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Note: This story takes place shortly after the episode 'Remember Nothing'. I would like to know what you think about this story. Just be gentle with me! My degree is in Chemistry, not English or Literature. You can either post on the Netforum or E-mail me at email@example.com.
"What is it Xena?" Gabrielle asks sensing the change in Xena.
Xena points at the woman who is stumbling toward them, the other hand moving to grab her chakrum. The woman doesn't seem to see them even though they are standing in the middle of the road. Xena and Gabrielle hold their position as the woman stumbles closer. The woman looks up as she comes within a few feet of Gabrielle. Her clothes are torn and it's obvious that she has been beaten. There is a gash above the woman's right ear that is caked with blood and she has a look of sadness and fear in her eyes. The woman looks at Xena and then turns toward Gabrielle and attempts to speak. As she opens her mouth she collapses and Gabrielle instinctively reaches out and grabs the woman. Gabrielle feels something warm and sticky on the woman's back. When she pulls her hand away, it's covered in blood.
"I think she's been whipped Xena" Gabrielle says as she gently lower the woman to the ground.
Xena looks around, wondering how this woman got so far out into the country in this condition. She climbs off Argo and examines the woman.
"She has some broken ribs" Xena said as she checks the woman injuries. "She has also lost a lot of blood."
"Xena, look at this" Gabrielle said as she pulls the woman's dress away from her chest. "It looks like a T."
"Traesus" Xena replies with a look of disgust on her face. "He has been known to carve a T on the chest of his slaves as a form of punishment when they have been disobedient."
"Who is Traesus?" Gabrielle asks as she shudders at the thought of a dagger piercing her skin.
"He used to be with Draco's army. I heard he left after Draco's raid on Amphipolis. He deals in slaves mostly."
"Sounds like a nice man" Gabrielle said sarcastically.
"We have to find shelter Gabrielle, it will be dark soon. I think there is a cave on the right over the rise."
Xena carefully picked the woman up and laid her across the saddle. Leading Argo by the reins the two friends head for the cave. Gabrielle is unusually quiet. Xena looks at her friend, wondering what the bard is thinking.
"Gabrielle, are you okay?"
"Huh? I'm sorry Xena, what did you say?"
"I asked if you were okay"
"Yeah, lets go find that cave."
Xena looked at Gabrielle with slight concern. It was not normal for the bard to be so quiet. The entrance to the cave was hidden behind an outcropping of rocks. You could not see the entrance from the road and there was no visible path. Xena led Argo to the entrance and tied the horse to a rock. She gently lifted the woman off of Argo's back and cradled her in her strong arms.
"Gabrielle, go get some firewood."
Xena carried the woman into the caved and placed her on a large flat rock. The cave was dim but Xena could make out a few features. There was a shaft in the top of the cave that let light in. Good thought Xena, the smoke will have a way out. Xena returned to Argo and retrieved the necessary items to treat the injured woman. As Xena started to examine the woman more closely, Gabrielle came in with her arms full of wood.
"How is she?" Gabrielle asks as she starts the fire.
"She is very weak from the loss of blood, but I think she will pull through" Xena replied. "Add some more wood to the fire and then come help me."
"What do you want me to do?" asks Gabrielle as she puts several logs on the fire.
"Help me loosen her dress, we have to bandage these wounds."
Xena sat the woman up as Gabrielle loosened the woman's dress and slid it down over her shoulders. Gabrielle flinched and the color drained from her face when she caught sight of the woman's back. She had been lashed severely and her back was covered with bloody welts.
"How could anyone do this to another human being? Gabrielle wondered out loud.
Xena just looked at Gabrielle, remembering the past she's tried so hard to forget . After a moment, Xena responded, "When Ares rules your soul, anything can happen."
Gabrielle looked up at Xena and saw pain flash across her friends face. "Xena, I didn't mean to..."
"I know," Xena said as she cut Gabrielle off. "Why don't you get us some dinner," the Warrior Princess said as the expression on her face softened.
As Xena finished dressing the wounds and covered the woman with her own blanket, Gabrielle retrieved the bread, cheese and figs from one of Argo's saddle bags. The two friends ate in silence which was unusual, for Gabrielle loved to tell her stories. Xena look over at her friend with some concern and noticed that Gabrielle seemed lost in thought. She also noticed that Gabrielle hadn't eaten very much and that really was unusual. Gabrielle could feel Xena looking at her and turned to face her friend.
"Xena..." Gabrielle said with tears in her eyes.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" Xena asked as her concern for her best friend grew.
"That could have been me," Gabrielle whispered as she pointed at the woman, "or even worse, it could have been Lilla! If you hadn't been there, Draco would have captured us and sold us as slaves along with the rest of the girls from my village! I was lucky that you were there for me, but this woman had no one to protect her." Gabrielle closed her eyes and let her head droop as the tears rolled down her cheeks. "I'm sorry Xena, it's just the thought of something like that happening to Lilla is very painful." The bard, who's compassion could more than fill the bowels of the earth, was clearly in pain and Xena could not stand to see her suffer. She moved closer to Gabrielle and put her arm around her friend. In response, Gabrielle buried her head in Xena's shoulder, seeking the comfort that her strong friend was offering. While Xena held Gabrielle, she thought about the alternate past that the Fates had shown her. Xena knew all too well what would have happened to Gabrielle if she had not been there to stop Draco. Seeing Gabrielle as a slave had nearly torn Xena's heart out, but to see her friend run a man through with a sword was more that Xena could take and she shuddered at the memory. Gabrielle felt Xena shudder and pulled away just in time to see the look of pain fade from Xena's face. G! abrielle was about to ask Xena what was wrong when the Warrior Princess gave her a look that said "don't ask".
At that moment the injured woman stirred, uttering a soft moan as the pain from her wounds forced her to consciousness. She opened her eyes to see Xena and Gabrielle approaching her. She tried to move, but fear and pain prevented her from doing so. All she could do was cower at the sight of the Warrior Princess in her leather and armor.
"It's okay, we won't hurt you," said Gabrielle as she sat down next to the woman. "What is your name?"
"My.... my name is Anna," replied the woman as some of the fear left her face. "Who are you?"
"My name is Gabrielle and this is my friend Xena."
"The Warrior Princess?" Anna said as the fear returned to her face.
"Yes," said Xena with a stony look on her face.
"It's all right," said Gabrielle. "Xena fights for justice now."
"I have heard such stories, but I didn't know whether or not to believe them," said Anna as a faint smile came across her lips.
"Oh you can believe them," exclaimed Gabrielle "why I could tell you lots of stories....."
"Not now Gabrielle!"
"Sorry Xena, sometimes my mouth gets the better of me," said the bard sheepishly.
"Now Anna, tell me what happened to you," Xena asks as her eyes flash a brilliant blue.
"It was Traesus. He's been raiding my village for months now. His men are heavily armed and they take what ever they want. He uses some kind of magic to mesmerize the women of the village."
"What kind of magic?" Xena ask, still wearing the stony expression.
"He has a staff with a skull on top of it. The skull has some kind of jewels for eyes. When Traesus speaks, the eyes light up and anyone foolish enough to look at the skull is mesmerized and cannot speak or move for several minutes. Traesus' men come through and take the women they want" Anna said choking back the tears. "including my daughter."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, silently agreeing that they would help this woman.
Gabrielle took the woman's hands in her own and gave a gentle squeeze. "Anna how did you escape?"
"I was not taken from my village" Anna said struggling to regain some composure, "I saw the raiders take my daughter and the other girls and I followed them. I was going to try to free them when a guard caught me. Traesus had me whipped and beaten to warn others not to try to free the girls. He gave me this to make sure people knew who they were dealing with," Anna said as she pulled the top of her dress back to reveal the T carved in her chest. "He's a monster!" Anna cried, "and he has my daughter!"
The woman couldn't take anymore and she broke down sobbing. Gabrielle tried to comfort her, but she was inconsolable. "What are we going to do Xena?"
"Free the village girls first, and then take care of Traesus." The Warrior Princess' eyes flashed with rage.
Xena checked Anna's bandages and gave the woman something to help her sleep. It didn't take long for Anna to drift into a deep sleep.
Xena and Gabrielle sit by the fire discussing how to free the girls.
"The first thing we need to do is find out where Traesus is keeping the girls," Xena said as she added some more wood to the fire.
"And then what?"
"I haven't worked that part out yet. Why don't you get some sleep Gabrielle and we'll talk about this in the morning after I have come up with a plan."
Gabrielle stretched out on her blanket to sleep while Xena sat down on Argo's blanket, leaned back against a rock, and started to formulate a plan for freeing the girl. Gabrielle was asleep in seconds, snoring softly. Xena looked over at her friend and smiled, but the smile faded away as Xena again thought about Gabrielle as a slave. She shook her head to clear the image and focused again on a plan to free Anna's daughter and the other slaves. Several hours later, when the fire had burned down almost to embers, Gabrielle was awakened by thrashing sounds and someone moaning, "no, stop!" Gabrielle looked around to see Xena's head jerking back and forth and her arms and legs twitching uncontrollably. Gabrielle instantly was by her friends side.
"Xena, Xena wake up!" Gabrielle said as she gently shook Xena's shoulders. Xena's eyes popped wide open and she sat straight up, sweat dripping from her face.
"Xena, you were dreaming, are you okay?" Gabrielle asked as Xena slumped back against the rock.
Xena looked up at Gabrielle with a pained expression on her face. Xena had almost lost Gabrielle several times during the past year and each time it felt as if her heart would literally explode. Now, she had just been awakened from a dream in which she had witnessed Gabrielle being whipped to death. Once again her heart felt like it would explode.
"Xena, what is it?" Gabrielle asked becoming concerned.
"Gabrielle, there is something that I never told you," said Xena hesitantly. "I know what your life would have been like if I hadn't stopped Draco."
"Do you remember the young boy I almost killed outside of the temple a few days ago?"
"Well I did kill him, and when I went back into the temple, the Fates appeared to me. They told me that if I wanted it, they could send me back and my life would be as if I never had taken up the sword. Because of that boy's needless death, I said yes. The only condition was that if I spilled blood in anger, the world would change back to the way it was."
"Xena, I don't understand, what does that have to do with me?"
"Gabrielle, if I had never taken up the sword I would not have been there to stop Draco. I was so happy to see Lyceus, that I didn't even think about it until....until you were brought to Amphipolis as a slave." Xena looked away from Gabrielle, not wanting her friend to see the pain on her face as she remembered seeing Gabrielle as a slave. Gabrielle gently took Xena's face in her hands and turned her back around. The pain in Xena's face brought tears to Gabrielle eyes.
"Gabrielle, you were so different!" Xena said as a tear trickled down her cheek. "You had tried to escape once and you had been whipped. In my dream, I saw you being lashed over and over until....." Xena buried her face in her hands, not wanting Gabrielle to see the tears that flowed so freely now. Gabrielle's heart ached for her best friend and she did the only thing she could, she put her arms around Xena and held her tightly. Seldom had she ever seen the Warrior Princess in such a fragile state. Gabrielle held Xena and stoked her hair until the Warrior finally fell asleep. Only then did she allow herself to relax and drift off.
The morning arrived to find Xena waking up next to Gabrielle. She turned her head slightly to see Gabrielle asleep on her shoulder, the bard's arms still wrapped around her. A smile crossed Xena's face as she looked at Gabrielle. The young woman had changed Xena's life in many ways, all for the better. Xena gently slipped out of Gabrielle's arms and went to check on Anna who was still sleeping soundly. She next checked on Argo and gave the horse some oats before taking her down to the stream that was about one hundred yards from the cave. Xena let Argo drink and graze on some of the sweet grass beside the stream while she set some snares, hoping that they would have something in them by dinner time. By the time Xena returned to the cave, Gabrielle was up and had the fire going.
Gabrielle looked up as Xena entered the cave, trying to read the expression on Xena's face. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, thank you Gabrielle" Xena replied as she looked warmly at Gabrielle who quickly responded with a smile of her own.
Xena went over to check on Anna, who was now stirring.
"How do you feel this morning?"
"I don't feel good, I am so cold" Anna replied shivering.
Xena tenderly place her hand on Anna's forehead, she felt very hot. "You lie still and I will get you another blanket." Xena picked up Gabrielle's blanket and carefully covered Anna with it.
"Xena, how is she?" Gabrielle asked when she saw the troubled look on Xena's face.
"She has a fever. I need to get some herbs to treat the infection. Gabrielle, will you watch her until I return?
"Sure Xena, how long will you be?"
"Not long. I should be able to find what I need without too much trouble. Will you see if you can find out where Traesus is holding the girls while I am gone?"
"Good, I'll be back soon." Xena said as she left the cave and saddled Argo.
"Anna, Anna can you hear me?"
"Oooohhhhh," Anna moans.
Gabrielle feels Anna's head. "You are very hot. I am going to try to cool you down." Gabrielle grabs some rags and one of the water skins. She soaks one of the rags with water, pushes the bandage that is on Anna's head back, and applies it to Anna's forehead. She soaks another rag and dabs it along Anna's throat and chest, carefully avoiding the T. As Gabrielle keeps repeating the process she starts to think about last night and she wonders out loud what else the Fates had shown Xena.
"Something must have happened to cause Xena to spill blood in anger, because she came back to this time. I wonder what happened? She said she was so glad to see Lyceus, so he must have been alive. But, for Xena to come back, wouldn't that mean that Lyceus would be dead again? I'm confusing myself. I guess I'll just have to find the right time to ask Xena about it."
"Ask me about what?"
Gabrielle jumped at the sound of Xena's voice. "I didn't hear you come back. Did you find the herbs?"
Xena just raised and eyebrow. "Oh, of course you did or you wouldn't be back so soon, silly me," Gabrielle said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
"Did you find out anything?" Xena said as she took fresh bandages out of one of Argo's saddle bags.
"No, she's pretty much out of it."
Xena sits down next to Anna and checks the wound above Anna's right ear. "This wound is healing nicely," Xena said as she tied a fresh bandage around Anna's head. "Anna..... can you hear me? We need to sit you up, okay?" Anna's only response is to softly moan. "Gabrielle, help me sit her up." Anna cries out in pain as Xena and Gabrielle sit the injured woman up. Once again, Gabrielle loosens the woman's dress and slips it down over her shoulders letting it drop to her waist. Xena carefully unwraps the bandages, taking care to avoid Anna's broken ribs. She crushes some of the herbs and carefully presses them into the wounds. Then she puts fresh bandages on and pulls Anna's dress back up around her shoulders. Xena carefully lays the woman back down and covers her up. "Gabrielle, will you take the rest of these leaves and make a tea."
"Do you think it will help?" Gabrielle as she takes the leaves from Xena's hands.
"I hope so. Anna's wounds can't be more that a day and half old and she couldn't have traveled far in that condition. I'm going to take Argo and see what I can find."
"How will you know where to look?"
"Anna came from the north, I'll start looking in that direction," Xena said as she climbed up on Argo's back. "Make sure Anna drinks that tea, okay. And Gabrielle," Xena said turning back around and giving Gabrielle a look that said she meant business, "stay in the cave!"
"You know, I'm not stupid Xena," Gabrielle said in an irritated voice as Xena rode off. The Warrior Princess didn't bother to turn around, she just raised one hand in the air and waved as she disappeared out of site.
"She should know by now that I can take care of myself," Gabrielle muttered under her breath as she prepared the tea.
The tea was ready in a few minutes. It had a terrible odor and Gabrielle figured it probably tasted worse that it smelled, but she trusted Xena and her knowledge about healing.
"Anna, you need to drink this tea. It will help your body fight the infection." Gabrielle carefully lifted Anna's head and held the cup to her lips. She gagged on the first sip, but Gabrielle convinced her to finish the tea. Anna immediately slipped back into a feverish state of semiconsciousness, oblivious to her surroundings.
Gabrielle, who was ravenous by this time, had a simple breakfast of figs and started practicing with her staff. As afternoon approached, Gabrielle checked on Anna. The fever had broken and she was resting more comfortably. Gabrielle continued to practice with her staff as the afternoon faded into evening. She had a feeling that she may need to use her staff soon. As the sun was about to set, she checked on Anna again. The injured woman's temperature had almost returned to normal and her breathing was slow and even. Just then she heard the unmistakable sound of hooves. Gabrielle grabbed her staff and raced out of the cave, taking a defensive position just behind the outcropping of rocks that hid the entrance to the cave. A wave of relief swept over Gabrielle as she saw Xena making her way up from the road.
"Xena!" Gabrielle said smiling, glad to see her friend return safely. "Did you find anything?"
"I found their trail. They are heading northwest. It didn't look like they were moving very fast. I think Traesus' main camp is over in a valley about a half day's ride from here. I saw smoke coming out of the valley from several fires and I'm sure that's him. If he is raiding the village on a regular basis, he can't be too far away. How is Anna?"
"She is much better. The fever broke and she's resting comfortable right now."
"I set some snares this morning. Will you take care of Argo while I check them?" Xena asked as she nimbly hopped off Argo's back.
"How come I always get the horse?" Gabrielle retorts briskly. Argo snorted as if she agreed.
"Would you like to clean and skin dinner?" Xena asks somewhat annoyed.
"No thanks, I'll just tend to Argo," Gabrielle replies, taking the reins from Xena.
Xena turned and walked toward the stream, not wanting Gabrielle to see the smile on her face.
Xena returned shortly with two rabbits ready to be cooked. The companions cooked dinner in relative silence, each absorbed in their own thoughts. Gabrielle was wondering how to ask Xena about the Fates and Xena was contemplating how to free Anna's daughter and the other girls. A loud moan brought them both back to the present. They both turned around to see Anna sitting up, one hand steadying herself and the other one holding her aching head.
"Anna, how do you feel?" Gabrielle asked as she quickly moved to Anna's side.
"A little better, thank you." Anna put both hands to her head, swooning. Gabrielle slipped her arm around the injured woman's shoulders, trying to steady her without hurting her. "Are you okay?" "Yes," Anna replied. "It was just a little dizziness. It's gone now."
Xena, who had said nothing up to now, spoke up. "Anna. are you hungry?"
"A little," replied the woman who could not remember the last time she had eaten.
Xena cut off a piece of rabbit and brought it over to Anna who accepted it with shaky hands. "I found Traesus' trail about a half day's ride from here, they were moving slowly so I don't think it will be hard to catch them. He must have a camp over in the next valley."
"What are you going to do?" Anna asked between bites.
"I'm going to sneak into their camp and free the girls first. I don't want the girls caught in the middle of a fight. I will take care of Traesus later, when the girls are safe, and I know more about that staff of his," Xena stated, her eyes flashing a brilliant blue.
"How are you going to take care of Traesus?" Gabrielle inquired.
Ignoring Gabrielle's question for the moment, Xena asked Anna, "How far is your village and is there a temple nearby?"
"My village is about a day's ride southeast from here and there is an abandoned temple to Athena just outside of the east end of town."
"Good, that should work well," Xena said, turning around and walking back to the fire.
"Xena!" Gabrielle said, trying to hide the annoyance in her voice, "Are you going to tell me what you have planned?"
Gabrielle new from the sound of Xena's voice not to pursue the matter. She turned around to see Anna holding her head in her hands, with tears silently running down her face. "Anna?" Gabrielle's voice was filled with concern.
"I'm sorry," Anna said through her tears. "I'm so afraid for my daughter. She's only 15!"
Gabrielle stroked the woman's hair, trying to comfort her. "Xena will free your daughter! I have seen her go up against the toughest warlords around and beat them every time!" Anna just looked at Gabrielle and Gabrielle could see the fear in the woman's eyes. This woman, who couldn't be more than a few years older than Xena, seemed to age right before Gabrielle's eyes. For once, Gabrielle had no idea what to say. She helped Anna lay back down and covered her up with a blanket. The injured woman looked so tired and Gabrielle new that the next few days would not be easy on her. Gabrielle joined Xena by the fire and cut off a piece of rabbit and started to eat.
Gabrielle glanced up at Xena and tried to read the expression on the Warrior's face. Xena wore her battle face and was impossible to read.
Xena could feel Gabrielle looking at her and knew the bard had many questions about what would happen next. But, she was unprepared for Gabrielle's question.
"Xena, what else did the Fates show you?"
Xena looked up, shocked at Gabrielle's question. She studied her friend for a moment, noticing how the light from the fire danced in Gabrielle's eyes. Xena considered Gabrielle's question and decided that she had the right to know.
Xena stared at the fire for a moment before speaking. "I walked out of the temple, I called for you, but you weren't there, then I saw Lyceus! I was so happy to see him alive and well." Xena smiles as she remembers him. "Lyceus was alive, but I found out that my mother had been dead for about 10 years." The smile fades from Xena's face. "Then I saw you as a slave." Gabrielle saw the pain flash across Xena's face and lightly put her hand on Xena's arm. "You belonged to Mazentius. I couldn't stand the thought of you being a slave, so I went to Mazentius' castle and I rescued you. That's when I found out that you had been lashed. I brought you back to my home and you told me that Mazentius, Krykus and Capucous were going to join forces. We were talking to Lyceus when Mazentius' guards burst in and we were captured. Maphius had betrayed us."
"Who's Maphius," Gabrielle asks.
"My betrothed." Gabrielle looked surprised. Xena continued, "He thought he was doing what was best. After we were captured he rescued us. We were still in the dungeon when we noticed that Lyceus was gone. He went to take on the warlords by himself. We followed him and a battle ensued. Lyceus kept trying to get me use a sword. I didn't want to because as soon as I spilled blood in anger, things would change back. You know that I have a lot of guilt about Lyceus and would do anything to keep him from dying." Gabrielle nods her head. "All through the battle Lyceus tried to get me to arm myself with a sword. He said I couldn't fight destiny." Xena paused and stared into the fire.
"Xena," Gabrielle spoke gently to her friend, "what happened to make you spill blood in anger?"
Xena looked up at Gabrielle with tears welling up in her eyes, "You picked up a sword and as Mazentius came at you, you....." Xena choked on the words. Gabrielle squeezed Xena's hand seeing the pain on her friends face. "you ran the sword through him." Gabrielle gasped with a shocked look on her face. "I couldn't believe my eyes Gabrielle! After that, I knew that Lyceus was right and I picked up a sword. End of story." Neither friend said a word for a long time. They just sat there, staring into the fire. Finally, Gabrielle broke the silence.
"Xena, do you regret your decision?"
"No Gabrielle, I don't. Now, are you ready to hear about my plan to free the girls?" There was a warmth in Xena's voice that made Gabrielle feel much better. She did not want to feel responsible for Xena coming back to a life filled with so much regret.
"Yes, what is the plan?"
"I want you to take Anna back to her village in the morning. You can take Argo. I don't think Anna can make it on foot. Once you make it to the village, I want you to round the women and children up and take them to Athena's temple. They should be safe there. Then I want you to rally the men and prepare the village for my return."
"What do you mean, 'prepare the village?'
"I want you to find a place in the village that can be used to trap Traesus' men. Block off the village so that I know just where to lead them. Have the village men find all of the weapons they can and place them in a position to surround Traesus' men. Tell the men that they are to do NOTHING until they hear my war cry. I don't want them to even LOOK at Traesus' men until then, understand?"
"I got it. What about Traesus' staff?"
"You just leave that to me," Xena said with a slight smile on her face. "Gabrielle, why don't you get some sleep."
Gabrielle grabbed her blanket, which was still over by Anna , and stretched out by the fire. She was asleep in minutes. Xena didn't like the idea of sending Gabrielle to the village alone, but what choice did she have? Anna could never make it on her own and Gabrielle could not free the slaves on her own. Xena sighed heavily, knowing that she had no choice. If Gabrielle could make it to the village safely, Xena was sure Gabrielle could convince the villagers to go along with the plan. Gabrielle could be very convincing when necessary. The big question was whether they could make it safely to the village. With that question hanging in her mind, Xena settled down to wait out the long night ahead. She knew she wouldn't get much sleep, as her nightmares were very disconcerting.
As usual, Xena was awake before dawn. She led Argo to the stream and let her eat and drink while she caught some fish for breakfast. The next few days would be long and everyone needed the extra energy the protein would provide. As Xena cleaned the fish, she again thought about sending Gabrielle and Anna off on their own. She still was not comfortable with the idea. Gabrielle has grown and improved a lot since they first met, but could she defend herself and protect Anna at the same time? Xena wasn't sure she could do that if they ran into too many raiders. Xena dismissed the thought and headed back to the cave, talking to Argo as they walked.
"Argo, I am going to send you with Gabrielle. Anna's wounds are too serious for her to walk back to her village. I need you to carry her, okay?' Argo nodded her head as if in agreement. "I want you to take care of them, understand?" Argo nodded again. "Thanks, Argo," Xena said rubbing the horse along the side of her neck. Xena tethered Argo to a rock and walked inside the cave. Gabrielle and Anna were still sound asleep. She put some dry tinder on the embers of the fire and gently blew on them until they ignited. Xena added some more fuel to the fire and prepared to cook the fish. The smell of cooking fish brought Gabrielle out of the dream realm and back to reality.
"Mmmmm. Sure smells good."
"I thought the smell of cooking food might wake you up." Xena said with a slightly amused look on her face. "The fish is done, will you wake Anna up?"
Gabrielle stood and moved to Anna's side. She listened for a moment to the injured woman's breathing. It was slow, steady and deep. She's getting better Gabrielle thought to herself. "Anna," Gabrielle said lightly touching the woman on the shoulder. Anna jumped slightly, not realizing were she was. "I sorry," Gabrielle said apologetically. "I didn't mean to startle you."
Anna sat up, "It's okay. It just took me a minute to realize where I am."
"How do you feel this morning?" Xena asked as she crossed over to Anna.
"A little groggy, but much better."
"That will wear off soon, it's a side effect of the herb tea. Let's see if you can stand. Gabrielle, take her other hand." With Xena on one side and Gabrielle on the other, Anna slowly stood up. She was a little wobbly at first, but was soon standing on her own.
"How about some breakfast?" Gabrielle asked as she walked Anna over to the fire.
"Sounds and smells good to me," Anna said as she carefully sat down on a rock next to the fire.
The three women ate in silence, each contemplating the possibilities of the next few days. Anna wondered if she would really get her daughter back and in what shape. She had heard horrible stories about slavers and the things they would do to slaves. Gabrielle worried about Xena going off to free the girls alone. What if she ran into trouble? Could she outrun the raiders on foot? Could she protect the girls and herself alone? Xena worried about Gabrielle. What if Xena's reputation preceded her? Would the villagers follow Gabrielle or take her prisoner? Xena could only hope that if the villagers wouldn't listen to Gabrielle, that they would listen to Anna. Xena was the first to break the silence. She told Anna of their plan and asked if she would help.
"Of course I'll help, Xena! I am so grateful that you are willing to risk your life to free my daughter and the other girls!"
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other, knowing that they were indeed risking their lives again. But, that is what they do. What ever it takes, to help innocent people. Each could see that the other was concerned, but they said nothing to each other. Xena and Gabrielle packed their belongings back into Argo's saddle bags. Xena took her weapons, a snare, one of the water skins and a meager amount of the remaining bread and cheese, leaving the rest for Anna and Gabrielle. She helped Anna onto Argo's back and took the reins. In silence, they all walked back down to the road. Xena turned and gave Gabrielle Argo's reins.
"Gabrielle, please be careful." Gabrielle could see the pleading look in Xena's eyes.
"I will." Gabrielle softly laid her hand on Xena's arm and gave a gentle squeeze. "You be careful too!"
Xena didn't answer, she was afraid that her voice would betray her. The growing fear she felt for Gabrielle's safety would surely show in her voice. The longer the two companion traveled, the more Xena came to love and appreciate her friend, her best friend. Xena stood there and watched as Gabrielle lead Argo down the road. When they were out of sight, Xena headed West. She wanted to circle Traesus' camp and come in from the West where there was better cover.
Xena was used to traveling light and she made good time. She found Traesus' camp way before dark and very carefully scouted it out. He was camped in a narrow valley. The girls were being held in a small cave at the end of the camp. There were few guards posted around the camp. There were two at each end and one guard on each hillside overlooking the camp. The rest of the men were milling about and seemed to be a ease. Many had skins of wine and were freely drinking. None of them seemed worried about an attack. Traesus, you fool Xena though to her self. There was plenty of cover and taking out the guards would be simple. Xena crept back over the hill and used the time to rest and eat something as she planned her next move.
Gabrielle lead Argo back down the road that she and Xena had come up a few days earlier. They eventually came to a fork in the road and took the fork on the left. Gabrielle looked up at Anna. The woman was still quite weak and she was tiring fast. Argo was doing her best to maintain a smooth gait, but Anna cringed everytime Argo had to change her gait because of the rough road. With just a few hours of daylight left, Gabrielle decided it was time to make camp. She lead Argo off the road and found a suitable campsite. By this time, Anna could barely stay in the saddle. Her head, back and ribs throbbed with each movement. Gabrielle carefully helped Anna of Argo's back. Anna could barely stand and could not walk without aid. Gabrielle slipped Anna's arm over her shoulders and put her arm around Anna's waist. Anna cringed at the pain, but Gabrielle was not strong enough to carry the woman and had no other way to move her. "I'm sorry Anna, but I don't know how else t! o do this." Anna could hear the sympathy in Gabrielle's voice and managed a faint, "I know." Gabrielle gently sa t Anna down. Anna slumped sideways against a rock, unable to fend off the exhaustion any longer. Gabrielle covered her with a blanket and left to gather some firewood. By the time Gabrielle came back, Anna was asleep. Gabrielle lined a pit with rocks and started the fire. Next she tended to Argo. After a meal of bread and cheese, Gabrielle settled in for the night. She placed her staff within arms reach and prepared to sleep. She looked into the fire and her thoughts drifted to Xena. Where are you my friend and are you safe? Gabrielle drifted of into a light sleep, trying to stay aware of her surroundings even in her sleep.
With the cover of darkness Xena made her way back down the hillside. The two guards on the hillsides were asleep. The first thing Xena did was to set the horses loose. She lead them quietly down the valley and with a whack on the rump of the lead horse, sent them galloping away. Xena cautiously crept back to the camp. No movement. Good, no one heard anything. The two guards at that end of the camp were still there, but very drowsy. With one quick flip of her chakrum, the two guards were knocked out and the ropes holding the barricade to the cave were cut. Xena grabbed the barricade and tossed it aside. The girls were so frightened that they couldn't say a thing, they just huddled together in the back of the cave.
"My name is Xena and I am here to take you back to your village. Come with me and be very quiet!" The look on Xena's face enforced her words. The girls very quietly followed Xena out of the cave and up the hillside. As they scrambled down the other side, they started whispering among themselves. Xena turned around and gave them 'the look' and they immediately stopped. "Don't say or do anything unless I tell you to, understand?" The girls slowly nodded their heads. Some looked very frightened while others simply looked relieved to be free. Xena lead the girls in silence for a long time. Towards dawn, the girls were exhausted and Xena let them rest under the cover of some thick bushes. She took a drink from the water skin and offered it to the girls. They all drank greedily and sat down to rest. One of the girls finally gained enough courage to speak to Xena.
"Who are you and how did you know where to find us?"
"A woman from your village named Anna asked me to free you." The girls who just spoken to Xena had a shocked look on her face.
"You.....you saw my mother? I thought she was dead!" The girl plopped down by Xena in a state of shock. "Is she okay?"
"Yes, my friend Gabrielle and I found her on the road. She was badly injured, but she will be fine. You must be Anna's daughter."
"Yes, my name is Dhillia."
Gabrielle awoke with the dawn. How does Xena do it she wondered? I still feel exhausted. Gabrielle stretched and decided to practice with her staff before waking Anna. The morning was warm and Gabrielle tried to remember everything Xena had taught her as she practiced. Focus, use your whole body to sense your surroundings, act don't react. Suddenly, she could 'feel' someone watching her. Gabrielle whipped around to see Anna sitting up, watching her. "You have the moves of a warrior, but you are not dressed as one and you don't act like one." Anna looked somewhat puzzled.
"I am not a warrior, but out of necessity, I have learned to defend myself."
"Who taught you?" Anna asked.
"Xena and the Amazons."
"The Amazons?" Anna asked incredulously.
"Yes, I am an Amazon Princes," Gabrielle said with a grin on her face. Anna just sat their looking shocked. "Would you like to hear the story?" Gabrielle asked please to have a willing audience.
Traesus wakes up very late because of the large amount of wine consumed last night. As he staggers out of his tent, he notices the barricade to the cave laying on the ground. "Guards!" yells Traesus at the top of his lungs, "the girls are gone! Find them now!" One of the guards comes up to Traesus, "Sir, the horses are gone." "What!" Traesus yell, his face turning bright red in anger. "Find them you idiot or I'll have your head!"
"All right Dhillia, it's time to move." Some of the girls moaned, but did not dare oppose Xena. They travelled for several more hours, obeying Xena everytime she told them to do something. Xena was trying very hard to hide their trail, but she wasn't very successful. The girls were not trained for such tactics. By afternoon, they had made it to the cave that Xena and Gabrielle had stayed in. "You can rest in here for a while, but we have to make it to your village before morning. Now stay here while I go round us up some food." Xena left the girls in the cave and went looking for some food. She returned shortly with a bunch of berries and the waterskin that she had refilled in the stream. "I know this isn't much, but it will have to do. I can't risk cooking something because Traesus might see the smoke." Xena kept only a hand full of the berries and gave the rest to the girls. they wolfed them down fast and Xena wondered how long it had been since they had eaten! . "Get some rest while you can, we have to leave soon."
Gabrielle and Anna are nearing Charea, Anna's village.
"And that is how I became an Amazon Princess."
Anna smiled at Gabrielle. She had found Gabrielle's story fascinating and it kept her from thinking about Dhillia. As Gabrielle and Anna approached the village, a man came running toward them from a field. Gabrielle grabbed her staff and moved between Anna and the approaching man. As the man approached, Gabrielle could hear him calling Anna's name. "Anna, Anna you're alive!" Gabrielle relaxed as she realized the man was not a threat. "Kaphus!" Anna cried as the man approached. Kaphus ran up to Argo and helped Anna off the horse.
"Anna, what happened? We thought you were dead!" Kaphus said as he gently hugged Anna.
"Gabrielle, I want you to meet my brother, Kaphus."
"Nice to meet you Kaphus."
"Gabrielle and her friend Xena saved my life." At the mention of Xena's name, a shadow crept over Kaphus' face. "Xena is okay Kaphus, she fights for justice now. She even went to free Dhillia and the other girls."
Kaphus turned to Gabrielle, "Is this true?"
"Yes Kaphus, and Xena has a plan to take care of Traesus, but we will need your help."
"You have it. Tell me what to do!"
"First, we need to find a place for Anna to rest, and then I will explain Xena's plan."
"Oh, of course," Kaphus said turning to Anna "I forgot for a moment that you were injured. Come, my house is nearby, we can talk there." Kaphus helped Anna mount Argo and lead the way back to his house. It was a modest home, but comfortable. Kaphus put Anna in bed, while Gabrielle put Argo in the stable out back. While Anna rested, Kaphus and Gabrielle talked in the kitchen. Kaphus told Gabrielle, that Anna's husband had been killed several years ago when he was thrown by a horse. All she had left were Kaphus and Dhillia. Gabrielle filled Kaphus in on Xena's plan. "We don't have much time Kaphus, Xena should be here in the morning and Traesus won't be far behind."
"We better go talk to the Village Elders. They should be at the Center right now."
"What is the Center?"
"It is the building right in the middle of town. It should be the perfect place to trap Traesus' army."
Kaphus and Gabrielle walked down the road to the Center. Inside the Center was a large room with an oval table. Seated around the table were four men who looked quiet old. Gabrielle hoped that they were as wise as they were old. Kaphus and Gabrielle stood their unnoticed. The Elders were debating what to do about Traesus when Kaphus spoke up, "Excuse me, but I think we might have a plan that will take care of Traesus." All eyes were suddenly focused on Kaphus.
"Kaphus, what are you talking about?" Kaphus looked nervous so Gabrielle piped up. "Hi, my name is Gabrielle. My friend and I were on our way north when we found one of your villagers wounded on the road. Her name is Anna." A gasp could be heard from the Elders, but no one spoke. "She was severely injured, but she will be fine. My friend and I took care of her and I just brought her back. She is resting at Kaphus' home."
One of the Elder spoke up, "Didn't Kaphus say something about a plan, and who is your friend and why is he not hear?"
"My friend is a she, and she is not here because she went to free your village girls. They should be here in the morning with Traesus' army close behind. That is why we need to hurry."
Another Elder spoke up, "Your friend is a she? And she went alone to free the girls? Who is this friend of yours?" Gabrielle could hear the suspicion in the Elders voice.
"My friend is Xena, the Warrior Princess."
Another gasp could be heard and the Elders looked at each other with horror.
"The Warrior Princess!" one of the Elder said, "I have heard terrible stories about her. I don't think we can trust her!"
Gabrielle knew she better do something fast, or the Elders would not cooperate.
"Yes, she has done terrible things in her past, but that is in the past. She now fights for justice and she does it without pay. If it were not so, I would not be with her."
The second Elder spoke up again, "I had heard a few stories from a traveler a while back, but I thought he was crazy. Are you telling me that the stories I heard were true?"
"I don't know what stories you were told, but I have been traveling with Xena for a while now, and I have seen her do a lot of good." Gabrielle could see things were turning her way. "If you want to know what Xena is like, you are more than welcome to go talk to Anna. She is one of your own so I know you would trust her."
The third Elder spoke now, "Kaphus, you are a good judge of character, do you believe this woman and should we do as she says?"
"I do believe Gabrielle, and I think we should follow Xena's plan. I know how else to defeat Traesus."
The Elders talked among themselves for a moment, and then the fourth Elder spoke, "You have our full cooperation. Just tell us what to do."
"Gabrielle, will you tell them about Xena's plan, I want to go check on Anna," Kaphus had a pleading look in his eye and Gabrielle sent him on his way. Gabrielle filled the Elders in on Xena's plan and they said they would take care of everything. Gabrielle left the center and went back to Kaphus' home. She found Kaphus sitting by Anna's side, holding her hand.
"How is she Kaphus?"
"She's fine, just tired." Kaphus smiled at Gabrielle. "How can I thank you for saving Anna's life?"
"I'm just glad that we were there to help," Gabrielle said smiling back.
"Gabrielle, there is food in the kitchen if you are hungry."
"Thanks, I am starved," Gabrielle said as she headed for the kitchen.
Xena let the girls rest for a while, but not to long. She knew Traesus' men wouldn't be far behind, even without their horses.
"Come on, we need to make it to your village by morning. We don't need to try to hide out trail now, I want Traesus and his men to follow us to your village." Xena could hear the girls gasp.
"But why?" Dhillia asked.
"Because by the time we get there, the villagers will have a trap set."
"What kind of trap?" one of the girls asked.
Xena ignored her question. She could feel the hair on the back of her neck standing up. Someone was close, very close. "Stay here!" Xena hissed as she unsheathed her sword. Very carefully, Xena made her way around the outcropping of rocks that hid the entrance to the cave. Two of Traesus' men were on the road. Xena could barely make out what they were saying.
"They've got to be here somewhere,"
"Yeah, but where, their trail disappears here?"
Xena sheathed her sword and slowly made her way to the road. She grabbed her chakrum and let it fly. The men had no idea what hit them and they dropped in there tracks. Xena made her way to the road and grabbed the first man under his arms. As she dragged the man back to the cave, she could see two dents in the mans helmet. A smile crept over Xena's face. So you were the same two men I knocked out last night. As Xena dragged the man into the cave, the girls stifled screams. Xena reassured them that the man was unconscious and that he wouldn't wake up for awhile. After dragging the other man to the cave, Xena tied them up with the snare and had one of the girls tear some material off of the bottom of her dress for gags.
"These two were just scouts," Xena told the girls. "Traesus can't be far behind. We must go now, and we must move fast." The girls nodded in agreement and followed Xena out of the cave.
"Kaphus," Gabrielle said, "I am going back to the Center to check on things. I'll be back soon to help you move Anna to the temple, okay?" Kaphus nodded in agreement and Gabrielle left the house, heading for the Center. Kaphus' house was on the outskirts of the village, and as Gabrielle walked toward the Center, she could see the wagons and carts that blocked access to the side streets. This is going nicely Gabrielle thought. As she neared the Center, she could she a group of people talking to one of the Village Elders.
"People, people, if you will just be quiet I will try to answer your questions!" Out of respect for the Elder, the people quieted down. "Now, we want everyone who can't fight to go to the temple. The rest of you gather all the weapons you can find and be back here before dawn."
One of the villagers piped up,"What about that staff that Traesus has? We can't fight if we can't move!"
Gabrielle, who had been standing there quietly until now, spoke up, "My friend will take care of Traesus' staff." The villagers turned around to look at Gabrielle.
"How will she do that without getting close to Traesus?" the same villager asked.
"With her chakrum. She WILL take care of it. All you have to do is stay behind the waggons and carts until you hear her war cry."
"Her war cry?" another villager asked.
"You will know it when you hear it, trust me. Now please, do as your Elders ask. The sun is going down and we don't have much time." There was something in Gabrielle's voice that made the villagers trust her and they all went on their way. As the last of the villagers left, Gabrielle spoke to the Elder. "Is everything set?"
"I think so," the Elder responded. All of the villagers have been told to take those who can't fight to the temple. The rest will gather the weapons that they can find and return here before first light. Do you think your friend is okay?" Gabrielle could see the concern the Elder had for the young girls of his village in his eyes. He was an old man, but his eyes were clear and the compassion Gabrielle saw in them was genuine.
"I'm sure that Xena and the girls are fine," Gabrielle said trying to reassure the man. The Elder turned and went back inside the Center to attend to the needs of his village and Gabrielle turned to head back to Kaphus' house. As she watched the sun approach the mountains in the west, her thoughts turned to Xena. Gazing at the direction that Xena would come from, Gabrielle wondered aloud, "Where are you my friend, and are you safe?" Gabrielle dismissed the thought as quickly as it came. She was sure that Xena and the girls were safe. She could feel it.
Xena could see the sun setting. They were making good time following the road. It was more dangerous to follow the road, but with the sun going down, they didn't have much choice. As the sky turned black, Xena stopped the girls for a rest. She climbed the tallest tree she could find. From that vantage point, Xena could see north up the valley, and she could see the lights. Dozens of them. Traesus men were on their way. Xena hopped down from the tree. "Traesus and his men are coming. We need to move now!" The girls looked at Xena and she could see that they were exhausted, but the prospect of being recaptured gave them new energy. It's amazing what adrenalin can do.
"Kaphus," Gabrielle called out as she entered his home. "We better take Anna to the temple now. The other villagers should be there soon." Gabrielle stepped into the bedroom to find Kaphus sitting by Anna. "There you are, is Anna still sleeping?"
"Yes. I don't want to wake her, but I have no choice. Anna, Anna can you hear me?" Anna moaned a little as her eyes fluttered open.
"How do you feel?" Kaphus asked.
"Tired, but I'll live."
Kaphus smiled at his sister and helped her to sit up.
"Kaphus, I will check Anna's wounds if you would like to get ready to leave.," Gabrielle said. Kaphus nodded and left the room.
"You look better than you did a few days ago," Gabrielle said, smiling at Anna.
"I feel better than I did a few days ago," Anna responded with a slight smile on her face.
Gabrielle sat down next to Anna and checked the dressing on Anna's head. "This looks good," Gabrielle said rebandaging the wound. "Now lets take a look at your back." Anna loosened her dress and Gabrielle slipped it over her shoulders. Slowly Gabrielle loosened the bandages. "Your back looks much better. I see no sign of infection now." Gabrielle bound Anna's back with fresh bandages and helped the woman into a clean dress that Kaphus had picked up earlier on his way home. At that moment Kaphus entered the room, "Are you ready to go?" Both women nodded in agreement and Kaphus moved to help Anna to her feet. Argo had been saddled and was waiting for them in front. Kaphus helped Anna onto Argo's back and the three headed for the temple. Gabrielle noticed that there were more wagons and carts blocking the side roads and many heavy tables that had been turned on their sides in strategic position.
As they approached the temple Gabrielle could see other villagers already there. By the flickering torch light, Gabrielle could see that most of the villager were women and children. There were a few old men but not many. Gabrielle tethered Argo to a post as Kaphus helped Anna dismount. There were more women and children inside the temple. Even though the temple was abandoned, it was still in good shape. Some of the statues had been pulled down, but the structure was sound. Anna was made comfortable and one of her friends said that she would take care of her. Kaphus and Gabrielle left the temple telling the villagers not to leave until someone came for them. As Gabrielle grabbed her staff out of it's place on Argo's back, she whispered in the horses ear, "She'll be back soon!" Argo whinnied in response as Gabrielle and Kaphus started toward the Center.
There were about 30 men and a few women at the Center. They all had some sort of weapon. A few had swords and some had spears, but most of them had bows. Many of the villagers grew up hunting in the forest and were adept with a bow. Most of the villagers had never been in battle and were nervous with what was about to take place. The Elders were sitting at their table and as many of the villagers as could fit, were in the room with them. They were all discussing what to do and could not seem to come to any agreement as to what strategy would work the best. Gabrielle and Kaphus made their way to the table to see if they could help. As they approached, one of the Elders caught sight of Gabrielle and in a booming voice said, "Why don't we ask this young lady. It was her plan and she might know what to do!" All eyes turned to Gabrielle. Xena had trusted her to get the village ready and she was not about to let a little thing like strategy get in the way.
"Good people of Charea, Traesus and his men will have to come down the road to the Center. All other avenues have been blocked off. If you will use the tables and the wagons to hide behind, we can trap Traesus and his men. Please don't look until you hear my friends war cry. Once you hear that, you can start fighting."
"What's this war cry sound like?" a villager asked.
"It sounds something like this. YIYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYI." Gabrielle gave her best impression of Xena's war cry and everyone's mouths dropped open. "Now please, everyone get in your places, I don't know exactly when this will start." Slowly the villagers filed out and took their positions. There was nothing to do now, but wait.
It was very late and the girls were very tired. They stumbled along as best they could with Xena urging them on. Traesus' men were not far behind and they were gaining on them. Dawn would break in a short time and Xena knew that if they didn't reach the safety of the village before that, Traesus would easily overtake them.
"Dhillia, how far is the village?" Xena ask in a hushed voice.
"Not far," the girl responded with a weary voice.
They came around a bend in the road and the forest melted into fields. Xena could see the village and noticed a man standing in the road. As soon as he saw them he started running in their direction. Xena moved to place herself between the girls and the approaching man. As the man came closer, Xena could see that he was not armed. Just the same, Xena drew her sword. "Who are you?" Xena asked in a menacing voice.
"My name is Jamus. I've come to take the girls to the temple," the man said slightly out of breath.
Xena sheathed her sword and spoke to the man in hushed tones. She then turned to the girls and told them to go quickly to the temple. As Jamus took the girls to the temple, Xena turned around and headed back down the road. She wanted to make sure that Traesus and his men would head into town. Jamus had said that everything was set. Now, to bait the trap.
Gabrielle and Kaphus were waiting and the Center when Jamus came running up. "They're back, the girls are back and they are safe and sound in temple."
"Were is Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"She headed back down the road."
"Hmm. She wants to make sure that Traesus and his men come straight into town. They will be here soon. We better tell people to get ready." Gabrielle grabbed her staff and found a place behind an overturned table that was directly in front of the Center. Word was passed up and down the lines and everyone nervously waited for Traesus to show up.
Xena moved off the road into the trees. She moved from tree to tree until she caught sight of Traesus and his men. Moving back through the trees, Xena stayed just ahead of the men until they were almost out of the forest. "YIYIYIYIYIYIYI," Xena cried as she executed a somersault with a half twist, landing right in front of Traesus. The utter look of shock on Traesus' face brought a smile to Xena. Xena looked Traesus right in his eyes, carefully avoiding looking at his staff.
Xena laughed in Traesus' face and turned around and ran back down the road toward the village.
"Get her!" Traesus yelled as he ran after Xena.
Xena ran just fast enough to stay ahead of Traesus. She wanted to make sure he followed her right into town. As Xena approached the village, the sun broke over the mountains to the east casting a warm glow over the town. The guard who had spotted Xena a few moments before had warned everyone that Traesus would be there momentarily. Xena ran down the main street and as she came to the blockade she did a front flip over the table and landed right behind Gabrielle. Traesus and his men came to a halt.
"Xena," Traesus said tauntingly, "I know your here! Come out while you have a fighting chance." Traesus held his staff in his left hand and his sword in his right. As he spoke, the eyes in the skull started to glow a dark amber and slowly turned bright red.
Xena knew she had to take out the staff, or the plan would fail. She unhooked her chakrum and stood up and threw it in one motion. "YIYIYIYIYIYIYIYI!" In order to hit the skull in the proper place to destroy the eyes, Xena had to look at the skull and after she let go of the chakrum, she was frozen in place. The chakrum flew true and cut the skull right in half through the eyes, and then embedded itself right above Xena's head in one of the Center's pillars. At the sound of Xena's war cry, the villagers came out of hiding. The archers quickly emptied their quivers into Traesus men and killed many instantly. After the archers were finished, the villagers rushed Traesus' men. Somehow, Traesus was left untouched and was fighting his way toward Xena. No one noticed that one of Traesus men had stayed farther back and had disappeared when the fighting started.
Gabrielle had jumped up with the rest of the villagers and was battling two men at once when she noticed that Xena wasn't moving. With a sweeping blow to the knees, she disabled one man. Changing her grip on her staff, Gabrielle spun around and caught the other man square in the chest sending his flying. As Gabrielle turned toward Xena, she could see Traesus raising his sword over his head. In a matter of seconds, Xena's head would be severed from her body.
"Noooooo!" Gabrielle cried out as she lunged at Traesus. In mid step Gabrielle shifted her grip on her staff. With both hands on one end of the staff she swung hard at Traesus' sword hand. She connected with his wrist and his sword went flying. Traesus yelped and turned around to face Gabrielle, drawing a dagger out of his belt with his left hand. "You'll pay for that little girl," Traesus scowled. Gabrielle stood in a defensive position, her senses on full alert.
"I am NOT a little girl," Gabrielle said swinging her staff and connecting with his injured wrist. Traesus let out another yelp and lunged at Gabrielle. Gabrielle easily deflected the blow and brought the other end of her staff around to connect with Traesus' midsection. Traesus quickly recovered and lunged again, coming at Gabrielle with an overhand slash. Gabrielle blocked the move and countered with a blow to his groin. Traesus doubled over and Gabrielle landed a blow to Traesus' head that sent him sprawling. Gabrielle approached the table that Xena was behind. He friend still had not moved and had a strange look in her eyes. "Xena! Xena!" No response. Gabrielle sensed a presence behind her and quickly brought her staff straight back without turning around. The staff caught Traesus in his belly and knocked the wind out of him. "Xena?" Gabrielle was starting to get concerned. Gabrielle heard a low guttural moan and turned to see Traesus staggering to his feet. Behind him, Gabrielle could see the villagers taking what was left of Traesus' men prisoner. Traesus raised his dagger high above his head and stumbled toward Gabrielle.
Irritated, Gabrielle growled at Traesus, "Why don't you just STAY on the ground!" and she cracked his skull with her staff. This time he didn't get up. Gabrielle maneuvered around the table to get to Xena. "Xena!" Gabrielle said, shaking her friends shoulders. Slowly, Xena turned her head to look at Gabrielle. "Xena, are you okay?"
"Yes," Xena answered slowly.
Kaphus came running up behind Gabrielle, "She will be able to move in a minute."
Xena slowly reached up and pulled her chakrum out of the pillar. "I think I am okay now."
"Good," Gabrielle said smiling, "I was starting to wonder."
"Thank you two for you help," Kaphus said. "Especially for taking care of my sister."
"Your sister?" Xena asked some what confused.
"Oh, that's right," Gabrielle said, "you two don't know each other. Xena, this is Kaphus, he is Anna's brother. Kaphus, this is my friend Xena."
Just then, Dhillia came running up, "Xena! Xena! Oh, uncle Kaphus!" Dhillia buried her head in her uncles chest, sobbing.
"Dhillia, what's wrong?" Kaphus asked.
"One of Traesus' soldiers is at the temple! He has a knife to my mother's throat and is going to kill her if we don't give him what he wants!" The blood drained from Kaphus' face.
"Take it easy, Dhillia. What does he want?" Xena asked.
Through her sobs, Dhillia told Xena that the soldier wanted every dinar in the town. "I am supposed to collect it all and bring it back myself." Dhillia said, a little calmer now.
"Then what?" Xena asked, switching into full warrior mode.
"Then he said he would leave without hurting anybody."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. They both knew that wouldn't happen. Turning to Kaphus, Xena told him to collect the dinars and put them in a small sack and then send Dhillia back to the temple.
"What are you going to do?" Gabrielle asked Xena.
"Give the man what he wants!" Xena said with a wicked smile on her face. "Come on Gabrielle," Xena said as she headed for the east end of the village.
At the east end of the village, Xena and Gabrielle moved into the forest to conceal their approach to the temple. As they approached the temple, they could see the soldier standing in the doorway with a knife in his left hand. The blade of the knife pressed into Anna's throat.
"Gabrielle, I want you to go back to the village and wait for Dhillia. Tell her she must stay 5 paces away from the soldier, and when he asks for the money she must throw it to the left of him, understand?"
"Sure thing, Xena," Gabrielle said as she melted back into the forest.
Xena maneuvered to the rear of the temple where she could get to the roof. The temple was designed to look like a rectangle with a box on top of it. This allowed for a higher ceiling in the center where the alter was located. With a short running start, Xena somersaulted on to the lower section of the roof. Carefully she made her way to the front of the temple. She could see the soldiers left arm and leg but nothing else. Looking up the road the leads back to the village, Xena could see Dhillia. Xena also noticed movement behind her and to her right and her head snapped in that direction. Gabrielle was making her way around the backside of the temple. Gabrielle disappeared out of sight as she moved to the south side of the temple to wait for Xena's move.
When Dhillia was 5 paces away from the soldier she spoke, "Here's your dinars, now please let my mother go!" and she threw the sack of money to the left side of the soldier as she been instructed.
The soldier threw Anna to the ground and grabbed for the money. As he did he felt two boots land square in his back. He fell on top of the money with a grunt and his knife went flying. Xena hopped of his back and drew her sword and slowly twirled it in a figure eight pattern. Gabrielle came around the side of the temple and with Dhillia's help, they picked Anna up and moved her into the temple.
"It's not nice to pick on women and children," Xena said smirking at the soldier. "Didn't your mother ever teach you any manners?" The soldier leapt to his feet and drew his sword.
"I'll teach you manners." the soldier growled and lunged at Xena swinging his sword in an overhand chop. Xena easily deflected his blow and kicked him hard in his chest. The soldier quickly recovered and sneered at Xena, "When I'm through with you, you'll look worse than that woman over there!" he said flicking his sword in Anna's direction. Xena's eyes flashed a brilliant blue and the rage she was feeling was evident on her face.
"You did that to her?" Xena asked in a hate filled voice.
"Yes, and I'm going to do that to you too!"
Xena could no longer contain her anger and vaulted over the soldiers head, coming down behind him. Before he could move, Xena planted her foot hard in his back and the soldier fell flat on his face. Quickly he jumped up and came at Xena. He swung his sword hard and leveled it right at Xena's head. Xena ducked and kicked the soldier in his side as the momentum of his swing carried his body around. He staggered backwards holding his ribs. The soldier was wild with rage now and was not thinking clearly. He came straight at Xena with the intention of running her through, but Xena had other ideas. With two hands on the hilt, she brought her sword up hard from right to left, and severed the soldier's hand off at the wrist. Sword and hand both went flying. The soldier howled in pain as he dropped to his knees. The villagers quickly tied his wrist off and then tied his arms together, dragging him off to prison.
Leaning on Kaphus and Dhillia, Anna made her way over to Xena, "Thank you, Xena. You have saved my life twice and more importantly, you saved my daughter. How can I ever repay you?"
"Your thanks is enough," Xena said looking rather uncomfortable.
One of the village Elders approached Xena. "We have few dinars, but we would like you to take them as payment for your services," the Elder said as he tried to hand Xena the sack of dinars that Dhillia had collected.
Xena, looking very uncomfortable now, refused to accept the bag of coins. "I am not a hired sword. Justice is the only reward I seek."
"Very well, then accept our thanks and know that both of you are welcome in Charea any time," the Elder said smiling.
Xena nodded at the Elder and turned to Gabrielle who was now by her side. "We'd better get moving. Where is Argo?"
"She's stabled at Kaphus'. I'll show you were she is."
Argo whinnied when she saw Xena approach and pawed at the ground letting Xena know that she was ready to go. Xena patted the horse's neck and talked softly into her ear. It always amazed Gabrielle how well those two communicated. Xena saddled Argo and the three of them prepared to leave. As were coming around the corner of the house, Dhillia came running up.
"Xena," she said a little out of breath, "I wanted to see you before you leave. I want to thank you for freeing me and the other girls from Traesus. I also want to thank you for saving my mother's life. She told me how you and Gabrielle found her on the road and helped her. Thank you so much!" Dhillia said hugging Xena.
"Your welcome, Dhillia," Xena and Gabrielle said in unison. Dhillia looked at the two of them and laughed.
"You two must really be good friends!" Dhillia said as she went running off to look after her mother.
Xena climbed on Argo's back and headed out of town with Gabrielle walking beside her in her usual place. Xena was very tired so she didn't mind that Gabrielle wasn't talking much. The bard was going over the events of the past few days in her mind, trying to work out the details and create a great story. The journeyed on until lated afternoon with Gabrielle mumbling to herself the whole time trying to get the story right.
"Gabrielle, I think it's time to make camp. I'm tired and I need to rest."
"You must be exhausted," Gabrielle said looking up at Xena. "You haven't slept in several days. Why didn't you say something earlier?" Gabrielle chided.
Xena just looked at Gabrielle with a half smile on her face. They moved off the road some distance and made camp. This time, Gabrielle set the snares and then she collected the wood they would need tonight for the fire. By the time she got back, Xena was dozing with her back against a tree. Always the warrior, Xena had one hand resting lightly on her chakrum. Gabrielle practiced with her staff for a while and then checked the snares. Much to her surprise, each snare had a rabbit. "Wonderful," Gabrielle thought to herself, "now I have to clean them." Gabrielle shuddered at the thought of skinning and cleaning the rabbits but she did want Xena to rest so she set about her task. A short time, and a few curses later, Gabrielle had the rabbits ready to cook. She started the fire and waited for it to burn down some before cooking their dinner. Xena, who had been sleeping this whole time, stirred at the smell of the cooking rabbit. She looked at the cooking rabbits and ! them up at Gabrielle with a quizzical look on her face.
"Yes," Gabrielle said somewhat annoyed and a little guilty, "I did it."
Xena just smiled and moved over by her friend. After a nice meal of rabbit, fresh bread from one of the villagers, and dates, the friends sat back and let the warmth of the fire sink into them.
"You handled Traesus very well today," Xena said as she glanced over at Gabrielle.
"You saw that?" Gabrielle said with astonishment.
"Yes, I could see, I just couldn't move."
Gabrielle smiled at the praise she had just received.
"You saved my life," Xena said in a voice thick with emotion.
"Yes, I guess I did," Gabrielle said quietly as she looked deep into Xena's eyes. At that moment, each one gained a greater appreciation for the other. Xena realized that Gabrielle could take care of herself and that sometimes, she could take care of Xena. And Gabrielle realized that when Xena protected her, that it was done out of love, and not out of a sense of responsibility.
Gabrielle looked up at the star filled sky and wondered out loud, "I wonder what adventure tomorrow with bring."