The Price of Justice
David’s eyes were wide in a mixture of surprise and terror. How did this masked woman know Gabrielle’s true name? His toes barely touched the stone floor as she pressed her hand against his larynx. She released her hold and David fell to his knees. Before he had even taken a much needed breath, the woman’s foot slammed into his ribs with bone crushing force. What little air that remained in his lungs blasted out of him in a fiery rush of pain.
David rolled over, trying to get back on his feet, but the masked warrior’s foot caught him in the jaw and he flipped over with a grunt and tasted the coppery flavor of blood in his mouth.
The masked warrior stood over him, one foot coming down with dangerous pressure on his throat.
“I know who she is,” the voice said from behind the mask. “And I can be certain that you are more than just a porter for her luggage! I’ve heard a few stories about a man traveling with an Amazon Queen and living in the village of Poditea!”
Her foot pressed down harder and David saw white spots flashing before his eyes.
Suddenly, the pressure eased and blessed oxygen filled his lungs. He hacked hoarsely and rolled over, spitting some of the blood from his mouth.
David looked up at the woman still in shock. He staggered to his feet only to have them swept out from beneath him as the two guards contributed to his beating. Once the pounding ceased, He got to his knees and looked up at the masked warrior.
“I made a mistake,” he said quietly.
The masked warrior stepped before him and knelt, looking him in the eye.
David nodded and smiled defiantly. “Yeah. I should have mind fucked you instead of the Queen.”
There was a soft laugh behind the mask as she rose back up. She turned and stepped a pace from him, then wheeled on him again. David saw her foot coming for his face, felt the impact and knew no more.
He woke up, folded uncomfortably where he had been dumped, back in his tiny hole in the ground. Groaning from the pain, he pulled himself back upright and leaned against the rough bamboo, his hand resting on the side of his head. He was dimly aware of the pale light in his prison. Looking up, he saw a familiar shadow peering down at him.
“David?” the voice asked timidly.
“Yeah,” David grunted. “Who’s that?”
“It’s me,” the girl replied. “Ariadne, remember?”
“Oh,” David nodded. “Hi, Rad. What's new?”
“I was wondering if you were going to wake up at all?” Ariadne said. Then she cocked her head to one side. “They beat you up pretty good, huh?”
“Yeah,” David nodded. “You could say that. I kind of pushed them into it a little, though.”
David smiled. “A classic example of ‘open mouth, insert foot.’”
It took a few moments for the reference to register, and then she giggled quietly. “That’s funny.”
“It wasn’t at the time,” David replied, closing his eyes and letting the soreness in his limbs cool a bit. Then his eyes opened and fixed on the young girl intently. She started at that.
“Forgive me for asking, but why are you being so nice to me?” he asked. “And how is it that you seem to be able to get past the guards that are supposed to be watching me at all times?”
She said nothing for a long moment, and David knew that she was a plant.
“You were supposed to play nice and get me to speak to you about why I’m here, and what’s going on, weren’t you?” He smiled knowingly. “They were hoping I would reach out to that one kind face out of all the crap, and give up something vital, like who and what I am. How am I doing?”
Ariadne looked at him for a long moment, and then her expression changed to one of genuine shame. She nodded.
“Having a little trouble with your orders, are you?” David asked, his eyes reading the shimmer of her aura. He sighed and crossed his harms over his chest. “You aren’t a bad kid, Rad.” He consoled her. “The fact that you’re feeling like you do, confirms it.”
He let himself slide down to the ground and flexed his legs as he found a comfortable position.
Ariadne stared down at him for a long time with sad blue eyes.
“What’s on your mind, kiddo?” David asked, looking back up at her.
“Was Gabrielle as bad as everyone says?” Ariadne asked suddenly. “Did she really run away at Helicon?”
David smiled. “Got the brief on who my friend is, did you?”
“Well,” David sighed. “I wasn’t there, so I can’t say. But I can tell you about what I do know. Gabrielle is the kind of person that will do anything to help a friend, even if it could cost her own life. I’ve seen her do it, much to my considerable annoyance.” His tone changed to one of frustration slightly as he remembered waking up and discovering that she had run off to try and kill the enigmatic Gurkhan, leaving him behind. “Knowing what I know, I can’t see her doing anything like that, ever.”
“You really care about her, don’t you?” Ariadne asked.
David nodded. “Very much.”
Ariadne’s face took on a look of girlish curiosity.
“Are you in love with her?” she asked.
“You are fishing, aren’t you?” David grinned up at her.
“Well,” Ariadne said, suddenly taken aback. “Yeah, but not for the queen. I just want to know.”
“Tell you what,” David offered. “How about we do a little information exchange. You give me something, and I’ll give you something. What do you say?”
Ariadne’s eyes flicked up from the pit, and David recognized the subtle response of making eye contact, then she looked back down again.
“Okay,” she said eagerly.
“Fine,” David grinned. “You first. Who’s up there with you, pulling your strings?”
Ariadne stared at him in shock for a moment, and then looked up as another figure came into view, covered in dark Amazon armor and the familiar raven mask.
David laughed softly. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
The masked warrior looked down at him and then dismissed the young Amazon woman. “You are quite shrewd for a man,” she said darkly. “I underestimated you.”
“So did my High School guidance councilor,” David shot back. “So what’s the game plan, baby? Leave me in here to rot and torture Gabrielle to death, or execute me first?”
“Oh, you’ll see,” the masked warrior replied evenly. “You mentioned something about a trial. You’ll get one.”
“Just tell me one thing?” David asked quickly. “Out of curiosity, why pin the hatred on Gabrielle anyway? If you knew her, as you say you did, you know she never would have betrayed you. Why do it?”
“Because she did betray us!” The masked warrior replied with barely restrained hatred. “Besides, the last we heard of her, she had gone in search of the Stygian Witches. No one ever returns from an audience with them.”
David mused for a moment and then looked back up at the masked face. “Trial, huh? Who’s the judge going to be? You?”
“In the absence of the queen,” The masked one replied. “I will have that honor.”
“And you’ll be completely impartial in all matters, I’m sure,” David retorted sarcastically.
The masked woman stared at him for a few moments and then turned and vanished as the tarp was dropped back in place.
David heard the footsteps stalk off, vanishing in the distance. He settled himself down and got ready to sink onto his meditation again. He knew he wouldn’t be able to visit with Gabrielle as he had planned. The beating in the queen’s chamber had taken too much out of him.
As he closed his eyes, he heard soft footsteps creeping back toward his cage. He took a deep breath and waited. The corner of the tarp rose, and Ariadne peered cautiously inside.
“David?” she asked in a whisper. If she had been playing at being afraid before, she was really terrified now.
“Hey, Rad,” David replied. “What are you doing?”
“I heard everything that the Queen’s advisor said,” she whispered quickly. “Did she really mean all those things about Gabrielle?”
“Every word,” David replied.
“And the bit about the Stygian Witches?’ Ariadne whispered in awe. “Did she actually see them?”
“That was how she ended up finding me,” David said evenly.
Ariadne seemed reluctant to speak for a moment. Then she asked quickly.
“Did you kill Yania?”
David sighed in resignation. He nodded his head slowly.
“Yeah,” he said sadly. “Yeah, I did.”
Instantly, he saw the anger assert itself in her young face/
“Hold on, there,” David said cautiously. “I didn’t try to kill her. I just – something went horribly wrong and she died.”
“What do you mean?” Ariadne asked, her voice thick with betrayal. “What went wrong?”
“I don’t know,” David replied. “I’ve been playing it over in my mind, I don’t know how many times. I don’t know what went wrong. I just know that it did.”
A growl escaped Ariadne’s lips.
“Hey, now,” David’s voice dropped a notch. “You think I’m happy about it? Your sister’s face is going to haunt me for the rest of my life, no matter how long it is.”
Ariadne seethed for a few moments, her eyes boring into David’s with feral intensity.
“Did she die well?” she asked.
David looked sober. “She fought and fell with honor.”
That answer obviously didn’t please the young woman.
“Look at me,” David said evenly. “Your sister, Yania, was one of the fastest, best trained opponents I have ever faced. The fact that she was able - ” His voice faded to silence as a grim realization struck him. “Wait a second.”
Ariadne’s anger vanished in surprise. “What?”
“Tell me something?” David asked. “In your combat training, do you learn how to focus the mind beyond physical injury? To fight without feeling the wounds you could receive?”
Ariadne nodded. “Yes. It’s part of our most basic training.”
David smiled grimly. “That’s it then. Yania didn’t drop the knife because she was trained to ignore the pressure points that I exploited!” He looked up at Ariadne sincerely. “Mistress Ariadne,” he said formally. “No greater compliment can be given than to receive praise from an enemy. I tell you that Yania was one of the best of you, and her skill was as much a tribute to your people as it was a contributing factor to her fall. I did not understand, until this moment, just how close to dying I actually came when we met. She was a great warrior, and she brought honor to your tribe in battle.”
Ariadne let a soft sigh escape her lips at those words. She looked into his eyes. “You truly mean that?”
“So,” the young woman said darkly as she and two other guards entered her quarters. “You’re Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle looked up from her prone position on the wooden pallet that served as her bed.
She rolled up to a seated position and looked at the trio soberly.
“Yes,” She answered, already knowing what was about to come. “I am.”
The first girl fixed her with dark eyes. “The Amazon Queen who survived Helicon?”
Gabrielle rose to her feet. If another beating were coming, then she wouldn’t meekly submit to it.
“I wasn’t the Queen when the battle started,” she said slowly. “Not until after Varia tried to kill me.”
The first girl smiled sarcastically and nodded, then her fist slammed into Gabrielle’s gut.
Gabrielle bent double from the blow, her breath forced from her lungs.
She stayed down for a moment.
“I wouldn’t recommend you do that again,” she warned the trio.
The first one sneered and looked back at her two companions. They also stepped forward, raising their fists.
Gabrielle looked up and caught the first girls’ fist in the side of her face. She dropped to her knees from that second blow.
Gabrielle looked up again and locked eyes on the first one. She was young, about her age when she originally hooked up with Xena. She was also terribly ill trained.
The other two were about the same age. They oozed confidence that spoke to their inexperience.
“I warned you,” Gabrielle said darkly. Then her right foot shot out and caught the leader in the gut. She flopped backward against the wall. Instantly, Gabrielle was on her feet. She deflected the blow of the second guard before flipping her over easily and spinning in to grapple with the third. The two of them tangled, rocking back and forth before the first one picked herself up and struck Gabrielle at the base of the skull.
She collapsed, stunned, and then the three of them were on her, pummeling her with their fists and feet.
Gabrielle has enough sense to cover her head and ball up as the blows fell. Suddenly the blows ceased.
“What’s going on here?” a slightly muffled voice asked sternly. Gabrielle risked a glance up and saw a tall, proud, fully armored Amazon warrior, her face covered in a mask shaped like a raven’s head.
The leader of the trio stood at attention, swallowing nervously.
“We were, um, we just,” She stammered.
“Yes?” The masked warrior asked. Her voice had a taint of amusement. “You decided to pay a little visit on our guest?”
To that, the ambitious young warrior had no answer.
“Outside,” The masked warrior said sternly. “All of you.”
The three of them quickly exited, leaving Gabrielle alone with the enigmatic, masked woman.
“Thanks,” Gabrielle said appreciatively. Again, she felt the churning in her belly and she clutched at her midsection, trying to calm the pain.
Instantly, the masked woman had her against the wall, the raven’s beak of the mask an inch away from her nose.
“In the morning,” she hissed. “You’ll wish I had let them kill you.”
She practically threw the startled Gabrielle onto her sleeping pallet.
Gabrielle rolled over and looked after the strange woman.
“What did I ever do to make you hate me so much?” she asked.
The mysterious warrior merely let a soft, angry laugh issue from behind that mask.
Then she turned to the three young guards.
“She could have killed you all at any time, you fools!” She barked. Her backhand slapped into the cheek of the leader. She fell to the floor in a heap, her hand covering the large red mark that appeared on her face.
“Stop it!” Gabrielle shouted from within the shack. Her midsection was hurting too much for her to move.
The other two guards looked over at her in surprise. The last thing they had expected was for the woman that they had been beating to voice objection over their treatment.
The masked warrior looked back at Gabrielle and chuckled again. She gave the fallen young woman a swift kick in the side and then stepped over her as she lay groaning on the mucky ground.
The masked one stopped at the entrance to the cave and looked back at the three of them.
“Pick her up and get back to your rooms.” She barked. “I’ll consider your punishments after I’ve had time to calm down.”
The two guards helped their beaten comrade to her feet and began to lead her away. As they moved across the clearing, the two guards looked back questioningly at Gabrielle, watching them through the open doorway. She merely smiled grimly and nodded once in understanding.
Once the trio had departed, Gabrielle turned back and curled up on the sleeping pallet.
When she turned back she saw another figure standing in the entrance.
“If you’re looking for a piece as well,” Gabrielle winced. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”
The girl’s eyes widened just a bit, and then she shrugged.
“Nope,” she said. She looked back outside quickly. “I was sent here by your friend, David.”
Gabrielle pulled herself upright, ignoring the pain. “David? Is he all right? What happened to him?”
Ariadne shrugged. “He’s okay, I guess. The Queens Advisor beat him up pretty good, though. He must have really made her mad.”
Gabrielle smiled grimly. “Yeah, he’s real good at that.”
Ariadne looked around nervously. “I just wanted to tell you that he’s okay.”
Ariadne hovered at the doorway, looking back nervously. Then she cleared her throat.
“Would you tell me what happened at Helicon?” she asked, “I really want to know.”
Gabrielle looked up at her and straightened up, nodding.
“Come in and sit down.”
The night was long and terrible. David was prevented from getting any rest. Just as he would nod off, he was doused by buckets of water.
After the sixth time, David lost his cool for a moment.
“Enough already!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs. “I’m clean for Pete’s sake!”
His outburst only got him doused again.
The guard above smiled in amusement and ran to refill the buckets. While she was gone, David pulled his shirt off and managed to stretch it across cage, just above his head. Smiling at his handy work, He leaned back underneath the flimsy umbrella and closed his eyes.
The water cascaded down again, and some of it soaked through the cotton shirt, but it was not the instant deluge that was keeping him awake. Instead, the majority of the water simply rolled off against the wall and splashed harmlessly to one side. He smiled and folded his arms, nodding his head to his chest.
“Remove that,” A voice ordered.
“Sure,” David said angrily from below. “Reach in this cage and you’ll be leaving your hand in here with me. Go ahead bitch. Give it a shot!”
The two women looked down at the dirty cloth stretched over the middle of the cage below. They exchanged nervous looks. Tentatively, one of them knelt down and stretched her hand towards the fabric.
Instantly, David’s hand snaked up from the edge.
It was not the motion that caused them to squeal in horror. It was the dark brown human eye that seemed to stare at them from between the three fingers on that hand. As they moved, it followed them. Now the idea of reaching into the cage was even less appealing.
The fingers gingerly set the eye down in the corner of the fabric, still seeming to stare at them from the prison.
“Just remember,” David’s voice sounded from beneath the cloth. “I’ve got my eye on you! Now leave me alone, or I’ll show you what other parts of me I can detach!”
The two young girls ran away in horror.
Beneath his makeshift lean to – David smiled smugly and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
The raven masked woman strode into the Queen’s private chamber, bracing herself for the next wave of madness that might be enveloping her puppet at the moment. She was mildly surprised to see her seated comfortably at a small table, her finger tracing the pattern on the wood.
“It’s good to see you better, my Queen,” The masked woman said. “You had us all concerned for a while?”
Alia looked up with a strange smile on her face that seemed to belong to someone else.
“Thanks,” was all she said.
The masked figure paused, stiffening a bit. “You are feeling better, aren’t you?”
“Much better,” Alia rose walking with a swagger that was completely uncharacteristic for her. “I just have to work through a few more of these details.” Her voice drifted off, sounding a bit haunted. Then her eyes turned back to the masked warrior and she could perceive the madness still deep within her eyes.
Alia let a quick laugh escape her lips before she brought the emotion back under control.
“I was just sifting through all these images,” she said. “So many things I simply don’t understand?” She paced slowly, her fingers twisting before her as if she were organizing her thoughts.
“It’s nearly time, My Queen,” The masked woman said evenly.
“Time?” Alia replied. Then dawning exploded onto her face. “Yes, right. Okay, get the pilots in here for the briefing. They need to know what they’re going up against. Are the ground crews preparing the ships for takeoff?”
“I’m sorry, My Queen?” The masked woman stammered. “Pilots? What are pilots?”
Alia’s gaze darkened with some remembered horror that did not belong to her.
“Death from above,” She murmured. “Every time we tried to advance, the damn Germans would send fighters to strafe our formation! There we were, stuck on that damned mountain road, all because of a stupid cart and a couple of mules.” She paused and looked at the masked warrior. “Then Patton shot the mules and had the GIs get the cart out of the way. We still took fire from the planes, but at least we were moving again. We had to get up to the front. The Italians and Germans were falling back. We had to keep the pressure on!”
The masked warrior only shrugged in complete confusion. There was no doubt that this was another one of her delusions. She sighed. In this state Alia couldn’t even draw on the emotional strength of her or any others that were in the village. She did not want to reveal herself until all was ready, especially now since Gabrielle was here. Once she and her strange male friend were out of the way, Queen Alia’s state of mind wouldn’t matter much. The masked warrior could easily slide in to replace her with a minimum of interference.
“My Queen,” She said gently. “I mean that it’s almost time for the trial?”
Alia paused, considering those words. Then her eyes brightened with excitement. “Oh, that! Yes! Absolutely! Let’s go!”
The masked warrior stared at the queen, expression unreadable behind the mask. “Are you sure you’ll be able to keep yourself focused?” she asked.
“You betcha!” Alia replied eagerly. “Besides, I need a little distraction.”
David was awakened from his slumber by another deluge of falling water. He sat upright, coughing and spluttering. Looking up angrily, he saw two different guards standing above him. One of them held a long spear in her hand and was smiling with grim amusement.
David shook the water out of his eyes and rose to his feet, his glass eye safely back in the socket where it belonged.
He had known better than to leave it out all night long. Now, looking at the stony faces above him, he knew he had been prudent in his decision.
“Time for the show?” he asked as the lid was opened and the two guards helped him roughly up out of the cage.
The movement and stretching of his cramped muscles sent pain rifling through his body. He forced his body upright and walked under his own power.
His hands were bound in leather thongs again, and David smiled in amusement.
“You kids will never learn,” he thought. He surreptitiously began to cut the bonds loose as soon as his hands were covering the buckle of his belt. By the time they reached the large circle before the entrance of the cave, his bonds were nearly loose.
They stopped there, at the edge of the circle, waiting.
Dozens of the other Amazons came from all directions forming a perimeter around the massive central circle.
David looked over the crowd of young females all watching him expectantly.
Two more guards emerged from the opposite side of the clearing, preceded by a very tired, pale, and very angry looking Gabrielle. The tone of the entire crowd shifted to a darker note.
Gabrielle’s escorts shoved her roughly to stand at David’s side. She glowered at them angrily before looking up at her husband, bare chested and still soaked to the skin.
He, as well, looked at her in concern. He could see the pain fluctuating behind her eyes.
David gave a rueful smile as he saw the bags under Gabrielle’s eyes.
“Kept you from sleeping too?” he muttered quietly. Gabrielle only nodded, her eyes looking darkly over all the young “Amazon” women.
David nodded. “Next time,” he continued. “Let me pick the hotel.”
Gabrielle smiled grimly and a soft pained laugh escaped her lips.
Four Amazon women came out of the cave, bearing a small raised platform, while a fifth carried a small, but ornamental chair, obviously for the queen.
The five warriors set up the small platform quickly, then gathered their weapons – each one held a long, wicked looking spear – and took up positions at each of the four corners while the fifth one withdrew to a position behind the two prisoners.
A few moments later, Alia, followed by the mysterious masked warrior came out into the clearing.
David frowned as he watched the queen move to the seat and settle into it. Something about her movements was inconsistent from her actions before. There was a subtle swagger to her walk and a confidence that she emulated that had not been present before. An “attitude” seemed to permeate her very being. Focusing his attention on her, he saw the ripples of energy from her aura, though the embryonic tendrils of her empathic need were not present as before. She was completely isolated in this newfound confidence, or madness.
“This is interesting,” he thought. “Last time, she was latched into the emotional state of her pet chicken. What’s changed?” He pondered this until the Queen began to speak.
“Bring the prisoners forward,” Alia said with a wave of her hand. “I want to look in their faces.”
The masked warrior’s head turned slightly in the direction of the queen. Apparently, this had not been a part of the proceedings in the past.
The two prisoners were thrust forward and stood before her. She eyed them with a combination of curiosity and madness, the latter being just barely subdued beneath the surface of her psyche.
David frowned; perhaps he had done more damage than he thought. He hoped not, but anger and insult had motivated his previous actions. He had neglected to consider future ramifications. That thought was now settling like a cold block of ice in his gut.
Alia smiled coldly as she watched his eyes.
“Yup,” she said uncharacteristically. “You just can’t figure it out, can you?” She leaned forward, again, an uncharacteristic posture, her fingers tapped against one another just forward of her knees, and she smiled. “You’re looking at me, wondering how much you messed my head up, and kicking yourself in the ass for doing it, aren’t you?”
“Kicking myself-?” David thought. The realization settled in with cold dread. In a sudden, horrifying moment, her posture, and her confidence, her arrogance and attitude – even the words she was using - all made sense. They were his!
“Oh shit,” he thought with a groan. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
His mouth opened and closed several times before he could speak.
“My lady,” he stammered.
Alia chuckled knowingly and leaned back, throwing one arm over the back of the chair as she leaned to the opposite side. She looked over at the masked warrior. “See? This is the part where he tries to save his ass by offering a flowery apology.” She looked back at him sternly. “Don’t even try it, hotshot.”
Gabrielle was looking back and forth between Alia and David, realization slowly settling on her face.
“David?” she asked. “What did you do?”
Alia laughed again. “You wanna tell her, or should be just move on?” Then she rubbed her hands together in eerily familiar fashion. “Nevermind. Let’s just get on with it, shall we?”
Alia rose to her feet and looked out among the gathered Amazons.
“This man,” She began formally. “Has the blood of one of your sisters on his hands. Yania was cornered and butchered by the man before you. Now, Amazon justice demands his life in payment of that debt. As our law says, a life for a life!”
Instantly, there was a cacophony of cheers, and Alia smiled as she settled back into her seat. Weapons clashed on makeshift shields, or thrust into the air and back.
David looked about nervously. “This is not looking good.”
“What did you do?” Gabrielle asked in a hiss.
David shrugged. “It’s, um, complicated,” he said.
Gabrielle looked back at him, wincing slightly. “David, she sounds like you?”
Alia looked about the assembled throng. “Sindis! Step forward!”
The woman that pushed her way through the assembled throng was tall, with dark straight hair and deep, piercing pale blue eyes. Her face was delicate, but her stature and build were lithe and athletic. Just like Yania.
“Christ on a crutch,” he muttered.
Alia looked at Gabrielle hungrily. Then she smiled.
Another guard pressed a sword in Gabrielle’s hand.
“You will kill him, or Sindis will kill you both.”
Gabrielle looked down at the sword in her hand and then up at David.
David saw the pale taint of Gabrielle’s skin and he could almost feel her pain even as she tried to suppress it.
David shrugged helplessly.
Gabrielle looked up at Alia with grim determination. “Challenge,” she said simply.
Alia’s eyebrows rose in amusement. “You want to challenge me for the leadership of the tribe?”
“If I must,” Gabrielle answered. “Choose your weapon, or choose your champion.”
Alia sat back, smiling like a glacier. She turned and gestured to the masked warrior.
“If you would, Chief Advisor?’ Alia said simply.
Almost trembling with anticipation, the tall dark figure stepped forward and picked up a long staff.
She tossed the weapon to Gabrielle. She caught it easily and handed the sword to another of the nearby guards and twirled the weapon experimentally.
“I understand this was the first Amazon weapon you ever learned,” The voice said behind the mask. “Fitting that it should also be the last.”
“Who are you?” Gabrielle asked, her voice strained from the internal churning within her belly. She was struggling to stand upright and hide her discomfort.
“Don’t you know?” The masked woman asked in a mocking voice. “How quickly you seem to forget.”
One gloved hand rose and ripped the mask from her face. The mask went sailing behind her and Gabrielle stared in a mixture of wonder and horror at the face of the mysterious Amazon Chief Advisor.
The right side woman’s face was a mass of thick scars showing the tell tale signs of being caught in a fire. Her pale gray eyes stared at Gabrielle with steel rage.
Gabrielle recognized the gray eyes, the dirty brown short hair.
“Trudis?” Gabrielle gasped. “Is that really you?”
Trudis smiled and nodded once.
Instantly, Gabrielle’s memory shot back to that day in Hell. They were pinned down as the catapult shots fell, exploding around them. Nearly two thirds of the Amazon Nation lay dead or dying on the beach behind them and the only cover was at least a hundred yards away. Between the small hump and that relative safety was a killing zone. They knew that none of them would survive that mad dash.
Gabrielle felt dread settle into her gut.
“We’ll never make it,” Someone said.
Gabrielle looked about quickly. “We need a diversion.”
Trudis looked out at the killing field ahead, her gray eyes bright with nervous energy. “I’ll do it,” she said after a few moments.
“Gabrielle!” Another of the survivors said. “She’ll never make it.
Gabrielle looked Trudis in the eye. There was nothing to say.
“I’ll do it,” Trudis finally stated evenly.
Gabrielle nodded once in gratitude.
“Everyone ready?” she looked about. Then she gave Trudis the signal.
The young Amazon bolted to the left as fast as her feet would carry her. Instantly, the catapults and archers unloaded on her. Arrows whistled about her, and then she vanished in a blast of explosive fire. Gabrielle had a fleeting glimpse of Trudis sailing through the air, arms flailing, and then several more explosions seemed to engulf her.
After that there was no time to look. The surviving Amazons bolted for the cover of the berm.
Gabrielle stared at Trudis with amazement.
“Of all the people?” she said in shock. “Why?”
Trudis spun the staff and stepped in. “Because you abandoned us!” the staves clashed loudly and Gabrielle stumbled back.
“I never abandoned you!” Gabrielle cried out. “You saved all
of us that day! I had no idea you were alive!”
“You never came back to look!” Trudis replied and she swung again. This time Gabrielle felt the sharp sting of the staff across her back. She staggered forward and wheeled, bringing her staff up in defense.
“We couldn’t!” Gabrielle shouted. She blocked several more attacks before Trudis’s staff slammed into Gabrielle’s midsection. She doubled over as the churning in her belly exploded into all out agony.
She dropped to one knee, looking up at Trudis.
“We tried!” Gabrielle said. “Twelve of us died, trying to get to the fallen on that beach, even at night. Beleraphon never gave us the chance!”
She stumbled to her feet and staggered out of range of Trudis’s next swing.
“Liar!” Trudis screamed.
David watched the exchanges between the two women and his heart thundered in concern. Gabrielle hadn’t been hut that badly yet, but she was moving at half speed, and stooped over slightly, as if burdened by a heavy load. Her face was taught, set in a mask of concealed pain.
“What the hell is wrong with her?” he asked as he continued to saw through the bonds on his wrist.
Trudis took a series of hits, spun around and counter attacked with the same ferocity. As Gabrielle backed away, David caught a hint of brilliant crimson. His eyes narrowed in alarm. As Gabrielle continued to move, avoiding the attacks where she could, and deflecting the ones that came to close.
Then David saw the thin trail of bright red blood on her inner leg.
“Oh shit,” he whispered as the horrible realization hit him. He looked quickly to his left and right, and saw Ariadne standing next to him. She looked up at him and held her hand up a bit, revealing the hilt of his katana, hanging at her back, beneath her cloak.
“No, no, no,” David was muttering. “Stop this!
Ariadne saw David sawing furiously at his bonds with the concealed blade in his belt buckle. She said nothing and gave him a single nod.
The bonds snapped free, and his hands were loose.
“Stop!” he shouted.
Gabrielle looked up at him in surprise, and Trudis stepped in with another vicious series of blows. Several struck her midsection in rapid succession and one devastating blow landed on the side of her head. She went down a few yards away from him. Trudis stepped forward, grinning madly as she raised her staff to finish the job.
“No!” David shouted again. He elbowed the two guards on either side of him, then reached over and drew his katana from Ariadne’s back.
The staff whistled down and severed on the razor sharp blade that suddenly appeared between her and her target.
David’s foot slammed into Trudis’s gut, sending her skidding back.
She spun back to her feet and grabbed a sword from another guard.
David held his sword in defensive posture; the edge curving down as it extended forward.
“It’s over,” David said in a growl. His eyes flicked down at Gabrielle, lying curled in pain on the ground, blood covering one of her legs.
“Our laws say a life for a life,” Alia said neutrally.
“And you have it!” David bellowed in despair. A sudden sadness welled up in him as he truly realized what was happening. There was a numbing pain spreading through his chest. “Don’t you see?”
Trudis looked down at Gabrielle, saw the blood, and looked back at the Queen.
Alia was rising to her feet slowly, a slightly haunted look in her eyes as she stared down at Gabrielle, sobbing as she gently convulsed.
David’s voice was thick with despair. “She was pregnant, you heartless bitch!”
Trudis took a step forward, and David pointed his sword at her, ready to cut her down.
“Don’t,” he growled, his eyes watering. His entire body shook with emotion that threatened to explode with homicidal fury.
The entire circle had fallen silent.
“Trudis,” Alia said evenly. “Step back. This challenge is done.”
Trudis turned to face Alia in shock, her own rage boiling.
“What?” she blurted. She looked back at the stricken Gabrielle and slowly began to shake her head. “No. This is not over! She must pay for what she did at Helicon!”
She raised her blade and stepped forward.
David interposed himself between her and her prey. Trudis struck with reckless fury. “I will have my revenge!” she screamed.
The blades clashed so hard that they threw sparks into the air. David beat the insane Amazon back a few paces and then, Trudis’s sword went spiraling out of her hand. An instant later, her feet left the ground and she crashed to the earth. When she rolled over, David stood above her, his sword pointed at her throat, tears in his eyes.
“Don’t make me kill you!” David growled hoarsely.
Several other Amazon warriors drew swords and stepped forward.
David readied himself for the mother of all duels, but the other Amazons moved to cover Trudis instead.
Even Ariadne held a weapon, watching the fallen Chief Advisor with a dark look.
“If he butchered Yania, as you say he did,” she said angrily. “Why did he not kill you now?”
David lowered his sword and ran back to Gabrielle, kneeling at her side and taking her hand. She grasped it with desperate strength as she lay there, tears pouring out of her eyes.
“It’s okay, baby,” he said gently. His voice trembled as he spoke. “It’s going to be okay.”
He looked up at Alia. She stood there, her madness completely gone for the first time since their encounter.
“It is over,” she said slowly. “A life that could have been, in exchange for a life that was.” She knelt before David and Gabrielle, looking at them both. “I did not want this.” She said helplessly. “Not like this.”
Then she rose, her own anger seething, and turned to face Trudis, now being held by four strong amazon guards.
“Take her to the pit,” she said angrily. “I will deal with her, later.”
The guards made it to the far edge of the circle, when Trudis struck in a blind fury. She ripped a dagger free from one of the guards and attacked Three of the guards were dead before they hit the ground, and the fourth staggered away, her hand desperately trying to cover the gout of blood from a wound in her throat.
Trudis charged with maddened fury.
David grabbed his sword and spun. The razor sharp blade slashed into Trudis’s midsection. She stopped short, her eyes going wide in shock and then raised her dagger to strike.
David’s upsweep caught Trudis just above the navel and ripped through her body, sending her flailing backwards. She twitched a couple of times and then lay dead.
David’s vision was filled with remembered horror at that sight. His breath came in ragged gasps. His eyes were wide as he stared at the fresh corpse on the ground and he remembered another face. A young, innocent face. Yania’s face.
His eyes looked about the circle in shock before he turned back to Alia and knelt on one knee, raising his sword for her to take.
Alia took the weapon, and after a moment’s consideration, laid it back on the ground before him.
“There will be no more,” she said soberly, and she turned and reseated herself on the throne.
“Get a stretcher and take Gabrielle into my chambers. Have the Healer attend her.” Alia commanded quickly. When the crowd of shocked onlookers was slow to respond, she stood in a rage.
“Now! Your sister is in need!”
Instantly, several women laid Gabrielle on a stretcher and took her swiftly but gently into the cave. Another woman arrived a few minutes later, dressed in the garb of a Shamaness, or medicine woman.
David stood outside, pacing back and forth anxiously.
“It’s alright,” he was saying to himself. “There’s still a chance. The baby could be okay? Worse things have happened to pregnant women and they’ve kept kids? Debbie had something similar and she still carried Jesse Ann to term, right?” His entire being was in turmoil as he paced back and forth, his sword twirling absent-mindedly. “She’s young and strong, it could all work out. It could all work out.” Even as he kept repeating it, the emotion welled up in him again and the sword fell from his hands as he collapsed on his knees and wept.
Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to see Queen Alia staring down at him.
“I need your help,” she said in a shaky voice.
“You’ve got to be nuts!” David replied scornfully.
“Yes,” Alia replied, and David could see the light of madness beginning to reassert itself in her eyes. “I am. Because of you. I need you to give me the rest of it?”
“I need to understand all that you’ve seen, or I will remain mad,” Alia said, and she giggled maniacally for a moment. Then she put her fingers to her face and took several deep breaths. “You must help me stop this, or I could do more damage. You knew that when you did this to me.”
“Yes,” David said darkly. “Yes I did.”
Alia was struggling against her madness now, and she trembled. “Insane or not, I will still be Queen. Don’t condemn the others because of me, I beg you. There has been enough pain here today.”
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