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by Dancyer McCoy
"This is the story of two friends. They met each other in the hardest of times. They learned how to care for each other. They became a great team. They had adventures. Some adventures ended better than others. . . ."
The warlord sat and planned.
He had brooded over his defeat for many years. Brooded because his enemy seemed to have no weaknesses, no holes in her defenses. Until now.
He had followed her career for many years, this thrice poxed she demon from Amphipolus. Her army had only grown stronger and she was seldom without her warriors about her. When her army had turned against her, he had thought his revenge was at hand. But then, she had returned and destroyed her traitorous warriors, almost single handedly.
How could you defeat someone like that? Someone who fought like all the demons of Tartarus? Someone who had no weaknesses?
He had found the warrior princesses weakness.
The weakness had a NAME.
Capture her and you captured Xena.
The woods were cool with the evening breeze as Xena and Gabrielle walked side by side, Argo following. Xena, as usual, was silent, listening to her companion practice her bardic arts. Gabrielle wove the tale of Artemis and her Amazons with great skill.
". . . .then Artemis called her mighty warriors to her side and praised their prowess in the battle. Hypolita presented the slain warlord's sword to her patron. . . . What is that, Xena?" Gabrielle turned back to look at her friend. Xena stood with her head raised, concentrating.
Gabrielle stood silent, listening, as she had been taught, to the sounds of the forest. There, just at the edge of her hearing, came more clearly the sound that had interrupted her. The sound of swords clashing, people screaming, battle cries.
"COME ON!" Xena leapt up onto Argo and galloped ahead, Gabrielle running to keep up.
Xena reined in at the top of a rise and looked down on a small village. Warriors in black and scarlet battle garb were attacking the defenseless farmers of the isolated community. Gabrielle caught up just as Xena pulled her sword and, giving her familiar cry, charged into the carnage. Without thinking, Gabrielle joined her in a headlong rush down the hill.
Xena barely slowed as she encountered the first two soldiers, felling one with her sword and kicking the other in the face at a full gallop. Hearing screams close by, she turned to see five soldiers chasing several women and their young children. Her chakrum flew, striking the first three, ricocheting off a building to strike the last two before returning to her hand. Several other soldiers, seeing this, fled the battle immediately.
Gabrielle reached the edge of the village at the same time as the deserting soldiers. Mistakenly thinking they had found an easy victim, they attacked. They soon discovered their error. Like Xena, Gabrielle didn't even slow down. The young bard leveled her staff, punching the first in the stomach, then quickly jabbed backwards to catch a second in the chin. The staff came around and struck the third on the side of the head. The first solder again tried to attack. Gabrielle's staff made a satisfying "thunk" on the top of his skull. She ran on into the village after her friend.
While Gabrielle fought her own battle, Xena was continuing to wreak havoc on the attacking warriors. There seemed to be more now than when she had started. Looking around she noticed several groups of warriors entering the village from the far end, entering stealthily, almost as if they didn't want to be noticed! She started toward them, then realized that she hadn't seen or heard Gabrielle since the battle started. Worriedly, she wheeled Argo around and raced back the way she had come. "Wack!" "Thud!" "Thunk!" Gabrielle had found herself in the middle of a large group of attackers and had little time to think of where her friend might have gone. Xena's training was being put to good use but it was taking all of her concentration to defeat her opponents. There were so many of them. Where were they coming from and why did they all seem to be after her? From the corner of her eye she saw Xena, sword held high, charging through the marauders, coming back in her direction at full speed.
To Gabrielle's horror, a pikeman suddenly appeared from behind one of the wreaked buildings. Time seemed to slow as he extended his pike, catching Xena in the chest and sweeping her from her horse.
"XENA! NO!" In fear for Xena's life, Gabrielle turned to run to her friend, praying to the Gods that the wound would not be as bad as it seemed. Pain suddenly burst at the back of Gabrielle's head as she was felled by one of her attackers.
**Gabrielle, we're in the middle of a fight!!** Xena's often expressed warning recalled itself as Gabrielle hit the ground, hard. Dazed, trying to get back to her feet, Gabrielle looked where she had last seen her friend. Xena was on the ground, the pikeman standing over her, pressing down hard on the pike, twisting it.
"Xena, no." Weakly, Gabrielle got to her feet and started toward her friend. She had staggered only a few feet when she was struck again. Darkness clouded her vision. The only thing she could see was Xena, lying in the dirt, her sword lying beside her. As the blackness closed in, one thought raced through her mind over and over: Xena is dead! Xena is dead! Xena is dead!
And then she thought nothing.
"I'm getting careless," was Xena's thought as she struggled with the pikeman. The pike was caught between her breastplate and leather jerkin and jammed into the ground, keeping her pinned down. "Another inch and we wouldn't be having this 'argument'."
Finally recovering her sword, she struck the pike, breaking it just below the pikeman's hands. Losing his balance, the pikeman fell, first into Xena's fist and then to the ground. Rising, she managed to dislodge the pike, then she saw. . . .
"GABRIELLE!" Xena began to run but there suddenly seemed to be dozens of soldiers between them, fighting, pushing her back, away from her fallen friend. Xena fought feverishly but every time she started to gain ground more soldiers appeared. And then, just as suddenly, they were slipping away, out of the village. Gone.
Xena ran to where she had last seen Gabrielle. Nothing. Gabrielle, like the soldiers, was gone. Nothing remained except the staff the bard always carried. As twilight changed to night, Xena frantically searched the ground for signs of where the young bard had been taken. Whistling for Argo, she swiftly rode in the direction the footprints and drag marks led but in the deepening dark she soon lost all trace of them.
Pain. Her head hurt. She opened her eyes and, just as quickly, shut them again. Everything was blurred, spinning. Her head, the room. Voices. "If....die....Pre...." "....live bait....revenge...." "Lure....ior prin..." "Her....open...." It was too confusing. And there was this incredible, almost over powering sense of loss. Loss. But what had she lost? She couldn't remember! Anything! Panic began. She tried to rise, to ask. . . .to ask. . . .what? The blackness took her down again and the nightmares began.
The pain was still there, but it wasn't as bad. So, too, was the sense of loss and the lack of memory. Strange, they didn't seem so important, either. And no panic, just a warm lethargy. But the voices were back.
". . . delirious for a while but she seems to be over that now. Her injuries must have been worse than we thought. She can't remember anything. I've given her a potion to keep her calm but she should be waking soon."
"Are you sure she remembers nothing?" A new voice, strong but melodious. A leaders voice.
"She can't even remember her name."
"Too bad. She is spirited, that one."
The girl opened her eyes, cautiously. Nothing moved. Experimentally, she pushed herself into a sitting position. The room remained stable. Looking around she noted she was in some kind of tent, a pavilion. Moving to the edge of the bed, she tried to stand. She fell crashing to the ground, overturning a table.
"What. . . .?" The curtains across the opening flew aside and a large, powerful looking warrior with entered. The girl cringed at the sight of him, fearful. Quickly, he crossed the room, picked her up and returned her to the bed.
"Titus, bring a pitcher of water," he ordered, "Gently, child. Everything is going to be alright. You're going to be just fine."
Titus returned with the water and the big man poured some into a cup.
"Here, drink this."
The girl complied, watching the warrior over the rim of the cup.
"Who are you?" she finally asked.
The warrior smiled slyly, "My name is Prevarien. I am your father."
The girl considered this and then quietly asked, "Who am I?"
Prevarien paused, considering his answer, and then replied, "You name is Gabrina."
"What happened to me? Why can't I remember anything?" The potion was starting to wear off and a touch of panic colored her questions.
"No questions just yet," Prevarien tried to calm her. "You still need to heal. Titus will give you another sleeping potion. When you wake, if you still have questions, I will answer them."
"I don't want to sleep! The dreams. . ." The ache of something, or of. . . someone??, missing had returned, stronger than before, increasing her fear, increasing her panic. The nightmares would return if she slept. She could not remember what they were about but she knew they were there and they terrified her.
"Don't be afraid. There is no need to be afraid. You are with family. I will protect you. Titus!"
Titus handed him the cup with the sleeping potion. "Drink, I will be here when you wake."
The girl took the cup and stared at it for a long moment. Looking at Prevarien, she slowly, reluctantly, drank.
"Sleep, Gabrina. You will not dream. In the morning, we will talk." He stood, watching her until she drifted off.
Prevarien was cautious, giving the girl a name close enough to her own to sound familiar but different enough not to call up memories. He hadn't quite figured out how this would affect his plan of revenge against Xena. After their last encounter seven years ago, after she had humiliated him, he could think of nothing else but revenge. He had known he could never kill Xena in fair combat but, if he could capture her less experienced companion, then Xena could be lured into a trap.
"Why did you tell the girl you were her father?" Titus looked questioningly at his commander.
"To gain her trust. Perhaps this lack of memory can be turned to our advantage. Call the war council. We have much to discuss."
Xena sat by her campfire, staring into the flames, exhausted. Four days and still no sign of Gabrielle or the soldiers who had taken her. For four days she had neither eaten nor slept, stopping only long enough to give Argo a rest. There had been something vaguely familiar about the soldiers battle garb, but in her flight to find her friend Xena had yet to put her mind to why it was familiar.
"Gabrielle, why did it take me so long to realize you were in trouble?" Xena berated herself again, as she had so many times in the past few days.
She felt as though she had spent those days in Tartarus. She was angry. Angry with herself, angry with the soldiers, angry with villagers who couldn't defend themselves. Angry at the Gods who allowed such things to happen.
And she had taken her anger out on anyone who had crossed her path in the past four days: a gang of highwaymen who soon learned this solitary, grim faced woman was NOT the easy target they had hoped for; a group of village bravados out to prove their prowess and who got nothing but bruises and broken heads for their efforts; the troop of local soldiers she had attacked simply because they were soldiers.
With her anger came fear. Fear of what she might find if. . . .NO . . .WHEN she found Gabrielle. Would she find her innocent young friend had been used and enslaved? Or would she even be alive? Revenge burned in her heart as brightly the camp flame. She would have her revenge on any and all for ANY harm done to Gabrielle!
**No! Look, you promise me. If something happens to me you will not become a monster!** Xena woke with a start and looked around. No one else was there, only Argo standing silently nearby. Gabrielle's voice had seemed so real, so close. Asking the impossible. **No! No, you promise me!** Even in her absence, Gabrielle's voice was still Xena's conscience.
"I promise, Gabrielle," Xena whispered into the darkness, her face wet with tears. She stared into the flames again, remembering Gabrielle's determined look that night, horrified that Xena might return to her old ways because of her. Xena wished she had never given her word, "I promise."
The young woman ran through the strange, misty landscape, searching for something she had lost but she couldn't remember what it was. Slowly, emerging from the mist, came soldiers and she discovered she was carrying a war staff. She began her battle, knowing there were too many, knowing she was doomed to lose. But still she fought, as more and more soldiers joined the battle. From a distance she heard a high pitched battle cry and, looking in the direction it had come, saw a shadowed figure on a horse, sword held high, charging towards her. She knew, with the certainty of dreams, that the figure was coming for her. The attacking soldiers slowed as the figure drew closer. Suddenly, a pikeman appeared between her and the rider, his pike raised. . . .
"NO! NO! NO!"
Hearing the screams, Prevarien rushed into Gabrina's room from his war counsel.
"GABRINA! It's all right, my dear. You are safe. It was only a dream." Prevarien tried as best he could to comfort the crying girl. She calmed as the memory of the dream faded beyond recall, though the terror of it remained.
Gabrina held the sword awkwardly, feeling strange in the new battle garb her father had insisted she wear. There was something vaguely familiar about the leather jerkin and metallic breastplate, though, as if she had worn it before. Weapons training was something else she wasn't quite sure about, but her father had insisted on that, too. Remembering her battle skills might help her remember other things or so he told her.
"Pay attention!" Permonius admonished her again. The weapons master took her wrist, adjusted the angle of the sword and took up an 'on guard' position opposite her. "At least LOOK like you know how to handle a sword!"
**A sword makes you a target.** The voice at the back of her mind startled Gabrina. Permonius quickly disarmed her and placed the tip of his sword at her throat, lifting her chin.
"YOU ARE NOT PAYING ATTENTION!" Permonius looked disgustedly at Prevarien and Titus.
"Perhaps we're going about this the wrong way," Prevarien moved the sword away from Gabrina's throat. "You were always good with a sword, my dear, but your first weapon was the war staff. We'll try that."
Permonius took the swords over to the weapons rack and picked up two war staffs. He tossed one to Gabrina, who caught it clumsily. Permonius looked disgusted again but began showing Gabrina the basic moves one used with a staff.
"Giving her a staff may be dangerous, Lord Prevarien. She took out dozens of our men with that staff of hers. It may make her remember things you don't want her to remember."
"Watch her closely, Titus. If she acts as though she is remembering anything about her past. . . ." he left the threat unspoken. Titus nodded and watched.
Permonius and Gabrina squared off, facing one another. Permonius began to circle Gabrina, twirling his staff, trying to catch her off guard. He swung the staff and she ducked, just barely avoiding contact. **You've been in battles before. . . .** The voice interrupted her concentration and Permonius' staff came across, hitting her shoulder, throwing her off balance.
"LISTEN TO ME AND PAY ATTENTION!!!"
**It's your body that has to listen.** "Thwack" Gabrina blocked the next attack, then the next and the next. Then, without thinking, she began her own attack. Twirling her staff, she faked a strike to the head. When Permonius moved to block her blow, she reversed her momentum and landed the opposite end of the staff in his groin. When he doubled over in pain, she hit him in the back, then brought the staff around to sweep his legs out from under him. He hit the ground, whimpering. She looked down at him in stunned amazement.
"ENOUGH!" Prevarien moved swiftly and took the staff from the victor, looking down at her suspiciously.
"Did you see, father? I remembered! I remembered how to use the staff!" Gabrina smiled up at Prevarien then back down at the man writhing on the ground. Still shocked at her defeat of Permonius, she did not notice the look on Prevarien's face.
"Yes, my dear, I saw. I always said you had spirit. Is there anything else you remember?" He turned Gabrina to face him. Titus moved up behind her, his dagger drawn.
Gabrina frowned, thinking. No, she could remember nothing else, except the empty feeling of loss she'd had since waking. Should she tell Prevarien about that? Or about the voice? No. No, she wasn't ready to share that with anyone just yet.
"I'm sorry, father, no." Slowly, Titus put his dagger away.
"Titus, when Permonius 'recovers' we will start with the sword again." Prevarien wanted the girl away from her preferred weapon as soon as possible.
Xena sat in a darkened corner of the small village inn, brooding, waiting for the smith to replace the shoe Argo had thrown. The longer it took to find her friend, the harder it was to contain her anger. A noise from the other side of the room drew her attention. Three men were bothering the innkeepers young daughter, a sweetly innocent looking blond in a blue dress. With a start, Xena realized that the girl looked a little like Gabrielle. Her anger, just barely contained, rose to the surface again.
"Hey, girl, put those dishes down and come back here." Laughing, one of the men grabbed the girl and pulled her down onto his lap. She screamed and began to struggle to get away, provoking more laughter from the man and his companions.
"Why don't you pick on someone who can fight back?"
The three men stood and the girl raced back to the kitchen with a greatful look at Xena. Shocked, Xena realized that one of the men was wearing black and scarlet battle garb. At the same time, the soldier recognized her.
"It's Xena. Get her."
The soldier's companions split up and attacked, going at Xena from either side. She floored each with a single punch and continued toward the soldier. He pulled his sword and began his attack. With one kick, Xena sent the blade flying, tip first, into the rafters. Her fingers punched out and the soldier fell to the ground, gasping for air.
"I've just stopped the flow of blood to your brain. You'll be dead in twenty seconds if I don't release you, if you don't tell me what I want to know. Who do you fight for?"
"I used to fight for Lord Prevarien, but I don't now. He threw me out."
Prevarien! Xena suddenly remembered her previous encounter with that egotistical warlord. So many years ago. Would her past always haunt her?
"You attacked a village earlier this week and captured a young blond woman who fought with a staff. What happened to her?" Xena demanded.
"If she's still alive, I suppose Prevarien still has her. That was the reason we attacked. Lord Prevarien wanted that girl."
"WHY? Why would he want Gabrielle and what did you mean 'If she's still alive?'" Xena shouted, her heart sinking.
"Because he knew she was your friend. He wanted to use her as bait to trap you, but . . ." The soldier slowly stopped talking, fear in his eyes. "But I think we hit her too hard when we captured her. Lord Prevarien was furious. He had our unit leaders flogged and the rest of us whipped and chased out of his camp. She was still unconscious when I left."
"Where is Prevarien now?"
Gasping, the soldier told her, "North, just a few miles into the next valley. Just a couple days ride from here."
Coldly, Xena turned and began walking toward the door, leaving the soldier on the floor, struggling, gasping for air. **. . .you will not become a monster!** She stopped, fists clinched.
"Not now, Gabrielle." **. . . say no to this lust for revenge.** Slowly, reluctantly, she returned to the soldier. Again her fingers punched out, this time to release him. The soldier went limp, breathing rapidly.
"Pray to the Gods that she is still alive. If she isn't, you and your friends have nowhere to hide." Xena turned and stomped out of the inn.
"I hope you're satisfied, Gabrielle," she muttered to herself as she mounted Argo, tears in her eyes.
Gabrina sat cross legged by the fire, sharpening her sword. Her easy victory over Permonius with the staff had given her more confidence in her swordplay. She seemed to remember the proper moves but her coordination was off. Her father had been right about her remembering how to use the staff. He had told her she had been good with both weapons. For once, her 'voice' seemed to disagree. **Words before weapons.** Gabrina wasn't quite sure what the voice had meant by that. Her memory of the sword would return in time, she was certain. She had, after all, been a warrior.
Prevarien and Titus had watched her at practice most of the day and now watched her by the fire. Motioning Titus to follow, Prevarien walked away, through the camp.
"Lord Prevarien, I thought the girl had never used a sword, but you can tell by watching her that she's had some training. Why are you insisting that she learn to fight?"
"No formal training, from what I was able to learn about her. Perhaps she's been around Xena long enough to pick up some sword techniques. She's seen Xena fight often enough, I'm sure." Prevarien considered his next words. "I have decided to have the girl fight Xena. My revenge would be all the sweeter if the warrior princess were killed by her best friend or was forced to kill her in self defense! If 'Gabrina' wins, she will be a useful addition to my army. If Xena wins, I can always kill her afterwards."
"But how will you get the girl to fight her?"
"There are ways, Titus." Prevarien grinned at his lieutenant, "There are many ways."
"How are you feeling this evening, my dear?" Prevarien asked as he poured a cup of wine for the girl.
"Fine, father. A little stiff, though." Gabrina took a sip of the wine, then returned to her meal. The long practice session had made her very hungry and the food was delicious.
"Are you feeling well enough to hear the answers to your questions?" he asked, casually.
Startled, Gabrina dropped her knife, which clattered to the floor. She made no move to retrieve it. Along with the knife, she had lost her appetite.
"Yes," she answered hesitantly. Suddenly, she wasn't sure if she wanted answers or not.
Prevarien paused over his wine cup, replaying in his mind the story he had rehearsed. He had to be very careful in the telling or all his plans could vanish.
"Our army is very strong, my dear," he began. "We have always attracted the mightiest of warriors. One of the best was a woman. Tall, raven haired. She was a skilled warrior and strong, very strong. She was blest with the courage and strength of Ares and moved with the speed of Zeus' thunderbolts. A brilliant tactician. She trained you with the staff and sword. She was your best friend or so we thought."
Prevarien watch Gabrina over the rim of his wine cup, gauging her reaction to his tale. There was none, only a wary silence.
"But she was ambitious. Too ambitious. She wanted power, and to gain that, she wanted our army. You discovered her plan, my dear. I should have killed her then but I didn't, just had her whipped and driven away. She swore vengeance against us. Against you.
"She ambushed you. Caught you alone and tried to kill you. You were fortunate to have survived. It was during the battle that you were injured, your memory taken from you. That is why I insisted that you relearn your fighting skills as soon as possible, my dear. She will return and when she does, she will certainly try again."
"What is her name?"
Prevarien smiled. He had been expecting that question. He had no intentions of answering it.
"I am sorry, my dear. I swore on the head of Ares that her name would never be spoken in this camp again. I can't break that oath, not even for you. You will know her when she comes. She always carries an odd, round throwing weapon at her waist." Prevarien watched her for any reaction to his description of Xena's chakrum. There was none. "I've never seen another like it. You will know her by that weapon. But be careful. She is deadly with it."
The young woman ran through the strange, misty landscape, searching for something she had lost but she couldn't remember what it was. The mist cleared slightly and a tall, raven haired woman dressed in battle garb appeared, sheathed sword in hand.
"Don't even think about following me," the voice was cold and low. "You don't want to make me mad, now do you?" The mist swirled around the warrior woman, hiding her from view.
The young woman ran on, still searching. Again the mist parted and the raven haired warrior woman appeared, sword drawn, her blue eyes crazed. In a voice that was touched with the madness of blood lust, she screamed, "Kill'em all!" The young woman tried to stop her, bravely facing her, trying to back her off using the pitchfork that had appeared in her hands. She was roughly thrown aside. Rising behind the maddened warrior, the young woman struck her across the back with the pitchfork, knocking the warrior to her knees. The mist swirled once again.
Slowly, emerging from the mist, came soldiers and she discovered she was carrying a war staff. She began her battle, knowing there were too many, knowing she was doomed to lose. But still she fought, as more and more soldiers joined the battle. From a distance she heard a high pitched battle cry and, looking in the direction it had come, saw the warrior woman on a horse, sword held high, charging towards her, an odd, circular weapon hanging at her waist. She knew, with the certainty of dreams, that the warrior was coming for her. The attacking soldiers slowed as the rider drew closer. Suddenly, a pikeman appeared between her and the rider, his pike raised. . . .
Head and heart pounding, Gabrina stifled her scream, trying to fight the terror of her dream, trying to remember as much of it as possible. The voice in her head, the voice she had trusted, was the same voice as the woman in her nightmares!
Xena sat cross legged by the fire, sharpening her sword.
'If she's still alive. . .' 'If she's still alive. . .' That phrase continued to haunt her, playing over and over in her mind.
She tried to stop the thought, to calm her mind, to think of something else, ANYTHING else.
She thought of Gabrielle as she was the first time she had seen her, standing defiantly before Draco's soldiers. Standing between her and the angry people of her home village. Willing to risk her life for a friend. Even Xena. **Normal people like me take changes to save their best friends, too, you know.**
'If she's still alive. . .' 'If she's still alive. . .'
"This is all my fault. I should have killed Prevarien years ago. Ah, Gabrielle, if you had not been my friend, this would never have happened to you. When I get finished with that madman," she vowed, "he will wish he had never been born!" **. . .you will not become a monster!** "Give it a rest, Gabrielle." **There's only one way to stop this cycle of hate and that's through love and forgiveness.** "I can't ignore this or forgive, not even for you. Especially not for you, it's too hard."
Angrily, Xena continued sharpening her sword.
Gabrina blocked the attack with her sword. Then, side stepping out of her opponent's way, leveled him with a kick to the stomach and brought the sword tip to within inches of his throat. She glanced at her father. Prevarien nodded his approval. In the past few days, the girl had gotten much better with the sword. Better than even he had hoped for. Yes, Xena had trained her well.
He called a halt to the practice. Gabrina placed the sword in the sheath she wore at her back.
"Very good, my dear. Rest now, we will continue this later." Prevarien called his war counsel and they marched across the camp to his tent.
Gabrina was tired and not just from the swordplay. Her nightmares had continued to awaken her each night. She was; however, starting to remember more and more about them. She still hadn't told Prevarien about the continuing dreams. Or about the voice. For some reason, these were things she needed to keep to herself. HAD to keep to herself, though she hadn't figured out why yet.
She picked up her war staff and trotted to the woods outside the camp. She found it comforting to practice with her staff in the silence of the forest. It helped her to think. As she began practicing her moves, she puzzled over the different scenes in her nightmare, especially the one. . . . **You swing a pretty mean pitchfork.** The voice seemed amused.
Mist clouded her vision.
The mist parted and the raven haired warrior woman appeared, sword drawn, her blue eyes crazed. In a voice that was touched with the madness of blood lust, she screamed, "Kill'em all!" Gabrina tried to stop her, to back her off using the pitchfork. . . .
Gabrina gasped and dropped to her knees, holding her head. What had brought that on? "To Tartarus with that unnameable witch," she muttered, rising slowly. "She won't be so lucky next time. I'll kill her next. . . ." **That code doesn't include killing!!**
Gabrina sat down again, greatly confused. How could the voice be so terrifying one minute and so reasonable the next? How could a warrior's code NOT include killing?
After a few minutes, she rose shakily to her feet and picked up her staff. She needed to think. Clearing her mind, she again, unsteadily, began her practice. "I have to learn to act not react," she muttered. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a warm, good natured laugh began. "Oh, go away!"
Hiding in the trees outside of Prevarien's camp, Xena watched as Gabrielle practiced with the sword against several opponents. How could she have gotten so good in so short a time? With a shock, Xena realized that Gabrielle's fighting style, like her battle garb, was disturbingly similar to her own. She was relieved that Gabrielle seemed to be alright but worried at what she might be up to.
"Gabrielle, what are you playing at?" she whispered. "Don't you realize how dangerous it could be?"
Amazed, she watched as Gabrielle picked up a war staff, jogged out of the camp and into the trees at the opposite end. No one went with her. She didn't appear to be guarded. Xena climbed down and circled the camp in search of her friend.
Gabrina continued to practice with her staff. It had calmed her. She moved gracefully, taking in the silence of the trees. Listening with her body, as the voice had told her to do. She was surprised at all the things she could sense this way.
"Gabrielle?" The voice was so quiet and familiar that, at first, Gabrina thought it was the voice in her mind again. Then she realized it had come from behind her. She whirled around to face a tall, raven haired woman in battle garb.
Mist clouded her vision.
She saw the warrior woman on a horse, sword held high, charging towards her, an odd, circular weapon hanging at her waist. She knew that this warrior was coming for her.
With a yell, Gabrina attacked the woman, swinging her staff wildly. Xena, startled at this reaction, managed to dodge the first few swings, but, so swift and unexpected was the attack that Gabrina finally landed a blow, knocking her enemy to the ground.
Confused, Xena back flipped into a standing position and drew her sword in self defense. Gabrina attacked again, fear of this woman giving strength to her blows. Xena blocked her swings once, twice. Finally, she knocked the staff out of the girl's hands, kicking her to the ground.
Gabrina rolled and immediately regained her footing. Facing her enemy, she drew her sword.
"What are you doing? Gabrielle, what's wrong with you?"
Gabrina didn't answer. With grim determination, she began her attack again. The sounds of the battle had drawn attention from the camp. The alarm having been given, Prevarien, Titus and several of the soldiers ran toward the combatants. The soldiers moved towards Xena.
"NO! Let them fight," Prevarien ordered. "Gabrina, my child, kill her or she will surely kill you!"
"GABRIELLE! Stop! I don't want to hurt you!" Xena continued to block Gabrielle's swings, trying to defend herself and disarm her friend. It wasn't easy. Gabrielle's moves mirrored her own. It was like trying to fight herself.
Gabrina lunged and dropped under the warrior's efforts to block her. The tip of her sword raked Xena's arm, just the merest scratch, just enough to draw a few drops of blood.
**THAT CODE DOESN'T INCLUDE KILLING!** The voice was loud, almost shouting. Shocked, Gabrina backed away.
"You have her, my dear. Kill her!" Prevarien shouted. **. . . .doesn't include killing!** "What are you waiting for?" **Words not weapons.**
Confused, her head starting to ache again, Gabrina lowered her sword. Taking advantage of Gabrielle's distraction, Xena struck out with the hilt of her sword, hitting the bard in the temple. With a soft sigh, Gabrielle crumpled at Xena's feet.
"GET HER!" Prevarien screamed. Xena turned to face the soldiers. She didn't know what Prevarien had done to Gabrielle to make her to attack but he would pay. Voicing her battle cry, Xena attacked, taking out all her anger, fears and frustrations of the past week on the soldiers. Her chakrum flew, breaking swords and striking her attackers.
At her back, Gabrielle began to stir, regaining consciousness. Opening her eyes, she saw Permonious, pike in hand, sneaking up on the embattled warrior. Ignoring the sword by her hand, Gabrielle grabbed her staff and flew at Permonious, knocking him flat. Raging, she began attacking any soldier unlucky enough to get within her reach. Faced with these twin furies, the soldiers slowed, backed away, then turned and fled back to the camp. Cursing, Prevarien joined in the strategic retreat.
As the soldiers retreated, Xena turned to her friend, worried at what might happen. Gabrielle suddenly swung her staff into a defensive position, fear and confusion in her eyes. She began twirling the staff, preparing to attack again.
"Gabrielle?!? Please. . . ."
Mist clouded her vision.
From a distance she heard a high pitched battle cry and saw Xena, sword held high, charging back towards her, coming to help. Suddenly, a pikeman appeared between them, his pike extended, catching Xena in the chest and sweeping her from her horse.
Pain! The mist cleared.
"XENA! NO!" With an almost hysterical scream, Gabrielle suddenly returned to the present. She stared at Xena, afraid to breath, afraid Xena would vanish along with the mist. "I thought. . .I thought. . ." Gabrielle's head began to pound and her knees gave way. Moving rapidly, Xena caught her and eased her to the ground.
"Xena, I thought you were dead," Gabrielle was crying, her body shaking with each sob.
"It's alright, Gabrielle, everything is alright." Xena held her like a child, comforting her, letting her cry. "I'm fine. . .now. We both are."
Prevarien sat in his tent, seething. "How could Xena have defeated me, again?" He had been so sure his trickery with the girl had worked. What could have gone wrong? Had she been shamming all along?
A soft noise, like boots on a carpet, reached his ears. He spun around, reaching for his sword. Too late. The tip of Xena's sword was under his chin.
"You're a lucky man, Prevarien," Xena's eyes were cold and her voice was even colder. "I'm not in the mood to kill you, at least not tonight. But if you ever do anything to harm Gabrielle again, you'll be dead, understand?"
She pushed the sword tip into his throat. "Understand?"
"Yes." And with that, she was gone.
Prevarien glared after her. "We shall see, Xena. We shall see."
Xena and Gabrielle walked side by side along the forest trail, Argo following. Gabrielle had been unusually quiet for several days, ever since leaving Prevarien's camp.
"What's wrong, Gabrielle?" Xena watched her friend closely. "It's not like you to be so quiet."
"I'm trying to remember exactly what happened." Gabrielle's face reflected her troubled thoughts. "How could I have believed that madman, Prevarien, was my father? How could he have convinced me that you wanted to kill me?"
"When you thought I was dead and you couldn't help me, your mind just shut down. You couldn't accept the reality of what you thought you saw. It happens sometimes. You were ready to accept just about anything else after that, including the idea that I was the enemy. Getting hit hard enough to keep you unconscious for several days didn't help, either. But it's over now, Gabrielle. Forget about it."
"Forget about it? I think I've forgotten quite enough lately, thank you. Besides, it might make a good story." Gabrielle's impish grin returned. Then she glanced at the cut on Xena's arm and her grin turned to guilt.
"That's something I wish I could forget, trying to kill you."
"Just as long as you remember the consequences of picking up a sword, Gabrielle," Xena said quietly.
"Oh, don't worry. THAT I will remember. I'll never even touch a sword again," she promised.
Xena smiled to herself. Maybe things will be back to normal after all. Maybe.
The warlord sat and planned.
Defeated. By his worst enemy and a simple bard.
He would have his revenge, even if it took years.
The warlord was a patient man.