Chapter 28

She probably would have been fine if she hadn't taken the time to look back and check on Xena. But, she did, and then she felt strong hands wrapping around her shoulders as the roaring in her ears and the graying of her vision threatened to take her to her knees.

She just stood there for a long moment with her eyes closed, taking in deep breaths and supported by the hands. Finally, she bit down on her lower lip to regain control and began to focus on the task at hand, straightening and opening her eyes to meet the Weapons-Master's worried look.

"C'mon. I want some answers." She headed up the road on shaky legs, not sparing another glance at the abused body of her partner, knowing that if she looked back again, she'd be lost.

And, she couldn't afford that. Not now.

They found him pacing inside the infirmary.

Flying across the hut, the anger and fear mixing as the tears blurred her vision, she felt her fists connect with his chest. "You bastard! I thought you were her friend?"

Reaching out and capturing the bard's strong wrists in his hands, he held the struggling woman away from him as he glared down at her, his voice cold, "Gabrielle, what did you want me to do? You saw what he did to her. If I hadn’t made him promise to leave her alone, he would have continued to use any excuse he could find to hurt her. I've seen his kind before." As the bard's struggles lessened, his voice gentled. "At least he’s agreed to stop…for now."

Wary green eyes darted up to meet his as she stilled, her captured hands dropping to his chest. "You mean you weren’t going to shoot her yourself?"

He gave his head a little shake, his face grim. "I didn’t say that."

Feeling him release his hold, she pushed away and took a step back, trying desperately to read the large, impassive man looming in front of her. But, all she saw there was the impenetrable warrior's mask frozen into place.

Dammit! Was there some place they went to learn this stuff? Gods, it was frustrating!

That look, having lost its ability to intimidate her years ago, didn't stop her as she took a step forward, her eyes challenging his. "I don’t understand?"

Andrus saw the worry and confusion reflected in the bard's face and searched for the right words. This was always the hardest part. Especially given whom they were talking about. But, he owed it to the warrior to be honest with her friend. He shrugged as he met her glare.

"He’s agreed to leave her alone for now, Gabrielle. But once the bridge is rebuilt…"

Clutching his arm as her eyes widened, she tried to salvage some thread of hope. "But...he promised to let her go!"

Andrus couldn't contain the snort as he pulled away. "And you believed him?" Turning, he strode over to the stove and grabbed up a mug. Reaching for the pot of warm cider, he seemed to hesitate and then stopped. Straightening as he slammed the mug back down, he just stood there instead, staring at the wall of the hut.

Gabrielle stared at his back for a moment before raising her voice, addressing the question to no one in particular. "But what are we going to do?"

He turned and faced the two women, his face a mixture of apology and hope. "I don’t know, but at least I’ve bought us some time."

Always practical, the Amazon now spoke up. "What about the bridge?"

The General shrugged as he turned to Eponin, distaste heavy in his voice. "I’ll honor my word. We'll let them go ahead and rebuild it."

The Weapons-Master knew she was stating the obvious, but felt she had to say it anyway. She locked eyes with his. "But that means they’ll be through the pass later this afternoon."

Returning to stand by the two women, the General nodded. "Well, at least we slowed them down by almost a day. We’ll just have to come up with another plan. In the meantime, we'd better think about getting the injured ready to travel."

The bard interrupted, feeling they were slipping away from the point here.

"What about Xena?"

The General's eyebrows dropped. "What about her?"

The bard was staring past the door and down to the site of the bridge, where her world was now re-focused.

"Please, we have to rescue her, don't you see that? We can’t just leave her there. Not like this..." Her eyes turned back and searched their faces. Although her mind knew there was nothing any of them could do, her heart was still unwilling to accept it.

The General felt like he was about to slug his grandmother as he watched the bard and saw the lost look there. "Gabrielle, please, listen to me. We've been through this before. Without the bridge, there is no way to reach her. And, even if we could, it’s broad daylight and she’s surrounded by Kirilus’ army. I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do for her right now."

She knew it was true but she also knew that wouldn't stop her partner if positions were reversed. So, she grabbed her staff and headed for the door, but was forced to pull up short as Eponin put herself between the bard and the exit.

She looked up to see sympathetic but firm brown eyes fixed on hers.

"Gabrielle, please, we’ll try to get her back later, I promise. But don’t go back out there now. It's not good for you. There’s nothing you can do and you’ll just upset yourself."

Surprised, the bard just stood there and glared at her. "I’m not leaving her all alone out there, Eponin." Starting to move forward again, she tried to brush past the Amazon. "So, please, just get out of my way."

And was stopped again as the Weapons-Master held her ground. Instead of moving aside, the tall Amazon laid her hands on the bard's shoulders, her voice gentle but inflexible. "Gabrielle, please, she probably doesn't even know you’re there."

The bard's eyes flashed as she stiffened. "I don’t care, Ep. She’s my best friend and I’m not leaving her out there alone. Now, get out of my way or I’ll make you." Her fiery green eyes burned right through the Amazon as she backed up a step and snapped her staff to the ready position.


Their eyes stayed locked for a long moment before Eponin stepped aside and let her brush past her.

Wiping the sweat from her palms, the Amazon crossed the room and picked up the waterskin. Noticing the General's stare as she brought it to her lips, she paused to let out a little shrug. "What? Did you think I was going to take her on? You're nuts! I'd rather take on Xena."

The pain roused her again, like a blinding white light that cut through the fog. She wasn’t too sure how long she’d been conscious this time. She'd no sense of time, or place or anything else.

All she knew, for sure, was that she hurt; bad.

As she tried to push the pain to one side and focus, she became aware that her shoulders were being wrenched from their sockets and realized that she was hanging, suspended by her arms.

Gods! This really was becoming a habit she'd just as soon loose.

Feeling a great weight pressing against her left shoulder, she was surprised when she finally cracked her good eye open and made out a feathered shaft swimming before her. But she was forced to close it again almost immediately as the waves of red-hot pain suddenly stabbed through her right leg; the wagon shifting slightly beneath her.

This combined, of course, with the sharp pains still radiating from her head and her chest and she found herself fighting off the urge to retch.

Perfect! Furkin' perfect! Just keeps gettin' better and better! Well, deal with it, warrior; you have a promise to keep, remember. So, stop feeling sorry for yourself and find a way out of this mess.

As she took another painful breath, a deeper one this time, she tried to raise her head but the effort was just too much and again, the grayness took her.

She sat there, focusing all of her attention on those five fingers, silently projecting all of her strength up into the strong digits and past them up into the body of her friend attached to them. Her world had now narrowed to those fingers and the hand to which they belonged.

At first, she'd tried not looking.

Sitting down, with her staff across her lap, she'd propped herself against the cold rock wall, keeping her eyes focused on the ground in front of her, willing to settle for the knowledge that Xena was less than a stone's throw away.

Trying to avoid looking up, she'd spent some time going over her argument with Andrus and Eponin, searching for some flaw in their logic; some reason at least one of her rescue plans might work.

But, as the morning progressed, she'd become more and more discouraged and found it harder and harder to concentrate as her thoughts kept turning increasingly to that still figure she knew was on the other side of the river.

Eventually, that was the only thing she could think of; the image of Xena's battered body hanging on the side of the wagon the only thing she saw. And, soon, her imagination had projected her fears and it was only a few minutes later that she'd snapped her eyes open in a panic, only to find the reality wasn't quite as bad as her mind had begun to picture it.

So she decided, despite the agony of watching her companion hanging there, it was still somehow better than not watching.

Her eyes had then begun a painful search, looking for some spot she could fix on; some piece of the warrior's skin that wasn't bloodied, or broken or bruised. And her eyes had finally compromised on her right hand, or more specifically, those strong fingers; the pale hand itself resting too close to the dark purple skin under the chains on her wrists to offer much comfort.

And now, as she focused on those strong fingers and imagined them wrapping around her shoulder, pulling her close and letting her know that everything was going to be all right, she felt the tears well up once again and she hastily swiped them from her eyes, determined not to give into the despair.

But, it had been too long. And Xena had been too still. If she only knew for sure...

And then, her heart was in her throat as she noticed a slight movement. She wasn’t sure if it was really Xena moving or just the wagon shifting with the restless team, but her heart soared when she caught it out of the corner of her eye and her gaze darted to the warrior's head. She watched closely as the dark mass lifted slightly before dropping back down again and stilling.

But, that was enough.

Yes! All right, Xena! I knew you'd keep your promise!

Okay, her partner was definitely alive; but for how long? Once they got that bridge rebuilt...

Okay, bard, don't panic! One step at a time, here!

It was up to her, now, and she was not going to let Xena down. Rising stiffly to her feet, she stretched and began pacing back and forth, thinking furiously as she discarded one plan after another.

Okay, okay, this isn't working! Come on, you have to focus! You've got to start thinking like her. No time to be squeamish. Dark and devious; you can do it!

Then, suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks and stood there for a few minutes, just thinking. Straightening her shoulders, she spared one last glance over at Xena, willing her partner to stick with her, before heading back to the huts.

They were standing by the ashes of the morning fire, staring into the burned out remains and trying to pretend that they didn’t hear the shouting coming from the infirmary as they downed the last of their rations. Amara had rejoined the others, choosing to skip the meal, her stomach still very tender, but preferring the company of her peers to the angry voices coming from inside.

The argument had started shortly after Gabrielle had returned and they could clearly distinguish the pleading tones of the bard mixed with loud shouts of Andrus and Eponin. Making out only the occasional word, they could still tell that the bard was clearly not happy about something.

They all shifted back to staring at the gray ashes as the hut door flew open and both the General and Eponin came stocking out, the sounds of the bard’s crying heard only briefly before the door was slammed shut again.

The two obviously angry leaders walked stiffly over to join the group. Andrus was the first to speak, his voice a low growl as he drew up before them.

"Everybody here?" He did a quick headcount. "Good. Okay, listen up."

Their food forgotten, the men and women gathered closer.

The General let his eyes meet with theirs, his voice letting them know he was in command. "We’re pulling out of here, now. There’s an old cart behind the hut over there. I want one of you to hitch one of the horses to it and get Philana into it."

One of the soldiers nodded.

"We also need a couple of volunteers to meet King Doraclyse and Queen Ephiny and tell them what’s happened. We’ll meet them and our armies a half day from here in the village of Stanipoli. We’ll make our stand there."

They stood stunned for a moment as the General glared at them, daring anyone to object.

"Any questions?"

Jess stepped forward after exchanging a frown with Amara. "What about Xena?"

Andrus waved his hand dismissively. "We can’t worry about her any more. They'll be pouring across that bridge in a couple of candlemarks. We can't afford to be here when they do."

The girl didn’t back down. "But…we can’t just leave her!"

Eponin spoke up as she moved to stand beside the General, her cold look focusing on Jess as her voice dropped into a growl. "We don't have any choice. End of discussion."

Her eyes traveled over to the other women. "Which one of you is going to get word to Ephiny?"

One of the guards stepped forward.

"All right, you leave in a quarter-candlemark. The rest of you, start packing."

Andrus and Eponin headed for their respective huts and the others just watched them leave. It was a minute or two before they all exchanged unhappy glances before turning and silently following.

Kneeling in the shadows of the rocky outcrop, she kept alternating her attention between scanning the deserted riverbank and trying to tie the note to the shaft of the arrow. With everyone suddenly busy elsewhere, this would probably be her best opportunity before they headed out.

Now, if she could just get the accursed thing to stay put!

Cursing under her breath as it slipped from the smooth wood once again, she finally managed to wrap it around tightly, then fumbled with the piece of thin twine lying on the ground before winding it around and around, securing the note to the shaft.

Grabbing the bow lying beside her, she looked around once more before shifting to one knee and notching the arrow in the string. She was just raising the bow to sight when a cold voice from directly behind her growled a warning.

"Drop it, Amara."

She stood and spun to see Gabrielle rise from where she’d hidden herself behind the rocks. The Amazon Queen's face held no emotion, but the girl did note that the bard's staff was gripped by white-knuckled hands.

It took her a moment to realize that Gabrielle was on to her, and another to glance quickly around to make sure they were alone before she raised her bow, pulling back the string and releasing the arrow in one smooth motion.

Gabrielle's reflexes kicked in and she raised her staff in front of her, feeling the adrenaline rush as she felt the jolt of the arrow imbedding itself in the wood, just inches from her heart. She didn’t have much time to do more than grunt, however, because the next moment Amara was on top of her, and she felt a sharp pain slice through her left arm before she was grabbing the wrist of the hand now holding the knife just inches from her throat.

Surprised by the girl's strength as the two of them struggled in the mud, Gabrielle desperately tried to remember what Xena had tried to teach her about wrestling

Gods, why hadn't she paid more attention! Well, here goes nothing!

Holding the arm with the knife with both of her hands, she hooked her leg over Amara's and twisted her body, throwing the girl to the side and quickly scrambling to straddle the Amazon's waist, grabbing the wrist holding the knife again and pinning it above her head.

They struggled for only a minute more before strong arms were pulling her off the girl, and dragging Amara to her feet.

"Gabrielle, are you all right!"

The panting bard looked down at the blood oozing from the finger-length slice in her upper arm and tried to calm the pounding in her heart as she turned back to face the young girl, suspended now between the two Amazon guards.

"Yeah, I’m fine, Ep."

"But, your arm..."

The bard's eyes bore into the girl. "It's nothing, really, just a scratch."

Suddenly ceasing her struggles as she became aware that the others watching her, the Amazon seemed to collapse, sobs beginning to wrack her body as her frightened eyes fixed on the woman standing beside Gabrielle.

"What’s going on here, Eponin? Please, I don't understand. What's wrong? Why are you doing this to me?"

Gabrielle didn't try to hide the contempt in her voice as she straightened her clothes, ignoring the crying girl. "Oh, please! Give it up, Amara. They're not buying what you're selling."

Renewing her struggles as she realized the bard was right, Amara tried a different tack, her sobs suddenly ceasing as her voice took on a pleading tone and her eyes darted to the Weapons-Master's impassive face.

"Please, Eponin, you have to believe me. I don't know what she means, honest! She must be crazy or something. I don't know what she's talking about. I was just standing here, minding my own business, and she attacked me for no reason. Please! I was just trying to defend myself!"

Shaking her head, Gabrielle took a few steps to the side and reached down to retrieve her staff, pulling the arrow out and holding it up for the others to see.

The bard's voice was cold. "What she was doing was trying to send this over to the other side of the river."

Eponin shook her head, her eyes barely containing the cold rage she felt as she looked at the now defiant girl.

"Come on. We're going back to the huts. We’ve got a lot of questions and you’re going to answer them."

Gabrielle was just finishing packing the last bit of padding between Philana's splints and expected to see two of Andrus' men with a stretcher enter. So she was surprised when Andrus himself pushed open the door to the hut, followed closely by Eponin.

She looked up and noted the grim look on their faces.

She straightened and gave one last look down at the sleeping girl assuring herself that there was nothing more she could do, before moving quietly to meet them by the door.

"Well, what did she say?"

Andrus just shook his head, his face an angry scowl. "You’re not going to believe this. Not only is she the spy, but she’s also Kirilus’ sister."

The bard's eyebrows shot up. "What! But I thought his sister was killed two year ago in some sort of accident."

Moving over to the table and pulling out a chair, Andrus slowly lowered himself down with a groan, the last few days having left their toll on everyone. He took a moment to lean back and stretch out his legs before staring back up at the bard, his eyebrows now dropping in a frown.

"Those two are some piece of work, Gabrielle. They staged the accident themselves so that Amarinthia, that’s her real name by the way, could disappear."

The bard's eyes darted between the General and the Weapons-Master, wondering what the trick was. This wasn't making any sense. "But why?"

Eponin joined the General at the table, her eyes never leaving the bard's face as she pulled out a chair and sat.

"Apparently their plans have always included invading our territory. Seems they worked it out so that he gets Andoria and she gets us. In fact, according to her, it was her idea all along to work from the inside; acting as a mole until it was time to launch their attack."

Gabrielle joined them at the table, collapsing in a chair as she tried to take this all in. "But, wasn't their mother killed in that accident also?"

Eponin snorted as she reached over and filled a mug from the waterskin lying there. She leaned back and cradled the mug with both hands as her eyes met the bard's. "It seems their mother didn’t think much of their plans of conquest and threatened to opposed them. They figured the accident was a way to get rid of her and give them an excuse to pursue the war."

The bard straightened as she stared at the Amazon, her voice reflecting the horror she felt. "You don't mean to tell me they killed their own mother!"

The Amazon didn't try to hide her look of disgust. "Apparently."

Andrus now spoke up as he filled a mug for himself. "And if you hadn’t come up with your plan to expose her, Gabrielle, she'd have continued to betray us to her brother. That note detailed everything; including the location of where we plan to meet Ephiny and Doraclyse."

The bard tried to protest, this whole thing still not making much sense. "But, she’s only a child!"

Eponin shook her head. "There's where I have to give her credit. She’s only been passing herself off as one, Gabrielle. You’ve seen her brother. With the family’s small bones and fine features, it wasn’t all that hard. And she was already pretty handy with a bow and a knife before she joined us two years ago."

Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. "Amara volunteered all this?"

Eponin exchanged a guilty look with Andrus and unconsciously rubbed the bruised knuckles on her right hand before replying. "Well, not right away, no. But, after a while, she was bragging about it. She’s so convinced we can’t stop her brother, that she guaranteed that if we let her go, she’ll get him to spare our lives."

The bard sat back and digested this newest information for a few minutes before she spoke up again. "Well, at least that clears up something that’s been bothering me for a while."

Eponin look across at her. "What?"

The bard shrugged. "You know their story about sneaking up and attacking Xena in my hut. It never did make much sense how a young, inexperienced girl like Amara could have got the drop on Xena. I mean, really."

The Amazon shook her head. "Well, she sure had us all fooled."

Andrus now interrupted. "Not all. Apparently, Philana had begun to suspect. She saw Amara go back to the hut just before the fire started, but Amara convinced her she'd just been making a trip to the woods. So that piece of work arranged for the accident with the boulder. It was just dumb luck she got the Princess too."

Gabrielle's face was grim as she thought about how they'd all been taken in. Feeling the anger that she'd been fighting to keep down break loose and threaten to bubble up again, she took a deep breath and swallowed it back down.

"Where is she now?"

Eponin slowly stood and stretched her aching muscles as she replied. "She’s being held in one of the other huts."

The General also stood and held out a hand to the bard. "Okay, Gabrielle, let’s get the second phase of you plan underway."

Kirilus watched as the last of the logs was maneuvered into place and secured. The sun had broken through the clouds around mid-day and already most of the puddles had dried up, allowing the mud to begin the process of turning itself back into dirt.

The other side of the river was deserted and he didn't expect to find anyone their either. But he wasn't worried. He figured, with the injured slowing them down, he'd catch up to them sometime before sundown.

Turning to the assembled battalion commanders, he ordered them to get the troops ready to move out, dismissing them before turning towards the wagon.

Moving up to stand beside the limp form hanging there, he reached down and drew his sword, bringing it up and holding it in up in front of him. He watched the afternoon sun reflect off it for a moment before lowering it and jabbing the point into her side a couple of times, breaking the skin but getting no response from the woman at all.

Shrugging, he drew his sword arm all the way back but was interrupted by the arrival of Pyrrhos behind him as the General grabbed his wrist.

"Wait a minute, Kirilus. What do you think you’re doing?"

The King locked his eyes on the General and pulled his arm free. "Finishing her off. What's it look like?"

The General took a step forward, his tone belligerent. "But you promised to return her alive."

The King just shook his head and took a step back, his eyes never leaving the man. "And you're too stupid to live." Before the shocked eyes of his troops, the King's blade flashed and Pyrrhos' body slumped to the ground, his head rolling to a halt a moment later, several meters away.

Looking down at his bloodied sword in disgust, Kirilus shrugged and raised it over the unconscious warrior once again

"I wouldn't do that Kirilus, if I were you!"

Spinning, the King watched as Andrus emerged from the rocks on the other bank, holding a struggling Amara in front of him, an ashen Gabrielle at his side. The bard was trying very hard not to throw up right now.

The King paled and it was a moment before he spoke, but his voice betrayed no emotion. "I thought you'd run off, Andrus. Or are you here to surrender?"

The General's voice was hard and cold. "I'm here to offer you a trade, Kirilus. Your sister for Xena."

The boy thought furiously, trying to buy some time. "What makes you think that Amazon bitch is my sister, General?" This was not good; this was not good at all!

"Oh, isn’t she?" Andrus drew his knife and brought it to the suddenly still girl’s throat. "Then you won’t mind if I do this."

Amara's eyes widened as she felt the sharp blade and she began her struggles anew as it began to press against her throat. Her hands frantically tugged at the immovable arm wrapped around her chest, as she called out to her brother. "Kirilus, no, please! Don't let him!"

"Wait!" Kirilus' strangled cry came from the other side of the river as he locked eyes with his sister.

The General eased back on the knife, just a little. "Okay. Here’s the deal. Release Xena and put her in the wagon. Then bring it to the center of the bridge. I’ll bring your sister and we’ll make the exchange there. And don’t try anything funny, Kirilus. Queen Gabrielle will keep a bow trained on Amara, or whatever her name is, until were safely back across the bridge."

The King's eyes held a spark of defiance but his voice let Andrus know that he had won this one. "All right, General. We'll do this your way. Just don't harm her."

Gabrielle and Andrus began slowly walking towards the newly completed bridge with Amara between them, their eyes fixed on the proceedings on the far bank.

They watched as two soldiers unchained and untied the warrior's arms while a third snapped off the end of the bolt pinning her to the wagon. They winced in sympathy as she was pulled off the shaft and dragged around to the back. In another minute, the unconscious warrior had been unceremoniously tossed onto the bed of the wagon.

As Kirilus climbed up front and gathered up the reins, the first column of mounted troops appeared from around the bend in the road, headed in their direction.

The King kept his eyes on his sister as he called out. "Okay, Andrus, I’m ready."

The General gave an encouraging nod to the shaking woman standing beside him before pushing Amara before him as they both headed for the bridge. The King released the brake and started the wagon forward, pulling the team to a stop when they reached the center of the bridge.

Jumping down and waiting, he watched as the General and his sister approached.

Drawing even with the horses, Andrus released his hold on the girl and she stumbled forward into her brother’s arms. Ignoring them both, Andrus climbed up to take his seat on the wagon, sparing a glance at the unconscious warrior in the back.

His face set in a grim mask, he turned back and straightened as he sent a silent prayer to the Gods that she just hold on for a little while longer.

As Kirilus and his sister turned to go, they were startled as Andrus yelled "Hee yaw!" and the wagon suddenly sprang forward, almost knocking them into the river. The King exchanged a quick look with his sister before they both took off at a run, back to the advancing troops.

The wagon rumbled off the bridge, slowing only slightly as Gabrielle ran up and caught the side, throwing herself into the back and yelling at Andrus to get going. Sparing a glance to make sure the bard had made it all right, he turned and straightened, grabbing up the whip and concentrating now on picking up speed; trying to get as much distance between them and the Metzovian army as quickly as possible.

"After them!" Kirilus screamed as he leap onto a waiting horse and signaled his troops to follow, his sister right behind him.

Gabrielle had thrown herself alongside the still form, lying out full length and slipping an arm under the warrior's head as they were both tossed about by the careening wagon. Knowing the violent shaking wasn’t doing her injured partner any good but unable to do much about it, she sent up her own prayer and threw one of her legs over Xena’s, trying to minimize the tossing around they were both taking.

She heard the shouts behind her and raised her head to see Kirilus and Amara leading a small contingent of troops as they chased after the wagon. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw caught sight of the huts going by but focused all of her attention now on willing the horses in front to hurry up.

Because already she could see that those following were starting to catch up; the heavy wagon being no match for the swift horses.

She spared a quick glance down at the battered face of her partner lying beside her, choking back a sob and sending a silent prayer to Artemis to help them. The next moment she had to scramble for a grip as she was almost tossed off Xena; the wagon careening around the final bend in the pass. And then the walls of the mountains dropped away and there was nothing but blue-sky overhead.

She looked back and saw Kirilus and Amara exchange a grin as they too cleared the pass and began to close the distance, the rest of the troops right behind them. But as she watched, she saw them glance up and their faces suddenly go white as they violently jerked on the reins of the horses, causing them to rear. The resulting chain reaction in the ranks behind them ended in a tangle of horses hooves and confused shouts.

"Hang on Gabrielle!" Andrus shouted over his shoulder and she felt the wagon begin to slow.

Kirilus was refusing to believe what his eyes were telling him. There was no way it was possible. Because his eyes were telling him that spread out on the broad alpine meadow before him was a sea of soldiers, their leathers dark and their armor bright as the sunlight reflected off it.

Finally, getting his mount under control, he pulled the horse still and just stood and stared after the retreating wagon as the wall of troops parted to allow it entry before closing up around them again.

It took him a moment to realize that Doraclyse and Ephiny were mounted, grim faced at their head of hundreds of soldiers and Amazons spread out behind them. As he sat back in shock, he watched as they both urged their mounts a few paces forward.

Doraclyse's voice boomed out, "That’s far enough, Kirilus."

Gabrielle felt the wagon slow and then rattle to a halt as anxious faces began peering over the side. She ignored them as she got to her knees and gently straightened the warrior's leg.

"Here! Out of my way! Let me through!"

She felt the wagon dip and looked up to see Saran scrambling up beside her.

"It’s okay, my Queen, I’ve got her." The Amazon healer turned her head and yelled, "Somebody bring that litter!"

Warm hands wrapped around her shoulders and she was pulled away as more Amazons climbed up into the wagon and converged on the unconscious warrior.

"Gabrielle, are you all right?"

She twisted to see Solari on one knee beside her, concerned brown eyes searching her face.

It took her a moment to find her voice. "I am now."

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