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Part 2 of Forgiveness
Arianna and Talinares engaged in an enthralling dance of clashing swords. Gabrielle, ever protective of her fallen friend watched intently. She was cradling Xena's head and still stroking her hair. She looked down at Xena, unconscious and barely breathing and she started to cry all over again. Then she gently kissed Xena on the forehead and pulled her closer in a tight embrace.
Arianna and Talinares were still battling. D'Lara watched again. It was her job to watch Arianna's back. She'd rather not be in the middle of the fights, but when it was called for, she would be there to protect her friend. As Arianna started to get the better of Talinares, he started to panic. Arianna sensed this and was delighted with the prospect of putting this man out of his misery. Then, just as she felt the advantage was truly in her favor, Talinares yelled for reinforcements.
"All attack!" he yelled. Suddenly, a new brigade of men rush out of the bushes and attacked Arianna and D'Lara. They were outnumbered and barely able to hold their own. Talinares knew this was his chance to escape so he slipped past his fighting troops, jumped on his horse and gave it a swift kick to get it into full gallop.
"Talinares!" Arianna yelled after him in disgust as she fought off the barrage of men attacking her.
Gabrielle saw that Arianna and D'Lara could use some help, so, reluctantly, she lied Xena down on the grass, picked up her staff and joined in the fray. The battle skills of the three were far superior to that of Talinares' men and they soon had the battle in hand. Finally, the last of the army retreated. Arianna gave chase, but Gabrielle instantly turned back and ran to Xena. D'Lara started after Arianna, but Arianna quickly turned around and said "NO! Go back to them, get them to the inn. I'll be back!"
D'Lara reluctantly complied and ran back to where Gabrielle was holding Xena.
"She's bleeding. I don't know how bad it is." Gabrielle said. He voice trembled and she looked at D'Lara with pleading eyes.
D'Lara inspected the wound. "It's not fatal, it's low and off to the side. Nothing vital was damaged." she said. "But we need to get her back to the inn. She's lost a lot of blood and needs to be covered up to keep the shock from setting in. We have a room there. We can bandage her up and she can rest."
Gabrielle nodded and thanked D'Lara
D'Lara took a quick inventory of the situation, then extended her hand to Gabrielle.
"D'Lara!" she said, introducing herself.
"Gabrielle" was the response from the bard. They shook hands.
"Gabrielle. Xena was poisoned by Talinares. Strife is behind it. The knife wound isn't fatal, but I don't know how this poison works. I can't make any promises."
Gabrielle's throat tightened with the mention of Ares protege. "Please, whatever you can do, just help my friend."
D'Lara looked at Gabrielle solomnly. "Let's get her to town" she said. And the two went to work lifting Xena onto Argo.
Gabrielle covered Xena with a blanket from one of Argo's saddlebags, then mounted the horse behind her. She let Xena lean forward in the saddle while she wrapped her left arm around Xena's waist. With the bridle in her right hand, she guided Argo towards town. They rode back slowly so as to make sure that Xena's injuries weren't traumatized further. When they got back to the inn, D'Lara and Gabrielle lifted Xena's body into the room together. They put Xena on the bed. D'Lara built a fire in the stone fireplace, lit some candles and proceeded to mend Xena's wound. Gabrielle had removed Xena's armor already and cut the fabric around Xena's wound. D'Lara cleaned and stitched the knife wound. As she was working, she glanced up at Xena's shoulder and noticed the small gash that Arianna had put there earlier. 'What a mess this is' she thought to herself. She finished tending to Xena's wounds and left her and Gabrielle alone for a while.
Gabrielle, lying next to a still unconscious Xena held her friend as if her life depended on the very act of embracing her. Maybe, with the tight embrace, she could keep Xena's life force from escaping. She rested her cheek on Xena's shoulder and started talking to her. "Did I ever tell you how important you are to me? Did I? I kept meaning to, but somehow, it wasn't the time or the place. Funny, but Iolaus told me that we just take for granted that people are always going to be around. I didn't listen too well did I. I should have told you how I felt the moment I got you back the first time." Gabrielle's voice trailed off, and the tears came again.
D'Lara stood outside and watched the last of the sunlight disappear. She wondered where Arianna was. She was concerned, but intuitively, she knew that Arianna was alright. They had that strong a connection. She took a deep breath and headed back inside. What she saw and heard really affected her emotionally. She listened as Gabrielle tried to stir Xena back into consciousness. The love and affection emanating form the bard touched her deeply. She wondered how this young woman could have such strong feelings for a ruthless warlord like Xena. D'Lara had heard that Xena had changed, but such stories were easy to dismiss as exaggerated and untrue. Maybe it was true afterall.
"You really care about her don't you?" D'Lara asked as she took her place on the couch across from the bed.
"She's my best friend. I love her!" came the response from Gabrielle
"Why? She's ruthless. A murderer. How can you care about someone as evil as that?"
Gabrielle looked down at Xena's sleeping figure. She smiled as she gently caressed Xena's cheek with the back of her fingers. Then she captured D'Lara's eyes and started to explain. Gabrielle recounted tale after tale about Xena's heroics and how she had changed. D'Lara sat, enthralled by the bard. An understanding started to form inside of her. When at last Gabrielle had finished, D'Lara was satisfied that the changes in Xena had indeed taken place. Gabrielle invited D'Lara to read the scrolls she'd written about their adventures. An invitation that was gratefully accepted by D'Lara.
D'Lara read for hours by the firelight. She paused several times to look up at Gabrielle and Xena. Gabrielle had never let go of her friend and both were sleeping comfortably. A smile crept across D'Lara's face before she realized how much time had gone by. Suddenly she was concerned about Arianna. 'Where was she'! D'Lara put down the scrolls and stood up. She was about to go outside when, suddenly, Arianna appeared at the doorway.
"Thank the Gods, I was getting worried about you." D'Lara stated
"I followed Talinares back to his camp. I had to remain out of site while I cased the encampment. I found Talinares quarters and know where the sentries are posted." Arianna said. "Their a very disorganized troop D'Lara. It's almost laughable that strife chose this man as his tool of destruction. I can think of hundreds of better choices. However, all that means is that it will be easier to get the antidote. I need you to come with me. We have to go tonight."
"Can I help?" Gabrielle said. She'd awakened and overheard the conversation.
"No, I need you to stay here and tend to Xena's needs. If she wakes up, there's some water on the counter" D'Lara said. "She'll still be weak from the poison, so don't let her move around too much."
Gabrielle nodded affirmatively. With that, D'Lara and Arianna headed out of the inn.
"You're going to an awful lot of trouble to save someone only to turn around and try to kill her." said D'Lara
Arianna snapped her head around and stared with anger into D'Lara's eyes. "You of all people should know and understand that I have to be the one to put Xena down, and I have to do it fairly. This is for my family, for Callisto, for myself. I have to defeat Xena in fair combat. Otherwise I'm disgracing the memories of those that were lost."
D'Lara looked at Arianna. She wanted to explain to her that this wasn't the same Xena. Gabrielle had affected her profoundly. She wanted to tell her that her vengence wouldn't be alleviated by killing someone who'd reformed and was actively trying to atone for her past. But that could wait. She just needed to support her friend for now and help retrieve the antidote. Maybe, when Xena was well, she could get Gabrielle to talk to Arianna and explain it to her. It was a silent promise that she made to herself. 'Yes, Gabrielle needs to tell her. She'll make her understand.'
Arianna and D'Lara had tethered their horses to some trees far away from the bushes that camouflaged them now. Silently they crept forward until the camp was in full view. Arianna motioned with her hands, pointing to the right, to the left and to the center at each guard station. D'Lara nodded in acknowledgment. They crawled forward a little more then stopped as Arianna made a more pronounced gesture towards the grandest tent in the encampment. D'Lara knew that this was Talinares quarters. She and Arianna had been through this sort of silent communication before and they could read each other like a scroll.
The pair cautiously made their way into the encampment, pleased, but not surprised at the ease with which they passed all of Talinares' sentries. They made their way to Talinares' tent, then Arianna made a bold move and headed inside, straight through the front of the tent.
Talinares was sitting at a table, littered with battle plans and crunched up scraps of parchment. He was obviously trying to figure out a new way to complete his prior plan.
"Talinares! You didn't really think that I was going to let this twisted little plan of yours succeed did you?" Arianna said smugly.
"Well, if it isn't my little wayward warrior." Talinares said snidely. "Tell me, are you sure you haven't changed your mind and decided to come home? I'll bet you miss the taste of the old life don't you?"
"The only thing I'm gonna miss, is the thrill of chasing you down, 'cause I'm gonna end this right here, right now" Arianna said.
With that, she withdrew a small vile from her belt and charged Talinares. He was stunned at her sudden attack and she was quickly on top of him. Arianna had Talinares pinned to the table. She forced his mouth open, then dispensed the liquid it contained down his throat. Talinares choked and coughed from swallowing the solution. Arianna let him up and took a couple of steps backwards. She just smiled at him for a moment. Then she suddenly wiped the smile off of her face and took on a completely different, more serious demeanor.
"How does it feel to swallow the same poison you infected Xena with you worthless coward?" she said
"You think you've won don't you?" Talinares replied. "Well, it just so happens...." Talinares reached into a box on the shelf behind him "......that I have the antidote right here. So you see little girl. You've won nothing. GUARDS!!!"
At that moment, three sentries rushed into the tent. Arianna seized the moment of distraction to grab the bottle containing the antidote from Talinares.
"D'Lara catch" she yelled as she threw the bottle over the guards into D'Lara's eager hands. "Run!"
D'Lara didn't hesitate. She turned and ran out of the tent.
"GO AFTER HER!" Talinares shouted.
One of the guards ran outside and gathered a troop of men to pursue D'Lara. Soon, a swarm of others was inside Talinares tent doing battle with Arianna. Arianna fought hard and furiously, trying to buy a little more time for D'Lara to escape. But soon, she was overcome by the shear numbers of the men against her. Within a few moments, both her wrists were bound in chains and she was on her knees before Talinares.
Talinares just looked at Arianna in disgust. Arianna stared back, half smiling. Never blinking.
"Get her out of here. Chain her to the center kiosk. She'll die tomorrow at midday." He commanded. Then he leaned in towards Arianna and whispered in her ear, "You know, Arianna, the price for your dead body will bring in a lot of dinars for my army. Not as much as Xena would have, but for now it'll do. Besides, I'm sure your friend will be captured momentarily. I'll have the antidote back, and I can resume my conquest of Xena."
"You don't need the antidote." Arianna said smiling "You didn't ingest enough poison to affect you. I just needed the antidote, and what better way to have you produce it than to make you think you'd swallowed the poison yourself."
Talinares pursed his lips in an angry demeanor. He just nodded his head, indicating to the guards that they were to remove her from his tent.
A long chain was attached to Arianna's wrist bindings. Arianna glared at Talinares until she felt the chain being pulled altogether too harshly. She recognized the scrawny man pulling the chain as the same man she saw in the bar earlier in the day.
"Take it easy!" she yelled at him
He ignored her and yanked harshly on the chain once again. Arianna was not in the mood. She yanked back on the chain even harder. The scrawny man was pulled reflexively towards her, staggering and almost falling. Just as he reached her, she introduced her wrist bindings to his nose. She took a great pleasure in the sound of his cartilage snapping. His nose started to bleed and he was thrown back onto the floor.
"I said...take...it...easy!" Arianna emphasized.
Instantly, the group of soldiers had their weapons drawn. Talinares looked at the fallen man in disgust. Arianna just stood still. Hoping her compliance would soothe the men into a more gentle demeanor. It worked. They cautiously dropped their weapons. Another man approached, grabbed the chain and led Arianna outside to the kiosk. He locked the end of the chain to the kiosk, still leaving Arianna plenty of length so that she could at least walk a short distance.
Not long thereafter, another soldier approached Arianna. "Hey there pretty lady. Whaddya say we make your last night a memorable one" he said laughingly.
As he tried to clutch Arianna, she delivered a swift kick to the groin. "Thanks for the memories stud," she said as she watched him crumble to the ground. A group of other guards nearby heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. When they spied their comrade on the ground, they didn't wait for an explanation, they just attacked. Even in chains, Arianna was a formidable presence. She kicked the first approaching guard in the stomach, doubling him over. The second and third guards came at her in a full charge. Arianna just side stepped them as they ran by. She kicked the feet out from under the second guard. The third turned back around and raised a club to her. He yelled as he charged her again. He swung the club at her, but she ducked and delivered a thrust to the gut with both of her bound fists. In a moment, more guards were upon her. She held her own as long as she could, but bound as she was, she didn't have the agility and freedom to compete with them. They soon had the advantage. Arianna was given a hard kick to the gut, then slammed in the jaw by an unseen elbow. She absorbed blow after blow until she was lying still, and out of breath on the ground. The group of soldiers just laughed and patted each other on the back as they walked away.
In the shadows, the scrawny man watched the melee with great delight. He silently and cautiously slipped over to where Arianna was lying. "How does it feel huh?" he whispered.
Arianna raised her head slowly, then tried to get to her knees with all her strength. This caused the scrawny man to cower backwards, wide eyed and amazed. When he was reasonably sure that Arianna was in no condition to fight back, he approached her again. Arianna was on her knees and elbows, and her breathing was still labored. The scrawny man grabbed the hair on the back of her head and snapped her neck back. This revealed a large gash on Arianna's forehead. The sweat on her forehead caused the blood to come running down her temple, to her jaw and down her neck. It was a bad wound and the scrawny man delighted in her pain.
"Doesn't feel so good does it" he whispered.
His breath was almost enough to make Arianna pass out. This man was so unclean. His hair was oily, he was unbathed, his teeth were rotting and he was so thin, he almost looked skeletal. Arianna didn't like him one bit.
"Thought you were so tough didn't you?" he said sarcastically. "Well, how does it feel to be on the receiving end of those blows!" Then he laughed. And he kept laughing.
He let go of Arianna and she dropped her head. He backed up, still laughing. Arianna was seething. With every last bit of strength she had, she clasped her hands together and swung her arms around until she connected with the scrawny man's head, putting an instant end to his laughter and sending him sprawling into the dirt, unconscious. That momentous victory couldn't be savored however. Sweating and bleeding, Arianna sat back on her heels. She looked skyward as her unspoken plea to the Gods went unheralded. Finally, with her strength exhausted, she fell forward and passed out.
Off in the distance, protected by her conservatory refuge, D'Lara watched the events of the night unfold. She was almost extracted from her hiding place when she witnessed the beating being administered to Arianna by Talinares' men, but she stayed her ground, and with Arianna's sweeping exclamation on the scrawny man's head, D'Lara just willed her strength to Arianna, then retreated back to the inn. There was nothing she could do on her own to help Arianna. She was skilled with her bow and arrow, but she didn't have enough arrows to take on Talinares' entire army. If she freed Arianna now, they'd be hunted and most probably captured by Talinares' men. Xena would never receive the antidote and Talinares' would be free to pursue his plan to fruition.
D'Lara arrived back at the inn to find Gabrielle and Xena still asleep.
"Gabrielle, wake up!" she said softly but sternly as she shook Gabrielle's shoulder.
Gabrielle sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, then looked down at Xena and back up at D'Lara.
"Gabrielle, we have to get this into her system. Do you think you can get her to swallow it?"
Gabrielle looked at the small bottle held before her, then she reached out and gingerly took it from D'Lara's hand. She stared at the bottle for a moment, comprehending what it was and regarding it as if it were the most beautiful object she had ever seen. The mere feel of the glass on her hand completely alerted her and drove out any remaining sleepiness she was experiencing. Then a question formed in her eyes as she searched the room.
"Where's Arianna?" she asked
D'Lara looked down for a moment, then responded.
"She's been captured by Talinares' men. We don't have much time. I heard some of the men talking and they're going to execute her tomorrow at midday. If all goes as expected, the antidote will heal Xena and we'll all be able to go into the camp and free Arianna in the morning. I just can't do it alone." she said
"And if the antidote doesn't work?" Gabrielle asked
D'Lara looked at Gabrielle, with the slightest beginnings of tears forming in her eyes.
"Then I'll need your help. I can't just let her die. Please?" said D'Lara
Gabrielle looked at her thoughtfully. She placed her hand on D'Lara's, looked at Xena, then back to D'Lara and said "I understand completely. I will help you."
D'Lara smiled. Gabrielle smiled back, then turned to Xena. She gently stroked Xena's hair and called her name, softly, trying to stir her awake.
"Xena? Xena! Xena, can you hear me? Wake up."
Nothing. Xena didn't move. She didn't even slightly acknowledge Gabrielle's presence. Gabrielle was undaunted, however. She placed her arm behind Xena's neck and shoulders and lifted her gently onto her lap. Stroking Xena's hair again and caressing her forehead and cheek, Gabrielle continued to call her friend out of Morpheus' arms.
"Xena, come on now. I need you to wake up. Please Xena, wake up."
Gabrielle continued this ritual for another few minutes until Xena's eyes started to flutter open.
"Xena, can you hear me? I need you to take this liquid. It'll help you." Xena heard the words, but they made no sense to her. She had no idea where she was or who she was with. Only a warm presence around her that made her feel comfortable and safe. Gabrielle lifted the small bottle to Xena's lips and instincually, Xena began to drink the potion. The energy she exerted just to get her eyes open and drink the potion was a fleeting force. Xena passed out again after she took in the antidote. Gabrielle gently put her back down onto the bed and covered her up again. She looked at D'Lara and mouthed the words "thank you". D'Lara smiled.
"What now?" Gabrielle asked
"Now, we wait." D'Lara replied "Now get some sleep. We have a long day ahead of us."
Gabrielle nodded and situated herself next to Xena. She was excited now. This was the first time she had any real, tangible hope for Xena's recovery since she saw that knife thrust into her. Gods that was awful. The memory of the events of the day made Gabrielle tense up. A small pain hit her in the pit of her stomach. She looked over at Xena again, just glad that her friend was still with her, but she couldn't keep the images from coming back. Talinares! The knife! Arianna! The sword! The poison! Xena's physical demise! Over and over again. 'STOP IT!' she said to herself. 'Just stop it! This isn't helping matters.' Gabrielle needed to keep her mind off of things, so she decided to use D'Lara as a distraction.
"D'Lara, how did you and Arianna meet? How long have you known each other if you don't mind my asking?"
D'Lara was silent for a moment. Then she spoke.
"It's a long story Gabrielle. We weren't brought together under the most ideal circumstances, but the events that brought us together forged a friendship that will last as long as the two of us are alive and even beyond that. I can't imagine walking this Earth without her. We're that close. I see the same closeness with you and Xena. That's why if we succeed tomorrow, I want you to talk to Arianna. Tell her what you told me. Show her the scrolls. She doesn't see Xena the way you do. The way I now do. She's only interested in redemption for what she perceives was a weakness on her part to save her family during that raid on Cirra."
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked.
"She ran Gabrielle. She was scared so she ran. She left everything and everyone. By the time she came back, the devastation was complete. Her family was gone and she felt so ashamed of her cowardice that she vowed to never again run from anything."
"Just because she ran doesn't make her a coward. There was nothing she could do and she probably would've gotten herself killed in the process had she stayed. Arianna needs to see the difference between cowardice and intelligence and realize that she was the latter." Gabrielle stated. Then she looked down thoughfully, gave pause and spoke again. "I've got to tell you this D'Lara. If Xena's at full strength and Arianna wants to spar with her, I don't think that Arianna has much of a chance. I've never seen anyone as magical in combat as Xena. I don't know if she'll survive the conflict. Xena can be forgiving, but when she's forced into a corner, she doesn't relent."
"That's just it. I think that Arianna has an overdeveloped need to atone for her perceived cowardice that day. If that means that she dies, then so be it. She just needs to be able to face Xena once and for all since she was unable to so many years ago."
"This is such a mess." Gabrielle said "Somehow, we've got to stop all of this. I hope I'm able to get through to her. Hopefully, she can find it in her heart to forgive Xena and move on. She seems like a genuinely good person. People like that should stand together, not fight each other."
"I couldn't agree more"
The two were now silent. D'Lara fell asleep on the couch. Gabrielle soon followed. The daylight would soon be upon them, and Gabrielle knew that it would be one of the longest days ever.
The faintest hint of sunlight started to cascade through the window in the bedroom. Normally a great sleeper, Gabrielle awakened with that slight warm greeting. She turned her head towards where Xena was lying, but what she saw took her completely by surprise. Xena was gone. Gabrielle flew out of bed so fast that she almost passed out from the blood rush to her head. It took a moment for the dizzying colors to fade from her eyesight, but once she was steadied, she looked around the room. Xena was nowhere.
"D'Lara! Wake up! Have you seen Xena?" Gabrielle asked frantically
D'Lara woke up confused. She looked around and was just as surprised as Gabrielle to see that Xena was gone. She got up and the two of them headed into the front of the inn, then outside to look for her.
'Where could she be?' Gabrielle wondered. Then a though occurred to her. 'Argo!' She had to make sure that Xena hadn't ridden off. Who knows what state of mind she might be in. "D'Lara, we need to get to the stables, quick!"
They ran across the road to where the horses were being borded. Gabrielle flung open the door, but was stopped in her tracks by the sight in front of her. There before her stood Xena. In full armor, chakram hooked to her waist, sword and scabbard slung across her back. She had been prepping Argo for a ride.
When she saw Gabrielle and D'Lara enter the stable, Xena just gave one of her crooked smiles and said. "Good morning. You're up early."
Gabrielle almost had to physically pick up her jaw with her hands. She just stared, wide eyed for a moment. Then she gathered her composure, shook her head, took a deep breath and started towards Xena.
"Xena, what in Hades?....How?....When did...." was all she could mumble before Xena shushed her by raising her hand to her lips.
"Last night, after you gave me the antidote" Xena started "I was pretty out of it. But the effects were almost instantanious. I was feeling better right away. I still needed the rest, so I kept my eyes closed, but I heard the conversation between you and D'Lara. I was just gonna let you two sleep for a while, prep the horses, then go get you so that we could head into Talinares' camp and get Arianna out. Whatever issues she has with me, I'll deal with it afterwards."
Gabrielle just smiled and shook her head. "I'm always amazed at your recooperative powers Xena."
"I have many skills." Xena replied wryly.
They both laughed as Gabrielle walked over and gave her friend a hug. "I'm just glad you're alright."
-- End -- Received: from mail for kira with Cubic Circle's cucipop (v1.14 1997/04/11)
Wed Aug 13 19:23:21 1997 X-From_: Aslandia@aol.com Wed Aug 13 17:00:05 1997 Return-Path:
"Rise and shine sweetness. This is your lucky day!"
The voice was unmistakenly that of Talinares. Arianna put her head back down and rolled over onto her back. She lifted herself back up into a sitting position. Her head ached from the pounding she took the night before. The blood was dried up by now and she was covered with dirt. She pushed her hands on the ground and steadied herself on one knee before finally rising to a full upright position. It was painful, but Arianna demanded that her posture be correct so as not to give Talinares any satisfaction that he'd indeed hurt her.
"I've got you all figured out you know!" she said with obvious disdain.
"Oh, really. I'm intrigued. Please.....indulge me with your great.....insight!"
"You weren't planning on me riding into town were you? You know, I couldn't figure out where all your men came from yesterday. I almost had you. Then all of the sudden there were all these soldiers. I couldn't understand why they weren't fighting with you to begin with, but then it hit me. You haven't told all of them about Strife and the poison have you?"
Talinares just glared at her.
"No! You had them hiding in the bushes in case anything went wrong, but in the meantime, you wanted witnesses to see you kill Xena in one on one combat. That would give you credibility, even though you're really just a worthless coward and the whole ordeal was a charade."
Talinares raised his hand to Arianna with the threat of striking her, but Arianna raised her eyebrows and faced him with a dare to go ahead. He'd seen that look before and thought better of it. Instead, he lowered his hand and gave a sheepish laugh.
"You know Arianna, things could've been different for you. You could've ruled by my side. You were the one who changed things. You were the one who left."
"When I came to you, I didn't see who you really were. Just like those men you command. Most of them are self depricating and insecure. They feel a need to belong. Then someone like you comes around. They think they've found their guidance and some worth. So they follow you. They don't know you like I do."
"And what do you know. You call me a coward, but you ran from Cirra. You ran from your family and you ran from your friends. Who's the coward now? But you have a chance Arianna. You can change everything if you come back to me now."
"Never! Even if I could overlook everything you've done, what you did to D'Lara was reprehensible. I'll see you dead first."
"Arianna! I'm disppointed in you. I can't believe that you would choose that mutants side before mine."
"SHE'S NOT A MUTANT!" Arianna yelled. She was so disgusted with this man. "She's gifted. Something you'll never be."
"SHE'S DIFFERENT!" Talinares yelled back. "She's not human. She deserves what she gets."
"Yes, she's different. That scares you doesn't it? Just like everything else that's 'different' scares you. Wake up little man. This world isn't all black and white. There are differences in people, in things, in nature. Everything and everyone has a purpose here. Instead of persecuting those we find different, we should be looking for the greater purpose of their existence. Unfortunately, there's always gonna be someone like you around who feels intimidated and inferior next to them. So you have to resort to bullying tactics to prove to yourself that your world still has meaning."
"Whatever Arianna! I'm tired of your incessant babbling and bleeding heart diatribes. You die at midday."
With that Talinares stormed off. Arianna watched him leave, then sent a silent message to D'Lara. One she knew would be received.
The ride back towards Talinares' camp was long, but it was swift. D'Lara had brought back both Arianna's and her own horses with her so each of them had a horse to ride. Gabrielle was a little timid at first, but with a little tongue in cheek sarcasm from Xena, she was coaxed into mounting the steed. The three tethered the horses to the same tree that Arianna and D'Lara had the night before. They then retraced Arianna and D'Lara's steps to the same cover of bushes that did so well for them that night also.
Xena narrowed her eyes at the sight of Arianna chained to the kiosk. The soldiers were brisking about with excitement. They were anticipating the execution that was promised at midday. It wouldn't be long now before the sun would be straight overhead. Arianna was pacing back and forth, holding her bound wrists out in front of her and searching for a weakness in the linkage. But it was to no avail.
The scrawny man, in the meantime, had taken to issuing sarcastic jeers in Arianna's direction. All of this at a safe distance of course. Arianna stopped to glance at him and almost fell over laughing. His face was a collection of bruises and cuts. His head had been sloppily bandaged and his eyes sported two nice black shiners. But the nose, Gods the nose was funny. He had a semi-splint placed on his nose. It was held on with the same bandage he had wrapped around his head. The bandage was given a lot of leader so that it could wrap both sufficiently. And the splint protrusion was such that it looked like a birds beak on his face. It was hard to take a man seriously when his appearance was such.
The scrawny man knew that Arianna was laughing at him. This made him even angrier, but he was still unwilling to get close to her. He settled instead for hurling insults at her from a distance. Joking about the hour, what was going to happen to her and such. He even went so far as to dangle the key to her shackles in front of her. He wanted her to know that he had the ability to set her free, but that he wasn't about to. Arianna just ignored all this. But she would've liked nothing more than to ring his scrawny, little neck.
Xena kept her stare on Arianna for a moment, then looked at the rest of the camp and its assembly of soldiers. The sun was almost directly overhead now, and a group of the soldiers, lead by Talinares started walking towards Arianna.
"Well Arianna. It looks like your 'friend' has deserted you." Talinares said "Here you are, your final moments on this Earth, and she's nowhere to be seen. Now how do you feel about befriending her?"
"It's not over yet Talinares. She'll be here."
"I beg to differ Arianna. It is over and it's over right now."
With that, six of Talinares men surrounded Arianna with their swords drawn. They weren't even going to kill her humanely, they were poised to bludgeon her on Talinares command.
As Talinares raised his arm to the ready signal, he could hear a faint humming in the air. It was growing louder by the second. All of the sudden the first soldier was hit and down. Then the second, third, fourth.......all with loud clang on their helmets and all in succession. Talinares disbelievingly followed the object with his eyes as it felled all the soldiers around Arianna. He was even more taken aback by the sight of the round object landing steadily in Xena's hand.
Xena held her chakram up to her face the moment she caught it. It lingered there for just a second too long so as to emphasize the moment to Talinares. With a feral grin that turned into an all out smile Xena ran towards Arianna and the kiosk.
"Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi" came the familiar yell as Xena somersaulted, back flipped and finally leaped in front of Arianna.
"Chaaaarge!" came the yell from a wall of men that moved in on Xena and Arianna. They didn't get more than 3 steps closer to Xena when a barrage of arrows flew out of nowhere and impaled several of the men in the chest.
"Great shot!" Gabrielle said as she smiled at D'Lara. She didn't know that multiple arrows could be fired so accurately.
Gabrielle picked up her staff and ran to where Xena was to help her fend off the soldiers. D'Lara just stayed her ground and continued to fire the remaining arrows.
Xena was doing her usual battle dance. With a fluidity of motion that was not to be believed unless seen, she took on several men at once. Parrying thrusts, then delivering her own indefensible thrusts. A pirouette through the air sending a lethal boot to the jaw of one would be attacker. Xena was enjoying herself immensely. Three soldiers were on her at once. Each one trying to deliver a fatal blow, but each one failing. Xena would parry each sword as it came at her. Dodging the blows one after the other after the other. When she finally tired of playing with the three she just held her sword out in front of her with both arms extended, then did several complete turns in place. Her strikes were so powerful that they sent the soldiers swords flying. One of the swords, gratefully, falling at Arianna's feet.
Arianna picked up the sword and started beating it as hard as she could against the chain's link to the kiosk. After several tries, she finally got the lock to give out. Her wrists were still bound, but she was free to move around now. She looked over at the scrawny little man and burned a hole right through him with her stare. His eyes grew wide and he started to run. Arianna hurled the chain over her head like a lasso, threw it and wrapped it around the scrawny man's neck. Then she yanked it backwards, causing his neck to nearly snap as his feet went out from under him.
"I'll take that!" Arianna said as she withdrew the keys to her shackles. She undid her bindings, then picked up a sword from another fallen soldier and joined Gabrielle. D'Lara had run out of arrows and ran to help Xena.
Xena ran towards one of the soldiers, used his thigh as a stepping stone, then propelled herself off his chest into a midair somersault and kicked him in the face. It was something she'd done many times before. Four more men charged her. She just yelled and flipped herself up into a nearby tree. She then broke off a thick branch, stretching four paces across, from the tree. The men stopped in mid-stride, and stared up into the tree, not knowing what to make of this. With another yell, Xena flipped out of the tree and clubbed all four men across the chest with the branch.
"And I thought you needed help." D'Lara said with a smile.
"GET DOWN!" Xena yelled. She pushed D'Lara's head down and punched the oncoming soldier in the face. He'd had his sword raised above his head, ready to strike D'Lara when Xena preempted that strike. D'Lara just looked at Xena and issued a silent thankyou. Xena nodded.
"Come on" Xena yelled.
They ran over to where Gabrielle and Arianna were fighting and holding their own. Gabrielle was using her swiftness with the staff to incapacitate the enemy. She was getting better all the time. Another soldier came at her with his sword raised. He never got a chance to swing it before Gabrielle thrust her staff into his stomach and swept his feet out from under him. Gabrielle let a satisfied smile creep onto her face. Gods she was getting good.
D'Lara had put down her bow. She was fighting hand to hand in this one. Arianna was still using the sword she found to fend off her attackers.
Xena had just put another man down when she cocked her head to one side and widened her eyes. She made a mad dash towards Arianna, leaped and caught an oncoming knife out of thin air. It would have surely killed Arianna. Arianna didn't say anything, nor acknowledge the fact that Xena had just saved her life. Xena, likewise, didn't wait around for thanks. She got up and quickly delivered a kick to another soldier. He went down and lost his sword. Xena picked it up and looked at Arianna, D'Lara and Gabrielle. They were starting to get winded and she had to end this now.
With a sword in each hand, she let out her battle cry one more time, somersaulted over the trio, then started spinning around as she made her way through the ranks of soldiers. One by one they lost their swords. The soldiers that were disarmed ran. The rest of the soldiers, having seen enough also decided to retreat. Xena stopped and watched with satisfaction as the remaining troops dispersed into the woods.
With the fighting over, Arianna turned to D'Lara and gave her a big hug. "I knew you'd come through." she said
Xena started walking towards Gabrielle. She was worn out from the fighting, but it didn't show. Gabrielle just smiled at Xena and shook her head.
"I'll never know how you do that" she said
"I told you" Xena replied. "I have many...."
"Many skills, I know. I know!" Gabrielle happily interrupted.
D'Lara walked over to Xena and extended her hand. Xena took it and shook.
"I want to thank you. You saved both our lives. I don't know how to repay you." She said.
"I'm not the one who needs to be repaid" Xena said. The two looked towards Arianna, who was sitting down now with her head bowed down.
"She's hurt pretty bad" said D'Lara. "The inn is too far back. There's a stream close by where we can all wash up, with a good site for camping. You two look like you could use the rest as well." she said while indicating a very tired looking bard.
Xena agreed. They went back to the horses and started towards the stream. Gabrielle rode behind Xena on Argo, while Arianna and D'Lara rode their own horses. The ride was long, but not as long as the ride back to town would've been.
Xena kept slumping forward on the horse, then catching herself and righting her posture.
"Xena, are you feeling alright?" Gabrielle asked with concern.
"I'm fine. Just a little tired, that's all"
Gabrielle wasn't convinced, but she wasn't going to push either. D'Lara glanced back at Xena and gave her a knowing glance. Xena caught it and issued a silent reply to keep it quiet. D'Lara acquiesced....for now.
Upon arriving at the camp site, Gabrielle dismounted Argo. Xena slipped off of Argo and nearly fell on the ground before Gabrielle caught her and steadied her. D'Lara and Arianna watched as Xena fought to stay upright.
"Xena, were you injured, are you bleeding somewhere?" Gabrielle questioned as she started looking Xena over for injuries.
"I told you, I'm fine. I just need to rest. It's been a long day." Xena replied
"You're sure, I mean, you're about to fall over." Gabrielle said
"Gabrielle!" Xena said in a low frustrated tone "I'll live."
Xena walked over to a couple of logs that were lying in an "L" shaped pattern. The area in front of the logs was perfect for a campfire. She gathered some wood and stones and started to build a fire pit.
Gabrielle took some blankets that Xena had packed at the inn and set them down by the logs. Arianna sat down on one of the blankets, leaned back onto the log and closed her eyes. She wasn't sleeping, but she needed the rest. The stress of the day was finally catching up with her.
D'Lara, the meantime, went to hunt down some dinner with a couple of the arrows that she managed to salvage and clean in the stream. It wasn't very long before a couple of rabbits were roasting on a spit.
Xena had fallen asleep too by now. Gabrielle looked down at her friend's sleeping figure, briefly touched her cheek with her thumb, then left her to rest.
"Gabrielle, I want to talk to you" D'Lara said. " Think it would be a good idea if you talked to Arianna about Xena. Let her read your scrolls. I don't know if there's any other way we can get her to forget her vendetta against Xena."
Gabrielle agreed and walked over to where Arianna was resting.
Dinner had long since been eaten by everyone but Xena. She was still sleeping and Gabrielle didn't want to wake her up. It was so rare that Xena got this kind of rest. Instead, Gabrielle chose to lie down next to her and go to sleep herself. After talking with D'Lara about Xena's condition, she was satisfied that Xena was merely still suffering from some lingering effects of the poison, but it was nothing to worry about. The worrying was exactly why Xena didn't want Gabrielle to know about the remaining poison. All she needed was to rest and the poison would be purged from her system. If Gabrielle knew, she would worry unnecessarily that Xena wouldn't recover. However, it was the fact that Gabrielle was worrying anyway that caused D'Lara to tell her what was going on. Not knowing is the worst.
D'Lara walked up behind Arianna who's eyes were closed again. Her head was still tilted back onto the top of the log with her back being supported by the rest of it. D'Lara put both hands on Arianna's temples causing Arianna to open her eyes.
Arianna had been reading the scrolls with great interest, but D'Lara knew she was still torn.
"Their such good friends. They'd die for each other, you know." D'Lara said as she looked over towards the sleeping pair. Arianna followed her gaze, then looked back at her. "They remind me of another pair I know." D'Lara looked at Arianna intently.
"I know this is hard on you. You have some issues you want to resolve in the worst way and you're torn between your feelings and your conscience." she said
Arianna just stared. Tears were starting to form in her eyes.
"I want you to know, that whatever you decide to do, I will be there for you, as always." D'Lara stated emphatically. She reached her hand out to Arianna who took it. The tears streamed down Arianna's face, but she never looked away from D'Lara.
"Get some sleep now. You've got some things to deal with in the morning." D'Lara said.
Arianna tilted her head back again and stared into the starry night. The culmination of her life's ambition was awaiting her in the morning. 'Why then aren't I happy about it.' she thought. Then she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Xena was the first one up. She had just finished washing up by the stream when she heard footsteps behind her. She swung around with her sword out in front of her only to see Arianna, sword in hand and looking for all the world like she was ready for a battle.
"I've waited a long time for this moment Xena" Arianna said.
Xena just stared.
"I've given this a lot of thought, and I've got to do this for myself. If I don't, then I'll never be free." she stated.
"Arianna, you realize that if you want to fight me, I won't hold back. I'll kill you if I have to."
"I realize that, and I'm no fool. I saw you fighting Talinares' men. I know what you're capable of. Believe it or not, that makes this all the more difficult, but like I said. It has to be done."
Gabrielle and D'Lara were awakened by the sound of metal on metal. They looked around to find Xena and Arianna gone. When the realization hit, they were both off and running towards the stream. They could see Arianna and Xena going at it full force in the distance.
"ARIANNA" They both cried simultaneously.
Arianna and Xena were matching each other blow for blow. They edged themselves towards the stream, then as their swords collided and locked, they both fell over the edge and straight into the water.
Gabrielle and D'Lara stopped in their tracks. They looked at each other in confusion. Xena and Arianna were laughing as they helped each other out of the stream.
"You're better than I thought" Xena laughed
"You're every bit the legend I heard you were, and hey, you look better without those bangs." Arianna laughed back.
"Would someone please tell me what's going on here" Gabrielle demanded with her hands on her hips.
Xena and Arianna both stopped laughing for a moment and looked like two little kids who'd been caught being bad. Then they both erupted in laughter again.
D'Lara and Gabrielle just looked at each other again and threw their hands up in the air.
A short time later, after everyone had cleaned up and dried off, and the camp had been packed up, Xena and Gabrielle were standing by Arianna and D'Lara's horses.
"What happens to you two now?" Xena asked
Arianna looked down from her horse at Xena "Talinares is still out there. I have to stop him from recruiting more lost souls and rebuilding and army. I will take him down. This is a promise."
"Go then my friend. Be safe." Xena said and she raised her hand to Arianna.
The two locked arms, then Arianna and D'Lara headed back to the inn to collect their belongings and go off to find Talinares.
Xena grabbed Argo's reigns and her and Gabrielle started walking.
"Xena, do you mind telling me what happened between you and Arianna out there?"
Xena looked straight ahead, then began telling Gabrielle about the conversation that took place just before the fight.
"I realize that, and I'm no fool. I saw you fighting Talinares' men. I know what you're capable of. Believe it or not, that makes this all the more difficult, but like I said. It has to be done." Arianna said
Xena held her sword steady in front of her and bent her knees in a battle stance. Arianna looked at her and dropped her sword. Xena looked at her in confusion, then slowly put her sword down. Arianna approached unarmed and sat down on a rock at the streams edge.
"All my life, I've been looking forward to the day that I could atone for running out on my family. It was my greatest desire that you survive so that I might be the one to put an end to the Warrior Princess." Arianna looked over at Xena who had walk up to her side. "You're not that person anymore. That person didn't survive. She's gone now. When I see how close you and Gabrielle are, I know that the person who raided Cirra that day is dead. I have no desire to kill you Xena. In fact, I forgive you."
Xena stared at Arianna, not knowing what to say.
"I want you to know however, that even though I can forgive, I can never forget." Arianna said
"And you shouldn't forget" Xena said "I'm so sorry for what happened to your family. I'm still trying to understand who I was back then and what made me do those things. I don't think I can ever atone. But I do know that healing starts with self forgiveness. You have to forgive yourself for what you perceive was an act of cowardice. It wasn't cowardice Arianna. It was survival. You did what you had to do. Don't ever forget that, and don't ever forget that day. Keep your loved ones fresh in your mind and in your heart. When you can forgive yourself, then you can truly move on."
Arianna was thoughtful. This certainly wasn't the woman she had grown to hate over the years. Thank Zeus she didn't let it consume her like Callisto did.......'Callisto......damn. What a waste.'
"Thanks Xena, but what about you. Have you forgiven yourself?"
"I'm working on it. Gabrielle is helping me with that, but right now, my plate's too full."
"I wish you success in your endeavors Xena" Arianna said. "I'm just sorry I didn't get to go one round with you. That would've been interesting."
"Well" Xena said as she raised her sword playfully. "There's no time like the present."
"We started to spar. That's when you and D'Lara showed up and, well, you know the rest." Xena said to Gabrielle.
"Huh, interesting. So Arianna forgave you huh?"
Xena just smiled and looked over at Gabrielle, then straight ahead again.
"Well then, I don't see why you shouldn't take your own advice and start trying to forgive yourself."
"Gabrielle!" Xena said in a low tone.
"No I mean it Xena. You have to learn to accept yourself. For what you are, for what you were, and move on. Quit trying to hide from yourself. That's what D'Lara's doing and it's such a shame."
"What do you mean?" Xena asked.
"When I was talking to Arianna, trying to get her to see you in a different light, I managed to get her to open up to me. I'd asked D'Lara how they met, but she was pretty aloof and evasive about the subject. Arianna had no problem talking about it. In fact, she brought it up."
"What did she say?" Xena asked.
"Arianna was once Talinares' girl. After she'd fled from Cirra, she'd wandered on her own for years, begging where she could, stealing, anything just to get a bite to eat and a place to sleep. One day, she ran into Talinares who took her under his wing. He wasn't really interested in helping her so much as satisfying himself. He preys on young innocent and insecure individuals. Surrounds himself with them. He seems powerful to them and this is a great high for him. One day, on a slave trade mission, his men raided a small town on the East end. D'Lara was one of the captives. When Talinares captured her, she told him that his future was to be overtaken by a woman warrior. This warrior would be the end of him. D'Lara has this gift of being able to see into the future and being able to connect with people on an emotional level. Both of her parents were seers and visionaries. They worked with Kings before they passed away. Talinares didn't want anyone around who would tell him a future he didn't want to hear, so he tortured D'Lara continually until she relented and supressed her abilities. To this day, she hasn't realized the full potential of her talent. She views it as more of a curse than a gift. The mental conditioning was so complete that she still can't bring herself to admit that she's different to anyone but Arianna."
"Why Arianna?" Xena asked.
"Arianna's the one who saved her. Once she found out what Talinares was really about, she turned on him and rescued D'Lara. The two have been together ever since."
"That's amazing." Xena said. "I sensed something in her when we were riding to the campsite yesterday. I just couldn't put my finger on it."
"Arianna's done everything she could to try to convince D'Lara to embrace these differences, but D'Lara is afraid of not being accepted. She's not sure what she can do to convince D'Lara that it's alright to be different." Gabrielle said thoughtfully.
Xena stopped. "Gabrielle, you could convince her. You have good thoughts and you express yourself well. Maybe someday, if we run into them again, you could give it a try."
Gabrielle gave a wicked grin and turned to Xena "You know Xena, they are at the inn. There's no need for them to face Talinares alone is there?" She raised her eyebrows pleadingly.
Xena responded with one eyebrow of her own. "Come on" she said "We'd better hurry if we're gonna get to the inn before they leave."
Xena and Gabrielle started walking back to town. They were coming full circle now with the events that started in the town a few days prior. This trip was going to be much more pleasant.
"He's mad, he's really mad. I'm so outta here." he said to himself, but before he could make good his getaway, a beam of light appeared, blocking his path.
"Nephew! You are LUCKY! OH are you lucky that your harebrained plan didn't succeed. Do you know what a laughing stock I would've been on Olympus had Talinares been the one waving my banner?"
"Be cool uncle. It was a rad plan gone bad. The thought was there dude."
Ares just glared at Strife. "First of all, and get this through your head, Xena is off limits unless you discuss it with me first. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?"
"Gotcha babe! What's second of all?"
"Second of all, I think you need a little rehab in Tartarus to think over your little schemes."
"Dude, you can't be serious!"
"Oh I am. Just like a little child, you have to be punished until you understand the errors of your ways."
"Hey babe, I understand. Really dude, Tartarus isn't necess...."
"AND ONE MORE THING! I've told you once, and I'm saying it again. Learn to talk so that I can understand you."
With that, Ares waved his hand and a protesting Strife disappeared.
-- End -- Received: from mail for kira with Cubic Circle's cucipop (v1.14 1997/04/11)
Wed Aug 13 19:23:23 1997 X-From_: Aslandia@aol.com Wed Aug 13 17:00:54 1997 Return-Path:
I don't wanna talk about who's right or who's wrong
We don't have that luxury of time
For every bitter word that's heard another teardrop falls
. And spills over 'til it hits the bottom line
Forgiveness, such a simple word to say
But I've been witness to how easy pride gets in the way
We're all in this and everyday I pray
For you, for me, forgiveness
We wrestle with our conscience and we try to justify
Our righteous indignation to the end
So we stand upon our islands and right there in our hands
Is a message in a bottle we should send
Forgiveness, such a simple word to say
But I've been witness to how easy pride gets in the way
We're all in this and everyday I pray
For you, for me, forgiveness
That clock upon the wall
It's ticking for us all
Only our hearts can call a truce
Forgiveness, such a simple word to say
But I've been witness to how easy pride gets in the way
We're all in this and everyday I pray
For you, for me, forgiveness
-- End --
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