Disclaimer: ooh-kay... All those lovable, (and not so lovable), characters from the show Xena: Warrior Princess are property of MCA/Universal and a few other very lucky people. I didnt steal them, Im just borrowing them, and I promise to return them when Im done. This story and any characters you dont recognize are all mine.
Content Warning: Subtext? We dont need no steenken subtext!! I dont imply anything, I state it very bluntly! Our favorite warrior and bard were meant for each other, okay. Theyre soulmates. If youre okay with that, great, welcome to the club. If not, get over it! Youre in the minority! heh heh. And may I recommend that you broaden your horizons. My theory is, if you arent gonna get it on the show, then you might as well read about it on the Internet. heh heh. There is also quite a bit of violence. It is a Xena story after all, and the warrior princess tends to get cranky if she doesnt get in one really bloody fight a week. There is also implied sexual violence, though nothing graphic, so if that really bothers you, my apologies, and please skip over it.
phew!! now that the legal mumbo-jumbo is out of the way... please let me know what you thought of this story. I live for feedback, and this story is only the beginning. I hope this will be the first book of a three part monster called The Death of A Nation. But that depends on how many emails I get. My email address is email@example.com.
and now... (finally!!)...
To Rescue A Friend: Part Two
by: Katelin B.
Chapter Four: Bearer of Bad News
Gabrielle hadnt slept well since waking four nights ago, and the feeling of dread had only gotten worse. Her mothers fever had broken the day before, and the terrible swelling around the snakebite was going down. The bard had nearly fainted in relief when the healer informed them that Hecuba would be her old self in less than a moon, but for some reason, the dread had only grown.
While her mothers appetite had improved steadily since waking from her fevered delirium, Gabrielles had declined to the point rapidly to the point where she ate nothing. The nawing in her belly made her nauseous at the mere sight of food, and her worry kept her awake, pacing the floor of the common room until the early hours of morning. When she finally did sleep, she was plagued with dreams of Xenas death, dark, forboding images that jolted her awake, and robbing her of whatever rest she could find.
During the day, she hid her troubles as best she could from her family, telling them, if they asked, that the worry for her mother was finally catching up with her. It seemed to appease her father, but Lila gave her dark looks, knowing from that first night, Gabrielles pain wasnt because of their mother. It was worry for Xena.
At times when the pain of worry became to strong to ignore, the little bard found herself behind the house, pacing anxiously among the chickens, troubled by her conflicting emotions. Part of her wanted so desperately to run to Amphipolis, kick open Cyrenes door and leap into Xenas arms. But she knew her duty was in Potedeia, to stay by her mothers side until she was well.
As Gabrielle paced, she tried to understand the feelings that had robbed her of sleep and appetite. She knew Xena would never leave her here without word, to travel into some far off danger, not knowing when shed be able to return. She had promised to come for the bard in three weeks time. So Gabrielle concluded that if there was trouble, then it would have to be close enough for Xena to get there, solve the problem, and get back in time.
Gabrielle frowned, kicking idly at a chicken she almost tripped over, a little troubled that she enjoyed hearing it squawk in protest. Theres no one that close, she thought, becoming frustrated, No one that would call for the Warrior Princess to help them. Except the Amazons, she said aloud, then shook her head clear of that thought, No, if there was trouble, Ephiny would send for me as well.
Gabrielle started and spun around, immediately on the defensive. But she relaxed when she saw that it was only Lila. Dont sneak up on me like that Lila! she snapped, her temper very short after so little sleep. She was instantly contrite and looked up apologetically. Im sorry Lila, she added, I shouldnt have jumped at you like that. What did you want?
Lila had squeaked in surprise when Gabrielle turned around, but held her ground and was now frowning strongly at her elder sister. I came out here to tell you supper was ready, but I found you talking to yourself, she explained, crossing her arms over her chest. She looked Gabrielle up and down for a moment, taking in her haggard appearance before letting the frown slide off her face. Youre still worried about Xena, arent you? she asked, already knowing the answer, Gabrielle, whos Ephiny?
Gabrielle thought about it for a moment, then decided it was time for Lila to know the truth about her older sister. She sat down on the fence rail lining the back yard, and motioned the younger woman to join her. Ephiny is Regent Queen of the Amazons. She rules while the true Queen is away, she said softly, grabbing the bucket of feed and tossing some out for the chickens.
But why would she send for you, Gabby? Lila asked, thoroughly confused as she too began tossing feed on the ground.
Because its her duty, Lila, the bard responded seriously, A Queen must know when her people are in danger.
I agree, but why... Lila suddenly broke off, her eyes wide in understanding. At first she thought her older sister was playing a joke on her, but the serious look on her face told her otherwise. Gods, Gabby, she continued, once her voice would work properly again, How...
Any response the bard would have made was cut off by their fathers booming voice, shouting for them to come to dinner. Lets go, Lila, Gabrielle said, jumping down off the fence rail, Ill tell you the whole story after supper. Lila nodded silently and they headed inside.
At the edge of town, Kalitar, the town blacksmith, was just finishing up the days work, eager to get home. Married less than two summers, he was a new father, and wanted to spend some time with his first borne a little in the direction of Kalitars home, Hows that boy of yours, then?
Kalitar beamed like the proud father he was, always eager to talk about his family. Dolath is just fine, Pollus. Hes eating like a sow and growing like a weed. I think hes taking after me. Walk you home, friend?
Aye, Kali, the old man said, hobbling up beside him, You always were a good boy. That babe could do worse than to have you as a father. Kalitar smiled but said nothing. He had known Pollus all his life, and had helped out in the old mans store long before taking over the blacksmith shop from his father.
Looking down at the ground, Kalitar didnt notice the horse until it was almost upon them. Pollus! Look out!! Kalitar pulled the old man out of the way and snatched up the reins of the huge golden steed, tugging it to a stop. Whoa, fella!! Kalitar soothed as the horse tried to rear up, nearly dislodging its sagging rider, Easy there.
The large blacksmith calmed the horse, knowing he had seen it before, but not really remembering where. Good boy. A quick glance. Oops, good Girl, he corrected at her snort, Pardon me. With the golden mare finally calm, Kalitar moved around to help the obviously injured rider, also a woman, he realized as he got closer.
Hey there, he called, giving the rider a nudge to make sure it wasnt some kind of trick. But when the woman didnt move, and Kalitar noticed that his hand came away bloody, he decided it was safe. Pollus, he grunted, wrapping his cloak around the injured woman and pulling the still form down carefully into his arms, Go get the healer, Yarilis, and send someone to tell my wife Ill be late.
The old man merely nodded and hobbled off down the street as Kalitar gently lowered the dark haired woman to the ground. Amazon, he thought, looking at the leather armor she wore, But whats she doing so far from their territory? His questions were not meant to be answered.
Kalitar heard a whisper and bent lower, realizing the woman was trying to talk. Tell me again, he said, grimacing at her whimper as he pressed his hand to the jagged wound in her side, trying to stem the flow of blood. Though it wasnt a deep cut, it was already seeping through the cloak and it looked to have been bleeding for quite a while.
Gab.... must... Gab...rielle... the dark haired woman choked, fighting hard to stay conscious. Though Argo was fast, it had been a long ride, and she hadnt allowed herself to stop and stitch up the wound when she received it fighting a group of highwaymen. Her only concern was getting to Gabrielle.
Sensing that the woman wouldnt survive much longer because of the amount of blood she had lost, Kalitar hefted the woman back into his arms and began walking toward the center of town. He sensed and heard the great golden mare following him, but paid it no mind. There was only one Gabrielle that he knew of in Potedeia, and he would be damned if this woman traveled Charons boat without seeing the bard.
Though he tried to be as gentle as possible, the woman still whimpered and gasped in pain during the short walk. He reassured her that it was a short walk, and they were almost there, but he wasnt sure if she even heard him. GABRIELLE!!! he bellowed down the street, knowing his voice would carry to her parents house, and not sure that his charge would survive even the short walk. Silently he prayed to the Gods that this woman would hold on just a little longer, for her message must be must be urgent indeed.
Gabrielle was picking at her food, something Lila had become accustomed to in the last few days, but she did try to eat some of the stew before her stomach warned her that no more would be tolerated. So she sat quietly at the table, speaking only to answer questions. The question of whether to leave and find Xena, or stay with her family a little longer still hadnt found an answer, and Gabrielle was growing more and more troubled.
Finally putting down her spoon, the bard was just about to excuse herself to see if Hecuba needed anything when the cry reached her ears. GABRIELLE!!!
Everyone at the table jumped and both Lila and their father looked at her. Hecuba must have heard the shout because her voice floated out from the bedroom. Whats going on? she called. Herodotus stood quickly and ran to the door, throwing it open and looking out.
Father? Gabrielle asked, standing up and stepping up behind him. She didnt recognize the voice and wondered what could be going on.
Lila, go calm your mother down. he said quietly, and the younger daughter hurried to obey him, Gabrielle, its Kalitar. Hes carrying a dead woman. And theres a golden horse following him.
With an anguished cry, Gabrielle pushed by her father and burst from the door, tears already streaming down her face as she felt her heart break and her world shatter. She could see the womans face, but she would know Argo anywhere. NOOO!!! Kicking up the dirt, she ran to Kalitar, sobbing hysterically. She prayed her father was wrong, and Xena wasnt dead, but if she was, the bard vowed she would soon follow.
Skidding to a halt beside the huge blacksmith, Gabrielle noticed the large red stain of blood on the cloak and reached up, pulling the cloth away from the womans face. A quiet gasp was the only sound that escaped from her lips as she gazed at the womans blood stained face.
Urisa! Gabrielle exclaimed, shocked, not only at the womans injuries, but even more so at the fact that she was riding Argo. She helped support the womans head as Kalitar told her he could see Yarilis coming toward them from further down the street. Gabrielle felt a strong sense of relief fill her then angrily pushed it away. Even though it was not Xena, the woman was still one of her Amazons, and she wouldnt be riding Argo unless something was wrong with the warrior princess.
Urisa, Gabrielle said again, brushing matted hair back from her pale, pain filled face, Its Gabrielle. Im here. Wheres Xena? She hoped the young woman, not more than two summers older than Lila, was still strong enough to deliver the message she had risked her life to bring.
M-my Queen, Urisa gasped, coughing up a small amount of blood, Talks... Metreus... Xe-Xena... Ephi.... The Amazon broke off, her face contorting in pain as she choked again.
Gabrielle waited until the coughing fit passed, moving aside slightly for Yarilis, who had arrived and started barking orders. Urisa was quickly moved into the healers hut and everyone but the bard, given orders to leave. The healer hadnt been happy about her staying, but the Amazon had a white-knuckled grip on her hand and wouldnt let go. Go on, Urisa, Gabrielle pleaded, the dread growing again, The talks with King Metreus? she urged quietly.
Broke... broke up... she rasped, crying out as the healer prodded her wound, stitching it up quickly, Xena... Eph... Ephiny... taken... Urisa coughed again, and Yarilis cursed as her stitches were torn out again and the bleeding continued. S-Solari... sent me... get you...
Gabrielles eyes widened at what Urisa was telling her. She had been right, and Xena was in trouble. Dammit, she thought silently, her brow furrowing, I should have listened to my instinct like Xena taught me. Urisa, are you telling me... She was cut off by Urisas whispered words.
It... is.... *koff*... war... Urisas eyes bored into Gabrielles for only a moment before the bard noticed them going dim and the hand relaxing its grip. She knew what had happened even before the healer could speak. Artemis guide you safely to the Fields for your sacrifice, my sister, she whispered, reaching up to close the sightless eyes.
Fighting back tears for the Amazon she barely knew, she stood and silently headed for the door. Stopping in the middle of the room, Gabrielle turned around to gaze once more on the face of the woman who had died to bring her the message. I have to go, she whispered to herself, Or she died for no reason. The bard turned to the old woman whos gift had saved her mother. Thank you for trying, Yarilis, she said, and saw the woman nod, Can she stay here until I have a funeral pyre built? Another nod from the healer and Gabrielle thanked her before stepping outside.
Gabrielle? Lilas voice reached her, and the bard looked up, realizing that her sister had joined the small group of villagers outside the healers hut. She looked around at the hope filled faces of Kalitar, Herodotus and Pollus before answering.
Shes dead, Gabrielle said softly, watching their faces turn down to the ground. The bard felt like crying at the loss of one of her Amazons, but pushed the emotion back as she heard a soft whinny. Argo, she called, moving forward, through the crowd to where the golden steed was waiting.
The villagers slowly dispersed, realizing there was no more to see, leaving only her family and the blacksmith to watch her stroke the horses neck. Good girl, Argo, she whispered in the mares ear, Thank you for bringing her to me. Well go get Xena soon. I promise. But first we have to honor Urisa for her deed.
Daughter, what is going on?
Gabrielle turned around to face her father with a grim expression. I have to leave in the morning, father, she said sadly, her hand still stroking Argos mane, Xenas in trouble and I have to help her.
Herodotus grunted and shook his head. Thats what all this is about? he barked. He still hadnt forgiven the warrior princess for taking away his eldest and dearest daughter. I wont allow it!
Forgive me, father, Gabrielle said softly, twining a hand in Argos reins and leading her off down the street, But you dont have a choice in this matter.
Dont have a choice?!! he sputtered at her retreating form, his anger at Xena transferring to his daughter, I am your father! You will obey me!
No father, Gabrielle called back, not turning around, I wont obey you in this matter. The Amazons are at war, and I am their Queen. My place is with them.
Stunned silent, Herodotus merely watched her go, saying nothing when Lila ran to join her. Kalitar stood by his side, also stunned, not that the girl would disobey her father, but that the stubborn little bard was Queen of an entire Nation.
Gabrielle, Lila said softly, sparring a glance over at her older sister, Do you think it was wise to disobey father like that? What if he doesnt understand?
I cant help that Lila, came the hoarse reply, the bards emotional strain coming through in her voice if not showing on her face, I have to go help the Amazons. I have to help Xena.
Lila seemed to accept that answer, and the pair walked silently for a while. When will you go? she asked when they reached their parents barn. She held the door open as Gabrielle lead Argo inside.
Not until morning, the bard answered, Argo needs to rest after the journey, and I have to build a pyre for Urisa. Gabrielle fell silent again as she unsaddled the golden mare and began brushing her down.
Lila stopped her hand and took the brush away. Let me help you then, she said softly, Its too much for one person to do, and you will need to rest before such a long ride. Gabrielle said nothing, but nodded acceptance, secretly glad for the help. She whispered again to Argo, telling her to be nice to Lila, and left the barn, heading down the street to Kalitars home.
The blacksmith had been home no more than a few minutes when Gabrielle knocked softly on his door. When he opened the door and saw her haggard appearance, he beckoned her inside and shut the door. Come join us, Gabby, he said, gesturing to the table, There is more than enough.
Hello Arianna. Thank you Kalitar, but no, Gabrielle declined, shaking her head weakly, I just stopped by to thank you for helping Urisa... and ask if I could borrow your axe. I dont really want to ask father, and I need to build a pyre.
Kalitar glanced over at Arianna, seeing the troubled look on her face, and nodded. Aye, you can take the axe, Gabby, he said, a troubled frown on his face, Should be just inside the door of the shed around back. Ill get it for you.
No need to trouble yourself Kalitar, she said, forcing a thin smile that didnt quite reach her eyes, I can find it, Im sure. Ill have it back by morning. Without another word, she left the house, closing the door gently behind her.
Kalitar stared at the door for a moment before turning back to Arianna. She, too, was staring at the door, her arms automatically rocking their infant son. Kali, she said, a worried frown on her face, What was all that about?
Sitting down at the table, Kalitar quickly told his wife what had happened to make him late for supper, watching Ariannas expressions change from shock to sorrow, and finally to amazement at the fact that Gabrielle was an Amazon Queen. He ate quickly as he spoke, wanting to stuff his belly for the work he planned to do this quiet night.
Ari, I think Im going to go help Gabby with the pyre, he said softly, hoping she would take it well. He was away all with his smithing, so the time he spent with his new family was limited. He didnt like being away from them at night as well.
I agree Kali, she nodded, laying Dolath in his crib near the fireplace, Gabrielle shouldnt be alone right now. And no doubt shell want to be off at first light. Shell never get it finished in time, doing all that work alone.
Thank you for understanding, love, he said, leaning forward to kiss her gently.
Go on before I change my mind you big oaf, she said, a smile lighting her beautiful face. That got her another kiss, before the blacksmith rushed out of the house and jogged down the street, heading for the cliff where all the towns pyres were lit.
Kalitar found Gabrielle busily chopping at dead branches of a fallen tree when he reached the summit of Funeral Hill. He watched silently for a few moments until her determination got to him and he couldnt allow her to continue without helping. Youre swinging at the wrong angle, he spoke up, surprised at the speed she turned around, axe brandished like a weapon. The blacksmith smiled warmly and walked over. Let me show you a better way.
He gently took the axe from her white knuckled grip and brought it down with amazing strength gained from working the bellows every day, splitting three branches off the trunk in one swing. See, he said, gesturing with the axe, Works much better if you do it that way.
Gabrielle appraised him for a moment, not sure what to say. It didnt look like he was willing to give the axe back to her, and she really didnt mind the help so she merely smiled and nodded, bending down to retrieve the branches from the ground.
And so they worked together, an agreement reached with no spoken words. Kalitar splitting wood, and Gabrielle carrying it to the stone slab used for the pyre base. Shortly after they started, Lila joined them, saying nothing other than Argos been cared for. She began pilling wood at her elder sisters side, and the three worked on in a heavy silence that fit their grim task.
Pain. Terrible pain. Xena swam in a sea of foggy darkness, not knowing where she was. Not caring what had happened, or for what reason. All she knew was the pain. In her head, her arms, her shoulder. Everywhere. And there was nothing she could do to stop it. It lanced like fire through her body, making her want to cry out. She didnt know if she had cried out. She couldnt hear anything but the roaring in her head and the pulsing of her own heartbeat in her ears. There was nothing but darkness.
She moaned softly, not sure if it sounding only in her mind, and tried to move. The throbbing in her head doubled and threatened to send her reeling through the darkness. The very thought was enough to make her stomach churn. At least right now she was motionless, that being the only reason the contents of her stomach stayed where they were.
A sound reached her through the haze of pain. A voice calling to her, urging her to wake up. Xena followed the encouraging voice, struggling to find compartments for all the pain. Places in her mind where she had learned to lock away emotions she didnt want to deal with. Most of the time it worked, but now she was discovering that there was more pain than places to put it.
Xena, come on, wake up!
The voice was clearer now. Closer. She could understand the words now, not just hear them. Xena tried to answer, to tell the voice that it had been heard, but it came out a pathetic groan.
She had heard. The dark warrior struggled to open eyelids that felt as heavy as Roman shields, blinking to clear the haziness that just wouldnt seem to go away. She could see a figure leaning over her, but the blurriness obscured her face. Xena didnt know if it was friend or enemy, so she reacted as if her life depended on it and tried to lash out. It was then that she noticed where most of the pain was coming from.
Xena tried to throw a punch with her right fist, only to have it caught by Ephiny as the warrior cried out in agony, a lance of white hot pain spearing her shoulder. Xena! Its Ephiny! the Regent Queen blurted when she blocked the pitiful strike. She grasped the warriors hand and gently lowered it back to her side, leaning warily over the prone body to inspect the sword wound. Heras left tit! she cursed softly, noticing the bloom of fresh blood seeping through the bandages, Youve torn the stitches, Xena. Be still.
Xena didnt really have a choice but to obey. The pain from her sudden movement had been almost strong enough to send her back into unconsciousness. Only focusing on Ephinys colorful phrases had kept her awake, if not totally alert.
Hades codpiece, Xena, Ephiny continued, probing the jagged, bleeding wound gently with her fingers, You really did a number on this. Do you always have to be the strong warrior? One more move like that and you wont have to worry about Metreus and his guards. Youll bleed to death first. Pressing a hand over the newly reopened injury, the Regent Queen raised her voice to the guard of the cell they shared in the castle dungeon.
Ho! Guard! Bring the healer again! Ephiny called, the noise making Xenas head throb even stronger. She bit back a whimper and realized that she must have been struck on the head during the battle.
Ephiny noticed the pained look on Xenas face and regretted raising her voice, but it was the only way to get help. The Regent Queen knew she didnt have the supplies to restitch the wound herself. She placed a comforting hand on the warriors forehead as she listened for the huge lumbering oaf that was their jailer.
Shut up, wench! The healers got better things to do than cater to scum. You Amazon whores wounded a lot of good soldiers today! The anger in his voice was barely controlled, and Ephiny knew if he were not under strict orders not to touch either her or Xena, he would have been in the cell, long before the warrior princess regained consciousness.
Metreus said we were to be unharmed, Ephiny shot back, her temper getting the better of her, despite the circumstances, He wants Xena alive, you great lummox! What will you tell him when she dies because you wouldnt summon the healer?!!
The guard grumbled angrily, not wanting to admit that she was right, but unable to deny the fact that Metreus had given exactly those orders. If the warrior woman died now, hed most assuredly be drawn and quartered, whether it was his fault or not. Turning on his heel, he stomped away to fetch the healer, leaving Ephiny and Xena alone in the near darkness.
Dungeon? Xena rasped, finally clearing her vision to take in the stone walls and bars surrounding them. Ephiny only nodded, a solemn look on her face. You okay, Eph? she asked, bringing a smile to the Regents face.
I dont believe it, Ephiny answered, letting herself chuckle a bit before sobering, Youre losing so much blood youre going to be swimming in it, and youre worried about me. Gabrielle was right. You are a hard-ass.
Am not, Xena said, trying to make her voice sound playful, and almost succeeding, Hard-ass, hunh? Have to talk to her about that. She smiled crookedly, her eyebrow trying to merge with her hairline, and was relieved to see Ephiny smile too.
Oh, no, warrior princess, Ephiny countered, Dont you dare. Shell know who told you. And then Ill find myself being served up on flatbread.
Xena smirked at that, her eyebrow almost disappearing into her hair line. How long have we been here? she asked, her throat burning. She didnt ask for water though; she could hear the same roughness in Ephinys throat and deduced that there was none available. The hard stone floor was sapping her precious body heat, and the thin blanket covering her wasnt doing much to help. Xena barely had enough strength to stop a shiver before it started, not only because it would worry the Regent Queen, but also to prevent more pain in her already flaming shoulder.
Its past sunset, Xena, Ephiny replied as she glanced over to the bars, hearing the hinges creak with the opening of the cell door and the healer shuffled in, Youve been unconscious for the whole day. She moved back, out of Xenas field of vision, giving the healer room to work, just as she had done earlier that morning.
How many times am I gonna have to sew this woman up? he grumbled to himself, not taking much care to prevent Xena any further pain. Ephiny saw her flinch twice and heard a soft moan as the little man worked, rapidly repairing the damage once again.
Do you have to be so rough? Ephiny snapped, not thinking about the consequences of her outburst.
The little man backhanded her with surprising strength for one of his size. Silence! he barked, his gravely voice echoing off the stone walls, Maybe the pain will remind her not to tear these stitches out again, eh?! He turned to clean up the dark womans wound and rebandage it, when her healthy left hand shot up and seized his throat in a painful grip.
Dont you ever touch her again, she hissed, her blue eyes boaring into him like ice daggers.
Wrenching himself away, the little man staggered back and hurried from the cell, not bothering to tie the bandages he had wrapped around his newest work. Even injured, the womans strength was formidable. She had almost crushed his throat with that squeeze, and as he stumbled up the stairs, knew that he would have deep bruises in the morning that proved her strength.
Ephiny, are you okay? Xena called out softly, not seeing the Regent Queen in her limited field of vision.
Yeah, Im okay. Just a little surprised I think. Hes stronger than he looks. She leaned back over the warrior princess, rubbing a red mark on her cheek.
We have to get out of here, Xena stated, reaching out with her left hand, Help me up.
No, Xena, you need to rest, Ephiny chastised, never the less, pulling her up to a sitting position and readjusting the threadbare blanket. She knew better than to disagree with her outright. It had to be done in stages. You cant escape right now. Not in your condition.
Xena sighed quietly. I know, but I can still plan, she said, shifting a little to get comfortable, then wincing with the effort, We cant wait forever. Metreus apparently wants me for himself, but what about you. It wont be long before... Her words trailed off when she saw the Regent Queen look away.
A dark scowl crossed Xenas face as she realized what had happened while she was unconscious. Ephiny, she began softly, not sure how to approach something like this, Did... did they hurt you?
No, came the whispered reply, though the Queen wouldnt meet her eyes, Not much. They told me it would be worse if I struggled, so I didnt.
Im sorry, Eph. Xena reached out with her left hand. Only a moment ago, it had been strong enough to crush a mans windpipe, now it grasped her friends shoulder with the gentleness of a butterfly.
Ephiny shook her head, but made no move to dislodge Xenas hand. I had to, Xena, she said softly, It was me or Ipona. She gestured with her head to the next cell. One Xena had thought was empty.
The warrior princess looked over, peering through the darkness. Concealed in the shadows, huddled in the farthest corner from the door, was a tiny figure, curled up and trembling silently. Xenas keen eyes recognized her as one of the serving girls from the Amazon village. Our traitor? she asked quietly, not needing an answer.
Now you see that I had no choice, Ephiny whispered and Xena nodded. She pulled the Regent Queen down to sit beside her, draping her left arm over the blonde womans shoulder. We have to get out of here, Xena, she whispered, choking back tears.
We will Eph, Xena assured her with a gentle squeeze of her hand, We will.
Gabrielle had ridden Argo before, but never for so long, and never at such a breakneck pace. She had left Potedeia just as the sun was beginning to peek over the eastern trees, stopping at the village gate to look toward Funeral Hill where the pyre still burned brightly. She wished she could have taken Urisa back with her to have a proper Amazon funeral, but she knew she didnt have the time. We all have to make sacrifices in war, she thought, and hoped Urisas spirit would understand.
The bard was in such a hurry to reach Amazon land that she had only stopped once to rest Argo. She felt terrible pushing the animal so hard, but the golden mare didnt complain in the slightest. Argo was desperate bring the little one back to her mistress. Even her horse sense told her that something was wrong, and she wouldnt fail her dark haired rider.
Gabrielle had established a rhythm with the great horse after a bit of effort, and now she bounced in the saddle quite comfortably. She was able to let her mind wander back to the argument she had with her father before she left. She felt terrible for leaving her mother still in her sickbed, but she was getting better, after all, and Xena might be in terrible trouble. Never the less, her fathers words had cut her to the bone.
If you leave now, dont ever come back! Herodotus had bellowed, his face red with rage.
Father! she had protested, I have to go! People could be dying!
Theyre not people, he retorted, Theyre Amazons! Gabrielle, theyre not worth it! The bard had recoiled physically at that, her eyes wide with disbelief. The shock had only lasted a moment, before her anger took over, and she blurted the words that she would regret for the rest of her life.
How dare you! They are my family!
NO!! We are your family Gabrielle! Not those savages!
Gabrielles eyes had narrowed in rage, her face almost red with restrained temper as she stepped right up to her father, glaring. Not anymore, she hissed, picking up her staff and planting it heavily on the floor at her side, I dont even know who you are anymore. With that, she had turned and stormed out of the house, seething.
Gabrielle hadnt waited for Lila to follow her out of the house. She ran to the barn and saddled Argo as quickly as possible, climbing into the saddle before even leaving the barn. She had whistled the gallop command just as she saw her younger sister emerge from the door, and Argo took off like golden lightning, kicking up dust in the street.
Thinking back, Gabrielle knew she could have handled that better, but at the time, it had been out of her control. The thought of her Amazons at war, the loss of her friend Urisa, and the possibility of Xena in danger had stripped her mind of rationality. She wondered if her father would ever forgive her for her outburst as she wiped a tear from her cheek. She wasnt sure, and that scared her.
The bard looked up at the sound of a hooting owl and reined Argo to a stop, clasping her hands over her head in a gesture of peace. Immediately she heard another, different birdcall; the signal to pass. Swallowing her fear, Gabrielle clucked the golden mare into a canter again, racing for the Amazon village.
Entering the village, Gabrielle was surprised that it didnt look any different than her last visit. Except that Xena isnt here with me, she thought grimly. Looking around, she saw Amazons going about their daily chores, carrying wood, or practicing in the field. The only thing she noticed was that there seemed to be quite a few more warriors in the field than she remembered being there at one time. Of course you idiot, she silently chastised herself, theyre preparing to fight a war.
The bard dismounted and turned to see Solari hobbling toward her. Thank Artemis youre here! she said, pulling Gabrielle into a hug, Wheres Urisa?
She didnt make it, Solari, Gabrielle said, then quickly explained the events of the previous night. The dark haired Amazon nodded solemnly and guided Gabrielle back to the Queens hut.
Gabrielle, she said once they were safely out of earshot and behind closed doors, We were betrayed. Ephiny and Xena tried to plan around it, but Metreus knew we were coming.
How many did we lose, Solari?
Too many, my Queen. Roughly a third of our warriors. Solari looked down at the floor of the hut with a pained expression. Ephiny and Xena were captured.
I know, Gabrielle replied softly, the dread nawing at her again, Urisa managed to tell me that before she died.
What do we do, Gabrielle? Solari looked lost. Gabrielles heart went out to her, but she didnt know what to tell her. She wasnt a military leader. Xena and Ephiny were the best they had, and neither of them could help. Hardening her emotions, Gabrielle frowned a little, looking down at the scattering of maps on the table in front of her.
Bring me four of the best warriors we have left, she ordered, trying to sound authoritative.
My Queen? Solari let her confusion come through in the question, recognizing the steel in the bards voice.
If we cant force our way in, well sneak in, Solari, she explained, her expression darkening in a fair imitation of her dark warrior princess, But however we do it, we will get Xena and Ephiny back. Even if I have to kill Metreus myself. Her voice dropped to a low growl at that last statement, and Solari hobbled out to do her bidding.
As she walked away, she remembered the look on Gabrielles face when she spoke of killing Metreus, and for the first time since meeting the little bard, Solari was actually afraid of her.
To Be Continued...
--okay, you know the rule!! Im not gonna tell you again. *G* Peace and love!! -Katelin.
The Bard's Corner