They spent the long night sitting close to each other on Xenas cot. They talked some, but remained mostly silent as each woman spent the time lost in her own thoughts. Gabrielle left at first light to clean up and change into her ceremonial clothes. She hated all the leather and laces, but she wanted to make the right impression while presenting Xenas case.
Xena was allowed to put on her leathers, which Gabrielle had arranged to have repaired. The warrior was still a little stiff and her guards snickered when she stumbled as her wrists and ankles were manacled together. The shackles were a token gesture. Ephiny knew that if the Warrior-Princess really wanted to be free of her bonds, no force on earth could hold her.
Shortly before noon, six burly Amazons arrived to escort Xena from her cell to the council hut. Crossbows were kept trained on her at all times by at least two of the guards. The others seemed to be there more to protect Xena, than the other way around.
The village looked deserted as the small group left the cool dark of the jail and emerged into the bright heat of the compound. Crossing the dry, dusty ground, Xena closed her eyes and shut out the unnatural weight at her wrists and ankles. She concentrated instead on the warmth of the sun on her dark leathers. She breathed in deeply and smiled to herself as a peace settled over her.
I know you can do this my bard, I have no doubt. And if not...well...at least it ends here.
It was standing room only in the council hut. As the two guards leading the procession pulled open the heavy wooden doors to allow the group to enter, they were almost overpowered by the acrid smell of sweat mixed with leather that came rolling out. The interior, which had been filled with the sounds of conversations and laughter, suddenly grew silent. There were almost one-hundred women packed in the large hut, but as the last guard closed the door and followed her comrades towards the front, the only sounds now came from the creak of wood and the soft rustle of leather as bodies shifted on the benches filling the room.
Every eye was trained on the prisoner being led before the council. Xena seemed unaware of the angry whispers starting up as she shuffled past the rows of Amazons. Keeping her attention focused at the front of the room, it was only when she reached her spot beside Gabrielle that she let the Warrior-Princess mask slip and returned her friends warm smile.
Xenas guards had fanned out to take their positions facing the crowd, acting as a human barrier between the rest of the Amazons and the participants in the front of the council hut.
As the room settled down, Ephiny cleared her throat and brought the council meeting to order. It had been agreed that Gabrielle would be speaking in Xenas defense and Solari, as Ephinys second in command, for the Amazon Nation.
The six women who made up the council now moved from the back of the room and proceeded single file up the center aisle to take their places at the long table that had been set up at the front, facing the rest of packed house.
Gabrielle watched with everyone else as the silent women wound their way through the crowd and took their seats. She was somehow disappointed that there was nothing to distinguish any of these women from their sisters around them. They appeared to range in age from the most seasoned warriors to one young woman Gabrielle wouldnt have put much past fifteen summers. They were all heights, weights and hair colors. And yet these women were considered by their peers to be the wisest among the Amazon Nationthese women who now held the fate of her partner in their hands. Surely there should be something physical that marked them as being specially qualified to render a decision that would have such profound affect on both their lives.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and took a deep breath, pausing for a minute before slowly releasing it. Shed been trying to keep her growing nervousness in check all morning without much success. As she swallowed down a sudden wave of nausea she opened her eyes to see Xenas very concerned ones regarding her.
"Gabrielle?" Xena moved to support her pale friend but the bard gently shook her off.
"No, Im fine...just a bit of stage fright." She took another deep breath, trying to ignore the roiling in her stomach. "Ive never had so much riding on what I had to say before...or how I said it." She smiled at the concerned blue eyes searching her face. "Dont worry, Xena. You know I do my best stuff when Im motivated."
Xena had to smile when she heard the determination in her friends voice as the bard muttered under her breath, turning back to face the Amazons at the table before her. "And boy am I motivated."
Those who had seats took them as the room settled down into an expectant silence.
Gabrielle would normally have chaired the council meeting, being the highest ranking Amazon present, but since she was acting on Xenas behalf, the task of chairing fell to Ephiny, who moved to take her place at the center of the council table.
The Regent remained standing and cleared her throat, as all eyes focused on her.
"This special council has been called to reconsider the decision to declare Xena of Amphipolis an enemy of the Amazon Nation. The decision of the council today must be unanimous and can only reflect one of two outcomes. Either you decide that Xena is not an enemy of the people and is free to go or that she is an enemy and must forfeit her life immediately.
Turning to face the warrior, Ephiny seemed to hesitate before locking eyes with the woman standing there. "Xena of Amphipolis, do you agree to abide by the decision of this council."
You could feel the tension in the room now. The guards at the front began to unconsciously shift their crossbows up but Xena appeared relaxed as she turned and looked at Gabrielle. Ignoring the bards pleading look, she gave her friend a brief smile, her eyes reflecting her apology. Turning back to face the council, the warriors low voice could be heard by everyone in the council chamber. "I agree."
There was an audible sigh as held breaths were released.
Gabrielles eyes didnt leave Xenas as she tensed to say something, but Xena stilled her with a warm squeeze to the bards forearm. Slightly annoyed, the young woman decided to hold her tongue, for now, and turned back to face the Regent.
Ephiny motioned towards Solari, who stood and faced the council while the Regent took her seat.
The stocky Amazon was obviously not used to being the center of attention. The temperature of the hut wasnt the only thing contributing to the beads of sweat glistening on her forehead and upper lip. As she brushed her dark hair back, she cleared her throat several times and tried to remember the words shed rehearsed in her mind all morning.
Squaring her shoulders, she addressed the calm faces of the council before her. "The issue before us today is simple. Most of us in this room witnessed Xenas ride into this village and her savage attack on Queen Gabrielle several months ago. There isnt an Amazon alive who doesnt know the name of the animal who dragged our Queen out of this village tied to the back of a horse."
As angry shouts filled the room, Solari turned accusing eyes on Xena, who met and held her gaze for a long moment before lowering her head to study the floor. Gabrielle leaned over and bumped her shoulder against the warriors, giving Xena a reassuring smile when her friend glanced up.
Her nervousness forgotten, Solari became caught up in the feelings of outrage shared by the other Amazons in the council hut. "When we were unable to find the body of our Queen or track down her murderer, the council met to declare our Queen dead and to ensure that justice would be served if Xena should ever set foot on Amazon lands again.
"Well, two days ago, our Queen miraculously returned to us, and delivered into our hands the coward who so brutally attacked her." A look of disgust passed over Solaris face as she looked at Xena. "Frankly, I dont even know why were wasting everybodys time here today.
"The fact that Queen Gabrielle is still alive doesnt alter the events that happened. Xena brutally attacked our Queen and all those who tried to defend her. Those are the acts of an enemy of the Amazons and she was judged as such. The decision of the council must stand."
Solari sat down as angry buzzing erupted in the crowd. Several of the council members exchanged glances and leaned over to exchange hushed words. It took a moment for the room to quiet down before everyones attention focused on the young woman standing patiently beside the dark warrior.
Letting the silence of the room stretch, their Queen seemed unconcerned as she moved gracefully to take her place in front of the council.
Gabrielle was just hoping she wasnt going to throw up as she fought down another wave of nausea. Pushing everything else aside and just concentrating on the six women before her, she relaxed a little as she took a moment to really study each council member in turn.
Taking a deep breath and finally feeling the familiar calm take over, the bard decided her best chance lay with keeping her argument focused at the most basic level. If she could get them to agree there, shed have them. She knew it wouldnt be easy to do, but she was very good at her chosen profession and these women were no different than any other audienceexcept, of course, that if she failed, they would order her best friend put to death.
Concentrate, Gabrielle. Just relax and concentrate.
Extending her open hands to the council, she took a moment to acknowledge Solari with a brief nod before turning back and smiling at the women before her. "Solari raises a number of good points and I can see why this might at first appear to be fairly strait forward."
Both the crowd and the council seemed a bit surprised by that.
"But, the fact that the person Xena is accused of wronging is standing here before you, leading her defense, should tell you something about this whole mess."
Smiling at Xena, she moved to stand next to the warrior before turning back to face the council. "One thing Ive learned, travelling with her all these years, is that nothing is ever simple and strait forward where my friend here is concerned."
Her expression had turned serious as she looked at each council member in turn. "You declared Xena an enemy of the Amazons after watching her ride into this village and attack me. Nobody is denying what happened. How can we? You all saw it."
The room murmured their angry agreement.
The bard seemed to pause, her eyes studying the floor for a moment before meeting the eyes of the council again. Using her most reasonable voice, she began to slowly walk across the front of the room as she talked, her eyes never leaving their faces.
"What Im asking you to consider, is a question of perspectives. The events that moved you to make your original judgement can be viewed two ways."
The faces of the council members looking back at her were impassive.
"The attack could be viewed as a personal one on me; one that had nothing to do with my role as your Queen." Reaching the far wall, Gabrielle turned around and stopped, making sure every council member was focused on her words.
"If viewed in that light, then what happened was wrong and never should have happened, but it was between Xena and I and not a matter for this council. You had no jurisdiction; therefor, the judgement itself has no validity."
Angry and confused whispers began be heard in the crowd as several council members shifted in their chairs.
Resuming her pacing, Gabrielle now seemed to be talking to herself, although every woman in the crowded room could hear her voice clearly. "The only other way to see Xenas attack on me, is as one directed at me as a representative of the Amazon Nation. If thats the case, then the reason you declared her an enemy is because she is perceived as a threat to this nation."
Straightening to face the council once more, she waited 'til all the eyes of its members were focused on her before cocking her head to one side and continuing. "I ask you to consider this...would there even be an Amazon Nation today if it werent for Xena?"
That brought the crowd to their feet. It took Ephiny well over a quarter candlemark to restore order. Through the whole thing, Xena stood facing the council, Gabrielle talking quietly to her.
As the room settled down, Gabrielle gave Xena an encouraging smile before turning and facing the council again.
"How many of you remember the murder of Princess Terreis?"
Angry murmurs spread through the crowd as the women remembered the cowardly ambush that had taken the life of their friend and future Queen and had given them Gabrielle in her place.
"We were all set to go to war with the Centaurs over that. That is, until Xena showed us who the real murderers were. If Xena hadnt risked her life to fight Queen Melosa in a death-match...if Xena hadnt stopped us, how many of you would be alive today? How many Centaurs would be left for us to now call friend?"
A few murmurs of agreement arose from the back of the room.
"How many of you remember Valaska?"
The council members exchanged glances as several women in the audience gasped at the mention of the Gods name.
"It was Xena who stopped her from taking control and destroying everything we stand for as a nation. Where would we be today if Xena hadnt risked her life to stop her?"
A few more heads were seen nodding among the buzzing crowd now.
"Are these the actions of an enemy of the Amazons? Or are these the actions of someone who I am proud to call The Queens Champion? For you to ignore everything Xena has done for this nation because of one event it wrong. That one event cant compare to what shes risked in the past for us.
"How can you declare Xena be an enemy of the Amazons when everything shes done has shown her to be just the opposite? You have no choice but to let Xena go. Any other decision would be wrong, and you know it."
Gabrielle returned to stand beside Xena as heated discussions broke out in the crowd. The bard ignored everything around her and just focused on the reactions of the council members in front of her. They seemed to be sitting quietly, making notes, occasionally exchanging hushed comments with each other. It was impossible to gage their reactions.
She barely felt it when Xena leaned over and gave her arm a squeeze but she caught the movement in the corner of her eye and turned to see a beaming Xena looking back at her. "Well done, my bard. Im glad youre on my side."
Gabrielle had begun to wonder if she'd taken the right approach. As the council members talked quietly among themselves, she stood there and willed them to make the right decision. Breaking her concentration for a moment, she turned anxious eyes up to meet her friends. "I dont know, Xena. What if it wasnt enough? I want you to promise me you wont let them take you."
Xena returned her friends worried gaze with a reassuring smile. "Dont worry, Gabrielle. If they decide to...to carry out their judgement, it wont be because of anything you have or havent done, my bard. Im proud of you, my friend. Thank you."
Gabrielles response caught in her throat and she swallowed a couple of times. She looked back over at the council table and the six women who were now huddled together. A heated debate seemed to be taking place among three of the council members. With a sinking feeling, Gabrielle remembered the decision of the council had to be unanimous.
As the women at the council table argued amongst themselves, Gabrielle became more and more nervous. She knew the longer they debated, the worse it was for Xenas chances. She was beginning to figure out the positions of the guards and the shortest route to the stables when she noticed Ephiny talking to one of the council members.
She held her breath as the Regent resumed her seat with the other women. The council member who seemed to be arguing the most stood and addressed the now hushed room.
Gabrielle had recognized the older woman when shed first taken her seat at the council table. As the Amazon Nations most respected warrior, Gael was the hero of many tales told around Amazon campfires. Assuming other duties when a lucky blow from an enemys mace left her blind in one eye, she was still held in the highest regard by everyone in the room.
Slowly scanning the crowd, the old warrior now waited for quiet before turning her gray head and fixing her gaze on Gabrielle. With sparkling eyes that seemed to burrow into the bard, the older woman raised her voice to address the room.
"Our Queens argument seems to be that we have no right to judge Xena because what we all saw that day was none of our business." A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. "Interesting approach. Lets put aside the injuries Xena caused to the Amazons who tried to protect their Queen, and lets just examine that argument for a moment."
Slowly moving out from behind the table, she came to rest just in front of it before addressing the room again. "Did Xena viciously attack Gabrielle, our Queen; or did Xena viciously attack Gabrielle, her own partner?
"Queen Gabrielle has chosen not to share with this council today, the circumstances that lead up to the assault we all witnessed, so it makes it impossible for this council to determine what Xenas motives were for her attack on our Queen."
As some members of the audience shifted in their seats, the older woman continued. "So where does this leave us. If this was a personal attack, then Queen Gabrielle is right. This council had no jurisdiction to act. We were wrong in our judgement."
Several angry nos were heard from the crowd as backs began to stiffen.
"If this was an attack on our Queen, then what was its purpose? Our Queen is alive and apparently well. The Nation itself doesnt appear to be any worse off than before." Shaking her head, her face took on a grim expression. "No, I think its pretty clear who Xena savaged that day. And, while several of us on this council feel that Xena should be immediately brought up on different charges, we cannot, in all fairness and given her history with our Nation, judge her an enemy; which is the sole purpose of todays proceedings.
"So, this council, after much discussion, feels that we were too hasty in our judgement of Xena of Amphipolis and hereby declares the judgement lifted. She is free to go."
The reaction was deafening as the hut erupted in surprised gasps and angry shouts. Clearly many were not at all happy with the councils decision while others were obviously just glad it was over and things could return to normal.
Gabrielle had spun, wrapping her arms around Xena as soon as Gael had stopped speaking. A little stunned by the councils decision, it was a moment before the warrior returned the bards hug. They stood for a long time, ignoring the chaos around them, warm smiles on both their faces.
Gabrielle finally let Xena go and turned to Ephiny who had joined them after a brief word with the council members. "I cant believe that its finally all over." As a guard moved up to remove Xenas shackles, the warrior exchanged glances with the Regent across the top of Gabrielles head. They both knew this was far from over, but neither had the heart to dampen the bards enthusiasm.
Deciding to worry about that tomorrow, Ephiny felt like a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders and tonight they would celebrate. Returning the bards smile, she motioned Solari over. "Gabrielle, I think its time the Amazons cut loose some. Tonight well have a feast in honor of your return. A little dancing...a little drinking...just what we all need."
"Ephiny, thats a great idea! Itll give the others a chance to see Xena and I together; get over whats happened."
The Regent wasnt too sure this was a good idea but she smiled nonetheless, as she moved off to talk to her second in command about arranging this evenings festivities.
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