Standard disclaimers: You all know the drill by now, I don't own Xena, Gabrielle or the Amazons. They are the property of Ren Pics and Studios USA. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sexual disclaimer: This story depicts a loving relationship between our two leading ladies, if that sort of thing is a problem for you than you should not read this story.
Death's Shadow IV
Marion D Tuttle
It took a few moments for the impact of Artimiss' words to sink in. She looked at the Goddess as if she were seeing her for the first time. "You mean..."
"I mean Xena is on her way here, and she's pissed. Ares has filled her head with a line of garbage and she is quite frankly not a happy warrior right now."
More to herself than anyone else Falia whispered "What have I done?"
If there had been more time for gentleness Artimiss might not have taken the harsh approach she did with the girl. But with Xena on her way here and looking for retribution for what she believed to be a betrayal then there wasn't a lot of time to be subtle. "What you have done you little fool is played a game that was way over your head. You tried to manipulate what could be one of the most dangerous woman in the world and all because you wanted to have power without having actually earned it."
Gabrielle heard these words, and as much as she agreed with the content her inner tenderness showed through. "Artimiss, Falia knows what she did was wrong. That's why she came to me and told me the truth. She made a mistake, but she is willing to try and help correct it."
The Goddess' features softened when she looked at her choosen Queen. "That is what it takes to lead people Falia. Not only the wisdom of war and how it works. But even more importantly, compassion for those you lead and the ability to see into their hearts. You would do well to learn from your Queen."
Falia was amazed not only by the fact that she was standing in the presence of her patron Goddess, but also that Gabrielle, the woman she had planned against with Ares was taking up for her. For the first time in her life the young Amazon understood what true respect was and where it came from. It did not come with fear as Ares had told her. It came from love. "Yes my Goddess." Was the only answer she could give.
Snapping her mind back to the issue at hand Gabrielle asked Artimiss "How much time do we have before Xena gets here?"
"She should be here early tomorrow."
"Then we don't have much time."
Once Xena had made the choice to go back to the village it was like she was reenergized with purpose. She had planned to just leave and never go back but after talking with Ares she knew she would never have any peace until she resolved what had happened. As much as she wanted to press on she knew that she had to stop and make camp for the night. Argo was near exhaustion and she didn't want to take the chance of her faithful mount breaking a leg in the dark forest.
The image of Gabrielle loomed before her. She had to swallow the pain that welled up in her chest at the vision. Gabrielle, her bard, they had been through so much together. She never would have thought the little Amazon Queen could have cast her off so easily. Part of her softened at the thought of seeing Gabrielle again, maybe all this had just been some kind of mistake. Maybe it wasn't too late to fix this. But whenever her thoughts started moving in that direction she could hear Ares whisper in her ear. "Don't be weak this time, you've trusted her before and look what happened." It made sense to her but it didn't lessen her pain at the loss of what she knew was the greatest love of her life.
She stopped and started to set up her camp, she knew that she was only a few candle marks from the Amazon village. Morning would bring an end to all of this and then she could get back to her life. But what kind of life was she going back to she found herself wondering. She knew that Ares was telling her that the only way to erase the pain and betrayal was to wipe it from her mind by destroying everything that had caused her pain. That meant destroying the village and most of all Gabrielle. something in the back of her mind told her that she would never be able to take it that far. She may be able to shame Gabrielle in the same way, but she could never destroy her.
Her body needed rest, but her mind would not slow down. She was beginning to think that maybe she was getting another visit from the Furies. Nothing made sense to her anymore. The only anchor she had in her sea of pain and loss was the anger that Ares kept feeding her. He had reminded her that even though they had been adversaries he had never betrayed her. True he had used falsehoods and manipulations he told her. But she had always known what he wanted from her and where she stood with him. This was where her mind was when she saw the light before her.
At first she thought she might be getting yet another Godly visit, until she looked closer at the vision before her. "Lyceus?" She had to stop and rub her eyes before she looked again. She muttered to herself under her breath. "Yeah I must be losing it."
Moving to sit beside her, her brother spoke to her. "Yes Xena it's me, now listen I don't have a lot of time. You have to stop this..."
"Lyceus, how?...Stop what?"
A sad shake of his head and a small smile that showed he was used to trying to reason with his older sister. "This vengeance your after, it's all twisted around and nothing is the really the way it looks to you right now. Ares is trying to control you, Xena if you do what he wants you'll be lost forever."
The warrior was more confused than ever. She shook her head, trying to clear it. "No, your wrong, I wish you weren't but Gabrielle betrayed me...She doesn't think I'm worthy to be her champion anymore. By stepping in between me and that little twerp that wanted to challenge me she made a statement to the whole nation..."
"Xena, you have been a lot of things, but stupid has never been one of them." Cold blue ice shot from her eyes at her brother's statement. "And don't even try that look on me. I'm already dead so it's highly unlikely that I'm going to be worried about any bodily injury."
She turned her eyes from him. "I am not being stupid."
"If you persist in this, yes you are." He tried to gentle his approach "Look, I don't have a lot of time here but there are some things you need to consider."
This seemed to get through the the warrior. Lyceus would not have made the trip from the other side if it were not important. She sat down looking at her brother, signaling with her silence that she was ready to listen to what he had to say.
He considered his words carefully before he spoke. "You say that you see what Gabrielle did as an insult, a betrayal if you will. Let me ask you this. If the situation had been reversed and someone had openly insulted Gabrielle as Falia insulted you,what would you have done?"
"What? I would have protected her of course...I love her..."
"Well that's all Gabrielle did. She wanted to protect the woman she loves from being insulted. She wasn't thinking about protocol or Amazon custom Xena. All she was thinking about was you." His image was starting to fade. "I have to go back, but promise me you'll think before you take an action that you will regret for the rest of you life?"
She was left with mixed feelings. Seeing her brother again was something she hadn't expected. What he said made sense to her, still there was something there nagging. something telling her that she had trusted Gabrielle as she had never trusted anyone and she had disgraced her by acting like she could no longer protect her. Looking back to where her brother's image had been there was nothing but empty space now. Had she imagined the whole thing? Just as she was starting to think that maybe going back to the Amazons wasn't such a good idea there was a flash of light in front of her. "Not suffering from doubts again are you?"
"Ares, I don't need this right now." She was trying to get a handle on her feelings and having Ares there to stir her anger wasn't going to help.
"Oh but I think you do Xena. Something tells me your starting to give in to your soft side again. I can't believe that you are even considering letting this go after what Gabrielle did to you...."
"What did she do Ares? I mean really? So she spoke up and used her position as Queen to stop someone from insulting and challenging me. did you ever think that maybe she did it out of love and concern for me?"
This was not going the way Ares had hoped. The only way that Xena was going to be completely his was if he could take the irritating little blond out of the picture. When his plan had first failed, or more to the point Callisto had failed to carry out his plan he had been furious. After he had time to reflect during his banishment he had been thankful though. He realized that the only way to make Xena open to her true destiny as he saw it was to get all this do gooding out of her system. In order to do that he had to poison her mind so thoroughly against Gabrielle that she would strike a killing blow. Only then would he let it be known that Gabrielle had not truly betrayed her, hopefully making her mad with grief over what she had done. With her mind in turmoil it would be nothing for him to manipulate her into once again becoming the Destroyer Of Nations. What he didn't count on was the things that made Xena the warrior she was, was her mind. It was going to take more than just a few suggested innuendos.
"Ok Xena I see it's going to take more to convince you I didn't want to do this but it's time to take out the big guns." Reaching his hand out to her he told her. "Come on, I'm going to take you to the Amazon village so you can see Gabrielle's betrayal for yourself."
"What are talking about Ares?"
He still wasn't sure how he was going to pull this off. But a plan had formed in his mind that would send Xena over the edge. "Gabrielle's betrayal went farther than you think. She has been unfaithful to you Xena. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life pining away over some faithless little harlot?"
"Gabrielle would never do that!" She declared as she rose to her feet, ready to strike Ares down for having the gaul to even suggest such a thing about her bard."
Extending his hand he prodded. "There's only one way to be sure isn't there? If I'm wrong I'll leave and let you two work things out, but if I'm right..." He let his words trail off. He could tell by her reaction that he had succeeded in planting doubts in her mind. This really was the first time he had outright lied to Xena, but if his plan worked it would have been worth it he reasoned.
She took his hand nodding, hoping against hope that what she would find there would prove him wrong.
Preparations were being made all around the village for Xena's arrival. Gabrielle had a lump in her throat as she moved through her duties. After talking with Falia her fears about Ares had been brought to the forefront again. Artimiss had seen this and expressed worry that Gabrielle would fall back on her plan to just end things with Xena and have them each move on with their own lives. She stood beside her choosen Queen now watching and waiting for her to speak, to give her some indication of what was going on in her mind. "I always hoped it would never come to this and at the same time I was always afraid it would."
"Your not saying?"
"No Artimiss, I'm not going to leave Xena. More importantly I'm not going to let her leave me. We were meant to be together but I have to make something very clear today. I need to make a statement to Ares that he has nothing left here as far is Xena is concerned. I know now that Xena can tell him to go away forever and it won't do any good. No he has to understand that he will never be able to take Xena back to the life she had before because I won't let him!"
The Moon Goddess smiled at her Queen. Who would have thought that this small village girl would have had the courage to be the leader of the entire Amazon nation and above all else capture the most fierce heart the world had ever seen. Falia came up to stand beside the two, she had been sentenced to her hut to reflect on the consequences of her actions. She knelt before her Queen bowing her head. "Your Majesty"
The last thing Gabrielle wanted to deal with right now was another Amazon custom, but she had little choice. When an Amazon had been sentenced to solitude to reflect on a crime or offense the had committed against the Nation there was never any time limit set. They were to remain in solitude with their thought until they felt they had come to an understanding of what their actions had caused. When they felt ready to accept judgment they were to come and kneel before the Queen. Amazon law dictated that the Queen hear them and pass judgment immediately. "You have come to understand your actions Falia?"
"Yes you Majesty, and I await you judgment."
"Before I pass judgment I have one question I would like you to answer." Falia raised her eyes to see Gabrielle's face it wasn't unheard of for a Queen to ask a question of the one to be sentenced before passing judgment, but it was rare. "Do you regret what you have done?"
A puzzled look came over her face. She had already told the Queen that she was sorry for her part in all of this. She didn't know what else she could say that would make a difference now. Something told her that a long speech was not what Gabrielle was looking for. She didn't want to hear some empty, hollow words. She was looking straight into her soul. She wanted to know that the girl had truly learned something from this. "Your Majesty...I don't have the words to tell you how sorry I am."
Reaching out her hand to the young girl she helped her rise to her feet. "It's clear to me Falia that you do regret your actions, and have learned from your mistakes. Therefore it is my sentence that you return to your position in the ranks of trainees. That you follow Solari's instruction in your training to the letter and that you become the best Amazon you can."
Relief flooded the young woman, she had expected a much harsher sentence from her Queen. She would not have been surprised to be banished from the village altogether. She was just about to declare her thanks for being given another chance when Gabrielle spoke again. "But make no mistake, if you prove me wrong in being given this chance I will make you regret it." She could tell by the look in Gabrielle's eyes that she would not be so lucky a second time.
She bowed, leaving the room without a word. Artimiss looked at her her choosen Queen with admiration. "You have come a long way Gabrielle. You showed mercy while still letting her know that this would not be allowed to continue."
"I've had a good teacher Artimiss."
The Goddess would have like to think the compliment was directed to her. But she knew that Gabrielle had meant her praise for the Warrior Princess. Without turning towards the young Queen, Artimiss continued to look out toward the horizon. "Aphrodite was right."
This was not what the bard was expecting to hear the were supposed to be making plans to prepare for Xena's arrival and here Artimiss was talking about something her sister was right about. "Excuse me? Did I miss something?"
"I said Aphrodite was right. Let's just say in the beginning I wasn't entirely thrilled with the fact that you had chosen Xena for your partner. I couldn't see my choosen with a bloodthirsty killer."
Gabrielle felt her anger rising. "That's not who Xena is! You should know that...You even saved her because you said that..."
Artimiss held up her hand to stop the flow that was coming from the bard. "I said I felt that way in the beginning. But Xena has more than proven she is worthy to stand beside you and serve as your champion, and your wife...."
The surprised look that crossed Gabrielle's features was not lost on the Goddess. "You knew?"
"Of course I knew, at least had a very strong suspicion. It was no secret on Olympus that Xena planned to ask for your hand. Now that I think of it that may be what prompted Ares to action. Not that his reasons matter now, the outcome is what is important. Just know this, when the time comes you and Xena have my blessing."
It didn't happen often, but the bard found herself at a loss for words. On impulse she reached out and hugged the Goddess that stood at her side. Artimiss returned the embrace, amazed again that the genuine feelings of this small mortal woman had the ability to touch even a Goddess so deeply. If the young Queen weren't so in love with the warrior....Oh well, she dismissed that thought as quickly as it occurred to her. The bard and warrior were destined to be together and she was here to make sure that happened. Unfortunately her timing was not the best at this moment.
Xena appeared in the doorway just in time to see Gabrielle and the Goddess embrace. She tried to swallow the fury that had risen in her. All the way here she had tried in her mind to argue away all the things Ares had said. She didn't want to believe that Gabrielle could have betrayed her in this way. Of course Ares had not said with whom, he really hadn't said anything solid to tell the truth. He had just heaped enough doubt on her that it started her mind going in all sorts of different directions. She felt the tear slid down her cheek as her hear shattered into a thousand pieces. She didn't want to believe it, but here was the proof right in front of her. Her Gabrielle, the light and love of her life in the arms of the Moon Goddess. "No wonder you lost faith in me! What do you need with me as a champion and protector when you have Artimiss herself in your arms and in your bed?"
To be continued Comments are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
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