A Heros Welcome
Disclaimers: The standard disclaimers regarding copywrited material apply here. Dont own them, just borrowing em
Xena, Gabrielle, Cyrene, the amazons, Gabrielles family and the gods all belong to Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I am just borrowing them temporarily.
Violence- yes, there is a great deal of physical violence in this.
Sex - yes, there is sex and two scenes are NOT consensual.
Deaths- yes, some occur here, too
Special Note: the lyrics to the song "Go the Distance" sung by Michael Bolton are used here. No profit is being made, no offense intended.
As always, this story is copywrited by me, the song is copywrited by Disney.
Authors note: part two of this story is very dark in places. There are some twists and turns, so dont be surprised. I do hope that you will enjoy it and as always comments are welcomed.
The next morning found the bard in much better spirits, having spent the night in a soft, warm bed and right beside the only person in the entire world where she felt completely safe and loved. Carefully extricating herself from the warmth and safety of the bed, Gabrielle dressed in her new attire, having picked it out in a market on their way back to Greece. The skirt was russet in color with a leather belt, fastening at the sides. Her new top was made from leather and woven cotton, having been dyed to match the skirt. Completing her ensemble, was the white wool and leather cloak which had done a good job of keeping the cold away on the long ride home. Satisfied that everything was on properly and securely fastened, Gabrielle exited the room quietly and headed downstairs, having been attracted by the wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen area.
When Gabrielle reached the bottom of the stairs, she was greeted by Xena and Cyrene and quickly ushered over to their usual table. Looking around the inn, the bard noted that it was practically empty, but that wasnt unusual for this time of the day. It was still early morning; the sun was just breaking over the hills and slowly chasing the persistent fog away. Even the birds seemed slow to rise on this chilly late fall morning. Xena brought Gabrielle fully awake as she placed a plate of eggs, warm nutbread, sausage cakes and Cyrenes specialty, fried potatoes along with a huge tankard of fresh goats milk, in front of the bard. Smiling appreciatively at Cyrene and Xena, Gabrielle started devouring the meal in front of her, somewhat oblivious to the conversation around her.
"I am glad that I made extra this morning. I havent seen anyone eat so much before. Where does she put it all?"
"I wish I knew mom. Sometimes I swear she could eat a whole boar given enough time. "
"Hey . I . dont..eat much..." Gabrielle sputtered, between mouthfuls "It takes ..a lot .of energy .to keep .up with .your daughter ."
Cyrene and Xena both laughed at that comment and patiently waited for the bards ravenous appetite to be sated.
"I think that this time was my favorite part about the inn. All nice, quiet and peaceful. I noticed that there was two new wells and a new storage room."
"Yes. It was an extremely bountiful harvest. We were worried there for a while, but things just turned around seemingly overnight. "
A questioning look crossed Xena and Gabrielles faces as the bard and warrior tried to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. The trip home had taken them nearly three weeks of constant riding, punctuated by a couple of stops along the way to help someone in need. Upon retrieving Argo, Xena and Gabrielle had been found a bag filled with dinars in the mares left saddlebags and the right saddlebag was full of food, two wineskins and two waterskins. A note was found tucked in amongst their other belongings stating that this was a small gift for what the two of them had done and for them to continue their travels together. Not tempting the powers that be, the bard and warrior princess accepted the gifts for what they were and headed back home to Greece.
"When did this happen? " asked the warrior princess, curiosity aroused.
"Not quite two moons ago. " replied Cyrene.
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged glances, suddenly sure of whom had saved Amphipolis harvest this year. It wasnt saved by the gods, but by something or someone else and neither of them liked the sound of that. Taking her moms hand, Xena asked quietly
"Did anyone show up around that time?"
"I think so, but the word had reached us about what had happened to the two of you on a couple of days prior to the turnaround of the harvest."
"I dont know if youll believe this mom, but I think Amphipolis harvest was saved by whoever or whatever saved us."
Now it was Cyrenes turn to look shocked as her daughter continued
"I think it was their way of thanking you all. By making sure that you survived as well."
"Xena, why dont you go and check on Argo and Star for me. I need to talk to your mom for a bit." Gabrielle said.
"Star? So you finally picked a name for him."
"Yeah, its simple and kind of matches the one on his forehead. Go on, Im fine here. "
"Well, all right then. Try and leave enough room for noon meal " replied the warrior, snatching an apple from the bowl on the counter.
Cyrene watched as her daughter walked out the door and then turned her attention on the bard. As a tavern keeper, Cyrene knew when people wanted to talk and this was no exception. Gabrielle had something on her mind and it had something to do with Xena. She needed to talk about it with someone who knew her as well as she did.
"Whats on your mind Gabrielle? You wanted to talk to me about Xena, right?"
"I want to do something special for her. After whats happened, I want to do something special for her."
"Like what? A party, something like that?"
"Gods, this isnt easy, especially given her history. When Eponin dropped me off with Xena, I happened to overhear part of the conversation. "
"I want to give her a heros welcome home. A small parade, cheering crowds chanting her name, Just the voices of her kinsman saying Welcome Home. You belong here. Just one time, thats all. Gods know she deserves it. Weve spent the last six years traveling together, sharing in the good and bad times. I know that its asking a lot, but will you at least think about it, please. ?"
The entreaty with which Gabrielle spoke and the tears that threatened to fall from her eyes pulled at Cyrenes heartstrings and she wanted nothing more than to grant the bards wish. Tears were in the innkeepers eyes as well as she took Gabrielles hands in hers.
"Nothing would please me more that to do that for my daughter, but there are still a lot of people around here who still hold bad memories of her and what shes done, despite her having given up that life over six years ago. It took me a long time to reconcile with her and some folks still havent "
The hopeful look on Gabrielles face fell as the words of the innkeeper sunk in. She thought she was prepared for possible rejection of her idea, but didnt know how much it would hurt to actually hear it. The bard took a cleansing breath and replied quietly
"She will never get one will she? Xena will never get the heros welcome she deserves. She could spend the rest of her life saving people, kingdoms and gods and still never get it. "
"I know thats not what you wanted to hear, little one. I can tell how much it hurts you."
Gabrielle looked Cyrene, tears threatening to fall from her eyes. The bards demeanor changed and her shoulders slumped as in defeat.
"How long does the cycle have to continue? How many unknown roads do we have to travel? How many people do we have to save? "
" I dont know little one. I dont know."
Cyrene pulled Gabrielle close, trying to comfort her as the tears rolled silently down her face.
Xena paused outside the door to the inn for several minutes, her uncanny hearing picking up the last bit of the conversation between her mother and Gabrielle. Nothing usually surprised the warrior, but when she heard what the bard asked her mother, she could have been knocked over by a feather. Gabrielle wants to give me a heros welcome. The magnitude of the thought made Xena sink down into one of the chairs just outside the door, her hair falling around her face. I cant believe it. Mom is right though. A lot of people here still cant stand me being here. Oh, Gabrielle, what did I do to deserve your presence in my life?
The sounds of several sets of rapid hoofbeats off in the distance brought the warrior out of her self-induced reverie. Two sets of riders and a wagon moving this way awfully fast. Judging by the distance, it would be at least two candlemarks before they reached town and brought whatever trouble they had with it. A birds call to the closest sentry alerted the town guard to the potential oncoming threat. Xena watched with wary eyes as the two riders drew closer, slowly managing to outdistance their pursuers. It would be at least three candlemarks before the pursuers would reach the town gates. Sticking her head back inside the inn, the warrior called out
"Gabrielle, troubles coming. Two riders inbound, being chased by at least twenty, maybe twenty-five others. It will be about three candlemarks before the main group gets here. Get everyone ready. Could be trouble and I want to be ready."
Xena noted with pride that the citizens around her were not panicking, instead they were busy securing their homes and businesses, pulling in extra supplies, and moving the children and elderly citizens to the safety of the caves. The citys militia was busy as well, archers taking position in the trees, allowing them vantage points and cover, the barricades being drawn into their positions and the remainder of the militia taking up their predetermined positions. As the inbound riders drew closer, Xena felt all her senses heighten in anticipation of the potential battle to come. Battle fury, is what Gabrielle called it and it had saved their lives on more than one occasion, probably one of the few perks of her dark time. A gift from me to you is what Ares had called it, only a few days after that fateful raid by Cortese. She had been so confused then and rather easy pickings for the God of War. She had followed him for almost ten years, until the Fates had Hercules cross her path, and put her back on the right path.
A shout from one of the sentries brought the warrior princess back to the present as the gates were opened to admit the two cloaked riders. The gates of the town were slammed shut and Xena went to greet the two new arrivals. As she drew closer, the two outlines of the riders turned into familiar figures. One was tall; perhaps a head taller than Xena and the other was shorter and stockier. The stablemaster came up and took the reins for both exhausted horses and led them away, promising to give them a good rubdown, with fresh clean hay, oats and all the water they could drink.
Xena smiled as the tall figure removed the cloak, to reveal a handsome face, framed in shoulder length light brown hair, warm eyes and a smile that could cheer anyone up. She reached forward and took the mans arm in a warriors handshake as she said
"Hercules, what are you doing here? And who was chasing you?"
The handsome demi-god looked at Xena and pulled her into a warm embrace.
"Xena, it is so good to see you. We headed here after what we heard what had happened. We needed to see for ourselves."
Xena escorted the two men over to her favorite table, motioning for two plates of food and drink be brought over. Once her friends were served and had eaten a bit, Xena continued
"Its all-right. Were here now, and thats all that matters. Now, who was chasing you?"
"We were passing through the forest between here and Potedeia and came across a group of men headed this way. Only a small group, but something wasnt quite right about it, so we managed to get close enough to hear what they were talking about. "
"And? It must have been something important to send you two tearing out of there."
Hercules nodded, unsure of what Xenas reaction would be to his news, knowing her protective nature, especially where Gabrielle was concerned.
"I dont think youre going to like this"
"Like what? I am not going to like it even more if you dont tell me. If there is trouble, and it concerns Gabrielle, I need to know about it, now"
Hercules seemed unable to continue under her gaze, so his companion continued for him. Pulling his hood down, the blond wavy hair of Hercules companion spilled over his face. Looking at Xena, Iolaus said
"Xena, they were talking about Gabrielle. They mentioned being paid to bring her back to her home village to be married. They said something about a contract had been arranged by a man named Herodotus and no damn amazons or you would stop them from being paid."
Xena slumped in the chair, now aware of the reasons for Gabrielles silence about her visit home. She now knew why Eponin hadnt told her about the events in Potedeia. Marriage? Of all the slimy things someone could do Her anger started boiling and the two men visibly recoiled as it slowly came to the surface. Noticing the reactions of two of her dearest friends, the warrior princess clamped a vise hold on her anger, bringing it under control. Taking a calming breath, Xena looked at the two men and replied
"That explains part of her mood over the past few days. Why are they sending men to bring her back?"
"I dont know. We didnt hear that part of it. We were encouraged to leave quickly when one of the men in that group recognized us as being friends of the two of you. We were lucky to beat them here. " replied Iolaus
"You managed to put about three candlemarks between you and them."
"Since you know this much, I can fill you in on the rest " came a voice from behind them.
All three occupants of the table turned around to see Gabrielle standing there, a look of sadness etched across her face, her hand unconsciously rubbing a non existent bruise. Taking a seat next to Xena, the bard fought to control the shaking of her body as she continued.
"I was hoping that it wouldnt come to this. "
"Come to what, Gabrielle? You know you can tell me everything." Xena said, placing an arm across the bards shoulders
"Herodotus had arranged another marriage for me. He did it when the rumors of our rebirth reached them through a merchant who had seen us."
"Arranged another marriage? " asked Hercules, incredulous "Arent you past that age? And why would he pay men to bring you back?"
Gabrielle looked up into the warm eyes of the demi-god before replying
"Yes. But apparently he doesnt seem to think so. He believes and has the rest of the town believing that Ive shamed my family and them by traveling with Xena. All he really wants is someone to pay his bills and support him in drink. There was a confrontation at the inn and he didnt take too kindly to what I said to him. He tried to break my spirit as a little girl and almost succeeded. "
Iolaus shook his head in disbelief, and then looked back at Gabrielle as a memory came to the surface. Knowing that he was treading on thin ice, Iolaus took a breath, then said
"Hes done more than trying to break you spirit, hasnt he, Gabrielle?"
Now it was Hercules and Xenas turn to be stunned. By the looks on his friends faces, Iolaus knew that neither of them knew of what Gabrielle had endured at the hands of her father. The only reason he knew anything about it was when he had come across Gabrielle, leading Argo back from Mt Nestus, who was drawing the litter with Xenas sarcophagus on it. She had run into some bounty hunters looking for Xenas body and Iolaus had helped her get rid of them. Iolaus had accompanied her part way on her journey back, and the night that they had camped out, seeking some kind of comfort, a despondent Gabrielle had spoken about her life in Potedeia. Iolaus had held Gabrielle as she spoke in halting tones about the abuses she had lived with.
"Iolaus, you promised. "
Iolaus took Gabrielles hands in his, and looked into her eyes, trying to give her the strength to continue
"Its time they knew, dont you think? Dont let him win, Gabrielle. Youve come too far to let him win. You can do this, I know you can."
Gabrielle looked at Iolaus, then back to Xena and Hercules. Taking a deep, but shaky breath, she said
"All-right. When I first began traveling with you, didnt you ever wonder why I always wore those long shirts and skirts?"
Xena nodded, then her eyes widened as the meaning of what Gabrielle hadnt said sunk in. Long shirts and skirts had hidden fading bruises. Her own father had beaten her and she had been too ashamed to let Xena know. Slamming her fist down on the table, it shuddered under the blow as her anger exploded, unchecked.
"He beat you, didnt her? Didnt he?"
Gabrielle could only nod in reply as her body began to shake uncontrollably with the memories of the abuse at the hands of her father. Hercules moved quickly over to her side and gathered the bard into his powerful arms, as she sobbed quietly on his shoulder, his own anger at the man barely in check. Xena, sensing that her sudden display had only scared her friend, forced her anger back into the little room in her mind where she kept it, and knelt down in front of Gabrielle. The warrior princess placed a gentle kiss on Gabrielles forehead, and then gently lifted the bards face, til she could look into her tear filled emerald eyes.
"I am so sorry, Gabrielle. If I had only known, I would have tried to help you."
"I was so ashamed back then. He kept saying I was dangerous and had to be controlled and this was the only way. That my stories were actually ways to control people. I dont know if I could have stood up to him if it hadnt been for Eponin being there."
"I am glad that she was there for you. Its in the past now, and I swear that he will not harm you again. "
"We wont allow him to hurt you anymore, right Iolaus?" Hercules said, his voice full of compassion
"See that you protect her." Came a voice from behind them.
All four turned around to see the owner of that voice. It had come from a beautiful woman with shoulder length auburn hair and bright silvery blue eyes. A bow and quiver were hanging off her back and she was clothed in a sleeveless doeskin top and a matching wraparound doeskin skirt. Looking directly at Gabrielle, the woman walked over to their table and took a seat next to the bard
"Artemis. What brings you here?" asked Hercules
"My chosen one is in danger. All of you are in danger. I came to warn you. "
Xena didnt like the gods and the fact that Artemis had managed to appear without her sensing it, put the warrior on edge. Artemis knew this, but didnt have time to soothe Xena, so she continued
"I know that my sudden appearance angered you, Xena. Unfortunately there is little time until those men arrive. Those men are much stronger than you believe and many more will be arriving soon. It will be quite unpleasant for you to hear me out, but you must. "
"Go on, sister. Were all listening."
Artemis cleared her throat before continuing; knowing what she was about to say would only bring back very painful memories for her chosen one and everyone else seated with her.
"Gabrielle, your father has been planning this for some time now. When your father made his deal with Nidus, there was another entity involved. This entity was the one who brought the news of your return to your village."
"No, Ares had nothing to do with this. If this deal was to go through, the mortal world would end and so would the Olympians."
Xena, Hercules, Iolaus and Gabrielle all looked at each other, all of them realizing who was behind the deal. Dahok. The shared enemy whom they all thought to be gone.
"Its Dahok, isnt it. "? said the bard quietly. " Hes trying to get me back."
Artemis nodded, then continued
"It was he who brought the news to your village and encouraged your father to make this deal. Hes taken over a mortal, and he had planned to take Nidus form and have you again. You wouldnt have known it was him until you had given birth. He would have been reborn in the child and no one could stop him this time."
"You may not be able to now. It all depends on how much youre willing to let us help," said a decidedly male voice, the cloaked figure coming up to stand beside Artemis. Looking at the four seated figures, the voice under the hooded cloak continued "I know I am not one of your favorite people, and I cant blame you for it. All of you, but we might be able to help. "
Xenas head whirled around to look directly into the face of the man in the cloaked hood. She knew that voice all too well. She flipped back the hood to reveal the handsome, dark haired countenance of the God of War, Ares. Hercules and Iolaus looked at Xena, then at the demi-gods half brother, both rather curious as to why he would show up after the supposed betrayal of the other Olympian Gods. All the gods had been furious with Ares, especially Artemis, with Gabrielle being her Chosen One. Hercules knew it must be extremely important for the both of them to be in the same room, and not going at each others throats.
"Why are you here Ares? Havent you done enough?" asked Hercules.
The normally arrogant expression present on Ares face was gone, replaced by a look of grave concern, not only for himself, but also for everyone here. Ares knew that everyone believed he had betrayed the Olympians for his own needs and was persona non grata on Olympus right now. His demeanor was noticeably subdued and he quickly pulled up a chair and sank down onto it.
"I know what Ive done in the past was horrible, to say the least, but please hear me out. I did have my reasons and they are not what you think. "
Hercules was surprised at the entreaty and sincerity with which the war god spoke. This was not the Ares he knew, but one who seemed to be extremely worried about everyone else and not just himself. Dahok was something that everyone at the table had hoped was behind them, and to hear his name again chilled them to the bone. It was obvious that Ares thought he had something that could help and was anxious to tell them.
"Go ahead, were listening. "
Although uncomfortable in this role, the god of war cleared his throat and continued.
"After the history between you all and the way all of you defeated him, once at the temple and after what he did to Iolaus, Dahok was raging. The only way he could emerge into the mortal world now and take control was to take over the body and soul of someone who hated all of you completely. "
"Right. His rage was so passionate for you all, especially Gabrielle, that it drove him to the temple."
Both Xena and Gabrielle shuddered as the memories of that temple flooded their consciousness. Ares waited patiently for the both of them to regain control, then continued
"Herodotus went to the temple about a moon after what happened with the Destroyer at your families farm house, Gabrielle. We believe that during this time, Dahok began to nurture the hatred he had for the two of you. While unable to break the seal at that time, Dahok was still strong enough to nurture his hatreds in the dreamscape. "
"As your fathers hatred grew, Dahok grew stronger, strong enough to leave the boundaries of his imprisonment and travel to Sumeria where Hercules and Iolaus encountered him. " finished Artemis.
Hercules looked at Iolaus, the memory of losing him to that horror still fresh in his mind. Both gods noticed the discomfort of their mortal companions and shook their heads. Nodding in agreement, Artemis and Ares knew what they had to say next would only bring them more pain, but they needed to hear it if anyone was to survive.
"Gabrielle, Xena, Hercules and Iolaus. We are hesitant to say this, but we feel it is necessary. We are prepared to offer you all what youve wanted so many times in the past. We give this freely, with no strings attached. "
Both gods looked at each other, stood up from their chairs, and then drew matching daggers, holding them against their palms of their open hand. As they drew the daggers, a thin line of blood welled in their palms as they spoke in unison
"We swear, by our blood and by the blood of the other gods, not to interfere in your lives, unless we are called for. "
Xena and Hercules looked at Ares in shock, while Gabrielle and Iolaus were silent. Even the gods would not go back on a deal if a blood oath was involved.
"If at any time, you are in need, we will come at your call and assist you in any way we possibly can. This we swear."
Artemis turned to Gabrielle and Iolaus, taking one of their hands in each of her own.
"Gabrielle and Iolaus. You both have remained faithful to your friends, through the light and dark times. You both have suffered greatly for this, but become stronger than you both realized. As my Amazon Queen, Gabrielle, you are my chosen one. Your wisdom and strength have set an example for all amazons to follow. In time, you will become the queen of legend, but only when you are ready. As a gift, I bestow upon you all the knowledge, skills and abilites of the Amazons. Use the knowledge, skills and abilities wisely." Artemis said quietly, a glow surrounding her and Gabrielle. Turning her attention to Iolaus, Artemis continued " Iolaus. Your friendship and devotion to my brother is well known to me. Although male, your skills as a hunter are great and you are thankful for what you take. You dont take more than you require and the kill is quick and merciful. As a gift, I give you the refinement of your skills you have sought. This gift I give in gratitude. "
Artemis turned to look at Ares, a wry grin on her face as he turned to Xena and Hercules. The god of war looked at his brother, fixing him with a stare.
"Hercules, while we have had more than our share of differences in the past and I cant say that I didnt enjoy more than one of them, this is a threat to us all, both mortal and god. Being a demi-god, your strength is one of the godly powers you know about and have control of. As my gift, I awaken the other dormant powers that you do have and give you complete control over them. "
Hercules was speechless as Ares took Xenas hands in his own. Looking deep into Xenas eyes, Ares continued
"My warrior princess. You fought for me for over ten years until meeting with my brother. Since that time, you have fought long and hard against the dark fury inside of you, the fury that would have returned you to my fold. While I always knew that, I had hoped that maybe you would return to my side on your own of your free will. As my gifts, I give you total control of your dark side and restore you to your physical peak. You will not be bothered by any previous injury. And, I grant you that which you seek most, I release you from our bond. "
Xena looked up into the handsome face of Ares, still unwilling to believe his words.
"Why should we believe you? Why should I believe you? Especially now."
"Because we have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Dahok is a threat to us all. Please accept these gifts, there are no strings attached"
Hercules studied his half brother, trying to make sense of why he was behaving the way he did. A rather surprised look crossed his features as he realized that the god of war was, of all things, in love. Casting a questioning glance at Artemis, the suspicions that Hercules had about his brother were confirmed by her silent nod.
"We had best make what plans we can, before they arrive. "
With that, Hercules, Xena, Gabrielle and Iolaus sat back down at the table and poured over the maps of Amphipolis, with the god of war and goddess of the hunt beside them.
They had gone over the plans for the defense of the town several times when the call came that the riders had reached the gates and were demanding entry to the town. Ares and Artemis both looked at each other and made themselves invisible to the rest of the townsfolk and the riders at the gate. It had been part of the plan, to keep the two gods hidden until they were needed. Nodding to her companions, Xena led the small group out of the inn and into the main street, where she expected the majority of the fighting to take place. The main road of Amphipolis was quiet; the only sounds being made by the town militia taking up their defensive positions.
Xena climbed to the top of one of the sentry towers to get a closer look at the riders. Looking down on the group, she noticed with alarm that the number had seemingly tripled in size and they were well armed. A call from the southern sentry post alerted her to another army coming from the southern approach. This is not good. Where did they come from. As the southern army approached, Xena was able to get a closer look at the banner, the second rider was carrying. It was the banner of Dahok. The followers he had left behind had gone into hiding, and had slowly amassed an army, an army that was completely loyal to Dahok. This would severely hamper the towns chances of surviving this battle. Jumping back down to the ground, Xena walked over to where Gabrielle, Iolaus and Hercules stood waiting.
"This is not good. A second army is approaching from the south, with approximately 400 soldiers, half-mounted, half walking. It looks like Dahoks followers amassed an army in secret, training and equipping them. And the group at the gate has tripled in size. "
Gabrielle and Iolaus face fell, while Hercules addressed Xena
"How many are there in the militia?"
"About 50, trained with quarterstaff, bow and hand to hand." Replied Xena.
"How many are out there, total?"
"Approximately five hundred soldiers. Both cavalry and foot soldiers, most look well trained, with bows, armor and swords. "
"Amphipolis cant stand against that, can they?" Gabrielle asked, the strain beginning to show on her face.
"No, they cant. But they could with some help " came a voice from behind them.
The color fell from Xena and Gabrielles faces as they recognized the voice behind them. Turning around, Xena and Gabrielle saw that it belonged to Ephiny and beside her stood Solari and quite a few women, neither of them had seen before, all dressed in amazon clothing. Xena scanned the many faces that made up the crowd, and her eyes widened in shock as she recognized one of them. Cyane, the legendary queen of the amazons of the Eurasian steppes. Visibly pale, Xena addressed Ephiny, trying to avoid Cyanes gaze.
"But how? We were there at your funeral pyre. Both yours and Solaris. Who set you free?"
"I allowed it. For the battle to come, I knew that you would need the best warriors you could find. "
Xena followed the voice as a figure emerged from the group of women. A figure clad in pitch-black body armor, flowing cape, with a helmet tucked snugly between his arm and body. Xenas few, up close and personal dealings with this man, had shaken her and his presence here did nothing to ease her worries about the upcoming battle.
"Hades, you allowed souls to leave? These Amazons were in the Amazon land of the Dead, so how was it possible?"
The god of the underworld looked extremely uncomfortable, the fire in his eyes dancing in the sunlight.
"When Artemis and Ares alerted me to what was about to happen and the fact that you would need all the help you could get, Artemis asked me to grant a special waiver to release certain souls on condition they return once the battle has finished."
" I asked him to request a temporary reprieve, after speaking to the warriors I believed you would need. " replied Artemis
Ephiny turned to Xena and Gabrielle, completely healed of her mortal injury. Understanding the disbelieving looks on their faces, the regent said
"It doesnt matter how or why, all that matters is dealing with this threat. Dahok poses a critical threat for all the realms. He can only be defeated in the mortal plane and that has to happen, here and now. "
Cyane noticed Xena staring at her and walked over to the warrior princess. A glance to the small group of women surrounding her, the amazon queen knew what she had to do. Knowing what she had to say would both hurt and heal the both of them, the queen took Xenas hands in her own, locking her eyes on the blue ones of the warrior princess.
Artemis saw this and motioned for everyone to quiet down, knowing that this meeting was long overdue and hoped it would heal the wounds that the two warriors still had.
"Xena, I know this isnt easy for either of us. "
"It isnt, Cyane. But I need to say this now. Nothing will ever change what I did to you all. I can only hope to try and pay back a portion of the pain I have caused. It might take a lifetime for me, but I will do it. I cant ask for your forgiveness either, but for all it is worth, I am so sorry. I was young, foolish and still blinded by hatred, rage and pain. I could have learned so much from you, instead I wasted the chance. "
"I understand, Xena. I have watched you since that day. Even then, I could see the turmoil you were in. Ive seen you grow and change. I have also seen how far you were willing to go to save your friend. You faced your worst enemy and vanquished her, and unlocked the gate to eternity for us. Your punishment is over. The slate between us is now clean. "
Xena was stunned silent. She had sought this for so long and to have it just given to her was not what she had expected Sensing the warriors predicament Cyane continued
"We have much to do and not much time left. It will be an honor to fight beside you in this battle."
Cyane motioned to the seventy-five amazons that had been waiting with her and they silently took up positions, awaiting the battle to come, all of them knowing that much was at stake.
"I, too have a surprise for you. " replied Ares. "At this moment, my private army is marching on this location, they should be arriving in half a candlemark. "
Hercules looked at his half brother, more than slightly surprised that he would commit his private army to a battle where very few were likely survive. Love can make people do strange things
The strangest assembly of an army continued with frantic preparations for battle when a lone arrow came whistling through the air, aimed directly at Gabrielle. Cyane, being the closest to Gabrielle, snatched the arrow a scant inch from Gabrielles chest. Sniffing the arrowhead, Cyane announced to the surprised onlookers.
"Where did you think she learned it from? This arrow is tipped with a potion designed to simulate death."
Xena looked at the arrow, and after sniffing the arrowhead, her eyes widened in horror. When she spoke, her voice trembled slightly
"The only place I know of that grows that particular venomous sap is on the steppes ."
Cyane looked at Xena, realization dawning in her eyes. Looking at Xena, she said
"Alti . She knew of this. She even used it once or twice. "
"Then shes here too. " Xena replied. "Damn, this complicates things further."
Cyane looked at Xena, then Gabrielle, and Artemis. A small smile crossed her face as she said
" I will take her. Its time we finished our battle once and for all. "
Xena nodded, knowing full well of Cyanes abilities and her need to do this. "
Ephiny knelt down and picked up the piece of parchment that had been inside the hollow arrow shaft. Unfurling it carefully, she held it up for all to read. It said.
So, you have figured out what has been going on. I have returned for you. You will be the vessel of my rebirth. I will have you in front of all those who you love and have fought along side of. The slaughter will be great, all the blood that will be spilt will only further my presence on this plane and all the others. You will be my willing wife and bear me children to continue my rule. Your friends, if lucky will be allowed to watch me take you, watch me grow rapidly inside of you and watch my birth. They will see my rapid growth to maturity and watch me take you once again. I will keep one of them alive long enough to see you give life to our child, and then they will be sacrificed to the child as it is born.
You could have not given me a greater servant, to carry out my plans. And perhaps, once I am finished, I will allow my servant the pleasure of your affections as well. You know of whom I speak. You will be mine.
When she had finished the note, Gabrielle was visibly shaking; the note fell from her hand onto the ground. The contents of the note were enough to cause Xena to shake with rage. Even Hercules was angered at the contents of the note.
Quickly trying to take attention off the note, Iolaus asked
"How much longer do you think well have to wait?"
"Not much longer. I think they are waiting for the remaining army to arrive. "
A commotion from the grove of trees at the back edge of town got Xenas attention. Whirling around, the warrior saw a lone figure headed directly for them. A figure in leather battle dress and feathered mask. Amazons. Dont know how to stay out of trouble. Xena waited until the figure had reached them and watched as the female warrior pushed her mask off her face.
"Eponin! What are you doing here?"
"Xena, Gabrielle. Artemis came to us and said there was going to be trouble here. After what I witnessed in Potedeia, we werent going to allow anything to happen to either of you. Weve been here for two days, in the trees and digging and placing traps where we believed they would do the most good. Three of our healers are already at your hospice, fully stocked with healing supplies, twenty five of our best archers are in position and I have 100 of our best warriors with us. "
A flood of relief passed over Xenas face as she quickly recalculated the odds. 100 additional warriors and 25 of Greeces best archers, along with the seventy five released amazons and combined with the formidable skills of Ares private army, which had arrived thru the underground tunnels running throughout Amphipolis. The three healers would be very welcomed as well. Xena knew there were going to be many casualties and having taught the amazon healers everything she knew, Xena felt that the injured would have a better chance at survival now. Looking over at Ephiny, Solari and Cyane, Xena said quietly
"We might just have a chance now. We might just have a chance."
The army was slow in reaching the gates of the town and Dahok was not pleased. He watched impassively as the army reached his camp, the men quickly dispersing to various parts of the camp. The commander in charge was summoned to the demons tent half a league away from the town and unceremoniously dumped to the floor. Dahok was an entity far more powerful than the Olympians and knowing that fact, bowing his head, the commander waited for his leader to speak.
A deep, rumbling growl came from Dahoks throat as he spoke.
"You are late. There had better be a good reason for your tardiness. Now, the battle must be put off until tomorrow morning at dawn. I will not attack at night. "
"We were slowed by traps, my lord. I did not wish to bring you a decimated army, so we detoured around the traps. As it is, we lost 20 soldiers."
Dahok was incensed. His plan had been foolproof. Now, to have it ruined by one warrior and the bard only seemed to fuel his anger. He dismissed the commander with a warning.
"Be ready to attack on my signal. If you are not, you will face my wrath, personally. I will make you the first sacrifice. "
The commander quickly left the tent as two others entered, one man and one woman.
"My lord, we come to do your bidding"
Dahok was pleased with the man standing before him. Through this mans driving desire for revenge, he had offered Dahok the chance to get back what he believed to be his. And the woman Alti, she was truly a find. A highly skilled shamaness who was not only skilled at fighting, but skilled in the spiritual disciplines as well. That would make his domination of the bard all that much easier and sweeter. The warrior Xena, he had agreed to leave to the shamaness after his claiming of the bard. To watch her die as the bard gave birth to his children only served to fuel the fire in his loins.
"You both have done well and will be properly rewarded when the time comes. Alti, you will get what you want most. Herodotus, you will get what you want as well. And as for your wife and daughter, they are now mine. It is the price I demand. "
Herodotus considered this for a moment; a very small part of him still loved Hecuba and Lilla. But that love for those two was overshadowed by his hatred for Gabrielle and Xena. Giving his wife and daughter to this demon was a small price to pay for his revenge upon them, and the added bonus of having a chance to have Gabrielle wiped away all doubts he had about his deal. Nodding, he stuck his head out of the tent, motioning to a couple of guards. Hecuba and Lilla were roughly shoved into the tent and onto the rough floor as Herodotus walked out with Alti.
Both women looked at each other then at the creature in front of them in shock. Neither one of them could believe that they had been given to this monster, just so Herodotus could have his revenge upon Gabrielle. Their shock turned to horror as Dahok approached them, studying the both of them intently. With a flick of his hand, Hecuba found herself immobilized on her back on a table in the midst of the dining tent of the army. All of her clothing was gone, she had been placed on the table with her arms and legs widely apart, and she saw the faces of the men looking down upon her. She saw the leer of the men as they moved towards her naked body. Hecuba tried desperately to protest, but a meaty hand was clamped over her mouth as a large, brutish man loomed over her. His gaze wandered between her still ample breasts and the patch of hair at the juncture of her legs.
"A little old, but you will do. You will do fine " said the soldier, as he unbuttoned his trousers, leaning down and fastening his mouth on her breast.
A cheer arose from the men as the soldier swung himself up on the table, his mouth still fastened tightly on her breast. Forcing her legs apart further, the soldier paused a moment to see the fear in Hecubas eyes, then quickly and brutally entered her, thrusting relentlessly until he fell from her exhausted and his passion spent. One by one the men took their turns with Hecuba and the last conscious, living thoughts she had were of her daughters and a plea for a quick end.
Lilla looked around the tent, searching desperately for her mother. She knew instantly of her mothers whereabouts when the screams began coming from the center of the camp. Closing her eyes briefly, Lilla voiced a quick prayer to any benevolent god who might have been listening and then opened her eyes, only to find that Dahok was just a few inches from her face. He had assumed a human form, with dark hair, a tall, well-muscled body and cold, hard gray eyes. She cringed as one hand slowly lifted her up off the floor and onto a fur covered bed. Lilla tried desperately to move but was held immobile by some unseen force as Dahoks hand descended towards her. Stifling a scream, Lilla watched helplessly as he slowly removed her top, baring her breasts to his hungry gaze. A smile crossed his hardened features as he trailed his hands in intricate patterns on her shoulders and breasts. His eyes never leaving hers, he then slid one hand down her side, deftly removing her long skirt and breeches. Now, she was completely exposed to his gaze and she knew what was about to happen.
"Please, no. Stop now, please."
" Hush, now. You will enjoy this. You already are, your mind just wont allow you to acknowledge it. Your body responds to me even now. Perhaps I will gift you as well. Your first time should be memorable. "
Lilla fought desperately against her bodys responses to his touches. She could only wonder what his gift could be until he moved over on top of her, and began to rub and massage her body, using his hands and mouth. She nearly screamed as his mouth took in her breast, licking and biting the nipple. Dahok looked up to Lillas eyes to see the passion mixing with fear as he continued his attentions to her ample breasts, moving from one to the other. Lilla felt a burning pressure between her legs and screamed in protest as he forced her legs apart with one hand, the other going to stroke the folds of her virginity. Lilla let out another unwilling scream as he now lowered his mouth to her throbbing sex, licking along its folds and crevices, and finally taking her swollen sex in his teeth, sucking until she screamed. Pausing a moment from his ministrations, Dahok rose slightly and looked at Lilla, and said
"I will take you completely now. I have decided. You will also bear a gift for me. "
Lillas last bit of rationality screamed silently as she realized the gift he was about to bestow upon her. Cursing her body for its response to this demon creature, she cried out as he brutally entered her, his sex enormous and rock hard, with all tenderness aside. His brutal thrusting and her screams continued for almost two candlemarks until one last brutally forceful thrust, his passion was spent and he was finished and assured that she was indeed with child. Rolling off the now unconscious form, he watched as her belly began to swell with growth of the child, and knew that she would only be able to live long enough to give birth to it. She was not the same as Gabrielle, not as strong physically and emotionally, but she would do for a start. Lilla had given him much pleasure that night and knowing he was her first and last made it all the more sweeter for him. Gabrielle would bear him many children to continue his rule. As for Hecuba, she was there for the men to use as they saw fit. He knew that the defilement of her mother and sister would crush the bard after she found out that Herodotus had traded them for his revenge.
A scream from the dining tent brought Herodotus head sticking out of the one belonging to the shamaness, Alti. She shared his desire for revenge and currently he was sharing her bed. She was far more responsive than Hecuba, who just lay there and he found himself completely enjoying her company. Both of them had plans of their own and discussed them as they took each other.
"Looks like the men will be happy tonight."
"Happy men fight well. I want to be fully aware tomorrow when we take that little bitch to Dahok. Gabrielle will finally pay for all the wrongs she has caused me. "
"You are so evil. I can see why he likes you. Enough for now, come over here ."
Altis words trailed off as Herodotus returned to the bed, the cries of his wife and daughter forgotten. Soon, we will have our revenge. Soon .. Alti pushed Herodotus back onto the bed, ripping away his clothes, exposing his manhood to her gaze. Pulling off her own clothes, Alti grasped his organ in her mouth, encouraging in to grow quickly. As Alti quickly brought him to full erection, Herodotus busied himself with tasting her sex. Soon, both unlikely lovers were highly aroused and quickly switched positions, Alti positioning herself just above Herodotus erect organ. Herodotus grabbed Altis shoulders and forcefully pulled her down over his organ and groaned as her sex gripped his in a vice like hold. Alti placed her hands on Herodotus shoulders as his hands grasped her breasts. Quickly settling into a rhythm, both unlikely lovers thrusted until they collapsed from exhaustion. Soon, both bedmates fell asleep, their passions spent as Morpheus grip enveloped them both
Xena watched as Gabrielle tossed and turned in a fitful slumber. The nightmares that they had put behind them, had come to the surface again and were tormenting the bard in her sleep. Everyone was uneasy as the night passed slowly, all of them unsure as to when Dahok would finally make his move. Ephiny, Solari and Eponin took turns guarding Gabrielle, allowing Xena to catch a few candlemarks of sleep. A scream in the distance brought the warrior princess to her senses and it only took a moment for those finely honed senses to identify who had screamed. It was Hecuba, surmised Xena. She must have been brought to the camp. I only hope Lilla is okay, for Gabrielles sake.
"Xena? I have something to tell you."
It was Artemis, standing respectfully outside the door to the room she and Gabrielle were currently occupied. Most of the other soldiers and amazons were taking shifts sleeping, silently grateful that they had one more day to get ready. Slipping quietly from the bed, Xena followed the moon goddess out of the room and down the hall. There was great sorrow in Artemis eyes as she spoke quietly to Xena
"What is it? "
" I heard a plea, Xena. "
Wearily, Xena knew who had issued that plea and why.
"Dahoks minions have Hecuba, dont they?"
"Yes, but theres more."
"What else is there?"
"In order to seal the deal, Herodotus had to pay a price ." Artemis voice trailed off as the realization dawned on Xena
"Dahok wanted Hecuba for his own."
"No. He gave Hecuba to his men ."
Xenas eyes widened in horror and it took all her iron will not to scream in anger and wake Gabrielle.
"He has Lilla, doesnt he?"
"Yes. He has taken her ."
"Will she survive it?"
"No. The seed he planted within Lilla grows to maturity as we speak. It will only be a matter of a few hours at most. Her body is not capable of sustaining that kind of shock. "
"And what about Gabrielle?"
"He will make Lilla birth the child in front of her, then die from the strain."
"How did you find this out?"
" I listened to him lay out his plan. I can only make her passage painless."
"How much more do we have to take? I dont know if Gabrielle can handle this."
"Go to her. It wont be long now. He will attack at dawn."
Artemis disappeared as Xena stalked back to her room. Slipping in the door quietly, Xena began to methodically put on her armor, and included a few pieces she hadnt worn in a long time. Fully dressed, she went over to where Gabrielle was still sleeping and gently roused her.
"Gabrielle? Time to get up and ready. The attack will start soon."
Xena waited until she was sure the bard was fully awake and dressing before she went and roused the others. Foregoing breakfast, the small, but determined group of protectors walked out of the inn and into the semi-darkened street. The first hints of dawn began poking through the clouds a short time later as soldiers, citizens and amazons filtered out to their positions to wait. The wait didnt last too long as a deep voice that could only belong to Dahok, thundered through the town.
"Gabrielle. Are you ready to take your place at my side?"
Gabrielle looked at Xena, drawing strength from her presence beside her. In a strong, clear voice, she replied
"I will not be joining you."
The sounds of laughter echoed through the town as a body was flung over the wall, hitting the ground hard and finally rolling to a stop at Gabrielles feet. Looking down, Gabrielle could barely recognize the face as she saw the lifeless body of her mother lying dead at her feet. Xena watched as an iron mask came across Gabrielles features, a mask she knew only too well. Gesturing to two amazons, she gave them orders to bring her mothers body to the inn, to be washed later and prepared for a funeral pyre. Without being told, Gabrielle knew that her father had delivered her mother to Dahok as payment, and that her sister was still with him.
"Lilla is with me too, Gabrielle. As we speak, she prepares for the birth of my child. You will be mine once again. "
Gabrielle closed her eyes in denial, the memories of Hopes vile conception and rapid birth crashing over her as Dahok continued.
"She resisted at first, like you. Then she complied, and she was quite entertaining for a while. I have someone here who would like to speak with you."
"Hello, Daughter. So nice of you to join the party."
At the sound of Herodotus voice, Gabrielles blood ran cold. She knew that Dahok would have demanded some kind of payment and that payment had been her mother and sister. She had known that her father was a monster, but this went far beyond anything she could have ever imagined. Reaching down into herself, Gabrielle summoned all the strength she could get and said, her voice cold and devoid of emotion.
"Herodotus of Potedeia. You are charged with conspiracy, treason and accessory to murder of the Amazon Queens mother and Princess. I, Gabrielle, as Queen of the Amazons hereby find you guilty and sentence you to death for your crimes. The sentence will be carried out by my hand. "
Ephiny, Solari, Cyane and Eponin all looked at Gabrielle. All four of them knew well the punishment for murder of an amazon princess, but to hear the charges read and decision of guilt decided by Gabrielle in that manner surprised even them. The respect and admiration they had for her just grew tenfold, circumstances notwithstanding. Artemis had chosen well, when she picked Gabrielle to be the Queen. Only a true Amazon Queen could speak with such control after being dealt a situation like this, and they vowed to protect her at all costs.
Herodotus laughed at the reply from his daughter, his confidence sure as he stood outside Amphipolis gates. A look to Dahok assured him that he would be generously rewarded. Herodotus paused for a moment to look at his youngest daughter, Lilla. Her belly swelled with the rapid growth of the child and even he could tell that she would only live long enough to birth the child. Her features were pale and sweating, labor had begun a short time ago and the dress she was wearing barely covered her. That should break the little amazon bitch. Her mother dead and her sister forced to bear a child of Dahok. Oh, revenge is sweet Herodotus thought.
Gabrielle quietly climbed up the sentry post and saw her father and her very pregnant sister Lilla standing next to the current embodiment of Dahok. To Dahoks side stood the shamaness Alti and behind them stood the massive force of Dahoks army. Studying the trees to the side of Dahoks army she could just make out the outlines of figures moving silently through the trees. Slipping back down to the ground, Gabrielle walked back to where Xena stood, the streaks of sunshine beginning to poke through the clouds. Looking into Xenas eyes, Gabrielle drew strength from her, knowing what she had to do. The wait wasnt long.
It didnt take too long for the gates to Amphipolis to break down, and by that time; thirty-five of Dahoks army had fallen to the deadly accuracy of the amazon archers. Ducking back into the trees, the archers continued to pick off various soldiers from a safe, discreet distance, trying to keep up the confusion of the soldiers. They knew there were archers firing on them, but they could not see the directions from where the archers were firing. As the army spilled into the main road of Amphipolis, the hidden army of amazons and Ares minions stepped into the fray, the battle was furious as citizens battled soldiers of Dahoks army of destruction. Deciding she had no choice but to trust Ares sincerity, Xena allowed the dark fury to rise to the surface, the battle fury, which had made her name, the most feared in all of Greece and its surrounding territories. Xena once again became the Destroyer of Nations again, Ares Chosen One. With a feral grin, she screamed her battle cry, and with sword in hand, the warrior princess dove into the fray of the battle, cutting down any and all that got in her way.
Alti walked into the village, completely unaffected by the carnage that surrounded her. She had only one goal on her mind and that was the death of the Warrior Princess. So consumed with her thoughts of revenge on Xena, Alti had failed to notice the figure walk out of the shadows, a figure in full amazon battle dress, flowing hair held back by a headband that signified her position as an amazon queen. Not just an amazon queen, but the legendary queen, Cyane.
"Hello, Alti. Care to finish what you started?"
Alti froze in her tracks. In the twelve years since that fateful day on the steppes, the day she had convinced Xena to murder the leadership of the amazon tribe that had spurned her, Alti had thought her foe vanquished. She had denied the amazons entry into their afterlife, only to have been defeated in a spiritual battle by Xena ten years later. Xena had returned to the steppes in search of Gabrielle after a vision and had battled Alti in the dreamscape. After her defeat, Xena had given the new amazon leader and shamaness, the new holy word that would allow the amazons of the steppes, to enter the gates of eternity. Alti had sworn somehow to exact revenge upon Xena and as she was about to get it, she was stopped by a woman, she had long thought dead.
"Cyane. You will not stop me. I will have my revenge."
Alti attempted to move to where Xena was in the midst of a group of soldiers, but Cyane blocked her path.
"No, Alti. Your battle will be with me. Once and for all."
An evil smile crossed Altis features as she sheathed her sword and the battle began with the amazon queen. It would be a battle of souls, and it was winner take all.
Ephiny, Solari jumped into the fray, screaming a war cry of their own, their swords drawn, eternally grateful for one last chance to fight beside their best friend and queen. They stayed in a tight group surrounding Gabrielle, sworn to protect her at all costs. They had no fear of death, and their fighting showed it. Slashing and stabbing, the former regent and chief scout were merciless in their fight. Soldiers fell by the wayside as the two amazon warriors fought relentlessly. A quick glance to Gabrielles left saw the current weaponsmaster engaged in a bloody fight with two armed soldiers.
Eponin was relying on all her training and skills to take down the two soldiers who seemed determined to break through and take Gabrielle back to their master. She had taken one of the soldiers down when a third soldier entered the combat attempting to run her through with his sword. Catching a glimpse of the approaching attacker, Eponin whispered a prayer to her goddess as she prepared to die. The sword never hit her as the soldier was knocked back a good fifty paces by a solid punch to his face. The now familiar yellow shirt belonging only to Hercules stepped up to her side. A quick smile of gratitude to the demi-god, then Eponin took down her last combatant with a vicious sword thrust to his midsection.
"No problem. Have you seen Iolaus?"
"lolaus was with the group protecting the hospice. "
Nodding his thanks, the demi-god began fighting his way over towards the hospice where a group of 20 soldiers were trying to enter. A nimble and quick fighter, Iolaus was beginning to tire under the relentless onslaught of Dahoks army, along with the seven amazons that were fighting with him. A soldier was preparing to spear one of the amazons in the back until he went sailing twenty feet in the air, coming to land on a broken wagon wheel. Iolaus looked and relief crossed his face as Hercules stepped into view.
"That was close, thanks."
Both men hated killing, but had done so when necessary and knew that they would have to kill in this battle. This battle was not an ordinary battle, but a battle for their very existence, both mortal and god alike. True to his word, Ares had awakened the remainder of his godly abilities and given him control over them. Also true to his word, Ares private armies had arrived as promised and were fighting with great passion and fervor. A momentary break in the fighting, gave both men a chance to catch their breath as they surveyed the battle scene all around them.
Bodies lay everywhere, some had fallen to the secreted traps, others to arrows, spears and sword wounds. Several of the towns smaller buildings were in ruins and two buildings were completely destroyed. The fighting had been directed around the hospice and inn, although there were a few holes in the walls, where a couple of arrows were still embedded in the walls. A quick look at the remaining soldiers showed that they were now down to about half strength, the cavalry was gone, having been decimated by the deadly accuracy of the amazon archers. All that remained were the foot soldiers surrounding Dahok himself. Both men hoped that they could last long enough for that final confrontation.
Ares and Artemis watched the battle, unseen by both sides, both of them fully prepared to join in the battle if need be. Artemis watched with great pride as her amazons eliminated foe after foe. She had been right in asking Hades for the brief reprieve for her children and even Zeus himself had given his blessing for the coming battle. She noticed with pride, how skilled her chosen one had become and was extremely pleased with her prowess and dedication to the Amazon Nation.
Ares too, had been watching the battle with great interest; his eyes never leaving Xena, and his decision to release Xena from their bond, he hoped would bring them on speaking terms at least. Even with the release of their bond, he watched as Xena plowed through enemies with the ferocity that had first attracted him to her, his blood pumping with the battle fever boiling just below the surface, waiting patiently to be released. His gesture had not been lost on Artemis, even she had suspected that he actually had feelings for Xena, and she had done nothing to discourage him. I do love you Xena. Allow me the chance to show you thought the war god.
Both the god of war and the goddess of the hunt watched as the battle progressed. The fighting had been going on for four candlemarks now and Dahoks army had suffered a great many casualties, many of them falling to the blade of the warrior princess. The combined forces of the amazons and Ares minions along with the militia of Amphipolis had also suffered casualties as well, although not nearly as many as Dahok had due to the strategic placement of the archers and traps that the Amazons had prepared. Dahoks forces were down to approximately one third of his original attacking force and the dead on both sides were starting to pile up in places. Turning his attention back to Xena, he watched as she was surrounded by twenty, fully armed and rested soldiers. She had taken down approximately seven of them with quick, vicious swings of her blade, when one came in and hit her from behind with a large battle mace. Knocked to the ground, Xena barely avoided the downward swipe of a sword and took the advantage to take out three soldiers with a swipe to their knees. She didnt see the blade behind her, but felt it as it entered her lower back. Unable to flip out of the way, or even stand, all she could hope to do was to take out as many of the remaining soldiers as she could before crossing over.
Ares heart nearly leapt out of his chest as he saw Xena fall to that soldiers blade. Unable to stay out of the battle any longer, the god of war materialized behind the soldier cutting him down with a ferocity that surprised even him, his battle fever unleashed at long last and his bone-chilling war cry echoing throughout the town. All that was on his mind now was the woman he realized he now loved, a mortal woman now laying in a pool of her blood by his feet. Ares swung his blade with such ferocity, cutting down anything and everything that came close to his chosen one. When he had finished, there were a total of fifty-eight soldiers lying in a heap around him and Xena. A lone tear was in his eye as he picked up the limp, unconscious body of the woman he realized he loved. Placing one hand over the wound, Ares cradled his precious cargo and vanished, taking his princess to the hospice.
He materialized inside the hospice and found that it was filled with wounded soldiers, amazons and citizens and more were being brought in every moment. He cleared a pallet and laid Xena on it gently, trying not to aggravate the wound any further. Karinna, one of the amazon healers hurried over and immediately began treating the warrior princess, silently hoping that the wound was not as life threatening as it looked, knowing whose presence she now worked in front of. After carefully cutting away the leather bodice, she examined the wound thoroughly. It was deep, but appeared not to have struck any major organs. Taking a bone needle and fine thread, she began to meticulously stitch the wound closed. After finishing, she sprinkled an herbal mixture over the wound to help prevent infection and bound it tightly with a bandage, then treated the other wounds that Xena had. Only after she had finished, did she formally acknowledge the God of War standing watch over her, Xenas blood drying on his clenched fist as she treated Xena.
"Will she live?" the tone Ares used was not one of questioning, but one of demand.
The young amazon healer chose her words carefully, knowing that a wrong answer would not go well for her.
"I believe so. The wound was deep and she lost a great deal of blood, but with rest, I think she will be fine. She also has numerous cuts and scrapes and two arrow wounds as well. "
The healers statement did little to relieve the war gods anxiety and he removed a small leather pouch from his vest. A snap of his fingers and a warm cup of wine appeared. Ares opened the pouch and mixed a bit of the powder in with the wine. He then knelt down and gently lifted Xenas head up enough for him to pour some of the wine down her throat. Satisfied, he set the cup down next to the pallet and spoke to the healer.
"Put a pinch of this in her cup of wine or water, whenever she drinks. Do NOT put it in the tea. I want to be notified when she wakes up."
Karinna nodded her head and turned back to help the rest of the wounded as Ares left the hospice.
Ares rematerialized outside, just in time to see his sister Artemis take down five of Dahoks soldiers with her bow, as they were about to skewer Gabrielle from behind. Rejoining the battle, Ares and Artemis fought side by side until there were no more soldiers left to fall to his blade and her bow. A quick succession of four hawk calls caught the attention of the two gods and they watched as the last of the soldiers inside the town fall.
As the smoke cleared, all that remained were the core group of fifty soldiers surrounding Dahok, Herodotus and Lilla, who looked to be in great pain. Regrouping the combined army of Amphipolis marched forward to meet Dahok in a final showdown, the army being led by Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus, Ephiny, and Eponin. All of them had multiple cuts and bruises on them and the fact that none of them was in the hospice now was a tribute to their training and skill.
Dahok was incensed. His army lay in ruins in and around Amphipolis. This was supposed to have been easy and it would have been if it hadnt been for his scouting party allowing Hercules and Iolaus to escape and warn Xena of what was coming. Damn Ares for his interference as well. I will at least have the pleasure of watching Lilla birth my child in front of Gabrielle. Theres nothing she can do. I will survive and grow.
Herodotus watched as the army led by Gabrielle and Hercules advanced on their position. Grabbing Lilla roughly, he forced the extremely pregnant girl to the front and tied her arms and legs to a large wooden "X" which had been placed in the ground. Yanking off her clothes, Herodotus watched with great satisfaction as Lilla began to cry out as the contractions became more painful and violent. Seeking to add more pain onto Gabrielle, Herodotus called from his position
"Where is your hero now, Gabrielle? This is all your fault, you know. You could have had the world, now your sister will bear a child for the one you killed. If you hadnt gone to follow that murdering warlord, you would still be married now. Perdicus would still be alive and Hecuba would be a grandmother instead of dead. You came home looking for some kind of heros welcome. You deserve no heros welcome, neither of you do."
"I m right here. " a voice from behind them growled.
Ares spun around in total shock as he saw the figure of the woman he loved standing there, being supported on one side by Solari and the other by Cyrene. She should be in bed, recovering from her wounds. Not out here where she could get . His thoughts trailed off as he moved to stand beside her, taking up a defensive posture
Looking at the writhing figure of her sister, and seeing the desperation in her eyes, Gabrielle knew what she had to do. Pausing to look at Xena, Gabrielle saw the understanding in her eyes and reached back with a hand for the weapon she knew that could end her sisters suffering and stop Dahoks entrance into the mortal world for good. Notching the arrow, Gabrielle pulled the bowstring back on Artemis bow and released, letting the arrow fly. The arrow sped straight and true and buried itself in Lillas heart, instantly ending her suffering. To prevent the birth of the child, she notched one more arrow and let it fly, watching as it imbedded itself cleanly in Lillas abdomen, impaling the unborn demon.
Herodotus watched this in disbelief as Gabrielle ended Lillas life and his last chance at revenge. Enraged beyond rationality, he raced forward grabbing a sword as he went, headed directly for Gabrielle. If he couldnt have revenge on her, he would at least have revenge upon Xena by killing Gabrielle in front of her.
Gabrielle was so numbed by the killing of her sister; she almost didnt see the sword arcing towards her head. A shrill whistle from Xena, caught Gabrielles attention and she blocked the blow with her war staff. Her first weapon, a gift from Ephiny from what seemed a lifetime ago, a part of her life she had thought lost in a river in India. Swinging her staff up, she blocked the blow with ease, the rhythm of the motion of the staff soothing her frayed nerves. Another slash by the sword and it was blocked. Smack, a blow to her fathers arm dropped the sword a bit lower. Another hit from the staff knocked the sword flying from his hand and a quick strike to the midsection dropped the enraged man to his knees in the grass. Quickly surrounding him, the amazons tied him up and dragged him off as Dahok and his remaining army engaged them.
The fighting lasted for almost a candlemark, breaking into small groups with Ares and Solari fighting beside Xena, both protecting her from any further injuries; Hercules and Iolaus fighting side by side against a group of ten, Ephiny and Eponin fighting seven, and Artemis, Cyane and the remainder of the army fighting the rest of the soldiers, leaving Dahok for Gabrielle.
Dahok approached Gabrielle with anticipation, watching her glance one more time at the still figure of her sister, still tied the stake in the ground, his plans for her still somewhat intact although a bit disappointed by Lillas death and the death of his unborn child, but pleased that Gabrielle had killed again.
"You still will be mine. You can do nothing to change that. "
"No, I will not. Your time is at an end, here and now."
Dahok laughed at Gabrielle. She thought that she could defeat him with just her staff was ludicrous. He would take her someplace far away and have her until she bore him another child. He would keep her young and healthy so she would continue to bear him children. She would not defeat him. No one or nothing could defeat him. Not the entites which had locked him away before, the gods of Olympus or any mortal. She would be taught a lesson.
"You honestly think you could defeat me? With your little stick? Hardly."
Enraged on the inside, feeling for the first time the battle fury that Xena knew so well, Gabrielle released her hold on the battle fury and renewed her attack on Dahok with an intense ferocity until she had him beaten down to the ground and he was bleeding from a dozen staff wounds.
"You forgot one thing . The legends say If you are ever defeated .three times in mortal form on the . mortal plane . you will cease to exist ."
Gabrielles words crashed down the last of the barriers as he suddenly realized the truth of her words. It had been written long ago, yet he had forgotten it. He watched helplessly as Gabrielles staff paused high over his head. It glowed for a moment and then descended towards him with frightening speed. The last living thought he had was How could this be? I am immortal
As Gabrielle struck Dahok in the chest with her staff, a strange glow surrounded his form and he disappeared along with the surviving soldiers of his army. The survivors of the battle looked around, bewildered and relieved that the long battle was finally over. The battle now over, Xena looked over to where Gabrielle now sat, cradling the dead body of her sister in her arms. She was about to go over to her, when her injury made itself known and she fell forwards, only to be caught in the strong, well-muscled arms of the God of War. Too weak to struggle, she allowed herself to be gathered into his arms and as he stood to carry her away, she asked Artemis
"Will she be alright?"
"I dont know. The death of her mother and Lillas death by her hand have caused her a great deal of pain. Go with my brother, he will make sure you are all right. I will take care of Gabrielle, Xena. You fought well today and all of mankind is in your debt."
Over the protests of Xena, Ares gently carried her away to her room above the inn where she could get some rest as Artemis consoled Gabrielle.
Several days had passed since the fateful battle with Dahok and his minions. All of Dahoks minions had been destroyed and had disappeared when Dahok died at Gabrielles hand. Alti had been destroyed once and for all during her battle with Cyane, her spirit had been completely destroyed and her body had been burned, the ashes gathered and were deposited into the vortex and now the only matter left for Gabrielle to deal with was the carrying out of the sentence upon Herodotus. After conferring with Amphipolis reeve and Artemis, it had been agreed upon that the sentence would be carried out here, with the citizens of Amphipolis, the amazons, Artemis and Ares as witnesses.
Still weak from her injuries, Xena had insisted upon being there for Herodotus punishment, hoping to lend support to Gabrielle and silently wondered if Gabrielle would be able to go through with what she had promised. After what had happened, with her mother and sister, Xena was ready to take that responsibility upon herself, but only if Gabrielle asked her to. She was still surprised at the gentle treatment that Ares was showing her and had heard a whisper exchanged between Artemis and Hercules about Ares feelings for her. He had been true to his word about the bond being broken and the complete control over the battle fury, which had once ruled her life. She had been able to tuck it away with relative ease. He had not tried to force her back to his fold in any way, he had made sure that she ate, drank and slept so she could recover as quickly as possible.
A beat of drums outside signaled it was time for Herodotus sentencing and she was determined to be there for that, knowing what Gabrielle had to do. Moving carefully, Xena dressed in the clothes that were laid out for her on the table. Dark blue leathers, with silver trim and matching silver armor. Also included were a new pair of dark blue leather boots and grieves, arm bands and bracers to match her new leathers. A knock at the door caught her attention and Ares poked his head through the door.
"Like the leathers? I had them made for you. The old ones were toast." A bit of his normal arrogance tinged his voice and mischief sparkled in his eyes as he waited for her to finish dressing.
"Why are you doing this? "
Ares lifted Xenas chin just a bit so he could stare directly into her blue eyes.
"Because I want to. No strings, I just want to. Now come on, you want to be there dont you?"
Without another word, Xena allowed Ares to lead her out of the room and down the stairs and through the inn, silently wondering about his intentions. A few curious stares from some of her townsfolk were silenced with a glare from Ares as they made their way outside and down to the village square. As soon as they arrived, Xena took her place beside Gabrielle as Herodotus was brought in front of her.
Gabrielle was dressed in her full queens regalia and flanked on both sides by the Royal Guard. Xena stood to Gabrielles right and both Ephiny and Chilapa stood to Gabrielles left, with Cyane standing behind her. Tobias, Amphipolis reeve stood just to the left and in front of Gabrielle and read the charges against Herodotus.
"Herodotus of Potedeia. You are formally charged with, both here and in the royal amazon village of the attempted murder of the Amazon Queen and accessory to murder of the Amazon Princess. Do you have anything to say in your defense?"
Herodotus spat at Gabrielles feet as he said
"I did nothing wrong, you whore. I did not know what that thing would do. As for the other charge, your precious queen is the killer here, not me. You all treat her like a hero, but she no more a hero than that murdering bitch she travels with."
Herodotus found himself flat on his back after that last comment, a small patch of his clothing burned from where Ares had struck him with a ball of energy. Hercules looked at his brother in amazement as he defended Xena, his suspicions about the war gods feelings for Xena confirmed. Herodotus was roughly pulled to feet by Ares and cringed as the war god growled
"She is more hero than you could have ever hoped to be, slime. I will make sure my uncle has a special place prepared for you in Tartarus."
With that, Ares released Herodotus into the custody of two amazon warriors who held him fast as Gabrielle now pronounced sentence.
"Herodotus of Potedeia. In the presence of these witnesses, the God of War, Ares and the Goddess of the Hunt and Moon, Artemis, you have been found guilty of the charges against you and the penalty is death. The sentence to be carried out immediately. Eponin, your bow. "
Eponin handed her bow to Gabrielle, and placed an arrow in her hand. Notching the arrow, Gabrielle took careful aim and fired, striking Herodotus in the heart. He slumped to the ground and his body was carried off to be buried in an unmarked grave.
Hades appeared without his usual fanfare almost immediately after Herodotus body was carried off and walked over to where Gabrielle stood with Hercules, Iolaus, Xena and Ares. His helmet was tucked securely under one arm and his face was sympathetic and warm, which under normal circumstances was rather unusual. His curly hair wafted in the chill air and he stopped in front of Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle. I know you feel guilt over what happened to your mother and what you had to do to your sister to save her. You also worry about when it does come time to come before me for judgement as to the rest of your fate. Do not worry, all will be understood when the time comes. I hope that this will give you some small measure of comfort. Rest assured, they did not suffer, Celesta made sure of that and they were brought directly to me. I allowed them to watch the outcome of the fight and they understand what you did and why. "
With a wave of Hades hand, a globe appeared in midair and Gabrielle saw her mother and sister in the Elysian Fields reunited with the members of her family that had passed over before them. They looked happy and finally at peace.
Tears fell from Gabrielles face as she saw her mother and sister finally happy. Looking directly at Hades, Gabrielle said
"Thank you, Lord Hades. It makes it easier to deal with knowing that they are at peace. "
Hades looked at the bard and made a decision, his eyes taking in the assembled amazons
" While I cannot grant a return to your mother and sister to the mortal plane, as a small token of gratitude, I will grant a return to the mortal plane any of the amazons who wish to stay here. That includes your friends, Gabrielle."
The Amazons looked at each other in shock at the statement from Hades. They were being given a second chance at life. Ephiny stepped forward and addressed the god of the underworld
"We can stay? Really? Under what conditions? "
"Yes, Those who wish to stay may do so. There is only one condition of this offer, know this, amazons, I can only offer this once.. I am breaking a lot of rules here to do this. If you die a second time, you must stay in the afterlife."
Whoops and hollers erupted from the women as they were given a second chance at life. Hades knew he had made the right decision as Ephiny and Solari hugged each other and everyone else. Quietly, with one last glance at Xena and Gabrielle, Hades departed as quietly as he arrived.
Cyrene turned to Xena and said,
"This is a solstice to remember."
"Yes, mom. It is. "
Xena gathered Gabrielle in one arm and Ares in the other and walked slowly towards her mothers inn where a celebration waited.
The winter solstice celebration was in full swing. Cyrenes inn was crowded with amazons and travelers and filled to capacity. Not a spare space to be had. It had been nearly a month since that fateful battle and in that time, Xena and Gabrielle had done a lot of healing. Hercules and Iolaus had stayed on as well, both helping to rebuild the damage to the town. Ares had been true to his word and left quietly and had not bothered them since saying good-bye two days after the funeral pyres for those who had died.
In true Amazon tradition, the bodies of Gabrielles mother and sister had been given a royal amazon funeral before the assembled witnesses of the Amazons and citizens of Amphipolis. The ceremonial drums of the amazons beat in a steady, mournful rhythm and blended with the amazon funeral dirge. Artemis watched the solemn ceremony with both sadness and pride. Gabrielles features were impassive as she signaled for the archers to fire the flaming arrows, as Xena sang her song of the dead. After the fires had burned, their ashes were collected and buried in the same cave where Xenas brother laid, in a gesture of love from Cyrene.
After some lengthy discussions and consultations with Artemis, an agreement had been reached between Gabrielle, Chilapa and Ephiny regarding the rule of the amazon tribe. Both Ephiny and Chilapa would rule jointly in Gabrielles absence and the amazons from Cyanes tribe had decided it would be in their best interests to return to the steppes and assume the leadership roles they had been given a second chance at.
Gabrielle had remained silent for two days following the funeral pyres for her mother and sister and had only begun to reintegrate herself back into the mainstream of life after a long talk with Xena and Artemis. The moon goddess had comforted her chosen one as best as she could and then left quietly promising to come back any time the bard called upon her.
Xena had taken it as a hopeful sign when the bard began to tell a story, the story she had begun prior to the events of only a few moons ago. Xena wanted to do something extra special for the bard this solstice, and decided to finish the scroll she had started only a few days ago. A lifetime ago it seemed now. Picking up the scroll, Xena continued to write as she watched Gabrielle weave her special magic.
Solstice Eve was a happy, busy affair. A renewal of life and remembrance of those that had gone on before. Gifts were exchanged between all and Xena was surprised when one gift was left for her. A long, slim box, carved with intricate markings and upon opening it, Xena saw perhaps the most beautiful sword ever created. Perfectly balanced just for her, with a long, grooved blade and matching scabbard. The warrior princess wondered who could have given her such a gift until she saw the simple note beneath the blade. Curious, she picked up the note and read it.
I give this to you as just a gift from one warrior to another. Use this blade as you see fit.
And maybe, maybe someday we could be friends
The warrior princess was stunned at the simplicity and sincerity of the note. Cautious, she picked up the blade and felt no surge of power; no trick or spell had been placed upon the weapon. He had actually meant what he had said. She could no longer feel that tenuous connection to him, and she had control over her dark side as he promised. With great care, she replaced her old sword with the new one and turned as Gabrielle came over to her.
"Who is that from?"
"Ares. And there are no tricks either. "
Xena looked uncomfortable with the odd glance from Gabrielle. Reaching into her bracer, she withdrew the scroll she had written for Gabrielle and handed it to her.
"Here. I didnt have a lot of time to get you something, so I decided to surprise you."
Gabrielle took the scroll, untying it and began to read. It said
You know how Im not too good with words, but I thought that for you I would make the effort. I hope you like it
I have often dreamed of a far off place
Where a heros welcome, would be waiting for me
Where the crowds would cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying, this is where I am meant to be
Ill be there someday, I can go the distance
I will find my way, if I can be strong
I know every mile will be worth my life
When I go the distance, Ill be right where I belong.
Down an unknown road, to embrace my fate
Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you.
And a thousand years, would be worth the wait
It might take a lifetime, but somehow Ill see it through
And I wont look back, I can go the distance
And Ill stay on track, no I wont accept defeat
Its an uphill slope, but I wont lose hope
Till I go the distance and my journey is complete
But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part
A heros strength is measured, by his heart
Like a shooting star, I will go the distance
I will search the world; I will face its harms
I dont care how far, I can go the distance
Till I find my heros welcome, waiting in your arms
I will search the world; I will face its haunts
Till I find my heros welcome, waiting in your arms.
As Gabrielle finished reading, there were tears in her eyes as she pulled Xena into her arms. Whispering quietly into the warriors ear she said
"Youve found it, Xena. You have found it."
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