DISCLAIMERS: Xena and a certain horse, that shall remain nameless for now, are my guests here. They have flown for about 18 hours all the way from NZ and MCA/Universal/Renaissance. Please give them a big hand! *Applause**applause* This story was written for pure non-profit entertainment only and not for sale in any stores..so send a self-addressed stamped email and get yours now!
Warning~There is graphic violence here, Xena is after all...NOT a Girl Scout trying to sell cookies door to door. Although I'd buy cookies from her anyway. I mean really, how can you say no to the "look". "Yes please, Ms. Warrior Princess, I'll buy them all..please don't kill me." *chuckle*
A Warrior's Friend
Xena strode down the side of the road trying to keep her mind off her troubles. It had only been a day since she'd left Hercules and Iolaus, and already she was debating with herself on whether or not she'd taken the right path. Usually the warrior didn't like being alone, for it made her think about herself far to much.
Destiny. Fate. Good. Evil. Bunch of Cerebus crud if you ask me. Xena sighed, scanning her surroundings automatically. Sure I was a warlord...but it's not like I hurt women and children...well, I haven't done that for a long time really. I'm glad about that, but still...Hercules is a good guy, I'll grant him that, but how am I supposed to do what he does? I'm not the good at heart type, I don't know how to be the hero that he thinks I'm capable of. I'd rather take what I need and be done with it. I just don't understand helping people just because they need help, and not expect anything in return. But I don't like what I've become either.
The warrior grimaced as she stepped on a sharp uneven rock. Annoyed, she kicked it off the road. And I am getting tired of walking!! I don't even know where in Hades I'm traveling to! The warrior's temper continued to build as her thoughts spiraled into a continual loop of annoyance and self-doubt. What I need is a long bath and a comfortable bed, and if I remember correctly, Aphesia should be just up ahead beyond this bend. At least it better be, I don't mind sleeping on the ground, but I'm not really in the mood for it.
Resettling the large bag on her left shoulder she trudged on, not seeing the beauty around her, but only the possibilities that a particular hill could play in a battle, or how a very dense clump of trees was a good spot for ambushing. Her eyes passed over the shimmering silver-green leaves of a stand of poplar, and totally ignored the deep-red glossy feathers of a redwinged hawk. Life wasn't seen through her eyes often, only the ways of bringing death.
As she was passing the bend, the breeze shifted and carried to her a familiar scent. Burning village. Bodies. Damn! I guess I need to do this, don't I? She removed her bag and stashed it in a thicket carefully, then freeing her sword, she started running down the road toward Aphesia. As she rounded the last grove of trees, she spotted the village and grimaced.
The small town was burning, every home, shop, and tavern aflame or in danger from it. Carefully Xena walked down the main street, passing the ruins of the town. The dead lay everywhere, blood seeping into the rich soil, but the sight didn't faze the woman, having seen and caused more carnage than this.
Old people...men that looked that they were putting up a fight. No young women or children, Xena noted. Her crystal blue eyes raked over dead animals, pets and livestock. All butchered with no meat taken.
Raiders? And very angry one's at that. Taking slaves, but killing everything else? Vendetta?
Carefully she searched the village, listening for any cries for help, and checking each corpse she found for a pulse, just in case, but it was as she feared nothing was alive. Finally she made her way to the last building on the outside edge of town, it was here that she finally found a survivor.
She was magnificent, even sooty and bloody as she was. The horse was tall and eyed Xena warily as the warrior came near, stamping her feet in warning carefully so as not to stomp on the prone warrior that she stood over guarding.
Moving slowly, so as not to scare the horse, Xena sheathed her sword and held out her hand carefully. "It's ok...I'm not going to hurt you. Is that your master?" Cautiously she stepped forward, keeping eye contact with the steed. "I just want to make sure he's ok...you'll let me do that..huh?" Xena whispered softly.
The nervous horse blew softly against her palm, then leaned her head down and butted the fallen warrior. Taking that as an assent, the woman knelt down carefully and gently probed the man's neck for a pulse. Nothing. The man was well armored and had good weapons, so Xena doubted that he was one of the raiders. He looks old enough to be retired I'd say. Probably came here and became the village's protector. Sighing she stood up and looked at the golden mare, inspecting her carefully.
"It looks as if you're the only survivor remaining in the village." Xena commented as she looked for wounds on the mare. Seeing nothing but a few minor cuts, she reached out and gently caressed the animal between the ears. "Nothing either of us can do for him...I'm sorry," she whispered softly as the mare leaned into her hand.
I'm going to have to go after them...I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't, the woman mused. She had already determined that the raiders had left with their loot and their captives by the road that passed by this last building. As she looked at it, a huge tongue of flame burst through an upper window immediately setting the roof ablaze. Damn!
Feeling the flames as the fire grew closer and hotter, she reached out and tried to grab the bridle of the mare, but the horse shook her head violently refusing to leave the corpse of her master.
Xena sighed and held out a hand. "Come on...I don't want you to get burned up, Ok? Come on..please?" she pleaded, but the golden mare refused to budge. "All right, but if you stay here, you'll die, and then who will help me with those raiders, hmm?"
The mare's eyes looked at her closely, then the great head nodded up and down. Xena smiled. "Was that a yes?" She calmly took the reins of the bridle and led the horse away from the burning building. Taking her to a nearby well, Xena hauled up a bucket of water and washed clean the small wounds on the horse.
"Just making sure you're ok, before we go. I want to get the soot out." The mare butted her in the shoulder impatiently, as she cleaned out a particularly long shallow slice. "Ok...Ok...I'm hurrying. None of them look bad, but I had to make sure."
Xena stood up, and swiftly checked the girth on the saddle and changed the length of the stirrups. The mare snorted causing the woman to chuckle. "All right...all right..." She quickly mounted and guided the mare down the road, following the tracks of the raiders. Then, with a light tap of her heels to the mare's flanks, the duo was off at a brisk pace.
At first Xena took her time, getting to know the rhythm of the horse, and determining how much training she had received. The warrior was pleasantly surprised. The gaits were smooth, with no hesitation or odd movements that might suggest bad legs. Xena was even more surprised to find the mare responded just as easily to leg commands than with reins. As for whether the horse was battletrained or not, Xena suspected she was, but wouldn't be able to judge until they were actually in battle together.
The raven-haired woman bent low over the neck of the mare, and signaled her for more speed. The horse complied and Xena laughed with delight. Like the wind itself!! she thought to herself in excitement, forgetting for an instant her problems, and enjoying herself in the ride. Never before had she ridden such a fine animal. To bad I'm going to have to give you over to the villagers when we find them, they will need all the animals they can get, and you don't belong to me. Not that that used to stop me...but....I have to try it Hercules' way.
Down the road they flew until finally Xena saw that the tracks had veered off into the woods, along a small trail. Slowing the mare down to a trot, she leaned close to the horse's ears. "Ok...they can't be far now." She drew her sword and eyed the woods intently, every sound, from the mare's steps, to the cry of a woodlark, quickly assessed and discarded when processed as friendly.
Hearing a metal on metal noise coming from up ahead, Xena steered the mare far off into the bush. Seeing the denseness of the surrounding land Xena frowned, then dismounted.
"I'm sorry, but you'd make too much noise. I'm going to have to leave you here, Ok?" She whispered softly to the horse and rubbing her nose. An unhappy snort was her answer, but Xena took the reins and tied them loosely about a bush. If something happened to her and she didn't make it back, at least the mare could free herself in a few hours. Xena gave the horse a last pat on the nose, then disappeared into the woods.
Deep liquid brown eyes watched her leave unhappily.
* * * * *
"Shut that brat up woman, before I shut it up permanently! I just want a little fun, but if you don't shut the kid up, I'll kill it so you won't be burdened anymore." growled the large man, his beady little eyes scaring the child even more.
"Yesss...sssiirr," stuttered the mother as she placed her hand firmly over the child's mouth, begging her with her eyes to keep silent. A small whimper escaped from the child, and the man grinned evily. Bringing back his hand, he started to swing, but his arm halted, caught in an iron grip.
Looking over his shoulder in surprise, his eyes widened as they met fierce blue.
"I'm disappointed in you Cleotos, I thought I made it clear along time ago what I would do to any of my men that harmed a woman or child," came a low snarl.
Cleotos grimaced in distaste, and tried to snag his arm away, but the grip never faltered. "We aren't your men anymore, Xena."
"Yes...to bad it still hasn't taught you anything," growled the woman as she brought down the hilt of her sword to connect solidly with the side of his head. As the man collapsed, she glanced over at the cowering woman and child.
"You know anyplace to hide around this area?" she asked softly.
The woman just looked at her, her eyes bulging wider in fear from the warrior woman before her than the man she had just knocked out. Xena sighed. Fear....I used to like this feeling on their faces. Now it seems...wrong.
Xena looked around carefully to make sure they were alone, then squatted in front of the two, in order to bring herself face to face with them.
"You've heard of me I assume?" she asked wryly.
The village woman nodded silently.
"Well..you probably won't believe me, but I'm here to help...not hurt you. I just need to you go somewhere safe. The village is...gone. Is there a cave or an outlying farm you can go to?"
The woman nodded again.
"All right...from the tracks, I saw about sixteen raiders and about thirty-two of your people...is this right?" Xena asked.
"Ok...I get the hint, you're scared. Get going...and be quiet, allright?" Xena stood and watched as the woman and child disappeared quickly into the woods away from where the warrior surmised the raiders were. Well at least she went the right way. Tying Cleotos up securely, she stuffed him down into a hollow log to be picked up later.
Xena sighed as she turned and walked silently through the woods. I should have expected this...it's only been a couple days since Darphus stole my army from me, and we finally stopped him and that overgrown rat Ares calls a pet, but a lot of the men are still out there causing havoc. I'm responsible for that village and the butchery, as surely as if I held the swords that did the killing.
Ok, Xena. They were your men, so that makes it your problem...not that you weren't going to help these people anyway, but now it's even more important because there's a mess to clean up. My mess, she grimaced.
Silent as Death herself, Xena drifted from shadow to shadow, thanking the gods that the sun was going down, making her approach to the camp even more well hidden. Finally reaching the outskirts of the camp, she climbed a tall robust tree and silently watched the raiders and their captives, taking her time and making an account of each man and a mental map of the camp.
As soon as the sun was down, Xena made her move. Quickly and quietly climbing down from her perch, she made her way around the outside of the camp to where several of the raiders had gone for brief moments. Sniffing the air, Xena grimaced at the smell coming from the latrine, but continued on.
Hiding herself deep in the shadows of a large tree, she waited patiently. Soon, she heard the sounds of footsteps as one of the men was making his way toward the small pit. Grinning evily she waited until he was unfastening his pants, then slowly stood up behind him and drew her dagger across his throat, catching him before he fell and dragging him away to stuff into a hollow log.
Two down, fourteen more to go. Knowing that if too many of the men disappeared when going to the latrine, Xena waited for one more. Finding him just as easy of a target as the other man, she quickly stashed his body too, and then circled around the camp to take out the three sentries.
No sound betrayed her and soon the only raiders that were left were the men sitting around the campfire and two that were harassing the young woman that were tied up. Xena watched as one of the men reached out and grabbed a small dark-haired girl by the arm and start to drag her to him, but a booming voice stopped him.
"Martris! You know the rule...save them for later!" shouted a dark warrior, as he stood and hitched up his swordbelt in authority.
Xena rolled her eyes. Orlin is in charge? That man could barely find his way to the cookpot, how in Ares name did he end up leading this pack of dogs? Then Xena's eye caught a figure sitting deep in the shadows and she narrowed her eyes. Of course. Wherever Orlin is...Karthos is always near. Black hearted piece of Harpy droppings that he is. The power behind Orlin now..hmm? Now wonder the village looked as if a mad animal went through it, Karthos is the nastiest and meanspirited warrior I ever had. But quiet...that is the scariest thing about him...his silence.
The woman silently watched as the two men grumbled a moment, then left the women and children to themselves, joining their fellows by the fire.
Time to take them out...good grouping...hmmm...let's see how many I can take in one throw. Her eyes swiftly went around the clearing, taking in all the angles she thought she would need and her fingers finding her chakram at her side. Five if this works. OK..let's do it. Xena stood up from her hidden position and threw.
The chakram sliced through the air, screaming its presence as it bounced off one tree and in a shower of blood and bone, ripped through one man's throat and across another's eyes, before bouncing off the tree just above Karthos' head. Ricocheting the chakram continued it's flight of bloodletting, as it sliced deeply into one raider's chest and through another's arm, to bury itself deeply in one last man's stomach.
The men stood up in surprise, their hands drawing their weapons in an instant to met the threat.
"Damn! That's Xena's weapon!" cried Orlin, his eyes growing wide in alarm. Perhaps this leading gig wasn't such a good idea.
A familiar cry erupted from the woods, as a dark body flew through the air, to land on one side of the group.
With a fierce laugh, Xena tore into them. Plunging her sword deep into one man, she drew it out and rammed that elbow right into another's nose, all before they could react. But now the fight was on, and these men were desperate. They knew Xena, and knew she was willing to kill all of them.
Blocking three blows with one parry, Xena thrust up her arm, sending her enemies blades rebounding and slashing two of them in the belly on the downstroke. Ignoring their cries as their guts fell out and landed on their feet, Xena kicked out, connecting solidly with another's temple.
She never saw Karthos move behind her, but with instincts honed to perfection she knew she was in immediate danger and lunged to the side, hoping she could dodge the killing force of the blow, though she knew she'd still be hit. Blinding pain erupted in her brain, her body immediately falling to the ground as blackness consumed her.
* * * * *
"We should help her..."
"No. Widgie says that she's Xena...too dangerous. I say leave her."
"But, she tried to save us."
"These were her men I bet...double-cross or some such thing...not our business."
"Besides, I doubt if...she's waking...damn! Get back everyone!"
The voices in her head weren't her own, she finally realized, but from outside her. As they steadily grew louder, she tried to make sense of them, but couldn't, and didn't recognize the voices. Trying to open her eyes, she immediately closed them again as sharp white light pierced her, causing waves of pain in her head. After she let the pain pass, she tried again, slower this time.
People stood before her, women and children, most looking at her in fear, some in concern. One young blond with green eyes knelt beside her carefully.
"Are you Ok?" she asked gently and started to reach out a cautious hand.
Xena frowned and moved her arm away before the young woman could touch her. "I'm fine." Though I should be dead, she thought silently. Glancing around, her eyes widened suddenly. Ignoring the pain and nausea, she stood up, grimly taking note of the gasps of startlement from the people and the involuntary steps backward.
Taking a few steps through the pile of bodies around her, she held out her hand, smiling slightly as warm breath tickled her palm.
Looking down at the other bodies, she winced. "I take it you came after me, hmmm? Good thing too, or this head of mine would be a nice trophy for Karthos," she whispered to the mare. Looking the horse up and down, she saw more cuts than before, but besides the fact that the mare's legs were coated in raider blood, they looked shallow and should heal easily.
"Excuse me?" came a soft voice behind her.
Xena looked over her shoulder to the blond woman. "Yes?"
"Are we yours now?"
The warrior sighed. "No. I'm not in that business anymore."
"I'll believe that when I see it!" muttered one of the other women in the crowd.
"You just did, Drix, so shut up!" hissed the blond back, then she turned back to the warrior. "Sorry about that."
"I'm used to it," Xena replied.
"That's Parthios' horse," the woman pointed out.
Xena nodded as she patted the mare on the shoulder. "Yes...she agreed...I mean...I needed a horse to catch up to you. I don't know who she belongs to now. Your village is gone, so you'll need all you can use to start again," she took the reins and held them out to the young woman.
"No. Parthios was my father, so I guess I own the horse now. I don't think I could stand to see her hitched to a plow," the blond frowned slightly. "You take her."
The warrior shook her head. "No. She's yours."
The woman sighed. "Look..she's got a mind of her own. We watched as that man hit you over your head and you went down. That mare came crashing through the woods and trampled the rest of them...it...it was pretty gruesome. I've never seen her mad before."
Xena raised an eyebrow and then looked the mare in the eyes. "What's her name?"
"Dad just got her last year, and hadn't given her one yet. He said that each warrior had a friend out there in animal form that matched their own spirit. Dad didn't think she was his...but he bought her anyway and trained her. I think...she's yours."
Ice blue eyes met earth brown. "Do you want to come with me?" Xena asked the mare, whispering. "I don't know what path I'll be taking, though I'm sure it's a long road. This is all new to me you know."
The mare butted her in the chest and then blew softly in her face. Xena turned back and looked at the young woman in curiosity. "Why? You know who I am...these men were mine only a few days ago, and they have destroyed your village. I'm responsible."
The woman shrugged. "People change. Besides...like I said, I don't think she'll take well to a plow."
The warrior looked at her for a long moment then leaned in real close to whisper. "Four days south from here, past Poteidaia, is a town called Mende. Go to the moneylender there and tell him that Xena gives you her account. Tell him the password is...Death. Use it to rebuild your village." She stood back up and grimaced. "This isn't charity you understand...I'm just paying for the mare."
"Yeah..right," the woman smiled. "Thankyou."
Xena shrugged uncomfortably. "Take their armor, horses and whatever else you can find besides the loot from your village. You'll need every bit." She looked over at the group of women standing back a ways. "Good luck...and I'm sorry that..."
"Just go!" cried one woman.
The blond sighed in annoyance, but Xena ignored her and started through the woods to the road.
She walked in the darkness for hours, through the burnt out village and only stopping when she retrieved her bag and made camp at a glade. Carefully she washed the mare and groomed her, taking special care with her cuts, before taking care of her own needs.
"Sorry there's no grain for now," she murmured as she brushed out the long pale mane. "I wasn't expecting to have another horse for awhile."
She felt pleasant grassy breath on her neck and heard a low nicker in reply. "Yeah..I'm glad you're here too. I don't know what to call you though...hmmm..." she was silent for a long time as she pondered her new life and circumstances.
"You know I always respected Jason and his men, when I was at sea. The fellowship and camaraderie, and the way they always kept to their purpose. I don't think I'll call you Jason...I wasn't that fond of the man." Xena chuckled to herself.
"But Argo..yeah...for a strong lady who took them places no other ship could." She looked into the mare's eyes. "What do you think? Does Argo sound good?" She asked.
The golden mare was quiet for a bit, considering the woman before her. The smell of death was strong on her, and not from the blood she had shed today, but an aura that emanated from her in a dark haze. But that aura seemed to be in peril now...not from without...but within. A thin light tendril of goodness that she could smell and thought was growing stronger.
Xena laughed as the mare butted her again strongly in the chest and whinnied. "Argo it is then."