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DISCLAIMERS- This story was written as part of a three story arc and theorizes that Callisto’s sister did not die in the fire at Cirra. It takes place shortly after "Return of Callisto". Parts 2 & 3 are still simmering but I need some feedback to continue. There is no sex but a bit of violence. This is the Xenaverse after all. This story was written about 2 years ago and I hope it aged well.
Please send comments and feedback to email@example.com and OTEREWQB@hotmail.
My thanks to the Creators and actors in the Xenaverse for such wonderful Characters and for letting me borrow them for a bit. I returned them none the worse for wear.
Thanks also to the positive feedback I received on "Progeny". Keep it coming!
GHOST OF THE PAST
|SECTION 1-2||SECTION 4-5||SECTION 6-8||SECTION 9-15|
The cells in the basement of the building were small, sparsely furnished and dark. The two captured soldiers were around the corner at the far end of the basement with posted guards.
Very rarely was there a need for the cells so Bethany had the front section to herself. She sat on the wooden bench that served as a bed and kicked at the straw that lay scatted on the stone floor.
"When you said I had to go through a trial I didn't think you meant literally." She laughed ironically, "It wasn't the meeting with Xena that you were preparing me. It was this, wasn't it Huntress. It appears that I've failed you. I did what was right and all I could do was sit there while they made false charges against me that will have me exiled. I'm sorry and I hope you can forgive me."
She fell silent when she heard soft footsteps coming down the hallway. The hallway and cell were lit by torches casting more shadows than light but she could still make out the hooded robes of the priests as they approached. Two priests stopped in front of the cell and a strong mans voice said, "There is nothing to forgive my child."
Bethany was on her feet, rushing to the bars of the cell at the familiar sound of his voice. Leonis eased the hood back revealing a friendly smile, joined by the other priest, Gabrielle.
She grasped the bars, scanning the hallway until she was satisfied they were alone, "What are you two doing here? You both gave me your word you'd leave town last night."
"Yes," Gabrielle whispered, "And we did. But we didn't promise not to come back."
Bethany rolled her eyes, "You know what I meant. It's not safe for you here."
"Or for you, judging from the crowd outside." Leonis shot back softly, "We've heard all their lies Bethany and we're going to get you out of this."
Bethany was weary and didn't want to argue. In truth she was glad to see some friendly faces. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the bars.
Gabrielle clasped her hand over Bethany's on the bars, "You're in this mess because of Xena and me. I won't desert you and I'm not going to run from trouble." She started to reach into her robe to pull out the spare robe she had hidden but Bethany put her hand on top of Gabrielle's. "You don't understand." She whispered and looked into Gabrielle's eyes, "This has gone beyond all of that. They only used the two of you as a motive, a reason. I have been so blind not to see this coming and I'm not leaving until it's through."
Gabrielle released the hidden robe and exchanged confused looks with Leonis, "What?"
Bethany lowered her head, "Nothing." She lifted her head, meeting their stares with tired eyes, "Listen if the verdict is guilty the Elder has asked the council for exile as my punishment. Because of my past service, they have agreed. That means I'll be escorted out, blindfolded and left several days away out from the city. If there are any troopers interested in continuing our mission, have them follow us and we'll start over somewhere else."
"Bethany," Leonis sighed, "the mission is what caused this. It's just not that . . . "
"Don't say that." She interrupted him firmly, "Saving the lives of the innocent is paramount to all else. If something ever happened to me I'd like to think that you would continue the work."
"Of course I would." He replied, "It just seems to consume you sometimes."
Bethany reached through the bars and gently stroked his face, "It is me. Deep down you know that."
"How do we know you'll be okay?" Gabrielle questioned, "That there won't be some accident once you leave the city to ensure you don't come back."
"I'll have my friends keeping an eye out for me." She smiled, "However this comes out, guilty or innocent the time has come for me to move on. I've done all I can for Havenous."
Leonis strained his hearing and picked up the scratching signal of the guard. He nudged Gabrielle, "We have to go."
Bethany gave her a reassuring wink and Gabrielle pulled her hood down to conceal her face and walked up the hallway. She pulled Leonis close to the bars, "If she is found in the city they will execute her on sight. If the verdict is guilty there will be a lot of distractions. Promise me you'll get her out and keep her out."
"On my life." He swore.
She looked into his eyes and finally came to accept that she cared for him more than a friend. She had tried to harden herself, not allowing anyone to get too close and yet a select few always found a way in, Leonis more than any other. His eyes reflected the same feelings, something they would have to address when all this was settled, "See you in a few days." She smiled
He returned her smile, hesitant to leave her but slowly pulled his hood down. Stepping away from the bars, he snatched one last look and started up the hallway.
"Brother?" she called.
He stopped and turned slowly.
"From my heart, thank you."
He placed his hand over his heart and bowed.
She sighed as he vanished into the darkness and returned to her seat on the bench to await the verdict.
The court yard bell rang about two hours later. By the time she was brought out of the council building, the council and Elder had already been seated.
She stole a quick look up at the sky and saw the dark, threatening clouds becoming stationary. The wind was beginning to pick up and carried the distinct coppery smell of the approaching storm. The caress of the breeze on her skin eased her fear as she sat next to the Elder. "Syrus?"
He turned to face her, unable to hide his own fear and concern about the verdict.
"You've done all you could for me and I'll be eternally grateful. You and I both know there's more at work here than meets the eye. Promise me you'll be careful. The same ones who came after me may seek to do you harm."
His eyes widened as he heard her warning. He knew that on occasion she had the gift of prophecy but he himself had sensed a danger during the last few weeks, "I'll be careful." He assured her, "Right now I'm concerned about you."
"Don't be." She replied flatly.
Gadus banged the gavel drawing the Elders attention to the council.
"This council," He began, "was formed to help run the city and deal with any problems, especially when they involved the law and security of our people. We have listened and examined all that was said here today. The decision was not an easy one and was not unanimous but the majority ruled."
The Elder and Bethany stood up and faced the council. She could tell as she looked at each of them that Gadus and Zoe had believed her but it had not been enough for the others.
"Bethany's contributions to this city and our people are beyond question. It is with a heavy heart that now I, along with my fellow councilors, have deemed her guilty of Treason. As such, we have decided that the punishment is exile from the city and valley. Sentence to be carried out at first light tomorrow."
The crowd erupted, surging forward with such strength that the guards couldn't hold them back. A shower of rocks, fruit and other assorted items rained down on the platform, most aimed at Bethany. A huge bolt of lightening struck a nearby tree causing some of the crowd to scatter and allowing the second wave of soldiers to move the trial participants into the safety of the building.
Bethany was taken back to her cell with extra guards posted.
The council and Elder moved into the council chambers and stood behind barred windows watching as a riot consumed the courtyard.
"What have we done?" Hannah asked in shock at the suddenness and intensity of the eruption.
"Sentenced a traitor and enforced the safety of our city." Arcles gloated.
"Open you eyes!" She gasped, "We haven't enforced safety. We've torn this city apart."
"We've saved the city from an attack co-planned by a traitor." He argued.
Gadus could only stare at Arcles, seeing the glee on his face as he watched the commotion outside, "There was a traitor and it wasn't Bethany." He mumbled under his breath.
The Elder scolded Gadus with a glance knowing that the first step in Arcles plan had been completed and that Gadus was in as much danger as himself. "Something has been unleashed within these walls that has been growing and festering for some time. This city will never be the same again." The Elder concluded as he turned his back on the window and took a seat at the council table.
Leonis pulled Gabrielle out of the worst of the riot and into an empty alley where they could catch their breath. They moved back down the alley and into the shadows until they were certain that they were alone. Gabrielle leaned against the wall and pulled her hood back, "What is happening out there?"
Leonis kept his eye on the mouth of the alley, "Civil war. Some people in town still believe in Bethany and then there are others like Benedictus and Arcles. We've got to get out of town now." He reached for her arm.
Gabrielle pulled away from him, defiance ringing in her voice, "I'm not leaving her here, caged and chained like an animal! And in the middle of a civil war."
Leonis saw that arguing was useless and tried another tactic, "Come on. I know a back way to the cells."
"Good." She conceded and followed him back into the streets.
Between his constant turning down streets and the crowds rushing around in the streets, she quickly became disoriented and grabbed hold of his robe to keep up. When he finally stopped she almost ran into his broad back, and as she peered around him, saw the front gates. All she got out was "Hey..." before he knocked her unconscious. Carefully, he picked her up and checked her breathing, which was steady. "My apologies, but I have a promise to keep."
He mounted his waiting horse and rode out of the city, clutching Gabrielle protectively.
When he reached the cave Delia, Giles and Basty were already there. They had captured not one but two slavers, both tied up, blindfolded and tucked away in the back of the cave.
Basty helped Leonis carry Gabrielle in explaining that Belden had gone back to town to keep an eye on things and the Captain. Leonis sat by the fire and had just begun to give them the details of the trial when they heard horses outside.
Each grabbed their sword ready for any trouble that might visit the cave. The swords fell instantly when Xena strode in closely followed by a dusty and exhausted Xanthus and Hernam.
She immediately spotted her unconscious friend and rushed over, kneeling beside her, "What happened?" She growled.
"It was the only way to get her out of town. She wasn't very cooperative and her life was in danger." Leonis offered.
Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open when Xena gently brushed the loose blond hairs from her face. Once focused, the young woman smiled and sighed with relief, "Xena."
She helped her sit up and Gabrielle searched until she set eyes on Leonis, "Why do people keep knocking me out?" she asked rubbing her head.
"Sorry." He answered sheepishly, "But Bethany made me swear to get you out safely." He expected Xena to knock him out but the look on her face relayed understanding and forgiveness.
He called to all of them, "Come by the fire and we'll tell you what happened in Havenous." The other quickly encircled the fire and together he and Gabrielle recounted the details of the trial.
It was an hour before midnight when they finished the whole sordid story. Anger at the so-called trial and its verdict permeated the air of the cave and radiated from Xena like heat from a fire. She rose to her feet like a stalking giant, "I'm going to speak with, ‘my soldiers’." She snarled.
Moving toward the back of the cave like a predator, the blindfolded men immediately knew that there was a dangerous change in the atmosphere. She stared at both of them for a moment and then yanked their blindfolds off. Stepping back, she allowed them to get a good full view of her. "Hello boys." The greeting was low and filled with menace, "In case you don't recognize me I'm Xena. You know, the leader of your army."
Gabrielle and the troopers watched from the shadows, awed by her power and amused at the way the once brave slavers did their best to squirm away from her.
Xena feigned hurt, "Aw, what's the matter soldiers? You have nothing to fear from little old me as long as you cooperate." She moved toward them and they hit the wall with nowhere else to go.
"All I want to know is who is the real leader of the raiders and their plans."
When neither of them answered, she immediately flashed her hands on the nearest mans neck, "I've just cut off the flow of blood to your tiny brain. You'll be dead in less than a minute unless I get some answers."
The sight of his comrade convulsing and unable to breathe was all the second man needed. He happily volunteered the information Xena asked for.
When she had gotten all the information she needed, she knocked both men unconscious and went back to the front of the cave taking a seat by the fire with the others.
"Benedictus, the leader of the raiders?" Xanthus repeated, unable to conceive such a thing.
"He had opportunity." Basty reasoned, "Of the last eight missions he's only been on three or four and how many times did Arcles or Droden send him out on council business, at least ten that I can think of. That would give him time to meet with the raiders and even ride with them if need be."
"I'd say the plan the slaver told the council about was fairly accurate." Gabrielle added, "And what's worse is that they can continue with it. The town thinks that it's over now that Bethany is in jail."
"The best plans are the simple ones," Xena supplied, "They announced their plans of conquest so nobody would ever believe that the plan is still in motion."
"Made easier with help from the council." Leonis spat out, unable to conceal his anger and frustration, "They've turned a once peaceful city into a war zone because of greed."
"We'll take care of that in the morning," Xena promised, "We'll head for Havenous and you can take those two dogs to the Elder and the head of the council. If they continue with Bethanys exile, we'll be close by to ensure her safety."
Leonis nodded knowing it was the only way to proceed but he couldn't seem to control the feeling of dread that was consuming him, "You're right. We're all exhausted and need to get some rest if we're going to be of any help to Bethany." He finished with a deep cleansing breath that allowed him to smell the coming storm on the breeze floating in from the mouth of the cave. "Okay troopers. We leave in four hours so get as much rest as you can."
He was about to ask for a volunteer for guard duty when Gabrielle stood up, staff in hand, "I've probably had more sleep than any of you in the last few days so I volunteer to take first watch."
Xena looked at her, pride in her eyes, the little farm girl she had met had grown into an admirable adult, "Don't let us over sleep." She cautioned.
"You won't." Gabrielle smiled and assumed her watch at the mouth of the cave.
A steady rain was falling as the Elder sat in his office watching the dust wash away across the balcony. It had been raining for the last hour and that had helped break up the riotous citizens, leading to quiet city streets.
He was exhausted, mentally as well as physically, but couldn't stop running the trial through his head, wondering what he could have done differently. Downstairs in a dark, damp cell an innocent woman, one of his closest friends, waited alone, to be led from the place she called home. Branding her a traitor, she could never return, the threat of death a constant companion.
He brought his fist down on his desk in frustration. Racking his brain, he tried to come up with another way to help her, to spare her the shame of public exile. A bright flash of lightening brought him an idea. There were still city guards loyal to him and Bethany. He would find them and go to the cells below. Then he would make sure that a horse and supplies were waiting and he would unlock her cell and let her disappear into the storm. He knew that she would refuse at first but he would convince her. If for no other reason that she should spare the children she cared for so much the terror of seeing her exiled like a common criminal.
Smiling to himself, he carefully planned her escape and the supplies she would need on her trip. He jumped when he heard a knock at his office door and Arnon came in carrying a goblet, "It's late sir. I've brought you something to help you sleep."
Not wanting to arouse the boys suspicions, he took the goblet and drank. He set the cup down on his desk and inhaled deeply, "Thank you Arnon. I'll be retiring shortly."
He felt a tickle in his throat and the room seemed to grow warmer as he picked up the cup and finished the wine.
"You'll retire sooner than you think, old man." A voice replied as his office door opened fully and Arcles accompanied by Benedictus strode in.
He started to rise but found himself light-headed and weak, with a strange pressure in his chest making it hard to breathe.
Arcles leaned against the Elders desk, watching with amusement, "It's a wonderful plan, Syrus. Infiltrate the town with our own people using the caravans and our open door policy to raid survivors. Of course being in control of the raiders made things even easier. Raid more villages, sell the populace and replace them with our soldiers. Within two months we will have control of Havenous. The only problem was Bethany, her troopers and a few select councilors."
Benedictus waved Arnon away and propped on the wall by the doorway, ensuring they weren't disturbed.
"We had other plans for the troopers," Arcles continued, "and our beloved Captain but when Xena and the girl showed up everything fell into place. Actually," Arcles laughed, "it was almost too easy. Especially when she sent her faithful soldiers out of town for their own protection. They will no doubt be waiting somewhere down the road for her exile."
Anger was replaced by fear as the Elder struggled to catch his breath. Again trying to stand, he instead collapsed on his desk and fell to the floor. He watched as Arcles walked behind his desk and sat in his empty chair. He winced in pain as Arcles boot connected with his hip and shoved him away.
Benedictus walked over and kneeled beside the Elder as he gasped his final breaths, "Of course the Amazon dog will never leave this city alive."
Syrus was helpless as he fought against the darkness consuming him. He struggled to speak or cry out for help but the constrictions of his throat prevented him from making any sound. As he floated into the fuzzy dimness, the last sound he heard was Arcles still gloating. "Don't worry old man, you won't be crossing Styx alone."
His final thought as he faded into darkness was of Bethany, praying that she could escape their plans for her.
The courtyard bell began ringing shortly after midnight and panicked voices filled the air. When the rain had started and cleared the streets of the rioters, all of the guards around Bethany's cell had gone off duty, leaving her to the peace and quiet of the rain storm. She watched the rain through the small window vent at the top of the cell wall. First, the patters of rain had caused puffs of dust to rise when they hit the dry ground. Then the rain came down harder and the dust had become mud and were now puddles.
She had been watching this transformation when the bells began and she immediately knew that the Elder was gone.
The guard on duty, Solas, had been next in line to join her troopers, and whenever she spoke with him she was always reminded of Leonis. His manner was calm and strong and she was glad to see that he had been on duty in the cells tonight. He had let her know when he came on duty that he didn't believe the charges against her and would ride at her side anytime. Because of his personality she was not surprised when he came to the cell to bring her news.
He spoke hesitantly, his voice tinged with sadness, "Captain. I thought you should know what all the commotion is about. The Elder and Gadus . . . " He paused searching for the easy words but not finding them, "They're dead. Victims of an assassin. I'm sorry to have to tell you this on top of everything, else but I though you should know."
She lowered her head, "Thank you, Solas. I appreciate your consideration."
Solas watched her for a moment, wanting to say something to comfort her but unsure of his words. He looked at the cell door and felt the weight of the key on his belt. He had gotten to know her and the others over the last few months and refused to believe the lies he had heard at the trial today. He started to reach for the key. It would only take a few minutes to get her out of the cell, into a cloak and out of the city. The cold metal of the key was grasped in his hand as he moved for the lock but he stopped when he saw her looking at him. Her eyes seemed to glow as she spoke softly, "That's not necessary, my friend. I appreciate your thoughts but you mustn't risk yourself."
When the connection was broken, he stared down at his feet for a second and then turned and walked back up the hall, leaving her alone to grieve.
She did grieve, silently and deeply. They were good men and she felt responsible for their deaths. She had tried to warn Syrus but it had not come soon enough. The old rage she felt stirring in her made her long to be free of the shackles and cell to avenge their deaths. To destroy Benedictus, Arcles, Otes, Droden and their allies the same way they were destroying Havenous. The anger rearing up in her brought an odd feeling of happiness and she immediately suppressed it.
The crowd gathering in the courtyard seemed to grow louder and when she heard the voice of Arcles leading them on, she wasn't surprised. She heard them storming the building, shouts of outrage and grief filling the air. The voices became louder and clearer as they neared the basement. They were the voices that cried out for retribution and punishment and would stop only when that hunger had been quenched. Solas valiantly tried to keep them out and fought them off but was outnumbered. After he had been beaten unconscious, they tossed him aside, anxious to capture their real quarry. The towns' people crowded into the hallway and stopped outside her cell. Anger and fear consumed them, made even worse when she showed no emotion. Their yells and curses brought no reaction from her and as they opened the cell door, stormed in and yanked her to her feet, she offered no resistance.
They left the cave before dawn, riding for Havenous. The rain had finally stopped but the clouds still kept the skies dark and threatening. Their prisoners were firmly tied and blindfolded, both on a single horse with Giles and Delia keeping them on a short leash.
Leonis gave the signal and they moved steadily, anxious to get back to the city and help their Captain. The plan was simple. Xena and Gabrielle would remain in the woods outside the city while the troopers took their prisoners to the council and demanded to be heard. With their confession Bethany would be cleared and free to leave, or so they hoped.
A few miles from the city Leonis held up his hand to slow them when he spotted someone staggering and stumbling up the road toward them. As the person got closer, it only took a moment before Leonis recognized him and urged his horse forward at full gallop. He reached the man in less than a minute, reined his horse to a stop and jumped from the saddle. Leaping forward, he caught the man in his arms as he fell and eased him to the ground.
Xena and the others came galloping up to the scene and were shocked to see the battered and bloody face of Beldon. His left eye was swollen shut, the right eye only open a slit. His nose was swollen and misshaped as was his mouth, which was minus a few teeth.
Xena dismounted Argo and went to offer her help. When she got a closer look at the blood oozing from his ears and mouth and the sound of his breathing, she knew that he was bleeding internally and not much longer for this life.
Leonis cradled him and looked at her with pleading eyes. She could only shake her head, helping him beyond even her skills.
He nodded acceptance and bit his lip so hard that a thin trickle of blood appeared, "It's alright my friend, you're safe now."
"Leonis?" Beldon wheezed weakly.
"Yes." He patted his arm reassuringly. They knew of the riots in town and assumed that he had been recognized or tried to defend someone and had been overpowered. They were not prepared for his next statement. "The Elder and Gadus . . . murdered."
Hernam, Xanthus and Gabrielle clustered around him as he struggled to continue, "Arcles, Benedictus said . . . Xena's assassins. The people . . . went crazy."
Dread crept over them while Leonis tried to comfort him, "Save your strength, Beldon. We'll get you help."
Beldon grasped Leonis shoulder, coughing splatters of blood in his face, "No time. They went after Bethany. Said she . . . would be an example to others. Tried to stop them . . . she didn't resist. I tried to stop . . . "
"I know." Leonis replied clenching his teeth, "I know you did your best my friend." He clutched the man closer as the breath hitched in his chest and his eyes rolled back revealing the whites, then he fell silent.
Xena stepped back, pulling a shaken Gabrielle back toward the horses.
Hernam and Xanthus also backed away fighting to hide their grief as Leonis picked up Beldons body and carried him off the road. He laid his comrade under a nearby tree and covered him with his cloak, standing over him a few seconds in quite tribute. When he walked back to the awaiting soldiers, they watched him intently, waiting for the word to be given.
His face was hard and his voice cold as he growled, "We ride to Havenous."
The thundering hoof beats could be heard long before the riders were seen. They crested the top of the hill at full battle gallop, Leonis leading the way. Xena was close on his right, Gabrielle hanging on tight behind her, while the others spread out in a defensive attack line, all swords at the ready.
A large gathering of people were outside the walls, standing or milling around the front gates. Two squadrons of city guards formed a barrier around three large cross beams planted into the muddy ground and rose twelve feet into the air. When the thundering hooves caught the villagers attention, they looked into the distance dumbfounded. It wasn't until someone yelled "Raid!" that they began screaming and running for safety behind the cities walls.
The city guards wavered, some actually running with the villagers and trampling over them to hide behind the walls. The others stayed their ground, drawing their swords and steadying their spears for the onslaught.
Leonis signaled for them to slow as he tried to place what the crossbeams were for. As they rode closer, he realized that there were people tied to the beams. A few yards closer and he was able to recognize Bethany on one of the beams, two slavers tied to the others.
Xena saw it as well, the sight causing her blood to run cold. Flashing images of a night many years ago when she had met a Roman named Caesar. His betrayal of her and the death sentence he gave her. Beaten within an inch of her life she had been tied to a beam and left to die on a deserted beach. She pushed the images away, concentrating on getting to Bethany and coming out of the fight in one piece. Gabrielle tightened her hold on her waist and she knew that she too had realized who was on the cross beam.
"Bethany." Leonis wailed, drawing his sword and urging the horse to pick up his speed. The other troopers joined his wail with a deep loud war roar and followed close behind him. Xena added her own war cry to theirs and felt the heat of battle warming her blood.
They charged into the city guards, kicking the slow ones out of the way and clashing swords with those that were ready to fight. When Xena stopped Argo, Gabrielle jumped off and began fighting the soldiers on foot where she was soon joined by Delia and Hernam. Xena swung her sword at an approaching guard and quickly dispatched him with a single blow, then she too was off the horse and fighting on foot.
Leonis rode through the guards and finally dismounted when he reached the beam where Bethany was tied. Three soldiers encircled him but his anger and grief were no-match for them. After only a few minutes they were on the ground and swept up in his anger, he yelled for more.
Xena took up position close by to help if he needed it and to keep an eye on Gabrielle. Four of the soldiers surrounded her and with a yell she unleashed her fury, spinning and fly kicking until all four were unconscious on the ground. The other troopers and Gabrielle were just as fierce and within moments the ground was littered with defeated city guards. The few that were still standing were running for the gates of Havenous.
Some of the towns people that had run earlier were now making their way back to the crossbeams, knowing that these were not raiders but Bethany's troopers.
Xena joined Leonis at the center crossbeam and both looked up at Bethany, tied arms wide to the top beam. Her face and body was bruised and swollen and her head dangled limply to the side. Her clothes were torn and covered with mud and dark patches of blood. The final degradation had been to expose her arm and hand making the burn scars clearly visible.
As if in a daze the other troopers joined them staring in shock at the small, battered form of their Captain. They were oblivious to the approaching towns' people until Leonis spoke. "No." He mumbled, shaking his head in disbelief, "No. Not like this. It can't end like this."
Gabrielle grasped Xena's arm, her voice quivering, "How could they do this?"
"Fear is a powerful force." She answered and stopped when she noticed movement. She narrowed her eyes and looked closer at Bethany's drooping head and caught the slight flare of her nostrils. Hope rushed through her as she moved next to Leonis, "She's still alive."
This time they all witnessed a twitch of her scarred hand. Leonis pulled out his dagger and moved to the pole, "I'll climb up and cut her down." The other troopers took a protective stance around them, their posture a warning to any that might try to stop them.
Xena reached out and restrained his arm as he started to climb, "This is faster." She replied holding her Chakram. A light flickered in his eyes and he nodded but held his place next to the pole, ready to catch her when she fell.
Gabrielle took a spot next to him and the others stepped back to give Xena plenty of room. She took a step back, readying the Chakram.
"Halt. Don't move another inch." A voice ordered from the distance.
The city gates drew open and two more squadrons of city guards emerged, armed and ready for battle. Behind them on horseback was Benedictus, dressed in full guards uniform topped off by a helmet adorned with a Captains plume of feathers.
Leonis and the troopers stood their ground in a defensive position when the villagers began forming a tight circle around them. Mara left her place in the circle and walked over to Leonis, her eyes red and swollen, "We couldn't stop them from doing this but we can prevent them from stopping you now."
He and Xena looked at the gathering. They were armed with pitchforks, boards, shovels and rocks against trained soldiers with swords and spears but the villagers never flinched as the soldiers approached.
Taking advantage of the situation Xena released the Chakram. It took flight bouncing off one of the slavers poles and neatly rebounding against Bethany's bonds. She dropped rapidly and weakly cried out in pain when she landed in Leonis and Gabrielle's waiting arms.
The Chakram ricocheted off the city wall and neatly sliced off the plum of Benedictus's helmet before returning to Xena's awaiting hand.
Delia rushed forward and wrapped the soaking wet figure of Bethany in her cloak. Then she helped Gabrielle gently carry their friend back to the horses where Xanthus was quickly making a litter for her to ride on.
Benedictus stopped his horse as the feathers from his plum drifted down into his face. He stayed still as the soldiers advanced on the troopers, his eyes full of fear and darting between Leonis and Xena. "You people." He yelled at the villagers, "Step aside. That woman is a convicted traitor and they are breaking the law by removing her as a warning to others."
The villagers didn't move but the guards hesitated slightly. Fighting raiders or law breakers was one thing but these were innocent people, their people.
"You're the only traitor here, Benedictus." Basty called out as he yanked the blindfolds off their prisoners.
The slavers blinked as light flooded their eyes but then saw two of their comrades hanging on the poles. The larger, burlier of the two scanned the people around him until he laid eyes on Benedictus. "You traitorous scum. They were supposed to escape last night, not die like dogs for you and your plan."
He shifted uncomfortably in the saddle as not only villagers but many of the guards stopped, turned and stared at him.
Hernam pointed at Benedictus, "There's your traitor citizens. He betrayed all of us for the power behind that uniform."
More of the city guards were backing away from him and forming a second barrier around the villagers. About one third of the original squadrons remained loyal to Benedictus and they assumed a defensive posture around him, sensing the change in the crowd.
"Lies!" He yelled defensively, "They caught these men and used them to spread lies and try to save their captain. I was not the one tried and convicted of treason. It was that Amazon dog and she was punished appropriately."
Gabrielle left Bethany and moved beside Leonis, staff held ready to help him fight through to Benedictus and rip his lying throat open.
"Face me, you coward." Leonis challenged raising his sword into the air, "You're brave when you lead a mob against a lone woman. Get off that horse, just you and me! Now!"
Xena felt the tension building and as angry as she was she was still able to distance herself enough to look at the situation impartially. She looked over where the horses were and saw that Xanthus had finished the stretcher and was securely tying Bethany in place.
Moving up to Leonis, Xena leaned close, "Leonis, now is not the time for this. Bethany is badly hurt and we need to get her back to the caves."
He flinched, snapping out of his rage slightly. He cast a quick glance at Bethany's limp figure in the stretcher. Gabrielle had overheard and squelched her own need for revenge, "She's right Leonis. We have to help Bethany before it's too late."
Now he looked at Gabrielle. A young woman who had been a stranger only a few days before was ready to risk her own life for a fellow Amazon and friend. His face softened and his breathing slowed.
"There will be another time." Xena promised.
Picking up on the hesitation, Mara was joined by one of the guards and together they approached them, "Take her away from here. We'll make sure you're not stopped or followed." The guard assured Leonis.
Leonis patted Mara's hand, "Thank you, Mara. Thank all of them for us."
Mara nodded and smiled, then followed the guard back to lines.
Leonis watched them go, realizing that Bethany was more important than revenge right now. "Another time." He threatened before he turned and walked back to the horses.
Benedictus never acknowledged the challenge or threat. He watched Leonis, Xena and the others mount up and ride back down the road. Whether because he knew his men were outnumbered or because Leonis and the troopers would not stop until they had torn him to shreds, he never issued an order to stop or follow them. As they disappeared over the hill he ordered his men to return to the city. Seeing the opposition they faced, they quickly obeyed.
When they returned to the cave, Leonis and the others stayed out of the way as Xena and Gabrielle fought to save Bethany's life.
Xanthus and Leonis brought them water, blankets, fire wood and all the other things that Xena asked for. The others carried Bethany to the back of the cave and once they were settled in the troopers made themselves scarce. Out of sight, they stayed within ear shot in case Xena needed anything else. Only Delia stayed in with them helping any way she could.
One of the first things Xena had noticed on the way back to the cave was Bethany's ragged breathing, caused, she diagnosed by a punctured lung. Once settled in the cave, it was this that she began tending to first. While she took care of that Delia and Gabrielle tried to clean all the mud and blood away so they could get an accurate assessment of her injuries.
Gabrielle gasped when she saw Bethany's ragged ear. The earring she wore so proudly was gone now and apparently it had been ripped off tearing through her ear. With Xena's training she had become an expert at stitching wounds and she began with the ear.
As their treatment continued, they discovered various bruises, scratches, scrapes and a cracked rib and broken leg. None of the wounds were life threatening save for the cracked rib that had punctured her lung, which Xena had quickly taken care of with a knife and piece of dried reed. It was the amount of punishment the woman had taken was what worried her. That was undoubtedly the reason for the fever that was setting in. They stripped off the damp, tattered clothes she had on and wrapped her in layers of cloaks and blankets.
At the first opportunity Xena had given Leonis a list of plants and roots that she needed. He surprised her by how quickly he returned with everything she asked for. She stopped long enough to mix up everything he brought her with some water and now had it simmering over the nearby fire.
They finally finished after several hours, doing all that they could for Bethany and her injuries and sat back exhausted. The young woman was pale underneath all the bruises and swelling, but was breathing more steadily.
Xena checked the pot over the fire and satisfied that it was ready, dipped out some of the steaming brew into a cup, then handed it to Gabrielle. "Let this cool and then try to get some of it down her. It should break her fever and help with the swelling."
Gabrielle looked at her with tear swollen eyes, "Where are you going?"
"To tell Leonis and the others how she is."
"Xena, she is going to be okay, right?"
Gabrielle knew her to well to believe a lie, so she had learned long ago to be honest with her.
"I don't know. We've done all we can. It's up to her and the Gods now."
She walked up to the front of the cave and found the other troopers standing around in worried silence. Frustration at being unable to help their Captain etched on their faces. They snapped to attention as she came in, Leonis rushing toward her, "How is she?"
"Lucky to be alive. She has a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, punctured lung, black eye, busted mouth, all sorts of bruises and now she's developed a fever."
Each soldiers face fell and the color drained from Leonis face as they heard the list of injuries. Xena recognized the despair and tried to be more positive, "But it could have been a lot worse. The scars on her back, chest and arm saved her from serious injury."
Leonis looked at her puzzled, "How?"
"Scar tissue is tougher, it takes some force from the blows and keeps them from causing internal damage. It's probably the only reason she's still alive."
Xanthus brought her a cup of water, "Is she going to make it?"
Xena drank some of the cool water and reached to wipe her mouth when she realized her hands were stained with blood. Without a word being spoken Hernam appeared holding out a rag for her to use.
She took it, smiling her thanks and wiped her hands clean, "I don't know. We've done everything we can. None of her wounds are fatal but she sustained a lot of blows and she's weak. We'll have to keep a close watch on her and we can't move her for at least a week."
Leonis smiled at her, "Thank you Xena." His voice was friendly and appreciative, "If not for your medical skills, I doubt she would have made it this far. We are in your debt."
The other troopers came forward and offered their thanks as well. She tried to hide her conflicting feelings and offer them a slight smile, "I'm glad I was here to help." And quickly excused herself moving to the back of the cave to check on Bethany.
She passed Delia on her way back as the young woman was going to clean up before joining her comrades. Delia offered a weak smile and continued on.
The cave widened again and led into a good sized chamber before branching off into another passageway. Bethany was in the farthest corner and as Xena eased in she saw Gabrielle kneeling beside the injured warrior, gently wiping her face with a cool cloth and speaking softly. She approached quietly and got close enough to hear what Gabrielle was whispering, ". . . and Benedictus is nothing. I know you heard what he said and who knows what he said while they were doing this but you've got to ignore all that. You are an Amazon, a proud and honorable race, made more so by women like you. The only dog I saw there was that pompous . . . son of a Minotaur."
Xena shuffled her feet as she moved closer and Gabrielle stopped talking and leaned back.
"Did she drink any of the brew?" Xena asked as she sat next to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle seemed a bit embarrassed, wondering if Xena had overheard anything she said, "A little."
"Good. Keep trying, the more she drinks the better."
Gabrielle tenderly opened Bethany's swollen mouth and with the patience of a trained healer, poured more of the fluid, a few drops at time, down her throat. When the cup was almost empty, Gabrielle again wiped her face and then leaned back against the wall.
Xena watched her closely, always amazed and awed at the natural skill she had with the injured, "How are you holding up?"
She attempted to sound like her usual chipper self but her entire manner reflected weariness and worry, "I'm okay, just concerned."
Quietly they sat and watched the rise and fall of Bethany's chest as her breathing became stronger and more normal. An occasional piece of conversation from the outer cave drifted into to them and by the smell of the breeze wafting through the cave the rain had returned.
"I feel so helpless," Gabrielle blurted out, "like we should be doing something other than sitting here."
Xena turned to face her, understanding in her eyes, "I know, but other than resetting her leg, we've done all we can. This is the hardest part of dealing with the injured. The waiting, especially if it's someone close to you. The next few hours will be critical for her." She looked at Bethany and again memories from her own ordeal tried to surface.
"How are Leonis and the others? Are they going after Benedictus and Arcles?"
Xena sighed, happy for a change of subject, "Like you, they're worried. Right now their main concern is Bethany. Later I don't think Zeus himself could stop Leonis from seeking revenge."
"She's a guardian, Xena. Why didn't Diana do something to prevent or stop this?"
Xena shrugged her shoulders, "You know my feelings on that. The Gods only use us for amusement or a purpose and then they discard us. Maybe she had served her purpose. You can be sure of this, she's alive because of who she is. Her own strength and fire are what kept her breathing, not the Gods. The question now is does she have enough left to come through this."
As if on cue Bethany groaned softly. Both women were up and hovering over her as her eyes fluttered but didn't open. Xena laid a hand on her forehead, "The fevers starting to break. Try to get some more of those herbs down her."
Gabrielle's eyes twinkled confidently and she rushed to refill the cup and repeat her dosing method.
As she filled the cup from the simmering pot, Xena leaned over Bethany, whispering in her ear, "Fight. You're a warrior and warriors' never give up easily." She sat up when Gabrielle returned and this time helped her in the treatment.
Her fever broke just before nightfall, much to everyones relief. Later when she opened her eyes for only a second before falling into unconsciousness again, the mood became ecstatic.
Only Xena remained neutral as the others became more optimistic. She knew that this was a good sign but Bethany was still not out of danger yet.
Leonis insisted that he and the others be of more help so they assigned shifts to sit and keep tabs on Bethany's condition, and alert them to any changes.
Xena finished her shift, got a bite to eat and had gone outside the cave. She took a seat several yards from the cave entrance and watched at the clouds began to clear off from the darkening sky and the twinkling stars assume their place in the heavens. The rain had stopped a few hours earlier, cooling the air considerably and adding a clean, fresh smell to the breeze. It could have been considered an enjoyable night had it not been for the happenings in Havenous earlier and the woman fighting for life in the cave now.
She sat staring at the sky, unable to rid her mind of the image of Bethany tied to the beams like a trophy. The events that lead up to it were almost predictable. An angry mob pushed over the brink by the murder of not one but two of the most important people to the town. The people afraid and angry wanting someone to pay and Benedictus offering them the traitor, Bethany. The woman had allies that were angry that she was convicted of treason and that their plans to take over the town had been exposed. These allies had taken their revenge out on the Elder and Gadus. Had the towns people been thinking rationally they would have wondered why the two men who thought her innocent were the ones murdered.
Unfortunately logic held no power in the face of terror. Bethany had probably been pulled from her cell by the crowd and brought out into the streets. With Benedictus and his followers leading them on. Next she had probably been caught in a flurry of blows and punches, which had only let up when the other slavers had been sacrificed to the mob.
Councilor Arcles had stopped them before they killed the prisoners saying that they should not be just victims but a message to the soldiers outside the gates. She couldn't control the shiver that seized her in its grasp as her own memories of a beating and posting became intertwined with what she thought had happened to Bethany.
The pain and humiliation. The fear growing as the ropes were lashed around your wrist and pulled taut against the pole. A feeling of surreal terror as the pole was lifted into place and the consciousness and life fading slowly. Praying to any gods listening to end your life quickly. Then the realization that your prayers would not be heard.
"Xena?" A voice called from the growing darkness.
She was brought out of the waking nightmare by the familiar and welcome sight of Gabrielle, who sensed that something was bothering her friend and sat down beside her. "Is everything all right?"
Her usual cool demeanor slipped into place a little slower than usual and even then there was still a remnant of the memory lingering. "Fine. Is Bethany alright?"
"She's fine," Gabrielle disagreed, "And no, you're not alright. When I came up you were somewhere else and looked like you were seeing a ghost."
Xena looked at the ground, kicking rocks away, "Ghosts of the past."
A scream echoed off the walls and filled the cave. A moment later another followed. It was too much for Xanthus and Delia and they excused themselves, venturing outside for some air. Hernam held firm standing watch just outside the entrance of the cave, flinching at every sound his Captain uttered. Basty and Giles remained inside the main chamber, sharpening swords and keeping their ears open in case Leonis called them.
Further back in the cave, Xena firmly took hold of Bethany's broken leg and prepared for the last pull to line up the bones properly. Leonis was at Bethany's head, keeping her from moving as Xena set her leg. Gabrielle kneeled next to Xena holding the splints that they would use to keep the bones in place so they could mend.
Bethany was semi conscious, each adjustment of her leg bringing her further into consciousness. Her skin glistened with sweat and her breathing was rapid.
"Once more." Xena warned. With all her strength, she gave a final pull and twist, barely hearing the satisfying sound of the bone sliding into place over Bethany's scream.
"It's alright." Leonis reassured and wiped the sweat from her face, "It's all over now. Your leg is set and will be good as new."
Xena reached out and Gabrielle handed her the splints, when her hands were empty she quickly picked up the leather straps to hold the splints in place. Once Xena had positioned the splints, she and Gabrielle switched places, Gabrielle holding the splints as Xena tied them securely in place. Bethany groaned as each strap tied sent a fresh stab of pain through her. Xena finished and Leonis released his grip on their patient's shoulders.
He leaned over, smiling, "All over now."
Bethany slowly raised her eyes and looked directly into his brown eyes, "Just let me die."
He sat back, recoiling from her words. Shock covered his face and Gabrielle's. Xena remained calm, seeming to expect that kind of attitude. She moved next to Bethany's side and met her eyes, "It's not your time yet."
Bethany's only reaction was to blink her dead eyes and continue staring at the ceiling of the cave.
Gabrielle moved beside her, "You still have a lot to do. People to help."
Bethany sighed and turned her head toward the wall, dismissing them.
Leonis reached out to her but was intercepted by Xena's firm hand. She shook her head 'No', and motioned him to leave the cavern. Leaving Gabrielle to keep an eye on her, Leonis and Xena ventured back toward the main chamber. Leonis stopped in a passageway and leaned against the wall, "I've never seen her like this. Her eyes and voice are so flat, so unemotional."
"She's in pain. Physically and mentally." Xena offered as an explanation, "Physically she will recover."
Xena put her hand on his shoulder, "Put yourself in her place. How would you feel? "
Before he could give it much consideration, Xanthus came running down the passageway calling his name. He was obviously excited as he skidded to a stop before crashing into them. "Leonis, you have to come see this."
"What is it? Are we under attack?"
Xanthus smiled, "No. It's a caravan. A big one coming from the city. It looks like they're leaving Havenous."
Leonis stiffened, "Show me." And with a nod to Xena, he followed Xanthus down the passage way.
Xena watched them disappear, wondering about the new development when she became aware of a presence behind her. She whirled around, assuming a fighting stance and relaxed when she saw a short slender woman with a bow and quiver of arrows standing in the shadows.
Her eyebrows arched, "Artemis?"
"Warrior Princess." The Huntress acknowledged.
Xena stood up fully, her voice sarcastic, "Bethanys down the passageway in the next chamber, but you're a little late to be of any help."
Artemis took a few steps closer, "Your hostility toward me is unwarranted. The only person who can help her now is you and you know it."
Xena acted puzzled, but understood what the Huntress was hinting at, "Me? You're her mentor and teacher. The one who left her at the mercy of Benedictus and his hordes."
Artemis's brown eyes flashed with anger, "Even Gods have rules, Xena. She was required to pass her trial of fire without my assistance."
"Yea. So if she lives I guess she passed."
"There are other forces at work in this." The Goddess countered, "I do not control everything and when I saw that she was in trouble, I tried to help but she wouldn't allow it."
"Wouldn't allow it?"
Artemis leaned against the side of the passage frustrated, "I tried to help her. She had several opportunities to escape but she didn't. She turned her back on any help I sent."
Xena leaned against the opposite side of the cave, "That doesn't make any sense. She had to know how things were going." Then Xena remembered the conversation at Dante's Point. Bethany's words about the dead being the lucky ones and wanting to join them. That Darkness had a price and never let you forget your sins. "Bethany let them do this because she thought she deserved it."
The Huntress met her eyes, "You told Leonis to put himself in her place." She pointed at Xena, "You have been in her place. When she became my student, she was a very angry and frightened young woman. Her biggest fear was that the anger would resurface again. That is why you're the only one who can help her now. Help her find her way back, please."
Xena remained silent, deep in thought.
"She has to accept her past and move beyond it. Maybe by helping her, you can continue your own journey."
When she looked up, Artemis was gone and she was alone in the passageway, left to consider the Huntress's words.
Xena waited for Leonis and the others to return before making her decision. When they did, their mood was relieved and jovial. Leonis quickly called everyone for a meeting and they gathered in the main cavern, except Gabrielle who elected to stay with Bethany who was now sleeping, knowing that Xena would fill her in later.
Once everyone was settled Leonis began, "The caravan is an exodus from Havenous. Many the citizens where outraged by what happened to Bethany and the way things seemed to change overnight. Without a guardian they don't feel the town is safe any longer. They were hoping to meet with us and find out how the Captain is. If she is well, they want her to lead them to a new home."
"Are you sure they're not just trying to find us and finish the job for Benedictus and Arcles?" Hernam questioned, his trust running short as of late.
"No, my friend," He answered understanding their apprehension, "Every person in the caravan that we lead to Havenous is out there now. The others are people that were outside the city walls when we rescued Bethany. They are friends."
"Where are they now?" Xena asked.
"They made camp down the road." Delia supplied, "They're genuine in their quest Warrior Princess. I'm familiar with the look in their eyes, I had it when Bethany came to my village. They trust her and as far as they're concerned she is the only one who can lead them out of here."
Xena was satisfied and sat quietly as the discussion continued. When they finished, Leonis was pulled aside and Xena began outlining her plan to help bring Bethany back.
She went to relieve Gabrielle a short time later. Gabrielle met her at the entrance of the chamber visibly upset.
Gabrielle grasped her arm and pulled her back out of the cavern, "What's wrong?" Xena questioned as they came to a stop..
"She won't eat or drink. She slept for a little while and when she woke up she ignored me and just stares at the wall. I can't get her to talk. Me, the one with the gift of gab as you say. I even pulled Amazon rank and she just lies there. The anger is radiating off her but she acts like she just wants to stay there until she dies."
Xena draped her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder, "Don't worry. I want you to go to the main chamber and get a bite to eat and some rest. I'm taking over for a while and I don't want to be disturbed until Leonis comes to you, okay?"
Gabrielle started to protest or ask her the plan but the look on Xena's face convinced her to do just as her friend had suggested. With a final glance at Bethany, Gabrielle moved down the passage away from them. Xena stayed put until she was sure that Gabrielle was gone, then strode back to the cavern and moved over to Bethany.
The woman lay still, never flinching. Her eyes stayed closed as Xena sat beside her. "I know you're awake."
"Ignoring me isn't going to work. I'm not going anywhere until you hear me out."
Still no reaction.
"I understand what's going on in your head right now. I survived a posting myself."
Bethany's eyes opened slightly.
Xena took her time, hesitant but knowing that Bethany needed to hear it, had to hear it. "It was several years ago." She started slowly, "When my first army was branching out into the neighboring villages for new conquests. I was a little younger than you and I was intent on subjecting all so that my village would be safe. Or that's what I told myself. One night my men caught a prisoner. Someone who brought a great ransom that could make my army even stronger. I was intrigued by him. His self assuredness, strength, single mindedness, everything I craved to be. He had power as well and knew how to use it and I was naive enough to believe that he would share it with me.'
'We received the ransom and I released him. Our agreement was that he would come for me when the time was right and we would rule the world together."
Bethany had turned her head toward Xena watching her but Xena didn't notice. She was caught up in the memories that until now had remained unspoken and only in her dreams.
"He came after me alright and fool that I was I trusted him to keep his word. He betrayed me completely. My entire army was captured and put in chains as was I. This man let me know that we wouldn't be sold as slaves. Oh no, we were going to be examples to all those who thought of interfering in his plans. We were taken to his home shores where his soldiers took great delight in beating us. Some of my men were beaten to death but as he watched them beat me he made certain that they didn't go too far. He had other plans for me."
Xena stopped and took a deep, shaky breath. In her mind she was no longer in the cave but on a dark beach in Roman territories. Her voice was lower as she continued, "We were all tied to crossbeams and hoisted into the air. The beams stretched as far as the eye could see and most of the men, the lucky ones, were already dead. Dead because of me. He stood at the foot of the beam I was tied to and gloated. He told me that he would rule the world alone. It was his destiny, just as it was mine to be remembered as one of his first conquests. Before he left, he ordered his men to break my legs as a last goodbye."
Bethany was captivated, her eyes showing signs of life and understanding.
"I don't know how long I was up there. I was in and out of consciousness but I can tell you that I prayed for death, would have welcomed it. I was ready to give into it when someone appeared on that beach."
"Who?" Bethany whispered.
Xena looked down into Bethany's face and saw that she could comprehend the feelings she had described without any further explanation. "A runaway slave who had stowed away on my ship> Over time she became my friend and teacher. On that night she was my savior. She fought through those guards he left behind and got me off the crossbeam, then took me to the Healer.'
'I thought I knew what pain was until he set my legs and just like you I asked him to let me die. M’lila, my friend, let me know that it wasn't my time, and after a day or so I began to believe that. Until the soldiers showed up."
Xena leaned closer, an edge of desperation in her voice, "I was rethinking my life, Bethany. I had started down a dark path and I was ready to turn back and change my life until the soldiers came. My betrayer wasn't going to let me escape, so he had sent troops after me. They broke in and knocked the healer unconscious and aimed a crossbow at my heart. I was still injured and in shock, I was defenseless. M’lila jumped in front of me and caught the arrow meant to kill me. She died in my arms. As her body fell to the floor, the rage that I had was reborn fiercer and so overwhelming that it consumed me. As badly as I was hurt I fought and killed those soldiers and then embraced the darkness. That night I became Xena, Warrior Princess. I chose my path, it was the wrong path but at that moment the only one I sought. It was the only one that offered any release of my rage." Xena finished and dropped her head, feeling drained.
Bethany hesitantly reached out and touched her hand, "I'm sorry."
Xena took a breath, resuming her tough exterior, "I've never told anyone that, not even Gabrielle. No one could understand unless they had been through it."
"I feel the rage stirring, like a long absent friend. I want to go after those that betrayed me and make them suffer like I did. I know I shouldn't feel that way but I can't help it. I don't want to become what I was. I'm afraid of that person."
Xena smiled and took Bethany's hand in her own, "It's normal to feel angry by what happened. We're all angry that it happened but there will be a time to repay what has been done. You're stronger than you think, you had to be to survive a posting. You won't become that person again, you have a direction, I didn't. Later with the help of a friend I found that direction and with that I found a way to control the rage. It rears up occasionally but with a purpose, it will never overtake you."
Bethany wanted to believe but was still unconvinced, "How can you be so sure?"
"I don't have to be." Xena smiled, "They are." She glanced over her shoulder and saw Gabrielle, Leonis and Neysa enter the cave.
The little girl squirmed to be free of Leonis and get to Bethany. "Bethany?" She cried upset by her injuries but glad to see her alive.
Leonis carried her over to Bethany and put the child down next to the bed. She quickly wrapped her arms over Bethany and snuggled close.
"Gently, little one. She's hurt." He cautioned.
Bethany's face was glowing as she pulled the child close with her good arm, "It's alright Leonis."
Xena stood up and moved to the back of the cave with Gabrielle, unable to suppress her own smile at the reunion.
Gabrielle looked at her surprised, "What did you say to her?"
Xena shrugged and continued smiling, "I just told her a story."
A WEEK LATER-
The sun had returned to the valley with all its glory except the overbearing heat. The caravan was almost done loading up, the people eager to leave Havenous behind and move on to better things.
Bethany was healing much quicker than even Xena had expected, no doubt because of her new mission and with the Huntress’ help. Te young Amazon settled into the wagon and seemed more like her old self, Neysa perched beside her excited to be with her and moving again. The little girl had hardly left Bethany's side since their reunion and both seemed to flourish.
Xena and Gabrielle made one last check on the two's injuries before climbing out of the wagon, Leonis riding up just as they reached the ground. He and the other soldiers had attacked the mission with zeal once Bethany gave the word and each seemed to glow in the early morning sun as they got everyone organized.
"We'll be moving out in less than an hour. You sure you're up to this?" He asked with concern.
Bethany smiled and looked at Xena, "Healer, what say you?"
Xena cut her eyes at Leonis, face serious, "She's fine, but no sword fights or riding that horse for awhile."
Bethany rolled her eyes and Leonis laughed, "You have my word, even if I have to tie her down."
Someone called out his name and he turned to acknowledge, then back to Xena, "It has been an honor fighting and riding with you. Both of you."
Gabrielle grinned and Xena held out her hand to him, "Bethany and these people could have no one better watching out for them."
He grasped her hand firmly in a warriors' handshake. When they parted, he held out his hand to Gabrielle. She hesitated, then grasped his arm as Xena had.
"Safe journey." He nodded as Gabrielle stepped back. He pulled the reins to the left, turning the horse toward the front of the caravan and rode away to join the other soldiers.
After a moment of silence, Bethany sighed, "I hate goodbyes."
Gabrielle nodded and Xena asked, "Have you decided where your heading?"
Bethany looked into the distance, "East. I feel drawn there and when we find the right spot, I'll know it. After we get settled, Neysa and I are going to ride northeast."
Gabrielle's face lit up with excitement as Bethany continued, "I'm going home for a visit. Neysa has no family left and she needs a good loving home. I wish she could stay with me but I'm on the road too much to offer a stable home. I'd like her to have the same chance I did. Hopefully my sisters won’t hold my faults against her."
The little girl giggled, drawing Bethany's attention and she gave the girl a quick hug.
"I have something for you." Gabrielle replied as she reached into her pouch and brought out her hand, clenching something in her palm. She moved to the side of the wagon, next to Bethany. "It's not like the one you had but it was given to me when I assumed the mask of Queen and I'd be honored if you wore it." She opened her hand revealing an Amazon earring of silver and feathers.
When Bethany glimpsed it, her breath caught in her throat and she unconsciously touched her stitched ear, "Oh Gabrielle, I can't. That is the earring of a Queen."
Gabrielle smiled and took her hand and gently placed it in her palm, "Then wear it as a blessing from the Queen and as a message to our sisters."
Bethany held it for a moment, unable to take her eyes away from it. Finally she closed her hand and brought it to her chest. Her voice cracked with emotion, "I will wear it with honor as a message but I will return it next time we meet."
"Deal." Gabrielle agreed as she stood on her tip toes and hugged Bethany. They held the hug for several seconds as sisters would. When they parted Gabrielle turned to Neysa, "Be Good." She winked and stepped back from the wagon.
Bethany motioned Xena forward and then leaned in close when she reached the wagon, "I suppose a hug is out of the question, we're warriors after all." She whispered.
Xena cracked a smile, unable to keep up the tough exterior, "Just this once, if you insist."
If was a brief hug, but full of sentiment that neither could voice and as they parted they locked eyes, "Keep to the path, Xena Warrior Princess." Bethany said firmly.
Xena climbed astride Argo and helped Gabrielle up behind her, "Keep to the path, Bethany, chosen of the Gods."
Gabrielle looked from one to the other, confused by their words, but she shrugged it off and settled into the saddle behind Xena.
"Safe journey, my friends. We'll meet again, and if you ever need help you know how to reach me." She waved and looked up at the sky, toward Mt. Olympus, home of Artemis.
Xena grasped Argos reins and nudged him forward, "Safe journey." She returned as they rode away, Gabrielle waved and then held on as Argo began galloping.
They rode for a long while in silence, each contemplating all that had happened the last few weeks.
Gabrielle was the first to speak, "Do you think we'll ever see them again, Xena?"
Xena mulled it over, "I hope so." She answered earnestly.
They continued riding the sun at their backs. Their thoughts drifting between the much need vacation and their new friends.
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