Xena: Warrior Princess, its characters, and the images for the story cover are copyright to MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. I'm just borrowing them, and of course I'm not making any profit, just trying to entertain.

This story revolves around a loving relationship between two women, what that relationship is will be up to the reader to decide. Some may not see much subtext, some will see more.

This story might be clasified as Hurt/Comfort Story. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read something other than this story.

There will be mild violence in some parts of this story, but of course this is Xena, and I'm sure you expected that.

Rainedrop@angelfire.com I would love to hear any and all feedback.

LettingHerGoCover.jpg (90804 bytes)


Letting Her Go




The rain had fallen for four straight days, and still it fell. There were only intermittent periods of
relief, and even then the dark sky hung low with ominous thunder clouds. The heavens opened up
and poured rain that fell like a river running downstream. It fell so thick from the sky that your
horse disappeared beneath you, and the ground gave way with each beat of it’s hooves. Despite
this, Othello stood up straight and tall in the saddle, and held to the horse’s back firmly with his
powerful legs. He squinted through the storm, and watched as his men straggled in from their all
day march, weary and frustrated with the wrath of mother nature. The first of the line began
putting up tents, and he could hear the steady rhythm of their hammers beating at the pegs. He
heard her approach behind him on foot, and turned the horse swiftly to face her.

“What is your report?” he barreled, to be heard above the storm.

Azure calmly wiped the rain from her eyes and looked past him to the carts unloading tent after
tent. “We are at least two days out from Cahterre, and from there it’s a day’s ride to Antopia.”

“You say a day’s ride. Only half the men are carried by horses. What of those who march?”
Othello asked as he looked down upon his second in command.

“Mounted men could ride ahead, and secure Cahterre. From there, once the lines have joined us,
we will advance on Antopia.”

Othello looked on as his army of three hundred and twenty two men made camps for the night.
They had marched for half a moon, and now they were within scouting distance of their first
target, Cahterre. This was the beginning of his rule over a land he had vowed to be his. The first
victory lay within the walls of the barricaded village of Cahterre.

Decisively, Othello nodded curtly to his second in command. “We ride out at first light.” With
that, he kicked the broad raven war horse, and descended the steep hill that looked upon the
Northern Valley, and joined his army as they prepared for the battle to come.




Chapter 1

“Roasted shellfish with rosemary and peppermint herbs, lamb stew cooked slowly in spring water
with fresh carrots, mushrooms, just a touch of garlic, and juicy chunks of apple. Touched off with
dark strong ale,” Gabrielle recited to the empty path of mud that had once been a road, as she
walked alongside the tall dark haired warrior.

“Why do you torture yourself like that? ” the taller woman asked.

“You see, unlike you, I have this overactive imagination, and it really comes in handy when I
haven’t eaten all day. I can taste the freshly baked bread as it melts on my tongue, and the tang of
the lemon pepper.” Her eyes had closed and Xena took the opportunity to roll her eyes.

“If only that imagination of yours could summon up some food, I would request those spiced
meatballs you make, you know, the ones with the red pepper.” Xena licked her lips at the thought.
“Oh well, your mother’s goat stew is only a candlemark away.”

Gabrielle feigned stomach illness at the mention of goat stew. Even the thought drove away the
images she held in her head of delicious watery recipes. Her stomach chose that moment to voice
it’s need for nourishment, and Gabrielle decided that even her mother’s goat stew would rid her
stomach of it’s loud complaints. They had journeyed three days from Amphipolis to Gabrielle’s
home village of Poteidaia. On the first day they had sought shelter from the unrelenting
downpours, but by the beginning of the third day, they had decided to push on through the rain. If
they had stopped each time it rained, they could have been on this road for a quarter of a moon.

Gabrielle pulled the gray cloak tightly around her arms, and stepped closer to the tall woman at
her side. Instinctively Xena took her own cloak and wrapped one end around her companion,
pulling her close to take shelter at her side. She let Gabrielle’s warmth flow around her and settle
on her like a fire warmed blanket. They clung to each other in the shivering cold that had long ago
numbed their fingers and toes. Gabrielle’s nose was red with the chill, and Xena pulled her closer
to give her as much warmth as her body could provide.

“I’ve never seen rain like this before, Xena.”

“It’s bad for sure. If it keeps up, the path will be washed away with the swelling of the river.
Travelers will be lucky if they can make it to shelter in time. I wouldn’t doubt if it left many of
them stranded,” Xena replied with a small weary sigh.

Gabrielle bowed her head, and tried to shield her face from the oncoming rain. One candlemark,
she told herself. Just one more candlemark.

* * * * * * *

Lila waited on the thatch covered porch for her father, Herodotus, to return from the elder’s
meeting. The day previous, a nearby village had been attacked by a strange army, and men from
the settlement had been taken. Word had reached Poteidaia a candlemark ago, that the army’s
direction was toward Antopia, which was located only a day and a half’s ride from Lila’s home.
The young woman watched as more thunderheads moved into the area, preparing to add to the
rain that already fell.

“Lila, come in from the weather,” Hecuba, Lila’s mother called from the open doorway.

“How much longer do you think, Mum?” Lila called back over her shoulder.

“There is no telling. Come in now, and help me prepare supper.”

Lila sighed with exasperation, and turned to go into the house when she spied two travelers near
the edge of town. One was tall with broad shoulders and her hands held the reins of a bay war
horse. The other traveler was a slight figure, and was tucked into the side of the taller one.
“Gabrielle,” Lila whispered to herself. She wrapped her cloak around herself, and lifted the hood
over her head. She ran, splashing through puddles, until she had nearly reached the town limits.
She jumped up twice like an excited little girl on Solstice Eve, and waved furiously with her

“That would be your sister, Gabrielle,” Xena said with the emphasis on ‘your’.

Xena got a playful elbow in the ribs for a response. Gabrielle took a moment before they reached
Lila to look around her at the village she had grown up in. Shopkeeper Thames still hung
peppered herbs from the porch rafters, the blacksmith’s windows were still stained black with
soot and smoke residue, and Tanith, the first elders wife still sat out on her porch in the rain. As
Gabrielle passed by, Tanith nodded her head at the two women, and Gabrielle offered a wave.

“Gabrielle!” exclaimed Lila as she threw herself at the bard.

“Umpf,” Gabrielle replied.

“Have you come to visit?” Lila asked as she released Gabrielle from her embrace. “Is something
wrong? Have you already heard of the attack?”

“Whoah,” Xena bellowed above Lila’s further questioning. “What attack? On Poteidaia?”

“You haven’t heard then. There’s been an attack on Cahterre. Three people were taken. The
village was ransacked, and burned. They say there’s nothing left but ash, and no one has seen the
taken men since yesterday.”

“How many were hurt?” Gabrielle asked with concern in her voice.

“Many tried to fight back, and those who did were slaughtered. Those that surrendered were
spared. The messenger from Antopia said fifty and more did not survive.”

Gabrielle sighed in despair, and she looked imploringly up at the warrior.

Decisively Xena turned to Lila. “Where is the messenger?”

“He was taken to the Elder’s meeting at Malakai’s on the west end of the village. You remember
Malakai, don’t you Gab?”

“I know the way, Xena,” Gabrielle answered as she began walking away with Xena at her side.

“Gab! Aren’t you coming home to see Mum first?” Lila yelled from behind.

Without even turning around, Gabrielle answered. “Tell Mother I’ll be home soon.”

When Gabrielle was sure she remembered the way, she picked up the pace, and began running.
Her feet sank in the muddy soil each time she put her foot forward, and rain coursed down her
face and into her eyes. A short time later, Gabrielle stopped in front of a large house, and dashed
under the covered porch. Xena stepped around her, and pounded on the closed wooden door. She
shook the water from her drenched hair, and pounded again, hearing shouts of complaint from

The door was yanked open, and a young man barely older than twenty glared at the two
strangers. He had a scraggly beard, and his clothes were dingy and torn. He actually hadn’t
changed much since Gabrielle had last seen him, she thought grimly to herself. Gabrielle
recognized the man as Livven’s son Thom. They had never been friends growing up together,
which had created quite a problem in such a small farming community. He will only make things
for us more difficult, Gabrielle thought to herself. So she quietly ducked behind Xena, which
didn’t go unnoticed by the warrior.

“I want to speak to Malakai,” Xena demanded of the unkept young man.

“Who are you,” Thom asked with a scowl imbedded upon his face. He clearly didn’t like being
ordered about.

“I’m someone who needs to speak to your elder,” Xena scowled back.

“What do you want? There are no women allowed in the elder’s meeting.”

Tiring of his trifling questions, Xena brushed past him with a shove. Gabrielle held on to the back
of Xena’s scabbard, and followed her past the angry onlookers, until they both had reached the
center of the room.

“Which one is Malakai?” Xena whispered into Gabrielle’s ear. Gabrielle looked around cautiously
until her eyes landed on the warm smile of a white headed man seated at a long wooden table. He
rose, with his arms outstretched, and approached Gabrielle, all the while his smile widened into a
shining laugh.

“Gabrielle? Herodotus’ Gabrielle?!” He exclaimed.

“Gabrielle shyly let herself be embraced by the huge man, and saw the stern eyes of her father
over Malakai’s shoulder. She pulled away from the elder, and moved over to stand at Xena’s side.
Xena had caught the harsh stare aimed at Gabrielle by her father, and she blocked his view of
Gabrielle with her body.

“Malakai.” Xena stated as she extended her arm in greeting. “I’m Xena of Amphipolis. I heard of
the attack on Cahterre. I need to speak to the messenger from Antopia.”

“The Warrior, Xena. I remember you from years ago, when you saved some of our people from
slavers.” Malakai beckoned to a tall lanky youth who sat before a bowl half filled with stew, and a
large mug of ale at it’s side. He stepped forward, and stood before the village elder. “Phillipe, this
is Xena. Tell her all you’ve told us. Leave nothing out.”

The boy hesitated at the strong expression of the intimidating warrior before him. He squared his
shoulders, and lay his left hand on the hilt of a meager copper sword, as if courage flowed
through the blade. “I am Phillipe of Cahterre. Yesterday at midday, mounted riders entered our
village. There must have been over one hundred of them. They demanded we surrender our
village to them, and all lives would be spared. We submitted to them, who are we to argue with
over a hundred armed men?” The boy wiped a look of guilt off his face, and continued. “Our
town leader, Harlan came forward, and said that he would not relinquish his town without a fight.
A great dark man came forward on a giant war horse, and he demanded that Harlan and Harlan’s
son be taken as their prisoners. Harlan nor any of the others in the village would say where
Harlan’s son, Ian was. The dark man jumped down off the horse, and threw Harlan down to his
knees, and held a great sword to his throat. Other riders began dismounting and unsheathing their
swords. They stormed through the village, searching home after home for the boy. Local men
began fighting back with pitchforks, branding irons, whatever lay about.” Phillipe cast his eyes to
the ground, and winced at the vivid memory. He clenched his jaws tightly, and thrust his chin
forward with his eyes glued to Xena’s. “They were an uneven match for trained fighters, and most
did not last long. Young Ian was found, and they also took Manis, the man who had harbored the
boy. The army began burning every house, hut, or stall that stood, then the brigand of riders
mounted and left the village with Harlan, Ian, and Manis and headed east. I was sent by our elder,
Aryss to ask for aid from Antopia. I rode hard on horseback, and when I arrived there had already
been word that an army was amassing to the east of Antopia. I told them of the attack, and they
sent me to warn the people of Amphipolis.” the young man took a hesitant step back, and
returned to his meal without looking back to the warrior.

Unwaveringly, Xena turned to face Malakai. “You must form a militia to defend yourselves if they
head this way.”

A voice from the back of the room broke her off. “You heard the boy. No one was harmed until
men fought back.”

“If they come asking for your boy, will you give him up? If not, then stay quiet,” Gabrielle
demanded, surprising herself at her harsh tone.

“Hush Johnns, let Xena speak.” Malakai’s booming authoritative voice dampened any further
argument from the assembled men.

“We don’t know what these men want, and until we do, then all in their path are in danger.
Forming a militia is only a defense. Send a messenger to Antopia granting them your support.
They are the only settlement between the army and Poteidaia. If they fall, then chances are you
could too.”

Xena looked into Malakai’s deep gray eyes to be sure he fully understood the severity of her
words. When she saw comprehension there she turned and walked toward the door. She pushed
past the unruly Thom, and thrust the door open, pulling the hood of her cloak up over her head as
she ducked into the rain. Gabrielle followed closely behind, and looked back only once to see her
father’s unrelenting gaze.

“Xena!” Gabrielle called into the blowing rain. “Will we go to Antopia?”

“Yes, we should leave by morning. I have an uneasy feeling about these riders. The sooner we get
on the road, the better.” She stopped suddenly, and looked to Gabrielle with an intense stare.
“Unless you wanted to stay and visit your family?”

Gabrielle shook her head vehemently. “I’m coming with you.”

Xena allowed a knowing grin to slide to her lips. “Come on,” she said beckoning with her head
toward the road. She grabbed Gabrielle’s hand, and they both ran through the deepening puddles
down the road toward Gabrielle’s childhood home.




Chapter 2

“I know why you took me, but send my son home. He can be of no help to you. He’s only a boy.”

“The lad is more than just a wee boy. Wouldn’t you say?” Othello inquired of the man before him.

Harlan knelt on his knees in a darkened tent, with only the moonlight to see by. His hands were
bound behind him with chains attached to a peg. He refused to look into the cold black eyes of the
man who had refused to let him see his son.

“At this point in the game we each have something the other wants.” Othello observed as he sat
down on a cot to sharpen his broad sword.

“I am but a farmer. What could I have that you’d want?”

“I know you, Harlan of Cahterre. You are the town magistrate. I know that your harvests are
bountiful, your people always store extra food and supplies in the Fall just before an especially
bad Winter. It’s like you know when they’ll be a drought, or a blizzard, or a mild Summer. I
believe you are a very good leader to your people. Actually I wasn’t surprised that out of all those
men, you were the one to resist.” Othello stood still holding his sword, now fully extended toward
Harlan’s chest in a powerful threat of force. “I am a man of compromise. I would prefer to trade a
few influential hostages to get what I desire rather than kill hundreds of innocent men. Men who’s
only wrong was to stand in my way. Don’t you feel good knowing that you and your boy will
save so many lives? I thought you’d be grateful to me.”

Harlan’s short breaths turned into gasps for air, and he struggled in the chains that bit into the skin
of his wrists. He felt a warm liquid run down his hand to his fingertips. For the first time he
looked into the eyes of his captor, and saw his match reflected at him.

Othello sheathed his sword, and bent down to be at eye contact with his hostage. “Here’s a clear
warning, if you cause me even the slightest problem, I will start by sending you one of your son’s
fingers. Is he right handed, or left handed by the way? It will help us decide where to begin.”

Harlan let his shoulders slump, and he allowed his head to drop to his chest with defeat. “I
concede to you authority, but you must let the boy go.”

“We’re already compromising huh? If you behave, then I’ll have the boy delivered safely to
Cahterre, or what’s left of it.”

Harlan sighed deeply, unable to believe that he had played right into this wretch of a man. Othello
turned to leave Harlan to himself. When he reached the tent flap he turned back one last time.
“Oh, and Harlan. Our little deal doesn’t include you. You’re my first victory, a trophy if you will.
You won’t be going back to Cahterre, my friend.” With that he made his exit, letting the tent flap
close behind him to leave Harlan alone in the absolute darkness.

“I’m not your friend,” Harlan whispered as he spat at the dirt where Othello had last stood.

* * * * * * *

Gabrielle tucked her chin against Xena’s back, and clasped her hands tightly around her waist.
She had spent the morning here, atop Argo, riding behind Xena, struggling to push her father’s
words from the night before out of her mind. He had said them well out of Xena’s earshot, or so
he thought, until a menacing warrior had came around the corner. Not a hand had she laid on him,
only the promise of threatening eyes. A silent vow. She wouldn’t let Gabrielle out of her eye sight
after that. Oh, how Gabrielle loved the protective side of Xena. She’d never tell her that of
course, no sense in encouraging her, she laughed to herself. She broke herself out of her reverie,
and focused on the purpose of their journey. They had both ridden since that morning, breaking
only once to water the horse, and fill their own waterskins. Xena had set a furious pace, afraid
that by the time they reached Antopia, it would be too late.

“Why would an army attack a farming village, and take three hostages?” Gabrielle asked.

“I can’t be sure until we find out who this army is.”

“What do you think they intend to do?” Gabrielle prodded.

“I think they want exactly what I did when I led my army...power.”

“You think that’s why they burned Cahterre, so the people will have no where to go?”

“That’s exactly what I think. They intend to leave all these people homeless. They will have no
choice but to take whatever handouts they can get from the village down the line...”

“Until the next village is taken,” Gabrielle finished Xena’s thought.

Gabrielle wished she could see Xena’s expression from her position behind Xena. She strained to
see any gesture or hint of emotion in the way Xena rode or in the way she gripped Argo’s reins,
but she could see none. She voiced the question that had risen in her mind, even though she
wasn’t sure she should. “Xena, what would you have done eventually, once you had taken a
province or a region?”

There was an aching pause, where Gabrielle cursed herself for even bringing up such painful
memories. Xena took a deep breath then, and she answered, “I would have taken the next
province, the next region, until they all fell. Nothing would have ever been enough.” She spoke as
if from far away, as if recounting a story she had once been told.

Gabrielle felt the first inkling of tension in her partner, a tightening of the muscles across her back.
It was the smallest movement, and yet Gabrielle felt so much in it. She dropped any further

They rode in silence for, what felt like a long time to Gabrielle. Then, “Not everyone is me
though, most are more greedy and less bloodthirsty. This army let many people live, men and
women alike. I was never so kind.” Her voice cracked on the last word, and Gabrielle tightened
her grip around the warrior’s waist.

“That was a long time ago, Xena. It wasn’t fair of me to mention it.” Gabrielle said apologetically.

“No,” Xena insisted, suddenly turning to look into the bard’s eyes. “I will never keep the truth of
who I was from you. I owe you that. You deserve to know who I was...and who I am,” Xena said
as she turned back around.

“Xena,” Gabrielle released her grip around the warrior’s waist, and reached up to grab Xena by
the arm, forcing her to turn back around to face her. “You don’t owe me anything. And I know
who you are, I love who you are. I never knew that Xena you were, and I won’t judge her.”
Gabrielle stared into Xena’s ice blue eyes, daring her to try to change Gabrielle’s mind. The air
crackled between them, and Xena couldn’t bring herself to look away from that warm affectionate
gaze. Finally Gabrielle smiled, and the intensity of the moment became bearable again. Xena
smiled too, and she turned back toward the road. Gabrielle reclaimed her hold of the warrior,
placing her cheek on Xena’s back , relishing the warmth she found there that chased away the wet
cold rain that still fell.

In the distance concealed behind two overlapping hills was the first sign of Antopia, wheat fields,
and olive groves. Xena raced Argo through the fields, and saw no obvious sign yet that Antopia
had been attacked. People milling about in the road looked in wonder and fear at the coming
figure of the Warrior Princess. Xena maneuvered around them, and through the town walls until
she reached the tavern, which doubled as the town’s inn, where several groups of villagers were
crowded. She threw her leg over Argo’s mane, and jumped to the ground, quickly turning around
to take Gabrielle’s hand as she dismounted. With a quick perusal of the area, Xena walked briskly
into the tavern, which reeked of spilt ale, and unbathed men. She advanced to the counter where
an old man stood, filling mugs with a dark cloudy ale. He looked up at the presence of the
strangers, and turned to straighten himself to his full height.

“I’m looking for the town magistrate. Can you point me the way?” Xena asked briskly.

The man pointed to a table in the tavern situated in the back of the large stuffy room. Xena
wheeled around, and walked over to the party of four men. She stood at the foot of the table,
waiting to be acknowledged. When no greeting came, Xena pulled over a bench from a nearby
table, and placed it next to the other benches, occupied by the men. She sat down, and beckoned
for Gabrielle to do the same. Xena looked from one face to another, trying to discover which
would be the magistrate. One scrawny man had smooth, pale, ink stained hands, not a farmer, but
certainly not a leader of men either. Two others on the opposite side of the table avoided eye
contact with her. The fourth and final man undauntingly looked at her with an icy stare. His hair
was grayed, but he still had a youthfulness that was evident in his facial features, and his skin was
smooth with only a hint of age.

Xena surveyed the town magistrate, and he reciprocated warily. “I’m Xena. I spoke to the
messenger from Cahterre about the attack, and about the army building outside your town.”


Xena pursed her lips into a sly grin. “Well unless you want your town to fall, I suggest that you
mount a watch. I walked into this town, a warrior, and not once was I challenged. Do you think
the enemy won’t do the same? They’re scouting you even as we speak.”

The other three men looked to one another in question, but the magistrate looked sternly at Xena.
“What interest do you have in it?”

Gabrielle beat Xena to the answer. “My home village is Poteidaia and you had better believe that I
have an interest in it.”

Xena’s grin widened at the small bard’s veracity. “That army isn’t amassing just to pass through,
they are building an offense against you, and if I’m right, against all the northeastern towns and
villages. You are the largest town between here and Sedroia. That puts you in their path. The
only provisions I’ve seen that you’ve made are the reinforced northern walls. What about the
southern wall? Do you not think that they are able to attack from any direction, just because
they’re camped to the north?”

The magistrate remained silent, but thoughtful. “There is a meeting tonight in the town center.
Come, tell them what you’ve told me, and they will listen. The people are scared, and the militia is
far outnumbered without them.” Xena gave a slight nod. “In the mean time, stay here at the inn.
Hollis will take good care of you.” The magistrate looked to the innkeeper in question, and
received a nod in answer.

Xena stood with Gabrielle at her side, and put her hand forward. The magistrate grasped it in a
firm hold, and their eyes locked in understanding. “Till tonight then,” Xena assured him.

“Hanathea!” The man named Hollis shouted to the back room. A young girl with disheveled ash
blonde hair, no older than twelve came out carrying a large iron key. She beckoned for the two
travelers to follow her as she mounted the wooden steps. Once on the second floor, the young girl
walked to the far right of the short hallway, and opened the door, allowing Gabrielle and Xena to
enter first. Without a word she pulled back the heavy dark drapes that adorned the two large
windows. She built a fire in the hearth, and pulled the empty kettle from the ring over the fire to
refill with fresh water.

“I shall return,” she said quietly and pulled the heavy door shut behind her leaving the two women
alone in the large room.

Gabrielle turned to face Xena, with a proud smile on her lips. “You certainly made quite an
impression down there.”

“Think so huh?” Xena said with an answering grin. “ I do take pride in my work, Gabrielle, and
I’m glad you approve.”

“Heh, you love doing that.” Gabrielle laughed. “I saw your face though, you hate it when they
ignore you.”

“They never learn.”

Xena walked over to the window, and opened the shutters, letting in a burst of rain chilled wind.
She scanned the distant horizon for signs of evening campfires, but saw only the dark silhouette of
the land.

Gabrielle walked over to the large double bed, and sat down pulling her knees up to her chest and
wrapping her arms tightly around herself. Her chin came to rest on her knee, and her eyes studied
her companion. She saw the familiar tension across her broad shoulders, saw the quick urgency to
her movements, and the hooded eyes that always gave away an inner turmoil. For many reasons,
this army had deeply unsettled the warrior.

A knock on the door startled Gabrielle out of her thoughts, and she rose to answer. Xena came up
behind her, and beat her to the door. There, feeling considerably intimidated stood the young girl,
Hanathea, with two pots full of water. Xena moved aside for her to enter, and she went about her
duties without a word.

“You name is Hanathea right?” Gabrielle asked.

“You may just call me Hana,” the girl answered shyly.

“Hana, that’s a pretty name. All the other children have been sent to Beroe, why didn’t you go?”

“My father needed me to work the inn. Besides I’m almost a woman,” Hana answered proudly.

Xena rolled her eyes.

Gabrielle looked on sadly at the small girl. “It’s dangerous for you to be here, Hana. Maybe we
can talk to your father, and one of the men can escort you to Beroe.” Gabrielle looked to Xena
for support.

“The only women or men who need to be here are those who can wield a sword. Can you?” Xena
asked briskly.

“What Xena means,” Gabrielle said, shooting Xena a mock scowl over her shoulder, “is that
you’re not safe here right now. Let us speak to your father. I’m sure he’ll agree.”

The girl smiled cynically, and shrugged her shoulders. “He won’t listen to you, but you of course
may try. May I be of further service to you?”

Gabrielle shook her head, and the girl turned to walk out the door. Once she had gone, Gabrielle
turned an accusing smile on Xena.

Xena lifted her eyebrows, and put her hands up in mock innocence. “What did I do?”

“You know what you did. She’s just a kid,” Gabrielle answered with a playful smile.

“Yeah, well you’re right. That kid shouldn’t be here.”

“Nice try, princess.”

Again Xena raised her hands in innocence. “What did I do this time?”

“You’re trying to change the subject.”

“Burrr,” Xena said, walking toward the still open shutters. “It’s getting chilly in here.” She took
one last look at the darkening horizon for any sign of encampment, but still she saw nothing. “Not
even smoke from a campfire,” she said quietly.

“What?” Gabrielle asked, walking over to join her friend.

“They’re camped just over that ridge, but there isn’t even a single light, or smoke from a fire. The
commander would have to be over cautious not to let his men make fires in this weather.”

“Why be so discreet, when he clearly wanted us to know he’s out there?”

“Because, he’s receiving reinforcements, and he doesn’t want us to know how many. He must
have sent only a segment of his men ahead to destroy Cahterre, the rest are meeting him here.”

“What are we going to do, Xena?”

“Well I don’t know about you, but I’m starved. Let’s go downstairs and eat,” Xena answered as
she closed the shutters, and pulled the drapes over the window.

Gabrielle turned to follow, realizing that Xena had successfully changed the subject entirely to
something even Gabrielle couldn’t argue with.

Chapter 3

“The last of the line has just arrived. They’re making camp as we speak.” Azure reported.

“Are they aware that they are to make no campfires?” Othello asked as he enjoyed a supper of
beef stew, and strong wine.

“They are, Othello.”

“Good, I will give them one days rest, and then we march on Antopia.”

“What are your plans from there?”

He pointed to a large map drawn on a scroll, which had been permanently sewn into the tent. A
straight line of colored pins had been stuck to a series of locations. “Once Antopia has fallen we
will march south to Sedroia, all the villages in between will fall easily.”

Azure studied the map, and looked back over to Othello, who rested leisurely on an overstuffed
cushioned chair. “And from there?”

Othello looked up to Azure with a smile of confidence. “I’ll let you know.” He gestured for her to
sit, and he poured her a generous glass of wine.

Azure nodded, and sat down across from Othello, drinking deeply from the cup that had been set
before her.

“I want you to lead the army tomorrow, Azure. Will you accept command?”

Azure sensed the challenge that had been laid down. It was a test that she hungrily accepted. “Of
course, Othello. I proudly take command of your army.”

“Good,” came the agreeable reply. “I have only one demand of you.” Azure nodded. “Take as few
lives as possible. Find the influential men of the village, and any children you find, and bring them
to me. Bring no harm to them if it can be avoided. But do not be merciful on those who confront
us, only on those who willingly surrender to me. Do you understand, Azure?”

“I understand completely,” she answered with a bow of her head. She stood, and turned to exit
the tent, when she heard Othello’s authoritative voice call her back.

“One last thing Azure. Take the man called Manis, slit his throat, and deliver his body to the men
of Antopia. I don’t want them to get the wrong idea about me.”

Azure nodded once again, and pulled the tent flap aside, and walked out.

* * * * * * *

Late that evening as the assembly of men gathered at the town center, Xena made her way up to
the inner circle, where all eyes held her in their gaze. Conversation dwindled away into silence
that settled on the crowd like the heavy fog that surrounded them. The rain had lightened to a
persistent sprinkle, and the ground was thick with muck and mud.

Darius, the town magistrate came forward, waving his hands for complete silence. Xena let the
stillness increase until the air was thick with the intensity of the quiet. It was then that she spoke,
“Antopia, you are up against a force which likely outnumbers us three to one, if not more. They
are trained warriors, set to destroy your town. It is you who holds the advantage though.” She
turned around to be assured that everyone heard and understood her words. “You are barricaded
in a walled city, you know your land well, and you have the best cause for fighting...your homes.
These men will not be defeated easily though, you must reinforce all of your fronts, the west wall,
and the southern wall. You must place all of your recourses on those walls, and you must not be
afraid to kill your enemy once they are within range of your weapons.” She scanned the faces of
each and every man assembled for even a glimpse of objection.

“How do you know we’re outnumbered?” a shout came from the back of the crowd.

“Over one hundred men attacked Cahterre, but I assure you they are only the first line of this
army. Over that ridge could be as many as five hundred men, or as few as three hundred. Either
way, you are outnumbered.”

“How can we defeat trained warriors?” a terrified voice asked.

“You have a militia that is trained to fight, they number over one hundred men. You have another
hundred villagers. Don’t underestimate a man willing to die for his home. Trust me when I say
they can be a powerful opposition, and this army knows that.”

Many of the faces gathered around her dropped their eyes to the ground in doubt. “If you can’t
believe that, then you will have already lost,” Xena assured them, and with that final word, she
turned and left the men to contemplate their fates.

Xena woke the following morning well before dawn. Again she opened the shutters to see if she
could detect any movement from the army, but she could see none. She walked over to the hearth
and threw another pile of logs onto the now dwindled fire. The wood hissed, and threw a renewed
light onto the room. Xena pulled her sword out of it’s sheath, and began to clean and sharpen the
blade. ‘Today,’ she told herself, ‘today something will happen.’

A candlemark later, as the first traces of light became visible only in streaks through the weather
beaten clouds beyond the ridge in the east, Xena shook Gabrielle awake.

“Nooo,” she heard Gabrielle mumble from under the blanket.

“Come on, it’s dawn,” Xena said as she pulled the warm blanket fully off the bed.

Gabrielle moaned in protest, but rose slowly to meet the warrior eye to eye. “You so enjoy
waking me up, don’t you?”

She received a beaming smile in answer. Gabrielle rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, and slid off
the bed. She shuffled over to the bedside table to wash with the water from the basin. She
scooped up a handful of water, and splashed the liquid over her face. She gasped in surprised
pain, struggling to catch her breath.

“Xena!” she shouted.

“Oh, Gabrielle. By the way, I forgot to tell you that I got some fresh water this morning. It’s a
little nippy,” Xena said with a laugh in her voice.

“A little nippy? It’s freezing.”

“That oughtta wake you up.”

“If that won’t nothing will,” Gabrielle muttered.

Xena smiled to herself. “Come on sleepy head, let’s go.”

Gabrielle wondered at Xena’s enthusiasm. ‘She so loves this,’ she thought to herself.

Once they had gotten downstairs they were greeted with the wary gazes of villagers sitting in
several groups, conversing nervously. The chatter in the room silenced as soon as their eyes had
caught sight of the warrior and the bard, but soon the talk resumed, and Xena led Gabrielle to a
table at the back of the room in a darkened corner. With a wave at the innkeeper she sat across
from Gabrielle facing the room. Hollis beckoned to Hana, and she filled two bowls with meal, and
topped it with two slices of dark bread.

“Would you like ale with your meal this morning?” she asked as she placed the two bowls in front
of Xena and Gabrielle.

“No, water would be good, though,” Gabrielle answered gently.

‘She’s already taken this one under her wing,’ Xena thought to herself in amusement.

“Of course, I’ll bring it right over.”

Once the girl had left, Xena leaned over to Gabrielle. “We won’t be able to get her out of here.”

Gabrielle looked up in confusion. “Why?”

“If we send her out of these battlements today, she won’t make it past the ridge, even with an
escort.” Xena ruefully explained.

“Xena, what if they come over the walls?”

“We’ll put her down in the food cellar with the provisions. She’ll be safe there.”

Gabrielle contemplated her bread in doubt. “Why would her father keep her here? Just to tend the
inn? He’s left her in a war zone,” Gabrielle said in disgust.

“Shhh,” Xena whispered as she caught sight of Hana returning with mugs of water.

Hana placed the mugs on the table, and turned to leave. “Hana,” Gabrielle called after her. She
turned reluctantly.

“Look, I know what you want. I don’t want to leave. This is my home, and I have as much a right
to defend it as any man here.” Xena smiled at Gabrielle’s furrowed eyebrows.

“Sounds like someone else I know,” Xena said quietly.

Gabrielle looked to Xena and back to Hana. “It isn’t about right, it’s about ability.”

“I can defend myself. I’ve had to do it more times than I like to remember.”

There was malice in the words, and Gabrielle hated to think of the implications of her words. “I
don’t doubt that, Hana, but sometimes even I’m no match for these kind of people. I don’t want
to see you get hurt.”

“I’m not leaving,” she persisted.

“I know,” Gabrielle conceded. “Just promise me that you’ll stay hidden within the walls.”

The girl nodded hesitantly, overwhelmed that a stranger had shown her so much concern. She
looked back to the warrior, who was watching Gabrielle closely. She turned to leave, and with
one last glance at the warrior, she walked away.

Gabrielle stared into her bowl, stirring the meal back and forth.

“Are you all right?” Xena asked cautiously.

“Yeah,” Gabrielle answered, not looking up. “I just hate that she’s here. Even if we could’ve
gotten her out, she wouldn’t have gone.”

Xena sighed deeply, unable to think of a way to comfort her friend. “She’s strong willed, that’s
for sure.”

Finally Gabrielle looked up to meet Xena’s eyes. “Stubborn is what she is.”

“Yep, stubborn as a brick wall,” Xena agreed. “Sounds so familiar. I know someone just like

“I wonder who,” Gabrielle pondered with a smile. “You wouldn’t dare be talking about me,
would you?”

Xena raised her left eyebrow, and shrugged her shoulders. Gabrielle smiled playfully before taking
a bite of the rich dark bread. Xena reveled in being able to bring a smile to that face. If I do
nothing else in this life, I want to be able to do that everyday, she thought to herself.

A shout from outside the tavern brought Xena to her feet, and she hurried to the tavern door with
Gabrielle only a second behind her. Once outside they pushed through the crowd to the center of
the focus. There, being carried by a townsmen, was the body of a man, fresh blood still coursing
down his chest from a deep slit to his throat.

“Put him down,” Xena yelled. The man gently laid the lifeless body down on the muddy ground.
Xena came to her knees beside him, and felt for a pulse, a breath, any sign of life. There was none.
She shook her head, and rose to stand again.

A man came forward staring at the body laying on the ground. “I know this man. His name is
Manis. He was one of the men taken from Cahterre.”

Xena thought as much. “Take his body outside the walls and build a pyre.”

“But whoever left him here could still be out there,” a member of the town’s militia pointed out.

“They sent it as a message, not an ambush. Let’s send them a message back. You,” she pointed at
the man who knew Manis. “And you, take his body, and build a pyre.” She rose her voice for all
to hear. “Those manning the walls will keep watch for any sign of the enemy. Someone here let
them walk right into our midst. Don’t let it happen again.” She allowed an anger to come into her
words, just enough to scare the people into reality. With one last icy glare, she turned to walk
back through the crowd.

She stopped short at Gabrielle’s shocked dazed expression. “Xena, why would they do that?”

Xena took Gabrielle by the shoulders, and forced her to look away from the dead man. She turned
her around, pressing her to walk ahead. When they were well away from the crowd, Xena turned
Gabrielle around to face her. “They did that just to get that exact reaction out of you. They want
us to be frightened. We have to show them that we’re not.”

“Even if you are?” a voice called from behind Xena.

Recognizing the voice, Xena whirled around to face the speaker. Xena struggled to hide her
unbelief at the person before her. “Azure?”

“You look surprised, Xena. Don’t worry, though, I was just as surprised to learn that you were
here. A nice surprise though, don’t you think?” a tall woman said, smiling sweetly. Her shoulder
length auburn hair blew behind her in the wind, and the dimples in her cheeks belied the menace in
her cold gray eyes.

Xena took a step forward, bringing herself face to face with Azure. “I’m not sure anyone’s ever
referred to me in the same sentence with nice. You killed that man.”

“Of course, I did. You said it yourself, look at them, they’re scared out of their wits. They’re like
sheep.” Azure scanned the crowd with sharp intelligent eyes, taking in the chaotic stir of unarmed

“I would say you were leading these men by the tactics used, but then again a leader doesn’t send
herself on menial tasks, like delivering a dead farmer. Have you been demoted to delivery girl?”

“You were right the first time, Xena. I am in charge of these men, second only to one. You know
me, I love these menial tasks, as you call them. It’s just business, don’t take it so personally.”

“You’re either real sure of yourself, or you’re real stupid. All it would take is one word from me,
and these people would love to tear you apart for what you’ve done to them.”

“No, I don’t think you’ll do that. Do you see one armed man in this courtyard? Besides, I know
you, you like the challenge of trying to defeat me in battle.”

“You don’t know me anymore,” Xena swore through gritted teeth.

“She has a temper, doesn’t she, little one?” Azure said to Gabrielle with a wink. “I’ve seen that
temper in action. But then again if you’re as close to her as I was then, I’m sure you’ve seen it

Gabrielle looked uncertainly to Xena. “Leave these walls now. I won’t look away a second time,
Azure.” Xena snarled though clenched jaws.

Azure bowed her head in mock honor. “Oh and Azure! If you were really smart, you’d call off
your attack on this town.”

Azure laughed pleasantly, and disappeared into the crowding throngs of men. Xena looked after
her long after she was gone.

“Xena?” Gabrielle said quietly.

Xena shook her head, and seemed to come back to herself. “Wh...what?”

“Who was that?”

“Let’s go back to the room. I have to get a few things.” She turned on her heel back toward the
inn. Gabrielle looked through the crowd, searching for the auburn face or the distant gray eyes.
She didn’t see them, but they saw her.

* * * * * * *

Gabrielle caught up with Xena on the second floor, she had to rush to keep up with Xena’s
anxious steps. “Xena?” No response. Xena unlocked the heavy door, and pulled it open, not
waiting for the questioning bard. “Xena!” Gabrielle shouted again.

Xena heard the anxiety in Gabrielle’s voice, and she stopped immediately in the center of the
room. She knew she couldn’t get away with changing this subject, the question was, how much
should she tell? Gabrielle slammed the door shut, and walked around Xena to stand before her

“Who was that?” she asked softly.

“She served in my army a long...long time ago,” Xena began, imploring her emotions to numb
themselves against the unwelcome memories. “She was very young, and very naive. She had no
home, no family, she had nothing. She had come to my army from a village near Apollonia. Only
two moons before, I had burned her village to the ground. I ordered my army not to leave a house
or even a stable standing...many villagers were killed.” Xena swallowed the self contempt that
stuck in her throat. She went on, struggling to keep her voice even. “She survived on her own
until she decided to find my army, and when she did, she walked straight into our camp, head held
high, her eyes scanning for the face of a leader. She marched right up to me, never faltering, never
wavering. She dropped down on one knee, and pledged her undying loyalty to me. I always loved
her for that.”

She dropped her eyes to study Gabrielle after she realized she had said the last words aloud.
Gabrielle refused to give Xena a reason to stop, she didn’t move. She didn’t let even a hint of her
possessiveness show.

“She served me faithfully for three years before she betrayed me. I knew it was coming, but I
couldn’t do anything about it.” Couldn’t or wouldn’t, Xena asked herself. “I sent men to hunt her
down, and bring her back to me.”

A long painful silence passed, the two women staring at the other. Each waiting...waiting for the
other to speak. “What were you going to do to her?” Gabrielle finally brought herself to ask.

Xena gritted her teeth, and forced Gabrielle to hear the words, “I would have killed her,
Gabrielle.” Xena searched those inviting green eyes for a sign of condemnation. But that was
something Gabrielle had never offered Xena, nor would she begin now. Xena saw only tenderness
there, so familiar, so forgiving. “They never found her, and the ones who did, she killed.”

“Why is she here?”

“She’s doing what I taught her to do.”

“But this changes everything. You know her, how she thinks, how she’ll move. You said yourself
that you know her tactics,” Gabrielle offered, ever the optimist.

Xena nodded to herself, deep in thought. “She loves a good challenge. It’s never about the
victory, only the challenge it can provide. I can use that against her.”

Gabrielle turned away from Xena then, pushing away the bitterness she saw in Xena’s eyes.
Gabrielle knew from experience, that the only one who could hurt Xena was someone Xena had
allowed herself to care about. Xena never did anything half way, when she opened her heart for
you, she offered you everything she was. Gabrielle couldn’t understand a person who held that
gift in their hands, and then threw it away. When she turned back around, Xena was in the corner
frantically rummaging through the saddlebag.

“What are you looking for, Xena?”

“I need parchment and ink,” she answered, clearly frustrated.

Gabrielle came to her knees at Xena’s side, and gingerly took the bag from her hands. She
reached her hand to the bottom of the bag, and pulled out a clean piece of parchment and a quill
with an ink jar. She handed them over to Xena, who took them slowly from her hands. Their
fingers touched briefly, and Xena looked sadly to Gabrielle. She offered an apology in her eyes,
and Gabrielle smiled in acceptance.

“What do you plan to do?”

“Give them their one and only chance to surrender,” Xena answered with that gleam in her eye.

Gabrielle knew that gleam, and the intensity behind it. The battle had just turned into an all out


Chapter 4

Azure pushed the chestnut mare hard across the ridge that separated the army from Antopia. She
saw the first sign of her men keeping vigil on the summit of the hill, and she watched them as their
stares followed her hungrily. Her eyes dared them to even try, but they looked away. They knew
the sting of her anger too well.

She brought the horse to a canter, and rode through the ranks of resting men. If Othello took
away the warmth of a fire from the men, then he repaid them with adequate rest. Morale was
always high under Othello. He made sure of it. A waiting boy took the mare’s reins as soon as
Azure had brought her to a halt. She dismounted the horse, and paced to the leader’s tent. The
attendant guards bowed in salute as she walked past, and held the tent flaps open. She entered and
stood before Othello, who was bent over a small table piled with maps. She stood silently, waiting
to be acknowledged.

“Azure, how did the delivery go?” he asked looking up from the table.

“It went well, as expected. The town is ill prepared for an attack. The provisions are low, and we
outnumber them near two to one.”

“Good...good. And the walls?”

“The walls may prove some difficulty. They’re manning all four walls.”

Othello looked up in amused surprise. “Smart. Who taught them that?”

Azure reveled in the discovery she had to report. “Xena is aiding them.”

“The destroyer of nations? Wow, I’m flattered that they think so much of me. This will make it
interesting. We strike at first light. Send the riders to the southern wall, and the rest will divide
themselves between the northern and the western wall.”

“If I may, Othello?”

“What is it?” he asked warily.

“Xena. I trained under her. She’ll be expecting that. I say we put all of our men on the northern
wall. We’ll overwhelm them from there, they won’t put up much of a struggle.”

“I concede to your judgment then. You are the commander.”

“Thank you Othello. Will you ride in with us?”

“No, I trust you completely. I have other work to do, but I want a full report once the town’s
been taken. We’ll march on to Sedroia the following day.”

Azure bowed her head, and made her exit. She walked to her tent, which felt cold and bare
compared to Othello’s warm lit space. No fire or strong wine to chase away the cold tonight. She
sank into the pallet, layered with soft hides, and pulled her dark cloak tightly around her
shoulders. Azure longed to be the rightful leader of this army, even as much as she respected and
revered Othello’s authority.

Horse’s hooves, she heard the pounding of the rider before he had even reached the watchmen on
the hill. She tore through the tent opening, and pushed through the army of men, also coming out
of their shelters to see the origin of the noise.

Danvers, the night watchman, came forward on his mount tugging the lead rope of a dark horse
bearing a cloaked rider. Azure walked up to the stranger, and pulled him roughly off the horse,
throwing him onto the ground.

“Who are you?” Azure demanded.

“I have brought you a message from Antopia asking for your surrender,” the man strained to say
between painful gasps for air through broken ribs.

A contagious laughter erupted through the gathered men, but Azure remained quiet. The
messenger still lying prone on the ground, held a rolled parchment in his hand, and he offered it to
the woman. Azure took the paper, and studied the insignia stamped into the wax that sealed the
message. It was a spiraling circle crossed through with double swords. Azure remembered the
symbol, it was the emblem of Xena. She tore open the parchment, and unrolled the paper. Inside
was a brief demand of immediate surrender.

“You fools,” she yelled. “This is her way of sending us a warning. Do not make the mistake of
underestimating her. She’s defeated armies more than this one, and she’s intent on stopping us.
She won’t give up easily.”

“Not until you’ve put a blade through her chest, aye?” Othello bellowed from behind her.

She whirled to face him, his eyes ablaze with anger. “Apparently, Manis wasn’t enough to warn
them. Send the messenger back.” He lifted a hand, and men moved to obey him. He gestured for
Azure to follow, and he walked determinedly back to his tent. Once inside he pushed her down
into a chair, and stood, towering over her.

“I give much thought and effort to keeping this army in high spirits, to keep them confident. You
undermine that when you make them doubt a victory.”

“Othello,” Azure assured him, “I am giving them fair warning of their adversary. I know her.”

“I don’t doubt your word, just use caution when addressing these men,” he warned. Othello
dismissed her with a wave of his hand, and she rose to stand, hesitating only for a moment.

‘Another time,’ she told herself.

With that she left, leaving Othello wondering at his decision to give her command of an army he
had spent moons preparing. For a victory, he had waited for his whole life.

* * * * * * *

They lay on the bed, in the still darkness, neither finding sleep willing to take them. Gabrielle
looked over to Xena, sneaking glances to see if the warrior had fallen asleep. Xena lay on her
back, her hands folded over her chest, eyes closed. Gabrielle could tell by her breathing, though,
that she was still awake, and so she rolled over on her side and leaned on her elbow, propping her
head on her hand.

Xena slowly opened one eye, and raised her eyebrows in question at the watching bard. “Xena?”

“Umhm?” Xena mumbled in reply.

“Do you ever feel afraid the night before a battle?”

Xena fully opened her eyes at the question, and she turned to face Gabrielle. “Yes.”

Gabrielle’s eyes shot up in surprise. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“I fear for you” she answered shyly, “...and for these people. Many of them won’t live to see
tomorrow night’s sunset. I feel responsible for them...but mostly, Gabrielle...mostly I feel
responsible for you.”

“I can take care of myself, Xena.”

“I know that,” she said fondly. “But what would I do if anything happened to you? Every time we
go into a battle or warzone, I have to think about that, and yes, it frightens me.”

Gabrielle felt all the words on her tongue fall away, and she couldn’t find anything that would
match the warrior’s words. Instead, she shifted over closer to the warrior, and lay her head on
Xena’s shoulder. Xena wrapped her arm around the bard, and fought away the cold damp that
permeated the small room. For this night they were together.


Chapter 5

They found themselves at dawn atop a wall overlooking the ridge to the north. They had watched
the massive army march for near a candlemark and still they were out of the range of the
townpeople’s arrows. Xena became more tense, yet more calm as the warriors drew nearer.

The sky was thick with mist and fog, and the sky thundered with the threat of more rain. Their
breaths were visible in the frigid air, and ice had formed in their blowing hair. Gabrielle looked to
the clouds, dark and turbulent. She shook the moisture from her eyes, and peered over the wall at
the gathering army.

The infantry lined up one beside the other, marching dutifully in straight unwavering lines. They
carried spears, and broad swords, marching behind large oblong shields that covered their entire
bodies. Behind them were the shining metal of the infantry’s helmets. They were armed with
spears and javelins in one hand, and large shields in the other. The nervous horses pranced wildly
beneath the horsemen, and their breath steamed in the air. Two flags flew at the forefront, a red
flag with the black silhouette of a bull, the other a white flag, with two red diagonal stripes. They
marched determinedly, fierce, capable, and proud of their strength and the fear they injected in the
opposing town.

Xena, too, observed the line of men, and she yelled back to the others with them on the northern
wall, “They have no bowmen, seize the advantage, and take as many as you can with your bows
and your slings.”

“Xena, they’re not moving, or dividing. Will they only attack this wall?” Gabrielle asked.

“Azure will change her strategy now that she knows I’m here. If I see that they won’t divide once
they’re in range, I’ll double the men on this wall,” she answered without removing her eyes from
the field.

Azure called the first line of men to attention. With one shout, they stormed ahead, soon the
second line followed, then the third, and finally the fourth. Their cry became a great thunder of
noise, and the villagers winced at the sound.

Within a heartbeat, Azure, atop the chestnut mare, shouted another command, and a great roar
of beating hooves shook the ground violently. She rode out in front, with her sword held high.
Just then the first line of infantry were within the villager’s arrow range, and a dark blanket of
arrows blackened the sky. Many men fell, but the others stepped over them, and continued on.
The second wave came within reach of the sling propelled pellets, and the sound of their
shattering bones filled their ears as they fell.

Xena whistled, and a barrage of men from the southern wall joined her on the northern wall.
“Ready yourself,” she shouted to Gabrielle, who stood within arm’s length of the warrior.
Gabrielle clutched her weapon, unable to know if she was ready for the violence sure to come.

The first line of the army had reached the walls, and they began to scale the rocky barrier. The
second line of warriors reached the gate, and they pounded on the wooden entrance with a great
battering ram. Xena slashed at any hand, or head that came within reach, but soon men were
coming over the walls in waves. The villagers fought back even as spears flew over the wall from
the third line below. The remaining men of the town militia, who had been ordered to defend the
other three walls, came running in reinforcement. Half of them ran to the gate, as the other half
mounted the walls, pushing back the warriors who had scaled the northern wall.

Xena could feel the momentum shift, as the army was driven back. They regrouped as the
mounted riders entered the northern gate. As Xena vaulted off the wall to the ground below, she
saw there the end of their struggle.

The villagers had thrown down their weapons, even as men of the militia died fighting. They held
up their hands in defeat, as the infantry rode in through the unmanned gate. Soon Xena was
surrounded by spears, and swords.

“Let me through! Let me through!” Gabrielle yelled as she pushed through to stand beside Xena.
The adrenaline still pumped through Xena’s body, and she fought to control the battle rage within

A horse broke through the crowd of warriors, and it’s rider kicked at those who wouldn’t move
aside. “Drop your weapons, Xena. It’s over, before it even began. You should have told me they
would surrender so easily, I would have left half my men to pack up camp.” She breathed roughly
in and out with the rush of victory.

Xena stared in disbelief at the trembling villagers, dropping to their knees in fear. She had
overestimated them, and their desire to protect their homes. She stepped closer to Gabrielle,
putting herself between the bard, and Azure.

“Take the villagers outside the walls. Check them for weapons, and keep them away from the
town. I want the magistrate, the town elders, and any children left in the walls brought to me.
Move!” With one movement, they rushed to obey. Men from the town were kicked and shoved
through the gate, and out into the bloody fields. A soldier came up behind Gabrielle, and grabbed
her upper arm throwing her forward. “You too, girl!” he ordered.

Xena spun, and thrust her sword through his chest. She turned instantly and dared anyone else to
come close. “Halt!” came a yell from atop the horse. “Don’t touch those two!” she commanded.
In compliance the men moved away, escorting the remaining members of the militia out of the

Azure jumped down from the tall horse, and walked slowly. deliberately toward Xena. “Put the
sword down, Xena. It’s over.”

“It’s never over,” Xena countered.

“I want to be fair about this, don’t make this hard for me. I’ll spare you and your friend, even
though I have orders otherwise.”

Xena went against every instinct she had, and she threw the sword down to the puddled ground.

Azure came closer to Xena, close enough that their steaming breaths mingled together. “I
expected so much better from you. You were my teacher, my instructor, my mentor. I thought if
any one could challenge me, it would be the mighty Xena. I can’t blame you though. What can
you do with a bunch of weak, yellow farmers? I commend your efforts though, if they hadn’t
given up, it might have been interesting.”

“You are a coward for making war on unarmed villages. You’ll never be a true warrior, Azure.”

Azure’s sickeningly sweet smile fell, and she sighed deeply. “Are you the true warrior then, Xena?
You’re fighting in a hole in the road for people who wouldn’t cry if you died for them. I’m going
to build a reign like that of the Dorians.”

“If you’ll remember correctly, the Dorians fell with violent deaths at the hands of the Greeks.
What a reign that’ll be,” she said through a feral grin.

“You could join us Xena. You could teach these men many things. We could become great.”

“Join a disloyal, betraying, informant? I’d rather you cut me down right here.”

Azure smiled savagely. “As you wish,” she promised.

“Azure! The town magistrate died in the battle, and we’ve found two of the town elders. The
children have been evacuated, but did we find this one,” a man reported proudly as he held the
hair of a kicking screaming Hana.

“Hana!” Gabrielle yelled, stepping forward, still holding her sais. Azure made one upward motion
with her sword, and the sais were thrown from Gabrielle’s hands to the ground. Xena stepped
forward, near chest to chest with Azure. The malice in her eyes caused Azure to take a step back
away from the bard. Xena pulled at Gabrielle’s hands, and pushed her behind her back.

Azur turned to the soldier. “Let me see the girl.” The man pushed Hana to her knees before the
commander, and held her by the hair forcing her to look into Azure’s eyes. Dark brown looking
into cold gray.

“We’ll take her. She’s young enough. Someone will pay quite a bit for her. She’ll make a great
bargainning chip.” The man turned hauling the girl to her feet, and started toward the gate.

“Wait!” Gabrielle yelled, stepping around Xena.

“Gabrielle, no,” Xena ordered.

“Please don’t take the girl,” Gabrielle pleaded.

“Gabrielle,” Xena warned again.

Azure stepped forward, assessing the beautiful blonde at her mercy. She reached out to stroke the
soft cheek, but Xena’s hand shot out to grab at her wrist. “Don’t touch her,” she threatened.

They stared at one another, Xena and Azure, for an intense moment. “Let’s go. I want to make it
back to camp before noon.” Azure finally decided, beckoning for the man to bring the girl.

“Wait!” Gabrielle shouted again. “Please.” Azure turned back around, looking to the young

Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s shoulder and spun her around. “Don’t. Don’t you do this,” the words
fell trembling off her lips. Gabrielle begged forgiveness with her eyes, and tears welled up.

“Xena, please. I have to do this.” Xena read her mind, and knew the words before she even heard
them. Gabrielle turned her head to Azure, and said, “Take me, instead of the girl.”

“No!” Xena yelled ferociously, stepping in front of Gabrielle once again.

“Xena, there’s no other way.”

“There’s always another way, Gabrielle.” cried aloud in desperation.

“I have to do this, Xena.” Gabrielle urged.

“No, you don’t.” She blocked Gabrielle’s path with her body, and refused to move. She was
shaking all over, and a chill traveled down her spine.

“Xena, you have to let me go. I feel like this girl is somehow my responsibility.”

“Well, you’re my responsibility, Gabrielle. I won’t let you go. I won’t let you do this,” Xena

“Well, I think it’s a wonderful idea. Just seeing how much she’s obviously worth to you is reason
enough.” Azure interjected. “Leave the kid, and take the woman,” she ordered of the soldier.

“I love you, Xena,” Gabrielle whispered softly for only Xena to hear. “I love you.” A tear slipped
down her cheek, and Xena reached out to capture it. It felt cool and warm all at the same time on
Xena’s finger. She softly stroked the bard’s cheek, forcing back the threatening tears.

“Don’t go,” she begged of the only person she’d ever truly loved.

“If you give me any trouble Xena, I’ll kill them all, the villagers, and the girl. It’s a trade
agreement, we’ll make our demands in short time, and once you’ve delivered, we’ll trade, your
friend” for whatever we ask of you. No harm will come to her...if she behaves,” she added

Xena clenched her jaws tight on the violent anger building in her chest, blocking out any reason.
“I love you Gabrielle,” she whispered staring intently into those clear green eyes.

Azure grabbed Gabrielle roughly by her cloak front, and pushed her across the courtyard. Xena
bit her tongue, and arrested every muscle to keep from rushing forward. Her breathing came in
quick uncontrolled breaths. Her whole body tingled with the urgency to jump forward and pull
Gabrielle back behind her. “I’ll come for you,” she promised solemnly to the bard. “I will come
for you,” she yelled again louder for all the court to hear.

“I will come for her,” she vowed to Azure.

“Oh, I know. I invite you to try,” she smiled through gleaming teeth.

“If you touch her, I’ll hunt you down, and I will destroy you.” Xena’s chin trembled with the
violence of emotion.

“You must really love this one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this,” Azure commented.
With that, she turned pushing Gabrielle to walk in front of her.

Gabrielle turned slowly around, still walking. “Let me go,” she mouthed silently.

“I will come for you!” Xena yelled again in a desperate shout.

Before Xena could finish the sentence, Gabrielle had turned the corner. She stood there, as the
rain began to fall in cold icy sheets.

“Burn what you can!” a soldier hollered from within the shops.

Flames screamed to the sky, as smoke filled the court yard. Interminably, Xena stood, unable to
move. Unable to believe that she had willingly allowed Gabrielle to be taken by murderers. She
came to the realization then, and she ran at full speed out the walls, and into the open field. In the
distance, she saw Azure, atop the chestnut mare, holding Gabrielle in front of her. Xena breathed
in painful sobs, as she watched Gabrielle being taken away. Gabrielle stared back, looking for any
sign of the warrior princess. When she finally found the familiar blue eyes, she cried with relief.
She wanted just one last look, one last long look.

‘I’m so sorry, Xena,” she cried to herself.


Chapter 6


Gabrielle decided silence would be her best defense. Once they arrived at the camp, Azure led her
roughly to a bare tent, and tied her arms behind her, securing the rope to a peg staked to the
ground. She abided it quietly.

“How long have you been traveling with Xena?” she asked sternly.

Gabrielle locked her eyes to the ground, and clamped her jaws tightly shut.

Azure slowly bent down onto one knee in front of Gabrielle. She reached out gently, putting one
finger under her chin, and tilted her head up. She studied the bard’s gaze closely, and seeing the
defiance there, she reached back and savagely brought her hand down to strike the prisoner.
Gabrielle fell back, landing roughly on her bound hands. She heard, rather than felt the loud pop
exploding from her right shoulder. Before she could even blink twice, Azure was on her, pulling
her back up to a kneeling position. She pulled roughly on Gabrielle’s cloak, and shook her
violently. The motion jerked her shoulder sideways, and Gabrielle yelled awkwardly in pain.

Azure promptly released Gabrielle’s cloak, and sat back on her heels. “I just want some simple
answers. I don’t want to hurt you.”

The throbbing pain running down her arm told Gabrielle otherwise, but she kept her face

“Listen, Othello will have some demands sent to Sedroia. Money, supplies, weapons in return for
the hostages. Once we’ve received what we’ve asked for, you’ll be released.” She received no
response. “You have my word!” she shouted in exasperation.

Gabrielle looked firmly into Azure’s hard eyes, and then deliberately turned her head away.

Sighing in anger, Azure turned abruptly, leaving Gabrielle desolately alone.

Azure walked distractedly across the camp to Othello’s compound. Excited chaos swarmed the
leader’s tent, and Azure pushed past the celebration. Othello waited for her, holding two full
glasses of a dark red wine. When he saw her, her stood regally, and offered her a proud grin.

“Azure. Things went well I’ve been told.”

Azure took the proffered glass, and drank deeply letting the strong wine slide painfully down her
throat. “Very well, Othello. The villagers surrendered. We took a generous amount of provisions
from the town, and I’ve brought you three hostages, two of them town elders.”

“Yes, and what of the third?”

Azure swallowed cautiously. “The third is the friend who travels with Xena.”

“And what of Xena?”

Warily, Azure continued. “She remains in the town.”

Calmly, Othello circled Azure, looking at her from head to boot. “Why?”

“I spared her, Othello.”

“I know that, but I want to know why,” he demanded.

“She surrendered to me, as did the villagers.”

“You had Xena at your mercy, and you left her there.”

“I brought her companion to you. I think she will carry great leverage in the negotiations with

“Why did you take the girl, if Xena surrendered?”

“She offered herself, Othello.”

“That warrior is worth one hundred of those villagers, and all you brought me was her traveling
companion?” Othello angrily yelled.

“Oh, she’s much more than that to Xena.”

“You want her to come here, don’t you?” Othello asked as he continued to encircle Azure. “I
didn’t put this army together so that you could settle your personal vendettas!”

“Othello, Xena is a powerful adversary. She will go to great lengths to recover this woman,
including the negotiations for the surrender of Sedroia. It will also keep her distracted enough
during our dealings with Sedroia to stay out of our way,” Azure reasoned.

“You put up a fine defense, but the truth is still this; you used this army to gain your personal
revenge. You are to yield control of this army, you are no longer commander.

Azure nodded in acquiescence. “Instruct Jakob to have the men prepared to march tomorrow
morning.” Azure nodded again, and turned to leave. “Oh, and Azure. Bring the girl to me, Xena’s

“Yes, Othello.”


Xena walked the rainsoaked embers of the town, lost to herself. The shops were no more than
ashes, but most of the homes had been spared. The remaining villagers rummaged through the
houses of those who had died like raiders, taking anything valuable. People who had once been
called neighbors were now vandals and thieves. Their townspeople hadn’t even been buried and
their things were distributed among the remaining.

The stable had been untouched by the dying fires, but the inn wasn’t as fortunate. When Xena saw
the billowing smoke rising from behind the inn, she rushed into the tavern, dodging shifting flames
to dash up the stairs, quickly being eaten away by fire. The room where she had spent the
previous two nights was filled with a choking wall of smoke. It stuck to her lungs, making her
breath hard to catch. The sheer heat from the blaze turned her skin to a flushed red. There, she
saw the saddle bag thrown against the wall near the bed. She threw the satchel over her shoulder,
checking to make sure all of Gabrielle’s scrolls were accounted for, and gave the room one last

“Do you ever feel afraid the night before a battle?”

She could still hear the bard’s voice in her head. ‘If only I’d known,’ she thought to herself.

She bent low and ran out the room door, through the hallway, and down the ravished staircase.
Boards from the wooden steps broke away with her weight, and she jumped to the floor. She
made it away from the doorway just as the flames licked at the wooden door.

“How did this happen?” Xena asked herself. “ I let her go,” she berated herself as she squeezed
her eyes shut. She shook away the desperation that threatened her, and rubbed her red smoke
filled eyes in agitation.

“Xena?” a voice called from behind.

Xena didn’t turn to face the speaker, unable to acknowledge the voice she knew. “What?” she
demanded curtly.

“Where did they take her?” Hana asked.

“To their camp, I imagine.”

“I didn’t know she was going to do that,” Hana pleaded.

“I did.”

“What will they do to her?”

It was the same question running through Xena’s mind. “They’ll use her to trade for concessions.”

“I’m so sorry, Xena.”

Xena nodded, and walked away.


“Listen to me ,” Azure instructed as she released Gabrielle’s bindings from the pegged ring.
“Answer Othello’s questions when you know the answers, don’t give him reason to become
angry, and ask to retain your guards if he excuses them.”


“Because I’m one of them. He won’t touch you if I’m in his presence.”

“Touch me?” Gabrielle inquired indignantly. “You can serve a man who would do that to a

“Not that kind of touch. Othello will beat you, if you refuse to answer him. Listen to me, and he
won’t lay a hand on you.” Azure pulled Gabrielle up by her bound hands. Gabrielle moaned a
stifled cry of pain. “What is it, your shoulder?” Gabrielle nodded. Azure prodded and poked
around the tender joint. “You should have told me, I can set the joint back in place.” With a twist
and a crack, Azure rotated the arm, driving Gabrielle to her knees.

An inky blackness drove her near unconsciousness, as a shot of pain tore through her shoulder.
Her face broke out in fine perspiration as she embraced the numbness that deadened her arm. The
persistent throbbing had abated to be replaced by an all consuming ache. “Thanks,” Gabrielle
muttered sarcastically through clenched teeth.

“Thank me later.” Again she pulled Gabrielle to a stand, and walked out the tent opening, where
three other guards joined their procession. She was lead to a forest green double tent where wine
was being poured freely. Once inside, she was greeted cordially by a tall broad man with curling
black hair that framed a face, which under normal circumstances, Gabrielle would have taken for

“Come in, I consider you my honored guest for the evening. Please sit, relax, eat a meal with me.
You know, it is quite a familiar saying in an army that, meals are your only pay, other than war
and plunder.”

Gabrielle’s abrasive restraints were taken away, and she was pushed forcefully into a chair before
a lavishly set table. She studied Othello, straining to understand the man behind the army.

“What is your name, young one?”

Gabrielle debated, then decisively, “I am Gabrielle of Poteidaia.”

Understanding sparked in Othello’s eyes. “Poteidaia is not far from here. In fact I’m sure we’ll
make a quick stop there on our way to Sedroia,” he assured her.

Gabrielle bit back the less than bardly words, and focused on keeping herself calm. “Good, then
you can just drop me off.”

Othello let out a mirthful laugh, and nodded approvingly at the bard. “Sure I could do that, but I
need you more than you know, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle looked questioningly to Azure, who shook her head sternly. “Need me?” she asked,
turning back to Othello.

“Sure. When we send our demands to Poteidaia, I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to meet the
demands in trade for you.”

“In trade for what?”

Unconditional surrender, of course. You don’t realize how many lives you’ll be saving.”

Gabrielle controlled her breathing, and sighed deeply. “Poteidaia won’t surrender.”

“Of course they will. They’ll hear of the fall of Antopia, they’ll receive my demands in return for
one of their own, and I’m quite sure Xena will be there to make sure they’re convinced,” Othello
reported candidly around a mouthful of bread.

Just the mention of Xena’s name brought a comfort, but Gabrielle couldn’t restrain herself any
further. She let out a whimsical laugh. “You don’t know Xena do you? She will not surrender,”
Gabrielle promised.

Othello smiled pleasantly in answer, and poured more wine. He slowly lifted the dark liquid to his
mouth, and sipped smoothly from the glass. Confidently, he leaned over the table, putting his face
close to Gabrielle’s and whispered softly, “If Xena will not surrender, you will be the first
Poteidaian casualty.”

Shaken, Gabrielle set her eyes to the food laid before her. She pushed the plate away, and rose to
stand. A guard came forward, and forced her to sit again. She looked expectantly at Othello. “As
an honored guest, am I allowed to seek rest when I see fit?”

Othello smiled warmly, and moved to stand before her. He reached out a cavalier hand to help her
rise, but Gabrielle stood, ignoring his gesture. “Take your rest. Tomorrow we march.” There was
so much behind those words, malice, avidity, and desire. Gabrielle averted her eyes and refused to
look at a man who took so much pleasure from his power.

She turned to leave, and heard the courteous, “Till I see you again, Gabrielle,” from behind her.
She walked with purpose toward the tent she had been led to, leaving her guards. scurrying to
keep up. She heard Azure come up at her left shoulder, but she ignored her angry gaze. Gabrielle
came to the tent opening, and flung open the flaps.

“Stand watch,” Azure commanding of the remaining guards, as she followed Gabrielle inside. She
strained in the darkness to listen for an attack from the bard. Expectantly it came, she sidestepped
to her right, avoiding the strike of a wooden stick aimed at her head. In one motion, she reached
out, grabbing an arm, and knowing her opponent’s weak spot, she brought her knee up to strike
the shoulder attached to the arm. A cry of pain escaped the girl’s throat, and she dropped to her
knees before Azure’s feet.

She walked over to the table across the tent where she knew a candle was located. She beat the
flint, and the candle sparked into existence. Shaking her head, she walked over to the girl, who
kneeled on the wet dirt grabbing at her shoulder in agony. “You should not have done that,”
Azure lectured. She pulled Gabrielle’s arm away from the now swollen shoulder, and checked to
see if she had knocked it out of joint. It was bruised and distended, but it wasn’t dislocated. It
would, however, be useless to her for several days, if she lives that long, Azure added to herself.

Azure bent low to force Gabrielle to look her in the eye. Once she held eye contact with her she
hesitated to make sure Gabrielle understood the severity of her words. “I am the best ally you
have in this camp. Don’t make me an enemy.”

“You made yourself an enemy when you attacked that village,” she disagreed through panting

“I did what I had to do,” Azure yelled in response. “I didn’t want to bring you here, but when you
offered yourself in front of my men, you left me no choice. I would have been just as happy to
walk out of that city with the girl.”

“You do what you have to do, and I’ll do what I have to do.”

Azure sighed in frustration, and pulled a length of rope from the corner. She pulled Gabrielle’s
arms tightly behind her, and secured the rope to a peg staked into the ground. She sat back on her
heels, watching Gabrielle as she hung her head in despair, and grimaced at the biting pain now
alive again in her shoulder.

“I will bring you some herbs from our healer in the morning before we leave. You won’t be much
good for traveling, but at least you’ll find the march bearable.” With no expectation of gratitude
she turned and left.

Gabrielle watched the retreating figure, and closed her eyes against the discomfort. “I know I did
the right thing,” she said aloud to herself. “But why does it feel so wrong?” She longed to be with Xena tonight as the sound of pouring rain beat loudly against the canvas of the tent. A bitterly cold breeze whipped through the flimsy material, and brought chill bumps to Gabrielle’s skin. She curled into a ball, and moved to lie down, but her hands were bound so closely to the peg, that her arms would not allow any movement, even enough to lie on the ground. With a miserable ache in her chest, and a pulsing throb in her shoulder, she bowed her head, and drifted off into a restless sleep.

Continued - Part ll


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