. She told of Xena’s amazing stand against the Persians at Tripolis, her decision to let Crassus die in Rome and their further travels until their hopeless stand against Dahak and his mad cult lead by her own daughter. She told slowly about her sacrifice and skipped over the part where she tricked her own grandson and daughter to their deaths as Lila had been around for that part and knew that story. She then began telling the story about her increasing fighting ability and confusion about it and leading men into battle against the romans. Then she told about her looking for her way as they traveled through India, she told of her possession by Tataka, about their discovery of their shared destiny and being soul mates throughout all time. With love she told of Eli and the blissful path he had tried to guide her on. She explained her choice of Eli’s path of love and the pain and complete failure that had brought her and Xena. Then she told the cold hard story of the romans going up against the amazons and her capture by Brutus. she told slowly of her change of heart seeing Xena’s fall from her own chakram and of going up against the legionnaires and killing so many of them. After shuddering she went on to tell of their crucifixion and dying on the cross side by side.
However just as she was about to get to the part about their resurrection Sarah burst into the room. “Marauders are attacking the outlying farms. Pavlos and his patrol just came back. A few of his men have been killed. Dareios and the rest of the militia have just left to stop them before more people lose their lives. The people are gathering in the square to discuss it now”, she explained and ran back out of the room. Gabrielle checked the position of her sai and the chakram, while she followed.
Lila, who had remained silent for the most of the day, only looked after her daughter and sister, while slowly traversing the stairs. She was lost in thought over the many details of her sister’s amazing life that she had never been aware of. Gabrielle had killed a woman before she had turned 22. She had been married to Perdicus, who everyone in the village believed had died in Troy. Gabrielle was the queen of an amazon tribe and was in many ways her complete opposite in terms of experiences in life. Her sister had lived a life of adventure, which she knew included being frozen in ice for 25 years. Still she had not gotten to the truth about her new nature, yet she was sure much closer. Her last stories had revealed a great deal more than Lila had expected. She still didn’t understand how her merciful and goodhearted sister, who had cried, when she had heard of strangers dying, when she was young, could have turned into the beautiful but potentially lethal warrior walking in her place today. Surely it was the fault of Xena or at least that was what she had to believe.
The crowd gathered in the square was a lot bigger than Gabrielle had expected but she didn’t show much of a reaction as she saw the beaten militia men sitting around the water fountain nursing their wounds. She also noticed quite unexpectedly a large division amongst the people around the square. They were split in two large groups distinct in both behavior and clothing. One half was made up of the merchants and artisans, the other of the farmers and poorer folk coming from further away or the few dark passages of the village. Still they didn’t seem to mix much. Understandably Lila and Sarah seemed to fit amongst the farmers, who all most likely were old friends and acquaintances. She remained amongst the few strangers still in town, so she after a little careful consideration decided to remain standing alone and silent as a neutral party, while Pavlos carefully explained the situation to the concerned villagers.
“There has been an attack from outside the valley. We were on patrol when we saw a farmstead on fire. We rode down and were met with the sight of a slaughter. A large band of marauding warriors in expensive armors and high quality weapons were raiding the farmstead, when we came upon them. Before we could flee from the numerically and better equipped enemy they attacked us. I chose to flee and bring the bad news back to my commander. The village has lost two brave men to these marauders already, but Dareios and his men bravely rode out to stop the advancing army a while ago”, he explained, while Sarah dressed a gash from what to her trained eye looked like a knife, however Gabrielle’s thoughts were on Ares and his fortunate warning, which had brought her to Poteidaia before it could be destroyed.
Suddenly a man called out over the square in a commanding voice: “Listen. I suggest we prepare the town for the wounded soldiers that will surely come back from Dareios’ foolish counterattack and prepare ourselves for the coming attack. You and I will all be called to make sacrifices in the coming days, so I will start by hiring as many mercenaries for the protection of Poteidaia as I can and I will do so immediately”. The dark haired man with thick grey streaks in his hair and beard was helped down by two younger men, who like him wore really expensive clothing and jewelry.
“Don’t be foolish Nikodemos we won’t allow you to hire your own private army and take over the parts of the valley that you haven’t bought yet”, the familiar and bitter sounding voice of her sister rang out over the square. “Dareios is a veteran Spartan warrior and a great leader. We must allow him to what we all hired him to do, before we panic and bring in dangerous outside help. Besides we can also defend ourselves or need I remind you all of the heroism of this town as we helped Meleager in his battle to save or that the Gabrielle the Battling Bard comes from here”, her sister yelled and made an unconscious gesture towards Gabrielle. A few eyes dashed in her direction but no one seemed to have made the connection just yet.
“I have no interest in taking over this valley. I am a trader not a ruler. However that Gabrielle that you always speak of is just a long dead peasant girl, who traveled with a great warrior. I have heard of her pathetic exploits. She caused more trouble than she ever stopped. I would rather have the help of that pathetic fool from her fanciful stories called Joxer than a small Poteidaian girl, who stumbled into a royal title and could cause more trouble in a week than most of us do in our entire lives. I will send out messengers for the mercenaries immediately”, the man her sister had called Nikodemos said and spat on the ground in challenge. Gabrielle smiled self-consciously he wasn’t entirely wrong, nor entirely right. At least she had gotten it right as she got older. Now her abilities would have to make do unless she wanted her ancestral home destroyed.
“Hah you’re a fool Nikodemos”, a familiar voice called out. Gabrielle recognized the farmer whose life she had saved the day before.
“Just because you bought the land you farm back from me today, you can’t go around insulting me like that”, Nikodemos cried out in anger and his guards stepped forward threateningly.
“I was only bringing something to your attention. For it seems that rumor hasn’t traveled very far today. Yesterday a few of you noticed an amazon warrior in town, and some few of you even learned that she calls our innkeeper sister by this morning, but none of you seem to have remembered that Lila only has one sister and that is Gabrielle the Battling Bard. Her”, he said and pointed towards her. Gabrielle felt hundreds of eyes turning to look in her direction. For a second she felt like ducking for cover and running away, but all her times with the amazons and performing in front of hostile crowds came back to her and her self-confidence reasserted itself.
“Are you supposed to be Gabrielle the Battling Bard of Poteidaia?” Nikodemos asked and let his gaze dance over the young and muscled form of the blond bard.
“Yeah and I sure won’t allow my hometown to be raided if I can do anything about it? I will help you defeat your enemy!” She claimed and put all her belief and strength of conviction into her voice.
As the darkness slowly descended upon the village her first plans for the defense were being implemented. Guards had been posted on the walls; a temporary hospital had been set up as had a fire brigade, while she had cast an eye on the warriors available to her. She had managed to move most of the people inside the city wall and only a few still remained on their farms gathering more supplies. It was funny to her that the entire town had immediately thrown the leadership of the defense of Poteidaia at her feet just as soon as Lila had positively identified her and mentioned that she really was from Poteidaia. The merchant Nikodemos had made a few more sincere offers to send for mercenaries, but Gabrielle had been able to politely head him off by explaining that no able mercenaries would be able to come to their rescue before the advancing army had arrived. Then she had sent a few boys and girls claiming to be fast runners out on sentry duty with strict orders to run back at the first sight of either Dareios and the remainder of the militia or the advancing army.
She was dozing on a bench in Lila’s inn, when the cry of a boy woke her. “Gabrielle! Gabrielle!” He yelled as he burst into the barroom. Wearily and carefully picking the sleep from her eyes she slowly rose from her rest. Behind her she heard Lila and Sarah walk up to be able to hear as well.
“What is it?” She asked and remembered through her sleep hazed mind to smile at the boy.
“Dareios is coming back. His horse is gone and he is dragging some man behind him”, he explained.
Gabrielle remained silent for a few moments then nodded. “I am going out to see him. You run to Pavlos and warn him to keep the guards alert. The enemy could be right on Dareios’ heels”, she yelled as she dashed out of the inn heading towards the city gate.
The large and burly man was walking in the still open city gate just as Gabrielle came into the view of the wooden gate. He was dragging a man behind him secured to a long rope. The man looked a lot more wounded than Dareios and struggled a lot making Dareios nearly drag him each step forward. Gabrielle let her eyes wander over the veteran warrior, who was the leader of her hometown’s militia. He had a few bruises and only one visible wound in the form of a shallow cut across his right forearm. Thoughtful she walked to meet him with the remaining militiamen running up to her right flank.
Dareios threw the rope to one of the militia men. “I see that Pavlos has made good of the time. Everything seems to be ready for the approaching army”, he said and looked around taking in the still puny defenses of the village. Gabrielle was already working on a plan to counteract that, but she needed to know more about her enemy first.
“Where are your men?” The voice of Nikodemos suddenly demanded from her left as he came running flanked by what Gabrielle now knew where his sons both trained warriors used to guarded the rich man’s caravans.
Dareios’ eyes flickered with intense anger and hatred for a few seconds then he drew himself up and faced the merchant. “I fear that they are all dead. We fought for our lives out there. I got carried away from the battle fighting one of their best warriors. It cost me my horse, but I killed him and captured this little rat”. Dareios smiled triumphantly and pointed at the much smaller warrior he had dragged into the town. “I want to get some information out of him like who is leading their army and why they are attacking us”, he claimed and grapped the rope again, pulling the man up to him.
Meanwhile a lot of the villagers had gathered near the gate as well. Gabrielle looked around and saw her family standing in the outskirts of the crowd. She also peeked up at the guards, who were still dutifully looking out for any approaching enemy. Gabrielle thought it strange that they had yet to see either hide or hair of the approaching army when they were ferocious enough to kill most of the militia. Yet they were slow enough give Dareios time to walk back here with a prisoner. She stared back at the huge warrior again her eyes taking in the looks of his clothes, the lack of dust and sweat marks on them. She looked at his weapons two huge axes still strapped to his sides, where she could see no fresh scratches in the reflections on the almost immaculate axe heads. Her eyes became set in suspicion as he moved to question the prisoner.
Dareios drew the man up and quickly twirled the rope around his neck. The man gasped in fear as Dareios tightened the noose slightly. “Now you worm. Tell me who the leader of that army is?” Dareios growled and nearly yanked the man of the ground with only a minimum of his strength she noted. The prisoner pressed his lips together and tried to look away. Gabrielle felt a little pity for him but chose on the basis of her suspicions to do and say nothing. “Who is he?” Dareios screamed and tightened the noose a little then loosened it again.
“Gascar the terrible”, the man managed to croak forth. Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed with suspicion.
“Good. Now why is Gascar coming here? Poteidaia is a well defended village and not easy prey for warlords like him” Dareios demanded and drew the much smaller man forward.
The man stuttered slightly but managed to croak: “Because he was offered a deal by some rich merchant in this village, he would be paid very handsomely in exchange for the merchant getting to rule the valley”. Dareios yanked him up in outrage and the little man seemingly fell unconscious from shock. Gabrielle’s mind was racing, while the murmurs around the square rose. She knew what purpose this little act served now. Soon there would be people calling for Nikodemos’ head and the man, who practically paid the livelihood of most of the artisans around Poteidaia and owned much of the land, had not made an impression on her as the self-sacrificing type.
“It is Nikodemos’ fault. He brought this warlord here. Kill him”, the many different angry voices in the square grew louder.
“Now everybody calm down!” Dareios bellowed out. “No one said that Nikodemos had anything to do with the attack. I won’t stand for mob justice. We don’t have time for this. Gascar’s army is fast approaching and while the preparations you have done so far are good, we still have much to do if we’re to stand any chance at all against those oncoming marauders. Now everyone who isn’t doing something of vital importance go home. We will sort out who’s guilty or not after this is over” He commanded and strode up to the other militia men and incidentally Gabrielle as she was standing with them.
“Someone throw that maggot in a cell by himself”. He asked and was quickly obeyed. Pavlos with a bandage still wrapped around his head walked up to the warriors, just as Dareios looked at Gabrielle and spoke. “Aren’t you the amazon warrior, who beat those two gladiators last night” He asked and looked at her askance.
“This is Gabrielle the Battling Bard of Poteidaia. The only living legend that has ever come from our beautiful village”, Pavlos explained and beamed at her. “She was the one who set up our defense. She is a very experienced warrior. She travels with Xena the Warrior Princess”, he said and looked like that elevated her even more in his eyes. Somehow he reminded her of Korah, the innocent man she had accidentally murdered back in Africa. She didn’t bother to explain that Xena was dead.
“The famous Gabrielle, I have heard many stories of your partner’s exploits. There were even a few with you in them. So you did learn a lot from her”, Dareios stated.
Gabrielle decided to play a slightly different role for this guy. “Oh, don’t believe everything you’ve heard. It took me years to learn to fight right even with the daggers I carry and Xena wouldn’t even think of letting me touch a sword. You see my strengths are my ability to talk and do the small stuff in her plans like guarding the villagers, while she did the fighting. All the real heroics were Xena’s. I was mostly just another tagalong staying in her shadow and writing about her exploits. She taught me self-defense and such like but I am not really the warrior most stories make me out to be”, she lied and put on her innocent eyes that had even fooled Xena a few times.
Pavlos looked surprised and disbelievingly at her. He probably couldn’t believe that he had been taking orders from her or he didn’t believe a word she had just said, but at least Dareios looked convinced. “I think you should take command here, I will of course help in the defense of my hometown. Command Dareios I think you’ll find the villagers more than willing to follow you now than ever”, she said in her most bubbly and believable voice, while puzzling inside on her next move. She needed to find out, who was really behind the marauders and on which side Dareios stood. She needed to talk with her sister about Poteidaia. While Dareios began ordering his men around, Gabrielle ran back to the inn.
“Lila”, she asked and wandered into the kitchen where her sister was making bandages for the hospital.
“Yes, Gabby”, her sister asked and used her old pet name for her sister without thinking.
“I think we’re big trouble here… Where did Dareios come from? I don’t remember him from the past, so he must be new, even if that doesn’t mean much in my case”, she asked and sat down besides her sister. Her practiced hands immediately began laying out the wet bandages.
“Dareios… He is a new in a way. He and his small band of warriors rode into town a few years ago and asked to be allowed to live in Poteidaia. They were all old Spartan veterans, who had grown tired of war and wanted to live a peaceful life, where they could dedicate their lives to the protection of others. Dareios and his men joined with our very small militia and he soon rose to be their leader. He has successfully defended the town from several slavers and thieves even if they sometime manage to do some harm, before he can run them off”. Lila paused for a moment then looked her sister straight in the eye. “I am not sure I like him though. He is a rough sort of man, who is very set on transforming Poteidaia into a fortress. He is always asking for more men or that we build bigger and better defenses. He is also always pressing for the expansion of the militia and the training of all young men to be warriors. He has even tried to get us to build a temple to Ares. But he has never really gotten his suggestions through the council at least not when either I or any of the other old people have any say on the matter. Poteidaia has always been a happy and peaceful place and educating a lot of the young boys to be warriors is not going to improve that. Not that he is worse than Nikodemos that bastard”. Lila explained and lifted another batch of boiled bandages out of the vat as she said: “Why do you ask?”
“I think that Dareios is lying about fighting that army out there and that his prisoner was giving a false testimony. I have recently seen Gascar and I am fairly sure that he has gone to his death either because his greed made him go into the Poltrois caves or because Ares, who he tried to kill, would have fried him by now. He would also have at least have sent a scouting party near the village to gauge our defenses. And that hasn’t happened. This is not the way Gascar works or any other trained warrior for that matter. So something is up”, Gabrielle rose from her seat and walked to the door, then stopped and looked sheepishly at her sister. “Lila, could you tell me where the jail is?” She asked.
Lila looked at her, smirked then confusion spread across her face. “They’re where the old magistrate used to live. But what do you want in the jail?” She asked her warrior sister.
“I think I’ll go get some real answers out of that prisoner”, Gabrielle explained and strode out of the kitchen. Lila turned back to her task for a few moments, but then her brow knotted in thought; she rose and left in the same direction, while fumbling with something heavy in her pocket.
Gabrielle ran across the dark dirt road to the prison and listened at the door. The room behind the front door was completely silent so she tried to open the door, but found it to be locked securely. She took a few frustrated steps back and looked at the building again. She suddenly glimpsed a way inside. In a quick burst of speed she ran up a cart, jumped into it and easily from there she jumped up to grasp the ledge that ran around the entirety of the neighboring building. She carefully walked along the narrow ledge, making sure to keep her balance until she reached the wall of the prison. She focused all her will and jumped up just managing get high enough to grasp the windowsill of a high up window opening. Slowly she drew herself up and crawled inside, thereby gaining access to the seemingly abandoned former offices of the magistrate. Quickly she ran down the stairs coming down into the room, where the prison guard would have slept, if he hadn’t been commandeered as a warrior to protect the village.
His keys to the cells lay in full view on his table. Smiling Gabrielle grapped them and made her way through the reinforced doors leading to the three cells which made up the rest of the ground floor. The romans and their slaves as well as one of the mercenaries were still confined and sleeping in the two of the cell, while her goal was lying comfortably on his cot staring at the ceiling. Gabrielle steeled herself and calmly unlocked the cell door. She walked inside just as the prisoner got up looking at her with clear confusion in his eyes.
“If I had known that this village offered this kind of service to it’s prisoners I would’ve come here sooner”, he said and rubbed his hands together in anticipation while a leer spread across his face. He motioned to get up, while Gabrielle quickly closed the distance between them.
“I want to know who really is leading that army out there”, she asked and looked at him, while making her expression as unreadable as it was possible for her.
“I have already told you”, the man said began rising to his feet.
Gabrielle slapped across the face with the back of her hand. He heavily sat back down.
“Don’t insult my intelligence! I know you’re not working for Gascar. Gascar is dead. He went to visit the Poltrois caves and I am betting he never came back. I know because I helped arrange it”, she threatened while clenching her fist at the happy memory of her and Xena’s visit to her grandparents’ farm.
“You can’t threaten me little girl. Go back to pretending to be a warrior somewhere where people are interested”, he said and struck out after her. Gabrielle stepped away from the blow with sadness in her eyes.
“Please tell me. I can make you tell, but it will be very painful and I really have no quarrel with you, so please just do it. You’ve already been captured so no one will really hear about it if you tell me”, she pleaded as the horror of what she would do to him if he didn’t began making her a little nauseous.
“If you don’t have the stomach for interrogation then don’t do it”, he advised her and rose fully to try and push her out of his way.
“Oh, no you don’t”, she said as he moved forward. She high kicked him in the chest sending him crashing hard against the wall and making him slide to the floor.
“I said I didn’t like to do this. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t”, she explained as she walked over and drew him into a sitting position. He was still groggy so he didn’t move to stop her. Gabrielle drew herself up. She forced all her qualms and worries away forcing her to remember the horrors that would be inflicted on Poteidaia if she didn’t stop that army. Keeping those horrible images in mind, she then recalled those final moments she had spent with Xena’s still living body and how she had learned the pinch from her. With tears almost coming into her eyes she jabbed first one pair of fingers then another into each side of the man’s neck, while she spoke the words that had become almost a ritual by now: “I have just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You have only 30 seconds left to live unless you answer my questions”.
He began choking and trembling immediately. Gabrielle knew from Xena the danger of that move. If she had placed the pinch just a little wrong it would either have had no effect or the man would’ve died instantly as the flow of blood to his brain stopped. She began counting seconds in her mind gouging from experience that the man had a little over half a minute left to live if she didn’t remove the pinch. His eyes sought her eyes for mercy. She forced the memory of Xena’s dead body forward in her mind, making herself remember, filling herself with the ice cold memory of her dead friend.
Sharp pain shot through him and seemed to fill his entire body. He looked at her in surprise and shock for a while as the beautiful face in front of him filled his view. She stood before him, becoming all that his eyes could see, as time slowed down for him and he felt his life slip from his fingers. He sought her eyes for mercy, for any sign that he could keep his secrets without dying. Yet to his astonishment he found only emptiness in those sea-green eyes like all he was standing in front of was a hollow shell. Seconds passed as she stared into his eyes saying nothing just waiting.
“Gascar is dead. We serve the warlord Rafe of Syria”, he managed to croak between desperate gasps for breath.
“Did a merchant really call you here?” The woman asked as she leaned forward, while the look in her inscrutable eyes suddenly became intense even passionate yet still contained no hope for him.
“No. We came to help the blood brother of Rafe: Dareios. I was told to say those things out there in the square so that unrest would further weaken the defenses of the village. The militia cost us a few men all ready and Rafe isn’t really ready to sacrifice too much for this”, he explained, while his limbs began to shake uncontrollably.
The warrior woman nodded to his and jabbed a few fingers into his neck. He nearly passed out from the pain just as he felt blood trickle across his upper lip. Still he felt the rush of blood going into his head making him lightheaded.
“Now unless you want to repeat that experience you’ll tell everything about your army, your commander and whatever you can remember of the plans of your warlord”, Gabrielle hastily added, while fighting to swallow the enormous lump in her throat and keep from crying out in alarm over herself and her actions as well as the unwanted flood of memories of her dark warrior princess doing this exact same thing.
The man spoke for a while, explaining that they were only around 40 men, that the militia riding with Dareios had been captured and not killed, that Dareios had returned to Poteidaia only to allow him to better gauge the defenses of the city before he could help his friend conquer it in the planned attack tomorrow. He even told her about how Dareios had financed their coming here by allowing assorted thieves and rogues to slip through the defenses of Poteidaia for a price or come here to hide from time to time. Gabrielle nodded and left the side of the weakened man, who still lay listless on the stone floor. She forgot about comforting him as her mind whirled with the prospect of having to remove Dareios from command before morning. She walked out of the cell locking it securely after her.
She walked thoughtfully into the guardroom only to stop and gasp in surprise. In front of her stood her sister with her eyes full of disapproval and strangely pain. Behind her Gabrielle saw the unlocked front door, Lila must have had a key.
“You tortured that man”, Lila stuttered and looked at Gabrielle like she was looking at a stranger.
“Lila. No. I had to, we needed to know this”, Gabrielle managed yet was almost unable to speak while seeing the hurt in her sister’s eyes. The look in her eyes tore at her own soul wakening the specters of guilt that lived there.
“That doesn’t justify doing that. There has to be another way. There must be. You would never have done some thing like this before”, Lila demanded in anger.
Gabrielle stepped forward and grasped her sister’s shoulders firmly, while looking her straight in the eyes. “Lila this serves no purpose. There is an army out there, which is going to attack in the morning and the man who is supposed to protect you from this is on their side. I can’t deal with this now. Not now. I have to stay focused. First I need to expose Dareios and to do that I have to disappear for a while”. Gabrielle let go of her sister.
“You are not really my sister, are you?” Lila asked rhetorically. The question drilled itself into Gabrielle’s heart like a dagger. She stopped dead in her tracks on the way out of the door, which Lila seemed to have opened with someone’s keys.
“I will always be your sister Lila, and yes I have changed a lot. Please understand that I do this for all of you, my motivations are the same as when I tried to surrender myself to Draco’s slavers and have them spare you. You’re my family, and I am truly sorry about doing that in there, but I will not sacrifice this town because of false sensibility. I am a warrior”, she explained and continued on her way. Only silence followed her as she walked of into the moonlit night.
She walked calmly around the guarded battlements making sure no one took particular notice of her as she sought out a spot, where a rather large artisan’s shop with a thatched roof stood near the wall. Patiently she waited for a moment, when the guards were all looking in another direction and she could pass from the deep shadow and jump outside. So she could go out and bring back evidence against Dareios and hopefully stall the small army a little as well.
One of the guards walked up to another with something to drink. Gabrielle used her chance and ran forward. She soundlessly dashed up to the wall and dove over the edge. The air screamed past her, while she secretly marveled that she had the guts to do these moves that she had mostly left to Xena until now.
She felt the straw of the roof scratch against her legs as she slid down the thatching hoping that no guards would notice her, while she was still out in the open. Gabrielle slid of the roof’s edge and landed on the hard packed dirt in from of the house. Quickly she set of into the moonlit night.
Gabrielle ran tirelessly through the night. More than a year or so on horseback hadn’t weakened her steel-like leg muscles trained from walking hundreds of lands. She paced herself setting a speed which would allow her to run for over an hour without rest. Her eyes were tracking the scant trail left by Dareios and his false prisoner.
But her mind was getting dangerously distracted by the thoughts brought forth by her sister’s discovery of her extracting information from the prisoner. She thought about her last words: “I am a warrior”. She really was one now, wasn’t she? Six years of constant danger, of watching and learning all of Xena’s warrior art mostly unintentionally but in the end quite by design. She had chosen her current weapons herself. The Sais’ were defensive, but still they fit the very physical fighting style she had developed under Xena’s tutelage, perfectly. She was trained in leading armies, planning wars, stopping tyrants both with violence and wit. Her body was muscled from her constant training and adventures. She knew full well that each battle in which she killed cost her something, but she had to believe that every life she saved gave more back to her than she lost. Gabrielle stopped abruptly. She was really okay with herself. She had written it on paper many times, but for the first time it felt right to be herself and to exist without Xena. She was doing the right thing, the good thing. But hadn’t she believed her way was the way of friendship. How could that be if her friend had left her? Or was there no such thing as a way of friendship? She was sure that her way wasn’t the way of the warrior such as Xena’s had been. Gabrielle picked up pace again, forcing herself to think of such things at some other time.
She was just passing the outskirts of the forest, when she smelled smoke from several fires. Hoping that she wasn’t headed towards a burnt out farm, she turned in the direction of the smell and literally followed her pretty little nose.
Their camp lay nestled safely deep between two hills with sentries perfectly placed on the two hills to keep a lookout. They were really as well equipped as Pavlos had claimed with horses for all the warriors, large oxcarts for supplies and what looked like a well disciplined guard schedule. Gabrielle observed them from her hideout in the crown of a tree that stood near the outskirts of their camp. She could see that they had most of the militia in chains down by a small stream where they also kept the horses. There were several tents, but predictably there was one more opulent than all the others with a large banner on display outside. That was more than likely the warlord’s tent. She luckily needed nothing from that place, but she did need all those imprisoned militia men; she needed to get them back to Poteidaia and preferably without bringing the entire army with her.
She thought about it for a moment then suddenly smiled fiercely as she glimpsed the fault in the guards’ schedule. There was one point where she could slip inside the quiet camp without any one of the patrolling guards seeing her, when they passed on either side of a large tree stump.
Quickly she ran down and around the hills to await her chance. As the guards passed out of sight she easily slipped inside their perimeter and made her way across the camp looking a way to free the captured militia men.
As stealthily as possible she walked into the area where the army’s supply wagons stood. She saw the large piles of food and spare weapons the army had brought and then her eyes stumbled across something unusual. They had a large supply of bottles filled with Greek fire and fitted with a wick. They had an entire wagon full of firebombs, ready to throw on the unsuspecting people of Poteidaia. If this turned into a siege, her hometown would be torched. She suddenly perceived sandaled feet sloshing through the dew wet grass. She sat down behind a barrel of water and waited.
A guard walked past her. Slowly she got back up and walked to the corner of the wagon, where she could see out over the camp. She could manage to reach the imprisoned militia and possibly if she was lucky liberate them and free most of the horses, but not before too many guards caught wind of her actions. She needed a diversion.
Gabrielle suddenly smirked and looked appreciatively at the wagon carrying the firebombs. “Heh”, she whispered triumphantly to herself. It stood safely away from any fires in the middle of all the supply wagons of the army. Gabrielle turned and carefully crept onto the heavily loaded wagon. For a few moments she worked in there, and then crept back outside rolling a short strip of oil-soaked cloth made from the torn pieces of her skirt out to the edge of the wagon. Working carefully and as quietly as possible she drew out her flint and steel. In quick succession she successfully threw sparks at the oily cloth until it finally caught fire. Amazingly she heard no one yelling out in alarm as the red flame slowly consumed the cloth while heading inside toward the mass of smashed flasks and oil. However she took no chances and quickly ran towards the captured men.
Most of the men were sleeping uncomfortably in their chains as she ran up to them. She bent down and clamped a hand across the man’s mouth and shook him slightly. His eyes opened immediately full of fear.
“Shh, don’t try to speak. I am here to rescue you. Wake the other’s carefully, while I destroy the chain. Try to keep the noise down”, she commanded and let go of the man, whom she recognized from the barroom brawl last night. The man immediately repeated her performance on his neighbors, while she unhooked the chakram and hammered it down on the lock keeping the chain to which they were manacled locked.
The noise of the metal splitting open drowned in the immense roar of most of the firebombs going up in a flaming explosion. Gabrielle used the sudden confusion to move more quickly. Not wanting to waste time, she yelled in her best command voice: “Quickly all of you take a horse and scare the rest of them off” at the bleary eyed militia men, while she dragged the chain out of their manacles leaving them free to move.
The men didn’t need to be told twice and quickly ran towards the horses. Wisely they decided to take their own horses that were cruelly still saddled and tied together. Gabrielle nodded approvingly and threw the chakram at the ropes that still held most of the horses. It sheared straight through went high up in the air and whirled back to get caught by the running warrior bard. All around the camp warriors were awake and already a few had wised up to the escape attempt.
“Stop them!” A voice yelled as a few guards amassed in the easiest path out of the camp.
“Give it all you’ve got. Ride to Poteidaia”, she yelled to the freed militia and jumped onto one of the still remaining horses. “Yah, Yah”, she yelled in her highest voice. The horses galloped off, while she clung to the horse like her life depended on it.
Using two strains of the horse’s mane and her heels to steer she rode along the left side of the fleeing militia. She happily noted that most of the supply wagons were burning and there didn’t seem to be much the army could do to stop it.
They easily rode the one of the guards down, while the others dashed for their lives as the near stampede of horses and men passed the outer perimeter of the army camp.
Suddenly she heard the distinct sound of bows being drawn and released in rapid succession, flashing back to both Xena’s dead and arrow riddled body as well as the death of her friends in Egypt Gabrielle swung around on the horse turning herself to face backwards, caught the arrow aimed at her back, while having to let a few others pass and glared balefully back at the camp. For a moment she was tempted to throw the chakram at the archers, but she was almost out of her range with it and the archers didn’t look like they would fire again. A jolt reminded her that she was sitting the wrong way on an unsaddled horse going forward at high speed, so she quickly lurched around and managed to catch a good grip in the whirling black mane of the horse. She held on for her life, while she marveled at the deed she had managed here.
“On to Poteidaia men, the army won’t give chase now, but be sure they’ll come to us in the morning and we need to be ready”, she said to the militia as the stampeding horses had dispersed. “Your town needs you and right now a traitor is defending it”, she explained and looked fearfully in the direction of Poteidaia.
“We know brave heroine. Dareios and those of his people still loyal to him led us into a trap. We had to surrender. But I swear Dareios will pay for his betrayal”, one of the militia men claimed and his voice was joined by the approving murmur of several others.
“Don’t let either vengeance or hate, be your guide. Vengeance and hate only leads to more of the same”, she predicted with absolute conviction and certainty as they slowed down a little and carefully rode down the road to Poteidaia.
In front of them the torch lit outline of Poteidaia appeared in the moonlit night. “That is a sight. Isn’t it?” One of the militia men said excitedly to the others of the returning troupe. “Home sweet home”, one of the others added gladly and they picked up speed.
The gates of Poteidaia were naturally closed and no guards were in sight as they cleared the last distance leading up to the gate. “Hey. Is anyone awake up there?” The voice of one of the militia men yelled out.
“Get lost. We won’t ever surrender to Gascar. We’ve heard what he did to those of our militia that surrendered to him earlier”, a male voice replied from the top of the wall and Gabrielle clearly perceived the approving murmurs of several other guards as well as the sound of a crossbow suddenly firing from further down the wall. With a desperate flick of her wrist she managed to parry the bolt with her not as ornamental as they looked bracers. She saw the huge figure of Dareios staring at her and the flock she had brought with her.
“Fooled ya”, she whispered as she saw his baleful stare glinting in the torch light. For a moment he looked at her then dashed away from the wall. “Damn it”, she cursed out loud as she guessed he would probably flee the city much like she had done earlier and avoid capture for now. At least she was rid of him for now.
“You idiots, would you get of your asses and look down here. We don’t even carry weapons. And don’t think I don’t recognize your voice either Ictus”, the same man had spoken before. Gabrielle reminded herself to give this man command over some troops. He seemed to fit the bill nicely.
Slowly head peered over the stone wall to see the sorry band of escapees sitting horseback at the bottom of the wall with skirt-less warrior bard at their side. They didn’t really seem as dead as Dareios had claimed them to be earlier either. “Open the gates!” A voice called out and frantic activity happened on the inside for a while, then the wooden gates slowly swung open to allow them entry.
For the first time Gabrielle noticed that her underwear seemed better aired than usually and her ass hurt from the unprotected ride. As soon as they got the gates closed again and the first stammered questions about Dareios and the supposed death of the militia men had been uttered together with the fact that he had disappeared, she nearly fell over from fatigue.
“Aunt Gabrielle”, the sweet voice of Sarah rang across the town square filled with happiness at the sight of her missing aunt. Gabrielle walked over to stand with the slightly blushing girl, who was staring at her legs. Gabrielle looked down but just shrugged over her exposed underwear. She had way past such taboos after only a few years with Xena and she was quite comfortable with showing of her body these days.
“I think the town can handle itself until morning. They won’t find Dareios, but his pride won’t allow him to back down now. He’ll be back that damn traitor”, Gabrielle said not remembering that Sarah knew nothing of her exposure of Dareios as a traitor.
“Dareios is a traitor… What is going on here?” Sarah asked in complete confusion.
“Dareios got his male pride hurt by the continuing denials from the city council to allow him to turn Poteidaia into another Sparta, so he turned sour and began helping rogues and thieves plunder the valley or escape justice. In the end he got arrogant enough to offer a warlord he knew the right to plunder Poteidaia in exchange for him getting the valley to rule after the army moved on. It wasn’t a bad plan really, but it has kind of caved in on itself, because I chanced by”, Gabrielle explained and thought of Ares’ fortunate warning and his offer for her to succeed Xena as his chosen.
She smiled wanly, when she realized that was another way she would succeed Xena, she would probably spend at lot her time running around and undoing either Ares’ or Aphrodite’s small schemes as long as she cared to do it. And then there would be romans to trick and maybe even a few trips to faraway countries she had never been to before or going of somewhere to rescue an old friend or fellow amazon. This was the way of her life in a funny way, it was her routine and she realized she loved a lot of the good things it made her do, even if fighting evil took its toll as well. That she knew all too well.
“Let’s go home and catch some sleep. I am sure we’ll be very busy in a few hours”, Gabrielle acknowledged after an appraising look into the dark night.
“Alright”, Sarah said and followed her aunt towards the inn.
Gabrielle felt a little relieved as she approached the inn. She had gotten the captured militia free and rid herself of several great problems in one broad stroke. She even had a plan to rid Poteidaia of the attacking army that would just require a few good shots of a bow. They walked calmly inside and were met with a scene of mayhem.
Someone had fought in the barroom. Several chairs were scattered around the room, two benches had been overturned and a table smashed. Gabrielle’s eyes darted about picking up clues everywhere. Here an axe mark probably when it had been thrown to stop someone from fleeing towards the kitchen. The scene unfolded in her mind. After being stopped by the axe, someone had thrown the chairs after the axe thrower, but they had just been deflected. The attacked person helplessly charged only ending with the person being flung across the room through the benches and finally was picked up and smashed down hard on a table by the attacker. “Lila”, she stuttered. Dareios had struck a smart blow against her, taking her sister hostage. He would probably try to use her as bait for a trap or to press for her surrender. Unless, of course, he was feeling murderous, but she didn’t even dare contemplate that.
“Mother isn’t here”, Sarah stammered forth breathless from her mad dash around the house. “He has taken her, hasn’t he?” She asked with complete helplessness in her voice. Gabrielle realized immediately that this brought forth deep fears and old wounds in the soul of her niece. She feared loosing her mother as she had her father and grandparents.
“Yes. But I won’t allow him to do her any harm”, she felt flushed with heat and anger, when suddenly Xena’s voice came forth from her memory: “Never let anger or hate guide you Gabrielle. It will only make you lose your focus. I made that mistake”. Xena had tried to keep her from going on a suicide mission to kill Gurkhan with those words, but even now they made sense. She was fatigued from her adventurous night. If she dashed of to free Lila now, she would only end up either pointlessly running around in the night. Or even worse getting hurt and being unable to help either her sister or Poteidaia. Now of all times she needed to stay focused and let pure reason guide her to a good plan to not only defeat the approaching army, but also to free their newest hostage her very own sister. Her sister was her last link to her past, the one person remaining who knew her as Gabrielle the farmer’s daughter and as Gabrielle the bard not as Gabrielle the battling bard. She knew that she couldn’t rescue her by staying inside the wall and letting this evolve into a siege, which she knew her enemy couldn’t win, as she had planned. Now she would have to take a more dangerous path to victory and it depended on the honor and pride of her enemies.
“Sarah I need to speak to Pavlos”, she blurted out. He had seemed rather close to the burly man and now she needed to know everything she could about him and his way of fighting, the way he thought and most important what kind of man he was.
Sarah and Gabrielle walked up to the young man, who had busied himself with looking out over the area immediately in front of the gate, while sharpening his broadsword.
“Pavlos, my aunt needs to speak with you about Dareios”, Sarah asked and smiled at her boyfriend. He looked up at her then turned to look at Gabrielle.
“I’ve heard about everything you did to save the men from grasp of that warlord Rafe. And I have heard of Dareios’ betrayal of his men and us all. Unfortunately he has escaped from the village and he took his so-called prisoner with him”, Pavlos explained and didn’t look surprised, when Gabrielle showed no surprise.
“So your little speech about only being a weak little bard, who knows a little self-defense was all just an act to make Dareios think of you as harmless”, he stated and looked impressed for a moment as Gabrielle nodded.
“I immediately noticed that he looked remarkably fresh for someone returning on foot from a battle dragging a seemingly unwilling prisoner along. When I noticed that his axes still looked as if they had just been sharpened I got suspicious and questioned his prisoner privately. I had to rough him up a little, but he finally spilled everything. So I took my chances and went to gather up the imprisoned militia, so that they could give evidence against Dareios. Unfortunately he saw us return and fled. Not that I had expected otherwise. However Pavlos now I need your help. You see he fled with my sister as a hostage. Now we need to defeat the army in a different way then I had originally planned. And to do that I need to know him, I need to understand Dareios. Could you tell me everything you know of him?” Her eyes were filled with a desperate plea as she stood before the man that like so many others easily towered over her much smaller figure.
“Of course”, he offered and sat down on the parapet to explain everything.
After a short while Sarah walked away unable to do more to help she went back to the inn and continued setting up the temporary hospital with the healers. Gabrielle and Pavlos sat together talking until dawn came, then the two warriors parted ways. Gabrielle went to eat and catch as much rest as possible before the fighting would break out, while Pavlos began giving the needed orders to all the militia men so they could prepare Gabrielle’s new plan for the defense of their village.
The day had dawned only hours ago and she had awakened from her as always nightmare plagued sleep already. Carefully she dressed in the very same outfit she had worn as she had led her army onto the beaches of Helicon. She placed the Sais in her boots and walked down to sit in the relative quiet of the stables to wait besides her horse.
The scent of fresh hay made her remember the many times she, Xena and Joxer had awoken from a comfortable night of sleep in the stables of some place far from here. How much she had grown since then, she mused. From the little farmer’s girl she had become bard and amazon princess within the first year of her travels with Xena where only skirted past the borders of Greece a few times. Their second year together had made her into a brave woman, a good staff fighter and even made her queen of her amazon tribe. Xena had grown sweeter and they had become as close as never before. Then the year of darkness came upon them. Sure they had finally traveled far outside of Greece, but it also meant that her blood innocence and youthful naivety became sacrifices to Dahak and Hope. Their relationship had turned from gentle understanding to a dismal chill and to her it had only really turned back to its good old self after their spiritual journey through India the year after. Their fourth year had been both blessed by great adventures and pure beautiful happiness, but all the time Xena’s vision from Alti of their impending doom had hung between them just as much her sudden pacifism evolved in her confusion of her increasing prowess at war had done. In the end their pasts, their fears, their weaknesses and a chakram throw by Callisto had brought them to the moment of their deaths and the complete fracturing of her path of pacifism. She had slaughtered eight roman legionnaires. Not in rage as Xena had believed, but in a strange state of coldly calculated fighting haze, where she had been in perfect control of herself capable of killing and terribly good at it. Until Xena’s plea for her to stop had shown her, what she had done. Then she had given up. And they had been crucified together white snow falling around them.
Since then she had been on the same path as Xena, but now this morning as she awaited the arrival of an army outside the gate, she was beginning to doubt that her path truly was the same as Xena’s way of the warrior. Somehow she had always been too different from Xena for that to be true. Still what she was about to do and the many things she had done in her recent life didn’t feel wrong, it just felt a lot like she was missing something important. Maybe she was missing that last bit of clarity that Xena had found in India and that she hadn’t found yet.
She forced her thoughts to the matter of Dareios and Rafe. She knew she would have to be as ruthless as she could be to make sure that both her village and her sister would survive and be safe. Not only Dareios would be her problem but also his friend Rafe who in reality led the army roaming the valley. He was an unknown but she would have to take a chance and trust her own opinion based on what she had seen of his army and heard of him from the prisoner. It would have to be a battle of wit and speed not of brawn for her to win.
“Gabrielle they are coming”, she heard her niece yell as she came running towards the stables. Calmly Gabrielle lifted the amazon bow with its quiver of blue fletched arrows from the ground and ran out to meet her.
“They are manning the walls now”, Sarah explained and pointed towards the gate, where Pavlos were probably already waiting.
“Good. Sarah, go tend to the hospital. There will be wounded coming for care there very soon. Let’s hope that there will be few”, she explained and ran towards the place, where she could see Pavlos commanding the militia, whose ranks had been swelled with each able bodied man ready to fight in the entire village.
Pavlos heard the light steps of boots dashing towards him and turned just in time to see Gabrielle stopping. He smiled at the young woman and handed her the two scabbards that had rested against the wall. “I’ve found what you asked for”, he commented as she took them with a grim look on her face.
“I’ve never been too fond of swords, they’re too hard to use defensively”, she explained as she laid the bow and arrows down. Quickly she placed the scabbards of the two short blades on her back so that she could draw them over her shoulders without problems. She picked up the bow and crawled up to the battlements surveying the approaching menace and the defenses of her village.
“Everyone is ready. There were some anger amongst the artisans about your plans but Nikodemos and the other merchants swore on Hermes that they would give the artisans a fair restitution for each burnt house, they shut back up again”, Pavlos explained with a shrug.
“Hermes should be as dead as the other Olympians”, she mumbled to herself then focused on Pavlos again. “And the oil is ready?” She asked and turned her head around to look for a hint of her sister.
“Yup they’re not finished hoisting it up here yet, but I guess we will be ready, but… Gabrielle, are you sure about this?” He asked and looked pointedly at her swords.
“It has to be done like this or Lila will be killed… If she still lives”, she whispered as the horrendous thought hit her as it had done many times in the last few hours. She turned back to stare out over battlefield in front of the wall. “Tell the archers to stay safe and only to fire when they are sure they have a good shot. We don’t have too many arrows or archers and we can’t afford to waste them in barrages of arrows that do no good or get them killed. If we make it too costly for them they’ll have to retreat. We have the advantage and they think we don’t know it. That will cost them the battle”, she added with certainty.
“You sound like you’re sure we’ll win”, Pavlos commented with curiosity.
“I have learnt that, while any plan can be disrupted by circumstances and coincidence, in most wars the one who knows her enemy, knows the terrain, uses her resources right and can deploy her army in the given terrain correctly is the one most likely to win even if outnumbered. Xena and experience has taught me that. Add a little of the sly maneuvers she taught me and the knowledge that I must always make my plans with flexibility and ignore personal feelings while enacting them, I can think I can hold my own against the most brilliant commanders of their times possibly even Xena herself”, she explained with sudden absolute clarity.
“But you just said she taught you this. How could you beat her?” Pavlos asked disbelievingly.
“We were always each other’s weakness or knew them. I know how to get at her emotions, how to use her anger and any other feelings against her. She knew how to use my mercy and the like against me. But I think I can see past that now just as she managed to in the end”, Gabrielle said with deep bitterness and didn’t even have the decency to feel sorry for Xena. Xena had left her and it hurt no matter of right and wrong. She could not hate Xena for it, but neither could she forgive her fully. That would take more time than had already passed. Time would have to heal that wound.
The army stopped its advance just outside of the range of their bows. Gabrielle knew they had no artillery, so she remained standing at the side of the heightened battlements over the main gate, while all her men stayed out of sight behind the battlements.
Two men rode forward inside the range of her bows, but Gabrielle ignored the temptation of having the archers attack them. That would only endanger Lila’s life needlessly. As they got closer Gabrielle recognized the huge form of Dareios now clad in a heavier armor of Persian make riding at the side of a lean bearded man with oily black hair that Gabrielle recognized as the foolish man that she had met as she was acting as Ares’ not so doting wife back at Xena’s grandparents farm. He had made Xena put the pinch of Ares. She had last seen him riding off with Gascar, so this really was the remnants of that army. At least Rafe seemed to have a clear understanding of keeping a functioning army in the field in comparison to the sorry state she had last seen in Gascar’s camp.
“Listen up. We come with a simple offer for you”, Dareios yelled in his deep bass voice. “You surrender immediately or we’ll tear that sorry wall down around you and slaughter all those of you, we can’t use as slaves”. He sounded mightily impressed with himself after saying that.
Gabrielle chose that moment to step into full view of the pair. “Hi there boys, I’m sorry, but we are really not in the mood to play with you. You and I all know that you have no chance of conquering Poteidaia before help from Corinth, Athens or some other Roman garrison arrives. And then there is the entire matter of us being capable of sitting you out in a long protracted siege that we even have the chance of winning. You see when I happened to light that little fire in your camp last night, I kind of noticed that you had neither the artillery or as of last night the firebombs to do us any serious harm. So why don’t you take what loot you’ve found out there and make trails out of here, before people on both sides gets hurt for real”. She formed the last sentence into a plea. “There is no need for bloodshed. We can all still get out of this pointless battle without more people dying”, she offered with sadness in her eyes, because she knew exactly what would happen now unless that miracle that she always hoped for in this moment came to pass.
“I knew you weren’t as harmless as you pretended to be”, Dareios yelled in anger. “But we’ll see this through to the end. I will have my fortress, my glorious command”. Dareios said with passionate fire in his otherwise dead eyes. Gabrielle sighed; the warlords never seemed to fail to disappoint her hopes.
Rafe waved a finger at her and stammered: “Yeah… Yeah and I was not fooled when I met you the first time either. Farmer’s wife my ass you and the warrior princess played us and… And it got many friends of mine killed. I will have vengeance on you little girl! Vengeance”, he roared, unsheathed his sword and brandished it in the air. Another roar came from his army who took a few threatening steps forward.
Gabrielle, who was still the only person in sight, stood unflinching until the yelling passed. “Are you quite finished?” She asked casually as if she had just seen a child’s temper tantrum. “You’ve stolen something dear to me. Someone loved by this entire village: My sister Lila. I demand that you hand her over”, she commanded.
“You don’t demand anything from us little girl”, their continuing alluding to her slight vertical problem was really getting on her nerves, but she held her tongue hoping that she could provoke them into an all or nothing challenge over Lila and Poteidaia. “However there may be a deal to be made here. How about you surrender and we give you Lila in exchange. We’ll even spare most of your sorry lives. You however will die”, Dareios offered offhandedly like he was making a grand gesture.
Gabrielle tried to look thoughtful while she paused like she was considering their deal. “I offer a compromise. You and I fight a battle to the death. If you win I die and Poteidaia surrenders to you. If I win I get Lila and you withdraw your army from this valley”, Gabrielle said and tried to sound as neutral as possible.
Dareios looked at her again judging her prowess. He seemed thoughtful then turned to converse for a while with the warlord, who looked up at her then back at Dareios and nodded his approval. “We will fight right here in front of the gate. The militia stays out of sight and the army stays back there”, he offered.
“I will agree if you will both swear on Ares that you’ll uphold the result of the challenge and that neither you nor your men break your oath. Pavlos will be my witness of our battle and Rafe will be yours. And I want Lila here in the hands of Rafe. No one else and no tricks”, she demanded.
They looked at each other. Dareios nodded confidently and Rafe rode off. After a short while he returned with a very angry and slightly bruised Lila sitting in front of him on his horse with her hands tied in front of her. “Now swear the oath and I want you to speak loudly so that everyone is able to hear you loud and clear”, Gabrielle demanded.
The two men yelled their oath to Ares. Gabrielle felt a shiver at the back of her neck, she was rather sure that Ares had heard the oath and wasn’t that far away. He would probably relish the chance to punish Gascar’s former army and with his reputation a little damaged he couldn’t overlook any oath breakers either.
Gabrielle smiled reassuringly at her sister, who looked very frightened at the moment and said conversationally: “Be right down”. Pavlos rose to stand in her former place. Gabrielle turned and looked at him. “If I lose, have the archers kill those two and rescue Lila. Don’t bother to surrender, neither will they”, she explained.
“But they swore an oath to Ares, we shouldn’t anger the gods”, Pavlos stammered suddenly pale.
“Did you hear me swear to Ares? No. We aren’t under the same constraints as they are”, she said with an impish smile and walked down the stairs to the big gate, where a group of men were ready to open the gate for her. She stopped and looked up at Pavlos to say: “Be ready to get me and Lila back inside in a hurry you never know how an army reacts when their leaders get hurt. Oh and Pavlos you can use my bow. I won’t need it right now just don’t use all the arrows before I get back”, she added with a smile. She had planned to use it if those heartless bastards out there had killed her sister, but now her plan could proceed. The gate opened and the sunlight outside turned her form in the thin and muscled silhouette of very capable warrior woman. Gabrielle focused all her mind and soul on the task at hand.
Lila stared as she saw the pale warrior woman that walked out of the gates of her village. Her body was muscled, her hair short and intensely blond. Her eyes were green and filled with both passion and sadness. Her lips were pale. And she was very armed. On her back rested two short swords made for cutting, at her right side hung the legendary chakram and a sai was strapped to each of her boots. She was dressed in what to Lila looked like ragged brown leather underwear spotted with dark stains here and there. Stains she guessed were dried blood, and most if not all of it was not the blood of her sister. This was the current form of her ever changing sister, who stopped a few feet from her massive enemy.
Gabrielle regarded the massive man in front of her as she wandered towards him. He was wearing a heavy leather breastplate fitted with metal to defeat blades it came complete with shoulder guards and a metal helmet. His leggings and boots were all also made of black leather. At his sides rested two massive metal axes, which she didn’t doubt he was quite capable of both wielding and throwing. She glimpsed a dagger hidden in his boot, but she had learned long ago to expect a person to carry more weapons than were normally visible to searching eyes.
“I will make quick work of this. We should be eating at the inn within an hour my friend”, Dareios said to Rafe and fixed a mocking glare on the much smaller warrior in front of him. Gabrielle nearly smiled, she had been given an initial advantage, and he still underestimated her. She knew how to fight a big opponent with superior strength. It was done with sheer naked speed and intelligence. “Everyone ready”, Pavlos asked from his vantage point up on the wall.
Gabrielle drew the twin blades from the scabbards strapped to her back and held them like she would the Sais resting with the edge of the single edged blade pointing out and the length of the blade resting against her forearm. Gabrielle fell into her combat stance one arm in front of the other. Dareios calmly picked up his axes and gave them a wrist whirl. They began circling each other, while their eyes darting over each other looking for an advantage or an opening.
Gabrielle felt her focus sharpen and her senses became fully aware. For the first time since her battle against the samurai in Japan all in her clicked and was ready for action. She heard his every move. Each muscle in her body was relaxed yet ready. All her focus was ready for that attack that she knew would come soon enough.
Suddenly the big man shifted his weight forward. Gabrielle heard the crackle of the sand underneath his feet. He swung his axes left and stepped forward. She stepped to the right and in swift motion swung her left arm around in a quick sickle motion. She heard the sound of her blade cutting through his leggings and drew a long and deep wound along his left thigh.
He whirled about and snarled at Gabrielle, who was already facing him. He made a short slower lunge swinging his axes down at her. Gabrielle stepped out of the reach of the right axe and made a glancing block of his left one with her left sword and felt the jarring strength of the blow nearly numb her entire arm. Ignoring the pain in her arm she kicked her booted heel into the back of his knee as she moved behind him.
He buckled, but managed to roll forward narrowly avoiding the sword diving for the place where his exposed back had been. With no pause he twisted around in a sweep kick and felled Gabrielle. She used her momentum to roll back to her feet only to get a kick on the back of her right shoulder. Grunting with pain she dropped one of her swords. Judging where he stood from his attack she forced herself to continue ignoring the pain and copied his move making a backwards sweeping kick. She briefly saw Dareios fly to the ground, while she scrambled for her lost sword. She got up only to face him again.
Growling with anger Dareios launched his axes into a series of swirling moves while he advanced on the girl. She scrambled to parry each harrowing attack and with each hit her arms were nearly beaten numb from his strength. She felt her fingers almost losing their grip on her swords. Then she saw with absolute clarity a flaw in his attack. After another jarring hit she suddenly lunged forward and easily rolled to stand behind him, her small shape slipping between his legs with ease.
For the merest moment they stood back to back. Dareios were probably wondering where his enemy had gone. Gabrielle stood with her swords resting backwards against her forearms the point extending beyond her elbows. With all her strength and speed she twisted her body first left then right hammering her elbows into the thinner armor of his lower back, while her blades sank into the leather and bit into his flesh. Dareios stumbled away from her, clutching his back in surprise and pain.
Gabrielle made a forward flip out of his range, not even noticing that she was again doing something that she had never mastered before. She whirled about and remained in her combat stance eyeing her enemy.
“I will slaughter you”, he roared and charged her.
Suddenly something inspired her and Gabrielle also dashed forward, but suddenly jumped up, flipped in the air and spun around herself one turn. She stretched herself out and landed with her legs going over the shoulders of Dareios and her butt hammering into his chest. The huge man remained standing, but didn’t manage to act from sheer surprise. Gabrielle flexed her stomach muscles and bent forward, while she quickly hammered her swords deep into his neck and body one at a time. He fell backward, while she suddenly found herself sprayed with blood. Gabrielle let herself be carried forward and tensed her legs. She felt the body land beneath her as she suddenly found herself vertical again. Between her legs powerful muscles made the lifeblood of Dareios spurt out all over her leather boots.
“Dareios”, she heard Rafe scream behind her you. Gabrielle spun about and saw the black haired man lift a dagger to stab her sister. On pure instinct she ripped the chakram from her belt and threw it forward with a scream of rage not unlike Callisto’s.
Lila heard her sister’s scream; a piercing metallic scream passed close to her ear and then suddenly warm thick fluid ran down her back. She was still dazed, when her sister ran towards her grasping an almost invisibly fast chakram from the air and tore the headless body of her captor from the saddle they had shared until a moment ago. Her sister climbed onboard, while a strange screaming from multiple voices resounded around her. Lila wondered if her hearing was damaged, while her now much younger older sister rode them towards the quickly opening gate. She kept hearing strange buzzing noises of things flying past them, but she could see anything. She gasped in surprise, when she heard the distinct sound of arrows biting into wood as they came to a skidding stop in the village square. Behind them the gate was quickly shut.
Still in a near daze she felt her sister leave the saddle, while friendlier hands helped her down. Lila turned and saw her sister clamber up the ladder to the battlements, now manned with many archers, who were already busy firing at the enemy outside. She saw her beloved sister snatch up a large bow clearly not of Greek make and fluidly flow into the stand needed to fire the arrows from a quiver standing at her side. Then those gentle hands that had gotten her of the horse guided her to her inn, while they untied her hands. She realized it was her no longer lost daughter just as they passed into the relative quiet of the inn turned hospital. She thankfully didn’t get to see her sister order the militia to pour boiling pitch on the attackers or her archers shooting fire arrows into any houses in which the enemy soldiers chose to hide. When she became clearer of mind again, she realized that the battle for Poteidaia was over and they had won. And while no one on their side had died, she was worried about the soul of her once so innocent sister.
Gabrielle surveyed the devastation outside the walls of her village. They had been forced to burn a few more buildings than planned, but then they had at least kept this from turning into a siege. Now it was time to care for the wounded… and bury the dead soldiers on both sides. The meager remainders of the enemy army were running away out in the hills and soon the valley would be safe to prosper again. Gabrielle looked with hurt in her soul at the great loss of life and her own hand in it and wanted to cry, but then she forced herself to turn and look upon the tired but celebrating villagers dancing with joy and swilling beverages in the town square. It calmed her soul to see that.
A grimy Pavlos walked up and stood at her shoulder. “You are truly a hero. Your actions have saved us all. I am honored to have fought under your command and I hope you’ll agree with my hope for both of us that it won’t need to happen again”, he said with a tired smile.
“You’ll never find me instigating wars Pavlos. I am there to make sure they end with a minimum of bloodshed and loss of life. Now if you’d excuse me I think I should go do some good as a healer in the hospital”, Gabrielle explained and walked slowly in that direction. “Oh and Pavlos the militia is yours now. Keep my family safe for me. That includes my niece. Although that doesn’t include any romps in the hay”, she commented and smiled at the blushing young man.
Lila looked at her sister as she walked inside and immediately began helping with the wounded. She saw her old sister in that woman that would soothe a man’s pain with a quiet hum or story, while she dressed his wound or sewed a ghastly cut. She was amazed to see her sister’s deep knowledge about the healing arts as she used techniques unknown to the village healer and old women to treat wounds that would have killed their bearer if she hadn’t been there.
Lila suddenly knew right there that that person she had distanced herself from on seeing her acting so brutally was apart of a greater whole, a whole that had grown bigger than what she remembered of her sister. Her sister had reached that greatness that they had talked about when they had been young and typically Gabrielle that greatness was not that which everyone had expected of her. Gabrielle had many skills now. Lila smiled at that thought. She was truly the successor of Xena the warrior princess, just like Xena the warlord had been followed by the likes of Callisto. She realized that she had wounded her sister by denying that fact just like their parents had done by denying her freedom to express her nature. They hadn’t been open-minded enough to recognize the amazing creature that they had given birth to and raised. So she had needed the guidance, friendship and love of an ex-warlord to become someone great. She got up and walked over to her sister, who looked about ready to collapse with weariness.
“Gabrielle”, her sister looked up at her with those infinitely sad emerald eyes that enchanted even the gods, “I am sorry I said you weren’t my sister. I am sorry I didn’t understand that these things you did were for not acts of evil, but deeds done in the name of the greater good”. Lila nearly cried with happiness as she saw some of the sadness in the eyes of her sister disappear and a wan smile lit up her face. “I think you should go and sleep. We will take care of everything here”, Lila explained.
“But I am needed”, Gabrielle protested as her sister’s gentle hands lifted her from the bandaged patient.
“You won’t do us any good if you collapse or get sick. Now go have all the rest you need. We will handle all this without you. Go to your room”, Lila commanded and pointed at the staircase.
Gabrielle let her eyes glance around the room and saw that all the women in the room agreed with her sister at least if she judged them on the looks in their eyes. Nodding thankfully she stumbled up the stairs looking for a place to sleep and let her bruises heal. Her sister took her trembling hands and guided her upstairs. The sudden release of tension had finally allowed her to relax. Lila laid Gabrielle down on the bed and they helped each other undress her.
“Wow that must have been painful”, Lila commented as she got her first closer look at the dragon that was permanently imprinted on her sister’s back.
“Yes. It was a gift from a spirit”, Gabrielle explained absentmindedly, while trying to shrub the blood from her body.
Lila noticed the pain hidden in her sister’s voice and quietly made her sister’s bed, while she washed.
“One more thing I have to ask before you go to sleep”, Lila said. “Why do you actually keep on fighting if the killing hurts you so deeply?” She asked with concern in her voice as Gabrielle fell on to the bed.
“Because even if I lose a piece of myself in each war and in each person I kill, each life I rescue from death, each soul I save gives something back again. I have to believe that because it worked for Xena. It was what part of what healed her soul”, Gabrielle explained in a dreamy voice and Lila knew that her sister couldn’t have lied in such a state. Contemplating that truth she silently let herself out of the room and locked the door behind her. Soon a content snore and some time whisper of Xena’s name filled the room.