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Foreign Influences
by Oversoul

Standard disclaimers and warnings for alt. fanfic apply.
Contains violence.

Chapter six

The archer squeezed his eyes shut and dropped to his knees. Raven could do nothing to hold him up on his feet. The blow she had delivered to his sternum had shocked his heart and lungs and he was having a desperate time of breathing. His hand clutched at her arm in his fear of not being able to draw a breath... his eyes bugged out of their sockets.

Xena was retrieving her chakram from the dead soldier's skull while
Raven watched the archer on his knees in front of her. Neither one of them were prepared for Ciaus's reaction to the archer being left alive.

Ciaus walked deliberately on a path of vengeance to where the archer
knelt. He held a bow with an arrow knocked and ready. The murderous look in his eyes and the grim set of his lips caused Raven to backed away from the archer by a single step, but Xena wrenched her chakram loose finally and then stood in between the archer and Ciaus as he got closer. Neither woman spoke.

Xena waited for Ciaus to come to a stop. The closer he came, she knew
her chances of grabbing an arrow in flight were reduced. To her relief, he stopped his march towards the archer a few yards away. She was still in the mood to fight and she was finding it hard to turn it off even with Ciaus.

"Are they all dead?" she asked him after a moment.

"Three of them killed in their sleep..." Ciaus said evenly in a dark, low
voice. He was fighting for control of his emotions and the outcome of the
battle decided whether or not the arrow was released. His injured arm
shook with the intensity of his anger, threatening the restraint he had on
releasing the arrow. His line of vision remained along the arrow shaft
pointed at the kneeling man, right through Xena.

"You can't kill him like this, Ciaus," Xena cautioned him, trying to soothe

"He killed my friends in their sleep!" he said in the same deadly tone.
"Now, get out of my way!"


"Has he asked for quarter?" Ciaus asked anxiously.

"He can't talk right now," Raven said.

"He can nod," Ciaus pointed out. "Ask him."

Xena sighed. She was covered in blood and gore and the coppery smell
of it was starting to get to her in the closed in heat of the forest. She
didn't need this from Ciaus now. She stepped aside to confront the man
kneeling at Raven's feet.

When Xena stepped aside, the gasping man saw Ciaus in his full
threatening fury... saw his face, the arrow pointed at him and the line of
sight was clear now that Xena had moved aside.

Escape... escape...

The only defense he could see was the dagger still laying beside him
and he lunged for it. The archer rolled to his side, picking the dagger up as he continued to roll. Raven watched with amusement at his futile attempt at arming himself while Xena simply rolled her eyes.

"Put it down!" Ciaus warned him. His line of sight had remained fixated on the pathetic archer and the arrow still remained knocked.

The archer became aware of what he had done and his desperation to
live drove him to hysteria. The whites of his eyes predominated his face
which itself was set in a grimace of primeval terror. He stared at the
dagger as if it were a venomous snake.

"Put it down," Ciaus said again, this time much more calmly.

The archer was immobilized with fear. He lost his bodily functions and
didn't even notice. Whimpers came from him as his ability to breathe

Xena approached him slowly. There was something about this man that
told her that he didn't deserve this. She moved between Ciaus and the
archer and knelt down.

"Give that to me," she said softly, holding her hand out. Without her
height predominating her appearance, the archer seemed to focus on Xena's proximity to him and listen to her voice.

"We won't kill you... now give me the dagger."

Xena had seen this before... soldiers broken after battle and so deep
in shock that they barely seemed human. This archer, like the girl they
found at the camp, was losing his ability to function for himself. She knew
that a mind could shut down at the disbelief of what it had just been
through. She had been pretty close to that herself at one time.

Xena studied the archer for a moment, reached out, and took the
dagger. Once he was relieved of the dagger, the archer collapsed to the
side on the forest floor. His hysteria overwhelmed him as he broke into
sobs, uncaring of his situation.

The bloodied warrior arose and began to walk to camp. She stopped
beside Ciaus and held the dagger out to him knowing that he would have to unarm the bow to accept it. Their eyes met and Xena could see the relief in his.

"I thought you were better than that... I'm glad to see I was right."

Ciaus shook his head and snorted. "You don't know how much..."

Xena place her hand on his shoulder and felt him sag at her touch.

"Yes... I *do* know..."

Gabrielle felt and heard the hot, dry wind roar in her ears as the
women pushed on. Once again, Roses proved herself to be a true leader as she carried her awkward rider towards the horizon that rose up darkly in the distance. The bard sighed inwardly, knowing that the rise indicated trees... tall, shady trees... and water to swim in and drink. Gods, let there be a stream or a spring to cool off in and scrub the dusty grime stuck to her sweaty body.

On this second day of riding she began to feel the effects of the sun on her exposed skin. Her tanned arms were reddened and the back of her neck felt like she had slept too close to the campfire again. She drifted in her thoughts to Xena quietly stoking the fire, unable to sleep, and keeping a vigil over her during her deepest slumber. Gabrielle felt her heart do a little squeeze as she recalled how safe she felt when she was with the warrior.

How far to go? How much further? How long? Are you safe, Xena?
Please be safe until I can find you.

Loatian was pacing back and forth in front of the nook impatiently. He
could see Ciaus and Raven guiding the archer back to the carnage that was suppose to be their safe haven for the day, but that had all been taken away. Xena saw Loatian first as she entered the camp ahead of the others, and her first impression of him was that he was angry... not frightened or worried.

"You look like you could take on Ares all by yourself," Xena said to him
as she passed by on her way to check on Katrina.

"I felt... helpless else but had changed his mind.
"A wonderful thing has happened only to have *this* take it all away." He
pointed at the dead soldiers.

"What wonderful thing?" Xena asked dubiously as she stood beside
Katrina. She was still looking at Loatian who strolled into the nook casually. His eyes now smiled brightly as he looked back and forth between Xena and Katrina. Xena felt a hand weakly flop across the toe of her boot. She looked down and a slow smile spread across her lips.

Raven dropped to her knees at Katrina's side... this time she would not
be pushed away or be removed by Xena or Ciaus no matter what. She took Katrina's hand in hers and she raised it to her lips as she bent low, looking into the puffy eyes of her lover. The swelling had made her blind and Raven realized that Katrina couldn't see her. She didn't even know if Katrina was even trying to open her eyes. Her heart squeezed hard as she searched for the words to let Katrina know it was her.

"We have many years still to be enjoyed," she said weakly. Tears
escaped her and she kissed the fingers she held against her lips as she
spoke. Several seconds passed and there was no response... and then...
fingertips moved and brushed the lips that spoke with the familiar voice and breathed the familiar breath.

Raven laughed and touched Katrina's hand to her tears.

Xena and Ciaus sat crossed legged on the ground and watched the
proceedings with apprehension. When Katrina acknowledged her awareness of Raven, Xena and Ciaus exchanged satisfied grins. Xena glanced at Ciaus a second time quickly and saw the deep sadness in his eyes. She marveled at how he could be happy for someone else despite his own deep grief.

Xena reached over and put her hand on Ciaus's shoulder... she noted
that his minor wound was turning into a major bleeder and made a mental
note to have a better look at it.

"I'll change her bandages, and then I'll look at your arm again."

Ciaus mused for a moment without returning her look. "I should look
after my friends now. It'll only take..."

"No, Ciaus," Xena said firmly but softly. "We'll do that together... all of us. Nobody is alone here... we're all in this together."

"Even that murdering archer?" he asked through slightly clenched teeth.

Xena chuckled wryly. "No. He may have a problem finding a friend right now. These men were not hunting for us. My guess is that they were a
scouting party looking for a passable route to Athens for the army and they just stumbled upon us."

"Then, where are their horses?"

Xena raised an eyebrow. And then she scowled.

"Good question and I don't like the possibilities...."
Xena rode Argo ahead of Ciaus as they made their way back along the
foot paths that the soldiers had taken. The trail that they left in their
wake caused Xena and Ciaus to cast glances at each other more often the further they road along.

"They weren't shy," Xena observed. "They were in a hurry."

Ciaus stopped his horse. Xena no longer heard his horse moving and
pulled Argo to a halt. She turned in the saddle and saw Ciaus sitting with his face buried in his hands as he sat atop his horse.

"They're all dead, Xena... all my friends are dead... they trusted me and now they're dead. Tethian has killed the two men I sent back to the camp. They're dead."

"Ciaus, you don't know..."

"Stop it, Xena!! Don't patronize me. You've been thinking it, too."

Xena studied him for a moment and then nodded to him when he finally
looked up from the shelter of his hands at the warrior for confirmation.
She heard a strangled sound catch in his breath... so soft... he had barely
managed to contain his anguish. She knew that he wasn't accustomed to
losing people close to him like this. As a warrior, she had grown accustomed to favorite lieutenants not returning from battle to celebrate in her war room after a victory.

"This invasion has touched us all... mortal and god alike..." she murmured.

"No... the gods are still using us as pawns."

Xena thought a moment. "This is different, Ciaus... the gods are being
used as pawns as well. They are all at risk of losing their connection to us.
For some of them... that wouldn't be so bad for *us*. But, we cannot risk
losing Aphrodite, or Athena, or Artemis... Apollo... Hermes.... the list goes

"And if you lost your friend... Gabrielle.... how would you feel about the
gods then?"

Xena turned in her saddle and urged Argo to continue through the tree. "I wouldn't 'feel' at all, Ciaus. All that I am would die with her."

They carried on in silence, their horses moving no faster than a man on
foot would have been capable of. After almost an hour the trees began to thin out and get smaller, Xena halted Argo again.

"Their trail widens out here. They were spread out when they entered
the forest."

"I'll wager that just ahead is where they dismounted," Ciaus said softly.

The unspoken question of 'where are their horses' was making their
hearts beat faster. Xena felt her adrenalin surge and a heightened
awareness coursed through her like a shock from touching something hot.
She felt the prickles go all the way to the crown of her scalp.

They were in trouble.

Gabrielle lay back in the shallow stream and let the cool water run its
course over her and around her and through her. Even with her clothes on, she could feel the water rush against her skin simply because of its coolness on her overheated body. Beside her, Roses stood knee deep in the mountain run off and drank her fill with gusto. They had been walking for hours and the horse had cooled down but her thirst still needed to be slaked.

The bard opened her eyes as she floated with her butt resting on the
bottom of the stream. She studied the seemingly huge beast beside her as it stood so very close. Roses soft brown eyes glanced at her rider every few moments to make sure that all was well and that the laying down position was not because of injury. Roses concern made the bard smile.

"Ephany should have named you Xena," she murmured to the mare.

From under the water Gabrielle brought her hand up under the horse's submerged chin and held it with her fingers as she drank. The sensation of wet chin whiskers and the firm lip muscles as they sucked in the water
thrilled her.

"Careful, bard, or I'll start to think you've lost your fear of horses," Ephany teased as she approached Gabrielle from the opposite side.

Even though her ears were partially underwater, Gabrielle could still
make out Ephany's muffled words. She rolled her eyes as the warrior sat down in the water beside her.

"The army has already been through this area. There are wagon and
horse tracks by the hundreds and the game is gone. There's several rabbit burrows near hear and they've been picked clean... dug apart with shovels and raided. It hasn't been too long ago, either. Further along the banks is some slag from a forage."

"Do you think that hunting parties will come this far north again?"

Ephany nodded. "There's a village just to the south... a fair sized one...
and there's a probability that they will send the army supplies."

Gabrielle sat up and looked to the sun. "We better get moving if we
want to gather information and then set up camp away from the village."

Ephany stood up in the river. She was naked and unashamed of her
strong muscular body. Gabrielle smiled and shook her head at the sight.

"What?" the warrior asked.

"I just notice... things... now that Xena and I are lovers."

Ephany arched an eyebrow, "and I thought you only had lusty eyes for
the Warrior Princess."

Gabrielle sat up suddenly, "no, wait... I meant that," she shrugged as
she paused, searching for the words, "well, I mean that... um..."

Finally, Ephany laughed and extended her hand to help the bard up.
When Gabrielle was standing and they were relatively eye to eye, the
warrior smiled at Gabrielle's consternation.

"I know what you mean, Princess... it's quite all right to appreciate
another woman's physique. I know where your heart is, and where your mind is when you 'looked'."

The bard sagged visibly. "This is hard being away from her after...
being so... intimate... with her. I look for her everywhere and in everyone.
Sometimes, I think I hear her voice. When I looked at you just a moment
ago, it felt like if I tried hard enough, I could imagine you were her. When I caught myself thinking that, I think I finally understood soldiers who have affairs even though they have wives and children at home."

The smile faded from the warriors lips but not her eyes. "Sometimes,
warriors take comfort wherever they can find it. Sex can make you feel
alive even though you are facing death at every turn. Friendships sometimes become much more when there is death hanging about and you are scared and lonely."

The bard looked into Ephany's smiling eyes. She had so much to learn
about loving a warrior... more than the hard lesson she had learned in her
mistake of marrying Perdicus.

Xena held up her hand for silence... no questions. Steely blue eyes darted from point to point of her surroundings. Nothing was coming in
clearly... she couldn't read anything. These were quiet bastards. Why
couldn't she feel anything except the cold dread as sweat trickled down her back??

Off to her left, movement. She looked sharply and saw nothing but
she knew *something* had to be there. Xena's eyes searched as the dread deepened.

Only one way out... head first with both arms swinging.

She gathered herself to dismount Argo as aggressively as she could
from a stopped position... and then movement caught her attention again to her left only slightly ahead this time.

She began her war cry but a crossbow bolt strangled it before she could let loose. Instead it erupted as a squeal of anguish and surprise as the bolt struck her in her right side and hit a rib. The wet crack sounded loud in the silence... louder than the impact of the bolt going through her leather armor and into her flesh.

Eyes wide, she stared down at the offending protrusion. It didn't
make sense to her. Why didn't she feel it coming. Why didn't she 'feel'
the shooters presence? This shouldn't have happened... oh, Gabrielle.... oh, gods, I need you..

Mercifully, Xena fell to the ground before the pain registered in her
shocked mind.

Ephany arrived back in the Amazon camp just shortly before nightfall.
She had a grim look about her and she trembled from deep within. The
other Amazons stood about waiting for her to calm herself so that she could speak. Gabrielle solemnly approached her and took the reins from her hands.

"They took eight women and one boy from this village as 'hostages'
after they killed three villagers to make their point," she said quietly.

Gabrielle handed the reins off to an Amazon and placed her hand on
Ephany's arm. There was nothing she could do about the abductions, and
even though it pained her she shut the thoughts out and concentrated on
their mission.

"What about supplies?"

Ephany pulled away from the bard and searched close at hand for a
waterskin. She found her own close to where she had staked out her little patch of ground for sleeping. They had arrived and set up near the village just after high sun.

"They are sending out 11 wagons. They've been preparing them ever
since the army passed through here two weeks ago."

Gabrielle joined Ephany as the warrior sat on the green grass and
stretched out her legs. She took several long swallows of water before
returning her attention to Gabrielle and the other Amazons.

"Did you get close enough to the wagons to see what's on them?" the
bard wanted to know.

Ephany nodded. "There's no soldiers in town even though the army left
behind 8 wagon for them to fill. The wagons are loaded with smoked meats and winter stored vegetables. These villagers have literally cleaned themselves out of food in hopes of getting their people back."

"They believe that?"

"They think that the soldiers meeting them halfway will have their
people with them." The warrior shook her head in disbelief.

"Then we have to make sure they're not right first before we interfere with this supply shipment." Gabrielle thought a moment. "What else is in those supplies?"

"Iron, bronze and copper bars from their forges. The army's smiths
can make weapons and armor at their leisure with that... remember the slag along the riverbank?"

Gabrielle nodded as she looked off towards the setting sun. "When
are the wagons being shipped out?"

   "Tomorrow... they are meeting the soldiers at high sun along the
southern coastal road... about 20 miles north of the cull-du-sac you said the army was stationed at. I know that area... you could hide an army twice that size in there if they came in by sea."

Gabrielle frowned, "what?"

"I'm saying that more invaders could have landed there and joined the
forces already there.... it's not like this hasn't been done before. It's rough landing because of the currents and breakers but it can be done at low tide when the rocky beach is exposed. At high tide the surge against the larger rocks is too powerful."

The bard squeezed her eyes shut as she took in the factors to the
growing equation. The only military strategies she had learned were from
Xena, and the more complicated ones, Xena wouldn't talk about... it was part of her past. She suddenly felt tired... tired beyond mere sleep deprivation, and they were about to experience more of that now.

"Let's saddle up, then... we have about 25 miles of riding ahead of us if
we want to intercept those soldiers."

Gabrielle began to get to her feet as the other Amazons disbursed to
break their barely used camp. Some of them had gotten some sleep while
Ephany had ventured into town, but not much. Ephany stopped the bard and studied her face.

"You're thinking of getting back to Xena, aren't you?"

"Among other things, Eph. I've never been part of an ambush quite like
this." Gabrielle tried to smile convincingly but dread was creeping into her
heart. "Those villagers think that they are getting their people back with
those supplies... what do you think they'll do when they get to the exchange site and find dead soldiers? Go home?"

"We'll deal with that when it happens, Gabrielle... right now we have to
stop those soldiers from getting the supplies. Any way we can possibly
weaken them, even slightly, before they reach Athens, will help the cause."

Ciaus scrambled to unfold the crumbled body of the warrior princess.
The man in black leather and his cryptic words were forgotten as he rolled Xena onto her back to assess the damage and her condition. Gods, he prayed, let it be a broken rib and nothing else. He began to unbuckle her armor and unlace her leathers after he pushed her up onto her left side. Once everything was undone he rolled her onto her back again.

So much blood.

He pulled the leathers down and ripped the shift she wore underneath.
The sounds of being alone filled his senses and he felt a panic rising from his soul. He knelt close to her lips and placed his cheek near them to gage her breathing. He was almost satisfied when Xena's hand came up in the form of a claw and she wrapped her taloned fingers around his larynx. She pushed him back far enough to get a good look at him with those angry, murderous eyes before her eyelids fluttered and she succumbed to the darkness again.

Ciaus trembled to realize how close he came to death at the hands of
the warrior. He suddenly felt like a little boy... alone and in need. His
companion... no, his *friend*... was in need of his help and he had no way of
helping her on his own. He had to get her back to the camp.

The bolt was close to the surface. It had hit dead on the rib and had
stopped at the break. Ciaus worked the bolt out of the thin layer of flesh
and threw it to the side like it was a poisonous snake. The wound flowed
strongly, each beat of Xena's heart pushing her lifeforce out of her body
and onto the ground. The only thing Ciaus had to staunch the flow was his
own shirt and he knew it wasn't very clean... but first things first.

Ciaus worked with such intensity to staunch the flow of blood that he
didn't hear the sound of the soldiers and horses approaching at first, and then when he knew he was within range of arrows or spears it was too late.

He never stopped working on Xena until the soldiers had surrounded him as he knelt in the sand beside his friend. When at last he raised his head and shielded his eyes from the sun to look at the soldiers he almost wept.

They had to ride further than anticipated along the coastal road. The
road and terrain were flat and travelers were visible from either direction for quite some distance. At high moon they came upon a stretch of road where it wound through the trees and this is where they stopped. It had taken them 6 hours to get here in the dark and they all were exhausted.

"The rest of the road winds through forest all the way down to where
Xena is with the others," Gabrielle pointed out. She loosened Roses saddle and began to give her water as the others did the same with their mounts.

So close and yet so far, Gabrielle thought. She hung the waterskin
back over the pommel of the saddle and looked south down the road. Her
heart squeezed tightly and she could almost see Xena riding Argo slowly
towards her along the moonlit road. Gabrielle closed her eyes and envisioned Xena extending a hand down to her and then pulling her up behind her in that ever so familiar way. The bard could feel the warmth... smell the warrior's scent and leather... her mind had triggered sensations that brought the presence of Xena to her in a false reality. Gabrielle barely contained her breathing as she opened her eyes and dispelled the illusion.

"Let's get under cover of the forest and get some rest," Ephany
instructed everyone. "We can set up our strategy and positions at first
light... it'll give us a couple of hours to prepare."

The moon still hung full over the canopy of the forest. Moonlight
provided enough illumination to the shadows so that the Amazons could move west into the shelter of the trees. A cool, salt laden breeze could be felt filtering down from the canopy.

"No fires..." Ephany reminded them all but she really didn't have to.

Everyone of these women had seen combat before and were experts
with their weapons as well as hand to hand. They had been trained well in
tactics and common sense... and protection. Unknown to the bard was that these women were also assigned to protect her.

"Gabrielle," Ephany called to the bard in the dark.

"Over here," Gabrielle answered back as she wrapped a cloak around
herself. Her sunburned arms felt the chill of the night air and her teeth
chattered slightly as she talked. She didn't know if it was from the cold or her anticipation. "What is it?"

"Stay with me," the warrior instructed as she joined the bard.

"You aren't going to baby me, are you, Eph?" Gabrielle asked archly.
She tried to hold herself erect and dignified as she asked the challenging question but a huge shudder shook her body and rattled some undignified
sounds out of her.

Ephany smiled slightly. "No, my friend. You, I and four others will be
part of the ground assault. We need to talk."

"Oh," Gabrielle nodded, grateful that she didn't have to defend herself to Ephany the way she did with Xena on these occasions. She was even more grateful that she wouldn't be up in the trees.

The warrior turned her look from Gabrielle so that the bard could
absorb the implications to the forthcoming discussion. The ground team had to fight whoever escaped the archers in the trees.

"We need sleep. We'll talk when the watch is changed."
For the first several hours of sleep the Amazons allowed their tired
horses to snore as much as they wanted... those that did snore. Towards
dawn, the women on watch would gently awaken the animals with caresses and whispers so that any advanced scouting party wouldn't hear them. At
the first hint of morning gray, ten of the horses were taken further back into the forest until they were out of earshot of the road. Although the
animals were well trained, they couldn't take the chance of their horses
calling to the soldiers' mounts out of curiosity as horses sometimes do.

A sleepy Gabrielle stumbled about in the bushes as quietly as she could while she sought out some privacy to relieve herself. Alone and with her
thoughts, she realized that her shivering had begun again and that her teeth chattered. Why am I doing that? she admonished herself.

She joined Ephany, Tia and three other Amazons specialized in ground
assault. The bard studied the three other Amazons openly as she listened to Ephany and Tia give instructions. Each woman listened quietly before
leading their horses away. Gabrielle was left alone with Tia and Ephany.

"Are you okay?" Ephany asked as she noted the bard's chattering teeth and strained expression.

"I *think* so," Gabrielle answered honestly. "I really don't know why
I'm doing that."

"You sound like a woodpecker," Tia smiled. She reached a hand out and
rubbed Gabrielle's arm warmly, trying to get her to smile, which Gabrielle did but she still sounded like a woodpecker. Unexpectedly, Tia gathered the bard up in her arms and held her reassuringly. Gabrielle welcomed the contact and with a deep sigh of comfort, the chattering of her teeth quieted considerably.

"Thank you, Tia," the bard sighed gratefully.

Tia chuckled softly and brushed back Gabrielle's hair, her fingers
finding the braid that Xena had made with her own hair intertwined. She
brought the braid up to Gabrielle's vision and smiled.

"Soon," was all she said to her Princess.
The road had a bend in it in order to skirt a large rock outcropping
where the trees thinned out. Even though there was sparse brush and
saplings to hide in, the best cover was to stay behind the curve of the road behind the rocks and wait until the soldiers came into view. Tia and Ephany were positioned there while Gabrielle positioned herself on the opposite side of the road behind another outcropping of rocks at the furthest point north.

Further south and before the bend, the trees grew close to the road.
It was in the trees in this area that ten Amazons positioned themselves high above the road. They wore their battle masks and held their bows at the ready. It was their job to initiate the ambush... the three Amazons to the south would cut off any retreat and ....

Gabrielle's teeth began to chatter violently as she contemplated the
upcoming encounter while she lay in wait with Roses. Soon, her whole body
joined in and she knew why. It came to her with a start and she knew this
wasn't right. None of these soldiers were going to be given a chance to live.

The time was close, she knew. If she could just see down the road... if
she just moved a little...

Ephany and Tia exchanged frantic looks when they saw the bard leave
her position. They saw her move into the trees and then disappear. This is
*not* the time to pull any stunts, Ephany warned Gabrielle silently. She
searched the tree line for any sign of her Princess but with resignation she realized that Xena had trained her well.