Xena: Warrior Princess, its characters, and the images for the story cover are copyright to MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. I'm just borrowing them, and of course I'm not making any profit, just trying to entertain.

This story revolves around a loving relationship between two women, what that relationship is will be up to the reader to decide. Some may not see much subtext, some will see more.

This story might be clasified as Hurt/Comfort Story. Readers who
are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read
something other than this story.

There will be mild violence in some parts of this story, but of course this is Xena, and I'm sure you expected that.

Rainedrop@angelfire.com I would love to hear any and all feedback.


Letting Her Go



Chapter 7

Dawn wasn’t more than a candlemark away as Xena hovered in a copse of trees a hill away from
the army encampment. She had lain awake, watching for signs of movement since she had made
camp here, long after night had fallen. There was a break in the rain, but the sky remained
overcast with a thick cloud cover. She had left the Antopians with orders to take what they could
from the town remains and travel overnight to Poteidaia, warning them of the unrelenting army.

The first sign of activity from the campsite was a group of men moving from tent to tent. A
stirring of motion followed from inside the tents. Men dressed lightly clad in linen, began
streaming out wearing no armor. The men were fed, and the fires were doused, as tents were
collapsed and loaded into war wagons. A line of tents to the center of the camp were the last left
standing, and soon Xena caught her first glimpse of Gabrielle as she was lead by a company of
guards out of the last tent to the left. She strained to see the bard’s face, but she could only make
out her familiar figure. As the last of the supplies were loaded on wagons, and as horses were
brought to various men, a chestnut mare road through the ordered chaos, and the cloaked rider
stopped in front of the assembly of Gabrielle’s guards. Words were traded, and Gabrielle
reluctantly, but sluggishly mounted in front of the rider.

As the mare cantered to the front of the forming line, Xena could see that the rider was Azure.
She bit back her resent and pulled Argo’s reins to walk her further into the valley. From there she
watched the line conform to a structured unit lead by two flag bearers, with Azure’s mare the
fourth in the line. She followed the valley and circled out wide, just enough that she could still
make out the army in the distance.

All day they traveled, even as the rain poured from the heavens again, they marched. Xena kept to
the low valleys, always keeping sight of the massive army in her vision. By nightfall that evening
as the rain turned to icy sleet, the men stopped to make camp, still a day’s march away from
Poteidaia. Xena made her camp too, although she wouldn’t have the benefit of a dry tent or a
warm fire. Instead she ate from their trail rations, and wrapped herself in her cloak, and pulled a
blanket over her head, exchanging it for a dry one in Argo’s saddlebag, once the previous one was
drenched through.

Her restless mind had formed a tentative plan, and she tucked her arms around her knees to wait
for the pitch black of dark to settle in. “Not long now, Gabrielle ”,she thought to herself. “Not
long now.”


Gabrielle winced at the stiffness in her shoulder, and the ache of her hollowed stomach. They had
journeyed all day, and just as Azure had warned, the herbs she had taken left her dizzy and
nauseous. Many times, as they rode, Azure felt the girl leaning awkwardly to one side, and she
had to reach out and bring the girl upright. The rest of the time, she had to hold Gabrielle with
one arm, else she would fall from the horse. Gabrielle lay on a dry blanket in a darkened tent, and
wrapped the blanket around her like a cocoon.

“Does your stomach feel like it’s stuck to your backbone?” Azure asked pleasantly, as she carried
a small bowl of beef stew in one hand, and a waterskin in the other. She set these items in front of
Gabrielle on the ground, and moved to light a candle.

Gabrielle reached out cautiously, and pulled the bowl of stew closer. She smelled the rich herbs,
the meaty sauce, and the tang of pepper. Decisively, she scooped a spoonful of the thick stew into
her mouth, and closed her eyes, savoring the feel of food in her mouth. She pulled over the water
skin and drank fiercely until the water spilled down her chin. She looked up to Azure,
embarrassed but thankful.

“You should have eaten last night in Othello’s tent. You won’t get a better meal than that here.”
Azure commented.

“I’d rather starve,” Gabrielle replied candidly.

Azure studied the bard’s green eyes, and smiled knowingly. She bent down to kneel on her knees
across the tent from the woman, still eating. “If I ask you a question, will you answer it?” she
asked timidly.

Gabrielle contemplated, and nodded her head, still unsure.

“What did Xena tell you about me? I mean, I know she must have told you something.”

Gabrielle lay the spoon in the now empty bowl, and pondered how much she should tell. How
much would Xena want me to tell, she asked herself. “Xena said that you were in her army a long
time ago.”

“That’s all? You don’t expect me to believe that do you?”

“She said that you betrayed her,” Gabrielle said curiously.

Azure nodded her head, and moved to stand. She walked to the tent opening, and lifted the flaps
to leave.

“Well?” Gabrielle asked.

“Well, what?” Azure prodded.

“Did you? Did you betray her?”

Azure turned her head to look at something outside, then suddenly she turned back to look at
Gabrielle. “Yes, I did.” With that, she turned and left.


Night had stolen in, made even darker by the covering of the moon. Xena stalked like a cat
through the tall grasses, and the clumps of trees. She watched five men as they stood watch on
the rise overlooking the army’s encampment. They stood at great distances from each other,
probably surrounding the camp, she thought. The watchmen seemed distracted, unaware of the
stranger in their midst. They were armed only with bow staffs and sharpened spears. They wore
no armor, only linen trousers, with lightly colored tunics, covered in long dark cloaks. She knew if
they saw her before she struck they would sound a warning, and instead of five, she would have
to encounter over three hundred men.

“Let’s make this quick,” Xena warned herself.

She kept low, sheltered the by the tall yellowing grasses, and cam up behind the first man pulling
him down into the grass, holding her hand firmly over his mouth, and she slit his throat with her
chakram. Warm blood soaked her hand, and she wiped it with the man’s cloak. She moved quietly
to the next man, and the next, until she counted eight soldiers down. She looked down over the
crest of the rise, and there she saw over thirty campfires burning. Ten men or so per fire, she
figured in her head.

She looked down at the last man she had killed, a young man, with a three day old beard. His
mocking eyes still peered at her through open lids. She closed them respectfully. “Just enough to
let ‘em know I’m here,” she whispered, as she walked back to her own campsite. She shook her
head at herself in sad amusement. “She’s gone for a day, and already I’m talking to myself.”

As Xena reached Argo, she looked down to find her hands painted a deep dark red. She tilted her
head back, letting the icy rain fall freely on her face. A strike of lightening struck, and in the flash
of light Xena saw the blood on her hands washing away in rivulets. She lifted her arms up into the
air, letting the clean fresh rain wash away all traces of blood. Standing there, out in the open,
searching for Gabrielle, she felt such a fierce ache for the bard, that her knees almost buckled
from beneath her. Fresh tears fell from her eyes, and joined the cold rain water coursing down her
cheeks. A chilling loneliness settled over her like her damp cold blanket, and she dropped to her
knees on the bedroll, wrapping that blanket closely around herself.

“Let me go...”

The words echoed in her mind.

“I love you, Xena.”

“I love you,” Xena whispered into the wind.


“Hey sunshine, wake up,” Azure called harshly, as she entered the tent.

Gabrielle still lay on the blanket with the empty bowl and waterskin near her head. She woke
groggily, with the pounding of a headache blurring her vision.

“Xena killed eight men last night,” Azure announced in anticipation.

“What, you didn’t expect that?” Gabrielle asked with a sly smile.

“Tonight Othello will double the watch, and they will find her.”

“No they won’t, they’ll just find sixteen dead instead of eight.”

“This isn’t funny little one. It’s not about duty to them anymore, it’s about revenge,” Azure said

“What do you think it’s about to Xena? Duty? Revenge even? There’s something stronger than
any of that driving Xena.” Gabrielle stated calmly.

“Bloodlust?” Azure asked with a knowing smile.

“No, love,” she answered defiantly.

Azure arched an eyebrow, and pulled Gabrielle up to stand. “Let’s go. We march to Poteidaia

Again, they marched all day stopping only when the village of Poteidaia could be seen through a
line of trees. They made camp, with still two candlemarks of sunlight left. Othello again asked for
the bard to be brought to his tent site for dinner.

When Gabrielle arrived, she was surprised to see three other men at the table beside Othello, two
of them were elders from Antopia. The third was an older man with dark tanned skin, and hair the
color of copper. He sat, dejectedly, at the corner of the table, and Gabrielle sat down across from
him. She looked to him with a smile, and he gazed at her, perplexed. Azure pulled a chair up to sit
next to Gabrielle, as Othello rose to speak.

“Tomorrow should be a good day for our guests. We are within the Poteidaian area, where two of
you will be released. My demands are being sent by messenger as we dine tonight. I’ve chosen
Reid,” he announced as he gestured to a gray haired elder, “and of course, Gabrielle.” He smiled
winningly at the bard, and winked casually.

“I’m sorry we’ve detained you for so long, but you have been powerful assets, and you should be
proud knowing your lives saved so many others.”

“Poteidaia will not surrender,” Gabrielle proclaimed boldly.

Azure looked sternly to Gabrielle, warning her away from this conversation.

“Then tomorrow won’t be so good for you, will it? Either way I’m not worried, I’m only trying to
be gracious to the innocent farmers of these villages. They can either give up their homes, and
have their lives, or they can forfeit their lives, and still give up their homes.”

“You’re such a fair man,” Gabrielle sarcastically conceded.

Othello looked accusingly at Azure, who offered an apology in the form of a modest bow. “Shut
your mouth,” Azure whispered violently. “Do you want to put all these people in danger?”

Gabrielle looked to the copper haired man, and bit her tongue. They ate a impressive dinner of
lamb and fish, with dark crisp ale to accentuate the meal. Conversation was uncomfortable, and
dominated by Othello, who pleasantly talked of the uncouth weather, the fair trade to the north,
and the coming harvest.

“I’m Gabrielle,” she whispered across to the copper haired man.

He hesitated, but answered, “I’m Harlan...of Cahterre.”

“Where is Ian, your son?”

“I don’t know,” he answered bitterly.

“I’m sorry.”

Harlan shook his head, and focused his concentration on his untouched plate.

“Harlan, do you not like lamb?” Othello asked cordially.

“I prefer venison.”

Othello laughed. “Me too. My men are hunting other things tonight though, aren’t they

Gabrielle breathed to reply, but stopped short when Azure grabbed at her thigh and squeezed
painfully tight, cutting off any retort Gabrielle may have prepared.

“Azure, take them to their tents, and make sure they’re comfortable,” Othello said with a wink.

“Of course.”

Azure walked Gabrielle and Harlan out, where five guards joined them.

“I’ll help you find your son, if I can,” Gabrielle offered quietly to Harlan as they walked briskly
thorough the sprinkling rain.

“I’m not sure that you’re in a position to help. Tomorrow Othello will send a message to
Poteidaia in the form of a dead hostage. Who will that be, do you think?”

Gabrielle was pulled apart from Harlan, as Harlan was lead to the right. Azure left three other
guards at the entrance, as she walked Gabrielle in. She lit a fresh candle, and laid a new dry
blanket down for Gabrielle.

“Behave, or I’ll have to tie you to the peg again,” Azure ordered.

“Azure? What will happen to Harlan?”

“That’s not for me to decide,” Azure said as she spread the dark gray cloth on the ground.

“But you know, don’t you?”

“Don’t you have enough on your plate yet? Leave it, Gabrielle.” Azure gave Gabrielle a full
waterskin, and walked toward the entrance.

“Are you going after her?” Gabrielle asked warily.

“Yes,” Azure answered as the tent flaps closed behind her.


“Double watch tonight, huh?” Xena pondered to herself as she watched from the stand of trees to
the west.

They were better prepared this evening wearing belts with swords sheathed in scabbards, and
wearing the most basic of armor, chest, and shoulder, with chainmail underneath. Those who had
carried staffs had traded their weapons in for spears and swords.

“Smart boys,” Xena commented.

She moved to shift to a better location when she heard the rustle of grass behind her. Someone
had circled around to attack her from behind. She climbed a dark cypress tree, and perched on a
low limb, just high enough to let someone walk under it. She heard quiet footsteps, careful
movements, a lone person.

A cloaked figure approached the line of trees, holding a broad sword at ready. Xena waited until
the person had paused just to the right of the limb, and with agility she jumped, letting the cloaked
stranger break her fall. The intruder let out a cry, and Xena pulled back the hood to see the
familiar long auburn hair. She forced the woman to turn over, and held her still by pinning her
with her weight.

Xena reached behind her back to unsheathe her sword, and pulled it up to bring down on the
woman’s neck.

“Where is she, Azure?” Xena demanded.

“I’ve come to warn you, Xena,” Azure gasped through her restrained position.

“I’m the one who’s warning you.”

“If more men die tonight, Othello will slit Gabrielle’s throat himself, and have her body delivered
to her home village. Demands have already been sent to the town, asking for unconditional
surrender. Gabrielle says they will not accept, is that true?”

Xena considered her answer carefully, “No, they won’t accept.”

“Listen to me, Xena. You can’t kill me. I’m the only thing in there keeping Gabrielle alive. Go
back to Poteidaia, convince them to surrender, and I will personally deliver Gabrielle to you,
safely. You’ll have to trust me in this, Xena.”

“Trusting you has never been good for me.”

“Gabrielle’s life depends on you trusting me, will you do that? For her?” Azure bargained.

“If there’s a mark on her...” Xena said through sharp breaths.

“Tomorrow then.” Azure said, as Xena moved, allowing her to stand.

Azure left the way she came, through the grass behind the army’s encampment. Xena knew she
didn’t want her own men to see that she had left Xena free. Xena made her way back to Argo,
and rode hastily into the guarded village of Poteidaia. Here there were no walls, no militia,
nothing but crops and houses. Xena passed men holding pitch forks, and staffs, keeping watch
outside the village square.

She stopped at a young man, who looked worshipfully up at the warrior. “You,” she pointed to
the man, “where is Malakai?”

“He is within, at his home,” the boy managed to say.

She rode swiftly, into the village square, where nervous men and women milled about. She pulled
Argo up at the house of Malakai, and dismounted, pushing through throngs of tense, fidgety men.
When she entered the elder’s house, she searched the faces for the kind gray eyes, until finally she
was face to face with Malakai.

“Malakai,” she said warmly in greeting, “have you received the demands from the invaders?”

“Yes, they are here,” he said in answer, as he pulled a scroll from the table and unrolled it for her
to read.

“Unconditional surrender, provisions, and food in return for two hostages, and mercy,” she read.
“Malakai, they have Gabrielle,” Xena said between tight breaths.

“She’s one of the hostages,” he said, and it wasn’t a question.

“What?!” a man blurted from the back of the room. Herodotus rushed forward, grabbing Xena’s
cloak front with his two fists. “You told me you’d protect her. You let them take her!” he

Xena called the blame from the back of her mind, and forced herself to confront the guilt that had
built in her chest since Gabrielle had left with Azure two days ago.

Herodotus tried to pound on Xena’s chest, but men pulled him away. “Listen to me, Herodotus!
That’s not important right now, getting her back is.” She turned to Malakai. “Will you
surrender?” she demanded to know of the elder.

“There are little a hundred people living in this village, men and women. Over one hundred have
joined us from Antopia, and another fifty of Sedroia’s militia has traveled here to assist us. We
still won’t match that army out there. Half lost their lives in Antopia because they fought.”

“No,” Xena corrected, “half lost their lives because they surrendered. We took fifty of their men
in the first ten minutes of battle. The men of Antopia,” she shouted loudly for those guilty to hear,
“opened the gates, surrendering themselves, allowing the army to come in and kill those who still
tried to fight.”

“We should surrender!” Herodotus yelled, still being restrained. “They’ll bring Gabrielle back, if
we surrender.”

“What, and leave them for the next village, and the next?” Malakai called out. “I say we fight,

“No,” Xena stated emphatically. “We will surrender.”

A murmur passed through the gathered men, and Xena let the noise calm to a hush. “And then
we’ll fight,” she added with a gleam in her eye.


Chapter 8

Gabrielle sat on the blanket in the small space that had been provided for her. The room had been
so dark for so long that Gabrielle now saw white flashes in front of her, a trick of the eye. She had
waited candlemarks, and candlemarks for any sound of Azure. Time passed so strangely in the
dark when you were tired. A candlemark could be a day, or only seconds, Gabrielle refused to let
her eyes shut, fighting away the exhaustion that threatened to pull her under. It wasn’t until early,
before dawn, that Azure came into the dark tent, and lit a candle, letting some light spill into the
small area. Even that small amount of dim light stung Gabrielle’s eyes, and she rubbed at them
sleepily. Azure put a bowl of bread and cheese in Gabrielle’s hands, and a freshly filled waterskin
on the ground at her feet.

“Eat something, we’ll be leaving the camp soon.”

“Did you see Xena?” Gabrielle pleaded to know.

“Yes, I saw her.”

“You look well considering,” Gabrielle commented.

“You sure think a lot of her, don’t you?” Azure smirked.

Gabrielle looked at Azure, with so much wisdom for such a young woman. “Yes, I do,” she

“Do you ever wonder what she was like before...?” Azure asked skeptically. “Because I could tell

Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows, and avoided eye contact with Azure. “How did you betray
her?” Gabrielle asked, feeling guilty for wanting to know.

“I was only twenty winters old when I met Xena. I had nothing, until I had her. She took me in,
and she took care of me the way no one ever had. Three winters passed, and she taught me things
no one else could teach me. She taught me how to be strong, and competent in everything I did.
One day in early spring as the farmers were bringing in their harvest, we attacked a village, and
we took everything they had. We took their food, and their provisions, we even took the few
weapons they had collected to defend themselves. I became so jaded toward the life I was living.”
Azure’s eyes became moist, and her eyes were far away looking past Gabrielle into another time.
“I just wanted to get out. I wanted to leave, but I knew Xena never allowed a soldier to leave her
army alive. She believed in honor, and loyalty.” She wiped angrily at her eyes. “One night I crept
away, and stole a horse. I went to the town of Adrian, and I told them Xena’s location. I told
them her route up the coast, and then I sneaked back into Xena’s encampment before dawn.
Three days later, they ambushed us on the coastal plains north of Adrian. You may think I did that
out of revenge, or vindictiveness, but I would have never hurt Xena purposefully. You see, I
knew the militia would never take Xena: The Destroyer of Nations...but I thought that they would
at least scatter the army, and that Xena would never knew who did it. I thought if Xena had no
army...that she’d change, that it would change her. I know it was naive of me, but I also know it
was still betrayal. Xena’s smart though, she is one smart woman. She knew that I had revealed
their position, and she was ready for the militia. She destroyed them, and I ran from battle. I never
saw her again until a few days ago in Antopia.”

Gabrielle winced at the image of a Xena she had never known, and yet her only reaction was to
find Xena and hold her...and comfort her any way she could. “If you hated the life so much, why
are you here?”

“You don’t think most people choose this life, do you? I went back to Apollonia, but there I
wasn’t a seasoned warrior, I was an unmarried foreign woman. I couldn’t find work, so I couldn’t
find food or shelter. When I got cold and hungry enough I heard of an army amassing outside
Palangus, and I joined them. I met Othello two winters ago, and he has been very good to me.”

“Is he so kind to his victims?”

“You shun this life, and you have that right, but Othello is kind, and merciful. I could never have
said the same of Xena,” Azure stated bitterly through trembling lips. “But Gabrielle, I loved her
for what she did for me, and I betrayed her in return. That will never leave me. That is why I did
not want to take you from Antopia, but you left me no choice.”

Gabrielle shook her head, skeptically at the mention of a kind, merciful warlord. “What did Xena
say, when you saw her?”

“She agreed that she would surrender, which is fortunate for you because Othello will be fierce
and swift if he is opposed. This is your home village right? Don’t you want your people to be

“I want their farm, their land, their homes to be spared. I want Sedroia to be spared, and the next
village down the line,” Gabrielle said in exasperation.

“I won’t discuss morals with you,” Azure replied, agitated.

“Isn’t there a piece of that soul in you that refused to take people’s food out of their mouths, food
they had slaved over, and tended for moons?”

“I will not be made to feel guilty by you!” Azure raged as she picked the bard up by her cloak
front. She shook Gabrielle violently, and then threw her brutally to the ground. Gabrielle’s head
soundly struck the wooden table as she fell. Azure stood over Gabrielle, breathing hard, and
struggled to control her emotions. “I never wanted to hurt you,” she yelled again. Suddenly she
leaned over, pulling Gabrielle into her lap. She pulled the bard’s cloak down to examine the still
sore shoulder, and brushed away several errant drops of blood from a deep cut near Gabrielle’s
eye. “I’m sorry,” Azure pleaded.

Gabrielle let the room’s relentless spinning stop before she pulled herself to a sitting position. She
reached up tentatively to the warm stickiness of the blood, now spilling from her head, and she
looked to Azure with forgiving eyes. “It’s not me who’s making you feel guilty,” Gabrielle said

Azure’s head dropped in defeat. She stood quietly, and left. Several moments later she returned
with strips of clean linen, and a bowl of strong smelling herbs. She kneeled stoically with a glacial
emotionless mask over her face. Gently, she took one of the strips of linen and wiped away the
blood still streaming down the side of Gabrielle’s face. Then she pulled a piece of twine from her
pouch with a long needle, and threaded the strand through the loop. Expertly, she sewed four
stitches into the deep cut bisecting Gabrielle’s eyebrow. She swabbed her finger in the mixture of
herbs, and rubbed it delicately across the wound. Gabrielle flinched at the stinging the herbs
caused, but stared unwavering at Azure.

As Azure leaned back to observe her work, Gabrielle broke the silence. “I know this amazing
woman who lives with this massive amount of guilt on her soul everyday. I watch her wrestle it,
and battle it, until she’s exhausted from the effort. It’s there, and it’s so heavy on her. I want so
much to take that from her, I ache with the desire to free her of that burden. After years, though, I
finally realized that she is the only one who has the power to do that.”

“That person is Xena,” Azure said. It wasn’t a question. “You’re the most stubborn creature I’ve
ever come across, do you know that?”

“I have been told that before,” Gabrielle responded with a small smile.

“I wonder by who,” Azure muttered under her breath. “Come. It is time to go.” Azure pulled
Gabrielle up as she stood, and she bound her hands with a length of rope. “I’m sorry about this.”

“It will be over soon,” Gabrielle said as she sighed uneasily.


“Azure, take a party of twenty five men along with the two hostages, and enter the village from
the east once you’ve been given the signal,” Othello ordered as he sat atop a tall, black war horse.
“Jakob, tell the men who are staying behind that we march for Sedroia tomorrow. I’ll want to
leave by dawn.”

Azure nodded, and she gestured to the far line of men. Twenty five soldiers broke away from the
line, and formed a new row behind Azure. Gabrielle sat atop the chestnut mare in front of Azure,
while Reid, the elder from Antopia, sat atop his own horse, with his hands tied tautly to the saddle
horn, as a soldier held the guide rope.

“I am proud to lead you,” Othello continued, “into battle once more. We expect full surrender, so
let us enter the village peacefully.” With the last of his speech complete, Othello turned his horse,
and with a gesture his army faithfully followed him toward the village of Poteidaia.

Azure kicked the mare into a canter, as the small group of men followed her closely. They headed
to the eastern most forest, atop a hill, where the village could be observed unobstructed. Azure
turned her head back to watch Othello as he marched straight for the town. His head was held
high, with his chest thrust forward. Seeing him like this, from a distance, away from the line of the
army, Azure saw a different man. He would march into that farming village, and even though
these people would surrender, he will still burn their homes, and plunder their harvest, leaving the
villagers homeless with nothing to eat. Leaving them with nothing, Azure thought bitterly to

She shook away the unwelcome train of thought, and kicked the mare into a gallop to reach the
hill before the army reached the village, and there she waited.


Xena saw the line of soldiers before they had even broken the clump of trees to the north. Their
weapons were not drawn, nor were their shields raised in defense. “We all have that mortal flaw,
don’t we Othello?” Xena said softly to herself as she stood in the village square.

Many villagers stood behind her, but only at a distance. She felt the reassuring weight of her
sword in it’s scabbard on her back, and her right hand went instinctively to the chakram she wore
at her belt. She touched it’s cool smooth surface with her fingers, and pulled her hands back down
to her sides.

As the army of men came through the clearing, Xena searched for Gabrielle among the soldiers.
As her eyes scanned the many faces, her heart dropped at the realization that she wasn’t among
them. For a moment, she panicked, knowing that she could never give the signal if she didn’t see
Gabrielle first. But then Azure’s words rang in her ears.

“Go back to Poteidaia, convince them to surrender, and I will personally deliver Gabrielle to
you safely.”

Again, Xena’s eyes scanned the faces of the army, but Azure was not in the line either. The
villagers behind her became restless as the army reached the outer circle of homes that surrounded
the village. Xena could make out the figure riding atop a towering dark horse. It was a man, who
rode straight and confident. Xena allowed a sly grin to spread across her lips. If only he knew
what he was leading his army into.

Suddenly, a gust of wind blew from the north spreading fresh mist into the air. Xena looked to the
sky, as the clouds whirled in circular patterns overhead. A storm was imminent, and Xena begged
the sky to hold off until after Gabrielle was safe in her arms. A single raindrop fell and landed on
Xena’s left hand. She looked down to the drop, and sighed irritably. “I should have known.”

The rain began to fall quietly at first, but soon it was pouring. A bolt of lightning lit the land
instantly as a crack of thunder rolled through the air. Xena bit off the curses settling on her
tongue. Othello and his first line reached the outer village square, and Xena squared her shoulders
and stood to her full height. The dark horse’s hooves splashed through the forming puddles, and
it’s rider brushed away the water from his eyes.

“I am Othello, leader of this army. I have come seeking the unconditional surrender of this village,
in return for your freedom and the freedom of my two hostages.”

“The last time I counted, you had five hostages. Don’t you think your generosity could be
extended, or is it that you don’t want to spend all your valuable hostages in one place, especially a
petty farming village?” Xena queried.

“Shall I take that to mean that you will not surrender?” Othello asked mildly.

“Forgive us for not trusting you, but your character is questionable, you know the warlord bit and
all. We need to see the hostages, before we can readily relinquish the village.” It was a challenge
and Othello knew it.

He laughed, and dismounted his horse, walking slowly to face Xena. “Trust must be earned, I
understand that. Tell me something first, Xena. Your companion, Gabrielle is very beautiful, I’m
sure you’d agree. I was told that she offered herself to be taken. I wonder why a warrior would
allow someone she loves to be taken from her,” Othello said knowing Xena’s weak spot. “And
then I wonder, do I really want to give her back? She’s a feisty one. I know what you see in her, I
see it too,” he whispered softly meaning for his last words to be heard by Xena only.

Xena breathed unevenly for a moment, as she leaned closer to Othello. “You can take this village,
you can take their food, but as long as there is breath in my body, you will never take Gabrielle.”

Othello let a nervous smile grace his lips, as he took a step back from the warrior. “We shall see,”
he whispered. “Take the villagers beyond the ring of houses, and then burn the village,” Othello
ordered his men as he walked back to mount his horse.

“We will not surrender the village until we have seen the hostages,” Xena repeated again, standing

With a gesture to the flag bearer, the soldier took the flag and waved it back and forth in giant
sweeping motions. Soon the sound of horse’s hooves filled the echoing silence, as a group of men
lead by Azure entered the village square from the east. There in front of Azure sat Gabrielle, with
that beautiful smile that could move Xena to do anything. A fresh tear flowed down Gabrielle’s
cheek at the sight of Xena, and it was then that Xena saw the fresh cut and the stitches on
Gabrielle’s brow. Xena offered a twitch of the lips and a flash of an eye to Gabrielle, knowing
only she would read the emotion there.

“I will release them once the town has been evacuated, and the villagers are escorted beyond the
village limits,” Othello ordered.

Soldiers moved, and dismounted to obey as they had been commanded by their leader. Xena
turned her eyes on Gabrielle, willing her to know that at this moment the only thing Xena wanted
to do was reach over and take Gabrielle in her arms and embrace her. Xena forced herself to tear
her gaze away from those eyes and fiercely, she shouted the signal. “NOW!”

Othello blinked, and in that time villagers began appearing from every niche, every shadow, armed
with spears, and swords. Many others were armed with bows, and slings. The villagers who had
been standing peacefully behind Xena ran to opposite sides of the village square and took up
shields and swords. A mighty yell rose up from the villagers, so deafening was the people’s cry
that the soldier’s horses reared and stomped beneath their riders.

Arrows whistled as they flew, and pellets from their slings could be heard as they struck their
target. A savage shout went up to join the villagers as the fifty members of the militia from
Sedroia came pouring in from the western pastures. They poured in wearing armor, holding long
sharp spears, and defending themselves with broad shields.

The villagers who carried spears and swords stepped out from behind their cover, and dashed
towards the foreign army. Othello recognized the ambush just in time to dodge the sword of a
young man. He scrambled to the left, unsheathing his sword, and slashed out at the boy. Surprise
lit up the boy’s face as he saw his own blood on his hands. He fell heavily to his knees, even as
other villagers ran past him to attack other soldiers.

Azure pulled hard on the reins as she saw the villagers take up weapons, and she spun the horse
around. Gabrielle fought wildly to be free of Azure’s tight grip. She struck backward with her
elbow, striking Azure in the mouth, and threw herself from the galloping horse onto the softened
muddy ground. She struck the ground with a violent impact, and instantaneously she felt her
shoulder crack, and her entire right arm went numb. Gabrielle saw Azure turn the mare back
around, and she gathered herself, and rose to run. Just as Azure was prepared to tackle Gabrielle,
a familiar war cry rose into the air.

A black blur flew past as Xena thrust her sword through Azure’s thigh. Azure fell rigidly from the
horse, and at once Xena was upon her. “I thought I warned you about touching her,” she said
savagely through clenched teeth. Xena pulled Azure roughly from the ground, and threw her
against the side of a stable, slamming her into the wood.

Xena brought her sword up to linger on Azure’s bare throat, putting enough pressure on the blade
to bring a stream of blood from her neck. “Xena,” came the gentle voice of Gabrielle. Xena
turned intensely to face the bard. “Don’t kill her,” Gabrielle pleaded.

Xena turned back to Azure, full of turmoil. She struggled with herself, feeling the anger choking
her breath. Finally, she threw Azure to the ground, and spun around in time to see a soldier lift a
sword to hit Gabrielle. In one motion, Xena pulled the chakram from the loop at her waist, and
threw it. It struck the soldier solidly through his side, rebounded off a post, and flew back into
Xena’s hands. She looked back to see a mob of desperate soldiers coming at her and Gabrielle.
She pulled Gabrielle’s sais from her cloak pocket where she had kept them since Gabrielle had
been taken, and she tossed them lightly to the bard. With a nod of her head, Xena rushed at the
soldiers, taking three on at once.

Gabrielle reached out to catch her sais, but was only able to capture the one with her left hand.
She saw a red bearded man charge at her, and she spun to prepare herself. The man wheeled
around, and thrust with his spear, striking only the air. Gabrielle took the opportunity to lunge
with her sai, unarming the soldier. Angrily, he blindly ran at Gabrielle, tackling her at the waist,
and knocking her harshly to the muddied ground. She cried out at the impact, and rolled from
beneath the man, only to find two more standing over her. Each one took her by the arm, while
the red bearded man came stumbling to a stand.

He pulled back his hand to hit her, again and again he struck her until she came so close to
unconsciousness that she almost wished for it. A jarring collision cast her back to the ground,
where she lay until she felt herself gingerly picked up, and carried until she was laid softly down
on dry ground. She opened her eyes to a slit to see beautiful blue eyes looking back at her sadly.

“What have they done to you?” she heard Xena whisper heavily.

“I knew you’d come for me,” Gabrielle whispered. “I never doubted it, not even when Azure said
you would surrender. I waited, and now you’re here,” she mumbled as the blackness threatened
her once again.

“Listen to me. Stay here, don’t move, and I will come back for you. You’ll be safe here in the

“I can’t, Xena. What about my family?” Gabrielle’s words became less and less intelligible.

“No! For once, Gabrielle, listen to me. I will come back.” Xena tucked Gabrielle into a clean
corner of the barn, and turned hastily. “Oh, Gabrielle,” she whispered as she took another look at
the bard lying motionless with bleeding cuts and dark bruises forming to join those already there.
She allowed herself one more look, and then she left.

The village was now in complete chaos, as archers from the roof continued to rain arrows down
on the army of men. Xena ran into the fray, searching for their leader. The army would fall so
much more quickly if only she could find and defeat Othello. As Xena searched for Othello, she
also sought to find Azure. It wasn’t until she reached the far end of the village square that she saw
Othello. He was being attacked, and the only thing more amazing than the fact that he was being
overcome, was who he was overcome by. Azure, limping badly from the wound to her thigh, had
Othello in a corner, as she continued to relentlessly strike blow after blow with her sword. Many
times Othello only barely got his sword up in time to block the next strike. As Xena approached,
she heard the angry shouts of Azure directed at Othello. Azure caught Xena’s presence, and she
turned suddenly, locking her eyes to the warrior’s. There was so much said in that moment,
regrets, apologies, forgiveness. Not even Xena saw Othello as he pulled his sword in a desperate
arc, and slashed through Azure’s chest. With a silent cry, Azure fell lifeless to the ground. Her
body lay in a crumpled heap, blood still pouring from the gash in her leg. Xena stared stunned, as
Azure struggled to catch her breath, and grabbed futilely at her open chest.

In a rage, Xena stepped over the fallen woman, and thrust her sword forward, but it deflected off
Othello’s chest armor. She pulled back again, twirling the sword in a feral dance of steel, and
pulled it down abruptly to tear at the flesh across Othello’s throat. He grabbed wildly at his neck,
and fell to his knees before the warrior princess. Xena turned to kneel beside Azure as Othello fell
face forward, dead before he hit the ground.

“Azure, don’t touch it, don’t,” Xena ordered, as she took her own cloak off to stop the flow of

“That is so like you, stealing my thunder. I wanted so much to be the one to kill him,” Azure
muttered through panting breaths.

“Switching sides, I see?” Xena asked distractedly as she tore at Azure’s cloak and tunic to reach
the wound. Frantically, she placed her own cloak on the gash across her chest, using all her
weight to put pressure on the gash to stop the bleeding.

“It isn’t too late to switch sides, is it?” Azure asked with a wry laugh as she looked down at her

Xena looked up poignantly, looking directly at Azure. “No. You were just in time.”

“I’m sorry, Xena. I’m sorry for betraying you, I’m sorry for hurting Gabrielle. I’m so sorry,” she
pleaded through sobbing breaths. “She’s lucky to have you, and the thing is that she knows it. I
love that about her,” Azure continued.

A racking shudder went through Azure’s body, as shock set in. She squeezed her eyes shut in
pain, and when she opened them tears coursed down her cheeks. “Will you tell Gabrielle that I’m
sorry about her shoulder?”

Xena nodded as she tore the blood soaked cloak away from the wound , and saw that still the
blood ran. “Azure, there’s nothing I can do for this wound,” Xena said softly.

“I know,” Azure comforted. “Can you do something else for me?”

Xena looked deep into Azure’s dark gray eyes, and nodded her head.

“Scatter the army, take the food and provisions from the campsite, and give it to the people of
Cahterre, and Antopia. You must scatter the army, Xena. I don’t want them going on in Othello’s
name, nor mine.”

Xena nodded her head. “I will Azure,” Xena assured her.

“At the campsite, there are two hostages, one is named Harlan. His son has been taken back to
the village of Cahterre, and left with a small group of farmers that were still there. Harlan doesn’t
know this, and he fears for the boy, so you must tell him,” Azure said as she jerked with a spasm.
Her body convulsed and her eyes rolled back unnaturally. As the convulsion passed, Azure’s body
lay limply on the ground as the rain continued to fall.

“Azure...Azure?” Xena bent low over Azure’s chest and let the sounds of the dying battle fade
away. She heard no heartbeat. Xena reached up to Azure’s neck, and furiously felt for a pulse, but
there was none. Xena bent her head down by Azure’s ear. “I’m so sorry, my friend,” she
whispered ruefully. Xena sat back on her heels, and turned her head to the village square. Two
and three villagers at a time were confronting soldiers, and those left of the army who did not
surrender, were hastily killed.

How quickly the defender becomes the aggressor, Xena thought to herself. Many of Othello’s
men were gone, retreating after the death of their commander and the second in command. As
villagers began jumping and bouncing in celebration, Xena looked across the crowded square, and
saw there a vision that swept her breath away. It was Gabrielle, and as her eyes found Xena’s she
began taking deliberate slow steps forward, never losing their eye contact. Xena ached with relief,
and she began to take quick steps toward the other side of the square, toward Gabrielle.
Gabrielle’s breath came sharp and quick, as she struggled to hasten her step. Xena saw the bard’s
pain and she began running until she was within arm’s length of her. Gabrielle sobbed deeply, as
she bowed her head, and took Xena into a strong fierce embrace. She buried her face into the
warrior’s leather, and released racking tears. Xena, too, took Gabrielle into her arms and held her
closely, whispering over and over, “It’s ok, I’ve got you,” as she rocked soothingly back and
forth. Her eyes misted, and ran over with warm tears.

Xena embraced the bard tightly, but pulled back as she heard Gabrielle moan. “What is it?” Xena
asked anxiously.

“I don’t know. I think I may have dislocated my shoulder...again,” Gabrielle added with a

Xena rubbed her fingers over the swollen shoulder, causing Gabrielle to wince. Xena prodded
lower along the arm, and down to her wrist. “Gabrielle, your arm is broken,” Xena said

“Oooh,” Gabrielle moaned. “That is the cherry on the cake of my day.”

Xena smiled fondly, and took the bard into her arms once again, amid the shouts and exclamations
of victory from the villagers that surrounded them. “We won?” Gabrielle asked quietly into
Xena’s chest, relishing the closeness of her partner once again.

“Yeah,” Xena answered as her eyes took in the bodies scattered across the village, most of them

Gabrielle pulled her head up and laid it on Xena’s shoulder, looking around the square. Xena
heard her gasp, and knew instinctively what it was she saw. “Azure?” Gabrielle exclaimed. “No,
Xena.” She took a step away from the warrior, and Xena forced herself to let her go, again, she
thought with a chill.

Gabrielle took slow steps with Xena behind her, until she stood over Azure’s still body. She saw
Othello’s body only two steps away, and she knew. “Azure tried to stop him,” she said. She felt
Xena’s comforting presence behind her, and she leaned back as Xena’s warmth poured over her.
“I wonder why...why now.”

“Well if a certain blonde bard’s presence can do to her what it does to me, then I don’t have to
ask why,” Xena said shyly.

Gabrielle turned at the words to face Xena, looking at her questioningly.

“You move me to do things I never thought possible,” Xena explained softly.

Gabrielle smiled gently, as her chin trembled and her lips quivered. She tucked herself back into
Xena’s embrace, as Xena closed her eyes wishing herself and Gabrielle far away from the
memories of this place.


Chapter 9

“It’s wonderful to see the sky again, instead of a ceiling of clouds. I had forgotten how beautiful
the stars are at night,” Gabrielle said as she and Xena lay on their bedrolls in a clearing two days
away from Poteidaia. The tumultuous weather had cleared by the morning after the battle.
Gabrielle stayed with her family only long enough to see that they were safe. She itched now to
leave her hometown, even as she had all those years ago.

“Mmm,” Xena murmured in agreement. “Not to mention the luxury of having dry blankets to
sleep on at night.”

“Dinner was interesting tonight,” Gabrielle said mischievously.

“It was either my rabbit or your mother’s goat stew, which would you prefer?”

Gabrielle thought about that, pondering each pro and con. “That’s really not such a difficult
choice, so of course I would have to choose the rabbit, no matter how interesting it was. The
cook’s company makes it all worth while.”

“Hmpf,” Gabrielle heard from beside her. “How long until that arm heals again?” Xena asked in

“Oh, another moon at least,” Gabrielle giggled. “I do appreciate you doing the cooking while my
arm heals. That’s generous of you.”

“And it’s brave of you to eat it,” Xena added wryly.

The pleasant silence of the warm night descended on them, as they snuggled further into their
bedrolls. Xena looked over to Gabrielle, who was still gazing at the stars above, thoughtfully. She
winced inwardly at the healing cut across the bard’s eyebrow, and the fading bruises across her
face. Xena sighed deeply.

Gabrielle turned, and their eyes met, acknowledging each other intensely. “Xena, do you think
Azure would do it over again, confronting Othello, knowing how it would all turn out?”

Xena considered her answer carefully. “Yes, I know she would have. She did what she thought
was right.”

“She was such a mystery to me. I could never figure her out, even in the end.”

“I’m just glad you’re back,” Xena declared, changing the subject. “I began talking to myself,” she
admitted playfully.

“You missed me, warrior princess,” Gabrielle smiled.

“Oh, yes. I missed you fiercely,” Xena said, suddenly serious. “Don’t ever do that again,” her eyes

“I will never leave you again,” Gabrielle vowed.

Xena smiled contentedly as she settled into the blankets, pulling them over Gabrielle and herself.
Soon the soft rhythmic breathing of the sleeping bard settled warmly on Xena’s soul. She propped
herself up on her shoulder, and leaned over to look into the bard’s face, reassuring herself that this
was real, that Gabrielle was back with her. “Letting you go was the most painful thing you’ve
ever asked me to do, and I won’t ever do it again. I won’t ever let you go again,” she promised
Gabrielle earnestly. Xena stroked her bruised cheek gently, and felt herself smile. She lay back
down, and felt sleep as it pulled her into it’s tempting rest. Soon her own breathing settled into a
quiet rhythm. She didn’t hear the bard’s words, nor did she feel the bard’s soft lips on her cheek.

“Thank you, for never letting me go,” Gabrielle whispered quietly into the warrior’s ears. “I love you.”

The End

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