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Part 4 of War of Silence
Chapter 16 : "The Whistle"
Xenobius climbed down from his spotted gray and let the animal move to drink from the water by the falls. "Fill the waterskins as long as we are here," he commanded to neither Talus or Stephen in particular. He stifled a morning yawn and ignored the glares of his two traveling companions. "I am no fool; I know they dislike my leadership here and my slow results," he mused as he splashed water on his face and let it fall through his sandy colored beard. "She is close .. so close that I feel her."
"If I have to put up with him much longer I will give Hades an early guest," Talus muttered under his breath as he filled one waterskin and then another.
"Talus, when we get the girl I have a plan," Stephen whispered as he crouched on one knee in the sand and filled his waterskin as his brown war-horse drank his fill. "You can take care of him then"
A shrill whistle broke the morning stillness, and birds scattered out of the trees at the offending sound. "Over there ..its coming from over there..." Xenobius called over his shoulder as he ran through a row of overgrown bushes, sword already in hand. Talus and Stephen slowed to a walk as they heard their guide's distinctive laughter.
"Damn, you're good, Xenobius... its payback time commander, " he thought to himself as he stared at the wild eyed strawberry blond who continued to blow a home made whistle with all her breath. You're next, Xena, he thought to himself sword raised, he stepped forward and prepared to decapitate the girl.
"Nooo, Xenobius," Stephen snarled. He grabbed a whip a his die and snapped away the man's sword just before it hit the delicate neck. Xenobius reached for his dagger in outrage, causing Stephen yelled at the top of his lungs. "Talus has a score to settle with her. Xena has to be close and is bound to have heard the whistle. Go hold her off ...please" Stephen finished the last word through gritted teeth.
"Save some for me," Xenobius warned as he headed for the caves exterior at full run. He had a score to settle, and this was working far better than he had anticipated. "Those fools...the Warrior Princess is as good as dead.. I have my own score to settle," he thought as he laughed to himself in haughty self-confidence.
The woman warrior tugged sharply on the mare's reins and listened again for the direction of the sound. Louder again, it echoed through the forest. Its call her guide, she clicked the inside of her cheek and stirred Argo forward. "Was she hurt? Had she woken up alone and been afraid? Was she in danger?" Xena pushed her questions to the back of her mind as she urged Argo up a steep incline at a quick trot. She leaned forward in the saddle spurring the animal's legs to move faster with her voice, "Come on, Argo! A little faster, Girl!"
Her hair stood on the back of her neck as she crested the incline. Argo's ears drew back towards her, and gave the seasoned warrior a second alert. Danger lay in her path. Xena quickly reached above her head and drew her sword from its scabbard on her back. Argo snorted nervously as she slowed the horse's pace abruptly to a complete stop. The warrior's hazy blue eyes narrowed, and her demeanor grew hard masking her fear for Gabrielle. She allowed only the deepest part of herself to listen for the wooden whistle's call.
Xena shifted back in the saddle as a cross-bow's arrow landed in a pine tree a foot away. The Warrior Princess vaulted quickly out of the saddle and motioned Argo out of harm's way with a pat on the rump. Not one for defensive fighting, Xena leapt forward with a battle cry that startled the arrow's sender. She now stood behind the shooter with a wild look in her eyes. "A good fight is just what I neeeeed!" her mind screamed as her heart fought the urge to cut down this opponent just where he stood.
"Turn around," she ordered her opponent as she pressed her sword into his back to make her point.
"Xenobius.......so what rock did you crawl out from under?"
"Xena, you wound me. It's been so long. How have you been since you threw me out of your army?"
"Who are you working for this time, Xenobius ? .... You don't have the resources to come out after me on your own."
"No more talk, commander....I have a score to settle," Xenobius countered as he backed a few paces back and drew out his sword. Xena twirled her sword as she spoke. "I don't want to fight you, but I will if I have to... just tell me who you are working for and why."
Xenobius answered her with a charge, aiming his sword for Xena's heart only to have it countered with a stiff kick to the face. He shook his head to clear it and charged again only to be thrown backwards ten feet. The Warrior Princess was done with playing games. She could no longer hear Gabrielle call to her with her whistle, and she needed to get to her. She jabbed the man's throat and waited. "You know what I have done and that you will die in thirty seconds unless you tell me what I want to know." Xena lowered her sword and placed a bored expression on her face as she stood with her boot on the man's chest. "The name, Xenobius.....give me the man's name."
Precious seconds ticked by as a contest of wills insued. Blood ran out of the man's nose; yet he made no effort to speak. Xena watched, her anger rising as the stubborn man refused to speak and let his life force drain from his body. "Damn you, Xenobius, the name....I need the name," she yelled. She let her concern for Gabrielle loosen the hold of her usual stoic composure. Twenty seconds passed, and the man was growing pale, Twenty-five, and Xena moved over to release her pinch. At the release , Xenobius laughed aloud .
"Lost your stomach, have you, Warrior Princess?" he rasped at the figure who still stood over his sprawled out form, "I win," he whispered as energy given only by Ares himself caused him to leap upwards . Xena almost missed the hidden dagger inside his vest as he moved to impale her stomach. Her senses keenly alert, Xena's sword entered the man's chest and she side-stepped the errant dagger
"Stupid, why did you have to always be so stubborn?" she mumbled aloud as the life left the man's body.
.."Arcas," Xenobius whispered as Hades called him to Tartarus. "His name is Arcas."
Chapter 17:"War of the Soul"
With a tease of the fingertip it tickles me once more
With a scratch of my soul it reminds me with pain
It constricts with my heartbeat as my life-blood flows
It releases as sudden as the breath I hold
It holds my heart in its icy palms
It toys with my every desire
Fear is its ally but one I shun
I judged myself long ago
I no longer fear the crushing blows
Tight O'r my soul it grips with each beat
Friend or foe, justice or not
So clutches the hands of death.
"Cut it out will you, she will be no good to us dead"
"What in Tartarus are you talking about? Its payback time."
"Talus, drop that whip and listen to me a second" Stephen's voice was almost pleading as he walked to stand beside his companion. He looked down at the fresh blood that was already staining the white coarse shift. "Do you want the Warrior Princess to hunt you down like a dog? You weren't there at Troy with Helen like I was. Wouldn't it be much easier if we have the Warrior Princess on our side because of this girl?"
"Keep talking," Talus answered. He let go of the whip with one hand and released the girl's hair with the other. Her face dropped with a thud on the cave floor.
Talus stuffed several daggers and a new whip into his saddle bag . He smiled again at the genius of Stephen's plan . Nikkos and Stephen had worked very hard with the girl; it was bound to work. As he picked up his waterskin to refill it the nearby waterfall, he looked into the forest. He hoped that Xenobius had done his part to keep the Warrior Princess away from the cave for a little while longer. Just in case, I will stay here near my horse and the trees, he thought to himself. He inwardly blanched at the thought of being an easy target for the Warrior Princess and her famed chakram.
"I need your help in here, Talus" Stephen called from inside the cave's interior, "Bring the medallion and the dagger out of my saddlebag." "Thanks now watch the door and be quiet," Stephen ordered as he accepted both of the items he had requested. He looked down at the girl who lay beside a large wooden crate. Gabrielle stiffened as the familiar item was placed around her neck.
"Remember that huh?....good; then this will be easier." Stephen moved the blond hair from the girl's face so their eyes matched each other in intensity. "You know that I would find you. She can't protect you all the time." He raised his hand in a sharp slap to her puffy lips. "That whistle was so helpful, my dear. It led me right to you"
"Death is too good for the likes of you...nooo, Talus and I would much rather see you suffer over and over again." He jabbed his fist into her stomach and watched with amusement as her body doubled over and she coughed silently.
"You are such a pathetic creature, can't talk, can't even fend for yourself anymore....Do you think Xena really wants the likes of you hanging around her?...You don't care much about her, do you?" Stephen smiled as he saw the blond lashes drop as she refused to meet his gaze. "You are one of the living dead. I won't kill you. I like to see you suffer. Your friend won't ever be able to end your pain, and she won't be able to protect you all the time. I will see to that." He fingered the medallion on her neck.
"How does it feel to already be a trophy for Ares?" Stephen gave her
another sharp slap to the face before he rose. He let the dagger he was
holding drop at the girls side.
"Let's go Talus. Gabrielle we will see you later."
Stephen kicked out the fire as he left. The darkness dug deeper into the bard's wounded soul and fertilized with the blackest of thoughts. Her own life she now saw as death and her death as life.
Chapter 18: "Illumination"
"Gabrielle, Gabrielle," the warrior yelled as she galloped through the forest . She could not help but feel an intense dread. The whistle that had rung out so strongly when she first headed to camp had died out in the middle of her duel with Xenobious. Xena knew that meant only one thing: trouble. Birds flew out of the trees with alarm as the Warrior Princess and her golden mare charged the campsite. She cared little for stealth right now. Urgency had long ago replaced it as a tactic. Her sword was raised above her head as she entered her former weapon site. Her blue eyes traveled the whole perimeter looking for the other two war-horses that were in the area. Two sets of tracks led away in the opposite direction.
"They have been here all right, "she thought as she rode Argo through the bushes right to the cave's wooden doors. "If they took her they are dead men," she thought as she maneuvered the horse right through the cave's wooden frame. Morning sunshine was just beginning to illuminate the darkened interior. Always expecting an ambush, she halted Argo at the break of the sunbeams and the darkness. The sound of her own breathing mixed with the horse's panting. Fear crept into her as she strained to hear more. The soft sounds to which she had become so accustomed sounded like beautiful music. "She is alive and still here," the ex-warlord exclaimed . Noting no other unusual sounds, she cautiously climbed from the horse. Her eyes blinked, adjusting to the dimness as she strode forward.
"I must look a fright," Xena suddenly realized as she felt the Xenobious's sticky blood on her arms and legs. She purposely lowered her sword a little while she stumbled to the dying embers on the floor . Crouching she stirred the embers to life. "I'm here, Gabrielle" she whispered in a voice strained but calm. She nursed the flames till they blazed anew.
"Gods!" she stuttered as the room darkness disappeared and a lone figure
who sat by several large crates came into view.
Chapter 19: "Silent Battle"
I longed for gentle death
To steal my fear.
A coward's prayer;
Or, failing this,
That madness mask
Reality for all my years.
Hands pulled me back,
Strong arms enfolding me
Against your chest,
Your heart the drum
That beat a cadence
For my soul,
Drumming me forgiveness
For my pain
And forcing mute acceptance
Of my fate: to live again.
Xena's blue eyes widened in apprehension as they focused with the firelight. Blood dripped down the shaking hands of the figure, whose golden hair acted as a curtain between herself and the world. It covered her face like a warm blanket that provides a haven to a child to hide within after a bad dream. "This is no dream," Xena reminded herself. She hesitantly stepped forward and looked down at the bard's clenched fists.
"No, not her, she wouldn't," Xena uttered. Shock registered in the way her voice raised and lowered. "She is just scared; that's it," she told herself silently as she replaced her own sword in its scabbard and slowly stepped forward.
"Everything is okay, Gabrielle.....you are safe....I am here....it's Xena." Xena spoke as she focused on the movements of the girl's fists. "Put the knife down Gabrielle," she commanded softly. Her breath quickened as she saw the blood flow faster through the fingers that held the dagger.
"She is shutting me out; she is not listening to me" Xena said as a sense of helplessness hit her. The warrior's strides halted as the dagger flashed in the air in silent threat over Gabrielle's heart. The warrior's thoughts raced with tactics and plans. "My chakram would only knock the dagger further into her chest if I threw it." She whispered to herself as she stood completely still, afraid to move. She knew her only weapon that was of any practical use right now was her voice. She needed to reason with Gabrielle. "But how do you talk to someone who can't or won't talk to you?"
"Why are you giving them what they want? The Gabrielle I know is a fighter not a quitter. Why are you quitting? Does my love for you mean so little to you that you taunt me now with threats of death? Do you love me so little?" she added as she spat out in anger and fear.
With the last question, the dagger began to shake in the girl's hand. Her head raised slightly so she could view the emotional warrior.
"I can't do this for you Gabrielle" Xena said quietly. She moved a couple more steps before sitting down to face her friend. "Since all of this happened, I have soothed your fears and pains. There are things you are going to have to do for yourself. I can not make you want to live any more than I can remove all the painful memories you are facing. My love cannot rescue you from this. Only your own heart can."
"Take a risk, trust in your self worth and my promise of love to you." Xena's voice shook with emotion as she reached out her long arm. "Hand me the dagger. I am not your threat . . . your own fears are."
Minutes seemed like hours as Xena's blue eyes bore into the yellow veil of hair and Gabrielle fingered the common looking dagger. Behind her she heard Argo's snort, the sound of birds and the gentle waterfall. All the sounds gave a false sense of peace while a huge battle scene was taking place within a locked soul. A quiet battle but none the less fierce. Xena knew in her heart that, if Gabrielle truly wanted to be dead, she would be by now. Gabrielle only needed to start fighting to get her life back.Xena jumped in shock as the dagger flew across the room with all the force the weakened girl could muster. Her own eyes teared up as green eyes met her gaze. A second later, Xena was there holding a shaking Gabrielle in her arms.
"I love you," Xena whispered as she wiped away a stray tear that fell from the green eyes. "We both are going to fight this one now. They have already lost. You just saw to that."
As she held her returned companion, her hand hit a strangely familiar object around the girl's neck. "Ares!" she yelled in disgust. She carefully removed the object, then recklessly threw it to where the dagger to the other side of the cave.
Chapter 20: "Xena's Battle Plans"
"It's not so bad, Gabrielle," Xena answered as she dabbed more paste on the girl's swollen back. "You have just torn open some welts ..if you behave, they should heal fine just the same," she added trying to sound positive. The two companions sat in uneasy silence as the Warrior Princess wrapped the back with fresh bandages and then gently dabbed her paste on her friend's new gashes and bruises on her face. Her heart seethed at the thought of her best friend being used once again. "By the end of the night, those scum will be mine," she thought as she formulated her plan mentally. "Undoubtedly, they have never heard of the wrath of the Warrior Princess"
A small tap of a finger on her leg brought her back from her vengeance. "Yes Gabrielle?" the ex-warlord answered as she met her friends concerned green gaze.
"Hey, don't worry about me, Gabrielle; I am not going to let them win against me either," she answered softly as she opened the bards palm to inspect the dagger cuts placed there earlier in the sun's zenith. "This is not just your war, my friend. All through this, I have been manipulated and goaded into situations where I had to choose to give into the dark side....look at me, Gabrielle," the warrior asked quietly as she poured a liberal amount of wine on the open slashes in the palms. Their gazes locked as the liquid ran over the bard's open skin . Both shared the unspoken moment of pain before Xena's thumb made a quick wipe of a green eyed tear. "I continue to fight, my battle wages on." The warrior blinked back her own angry tear as she tore a strip of bandage and wrapped it around the bard's hand.
After she had swallowed the wine and herbs the warrior had prepared for her, the bard pointed across the room to the medallion. It only reiterated to the warrior how much at a loss both were without the bard's voice. Gabrielle could not even tell her right now what had transpired in the cave before she rode in on Argo. The new bruises and cuts were enough of tell-tale sign to her though. Her Gabrielle had been abused once more and encouraged to end her own life. Normally full of life, the bard had experienced loss of her voice, physical abuse and the gods know what else, Xena thought as she put away her medical supplies lost to her own mind. Even Gabrielle had been tempted to, to,.. enough! Xena told herself as she noticed a bandaged hand pull her down on the ground by the blankets and fire.
"Gabrielle, I've got to go.." the warrior answered, put out at the young bard until their eyes met, and Gabrielle tapped on her lap . "What?" Xena queried impatiently as the bard tapped again on the warriors upper legs, her green eyes flickering uncertainty and shyness.
"Oh?" Xena smiled remembering her open invitation to hold her friend on her lap anytime. "Come on; its okay" the older woman encouraged the younger and smiled as the younger immediately grabbed a blanket and settled down into her secure spot with a silent sigh on her lips. Blinking, the younger woman once more pointed at the medallion on the opposite end of the cave floor.
"Okay, I will tell you about it ..then I want you to go to sleep, okay?" Xena watched as the younger girl blinked sleepily and tried to stay awake for the Warrior Princess's story.
That is a medallion given by Ares personally to only his favored warriors. I had one and wore it up to the time I tried to kill Hercules. Mine was lost when I gave it to a besotted fool who I asked to kill Hercules for me.
The warrior breathed a guilt-ridden breath as she thought of her past demons. She shook her head forcefully, trying to clear the ghosts away and looked down at her nearly asleep companion. "Promise me Gabrielle, no more stunts like this morning, Promise me!" Xena encouraged as she shook her own legs to keep her friends attention for a few minutes more. Xena grunted satisfied as she watched the bard nod her head before drifting off.
Someone is working very hard to see me turn back to my ways...that's it! Even Gabrielle's suicide attempt was to get me to go back to the dark side.... The medallion was just their way to make sure I remembered the past....Now the question is "Who and Why, the warrior thought to herself as she stroked the blond hair.
"Well its time to set some traps...Huh Gabrielle? "she whispered, " real big traps." The warrior smiled an evil smile as she continued to stroke the blond hair. "Gabrielle, they will never bother you again!"