Xena arrived at the walled city after dark. She had been to a village and paid a young man to take a message to the Amazons. She had told Ephiny to bring only two warriors. However, she didn`t want to wait for them, Gabrielles safety was most important now. The thought of her being at the mercy of a city full of revenge ridden people, cut her to the core.
The city was in silence.
Leaving Argo at the edge of the forest Xena stealthily approached the walls. She found enough purchase to climb the walls. There were a couple of guards on duty. She waited until they had passed before hopping over the top and onto the city ramparts. In the city square she saw a platform, in the centre of the platform she saw her love. For a moment she thought her dead, seeing no movement.
Then a soldier walked up to the bard, giving her a hard slap across the face. Gabrielle lifted her head wearily.
By now Xena`s heart was pumping so hard in her chest she thought it would burst. The blood was rushing in her ears threatening to deafen her.
Gabrielle put her head back. Xena saw the blood running down her face from the cut above her right eye. She wanted nothing more than to rush down to her but knew they would both be dead in a matter of seconds if she did. No, she wouldn`t be able to get her bard out of this city. The only person to do that would be Mastacles.
She put her plan into action. From her hip she took a small crossbow. Attaching the dart to it she took aim.
Gabrielles head snapped up as the dart hit her in the right thigh. She scanned the square for the perpetrator. The soldier guarding her hadn`t heard or seen anything. Gabrielle started to feel drowzy.
High on the wall a shadowy figure hopped over the edge and disappeared.
The guard watched the captive with something approaching curiosity. Her head sank to her chest and as it was his job to keep her awake he climbed the few steps to the platform and again slapped her face.
Getting no response from the bard he raised her head by her hair. He looked into the face for a long time, slowly moving his body against the girls. Then he felt something. Looking down he saw the dart embedded in her thigh. Roughly pulling it out he slipped it into the waistband of his breeches and jumped down from the platform.
Mastacles was woken from a deep sleep. "What is it."
The soldier was nervous. "It`s the Amazon, Lord. She`s dead."
"What!" Mastacles threw back the blankets and lept from the bed. He was still dressed. "How could she die so quickly?"
"I found this, Lord." The soldier handed him the dart. "Someone poisoned her."
Mastracles took the dart from him. "Did you see anyone?"
"No Lord, I`m sorry."
Mastacles walked past him out into the night. On the platform the Amazon Queen hung limply from her bonds. The warlord lifted her head, he put a hand to her neck , feeling no pulse he said, "Shame, still the city has had it`s revenge. Leave her here for the night. We`ll put her body outside the walls in the morning." With that he returned to his bed, regretting the fact that the girl hadn`t given them as much sport as they would have liked.
Gabrielle`s body was taken down as dawn broke. Much of the city`s inhabitants had learned early that the girl was dead. They stood in silence as she was dragged by her arms through the streets. The soldiers dragged her to the edge of the forest and discarded her in a heap.
Xena watched as the men returned to the city and the large gates were closed. She walked out to where her bard lay. From the walls of the city Mastacles called "Xena!" He was not surprised to see her. He had told his guards to be on the lookout for her and was quietly pleased with himself that he had prevented her from rescuing the Amazon.
Xena looked up at him.
"Xena, tell the Amazons this is not the end. Their Queen has paid part of the price, but they will pay ultimately. Take the Queen back to them and tell them to prepare for war."
Xena picked the bard up in her arms and walked as slowly as she dared into the forest. As soon as she was out of sight she broke into a run, whistling for Argo.
Setting the bard down she reached into her saddle bags for a small bottle. If this didn`t work............
Inserting her little finger between the bards teeth she opened her love`s mouth and poured the small amount of liquid down the bards throat. Then she pulled Gabrielle into her arms. She didn`t realise the tears were flowing until one fell onto Gabrielle`s face. She suddenly felt a wetness on her arm and, turning the bard over, discovered the welts on her back.
"Oh Gabrielle, I`m so sorry."
There were six angry marks, two of them bleeding. Xena let the bard down onto the forest floor and again went to the saddle bags. She pulled out a small container which held a soothing balm. With gentle fingers she spread the balm across the welts. Then she took out a needle and thread and proceeded to sew the two arrow wounds. The wounds looked clean and there was no sign of infection. She cleaned the small cut on Gabrielle`s forehead and decided it wouldn`t need stitches.
Pulling Gabrielle back into her arms Xena once again leaned back against a tree and waited for the effects of the strong drug she had shot into her bard to work itself off. The antidote would speed the process. It was also a stimulant and Xena was a little worried what effect this would have on Gabrielle`s beaten body.
A small jerk alerted Xena that the bard was coming out of her stupor. The warrior held tightly on to her love, she knew this would be bad. Another spasm. The green eyes shot open.
`It`s OK Gabrielle, I`m here.`
"It hurts." Gabrielle clutched at the strong arms that held her tight.
"My side, I can feel something moving, my ribs I think."
Xena lay the trembling girl down on the ground. Expert fingers probed the girls ribs, pulling back when the bard winced. "Just one broken, I think. But that`s enough."
She looked back up to the face of her love. Gabrielles eyes were tightly shut and tears were squeezing out from between the lashes.
"Hey come on, you`re safe now."She pulled Gabrielle back into her arms. The bard tried to climb right into Xena`s soul there and then. "Gabrielle, I`m here, you`re safe. Tell me what is it?"
"The worst thing wasn`t the thought of dying." She said between sobs. " It was dying without seeing you one last time. It was the thought of what would become of you."
"But I promised you......."
Gabrielle put her fingers on her warriors lips. "I know what you said, but do you really think you could keep that promise?"
"I`ll always try.`"Xena looked down into the eyes of her beloved. "We have to go, can you stand?"
"I think so."
Xena helped Gabrielle to her feet and held her steady as she swayed.. A short whistle brought Argo to her side. She packed the medical supplies back in the saddle bags and then helped the bard up into the saddle, jumping up behind her. Turning Argo into the forest she slowly urged the mare forward, one hand on the reigns the other gently round her lovers waist.
In Tarynth Mastacles still rued losing the Amazon to death so quickly. He called a soldier into his chambers. "Do you still have that dart?"
"Yes Lord, it`s here ." The soldier handed him the dart.
Mastacles put it to his nose. "I want to find who shot this, they deprived us of a few days sport." His brow furrowed in a frown. "I recognise this, do you?"
The soldier sniffed the tip of the dart. "Is it Talmac?"
"I think it could be, in a concentrated form." Mastacles smiled. "You know what that means. The Amazon could still be alive." A feral grin crossed his face. " Make an announcement. We`ll have a hunt." The soldier turned to leave. "Wait," Said Mastacles. TThere will be a five thousand dinar reward for the head of the Amazon. Make sure that is made clear. Go."
Xena was becoming concerned for Gabrielle. It had been a few candlemarks since they`d mounted Argo. In that time the bard had said very little.
The bard was leaning back heavily against her. Every now and again the warrior would reach a hand up to feel the girls brow. Every time the hand came away with a glistening of sweat.
"Gabrielle?" Xena leaned forward, her lips touching the girls ear. "Gabrielle, are you awake?"
"Just. Where are we?" Gabrielle squinted against the afternoon sun.
"We`re some way away from Tarynth, I think we should set up camp. You need a rest."
"I`d rather get further away." The bard pushed some damp hair out of her eyes. "Can`t we make it back to the Amazons before dark?"
"No, I don`t think so." The warrior jumped down and held up her arms for the bard to follow. Gabrielle looked down at her love and felt a wave of dizziness sweep over her. Xena caught her as she fell from the horses back.
Gathering her up in her arms she carried her to a tree and sat her back against it.
"Stay here, I`ll get you some water."
Xena returned with the water skin and held it to the girls lips."You`re getting a fever. Could be the arrow wound, I may have to open it again."
Gabrielle`s eyes were closing."That`s fine, whatever." Her head fell forward. Xena was worried, this was not sleep, it was illness. The bard was sick.
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