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Mary left the Queens hut and looked over the compound. She spotted Milli and went to see if she could make herself of use. Milli was overseeing the construction of the funeral pyres. The ceremony was to be held that night and she needed to be sure everything was ready. She looked over and saw Mary approaching. "Morning Mary."
"Morning Milli. Listen, I was wondering if you could use a hand with anything."
"I can always use a hand." Replied Milli pleasantly.
"Cool, where do you need me?"
"Go down by the river. Some of the others are getting the wood together for the pyres. We need to set those up. You can help transport the wood back here."
"No problem." Said Mary and left for her destination.
She found the spot easily enough and reported to Maresdy. "Hey!"
Maresdy looked up and smiled, "Hi there. What brings you out here?"
"Milli sent me to help out with the wood."
"Good, we can use it. We need to get that back to the village."
She pointed to a large pile of wood that had already been stacked. Next to the pile was a wagon.
"Well at least I dont have to carry it back." Thought Mary to herself. She walked over and joined the Amazons that were already loading the wood.
Mary was by nature a quiet person. Unless she knew you she rarely spoke unless spoken to. It added to the mystery as far as the others were concerned. The amazons talked amongst themselves and each wondered silently about this woman. They observed as she went about her task. They had seen her in the battle and interacting with a few others but in general she kept to herself. The rumors were running rampant all over the village as to what her connection was with Queen Gabrielle and Xena. But in reality no one knew for sure. Some said she must be a friend of Xenas from her warlord days due to her fighting skills. Then others said she must be a friend of the Queens due to her quiet and gentle nature. And yet others liked to think that they were in a love triangle of some kind. The speculation was only limited by their imaginations. And in truth, the amazons could imagine quite a lot.
Mary left them to their speculations. It was actually kind of fun to keep them guessing. She hummed to herself contently as she continued to load the wagon. She saw one the women struggling with a particularly heavy log and went to help.
"Thanks" said the woman, a little out of breath.
"No problem." Replied Mary.
"Mary, nice to meet you"
They paused for a minute to catch their breath.
"What was that you were humming?" asked Tangie.
"Hm? Oh nothing." Answered Mary quickly.
"Was it a song of your people?" she continued.
"Oh God" thought Mary to herself. "Um, you could say that, yes."
"Does it have words?" asked the woman, quite intrigued.
"Dam " She couldnt stop the blush from creeping up her neck. "Ah, no not really."
Tangie smiled, "I think it does." She said laughingly.
Mary giggled, "No not really."
Maresdy came over to see what the delay was. "Whats the hold up here?"
"Mary was humming a song." Offered Tangie.
Maresdy was a little confused, "Ok she was humming. So what?"
Tangie laughed, "She wont tell me the words."
"Why not?" asked Maresdy
"She says it doesnt have words." Replied Tangie
"Maybe it doesnt." said Maresdy
Mary was relieved but it was short lived.
"No, it has words you should have seen her blush."
"Oh really!" said Maresdy with a devilish grin gracing her lips. "Alright were obviously not going to get anything done until we hear this song. So go ahead."
"Go ahead what?" Asked Mary looking like a scared rabbit.
"Lets hear the song." Answered Maresdy
Mary just blinked at her, "But " she knew there was no way out of it. She let out a long breath. "Ok Who lives in a pine apple under the sea? Sponge Bob Square pants!" She was completely mortified.
"Sponge Bob Square pants?" Asked Maresdy.
""Whos that?" asked Tangie.
Mary had no idea what to say. "Uh, he uh hes a god among my people." Yeah good one.
"A God?" asked Maresdy. "Of what?"
"Of what? Have you never heard of the mighty Sponge Bob? God of childrens entertainment."
The Amazons laughed, "Childrens what?"
"Childrens entertainment. He comes and entertains children with his antics. He makes them happy. They laugh and sing, its really a wonder to behold."
She could still see the skepticism in their eyes.
"What greater gift can a God bestow than the smile and laughter of children?"
"This is true." Said Tangie.
"Id like to know more about this Sponge Bob." Said Maresdy "But first we have a job to do. Lets finish getting this loaded."
The funeral services were scheduled for that evening and it was decided the trials would take place in the morning. Regilius was sitting in his cell. He was being very well guarded and he was doing his best to think of a way out. He cared nothing for Maya. She had been, against his advice, Duranus diversion. He only cared about getting himself out of there with his skin in tact. He still had much to do. Matters were further complicated by the fact that he needed a new army. He would also have to pay his dear brother a visit. He would pay for interfering with his plans.
He listened idly as some of the guards discussed the funeral services and exchanged stories of the last few days when it came to him. "The funeral services, yes." That would be his only chance to escape. The village would be concentrated in one area they would be grieving, not paying attention to him at all. That brief time would be his window of opportunity and he would take it. He would fulfill his destiny no matter what the cost.
It was well after mid-day when Mary and the Amazons returned with the last of the wood. Shed never put any thought into how much wood went into a single pyre let alone twelve. She was thankful her part only required that she delivered the wood. She was tired. The last few days had been hard with little or no rest. Now she found that when she did sleep her dreams were haunted by her memories of the battles. They crept in and tormented her making it difficult to sleep soundly and she was feeling the effects. She hadnt mentioned it to her companions. After all, this was a part of their daily lives. Theyd obviously found a way to deal with it and so would she.
The notion of going to get something to eat gnawed at her. But a soft bed was calling her name and was being very insistent. She went to the bathing area to clean up then headed for the guest hut. She saw the sword Ephiny had giver her sitting on the table and went to it. It was still bloodstained and she shuddered a bit when she thought of how it got there. She grabbed a piece of linen and water from the wash basin and cleaned it off. She knew she hadnt killed anyone, but she could have. She wouldve gladly killed Regilius if shed gotten the chance. That knowledge was very disturbing to her. It was with that thought that she finally drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
The debriefing ended and everyone decided to head over to the dining hut. Ephiny and Eponin had been the first ones out as Gabrielle had chosen to linger in the council chamber.
She went over to Irena, "I was wondering if I could discuss something with you." She asked the older woman.
"Of course, what is it?"
"Its about Maya, I think I have a solution that would satisfy all interested parties with regards to her." Stated the Queen.
"You want to discuss Mayas death sentence?" asked the elder.
"Not exactly." She said looking over at Xena. "Do me a favor and keep Eph and Ep busy while I talk to Irena."
Xena dutifully rose and did as her bard requested. She wasnt absolutely positive what the bard had in mind but she was certain Gabrielle was more than capable of handling it. She left the council chamber secure in that knowledge. When she reached the dining hut she spotted the pair. She grabbed some lunch and joined them at their table.
"Wheres Gabrielle?" asked Ephiny.
"Shes coming, she was talking to Irena. She said shed catch up. You know your Queen never misses a meal if she can help it."
They all chuckled and were surprised by a sudden interruption.
"Hey, whats so funny?"
They all tried in vain to stop their giggling to no avail. Gabrielle sat down and found it contagious.
"What happened?" she asked with a chuckle.
"Nothing, we were just discussing the feeding habits of the local wildlife." Said Xena seriously.
"Whats so funny about that?" asked the bard a little puzzled.
"Nothing really, we were just marveling at a local packs dominant females uncanny ability to supply herself with nourishment at every possible occasion."
"Really?" asked Gabrielle
That was it. They exploded with laughter leaving the bard completely confused.
"What " she thought for a minute. "Local dominant feeding habits OOO! Ill get you for that!" She said in the direction of her soul mate.
"Im sorry." Said Xena giggling. "But the expression on your face was priceless."
Once the laughter died down they settled down to the business of having their lunch. "Hey Ep." Said Xena
"That was a very concise account of what you guys did." Continued the warrior.
"Yes. All true. The only part I left out was the fact that Eph wanted to go in and get you guys out but Mary convinced her to wait. She was going in alone and Claudia, Maresdy and I stopped her. We convinced her to let us go with her."
Xena looked at Ephiny. "Its all true." Said the regent. "Wed of lost a lot more than twelve had we gone in there. You two sure shes not an Amazon?" she asked with a smile.
"Oh were positive alright." Said the Queen.
They finished their lunch and went about their duties. Gabrielles ribs were sore and she was tired. Xena convinced her to take a nap and walked her back to their hut before heading off to check on the progress for the pyres. Mary hadnt been at lunch and in fact she hadnt seen her all day. Gabrielle mentioned shed talked to her that morning but hadnt seen her since. She found this odd since Mary always sought them out during the course of the course of the day and they always had their meals together. She headed in the direction of the guest huts to see if she could locate her friend.
She was directed to Marys hut by one of the Amazons and knocked lightly. There was no response. She knocked a little louder. Still no answer. She eyed the door cautiously trying to decide weather or not to open it and see if she was inside. Her mind was made up by a loud thump followed by a moan. She opened the door to find Mary on the floor. Xena hurried across the room to help her up. Mary was still half asleep and when Xena grabbed her arm she pulled away and swung at the warrior.
Xena caught the fist. "Hey, hey, its alright, its me."
Hearing the familiar voice calmed her and her head cleared of the sleepy haze shed been in.
"Ugh What happened?"
"Looks like you fell out of bed. You Ok?"
Xena offered her a hand up and she took it. She sat on the edge of the bed and Xena spoke. "Bad dreams?"
Mary hesitated and Xena continued. "Youre pale as Tartarus and youre covered in sweat. Plus you tried to take a swing at me."
"Sorry, I thought you were "
"I know what you thought. Its Ok, it happens to all of us."
"Especially me." Said Xena sympathetically.
They were quiet for a minute then Xena asked, "Where you come from, are there still wars?"
"Yes, still senseless, still bloody, and still I dont know."
"Thought they wouldve put an end to all that in 2000 years." Said Xena a little surprised.
"Nope, only thing they did was figure out ways to kill more people with a single weapon. You know, where I come from you can kill some one from a far distance. You never even see the face of your enemy."
"Wheres the honor in that?"
Time to change the subject. "You know, we missed you at lunch today."
"Sorry, I was out helping with the wood and skipped lunch. Needed a nap, havent been "
"Sleeping well" finished Xena
Mary smiled slightly.
"You know Ep told us what you did." Began the warrior.
"It wasnt me, I had help" said Mary modestly.
"Gabrielle told me how you handled yourself with the Centaurs. Seems youre pretty handy with a bow." Said Xena smiling.
"I promised you Id take care of her."
"I know, thank you."
Mary stood and hugged Xena. Not a warriors hug but a warm friendship hug. The type of hug that carried with it all the words and emotions that neither one could express.
When they broke apart Xena tussled Marys hair, "You need a haircut."
"I know, dont remind me." Replied Mary with a chuckle.
"I gotta go take care of a few things. Will we see you at dinner?"
"Alright, see you then."
With that Xena took her leave.
That evening at dinner found Xena and Gabrielle once again without their companion and they began to grow concerned. Not unlike Gabrielle Mary never missed a meal or an opportunity to spend time with her friends. Now, except for a few minutes spent with each of them they hadnt seen her all day and they each wondered why. Ephiny noticed as they each casually glanced around the hall now and then. She too found it odd that Mary wasnt around. In fact she hadnt seen her all day. Surely they would have said if she had gone. From their actions she was sure that wasnt the case. Lost in their thoughts they didnt notice the absence of another. A young Amazon in search of a friend.
Mary had left her hut shortly after Xena. She took a good stretch and a lungful of air and decided to go for a walk. As she reached the village boundary she heard her name called. "Mary!" She turned to see Rain running her way.
Mary smiled giving her a big hug. "Hey! Nice to see you. Where you been hiding?"
"Ive been looking for you since we got back." Answered the girl.
"Well now you found me." Said Mary good naturedly.
Rain looked at Marys face and took note of the bruises. "Was it bad? The battles I mean."
Mary thought for a second, "To tell you the truth I dont know. I have nothing to compare it to. It was my first time."
"Really?" asked the young girl in surprise.
"Were you scared?"
"Hmm, I guess if Id had time to think about it I might have been scared. But there was so much going on and there were so many soldiers "
Mary got quiet as the memories of the battles flooded her mind. Rain looked at Mary and noticed she was trying to avoid her gaze. She reached out and grabbed Mary by the hand. "Come on." All Mary could do was follow. Rain led her to the stream Mary had found her at a couple of days before.
"I like this place. I always come here when I have stuff on my mind or just to daydream and stuff."
Mary picked up a handful of rocks and was tossing them idly into the water.
"No one ever comes here." Continued the girl.
Rain stepped over to Mary and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Whats wrong?" she asked.
Mary was quiet for a long time. "I dont know if I can I mean I messed up."
Rain was confused, "You messed up? How?"
"Regilius was standing over Gabrielle, Xena was fighting and Claudia and Ep were trying to get to them. I had a shot I couldve taken with my bow. It would have saved them both. Given the others a chance to get to them but "
"It wouldve killed him."
Rain furrowed her brow, "So."
Mary looked down at the girl then turned her gaze to the water.
"I couldnt do it. Ive never killed anyone. I dont want to kill anyone. But for what he did to Xena and Gabrielle I would gladly kill him. But its my fault he got them in the first place. Gods!"
She sat on the ground and cried. She just sobbed and sobbed, it wouldnt stop. Rain was at a loss as to what to do or say. She didnt have the words to console her friend. She was sure if shed been older shed know exactly what to say. She knelt next to Mary and held her close, letting her cry all she needed to. Once her sobs subsided she looked up at Rain. She didnt realize until that moment how much she looked like Lilith.
"Im sorry; I didnt mean to lay all that on you."
Rain smiled, "Its Ok."
"No really, but thanks for listening. I appreciate it."
"You dont have to thank me, but if you dont mind me saying so, I think youre being too hard on yourself."
She wasnt sure if she was saying the right thing but she continued anyway, "Im sure Queen Gabrielle and Xena dont hold you responsible."
"Maybe cause they dont know about it."
"Have you talked to them about it?"
"Maybe you should."
"You know, the ceremony will be starting soon. We should head back."
Mary thought about it then stood. She washed her face then followed Rain back to the village.
"We still have time enough for you to get cleaned up and change." Said Rain.
"Change?" asked Mary puzzled.
"Yes of course, this is a solemn and formal occasion."
Mary was at a loss, "This is all I have left. Between Xena ruining my other pair of leggings and being unable to get the blood off my shirts "
Rain tapped her chin thoughtfully then her eyes lit up. "I know! Come on follow me."
They soon arrived at a hut and Rain knocked at the door. It opened to find a surprised Ephiny on the other side.
"Hello Rain, Mary. Whats up?"
"Can we come in?" asked Rain.
"Sure come on."
After entering the regents hut Rain told Ephiny the purpose of their visit. "We need or rather Mary needs a favor."
The regent looked at Mary with raised eyebrows. Mary looked at the regent in total confusion.
"Whats the favor?" asked Ephiny cautiously.
"Can you hook up Mary with something to wear for the ceremony? This is all she has." Said rain pointing to Mary.
"Rain!" said Mary through gritted teeth.
"Shush what do you say Eph?" asked Rain turning back to the regent.
Ephiny tried her best to keep from giggling. "I think I can come up with something."
"Good, I leave her in your capable hands then. I have a couple of things I need to do real quick but Ill be back."
With that the young girl slipped out of the room leaving Mary alone with the regent.
Ephiny looked Mary over for what seemed to Mary an eternity. Then she finally spoke.
"Ok, the bracers stay everything else has to go."
"How did I know you were gonna say that?"
Ephiny went to what looked like to Mary to be a trunk of sorts. After rummaging through it for a few minutes she came up with what looked like an armful of leather. She placed the articles on the bed and turned to Mary.
"Alright, lets see how these look."
Mary hesitated then realized the regent was waiting for her to take her clothes off. She sat on the bed and took her boots off followed by her pants and her t-shirt. Here she was standing in her under ware in front of Ephiny the Amazon regent. How many times had she had a similar fantasy while in the safety and comfort of her apartment? Now that it was a reality all she could do was blush.
The regent smiled, "Do you always blush this easily?"
Mary pinched the bridge of her nose knowing exactly what that question was gonna do.
The regent giggled as she saw the blush deepen even further. "Ill take that as a yes."
Mary looked over the articles on the bed and except for the belt she really had no idea how anything went.
"Can you give me a hand I dont know how any of it goes."
The regent considered making a smart remake but decided to take pity on her instead. "Sure no problem."
The skirt was simple enough, just a wrap around held in place by the belt. A little short for Marys taste but at least it wasnt complicated. Now the top on the other hand was a different story. No matter how she looked at it she couldnt see how she was supposed to fit in it.
"Cant I just wear this one?" she said pointing to the sports bra she was wearing.
"Technically I guess you could but it would look a little funny." Answered the regent honestly.
"Alright but youre gonna have to tell me how this goes." Conceded Mary as she tossed the top to Ephiny.
She took a deep breath and removed the bra. The regents mouth went dry and it felt suddenly warm in the room. She recovered quickly and crossed over to Mary.
"Here turn around."
Mary did as she requested and the first thing she noticed was the chakram tattoo. The second thing she noticed was how nicely shaped Marys back was. She ran her fingers over the tattoo causing chills to run up Marys spine.
"This is really beautiful." Said the regent. "Its not recent though is it?"
"Thank you, and no, its not recent." Answered Mary.
"What " started Ephiny when she was interrupted.
"If you help me with the top you can ask me all the questions you like." Said Mary.
The regent complied and helped Mary with the top then handed her an extra pair of boots. Mary pulled them on. They were a really nice shade of brown and match the outfit perfectly. They were longer than the ones she usually wore stopping a few inches below her knees. When she was done lacing them she stood up. Ephiny was floored. "Wow!" Was all she could manage to say.
Mary furrowed her brows and walked over to the mirror. She didnt recognize herself. Then it occurred to her that since shed arrived she hadnt actually seen herself. This couldnt be her. She stepped closer and touched the mirror then touched herself. She ran her hands across her stomach then rubbed her arms. She flexed her arm muscles in the mirror and touched her bicep. Even her legs seemed to be not hers. "Oh my God." She whispered in a tone so low Ephiny almost missed it. The regent was puzzled.
"What is it? Youre acting like youve never seen your own reflection before?" Said the regent.
"In a way I havent." said Mary softly.
Ephiny was about to inquire further when there was a knock at the door.
"Come." Said the regent.
It was Rain. "Just came by to see how things were wow!"
Ephiny laughed, "Yeah thats what I said too. But we need just one last thing."
She handed Mary a long strip of leather, "Here use this as a headband."
Mary tied it off and looked to the pair of Amazons for final approval.
"Yup, that definitely works." Said the younger Amazon. "Oh, here before I forget. Hope you dont mind me going into your hut to get it." She handed Mary her sword. "You have to complete the outfit."
Mary took it and hung it so it was on her back. She adjusted the strap so the scabbard would sit securely against her back. Then she turned back towards the mirror. "Gods why do I deserve this?" she thought to herself.
There was another knock at the door and Ephiny went to answer it personally this time. It was a messenger sent to alert Ephiny that the ceremony was about to begin. Ephiny grabbed her sword and the three left for the funeral ceremony.
All the preparations had been completed and they headed for the area that had been selected for the ceremony. There were twelve pyres total. Each Amazon having the honor of being sent to her next plain of existence as a hero of her people. Xena and Gabrielle had already taken their places on the ceremonial platform when the trio arrived. They were waiting for the regent so they could begin the ceremony. Rain and Mary escorted Ephiny to the platform but remained at ground level. Ephiny ascended the steps and took her place at the Queens right while Xena took her place as champion at the Queens left.
The pair had seen Ephiny approach with Mary and Rain. Though they were each able to keep their reactions off their faces, their eyes could not lie. At first neither one had been sure who they were seeing. But as they drew closer they recognized Mary. Xena looked upon her and was filled with a pride of sorts. She couldnt explain why but that what she felt and thats what Mary saw in her eyes. Gabrielle, upon recognizing her went through a range of emotions. The first was disbelief, the second pride, and the third that one was difficult to describe. She observed Mary with Rain and Ephiny and one thought popped into her head. "Thats quite a family portrait." She observed how vigilant and attentive Mary was with them. How she cleared a path for Ephiny and stayed close to Rain after Ephiny took the platform. She would make a great partner and parent one day. A twinge of sadness accompanied the thought. "The fates can be so cruel sometimes." She thought to herself. She was disturbed from her thoughts by Ephiny as she addressed the congregation.
"We gather here today to bid farewell to our fallen sisters. The tales of their bravery will live on forever among us so that they may never be forgotten. Let us now celebrate their crossing into the land where our ancestors dwell. Where they now reunite with the heroines of the past and set a path for future heroines to follow. We ask the Artemis in her great wisdom guide their souls to the land where they will soar for all eternity."
Mary found it quite moving. She placed her hand on Rains shoulder and squeezed slightly. Ephiny signaled the drummers and they began to play. Mary knew music was a big part of Amazon ceremonies so she wasnt surprised but she wasnt expecting the music to be so rich. The music was very rhythmic and deep. It made her emotions stir and she found it disturbing. She focused her attention instead on the dancers. But that was little help. As she watched the movement of the dancers she was lulled into a zone. She was engulfed in the aura of the moment and she couldnt break free of it until she caught a movement from the platform.
Gabrielle had given the signal to the archers. Her throat tightened as wisps of a memory crept into her consciousness. The memory of having to preside over Xenas funeral. It had been the second hardest thing shed ever had to do. The first hardest having been there when Xena died. She shut her eyes briefly against the memory and felt her soul mates presence just behind her.
Xena knew this wasnt easy for her and it would only get harder given the fact that the trials were in the morning. She was concerned for her bard. When it came to things like this Gabrielle usually approached her about it. But this time not a word and she was worried.
Once the ceremony was concluded they waited for the Queen and her champion to leave the platform before disassembling. Mary began to walk back to her hut when she was stopped by one of the Queens sentries.
"Queen Gabrielle requires your presence."
She was a little taken aback by the formality. "Uh, ok, let me just go and change."
"Im sorry but my orders are to escort you to the Queens quarters. Now."
"Im being ordered to report to the Queen?"
"Yes" said the sentry in a no non-sense tone.
Mary furrowed her brow, "And what if " She held her temper at bay. "Alright, lets go."
When they arrived at the Queens hut the sentry went to announce their arrival. Mary was confused; when shed visited that morning the sentries didnt even announce her. Now she couldnt enter without permission and was there under orders.
"What the hell is going on?" she thought to herself.
The sentry turned to her, "She isnt ready to receive you yet. You must wait here."
"What?! What do you mean wait here? Look, Im gonna go change. Ill be back."
She turned to go but the sentry stopped her by grabbing her arm. Mary tugged her arm free and turned to the sentry.
"Dont do that again." She said in a very calm but very cold tone. "Im going back to my hut. When Gabrielle is ready to me you let me know."
"You should not address the Queen in such a familiar manner." Said the sentry not backing off.
"Whatever." Said Mary and turned to go.
Once again, she felt a tug on her arm. Her temper snapped and she turned swinging. She was shocked when her punch not only didnt connect but was stopped in mid-flight. She looked up to find Xena standing in front of her with a not so amused expression.
"Shit, Xena Im sorry. I thought you were Helga the Magnificent over there. My bad, really."
Xenas expression softened, "I know, its ok dont worry about it."
"Whats going on? Is Gabrielle mad at me or something?"
Xena opened her mouth to answer when there was a sudden commotion. "Xena!" she heard Solari call out. Gabrielle rushed out of the hut and they all ran to see what the problem was. They were met by Solari.
"Regilius is gone!" she began.
"Gone?" asked Gabrielle and Mary in unison.
"Yes, when the relief showed up the guards were down and Regilius cell was empty. Must have happened during the ceremony." Concluded Solari.
When they arrived Kim was still tending the worst of the injured and they were all unconscious.
"Xena!" yelled Kim "She cant breathe!"
Xena rushed over and saw the reason why. The girl had deep bruising on her throat. You could almost see the finger marks. "Bastard" she said under her breath. He almost killed the girl. A little more pressure and he would have crushed her windpipe. She looked over her shoulder. "Gabrielle!"
"I know Kim she needs a small hollow reed and some bandages."
Kim ran to carry out the instructions with out question as quickly as possible. She was back within minutes and handed Xena the items. Mary stayed back and out of everyones way. She wasnt eager to watch Xena perform this particular life saving procedure. She knew what it entailed and she felt the blood drain from her face when she saw Xena take out her dagger.
"Oh time to go." She said to herself and slipped quietly outside. She took a few deep breaths, "Gonna have to start getting used to stuff like that."
She walked around to the other side of the hut and leaned against the wall. She stared into the forest just beyond and was bothered. She wasnt sure by what but the more she looked the more it just didnt seem right so she stepped forward. She looked down and saw some broken branches. Theyd been snapped off by something going through the brush. Then she saw something else, about a foot ahead she dropped to one knee and touched the forest floor. She looked at her fingers and smirked slightly.
"Ooo, somebody has a boo-boo." She said softly to herself.
She stood and looked carefully. She found she could actually tell where the trail headed. She silently thanked Xena for giving her lessons in tracking 101 while they had been in Cirrah. She followed the trail without thinking to whom or what it would lead to. A few hundred yards in she heard some rustling and froze. She silently unsheathed her sword and waited. After a few minutes she heard nothing and ventured on. She kept following the trail but it stopped abruptly. She continued on cautiously being careful not to lose her way. By her estimates shed been walking for about an hour. She decided her progress was too slow and she didnt have enough confidence in her own sense of direction to warrant going on. She decided instead to turn back and let more experienced persons handle this. She sheathed her sword and turned to go back. She heard a sudden rush of leaves then heard no more.
Xena had been able to stabilize the woman. She was breathing through the tube and Xena gave Kim instructions as to her care. They ventured outside and were met by Solari and Ephiny.
"At least theyll all be ok." Said Solari.
"We have to find Regilius." Stated Ephiny. "Ive already sent out scouts to cover the perimeter."
"Hmm I dont want anyone engaging him one on one." Said Xena seriously.
"No, as soon as they find his trail theyll alert us." Assured the regent.
Gabrielle looked around and noticed Marys absence. She was about to comment on it when Maresdy came running. "We found something!" They all took off after the smaller Amazon. "Here, look!" said Maresdy pointing.
Xena dropped to one knee, "Some ones hurt and some one is being tracked." Gabrielle looked over Xenas shoulder. "See the blood there? Some one touched it. Look there, wide stride, some one in a hurry. Then here, shorter stride and smaller foot. No struggle here though. Come on."
Xena followed the trail for a significant distance then stopped. "Blood stops here. The tracker wasnt sure where to go after that. Faced a couple of directions before moving on."
"Did they go back?" Asked the bard.
Xena looked further, "No, went this way."
"Is that the right way?"
"Yup." She used her instincts. She thought to herself.
Xena looked down at the bard. "Xena." She said quietly. Xena place a reassuring hand on the bards shoulder and continued to follow the trail.
"Ugh " Mary was slowly returning to consciousness. Everything was sort of grey and fuzzy. Like she had a heavy fog on her brain. She shook her head to try and clear it but was hit with a wave of nausea. "Ugh bad idea." She groaned to herself. She lifted her head to find she was standing. The ache in her shoulders explained by the fact that she was tied to a tree. Her arms were stretched behind her and leaning forward had put a strain on her shoulders. She straightened herself up and relieved the pressure a bit. She leaned her head back against the tree and closed her eyes briefly to try and clear her vision and lift some of the fog. She was shocked to full consciousness when there was a sudden impact of something against her face. There was a flash of red behind her eyelids and the tangy metallic taste of blood in her mouth then it happened again. This time on the other side. She growled and shot a look in the direction the blow had come from. "Wake up!" Said Regilius, fury showing in his eyes.
She spat a mouthful of blood at him and he grabbed her hair forcing her to look up into his eyes. "That, was really stupid."
Marys resolve never faded. She held his stare with an ice cold expression the actually sent a shiver up his spine.
"Amazon bitch!" He said as he released his grip. "What did you think you were gonna do once you found me?" He bent down and took the sword in his hand. "Were you planning on using this on me?" He asked, a feral grin gracing his lips.
He stepped closer and held the sword up to Marys throat. She instinctively pressed her head back against the tree. "Was that your pathetic plan?" He pressed the point against her throat. She felt a sting and she knew the tip had drawn blood. She looked into his eyes for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he lowered the sword and held his hand to his side. Mary could see clearly now that he was injured. She didnt know the severity of the injury but it seemed to be causing him some trouble. He walked off to tend to it and Marys mind began to race to try and find a way out this situation. She pulled against the ropes but they held firm.
"Dont waste your time youre not going anywhere." He approached her again and grabbed her by the throat lifting her slightly and she felt the rough bark cut into her back. "I dont have time to make you suffer the way you deserve." He said with a hatred that touched Marys core and fear started in the pit of her stomach. He saw it in her eyes and smiled. A surge of energy flowed through him and he enjoyed the feel of it. "But I will leave you with something to remember me by." He released his grip on her throat and she took a needed gulp of air. He pressed himself against her. "If you please me well enough I might even let you live." She struggled against the ropes but they wouldnt give. "Go ahead struggle. Its better if you struggle." He ran his hand down her sides and over her hips. He stopped when he reached the hem of her Amazon garment. "Oh god, this isnt happening." She thought in her panicked mind. "If you scream, you die." He said simply. He lifted her short skirt and pressed himself against her again. He tore off her undergarment and she went into a full blown panic. As if reading her mind he covered her mouth with his hand. The scream was muffled but her very soul souls called out into the stillness of the forest where no one could hear.
The tracking party continued their trek. Xena followed the trail with an expert eye. She stopped suddenly and Gabrielle approached her. "Whats wrong?"
"Double trail stops here. Single one continues. But look " she said pointing.
They both went down to one knee. "Tracks are deeper." Observed the bard.
"Hes carrying something."
Suddenly the hair pricked on the backs of both their necks and they stood. They looked at each other and took off running. Leaving a group of puzzled, startled amazons to catch up. They found Marys slumped form still tied to the tree. Her head was hanging forward, no movement what so ever.
"Oh gods no." said the bard scooting to a stop.
The reached Mary and Xena immediately cut the ropes allowing her to fall forward into Gabrielles arms. The bard checked for a pulse and to her great relief found one. Xena examined her quickly for any serious injuries and was relieved to find none. The amazons arrived just as Xena noticed Marys torn undergarment by the tree.
Gabrielles eyes followed her partners gaze and they exchanged looks. "Xena "
The warrior shook her head slightly and the bard held on to her words.
"Gods" said Ephiny and she dropped to her knees alongside Gabrielle. "Is she "
"I think shes ok just knocked out. She might have a concussion. We need to get her back to the village."
Xena was torn. She wanted to go after Regilius with every fiber of her being. But she looked down at her friend and her decision was made. She took Mary and carried her back to the village. The healers hut already had four occupants so Xena decided to take her to her own hut instead. She place Mary gently on her cot. She was followed closely by the bard and regent.
Xena turned to Ephiny. "Eph double the village guards and bring in all the trackers. Have them concentrate on the trail we were on. If they find him dont engage him."
The regent opened her mouth to protest but the warrior stopped her.
"I dont want anymore casualties I know you dont either. Just keep an eye o him if you find him." She looked over at Marys unconscious form. "Ill deal with him."
Ephiny looked over at Mary then to Gabrielle who gave her a nod. She bowed slightly and went to carry out the instructions. With the regent gone, bard and warrior set to the task of dealing with Marys injuries. Though not severe they still required tending. Gabrielle filled the water basin and brought it by the cot along with a piece of linen. Xena checked Marys head again. She felt a lump in the back but no indentation in the skull. She lit a candle and held it close to Marys face. She carefully opened the lids of each eye and saw the pupils contract in reaction to the light.
"Thats good, looks like no concussion just a good shot to the head." Said Xena.
"Yeah her head is almost if not just as hard as yours." Said the bard trying to ease the tension a bit.
"Shes got some nasty cuts on her back though. Saw them when I cut her lose."
"Lets turn her over then." Suggested the bard.
"Wait I wanna check one more thing."
She walked to the foot of the cot and took a deep breath. She bent and grabbed Marys ankles spreading her legs apart. Gabrielle watched silently and almost without thought stroked Marys hair gently. After a few moments of examination Xena closed her eyes and her head dropped as she let out a long breath.
"Is she ok? Xena what is it?"
"Thank the gods. He must have heard us coming and took off before he got the chance to "
A great sense of relief washed over them. Gabrielle fingered the bruises on Marys neck and her face twitched slightly.
"Xena, I think shes coming around."
Her face twitched again and her eyebrows furrowed, her breathing quickened. "Damn." Said the warrior. "Step back a little." She told the bard. Xena grabbed her shoulders gently and shook her lightly. "Mary come on wake up." Her eyes opened suddenly but one could tell by the look in them that she wasnt awake. She sat up and pushed Xena away from her. "No!" Xena ducked and blocked until she grabbed a hold of her and just held her.
Gabrielle came from the other side and did the same. "Its ok, its alright were here. Youre safe hes gone."
Marys panic and erratic breathing calmed when she realized where she was and who she was with. She started to cry. She cried and her friends cried with her.
"Sshh, its ok." Said the bard stroking the side of her face gently. Mary calmed down enough to start taking some deep breaths and try and get some composure back.
"Oh god." She said and put her head in her hands.
Xena watched and Gabrielle offered what comfort she could. She could feel the anger building. It was like storm building for a hard and violent release. And she would release it, make no mistake about it. Regilius had hurt all of them and he would die. For what he had done to Gabrielle he would die. For the nightmares hed surely given Mary he would die. And simply because she would take great pleasure in it he would die. She turned to Mary and placed a hand on her cheek. She looked in her eyes for a very long moment. She was searching for something but she didnt know what. Mary in turn felt her fear melt away in those moments as she was lost in that ocean of blue. She felt an inexplicable calm come over her and she searched in that ocean for the cause but found no answer only peace.
Xena placed a gentle kiss on Marys forehead. "Im sorry this happened." She said softly.
She then turned her attention to her bard. She knew by the look they exchanged that the bard knew what her intentions were. There was no pause, no trying to stop her just an "I love you, be careful." Xena kissed Gabrielle tenderly and with the bards blessing she was gone. Gabrielle let out a long breath and looked down. She was silent for a long time and Mary regarded her quietly. She swung her feet over the side of the cot and stood. She was very sore and the cuts on her back hurt but she didnt really care. She knew Regilius hadnt succeeded in his attempt to rape her but the trauma of it was very fresh in her mind. She was trying her best to push it back in her mind but she wasnt succeeding.
She walked over to her gear and remembered suddenly that her clothes were in Ephinys hut. "Damn it."
"What are you doing? You should be resting. You had a really rough time out there."
"I know." Said Mary a little wearily. "But I just need to get out of these clothes. They make me feel " Dirty she thought to herself.
"Its ok, I understand. After what happened what almost happened " she was at a loss as to how to comfort her friend and it frustrated her.
Gabrielle grew pensive. She was trying to come to terms with something of her own. The fact that shed wanted to join her partner on her quest for vengeance. She actually wanted to see Regilius dead. Had he done what he did to Mary to her she doubted shed feel that way. Had he done it to Xena thered be no stopping her. The fact that it happened to Mary, she realized, elicited the same reaction. She closed her eyes and realized that in the deepest recesses of her heart she wanted to see another human being dead. She wanted to kill him and she knew shed enjoy it.
Mary looked out the window and realized her hands were shaking. She was trying not to let the bard know just how close she was to losing it. She turned to see a Gabrielle with a very far off look in her eyes.
She approached her slowly, "Hey." She said softly. "You ok?"
It took a few seconds for the bard to respond and Mary grew concerned. "Yeah Im ok I just I dont know." She had tears in her eyes.
"Hey, whoa, its ok. Whatever it is you can talk to me about it. You know that right?"
She hugged her and wondered what could be wrong. Her heart felt like it was breaking and she didnt know why. "Gabrielle please, whats the matter?"
Gabrielle lifted her head off Marys shoulder and looked at her. Looked in her eyes so deeply that Mary could swear she could see into her very soul. They stood frozen in that moment unable to break the spell. Gabrielle saw a myriad of things in Marys eyes. She couldnt focus on just one. She tried but found it impossible. What was happening? Neither of them knew. Neither of them wanted to know.
"I want Regilius dead." Said the bard finally able to look away.
"I want his head. I want him dead. He deserves to die after everything hes done. What he did to Xena and you "
"What about what he did to you? When I saw you guys chained to those beams I swore I would kill him. Gods you dont know what it was like to go in there and see the two people I love the most in this world just " The words were out before she could stop them.
She tried to walk away but Gabrielle stopped her. "What do you think it was like for us to find you tied to that tree? To know what he did or tried to do to you. What he did to us pales in comparison to what he put you through."
"Ill be fine Gabrielle."
"Yes you will. And well make sure of it." She turned Mary around to face her. "We love you too." She said placing a hand on Marys cheek.
"Hey." She said gently. "Is that a bad thing?"
That was it, the final limit to her shaky sanity.
She grabbed Gabrielles hand and held it for a few moments, "Gods! Yes! Its a bad thing! Dont you know the reason you and Xena were captured was because of me? The reason you were tortured was because of me. The reason this happened to me today was because of me!" She let go of the bards hand and sat on her cot placing her head in her hands.
"I couldve stopped him. I couldve killed him but I just couldnt bring myself to do it. I failed you both and Ill never forgive myself for that."
Gabrielle knelt in front of Mary. "That wasnt your fault. Listen to me, it wasnt. We dont blame you for that. Thats why youve been avoiding us lately. Did you think we would care about you any less? Rain told us what happened. We were wondering what was wrong. Thats why I sent for you, why we sent for you."
Mary couldnt bring herself to look at Gabrielle.
"Look I know youve been through a lot the last two moons. The adjustments cant be easy for you. You have to understand that danger is what Xena and I live with everyday. Do I hurt when she hurts? Yes, and the reverse is also true. You dont have to get used to it but you do have to learn to accept it. Its a fact of our lives. You cant let yourself be eaten up by guilt. That will kill you faster and more painfully than any warlord or raider."
Mary sat quietly and listened to what the bard had to say. She knew she was right. This was her life and she had to accept all that came with it. She had choices of course but she knew in the deepest recesses of her heart that this is where she belonged. All the skills she had acquired during her lifetime were for this. This was where her destiny lay. She couldnt turn her back on it now.
"Youre right. I just it was hard."
"I know it is. Gods, I remember how it was. Ive learned so much and still have so much to learn. Just take it one day at a time. Believe me we dont blame you for anything. Please dont feel guilty for not killing some one. Its something I dont know if I would have been able to do it either. I never believed myself capable of it .until now."
The door to the hut opened and Ephiny poked her head in. She hesitated a moment then spoke. "I just came by to see if everything was ok."
"Come on in Eph." Said the bard. The regent entered and approached Mary.
Mary stood and was met by a very concerned regent. "Are you alright?" she asked placing a hand gently on Marys arm.
"Im ok just have a headache and Im sore."
The regent grabbed Marys chin lightly and moved her face from side to side taking in the bruises and the split lip. "Bastard."
"Its ok, Ive had worse and it couldve been worse. So Ill consider myself lucky."
"What happened?" asked the regent.
Mary related to them the events. "I dont know what happened after that. I thought I heard something no it was more like felt something or someone " she thought for a minute, "I dont know, how to describe it. I just knew something was coming and I wasnt scared anymore. He got scared suddenly and he hit me. I passed out and woke up here. Dont really know how long I was out for."
They were all quiet for a minute. Then Gabrielle asked, "So whats going on?"
"Xena sent us all back in. She picked up the trail and went on her own."
Gabrielle walked over to the window and folded her arms on her chest. She thought about what Mary had said. She remember that moment in the forest when shed felt something. Shed exchanged glances with her partner and known something was very wrong. She hadnt known what it was; she just knew she had to go. She had someplace to get to in a hurry. It was un-nerving and all she could do was wonder what game the gods were playing now. She was shaken from her thoughts by Ephinys voice. She had been conversing with Mary but something had caused the regent to laugh out loud and she turned to see a slight blush on the regents face. She wondered if Mary had caught on that the regent was interested. She hoped so, for all their sakes.
"Listen, um you have some friends outside that are a little worried about you. If youre not feeling up to it I can just give them a progress report."
Mary gave the regent a puzzled look. "Friends?" she thought to herself. "Um no its ok. They can come in, but on one condition."
"I left my clothes in your hut."
"Say no more Ill go get them for you." She said with a smile.
She left the hut and a few seconds later she saw Rains head poke out from behind the door.
"Hey you! Get in here."
Rain smiled and ran to hug Mary. She returned the hug affectionately and noticed a group now forming in her hut. Eponin, Maresdy, Claudia and Milli had all come to check on Mary. Gabrielle greeted the group and stood back to observe the group. She watched as Marys face actually lit up in response to the women. She noticed that Eponin actually enjoyed Marys company and was making a conscious effort to be funny. Eponin was a seasoned warrior and her stoic attitude was rivaled by no-one except Xena. But Eponin was actually smiling and that was something Gabrielle had rarely seen her do. After a few minutes they were joined by Ephiny who gave Mary her clothes to her obvious relief.
Mary thanked her visitors and excused herself. As much as she appreciated their concern she had a desperate need to get herself out of that outfit and just get cleaned up. Once at the bathing hut she was relieved to find it empty. The warmth of the water felt good on her skin and she industriously cleaned every part of her body. She let out a long breath and leaned her head back against the edge of the tub. She reflected on the last few weeks and shook her head slightly and a small smile found its way to her lips. "This is nuts. I should be looking for a one way ticket home." She said to herself. But when she searched within herself even given all that had happened she knew she was where she belonged. She reflected on that with wonder because the feeling was new to her. Then she let her thoughts drift to Xena and the task shed undertaken.
Xena had initially picked up the trail easily. She followed it purposefully for a bout two candle marks when something odd happened. It stopped. Just stopped cold as if the person had simply vanished. She tried to pick it up again but her efforts were in vain. Her tracking skills were too expertly honed for her to allow herself to believe that shed just lost it. Xena simply did not lose trails. It was a simple fact. Her frustration grew and she decided to go back. A man like him would turn up. When he did shed get word of it and then she would put an end to his pitiful existence of that she was sure. But for now she would wait and go back to the Amazons where there were two people that needed her. "Two?" she thought to herself. Her mind rebelled against the idea for a minute. Then her heart won out with a simple argument, "Yes two."
When she arrived back at the village it was almost dawn. She entered the Queens hut and found Gabrielle industriously working on a scroll. She stood when Xena entered and approached her.
"Thank the Gods." Said the bard and wrapped her arms around her warrior.
Once she let the relief wash over her she pulled back and looked up at Xenas concerned face.
"What is it? Whats wrong? Are you ok? Did you get hurt?"
Xena pulled Gabrielle into another embrace. "Im fine. Im ok really. Im not hurt."
The bard was still concerned. "What happened?"
Xena let Gabrielle go and went to sit on the bed. She was quiet for a long moment and Gabrielle waited patiently for Xena to answer.
Finally she spoke, "I lost him."
Silence followed, then "You lost him?"
"I dont know what happened."
"You lost the trail?" asked the bard in disbelief.
"No, I was right on it. Then it just stopped."
The bard furrowed her eyebrows, "But "
"I dont know." She said standing and crossing over to the window.
"But thats I mean trails just dont Xena, whats going on?"
"I dont know." She answered quietly.
"Do you think Ares "
"I hope not. He better not be the one behind all this."
Gabrielle walked up behind Xena and wrapped her arms around her waist. Xena let herself relax a bit and let out an inaudible sigh.
"Shes ok. Shes safely tucked in bed."
"I dont know if she should be alone. Those kinds of experiences often cause nightmares."
"I know thats why I had a guard placed at her door. Shell alert us in case of anything."
"Does she know about the guard?"
Gabrielle smiled, "No."
That got a small smile out of her partner. "You know, we had a long talk after you left."
Xena turned to face her bard and placed her arms on her shoulders clasping her hands behind her neck.
"About what?" She asked softly.
"About what Rain told us. I dont think she believed me when I told her she wasnt responsible for what happened."
"Hmm, want me to talk to her?"
"No its ok, shes having a rough time. Shes putting up a good front I guess you could say. On the surface shes ok but on the inside shes hurting Xena."
"How do you know? Maybe shes really ok."
"No, I know shes not. I just know."
"The same way I knew there was something wrong when we were following the trail."
She paused then looked up in Xenas eyes, "And so did you."
Silence followed as Xena thought about what Gabrielle had said.
"You did didnt you?" Asked the bard softly.
"Yes I did."
"Xena, whats going on?"
"I dont know, but " Xena was getting frustrated by the number of unexplained phenomenon in her life and the bard could tell. She placed a hand gently on Xenas face.
"Hey, whatevers wrong well figure it out. We always do."
Xena looked down into her bards eyes and was lost. She felt the tension slip away from her shoulders and lowered her head to gently capture Gabrielles lips. Gabrielle let her hand slip to the back of Xenas neck entangling her fingers in the warriors hair. The kiss deepened and they each felt an inexplicable need to claim and be claimed by the other. Xena pulled her bard close and kissed her with more passion. She started to feel a heat growing deep with in her and she moved her hands lower and grabbed Gabrielles buttocks. Her fire grew hotter when she felt her soul mate press her hips against hers in response. Gabrielle held Xenas hips and pulled her closer still. Then with fingers trained from endless nights of experience the bard moved her hands to the clasps of Xenas armor and unfastened them. Xena removed the armor and was about to remove her bracers when Gabrielle stopped her. She removed Xenas left bracer and brought the delicate wrist up to her lips. She bit and sucked lightly on the underside of the wrist and ran her tongue in a feather like motion that caused Xenas breath to catch. She then removed Xenas other bracer and gave that wrist the same treatment. The bard could tell that her warriors passion was steadily rising. Gabrielle grabbed Xenas hands and placed them on her breasts. Xena could feel the erect nipples through the fabric of Gabrielles top and she began a slow but firm massage of the girls breasts that sent the bards senses into overdrive. Xena undid the laces securing Gabrielles top and removed it giving her unlimited access. She bent her head and kissed Gabrielle passionately all the while keeping her hands in constant motion. Gabrielles breathing was irregular and Xena knew what she would find if she continued her exploration. Gabrielle broke the kiss and looked at Xena through heavily lidded eyes. She took Xena by the hand and led her to their bed.
The next few days were spent getting back into a familiar routine. The Amazons were getting back to their daily way of life and the trio did what they could to aid them. The only formality left was Mayas trial. It had been postponed for reasons Mary did not inquire into. However, she had heard at dinner that the trial would finally be held the next morning and that Gabrielle as well as the tribal elders would be presiding.
Mary had fallen into a bit of a routine herself and had begun to spend more time with the other Amazons. Her days were spent on various tasks in the village. During her down time she often found herself in the company of Rain or Ephiny or both. Her meals however were reserved for her companions. They would exchange stories of their activities and Mary always brought her friends the gift of laughter. She had a way of describing things in such a way that one couldnt help but laugh.
" So Im standin there watching Ep try to position the log. I asked her if she needed help, she looked like she was struggling a bit. Then I saw the root behind her. Next thing I knew I hear umph then boom and splash. When I ran to look there was Ep in the water. The funny thing was, by the time she was done himmin and hawin and got around to checking the log it was in exactly the perfect position. So I told her Damn Ep you coulda saved yourself a lot work and just fallen in to begin with."
Warrior and bard were thoroughly amused with the mental picture Mary had created. "Oooo bet she was mad." Said the bard with a devilish grin.
Mary giggled, "Oh she was less than amused."
"I bet" said Xena smiling.
Marys attention was drawn to the left as she heard her name called. It was Tangie and Mary waved a hello in the girls direction. Tangie smiled and waved Mary over. She excused herself from the table and went to the girl. Xena and Gabrielle watched with amused expressions. They were both glad that as the days went by Mary seemed less plagued by nightmares, fears and insecurities. Though she had a natural tendency to be self critical, at least they had gotten their friendship back on track. This was something that greatly relieved all three.
"She fits right in here." Commented the bard.
"I dont know about that." Replied the warrior.
"Why do you say that?"
"Think about it. The Amazons are very set in their ways. They hate to change the way they do things. Mary is always trying to find ways to make things easier, change the way things are done. Not a good mix. Theyd drive each other nuts."
"Hmm, didnt think of that. Youre right."
Mary returned to the table and was given two very inquiring looks. "They invited me to a get together or something. Sounds like fun."
"Fun?" asked Xena.
"Yeah." Said Mary innocently.
"Youve never been to an Amazon get together have you?" asked the bard.
"Nope, cant say that I have."
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances. The bard opened her mouth to speak but Xena spoke first.
"Go on have a good time. Remember the trial tomorrow, you have to give evidence."
"No problem, you know Ill be there. Hey you guys wanna come along?"
"No thanks, we have a couple of things to do for tomorrow." Replied the bard.
Gabrielle turned to Xena as Mary left the dining hall. "Thats wasnt nice."
"Shes gonna kill you."
"Me! I didnt see you come to her rescue either my bard."
"Good point. Were so bad."
The next morning found everyone in attendance for the trial. Xena and Gabrielle took their places on the platform along with Ephiny and the Elders.
Gabrielle gave a nod and Ephiny spoke. "Bring forth the prisoner." She commanded and Maya was brought out to face not only the charges but her Amazon sisters.
Ephiny spoke again, "You have been brought before the Queen and council of elders so that you may be brought to justice for the charge of treason to this your tribe and to the Nation as a whole. It is your right to dispute the charge and offer evidence of your innocence. It is also your right to have an arbitrator argue the case for you if you feel that you cannot do so. As stated the charge is treason, how do you plea."
Everyone was silent and waited anxiously. Maya bowed her head for a moment then raised it looking directly in to Gabrielles eyes.
"I am guilty; I was in league with Duranus. I conspired to help him capture the Amazons. Is that what you wanted to hear? Well now you have it. But know this, sentence me to death if you must but by the time the game is played you will all be dead."
Ephiny stepped forward but was stopped by Gabrielle. Gabrielle approached Maya, "Is that all you have to say for your actions? Think carefully before you answer."
Gabrielles stare was ice cold and it gave Maya a chill. She refused to waver however and kept the queens stare.
"Do what you must little queen. In the end neither your champion nor your lap dog will save you."
Xenas blood began to boil but she kept her emotions in check. She looked over at Mary and saw that she was doing the same.
Gabrielle held Mayas stare for a moment longer then spoke. "Very well then."
She returned to the platform and took her place to pronounce official sentence.
"Ive considered carefully the charge against you as well as learned as much as I could about your character in order to help me determine the most fitting punishment. Quite simply Maya, death is too good for you, too easy. Thats why I will not be sentencing you to death."
A murmur went through the crowd and Gabrielle continued.
"Your actions of late as well as in the past speak volumes as to the kind of person you are. You are not fit to be called an Amazon and as such you are banished. Stricken of all rank and privilege in the Amazon nation. Runners have been sent to all of our sister tribes. You will not be given admittance into any tribe and in fact may be killed on sight if caught on Amazon land ever."
Ephiny motioned the guards to take possession of Maya.
"Oh and one more thing, upon conferring with the council of elders it was decided that a wrong be righted today. It gives me great pleasure and pride to present to all of you your sister Lilith. Her banishment has been rescinded and her status restored."
Gabrielle turned and motioned with her hand and Lilith came forth escorted by Solari and Eponin. She was in full Amazon gear and Marys jaw almost hit the floor. The pounding in her head from the previous nights activities disappeared with the sight of Lilith approaching the platform. Her walk and posture showed the pride she held in her heart for what she was. She knelt in front of the Queen and bowed her head.
"Lilith it gives me great pleasure to welcome you back to your tribe and your family. May Artemis smile upon you today and always."
"Thank you my queen."
With that Gabrielle turned to Maya. "Take her and escort her off Amazon territory. If she tries to return kill her on sight."
The guards bowed and took Maya away. A cheer rose up and all on the platform turned to look at the gathering crowd. Lilith looked at Gabrielle and gave her a warm hug.
"Thank you. How can I ever repay you? I never thought " she was interrupted by and sudden loss of air as something hit her hard.
She looked to find a young girl clutching her. "Rain? Oh gods Rain!" She embraced her sister and a tear escaped Gabrielles eye as she looked on.
Xena looked and felt overwhelmed by the pride she was feeling in her bard. Just when she thought she would burst she caught sight of Ephiny. She approached Lilith and whispered in her ear. "Look behind you." Lilith turned her head to find Ephiny staring at her with a look of hesitant excitement. Lilith extended her hand and the regent stepped forward hesitantly. Finally Lilith was able to wrap an arm around the regent and Ephiny hugged the girl tightly. "Gods I missed you." they both said in unison.
Mary stood on the fringes of the crowd and watched. She was both overjoyed and saddened. A knowing smile crossed her face as she saw the years of separation melt away between the two women. She let out an inaudible sigh and folded her arms on her chest. She smiled to herself then turned and walked quietly off.
Solari, Eponin, Claudia and Maresdy kept the eager crowd from flooding the platform and tried to afford Lilith a measure of privacy as she shed a few joyful tears. She looked Rain over and marveled at how much the girl had grown.
"Gods I cant believe its been so long. Youve grown so much. Youre almost a woman. How old are you now? About fourteen seasons?"
Rain nodded and smiled up at her sister. She didnt have the words to describe what she was feeling at that moment. Xena placed a hand on Gabrielles shoulder and smiled.
"I did good huh." Said the bard with a wide grin.
"That you did my bard. I couldnt be prouder." Answered the warrior placing a kiss on the top of the smaller womans head.
They turned to go but were stopped by Lilith. "Wait Gabrielle." Began Lilith. "Wheres Mary?"
They both looked over to where theyd seen her then looked at one anther. "Um, she was just over there. Im not surprised, she doesnt much like crowds. Right Xena?"
"Uh, yeah she hates crowds. Gabrielle always says she reminds her of me in that regard." Good one, yeah.
"Damn, I really wanted to talk to her."
Rain spoke up, "I think I know where she is."
Lilith looked down at her sister and smiled. "Oh yeah, and how would you know that?"
"Id listen to her Lil." Said the regent.
"Seems our Rain has developed quite and attachment with Mary." Added the bard.
"Is that so? Well, take me to her then." She turned quickly to Ephiny, "Ill be back in a bit."
Ephiny watched Rain and Lilith leave the platform then she looked over at her two friends. Xenas face betrayed nothing as usual but Gabrielle, hmm, she wasnt quite sure. "Why do I get the feeling theres something I dont know?"
Mary stood looking over the surface of the stream. She watched the water flow effortlessly over the rocks and inhaled deeply. She wondered how long they would they remain there now that everything was all settled. She chuckled to herself thinking about the fact that they had actually gotten and episodic type ending. Then her throat tightened suddenly and she looked up imploringly. "Guess this is part of that greater good thing huh." She said out loud. She took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm her emotions a bit. She heard the soft rustle of leaves behind her and turned to see Lilith emerging. Mary literally felt her stomach drop as their eyes met and for a brief instant she feared shed actually pass out.
Lilith approached her slowly, "Yours was the frist face I looked for and the last one I found." She said quietly reaching up a hand hesitantly to touch Marys cheek. "Why is that?"
Mary felt the warmth of the touch and knew what she wanted more than anything in the waking world. But instead she shrugged her shoulders a bit and took hold of the girls hand.
She took a deep breath and asked, "So how come you never told me you were an Amazon?"
"I wasnt an Amazon anymore. I spent a long time trying to forget that."
They were silent for a minute then Lilith continued. "You did this didnt you? You gave me my life back. I never thought Id ever see this place again. And my sister Gods Mary do you have any idea what this means to me?"
Her voice cracked and Mary reached out for her and hugged her close. "Sshh, its ok, I it wasnt nothing. It was Gabrielle really. I mean, I guess it pays to be good friends with an Amazon Queen."
Lilith chuckled and so did Mary. She looked up at Lilith and said, "Im glad I could do this for you." It was then that Lilith noticed the fading bruises on Marys face. A look of concern crossed her face and she rubbed her thumb along the left side of Marys face.
"Whats this?" She asked softly.
Mary gave a small smile, "I have a friend who would call it a lesson in war. But I call it bad judgment."
"Yup, never spit in some ones face when youre tied to a tree."
"Youre right that was bad judgment. Wait, why were you tied to a tree?"
"Oh, long story. One Id rather not relive at this moment." Said Mary, a smile trying to form on her lips. "Eph must be really glad to see you." She continued.
"Ephiny, yes I we "
Mary could see the girl was struggling. "Look, well be leaving soon. You need time to reacquaint yourself with everything. No doubt well be back through here in no time. Give yourself the time you need to figure everything out. If the fates have a joint future planned for us then it will happen."
Lilith smiled, "Thank you, I owe you everything." She pulled Mary into a hug and though her heart was breaking she was glad she could be a part of this. Lilith was back where she belonged.
When they returned to the village there was a full swing party going on. Mary was shocked at the speed with which they were able to put it together. Lilith was besieged by old friends wanting to welcome her home and Mary was able to slip quietly away from the group. She felt a hand on her shoulder and knew without looking it was Xena.
Mary took a deep breath, "Yup."
"What do ya say we get going?"
"Ive got the horses packed up we can leave at any time."
"Thanks, I think that might be a good idea."
Xena gave her shoulder a little squeeze and nodded. "Anytime."
Mary let Xena steer her to where the horses were kept and she noticed that her things had been neatly packed on her horse.
"I hope you dont mind." Said the bard.
"No, not at all. Thanks."
Mary grabbed her horses reigns and began to lead him out when Gabrielle stopped her.
"Hey you forgot these." She said handing Mary her nun-chucks.
That got a genuine smile out of her. "You know I forgot all about these. Thanks." She took them and tucked them in her belt.
"What about this?" asked Xena referring to the sword she was holding.
"Well thats Ephs I think. Ill return it to her before we go."
They led the horses out and went to say their good-byes. Mary exchanged heartfelt hugs with her newfound friends and made numerous promises to return and keep her companions out of trouble.
She finally made her way to Ephiny, "Here you go I think this is yours."
The regent regarded the sword for a moment then hugged Mary. "Keep it. You earned it, besides youve given me back more than I could ever repay."
Marys smile never faltered and she moved on to Rain who had trouble holding her composure.
"Hey now, Ill be back. Dont you worry. Besides I need you to keep an eye on things here. Keep everyone in line." Said Mary encouragingly with a slight wink.
Rain nodded and sniffed a bit. Finally she spied Lilith and took a deep breath. She hugged her and placed a very tender kiss on her cheek. She held her a moment longer than she knew she should have but she didnt care. She broke the embrace and mounted her horse without saying a word. She tucked her sword away and headed for the gate a little a head of Argo. Her companions were aware that she was hurting and allowed her some time and space to gather her thoughts and gain control of her emotions. After a few candle marks of brooding shed had enough. She pulled the reigns and halted her horse. She dismounted and stretched her legs. Her friends did the same.
"Something wrong?" asked the bard.
"Na, just stretching my legs a bit. And I realized something."
"That I have no idea where were going."
Gabrielle smiled and Xena arched her eyebrows trying to look annoyed. "We thought wed stop off in Amphipolis get a couple days off with out Amazons or fighting, just relax and heal up properly."
"Sounds cool, lead on Warrior Princess." Said Mary good naturedly.
They walked together in silence for a minute then Gabrielle broke the silence. "Hey, Ive been meaning to ask you." She said turning towards Mary. "Who is this Sponge Bob Square Pants I kept hearing about?"
Mary laughed heartily and as they followed the road that lead to Amphipolis Mary told both Warrior and Bard her tales Sponge Bob Square Pants the God of childrens entertainment. As the sun began to set a lone pair of eyes watched as they turned to off the road to find a camp for the night. The watcher was as still and silent as the tree they were perched in. "The road is long and hard and will belong to those who follow the dictates of their hearts whatever they may be. The game is on my friends good luck to you."
To Be Continued in No Turning Back
Return to the Academy