Xena: Warrior Princess
Price of the Warrior
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabby and Amazons are Universal Studios and Ren Pictures property, I am only using them for awhile. Thanks, Rob! Aidan and certain other characters are mine--all mine (picture Daffy Duck with the pearl in a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon), though other Bards may borrow Aidan and the Rangers if they place nice with them. My timeline departs the series in several key areas: no twilight, no destruction of the Greek Gods, no Eve, and no Japa.
Subtext/Sex: Very mild hints and musings of a certain Warrior Princess.
Violence: Hell, yes. She may not be the Destroyer of Nations, but Xena and violence sorta go together.
Recognition and dedications: Thanks to Ilene, Sue and all the wonderful beta readers that help bards with their tales. WW, you are a wonder! This story is for some California babes and fellow Xenites: Lyn, Sal, Clo, Jan and Liz. And for Deirdre, a good friend that thinks I am a bit nuts for loving the series so much.
Pain. Each breath jarred her badly battered body, but the young woman mused it might be for the best that death claim her. Her world had shattered with the double loss of her younger brother Lyceus and her own blood innocence. It was the price of the warrior her mother had warned her, loss, destruction and death.
She lay sprawled upon the grass, watching the fluffy white clouds of a clear, blue sky scuttle overhead. In saving Amphipolis she had paid the price of her soul, learning things about herself she both feared and marveled at. She had rallied the town against the advancing army of Cortese, the Bloody. One of the most feared warlords of Greece, Cortese had vowed to crush Amphipolis for not granting him enough tribute the last time his army had passed through the area.
It seemed Cortese believed the prosperous town had not given him enough dinars, enough livestock, or enough of its young maidens for his armys needs. Xena had been fourteen the last time he had ridden through, and she had been spared being roughly used because her mother and older brother had hidden her.
But other families had not been as lucky. Xena recalled how two childhood friends had chosen to end their lives, having been ravaged by Corteses men and disowned by their disgraced fathers. Others had been deemed damaged goods by some of the residents, though their fathers had not cast them out since the blame was not theirs.
Since her birth, Xenas spirit had not been easily caged by social convention, and some townfolks said Cyrenes middle child was a changeling. They noted that her father had been in battle the day she was conceived, though the half a dozen townfolk had seen Atrius. Atrius returned seven days after his brief visitation when the final battle had been won .
The battle against raiders had been held in a neighboring village, and it was not unheard of for men to return to their wives following an intense conflict. It had been the first battle of many, and Atrius had told Cyrene he needed to remember what he was fighting for. Cyrene had known what compelled him to ride such a distance twice the depths of the night: bloodlust.
Xena had been the result of that night of heated embraces and few words between her parents, and Xena never doubted she was truly her fathers daughter. The ways of women had never interested Xena, and she had rejected learning their sedate skills since she could first walk. She had been Atrius faithful shadow, learning and absorbing the way of the warrior from every action of her father.
She had inherited his martial spirit more than his sons had, and Atrius understood his daughter would follow the path of the warrior. He had fought beside women, mostly Amazons, though some were not, and Atrius knew they could make fine warriors.
He had given her first wooden sword and had taught her fighting techniques between the different conflicts his army fought in. He had risen from the rank of a mere foot solider to one of the captains of his warlord, and he told his daughter the glory of conquest was the way of the warrior.
When his youngest son had chosen to follow his fathers footsteps, Atrius had trained his middle child and youngest side-by-side. Lyceus had been a gentle soul, and their father had questioned his youngest sons desire to become a warrior. But he taught Lyceus what he knew before he had abandoned his family when Xena was six.
The betrayal had cut her soul deep. Cyrene had tried teaching her daughter womens ways, but Xena kept practicing her warrior skills whenever she had a free moment. Lyceus sparred with his older sister, ignoring what others said about training with his sister.
Xena and Lyceus had planned to become Heroes. They would defend the defenseless, right the wrongs that so plagued the land. It had been their secret dream. They would ride under the banner of Athena, the Virgin Goddess of Wisdom and War.
Having to support her family, Cyrene took over her fathers tavern where Xena worked as a barmaid to make an honest dinar. Warriors, she knew, needed money for arms and armor, things that would not come cheaply. Xena met Amazon warriors and heard their tales of adventure and honor.
Xena snorted, tasting blood. War was blood, noise and sheer brutal power that the strongest influenced. Not the the weak or the timid. She had a talent for strategy, the physical prowess that made her stronger than most men, and the cunning of a wild thing. Cortese had swept out the hills, seeking to make an example of the town and its population.
Instead, he found himself and his army of four hundred opposed by the large town and its surrounding villages. Under her leadership Amphipolis had survived, but so many had died defending it .
Counted amidst the ranks of the fallen defenders was Lyceus, her beloved younger brother. It had been a bitter moment when she had heard herself damned by those she had saved. Her own mother had told her that she had cost Lyceus his life, since he did not have her talent for destruction.
It had been the second betrayal of her young life, the third being Torris branding her a killer. The final had come with her betrothed rejection of her. Petracles had seen something dark inside his future bride, and it had frightened him.
Following the four-day battle for Amphipols, Xena and her troops had not had time to mourn their dead. Cortese remained too close for comfort, despite having lost half his army, Xena led twenty-five of her best warriors after the retreating army. Using hit and run methods, they harried the army until it fled the Lion of Amphipolis.
It had been what the survivors of Corteses army had deemed her. Not the Lioness of Amphipolis, but the Lion. Thinking they had won, she had sent the surviving twelve home with word she would return in another few days. Xena had not wanted them to witness her private grief, knowing it would undermine their confidence in her skills.
Xena had turned seventeen only four days ago. She had spent those four days in the tender mercies of six survivors of Corteses army following an ambush. Already wounded, exhausted from days and nights of non-stop combat, and her senses dulled with fatigue, she had fallen into their trap.
They had been twelve before sheer physical exhaustion and lucky head blow brought the Lion of Amphipolis down to her knees. The men had pounced upon her. It had been a blur of fists and kicks that rendered her unconscious.
When she had awakened, they had her bound between two stout trees. What followed next would have crushed a lesser soul, but Xena never whimpered, cried out or begged for mercy from the foul smelling men or the Gods she had begun to hate. Blood flowed like a thawing winter river between her muscular thighs, thick and clotted with dirt and semen.
The men had made much jest and sport about having reduced the woman to her true female state, though none would meet her burning sapphire-blue eyes. Xena burned each mans visage into her minds eye, knowing there would be an reckoning between herself and these men.
Having had their sport, they debated what they should do with her when the men stated becoming inexplicably nervous. Xena had a vague sense that something had happened that made them aware they were not alone. The howl of wolves made the men anxious, and they decided to abandon their victim to the wolf pack.
Xena had been cut down, and left for the wolves to finish off. It had been several candle marks since the men had fled the small grove, and Xena awaited her death. Dying by wolf attack would be welcome compared to the tender mercies of the bastards she had been captured by. Wolves were not deliberately cruel, and killed only for food and protection of the pack.
A shadow blocked the sun, and Xena squinted up to see the blurred image of a leather clad form hunkering beside her. She bared her teeth in a feral snarl, but the strangely dressed figure was not unnerved by her gesture. Xenas could not make out the face of the person carefully examining her, and her stomach muscles clenched when a huge wolf glided up behind the form.
Her throat was raw, and she tried to warn the sleek form that the wolf was almost upon her. Xena did not know how she knew this stranger was a female, but she did. The huge white wolfs amber gaze flickered between Xena and the stranger, then the animal nudged the leather clad form.
Unconcerned, the figure affectionately stroked the massive animals head like most would a beloved hound, and continued accessing Xenas situation. Xenas eyes slid shut, and the world fell away.
Echoes. She heard echoes of water dripping inside a small pool. Xena awoke inside a cave. More a cavern, she realized, the high, vaulted celling sparkling with crystalline deposits. The smell of smoke made her roll her head to the side, and she focused her gaze on a lithe form who was grinding fresh herbs into a paste on a boulder inside the cavern.
Xena lay atop a bed made of carefully arranged branches covered with a leather bedroll. She lay beneath a warm woolen blanket, clean and nude. Her body throbbed with dulled pain, and her bladder ached to be voided.
She tried sitting up, but her moan brought the attention of the stranger she recalled finding her to her current problem. Xena fought for self-control, not wanting to wet her clean bed and herself. The stranger brought over a gourd that been cut in half, and cured to make a deep bowl.
Before Xena could object, the stranger slid the bowl section beneath the prone womans rump and let nature take its course. Cheeks flaming with mortification, Xenas bladder voided itself in a powerful gush, and the shadow cast form waited until she was done. With practiced ease, the figure removed the now full ground, and strode out of sight.
It was several minutes before the form returned, this time with a clean, damp cloth that she used to wash Xenas bruised mound. For the first time Xena was able to see the face of her rescuer. It was a young girl, not more than fourteen years Xena surmised. Tall and lithely muscled for her age, the girls keen dark gray eyes met hers with gentle compassion as she finished her task.
Her lush , shoulder blade length chestnut hair was worn in a warrior braid down her back, and she wore butter soft, brown leather trousers, and light, evergreen hued linen tunic. The colors of her clothing would permit the youngster to blend well with the surrounding woodlands, Xena realized.
The girl rose, and returned to the clean boulder she had been using for grinding herbs on. She washed her hands in the water she had laid aside in a ceramic vessel, then smeared the herbs on clean linen strips. She returned to Xenas side, and began redressing several nasty gashes that had been expertly cleansed and stitched shut.
Removing the old bandages, the silent stranger used a damp cloth to first wash down the area. Xena winced at the burning sensation of some type of sterilizing agent, and tired pushing the girl away. She found herself too weak to resist the patient treatment she was receiving.
She watched the girl re-bandage the healing wounds, and gasped when girl smeared the medicinal paste over her nether region. It was done with practiced ease, and Xena understood the girl had been tending her for sometime.
Despite the brief moment of discomfort, the salve soothed her ravaged sex. Xena vaguely recalled the young woman using a water skin too flush out her bleeding sex. She remembered cursing the girl, but being to enfeebled to halt the treatment. She also recalled the bitter herbs she had been given for what must have been days to prevent her rapists seed from taking root inside her body.
Take me back to Amphipolis, she demanded harshly, her voice raw with pain. The girl merely met her eyes, and rose without comment. Xena snarled, and feebly grabbed the girls ankle. Did you hear me?! Great, a mute, stupid barbarian saved me.
A look of mild amusement flickered across the girls tanned face, and Xena tried to look intimidating. When she stood up, Xena was a bit over six feet tall, and powerfully built for a woman. Not grossly built, just sleekly muscular and awe inspiring. The sight of her made men and women alike both fear, and want, her, and she was beginning to understand the power of seduction.
She was a beautiful young woman, intelligent, and lethal with a sword and bow. She had continued her own training, keeping herself fit whenever she was not helping her mother run the tavern.
The girl shook her head, breaking free of Xenas weaken grasp, and headed back to the fire pit. She returned several minutes later with a broth inside a carved wooden bowl. It smelled good, and Xenas stomach growled.
Propping Xena up, the girl began feeding her the hearty broth. It was some type of wild game bird that the broth had been made out of, and she could taste the subtle spices that the girl had used.
Dipping a piece of hard journey bread into the broth, the girl held the soaked piece of bread close to Xenas lips. Xena took a bit, savoring the rich flavor of the bread. She seized the hunk of bread and bowl of stew, and ate watching her rescuer. Her stomach was soon full, and the girl made Xena drink some water. Xenas eyes began sliding shut, and she knew the broth had been laced with sleeping powder.
She fell asleep with the feel of the girls fingers soothing her brow. Xena found the nightmarish images that had haunted her since the battle for her town did not find her now.
Xena jerked back into consciousness, and found herself alone inside the cave. She grit her teeth and forced herself into a sitting position. Her belly muscles protested the movement, but she was determined to learn more about her rescuer. It took her several agonizing moments to haul herself onto her feet, but she did it.
She had to use the wall to keep herself upright as she approached the entrance of the large cave. She guessed it to be late morning from the height of the sun in the clear blue sky, and the sun felt good on her aching body.
Xena tried standing on her own, and learned it was not a a good move. She lost her balance, and fell flat on her face. She swallowed a scream of pain, knowing Corteses men might still be in the area. She managed to roll onto her back, and trying to muster the strength to sit up again.
The surrounding trees and shrubs concealed the cave entrance that lay half way up a very steep hillside. She wondered how the girl had managed to haul her up the hillside, since she was much heavier than the girl.
Xena yelped when the girl appeared beside her, dropping out of the towering tree without a sound. The girl frowned, laying aside a bloody bag that held game, and studied Xena.
What are you looking at, you stupid savage? Take me home.
The girl laid aside her recurved bow and quiver, and reached to help Xena up. Xena slapped the girls hands away, growling, I want to go home!
Dark gray eyes locked with her own pale blue ones, and Xena spat at the girl. The girl wiped off Xenas spittle with clear disgust, but she did not resort to violence. Shrugging her shoulders, the girl picked up her equipment and the game bag and entered the cavern.
Xena lay fuming outside, cursing and throwing clumps of dirt at the cave entrance. Nothing she did brought the girl outside for what seemed an eternity. Xena glowered at the mouth of the cave, smelling wood smoke and the scent of roasting rabbit meat.
Her belly rumbled. Licking her lips, Xena pushed herself back up onto her rump. Her actions brought more than pain this time. Her body had been tended by the girl inside the cavern, her needs tended without Xenas awareness of such matters.
Her bowels and bladder made themselves known with a vengeance. She found herself unable to control what her body needed to do. She felt like a newborn, messing herself and unable to haul herself out of the mess she had made. Shame made her flush with self loathing and anger as her body voided itself for what seemed forever.
The girl emerged, sighing when she beheld Xenas state, and shook her head. Xena glared defiantly at the girl, blaming her for her current state and hurled a handful of the foul mess at the girl.
It hit the girl square in the face, and for a brief instant anger flickered behind those expressive eyes. It occurred to Xena she may have made a lethal mistake. If the girl became furious enough, she could leave Xena to whatever the Fates might decree.
Wiping the foul mess off her face, the girl studied Xena with frustration and bewilderment. She took a deep breath, and slipped Xenas right arm around her shoulders and hauled her to her feet. Xena was surprised at the girls physical strength, and realized she had been doing what the towns people had always done to her.
The girl did not bring her to the cave, but instead carefully guided her along a narrow trail. Xena wondered if the girl intended to drop her over the side of the steep hill, leaving her for wild things to find. It would be not be a fatal plunge, but Xenas condition would make it so.
What was maddening was the girl never spoke, never made a sound. Just when she thought her legs would give out, she found herself inside a clearing where steam rose from a natural hot spring. She frowned. She had explored much of the countryside during her younger years, but she did not know about this spring. Oaks and other trees encircled the sheltered grove and Xena sensed the spring had been kept hidden like the cave.
The girl undid a well concealed rope that resembled a vine, and lowered several very large amphora's to the ground. The four storage jars rested on a hidden platform, and the girl undid the one to her left. She reached inside, and removed a rough hewn ball of soap, then sealed the jar carefully.
Picking up a large, wooden dish with handles the girl dipped into the spring, and washed off her face using some soft leaves. She could not help making a face when she removed the foul mess, and carefully laid the leaves aside on a reed mat.
She finished washing herself of the foul mess, then turned her attention to Xena. Lips compressed, the girl began carefully rinsing off the worse of the mess, making sure none of it got near the pool. Xena had been carefully arranged on the down sloping granite that had been heated by the sun, permitting fouled water to run down away from the spring.
Once she had gotten the worse of the mess off her companion, the girl lathered the soap on her hands, and washed Xenas lower body. Again, Xena could not help but think how she felt like a newborn. The girls touch reminded her of healers, gentle but impersonal. Once she had cleaned the mess off them both, she used a bucket to rinse Xena carefully.
Xenas eyes shut in bliss. The heated water felt incredible, and the girl lathered the soap over Xenas bruised flesh. The stitches were itching, meaning the wounds had mended enough for a real bath.
Again, the process was repeated. More heated water rinsed off the grime that the olive soap had released. Only once she had washed Xena off did the girl removed her befouled tunic, and leather trousers. Her undergarments followed, and Xena studied the girls developing curves.
In another year the girl would begin showing the promise of the sleek woman she would become. The girls muscles were very well defined, though not as obvious as Xenas own brawnier ones. Her breasts were beautifully shaped, the nipples a dusky rose hue that someday a lover would delight in. The girls breasts were smaller than Xenas, but perfect for her frame. She washed herself off in the same method she had used on Xena, then slid an arm around Xena.
Xena let herself settle into the water, resting on a ledge that had been hewn out of the living rock. The water came up to the top of her breasts, and Xena sighed. The girl settled down beside her, closing her eyes. Xena studied her seemingly slumbering companion, sensing the young woman was very aware of her surroundings despite her posture.
An intricate tattoo marked the girls right shoulder blade, and Xena sensed it had been done very recently. The girl bore several fading scars on her sleek torso, but one was very fresh. It had been stitched, though the stitches indicated it had been done by the girl herself. A sword cut, Xena surmised.
It would have been a painful, bloody wound, but not fatal. The younger girl was impressing the older one. Xena closed her eyes, and drifted off despite herself, wondering what the other girls story was.
Xena soaked in the healing waters, content for the time being. The girl finally touched Xenas side, and Xena knew it meant they must leave the wondrous pool. She blinked, realizing she must have dozed for a candlemark or more.
The sun dried their skin as they rested on the flat rocks beside the pool. Xena lay beneath the sun while the girl rose, and began the process of cleaning up the clearing. She placed her tunic inside a hidden wooden tub and began washing it. It took several rinsing, but the girl finally deemed her tunic clean enough to dry.
Her leathers were cleaned with a different soap, rinsed and oiled. Xena watched the practiced efficiency of the girl. She was used to tending her leathers on a regular basis, and mending her equipment. Xena recalled impressions of finding the girl fletching new arrows, or sharpening her daggers and a leaf shaped sword.
She swiftly gathered up the fouled leaves and took them outside the grove where she disposed of them. When she returned, Xena had found herself feeling much improve since her bath. Hauling the storage jars back up and securing the rope, the girl had apparently decided to let her clothing dry on the rocks.
Xena tried to understand the girls reasons for helping a wounded stranger who had nothing more than insult the girl. The walk back was not as hard as it had been, since their were going downhill.
The smell of roasting, not burnt meat, made Xenas stomach rumble. They side-stepped the mess that Xena had made, and the girl helped guide her patient inside. Settling Xena down, she ducked back outside, no doubt to clean up the mess.
Xena sat inside the cave, watching the flames roasting the two rabbits. The girl came back inside, lowering the rabbits closer to the flames while she rummaged inside a pack that Xena had not seen.
She removed tunic that she tossed to Xena. Xena raised an eye-brow, and pulled the tunic over her head. It was sleeveless, and fit her well enough. Made of linen, it would fall to mid thigh once fully on. The girl had donned a travel worn, but clean extra tunic like the one she normally wore.
Xena sensed the jars held some of the supplies the girl had been using, including spare clothing. She settled back against the rock that she had been deposited at. The girl checked the meat, then began carefully handed Xena one of the rabbits.
Not caring how savage she looked, Xena began devouring the juicy meat with sounds of pure animal joy. The girl smiled, eating her rabbit in a quieter fashion. She handed Xena a skin, and Xena grinned when she smelled its contents.
She took several deep sips of the good wine, and studied the girl. I must go back home.
The girl cocked her head sideways, considering Xenas words. Xena frowned, forgetting the good afternoon. Whats your problem? Are you dumb? Damnit, you barbarians are all the same: you cannot speak a civilized tongue!
Xena ranted for several minutes, and glared at the girl. Laying aside her rabbit, the girl leaned forward, and said, Its all Greek to me, a smile pulling at the girls thin lips.
Xena blinked. The girl spoke perfect Greek, though her voice had an odd accent that she could not place. Xena blew up. You understand me?
Yes; though you do have a bad habit of assuming I am both mute and dumb, and not to mention of very questionable lineage. You are not strong enough for being moved for a prolonged distant, not to mention the rains are coming soon, the girl inclined her head towards the rabbit. You should finish your meal; it will help you heal faster.
Xena remembered how she and her men had harried Corteses retreating army for twelve days. They had ridden far from Amphipolis, and Xena knew she had been hard pressed to walk the short distance between the outdoor pool and the cave.
Why did you save me?
The girl seemed puzzled by the frank question, her dark gray eyes studying the young woman with a mixture of compassion and concern. Because you needed help.
Those men..you had something to do with their leaving me alone, Xena stated.
A grim smile etched across the girls lips, almost feral in nature, and Xena knew her attackers were no longer alive. How?
They used a grove sacred to Artemis. She does not deal lightly with men trespassing upon her sanctuaries for her daughters and the beasts of the field.
Youre an Amazon, Xena deduced, remembering the fierce warrior women that had frequent her mothers tavern.
I was raised as one, yes, the girl let her gaze settle on the dancing flames. Artemis sent me to help you.
It is for the Goddess of the Hunt to let you know why, not me to tell you. I do as the Goddesses bid me.
Goddesses? Are you a priestess?
Yes; Goddesses. And, no, I am not a priestess. Enough, you must rest, Xena, and I have work to do.
You know my name?
Yes... the girl smiled, inclining her head towards the pallet she had made for Xena.
Whats your name? Xena touched the girl side.
Aidan, the girl answered.
That does not sound very Greek.
It is not, Aidan supplied, a hint of a smile playing across her lips. It is the name of my Grandmothers mate from a distant land.
Did you kill those men?
They were dealt with, but not by my hand once I convinced them they should leave, Aidan rose, and helped Xena towards the pallet.
Wait.. Xena glanced towards the cave entrance. I need to go.
Aidan helped Xena towards the exit, and brought her around the other side of the cave where a small hole had been made. It was apparent the girl had been using it for sometime, though the earth showed other similar pits. Lean against the tree.
Xena did as she was bidden, and let her water flow into the pit. Aidan politely turned her back. How long have I been here?
Almost a moon cycle, Aidan answered.
Xena blinked. She wondered if her mother would mourn her like she had her youngest child. You kept me here all this time?
No; you were too weak to move for the first few days. I feared you would not live to see the dawn when I found you. We stayed in the grove for almost a week, protected by the wolves you saw.
You are a healer?
Aidan laughed softly. No, though my birth mother is. She taught me her art well, not to mention it is part of my training. Rangers must be able to tend to themselves and others when no healer is available.
Rangers? Xena recalled the tales her father had told of a mysterious warriors, men and women, sworn to the Mother Goddesses and their daughters. She had thought them legends, twice told tales to while away the winter nights. How old are you?
I am fourteen winters, Aidan answered.
Where are your people?
Back in the lands of the Thracian Amazons.
What are you doing out here, by yourself?
It is my trial. I must live apart from civilization for one winter, living off the land, and following whatever path the Goddesses deem necessary. I left when I was thirteen winters old.
What happens if you fail?
Then I do not become a Ranger, Aidan helped settle Xena down on the pallet. Xena frowned. What the heck happens if you fail? Do you go home?
Failure is not an option, Aidan smiled softly.
That cut-- Xena touched the flesh below the wound. It happened when you rescued me.
Yes; a lesson in paying better attention during battle, Aidan smiled softly.
You were wounded saving me, Xena studied Ranger trainee with somber eyes. The cut would have made travel hard alone, let alone pulling a travois behind her. I hope the Goddesses give you something worthwhile.
Aidan chuckled, shaking her head, Sometimes, it is not what you can get, Xena, but what you can give that makes a difference in the world.
Xena knew this girl possessed knowledge she needed to defend her beloved town. She would convince Aidan to teach her the skills she possessed. Xena had learned she could convince anyone to do her bidding, once she figured out what made them tick.
Xena drifted off to sleep, formulating a plan even as Morpheus embraced her mind and body.
Xena hunkered beside Aidan, studying the faint tracks in the slick mud. It had been twenty days by her reckoning since she had been permitted limited exercise to rebuild her stamina and strength. The girl had found it hard to deny Xenas skillful manipulations, and had taught her some very important woods skills. Basic by Aidans and Ranger standards, but far advanced of what the men that called themselves hunters and woodsmen knew.
Aidan showed her how to make very effective snares for small game, and how to stalk and kill larger game. She also taught her how to give thanks to the animals that gave food and skins. Learning how to fish had been both interesting and fun. Xena had knew how to catch fish with baited lines and traps, but not with bare hands.
The hand method had lead to a splash fight in the river fed lake where Aidan had shown her how to scoop fish up with her bare hands. Xena swiftly learned all the skills Aidan patiently taught her patient turned pupil. Even when she was not actively teaching, Xena observed everything Aidan did and discovered more skills the Ranger possessed.
Each day Xena strove to rebuild her strength and vigor, helping in the daily chores of keeping the caverns clean. She watched how the girl practiced her weapons drill, using methods better than those of most paid soldiers Xena had known. Aidan showed her some new tricks with the sword, staff and bow that Xena had convinced her to show her.
The rains had come, though there were breaks that permitted them time out of the cavern system that Aidan had brought Xena to. It was more a labyrinth, and Xena could never understand why she could not spot the cavern system entrance when she went outside. Winter would soon be upon them, and snow would replace the rain within another moon.
Aidan never answered certain questions, not matter how Xena pressed and probed. One thing Xena was very thankful for was the huge crystal cavern with a natural hot spring that soaked away the aches of her healing body. She obeyed the strict protocols for using the spring where she and Aidan bathed regularly.
Despite her youth Aidan was an excellent teacher, and infinitely tolerant of Xenas occasional outbursts of temper. Xena noticed how attuned Aidan seemed to her surroundings on so many levels, a gift they both shared. Xenas mother had told her how as a mere babe Xena displayed the talent for observing her surroundings. Observing Aidan taught Xena had better to focus her innate gift.
She found herself regretting having to use the girl, but Xena was determined no one would again threaten her homeland. Aidan had touched something deep inside the warrior. Xena was no longer the young woman whose dreams were of a family and a home. She was the warrior her father had sworn she would become.
Aidan had given back Xena the leathers she had been wearing. They did not fit her very well, having been cast off by her long gone father years ago. Xena promised herself she would get a set of leathers that fit her better than her fathers old ones did.
They had been tracking a hart for the last two hours. Aidan raised her right hand, pointing towards the brook where the beautiful animal stood. It would provide them with meat for the worst of the storms that would last for weeks. Aidan raised her bow and sighted on the beautiful animal, releasing the shaft with lethal precision.
The hart fell dead, and Aidan swiftly crossed the brook to begin dressing the hart as Xena flanked her. The hair on the nape of Xenas neck stood up when she sensed they were not longer alone. Six figures emerged from the dappled forests depths, and Xena shouted a warning to Aidan. Aidan was already throwing herself clear of the net the slavers had thrown, though she had been forced to abandon her ever present bow laid beside the fallen hart.
Drawing her sword, Xena joined the battle with a feral smile that made the first slaver she closed with frown. His swordsmanship was found lacking, and his head soon parted ways with his body. Xena turned to deflect another sword strike while Aidans boot knives dropped two more of the slavers. The slavers seemed uncertain, now that they number had been decreed by half at the hands of two girls.
Xena dispatched another of the slavers, turning her back briefly towards one backing away from the fray. XENA-- Aidan shouted, vaulting over the stunned warriors head and blocking the spear the man had thrown with her own body. Xena whirled around, saw the spear enter her friends side and how Aidan hit the ground hard.
A black rage filled Xenas heart and mind, and she gave voice to what would become her famous battle cry. The two remaining slavers were swiftly dealt with by a whirling demoness whose fierce ice-blue orbs glinted with divine rage. Xena listened, finding only her heartbeat and that of the wounded Ranger.
Aidan-- Xena dropped beside the still form, pressing her fingers against the girls throat. A strong pulse told her the girl still lived, and Xena blinked back unaccustomed tears of happiness. She carefully turned the girl over onto her back, probing around the wound site. Seems you have a habit of taking blows meant for me, my friend.
More my fault for not being quick enough both times, Aidan grunted, her bloody hands showing she had caught the spear mid flight. It is not in deep, but it hurts something fierce.
I need to get it out-- Xena swallowed hard. Tell me what I need to do. I know some healing, but this is beyond my skills.
Theres no barbs, so pull it back out the way it came in, Aidan managed a rueful smile as Xena nodded. Xena knew better than to give Aidan time to reconsider what needed to be done, and she swiftly pulled the spear back out. The spear head had been designed to disable, not to kill, since slavers wanted to keep their prey alive and relatively healthy.
Aidan gasped, and tears ran unchecked down her face, but she did not cry out. Xena knew it had less to do with courage than practical reasons: slavers rarely traveled in such small groups. Xena knew there was little time to dress the wound properly. She placed a hasty bandage on the wound site, and met the younger girls eyes. Now what?
We need the harts meat--field dress it. We must offer its heart to Artemis. These are still part of her lands Aidan hauled herself into a upright position with a grimace. Bring me its heart.
You always like to get to the hart of the matter, eh? Xena teased Aidan.
Hah, hah...next time, I just might let the spear get you, Xena, Aidan murmured, closing her eyes. Fill the game bags with what you can carry, leave the rest for the wolves.
Aye...they will attend to the slavers friends, it is the will of Artemis, Aidan smiled, inclining her head towards the hart. Xena trusted the girls word. Aidan had never lied to her, and Xena did as she was asked. Once she gutted the hart, she brought Aidan the animals heart, then went to take what meat she could carry.
Aidan pushed herself to her knees, then her feet and made her ways towards an ancient oak where she placed the animals heart while murmuring a prayer in a tongue Xena did not understand. But Xena could feel the power of the words deep inside her very soul.
Xena had never placed much faith in the Gods, but the Ranger did. Having taken what she hoped would be enough meat to last them once salted, Xena hefted three heavy bags. The wolves Aidan insisted would come here would have a good meal. Aidan finished her prayer of thanks, and rose stiffly. Xena squatted down, picking up Aidans abandoned bow and quiver. Aidan drew her knives out of the dead slavers, and inclined her head. We should go.
Xena inclined her head, sensing whatever Aidan had done had gotten the attention of a certain huntress. In the distance she could hear wolf song and the screams of men, and there was a flash of silvery light behind them. Xena glanced over her shoulder and blinked. The slavers bodies were gone, only silvery smoke marked the places where they had fallen.
Dark storm clouds began closing in, and the pair fought their way through the storm to the shelter of the caverns. Aidan had walked under her own power, though towards the end both were near the end of their strength. Xena lowered the game bags inside the cave that had been home for so long, and helped the Ranger sit down.
Youre burning up-- Xena told the flushed girl, a brief instant of panic touching her guarded heart. Aidan reminded her of her lost brother Lyceus, too damned brave and noble for her own good, and Xena was not going to lose her, too. Let me see your side.
Aidan permitted Xena to lower her bedroll without protest. Xena deftly sliced open the blood soaked tunic, cursing at the amount of blood Aidan had lost. Wound needs to be cleansed with the herbs I showed you...then you must sear the wound, Xena, Aidan whispered thickly.
Xena braced herself, knowing what she did now could kill or safe Aidan. Aidan had saved her life, tended her without thought of personal gain. Xena would not let the Ranger die. She owed the girl, and she had more she needed to learn, she told herself. You better not die, Aidan. Remember, failure is not an option.
Aidan laughed, regretting the action as Xena began gathering the items she would need. She would need to tend Aidans hands, too. Xena got a fire burning in the fire pit, finding herself babbling about anything to keep Aidan awake. She placed the fine blade from the healers kit inside the fire, and began washing the wound out. Aidan had been right, the spear tip had only entered just enough to make her bleed hard, but not to damage the organs.
Xena flushed out dirt and grimaced. The spear had been dirty, and there was a good chance of wound rot if she did not cleanse the wound well. Aidan chewed on the stout leather encased stick Xena had given her to bite down on, enduring the painful process with grim determination. Only when Aidan nodded that the wound was clean did Xena reach for the white-hot blade with care. Xena pressed the metal against the torn flesh, ignoring the stench of burning flesh and Aidans scream.
She was ruthless in making sure the wound would not claim Aidan. Xena drew the now cold blade back, and gently lowered the unconscious girl down and began tending her hands. She found herself telling the Goddesses they owed the Ranger more than she owed them, and that she better recover or else.
Though she was exhausted herself, she took care of the meat in the manner her mother had taught her. Salting most of the strips of juicy meat and arranging them on the wooden drying wracks took several hours. She had tossed a good portion of meat inside the large iron cauldron with water, vegetables and herbs as Aidan and her mother had taught her. She stripped off her clothes and Aidans sweat drenched tunic. She laid beside the feverish girl and covered them both with several blankets. She drew the shivering girl close, humming softly under her breath.
Aidan relaxed inside the shelter of the warriors arms, and Xena found herself smiling as she ran her fingers through Aidans hair. Xena pressed her lips against Aidans forehead, wondering what it would be like to love a woman. She and Petracles had made love several times, but she never really felt the burning passion other women had spoken of. Xena knew most Amazons were lovers of women, and had heard lusty tales recounted by the fierce warrior women as they bragged about their sexual prowess with each other.
Aidan had been raised Amazon, and Xena sensed the girl knew much about such matters from the snippets of conversation they had shared about growing up. Aidan had earned a special place inside the young warriors heart, and Xena wondered if what she was feeling was more than mere friendship.Time would tell. She shut her eyes, and for the first time since the death of her brother did not have dark dreams.
Morning found both of them still sleeping when something made Xena wake up. She found herself confronted by four massively built Amazons bearing swords and bows. The Amazons studied Xena with frank fascination, especially considering how she held the younger girl.
What are you doing here? Xena demanded, reaching for the weapons that had been carefully removed from her reach.
Queen Melosa of the Hawk Clan has sent us for the Ranger. She has finished her trial, and the Goddesses do not want to loss one so special. The spear had a slow acting poison on it, and we are to bring her to our village where we can better tend her needs, the eldest warrior declared, her dark brown eyes studying the pallor of the Ranger with concern.
Xena turned towards the pale form whose breathing made her realize the Amazons words were true. Fear seized her gut, and she cursed herself for sleeping so soundly. She could not rouse Aidan. I am coming with you-- Xena growled, but the Amazons shook their heads. You cannot stop me.
Xena rose, ready for battle when a dart hit her in the back of the neck. Sorry, warrior, but your paths must now part. It is the will of Artemis and her sister goddesses. Your path will not be easy, but you shall find your friend again, when it is time.
Xena staggered towards the silver haired Amazon that had fired the dart, noticing the woman resembled Aidan. She had beautiful emerald-green eyes, and a gentle nature. Aidan was gently gathered up by the towering Amazon warrior with sun streaked brown hair and gentle gray eyes. Xenas knees buckled, and she hit the ground hard. She cursed the women, not wanting to admit she had come to regard the Ranger as a true friend as well as mentor.
She promised herself she would never trust Amazons again as darkness stole over her mind and body.
Xena awoke hours later on the edge of familiar lands. She scanned the area, but there was no sign of foot or hoof prints. She raised her head and bellowed her rage to the heavens as icy rain drenched her furious warrior whose rage swelled with each clap of Zeus thunder.
She wondered if she had lost her mind, and dreamed the whole affair until she felt something hanging around her neck. It was a silver medallion, a coin of a distant land of her grandparents, that Aidan had given her for Solstice Eve. Xena touched the coin, tears burning behind her eyes as she thought about her lost friend.
You will never take anything from me again, or from my people, Xena vowed, fist curled around the token she would keep as a reminder of Aidan, of her vow. She would never trust Amazons again. They could have let her accompany them, where she could learn more skills while keeping an eye on her friend.
Xena turned, and made her way back home. The Lion of Amphipolis had returned.
The End (for now)
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