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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.
Lightening pierced the evening sky and lit up the low cloud that hovered above Athens. Standing on the pick of a mountain, overlooking the shivering city, was a dark tall warrior woman. Her blue eyes reflected the fire of the lightening. Wind blew up her raven hair, and, from a distance, it looked like black fire burning on her head. The womans jar was firmly set, and her eyes flashed the light of uncontrollable hatred. With a swift motion she drew her sword, and with a piercing cry she pointed the sword toward the dark, cloudy sky. Another lightening hit the tip of her sword and propagated through her body. She absorbed the energy into herself. Refreshed, she looked again toward the city down below with a smirk. "Athena, you and your people will tremble at the mention of my name!"
"YAAAAA!!!! ..... OUCH!!!!" Gabrielle cried out.
Xena looked on with anticipation.
"YAAAAA!!!!! ...... OUCH!!!!!!" Gabrielle shook her hand, which was swollen.
"Gabrielle, you can do it."
"Xena, I WILL break it."
"Remember to use your body, not just your fist. Your chest, your stomach and your legs have to follow the motion. And target at a few inches behind the board, dont hit on it, hit over it. Finally treat the board as if it is made of butter, it will not hurt you, most importantly, it will not STOP you."
"YAAAAA!!!!! ...... OUCH!!!!!" Gabrielles hand was breeding.
"Shift the center of your body, Gabrielle."
"YAAAAA!!!! ....... OUCH!!!!" The wooden board was stained with Gabrielles blood.
"Its ok, its ok, youll get through."
"YAAAAA!!!! ....... OUCH!!!!"
"Gabrielle, try your elbow."
"NO! Ill break it with my fist." Gabrielle said through clinched teeth.
"Well, empty your mind of your pain. You will go through, it is a piece of cheese you are punching. Just use the strength from your whole body, and you will go through."
"YAAAAA!!!! ....... OUCH!!!!!"
"You can do it. Take a deep breath."
"YAAAAA!!!! ....... YYYEEEE!!!!!!" with a cracking sound the wooden board was broken into two halves. "OUCH!!!!!" The pain was finally registered in Gabrielles brain after the initial wave of excitement.
"Good job, Gabrielle." Xena said with a smile.
"How many times did it take you to break your first board?" Gabrielle looked up to Xena with her shiny sea green eyes.
"One time." Xena grinned at her friend, who was still overjoyed by her triumph.
"Well I am not surprised." Gabrielle said while picking up the broken board. The board that had her blood on it.
"When you are hurt by the board, it takes more courage to ignore your pain and try again." Xena was proud of her friend.
"But if you were not there encouraging me and believing in me, I would have given up."
"I cannot gave you more power than what you already had in you, Gabrielle."
"Why are you complementing me so? It is not like the never-do-good-enough Warrior Princess I know."
"I am trying to make you believe in yourself, Gabrielle. There might be times when you have to confront difficulties and failure without me by your side, and you have to know that you are capable of getting through the obstacles just like you did the board."
"Is that how you treat difficulties all these years, Xena? Believe in yourself, I mean?"
"That was what I used to do, I had only myself I could trust."
"How about now?"
"Now I have learned to draw strength from people around me." Xena gave Gabrielle a crooked grin.
The bard smiled, then frowned as a disturbing thought went through her mind. "Xena, what if you were to face overwhelming odds by your self again? What would you do?"
"THAT, is a good question." Before Xena could answer, a voice came from behind them and surprised the women. They both turned instantly with weapon in hand and found themselves confronting a radiating goddess.
The goddess was fully dressed in deep-green attire. A shinny crown adorned with olive leaves was set on her tall forehead. Under her long black eyebrows were her deep blue eyes, which portrayed wisdom. Her straight nose and firm mouth marked her dignity.
"Athena!" Gabrielle was surprised. "The goddess of wisdom and war, the protector of Athens."
"What do you want." Xena, not impressed by having to deal with another deity again, asked in a cold tone.
"I want to ask you a favor, Xena."
"And why should I gave it to you?"
"Because you are after the greater good."
"Well then, let it out." Xena felt interesting the way this goddess started her bargain, other gods offer money or fame.
"There is a witch, who dwells in the mountain Karditsa. She has the power of gathering soles. She spreads a disease that no herb can cure. People with the disease die in days. And she collects the soles of the dead. The more people die, the more powerful she becomes. She has recently pointed her finger of death to Athens. The disease is contagious and a quarter of the citizens were already dying or dead. The only way to stop her is to kill her."
"How do you suppose I can kill her?" With the lives of innocent people at stake, Xena had to take on the task.
"If you travel to the West, you will find five disease stricken villages. Behind the village is a poison vapor trenched forest. The locals call the forest the "Forest Of Death." At night, poison vapor occupies every corner of the forest, and at day, the only sound one hear is the hungry cry of the red eyed wolves. The wolves were the sole occupants of the woods. But, Xena, you will be able to pass through the forest. You have been through such environments before."
Xena nodded. But Gabrielle looked at the warrior with anxiousness.
The goddess went on, "after you have passed the forest, you will find a cliff called the limbo cliff. It is the witch's dwelling. Climb up the cliff, you will trap her. The witch is also a fighter, and she loves challenging famed warriors. You might have to fight with her creations and even herself. Although she is a good fighter, her skill is nothing comparing to yours. But beware, for she is clever. In the end, only warrior's wisdom can save the day."
"Why do I have to go to her place? There must be a way I can lure her out from the mountain and attack her."
"The witch has a flying tiger, which takes her where she wants to go. Even if she comes out, she will be on the flying tiger, and you cannot attack her. Besides, she knows Ill send someone to get her so she hides herself conveniently now and doesn't come out anymore, but the sickness is contagious and her power is growing."
"All right, I will take on the task."
"Good." Athena smiled at the warrior. Xena had courage, wisdom and dignity, and was a mortal incarnation of Athena herself. "But there is another thing." The goddess added.
"What." Xena asked flatly.
"You have to be there alone."
"No, wait." Gabrielle could not keep silence anymore. "I go where Xena goes."
"Gabrielle," the goddess looked at the excited red head. "If you go there you will die."
"But how do you know Ill die?" Gabrielle was frustrated once again that she had to be the weaker one and a burden. Gods! I hate to be a sidekick sometimes, Gabrielle thought to her self. "Xena will need my help. Ive been with her for five winters now and I have never missed a single adventure, nor have I been a burden." Gabrielle thought for a moment. "Not too much of a burden anyway."
"You cannot climb the Limbo Cliff, Gabrielle, and if you stay under the cliff too long, you will be killed by the deadly environment that surrounds the cliff." The goddess shook her golden head at the courageous bard. "I want you to go with Xena, but Xena is the only one who can live through this."
A long silence enveloped the three women. Xena broke it with a low tone. "Gabrielle, you better stay clear of this one."
Gabrielle looked into Xenas sky blue eyes. The gods, she thought, knowing there was no argument she could make.
"Xena .... I ... " For once the bard was at loss of words
"Gabrielle, I will be back," the warrior said with commanding confidence, "we were talking about believing in our strength. Do you believe I will make it back?" Xena smiled an encouraging smile at her companion, and squeezed Gabrielles soldier.
Gabrielle nodded "Of course you will".
"Thats more like it." Xenas grin broadened. "The first thing Ill do after I get back is to teach you rock climbing, I promise." Xena pulled the giggling Gabrielle close and hugged her mightily. Then she turned toward the goddess who was still patiently waiting. "Alright, Athena, Ill go, but you have to make sure my friend here is not harmed by anyone or anything. If I came back and Gabrielle is anything less than alright, the next person Ill go after is you."
"If you do what I ask, you will have nothing to complain about." Athena glared at the audacious mortal. "Be quick, people are dying." At that she disappeared as suddenly as she had came.
"Gabrielle, I want you to go to the Amazon village. I will be there looking for you after I have gotten rid of the witch."
"Ill be there, and you be careful."
"I always am careful."
After another brief hug, Xena jumped on Argo and rode off. Gabrielle watched her warrior disappeared into the road and went for Amazon village.
"HELP!!!!!" Not long after she had left her warrior, Gabrielle heard a girls desperate cry for help. She ran as fast as she could toward the direction of the voice. In a clearing beside the road, she found that six bandits were trying to subdue two young girls. One of the girls was already bounded and gagged, the other was struggling. "Unhand them at once!!!" Gabrielle cried out.
"Here comes another one." The leader of the group was obviously excited. "And I thought todays hunt was over. GET HER!!!!"
With nasty grin, three bandits approached Gabrielle. Gabrielle smiled a sweet smile at them. "Wait." She took a step back. "You really want to think twice before attacking an EXPERIENCED fighter such as myself. I am XENAs friend, sidekick, companion, confidant, colleague ... whatever you want to call it. Now does Xena the Destroyer of Nations ring a bell?"
"Xena, huh? And I am Arcs the god of war. GET HER!!!" The leader of the group was not impressed.
Gabrielle ran away as quickly as she could, much to the disappointment of the two poor girls. The three bandits followed closely. After she had put some distance between her attacker and the remains of the bandits, Gabrielle suddenly turned around and swung her staff with a flourish. In a very short account, all three bandits were unconscious on the ground. Gabrielle was proud of her strategy. She moved the body of one bandit and picked up a knife from him. "I might need this." Gabrielle said to herself.
From behind bushes, Gabrielle could see all the activities in the clearing. The remaining three bandits had grown impatient. The leader of the group cursed out openly for having to wait for his three impotent subordinates. The two girls were tied fast to a tree over the opposite side of the clearing. Gabrielle moved stealthily toward the bounded girls. One of the girls saw Gabrielle coming. Her eyes lit up with joy. Gabrielle mentioned her not to get too excited. Once there, Gabrielle hid behind the tree and proceeded on cutting the rope with the knife she had just gotten. "Dont move just right now," Gabrielle whispered to the girls, "when I tell you to run, run toward different directions so they cant catch the both of you."
After she had freed the girls, Gabrielle readied her staff. "RUN!!!" She yelled. The girls started to run toward different direction into the forest. Gabrielle run into the clearing and instantly knocked one bandit out cold. The remaining two bandits were surprised.
"Get them you fool." The leader of the group command his only potent helper to catch the escaping girls. At the same time, he pulled his sword and charged toward Gabrielle. "You will pay for this you little rat!!" He cried.
The leader of the bandits was a much better fighter than his helpers. Gabrielle fought carefully. A sharp scream from the forest told Gabrielle that one of the girls had been caught. Her concentration was lost for a brief moment. Before she could focus on her opponent again, she was struck unconscious by a bandit from behind. It was the bandit whom Gabrielle had knocked out when she had rushed out from behind the tree.
Xena stopped Argo by a lake to get some water. Remembering Athenas description about the forest she was about to go into, Xena filled all the water skin. After that was done, Xena collected some herb that could help her to deal with poison vapor. Finally, she jumped on Argo again and proceeded toward mountain Karditsa. There were still a few candle marks before sunset, and Xena wanted to cover as much ground as she could.
Gabrielle woke up with a pounding head. "The gods." She muttered.
"How are you feeling?" A soft voice came from behind Gabrielle.
Gabrielle felt a burning sensation from her right upper arm. She turned and, to her surprise, found that a "S" mark was ironed on her arm.
"It is good that you were unconscious when they did this." The soft voice continued. "How are you feeling otherwise?"
Gabrielle found it was one of the girls she tried to rescue earlier. Now Gabrielle could have a better look at the girl. She was about the same age as Gabrielle herself, with black hair and big brown eyes. Her face was pleasant to look upon, and her body was not strong. Her eyes, however, flashed the indomitable spirit of youth.
"I am fine, thank you. How is the friend of yours?" Gabrielle asked. She looked around. She was chained in a dark tent with seven other people. There were five men and three women, including herself. The girl who was talking to her was chained beside her.
"My sister had escaped. She runs faster than me." The girl smiled sadly.
"What is your name." One of the men chained beside them broke in. Inside the dark room, Gabrielle couldnt see his face clearly, but the melancholy in his dry tone made Gabrielle shiver involuntarily.
"My name is Gabrielle. Where am I? Who are you?"
"You are a slave now." The man answered in his dry voice. "The mark on your arm is a mark of the slave. We are going to be shipped to Egypt. My name is Antemion. Orithyia there told us about how you tried to save her and her sister. You are a brave woman. But I guess its useless against Valerian."
"Who is Valerian?"
"An animal. The worst person you can be associated with." Antemion answered again in a dry tone.
"Would you explain that please?"
"Valerian is a person without a heart. He can cut you up and eat you if he wants to. There is nothing he wouldnt do."
"Have you been his slave for a long time?" Gabrielle was surprised.
"No, I havent been captured for long, but I have heard his reputation before, and I have seen enough of his diabolic deeds already." The big man paused before continuing in a low voice, as if talking to himself. "I was a merchandiser before I was robed by a group of bandits. And if that was not enough, I was captured as a slave a few days ago when trying to escape a local warlords attack."
"I am sorry, but things will get better. It couldnt get even worse could it." Gabrielle tried to offer comfort to the hart broken man. "We will find some way to escape."
"If you try, Valerian will make you wish that you were never born." was Antemions flat answer.
"If we are sold to Egypt as palace slaves, I am sure I will free all of us. I know Queen Cleopatra personally." Gabrielle was thinking way too far ahead.
"Yeah? Cleopatra? I dont think itll help if you know Athena the goddess of war personally." Antemion said sarcastically. Obviously this Gabrielle was out of her mind.
"Oh, yeah. Now that youve mentioned it, I was talking to Athena earlier this morning. She is going to be in big trouble if any harm comes to me." Gabrielle felt more comfortable now she had remembered that a goddess was protecting her.
Bitter giggling was echoing around the room after Gabrielles command. It is obvious that the girl is too traumatized, the slaves concluded.
"Gabrielle, you said you are Xenas sidekick, is that true?" Orithyia asked seriously. To Orithyia, the person who tried to save her life was not the type who brags around.
"Who else do you suppose I have learned all the fighting skills from?"
"Well, why are you alone then?" Orithyia followed with another question.
"Just before I met you, Athena asked Xena to kill a witch for her, and because I cannot help much with her task, Xena asked me to return to my village. I was heading to my village before I heard your cry for help." Gabrielle did not say amazon village for she felt it was too much information for these people to believe all at once.
"You are Gabrielle the bard!" One of the men said in excitement. "My name is Baerius, I am a bard myself. I have heard your story, they are exceptional!"
"Thank you." Gabrielle looked at Baerius with surprise. He looked too much like Perdicus. The eyes, the chin and the hairstyle of that young man all resembled Perdicus. For a moment, Gabrielle was lost in thought.
"So you ARE Xenas friend." Antemion s voice was not dry anymore, but rather excited.
"Yes." Gabrielle was bought back to reality.
"Can you lead us free?"
With that question Gabrielle realized what she was expected to do. In these peoples mind, she represents Xena. Therefore she needed to lead these people toward freedom. Gabrielle was thrilled by the challenge, but she also noticed the magnitude of her responsibility. "I will lead you toward freedom. But my effort alone is not enough. We will have to do it together. We have to believe in ourselves. We have to believe that we have the power to free ourselves. We have to believe that although confronted by guards with swords and governed by a villain, who treats us only as goods, we can still fight and win. We have to believe that whenever there is suppression, there will be resistance, whenever there is enslavement, there will be struggle for freedom. I believe in that because through all my years of travelling with Xena, I see only good prevail over evil. And warlords and slave traders, no matter how powerful they seam to be, will eventually be defeated by the power of good."
The bards words went into the minds of all who were around her, and they started to look up to the red headed girl as their candle of light inside the abysmal darkness that was threatening to engulf their future.
After a nights camp beside the road, Xena woke up early the next morning. My noon that day, Xena had already reached one of the five villages near mountain Karditsa. Even before entering the village, Xena had heard soft cry coming from the side of the road. She stopped Argo and walked toward the source of the cry.
A group of people was digging a grave for a person. The children of the deceased were crying continuously. Xena walked closer to the group of mourners and took a clearer look at the deceased body. The site horrified even Xenas eyes. The body, as a human body, was hardly recognizable, because it was nothing but bones. There were solidified blood around the dead persons eyes, ears and nose. Although the family obviously had done some cleaning to the corpse, it was apparent that the person had suffered from severe internal bleeding. Other than that, the skin of the dead person was peeled off from various places and blood clustered under the wounds. It must have been rashes under the skin that the patient had been scratching so hard that the skin had been torn and blood had came out from underneath it.
Xena turned away quietly and left the mourners undisturbed. She knew it must have been the witchs plague, for the symptoms were such that she had never seen before. "Ill kill her!" Xena threatened. Nothing could enrage Xena more than seeing the innocent suffer, because it reminds her so much of what she did in the past.
Once Xena entered the village, however, she found that something was wrong. The people in the village were afraid of her. As soon as someone spotted the warrior walking toward the village, all the residents disappeared into their houses. Before long, Xena found herself alone facing emptied streets and closed doors. The sight brought back memories. Xena remembered the many times when she lid her old army of destroyers entering villages just like this and got exactly the same response. People have good memory. Xena thought to herself. But then again, she did not remember raiding this particular village. She got into the villages tavern, "Does anyone know which way is to the Limbo Cliff?" Xena asked out loud.
The people in the tavern were horrified. Most of them just sat where they were incapable of moving. Others were praying and there were even a person begging Xena to spare his life. "What is going on here? Xena demanded. As no one answered, she walked pass the patrons, heading directly toward the tavern keeper, whose face was turning pale and eyes were growing large.
"Do you know which way is to the Limbo Cliff?" Xena repeated her question.
Incapable of speaking, the heavily built man pointed toward the north of the house with a shaky finger.
"Thank you," with an emphasized politeness, Xena turned toward the door.
She made no stop until she had passed through all the villages. As Athena had said, she had seen people sick and dying. The blood covered cadaverous bodies, the disparate moan of the patients, the hopeless wail of the relatives and the deeply horrified expression people had when they had realized Xenas present enraged the warrior profoundly. The hatred toward the witch boiled Xenas blood. And in the back of her mind, she also questioned the horror she induced upon the villagers.
Passed all the signs with the words "PLEASE TURN BACK", Xena finally arrived at the Forest of Death. She jumped down Argo and left the warhorse outside the forest. There were only a few candle marks left before sunset, but the warrior persistently stepped into the forest and disappeared into the ominous looking trees.
Valerian controlled the entire slave trading business with an iron hand. His guards were all strong, well-trained fighters and he himself was a famous warrior. Because the high efficiency of the group, they were able to control more slaves than other slave traders. Therefore, Valerian always tried to capture more slaves than he intended to sell. The extra slaves compensated the amount of death during the travel on land and the voyage over the sea. It was common occurrence for Valerians guards to kill the weak slaves to ensure the speed of the deliver. Other than occasional individuals with exceptional values, slaves were treated as nothing.
Because of the wars and disease of the season, Valerian had captured more slaves than he had anticipated. For Valerian, it justified wonton destruction of more lives. Another advantage for Valerian to kill and torture slaves was that it could extinguish the rebelling spirit of the slaves. Valerians slaves were in high demand in the market, because it was likely that the new masters of the slaves would give the slaves better treatment than Valerian did. The slaves, whose spirit of freedom had been destroyed by Valerian, were usually thankful and royal to their new masters.
By the end of a days marching, Gabrielle had already seen two killing committed by the guards on slaves who were too slow to catch up. One of the killings was done right in front of Gabrielle. It had come too quickly that Gabrielle had no time to react. She had been chained to a young woman who obviously had a high fever. Gabrielle had tried to carry her on the way. Once the woman slipped just when a guard was passing by, and the guard killed the woman instantly. Although Gabrielle had known the guard was irritated by the slowness of the woman for quite some time, but such a barbarous act, which was carried out with extreme carelessness and without any remorse what so ever, had shocked Gabrielle. She had glared at the guard with disbelieve, but was rewarded by a backhand on her face.
When the day came to an end, camps had to be made. Gabrielle, like all other slaves, was compelled to labor after the days march. In time, camp was made and food was cooked. After a meager meal, slaves were finally chained in place. It was Valerians routine to survey his slaves after they were settled down. Valerian would walk around from tent to tent, stop at places to talk to individual slaves. At times he would gave the slave a smile or say a joke, other times he would gave the slave a blow or simply kill the slave at the spot. Toward the end of the round, Valerian would always chose one or two young female slaves to follow him into his tent. Sometimes the slaves would return the next morning, but sometimes they would not.
It was Gabrielles first encounter with Valerian. When Valerian had entered her tent with two guards, Gabrielle had noticed immediately that Valerian was holding her amazon staff. Valerian was a heavily built man. Been a reputed warrior, Valerian had the strength and the flexibility of a tiger. Gabrielle could easily tell from the way he walked that the slave trader could dispatch two or three man of his own size with ease. At his early forties, Valerian had a face that hardly lived up to his reputation. His face was firm but not stern. His expression was almost sincere. His wrinkled forehead only added respect onto his character. And his brown eyes conveyed the curiosity and innocence of a child.
None of the slaves in the tent looked up at their master. Gabrielle, although knowing a confrontation was inevitable, also looked to the ground when the three men came near her.
"What is your name slave?" Valerian taped at Gabrielles shoulder with the staff.
Gabrielle hated to be called a slave, but she didnt want to confront the slave trader right then and be killed. She needed to somehow free all the slaves, so she had to swallow her pride. "Gabrielle." She answered.
"I heard you are Xenas friend."
"So I am."
"Where is Xena?"
"She is on a mission."
"You are her sidekick, why are you not with her?"
"We run our lives our way." Gabrielle looked straight into Valerians brown eyes for the first time. He was calm and kind, looked almost handsome.
"You have missed an opportunity to enrich your story collection didnt you?"
"A good bard doesnt have to get into the setting to write good stories."
"And I gather you are the Queen of the Amazons." Valerians words surprised most of the slaves in the tent. They looked at Gabrielle for a brief moment, then, realizing the danger of Valerians present, looked down to the ground again.
"How did you know?"
"I have been around. Beside, I recognize the staff as the right of caste."
"Well, then you know me."
"Do you know who I am, Gabrielle?"
"I was once Xenas general, and we had a dispute once. She wanted to kill me. I was made very uncomfortable, but I escaped eventually. Xena thought I was dead. Since then, I wanted to be a warlord like Xena, so I can pay her a vengeance. I was in short of money. That's when this slave trading business came in handy. After this trade, Ill have enough money to draft an army. My original plan was to destroy Xena after I have gotten my army." Valerian looked into the fearless green eyes. "But, now I have you, I can destroy Xena even before I become a warlord."
"If you want her to know that you have gotten me, you need to send message to the Amazon village. But by then, my sisters will take care of you and Xena will not even be bothered."
"No, It is much to conventional. Xena hates conventional means, and so do I. I want to make you a slave. I want to kill your spirit to be a freeman and I want to sell you to a master in a remote Egyptian city for a lot of money. You will be so grateful to your new master that you will never think of returning to Greece. And then, Ill tell Xena what happened. She will go to Egypt to look for you. Ill be there waiting for her. She will see how much I have changed you before she dies."
Gabrielle looked at Valerian with the warriors look she learned from Xena recently. However, there was no cunning light from Valerians eyes. Valerians face was calm and his words were enunciated in a matter of fact manner. It seamed that the plan was only something he wanted to get done with. It was like eating or drinking, an act to fulfill some needs and nothing more. Gabrielle remembered Xenas words that one could never tell what was going on in a good warriors mind. Valerians warriors mask never betrayed any of his inner feelings. That was, if he had any inner feeling at all. I cannot loose to him so soon. Gabrielle thought to herself. "It is a good plan." she said, "Except there are two problems. First, my spirit will never die. Second, if you dare to do anything to me and let Xena know about it, you are the one who is going to be killed."
"We will see about that Gabrielle." Valerian saw more determination in the bards eyes than he expected. It was a challenge, and Valerian accepted it knowing that he will win. He turned to his guards. "This woman shall join me for dinner." With that, the guards unchained Gabrielle.
After dark, Xena stopped to rest inside the Forest-of-Death. She couldnt find any plant from which she could extract drinkable liquid. But the water in the water skin should be able to sustain her for more than two days. She didnt raise a fire, because she didnt want the witch to know that she was coming. The poison vapor was strong by night. Xena took some herb tea she made earlier and climbed on top of a tree, where the vapor was not as powerful, and slept like a monkey.
Gabrielle was taken into Valerians tent. Dinner was already placed on the table. Gabrielle was offered the chance to wash herself, which she accepted. After a candle mark, Valerian entered his tent and sat across the table facing Gabrielle.
"Tell me a story bard." Valerian asked.
Gabrielle looked at the slave trader and thought for a wile. Then she began her story.
"There were once a powerful warrior named Dolon."
Valerian looked up and seemed surprised. "Interesting name." He said with raised eyebrow.
"I can change the name if the audience doesnt like it."
"Dolon is fine. What happened to him?"
"He loved war and hunting. One day, shortly after taken over a city, he decided to hunt in the nearby forest. But little did he now, the forest was Artemis sacred forest."
"Oops." Valerian said after had swallowed a mouthful of meat.
"Artemis was enraged, and she turned Dolon into a bear."
"So much for a hunter."
"Yeah, that was the end of his hunting career. He remained a bear for many moons, but as if his trouble was not enough, Dolon was captured by hunters and sold to Rome to fight the gladiators."
"Now he is a warrior again!"
"No, he was better than a warrior. Because he had been a human, he knew all the fighting skills of the gladiators. Therefore, he could predict their moves and counter them with lighting speed. With the power of a beast and the mind of a warrior, he always end up wining."
"Good for the bear."
"But he was not content. The winning in the fighting field did not bring him joy. He killed the gladiators only to protect his own life. In his heart, he longed for freedom. He tried once and again to fight his master and the guards, but was wounded dreadfully every time he tried. More than once, in the battlefield, he ignored his opponents to fight a way out of the trench, or to attack the audiences. He only turned back to fight the gladiators after had been wounded by them."
"Yes, very tenacious. Even as a beast, he wanted freedom, to roam the forest and breathe the fragrant early morning air, to drink from the clamoring brook and to bath inside the spring drizzle. He could stand the life as a free bear, but not the life as a captivated killer."
"Finally, he was sent to fight a dozen gladiators. Severely wounded, he killed more than half of them. Then, an idea came to him. While avoiding the rest of the gladiators, he piled the body of the dead fighters together. Eventually, he was able to step on the bodies and jump out of the trench. And out he went, stepped pass the screaming audiences and went down the street of Rome. The roman soldiers chased after him and shoot arrows toward him. He was shoot, but he kept running toward the forest anyway. Upon arriving the forest, he was dying for the loss of blood. At last, he died, but he died a free spirit. His desire for freedom was never conquered, and so was his spirit."
"But after he had died, and become ashes and dirt, he would have no more spirit or freedom than any ashes and dirt. You are too much of an idealist, Gabrielle. The real world is not the world of stories. In the real world, only he who survives and rules has the right of way. Those who are ruled or dead, regardless how they were conquered or how did they die, are wrong and forgotten.
"You are wrong, Valerian, to think that destroying a person is the same as conquering a person. A person can be destroyed against her will but she can only be conquered with her own consent. Violence destroys all the time, but only conquers some of the times. However, love never destroy, but always conquer."
"You are so hopelessly idealistic Gabrielle!" Valerian signed impatiently, "It is outside your world of idealism I will take you, and inside the real world I will place you. And you will find the real world is, shall I say, very ironic. You may go back know. Guards! Escort the queen of amazons to her quarter."
Two guards came to take Gabrielle back. On her way, Gabrielle saw that a slave was hung down a branch of a tree by his wrists. He was stripped naked and whipped. Blood was running down his feet to the ground. Gabrielle wondered why she didnt hear his scream. "What happened to him?" Gabrielle asked one of the guards.
"He tried to break free."
"What is his name?"
Gabrielle soon learned that they are going to travel in land for two more days, and they will reach a harbor city, Volos. In Volos, Valerian planed to sell the weak slaves cheap. The remained stronger slaves would be moved to a ship and go through a voyage over the sea to Egypt.
Although Gabrielle had only been with the slaves for two days, her reputation as an excellent bard, a compassionate amazon queen and a powerful friend of Xenas were known and loved by all the slaves. Usually, slaves were not allowed the luxury of bedtime stories, but the guards loved Gabrielles story, therefore, Gabrielle performed for the slaves every night. Her stories inspired the slaves, especially those who are whipped and punished. The stories took their minds out of their trauma and restored in them hope and the desire for freedom. During her performance, Gabrielle could look into the heart of each slave. She could tell, when a slaves eyes shined and spirit soared, that the idea of freedom had touched the slave.
Other than the inspiration she gave to the slaves, Gabrielle was also secretly organizing her forces. Antemion, the merchant who had lost his will to fight, was now an ardent helper to Gabrielle. He selected a group of capable young slaves as the main force of the rebellion. Baerius, the bard, had grown very fond of Gabrielle. He loved her stories and he made sure every slave had a chance to hear about it, and in doing so, he let everyone knew also about Gabrielles plan and each persons position in it. Orithyia, the young girl whom Gabrielle tried to save, was by now very acquainted to several guards, and she knew exactly where the keys were. Gabrielle knew they have to make their escape in Volos, once passed that stage, they will all be on a ship, and it will be hard for them to escape. Therefore, the break out was scheduled as soon as the opening of the slave market.
Xena woke up with an uneasy feeling. Something was wrong. She stretched her head and looked around. There was nothing extraordinary. She climbed down the tree and walked forward. The warrior was hungry, but there was nothing to eat. The lack of drinking water made the forest very unattractive to animals, and game was hard to find. Xena started toward the direction of the Limbo Cliff.
Before long, the warrior stopped and drew her sword. Something was definitely approaching. The warriors extraordinary sense signaled warning. But Xena could see nothing but trees around her. It was quiet, too quiet for a forest that was waking up to Apollos golden sun. Suddenly, a weak cracking sound came from above her. Xena jumped away from where she was and at the same time turned and raised her sword above her head. It was the flying tiger! Xena grinned. Her blue eyes glistened at the odd yellow animal above her. Her every sense was concentrated on the flying beast, and the muscle on her jaw tensed.
The tiger felt the same hunger as Xena did. It was not the first time the tiger had fought warriors. At times there were a group of half a dozen warriors. But the tiger could always capture one or two. Warriors had firm shells around their bodies, but once those strange bones were pilled, their flesh was delicious. The tiger needed the occasion change of diet. It halted its wings and dived down toward his breakfast.
Xena waited for the tiger to came close, close enough so that there would be no time for the beast to react to Xenas next move. At the last moment, Xena stepped aside from the descending sharp claws, turned her body, and slapped her sword upward toward the neck of the animal with deadly strength.
If it were a normal tiger, its life will end there, but the tiger with winds had one more dimension of freedom. The tiger pulled itself up when Xena stepped away, but it was not able to avoid a deep cut on its right front leg. It let out a loud roar and flew up into the sky. Before long, it turned and dived toward Xena again. Its face sneering, its fans showing and its eyes protruding, the tiger was enraged.
Xena waited. This time, she was not going to count on gravity to help her. When the tiger came into her range, Xena let out her battle cry and jumped her gravity-defying summersault.
The tiger never thought a warrior could just fly up to meet its attack. Drawing its front legs up to protect its chest, turning its head to avoid Xenas sword, the tiger tried to fly away from the warrior. But it was too late. Xena was too close for the tiger to make a clean getaway. Although the tiger avoided a fatal strike toward its head, its right wing was cut off entirely. The tiger fell to the ground roaring horribly and struggling to regain its balance. Blood poured out of its wound like pouring from a fountain. The right side of the animal was entirely stained red. Once on its feet, the tiger looked up to Xena who had recently landed on a rock beside it. The tiger was horrified. Xena was still grinning; her sword stained with the tigers blood; her eyes were flashing the electrifying blue light of triumph and excitement; her jaw was clinched; and her concentration was ever so keenly. By looking into the warriors relentless blue eyes, the tigers primal instinct of fear was aroused. It, like many brave soldiers in battlefields years ago, was disarmed by the mere presence of the dark warrior. It turned and staggered away.
Xena followed the tiger. She wanted to kill the tiger because, without the tiger, the witch will have to stay in her dwelling. She run up the blood trail which leaded into the dark depth of the forest.
The tiger was dying due to lose of blood. It clapped to the ground, breathing heavily. Then, it struggled up again when had heard Xenas footstep approaching. But its feet failed it, and the tiger stuck again to the ground. It flapped its single wing in agony.
Xena walked up to the dying tiger, but stopped midway. To the right of the tiger was a clearing. At the end of the clearing was a statue half covered by tree branches and leafs. Xena looked at the tiger, it was not moving. She walked over to the tiger and found, not surprisingly, that it had already been dead. With the death of the tiger certain, the warrior moved across the clearing toward the dark statue. She realized first that there was a trail leading from the clearing toward the outside of the forest. The trail was not used often and it ends at the clearing, not extending inside the forest. Xena wondered what the place was for. She walked to the statue, parted the tree branches, which covers the statues head, and recognized the face.
Shocked, Xena looked closely. The base of the statue was covered by dried blood. At the moment, realization hit her. This was the statue of the witch the villagers built to make peace with the witch, and the blood was the blood of the offerings, probably human. Xena felt her heart turn cold, a sensation akin to fear griped her heart. She looked around inside the dark forest. The clearing was lit up by only one tendril of golden-red sunlight, which penetrated layers of thick branches and reflected upon Xenas body. Xena looked at the ray and thought about what Gabrielle might be doing.
Again, Gabrielle thought over her plan in her head. The slave market would be open in the next morning. Valerian would be in the market personally with most of the guards. Slave traders customary get to the market a few candle marks before the opening of the market, so they would have time to adorn their merchandizes a little to get a better price.
The strong slaves, who were the majority of the slaves, would be kept inside the city dungeon. Gabrielle felt strange about the fact that Valerian would take most of the guard to the slave trading. For Gabrielle, it made more sense to keep most of the guards with the strong slaves. But if it were Valerians plan, Gabrielle would use the most out of it.
After Valerian and his guards had left the rest of the slaves, Gabrielle would tell a story to the remains of the guards. In mid of telling the story, Gabrielle would pretend to have had sudden stomach problems, which were common among slaves. To be sure, the guards would open the dungeon door and check out whats wrong with her. Then Antemion and the others would block the door. And Gabrielle would knock the guards out and get the keys from them. So far, Gabrielle had confidant to accomplish. After that, all the slaves would have to make to the forest outside the west gate of the city. The east of the city was the sea; therefore, there was no escaping there. Beside, the slave market was located in the east facing the harbor. Between the dungeon door and the west gate, however, they could encounter resistance. A fight would be inevitable. But Gabrielle was determined to lead everyone out.
Once out of the gate, most of the slaves would be free. However, Gabrielle hoped they would be free before the opening of the slave market. After had regained her freedom, Gabrielle would disguise as a slave buyer, and go into the slave market to check out the slaves when conveniently hand over the keys to their chains. The freedom of the weak slaves in the market would all depend on the speed by which Gabrielle and the strong slaves could break out from the city. Baerius, the bard, would not let Gabrielle risk her life alone, and he was determined to accompany her into the market. Although Gabrielle insisted that she needed no help, but the young man was obstinate. Therefore, the two of them would be together for the mission to freeing the slaves on the market. All the action would began the next morning.
At night, Gabrielle performed her story telling as usual. That night, Valerian also came to listen. With two personal guards beside him, Valerian stood outside the cell and regarded the bard with his perpetual curiosity. The story that Gabrielle told was about a small boy called Epictetus.
Epictetus' mother was a slave, therefore, Epictetus was born a slave. Ever since childhood, Epictetus' body was hardened by rough labors. From sunrise till sunset, he was despised, cursed, kicked and whipped.
Unlike other slaves who were drummed into them the notion that they were hereditary inferiors, Epictetus believed that he was destined to be something greater. From his masters, Epictetus could only see cruelty and barbarity, and he refused to believe that such person could be preordained to be superior.
One day, at the age of ten, Epictetus accidentally saw his masters kneeling down before the statue of a god and prayed with a humbleness that Epictetus didn't know they had. From that point on, the boy often catch himself wondering what it was like to be one of the gods. And he was determined to find a way to steal into the forbidden temple of worship.
His friends, however, laughed at his idea, and told him that slaves were not allowed, nor fitted to pray an audience from the gods, and that the gods would punish the slaves who tried to contact them. But Epictetus went ahead with his plan anyway.
Once opportunity presented itself Epictetus stole into the masters' temple. Fully prepared to be stricken done by a lightening ball, the boy asked the stone god to talk. Suddenly, with a deafening sound, lighting stuck. Epictetus closed his eyes in fear, but nothing happened. When the slave boy opened his eyes again, he saw a young god radiating golden lights in front of him. The god spoke with a musical tone. "Yes, my child, you have called upon me, the sun god Apollo, what is that you want."
"The mighty sun god," the small boy did his best to steady his bumping heard, "I would like to know why are so many people destined to live the lives of slaves."
"Ha ha ha," the god laughed heartily with his musical voice. "No mortal is destined to be slaves. Clearly you are not educated are you."
"Only the free ones are educated." The child said.
"No, you are wrong," the god smiled at the courageous child, "only the educated are free. As your first lesson, learn this. That no one is cut to be a slave and no one is born to be a master; that in the heart of every pauper, hidden the strength to be greater, that even the weariest sole thirsts for the drew of freedom." With that the god's strong body slowly began to disappear, but his musical voice was still ringing and clear, "fortify yourself with determination, and armor yourself with education. One day, you will find that you, too, are a golden sunray that lights up the path of your life. Then you'll find yourself the master of your own existence." With that the god disappeared and the temple darkened.
Epictetus tried to steal away from the temple, but was caught by his masters. However, they were too late. Epictetus had already found the truth. For years, he taught himself and other slaves reading, science and philosophy. Soon he found himself planning the slaves' escape. Outsmart his masters in every turn, the escape went smoothly and Epictetus was finally a free man. He died an old philosopher. Before he had died, he told people around him that the moment when he had gain his freedom was not when he had escaped from his masters. It was the moment when he had spoken to the sun god.
Everyone loved the bards story. Baerius had got it all memorized already. Among the clapping and cheering of all the audiences, which includes most of the guards, Valerian grinned. He couldnt wait until the next day when he would teach the red headed, hopelessly idealistic bard a lesson.
At the break of the following day, Xena found herself running as fast as the dense forest allowed. She had never seen so many wolves in her life. The wolves came by the dozens. The leader of the pack was a black wolf with the size of a pony. His eyes were as red as jade; his teeth were as white as snow; and his fur was as black as night. Other than a small group of wolves, which were sent to block the pathway, the black wolf was the closest to his prey. He knew that the dinner would not escape his chase. His confidant was never waved even after the hard pursue during which his members were constantly killed by a round killing thing. The black wolf slid over to his target with the speed and grace of the wolf he was, steady, swift, and silent.
Xena found that her path was blocked by five strong wolves. Two of the wolves leaped directly at her trying to push her off her feet. Xena, with her sword in one hand and charkram in the other, couched herself down to avoid the wolves. When the wolves were over her head, Xena dug her weapons deep into the beasts bellies. The wolves were dead before they hit the ground. Even before their comrades death, the remaining three wolves had charged directly toward Xena. One wolf was cut into two halves instantly, but another one was lucky enough to sink its teeth into the warriors thigh. That was the last thing it ever did. Xena cut the wolf's head off, and it dangled on her thigh. The last wolf charged and died. After had stick her sword through the last wolfs heart, with a disgusted look, Xena cut loose the wolf head, which had been hanging on her thigh.
Finally, Xena stole a look at the black wolf, which was getting closer every second. She tossed her charkram the fifth time. The black wolf leaped into the air again, avoiding the flying weapon and continuing his chase. Behind him, wimps and cries signified that more wolves were injured, or dead. But the black wolf was relentless. The chase had been on for too long and he was too close to give up. With a strong push of his hind legs, the wolf lunched itself toward the escaping target.
Xena twisted her body, avoiding the wolf and caught the returning charkram. Timing was everything. In seconds, the rest of the pack will arrive and Xena would be in a life struggle. Her chance lied in killing the black wolf, the leader, within a brink of an eye. And that she did. The wolfs last sight, when he had turned around to prepare himself for another assault, was a flash of light, then he felt a burning sensation from his neck. After that, there was nothing.
Xena turned and faced the wolf pack. They surrounded her and their dead leader. Sneering and stamping, the wolves formed a circle with Xena in the center. Xena smiled. The old sensation of surrounded by her enemies surfaced, and she couldnt help but enjoy the excitement. Choosing the direction of the limbo cliff, Xena charged toward the wolves with a high pitch war cry that rattled even the dead. Wolves, like soldiers, knew fear. And a person, who had killed their leader along with a quarter of their team members while been put on a hard chase for good part of the morning and didnt even breath hard, was to be feared. The wolves backed away. Some wolves didnt do it fast enough and was never given the chance to run in the forest again.
The next moment, Xena found herself striding away inside the forest, hearing the hungry cries of the wolf pack from a distance away, and the woeful wimps of the dying wolves from another direction. The wolves had left their injured to die. Nature was indeed a tragic for the weak. Xena had no pity for the injured wolves. All she felt was excitement. That she was the survivor, the stronger one and the commander of other lives. She was the one who out run, out tired and out beat others. And that was all it counts, as long as the others were animals.
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