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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
SPECIFIC STORY DISCLAIMER:
The story itself is about two women who are madly in love, and there will be some scenes depicting that love. There will, however, be NO explicit sex in this story! I figure you all would rather use your imagination for that stuff.
By the way, this is my first attempt at fan fiction, so please let me know what you think by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Constructive criticism only! All other kinds will make me cry...
Last, but definitely NOT least, I need to thank my partner in life for being so supportive in my endeavor. I love you!
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THE DARKLING - PART SEVEN
By Lynne Knowlton
After nearly a full day of pushing themselves, the three women arrived in Amphipolis just as the sun was setting on the horizon. Upon their entry into the village, Xena led Argo to the stables without so much as a backward glance.
When Xena turned away without acknowledging either her or the bard, it reinforced Calli's feeling that the warrior was jealous. Xena hadn't spoken a word to her the entire day, with the exception of one comment as they were breaking camp that morning.
As the slim woman was in the process of packing away her borrowed bedroll, she felt those electric blue eyes boring into the back of her skull. She turned around to face the warrior, with an arrogantly inquisitive look on her face. "Did you have something to say, Xena?"
The tall warrior crossed the space between them with two long strides. "Sleep well?" Xena snarled.
"Why yes, as a matter of fact I did. Thanks for asking." Calli replied with a flippant tone, returning to her task.
Heavy footsteps retreated to the other side of the camp. Calli glanced sidelong to see Xena roughly grab her pouches and toss them over Argo's back. When Xena mounted the horse and galloped out of the campsite, she wasn't surprised a bit. The bard, on the other hand, had been quite surprised and approached Calli with an unmistakable look of anger on her face.
"What did you say to her?" Gabrielle stood in front of Calli, with her fists on her hips. "She just left! You must have said something to make her angry. What was it?"
Calli tilted her head as she responded. "Why are you assuming that it's my fault? She asked me a question, and I answered it. It appears that she didn't quite care for the answer. But, that's really not my problem, now is it?"
Gabrielle's look softened somewhat as she considered Calli's reply. "Well...what did she ask you?"
"Whether or not I slept well."
"And what did you say?"
"That I had."
A confused look crossed the bard's face. "Well...I don't understand why that would have..." Green eyes widened as realization dawned. The little blonde smacked herself in the forehead. "Ohhhhhh boy."
"Well, she must have been referring to when you moved your bedroll last night to lay next to me...which was completely innocent...and thanks, by the way...but..." Calli could see the wheels turning inside Gabrielle's head. "If that made her angry, then that must mean she's jealous...but if she's jealous, that that must mean that she...you know...loves me..." Now the bard began pacing back and forth with her hands clasped behind her back. Four steps and turn. Four steps and turn. "But she can't love me...not like that anyway. I mean, I thought last night that maybe...but when I...well she pulled away so I must have read it wrong...but she's jealous! That's the real key here...so the question is...how do I get her to talk about this? I mean, she's not exactly a fountain of words. Am I crazy here? Am I just seeing what I want to? But then, why was she so angry..."
"Gabrielle !!!! " Calli grabbed the bard by the shoulder and brought her to a complete halt.
"Stop pacing! You're making me dizzy!"
Gabrielle shook herself from her train of thought. "Right. Sorry." She reached for her staff and a pouch that had been left laying in the dirt. "I'm sure Xena's pretty far ahead of us by now. We'd better hurry."
The two women checked the campsite again, ensuring that no smoldering embers were left and that the area was clean. Once that was done, they set off after Xena. Calli decided to use this opportunity to learn more about the pair and also about her counterpart in this world. Perhaps she could divert the bard's thoughts away from the events of the night before and this morning. She began asking a lot of questions of the talkative bard. She learned a great deal about Callisto...about what Xena had done to her and how she had been affected by it. She also learned of the twisted obsession her counterpart had with the warrior, and how it had affected their lives. She wondered why they chose such different paths if their lives had been nearly identical up to the point that the Destroyer of Nations razed Cirra. She was horrified by the things that Gabrielle had told her. Moreover, she found it incredible that the bard was able to look at her and see her, and not the one who had so cruelly murdered Perdicas. Calli learned how Xena and Gabrielle had met, how they had developed a unique kinship with each other. She snickered when the bard had told her of some of their more amusing adventures. The story of the Titans and how the bard's big mouth had gotten her into trouble made her laugh until her sides ached. She had learned a lot in those hours before they got to Amphipolis.
They had caught up to the warrior just after midday. The little bard jogged until she was alongside the dark-haired woman, who was now leading Argo rather than riding her. From her vantagepoint behind the warrior, Calli could see by Xena's posture that she was in no mood to talk. Regardless, it appeared as though Gabrielle was going to ignore the obvious and venture forth with a question anyway.
"Xena? Are you mad at me?"
"Are you sure?"
The warrior clenched her teeth in an effort to remain patient. "Yes."
"Can we...can we just talk about what happened earlier?"
Xena pinned the bard with the hard stare of her blue eyes. "I said no."
Calli watched the exchange with some interest. Although the warrior was obviously still seething, she had managed to keep her anger in check. Gabrielle turned to face her, and the look in her green eyes was a mixture of anger, frustration, and sadness.
"Well, that went well, don't you think?" The bard asked sarcastically.
Calli shrugged. "Hm. Could've been worse."
"Oh really?" Gabrielle snorted. "How do you figure that?"
"Well, she could have ripped your arm off and beaten you over the head with it."
It took less than a heartbeat for Gabrielle to realize the joke. She chuckled. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
The rest of the trip had been spent continuing the exchange of information, both women learning from each other. For a while, at least, it seemed the little bard was able to pretend that everything was fine between herself and the warrior.
Now that they had arrived at the village, Calli could scout around for the clearing she saw just before she jumped into the portal. First, however, she needed to get some hot food and a little rest. They hadn't stopped once since they set out this morning. She would find the clearing, weigh her options and then come up with a strategy. If she knew anything about 'The Other', it was that she would wait until the last possible minute to return to her own world. There would be plenty of time to formulate a workable game plan, which would include lots of hacking and slashing. She was fairly certain that somebody's guts would be lying in the dirt tomorrow. Since she was quite fond of all her internal organs, guts included, she would have to make sure that they wouldn't be hers.
Gabrielle watched the warrior lead Argo into the stables. She stood there for several heartbeats before she realized that Xena wasn't going to say a thing. A subtle fear wound its way into her heart. Every other time that she and Xena had a misunderstanding or disagreement, they had always been able to get through it. They had already dealt with a good number of these incidents. So many, in fact, that the bard was able to predict the exact sequence of the 'making up' process. Xena would close herself off; Gabrielle would ask questions; Xena would tell her to buzz off; Gabrielle would ask questions; Xena would snarl; Gabrielle would ask questions; Xena would start to open up; Gabrielle would analyze; Xena would tell her to knock it off; Gabrielle would knock it off and go back to the questions; Xena would spill her guts, in a Warrior Princess kind of way. This time it was different and she could sense that. It seemed to the bard that Xena couldn't get away from her fast enough. The fact that the warrior didn't want to be around her was evident by the way she just turned toward the stable without so much as a word or a look. She just...left her standing alone. Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a strange noise.
Calli looked at the bard as though she had suddenly grown a third eye in the middle of her forehead. "What?"
"What do you mean, 'what'?" Gabrielle asked with a confused look on her face.
"You just growled at me."
The bard blushed crimson. "Ah...heh...that would be my stomach. I guess it's telling me that it's suffered long enough." She took the lithe, blonde woman by the hand and pulled her toward Amphipolis' tavern extrodanaire. "Come on. Xena's mom..."
"Xena has a mom?"
"Of course she has a mom!" Gabrielle laughed as she pushed Calli through the door of the tavern. "And she makes the best rabbit stew! And the best lamb chops, and the best cheese, and the best bread, and the best..."
"I get the idea, Gabrielle."
Cyrene's tavern had gone through several drastic improvements since the first time Gabrielle had seen it. It seemed as though each time she and Xena had visited, one thing or the other had changed. Now instead of dirt, the floors were covered with oak; highly polished from the many feet that had come through the doors. Strong wooden beams, boards, and shingles had replaced the thatch roof. Walls that had once been fashioned of sod were now constructed of granite, quarried from a cliff near the small river that fed the village. As a matter of fact, it seemed as though every home and business had gone through a similar transformation. Although Xena would never admit it, it was common knowledge that she hailed from Amphipolis. That fact alone was what allowed the village to flourish. It was assumed that Amphipolis and its people were under the protection of the Warrior Princess. No one would dare to interfere with any of the trading caravans that went between the village and its nearby neighbors, for fear of what a certain, raven-haired warrior would do to them.
A short, buxom woman with brown, curly hair streaked with gray made her way across the tavern toward Gabrielle. Her gray-blue eyes lit up with the joy of seeing her daughter's companion. The second she reached the little bard, her arms opened wide in a warm embrace. "Oh darling! It's so good to see you again!"
Gabrielle returned the embrace with enthusiasm. "Cyrene! The place is looking great!" Barely audible sniffing sounds emanated from the bard's sensitive nose. "And whatever's in the kitchen smells wonderful!"
"We've got some vegetable beef stew simmering in the back, along with some freshly baked bread. And for an appetizer, how about some fruit and cheese?" The older woman paused in the middle of her menu recitation. "I guess I really should be asking you about Xena. What's going on between you two? She was just here a few days ago acting very strangely, and neither you nor Argo were anywhere in sight. Is she all right? Are you all right? Do you know where she went?"
Green eyes darted around the room, avoiding the blue-grey gaze of Xena's worried mother. If the situation weren't so serious, she would have chuckled at the barrage of questions flying at her. Cyrene was almost as bad as she was when it came to questions, but the bard knew that the warrior would be angry if she told her mother what was really going on with Calli or the rift. She opted for the easy way out. "Ah...how 'bout if I let Xena tell you everything. She's in the stables right now taking care of Argo."
"Well, I'll just bustle over there and..." Cyrene changed her thought mid-stream. "Why don't you introduce your friend?"
Gabrielle flushed with embarrassment. "I am so sorry. Cyrene, this is Calli. Calli, Cyrene. Calli's from...uh...someplace really far away."
A slight smile flashed across Calli's face as she nodded toward the older woman. "Pleasure, Cyrene. So...you're really Xena's mom. Huh?"
"Why of course, dear." Cyrene replied with good humor. "Now, why don't you two sit down and get something to eat while I talk with Xena. Charis will get you some hot stew." With that, the short woman swept out of the tavern in search of her warrior daughter.
Xena felt the need to put some distance between herself and Gabrielle, which is why she ran for the stables like a scared rabbit. She couldn't bring herself to look at the young bard for fear of what she would see in those beautiful green eyes. Disappointment...hurt...anger... "I can face down the worst warlord in Greece, but I can't even bring myself to look at her. Some 'Warrior Princess' I am..."
The stables had always been a temporary safe haven for the warrior. It was familiar, it was isolated, and it was a comfort zone for her. She settled into the routine that allowed her to push the past two days events from her mind. After removing the pouches, blanket, and saddle from Argo's back, she set them against the wall. She filled the stall with fresh hay, and made sure the mare had access to plenty of oats and sweet water. Once Argo's most immediate needs were met, she pulled a large brush from one of the pouches. Usually, brushing Argo had a calming effect. Unfortunately, this time, it just didn't seem like it would be enough. The anger she carried with her was a hair's breadth below the surface, ready to boil over. For the better portion of the day, she had watched Gabrielle and Callisto become closer. She had also dealt with her friend's cold shoulder. She knew she deserved it, but that didn't make it hurt any less.
A soft nose pushed into Xena's hand, causing a wry smile to appear. "Argo. You always seem to know when something's wrong." The warrior leaned against the mare, resting her forehead on a strong neck. Chuckling softly, she continued talking to her four-legged friend "It's either sympathy you're giving me, or grief for not paying enough attention to you lately." The mare nickered as she nudged the warrior with her head, causing the blue eyes to crinkle up in a genuine smile. "I believe that would be your usual gesture of forgiveness." Argo had been pushed as hard as the rest of them, so Xena decided to take extra time with the mare. After a bit, the warrior was able to bring herself back to that place she liked to go when she didn't want to think too much.
Once she had finished grooming Argo, she immediately peeled off her armor and set it against the wall next to the pouches. Although Xena's mind was somewhat calm, her body still hadn't caught up. An intense workout was obviously in order. The muscles in her upper back and neck were so bunched up she could almost hear them screaming. She rolled her head, trying to work out all the kinks. Bouncing lightly on her heels, she shook out her arms and shoulders. She took several deep breaths and leaned forward, placing her hands flat on the floor directly in front of her feet. Her hamstrings protested as she held that position for a time. Suddenly, the side door swung open. The warrior quickly stood, causing her lower back to pop. "Gods, I hate getting old." Strong hands reached to the injured area, massaging as she searched for the cause of her distraction. "Mother!" She glowered at the short, rubenesque woman standing just inside the doorway.
Long, wavy brown hair framed a pretty face. Smile lines danced around the corners of the blue-grey eyes that were currently focused on her daughter. "Well what are you still doing out here, for pity's sake?" Cyrene took a several purposeful strides toward the warrior. Upon reaching her only female offspring, the short woman wrapped her arms around a slim waist. "And what brings you back here so soon? Did you get lost?" The older woman teased.
Xena awkwardly embraced her mother. The sensation of being held by the woman who gave her life was still strange to her. It hadn't been all that long since she had returned to Amphipolis to atone for her past misdeeds. She smiled down at her mother and chuckled. "Hello, Mother." Realization slowly dawned on the warrior. Blue eyes turned hard as ice as she gripped her mother by the arms. "What did you say?"
"Xena, what's the matter?" Cyrene's eyes grew worried at her daughter's strange reaction.
"Mother, it's been months since I've been to see you, yet you asked what brought me back so soon."
The older woman broke the firm grasp and she slapped a hand to the warrior's forehead. "Honey, are you ill? Are you coming down with something?"
Xena became more anxious as the situation grew more evident. "I can't explain right now, Mother. Just tell me...when was I here last?"
"Well, sweetheart, it was only four days ago."
"What did I do? Where did I go?"
Cyrene slowly shook her head. "Oh, honey. I think you should see the healer." She began running her hands over the hark head. "You must have suffered some type of head injury. I'm going to get Gabrielle and ask her what in Tartarus is going on here."
Xena, exasperated, grabbed her mother's hands and held them in her own. "Mother! Stop feeling my head! I'm fine...and leave Gabrielle out of this. Now, answer my questions."
The older woman sighed in defeat. "All right, all right. Now, I have to admit you were acting rather strangely. You weren't wearing your normal leathers and armor...you were in this strange, black, studded...thing. You were on foot, with Argo nowhere in sight, which I thought was odd. And Gabrielle wasnt with you either, which I also thought was odd. You questioned everyone in the village, even me, and..."
Xena interrupted. "What was I asking about?"
Cyrene leveled a look that closely resembled the warrior's own. "Don't interrupt, daughter. Let me finish." Seeing that Xena had the grace to look chagrined, she continued. "Now, as I was saying, you questioned everyone in the village. The strange part is that you were asking how many men of fighting age were here, what kind of defenses the village had, how many other villages were within riding distance. I just assumed that you already knew all of that. I chalked it up to your having been away for so long, but it still didn't sit right with me. You were acting as though you didn't know me...at least in the beginning of your impromptu visit, but you were still very, very distant. Part of me was frightened that you had plans to return to your old ways. Anyway, after that, you borrowed a horse from the blacksmith and spent the next few days riding out into the woods. The outlying area has had some minor problems with raiders, so the better part of my judgement told me that perhaps you had heard about the trouble and the questions were a precursor to your asking the village to help you dispatch them."
"And then what happened?"
"You just left. You took one of the smithy's horses and rode north. I can't tell you how relieved I was to see you again so soon! I thought perhaps there was something deeper to your actions and that you had come back to explain yourself. You are going to explain yourself, aren't you?" Cyrene's eyebrows rose up on her forehead, in another gesture reminiscent of her daughter.
Xena released her mother's hands and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to look into her mother's worried face. "I know you won't understand all this, Mother, and I can't explain everything to you. It would take too long. Just trust me on this..."
"What? What's the matter, little one?"
"That person was not me. I know she looked like me, talked like me, moved like me, but she wasn't me. Think back to everything you remember about those few days while she was here. Even you must admit that even in my darkest days, I always acknowledged my ties to you." She sighed heavily. "I'm going to have to leave again, Mother. Tonight."
"Xena, you're exhausted. You look as though you haven't slept in days. Rest for awhile and leave in the morning."
"I can't. Mother, listen to me. I'm going to leave Gabrielle here and you've got to make absolutely certain that she doesn't follow me. And I'll need to see the smithy for another horse. I'm going to leave Argo here." Xena snapped her armor back in place, grabbed one of the small pouches on the floor, and walked toward the door. Cyrene reached out, grabbing hold of her daughter's forearm.
The dark-haired warrior gently removed her mother's hand from her arm. "Mother, please. Just take care of Gabrielle and Argo for me."
Gabrielle and Calli were situated at a table in the far corner of the tavern. Before them were two steaming bowls of stew, a tray of bread, cheese, and assorted fruit. There were also two mugs; one filled with cider and the other with ale. The bard was in heaven as she wolfed down the contents of her bowl. "Fscuse mf." She said to Calli as she reached for the warm bread. The ravenous blonde ripped off a large chunk, slathered it with whipped butter, and took a huge bite. "Mmmmfff..." Green eyes rolled skyward in thanks to the God of Food. Of course, such a god really didn't exist, but as far as Gabrielle was concerned, the denizens of Olympus should create a new slot.
"Good thing I'm on the other side of the table." Calli observed. "Otherwise I might lose a limb in the feeding frenzy." She spooned some of the thick stew into her mouth, admitting to herself that she had never tasted better. Watching the bard eat was an experience in itself. She had never seen someone so small eat so much. "So, Gabrielle. Is there a bottomless pit somewhere in there, or do you have a tape worm?"
"Gack!" The bard choked on the chunk of bread as she laughed at the sarcastic comment. Calli leaned over the table, slapping Gabrielle on the back with a resounding 'THUD'. The bread shot across the table, landed on the floor, and skittered underneath the table in front of them. "Thanks..." The bard was obviously embarrassed at her manic face-stuffing. "Ah...good bread, don't you think?"
Calli rolled her eyes while she took another spoonful of stew.
"So. What's the plan?" Curious green eyes watched the slim woman sitting across the table.
"Pretty simple, really. We find the clearing, get into position, and kill the bitch."
"Ooookay. But, what time frame are we looking at here."
"Knowing her the way I do, I'd guess she'll wait until the last minute to cross over. I want to check out the clearing tonight and then decide the particulars in the morning. We can have our Xena scout around to see where exactly the other one is. That'll give us a better idea of how much time we've got to work on strategy."
"So...what..." Gabrielle's question was interrupted by an upset Cyrene.
"Gabrielle! You've got to stop Xena! She's gone insane! She keeps rambling about another Xena, and she doesn't remember being here recently!"
Calli stood, placing her hand on Cyrene's shoulder. "Slow down. Take a deep breath and tell us what's going on."
The older woman took Calli's advice. "All right. I just talked to Xena and she told me that she was going to leave Argo and Gabrielle here. She was here a few days ago, but she said it wasn't her. She's on her way to the smithy right now to get another horse. I have no idea what's going on here!"
Anger was the first thing that Gabrielle noticed. That, and an incredible hurt. Xena was once again going to pull her 'you stay here so you won't get hurt' routine, which could also be confused with her 'you stay here so you won't get in my way' routine. Then there was the 'I'm the only one who should sacrifice her life' routine, which was very similar to the old 'I have a lifetime of being evil to make up for, and I don't need to drag you into the middle of it' routine. Whichever routine it was, the bard was sick and tired of it. Ever since she and Xena had begun travelling together, she had always had to fight for the warrior's respect. She always felt she had to prove that she was an adult and could take care of herself. What frustrated and angered her even more was that Xena refused to see that Gabrielle could make a valuable contribution. As far as the warrior was concerned, the bard's only worthy contributions were to the cook pot, and to Argo when Xena needed someone to watch over her. Being Amazon Queen wasn't good enough. Even the events leading up to her coronation wasn't good enough! Nothing was ever good enough!
"That is IT!!" The little bard stomped out of the tavern, leaving a confused Cyrene and Calli staring at her back.
She caught up with the warrior, just as she reached the smithy. "Xena!" She watched dumbfounded as Xena pretended not to hear her, and walked into the smithy's shop. Being ignored only fueled the flames. The bard's green eyes narrowed in fury as she burst through the wooden door. Two pairs of eyes turned in her direction. One pair, dark brown and full of confusion. The other pair, electric blue and glittering with suppressed anger.
"Get out of here Gabrielle. This doesn't concern you." The sultry voice radiated danger.
"What do you mean this doesn't concern me?" The bard stomped up to face the angry warrior. "You were just going to dump me here and run off to play hero, weren't you? Weren't you?? I thought we were past this, Xena!" A small finger pushed into the angry woman's shoulder.
"Gabrielle..." Xena's lip curled up in a snarl as she grasped the bard's arm in a painful grip. "I said this doesn't concern you." Each word was emphasized by a rough shake.
Emotions roiled in Gabrielle's gut, alternating between fear and anger. "Xena, you're hurting me."
The warrior jerked the little blonde toward her so they were nose to nose. Gabrielle's feet barely touched the ground. The pressure of Xena's fingers digging into her flesh increased along with the coldness in the warrior's face. "I'll hurt you a lot worse if you follow me."
The bard felt herself being dragged out of the smithy's shop. In half a heartbeat, she was outside facing the incredulous expressions of Calli and Cyrene. She barely had time to register their presence before the warrior roughly threw her to the ground. Cyrene gasped and rushed to help Gabrielle off the ground.
"Oh, sweetheart. I'm so sorry. I just don't know what's wrong with her."
"It doesn't matter any more, Cyrene. This is too hard." The little blonde closed her eyes against the tears that threatened to fall. She pulled away from the older woman and walked back to the tavern.
Calli shrugged and watched as the older woman chased after the bard. She figured that Cyrene would take care of Gabrielle. She had to close herself off to anything that might interfere with her goal. Anger she could allow, but not sympathy. Not now. Curious to see what Xena had planned, she turned to enter the shop. The solid wood door creaked as she pushed it open. She stepped in and allowed her eyes to focus in the somewhat dim interior. The structure was constructed of the same materials as the tavern. The room she was in was smallish, with shelving on the far wall. There was a small window to the left, with a rough desk sitting underneath it. A narrow door to the right led to the larger room where the smithy actually did his work. Beyond that was a double door leading to the corral. That was where she found Xena and Ademtos, haggling over a silver gelding.
"Yah promised ta pay me fer the last one ya took, Xena. I've yet ta see a dinar from ya. Ya think aym gonta let ya have anather un? Yer cracked is what ya are." A very large, very hairy man was standing face to face with the Warrior Princess. Big, meaty hands were waving in the air, gesturing with each word.
"Look. I'll pay you for this one, and double what the other cost for your trouble." Xena inwardly flinched as she thought of how Gabrielle would react at her lack of haggling expertise.
The big man pulled at his long, black beard as he thought for all of one heartbeat. "Ya got yerself a deal. Ay'll gi'ya a saddle an' tack fer fi' dinars. The hurses will cost ya anodder seven'y dinars fer a total'a seven'y-fi'."
"Done." Xena tossed a small, leather pouch toward the smith. A hand the size of a small boulder deftly plucked it out of the air. As she turned to follow the smith back to the shop, she was startled to see Calli leaning up against a fence.
"Nice demonstration of sisterly love earlier, Xena. Is that how you treat all your friends?"
"Shut up, Callisto."
"You know, I learned quite a bit about your Callisto from Gabrielle. I do believe you just insulted me." Calli stretched backward against the railing, showing off her slim, toned body. "Hm...I've been thinking. Maybe your little bard would appreciate a new friend. I mean, you have such a hard time showing her how you feel about her...unless tossing her into the dirt is some kind of strange Warrior Princess mating ritual. I bet she'd really like someone who wasn't afraid to touch her. Yeah...I think I'll just..." The words caught in her throat as she felt herself being lifted off her feet by a furious blue-eyed warrior.
If Xena's eyes had been daggers, Calli would have been skewered to the fence. "I...said...shut...up."
A powerful throw launched the slim, blonde woman over the railing. After flying for what seemed like an eternity, she finally, painfully, slammed into a tree. "Ohhh yeah, she's mad." Calli thought as she slid to the ground. "Good. Maybe she'll realize what a complete idiot she's being." She stood and dusted herself off, ignoring the scratches from her impact on the oak. Her perverse desire to goad certain, more volatile, people into violence caused her to completely push aside the real reason she went to find Xena. "Well, I guess I should get back to business. But, it's so damn much fun getting under her skin, I just can't help myself!" She smiled mischievously as she went in search of the blue-eye warrior.
Xena had just finished throwing her pouches over the silver gelding when Calli sauntered into the corral. She stuffed down the urge to slice and dice the annoying woman. Instead, she settled for "the look".
"So. Gonna tell me where you're going?"
"You're up to something, aren't you? You're going to do more than just check things out, aren't you? Well? Aren't you?"
"You're making a mistake. I know her better than you do."
"I don't think so."
"Listen to me." Calli grabbed ahold of the gelding's reigns. "You don't know this person at all. You'll just get yourself killed. Let me go with you."
"No. Is that all you know how to say?"
"No. And I don't plan on getting myself killed."
Calli sighed in frustration. "Gods! I have no idea how she put up with you as long as she did!"
Black eyebrows rose over the top of electric-blue eyes. "Gabrielle is off-limits."
"Fine. Whatever. Look, you are really, really bugging me! I'm the one who was betrayed by a friend, who remains unknown at the moment, but that's beside the point! I'm the one who got her face beaten in and her ribs broken! And I'm the one who jumped into that damned rift trying to catch up with the bitch!" Calli's voice grew louder with each pointed statement. "I'm going and there's not a damned thing you can do about it! Now, get me a horse, dammit!"
"I thought you were going to scout the clearing."
"Yeah? And your point is?"
"I need you to scout the clearing. You're the only one who knows which one it is. I'm just going to take a look around. I need to see what she's up to and how much I'm going to need to fix after she's gone. That's all."
"Your mother said something to you, didn't she? That's what's got your leathers in a twist, isn't it?"
Xena pretended not to hear.
A snort issued from the small blonde. "Well if 'taking a look around' is all you're going to do, oh mighty Warrior Princess, why are you dumping the bard?"
"I told you. Gabrielle is off-limits." The voice became dangerously low. The tone was such that Callie truly realized how close she had come to becoming nothing but a greasy patch in the dirt earlier that day. "Now, unless you want to really make me angry, I suggest you drop it." With that said, Xena mounted the gelding and galloped out of the village.
Gabrielle didn't stop to say goodbye to Cyrene or Calli. Once she was sure that Xena had gone, she gathered up what the warrior had left in the stables and walked out of Amphipolis. She didnt care that she had been left less than ten dinars. It just didn't matter. The hunger and exhaustion she felt didn't matter either. What did matter was that her best friend had once again left her behind. Well, she decided that enough was enough. She wasn't going to sit around and wait for the Warrior Princess to decide she needed someone to cook for her or take care of her horse. The Amazons would welcome her, she knew without a doubt. It was time she learned what it took to lead a nation of warriors. She would take her rightful place among the Amazons and forget about Xena.
It took the slim blonde all of about three candlemarks to find the clearing. She had a crazy sense of direction where that pain in the ass other Xena was concerned. "The Soulless One." She rolled her eyes while she sized up the area. "They should have called her, 'The Disgusting One' or 'The Really, Really Annoying One', or better yet, The Brutal, Bloody, Child-Murdering One.' Nah, those names would never work...too long. That's why I just call her 'The Bitch'!" As Calli sat in one of the trees surrounding the clearing, she realized something horrifying. "Holy Athena's nosehairs! That bard is rubbing off on me!" Blonde hair whipped back and forth as she shook herself out of the insane rambling. She needed to focus on figuring out how to set up the ambush. As annoyed as Calli was, she realized that there was some logic to Xena's argument. Of course, she needed to scout out the clearing. She knew that, damn it! But, there was that niggling feeling in the back of her mind that Xena was up to something. She truly hated being left out of the plan, which is probably why she felt an even stronger kinship with the bard. "I've only had to put up with this a few days. Imagine putting up with it for almost two summers! I'd be insane...or dead. Wait...I'm already insane, so yeah, I'd be dead."
Sitting up in the tree was rather relaxing for Callie. She could observe the clearing without being observed. She liked that feeling of anonymity. Being the leader of a fairly large group of fighters, she rarely got that 'alone time' she so desperately craved. As difficult as this entire journey had been, she appreciated not having to be the one to make all the decisions for everyone else. It was nice to sit back and let someone else shoulder the load. As she was contemplating her position in the whole scheme of things, she heard a rustling noise. She peered into the darkness to see Xena ride into the clearing on the grey gelding. The lithe blonde did a lazy flip from her perch, landing directly in front of the warrior.
"Well that was fast. I guess she must not be too far from the village after all." She paused when she realized that something didn't seem quite right. Confusion filled the liquid brown eyes when they took in the raven-haired woman sitting astride the horse. It wasn't the sitting part that confused her, it was the fact that Xena had her sword unsheathed and made no effort to return it to it's scabbard.
"So...you made it, did you?" The familiarity of the voice chilled Calli to the bone. "How nice, although I can't say that I'm surprised. I was hoping my little dagger finished you off, but I have to admit my aim was a little off." The tall woman gracefully dismounted. Two long strides was all it took to bring her face to face with the blonde. A strong hand snaked out and grasped Calli by the chin. Her head was forced to the side, exposing the side of her neck. "Well, you did get a nice, little scar though." An evil smile marred the beautiful features. "And your nose isn't nearly as flat as when I last saw it."
A raspy voice Calli hardly recognized as her own rasped. "Where's Xena?"
"Oh her. Since you asked..." She gestured behind her, and five well armed mercenaries entered the clearing. They were leading small roan, and bound to it was a badly beaten and unconscious Xena. She had been unceremoniously tossed over the mare's back like a sack of flour. Her face was bruised and one eye was swollen shut. Dried blood had caked underneath her nose and covered her upper lip. Calli noticed that she had been stripped of her leathers and armor. The warrior had nothing on but her cotton shift, which appeared to have a healthy smattering of blood on it.
"What are you going to do with her?"
"Take her with me, of course! By the way, these fit perfectly, don't you think?" A long arm swept the length of her body as she proudly displayed the new armor she was wearing. Xena's armor.
"Oh, by the way, could you just step aside?" A strong fist shot out, connecting with Calli's solar plexus. The blonde dropped to her knees, then immediately felt herself being dragged by the hair. "I can't have you blocking my portal, now can I? After all, I'm a little homesick and I really feel the need to get back to the ol' Keep. I'm sure you know how it is."
Watery eyes focused on the place she had just been kneeling. Calli tried to stand as she saw the rift forming, but her legs wouldn't hold her up. She desperately tried to think her way out of this situation, but her brain refused to cooperate. As she lay there, retching in the dirt, the tall warlord, the five mercenaries, and the roan carrying the raven-haired warrior began to enter the rift. "Wait!" A scream ripped from her throat. "Leave her here! Take me instead! I'm worth more to you than she is!"
"Oh please. Those sound like lines from a really bad play I saw in Carthage. As a matter of fact, it was so bad that I had to kill the producer, director...well...just about everyone associated with it." The warlord motioned for the mercenaries to enter the rift, which they did. When she was standing alone with the blonde, she began to laugh. "And, why in the known world would I want to leave her here?"
"Gabrielle..." Calli stopped before she revealed too much.
A black eyebrow rose in curiosity, but it's owner didn't pursue the question. Instead she grasped a handful of blonde hair and twisted hard. "Listen to me, you fool. I can't have her here interfering with my plans. Two Xena's would be too confusing to these simple-minded people." Another hard twist earned a stifled cry from Calli. "By the way, as far as your pathetic little band of 'freedom fighters' know, you were executed in my dungeon a quarter moon ago. And that makes you worth less than nothing."
CONTINUED IN PART EIGHT
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