Xena: Warrior Princess
Virtual Season 4 Re-Deaux
Episode 2 “Horse Sense”
Disclaimer: All characters that regularly appeared in the television series “Xena: Warrior Princess” are the property of Renaissance Pictures and Universal Studios. No money is being made off of this fan based ‘series’ of stories.
Newly introduced characters are the property of the original author.
Author’s Note: This series veers off sharply from the canon chain of events beginning directly after “Adventures in the Sin Trade”. It is also, like all of my writing in this genre, ‘subtext is main text’ .It’s suggested you read each ‘episode’ in order, at least at the beginning of the series. I hope you enjoy this tale, and my series.
Author: Xena Lorber
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Are you *sure* this is where you left Argo?” Gabrielle looked around her at the vast countryside, her right hand casually holding onto her upright staff, her left on her hip.
“She doesn’t seem to be anywhere around here.”
“I can see that.” Xena returned, her eyes scanning the area, willing the golden mare to appear.
There was no response, no stir of wind, no sound of hoofbeats. While horses are unpredictable as a whole, Argo was always very good at coming to Xena’s piercing whistle.
“Something’s not right.” Xena said, her eyes darkening with worry. “She always comes if she can.”
That got Gabrielle’s attention. “You don’t think she’s…she’s hurt, do you? Or…” she couldn’t say the word, and Xena turned to her, her hand held up to cut her off.
“Don’t even think it!” she warned, then immediately softened her tone. “Gabrielle, I can’t explain it but I know she’s not dead. She’s just not able to come to us for some reason. We’ll find her, she’ll be all right.” To herself she thought, “She has to be.”
The two women began to search the immediate area for signs of equine habitation. Argo never strayed far from where Xena would leave her, not with good reason. With this in mind, they scoured the area, finding many long used horse trails, and evidence that yes, once a horse used that place as ‘home’.
They also found something else.
“Xena,” Gabrielle’s voice was soft,. “Look here.”
It was the track of a large wild cat.
Xena took in a sharp breath, then her eyes locked onto the ground, letting the tracks and broken foliage tell the tale of the struggle.
“He was in this tree when Argo came to get a drink.” She explained as she tracked. “The wind wasn’t in Argo’s direction or she never would have been caught like that.” She knelt down, picking up a leaf with spots of brown. “Dried blood.” She noted grimly. “Argo was injured, and took off that way.” She stood and pointed down a barely used deer trail.
“Then that’s where we’re going to go.” Gabrielle said, stepping up to stand by Xena.
The Warrior simply nodded, and together they picked up the pace. A rookie tracker in her first season of learning could have followed the trail. Broken branches were
strewn everywhere as they told the story of the chase. Argo had crashed through the brush, the wild cat fast on her heels. Every once in awhile she had lashed out behind with deadly back hooves, but the cat was wily, and seemed to have eluded them.
Finally the trail opened out wider, and although it was still wooded, it had afforded the mare space to really open up and run, but not before she had connected with her foe.
The half grown mountain lion lay dead where he had fallen; his skull crushed.
“Good girl.” Xena nodded, sad to see a beautiful animal such as the cat dead, but very happy her horse had survived.
Gabrielle stared down at the body. “Poor thing.” She said.
“If he’d been any older, any more experienced, Argo might not have gotten away.” Xena told her. “We’re lucky this one was so young.”
“It wasn’t very lucky for him.” Gabrielle said, then immediately felt bad. “Xena, I’m sorry. I just meant…”
Xena reached out and pulled Gabrielle close to her side. “You don’t have to apologise,” She said as she gave her a quick kiss. “especially for just you being who you are. Your reverence for life…..*all* life…is one of the things I treasure most about you.”
“Thanks.” Sometimes Gabrielle still couldn’t quite believe they were together again.
She imagined at times that it was all a dream and she’d awake back at the hospice, alone.
Xena’s warmth and scent told her that it wasn’t a dream, though, and she smiled up at her lifemate. “Shall we track on?” she asked.
Xena glanced down, seeing the trail stretching before them. “Let’s.” she said. “I think we’re getting close.” She put her fingers to her mouth and whistled again, and this time a familiar whinny broke the silence.
They waited, elated, for the sight of the mare coming to them, but no horse appeared.
“Odd.” Xena’s brow furrowed. “Come on.”
She knew by the volume of Argo’s whinny that the mare was still some distance away. The breeze had been traveling towards them, which meant she could be even farther away than it had first appeared. Even then, why didn’t she come?
The answer came to them after a long hike through difficult terrain. “This is so remote it makes the lower levels of Tartarus look like the road to Rome.” Gabrielle laughed as she used a flexible branch to pull herself up the incline.
“There has to be a reason for all this.” Xena said, choosing not to join in the levity. “No sane horse would come up this incline on their own.”
“So when did we figure out Argo was sane?” Gabrielle quipped, earning her a backwards “Look” from her partner.
“Oh come on, Xena, we’re going to find her. Lighten up, the danger is over.” Sometimes she just had to prod a smile out of that warrior, she thought to herself. Xena could be so serious sometimes. It never hurt to have a little fun, after all.
Her musings were cut short when she heard Xena’s excited cry of, “There she is!”
The mare was in a makeshift corral. She paced back and forth, whinnying as soon as she had caught their scent. She knew they would come for her!
“I wonder who did this?” Gabrielle asked, as she looked for a way to get the horse out.
“*I* did.” A male voice interrupted. Both women whirled to see a Centaur youth holding a leveled spear at them. “That horse is mine. I found her. Now back away.”
“You’re mistaken. That horse is mine.” Xena returned, “and you really don’t want to try to use that spear on us.” Her hand lazily traveled to her chakram.
“I found her.” He repeated.
Gabrielle noted that his human half appeared to be about fourteen, maybe fifteen seasons old. He had brown hair, a fair complexion and was built like a typical gangly teenager with the promise of muscle to come. His equine half was light bay in colour, with black lower legs and tail. He’d be handsome, if he wasn’t threatening them.
“Can we talk about this?” she offered. “I mean, you think she’s yours, Xena knows she’s hers, why don’t we let Argo decide?”
The youth’s face suddenly registered recognition. “Her name is Argo?” he asked. “That must make you Xena!” he pointed to the warrior who met his eyes with her own.
“That’s right.” She said, her tone neutral. Who knows what tales he’d been told about her?
He put down the spear. “I’m Draken,” He introduced himself. “Son of Malor. My father is a cousin to Tyldus of the Mountain Clan. I’ve heard so much about you!”
It was amazing how quickly his demeanor had changed. Gabrielle saw her lifemate relax, and new they were now all on the same scroll.
“So what happened?” Xena asked.
“She was really hurt.” Draken explained. “It looked like some big cat had almost eaten her for lunch. I helped her get up here, then I built this corral so she wouldn’t hurt herself running around.” He gestured to the mare. “You can see her back leg there. That’s the wound.”
Xena and Gabrielle looked closely. There was a large raking pattern of claws down Argo’s back right haunch and leg. It was healing now, but Xena could see evidence of past infection. “What herbs did you use?” she asked.
Draken told her, proudly displaying his herb lore. When he had finished, the warrior gave him a genuine smile.
“Thanks. I owe you big time. I’m very grateful you found her and helped her like you did.”
“I like horses.” He said, his own tail switching across his back in a nervous gesture akin to a human teenager shuffling their feet.
It was then that Gabrielle had a sudden thought. “I didn’t know Centaurs worked with horses.” She said. “Isn’t that unusual? “
Draken’s expression darkened, and his head bowed. He regarded them from under his lock of unruly hair. “My father wants me to be a warrior.” He said, his voice hard. “But *I* want to train horses! I want to heal them, too. My father…” his voice broke with a mixture of sadness and anger, “…he says I’m not natural. So I hid her here, instead of taking her back to the village.”
Gabrielle went to stand beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder. “That must be so hard,” She said, “to have your father not support you.”
“So when you come of age, what are going to do?”
Xena knew that male Centaurs had a very ritualistic existence. Roles were clearly laid out, and a youth like Draken was expected to be a warrior if that was his father’s role. There was hardly any deviation from that social expectation. If a youth rebelled, they were often outcaste.
Draken stared back defiantly. “I will *not* be a warrior.” He immediately followed that up with, “I’m sorry, Xena. It’s not bad to be a warrior, it’s just that…”
“It’s not your Path.” Xena said. “I understand, Draken. No hard feelings.”
He smiled, but it was short lived when Xena finished her thought with, “I think your father needs to see just how valuable your skills could be to your Clan. I want to tell him how his son saved something very valuable to me.”
“But he’ll be angry!”
“Xena has a way with people.” Gabrielle explained. “It’ll be all right. Won’t it, Xena?”
The warrior smiled, and turned to get Argo out of the corral. “Isn’t it always?”
Draken’s village was down the other side of the steep hill. He had blazed a good trail, though, enabling humans, horse and centaur to easily make their way down the incline.
When they hit level ground, Xena took a moment to stop and examine Argo again. The exertion of traveling had not opened up the wound, and in better light she could see that the mare was all but healed, thanks to Draken’s administrations. She patted the golden neck, and kissed Argo’s nose. “Don’t scare me like that again.” She warned, and Argo flipped her nose up in the air, curling her upper lip.
“Hey, my breath isn’t *that* bad.” Xena joked, and Gabrielle broke out into a smile. Xena’s humour had returned! This was always a good thing.
“It’s just up ahead.” Draken said, getting their attention. “She must have scented the village.”
Xena grinned. She had known that, but it had seemed funnier to anthropomorphise. “Lead on.” She gestured, and Draken turned back down the road, his hooves making a staccato sound on the ground.
“Nervous?” Gabrielle asked.
“No.” he lied.
“I would be.” The bard pressed. “After all, Xena’s blowing your cover.”
“I’m not a colt any longer.” Draken returned. “My father needs to know. If he makes me an outcaste, then…well….so be it.” His expression was determined, and Gabrielle was satisfied that he was, indeed, ready for this moment in his life.
When they turned the corner and the village came into sight, it became very apparent that they could not have come at a worse time.
“They’re readying for an attack. A rival tribe has been sending threats, but nobody believed they’d really do anything. They aren’t strong enough. This can’t be happening!”
He was very close to panicking. Xena laid a hand on his shoulder, making him look at her. “Try to stay calm.” She told him. “Your people need you.”
Draken licked his lips, took a deep breath, and then nodded. “I’ll try.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
The guard looked at them in surprise as they came near. “Draken!” he said, his bow strung but at his side. “Where have you been? Malor has enough to think about without you disappearing on us. And who are these…” his lip curled in disdain at the word, “humans?”
“Friends of mine.” Draken said, determined not to let this guy bully him. “That’s Xena and Gabrielle. They’ve come to talk to father.”
The guard laughed. A big brute of a centaur, with an iron grey body and a well muscled torso, he seemed to tower over Draken. “Is that so? He’s not taking visitors just now, or haven’t you noticed we’re readying for war?”
“I’m no stranger to war. Maybe I can help.” Xena interjected.
“Brelius, what harm could it do?” Draken asked. “They’re with me.”
Brelius moved aside. “Fine. It’s your funeral pyre.” He grinned as they passed by, his expression anything but friendly. “Enjoy your stay.”
After they were well past, Gabrielle waved her hand in front of her nose. “Evidently hygiene isn’t in his vocabulary.”
Draken laughed. “That’s the truth. The only thing he knows is fighting and eating.”
The booming voice made the youth halt in his tracks, Xena and Gabrielle following suit. From the left came a larger, heavily muscled version of Draken. There was no mistaking that they were father and son. Malor slid to a stop so close to his son, that Draken took a step to the side, giving his father more room.
Xena recognized it as a domination tactic and it worked. The youth hung his head.
“I’ll hear it later. Get your bow and ready yourself with the other young warriors. An attack is coming very soon.” To the women he added, “It’s not safe here. You should go.”
“My name is Xena.”
Malor stiffened. “The one my cousin speaks of?”
“The very same.”
Malor grunted. “If you stay, you must fight for us.”
“I’m not good at taking orders from those I haven’t been introduced to.”
Gabrielle thought that Xena wasn’t good at taking orders, period, but she held her tongue.
“Father, this is Xena and her partner Gabrielle. My new friends, this my father, Malor, leader of this Clan.” Draken took the cue.
“It’s good to meet you. I only wish it was under better circumstances.”
Xena’s mouth quirked. “Likewise, I’m sure. And yes, we’d be glad to help you defend your village; on one condition.”
“Oh? What would that be?”
“For this battle Draken follows your orders as befits his position in this tribe. After the fight, he’s to be considered an adult, and able to make his own decisions about who he is, and what he does with his life.”
Malor stomped his back foot and lashed his tail. Somebody watching would think he was stomping at a fly…but there were no flies. “You ask a lot, Warrior.”
“The name’s Xena. And yes, I’ve been told that a time or two. So what’s your answer?”
Malor regarded his son. He needed every bow and weapon he could get to defend his home. But was Draken up to that task? He looked around him at the other lads his son’s age. Their eyes were bright, their actions animated. Bows were stung eagerly, swords were waved and war cries were heard all around him, and yet Draken stood before him like one who was about to be sentenced to death.
“I don’t have time to argue with colts with no sense.” He said, covering up his concerns. “I will listen to you after the battle. *If* we get through this.”
Malor cantered off, rallying his people as he brandished his bow.
“He’s magnificent.” Gabrielle couldn’t help but notice out loud. “He’s so…”
“Strong.” Draken finished for her. “Sure of himself. And I’m…”
“Still young.” Xena broke in. “Come on, let’s get ready. Tell me all you know about the enemy.”
Gabrielle dropped back, letting the other two go ahead. She was more interested in watching the villagers get ready and in getting her own thoughts sorted out.
Had she just returned from death’s door, only to stand in it’s shadow again?
Unlike other centaur villages they had visited over the years, this one didn’t share it’s space with human males. The only occupants were quadrupeds and their wives. Xena had thought it unusual, but knew that there were pockets of centaurs like this; those who chose to live only among their own kind. She didn’t see anything wrong with it.
She turned to engage Gabrielle in conversation when a shadow fell across her face. Something was wrong.
“Gabrielle, what is it?”
She was going to say something off the top of her head. Something funny and disarming, but then she stopped the words before they could come. Xena deserved to know the truth.
“I’ve lost my nerve.” She admitted. “Xena, I can’t fight. It’s too soon! I…I just got over…” she couldn’t go on talking, and luckily Xena understood.
“Draken,” she ordered, “take Gabrielle some place safe.”
The words were like a slap to Gabrielle, who remembered the lst time those words were uttered.
‘Gabrielle, take Solan someplace safe…”
Then everything wrong had begun to happen. Were things repeating?
“No!” she blurted out, stronger than she had intended. “I’m fine. It’s just nerves. Let’s go, Xena.”
Xena looked very closely into her lifemate’s eyes. Gabrielle dropped them almost immediately, giving the Warrior her answer.
“Gabrielle won’t be joining us. Where can she stay till the fight is over?”
“The women usually go to the caverns.” Draken answered. “It’s like a maze in there, and only those who live in the village know it’s twists and turns. The safe place is at the back of the caverns. “
Gabrielle managed a wan smile, “If you tell me I have to go guard the villagers, I’ll smack you with my staff.”
“No, I wouldn’t say that.” Xena smiled. “You’re definitely not Joxer. “ She kissed her briefly, then glanced up at Draken. He took her lead.
“Follow me.” He said, and Xena watched Gabrielle walk after their friend, be introduced to a woman, then she was out of sight.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be safe.” Draken repeated.
“I know, it’s just a long sorry. When it’s all over, we’ll tell you.”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
“Positions!” sounded the battle cry. A black bodied centaur galloped through the village, repeating his call. “Battle positions!”
“That’s us.” Xena and Draken clasped arms in the warrior’s handshake, then Xena took her position at the front of the holding line, outside the gates. Draken stood close by, his sword clutched tightly in his hand.
Nobody had to wait long, as the cries of the archers soon reached their ears. The archers had been sent out and positioned around the village, hidden in the foliage as best they could be hidden, and they were the first wave of defense.
Malor gave the signal, and they surged forward to meet their enemy in a giant wave of pounding hooves and piercing cries. When the two armies met, the very earth shook.
Xena jumped up and out of the way of the crushing fight. Being human, she didn’t have the body mass to fight as the centaurs did. Her best bet was to get a little space for maneuvering, and so up and over she went, her war cry mingling with the others.
The first attacker came galloping down upon her, his spear raised. Before he could let it fly, she had thrown her chakram, and it broke it off near his hand; the chakram curving in a neat arc and returning to her outstretched hand.
This made him pull up sharply, then regroup and try to run her down. Grimly, Xena stood steadfast, then at the last moment she tucked and rolled. Instinctively the centaur jumped over her and that’s when she sunk her blade into his unprotected belly.
He fell hard in the dust, and she leaped up, ready for the next.
Two centaurs rushed her from either side. She waited until they couldn’t change course, then she jumped up high and over their heads, landing out of their reach. Unable to stop their heavy body mass at such short notice, they crashed into each other, knocking themselves unconscious.
And so it went, for what seemed an eternity. Later, Malor would report that it had been a brief, but fierce encounter. Just as Draken had originally told them, this rival tribe was much weaker than their own. Why they had thought it prudent to attack was a mystery, but now after their sound defeat perhaps they would think much harder before they tried it again.
As soon as the all clear horn sounded, the villagers returned and the truce flag was raised high so both sides could retrieve their dead and wounded from the battlefield. It took some time, and the night fires had been lit before everyone was able to reunite with loved ones and the village could celebrate their victory.
Gabrielle was ashamed. Why had she been so frightened? It wasn’t like she hadn’t fought battles before.
Xena gathered her up in a tight embrace, ad then held her out at arm’s length. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.” She told her. “How were the caverns?”
“If you’ve seen one hole in a mountain you’ve seen them all.” Gabrielle tried to joke, but her heart wasn’t in it.
“I know what you’re thinking and no, you have not lost your nerve.” Xena said, turning serious. “It’s perfectly understandable after all you’ve recently been through to be cautious of conflict. Especially on such a scale as that was.”
“Do you really think I’ll be all right?” hopeful green eyes searched impossibly blue ones.
“I know so. Start off on a bandit or two, work yourself up to warlords and you’ll be back to your top form in no time.”
Gabrielle broke into a genuine smile. “Thanks, Xena. You always know what to say. I didn’t let you down?”
“Don’t even think that.” Xena returned. “We can talk this all out later, but I’m telling you the truth, Gabrielle. I understand why you couldn’t join in the battle. “
The moment was interrupted by Malor’s deep baritone. “I am a centaur of honour, Xena. You said you wanted to talk, so talk.”
“Where’s Draken? This concerns him.”
Malor looked around. “Here he comes.”
Draken was alive, but wounded. He had a bad gash in his arm which had been stitched by the village Healer. He was still smeared in blood, and he carried the hilt of his shattered sword. When he saw his father, he tossed the shard at his feet.
“That’s the last time I pick up a sword, father; the very last time. You can disown me if you want to, but I’m not a warrior! I want to be a healer of horses, of animals. I want to ease their suffering like our Healer does for us. And I want to train horses, help them be happy in their work.” He rushed on before his father could stop him. “I’m moving to Athens, father! I’m leaving in the morning and I don’t care what you say!”
There, it was done. Draken’s heart pounded, and his blood sounded in his ears with the emotion of the moment.
Malor’s voice was low and even. “You would speak to me in such a manner?” he asked.
Draken raised his head and looked his father in the eye. “Yes.” He said, his tone strong. “I *am*.”
Malor’s expression suddenly softened and he broke out into a big, booming laugh. “So you are! Only an adult would do that.” He clapped his son on the back.
Unable to say anything more, Draken blinked, then grinned. “And I’m not banished?” he asked.
“No. You fought well today, and you did your duty. No centaur with honour is ever denied a place by my side.”
“Thank you!” Draken cried, then shook both Xena’s and Gabrielle’s hands. “Thank you, too!”
“Don’t thank us, thank Argo.” Xena told him. “She’s the one who introduced us.”
Draken laughed. “So she did. Where is she?”
“I took her into the caverns with us.” Gabrielle explained. “When the battle was over, I let her loose to graze. She’s fine.” Noting Xena’s expression she reiterated, “Honest! She’s fine, Xena.” Satisfied, Xena chuckled.
“I believe you.”
“So will you be celebrating with us?” Malor asked, standing beside his son.
Both warrior and bard smiled broadly. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
At that moment, a hard head bumped Xena from behind and she turned to see Argo. Never one to be left out of things, the mare was insisting she be included in this, too.
“So is Argo.” Draken laughed. “She’s one smart horse.”
“*Too* smart.” Xena grumbled in good humour, rubbing the palomino on her forehead. “If there’s one thing Argo has, it’s horse sense.”
“Something we all could use.” Malor observed. Congenially, the group headed towards the celebration, Argo tagging along, both families united again.
Disclaimer: No invading centaurs or clever palominos were harmed during the production of this virtual episode although a certain hungry wild cat was left flat by the whole experience.
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