Chapter 3: Questions
Gabrielle knew she had to act, the poison was already in the Warrior Empresss blood stream. The Conqueror was good, but this was too well coordinated. The young bard called upon the quickening. She felt the quickening hit and she was striking the first flight of arrows. Then, the young Bard started the whirling shield defense with her enchanted staff. 'I wish her soldiers would disarm these guys. This is using all my reserves. And I still have to heal her.'
With all her concentration on the quickening, the Bard could not see what was going on around her. The blonde Bard had to hope that the guards stopped this attack before her strength ebbed. Finally the arrows stopped coming. So Gabrielle stopped her shield defense. When several courtiers moved toward the Warrior Empress, the True Bard stopped them with a sharp staff blow. The young woman had no idea, which one of them was responsible for this attack.
When the Empresss personal guard arrived, the True Bard, the Keeper of the gift of Healing moved to the Conqueror and chanted the arrow out of her. Then the young Bard chanted a cleansing and healing spell, which used her final reserves of energy. It was all she had; Gabrielle had used all her strength. 'I must stand and leave, before ' she thought just before she passed out.
When she awoke she was in a strange and comfortable bed. She tried to focus. Her head was pounding. She had drained herself. It always left her with a hangover when she drained herself. She closed her eyes and her spirit drifted from her body. Her spirit rose and looked to the West. Her spirit form sought and found her sister. The spirit of the True Bard spoke to her sisters mind, "Good morrow sister. How fares the plan?"
The brown haired druid replied, "The plan goes well sister. Dana says that you should remember that you must lose. She knows you sister. She knows you well; you dont like to lose."
The spirit laughed and projected, "I will follow my heart as I always do, sister. Dana would not have it any other way. I must go the Conqueror returns."
The spirit returned to its body. The Bard opened her green eyes to look upon the searching blue eyes upon her. She felt the mutual attraction. The young woman had been told it would occur, but the feeling was so intense it scared her. She gave a smile that seemed to deliver a sensual blow to the Conqueror.
The raven-haired beauty returned the smile without thinking and asked, "Why?"
The golden-haired bard knew that was a multiple question, so she decided to answer them all, "I intervened for several reasons. One, I am sworn to uphold all life and could not see you slain out of hand. Secondly, we have a shared destiny. Third, I was sent here to protect you and guide you. Finally, I love you."
These were not the reasons she expected and responded, "I thought you were here to tell me the truth."
Green eyes gazed upon the Conqueror and answered the implied question, "I have told you all the truth. I do not lie. Our destiny is linked. The Fates have entwined our treads and our souls are linked. I was sent by my destiny to be your guide to a better life. I have watched your life for as long as I can remember, how could I not love you?"
The older woman could feel the connection. There was no denying it. There was no denying that she felt something for this woman. There was no denying that she needed her words to be true, but years of pain and betrayal had hardened her to such words. So the dark warrior said, "How do I know you speak the truth, Bard."
The Bard pretended to be lost in thought and said, "We will come back to this. I will think of a way to convince you. But first we need to talk about the assassins."
The Conqueror sighed and replied, "Yes, the assassins. They were Macedonian bowmen. They were not part of my normal guard. My guard captain Cortese got ambitious and substituted assassins for some of my guards. Had you not been there I would have been hard pressed. So that does help your argument, but it does not convince me."
The Bard smiled and inquired, "How is your shoulder? Does it still pain you?"
The Conqueror looked hard into guileless eyes and replied, "It has almost fully healed. I have seen such power only once before. How did you do it?"
The golden blonde shrugged and held out her hands, "I can show you my power, but I cannot explain it. Give me your hands."
Tentatively the Conqueror reached out and grasped the young womans hands. She immediately felt a tug, a pull and then she was in a strange place with the young Bard. She queried, "Where are we?"
The young woman laughed a laugh that shook the place and answered quietly, "You know this place Xena. You have been here many times. I know I have seen you here. You did not see me, because you were not looking. However I saw you."
Xena nodded her head and said, "This is the place of all power. This is from where I drawn my deepest strength."
Gabrielle smiled and said distantly, "When I was very young I was taken to a far away place to be taught skill and wisdom. One of my first gifts was scrying. I spent many candlemarks watching you in pools of clear water.
Remember when Lyceus died and you felt a presence?" Xena nodded, she did remember it. She recalled looking around to see if someone had touched her shoulder.
The pretty bard listed her head slightly and shyly said, "Yes, I touched your shoulder. You were in such pain I wanted to let you know that you were not alone, that I was there for you. I was severely punished for it. We are not allowed to touch a person when we are scrying it is a bad thing, but it was worth the switching."
The hardened warrior felt the truth and muttered, "Thank you."
Green eyes brightened and she continued, "I was there when Caesar nailed you to that cross. I was there when you were saved by MLila. Remember when you almost crossed into Hades, but a young girl came to you and led you out?"
Xena gasped, "Yes, I do! I thought it a dream. It was you? Did you get another spanking?"
A quick smile and the feisty woman replied, "Yes, but I will suffer more for you."
It was a statement, a prophecy. The Conqueror asked, "Was that a prophecy? You said you were not an oracle."
Gabrielle defended herself with the response; "I am not an oracle; that is a prophecy given to me by Dana, my patron Goddess. You are half God and visit this place freely. I am mortal and can only visit here through the power of a God or Goddess."
Xena said with a skeptical voice, "I have never heard of Dana. Do I know this Goddess?"
A voice behind her answered, "Yes, you do Xena."
Gabrielle lowered her head and was told by her Goddess, "Raise your head child. You are my chosen and may always stand to me."
Xena smirked, "So you are behind this Artemis. Is she your assassin?"
Gabrielle was pained. She had done nothing to demonstrate any harm. In fact she had saved the dark womans life. Artemis shook her head, "You know that is not true. You seek to bait me. Had she been an assassin, she would not have interfered and Corinth would be having a state funeral with you as guest of honor."
Xena angrily snapped, "Take us from here, Bard. I do not trust those who deal with the Gods."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and they were back in the Conquerors chambers. The dark woman yanked her hands from the young bards touch and yelled, "Leave here, now! You have done me service. So, I will not kill you, but you will go now."
Gabrielle sagged and sighed, "Xena, you asked me my reward for my song. I asked two things. You said I could have anything. Is your word not any good?"
This stung Xena. Her word was her most prized possession. It was all she thought she had left of the girl she was. She meekly replied, "Gabrielle, my word is good. You may speak truth to me, but nothing more."
The young blonde begged, "Xena, I will make you a wager. You are a woman of action and I am a woman of words. I will prove myself to you with my actions. I will contest you on the field of battle. If I win you will give me what I want. If I lose, I will give myself to you in slavery."
This offer startled the dark warrior. She considered it carefully. She looked for a trap and found none. So she answered, "We will have a wager, but I have some conditions. One, if I win, you will sever all ties to Artemis. Two, you will never leave me of your own free will."
The red tinted blonde replied. "You have my word, but I have one request. You will not bind me without my permission."
Xena nodded and said as she held out her hand to shake on the agreement, "Done."
Chapter 4: The Contest
The two women fought in the arena with no spectators or witnesses. The Conqueror had dismissed her guard. This was a private matter not to be shared with strangers, especially mere guards, who were not deserving of witnessing such a spectacle. Anyone who would have witnessed this fight would have seen a display of skills to rival the Gods. Both women were experts at their chosen weapon and had had years of practice with them. It showed in their battle.
The fight started slowly with each opponent testing the other. The Bard used her staff and Xena not wanting to damage her future property, the Conqueror used a staff as well. Early in the fight, the Bard demonstrated that she was far the superior with the staff, when she disarmed the Conqueror with a solid blow to the dark womans hand and follow through kick to the staff.
The two warriors fought with a grace and style that nearly poetic. They had been fighting with neither gaining an upper hand for nearly two hours. Each woman had long since called upon her own divine reserves without any results. The Gods watched with interest, but were unable to interfere.
Gabrielle couldn't believe it she had used her entire arsenal of staff work and druid spells, but Xena still would not go down. Another set of spinning kicks and staff trusts and kick faint followed by a staff spinning back strike reward Gabrielle with a solid strike to Xena's skull. However, it was not all the reserves that Gabrielle had left. Gabrielle had one strike set left in her.
Xena had never fought anyone like this girl-woman. Gabrielle had beaten back every attack and had managed to disarm her completely. Now, all Xena had was her body and her wits. Before Xena could call upon her final reserves, the Bard struck. Xena blocked the spinning kicks and dodged the staff trusts.
Too late, Xena realized she went for a kick faint and paid for it with a staff blow to her head. A wave of nausea went through the Conqueror's body. Her eyes were blurred and legs were unsteady, but Xena stayed up. The dark woman saw the finishing coming toward her head. She could not move in time, but the staff stopped and the young bard stepped back.
The Conqueror was momentarily at a loss, the Bard had given up victory, but she would not, it was now or never. Calling upon her last reserves, Xena gave a loud war cry and tumbled forcefully into the girl sending her sprawling. The dark ruler saw the young Bard grip loosen on her staff, taking the opportunity the Conqueror slapped away the rowan staff from the Bard. As the young Bard recklessly dove for the staff Xena kicked her in the head knocking her unconscious.
With blood running down her face and bruises aching everywhere, Xena staggered over to get the slave's collar, which she buckled and locked onto the strawberry blonde's neck. The Conqueror of the Eastern World and the Destroyer of Nations collapsed next to the unconscious Bard and passed out.
Chapter 5: Consequences
Gabrielle woke up in a Xena's bed again, but this time she was wearing a slave collar and was lying tied spread-eagled and naked to it. Gabrielle remembered the bet and that she had lost. It was obvious from the restraints that Xena still didn't trust her. Gabrielle was sore and disappointed. She had given her word and was still restrained.
A slave girl entered and was carrying a towel and a pail of water with the smell of herbs. The girl removed the bandages from the young Bard. The slave then washed the Bard's cuts and the bruises. Suddenly, a limping and bandaged Warrior Princess burst into the room, "Who has stripped and bound my slave? Who has reversed my will and broken my word?"
The slave girl dropped to the floor and whimpered she was sure that she was going to die. The Conqueror hobbled over to the bed and started to remove the restraints. She looked down upon her new slave and said, "I am sorry. Our bet is no more. My word has been broken and the bet is reneged. "
A guard came into the room and met an irate Conqueror. He bowed his head, as the Conqueror rose from the bed and stalked the guard. She ordered the frightened slave, "Wash the wounds and bind them. And find her some clean clothes. "
The slave leaped to her feet to continue her work and said, "Yes, Mistress. "
An angry predator paced around the sulking guard. She growled, "Who broke my word? Who bound my Bard without my permission?"
The guard knew he was a dead man, but he had served her loyally for eight years. So, he answered her truthfully, "I did my Emperoress. I did not know about your given word. I only thought to keep her from escaping. "
The Conqueror was in a quandary this was a man who had served through the good years and the bad. He had once been her lover. But he had broken her word. He had broken one of her foremost rules. He had to be punished. So Xena sighed, "Marcus, this pains me, but report to the dungeon. I will hear your case tomorrow. I must consider all my options. "
Marcus looked up and saw her pain and said, "Yes, your majesty. "
Gabrielle asked, "What will you do to him?"
The weary woman sighed, "I do not know. "
The Conqueror looked at the small woman nude before her. She was a magnificent beauty and a great warrior. Then dark warrior looked into the golden bards green eyes and asked, "Why did you let me win?"
Gabrielle thought of the various deceptions and evasions she could use, but decided to speak truthfully, "Because you wanted proof of my sincerity. I knew that the only way to do that was to give myself into your hands. "
Xena laughed and shook her head, "That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. I could have killed you or worse. "
Gabrielle looked into her blue eyes and responded, "Youll hurt me many times, but you will never kill me. It has been foretold. "
The Conqueror looked into her forest green eyes and wondered how she could ever hurt this woman. All she wanted to do was hold and protect her.
Chapter 6: Bargains
The Conqueror was many things, but her personally integrity was vital to her self-image. Their bet had included a promise that had been broken. So she was forced to say, "Since my word was broken, our bet is nullified. You are free to go though I still owe you for saving my life. "
The young bard sighed, "I named my reward. "
The Conqueror did not want this woman to leave her, but there was nothing left to bind the woman to her. So the Conqueror ventured to make a bargain, "You are an excellent Bard. Would you grace my court with your gifts and your consul?"
Gabrielle smiled and replied, "Have you not heard me? I am yours to command. I am here to serve and to love you. I seek only one thing in return. "
The dark woman became leery and asked, "What would that be?"
The young woman responded, "You are not ready to hear my request. I must prove to you that I worthy of what I seek. "
The Conqueror was very confused as she thought, No one did something for nothing. But by agreeing to stay without specifying a reward was showing a great deal of trust. This woman was either very confident in herself to earn what she wanted or she was very naive. Or maybe both, Im not sure, but this woman fascinates me. She is certainly worth what she asking for. So the Conqueror ventured, "Do you what to deal? Will you take the position I offer in exchange for a chance to prove to me that have earned what you seek. "
The golden-haired woman inquired, "I will only be your bard and advisor?"
The Conqueror raised an eyebrow and answered her question with a question, "Do you seek more?"
The True Bard spoke, "You want more and I will give it to you willingly. "
The raven-haired beauty became curious and queried, "What is it do you think I want?"
Gabrielle displayed a friendly smile and said, "My friendship and I grant it and accept your deal. "
Her blue eyes shone brightly as she studied the ramifications of the Bards statement. She decided to state the obvious, "I have no friends nor do I seek them. "
This assertion caused the blonde woman to laugh as she said, "You seek them, but you dont recognize them. "
The dark leader wanted to believe these words, but long hard experience had taught her better. But she decided to temporize and asked, "Who are these friends I fail to recognize. "
The Bard motioned for the standing woman to sit next to her. When the tall woman had sat beside her, she replied, "Me for one and Marcus for another. "
Xena lowered her head and sighed, "Unless I can think of a reason to spare him. I will lose a friend tomorrow. "
The green-eyed blonde asked, "Why must he die?"
Though it saddened her, the raven-haired ruler replied, "Because he broke my word. Do you realize the chaos if I allowed my given word to be broken"
"Then I remember no broken word. We had a bet and further words were spoken," the young bard reached for the collar that had been removed, but her dark friend restrained her hand.
Blue eyes searched green ones as the Conqueror asked, "Why do you do this? Marcus means nothing to you. "
The young Bard replied with a smile, "But he means a lot to you, so I am making a way for him to stay alive and then you will not lose a friend. "
The Conqueror called for a guard and ordered the release of her friend and said, "If you do not remember me giving you my spoken word, then I remember no bet between us. Do we have a bargain?"
The young woman held out her hand and replied, "We do. "
Chapter 7: White Pawn to King Four
The young soldier rode hard through the night he was due at the outpost by high sun the next day. He needed to make better time. The day he lost because of the barbarian raids on the Saxon villages was costing him.
He knew that the Conquerors army demand the best of its soldiers and that failure to complete assignments was frowned upon. Too many failures were fatal. He had never fail in his seven years of service, which is why he was given courier duty.
This was his first courier package and he really didnt want to fail in his first mission. He decided to take a small chance and skirted the river, which was barbarian territory. He smelled a camp and tried to avoid it. He cursed his luck for coming across a barbarian camp.
Suddenly, he smelled several more fires. This development required investigation. He dismounted and placed his horse in a strategic position. He crept silently toward the clearing that obviously was the home of those cooking fires. He peered into the clearing and saw a war party of over thousand. It was invasion force. This was bad.
He crept back to his horse, which had gotten a breather. The courier walked his horse quietly from the area and mounted and rode his horse nearly to death. He got to the outpost two full hours before dawn. He demanded, "I need to see the guard captain, now."
The sentry ran to get his captain. Couriers had a lot of clot in the Conquerors Army and it was not a smart idea to cross them. Moments later, the guard captain came running, while arranging his uniform. The guard captain demanded, "This better be important courier. "
The young courier bristled at the accusation. He did not wake guard captains for no reason. So he forcefully said, "Captain, I have dispatches and I found a barbarian camp of at least a thousand warriors six hours of hard riding to the southeast. They looked to be ready to invade Lower Gaul soon. "
The implications of an army between outposts ready to invade Lower Gaul were too frightening to consider. He grabbed the dispatches and raced to see the Outpost Commander. This situation needed to be countered immediately.
Chapter 8: Black Pawn to Kings Pawn Four.
The outpost legion was a Roman legion that was once one of Pompeiis finest, but they had come under the Conquerors banner after the fall of Gaul and the death of Pompeii. This legion consisted of four cohorts, which number about a thousand men. They were supported a hundred Mongol horsemen. They had come here only recently to strengthen the garrison.
The Commander was Macedonian. It was common in the Conquerors Army for the commander and his command to be of different nationality. She believed that her army needed to be diverse and adaptable. Additionally, she didnt trust anyone and wanted to keep everyone honest.
The Macedonian had sent the young courier with a report of his situation and his plan to the Region Commander, who was located next closest outpost to the barbarian army. He asked for help. He also included a recommendation for the young man to get another promotion. He didnt have the power but General Borias did and he was the Region Commander.
The Macedonian Commander sent his Mongolian cavalry ahead to slow down the advancing barbarian forces. He needed three full days to get in position ahead of the advancing army.
His only hope was to get into a defensive position before the Barbarians could advance too far into Gaul. If he were forced into the offensive war, he would lose. He just didnt have the numbers necessary to go on the offensive. He needed time.
End of Part 2.
Return to The Bard's Corner - Willowluvyr