Xena rolled slowly onto her back. She didn`t know how long she`s been unconsious but guessed, by the position of the sun, it had been a couple of hours.
She had a strange substance in her mouth, she spat it out. Immediately she realised it was a sleeping powder. They had underestimated the Warrior Princess, however. Although she`s remained unconscious for longer than she would have normally, the powder only had a small effect.
Her sword was still where she`d thrown it. Reaching behind her she embedded the tip in the ground and quickly cut through the ropes binding her wrists. The blood rushed back to her hands painfully. A short, sharp whistle brought Argo crashing through the forest.
`First things first,` she thought. As much as she wanted to go after the men who had taken her love immediately, she had to get a message to the Amazons. Mounting Argo she turned her in the direction of the nearest village and rode like the wind.
Gabrielle and her three captors were sat some distance outside the walled city of Tarynth. The bard`s shoulder was aching and her head was beginning to pound. Timor handed the rope to Garon. "Watch her. I have to go on ahead. Mastacles wants to see her first."
With that Timor was gone.
"Let`s have a look at that shoulder." Said Garon untying Gabrielle`s hands. He pulled her shirt gently down off her left shoulder. Carefully pulling the dried moss from both wounds he inpected them for signs of infection. "It looks ok. I don`t have anything for stitching, sorry."
Gabrielle smiled at him. "Garon?"
"Let me go now. Xena will never stop if I die." She remembered the conversation she and Xena had beside their campfire once. "You know, she once promised me she wouldn`t avenge my death. But now I don`t think she`ll be able to keep that promise."
Garon replaced the moss and pulled the bards top back up.
"You know I can`t let you go Gabrielle."
They both looked up to see Timor walking towards them followed by an even bigger man. The man, who Gabrielle assumed to be Mastacles had jet black hair. His clothes were black and he carried a huge sword at his hip. His left arm appeared withered and bent at his side, his left eye was closed.
"So, this is the Amazon Queen." He bent and peered into Gabrielle`s face. "What happened to Melosa?"
"She`s dead, she was killed in a challenge for the throne."
"No, by her adopted daughter Velaska. I already had the right of caste."
"So why isn`t this Velaska Queen?"
"Xena killed her, she would have led the Amazons back into war. The Amazon nation is at peace now, that`s how it`ll stay."
"Stand her up."
Garon pulled Gabrielle to her feet. Mastacles spun her round and tied her hands behind her back. "The Amazons may be at peace now, but four years ago they weren`t. They killed my family, destroyed my army and burned Tarynth to the ground. The city you`ll see in a moment is the result of four years hard work. We want to celebrate its completion with the death of the Amazon Queen."
He turned the bard to face him once more. He took a wide leather strap and fastened it about the bards neck. Attached to it was a long silver chain.
"The whole city is awaiting your arrival, Queen. You`re going to get quite a reception." Mastacles turned to Timor. "Here." He threw a bulging purse at him. "D`you want to count it?"
"No, I trust you. Besides, I know where to find you, don`t I."
Mastacles pulled on the chain, causing Gabrielle to stumble towards him. "Come Queen Gabrielle, your audience awaits."
Garon felt a pang of guilt as he watched the young girl being dragged behind the brute of a man to her death. She glanced back at him, but he turned away and followed the two men into the forest.
Mastacles was much rougher than Garon and kept pulling savagely on the leash. Twice Gabrielle fell to her knees only to be hauled roughly to her feet by the chain at her neck.
The gates to the walled city opened and the warlord pulled her in. Gabrielles eyes darted from side to side as dozens of people rushed forward to get their first glimpse of the Amazon Queen.
One man pushed his way through the crowd, he had a long piece of wood in his hand which he brought down across Gabrielles back. She fell to her knees and the crowd fell upon her like hounds on a deer.
Mastacles beat them back but Gabrielle was left with a cut over her right eye and what felt like a broken rib.
"I know how you feel!" he bellowed. "She is going to take punishment for the Amazon nation." He pulled Gabrielle to her feet by her hair. "But she will die slowly and in great pain."
Pulling Gabrielle by the leash he made his way to a platform that had been erected in the city square. Pushing her ahead of him up the four steps, he laughed as she fell onto her face.
"This is Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons." Mastacles pulled her to her feet using the leash.
Gabrielle`s eyes were on the crowd, she had never known such hatred and it was all directed towards her. She didn`t see the punch coming. Xena had taught her to roll with a punch but this time she took the full force of it against the side of her head. Again she fell to the platform, the cheers of the crowd ringing in her ears.
Gabrielle knelt, her forehead only inches from the wooden floor of the platform. She watched her own blood as it dripped and seeped into the wood.
"Please, no more." She gasped.
"No more Amazon? The Amazon Nation would not listen to such begging."
Mastacles undid her hands and threw her into the arms of two soldiers that had followed them up onto the platform. They dragged her to a thick post erected in the centre of the platform, pulling her hands above her head, they fastened them to a metal ring sunk into the post. She was then turned to face the post. One of the soldiers bent and picked a short, thick whip.
Gabrielle looked into his face, he was smiling. She turned her face back to the post, resting her forehead against it. She tried to focus, focus on the one thing that might get her through this. "Xena." She whispered.
"This woman will take many days to die, I promise you. The war with the Amazons was six days long. In that time many of you lost loved ones as I did. If, at the end of six days she still lives I will give her to you. Her punishment begins now."
He nodded to one of the soldiers of his small army who stepped forward and uncurled the whip. "Six lashes, one for each day of the war. She will have no food and no water. If she falls asleep she will be woken. Begin."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and saw the face of her love. She knew Xena would come for her. Her main concern was what would happen to her warrior if these people succeeded in killing her before Xena found her. "I love you." She said to the image of Xena in her mind`s eye.
The soldier had wielded a whip before. Gabrielle screamed at the first contact, the second didn`t seem so bad but by the sixth she was hanging limply from the ropes about her wrists.
After the beating they turned her so that her back was against the post and tied her securely to it with ropes. One rope around her shoulders, one around her waist. Her arms were pulled painfully behind the post and secured.
The crowd watched for a while as a bucket of water was thrown over her. A soldier stood in front of her slapping her face until she returned to her senses.
Mastascles smiled. "Welcome to Tarynth, Queen."
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