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"And when the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer..."
"Xena!" the bard shrieked, turning to her.
At the sound of the thunderous crack echoing down from on high, Xena released the huge wheel and desperately clawed her hand through the cold night air. She succeeded in catching Gabrielle by the front of her top and, with a determined grunt, she jerked her young friend to her. She then literally threw Gabrielle down to one side of the deck and covered her with her own body.
"The mast!" squalled a terrified sailor. "It's snapped!!"
"Gods preserve us!" wailed another.
For the men of the Icarian trading ship Antilicus it was a storm like none of them had ever seen. Even Xena, for all her seafaring experience, could not remember one so as unyieldingly violent as this. For over ten turns of the hour glass now--almost a full half-day, she and the good crew of the Antilicus had battled the raging waters of the eastern Mediterranean. Three men had already perished in the storm. Tyronicus, the ship's master, had been the first to die. Several of the men, aware of Xena's history, had pleaded with her to take command of their ship. Naturally she had agreed and in the harrowing hours since then she had employed every maneuver, every trick she had ever learned as a ship's captain in order that the Antilicus might stay afloat. However the old ship's sails soon proved to be no match for the terrible winds and the aging hull ill suited to withstand the waves crashing against it with such unceasing relentlessness. In fact had it not been for Xena's extraordinary seamanship and the untiring work of the brave crew the Antilicus undoubtedly would have already succumbed to the storm's raging waters. Several times Xena had at first raged at and then in the end been reduced to, pleading with Gabrielle to go below out of the pounding rain but each time the little bard had steadfastly refused to leave her warrior's side. As angry and frustrated as she was over Gabrielle's obstinacy, Xena could not help but admire the little one's courage and be moved by her loyalty.
But now, with the mast gone, it was all over. The ship was indeed doomed. Pragmatist that Xena was, once that mast snapped her thoughts immediately shifted from saving the ship and its entire crew to only saving the lithe blonde companion she held so dear.
With the sails gone and the rudder useless, the Antilicus was no more than a big crate on the water to be toyed with as the storm wished. Not surprisingly, it was not long before the ship began to founder.
As the bow plowed under the waves for the final time Panitus, the first mate, screamed, "She's going down!"
Over the roar of the thunder Xena turned to her friend and yelled, "Gabrielle, don't let go of me! No matter what!"
But then two women then heard a loud, sickening crunch and felt the ship's deck literally break apart beneath them. In an instant they were in the heavy black seas. To her horror Xena felt Gabrielle's arm slip from her waist. "Gabrielle!" No answer. "GABRIELLE!!!!" she screamed again, this time so hard her throat burned. A few feet off behind her she heard something that sounded like a gasp. Spitting water from her mouth, she turned and she saw a dark form bursting forth from the sea.
"Xena!" it gulped. "Help!!"
Almost immediately the dark form sank back down beneath the waves. "Gabrielle!" Xena launched herself at the spot where she had seen the form and once there desperately rammed her arm down into the water. As her head went under Xena felt something stringy brush against her hand. Gabrielle's hair! Frantically groping under the water with both hands now, Xena somehow managed to catch a handful of the blonde hair. Using this as her guide she reached down with her free arm and caught the young woman around the neck. She hauled her to the surface and flipped her over on her back. She then tucked the crook of her elbow under the bard's neck and held on for dear life. It was then she felt the warm blood oozing from Gabrielle's head. The conditions being what they were, there was not much Xena could do. She did, however, manage to rip off a piece of the bard's skirt to use as a rough bandage. Other than that all she could do was repeat over and over, "I've got you."
Sometime later--she had no idea how much later--Xena saw a piece of the mast measuring about five cubits in length pass near them. Her strength waning, the warrioress knew it was now or never so she at once made for it. Upon reaching it, she was gratified to find a length of rope still attached to the mast section. She took a piece of the rope and lashed Gabrielle's arms to the mast. That done, she then extracted her breast dagger and cut off some of the excess rope. This she used to tie one of her own arms to the mast.
That was it. Xena had now done all she could do in order to help them survive. All that was left now was to ride out the tempest and hope they would still be alive whenever it ended--if in fact it ever did end. All night the storm raged, tossing the mast and its clinging human appendages about as if they were but leaves in a whirlwind. By all reasoning they should not have survived. But this world is not all about logic and reason and sometimes events occur which although at first glance might seem like nothing more than mere happenstance, upon later examination can almost surely be seen to have been preordained.
For the fierce Greek warrioress from Amphipolis and her faithful friend this catastrophe was only the beginning of such an event. No, they would not perish this night. For an unseen power far greater than all the storms, all the petty gods, and all the evil of the world was watching over them. These two, especially the warrioress, were to be instruments of His will. She was the one He had decided that should show unto His children--"To teach them war."
As the warrioress regained consciousness the first thing her throbbing brain became aware of was the sound of muffled voices over her. Her first coherent thought was, of course, of Gabrielle.
"I don't believe it," one of them said, incredulously. "They're both still alive."
"How could anyone have survived being shipwrecked in that storm?" another one wondered aloud.
Xena opened her mouth to speak but her tongue kept seeming to want to crawl down her throat. All she could do was gag, "Gaaa..."
The men ignored her attempts to speak. Lying there on the wet sand she felt a foot prod her in the ribs. "Did you notice how this one is dressed?" a voice asked.
"Like a warrior," another replied.
"Not just any warrior," said the first voice. "See how fine her clothes are." Xena felt someone draw her sword from its scabbard. "And would you look at this?" the voice marveled. "It's not every day you see something this finely crafted."
"Truly she must be someone of great skill and importance," said the second voice. Its owner then idly bent over to take a look at the other, much smaller woman. "Can't say as much for this one, though. She looks like a drowned rat."
"Who do suppose they are?" asked the first voice.
"I don't know but the appearance of this warrior troubles me," replied the second. "Especially now."
"Do you suppose this to be a mercenary and her slave?"
"If this little one is a slave she must be a very valued one," the second voice observed. "Else why would the warrior go through all the trouble of lashing her to the mast like that? After all, good slaves are as plentiful as chaff at harvest time."
"Maybe she was on her way to Jabin," the first voice suggested, its tone very hushed.
"I think that is altogether probable," said the other one. "Surely we could not afford the services of one so obviously formidable."
"Maybe they should die then."
"Maybe, Osak," the other one said. "But that is not for us to decide. We will go south, to Ephraim. We will take them to Deborah. She will decide what must be done with them."
"Yes," the first one agreed. "The wife of Lapidoth is very wise. She will know what to do."
One of the men then kneeled down and picked what looked to be a superbly crafted object up out of the sand. "I wonder what this is," he said, staring wide-eyed at Xena's chakram.
"It's beautiful," said the other man.
"If you ask me it looks evil," said the first one. "Now let's get busy. It will be dark soon."
Still too weak to move, Xena felt someone roughly draw her hands behind her back. "Tie them up good, Osak," she heard
one of them say. "And bind the warrior's feet as well. We don't want to take any chances with that one."
"And Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at the time. And she dwelt under a palm tree of Deborah
between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came to her for judgment."
Judges 4:4 and 4:5
"Prophetess, we have need of your wisdom."
The woman arose from her seat under the palm tree and beckoned with her hand. "Come forward," she said, "that I may know you."
Xena felt the tip of her own sword prod her in the back. "You heard her," its wielder said. "Move."
It had been a long ride for she and Gabrielle on the back of that cursed ox cart from the coast to the hilly country of Ephraim. Along the way, she had been afforded any number of opportunities to free Gabrielle and herself and brush their plainly inexperienced captors aside but for some unaccountable, even disturbing, reason she had found she did not seem to have the will to do so.
"You are the fisherman, Osak," said the prophetess. "From the Plain of Sharon."
"Yes, Deborah," said Osak. "It is true that I have spoken with you before. And this is my brother, Milo."
Deborah nodded toward their blindfolded captives. "Why have you bound them thus?" she asked. Could it really be her? she wondered.
"We suspect them to be allies of Jabin," said Milo.
"Have you proof?" asked Deborah.
"Look at her garb, Prophetess," said Osak, earnestly. "See how fine the leather is, the armor she wears." He then held up Xena's sword. "This is her fine sword. Are these not the possessions of some great warrior?"
"Undoubtedly," said Deborah. "But just as not every serpent will bite when handled so too is it true that not all great warriors work to enslave us."
It only seems so, thought Osak, not daring to say it aloud.
"Take the coverings from their eyes," said Deborah.
Milo and Osak did as they were bade and at last the prophetess was able to gaze upon the faces. To the fishermen's great surprise they saw her eyes open wide and she uttered a little cry. "You!"
The tall, raven-haired beauty shot her a faint smile of recognition. "Hello, Deborah," she said, with unexpected softness.
This flustered Gabrielle, if only a little. "You know her?" she asked. "I mean, of course you know her, otherwise...you wouldn't...I mean..."
Now the bard was to be surprised again for it was here that Deborah stepped forward and hugged the warrioress tightly. Even more surprising to her was that Xena reciprocated the gesture just as affectionately. "How many years has it been?" asked Deborah, smiling warmly at Xena.
With typical succinctness Xena replied, "Far too many, my friend." She turned and gestured to the little bard saying, "This is Gabrielle, my best friend."
Instantly the prophetess knew. The way Xena had spoken the name, they way she looked at the young woman--this one had captured Xena's heart. "Gabrielle," said Deborah, taking her hand with true affection. "You must be an extraordinary person. Not just anybody can break through this tall one's hard shell you know."
"Oh, I don't know," said Xena, impishly lifting an eyebrow. "After all, you did."
Deborah's laugh was one of easy familiarity. "Did I?" She looked tenderly at the tall warrioress and said, "I never did know your real name."
To Gabrielle's experienced ear it seemed as if Xena's voice choked just the tiniest little bit. "It's Xena," she said softly.
"Xena," echoed Deborah. "What a lovely name."
This was not going the way Osak had expected at all. He had been half hoping he and his brother might receive some type of reward for their labors. "Ahh, if I may--"
"These two are friends of Israel, Osak," said Deborah, forcefully cutting him off.
A sharp glance by Deborah was all that was needed to silence any further protest. "As you say," said Osak, resigning himself to defeat.
As the two men dejectedly turned to leave they heard Xena clear her throat in a loud, exaggerated manner. "Uhh, boys?" Turning back to her, they saw her beckon them with the first two fingers of her left hand. "Ahh, I think you have something of mine?"
Osak flashed a sheepish grin and handed over the sword.
"Thank you," Xena said, a little mockingly. She then looked expectantly at Milo. "Ahem..."
Sighing, Milo sagged his shoulders and, reaching into his robes, produced the chakram.
Xena smiled sweetly at him and returned the exquisite weapon of destruction to its proper place.
The compassionate Deborah, however, could not let them go without a display of gratitude for their vigilance. "Please, fishermen, stay and have supper with us; that you should not make the long journey back to your nets in hunger."
Osak bowed slightly at the waist and replied, "We thank Deborah for her generosity. Is there anything you wish us to do?"
"Could you gather up some wood for the fire?" asked Deborah.
"Oh course, Prophetess," said Osak. Turning to his brother, he said, "Come, Milo." And off they went.
Once the men were out of earshot Xena said to Deborah, "I'm proud of you. From what I heard down in Gaza you're a real shaphat now. That's unheard of for a woman isn't it?"
Deborah shrugged modestly and said, "It is no accomplishment of my own. When they come to me for judgment and advice it is not my words they hear, but the Lord's."
"I know better than that," said Xena. "I always knew you had greatness in you. You always were exceptionally wise."
"Even if I do possess this wisdom of which you speak it is still His gift," Deborah insisted. "I am proud the Lord chose me to do His will in these troubled times and every day I strive to follow Him as best I can." In an obvious attempt to lighten the mood, she took up a position between the two women and locked an arm around each of their's. She then began walking them toward the simple house just up the hill. "Gaza is a long way from Greece," she said. "What, if I may ask, were you doing there?"
"You may," said Xena. It was clear to Gabrielle that these two had, as Xena liked to say--a "history." Just what that meant in this case she could for the moment only wonder about. "Gabrielle and I went there in order to bring a man wanted for murder back to Greece.
A mild look of disappointment spread across Deborah's face. "Is this...what you...do now?"
"No," Xena told her. "I'm no bounty hunter if that's what you mean. It's just that this bast...man killed a very good friend of ours and well, let's just say Gabrielle and I took it personally."
"You found him." Gabrielle noted it was not a question but a statement of fact. It was obvious Deborah did know Xena.
"Yeah," said Xena. "We were taking him back to Greece to stand trial when our ship went down in a storm. I don't know if he survived or not. I doubt it." Xena figured it best not to tell the woman she had conveniently "forgotten" to unchain Almeth, murderer of Palaemon.
"Whether he did or no he will not escape punishment for his transgression," said Deborah, matter-of-factly. As they neared the house a man came to the door and, seeing the women approach, waved. "That is my husband, Lapidoth," said Deborah, smiling.
"So, somebody finally tamed you, huh?" teased Xena.
Deborah's smile grew broader and she blushed a little. "Well, my heart anyway," she answered. "He is a good man."
"He must be," remarked Xena.
Lapidoth stepped forth from the house and walked out to meet them. As he approached Deborah said, "I should be angry with you."
"Are you?" Xena asked. "Because if you are I wouldn't blame you."
"I could never be angry with you," Deborah admitted. "Husband," she called out as Lapidoth neared, "I bring friends to share our table."
"Greetings, friends," said Lapidoth. "You are most welcome to our humble home."
Bowing her head slightly to the bard, Deborah said, "This, is Gabrielle. And this..." She then entwined both arms around the warrioress' right arm. "...is Xena. She is the one I told you of."
"Ahhh, so you're the one who made such an impression on my wife," said Lapidoth.
"Not a bad one, I trust," Xena replied. But it had in fact been during the height of her own reign of terror that Xena had first met the young woman known as Deborah. She had been in Iturea conducting a sweeping campaign against the Assyrians. After one particularly bloody victory against them Xena, hot with blood lust, had pursued their pitiful remnants all the way down into Samaria, which is not to be confused with Sumer. But while on a scouting mission her horse had stepped in a hole and thrown her. Upon falling she struck her head against a stone and was rendered unconscious. It was Deborah's face she had seen when she awoke. To her consternation and, of course, confusion, Xena discovered she could not remember anything--not where she was or what she was doing there or even her own identity.
For the next moon Xena had stayed with the enchanting Deborah and, in truth, soon came to love the woman. It had not taken her long to learn just how extraordinary the Israelite was. She seemed to have that something, that what people sometimes referred to as the "light." Not knowing what else to call her, Deborah had chosen the name Sarah for the tall, enigmatic woman with the enchanting eyes. To this day Xena had not known a happier time in her life. And then had come the day when a swarthy Canaanite official named Namez had tried to force Deborah to give herself to him. In her rage Xena had snapped the man's neck like a chicken bone with her bare hands and by this act her mind opened up and all the black memories of her past had rushed forth like the raging waters of a spring flood.
Crushed, Xena that very night had stolen away--too ashamed to stay and too ashamed to even say good-bye to the woman she would always remember as her dear, dear, friend. Returning to her encamped army, she had quite surprised them by her seemingly illogical decision to leave this part of the world and return to Asia Minor. Over the years she many times thought of the Israelite woman with the brave soul and the pure heart and even toyed with returning from time to time but somehow other things had always seemed to get in the way.
Upon discovering her friend's sudden and inexplicable departure, Deborah had been heart-broken. The tall woman she only knew as Sarah had understood her like no one ever had. Pragmatist that she was, she had stoically endured the pain of her perplexing loss and moved forward with her life. But until this day when her eyes again fell upon the woman she had been so sure she would never see again--the woman she still loved even more than a sister--she had carried in her heart the image of the tall, dark-haired, barefoot beauty singing so beautifully as she cheerfully carried the heavy water bucket back from the well for her.
And now she was back.
Later that evening Deborah and Lapidoth shared their supper with Xena, Gabrielle, and the two fishermen. After Osak and Milo bade their farewells Lapidoth left the three women to take some supper to the shepherd boy guarding the flock down below.
"The evening is cool," Deborah noted, after he had gone. "Let us sit outside." Once outside she led them back down the well worn path to her beloved palm tree. "This is my favorite place," she said. "It is here where I feel closest to Him."
As she always did Xena felt a little uncomfortable whenever the subject of one true god was brought up. Yes, she knew this god of the Israelites was powerful but to her it seemed he was just as fickle as the rest of them. She knew well enough the history of this place and these people--how they had repeatedly fallen in and out of favor with their god. Often this had brought on catastrophic results. And now the children of Israel were once more under the tyrannical heel of a despot. Jabiz, the King of Canaan was his name.
Deborah offered Xena her seat under the palm tree only to have her politely decline. One not wanting to sit above the other, the three of them finally just sat themselves down on the ground. After a few minutes of idle chat Xena deemed the time had finally come when she could speak plainly. She had waited what she thought was a reasonable length of time because the last thing she wanted to do was offend her hostess.
Picking up a small stick, Xena began to absently draw little circles in the dirt. "So ahh, how are things...really?" She knew Deborah would never lie to her.
For the first time the happy countenance faded away from Deborah's face only to be replaced by one which was clearly troubled. "Very bad," she said. "They have divided the people and for all practical purposes peasantry has ceased."
"What does that mean?" Gabrielle wondered aloud.
The Warrior Princess knew only too well what it meant. After all, she had been one of the most successful practitioners of these very tactics. This one utterance by Deborah told her all she needed to know. "It means Deborah's people are being denied access to the good farmland and use of the main roads." She looked to Deborah and added, "Your people have been driven into the hills for safety haven't they?"
"For the most part, yes," Deborah replied, softly. "There seems to be no limit to the woes Jabin and that monster Sisera are willing to inflict. And while all have suffered under their hand it is Galilee and the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali who have borne the heaviest burden."
"Who is Sisera?" asked Gabrielle.
"The general of Jabin's army," Deborah replied.
By now Xena did not care who he was for she already hated this Jabin and all who served him.
Gabrielle leaned forward and touched Deborah's arm. "Isn't there anything you can do?"
"There is always something you can do," said Xena, trying to control her rage.
Deborah looked to the woman she had known for but one moon yet seemed as though it had been for all her life. Her voice very even, she said, "And so we shall. We shall fight."
As she was wont to do when she felt extremely proud, Xena drew herself up and gave that little squint Gabrielle knew so well. "Could you use some help?" she asked. "I'm uhh, kind of handy with a sword."
"I knew that even back then," said Deborah, smiling faintly. "I knew you were a great warrior."
"Don't forget me," Gabrielle reminded them. "I'm no Xena, mind you, but I do all right."
"She does have her uses," said Xena, teasing her.
"Hey!" Gabrielle chided.
"I thank you for your offer, Gabrielle," said Deborah. "You are surely very brave."
However Xena sensed a tinge of regret in her voice. "But?"
"But I cannot in good conscience ask either you or your friend to join us," replied Deborah.
Up went the eyebrow. "Oh? And why not?" Xena asked, her tone of voice with the woman sharp for the first time.
"Because the forthcoming battle will surely be a bloody one and I would not ask you to risk your lives for people you hardly know."
"I know you, Deborah," said Xena forcefully. "And as far as I'm concerned your fight is my--"
"Our!" corrected Gabrielle. "Our fight."
Her warm smile at the bard hinting of so much more than mere companionship between them, Xena went on, "Our fight too."
"Please," said Gabrielle, "we want to help."
Deborah sat there on the ground in the gathering darkness and for a moment her eyes took on that dull, distant look of one whose thoughts are far, far away.
Sensing this, Xena asked "Is something wrong?"
"Uhh, no," Deborah replied, her eyes bright once more. She stood up and fixed her gaze northward. "It makes my heart sing to
know that you--both of you--have chosen to stand with the children of Israel."
Later that night, long after the bard and Lapidoth had retired for the night, Deborah and Xena sat by the hearth, quietly talking. For awhile they contented themselves with reminiscing about their past adventures and for such a short time spent together they had indeed had quite a few.
Finally Xena said, "So, what do you intend to do?"
The smile faded from Deborah's lips and she locked her dark eyes on her friend. "This is not a spontaneous thing we do here," she said. "For quite some time I have been in consultation with not only those in Galilee, but all the other tribes of Israel as well." She took a deep breath before continuing, "The time has come to throw off the yoke of our oppressors. To that end I have sent word to Kadesh that Barak, the son of Abinoam, should come here. He will lead our army."
"I know Kadesh to be a long way from here," said Xena. "How well do you know this Barak?"
"He is a good soldier," came Deborah's ambiguous reply.
Xena did not think Deborah was deliberately trying to be evasive. Rather it was more a case of the issue having already been decided.
"How much help do you really expect from these other ahh, tribes?" Xena asked.
Deborah lowered her eyes and said, "In truth, not much. Of course Naphtali and Zebulun will be there because, after all, they are the most aggrieved. I think the half-tribe of Machir will join us as well as part of Issachir. Naturally my people, the Benjaminites and the men of Ephraim, will also march. As for Reuben, Dan, Asher, Gilead and the rest...."
Deborah's words trailed off, telling Xena all that did not need to be said. "What do you know about this Sisera?" Xena had heard of the man but knew little outside the fact he was supposed to be utterly ruthless in battle. "What about his armaments?"
"I am told he has a great, modern army together with fully nine hundred chariots of iron," replied Deborah. Seeing the look of deep concern on Xena's face, she added, "You must not worry. At the foot of Mount Tabor we will gain a great victory."
"But what about...?"
Deborah smiled and gently laid a finger across Xena's lips. "We will speak no more of this until tomorrow when Barak arrives. Tonight my friend must rest. I'm sure your trip in the back of that oxcart must have been an arduous one."
"Well it was no cruise down the Nile if that's what you mean," said Xena, smiling wryly.
"I will see you in the morning," said Deborah, watching the warrioress stretch her long body out beside the gently snoring Gabrielle upon the rough pallet spread on the floor. "I like your friend," she said, nodding toward Gabrielle.
"She's a lot like you," Xena replied softly.
"Good night, Sarah," said Deborah, slipping behind the blanket covering her bedroom door.
"Good night," Xena numbly replied. Sarah! Xena lay there on her back, staring up at the crude ceiling and pondering Deborah's slip of the tongue. It was now clear to her that, even now, Deborah chose to think of her as the barefoot peasant girl Sarah. Somehow that seemed...comforting to the warrioress.
As usual, sleep did not come easily for her. But at last she began to feel Hypnos' relentless handiwork taking effect. Turning on her side, she pulled Gabrielle close to her. When she did this the sleeping bard moaned softly and pressed her buttocks against Xena's belly like she always did. It was not too long after this when Xena, at long last, drifted off to sleep. It had been a wonderful day.
"He's coming! He's coming!"
Deborah stepped to the door only to see her husband running up the hill. "Deborah," he shouted, "it's Barak. He approaches!
Turning to her guests who were sitting at the table, Deborah said, "Barak is here."
Before the two of them could arise Deborah was out the door and gone. In a loud whisper Gabrielle said "Xena, I don't know about this."
"What do you mean?" Xena asked.
"Don't you think you should be the one to lead Deborah's army?"
"I'm not...sure," Xena replied.
This startled Gabrielle. She could think of any number of adjectives to describe Xena but indecisive would definitely not have been on the list! "How's that?" she asked in disbelief.
"I don't know...exactly," said Xena. "It's just that there is something goin' on here--something I honestly don't quite understand."
"What?" the bard asked, a little disconcerted now.
"Like I said, I don't know," said Xena, shrugging.
For Gabrielle this was getting stranger by the second. Xena always had a handle on things. But now she could sense the uncertainty, confusion even, in her warrioress' voice.
"Come on," said Xena, lightly poking the bard in the arm. "I want to meet this Barak."
Stepping out into the morning light, they saw Deborah and Lapidoth flanking a man on a fine horse. With him were two other riders. While Lapidoth held the horse, the man, obviously Barak, dismounted.
Nearing, Xena heard Deborah say, "I thank thee for coming, Barak."
"I am always honored to be in the presence of the great judge of Israel," answered Barak. "You are to be commended for the skillful way you have united the tribe of Benjamin and the people of Ephraim."
Cutting straight to the quick, Deborah said, "Barak, the hour of your deliverance is at hand."
By now the two Greeks had joined them and as Deborah spoke Barak's face grew very dark. "What you speak of is a grave thing, Prophetess."
Now all seven of them were standing beside the horses in a little knot. Irritated by Barak's reply, Deborah started to rebuke him, "Barak--"
However she was interrupted by her husband's soft words. "Please. Friends. Let us not stand out here in the bright sun. Deborah, let us enter in and offer our travelers some food."
Not wishing to seem inhospitable or to embarrass her husband, Deborah held her tongue. "My good husband is right," she said, calming herself. "Please, come. Share what we have."
As they entered the house Xena noted how Barak kept eyeing her. Both she and Barak wondered why Deborah did not introduce them but
noting Xena's her fine garb and beautiful weapons, Barak knew she had to be a warrior of some stature. Soon he would learn just how great
her stature was.
An hour later Deborah smiled at her husband. In a gentle voice she said, "Lapidoth, do you not think you should look to the shepherd boy?"
"Ahh...yes," he answered, taking the hint. "Surely." And with that he departed, leaving the three other men and the three to themselves. Whereas the vast majority of men would have felt at least some humiliation at the knowledge that their spouse, or more to the point--woman, held a much higher station in life, Lapidoth simply looked upon this as his Lord's will. God had chosen Deborah to lead the children of Israel and in huge numbers they came to her for guidance and inspiration and she was always there for them--usually under the shade of her beloved palm tree. Though he sometimes wished for a more normal life he knew it was not to be. Besides, he and Deborah had built a good life together and he did not mind sharing her with the children of Israel. He knew what she meant to them. Ashamed? He was proud!
"Barak, the time has come to act," said Deborah.
"I do not wish to seem rude but I would not care to speak in front of strangers," said Barak.
"Very well." Pointing to Gabrielle, Deborah said, "This is my friend Gabrielle." Moving behind seated Warrior Princess, she said, "And this is Xena."
"Xena!!" Barak literally spat the name.
"You know the name?" asked Deborah.
"No soldier of note has not heard of Xena." With a deep scowl he continued, "They call her the Warrior Princess, the Conqueror, the Destroyer of Nations. I tell you, Prophetess, this one has slaughtered and burned and sacked from Gaul to the land beyond the great Steppes. What is she doing here?"
Her voice very even, Deborah said, "I told you, she is my friend."
"She will betray you!" shouted Barak.
Now Xena felt the rage rising in her, not because of his loud accusations but because of his disrespect to Deborah. Just as she started to rise she felt Deborah's hand on her shoulder. "Xena has chosen to stand with us," she said, her voice quietly firm. "And I am honored to have her with me."
"She is probably the mistress of Jabin himself," roared Barak.
Now it was Deborah's turn to lose her temper. "Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, 'Go and draw toward Mount Tabor?'"
Taken aback by the degree of her anger, Barak lamely said, "The Lord does not speak to me as clearly as he does to you, Deborah."
"You know His will," said Deborah. "Now, will you follow Him or not?"
For a minute or two Barak said nothing. He knew this was the defining point of his life. It was true Deborah had the ear of God. But would that be enough? If only his faith was as powerful as hers, he lamented. But finally he looked first to his feet, then to her. "If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go."
Deborah bored her eyes in on his and said, "I will surely go with thee. But know this, Barak. The journey will not be for your honor. For the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman."
Upon hearing this, Gabrielle immediately thought of Xena.
Barak stood up from the table and said, "I will go call up Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. We have a full ten thousand men."
"I and my people will join thee," said Deborah. "And we will go up with you."
"Have you heard from the other tribes yet?" Barak asked, hopefully.
"Not yet," replied Deborah, "but I expect news soon."
"As you say." Barak nodded and then departed.
After they had gone Xena stood up and said, "Deborah, I have to talk to you."
"Very well," she said.
Xena shot Gabrielle a little glance which the bard immediately recognized as more or less the same hint Lapidoth had received. "Ahh, I think I'll ahh..." Looking about, she spied the empty water bucket. "get some water."
Xena waited until Gabrielle had gone before speaking. "Deborah, I--"
"What Barak says, is it true?" asked Deborah, cutting her off. "Did you do those things?"
"That and more," Xena admitted. "Deborah, I have done things so horrible that they are beyond words to describe. I have killed so many." She blinked hard and added, "If, you know, you decide you don't want..."
Deborah moved closer to the warrioress and touched her arm. "This murderer of whom you speak is someone I do not know. I look at you and I still see my Sarah. Nothing will ever change that. Don't you see, Xena? It was no coincidence you sank off our shores. The Lord sent you to us--to me, to fight with us, to fight for us. He has provided a great warrior for us. It is surely His will and you must have faith in Him. I for one am proud to have the 'Warrior Princess' here."
Xena strove mightily to retain her stoic facade but her red eyes and her cracking voice betrayed her. "I don't know about your god," she said. "But I have faith in you, Deborah, and I swear by my brother's grave I will not let you down."
Deborah smiled tenderly at the warrioress now and said, "Then let us go to Tabor for there our deliverance awaits."
"Heber, come here, look at this!"
Hearing his wife's words, Heber the Kenite stepped to the opening of his tent and went outside. "What is it, Jael?" he asked his wife.
"There," she answered pointing to the east.
Turning in the direction of her arm Heber, saw a large force on the horizon moving southward. "It is Barak and the tribes of Galilee," he said.
"They are on the march," said Jael, trying to hide her excitement. "Against Sisera."
"This is the work of that whore Deborah," said Heber. "She has been relentlessly inciting the Israelites to rise up against King Jabin."
"It is no crime to want to be free," Jael remarked.
Heber snorted and said, "Those pigs are fit for no other purpose but to serve others. I despise them--especially that Deborah. She sits under that palm tree like she is some great queen speaking those noble sounding words and those fools lap it up like cowering dogs. Imagine, taking counsel from a woman! How degrading!"
"She has given her people hope," noted Jael, her voice hinting of iciness.
Picking up his staff, Heber retorted, "The only thing she has provided for her people is the means of their destruction."
"Where are you going?" asked Jael.
"Why to Sisera of course," he told her. "He must be told of the Israelites' rebellion."
Watching him make his way toward Harosheth, Jael thought, It looks as though Sisera has a cowering dog of his own.
"And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with
Her bard at her side, Xena stood on the mount, watching. Shading her eyes from the late evening sun, she scanned the horizon along the Valley of Jezreel. For four days now the army of Deborah and Barak had been there on the slopes of Mount Tabor...waiting. During that time, at Deborah's request, Xena had spent practically every waking moment moving among Barak's men. To her dismay, she soon found that not only were most of these men without experience as soldiers, but--even worse--among this whole "army" there was not a spear or a shield to be found. In fact most of them were armed only with poor swords or knives and in many cases oxgoads--sharpened sticks. Nevertheless she had worked ceaselessly to instruct them in the proper use of these meager weapons and to teach them the basics of hand to hand combat. "To teach them war."
With Barak's grudging blessing she made them practice all day long. As for the men they took her instruction to heart and applied themselves with diligence.
But military genius that she was, Xena knew it was all an exercise in futility. No matter how dedicated and committed these men might be there was simply no way their ill equipped force could defeat a modern, vastly superior army with nine hundred chariots at its disposal. In battle, as in life, Xena's philosophy had always been, "There is always a way." But for the life of her she could not see her way clear here. The only recourse she saw was to conduct a guerrilla war, hiding in the hills and swooping down onto the plains to hit hard and fast against Jabin's outposts and whatever small units that might stray too near. Maybe they could then lure the bulk of Sisera's army up into the mountains where those chariots could not go. There she could do battle on ground of her choosing.
But Deborah would have none of it. This was not His plan, she told Xena. To Xena it seemed sheer madness and she began to
think about how to best guarantee Gabrielle and Deborah's safety should disaster befall them. While Deborah's stubbornness frustrated
her, Xena, as was her indomitable nature, refused to be petulant about it. Instead she merely gritted her teeth and applied herself twice
as hard training the men. Later she suggested to Barak that he ought to being sending out patrols to detect Sisera's movements.
Again he grudgingly agreed. Xena knew that for the son of Abinoam this was a very difficult situation indeed. Not only had Deborah
brought him to this place to fight a vastly superior but now he was having to endure yet another woman meddling into his affairs.
"How soon?" It was Gabrielle's quiet voice that finally broke the stillness.
"How soon do you think Sisera will be here?"
"He knows we're here by now," replied Xena. "Herosheth is only about two, three days march away so I expect him if not tomorrow then the next day at the latest. It's too bad those other tribes chose not to help us. We sure could have used 'em."
Gabrielle's only reply was a little nod. "Xena, is there any chance at all for us?" she asked, after a few more minutes of silence.
By now the sun was just kissing the western horizon. "As things stand now...no," replied Xena, matter-of-factly. "I frankly see no hope at all for us."
"Then why is Deborah so insistent about us being here?" the bard asked.
"Because her god has told her this is the place, Gabrielle," said Xena. "And Deborah has faith in her god."
Gabrielle moved closer and slipped her hand into that of her warrioress'. Echoing Xena's words to Deborah, Gabrielle said, "And I have faith in you, Xena."
Never taking her eyes off the far horizon, Xena said, "Faith is a powerful thing. But I'd still rather have a couple of good, well trained legions."
"The Kenite was right, the Israelites have taken up positions on Mount Tabor."
Sisera scowled and stood up. "Who is the dog that leads them?"
The scout swallowed hard and said, "We have learned it is Barak, sir."
With a scornful sneer Sisera said, "Barak? That clod could not lead a pig to slop. No, I smell the stench of that prophetess harlot Deborah upon this. " He narrowed his eyes in anger and said, "So, the sheep dare to rise against their masters, eh? Well, the ultimate fate of all sheep is the slaughter pen and I see no reason for us to tarry in our work. Call all my captains! We will march south and lure them off the mountain and out onto the great plain where our chariots will squash them like little worms.
"Deborah!" In the gray light of early the dawn the scout was forced to bend over in a desperate attempt to catch his breath.
"What is it, Seth?" the prophetess asked. "Have you news of Sisera?"
"Yes..he is...he is marching south but I have good word that today, near Taanach, he will turn and march on us."
"He's trying to pull us down of the mountain," observed Xena. "He wants us out in the open."
Deborah looked at her friend and with an enigmatic little smile said, "Then let us not disappoint him."
"You can't be serious," said Xena. "Deborah, if those chariots of his catch us out on open ground there's gonna be a slaughter like this land has never seen before."
"You're right," replied Deborah. "There will be."
Gabrielle could not believe what she was hearing. Was Deborah actually intending to sacrifice them all--for nothing?
"Deborah, don't do this," said Xena, almost pleading. "Think of these people. Let's do like I said before and hold out here in the hills."
"The children of Israel are where my thoughts always are," said Deborah. "And besides, we have waited long enough."
She turned from the two of them and, without waiting to be announced, walked straight into Barak's tent. "Up," she cried, "for
this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand!"
An hour later Deborah, Barak, and Xena stood looking at a roughly drawn map being pressed against Gabrielle's narrow shoulders. "Here is what we are to do," said Deborah. She ran a finger along the map and said, "I will take the Benjaminites and the men of Ephraim and here, near Taanach, we will go down against the gates of the enemy and bite his heel as he moves on Tabor."
A diversion! thought Xena. In her experienced mind it would have been a very good idea--if their forces had been comparable to Sisera's. "How about if I do this?" suggested Xena. "I've had a lot of experience with this sort of thing."
"No, Xena I will do it. We need you here. Now, when Sisera turns to deal with us we will draw him away and that is when you, Barak, and you too, Xena, will rush forth from Tabor and attack."
Turning grimly to the prophetess, Barak nodded and said, "It will be as you say."
"Do not fear, Barak," said Deborah, "for the Lord will go before us. Now let us look to our people."
Barak and Deborah departed leaving Xena and Gabrielle alone. Taking the bard by the arm, Xena walked her a short distance away. "Listen, Gabrielle. This is it. The time for talking is over. They are bound and determined to do this and so it's time you got ready."
Not liking her tone, Gabrielle eyed her suspiciously and said, "Just what are you saying? You're not going to ask me to get away while I still can, are you?"
"No. I know that would be a waste of breath," replied Xena with a wry little smile. "But I do have something in mind for you. Something very important."
"And that is?"
Xena put a hand upon the bard's shoulder and said, "I want you to go with Deborah. Stay by her side. Don't let her out of your sight for one second. If she goes into the bushes to relieve herself I want you right in there with her, you understand? No matter what she says."
"So you want me to be sort of like her bodyguard," said the bard.
"Not sort of, as of now you are her bodyguard," said Xena. "These might be her people but there's always the danger a traitor or a spy could have designs on assassinating her." She looked hard into the bard's eyes and, in a very deliberate voice, added, "Trust no one."
"You can count on me, Xena," Gabrielle said, earnestly.
"What are you going to do?" asked Gabrielle.
"You heard Deborah," said Xena. "I'm to stay here with Barak."
Gabrielle nodded and quietly slipped her arms around her warrioress. "I'll miss you, Xena," she whispered. "Please be careful."
"Always." She returned the hug and leaning close to the bard's ear, whispered, "Come back to me, Gabrielle."
Later that day...
"We've caught them by surprise, Deborah," said Lapidoth, excitedly rushing up to his wife. "Just like you said."
Nodding at her scout/husband's tidings, Deborah raised her hand and shouted, "By the waters of Megiddo will our people be delivered. Just remember, friends, the Lord goes before us! Attack!"
And although it was the dry season, as her men rushed forward a light rain began to fall.
By the time Sisera was informed as to what was happening the rain was falling much harder. "General Sisera! The Second Division is under attack! Deborah and her men have hit us on the flank."
"Calm down, you fool!" shouted Sisera. "'Tis but a feeble pin prick. We will deal with that harlot and her rabble and then move on Tabor." As the first crash of thunder cracked overhead he mounted his chariot. "Glory to Baal!" he shouted. "Death to the Israelites!" As his great army turned to protect its flank the rain began to fall ever harder.
Standing on Mount Tabor, Xena and Barak watched the ominous black clouds gathering in the west. "That's odd," remarked Barak. "A storm this time of year? He sniffed the air and added, "This is going to be a bad one. We may not fight today after all."
But Xena recognized the staggering opportunity presented to them now. Hearing the low thunder booming in the distance, she thought, We might just not be annihilated after all. "Barak!" she yelled, startling the Israelite general. "This is our big chance! Have the men move forward...NOW!!
Stirred by her excitement, he asked, "What do you have in mind?"
By now a light sprinkle was beginning to fall on them. Sweeping her arm toward the black plain, Xena shouted "Don't you see?" Within an hour that dry plain is going to be a quagmire. Those big iron chariots and those heavily armed men..."
"Will be bogged down!" shouted Barak, finishing the thrilling thought for her.
"You got it," grinned Xena. Over head the a long streak of lightning raced through the sky, forking into three long fingers.
Two seconds later thunder erupted so loud as to almost shake Mount Tabor itself.
Barak did a little dance let out a loud whoop. "What are we waiting for?" he yelled.
"Let's hit 'em!" yelled Xena.
In the pelting rain Barak drew his sword and turned to face his men. "At the double quick, men....Forwaaaard!!!
"So Barak went down from Mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him."
As usual, Xena was right. Sisera's heavy chariots and his heavily armored men did become bogged down in the thick mud created by great storm. As the thunder boomed over head the men of Sisera and the men of Barak clashed there on the Plain of Jezreel. With their retreat cut off by the now swollen waters of the River Kishon, Sisera's proud and haughty army, now lightly armed and mostly on foot, hammered on two sides by the forces of Barak and Deborah, began to fall apart.
An hour later all semblance of order vanished in the army of Jabin and the Canaanites began to flee northward in full retreat. Now it was every man for himself and this included the aides for the great general Sisera. Finding himself alone he cursed and leapt down from his chariot. As he stumbled through the mire, a dark apparition appeared in the mist before him. "Sisera!" it roared.
As the apparition came nearer, Sisera saw it was a woman, a tall woman with long black hair now made stringy but the pounding rain. Drawing his sword, he screeched, "Deborah! By my own hand shall ye die."
As he rushed forward the woman neatly side-stepped him and punched him savagely in the side of the face. "Guess again, you pathetic bastard," said Xena, sneering.
Once more Sisera lunged at her but with much less ardor this time. Xena's sword crashed against his with such incredible fury that Sisera's sword broke like a rotten stick. In desperation he threw the hilt at her and somehow managed to strike her just above the left ear. Xena's head recoiled to one side and as she attempted to shake the fog from her head Sisera disappeared into the fog. She was about to pursue when, over the din of battle, she heard Barak yell, "Xena!"
Rushing to her, he breathlessly said, "I have word from Deborah. She says you are to come at once. It's your friend..."
Oh gods no! thought Xena. Gabrielle! "Is she hurt?" yelled Xena.
"I don't know," replied Barak. Seeing the blood covering Xena's ear, he asked "How about you? Are you all right?"
"I'll live," she said. "It was Sisera. He got in a lucky shot." She pointed in the direction the general had fled. "That way."
She turned to go but Barak caught her by the arm. "Xena, the day is ours. We could not have done it without you. Thank you."
Xena and looked up to the skies now just beginning to lighten. "I think you had better thank somebody else," she said.
"So what is our next move?" asked Barak.
"The war's not over yet," snarled Xena. "You've got them on the run. Don't let up. Keep the pressure on. Chase these bastards all they way back to Harosheth if you have to but..." She held up her blood soaked arm and made a fist. "...kill 'em all!
Barak nodded and said, "Go to your friend, Xena. I'll get that bastard Sisera for you."
"But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the
edge of the sword; and there was not a man left."
Seeing Xena approach, Lapidoth rushed out to meet her.
"Where's Gabrielle?" Xena demanded.
Pointing to the makeshift tent set up in a grove of trees, Lapidoth replied, "There. I..I'm sorry, Xena."
Rushing to the tent, Xena paused outside for just a heartbeat as if to gather herself. But when she stepped inside even she was not prepared for sight she beheld. Gabrielle lay naked upon blankets spread upon the ground. Flanking her on each side were Deborah and an old woman. Deborah was holding the bard's hand and the old woman was gently cleaning and dressing a wound that truly horrified even the Warrior Princess. For from her hip almost up to her left breast, Gabrielle had been slashed open.
"Gabrielle!" Xena shrieked. Xena fell to her knees beside her bard and gently put her hand to that lovely face she knew so well. Her lungs gasping for air, she asked "What happened?"
Deborah sobbed deeply and wiped a tear from her cheek. "During the battle we got separated from the others and found ourselves surrounded by Sisera's men. Gabrielle single-handedly fought them all off until help arrived." Deborah bent over and emitted a deep, wracking sob. "Xena, she is so brave."
With a tender little smile, Xena blinked and the tears streamed down her cheeks. "Yeah," she whispered. "I know."
All evening Xena and Deborah sat there beside the bard. At last the old woman, her work done, got up to leave. Xena knew better than anyone the seriousness of Gabrielle's wound but her mind was not clear now and as if out of some blind hope she followed the old healer outside. "Is there any hope?" she asked in a dry voice.
The old woman lifted her wrinkled face up to the beautiful woman with the red-rimmed eyes and the tear stained cheeks. "The young one is strong," she said, her voice raspy. "She has a fierce will to live. She will fight Death to the very end."
"I will not lie to you, great warrioress," said the old woman. "The young one has lost much blood. Already the fever is upon her. Forgive me but she will not live to see the dawn."
"Woman! Woman! Where is your husband?"
The wife of Heber stepped to the opening of the her tent and looked out. Though the mud caked man stumbling on foot toward her was without his fine headdress and his gleaming armor she knew well enough who it was. Going out to meet him she beckoned with her hand and said, "Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not."
Sisera staggered up to her and breathlessly put a hand to her shoulder. "Where is Heber the Kenite?" he gasped.
"He will return soon," Jael assured him. "Now, please, turn in to the tent."
Sisera nodded and seeing the pallet in the corner, fell upon it in utter exhaustion. Standing over him, Jael then covered him with a mantle.
Sisera licked his dry lips and said, "Give me, I pray, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty."
Jael smiled at him and said, "I have something better." She then opened up a skin of milk and held it up to his lips. Once had had drunk his fill, she again covered him with the mantle. "You must rest, great lord," she said, soothingly.
"Please," he said, "stand in the door of the tent. And if anybody asks you I pray you tell them no one is here."
"Oh I will, my lord," said Jael.
Within minutes Sisera was asleep. Quietly, Jael moved from the door of the tent and made her way to the tool bag. Then approaching him, she whispered, "As for me, haughty Sisera, I stand with the children of Israel."
"Then Jael, Heber's wife, took a nail of the tent, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and she smote the nail
into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died."
Barak reined in his horse and held his shaded his eyes with his hand. In the distance he saw a tent. There! he thought. In the time it had taken him to procure a horse his quarry had managed to get quite a head start but Barak had knew all along where Sisera was heading. Two leagues back he had found the horse the Canaanite general had ridden into the ground and now that he was on foot it was just a matter of time before he caught up with him. Maybe someone at the tent has seen him, he thought, turning his horse in that direction.
Upon nearing he saw a woman exit the tent and begin walking toward him. As he neared she called out "Are you with Deborah?"
"Yes," he answered. "I am looking for the dog Sisera."
"Come," she said, "I will show you."
Barak dismounted his horse and drew his sword. With an enigmatic smile Jael said, "You will have no need of that."
Stepping inside, Barak saw Jael's handiwork. And then he remembered what Deborah had foretold to him.
The old woman's words had hit Xena like a heavy blow to the stomach. It can't be, she thought. My gods, it just can't be. Not like this, not after all we've been through. Wiping her nose with her finger, she stepped back inside the tent.
"Tomorrow we will move against Jabin and finish the job," said Deborah, very softly. "And then it will be over." She looked up to her friend and added, "Will you come?"
Xena did not reply. Instead she resumed her former place at the side of her beloved little bard. Never had she felt so helpless, so weak. "Oh, Gabrielle," she sniffed.
"It is my great honor to have known her," said Deborah.
Barely able to control her voice, Xena said, "Could you...you know...?"
There was no need to finish. Deborah understood. Still on her knees, she crawled closer to Gabrielle and put her hand to the bard's ear. Ever so softly she whispered, "Gabrielle, my dear, dear little friend. My brave protector. I will surely pray for thee." She then stood up but before she left she put her hand on Xena's shoulder. Bending over, she gently kissed the warrioress on the cheek. Xena put her hand on Deborah's and said, "I will come. Gabrielle would want me to."
After Deborah had departed Xena laid down beside her bard and gently reached an arm across her lithe body. In the wink of an eye their three and half years together came rushing back at her. The first meeting in the woods...How annoying she was! How she had whacked the sense back into her with that ridiculous pitchfork...How she had almost lost her in the temple of Aesculapius...How she had risked her life for the ambrosia...How good if felt when she rubbed her back...How....oh gods!
Checking Gabrielle's breathing with her wet hand, Xena found it was now barely registering. "Even in death I will never leave you, Gabrielle."
Xena snuggled as close as she could and put her lips to Gabrielle's ear. "Can you hear me?" she softly whispered. "I'm not going to say I love you. You already know that. You've always known that. I--I just want to say I'm sorry for all the pain I caused you. Gabrielle, if only I could I would gladly trade places with you right now and take all that hurt to the grave with me. I know I've been bad for you. To be honest I don't know what you ever saw in me. You could have really made something of your life, you know that?" Her warm tears now dampening the bard's shoulder, Xena said, "Gabrielle, I've met kings and gods and great men by the dozens but none of them were worthy enough to tie your boots for you. You were---are---the finest person I've ever known and to my last breath I will honor your memory." She leaned over and softly kissed Gabrielle on the cheek. "Please wait for me," she murmured.
With that Xena picked the bard's head up and gently put it in her lap. She then bent over and very, very softly began to sing to her.
Sometime in the night the singing stopped and Xena, against all her will, fell asleep. No sooner were her eyes closed in deep slumber
when there appeared a shadow at the door. "Away, Death," spoke an incredibly gentle voice. "Linger ye no more at this little's one door.
She hath done well in the eyes of the Lord and he is pleased."
Xena awoke from what she thought was a sweet dream. In her dream her precious bard was playing with her long black hair as she was often wont to do when they lay together. Even now, as she struggled to consciousness, it had seemed so real. Oww! That was no dream!! The warrioress' eyes snapped open and she saw she was still in the same position as when she last remembered. Immediately she locked her eyes on the sweet face below her she saw those big green eyes staring up at her. At first she feared the worst had come but then, to her indescribable joy, she saw the eyes blink!
"Gabrielle!" she cried, "You're alive!"
Without saying a word Gabrielle gave the tress of Xena's hair she held another playful tug. Glancing to one side, Xena could not believe what she saw. Gabrielle's wound was gone! With all her strength Xena pulled the young woman up to her and squeezed her so tightly she could hear the air rushing from her lungs.
"Ahh, Xena," the bard wheezed. "I'm not dead but if you keep this up...."
Xena released her and put a hand to her mouth. "But you...How?
"I don't know," said Gabrielle. "I felt myself ready to cross over but it was like this hand pulled me back and turned me in another direction."
"So, are you all right?" Xena asked, carefully looking her over.
"Yeah. Kinda hungry though," the bard answered.
Her eyes filled with tears that would not stop, Xena smiled and said, "I'll see what I can do."
"And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin the
king of Canaan."
Xena and Gabrielle stood in the field and watched as Deborah mounted the small knoll overlooking the road.
"Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel."
"She has a beautiful voice," remarked Gabrielle.
"People who sing from the heart always do," said Xena.
"Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song..."
"So what do we do now?" the bard asked.
"Now? We go home," said Xena.
Gabrielle looked down at her feet and said, "Umm, Xena, if it's all right with you, could we ahh, you know...."
"All right," replied Xena, smiling tenderly at her. "We'll take the land route."
Gabrielle heaved a deep sigh of relief and said, "Thanks."
"The river Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength."
"Maybe it did," said Gabrielle. "But it wouldn't have if you had not recognized the opportunity that storm presented."
"Oh, I don't know," Xena replied with a shrug.
"So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might."
Her song finished, Deborah descended the hill and made her way to the two Greeks. "I will look forward to the time when you return to us."
"I will miss you, Deborah," said Gabrielle.
Deborah smiled at her and put her arms around the bard. "Good-bye, my brave protector. You will always have a special place in my heart."
She released the bard and took Xena by the hand. "Xena, it was God's will that you come here this time. The next time see if you can make it on your own, all right?"
"I promise I'll be back," said Xena, squeezing Deborah's warm hand.
Turning to the multitude of people around them, Deborah said, "We have so much work to do. Could you, the both of you, not stay and help us build a new life here?"
"Your people don't need us," said Xena. "They've already got the best--you."
As Xena released Deborah's hand Gabrielle playfully jabbed her on the arm. "See ya," she said.
Xena winked at the prophetess and said, "Good-bye, water girl."
Deborah blushed and watched as the two women ambled their way through the throng. She blinked back a tear and, under her breath, said, "Good-bye, Sarah."
"And the land had rest forty years."
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