Disclaimer: Most of the characters presented in this story are property of MCA/Universal (you know who they are) and I have shamelessly borrowed them for my own deviant activities. Thank you. All other characters are figments of my twisted imagination. This is a work of fiction and its mine, mine, mine. You (whomever you are) may not alter, reproduce, or post without my expressed permission. That would be very naughty. Oh, and Im not making one bloody dime on this thing.
Furthermore: This story involves acts of love (sigh) between two women. If this bothers you than I am truly saddened but invite you to read anyway. If youre not up to it then theres plenty of non-alternative fiction floating around and some of it is quite good.
Also: This is a dark, moody story with copious amounts of violence. Just a warning. However, love always triumphs.
One more thing: Comments are very much encouraged but no flames as they will be quickly discarded into the black depths of cyberspace. Okay, let the games begin!
A Third Death
By: C.L. Bactad
The warlord looked wearily at his mug of mead and momentarily contemplated the request which was just put forth. He looked across the table to the dark-haired man that occupied the chair and currently his time. "I need some guarantee." The warlord spoke, his voice hoarse from his recent siege.
The stranger smirked. " A guarantee? Of what? That you wont get a boo boo?"
"Hey look! Ive tangled with her before. Shes changed but not that much." He took a large swig of his mead as if trying to chase away the memory. "Shell kill me without hesitation. How do you think I got this scar?" He jutted a stubby finger up toward a long diagonal slash across his face. "Last time we met she just about ripped my - "
The other man held up is hand to quiet the whining warlord. "Spare me the sob story. I know perfectly well what she is capable of." Smiling, he turned his hand over to inspect his nails. " I made her what she is you know . . . all that leather and rage. Mmm, a masterpiece."
"Yeah, well your masterpiece isnt doing your bidding is she?" The warlord grinned thinking he bested the dark god sitting across from him. Proudly, he allowed himself another swig of his drink but before his lips touched the mug his throat became constricted. Gasping for air he looked wide-eyed across the table and tried to force out an apology. "Ar.." He started but he couldnt get enough breath to push out the words. He clutched his own throat.
Across the table an evil smirk flashed uplifting the edges of a neatly trimmed goatee. "What is it Mercurio? Are you trying to say something? Seems like a God has got your tongue." Clenching his teeth he could see the warlord could not breathe at all now. He let the big, lumbering man struggle for breath a fraction of a second longer then released him.
Sputtering the warlord fell forward on the wooden table his forehead landing in a puddle of his own spilt mead. His back was heaving as he tried sucking in the breath that was taken from him. "Ares, I didnt mean . . . "
"Shut your trap before I kill you!" Ares spat in disgust "Listen to *me* Mercurio." His voice became quiet as he lowered his head toward the now frightened warlord. "Xena is not the one that you need fear the most." He paused for effect. "Do you understand?" Mercurio shook his head furiously in agreement and started to speak but thought better of it.
Mortals are so weak . . . well, except for Xena. The God of War silently mused then turned his attention back to Mercurio. "Good now have some more mead and Ill tell you what youre going to do."
Chapter 1: Declarations
All the while, believe me, I prayed
our night would last twice as long.
The sun began its ascent above the eastern mountains. The sleeping form underneath the blankets began to stir as the first rays of light fluttered across her eyelids. Gabrielle opened one eye cautiously fearing the rude brightness would jolt her too quickly from her slumber. The forest was covered by dew and a mist could still be seen floating in the cool air. Reluctantly, she opened the other eye and looked up into the forest canopy. Shadows and bright light battled against the large tree boles. The clarity of the early morning light sharply defined the green foliage above, which now came into a clear focus. Lifting her arms above her body, she stretched her torso trying to loosen the morning stiffness. Her nostrils picked up the drifting smoke of a small campfire. Xena was up, of course.
She focused on the figure kneeling by the fire feeding it small branches. "When will I ever see you sleep past dawn?"
Xena smiled as she heard Gabrielles voice, which was still rough from sleep. "And when will I ever see you get up at dawn?" She looked over to the woman who was still tangled in blankets. The bard shifted onto her side so she could see Xena more clearly, careful to keep the blanket tucked tightly around her bare body. She looked at her lover who was already dressed in her leathers. Her appreciative gaze did not go unnoticed by the dark warrior. Gabrielle smiled and effectively melted Xenas heart at the same time.
Xenas azure eyes locked with the grey green of her companion. Suddenly, overwhelmed with her own emotion she mouthed the words "I love you." She had not meant it to be silent but she could not will her voice to tone. The noise would seem like an intrusion.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and rolled over onto her back letting the silent words wash over her. Her reality was now better than her dreams. Three moons ago she would never have imagined that this was going to happen. Her love for the warrior was best kept to daydreams always pushed back at the first questioning look of her traveling companion. Now it was real and she still couldnt believe it. She had what she wanted. What they both wanted.
"Hmm?" The warrior was tending the fire and looking intently at a small flickering flame.
Xena looked over to Gabrielle who was now holding the blanket open to her lover exposing her naked flesh to the cool morning air and to Xena. The warrior stood and began to walk over to the shivering bard. One eyebrow raised on her beautiful face as she knelt beside her bard, eyes mesmerizing her insatiable lover. "Do you ever get enough?" She smiled knowing the answer already.
Gabrielle shuddered at her lovers tease and memories of the night before warmed her body. She parted her lips to answer but that was all Xena needed before she descended upon Gabrielle. A groan escaped from the bards throat as Xena hungrily pressed her lips against her lovers. She felt the warriors strong arms around her back supporting her just inches off the blankets. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xenas neck pushing herself into the leather clad chest. The urgency of the kiss heightened into a blinding passion. Each woman pressing fiercely against the other, lips parting, pressing, heads shifting, separating and coming back for more. Gabrielles heart felt as if it would burst from the pressure of beating too fast.
Breathless, Xena forced herself to pull away. "We cant . . . not now."
"Xena please dont . . . " Gabrielle muttered still searching for Xenas full lips.
"Gabrielle we have to travel today. I promised Celeste that we would be in Crete in three days" Lovingly, she stroked Gabrielles reddish-blonde hair still keeping her lips out of reach from the persistent bard. Gabrielle threw her head back in compliant disappointment. She knew if Xena made a promise she intended to keep it even at the expense of her highly aroused lover. Slowly, she lifted her gaze to see the amused look on the warriors face. Xenas blue eyes shone brightly and a crooked smile accented her flawless features. Gabrielle was caught and try as she might, she could not help but stare into the eyes of her love. Focused on each other the world fell silent.
"Gabrielle," Xena spoke softly. " I want you to always look at me with those eyes." She reached out to run her index finger along the bards jaw-line. Gabrielle was stunned at the simple sincerity of Xenas words. Trying to gain control of her now spiraling emotions she closed her eyes to the blue lights boring down into her soul. And then she heard her own voice. " Each breath I take is for you." She grabbed the hand touching her face and held it against her beating heart using it for strength and to still her own trembling. The bard opened her eyes and her heart instantly ached. Xenas face was stoic as usual but tears ran freely from her eyes, unchecked by her need for control.
"Whats wrong?" Startled, the bard sat up not used to seeing her best friend and lover cry. Worry crept into her voice. "Did I do something wrong?"
Xena realized that she had been crying. " Wha . . . no Gabrielle." She reached out to grasp the blondes shoulders. "You have done everything right." Pulling her into a protective embrace, Xena now whispered. "I have come to need so much. Im . . . afraid for the first time in my life Gabrielle." A darkness came over the warrior who was angry at her own fear and want.
Gabrielle sensing the change in Xena pushed herself tighter into the warrior. "Xena I..I know what youre afraid of. Your darkness wont scare me away because I know that you would never hurt me. You arent that person anymore. Theres more love inside of you than hate. I feel it and thats why youve captured my heart so completely. Ill never leave you dont you understand that? Every day I thank the gods that they have allowed me to find the other half of my soul. Some people search a lifetime for what we have...I cant live without you."
They sat there holding each other underneath the rising morning sun. Energy passing between them and reaffirming a bond that no man, woman or god could break. Or so they thought.
In the forest a twig broke under pressure. Xena jolted back to reality jerking her head in the direction of the offending noise. Eyes narrowing she scanned the surrounding tree line still heavily shadowed. She detected a slight movement. "Stay here." She growled and the ice in her voice told Gabrielle that is was a command not a request. Quickly, she grabbed her sword and chakram and silently moved away from camp stalking her prey with feral grace.
Watching Xena stealthily slide out of camp Gabrielle quickly moved to her clothes. The last thing she wanted was to be attacked while nude. Fully dressed, she crouched down in a ready position. Staff in hand, she listened into the forest. She was not listening for Xena. She knew that she would not hear her. Instead, she listened for something else, fleeing footsteps, heavy breathing or perhaps a struggle. Gabrielle remained low and keenly alert to the stillness around her. She clutched her staff tighter steeling herself for a possible attack. Traveling with an ex-warlord has it disadvantages, she silently thought to herself. However, Gabrielle realized a long time ago that the adrenaline she felt in situations such as these also made her feel alive. A smile crossed her lips as she realized the other advantages of traveling with Xena. Shaking her head, she forced herself to focus. A lesson learned from her warrior.
She remained silent for what seemed like an eternity and looked around to Argo who was tethered to a nearby tree. Xenas armor still lie next to the saddlebags. Gabrielles heart began to race. "Gods, she doesnt have her armor on," she muttered to herself. The bard knew that many serious injuries had been deflected by the armor lying in a heap by Argo. For some reason, not entirely known to Gabrielle, she felt panic. Intent on regaining control of her racing heartbeat, she concentrated on her breathing. Slow steady breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Pushing away the panic Gabrielle was now bent on finding Xena.
A hand reached out and grasped her shoulder. Gabrielle turned on her bent knee swinging her staff in a low arc. Twisting her hips she continued the swing across her body and around her back. It was a fast, low swing that would have broken the shins of the offender. However, Xena aware of the muscle twitch in Gabrielles back jumped easily allowing the staff to pass underneath. Landing squarely in front of the bard, she had a proud grin on her face. "Well, nice to see you too."
"Xena! Do you have to do that? Cant you make just a little noise when you come back to camp?" Gabrielle stood abruptly putting her index finger and thumb close together to illustrate her point. The exasperated bard narrowed her eyes at her lover. "You know I used to think that ..that sneaky thing was amazing and even a bit cute. Now I find it really annoying. Just save it for your enemies okay!"
Xena arched her right eyebrow and looked down at her furious bard. "Are you done?"
"Am I done?" Gabrielle looked at her incredulously. Tilting her head, she tried to stammer out a response. "You . . . is that all . . . cant you..ughhh!" She shook her head looking down at her feet. The warrior knew that this was a gesture of passive frustration. It was soon becoming a trademark of Gabrielle and it amused Xena greatly. "Yes, Im done."
"Good" Xena whipped her head around to her armor and quickly moved toward it.
"So, are you going to tell me what or who that was?" Gabrielle watched as Xena reached over to pat her horse then stooped down to pick up her arm bracers.
" I couldnt find anyone," she stated flatly. "Must have been an animal." That was no animal, grimly, she thought to herself but she didnt want to frighten her friend. She hoped that it was a hunter or a traveler passing through but every warrior instinct in her body told her different. Xena knew that she should have followed the tracks farther but didnt want to alarm her lover.
Gabrielle could tell Xena wasnt telling her everything. However, she knew not to push the subject. "Oh, well thats a relief."
Xena adjusted her breastplate and scabbard. "Gabrielle, can you eat breakfast on the road? We need to get moving if we want to make it to Crete in three days." She waited for a nod of agreement then turned to saddle Argo. A sarcastic smile crept upon her face. "Ill try to be louder next time I come back to camp. I didnt realize you were getting so jumpy." She tried to hide the amusement on her face as a bedroll came flying at her.
Chapter 2: The Chase
The scout ran into the center of the large camp collapsing in front of a large white tent. Gasping for air, he began to push himself to his feet. Two stubby hands gripped the boys shirt helping him to his feet. The scout found himself face to face with Mercurio. The scout tried to turn his head away from the warlords foul breath. "Well!" Mercurio boomed into the young boys face.
"I found them sleeping . . . " The scout was still trying to catch his breath. "..in the forest about a half a days ride North of here."
"And" Mercurio released the boy from his grasp.
"And the darker one woke first and built a fire. The younger one slept a few candle marks more then awoke. They seemed very . . . affectionate and ow!" The scout startled as Mercurio slapped him across the face then grabbed him once again by the sweat soaked shirt.
" Im sure the scene was very touching but I dont give a rats ass about fires or who woke first!" Mercurio threw the boy down in disgust. "What I want to know, you idiot, is which way theyre headed." With that he belched. The boy flinched in disgust as he once again struggled to his feet.
" Okay..I didnt get as much information as I wanted. I was moving in closer to camp for a better look and I stepped on a twig snapping it in two."
"You what!" Bellowed the angry warlord.
" I...I barely heard it. I have no idea how she heard it. I was a good league away from her camp. You would have had to have..I dont know . . . but nobody could have heard that." Noticing the warlords impatience, the scout quickly moved to finish his report. "Anyway somethin must have spooked the dark one because she jerked her head up in my direction." His eyes grew wide as he further explained his situation. "She started to move away from camp like some animal, a cat perhaps. I felt as if she were stalking me." He shivered at the thought. "I had to move quickly but I assume she didnt see me . . . probably thought it was some stag or somethin." He shrugged his shoulders happy with his explanation. "As best as I can figure out it looked like they were making their way south toward the coast."
Mercurio cocked his head to one side and smirked at the boy. Young as he was, he was still his best scout. I suppose I let him live this time, the warlord begrudgingly told himself. "You know . . . " The warlord stopped realizing that he didnt even know this gangly scouts name. "What is your name anyway?"
"Julian huh?" Mercurio wrapped his meaty arm around the thin boys shoulders. "Do you know who those women were? You know the ones that I sent you to spy on?" The boy shook his head no. "Oh thats right. I didnt tell you. Well that woman, the one with the dark hair that was Xena.." He thrust his fingers in the air signaling quotation marks. "..Warrior Princess and the blond is her personal bard slash sex kitten."
Julians jaw went slack. "Xena?" Recognition washed white against the boys face.
"Oh so you have heard of her." Mercurio once again grabbed the scouts abused shirt. "So you know not to make assumptions of what she *does* or doesnt realize." He threw Julian down into the dust. "You are very lucky pissant. Its not every day that you survive your mistakes." With that he retreated into his tent bellowing for his second in command.
Julian remained seated in the dirt shaking his head in disbelief. She did hear me he thought grimly. "Wait a minute . . . sex kitten?" The poor boy was so confused that he did not even realize his last thought was audible to a passing soldier. The soldier stopped in his tracks and looked down at the now very dirty boy. "What did you call me?" Julian shook his head. This day just keeps getting better and better was his last thought before a large fist connected with his nose. Julian was out for the day.
Chapter 3: Color
The road was well traveled and worn into a pale brown while the rest of the country side remained green. The sun was directly overhead and the hotness began to sear into Xenas bronze back. Dark brown leather, although useful in battle, acted as a heat sink and got to be unpleasant during the warmer seasons. Shifting in her saddle she thought of it only as a minor inconvenience while others would think it excruciating. She moved the horse closer to the side of the road trying to take advantage of the shade provided by the thin trees.
The dust swirled under the tan warhorses hooves. Each stride releasing a whirling coalition of air and particle. Xena turned her head to look back at her bard wondering if the dust was beginning to bother her. Gabrielle was walking behind them but slightly to the side to avoid the worst of it. "Whoa Argo." Xena gently cooed to her horse. She stopped and waited for Gabrielle to catch up.
The bard was quickly beside her. "What is it? Why did you stop?" Xena looked down at her dusty lover. The leather of her saddle squeaking as she shifted her weight to extend a hand to Gabrielle. "Why dont you ride up here with me?"
"Xena, you know how I feel about riding. I would rather walk and besides Argo really doesnt like me." As if on cue Argo shuffled slightly and snorted. "See what I mean?" Gabrielle shook her head, "Nope, Im perfectly fine down here."
"Gabrielle thats ridiculous now get up here." Xena jutted her hand out again and shot the bard her best warlord glare. Gabrielle almost took the hand that was extended to her but a nasty little stubborn streak once again got the best of her. Her eyes narrowed and she deliberately pointed her staff at the warrior. "Xena dont look at me that way."
"What way?" Xena feigned innocence.
"What way?" Gabrielle mimicked earning a dry look from her lover. "That way, the dont mess with me the mighty warrior because Im always right way."
Xena studied the slightly cranky Amazon Queen for a moment before a sly grin touched her features. "Gabrielle I think the sun is getting to you. Maybe you should sit in the shade for a moment." She gracefully slid off her horse. "You look a bit flushed." With mock concern she reached her hand out and checked Gabrielles forehead. The bard rolled her eyes as Xena teased at her expense. "Hmm you dont feel too warm." With a sigh, "Well I guess well keep moving." She turned and started toward Argo.
"Yeah?" Xena replied as she was grabbing the saddle horn to mount her horse.
"Thats because youre not feeling the right places." Xena stopped just as she was going to swing her other leg upon the worn saddle. Her eyebrow shot up and a crooked smile danced across her bronzed face. Slowly she turned her head looking at the strawberry-blonde over her shoulder. "Im not huh?"
"Nope." The bard replied quickly watching Xenas reaction and loving every minute of it.
"Gabrielle," The sleek warrior walked toward her prey.
"Yes Xena?" replied Gabrielle innocently while a wicked smile was fully displayed.
"I think we need to find a nice shady spot."
"What about Crete and the three days thing? I really dont think we can spare that kind of time." The bard looked hungrily at her approaching lover. Her breathing now becoming ragged as the warm blue eyes lavished their attention on her body.
"Ill make it a quick stop." In two steps Xena had grabbed Gabrielle around the waist and ushered her off the road into the seclusion of the green underbrush.
Some time had past before Gabrielle could get herself to roll off the spent warrior. "Mmm, I do love shady spots." She let her stomach relax with laughter. She looked down at her lover who seemed perfectly content to lie there all afternoon. However, the nearness of her sword and chakram belied her true readiness. Still Gabrielle had never seen her so peaceful. Gods shes so beautiful, the bard mused. "Xena," the bard toned gently. Xena smiled, eyes still closed. "Open your eyes."
Xena turned her head in the direction of her bards sweet voice. Slowly, she forced her heavy eyelids open. With abated breath Gabrielle looked into Xenas eyes. "They are so beautiful. I want to memorize every coloration . . . every speckle. They change color you know?" Xenas left eyebrow shot up in a question.
"I love that" Gabrielle smiled as she ran a finger over the raised eyebrow. A moment later she continued her previous thought. "It was your eyes that I noticed first. The color, the way they could look right past me and not even realize their effect." Xena started to say something but was quickly quieted with a soothing look from her lover. " Right now I would describe them as a cloudy blue somewhat paler than they are normally." She looked up at the sky noticing the high clouds thinning and separating only to be rejoined again. "Theyre that color."
Smiling up at her bard Xena decided she would take a moment longer to indulge herself before pushing onto Crete. Only Gabrielle could make her feel so calm and she was learning to appreciate these times more and more. "I didnt know that there could be more than one color blue."
Gabrielle adjusted herself up against a tree and pulled Xena so her head rested on her lap. She loved the moments where she could get Xena to just sit and relax. "Thats better." She once again started to stroke her lovers eyebrow. "There are many colors of blue. All of which can be seen in your eyes."
"Really?" the warrior asked incredulously.
"Hmmm, right before and actually in battle they get intense, so clear. The blue becomes almost a white . . . mere backdrops for your jet black pupils. I guess they sort of glow." Gabrielle couldnt help but put a bit of her storytelling flair into her apt description.
Xena let out a laugh. "Well theres a definite advantage of glowing eyes to scare an opponent. They probably think Im insane." She stopped to ruminate on what she just said. A dark thought rushed to the surface before the warrior could push it back. "Sometimes I probably am."A moment of sadness flickered in the eyes the bard was now studying so intently.
"Xena, whats past is past but Ive seen you fight many times." Xena saw Gabrielle give a slight smile. " Its not insanity. Its determination. Youre so confident in battle that victory isnt even a question for you. That is what frightens your opponents. Your eyes see everything. Im glad that I can be a part of it...a part of you. Right now...the way youve turned your life around and your quest for atonement. Not very many people could do what youre doing."
"What have I done?" A tone of regret crept into Xenas voice. It was the same sound Gabrielle always heard when she comforted Xena through her nightmares. It broke her heart.
"Xena youve faced your past. Everyday you face it and beat it back until I can feel you hurt. That would have broken weaker people a long time ago...but each day you force yourself to do it again. Your pain manifesting itself in nightmares because you cant take the time to look out for yourself. Youre too busy saving the world....saving me." Gabrielle closed her eyes and laid her head against the tree. She spoke the last sentence in a whisper. "Xena, one day you have to forgive yourself."
Xena turned her head in her lovers lap letting her gaze rest on a distant cloud. Solemnly, she replayed the bards words in her head. I wish it was that easy my love, she thought to herself. Gabrielle didnt know the true horrors that were nestled in a warlords nightmares. She couldnt let her know just how complete Xenas descent into evil had been. How could she forgive herself when she knew that Gabrielle would reject her so completely at the full knowledge of her cruelty? No, forgiveness was not a luxury she would let herself own. She was not sure that a lifetime of redemption would ease her soul either. What she did know, however, was that the only peace she had came from this woman beneath her. This fact haunted her because she didnt fully understand what she had done to deserve it.
"Gabrielle we need to go." Xena said flatly as she pushed herself up to her feet. She whistled for Argo.
"Right, Crete in three days." Gabrielle reluctantly followed Xenas lead. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, Im fine we just need to get moving." Feelings locked tightly inside she was once again in full warrior mode. Without looking at the bard she mounted Argo. "Will you ride up here with me? Please."
The other woman was about to refuse but thought better of it. Xenas use of the word please wasnt really a question but more of a gentle command. She grabbed Xenas outstretched hand letting its strength lift her effortlessly onto the gigantic horse behind the warrior. "Xena I love you." The warrior pressed back into the bard. She smiled and with a quick nudge into Argos sides they were off.
Chapter 4: Capture
The second day had been uneventful so far. They were back on schedule due to Xenas relentless pace. Gabrielle remembered when she first started traveling with the reformed warlord that this pace was grueling. The bard never did say a word about it in fear that she would make Xena angry or worse make her want to leave her behind somewhere. She followed biting her tongue and at night aching from the soreness of legs and feet. Now after more than two summers, she kept the pace easily. Her legs had become stronger and she could see the definition of her thighs contracting at each step. Her muscles were well defined and all traces of baby fat gone. She liked who she had become. More confident, wiser and very good with a staff. She smiled looking up at Xena, stoic and quiet as usual, astride her tan mare. She had shaped so much of her life in a short period of time. Gabrielle had grown physically and emotionally. Her love had no bounds, her gratitude no depths. Xena was all there would ever be for the bard.
"What?" Xenas colorless word broke into Gabrielles thoughts.
"What?" she said squinting up at the warrior.
"You were smiling and not talking."
"It was...odd." Xena smirked at the blonde who had been easily keeping pace with the mare.
"I was just thinking."
Xena rolled her eyes. "About your next story I presume." She knew when Gabrielle had that look she was concocting some sort of tale with her usually as the star. "I told you that you need to be more aware of your surroundings on the road." she said slightly irritated. "Dont let your mind wander so much. You need to save some of your focus for the things around you."
Gabrielle nodded at Xena knowing that it was a lesson she had tried to teach before. Awareness is what kept them both alive. She needed to stop being so reliant on the warrior to be her ears for her. Gabrielle sighed. Bards were dreamers with the compulsion to share them with others. Daydreaming was one of Gabrielles favorite past times.
"Xena I wasnt concocting a new story."
"No?" the warrior raised an eyebrow obviously not believing the bard.
"No" she patted the warriors firm thigh.
Xena, against her better judgement, was intrigued. "What were you thinking about then?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "Ill tell you later. Hey lets play that game Who am I."
"Gabrielle," Xenas low tone was meant to send a warning to the bard.
"Just go with it....Ill tell you when we get to Crete. Cmon, is this person tall?."
Xena looked back down the road a crooked smirk draped upon her face. Sorry that she had reprimanded her friend she decided to let the bard have her way. "Fine. No."
Mercurios men were set up along the side of the road. A blind corner and lush vegetation proved to be the perfect ambush spot. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, he had brought at least fifty of his best men. Of course, he knew that some of these men would be sacrificed to the warriors anger. It almost saddened him but only because he didnt want to go through the trouble of recruiting and training more. Oh well, he thought to himself.
The pudgy warlord sat hidden among the bushes. Five mercenaries were precariously perched on limbs overhanging the road. A thick net camouflaged with foliage stretched among the branches. The rest of his men were hidden in positions along the road. A deadly trap had been set. Mercurio let a sick smile flood his thick face. Xena had taught him well. As a soldier in her army he was careful to observe every move the warlord made. Her success in conquest obviously proved that she was a worthy teacher. He had followed as they pillaged town after town. Those were the good days before she found her conscience and hooked up with that little do-gooder. "Bitch," he muttered under his breath. She was the reason Xena gave him his facial scar. A little reminder that the bard was not to be toyed with. Luckily, Xena was merciful that day or he would surely be dead. Of course, that bard bitch urged Xena to spare him. Strange, he reflected, but he hardly gave it a thought as he ran from the tavern. Perhaps, he would have his fun anyway.
As luck would have it the wind had shifted and they were upwind. Another card dealt in their favor. One element of chance taken away from the warrior. She would not be able to smell them until they were right on top of her. Quietly he and his men waited for their prey to arrive.
"Is it Draco?" Gabrielle asked.
"Finally. How many questions do you need?" Xena let her amusement show in her voice.
"Draco. Yuk. What made you think of him." Gabrielle was slightly irritated by the warriors choice and the fact that it took her so long to figure it out.
"Why not? We both know him?" Xena stopped Argo suddenly. Her head jerked slightly to her right. They had just come around a sharp corner and now she sensed something was wrong. She thrust her hand down to Gabrielle "Get up her now!" she yelled but it was too late.
Men came out of the trees one after the other. Xena let out her battle cry as she vaulted off her horse. Landing in front of two rushing men she jumped up letting each foot connect with their chins. Quickly, she unsheathed her sword spinning around and thrusting it into another. Her clear blue eyes searched for Gabrielle; she saw her furiously battling a group of three with her staff. The bards movements were quick and fluid as the staff whooshed around sending one of the men crashing to the ground. Xena launched her chakram towards the group slicing through one of the men before returning to its mistresses grip. Gabrielle quickly finished the other one. Xena turned her attention back to the mass of men now rushing her at once. Her eyes became wild as she took one out after the other blood coating her sword and splattering her face.
"Xena!" It was Gabrielle. Without a thought, Xena spun towards the voice. Breathless, she called for her. The bloodied warriors face paled at the sight before her. A net was now discarded by Gabrielles feet and her staff lie a few feet away red from use. She was slumped down to her knee with her body bent as if protecting ribs in pain while blood trickled down her face from a head wound. Her eyes pleading as if to say sorry. Her arms stretched out to the sides held by men.
"Gabrielle!" Xena growled as she started in a dead run towards the bard ready to kill her captors.
"Oh not so fast now Xena." Mercurio stepped from out of the trees behind Gabrielle. A knife blade flashed around to the front of Gabrielles neck. "I would hate to have this lovely girls blood on your hands." He pushed the blade into her neck drawing a trickle of red and causing the bard to let out an involuntary whimper.
Xena skidded to a stop. Fear blended with anger in her eyes. Mercurio had the upper hand. "If you hurt her Ill kill you....painfully." She spit out through clenched teeth. Please dont let anything happen to her, Xena pleaded inwardly scared far more than her exterior would allow her to show. "Gabrielle dont move."
"Im okay Xena" Gabrielle fought for control of her own voice.
"Shut up you little whore!" Mercurio pushed the blade roughly against her neck making the cut sting even more. He smiled at Xena. "Ive waited a long time for this Xena. Who says revenge doesnt pay? You see all I have to do is apply a bit more pressure and Ive slit your precious little bards throat." He laughed amused by the fact he had the great Xena exactly where he wanted.
"You son of a bitch Ill send you to Hades doorstep before this is all through." Xenas voice shook in controlled rage. "You always were a wannabe warlord. Never had enough courage to fight me evenly. I should have killed you when I had the chance but I let you run out of that tavern; a coward just like a dog with its tail between its legs."
Mercurios quick temper took over. How dare she insult him in front of his men. "Well see who the coward is!" He pulled his blade from Gabrielles neck thrusting it above her chest instead. "Say goodbye to your precious before I thrust this blade through her heart!" His hand began to descend in a quick motion.
Gabrielle looked up at the knife but she couldnt even scream. Inwardly, she said goodbye to her love.
"No!" Xena saw the blade, her fear apparent, she reached out but knew she was too far. "Gabrielle Im....." She stopped in mid-sentence.
Right before the knife broke the bards skin it dissolved, vanishing from the angry warlords grasp. He stared wide-eyed at his now empty hand.
"Now Mercurio that wasnt our deal," a wicked drawl sounded in the nearby trees. A dark haired man bounded out as if on cue.
"Ares" Xena spat in disgust. " I should have known you were behind this. Mercurio doesnt have the brains for something this elaborate. Mercurio, hearing the remark, grabbed the bards hair jerking it back painfully. Causing Gabrielle to gasp in pain.
"Id be careful if I were you." Mercurio stated.
Xena winced knowing her temper was causing her love more pain. She looked into Gabrielles eyes seeking reassurance. It was there but fading fast.
Ares walked over to Mercurio and Gabrielle making sure he was a safe distance from Xena. Even gods have been know to get a good whack from the Warrior Princess every know and then. "Mercurio there is no reason to be so rough with our little friend here." He touched Gabrielles face before flashing a wry grin towards Xena. Still looking at Xena, he pointed a finger at Mercurio letting a flash of white light hurtle towards the unsuspecting warlord. The impact of the light sent the weighty warlord tumbling from behind the bard. Ares looked down at the man sprawled out in the dust. "That was for disobeying me."
Gabrielle let out a sigh thankful that the warlord was not standing behind her. Ares saw this and directed his next comment toward her. "Oh, just wait Xenas annoying little friend. Your ordeal is far from over. Oh no. Your fate now lies in the hands of your beloved." Again, he flashed a wicked grin. "Tie her up". The two men holding Gabrielles arms quickly pulled them together and bound them tightly.
"Ares what do you want?" Xena said cooly. She barely had control of her raging emotions. Her mind was racing to come up with a plan.
"Ah Xena...what do I always want?" He paused waiting for a reply. Xena merely lifted her eyebrow. Realizing she would not take the bait he continued. "Why I want you of course."
The acid dripped from Xenas voice. "Well your accomplishing quite the opposite."
"Umm I dont think so." Ares took seat on a nearby log. "Its perfect really. You let yourself get too close to someone, caring for them and even, excuse me while I hold back my lunch, fall in love with her." He shook his head feigning disappointment. "How quickly you forget all my lessons. Now you have a weakness and target. Poor Gabrielle. Shes just an innocent you know. Annoying as she may be, she really doesnt deserve what you bring her, pain and suffering." Ares let out an exaggerated sigh. " Oh well, you live and learn." He allowed himself an even bigger smile as he motioned the men to stand Gabrielle up and move her closer to Xena.
"Wait thats enough. Not too close. I just want Xena to be able to smell Gabrielle... to hear the fear in her breathing."
Xena fought the urge to run to Gabrielle now standing a few feet in front of her. She locked eyes with her instead trying to reassure the obviously frightened bard. Ares was right; Gabrielle didnt deserve this. Mercurio started to stir behind them.
Ares noticed. "Mercurio. Good youre awake. Come over here and enjoy the fun. I was just going to explain to Xena why shes going to come back to me. Come on." He ushered the warlord over with a gesticulating hand. Mercurio wearily came to stand by him. "You look a little pale..you should listen more carefully next time. Now, I want you to go and reposition yourself behind Xenas little wench."
Xenas eyes widened and she began to move forward but a warning hand from Ares stopped her. "Xena dont worry. Mercurio isnt going to hurt your little friend..." The lightness in his voice took on a menacing tone "..unless I tell him to."
Xena shot the dark god an icy glare. "God or not youll pay for this."
Ares rolled his eyes. "Maybe, but I dont think so. Now let me tell you how this things gonna play out. I have been trying to show you how silly this path of atonement is and well youve been very stubborn about it. Its become very clear to me that I cant just kill the whiny bard because she already gotten to you. Telling you all sorts of crap of how you can fight your dark side blah, blah, blah. And then theres that pesky Artemis. She told me that if I shed whats her names blood shell ...well it wont be pleasant. This is where Mercurio comes in. She said if *I* shed the blood not some insignificant mortal. You see I have tried everything and Im just about at my wits end-"
"Could you speed up the story Im getting bored," Xena drawled with steel in her voice.
"Very well. If your not coming back to me Id rather see you suffer. Thus, to make that happen I have to take away your happiness. Since I cant kill her Mercurio will."
"What the..what about Artemis?! Shes her chosen and Queen of the Amazons!" Xena spoke desperate to make an argument.
"Well what Artemis doesnt know....besides it would be worth the torment. Im a bit twisted that way. Anyway, Mercurio is gonna kill her not me."
"Just because your hand doesnt touch the blade doesnt absolve you from the crime," Xena growled. Her fist clenching at her sides willing herself to remain calm and try to find a way out of this. She now knew her options were few if any.
"Touche... But dont look so sad we havent come to that yet. There is a way out for sweet Gabrielle."
"What is it?" Xena spoke her heart already sinking. She knew now that Ares wasnt bluffing. He had gone over the edge willing disfavor with Artemis.
"*You* have to give yourself back over to me. Become the warlord you were meant to be. No resistance....completely, fully, sacrifice yourself."
Xena stood looking at Ares. Her face betrayed nothing of her inner turmoil. Silently, she stood searching for a solution. The God of War had finally got her. Gabrielle was her greatest weakness. Xena knew it and so did Ares. Evenly, she began to speak. "How do I know you wont kill her?" She saw no way out. They were surrounded and there was no way to get to Gabrielle before the knife cut into her throat.
Gabrielle watched the interaction but what had just transpired sent her into a panic. "Xena you cant be seriously thinking about this...dont." She felt a sting as Mercurio slapped her ear.
"Gabrielle please," Xena pleaded with her while trying to remain in place instead of running her sword through Mercurio. Instead, she looked directly at him letting her rage become fully exposed. She was satisfied when she saw him flinch.
The sky began to cloud and darken as she shifted her attention back Ares. "Like I said, what guarantees?"
Ares smiled sensing victory. "Gabrielle will not be killed unless she *purposefully* seeks you out. For some reason she is favored by Gods other than Artemis and it would be a very ugly situation for me if I killed her anyway."
"What about Mercurio?" Xena asked secretly wishing she would be able to kill him for this later.
"Mercurio will not remember a thing. In fact, when you give yourself back over to your evil, neither will you. In your mind, you have been leading an army with no recollection of the past two years. In your mind, and in everybody elses, you will have spent the last two seasons being a very diligent warlord."
"I wont remember anything?" Xena spoke in a whisper
"Sorry, your bard wont even be a memory."
"Her pull on you is much too strong Xena. I cant have you going around thinking that you can be someone different." He laughed clasping his hands. "Delicious isnt it? It will be your what...third death? Only this time you will be reborn into what you really are."
Gabrielle had silently began to cry. Her world was falling apart and she was utterly helpless to stop it. Xena had indeed been dead to her before. She couldnt believe it could happen again. "This cant be happening."
Ares walked over to the crying bard bending down to look into the tearing eyes. "Oh dont worry little bard. Youll still have your memories but you will be the only one. To everyone, the Amazons, your family, youve been traveling with some nameless, faceless friend that nobody will remember. Your memories, however, will be clear and oh so painful. Oh, and one more thing... mentioning the name Xena will not help you. People will think youre crazy. Remember she has been warring and pillaging at the same time you were gone. No time to carry on with a lonely peasant girl."
Gabrielle looked up into the black eyes of the vengeful god and spit. "You will not win!"
Ares wiped the spit of his face then reached out to tenderly touch the bards face. "I already have."
Xenas body now shook with raw emotion. "How can you be so cruel? Let me die to her!"
Ares stood up and walked over to Xena. "Lets just say Im a little irritated by how hard I had to work to get you back. Somebodys got to suffer." A sick smile before he continued. " Do we have a deal or do I let Mercurio finish the annoying brat?"
"Xena please dont...please..you promised." Gabrielle was now sobbing wildly and thrashing at her bindings. She was about to lose her one true love. Her heart was breaking as she tried to reach Xena. "We can win..dont go back!"
Gabrielles words pounded against the armor of Xenas chest. In all her life she had never surrendered but now it was inevitable. Perhaps it was better this way. How much longer could her lover survive Xenas dark past? Regretfully, she would always be a target. Tears came to Xenas eyes. Inwardly, she cursed herself for letting Ares and Mercurio see this emotion. She looked at Ares her chin pointed up never ceding defeat. "Yes, its a deal. Dont kill Gabrielle let her live in peace." The words came out of her mouth but she didnt hear them because she was about to lose everything that ever mattered to her. She looked down at her lover who was now gaping at her in shock. "Let me say goodbye at least." Ares nodded for he knew better than to push it.
"Alright, but leave the sword and chakram here and Im going to have to bind your hands."
"You what?" Xena asked her eyes narrowing.
"Look, I cant trust you completely. Ive seen you escape from situations worse than this. Dont try anything... for the Queens sake."
"You piece of horse-"
"Uh uh, be nice or I take you away now."
"Fine." Xena put her hands in front of her while two men quickly bound them. She walked over to her love kneeling in front of the weeping woman. "My heart" she said quietly.
Gabrielle held her breath wanting this to be some part of a plan Xena had for their escape. Upon looking at her lovers face the tears she saw said otherwise. "Xena.." sobs began to wrack the bards body forcing her to stop. She looked down at the ground unable to see the defeat in Xenas blue eyes.
"Gabrielle please look at me...I need to talk to you." With bound hands she lifted Gabrielles chin forcing her to meet her gaze.
Please dont, the bard silently pleaded to herself dont do this but she knew it was too late. Slowly, she met Xenas eyes.
Xena smiled but the pain was clearly written on her face. She was about to give up the one thing that has ever brought her happiness or true redemption. She could feel her heart already going cold. "My love....we have to say good bye."
"No!" Gabrielle yelled out in a sob. "I cant do it... please dont do this Xena...please." Still on her knees with her hands tied in front of her, she inched her way forward resting her head on Xenas shoulder. "Dont give up we can get out of this."
Xena buried her head into her lovers neck. She let the emotions assault her body more painful than any physical blow. "No we cant Gabrielle. Ive already thought it through, gone through every scenario." She braced herself for the bards reaction. "This is the only way. Im sorry."
"Then they might as well kill me! Im dead already without you." Gabrielle struggled to stand but Xena held her back gripping her arm tightly.
"Gabrielle no! I will not live with your blood on my hands!" Her voice, an octave louder, warned the bard to stay down. "Cant you see that Im doing this for you? Of all the things Ive done in my life the only thing Im proud of is keeping you safe." A slight smile came to her face. "Well relatively safe."
"Please.... dont joke Xena"
"I know Im sorry...I just cant bear the pain." She moved her mouth closer to her bards ear whispering so only she could hear. "My love please forgive me for what Im about to do but theres just no other way. If I watch you die knowing that its because of me I...I dont think that I could survive. Ares would win regardless. Thats not what you want right?" She felt Gabrielle nod against her shoulder. "I have to give you this chance to live, youre so young and full of love I cant see that stripped from this world. Live in peace as your life should have been before me." Xena paused. The words that she was about to speak hurt her to the very core. "Youll find somebody else..."
Gabrielles grief now turned to rage. Jerking her head up to glare at the suffering warrior her green eyes were wide with fury. Through clenched teeth she began. "If you think that I will *ever* be able to love another then you are sorely mistaken. For two years I followed you around and felt my love grow for you each day. I cant imagine anyone making me feel more complete than you. How can I move on when my soul is being ripped out of me? You think Ill find peace? Xena you saved me as I saved you. For me there will be no other...joy and peace will become words that have no meaning for me. So dont tell me that Ill find somebody else or to enjoy my life, its not going to happen." Her green eyes dimmed as the truth of her words stung Xena. "You have no right to make this choice for me!" Gabrielle could no longer hold back the violent rush of emotions and her body began to shake bitterly.
Xena closed her eyes to the bards desperate words, shutting down her own needs in the process. " Maybe not Gabrielle but you have to hear me. Please listen to me before Ares takes me away." The warrior steeled herself against her own words; the words that never did come easy to the hardened woman she had become. "Do you know that youre my light? You have been keeping my darkness at bay vanquishing an angry ex-warlord with kindness and love. If you die so does my hope. Do you understand?"
Gabrielle struggled to understand but the hurt was now so immense. Numbly she nodded "yes" without knowing why.
Xena reached up to stroke her loves face with bound hands. Gabrielle relished the feel of the warriors calloused fingertips only increasing the depths of her sorrow. "My sweet bard, please dont let the warmth in your heart die. You must move forward...it is your destiny." Xena could almost laugh at the irony. Just months before Gabrielle had pleaded with Xena to realize her destiny. The fates are truly cruel.
"Xena-" The bard started put was quickly quieted by fingers pressing against her lips. Xena understood the question in Gabrielles voice. Softly she spoke. "No, you wont know me again after this. Dont try to find me." She took Gabrielles hands and squeezed them gently. "Promise me...I dont want you dead." She looked down unable to control the tears. "Especially by my hand."
"Xena you could never hurt me. I know in my heart."
"You dont know what I was. Ill be giving myself over completely. Ares will accept nothing less. The battle for my soul is over Gabrielle. The Xena that saved you from the slavers wont exist anymore. When we met I understood the evil and the need for redemption. You helped me find my way but the warlord I had become, after Caesar, only understood one thing...death. Gabrielle I have killed merely for the pleasure and power." Her voice shook at this admission. She had to make Gabrielle understand. "I would run through villages like Poteidaia ravaging everything. Taking and killing what ever got in my way. I didnt care I had no remorse. I captured girls like you taking them to my tent and-" A slap stung her face.
"Enough!!" Gabrielle could endure no more. Ares smirked at the violent display.
"Promise me." Xenas voice was low but demanding and her face burned from the bards desperation. Gabrielle shook her head not wanting to believe the blackness that lie in her love. Xena felt her anger rise. "PROMISE ME!!"
"Yes! I promise." She collapsed fully to the ground. Her stomach tightening in seizures of pain. Her promise lay heavy on her soul.
"Xena, I think its about time to-"
"Shut up!" She turned to glare at Ares who had dared to speak, coldness vocalized as she requested more time. "At least give me this." He nodded in affirmation but he would not wait much longer.
Tenderly, Xena lifted Gabrielle into a cradling embrace. Rocking her lover, she pulled her closer protecting her from the eyes of men. The two lovers sat exposed by the side of a road surrounded by what remained of Mercurios fifty soldiers. The sky darkened and heralding thunder announced the torrent. Xena moved her lips down beside the bards ear. Taking a moment to relish the scent of her hair. "Know that I shall always love you. The Xena you helped to create will love you forever." With these final words she lifted Gabrielles face placing a delicate kiss on trembling lips.
A white hot light shot through both of them. The pain in Gabrielles head was unbearable. Desperately she brought her hands up to her temples. Teeth gritting she called out to Xena. The rain had started to fall and Gabrielle could feel the drops like tiny needle pricks. Although, her eyes were closed from the agony she could still feel Xenas embrace tightening around her like a vice. The rain was now a deluge beating on them with extreme gravitational force. The pain was intensifying. Through closed
eyelids Gabrielle could only see a flashing of white and black dots. Through the sheer strength of her will she cried out in despair. "No!! Dont let this happen!" She felt Xenas grip loosen then was gone. She heard the warriors voice as if she was traveling down a tunnel. It cried out to her. Gabrielle collapsed only seeing black.
End of Part 1 continued in Part 2
Disclaimer: Most of the characters presented in this story are property of MCA/Universal (you know who they are) and I have shamelessly borrowed them for my own deviant activities. Thank you. All other characters are figments of my twisted imagination. This is a work of fiction and its mine, mine, mine. You (whomever you are) may not alter, reproduce, or post without my expressed permission. That would be very naughty.
Furthermore: This story involves acts of love (sigh) between two women. If this bothers you than I am truly saddened but invite you to read anyway. If youre not up to it then theres plenty of non-alternative fiction floating around and some of it is quite good.
Also: This is a dark, moody story with copious amounts of violence. Just a warning. However, love always triumphs.
One more thing: Comments are very much encouraged but incendiary messages will be quietly extinguished by my impassive attitude over such things. Okay, let the games begin!
Copyright ©March 1998
A Third Death: Part 2
by: C.L. Bactad
Its a madman, I said
he will go through my dream
he will come out the other end
yet no one has left
he is still inside.
-Nana Issaia; translated by
Helle Tzalopoulou Barnstone
Chapter 5: Poteidaia
Hours had passed as the spent bard lay unconscious in the field. It was raining lightly as the days sun began it descent into the night. The tall grass and dimming light hid the strawberry-blonde from view of all living creatures. The bards lips started to move as if she were to tell a story. She began to gingerly move her head side to side with the silent mutterings now finding a voice. With her eyes still shut her brow creased displaying fervent concentration. Instantly her upper body shot up into a sitting position and her mouth gasped for air. Her eyes flew open wide in terror. "Xena" the word left her lips as a moan. Hoping that it had all been a terrible nightmare she scanned her surroundings. It was getting dark. She fumbled to her feet searching for a sign of Xena. There was none. This cant be. Gabrielle searched for an explanation. She felt a stinging sensation at her neck. Absent of mind she reached up to feel what was causing the discomfort. Her fingers felt a wet residue. She traced it with one finger and felt it form a thin line directly under her chin. Blood? With that thought Gabrielle knew the hurtful truth. Ares had taken her beloved. She had to go find Xena. "Promise me!" The words echoed in the bards ears. She stumbled from the ricocheting sound. Her promise was the last sentence to the warrior. A heaviness pushed her back down to her knees and she wept with abandon.
Lila had just finished preparing dinner. Her mother, Hecuba, was setting the table for them to eat. She could hear the rain still beating on the tiled roof. "When will this rain cease?" She asked to nobody in particular. She thought it was strange that it would be raining like this at this time of the season. Earlier at the market others had also expressed the same thoughts.
Herodotus burst through the door. "What in Hades name is this weather doing?" He started to shake his body flinging moisture in all directions.
"Herodotus youre as bad as a common dog . . . quit that." Hecuba moved quickly to his side trying to rid her husband of his wet belongings. After thoroughly scolding him, she sent him to their room to get ready for dinner. Lila laughed at the whole scene.
Eventually, the three of them sat at the table. Food was passed from hand to hand while they each told of their day. Lila, of course, had monopolized much of the conversation. "...and then I told him that there was no way that Id spend that kind of dinar.." Her hands in a flurry as she conveyed her story to a half-listening Herodotus and Hecuba. "....he, of course, was adamant about the price but . . . what was that?" All three of them looked at the door.
"Are you expecting anybody Herodotus?" The matriarch asked her husband.
"No, its probably just Frankifus needing help with his flock. He never did know when to bring them in. Hold on Ill get the door." He stood irritated at the thought of being disturbed at dinner.
"What is it . . . " He started as he flung the door open to speak with his annoying neighbor. "... for the gods sake. Hecuba come quickly." He reached down to pick up the crumpled form that had collapsed in his doorway. It was a woman, he could tell that, but by the way she was lying he could tell little more. Gingerly, he rolled the woman over to get a look at her face. His sharp intake of breath frightened his approaching wife. "For the love of . . . its Gabrielle!"
Hecuba almost stumbled as she knelt down by her unconscious daughter. Her hands quickly felt the bards skin. It was cold as ice. She turned to call out to her other daughter but found out that Lila was standing directly above her trying to get a look at her sister. "Go quickly get the healer." Lila was out the door moving faster than Hecuba or Herodotus had ever seen before. "Move her to her bed husband. We need to get her warm."
Herodotus picked up his daughters limp body moving her to her own bed. Her room had not been changed since she left. "What has happened to you Gabrielle?" He muttered as he laid her amongst the blankets. Silently, with much worry, the couple stood there looking over their daughter. They both knew that something or someone was missing but they couldnt place it. Their concern soon overtook their curiosity.
The healer worked quickly. The frail women steeped herbs in hot water and force fed the semi-unconscious Amazon queen. It appeared that the girl had been traveling for days by the way she looked. She had also been in some fight by the scratch across her throat. She had seen enough wounds to know that it had been made by a knife. She neglected to tell that to her family. It was up to the girl to tell them her story. The healer was there only to treat wounds and sickness. After stitching the girl and placing more blankets upon her, she went to talk to the worried threesome. She knew the girl would be all right but would sleep for a very long time thanks to her herbal tea.
"How is she?" Hecuba raced to the healer as she stepped out of Gabrielles room. The healer took Hecubas hands before she spoke. "She is going to be fine. She looks exhausted and getting caught in this nasty rainstorm didnt help much. She just needs her rest and after that she should be as good as new." Her words allowed Hecuba a sigh of relief. "Strange though . . . " The healer continued. "I thought your daughter left with someone all those moons ago."
Herodotus nodded. "She did but she has been gone so long I dont remember much about this person. I do know that they better have a good explanation for leaving my daughter like that."
"Perhaps they parted a while ago father." Lila was also trying to remember her sisters traveling companion. " Gabrielle was obviously on her way home. She must have misjudged the severity of the storm."
"Hmmp," The stern father tilted his head in reply. "Gabrielle was never much good about getting out of the rain."
After the healer left they went back to their cold dinners. This time there was no evening banter. Each was lost in thought wondering about their wayward daughter and sister. Slowly, they finished their meals and went to bed.
Chapter 6: Differences
Two days had past since Gabrielle returned home. She had awoken only a few times. Just long enough to relieve herself and to be fed by her sister. Each time she had barely spoken a word. It was if she was just going through the motions not really aware of where she was. Lila had begun to worry. Surely the healer could not be wrong, she thought to herself as she fed her sister some broth. "Gabrielle," she again tried to reach her despondent sister. The bard didnt bother making eye contact. She stared across the room at the far wall opening her mouth only to receive the bland soup. "What has happened to you sister? Can you not even spare a smile for your family?" She put the bowl down and positioned herself in Gabrielles line of sight but Gabrielle didnt even blink. "Gabrielle . . . what is it? Can you see me?" She waved a hand to test the bards eyesight.
"I can see you sister." Gabrielle replied in a scratchy voice but did not change her eye position. "I just need some time Lila. Please give me more time." She rolled over onto her side and closed her eyes. Lila nodded silently to Gabrielles back. She pulled the sheet up over her sister, picked up the bowl and retreated out the door.
"How is she?" Hecuba questioned as Lila returned with the unused broth.
Lila shook her head not really sure what to say. "Still no change."
"That girl better snap out of it right quick, "Herodotus spat angrily.
"Herodotus, you leave her alone. You hear me?" Hecuba reprimanded her impatient husband. "Gabrielle will be better soon and back to her old self. Perhaps then we will find out what happened to her."
"I hope so." Lila nodded absently in agreement. "I dont know though. She seems so . . . sad. Its almost infinite. I can feel it when Im around her. Ive never seen her like this . . . shes so different."
Gabrielle lay in the darkness of her bedroom. She could hear the muffled voices of her family down the hall. She knew that they were speaking of her. She just wanted to stay here, wrapped up in blankets with her eyes closed. She could see Xena then. Her head resting on her lap looking up at her with sapphire eyes and smiling. Gabrielle felt the familiar pain around her heart. She cried out in vain into the air. "Xena," Her cry was nothing more than a whisper. Slowly, she let sleep mercifully take her into unconsciousness. Her pain dulled.
Four more days had passed and the family from Poteidaia had just risen to do their daily chores. Hecuba was in the kitchen preparing the morning meal. Herodotus had already left for the fields. He would be back later to eat. Lila was at the well fetching water. A few days ago the weather had returned to normal and the first rays of light were beginning to show on the trees outside. Hecuba was lost in thought slicing fruit when she heard a voice behind her.
"Mother." It was faint but Hecuba heard it. She whirled around to see Gabrielle standing in the doorway. Her daughter looked horrible. The bard was dressed in a beige shift and her eyes were bloodshot. She was squinting due to the lack of any real light for several days. Her hair was a mess and her skin was a pasty white. Hecuba had never been more relieved in all her life. She rushed over wrapping her daughter in a motherly embrace.
"Ugh, mother its nice to see you too." Gabrielle returned her mothers hug in earnest. "I hope I didnt worry you too much."
"Yes, Gabrielle you worried us very much but Im so happy to see you up and out of bed." She let her daughter disentangle herself from her mothers now suffocating clinch. "You look a fright. We need to get you cleaned up."
Gabrielle artfully dodged her mothers advance. " I know mother. I was just so . . . tired. Im still feeling rather weak. I think I need some solid food before a bath." She reached out to grasp her mothers hand forcing herself to give a reassuring smile.
"Of course, here eat this fruit. Ill make you some eggs." With that, Hecuba set the kitchen ablaze with a flurry of activity. It was enough to make the bard feel somewhat nauseous. Cautiously she brought the fruit up to her mouth. She had not eaten in days so she knew she should eat slowly. She was relieved, however, that her infamous appetite finally made a comeback.
"Gabrielle!" A shrill shriek came from the doorway. Lila dropped the two buckets of water she was carrying onto the stone floor inadvertently spilling most of its contents. "Youre up."
The bard smiled at her shocked sister. "Yes Lila, Im up. Now I suggest you clean up that water before father comes back from the field."
Lila looked down at her sopping feet. "Geez." She reached for a cloth ignoring her chuckling mother. She bent down to wipe the floor her eyes fixed on Gabrielle. "I was just surprised. Im glad youre finally feeling better, but you still look horrible."
Gabrielle smiled showing her obvious amusement. "Thank you sister. Mother also pointed that out to me. I need some food before I bathe."
"Here eat this . . . itll bring back some of your strength." Hecuba placed a large plate of fried eggs in front of her daughter. "I want you to eat all of it."
The smell of the eggs sent Gabrielles stomach into a low rumble. Her resolve to eat slowly vanished as she plunged her utensil into the eggs. "Yes mother." She replied with a mouthful of food.
Hecuba and Lila sat silently watching Gabrielle devour her eggs and fruit. Satiated the bard leaned back in her chair letting her food finally digest. "That was delicious." A smile came to her face as it often did upon finishing a meal.
Hecuba smiled. "Good, now lets get you cleaned up." She stood lifting Gabrielle with her. "Lila fetch some more water for your sisters bath." Quickly, she turned dragging her daughter down to the bathing room.
Gabrielle, now clean and looking remarkably better, once again joined her mother and sister in the kitchen. She had dressed in a simple blue skirt and a white tunic. Her honey hair was down loosely around her shoulders. She was beautiful but had nobody around to truly appreciate it. Her mother and sister also noticed how differently Gabrielle looked when she re-entered the kitchen. Not only was she clean and her hair neatly combed, her physical appearance looked different. She had muscle where once there was only baby fat. Her face was thinner and she stood straighter with more confidence. She seemed so much older than when she left. In fact, so much older than she really was. They both looked at her as she sat in a chair by the wall.
"What?" Gabrielle responded to the questioning gazes.
Lila began. "It just that you look so different Gabby."
"I know you already said I look horrible."
"No, its not that." Hecuba jumped in at Lilas defense and perhaps her own. "You looked horrible because you had been ill. But now that youre cleaned and fed you still look different. Youre not the girl that left us more than two summers ago." Gabrielle looked down at the floor unable to meet the inquiring looks in fear that she would burst out into tears. "What has happened my daughter? Why are you so sad?"
Gabrielle took in a deep breath. She knew that she would have to explain why she had appeared on their doorstep in the worst condition of her life. Her explanation, however, would not reveal the true reason for her sorrow or its depths. Slowly, she began and in true bard fashion she picked her words carefully. "When I left here . . . I left to travel with someone. Someone who I thought could bring me adventure . . . to teach me things I had only read about before. Do you remember?"
They both nodded then Lila spoke. "Yes, vaguely but I cant remember much else other than it was a woman."
Gabrielle smiled at her sister as well as at her own memories. "Yes, it was a woman. The strongest woman I had ever seen. She saved us from slavers that day. Fearless in her fury she dispatched those men as easily as swatting at a fly. After that I begged her to let me follow her. She refused at first . . . who would want an innocent peasant girl and bard wannabe trailing along. I was, much to her chagrin, very persistent and finally won her over with my cooking skills." Another smile but Hecuba and Lila saw it quickly vanish in a mask of pain. "We had many adventures over the seasons. We would travel from village to village helping people who needed help. She saved my life so many times I had lost count before our fourth moon together. I had many things to learn and she had many skills to share. That was one of her favorite sayings . . . " Gabrielle lowered her voice emulating Xenas. " I have many skills. She could be very funny when she wanted to be." Her voice softened but her eyes became vacant.
Gabrielle begun her story again trying to understand it herself. "Anyway I followed, documenting our adventures on my scrolls thankful that she hadnt left me in some village along the way. By the end of our first summer we were close . . . good friends and that friendship would only deepen. There wasnt a thing that I wouldnt do for her." Gabrielle looked down at the cold stone floor. A tear escaped and dropped. The bard watched its descent pausing before returning to her story.
"What happened Gabrielle?" Lila urged the bard on.
"Before we met Xe . . . she had made some enemies. They were always looking for a way to get her. Eventually they did. Several days ago my friend was killed but I was spared. I made my way back here . . . to grieve. Im sorry I didnt mean to upset you." Gabrielle broke down in tears before her last sentence was finished. She wasnt just grieving the loss of her friend, it was the loss of her very soul. The hardest part was that she was to be alone in her anguish. The bard couldnt even seek comfort from her family. They probably wouldnt understand anyway.
Lila spoke in a soothing tone. "Im so sorry Gabrielle." A brief pause before she asked. "What happened to your scrolls? I would like to read about her."
Gabrielle looked at her sister. "They were destroyed when we were attacked." She knew that she could never share her scrolls.
Hundreds of miles away night had fallen in a small village off the Eastern coast of Greece. Two armies had clashed battling for control of this village as well as another one farther south. It was a short but bloody contest. The defeated army losing many soldiers to the swift, organized operation that descended upon them. A message was sent that day. The victorious army was a force to be reckoned with. The warlord Xena would not be denied the territory that she sought. Word traveled quickly and the whole Eastern Coast braced themselves for things to come.
With the village firmly under Xenas control she set off for the tavern. The villagers, who knew that they were just pawns in a game between two warlords, parted for her as she walked down the street. Each was careful to bow their heads slightly as to not make eye contact. The way she looked right now would cause children and people of peace nightmares for nights to come. Her black hair was windswept and hung wildly around her face. Her body was covered in dirt and blood. Her black leather had several gashes and her armor was discolored and her backplate bent from a sword strike. On her right arm was a gash caused by a dagger. That dagger was now embedded in a young mans head. It was not this physical appearance which was so frightful it was the look in her eyes. The pale blue stood out against the bronze of her face, still wide with battle lust. Killing would be instinctual; people had reason to fear.
Xena entered the tavern with several of her men behind her. She scanned the room for a table and found the one she wanted. In the back by the wall. It was occupied. Her eyes narrowed as she made her way over to it and its patrons. Quickly, without a word it was deserted. A chair, still warm, was pulled out for the bloodied warrior. "Get me a port," she said to one of her men who had followed her in. "The rest of you leave me alone. Enjoy the night . . . well stay here for a couple of days." The soldier she had dispatched quickly returned with a full mug of port. The warlord took it without emotion. "Go back to camp. Tell Mercurio that his squad will be on first watch. Nothing gets past the perimeter of this village. Do you understand?" She looked at the soldier, her eyes narrowed.
"Yes my lord."
"Go then." Xena flicked her wrist shooing the soldier away.
She leaned back up against the wall swallowing the port hard. It wasnt the best she had tasted but it would do to take the edge off. She felt the slight stinging in her arm. She looked down to see what was causing her discomfort. Oh yes, the dagger, she sullenly thought to herself. She would have her healer look at it when she returned to camp.
She looked around the tavern. She noticed that most the villagers had quietly exited leaving only herself and her men behind. She smiled. She enjoyed the fear that she was instilling in these sleepy villages. Her campaign was well known. Destroyer of Nations how fitting. She smiled at the thought. Just then, another large group of her men came into the tavern. They were not part of the squads that were to have watch that night. Each one looked around then all eyes came to rest on the warlord in the back. Each bowed in supplication. She bent her head slightly forward in recognition never taking her eyes off of them. She then gestured with her hand, allowing them to partake in what the tavern had to offer.
Xena understood the needs of her men as they were her own. Surviving battle heightened your senses making you edgy. The adrenaline coursed through your body for hours afterward. If you werent injured seriously, you were euphoric. Most of her soldiers didnt want to let go of this euphoria. Most wanted to enhance it. It was battlelust and Xena knew it well. Unless they were near a brothel, however, her men had to find other ways to take care of their lust. Xenas code would not allow her men to take women unwillingly. If they did, their punishment was swift and cruel. This warlord had no mercy for rapists.
Seduction, on the other hand, is something Xena understood very well. She knew how to make a previously unwilling participant quiver in anticipation. It was one of her many skills. She had learned a long time ago that her body could be a powerful weapon, men or women it didnt matter. Although lately, she had more of a taste for women then men. The softness of their bodies, the sweetness of their skin only served to heighten her lust.
"Would you like some more port?" A feminine voice brought Xena out of her contemplation. Cold blue eyes looked up to see a small barmaid holding a jug. She was attractive with delicate features and honey-blonde hair. Xena noticed that she was also seemingly more attracted to blondes lately. Her eyes were brown and the warlord found herself wishing they were green. This woman would do nicely, however.
"Yes, thank you." Xena pushed her mug away from her and smiled seductively at the barmaid. The barmaids stomach seized. She didnt understand her fascination for this woman who had blood and dirt smeared all over her. Xena was the most feared warlord in all of Greece. Her power was awesome and terrifying. It repulsed the barmaid but also kept her at the table longer than she should have been. The barmaid smiled back and with a trembling hand she tilted the jug toward the mug.
"Is it cold in here?" The warriors voice had lowered slightly, her inflection becoming richer and deeper.
"What?" The barmaid over filled the mug and some port dribbled down the side.
"Your hands are shaking. I was just wondering if youre cold." She reached out to grab the womans wrist. Her thumb circling behind to find the pulse point. She smiled as she felt it quicken.
The barmaid flinched and tried to pull away but Xenas tight grip held her in place. "Yeah, I guess I am a bit cold . . . but Ill warm up if I get back to work." Xena recognized the plea. She chose to ignore it. Instead she pulled the frightened woman closer. "Are you the only barmaid working?"
"Uh . . . yes." The blondes breath was now raspy. She struggled to remain calm. The warlord was still gripping her wrist but her thumb was making tiny circles on its underside. Her knees were trembling. The touch was tender and entrancing the barmaid with each movement. She had to get away but could not make herself to struggle against the hold. "Please . . . I need to get back to work."
"Of course." Xena released her grip. She raised an eyebrow as the barmaid almost stumbled back. "Are you all right?" A seductive smirk displayed on her beautiful but grungy face.
"Yes, I just lost my balance." Quickly she turned back to the bar. Xena knew that this game was far from over.
The scene did not go unnoticed by two of Xenas men on the far side of the tavern. "I dont understand it Terris. What does she have that I dont?" The young soldier took a large swig of his mead still watching his commander by the wall.
"Which one?" His companion looked up from his meal.
"Which one? What do you think . . . Xena of course, you moron."He shook his head in frustration. "Look at her . . . she almost had that barmaid begging to squirm around on her lap. Why cant I do that?"
His companion laughed. "Look at her you fool. Id give my right eye to bed her."
The other looked at the now leering Terris. His hand shot up to his friends shoulder. "Easy, I bet she *would* take your right eye if she caught you looking at her like that. Without much pleasure for you I might add." A shudder ran down Terris spine. He quickly looked down at his meal. They both finished in dejected silence.
Xena continued to watch the barmaid as she finished her port. Time for refill, she stood up and made her way to the bar. The blondes back was to Xena and she did not see her approaching. Suddenly, cool metal was pressed up to the bare portion of her back. A lean arm snaked around her right side holding a mug in strong hands. She could feel warm breath on the back of her neck. Unconsciously she leaned into the woman behind her.
"I need a refill." Xena said directly into her ear.
The barmaid started to turn around but was stopped by a firm hand on her waist. "No need to turn around my mug is here in front of you."
The bartender surveyed the situation and for some unknown reason felt the urge to protect his young barmaid. "Antonia could you come over here I need some . . . " Xena turned and shot the meddlesome bartender a warning glare. "...never mind I can manage." He moved to the opposite end of the bar.
The warlord turned her attention back to the seemingly confused blonde. "Go ahead Antonia . . . pour the liquid into my mug." She moved closer letting her knee touch Antonias leg through her woven tunic. There was a perceptible shudder from the nervous barmaid. It took all her concentration to fill the vessel for the now demanding but gorgeous warrior. Ahh, how easy they succumb Xena smiled and brought her free hand up to lightly trace Antonias shoulder blades. She moved her head in closer to smell the blonde shoulder length hair. "Mmmm, you bathe in jasmine. Very nice." She reached up underneath the barmaids hair to run five fingers up her neck and to the base of her scalp. Antonias knees weakened. "Would you like to show me where I can find some of that jasmine? I do need a bath." Xena had now taken Antonias earlobe into her teeth gently biting the sensitive zone.
Antonia couldnt believe what was happening and right here in front of everybody. She was mortified but her body wouldnt let her turn away. She was ashamed of the growing wetness between her legs and groaned as Xena continued her ministrations with mouth and hand. "Please I cant . . . Im to be married."
Xena spun the barmaid around quickly. Her cold gaze holding the brown eyes of the barmaid easily. "Perhaps you should rethink that decision Antonia." She forcefully pulled Antonias hair so that the barmaid head was tilted slightly back. She heard a gasp then saw parted lips. An invitation. "Your body tells me that you arent ready to settle down." She descended ready to crush Antonias lips with her own.
"Xena!" Her name traveled from the door.
Irritated with the interruption, Xena let go of the barmaid pushing her back in the process. She turned to glare at the person who dared to bother the lusting warlord. A heavily armored soldier made his way to the bar. He noted Xenas glare and quickly rushed to an apology. "Im sorry I could see you were . . . occupied but I have some scouting reports that need your immediate attention." He bowed slightly upon reaching Xena.
Xena looked down at her second in command. He was her most trusted and valuable soldier. She would forgive his intrusion. "Dimitrius lets discuss this back at my tent. Send someone to round up the men. I want them back at camp." He nodded and she walked out the door without even a backward glance at the barmaid.
Continued - Part 2.
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