Most of the characters herein belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, Studios USA, Flat Earth Productions, and any other individuals or entities who have an ownership interest in the television program Xena: Warrior Princess. This story was not written for profit and no copyright infringements are intended. In my world, the Xenaverse intersects with the Buffyverse in a character Ive created named Kallerine, who bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar. No copyright infringements intended toward the owners of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, either.
Violence: This is Xena were talking about here. She doesnt use that chakram to file her nails. Nuff said.
Sexual Violence Warning: This section of the story, and this section only, contains some flashback sequences during "The Deliverer" episode, which some may not wish to read.
Subtext/Maintext: PG-13, nothing too graphic here, but if two women being in love rocks your world, too bad for you. Move on to something you can handle.
Questions/Comments/Suggestions welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
Setting: Gabrielle and Xena are living together in the Amazon village. Gabrielle is queen and Xena is her champion/consort. This story falls sequentially after my first story, "March the 16th." Ive taken some liberties with history here, but then so does the show.
Gina Torres: Shes Hal on Cleopatra 2525 and she was Nebula on Hercules. For a visual, she was also Cleopatra on one of the more Xena-free episode of Xena ("King of Assassins").
A SOLSTICE TREATY
By Texbard a/k/a Texbard
... any unkindness to yourself,
Any confusion about others,
Will keep one from accepting
the grace, the love,
The sublime freedom ...
- from "This Place Where You Are Right Now," The Subject Tonight is Love - 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz, versions by Daniel Ladinsky, copyright 1996, Pumpkin House Press, PumpkinH@aol.com.
Drat it all, where in Hades did that man make camp? Kallerine blew a damp lock of hair off her forehead with a forceful puff of breath, and pushed back some thick brambles that blocked the entrance to what appeared to be yet another small empty cave. It was one in a long series of small caves that were part of the rocky ridge where Xena had directed her to search for Herodotus. "Ouch!" Small thorns scraped at her skin, the salt from her own sweat intensifying the stinging sensation. She pushed through the undergrowth and stepped into the tiny cavern, her footsteps stirring up small clouds of grey dust.
The ceiling was barely high enough for her to stand up. She paused before walking further inside, looking around with her sharp eyes and taking in deep whiffs of air, mostly testing for any signs of bears, wild boar, or any number of species of large cats that often made their homes in these caves. Only the dank smell of damp slate, tinged with old dried bat droppings met her nostrils, and there were no signs of life to be seen, either of man or beast. Satisfied that she was alone, she moved further inside and determined that this particular cave was only about eighteen meters deep and not more than five meters wide at its widest point. It was obvious no one had been inside in quite some time, the only other footprints besides Kallerines belonging to small rodents along with a few trails left by snakes.
The slayer sighed and trudged back to the caves entrance, plopping down on a large log and resting her back against the cool rock surface behind her. She lifted her water skin and took several sips, wiping her hand across her mouth and recapping the skin. Bending over, she examined the dozens of tiny bleeding scratches she had acquired on her lean muscular legs, along with several darkening bruises from thick branches snapping against her shins.
Damn it Xena, you would send me into the briar patch wouldnt you? Guess shed probably tell me to wear some leg armor next time. The slayer recognized that the simple moccasins shed donned for this expedition really werent the best choice in footwear for bouldering and hiking through the underbrush. Yep. Xena would definitely yell at me for that.
Kallerine smiled. Shed been the first to sign up for one of the warriors tracking classes, and Xena had not only taught them tracking, shed also covered basic survival skills and what types of weapons and armor were most effective in various situations. The slayer hadnt regretted a single moment of it. Well, other than the three days spent in the pouring down rain during the classs final exam.
The exam had been simple, yet at the same time the most difficult challenge Kallerine had ever faced. In order to pass, each class was given as its final assignment the task of tracking the warrior princess herself. Xena got a two-candlemark head start and then the class was free to begin trying to find her. It had been bright and sunny when the warrior started out, but by the time her allotted two candle marks had passed, the skies had opened up with torrential spring downpours, washing away any tracks Xena might have left in her wake.
Kallerine had somehow been elected leader of the group by the five other age-mates that made up her tracking class, the slayer being the only one who had spent a lot of time on her own in the wilderness. And so she had encouraged them and at times kicked their complaining leather-clad butts, as they slogged through creeks and woods, over rocks and ridges, through valleys and marshes, repeatedly finding and losing the warriors trail. Their hair had been positively plastered to their heads, their fingers and toes were painfully shriveled, and the wet leather they wore felt as if it were shrinking with every step they took, causing chafing in places that made it difficult to walk and nearly impossible to sit down.
On the third day, dejected and miserable, they had holed up in one of the small caves on this very ridge. There had been no dry wood to be found, and so they had huddled together to share body heat, shivering in the dark cave with not even a torch to shed a bit of comforting light, watching the rain pour down outside the caves entrance. They had laid out their leathers to dry on the rocks, and passed out what few trail rations they had left among themselves. If they hadnt been Amazons, most of them would probably have been crying. But they were Amazons, and so they all put on their toughest faces, determined not to show their true feelings in front of their other sisters. Their shivers, however, gave them away, along with the occasional chattering set of teeth.
The slayer could only sit still for so long. After choking down a stale and soggy trail bar, she had told the others to stay put while she explored the cave a bit. With her sharp eyes, she was able to go a lot further back into the cave than the others could have, and still be able to see. Shed crept along quietly, peering around at the odd shadows on the walls and ceiling, and sniffing the air. The cavern had been deeper than she had expected, and after a while she was certain she smelled fire burning. But thats impossible, shed said to herself. Nonetheless, she followed her nose until the unmistakable scent of cedar smoke had grown quite strong. Where in Hades is that coming from?
Kallerine looked around and finally spotted the faintest sliver of light up in a corner near the ceiling. What the . . ? Shed looked and felt around, trying to find an opening in the rock. Finding nothing, she walked over to a spot on the ground directly below the crack. With careful but determined steps, she climbed up the wall, using the various nooks and protruding rocks for hand and footholds, until she reached the top.
She pushed and probed at the crevice and realized that it was actually a rather large hole with a big rock wedged into it, effectively blocking most of the opening along with the light coming from the other side. With a forceful shove, she pushed the rock on through the hole, listening as it bounced against rocks on the other side and broke into pieces. Now along with cedar, she could also smell fish cooking. Her stomach growled in appreciation.
Cautiously, she poked her head through the hole and almost fell backward as a deep raspy voice greeted her. "Bout time one of you feather heads found me. I was starting to get bored. Course I coulda guessed it would be you who would get to me first." The warrior turned and smiled up at the surprised slayer. "Well come on in. If I got through that opening, I know you can. Watch your step, though. A fall wouldnt kill you, but Im not really in the mood to set any broken bones right now."
Kallerine had shimmied through the hole and down into Xenas little shelter, looking around with great approval. In the center of the small chamber a fire was burning with two large fish cooking on spits suspended over the flames. The warriors sleeping furs were spread out near the fire. In one corner, a steaming mineral pool bubbled, fed by an underground hot spring and draining out through a narrow crack in the back wall. Through the crack the slayer could see the rain falling outside. The warrior had rigged a little trough made of tree bark, which was channeling rain water from outside into a depression in the stone, collecting fresh cold drinking water.
"This is great!" The slayer plopped down on a flat rock across the fire from the warrior. "Howd you find it?"
"Quite by accident. And let me tell you, it hasnt been much fun climbing in and out of that hole up there to go find food. I was lucky enough to gather a good supply of firewood before the rain got this far, but to eat, I had to go out in the rain every day. And then cover my muddy wet tracks each time I came back in. But it sure was nice to get a hot bath every day. Here have some trout." Xena portioned up a large flaky piece of the fragrant white flesh onto a tin travel plate and handed it over.
"Wow. Thanks." The brown eyes grew large at the sight of hot food, and Kallerine couldnt help but bolt down the first few bites before she looked up and saw bemused blue eyes watching her.
"Relax. And slow down. Theres plenty more here." Xena dished out another portion which the slayer gratefully accepted. "You want to take this out and share with the others?"
Kallerine chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "Nah. I think Im gonna sit right here and finish my meal first. Then Im going to go take a dip in that lovely hot spring over there. Then Ill think about maybe going out and telling the others that we can go home now." She smiled and then stopped. "We can go home now, cant we? We have passed the test, right?"
"Right." The warrior grinned. "And since you found me, you will get a special notation on your certificate. Ill make sure the queen places it on there when she signs it."
"Mmmm." Kallerine swallowed quickly and dabbed at the corner of her mouth with her fingers. "Than . . . thank you." She peered shyly over at Xena and noticed a couple of scrolls spread out next to her. "I didnt know you wrote. I mean, not that I didnt think you could write. I just thought that was more the queens thing."
The warrior chuckled. "Those are the queens. I brought them along with me to pass the time. I made a promise to her a while back that I would read all her scrolls, and this seemed like a good time to catch up."
"What kinds of things does she write about?"
"Our travels together, mostly. Along with her thoughts and feelings. Shes very good. Although way too modest about her own part in some of the adventures weve had. I need to get her to work on that."
"The queen is very brave, isnt she?"
"Yes she is. It was the very first thing I noticed about her. Well, maybe after those sparkling green eyes and that pretty blonde hair." Xena couldnt hide the smile on her face. "Did she ever tell you about how we met?"
"You saved her life, didnt you? When those slave traders were going to take her."
"Yes. Thats true. But did she tell you that she offered herself to the slavers in exchange for the freedom of the others in her village? Or that the very next day she saved my life?"
"No. Really? Get out!"
Xena sighed. "Really. Now, let me tell you the whole story . . ."
And so Kallerine had shared a rare moment of one-on-one time with one of her favorite heros, two like souls trading jokes and stories, and getting a seldom-seen glimpse at a more relaxed and peaceful side of the warrior. And also getting a different viewpoint of her queen through the shining eyes of one who was obviously deeply in love with the passionate bard. Not until after the last bite of fish had been consumed and they had both spent some time in the steaming hot natural jacuzzi, did they pack up Xenas things and go out to the others.
Theyd been furious of course, wondering where Kallerine had gone and what had taken her so long. Not to mention the hot meal and bath theyd missed out on. None of them had been brave enough to venture back into the dark cave where shed disappeared, and all were a little envious of the time the slayer had gotten with Xena. Being typical young Amazons, most of them spent a good deal of time mooning over the beautiful warrior, thinking their queen must be the luckiest person this side of Olympus.
Kallerine smiled dreamily at the memory, and then looked around and squinted up at the sun, judging that she had about three more candle marks until sunset. Guess I better move on. She stood up and stretched, and re-shouldered her waterskin before gingerly stepping back through the brambles and onto the faint trail that ran along the ridge. Ah. At last. Heavy boot prints appeared on the trail in front of her, which appeared to be coming from the side of the trail through a path of crushed grass. He cut through the meadow instead of taking the trail, I should have thought of that.
Her spirits lifted considerably, and she easily followed the tracks until they turned off the path and once again became a trail of crushed and broken foliage, leading up to an area sheltered by an outcropping of rock which hung out over a relatively flat expanse of soft dirt. Kallerine made her way to a fire ring which had been built near the sheer cliff. No fire had been started yet, but a stack of freshly-cut wood sat next to the neat ring, and a heavy bedroll had been spread out several feet away. Wonder where he went? Maybe hunting.
She placed her hands on her hips and scanned the campsite, noting a travel pack, a small hand-held axe, and a quiver of arrows along with a longbow. Wait a minute. What kind of hunter looks for dinner without his weapon? Unless maybe he decided to go fishing. There was a stream nearby with a fairly good stock of trout, salmon, and perch. The slayer shrugged and made her way over to the pack and knelt down.
"I really shouldnt do this." She spoke aloud to a tiny lizard which was perched on the axe handle next to the pack. The lizard blinked its black beady eyes and flicked a forked tongue at her. "But I might as well at least look through here just to make sure this is Queen Gabrielles fathers things. Of course I dont know who else they would belong to." Still . . .
Kallerine untied the leather strap which held the pack closed, and opened the lid and peered inside. She hesitantly began rummaging through the contents, coming up with an extra shirt and underthings, a dagger, some travel rations, a flint and striker, a cake of soap, a few strips of linen, a frying pan, and several packets of healers herbs. Finally at the bottom were some pieces of rolled-up parchment, tied up with some rough twine. Oh well. In for dinar in for a drachma. Might as well make a thorough job of it.
The slayer unrolled the parchment and found what she was looking for. The first piece was a hand-sketched map that appeared to be directions and landmarks between Potadeia and Amazon territory. The second piece was a note bearing the queens distinctive seal, inviting the reeve of Potadeia to the treaty summit. Okay. So this is definitely his campsite. "So whered he go?" Kallerine questioned the lizard, who craned his neck at her and then turned, scurrying into a crevice in the rock. "Youre no help at all." She carefully placed the things back in the pack as she had found them and tied it closed before standing back up.
She wandered back over to the fire ring, kicking at the odd rock, and then stopped. I cant believe I didnt notice that earlier. From her current angle, there was clearly more than one set of footprints in the dirt, along with what appeared to be signs of a struggle. Stuck between two of the rocks that made up the ring, mostly buried in the dirt, was a feather. Kallerine bent over and plucked it up, twirling it thoughtfully in her fingers. Could be from a bird. Except that we dont have any birds around here that have the ability to dye themselves this particular shade of bright purple. Amazons. But why?
Carefully walking in concentric circles from the fire ring to the outer perimeter of the campsite, she found a few more purple feathers and sorted out the various sets of footprints, determining that four Amazons had apparently captured Herodotus and led him northward away from the campsite and Amazon territory. She could only assume he was captured, as Xena had given her no information indicating that any type of escort was to come out and get him. Besides, an escort would have taken him either back into the Amazon village or toward the Centaurs, neither of which were north of where he had made camp.
Well this is just great. Do I follow four armed Amazons by myself while their trail is fresh, or do I go back to the village and get some help? The slayer pondered that for a moment and realized that by the time she walked the candle mark back to the Amazon village, any help she gathered would have to come back this way with her another candle marks travel, leaving only about a half candle mark of daylight to follow the trail, and giving Herodotus captors two more candle marks lead on them. Even Kallerines sharp eyes would have a difficult time following a cold trail in the dark.
You know. She mused to herself. If they were going to kill him, they could have just done it here. Maybe they plan on holding him for ransom or something. Or maybe they want to keep him from making it to the treaty summit. She rolled those thoughts around a bit more and came up with a plan. Ill follow the trail until I figure out where theyve taken him. Then if it looks like theyve settled somewhere for the night Ill go back and get help. If not . . . If not, she decided, she would just have to wing it alone.
One slayer versus four armed Amazons. Seems like pretty even odds to me. An ancient grin crossed her face, one shared by generations of slayers. She was the chosen one, although she didnt know that yet. She began following the rather sloppy and obvious sets of prints down the north-bound trail. They didnt even bother to try to cover their tracks. Amateurs.
"Come on Xena, youve hardly said two words to me. What did Octavian say to you right before I came around behind that barn, huh? He threaten you or something?" The weapons master fussed at her tall dour friend, unsuccessfully trying to make some chinks in the tough emotional armor the warrior had donned for their trip home.
The blue eyes bore through Eponin for a long moment and then turned back ahead. "No."
"Okay. Lets see. No threats. No insults. No complaints about the Centaurs. No making changes in the summit agreement." Pony ticked off the possible causes of Xenas bad mood she had already covered with the warrior. "Give me a little hint here, Xena. Im running out of possibilities. You two sure seemed to be getting along well enough during the trip to the Centaur village. What could have happened in five minutes to change that?"
"Apparently we got along too well." Xenas voice was low and soft, and she continued to look straight ahead down the trail, pointedly away from the weapons master.
"Too well? Whaddaya mean by that? I thought getting along was the point of a peace treaty."
"It seems Octavian wanted to make a little more with me than just peace." The warrior played idly with a loose rivet on Argos saddle horn. Need to add that to my list of things to fix, along with Stars bridle buckle. She made a mental note to herself.
"Make more than peace, I dont understand. I . . . oh. Ohhhhhh." Comprehension slapped Eponin on the head. "And you turned him down, huh?"
"Of course I did!" Xena snapped and then clucked to the palomino, getting several paces ahead of her pesky friend.
"Hey, Xena. Hold on a minute now." Pony lightly nudged her own mount forward until she was once again alongside the warrior. "I didnt meant that I was surprised you turned him down. I guess Im just surprised that he hit on you. Not that youre not pretty or anything. But youre a lot older than him and . . . Oh, Tartarus!" The weapons master sank down a little in her saddle at the glare her comments were eliciting from one very annoyed warrior. "Xena, you want to help me here? I may need your assistance while I shove my other boot in my mouth."
The warrior burst out laughing, unable to maintain her carefully cultivated foul mood. "Salright. I was pretty shocked myself. Thank the gods hes a gentleman. I told him I was in a committed relationship and he backed off. Seemed to understand."
"Coulda gotten a little sticky, huh?" Eponin looked cautiously at the somber warrior, relaxing when she realized the bad mood had been replaced by simple serious introspection.
"Yes. Where Octavian comes from, women entering into the kind of treaty were making are often expected to give certain favors in exchange for completion of the deal. He mentioned Cleopatra, and I know she often uses her sexuality as a means to gain what she wants. Its a card I used to play myself if the situation seemed to call for it. Im not real proud of that now, but back then I . . .." The warrior stopped in mid-sentence and pulled back on Argos reins, bringing the palomino to a halt. She cocked her head and squinted her eyes, listening.
"Whats up?" The weapons master pulled up beside her.
"Shhhh." Xena continued to concentrate, tuning out the rustling of leaves and the soft blowing of wind through the grass on the side of the road, focusing in on the unnatural sounds. Leather brushing against leather. The metallic hiss of a sword being pulled from its scabbard. The tensing creak of a longbow as an arrow is notched against its hairs and drawn back. "Up ahead of us. One in a tree and one on the ground on the left. One in a tree and one on the ground on the right. All armed. The ones in the trees have bows and the ones on the ground have swords."
"How in Hades can you tell all of that?" Pony hissed out of one side of her mouth.
"Many . . ."
"Yeah yeah. Many skills. So what do we do?"
"Theyre Amazons. Lets try the easy way out first. Lets get off the horses and make the peace sign." The warrior carefully slid off Argo and Eponin did the same, both women clasping their hands above their heads holding their fists together.
An arrow flew from each side of the road and Xena caught them both, one in each hand, negligently tossing them aside. So much for peace. "Pony, time for plan B."
"Fight em!" The warrior drew her sword and grabbed her chakram, sending it flying into the trees to the left. It sliced through the branch one Amazon was perched on, and she hit the ground with a painful thud. The chakram ricocheted and crossed the road, also sending another Amazon falling from her leafy nest onto her butt. Xena caught it on the return flight, resettled it on the hook at her waist, and let out a loud cry. "Aililililililili!!! Sheeeeeeyah!"
Out of the corner of one eye she could see Eponin already engaging the third Amazon in sword-play, the sound of metal striking metal reverberating through the small clearing. The warrior turned to her right and drew her own sword, just in time to meet and counter a series of parlays from the last Amazon. She ducked a blow intended to take her head off, and swung out with her sword hilt, nailing her opponent in the kneecap and hearing a loud crunch as the bone shattered. The Amazon shrieked and fell to the ground, her sword falling next to her with a loud clatter against a rock.
Xena stood up and did a series of forward handsprings, quickly closing the distance as the two Amazons who had fallen from the trees started to get up and draw their bows again. Oh no you dont. The warrior grinned and release an evil laugh, flying through the air and kicking the bow from one womans hands and then turning to come upright, landing on her feet. She spun around and landed a solid left hook against the other womans face, watching in fascination as blood spurted from a now crooked nose. Xena snatched the bow from her hands and raised her own knee, bringing the weapon down across her thigh and breaking the thick shaft in two with a loud crack of splintering wood.
The other girl got up and retrieved her bow and having no time to string an arrow, she swung it toward the warrior from behind. Xena heard the movement and jumped to the side at the last minute, causing the girl to lose her balance from the force of her swing. The warrior grabbed the girls arm and pulled her further into her fall, flipping her over onto her back. Xena followed her, landing with both knees resting squarely against each side of the girls ribcage. The warrior quickly jabbed two fingers into each side of the girls neck, and the startled Amazon gasped, her brown eyes bulging from her face.
"Heres the drill. Ive cut off the flow of blood to your brain. Youll be dead in thirty seconds unless I release you." The warrior turned as Eponin disarmed her own opponent, sending the startled girls sword flying across the road and into the tall grass. "Pony, you okay?"
"Yeah. Thanks." The weapons master was already in the process of tying the young blonde Amazons hands behind her back. "Carry on with your interrogation, Xena."
"Gotcha. Now. Where was I?" The warrior turned back to the task at hand, toying with her victim. "Lets see. No blood flow, thirty seconds. Did I cover that with you already?"
The frightened girl shook her head affirmatively, desperately trying to draw in air to her rapidly starving brain. A trickle of blood appeared from one nostril and she began to whimper faintly.
"Okay. Now why did you all attack us?"
"Pro . . . protecting the queen." The girl wheezed out as her eyes started to roll back into her head.
Oh good grief. Xena jabbed two fingers into the girls neck again, and the girl gasped loudly before rolling onto her side, coughing violently.
"For crying out loud. Im the queens champion and consort. Why do you think you need to protect her from me?" The warrior ranted, pacing back and forth in front of the curled up Amazon.
The girl managed to look up. "You . . . you are? But they said . . ."
"Who is they?" Xena barked, kneeling down next to the Amazon, who tried to scoot away from her.
"I dont know, exactly." The girl cowered, a lock of long brown hair obscuring her eyes. "We got a message by carrier pigeon a few days ago. It said that your village needed help. That you were forcing the queen to surrender the Amazon nation to Rome. That you had teamed up with Caesar Augustus to cut a deal in exchange for Amazon slaves. The message said you had locked up all the sisters in the village and were preparing to sell them to Rome."
"Where are you from and who in Hades is Caesar Augustus?" Xena drew her arm back, prepared to use the pressure points again if needed.
"Tha . . . that wont be necessary." The Amazon peered at the two fingers poised above her neck. "Ill co-operate with you."
Eponin sauntered over next to the warrior and looked down. "Youre nothing but a pup. How old are you anyway?"
"Twenty summers." The girl thrust her chin out.
"Hmmph. Older than you look." The weapons master idly fingered her sword hilt, scowling at the young girl.
"Im Chaulzie from the next Amazon village north of here. And Caesar Augustus is the one that some call Octavian. The message said you and the queen were meeting with him today. That you had threatened the queen if she didnt go along with your plan. That you had told her you would hurt her family. Our regent sent us to help the queen. We got here as fast as we could. After all, shes our queen too."
"Wait a minute. Too much information. Back up for me." The warrior placed her head in her hands, massaging her temples against the sudden tension headache she felt coming on. "Youre telling me that Gabrielle is queen of more than one village?" The warrior looked up at the weapons master, hoping the information was in error. Her face fell at Ponys expression.
"Well. Yeah. But the queen has always lived in our village. There are regents assigned to each village, and each one is self-governed and has its own council, unless they need the queen to step in and solve some sort of major dispute. We sometimes band together for protection, but we havent needed to in a long time."
"How many villages are we talking about?"
"Shes queen of all the Greek Amazons, twelve villages in all."
"Twelve! Does Gabrielle know about this?" Xena stood back up and once again resumed pacing back and forth across the road, cursing aloud in several foreign tongues.
"I thought she knew, doesnt she?"
"I have a feeling she doesnt. Weve never even been to any of the other Greek Amazon villages. How many Amazons in all?"
"Ummm . . ." Eponin chewed her lower lip and rolled her eyes toward the sky, mentally counting heads. "Lets see . . . about fifty women per village, times twelve villages, that makes . . ."
"Six hundred." The warrior finished for her. "Youre telling me that Gabrielle is queen of six hundred Amazons?!"
"Well, technically, right now you are the ruler of those six hundred Amazons." Pony grinned at her suddenly panic-stricken friend.
"Oh gods, what did I ever do to deserve this?" The warrior felt herself reaching the end of her rope, throwing her hands up in the air. "Its only for a few days, I told myself. What could possibly happen? I asked myself. Its one small village. I thought. Now . . . six hundred crazy feathered women, probably all about to simultaneously have their time of the moon, if Im really lucky. Some of them plotting what is rapidly becoming a civil war . . ." Xena paused and looked over at Eponin and Chaulzie, both of whom were staring at her with large frightened eyes. "Pony, when is the full moon? Itís tomorrow night, isnít it?"
"First full moon on summer solstice in over a hundred years." The weapons master offered helpfully.
"Oh. Thatís just great! Nothing like a little full moon to stir things up. Just in case we were lacking for activity. What in the name of the gods was I thinking? Taking over the Amazons and . . . by the gods, Gabrielle, you better sure as Hades get well or I swear to the gods I will be forced to kill myself. I . . ." Xena continued to pace and curse softly under her breath.
Eponin quietly bound the hands of the two injured Amazons, offering a wet piece of linen to the one with the broken nose. She looked at the one with the broken kneecap, who was whimpering, half in and out of consciousness. "Xena. Youre the healer here. I think you need to take a look at this knee. It looks out of whack."
The warrior walked over to Argo and got her healers kit out of the saddlebags. As she re-set the kneecap and gently pushed the other girls broken nose back into alignment, she slowly calmed down and re-focused her attention on Chaulzie, who appeared to be the leader of the small band of renegade Amazons.
"Did anyone bother to check the authenticity of the note you received? Was the queens seal on it? Was it even signed?" Her voice was low and steady, in a conscious effort to avoid frightening the captive Amazons any further.
"Um. No. I guess we didnt." Chaulzie looked down.
"Because first of all . . ." The warrior tied off a bandage that was holding a splint against the broken knee. "No one is forcing the queen to do anything. She is entering into a treaty with Rome of her own free will. A treaty that was mostly written by her hand, I might add. Second of all, youre about to make a visit to our village, where youll find all the occupants roaming around as they please, none of them locked up. Although I cant say there isnt at least one or two Im real tempted to lock up at this point. And lastly, we cant give the Amazons over to Rome, because legally we all belong to Rome already. Greece has been part of the Roman Empire for almost five seasons."
"It has?!" A chorus of Amazon voices assaulted the warriors ears, including that of Eponin. "Xena, are you kidding me?" Pony eyed her friend warily.
Geez. Dont they teach these feather heads anything besides fighting? "Yes. The peace treaty with Rome is a means of preserving what little freedom we have left. If any of you gods-be-damned Amazons will quit meddling long enough to let us put it into place." The warrior turned and pinned Chaulzie with an icy stare. "Did you bring that note with you?"
"No." The young Amazon stood partially behind Eponin, hoping the crazed former warlord wouldnt hurt someone who appeared to be her friend.
"Well that would be just about par for the course, wouldnt it?" Xena felt her temper rising again, the smoke practically spewing out of her ears, and she strode purposefully toward Argo. "Pony, you stay here and guard this group. Im going to ride back to the village and send some people out with a liter for the one with the broken knee. Do you think you can manage to stay out of trouble for a half candle mark while Im gone?" The warrior vaulted onto the palomino and started to leave.
"Sure. Um . . . Xena, whats par for the course?"
"Hard to translate. Phrase I picked up in Britannia. It's from a game they play where they knock little balls into holes with sticks." The warrior clucked to Argo and rode away, disappearing from view around the next bend in the road.
A weary warrior dragged through the front door of the queens hut, shuffling her feet slightly on the smooth wooden floor. She quietly closed the door and set a tray of food down on the table in the sitting room. Grabbing a flint and striker off the table, she lit a few candles and then walked across the room, poking her head through the bedroom door where Amarice sat in a chair reading by the light of a single candle which sat on a table beside the bed. "How is she?"
"About the same. Shes been sleeping peacefully most of the time since you left for the Centaur village." The tall Amazon stood up and stretched a bit, walking over to look out the window, noting the almost-full moon shining down from a cloudless sky.
"Any more throwing up?"
"Not for a long while. At least two candle marks."
"Good." The warrior leaned down over the sleeping bard, gently tucking the covers more snugly around her small body. "Can you stay for a another quarter candle mark while I eat my dinner?"
"Sure. No problem."
"Thanks." Xena moved back to the sitting room and sank down into a chair at the table, forcing herself to eat some of the soup and bread shed brought over from the dining hall, having begged out of sharing a meal with some of the other village warriors. She sighed. Since shed left Pony back on the road and returned to the Amazon village, it had been a whirlwind of activity, and shed only managed to take a quick look at Gabrielle when she first got back, before she had to delegate a group of Amazons to go back to assist Eponin in getting the prisoners escorted to the village.
Theyd moved Chilapa back into the healers hut and the regent was still fast asleep, oblivious to everything that had happened that day. At this particular moment, the warrior envied her. Cheridah had agreed to spend the night in the healers hut to stand guard over Chilapa and Reagan, the Amazon with the broken knee. Chaulzie and the other two captive Amazons were locked in the holding cell beneath the dining hall, where Rebina was camped out for the night to watch them. The warrior had decided to wait until morning to start sorting out what to do with their prisoners, and to figure out who sent the note to Chaulzies village, although Maniah was at the top of her list of suspects. Shed quietly asked Loisha to keep an eye on the elders activities, with instructions to immediately report anything out of the ordinary.
While in the dining hall to collect her dinner, Xena had been called upon to re-align the next days guard duty assignments due to a sick Amazon, settle an argument about whose turn it was to clean up the dining hall after dinner, sign requisitions to stock up on supplies for the communal bathing hut, and look over some mining rights theyd recently worked out with a nearby village. The warrior had greeted each task with a scowl and terse abrupt instructions, and had barely managed to stop herself from drop-kicking the two Amazons who were arguing about K.P. across the dining hall.
In the process she had gained a whole new level of respect for her diplomatic partner. And right now, she wanted nothing more than to take a bath and curl up in bed with her soulmate, craving the sense of peace she always felt during quiet moments with her lover. She thoughtfully dipped a last bite of bread into the bowl of stew, and popped it in her mouth before pouring a small portion of the leftover soup into a small mug, hoping she might encourage the bard to eat some of it.
She rose up and blew out all but one candle and then walked quietly back into the bedroom. "Amarice, you can go on home. Well be fine for tonight, and Im afraid tomorrow is going to be a very long day."
Xena had filled Amarice in on the attack by the four Amazons, along with some of the details of her conversation with Octavian on the road. "Guess so. Do you need me back here first thing in the morning?"
"No." The warrior thought for a moment. "Go ahead and get yourself some breakfast early, and Ill send for you if I need you."
"Okay. Nite, Xena."
"Goodnight. And thank you. It means a lot to Gabrielle and I to have people we can count on." The warrior smiled, albeit a tired smile.
"Youre welcome. You look like you could use some rest." Concerned hazel eyes met blood-shot blue ones.
"Yeah. I could. And I will." The warrior followed the redhead through the sitting room and closed the door behind her. There were no locks on the doors in the Amazon village, but Xena grabbed a chair from the table and wedged it underneath the doorknob. "Gods only know who else might try to attack us before morning. Geez, what a day." The warrior muttered to herself and made her way back to the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. She reached over and rested her hand against Gabrielles forehead, pleased that the bard did not seem to have any fever.
Two eyelids fluttered and then opened, revealing sleepy clear green orbs that peered up in confusion. "Hey." Gabrielles voice was hoarse.
Xena reached over and grabbed a water skin. "Hey you. How are you feeling?" She held the spout to the bards lips and Gabrielle took several long sips and swallowed painfully.
"A little better. I dont feel like throwing up anymore. I just feel real weak."
"Good. Maybe I got enough of the poison out that you wont be sick for too long." She absently tugged at her armor buckles with one hand, while she stroked the bards blonde hair with the other one.
"You look really tired, Xena." Gabrielle reached up and took hold of the hand in her hair.
"Its been a very long day with a several surprises."
"Oh? Like what?" Howd it go with Brutus and the Centaurs?"
"Fine. They agreed to postpone the summit until youre well." The warrior stood up and shrugged off the armor and then peeled down her leathers, leaving only her underclothing. "Sweetheart, tell you what. Im going to take a quick bath and then Ill be right back to tell you all about it, okay?"
"Okay. Dont be too long." The bard yawned, wincing as her jaws popped on both sides. "Im starting to fade again. Dont know how long I can stay awake."
"Ill hurry." Xena bent over and pecked her lover on the forehead and went into the bathing room.
She re-appeared a quarter candle mark later, refreshed and clean, wearing an old soft blue sleep shirt. Light snoring greeted her ears and she smiled. Guess she wont be eating any soup tonight. The warrior quietly lifted up the covers and slid in behind her lover, pulling the bard up against her stomach until they were spooning. Gabrielle muttered something unintelligible and snuggled up more tightly against Xenas stomach, curling her hand around the arm that was wrapped around her waist. The warrior leaned over and gazed at the bards peaceful face. "The Amazons have no idea how lucky they are to have you." Xena whispered softly. She placed a feather-light kiss on her soulmates cheek and then reached across and doused the candle on the night table. "Tomorrows soon enough to tell you about everything that happened today."
Xena closed here eyes and nuzzled her face against the back of the bards neck, sighing with contentment at the sweet smell that was all Gabrielle. Gods. Was it just this morning that I was snuggled up with her under a tree reading scrolls? She reflected that she couldnt remember the last time a day had seemed as long as this one had. Slowly, she felt her body begin to relax, the days tensions melting off her as the warmth of the bards body and the steady sure heartbeat she could feel against her arm wrapped her in a comfortable layer of peace.
The warrior reached around and felt to make sure her sword was leaning against the headboard. She extended her senses, listening to the night music, hearing crickets singing outside and further away, bullfrogs croaking in the stream. A light breeze rustled the leaves in the trees outside the window. Satisfied that noting was amiss, she finally allowed the day to catch up with her, and buried her face into Gabrielles short hair, slipping into a deep dreamless sleep.
Kallerine crept up to the campsite on all fours, and quietly parted the bushes to observe the small group of Amazons. They had built a fire which was popping and cracking pleasantly, the fragrant aroma of burning cedar permeating the early evening air. Two of them appeared to be setting up bedrolls while a third one was cooking a couple of small rabbits theyd killed earlier. The fourth one was off to the side guarding Herodotus, who was sitting down tied to a tree. The man was silent, but didnt appear to be in pain, his bonds only tied tightly enough to keep him from escaping.
The wind picked up and changed directions, carrying the smell of the cooking rabbit to the slayers appreciative nose, and her stomach growled loudly in response. Her heart skipped a beat, sure that the noise must have been loud enough to alert them of her presence. After a few moments she took a deep breath, realizing no one had heard.
Shed followed them from a safe distance for two and a half candle marks, putting her a good three and a half candle marks travel from the Amazon village. If I go back now, she pondered, it will be seven candle marks before we can get back, but they should still be here. It was dusk, the horizon painted a deep black-blue, as the final light from the sun warred with the darkness for control of the evening sky. It was at least nine candle marks until sunrise, she reasoned, giving her plenty of time to go get help.
What to do? Go back or try to do this all by myself? What would Xena do? Kallerine smiled. Well of course, shed just swoop down in there, fight all four of them, rescue the queens father, and come out without so much as a stubbed toe. But Im not Xena, she recognized ruefully. And Xena taught us to work as hard as necessary, but if we had an easy way or a hard way to do something, to take the easy way if the outcome is going to be the same. Guess Ill be going back to the village.
Noting her landmarks, a large cypress tree along with the tight ring of cedar trees and bushes that surrounded the Amazon camp, she crawled away for several meters before she cautiously stood up and made her way silently back toward the village. Once she was upright again, she trotted down the path on her moccasined feet, using her keen vision to avoid the odd root or rock in the path, occasionally leaping over any obstacles in her way.
Pale blue eyes blinked into the darkness, reflecting the light from the full moon outside the window. Xena looked around and spied her partner sitting in a chair next to the window, gazing out at the night sky. Oh gods, not again. "Gabrielle, you okay?"
"Im fine, Xena. Just wide awake. I guess I slept too much yesterday." The bard got up and moved back over and laid down on the bed, resting on one arm as she looked down at the warrior. "But why are you awake?"
"Guess my body missed you." Xena smiled into the darkness. "And I was just thinking about everything I need to do tomorrow."
"Um. Weve got four Amazons from the village north of here in captivity."
"What?! Xena, why?" The pale eyebrows shot up.
"They attacked us on the road on the way back from the Centaur village. Said they were protecting you from me."
"Xena, what in Hades is going on around here? First someone attacks me and Chilapa. Then you and Eponin? Does someone have a death with or something?"
"All Ive figured out so far is that someone is pretty determined to keep this peace treaty from happening. My guess is Maniah, but weve already discussed that. I just dont have any proof yet that shes responsible for any of it. Um . . . Gabrielle, did you know that you are queen of all the Greek Amazons, not just this village?"
The bard chewed her lower lip and looked down sheepishly. "Actually, yes."
"Oh. Why didnt you tell me?" The hurt expression on the warriors face was evident even in the faint light.
"Sweetheart." Gabrielle reached over and rested her hand against a chiseled cheek bone, gratified when Xena leaned into her touch. "Ephiny told me when I first took the rite of caste from Terreis. At the time she was still disgusted that I was a princess, and I think she told me mostly to try to intimidate me and make me forfeit the title. I think she was afraid that if I became queen the nation would go to chaos. Ephiny and I werent friends yet and she just saw me as this feckless kid. Back then she was right."
"But you could have told me. And you werent a feckless kid." The warrior blinked a few times.
"Xena. Yes I was. I was full of lots of lofty ideals and couldnt even wield a staff. I was not queen material back then. And you knew that. You were pretty freaked out about me taking the rite, remember?"
"Yeah. I guess I was." Xena admitted softly. "I was afraid for you. And I guess I was also afraid I would lose you."
"Wasnt going to happen. Not even back then." Gabrielle smiled. "But I really wanted to be a princess. I think I wanted it so badly because it was the first time I had ever felt like I was anything but a naive village girl. But I was also afraid Id lose you because of it."
"That wasnt going to happen either." The warrior turned her face and kissed the bards palm.
"I know that now, but back then I lived with the daily fear that you were going to send me packing back to Potadeia. And when Ephiny told me I was the heir to the Amazon queens mask for all of Greece I was afraid to tell you because I was afraid youd make me choose between you or being a princess, and I wanted both."
"Oh, Gabrielle. Im sorry you felt that way. Because I would never have made you choose. Frankly I would have been too afraid you would have chosen the Amazons." Xena sighed softly.
"If it had come down to that, I would have picked you, but since I wanted both, I kept it to myself. And then after a while so much time passed that I never could figure out how to tell you without feeling stupid, or hurting your feelings. Im sorry you had to find out from someone else. At times it actually slipped my mind because Ive never been called on by the other villages to help them."
"No its not. I didnt mean to hurt your feelings, Xena. Forgive me, please?"
"Nothing to forgive." The warriors chin jutted out defiantly.
"Xena." The bard let out an exasperated breath. Why is this so hard for her?
"Okay. Yeah, it hurt, a little. But I forgive you." Xena smiled feebly and reached up, pulling the bard down against her.
"So hows Brutus?" Gabrielle slipped her hand under Xenas sleep shirt, rubbing the warriors stomach lightly with her fingertips, tracing small circles on the smooth muscled surface.
"Um." Dark lashed fluttered at the welcome contact. "Hes here, but hes not the ruler of Rome. Its a man, no a boy, really, named Octavian. Caesars grand-nephew. Brutus brought him here with him."
"Really." The bard was non-committal, knowing her partners distaste for anything and anyone connected with Caesar.
"Yeah. But hes different, Gabrielle. He looks so much like Caesar that it took me a while to get past his appearance and really listen to what he had to say. And what I heard, I liked. Hes got a good head on his shoulders and hes not nearly so selfish as Caesar was."
"Wow. Thats good to hear. So what did he have to say?"
The warrior launched into a lengthy account of her conversation with Octavian on the road to the Centaur village, while the bard listened quietly, continuing the light tracing against Xenas soft skin. As the warrior began to describe the triumvirate system of government that Octavian had set up, Gabrielle let out a short surprised breath and quickly rose up, moving to the window and leaning against the window sill.
Xena was by her side in a heartbeat. "Gabrielle, whats wrong? Dont scare me like that." She wrapped a hesitant arm around her partners waist, feeling the slight trembling in the small body.
Slowly, the bard turned and looked for a long time into Xenas eyes. "You said Marc Antony is part of this triumvirate?"
"Yes. I dont know very much about him. Never met him." The warrior searched her partners face, desperate for clues to the sudden mood swing.
"I have." Gabrielles voice was about as cold and hard as Xena had ever heard it, and the warrior shuddered involuntarily at the sound.
"Wha . . . when?" What in Hades is making her feel this way?
The warrior closed her eyes in an attempt to stall a rapidly-rising mass of mixed emotions that threatened to come broiling up to the surface. She took several quick breaths and then one long slow one before she opened her eyes and looked long and hard at her partner. Tears pooled along the bards lower eyelids and Xena reflexively pulled her soulmate against her, kissing the pale blonde head. "Gabrielle. Please. Tell me whats going on with you."
The small body pressed into the taller one and the bard just stood in Xenas warm embrace for several moments, shaking as she tried to gather her thoughts. Finally she looked up and placed a soft hand against the warriors nearly panic-stricken face. "Xena. Lets go sit out in the back courtyard. Its a beautiful night and I could use some fresh air." She lead a mute warrior by the hand through the sitting room and out the back door, sinking down onto the chaise bench and pulling Xena after her.
The warrior sat back against the tall padded back and drew Gabrielle up sideways against her, so that the bard was sitting cross wise in her lap. She wrapped her long arms around her partner and felt her own body shaking as her thoughts raced, keeping pace with the pounding of her heart. She looked up at the hundreds of twinkling stars, wishing desperately for one to shoot across the sky so she could make a special wish to fix whatever she was about to hear. Seeing none, she made the wish anyway. "Gabrielle. What did Marc Antony do to you?"
"Xena. It doesnt matter. That was a long time ago and Im fine now."
"No. Youre not. And whatever it is, it matters to me."
The tears trickled slowly out of the green eyes and Gabrielle sniffed, as the warrior reached up and gently brushed them away. Impulsively Xena ducked her head and briefly kissed the bards soft lips before she sat back and pulled her partner tightly against her. "Tell me."
The bard let out a long shaky breath. "When Caesar captured us, we were taken back to his camp. He talked to me for a while and then left me in the tent with Krafstar . . ."
Gabrielle had been so angry at herself for getting kidnaped, yet again, and even angrier at Xena for not coming after her right away. She and Krafstar had talked for a long time and as the evening passed, she lost hope that Xena was coming for her at all. It had hurt more than she could possibly imagine, and shed briefly wondered if the warrior was going to team up with Bodaceia and simply leave her behind.
Finally, shed withdrawn across the tent, curling up in a ball on a low couch, remembering all the good times shed had with the warrior and wondering how Xenas grudge against Caesar could possibly be more important than coming after her. Shed berated herself for using Krafstar to make Xena jealous on the ship, but shed felt the dark barrier the warrior had raised, and was desperate to use any means available to get her best friend to talk to her. And it had worked.
Shed shivered at the hatred toward Caesar that radiated from the warrior, and also at the way Xena had betrayed Bodaceia in the past, using a friend to get what she wanted. Shed wondered if Xena could betray her like that as well. Little had she known what lay ahead for both of them.
Her thoughts had been interrupted by bawdy laughter, and a tall attractive Roman poked his head into the tent. Hed staggered over to her and when he reached her, the smell of alcohol on his breath had almost made her gag. Hed reached down and run a finger from her jaw across her chin and down her chest to the top of her green top, hooking the finger around one of the straps and tugging at it a little. "Well. What have we here?
Gabrielle had backed away, only to have him pull her closer toward him. "Oh no. I dont think so." The Roman had started to unbuckle his belt when hed stopped and looked around, spotting Krafstar, who was watching with wide eyes. "Of course, I prefer a more private situation." The Roman had stepped back and motioned to one of the guards. "Have her bathed and get some clean clothes for her. Then bring her to my tent."
The solider had saluted. "Yes Sir."
Shed endured a rough bathing at the hands of several Roman soldiers, whod taken her down to a creek and carelessly stripped her clothes from her, holding onto her arms and legs as she fought to escape. Shed felt so ashamed as their eyes appraised her naked body and large calloused hands lathered some harsh lye soap against her skin. She was half-afraid that the soldiers would take their pleasure with her first, but they hadnt, and she had only guessed that they had strict orders to bathe her and nothing more.
Theyd dressed her in a long white satin gown and tied her hands behind her back, pushing her along the path ahead of them towards one of the larger tents in the campsite. Theyd reached it and parted the tent flaps, leading her inside where the Roman waited, stretched out on a pile of thick sleeping furs and drinking from a large flask. Several empty flasks had been tossed onto the ground around the furs. A small fire burned in a pit in the middle of the tent.
"Mmmmm. Very good." The Roman licked his lips. "Leave us."
The soldiers left and hed stood up and walked unsteadily over to her, obviously drunk, and slowly walked around her saying nothing. She felt him breathing down her neck and shuddered as he lifted up her then long hair, planting a few sloppy wet kisses down the back of her neck and shoulders. "Xena has excellent taste in whores."
Oh gods. He thinks Im some sort of sex slave. The bard closed her eyes. She felt him loosen the ties around her wrists and heard the thick rope fall to the ground. "Dont try anything, sweetie. There are two guards right outside the door with big sharp swords. Just co-operate and you wont get hurt." The man walked back over and dropped back down onto the furs.
"Who . . . who are you?" Gabrielle stalled for time.
"Im Marc Antony."
"Youre not a soldier." She looked around, noting that he had no armor stashed anywhere, and was merely wearing a long tunic.
"No. Im Caesars best friend. I just come along on these little excursions for the . . . um . . recreational benefits." He slowly raked his eyes up and down her lithe frame. "And tonight you will be the recreation. Now. Take off the gown. Slowly."
"Please. I dont want to . . . I . . ." Gabrielle had felt the tears spring into her eyes, and she wrapped her arms around herself in defense of his gaze.
"Do it!" The Roman had barked loudly. "Do it or die right now. Those are your choices."
The bard had dropped her arms and lifted her chin, staring straight ahead and over him, refusing to look at his face. She reached up and slowly and pushed back the straps of the gown until it slid down her body and around her ankles. The cool air through the door from behind her caused goose bumps to spring up onto her skin and made her nipples pucker. She felt her face and neck redden in shame.
"You blush very beautifully. Turn around for me."
Gabrielle made a slow circle, trying to just let her mind go blank.
"Nice. Very nice. Come here."
"Please dont do this." The bards voice shook, betraying her fear.
"Just do it!" The Roman had rose up and grabbed her, pushing her down onto the furs and landing on top of her. He grasped her wrists and pulled them around, pinning them underneath and behind her back. He began to kiss her, his breath reeking of stale drink as a sloppy tongue explored her mouth, making her wretch. The Roman reached down and pulled up his tunic, exposing himself to her before roughly pushing her legs apart.
The bard began to cry uncontrollably and she stiffened, bracing herself for the attack when suddenly she felt all of his weight go limp on top of her and heard heavy breathing in her ear. "What the . . .?" She felt his grip on her wrists loosen. Cautiously, she pulled her hands out from underneath herself and then pushed him off, his body rolling haphazardly to the side, his eyes closed. Well Ill be damned. Passed out cold.
She wiped her eyes and looked around the tent, spotting a dagger laying on a table. She sniffled quietly and got up, putting the satin gown back on before taking the dagger and moving to the back of the tent. She started cutting slits in the thick canvas fabric, her adrenalin racing at the prospect of escape. She smiled as she made the last cut and pulled the flap away. But as she began to crawl out, rough hands grabbed her and pulled her up. "And just where were you going?"
She looked up into the black eyes of Caesar, who merely laughed. "I see my best friend has overestimated his abilities again." He fingered the soft satin gown. "Why he keeps bringing this thing with him Ill never know. He never seems to actually get to use it." He snapped his fingers at two guards. "Take her back to the other tent."
Theyd taken her back to the tent where Krafstar was held, and shed walked in and mutely curled up on a pallet, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. She realized Krafstar thought shed been raped, but she couldnt find the emotional energy to tell him differently. In a minute, the tent opening was pulled back again and a soldier tossed her brown skirt and green top inside. She got up and retrieved them from the ground, making Krafstar turn around while she changed.
After she changed, she sat down at the table next to Krafstar and told him what had happened. Hed hugged her and consoled her, thanking his one god that the bard hadnt been hurt, at least not physically. Gabrielle had found her heart turning toward the priest, not understanding his true motives for wanting her untouched.
When Caesar hung them on crosses the next day, Xena finally did come to her rescue, just before they were going to break her legs. "Timing. Weve got to work on timing." Gabrielle looked wearily down at the warrior as Xena cut her down from the cross.
After the rescue things had been strained between the warrior and the bard, and Gabrielle found herself discarded into Krafstars keeping. She was convinced Xena planned to leave her, and so she had turned away from her best friend, putting all her trust in the priest and following him right into her own personal living hell, and finding herself violated on the altar of Dahak in a manner much worse than Marc Antony could ever dream of.
Gabrielle finished her story and looked up hesitantly into glacier-blue eyes. Xenas arms were still wrapped around her, but her hands were balled up into fists against the small of the bards back. The warrior was shaking. "Xena. Say something."
The warrior slowly sat back. "By the gods. If I ever find him Ill skin him alive and then rip his heart out." Xena was afraid to talk. Her emotions torn between desperately wanting to offer comfort to her partner and deep hurt that Gabrielle hadnt told her that she had almost been raped. She carefully lifted the bard off her lap and stood up, pacing back and forth across the courtyard without looking at her partner.
"Xena. Now youre scaring me." The bard walked over and stopped as Xena held up a hand against her advance.
"You didnt tell me. How many other really important things are you holding back from me Gabrielle?" The warriors voice was hoarse and the bard could tell her partner was on the verge of tears.
"Xena. Nothing. At least not deliberately. Xena, honey, come sit back down with me. Lets talk it out, okay?"
"Dont you trust me?" The warrior sat down on a rock and buried her face in her hands.
"Xena, yes. Now I do. Absolutely and without question. But then. Honestly, no. I didnt." The bard walked over and knelt down, pushing herself between Xenas knees and reaching up to remove the warriors hands from her eyes. She gently took her partners hands into her smaller ones and caressed them before leaning down and kissing each individual knuckle. "Come on. Lets talk."
The warrior allowed herself to be pulled up to her feet and led back to the chaise bench. This time it was Gabrielle who sat back and pulled Xenas head down to her shoulder, stroking the long black hair. "Xena. This is going to be difficult to listen to, but you need to hear it."
"Okay." The warrior wrapped one long arm around the bards middle.
"I was going to tell you, but things got complicated. Xena. I didnt understand why we were in Britannia. It was obvious you didnt want to renew your friendship with Bodaceia and I felt like you were using her again, just to get to her army and use them to attack Caesar. I figured out that the whole thing was a grudge trip. Bodaceia had a ready-made army just waiting for you to take charge. What really hurt is that you seemed to be putting everything and everyone else aside. Nothing mattered to you but getting to Caesar, not even me."
Startled blue eyes looked up. "Gabrielle. Thats not true. I just wanted to keep Caesar from taking Britannia. I . . ." The profound sadness on the bards face silenced the warrior. "At least thats what I tried to make myself believe."
"I know. And I really wanted to believe that too, but deep in my heart I knew it wasnt. Xena, I know you. Even then I knew you. Bodaceia didn't need your help. But you needed her army to fight Caesar. Just the mention of Caesars name was usually enough to send you into a blind raving rage. I cant tell you how many times I just wanted to shake you and tell you to get over it."
"But you didnt."
"No. Because it wouldnt have done any good. Xena, Caesar finally had to kill us for you to get over it." The bard continued to stroke the dark head, and felt the warrior reflexively tighten her hold around her middle.
"I guess I am stubborn, huh?"
"Thats putting it mildly. But I always trusted you to ultimately do the right thing by me and other people. Until Britannia. Britannia was the first time you let that stubborn determination take precedence over taking care of me. I was captured and you made a deliberate choice not to come after me right away. After you rescued me and we got back to Bodaceias camp, I talked to a few people, and they told me that you knew early in the evening that I was missing but you told Bodaceia Id be fine, that Caesar wouldnt hurt me. Thats true, isnt it?"
"Yes. Gabrielle, Im sorry. It never occurred to me that anyone would hurt you before I could get there."
"Xena. Thats not the point. The point is that you hurt me. Didnt you know how scared I was, especially after I figured out you werent coming? When they took me to that tent, I was sure I was going to be raped, and you know what I was thinking?"
"I dont know if I want to know." The warriors hand trembled as she lifted it up and curled it around the bards biceps.
"I was thinking that I was going to be raped and probably killed, and you didnt even care."
"Oh gods. Gabrielle, thats not true."
"Isnt it? Even after you knew I was missing, you went doggedly ahead with your battle plans. I dont think you really cared at the moment about anyone or anything else, and it was just easy to tell yourself I would be okay. That way you could shove down your guilt. You knew for almost eighteen hours that I was missing before you came to get me. You were driven in your hatred for Caesar and nothing else mattered. You let them tie me to a cross less than five feet away from you. Xena, I was scared out of my mind. You must have known that. But you didn't make a move to spare me from that fear because you wanted to wait until Caesar was in a better position to suit your purposes. Xena, you used me to get to Caesar."
"Gabrielle, I . . ."
"Let me finish. Even after you rescued me, instead of fussing over me like you usually do, you didnt even give me a chance to tell you what had happened to me. You barely talked to me. I felt like I had been a minor inconvenience. A delay in your battle plans. I wasnt a best friend or even a person to you anymore. I had served your purposes and had become a problem to be gotten rid of."
Xena was crying. "Gabrielle. Please. Thats not true. I love you. Ive loved you from the moment I first saw you. I was just so blind. I hated Caesar. But I never thought of you as a problem to solve."
"Yes. You did. I could see it in your eyes, the little wheels turning inside your head trying to figure out what to do with me. And then you pushed me off onto Krafstar so that you could get back to your plans for attacking Caesar."
"I trusted him. I didnt know . . ." Two small fingers brushed her lips.
"Xena. No more lies. Not to me. Not to yourself. You did not trust Krafstar. I saw that when we were on the ship on the way to Britannia."
The tears began to flow freely down the warriors cheeks and she looked up. "True. I didnt trust him because I thought he was in love with you and I thought you were starting to fall in love with him. But I never in my wildest nightmares thought he was using you to bring evil into the world. You do believe that, dont you?" Please believe that love, because that is the truth. The warrior pleaded silently.
Gabrielle sighed. "Yes. That I do believe. But I was not in love with Krafstar. I went with him because you gave me no other choice. You werent coming back for me, were you?"
"I . . . No." Xenas face fell. "I didnt think you wanted me to. I figured you would stay with Krafstar and become a follower of his one god and you two would settle down and start a family."
"No. Thats not what I wanted. You were all the family I ever wanted. And what were you going to do after the battle?" A small hand tilted up the warriors chin, and watery green eyes peered down intently at her.
"If we won and Caesar was dead, and if I had lived through it, I was going to just go back home, find Argo, and ride off somewhere to die, most likely. Because I knew in my heart when I sent you away with Krafstar that I was sending away everything that was good in my life."
Gabrielles tears fell, mingling with Xenas. "Xena. Why? If thats how you felt, why would you let me go?"
"Because I knew I didnt deserve you and I thought you would have a better life with Krafstar." Xena sniffed. "You know whats really ironic about that whole thing?"
"In a bizarre sort of way, I owe Dahak for bringing us back together. If I hadnt seen that big ol black cloud gathering over that temple, I would never have gone back there."
"Gods, Xena. Its amazing we survived all of that, you know?" The bard leaned down and tenderly kissed her partners mouth.
"I love you, Gabrielle." The warrior returned the kiss, deepening it for a moment before she pulled back and trembled, settling down once again against her lovers shoulder. "Gabrielle, weve talked so much about that time. And I thought we had worked it all out already. Why didnt you ever tell me about Marc Antony?"
"Thats an easy one, love. Think about everything that happened to us right after that. I killed Meridian, Dahak really did rape me, Hope was born, you left me to go to Chin, I betrayed you, Hope killed Solan, you and I ended up hating each other. What Marc Antony tried to do to me sort of paled in comparison. Its one of those things I pushed deep down inside myself because there was too much else to deal with, do you understand that?"
"Yes. But I dont understand why you never brought it up." Xena nuzzled her face softly against the bards neck.
"I guess after we did work everything out, I didnt see any point. He didnt rape me and I thought that telling you about it would only bring up a lot of ugly thoughts and feelings that we had managed to put behind us. Which, from our conversation tonight, was true. But what I hadnt realized was that maybe we needed to get all of that out in the open."
"Gabrielle, I dont want to have unspoken feelings between us anymore, even if it hurts."
"I dont either. Because if Id told you how I felt, I mean really told you how I felt, before we went to Britannia, I cant help but think it might have made a difference."
"Maybe. But well never know."
"And we cant beat ourselves up over that. But from now on, lets make a promise. No more secrets and no more bottled up feelings, okay?"
"Deal." The warrior pulled away and tugged the bard to her feet. "And you, love, need to get your rest. I dont want you to have a relapse."
They went back inside the hut and crawled back into bed, the bard on her stomach with Xenas head resting between her shoulder blades. The warrior idly brushed her fingers against the soft downy hairs on the bards far arm, and turned her face to plant several small kisses against the bards back. "Gabrielle, Im so sorry I hurt you."
"Its okay, Xena. I love you. And I forgave you a long time ago."
But I dont know if Ill ever truly forgive myself. I was going to throw this love away. Gods only know why Ive gotten so many second and third chances at this. The warrior snuggled up against the bard, throwing one leg across her lovers, and wrapping herself around Gabrielle, making as much bodily contact as she possibly could, once more wishing she could crawl inside the bards soul and feel the warmth and redemption she knew lived there.
Gabrielle smiled into the darkness, reveling in the closeness, feeling Xenas need. "Xena, were going to be fine, okay?"
"Okay." The warrior felt the bard take her hand and intertwine their fingers, and her body relaxed, melting into the love, and she allowed herself the peace of sleep.
She had been traveling at a fast pace for over two candle marks when she realized she needed to slow down or risk becoming too tired to go any further. The slayer consciously relaxed her pace, pushing her hair back out of her eyes and looking up at the night sky. The moon was almost full, and cast a soft glow across the ground that precluded the need for a torch to see. Small nocturnal creatures scurried about in the underbrush, just out of sight, gathering food for their young.
She was back near the ridge of caves where she had found Herodotus campsite, and her weary bones were glad she had only about another candle mark of travel. Then she felt it. Her neck hairs prickled and her senses heightened. Across the moon she saw the bats flying, as they dipped and swirled into the opening of one of the caves, one she had not explored earlier in the afternoon. Bacchae bats.
Okay, Kallerine. She chided herself. Stick to you task. You can always come back. She shouldered her small travel pack, repositioning it. But what if they move and you cant find them again? Shouldnt you at least go take a quick look?
Instinct took over and she turned off the path, her eyes and nose drawing her to the cave the bats had flown into. As she reached the entrance she stopped, feeling the familiar energy rise up in her gut. She grasped one of the wooden stakes at her belt, tugging it free and raising it slightly in anticipation, feeling the rough surface in her fingers. Moving inside the cave, she walked cautiously, one quiet step at a time until she reached a corner. She could hear movement and realized the bats had transformed into bacchae once they entered the cave. She knew that the bacchae often traveled in the form of bats and that they also sometimes traveled disguised as the humans they once were, so that they could go into towns at night and mingle with people undetected, choosing their victims.
Peering around the corner she counted three bacchae total, and smiled. Piece of cake. Suddenly, she jumped around the corner. "Sorry to join your party without an invitation, bitches!"
The bacchae nearest her flew up into the air, slashing out with long black claws and baring her fangs, hissing as she made two passes over the slayers head. Kallerine laughed and reached up, tugging the bacchae back down to the ground. She made quick work of stabbing the wooden stake into the bacchaes heart, watching as she disintegrated into dust.
The slayer sensed another bacchae behind her and quickly turned, sending the creature flying across the room with a powerful round-house kick. As the bacchae hit the far wall with a solid thud, the third bacchae came at her, hissing and slashing out. She landed first a solid left hook and then a right jab to the bacchaes face and stomach, before she managed to get inside the creatures defenses and quickly drove the stake into the bacchaes chest, sending her to Hades. Kallerine then turned, realizing the bacchae she had kicked against the wall was apparently unconscious.
She quietly walked over and knelt down. The bacchae was face down and the slayer carefully rolled her over onto her back, raising her stake and relishing what was to be an easy kill. She stopped suddenly and peered down at the creature and felt her heart jump into her throat. No. It cant be. With a trembling hand, she reached out and pushed a lock of familiar long light brown hair out of the bacchaes face. "Kama." The slayer leaned in closer to make sure, and there was no doubt. Fangs, claws, and all, the bacchae was her sister.
Numbly, she dropped the stake to the ground and sat back against the wall, taking deep gulps of air. Oh gods. Now what do I do? Realizing her sister wasnt going to stay out forever, she made quick work of tying her legs and arms up, hoping beyond hope that the girl couldnt transform into a bat while bound up. She pondered that for a long moment before she decided not to take any chances. She hog-tied the girl and pushed the body under a tiny outcropping, just small enough for Kama to fit into. Kallerine piled rocks in front of the overhang, making an effective cage that she thought would probably contain a bat.
The slayer left the cave and found herself running down the trail, her energy suddenly renewed. Xena. Xena will know what to do.
The warrior started out of a deep sleep. "Wha . . .?" She heard it again. A loud knock at the door. She sat up and looked out the window, judging that it was a little past midnight. "Coming!"
"What is it?" The bard stirred, tugging at the hem of Xenas sleep shirt as the warrior crawled over her.
"Someone at the door. Go back to sleep. Ill get it."
"Dont be long. I get cold without you."
Xena smiled and pecked her on the nose. "I wont." She climbed quietly out of bed and padded into the sitting room. "Whos there?"
"Xena, its me." Eponins voice carried through the door.
"Just a minute." The warrior tugged the chair out from under its place against the door knob and flung the door open. "Now what? Cant it wait until morning? Gabrielle and I just got to sleep a few candle marks ago and . . ."
"Kallerines missing. She never came back after you sent her to find Gabrielles father."
"And no one bothered to tell me until now?" The warrior was clearly agitated, as she motioned the weapons master into the room and gestured toward a chair. "Have a seat."
Eponin complied and Xena sat down across from her. "Now let me get this straight. No one has seen her since before you and I went to the Centaur village?"
"No. Everyone was confused. Her age mates in the dormitory didnt miss her because they assumed she was sitting at guard duty for the queen. Amarice finally went looking for her when she found out that Kallerine never made it to the dining hall to get dinner or even a late snack. She went to the dorm about a half a candle mark ago and thats when the younger girls told Amarice they hadnt seen her. We searched the whole village and shes nowhere to be found."
"Oh Hades." Xena stood up and looked out the window. "I guess I better go find her. Ill go saddle up Argo and you go get Amarice and meet me over at the stable. Then . . ." Who am I gonna leave with Gabrielle while Im gone? Rebinas watching our captives and Loisha is tailing Maniah. Cheridah is guarding Chilapa. Gods. "Pony, Im running out of people I trust."
The weapons master stood up. "Xena. Why dont you stay here with the queen and Ill head up the search party. Well come get you if we need you."
Xenas shoulders visibly relaxed. "Thank you, Pony. Be careful, and let me know as soon as you find out anything."
"Sure Xena. You go take care of Gabrielle."
The warrior ushered Eponin out the door and then slipped back into bed, sighing softly as the bard draped herself across Xena, curling her body around the warriors longer frame. "Everything okay?" Gabrielles voice was thick with sleep.
"Yeah." Xena kissed her on top of her head. "Nothing I couldnt delegate out."
"Its good to be the queen, huh?"
The warrior chuckled. "Yeah. I guess it is."
"You wouldnt be wanting the job on a permanent basis, would you?" A small finger poked her playfully in the ribs.
"No. Absolutely not."
"Just checking." The bard nipped at her stomach through the blue sleep shirt before settling back against her and falling asleep.
Continued in Part 5
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