Xena and Gabrielle do not belong to me. They belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance
Part of the Guardian Series
Thunder rumbled and lightning bolts light up the otherwise dark sky, the wind blew hard and the rain made it nearly impossible to see anything that was more than a foot away. The horse pulling the wagon was very scared by all this and it got startled. Everything happened so fast, the only thing everyone heard was Xena calling:
“Exl!!” and then she were gone.
The weather had cleared by the next morning and 3 farmers were on their way to the market place in the next town when they saw someone lying on the ground by the side of the road. They went to take a closer look to see if the person was still alive.
“It's just a young girl”, one of them said as they looked at the lying figure.
“But look at all her weapons; she must be a warrior or a mercenary or something. She could be dangerous”, another said pointing at the young warrior. The third one was brave and said to the others:
“It doesn't matter who she is, she might be injured and she needs help. We're taking her back to the village.” They lifted her in their wagon and turned back.
A dark warrior and a blond bard were walking down the same road about 5-10 miles further. They had escorted a man, his wife and child and their wagon safely through the storm to Nemea and were now looking for their missing friend.
“Xena, where can she be? We've looked everywhere”, Gabrielle said to her tall companion in a very concerned tone.
“I don't know, in that storm it was really hard to tell where she fell off”, Xena answered to her short bard. They had got separated from Exl during the great storm which had suddenly struck. Xena kept stealthily looking around them and she knew someone was near. She stopped and nearly jumped into a nearby bush and pulled out a soldier who had been in hiding. She put the pinch on him and said:
“Alright buster, you have 30 seconds to tell us why you have been following us and spying on us for some time. Start talking.” Gabrielle and Xena looked at the soldier who was gasping for air and he was able to say:
“My commander has heard that you, Xena, are travelling nearby and told me to find you. He humbly asks you to meet him at our camp, he has only good intentions.” Gabrielle looked at Xena and from her expression Xena could understand that Gabrielle wanted her to let him off the pinch. Xena pressed the pressure points to release the pinch and the soldier was able to catch a deep breathe. Gabrielle took Xena's hand and said:
“What if this is a trap of some kind?”
“Could be, but you know I can handle it if it is”, Xena replied. Gabrielle looked at the soldier and asked:
“How far away is your camp?” The soldier pointed to the direction they were headed and said:
“Only a bit over a mile that way.” Gabrielle turned to look at Xena and worry shone off her face.
“Xena, I think we should just continue to look for Exl. She could be injured and just lying around somewhere.” Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle's cheek and caressed it softly with her thumb.
“Maybe they know something, maybe they have seen her or found her”, Xena tried persuading her.
“Let's go and see what this commander wants and if it's something we can't handle, we'll get back on the road and search for our missing Guardian. I promise.”
Xena knew exactly how distressed and worried Gabrielle was about Exl going missing, she felt exactly the same way but she knew that Exl would survive and she could take care of herself.
“Okay, but remember, you promised”, Gabrielle agreed. Xena smiled slightly and said to the soldier:
“Lead the way.” And it was like a command to him; he picked up the pace and started walking back to camp.
In a small village, a man and his son were sitting at Exl's bed side waiting for her to wake up. The man and two other farmers had just brought her back to their village after finding her at the side of the road. Exl started to finally wake up and when she opened her eyes she saw two unfamiliar characters staring at her. She quickly sat up, which made her feel very dizzy. The man tried to calm her by saying:
“It's alright, take it easy.” Exl looked around her and asked:
“Where am I? What is this place?” The man, who had medium long brown hair and a short beard answered:
“You are safe in our village. I and two other men found you lying by the side the road about 3 miles from here and we brought you here because we thought you might be injured. How do you feel?” Exl looked at her arms and hands and when she turned her wrists, her left wrist felt very sore. Otherwise she felt just fine.
“I think my left wrist is sprained and my head is aching. Is there anything else visible?”, Exl said holding her wrist. Before the man could answer, his son about the age of 15 said:
“You have a few cuts and bruises on your cheeks and forehead, you're getting a nasty black eye over your right eye and you have a big scar over your left eye.” He handed Exl a mirror and she could see the same things he had just said.
“Well the scar is very old news, but the black eye is something new”, she replied as she put the mirror on the table.
“My wife has gone to get some supplies, when she gets back she'll take a look at you”, the man said to Exl. Exl realized she couldn't see her friends anywhere. She asked being very worried:
“My friends, have you seen my two friends?” The men looked at each other, then shook their heads. Being upset and sad, Exl lowered her head.
“What happened to you? How did you end up lying unconscious by the side of the road?”, the young man asked. Exl tried to remember what had exactly happened and she began the story.
Elsewhere Xena and Gabrielle finally reached the army camp and were escorted to the commander's tent. Their “guide” walked inside, greeted his leaders and said:
“Sir, I have returned from my reconnaissance and have brought with me the great Warrior Princess, just as you wished.” There were two men discussing in the tent. A man who appeared to have been fighting in many wars over the years, he had to be the army's commander and with him a much younger man, who looked like he had never been in battle himself but had still managed to become a higher officer, possibly even second-in-command. The older man said:
“Well done, you may leave.” The soldier greeted him and left. The commander approached Xena and Gabrielle and introduced himself:
“I am general Remnos, commander of the Mycenaean army and this is lieutenant Maros, my right hand and second-in-command.” The lieutenant only slightly nodded as the general introduced him.
“My name is Xena and this is Gabrielle”, Xena introduces them to the officers.
“We have heard much of you Xena and your deeds as commander of a great army, that's why I've asked you to come here”, Remnos said to Xena.
“So what do you want with me exactly?”, Xena asked. Maros walked next to the general and said:
“About 7 miles northeast from here is a village which has been invaded by a dangerous army of marauders. They chased the villagers away and have had their encampment there for nearly a year now. Every time we have tried to attack them, they have managed to evade our attacks. General Remnos has brought his entire army here after I have tried to deal with these marauders with only a handful of men.” Remnos continued:
“We need your help so that we could finally destroy them once and for all. You know strategies that could help us defeat them easily. Will you help us?” Xena turned to look at Gabrielle and saw that she wasn't so pleased about the idea. This is just like the time they helped the Athenian army in their battle against the Horde. Gabrielle shook her head and said:
“No Xena, please. I just want to leave and go find Exl.” Xena turned to look at the general and asked:
“Have you or any of your men seen a young warrior. About Gabrielle's height, light brown hair, blue-green eyes and a long scar over her left eye?” Remnos and Maros shook their heads and Maros said:
“No, I haven't received any reports about any strangers in the nearby area. I'm sorry.” Gabrielle and Xena both got upset that there hadn't been any signs of Exl near the camp.
“Is she somehow of importance to you?”, Remnos asked them seeing their reactions.
“She is very important. We got separated by the storm last night”, Xena answered.
“I am terribly sorry. Is there something we could do?”, Remnos enquired. Xena looked at Gabrielle, who looked at her with a still sorrowful look. Xena turned to the general and lieutenant and said:
“I have a proposition for you. If you'll help us find our lost friend, I'll help you defeat those marauders you mentioned.” Maros looked very happy and so did Remnos.
“Thank you Xena. I'll have Maros assemble our best scouts to form the search party. We'll find your friend in no time”, Remnos said and turned to look at Maros. He nodded and left the tent. Gabrielle was a bit happier now that they would have help looking for Exl. Remnos advised his guests to sit and told one of the guards near the entrance of his tent to have a group prepare a tent for Xena and Gabrielle. Then he joined them by the table and asked:
“Could you tell what happened when you lost your friend? Every detail may be important.” Gabrielle began her story while Exl was beginning to tell hers.
“My friends, Xena and Gabrielle, and I were on our way to Nemea when we came across a young man, his wife and their newborn baby who were moving there, but on the way they had got lost. We said we'd gladly escort them there safely since we were on our way there ourselves. I got a ride in the back of their wagon with all their belongings and Gabrielle rode with Xena on her horse. But then the storm broke out, and the horse got startled by the flashes of lightning and rumbling of thunder. It began to trot and it was impossible to control. Xena is a very good rider, so she was able to bring her horse next to the other one and jump on its back and try to calm it down.
Meanwhile the wagon started hitting all the bumps in the road and one of the chests nearly fell from the wagon. I grabbed it at the last minute and pulled it from the edge. Then we hit another large bump and I lost my grip of the side of the wagon. The last thing I remember when I fell was everything spinning in my eyes, the lightning bolts flashing and Xena calling for me. Then I must have passed out and you know the rest”, Exl told her rescuers. They didn't know what to say, it was lucky Exl was alive after something like that. But it would take more than that to finish off the young warrior.
Gabrielle continued her story back at camp:
“Everything happened so fast when the horse got startled. I remember seeing Exl in the wagon holding on to the things so that they wouldn't fall, but the next moment she was gone. I don't know where we were when it happened, the storm made it hard to see and when Xena finally managed to stop the crazed horse, we were several miles away. After the weather cleared we helped the family to get to Nemea and after that we headed back this way.” Even though she was a talented bard, somehow telling this story was hard for her. Xena saw this in her and she took Gabrielle's hand giving it a warm squeeze. Gabrielle looked into the warrior's calming eyes and felt the soothing pulse while holding her hand. Remnos could see the warrior in question had to mean a great deal to the couple seeing their expressions. He tried to be reassuring:
“Don't be worried, Maros is gathering our best men to find her.” Maros entered the tent at the same moment and informed:
“Sir, the search party is ready for their briefing.”
Exl finished her story as she heard the door open and seeing a woman enter. She smiled when she saw Exl and said:
“Oh good, you're awake. I was quite surprised when my husband came home with an unconscious young one. How do you feel my dear?” Exl couldn't really say anything at first, she was amazed how friendly the woman was towards her.
“I… I think I sprained my wrist. Otherwise I feel quite fine”, she answered. The woman took her hand and examined her wrists. Exl winced when she turned her left wrist, it felt painful.
“You're right, it's just sprained. I'll just put a bandage around it, it'll be fine in a couple of days. I'll just clean those cuts of yours and you'll be good in no time. My name is Saran by the way.” The man and his son, who had stood back when the woman had entered, approached Exl and the man introduced himself and his son.
“I've completely forgot to introduce myself. My name is Melchian and this is Banden, our son.”
“I'm Exl. Thank you, for helping me, I am very grateful.”
“Don't mention it. We always want to help those who need help and who we can help.”
Saran finished taking care of Exl and asked her:
“Are you hungry my dear? I'm just going to make dinner, I'll set up an extra plate for you.” Exl was overwhelmed by their generosity and was getting out of bed saying:
“Oh no, you've been so kind to me already. I should be going to look for my family…” but she was stopped by Melchian.
“We insist that you stay and eat before you leave. You won't have the energy to search for them on an empty stomach.” Exl knew he was right, she felt slightly hungry and she had no idea were to start looking for her Couple.
“I'd be delighted to stay for dinner, thank you”, she said and Saran smiled entering the kitchen.
Back at the army camp, Xena had been giving instructions and Exl's description to the scouts and they had left to search the nearby area. Xena returned to the commander's tent where Remnos and Maros were looking at the map.
“Xena, would you have some time to discuss the situation with us?”, Maros asked and Xena nodded walking to the map table.
“We are here, this is the main road to Corinth and Nemea and this is where the marauder's camp is located”, he explained to Xena showing the places on the map.
“Are there any large forests, rivers or hill nearby?”, Xena asked.
“To the east and northeast from here are some large hills less than 3 miles away. On the west side of the marauder village is a forest, it's not that big”, Maros continued.
“Sounds good, now if we just knew how much weapons and manpower they have”, Xena said. Remnos immediately suggested:
“We can send a few men to check the situation. Maros, get some of your men and have them investigate all the things Xena needs to know.” Maros had a suggestion of his own:
“If it's alright with you sir, I'd like to go along myself. In case something comes up.” He looked at the general and Xena, both of them agreed.
“I need to know as much as you can about their weapons, how much men they have and something about their plans, if you can do it”, Xena instructed Maros. Maros understood his instructions and left.
“It's starting to get late, I think I'll go and get some shut-eye. Send someone for me if anything comes up”, Xena said to Remnos. The general wished her a good night and she left.
At their tent, Gabrielle was gazing at the horizon and the darkening sky. She felt the chill of the evening air on her bare shoulders until she felt the warmth of someone's strong arms. If it would have been anyone else she would have been startled by the act, but since it was her warrior she didn't even budge. Xena moved her arms so that she wrapped them around Gabrielle's waist and Gabrielle took hold of Xena's hands. Xena rested her chin softly on Gabrielle's shoulder and asked:
“Are you alright love?” As a response she got a silent yes.
“You're worried, I can tell. About a certain special someone, am I right?” Gabrielle turned to face Xena and replied:
“I don't understand it Xena. My heart feels so heavy thinking about what could have happened to Exl. I have a feeling that she's alive, but something just isn't right.” Xena embraced the bard and said:
“That happens when you really care for and love someone. When something unexpected happens, you feel so insecure. Trust me when I say that I know Exl is okay. She is strong and persistent, whatever will happen, she'll survive. She's looking for us just like we're looking for her and we'll find each other.” Gabrielle looked at her confident life partner and answered:
“I trust you completely, I know you're right but I just wish we could find her as soon as possible so we could get away from here.”
“When Maros returns with the information I need, I'll know what to do about the marauders. But that can wait until tomorrow morning”, Xena said and pulled Gabrielle with her into their tent.
Maros had gathered his men and given them their orders. Before leaving, he said to his men:
“Remember, this is their last warning. Take your torches and then we ride.”
Back at Melchian's home, the family along with their guest had finished dinner. Exl was grateful for the meal.
“Thank you for a wonderful meal, it was delicious.” Saran smiled and emptied the table. Banden whispered to his father:
“Father, ask her…” Melchian looked at Exl and said:
“Exl, you're a warrior, am I correct?” Exl nodded and saw how Banden took a look at her weapons.
“I hope you don't think I'm rude for asking you this, but could you help us?”, Melchian asked.
“Help you, how?”, Exl asked being baffled.
“This place isn't where our village has always been. Our village was about 7 miles southwest from here and ours lives were very peaceful. But then a year ago, a small group of soldiers rode to our village and their leader demanded that we must give all our supplies to them in exchange that they would keep away all the bandits in the area. But we politely refused, because there have never been any bandits in this area and we can't afford to give away our supplies. We won't survive without them. The lieutenant got furious that we said no to him and he said he would make us pay. A few days later, the soldiers came back and attacked us. We had no other choice but to leave our homes and search for a new place to live in. We came across these very old abandoned cottages and rebuilt our village here. We thought we would be safe here, but we were wrong. The soldiers found us and demanded that we hand over all our supplies. This time we gave them nearly everything. Since then, once a month they return and threaten to destroy us if don't give them everything we have. There have been no human casualties yet, only material damages. Unfortunately, this month we haven't been able to gather anything for them, because of the heat and that terrible storm last night. They'll be here soon and if we don't have anything to give them, it would mean the end of us”, Melchian explained.
Exl understood the situation, but didn't know how she could help.
“What can I do to help you then?”, she asked. Banden was quick to answer:
“Because you're a warrior, you could help us chase them away so they'll never bother us again.
You have to help us.” Exl knew the problem at hand, well trained soldiers against a small number of villagers.
“I have never been in an army myself not mention leading one. I don't know how I could help.”
Before another word was said, they heard people screaming outside. Melchian, Exl and Banden rushed outside and saw how people ran as soldiers rode into the village. Their leader, a young lieutenant stopped in front of the crowd and shouted:
“Where are the supplies? We want them now!” An older man approached the fierce officer and said:
“Sir, I'm afraid we haven't been able to gather anything because of the terrible heat. Nothing will grow in our poor soil, we don't have anything to give you.”
The lieutenant calmed down and said:
“I understand, you tried your best. But it just isn't good enough.” He reached out his hand and one of his men gave him a light up torch. The villagers were horrified to see the torch in the man's hand.
“This was your last warning, I have an entire army supporting me and when we attack, there will nothing and no-one left”, the man said and threw the torch on the hay roof of a small cottage. The hay caught on fire immediately and the people rushed to fetch water to put it out. Exl was very angry and took one of her axes and threw it at the lieutenant. It struck the officer's cape and it was caught it the wooden door of another house. The lieutenant was wondering where the battle axe had come from and saw a warrior approaching him with another axe in her hand. He looked her straight in the eyes before ripped his cape to get loose and signaled his men to ride off. Exl retrieved her axe and the piece of cape left behind by the soldier. Melchian ran to her to tell that the fire was successfully extinguished. Exl asked him who the leader of the soldiers was.
“He is the leader of the soldiers that first attacked us. He is called lieutenant Maros.” Exl looked in the direction of where the soldiers had escaped to and said to Melchian:
“Melchian, I said I have never lead an army. I thinks that's about to change.”
Gabrielle and Xena had fallen asleep when they heard horses trot into camp and men shouting.
They got up and went outside to see what was going on. They saw Maros enter Remnos's tent and they followed him. Maros was explained the situation to Remnos when Xena asked what was going on.
“We did some investigating of the marauder's camp and found out there is about 50 men there, we didn't see any of weapons, they must keep them in a secure place. The only thing I heard about their plans was that they are planning to attack somewhere very soon, but before I could hear anything else, we were seen and nearly ambushed. We managed to escape without anyone being captured, my cape was ripped while our retreat”, Maros told Xena and the general. Remnos turned to Xena and asked:
“Xena do you have any ideas on how we can stop the marauders before they attack?”
Xena walked to the map and tried to think of a way they could surprise the evil marauders. Then she walked back to Remnos and Maros and said:
“We wait, for them to make the first move.”
“What??”, both Maros and Remnos said being surprised. Gabrielle knew Xena had a good plan in mind, she had faith in the warrior. Xena smiled and continued:
“If we wait for them to make the first move, we'll have them where we want them.”
“But shouldn't we act before they can draft more men and gather more weapons?”, Maros asked.
“If we wait and they'll do just that, we'll be able to defeat all of them at once and that will be the end of their reign of terror”, Xena finished. Remnos was satisfied with Xena's plan and wanted to know more about what they needed to do. Maros listened to the plan and was also satisfied, having heard enough he excused himself. Outside one of his men was waiting for him and asked for further instructions.
“We wait, then we crush the village with one strike. With Xena leading the attack, there will be nothing left of those pesky villagers.” Maros' right hand man asked:
“But sir, what about the young warrior? The friend of Xena's? I saw her in the village, I know you saw her too. Shouldn't we tell them where she is?” Maros shouted furiously:
“No!” Then he lowered his voice:
“You idiot, if we tell Xena where her precious little friend is, they'll race there to get her and it will ruin my plan. No, we won't tell her that we've seen her. When Xena attacks the village and destroys it, she'll destroy her friend as well and the truth will die with her. Remember to keep your mouth shut about what happened tonight.”
The Sun rose soon and Exl was standing in front of the villagers trying to convince them that they needed to defend themselves against the army.
“But we are only farmers, we can't fight against well trained soldiers”, a man shouted.
“There is an entire army against only a handful of men, we can never win. They have weapons, we have nothing”, another said.
“Please my friends, listen to what this young warrior has to say”, Melchian said to the others.
Exl stood on a stand and spoke to villagers who looked at her not knowing what to think about her.
“You're all right. You are only a small group of villagers without proper weapons against an army of trained soldiers. But you can still have a chance against them, nothing is impossible is you believe in what you are doing. I understand if you're afraid to stand up against them, they can wipe out all of you in an instant. But think about your families, think about your children. Do you want them to live in constant fear that someday all they know will be destroyed in the blink of an eye? Or do you want them to be able to live a safe life not needing to fear everyday of their lives? I have never lead anyone, I have always had to fight amongst others, but I have learned a thing or two from a friend of mine who is a great leader. My friend has said that if you have friends to support you, you can face anything. You helped me and now I want to help you in return. I just want to see your village be freed of those threatening you.” The villagers started whispering and Melchian stood next to Exl and said:
“Exl is right, if we work together we can chase the soldiers away and we won't have to live in fear. I'm tired of being afraid for my family's life and my own. I know Exl is only one warrior, but we don't have anyone else to help.” The people understood what was at stake, their lives and their future. They started cheering and shouting words of courage and Exl was pleased to see this.
She calmed them saying:
“Go home and gather everything you can use as weapons. Your hammers, axes, anything. When you've done that, I want to see all the able-bodied men here so I can teach you a few things.
To those of you who I won't take into battle, you'll play an important part. You are going to form the last line of defense in case something would go wrong. You'll be the only hope the rest will have if the soldiers get past us. Hopefully they won't. Go and meet me here later.” Everyone left to do as Exl had asked them to. Exl heard Banden demanding that he wanted to fight as well, but Melchian wouldn't allow it. Banden finally gave up and returned home. Melchian went to Exl and said:
“Banden says he wants to do his part and join the battle. I can't allow it, he'll just get himself killed. He's my only son, I can't lose him.” Exl remembered her past and said:
“And you're his only father. I know you don't want him to get hurt, but I know someone who is like him. Always ready to stand up for friends no matter what, ready to do whatever it takes. You can't stop him if really wants to fight, he'll find a way to get involved.” Melchian didn't want his son getting in danger but knew Exl was right, Banden could be very stubborn. He asked:
“Who is this person you were talking about?” Exl smiled and said:
“She is standing right here in front of you.” Melchian was a bit surprised, but not that much.
“I have risked my life several times for my friends and those I love, no matter how I've been told to stay out of things. That's my duty I have vowed to fulfill. Don't worry, Banden will be fine. I'll take him as my messenger so I can keep an eye on him.” Melchian nodded as a thank you and returned home as well. Exl was thinking of a strategy they could use against the army and one hit her, one she knew would work.
Back at camp, Xena had been going through the details of her plan with Remnos and Maros had sent out the scouts to look for Exl again. Still no signs of her, they had even sent word to the nearby towns but no-one had simply seen her anywhere. Remnos had ordered all his men to gather the equipment they needed and Xena gave them a few lessons on how their attack should be performed. Gabrielle had been walking around the camp site nervously, she had a bad feeling in her heart every single time she heard Xena talk about the attack against the marauders. There had to be something behind all this, but what was it? She looked at the sky, closed her eyes and thought to herself:
“Exl, I know you're somewhere and that you're safe. I'm worried about everything that is going on right now, I just wish I'd know you're alright. You'll always be here in my heart but I still wish you would be here.”
Exl was standing at the edge of forest listening to the silence around her. In her mind she was thinking:
“Gabrielle, Xena, I promise I'll find you somehow. But first I have to help these people, they have no-one else to help them. I know you're looking for me and that you must wonder if I'm even alive. If I only knew where you were, I'd be there as soon as possible. I want you to know you're the most dear people to me, I'll never forget you.” She heard someone approach her and she turned to see Melchian stand behind her.
“I hope I didn't disturb you.” Exl was silent and softly touched her pendant.
“You were thinking about your family. Thinking if you'll find them. I know you will, we'll help you”, Melchian said to her.
“I just wish I'd know if they're alright, that's what worries me most. Anything could have happened to them in that storm”, Exl responded. Melchian smiled and patted Exl's shoulder.
“If your friends are anything like you, I know they're just fine.” Then Banden walked to them and said:
“Father, Exl, the men are waiting for you.” Exl looked towards the village and saw men anxiously waiting in the village center. Before they walked to the others, Banden asked:
“Exl, do you have a plan?” Exl nodded and walked in front of the men and said:
“Men, we don't have much time so let's go over my plan.” Everyone was excited and also a bit worried about what was going to happen next. Exl showed them some basic defensive moves they would need in battle and then she divided the men into groups according to their specialties. A few hours later when dusk was settling in, everyone knew their part. Exl said she would meet the group leaders later for a last briefing. She, Melchian and Banden returned to their house for dinner.
After dinner Exl was sharpening her weapons when Melchian came to her. He was carrying something and he gave them to Exl.
“Here Exl, take these.” Exl took the helmet and chest armor Melchian handed to her and asked:
“What are these? Why are you giving these to me?”
“They belonged to my father. He was an officer in an army and when he finally came home, he brought these with him. They saved his life and now I want you to have them.”
“Melchian, I can't take these. These belong to you, you should give them to Banden, not me.”
“They won't mean anything to me if you're wounded and our troops fall. A leader must look like a leader and you as our leader need these more than anyone. Banden agrees with me”, Melchian finished. Exl saluted him as her humble thank you and Melchian asked about her plan.
“My plan is one my friend Xena used once to defeat a warlord. I know it will surely work.”
Melchian said he hoped she would be right and then left the room. Exl finished sharpening her weapons and laid them on the table before heading towards bed.
The next few days both sides prepared for their attack and counter attack. One day before day turned into night, Xena asked the soldier that had escorted her and Gabrielle to camp to come to her. When he did, she ordered him to go on a reconnaissance to see what the marauders were planning and if there would be a sign of their friend near the marauders' campsite, because Gabrielle had asked her to.
One man would be able to sneak closer to the campsite than a group of men like Maros and his men before. The soldier raced into the darkness and Xena returned to Gabrielle.
“Gabrielle, why do you think Exl could be somewhere near the marauders? Maros said he didn't see her the last time?”, she asked her short companion. Gabrielle took Xena's hand and replied:
“I don't know, it's a place where we haven't searched yet. It's just a hunch.”
Exl was having a meeting with Melchian, Banden and the group leaders, they were going through the last details of Exl's plan on the map.
“Jargos, you have to take your men to this hill from the northeast just before sunrise.” The soldier Xena had sent was listening to their strategy, he couldn't hear everything about it. Banden asked:
“What must I do?” Exl said to him:
“You're task is to keep a lookout and inform me of anything unusual during the battle. And warn the others if the soldiers get past us.” The soldier accidently stepped on a twig and Exl heard a sound in the bushes behind them, she drew her weapons fast and the others asked her what was going on.
“There is a spy in the bushes behind us. But not for long…”, she said and the soldier got extremely frightened after hearing this threat. He ran away before anyone around the map could move.
“Are you just going to let him get away? He heard about our strategy, he'll inform his commander”, a man said to Exl anxiously.
“No, he didn't hear all of it, actually he heard something that won't do them any good. Listen. Jargos, when your men are on this hill before sunrise, make sure the soldiers see you there and the army will head straight towards you”, Exl pointed at the map.
“When they come at you, I will lead the rest of us from the east and we'll ambush them. With the Sun behind our back, the soldiers won't know what hit them before it's too late. Has everyone understood what your task is?” All around Exl nodded and she said:
“Prepare for departure. We attack at dawn.”
The soldier ran as fast as his feet would allow him, he was like he was chased by fire. His fellow soldiers saw him in a quick flash when he ran straight to Xena, Gabrielle, Remnos and Maros in the commander's tent.
“Sir, I have news about the marauders!”, he said trying to breathe normally.
“I didn't send you on a reconnaissance, what were you doing there?”, Maros said not being happy about the fact that this soldier wasn't one of his men, but one of Remnos' and what he had seen could mean destruction for Maros.
“I did, I wanted to know the marauders' latest plans and one man is harder to spot than a group. What did you see and hear?”, Xena said.
“Well I didn't really see much, I was hiding in the bushes and I heard very little, because I was noticed and I had to flee. They have a new commander, not the old man lieutenant Maros has told about. I heard that they will attack tomorrow at dawn, they'll appear on the hill from the northeast just before sunrise. That's all I heard before I had to run for my life”, the soldier reported.
Xena was baffled, the marauders would attack from the northeast just before sunrise? How could they know about that plan? Seeing Xena's surprised expression, Gabrielle asked her what was wrong. Xena walked to the map and studied it for a moment. Then she said:
“It's a bluff.” Everyone else looked at each other first, then at Xena. She continued:
“They'll send a small group to the hill before sunrise and when we attack them, the rest will ambush us from the east. The Sun will rise from behind them and it will be a perfect cover for them, we won't stand a chance.” Remnos asked the soldier:
“Was this what you heard?” The soldier shook his head and responded:
“No, I only heard the first part about them attacking from the northeast.” Remnos walked to Xena and the map and asked:
“How do you know this?” Gabrielle understood Xena's worry and Xena replied:
“Because I invented this strategy.” Remnos and Maros were very amazed and Gabrielle said:
“Xena used this strategy against a warlord some while ago, but the warlord died in battle and all of his men were imprisoned. How can someone know this plan?”
“It has to be someone who was on our side back then. They must have gone rogue and are now leading the marauders. But now that I know their plan, I know just what to do to stop them. We only have a bit over an hour until sunrise”, Xena said smiling.
Maros told the soldier he could go and when he left the tent, Gabrielle followed him.
She had a weird feeling and wanted to know more about what he had seen. She stopped him and asked:
“You said you saw a new commander, what did he look like?”, thinking it could be one of Xena's old enemies. The soldier didn't really know what to say and he said:
“I think you might think I'm crazy, but to tell you the truth, I don't think it was a HE.”
“You mean it was a woman?”, Gabrielle enquired, in her mind she tried to think about all the women who have fought Xena when she was struck by an idea.
“Quickly tell me what did she look like. Did she have light brown hair, beautiful blue-green eyes and a scar over her left eye?” The soldier only shook his head and said:
“Unfortunately I didn't see very much, it was very dim and I had to be in hiding. I only saw their backs so I can't tell what kind of eyes she had. I'm very sorry.” Gabrielle was struck down by this mishap and was walking away when the soldier said:
“Do you know much about weapons?” Gabrielle shook her head and said:
“No I don't. Xena is the weapons expert, I know very little about them.” The soldier replied:
“Too bad. You should have seen the way their commander wielded that pair of battle axes.”
Gabrielle stopped immediately and turned around to run to the soldier.
“What did you say? A pair of battle axes?” The soldier nodded and continued:
“Yes and there was a double edged axe in the scabbard on her back, that's the only things I saw clearly when my cover was blown.” Gabrielle had very mixed emotions, she was happy that Exl was alive but worried when she understood that Exl was on the opposite side. They heard someone blowing on a horn and Gabrielle asked what it was.
“It's the commander's horn, when our commander leaves for battle, the horn will be blown”, the soldier responded. Gabrielle knew she had to stop the attack before it would be too late. She told the soldier to follow her and they ran after the army to get to Xena.
Exl watched how Jargos lead his men to the hill just as planned. He had about half a dozen men with him, but it could still fool the army. Behind and around Exl was the rest of her troops, all together there was about two dozen of them. Two dozen against over a hundred. The fight wouldn't be long if the soldiers would overpower them. She couldn't see the army anywhere and then Banden came running to her.
“Exl, we're in trouble now. The army is heading this way from the south, the Sun won't help us at all.” Exl ran to the south end of where her troops were and saw the large army approaching from the south. Melchian and Banden ran to her and saw the army as well.
“We've lost. Look at the size of that army, we'll be crushed”, Melchian said frightened for the first time. Exl had nothing in mind how they could fight the entire army.
Xena was riding in the front line and stopped when she saw the first glimpse of the opposite side. Remnos and Maros stopped next to her and waited for her command, the army was ready.
Xena's focus was drawn to someone calling for her name, it was Gabrielle. She turned around to see Gabrielle and the soldier running towards her.
“Xena, you can't attack”, Gabrielle said to the warrior. Xena asked why and the response was:
“Exl is there.” Xena was surprised to hear this, so were Remnos and Maros.
“What? Has she been captured by the marauders?”, she asked. Gabrielle shook her head and said with a distressed expression:
“No, she's their commander.” None of the others could understand this and Gabrielle pulled the soldier to her and told him to tell everything he had told her.
“The commander I saw wasn't the old man I have heard of. I think it was a young woman, even though impossible it may seem. When my presence was noticed, I saw her wield a pair of battle axes very talented. And in the scabbard on her back she had a double edged axe”, the soldier told.
Xena looked straight into Gabrielle's eyes and understood that it could be no-one else except their loyal friend. Everyone's gaze turned to look at the three people standing in front of the rest of the troops.
Exl saw how there was some movement in the army's frontline and her gaze was especially drawn to a dark rider on a palomino horse. She couldn't say anything except very quietly:
“Xena…” She started to walk towards the army, Banden and Melchian just stood still baffled what Exl had in mind. Maros noted to the others:
“Look, one of them is coming this way. Archers be prepared!” But Xena said:
“No. Don't do anything until I say so.” Xena jumped down from Argo and started to walk towards the figure she couldn't recognize because Exl was wearing the helmet and chest armor Melchian had given her and a new green shirt Saran had given her to replace her own shirt that was ripped during the storm.
Exl recognized Xena even though she was far away from her and removed her helmet and dropped it on the ground. When she did this, Xena could also recognize her. Gabrielle saw a familiar figure approaching Xena and her heart was beating wildly. Exl and Xena ran the remaining feet before they reached each other. They grabbed each other in a big friendly hug and were both smiling to see each others' faces.
“Exl, you're alive and safe. You can't imagine how worried we were about you, especially Gabrielle”, Xena said smiling at her friend.
“Xena, you won't believe what has been going on. I so happy to see you”, Exl said. Gabrielle came running to them and before Exl could react she was in the bard's tight embrace.
“Exl, thank the Gods you're here. All this time I knew you had to be alive and you are”, Gabrielle was so happy she was nearly crying. When she let go of Exl and looked at her, she saw her black eye and the cuts and bruises over her face.
“What happened to you? Did the marauders do this to you?”, Gabrielle asked.
“No, I got these when the storm hit us. What marauders are you talking about?”, Exl asked in return.
“The army of marauders that chased away the villagers and have been keeping camp near here. The marauders that you are leading”, Gabrielle continued.
“No, I am not leading any marauders. I am leading a small number of villagers against an army that chased them out of their homes and have been terrorizing them ever since”, Exl replied.
Remnos and Maros had ridden to the reunited family and Melchian and Banden joined them.
When Melchian, Banden and Exl saw Maros, she said:
“You!” Everyone turned to look at Maros and Xena asked Exl if she had seen Maros before.
“I sure have, he is the leader of the soldiers who came to the village one day a year ago and demanded that the people give all the food and supplies they had in exchange that the soldiers would keep away all bandits that would threaten the village. But when they refused, the soldiers chased them away from their homes and have been threatening the villagers endlessly. When they returned to the village a few days ago, that man set a house on fire and it could have burned down everything. I tried to hit him with my axe, but it only caught his cape. This is the piece of his cape he left behind when they retreated.” Exl showed them the shred of the cape she had with her, it was a perfect match to Maros' ripped cape.
“These people are just innocent farmers and their families who asked for my help to chase away their attackers. I don't know what kind of lies you've been told, but that is the truth. If I have to, I'll stand with them and fight until the last of us fall”, Exl finished. Melchian and Banden stood behind her waiting for a response from the officers.
“It's a lie! The marauders have tricked her!”, Maros said furiously. Xena turned to Remnos asking:
“General, have you yourself ever seen these marauders?” Remnos tried to think and said:
“No I haven't. Everything I have heard about them was told to me by, Maros…” All eyes turned to Maros whose face turned into an expression of anger and fear.
“You pesky little…”, he said and drew his sword. He tried to strike Exl, but Xena had her sword and chakram ready and blocked his attack. She looked at him with a fiery look and said:
“You told us you didn't see her at the village before. You just wanted me to attack them and kill her in battle like all the others. And now you tried to kill her right in front of me.” Maros looked into Xena's eyes and saw the anger within the Warrior Princess. He jumped off his horse and tried to run away but his escape was short when Xena's chakram was embedded in his back. When he fell to the ground everyone assumed he was dead, Xena went to get her chakram and said:
“He'll live, at least for as long as think of what you'll do to him, general.” Remnos couldn't believe what had happened.
“When I received word from a young lieutenant asking for my help against an army of marauders, I had no idea he would have made the whole thing up. To think that we almost killed all those innocent people…”, he said feeling ashamed and baffled.
“Maros told you a lie so he could use your men to destroy the small village that opposed him. Every time someone had to go on reconnaissance, it was someone of his men, because they knew how to twist the truth. If someone else would have been there and seen Exl, Maros' plan would have failed. He nearly succeeded”, Xena said.
Melchian approached Remnos and said:
“Sir, we would have been in grave danger against your army if this warrior hadn't been there to help us. I can see you are a wise man, can I have your word that you won't allow this to happen again?” Remnos nodded and said:
“I admire your bravery, there are so few of you and still you were ready to fight against an entire army.”
“Exl was the one who gave us the courage to do it all. We would have followed her until the end. We would have been lost without her”, Melchian said and smiled at Exl.
” I can assure you, your village will have the protection of my men”, Remnos promised.
Exl smiled as Remnos and Melchian shook hands and she said to her Couple:
“I guess everything turned out okay.”
“I'm proud of you Exl, you turned these people from farmers to defenders of their village in just a few days”, Gabrielle said. Xena smiled and said:
“I should have known it was you. When I heard about your plan about attacking from the northeast, I wondered who knew about that strategy. Why didn't I think of you, you knew this strategy. Maybe I just couldn't see you leading an army of marauders.”
“When I realized the village would be attacked by the army, I tried to think of a plan and I thought about what you would do in that situation. I am no leader Xena, but you're a great one. That's when I remembered this strategy and knew it would work somehow. We could have had a chance if you wouldn't have be leading the army, it didn't even cross my mind that you could be in charge”, Exl answered.
“You sure could have, but I'm glad we didn't have to see who would have won”, Xena said with a grin. The army retreated back to camp and Remnos gave his promise that everything Maros and his men had stolen would be returned and that a group would stay behind to help protect the village against real threats when the rest would return to Mycenae. All the villagers were happy to have everyone back safe and sound and they wanted to have a feast for their new friends.
Sitting together at the feast, Xena said to her warrior companion:
“Exl, what you did was great. You were leading these people like a real commander. You'll be a great leader one day, I know it.”
“I've learned everything I know about leadership from you Xena. I just hope I won't have to lead anyone into battle any time soon.”
“I promise if I ever have to lead troops into battle, you'll be my second-in-command. No doubt about it”, Xena said with a wink. Exl hoped Xena was only joking and she smiled back at Xena. Gabrielle sat next to them and the whole family was together again. Not a storm or a war could keep them apart, it had been proved.
End of “Friends or Foes”
The series will continue in: “Do you remember?”
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