Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are owned by Renaissance. There is violence in this piece and a loving relationship between two women which may be graphic in detail, haven't decided yet. Once again, I'm going back and setting this piece during the second season.
Xena knew Gabrielle was asleep.
It always amazed her how the bard could fall asleep on the back of Argo. She often complained about the height of the animal and how it made her feel ill, but as soon as they were underway the gentle rocking of the horse seemed to lull her to sleep.
Xena always took a firm hold of the arms that encircled her waist when she felt the bard relax against her back. Mostly in case Gabrielle woke with a start and fell off. But mostly because she enjoyed these times with her bard, the feeling that Gabrielle trusted her so wholeheartedly to keep her safe.
The light was failing and Xena decided it would be a good time to stop for the night. They were making their way to the village of an old friend who had just become a father. If it hadn't been for Xena the man wouldn't be alive to see his first born. He wanted her there for the child's blessing.
Xena tapped the small hands at her stomach.
"Hey there," she said over her shoulder.
She felt the bard's head come up from its place nestled against her back. Xena's stomach tightened as she felt the bard's warm breath on her shoulder as she looked around sleepily at their surroundings.
"Are we there?" Came the sleepy response.
"No, we're not going to make it tonight. I thought we would, but it's getting dark." Xena slid down from the warhorse and put her hands up for Gabrielle who let herself slide into the waiting arms. Xena held the bard for a moment longer than was necessary and Gabrielle let her head rest against the warrior's chest. "It's been a long day." Xena said, her right hand working at the tightness she felt in the bard's neck.
Xena sighed. As well as falling asleep on a horse the bard could also fall asleep standing in her lover's arms. The tall warrior held her for a moment, just enjoying feeling the soft cheek against her chest, the compact body relaxing against her. She rested her chin on top of the golden head for a moment, then sighed as she recalled there was work to do.
She held the bard at arm's length. "Hey you. Go get some wood. I'm going to get Argo's saddle off. "
Gabrielle ran her hands through her hair and shook her head, trying to clear it. She didn't move straight away but watched her warrior as she made her way to the horse. Xena stopped for a moment then changed direction and disappeared through the trees.
The bard knit her brows in a frown and followed.
She found Xena leaning against a tree looking down at some dimly flickering lights. Gabrielle hadn't realised how high they'd climbed during the day. They had started off following a river then Xena had pulled towards the north and up a mountain path. It was soon after that that the bard had dozed off.
"What is it?" Said the bard.
Xena had heard her approach and didn't take her eyes from the tiny lights they could just make out far below them.
"It's a small village called Ligara." She looked down at the bard. "I suddenly realised where we were."
"Do you know people down there?" Gabrielle said as she took the warrior's hand in her own and squeezed gently.
Xena shrugged. "There maybe one or two still down there that know me."
"Do you want to visit?"
"I don't think they'd welcome me with open arms Gabrielle."
The realisation suddenly hit the bard. It was always hard for her when they came to places that Xena had visited in her warlord days. She still found it hard to believe that the woman she had grown to love had done some of the things that people accused her of.
But some people had long memories, and the good that Xena had done in the past few years had made no difference to their hatred of her.
"Maybe they don't bear a grudge, maybe...."
"Gabrielle," Xena interrupted, "Ligara is one of those small self sufficient villages. They don't have much, if any contact with the outside world. As far as they're concerned I'm still the warlord I was seven years ago."
She turned back towards where Argo was patiently waiting. "Come on."
The tall warrior draped an arm around her friend's shoulders as they walked back . "I hate the idea of people hating you," the bard said.
Xena shrugged. "It's a fact of life. I'm used to it now. I deserve it."
Gabrielle stopped and shrugged out from beneath Xena's arm. "Don't you ever say that again."
Xena started to protest but Gabrielle's raised hands quietened her.
"No." Said Gabrielle. "Just don't ever say that again, not to me."
Gabrielle turned and hurried back to the campsite. Xena sighed and followed slowly behind.
When Xena reached Argo there was no sign of Gabrielle and the warrior guessed she was out looking for firewood. It would be difficult in the growing darkness, but the bard had done it before.
Deep in the woods Gabrielle found the task of searching for firewood even harder with eyes full of tears. She was angry, angry at the warrior for doubting her own goodness, angry at herself for stalking away from the warrior when Xena needed to hear some kind words from the bard.
Xena could accept the hate directed at her from some quarters, but Gabrielle still found it difficult. She had watched as the warrior had risked her life to save other lives, not least hers.
She wished that sometimes they could just wander into a town or village without worrying if the warrior would be recognised and turned upon. Xena always took any hatred and evil remarks in her stride, but each one cut the bard to her very soul.
Gabrielle had a good armful of wood, but she knew it would take five or six such armfuls to keep a fire going all through the night. She bent and felt around a fallen tree for loose wood. A sudden sharp pain caused her to cry out. The wood she'd already collected fell to the ground as she grasped her hand, pain shot from near the palm into the wrist.
She heard a noise as something made its way away from her through the undergrowth.
She peered at her hand in the dimming light, but couldn't see anything. The pain was awful, her hand was numbing quickly.
She turned back towards the campsite. Gabrielle suddenly realised how far she'd wandered into the woods and started to panic.
"Xena!" she cried, hoping her friend was in earshot.
Gabrielle tripped and fell heavily, throwing her hands in front of her to break her fall. The pain in her right hand was unbearable.
Suddenly strong hands were on her shoulders pulling her to her feet.
"What? What is it?" The warrior was looking at her with what Gabrielle suddenly realised was fear in her eyes.
"I think something bit me."
"Where? Let me see."
Gabrielle extended her arm towards the warrior.
Xena took the small hand in her large ones and looked for the injury. Her keen eyes picked out the double puncture wounds in the fleshy part of her palm at the base of the thumb.
She pushed the bard to sit on a fallen tree and sat beside her. Tucking the bard's arm under her own she said, "This is going to hurt."
Taking her breast dagger she cut a line between the two puncture wounds and pulled the hand to her mouth. Gabrielle felt the warrior drawing on the wound, then spitting out the venom she managed to extract. After a while she knew she wouldn't be able to extract any more of the poison.
"What was it?" Asked the bard.
"Snake of some kind, did you see it?"
Gabrielle shook her head and the movement made her suddenly dizzy.
Xena picked the bard up in her arms. "It's ok, we'll go find help."
Gabrielle was struggling to keep her eyes open. "I feel ill."
"You'll be fine."
Xena carried the bard back to Argo and sat her down with her back against a tree.
She'd only just started to unbuckle the straps that held the saddle on when she'd heard Gabrielle's cry from the woods, so there were only those to retighten before they could mount the horse.
She turned back to the bard who was watching her with frightened eyes. She was holding her injured hand to her chest, tears rolling down her face. Xena crouched in front of her and eased the small hand away from the bard's body.
"Hey there, we need to get on Argo. Can you manage?" She brought the small hand to her lips and waited for the bard's answer.
The answer never came as the green eyes fluttered closed and she fell forwards into Xena's arms.
She sat the unconscious girl back up and put a hand to her forehead, wincing at the heat she felt there already.
"Gabrielle, can you hear me?" She held the bard's face between her hands. The fair head lolled forward onto her shoulder.
Xena picked Gabrielle up and walked towards Argo. "Down Argo."
The huge war horse bent her front legs, allowing Xena to climb into the saddle with the precious bundle in her arms. She put an arm around the bard's waist and pulled her close, the limpness of the small form scared her.
She turned Argo back toward the small village of Ligara and urged her forwards.
Sometime during the journey down the hillside Xena had pulled her cape from the saddlebag. She settled it around her shoulders not wanting the hatred of any villager that recognised her to stop getting the bard to a healer.
It was very dark by the time the warrior reached the village but she still pulled the hood up to hide her features. She found the cabin which markings indicated it belonged to the healer of the village.
Sliding from Argo's back she pulled the limp form of the bard down with her. A couple of long strides and she was at the door, tapping it with her foot.
The door opened to reveal a young man, not many moons out of his teens.
Xena moved forward with her bundle, the man's eyes went from her face to the pale face of the woman she carried.
"What happened?" he said, standing aside for her to enter.
"Snake, I think." Xena scanned the interior for somewhere to put the bard. Spotting a large pallet in the middle of the room, she deposited her on that.
"You're not from here, are you?" Said the young man, feeling the bard's forehead and searching for a pulse.
"No, we were just passing by. We were setting up camp up in the hills when she was bitten. "Xena looked up from her friend's face to the face of the boy. "Is there a problem?" She took of the cape and threw it across a chair.
The boy shook his head. "No, just don't go wandering around outside. The people of this village are suspicious of outsiders." He went over to a shelf of bottles. Selecting one he turned back to his patient.
"We don't have many snakes round here and this solution seems to work against the poison of all of them."
He looked up at the warrior and smiled. "Don't worry, the poison isn't very strong, she'll be fine."
He asked the warrior to prop Gabrielle up while he poured some of the solution into her mouth. Then he let some of the liquid soak into a square of linen, which he wrapped around the wound, thus allowing the solution to enter the blood stream directly.
"What's going on here?"
Xena turned to see an old man.
"This is my grandfather, Archus. My name's Jared."
Jared led his grandfather to a table and lowered him to a chair.
"My grandfather raised me after my parents were killed when I was younger. I've been learning the family tradition of healing from him."
"That's a good tradition Jared." Xena didn't offer her name and neither man seemed to make anything of that.
Xena went over to stand next to her friend. She brushed back some of the golden hair from her love's face.
"This is Gabrielle. She's a bard, a very good one. You must get her to tell you some stories when she's well enough."
The old man got up and started fussing with the fire, putting a kettle on to boil. "I'm going to make some tea." He said, his voice gruff.
Xena pulled a chair over to the pallet and sat beside Gabrielle, taking the bard's hand into her own.
"I'm sure she'll be fine. Her colour's better now, and her temperature's started to come down already." Jared had a hand on the bard's forehead. "That solution always works, it's one of my fathers."
Xena turned her attention back to the bard. She suddenly realised how tired she was and laid her head down on the pallet next to Gabrielle's shoulder.
She must have dozed for a while because she was suddenly aware of someone shaking her shoulder. She jumped, causing the young healer in turn to jump. "Here," he said nervously, "Grandfather made some tea."
Xena smiled back at him. "Thank you."
She blew on the hot tea and drank it slowly. It felt good as it warmed her stomach. There was honey in it and it reminded her of how Gabrielle made her tea in the mornings.
She quickly drained the mug and handed it back to Jared who was checking the wound on Gabrielle's hand.
"You got some of the poison out then?" He said looking at the cut between the two puncture marks.
"As much as I could, I didn't know how dangerous the venom was." She lifted the small hand and examined the wound.
Xena blinked her eyes as she tried to focus on the hand in front of her. She rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes angrily. She looked again at the small hand, and realised that she couldn't make out where the bard's hand began and hers finished. She looked for the young healer and started to stand. The room spun in front of her and she grabbed the edge of the pallet for support.
"Jared?" She said, one hand to her head, the other on the pallet edge.
Jared was looking at his grandfather who was watching the warrior with a feral grin on his face. "Grandfather, what have you done?"
Jared caught her as she fell and lowered her body to the ground. "Jared," she said with her last ounce of consciousness, "don't let them hurt her, keep her safe."
Then her head fell back against his arm.
Jared looked up at his grandfather. "Why have you done this?"
The old man got up and walked across to where the boy was sitting cradling the warrior in his arms. "That," the old man kicked Xena in the hip, "is Xena."
Jared dropped the woman onto the hard floor and backed away from her.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure." The old man kicked the unconscious woman again but, being old, his blows didn't do too much damage. "Go get Bodrun, quickly."
Jared took one more look at the woman's body and flew out of the cabin into the dark night.
"Well girl, can't think what would bring you back after all these years, but I promise, you won't live long to regret it." The old man turned Xena's face toward him with his walking stick then swung the same stick, hitting her on the side of her face. He smiled as a small cut opened up just below her left ear and a thin line of blood ran down to pool on the floor.
He heard the raised voices as a small crowd of men approached the cabin.
"Archus! Jared says.................." The large man who had just entered stopped dead as he saw the unconscious woman on the floor. "By the God's"
"Yes it's her." Spat the old man, "I gave her enough herbs to keep her out all night."
"Why is she here?" He said, kneeling and looking closer at the Destroyer of Nations.
"She brought that girl in. We don't know who she is, probably a slave." Archus hobbled over to the quiet form of the bard. "No slave collar though."
Two other men had followed Bodrun into the healers cabin. They bent and removed the warrior's armour and weapons. Then they flipped her onto her stomach and manacled her arms behind her back. The larger of the two men lifted her and placed her over his shoulder. Bodrun nodded to him and he carried her away into the night.
"Jared, I want you to let me know when the girl wakes, I want to know what Xena's doing here and where her army is camped. Is there any way you can wake her quicker?" The large man's hand had found its way to the unconscious girl's thigh.
Jared manoeuvred between the village elder and his patient. "There may be a way, but not yet. She's still weak from the snake poison. I need her to sleep a while longer, it'll allow her body to recover."
Bodrun nodded and walked over to the old man. "Archus, you did well tonight. Tomorrow come to my cabin, we'll discuss how the Warrior Princess will pay."
With a passing look at Gabrielle he stalked out of the cabin. Jared slammed the door behind him.
The young healer turned to his grandfather. "What will they do to her?"
"Execute her." The old man smiled. "Slowly I hope."
"Without a trial?" The boy looked horrified.
"That was the monster who caused the death of your parents. She deserves nothing less." He pointed with his chin towards Gabrielle. "And if she's in league with her, the same goes for her."
Xena woke to pain and darkness. Her head hurt as did her ribs. She knew she was lying on her back, so why did she feel like she was on that damn cross again?
She realised that her armour and weapons had been removed, but she still wore her leather. Her feet were bare.
She tried to move her arms and found they were spread wide either side of her. It would appear her arms had been fastened to a long plank of solid and very heavy wood at wrist and elbow.
Her feet were manacled, a short chain joining them.
She didn't try to sit up, but slowly started to strain against the broad leather bands that attached her arms to the wood. Whoever had constructed the constraint had known their business, however. She wasn't going to get free anytime soon.
So Xena relaxed back against the device, and waited.
Back in the healer's cabin, Jared watched the girl as she struggled toward consciousness.
The green eyes blinked opened, focused and scanned the area immediately in front of her for the face she knew would be there.
"Ssh, it's alright, you're safe here. My name's Jared." The young healer pushed the weakened girl back down on the pallet as she tried to rise.
Gabrielle looked past him, "where's Xena?"
"She's elsewhere. Look, lay back down, I'll get you some water."
Gabrielle allowed herself to be pushed back down on the pallet. When he arrived with the water she took three big swallows.
"Your name's Jared?" She said as she settled back down after her drink.
The boy nodded. "I'm a healer."
"Where am I?"
"In the healer's hut, this village is called Ligara."
Gabrielle closed her eyes. 'Xena, what have you done?' she thought to herself.
"Jared, what's happened to Xena?" Gabrielle felt a knot of fear twist in her stomach. She knew Xena wouldn't leave her while she was ill. She also knew this was a village that Xena's army had sacked years before.
"She's awake then?" A gruff voice reached Gabrielle from somewhere behind the boy.
Gabrielle saw the old man approaching. There was hatred in his eyes. She sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the pallet, instantly regretting it when a wave of dizziness swept over her.
Jared put an arm around her shoulders and steadied her as she swayed.
"I'll get Bodrun." The old man said, and shuffled out of the cabin.
"What's happening?" The bard said.
Jared sat heavily on the chair that Xena had occupied only a short time earlier. "Xena brought you in earlier. I didn't know who she was, I was only a child when her army attacked us. Grandfather recognised her and drugged her. They've taken her away to the jail house."
Gabrielle buried her face in her hands. "This is my fault. She came down here because of me."
"Are you her captive?"
'Yes I am.' Gabrielle thought, 'she's captured my heart.'
"No," Gabrielle said. "We've been travelling together for two winters. She no longer has an army. She helps people now."
Jared looked into the bard's green eyes. "She killed my parents."
"You can't forgive her, can you?" She watched the boy shake his head. "No, she can't forgive herself either."
Gabrielle looked up as Bodrun and Archus entered the cabin.
"So, the sleeping beauty awakes."
Bodrun was a huge man with a shock of red wavy hair. Which, incidentally, he wore too long and couldn't control. He was forever pushing it away from his face.
Bodrun positioned himself in front of the bard. "Now then, how are you feeling?"
Gabrielle shifted uncomfortably under his intense gaze. "Better, thank you."
"You know who brought you in here?" It was a question.
"Say her name."
"That's right, the Warrior Princess herself." Bodrun reached forward and took a lock of golden hair between his fingers. Gabrielle flinched. "Now what would Xena be doing with a pretty little thing like you in her army?"
Gabrielle tried to pull back out of the man's reach without seeming to. "She no longer has an army."
"So." Bodrun crossed his arms in front of him and regarded her thoughtfully. "You're going to be difficult. I had hoped you'd co-operate with us." He shook his head. "I've heard of cases where captives become more than just slaves to their captors."
He suddenly reached forward and grasped her chin in his hand. "What hold does she have over you?"
Gabrielle pushed the man away weakly. "Please, I don't feel well." She tried to prise the hand from her face. " Jared?"
Jared put himself between the man and the bard. "Bodrun, she really does need to rest. Can't this wait 'til morning?"
"I suppose so. I'll put a guard on the door." He turned from the bard to the young healer. "Don't turn your back on her."
With that Bodrun left. They heard him muttering to a man outside, then heard his footsteps fading into the distance.
The door suddenly opened and a large man walked in. "Can I help you?" Said Jared.
"Bodrun's worried she'll try to escape." He said walking over to the bard. He had a pair of manacles joined by a short chain in his hands.
Lifting the bard's hands he snapped the manacles into place. Then he pushed her back down on the pallet. "Don't move from here. I'll be just outside the door." Giving Jared a threatening look, he left.
Jared immediately ran to Gabrielle's side. "Did he hurt you? Let me look at your hand." He carefully unwrapped the bandage to look at the snakebite. It was bleeding slightly, but the skin around the wound looked healthy.
Archus looked at them from his seat near the fire. "Bodrun won't stand for any lies girl. Tell him what he needs to know tomorrow."
Gabrielle put her manacled hands to her head. Jared had redressed the wound, and now her head was throbbing.
"Headache?" He asked sympathetically. The bard nodded.
Jared left Gabrielle's side and rummaged amongst some bottles on a shelf. He returned to her with a small bottle and a mug of water. "Put out your hand."
Gabrielle put out her hand and he poured a small amount of white powder into it. "This will help you to sleep and hopefully cure your headache."
Gabrielle swallowed the powder with the help of the water. "Thank you." She said lying back again on the pallet.
Jared watched her as the green eyes blinked then closed. Her breathing became even and her body relaxed. He reached out and touched the manacles circling her wrists and shook his head sadly.
The sound of approaching footsteps woke Xena. She craned her neck to see the small window. It was light out. "Morning," she said to herself.
The cell door opened and four men walked in. She was hauled to her feet and spun round. Only then did she realise how heavy the wooden bar was. She staggered momentarily under its weight, shifted it on her shoulders, then stood to her full height and faced the men.
Bodrun faced her. "Xena." He let the name roll from his tongue. "Time for a chat."
One of the men pushed Xena forward and she stumbled toward the door of the cell. The chain between the manacles on her ankles didn't allow for much movement and Xena could only shuffle forwards in tiny steps.
They led her to a large hut, which was obviously the village meeting place. A number of villagers lined the route to the hut. Xena didn't acknowledge them, she stared straight ahead, but still felt the animosity directed at her.
Inside the hut, she was directed to stand under a crossbeam and two ropes were attached to the wood across her shoulders.
Bodrun got a chair and sat directly in front of Xena, smiling.
Xena met his stare. "Where is Gabrielle?"
Bodrun didn't answer but nodded to a man stood slightly behind the warrior and to her left.
The man swung a staff, not unlike Gabrielle's but thicker and heavier, across Xena's back. She grunted with the pain and swung slightly forward, the ropes the only thing keeping her on her feet.
"I ask the questions here," Bodrun said. "Now then, where is your army camped?"
"I no longer have an army."
Another nod, another blow.
"Xena, we don't have time to play this game. We know you lead an army, always have, always will. You're good at what you do."
He nodded again. This time the blow was higher, just below the wood that held her.
Xena sucked air into her lungs;the pain in her back was excruciating and the pull on her shoulders as she tried to stand reminded her again of a beach and a cross.
"Very well." This time he pointed towards the door with his chin. Xena heard rather than saw the man behind her walk to the door.
Bodrun stood and moved behind the chair. From her left she heard a scuffle and suddenly Gabrielle was thrust into her line of sight and pushed down onto the chair.
"Xena!" Gabrielle launched herself from the chair towards the warrior but was intercepted by the staff wielder and pushed back into the chair.
"Leave her out of this, this doesn't concern her, " Xena said, her face contorted in pain.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior with grief stricken eyes.
Bodrun stood behind the bard and rested a hand on her shoulder. He moved his hand up to her neck and then round to cup her chin. He savagely pulled her head back and looked down into her face.
Never taking his eyes from the bard's, he said to Xena, "What is this little girl to you?"
Xena remained silent. Bodrun nodded. Another blow.
Gabrielle sobbed when she heard the grunt of pain from her lover. Her still manacled hands went up to the brutal hand that held her chin in a vice like grip, but she couldn't pry it away from her face.
Still with his hand under her chin, Bodrun kicked the chair away and pulled Gabrielle to her feet. His hand left her chin and his arm went across the front of her shoulders pulling her back into his body.
Gabrielle's eyes locked with Xena's.
Bodrun lowered his head and spoke into the bard's ear. "Where is the army?"
"There is no army. Please, you have to believe us." Gabrielle's voice wavered with fear.
Bodrun nodded; the man swung the club. Bodrun felt the small body in his grasp flinch as the wood connected with Xena's back.
"Let's try something else.Get the boy in here." Bodrun lowered his face to Gabrielle's hair and inhaled deeply. His eyes lifted to those of the warrior who was struggling to regain her breath. "She smells good Xena."
"I'm going to kill you slowly Bodrun." Her face showed no emotion, even so Gabrielle felt a slight tremor from the man behind her.
Bodrun tightened his grip on the bard as the door to the meeting house opened and someone entered. One hand held both her manacled wrists, the other gripped her shoulders.
Jared appeared in front of Gabrielle, next to him the man that had been beating Xena.
Gabrielle could hear Xena struggling to breathe beyond the men, then she heard the warrior's anguished voice. "Leave her alone Bodrun, this has nothing to do with her."
"Oh, but it does Xena, she is the key."
The guard then squeezed his fingers cruelly into Gabrielle's cheeks, causing her to open her mouth. When she did so, Jared poured a small amount of a bitter liquid into the bard's mouth. Bodrun then put his hand over her face covering both her nose and mouth.
"You get to breathe again once you've swallowed, " he hissed into her ear.
The young healer and the guard moved away and Gabrielle looked directly into the eyes of the woman she loved. She saw love and sorrow reflected back at her.
She was growing light-headed; her legs became weak and she slumped back against Bodrun's chest.
"What is it, Jared?" Xena shouted at the young healer.
"It's a mixture of herbs; it causes people to tell the truth." The boy's face reflected the anguish he was feeling.
"Gabrielle! Swallow it, it's alright, just swallow." Xena watched as the bard's throat moved but the huge man didn't release her.
"She's swallowed it; let her go!"
Bodrun lifted his hand from Gabrielle's face but still held her shaking, gasping body tightly against his own.
He looked up to the guard. "Bring the chair back over here."
Xena watched him settle Gabrielle back on the chair. She was still drawing in huge breaths of air. She started to slump forward, but Bodrun took a grip on the back of her halter top and pulled her back upright. Her head fell back, her eyes closed.
Bodrun bent and spoke into her ear. "What is your name?"
The bard's eyes didn't open, but she replied, "Gabrielle," the voice nothing but a whisper.
Xena suddenly reminded herself to breathe.
"And what is the name of the woman you travel with?"
"What position do you hold in her army?"
"She has no army."
Still holding on to the back of the bard's shirt, Bodrun straightened up and looked at the warrior. Then he looked towards Jared. "Give her more."
The healer didn't move. "I gave her enough; what she's saying must be the truth."
"I said give her more."
Bodrun held the girl's mouth open and Jared poured a small amount of the liquid in.
Gabrielle choked momentarily but swallowed most of it.
Bodrun put a hand on either side of the bard's head and raised it so that she was facing the warrior.
"Open your eyes, girl."
Xena watched intently as Gabrielle struggled to open her eyes. She watched the green orbs open and saw the struggle as the bard focused on her face.
Bodrun once again lowered his mouth to her ear. "Look at her, girl. She's a killer, a murderer. Why are you with her?"
Gabrielle looked at her warrior, a small smile on her lips. "Because I love her." Those were her last words as her eyes slid closed; the only thing keeping her in the chair was Bodrun's hands on her face.
Bodrun's eyes snapped up to meet his captive's, but Xena's had closed. She knew now that Bodrun would use the bard against her.
Bodrun reached down and put his left arm beneath the bard's shoulders; his other arm went beneath her knees. Effortlessly he stood, the now unconscious bard limp in his arms. He walked slowly towards the warrior, but stopped before he was in range of the feet that, though chained, could still be lethal.
"I'm going to talk to Gabrielle in the privacy of my home. Think about it Xena."
Gabrielle's head had fallen back on Bodrun's arm and, as Xena watched the man carry her only true love away, she wondered if she would ever look upon that face again.
Xena winced as she heard the heavy doors close. She looked up as Jared walked into her line of vision. To his right was the guard.
"Will you let me tend that cut on your face?" Jared reached out a tentative hand and turned her face sideways, peering at the cut near her left eyebrow. He knew his grandfather had given her the cut when he had run for Bodrun.
The warrior said nothing, but let him clean the wound. "It's not too deep."
"I asked you to keep her safe." Xena turned her face back towards the boy who couldn't meet her gaze.
"There was nothing I could do," the boy said, his eyes on the floor. "Bodrun is very powerful here."
Xena looked at the guard who had gone to sit down on the chair. "Jared, I can't expect you to help me, but all of this has nothing to do with Gabrielle. I'm begging you, please help her."
Jared looked into the eyes of the ex-warlord. "Do you have an army close by?"
"No, she was telling the truth, we both were. I haven't ridden with an army for three winters."
Jared nodded. "I believe you."
Xena smiled at him. "Thank you." Her eyes closed. "Jared, about your family, I'm sorry. There's nothing I could possibly say that could make you forgive me for what happened then. But I want you to help Gabrielle. I'll pay the price Bodrun feels I owe this village, but please, get her out of here."
"As I said, Bodrun is a powerful man. He rules this village through fear. He has a small band of thugs that enforce his will. I don't know if there's anything I can do for Gabrielle." Jared stepped away from Xena and packed his things into a small bag.
As he left the hut two more of Bodrun's thugs walked in. "We're to take her back to the holding cell. Bodrun says we can give her a small taste of Ligaran hospitality."
The guard who was sitting on the chair smiled, and reached for the rope that held Xena in a standing position. Once it was released, she fell to her knees.
The first kick caught her in the ribs, the second on the side of her face. After that they all blurred into one.
Bodrun reached his home with the unconscious bard still in his arms. He went to his pallet and laid her on it. Reaching for the manacles that still encircled her wrists, he unlocked them and threw the chain into a corner.
Then he sat on the edge of the bed and viewed his prize. The first time he'd seen this girl on the pallet in the healer's hut he knew he had to own her. Bodrun had become used to getting what he wanted.
He remembered the time a messenger from Xena's army had ridden into the village. He asked for supplies, enough to last a moon. Bodrun had refused, killed the messenger and tied his body to a horse with a message for Xena.
Xena's army were tired and hungry, and when the body of their comrade was borne back into their camp they lost all reason. They rode into Ligara, destroying everything in their path.
Xena wasn't with them. She'd been wounded and was lying in a tent fighting a raging fever. Her army was depleted and demoralised.
They had just encountered the Horde.
Bodrun knew none of this however. He just knew that Xena's army had ridden into his village in the dark of the night and murdered many of his family and neighbours.
A few days later, the Warrior Princess had ridden through the ruined village. Those who survived saw a gaunt, pale, emotionless face. There was no fight left in the people; if there had been, the warrior wouldn't have fought them. She rode through the village and back to her demoralised army, the commanders of which didn't survive the night.
A knock on the door startled Bodrun for a moment. "Yes, come."
Archus hobbled in. Spotting the unconscious girl on the pallet, he smiled. "She's Xena's woman, isn't she?"
"When are we going to kill her?"
Archus nodded rubbing his hands together.
"Not? You said she was going to die slowly. She killed my son!"
"No, she's going to live. She's going to watch me take what is hers, like she took what was mine. Every day she's going to suffer a little more." Bodrun ran his hand along the bard's jawline. "This little treasure is now mine. I want Xena to live long and see what she has lost. I want her to know the pain of losing something you love. If she has the ability to love."
A furrow creased Bodrun's brow. He looked at the unconscious bard. "You love her, little girl. Does she love you?"
Bodrun tapped the girl's face. He pulled her up so that her back was supported by the wall. Again he slapped her, a little more forcefully this time.
Gabrielle struggled back to consciousness. "Xena?" Her voice was nothing more than a whisper. She tried hard to focus on the dark form in front of her. As the features of the person swam into view she realised it was not her love.
"Gabrielle!" Bodrun held her face in her hands. "I want you to listen to me. Do you love Xena?"
"Does Xena love you?"
"Are you lovers?"
"Yes." This time, with a smile.
Bodrun released the bard's face and she slumped sideways onto the pallet. "I knew it!"
Xena woke once again in the cell. The guards had beaten her badly; she knew she was in trouble. She estimated she had at least one broken rib. The right side of her face was swollen and her right shoulder painful. She could see that it was light out and thought it to be some time after mid-day.
She was lying on her back again, her arms still secured to the accursed wood. She listened to the sound of approaching footsteps and then heard the cell door swing open.
Jared appeared at her side. He knelt beside the injured warrior and started to clean her wounds.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked the young healer.
"Bodrun wants you cleaned up for this evening."
"Why? What's happening?"
"He's going to have a feast. He wants to show you off." Jared washed away the blood that was painting the side of her face and decided that no more stitches were required. He put a hand on her side. "Pain?" he asked.
The warrior nodded. "Only one broken, I think." Xena looked into the boy's eyes. "Jared, please. I'm not asking you to help me. I just want you to listen. Gabrielle has done nothing wrong, she doesn't deserve to suffer for following me."
"Don't you mean for loving you?" Jared sat back on his heels.
"Yes, she does love me, and I love her. That's why I want you to get her away. Just find a way to get her loose; she'll do the rest."
"Do you really think she would? I don't." Jared packed up his stuff and stood. "I don't think she'd leave you warrior, she'd rather die. If I was to get her out......" Jared saw the warrior's face light up. "I said 'if' I was to get her out, she'd want to find a way to release you too. I don't think there's any way I'd be able to do that and live. Bodrun runs this village, I've already told you that. It was because of him that your army attacked. My parents were at the meeting when the rest of the village voted to give your army what it wanted. Bodrun argued that if we did you'd be back again and again for more. So we prepared for a battle. Your army was well trained, Xena. They made easy work of us. I'd been sent to the meeting house with the other children; we all survived. Since then Bodrun has been like a tyrant. No-one dares stand up to him, not since the killings."
"Yes. Bodrun and his thugs killed many that had voted to help you and your army. He now rules by fear."
Jared went to the cell door and knocked on it.. "I'm sorry Xena, there's nothing I can do for you."
Xena listened to his footsteps as they faded away and then rested her head back on the hard wood and closed her eyes.
As he made his way back to his hut, Jared was stopped by one of Bodrun's henchmen. "Bodrun wants you."
Jared shrugged and followed the man to Bodrun's hut.
Once inside, he was greeted by a sight that made him gasp. Gabrielle was sitting on the pallet, Bodrun was kneeling at her feet. Her hands were tied behind her back and a cloth was tied around her eyes, blinding her. Bodrun was winding a thinner strip of leather around the cloth to hold it in place. The ends of the leather were wet, meaning that, as it dried, it would shrink and become almost impossible to undo.
Jared tore his gaze from the girl and looked to the man. "You wanted me?" He saw, from the corner of his eye, Gabrielle's head turn towards his voice.
Bodrun concentrated on what he was doing but said, "How is the woman?"
"She's been beaten but will be ok."
"Good. I want her at the feast this evening. I want her to see her little friend." Bodrun got up and ushered the boy out of his hut. "Jared, "he said, "I know there are herbs that make people, um, confused. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"I think so."
"Do you have them?"
"I have some. What do you want them for?"
"Never mind that, show me."
Bodrun ushered the young healer towards the boy's hut, leaving a guard to watch over the bard.
Xena staggered slightly as she was pushed through the village towards the large hut where she'd been beaten earlier that day.
It was growing dark and she saw people coming and going from the meeting hut as she approached. No-one took any notice of her as they all went about their business.
Inside she saw that the tables had been moved and more had been brought in. There was one long table and two shorter ones at either end of it.
Once again she was positioned under the cross beam and two ropes were attached to the wood across her shoulders.
The villagers started to file in; she didn't see Bodrun amongst them. They didn't look as though they were looking forward to the feast that Bodrun had arranged, just going through the motions. They all took their seats and waited.
A noise to her left made Xena turn her head in that direction.
Xena's stomach constricted at the sight.
Bodrun led a bound and blindfolded Gabrielle into the hall. The bard had a leather collar around her neck; a thin rope was attached which Bodrun yanked, urging the bard forward.
He took hold of the bard's shoulders and positioned her half way between the warrior and the tables.
"Kneel." He told her.
Gabrielle sank unsteadily to the floor.
"Gabrielle?" Xena whispered, her eyes brimming with tears.
The bard's head lifted, but she said nothing. Xena looked closely and saw the beginning of a bruise on her left cheekbone.
The sound of Bodrun clapping his hands together startled both warrior and bard. "Let's begin!" He bellowed. "Tonight we celebrate bringing to justice the murderer who killed many of our loved ones all those years ago."
He walked towards Xena, theatrically waving his arms. "I give you Xena, Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations." With a flourish he struck her with the back of his hand, then turned back towards his audience. "Let's eat!" he bellowed.
Xena's eyes hadn't left the bard who still knelt, her hands tied behind her, her eyes blindfolded. But there was something else. The warrior watched her intently. The bard hadn't moved or made any attempt to move. She knelt with her head bowed, her breathing erratic.
The banquet went on but the warrior knew nothing of it. She watched her bard and Bodrun watched her. The huge man rose and walked towards the kneeling girl.
He reached down and wound her leash around his fist. "Come Gabrielle."
Xena watched as Gabrielle instantly obeyed the command. She allowed herself to be led back towards the table. Bodrun sat and made the bard kneel beside him. He pulled some meat from the bone on his plate and held it for Xena to see. "Open." He said. Gabrielle opened her mouth and took the meat from his fingers.
Bodrun patted the bard's head with his hand and stood, walking towards the warrior.
"She's mine Xena. She needs me, she needs me to eat, to walk, " he smiled, "to piss." He turned to look at Gabrielle, who had returned to her previous stance, head bowed. "She can't do anything without me."
He walked back to the bard and pulled her to her feet once more. He led her back to the front of the tables then returned to his seat. Gabrielle stood, waiting for a command. Bodrun gave none.
Xena still watched Gabrielle who had started to sway. "Gabrielle, sit down."
Gabrielle didn't reply, but shook her head.
Xena looked past her towards Bodrun. "What have you done to her?"
"Nothing to concern you. She's content with her new master, have you heard her complain?"
"Gabrielle, what is it, did he hurt you?"
Bodrun nodded to the guard to Xena's left and she felt the familiar pain of the staff across her back.
Gabrielle's head lifted slowly. "Xena?" She had heard the warrior's grunt of pain. The bard's knees buckled and she sank to her knees.
A number of the villagers stood and left, having no stomach for what was about to happen. It left only Bodrun and his cronies. "Yes go," he said, "leave before the entertainment."
Xena watched the man with contempt as he tore the meat from a chicken leg. She'd been given a small amount of food and knew he was trying to humiliate her. Her eyes then shifted to the bard, her head bowed.
"Gabrielle." It was Bodrun's voice. Gabrielle's head raised. "Stand up."
Gabrielle stood shakily and waited for further instructions. "Walk straight ahead." The bard did so until she walked into Xena.
"Isn't that what you wanted? "He said to Xena. "Isn't that what you've been missing? The feel of her, the smell of her. Make the most of it warrior, she's mine now."
The bard let her head fall forward until it rested on Xena's chest and the warrior bowed her head and kissed the golden hair. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry."
She felt the bard shake her head slightly, then she was gone. Xena's head snapped up and she saw Bodrun had hold of the girl's leash and was pulling her back towards the table. "Take her back to the cell." He said. "It's time for my fun."
Two of the burly guards untied the rope that held Xena in place and started to drag her from the hall. She pulled back sharply causing one of the men to stumble. She kicked him solidly in the head; he fell and remained still. The staff wielder swung his weapon in a wide arc, but Xena turned her back catching the strike against the wood that imprisoned her.
She twisted her body, catching the man with the end of the wood at the point of his chin. He joined his companion in unconsciousness.
Xena turned towards the last position of the bard and her captor and was faced with a familiar sight.
Bodrun held a knife to the blonde's throat.
The cry of anguish that tore from the warrior's throat even reached Gabrielle in her drug induced stupor. Xena fell to the floor, her strength undermined by the futility of her escape attempt. She had failed her love, and now they would both pay. How often she had dreaded the bard paying the price of her past misdeeds.
Bodrun laughed as more of his men surrounded the now quiet warrior, pulling her to her feet again.
Pushing the bard ahead of him, he left her in the hands of his guards.
Jared stood at the entrance to Bodrun's home and hesitated before entering. He was ushered into a large room by one of the town leader's serving girls.
He saw Gabrielle kneeling beside the fireplace, trying to hold her head up. The drugs were wearing on her.
"You have prepared more of the herbs boy?" Shouted Bodrun as he entered from another room.
"I have, though I feel you are giving her too much."
Bodrun regarded the girl. "No, I don't think so. I like what it does. She is much more agreeable in this state. I don't know why I didn't think of it before." He took the package from the young healer. "What of the warrior?"
"Your men beat her badly after you left. I'd like permission to see her."
Bodrun thought for a moment. "Yes." He said. "Go and patch her up. I don't want her dying just yet."
The boy nodded and turned to leave.
"Jared." Bodrun leaned down and grabbed Gabrielle's leash, hauling her to her feet. "Be sure to tell the Warrior Princess that I'm treating her little whore well." With that he fastened his mouth on the unresponsive mouth of the bard.
Jared fled the small building and made his way across the narrow street to the jail house.
Xena had been dumped face down this time. Jared knelt beside her, trying to see her face to assess the damage. He couldn't manage, so he called in two of the guards. The two men happily agreed to turn the warrior onto her back, taking pleasure when she moaned with the pain, even though apparently unconscious.
He pulled a pail of water towards him and started to wash the mud and blood from her face. As he wiped her face the cool water began to bring her round.
The healer stilled his hand, looking into the glazed blue eyes. "No, it's Jared." He continued to remove the signs of the most recent beating. His eyes tried not to lock on to the blue ones below him The pain he saw there took his breath away, and he doubted he could continue.
"Help her." The warrior pleaded through her pain.
"Then help me."
The hand holding the cloth stopped its ministrations. He flinched slightly when he saw the cold blue gaze. "Will you kill him?"
Jared shook his head. "I don't know. I hate the man, but I also have no love for you."
"But Gabrielle. If you don't help me, please help her."
Jared looked at the woman who had been bound and beaten. She didn't look like the woman his grandfather had spoken of for many years. The demoness, known as Xena, Destroyer of Nations, Terror of Greece.
Jared was applying some stitches to a particularly deep cut near her hairline. "Even if I released you, you wouldn't get far. Bodrun has men everywhere."
"I thought the town people didn't agree with his methods."
"They don't. But some feel it's better to be on his side than against him. And you'll find bullies in any town, those who enjoy cruelty." He washed the last of the blood from her face.
"What is he giving her?" Xena asked, realising that she wasn't going to be released.
Xena closed her eyes. She'd used the drug on enemy soldiers, which impelled them to do her bidding, giving her any information she required and often leading her own soldiers against their former compatriots.
It was highly addictive, if given regularly for only a day or so, it could take a week to get the drug out of the system, causing terrible hallucinations.
"Oh Gabrielle, I'm so sorry."
Jared stood and backed away from the woman. "I'll come back in the morning." He said, and turned and knocked on the cell doors to attract the guards attention.
Bodrun reached behind the bard and cut through the ties on her wrists. Even though he did this she still held her hands in the same position.
"Gabrielle, hold your hands out." Said Bodrun.
She did so and he placed a mug with the bitter liquid she had become accustomed to over the past day in her hands. She drank the mixture, her eyes watering from the acidic steam that rose from the herbal tea.
When she had drained the cup Bodrun took the empty vessel from her and set it on the table.
"Stand Gabrielle." He said, and watched as she struggled to her feet. She flung a hand out seeking something to steady herself as the herbs caused her to lose balance. She caught hold of the table and steadied herself, then stood shakily and awaited her master's order.
"Take your clothes off Gabrielle."
There was a hesitation, and the blonde head shifted in his direction.
"Don't make me tell you again Gabrielle."
The blonde began to unlace her top, then shrugged out of it, letting it fall to the floor.
Bodrun remained where he was, taking in the sight of the half naked woman before him. "Now the skirt."
The belt, which held the short Amazon skirt in place, was undone and the garment joined the halter top on the floor.
Bodrun's smiled at the vision before him and knew then what power he held over the Warrior Princess.
Xena lay in the cell, tears coursing down the side of her face. She had failed her bard. The only pure thing in her life was lost to her because of her past. Maybe this was her punishment. This is how she would pay.
Bodrun walked around the naked form of the blonde. He trailed a finger across her smooth shoulders, enjoying the tremble that coursed through her body, and mistaking it for arousal.
Standing infront of her, he asked; "why are you here Gabrielle?"
"Because you wish it."
He walked away, looking back to see if the blonde head followed his movements, it didn't. "And will you do anything for me?"
"And why is that?"
There was a hesitation and Bodrun once again placed himself in front of the bard. "Why will you do anything for me Gabrielle?"
The bard was confused. She knew she should have a ready answer for her master. Her master? There was something wrong. She swallowed a couple of times, her mouth suddenly dry. "I don't............" She took a step back.
Bodrun grabbed her by her shoulders and threw her backwards. The back of her legs hit the bed and she collapsed onto it on her back.
Bodrun fell onto her and flipped her onto her stomach. The groggy bard felt the weight on her back and then warm breath on the side of her face.
"This is your place now Gabrielle, in my bed, doing my bidding. I will teach you how to please me, and then we will show the Warrior Princess just how well you have learned."
Bodrun turned the face of the bard towards him. The girl's features were slack. She was unconscious again.
Blowing out a frustrated breath he called for his serving girls. They were at his side immediately. "Take her to the small room with the lock on the door and put her to bed. Then put a guard on the door."
The girl nodded and beckoned another girl to help her.
"Oh, and Sharaya?"
"Yes, my lord?" the girl said, looking over her shoulder from the limp form of the bard.
"Come back here when you're finished."
The serving girl lowered her eyes. "Yes my lord," she said, and, with the help of her companion, carried the unconscious blonde from the room.
Bodrun was pleased with himself. He had the legendary Warrior Princess locked in his jail and a new little toy. And becoming the owner of the toy would cause a huge amount of suffering to the former.
The sound of someone entering his chambers made him turn, but it wasn't the expected appearance of the serving girl. Instead one of the small villages militia stood before him.
"Sir," the soldier began, "a small army has set up camp on the eastern slopes."
"Small? How small?"
"Less than fifty men, sir."
The soldier was waved away, and Bodrun made his way out of his house and towards the jail.
Xena lay quietly knowing exactly whom the footsteps belonged to.
"Xena, your army is here," said Bodrun from just inside the door.
"How many times do I need to tell you? I have no army." Xena's voice sounded tired, her eyes remained closed.
"I am told the herbs we gave the bard are rarely proved wrong. We will find out very soon if the army is yours. I will put the bard in their path. If it is your army, they will stop. If it is not..." Bodrun leaned over to better see into the blue eyes, which were now fixed upon his own. "... I will lose a toy."
"Let me out of here."
Bodrun took a step away from her, laughing. "So you can what? Go and talk to your men, tell them the best way to take Ligara?" He kicked out, but only made contact with the wood securing her arms. "Oh no. You are my best defence against them. You and the bard."
"If you're going to put anyone in their path, put me there," Xena pleaded as Bodrun made his way out of the cell. "Bodrun, you bastard, listen to me!"
Her only answer was the cell door slamming closed.
The first grey light of dawn announced itself through the small window of Xena's cell. She hadn't slept, her senses not allowing her the luxury of Morpheus' realm. Knowing she was helpless, with an army, however small, waiting in the hills surrounding the village, kept her alert. She knew she had to get out; Gabrielle's safety depended on it. She also knew that if an attack were coming, it would come soon after dawn broke.
Footsteps outside the cell door drew her attention. It opened, and in walked four guards. Two positioned themselves either side of her and hauled her to her feet by the wood still secured to her arms.
"Bodrun wants you now," said one as he stood aside, allowing the two who had hauled her to her feet to propel her out of the cell.
She was led back to the hall in which she had been beaten. Her eyes scanned the room, but found no trace of the bard.
A dizziness came over her and she sank to her knees. She realised this was probably due to lack of food. She had gone without before, but the beatings had taken their toll. And now she worried that when the time came she may not be able to put up enough of a fight to save herself and the bard.
Bodrun watched her as she fell and sat back against the large dining table. "Your army is moving, Xena."
Xena's bowed head rose, and eyes as cold as ice caught him in their gaze. She saw the man's chest constrict as he drew in a sharp breath, and was pleased that she could still produce that fear, bound as she was. "Bodrun, let me tell you this. That army is not mine. Soon they will be here, and you're not going to be able to stop them with the sorry excuse you've got for a militia here. Let me help you; I can forge some kind of defence for the village."
He regarded her for a moment. "You think me a fool."
Xena contemplated that for a moment. "Yes," she admitted. "But at the moment you hold my friend, and as she is in danger I will fight anyone you tell me to."
"So the Warrior Princess will defend the village of Ligara which she destroyed once? That is ironic." Bodrun crossed his arms over his chest and walked up to the kneeling figure. "The bard is a good bed warmer, don't you think?" He stepped back quickly as the warrior staggered to her feet but was brought to her knees immediately by the staff across her back.
"I'm going to kill you slowly, Bodrun."
"I don't think so Warrior Princess. My men have orders to cut the bard's heart out if anything happens to me." He nodded towards the staff wielder who undid the ties that bound Xena to the wood.
Xena shrugged away the wood and knelt for a moment, her hands flat on the rough ground. Then slowly she stood, uncurling her long body and easing her shoulders after their long confinement.
"Where is Gabrielle?" she asked, not moving one inch closer to the man.
"She is safe, for now." He gestured towards the main door, "We don't have much time."
Xena nodded tightly. She started towards the door, and stopped suddenly. "My weapons?" she asked turning back toward Bodrun.
"In good time."
Xena considered asking what would become of her and her lover after this confrontation with the small army, but knew she would get no definite answer. So she turned again and preceded Bodrun through the door.
Outside, the village was busy preparing for the imminent assault by the small army. Xena shook her head slightly seeing the ineffectual barricade that the men were building at one end of the village. Being a small self contained community, they had built a partial wall around the most exposed approach, and this would lend a small amount of protection.
The point of a sword propelled Xena towards the barricade. The men turned from their work as the warrior approached. The barricade was made up of a wagon on its side and a number of barrels and hay bales from the barns.
"This will burn too easily," said Xena surveying their effort.
Bodrun stared at the barricade, which he had ordered to be built.
"It's too late now," she said, just as he was about to start barking orders. "They're on their way."
Bodrun looked at the approach road to the village. "I see no-one."
"You will soon; about a third are on horseback." She turned towards him. "Now, where are my weapons and where is Gabrielle?" Xena took a step towards him; Bodrun took two back.
"The bard is not in the village."
Xena's arm shot out and a large hand gripped his neck.
"She'll die if you kill me," he choked out.
She shoved him away from her, and he fell to the ground at the base of the barricade. "My weapons," she growled.
Bodrun staggered to his feet and waved away one of the men that came to help him up. "Get her weapons."
Xena took the sword and chakram from the terrified looking boy, who handed the gleaming objects over and then retreated back behind the barricade. She buckled on her armour and turned to face the army she could now see approaching.
It wasn't until she raised her sword and cut down the first man to reach her that she realised just how weak she was. However, a weakened Xena was still more than many of the men she fought that day could handle. Man after man fell by her sword. Behind her she heard the battle as some of the small army managed to breach the barricade and make their way into the village.
She was lost in the blood lust.
Xena didn't fully believe Bodrun's claim that Gabrielle was no longer in the village. She followed the fighting, making her way toward Bodrun's house. She parted a man from his head as he tried to stop her entering the dwelling.
Inside, she found the bloody form of Bodrun's serving girl. The girl looked in wonder at her own hands bathed in her own blood. Then her eyes found the terrifying sight of the Warrior Princess, her face streaked in gore, her bloody sword held loosely in her hand.
"Where is he?" asked the bloody apparition.
The girl opened her mouth to speak, but fell forward onto her face, her bloody hands twitching in her death throes.
Xena returned to the fray. Many of the invading army lay dead in the small village street. Many of those had been cut down by the Warrior Princess. Those who still lived staggered away into the surrounding woods, pursued by the villagers wanting to enjoy their victory.
Xena turned to face a small band of the village militia who were now approaching her. "It's over." She heard her own voice. "I will not allow you to bind me again."
They stopped as one and regarded her warily. Jared suddenly appeared and ran up to her. "Xena, you did it."
Xena looked to the darkening sky and welcomed the light rain that had begun to fall and cooled her warm skin. "Jared, I need to find Gabrielle."
"Bodrun says....." Jared's eyes were wide as Xena spun to face him.
"I don't care what Bodrun says." She spoke slowly, as if to a child. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the men approaching again. "You." She lifted her sword, the tip grazing the nearest man's throat. "Stay back. I'm not going back to your jail. I'm going to find my friend and leave."
As the silence drew out it was broken by the sound of the dying and injured. "You're needed, Jared." Xena didn't take her eyes from the six men that faced her, but heard the young healer as he left the street.
"Bodrun will be the ruin of you and this village. I'm going to find him now and take my friend from him. You would do well to consider your actions when he returns."
Not one of the men attempted to stop her as she walked away.
Xena made her way through the village to Bodrun's home. She searched every room but could find no sign of the town leader or her lover. She went back out onto the main street.
"Bodrun!" she yelled, spinning around when she heard running footsteps coming up behind her. Her sword stopped a hair's breadth from the young healer's head. "Don't do that, Jared," she said. "Not now."
"I'm sorry, Xena." Jared took a couple of steps back.
"Where would he have taken her?"
A shake of the young head. "I don't know." He found himself unable to breathe as a large hand closed around his throat. He faced the most frightening sight he had ever seen.
"I'm in no mood for games, Jared," Xena said, tightening her grip.
She released him, and he fell to the ground, clasping his burning throat. "There's a temple, not far from here." Jared swallowed against the pain in his throat. He looked up at the woman standing over him. "I'm not sure...... he may have........"
"Which way?" The voice was low, even, and frighteningly calm.
"East," was all he said, and she was gone.
Xena arrived at the temple not many moments later. Two of Bodrun's men stood at the entrance. She knew she was only a heartbeat from her lover, and the man she intended to kill.
She walked the short distance from the trees to the entrance to the ruined temple. To which god it had been erected, she did not care. The writing above the door was worn and covered in vines.
The men turned in her direction, watching as she pulled her sword from its scabbard.
She stopped a short distance from them. "I don't have time for you. If I fight you now I may not make a clean kill. It could take you hours to die."
They looked at her, then at each other, and ran.
Xena walked up to the entrance and paused a moment, listening.
She could hear the deep voice of the town leader, but nothing else. She crept into the darkness, following the slight flicker of a distant torch.
As she rounded a corner, the sound of Bodrun's voice became clearer.
"Do you want water, Gabrielle?" he asked.
Xena cautiously edged around the corner, just in time to see the blonde head nod and Bodrun raise the waterskin to the bard's mouth.
"There," he said. "Isn't that better?" He smoothed the tousled blonde hair with one hand while the other checked the bindings on her wrists, which were in front of her, her hands resting on her lap.
He leaned forward and pressed his lips against the unresponsive mouth.
Xena was up and moving across the ground before Bodrun realised she was anywhere in the vicinity.
He opened his mouth to call for the guards, but there was no sound.
Xena's sword severed his vocal cords as it sliced through his neck. His hands clawed at his throat as his life's blood showered the bard's face and the warrior's legs.
Xena watched him topple forward, face first onto the dusty floor of the temple. A gurgling sound accompanied his descent, and then he was quiet.
The warrior looked at the body for long moments, her hands shaking and her breath coming in ragged bursts. She looked across at the bard, who was still kneeling, apparently oblivious of the death that had occurred only feet from her. She knew in her heart that Gabrielle would not have wanted the man dead. But she also knew that the person that Xena was, before Gabrielle, had sprung to the surface in the moment she saw her lover in bindings and in his control. She had suffered watching the man hold the body she craved close to his own. She had felt helpless as he used the bard, and she still didn't know in what manner he had used her.
Her thoughts were disturbed by Jared, who skidded to a halt just within the entrance to the large room she was standing in. He looked at the scene in front of him.
The young healer felt no sorrow when his eyes fell on the dead body of the former town leader. But that same emotion did surface when he saw the trembling blonde and the equally distraught warrior. He watched as the dark woman stood for a while staring at the bloody body at her feet, then she turned, her breath catching in her throat, towards her lover.
She knelt in front of Gabrielle, and reached out to her with a blood stained, shaking hand. Without looking away from her, she spoke to Jared.
"Jared. I want you to get my horse and bring her here. Tell the people of Ligara that Bodrun is dead. Tell them also that I will kill any of them that come after me. I've repaid my debt to Ligara. I will leave as soon as I can." She looked up at the boy. "Go," she said quietly.
When Xena's hand first touched Gabrielle's shoulder, the blonde flinched. She shifted back slightly, feeling with her hands the space behind her.
"Gabrielle." Xena spoke quietly. "It's me, sweetheart."
The blonde head moved slowly, knowing the voice.
"That's right." Xena kept her voice low, gentle. "I'm going to take your hand."
The warrior carefully took the small trembling hand in her own. "That's me, Gabrielle." Xena didn't move as Gabrielle reached out with her other hand, the fingers just grazing her cheekbone. Then the fingers snapped back as if scalded.
Gabrielle tried to extricate her hand from Xena's grasp, but the warrior was having none of it. "No, Gabrielle. Don't fight me," she said gently. She pulled the bard towards her, pulling the struggling body into her own. "Don't fight me, baby."
Gabrielle was in another world however. A world of fear and terror. A world where she had to obey the word of one man. She could not give into the security and warmth she knew she would find in the strong arms that held her now. She had to get away. The punishment, though she knew not what it would be, would be great if she didn't comply.
"Noooo!!" The cry that emitted from Gabrielle's throat tore straight to Xena's heart.
The warrior could stand no more. She pressed her fingers gently against the bard's throat and the thrashing woman instantly fell against her bonelessly. There were many pressure points she could use to kill, but this pinch just rendered the bard unconscious.
Pulling the limp body against her own, she buried her face into the golden hair. "I'm sorry," she whispered, hating herself for bringing the bard to this place of hatred and pain.
Her own pain she could handle. In her grief stricken mind she knew she deserved the punishment the town had handed out to her. She would have submitted to it willingly if Gabrielle had not found herself involved in it.
Standing with the still bound, blindfolded and blood spattered blonde in her arms, she left the darkness of the temple and the stink of death, and stepped outside into the afternoon sun.
She heard before she saw her horse being led to the entrance behind a laden Jared. He tied Argo's reins to a branch of a nearby tree, and placed the saddle on the ground.
Without a word she handed the limp body of her lover over to the arms of the healer, who took the still bard without tearing his eyes from the blue ones of the woman in front of him.
Jared had seen many sights in his life, but none had caused such terror in his soul as the empty eyes of the woman mere feet from him.
As Xena finished saddling Argo, she heard the sound of footsteps approaching through the foliage surrounding the temple.
She spun, her sword retrieved from its sheath in one fluid movement.
The first villagers to reach the clearing stopped dead, knowing they were very much in danger.
An elderly man pushed his way through the crowd, his hands raised in a calming gesture.
"Please, Xena, put down your sword."
"Never." Xena took one menacing step towards them.
The man was unfazed. "We mean no harm, Xena." He looked across at the form of the bard in Jared's arms."To either of you."
Xena eyed the rest of the crowd. It was made up of villagers, none of the militia seemed to be present. She chuckled, a sound that struck even more fear into those assembled. "What makes you think you could do me harm?"
He nodded. "You are right, Warrior. We are simple weavers and farmers. The Militia that Bodrun formed and controlled was ordered to remain back in the meeting hall."
"By whom?" Blue eyes continued to roam the faces, looking for an attack.
"By me. Jared tells me you put Bodrun to the sword. He ruled this town for many years, using terror as a means of gaining power. Things will change now." He took his life in his hands and approached the woman, recognising the signs of barely concealed rage behind the calm exterior. "What you did here, many winters ago, was wrong. You know that. But today you repaid your debt. We bear you no malice."
Slowly, very slowly, the sword lowered.
"We offer you the hospitality of our homes." The man lowered his head.
Xena resheathed her sword. Then she took a couple of steps towards him. He looked up from the feet that appeared in his line of sight, and found himself faced with an outstretched armoured arm. He took the arm in his hand, feeling the strength in the hand that gripped his forearm.
Xena faced him for a moment, then turned and jumped up onto the mare's back. Leaning down she took Gabrielle from Jared's arms, taking a moment to settle the bard in front of her, pulling the limp form back against her chest.
"I'm taking her far away from here. Pray to any Gods that you worship that I can get her back from the dark place that Bodrun sent her."
"And if you can't, Xena?" It was Jared, still holding onto Argo's reins.
"If I can't, I may join her in that dark place. I don't have the strength to fight it anymore."
Jared stood back and watched in silence, along with the other townfolk, as she urged Argo to a gentle trot, reaching forwards with her breast dagger as she went and slicing through the thin rope that bound the bard's wrists.
Xena watched the bard sleep.
It had been some time since she'd found the small one-roomed cabin and laid the bard down on the dusty floor.
She'd made the unconscious woman as comfortable as she could, and then had collected wood and built a fire in the empty fireplace that made up most of one wall of the small dwelling.
The day had, however, drained her both mentally and physically, and it was as much as she could do to cover the bard with their sleeping furs before sliding down the wall of the cabin, pulling her legs to her chest, and wrapping her long arms around her knees.
Xena watched the bard sleep.
It wasn't the first time that she had watched as Gabrielle recovered from some injury or illness. And it wasn't the first time that overwhelming guilt assaulted her.
Would this be the time that her lover would leave for the relative safety of the Amazons? Would this be the time that she would persuade the girl that life with her was just too dangerous? Either one of the scenarios she devised in her head made her throat constrict and salty tears sting her eyes.
What would she be, alone without the bard's love to guide her? Her light, that's what she'd called her. Without her, the darkness would win. She herself had said as much. But was it selfishness that kept her from returning Gabrielle to either her blood family or the family she had found with the tribe of warrior women?
Xena watched the steady rise and fall of Gabrielle's chest.
No, it was love. Love in its purest form, which stopped the bard from leaving. Xena could imagine the look on her companion's face should she ever suggest taking her home.
Xena watched the bard sleep.
It was something she did often. Finding an inner peace as she watched the relaxed and innocent face which seemed so much younger in slumber. She'd watch until she saw the green eyes flutter open, become aware and immediately search for her. Then she felt pride as those eyes would fix on her and soften, radiating love and trust.
But those eyes were still covered, and the bard's face was still painted with Bodrun's blood.
This seemed to shake Xena out of her funk. She stood and went to the saddlebags, which were leaning against the wall beside the door.
Selecting a pinch of herbs, she crushed them between her fingers and then put her fingers to her nose. The sharp smell made her eyes water, and she then reached down and held the herbs up against the unconscious woman's nose.
Gabrielle turned her head away from the smell, and Xena threw the herbs away, wiping her hands on a piece of cloth.
She gently pushed blonde hair away from a furrowed brow. "Gabrielle?" she said gently.
"No." The voice was little more than a whisper. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, she was obviously terrified.
"You're safe, sweetheart." Xena cupped a sweaty cheek, trying to calm her lover as she would a frightened animal.
"Gabrielle, I'm going to remove the blindfold."
It was twilight, the only other light in the cabin coming from the healthy fire in the hearth.
"No!" Gabrielle threw the skins off her and started to scoot back across the floor, only to be stopped by the warrior's hands on her shoulders.
"Gabrielle." Xena kept her voice low, not allowing the panic she was beginning to feel to show. "I'm not going to hurt you. You know me."
"No. I can't. Take me back. I shouldn't be here." Her head was thrashing wildly, her face breaking out in a sweat born of fear.
"Gabrielle. Say my name. You know me, listen to my voice. Say my name." Xena cupped the flushed face between her hands, not allowing the blonde to turn away from her. "My name."
There was a long silence Gabrielle searched her cloudy memory. The voice was soothing, she knew it meant safety. But she'd been warned that only one person could protect her. And he wasn't there. She couldn't hear him. If he was gone how would she manage, how would she survive?
He'd told her he'd hurt her friend. No, not her friend, her lover. He'd said he'd kill her. She wasn't to attempt to remove the blindfold, or he'd kill her. He'd kill Xena.
That was the name. The name she'd clung to in the haze he'd induced.
It was the most beautiful sound Xena had heard in days. She couldn't hide the sob that forced its way from her throat, and the bard heard it.
Reaching out tentatively, Gabrielle found the face of the warrior, now wet with tears. "Xena." She felt the tears there, and bowed her head, something in her drug-induced consciousness finding a need to take the blame. She must have done something wrong, and he had hurt her love.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle sobbed.
Xena pulled the trembling form into her arms. "Sorry? Why?"
"Did he hurt you?" She clung onto the leather-clad woman, her hands grasping at the straps that held her armour in place.
"Who? Hurt me? Gabrielle, what are you talking about?" Xena held on tight, trying to show the bard she was safe.
"He said he'd hurt you if I did anything wrong. I was to be his. His property. He wanted to own me. And I let him."
Xena stiffened at the last remark. She slowly drew the bard away from her own body and held the shaking woman at arm's length.
Gabrielle lowered her head.
"Gabrielle, did he force himself upon you?" Xena waited, watching the emotions flitting across the face before her.
"I'm not sure," she whispered.
Xena nodded to herself, taking a deep breath. "It's alright," she assured the blonde, pulling her into an embrace again.
With the bard still in her arms, she reached again for the saddlebag, pulling out one of her daggers from its confines. She held Gabrielle's head still with one hand and whispered into her ear, her lips brushing the very edge of Gabrielle's ear.
"I'm cutting the leather holding the blindfold in place. Keep your eyes closed for a while after I release it."
Gabrielle stiffened. "Sssh, don't worry, it'll be fine." Xena said.
"He's gone Gabrielle." And with that she sliced through the leather thong holding the blindfold in place.
Xena gently pulled the bloody cloth away from her lover's face, easing her thumbs across the closed eyelids. Unlike the majority of the bard's face there was no blood across the closed eyes.
"Stay where you are, I'm just going to get some warm water."
Xena eased away from Gabrielle and retrieved the pot of water from above the fire. Dipping into the warm water the cloth she'd used to protect her hand from the hot metal of the handle, she squeezed out the excess water.
"Gabrielle, I'm going to wash your face." She gently touched the fingers of her other hand to the soft skin of the bard's cheek before applying the warm cloth.
Her hand went behind the blonde head, holding it in place as she scrubbed at the blood, finding it resisting her attempts to remove it.
"I'm not hurting you am I?" she asked, noticing that Gabrielle's eyes were still closed.
"No, I'm fine."
Once she had removed the stains to her satisfaction Xena sat back on her heels. Taking the bard's hands, she rubbed her thumbs across the back of them. "Gabrielle, I want you to slowly open your eyes. If they hurt at all, close them again."
Slowly the green eyes fluttered open. Xena watched as they struggled to focus, and then squeezed shut again.
Gabrielle pulled her hands from Xena's and rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. "I can't see very well," she said. "Everything's fuzzy."
Xena gently pulled the blonde's hands away from her eyes. "They may be for a while; the blindfold was tight. Here." She handed her the cloth which she had dipped into the warm water. "Put this across them, it might be soothing."
Gabrielle took the cloth from Xena's hands and then allowed herself to be pulled into the warrior's lap.
Xena eased herself back against the wall of the cabin and held on tightly to the blonde in her arms. "Just rest for a while. Give your eyes time to recover. We'll just be still for a moment, then we'll try again. You'll be fine sweetheart, I promise."
It was then, after she felt Gabrielle relax against her, that she allowed the tears to fall.
It was sometime later that Xena was startled awake. The pounding her body had taken in the previous couple of days was wearing heavily on her, and she'd fallen asleep with the dazed bard in her arms.
It would seem that Gabrielle had also succumbed to Morpheus' calling and was now deep within the hold of what was obviously a terrifying nightmare.
Xena held on tighter and softly called Gabrielle's name.
"Gabrielle." Again her lips brushed the small ear peeking out from behind silky blonde hair.
"Sssh, you're safe here. I've got you."
"Nooo!" The anguished cry almost caused Xena to lose her grip on the bard, as the smaller woman bucked against the arms that held her. "Xena!"
"I'm here. Gabrielle, it's me." Xena held on, trying not to hurt the struggling woman.
"Gabrielle." Xena kept her voice low, and stroked the blonde hair gently. She kept that up as she felt Gabrielle start to calm and once again relax into her body.
It was then that Xena decided she needed to find out if her lover had been touched by the madman.
She carefully pulled the short skirt higher and eased the bard's legs apart.
Bodrun was a big man and would most certainly have left bruises on the pale skin of Gabrielle's inner thighs. Xena saw none. She looked briefly at the tense face of the bard and pulled her into a tight embrace, crying tears of relief into the blonde hair.
Then she felt small hands moving across her shoulders, trying to grasp onto her leathers. She took the hand in her own and kissed the fingertips.
She watched as glazed green eyes opened and struggled to focus on her. "Xena?" Gabrielle managed between ragged breaths.
Gabrielle tore her eyes from her lover and looked wildly around the small cabin. "Where....?"
"Bodrun has gone. We're far from Ligara. You're safe now."
A small hand untangled itself from the warrior's grip and lifted to trace a bruise that snaked its way around Xena's left eye. "Are you hurt very badly?"
Xena shook her head slightly, not wanting to lose contact with the small hand. "I've had worse." She leaned into the hand that now caressed her cheek. "What about you, how do you feel?"
"I feel......" Gabrielle closed her eyes, then took a deep steadying breath. "I feel as though I've lost something." She shook her head. "I lost a little faith in human nature, I guess."
"Gabrielle, those people had every right to hate what I did to them."
"No." Gabrielle's voice was soft. "They had no right to hate who you are now." She took a deep breath. "They didn't give you a chance, they treated you like an animal."
"We know this sort of thing is going to happen, Gabrielle. People have long memories." Xena was still holding the bard tightly, rocking slightly.
Gabrielle was silent for a long moment.
"Then I have to put some records straight," she said, and snuggled into the warm body again.
The morning light was filtering into the small cabin and fell upon the two forms sleeping beneath the furs.
Xena had made them comfortable, undressing herself and Gabrielle, and the bard slept through the night, wrapped around the solid body of the warrior.
"Hey," said Xena, as she felt Gabrielle's body tense as she awoke.
Gabrielle opened bloodshot green eyes, and tried to focus on the face of her lover. "Ow."
"Do your eyes hurt?" asked Xena, raising her hand to shield Gabrielle's face. The light was still very gentle but seemed to be causing the bard some distress.
"A little." She looked up into the worried face above her. "But there's some compensation." Gabrielle smiled as she traced the features she so loved. Her breath hitched in her throat, however, as she tried to recall the previous days. "Xena," she began. "I'm not sure....."
Xena placed a couple of gentle fingers on the bard's lips. "He didn't touch you." She pulled the bard closer, their naked bodies finding comfort in each other.
"How can you be sure?" asked Gabrielle, wanting it so much to be true.
"You have no marks on your legs. He would have bruised you." She found the bard's eyes, conveying the truth she knew to be so. "And I think you would know."
Gabrielle nodded. "You're right. I'd know."
Xena felt the small body in her arms begin to tremble. "Gabrielle?"
The blonde was staring at her own hands, watching as they shook uncontrollably. "Xena? What's happening?"
Xena knelt up, pulling Gabrielle with her so that the bard was sitting between the warrior's legs, her back to Xena's chest. "It's the drugs, Gabrielle. You're body is expecting more. Bodrun gave you far too much."
Gabrielle doubled over as her stomach cramped, but was held in the strong arms of her lover. "I feel sick."
Xena stood, the small blonde in her arms, and carried her out of the cabin. To anyone it would have made a curious sight, the large fierce naked woman holding a small naked woman so tenderly it seemed she was afraid she might break.
Gabrielle threw up until there was nothing left in her stomach to expel.
"How....... long will.......this last?" asked the bard between ragged breaths.
"I'm not sure." Xena carried her back into the cabin and settled her on the furs. "I'm not really familiar with the herb that he used. Maybe a day or so."
She placed a small pan on the fire and threw on more wood, watching as it ignited and heated the water in the pan. Using some water from one of their water skins, she once again washed the bard's face. Then she let her drink as much as she could, hoping to flush any more of the drug out of her system.
Gabrielle handed the skin back to Xena with a shaking hand.
The warrior wrapped her arms about her lover again, and then pulled the furs around their shoulders.
"Are we safe here?" asked Gabrielle, relieved that the pain was abating and relaxing back into her warrior's body.
"I think so. I don't think they'll come after us."
The blonde head nodded, then leaned back, resting against Xena's chest. "Bodrun?"
"I killed him."
Gabrielle felt the tension in the body behind her. She stroked the arm that was wound around her stomach. "Ligara will be a better place now," Gabrielle said simply.
Xena rested her chin on the bard's head. "Yes, it will."
"We're going to be fine, aren't we?"
"Yes, we'll be fine. Why do you ask?"
"I just get worried," said Gabrielle. "You went down there because of me. I worry you'll send me home."
Xena pulled her close. "Where is your home, Gabrielle?"
"Wherever you are." Gabrielle turned, needing to see Xena's eyes.
"Then, how can I send you home when you're already there?"
Gabrielle sat back in the warrior's embrace. "I love you, Xena."
"I love you too, Gabrielle. I always will."
It took three days for the drug to work its way out of the bard's body. When she was able, the two lovers took their leave of the small cabin, urging Argo to put as much countryside as possible between them and the small village of Ligara.
And Xena secretly resolved, that even if the Gods themselves asked it of her and the very fate of the world was at stake, she would never go back there again.The End
My special thanks to Barbara Davies for betaing this thing, and providing the last sentence. And to everyone who mailed me with their comments, a very special thankyou. Mail Midgit
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