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16-17 : PART I |
In Search Of
A Greater Cause
~ PART I ~
Xena and Gabrielle watched the guards outside of the cavern entrance. Gabrielle had a déjà vu experience but couldn't remember why the entrance was so familiar.
The two women watched silently from a tree branch that was higher than what Gabrielle would have chosen to be roosted on. But the branches were bare and Xena wanted to be higher than the guards would normally look. The guards were satyrs also, so any breeze with their scent would give them away. Five of them were sitting around a small campfire rather than taking cover in the cavern, which by nature they would be more comfortable in.
Before they had reached the cavern they had weaved through a lot of traps that were set surrounding the area. According to Dorie, the only time others visited the cavern was once a lunar year for the Solstice Celebration when the oracle spoke for the City. Xena guessed the traps were to keep the Amazon from tracking the hostages to where they were being kept. Both women were surprised about the gold so Xena knew that the gold mines were kept from public knowledge. She could see why. Once the gold was known to be here, the city would no longer be associated with the Muses or their athletic competitions.
Xena had left Gabrielle safely up in a tree while she checked the rows of arrows set on a hair like trigger, pikes in a gully, nets, and something she couldn't discern in another pit but it moved around.
"Taking them by surprise is out." Xena muttered softly. If she took this way in, and escaped all the traps, which she thought she could, there was no way she could get by the ivy that was growing all around the cavern. From the breeze that was blowing by, there was a power on the leaves that would render the person passing through it unconscious within minutes.
Xena tapped Gabrielle's arm and both silently withdrew. For the next candlemark Xena searched the surrounding area for any air holes into the tunnels. There had to be many in order for the hostages to still be alive under ground.
"Gabrielle, wait here and keep an eye on that area over there." She whispered close to Gabrielle's ear. Gabrielle brushed the ear that the warm breath tickled distracted for a moment by nicer memories of late nights they spent together in a forest.
Xena moved silently in the dark, guided by smells, sounds and dark shapes that loomed out of the darkness. Dorie had said there were a lot of small air openings somewhere around here. If I can locate the different air vents I can control the type of air that enters the cavern. She smiled at what could blow in on a gust of wind.
The idea of using Gigantes own methods had a pleasing note to it. A strong smell came her way and she moved to follow it. It wasn't pleasant for it was from a lot of unwashed bodies and human waste.
"So, this is the exit to the air flow." The flap of wings interrupted her inspection as she watched the familiar owl settle on a dark form that in daylight would reveal the dark shadow to be a rock. The two regarded each other until the owl stretched her wings and took flight. Xena followed the gray shape as it sailed between trees.
The owl led her to an opening in the rocks that by the sound was sucking in air. The sounds from the wind moving through the naked branches overhead had covered noise. Xena walked around to locate a few others.
Satisfied she had enough located to do what she needed to do she turned back to join Gabrielle. On their way back Xena spotted two familiar dark figures moving stealthily further into the forest, using the high branches of the trees for safe passage.
They made it back into the city before the last star faded, managing to avoid the casual posted guards on the walls.
When both women were back in bed, Gabrielle snuggled against her favorite pillow, she finally broached the subject Xena had yet to discuss with her.
"So…are you going to tell me just what Dorie said about my need to be here?"
Xena chuckled and kissed her on the top of her head. "Hmmm. It seems…an Amazon Queen of golden and impeccable qualities is needed to help the spirit of a lost Amazon Queen find rest and direction to her rightful resting place in the Amazon land." Xena waited for a few moments to see if Gabrielle was going to say anything.
Gabrielle lifted her head up to look at Xena's shadowed face. "And…" she encouraged.
"Hmmm. Yea…you also need to do some other stuff that a priestess needs to talk to you about. I'm…well…I want to hear just what all the rest is about myself. Dorie was a bit sketchy."
"Hmmm. So…we need to get into the cavern before solstice."
"Thirteen moons of lunar travel, thirteen marks on a carved horn, darkest night and longest still, time to resanctify the signs will." Gabrielle quietly recited.
Xena looked down at her. "Where did you hear that?"
"It's in a scroll I read at one of the Temples some years back. I didn't know what it meant then…I was translating for the priestess because it was in an old language. For some reason it just came to mind."
"Hmmm. In any case…we won't have to worry about the people here. I know the water is back to normal and the people should be getting some of their spunk back." She peered down at the figure that was resting comfortably against her for comfort. "I'm going to have to find out where they hid the golden girdle. I'll leave that for tomorrow night. So, what did you see while I was away?"
"Oh…yea." Gabrielle rubbed her face against the warm leathered bodice then peered up into her partner's face. For a moment she was caught up in the reflection the dark blues were getting from the small light of the fire. Sighing she resumed. "There were some hostages that were watched by a few satyrs and men. I think they were grubbing in the dark. Strange to be looking for herbs at night if you're not a priestess. Some of them looked like they could have been soldiers. They looked like they once had nice bodies under the rags."
Xena glanced down at Gabrielle whose face was showing strain.
Gabrielle hugged Xena a little closer, using her to give her more than warmth from her body as she struggled in her mind at how to present a plan she knew would have crossed Xena's mind, but may discard it.
"Xena, why do both of us have to be arrested." She raised her head to study the outline of a jaw above her.
"Who said anything about us getting arrested?" Xena's heart beat changed rhythm and her breathing slowed.
"It's the only way we are going to get into the cavern aside from killing a lot of satyrs and who knows what else." She told her matter of factly. "One of us has to remain outside, and you know it can't be me. I would be better working from the inside." She let her hand rub the arm that was wrapped around her, soothing and letting her know she knew this was going to be a difficult decision.
Xena sighed. Gabrielle had pretty much summed up what she had been planning. They needed someone on the inside but she was reluctant to use Gabrielle though she was the only good choice.
"We can't be sure that they will be taking you to the cavern or how they will treat you."
"Xena, you already said this was their plan. To take me as a hostage, send me to the cavern as a hostage, and have you, in a drugged state, wandering around the forest looking for me. So?"
"Hmmm?" Xena was distracted from her thoughts…she took a deep breath and decided, reluctantly, to let her faith in Gabrielle's ability to use her wits to keep out of trouble… Out of trouble, Gabrielle? Ahhh ahh, don't go there Xena.
"Well…since you have your heart set on being a hostage…and they have their heart set on making you a hostage…whom am I to disappoint you all." Though she made light of it, she hugged Gabrielle closer at her unexpressed worry at what could happen to Gabrielle as a prisoner and her not able to get to her in time.
Xena let the fingers caressing her arm lull her into a sleepy and relaxed mood, now that the decision was made.
"Hmmm. Do you think Gigantes will be surprised at the next meeting?" Gabrielle smiled at the question. She could feel a chuckle vibrating against her ear that was pressed up against Xena's breastbone.
"If things go as planned…his soldiers will be where the citizens are and the citizens where the soldiers are."
"Eeewww." Gabrielle squeezed Xena and rubbed her face on the leathered beast. "Hmmm." Her voice suddenly changed.
"Hey!" Xena yelped when Gabrielle latched a set of teeth on the leather bodice where her nipple was covered.
Gabrielle giggled lifting a hand to brush the wet spot she had left on the leather cup, noting Xena's intake of breath. "Sorry. I just don't know what got into me…where was I before I was nicely sidetracked…oh, yea. Those soldiers are not the cleanest group we've seen. Are you sure this city won't mind switching places with them? Whew! Over 1200 unwashed bodies in a city makes it a real small space."
"I doubt that has to do with the water…I mean…I think that's something they weren't taught when they were children." Xena mumbled into the blond head that was starting to nod off. After that nip…she wanted to do some nipping of her own, her arm gave Gabrielle a reflex squeeze.
"Hmmmm. That doesn't sound Greek to me…or Roman for that matter." Gabrielle let a yawn stretch her jaw. "I've never heard of a Greek that didn't like her baths. Remind me to thank both our mother's for being Greek." A muffled voice told her as it buried itself into the leathered bodice, this time to sleep.
Sometime close to daybreak, bright blue eyes sprang open alert. Her ears picked up unusual noise outside. Dogs barking, roosters crowing, and a large number of booted feet moving accompanied with low grumbling, metal scraping metal…she had already started to untangle herself from her sleeping partner and bedcovers, rolling off the bed and reaching for her weapons, armor, saddlebags and boots.
In a harsh whisper Xena attempted to wake her companion. "Gabrielle!…Gabrielle!" Xena had her hand on the door to the balcony before one sleepy pale green eye looked at her over the covers.
"It's started. Don't take chances! I'll be watching." Xena disappeared out into the predawn darkness. She pulled herself up onto the roof, noting that the archers hadn't even got into position yet. Hmmmm…too late…too dumb, she thought contemptuously.
Geeezze, I feel like a lover fleeing from being caught in the arms of her forbidden love. Xena sniggered and shook her head as she thought about Gabrielle's dramatics rubbing off on her. One Bard in the family is enough, thank the Muses.
She moved across neighboring rooftops putting her armor on while she moved. While she waited for a small group of soldiers to move past her she laced her boots. She smiled as she noticed they did not have the same demeanor as what they had when they had first arrived in the city.
"Must be something in the water." She humorously mused.
She moved to a rooftop that had a view of the official building General Giagantes was using as his office and residence. She was wondering if he noticed any changes in himself by now. If Yerik visited him, would he notice and say something…or use it to his advantage. Xena grinned. Without a doubt, he would use it to his advantage.
The soldiers marched out of the Inn behind Captain Herodes with a small blond figure wrapped in her winter coat. At least they let her put something warm on. The half asleep small figure stumbled and Xena nodded when a solicitous soldier put out a hand to steady her. Yep, must be something in the water. Definitely a different group that visited them the other day.
Xena waited just inside the protection of the forest for the guards to take Gabrielle to the cavern for safe keeping after she made a side trip. She had set little traps in the barracks, rooms Gigantes used and where Captain Herodes liked to bathe…just so that Gigantes and the troops would think she was prowling around the city setting up diversions to free Gabrielle. On her first night she had set a few, just in case she would need a diversion, for what, she hadn't quite worked out. It now fit in just purrrrfectly with what she needed…misdirection.
From her treetop view she spotted a small group of soldiers exit out of one of the back ways from the city and push forward a smaller figure as they looked furtively around them. A smile curved her lips. Oh, so predictable.
Xena could feel Dorie's presence as she silently watched the soldiers enter into the shadows of the forest.
"Why did you let them take her?" The plaintive little voice asked.
Xena nearly jumped when the voice sounded so close to her ear.
"Dorie, it's okay. We planned it this way. She's going to work the inside while I work the outside. How are those women doing?"
"Well…the two that escaped from the satyrs, they found their friends in the cave. They heard them singing."
Xena pursed her lips…it also could be overheard by satyrs or the men with them.
Dorie shook her head. "The outsiders don't come around there. It's too far from anything they need…besides, I would chase them away."
"They know you are here?"
"No. They don't know what it is that makes trees shake, roots trip them, or animals attack." She smirked.
"Ahhhh. So, they were singing." That's a good sign. Xena nodded to herself, something she probably learned in the temple. It certainly did ease some pain she felt when she sang over the pyres of fallen friends. For a moment her breath caught. A vision of her singing over Ephiny's pyre came to her along with the sorrow mixed with…anger at…Caesar! Xena straightened up with a hiss.
She shook her head and stared at the tree her hand was gripped around tightly.
"Are you all right?" The little voice asked her.
"Hmmm? Oh…yea…so, these two let the others out?" She pushed the intrusive feeling out of her present awareness.
"No. They can't move the rock you put before the entrance. They're trying to figure that out. But they have whispered conversations with their friends."
"So the drug has worn off?"
"Almost. They have sore tummy's. The one that talks to the birds, thinks you did it and will return soon to remove it."
"Hmmm. Well…I've got more important things to take care of now. Do you want to come along or…"
If the shade had color in her eyes, Xena would have seen them brighten at the invitation. She had asked the shade to not go with them to the cavern incase Yerik felt her presence, which Dorie had said he could. Now she could use her to further rattle Yerik's group that was outside of the cavern.
"I saw a map of the tunnels. There are a lot of them." Xena commented as the two moved after the group that was leading Gabrielle further into the forest.
"No. There are only three." The little face beamed. "They only think there are more, except Yerik. He knows because in the beginning he had explored the tunnels with lots of lights to burn and destroy as much as he could of the sacred objects in the tunnels, cavern and walls."
"Ahhh." A part of her was wondering if Gabrielle would figure that out. Xena slowed as she noticed that the traps she had studied the previous night were rearranged. Probably to keep rescuers off balance, she thought to herself.
"They change them every morning. They make the soldiers from Crometh do it." The little voice whispered.
Xena nodded. Using military minds to imprison themselves. Must be funny to Yerik, Xena was thinking. Then she smiled. The pattern of the maze was from one of the games at the Inn.
Xena smiled at the thought she had. Xena moved ahead of the group quietly, using the trees but dropping to the ground when it proved to be a faster way to where she was headed. Finally seeing what she was looking for…she removed her breast knife and placed it under one of the curling roots of a tree. She was hopping Gabrielle would see it before her guards did. The way they are all stumbling you would think they were suffering from a hangover of still drunk. She pursed her lips as she wondered why Gabrielle was stumbling so much. Had they given her some of the drug already so she wouldn't be a problem?
Xena nodded when Gabrielle stumbled for what seemed like the tenth time and retrieved the knife with her captors none the wiser.
Xena and Dorie moved closer to the cavern entrance and watched the group approach the satyr guards. Dorie turned her head to look at Xena as she watched and heard the group handing over Gabrielle to another. When Gabrielle disappeared into the darkness Xena gave an inaudible sigh and nodded at Dorie.
"C'mon. I need to gather some herbs. There should still be some growing around here."
"What are you going to do?" Dorie asked as she assisted Xena in gathering the herbs she needed. Dorie was able to spot the necessary herbs faster than Xena and had collected more than enough in a short time.
"I'm going to burn some of this stuff outside of the vents to the tunnels."
"What does it do?"
"Well…it acts in the opposite manner to the herbs I found General Gigantes was using in the city. The thing is, if you are not under the influence of the other herb this is suppose to counter, then you get quite worked up. I'm betting that the satyr's don't go into the cavern. I certainly don't want to be stuck in a cavern with a worked up satyr. They were all on the outside, which is unusual for a satyr when there is a cave nearby…my guess is, is that there is something they don't like in there. So much…that they stand quite a distance away from the entrance." Xena didn't look up as she mixed some of the herbs from her pouches with the ones they had gathered in the damp dirt, patting them into small squares."
"Oh. You don't want everyone to wake up."
"Hmm. You still won't be able to get in and they still won't be able to get out."
"Why?" Xena had a look of concentration on her face as she formed a neat line of mud patties on the rock that was serving as a table.
"The symbols near the sacred pool. Even the goddesses can't get past."
Ahhhh. Now I get even a bigger picture. Must be the symbols Gigantes and Yerik were babbling about. "Just what is that?" Xena glanced up at the shimmering form next to her that was just as industriously patting mud into a flat shape, but not really contributing any finished patties to her growing collection.
"Some circles with little pictures in them."
Xena thought a moment. Shaman? She shook her head, Yerik didn't strike her as a shaman, but she asked anyway. "Is Yerik a shaman?"
"As a boy he worked for one in his village…but the old man died before he learned the craft. The statue he talks to…told him what to do, with the blood from living things…" she shuddered.
"Human blood?" Xena asked worried.
The little head nodded and added, "He used the satyrs too."
"That's interesting." Xena paused wondering what she got both her and Gabrielle into. She shook her head. She would keep to her plan and counter the effects of the drugs those in the cavern were being given and by now, including Gabrielle. She was hoping she still had enough sense to do what she had to do. Would she be able to figure out that pictures on a wall were preventing people from escaping? Well…she said that she saw some people being let out at night…and they had to do something to let her enter. She had to give Gabrielle a chance to figure things out.
Xena regarded her finished products. Seven little squares of mud mixed with herbs. When burned, the herbs would release their essence and the mud would harden and at a certain point burst.
"All right. Let's get these little patties bakin'." Xena whispered to Dorie.
Bleary eyed with sleep, Gabrielle looked at her partner bending over her boots collecting them quickly and making it out to the balcony door. She stifled a giggle as the idea of a wanna-be suitor making an illicit visit to try out her purchase before taking ownership, was sneaking off before getting caught.
"Whaatt? She tried to shake the woolly feeling she had in her head. "How can anyone be bright eyed and bushy tailed before it's even light outside?" She grumpily mumbled to herself. "Squirrels don't get up this early."
The vibrations of a lot of heavy footfalls in the building brought her up and alert abruptly, groaning from the soreness she acquired from her previous night's climbing incident she swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Xena's hurried message trickled into her slowly waking mind. She dragged her boots on and was lacing them up when the door to their room swung open and soldiers surrounded her. Pale green eyes opened wide at the dull but pointed ends of many swords that were only a finger's width away from her skin.
"Morning." She spoke pleasantly. "Had a bad night?" She asked nervously as a hand reached though the swords and pulled her up roughly.
"Where is she?" Captain Herodes breathed in her face.
Gabrielle grimaced at the stale smell of onions, garlic and beer that bore down on her heavily, not to mention that he hadn't bathed recently.
"Well, I just woke up so…"
Herodes shook her so hard her teeth rattled.
"Where…is…she?" He asked again between clinched teeth. He had stumbled into one of Xena's traps she had set and was pretty shaken up. How in Ares balls did she know we were coming for her? He had no doubt she set the rack of lances to fall when a certain amount of lances were removed. He remembered something similar she had done to one of Caesar's troops when they took over one of the Greek fortresses near the port they had landed a scouting party at four years back. They were just testing the defenses of the Greeks. They had a rude awakening from thinking it was going to be easy once they took over their fortresses. This was very much like her work.
"I don't know." Gabrielle answered calmly putting a hand on the fist that was digging into her shoulder. "She wasn't here when I woke up."
Herodes pushed her into a wall hard, while he gestured to the soldiers to pickup their belongings. Gabrielle noticed Xena had taken some of their packs with her.
No more questions were asked her as her tunic and coat was tossed to her.
"A walk? Of course I could go with you on a morning walk. But why not wait for light…have a light meal first..." Gabrielle grumbled as she pulled the tunic over her head then wrapped her coat around her, "hey!" She objected as she was roughly grabbed and pulled out of their room.
On the stairs one of the soldiers pushed her in the back to move faster down the stairs. There was no one in the common as she was hurried out. She stumbled as she was caught up in a yawn and felt someone grab her elbow to keep her in line. A very distinct feeling of familiar eyes watching her caused her to smile behind a hand and another wide yawn. Gads! Warriors and their early hours! No wonder they're so grumpy. If they had a leisure morning meal maybe they wouldn’t be as irritable as Hera’s left foot. Gabrielle was referring to the tale of Hera’s left foot that was reputed to have a twitch and how it got the twitch. That is another tale, and is left for telling as a warning to errant children.
General Gigantes was standing in the shadows of his meeting room watching Captain Herodes pushing the small blond woman ahead of him. He frowned. It wasn't Perdicles' girlfriend, not as he remembered her. Squinting he looked closer. Yesss. There was something familiar about her. The way she tossed her head at something that irritated her.
The Captain pushed her toward him when they were within a few feet. "Xena wasn't there." He told Gigantes in clipped terms.
Gigantes looked down at the dagger he was playing with. He had been using it to cut fruit with and it was sticky with the juices. He looked back in the dark green eyes that were shinning from the little light in the room.
"You've changed a lot since we've last met." He told Gabrielle as she returned his stare. He studied the back of the tattooed hand that was holding her coat around her from the chill of the room they were in. The torches in the room flickered together, as the doors to the anteroom they were in were closed to cut the cold draft off.
"So have you. I take it you're no longer a merchant's slave."
Gigantes raised an eyebrow at her. His master had never treated him as one, nor referred to him as one…so how did she know that he really was?
"Where's Xena?" He asked instead in a terse tone.
"I don't know. I woke up to your soldiers…not a pretty sight, I'm telling yaooo.…upf"
Gigantes struck Gabrielle with the back of his hand angrily. Gabrielle maintained her balance and took the blow as Xena had taught her. She was lucky she had seen it coming so she could prepare for it, otherwise she would have been picking herself up from the floor. Her lip dripped blood from the cut he opened with the heavy gold ring he wore. One of the soldiers grabbed her roughly by the shoulders holding her in front of the exslave.
Not the listening type, Gabrielle surmised, as she waited for the pain from the blow, and from her arms being pulled up behind her to recede. Her legs instinctively sought balance from the uncomfortable position she was held in.
"Where is Xena?" This time he didn't wait for an answer, but struck her in the stomach. As the air in her lungs whooshed out, her legs gave out and the soldier's grip tightened holding her up with her limp legs dangling below her. She felt her body struggling for air while another part of her distanced itself from the withering part and looked around her. Bored soldiers were standing around while Gigantes grabbed a handful of her short hair, pulling her head up and waited, leering at her bloodied mouth that was opened in an attempt to suck air back into her body. Her eyes were glazed as she gazed inward for the agonizing time it took for her body to recuperate.
"I'll ask one more time…"
Distantly, Gabrielle noticed he smelled a lot better than Herodes, as his pale face was up close to hers.
"I…." She felt a groan escape her lips as he painfully twisted her hair pulling her head back so her neck was exposed. Her body finally had its needed air back, and she was able to get her feet under her, taking off some of the weight from her arms that were held tightly behind her back.
"I don't know. She was gone…" another slap across her face rocked her back into the soldier, "when I woke up." She finished breathing heavily. She could feel her eye swelling. The whole right side of her face was numb. The gold ring on his finger was doing the most damage.
A commotion in the hall had both men taking defensive positions. Gigantes pulled a stumbling Gabrielle against him drawing the sticky knife up against her throat.
One of the soldiers came in with his sword drawn. "She's attacking us!" He frantically yelled gesturing with his free hand.
"Where?" Gigantes demanded.
"How?" Captain Heordes asked at the same time. Herodes suspected she had seen them drag Gabrielle into the building. He was nervous that she would get angry at them because Gigantes was mistreating her friend. He heard what she did to people that messed with her friends.
"A fire in the stables."
"Well, we don't have any horses there right now….so, what else?" he asked exasperated. "She's setting up diversions so she could get the Bard back." He muttered to the Captain Herodes. Gabrielle grimaced from the chokehold around her throat and the knife that was pressed painfully against the skin at the bottom of her ear.
"She gets her back…and we'll be on Charon's vessel with an obol shoved up each of our asses." Captain Herodes told his General.
"Take her out the back to the cavern." General Gigantes told him hurriedly. He pushed Gabrielle over to Herodes. "Keep Xena busy, until you get her out, then we'll make a bargain." Gigantes grinned. Well, looks like she made the decision for me. She's going to be part of the hostage game. She's going to be able to get in those tunnels, sooner or later. But that's not going to be my problem. Two days is all I need to keep her busy…and she should be starting to feel the effects of the drugs. He would have to get Herodes to face her and see if her eyes showed how far the effects of the drug were with her…then he would know just how much he could influence her…and if he dared to order her to his bed. His spy had said she had put enough of the drug in her ale to knock a horse out. And she wouldn't lie…for they had her daughter as hostage.
Captain Herodes pushed Gabrielle forward into the arms of a soldier. By the time they had reached the underground tunnel that led out from the building under the two fences, her hands were bound securely in front of her, and around her waist with her mouth gagged.
Gabrielle could feel the right side of her face that had been numb was starting to hurt, especially where the gag pulled across her bleeding lip.
All right Xena, plan A is going just fine…with a few injuries, but nothing unusual. She thought silently to her friend, and silently hoped she wouldn't get a view of her face. Xena would keep to her plan, but seeing her injuries would distract her.
Gabrielle concentrated on what Xena had taught her when in situations like this, study their defenses and possible ways out and in. You did ask for this job…so, keep alert, she briskly reminded herself as she tried to balance herself without the use of her arms over roots, brush, and rocks that they weaved through like a drunken troop, which apparently, some of the men were drunk.
The soldiers kept glancing about them nervously, which caused them to trip over roots or run into low over hanging branches while they were looking the other way. But then, she would be too, if she were in their boots. No one wants a big bad exwarlord after them, to say nothing of being a very pissed off big warrior princess, if she catches sight of her bruises, Gabrielle smirked. My hero, she thought trying to boost her confidence in herself.
Once they were well into the forest Gabrielle could feel that special connection the two women shared, vibrate the way it would when they were in close proximity to each other. Hey, she thought relieved, I know you can't hear me, Xena, but I want you to know, I'm okay.
She stumbled over whatever the unfriendly forest had on its floor, but not as much as the men that surrounded her, so she didn't feel so bad. Since her hands were tied securely waist level she had to keep turning her body to the side to prevent further altering of her facial features. On her tenth trip to the forest floor she managed to lay her hands on a very sharp and familiar knife set in the roots of tree, that she had spotted glittering through her one good eye. By then her lip had stopped bleeding, but her eye had swelled closed. She tucked her weapon neatly into the folds of her tunic under her coat with flexible wrists, as one of the soldiers dragged her back to her feet, himself barely missing entangling his feet in dried vines entangled in a blueberry bush.
No berries, she noticed from her quick look.
By the men's reactions in the forest she began to think that all of that nervousness wasn't just from Xena's reputation. I wonder if they've seen Dorie wandering around?
As the guard behind her pushed her forward, she could hear the men muttering under their breaths, as they slowed their pace. From what Gabrielle picked up the traps started and only one of them knew where it was safe to step…and he had a hangover. There was a lot of hesitating over his decisions.
Obvious they haven't traveled with a warrior princess who can see patterns even in ant tracks, and is a great teacher in such rudimentary skills. Should I volunteer to lead them to the cavern? Naaahhhhh. They may think I'm too interested in getting into their underground hideaway, to say nothing of their wounded pride.
The satyr guards were all standing by the time they reached the open clearing in front of the cavern opening. There was only one narrow path through the ivy, and she remembered what Xena said about the ivy so she made sure she didn't touch any of the leaves.
The satyrs gave Gabrielle a brief fright as they sniffed about her. She felt like a mare in season around a paddock of milling stallions…and it wasn't even during her moon time. She remembered Xena's comment about the satyr's rutting season.
Xena, I know you'll remember to get me outa here before their festival begins, she anxiously reminded her friend mentally.
The guards merely laughed at Gabrielle's expression and made their usual crude remarks. She played in her mind what Xena's tart replies would be to them. Instead of comforting her, made her more uncomfortable, as it reminded her that Xena had a lot more than her quick wit to back her up. Xena was use to the rowdy lewd comments, and had told her she just shut them out when she didn't want to hear them. However, she wasn't Xena, and was not able to shut them out…so her face was burning with embarrassment to say nothing of being intimidated. They pushed her into the dark entrance. She stumbled forward from the sudden change from light to darkness. Her hands that were tied in front of her came in contact with the wall and so did her head. The entrance went forward about five strides then doglegged sharply to the left and downward.
Before her eyes could focus on the blurred swirls that were drawn on the wall her forehead rested on another set of rough hands grabbed her elbow and dragged her down a sloping tunnel. She gave a weak attempt to shake the stars that were in front of her eyes clear.
Great, I’m going to be this one big bruise by the time we have this problem solved. Comparing bruises with Iolaus as side-kick to side-kick is not something I want to start.
Tiny lamps burning in small niches carved out about knee high from the bottom of the wall showed only where the ground was, but not much else. The person that was dragging her down the tunnel was difficult to see through her one good eye. His dress wasn’t local and he hadn't bathed recently. She was beginning to wonder about the hygiene of the invaders. A turban covered his head with the bottom of the cloth covering his lower face. Something Gabrielle was wishing for, as the fresh air from outside was displaced rather quickly by the smell of unclean bodies, human waste, and the rotting of something Gabrielle didn’t want to even guess at.
As her sight cleared and adjusted to the darkness she stumbled less, and was able to anticipate the steady downward slope of the floor. The journey abruptly was halted, as she was pushed into a small grotto, then jerked downward to sit on the floor.
"Wait here." She was ordered.
With her hands tied in front of her and to her waist she wasn't able to prevent herself from landing on her face from the push. Her cheek felt scraped under the good eye. The problem with going after not nice people, was that accumulating injuries was a probability, and unlike Xena, she usually came away with bruises, cuts and sprains. She sighed to herself, as she reminded herself that it helped Xena keep her herb collection fresh, and her healing abilities sharp.
Gabrielle gulped as she could feel an unmistakable vibration coming from…all around her, even in the air. Her whole body tingled even to the ends of her hair. The receding footfalls told her she had been delivered to where she was suppose to be. Curling in a fetal position, she bent her head towards her hands, stretching the rope around her wrists as much as she could, finally getting numbing fingers on a piece of the cloth and pulling it out. The dry cloth had soaked up some of the blood from the cut on her lip, helping it to clot, and when she pulled it out the cut on her lip was reopened painfully. She thought about using the knife to cut the rope from her wrists to get the blood recirculating in her hands, but it was too soon.
As the tingling feeling subsided she started to look around her. There was little light in the small grotto. Gabrielle rolled over and looked up at the ceiling of a low naturally vaulted room. Her eyes slowly wandered around the room taking in the small lamp sitting in a hollowed out niche that radiated little light. To her left there was the sound of dripping water and by the sheen on the wall a natural source of water was trickling down the wall into a stone bowl. Looking at it for a few moments she could see that it had been broken and the water from the bowl spilled out and ran down the side of the room trickling off to somewhere. Deep scratches in the stone floor with scattered rocks about looked like there had once been a detailed stone carving that someone had broken up and dragged off. Turning her head to look in front of her, she could see black smears on the walls with remnants of fabric barely hanging on their tacks. There were thirteen dark alcoves cut into the walls, and from the appearance of the deep scars cut into the stone floor something heavy had been dragged from them.
The floor she had been unceremoniously dumped on was used in places for someone's bladder release. The urine smell was especially strong over another smell that was burning her nostrils. Her eyes finally rested on the presence that was sharing the room with her. There was no movement from the seated silhouette but the yellow eyes that watched her gave her goosebumps, telling her that this was not someone Xena would approve of to have her left unchaperoned with. The eyes remained fixed on her and didn't blink. She heard no other sounds except the steady even breathing of her fellow occupant…and her pounding heart…and the building up of a headache. She realized in her fear that her mouth and throat were very dry, making it painfully difficult to swallow.
Yellow eyes with large black centers, watched her from a darkened dais with a tripod chair that the pythoness sat on once a month for communion with her goddesses. It was the oracle's seat for the Muses. The spot had always been an area of power for many ley lines in the surrounding land converged at this point. Before the Muses the pythoness for Ge sat in service in the sacred grotto. Even now, looking at the tripods that held the chair, the mystical messengers to the oracle, snakes, could be seen weaving their way up the chair. Crometh had been built upon the foundations of even an older city, long since gone, leaving behind the base of their ancient spiritual power.
The shadowed form of the hermaphrodite could feel the power from the base of the oracle’s chair stir as if the small woman's presence was summing it. Dark forearms rested comfortably on the chair’s arms with a slight breeze moving his fine hairs, and bringing a much needed breath of fresh air into the desecrated sacred area.
When he had first sat on the chair, in his arrogance, he had thought Hermes, his mentor at one time, would see that he was not burned to a crisp, as the uncleaned and unprepared would have happen to them, if they even stepped upon the dais of the chair. And in a way s'he or someone else did protect him. The flameless fire burned the outer grossness of his body, the shell that housed his spirit, and cleaned his inner self from self-delusions.
Yerik had told him to stay away from the room that held the chair, but he had taken four others when Yerik had gone to the city, and in a maddened drunken haze, had smashed the thirteen statues; ignoring the increasing of the energy in the room. Arri was surprised to find himself alone, weaving on his feet, breathless from the exertion of destruction he and his soldiers had visited on the supposed power spot of the cavern. He was protected by Hermes, he had thought drunkenly. But when he had looked about him for his companions he was aware of an awful smell of burnt human flesh, and found small piles of something that was like sticky black tar.
Furious he had advanced toward the dais where the seat stood and challenged the unseen power that he was beginning to feel burn through his body. He was too drunk to walk back out, and too arrogant to recognize his danger. The moment he collapsed on the chair he knew he would never be the same.
Lights brighter than his eyes were meant to see seared his vision, fire shot up the chair into his body, shaking and rocking the very ground beneath him. His scream of pain was voiced in another place for he was not on the chair when he was unceremoniously dumped before something he could not see. The power that surrounded him was in whirling lights of various colors, burning his skin, and eliminating the hairs on a once hairy body. He was on all fours panting from shock…naked…breasts hanging with nipples hard and an erection that would kill a centaur with the most incredible power building in the base of his spine. It was a hurting that was blissful at the same time.
A voice spoke to him, within him. No words…they were sounds. He didn't know what was said, the origin of the sound, the gender of the messenger, or if it really mattered. The new fire that burnt through him was so painful his eyes didn't tear as he watched his body burn to nothing and another under the old shell was reformed. He knew what had saved him was because he was a hermaphrodite. Then his consciousness was dropped back into the body that was sagging in the sacred chair. He had something to finish before he could return to the presence he had but a short visit with. His heart nearly broke to be separated again from this force, but he knew this was not his time to cross over yet. And he willingly returned.
The body he returned to was damaged from the flameless fire, and with the help of the energy that was within the temple and in the ley lines that ran up the sacred tripod, he steadily healed what he could. On his return he forgot much of what he had witnessed, and when the visions started, as his outer body healed, he learned what he needed to know to complete his tasks. The priestess Aerope at that stage assisted to his embarrassment, for he had helped enslave her.
On Yerik's return when he had entered the cavern to look for him, he had been angry that Arri had sat on the chair. However, because he could not get near the chair, nor anyone else without dying, he had to leave him there, ranting or mumbling. Water was left but at the doorway, for no one could enter the room. Arri had increased the power in the room to use for his healing.
It was after months of babbling nonsense to no one in particular, that he realized that the visions were not for the reasoning mind. That profound moment was like a huge door opened, and things he had previously not known, or even understood, surrounded him, as if he were in the library at Athens and merely had to touch a scroll and he would understand its contents. His shout of joy had echoed down the cavern’s tunnels with only the hostages to shudder in their drugged state at the errie echoes, for the soldiers hated to stay in the cavern for any length of time. For good reason too, for it not only smelled but the energy Yerik had sought to desecrate was very much alive, and running though out the tunnels giving those that were not prepared for entering a sacred place, unpleasant feelings. Arri laughed. All they had to do was change their attitude to kindness and their discomfort in entering the tunnels would disappear.
Unfortunately for Yerik, his brief time in childhood, spent with the old shaman, only gave him access to the magic statue, not to any worthwhile teachings. Arri knew where the energy from the statue was coming from. It was a mere spirit guide his former teacher had captured with a promise of release after a certain amount of time had passed. Arri smiled. The spirit was angry because Yerik didn't know how to release it, yet it was still bound by the previous owner's spells until that appointed time for release came.
Arri let his sight change so he could watch the light that emanated from the young woman's body change with her thoughts. The basic colors remained. She didn't have any of the tinge of uncleanness that most people had.
The shadow shifted his weight, as he watched the blond woman move into a position where she could view her environment. He shifted his sight to another level. She had the same kind heart as the priestess Aerope, and that steely inner quality that would help her through the many life ordeals she still had to live through. He knew he had to help her survive this lesson…just as he was doing for the Priestess, Aerope. To Aerope, he owed her his life and sanity, for she had guided him with her thoughts to mentally survive the visions.
* * * *
Gabrielle finally managed to get herself righted. Frightened but with a firm resolve she asked the dark figure with the unblinking yellow eyes, "You don't happen to know where there is some water, do you?" she croaked. She winced at the sound of her own voice.
A smile formed on his face, unseen in the dark. He was aware that Abbas was returning with the drugged water for her. With the drug, a person in a matter of days…would become witless and without consciousness.
Gabrielle could hear the echo of steps and rolled herself until she came up against a wall, keeping a watch on the unblinking yellow orbs that followed her movements. As torchlight approached the interior of the room started to move from unknown darkness to shadows with only the dais wrapped in a dark shroud. The golden tripod glinted from the light. The guard placed the torch in a holder outside of the room. He had a gourd of water in one hand. He easily spotted Gabrielle still bound, but leaning up against the wall where a statue of one of the muses had once been.
Abbas nodded toward Arri and caught his slight gesture to bring the water to him. Abbas hated coming into this place for he kept thinking he would end up dead like the others, but Arri told him he would protect him. Carefully he made his way close to the dias, but not too close. He grinned thinking Arri was going to further frighten their new slave. It was all right with him. He had already told the others she was his. A new plaything to get rid of his boredom. He wanted her before the drug took effect. He was tired of the others who were too docile and offered no resistance or even interest in what he did to them or asked them to do.
Arri turned back to the woman propped against the wall and started to prepare the chains he had dangling in his other hand. Until the drug took effect, Yeirk wanted their captives kept in chains.
"I'm goin'a cut the ropes on yer 'ans. Ya run, I cut ch'a."
Gabrielle nodded she understood.
Arri smiled inwardly knowing Abbas' thoughts and plans. He took the water gourd in his hands and felt the energy from the chair run though his arms into the gourd. The young woman needed to prepare herself for she was the one he had foreseen to act as the vessel to contain the light that was to be used to revitalize the sacred ley lines around and in the sacred cavern. She was also the one to intercede with the powers to end the wanderings of her sister Queen. Into the water he sent a different type of energy, changing the structure of the water.
Arri cut the rope from Gabrielle's wrists, then pulled at the coat around her, which by now was too warm for where she was. "Ya don' need this." Abbas pulled it off her letting his hands roam her body while he was pulling the coat off. Gabrielle's cold stare only made his grin wider, which showed that what teeth weren't missing, were blackened with rot.
"Abbasssss." A soft voice hissed.
"Arrrrgggg." Abbas grabbed his throat angrily falling over sideways with the chains he still had draped over his arm. Frightened, Abbas scrambled to his feet angrily. "I was only playin! No harm done. Not like ya can do anythin." He muttered the last statement more to himself.
"Abbasssss. Would you like me to prove to you….personally…that you are wrong?" The voice was soft but Gabrielle could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. It was at that moment the ground under them trembled and the energy in the room sent more of the tingling feeling through her body.
"Now…finish with your job." Arri told the frightened man when the trembling ground stopped.
He moved quickly now. He clamped the wrist cuffs around her bruised wrists, then guiltily, loosened them a bit, not hiding the quick smile at the tight lipped grimace on the woman's face. Yes, he wanted her before the drug took effect. Once she was under it's influence, she would not show any reaction to pain…or the pleasure he would give her. She wasn't going to be staying with the Captain long, only until he questioned her, he thought.
Next the ankles…he was going to remove the boots but stopped. He could do that later. He clamped the anklets around her and again pulled the chain to make sure they stayed locked. Then he returned to Arii's chair for the water.
Arri looked into Abbas' eyes as he lifted them to his to take the gourd, and without words pulled the man's mind to his will. "She is mine." He told Abbas. "No one is to touch her… do you understand?" His voice was so low that it was a mere whisper but Gabrielle and Abbas heard. To Abbas it was like a loud voice inside his head that threatened him indescribable harm if the order was not carried out.
Abbas was but a mere soldier whereas Arri, before he dared to sit on the chair, was the Captain of their small army, with Yerik their general. Their payment of gold and use of the hostages for their pleasure, with a few rules to follow, had kept the men from sneaking off to the neighboring villages and towns for amusement…for a while. But they were all tiring of the unresponsive slaves and the company of the satyrs. If they did not fear Yerik and now especially Arri, they would have deserted moons ago. The few that broke Yerik's rule of not killing or bruising the hostages where they could be seen, found he was harsh in his punishment. For the deceased the one who took the life took his or her place digging for gold, chained with little hope of getting out. For those that bruised a hostage so the one paying the fee to keep them alive could see them were handed over to the satyrs for a night's worth of entertainment.
Abbas nodded his understanding, wanting to leave the room quickly, as the fear that was running like a cold trickle of water up and down his spine was giving him spasms in his back, and making his bowels weak. Right now the thought of getting some fresh air outside was all he had on his mind.
Gabrielle listened to the whispered order and felt a fear of dread, though, not from the dark figure on the dais. Abbas gave her creepy feelings she would like to wash off.
Abbas took the gourd from Arri's hands and turning around, dropped it at Gabrielle's feet. "Stay in here." Abbas told her gruffly. "until someone comes for you. If you leave without permission…there are some who don’t care whose slave you are…" Abbas had stepped out of the grotto, then turned back to the dais. "And even he cannot protect you once you are in the tunnels."
Arri smiled at the warning but said nothing. Abbas turned on his heels and left.
Gabrielle struggled to balance the gourd in her hands, feeling the heavy weight of the chains shift as she moved the gourd’s spout to the unbruised side of her mouth. Thirstily she sucked up the water feeling some of it drip down her neck and what made it down her throat soothing the parchness that was probably contributing to the burning in her throat. She patted some of the water over her partially closed eye and bruised lip. For a moment the idea that the warm tingling on her skin from the water was healing the bruises crossed her mind, but she quickly discarded the idea as too fanciful.
Finally she laid the gourd to the side and stared into the eyes that were still regarding her silently.
Again, Arri smiled, unseen by Gabrielle, as his form was shrouded in darkness. He preferred the darkness for the burning had left him light sensitive. But then again, he used a different sight, which he felt was a lot more reliable for his immediate needs.
Gabrielle sighed. Whoever was watching her wasn’t going to say anything. She closed her eyes for a moment to gather her thoughts, and to close out those eyes that seemed to draw her into them. In a few moments her breathing was deep and even, as if sleeping. It gave her a break from the awareness of how bruised and battered her body was feeling at the moment.
16-17 : PART I |
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