"Whats not wrong, would be a better question," replied the smaller of the two Amazons as she tried to catch her breath, " we ran into a raiding party last night. Xena took care of them; didnt return to camp for a while after. When she did get back she was a little tense, but was under control. So at first light we pack up," she paused and drank as a waterskin was pushed into her hand, 2 got to the border just after midday. Then all Tartarus broke loose. Temara and Della came down from the watchposts, but managed to spook Ephinys horse as they landed. The damn thing reared and threw the Queen, knocked her out cold. Xena just went berserk." She looked around at the concerned faces of the gathering Amazons, then continued. "If Ephiny hadnt pulled everyone back it would have been a blood bath, Zeus, the woman isnt even armed, but both Temara and Della need the healers. The thing is its turned into a standoff. Ephiny wants two of the healers and some archers sent out now. She asked for the healers to bring Soneral elixir." Solari gazed intently at the Amazon, thinking to herself before replying.
"Okay, you two go roust the healers, get them packed and ready to go. Kiaya, I want five more of the best archers we have. I think I know what Ephinys planning but I want to get there quickly. We leave in half a candlemark. Gabrielle had been in this position a few times before and found it oddly comforting. Waking up with a pounding head was preferable to not waking up at all. She knew she was lying on the ground because several twigs and rocks were poking into her back. She knew she was lying in the forest because of the coolness from the shadows and the odd patch o warmth where the sunlight had broken through the trees. What she couldnt figure out was why she was waking up with a pounding head lying on the forest floor, when they were in friendly territory. Surely the Amazons hadnt revolted during Ephinys short absence? She quite clearly remembered getting to the border and two Amazons descending from the trees to greet them, but after that sadly everything was lacking. Well, she thought raising her hand to the bump on the back of her head, maybe she ought to open her eyes and see what was going on.
Ephiny was cursing herself for not having though ahead enough to recognise that Amazons descending from the trees with an already edgy Xena, was probably not a good idea. Admittedly nobody could have foreseen her horse spooking and throwing Gabrielle, but still. Now she stood with the other Amazons a fair distance from their fallen Queen, with probably the most dangerous fighter the Amazon nation had ever encountered in a blind rage, convinced that they had tried to kill her partner. As far as Ephiny could see the only reason Xena hadnt pursued them was because it would mean leaving Gabrielle, and it was only the knowledge that Xena honestly thought she was protecting the bard from attack that had prevented Ephiny from letting the outriders use their poison tipped arrows against her. Her retreat hadnt been quick enough to prevent injury though. Xenas lightening attack had felled the two descending Amazons within seconds, the only reason they werent dead was because Xena had stopped to check Gabrielle once theyd fallen. Eponin had seen the danger immediately and pulled the unconscious Amazons from the reach of the enraged warrior. Ephiny had order everyone back then, but not before two of the outriders had fired their arrows at Xena. Fortunately or unfortunately, Ephiny hadnt quite decided which, the warrior had just plucked them from the air. Now they were at an impasse. Xena was quite obviously in a rage, but didnt seem able to move more than a couple of paces from the injured Gabrielles side and Ephiny had no way of calming her down or moving her. Sending riders back to the village for help had been the only thing she could think of.
Ephiny, the weapons master realised was so deep in thought that she hadnt seen Gabrielle move so she gave her a quick jab in the ribs with her elbow. When shed gotten her attention she nodded towards their young Queen. "Shes coming around." The hushed voice whispered into the Regents ear. "Xena hasnt noticed yet. Do you think shell be okay?" Ephiny kept her voice low. "Yeah, She seems to recognise her enough to want to protect her from us, so I think shell be alright." All eyes flickered back to their Queen as she let out a small groan. Xena stopped pacing and fell to her knees next to the bard and gently brushed the blonde hair from her face. All the Amazons saw their young Queens eyes open and the smile that appeared on her face as she looked at the warrior above, and they all saw the warrior relax as the Queen spoke her name. The world was a little blurred as she opened her eyes, but Gabrielle immediately recognised the concerned face of her partner. A smile crossed her face that slowly turned into a frown as she looked into Xenas eyes. Something was wrong. "Xena?" Gabrielle saw some of the tension leave the warriors face, but that deadly edge still remained in those crystalline eyes. Carefully she took hold of Xenas arm and pulled herself into a sitting position, gently supported by her friend. Once the slight dizziness had left her she gazed around the small clearing. The Amazons she saw stood a good stones throw away from where they were sat, Gabrielles frown deepened as she saw that two of them were injured. None of them including Ephiny and Eponin seemed eager to approach. "Xena, why are all the Amazons stood over there? And how did those two get hurt?" Gabrielles gaze stayed on the Amazons; she got no reply from the warrior.
"Xena?" She transferred her gaze back to the warrior seeing the anger building on her face. "Xena? Whats wrong?" Still she got no answer, and Xena slowly rose to her feet. "Oh, Gods." Said Gabrielle aloud, knowing that something had really upset her partner this time.
Solari and her small band moved quickly through the treetops, they had left their mounts some distance back. Unsure of what they might find, Solari had felt more secure approaching on foot, crashing in on horses didnt seem a wise idea. She had split the group up so that they could surround the border clearing, Solari hoped that an all fronts attack would be enough to stop the warrior if it were required. She slowed her pace allowing the healers to come abreast of her as they neared the border.
Gabrielle scrambled quickly to her feet, forcing the wave of dizziness down, and putting herself between the Xena and the Amazons. Grabbing hold of each of her arms, she physically forced the warrior to a halt, stopping her from advancing towards the Amazons any further. Shaking her arms Gabrielle forced Xena to make eye contact with her.
"What happened?" she asked over her shoulder in a voice load enough to reach Ephiny but not enough to startle her friend.
"My horse spooked and threw you. And Xena, ... well I think she must have thought Temara and Della were attacking, cause she kinda lost it." A small movement to the rear of Xena caught the bards attention. Refocusing she saw several Amazons slowly moving through the trees.
"Anybody else hurt?" The Amazons moved out of the trees and Gabrielle could see their bows notched and felt the tension rise in Xena as her senses picked up the new arrivals.
"No, no-one else get hurt, well apart from you. Temara and Della will be alright once theyve seen the healers." Ephiny had also seen the Amazon re-enforcements, then felt Solaris presence by her side. Quietly she spoke to her. "You bring the healers?"
"Yeah, and Ive spread everyone else out. The arrows are coated in Soneral, the healer said it would take a few minutes to absorb through the skin, but it will work almost instantly if introduced into the blood." "Is there a chance we might overdose her doing this?"
"They were a little vague on that."
"Great, just what I need, vague answers. Hopefully it wont come to that Gabrielle seems to be handling it at the moment." She returned her attention back to the Queen as she heard her voice.
"Ephiny, tell everyone to move back a couple of paces."
"Gabrielle Im not sure thats a wise move."
"Dont argue with me Ephiny. Shes upset enough as it is, theyre only making it worse." Ephiny sighed but waved the warriors back. Gabrielle now refocused herself totally on her friend.
"Xena, nobody was attacking me. Ephinys horse just spooked and threw me thats all. Okay?" Gabrielle was concentrating entirely on her friend and didnt see the Auburn haired Amazon to her side draw back on her bow. "Xena, I need you to calm down and relax a little. Everythings..." She knew the moment she failed, and would in the coming weeks wonder if she could have done something to prevent it. It was only a small change, a slight crease to her face, hardness to the eyes that warned her. She didnt have time to remove her hands before Xena shook her off and pushed her forcefully away. The warrior turned sharply ignoring the bards cry as she hit the ground, and snatched the quarrel that had been fired at her, from the air. Then launched herself at the attacking Amazon. Ephiny had actually started to believe they were going to avert an all out confrontation, until she saw Kiaya fire the quarrel at Xena. She felt her heart sink as she saw the warrior throw the bard from her and catch the arrow. There would be no way now that Gabrielle would be able to talk her down, or prevent her from tearing Kiaya limb from limb, not that she didnt deserve it for disobeying orders. She took a deep breath, knowing that explaining to Gabrielle what she was about to do would be hard and gave the signal to fire. Gabrielle watched with mounting horror as she realised that one of the Amazons had actually attacked Xena. The warrior had almost reached the auburn haired warrior before a rain of Amazon arrows flew towards her. Not bothering to try and catch them she just batted most of them to the ground. None of the arrows managed to embed themselves in the warrior, but she had several deep gashes. She actually got her hands around the Amazons throat before the Soneral took effect, and knocked her out. Gabrielle sat stunned watching as her partner fell unable to comprehend what had gone wrong.
Eponin waited until the warrior was completely down before pulling one of the healers with her to check on the warrior.
"Kiaya," she said as she approached. "Put your bow away and step back." The tall warrior grinned at the weapons master and did as she was told. "And wipe that grin off your face, before the Queen does." The grin disappeared. Eponin turned her attention back to the healer who was on her knees next to the fallen warrior. "She okay?" the healer shrugged.
"Hard to say. Shes absorbed a lot, but shes still breathing." The weapons master looked over the healers shoulder and nodded to Ephiny who was crouching next to the still sitting form of their Queen.
Ephiny braced herself for the hurt she knew she was going to see in Gabrielles eyes. She was thankful for Eponins nod of reassurance; at least they hadnt killed her.
"Gabrielle?" She knelt slowly down next to her young Queen and gently rested her hand on her shoulder. "Gabrielle shes okay, the arrows only had a sedative on them." Gabrielle looked her straight in the face and Ephiny saw the anger in the emerald eyes and winced.
"Only had a sedative on them. Hades bells, Ephiny." She hissed getting to her feet. "You just fired a full volley of arrows at my best friend for defending herself. You can try explaining that one to her when she wakes up." She let her eyes travel around the Amazon warriors then looked back at the Regent. "Shes just gotten over some major injuries she didnt need any more. That and the fact that there was no need for it. I was calming her down. I can understand why Xena doesnt always trust my judgement." She began walking over to her fallen friend, Ephiny keeping pace on her shoulder. "But I expected a little more respect from you, at least where Xenas concerned."
"I know Gabrielle, Im sorry. Kiaya wasnt supposed to fire unless the order was given. I dont."
"Im not interested in excuses Ephiny. Lets just get her back to the village." Both the healers were now tending to the warrior. "How soon before we can move her?" She asked standing beside them, but looking at the Amazon warrior stood beside Eponin.
"Its just a matter of patching up these wounds. None of them are too serious, then well get a pallet built for her."
"No, shell go back to the village on Argo with me. Ill not have her slung over some horse or dragged into the village like a piece of meat or some prize." She gave a hard look at the Amazons. "She has her dignity and I wont allow anyone to damage that any more than it needs to be. Understand? Good." She turned back to Ephiny. "Round up Argo for me and lets get going." It was a sombre party that Eponin strode from the palace to meet. When shed left earlier that afternoon the atmosphere had been one of simmering anger. Ephiny had in the end asked her to ride ahead and take Kiaya with her, just to help easy the tension. The looks the Amazon had been receiving from their Queen were not pleasant; if any one had been in the mood to ask Eponin would have sworn Xena had been giving her lessons in the intimidating look department. The sun was still high when the tired horses plodded into the village, Amazons appeared from the surrounding huts to tend to the mounts for their travel weary friends. Gabrielle sat amid the Amazons on Argo cradling the still unconscious warrior. Eponin watched as she leaned down to listen to the now dismounted Ephiny, and shook her head. The weapons master could see the Regents temper fraying around the edges, obviously upset with Gabrielle she raised her head to the sky and ran her hand through her blonde hair. Dropping her hand to her side she spoke again. This time Gabrielle just ignored her and prodded Argo into moving towards the Temple. Ephiny raised her hands in frustration, sighed, then followed her. Eponin decided she really ought to go and see what the problem was before open warfare broke out between the two of them. As she got nearer she realised that the argument must have been flowing for some time because they seemed to be going over the same ground.
"Ephiny I said no, and thats exactly what I meant." Gabrielle pulled Argo to a halt at the bottom of the Temple steps "But Gabrielle," Ephiny sighed in exasperation, " the healers said shed be out for ages yet. There would be no danger in having them treat her wounds in the hut, theyve got all the tools and herbs over there, and their worried infection might set in if we put."
Ephiny which part of no dont you understand? If Xena needs further treatment she gets it in the cell and thats final!" she noticed Eponin walking towards them and nodded a greeting. "Now get some help. I want her secured soon." "Hades bells Gabrielle shes out cold what difference will a few candlemarks make?!" The Regent was about to launch into a full-blown rage at the Queens stubbornness when Eponins hand touched her arm. Twisting round she saw Eponin and yelled, "You talk some sense into her!" and stormed off. "EPHINY!" The Regent had never heard that steely tone in Gabrielles voice before, it brought her to a halt and she looked over her shoulder. Several of the Royal Guard surrounded Argo and Gabrielle was carefully handing Xena down to them. Eponin held Argos reins as the bard slid slowly to the ground, legs buckling slightly from disuse. When she felt a little more secure on her feet she released her hold on Argos saddle and walked over to the Regent. "Look Im right about this. Her body works at a much faster rate than ours does, you know that. A couple of candlemarks will make a difference." "Well use restraints and put guards with her, at least the healers will be able to treat her properly."
"You really think restraints and guards would make a difference. Ephiny, Xena is not going to wake up the same Warrior Princess you all love to hate. I saw the change in her eyes Ephiny. I had one chance to pull her back and I lost it. Lost her. The last thing shell remember is an Amazon attacking her. If you really want the death of the healers and anyone else that gets in her way on your hands, then by all means go ahead, take her to the healing hut." Her gazed possessed a fiery glint and Ephiny hung her head.
"Are you sure Gabrielle?"
"I know that woman better than anyone else, better than myself; but I did not know the person who stood before me in those last few seconds." "Okay, okay," Ephiny said with resignation. "You win." "No, I didnt," the bard said quietly as she turned walking towards the palace "I lost."
Solari dropped two wineskins, next to Ephinys arm and sat with an exhausted thud. The Regent slowly lifted her head from the table and gave her a weak smile.
"Hows it going?"
"Ask me again when Ive finished both of the wineskins.," said Solari as she poured wine into her mug and took a hearty drink.
"That good, huh." Gabrielle had been right, thought Ephiny as she watched Solari relax after spending the last few candlemarks down at the cell. Not half a candlemark after Xena had been chained, she came around. Luckily for Cassandra one of the village healers, she had just left to get some more warm water. Had she been within reach of the warrior she would have most probably been killed. As it was all Xena had to attack were the chains holding her. Gabrielle hadnt reappeared from her quarters, and Ephiny was hopping the exhausted girl was sleeping. So it had fallen to her to check on the warrior with Eponin. It hadnt been pretty. After the initial outburst from the chained warrior everybody had thought she would have calmed down as she realised how securely she was restrained, she hadnt. By time Ephiny and the weapons master had arrived, Xena had managed to rub her wrists, ankles, and neck bloody where the chains had abraded them. The pins holding the chains in place shook with the force exerted on them each time the warrior tried to rip herself free. Ephiny had left the cellars echoing to Xenas howls of rage, leaving orders for the guards to be doubled and for the healers to prepare more arrows with Soneral. She privately ordered Eponin to prepare arrows with deadliest poison they had and to issue them to the royal guard. All that remained to be done was to discipline Kiaya, but that could wait for tomorrow. Solari had started the second wineskin when Ephiny shook herself from her thoughts.
"Has she slowed down at all?" She knew the Warrior Princess was strong, but the constant battering of the chains couldnt go on much longer, either the chains would give or she would.
"Yeah, I think the cold is starting to get to her a little and she hasnt eaten or drank for over a day. Cassandra and Eponin are going to try and dart her again in the next candlemark or so. Cassandra says, if she doesnt change the bandages on the wounds theyll get infected and I think she wants to pad the shackles."
"Gods I shudder to think how Gabrielle and Cyrene would have dealt with this alone."
"Im glad she came to us for help."
"Im not," replied the Regent. "Its bad enough seeing her torn up like this. I dont want to be the one to order the death of her bestfriend. Shes hardly talking to me as it is" "Eph shes tired to the bone and not thinking straight. She knows in her heart there was nothing you could have done. Kiaya disobeyed orders. You didnt give the order to the rest of them until you had no choice. What are you going to do with Kiaya by the way?"
"I dont know, Ill worry about that tomorrow. Gods why does this have to be so hard, and why me?" Ephiny let her head drop back to the table. "Hey, someones got to get the hard jobs, right?" Solari plonked a mug of wine in front of her friend with a grin; the Regent returned it with a sad smile before drinking.
Gabrielle had gone straight to her rooms in the palace just to get away from everybody> Her head was still pounding and she felt as though shed been in a fight with a Cyclops in a bad mood, and lost. Her body ached from top to toe. She couldnt believe the argument shed had with Ephiny. It was ironic, normally she would have been arguing with the Regent for Xena to be taken to the healers hut. The Amazons still treated the Warrior Princess with a cool reserve. Gods talk about role reversal. Xena, Gabrielle knew would not have expected anything less from the bard. One of the conditions she had set for going along with this plan had been that Gabrielle not delude herself into thinking that this was something the warrior would just snap out of. She had said, it would be up to Gabrielle to ensure that she did no harm. She had made the bard swear an oath on their friendship that if that meant ordering her death she would do it. Gabrielle had viscously opposed that, but Xena had quietly pointed out that the Amazons were her responsibility. That she was putting them all in danger by insisting on this and it was her job to insure their safety. The bard could find no reply to her wisdom, and begrudgingly agreed. Still, it didnt bring any relief to the depression she felt settling on her shoulders as she lay staring at the ceiling. She had truly not recognised her friend in that last instant in the clearing, not even when they had faced the horde, had those eyes shown so much darkness, it was almost palpable. Just thinking about it sent shivers down her spine. Could Xena ever fight her way back against that? Or would she rely on her bestfriend to end her struggle? Gabrielle didnt know whether or not she was strong enough to do this, but if she didnt it would fall to Ephiny and she wouldnt lay that guilt on anybody elses doorstep. The bard felt a wave of despair wash over her and tears began to fall from her eyes. Eventually her body succumbed to the exhaustion it felt and she slipped into a restless sleep tears still falling, longing for the comforting arms of the warrior to hold her. The camp was not large, as army camps go, but it was well laid out and organised. The cooking and living areas were upwind of the latrines; the armies mounts were hitched to either side providing easy access for their riders. The sentries were well placed and disciplined. The only things that were slightly unusual were the two large tents at the centre of the camp. One obviously belonged to the warlord running the army, his mount was stabled just outside the entrance that his soldiers guarded and his lieutenants used frequently. The other was made completely from black material, which had an unusual texture to it that the men hated; it left their hands feeling unclean and spoiled. A permanent coldness seemed to emanate from it. The soldiers for the most kept their distance, not liking the implied evilness that enveloped it. To be fair though at this precise moment everybody was keeping away from the warlords tent as well. Raised voices usually meant swift retribution, it didnt matter if you werent the cause of the problem, and you could still be on the reciting end of the punishment if you were near enough.
"What do you mean they didnt get her?"
"Just that. We sent scouts out this morning when they were overdue." Alriss looked at his employer. The man was of average height and weight, greying in years, though he had a deceptively youthful face surrounding his deep mahogany eyes. The only thing that marred his beauty was the scar running from the left corner of his mouth to his earlobe. What made Alriss most uncomfortable though was that once he left the tent, if anyone asked him to describe him to them he would be hard pressed to remember any details; they just slipped from memory. Not even his clothes were memorable all he wore was black. Well at least he paid well and in advance too.
"Did they find anything?"
"Just a few mutilated bodies, it seems the Warrior Princess is not as incapacitated as wed hoped."
"She would be if youd gotten that bard away from her. Did your men at least manage to find out where they went?"
"Yes, just as you said they were heading to the Amazon village, but thats all they could say. They couldnt get onto the hunting grounds to confirm it, but thats the only place they could have gone."
"Then thats where were going too. When can we be ready to move?" "If you want to go into the Amazon nation, Im going to have to bring up the rest of my army. That will take two or three days. Three days to get to the hunting grounds. A day or so after that we could be in the village it depends on how much of a fight they put up." The black robed man stared intently at him and then closed his eyes standing perfectly still. An earie chill spread around him, Alriss took an uncertain step back. When he opened his eyes again no colour showed only black orbs.
"Very well you have eight days, but at the end of those eight days I want that village destroyed and I want that bard dead." He reached over his shoulders and pulled a black cowled hood over his head and left. Alriss let out the breath he didnt even realise hed been holding and called in his second. In the last two days life at the Amazon village had quietly returned to some semblance of normality. Except for the regular change of guard within the Temple everything on the surface was fine. Gabrielle could have almost convinced herself that it was all a bad dream, that Xena was off somewhere battling a warlord or helping some friend. That was until Ephiny Eponin, Solari or even Cassandra came to give her one of their daily reports on her friend. At first theyd been afraid that her strength would be to much to handle, the day after shed been chained they had been forced to sedate her so they could move the pins holding the chains shed managed to move them that much. Slowly though the coldness of the cell had penetrated her body, lack of sleep food, water and just the sheer energy use, had slowed her down to an almost manageable level. The healers had been using blowpipe darts to administer Soneral twice a day to enable them to change her dressings and get some fluids into her. Unfortunately the constant use of the drug meant that Xena was becoming resistant to it, larger and larger quantities had to be used to knock her out for shorter periods of time. Gabrielle had not been to see her friend; she had no wish to see her chained like an animal. Instead shed spent the two days with the Amazon Council sorting out business affairs, when shed not been with them; shed been with the scholars trying to find the cause of Xenas ailment. When the outriders had searched the raiders that had attacked them, they had found several tokens and seals. A little research had shown them to belong to the warlord Alriss, and after sending out scouting parties, his growing army had been located with the help of informants in several villages, just over two days march away. Gabrielle was sat in the council chambers studying several scrolls when Ephiny appeared a sense of urgency in her stride. Gabrielle looked up. "Problem?" she asked.
"Yeah, could be." She said sliding into a seat near the bard. "Alriss is on the move, in three days hell be on our borders. His army is about two hundred strong."
"Well that confirms it, at least we know hes involved in all of this. Are we strong enough to hold him?" Ephiny shook her head "I doubt it, Ive sent runners to the other villages to get help, but they will outnumber us. One other piece of information though. One of the traders that have been into Alriss camp said they had some sort of priest with them. Apparently none of the soldiers would say much except that he was the one paying for this campaign."
"Which means," Gabrielle murmured thoughtfully, "that the Gods are somehow involved in this. Huh, and now it all starts to make sense. I wonder where Ares hand are in all this?" Ephiny saw a spark in Gabrielles eyes that she hadnt seen for sometime. "It makes you wonder doesnt it?" Ephiny just nodded as some of Gabrielles pent up anger exploded. Throwing the scroll shed been reading onto the table, she stood, violently slamming her chair back. "You know for once I just wish theyd stop there meddling. For nearly three years now all shes done is good. She fights against her dark soul constantly. Youd think that for once, when we finally get the chance to rest theyd leave her alone. But oh, no they cant quite find it in themselves to give her a little peace. Do they really get that much pleasure out of tormenting her?" She was pacing around the chamber now occasionally knocking a chair out of her way. A head peaked around the door as one of the Royal Guard checked on the commotion, Ephiny waved her away, it would do Gabrielle good to get rid of some of her anger. Gabrielle carried on her tirade.
"The one place people were starting to accept her as a person instead of some demon warlord was Amphipolis. So what do they do? Hey, just send a small army to wipe it out while shes there. Thatll soon remind everybody of what she was, what shes still capable of. Oh, how Id love to get my hands on the God that pulled this one out of the bag. I wish for once, even if it was just for a day, everybody would leave her alone!"
The courtyard had a glowing radiance to it, that not even the brilliant sunshine could account for. In the centre next to a clear blue pool of water, sat a handsomely dark figure. Chuckling to himself he stood and stretched. "Find something funny Ares?" The God of War turned and a genuine smile graced his face.
"Sis, long time no see. Actually I was just looking in on your neck of the woods."
"I know," the warrior Goddess sat down by the pool and gazed into it seeing Gabrielle her Amazon Queen storming around the council chambers of the village. "Quite a little firecracker when she gets going, isnt she?" asked Ares.
"And there was me thinking you didnt care."
"Hey, what can I say? She grows on you. Well how goes it?"
"My priestesss have mobilised the northern clans. Ephiny will find a few more Amazon warriors arrive than she expected. They will be able to hold and possibly defeat Alrisss army providing he gets no outside assistance. But thats your department brother, can you do it?"
"Hades has promised a legion of his best."
"We dont need his best, we need yours. Can you find her?"
"I can break through to her, but only for a short period, about half a day. If its not over by then were in trouble."
"Theres no one else after Xena?"
"I have many chosen Artemis, but there is only one Warrior Princess."
"Have a day doesnt leave them much time."
"Its all I can offer." Said the God stroking his dark beard. "And remember shes got to ask for it."
"Well it looks like a little pre-emptive strike is required."
"What are you going to do?"
"Me Ares? Im going to meddle a little. I think its about time we let my Queen and your pesky bard into the game." With that she disappeared. Gabrielle sat curled, wrapped in a soft blanket, in the large chair next to the fire in her outer chambers. Her head was back resting, eyes closed, her hands clasped tightly round a warm cup of mulled wine. It was the first time shed had to herself since Ephiny had told her Alrisss army was on the move. She was hoping a little quiet time would ease the tension she felt somewhat. Her mind though had other ideas. Alriss and his army would reach the border late tomorrow evening and Ephiny expected his attack the next day. Enforcements had been arriving from the other villages, but as Ephiny had said they would be out numbered. What Gabrielle would dearly have loved to be able to do was ask Xena for advice, without a doubt she would have been able to see a way out of this. A quiet knock roused her from her thoughts. She struggled upright in her chair. "Come in." She called. The door opened and her Royal Guard announced Ephiny. The Regent walked in seeing her weary young Queen snuggled in her lounge chair; the guard closed the door behind her.
"Hi, how you doing?" She asked.
"Fine, I think. More problems?" She raised her eyebrows. "No, nothing like that. Its a request actually. Lissa the priestess at the Temple would like to see you."
"Me? Is this about Xena?"
"To be honest I dont really know. She has been down to the cell on a few occasions but she didnt really say why she wanted to see you." "Right now?" Ephiny nodded. "Okay," she said uncurling from the chair, "lets go."
Gabrielle didnt notice that Ephiny was no longer with her until the acolyte showed her into a large dimly lit room. Looking around her she noticed that the walls were covered in pictures depicting various events in Amazon history. On closer examination she realised that the pictures were not drawn or painted, but made from hundreds of stones, gems and sands of different colours. Gabrielle marvelled at the workmanship, the time and patience it must have taken to produce such works of art. She walked slowly round the room studying each one carefully. Some she recognised from the various stories and legends shed heard around the campfires. Others she didnt recognise and she made a mental note to ask Ephiny about them. She stopped and stared at one in particular, finding it strangely familiar. It showed a lone warrior, not an Amazon, battling against a large force and at her feet lay the bodies of those shed slain. Behind her were the trees and lands of the hunting grounds and alone Amazon warrior observed the carnage from the safety of the treetops.
"Beautiful arent they?" Gabrielle jumped at the sudden voice behind her. She spun to face the newcomer, seeing the woman dressed in Amazon leathers with a bow strapped to her back. She felt no danger, from the woman but still mentally kicked herself for not having heard her approach.
"Yes, yes they are." She said turning back to the picture. The women noticing her questioning gaze walked over to her side.
"Youve picked an interesting one to study my Queen." Gabrielle glanced out of the corner of her eye at the chestnut haired woman, who was thankfully the same height as she was, she was getting fed up having to look up at just about everybody.
"It seems, sort of familiar. Is there a story to it?"
"Oh, yes." Replied the woman walking to the centre of the room; Gabrielles eyes followed her. "They all have stories to them. Each one is special to the Amazon nation for various reasons. The one youre looking at is a favourite of mine." "Why?"
"Well that one is a bit of an enigma: you see it doesnt depict anything the Amazons have done, only what one of them witnessed. Would you like to hear the story Gabrielle?"
"Yes, please." Answered the bard not even noticing the familiar use of her name. "Why dont we sit then." She waved her hand towards a table and chairs that Gabrielle hadnt seen as she entered the room. The Amazon sat and helped herself to the wine and fruit. "Would you like wine?"
"No thank you. What happened in the picture?" she asked eagerly. "Well this story occurred recently in Amazon history, not more than nine years ago. For the Amazon nation at least it was a time of turmoil. The Queens mask had changed hands several times in quick succession due to illness and several viscous battles with invading warlords and the Centaurs. It was at this time that the nation came under threat from two different forces. One was the force of nature, a terrible disease had attacked the nation leaving many dead and those that did survive were ill and weak for many moons. The Amazons were unable to protect themselves from invading forces and because of this the hunting grounds were ripe for the taking. So as things go, a warlord and his army decided to try and take the land. The Amazons had a few scouts out so knew of the army and knowing that there was no possible way for them to defend their land and survive they left the village for the storage caves which are easier to defend, and waited for the invading army. It never arrived. One warrior volunteered to find out why the warlord had not attacked, she left the caves and searched the hunting grounds for signs of the army. Finding none she made her way to the border where she heard sounds of battle. Taking to the treetops the Amazon looked out over the approach to the forest. There stood a lone female warrior fighting the entire army. She seemed magical none of the army could touch her, but there were many reasoned the Amazon, and the warrior would tire and would make a mistake that would mean her death. So the Amazon ran as fast as she could back to the caves and told the Queen what was happening. The Queen gathered those that were able to fight and returned to the border. There was no battle to be found on their arrival only silence and dead bodies. As the Amazons left the protective embrace of the trees a lone rider sat on top of a pale horse appeared, saluted them and rode off. A lone unnamed warrior had saved the Amazon Nation. It quickly spread however that one of the most feared armies in Greece had been defeated by a handful of Amazons. Warlords and armies took care to avoid the nations hunting grounds giving the Amazons time to recover and rebuild."
"Wow," said Gabrielle who had sat enraptured throughout the story. "That was magnificent. Did they ever find out who the warrior was?" "No one knows for sure, but many have their suspicions especially the scout who saw the battle."
"Who was the scout?"
"Why that young scout grew up to be one of the greatest weapons masters the Amazon nation has, actually she taught you the use of the staff." "Eponin, it was Eponin who saw the battle?" the Amazon just grinned. "Now, Im afraid we need to talk on more pressing subjects. The Amazon nation is once again under threat from forces without. Not all of these forces are natural and no amount of Amazon warriors will be able to defeat them. There is only one warrior who can stand against this foe and have any hope of winning." "Xena." Stated Gabrielle.
"Yes, Xena is the only one who is any threat to the priest travelling with Alrisss army. The priest and his master know that. Xena must stand alongside the Amazons if you are to have any hope of defeating this army." "But how can she stand by us? If we were to release her shed tear the Amazon nation apart herself."
"Do you believe in your friend Gabrielle?"
"Of course I do, I trust her with my life!"
"I know you trust her but do you believe in her?"
"Then why havent you been to see her? Gabrielle hung her head searching for the answer. Why hadnt she been to see her bestfriend? She had said it was because she didnt want to see her chained and that was definitely part of it, but not all of it. She was scared she admitted to herself, scared of what she would see in her friends eyes. Scared that she would see that darkness in her eyes that would mean she would have to end her life. She looked the Amazon in the eye unable to voice her fears.
"Its okay to be afraid Gabrielle, I can assure you Xena is."
"Dont you think shes just as scared. She knows exactly whats going on. A tiny part of her still has reason, still understands. Believes shes lost her bestfriend. She told you that either way she would lose you to this fight. Was she right?"
"I honestly dont know. Yes Im scared, but not of her. Im scared that seeing the madness in her eyes Ill know she cant find a way back and if thats true I have a promise to keep. That Id rather not have to face." "We all have our demons, Gabrielle. This is yours. Believe in her, trust in her, trust in yourself and your love for her and nobody will ever be able to defeat you. Youre her way out Gabrielle, its time you showed her the way." The Amazon rose and headed for the door. "There is evil walking the land my Queen, sometimes the only way to fight it is to walk the same road. Remember you are the keeper of her soul and all will be well." The bard watched in silence as the Amazon left. Gabrielle sat in the silence for nearly a candlemark, thinking over the Amazons words, before the door opened and Ephiny walked in, a young woman in the robes of a priestess followed her.
"Sorry we took so long one of the scouts came in with good news for a change, warriors from the northern clans have arrived, only the gods know how they knew they were needed. Anyway Id like to introduce you to Lissa." Her hand rested on the young priestesss shoulder.
"This is Lissa?" came the puzzled reply.
"Yes." Said Ephiny in almost as much puzzlement.
"Then who was the Amazon in here with me a minute ago?"
"Gabrielle, weve been outside the door the whole time, nobody has been in here with you."
"Well nobody from this plane anyway." The priestess smiled at Gabrielle. The bard was suddenly stunned at the thought that shed been talking with Armetis herself and not even known She sat in thought for a few moments more before gazing up at Ephiny.
"I want to go and see Xena."
The tunnels to the cellars were dimly lit with flickering torches, damp and cold. Gabrielle shivered as she wondered how the Amazons guarding Xena put up with it for hours on end. Ephany noticing the shiver mistook it for concern over Xena.
"These are the conditions Xena asked for you know." She said not wanting to see Gabrielles temper flare.
"Yeah I know. I was just wondering how the guards stood it. Xena, well she could feel at home on top of a mountain in the middle of a snowstorm. I dont have to worry about that."
Ephany grinned at the bard. "Yeah, Id noticed she can make herself at home just about anywhere."
"Its a warrior thing." Joked Gabrielle nervously as Lissa gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Ephany lead the group into a small chamber where the guards had put a table and a few chairs in to use while on duty. They rose from their seats as the Regent, their Queen and the Priestess entered. Gabrielle glanced round the room at the three guards, surprised at how young they seemed, she immediately picked up on their nervousness. It was as though they really were as young as they looked and had been caught doing something they werent suppose to.
"How is she?" said Ephany inquired. There was a tense pause as the three eyed each other not wanting to upset their Queen then one of them replied. "About the same. She kicked off again about two or three candlemarks ago. She managed to open the wounds on her wrists again. We had Cassandra take a look, but she didnt want to try and sedate her again, so theyve been left." Ephany nodded. She knew the healers were getting concerned about having to sedate her so often and the amount of soneral it was taking to do it. "Okay, who is down there with her now?" The amazon could feel herself wincing as she looked at her Queen, trying to gauge the reaction she was going to get. "Er?Kiaya." Unfortunately for the reporting Amazon whose eyes were still glued to the Queen, it wasnt Gabrielles reaction she had to worry about. "Kiaya! In Artemiss name who let her down here?" The Amazons eyes flew to the furious Regent.
"Well Neelas daughter wasnt well and Kiaya came down saying she was doing her duty. Im sorry Ephany ..Shes senior. I never thought to question her. I thought it must be okay."
"Oh, for the sake of the Gods. Everybody knew my ruling. Stripping her of all privileges and assigning various other chores until she learned how to obey orders and under no circumstances was she to hold guard duties here!" The Amazon just shrugged. Ephany let out an exasperated sigh, then tiredly rubbed a hand over her eyes. ""Okay, well sort this out later. Who else is down there with her?" Hoping at least there was someone with a modicum of sense with her. A guilty flush crossed the Amazons face as she hung her head "Gods give me strength!" Said Ephany realising that nobody else was down there with Kiaya and Xena. "Right, you three with me." She was about to tell Gabrielle to wait here until she saw the look of determination on the bards face and realised it would be pointless.
The cell was further into the tunnels by some way. The Amazons had soon realised that hearing voices just outside the cell enraged the warrior further. So only those actually guarding the cell were supposed to be there at any one time, of course everybody went down when the healers entered the room to treat her wounds. Ephany was worried surely the girl wasnt stupid enough to get herself into even more trouble. Ephanys hopes were dashed as she heard Kiayas taunting laugh echo down the tunnel.
"Not so mighty now are we Princess! Everyone kept telling me how tough you were; but you werent so hard to bring down." Ephany broke into a run as Xenas howling response was heard closely followed by another mocking laugh. Fear touched Gabrielles heart as she heard what was going on down at the cell. The Amazon really didnt understand that she was playing with fire. Kiaya did not realise that the only reason she wasnt being ripped to pieces, was that Xena was chained at the wrists, ankles, neck and waist by chains that two Centaurs hadnt been able to break, in a cold damp cell that had sapped her strength to a manageable level. Not to mention the ironwood door that stood between them.
The sudden silence egged the group into a faster run over the last few hundred paces separating them from the cell. Xenas next roar was almost drowned out by the screeching of metal over rock as she strained against the chains holding her and found them giving. Kiaya didnt have any time to register that Xena had broken free of the restraints before Ephany, Gabrielle and the rest of the group appeared.
Ephany pointed towards Kiaya, "Restrain her." the guards instantly reacted, not wanting to garner the Regents wrath anymore than necessary. Her next words were smothered out as Xena crashed into the ironwood door. Her cries of rage held absolutely no reason. "Everyone back out!" she yelled at the top of her voice. The guards dragged the now restrained Kiaya with them into the tunnel, closely followed by Lissa. Ephany reached over to grab Gabrielle, but the bard was having none of it and shook herself free.
"Gabrielle!" pleaded Ephany as another shudder rippled through the door. Gabrielle ignored her and place herself directly in front of the door. Ephany looked back over her shoulder and saw Lissa standing at the tunnel entrance. "Go to the village. Warn Eponin and alert the guard." Lissa nodded breaking into a run.
Gabrielle acknowledge Ephanys orders but kept her eyes locked on the fury that stood in front of her. She had never before heard the kind of rage that was pouring from Xenas cell or seen the incredible amount of power. She was once again amazed at the raw force within her best friend as Xena again pushed hard bending the ironwood door. Even though she knew the sensible thing to do was to leave and let the guard deal with this, Artemiss words kept running through her head.
"Do you believe in your friend Gabrielle?"
More than ever Gabrielle wanted to believe. In all her time with Xena shed never felt threatened by her. It was her badge of pride that while others retreated in terror she could stand by Xenas side without fear, knowing she was safe. It was like standing in the path of a raging flood and knowing you were safe, because right there in front of you was this unmoveable will, forcing it to either side. She had always felt secure with Xena. Yeah, theyd been in scary situations, and yes shed been frightened, but never of Xena. "..She told you that either way she would lose you to this fight. Was she right?"
This was a test of faith, a test of her belief in Xena and she would not fail in it. As she placed herself in front of the door, that Xenas attacks were now splintering, she realised what Artemis had meant when she said, "Youre her way out Gabrielle, its time you showed her the way." If any part of the Xena that she knew and loved remained in the mad woman within the cell, the only person that would ever stand a chance of reaching her was Gabrielle herself. She had been wrong not to come down sooner, because if Xena couldnt be reached then there was nothing left within that body to save and ending its life would be an act of mercy and would be welcomed by Xenas soul wherever it resided.
Ephany watched with mounting horror as the ironwood door began to buckle. Gabrielle stood in front of it not flinching. She desperately wanted to drag Gabrielle away, but knew if Xena recognised the bard struggling with her it would be the end of her life. She hoped Gabrielle knew what she was doing. The animal that raged within the cell could sense its impending victory over its confinement, with one last powerful kick the door shattered. Its heart soared at he new-found freedom, its blood boiled at the thought of revenge. Chain and taunt her would they? Well theyd pay for that in pounds of flesh. Gabrielle felt the splinters of wood hit as the door finally buckled against the furious onslaught, but didnt flinch or shy away. She was shocked at Xenas condition as she left the cell. Blood poured from her wrists, where shed been pulling at the chains, which hadnt actually been broken but ripped out of the walls. Her normally vibrant hair was dull and lank. She had lost weight and by appearances was a shadow of her former self. Though the incredible strength that it had taken to break free proved that appearances could be deceptive. Gabrielle braced herself for the confrontation that was to come. Xena exited the cell, chains dragging along the floor behind her. Her eyes quickly scanned the room looking for something, anything to destroy. They soon found a target in the small blonde figure standing before the door. Striding forward, she picked up the Amazon and slammed her against the wall with ease. Gabrielle managed not to flinch as Xena lifted her into the air and threw her against the wall with force. She was amazed that she hadnt seemed to have broken anything, though she suspected the bruising on her back would be spectacular. She couldnt see any recognition in those blue eyes that she loved so dear only the burning of ice and fury. Still she had to try.. for Xena, for herself.
Xena held the woman off of the floor, slowly increasing the pressure on her arms. It would be so easy to crush her like a bug. Incredibly the woman didnt show any fear and was now talking to her in an irritatingly calm voice, which only infuriated her further. Pinning her with one hand, she drew the other back intending to knock some fear into her.
Gabrielle saw the rising fury in Xenas eyes and wondered if the warrior could even hear her. She prepared herself for the worst as she saw the fist draw back. Xena was about to punch the Amazon with the bone grinding power she knew she possessed when a picture flashed in front of her eyes. It was this woman smiling and laughing. She tried to move her arm again. The scene changed to the woman bent over her own body crying. Still she fought to throw the punch, but each time a new picture formed showing this woman, laughing, crying, playing with her. She tried a final time to use her arm when the womans words finally broke through to her. "Xena, I love you."
Gabrielle saw the hesitation, a familiar flicker in those eyes and carefully repeated all that she had been saying, growing increasingly confident that she was reaching her friend. Suddenly Xenas grip on her lessened and she saw a fleeting recognition on her face, then one word from her. "Ares!" Those words echoed around her skull, forcing their way into every crevice, every dark corner spreading their light. Xena felt absolutely no desire to harm the woman in her hands and she lessened her grip. Just as quickly as those words had brought their light though the words began to fade. More scenes flashed into the front of her mind, with one of a darkly handsome man gaining in frequency "Ares." She whispered again.
The God of War was enjoying watching one of his many followers, inflict some discipline on an unsuspecting trading caravan. When the whispered words were heard. A smile graced his face. "I guess its time to go to work." It hadnt exactly been the word she was hoping for; but then again at least it was a word. She felt the grip on her clothing tighten again and returned her attention back to Xena seeing the rage starting to return. Ephany watched silently from the tunnel as the raging Xena slammed Gabrielle against the wall again. She was just about to charge into the chamber when Gabrielles words seemed to penetrate the fury in her friends mind. Gabrielle was the first to see the God of War appear behind the warrior as Xena whispered his name.
A sudden flare of bright blinding light behind Xena and Gabrielle found herself released from Xenas grip as the warrior crumbled to the floor. Gabrielle looked up and found herself staring straight into the God of wars eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but never got there. Ares raised his hands . "Hold on now!. This was necessary. She couldnt have held out by herself for much longer." Breaking into a smile Ares noted " Nice work by the way." The God of war sighed as no trace of understanding showed in the bards eyes. "I thought Artemis had explained it all to you?" Gabrielle finally managed to regain the use of her feet and her voice; she stood rearranging her clothes. "She did, " pause," sort of."
"Great a sort of from Artemis. Well little girl, the situation is this. Xena is just not strong enough to hold out against this type of attack. Even I can only hold it back for a short period of time. Shell wake up shortly and youll have her for half a day, maybe less, thats all I can give you. You have until noon to get rid of the army and the priest, if its not done by then shes gone forever."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Hey, I care you know."
"Yeah, and Im your greatest follower. What do you get out of this?" The God of war smiled knowing what she was thinking.
"Dont worry Danielle."
"Gabrielle." Interrupted the bard.
"Then why help at all?"
"Its not just the Amazons that are threatened by this." Ares stated as he started to fade. "Remember you only have until noon." Gabrielle looked over at the stunned Ephany and the sweat covered Solari and Eponin that had just arrived at her shoulder. "Now dont tell me you didnt see that?" Ephany nodded her head and walked over to her. "I saw, whats more I heard. What in Hades name is going on Gabrielle? The whole of Mount Olympus seems to be dropping in to say hi." A cheeky grin crossed the bards face. "You get used to it around Xena. Though I do profess to liking Cupid over Ares, hes so cute." Gabrielle laughed at the look on Ephinys face. "Come on, we need to tend to Xena we dont have much time." She knelt down next to her friend and gently shook her shoulder. Ephany waved Solari and Eponin in, just in case.
"Hey come on sleepy head, time to wake up." Gabrielle shook her friends shoulder again, smiling as she saw the first stirrings of wakefulness. "Thats it, come on. Open those baby blues for me Xena." The smile turned into a full-fledged grin as Xenas eyes blinked open and looked at her. Gently brushing the dark hair from her friends face she let a small sigh of relief escape her. "Nice to have you back. You okay?" Xena stared at her intently then gave a small nod of her head. She struggled to rise to a sitting position, and was only saved from falling back to the floor by the bard reaching forward and supporting her. "Are you sure, Xena?" the warrior nodded again and looked in puzzlement at the chains on her wrists, then lifting a hand she tugged at the shackle around her neck. Gabrielle shot a concerned look at Ephany. "Eph, can you get someone down to get these off?" Asked Gabrielle lifting a portion of the heavy chain in her hands.
"Ill do it." Eponin stepped forward removing a sharp tooling instrument from the belt at her waist. Xena immediately reacted to the tool as she would to a weapon and surged to her feet, dragging the bard who was still holding the chain with her. Eponin stopped a couple of paces away; knowing that to approach would be a mistake.
"Hey, hey, easy now. Eponins only going to remove the chains for you, okay?" again the warrior nodded. Gabrielle was getting concerned now, Xena was not the most talkative person in Greece but normally she would have uttered a reply or two by now. But she did as she was asked and held her wrists out to Eponin to remove the chains. A candlemark later the chains were a pile on the floor. "Lets get you up to the village. Well let Cassandra take a look at you, get you cleaned up, and get some food into you." She wrapped her small arm around her partners waist and gently guided her to the tunnel. It was some time before they exited the Temple. Xena was quite weak from her imprisonment and it had taken all four of them to stop her falling. Coming down the Temple steps Gabrielle was glad to see that someone had thought to rouse the healers, she also saw the three cell guards holding Kiaya as they stood off to one side.
"Cassandra," she called to the healer, " Do me a favour, please. Take Xena, and tend to her injuries, clean her up and get some food in her. Ill be along shortly. Solari go with them." The Amazon saluted her Queen and assisted Cassandra with the warrior. Gabrielle watched as the three of them shuffled across the village square, then turned angrily to Kiaya. "You!!" she put herself right into the Amazons face. "Are the most pathetic excuse Ive ever seen for an Amazon! Now I have a problem. Do I let Ephany try and discipline you again, which I can tell from your attitude wont work. Or do I wait awhile and let Xena deal with you?" She raised her eyebrows, and let an evil little smile cross her face. "No, I cant waste her time with the likes of you. Ill just have to deal with you myself. Get yourself a staff and meet me on the practise ground in a candlemark." She started towards the healers hut when Ephinys surprised filled voice made her pause.
"Er.., Gabrielle in case you havent noticed its after midnight and its dark." "Then light a fire Ephany. That girl needs to be taught a few lessons, and Im the one whos going to do the teaching. Im going to check on Xena, When I come out I expect everything to be ready." She turned and left leaving a shocked group of Amazons wondering whether or not they had actually heard their young Queen challenge Kiaya.
A rather disbelieving Ephany and Eponin were supervising the building of a fire and the lighting of the practise ground. "Can she beat her?" Ephany looked with some concern at the weapons master.
"Who? Gabrielle? I very much doubt it Ephany. Kiayas one of the best Ive ever seen."
"Then how do I get her out of this?"
" Well.. you cant without undermining her authority." "Great!! Ive got the Amazon nation under threat from a warlord and his army, a half crazed Warrior Princess and a totally insane Queen to deal with. Things just couldnt get better."
"Well, Gabrielle might win." Ephany gave Eponin a disdainful look. Gabrielle entered the healers hut without a look back at the stunned group of Amazons shed just left. "How is she?" Cassandra looked up at her Queen and smiled.
"Considering the amount shes been through and the amount of soneral weve given her shes fine. Im just wrapping up her wrists and ankles to make her a little more comfortable."
"Has she spoken yet?"
"No not yet, shes not quite with us yet, but dont worry after all that soneral and a blast from Ares it will take a little while for her mind to clear." Gabrielle rubbed her hand along the tense shoulder muscles felling them relax slightly under her touch.
"Solari, Id appreciate it if you would take Xena over to the council chamber when Cassandras finished."
"Yes, my Queen" Gabrielle gave her partners shoulder one last rub then left. Xena was perfectly aware of what was happening around her. Unfortunately she just couldnt get her body to respond to it. She felt like shed spent the last week celebrating with Eponin. The last time the two warriors had, had a drink together theyd had to be subdued by the village guard, something about them being a little to boisterous. Apparently one of the council had been a little offended that theyd used her hut for target practise. From what she could remember her head had felt similar to this then. Her body on the other hand, just wouldnt do as she asked it. Everything was to slow, to much of an effort, she felt as though she were weighted down, even lifting her head was hard work. The only thing that did seem to be in order, as Cassandra fussed over her was her rage. It was still there buried deep inside, but it was once again hers to control, hers to command.
Xena brought her wandering attention back to the healer as a warm mug was thrust into her hands. Her eyebrow arched in question.
"Its a stimulant. It will help counteract all that soneral youve had." Xena knew the type of tea Cassandra was talking about, shed used similar on several occasions. She also remembered the taste. She took a hesitant sip and was rather surprised at its sweet taste. The surprise must have shown on her face because Cassandra chuckled at her.
"Do you really think that with a reputation like yours I would give you something you could hold a grudge against me for?" Xena glance at Solari who was trying to hide her grin, then broke into a chuckle herself. She could already feel her blood stirring, feel her reactions starting to quicken. She drank the rest of the tea and then started on the food that had been placed in front of her.
After leaving the healers hut, Gabrielle returned to her quarters to collect her staff. The quiet knock on the door didnt startle the bard. Shed sensed the Amazons approach. In fact she was pretty sure she knew who it was." Come in Ephany." The door opened and the Regent stepped through. Obviously spending all of her time over the last three years with Xena was paying off. There had been a time when Gabrielle wouldnt have heard an army approaching over shale, never mind a single well trained Amazon warrior. She let herself feel a small surge of confidence, yes, she was definitely getting better at this warrior stuff. "My Queen." Ephany said formally, worry plainly clear on her face. "The answer to your Question is No, but thanks for asking." A trace of humour coloured her words.
"You might have actually given me the chance to ask it. You understand the consequences if you lose?"
"Yes I do, but that wont happen."
"You seem terribly sure of yourself Gabrielle. Kiaya is extremely good." "Ephany," she said tilting her head toward the Regent, "Do you ever wonder why it is that Xena is able to do so many incredible things? Able to fight overwhelming odds without faltering?"
"Yeah, I have wished for her talent on many occasion."
"Its not just a talent Ephany, it takes long hours of practise and belief. Total and utter belief. She may worry about it before and after but when shes there doing it, there is no room in her thoughts for failure." "I take it your trying to tell me you have this belief in yourself." "Sometimes Ephany you do things not because you want to not because youre asked to, but because its the right thing to do. Over the last few years my life has depended on this staff every day. There is a big difference between practise and the real thing, Xena and life have taught me that. Nobody has taught Kiaya that. While she may be good on the practise ground or surrounded by her Amazon friends in the few skirmishes shes been involved in; shes about to find out that life has a few more surprises for her. Come on lets get this over with." Amazons had soon surrounded the practise ground. Despite the late hour it hadnt taken long for news to spread that their bard Queen had called Kiaya out in a duel. Most of the village was now in attendance. Ephany escorted the Queen through the gathered Amazons. Where? She wondered had this confidence sprung from. She had obviously learned a lot from Xena. Ephany just hoped shed learned enough.
Gabrielle appreciated the warmth and light given out by the massive fire at the side of the practise ground. Night had brought a chill to the air and Gabrielle shook herself slightly before stepping into the arena. The bard advanced towards Kiaya with immense confidence, she had learned over the last few years to do anything less could be fatal. She also knew that no matter how good Kiaya was there was no way that she would be able to intimidate her with her superior skills. Practise with Xena made a mockery of anyone elses attempts; there was just no one better at intimidation than the Warrior Princess. She stood before the Amazon warrior and smiled.
When the Queen had called Kiaya out to the practise grounds she could hardly believe the little Queen had the guts to actually do it, but there she stood right in front of her. Shed had time to think since the incident in the cellars, she knew shed upset the bard by taunting Xena. And she was ready to admit that it hadnt exactly been a bright idea to disobey orders once, never mind twice. The Whole Amazon community had made their views pretty clear where that was concerned. Even Eponin had all but disowned her over the whole affair. Still beating the Queen would show them all just how much better than the rest of them she was.
Of course once shed beaten the Queen her mask would pass into her own hands. She began to wonder as she looked into the gentle face whether or not she knew what she was facing. She certainly didnt look scared or worried. Well that smile would soon be wiped off of her face.
The Amazons fell quiet as Gabrielle and Kiaya faced each other. A few noticed Kiayas smile falter, as she was unable to face the young bard down. They backed off slightly, Kiaya lifting her staff above her head into the high guard position pointing towards the bard. Gabrielle on the other hand just stood and waited, staring at Kiaya. The Amazon was a little perplexed by the Queens in action and decided to use it to her advantage.
Gabrielle stood still in front of the Amazon watching her carefully, hear Xenas calming voice in her head.
"There are two stages at the start of a fight Gabrielle. At first your opponent will try to intimidate you, stare you down, make you believe their will is the stronger. Ignore it, look straight through them. If you dont back off it will unnerve them. The second part is a little harder to master. Just before they move to attack there will be a little sign. A hardening of the eyes, a tightening of the fist, a crease in the forehead, something. If you can read that you will always have the upper hand."
Gabrielle was concentrating so hard on seeing the sign, she didnt even realise she was moving before her staff blocked Kiayas. The shudder that rippled down her staff was strong and solid, but had none of the stinging power she associated with Xenas blows. She dropped to a crouch reversing the swing of her staff connecting solidly with Kiayas ankles and sending her tumbling. Kiaya rolled from reach and bounced to her feet, a trace of worry on her face. Obviously the little Queen had a few more skills than she had expected. Instead of waiting for the attack Gabrielle pushed on twirling the staff above her head. Xena had called it a sacrifice move. You left a wide opening and would most probably take a hit, but if the bait were taken your opponent would be defenceless against the downward swing of your staff. Kiaya took the bait stepping in to deliver a blow to the stomach, receiving a stunning blow to the head for her troubles. Gabrielle the wind knocked out of her and her stomach smarting painfully spun out of reach. Catching her breath she set herself waiting for the Amazon warrior to get to her feet.
Kiaya rose unsteadily to her feet. She couldnt understand why she was having such a problem with someone who after all was only a bard. She tried a different tack going in low trying to take her feet. The bard nimbly jumped the swinging staff and delivered a crunching blow to Kiayas right arm. The Amazon immediately reversed her staff attempting to take Gabrielles feet from behind. The bard jumped again and stepped back as Kiaya rose from her crouch. Both women were breathing heavily as their weapons clashed again. No matter how quick and forceful her blows were, Kiaya was unable to break through the Queens defence; the young bard was actually making more hits than she was. In a quick succession of blows Kiaya found herself flat on her back staring into the starlit sky, Gabrielles staff at her throat.
"Do you yield?" panted the bard. Kiaya nodded a mute response. "Good." Gabrielle gazed around the silent Amazon crowd before kneeling beside Kiaya with her back to them.
"You know Kiaya," she said looking out into the hunting grounds, "the difference between you and me is life. Your skills are certainly more precise and complicated than mine, but I rely on mine to keep me alive everyday." Sighing she looked down at the fallen Amazon. "Youre a bully Kiaya. The worst kind because you dont even comprehend the consequences of your actions. By disobeying orders you put those that are depending on you at risk, not just yourself. Now Ill tell you this just once. This is your last chance. Grow up!! Act like an adult!! Because if you think fighting me was tough." She chuckled shaking her head a little. "Remember there is always someone bigger and better waiting around the corner, and Xenas it. She lives, eats and breathes because of her skills, you wouldnt last a second against her, and shes very mad at you. Youve been warned. No more chances." Gabrielle didnt see the glint of anger and frustration in Kiayas eyes as she rose and turned her back on her. Didnt see her rise, staff in hand, hateful intent on her face. She did sense the downswing of the staff directed at her head. Twisting she managed to avoid a head blow, the staff cracking painfully against her collarbone, snapping it. She saw her reach for the knife held on her belt, as she crashed to the ground. She saw the hate filled eyes glint in satisfaction, before rolling blackness claimed her as she fell unconscious.
What she didnt see; though she would hear enough about later which would enable her to tell the tale as though shed witnessed it, as a large muscular hand that wrapped itself around Kiayas throat, with the well toned muscles rippling along the arm that with ease raised the stunned Amazon off the ground. She didnt see the look of death in the feral blue eyes as Xena regarded the struggling Amazon and she didnt hear her partners first words since leaving that dark cell. "That was a mistake!" The choking warrior was pounding with futility at Xenas arm trying to get Xena to release her strangling hold. Feeling the anger flow through her blood as she looked upon her partner Xena tightened her grip cutting off the remaining airflow to the Amazon. Kiaya, suddenly remembered the knife on her belt, desperately she withdrew it and with all her remaining strength drove it straight into Xenas forearm. Without even blinking the tall raven-haired warrior threw the Amazon to the ground and pulled the blade out of her arm and throwing it away in disgust.
"Get yourself a weapon." The Amazon turned a deadly shade of white at the tone of the warriors voice. She was now beginning to realise what Gabrielle had been trying to tell her. This was the Warrior Princess in the flesh and blood, bid, bad and very, very lethal. All her insecurities came crashing down around her as she stared into those deadly eyes.
"I said get yourself a weapon!" Xenas voice dropped a few octaves lower becoming more menacing. She desperately wanted to snap this Amazons neck, but could already hear the lecture shed get off of her bard should she carry her wishes out. She wouldnt let her get away without paying a portion of the price though. Nobody got away with touching the bard, especially when they had to take the cowards option to do it.
Kiaya scrambled unsteadily to her feet, she was finding it hard to breathe, her throat was swelling where Xenas hands had been crushing it. She looked at the faces of the gathered Amazons and caught Eponins eye. The elder Amazon shook her head and signed to her not to choose a weapon but to use her hands. She was a little confused at first until she realised she had a better chance of staying alive if there were no blades or staffs involved.
"No weapons. I choose hand to hand." Stammered the Amazon. "Good choice." Growled Xena advancing. She had regained fully use of her body and was eager to put it into action.
Kiaya didnt know what to do. She had seen her death in those eyes, but she was still breathing. She knew to attack would be pointless, there was no way she could defeat this woman; but neither could she just stand there and get beaten. In the end she just closed her eyes and swung for the warrior. Xena was starting to feel a little guilty at the terror on the Amazons face plain for all to see. This irritatingly familiar voice in her head kept telling her to play nice. She gritted her teeth against it, okay shed play nice, well nice enough to leave her breathing. The Amazons blind swing came as on shock, it had been plastered on her face. She knew she was in a no win situation and had decided to get it over with. Xena caught Kiayas fist in her hand and twisted it violently.
The surrounding Amazons heard the bone snap. Xena jerked the now broken arm dislocating the shoulder. Kiaya was unable to contain her scream of pain and it echoed around the practise ground. Xena mercifully put her out of her misery by knocking her senseless. Not even giving the Amazon a second glance Xena carefully picked the unconscious bard from the ground. She walked forward as the Amazons cleared her a path with Gabrielle gently in her arms; Ephany and Eponin followed silently behind.
Xena didnt head for the healers hut, but instead she made her way to the Queens quarters not stopping to open the door she kicked it open. She slowly and gently laid the bard on her bed, taking care not to injure or cause her anymore pain.
"Get your healer over here to help Gabrielle, and bring those maps you wanted me to see. Well talk here." Xena hadnt even looked over her shoulder to give the order, for that is what it was. Eponin ran from the hut not wanting to raise Xenas anger more than it already was.
The Queens hut was crowded when Cassandra and one of her apprentices arrived. Eponin reached the hut only fifty paces or so before they had but already a council of war was taking place. Cassandra bustled through the listening warriors making her way to the still unconscious Queen. The healer could tell from the way the young girl was lying that the collarbone was broken, and was thankful that she had not yet regained consciousness because resetting it would be painful.
Xena stood studying the maps Eponin had brought in with her, concentrating on finding the solution to their problem.
"Are you sure he hasnt splint his troops?"
"Positive, the scout have been reporting twice a day. They are still altogether."
"Still coming in from the West?"
"When will they reach Hades Gorge?"
"At the speed theyre travelling now, they should reach it by midmorning."
"Good. Then that is where we will attack them."
"Attack them? You mean were going out after them?" Ephany was clearly startled at the prospect.
"Yes, were going to attack them." Turning to Eponin she asked. "When can the warriors be ready to travel? Fighting equipment only?" "Er..Three possibly two candlemarks."
"Make it two. Everyone who is capable of fighting goes." Xena turned to the healer just as she finished wrapping Gabrielles shoulder. "Is she okay?" The healer nodded.
"Good. I want all the poison you have to coat the archers arrows. Get it to Eponin within a candlemark" Xena stared at the remaining Amazons once Eponin had left. "It is a simple plan. The archers will be placed on the sides of the gorge. In front of them but hidden will be our best warriors. When Alrisss army comes to a halt in the gorge, our warriors will move in behind cutting off the retreat, they should be vulnerable to attack from the archers by then." "I understand the concept, but what will prevent them from just leaving the gorge?"
"That will be my job. We dont have long so lets get going." The Amazons nodded and slowly left all of them giving one last look to their young Queen. Ephany was the only one still remaining.
"What are you going to do Xena? You cant hold an entire army by yourself." "I wont be by myself Ephany." Xenas tone had grown dark, but Ephany pressed on.
"Who will be with you then?"
"You dont want to know the answer to that question Ephany. But we will be enough to stop Alriss." Enough. Theyd be more than enough. Xena could hardly believe she was even contemplating on performing the calling, but she could see no other way of preventing this army from destroying the Amazon nation. Besides she would be the only one paying a price. Her soul was nothing compared to Gabrielles safety, what would it matter? Xena could feel her inner trembling as the bards voice once again entered her thoughts.
"Of course it matters. It matters to me." And that was the problem wasnt it? Xena knew to call on the horsemen would mean the end of her redemption and the damning of her soul. It had taken her three years with the bard to regain just a little of it, and with this calling it would be damned forever. There was however very little choice, the horsemen were the Amazons only hope of survival and while the Amazon nation stood Gabrielle would be safe. "Gabrielles not going to like this."
"Gabrielle doesnt have a say in the matter. I will do whatever is necessary to stop that army."
"Does that mean calling on Ares? Returning to him?" Xena paced away from the table glancing over at the still unconscious bard, wondering just how much she should tell the Amazon Regent about her plan. She turned and stared her straight in the eye trying to gauge whether or not to tell this Amazon something she had never shared with anybody. The strength she saw in those eyes made the decision for her.
"Things arent always black and white Ephany. I have seen and taken part in things you could only dream of. For a short period in my life I owed a particular God a favour. When I was called on to pay my debt I was given something. Something that to this day only three others and myself may call upon. When I stand before Alriss and his army I will stand with these three and we will be enough to stop them. This is not an idle threat Ephany. When you see the four of us, you will truly see who and what I am." She sighed. "I want a good contingent to stay with Gabrielle just in case." Ephany nodded and then silently left the hut, wondering just what Xena had been trying to tell her. Alone finally with Gabrielle, Xena knelt by her friends cot and stroked her hair; she leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. "You are and always will be the keeper of my heart and soul, remember that in the coming days if you remember nothing else. I know what is happening and I know how to stop it. But there is a terrible price to pay. Hear me when I tell you my friend, the price is worth it. Because I know that at the end of this road is safety for you, the Amazons, for the world, as we know it. Make my last story a good one. As I go into this battle know that I will always carry your light with me. I love you and nothing will ever change that." Giving her one last kiss the warrior stood, she reached across the bed and picked up her saddlebag removing from it a small bundle. She loosened the leather ties and shook out the golden chainmail cloak she had worn as a warlord. "Hello, old friend." She whispered then attached it to her armour and left.
"The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land: you may almost hear the beating of his wings."
To say that Ephany was apprehensive was an understatement, although she had absolute faith in Xenas strategic abilities not knowing exactly what was going to happen was unnerving her. As instructed the Amazons had placed themselves in accordance with Xenas plan and now they just waited. Alrisss army was part way through the gorge and it would not be long before the warriors would be able to get behind them. A crash of thunder echoed overhead the Amazons looked up but saw no thunder clouds, a cold chill passed over them, many of them strained to see the riders of the horses they could hear galloping past but none could be seen.
Gabrielle awoke to a dawn filled room, the golden light flooded in through the window. She recognised her room, and the figure slumped in the chair beside her. "Solari," she whispered not wanting to startle the sleeping Amazon. Solaris eyes snapped open as soon as the words had left her Queens mouth. She smiled down at the Queen, but her smile held sadness as well as joy. "Whats wrong Solari?"
"Xena, and the Amazon warriors have ridden out to meet Alrisss army. It was planned that they meet about now." Gabrielle closed her eyes. "How was Xena? What happened after I passed out?"
"Xena is fine my Queen, she was more concerned with you. I wouldnt try to move just yet you have a broken collarbone but Cassandra has set it and it will mend. Kiaya is a little battered, Xena stopped her from killing you. The fool attacked you and refused to give in, Xena stopped her but she used her knife to stab Xena .. Dont worry." She said as she saw the panic rise on the bards face. "Xena is ok compared what she has been through it was just a scratch." "What did Xena do?" Gabrielle saw doubt on the Amazons face. "Solari! What did she do?"
"Snapped her arm, dislocated her shoulder, and gave her a pretty sore head."
Gabrielle raised her uninjured arm and draped it over her eyes. "It was better than she deserved my Queen. She had yielded to you, and her attempt to kill you afterwards would have brought her the death sentence for treason."
"I know. I just hate to think of her doing these things because of me."
"I can think of no better reason."
Xena sat on Argo at the mouth of the exit to Hades gorge; the name was apt considering what she was about to do. She hoped with all her heart that Gabrielle would understand her reasons for making this choice. Looking up at the sun she knew she had little time left. Just them the first ranks of Alrisss army appeared round the corner. Xena drew her sword and held it high. The ancient words came forth from her mouth as she invoked the calling. With each word spoken she could feel the power building and her soul slipping. She hadnt felt like this in nearly three years. Back then shed never thought much about the Favour shed owed Hades. The God of the underworld had called her on it though and explained what paying off her debt entailed. Then shed actually rejoiced in her new found freedom to kill without thought, without conscience. Now it only took her further from her goal, further from Gabrielle, further from the peace she craved. She was Hades personal messenger of Death and together with Pestilence, Famine, and War, she was unstoppable. There had been many massacres, diseases, famines and war never associated with Xena Destroyer of Nations. But as the pale horseman and slayer for the Gods her hands were coated in the blood of millions, not the thousands the bard knew of. The horsemen hadnt been invoked since she left Ares fold, but there had always been the possibility, and she was forever bound to service. She had no idea how she would explain this to Gabrielle. Just how did you tell your best friend you were literally Death?
Alriss had been pleased with the progress his army had made; they were on schedule to reach the Amazon village. He rode at the forefront of his army, the dark priest riding by his side. He nearly brought the whole army to a stop as he saw a lone rider blocking the exit of the gorge. He was about to send a party to clear the way when the priest held his hand up.
"Listen" Though still far away the voice, which from its timber belonged to a woman, was loud and clear.
"And I saw when the man opened of the seals, and I heard as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, come and see." Thunder crashed above them, and beside the woman a shimmering form could be seen.
"And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer." There were now two riders stood before the army and still the voice spoke on. "And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword." A crackling flash of lightning struck the floor beside the two riders, and where once stood two there was now three, and still the voice spoke on. "And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat upon him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a dinar, and three measures of barely for a dinar; and see thou hurt not the oil and wine."
A sound of galloping hooves echoed all around the army sending a shiver of fear down the spines of the waiting men. Where once there were three there now stood four and still the voice spoke on.
"And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and her name that sat on him was Death, and Tartarus followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
All four riders took on an unearthly glow, each held a weapon high and still the voice spoke on.
"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of the Gods, and for the testimony, which they held: Kill them all."
Alriss sat upon his horse and watched in dread and fear, legend told of the four horsemen, but he had never dreamt he would ever come across them and he knew at that moment that none of his men would leave the field alive. The chilling cry of Kill them all bounced around his head, freezing him in place. He couldnt even give the order to attack as the four riders bore down on his men; his only hope was that the priest had some way of combating them. The priest knew on hearing that voice who and what he was facing, and his master had provided him with a weapon of sorts, but it could only be used once and that would still leave three of the horsemen. This day was lost, but he was determined to fulfil his masters wishes and rid the world of the warrior woman. The men in Alrisss army didnt need him to give an order; they panicked as soon as the horsemen started to move on them. Many were kill in the crush to retreat before the horsemen were among them. Them Armageddon was truly among them. The Amazon warriors had left their hiding places to close in behind Alrisss army. As the panic from the front filtered down to the rear the soldiers turned to find themselves confronted with an Amazon army. A deadly hail of arrows fell from the sky and battle was commenced.
Gabrielle had managed to sit up with the help of Solari and some of Cassandras willow bark tea. She was still unsettled though. Something felt wrong; something was missing and couldnt figure out what. She struggled to her feet and Solari was immediately by her side offering her, her support. With her help she walked to the window and peered out.
"Its begun." She said in a small voice, and together bard and warrior stood and waited.
Xenas blood lust grew with every word of the invocation she spoke. It had been so long since the apocalyptic horsemen had been invoked that shed forgotten how it felt to weald such power. As her words die away, the thunder of Argo s hooves penetrated her mind and the joy of battle burned in her soul. She had one goal the destruction of all that stood before her and with that in mind her body did as was bid and killed all within reach.
The priest had managed to keep his seat on his horse as the stampeding army boiled around him. The tide didnt lessen but it became easier to ride against as he made for the pale rider.
Xena saw the priest and refocused her attention knowing he was the one that she wanted. The sea of men parted before her, and soon they were upon each other. The priest decided to wait and see whether the use of his weapon was needed, and that was nearly his undoing. At the first clash of swords the woman warrior shattered his blade. And without a shadow of a doubt knew that he fought not Xena but death herself. He backed his horse away to give him time. Closing his eyes he dug deep down within himself and felt the power his master had given him. Opening his black orbed eye he again sought out the warrior finding her frighteningly close, he stretched out his arm and pointed channelling all the power through his hand towards Xena.
The resulting explosion of light killed those that were still standing around them, many that were in direct view of the glare were blinded for what was left of their lives, many would hear nothing ever again except for that crackling thunder bolt.
The press on the Amazons eased suddenly with the terrifying explosion, and they melted from the battlefield carrying their injured with them. The battle they knew was one Alrisss army was defeated all that remained was the priest. The priest slumped totally drained over his horses neck hardly believing he was still alive. He had accomplished his masters wishes and still lived. Heaving his body upright his eyes scanned the carnage. The horsemen had disappeared, Alrisss army lay decimated before him and a pale horse stood riderless. Gabrielle felt a searing pain within and crumpled into Solaris arms. Cradling the stricken Queen the warrior lifted her back onto her cot and called for Cassandra.
Gabrielle was stood amidst a dark foreboding landscape, sound echoed around her as she frantically searched for something familiar. She found it in the lifeless body of her soul mate. She flung herself at her friend and lifted her head and shoulders into her arms.
"Xena?" She shook her partner. "Xena?" her shaking produced no results. She placed her hand against her neck but could feel no pulse of life beneath her fingers.
"Noooooooo." She cried desperately knowing that she had lost her one and true lifemate, tears poured from her eyes as she sat rocking her friend. "And what might I ask is all this wailing?" The bard looked up through tear blurred eyes into the face of Artemis.
"Ive lost her." Sobbed Gabrielle clutching Xenas body to her.
"Nonsense child, Youre the keeper of her soul while you exist so does she."
"But shes dead!" yelled Gabrielle at the God.
"That remains to be seen doesnt it the God vanished from sight, leaving Gabrielle to ponder her words. Slowly her tears stopped and her breathing began to slow. She looked down into Xenas face and saw the peace settled on it. Without thinking she lowered her mouth to Xena and kissed her deeply, feeling a tingling throughout her body. She opened her eyes and found herself held in Solaris arms.
"I dont know." Said the warrior, but dont worry Cassandras on her way. "You were only out for a few seconds."
He watched the horse for a few seconds more then smiled and nudged his horse round. If he hadnt been looking he would have missed the warrior rising from the ground, would have missed looking death in the face, as her round bladed weapon slit his throat.
It was an anxious Gabrielle that stood by the entrance gates of the Amazon village. Scouts had reported the returning Amazons as no further than a candlemark away, but hadnt been able to see whether Xena was among those returning. The first of the riders came into view many of them showing battle injuries. One by one she greeted the returning warriors but her heart only beat to greet one. She smiled and clasped Ephinys hand as she and a battleworn Eponin rode past. Her heart was about fit to burst with the tension as a lone pale horse strode from the trees. Tears were already falling as her soulmate slid from her horse and pulled her close in a crushing hug. Ice blue eyes looked into forest green.
"Thank you" came the husky voice.
"For what." The bard asked a puzzled expression on her face. "For saving my soul once again. For holding it tight when others would have let go." The blue eyes searched the bards face; they pulled her into a deep loving kiss. "Have I ever told you how much I love you.?" Explanations could wait, while Gabrielle didnt ask, Xena wouldnt explain. For now she would just live in the moment, with her bard by her side.
John Bright (1811-89) British radical politician. Referring to the Crimean War.
Speech, House of Commons, 23 Feb 1855
Return to The Bard's Corner