By Maderlin Bodmead
Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Autolycus, Eve and the horsies belong to MCA/Universal Pictures. Just the little story is mine.
Additional Disclaimers: Roman names have been taken from Robert Graves 'I, Claudius'. The characters, however are of my own invention. The story told by Gabrielle in part 1 is Hans Christian Andersons 'The Little Mermaid'.
Love/Sex: Two women in love, but nothing graphic.
Violence: Battling bard is, well, battling.
Timeline: This is an alternative to the events following 'Looking Death in the Eye'
Comments: Thanks to all who read my forst story. The ending was naff and I am rewriting it! If you enjoy this little piece let me know as I have more instalments which I will add if you want me to. E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The blond warrior stood, head bowed over the map. Her green eyes tracing the contours of the land, flitting from hill to valley. Her focus was complete, her consciousness caressing the edges of her plan. A casual observer may have thought that she was unaware of the goings on in the room around her. The man seated in the corner knew otherwise. Autolycus quietly studied his young friend noticing, not for the first time, the new set to her shoulders. The resolve etched on her face. Since the fighting had begun, he realised that he had taken this woman for granted far too long. Like so many others he had seen her as Xenas sidekick, only able to regurgitate the other womans teachings. Now he knew differently. This was a warrior, a general leading troops dedicated to her.
The rebellion had started in earnest soon after the couple had arrived. Small skirmishes on the capital itself had soon escalated into all out battles. Through it all Gabrielle had led with a fire and determination he had never witnessed before . She had organised Octavius much smaller army into a dangerous fighting machine, earning victory over and over again. Losses had been heavy on both sides, but public opinion favoured the new Emperor. Slowly the people had joined the fight. As the casualties bit into the rebel forces Octavius numbers grew. It looked like just a matter of time before the conflict was over. Things arent always what they seem.
A month ago their tactics had changed. Gone were the pitch battles, even the smaller clashes. Dwindling soldier numbers meant that the enemy had to find new tactics. The remaining dissidents had taken to sneak attacks, lightning strikes on small groups of soldiers and politicians. These guerrilla attacks had led them to this dimly lit room and the silence that filled it. Gabrielle was determined to succeed. Autolycus knew that the ex-bard had little care for her own safety, plunging ahead into the most dangerous missions.
"So youre planning to take one of these teams out yourself?" The thief couldnt hold his tongue any longer. "You know thats suicide, right?"
Fiery green eyes turned towards him, hard and cool in their regard. "Would you say that to her?"
"Her who?" He was puzzled by the malice in her gaze.
"Xena." Her voice was a cross between a growl and a sigh.
Autolycus had known that something was wrong between the two women as soon as he stepped foot into the clearing. There had been a distance between him that he had never seen before, they stood separately, barely looking at each other. If he did not know them from the inside out (literally in Xenas case) he could have thought it simply a response to his and Joxers presence. They were bound to be a little different now that they had a child. But when he saw the bard almost refuse to kiss her soulmate, he had a sinking feeling. That feeling had simply grown since he had begun to spend time with the general.
"Thats enough Gabrielle! You clearly need to get something off your chest, so tell me! You cant go on like this, you are not in competition with Xena. Hades, nobody here cares about Xena, youre their leader." He had tried subtly coaxing some answers out of her and that hadnt work. Now it was time to hit her over the head with his questions.
"We dont have time for this!" She was almost vibrating with tension. He could see her hands shaking as the rested on the tabletop. "I have to make this plan as fool proof as possible or peoples lives are at risk."
The thief rose swiftly to his feet and marched towards the small soldier, heedless of the danger he was placing himself in. The saying never catch a tiger by the tail briefly flashed through his mind but he resolutely ignored it. Placing a hand on her strong shoulder he spun her towards him. He locked eyes with her as he began to talk to her in a soothing voice.
"Gabrielle, Ive known you since you were a little peasant girl, watched you grow. Helped you raise the dead. You can talk to me." He could feel the body under his hand begin to tremble with suppressed emotions. "Cmon." He steered her towards one of the hard wooden chairs.
The second that the small woman was seated he saw a film of tears cover her green eyes. For the first time in weeks she looked vulnerable, in fact she looked positively fragile. He didnt want to push her to far for fear that she would break. He knelt before her seated form and looked at the bowed head, simply waiting for whatever information she was willing to give.
"We went to Egypt...Its all changed, Autolycus. I love Eve, but its like I dont even exist. Its all about the baby. I know shes in danger, but its so hard." She shook her head, as though trying to order her thoughts. "Then, we finally get some time together and she decides to... to..." The words seemed to die in her mouth. The thief waited patiently.
"Cleopatra needed our help against the Romans." A wry chuckle surfaced. "We met Octavius there. We met Mark Anthony too. He was the enemy. Xena was going to seduce him. I could handle that. A plans a plan, right?" Another pause, this one accompanied by an audible swallow. "Seems Mark Anthony had other ideas." She licked suddenly dry lips. "They fell in love. Right in front of me."
"Youre still together?" The dark man was becoming confused.
"Yeah. She had to kill him. I... I felt pleased. It meant that I wouldnt have to fight for her affections. I get tired, Auto, thats a hard fight." A frustrated hand ruffled her bangs. " She was upset the entire trip home, but I consoled her." The same hand began tugging at a strand of hair. "Gods, I even forgave her! She never even said she was sorry. She ignores me, cheats on me and then thinks that things can go back..." Finally a sob was ripped from her throat, a renegade tear sliding down her cheek.
Autolycus saw the woman begin to break down. He knew this was what she needed. If she kept all this inside she would become hard and bitter. The world didnt need another cold warrior, it needed one with the heart of a bard. His mind was still reeling from the bards story, he could not fathom how Xena could do this to the blond. They had always seemed so devoted, this seemed more like something he would do. He reached towards the young women, who was stoically holding back the bulk of her tears, wanting to offer comfort. Before he could touch her there was a loud knock on the door.
Gabrielle snapped out of the chair so fast that the thief rocked back on his heels, barely keeping his balance. She called out for the person to enter before returning to her place by the map. When Autolycus finally stood and looked into his companions face, the mask was back in place. There was no sign of the overwrought young bard, the warrior was back.
Mesella walked into the dimly lit room, after hearing the gruff enter from inside. The stocky captain of the palace guard, had been in this room many times since the civil unrest had begun and had gained a healthy respect for their brave general. Mesella was a young woman, only a handful of years older than the Greek. She had risen quickly through the ranks of the military due to her prowess with a sword and her sheer tenacity. Yet when faced with this woman, she felt insignificant. This was a true warrior, focused solely on her task. She stood at attention, just within the closed door waiting to be acknowledged.
Gabrielle raised her eyes from the map and ran a cursory glance across the soldier. The captain was not a typical palace guard, women had to be excellent warriors to just be in their number. To lead them a woman would have to be exceptional, Mesella was. She stood head and shoulders above the former bard, but shared the same solid muscular build and pale hair as the smaller woman. Gabrielle had found herself liking the tawny warrior from the start, yet had kept distanced from her and all of her other troops. It was an unfamiliar state for her, yet she needed to keep herself safe. That meant no personal involvement.
"I put out your request for volunteers, General. I got many responses, I narrowed it down to the ten I thought most suitable. A full list of candidates is also available if you would like to pick the team yourself." Mesella had the sickening feeling that she may have overstepped her authority as the generals right hand.
"Thats fine. I assume that you are on that list?" A raised brow accompanied the statement.
"Yes, Postumus and I have both volunteered."
"As have I. What a dream team. We leave tomorrow at dawn, round up the men and bring them to the clearing. I will meet you there. Use the darker armour, stealth is paramount." She locked eyes with the soldier. "Dismissed!"
The other woman nodded in the affirmative and strode from the room. The door closed with a dull thud once again leaving the old friends alone. Autolycus had witnessed the exchange and knew that nothing he could say would sway the other woman now. She was as stubborn as she was strong. He stood and walked to her side, ready to resume their earlier conversation. One look at her closed face told him that wasnt going to happen.
"This will be over tomorrow Autolycus. Octavius will be relying on you to keep him informed about any political intrigue. You can be the King of Spies, add it to your curriculum vitae." Without a backward glance she left the room.
Autolycus sighed deeply. He looked at the map once before blowing out the candle and softly closing the door.
The rebels stormed from all sides, pouncing on the small group of soldiers. The three soldiers, led by the fiery blond, seemed easy pickings to the hidden warriors. They leapt upon them from the dense forest, surrounding them on the narrow trail. They knew this woman, she led Octavius forces. They could force the coup if they killed her.
As they prepared to charge bodies fell upon them from the trees. They rebels were suddenly faced with their own tactics. There was no time for shock as the battle began in earnest, the rebel forces easily twice the size of their enemy fought with savagery. They were the last of the offensives troops and if they lost today their chances of overthrowing the young emperor were lost.
Gabrielles plan was working perfectly. Her informants had let her know the size of the remaining troops as well as their need for revenge against her. She used this to her advantage, placing herself in a vulnerable position and awaiting their ambush. The fighting was fierce, but her soldiers were well fed and well trained. The rebels were low in morale and their health was flagging. She would be successful.
Mesella watched her general from the corner of her eye as she took on two opponents, both wielding swords. Mesella fought with skill, but was awed by the smaller warrior. Gabrielles sais cut through the air striking man after man as they advanced towards her. Mesella disposed of her first two assailants, turning to focus on a third. It was as though the imperial guards were simply an obstacle between the guerrillas and the general. Wave after wave headed towards the Amazon, only to be slain in rapid succession.
Then the first soldier died. A rebel sword buried in his chest. Blood pooling on the ground. His passing was not lamented, both sides pressed on, soldiers and warriors falling by the sword on all sides until only two remained. They stood, blank faced, and stared at the carnage around them. Postumus fell to his knees, a keening wail torn from his throat. Too many of his brothers had fallen.
The blond warrior simply stared
"I have to go with her to Greece." The dark haired thief turned from the Emperor and headed onto the waiting ship
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