See Part1 for disclaimers
"XENAA!" Gabrielle shouted as she took her first steps towards the forest that was now in flames.
"No, Gabrielle!" Eponin went after her and grabbed her hand. "You can't possibly get to her. You'll just hurt yourself."
"But we got to do something!" The bard objected. "They'll burn alive!"
"It looks worse than it is. There must be some spots that haven't caught fire yet. Xena will know what to do." Eponin tried to calm the bard but new explosions in the forest made her words sound shallow.
Gabrielle felt both angry and helpless when she watched the raging fire. Please let her make it out safely, she pleaded to no one in particular.
Everything had happened so fast. Xena had seen the round objects shot from the other end of the opening. She had never suspected the true nature of the shelling before it was too late. Now she could only watch the fire and the growing panic around her. She saw people running around in flames and screaming in horrible pain. Finally, her instincts took over and she ran towards a man whose back was on fire. She tossed the man to the ground and rolled him over to put out the flames. She looked up to the trees that were burning hot. She could not make out any of the archers that had been placed on the upper branches. She ran towards a particular tree and found Elita. The young Amazon was knelt beside someone. Xena inhaled deep when she recognized the badly scorched body. "Alysa?"
"She she took a straight hit." The spiky haired woman turned to look at the warrior. "It was horrible. She was burning like a torch and that screaming " Elita covered her face with her hands. "When I finally got the flames to go out, she " The rest of the words faded into silent sobs.
Xena put her hand on the Amazon's shoulder. "Elita, we have to get to the river. It's our only chance." The warrior rose but the young woman remained down.
"I don't want to leave her," the young Amazon said with voice that didn't leave any doubts about the feelings she had towards the woman lying lifelessly next to her.
"There's nothing you can do for her," the warrior said. "Come on! We have to help the wounded!" She pulled the Amazon up and dragged her away.
Xena took the soldier, that she had been tending a moment ago, on her shoulder and started the race against the flames towards the river. In a corner of her eye she saw Elita help one of her fellow Amazons on her feet and head to the river. New fires were bursting out around them and they saw scorched bodies everywhere. The roar of the inferno around them was only beaten by the screams of the burning people.
When they were closing the river, Xena noticed that there were fever hotbeds of fire around them. The riverbank was obviously left intact for a reason and the warrior had a feeling she wouldn't like that reason. They reached the riverbank and Xena could finally make rough calculations about the casualties. She fell onto her knees when she counted the survivors. Only fifteen out of seventy fighters had made it out of the raging fire that was eating the forest. Most of the survivors had burns all over their bodies. Xena felt a twinge in her stomach and she vomited heavily.
Elita looked at the dark haired warrior curled down to a knot and throwing up. Some of the ebony hair had burned away and turned to color of ash. Several burns were here and there on the tanned skin. Now she began to exam her own body. She discovered that her left arm was badly burned and the pain now registered into her brain. She was about to go into a shock when she heard the noises in front of them. Parseus' men were closing in numbers.
"We can't just wait here and watch our friends burn to death," Gabrielle shrieked when the shelling of the burning forest continued.
"I don't like the situation any more than you do but let's face it. They're on their own. Sending people into that furnace would be foolish." Eponin said with a frustrated tone. She was as eager to run into the flames to look their friends as the bard next to her but all her logic and experience told her otherwise.
"Looks like that the river banks have stayed pretty much intact," Shiro, that had come to them, remarked. "There is a possibility that some of our friends might have made it there."
"Hey, you're right!" The Amazon weapons master replied. "Maybe we should send someone to look Wait a second!" She interrupted. "Why would Parseus leave part of the forest intact, unless " The thought hit her like a bolt of lightning. "Gods! They're coming through!"
"What are we waiting for?" Gabrielle said to Eponin. "We have to go there and stop them!"
"Yes!" Eponin replied. "Everybody on the move!" She ordered. "We have to stop those attackers!" She went after the bard that was already running towards the riverbank.
Everyone left their posts and followed the two women.
Elita ran along the riverbank with the rest of the survivors. She was leading Xena, who was still in shock. Arrows were flying past them. Their chasers were right behind them. She heard an arrow hit one of them and fall into the ground whining in pain. Suddenly she felt the warrior to pull her hand away. She turned to look and saw her run to the wounded soldier and picking him up. The next moment she was back on her side
"We have got to make it to the second lines. We'll take a stand there." There was no trace of the shock that had bothered the warrior just a moment ago.
"But they are gaining on us. We'll never make it there," Elita said a despair in her voice.
"We don't have to. Look!" Xena pointed forward.
Elita looked and she saw their friends coming towards them, the dark weapons master and the honey haired bard in front. "Thank gods!"
Gabrielle saw the surviving fighters and she sighed out relief when she made out the tall form of the raven haired warrior. Gods! Is that what is left of them, she thought when she counted the number of the survivors. She felt the rage that had become so familiar to her during the last year raising and this time she welcomed it eagerly. "Come on! Let's make those bastards regret the day they decided to lay their hands on Amphipolis!" She shouted and ran faster towards the attackers. The others joined her.
They reached the survivors who were sent straight into infirmary, except for Xena who drew her sword for the first time since the battle had commenced.
"Xena, you're in no condition to fight!" Gabrielle tried to stop her but the warrior gave her a cold, ferocious look and turned to face the attackers.
They confronted the enemy troops and fighting began. The two groups were equally matched. Parseus' troops were more experienced but the defenders beat them slightly in head count. It was bloody. Both sides had casualties in numbers. There was no order. To an outside observer it would have looked like that everybody was fighting everybody.
Somewhere, in the middle of that, two women were fighting back to back, taking out the enemy. They moved as one, each of them adjusting to other's moves smoothly and precisely. Neither of them realized this, though. It was Eponin who noticed this. In the corner of her eye she saw the warrior and the bard fighting Parseus' troops. Do they realize how essential they are to each other? The Amazon had no time to think that further as she had to block yet another hit with her sword.
Elsewhere, both Annika and Shiro fared pretty well. The Amazon wreaked havoc around her with her straightforward style and the ronin confronted his opponents with lethal precision and finesse. From time to time, they found themselves exchanging glances. They were both fascinated by each other, each of them offering something that the other needed. They both had now an uncontrollable urge to live through this. They both wanted to learn more.
Gabrielle parried a hit from her opponent with her staff and countered it with a combination move sending the soldier down holding his groins. At that moment she realized something. She didn't want to finish him off. For the first time in a long time she felt that she was in control. She didn't have to fight against her own rage. It was strange, like something buried deep inside of her was coming into the daylight. It intimidated her in some level.
Xena had other thoughts in her mind. Her plan had failed miserably. What had started as an ambush, had turned into slaughter. She had lost almost half of her men in the fire. The remaining troops held the attackers but with a high price. It was all happening all over again. Once again she was failing to save her hometown from annihilation. They wouldn't bear an another attack like this much less a stampede of eight hundred men rampaging through the streets of Amphipolis. I should have done more reconnaissance. I should have been aware of those catapults, she though as she gave hit after hit and more of Parseus' men fell around her.
Then, Parseus' commanding officers gathered that they had inflicted enough damage to the defenders and commanded the remaining men to retreat. There was no point to get all of the men killed in a battle that was slowly turning in opponents favor, especially when the reinforcements were just a few days away. Slowly, the attackers began their retreat. It hadn't been easy for them, either. Almost half of the attackers had fell in the battle but they had managed to drop the number of the defenders to a mere seventy.
Xena didn't order her troops to follow the attackers. In fact, she didn't do anything. She just glanced at the quieted battlefield and the bodies lying all around it. The attack had been stopped with high cost and this was only beginning. She walked away slowly, without noticing the swarming around her as all concentrated their attention to the wounded.
Gabrielle was knelt besides Eponin. She was lying on the ground and a spear was sticking out through her ribs. Someone had managed to get through the Amazon's defenses. She was unconscious but she was still breathing. "Bring the stretchers, we have to get her to the infirmary as quickly as possible!" The bard shouted with a desperate voice.
By evening, everything had started to settle down. All the wounded had been gathered in the infirmary that was now packed. Gabrielle had spent most of the time helping out wherever she could. Now she was sitting by Eponin's bed. Shanni came to her.
"You really should get some rest, my queen," the blond Amazon healer said. "There's really nothing you can do. Pon's a tough woman. She'll come through. She just needs to rest and so do you."
Gabrielle gave a weary smile to her. "Is that what the doctor orders?"
"Well, I could order you to bed but I'm pleading to your common sense," Shanni answered.
"I guess you're right," the bard said and stood up.
Gabrielle stepped out of the infirmary and looked around. The streets were empty. Everyone was inside. Today's battle had brought the common moral down. Everyone was now living in uncertainty and fear. Things didn't look good for the Amphipolitans. If a miracle didn't happen, they would have to leave their homes. She opened the door to the inn and was about to head upstairs when Cyrene came to her. The tiredness and frustration could be seen clearly from the older woman's face.
"Gabrielle, I am worried about my daughter." Her voice revealed that the day had been hard on her. "She has been so absent after the battle. I practically had to drag her to the infirmary to take care of her wounds. Now she's just in her room, refusing to eat or talk." Gabrielle could read the plea in her words.
"I don't know if I can be any help. Xena doesn't want to talk with me."
"Look, I don't know all that has happened between you two and I'm not accusing either one of you. But the one thing I know is that Xena needs you and I have a feeling that you need her as well," Cyrene said with firmer tone. "The question is which one of you has the guts to take the initiative and I wouldn't place my bets on my daughter right now."
Well, you may as well finish what you started, Gabrielle, the bard thought to herself. "I'll talk to her," she said to Cyrene.
Xena sat on her bed and stared at the opposing wall. Her armor and weapons lay in a messy pile on the floor. Today had proven to be disastrous to the defenders of Amphipolis. The town was as good as dead. When Parseus would send his whole army against what was left of them, it wouldn't even be a slaughter. Those few brave fighters would simply be wiped out of existence. If they could have confronted those leading forces where they wanted, that would have taken the edge out of their attack. That would have given hope. Now there was no hope.
A knock on the door shook her off from her thoughts. "Go away!" She said to the door.
The door opened and Gabrielle stepped inside. "Xena, we need to talk," she said silently.
"I don't want to talk. Get out!" Xena said angrily.
"I won't leave this room until we have talked," the bard said with stern voice.
"Okay, then I'll leave!" The warrior stepped out of the bed and walked towards the door.
"I won't let you just brush me off." Gabrielle grabbed her arm.
"Let go of my arm while you still can," Xena said with a dark ferocious tone.
"Make me!" Gabrielle challenged her, her voice matching the warrior's.
"As you wish!" Xena grabbed Gabrielle's other arm and threw he on the floor.
Gabrielle used her momentum and tripped the warrior with her legs. They both were now on the floor wrestling and squirming in each other's grip. They rolled over each other, both getting the upper hand for a moment, just to lose it on the next. Finally, Xena got over Gabrielle. They were holding each other tightly and for a moment, sapphire blue eyes met the emerald green ones.
Neither of them knew, how it happened. They found themselves kissing each other lustfully and passionately, their tongues learning to know every corner of each other's mouth once again. They were still holding each other in a secure grip, like being afraid to let go. The warrior moved her mouth downward to kiss the bard's chin and neck. Gabrielle bent her head backward to allow better access for Xena who was now sucking every inch of her neck.
The warrior pulled the bard up and practically ripped her leathers off, still kissing her vigorously. Gabrielle returned the favor and soon they were both naked. Xena slid her thigh between Gabrielle's and was greeted with the hot moisture of the bard's sex.
"Godss, Xxenaa! Give it to me!" Gabrielle growled with a feral voice.
Xena carried her to bed; never breaking the contact that was making the bard let ragged growls out of her mouth. The warrior let her hands to explore every inch of the bard's body while she caught one of the erect nipples between her lips and probed it with her tongue.
"Take me! Take me now!" Gabrielle's intense voice echoed around the room.
Xena responded by moving her hand down. She brushed her fingers in the moist curls before sliding one finger between the hot, slippery folds. More of that sweet nectar flowed on the warrior's palm. She added another finger and made deep thrusts, getting an eager response from the bard.
Gabrielle directed the warrior to turn around with her hands and as soon as she was in the right position, she thrust her tongue between Xena's folds. The warrior let out a deep growl. Gabrielle rubbed Xena's clit with her finger, causing the desired effect in that flexed body.
"Gods, I've missed this so long!" the warrior said from the bottom of her throat. She felt the bard slid her fingers inside her. The sensation was beyond any words to describe it.
They continued, exploring every inch, taking each other higher and higher, until the ecstatic sensation went through their bodies and drained the last drop of energy out of their bodies.
They had been lying, holding each other for several candlemarks. Neither of them had talked, they just had been enjoying the newly found closeness that had been taken away from them so long. Finally, the warrior turned to face the bard and asked the simple question. "Why?"
Gabrielle looked at Xena. She could see the still moist trickles of tears on her cheeks. "I- I'm not sure anymore." She glanced at the roof. "At the moment it felt the right thing to do."
"Do you have any idea, how much it hurt to wake up and see that you were gone." Xena said with a weeping voice.
Knowing that the question was rhetorical, Gabrielle didn't answer. Instead she said, "It must have been one of the hardest decisions that I've ever made." She closed her eyes. "When Dahak cast that spell on me and I almost killed you, I couldn't face you. I just couldn't."
"But I forgave you that."
"I couldn't let you forgive me before I had forgiven myself, before I had come in terms with my dark side, before I had made sure that wouldn't end up hurting the people that are closest to me, that I love." The last words were silent, almost impossible to hear.
Those words reminded Xena about herself. She still hadn't and never would forgive herself for her bloody past. "Did you find your redemption?"
"No," was the silent answer. "After a while I realized that whatever I did, the darkness was still there. I realized that the key to my redemption lay elsewhere." Gabrielle looked straight into Xena's eyes.
"Why didn't you come to me?"
"Gods know that I wanted to but I was afraid to do so. I was afraid that you would reject me. I figured that it would be the punishment that I deserved." Tears ran down on Gabrielle's cheek.
"When I couldn't find you, I returned here and decided to wait." Xena inhaled deep. "When you didn't come, I thought that you didn't need me and I gave up on you. At least I thought I did. I wanted to be angry at you but I couldn't."
"I know that I don't deserve it but I am sorry about everything that I've done to hurt you." There, it was said, a simple, humble apology. Every word said from the heart.
"You realize that we can't go back to the way we were," Xena said. "We both have changed so much during this year. We'll have to start to work our relationship on a new basis. Do you understand this?"
"Y- yes," the bard answered timidly.
"In that case, I forgive you." Xena let a glimpse of smile on her face.
Gabrielle let herself fall into Xena's embrace. They were quiet for some time. Then, Gabrielle thought it was time to bring out the other subject. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Gabrielle could feel the warrior break down under her before the ragged answer came out. "I failed miserably. Today was a disaster. It's happening all over again. Why am I not able to save my own hometown? Am I destined to let them down again?"
"It wasn't your fault," Gabrielle tried to assure her. "You didn't know that Parseus had those catapults there."
"But I should have known! It was my duty to know. All of those people trusted their lives to me and I failed to protect them. That cost Alysa and all the others their lives."
"This is war, Xena. You of all should know that," Gabrielle said. "All of those people knew the risks and they still participated willingly."
"That doesn't change the fact that they died because of my error," Xena objected.
"Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way. No matter how much it hurts," Gabrielle said as much to herself as to the warrior.
"Our chances were minimal even before this. Now, there is now hope. When Parseus assembles his whole army, Amphipolis is going to fall right into his hands."
"How long before his army arrives here?" Gabrielle asked.
"Three, four days at most," Xena answered.
"How many men will there be then?"
"Possibly up to nine hundred. Why?"
"In four days, I could get to the Amazons, mobilize the army and get here in time to confront them," Gabrielle told her plan. "The neighboring tribes have emissaries in our village. I could be able to get up to five hundred warriors."
"I don't think that's going succeed. Eponin told me that Ephiny had met with lot of opposition from the tribe council when she had tried to get more warriors to our aide."
"Well, then I'll just have to convince them otherwise," the bard said with determination.
"Even then we'll be outnumbered," Xena tried.
Now Gabrielle began to understand the real reason behind the warrior's hesitation. She looked right into her eyes. "I hate to leave you so soon, too. But it has to be done. It's the only chance we got."
Xena closed her eyes and nodded. "I know, I'm just afraid that I won't see you again."
"Me too." Gabrielle took Xena's hand.
The warrior sighed. "I suppose you'd better get going right away."
"I guess so. I have to leave someone in command of the Amazons, since Pon won't be able to do that for a while," Gabrielle said and grinned. "I also have to get some new clothes, since my leathers aren't exactly in mint condition." She pointed at the torn leathers on the floor.
"Open that trunk. There should be something that fits you." Xena gave her an impish grin.
Gabrielle walked to the trunk and opened it. She inhaled deep when she saw the contents. "My old clothes! And my scrolls!" She turned to look at the warrior who smiled at her.
"I thought it might be a good idea to have them in safe keeping," Xena said.
Gabrielle took one of the scrolls and fiddled with it. "Thank you, Xena," she said with a broken voice, holding the scroll against her.
"You're welcome, my bard."
Shiro and Annika were sitting on the grass and watching the stars. They had been there for a while, talking and holding each other.
"You know that you are a special person, Annika," Shiro said to the Amazon.
"I guess I do now," she answered. "There's something extraordinary about you, too."
"I thought, I'd lost the ability to love someone for good. I'm glad you made it possible again." Shiro smiled to her.
"I'm glad that I could be that someone and actually be able to learn to love someone." Annika kissed the ronin and grinned. "You know this is against my upbringing and our traditions but then again, I've always been considered as a rebellious spirit."
"Lucky for me, you turned out the way you are." Shiro leaned down for a longer kiss.
"Ahem! I hate to interrupt, but I need to change a few words with Annika." They both turned to see Gabrielle standing a few steps from them.
The young Amazon blushed noticeably, even in the pale moonlight and stood up. "How can I be at service, my queen?"
"I have to go to our village and since Eponin is in the infirmary, I'm leaving you in charge of the remaining Amazons," Gabrielle said to her.
"M- me? But I'm the troublemaker of our group." Annika tried to object.
"I'm well aware of your backgrounds." Gabrielle had had a chance to discuss about her and the others with Eponin earlier. "But I'm also aware of your capabilities and your potential, so I thought that it's time for you to learn to take some responsibility from yourself and others." The bard gave a warm smile to the stunned Amazon. "I know you can do it. Just believe in yourself."
This was a total surprise to the Amazon. "I won't let you down," she finally said.
"I know you won't," Gabrielle answered. "Well, I'd better get going. Good luck to you both." She left them alone.
Xena had taken the opportunity to saddle up Gabrielle's horse. She looked the dark brown stallion approvingly. Lots of things are different, now, she thought, remembering the bard's earlier attitude towards horses. She heard the familiar footsteps and turned to look at the bard. "He's a fine animal."
"I know. Thanks for saddling him up for me." Gabrielle got a smile from the warrior.
"You're welcome," Xena replied.
"Listen, whatever happens, I want you to know that I love you." Gabrielle gave her a sincere look.
Xena took Gabrielle into tight embrace. "I love you too. Please come back safely." She didn't want to let go.
"I'll try. You be careful, too." Gabrielle broke loose slowly. She mounted and spurred her horse. Xena watched her ride into the night.
Continued in part 6
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