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by Jaime Boughen
**Warning-------This story contains scenes of implied consensual sex between two women.
If such scenes offend you, I won't apologise for the way I see Xena and Gabrielle. I recommend you read no further.
If you are under the age of consent in your state or country....Shoo! These stories will still be around when you come of age. You probably wouldn't understand half of what you're reading anyway.
If stories such as these are illegal
in your country, then I seriously suggest you think about moving.
Australia is lovely in the springtime.**
Xena sat watching the last of the stars
fade from the sky. Dawn's light was just peeping over the horizon
and tinging the countryside around her with the faintest touch
of pink and gold. Down on the lake, mist eddied and swirled in
the soft breezes of early morning. The same breeze gently lifted
the dark flowing hair from her shoulders and laid it delicately
back down again. A lovers' touch. Xena smiled to herself. She
always did enjoy this time of the morning. Stirring the embers
of the fire, she added several more branches and watched carefully
until they were blazing cheerfully. Putting a pot of water over
the fire to start boiling, she strapped her sword to her back
and strode off into the forest to look for breakfast.
Gabrielle woke to smell of rabbit cooking
over the fire. She lay quietly for a moment, taking in her surroundings,
listening to the small sounds made by her travelling companion.....and
lover. Gabrielle grinned to herself. It was all so new to her.
After so many months, so many years of longing and desire, Xena
had finally allowed herself to be loved and to give love in return.
She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Come on, sleepy-head. I know you're
awake." Xena's low voice said, tickling the back of her ear.
She started to kiss Gabrielle's neck. Her hands slipped under
the blankets to caressed the young Bard's breast.
Gabrielle shuddered in response. She
sat up and hugged Xena in return.
"If I had known this was the way
to wake you, I would have started months ago." The kisses
became teasing, though the hands did not stop their slow caress
of Gabrielle's body.
"If I had known you would wake
me this way, I would have jumped you a lot sooner than I did!"
The blonde haired woman chortled.
Xena laughed aloud. "So what took
you so long anyway?"
"You." Gabrielle answered.
The tall warrior sobered immediately.
"Was I really that...that....oh, I don't know?"
"Try, taciturn, reserved, walled-in,
resolute, shall I go on? And yes, you were all of that and more."
Gabrielle said seriously.
"Oh, come now, surely I wasn't
that bad." Xena was a little taken back by the way her lover
had seen her before.
"Well, maybe not quite as bad as
all that but it did take an awfully long time for me to figure
out you were feeling the same way as I was. You did an excellent
job of hiding it, you know. Of course, once I had figured it out,
well, I just had to find a way to...to....*loosen* you up."
The younger woman grinned at the memory.
"The elderberry wine! You....sneak!!" Xena cried, surprised. She grabbed Gabrielle and started tickling her mercilessly. Something she knew the younger woman was helpless against.
"Oh stop, please." She begged.
Gabrielle was giggling hard and unable to fight back. Besides
Xena was wearing her armour making it was impossible to find a
place to get her hands inside so she could return those maddening
tickles. "Stop, stop. I'm sorry, really. I'm sorry. I won't
do it again. Promise." Xena released her and she fell back
into a giggling heap on the blanket. Gabrielle wasn't about to
tell Xena she had another flask of elderberry wine in her bag.
"Come on, my little Bard. Breakfast
is waiting and I want to get a move on this morning." Xena
said down to the laughing heap at her feet.
Gabrielle looked back with a very different
hunger in her eyes, one hand slowly starting to untie the laces
on Xena's boot.
The day's journey began a lot later
than Xena had planned.
"Gabrielle?" Xena said very
"Hmmmmm?" The Bard was off
in her mind somewhere thinking about making a story of the elderberry
wine incident. It would be a very private story with an audience
of just one. Seeing the tense look to Xena's body as she sat astride
Argo, she paid more attention to the forest around them. "Trouble?"
The warrior nodded. "Into the trees,
now. Don't argue. Whatever it is, it is headed right for us."
Gabrielle immediately ducked into the
bushes by the side of the dirt road and hid behind the covering
leaves. She still had a clear view of the road but should be safe
from harm, unless someone fell right on top of her. The young
woman could clearly hear the sound of hoofbeats thundering against
the ground and the shouts and cries of several men. Xena had moved
Argo to one side, hoping the men would simply ride on past. To
be safe, she untied her chakram from her belt and settled her
sword a little lower on her back.
Seven men suddenly topped the small
rise and galloped past. The horses were clearly reaching the end
of their strength, covered with foaming sweat and gasping for
breath, the froth flying from their lathered mouths. The men atop
them were covered in blood, their clothes hanging in strips from
their bodies. Few seemed to have weapons of any kind. All were
riding low over their mounts necks, though one man looked as though
he has about to fall at any moment. The echoing noise of their
passing had barely faded from Gabrielle's mind when a second,
much larger group rode towards them.
At least three dozen men, all heavily
armed and on fresher looking horses, came galloping towards them.
Most continued to follow the first group but ten of the men, near
the back of the pack, slowed and stopped, their horses snorting
and pawing at the ground wanting to go on with the chase.
One man, the leader perhaps, looked
Xena up and down, an almost predatory gleam in his eyes. "My,
my. Don't you just look to be a fine piece of woman-flesh. Think
I might take you for my Lord."
"You can certainly try." Xena
drew her sword from the sheath on her back, a feral grin on her
face. **"Ten armed and mounted men. This is NOT going
to be an easy fight. I just have to stay out of the way
of those pikes and we might make it."** She thought to
Gabrielle, still hidden in the bushes,
slid the bag from her shoulder and tightened her hold on the staff
she carried. She knew she was good but was she good enough to
take on ten men?
The men suddenly rushed at Xena, hoping
to startle the horse into throwing her. They didn't know Argo
was a trained war-horse and being rushed was something she took
in her stride. Within moments, Xena was surrounded by a milling
mob of mounted men, all intent on taking her down. The clang of
sword against sword filled the air, Xena's war cry cutting through
the noise. She found she had no room to toss her chakram, one
man managing to knock it from her hand to the ground below. She
swung her sword in wide sweeps desperately trying to give herself
some room to manoeuvre. Standing on Argo's saddle, she executed
a high forward somersault, over the top to the heads of the men
surrounding her and landed on the ground behind them.
Three of the men, armed with pikes as
well as having swords strapped to their sides, came at her from
different directions. Xena's sword sliced through the point of
one, just below the vicious hook but another man, somehow working
his way behind her, managed to hook her shoulder and throw her
to her back. She quickly scrambled to her feet, only to be hit
again as a sword caught her upper arm. The cut wasn't too deep
but it hurt badly and weakened her sword arm. One man, taking
advantage of the moment, cut in hoping to bash her unconscious
with the flat of his broadsword. Until his arm dropped and he
toppled, unconscious from his horse. Gabrielle
stood behind him, staff still in the air.
Two men came at the young woman. One
armed with a pike and the other with a long sword. Gabrielle realised
she was at a decided disadvantage standing on the ground as she
was, with two mounted men coming after her. Swinging her staff
in a deadly pattern around her body, she prepared to defend herself.
In one quick movement, she swung the end of her staff along the
side of her body and dislodged the foot of the swordsman from
the stirrup of his saddle. As his leg moved up, she swung the
staff down in the other direction and neatly broke his kneecap.
Screaming in pain he fell from the horse. She turned to deal with
the pikeman only to be struck by lightning on the back of her
head and fall face first into a pit of darkness.
"What do you mean, you left her
behind!!" An extremely angry voice roared over the top of
Celano's head. "What possessed you to do such a ridiculous
Celano, on his knees before his Lord,
thought out his answer carefully. "She was dead, my Lord.
I am absolutely sure of it."
"Did you at least *check* the body?"
The voice still angry but starting to mellow.
"Ai, my Lord." Celano hadn't
actually tested for a pulse or anything but she was bleeding so
badly from the back of her head, he was certain that the little
staff wielding bitch was dead, or near to it. Not that he was
going to say that to his Lord. He valued his life far too much.
As it was, five men were dead and three others badly wounded bringing
down that warrior maniac of a woman. It was sheer luck that someone
had gotten in a blow sufficient to knock her out. She had gone
completely wild when the smaller woman had flown into the bushes
and not come back out again.
"And what of the one you did bring
in? That rather stunning woman." The now purring voice said.
"She is safely chained in a cell
downstairs. I saw to it myself. She won't be going anywhere."
"Has she been seen by the healer
yet?" The voice asked.
"Ai, my Lord. As soon as we had
finished with the restraints. Leta was not pleased with the way
we had chained the woman." Celano bowed his head before his
"I don't care what Leta thinks
of our...accommodations. Just let me know when she wakes. I
have some interesting questions to ask of our beautiful warrior
woman." The voice stopped. Celano knew a dismissal when he
heard one and quietly left.
"Yes, I have some very interesting
questions to ask if you are who I think you are; Xena." The
voice whispered to itself.
Gabrielle washed in and out on a tide
of consciousness which finally left her high and dry on this side
of being awake. "By all the gods, I swear I will never drink
again." She groaned to herself. Reaching up to touch the
back of her head, which seemed to be the place that hurt the most,
she felt her fingers come away tacky. Gabrielle tried to open
her eyes but found they were stuck together somehow. Feeling around
her, she eventually found the waterbag she carried and had dropped
just before the fight. Cupping one hand, she poured water into
it and washed the stickiness, her own blood, from her face and
eyes. When she could finally see again, she remembered what had
happened. "Xena!" Crawling out of the bushes, she looked
up and down the road. She could see five bodies lying in the dust,
all dead, the flies already buzzing around the remains.
Nearby lay her own staff and a little
further down the road she could see Xena's chakram and sword,
abandoned in the dirt. There was no sign of Xena anywhere. Argo
seemed to be gone as well. Gabrielle crawled over to her staff
and used it to help her get to her feet. She stood swaying as
a wave of dizziness washed over her. Walking back into the bushes
in small, painful steps she picked up the waterbag and took a
long drink to wash the taste of dirt and blood from her mouth.
"I think I need to get myself seen to before I can do much
else." The young woman said to herself. Looking carefully
into the sky, she could see the sun was a bare candlemark from
setting. The nearest village or town was almost half a days walk
away, so she carefully turned and started to walk back to the
lake they had left early that morning. She took a moment to pick
up Xena's weapons, stopping a sob by force of will. Using the
staff as a crutch, she hobbled slowly back down the road.
Two small, slitted windows high on the
cell wall allowed a dim light to enter, showing a body hanging
in chains attached to opposite walls. The pain of wrenching muscles
in her shoulders finally woke Xena from unconsciousness. Barely
suppressing a groan, Xena looked around the dark cell. She decided
she didn't like what she saw. A floor covered in rotting, filth
laden straw, more chains hanging from the ceiling and a small
timber pallet up against the back wall. In
one corner was small bucket, the contents of which did not smell
particularly wholesome. She gave the chains, attached to metal
cuffs around her wrists, a rattle to test their strength. "Hercules
might have a small problem breaking out of these." She said
She noticed that someone, a healer perhaps,
had tended to the hole on her shoulder where the pike had caught
her. The ends of stitches tickled her forehead so she assumed
a wound there had also been dealt with. **"Nice to know
somebody cares."** She thought sarcastically. Looking
down, she could see someone, perhaps the same healer, had removed
her armour and leathers. She stood in her cotton shift though
her boots and greaves where still in place. Straightening, she
began to turn and twist her shoulders to try to ease some of the
pain rapidly becoming unbearable. The agony merely increased until
she forced herself to stand completely still, covered in sweat
and barely breathing. Someone had heard her moving and there was
a rattle of a key at the large wooden door.
"Awake at last, are we woman?"
snarled the guard as he entered the cell. "Would you like
me to draw you a hot bath and prepare scented oils for your massage?"
Xena stood silently, letting the guard's
jibes pass her by.
"Oh dear. You are the quiet one.
I think I might have something here to make you squeal."
The guard began to unbutton the top of his trews and reaching
inside, quickly stroked himself to erection.
Waiting for the guard to move closer,
Xena wrapped her hands around the chains binding her wrists and
tensed her arms. The guard stepped forward, his erection pointed
directly at her body. As he came within arms reach, the tall warrior
suddenly pulled herself up on the chains, lifting her knees to
her chest and snapping both feet forward, hit the guard in the
middle of the chest. She heard the sound of several ribs breaking
as the man slammed into the wall across for her with a thud. He
groaned as he slid down the wall but did not rise again. Xena
thought he looked ridiculous with his rapidly deflating erection
hanging loosely from his pants.
Slow clapping could be heard from the
door. Xena turned quickly to see another man standing in the entranceway.
It was one of the men she had fought on the road. "Nicely
done, Warrior." Celano said with genuine respect in his voice.
"You're just a bundle of surprises, aren't you." The
man stepped into the room, staying well away from Xena's kicking
feet. "Get this idiot out of here." He ordered to someone
outside. Two well-muscled guards hurried into the room and dragged
the now moaning man from the cell. "I came to see if you
would like to be a bit more comfortable but it appears you are
doing quite well without me." He turned his head again. "In
here." He said. Three more men appeared and placed themselves
around Xena. They were armed with heavy bows and wicked, hunting
style arrows, all pointed directly at Xena. Celano slowly approached
the warrior and undid the locks on the metal cuffs holding the
chains to her wrists. She gratefully lowered her arms and began
to rub some of the pain from her abused shoulders. "If you
will follow me." He said.
Xena obediently followed Celano to a
new, smaller cell. New cuffs were locked to her wrists but this
time there was a short chain between them, holding her hands together
in front of her. Celano reached down and quickly attached large
metal cuffs to her ankles. The chain between them was just enough
to allow her to stand without falling. Walking would be an ordeal
taken in six inch steps. Another longer chain was locked to a
ring cemented to the floor near the wooden pallet. It gave her
about four feet of free room. Enough to lie on the pallet and
not much else.
Gesturing to the chains, Xena said,
"Is all this strictly necessary?"
"I'm afraid it is, Warrior. My
Lord, Demitri is rather keen to keep you in one place so he can
talk to you." Celano answered.
"Demitri?! Demitri, The War Lord
of Death?" She asked, trying to keep the surprise out of
"Oh, I see you have heard of my
Lord. Good. Then we won't have to enlighten you in the proper
respect, now will we." The man made one last check of the
locks and chains and stood back. "When my Lord finds a spare
moment, he will come down to see you. Seems he has some questions
to ask. But I have one which needs an answer now." Celano
stood back a little and looked down on the tall woman. "Your
name, Warrior!" He snapped.
Xena looked up, tempted to say nothing
but she knew it would only bring her more trouble. "I will
answer yours, if you answer one of mine." She said.
"If I can." The man answered,
willing to indulge the dark haired beauty a little.
"What happened to the woman who
fought with me? The one with the staff." The tall woman needed
this answer more than any other.
"She's dead." Was the simple
"My name is Xena." The warrior
said in a flat, emotionless voice.
"Thank you for being so co-operative,
Xena." Celano turned and left the cell. The bowmen followed
and the door was locked behind them. Xena placed her head into
her hands and wept.
A small fire burned near the lake where
Xena and Gabrielle had camped the night before. The young woman
had washed her wound carefully in the chill waters of the lake.
Gently feeling her way around the gash at the back of her head,
she decided it wasn't quite as bad as she first thought. It probably
needed stitching but she wasn't in a position to put them in herself.
She made do with tightly bound strips of material torn from the
bottom of her own skirt.
She had caught a fish from the lake
and filled out the rest of her evening meal with some olives and
a small wheel of sharp cheese she carried in her bag. **"A
biscuit would go nicely with this."** She thought but
the rest of the food supplies had been in the saddle bag attached
to Argo. Looking into the night sky, she wondered what had become
of her lover and companion. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she
tried to convince herself Xena was not dead. Surely, they would
have left her body on the road if that was the case. Gabrielle
gently cleaned the dirt and blood from Xena's sword. Something
she had watched the tall warrior do every night for years. Something
she now wanted to do so she could feel a little closer to her
missing love. She carefully passed her thumb along the edge of
the chakram. Still sharp but not as sharp as the pain she was
feeling in her heart.
Gabrielle lay down next to the fire,
her bedroll also still attached the back of Argo's saddle and
tucked the sword as close to her body as she could. It was a way
of remaining connected to the one true love her life. She found
herself thinking back over the past few weeks.
**"She's watching me again."**
Gabrielle thought as she looked at Xena through half closed eyes.
Xena sat apparently cleaning her sword quite calmly, yet Gabrielle
could see her breathing quicken as some thought crossed her mind.
Not once did the tall warrior's eyes leave their position watching
Gabrielle as she seemed to sleep. **"I didn't realise
how much she looked at me until that tavern maid mentioned it.
Is it possible she feels the same way I do? Does she get the same
flutter in the stomach every time I smile? Does her breath catch
in her throat when I touch her? By the gods, I love the way the
firelight brings out the blue in her eyes."** Gabrielle
turned her back to Xena and tried to deal with the flood of desire
she felt coursing through her. The young Bard had taken to watching
Xena watch her over the past several days and it had given her
a great to think about, and maybe hope as well.
"Hurry up, Gabrielle. You're dawdling
again." Xena said irritably as they left the little village
where they had restocked their provisions.
"Sorry, Xena. I just wanted to
pick up a flask of elderberry wine for tonight." Gabrielle
puffed behind Argo.
The tall warrior looked back suspiciously.
"You don't drink that stuff?" She questioned.
"Well, no. But you do and I thought
you might like some with dinner." The Bard tried to look
annoyed though a small smile crept over her face as soon as Xena's
back was turned. **"Yes, you do and I know exactly the
effect it has on you too."** She thought quietly. **"If
this doesn't loosen you up, nothing will."**
Xena sat with her long legs stretched
out in front of her. She was wearing a clean cotton shift, her
hair down and flowing in the slight breeze. Gabrielle had somehow
convinced her to not to put her leathers back on after they had
been swimming in the small river beside the camp site. She wriggled
back against the log she was leaning on to make herself more comfortable.
Yes, she was feeling better for not climbing back into her leather
clothing, not that she would openly admit it to Gabrielle. That
woman had the disconcerting habit of being so right sometimes.
Dinner sat pleasantly in her stomach.
The Bard had made quite an effort with the food tonight. Fresh
fish, caught in the river, cooked in leaves by the ashes of the
fire and flavoured with herbs she had picked. Bread, bought earlier
that day in the village and a wonderful assortment of vegetables.
More than they usually had to choose from but again, the village
had quite a selection. There was even a sweet pasty to finish
with. A surprise for Xena. She rarely indulged her sweet tooth
knowing what it may do to her teeth. The last thing she wanted
out here was a rotten tooth. She took another sip of the elderberry
wine from the cup in her hand. **"Is this my fourth or
fifth? Guess it doesn't matter, I suppose. I think we are safe
here."** She thought.
Gabrielle came over quietly, flask in
hand. "More wine, Xena?" She asked.
"No, no. I think I may have had
enough for one night." The warrior replied.
"Just a little more. Can't hurt
you know." Gabrielle said. The woman looked down at the dark
haired warrior. **"Yep, you look just about right. Nice
and loose....the way I need you."**
"Oh well, I guess a little more
won't cause any problems." Xena held her cup up to Gabrielle,
not really noticing when she filled it to the brim. She took a
large swallow as the young woman put the flask away and returned
with her brush. Xena felt nicely relaxed. She was far from drunk,
just loose and enjoying a mild fuzziness from the alcohol.
Gabrielle sat down near Xena and began
to carefully brush out the knots in her hair from swimming. She
took her time, allowing the brush to flow gently through the strawberry
blonde locks. Not quite looking at Xena, she could see the other
woman was mesmerised by her actions. Out of the corner of her
eye, she watched the flush on Xena's face, spreading down her
neck and across her chest. **"Come on, Xena. I know what
I want and I can see you do too. Now *do* something about it."**
She thought. In a way, she felt like a spider setting a trap for
a particularly reluctant fly.
Xena sat watching the young woman brushing
her hair. It fascinated her. The slow downward flow of the brush,
the lifting of her hair as she flicked the ends, the play of her
muscles with each movement. Muscles she could clearly see through
the thin cotton shift Gabrielle was wearing tonight. She licked
her lips finding her mouth suddenly dry. Taking a sip of wine,
Xena tried to break her eyes away from the sight of her best friend
brushing her hair. She flushed as she thought about taking the
brush from Gabrielle hand and gently kissing the back of her neck.
Of lifting her blonde hair, the red highlighted in the glow of
the fire, and slowly caressing the soft skin under her ear with
her tongue. Xena scrubbed her hands down the front of her shift.
Suddenly they seemed to be sweating a great deal.
She watched utterly entranced by the
rise and fall of Gabrielle breast as she moved the brush again.
Her tanned, muscular legs tucked demurely to one side of her.
The Bard tipped her head forward, her hair becoming a curtain
around her face, her neck exposed. Xena moaned so quietly to herself
that Gabrielle almost didn't hear. The young woman continued her
slow brushing, knowing it was definitely having the desired effect
on the tall warrior.
Xena's heart beat faster, thundering
so loudly in her chest she was surprised that the other woman
could not hear it. She could barely hear herself it was so deafening
in her own ears. She was starting to sweat, trying to restrain
Finally, unable to stop herself, she
reached forward and ran a slow, sensuous finger along the line
of Gabrielle's neck and across her shoulder. She froze, terrified
at what she had just done.
"It's alright, Xena, really. I
want you to." The young woman said, the desire open in her
voice for the first time. Gabrielle turned and took the finger,
unmoving in the air, into her mouth and rolled her tongue over
it still tasting the sweetness of the pastry Xena had eaten at
dinner. This one simple action seemed to ignite a fire in the
lowest depths of Xena's body.
Xena leaned towards Gabrielle, still
struggling with herself. She loved this young woman so much yet
she felt she couldn't ask her to be a part of a life that may
end at the next swing of someone's sword. Holding the young Bard
in her arms she looked down into her eyes. "I can't."
She whispered. "You could be killed or I could be killed,
by someone holding a grudge against me and by the gods there is
enough of those around. How can I ask you to be a party to such
a life of violence."
"Gabrielle looked back into those
blue, blue eyes and said. "Xena, I made my choices when I
first started following you. I knew then that one of us may be
killed someday. I have already accepted that I may only have you
for a very short time. But..." Gabrielle softly kissed
the tall woman holding her so tenderly, "I would rather have
a short time with you, knowing you love and care for me than to
have never known your love at all."
"And my past? The evil I carry
within me?" Xena asked, now afraid of what she might, potentially,
do to this wonderful woman.
"Your past is past. You have changed,
where it matters, in the heart and in your soul. Any evil you
think you may have had within you at one time, was changed at
the same moment you decided to make up for your old ways. Yes,
you get angry sometimes. Yes, you brood too much but so do all
of us. It's not like my temper is anything to boast about, you
know." The Bard cupped Xena's cheek in her hand." Xena,
whatever you were in the past, I accept. Whoever you are right
now, I love and cherish. And whoever you may grow to be, I want
to grow with you, for whatever time we may have together."
Xena slowly leaned down and started
to kiss Gabrielle. "I love you, my little Bard and I truly
don't know what I have done to deserve you." The tall warrior's
hands swept up the Bards body removing her shift in the process.
Gabrielle bit down on a knuckle, trying
to stop herself from crying aloud with the pain of separation.
Yes, that night was the happiest of all her memories of Xena.
They had made slow, gentle, passionate love until dawn. Xena had
taken her virginity that night and though the momentary pain had
been sharp it had also been very sweet. The tall warrior had cried
quietly when she realised Gabrielle was giving her the greatest
gift one woman could give another and had almost not completed
the act. The Bard had insisted that she, Xena, was the one she
had kept this gift for and no one else. Although tears still flowed,
Xena had accepted that gift.
Celano looked through the small grilled
window of the door into the cell. The warrior woman hadn't moved
all day. Slow tears flowed down her face. She made no move to
wipe them away. Xena had not even looked up when one of the guards
brought a meal to her. Celano could see it still sitting on the
stool by her pallet. Celano wondered what the other woman had
really meant to her, beyond simply being a travelling companion.
He was starting to suspect there was more going on than he had
Though he had served his Lord for many
years, he was not truly an evil man. He had a wife and family
of his own and often worried about their safety. He wondered if
it was possible there was some kind of relationship between the
two women. He had heard of such things before. Some of the writings
from that woman, Sappho...that was her name, hinted at an embracing
kind of woman-love. He didn't understand it himself but his wife
enjoyed it so much when he found a new tale or lyric poem written
by her. He smiled to himself. Far too often now, he found himself
scouring the markets to find something written by this bard to
surprise his wife. But since the Lord had ordered the destruction
of all the books and scrolls, the guard commander found he had
to search the markets of other villages and nearby towns. Celano
turned and said to the guardsman on duty, "Get Leta down
here. See if she can convince the warrior to eat something. Our
Lord would be most upset if she was not completely healthy."
Celano took one last look into the cell
and the warrior sitting, crying, in the semi-darkness. He wondered
what the Lord had in mind for her. Right now though, he had other
duties to attend to. As the night passed, he found himself unable
to shake from his mind the image of the sad warrior in the cells
It was two candlemarks passed the nooning
hour when Gabrielle finally reached the small town of Volos. Her
head was aching badly, so her first stop was at the healers. The
healer had wanted to keep Gabrielle there until her headache settled
and she was sure there would be no further problems. It took some
fast talking on Gabrielle's part to finally work her way out of
the building. She promised not to tax herself and gratefully accepted
the pouch of herbs the healer had given her.
Having gotten her head wound stitched
and freshly bandaged, her next stop was the inn. If anyone had
seen a group of heavily armed horsemen with a tall, beautiful
woman in tow, that would be the place to find the information.
She smiled sadly to herself. Xena had always said the place to
find out anything was the village inns and it was to prove all
too true. Readjusting the grip on her staff, she quietly entered
the dim room.
No one noticed her as she sat in a darkened
corner of the inn and simply allowed her ears to focus on the
various conversations around the room. Farmers, a merchant or
two, off-duty soldiers and a few other nondescript travellers
partially filled the common room of the inn. One of the tavern
maids asked for her order and shortly after, Gabrielle had a tankard
of crisp apple cider before her. There seemed to be nothing out
of the ordinary with this particular inn. It was like too many
others she had seen but the sight of two groups of fast travelling
men, one covered in blood should have raised at least one eyebrow
She had been listening for some time
with no result and was starting to the think she may have to actually
approach someone, with the risk of giving herself away in the
Gabrielle focused her ears on the soldiers
sitting at a table two over from her. They hadn't even noticed
her sit down, which is exactly what she wanted. They all appeared
to be common soldiers, no officers sat among them, apparently
enjoying the company of each other. Gabrielle listened carefully
as she caught the middle of what sounded like an on-going argument.
"I'm telling ya! They have that
Warrior Princess down in the cells right now!! The one they call,
Xena." One soldier said, obviously trying to convince his
friends. "She even managed to break Gregor's ribs while she
still was chained to the walls."
His friends laughed at him, not believing.
One of the others slapped the first
speaker on the back and said, "That is one woman who will
never allow herself to be captured, no matter what Demitri thinks
she's up to."
"Okay, this is how I *know* she
is down there. I was at that healers, Leta, when they brought
Gregor up from the cells and he had two big footprints right in
the middle of his chest where she had kicked him." The first
man said, emphasising his argument with a pointed finger against
"Arrrr, that coulda been anyone!"
One of the others said from across the table. "You know he
is always mucking about with the prisoners down there. Sooner
or later someone was going to fight back. Sometimes I think he
enjoys his job altogether too much, if you know what I mean."
"Not with his trews hanging open
and him mumbling about that bitch of a female warrior kicking
him clear across the room." Soldier one said smugly. "Serves
him right for trying to put the horse between the shafts anyway!"
"So how do you know the bitch's
name?" The youngest asked, trying to sound as tough as the
men around him.
"Heard it from one of the cell
guards at the kitchen last night when he was made to get a meal
for her. He didn't like playing maid to anyone, not even someone
like Xena." The man said. He wouldn't have minded getting
his hands on the woman himself but after seeing the mess she had
made of Gregor, he was glad he hadn't 'found' a reason to visit
the cells last night. 'Sides, Celano was sticking pretty close
to those cells, making sure no one got near the snooty cow anyway.
As their conversation moved to more
bawdy subjects, Gabrielle turned her attention inward. The relief
was almost overwhelming and she wiped her eyes before someone
noticed the tears. Her Warrior Princess was still alive and in
the cells belonging to the men's lord. **"Demitri, now
where have I heard that name before?"** She thought.
The Bard bit back on the surprised noise she was about to make.
**"Of course, I remember.....the Warlord of Death!
Something about the collection of heads he keeps at the gate,
Gabrielle rose to leave. The garrison
town would only be a few candlemarks away if the soldiers here
were being permitted leave to come to the inn and she wanted to
make a quick start. The sooner she got there, the sooner she could
figure a way to get Xena away from this warlord.
"Hold on. What have we here?"
A deep male voice said.
Gabrielle looked up and could see the epaulet markings of an officer, probably the superior of the men she had been listening to. **"Now why do these idiots always have to get in my way just when I need to get moving."** She thought sarcastically to herself.
The officer's hand reached forward slowly
and tapped the pommel of Xena's sword, showing over her shoulder
from the improvised harness Gabrielle had made to carry it. "Lovely
thing like you shouldn't be carrying a man's weapon unless she
knows how to use it." He grinned at her in what he hoped
was a winning way. All the Bard could see was yet another lecher
looking to have some fun....at her expense. "Now I am
sure I can arrange some lessons for you, if you want. Some nice,
**private** lessons, if you get my meaning."
Gabrielle sighed to herself. Normally
she would have tried to talk her way out of situations like this
but right now she didn't have time or the energy to even bother.
"I suggest you take your hands off me and leave me to my
business." She said dangerously. The young woman took a step
back away from the officer.
"Come, come. Every woman has her
price. Just name it. I am happy to pay....or not to pay, if
that is what you desire." The officer replied, dropping his
voice with the last statement.
**"Watch the chest. They will
signal their intentions from the chest first."** The
advice Xena had given her so many times ran though Gabrielle mind.
Then she saw it. A quick inhale and a tensing of muscles as the
officer prepared to raise his arms and grab her. She took a further
half step back with her right foot and braced herself as she swung
the staff up and smacked the end of it straight into the man's
nose. His head snapped back, the sound of the bone breaking underneath
clear to the whole room. He tottered backwards, surprised and
temporarily blinded by tears but before he had a chance to do
anything more, Gabrielle had dashed out of the inn and was running
as fast as she could to get away. She ducked between two buildings
and ran along the back of them, headed in the direction she had
first come. She ran down the alley between two more buildings
until she reached the edge of the town and spotting the open door
of some kind of stable, she quickly trotted inside. She risked
one short look outside to see if she was being followed and then
closed the door. "Looks like I get to sit tight until tonight
before I can move on. Blast that man!! Just when I found where
Xena was too!" She whispered aloud. "Well, at least
he might think again before he tries to grab another woman."
Gabrielle smiled wickedly at the thought of him trying to explain
his broken nose to his commander.
Walking to the back stalls, she piled
up some fresh hay and decided to get some rest before she started
moving. All the running had made her head ache again and she was
sure this was not what the healer had in mind when she made her
promise not to tax herself. Pulling Xena's sword from the improvised
harness on her back, Gabrielle tucked her body around it and was
Leta grumbled her way down the stairs
to the cells below the stronghold. They were slippery with water,
and less desirable liquids, making negotiating them difficult.
"Hrumph! You'd think the great and precious lord would see
about putting a few extra torches down here sometimes." She
mumbled to herself. "Not that he would ever come down here
himself. Oh no. Leaves that for the likes of us to do for him."
The healer had no fear of the warlord
whatsoever. Aside from truly being quite fearless, one gets that
way dealing with injured soldiers every day, she also had her
own private secret. Leta was Demitri's sister. Only a sense of
family loyalty....and having no other place to go, kept her
in his service. He had made it quite clear to her the first day
she arrived back from her training that no one was to know of
the relationship between them and she was more than happy with
that. If the others thought she lived a charmed life, after all
the arguments she'd had with the warlord, then let them think
it. She knew one day her luck would run out but it didn't look
like happening anytime soon.
Leta had come by her training late in
life having spent years as the town's herb woman and midwife.
Her brother had been the one to suggest she go to Athens for proper
training and she had accepted. The years away had been lonely,
she never could find the time to return to visit but it had been
so rewarding that in the end she didn't mind, much. She still
couldn't get over the change in her brother when she finally returned
though. She shook her head at the memory. A warlord of all things.
It was still surprising to think about, even now. Most people
had forgotten the relationship between them and saw them only
as the healer and the warlord.
Stepping off the bottom of the stairs
and entering the main chamber, she spotted Celano standing by
the door of the warrior's cell. Lately, that was were he was always
to be found, often with a perplexed look on his face.
"Good morning, Healer." Celano
"And to you, Commander." She
replied. The greetings were formal but that was all. Celano and
Leta had become close friends over the years, brought together
by the care for the men.
Celano indicated they should move away
from the cell door. "She's still not eating, Leta. And I
don't think she slept last night either. Can you try again to
reach her, please." The words said one thing but Leta could
hear the sadness in his voice. It was enough to make her own heart
"I can try, Celano but I doubt
she is even hearing me right now. It's as though she has locked
herself away from everything and everyone." The healer said.
"Did you manage to find anything more on her."
"Surprisingly enough, yes. I had
a chat with some of the men last night and to a man, every single
one of them had heard one tale or another about her. If only half
of it is true then she is an amazing woman." The respect
in his voice was clear. "Most of the tales were originated
from a bard called Gabrielle of Poteidaia. I think that was the
woman Icus hit during the fight on the road."
Leta gave him a long-suffering look.
"Typical man! Belt their brains in first and ask questions
Celano laughed. It was an old argument.
"I sent some men back there yesterday afternoon to see if
they could find the body. They returned well after dusk....without
"Without a body!! But you said
the woman was dead!!" Leta gasped.
"So I thought too. Seems I was
wrong. Something I don't intend telling the Lord though."
Celano said, a little ashamed he had made such a simple mistake.
"Good. He'd have your head on a
pike by the front gate in a minute!" The healer spat. "If
there was no sign of a body, does that mean the woman may still
"It's possible but so is the possibility
of some farmer simply finding it and burying it somewhere."
"Well maybe, if she is alive, telling
our warrior in there might be enough to get her to eat and sleep
again. It's worth a try, at least." Leta said, already thinking
of how to word it just in case it wasn't true.
"I'd gladly accept your help, Leta.
Nothing I seem to do gets through to her. In a way, I feel so
sorry for her. If she is this sunk in despair then the love she
had for that woman must have really been something to see."
Celano wondered what it would be like to be that in love again.
He adored his wife but there were days...well there were just
Leta looked up at him. "I'll do
my best, Commander. After all, the lord has demanded it of us."
The healer laughed, not the least bit concerned with the shocked
look on his face at such insolence towards the warlord.
"Now shoo! And let me get on with
my job." The healer said.
Leta watched Celano leave and walk up
the stairs to the stronghold. **"My but he has mellowed
over the years."** She thought. **"Won't be too
much longer and he will start thinking of retiring. To be honest,
*I* should be thinking of it too."** Serving under her
brother had really opened her eyes over the years and she still
didn't agree with, or understand, his desire to build an army
and then to never use it. **"He used to be satisfied with
just being the leader of the town. A good leader back then too,
if I recall. I wonder what happened to change him so. Something
while I was away training, I suppose. Oh well, I have a warrior
to keep alive."**
The healer moved silently over to the
door. Peering inside, the wave of sadness she could feel was almost
a dark mist covering everything in the room, especially the warrior,
still sitting in exactly the same place she had left her the night
before. **"Perhaps I can tempt her with something a little
better than the slops they call food around here."**
The healer bustled off to prepare something with her own hands.
Leta had taken quite a liking to the tall woman and she had known
who she was long before Celano had found out from his men. Her
knowledge of the other woman, possibly, being alive was something
she wanted to keep to herself, for the moment at least.
It had taken a little longer to reach
the garrison town than Gabrielle had first thought. Everytime
a group of soldiers came down the road, she had stepped into
the trees to hide. The last thing she wanted to do was meet up
with the officer whose nose she had broken at the inn. All of
her senses were hyper-aware of any noise on the road and she laughed
at herself on occasion as an ordinary wagon would trundle passed
heading for the town. Knowing Xena was alive had lifted her spirits
but she was still it figure a way to have her released from the
prison. **"I might have a better idea of what to do once
I actually get there and see what I am up against."**
Finally reaching her destination, she
crouched in the bushes nearby and carefully watched the gate for
a while. The soldiers and residents of the town were quickly passed
through but several of the travellers were told to move on to
the next town along the way. Gabrielle couldn't see any reason
for the guards to do this, other than pure spite or perhaps, they
were simply bored. Not wanting to be turned away herself, she
had to find another way inside the gate. She knew the gates would
be closed and locked for the night soon and she had to find a
way inside before that happened.
It seems the gods must have heard her
because coming up the road rolled a large wagon, filled to almost
over-flowing with hay. It stopped at the end of the line, the
wagoner patient. Gabrielle quickly scurried out of her hiding
place and burrowed deep inside the pile of hay. She felt the wagon
start moving again and the calls from the guards as the wagon,
and herself, passed safely through the gates. Waiting for a few
minutes, until she was sure they were out of the direct line of
sight of the guards, she hopped out of the wagon and was quickly
on her way. The wagoner none the wiser for his impromptu passenger.
"What in Hades are you doing here?"
Demitri snarled at Leta as she entered the room.
"Can't a sister come and chat with
her brother?" She asked.
"I told you never to mention that
in my hearing...or anyone else's either!!" He snapped
back at her.
"Yes, my Lord." She said,
not the least bit sorry.
"So, tell me. How is our little
warrior?" Demitri asked, stroking his chin.
Leta looked at him carefully. "She
may live. There is no infection and she hasn't developed a fever.
Though that is a miracle in itself, the way your soldiers keep
"Enough!! I merely wanted to know
if she will live." The warlord growled at the healer. He
stopped for a moment and looked at the woman. "And what do
you mean 'may live'?"
"She appears to have lost her will
to even exist on this plane and hasn't eaten or slept these two
days past." Leta answered.
The warlord jumped to his feet and began
to pace the room nervously. He seemed very agitated about something.
Something to do with that warrior, she was sure.
**"Maybe this is the time to
find out what the warrior means to him."** Leta thought.
"If I may be so bold, my Lord." She asked. "She
is just another prisoner. Why is it so important she survive?"
Demitri spun around and faced the woman.
For the first time, Leta could see in his eyes what truly drove
him. The warlord opened his mouth and began to giggle hysterically.
He threw his head back.
"THAT *BITCH*," He screamed
"KILLED MY BELOVED!!" He stood in place, tears rolling
down his face, laughing maniacally. It was the most chilling sound
Leta had ever heard. Fists clutched at his sides, face purpling,
the cords standing out clearly against his neck. He hissed. "Her
demon *army* raided the village two days ride from here. Helena
had gone there to buy cloth for our wedding when that bitch's
army of bastards swept through. Her *men* toyed with my beloved
for five days before torturing her to death. Rutting with her
like they were animals. The warrior bitch had to know what was
happening. Now it is my turn to revenge her death. And I will.
Oh yes, I will. Now it is my turn.....my turn...."
His voice rambling off as he started to talk to himself. He sank
into a heap on the ground, still mumbling.
Leta quietly climbed back to her feet
and walked as silently as she could out of the room. The warlord
never noticed she was gone, still locked in his mutterings of
revenge. At least her questions had been answered at last. Her
brother's grief had pushed him over the edge into madness. **"It
must have happened while I was away doing my training as a healer."**
She thought. Leta could still remember Helena, a softly beautiful
woman with gentle hands. Demitri was quite taken with her at the
time, she remembered but Leta didn't know it had gone as far as
marriage. When she had returned, there was no sign of Helena but
that was true of a lot of people from the town. Demitri had emptied
the place of anyone who didn't agree with his plans to build an
army and turn the town into a garrison.
The healer finally found herself back
at her own rooms with no real idea how she had walked there. Her
mind was now filled with more questions than before. New questions...All
involving the beautiful warrior locked up in the cells of the
**"I remember the stories of
the Warrior Princess. But every tale I have heard from the bards
down at Volos has spoken of a different kind of woman. Someone
trying to make some kind of restitution for her past."**
Leta thought as she sat down on her pallet. **"From what
I have seen in the cell downstairs, I think the Xena we have here
is not the same one who *may* have known about Helena's death.
It may be the same body, yes, but there has been some deep
change in her soul. The woman Demitri is talking about would have
torn that cell apart in a matter of moments, instead of sitting
there like someone who has lost their one true love."**
The healer sat for most of the night,
staring out the window, thinking about the stories she had heard
of the Warrior Princess and the woman chained in the cells. Eventually,
she decided she must try to find that bard, the one who may still
be alive. Her own sense told her that if the woman *was* alive,
she would probably make her way to the garrison to try and released
Xena from captivity. Now, how to find her?
Xena had finally allowed herself to
lie down. Her mind was still blank, her heart frozen. She didn't
feel anything, not even the ache of losing her lover. Red-rimmed
eyes stared up at the stone ceiling above her head. For a moment,
she thought she could feel Gabrielle close by somewhere, almost.
**"No. It is just an empty echo."** She said
to herself and from an endless well of tears she began to cry
"Celano, come to the tavern with
me tonight?" Leta asked the old commander the next morning.
He looked at her, surprised. Leta never
went to the tavern. "By the gods, why go there? It is full
of soldiers. A woman isn't safe there."
"An old hag like me shouldn't have
too much to worry about, I think but I would like you there...Just
in case." Was her answer. In the early hours of the morning,
Leta had decided the bard she was seeking, if she still lived,
would probably turn up in the tavern, sooner or later. Everyone
has to earn a living, after all.
The old commander gave Leta a very measuring
look." Okay." He was suspicious. "I know you are
up to something, Healer. Whatever you do, don't let the Lord find
out about it. But I'll take you, only because I know if I don't,
you'll go anyway!"
"Thanks, Celano. Bring your dinars,
we'll be there a while." The healer quickly stood on tip
toe and kissed him on the cheek before hurrying back to her patients.
Celano stood with his hand over his
cheek where she had kissed him. In all the years they had known
each other, never once had she done that. He shook his head. She
was definitely up to something but what...He had no idea.
Gabrielle carefully counted the dinars
from her pouch again. There were no more than when she had counted
them before...Or before that either. A meal and a bath were
about all she could afford right now and both sounded like good
ideas. What she really needed though, was a place to stay for
a few days to scout out the town and maybe find a way to release
Xena from the stronghold's prison.
She looked down at herself. Her clothes
were reasonably clean, if she picked all the hay off them, but
she was starting to smell like she had slept in a stable for the
past few nights...Which is exactly what she had been doing.
Finding a place to hide, and sleep in the garrison had been a
lot harder than she had first thought. Travelling on the open
road was beginning to look like quite a good prospect. **"I
promise, I'll never complain to Xena again about camping out in
the open!"** She thought quietly. **"At least
out there, we never have any problems finding a place to camp!!
I am really starting to hate cities!"**
Gabrielle had already looked around
enough to see there was only the one tavern in the whole town.
It struck her as quite odd, actually. In a town this size, there
should have been three or four inns and taverns to cater to the
travellers passing through. The other thing she noticed as strange
was the lack of street bards here in the market square. Every
other village and town they had ever travelled through had a least
one bard plying his, or her, trade in the square to earn a few
extra dinars. Why were there none here? She took a closer look
at the people around her. Everyone seemed a little too intent
on getting along with their business. Few people appeared to have
the time to simply stop and chat, to pass the time in that most
ancient of pursuits, gossip. **"What is it with this place?"**
She thought. Wandering around the stalls she noticed something
else, though there was plenty of food stuffs to choose from, and
she had already bought a few things herself, but there didn't
appear to be any of the pretty things she would have normally
expected to find. No silks, no carvings, no painted objects, nothing.
What did these people do in their evening hours? The most disconcerting
lack of all, especially to the bard in her soul, was the complete
absence of books or scrolls! That was the strangest discovery
After wandering the market for a candlemark,
she decided that the only way she was going to get a roof over
her head for a few days, at least, was to go to the tavern and
hope they needed a bard. Judging from the non-existence of story-tellers
in the square, this town was badly in need of *someone* to tell
the old, and not so old tales. Gabrielle carefully picked all
the hay from her clothing and took a few moments to wash her face
and hands in one of the many horse troughs before taking herself
off to the tavern. There was little she could do about the smell
of horses she carried on her. Hopefully, once she had explained
her situation, the tavern owner would be forgiving.
"Ai, we do need a bard here right
now." The owner of the tavern told her. He looked like the
typical bar-keep, like most Gabrielle had seen. Very big, well-muscled,
maybe a bit paunchy around the middle from drinking one too many
with his customers. In fact, he was the biggest inn-keeper the
Bard had ever seen.
Gabrielle took a closer look at the
man. He seemed almost...well, embarrassed he didn't have a
bard on premises. His eyes kept flicking about the room, as though
he was expecting trouble at any moment. The young Bard casually
glanced about her. She could see why the owner appeared a little
nervous. Even at this early hour, still candlemarks until nooning,
the place was reasonably full. Ordinarily this would have pleased
anyone who ran a tavern, until she noticed the customers themselves.
Nothing but soldiers. There was no sign of the townspeople anywhere.
It was another little oddity for Gabrielle to put away in her
"What kind of tales do you tell?
Not those great long epics, I hope? My customers wouldn't sit
still long for one of those." The man asked, still glancing
around the room. Gabrielle was starting to find it a bit annoying.
"Anything you want. I know many
different ones." She said. "I could tell you one now,
if you like. That way you know what I can do." The blonde
"Okay, tell me a story, Bard."
For the first time the tavern owner actually looked at her.
The young Bard began to tell a tale
of one of Xena's many adventures. The man listened carefully,
quite caught up in the story...until Gabrielle mentioned Xena
by name for the first time. He paled and quickly held up his hand,
"You can't tell those tales here."
He said, pointing to the ground.
"What??!! Why not??" She asked,
very confused. The tales she told of Xena were usually the most
"The Lord has decreed it. Not tales,
stories or poems about the Warrior Princess are to be told in
this town." The man gulped back his fear. Once more his eyes
were looking around the room but this time he was hoping no one
had heard the young woman start her story or mention Xena's name.
Gabrielle dropped her voice to a whisper.
"Is that why you have no bards here, or in the square either."
"Ai. As soon as someone starts
to speak of the woman, the guards hear of it and take them away.
We usually find their heads on a pike by the front gate within
a few days. Now, no bard with any sense will come here."
The tavern owner looked Gabrielle up and down carefully. "I'm
surprised that a little slip like you is here. What brings you
to such a god forsaken place."
Gabrielle raised her chin. "I have
business in this town. Now, are you willing to take me on...If
I tell no stories of...you know who?"
"It must be damned important business
then." The man thought for a moment. Having a bard, any bard
telling tales here might stop some of the fights among the soldiers.
They were bored and restless, wine and port only going so far
to keep them entertained. He took a good long look at the young
woman sitting beside him. She carried herself well and looked
like she knew how to use that staff. He nodded to himself. "Ai,
I'll take you on but none of those stories now, you hear. You
get bed and a nooning meal as well as any dinars you earn from
"Bed, nooning AND evening meals."
Gabrielle said. She knew she had to haggle, it was part of any
bard's job. "I also *don't* **entertain**, if you
get my meaning." Her face was stubborn.
The owner looked down at her with a
little more respect in his eyes. He spat in his palm and held
out his hand for her to shake. "Okay, bed, nooning and evening
meals and no entertaining the soldiers, beyond telling them some
good tales. But you will earn your keep here with this crowd.
I'd keep that staff close, girl. You may need it."
Gabrielle nodded. She was used to working
rough crowds by now. Not that she was concerned. She knew she
could so engross them with her stories that none would think about
anything else, so long as she remained on-stage. She spat and
then shook the man's hand heartily. "The name's Gab..um...Gavalie."
The man had heard the slip but let it
pass. Many women bards did not want their families tracking them
down and right now he didn't care. He just wanted a bard. "They
call me, Tobias."
Demitri peeked at the tall warrior as
she lay stretched out on the rough wooden pallet. He could barely
contain himself. From the moment he had known for true who she
was, he had been sneaking down to the cells at odd hours to look
and gloat over his captive. Finally, he had the bitch in his hands.
He had been thinking hard on what to do with her from the first
moment Celano had told him her name. He stifled a giggle. Not
that the warrior seemed to notice him standing there. She lay
with her back to the door, seemingly asleep. He thought about
what to do with her. Simply throwing her to his men would not
be punishment enough for what she did, or allowed to happen to
his beloved wife-to-be. No, she had to feel the same terror and
pain as his Helena. The same humiliation. He stood carefully stroking
the faded ribbon he held between his fingers. The last reminder
he had of the woman who was to marry him. He had to get that Leta
down here again and see if she could convince the tall woman to
eat. Demitri wanted her fit and healthy so the pain would last
He looked at the various whips and instruments
of torture hooked along the walls of the main chamber. Then he
saw it, the perfect one. He hurried over to it and rubbed his
fingers down the wide leather strap. **"This will hurt
but it won't rip her skin any. Leave some wonderfully painful
bruises too."** He thought. It was a strap about 4 feet
long and three inches wide. The handle was made of solid bone
wrapped in rawhide. He fingered it, letting the leather slide
across his palm. He could already see in his minds eye exactly
what he wanted. A low platform in the square with the large wooden
X frame on top. The warrior spread-eagle, her back bare
and waiting for the fall of the strap. The fear in her eyes as
he sat in front of her, watching every strike. He started to giggle
again, not trying to stop himself. "Yes, this is perfect,"
He said aloud. He gave the leather one last caress before turning
away. It was going to take a couple of days to organise, he wanted
the entire town there to witness the tall woman's humiliation.
His giggles became a mad laugh. The Warrior Princess was about
to surrender to him. To *him*!! Kissing the faded ribbon one last
time, he scurried away to his rooms to put his plans into action.
Gabrielle stood near the kitchen door
waiting for Tobias to let her know it was time to start. She peeped
around the corner of the door. The tavern was filled with soldiers
drinking and yelling. Sprinkled about the room were several women,
of various ages, plying their 'trade', She looked up at the stage.
It had to be the smallest she had ever seen, barely large enough
to hold the high stool in the middle. It was little more than
a few planks nailed between two supporting pillars. There was
a bit of old and faded bunting nailed across the top of the pillars,
creating the 'stage' effect. Tobias had quietly placed her staff
against the back of one of the uprights, out of sight of the rest
of the room. She was grateful for that much at least. If she sat
up straight, the shadows cast by the bunting would hide most of
her face from the audience below. A little something else she
felt grateful for. There was less chance of being recognised if
the officer with the broken nose should decide to visit the tavern.
She saw Tobias's signal from the bar. Time for her to ply *her*
It took a moment for the room to notice
her sitting on the high stool but once she had the attention of
the majority of the room she launched into an old tale full of
war and painful death. She had judged the room correctly and soon
every ear was turned to her and no one spoke. For the next three
candlemarks, the room remained largely silent as she told tale
after tale, even telling one or two of the funnier poems she knew.
As she wove the magic of her words, she watched the room carefully
for any sign of trouble around her. She did notice, off to one
side partly hidden in the shadows, an older man with the shoulder
markings of a guard commander and an old woman. Neither spoke
but they looked back intently. Gabrielle found it more unnerving
than the rest of the room combined.
Finally pleading a dry throat, Gabrielle
ended her session to the thunderous applause of the soldiers.
Tobias gave her the thumbs up from the bar and then returned to
his work. The Bard stepped from the platform, a pile of dinars
the grateful soldiers had thrown on the stage in one hand. Without
even counting them, she could feel that this was one of the best
nights she had ever had. But it had been a long time between bards
in this tavern. Taking a plate of stew from the cook and grabbing
a mug of ale on her way passed the bar, the tired Bard happily
returned to her room upstairs.
She placed the food and drink on the
table by her pallet. She noticed one of Tobias's boys had hung
two buckets of water over the fire so she could bathe. Gabrielle
sat, just letting her tired body relax. The tavern owner had been
right, it was a rough crowd but she had not lost her skills and
knew they would enjoy the more grisly tales she told, the ones
filled with death, destruction and war. There had been a few hecklers
among the crowd but their own companions had dealt with them without
her having to say a thing. *They* wanted to hear her speak. At
the moment though, all she wanted was to eat, bathe and then sleep
until she was completely slept out. This was the first proper
bed she had been near in days. She hadn't minded sleeping in stables,
the piles of hay really were quite comfortable, but she always
had one ear open for trouble. She tried not to think of the pleasant
nights she had spent with Xena but tired and unable to stop her
thinking, she was soon in tears.
A soft knocking at the door quickly
put paid to any thoughts she may have had about a long drawn-out
cry. Wiping the tears from her face and swallowing the last of
her sobs, she opened the door to find the old woman from the common
room standing there. Behind her, carefully watching up and down
the hallway was the man with the commander's markings on his shoulders.
"My name is Leta and I must speak
with you." The old woman whispered.
Something in the tone of the woman's
words or the way she held her body made Gabrielle think she could
be trusted, a little. Opening the door wider, both people quickly
stepped through, the man closing the door and leaning his back
firmly against it.
Looking over her shoulder the healer
said. "Stop that, Celano. You're scaring the poor mite."
The man, Celano, looked a little shame-faced
and stopped leaning against the door. He walked to the window
and sat on the ledge. The healer turned Gabrielle around so she
stood next to the door. The Bard relaxed.
"Please child, may I examine the
back of your head?" The woman asked softly.
Confused, Gabrielle turned her back
and felt gentle fingers carefully inspect the wound she carried
there. The fingers did not hurt her and Gabrielle relaxed a bit
more. Perhaps Tobias had sent this healer up to check on her.
"I think she may be the one, Celano."
Leta said to the man sitting at the window.
"I may be the one what?" The
Bard asked. She didn't like the sound of this but she was standing
next to the door and could easily escape if things became a little
"Tell me, child. Were you on the
road to Volos a few days ago. Travelling with a tall warrior woman?"
The woman's eyes bored into Gabrielle.
"Well....Yes, I was. There was
a fight and I was hurt." She said, reaching up to the wound
on her head. Gabrielle sensed if she tried to lie to this strange
healer, somehow the woman would know.
"And when you woke, the tall warrior
was gone?" The healer pressed.
"Y..Yes." Was all the young
woman could get out before the tears began to fall again. She
felt tender arms encircle her and she allowed herself to collapse
into the comfort they offered. For the first time since she woke
by the side of the road, she permitted herself to feel the worry
and pain of missing Xena. Over her head, Leta passed a look to
Celano. He nodded silently but otherwise did not move.
After a short time, Leta hushed the
crying woman. "Quiet now, child. I think there may be a way
for you to see your...friend?" She questioned.
"L..l..lover, actually." The
blonde woman blushed.
"I thought as much." The healer
nodded to herself. "Anyway, there may be a way for you to
see her, if you are willing to face the danger of you both being
Gabrielle pulled herself from the healer's
arms and stood straighter. "Anything. I'd do whatever it
takes." She looked down at the ground. "I'd rather die
with Xena than to live without her."
Celano looked at the young woman from
his quiet corner of the room. Yes, she was as courageous as the
warrior locked in Demitri's prison. He had been hesitant to go
through with Leta's plan but such courage and...love should
not go unrewarded. As a guard commander, he had served his Lord
faithfully all these years but he had listened to the stories
his men had told of a tall warrior woman doing so much good. Celano
was not simply going to stand by and allow his Lord to do whatever
his mad mind was thinking about. Celano knew his Lord and Master
was completely insane but he served him anyway. But something
had changed within Celano during the past few days and he honestly
felt he could no longer serve the man...nor his insanity. He
stood and walked towards the door.
"I'll go and get things ready at
the stronghold." He said.
"Good." The old woman looked
at Gabrielle. "Now child, here is what we are going to do."
The bored guard leaned against the doorway,
cleaning his fingernails with a small knife. He would have much
rather been with his companions tonight. There was talk of a new
bard performing at the tavern. He sighed. Bards had stopped coming
to the town not long after Demitri 'removed' everyone who opposed
him and his sudden desire to build an army. Unfortunately for
him, he was not out making war for the men. Instead, it was as
though he was waiting for something, or someone to come to him.
The guard didn't really care. The money was regular and he made
his fun among the townsfolk. But a bit of excitement now and then
would be nice. He picked up the sound of footsteps coming down
the stairs. He stood straighter and gripped his pike. Recently
the Lord had taken it into his head to visit the cells at night,
though never this late.
Two figures appeared around the corner.
"Halt! Identify yourself." He shouted.
"For the love of the gods, man!
It's Leta. How many times do I have to come down those stairs
and go through this nonsense!" The healer grumbled at him.
The guard smiled lope-sidedly, scratching
his head. "I'm sorry, Healer but you know I have to do it
The healer's voice softened. "Yes,
I know you do. I just get a little sick of being yelled at, is
The guard smiled. He liked the old woman,
found her to be feisty and a lot of fun when she wasn't dealing
with her patients. In some ways she reminded him of his mother.
Part of him wished he could go and visit but it was hard enough
getting leave to the next town let alone to visit relatives. "Who
is this with you, Healer?" He asked quietly.
"A priestess-healer I asked to
look at my case in the cells. Nothing I seem to do is working
and I fear she may have a sickness of the soul. The Lord is most
insistent about her being fit and well again" She explained
**"There, that should stop this
idiot of a guard from wanting to actually look at her face."**
Gabrielle stood quietly, carefully hooded
against the light. The cowling had been pulled forward to hide
her face and the cape hung in elegant folds around her body. She
had tipped her head forward a little, not enough to be obvious
but more than enough to hide her identity from a casual observer.
She bit down on her bottom lip to try and stop the trembling but
Leta could feel it under her supporting hand. She squeezed Gabrielle's
arm in reassurance.
"Well, I guess it is alright."
The guard said.
"Thank you. We do need to hurry
though. The ritual must be performed in the dark of the moon."
The old healer said to him.
The guard stepped back from the doorway,
allowing the two women to pass unhindered. "Careful on the
way down, Healer. The torches have all but burned out by now."
Leta nodded to him and walked slowly
down the stairs and out of the view of the guard. She stopped
at the bottom and checked the main chamber. Completely empty.
The guard who would normally be on duty had been conveniently
sent somewhere else....Thanks to Celano. She reached into her
pocket and withdrew the key to the door of Xena's cell. Another
little gift from the guard commander.
"Quickly now, child. We only have
a candlemark or so before the guard is changed." Leta was
already leading Gabrielle to Xena's cell. She unlocked the door
and gently guided the Bard through the door, closing it behind
her. Gabrielle heard her whisper. "I'll stand outside and
let you know if anyone comes. If they do, put that cape back on
and mumble like you are holding a ritual."
Gabrielle stood blinking to adjust her
eyes to the darkness of the small cell. The subtle odors of Xena's
skin and breath told her she was in the cell but all she could
make out was a dim shape on the pallet at the back.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered.
The shape moved. The sounds of chains
rubbing together almost masked the gasp of shock coming from the
"No. It can't be. I was told you
were dead." Xena murmured.
The Bard smiled to herself. "Talked
my way out of Hades, didn't I."
The dark haired beauty stood and tried
to walk over to Gabrielle, the sudden pull of the leg chains stopping
her. She held out her arms, it was all the invitation the young
woman needed. The short series of links between the metal cuffs
on her wrists stopped Xena from immediately wrapping her arms
around Gabrielle, so the woman ducked under her open arms and
popped up surrounded by them.
"Mmmmmmm, this is where I belong."
She said, snuggling close.
Xena dropped her head to Gabrielle's
shoulder and began to cry. This time tears of pure joy. "They
told me you were dead." Was all she could say, over and over
again. She held the Bard tightly as if to let her go would mean
losing her all over once more.
Gabrielle held Xena as tightly and allowed
her own tears of joy to flow.
Outside, Leta watched from the grilled
window. She knew she was seeing something very special indeed.
The dark mist which had surrounded the warrior for days had disappeared,
replaced by an almost unearthly glow. These were two lovers truly
blessed by Aphrodite. They stood together drawing comfort and
strength from the other. Though no words were spoken, she realised
each was speaking directly to the other's heart and soul. Whatever
it took, including defying her own brother, she would see to it
that this pair would be together and free, even if it ultimately
meant her own life would be forfeit. She moved away from the door
to give the lovers some much needed privacy. Leta felt as though
she had been blessed with a gift she was yet to earn. To look
upon such love was truly the greatest honor the old woman had
Gabrielle hands moved over the warrior's
body. "Xena, you've lost weight. Aren't they feeding you
here?" She asked, concerned.
"Food's okay, I just haven't been
eating it, is all." Xena answered, rubbing her hands up and
down the Bards back. It was about all she could do with the cuffs
still on her wrists.
The young woman knew why Xena hadn't
been eating, so didn't bother to ask the question. Instead she
asked another. "Have you had any sleep?"
"Some, not a lot. I'll sleep better
knowing you're alive though. How long can you stay?" The
warrior moved Gabrielle until she was sitting in her lap.
"Not long, maybe a candlemark,
perhaps. We have to leave before the guard changes." Gabrielle
"How did you find me? The last
I saw, you'd been hit over the head with a pike and were flying
into the bushes." Xena asked.
"By remembering all the things
you taught me, like listening for information in the inns. Though
I will admit, the information that got me in here actually came
looking for me." The young Bard said.
The warrior laughed. The first happy
sound she had made in days. "You mean the healer?"
"Yes. She also had the help of
the commander of the guard. A man called Celano." Gabrielle
was carefully feeling her way around Xena's body looking for injuries.
"I remember him. Did you know he
has spent nearly every spare minute outside that door watching
me. Never once has he come in here asking questions. I did wonder."
Xena said quietly.
Finding nothing she was not already
aware of, Gabrielle paid attention to the conversation again.
"Leta says that something has changed him in the past few
days, though she didn't explain it to me."
"That'd be a healer for you. Never
explains anything, just expects you to figure it out for yourself."
Xena breathed deeply to soak up as much of Gabrielle scent as
possible. "So, my little Bard, have you and that healer figured
a way to get me out of here. Maybe brought my weapons along."
Xena began to feel her way around Gabrielle body. She wasn't really
looking for her weapons, though it wouldn't have surprised her
in the least if the young woman had smuggled them in somehow.
The Bard put her fingers to Xena's lips.
"Shhh. We don't have much time. And no, we haven't found
a way to get you out of here yet nor get your weapons in but we'll
think of something. Leta can smuggle me in again tomorrow night
at moon dark but after that, well, we just have to wait and see.
You, in the mean time have to continue to act like you are soul-sick
so we can justify my coming down here."
"It's too much of a risk."
Gabrielle's face set into stubborn lines.
"Just you try and stop me, Warrior-mine."
"I should know better by now. Never
argue with a bard, you just can't win!" The tall warrior
giggled into Gabrielle's hair. Without realising what was happening,
she suddenly felt the Bard's lips upon hers and she was effectively
silenced for the time being.
Xena lay back on the wooden pallet staring
at the stone ceiling she knew all too well. Tucked under her shift,
between her breasts and against her heart was Gabrielle kerchief.
It smelled sweetly of the scent the Bard liked to use and of the
Bard herself. She reached down and touched it again. She could
see the sense in Leta not simply opening the cell and her escaping.
There were too many bored guards between the cells and the outside.
They may have been bored but most were far from stupid. No, there
had to be another way out.
Leta herself, had reassured Xena to
Gabrielle safety at the tavern. Celano had seen to that. Threatening
the soldiers with the bards complete removal from the tavern and
the town was enough to give her some breathing room. The men were
desperate for entertainment and if that meant leaving one woman
alone, then most were happy to go along with it. There were plenty
of other women willing to share their time, and dinars. Celano
had also spoken with the owner, Tobias and made it very clear
that Gabrielle was special. The tavern owner had more or less
figured this out for himself. It was not every day he saw a woman
bard travelling alone through the country-side. She also had the
gift of telling a truly compelling story. Tobias was willing to
do whatever it took to keep the Bard there for as long as possible.
Although when Celano had approached him, he assumed his new bard
was actually Celano's lover and not Xena's. The guard commander
had let the impression ride for the moment. The tall warrior smiled
to herself. **"Must do something about that just as soon
as I can."** She thought.
A part of her still couldn't quite believe
her little Bard had returned. But she had held the other woman
in her arms, breathed her scent, felt her lips against her skin.
No, Gabrielle had most definitely been there. The despair Xena
had felt before was receding like a particularly bad nightmare.
She had honestly thought she would go mad when she saw the pikeman
hit Gabrielle over the head. And when she didn't come back out
of the bushes, swinging that staff of hers...Well, Xena lost
what little sense she felt she had left at that point. Her grief
and anger had made her careless which was how someone managed
to get passed her guard and knock her out. She gave the chains
on her wrists a rattle. It still felt a little odd waiting for
Gabrielle to come to her aid. Usually it was the other way around.
After all, she was the trained warrior, not Gabrielle.
Xena felt her eyes closing in the first
real sleep she had allowed of herself in days. This time, though
she was still isolated in her cell, she no longer felt the tearing
loneliness of a shattered heart. Out there in the town, close
by was the woman she would give her life to, if asked. Gabrielle
was safe and had at least one good friend in the healer. Xena
was not so sure about Celano. She yawned. Pretending to be soul-sick
was going to be easy, she had days of sleep to catch up on. Xena
closed her eyes knowing she was no longer alone.
Gabrielle and Leta sat on the Bard's
bed trying to figure a way of releasing Xena without bringing
the entire army down on them. Already half a dozen plans had been
tossed aside as completely unworkable. A coded knock suddenly
sounded through the room. Gabrielle looked up, startled.
"That'll be Celano." Leta
said, getting up to open the door for him.
The guard commander strode in holding
a sheet of parchment, a grim look on his face. "Looks like
our crazy Lord has decided what he wants to do with Xena."
He said. He handed over the parchment to Leta.
The healer quickly read through the
announcement. "Could be worse, you know. He could have ordered
her execution outright. The usual head on the pike routine etc.
I am getting a bit tired of that. He is so predictable."
Gabrielle did not like the talk of executions
or heads on pikes. She took the parchment from Leta's hand. Reading
though it, her face fell. "A public whipping? What does he
hope to achieve by that? Xena has taken far worse in the past,
Celano looked at the girl kindly. "Her
humiliation, probably. Though something tells me she might not
survive this particular whipping. He's planning on using the broad
strap and five whippers, one after the other."
"The broad strap?" Gabrielle
"A little nasty about four feet
long and three inches wide. It doesn't tear up the skin too badly,
merely turns everything under it into a kind of mush. Not pleasant.
I saw it used on one of the townsfolk not long after I returned
from my training. I won't ever forget the screams. The poor man
was dead within fifty lashes. If Demitri is planning on using
five men as whippers that means he is handing out two hundred
and fifty lashes with that horror." Leta explained. Her skin
began to crawl at the thought of what the strap could do.
"It just goes to show he truly
is mad. The way he was talking this morning, he fully expects
her to live so he can torture her further." Celano said.
In all his years of service for the warlord, he had never once
ordered a discipline whipping using the broad strap. Personally,
Celano was hard pressed to think of a crime severe enough to warrant
its use at all. Then again, he had some trouble ordering any kind
of a beating on his men. There were other ways of maintaining
Gabrielle stood up. "Well, he isn't
going to get a chance to use it on Xena either!" She reached
under the cover of her pallet and drew out Xena's sword and chakram.
They were both spotless and razor sharp. Gabrielle had spent hours
after her return from the prison the night before, cleaning and
Celano looked at Gabrielle with real
respect. Now here was a truly courageous woman, if only he had
more like her in his army. Demitri might not have been able to
take over quite as easily as he had. "I have an idea. It's
a bit iffy and really depends on timing but I think it might work."
"Aren't all the best ideas iffy."
Leta laughed and prepared herself to listen.
Demitri was almost beside himself with
glee. Tomorrow that warrior bitch was going to feel the bite of
the strap on her back. A fit beginning for what she had done to
his Helena. He was already thinking of what to do next. Something
even more humiliating. Perhaps a naked drag around the square
behind horses. He giggled to himself, stroking Helena's faded
hair ribbon through his fingers.
Not once in the years since his lover's
death had he ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe Xena
knew nothing about what her men got up to after the sacking of
that village. He wouldn't permit himself to admit that he might
be wrong about her. It was one of the reasons he would not allow
the telling of her most recent tales in the town. He didn't want
anyone knowing of the good she was doing for the rest of the countryside.
After putting several bards heads on pikes by the gate, no more
chose to come. Which was just what he wanted. Let the people only
remember the old tales, the ones written when she was still a
warlord herself causing death and destruction wherever her army
He tried to tell himself the most recent
stories (at least two years old now) were nothing but rubbish.
Lies spread to cover her evil deeds. No one could change that
much. He wanted to believe her army was still out there, somewhere.
An army still raiding villages and killing wantonly. That is why
he kept his own small army here in the town. So the men were restless
and bored most of the time. It was better than going off to battle
and having the warrior bitch's soldiers come roaring through his
town. A town he swore he would protect. But now he had the so-called
Warrior Princess in his own cells and she was going to pay for
every moment of Helena's pain and terror. He curled up on his
bed, ribbon clutched protectively in his hand and allowed himself
to fall asleep to the delightful thoughts of what the morrow would
Xena and Gabrielle lay together on the
wooden pallet, the Bard happily trapped within the loving circle
of her warriors still chained arms. Outside the door, Leta stood
watch as she had done the night before. Once again she felt like
an interloper on a unique moment as Xena had placed her arms around
the young bard. That glow was there again and Leta saw anew, two
people blessed by the goddess in their love. A love that strong
could reach through the gate of Hades itself. If she only knew.
"Stop that for a minute will you."
Gabrielle said. She didn't really want Xena to stop but she had
to be sure she understood what they planned to do the next day.
"Tell me what to look for, Xena." She asked.
The tall woman stopped nuzzling the
Bard's neck and repeated what she had been told. "You will
be in the second row from the platform, wearing a bright yellow
head-kerchief. I am to look for you there. Celano will take care
of the chains....Though how, is still a bit of mystery to me."
She answered, quickly picking up where she had left off on Gabrielle
The blonde woman thought for a moment.
"You know, he didn't tell us that bit either. I wonder why?"
"I'm still suspicious of that one.
He has served this madman for years. No one can change that much
in a few days." Xena said.
"No one, eh?" Gabrielle gave
her lover a long look until she starting blushing.
"Okay, maybe he has changed that
much. But I am still suspicious. This whole plan depends on timing,
and other people. I never have like depending on others to look
after me. I've always done it myself." Xena explained. She
was feeling decidedly uncomfortable having to rely on anyone.
Not a position she often found herself in but there she was, having
to do it. No one said she had to like it though.
"Well, just this once my big, tough,
terribly independent warrior is going to have to go along with
someone else's ideas for a change. If you're really good, I might
even have a reward for you." Gabrielle said and then proceeded
to show the other woman a taste of what to expect when she was
free of the prison cell.
Once Gabrielle had left her gasping
for breath, she would have gladly gone along with anything.
Demitri sat in an ornate throne in front
of the low platform in the middle of the square. He didn't want
to miss a single moment of the warrior's humiliation. He had been
out fussing with the restraints at first light, unable to sleep.
Stroking the ribbon in his hand, he thought about the brief stop
he had made to the cells below the stronghold. Xena lay quietly
asleep as though she had known nothing but easy sleep her entire
life. He had been tempted to wake her and gloat over her punishment
but stopped himself. She didn't know what was coming and it would
be all the more terrifying once she did.
In the prison itself, Celano was yelling
at one of the guards. "For love of the gods, man! He wants
her to WALK to the square and she can't do that with a bare six
inches of chain between her ankles. Put something a bit longer
"But the Lord said....."
The guard mumbled.
"I don't care what the Lord said.
*I* say attach a longer chain so she can walk properly!!"
Celano was starting to turn red in the face.
"Yes, Sir." The guard whined.
As far as he was concerned, the Lord was out there and Celano
was here, and in his face. He knew who he was going to obey at
The old commander stood over the guard
as he attached a longer chain to the cuffs at Xena's ankles. It
would give her about two feet of room to walk, still shorter than
her usual long stride but enough that she wasn't tripping every
other step. She should be able to walk, slowly, to the square
without needing the rough support of any guard...Which was
exactly how Celano planned it.
As soon as the guard finished, he left
the room. There was no way he wanted to be in the line of sight
of the angry man any longer. The commander was usually so even-tempered
that this change was remarkable but he was known for not using
whipping as a method of keeping the men in line. He disliked it
a great deal and had made that plain on many an occasion.
"Let me check your wrist cuffs,
Warrior." Celano said gruffly. He checked the cuffs and then
stood back. "This way, Warrior. Time to take a nice walk
in the fresh air."
Xena crossed her hands over the wrist
restraints and slowly followed the guard commander out of the
cell. She walked up the stairs very carefully, taking them one
at a time so she would not trip. All along the way to the outside
of the stronghold stood soldiers and armed guards. Demitri was
taking no chances of her escaping.
Finally reaching the outside, Xena stopped
for a moment to breathe deeply the fresh breeze blowing around
her and the soak up the warmth of the sun, the first she had seen
in days. She might have enjoyed it longer if one of her escort
hadn't poked her in the back with his sword. Giving him an icy
look, she continued the walk to the square.
Gabrielle stood in the second row from
the edge of the platform, her head covered on a bright yellow
head-kerchief. She had Xena's sword held against the front of
her body, hidden by a long coat that almost reached her knees.
Tobias had lent it to her, without asking why she needed it. She
had worked her way to her position more slowly than she had wanted,
often using polite, and not so polite, elbows in people's sides
From her position, she could see the
open walkway the guards had made for Xena to walk down. It was
several feet wide and edged with soldiers from Demitri's army.
Most still looked as bored as they always did. Public whippings
were something they saw all the time, the townspeople too, and
it not longer raised much emotion in anyone.
Suddenly Xena appeared at the start
of the open walkway. All around her she could hear people gasp
when they recognised her. No matter how Demitri had tried to keep
the tales of her adventures from the people, they had somehow
heard of who she was and the change in her ways. For a moment,
Xena stood in the light of the noonday sun and she looked magnificent.
Dark hair blowing in the breeze, eyes flashing all around her.
She took a second to smile at one of the children near her. The
child's mother flushed but did not try to remove her son from
line of sight.
The tall warrior nodded at her escort
and started walking down the path laid out for her. She appeared
for all the world to be taking a simple stroll, not walking to
her possible death. Her courage and strength radiated from her
like the sun on a warm spring day.
Demitri sat on his throne scowling.
This was not what he had planned. She was supposed to cringe in
fear and terror. Instead she was like a queen out taking the air,
her loyal escort by her side. As she drew closer, he could see
someone had attached a longer chain to her ankles. He had ordered
a short chain so she would be forced to shuffle to the platform.
He looked at his lap for a moment, angry. This was not the humiliation
he wanted for her. She was being feted like some dignitary. He
thumped the arms of his throne. It just wasn't fair!
The tall warrior stopped at the bottom
of the short stairway to the platform, looking around her. She
appeared to be simply taking in a last view of the world before
calmly meeting her doom. In reality she was trying to spot the
yellow head-kerchief her lover was wearing. Satisfied at last
that she could place Gabrielle no matter what direction she was
turned she walked up the stairs. She didn't hesitate as she stepped
over to the middle of the platform and very deliberately turned
her back on the warlord sitting in the throne directly across
from the large X frame. Demitri started smiling
again. Soon enough she would be facing him and he could watch
every expression of pain and horror on her face as the broad strap
landed on her bare back.
The only other person on the platform
was the man who was first rostered to whip her. Demitri did not
want any unnecessary people around her to impend his view. The
man, a black hood over his head, the hood of the executioner,
kneeled down to unlock the chains from Xena's ankles so he could
restrain her legs to the bottom arms of the X.
Gabrielle's hand slid under the long
coat and grasped Xena's sword by the hilt. She waited for the
The instant Xena felt the first leg
restraint release she whipped the metal cuff from her right wrist,
the cuff Celano had unlocked when he was supposedly checking them
and kicked the man out of her way. "NOW GABRIELLE!!"
Through the air in front of Xena flashed
a bar of silver light as her sword was tossed, hilt first, into
the air towards her. Catching it neatly, she stood for a moment
holding the sword high over her head. All around her, townspeople
gasped at the sight of her. She spun in place and slammed the
sword through the center of the X, splitting it into two
pieces that slowly toppled over to the ground. She took one long
look at Demitri before jumping from the platform and disappearing
through the crowd.
All around her the people where saying.
"This way. Over there. Towards that building." They
gently nudged her in the right direction, while getting in the
way of the soldiers as much as possible. Xena reached the corner
of a building when hands suddenly grabbed her from the street
and dragged her into the alley between two buildings. A large
hand clamped over her mouth from behind. She could feel an equally
large body against her back, her arms pinned by a forearm across
her stomach. "I'm a friend. Don't struggle. I was sent to
help." A rough male voice said in her ear.
Xena nodded in compliance. The hand
was removed and she turned to see the owner of the tavern where
Gabrielle had been working for the past few days. "My name
is Tobias. Quickly, follow me." He said. Turning away from
her, he set a rapid pace through the back alleys and lesser known
side streets of the town.
Gabrielle was astounded at the sight
she had just witnessed. Xena had stood tall with her shining sword
held high in her right hand flashing in the light, hair blowing
in the wind, eyes the color of blue fire looking for all the world
like the avenging Mother Goddess of legends. It was the most majestic
sight she had ever seen. She knew it was an image she was going
to carry in her mind for the rest of her life. Now she just had
to get herself out of the square and safely back to the tavern.
"This way, Warrior." Tobias
ordered. Xena followed him up the back stairs of the tavern until
they reached a ladder leading into the attic of the building.
"You'll be safe here for some time, if you need it. I have
moved the Bard's things up here already. I was told you two would
like to be together."
Xena gave the man a quick look but he
was being quite serious and not making fun of either of them.
Following the tavern owner, she stepped off the ladder into a
low ceilinged room. From behind her spoke a voice she recognised.
"Well met, Warrior." It said
Xena spun, sword at the ready. Only
to see Celano sitting on one of the pallets on the floor. Leta
sat next to him on another. There was one more, larger than the
rest on the other side of the room. Xena's armour had found its
way from the prison to the small attic room thanks to Leta and
was piled up next to the pallet. A blanket had been hung down
the middle of the room, pulled back now, to give some illusion
of privacy. Xena had not even seen the guard commander slip away
into the crowd at the square.
Tobias stepped closer and said to Xena.
"Just as soon as the Bard gets back, I'll send her up here.
I don't think it will be safe for her to be seen for a day or
so. A strangers face and all." The tavern owner looked Xena
up and down. "You look like you could do with some feeding
up" He shot a look at Leta. "and a bath is definitely
in order. I'll bring everything up shortly. In the mean time,
you're safe here. No one remembers this place, except me and Celano
over there." He winked at Xena as he turned away.
Tobias walked back down the ladder,
closing the hatch over his head as he went. Xena felt tight muscles
slowly relaxing. She honestly didn't know where she was going
when she leapt from the platform and was still amazed at the townspeople.
It was like the whole place was in on the plan, except her. She
chuckled to herself. **"So this is what happens when I
rely on other people."** She thought.
She barely had a chance to open her
mouth when the hatch opened again. She swung in the direction
of the sound, finding Celano had jumped to his feet as well, a
sword in his hand. She chuckled again. This was going to be interesting.
Gabrielle's head appeared over the lip of the hatch, a smudge
of dirt on her cheek.
"XENA!!" She cried and ran
into her lovers welcoming arms.
Demitri was absolutely furious. She
had been right there under his nose and still managed to escape
from him. He had watched in shocked disbelief as he heard her
shout and a sword come flying through the air from nowhere. The
look in her eyes as she stared into his soul for that long moment.
It had chilled him. He could see why she had once been such a
He had stood in front of his throne
and screamed conflicting orders, his voice high-pitched with grief
and madness, almost incoherent with rage at her escape. The townspeople
seemed to be intent on getting in the way of his soldiers as they
streamed through every open passage out of the square. He had
stormed around the low platform, kicking and lashing out at anyone
who came close to him until he had finally collapsed near exhaustion.
By then, the square of empty of all but a small handful of soldiers,
left to take him back to his quarters. He had torn through his
rooms afterwards, destroying everything he could lay his hands
on. Around him lay the shattered remains of his furniture and
He now stood, naked in the window, screaming
for someone to bring him Celano. Froth and blood, from biting
his own lips, running down his face and dripping from his chin.
Someone, a guard perhaps, had yelled through the closed door that
Celano was nowhere to be found. The man had scuttled off in fear
at the roar issuing from the other side of the heavy door. His
mind was completely broken, yet some kind of strange loyalty from
his army stopped them from revolting...for the moment.
The healers and advisers who could still
be found, had talked among themselves and agreed the best thing
to do was to lock the mad warlord in his rooms until he calmed
enough to make some sense. Demitri may calm but he would never
see sanity again.
In the little attic room above the tavern,
things were far more peaceful. Tobias had dragged several buckets
of hot water up to the room so Xena could bathe for the first
time in days. Gabrielle herself carefully washing every inch of
her lover's skin. The warrior had surrendered to her ministrations,
knowing she was not getting a choice in the matter. It was wonderful
in its own way, though she could have wished for some more privacy
to take advantage of the situation. As it was, Leta and the guard
commander were sitting on the other side of the blanket wall chatting
Once she felt clean again, really clean,
she had wolfed into a meal fit for a prince. Leta had tended the
scrapes on her wrists from wearing the metal cuffs, though her
ankles were merely a little swollen from the restraints she had
worn there. Leta had deliberately left Xena's boots and greaves
in place when she first tended to the tall warrior to protect
her skin. The old healer had known that sooner or later they were
going to put her in some kind of leg restraint and the greaves
would stop the cuffs from rubbing Xena's ankles red raw. Xena
now lay, stretched out on the large pallet, the Bard clucking
over her like a mother hen with a single chick. She was only willing
to endure it for a while. She had too many questions she wanted
answered at the moment.
Leta looked up from the tankard of ale
she held in her hands. "Where's the wife?" She asked
"Sent her and the young pair off
to her sisters just before dawn this morning. They should arrive
in a few days. They'll be alright there. That sister of hers could
be a real Amazon warrior, if she wanted. Even better with the
sword than some of my own men." He answered. She hadn't really
wanted to go but Celano knew she would not be safe for long in
town once Demitri calmed enough to think straight.
Xena rose and walked over to the pallets
Leta and Celano were sitting on. She sat down next to the old
healer, Gabrielle curling up behind her with her arms around her
chest. The Bard's head rested on Xena's shoulder.
"So tell me, Commander. Why the
change of heart? You have served Demitri for quite a few years.
I wouldn't have expected this kind of a reversal from someone
who tried to take my head off a few days ago." The tall warrior
The guard commander looked closely at
the dark haired woman. He caught Leta watching him as well, from
the corner of his eye. "I stopped being a commander the moment
I stepped into the crowd and disappeared." He said, pointing
to the now blank spaces on his shoulders where his rank marking
once had been. "Maybe I'm getting old. It might be because
I have children of my own and I didn't want to see either of them
working for that madman's army, in any way." Celano thought
for a moment of his teenage son and daughter headed to the safety
of their aunts home. "Maybe I am sick of the fear and dread
I see on the townspeople's faces every time I walk the markets.
It might even be something I saw in you, Warrior."
Xena looked back at him. "In me?
I lay around chained in a cell, staring at the ceiling. I certainly
didn't *do* anything."
Leta touched Celano's arm and answered
part of the question, without really answering it at all. "The
esteemed former commander joined Demitri's army just after a village
two days ride from here was raided. The army doing the raiding
was yours." The healer stopped for a moment.
The tall warrior dropped her head and
looked into her lap. Here was yet another life she had destroyed
when she was a warlord. Would she ever be able to make up for
all her cruelty?
"Now, now. Leta. It wasn't the
only reason." Celano said. "I was a little bored with
married life. I thought it might be a nice bit of excitement.
Demitri managed to convince a lot of us that you and your army
where headed in this direction. He made quite an impassioned speech
in the square about how they had tortured his betrothed and that
none where safe until you were dead. A lot of us believed him
Xena thought back to the days she had
spent as a warlord. She couldn't remember raiding a village near
here but there were so many villages, so many dead, she no longer
remembered them all. Only in her nightmares did they show their
faces, and wounds to her.
"But I tried not to kill women
and children. At least whenever I could." She said, tears
filling her eyes.
"Your men, Xena. Did you keep track
of what they were doing all the time?" Celano asked softly.
"Well, no. So long as they were
ready to fight, I never paid much attention to what they did after
a battle. In the early years, I doubt I even thought about it.
I was too busy...en...enjoying the feelings of rage and
hate." Xena said in a very quiet voice. She began to cry
silently, Gabrielle rocking her gently and hushing her fears.
Any hate or anger Celano may have had
remaining in him towards the tall warrior, left completely at
that moment. No, this was not the same woman who led an army across
Greece, conquering and destroying everything in sight. The tales
he had heard from his own men were true. All he had to do was
look at the shining love between these two women and believe.
As Xena's tears slowly stopped, Celano
picked up the thread of his story again. "Anyway, after Demitri
had formed his army, we all thought we would go out to look for
you. It was quite a shock to find ourselves trapped behind the
walls of our own town. At first, it seemed okay. We were busy
drilling together etc but a year or more, well...The men were
getting restless. Then Demitri made us burn every book and scroll
in the entire city." Gabrielle gasped in shock in the background.
"And also made sure no more bards would come to the taverns
here. Many of the other commanders followed Demitri's word like
law but as the years passed, most have changed their minds and
simply want to return to their families, either here or in the
Leta laughed quietly. "My brothers
biggest failing is believing that you can keep a good story down.
Just because the bards no longer came here, many of us go to other
towns or villages to trade or buy and listen there. I must say,
Gabrielle, you have written some wonderful tales of your adventures."
The Bard blushed at the praise. "Why, it is almost an underground
movement. People going outside the walls would return with new
tales and not just about you, Xena and then would met with others
in their homes to tell them. I honesty think we have several folk
here who would give a trained bard a real run for their dinars!"
Gabrielle spoke, if only to draw attention
away from the redness still covering her face. "So when did
you know that Demitri was mad?"
Leta looked at Celano. He nodded and
she answered for both. "Little things probably. I guess we
have always known, really but didn't want to do anything. Things
didn't get bad here all at once, you know. It was one thing there,
another here. I suppose we just got used to it. Many can't remember
what it was like before. I think what pushed everyone over the
edge was seeing Xena today. Nearly all of the townspeople have
heard the tales of the good you have been doing and to see you
there, so calm, so brave....It made the stories come alive
for them. The last thing they wanted to see was your death. I'd
like to think that is why they helped you escape from the square
today." Leta looked at both women wickedly. "Or it might
be they want more tales and you can't have those if the heroine
Now Xena was blushing as hard as Gabrielle.
She didn't like thinking of herself as any kind of a heroine.
All she wanted to do was make good on some of the evil she had
committed over the years.
Leta gently touched her leg. "I
understand, child but you give so much hope to people. Don't take
that away from them....Or yourself either."
Celano straightened up. "So the
reason for this change of heart in me was actually something I
saw in you, Warrior. I'd heard the old stories told of the Warrior
Princess and the more recent ones too. But watching you in your
cell, well, you were human. I could feel the strength of the despair
and the sadness when you thought your lover was dead. It reached
right through that door and crushed my heart. It's a powerful
love you carry inside yourself and no one can be the sort of person
Demitri wants us to think you are when you have a soul so large.
What you and your Bard carry between you has the power to change
people simply by being around it. It changed me and I thank you
for that." Celano voice broke and he bowed his head to hide
his own tears.
For a moment, everyone sat quietly thinking
their own thoughts. It might have gone on longer if Tobias hadn't
suddenly thrown the door hatch open. Celano and Xena were both
on their feet in a second, swords at the ready. Gabrielle was
only a moment behind them, her own staff in hand.
Leta laughed aloud. "Tobias, you
are going to get yourself killed soon if you don't learn how to
Xena lay back on the pallet she shared
with her lover, trying by sheer force of will to stop herself
from pacing the room...again. Gabrielle was downstairs performing
tonight. The men had been asking for her and Tobias had reassured
everyone she would be quite safe. One look at the big tavern owner
was enough to calm any fears Xena may have had. Leta and Celano
were sitting on the other side of the room playing some kind of
a dice game. From the sounds of it, the healer was winning too.
Crossing her hands behind her head,
Xena looked at the low ceiling over her. She had found the past
three days more tiresome than the time she had spent in the prison
cell. There she felt completely alone. In the attic room, she
was with others all of the time and it was hard on her. She wanted
to spend some time alone with Gabrielle. She smiled to herself.
The young Bard had promised her a reward and she wanted to collect.
The hatch in the floor suddenly opened,
neither Xena nor Celano grabbing their weapons, which said something
for the safety they all felt. Gabrielle head appeared along with
a tray of food for their evening meal. The Bard was red-faced
and giggling uncontrollably. Placing the tray on Celano's pallet,
she came over to give Xena a hug, still wiping the tears of laughter
from her cheeks.
"What's so funny, my little Bard?"
Xena asked curiously. Anything to take her mind off being trapped
in the small room.
"Oh, oh! Don't start me off again."
Gabrielle stared at the floor for a moment trying to compose herself.
"I just watched some of the soldiers dunking their guard
captain in the horse trough outside!" She fell to the pallet
laughing again. Finally gaining some measure of control over herself,
she explained why everything was so funny. "The men have
been asking if I knew any tales about you, Warrior-mine and when
I looked over to Tobias to see if it would be okay to tell them,
he nodded. Well, I had barely started when this guard captain
appeared and told me I was going to end up with my head on a pike
if I said another word about *that* woman." She paused, fighting
to hold her face still long enough to tell them what had happened.
"These men jumped up, tossed him to the ground and *sat*
on top of him. Then they looked at me and told me to continue,
if I pleased. Once I had finished, they grabbed the captain, telling
him it was rude to interrupt a lady when she is telling a fine
tale and proceeded to dunk him in the horse trough. He looked
like a drowned cat by the time they were finished! All his finery
hanging about him and his boots squelched!!" Gabrielle lost
control again and lay back laughing so hard she ended up with
Leta had rolled back on her own pallet
screeching with laughter along with Gabrielle. The two warriors
looked at each other and then at the two women howling uncontrollably.
Giving into the inevitable, they soon were laughing just as hard.
It was into this scene of merriment that Tobias entered the room
from the ladder below.
"Well, such sounds do I hear! If
only my entire tavern was this jolly." He said, unable to
keep his own lips from twitching. "I see the Bard has told
you of the guard captain's impromptu bath."
Leta nodded, still trying to get her
"And it was a fine thing to see
too." Tobias continued. "Seems there has been a lot
of that happening lately among the troops. But enough of that,
do you want to hear the news."
Everyone quickly nodded. They were getting
a little tired of hiding, Xena in particular.
"From what I have heard, Demitri
has finally come out of his rooms. They say he is not a happy
man right now." Tobias said. "The searches still go
on but they are half-hearted at best. Soldiers from the army are
starting to slip away in the night and return to their families.
Sometimes they are dragged back but they disappear again at the
first opportunity. It seems the men are tired of being soldiers
and just want to be husbands and fathers again. Now that everyone
has actually seen the Warrior Princess, they know she is not the
demonspawn that Demitri told us she was." Tobias turned to
Xena. "Warrior, could you return our town to us again. The
townsfolk are asking. The soldiers too. We are tired of making
ready for a war that does not exist."
Xena stood up. "Now might be a
good time to have a word with this mad warlord of yours."
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her
lover. "No, Xena. He is completely mad. He'll kill you on
"Only if I give him a chance."
She replied. Xena was already starting to strap her armour to
her body. The way she felt now, she needed to get out of that
small attic room before she took to the walls with her sword.
The young Bard sighed. **"She
never starts things....Just finishes them and that will never
change."** She began to help the tall warrior with the
many buckles on her armour. "Please be careful." Gabrielle
said. "Remember who loves you out here."
"How can I forget. I still have
a reward to collect." Xena replied wickedly.
Within minutes she was ready to go.
Sliding her sword into its sheath on her back, she stood tall
until her head was almost touching the ceiling. Celano suddenly
stepped in front of her.
"Do you know a way into the stronghold,
Warrior?" He asked.
"There is always a way in."
Xena said, just wanting to get going.
"My friend," Celano laid his
hand on her arm. "the way the guards are feeling right now,
they may well escort you to him themselves but why take a chance."
The dark haired woman nodded. It made
"Leta knows several ways into the
stronghold where you won't be detected." Celano told her.
Xena looked at the old healer, one eyebrow
raised. "A woman of many skills, eh?"
Leta simply looked back at her. She
already had her cloak in one hand.
"Come one then. You're not going
to let me out of here without some help. And I have learned to
accept that help when offered." Xena said.
"Will wonders never cease."
She heard Gabrielle mumble behind her.
Xena crouched in the bushes near the
kitchen entrance of the stronghold. Leta had gone on ahead to
chat with the guard and get him away from the door. She was still
amazed at the reaction from the townspeople. The women had openly
walked through the darkened streets, the sounds of shutters squeaking
most of the way as people silently watched their passing. She
had expected someone to call the alarm yet all she could feel
was the support of the people around her. It was an odd feeling
for her, so used to the fear and dread of others. Perhaps her
quest was having some benefits at last.
The bushes rustled ahead of her. She
tensed. "Quickly now. The guard decided tonight would be
a good night to have a nap in the stable." The old healer
whispered to her.
Xena stood up, surprise clear on her
"I told him you were here. He is
tired of making ready for war too." Leta explained.
The warrior shook her head. This was
starting to be a queer night indeed.
They quickly entered the kitchen, lit
by a small night light in the corner, and headed for what looked
like a large cupboard towards the rear of the large room. Leta
opened it and stepped inside. Xena just stood and looked into
the darkness of the cupboard.
"In here, child. There is a passage
that runs behind the walls." Leta's muffled voice echoed
dully from within.
Xena edged into the darkness, so black
she could not see the old healer until a hand touched her chest
to stop her from knocking the woman over. The sharp spark from
a firelighter blinded her for a moment as Leta lit a tiny torch.
The healer then used the torch to light a small covered lantern,
carefully snuffing the torch when it was burning brightly.
"What is this place?" Xena
asked. She didn't like the closed, stuffy feeling of the walkway
"Every stronghold has hidden passages
behind in the walls. In the old days they were used to help the
lord and his family escape when things went wrong, as they often
did. Demitri and I played along most of them as children though
I doubt he remembers they are here anymore. Now stay close, child.
Though there is nothing on the floors or walls to catch and trip
you. You are wearing enough armour to wake the dead in Hades should
you fall." Leta said quickly.
Xena merely grunted in response. She
thought she wore very little armour, considering.
The journey through the passageways
only took a few minutes, though it felt like hours to Xena. The
walls seemed too close and the ceiling too low for her own liking.
Up stairs and along galleries they walked. Every so often there
would be a beam of light cutting through the darkness showing
where peepholes had been built so someone could look into a room
without giving themselves away. A handy feature if you were an
assassin. Not so handy if you were the one to be assassinated.
Finally Leta stopped and pointed to a peephole.
Xena placed her eye against the hole
and looked into the room. It was a mess. Food lay rotting on the
floor, furniture broken and damaged, clothing torn to shreds and
spread over everything. She caught a whiff of an odor that told
her the occupant of the room had been using it as a privy as well.
Moving her head slightly, she could see something that looked
for all the world like a huge birds nest made of cloth and shattered
bits of wood in the middle of the room. In the center of this
sat Demitri, naked and rocking. He was crooning to a small piece
of ribbon he held gently in one hand. She also saw he had a sword
close to his hand. Even in his insanity, he was not taking any
The warrior felt Leta's hands on her
waist, carefully moving her to what appeared to be just another
place on the wall. Something moved and part of the wall opened
silently in front of her. **"Ingenious."** She
thought. She stepped forward and could feel the brush of heavy
cloth against her bare skin. Leta's hand moved passed her and
she heard something snick in the darkness. A crack of light appeared
showing where the door into the room was. Xena crouched and slowly
drew her sword. It left the sheath with the barest whispers. She
peered through the crack and could see Demitri still rocking and
talking to the bit of faded cloth in his hands. Now was the time
to end it. Placing her hand against the door, she opened it and
entered the room.
The door made a quiet squeak. Not much
of a sound but in the oppressive silence of the room, it may have
well been a shriek. Demitri's head snapped up and he turned towards
the sound. For the first time since that day in the square, Xena
was able to look into his eyes. She saw nothing there which could
be even vaguely construed as sense. He was beyond all rational
though....And therefore completely unpredictable. Xena tightened
her grip on her sword.
He gently lay the ribbon on the side
of his 'nest' and picked up his own sword. The naked man very
calmly stepped from the pile of cloth and timber, bringing the
sword into a ready position. Xena didn't want to kill him but
if it came to that, she would not hesitate.
His calm face looked at her and rapidly
changed into a snarling mask of anger....and madness as he
saw who stood in front of him. "I knew you would come. I
just had to ask and I knew you would come. I asked. Yes, I did.
I asked. And here you ARE." He growled at her. As he shouted
the last word, he leapt forward hoping to surprise Xena with the
He was strong. The madness already pushing
him beyond the barriers of physical pain and endurance. Xena found
herself slowly backing up as she blocked and parried his blows.
She side-stepped and managed to score a hit, scraping her sword
edge along his forearm. He didn't even seem to feel it.
Demitri jumped towards her, swinging
his weapon low, hoping to cut into her unprotected thighs. Xena
arched back on her toes. She quickly swung her own sword, just
nicking him on the back of the hand. The madman stepped forward
once more and she found herself again blocking and parrying his
She kept having to step back as the
sheer animal strength of his blows beat at her. Any hopes she
may have had about wearing him out to the point of carelessness
where quickly quashed as he took slow step after slow step towards
For a moment, his guard dropped and
she snapped a lightening fast kick to his chin. It connected but
barely made him shake his head. He spat several teeth. She could
see from the way he held his head that she had broken his jaw
but he didn't notice it and continued to come forward. Xena could
sense the wall coming up behind her back. Flexing her knees, she
leapt over his head, a perfectly tucked somersault.
In a heartbeat, Demitri had spun as
she sailed over the top of him and thrust forward on the instant
she landed. She felt the blade slithering along the armour on
her side. That was too close. She punched out with her other hand,
hitting him cleanly in the nose. She felt the bones break under
her knuckles. Blood starting to run down his face to splash over
his naked chest. It made him stop for a moment. Xena stepped back,
breathing hard, trying to see a way of disabling him completely.
It appeared she was going to have to kill him eventually.
An insane roar came from Demitri's throat
as he rushed at her again. With a wild swing, the point of his
blade just scratched the end of her chin, drawing first blood
from her. It would have taken her head off if she hadn't leaned
it back quickly. Seeing the blood on her face seemed to enrage
him further and he pressed his attack. Xena blocked and ducked
the storm of strikes, backpedalling her way around the room.
For several minutes the rain of sword
swings continued. Xena blocking as many as possible, though one
did get through now and then. Both fighters were covered in blood
and sweat, Xena tiring rapidly. She managed to snap off another
kick to his head. It just grazed the side of his skull but as
her foot came back to earth, it slipped on something on the floor.
Slightly over-balanced, Demitri came at her, a thrust heading
for her heart and she fell backwards. The mad warlord kicking
the sword from her hand as she landed.
Xena looked up, the wind knocked from
her lungs. Standing over her, his chest heaving for breath, Demitri
held his weapon in both hands high above his head, intending to
slam it into her chest. She watched, almost in slow motion, as
a single drop of blood ran along the edge of the sword and landed
in the middle of her forehead. His muscles tensed and his arms
began to drop down in a killing thrust to her body.
It never arrived. The most surprised
expression she had ever seen crossed his face. Demitri's eyes
rolled back into his head and he toppled sideways to the ground,
dead. Looking up she could see Leta standing there, a long dagger
dripping with blood, the blood of her own brother, still in her
hands. Her fingers opened crablike and she let it fall from her
The old healer looked at Xena. "You
said you would accept any help offered." Leta slowly sat
on the ground and began to cry. The dark haired woman, aching
and covered in blood, knelt beside her and wrapped her strong
arms about the weeping old woman.
"Where are you headed for now.
Warrior. You are welcome to stay here, you know." Celano
said, his wife tucked under his arm.
"Some place quiet, I hope." Gabrielle murmured beside Xena.
"I don't know, Celano. Any place
the wind leads me and where I may do some good." The tall
woman said. She placed an affectionate hand on Argo's neck. They
had found the war horse in one of the back stalls of the stable,
the morning after Demitri had died. Their gear had been tossed
into a corner to be taken to the trash pile. Xena smiled to herself.
No one had been able to actually ride her horse and she was looking
a little fat from lack of exercise. A couple of days on the road
would soon fix that.
"How goes your new town council?"
Gabrielle asked. She was itching to get away too. There was quite
a bit of time to make up with Xena and she wanted to be completely
"Lots of yelling and disagreements."
Leta said. "But at least we are trying again. I don't think
we will ever allow another repeat of the past several years. Our
freedom means too much to us now." The old healer still looked
sad but the twinkle had returned to her eyes again.
"I heard Tobias say he was going
to start a competition to encourage the bards to return here as
well." Gabrielle said excitedly. She looked up at Xena as
"Yes, my little Bard, we can return.
I would like to hear some of the people here give *you* a run
for your dinars." The taller woman laughed.
Everyone chuckled at the look on Gabrielle
face. Xena mounted up and held out her hand to help the young
Bard mount behind her. She didn't like riding all that much but
she wanted her arms around her lover far more. She climbed up
without grumbling too much.
Leta moved next to Xena's knee and said
quietly to her. "You give the people hope, child. Don't take
that way from them." Xena blushed. "For if you do, I
will send Tobias after you!" The old healer smiled wickedly
and stood back.
Xena and Gabrielle took one last look
at the town before leaving. All the townsfolk had turned out to
see them off. They waved as they rode out of the gates and then
headed back down the road towards Volos. Once out of sight, Xena
turned in her saddle to speak to the Bard.
"The next time you want to fight
a pikeman....Duck, will you." Xena laughed at the look
on Gabrielle's face before turning to face the road again.
The young, blonde Bard simply smiled
and hugged Xena close. She had plans for their very next stop.
Something about a reward if she remembered correctly.
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