Disclaimer: The following story makes a lot more sense if youve seen the 4th season episode "A Good Day"of the Universal/MCA-Renaissance Pictures TV show "Xena: Warrior Princess".
All copyrights acknowledged to belong to Universal/MCA-Renaissance Pictures. I've just borrowed the characters for a while. No harm intended.
This story contains occasional scenes of violence that might be considered a touch more graphic than the TV show it is based upon.
A Good Day To Die
By Mark Annetts
The cave echoed to the sound of grunts and steel ringing on steel. Three fighters struck at each other savagely. The two men involved were breathing hard and beginning to falter in their aim. The tall woman between them was looking bored, not attempting to hide the contempt she felt for her fellow combatants, none of them apparently aware of the eyes that followed their fight with glee.
Ares stood as far back in the shadows as possible. Even in the middle of a fight he knew the Warrior Princess might feel his presence and he didn't want that... yet.
He smirked with glee as he watched the stumbling efforts of two of Rome's finest in their vain attempts to match the peerless fighting skills of the Greek warrior. It was hardly surprising, he thought, she was quite simply the best in the world. They didn't stand a chance. Never did. Soon she would grow tired of this pathetic display and put a swift end to it. Rome would be two leaders down on the day. Quite what this would do for the unstable regime he could only speculate.
He was pulled from his thoughts with the realisation that the fighting had ceased. Caesar was saying something to Xena. Ares could tell from his arrogant stance that even in ignominious defeat at Xena's sword he was trying to goad her. The Roman was saying something about a trap that he'd sprung on Xena's troops. 'Ah, finally things are getting interesting,' he thought.
Xena fixed Caesar with an icy stare. She seemed momentarily unsure. 'Gods, Phalanagus and his men,' she thought, 'I must go and warn them. Damn you, Caesar, damn you!' Another thought struck her, too terrible to contemplate for a second, but then her iron calm settled itself once more as she considered the unthinkable. 'Gabrielle would recognise the ploy. She would be the only one.' Xena's stomach rolled over again as she knew in her heart that the bard could not, would not, let Phalanagus and his men lose the day to Caesar's trickery. She would urge them do Xena's bidding. To follow the plan, wherever that would lead them. She would trust Xena to be right. But now it was going to get them all killed. Xena's mind flipped. Suddenly she didn't care if her plan worked and the hateful Romans killed each other in this stupid civil war. None of it mattered if Gabrielle was the price. 'The greater good be damned to Tartarus!'
Without a backward glance she stalked from the cave. Caesar moved to strike at her unexpectedly exposed back but was stopped by a lunge from Pompey. Without Xena's control of the fight the two Romans flew at each other with renewed rage.
Ares moved closer now that the only mortal who could sense his hidden presence had left. He wanted to see who would win, they both seemed matched in their skills and strength. 'This should last quite some time,' he thought with relish.
* * *
The battle between the two opposing Roman armies raged. Gabrielle had been right, Caesar had laid a trap, but there was no alternative if Xena's battle plan was to succeed. They could not allow two warring armies to roam unchecked on Greek soil. If they didn't finish this now untold damage would be done. She had to do her duty. It was that simple.
Gabrielle lost count of the soldiers she'd put down with her staff. She swung her weapon with bone-crunching accuracy and beat away the angry swords that surrounded her. Her desire to fight had surprised her. She didn't expect to want this but as she jabbed her staff into the stomach of another Roman she experienced a kind of elation she rarely felt. Even in the terrible struggle of a grim fight to the death -- for she was under no illusions of the lethal intent of the Romans attacking her -- she had time to consider that in some small way this is what Xena must feel when fighting. She'd heard Xena chuckle and seen the feral grin as she toyed with her opponents. She noted the feeling and determined to ask Xena about it when this was all over.
* * *
Xena exploded onto the battlefield and swiftly dispatched four soldiers. The men around her gasped and began to back away. They knew the shadow of death had suddenly fallen among them as she stalked her prey relentlessly. To die for Rome was a noble cause, but to be cut down by this unstoppable force of nature was a fate none of them wished to meet.
For a moment she ceased her killing spree and screamed out a name. The anguish and fear in her voice was unexpected and disconcerting. None of them knew who this Gabrielle person was but they strongly suspected that whoever had her would not live too long. With no response to her call Xena grimaced and returned to her present task. With a sword in each hand she resumed her hastily conceived new battle plan. To kill them all. Every last one. Personally!
* * *
Gabrielle was tiring. Even she knew that. 'Had Xena been wrong? No, that just wasn't possible. She always succeeded, even cheating death if needs be. She would come and put everything right. Of course she would.' Gritting her teeth and ignoring the shake in her tired arms she lifted her staff to meet a vicious sword blow aimed at her head. The sword strike shook her tired shoulders to the limits of their endurance. Another blow like that and she might lose her grip. She concentrated and swung the end of the staff at her assailant. It caught him in the ribs, but his heavy armour took most of the blow. Angry at wasting precious energy on a futile attack she steadied herself for a more effective blow. She didn't notice the man approaching stealthily from behind.
* * *
The men had stopped trying to take on Xena and were backing away. At her feet lay the bodies and assorted body parts of at least six men, and a trail of some thirty marked her movement across the battlefield. Xena cursed, this was taking too long. Looking around she saw a member of Pompey's cavalry swinging his sword at the soldiers surrounding his horse. 'That's what I need, some height,' she thought, changing direction and marching purposefully towards the steed and its rider, both unaware of the ultimate predator that now bore down on them.
The men who saw her coming parted to let her through, but a few unfortunates had their backs to her, too busy concentrating on their own battles. With a snarl she hit one man on the back of his neck with the hilt of sword in her left hand. He collapsed soundlessly leaving his opponent startled. She growled at him and he dropped his sword putting his hands up, a look of terror spreading across his face . Another turned and took a swing at her with his sword, realising too late what a mistake he was making. Without even looking in his direction her right hand flashed in an arc and his head tumbled clear of his shoulders.
The soldiers attacking the cavalryman turned to look as the ranks of men close by them stopped fighting and moved out of the way of the Warrior Princess as she strode towards them, seemingly oblivious of the fact that they were in the middle of a pitched battle. The look of determination, the flaring nostrils, the piercing blue eyes, the down-turned mouth which only changed expression to snarl, all confirmed what they all already knew. She couldn't be stopped, not even with an army.
As the path cleared between Xena and the horse she dropped one of the swords she was carrying and sheathed her own in one fluid movement. Stepping up her pace to a quick jog she let rip a war cry that sent shivers down the spines of all those present. With three short paces she launched into the air in a gravity-defying arc and landed on the back of the horse behind its startled rider.
"Get off now," she growled into his ear. He didn't need to be encouraged further and lifted his leg over and dismounted, dropping the reigns as he slid off. "Good decision," she spoke, without looking down. She kneed the horse forward and then swung in a tight circle, intently scanning all around her. There, in the distance, maybe a hundred paces away she could see a small Roman soldier surrounded by opposing soldiers, all of them trying to get within striking range but being kept at bay with an Amazon fighting staff. Long blond hair swirled about the bard's shoulders as she spun around, keeping them all beyond the reach of her weapon.
At that moment Xena thought it was the most beautiful thing in all the world in spite of the incongruous Roman helmet obscuring the head of her beloved Gabrielle. Kicking the horse into a gallop that would brook no challenge, she drew her sword once more as she prepared to cut a swathe through the fighting men that stood between her and her soulmate.
Cutting down savagely to her left and right as she urged her horse on, Xena never let her eyes move from the circle of men surrounding Gabrielle. She screamed her name again, but this time even more frantically. A man was approaching Gabrielle with his sword raised, and she didn't seem to know he was there. Xena watched in horror as the man's sword arm crashed down on her back. Gabrielle went rigid for a moment and then fell to her knees, dropping her staff. Xena screamed, "No!" and kicked the horse hard in the flanks, willing it to go faster. To her right she saw Phalanagus take aim with a spear at the soldier standing over Gabrielle. The spear launched and flew towards its target. "Oh, gods, no!" Xena gasped as she saw that the spear was not going to reach its target fast enough. The man stabbed down with his sword and impaled the bard through the stomach.
* * *
Gabrielle, stunned from the unexpected blow from behind, instinctively rolled onto her back and looked up. The soldier towered above her, his sword pointing down towards her. He held it in both hands and raised it slightly to add power to his thrust. 'I'm sorry, Xena,' was all she could think as the sword plunged down into her exposed stomach.
The pain ripped through her with a burning intensity that she scarcely thought possible. In spite of her attempts to stop it, a wailing cry of pain erupted form her lips. She closed her eyes and tried to move but the sword was pinning her to the ground. She involuntarily grasped the sword and tried to pull it out, to cast it out of her and somehow end the unbearable pain.
The soldier impassively removed it and made to plunge it down again. Gabrielle froze, expecting the death blow. She didn't look away but stared straight into her killer's eyes. The man hesitated a moment, acknowledging the courage displayed by the young woman who had kept them all at bay for so long.
He nodded in recognition and began to thrust down again with his sword. He stopped and jerked in surprise, an arrow lodged in his chest. An eye blink later a spear hit him in the abdomen. He staggered back and dropped his sword. He would have fallen at that point had it not been for a blur of horse and rider swooping by. The top of his body lifted clear of his chest and spun away into the crowd of nearby fighters. The topless body sagged and fell on top of Gabrielle, blood and intestines spilling out over her chest and neck.
Gabrielle flinched in horror and rolled over spitting and retching, frantically scrabbling to wipe the mess off, her own wound temporarily forgotten. The horse wheeled around and came to a stop by her as she unsteadily got to her feet, still trying to get the blood off.
Xena leaned down and held out a hand for Gabrielle to grab. Tears of relief flooded out as she reached up and held onto the strong arm offered to her. She felt herself pulled effortlessly up onto the horse. Xena kicked again and the horse took off. Several sword swipes, and a few well placed kicks, saw the three of them break free from the battlefield and heading for the tree line.
Xena rode the horse hard, wishing it was Argo underneath them. The horse was big and strong though and carried them at top speed for a couple of miles, at a full gallop, away from the fighting.
Eventually Xena pulled the horse to a trot and then a stop at a small glade in the woods. "Xena, thank you for rescuing me," Gabrielle whispered. She couldn't help it any more, she slumped bonelessly onto Xena's back. She would have slid off the horse if Xena hadn't held her fast. The warrior dropped out of the saddle and caught the unconscious bard in her arms. Blood was running thickly down Gabrielle's legs. Xena noted that the back and side of the horse was slick with it too. Lowering the bard gently to the floor she removed the leather armour that Gabrielle was wearing and pulled up her short tunic to reveal the extent of the damage.
The wound was half a fist wide. Xena closed her eyes and trembled. Biting the inside of her cheek, she forced herself to focus. Putting one hand on the wound to staunch the blood flow, she gently rolled Gabrielle onto her side. A wound of equal proportion marred her perfect back. Xena groaned out loud. She knew what the most likely outcome of such a wound would be. Even if she managed to stitch up the wounds there would be terrible internal injury and Gabrielle had already suffered too much blood loss. Tears blurred her eyes. Her soulmate was dying and there was nothing she could do about it.
* * *
The few field dressings she'd found in the cavalryman's saddlebags had been applied to Gabrielle's wounds, but they were a delaying tactic at best. They would afford an hour's more life to the bard, but nothing more.
Xena gently picked her friend up and propped her against a fallen tree trunk. Her hands shook as she carefully pushed Gabrielle's golden hair behind her ears.
"It's bad, isn't it?" Gabrielle whispered. Xena looked into those green eyes and felt an uncontrollable tear run down her cheek. Too choked to speak she just nodded and closed her eyes, praying that it wasn't so.
"Hey, Xena, don't cry. Come, sit with me. Let's sit peacefully and watch the sun set one last time."
"Oh, my sweet Gabrielle." Xena could barely rasp the words past a closed throat. Xena sat next to her and the bard sighed and laid her head on the warrior's shoulder.
"I knew this day would come sooner or later. I had hoped later, to be honest, but now that it's here I don't fear it." Xena felt her heart tear at Gabrielle's quiet courage. She rested her cheek lightly on the bard's head and started to sob softly.
"Gabrielle, I've known for a long time you were sent to me from the gods. You have been my light, my path, my guide. But... I have so many debts to repay... so much blood on my hands. I knew that one day I would pay. It looks like today I must finally pay my dues."
"Shhh, don't dwell on such things, just sit and hold me as we watch the sunset together." Neither said anything for an hour, two friends just enjoying each other's company at the end of a long day.
"Xena, you will keep your promise, won't you?" The warrior gently tilted her friend's face to look into her eyes.
"Which one, my friend?" Gabrielle regarded Xena for a moment and smiled sadly. The pain behind the blue eyes was almost more that she could bear.
"I once asked you not to become a monster. You won't will you, you will honour me by not seeking vengeance? Let it go, Xena, just let it go." Xena closed her eyes and pushed down the blackness that swirled deep down in her soul.
"I... I don't know if I have the strength for that, Gabrielle. Without you I'll be lost." Gabrielle remained silent for few moments.
"Xena, you promised. I've never known you to break a promise to me before and I'd rather you didn't start now," she said quietly. Xena looked into the steady green eyes before her and saw nothing but conviction and trust.
"I won't break my promise... I couldn't, even if I wanted to. Not to you, you know that." Gabrielle smiled again and gently kissed Xena on the her tear streaked cheek.
"I know my princess." Xena looked out across the meadow and watched the last rays of the sun break through a hole in the cloud. A beam illuminated them unexpectedly. Xena turned back to look at Gabrielle. Her eyelids were drooping but the sudden sun lit up her blonde hair and bathed her in a wondrous glow.
"I love you," was all the bard said, as her eyelids flickered shut.
"And I love you, too, Gabrielle," Xena whispered, though she knew the bard couldn't hear her any more. Xena reached up and carefully tucked the limp head of her soulmate on to her shoulder and watched the last fleeting remnants of the sun as it dropped below the horizon. Xena rolled her head back and wailed a scream of anguish that proclaimed the dying of her own soul.
For many hours Xena did nothing but hold her lifeless friend's body. Then the racking uncontrollable sobs came. Eventually she cried herself to sleep, her mind shutting down under the pressure of irredeemable grief.
* * *
The morning sun found her still seated against the tree trunk holding Gabrielle. She stared sightlessly as the sun began to rise. Nothing mattered any more. Her normally sharp mind was blanked in a shroud of despair. Thinking anything seemed like too much trouble. A blue crackling light began to coalesce before her and finally resolved itself into a familiar shape.
Ares looked down at the two women. He sighed and squatted down in Xena's line of sight. She barely registered his presence.
"Hey, Xena, if it means anything, I really am sorry." It was spoken in a surprisingly gentle manner. "I'd almost gotten to like the girl, you know," he said, smiling.
Xena blinked and considered what he'd said. She slowly turned to meet his eyes. Ares saw the unblinking stare and then looked down at the floor, embarrassed.
"Come to gloat?"
"Now don't be like that, Xena. I already told you I was sorry and I meant it." Xena raised an eyebrow as she saw he was telling her the truth. "So what are your plans? You gonna raise an army and finally teach those clowns in Rome the true meaning of power?" he said, grinning.
Xena looked away. "Sorry, Ares, but I made a promise and I won't break it for anyone, least of all you," she said with conviction. Ares looked at her for a long moment before acknowledging his quick defeat.
"I don't suppose you'd let me bring her back?" Xena's head snapped back to look directly at the God of War.
"Don't you dare," she growled. Ares recognised the tone and flinched involuntarily. Even being a god didn't protect him from his body's automatic reaction to the threat that was rolling from Xena like a wave.
'This is ridiculous!' he fumed to himself, 'she's a mortal. For Zeus' sake, pull yourself together. She can't harm you... can she?' added a small voice in his brain, suddenly unsettling him. "All right, but you know I had to ask."
"Gabrielle would rather stay dead than be beholden to you again, and so would I!" her voice rose in anger.
Ares took a step back and held up hands. "No problem, there'll be other times, other places. We can discuss this again then."
Xena's top lip lifted in a sneer. "No, Ares, no there won't."
"Yeah, there will, just give it time. In a season or two you'll be over her. We'll discuss it then." He was just about to return to his palace when something in Xena's expression made him stop. "Xena, what are you thinking?" he asked softly.
She turned to look at him again. Without saying a word she carefully positioned Gabrielle on the ground beside her. She leaned over the body and kissed it on the cheek and whispered, "I'll be with you soon, my love." She pulled a dagger from her boot and ran her thumb over its razor sharp edge, nodding at its readiness for the job ahead.
"Watch and learn the true meaning of love, Ares. I made Gabrielle another promise. I said I'd never leave her, even in death."
Ares saw what she was about to do and shouted, "No!" waving his hand. All around them the world stopped. The whispering trees were stilled, the grass had stopped waving in the breeze, the birds hung motionless in mid-flight.
He took a step towards the frozen warrior. "Damn your speed, Xena," he moaned as he saw the blade was already buried deeply into the warrior's wrist. Even more unbelievably her other wrist was already slashed and a jet of blood was squirting out. He hadn't even seen her change hands on the knife, she had moved that fast.
"By the gods, I swear you'll be the death of me." He tenderly brushed his thumb across the open wound. Her blood splashed to the ground, released from its frozen state by his touch, but at the same time the deep wound sealed and disappeared as if it had never been. He pulled the knife from her other wrist and sealed that wound too. Looking into her motionless face he could see the look of triumph in her eyes. His heart sank as he knew that even if he resealed her wounds a hundred times he couldn't sit and watch her forever. She was going to reclaim her place beside the bard no matter what.
"Okay, you win. Consider this a... gift of love." He stood up and closed his eyes, spreading his arms wide. A blue beam of light shot from his body up into the sky. A sphere of blue light formed around him and hovered for a second. There was a thunderous detonation and the sphere of light exploded outward.
* * *
The soldier crept up behind the fighter who had kept them at bay for so long. With the butt of his sword he hit the fighter on the back of the head and watched as his quarry fell to the ground, stunned.
Gabrielle shook her head and looked around, puzzled. 'What... where...? she thought. Her steady grip on her staff momentarily reassured her. Must've got a blow to my head, or something.' Coming out of her daze she looked across the battle field and was shocked to see a Roman standing over Phalanagus, about to strike down at him with his raised sword.
"No!" she screamed. It was all happening in slow motion. Looking down she found a dropped spear at her feet. She looked up again and saw the soldier was about to deliver a killing blow. She picked up the spear, whispering to herself, "I'm so sorry," and hurled it with all her might.
Ares stood close by and sighed. He wasn't visible to any of the mortals. 'Gabrielle, your sense of righteousness can be a little... irritating at times but, I'm sorry, Hades has to have somebody to take your place.' With a wave of his hand the spear altered its path and fell ineffectually on the ground some way away from the hapless Phalanagus. He heard Gabrielle's anguished cry of disbelief and shrugged, grinning.
* * *
The battle had been fought and won. The Greeks were the winners, the Romans the losers. Xena came and stood next to Gabrielle. She wished she could take some of Gabrielle's pain away.
"I could have saved him, you know," the bard said sadly, staring into the flames of the funeral pyre.
Ares, standing well back so as not to arouse Xena's annoying sixth sense, smiled to himself. 'If only you knew, Gabrielle,' he thought. He heard Xena tell her soulmate that all they could do was say that "Today had been a good day for fighting."
He nodded to himself. 'Yeah, it wasn't bad I suppose.' He felt unaccustomedly stiff and sore. Reversing the flow of time had reduced even his considerable power and he winced as he rotated his shoulder. 'One day, Xena, I'll be yours... no, I mean you'll be mine.' He thought about this a moment and chuckled. 'Guess I was right first time,' he mused. He looked across from Xena to the bard. A thought unbidden drifted into his mind. 'Two wives?' He shuddered at the image. But not in an unpleasant way he realized. If he wanted Xena as his wife, he knew Gabrielle would have to come too. They were two halves of a whole, after all.
It had been a good day, but more than that a very lucky day. 'Right place, right time. But one day, Xena, I won't be there to protect you both.' He watched a moment longer at the two extraordinary women. "Till the next time," he murmured softly, and with that winked out.
Xena felt his presence leave them. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she'd somehow outsmarted Ares once again. She'd done something to force him into something he didn't want to do, but quite what it was she couldn't remember. She felt it had been a terrible gamble, but not knowing exactly what it had been was frustrating her, to say the least.
For some reason the need to hold Gabrielle was suddenly overwhelming. She put her arm around her companion and pulled her into a familiar hug. 'Yes, it had been a good day, all things considered.'
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