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Disclaimer: The character of Xena and Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal and Renaissance. No copyright infringement was intended.
Violence and subtext reflect the guidelines established by the television series. This story is the third of series starting with Turning Point.
by R. Az
"Why do you suppose Memexenus sent for us, Xena?" puzzled Gabrielle as she walked beside her friend's mount swinging her walking staff forward with each step.
Xena looked down at her traveling companion. Gabrielle was small and blond and her round innocent face often made people misjudge her abilities. Xena knew she had. But Gabrielle had proven to her that she had incredible strength within her heart and was a brave and loyal friend. Xena smiled, "I don't know Gabrielle. When last our paths crossed he told me if he ever saw me again he'd cut my tongue out," replied Xena dryly.
Gabrielle glanced up at her friend with a startled look. What she saw was a warrior clad in dark leather and armored. She carried plain but deadly weaponry and she could use each item with dangerous accuracy. Xena was tall and dark and her eyes a piercing sea-blue. She moved with a lethal grace and her body was strong and sensuous. "You do seem to bring out the best in people's personalities," Gabrielle sighed with a smile, "What did you do to him in your bad days of being a warlord?" probed Gabrielle. She wanted to know exactly what they were getting into. Xena was always honest with her but a great conversationalist she wasn't. The only way to get the whole story was to question her.
Xena shrugged and looked uncomfortable, "It had been a hard winter and my army was starving. So we took some of Memexenus' cattle," confessed Xena deliberately not looking at Gabrielle.
"How many?" asked Gabrielle forcing Xena to talk about it. Xena grimaced and looked at her friend. A slow flush spread across her face. "We stampeded a few hundred across the country side. I guess we damaged a lot of his crops," murmured the Warrior.
Gabrielle shook her head in disgust, "Just like a warlord, no sense of proportion," she muttered. Then she looked up at Xena and smiled gamely, "Just as a matter of interest you know, so I can be prepared. We are not walking into some sort of trap here are we? Because if by chance I'm going to be served tongue for dinner, I'd like to change into something more formal."
Xena laughed down at her friend, "No, its O.K. Memexenus' message came via King Lysis who I know I can trust. But Memexenus must be in real trouble if he is turning to me for help," frowned Xena, "He was, as a younger man, a great warrior and grew into a fair and just ruler. I don't see what problems he might be having that he couldn't handle himself."
Gabrielle nodded and changed the subject, "I've been having this really weird dream lately," confessed Gabrielle and Xena looked down at her with a worried frown. Her gentle friend had suffered greatly from the memories of their battle with Dahak and the damage it had caused that had scared all their lives. Gabrielle saw the look of worry and sad guilt that flashed across her partner's face. "No, its O.K. I..It's not like I've had," reassured Gabrielle touching her friend. "It's just a dream and you are not in this one. I'm a warlord, you see..."
Suddenly, Xena dove from her horse onto Gabrielle and rolled her clear as arrows whistled over head. Gabrielle lifted her face from the mud and looked at Xena who lay beside her, "Another warm welcome from one of your friend's, I see," she snapped as the two friends moved forward to do battle with the four ambushers. Gabrielle fought off one with her stout fighting staff and Xena pulled out her sword from the scabbard on her back and charged at the three remaining soldiers. Her sword clashed with the three blades and she raised her foot and sent two of the swordsmen flying. With a flick of her strong wrist she smashed her blade down hard on her remaining opponent's sword and while he was still off guard her lightening reflexes brought the broadside of her blade up to slam into the side of the soldier's head. The man looked stunned and then his knees buckled and he dropped. With a cry one of the remaining soldiers leaped on Xena from behind while the other ran at her. Xena kicked out with her boot and caught the man low in the groin. He doubled up in pain. She twisted to throw the other soldier off her back but he was too strong. He lifted a knife over her shoulder and brought it down to rip her throat out. Xena grabbed it just in time and was struggling to hold the blade off her skin when Gabrielle, who had knocked her own opponent out, ran over and hit him with a batter's swing across the shoulders. He too fell. The first man Xena had hit staggered to his feet and looked around and then with a look of fear he turned and ran, disappearing into the forest around them
"You O.K.?" asked a concerned Gabrielle looking at her friend closely. Xena nodded and placed a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and smiled her thanks. Two of the remaining attackers wobbled up to their feet and fled off but as the last rose slowly to his hands and knees, Xena reached down and grabbed him by the hair picking up his knife and now holding it to his throat.
"You tell me what I want to know or I'm going to do to you what you tried to do to me," growled Xena. The man nodded in fear. "Who is your leader?" asked Xena leaning close.
"I...I..It's Phaedrus." stuttered the terrified man. Xena looked sharply at Gabrielle and then back at the soldier.
"Phaedrus was Memexenus' first officer. What's going on here?" Xena snarled pulling at the man's hair.
"Memexenus was not ruling fairly and Phaedrus raised the village people against him. The town has remained loyal to Memexenus. But we have Memexenus' stronghold under siege and have had for two season's. The town folk will not be able to barter for the harvest and soon their supplies will run out. Then we will starve them out and take the city and make Phaedrus king!" explained the soldier. "We are to guard the road and see no one passes."
Xena let him go, "Get out of here," she ordered with contempt and the man scurried off to join his other comrades in hiding. Gabrielle watched him go and then turned a worried face to Xena. Xena shrugged and smiled and Gabrielle shook her head and smiled back. "Come on Gabrielle, we'd better find out what's really going on around here," sighed Xena heading towards where Argo had wandered off to graze.
"Wait a minute, Xena," said Gabrielle staring blankly with a puzzled frown on her face. Xena turned and looked at her friend with concern.
"Are you all right?" she asked walking back to look closer at Gabrielle.
"I think so Xena," she mumbled. Gabrielle looked up at her friend and then walked over and picked up a sword that one of the soldier's had left in the dirt. The blade twisted expertly in Gabrielle's hand as she turned and walked towards Xena. Xena's eyebrow went up in surprise and then her features changed to shock as Gabrielle swung at her. Xena stepped out of the way and turned to see Gabrielle smiling at her, circling the tip of her blade around waiting for Xena to draw her sword.
Xena did so and their blades crashed together with incredible force. The two fought with quick and accurate movements coming close but not really touching each other with their weapons. Gabrielle was laughing with delight but a look of puzzlement and concern was on Xena's face as she blocked her friend's moves. Gabrielle's technique was good but she wasn't nearly as quick or as strong as Xena. Nor did she anticipate moves as well. Xena matched her efforts to Gabrielle's. Suddenly, Gabrielle backed off and looked down at her hands that held the heavy sword and up at Xena in surprise. Xena slipped her sword back into it's scabbard and raised an eyebrow, "You want to talk about it?" she asked.
"Xena, as I was fighting that man I just suddenly knew all these things about fighting. Not just what the Amazons taught me about using a fighting staff but how to use any weapon! Xena, when the witch Ornell gave me your memories of being a warlord, I must have picked up your knowledge too! What am I going to do!?" cried Gabrielle in dismay.
Xena laughed and came forward and took the sword from Gabrielle's hand. "Well, for starters I'd work on upper body strength and it would held if you didn't close your eyes when you take a swing." She dropped the sword back in the dirt and turned Gabrielle around and pushed her down the road.
"I thought I was pretty good!" exclaimed Gabrielle watching Xena swing up on her horse, Argo.
"So did I, Gabrielle," reassured Xena, "You've got great technique but you lack a needed quality." Xena frowned, "Gabrielle, I never wanted you to learn to be a warrior, you know that. I don't want you to...end up like me. Xena pulled on Argo's reins and looked down at Gabrielle. "If you want these skills, I'll have to work with you to make you better. Otherwise, you are liable to get yourself killed believing that you are better than you are."
Gabrielle put her hands on her hips and looked at Xena in anger. "Xena! You're jealous! I held my own with you back there and you can't handle it! It was great! Wow! What a rush to be able to fight like that!" laughed Gabrielle kicking and punching at an imaginary foe.
Xena sighed and slipped quietly off Argo. She came up behind Gabrielle and tapped her on the shoulder. Gabrielle spun and took a jab at Xena's head. Xena moved her head slightly to the right and Gabrielle's shot went passed. Gabrielle frowned and took another jab. Xena moved her head to the left and Gabrielle's swing went wild again. Gabrielle swung again and Xena blocked with her left arm and slammed Gabrielle hard in the stomach with her right. Gabrielle crumbled. Xena reached down and grabbed Gabrielle by the hair and bent her head back placing a knife at her throat. She put her face right up to Gabrielle's and whispered, "You're right Gabrielle, I am jealous because you would never take a life if you could avoid it and my hands are covered with the blood of individuals that I killed without a thought. Got the message?" Gabrielle nodded.
Xena pulled Gabrielle to her feet and Gabrielle leaned over holding her stomach, "You O.K.?" asked Xena with concern. She didn't think she had hit Gabrielle that hard.
Gabrielle looked up with a white face and smiled sheepishly, "You couldn't have just explained that lesson to me, could you, Xena?"
Xena shrugged and swung up on Argo, "You wouldn't have believed me."
Gabrielle rubbed her belly and picked up her fighting staff, "I believe you now," she nodded with a groan and headed off down the road. Xena laughed.
As they got close to the sieged town, Xena slipped from Argo's back and they moved quietly through the forest. Several times they had to skirt around patrols. Near the town, Xena left Gabrielle and Argo and searched for a way across the open ground to enter the walled town. When she came back, she looked grim. "I've been in to talk briefly to Memexenus. They are in bad shape with only a few days rations left. This could get ugly. Get up on Argo. I'm not leaving my horse out here so we'll have to charge the main gate. They'll open it for us at the last minute."
Gabrielle nodded and awkwardly mounted Argo. She didn't ride if she could help it. Xena smoothly swung up behind her and moved her mare into position. "Hold on tight," she warned Gabrielle and then with a war cry, they charged at the gate. Arrows rained around them and Xena leaned forward protecting Gabrielle's body with her own. Argo sped on and the gate opened just wide enough for them to gallop through before it closed once more. Xena pulled Argo to a halt and slipped off. Gabrielle continued to lean over Argo's mane. Xena touched her friend with sudden concern. "Gabrielle! Are you hit?! Are you all right?" she asked in fear.
The white face of Gabrielle turned towards Xena. "Do you know how much abuse my stomach muscles have taken today?" she asked. Xena gave her a playful poke to the midriff and turned to greet Memexenus, leaving Gabrielle to get off Argo the best way she could.
Although an old man, Memexenus still carried himself straight and his handsome features and lean, hard body were still evident. "I never thought I would be requesting the help of a warlord but if I have to, I wanted the best," stated Memexenus coming up to Xena.
Xena smiled warily, " If it's a hired sword you want Memexenus then you are out of luck. I am not for hire." Xena turned and looked at Gabrielle who had managed to join them. "Gabrielle," Xena explained to Memexenus.
"Yes, your woman. I had heard that you traveled with her," acknowledged Memexenus turning towards Gabrielle. "You are welcome here. I understand that your love has done what no other has managed in taming this warrior to do good." Xena's eyebrows went up in amusement and Gabrielle looked dumbfounded.
"Well actually..." Gabrielle started to explain but Memexenus cut her off moving towards his great house with Xena. Gabrielle trailed along behind trying to be heard but Memexenus was doing his best to win Xena over and Xena was clearly enjoying herself immensely.
"She's very pretty, Xena," said the leader ushering the Warrior into the palace, "Can she cook too?" he asked conversationally.
Xena looked back at the embarrassed and shocked Gabrielle and smirked. Then she turned to her host and in a voice that was louder than necessary she said, "Gabrielle has many talents. Why she was showing me some only this morning. I'm lucky to have found her." Memexenus nodded his agreement and Gabrielle shot Xena a dirty look.
Inside the great house Memexenus apologized for not offering them food, "I don't take anymore than is my rationed due," he explained. Xena's eyes scanned the room. She went over and looked out the window. It was a small town consisting of three major streets. The buildings were well built but the town showed the neglect that the sieged had caused. The walls were thick and the guards were on duty if not alert.
Xena turned, "What do you want with us?" she asked.
"If possible, I want you to act as a mediator to convince Phaedrus that a civil war can only hurt us all. I am too old to fight, Xena. If I can compromise I will. If not, I want you to lead my troops to victory so that at least I can save the lives of these good town's people who have remained loyal to me." explained the leader. Xena stood silent and then went back and looked out the window.
"Conflict does not start without cause. What started this one?" asked Xena looking back at the old man.
He sighed, "Phaedrus wanted me to hand over the leadership to him as I was too old, he said, to rule. I refused him. He is a good warrior but would be a poor statesman. I never thought it would come to this. I thought I had the support of the countryside. But somehow he won their hearts."
Xena nodded and looked at Gabrielle. Gabrielle gave a small nod back. She believed him too. "We'll talk to Phaedrus and hear what he has to say. I will not commit myself to battle only to negotiation," explained Xena. The old leader nodded his head in agreement and smiled.
"I have had a bedchamber made ready for you," he explained walking over and pulling a bellpull. "My servant will lead you there so that you can freshen up from your travels. I will send a message to Phaedrus that you wish to talk to him." Xena nodded and Gabrielle and Xena followed the servant that had arrived down to their quarters.
When the door was shut Gabrielle gave Xena an annoyed punch. "Xena! Why did you lead him on like that?" she roared.
"Like what? I plan to talk to Phaedrus," responded Xena deliberately misinterpreting Gabrielle's remarks with a smile.
"That's not what I mean!" said a frustrated Gabrielle. "You let him believe that I made you give up being a warlord and that we..."
"So what, he is," observed Xena taking off her armor and going over to try out the bed.
"He's..." started Gabrielle looking surprised as she walked over to where Xena was getting comfortable on the bed.
"Uh huh. Do you think he is telling all the truth?" Xena asked. Gabrielle shrugged and sat on the end of the bed.
"It's hard to say. People rarely tell you everything. But I think I trust him. He has nice eyes." Xena raised an eyebrow in disbelief and Gabrielle flushed in anger. "You have nice eyes. That's why I decided to follow you eventhough, you had a really bad reputation." Xena's eyebrow rose a little higher. Gabrielle smiled wickedly, "And lucky I did too because I'm the woman who was able to turn the wild cat warlord into a domestic pet," she baited and Xena picked up a pillow and buried Gabrielle's face in it. The two of them laughed heaving pillows at each other.
Late that night, Xena and Gabrielle slipped out of the town and walked across the open plain to the two horsemen that waited just at the edge of the woods. Xena stopped in front of them, "I am here at the request of Memexenus to try and negotiate a settlement in this dispute," said Xena.
Phaedrus smiled, "You are here so that your reputation as a ruthless warlord will intimidate me into surrendering. The old weasel is forever the statesman," responded Phaedrus.
Xena shrugged, " See it as you will. I want to hear from you as to why there is a dispute."
Phaedrus looked hurt. " The old fool became mean and selfish in his old age and I thought I had no choice but to take action," smiled Phaedrus sadly. "The people of the countryside have no large rivers or streams. Their water comes from wells and they are all sulfur. Good enough to water crops and feed livestock but terrible to taste, like rotten eggs," grimaced Phaedrus. The only fresh water wells are in the town and Memexenus threatened to cut off the water. I had no choice but to take a stand for the people. Sulfur water is good for nothing but fever."
Gabrielle looked at Xena in surprise. Xena looked stone faced. "If this is so and if there is no shortage of water, then it is not acceptable. I will guarantee access to the water if you end this dispute."
Phaedrus smiled coldly, "Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have peace. If you can deliver on this promise Warrior, we will lay down our arms. I will wait until this time tomorrow for your answer."
Xena nodded and touching Gabrielle's arm and they turned to leave. Phaedrus watched them go. When they were well on their way, he nodded to the silent warrior beside him who raised his cross bow and took aim.
As they walked Gabrielle whispered to Xena. "Do you think he is telling the truth?" Xena shrugged and stopped with a gasp. Gabrielle looked at her. Sticking out of her chest was the barbed tip of a crossbow arrow. Xena pitched forward and Gabrielle caught her and lowered her to the ground. "Xena! Xena!" called Gabrielle and worked frantically to stop the bleeding.
Behind her, she heard the clip clop of horses and turned to look up at Phaedrus' smiling face. "Why?! Why?!" she yelled in fury holding her unconscious friend.
"When I take this town, as I surely will now that Xena is gone, I will have the added bonus of being known as the leader who defeated the might warlord, Xena in battle." he explained.
"Battle! You shot her in the back!" cried Gabrielle in disgust and rage feeling Xena's warm blood trickling through her fingers.
"History does not record reality, my dear child but heroic acts," explained Phaedrus with a laugh and turned his mount and rode off with his assassin.
"I'll get you for this Phaedrus. You are going to pay for this!" swore Gabrielle to the night. She looked down at Xena's pale face. Blood dripped from her nose and mouth. It was bad, very bad.
With effort Gabrielle managed to get Xena to her feet and support her to the walls of the town. There others came to help and they carried the Warrior to her bedchamber. The healer was sent for and Gabrielle knelt by Xena's bed holding her hand. "Gabrielle," Xena whispered, "Take care of Argo for me." Gabrielle nodded her head and wiped the dripping blood from Xena's face. "It had to happen some time Gabrielle. Warriors die violently not of old age," Xena explained in gasps.
"You are not going to die, Xena. I'm not going to let you," stated Gabrielle and turned to see the healer come in. He was an older man with a kind, weathered face. He placed a hand first on Gabrielle's shoulder and then leaned over to examine where the arrow point protruded from Xena's chest. Then he walked around to the other side of the bed to see the entry wound. The healer did not take long to look at Xena and when he finished he shook his head.
"The arrow has gone though her lung that is why she bleeds from the mouth and nose. I can pull the arrow out put she will most likely bleed to death immediately. Even in the few rare cases when I have seen the bleeding stop, the fever sets in very quickly and takes them. I am sorry but your friend will be dead before this time tomorrow," admitted the healer.
Xena reached out and took Gabrielle's hand, " You O.K.?" she asked. Gabrielle nodded and looked at her friend. " You are more than family, Gabrielle, c..c..closer than blood," Xena gasped. Gabrielle swallowed twice and set her jaw. She leaned forward and kissed Xena's forehead. It was hot and damp, already the fever was setting in.
"Lets get the arrow out of her," she ordered. Gabrielle helped the healer get towels and needle and thread. Then she held Xena in her arms while the healer pushed the arrow through her friend. Xena gave a soft whimper and dug her fingers into Gabrielle's arm. Then the fingers went limp, Xena had passed out. Gabrielle worked along with the healer closing Xena's wounds and applying a dressing. Blood continued to bubble out. Gabrielle felt her body warm and sticky with it. She gritted her teeth and willed Xena to live.
When she and the healer had done all that they could Gabrielle stood and turned to face Memexenus, "Xena will live. But Phaedrus is finished. This is war and I will lead your troops," stated Gabrielle slipping Xena's blade from it's scabbard. She twirled it in her hand and then looked at the old man. "Do not under estimate me. I am everything that my friend Xena is. And I will avenge my friend."
Memexenus studied Gabrielle closely and nodded, "Xena would only pick the best," he concluded, "Lead my troops, if there is no hope of peace, to victory." His face softened and he moved forward and looked at the white, feverish face of Xena. His eyes filled with sorrow and he murmured, "Years ago, I lost my true love in just such a way. I feel the loss just as strongly today. I will pray to the gods that your Warrior lives." Memexenus signaled to the healer and the two left Gabrielle with Xena. In the long hours that followed, Gabrielle tended her friend. Cooling and drying Xena with cold towels and changing her sheets when they were wet from the fever sweat. Her jaw was set in a rigid line and her mind was on strategy and revenge.
Some time later, Xena woke in incredible pain and weak with fever. She turned to find Gabrielle at her side. Gabrielle smiled down at her, "The bleeding stopped Xena. Keep fighting. You remember you ate ambrosia to get your life back. It made Adonis immortal, it should help you to survive now. Remember you're a demigod. Draw on that immortality. Fight Xena," encouraged Gabrielle tears in her eyes. Xena nodded and then stiffened. Gabrielle was wearing a breast plate and carrying Xena's sword on her back.
"No! Gabrielle, no!" whispered Xena in panic trying to reach up to touch her friend. Gabrielle wiped the sweat from Xena's face and put her finger to Xena's lips to stop her protest.
"Warrior," interrupted a soldier coming in and looking at Gabrielle. "Our patrol has captured a spy." Gabrielle nodded and turned back to Xena. But Xena was already unconscious. Gabrielle felt her brow. She was burning up with fever. Gabrielle set her jaw and got up and left the room with the guard.
The soldier lead Gabrielle to a small guard's room. There with another guard stood someone that Gabrielle knew all too well, Autolycus, the self proclaimed King of Thieves. A cutpurse he maybe but a spy he wasn't, Gabrielle knew. "Gabrielle! What are you doing here and where is Xena? What are you doing wearing a sw..."
Gabrielle's hand shot out and smashed Autolycus in the mouth. He stopped his interrogation and looked at Gabrielle in complete shock. "Leave us." Gabrielle ordered the two guards who nodded and withdrew. Gabrielle looked at Autolycus in a calculating manner and he pulled back involuntarily. "I'm leading an army now." stated Gabrielle pulling Xena's sword out of her scabbard and swinging it around her hand and then over and around Autolycus, "And I believe you are going to help me." Autolycus' mouth dropped open in disbelief.
Gabrielle told him about Xena's injury and about her knowledge of Xena's skill. "Autolycus, this is Xena. I'm not going to let her die and I'm not going to let Phaedrus get away with nearly killing my friend. Do you understand?"
Autolycus nodded, "I understand but I also realize that Xena is right. You might have the skills but you lack the experience and the blood-lust. Gabrielle, Xena would not want you to be a killer."
Gabrielle smiled, "I know that Autolycus, but I also know that I couldn't live with myself if I let this bastard get away with what he did to Xena. Do you believe the Fates plan these things Autolycus? Did they send you to me to help even the odds?"
Autolycus sneered, "I believe that every time I cross paths with you and Xena, I end up in more trouble than I can handle and there is never any profit in it!" He sighed, "Xena is my friend too. Like you, I want revenge for this cowardly act. Xena's soul lived within me for a short time. I know how she feels about you. If I don't protect you, Xena will skin me alive," Autolycus justified and smiled grimly, "O.K. Warrior, what is your plan?"
"The first is to help Xena." explained Gabrielle pacing back and forth. "Phaedrus said that sulfur water is good for fever. You and I are going to sneak into the enemy camp and steal some for her. The doctor said that it would be the fever that kills her and I'm not going to let that happen." Autolycus stroked his chin and looked at Gabrielle with new respect. "Then we are going back to the enemy camp and kidnap Phaedrus and have a little talk with him," explained Gabrielle smashing one fist against the other. Autolycus opened his mouth to protest and then caught the look in Gabrielle's eye. There was nothing that was going to stop the Warrior Bard of Olympus.
"Lead on," he smiled and bowed Gabrielle to the door.
They slipped out a side door just before dawn and ran crouched though the tall grass to the safety of the woods. Slowly, they slipped through the trees, keeping to the shadows and making no sound. Autolycus, the expert thief, was surprised and impressed at Gabrielle's cunning in the forest. Xena had taught her well. They met their first enemy some little way in along the path. Silently, they moved forward and as Autolycus slipped his hand over one of the guard's mouth and hit him on the head with a large rock, Gabrielle reached around the soldier she had snuck up behind and pinched his neck. He dropped grasping to the ground.
Autolycus finished tying up his prisoner and then came over to watch Gabrielle. On the one hand, he wanted to see that Gabrielle did what she needed to do. On the other hand, if Gabrielle started killing in battle, Xena was going to have his head or worse! Gabrielle was quietly watching her victim choke to death. Autolycus went to object but Gabrielle held up her hand. She leaned forward and sneered into the face of her captive. "Are you going to talk yet?" she growled softly. The soldier gasped and nodded his head in panic. Gabrielle reached out and pulled his neck muscle up so that his jugular vein could fall back into place and blood once again could get to his brain. "Where do we find a strong, sulfur well?" she asked.
The soldier choked and panted, "Down there, in the hollow about an hours walk from here there is a sulfur spring. You'll smell it," he explained. Gabrielle nodded her thanks and then turned to Autolycus.
"Tie him up with the other one. We want to be long gone before they are found," she ordered. Autolycus nodded and grabbed the man by the shoulder and heaved him to his feet. He lead him over to the tree in the bush where he had gagged and tied his friend and secured him to the other side of the trunk.
Once Gabrielle had checked that no one else was near by, they melted back into the shadows and stealthily moved towards their goal. The reek of sulfur drifted up to them through the trees and Autolycus looked at Gabrielle and pulled a face. Gabrielle smiled back and shrugged. They inched forward and looked down into the hollow. Yellow water bubbled out from cracks in the rock and drained into a smelly pool. "You watch my back," whispered Gabrielle and she slipped down to fill the wine skin she carried with the foul water. Once she had as much as the bag could take she put the stopper in firmly and climbed back up to where Autolycus waited.
Autolycus looked dubious. "It's hard to believe that stuff could do anything but kill people," he muttered wrinkling up his nose. Gabrielle nodded in agreement and slung the offensive container on to her back. Quietly, they made their way back to the sieged town.
Gabrielle went immediately to Xena who was now delirious with fever. Xena kept mumbling, "No, Gabrielle. No. Be careful. Gabrielle, not ready." With great effort and patience Gabrielle held her friend and forced her to drink the evil smelling water. She got as much as she could into her and then got a promise from the healer who sat near by to force her to drink a cup each hour.
Gabrielle sat next to Xena and wiped her face. "Xena, you are my family and I love you dearly. Please fight. Don't leave me. Don't worry about me, I will see this battle through with all the skills and courage that you have taught me. And I wont change. I promise you Xena, I will always be your Gabrielle." she vowed and leaned her head onto Xena's chest. Then she got up and left her friend to fight her personal battle while Gabrielle fought for a town.
Gabrielle walked around the town with the cold calculation of a warrior. The young men and soldiers she had organized into squads and they did six hours on and six hours off. The blacksmiths were given help and pounded a way at deadly weaponry. Wood pillars were chopped down off porches and into them were buried sharp fragments of broken glass that had been the fine dish wear of the households. These logs were slung along the parapets to roll down on an attacking army. The old were sent to the temple to tear up clothes to make bandages. Some women were formed into bucket brigades to wet down all the thatched roofs against fires and to put out any fires the enemy started. Others were put to work making as much bread as possible from the remaining stores so that soldiers could eat at their posts. The young girls dug a huge pit for the dead and collected the rocks together to be carried up to the parapets to drop down on the enemy. And wheelbarrows of dirt were carried to be dumped behind the front gate to offer extra support against a battering ram. The waiting soldiers scanned the forests waiting for the attack and repaired and sharpened their weapons.
Gabrielle nodded. Everything that could be done had been. Now it was a waiting game. Autolycus, who had been sent to check each soldier's arms returned. "They are prepared as best as they can be Gabrielle," he reported. He had never seen Gabrielle so grim or quiet.
"I had planned to take you with me Autolycus, but I will need you here. If I am caught or they find their leader kidnapped, they might decide to take their chance and attack. Memexenus will do his best but he is old and can not move quickly. I need someone who can lead the men to victory. You will stay here," explained Gabrielle her eyes scanning around for possible weaknesses in their defenses.
"Oh no," argued Autolycus, "Xena would kill me if I left you! I'm going with you and safe guard my hide. Besides, only a fool would stay in a town that is liable to be attacked!"
Gabrielle smiled, "I know you are willing to risk your life for me, Autolycus, and I love you for it," said Gabrielle giving him a hug, " But this is my fight and my destiny." she whispered in his ear. Gabrielle pulled away and held him by the shoulders, "If they take the town. Kill Xena and burn her body. I don't want the enemy to get her. Do you understand?" said Gabrielle earnestly.
Autolycus went very quiet, "You've done a great job here. And I will do everything I can to ensure a victory. If we fail. I'll see that Xena dies with dignity," Autolycus promised and Gabrielle smiled and kissed him softly. Then, after one more look around she slipped out of the town and disappeared into the enemy territory.
Slowly, she worked her way deeper and deeper into the enemy stronghold. It was clear that they did indeed plan to attack soon. Phaedrus must be afraid that Memexenus will send for another warlord now that Xena is dead. He is going to attack while he still has an advantage rather than waiting to starve them out and have hired mercenaries arrive and wreck his plans. Gabrielle licked her lips. In her head she could imagine Xena's instructions, Be strong. Don't panic and make a mistake. Stay calm and follow your plan and hope that Autolycus and the town will do their part as well. Gabrielle slipped into Phaedrus' camp and worked her way around to where the rebel's tent stood. She listened, four, maybe five voices. Phaedrus and his generals were planning their attack. "The gods will be with us for this is a just cause," he told his men and Gabrielle heard them shuffling out to join their troops.
"Phaedrus, you handled those village fools well. They have no idea that Memexenus would never refuse the fresh water to any of his people. Your plot to take control was brilliant and by this time tomorrow you will be ruler!" said a rough voice.
"Adus, you have been so useful to me and I want to give you a token of my deepest appreciation," said Phaedrus' voice smoothly. Gabrielle heard a gasp and a groan and then something heavy falling to the ground. "Sorry old friend but you were the only one who knew I ordered you to killed Xena and you were the only one who knew that I betrayed Memexenus. I'm afraid you knew too much to live." said Phaedrus with a laugh. Gabrielle ripped the canvas with her knife and stepped in. She found Phaedrus kneeling beside the slain body of Xena's assassin. Quietly, she moved forward and jabbed at the rebel's neck. He turned and gasped.
"I promised that I would avenge my partner's ambush and I am here to do so now, Phaedrus. I have cut off the blood to your head. In a minute, you will pass out but before then I am just going to kneel here and watch you feel just a bit of the pain that my friend has had to endure," snarled Gabrielle.
"Please, please," begged Phaedrus in a choking whisper but Gabrielle stared at him with a stony face and felt nothing for his pain. His lips went blue and his skin damp and white. With a final gasp he fell to the ground and Gabrielle quickly reached out and released the pressure allowing him to get blood to his brain once more. Then, before he could come around she bound his arms and gagged him. From a curtain rope, she made a noose and slipped it over his head and pulled it snugly around his neck. She tried to keep calm but already she could hear the sound of battle in the distance. Phaedrus' generals were carrying out his commands.
Suddenly the tent flaps opened and a heavily armed officer stepped in, "Phaedrus, we need you at the..". Gabrielle stood and reached for her sword in one smooth movement. The officer taken by surprise, grabbed for his sword and the two of them swung at each other. Gabrielle held her own but she quickly realized that the man was much stronger and that she was weakening quickly. I am going to have to kill him or put him out of action. I have to make a decision now as to what sort of person I'm going to be. Am I a warrior or not? She glanced out of the corner of her eye for a better weapon and her attacker saw his chance. This blade swung at her face and Gabrielle just jumped back in time to feel the edge slice into her hairline. Blood ran down her face. She dropped Xena's sword and reached back and grabbed a spear that leaned against a table. Using the blunt end of it, she brought it down with all her force onto the soldier's neck and then swung back and clipped him on his temple. His knees buckled and Gabrielle smashed him again across the back of the neck. He dropped. Panting hard and shaking with shock, Gabrielle put down her weapon and went over and picked up Xena's sword. She smiled through the blood and her gasps for air and put it back in the scabbard on her back.
Moving over to the far side of the tent, Gabrielle ripped a curtain and tied a bandage around her head to keep the blood out of her eyes. Then she tore another strip to tie up the officer. When this was done, she peek out of the tent. The camp was deserted accept for two horses. Gabrielle smiled and turned to drag the still groggy Phaedrus to his feet. She pulled him outside by the noose and ordered him up on his horse. Then with a reluctant sigh, she mounted the other big steed. "Phaedrus, we are going to stop a war. You are going to tell the people that you lied to them. If you don't, I am going to dig my heels into this horse and drag you across the countryside by this noose. No doubt one of your men will shoot me dead, but Phaedrus, it wont matter because I'll have seen you die a horrible death before they get me," snarled Gabrielle with fire in her eyes.
Phaedrus looked at her in real fear, "No! Don't! I'll do like you say!" he yelled in panic. Gabrielle pulled a little on his noose so that he knew she meant business and then set the two horses off at a trot. They came over the hill and galloped across the front of the enemy line. Soldiers held their fire as they saw their leader ride by and in the town Autolycus grinned and called on his troops to cease their defense. The battle field fell quiet and Gabrielle reined in her mount front and center and stood up in her stirrups and looked at the village soldiers and their officers.
"Phaedrus has something he needs to tell you," she yelled and then looked at Phaedrus. She wrapped the end of the noose's rope around her saddle horn. She held her horse's reins high and tight ready to bolt if Phaedrus did not do his part. Phaedrus' eyes widened. He understood the message that Gabrielle was sending him.
""I lied," he yelled, "Memexenus never said he'd cut off the fresh water. I lied so that I could mount an army to overthrow his leadership," snarled Phaedrus angrily.
Gabrielle smiled and turned to the stunned army of peasants. "If you put your arms down and walk to the town gates, your friends inside will greet you and will willingly share their fresh water with you in exchange for your fine farm products. This war is over! Drop your arms." For a minute there was stunned silence. Then a rough looking farmer dropped his weapon and moved towards the gate. One by one, the village folk followed his example and inside the town Autolycus could be heard ordering the town's people to do the same. The massive gates were thrown open and people, only a few minutes before enemies, now climbed over the defensive pile of dirt to greet each other.
Gabrielle undid the rope from her saddle horn and threw it at Phaedrus. "If I were you I'd take this opportunity to get as far away from here as I could before these people decide to punish you for the trouble you've caused. Take this opportunity Phaedrus because if my friend dies, I'm going to hunt you down like a dog," Gabrielle snarled. Phaedrus growled a curse and wheeled his horse around and galloped off. Gabrielle slid from her mount and rubbed her sore stomach muscles and pulled a face. Then she turned and ran towards the town. Autolycus met her just on the other side of the dirt and gave her a big bear hug. "I did it, Autolycus! I stopped a war!" she laughed as Autolycus swung her around in delight. Then Gabrielle's face clouded over. "Xena!" she cried and pulling away from Autolycus and running passed Memexenus who had come forward to thank her, she ran through the great house to where Xena lay.
Gabrielle burst through the door and stopped dead. Her smile turned to shock. Xena's arm hung white and lifeless over the side of the bed and her figure was cold and still. Gabrielle swallowed and moved towards the bed in fear. "Xena," she whispered, "Please, Xena answer me!" Gabrielle begged coming up and taking the outstretched hand in her own. Xena's eyes fluttered and opened and she managed a weak smile. Then she looked concerned and weakly reached for the bloody bandage that was wrapped around Gabrielle's head. "It's O.K.," reassured Gabrielle in a shaky voice fighting back tears. " I stopped the war but you were right Xena, I'm not a warrior. From now on you do the fighting and I'll be there to support you." Xena smiled and closed her eyes.
Some weeks later, Gabrielle walked along beside Xena's mount swinging her staff with each step, "Xena, did you ever wish your life could be different?" asked Gabrielle looking up at her friend who still looked pale and thin from her serious wound.
"Only everyday," sighed Xena bitterly slowing Argo to a stop and looking down at her friend. "Where are we going with this," she asked Gabrielle warily. Gabrielle came close and smiled up at her friend.
"No, I don't mean the past. Everybody has things in their past that they wished never happened. I meant now. Do you ever wish that your life could be different?" asked Gabrielle looking at her pragmatic friend with intensity. Xena realized that this answer was important to Gabrielle in that funny jumbled way that she had of reaching very insightful truths.
"I guess I anticipate change and consider possibilities when they arise but no, I don't think I ever wish that this part of my life could be different." She frowned and looked up at the sky for a moment trying to find the right words. She looked down at her friend and smiled, " Once I got used to you being around, I realized that for the first time in my life there was someone who understood and accepted me for what I am. I felt I had ...family. And then I learned that you had qualities and strengths that I admired even if they were not in me and I realized that made me feel complete and happy. I don't recall feeling that contented happiness before in my life. When I thought you had died it was like that happiness would die also, and I knew then that you were a part of me. Closer than blood could ever make us."
Gabrielle listened with the serious face that she got when something was very important to her. "Until now, I always felt like an imposture. You were always risking your life to help me and I always seemed to be causing you problems. I too found a home and happiness traveling with you but now I think I've got the confidence to realize that I can give something back to you for all the things you have done for me." She smiled up at the Warrior who looked at her in surprise.
Gabrielle turned and started off down the trail again and Xena nudged Argo along beside her, "Xena, I had this dream..."
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