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Disclaimer: The characters that appear on the show Xena Warrior Princess (Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Salmoneus, & others made mention of from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Hercules, Iolaus & Autolycus) are the copyright of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The other characters and the original story idea, are my own and I reserve the rights to them. If you like some of my original characters and would like to use them in one of your stories, that would be great, but please do not do so without my permission. This story was written for the sheer joy of creating a story that everyone could enjoy and because I am a big fan of Xena Warrior Princess, but mostly it was written for my sister, Sam, who is an even bigger fan than I am.

Content: Could be classified as a Hurt/Comfort story. Moderate language. The story centers around a war/battle and does contain what some may consider extreme violence (PG-13), but it is not described in graphic detail. There is a level of subtext in this story, but Iíve tried to be as faithful to the series as possible, so there is no more subtext than what you would see on the show.

Spoiler Warning: Takes place between "The Debt I & II" and "Maternal Instincts" episodes of Xena Warrior Princess. You may want to watch the "The Deliverer," "Gabrielleís Hope" and "The Debt I & II" episodes if you have not already seen them, since several aspects of these episodes are directly dealt with.

Acknowledgements: This story would never have been possible without the help of my sister, Sam, whose thankless job (at least, thatís what she thinks) it was to advise me in the ways of the Xenaverse. Since I am not as well scripted as she in all those simple little quirks of Xena and Gabrielleís, she chose to stick her nose in and nit-pick my entire story. But, if truth be told, if Ididnít have her to nit-pick my story, to urge me on and to be there when I call late at night just to ask: "Sam, does this sound right?" "Sam, do you think Xena would do this?", I wouldnít have a story to begin with. So, I need to take a moment here just to say: "Thanks, Sam." I would also like to thank my Dad, who is an excellent writer in his own right, for his great editing work and ideas that really pulled my story together and made it work.

I would love to hear from all Xena fans out there and am willing to take a little objective criticism, but please take into consideration that I am quite fragile and could crack under pressure. Drop me a line at jennygl@cajun.net.


Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 5(cont'd)

 

The Hunter

By Jennifer Lawson

Part I: Xena Warrior PrincessSoulmates

iím going hunting
iím the hunter
iíll bring back the goods

-- "Hunter", Bjork

Chapter Three

Gabrielleís Big Day

Slumped against an observation post in the wall, Gabrielle awakened with a start. Her waking thought became a word: "Xena!" A deep sense of dread passed through her. She tried to pass it off as pre-battle jitters, but the feeling would not go away.

Gabrielle figured that she must have dozed off in the wait, since she and their village army had stayed up most of the night waiting for some sign of the army. The night before, Zantus had been able to gather a large group of men. Most were simple citizens who did not want to see their village brought to ruins. But, there were some Phestian soldiers that Zantus had been able to convince to join them. Gabrielle had been worried that they would report to their General, the man Salea had told her about, who would in turn give word of what was going on to the Magistrates. But, the soldiers had given their word. Some of them, like Salea, said that their General would fight with them, but Gabrielle did not want to chance it.

Salmoneus and Salea had gotten almost all of the people out of Phestia and to the caves. . Argo had been teemed up with the other horses to transport the older people and what goods they could manage to get into the wagons. The only ones left in town were some of the more affluent families, such as the families of the Magistrates. Gabrielle had deliberately kept the alarm from them for fear of interference. . Almost all of the lower class families had been able to evacuate. Of course, there were still a few who refused to listen, and one whoíd said he intended to go to the Magistrates about what they were doing. Fortunately, he was not allowed to see them until morning and by then Gabrielle had been able to move all who were willing to evacuate.

Zantus and a few other soldiers were standing at the lookout positions located at the top of the heavy, stone wall near the large gate. Gabrielle stood and scanned the area. Most of the soldiers were still sleeping. Yet, Zantus and those with him seemed quite intent as they peered into the distance. That was when she understood the reason for her dread. Xena was no where to be seen. With a knot in her stomach, she quickly walked toward the gate for an update.

 

At that moment, Nallos was rising from his bed, wondering at the strange quietness he was hearing. He expected to wake to the sounds of people continuing to celebrate the Harvest Festival. Clad in nightclothes, he walked over to the open window and savored the cool morning breeze. The serenity was short lived, however, as he stared in amazement at deserted streets and soldiers posted at observation posts around the wall, a thing not seen in Phestia for many years. His mind cleared quickly and he knew exactly what was going on. . "Xena!" he said, pounding his fists down on the window sillwindowsill. . He dressed quickly and left to gather the other Magistrates for an emergency meeting.

 

"Good morning, Gabrielle," Zantus said somberly as Gabrielle climbed the steps to the lookout post.

"Good morning, Zantus. Have you seen anything?"

"Nothing so far. Iíve been up all night and havenít seen hide nor hair of any army." There was a bit of skepticism in his voice.

"Has Xena come back?" Gabrielle asked, scanning the area nervously.

Zantus glanced over heris shoulder and noted the worry in her eyes. There was no mistaking the bond between theose two. "No," he said sympathetically. "I havenít seen her and no oneís reported her to me." He felt truly sorry for this energetic young woman trying so hard to be brave in a potentially dangerous situation. ĎPotentiallyí, however, was the word worrying him. With the coming of daylight, would be the presence of the magistrates. "I sure hope weíre not making a big mistake here, Gabrielle," he said nervously.

"Mistake?" she asked.

"If thereís no army, we have to face the magistrates."

"Thatís true, but then, which enemy would you prefer?" she teased.

Zantus eyed her with a growing smile. "I suppose you do have a point."

Gabrielle rested a hand on his shoulder and forced a smile. "Well, if Iím wrong, weíll just consider this a drill. If there is no army, weíll have a real reason to be celebrating."

Zantus could tell the smile was forced. She believed this to be a real threat. All things considered, he, he hoped she was wrong.

"If you do happen to see Xena, I want to be the first to know."

"Of course. Iíll keep an eye out for her."

"Thank you."

In their most pompous finery, the four Magistrates descended upon the empty streets of Phestia headed toward the jailhouse. Nallos, as head mMagistrate, held a key to the guardhouse since he fully suspected he would need it. . Not at all surprised, he used it to unlock the door allowing the other mMagistrates to proceed him inside, where he scanned the room with squinted eyes. So far all of his suspicions had become reality. "Where are the guards?" he asked, more as a statement than a question. His companions could only shrug and mumble in reply. Banging and hollering from the cells suddenly caught their attention. Unlocking the connecting door, Nallos and the other Magistrates enter to find their two guards locked behind bars.

"What happened?" he demanded.

One guard stammered, "Iím sorry, sir. It was Xena. Sheís escaped."

"You let her escape, you fool!"

Realizing he was in a heap of trouble but fearing to lie, he, he said. "She said there was Ö a rat Ö in her cell Ö she was afraid Ö"afraidÖ"

"You idiot! Xena isnít afraid of anything!"

"I tried to stop her, butÖ"," the second guard said.

"Iíll have you both demoted for this! Youíll be cleaning these cells instead of guarding them!" Handing the keys to one of the other Magistrates so he could release the two guards, Nallos walked out in a huff. He was going to find this meddling Xena woman and remove her from his village.

Gabrielle was descending the last steps of the lookout as a deep frown creased her face in her worry for Xena. She should have been back by now. It was possible, though, that Xena had found a way to stop the army, which would make sense, because they had not attacked. . But, the dread Gabrielle had felt in the pit of her stomach when she awakened hadnít gone away either. If anything, it was growing.

Up ahead, Gabrielle caught sight of High Magistrate Nallos and his companions. They were nudging the sleeping soldiers to their feet and demanding to know what was going on and where Ďthe woman named Xenaí was. With them were three other soldiers, including one that looked and acted like the General the soldiers and Salea had told her about. He was tall, with long sun-bleached hair. His beard was similar in color. Gabrielle thought he would have been cute if it was not for the angry scowl that, over time, had creased his face into fine lines.

Nallos was in a rage, throwing too many confusing questions at the soldiers before they could answer. In a surprising display of authority, the General put a rough hand on Nallosí shoulder and carefully moved him aside. The High Magistrate seemed a mite taken aback by the gesture, and ceased his questioning, eyeing the General in dismay. Gabrielle would have been moved to laugh if not for the Generalís gruff expression.

The nervous soldiers were still jabbering away trying to answer Nallosí questions when the general called to them. "Attention! Quiet down! Now I want some answers! Where have all the people gone?"

"To the caves where theyíll be safe," Gabrielle said as she approached. It was a spontaneous answer, characteristic of her personality, to which she attached little thought before speaking. The General turned a tolerant look in her direction, being unaware of her presence. Unaccustomed to having anyone speak to him in such a straightforward manner, the look on his face is not a pleasant one.

"Sheís one of them!" Nallos shouted, pointing. . "She was with that Xena woman."

"Who in Tartarus are you?" the gGeneral demanded

Gabrielle smiled a sweet, nervous smile at the General, hoping it would cool his anger. . It didnít, unfortunately, but she smiled anyway and held out a hand to the General. . "Hi, itís nice to meet youÖIím sorry, I didnít get your name."

"Itís General Greeger. We didnít get to who you are, yet?"

"Youíre absolutely right. Where are my manners? My name is Gabrielle. Iím a good friend of Xenaís. Iím sure youíve heard of her," Gabrielle said, phrasing the last sentence in pride.

"I fought against her army years ago. Of course, Iíve heard of her." An old anger blazed in his eyes and Gabrielle began to feel uneasy.

"Really?" Gabrielle said, clearing, clearing her throat. "Well, that was a long time ago and Xena is a different person now. She came to Phestia to help you and your people, not to fight against you."

"Iíll tell you, young lady, what I told her," Nallos blurted out. "We donít need your help! We have one of the finest armies in the landÖ"

Greeger put his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes in irritation, as if he had heard the speech a thousand times.

"Öand a fortress which has withstood many sieges. We are well protected from any attack."

"Attack?" Greeger said drawing his brows together as he turned to Nallos. "You didnít tell me anything about an attack!"

"Thatís because there wonít be one."

"If there isnít an attack, Nallos," Gabrielle said hotly, "it will be because Xena has already stopped their army."

"What army?" Greeger demanded. "Would somebody talk to me here?"

"We donít know who they are, General, but they destroyed the nomad settlement yesterday morning, and killed everyone there, even the children. Xena believes that they are headed this way."

Greeger again turned his attention to Nallos and asked in an accusing tone, "Why wasnít I told about this?"

"WellÖ,Ö" Nallos began arrogantly.

Gabrielle spoke up, not allowing him to finish. "Xena and I came here to Phestia last night and warned him, but the Magistrates refused to do anything because of the festival. When Xena tried to force the issue and demanded that something be done, he locked her up."

Greeger stood erect and stared down at Nallos in stern reserve. "You are warned of a possible attack and you tell me nothing?"

Nallos outranked Greetger, of course, but in truth he had no plausible answer, so he said nothing. He crossed his arms across his chest defiantly and let his eyes warn the general to be cautious. On the other hand, Greeger knew that Nallos could not replace him or even began to do his job so he felt no need to be concerned.

Dismissing Nallos, Greeger turned back to Gabrielle and asked, "Whereís Xena now?"

"She broke out of jail last night and told me she was going to stop them."

"Stop them? An entire army? I always knew she was crazy, but I didnít think she was stupid," he said, stirring an angry reply in Gabrielle that she decided to swallow. "Iím assuming she hasnít returned."

"No. I havenít seen or heard from her," Gabrielle said, hoping her worry wasnít showing.

"Well, did she tell you anything about this army?"

"Just that there seem to be about a hundred of them, maybe more. When they attacked the nomadsí settlement, quite a few were on horseback and one rode in a chariot."

"Then theyíre not renegade. Someone is commanding this army. What kind of a madman would murder a village full of farmers? Those people didnít have a soldier among them." Greeger paused for a second, giving Gabrielleís story some thought. "What makes Xena think that theyíre headed for Phestia, anyway?"

"Theyíre not exactly headed for Phestia," Gabrielle continued grimly. "Theyíre headed east and Phestia just happens to be in the way."

Greeger took in that information with a heavy sigh. That didnít sound good at all. Then, his thoughts shifted to Gabrielleís first words to him. HeGreeger eyed Gabrielle curiously, and askedthe hint of a smile on his face. "So, you brought all the people to the caves, huh? How did you know to do that?"

"Well, it was actually Xenaís ideaÖbut I did organize the move." Gabrielle watched

Greeger shaooke his head, but it was not in anger. He actually looked amazed.

"What?" Gabrielle asked.

"I made those caves for the very purpose of evacuating people should the need ever arise. You know, when I fought against Xena all those years ago, she always knew when and how to counteract every move I made. I used to think she could read my mind and I hated her for it. Now, sheís doing it again."

"At least this time sheís on your side," Gabrielle said with a relieved smile.

"Yeah, I guess youíre right," Greeger said, grumbling skeptically. "So, you got everybody out?"

"Not everybody. Some families refused to go and we couldnít get to most of the more affluent people, like the Magistratesí families."

Greeger sighed. "We have to start getting them moved out as well, then."

"In protest to this ridiculous affair," Nallos said haughtily. "My family refuses to go anywhere, neither do the other families."

"Youíll go if I say go," Greeger said sternly.

Concerned for his own family, one of the other mMagistrates said, "High Magistrate Nallos, I donít think we should argue with General Greeger. If he thinks we should leave, then Iím sure he has his reasons."

"Go if you want to go, you coward, but my family stays here."

Greeger eyed Nallos impatiently, his mouth set in a thin, white line. "If Iíve got to bind you, your wife and children in chains and haul you off like common criminals, I will, Nallos. Now get your family ready."

Nallos looked at Greeger appalled. But, Greeger ignored him and turned to call two of his soldiers. "You two gather the rest of the families in the square. I want them ready to leave within the hour." Turning back to Nallos and the other Magistrates he said, "That includes you fourive. Go get your families ready to leave."

There was a stern protest on Nallosí lips but he knew that in a military conflict the general outranked him and that he had the authority to carry out his threats. Pointing a finger at the general he said, "There will be reprisals for this undermining of my authority should this be the hoax I suspect it is, General. You can be sure." He then turned with a huff and began to obeyed the order.

"When theyíre ready to go, Gabrielle," Greeger said. "I want you to lead them to the caves. Make sureÖ"

"Hey, wait.," sheGabrielle protested, lifting her staff and placing it carefully at Greegerís chest. . "I promised the people that I would stay and fight to defend their village."

Greeger looked down at her staff with his usual scowl, then looked back up at Gabrielle and grinned. The smile almost broke her resolve. It turned his scowling face into a very handsome one. She wondered why he didnít smile more often. She was nearly disposed to give in and say ĎOkay, whatever you say,í until his next words broke the mood.

"Listen, little girlÖ" he said, moving the staff from his chest.

Gabrielle returned the staff to his chest with more force and said angrily. . "I am not a Ďlittle girlí. You can send one of your soldiers to lead the rest of the people, but Iím staying here."

Annoyed, Greeger asked, "Youíre staying here to fight in a battle, while I send one of my soldiers on a mission of mercy?"

"Yes," she said flatly. She didnít see why he shwould have a problem with thisat.

"You and your little stick," he said, condescendingly.

Placing a hand on her hip, Gabrielle said with a huff, "Itís called an Amazon fighting staff, for your information. If you have any qualms about my ability to fight with it, not only do I have the skill of the Amazons, I also learned from Xena."

Greeger laughed heartily, encouraging his soldiers to join in. Gabrielle could not believe it. They had backed her ever since last night, and now all of a sudden, they were laughing at her.

"Oooh, Xena taught you how to fight," Greeger laughed. Suddenly, Greeger had his sword drawn and swung it in Gabrielleís direction.

Instinctively, she blocked his blow with her staff, surprised and suddenly fearful. "What are you doing?!" she exclaimed in dismay.

"Defend yourself!" Greeger shouted, wielding another blow. She blocked his sword once more and sidestepped another causing Greeger to have to change his position. The manís blows were powerful and steady. It took all the skill she had to keep them from connecting. Gabrielle ducked under one blow aimed at her head and claimed the opportunity to jab the edge of her staff into his stomach with devastating force as she had been taught. She could hear Xena saying, "Fighting is no game, Gabrielle. If youíre going to fight, give it your best. Fight to win." But, fighting had not been her aim in coming here. At least not fighting with the townsfolk, and not with their general. Yet this man seemed to be seriously trying to kill her. Of course, she was wise enough to realize that this could also be a test. He would kill her if he could because she had defied him in the face of his men, or he would use her in the fight against the army if she proved herself worthy. Her determination enhanced by that last thought, Gabrielle sidestepped another blow and jabbed her staff into his midriff, doubling him up with a loud "oooff" and then used her staff to knock his sword from his hand. With a spin, she swung the staff to the back of his legs and knocked his feet out from under him. He was on the ground in seconds. Quickly, Gabrielle was over him and was prepared to deliver a crushing blow to his face. It would take only a second to end it unless he surrendered. Greeger was reasonably shocked. He had admired the girlís courage but surely had not expected to be bested by her. Instinctively, he covered his face with his hands hoping to fend off the blow somehow, but it didnít happen. This girl was a fighter but obviously not a killer. He looked up to see not the staff, but Gabrielleís hand outstretched to help him up. He took it reluctantly realizing that a woman had defeated him in the face of his men. It was humiliating but it also afforded him the opportunity to show himself a man of integrity and humility despite his rank and authority.

He quickly regained his feet and stepped over to his sword. As he lifted it, Gabrielle readied herself for another assault. Dusting himself off he met her eyes with his scowl plastered to his face and she fully expected him to attack again. Slowly, however, the scowl melted from his face and was replaced with the handsome smile Gabrielle had appreciated earlier. Gabrielle smiled in return. She had assessed him accurately. It was a test. How she loved being right.

"Okay, you can stay," he said breaking into a laugh.

"Thatís more like it," she said, standing at attention as was appropriate to a man of his rank. " Thank you, Greeger," she said with a nod of her head.

Stepping close enough to whisper he said, "Around the men itís General Greeger. Okay?"

"Oh. Thank you, ĎGeneralí Greeger," she said, granting him a beautiful smile that he was able to appreciate as much as she had appreciated his.

Greeger then called over one of the younger soldiers. "Doophus!" he said to the lad.

"Yes, sir, General Greeger, sir!"

"You know how to get to the caves, right?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Good. When the families are ready, I want you to escort them." Greeger clapped a hand on Doophusí shoulder, goodnaturedlygood-naturedly, causing the boy obvious pain.

"Yes, sir!" the lad said, trying to maintain a soldierís stance, then turned to leave.

"Please tell me thatís not his real name," Gabrielle stated with disbelief.

"His mother never liked him much."

"Oh, thatís so sad. I canít believe a mother would name her child that."

The General broke into a hardy laugh and buddy punched her on the shoulder like he would one of his soldiers. Gabrielle looked up at him curiously.

"Thatís his nickname! You are so gullible. This is going to be funÖeven if we do go into battle," he said, laughing even more. Gabrielle failed to see the humor in even a nickname such as that, and triesd to laugh with him, but she could not go beyond a bland smile. Suddenly, they heard a yell and turned to see Zantus waving at some of the men below to open the gate.

"Hey! What in Tartarus do you think youíre doing?!" Greeger said running toward them. "Donít open that gate!" But, his cries fall on deaf ears. The heavy wooden bars were lifted and the large gate slowly swung open. Before the doors were completely opened a woman on horseback practically flew in through the gate. For a moment, Gabrielle thought her prayers had been answered and that Xena had returned, but no, it was Salea who jumped from the horse as soon as it was at a standstill and ran towards them.

"Salea!" Gabrielle called to her.

"Close the gate! Close the gate! Theyíre coming!" Salea yelled in a near panic.

"Close the gate!" Greeger called out and ran to help the men at the gate. The few moments it took to close the big and heavy doors seemed like an eternity considering the urgency in Saleaís voice and Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief when two men dropped the heavy wooden bars back into place. Greeger, his armor rattling, ran to the stairs that brought him to the lookouts. Gabrielle and Salea followed. From above, they watched the cavalry of horses that rode up to the walls. A formation broke and many of the men on horses began to circle the city.

"Theyíre surrounding us," Greeger said, obviously assessing the situation and planning his defense.

"Are you all right, Salea?" Gabrielle asked.

"Yeah. I came back just to make sure there were no stragglers and I practically ran into them. I didnít stop Ďtill I got here."

"You were right, Gabrielle," Greeger said, resting an appreciative hand on her shoulder. "Thank the gods you reacted as quickly as you did."

"Donít thank the gods. They had nothing to do with it. Itís Xena you should be thankingÖ" she said, suddenly realizing that if they were attacking, then Xena was not successful in stopping them. If Xena was not successful, that must mean that Xena was Ö. No! She was not going to let herself think like that. . Xena was fine. She would make it back in time and save them all.

"Whereís Xena?" Salea asked looking around. "Did she ever come back?"

Gabrielle lightly chewed her bottom lip and shook her head sadly.

By then most of the horses had surrounded the walled city, leaving a small line poised in front. One horse moved forward and itís rider looked up at them.

Greeger looked down at him then allowed his eyes to scan the area. "This isnít the whole army," he said, thoughtfully. . "Thereís no more than about fifty or so men out there. Theyíre here simply to stir up trouble and panic the people."

"And keep us in our place," Gabrielle inserted. "We wonít be able to evacuate the rest of the people now."

Greeger noted a deep sadness in Gabrielleís voice, but wasnít sure if it was for the people or for Xena since he had heard Saleaís question and saw Gabrielleís reaction. Perhaps it was for both. He could tell she had a kind heart when she spoke of the deaths of those nomads. Her being here also indicated that her heart had reached out to the people of Phestia as well.

The rider below raised himself up in his stirrups and called out: "People of Phestia! I come in the name of Gaelen, The Destroyer! He has come to claim your land, your city and its people!"

Greeger extended his sword toward the man and called back, "You tell Gaelen we will surrender to no one!"

"Fight or surrender, it doesnít matter! Either way, your city is now Gaelenís!"

"Heíll have to take my head, before I let him take this city!"

"So be it!" the warrior said, commanding with a gesture. With amazing swiftness, two other warriors raised bows and released arrows, barely giving Greeger time to shout out a warning when two of the men on the highest position just above the gates were taken out. One was dead when he hit the deck; the other fell over the side. Gabrielle squeezed her eyes shut before he hit the ground. Amazingly, he was not dead. He squirmed and tried to get up, but one of Gaelenís warriors walked up to him with his sword drawn. Gabrielle had to turn away as the soldier raised his sword and took the soldierís head.

Greeger watched them take his soldierís head and hold it high into the air, roaring and cheering over their small victory.

Again the warrior called out, "Weíll take your heads one by one if we have to!"

Greeger watched them take his soldierís head and hold it high into the air, roaring and cheering over their small victory. "You bastards!!!" Greeger screamed. The warriors continued to cheer themselves on and more bows were raised up to the lookouts.

"Get down!" Greeger shouted. Attuned to the danger now, the men ducked behind the wall and the arrows flew uselessly overhead. Greeger turned to Gabrielle and Salea saying, "You two get out of here. Iíll meet you below in a second."

"Come on, Gabrielle," Salea said leading Gabrielle down the stairs. Most of the townspeople were filing out into the streets by then, their faces full of fear and concern. Outside the walls, the army continued to cheer and sound war cries filling the hearts of the people with dread. A few stragglers were only now poking their heads out of doors or windows in fear and curiosity.

High Magistrate Nallos walked up to Gabrielle and placed shaky hands on her arms. "What is that? What is that sound?" he asked wide eyedwide-eyed.

She could only look into the manís eyes sadly. "Theyíre here," she said, knowing what must be going through his mind.

Nallos looked at her in horror. He had ignored the warning and had not protected his people from this threat. Now, they all were in danger because of his pride and stupidity.

"You have to get my family out of here. Please," he pleaded.

Salea blurted out angrily, "Itís a little late now, Nallos. Weíre stuck. You should have listened to Xena when you had the chance."

"The army has surrounded the city," Gabrielle said a bit more gently. "We canít leave now." Nallos suddenly looked much older than his years and, despite all, Gabrielle felt pity for him. How many pompous men such as this had she seen brought to their knees this way in her time with Xena? When would they ever learn?

Back at the lookout, Greeger grabbed the shoulder of a young man and turned him about. "Zantus, is that you?"

"Yes, General."

"What are you doing up here? I thought you were a farmer. Didnít you tell me a couple of years ago that you had no interest in being a soldier?"

"That was before today, sir."

"Well, Ö thanks. I can use all the men I can get right now. Have you been manning the lookouts all night?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then youíll need a relief. See to the body of our soldier up there and help man the rest of the lookouts around the village. Once your done, have Milos relieve you. Youíll need to rest up." He turned to leave, but stopped and looked back over his shoulder. . "After today, Zantus, you go back to your fields. Understood?"

Smiling, Zantus said, "Yes, sir."

Greeger left the lookouts and met Gabrielle and Salea below as a crowd of people began to gather. Most of them were the people that had not evacuated. Others were the soldiers who hadnít been told of the impending attack and whoíd woke up to a surprise. They all looked to Greeger for answers.

Speaking to everyone he said, "In case any of you havenít figured it out already, we are under attack. An army is here to take our village. Theyíre just the first wave. More of them will be coming. With them making their move this morning, I expect them to make their final attack sometime tonight, most likely at dusk. So, we have to prepare ourselves."

A rich man with expensive robes walked forward with his child in his arms. "What about us? Weíre not soldiers! How will we protect our children?" he said desperately.

"Donít worry," Gabrielle said, touching the childís hand. "Weíll find someplace to hide you. Youíll be safe. Right?" She addressed the question to Greeger.

He knew and understood what she was doing and though there was uncertainty in his eyes, his voice did not betray her confidence.

"Thatís right. My soldiers and I will make sure that you and your children are well protected. High Magistrate Nallos," he said, locating him in the group. "Perhaps you could take the people into the courthouse. Youíll be safe there, for now."

Nallos, seizing the opportunity to feel important again, nodded and led the group of citizens with him into the courthouse. Free to speak now, Gabrielle approached Greeger and said, "You certainly sound confident, Greeger, but your eyes say something else."

"Are you always this outspoken?" Greeger said, annoyed.

"Pretty much, yeah." After a beat, she continued, "So, how do you plan on protecting these people from that bloodthirsty mob out there?"

"I have a plan, GabrielleÖI donít know how well itís going to workÖ"

"Well, at least he has a plan," Salea remarked sarcastically and without any respect for his station. Gabrielle looked at Salea curiously. She couldnít believe that Salea had just spoken to General Greeger that way. She was only a citizen and a prostitute at that.

"And you?" he demanded of Salea. "What are you doing here?"

Salea stepped back, put her hands on her hips and gave Greeger a derisive up and down look. "I donít recall needing your permission," she said in an icy tone.

Ignoring her disrespect, Greeger said angrily, "You know, you could have gotten yourself killed back there. What in Tartarus were you thinking?" There was an obvious tone of concern in his voice and it changed her attitude from nasty to seductive.

Gabrielle was standing in between them, when she suddenly realized these two no longer saw her. They walked closer to each other, locked in one anotherís gaze. Salea reached out, grabbed at Greegerís armor and drew him to her. Gabrielle was forced to jump out of the way so as not to risk being sandwiched between the two obvious lovebirds. In a tone of voice worthy of her profession, Salea peered into hisGreegerís eyes and said, "Only about you." She then pressed her lips to his in a lingering kiss that held some interesting promises.

"I guess you two must know each other?" Gabrielle grinned.

Some of Greegerís men were making cat callscatcalls and chanting: "Go, Greeger, go!"

When they broke from the kiss, Greeger was grinning from ear to ear. In answer to Gabrielleís question Greeger said huskily, "Iím a regular customer."

"Yeah, I can see that," Gabrielle said, averting her eyes.

"Not regular enough, if you ask me," Salea stated matter- of- factly.

Gabrielle was getting embarrassed so she said, "Okay. Letís not go into that conversation."

"Good idea," Greeger agreed. To Salea, he added, "Besides you still havenít answered my question."

Salea backed away from Greeger and placed her hands on her hips defiantly. "Oh, really? What question would that be?"

"íWhat are you doing here?í" Greeger repeated his question more forcefully. "You should be at the caves with the rest of the people."

"Like I told Gabrielle, I came back for stragglers when I ran into that brigade."

Greeger took that statement with a grain of salt as his skeptical frown indicated. . He knew Salea was not one to cower when there waís a fight. "Stragglers? ? Is that the only reason you came back?" he said.

"Now, you know me, Greeger," she said in a patienta patient tone. "Iím not the kind to huddle in a cave like a barefoot and pregnant woman waiting for her man to come back. You know I can fight. Iíve fought by your side many times." This came as news to Gabrielle. Her image of Salea suddenly shifted track and Gabrielle began to think of her in a different way. She wondered if Salmoneus was aware of this. Would it even matter? All the same, it was interesting.

"If I werenít so pressed for time and if I really didnít need the help, youíd go back to the caves in a heartbeat. Even if I had to drag you all the way back myself."

"You donít own me, Greeger," she said defiantly. . "I just give you a cheap thrill every now and then. I can go where I please."

The couple stood glaring at each other for a moment and it appeared a confrontation was possible, so trying to change the subject, Gabrielle cleared her throat and said, "So, what was that plan you were talking about, General Greeger?"

Greeger held his stance before Salea for a moment more, before turning to Gabrielle. "Weíll talk about it later. I have troops to organize," he said as he turned to leave, but after a couple of steps he stopped and turned back to them. "Oh and see about getting these people something to eat."

Gabrielle was the designated cook in her alliance with Xena. She had hoped for more recognition in this situation. . "When did we get relegated to cooking duties?" she asked defiantly.

Greeger smiled and said, "Just now." " And he walked away chuckling.

"Great!" Gabrielle said, stamping her staff on the ground. "I came here to fight and now I have to cook."

Salea had been down that road more times than she cared to remember and it amused her to see someone else getting the treatment. "Well, they have to eat, donít they?" she said teasing. Gabrielle huffed and puffed to burn away some of her frustration, but after a moment followed when Salea said, "Come on."

As they walked along, Gabrielleís mind was in itís normal state of high velocity momentum, allowing her thinking to dwell on more than what was eminently at hand. She was curious about a man of his standing being so closely attached to someone like Salea. After a moment, she teasingly said, "I get this feeling you and Greeger sort of like each other."

Responding to her joke in like manner, Salea asked, "Whatever would make you think that?"

"I can sense those sorts of things," she continued, sarcastically. "Itís a gift I have. But, I canít figure out what you see in him."

Salea looked at her with a frown. "Are you crazy or just ill?"

"Donít get me wrong. He seems like a really nice guy and that smile of his would melt a heart of stone."

"Donít I know it," Salea said, nodding in understanding.

"I just get the sense that he has a low opinion of women."

"Low opinion? Not for a minute. No, Greeger is the kind that says one thing, but means another. Try never to take him seriously unless heís being military. You can always tell if he likes you, when he starts picking at you."

"And those are the qualities you look for in a man?" Gabrielle laughed.

"I admit, he can be a jackass sometimes. But, when he puts on the charm, honey, watch out! Itís not just his five dinars Iím looking for when he comes around."

"Thatís shameful, Salea."

"Donít knock it until youíve tried it honey, and donít try it if you donít have too. Theyíre not all as much fun as Greeger."

 

Greeger was readying his men and trying to get them mentally ready for a tough battle. They outnumbered the force outside the city at present, but he had a feeling that the arrival of the rest of their army would change that little advantage. Out numbered, it would take more than fighting men, so he set about making booby traps. Once Gabrielle was finished with her cooking and feeding, she assisted him in making the traps. He thought he was well adept in trap making until she showed him some of the ones Xena had taught her. He was more than happy to use them. A lot of frenzied work went into building and setting these traps. . Logs were hung from the walls on rope slings that could be released from above. . Men stood ready with hot boiling watertar in large containers just above the gate. Covered trenches with sharp spears and wooden spikes inside were dug and prepared several feet inside the gate. Firebombs were prepared. Archers were placed in crucial locations so they could pick off any that managed to breach the wall.

Gabrielle and Salea listened intently to the plan of defense, as Greeger explained it to his men. Gabrielle threw in a few ideas that Xena had used in other battles they had shared. Greeger was somewhat irritated by her interruptions, but he couldnít deny the wisdom he was hearing from such a young woman. He accepted and implemented each idea eagerly.

By mid afternoon, all plans were completed,; all except one. Greeger took Gabrielle and Salea off to the side and speaking to them in hushed tones, said in a whisper, "Now, about that plan I talked aboutÖ"

"Why are we whispering?" Gabrielle asked, inching her face a little closer to his.

"Because, no one knows about this but me, and Iíd like to keep it that way. So, you have to promise you wonít breathe a word."

"Okay, I promise," Gabrielle assured him.

"Just get on with it, Greeger," Salea said impatiently

Ignoring Salea, he continued, "I have another way to take the rest of the citizens to the caves."

"You do? How do you expect to get them all out without the soldiers seeing?"

"After the caves were built, I had an underground tunnel constructed that runs directly to them for emergency situations like this."

"Thatís perfect!" Gabrielle said elated. "We can get the rest of the people out and use it to escape ourselves if we have to."

"There is a slight problem," he said, sheepishly.

Salea sighed and shook her head. "First itís a plan, now itís a problem. I hope itís a problem we can fix real easy?"

"MaybeÖ" he said, lifting their hopes. "Maybe not," he added, dashing their hopes with two simple words. Fidgeting uneasily he said, "tThe construction was never completed. The designer died suddenly in a house fire in the middle of construction. All his building plans burned with him. I had asked him to hold them for safe keeping."

"How not finished is it?" Gabrielle asked fearing the answer.

Without answering, Greeger turned and led Gabrielle and Salea to his own humble abode and showed them a trap door hidden underneath a rug and a chair. He knelt to open the trap door, but stopped and looked up thoughtfully at the two women. . "Uh, I guess you better back up. I havenít opened this door in a long time. The gods only know what could have decided to take up residence."

"Thatís doesnít sound very reassuring," Gabrielle said to Salea with a wrinkled nose. As they backed away, Greeger lifted the trap door to reveal an overgrowth of weeds, roots and moss. They could just barely make out that there was a hole in the earth at all. It was just large enough to accommodate one person at a time.

Greeger grunted as he pulled at the moss and weeds.

"I had a ladder down here," Greeger said, searching through the maze of growth. . "Ah-ha! There it is," he said, pulling it up from the hole.

Suddenly, a frightened rat jumped from the ladder onto the floor, skittering right in Gabrielle and Saleaís direction. They, of course, scattered, screaming girlishly,; Gabrielle onto a chair and Salea onto the bed. Greeger rolled back on his butt laughing as he watched them both seek higher ground. . The rat, unimpressed, scampered through the open door and out to safety. One would think it should be the more frightened one, but Greeger wasnít sure. He was still roaring with laughter, especially since they were hesitating to come down off their perch for fear of another such intruder. After a moment, they both returned to the floor cautiously, embarrassed by his laughing.

"Oh, that was funny. Hades himself would have laughed at that one! You want to battle an army and are afraid of a rat. . This is priceless," he said wiping tears from his eyes.

"Oh, shut up!" Salea demanded. T

The laddtter was old looking and did not appear to be very sturdy. Greeger tried to press his thumb into it to test for rot and crumbling.

"It seems useableÖsort of.," Hhe said with shallow conviction. Still chuckling and shaking his head, Greeger lit three lanterns and handed one to each of them saying, "Well, ladies, are we ready to descend into the pit of Tartarus?"

"Letís just get this over with," Gabrielle said, attempting to regain the status of her bravery by stepping up to the hole, ready to enter.

Greeger descended into the pitch-black darkness of the tunnel first. Gabrielle took a deep breath and followed him, her eyes wary for any more rats. The climb down was longer than she expected. It seemed she would never find bottom. Inside, their lanterns gleamed upon the rocky surface of the tunnel walls. From lack of use and upkeep, roots had begun to burrow through the rock. They hung from the ceiling in long strips like lifeless snakes,; an idea that did not ease Gabrielleís nerves any. She could hear skittering and slithering sounds that echoed just out of reach of the lanternís lights. Water was trickling somewhere in the distance.

"How long has it been since anyoneís been down here?" Gabrielle asked, her, her voice echoing from the walls.

"Oh its been a year or so," Greeger responded.

Gabrielle looked around her in dismay at the crumbling tunnel walls. "Are you sure this is a safe place for people to cross to the caves?"

"I donít know, but itíll sure beat running through a hail of arrows."

At the bottom of the ladder they were standing in a large open area, perhaps forty or more feet across. It was large enough to accommodate quite a few people and the opening of the tunnel was directly across. Moving across, Greeger shined his lantern inside the entrance to the tunnel. It was covered with the same kind of hanging roots and moss. "We built the tunnel right inside the underlying bedrock, so that it would be sturdy and easy to maintain. I never would have guessed itíd end up in this bad condition. Iím going to have to go farther in and check it out. There may have been cave-ins." He looked up and around him. "Another thing. People are going to want to bring torches to light their way. All the roots and moss will catch fire for sure. Weíre going to have to cut it all down."

Salea spoke up saying, "I have a better idea. Why donít you go and get some of them rich, young men with the gold hanging off their fingers to come cut down your little roots? They didnít want to listen to us when we told them how they could get out the easy way, so let them see what itís like to get out the hard way."

"Thatís a damn good idea! Why donít you two go back up top and bring back every male of that bunch. Make sure they each have swords, knives, hoes, shovels or whatever in Tartarus they can get their hands on to cut this stuff with."

"And what are you going to do while weíre gone?" Gabrielle asked.

"Iíll check for cave-ins, like I said."

"Alone? Are you sure thatís wise?"

"Heís a big boy," Salea said, taking Gabrielleís arm. "He can take care of himself."

"Gabrielle!" Greeger said as they turned to leave. "I want reports every half hour. Let me know the minute they change their routine out there."

Gabrielle realized that Greeger was choosing her has his right-hand-man Ö well Ö right-hand-woman. She felt a keen sense of pride at his trust in her. The same kind of pride she had felt when Xena trusted her abilities enough to allow her to fight on her own. She could remember telling her sister the night she left,left that farm life was not what she was cut out for. This, she thought proudly, was what she had been referring to. . Smiling brightly she said, "Yes sir, General Greeger."

As the glow of Greegerís lantern faded into the tunnel, the ladies worked their way back up the ladder and headed for the courthouse. As they approached, Gabrielle stopped and examined the sky.

"What is it?" Salea asked.

"Nothing. Iím just checking the position of the sun. We only have about five good hours of daylight left."

"Is that a bad thing?"

"Not necessarily. It all depends on how much we can get done in five hours. Come on."

Salea started toward the courthouse, but stopped again because Gabrielle had not followed her. Gabrielleís eyes were centered on the horizon, her face creased with worry. . The same sense of dread she had felt when awakening that morning had returned to grip her heart. Because of the busy day preparing for the battle, she had forced any and all thoughts of Xena to the back of her mind. Tonight, she would have to do the same. Constant worrying would only cloud her judgement. But, for now, she allowed herself this brief moment to feel the utter despair inside her. She closed her eyes against the pain she felt and choked back her tears. If Xena was going to return, she would have done so by now. She remembered Xenaís final warning to her: "If they attack before I come back, donít stay here." She had gone against that warning. Even thoughAlthough she felt guilty for it, she knew it was the right thing to do. She just hoped that Xena was still around later to be angry because of it. ĎXena, please come back to me,í she thought. She then took a deep breath and turned her mind back to the task at hand.

 

Continues here

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 5(cont'd)

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