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Destroyer Of Nations: Book One

Part 2 of 4

by Gabrielle, Warrior Bard

translated by Phillip Howell

Copyright Statement

'Destroyer of Nations Book One' and "Song of the Warrior Princess" -- all:

© Copyright 1997 by Phillip Howell, Powder Springs, Georgia

Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstory used in 'Destroyer of Nations' are the sole property of MCA. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this work of fiction.

This story may not be sold and may be archived only with direct permission of the author. Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.

**WARNING: This story contains graphic sexual activity between male/female and female/female participants. If you are under 18 years of age (or the legal age in your country) please do not read this story.

Pelius and his scouts were not as vigilant as they should have been. Little did Borias and Xena know that their love making had been observed. At a distance from the pond, in the darkness of the full night, stood two centaurs, their towering bulk casting shadows with the moonlight.

"So, Borias has returned," Tyldus told his companion softly, his fore hooves stamping the hard dirt. "And this Xena is very beautiful. Kaleipus must want her for the herd."

"No, Kaleipus merely sent us to keep track of her," replied Treminon, his tail swishing at the flies surrounding his sweaty flanks. "For some reason, Kaleipus feels drawn to this human female. But not for the purpose you have in mind, my friend. You were at the battle the other day, you saw how they fought each other, how Kaleipus killed her horse, but not her."

"Yeah, I know. That's all the old centaur can talk about," Tyldus said. "Kaleipus must be enchanted with this Xena."

"No, I think he feels compelled to finish what he started that day," Treminon told his companion. "Why else would he have us out here watching her if he didn't plan to kill her at the first opportunity."

"Well, we'll just have to wait and see," Tyldus said. "Kaleipus will be saddened to find out his old friend, Borias, is caught up with this Xena."

"Especially when he finds out his friend is sleeping with this she-devil from the other side," replied Treminon. "I hope Kaleipus doesn't plan on trusting Borias. The stone, remember."

"Yes, I remember," Tyldus said. "I also know we can't let this Xena anywhere near it."

"That's for sure. We've seen enough, it's time we reported back," Treminon replied, turning and beginning a brisk gallop away from the meadow, in the direction opposite from where Xena's army was encamped.

Tyldus looked back in Borias' direction one last time before following Treminon at the gallop. Soon, the two centaurs were swallowed completely by the night.

Long ago, lost in the shrouded mists of time, a demigod walked the land. His name was Ixion and like all demigods he had the best of both worlds. He could walk the land of the humans as he saw fit. Or, he could move amongst the Gods in the rarefied atmosphere of Mount Olympus. Ixion was a dreamer and a creator. The land of the humans was ill formed and just beginning to take shape when Ixion lived. He liked the humans but found them lonely and sad in their unshaped world.

Ixion dreamed of enlivening the world of the humans with many splendid creatures. He dreamed of giving the humans a companion to help take away their loneliness -- he would bring joy to puny humanity. After many failed attempts, Ixion came upon the idea of combining man and man's most prized animal companion. And so, Ixion created the centaur -- half man, half horse. To his centaur creation, Ixion gave the intellect of humanity and the power and grace of the horse.

As he labored over his creation, he drew upon the power of the Gods and distilled the essence of his centaur creation into its purest form. For the longest time, Ixion pondered what he would make of this essence. Finally, he decided to separate the essence of his centaur creation into two halves. The first half, that of virtue, he molded into the clay that would be his half horse, half man creation. The remainder, the evil nature that plagued man so much, he captured in a beautiful green gem stone.

Not being a modest demigod, Ixion called his gem the Ixion Stone. He sat and pondered his beautiful gem, pondered what he should do with this most dangerous of stones. For the stone held all the evil that was man and horse, and in its nature lay a dilemma.

By its nature, the stone had the ability to make the weakest strong, the strong even stronger. Possession of the stone was not enough, no, the stone must be recast by anyone who possessed it and through the rework be made stronger. But with the recasting came a price, the evil that lay within the stone would overwhelm the possessor. Oh yes, you would be made stronger but you would also become the embodiment of evil itself.

This was Ixion's dilemma. Who could he leave the stone with? Who could he trust to guard his distilled evil? He could not keep it himself for if he did then his creation, his centaurs, would never be truly free. No, someone else had to be trusted with the stone's safe keeping. After much deliberation, Ixion gave the stone to his centaurs to protect and safeguard. Who better to protect his evil stone than those who would be most affected by its loss? So Ixion gave his stone to the centaurs, to guard for all eternity.

And with this gift, Ixion strained an already imperfect bond between his creation and the humans. In creating his centaur, Ixion had not perfected the female form. So forever after, the centaurs were without female companions.

Forced to prey upon human females for a source of progeny, the centaurs ran afoul of the human males that outnumbered them in the world of humanity. The offspring of this human female -- male centaur mating was always a male centaur. And so the conflict between human and centaur began. The knowledge that the Ixion Stone was in the possession of the centaurs merely heightened the war that raged between man and Ixion's creation.

Kaleipus led his scouts deep within the Ixion Cavern. The three centaurs passed long lines of observant guards. The Ixion Stone was never without an 'honor guard', even here deep within the earth and surrounded by the largest centaur clan. No, the cavern that was the repository for the evil stone was under constant surveillance, the guard being drawn from all the various centaur clans. Even the clans did not trust each other with the stone's safekeeping.

"You're sure it was Borias you saw mating with the female, this Xena?" Kaleipus asked his scouts, Tyldus and Treminon, as he removed the evil gem from the stone altar.

"Yes, we are sure," replied Tyldus, his nervousness at being near the stone evident on his human face. "They seemed most taken with each other."

"And did they speak of the stone?" Kaleipus asked, looking down at the green gem stone gripped in his hand. "Did they speak of Ixion's stone?"

"We weren't able to get that close," replied Treminon, his hooves nervously drumming against the hard packed earth of the cavern's dirt floor. "This Xena has patrols out everywhere. It is difficult to get close to her army."

"Does Borias know about the stone?" asked Tyldus anxiously.

"No he doesn't, and will never know," said Kaleipus. "Borias was my friend a long time ago and he helped arrange our alliance with the Thessalians. But he doesn't know about the Ixion Stone. What do we know about this Xena who seems to have captured my old friend's heart?"

"Some say she is a great warrior, most call her brigand," replied Treminon, stamping a hoof to emphasize the word brigand. "They say the Dorians fear her greatly. She has defeated these northern humans at every turn. And, she killed their most feared Champion in single combat. A hero to some, a devil to most."

"A contradiction and enigma?" asked Kaleipus, looking over at Tyldus.

"Yes, an enigma. Most call her insane, that she's been possessed by the Gods. She kills all who stand against her, but there are a few who still call her Hero," replied Tyldus. "A most dangerous human by all accounts."

"Hero! I think not," snorted Treminon, again stamping his hoofs. "No. She's no hero. Not after what her army did in Macedonia. The sack of Aroilus is a tale told by every bard from here to Aetolia. No, she's merely a brigand. And you, Kaleipus, want something from her!"

"The day we did battle, I felt a bond between us," Kaleipus told his scouts. "I felt her soul touch mine. I can't explain it any better than that. This Xena and I are bound together somehow. A bond I neither want nor seek, but it is there."

"As you say, Kaleipus," replied Treminon. "Doesn't mean I have to like it, though."

"Tell the other centaurs, and pass the word to the other clans, I want this Xena captured alive, not killed. No one is to fight her but me," Kaleipus ordered, his hooves stamping to emphasize his commands. "She is mine until I can figure out this bond we have. Tyldus, send word to all the outlying clans to meet me here at the stone's cavern in seven days. Now go, you two! And remember, Xena is mine!"

Kaleipus watched as his two lieutenants left the cavern. The old centaur was uneasy. He, alone amongst his race, respected humans. He thought it a tragedy that the creator of the centaur race had fouled his creation with the inability to produce female offspring.

Every ten years, another round of warfare sprang up between centaur and human. Every ten years, a new herd must be born. And with this birthing came the rape of human females. Oh yes, over the years, some human females had come to look forward to the growing of the herd, but not enough. No, the survival of the centaur race was only guaranteed with an influx of new female breeders. And with that need came war. The last cycle is nearly over, the growing of the new herd must begin soon, Kaleipus thought.

The centaur alliance with the Thessalians was growing thin. The continuous need for females made the strains inevitable. Kaleipus was determined to show his allies how valuable the centaurs could be. He and the clans would fight this Xena and her army, he would stand with the Thessalians. And protect the stone. He could feel that the bond he had with this human female, this warrior princess, was somehow tied to Ixion's stone. He just hoped he did not have to kill her before he figured out why she affected him so.

The old centaur sighed as he returned the green gem stone to its resting place on the stone altar. Giving the gem one final look of distaste, Kaleipus followed his two young lieutenants and left the cavern to its evil inhabitant.

The army remained encamped near the pond for three days following the link-up with Manus and the cavalry. The army rested and recuperated from the long march of days past. Xena and Borias set up house in her tent and for three days made love at every opportunity. Naturally, Lykus and Pelius knew what was happening, they knew and did their best to see their commanders were not disturbed.

And Xena sang. She and Borias sang together and made love. They sang to each other, they sang to the birds in the meadow by the secluded pond. They sang to Argo, their ever present companion. At times it seemed the little filly pranced to the harmony of the duet. They sang to Solan; the stable boy becoming part of their extended family.

In the evenings, Xena and Borias would even sing to Lykus and his guard, those men who had followed Xena from the beginning. The Guard held a special place in Xena's heart and she sang her happiness to them as the evening sun passed over the mountains to the east. They were the last remaining soldiers of Lyceus' crusading army. The army Xena had inherited from her dead brother. Evenings around Xena's tent took on a festive air as her joy captured them all. She was in love again.

Borias was more than content, he was growing fat. He was amazed when Xena turned out to be a good cook. He seemed to have forgotten she had been raised by an innkeeper. And cook for him she did, every night, a special dinner to be eaten in the privacy of their tent. Then biology won out, and they made love.

The army rested for three carefree days. Three days of peace before returning to the grim realities of war and conquest. Soon the march would begin again and the army would head for the sea and its rendezvous with Tellus and the fleet. But that last night before the long march began again was a special night, for Xena's wish had been granted, she had received what she most desired. And for a time Xena was at peace with herself and her maddening dream.

Borias laughed as Xena took a bow. He watched and smiled as his lover blushed at the ringing applause from the men of her guard. As Xena finished her deep curtsy, the piper and lute player began a fast dance rhythm.

Soon, Xena and Lykus were arm in arm, her leather skirts billowing outward as Lykus twirled her round and round to the fast beat. Borias laughed as others joined in until the entire guard was engaged in the dance. Xena was swept along from man to man, her giggling laughter echoing with the music. Borias taped his foot in time with the music, his bass voice picking up the tune and putting words to the music in a wondrous display of improvisation.

Xena broke off from the dance and skipped to Borias' side, her eyes riveted on his as she picked up the melody and her voice blended with his. Seizing his hand in hers, Xena and Borias sang together, sang and watched their men caper to the strains of the dance music. All too soon the music wound down and the dance ended.

Xena turned and kissed Borias' cheek as the dancing men broke off and returned to their positions before her tent. Lykus and his sergeants began herding the men back into formation while Xena led Borias away from the group, led him back toward the entrance to their tent. Borias gave her a nervous grin as he saw the mischievous look that came over her face. A good night was had by all, he thought as she led him into the darkened tent.

In the middle hours of the night, Xena rose from their bed and silently walked to the far corner of the tent. Looking back to make sure Borias remained asleep, Xena removed a polished metal mirror from her traveling chest and propped it up next to the table that sat in the corner. Leaning back against the table, she pondered what had been happening to her body over the last few days.

Xena had felt her body warm itself the past several days. Each time the warmth made its presence known, Xena seduced Borias into making love to her. This morning she had felt the stirring of her bleeding cycle begin to weave its way through her body. She had felt the flush build up all day. The evening before, she had smelled the faint mustiness of her loincloth, a smell she had come to associate with the onset of her bleeding. Xena and her midwife friend, Lamia, had spent many hours talking about how to insure a child was conceived, how to time the lovemaking so that conception would be unavoidable.

Xena smiled as she realized she had timed it right. Her smile changed to a grimace as she remembered the lie she was forced to tell to insure that timing. Borias had asked her the time of month she bled and she had lied, afraid where his question might lead. No, she thought, Borias will be pleased when I tell him. He will forgive me the lie.

Xena pushed off from the table and stood in front of the mirror. Drawing her callused hands down along her naked flanks, she wondered what it would feel like to be swollen with the child she knew had already begun its tiny life inside her womb. She caressed the four puncture wounds just below her navel. Never again, she vowed. This time she would take precautions against being wounded in any manner that would sacrifice her child.

Her fingers dropped lower to the sparse patch of black hair between her thighs. She marveled that something as large as most babies she had seen could enter the world through such a small opening. I wonder if it will hurt, she suddenly thought. Will I cry out as I've heard other women cry during the birthing? Shivering slightly at the thought, Xena raised her hands to cup her full breasts. And what will it feel like to have a baby suckle? What will it be like to feed my creation the milk of my own body? Blue eyes met blue eyes as Xena searched her reflection for an answer to her questions.

As she watched her reflection for an answer, Xena felt Borias' fingers on her shoulder as his face came into the mirror's view. Looking up into the reflection of his face, Xena smiled and placed her hand over his, her other hand dropping down below her waist to caress the patch of black hair. Turning, she hugged Borias to her breasts in a fierce embrace. Without a word, Borias led her back to their bed.

As their breathing returned to normal sometime later, Xena raised herself up on an elbow and looked into her lover's eyes. She watched as Borias' eyes focused on her intent gaze. Xena saw a look of joy and contentment come over Borias' strong face. With a sigh, he reached up and captured her face and kissed her deeply.

"What do you see in me, my love?" she asked as she lay back down beside him, staring up at the tent's ceiling. "Why do you love me?"

"Xena, you are my every desire. You are the other half of my soul that I've been searching for all these many years," Borias told her, his fingers grasping the Borilus Token that lay on his chest. "You are my woman, my other half."

"That sounds like possession," Xena responded, her hand moving over to rest on his and her gift.

"No Xena, not possession. Completion, completion of my soul," he told her, his fingers caressing hers. "I have always felt incomplete. I've traveled most of the known world and everywhere I've been I've searched for that other half. I found it when I met you."

"Then you're not angry I won't marry you?" she asked as she levered herself up onto an elbow to look into his eyes. "I just couldn't go through that again. Not after Petracles."

"No. Xena, you and I are unconventional people. We are soldiers and no ceremony will bind us any tighter than we have bound ourselves," he told her, looking up into her blue eyes. "We create our own world, you and I."

"Am I also a soldier to you, a killer?" she asked, her eyes going hard, waiting his response.

"Never a killer," he answered her. "You are a soldier by trade, but by trade only. Your heart, the heart I see every time I look at you, is the heart of a loving woman, not a killer. We soldier because that is what we do, not what we are."

"You could give up this life, give up being a soldier?" she asked, tears beginning to form in the corners of her eyes.

"When this campaign is over, when we've beaten these Dorians you hate so much, then we can give up this life," he told her, reaching up to trace the tears as they fell from her eyes. "Then we can go off together and just live."

Xena lay back down beside her lover, her tears flowing freely down her cheeks and onto the pillow below her head. Reaching over, she brought Borias' hand across and laid it on her naked stomach, resting it over the spot where she knew their child had already begun to take shape. As sleep drew her down into its mysterious embrace, Xena's last thoughts were whether he could feel the baby as much as she.

The next morning, Xena rode Argo down to the pond for one last bath before the march continued. She knew that Borias and Manus, Lykus and Pelius, could move the army without her looking over their shoulders. One last bath, then she would rejoin her army for its march to the sea.

Xena hated long rides in the saddle during her bleeding cycle. The anger she tried so hard to master, tried so hard to keep under control, would rise to the surface every time she bled. She hated being mean, hated being driven to say and do things by a force she didn't understand.

And she hated the unclean feeling the cycle gave her, especially on long horse back rides. Her groin would hurt for days as the cycle played itself out, the sticky wetness causing a rash as her leather breeches rubbed her raw. One last bath before the cyclic agony returned. Her spirit brightened as she realized this would be her last cycle for nine long months. But then she grimaced -- would morning sickness be worse?

Xena dismounted and sent Argo trotting off for a final graze on the grass the young horse had grown to love so much over the last three days. Even her men had noted how the young filly would accompany them to the pond as they took their baths. Xena's guard was especially fond of the filly and Argo was getting fat on their presents of grass and oats.

She walked down to the shore and began to undress. As she shed her leather and bronze armor, Xena was surprised as Solan, her stable boy, walked out of the trees on the far side of the pond. At first the boy did not seem to notice her, then his young face split into a wide grin as he saw his mistress across the still water. Xena laughed as the child sprinted around the pond toward where she sat. Xena had always loved children and she was fond of Solan. She had always gone out of her way to be nice to him, even back home.

"Solan! What brings you out here. Shouldn't you be back in camp?" Xena asked the boy as he ran up and sat down beside her.

Solan blushed as she ruffled his long ash-blond hair. "I just wanted one last bath. You get to ride Argo, Xena. You don't know how painful it is just bouncing around in an old wagon day after day," Solan told her, a smile on his boyish face.

"Believe me, Solan, I agonize while on the march, same as you," Xena said, smiling back at the boy. "Argo's not all fun and games to ride sometimes. Well, at least you're dressed for a bath," she said, pointing out the boy's short linen drawers.

"What are you doing here, Xena?" Solan said. "Were you going to take a bath, too?"

"Yeah, I was going to, but now I don't know," Xena said, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "I can't take a bath with a handsome young man like yourself looking on. It wouldn't be modest of me, now would it."

Solan blushed as she teased him. "Oh...ah...I can leave. Xena, I'm sorry. I'll just....".

Solan's reply was interrupted as Xena hauled him off the ground and threw him in the water. The boy sputtered to the surface and watched wide eyed as Xena shed her breeches and leather boots and dove into the water after him. Clad in her underblouse and loincloth, Xena's modesty was preserved. Solan was still quite embarrassed and his face flush scarlet as Xena playfully dunked him under the water.

Solan had grown up an orphan and had never been around girls his own age, had never had a sister to play with. He was not at all sure what he was supposed to do as he sputtered to the surface. So he just splashed his mistress, and soon the two were involved in battle to see who could make the biggest wave. After a while, they just swam in silence, swam around the lake as Argo continued to roll in the grass along the bank.

Some time later, they crawled out onto the bank and lay in the warm sun of midmorning. The silence continued as boy and young woman were captured by the beauty of the day and the peace of the pond and meadow.

"Xena, thank you for bringing me with you," Solan said, breaking the silence. "I remember when you were the only grown-up who would speak to me, who was kind to me. All the other kids back home always teased me about being an orphan, as if it were my fault. But you, you always had a kind word for me. I always looked forward to the cakes you used to bring me from your mother's inn."

"Well Solan, my young friend, you're an orphan no longer," Xena told the boy, reaching over to ruffle his wet hair. "You're my last link with home. Oh, there's Lykus and Pelius, but they're older than I am and I didn't really know them back then. No Solan, you are my last link to a childhood dead and buried. You are part of my family now. You and Borias and Argo."

"Thank you, Xena," the boy said, reaching over to hug her. "I should be getting back. I don't want to be left behind."

And with those words, the boy ran up the bank and disappeared into the trees. Xena sighed as she watched her young friend scamper up the bank. Solan had become a fixture in her heart following the loss of her child. Little did the boy know how much his presence had helped awaken her maternal instincts following the tragedy of her miscarriage. Xena smiled an inner smile, rubbing her stomach over the spot where she knew her new baby was taking form. Motherhood is going to be just great, she thought to herself, whistling softly for Argo and a change of clothing.

Chapter 3

Xena led her army east across the Dotian Field and through the long passes of the coastal mountains toward the sea. They had to make up for time lost, lost during those three peaceful days by the pond and meadow. She left a scattering of mounted patrols in each pass to warn of Thessalian pursuit.

The long march degenerated into a painful slog through hot mountain valleys and across sharp peaks. Despite the altitude, the temperature continued to soar, making the marching soldiers feel like living dead stumbling along the dusty mountain trails. The area around the line of march was uninhabited and the supply situation was once again critical. Two days and the sea could be seen glinting in the distance as the army wound its way down the seaward side of the mountain range. They had made it -- the sea.

And the fleet, but a fleet hard pressed. The army was a day late for its rendezvous with the ships commanded by Tellus and Visirius. And that single day had played into the hands of the Thessalians. Xena had stopped to occupy the town of Meliboea, halted the march to 'request' resupply from the town. As she led her army down the steep mountain trails toward the sea, Xena saw what that single day had cost. Cost her, the army, and her fleet.

As she sat Argo on the last hill before the land shelved toward the sea, Xena suddenly realized why the Thessalians had not pursued her army over the mountains. No, they had stolen a march on her and paralleled her army through the mountains. And had arrived at the rendezvous point first.

Xena watched as the tiny figures of Tellus' sailors fought the fires that threatened to engulf her fleet. Five ships had already burned to the water line, five ships lost to the fleet. Five others were smoldering as the sailors fought the encroaching flames. Well, at least Tellus got the others away, she thought, looking out to sea at the fifteen ship making a great circle in the roadstead, oars flashing in the sun light.

Xena turned as Borias and Manus pounded up the trail behind her. Turning to greet her cavalry commander and lover, Xena pointed at the carnage below.

"We should never have stopped at that damned town," Xena said to her companions. "Did you find any trace of the Thessalians who did this?"

"No, Xena. They must have used another trail back into the mountains," replied Manus. "They're gone."

"I thought you said Tellus and his men could handle things?" Borias grumbled, shaking his head and looking at his lover.

"Borias, you know as well as I that I couldn't lend Tellus any soldiers to help guard the fleet," Xena replied heatedly, a grimace on her face as she faced off with Borias. "What would you have done in my place, huh?"

"Made better time!" Borias exclaimed, his anger beginning to rise. "Not have spent so much time by that damned pond!"

"Well, you seemed as taken with that 'damned' pond as I, my friend," Xena yelled back, her eyes flashing, her anger evident. "Admit it! We both made a mistake."

As suddenly as the anger came so it receded. Borias hung his head and looked over at Manus, a look of disgust coming over his face. "Well Manus, get some patrols out and make a quick search of the surrounding area. I want no more surprises. And send someone down to the infantry. Get Lykus to survey the damage and find out if any of the supplies were destroyed. Now go!"

Manus, embarrassed at his friends anger with each other, merely nodded his head. Turning his horse, he rode away at a brisk canter, heading down the slope to where Lykus had the line of battle formed up, just in case the Thessalians returned.

Borias shifted uncomfortably in the saddle, watching Xena for a signal as to her mood following their angry exchange. The woman looked back at him, the anger having dissolved, but the lingering lines around her eyes, as she squinted in the noonday sun, told him it could return at any minute. Slowly, he walked his horse up next to Argo and reached across, placing a hand on his lover's shoulder.

"Xena, I'm sorry," he told her, looking off in the distance toward the sea and the circling ships. "I should not have said what I did," he apologized, returning his attention to her.

"My friend, you have to separate this love we have from the army and its command," she told him, her eyes hooded. "I WILL NOT go through that again. I will NOT spar with you as I did with Petracles. I and I alone command this army!"

"You command?" Borias replied, anger flooding his body once again. "Yes, I command!" she yelled, shoving Borias and his horse aside and dismounting with an angry bound. "Leave our love in bed where it belongs!" she spit at him.

Borias looked down at the angry woman, his face flushed, the sweat stinging his eyes. Trying desperately to control his own anger, Borias dismounted, pushing his horse aside and turning to face his lover. He looked up into her face and watched in silence as the anger fled the sky blue eyes. Borias opened his arms wide, to capture Xena in a fierce embrace as the woman ran into his arms.

"We shouldn't fight," Xena panted, her head on his shoulder, the anger gone from her words. "It's just that it's so very hard to love someone you soldier with."

"I know, love, I know," Borias responded, gently stroking her hair. "That's why I've never done it before."

"Had that many women warriors to soldier with, have you?" she teased, hugging him in a tight embrace.

Borias laughed, bringing Xena's face off his shoulder and looking into her blue eyes. "No, Xena, no other lady warrior besides yourself," he grinned. "I think we should be getting down the hill and help old Lykus bring order, don't you."

"Yeah, guess we should," Xena replied, smiling at him. "I value your guidance, but we can't afford to have a divided command. And that's me, okay?" she told him, her smile taking the sting out of her words.

"As you say, Xena," Borias replied.

Breaking their embrace, the two warriors mounted their horses and made their way down the trail to the beach and the still burning ships of the fleet.

Tellus and Visirius had been prepared for a cavalry attack. They had made landfall on time and as usual the fleet beached on the shore line to await the arrival of Xena and her army. Erecting a palisade of heavy oars around the unloaded supplies, Tellus and his sailors mounted a guard on the beached ships and mounds of much needed supplied. Unfortunately, the sailors were not prepared for an infantry attack. Especially from such a large body of infantry as hit them the night before Xena and her army made its delayed rendezvous.

The Thessalian infantry had boiled out of the mountain passes and attacked at dusk. Outnumbered, the sailors fought valiantly to save as much of the supplies as possible. Numbers will tell and despite the valor displayed by the sailors of the fleet, the Thessalians were able to fire ten of the beached ships before being driven off back into the mountains that surrounded the roadstead. Five ship had been saved once the Thessalians had withdrawn, but five more were completely gutted. At least the valuable supplies had been saved. Tellus and Visirius made an angry vow that Xena would make good their loss in ships, if not in men. They did not want any grubby soldiers dirtying up their decks.

As the day ended, Lykus and Pelius had the infantry spread out along the many passes that led back up into the mountains. Manus and Philemon sent the horse-archer scouts on long patrols back into the mountainous countryside to the west, insurance against a recurrence of Thessalian intervention. Meanwhile, the sailors of the fleet beached the fifteen ships that had made it out to sea following the attack the night before. The five burnt out husks were left to smoulder in the land breeze that blew in from the mountains.

"You owe me, Xena. You owe Visirius and I for five ships," Tellus informed Xena angrily. "Where were you?"

"We were detained. Tellus, I'm sorry," Xena told the angry ship's captain. "We had a fight with their cavalry nine days ago. Now I know why the Thessalians were so light in infantry. They must have sent them through the mountains thinking we'd go that way."

"So, you'll pay?" Tellus asked, not mollified by Xena's words, his anger remained.

"Of course!" Xena replied, her anger meeting his. "I'll pay you for your loss, you stupid sod! I thought you said your men could defend the fleet?"

"Yes, I did. That's why I don't charge you more," Tellus said. "But Xena, if you expect us to support you, you have to meet the schedule. Next time we might not be so lucky."

"All right, that's the past. But there won't be a next time, I promise," she informed him. "See Borias about payment for your precious ships."

"What do you want us to do now?" Tellus asked, his anger gone with the thought of payment for his burned out ships.

"We'll meet you at Heraclea on the Malian Gulf in five months time," she told him. "Have Borias give you enough precious metal to replenish our supplies. We'll be pretty bare by the time we get to Heraclea. We'll be counting on you."

"All right, we'll see you in five months. We'll stand out to sea until you get to Heraclea," Tellus said. "I don't want a repetition of last night. I'll send a ship inshore daily to watch for you."

"That'll be fine," Xena replied. "Anything else?"

"When are you planning on heading back inland?" Tellus asked.

"We'll spend a day or so here on the beach before heading back into those mountains," Xena told him. "When are you leaving?"

"As soon as the tide will allow. About noon tomorrow, I think," Tellus said.

"Well, see Borias about payment. I'll see you before you leave," Xena said, turning and walking back up the beach to her tent.

Tellus watched the woman walk up the sandy beach, scratching his head in wonder. If she were a man, he thought, I'd beat her senseless for being late. There's something about this woman that makes you just want to serve her in any manner possible, he reflected. Warrior princess, he chuckled to himself. Tellus waved at Visirius and began walking along the sand, back to his flagship.

Continued - Part 3

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