See Part 1 for disclaimers
Darkening of the Light
The Song Remains the Same
They left Amphipolis the next morning, and Gabrielle found that companionable silence came easier for her. There was a time that she had felt the need to fill the conversational void with words; in part, it was her own insecurity with their relationship, but it was also the overwhelming need to have explanations for everything.
She had learned to listen to her surroundings in the past yearthat had been Xenas unknowing gift. Without the warrior to anticipate trouble, Gabrielle had quit talking to herself and started listening to everything around her in an effort to try to hear what Xena could hear. It had been a game of survival. Many of the questions she had bombarded the hapless warrior princess with could be answered just by paying more attention to the world around her.
The walked their horses along the coast road toward the port, and Xena began to sing something low and melodious in her rich voice. Singing was a rarity for Xenaa talent usually used to sing the dead to eternal sleep. Gabrielle listened intently to the song, memorizing the words to write them down later.
She has hair the color of ripened wheat
Eyes, the deepest sea
And everywhere my path will take me
Her vision it still rides with me
For there is no sweeter solace
No sweeter melody
Than the memory of her gentle voice
To sing me to my sleep
Xena paused and looked out over the ocean, her thoughts turned inward. Gabrielle was loathe to intrude, but for once, Xena volunteered the information.
"Its an eastern song I heard while I was in Chin. It made me think of you."
Gabrielle rubbed Xenas back gently, sensing the tension. "Are there more words?"
"Yes." Xenas vibrant eyes were shuttered. She half-hoped Gabrielle would give up, but knowing her bard . "Ill sing the rest of it later."
Letting out a slow breath, the warrior relaxed. Xena nodded to the right. "Theres the port looks like theres a few ships in, so we should be able to find passage." She spared Gabrielle an assessing glance. "You okay?"
How can she know? Do I look green already? "Yeah."
"Mmm. I discovered this herb in Chin that supposedly takes care of that want to try some?"
"Like you need to even ask." They continued walking towards the port after a moment. "Where exactly are we going?"
"Its a small island called Thassos, to the west of here. Very damp."
"Why would Delios choose to start his kingdom there?" Gabrielle had readopted her staff, and its end made a satisfying thunk sound as it hit the ground. Her chobos were firmly strapped to her back and within reach, just in case.
"Gold," Xena said simply. "Marble. That, and a really weak government that was easy for him to take over." She gave Argo an absent scratch behind an ear. "Islands are easier to defend."
"Oh." She watched the road ahead for a moment or two. "Whats the plan?"
"Well " Xena drawled, "Since the island is only approachable by sea in two places, I figure hell have those covered by his army."
"So were going to slip in where he least expects it, then?"
Gabrielle sighed. "Why do I have a feeling this is not as easy as it sounds?"
Xena looked at her in amusement. "The vegetation near the coast is extremely thick almost impassable. I know some trails from my days as a ship captain."
"Before ?" Gabrielle let the question hang, unwilling to voice the name.
"Before Caesar, yes." The road started downward, and Xena elected to mount Argo and let her pick her way around the ruts. Gabrielle followed suit, her silence indicating that she was deep in thought.
When they arrived in the small village, Xena began doing some looking around, and settled on a small cargo vessel that would sell her passage and a small boat. Gabrielle took the horses to the nearby stable, leaving the warrior to negotiate terms. A price was quickly agreed upon.
The old man looked at her skeptically. "That lad oer there is going to Thassos, warrior. Why not take his ship?"
Xena felt Gabrielles presence behind her and stepped away, indicating for the bard to explain. Shes always been the best at that.
"My mother lives on the island, old timer. She wants an herb found only on the shore of the north end," Gabrielle said guilessly. "We cant get to it through the woods because the trees are too thick, so well take the boat, get the herb, then go to port."
The old man stroked his straggly beard, eyeing the blond with the sincere green eyes. Ah, well, no concern of mine. I need the denarii. "All right, miss you and your guard get aboard."
Gabrielle looked over her shoulder at Xena, giving her an evil grin. "Come, Bertha. Lets go find a dry place on deck." The eyebrow went up, and Xenas eyes promised retribution. Uh-oh. Maybe I should have gotten that seasickness herb first.
Xena gave Gabrielle a complacently villainous smile as she lead the way to the boat, and Gabrielle shivered in anticipation.
"Yknow, you could have enlightened me to the side effects of this miracle herb," Gabrielle grouched.
"What? And take all the fun out of it?" Xena examined her nails, idly cleaning them with her breast dagger. "Youre not sick, are you?"
"No " Gabrielle admitted grudgingly. "But ." She held up her hands in exasperation. "Look." Her palms looked like they were covered with blood.
Xena looked. And sniggered, trying hard to resist a full-blown belly laugh. "I didnt know it would be so hot out here, Gabrielle."
"Right." She looked at the sailors, who were staring at her in horror. "Xena theyre going to throw us overboard."
Xena tossed Gabrielle a cloth, and watched her mop the blood red sweat off of her body. "Eww. At least it doesnt stink." Her clothes were soaked through with red stain, and Xena decided to take pity on her. She fished though her medicine bag and produced another herb. "Chew this. Itll take away the stain."
Gabrielle looked at it as if it were alive, then gave a mighty sigh. "This is a testament to how much trust I place in you, warrior." She popped the wadded herb in her mouth and chewed it slowly. "Guh could you ever give me anything that tastes good?"
Xenas lips quirked as she settled back against a barrel. "Didnt your momma ever tell you that nothing thats good for you ever tastes good?"
Xena laughed, and pulled out a wrapped bundle. "Here. Mom made me promise to give this to you."
Gabrielle unwrapped it eagerly. "Nutbread! Your mom rules."
"Uh-huh. That should be your battle cry, you know. My warriors always said For Xena. Yours could say For Nutbread."
"Both things are worth fighting for." She gave a piece of the bread to Xena.
Xena looked at her bard, all covered with red, and felt like crying. "Thanks," she whispered. They both knew that she wasnt just thanking Gabrielle for the snack. Gabrielle squeezed Xenas hand gently, leaving a streak of maroon on the warriors skin.
Xena looked at the mark thoughtfully. "Anytime."
A cough sounded. "Were almost at the Northern point, ladies. Your boat is ready."
Xena nodded. "Thanks, old man." She got up to supervise the lowering of the vessel in the water.
Gabrielle gathered their belongings, but was very aware of the older man studying her. "Herb for sea-sickness," she supplied before he could ask. "Made me sweat red."
"Huh. Guess no one told you that wont happen if you dont swallow it." The old man observed, then hobbled away, chuckling.
Gabrielle narrowed her sea-green eyes on Xenas back. Rat. Then she grinned, unable to stay mad at her lover. Okay, I deserved that for calling her Bertha. I know better shes got more experience at retaliation than I do.
They descended the ladder and settled themselves in the ancient vessel. The cargo boat dropped the mooring line and the captain waved as he headed further west, away from the two women.
Xena picked up the decrepit oars and began rowing towards the shore, which appeared as a tiny speck in the distance. Gabrielle kept silent, enjoying the sea for the first time without incredible nausea. The Aegean was incredible shade of bluish green, and when she looked into the water, she could see porpoises running alongside the craft.
The waves got rougher closer to the rocks and reefs, but Xena expertly guided the small craft towards the island. Beyond the rocks, Xena steered them down the coast and into a small inlet.
Xena pulled the boat up onto the sand and helped Gabrielle climb out. "Go ahead and wash off here, if you want. Its going to be the only opportunity for a while."
Gabrielle gratefully stripped her clothes off and waded into the water, wincing as the cold hit the still healing wound on her thigh. "Ugh."
Xena, who had taken a bath before they had left, squatted at the waters edge and washed the sweat off of her face with a bit of cloth and some of her mothers herb soap. She tossed the bar to Gabrielle, who was immersed up to her neck in the calm green water.
Propping her elbows up on her knees, Xena sat on the sand and watched the bard wash her hair, admiring the way the water danced on her tanned skin. Cant do that here. Needing something to occupy her thoughts, she unsheathed her sword and began sharpening it in long, even strokes.
Gabrielle rinsed the soap from her hair and neatly braided it, squeezing the excess water out of it and tucking it into a haphazard bun on top of her head. Quickly scrubbing the rest her body, she rose up out of the water and made for shore.
Xenas eyes wandered over Gabrielles body, the sword momentarily forgotten. Gathering her wits, she tossed the bard a dry cloth.
Gabrielle grinned at the absorbed expression on Xenas face. As she began to dry off, she commented, "Im still too thin."
Xena smiled, a warm light shining in her blue eyes. "Nah. Youre perfect." Gabrielle sighed and gave her partner an adoring look. She sheathed her sword in a swift, practiced motion and opened the oilskin traveling bag they shared.
"Youll need these. Its going to be close in there. Bugs and brambles." Gabrielle accepted a clean tunic and breeches from Xena and dressed quickly.
Xena held out Gabrielles chain shirt wordlessly, and their eyes met in perfect understanding. Delios had to be eliminated. This was no game; this was going to be war.
Xena helped Gabrielle secure the mail, and watched as Xena took off her regular leathers and substituted long breeches and a close fitting tunic of forest green. She found her full armor buried at the bottom of their pack and shook it out. I havent worn these since I cant even remember when.
Gabrielle took it from her, and helped her slide the armor over her head. After fumbling for a few minutes, she secured all the buckles and straps as Xena patiently waited. The bard laid her shaking hands on Xenas metal encased shoulders, as if drawing strength.
Xena framed Gabrielles face in her hands, gently wiping away tears with her thumbs. "That bad?"
Gabrielle sniffed and gave Xena a watery smile. "Yeah. I have a really bad feeling about all of this."
Xena pulled Gabrielle into a careful embrace, trying not to poke her with the armor. "Me, too, Gabrielle but we have to do this." She ran her hands over Gabrielles face, tracing the beloved features with her fingertips. "Remember. I love you."
Gabrielle looked up at Xena, her fear evident. "I love you, too." She kissed the fingers that hovered near her mouth, then reached up and laid her hands over Xenas heart. "If anything happens to you ."
"Shhh. Dont think that, Gabrielle. Well be okay," Xena murmured, hoping that she sounded believable. She had her doubts. "Well go back to Amphipolis and build a cabin. You can make rugs for the floors. Ill plant a large garden."
Gabrielle gave a startled giggle. "Xena, Farmer Princess?"
Xena raised an amused eyebrow. "Sure. I bet I can have a garden growing before you finish your first rug."
"Youre on." Gabrielle ran a hand through Xenas inky hair. "We only found each other again a few days ago I dont want to lose you."
Xena laid firm hands on Gabrielles shoulders. "You wont." She planted another kiss on the bards head, then pulled away.
Settling her armor with a gentle bounce, Xena pulled her hair back into a ponytail to keep it out of her face when she fought. Finding a thick grove of trees, she stowed the small boat and their packs under the low branches, then cleaned up the tracks on the beach. Xena gave Gabrielle the small pouch containing their medicines and trail rations; taking one last look around, she surmised they were as ready as they were going to get.
Xena moved towards the thick trees, finding by memory an almost invisible path leading up from the small cove. The instant they stepped into the tree line, they were swallowed by the damp closeness of the forest. She turned around to look at Gabrielle.
"Before Caesar came, I viewed this island as a possible threat to Amphipolis. I was preparing to sack it and burn the capitol to the ground right before Caesar broke my legs." Xena looked away, feeling a little ashamed, and felt a feather light touch on her arm as Gabrielle offered wordless comfort. "Anyway, unless things have dramatically changed, I can find my way into the city. I have a suspicion hes taken residence at the old fort it affords an excellent view of the island, and is extremely defensible."
"What do you want me to do?" Gabrielle asked quietly, the expression on her face leaving no doubt that she intended to do something.
"Let me see what the current mood of the city is."
Gabrielle grinned. "Havent though of anything yet, huh?"
Xena returned the smile with a reluctant one of her own. "I have some ideas, but I dont want to do anything until Im sure it will work, and that depends on how open the people here are to outsiders."
The bard gave Xena a small nod. "All right. Lets get moving."
The trip into the interior of the island was steadily uphill, and they made frequent stops so that Gabrielle could rest her leg. Xena could see the obvious strain on the bards face, but Gabrielle was resolute about continuing on.
They halted at dusk when Xena found a secluded grove near a stream, several feet off the path they had been traveling on. Xena helped Gabrielle sit on the spongy moss, then scaled a nearby tree to get a good look at her surroundings. The town, also called Thassos, was less than a mile away.
Xenas eyes took on a gleam. Tonight, Gabrielle could rest, and she would go scouting for information. Gods, how Ive missed this. So much more fun than running an army.
Gabrielle was half-asleep when Xena jumped down to the ground soundlessly beside her. "Everything okay?" she asked, her eyelids drooping.
Xena squatted beside her. "Yep. We should be safe here, but we cant risk a fire. Want some more of moms nutbread?"
Gabrielle was more tired than hungry, but gave in to the concern she could see in Xenas eyes. "Yeah." She started to rise, but Xena pushed her back down.
Gabrielle snorted. "Woof."
"Please?" Xena was as close to pleading as shed ever get.
"Okay." She accepted the food reluctantly. "Thanks."
The warrior sat beside her companion, handing Gabrielle a full wineskin. Xena nibbled on a bit of bread, and decided shed bring back something better for Gabrielle from in town.
"Im going to go into the city and see what I can find out." She reached over and brushed an errant crumb from Gabrielles tunic.
Gabrielle looked up at her silently, a gnawing fear in her gut. "Dont," she murmured quietly.
Xena saw the fear in her eyes. "Why?" She questioned gently.
Gabrielle leaned back against the tree with a sigh. "I have a really bad feeling about this, Xena. The last time I felt this way, I lost you."
Xena stroked Gabrielles cheek, gazing into her clear green eyes. "Are you sure its just that?"
Gabrielle kissed Xenas hand. "Maybe its irrational but ."
" You dont think so?"
"No," the bard answered, her voice determined. "No, I dont think so."
"All right." Xena settled against the tree. So much for the whole Xena slinks through the darkness thing. If shes that afraid, I wont leave her. Shes always been right.
She pulled Gabrielle against her, covering them both with her cloak as she felt the bard shiver. "Well go in together in the morning. Try and sleep."
Gabrielle yawned and crawled into Xenas lap, wrapping her arms securely around the warrior. If anyone attacks us, Im going to be in a Hades of a position.
With a sigh, Xena gazed down at Gabrielles exhausted face and decided that tonight, it didnt matter. She rested her chin on the top of the bards fair hair and closed her eyes, dropping into the half-sleep/half-awake mode that had kept her alive for years.
At dawn, Xena had been awake for more than a candlemark. She stared up at the leafy canopy above her, feeling the prickles of the bark against her back as she held Gabrielle cradled against her chest.
The bards soft even breathing never changed as Xena gently rose and placed her on a sleeping fur beneath the tree. Stretching her cramped muscles, Xena bounced lightly on her toes, then walked over and sorted through the small pack they had taken until she found what she was looking for.
She spread the small square of parchment flat and scratched a short note with a piece of charcoal, then placed it beneath Gabrielles hand. She leaned over and gave her bard a light kiss on the lips and then took off into the early morning gloom.
Gabrielle stretched languidly, wincing as her joints popped loudly. Blinking against the stream of bright light, her eyes searched for Xena, then fell on the square of parchment her hand had brushed aside.
Went to find a cold breakfast for us. Should be back before the sun hits mid-morning. Love you.
Gabrielle felt a numbing fear take hold. She glanced up at the sky, and estimated that it was almost noon. Her hands shook as she quickly packed their things, then stilled as her fingers found Xenas chakram beneath their pack.
Oh, Gods. She left her chakram. Why? Carefully, she wrapped the weapon in her old shirt and stuffed it into the sack along with everything else, then secured the bundle around her waist. She slung her chobo case over her back, giving ready access to her weapons. Looking around the site, she saw the route Xena had taken; shed made no effort to conceal her tracks at all. Thought she was coming straight back, I guess.
Gabrielle stuffed her panic down and started searching.
It was the dull gleam of metal that caught Gabrielles eye; a piece of one of Xenas bracers half-buried in the rich debris of the forest floor, streaked liberally with half-dried blood. Gabrielle shut her eyes against the terror, reliving Xenas death all over again, until a small voice inside told her that there would be more blood if Xena was dead.
The moment she felt the prick of the sword on the back of her neck, she knew she had been lead into a clever trap. A hood was thrown over her head and her hands were wrenched behind her back, before she was even able to coach her brain into reacting to the danger.
She heard whispered voices, indistinct, and then she was tossed across the back of a horse and secured. The smell of sweat and horse was overwhelming. Take me to Xena.
A while later, she was tossed into a dank pit, her bindings undone enough by the guard so that she could pull her hands loose. Hands, warmly familiar, grabbed her and hauled her upright, helping her pull off the hated hood.
She looked up into Xenas badly beaten face, and cringed. "Oh, Xena," she whispered brokenly, reaching up to touch a bruised cheek. She thought of another time, another dungeon, and felt her heart wrench.
"Twenty guys too many." Xena gave a smile, made slightly grotesque by the immense amounts of swelling, and muttered, "Its not as bad as it looks, really."
Gabrielle gave a pained sigh that halfway turned into a sob, and Xena pulled her close. "Now what?" She whispered against the remains of Xenas shirt.
Xena rubbed Gabrielles back soothingly, not knowing what to say, and Gabrielle gave a tired nod. "I know, play it by ear, right?"
"Yeah." Xena lead her to a corner that was relatively dry and waste-free. She pulled the bard into her arms, knowing that Delios men already knew who Gabrielle was; there was no point in trying to hide it. "I apparently have an audience with him tonight. Im going to try to get you home."
Gabrielle raised her reddened eyes and stared at Xena. "No."
"Gabrielle " Xena said huskily.
"No." The bard insisted.
Xena stared at her for a long moment. "If he uses the stone on me, Gabrielle ."
The bard put a hand over her lips. "One obstacle at a time, Xena. Please." She knew, deep down, what the warriors greatest fear was, and knew Xena would do anything to prevent its conception. Not just for her own sake, but for the world. "I love you," she murmured, putting up that wall between Xena and her nightmares, and hoping that it would be enough.
"I love you." Xena thought she would never hear those words enough.
Hours later, a group of armed guards came in and dragged the battered warrior to her feet, dislodging Gabrielle from Xena with a shove. Xena mouthed, "Be brave" before she was shoved out of the dank cell and into the hall.
She was dragged down a dark passageway and into the light of a large hall. A round man with beady eyes regarded her with amusement from atop a dais; as she was shoved to her knees before him, he managed a little sneer.
"Xena. Your reputation precedes you."
Xena glared up at the portly man, think how much shed like to wrap his legs around his head in a pretty little bow. "Wish I could say the same. No one knew who you were."
He laughed, but it was cold and mirthless. "I wonder what your greatest fear is, Xena? Ive seen men burst into flames, drown under invisible water. What does the warrior princess fear most?"
Xenas lip curled. "You dont wanna know, Delios. It wont be pleasant."
"Mmm. I bet its dying a cowards death everyones fear is of death, right?"
Xena thought about that for a minute. "Nah. Some people welcome it."
He dismounted the platform and walked over to Xena, tracing the line of the warriors jaw. "So pretty. I bet youd be an incredible lover."
Xena debated on biting his hand, but her thoughts went to Gabrielle and that stopped her from moving. Have to protect her at all cost. "I bet you cant tell one end from another, Delios. I heard about you and your little boys ." She nodded her head towards a child of about ten that was manacled to the throne. "After I rip your heart out, Ill let that child cut your manhood to bits."
The childs eyes widened and he fought back a small smile. Delios was enraged. "Chain her."
Xena was bolted to the floor by the brutish guards. Delios came forward with an evil grin on his face, brandishing a scepter upon which a bluish-white stone was mounted. The warrior could feel the power pulsing out of the gem, and felt her body respond to the lure. "Leave us," he commanded.
Then the stone touched her throat as Delios caressed her with the scepter, and Xena felt the violence rise in her. She reached out mentally to Gabrielle, hoping to find the inner strength to resist, but the stones power was awesome. Her limbs quivered with the strength of Ares gift, her heart pumped with bloodlust and fury. The harder she fought it, the stronger it became. And with the power, the memories of Gabrielles love disintegrated like dust in the wind. Nothing was left but bitterness and heart wrenching pain.
Delios took a step backwards as Xena burst forward, shattering the chains on her wrists with a single hard tug. The scepter fell from Delios pudgy hand and clattered to the floor as Xena thrust her fingers into his windpipe. She grabbed the keys off his belt and undid her ankles.
"Ive cut off the flow of blood to your brain. Youll be dead in seconds."
Delios eyes bulged. Hed heard of this. "What do you want to know?" he gasped in agony.
Xena looked at him disinterestedly and shrugged. "Nothing." She hefted the bejeweled staff in one hand and sauntered over to him. She leaned towards him, their noses almost touching. "Tell Hades Im back."
Another gasp and he was dead, a thin line of blood streaming out of one nostril. Xena kicked him disinterestedly. "Guards!" She yelled.
They ran in, swords brandished, only to drop to their knees in supplication when they saw their master was dead. Xena gave them a cocky smile. "Ready to fight for the winning side, boys?"
The guards nodded eagerly, ready to please. Disloyal. Theyll be dead in hours. The thought made her grin wider. "Go tell your comrades the Destroyer is your master now." She gave the dead man another nudge. "Take this offal with you. Bring back food, and someone to entertain me. Its time for a celebration."
Let the games begin. Theres a world waiting for me.
TO BE CONTINUED .
Return to The Bard's Corner - FlyBigD