Xena had packed up all their gear, saddled Argo and was waiting for the bard.
"Why did you have to cut it?" Gabrielle said biting through the thread. She stood and stepped into the undergarment, pulling it up as Xena looked on. "I`m always having to repair my clothing because of your impatience."
"Seemed the easiest way at the time."
"Why didn`t you just wake me?"
"I was proving a point." Giving one last check to the straps holding the saddle she mounted Argo and held out her hand to the bard.
"No, I`ll walk, I think."
"No you won`t, I want to get to the coast by nightfall, come on."
With a sigh the bard took the offered hand and found herself hauled effortlessly onto the horse behind her warrior. Both arms found their familiar place around the waist of her love.
"Try to stay awake." Xena said, feeling the bard snuggling up against her back.
"I`m tired, I was woken up last night, remember?"
"Only for a few minutes." Xena shot back. "Anyway, if you fall asleep you may fall off Argo."
"No I won`t."
"I`m not going to spend all morning hanging on to you."
"Yes you will."
`Yes I will,` Xena thought. The tall warrior shrugged and waited for the tell-tale signs that sleep had, once again, caught up with her bard.
The bard was suddenly wide awake. Xena was slapping her on the thigh. "Gabrielle, wake up." Before she was fully awake Xena was dismounting Argo and pulling the bard down after her.
"What is it?" said Gabrielle pulling her staff from its place alongside Argo`s saddle.
"Trouble I think." The warrior was scanning the dense forest that flanked the narrow road they were travelling. She unsheathed her sword, "keep walking."
Xena heard the arrow before she saw it. She turned to see Gabrielle falling clutching her left shoulder.
Keeping her eyes on the forest she backed up to her fallen friend. A quick glance told her the arrow had passed right through. Its length also told her it was a crossbow bolt. Gabrielle`s face was contorted in pain as she knelt looking up to her friend for an answer. "Who is it?"
Xena put her hand on the bard`s shoulder. "I don`t know, I can`t see anyone."
A voice from the forest. "Your friend is hurt warrior. We could just as easily have killed her. Put down your sword."
Xena said nothing, but beside her she could hear the sharp intake of breath from her friend as another wave of pain swept across her.
"Let me see to her wound."
"Throw down your sword."
Xena looked down at Gabrielle. "Don`t give up your sword Xena." Gabrielle`s eyes were pleading but she was becoming weak. Blood was, by now, streaking her left arm, dripping onto the road below.
Xena threw her sword a few feet away and knelt beside Gabrielle. "It`s passed straight through, that saves a bit of work." She gave the bard a lopsided smile.
Behind her three men walked out of the trees.
"Walk away from her, warrior." The largest man, obviously in charge, levelled a crossbow at her. When she didn`t move he swung it in Gabrielle`s direction."Move away from her."
Xena stood and took a couple of steps away from the girl.
"What do you want? Me?"
The man ignored her. He turned to one of his companions. "Got the rope?" The second man, shorter and stockier pulled a length of rope from his waist. The leader turned back to Xena. "Turn around, don`t try anything, your friend will die before you."
Xena didn`t move. For a long moment she looked hard into the face of the man before her. "You know I can`t do that."
"You can and will Xena." He smiled at the warriors look of surprise. "Yes, I know who you are. I also know you could easily kill all three of us in the blink of an eye. However, your little friend would be dead by then. I don`t think even you could move quicker than a crossbow bolt."
He walked over to Gabrielle, placing the sharp tip of the bolt into the bards neck. Gabrielle was still kneeling, holding her wounded shoulder.
"Now, down on your knees."
Never taking her eyes from his Xena sank to her knees.
"Hands behind your back."
Xena complied. A rough pair of hands quickly secured her hands.
"Look, take me, that`s fine. But please, take her to a village, there`s one nearby. She needs a healer."
"You really do have a high opinion of yourself warrior." Timor laughed at the confusion on Xenas face.
"No, it`s not you we want. I`ve come for the Amazon Queen. Shame about the damage." He looked at his companion and shook his head. "Piracis, your aim doesn`t get any better." The tall thin man shrugged."I was just told to deliver her, they didn`t specify a condition." He nodded to Piracis who was sanding behind the warrior.
Xena suddenly realised her mistake.
"We want you to take a message to the Amazons. Tell the bitches that their Queen will be executed in Tarynth, the walled city of Tarynth. Her body will be left outside of the walls after the execution has taken place."
Xena strarted to rise and felt the hilt of a sword on the back of her head, she pitched forward. She tried to struggle to her knees again but was hit once more. She turned her head to the side to see a now unconsious Gabrielle being hefted onto the shoulders of the short stocky man. As darkness crept from the sides of her vision her brain screamed one word.
Timor walked over to the fallen warrior and turned her on to her back. Taking a small amount of powder from a small pouch he opened her mouth and placed the powder beneath her tongue.
"There, that should give us some time."
Gabrielle was disorientated. She woke to find her face mashed against something soft. She realised she was being carried. The pain in her shoulder was excrutiating, the crossbow bolt hadn`t been removed and the shaft kept hitting the back of the man carrying her.
"Timor, she`s awake." said the short man to the leader walking a couple of steps in front of him.
"Ok, we`ve put a bit of distance between us and the warrior bitch, lets see to the bolt. Sit her down against that tree."
The short man, Garon, put Gabrielle down with something approaching care. He pulled out a pouch from his shirt and then took a short dagger from its place in his boot.
Gabrielle was pale, her face sheened with sweat. "Xena?" she said to him. "Is she......?"
"She was alive when we left her, she`s delivering a message for us."
"What`s this all about?"
"Don`t ask me, I`m just the delivery boy." He pulled Gabrielle`s head forward till it rested on his shoulder. Reaching behind her he cut the tip of the bolt off. Gabrielle screamed in agony as he quickly pulled the shaft from her shoulder before she realised he was going to do it.
He began unlacing her top. "What are you doing?" She said weakly.
"I have to clean the wound, otherwise it`ll get infected." He pulled the top down off her shoulder and washed the wound out. Then he pushed some dried moss in each of the entry and exit wounds. He then handed her the water skin so that she could quench her burning thirst.
"What`s your name?" asked Gabrielle, taking a long drink from the waterskin.
"I know who you are. Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons. Follower of Xena Warrior Princess."
He finished bandaging the bards shoulder and pulled her top back up.
"Why are you doing this Garon?"
"The pay is good, someone wants you, it`s what I do." He shrugged.
"Who wants me?"
"I don`t ask, Timor got us the job, he knows the details."
Garon pulled the bard to her feet. Watching her while she swayed he said,"can you walk?"
Gabrielle nodded. "I think so."
"Timor, we`re ready here."
"Let`s go then, " Timor called back into the wood. "Piracis, any sign of her?"
The tall thin man appeared from the forest. "No, I hit her pretty hard though. I don`t think she`ll be up and about for a few hours yet."
"The powder`ll slow her down too." Said Timor.
Holding her shoulder Gabrielle approached Timor. "Who`s paying you?"
"Walk." Timor roughly pushed Gabrielle ahead of him. "You don`t want to know."
"I do, please, tell me." She looked back at him over her shoulder.
Timor sighed. "Have you heard of a warlord called Mastacles?"
"Well, that`s who`s paying me."
"I don`t know him, d`you know why he`s doing this?"
"He lost his army to the Amazons a couple of years ago, he wants revenge." Another shove to
Gabrielle`s back sent her tumbling to the forest floor.
"There`s no need for that." Garon helped the bard to her feet.
Timor smiled at his companion. "Going soft Garon?"
"No. There`s just no need to treat her like that. She hasn`t tried to escape. She`s hurt anyway, she wouldn`t get far."
"Garon, this is an Amazon." He put a hand in Gabrielle`s hair and pulled her towards him. "She could probably kill you as easily as her warrior friend. I think we should tie her."
Timor pulled a length of rope from his pack and tied Gabrielles hands in front of her. He then tied a long length to the bindings so he could lead her.
He started to pull the bard after him when she pulled back on the rope. "What is it now?"
"Xena." She said. "She`ll kill you, you know."
"She can try. I`ve stayed alive with a lot of people wanting me dead. One more won`t make any difference." A smile crossed his lips.
"No, this is Xena. I can assure you, she will kill you. Let me go now, I`ll find her, you can get away."
"I have a contract. I`ve never failed to deliver. Mastacles wants you. He`s gonna get you. Now shut up and walk, I want to get to Tarynth by nightfall."
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