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by Joseph Anderson
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
This story continues the narrative line begun in "History Lesson" and "Final Exam."
She closed her eyes and reveled in the aroma. There were big pieces of carrots, meat and potatoes, and little onions swimming in the delicious smelling broth. The stew placed before them was far better than usual and the bread was warm and fresh, so Gabrielle was getting ready to dig in when she heard an unwelcome voice.
"Uh, Xena, Gabby, can I sit down?"
"Sure, Joxer. Go ahead." Gabrielle said, resignedly. She looked over at Xena to roll her eyes at her but her friend was paying close attention to the idiot.
"What's the matter, Joxer?" Xena said.
Joxer took his helmet off and said, "Somebody is after me, Xena."
"Oh, come on, Joxer. Why would anyone be after you?" the small blonde said.
Joxer tried to ignore her and continued talking to Xena, "As I've been traveling around I've been getting these strange looks, and it turns out a warrior has been asking about me. And, get this, one of Callisto's old men--from when she had me and Gabby that time--well he made a joke about me and this warrior practically killed 'im. The same thing happened someplace else and this stranger asked the guy making the joke which finger he would miss least. The guy flips her off, of course, and she cuts his finger off and drops it in his drink." "She?" Xena said.
"Yeah, nobody knows what she looks like. She's got this helmet with a veil."
Joxer heard Gabrielle loudly cough and she was staring at him, with stew on her face. Xena didn't show any reaction though. A few months earlier they had found Callisto almost dead from wounds and a warrior with a veiled helmet had been trailing her. She had despised Gabrielle for some reason. "I don't think you should worry about it, Joxer, as far as danger anyway. Sounds like you've got a friend. People who make jokes about you" and Xena glanced at the bard, "might think about watching their mouths though."
He looked at Gabrielle and said, "Well, I'll be going. I just wanted to talk to Xena for a minute. By Gabby."
Several seconds late, Gabrielle asked him, "Oh, stay and eat with us, Joxer?" He shook his head as he was walking away. She looked over at Xena, who was looking coldly at her. "What?" she said. The warrior got up and the bard saw her catch up with Joxer. They spoke for a few minutes, Xena putting her hand on his shoulder, then he left the little inn. When Xena returned the bard said, "Xena, we don't like Joxer, remember. He's irritating. All of a sudden it's just me and I should feel bad? You should let me in on these changes." She was defensive. What had she done that was so bad?
Xena sighed. Nobody was everything you thought they were--even Gabrielle. Joxer would die for her and he was just a joke to the bard. Xena didn't find him so irritating anymore; it's like she could see past those mannerisms now. Gabrielle couldn't; it wasn't her fault, Xena guessed. You had to see Joxer in the right circumstances and the bard hadn't. She guessed this warrior in the veil had seen him in the right circumstances.
Kimberly was dreaming. She and Callisto and Joxer were trapped in a canyon by the Bitch's men. Callisto had sent the villagers the Bitch had been hunting for sport out a side tunnel which led to a neighboring canyon, and the three of them were shooting occasional arrows, lighting fires, and generally trying to give the impression that the villagers had not escaped. The rest of Callisto's men were recovering from a battle. This was a situation Joxer had just heard about and the three of them had ridden to see what they could do; there weren't enough victims involved to risk the main force. Xena hunting fifty or so people was nothing compared to what they were usually trying to prevent her from doing. Joxer had felt strongly about it though so they had come. "They've all had time to make it, I think." Joxer said, clambering up the hill, his bad leg making it difficult for him, and she and Callisto both grabbed an arm and hauled him up.
Callisto said, "It's time to get out of here then. Working our way past them shouldn't be much trouble. " Joxer began to say
something and Callisto said, "Don't say it, Joxer. We're not leaving you because of your leg. Making the offer is getting old."
"Callisto, I caught a look at them. It's Xena's personal guard from the Horde," Joxer said.
Kimberly's heart jumped; she'd recently seen what was left of several families after the Bitch had turned her guard loose on them. She hadn't liked their accents or something. Callisto lightly said, "Oh, it's the Horde, really? I've been WANTING to meet them. I just love the bones through their noses. What a fashion statement."
Kimberly's and Joxer's spirits both rose, just hearing Callisto.
"And here they are," she said sweetly with that crazy smile.
She and Kimberly both had their swords in their hands and were leaping as Joxer was struggling to get his sword out. He began running down the hill, tripping over bodies Callisto and Kimberly were leaving in their path. They were both fighting several Horde members when Joxer came up and flung himself on a huge warrior. He parried him easily but left himself open for Kimberly who disemboweled him. Another threw an axe at Callisto and Joxer pulled the dying warrior, who was still on his feet somehow, in front of Callisto so the axe imbedded in his chest. Another axe flew and Joxer fell, holding his arm, but stood back up trying to put himself between his friends and the warrior throwing the axes.
"Damn it, Joxer! Stop trying to be a martyr!" Callisto yelled at him. She suddenly leaped and split the skull open of a warrior coming up behind Kimberly, and Joxer managed to wound one lunging at him. The Horde warrior hit him in the face with the butt of his spear and Joxer fell but saw both Callisto and Kimberly, their faces contorted in rage, descend on his attacker, literally cutting him to pieces.
Kimberly opened her eyes, sweating. Her eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness of her room. She discovered her sword was in her hand. This dream wasn't so bad. Not like some of them. She listened and the only sounds were snoring from the other occupied room and the usual night sounds of a small town. She remembered what had happened earlier in the tavern. What was the matter with her? Everybody who ever met Joxer in this time line thought he was ridiculous; she couldn't keep cutting off fingers every time somebody made a Joxer joke. Well, she could but it was probably counterproductive.
She wanted to find Joxer. She couldn't reform Callisto and had had to kill her but Joxer should be the same. He just needed the chance. Kimberly wanted to get him away from Xena and Gabrielle too. He deserved better than the way she was sure they treated him. She wanted him with her when she went to take over Ares' army. She needed to start on that; the god would kill her if she didn't. She knew he meant it too, that Ares wouldn't give her the slack he gave Xena.
She got up from the hard narrow bed and lit a lamp, watching it create a huge lumbering shadow behind her. She was naked and she liked the way the shadow exaggerated her body, making her breasts bigger and hips slimmer, more like Callisto, if she moved just right. Kimberly got the oil out of her bag and picked her armored leather shirt up. She wouldn't be able to get back to sleep so she might as well do something. Joxer used to do this for Callisto, before Callisto was killed. Then he had done it for her until he was killed. But that was in another time line.
Joxer was walking down the road. He'd been upset over how Gabby had treated him back there a couple of hours ago, but Xena had been real nice to him. He wondered why. Part of his mind said Gabby was jealous and Xena recognized him as another great warrior; but then this other part of him knew that was ridiculous. Sometimes he didn't know what he thought about anything; like his brains were jumbled--he'd been like that his whole life. If he concentrated he could begin to feel like Joxer the Mighty though. Even though he was a mighty warrior he looked nervously around, wondering about that stranger who was asking about him. Xena had said she was probably his friend. "Why would anyone be my friend," Joxer thought. He pushed that thought away and continued walking. He began singing his song to make himself feel better, to try and forget how Gabby had looked at him.
He heard a scream coming from up ahead around a bend in the road. He looked behind him, because he remembered Xena would do that and to his surprise saw something, a far-off figure on a horse riding toward him. He didn't know what to make of that. He awkwardly pulled his sword and began running toward the scream. When he got around the corner he stopped. "Fuck," he said. There were eight dirty looking bandits, heavily armed, and they were pulling the clothes off a pretty teenage girl; taking their time, enjoying her terror. She was naked on top and several of
them had her skirt and were pulling it in different directions, laughing. Others held her arms. They stopped as he rounded the corner.
"Look, it's Joxer the Mighty," one said and laughed. Then they all laughed.
"Run along, clown, we're too busy to bother with you," the same one said, turning his attention back to the girl.
He felt nauseous but Joxer said loudly, "Let the girl go and I won't hurt any of you." They were silent for a second then began laughing. A couple of them pulled swords and began advancing. Suddenly they stopped. Joxer could hear something in back of him, a horse. It walked up next to him. Shaking, he looked up and saw a chainmail veil looking down at him. "Please, gods, don't let this be their leader," he thought.
"Didn't you hear what Joxer the Mighty just told you to do, you pathetic pieces of dung?" a voice said casually.
Joxer jumped. The voice was familiar but not--like it combined different people he knew.
"This is none of your business, stranger. Ride on," the bandit who had called Joxer a clown said, sounding less sure of himself this time though.
The woman warrior laughed and said, "My god, a talking pile of shit. This really must be the land of myth and magic. Tell you what, fuckface, I'm trying to cultivate a kinder, gentler attitude, so if you leave like Joxer said I won't shove my sword up your ass till it comes out your mouth." Joxer was dumbstruck but he tried to cope. "Thanks for the help. I could've handled them myself though." He felt a powerful hand come down and pat his shoulder affectionately.
"I know. We have to stick together though, right?"
The bandits began laughing relievedly. They all pulled weapons and started towards them, though one still held the girl. The horse spurred forward and Joxer saw a flashing blade and two headless bodies, and one that was split down the middle to the sternum, drop and flop spastically on the ground. The bandits started yelling as it dawned on them they were in serious trouble here. Two of them began running and Joxer saw a chakram whizz out, hitting one man's helmet and knocking him out, and ricocheting to cut the throat of the other man, before it returned to its thrower. The veiled warrior leaped off her horse and with a slashing blow cut one of the remaining men in half.
There were two bandits left standing, one was still holding the struggling half naked girl, and the other was the one who had been doing the talking.
"You. Let the girl go and get on your knees, NOW!" the veiled warrior commanded. The bandit released the girl and seemed about to get on his knees but instead rushed the strange warrior. He ran directly onto her sword which protruded half its length out his back. She yanked it out and he fell, moaning and squirming. She walked up to the leader. He fell on his knees.
"Gods, please don't kill me! Please!" he was sobbing in fear.
"Sorry, fuckface. You had your chance."
Joxer had found a blanket to cover the girl with and was now standing with her protectively. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. He yelled, "Stop it!" The veiled warrior who now had the bandit naked with his face in the dirt, looked over at him as she was about to skewer him. The man was gibbering in fear. She stood up and kicked him hard in the mouth, spattering blood. "You owe your life to Joxer. Apologize to him."
The naked bandit squirmed over to Joxer, holding his boots and crying. "I'm sorry... I'm sorry! Gods! Oh Gods!"
"Maybe I see why Xena likes having Gabrielle around her now," she said. Joxer had no idea what she meant.
Gabrielle walked ahead and Xena was on Argo as usual. They were approaching a bend in the road and Xena stopped Argo and indicated for the bard to stop. She dismounted, drew her sword and walked forward. Gabrielle listened carefully and could hear a slight whimpering sound. She followed Xena, trying to be quiet. Xena had stopped and Gabrielle came up next to her.
"Oh Gods!" the bard said. She felt sick. There were pieces of dead men scattered around; she couldn't tell how many. A naked man sat in the middle of the road, rocking back and forth, whimpering and crying. Another man was on his knees nearby and seemed to be holding his head, groggy. The naked man looked up and saw Xena and screamed. The groggy man, came over to him and said, "Shut the fuck up, will ya!" The naked man stopped screaming.
"What happened here?" Xena said to the groggy man. He looked at her and seemed to jump himself a little but said, "We messed with the wrong person. What's it look like? Joxer."
"Joxer! Joxer did this?" the bard said in shock.
"No, Gabrielle. His friend," Xena said. The man nodded.
"We were just minding our own business and Joxer and this crazy bitch in a veil came along and murdered my friends."
Xena was looking at a torn peasant blouse on the ground. "Uh
huh," she said. "What, did Joxer and his friend interrupt your fun with the owner of this?" she held up the clothing. He looked away. "What happened to him?" she indicated the naked whimpering man.
"I don't know. Something knocked me out and when I came to he was like that, and everybody else was like you see."
"You're both lucky Joxer was here." Xena said turning around and walking back to Argo.
Gabrielle hurried up next to her. "Aren't you going to help that man?"
"No, Gabrielle, I'm not. Those are a couple of very, very lucky low lifes. First they had Joxer and now they have you."
Joxer and the strange warrior woman were at her camp. They had returned the girl to her farm, and her parents had given the two of them some food to take; it was all they had. Joxer had some bread and she had some cheese and wine. They hadn't eaten yet though. He wondered if she even ate with the veil on. Must get messy. He was still mystified. It was night now and they were just sitting around her campfire. No one had ever treated him like this in his life. He didn't know what to make of it. Sometimes when he was a kid people had pretended to be his friend so they could humiliate him later, but that felt nothing like this. She had said her name was Kimberly but she still wore that scary helmet with the chainmail over her face.
"Let's eat, Joxer." She lifted the little helmet off. Joxer stared at her. "Gods," he said. "Xena?"
Kimberly shook her head, "I just look like her, Joxer. It's a long story, but believe me, I'm not her. I wear the veil to avoid confusion. If you look at me you can see I'm not Xena; I'm a lot younger."
He nodded his head. "Yeah, I can see it. And Xena doesn't wear a bracelet of hair like that." Kimberly smiled at him and touched the blonde bracelet on her right wrist.
"This belonged to a friend of mine. I'll tell you about her some time. It's part of the same long story as why I look like Xena and you're my friend."
Joxer's face got red. He really wasn't used to being treated like this, especially by someone who could fight like that.
"Speaking of looking younger," Kimberly thought to herself. She realized Joxer wasn't even 30. In the other time line he looked at least 45, but it was because of what he had seen and been through. All those deep lines running through his face, were just barely perceptible or invisible here. And seeing him walk without a limp looked wrong to her.
"Listen, Joxer. Will you try and trust me? I'd like you to travel with me; I have a job I have to go to and I'd like you to come. Please. We'll see how it works out."
Joxer was absolutely thunderstruck. She wanted him for a sidekick; though she wasn't even putting it like that. He just nodded. "What job are you going to."
"An army. I'm going to take it over. They don't know that yet, though."
"YOW!! This is the big time!" he thought. "Are you an evil warlord, Kimberly?" he said with trepidation.
"No, Joxer, I'm not. I think you might help me stay that way. I'm going to take the army in a new direction."
"What army is it?" Joxer said curiously.
"Ares' army," she answered.
Xena and Gabrielle were hearing more stories about the woman warrior with the chainmail veil. She was definitely traveling with Joxer now, and the Joxer jokes seemed to diminishing rapidly. Xena could tell they seemed to be traveling in a southwesterly direction, which raised one possibility. The stories seemed like the warrior was involving herself in the same kinds of situations Xena would if she ran across them. She was a lot more ruthless though; more like Callisto, Xena thought.
Gabrielle got upset and quiet whenever they heard about the veiled woman. The bard had never been treated in her life like that. Gabrielle was haunted by the savage contempt the warrior had shown her. If she was evil that would be one thing, but she wasn't and Xena obviously respected her. And now Joxer was traveling with her. She felt like she owned Joxer even though she didn't respect him, and now he was with her. How could she like Joxer and not her? She and Xena had found Callisto unconscious and badly wounded, and soon this strange warrior had shown up to finish what she had started. The veiled woman was going to kill Callisto even though she obviously cared deeply for her, saying it was her duty. Gabrielle had instinctively objected to letting anyone be killed, and the stranger had just told Xena to get Gabrielle away from her. And Xena, her great good friend Xena, had tied her over Argo and ridden off with her.
They were walking together, leading the horse. "Xena, what's going on with this warrior, do you have any idea?" Gabrielle asked her friend.
The warrior princess paused, "I don't know, Gabrielle. I think the gods must be involved somehow. The way she felt about you
was like someone who had a really good reason, but you've never met her that you remember. My old army with its latest commander is southwest of here. I think that might be where she's going."
"Ares?" Gabrielle said. Xena nodded.
"Gabrielle, I have a feeling you might be able to smooth things out with her eventually. Just be patient. Joxer might calm her down, too," Xena said.
"Joxer!?" she said. The bard leaned on her staff, "I just don't get that at all."
Kimberly had tried getting Joxer a horse but he kept falling off, so she let him walk like he wanted to. It slowed them down, but she still had plenty of time. Ares' army was just a few more weeks away unless they left for somewhere. If they did she would get Joxer a mule and tie him on if she had to. She was amazed at how irritating he could be; it was like in the other time line all of that had been burned out of him. All his good qualities were still there but you had to know what to look for. He hadn't developed anything like the judgment or dignity the Joxer she had known before had. Well, she would just have to work on that with him. She was still glad he was with her. The dreams weren't nearly as bad as they had been. She still hadn't told him much. He just didn't seem up to it, yet.
Joxer walked along, happy, and singing his song. He had been adding lines to include his new companion.
Joxer the Mighty, he's really tidy, With his friend, Kimberly, who's as brave she can be, They go from sea to sea, helping those in jeopardy, And their good with company.
Kimberly is really scary, her legs are rarely hairy, Joxer tells her "Don't go nuts. Don't shove your sword up people's butts But don't ever think they're weak, And they hardly ever reek.
Joxer the Mighty, he's really tidy Kimberly wears a veil, she's not very frail If you're in jeopardy, don't call the cavalry, There's a better remedy, Joxer and Kimberly.
Kimberly smiled, shaking her head. She had taken her helmet off and ran her fingers through her long dark hair. "How many verses are you up to, Joxer?"
"Forty-five," he answered, glancing up at her and tripping and nearly falling on his face before Kimberly grabbed him.
Suddenly she indicated for him to be quiet and Joxer was. He was definitely getting better. She pulled him up behind her on the horse and began galloping as spears and arrows began whizzing in. She caught two arrows with her hands but heard Joxer grunt with pain. She looked down and saw an arrow protruding from his right thigh. When they were well out of range, she dismounted and helped Joxer down. Those were just bandits ambushing travelers, she surmised. They'd heard of this road being dangerous. She wished she could go back and deal with them but Joxer was hurt. It was the same leg as in the other time line. She cut open the pant leg. It looked bad and she wasn't a doctor. The other arrows she'd seen were barbed; she couldn't pull it out and she didn't want to cut it out. She just wasn't that skilled at this. She cut the end of the shaft off, leaving enough to afford a good handhold. Then she bandaged around it. She knew who she wanted to take him to and had a pretty good idea where to go.
The river was peaceful tonight, all they could hear were frogs and birds, and occasional fish jumping. Amazing considering the world they lived in. Callisto sat on the edge of the bank, her nude body unbelievably beautiful in the moonlight. Relaxing in the water, Kimberly rotated her sore left ankle. She'd turned it that morning walking from her bedroll to the latrine. Callisto and Joxer both thought it was hilarious. She'd been in four battles and who knows how many skirmishes without a scratch and she hurts herself going to take a leak.
They heard a sound on the path to the river. "What is it Joxer?" Callisto called.
Joxer's voice came to them, "The supplies just got here. There's some pretty good wine, I thought you and Kimberly might like some."
"Bring it on, Joxer," Callisto said.
"Are you decent?"
Kimberly and Callisto smiled at each other. "Joxer, just bring the wine, and some for yourself. Me and Kimberly can stand it." The blonde with a move of her head indicated for Kimberly to wait to the left of the trail. She clambered up silently, her tall naked body dripping water. Joxer tentatively approached Callisto, trying not to look at her. She waited till he had set the three goblets of wine down, then she grabbed his legs and yelled, "Kimberly!" as she started pulling his boots off. Kimberly leaped on him, hauling his shirt off. Callisto was dragging his pants down.
Kimberly glanced down at the hands encircling her. They seemed to be loosening, like he was passing out from the pain. "Joxer! Pay attention!" she yelled sharply. She hoped Xena was somewhere
on the road she thought she might be on.
The fire was crackling high. Gabrielle had been talking about a tale she was working on, but Xena indicated for her to be quiet with a quick hand gesture. The bard had stood and picked up her staff. Xena was standing and staring out into the dark night.
"Xena, I have Joxer. He's hurt," a strangely familiar voice came out of the darkness, followed by the veiled warrior riding up. Xena caught Joxer as the strange warrior lowered him down. She dismounted and took her helmet off. Gabrielle gasped but Xena just glanced at her and said, "Do you know if the arrow is poisoned?"
"No, but I doubt it. They were just road thieves."
"Hi, Xena. Hi, Gabby," Joxer said deliriously.
"About six hours."
Gabrielle caught a murderous look from Xena to the other younger Xena. "Six hours!"
Xena was taking the bandage off and examining the wound. Gabrielle brought her healing pouch without being asked.
Joxer came out of his delirium slightly and said, "Xena, Gabrielle, this is Kimberly. She's scary as fuck!" then he drifted off again.
Gabrielle said coolly, "We've already met."
Kimberly answered, "Hello, Gabrielle." However much visceral dislike she might have for the bard, this was no time to be anything but nice to Xena's friend. She even knew her dislike was unfair. She still had it though. As far as Kimberly was concerned every crucified town she had seen in the other time line was thanks to Gabrielle stupidly getting herself killed. Joxer's death, Callisto's death; all because of her. Even if it now hadn't happened; once it had happened, with all of the attendant suffering. Even Gabrielle's spirit, which had come to Kimberly to right things, had been oblivious to any sense of responsibility. She began taking the saddle off the dappled mare Callisto had given her.
Kimberly glanced at Joxer. He had a tight expression on his lined face and his eyes seemed more sunken than usual. He nodded at her and she braced herself for Callisto. He had a cloth ready, she saw. The blonde warrior strode into the tent.
"Well, well, look who's here, making themselves at home in MY TENT! The retarded gimp and the pathetic fake Xena!" Her sword snaked into her hand. Her eyes were as mad as Kimberly had ever seen them, and she saw some spittle at the side of her mouth. Joxer made a move to get behind her and Callisto whirled and hit him in the side of the head with the pommel of her sword. If he hadn't been wearing a helmet it probably would have killed him. Kimberly launched herself grabbing her sword arm and kneeing her as hard as she could in the stomach. Callisto went down under Kimberly's greater weight, and Joxer instantly had the cloth over her nose and mouth. Kimberly felt dizzy from the vapors coming up. She had both of Callisto's wrists pinned to the floor and she sat on her stomach, trying to avoid the flaying legs pounding her through her leather armor. The blonde's eyes finally rolled up in her head and she went limp. Kimberly continued to hold her and Joxer kept the cloth pressed to her face, in case she was faking. Finally, Kimberly got up painfully and helped Joxer stand. She wet a cloth and wiped away the blood running down the side of his face.
"Okay?" she asked. He nodded. "Help me put her to bed," Kimberly said.
It was early evening and Joxer and Kimberly were talking to one of Callisto's lieutenants when they saw her slowly emerge from her tent. The man got a frightened look on his face and excused himself. The blonde warlord walked over to a barrel of water and bending over soaked her head using a ladle two or three times. She straightened back up shaking water off like a dog. Finally her eyes seemed to focus on Kimberly and Joxer and she came over to them. They knew it was probably all right now but they remained tense just the same. Callisto looked at Joxer and reached out to turn his head slightly to see the purple lump on the side of his head. She patted his chest and turned to Kimberly.
"Did I kill anybody?"
"No, we got you in time," Kimberly answered. Callisto nodded looking at the ground and walked back to her tent.
Gabrielle was preparing supper. She looked over at Kimberly who was observing closely as Xena treated Joxer's leg, cutting the barbed arrow head out and applying various powders, before she bandaged the nasty looking wound. She'd given Joxer something first to put him to sleep. The younger Xena kept idly fingering the bracelet of blonde hair she wore.
"Is that Callisto's?" the bard asked her.
This woman was just a total mystery to Gabrielle. The more she saw her, the less she had any idea what was going on with her.
"Joxer shouldn't be traveling with you. He can't handle these kinds of situations," Xena said grimly.
Kimberly looked at her coldly, "And Gabrielle shouldn't be with
you for the same reason. I know Joxer a lot better than either of you possibly could. He can handle it. Even if he gets killed with me, it will be like a real warrior and with someone who respects him. Something he never got from either of you." She tried to keep the venom out of her voice but she still saw the bard shiver. Xena looked at her and went back to tending Joxer's leg.
"You're going to take over Ares' army, aren't you?" Xena said without looking up.
"How can you protect Joxer in a situation like that. Your rivals will try to get to you through him?"
Kimberly smiled, "I know how to get obedience. I spent a long time seeing what could be accomplished if you're willing to do what it takes. The first asshole who tries anything I'll just kill and skin. The next one, I won't kill first. That should set the right tone. Of course, I'll try to keep that from Joxer till he can face it; and I'd appreciate you not saying anything."
The bard was looking at her with horror, trying to see if she was joking. Xena just nodded though. "That could work," she said conversationally. "What about the army. When you attack villages, Joxer won't stay with you. He'll probably try to stop you."
Kimberly answered, "Don't judge everybody by yourself, Xena. I'm not going to raid villages; just other warlords."
Xena looked genuinely surprised. "Ares said he'd let you do that?" Kimberly nodded.
Gabrielle thought, "Wonderful! Something else for Xena to brood over. That's great, just great!"
"What about his leg?" Kimberly said, the concern clear in her voice.
"It should heal though he might have a limp," Xena answered.
Gabrielle saw Kimberly get a faraway look, obviously thinking. She just had no idea what went on in this woman's mind. "Here Kimberly" the bard said, handing her a knife with some rabbit on it and some bread. She poured her some wine.
"Thank you," Kimberly said. For the first time, the bard didn't detect any hostility.
"What did you do with Callisto?" Xena asked.
"Funeral pyre," Kimberly answered, as she took a bite of the bread.
Kimberly slept not far from Joxer that night. Gabrielle woke once and saw that Xena was also awake. They could hear Kimberly jerking and muttering in her sleep.
"Joxer, where's Callisto?...Callisto...bad...it's a bad one...the Bitch....Xena came through with her...they're all burned...all of them...Xena...Joxer, where's Callisto?... Jesus!...oh Jesus! they're just babies!...where's Callisto, Joxer?"
Gabrielle looked at her friend and saw that Xena had drawn a mask over her feelings as impassive as Kimberly's chainmail veil.
The next morning when Xena and Gabrielle awoke they saw Kimberly sitting next to Joxer. She stood up and picked her helmet up, her face disappearing again. "How long will it take Joxer to heal, Xena?"
"Several weeks at least. It will be months before it's completely healed." Kimberly nodded. "This might work out all right, Xena. I've been thinking about what we talked about last night. Once I've taken Ares' army over I can protect Joxer, but it might be dangerous for him while I'm sizing up the situation and seeing who I need to get rid of. He can be recuperating somewhere while I'm doing that."
"I think that's a good idea, Kimberly," Xena said. "We can take him to a town for you if you like. I'd like to keep watching his leg for several days, anyway."
"I'm going hunting. When I'm back I'll talk to him about it." Kimberly nodded a greeting to Gabrielle and walked to her mare, mounted and rode off.
"Xena, shouldn't we try to get Joxer away from her? She's a warlord!" the bard said.
Xena shook her head. "Everything she said was true and I'm sure she knows him better than we do."
"But how can that be, she only appeared a few months ago."
"I can't explain it, Gabrielle. Besides, he's a good influence on her. You can see that yourself. She doesn't even want to kill you now," Xena said with an ironic smile. "She just dislikes you."
Kimberly and Callisto had just ridden into a village. She had only been with the warlord about nine months. As they were dismounting a teenage boy came running with a sword at Callisto. She leapt out of the way effortlessly. Kimberly drew her sword but Callisto yelled, "No!" at her. The boy was crying and swinging his sword wildly. Callisto was dodging him easily and then moved in and grabbed his arm and took the blade from him. She tossed it to Kimberly as she got the boy's hands behind his back and just held him. He was crying hysterically.
"You killed my family! You killed my family!" he sobbed.
Kimberly said, "You must mean Xena! This is Callisto!" but Callisto indicated for her to be quiet.
"When? Where?" Callisto asked. Kimberly stared.
"Here! Here! You don't even remember! I was eight years old!
You let me live to tell people!" He collapsed on the ground crying. There was a crowd of people watching them nervously and eyeing Callisto with hatred.
"Does anyone know this boy?" Callisto said loudly. An older woman stepped forward, then a couple of middle aged men. "Take him home," she said. She released him, stepping back, watching the men lead the boy away. Taking his sword from Kimberly she drove it into the ground, then mounted her black stallion. "Come on, Kimberly. We'll get supplies in another village."
Joxer came awake with a jolt as he felt the pain in his leg.
"His eyes are open," he heard Gabby's voice.
"Kimberly?" he said as the face appeared over him.
"No, Joxer, it's Xena. Kimberly will be back soon. How do you feel?"
"Well, my leg hurts."
"That's better. I'm sure it does, Joxer. Just relax."
Gabrielle patted his shoulder and he twisted his head to look at her. "Hi, Gabby. I guess I screwed up again."
"Oh, Joxer. Anybody could get hit by an arrow." She paused, "Joxer, you really like traveling with Kimberly, don't you?"
"Yeah, it's great. Some of the stuff she does is kinda hard to watch but they always deserve it. If I ask her not to do something she always stops. I don't know why she listens to me. I don't even know why she wants me around."
Gabrielle was surprised. Joxer seemed to have more self awareness than she was used to.
They didn't hear Kimberly's mare till late evening. Joxer didn't seem worried though. The bard saw she didn't have any game.
"Bad hunting?" Gabrielle said. Xena and Joxer who was sitting up were looking at Kimberly seriously.
The veiled warrior glanced at her, "I didn't get anything for supper. Yeah, bad hunting." She took her helmet off, and she had a new gash on her face.
Joxer said, "You didn't, you know..."
"I did what I had to, Joxer; and, no, I didn't." Gabrielle got the feeling everybody knew something she didn't because Xena seemed to understand this code or whatever it was. "Will somebody tell me what's going on?"
Xena answered, "Kimberly went after the bandits who attacked her and Joxer." Kimberly shrugged, as she was helping herself to some bread and cheese from Joxer's pack. Xena went over to look at the gash. Kimberly allowed it though it was obvious she wanted to pull away. Gabrielle saw that what she thought was mud on Kimberly's boots was actually blood.
"What did you do?" she said accusingly.
"Let it go," Xena told her.
Joxer was relaxing in the village square. He had been here a month now, paying in advance at the inn. The kids hadn't showed up yet. He was a good storyteller and he had gotten into a schedule of telling a story everyday at noon. Sometimes it was Joxer and Xena, sometimes Joxer and Gabrielle, and sometimes Joxer and Kimberly. The kids loved it. Some of the village girls loved it too. Every so often someone came to town with news. The veiled warrior was getting more and more well known. She had joined Fredo's army and was rapidly rising through the ranks by killing whoever's position she craved. That was an accepted procedure. You could avoid getting killed by disappearing at the right time. You might even be able to come back later once the hot shot had moved up a level.
Kimberly looked at the huge dark man sitting before her through the filter of chainmail. This was Fredo's army. Fredo was nothing but fodder to Ares and he didn't even know it. He didn't deserve any sympathy: he had 15 beautiful girls from various villages penned up and he used them or handed them out to his officers as the mood struck him.
"What are your orders, Fredo?" she said.
Fredo looked at this homicidal bitch. She wanted him to try to kill her, either personally or through agents. Fredo knew exactly what she was doing: he had done the same a year before. He considered just giving her the army. She probably had Ares' backing. Fredo hadn't talked to the god in months no matter how many sacrifices he made. He had even tried sacrificing one of his concubines but to no avail. He stood, his massive muscular frame seeming to fill the tent. Fredo would die as he lived.
"My orders are for you to suck on this when you finish with my dick," he said, drawing his sword. Kimberly was right on him before he expected. He felt the dagger in his belly just as his huge left hand smashed into the side of her head. The veiled helmet buckled in and Kimberly saw flashing bright lights. Fredo swung the sword in his right hand trying to bisect her. Kimberly somehow avoided the blow, sucking her stomach in and contorting, though it cut her leather shirt and left a line of blood on her abdomen. With one motion she tore the helmet off and ripped down and over with the dagger already in Fredo's belly. She leaped back and drew her sword.
Fredo saw his intestines spilling out in front of him. He tried to ignore it and leaped with his sword slashing down. Kimberly ducked and jumped to the right, pivoting and driving her sword cleanly through his heart. She slipped on all the blood and almost fell.
"Damn, Fredo! that was all right!" Kimberly said, wiping her sword off on the long prostrate body.
"Hope I have that much style," she said to herself as she sheathed her sword.
"Weldon," she yelled, and the Celt looked in the tent.
"Take Fredo's body and burn it on a pyre. And send all of his concubines here. Tell'em I'm going to free them so they don't get scared."
The Celt nodded, his two long red braids echoing the movement of his long mustache; he was so shocked by her resemblance to Xena that he blinked. He had been in this army through six captains, all the way back to Xena. Weldon was a survivor. He had no intention of ever being the captain.
"And, Weldon," she said, he looked at her, his horse face expressionless, "I want to know what Fredo's commitments for the army were so I can honor them. Give this to the armorer to repair," she tossed her battered helmet to him, which he caught deftly.
Kimberly was receiving reports from her commanders. The Bitch had cut through their lines at two points and her men were killing whoever they could find to try and please her. It would be hours before Meleager arrived with his army to reinforce Kimberly. The messengers were haggard and exhausted but Kimberly was sending them right back out, unless they were badly wounded, as she let the new information fit into the picture she had in her mind of the terrain and the ebbing and flowing forces contesting it. She looked up as a soldier with a bandaged arm and a terrified expression approached. Her stomach turned over. "Where's Joxer? You were with Joxer, where is he?" she said in as controlled a voice as she could.
The man looked sick with fear as he said, "They came on us from the forest, they outnumbered us. Most of us caught arrows, then they overran us. I'm the only one who got out because I was riding point."
"You LEFT him!" Kimberly screamed, striking the man with the back of her hand and he fell back groaning. Her sword was instantly in her hand and ready to strike when she froze. Kimberly, resheathed her sword and helped the man up. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Take me to him."
Her aide who had been wordlessly observing now spoke, "You can't leave, Kimberly. You have to coordinate the battle. Every man out there is as important to someone as Joxer was to you."
"WAS!!" she shrieked, whirling on him. Her aide paled but stood his ground.
She stared at him through her veil. He had never seen her this way. It was like Callisto used to be sometimes or how he imagined the Bitch.
"Go with him. See what the situation is. If you can do it safely, bring Joxer's body back to me. Don't risk any one's life though." He nodded and left with the shaken soldier as another messenger from the front came up and Kimberly turned her attention to him.
The battle was over and it was night. She had accomplished what she wanted, turning Xena's army from the city they were advancing on long enough for the population to flee. Meleager was trying to protect the refugee columns. Of course, that meant the people in the surrounding countryside were slaughtered instead, but the numbers were far less.
Kimberly sat in her tent idly fingering the bracelet of yellow hair. She had had the body laid inside and it was at her feet. It was covered and the shapes were haphazard. They had recovered as much as they could. She took a deep breath and lifted off the cloth. They'd found that stupid helmet he'd started wearing again for some reason. All of the heads were gone, though. She realized that was good from her point of view. When Xena saw that she would probably personally flay every member of the company. Kimberly let her eyes travel over the hacked meat, trying to see her friend in it. Someone had told her once that Joxer had this great song he used to sing about himself. She had asked him over and over to hear it but he just shook his head. She wanted to squeeze his hand like she and Callisto used to but neither had been recovered.
"Oh, Joxer," she said softly.
Most of the adults were giving him a wide berth. Word had come that Kimberly's army was approaching. The elders had come to him to ask his advice and Joxer had simply told them they had nothing to worry about. They didn't believe him but didn't want to say that to the warlord's friend. They offered him more money than he had ever seen to save them from her, and he had told them to take their gold and not to insult him. Joxer the Mighty and Kimberly of the Veil protected the weak; they did not prey upon them. The town elders looked at him like he was out of his mind
but they left with their bribe.
The army was camped outside the town. Kimberly rode in with a tall man beside her who had long red braids hanging to his waist. It was noon and she saw Joxer in the town square surrounded by kids and a couple of teenage girls. Several adults ran out and grabbed children, pulling them away. Joxer stood up as she approached and dismounted. Her companion remained on his tall grey horse, his pale face expressionless but his grey eyes constantly moving, watching everything. He had the longest sword Joxer had ever seen. The remaining children were looking at her wide-eyed and the teenage girls looked nervous but fascinated. "Well, sure," she thought. She remembered how Callisto had looked to her the first time.
"How you doing, Joxer?" she said, smiling behind the veil. "Tired of sitting on your butt watching Oprah?"
"Are you ready to go back to work?"
"You bet!" he said, limping over to her. She got a knot in her stomach seeing that.
She turned at the sound of approaching steps. It was several older men and women, probably the town leaders, she guessed. They looked scared to death. Before they could speak Kimberly said, "I want to thank you for showing such hospitality to my friend, Joxer. This town is under my protection. If you ever have problems with bandits or warlords, send me word." The looks of relief were almost comical.
Kimberly went to her horse and reached in the saddle bag, removing a heavy pouch. "Who is the leader?" she said. A distinguished grey haired man who looked like a merchant stepped forward and nervously said, "I am." The veiled warlord handed the pouch to him. "This is for the town. You can get a fountain and maybe get some streets paved. Whatever you all think best."
"Thank you, Lord...uh..Lady.. uh...Kimberly," he said shocked, taking the pouch which weighed his hand down.
The two pretty teenage girls came up to Joxer. They were crying. With an arm around each, he said, "Don't cry, my sweets. Joxer the Mighty cannot remain here. Expect as well an eagle not to fly." He heard a groan from Kimberly which he ignored. He hugged each girl, giving them each a kiss on the forehead. "Farewell. Fear not for me, for whatever may happen, whatever dangers I may face, I do it gladly to protect all of you."
Kimberly heard a movement and looked up at Weldon. The Celt had crossed his arms and was actually smiling. She couldn't believe it. Joxer was really something.
"Get up here, Joxer the Mighty," Kimberly said, after she had mounted her mare.
"Let him ride with me," she heard Weldon say in his thick barbarian accent. The chainmail veil managed to look stunned. She nodded. Weldon walked his horse over, reached down and pulled Joxer up behind him as if he were weightless. They rode out of town and Joxer began talking nonstop to both her and Weldon. She could hear the dour, lethal Celt chuckling. Whenever Joxer slowed down, Weldon would ask some inane question to get him going again. Kimberly wished he would shut up after a while herself, but if Weldon was amused by Joxer that was better than her having to kill him to protect her friend.
"Oh God," she thought as he told Weldon that he had a song.
As they approached her camp, Kimberly had ridden as far ahead of Weldon and Joxer as she could. They were both singing Joxer's song at the top of their voices.
Joxer and Kimberly, they're great as can be,
Kimberly is really scary, her legs are rarely hairy,
She looks cute in her veil, she don't never fail,
Joxer the Mighty helps her fight,
For all that's good and right.
She might have to kill Weldon, anyway.
Weldon is tall and brave, he's what all the ladies crave,
He rides with Kimberly, just like Joxer,
With those two, well, NOTHING shocks her.
If you need a job well done,
Remember just to call Weldon.
In the camp Kimberly showed Joxer the tent she had prepared for him. She was walking back to her command tent next to the tall Celt who said to her, "I didn't think you Greeks had fools. There is some hope for you after all."
"Oh," she said.
Weldon continued, "My father's best friend was the king's fool back home. Warriors are a dinar a dozen; but a good fool, that's a rare jewel. I can see why you prize him so highly." Kimberly had never heard Weldon speak about anything but the army since she had met him, and then in as few words as possible. When it had come time for her to kill Weldon to take his position he had disappeared. Then she had killed Fredo and knew Weldon would be somewhere in the vicinity to take his old position of second-in- command back. She had known he was crafty and dangerous; now she knew he also appreciated a good fool.
The two warriors waited in Joxer's tent. He had joined Kimberly's army six weeks before and it was clear to everyone how
much he meant to her. They couldn't believe she would be so stupid but they meant to exploit it. They planned to take the idiot and demand a ransom from her. Of course, they would kill him as soon as they had him; but they would take his clothes and various body parts to string Kimberly along if they had to. Both of them knew that the warlord was dangerous, but they considered themselves dangerous too. Anyway, once they had the ransom they would split up and head as far away as possible.
The tent flap opened but it wasn't Joxer who stepped inside.
"Weldon, what are you doing here? Do you want in?" the smarter of the two said.
Joxer was sitting talking to Kimberly in her tent. She had asked him about the new verses to his song and seemed really interested for a change. Usually she kept trying to talk to him about strategy and tactics, asking his opinion, trying to make him think. Today though she had called him into her tent and just wanted to hear his song. She'd brought him some wine and kept squeezing his hand. He almost thought she was coming on to him. He would hate to have to break the poor kid's heart. Joxer was on the 32nd verse when Weldon stepped in the tent.
"Is that the 32nd verse?" he said with a smile.
Kimberly said, "I have a surprise for you, Joxer. You're getting a new tent. You're also getting a couple of horses and some treasure. Two warriors had to leave suddenly but they wanted you to have their shares." "Really?" he said, flattered. "Who are they."
"Larry and Moe."
"I don't think I know them, Kimberly," Joxer said.
The Celt said, "They just liked your song."
Later Joxer was walking next to his friend. "Gods! What's that?" he said, pointing.
Weldon answered, "Some men were out hunting and found those. They brought the skins back to show us. We're going to leave them up for a few days to see if any of the men know what they are."
"Oh," Joxer said and didn't think any more about it.
"We need to get out of here, Gabrielle." Xena said tensely. The bard couldn't see or hear anything but Xena kept scanning the surrounding hills, turning Argo around and listening intently. "Get up behind me, NOW!" She practically yanked the smaller woman up behind her. "Hold on," she said and started galloping Argo. After a moment Gabrielle heard it. Yelling and thundering hooves.
"Are they after us?" she said loudly into Xena's ear.
"No, we're just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Xena yelled back, as she was maneuvering Argo up a steep hill. She was trying to get to high ground and as far away from the impending battle as she could.
When she reached the top of a hill, she stopped and turned Argo around and looked into the valley they had just left. They saw the two armies come together with a loud crash. Xena could see that one was more disciplined and better positioned than the other. There was no question what would happen unless the other army had reinforcements coming.
"Can I get down?" Gabrielle asked in a small tight voice. Xena was surprised but nodded. She dismounted too.
"Brings back memories, eh," the deep beautiful voice said behind them.
"Ares," Xena said. Gabrielle had spun around but Xena took her time turning to look at the smiling god.
"Your descendant is a natural, Xena. She's as good as you in battle but has that Callisto ferocity that even you never had. It's a fantastic combination. I mean, I wish she would sack villages like you did but you can't have everything."
"Kimberly is Xena's descendant?" Gabrielle said.
Xena nodded. She had assumed that or something close to it when she had seen Kimberly without her veil. She was relieved it wasn't actually her in some twisted way.
"As for you, I didn't think you had it in you," Ares said to Gabrielle.
Now Xena was perplexed. "Do you know what he's talking about?" she asked.
"A bard should see what a battle looks like. That's why I asked if I could get down here."
Ares said, "Go back to observing. I won't be insulted if you turn your back. You have more sense about these things than Xena, I see."
Gabrielle turned to watch the carnage in the valley below. The ground was littered with bodies, most from the less disciplined army. She looked hard and could see two figures on a low hill observing. A messenger came up and suddenly one of the figures began riding toward the battle. Gabrielle could see light flashing off a helmet in a flickering pattern. "Probably chainmail," she thought. She knew who the figure remaining on the hill likely was. She watched the horse and rider maneuver through the battle lines, occasionally striking to clear a path. She saw a figure from the opposite army which had also been observing the battle detach itself. The two figures came together and Gabrielle could imagine the sounds of iron on iron,
the grunts of effort, the frothing horses. Gabrielle knew it was Kimberly. She killed the rival warlord's horse. He leapt off it before it fell, and Kimberly dismounted and they continued fighting.
"Pure poetry," Ares said, standing next to her. "I have to thank you. Without you Kimberly would just be a teacher somewhere. Maybe married, probably kids by now. A real waste. I owe you." The god disappeared.
The bard watched as Kimberly's opponent went down. He seemed unmoving but Kimberly approached the lying figure, raised her sword and struck down. Gabrielle forced herself to watch, trying not to be sick so she would be able to describe it accurately. Xena came up next to her.
"Ares was just toying with you, Gabrielle. You had nothing to do with Kimberly becoming what she is."
"Thanks, Xena, but you know that's not true. You remember how she treated me when we first met. I'm responsible. I just don't know how."
She continued watching. Kimberly had remounted her horse, her sword in one hand and her opponent's head in the other. She didn't need reins for her horse apparently. She rode back into the battle holding the head aloft and the fighting stopped wherever she rode. Eventually the entire field was still. Kimberly tossed the head to another taller figure. Even from here she could see the red hair. The bard had seen enough.
"What will happen now, Xena?" she asked.
Xena was expressionless. She answered, "Kimberly will take the possessions of the dead warlord and that of all of the slain. Some of the army will be absorbed into hers and the rest will just disband, become bandits, find another army, go back to the farm, possibly."
"Gods, Xena, what have I done?" Gabrielle said in a teary voice.