Chapter 9

Long is the night.
I call to thee.
With prayers of love unspoken.

As Celeus left the infirmary about to head to Scylla's lodgings when a Roman soldier came up to him and with a salute handed Celeus a note. Reading the note Celeus gave a sigh and nodded to the soldier dismissing him. The note was an order from Caesar to report immediately to his quarters.

Heading to Caesar's quarters Celeus's mind rambled over the events. He was expecting this but not quite this soon. Now he had to figure out how much he was going to tell Caesar about Khrafstar and ... Scylla.

Scylla was a mystery to him. A women warrior ruthless and deadly yet with a gentleness of a healer. Truly she was beauty with a soul full of secrets. None of that mattered. She had saved his life. Without her he surely would have died in that glade in Greece and the Gods know even a soldier has is own debts to pay. Keeping what happened to Midland was only a small portion of what he was willing to pay.

Celeus knew of the soldier that had called Scylla to the deck that night. He had seen him speaking with Midland just before the storm had hit. Celeus was sure as to what had transpired that night. Celeus was fairly certain that Midland had attacked Scylla and she had managed to throw him overboard. The few bruises that Scylla had on her wrists and face only served to confirmed his theory. Of course Scylla had said that the bruises were from a nasty fall on the wet deck but Celeus had seen her skill and knew no wet deck would cause a warrior of such caliber to just slip. No, that stupid bastard Midland made the fatal mistake of underestimating the women warrior. If he had not seen how she had slaughtered Kraftstar maybe her beauty would have blinded him too. Seeing that he now approached Caesar's quarters he took a deep breath and strengthen his courage to face his superior . . . . and lie.

Nodding to the soldiers who guarded the door he entered. Making his way further into the room Celeus could see Caesar sitting at his desk writing. "Come!" Caesar spoke never lifting his head from his work.

Approaching Caesar, Celeus gave a Roman salute. " Reporting as ordered." Caesar looked up casually acknowledging Celeus's salute and finished his writing. Standing up he nodded to a servant that was waiting in the shadows who quickly made her way to him carrying a serving tray with a goblet full of fine wine. Taking the wine he dismissed her "Leave us." Slowly sipping his wine, cautiously eyeing Celeus Caesar began " So Celeus, tell me, how did such a fine soldier as yourself manage to lose a prized prisoner as Khrafstar? You knew that I wanted him alive yet you arrive with news of his death and .. a missing Roman Captain. So explain to me how this happened and be quick." Caesar taunted.

"Caesar.. I apologize. The rebel Khrafstar was injured when we caught up with him and he died of infection. I did what I could but I am no healer. And as for Midland our ship was hit by a terrible storm. Midland was on deck helping save the ship when he was thrown overboard by the storm. There..there was nothing we could do for him. I regret that you see my mission as a failure and I am prepared to meet any punishment that you feel that I deserve. However I have news for you of a great healer that I discovered. Unfortunately it was after Khrafstar had died. She even saved my life and has a gift for healing that must have truly been given to her by the gods. I feel she will be a great asset to the Roman Empire and is eager to serve you, Caesar." Celeus finished praying that Caesar would be please with the news of Scylla, for she may just save his life for a second time.

"Hmm, A healer you say, what is so great about this healer." Caesar stated curiously. Celeus smiled slightly knowing he was successful in distracting Caesar from his failed mission. " She is a great healer and .. a great beauty, Caesar. She has used ways that I have not seen before and is a master of healing potions and herbs." Celeus stated.

"A beauty you say?" Caesar stated rubbing his chin in deep thought. "We will see Celeus, have her sent to my quarters tomorrow morning and we shall see of this healer of yours."

 

***

 

Tired, Gabrielle made her way to a clearing, needing time to herself after a long day. The sun still had a few hours left before it made its descent. This day had been spent planning for tomorrow's raid and training the raiders to fight with a staff. Agnor was her prized student and he had helped with the less experienced recruits. She had to hold back with her staff lessons even though she wanted to spend a little time by herself so she could get some real practice in. She wanted to exert herself hoping she could get a restful night sleep. Gabrielle's had recently been waking up feeling drained but she could not understand why. Gabrielle knew that she needed to be at her best tomorrow She knew for the first time in three years that she could not depend on Xena to win the day, now it was up to her to lead the raid.

Working through her staff routine Gabrielle's body moved without thought only instinct, leaving her mind to wonder returning memories of how she spared with Xena. Xena had made a point to continue her staff training after they had left the Amazons. Xena was always pushing her to new levels of expertise. Xena seemed driven to insure that since the bard was determined to travel with her that Gabrielle would be able to defend herself. A smile passed her lips as she was reminded of how many of their sparring matches turned into playful wrestling bringing the warriors beautiful smile. Xena had a mischievous sense of humor, a real trickster, but this was the private Xena one only she had come to know.. and cherish.

Finishing her practice Gabrielle wiped the sweat from her brow, realizing that she had lost track of time and that Apollo was beginning his decent. She chastised herself for losing track of her surroundings. Get with it bard, if Xena were here you'd be in for it.. probably give me one of those "GA..BRIE..LLE!!" followed by a lecture on the dangers of daydreaming. With a heavy sigh Gabrielle actually wished Xena were here even if it was to yell at her. "I miss you so much Xena. I just wish this was all a dream." Looking up her eyes took in the beauty of the sunset and with a loud sigh she gathered her composure and headed back to camp.

One of Dahak's followers watched as the Bard left the clearing. Turning he gathered the still body of the Roman who had been making his way to the bard when he was surprised by the follower. We can't have our chosen taken from this plane until her work here is done. Looking at the pale face of the unconscious Roman "You will be our final sacrifice in celebration of our battle tomorrow to free our temple. The hour of darkness approaches and the greatness of Dahak will soon be known." Laughing softly the follower threw the limp body over his shoulder and headed back to their sacred camp. "Meridian will be pleased."

***

Celeus made his way to Scylla's lodgings approaching the door he began to knock when he heard a familiar voice. "Looking for me?" Xena said arching her eyebrow and giving him a playful smile. "Scylla, yes I have wanted to talk with you. Can we go inside?" Opening the door Celeus pulled back allowing Xena to enter. Following Celeus closed the door behind him. Xena walked to the table in the center of the room as she removed her cloak. "So Celeus what brings you here? Did that pathetic excuse of a healer complain to one of your superiors?"

"No no I assured him that you were within your rights as .. Caesar's soon to be personal healer." Celeus smiled hoping she would be pleased.

Xena was taken back a bit, but kept her calm even adding a teasing smile "Hmm and how pray tell did I receive such a prestigious position, Celeus?"

"Well I am sure after you meet with Caesar tomorrow morning that he will be as impressed as I have been with your.. ahem ..many skills as a great warrior as well as great healer. I told you that he would be interested in you. So he has commanded to meet with you in the morning.

Closing her eyes briefly Xena nodded "I am humbled by your faith in me. I will be honored to meet Caesar. Thank you Celeus." Xena answered as her mind quickly altered plans. Yes! This will be easier than I planned. Just a few arrangements to make tonight and tomorrow Caesar's bloody rein will end!

***

Gabrielle made her way into her tent. Yawning as she lit the candle on the table. As the firelight cast a slight glow around the tent she gathered her bag from the corner and for the first time in weeks she pulled out her scrolls sitting down she reflected on the day.

The evening had been spent telling tales while the residents of the camp relaxed and had a few ales. Gabrielle smiled as she recalled the applause as she finished for the night. The feeling of pride was familiar but she truly missed the presence of a tall warrior who usually would sit toward the back of the room silently watching her performance. It had always filled her heart when she would look up from telling her tales to see the lone figure giving her a knowing smile.

A cloud of sadness descended upon her heart as she remembered why she was in this camp and how much she longed to be with Xena, to be walking at her side as she practice her tales. Closing her eyes she could see the magnificent profile of the beautiful warrior as she rode Argo, proud and strong. Only when she looked in her eyes could Gabrielle see the pain and the scars that Xena carried, but over the years she could see the love and friendship in those same eyes. How they haunted her now how she longed to be with Xena. Closing her eyes tighter a lone tear escaped trailing down her supple cheek. Wiping the tear away she sniffed and began to write.

Xena My Dearest Friend,

I write this scroll hoping that you will never have to read this. I am not frightened of the battle we face tomorrow but I am truly afraid that I may never be able to tell you how much you have meant to me. I do not know why you have come here but you must know by now that I must follow. Your friendship has meant everything to me these past three years. If something were to happen to me I want you to remember the promise that you made to me. I want you to go on seeking redemption helping those who need you as I once did when you save a na´ve peasant girl from those foolish slavers. Remember what you taught me that the greater good is what we are truly here to serve and if my life is the cost so be it.

I want you to know that I would never regret a moment spent at your side. You have taught me so much; you have been my friend, confidante and mentor. You have allowed me to share your pain and fears and let me into your heart and for that I will always be grateful. Remember that I love you and I know that we will see each other again on the other side.

 

All My Love

Your Friend Forever

Gabrielle

 

Blowing on the scroll to dry the ink Gabrielle rolled the scroll and pulled from the bag her queens seal. Picking up the sealing wax and using the candle she melted a few drops then firmly sealed the scroll then gathering a ribbon from her bag she lovingly tied it. Carefully she placed it in her bag as she prayed that Xena would never have to see it.

Pulling her shift from the bag she changed then blowing out the candle she made her way to her pallet. Settling in she closed her eyes hoping Morpheus would take her quickly. As her breaths drew deep she fell into a quite slumber.

***

As Meridian entered the circle that held the Roman soldier who lay bound the followers began to chant. " Oh Great Dahak we your humble servants offer you this small sacrifice to give us strength in regaining our temple. So that we may use you're chosen to make your presence known upon this world." Looking down at the frightened soldier making a futile effort to free himself. " Yes that's right, your fear will please the Great Dahak but know your life will serve him." Pulling the scared dagger, with a gleam in her eye and a soft smile she plunged the dagger deep into his heart.

As Meridian withdrew the dagger she suddenly felt herself on another plane in total darkness. "Meridian!" Bowing her head she knew she was in the presence of the Great One. "Yes my master!" The deep voice spoke again " I have accepted your sacrifice and will protect you in your battle. Xena is here but know that I have filled her heart with revenge and she now seeks only the blood of another. She will not interfere make your preparations with my chosen. Go now for I await her innocence." Nodding Meridian replied " And so it shall be!"

Opening her eyes Meridian was back in her circle. She smiled as she look upon the full moon that was shinning upon them. Again she raised her arms with the bloody dagger still in her grasp as she began the chant to enter the dream world of the chosen. The moon seemed to brighten as the chants continued calling the chosen.

***

Gabrielle found herself walking in darkness as she heard voices whisper but she could not tell from which direction the sounds were coming from and what was being said. As she wandered she felt herself growing in despair. She paused as she notice a stone table up ahead she could see a body upon it but she could not make out who it was. As she drew closer she could see the long dark hair as it was draped over the edge of the table. This scene seemed familiar some how but she could not recall why. Suddenly she recognized the figure and she ran to close the distance as she cried out. "Xena!" Lying there was her friend in a dirty blood covered shift, her hands and legs chained to the table. Gabrielle heart pounded as she took in the sight. Making her way to her friend she moved her hand to brush away Xena's hair that covered most of her face. Gasping she saw the pale face bloodied with a haunted look in Xena's open eyes. Through cracked lips she whispered "F f for ..you, … for…you!" Gathering Xena's body she buried her head in Xena's chest and cried "Noooo .. Xena…No ..NO DON'T LEAVE MEEE!!"

Gabrielle awoke sitting straight up clutching her own arms as her heart raced, tears streaming down her face. Slowly she calmed herself. No.. it was just a dream ..just a dream.

***

Chapter 10

 

The dawn of destiny at hand.

With one souls desperation.

Will Love show the way?

As the dawn of a new day approached the sun grew bright as Apollo made his ascent. Little did Apollo know that with this dawn which started like each one previous would begin a day that would write the fate of man and gods.

Leaving his tent the Captain made his way to the soldiers who were on duty guarding the temple. He addressed the guard in charge to make his report. As the soldier began a slight humming noise could be heard. Turning towards the noise the soldier began to draw his sword. The humming grew louder calling the few guards in front of the temple to gather in a defensive posture. Slowly breaking from the cover of trees a dozen people emerged dressed in robes with their hood covering their faces. They walked in rows of three, proceeding slowly as they chanted moving like one with staffs in their hands. Each leaned in to them as if they were oars as they assisted them in making their way. The formation made its way closer to the temple. The captain finally regained his wits and moved forward to what he believed a harmless group of priests. "Halt!!" A priest in front of the group raised an arm and the formation halted in unison. Turning this priest approached the Captain, as the priest came within a couple of feet of the Captain, he drew back his hand on sword preparing to fight when the priest suddenly fell to his knees and placing the staff on the ground raised his arms up pulling back the robe hood to reveal a lovely golden hair beauty. Raising her hands to the temple she began to chant and the other followers raised their voices. Once again stunned by the actions of the group the Captain stammered "Stop this .. STOP THIS AT ONCE!!"

Gabrielle could hardly contain herself as she watched the Captain and his guards continued to gather in stunned confusion. As the Captain spoke her forces were gathering, surrounding the temple. Now we just need to time this right. Gabrielle mused as she looked for the right moment to order her attack.

Now swaying and babbling a chant acting as a crazed follower, Gabrielle continued to keep the Romans attention. With the Romans attention fixed on Gabrielle the other "priests" quietly move towards the unsuspecting guards. As the Captain looked up he noticed that the "priests" were suddenly surrounding his men. Realizing he had been fooled he turned to grasp the arms of the kneeling priestess. Gabrielle sensing the reaction of the Captain grabbed her staff and raising quickly using her staff with a quick hit knocked the sword from the Captains hand and then twisting she swept her staff behind his knees swiftly dropping the Captain on his back. As the Captain hit the ground she called her attack. "NOW!!!"

Suddenly the forest came alive as men and women warriors poured towards the startled soldiers. Agnor and the other "priests" were quickly able to disarm the confused Romans they were facing moments before. Hearing the commotion the sleeping Romans roused and raced to the front of the temple. Gabrielle seeing the newest threat coming around the corner she ordered several of her "priests" to keep the captured soldier under guard as lead the rest to the on coming soldiers.

Leaning against a tree Strife grinned from ear to ear. Little did he know how satisfying it was going to be keeping watch on Xena's pet. Keeping a careful eye on his charge he could not help but join in on the fun. Spying the Romans approaching he decided that these swine should get a taste of what it was truly like to be pigs. With a flash the ground in front of the soldiers changed into very slippery, thick mud. Laughing wildly he clasp his hand together anxious for the soldiers to meet his offering.

Just as Gabrielle readied her forces to meet their latest threat she and her troops were taken back as a new scene unfolded before them. The Roman soldiers could be seen falling to the ground flaying away in what appeared to be a pool of muddy goo. Taking in the pitiful sight Gabrielle stood and leaned against her staff as she started to laugh at the ridiculous sight. The forces behind her joined in on the laughter as they made there way to the helpless men ordering the soldiers to drop their weapons as Gabrielle’s army assisted in helping them out of the mud. Drenched with goo the Romans were marched over to join their captured comrades.

Seeing that everything was under control Strife decide to report back to Ares to tell him of his deeds. "He Will Be So Proud of ME!! He giggled as he disappeared.

***

Meridian smiled as she witnessed the muddy fate of the Roman soldiers. Dahak had truly blessed them insuring their victory. Meridian had remained with a few of her follower in the tree line, keeping an eye on their chosen. They could not allow her to be harmed .. at least not yet. Meridian made her way to Gabrielle who was checking to insure that none of her fighters had been injured. Gabrielle smiled with pride at how well her plan had worked, no one including the Romans had been harmed .. with the exception of their pride. Xena would have been proud of me. Gabrielle mused. She was pulled from her thoughts with Meridians approach.

Grasping Gabrielle's hands Meridian beamed with gratitude. "Thank you, Thank you!! May our God watch over and protect you, Gabrielle. You do not know what this means to my people."

"I'm glad I was able to help. It was the least I could do in the memory of Khrafstar." Gabrielle replied giving Meridian a hug.

" Gabrielle tonight we will celebrate and bless our temple. We would like to honor you in our ceremonies." Meridian pleaded.

"I don't know .. I don't feel I deserve…"

Meridian seeing Gabrielle’s reluctance she decided to use Gabrielle's guilt. " And we will say farewell to our beloved Khrafstar."

Realizing this was more to honor Kraftstar Gabrielle sighed "Yes, Of course I will come."

With a gleam in her eye Meridian smiled widely. "Excellent! We will begin at sunset, giving us time to prepare our temple. I'm sure you have much to do returning these men to Boadicea’s camp. I will send a few of my men to escort you back this evening."

Overhearing the conversation Agnor interrupted " That won't be necessary Meridian I would be happy to see that Gabrielle arrives safely."

"Thank you, Agnor but I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself." Gabrielle implored.

"Oh I know that better then most from the various bruises from your staff training." Agnor stated rubbing one of the more painful bruises on his arm. Seeing Gabrielle's stubborn glare Agnor decided to try another approach. Bending at the waist with an exaggerated bow "Please allow me the honor Great Queen of the Amazons, I would hate to be hunted by your sisters for being remiss in your safety in our presence."

Rolling her eyes at the pitiful plea Agnor was making Gabrielle relented. Then she decided to get into the spirit of the conversation "Very well, sir you may serve as my escort this evening." Gabrielle replied in her most queenly manner.

Raising his head Agnor gave her a playful wink "It will be my honor." With that Gabrielle gave him a playful slap to his midsection as he rose. "Opff!! Hey is that anyway to treat your honor guard."

"Oh by the way did I mention that my guard also sees to serving me my meals." Gabrielle laughed as Agnor gave her an irritated grin. "Royalty!! HMP!!" Agnor replied.

"Well I see that you will be well protected." Meridian replied with a fake smile. "I will look forward to your return. I must go now we have much to prepare." Nodding Meridian turned to leave. Soon my chosen soon!!

 

 

***

"WHAT!!!!!! Ares cried. Moving forward furiously Ares grabbed Stife by his chest, picking him up off the ground to make direct eye contact. Strife scared witless and confused repeated what he just said to Ares. "I helped Xena’s pet recover the temple from the Romans. I..I did just like you said I made sure that she didn’t get hurt and kept her out of trouble." Strife stammered.

Trying desperately to keep from throwing Strife through a wall Ares breathed deeply. "DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE DONE!!! NO! NO! of course you don’t you spineless excuse for a GOD!! Closing his eyes, grimacing Ares fought the urge to beat Strife to a pulp. Trying to calm he relented and slightly tossed the pathetic whimpering god.

"I…I.. I..I’m sorry? What can I do? Anything, Anything just let me fix it. What ever I did I know I can fix it." Strife groveled confused.

"Strife for your own sake and mine LEAVE ME ALONE!! NOW!! Get back to Gabrielle and listen to me carefully." Ares cried as he stepped toward Strife. "DON’T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF HER AND KEEP HER AWAY FROM THAT TEMPLE!! GOT IT!!"

"Right away your greatness!!" Seeing Ares reach for him Strife disappeared.

Mulling over in his mind at how his carefully laid plans were falling apart Ares slammed his fist into a stone statue shattering it to mere rubble. Ok..calm, calm I have to get this plan back on track, that’s all!! Suddenly it came to him. With white teeth gleaming he stroked his beard, "YES!! As they say if you want it done right you got to do it yourself. You will be mine Xena I just need to make a few arrangements." With that Ares laughed loudly as he disapeared in a bright rising flame.

***

Xena had not slept most of the night preparing for this meeting. Yes, everything was in place including the poisoned tip dagger she had hidden in her bodice. Using a leather sheath to protect her from the sharp blade she had taken great care in preparing the poison, which she knew, would kill in an instant, as deadly as an asp bite and just as painful. Caesar's death would be quick giving him no time to cry out but the pain would be agonizing. Xena smiled as she thought of him writhing with pain on the ground. He will never know what hit him but Xena will take great pleasure in letting him see her face before he pasted on the his place in Tautraus.

Having disposed of the remaining poison Xena finished packing her things. She knew that if she made it back that she could waste no time. Carrying her things she made her way to the horse she had acquired that was discreetly tethered near the infirmary. Placing her things in the horses’ pack she patted the horse gently. Xena was lost for a moment remembering another horse she dearly cared for and missed. Her mind betrayed her as she thought of riding Argo as a quite talkative and smiling bard followed her staff in hand matching Argo's stride. Smiling she let that warm feeling carry over into her heart.

Closing her eyes Xena shook off that warm feeling knowing now was not the time to become sentimental. Adjusting her warriors mask she pulled her cloaks hood over her head, knowing this would shield her until she was close enough to strike Caesar. Standing straight and taking a deep breath she began to make her way towards Caesar’s quarters.

As Xena spied the guards which secured Caesar’s doorway she could feel her heart beating faster and called upon her iron will to calm her pulse and maintain her calm. Slowly she made her way, finally taking what seemed forever she approached the guard. " I was summoned to meet Caesar this morning. My name is Scylla the healer." Xena stated calmly.

Eyeing the women the guard nodded to the other guard to inform Cesar. The guard quickly entered the room and Xena could here him addressing Caesar. The guard returned " Caesar will see you now." the guard stated closely watching her. Xena cooled in anticipation of killing Cesar she quickly calculated how she would approach him and how she would call for the guards after Caesar was dead. Yes, he had died suddenly she would blame the wine or the food that surely would be near by. She just had to be sure to make her cut shallow so that he did not bleed too much. She could blame any other blood to a fall to the solid floor. Now was the time for her revenge.

As the guard began to move out of her way so that she could enter Xena was pulled from her goal by a cry. "SCYLLA!! SCYLLA!! Scylla, Celeus cried as her ran up to her. "You’re needed in the infirmary, we have a few men injured from an attack and they could use your help." Celeus pleaded.

Seeing the desperation in Celeus’s eyes Xena closed her eyes knowing that her chance at destroying Caesar was not to be. Coolly collecting herself knowing what she must do she nodded at Celeus "I’m on my way." Turning she headed purposely to the infirmary knowing Celeus would make her apologies to Caesar. As Xena rounded the corner Celeus smiled and quietly chuckled as he vanished.

 

Continued…


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