To Rescue A Friend: Part Four by Katelin B. email@example.com --See Part One for disclaimers and warnings. --okay everyone, this is it.... the final part of the first book in Death Of A Nation. I hope everyone has enjoyed this journey, and please let me know if I should continue with this extremely time consuming story *laugh* Im currently working on a separate story of the Uber variety, so if you dont want the rest of this... youre liable to get that... but Ill try to finish it before I post it... enough of this kidnapping stuff!!! I love my computer, but I really dont enjoy being chained to it! *grin* .....and awa-a-a-a-a-y we go!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
..... from Part Three..... You expect trouble, Majesty? the guard asked, feeling a little more confident. Of course, Metreus replied, turning around to smile at the guard, Do you really think this little Queen whats-her-name, will let her Regent and the great warrior princess sit in my dungeon, without trying to rescue them? No, Sire, the guard said automatically. Good, I didnt think you were that stupid. Double the guards after our guests arrive. I dont want them to think Im afraid of those Amazons. And make sure the prisoners are in leg irons when they are brought up to the Great Hall. I dont want any mistakes. Those two have already killed two guards. I dont think you want to see what theyll do to you if they get away. Metreus paused to glare at the trembling guard. And you really dont want to see what Ill do to you if they get away. Yes, Sire! the guard barked loyally, and spun around, nearly running from the room to carry out the Kings orders. Metreus watched him go, chuckling to himself before turning back to the mirror and resuming his primping. He thought about the wooden beams he had the men put up in the center of the Hall and smiled, imagining Regent Ephiny and Xena tied between them for the duration of the feast. Its going to be a wonderful party, he thought, and whistled a little tune as he finished preparing for the arrival of his guests. Yes, indeed, he murmured aloud, A wonderful party. The guards outside the Kings chambers spared a glance at each other as they heard the roaring laughter drift through the heavy oak door. .....and now..... the Conclusion..... When Ephiny woke, she was disoriented from the head wound and blinked rapidly to clear her vision. She had no idea how long she had slept, until she glanced up at the barred window, and saw the dusky color of the sky. Sunset, she murmured, stretching and rolling her neck as much as possible, working out the stiffness from too many candlemarks leaning against cold stone. The Regent looked down at Xena, still cradled in her aching arms and frowned. Worry cleared her sleep fogged mind and she lifted a tingling hand to the warriors forehead. Her face showed deep concern at the increase in temperature she detected. Reaching for the water bucket and the rag within, Ephiny tried to get Xena to open her eyes just long enough to drink something. There were no herbal remedies in sight, but Ephiny knew the constant sweating was dehydrating the warrior. Xena, the Regent whispered, shaking her a little, Come on, Xena. Open your eyes. When she received no answer, Ephiny shook her harder and spoke a little more forcefully, ordering the warrior princess to wake up. Still seeing no reaction, the blonde Amazon resorted to desperate measures. Xena! she snapped, jostling her roughly, Wake up! She was aware from the discoloration that the dark haired warriors arm was broken, and from the way she had winced and whimpered earlier, possibly her ribs as well, but all of that was secondary to death from dehydration. Damn you to Tartarus, Xena! she barked, slapping the unconscious woman across the face, Dont you make me tell Gabrielle that I let you die! Tears sprung to the Regents eyes as the hopelessness of the entire situation hit her. She was just about to give up and lower the warrior to the floor of their cell when she heart it. A soft moan, barely audible over Ephinys own sniffling, reached her ears. So low was the weak sound, that at first, the Amazon thought she had imagined it, and held her breath, waiting. ... gab... rielle... The broken, whispered word was music to Ephinys ears, and the tears rolled down her cheeks. Not in despair, but in relief that the warrior was still alive. Even if she has only holding on by a thread. Atropos, Ephiny pleaded silently to the old crone of the three Fates, hold off your shears a while longer. Dont snip this life short, for she still has much more to do. Xena? she said out loud, smoothing the wisps of hair off the warriors sweaty forehead, Can you hear me? A long moment later, Xenas lips parted slowly, though her eyes remained shut. Gabrielle, she whispered, the mere thought of the bard giving her the strength to respond. For her part, Ephiny decided to give the warrior some added incentive and took the role of pretending to be the little bard. Yes, Xena, she spoke softly as she had seen Gabrielle do when soothing the injured, Its me. A slight smile appeared on Xenas face at the words, her fevered mind noticing nothing, save the voice and the gentle arms cradling her. Gabrielle, she said again, though her voice was much clearer than before. The strength alone in the warriors voice amazed Ephiny, knowing how weak she really was, but she tried not to let it come through in her voice. Xena, she ventured again, brushing a soothing hand over the warriors high cheekbone, another gesture she had picked up from the bard, You need to drink something, okay? I have water here. She noticed the slight movement in Xenas eyebrows, drawing them closer together in a frown and added quickly; Please try. For me? The frown vanished just as quickly as it had appeared, and Ephiny breathed a sigh of relief. Lifting the soaking rag out of the bucket, the Regent clenched it in her fist to squeeze out most of the water before bringing it to Xenas lips. Here we go, Xena, she encouraged gently, squeezing the rag again and watching the trickle of water pass the warriors parted lips, Just a little at a time, okay? Ephiny watched Xenas throat contract as she swallowed, the action getting quicker and more fluid each time. She studied the warriors expression as she resoaked the rag, wanting to gauge when she could drink no more. Her soft smile widened the third time she had to refresh the rag, seeing Xenas mouth, open and waiting for more. Xena hadnt realized, in her fevered state, just how thirsty she was until the cool water passed her lips. She gladly accepted every drop she was given, her throat ceasing to burn after the third swallow, and she drank faster. When the rag had been squeezed dry for the third time, Ephiny decided it was enough for now and told Xena so, as she dropped the blanket corner back into the bucket. The Regent smiled a little when she saw that tiny frown emerge again and tried to soothe the warrior with her voice. Im sorry, Xena, she spoke softly, brushing her fingers across that fevered cheek again, I dont want you to over do it, and get sick. You can have more in a little while, okay? Ephiny was relieved to see the frown fade again, and this time, a slow nod of acceptance. Im sorry, Gabrielle, Xenas weak voice broke the momentary silence, a pained look crossing her flushed face. For what, Xena? was Ephinys reply, trying to use Gabrielles inflections. Even though Xena was fevered and near hallucination, the Regent wasnt going to take any unnecessary chances just to satisfy her peaking curiosity at the warriors statement. Not getting us out of here, Xena replied so softly that Ephiny had to strain her hearing to catch it all. Xena, I know you did everything you could, Ephiny said, trying to soothe the injured woman as she hugged her gently. Not enough, she rasped, chastising herself even in her weakened state, Gabrielle, I... She trailed off. What is it, Xena? Ephiny prodded gently, You know you can tell me anything. The warriors brow creased again and Ephiny thought she had been found out. I love you, Gabrielle, the reply finally came, shocking the blonde Amazon enough that her eyes felt like they were going to pop right out of her head. Finally Ephiny regained her composure long enough to gently whisper what she was sure the warrior needed to hear. I love you too, Xena, she said, and impulsively leaned over to place a soft kiss on the sweaty forehead. Xena smiled a little in relief, her features then relaxing along with her body, as she began dropping off to sleep again. The Regent listened as the warriors breathing evened out and deepened, rocking her until she was sure Xena was asleep. Ephiny was reaching for the rag again, to bathe the warriors fevered skin, when the sound of creaking hinges reached her ears. Knowing that the guards were returning, Ephiny disentangled herself from Xena and stood over her, putting her own body protectively between the injured warrior and the door of their cell. She had no idea why they would come back after what happened to the last two guards, but tensed her body for a fight, never the less. Remember to make sure the cuffs are secure, a young guard was instructing the two who followed, If they get loose, King Metreus will flay us all in the courtyard. He stopped speaking when he reached the door of the cell, fixing the blonde Amazon with a steely glare. Ephiny returned the look and tried not to show her surprise when the guard failed to react to the deadly expression. She held her position, not backing away when he unlocked and flung open the door. The Regent clenched her fists, ready to fight when they approached her, but made no move until the nearest guard tried to go around her to get to Xena. Ephiny stepped in front of him, arms raised and snarled. Leave her alone, she ordered, trying to look more confident than she felt, Take me instead. The burly guard hesitated for only a moment before lashing out with a powerful backhand. She tried to block it, bringing up an arm to protect her face, but the blow was so strong that she was knocked off balance and pinwheeled her arms so she wouldnt fall. Before Ephiny could right herself, hands wrenched her arms down and she could feel the cold touch of iron shackles circling her wrists. Looking down at her bound hands, the Regent strained to free herself as the chains were attached to ankle cuffs that were swiftly locked on as well. A noble effort, Amazon, her captor spat as she watched her previous attacker lock similar restraints on Xena, But King Metreus wants you both on display for his dinner guests. A hand seized her hair and half dragged her out of the cell, not pausing even when the Regents feet tangled in the chains, causing her to stumble. Ephiny grunted as her hair was yanked roughly, and scrambled to get her feet back under her body. Looking back over her shoulder, the Regent watched helplessly, as she was hauled along, the remaining two guards drag Xenas unconscious body out of the cell, her feet scraping across the floor. Knowing there was nothing she could say to change their minds, Ephiny remained silent, refusing to shame herself by begging. They paused to unlock the dungeon door, and the blonde Amazon bowed her head, mentally preparing for what was to come. Artemis, please give me the courage to die well, she prayed reverently, squeezing her eyes shut. The Regent remained like that until a large hand in the middle of her back shoved her forward. Ephiny regained her footing and took a deep breath, holding her head high with true Amazon bravery. Keeping her mind on her fallen sisters, she strode forward, not seeing the stunned expression of the guard who had been roughly escorting her. Her proud stature was something he had not expected, and it took him a moment to lose the dumb stare on his face. Entering the main hall, Ephiny noticed the servants preparing for the feast, setting the many tables with silver dishes. She ignored it when they all stopped, looking up at her with a mixture of awe and wonder on their faces, and focused on remaining proud and unshakable. It was something she had been taught in her warrior training when she was a girl. Never let the enemy know youre afraid, even when youre seeing them from the sharp end of their blades. She shocked the gawking crowd again but moving of her own will to the center of the room where four wooden posts had been driven into the floor, standing calmly between two of them. Ephiny knew what they were for, and kept her stony expression as her captor unlocked and reshackled each of her limbs to the posts, chaining her spread eagle to the posts. When the guard stepped back to admire his handiwork, the Regent couldnt contain her anger any longer. She spit in his face, causing him to jerk away, cursing softly. Ephiny heard his fellow guards laughing at him, and set her face into a stony warrior mask, betraying none of her emotions. She tried to appear disinterested when he stepped back up to her, wiping the spittle from his face and painfully gripping her chin, forcing her to look in his eyes. When this feast is over, you and I are going to have some fun, whore, he hissed, kissing her roughly before backing away. Unable to stay impartial after that insult, the Regent growled, her upper lip curling. Be sure to take a bath first, big man, she snarled, flexing her arms to show off her healthy biceps, I dont want my hands to slip on the grime when I break your neck. Ephiny watched his face turn red with fury, but was mildly shocked when he didnt hit her. She had expected it, and had even mentally prepared for it. Slowly she came to realize that he did want to hit her, but something held him back. The Regent guessed that Metreus had told them not to beat herself or Xena, and decided she was right as he turned and stormed away. Only when he was out of eyesight did she relax, but only a fraction. The blonde Amazon wanted to be ready for anything, whether it be a beating or a rescue, she couldnt afford not to pay attention to even the smallest of details. For some time, Ephiny watched silently as the servants puttered about the room, setting tables and arranging trays. She didnt know how long she stood there, chained spread eagle to the wooden posts, but her arms were going numb from being held over her head for too long. The Regent hated waiting even when she was in the village, but this was worse. Several glances over at Xena told her that the warrior princess wasnt any more aware of where she was than she had been when the guards shackled her. Gods, I hope shes still alive, Ephiny thought grimly, noticing how still the dark woman really was. Knowing there was nothing she could do, the blonde Amazon bowed her head and tried to rest. Something told her that she was going to need it. ***** As afternoon progressed to evening, Gabrielle tried to find things to occupy herself. When staring at the fire had begun to bother her eyes, the young Queen took up her fighting staff, twirling it expertly. After exhausting herself, Gabrielle busied her hands by caring for Argo. She spent nearly a full candlemark brushing her down, after fastening on a nose bag full of grain. Gabrielle had never understood why Xena talked to the golden steed so often. Now she knew. It was comforting. Being near Argo, brought Gabrielle closer to Xena. With each gentle pass of the brush, the bards soft voice sounded, making the war-horses ears twitch. The little bard could tell Argo her fears and secrets, never having to worry that anyone else would find out, and receive some measure of comfort from the noble steed. Jayla had remained by the fire since their meal, watching the Queen protectively. She poked at the burning logs with a stick, making it crackle and pop, while her eyes left Gabrielle for only a moment to scan the tree line for danger. Her ears perked up at the sound of a snapping twig, and a cautious hand came to rest on the hilt of her belt dagger. If given a clear shot, Jayla could impale a butterfly from fifty paces with her throw, and often had in her training as a young girl. Several moments passed and not a sound was heard, but the Amazon guard stayed ready. If there was someone approaching, they could have seen her gesture and were trying to wait her out. But Jayla was infinitely patient in these matters, and made it look like she was disinterested, still poking at the fire. Her hawk like eyes darted from the trees to her Queen, wanting her closer in case of attack, but knowing there was no way to get her attention without alerting whoever might be in the woods. Reaching for another log to throw on the fire, Jayla froze for only a moment at the sound of leaves rustling. There was no breeze on this day, and leaves did not move on their own. To her credit, the Amazon recovered quickly, and closed her hand around a rather large piece of wood, waiting for the sound again. When it came, Jayla focused on it quickly and pinpointed the attackers position, her entire body tensing. Without warning, she rolled sideways off the log she was sitting on and threw the makeshift weapon like a dagger. The strength she put into the throw was enough to send the heavy piece of wood end over end into the surrounding forest, as if it were as light as one of her knives. She heard it connect with a solid thump and then the muffled cursing that followed it. Jayla paused for a moment, kicking Tirin and Valeris awake with more force than necessary, once she had rolled back to her feet. When she heard the voice of the man she had hit, and recognized it, she cursed as well. Loudly. Heras left tit!! she shouted, storming forward to the edge of the clearing, Kraylor, that better not be you! A soft grunt of pain reached her hears and then a clear voice. What if it is, Amazon? he grumped, not in the best of moods all of a sudden. He was trying to be quiet, as Tyldus had ordered, and what did he get for his trouble? A log hurtled at his forehead. Jayla tried to keep calm, but the seriousness of the situation was making her temper boil. Kraylor, what are you doing sneaking around our camp? she barked, fists clenched at her sides. Enough, Jayla. Gabrielle put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently in reassurance. She had turned when her Amazon guard launched herself into the roll, and snatched up her staff, preparing for a fight. The bard had seen everything, opting to stay back until she noticed how angry Jayla was at the centaurs innocent mistake. She was more than a little relieved when the young Amazon obeyed her order and backed off. Kraylor, come out here, she said sternly, leaning on her staff. The centaur slowly emerged from the forest, a sheepish look on his face. Hello Queen Gabrielle, he said softly, rubbing the, already forming, welt above his right eye. Hello Kraylor, she returned, trying to smile a little, I hope you learned your lesson about sneaking up on Amazons. He said nothing, but nodded vigorously, wincing at the pain in his head. He walked further into the clearing once he decided that Jayla wasnt going to pounce on him for startling her. She still wore a look that spoke volumes about his pain if he ever did that to her again, and he looked away quickly, not wanting to make things any worse. Kraylor knew everyone was tense from the war, and fighting amongst themselves wasnt going to get it won. Where are the others? Gabrielle asked, reaching up to tend the injury. Waiting by the north gate for your command, he answered, wincing again, but biting his tongue to keep from complaining. The young centaur knew it had been his own fault, and wanted to let the matter drop before all of his friends were told about how he messed up. Tyldus sent me to let you know that we met up with about thirty of your warriors on the way here. Something big is happening in the castle tonight. There are a lot of important looking men arriving. He thought you should know, he added, realizing by the shocked expression on the bards face that she had not known her Amazons were approaching, And Im supposed to bring the message back of when to attack. Gabrielle thought hard for a moment, anger warring with relief that her sisters had come to her aid. She didnt want the Amazons fighting for revenge, as they seemed to be doing. That was the reason they had been at war with the centaurs for so long before she and Xena had fixed things. But on the other hand, feeling the burning rage in her heart from knowing her warrior was in danger... How could she presume to teach her people forgiveness when she, herself, wanted Metreus head on a pike. Finally looking up at the young centaur, Gabrielle forced the worried frown off her face. Attack at full dark, she ordered, looking up quickly at the sky, Theres a crescent moon tonight, so youll have the advantage. No heroics, just distract them. Kraylor nodded solemnly and stamped his forefoot unconsciously. What about you, Queen Gabrielle? he asked, What will you four be doing? A darkness fell on the bards features as she stared at him, her eyes boring into his so intently that he flinched. Her hand tightened on her staff until her knuckles were white with strain and her lips curled back into a snarl. Im going to get Xena back, she growled through teeth clenched so hard that he could see her jaw muscles working. More than a little worried at the sudden change in the Queens temperament, Kraylor bit back anything he was going to say and simply nodded. Another quick look at the fierceness in her eyes and he departed with his message, kicking up the loose dirt as he sprang into a canter. Jayla watched him go, and strained her ears to hear the sounds of his hoof beats as he rushed away. Only when her keen hearing could no longer distinguish those noises from the natural ones of the forest, did she turn and head back to the fire, keeping one protective eye on her Queen. Resuming her meticulous poking of the fire with the stick she had dropped, Jayla thought about Gabrielles actions in the last few moments and wondered. She had never seen the Queen so angry, and she was startled to discover that it frightened her a little. She had only seen rage of that magnitude in one other person. And that was the woman that Gabrielle was going to rescue. The Amazon guard looked up as the Queen took her previously abandoned place across from her at the fire and breathed an almost silent sigh of relief that her face had resumed its somewhat normal worried expression. But there was something else there as well. It took Jayla a few moments to pin it down, but when she did, it surprised her more than the rage had. Guilt. Her Queen looked as though she felt guilty for her actions. Jayla noticed the twitch in Gabrielles neck muscles, signaling that she was about to lift her head and quickly focused on the fire again before the Queen could lock gazes with her. It wasnt her place to question the Queens actions, and she didnt want it to be taken that way. She knew that if Gabrielle wanted to tell her something, she would. And it would do no good to hold her breath until that happened. Sometimes the bard talked to her, and sometimes she didnt. After a few moments of silence, she realized that this was one of the times when she wouldnt and concentrated on the fire, watching the sparks float into the air from broken coals. Well have to leave in a candlemark, Gabrielle muttered quietly, her voice betraying her guilt and worry. Yes, my Queen, Jayla responded with a slight nod, never breaking her gaze with the dancing orange flames. She knew Tirin and Valeris had also heard the redheads words and nodded as well, though they remained silent. Jayla checked the tint of the sky to set the time and went back to studying the fire, her mind racing with backup plans, and the image of Gabrielles rage filled eyes.
In the main dining hall, situated on a raised dais, high ranking members sat at the cloth covered table, looking down at the lesser men, joining in the feast. In the center of the table, Metreus raised his glass, a smug smile on his face, as his military officers cheered and toasted him yet again. He bore it all with amused tolerance, knowing that his men felt the need to honor him for defeating the Amazons. His eyes shifted once again to the center pieces of his feast, grinning widely at the humiliation he knew the Regent Queen must be feeling. Chunks of bread and fruits of various size and weight lay scattered at her bound feet, having landed there after bouncing, sometimes painfully, off her body. Her head was hung low in defeat, and she stared at the floor, barely flinching at the food being pelted at her. Despite the fact that Xena hadnt moved since being brought up from the dungeon, and seemed to be either unconscious or dead, Metreus was fairly pleased with the admiration he was shown for capturing the two leaders. The self made King chuckled slightly at the recent memory of his guests reactions when they entered the hall, seeing the mighty Amazon Queen and Warrior Princess trussed up on display. The warlords and generals had been so impressed, that Metreus couldnt bring himself to admit that the blonde was only the Regent Queen. Let them think what they want, he had mused with a grin, his chest swelling with pride at every congratulatory handshake or slap on the back he was given by his allies. Metreus knew he had succeeded where even the best had failed. He had defeated the Amazons in battle. No sneaking around like with his other enemies; they had fallen under the sheer force of his army. Not even the Centaurs had been able to capture their Queen. Metreus smiled and sipped his wine again, an idea forming in his twisted mind. Sire, a soft voice whispered in his ear, and he turned to see one of the courtyard men leaning toward him, We have a problem. Take care of it, Metreus hissed back, smiling for the benefit of his guests. But, Majesty, the guard protested, his voice an urgent whisper in the Kings ear, Its the Amazons... Metreus cut him off with a wave. I said, take care of it, he grumbled, a promise of punishment in his eyes if the guard didnt stop bothering him. Yes Sire, he muttered and hopped down off the dais, hurrying away with one quick glance over at the Regent Queen. He didnt want to be strung up in the dungeon for being the bearer of bad news, and even though he wasnt sure he could handle the problem on his own, he wasnt going to press the issue with the King. Many men in his troop alone had met with an untimely end simply for saying But Sire too many times. He seriously doubted that he would survive the fighting that was sure to come with the Amazons having teamed up with the Centaurs, so he no longer had to worry about getting on the Kings bad side. He knew their only chance was to reinforce the north guard, and he rushed to tell his commander just that. Metreus watched the guard scurry away like the vermin he was and turned back to the festivities. His bad mood forgotten when he thought he saw the Warrior Princess move her head ever so slightly. The King excused himself from the table and left the dais, slowly walking around the food on the floor to where Xena and Ephiny were bound, his wine goblet in his hand. Raising his hand for silence, Metreus felt another swell of posture as it was instantly obeyed, and looked about the room, lowering that same hand to Xenas sagging head and twining his fingers in her limp sweaty hair. Behold how the mighty have fallen! he bellowed, his voice echoing of the stone walls as he yanked back on Xenas hair, pulling her head up. The echoes of his voice were drowned out immediately by the rowdy cheers of his men and he gazed toward the dais were his allies were seated. They each raised a glass to him and he mimicked the movement, a silent thank you for their help in making the victory possible. Chuckling softly, Metreus looked once at Xenas pale face, and let it fall, tossing the rest of his wine in her unconscious face before walking away. As he regained his place at the high table, he wondered what he had done to please the Gods so much that they would do this to reward him. Metreus had his goblet refilled and took a sip, knowing that life couldnt get much better than this. ***** Gabrielle crouched in the bushes near the castles south wall with Jayla and the others, silently watching the guards on the parapets march back and forth. She could hear the battle cries and ring of clashing swords beginning on the north side, and felt her heart lurch in anticipation. It was all she could do to stay still and not fidget. Jayla could sense her Queens anxiousness and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder, squeezing slightly. Though Gabrielle was a full winter older than the guard, she now seemed no more than a frightened child, needing comfort. She pulled her hand away after a moment, feeling the Queens eyes fall on her, but didnt look away from the moving castle guards. Several moments passed and nothing changed. Gabrielle was just beginning to think Metreus hadnt been fooled when there was a frantic shout and all four of the perimeter guards moved out of sight, heading for the north wall. Now, she whispered and began to get up from her crouch. No, my Queen, Jayla said, a restraining arm clasped on her shoulder, holding her back, Wait. Gabrielle pinned her with a fierce look and opened her mouth to command the Amazon to move when Valeris broke into her thoughts with a hoarse whisper. Look! Gabrielle jerked her head up and followed the young Amazons pointed finger, her eyes widening when she saw one of the guards reappear. He grabbed the pike he had forgotten behind and took one last look down at the surrounding trees before disappearing again. The bard turned her gaze back to Jayla with a new sense of amazement, but could get nothing out before she harshly whispered for them to move quickly. Gabrielle darted from the bushes, staff in hand, and sprinted across the open field to the south wall, Jayla in front, Tirin and Valeris following. She was breathing hard from the short run when she crouched against the cold stone but energized, feeling so close to rescuing her warrior. Artemis, protect us, she prayed silently, Hold on, Xena-love, Im coming. Jayla reached the storm drain first, examining it for a moment before motioning Tirin forward. The fair haired Amazon began working on the lock, her nimble fingers manipulating the thin dagger back and forth in the keyhole until she heard a soft click and the latch sprang open. With a snort of disgust that it had been so easy to pick, Tirin tossed the lock away and eased the gate open, bowing her head to the Queen. Well done, Gabrielle whispered her praise and allowed Jayla to precede her before crawling into the musty tunnel. Stay close, Jaylas voice sounded, as they moved slowly through the sludge. The little redhead guard swallowed reflexively at the horrid stench that made her stomach threaten to release its meager content of berries and salt pork. Brushing a lock of curly hair out of her bright green eyes, Jayla scanned along the dim tunnel for light patterns, indicating there might be an opening to the dungeon close by. Every four paces, Jayla could hear a soft grunt as Gabrielle lugged the sections of her staff along beside her, but made no offer to help. Twice she had offered to assist her Queen with her labors since leaving the village, and been snapped at both times. She knew the bard was not angry at her, but worried about the warrior princess, and it was wearing on her nerves, so the guard vowed to leave her alone. Shell ask for help if she wants it, Jayla had reasoned silently while they were waiting in the bushes for their opening, and reminded herself of that yet again. Hold, she called softly as she spotted a flickering in the muck ahead of them. Jayla scurried forward once the others had stopped and craned her neck up to look through the grate over her head. A damp mustiness filled her senses, seeming cleaner merely because of the stench she had been exposed to in the drainage tunnel. The dungeon, she guessed correctly, and maneuvered slowly into a crouch under it. Jayla pulled one of her daggers and searched for a lock on the grate, but, finding none, took a deep breath and steeled herself for the action to come. She hated killing people, but knew the upcoming death of the guard likely to be there, was necessary in order for them to save Ephiny and Xena. With a muffled grunt, Jayla forced the grate open and stood straight, pivoting on her heel in the ankle high sludge when she heard a man curse behind her. A flick of her wrist and the dagger went flying, burying itself to the hilt in the hapless guards throat, and cutting off any warning he might have wanted to sound. A quick look around for any more guards and Jayla settled her eyes on the man, watching him claw at his throat for a moment as blood poured from the wound and his mouth before falling heavily to the stone floor unmoving. The Amazon guard heaved herself out of the drainage tunnel and crouched down on the floor, reaching back down the help the Queen up. She was a little surprised that the little bard accepted her help, but masked it quickly, as Tirin climbed out next and in turn helped Valeris. The last Amazon out closed the grate while Tirin checked the guards pockets and then motioned Valeris to help her drag him out of sight. They wanted to cover their entry as much as possible, though they knew there was nothing they could do about the muck they had tracked over the floor when they climbed up. Jayla raced to the door of the dungeon, noting quickly that it was locked and watched for any guards that might be coming as the others worked. She had told the Queen to stay put while they did their job, and was once again stunned that Gabrielle did as she was told, assembling her staff quietly, now that there was enough room to maneuver the pieces. Valeris stretched her back once the guard was hidden, quietly grumbling at how heavy men were, but immediately silenced herself when Tirin held up a hand. When the taller Amazon pointed, Valeris followed her finger to the last cell in the row of three, nearly black with darkness, being the furthest away from the single torch. But every few moments, the flames would flicker a certain way, and the light would catch on someone huddled in the corner, resting on a filthy pile of straw. Retrieving the keys she had found in the guards vest, Tirin fumbled through them until she found one that fit the lock, and turned it, wincing at the screech of rusty metal as she pulled the door open. Valeris stepped inside warily, her sword drawn, and peered down that the figure that only she could see. Merciful Artemis, she choked out, stumbling backwards and losing her balance, only to be caught by Tirins strong arms. Val? she whispered, her face showing her shock at her sisters reaction as Valeris shrugged out of her grasp and doubled over, retching into the straw, Who is it? She knelt down next to her stricken friend and squeezed her shoulder, waiting for her to regain some form of control. Its.... oh Gods..... its Ipona, Valeris gasped after her stomach finished emptying. When Tirin moved like she was thinking about seeing for herself, she clamped a vise like hand on her forearm, brown eyes boring into light blue. Dont. Only one word, but coupled with the look in the brunettes eyes, it was more than enough to tell Tirin that she didnt want to see what the guards had done to the child. Gabrielle saw Valeris retching inside the door of the cell they had opened, and jumped to her feet, her fear for Xenas life suddenly coming to the fore. Xena? Gabrielle whispered, moving forward slowly, her staff forgotten on the floor, Xena! She lunged frantically through the cell door, only to be caught and held by Tirin. No, my Queen, Tirin said calmly, easily overpowering the bard and keeping her in place, Its not Xena. Shes not here. The tall blonde breathed a sigh of relief when the little Queen ceased her struggles, and met her gaze. She had no desire to hurt the little bard, but she would have done anything to keep her from the sight that had made Valeris break down in such a fashion. Who? was all Gabrielle asked, her tone demanding an answer. Ipona, Valeris answered before Tirin could even open her mouth, finally on her feet again, stone mask once more firmly in place, though something in her brown eyes had changed. They glimmered with rage and reminded the bard of the looks that she saw at times on Xenas face. Please, my Queen, she said softly, and Gabrielle could see the pain flash in her eyes, Dont go in there. After a long moment of thought, the bard nodded slowly and backed up, allowing them to leave the cell. Valeris closed the door slowly, pausing for a moment before clicking the lock shut, and bowing her head. Artemis guide you to the Fields, Ipona, she murmured so softly that Tirin nearly didnt hear the words. But the taller Amazon chose to ignore it, knowing Valeris tried to keep up the tough reputation, and didnt feel comfortable expressing emotions. Gabrielle ignored the two women, and looked around at the empty cells. Where would she be? the bard muttered quietly, tapping her foot. My Queen? Tirin asked with a frown, wondering why the redhead was talking to herself. If Xena and Ephiny arent here, Gabrielle explained quickly, trying not to sound too impatient, Then Metreus must have moved them. He couldnt have known that we were coming, or there would have been more guards waiting for us. So he moved them for some other reason. But what? Valeris frowned in thought and Tirin did the same, both trying to come up with an idea of where to look for their missing Regent and the warrior princess. Gabrielle joined them, though she didnt know much about this King, she had traveled with Xena long enough to know what corrupt rulers were like, and how they reacted to capturing a fierce enemy. Hed want to show off his prize, she guessed, remembering what Kraylor had told her about the arrival earlier of important looking men. Gabrielles thoughts were shattered suddenly when Jaylas voice reached her ears. Guard, she whispered, then tucked herself into the corner so the heavy oak door would hide her when it opened. Tirin was the one who reacted, dragging Gabrielle into the shadows with a muted Forgive me, Majesty. Valeris followed quickly, the three of them crammed together against the bard of Iponas cell, each trying not to look through the shadows at her still form. The dead Amazon was forgotten, however, the moment the rusty hinges screeched as the solid dungeon door was unlocked and pushed open. Hades balls, Gabrielle muttered angrily at herself when she realized that her forgotten staff was still lying on the floor in full view of the entering guard. Darius? the new guard called, peering into the shadows that the single torch wasnt large enough to dispel, Hades, man. Where are you? Beside Gabrielle, Tirin issued a muffled grunt when she saw the guard reaching for his sword. The little bard started at the sound, wondering why it had been made, until she saw the guard relax, his hand falling back to his side. Darius, come out of that cell, he called, assuming that his friend was simply having fun with the young Amazon traitor, You can have your fun when your relief gets here. Gabrielle tensed, knowing that Tirin would give no answer that wouldnt raise the guards suspicions. Thankfully, he still hadnt seen the bards staff, though he was almost on top of it. The guard was more intent on the shadows than he was at the floor, but one more step, Gabrielle knew, and he would discover it quickly when he tripped over it. Getting an idea, the bard attracted Tirins attention and used Amazon hand signals to convey that she wanted him taken alive. He had the shoulder patch of a higher ranking officer than the one Jayla had killed, and must know where Metreus had taken Xena. She saw Tirin and Valeris both nod in the darkness, and Tirin then relay the gesture to Jayla, who was creeping up silently behind the unknowing guard. There was a feral glint in Jaylas eyes that Gabrielle could see plainly when she acknowledged the command and quietly sheathed her dagger. They watched anxiously, and the bards breathing caught, as the little Amazon took two more steps before launching herself at him, a silent snarl on her face. The two bodies went down heavily, the guard emitting a muffled grunt before Jaylas forearm was in his neck, her other, pinning his sword arm painfully behind his back. Another sound and Ill break your neck, she hissed savagely, not knowing that he had heard the same words from the Amazon Regent only a candlemark earlier. He tried to move, only to have more pressure applied to his arm, making him wince. The guard fell motionless, biding his time, knowing that his captor was deadly serious, and waiting to see what she had planned for him. What he didnt expect though, was the three Amazons who came out of their hiding place in the shadows, all wearing identical expressions of rage on their faces. Prognius, he said silently to himself, youre a dead man. Gabrielle emerged from the shadows, trying to control her anger as she bent to retrieve her staff. She said nothing, knowing that her Amazons would follow her lead in trying to intimidate their prisoner during the interrogation. The little bard assumed a regal stance, and furrowed her brow with determination, conveying to her sisters that she was to be obeyed, no matter what happened. Stand him up, she clipped, her tone the Queenly one she reserved for important meetings with outsiders. She bit back a smile as Jayla jumped to do as she ordered, and with Tirins help, hauling the silent guard to his feet. A slight toss of her head and he was pinned to the bars, Tirin holding one arm and Jayla handing off his other limb to Valeris, who was much bigger, and could hold more weight. Gabrielle approached him, staring up into his wide eyes, her own narrowed nearly to slits. Whats your name? she asked, her voice the same cool tone. His eyes narrowed to match hers, but he remained silent. Gabrielle gave him a moment to think about his answer, but when she got none, her temper flared again, right in tune with her portrayal as a savage Queen. Gabrielle fingered her staff for a moment, as if thinking over her next move, and suddenly lunged at him, jamming the end of her fighting stick under his chin and ramming his head into the bars. The steel gave a dull bong that echoed in the room, accompanied by his groan of pain. Now, the little Queen said softly, her calmly quiet tones frightening not only the guard, but also her Amazon sisters, Once again. What is your name? She kept her staff under his jaw, so that when he finally did speak, it was forced out and sounded very uncomfortable. Prognius, he answered, and took a deep breath when the staff was pulled away. A feral grin appeared on the bards face at the minor victory and she pressed on. Well Prognius, she spoke, her voice dropping in pitch, nearly to a growl, Nice to meet you. I suppose I should introduce myself. I am Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons. She noticed his eyes widen again in recognition and felt relief flood over her. Good, she thought silently, at least hes heard enough about Amazon ways that he wont be so cocky anymore. Out loud, she continued talking, barely missing a beat. I can see I wasnt expected, she remarked, looking around the dungeon, before her eyes focused on him again, But thats all right, Prognius. As compensation for such rudeness, Ill just ask that you tell me where youre King has taken my Regent Ephiny and The Warrior Princess. Prognius opened his mouth as if to reply, but after a moments hesitation, snapped it shut again, his eyes boring into her angrily. Jayla wanted desperately to make the man before her show some respect for their Queen, but she didnt dare disobey Gabrielles orders. So she stood silently behind the little bard, looking as intimidating as possible. Gabrielle sighed quietly and shook her head, knowing shed have to resort to force, though she really didnt want to. Prognius, let me explain something, she continued after a moment, Im having a very bad day. But Im willing to give you the opportunity to make a choice. You can tell me what you know, or I can break every bone in your body until you do. Now, I will ask you again, where has Metreus taken Ephiny and Xena? Think hard before you answer. For every time you dont answer, or you give me an answer I dont like, Ill break a bone. Prognius was silent for a moment, contemplating whether to tell her the truth or a well crafted lie. As he thought of a believable, but false, story, Gabrielle grew impatient, and knew that she would have to prove to him that she wasnt all talk. The only problem was that she didnt know if she could go through with it or not. Taking a deep breath, and steeling herself for what was to come, Gabrielle tightened her grip on the staff she carried and pulled it back, preparing for a swing. The guard realized that he had taken too much time when a flash of motion caught his attention, followed by a blinding pain in his shin that made him cry out. A sound that was muffled by the sudden appearance of a filthy rag being jammed into his mouth. Strong fingers tugged on his chin to make him look into the fierce eyes of the little Amazon Queen. I really dont enjoy doing that, Prognius, she ground out through clenched teeth, her green eyes boring into his, But dont test my resolve. I will do it again, and again until I get the answers I want from your lips, or Celesta lays her hand on you. I will stop for nothing less. Through the pain filled haze of vision, Prognius looked deeply into the redheads eyes, and jerked back, startled by what he saw. Something that he never wanted to see again in another souls eyes. His death. It was at that moment, he realized his only chance was to tell them what he knew. Jayla had acted quickly to stop the guards cries, but she didnt know how long the rag would keep them muffled if Gabrielle continued with her interrogation. She struggled to keep the angry glare on her face, even when Prognius wasnt looking at her, knowing it was the only thing holding the shock at bay. The young Amazon had never seen her Queen act this way and it was a little frightening. Jayla had always thought that of the famous pair, Xena was the dark, and Gabrielle was the light. But now, seeing this, she realized there was more darkness to the little redhead than most people would have guessed. Prognius, I dont like repeating myself. Gabrielles voice snapped Jayla out of her thoughts, and she focused once again on their prisoner. The bards warning tones sent a chill down her spine as she watched the Queen draw her staff back for another strike, trying to look impassive at the situation. Wait! Prognius blurted suddenly around the improvised gag, sounding more like a wounded pig than a man. Which isnt far from the truth, Jayla mused silently. She reached forward and yanked the filthy rag out of his mouth, a little startled at the stream of words that came out as well. I beg you, dont kill me, he stammered, nearly blubbering, Ill tell you what you want to know. Then tell us pig! Tirin growled, jerking his arm a little with her words, Dont make our Queen beat it out of you! She had been playing a role in the beginning, never believing that the gentle bard that was their ruler, would ever intentionally hurt a helpless person. Her shock at seeing Gabrielle break the mans leg had been so great that she nearly blurted out several curses at the sight. Fortunately she had managed to hold her tongue, or the guard may have suspected something and not told them what they wanted to know so soon. And time was critical. King Metreus had them taken to the Main Hall, he confessed, hanging his head in defeat. Gabrielle reached up and grabbed his hair, lifting his eyes to see her. Why? Only one word, but the anger and lust for revenge in the tone spoke enough of her emotions to fill the Academy of Bards in Athens. He wanted them on display for the feast tonight, he choked out, barely noticing when he lost control of his bladder, As trophies. Gabrielle felt her temper rise at the thought of her Xena as a trophy, and smiled savagely at Prognius. Thank you for all your help, she hissed, letting go of his hair and watching as his head slumped again, Oh and one more thing. Prognius looked up, wondering what more the Amazon Queen could want from him when he caught her small, but powerful fist rapidly approaching his face. He grunted in pain as it connected, and the guard heard the dull crack of bone as his nose broke, then blessed darkness closed in, and he slumped, unconscious to the floor, both Tirin and Valeris letting him fall freely. Gabrielle looked down at the crumpled form, rubbing her aching fist absently. That was for Ipona, she whispered, and turned away, finally letting her guard down, enough that Jayla could see the pain in her eyes. Until that moment, the little Amazon guard hadnt realized just how hard it had been for her Queen to do what she did. Lets go, Jayla spoke softly, placing a strong hand on Gabrielles shoulder, much like Xena did. It gave the bard enough strength to move on, knowing that she was so close to her warrior, and what she had to look forward to, no matter how rough things got inside the castle walls. Gabrielle took her staff from Jaylas outstretched hand and trotted to the door of the dungeon, peering down the corridor each way before motioning to them that it was safe to continue. The three Amazons followed their little Queen, each wondering at the powerful woman underneath the exterior of the gentle bard. ***** Just outside the castle walls, the battle raged on. Tyldus shouted commands to centaur and Amazon alike, driving their enemy into the ground. Even though the Amazons were at less than half strength, they were still fierce fighters, and teamed with nearly a hundred centaurs, they proved to be unstoppable as the make shift army cut through Metreus forces like a hot dagger through butter. Perched atop the centaur leader, Solari held on for dear life, swinging her sword with one hand and clutching Tyldus vest with the other, protecting his back just like many of her sisters. Screaming a war cry when Tyldus charged a group of retreating soldiers, she matched him swing for swing, tearing mercilessly into the men with savage pleasure, laughing and screaming at the same time. The battle rage had taken her when she thought of Ephiny, and the knowledge that she would be free if only they fought a little harder. All along, Tyldus had planned to disobey Gabrielle, and command his centaurs to plow through the army before them. A distraction might have been enough, but not the revenge he felt they needed for so many Amazons killed in a war they didnt ask for. He had nearly called the charge before the appointed time when Solari told him of the raids and ambushes that Metreus had commanded his men to perform. This King was not a man of honor, he was a bloodthirsty warlord with too much power. And he had to be stopped.
Solari noticed the wounded soldiers hobbling, or crawling back to the main gate, and shouted over the battle sounds to Tyldus, her arm pointing past his face. She knew someone would have to raise the steel gate for them to get back inside, and that was the perfect time to charge. Tyldus shouted at a handful of men to join him, and fought off the surrounding soldiers while Kraylor and two others fought through the masses to get to their leader.
Solari kept an eye out for approaching soldiers while Tyldus hastily explained his quickly devised plan, cutting down one or two when they tried to get too close. She scanned the battle, noting with some relief that only two of her sisters had fallen thus far in the battle, most of them high enough on the backs of centaurs that the soldiers couldnt strike a death blow. She smiled briefly, but her distraction cost her. A sharp pain in her leg made her cry out, and she struck the soldier over the head with the flat of her sword before she could even think about it.
Tyldus craned his neck back. Solari? he shouted, as she curled over to grasp at the long slice across the top of her thigh, Is it bad?
No! she shouted quickly, ripping off her head band and retying it around the wound, Just go! Theyre opening the gate!
Tyldus shouted a warning for her to hold on, just before he launched his body into a full gallop, Kraylor and the others less than a length behind him. The aging centaur raised his sword high and bellowed wordlessly, hearing the others follow suit.
The small group barreled through the gate, trampling an unlucky few that were too stunned or gravely injured to get out of their way. There were shouts of, Kill the centaurs! and Close the gate! Lock them in!
Solari heard the latter very clearly as they forced their way across the courtyard, swords sinking into flesh and bone, and men crying out as they fell. Tyldus! she yelled over the shouting of the soldiers, We cant let them get the gate down!
The aging centaur nodded and slashed open the chest of another attacker, the arching of his blade sending droplets of blood over them both. Lor! he bellowed, and the young warrior looked up after slaying his own opponent, Jam the winch! Make sure that gate stays open or were all dead! Tyldus immediately focused on the fight, knowing that the young centaur would follow his orders instantly and to the very letter.
There! Solari shouted, pointing to the huge doors at the front of the Kings royal home, Lets crash their little party!
Tyldus impaled another hapless soldier through the neck and watched him flail for a moment before falling off the blade. He looked up at Solaris voice and laughed at her words, taking off at a full gallop again, forgetting to warn the Amazon on his back.
Whoa!! Solari teetered for a moment before grabbing two fistfuls of the centaurs vest and righting herself. The flat of her blade slapped against his shoulder, but he paid it no mind as he ran for the bronze studded door, plowing through the soldiers, his strong forelegs knocking them out of his way.
His hooves make clopping sounds on the stone stairs as he finally reached the heavy double doors, a fierce commotion at his back making him turn around. What he saw made a smile appear on his face. Kraylor had succeeded in keeping the gate open, and his centaurs were pouring in by the dozen, cutting down any soldier who got in the way. Perched on his back, Solari took in the same vision and held her sword high overhead, shouting a triumphant war cry to them.
Tyldus also held his sword high in tribute to his comrades, then craned his neck to the dark haired Amazon. Shall we let Metreus know weve arrived? he asked, a huge smile on his face.
We shall, indeed, Solari answered, a feral glint in her eye. She wanted to run him through herself for daring to take Ephiny away from her. Leaning over, keeping one hand on Tyldus shoulder for balance, she pushed one side of the great door open and then the other. After you, she said politely, with an exaggerated hand signal.
Tyldus bowed his head briefly. Thank you, he replied and suddenly the humor was gone from their eyes, replaced by anger and rage as they thundered through the door, followed quickly by several centaurs, many of them with Amazon warriors still on their backs.
Seated back at his place on the dais, Metreus felt a hand on his arm and looked over to one of the Generals that had assisted him in the battle. Do you hear that, King Metreus? he asked, gesturing to the door with his chin, Sounds like a storm is brewing.
Metreus craned his neck and perked up his ears, catching the distant thundering, and wondering for a moment why it sounded familiar. Probably a storm, he agreed, dismissing anything else. There were too many guards in the courtyard, he reassured himself, no one would ever get through.
The General nodded slightly and went back to his meal. Metreus gazed at him through the corner of his eye for a moment, and smirked, realizing that he didnt even remember the idiots name. He chuckled slightly to himself and took a healthy pull from his goblet, letting the wine dribble from the corners of his mouth and down his chin.
Most of the wine came back out immediately though, sprayed across the table in surprise when the doors burst open and centaurs came flooding in, shouting war cries and curses at the tops of their lungs. Half the men didnt even have a chance to draw their swords before they were gutted, not only by centaurs, the self made King realized, but also by the Amazons riding their backs.
Ephiny jerked her head up at the sound of splintering wood, and nearly burst into tears when she saw the centaurs enter, bringing a wave of death to anyone who got in the way. But her weary eyes focused on one thing in the sea of swords and stomping hooves. Leading the pack of avenging warriors, was Tyldus, and on his back, the most welcome sight she had ever seen. Solari.
Her heart swelled at the vision of the dark haired warrior slashing away at soldiers, and the flood of tears began. Solari! she cried in relief, standing straighter, knowing her rescue was at hand. Her body had nearly reached its physical limit, her legs barely supporting her, but Ephiny pulled herself up by her chains, and stayed there, feeling stronger at least in her mind, if not her body, with every soldier that fell.
Astride the mighty centaur leader, Solari beheaded another attacker with a savageness she had never felt before and quickly scanned the huge room for its layout. When her brown eyes fell on the Regent, chained in the center of the ring of tables, Solaris vision clouded everything with a red haze, as her temper flared. Ephiny! she bellowed, forgetting for a moment that she rode a centaur and not a horse, kicking Tyldus harshly in the sides.
Ow! Tyldus shouted, pulling his sword from the chest of another soldier, but when he saw what the Amazon was looking at, broke into a run, leaping over the table in his way. He landed hard, twisting one of his forelegs slightly, but paid no attention to the sting, barreling through the men, shouting curses.
Nearly skidding to a stop, Tyldus took up a defensive stance, protecting Ephiny while Solari hopped down and began working on the locks with her dagger. Hold on, love Solari murmured to the Regent while she worked, not even realizing what she had let slip, Youll be free in a moment. She didnt notice Ephinys look, first of surprise, then of infinite happiness, too intent was she on freeing the woman she loved. The woman that she was so sure, could never return that love.
Solari had managed to open one lock and free Ephinys left arm when something captured her attention. She was reaching for the Regents right arm when a loud splintering filled her ears. Turning for a moment, she saw Gabrielle and her group emerging from the kitchens, slashing at the men they could reach. Xenas battle cry sounded through the hall, echoing off the stone, and the dark haired Amazon jerked her head over to see the warrior princess, still slumped and unconscious in her chains. Then where? Solari thought, until she heard it again, and realized that it was her Queen.
Jayla had kicked open the door, barely managing to get ahead of her Queen. In her training, she had been taught that if someone in your group was going to die, it was usually the first one through the door. The little Amazon guard barely avoided being skewered by a soldier that had seen the door fly open, but caught him under the chin with her dagger, forcing it into his brain.
Gabrielle was right behind her, screaming the battle cry of the warrior princess as she swung her staff with expert precision, taking down one after another in her rage. When her keen eyes found Xena, her destination changed, and with a growl, plowed through the soldiers in her way. XENA!!! Her voice nearly shook the rafters with the force she put into it, and several soldiers stopped what they were doing, so startled that they didnt feel the death blows from their centaur or Amazon opponents.
My Queen! Jayla shouted, cutting down the man she fought, and making her way toward the bard, terrified for her life. She had made the little redhead promise to stay close for her own safety, and when she realized they had been separated, nearly panicked.
Metreus was screaming at his men to call reinforcements, knowing that the centaurs had the upper hand on them by being more skilled in battle, when he heard Jaylas shouting. He watched for a moment, eyeing the little redhead that batted his men around like they were rag dolls, before finally deciding to take matters into his own hands.
Metreus leapt down from the dais, silently cursing the other idiot leaders who simple watched the fight or were too busy running for their lives. Snatching up the first sword he could reach, which just happened to be sticking out of its owners chest, the self made King lunged across the open floor, toward the same destination as the true Amazon Queen. The bloodthirsty man rejoiced silently when he managed to cut off the redheads approach, swinging his sword menacingly.
Gabrielle drew up short at the obstruction, a deadly fire in her eyes. Out of my way, she snarled, raising her staff menacingly, Im taking Xena, and were leaving.
Metreus only laughed. Dont tell me that the Amazon leader is no more than a naive little girl, he spat, not liking the look of the staff she wielded, and wanting to taunt her into making a mistake, Do you really think I would risk moving the famed Destroyer of Nations from that cell if she were still alive? He laughed again, and her control snapped.
Gabrielle lunged at Metreus, screaming curses at his bloodline, and their weapons collided. The bard had felt her rage swell and boil over at the mere thought that Xena was dead, and she vowed to be the one that sent the evil King straight into Hades arms, blood innocence be damned. She spun her war staff with such speed, that the King had trouble seeing it half the time, but he held his own, blocking every mad attack she threw at him.
Biding his time, Metreus looked for an opening in her attacks, knowing that sooner or later, her anger would make her sloppy. But that damned staff was twirling so fast that he couldnt find one. She seemed like a demon, possessed by an avenging spirit, come to kill him for his sins against the Gods. Metreus shook that thought away as quickly as it appeared and strengthened his resolve, putting every ounce of skill and knowledge of sword play into the battle, determined to be the winner.
At the sound of metal striking wood, Solari turned her head, shocked to see the bard in fierce combat with the leader of their enemy. She swallowed her fear for the Queens safety, remembering that Xena had taught her everything she knew about staff work, and tore her eyes away, determined to free Ephiny from the chains. Her head was in her throat as the lock sprang open and the Regent slumped into her arms, no longer able to stay upright now that her arms had nothing to hold onto.
Tyldus! she cried to the centaurs back, impatiently waiting for him to dispatch the soldier he was fighting. Hold her! she snapped when he turned around, and began working on the leg restraints once she was sure Ephiny wasnt going to collapse.
I cant carry both of them and you out of here! he shouted down at the dark haired Amazon, cradling the Regent in one arm, his sword engaging another opponent.
Then Ill walk! Solari responded finally, then let out a yip of triumph when the last chain fell away. She helped Tyldus maneuver Ephiny onto his broad back, making sure the blonde Regent was lucid enough to hold on without someone behind her.
You cant get out of here with that leg! the aging centaur argued, fighting with one his arms, so Ephiny wouldnt be jostled too much.
Im not leaving Xena behind! Solari bellowed, fire in her eyes. She had seen the effect losing the warrior princess had on Gabrielle once, and she refused to be the cause for such pain in her Queen again. The Amazon warrior crouched down again, working on Xenas ankle restraints after a final command to the stubborn centaur. Get out of here!
Tyldus hesitated for a moment, then began fighting his way to the door, stopping once to look back at Solaris unprotected form. Ares left nut, he cursed and make a quick decision. Kraylor! he shouted, seeing the young warrior fighting nearby.
Kraylor looked up briefly and dispatched the soldier he had been playing with, bounding over to his leader. Aye, Tyldus? he replied, trying to hide his joy at seeing the Regent, Ephiny, perched weakly on his back.
Protect Solari, Tyldus commanded, pointing over to where the Amazon was now working on Xenas left wrist, And get them out of there when Xenas free.
Kraylor nodded briskly and leapt over the, now broken, table, not even looking back at his leader as he raced for Solari. He noticed briefly, Gabrielle fighting with King Metreus himself, but made no move to help her. The little Amazon Queen was quite capable of taking care of herself and they seemed pretty evenly matched, but Solari was in no position to defend herself or Xena from the two soldiers that he saw approaching them.
Screaming a battle cry, Kraylor caught the attention of the two soldiers and engaged them. Though he was an excellent fighter, the young warrior was nearly exhausted, and reached into his reserves, barely holding his own against the seasoned men. Im going to die, Kraylor realized, more than a little shocked that it didnt bother him as much as it should. he felt a burning in his left arm as one of the soldiers found an opening and quickly made his peace with the Gods, thinking these to be his last moments on earth.
Suddenly, an Amazon blade joined his, and Kraylor spared a glance to his right. Jayla smiled briefly at him and they continued fighting, the Amazons smile transforming to a savage snarl as she met her opponent head on. With the evened odds, Kraylor was able to focus on his man, and nearly beheaded him, then watched as Jayla impaled the other only moments later.
The young centaur opened his mouth to thank her when a shout drew his attention. Kraylor turned his head and nearly cursed out several creative phrases when he saw Solari almost carrying Xena towards him.
Go! Jayla shouted, giving him a shove, Ive got to get the Queen!
Kraylor nodded and darted one way, while Jayla went the other, circling around the two fighters until she saw the opportunity to step up beside Gabrielle. Her blade, stained red with enemy blood, pointed dangerously at the leader of the men she had killed. My Queen! Jayla shouted, trying to shield the bard with her own body, as she had been trained to do, You must flee! Solari has Xena! Go!
Yes, Amazon, Metreus sneered, trying to control his ragged breathing at the strenuous work out he was getting after so long being without it, Run away. Like the coward you are. The taunting didnt seem to phase Gabrielle as she turned her back on the evil King and watched Kraylor working his way to the door, Solari cradling Xena on his back.
Yes, run home, scared little Amazon, Metreus continued, giggling with mad delight, like a victorious warlord even though his army was being decimated before his very eyes, I will come for you. I will build a new army, stronger than this one, and wipe you from the face of the earth. Metreus will be revered as the man who destroyed the Amazons. He cackled insanely, swinging his blade in lazy patterns around his body.
Though she wanted desperately to be with Xena, Gabrielle couldnt walk away and let this man go free. She turned around slowly, momentarily calmed that her warrior was still alive, but a large part of her wanted to finish the fight. Needed to take him back to the village for trial. Maybe it was the revenge that she worked so hard to cut out of Xena, making her want to beat Metreus into unconsciousness. For whatever reason, she gave in to her desires, and raised her staff again.
Why are you doing this, Metreus? she asked, tightening her grip on the wood until her knuckles were white, What do you want from us?
Metreus smiled then, a sinister expression that chilled Gabrielle to her bones. I want your blood, Amazon, he hissed, and swung his sword.
Only to have it blocked, by Jaylas blade. The little guard shoved him back, watching him stumble and fall over the body of one of his own soldiers. She had barely managed to lower her arm before Gabrielle seized it in a vise-like grip and spun her around.
What are you doing? she snapped, giving the guards arm a tug for emphasis, I didnt ask you to interfere!
Jayla yanked her arm away and send a silent prayer to Artemis, asking forgiveness for what she was about to say. You didnt ask me to swear that I would protect you with my very life, either! she yelled, fixing Gabrielle with a steely glare, So dont ask me to tell Xena that she hung on to this existence just to out live you!
Gabrielle stood motionless, staring at Jayla with a look of stunned shock on her face. The Amazon guard was seething by this point, and gave her Queen a shove to get her moving again. Get out of here! Jayla bellowed, her tone booking no tolerance if Gabrielle didnt obey, her eyes promising that the bard would be slung over her shoulder if she didnt leave immediately, Xena needs you, more than you need to fight him!
The mention that Xena needed her was more than enough for Gabrielle. She lowered her staff and nodded to Jayla, taking one last look at the completely shocked Metreus before turning to leave. Scanning around for a moment, Gabrielle found Kraylor and his precious cargo. The bard set off across the battle ground, clubbing aside the soldiers that got in her way.
Rapidly decreasing in number, most of Metreus army stayed out of her way, instead choosing to run, dropping their weapons where they stood, and scampering for the doors. Those engaged in battle, began surrendering when they saw how hopeless the battle had become.
Metreus swung once at Gabrielles back, enraged that she would leave in the middle of a fight. Jayla blocked the attack neatly, bringing herself toe to toe with the threat to her Queen and her people. You want to fight and Amazon so much, pig? she snarled, forcing him back a step, Then fight me. Metreus glared at her and raised his sword for another strike.
Across the room, Kraylor had managed to force his way to the door when Queen Gabrielle finally reached him. The young centaur nodded once, briefly acknowledging her, and continued out into the courtyard. Gabrielle stayed by his left side, batting a few determined soldiers away from them, her only thought to protect Xena.
Kraylor saw Tyldus ahead of them, waiting at the main gate with Argo, already hooked up to a wagon. I wonder how they did that, he thought, remembering how temperamental Xenas steed was with people other than herself and Gabrielle. Shaking his head to clear it of such errant thoughts, Kraylor took a deep breath and continued across the courtyard.
Kraylor wondered why he couldnt see Ephiny with Tyldus. Even though the crescent moon was setting, the vast number of torches lit the courtyard and main entrance to nearly the brilliance of day. When he reached the wagon, he understood. On a mound of pillows and furs, stolen from the castle, the Regent lay, already fast asleep, thoroughly exhausted from her ordeal.
None of them spoke as Tyldus and Kraylor gently lowered Xenas unconscious form down beside Ephiny, being careful of her broken arm. Gabrielle winced as she saw it for the first time, so horribly bruised that it was almost black. The bard climbed over the drivers seat and into the wagon bed, ignoring the muscles that were screaming at her.
Slide her forward, she said softly, and remained still as Xenas head was cradled in her lap. It was then, when she lovingly caressed the warriors cheek, that she noticed the raging fever and the infected shoulder wound that had caused it. Shes burning up, Gabrielle whispered more to herself than any of the others, and began tucking spare furs around her. Tyldus, Gabrielle said louder, not bothering to look up at the centaur, instead, carefully peeling filthy rags away from the puss filled wound, There should be a healers kit in Argos saddle bags. I need it and the water skin.
Tyldus stopped in mid sentence, holding up a hand to Kraylor. He retrieved the requested items from a very skittish Argo and quickly handed them to Gabrielle. Both he and the young centaur watched silently as Gabrielle cleaned the wound, their conversation forgotten. But Solari was not satisfied with merely being a spectator and pushed by the centaurs with one of Xenas shifts, having retrieved it from Argos pack.
I hope this one isnt her favorite, Solari muttered as she tore the shift into bandages, then placing them on the wagon bed within reach of the bard. To Tyldus she said; The sooner we get moving the better. Its a full day back to the village.
Gabrielle looked up from her intent, yet gentle, work on Xenas wound, and fixed them with a steely glare of determination. Xena cant travel that far, she said calmly, but the quiver in her voice betrayed her fear, She needs a healer fast. Im doing what I can, but... She trailed off, not wanting to say the words out loud.
Before any of them could respond, a triumphant yell sounded across the courtyard. They all craned their necks and squinted to see Tirin supporting a very smug looking, if somewhat injured, Jayla, as they hobbled slowly away from the battered castle doors.
Tyldus waited until the Amazon guards reached them before inquiring as to the state of the battle. He smiled when Tirin beamingly told him that the conflict was over, and only a dozen centaurs and Amazons had crossed to Elysia. Including Valeris, who had died instantly from a crossbow bolt intended for Tirin. And Metreus? he inquired finally, anxious to know what had become of the self made King.
Jayla drew her thumb across her throat, noticing her Queen look up at the name. He wont have to worry about his crown not fitting any more, she said seriously, still bothered that she had been forced to kill him. The insane man just hadnt accepted defeat, and couldnt stay down, no matter how many times Jayla tried to make him drop his sword.
Tirin helped the little Amazon into the wagon, sitting down beside her. The sturdy wood frame creaked a little as they settled themselves and Tirin took up the reigns, then again as Solari squeezed into the bed, cradling Ephiny the same way Gabrielle held Xena.
Head south, we should be there by dawn, the bard said and the wagon lurched into motion.
Tyldus and Kraylor took up positions walking on either side of the bed, the elder centaur yelling to a nearby warrior that they were going to the nearest town to see the healer. A thought occurred to him that he didnt know where Gabrielle had directed them and looked down at the little bard. She was bathing Xenas face and neck with rags cooled in water from the skin he had retrieved, having finished treating the infected wound to the best of her ability and wrapped it in fresh bandages. Where are we going, Gabrielle? he asked softly, and watched her gaze lift to meet his, her eyes full of pain and fear for the warrior princess.
Potedeia, was all she said.
To Be Continued in Book II.... mebbe.
--- Well thats all she wrote folks! I hope you enjoyed this little trip into my twisted mind. Im working away on a plot for Book II (still dont have a title for it) and if you want to see this tale continue... please let me know. I thrive on the feedback! (it makes me write faster *grin*) firstname.lastname@example.org
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