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"But Caicus," Margola protested, "she broke our laws. She must pay!" The crowd grumbled their support and Margola smiled feeling confident with their approval. "Xena, yes." Caicus agreed, "but this girl has not violated our laws." A spectator from the front shouted, "She protects the warlord. You know what they say, 'birds of a feather flock together!' " Again the crowd grumbled their support, their murmurs growing louder. The possibility of being deprived of their entertainment fueled their brazenness.
Margola smirked. "See Lord Caicus, the will of the people must be observed."
"Are you challenging me, Margola?" Caicus asked innocently. When she didn't reply, he turned to the man who had spoken out against him. "Are you?"
Averting his eyes, the man backed away bowing respectfully. "No, Lord Caicus. I meant no disrespect."
Caicus snorted, clutching his belt with one hand and waving the torturer away with the other as if shooing a bothersome insect. Only then did Gabrielle relinquish her hold on Xena.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said.
"Don't thank me," Caicus replied grimly. "This will not work a second time."
Chapter 12, by Stradivarius
"This isn't finished," Margola snarled softly. "Justice will be done!" Gabrielle stared at her in silence, and Xena just smirked as they led her back to the garrison. Margola stalked off after bowing deferentially to Lord Caicus.
"Come child," Caicus urged Gabrielle,"you look like you could use some nourishment."
Gabrielle's stomach growled loudly in agreement. She placed her hand over it and smiled in embarassment. "I think you're right," she acknowleged. Grateful to this man for halting the whipping, she held Lord Caicus' arm as they made their way to his home.
Some time later,after a hot meal and a time of relaxing,Gabrielle was once again eager to get to Xena. As she stood to go,however, Lord Caicus stopped her. "Why don't you stay, my dear, and indulge me with a story," he requested.
"Oh, but I think I need....." Gabrielle began.
"Your friend is safe enough for tonight,child," Caicus said. "Stay," he once again urged.
"Okay, but how did you know I'm a bard?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously. "I didn't tell you that!"
"I know many things,Gabrielle," replied Lord Caicus. "Then you know that Xena's changed!" declared Gabrielle. "Why won't you stop this cruel flogging?" she demanded. "Yes, I know that Xena's changed," he acknowleged. "But I also know that a price must be paid for the destruction brought on this people and this place."
Realizing that asking for mercy for Xena was futile,Gabrielle stormed out of the room. "I'm going to Xena!" she snapped.
After Gabrielle had left,Margola entered the room. "What a pair,"she said. "One who loves too much and another who won't give up the past so she can love."
With a weary sigh,Caicus replied, "Maybe they will both learn something from this. I can only hope so."
At the garrison,Gabrielle stood at the cell where Xena watched the rain falling outside the window. "What do you want?" the warrior snarled,never looking at Gabrielle.
"Just to spend some time with you," replied Gabrielle softly. "Here,"she went on as she saw Xena shiver from the rain that blew in the window. "Take my cloak."
With an oath,Xena stalked to the cell door. "Look,I don't know who you are or who you think I am, but I don't need or want anything from you! You got that?" she yelled.
But Gabrielle saw the despair and anger warring with hope and longing in those cerulean eyes. "Oh, yes, you do need someone," said Gabrielle with a small smile, "and that someone is me."
Xena just turned away.
"You don't understand, do you?" asked Gabrielle. "None of this is real, Xena. Only you control what is happening, and only you can make it stop."
Xena opened her mouth as if to say something, but the bard cut her off before she got a word to even form on her lips.
"Just sit there and listen to what I have to say," Gabrielle commanded. "This is all coming from your guilt. You have to let it go. I know you, Xena, better than anyone else, and I know that deep down, you are a good person. Just think for a minute. Why did you start your conquests? You wanted to protect Amphipolis from ever being attacked again. You were caught in the grasp of your own rage," continued Gabrielle, "and became blind to the consequences of your own actions. Think. Every time you killed, you told yourself that it was for the greater good of your
"You don't know anything about me," Xena snarled. "Get the Tartarus away from me before I break down this door and personally make sure that I never have to hear that annoying voice of yours again!" "Just think about what I have said," replied Gabrielle as she walked out of the garrison.
"The little one knows more than she realizes," Margola said to Caicus as they emerged from the shadows.
Chapter 13, by JayBird The rain had finally let up as Gabrielle wandered the marketplace of Arcanae. This was indeed a different city. There were shops and stalls selling weapons of all kinds, and most were doing a rather healthy business. Goats, chickens and even a few head of cattle were also present, ready to be sold or butchered.
Gabrielle approached a vender selling rubyfruit. "Excuse me, I'd like to buy..." "I don't need your thieves' money!" he retorted, looking at her with anger. "Any friend of the warlord is not welcome here." He shoved her hard back into the crowd.
"Hey, whaddya think you're doin'!" another villager said. "She's just an innocent! A bard trying to protect her best friend!"
"Yeah," another said. "An' besides, Xena mighta been evil once, but now she does good!"
Gabrielle looked on in amazement as a chorus of shouts in support of Xena echoed over the marketplace. "You damn Xenalovers are all alike!" the vender shouted. "Mark my words, I'll see that bitch's head on a pole yet!"
A louder mass of shouts echoed support of what the man said, and soon everyone was pushing and shoving each other. A fistfight broke out, women screamed and soon a full scale riot was taking place.
Gabrielle felt herself being pulled along through the mass of surging humanity until she found herself in an alleyway. A kindfaced young man and a woman looked at her.
"You have to be careful, Gabrielle," the man said. "There are still more of them than there are of us!" "Aye," the woman said. "But that'll soon change!"
"Here, take this." The man handed her a cloth-wrapped basket. "This is food for you and Xena! Better than the swill they serve at the garrison!"
"Th-thank you," Gabrielle said. "But how do you..."
"There's nutbread in there," the woman said with a smile. "I know it's your favorite!"
"But no hensbane, that I promise!" the man said. They both laughed.
"Why are you doing this?" Gabrielle asked.
"Because we know your Xena is good," the man replied. "Don't worry, she won't be facing the whipping post again! That I promise!" A sudden surge of shouts and screams got their attention.
"You'd better get back to the garrison," the woman said. "But don't worry, we have friends there as well."
Despite her protests, Gabrielle was taken down the alleyway to another sidestreet. Shaking her head, she made it back to the garrison. Some of the soldiers smiled at her while other grimaced and refused to meet her eyes. A fistfight broke out among two of the soldiers
Gabrielle was taken to Xena's cell, where as they devoured the basket of food, she told her what had happened in the marketplace.
"So?" Xena said around a mouthful of mutton. "I got some friends here? So what?" "So yesterday you didn't have any friends here except me!" Gabrielle replied. "It doesn't make sense."
"Guess that blows your lil' theory that this is all in my head..."
"Don't remind me," Gabrielle said, pulling off another hunk of nutbread. It was good, tasting just like the nutbread her mother would make.
She stopped chewing. In fact... it tasted exactly like the nutbread her mother used to make.
"Gods, Xena," Gabrielle said. "I think I figured it out."
"This place, these people... are your creations... except I was brought here as well! Don't you see... I must be influencing things somehow! Some of these people know me... know us! I've become part of this whole thing!"
Xena looked at her and shook her head. "Are you sure they didn't add hensbane to that nutbread?"
There was a sudden rumble of voices and activity from outside that caused both to look up from their conversation. Gabrielle ran to the barred window and looked out.
"Uh-oh. We got trouble." "Lemme guess," Xena said. "Large contingent of angry villagers heading this way, some carrying torches?"
"And pitchforks," Gabrielle said. "Lotsa pitchforks."
"Mustn't forget the pitchforks," Xena said, taking a final bite of mutton. "Well, those bastards aren't going to get me without a fight!"
Chapter 14, by Wishes "Don't worry," Gabrielle said. "The guards won't let them past. If nothing else, Margola has ordered them to save you for the whipping post."
"Girl, you ARE a comfort," Xena commented. "Do you see any guards, friendly or unfriendly? If they're around at all, they're out there crying for my blood. I have to save myself. Go to the guardroom. See if someone
left a weapon there." Gabrielle rushed to the door and threw the big bar across it. Pounding started almost immediately as the villagers tried to break down this barrier between them and the object of their hate.
"Right," Xena said. "That'll hold them. About two minutes. Get me a weapon NOW!"
Gabrielle ran into the guardroom. On the wall hung several pikes. Probably for crowd control, she thought ruefully. She took one of those and then spied a small dagger stuck into the top of the scarred table. She grabbed that and headed back to Xena's cell. Xena grabbed both weapons as though they were lifelines. "I don't have any way to let you out," Gabrielle cried. "Only Margola has the key!"
"Don't worry. That's one thing angry villagers can be counted on to do. They'll get this cell open. You just be ready when they do." "Be ready?"
"You get to me the second the door opens." "But. . . ."
Just then, the villagers, who had remembered the efficacy of a battering ram, hit the door with tremendous force. The iron ring that held one end of the bar was ripped from the door frame, and the door opened with a crash.
"Stand quietly," Xena whispered, "so they won't pay you any mind." Thinking that even this Xena was looking after her safety, Gabrielle complied. But I'll get a weapon and fight, she thought, before I let them take Xena.
Only five of the biggest men, the ones who had wielded the battering ram, entered. Leaders of the mob kept the others back so these could do their work of "freeing" the prisoner. Two of them carried a massive iron pole, blunt on one end and sharply pointed on the other. "Stay back, little girl," one of the men snarled at Gabrielle. Then they jabbed the sharp end of the pole at Xena, who stood at the door of her cell. Holding two empty hands in the air, she backed up. The men worked the pole between the frame and the lock. The one who had yelled at Gabrielle now counted, "1, 2 . . . ."
"You can count to two. Congratulations," Xena taunted.
The man looked confused and then, realizing he had been insulted, yelled
"3!" and all five men leaned against the bar. The cell door popped open,
and the first two men rushed in, their crucial mistake being that they
dropped the bar. Xena, hands no longer empty, met them with the pike. She
clubbed them neatly at the back of their necks and went after the other
three who, relying on size and strength--and numbers, don't forget about
numbers--rushed after their fallen pals. She felled the first with an
upward swing of the pike between his legs. While the other two winced and
moved their hands downward, she twirled the long pike like it was a staff
and fetched each a sharp crack across the skull.
As Gabrielle had been directed, she immediately leaped to Xena's side.
Realizing that all was not going as planned, the other villagers began to pour through the outer door. Xena grabbed Gabrielle and pushed her in front of her as she exited her cell. With shock, the young woman realized that her friend was holding the dagger at her throat. The sharp point was pressed against her very life.
The men and women at the front of the mob instinctively hesitated at the sight of a young girl in danger. Then one of the leaders, a tall woman whose features were twisted with anger, screamed, "Fools! It's a fake! They're friends!"
Another woman, one of those who had been in the front row for the last whipping reminded them, "Our lord said that the innocent was not to be harmed!"
A small man standing beside her nodded, but added, "The innocent was going to take the whipping for the warlord. She won't hurt her."
Slowly and deliberately, in order to show the fallacy of his words, Xena drew the sharp point of the dragger across Gabrielle's throat. The pressure she applied was just enough to start a thin line of blood dripping toward Gabrielle's blouse. The small woman gasped, less from pain than from betrayal. The closest villagers drew back, confused.
Then Xena roughly pulled Gabrielle backward into the guardroom and slammed the door shut. While the mob stumbled over each other, she released Gabrielle and threw the bar on that door. Then she jumped nimbly to the one small window, high up in the back wall. It was unbarred. "Give me your hand." Gabrielle hesitated. "Now. Or I leave you to THEM!" The bar had held, but the door was cracking.
Making a leap of faith, Gabrielle sprung upward and grasped Xena's offered hand in hers. Xena easily pulled the small girl up and then lowered her down the side of the building. Xena herself dropped lightly to the ground. No one was in sight. "Follow me." Xena raced down the small sidepath that zigzagged through the buildings of the town. Behind them, they heard shouts and curses, but no immediate pursuit. As they paused to catch their breaths, Xena snickered. "That's the problem with mobs. Lack of organization." She thought for a moment. "With it, they're not mobs.
They're armies." Then, without looking to see if Gabrielle followed, she was off again.
Eventually, they came to what Gabrielle knew was the object of their flight: a stable. No one seemed to be around. "Where are the stableboys?" she asked.
"Who do you think carried the pitchforks?" Xena walked boldly into the stable and looked around. "Don't see my gray. Pick a horse. Make it a fast one." She had already chosen and was busy saddling a large bay. When Gabrielle didn't move, she grabbed a small palomino for her and saddled that one as well. "Never cared much for yellow horses myself," she said, "but this one looks in good condition."
"We can't leave," Gabrielle said.
"What do you mean?"
"Remember? When I tried to leave, I couldn't. For now, Arcanae, this version of Arcanae, is all there is."
"You also said this was. . . .like my dream or vision or something." Xena laughed at the idea. "So my vision now extends to the countryside. All right? Now get mounted. Here come our friends." She practically threw Gabrielle onto the palomino and leaped onto the bay. "Yah! Yah!"
The two raced out of Arcanae right in front of the angry mob.
Chapter 15, by Xenaaddict
It took the villagers a few precious minutes to regroup and reorganize themselves. Just enough time to allow Xena and Gabrielle to get a head start. They rode silently for what seemed like hours. The horse's hooves pounded rhythmically against the dirt, their powerful muscles moving like well oiled machines beneath their riders' weight. Xena felt exhilarated at her freedom, holding her head up and enjoying the wind racing through her hair, lost in the moment. The pain of the whipping was now only a dull ache, like a nightmare remembered in the comforting embrace of daylight.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, held desperately to the palomino's saddle. Even though Xena had the good sense to choose the smallest horse for her, anything larger than a pony was still 'too tall.' She had shut her eyes many times since they left the village, offering everything from daily sacrifices to lifelong celibacy to any deity that was listening, hoping they would survive this latest ordeal. Lately she had pretty much run out of things to offer. Traveling with a magnet for trouble like Xena had diminished her inventory of things that the gods would take interest in. Still a girl's got to try, she mused wryly. She was quite surprised to find Xena still with her when she mustered up enough courage to open her eyes again. Seems like 'someone' was listening.
"Xena!" Gabrielle called out, feeling her stamina dwindle. She hoped they could stop soon or she'd fall out of the saddle, angry lynch mob on their tails or no. The pace that they kept made it difficult for voices to carry, but Xena's sharp hearing picked up on Gabrielle's cry immediately. Reacting to the desperation in Gabrielle's tone, Xena pulled back on the bay's reins. The large animal reared up in response to the sudden command. A lesser horsewoman would have been thrown, but Xena shifted her weight to accommodate the horse's movement with the ease and casualness of years of experience. Luckily the palomino, being smaller in stature, lagged a length or two behind giving it time for a more gradual stop. It lessened its stride until it came to a dead stop beside the bay.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle" Xena apologized "but we've got to keep moving."
"I don't think I can keep up, Xena. I'm just not good enough of a rider. Perhaps if I sat behind..."
"No!" Xena admonished before Gabrielle could finish.
"But why?" pleaded Gabrielle. "We've done it before."
Xena shook her head, clearly not remembering.
Gabrielle's face fell with the understanding, and Xena caught sight of the dark stain on her green top. The dry caking of a thin red line adorned the girl's neck like a macabre necklace, and Xena winced inside knowing she was responsible. This girl, she thought, has only tried to help me.
"All right." Xena said, her tone softer now. "I know of a place where we can rest."
Gabrielle perked up immediately at that bit of news. "How?"
"Because", Xena explained, smiling "according to you, I've been here before -- remember?"
Chapter 16. by JayBird
They rode into the night, through a nightmare dreamscape of scorched earth and burned out villages. Past battlefields where thousands of the dead lay unburied, and vultures and wild animals feasted on the carrion.
Gabrielle knew this was Xena's world. She had known it the moment they had left Arcanae and galloped across a sandy plain instead of the treacherous mountain trails it had taken days to traverse. Her Arcanae was behind them. But she had no idea what lay ahead.
There were no stars in the sky, only a blood red moon that seemed to stare balefully down on them both. Xena had no reference points or landmarks to guide her, but she still seemed to know where she was going.
Finally they approached an outcropping of low peaks of rock. Xena spotted several campfires scattered around the rocks and galloped faster. Gabrielle struggled to keep up.
A horn was sounded as they approached, and a squad of well-armed soldiers approached on horseback.
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted.
"Don't worry!" she shouted back. "They're with me!"
Xena cut loose with her warcry, and the men all came to a halt as she approached.
"My Princess!" one said as they all bowed their heads and placed their right fists over their hearts.
"As you were," she snarled. They went back to their picket duties as Xena cantered the bay toward a cave within the outcropping of rocks.
"Xena!" Gabrielle finally caught up with her. "Who were those men?"
"They're mine," she laughed.
There had to be at least a hundred soldiers camped about the cave, although from the condition of their uniforms, they looked more like brigands and cutthroats. All rose to their feet and saluted Xena as she passed.
Xena slid off her horse and rubbed her backside as she entered the cave. Gabrielle hopped off her small palomino and attempted to follow.
"H'lo, pretty girl." A rather filthy young man with a dangerous leer blocked her way. Before she could say a word, Xena had grabbed him by the neck and turned him around to face her.
"She's mine," Xena hissed. "Exclusively."
"S-sure, mah-mah Princess!"
"Pass the word." She dropped him like a rock and continued on into the cave. Gabrielle hopped over the soldier and followed.
The cave was vast, torchlight revealing caches of food and supplies and racks of polished weaponry.
"Xena!" A man came running up to her, a cruel-faced man wearing a hodge-podge of armor and leather. "By Ares, you're alive!"
"Hello, Darfus," Xena smiled. "Thanks for the rescue."
Darfus smirked. "Since when does the Great Warrior Princess need rescuing! Besides, your... loverboy is on his way right now with his troops. When he got word of your capture, I imagine he almost cried!"
The men around Darfus laughed. Gabrielle tried not to shudder as she realized this Darfus was the same man who had been Xena's lieutenant just before she had changed her ways. Xena had killed him three years ago. Twice.
"Speaking of troops," Xena said. "How many do we have on hand?"
Darfus shrugged. "Couple of hundred around here. Tracus is enroute as well with his people... By morning there should be over a thousand men massed here."
"Perfect," Xena sighed.
"Xena..." Gabrielle started.
"And who in Tartarus is this!" Darfus said, indicating Gabrielle.
"Someone who thought a Great Warrior Princess might need a little rescuing," Xena said. "She's mine. Touch her and die."
"Hey," Darfus shrugged. "You're the Warlord!"
Xena nodded. She turned to another man. "You! Get me new leathers, and draw me a bath. Nice and hot. And I want it yesterday."
If the tough brigand took offense at being treated like a serving girl, he didn't show it as he scampered off.
"Xena..." Gabrielle tried again.
"I'll be back," she growled.
Gabrielle sighed and found a place to sit. Almost an hour later she was still waiting. She tried to strike up several conversations with Xena's men, but they had obviously taken her warning to heart, turning her into the camp pariah. She was nibbling on some stale rations there was a flurry of activity as a new contingent of troops arrived. The leader dismounted from his stallion and approached Darfus. He was a proud dark-skinned man, young and handsome in his dusty battle leathers. Gabrielle recognized him immediately.
Marcus stopped in his tracks and looked at Gabrielle. "Do I know you. girl?"
"You did. Once upon another time."
Marcus frowned at the answer. Suddenly there was a silence as every man in the cave rose to his feet and looked up.
Gabrielle turned and felt her heart skip a beat. Xena stood on wide ledge above them all, resplendent in polished skintight leathers accented with bronze and a long cape that made her look as regal as any queen.
"Hail, Xena!!!" the men in the cave spoke as one.
"My love," Marcus said. He ran up the rockface to Xena, where they kissed to the shouts and cheers of all her men.
Gabrielle leaned back and shook her head. She knew she had probably been in worse jams than this... but she was damned to Tartarus if she could think of one right now.
Chapter 17, by Raye Dene
This is not good,Gabrielle thought.With all the warriors gathering,it could only mean one thing-Arcanae was going to be totally destroyed. "Think,Gabrielle,think.How can you stop this?" she muttered to herself. "There's got to be a way."
She was so involved in her thoughts that she jumped when she heard Marcus speaking right beside her. She had been so preoccupied she had not seen him and Xena descend from the rocky ledge. "Who's your crazy friend?" he was
asking Xena. Xena gave him a chilling smile and said silkily, "The only one who tried to help me when the villagers were slicing my back to ribbons."
Marcus slowly lost his smile and backed up a pace. "Then I owe her a debt of gratitude,my love," he replied, recovering his composure.
"Hmmmm," murmered Xena as she looked at Gabrielle. Staring into those green eyes,she felt restless and unsettled. As if she was supposed to know this strange girl. That thought really unsettled her, so she was gruffer than she had to be. "I've got to plan with my men. Find a place to bed down,"she snapped. "I'll let you know when I. . . .want you." Throwing her a pillow and blanket, she was determined to put the irritating blonde out of her mind. But she stopped walking away,when she heard Gabrielle whisper"One soul."
Xena shuddered as images teased her mind,images of smiling and laughing with this woman by her side. Drawing a deep breath,Xena shook off the images. "Come on,"she barked. "We have little time and much to plan." Then she walked away, followed by Marcus and Darfus.
Clutching the pillow and blanket, Gabrielle made a bed for herself by placing her back against the rock wall. She had seen how Xena had reacted at her comment about one soul.She knew what she had to do. Gabrielle forced herself to at least get a little rest,because she would need all her wits to sneak out of Xena's armed camp and back to Arcanae.
Chapter 18, by Xenaaddict
Gabrielle had been awake several hours and had still not seen Xena, nor had she been able to find an opportunity to leave the camp. Xena had left specific orders that the girl was to be watched and that she and Marcus were not to be disturbed. So, left to her own devices there was nothing remaining to do but wander around the war-camp, trying to keep out of the way. Unfortunately she had caught Darfus' eye, and he leered at her at every opportunity, but after Xena's warning, did not attempt to touch her.
"When I rule this army" he bragged when she was close enough to hear, "..you'll warm to my embrace soon enough."
"When you rule this army," Gabrielle corrected derisively, "...is when Tartarus freezes over."
The men snickered enjoying the banter, and Darfus looked around and grinned, pulling his already taunt face into a deathlike grimace. Even in this dreamscape he was as ugly as ever. He stood up, walking slowly toward her, trying to use his height to intimidate. Gabrielle stood her ground, unflinching. After facing a raving lunatic like Callisto, Darfus was the proverbial walk in the park.
"Xena's got some hold over you doesn't she?"
"Only my respect and loyalty," she answered truthfully, "something you'll never understand."
He barked a laugh, but his good humor dissipated as quickly as it came. Grabbing her chin forcefully, he strained her head up to look into his eyes. His powerful grip hurt, but she would be damned if she gave him the satisfaction of seeing her cringe. "Oh, my sweet.. don't be coy with me. Loyalty and respect do not dictate the risks you take for her." He smirked. "... tell me. I bet 'anything' she can do, I can do better."
The taunt had the expected result; it sent the men into howls of laughter. And Gabrielle could feel the flush of embarrassment rushing to her cheeks. "You'll never know." she shot back.
Grinning in satisfaction, he knew he had found her Achilles' heel. "...maybe not now. But I'm sure Marcus is enjoying those.." he paused in mock thought "..privileges now."
This time Gabrielle reacted without thought. Her hand flew up and connected with Darfus' cheek. The force of the slap could be heard across the campsite. The men's eyes grew wide in awe at the redhead's spunk, and they quickly gathered around to see what would happen next.
Darphus scowled and drew his dagger. His cheek bore the red imprint of her slap.
"Darfus," one of his men cautioned, "remember what Xena said."
"Damn Xena," he spat, "no one hits me and lives."
Chapter 19, by JayBird
The voice was cold and hard as it echoed through the cave. Darfus turned, his dagger still drawn over Gabrielle. Every other brigand in the cave looked as well. Xena stood on the ledge, Marcus beside her.
"Damn Xena?" she asked again. She chuckled. "A bit late for that. But still... the thought is nice. Now... put down the blade before I have you drawn and quartered."
Darfus looked about. His own men who he had served with for years were smiling at him.
"I have served you faithfully and done your bidding," Darfus said. "Is this how you repay loyalty?"
"Yes." Xena turned from Darfus and found Gabrielle's eyes. "Yes, it is."
There was a murmuring among Xena's men. Every man present knew what she meant, and Gabrielle found herself being looked at with new-found respect.
Darfus swallowed and lowered his blade. "As you command, my Princess."
"Good," Xena said. "Now all of you, listen up! I want all horses to be prepared for a long ride. Quartermaster, make sure all troops have three days' rations and fresh weapons if needed. Tracus, Darfus and..." she smiled at the man next to her. "Marcus, ready your troops to move at first light. Tomorrow, we move on Arcanae!"
There was a cheer from the assembled followed by chants of "Hail, Xena! Hail, Xena!" that seemed to shake the very earth. Gabrielle looked at her friend and realized she was revelling in her power. Like the embrace of an old lover... She looked to Marcus and shuddered.
The men soon broke up from their groups to carry out the orders of their Warrior Princess. Gabrielle saw Xena motion for her. She climbed up the steep rockface to stand beside her.
"Thank you," she said.
"It was nothing," Xena said. "You would've done the same for me." She frowned. "I look at you sometimes and I see..."
She shook her head. "I dunno. I only know that... I need you." She looked up. "Now, I want you to go to my quarters. You'll find a hot bath waiting for you. You're beginning to stink something fierce. I've also laid out some fresh clothes for you. If I have to look at that puke-green top of yours one more second, I'll be sick!" She smiled and gently stroked the smaller woman's smooth cheek. "I think you'll look lovely in leather..."
Gabrielle tried to swallow, realizing the drumbeats she heard was the blood pounding in her head.
"Well," Xena husked. "Go!"
Gabrielle rushed off to follow her orders.
Just a little while later, Gabrielle found herself sitting in a deep wooden tub up to her neck in hot water. In more ways than one, she thought, as she tried to enjoy the relaxing waters.
There was a shifting of the tent canvas that protected her from prying eyes. She gasped. Could it be Xena? or would it be Darfus looking for revenge?
Marcus slipped in between the canvas flaps and smiled at her.
"Hello, Gabrielle. Good to see you again." His appreciative gaze indicated that he was enjoying the view.
"Marcus!" Gabrielle whispered, too relieved to worry about her modesty. "You know me!"
"Of course," he said. "We fought a madman together to get Hades back his precious helmet! Why shouldn't I know you?" His smile widened at her puzzled stare. "I had to pretend not to know you. Sorry about that."
"Then you aren't one of Xena's..."
"Creations?" He shook his head. "No, I'm real. But it looks like everyone else here isn't. Well, except you."
"How did you get here from the Elysian Fields?"
"A long story," he said. "Let's just say that Xena's... dreamscape is more powerful than Margola and the Forces of Arcanae ever imagined. They've played this game with thousands pf unfortunates over the centuries. No one has been able to escape the valley... except Xena, and you."
"Aren't we lucky?"
"As Xena drew... images and people from her past to populate her dreamworld... I heard her call to me. I went to Hades and told him what has happened. He allowed me to leave the underworld to help you return Xena to her proper place."
"Not really. As Xena draws more and more power to fill and create her world, the forces of time and elements that bind our existance together become strained."
"Wanna tell me that in Greek?"
"Hades thinks there's a very real chance that Xena's world will break through into the real world. Her own dreamscape will become your reality. And a thousand unstoppable, unkillable dreamwarriors will ride with her to take your world... and make it her own."
"Hey-Zeus..." Gabrielle muttered.
"Now, listen," Marcus continued. "Do as she says for now, but be ready to make your move when the opportunity presents itself."
"Wha... What opportunity?" Gabrielle asked. "What move?"
"You'll know," Marcus replied. "Don't worry, Gabrielle. We'll get through this. I love her too."
Gabrielle nodded, and Marcus slipped back behind the canvas.
Gabrielle sighed. Dreamscapes... other worlds...
Boy, she thought. Sometimes, reality really bites!
Chapter 20, by Raye Dene
After enjoying a liesurely hot bath (no reason not to; might be my last chance for a while!), Gabrielle dried off and began to put on her "puke green" (what a description!) top, when someone clearing his throat caught her attention. Holding her top protectively in front of her, Gabrielle turned to find a very young soldier standing in the chamber.
A blush heated his face as he averted his eyes. "Uhm..ah..Xena wanted you to have these," he stammered and held out a bundle of clothing. "Thank you," replied Gabrielle gently. "You can put them on the ledge over there." Hastily, the young man did as she asked. "You seem awful young to be fighting," remarked Gabrielle as she stepped behind a blanket to dress. She found to her delight that Xena had provided a smooth as butter dress of
tanned hides. It was a perfect fit.
"Oh,but it's a great honor to fight for the Warrior Princess,"he said eagerly. "No one's a better or more famous warlord than Xena!"
"She'll be a dead warlord if I can't stop this," muttered Gabrielle.
"What was that?"asked the soldier.
"I said you probably never get bored,"improvised Gabrielle with a false laugh.
"Oh, no,we don't get bored. Why, we drill all the time," continued the soldier. "Xena says....." His voice trailed off as Gabrielle came around the blanket.
"You were saying?" asked Gabrielle.
"By the gods, you're beautiful!" replied the young soldier,gazing earnestly at Gabrielle. "You have so much free time that you can ogle women, soldier?" drawled Xena in a cold voice from behind him.His face paling,the young soldier turned quickly and placed his fist over his heart. Bowing,he left the chamber to Xena's command of "Get back to work!"
Gabrielle stared into the eyes of her friend, so familiar yet so different.There was a harshness, a..coldness there that Gabrielle had a hard time knowing how to deal with.She felt a frission of fear that this might be more than she could handle.Xena picked up her sword and began to hone it with a rock,careful to check for nicks as she smoothed the stone over the blade. When it seemed as though Xena was determined to ignore her, Gabrielle asked "May I sit down?"
"Go ahead," Xena replied absently, continuing to work on her sword. "Xena," began Gabrielle. She didn't really know what she was going to say; she just couldn't stand the silence anymore.
But, before she could continue, the other woman spoke. "I wanted to thank you for helping me back there in Arcanae and to tell you to stay here. There's no need for you to witness those people's destruction."
"That's what I want to tell you Xena. There doesn't have to be any destruction," Gabrielle pleaded. "Don't go through with this!" Gabrielle found herself pinned by the gaze of an enraged warrior princess.
"No reason for destruction, eh?" laughed Xena without any real humor. "I don't know yet what hold you have on me or why I need you, but Arcanae will pay the price for crossing the Warrior Princess,make no mistake of that!"
With that, Xena swept out of the chamber, her cloak snapping around her. Now what?,thought Gabrielle in despair.