Powerplay

by Laine Roberta Lawless

 

As they were dressing, Xena cautioned Gabrielle regarding what was about to happen. "Gabrielle, I have to do something that you won’t like, and I want you to stay here in the tent and not interfere. Your life and mine depend upon it."

"What is it, Xena?"

"I have to punish that traitor." Xena saw Gabrielle start to protest, and put her fingers over her mouth to silence her. "No, don’t worry, I won’t kill him, but if I don’t do something to him, there’s a very good chance that my men will turn on me, and you!" Gabrielle had an incredulous look on her face, and started to protest again. "Look," Xena said again, "I don’t want to live forever, but I would at least like to live to see tomorrow. You saw how those men looked at us this morning—imagine how they’ll be if I don’t punish the traitor who led us into this trap, and who is responsible for the deaths of many of their comrades. Please just stay in here, and no matter what happens, don’t come out until I come in to get you."

Gabrielle saw the stern look on Xena’s face and her fierce gaze, and decided that she wouldn’t fight her on this one. "All right, Xena, I’ll do what you say, but promise me you’ll come back."

"I will—just don’t interfere, and let me do what I have to do. The wrong word from you, and we can kiss our future goodbye," Xena warned, leaving the tent.

She approached Protus, who was still tied to the tree. She came very close to his head and whispered in his ear. "I’ll make you a deal: you confess, and I’ll let you live." Protus looked at her with disbelief and suspicion. "Look, this is the only chance you’ve got. You can take your chances with me, or I can turn you over to my men. What’ll it be? Make your choice!"

"All right, I confess," he blurted out, and the words came out like a river. "Borego wanted to take over your army and Lyceus.’ He paid me to misinform you about his strength, in the hopes that he could absorb what was left of both armies, and not have to fight either of you again. He never got over the humiliation of the last time you defeated him—he didn’t want to fight you again."

Xena grabbed his hair and jerked his head back. Her eyes boring a white-hot hole in his, she said, "Now here’s what you’re going to do: say to my men what you just said to me. I’ll have to whip you, but you’ll live." Xena called her army to order, and had them come to where the traitor was bound.

"Protus has something he wants to tell you," she snarled. Putting her sword to his throat, she pressed just enough so that he could feel the point of the tip start to penetrate his skin. "Tell them, Protus!" His confession came out all at once, like blood gushing from a severed artery.

"What do you think we should do with him?" she asked the 50 soldiers assembled there.

Choruses of "Kill him!" rose up like rolling thunder, punctuated by "Torture him!" from different voices.

Xena held up her hand for silence, and a hush fell over the assemblage. "I’m not going to just kill him, because that would be too good for him. I’m going to torture him, and make sure he is branded forever as a traitor, so no one will trust him. Does anybody have a problem with that?"

No one challenged her, so Xena told his guards to turn him around and strip him to the waist while he was still tied to the tree. "Put that iron in the fire and get it red hot!" she bellowed. Xena loosed the bullwhip attached to her waist and started to snap it menacingly. It was made of the finest black oxhide and braided to a length of 12 feet. She cracked it expertly and could grab anything flying through the air with it and return it to its sender.

Xena snapped it at the pitiless Protus, and cut a red swath across his back on the first stroke. Over and over again, she whipped him with the huge bullwhip. Each time he cried out in pain she bared her teeth and drew her lips back in a snarl. As much as she truly wanted to change, this was satisfaction; it was payback. Protus had done more than betray her and her soldiers—he had ruined her reputation as a brilliant strategist. He was getting what he deserved.

With every crack of the whip, Gabrielle grew more agitated. Finally, the anger welling up inside her erupted like a volcano, and she stomped outside the tent to where Xena was wielding the whip. "Xena, I can’t take it anymore.!"

Thinking she wanted her to stop, Xena said, so that no one else could hear, "Do you want to get us killed? I told you to stay in the tent!"

Gabrielle’s face was flushed and hot with anger. She was seething inside, remembering the pain and humiliation of her own whipping. "No, Xena, give me the whip—I want to whip him!"

Xena was shocked, and just looked at her, saying nothing for a moment. "You…want to…whip him?" she asked.

"Yes, I do—give me that whip!" Xena hesitated a moment, looked at her troops, who were just as shocked as she was, and slowly handed the whip to Gabrielle.

"Do you know how to swing it so you don’t hurt yourself?" she asked.

"I think I can figure it out," Gabrielle said, as she swung the whip back, nearly whacking Xena in the face with it.

"Let me help you," Xena said, standing behind her and placing one hand on her shoulder and taking her other arm in hers while she swung the whip. "It’s all in the wrist," Xena said, as she swung the whip expertly, cracking a nice red stripe on Protus’ back. Gabrielle was a quick study, and began laying the whip on his back with the next stroke.

The more she swung the whip, the more she felt her rage being sated, and that justice was being done. The prisoner protested to his guards that he couldn’t take being whipped by a woman, it was too humiliating, and a hum of discontent went through the crowd. Finally Demo, one of Xena’s lieutenants, stepped forward and spoke.

"It’s not right, Xena, letting your little girlfriend whip him. A man should be whipped by another man, not a woman."

"Oh yeah? And what do you think I am?" Xena shot back, tensing for a confrontation.

"Well, that’s different--you’re the commander of the army. But her…she’s just a little tavern girl you brought home for a night’s fun.

She’s not a warrior—she’s just a whore!"

Xena bristled, and shot back, "Watch your mouth, Demo, or you and all of your little butt-fucking buddies will be under my whip!"

Demo stepped forward and drew his sword. Several men around him also took aggressive postures, and advanced towards Xena. Xena smiled through clenched teeth. Maybe disbanding her army was going to be easier than she thought. She pushed Gabrielle behind her, grabbed the whip, and snapped Demo’s sword out of his hand. A spine-tingling yell pierced the air, and Alyssea was at her side, sword at the ready. "I’m with you Xena!" she said.

It was going to get rough, and Xena sandwiched Gabrielle between her and Alyssea to protect her. Simultaneously they were rushed by 6 soldiers. Xena swung her sword in a wide arc, blocking one sword, slicing through some armor, and wounding a soldier in one arm. She thrust her fist out, and caught one soldier smartly in the face, knocking him out instantly. Alyssea used her sword as a pivot point, and jumped up, kicking two soldiers in the face, then thrust her sword into the belly of the third. Finally the only mutineer left standing was Demo.

"You gotta ask yourself, Demo, is this really worth fighting over?" Xena sarcastically taunted him. She was toying with him, giving him the come-on. He was so angry he was frothing at the mouth, and his bloated face was a livid red, almost purple, color. He knew he couldn’t take Xena, and he was swordless.

"That little trollop isn’t worth fighting over," he said, and turned away. In an instant Xena was on him like a ravenous wolf, twisting his arm behind his back and pulling his hair while she held him in a headlock. She pushed him to the ground before Gabrielle, in front of all her troops.

"This woman is a lady, and she deserves to be treated with respect! You will apologize to her, and beg her forgiveness!" Demo struggled, but Xena had him in her vice-like grip, and escape was impossible. The more he struggled, the more she tightened her grip, and the more painful it became. Demo was sweating and groaning in pain, but he still wouldn’t apologize. A tight little smile crossed Gabrielle’s face as she thought of having a chance to get even with a man who humiliated her, and she was secretly pleased.

Xena pushed him to his knees, and commanded, "Apologize—now!" Finally, Demo groaned out what sounded like an apology, or as much as a man like him could give, and Xena let him go. He slinked off like a beaten dog to join the other soldiers.

The crowd was stunned and silent. Xena had never before made an example of one of the men. "The show’s over," she said, matter-of-factly. "I’m disbanding the army. From here on in, we go our own separate ways. I’ve fought my last battle. Go on home, all of you."

Xena tucked the whip into her belt, walked over to Protus, dismissed his guards and untied him. "You’re free to go. But you’d better hope you don’t ever see me again. If you cross me, you’ll be dead, and it’ll be a slow, painful death. It’s only because of Gabrielle that you’re still alive—I would have preferred you dead," she threatened.

"Thank you, Xena," Protus said, and scurried over to Gabrielle, bowed, and said, "Thank you, ma’am." Then he was gone, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

"What was that all about?" Gabrielle asked.

"He was thanking you for saving his life," Xena replied. "I told him you talked me out of killing him."

"Did I?"

"Yes, you did," Xena smiled, putting her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulders.

"I don’t mean to interrupt anything," Alyssea broke in, "but are you serious about disbanding?"

"Completely," Xena replied.

"Then if I can, I’d like to travel with you," she said to Xena.

Xena smiled, and said, "I wouldn’t want it any other way, Alyssea. I don’t know what I would have done without you back there. You really saved my ass."

"All in a day’s work for the Warrior Princess," she said mock seriously.

Gabrielle gave Xena a hug and said, "Thanks, Xena."

"What for?" she questioned.

"For standing up for me there and defending my honor. No one ever did that for me before."

"Every woman deserves respect from men—it’s what you’re owed. If they don’t understand that, then someone has to teach them," Xena said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Come on, let’s go pack up and get ready to go."

Gabrielle reflected on the whipping she had just given Protus. It was all so wonderfully liberating! She had felt free of some of the resentment she felt at the blacksmith for leaving her with lifelong scars. What she couldn’t figure out was why people made such a big deal out of sex. It had never been a big deal to her, but on the other hand, it had never been a source of much pleasure, either—at least not until she had met Xena. Xena seemed so free with her sexuality, so unburdened with the constraints of society. And she was a good lover, too—considerate and giving, more than she would have expected of a warrior. Xena was quite clearly a woman who could make love and war, skills that were both necessary in these harsh times with little opportunity for more sublime pleasures.

As Xena packed up what few possessions she had, she reflected on the dubious achievements of her former life as a warlord, and wondered what it had all been about. Conquering had been exhilarating--it had been like a drug she couldn’t give up. She was addicted to the power that being an expert fighter had conferred upon her. She had become commander of her own army because she was the best. She liked being strong, all the time, feeling like she could do anything she wanted and not be opposed. But victory after victory, it had lacked satisfaction, it had been too easy. And what had she gained? The villages she raided had little to offer, even in the best of times. Often she had ended up with nothing more than a few head of sheep and a harvest of grain, not exactly ideal for a nomad to transport.

She had started out to fight so that she could defend her home village of Amphipolis, and had ended up destroying everything around it. And although she had liked to think of herself as omnipotent, there had been plenty of times that things had gotten out of hand, times when her soldiers had raped the women in the villages, and killed innocent children. She didn’t like admitting to herself that there had been times when her army had been out of her control, when her men had been behaving like men will, when they’re not under the civilizing influence of a woman.

It only took her 10 minutes to pack everything that she owned. She had very little to show for all her years of fighting: a good saddle, a horse, a couple of blankets, armor and a few tunics. Of everything she owned, her weapons were of the very best quality, as befitted a professional warrior and adventurer. Her sword was made of the finest Damascus steel, its heft and length perfectly suited to her tall, strong body. It took an edge easily, and she kept the blade razor-sharp. After all the years of fighting, it might have been stained with blood, but Xena was always very particular about oiling it, and didn’t want to let anything wet, including blood, stay on it, since that might cause it to rust. Her chakram, a plate-sized metal ring with a sharpened outer edge, was forged from many layers of steel, and was balanced just perfectly for throwing, so that it would always return to her. She also had a small dagger that fit into her armor right between her breasts. This was made especially for her by the same swordmaker who forged her sword.

Through it all, Alyssea had always been there, fighting by her side, her comrade-in-arms, and almost her equal in battle. Alyssea and she had dressed each others’ wounds, and comforted each other when things went bad. Alyssea had been orphaned when her village was attacked by another warlord, and so had brought herself up. She had been about 16 the day that Xena rode through her town. She had seen Xena drinking in the tavern, and approached her. At first she had tried flattery, talking about how famous and feared Xena was. One of her soldiers had pushed Alyssea away from the table, as if he were brushing away a fly, and she had responded by grabbing his hair and banging his head into the table. Xena was impressed, and told the others to let her speak. She thought any girl with this much guts might have something worth listening to. She begged Xena to let her join her army, and Xena said she could if she could take on Xena with staffs for 3 minutes, and hold her own. Alyssea had been overjoyed to have the chance. They had stepped outside into the sunlight, whacked off a couple of tree branches and had at it. Her style wasn’t much, Xena thought, but she more than made up for it with feistiness. The girl was unrelentingly aggressive—she was a fighting machine, Xena thought. Xena could have easily overpowered her, but instead she fought her to a standstill. She was good enough, but she could improve with training and practice.

As time went on, Alyssea became a full-fledged warrior under Xena’s expert tutelage, and her soldiers grew to respect her. Although Alyssea looked up to Xena as her mentor, Xena had grown to depend on her more than she cared to, and she couldn’t imagine traveling without her. Xena hoped that Gabrielle’s appearance would not create a rivalry between the two of them. She didn’t want to admit it, but she needed both of them.

To be continued in Comrades in Arms…

1997 Laine Roberta Lawless

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without permission