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One Clear Voice
It wasn’t hard to find the tracks left by the horses when they left. Gabrielle guessed that with that many men with you, there wasn’t a need to be careful about hiding tracks. ‘Why should she be careful? If she’s reverted back to the warlord nobody would dare to stand up to her.’ Gabrielle though cynically. Then shook her head. ‘No Gabrielle, you have to stay positive!’ she scolded herself. ‘There has to be a good reason for this.’ ‘Ha! If there is, I can’t figure it out.’ Gabrielle’s cynical side countered. She continued to argue with herself like this, following the tracks, until she heard a thump followed by an "Oof."
She searched the forest around her but couldn’t see anybody. "Who’s there?" She called out, willing her voice to be strong.
"It’s me." A familiar voice called out, as he walked out of the forest.
"Autolycus? What are you doing here?" Gabrielle asked the ‘King of theives’.
"Looking for Xena? You’d be better off staying away." Autolycus said.
Gabrielle took in Autolycus’s ragged state.
"Autolycus what happened to you? You know where Xena is? Where is she?"
Gabrielle asked her mind whirling with questions.
"Yeah, I know where Xena is." Autolycus answered, his voice uncharacteristically hard. "She asked me to steal the Mask of Dispair from the Amazons. When I told her I wouldn’t do it, she had me beaten."
The Mask of Dispair was a priceless icon of the Amazons. It was the mask that the first queen hd worn. When that queen had died in battle the mask had been appropriately named the Mask of Dispair.
Gabrielle shook her head trying to reconcile this Xena, the one who had beaten the villagers and Autolycus, with the one she knew. She couldn’t do it. Why was she doing this? Why did she want the Mask of Dispair?
"What was she like? Did she even recognize that she was having a friend beaten?" Gabrielle asked.
"Gabrielle, Xena didn’t even know I was her friend. She acted like she didn’t even know who I was." Autolycus said.
"That’s it." Gabrielle said, excited that she had found the answer behind this madness. "She lost her memory, or at least the most recent ones. Autolycus, I have to get into her camp. Can you take me there?"
Autolycus looked like he wanted to refuse. But then he saw the pleading look in Gabby’s eyes and he couldn’t. "All right. I’ll show you where the camp is, but that’s as far as I go. Xena said she would kill me if she ever saw me again, and to think I helped bring her back from the dead. I shoud’ve left her there." he grumbled.
"Autolycus, this isn’t Xena’s fault if she doesn’t remember who she is.
But it’s all right. I can probably get in easier if I’m by myself."
"There it is." Autolycus whispered in Gabrielle’s ear. "How do you plan to get to Xena?" The camp was buzzing with activity. It wasn’t like Gabrielle could walk straight through to Xena’s tent.
"Don’t worry I have a plan." Gabrielle whispered back, then moved through the trees away from him.
Autolycus watched her go, feeling like a heel for letting her go in alone. But Gabrielle was probably right. She stood a better chance if he wasn’t there with her.
Gabrielle moved among the trees, using every stealth technique that Xena had taught her. If she could just reach Argo she could put her plans into action.
Gabrielle eased into the stable and closed the door behind her. So far she had been lucky. No one had spotted her yet. She knew she would have to be caught eventually, but not before she did a couple of things.
It was easy to spot Argo, she being the only light colored horse in a room full of darks. She walked quickly over to her and nuzzled her face into Argo’s neck. "Hello Argo." Gabrielle said, stroking the mare’s nose. "I know your mistress is acting strange, but I’m here now and everything is going to be all right."
She went over to her side of Argo’s saddlebag, opened it up and started taking out the things that she would need. ‘And to think, Xena wanted me to throw these away, huh! Well, their coming in handy now!’ "Okay Argo, no peeking." Gabrielle said, and then removed her shirt and skirt, placing them in the saddlebags. Then she started putting on the articles of clothing that she had removed from the bag. ‘Oof, a little tight around the stomach.’ She complained while pulling the shirt in place. ‘However did I walk in this?’ Gabrielle asked once the skirt was in place. ‘Xena was right about mobility, with these things on I won’t be able to fight much. Then again, if my plan fails I won’t be able to fight period.’ As a finishing touch she pulled the blue coat on over her shirt. Then she went to the horse’s trough and looked at her reflection in the water. She barely recognized herself in the old clothes. ‘Have I really changed that much?’ she asked herself, then looked at the staff she held in one hand. ‘Hmm. Going to have to hide you.’ she thought, and hid the staff in its place on Argo’s saddle.
"Well, it looks like I’m about as ready as I’m going to be." Gabrielle said aloud, nuzzling the horse once more. "If this doesn’t work, I may need you to bail me out. Can you do that?"
The horse nodded her head as if she knew what Gabrielle had said.
"What are you doing in here?" came a voice from behind her. She swung around, almost losing her balance as her legs caught in the long skirt. She saw the warrior glaring at her from the doorway.
She tried a carefree chuckle, but it sounded more nervous than anything. "Are these your horses? I just love horses. See, I heard them when I was walking through the woods, and I just had to come and take a look. Their beautiful, I’m a bard and they would make an excellent addition to my stories. Just to be able to have seen the horses makes any punishment I get for trespassing worthwhile." Gabrielle gushed the words, amazed at her ability to talk so much. ‘No wonder Xena found me annoying at first.’ she thought to herself.
"A bard huh?" the warrior took in Gabrielle’s appearance. She looked like some little girl, who had took a walk and had gotten lost. "Well, I’m going to have to see what my commander want’s to do with you. You’re going to have to come with me."
Gabrielle pretended to look worried. This was exactly what she wanted.
‘Yes!’ she cried triumphantly in her mind. ‘Take me to your leader.’To be Continued....
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