Convert this page to Pilot DOC Format
Just a Simple Warrior
by: Lord Nelson
Parts 10 - 13
"The oak tree was down by the mouth of the Hebris river. It was atop the same bluff that I jumped off of about a mile or so farther up river. The top of that tree had a wonderful view and many a time I was up that tree in the morning just to watch the sunrise. A lot of the kids thought that I was nuts because I was always up so early. Mom didn't really mind that much because I was always ready for work when she got up a little after dawn. I didn't mind the work, but I preferred to do my own work than the work that Mom wanted me to do. This would get me into a world of trouble with Mom. You know Gabrielle, in retrospect, I'm not sure my mom really had an idea what to do with me. I was her only daughter, which is tough enough, but I just had to prove that I was tougher and better than anyone, male or female. I was such a tomboy that I knew that I consistently drove Mom crazy. She wouldn't talk about much. Mom wasn't much of a talker."
Gabrielle piped up with a slightly snide smile: "Oh really?!"
The big brunette smirked and lightly cuffed her talkative buddy on the the head. "Really!" Xena exclaimed.
"The treehouse was a way that I could say that I was independent from her. I suppose, but I think she took it as my constantly tweaking her nose. Mom was from Athenian stock. Her family came with Epictitus the elder from the Athenian estate that his family had owned for many years and she had Athenian attitudes. Woman were to stay home and do domestic chores or go out to work in the fields. There was a rigid division between what men could and what women could do. Mom had clear ideas about what was necessary to control children and she constantly tried to carry them out.
"The problem was Dad. He was much more indulgent, until I got completely out of hand. Dad really did believe in the equality of women, maybe even more than most Spartans. This sometimes led to loud arguments, but I never heard either of them insult or abuse each other. Probably the biggest fight they ever had was about the building of the tree house.
"Well, when Mom lost an argument, it would simmer for a while and she would try to get her way by manipulating my Dad. She knew him very well and sometimes she could move him like a drover moves a donkey like a mule. Mom instinctively knew what he wanted and could get what she wanted by rationing out the satisfaction of Dad's desires. Sometimes it could be funny.
"Mom was a wonderful cook." Xena continued.
"Pity you didn't learn that Xena!" Gabrielle chided laughing.
"Cut that out Gabrielle!" Xena barked, "By the Gods I'm trying to tell you something!" Xena shook her head and smiled. "She might have had many skills but her cooking was somewhat tenuous, running to burnt rabbit and raw beef. Well, Mom used to get what she wanted by sometimes promising him that she would cook something. I remember that she got him to go all the way to Troy to get silk for the inn's curtains by telling him she'd make him Baklava for a whole month! Dad could be pretty silly that day.
"Now when I got it into my head that I wanted to build a treehouse--- I was about 9 Mom sort of went through the ceiling. I remember her telling dad that she didn't give birth to a boy in my case and that I had to spend more time with the girl children in town. Of course by that time I was already getting into more physical trouble than any of my brothers who were actually trying to keep up with me. Now I did have girl friends, but they couldn't keep up. I was so well, hyperactive, that I was always trying to run things off About the only thing that I could, or really wanted to do with the other girls was tend to the horses.
"Anyway the treehouse became an issue because I needed to get cut lumber to build it and the only place that I could think of to get it was the town lumber yard. I knew exactly the person I needed to help me get the lumber. Xanthus, the son of the tender of the yard. He was thirteen and a terrible glutton for attention. At the time he was smitten with a girl named Calliope who was a friend of mine. By now I had really learned how to read people to give them what they needed. What Calliope needed was to be taught to be an athlete.
"Now Calliope LIKED Xanthus a lot but not enough to spend a lot of time with him. So I knew what they both wanted. Xanthus wanted Calliope, while Calliope wanted me. Calliope was a very nice, uncompetitive girl who had no athletic talent at all. She was however, very pretty, trusting and earnest. I could use this, despite the fact that Calliope hadn't a snowball's chance in Hades of running faster than a ruptured duckling. So, I went about the task of teaching Xanthus how to catch Calliope. At the same time I would teach Calliope who she was. The whole athlete- warrior fixation that she was suffering through was a delusion. Well she was only my age, which was eleven, but I was much different than most children especially girls. Calliope was born to be someone who would be decorative around a royal court, So I had to show her so. The method was to treat her like crap when she was on the athletic field and feed her with false second hand flattery from Xanthus. I would supplement this, well, what I perceived to be the truth.
"I would swallow my need to get out and horse around and do girl stuff. So, as often as I could I would hang out with Calliope and many of the girls. We would play a lot of running games and other things, but I was always holding myself back. In retrospect I'm amazed I could have done it."
Gabrielle piped up: "Come on Xena! Your will is steel! I only saw your will fail once and that is because you were possessed by Ares. Of course I had to pay for it!" Gabrielle rubbed her chin with a hurt look on her face.
Xena's eyes widened in shock and an expression of deep shame washed over her strong face. "I still regret that Gabrielle. I don't like to think about it."
"Don't give it another thought Xena. You were possessed by Ares. It wasn't your fault." Gabrielle reached up and over and patted her big friend on the back.
"It must have been because I had so many brothers. I never really felt like I fit in with the girls. I just didn't like dolls, jewelry and things girls do around the house. But I swallowed my pride and joined in. I did find out that many of the girls had limited views of themselves. All they could think of was getting married and having kids. Some of them, like Cassandra were really interested in learning. Cassandra was really nice sweet girl who tried to understand me, but knew that she couldn't be me, unlike Calliope. Actually she was sort of like you Gabrielle, but different y'know?"
"One night, I was at the inn about an hour before supper, Calliope, Cassandra, Flora, and myself were with me just hanging out after school. Flora was only six at the time, but My parents and her's were friends so she was over a lot. Mom was still setting up the main room for the night's trade.
"'Now lookit Calliope,' I told her, 'Being a good athlete needs hard work you can't just put a chiton on and go out and run anyone into the ground, did you use any of the drills that I showed you?'
"'Didn't you say you wanted to try to be like Xena, Calliope?' Cassandra joined in, 'Xena works hard every day AFTER working here and school!' 'You just moon around wondering why you don't know any boys.'
"'Xena doesn't have a problem, she is surrounded by boys all the time!' Calliope whined. 'But all she does is beat them up!'
"'I do not!' I yelped, dying to get out of there, but I kept my priorities straight. 'There are a lot of good ones around.Take Xanthus.'
"'Xena, Not him again!' Calliope whined at an even higher pitch.
"'Ok if you don't want to listen, Calliope, then let's go out for a nice three mile run.'
"'Oh come on Xena! I've just done an hour of wind sprints! I'm just about dead!'
"'Well what happened to the girl who wanted to break into the town games?' I replied.
"'I think that I'd rather stay here!'
"'Well then why don't you listen to Xena!' Cassandra piped up.
"Well the conversation went on like that for a while until Calliope got tired and wanted to go home. It had begun to get dark. Had stuck her head in from the pantry to check on us and she gave me a quizzical look. So I just shrugged my shoulders and went back towards my room. Actually I was headed out the back window because I was going to Xanthus' parents place. The threat of more exercise had convinced Calliope that boys were better than running.
"I didn't know it but Mom had smelt a rat. She was waiting behind a tree outside the inn and she followed me through the town gate and all the way to the lumber yard. When I got to Xanthus's house I called him out and told him that I had done what he wanted for him, and that he should live up to the agreement. Xanthus started whining so I collared him and told him in no uncertain terms that I would tell his parents and drag him around by the collar until he did.
That's when my mother showed up really mad. 'Xena that is enough! I don't care what you want you have no right to black mail Xanthus here. We told you that if you wanted lumber for that treehouse you could very well go and get the lumber out of the woods yourself. When you have the time. No you apologize to Xanthus here. Xanthus you get your mother out here. I need to talk to her.'
"Xanthus's mother came out while I just sat on the ground. I knew that I was in trouble. The thought flashed through my mind that I could run or do something, but dad always said to never run from my problems but to confront them. So I would just swallow my disappointment and take the punishment.
"Xanthus and I were grounded for a month. Me for pressuring Xanthus into getting the lumber any way he could, and Xanthus for stealing it. I didn't know but Xanthus was squirreling away a small amount of wood from the yard every day In essence I had led a friend of mine to a life of crime. This was something that I still regret. I made it worse that night. Mom asked me how I had learned to make such a dirty deal.
"'Mom, I learned it from you.' I could see that this had really hurt her and it bothered me. From then on my relationship with mom was always a tiny bit uncomfortable despite the fact she accepted my apology and forgave me. She became harder on me, more critical, more suspicious of my love of soldiering. Mom really wanted me to be a woman of a village when I wanted to be myself. That was the rift between us. I had used one of my mother's weaknesses against her, and she tried to keep me the way she wanted me to be. From that moment, it seems, the prophecy of the tall woman visitor was forgotten by her. The war that came later really made things much worse between us."
Xena looked at Gabrielle, and that look was wistful and kind of sad.
"Come on Gabrielle, Nicias is going to be looking for us soon."
Gabrielle got up and offered a hand to her friend and hoisted Xena to her feet. "Mothers are always tough to deal with Xena. You're not alone." Gabrielle said. "I know all about it. We all have regrets about Moms."
"Yeah, You're right as usual Gabrielle." The women picked up their mess and walked to the open field where Argo was grazing. They put the garbage into the saddle bag and Xena mounted up. Gabrielle pulled her staff out of its holster and started whistling as Xena urged Argo into a gentle walk back towards Aegeanopolis and their temporary home.
"Gabrielle, you can't go this time. I need expert riders for this job, so Phoebe, Orestia, and Nike are joining me to run down this horse thief." Xena reached down from the back of Argo and ruffled the top of her talkative friend's head, and continued: "You might make a pretty good infantryman in a while Gabrielle, but until you get over your fear of the height of a horse's back there are just some things about my profession you can't do."
The strawberry blonde bard looked up at her friend on the horse's back and nodded. Gabrielle was clearly disappointed that she couldn't go with Xena but she clearly understood that the Lioness of Amphipolis was right. "Well then Xena, I'm just going to have to work on it. I'm missing too many stories when you go away to do stuff with Argo!"
Just then the little powerhouse of a girl Phoebe rode up on her big bay gelding accompanied by the tall, skinny Nike on an equally skinny black filly, and Orestia on what could only have been a draft horse. It was huge, gray and had large frills of mane around each foot. Orestia, who was a petite girl, smaller than Gabrielle, looked really incongruous on such a gigantic beast. The horse's back was so wide that Orestia could barely straddle it.
Phoebe was shocked and exclaimed: "Orestia, what are you doing riding old Heraclea there?! She's a plow horse By the Gods!"
Xena looked on with an amused smile on her face. Phoebe was shaping up into a fine top sergeant. She was really going to be a good guardian.
"Phoebe, Don't yell at me, the horse Nicias had went lame after taking two steps and he had no more. This was the only solution I could come up with on such short notice. Besides, when you told me about the horse theft, didn't you say that a cart was stolen as well?"
Phoebe nodded perplexed.
"Well, then!" Orestia continued, "We'll be able to haul the bad guy and whatever booty they have back home in style!"
Phoebe took in a big breath preparing to jump down her subordinate's throat, but Xena stopped her with a raising of her hand.
"Hold off there Phoebe, our three horses have more than enough speed to run down this fool if we have to and we can use Hammer and Anvil tactics to force him back into Orestia. That old mare is the perfect living road block."
The old Gray Mare may not have been what she used to be, but Heraclea snorted and waved her head towards Xena, seemingly insulted. Everyone laughed at the huge horse's seeming defiance, Xena included.
"Besides, Orestia adapted and overcame. Good work my girl!" Behind her, Gabrielle heard a familiar clumping gate. The old warrior Laertes was coming up with a curious look on his face.
"What's up ladies?" The old man asked. This simple question brought seven sharp looks in his direction, including the three horses. "Hey!" The old man yelped.
Xena chuckled and added: "Can't talk now old man---mission! Let's go people!" Xena sharply slewed the palomino mare around and tore northward up the main street which led to the coastal track. The three others followed at a gallop with the exception of Orestia who, with great vigor, spurred her inelegant mount into some semblance of a canter. Gabrielle and Laertes watched the three women as they rounded the corner of the inn, when both were startled by the unforgettable tearing sound of Xena uluating. The sharp noise brought sleeping women folk to their windows and sent seagulls shooting into the air squalling.
Gabrielle turned to the old man with a look of great joy on her face. She grabbed the old man by the shoulders and shook him, nearly skipping in enthusiasm.
"Red, that big buddy of yours just can't resist a dramatic moment can she?" The old warrior noted.
"Boy! That is sure true Laertes," Gabrielle agreed, then with a quizzical look on her face she turned to Laertes and asked: "Red?" Laertes seemingly didn't hear Gabrielle. "Xena is happier than I have ever seen her!" The Bard continued. "Getting her to talk works! Its a miracle! She's laughing and much more sociable than I can remember! I mean I have never really seen her have FUN before!"
"Whoa there young lady WHOA!" the retired warrior exclaimed. He put his remaining hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and held her on her feet. "Hang on there. Xena's only just started. She is going to start to drag up a lot of old pain and she still has to look at it. These kinds of happy periods are normal. She's going to have strong moods so don't go around thinking she's going to be joyous for the rest of her life. She'll be pretty much the same old Xena, but more relaxed and in touch with her self.
"That's wonderful, I wouldn't want to see her a totally new person, that would be scary. I've grown to care for her as she is!" Gabrielle said, a little more calmly.
"So, what in Hades was up this fine morning anyway? Laertes asked.
Gabrielle told him: "Some man ran off a small herd of horses last night and stole a farm cart to boot. The owner ran into town and gave Xena a good description. But by then it was too dark to do much. So Xena took the other guardians out this morning to track him down. But I couldn't go," The Bard grumped.
"I can't ride a horse Laertes, they're too high off the ground. I get dizzy."
"Oh, Well. They are too high off the ground and I learned. I'll teach you how to ride."
"What? How? You can't ride with that wooden leg of yours!"
"That's true, my friend, but I still know everything YOU'LL need to know. I can't do it today, though, my horse is being shod, but I'm sure Tidal Wave will accommodate you. Tidal Wave is my horse. He's an old friend."
"Really? Well, thank you old man! At least I don't have to walk everywhere. Will you show me how to use a sword too?" Gabrielle expected the answer but it still hurt that she received it.
"NO! Innocent, I like you too much and Xena needs you alive. " Believe me, you both will be better off."
"Well it looks like another quiet day in Aegeanopolis then! Where all the women are strong, the men out to sea, the children about average and the Bard's bored to... " The Bard proclaimed sarcastically, but she was interrupted by her new friend.
"It can't be that bad! Its a lovely day; can't you work on a story?" Laertes last remark brought a brilliant look to the small woman from Potadeia.
"Laertes, Xena finally told me how she began to become a warlord!" the Bard breathed excitedly. A couple of minutes later both were seated at a bench at the inn eating a falafel and eggs breakfast at Nicias' expense. Gabrielle was starting to get wound up. "I haven't got this worked up into a real oration yet, I have to find a moral for it, but picture this. Amphipolis, Xena's home town, was a pretty good size town a few miles inland from the sea on the west bank of the Hebrus River in Thrace."
"Oh! That explains why Xena is so wild." Laertes interjected. "She's from Amphipolis!"
Gabrielle elbowed the old man in the ribs. "Hey, this is my story!" Gabrielle continued: "Have you been to Amphipolis? Do you know it?"
"Yeah 20 years ago. Its built on a bluff overlooking the estuary, good size wooden stockade. Overlooks the coast road and the east bank of the river. Bank of the river is wide enough to hold a large army. Excellent defensive position."
Gabrielle said: "I was there earlier this year. Its a small hamlet down on the riverbank. The fortress is gone, burnt to the ground."
"Well The town was founded by Agamemnon to keep watch on the coast for the Trojan navy, and as such received a lot of financial aid. Since it was a military base there was a good size army there and Athens kept things well stocked. Then one very sad day the King of Athens himself arrived and visited the village chief Epictitus the younger. When the visit was completed Epictitus called all of Amphipolis to the city common inside the wooden walls." The Bard began. "Xena and her family were there gathered on the common when the great king came out onto the balcony of Epictitus's house. 'Fellow citizens of Athens.' The speech began. 'When I charged my kinsman Epictitus the elder to build this fortress, I had a purpose in mind: To have him keep an eye on the Aegean approaches to the Great Hellespont Strait to keep the Athens of your families safe behind the power of this City of which I am proud to remain King. My purpose was to prevent Troy from sending a great navy south to crush me and all that my realm represents and protects. Additionally, I charged the honorable Epictitus the Elder to watch for any irresponsible and dangerous movements of the barbarian Amazons and the wandering tribes to the north. He was to also assure, by strength of arms, that any such movements that would endanger any of my subjects who live between here and home would be deterred. To that end, your mother city Athens has provided wealth and arms to assure the success of that mission. You have done your fellow citizens proud. The power that you represented here has allowed me to forge a new alliance with King Priam of Troy which guarantees the security of all we hold sacred. In addition Priam and I have also agreed to a general reduction of our mutual naval strength and of our land forces in the area. Therefore, I declare that the mission with which I charged Epictitus the Elder is accomplished. Those citizens of Athens who wish to return home may do so on the two ships that have accompanied mine here. The fortress of Amphipolis is now closed. Congratulations to you all.' And the great King waved, turned on his heel and went back inside Epictitus' house. There was something odd however. Epictitus stood there with a shocked look upon his face. His skin seemed blanched completely white. Illictrates looked up at his commander in wonder and shock as well. 'What is wrong Dad?' Xena asked. But she received no answer. 'This is great news! No more threat of war!' Castor and Pollux joined in. Illictrates looked at Cyrene and told her to wait here and he hurried into the big house. After a few minutes Xena's dad emerged from the house white as a sheet with a very frightened look on his face. 'Illictrates, what is wrong?' Cyrene asked in a greatly concerned tone. Again the twins yelled that this was great news. 'Family,' Illictrates began. 'This is a total disaster for Amphipolis.' All of the sergeant's family asked why at once. 'I have just spoken to Epictitus. Agamemnon is abandoning this town. All official connection with Athens has been severed. He is taking the iron smith and most of the weapons with him. The money that was sent to us to support the fortress is being stopped. We are on our own.' Cyrene now understood the full horror of what her husband said. 'By the Gods the grain shipments? They are being stopped?' 'Yes!' Illictrates answered. 'We must get what we need to feed ourselves either with our labor out of this hardscrabble land, or come up with the dinars to buy grain. It will never be enough to feed the town adequately. And we men must give up training to help with the crops, something we have never done. Without the money subsidies we won't be able to build fishing boats, and besides, this area is the worst fishing in all of the Aegean.' Xena added a new dimension to the horror. 'The barbarians and the Amazons, what of them? We have had relations with them based on our strength. They were afraid of Athens though us! Now we are weak overnight! Might they attack us now?' Illictrates nodded. 'Our relations with our immediate neighbors, Greek villages included, has never been very good. The barbarian leaders would love to grab this position. It is the best defensive terrain in all of coastal Thrace. This is also ancestral Amazon land. Remember this town was established by force of arms. We beat Hippolyta's Amazons to take it. They will be back, I'm very sure.' The entire family became very scared.
"Little Apollo asked: 'Are we going daddy?' The rest of the family hung upon the answer. Illictrates pulled himself up to his full 5'7" and proclaimed: 'I heard Epictitus say very clearly that he is not leaving. He came here as a very small boy and Amphipolis is his home Almost everyone of the officers are staying. I was the first sergeant to join in. I have lived here for the entire 20 years. All of you my children were born here. Cyrene and I met and married here. They will have to kill me to get me to go. Besides two dinky ships is clearly not enough to take ANYONE to Athens, they are for the gold and weapons.' Everyone closed in around the feisty little man. Castor and Pollux started cheering. Cyrene held onto her youngest child with an expression of both faith and fear. Xena looked down into her father's eyes with a forebidding look on her face. She new what they were up against as a family, but Xena wasn't going to do anything to shame herself or her homeland.
"The tall Thracian girl reached down and put her hand on her father's shoulder and calmly said: 'Father, I will follow you to Tartarus to keep my home if I must.' 'You may have to Xena,' the sergeant said, 'Epictitus has put the town on alert effective immediately. Castor, Pollux, Xena, get your weapons and meet me on the athletic field. Polyxenus will be coming with our orders in a few minutes.' Just then the great wooden gate of Amphipolis opened and all who lived outside the stockade hurried to their homes to pick up their equipment if they owned any. Fortunately, Illictrates family did. Soon all of Illictrates squad formed up on the field and began to wait. Xena stood lost in her thoughts when a funny feeling went up the back of her neck. Turning she looked at the tree line that bordered the northern edge of the field. Shocked she saw five strange armed men in strange armor sitting on black horses just inside the woods. They then suddenly turned and vanished. She turned to her father to yell but Illictrates beat her to it. 'By the Gods!' Illictrates exclaimed nearly in a howl, 'It has started already!'
Xena stood with her father on the walls of Amphipolis at dawn a week later; they looked inland up the valley of the Hebris. In the misty twilight the countryside looked lovely, but something was wrong. Xena couldn't put her finger on it at first, but then the difference struck her. She already knew that there were a series of lower bluffs inland on both sides of the river. Amphipolis was on the highest bluff in the area. The fortress walls provided a clear view for miles in all directions, including the estuary and the sea.
The fortress' military value depended on its position. What she saw wasn't more mist. On the top of each one of those lower bluffs the smoke of campfires could be seen. There were a lot of campfires. This meant a lot of people---people who weren't there the day before.
Xena turned to her father who was commander of this section of the northern wall and said: "Dad I don't like those fires! There must be hundreds of men out there. What could it mean?" The question came from a scared thirteen year old girl, no matter that she was so tall and strong. Xena's life had been ordered, regular---safe. Now she feared that the smoke of those fires could mean the end, but the end of what?
Illictrates looked up at his daughter and looked her in the eye. "Little One, I don't know. We will have to wait for Epictitus' word." Below on the central courtyard Both Xena and her Dad heard
a shuffling and the pounding of running feet. Looking down they saw their commander, Polyxenus, running for all he was worth towards the main house. Illictrates continued: "I think we'll know soon."
The tough little sergeant turned and looked towards the south. Just visible over the south ramparts were the sails of the three ships that brought King Agamemnon from Athens. They were moving under oars out to sea. Illictrates remembered with intense bitterness
that His King, the man who he had served all his life, had taken nearly one million dinars in gold and over half of all the weapons in the fortress. The King had replaced the fine iron swords, spearpoints and arrowheads with just awful equipment made from the cheapest bronze. Illictrates had ever seen. What really worried Illictrates was that the people on the bluffs could see what was happening too.
Within a few minutes a commotion broke out on the eastern wall and Xena and her father rushed over to see what was happening. Coming through the town and past the inn was a group of strangers on horseback. Their horses at an easy walk, the strangers were heavily armed and wore armor, and each person was heavily decorated with colorful ribbons and bird feathers. Their horses were lean but well cared for. Hanging from each saddle was a shield clearly made out of bronze. Not only was it obvious that the shields were bronze, but they had an interesting shape also. Each shield was shaped like a crescent moon.
"Amazons, by the Gods!" Illictrates yelped. "I haven't even SEEN one around here for nearly 20 years!"
"No kidding Dad?" Xena asked shocked. The big girl then turned and scrutinized the group of five on horseback very carefully. She wondered about what these warrior tribeswomen were like as people. She also wondered what they would be like as an enemy. The reputation of the Amazons was fearsome, but little was known of the warrior women other thanthe fact that they had no peer at the arts of war.
Everyone on the ramparts watched the five riders as they approached. The faces of four of them were obscured by the bronze Mycenean style helmets they wore. The person in the lead wore the helmet, not down on her face, but on the top of the head pushed back so that the person's face could be seen. Coming out from under that helmet was a long braid of ginger colored hair. That face was bronzed from long exposure to the sun; not only was that face as sharp as the head of an
ax but it also was pocked with freckles. Two glittering blue eyes shown out from under the helmet as well. The face clearly belonged to a woman in her late thirties. She was tall and wiry, and carried herself bolt upright. She rode so comfortably on her big buckskin mare that she seemed to have been born in the saddle. A yew recurved bow was strapped to her back. She seemed to not have big muscles but Xena could see the forearm above the woman's ornate gauntlets. It was clearly very strong.
Xena's dad whistled to himself. "I wouldn't be surprised if that were Penthesilea herself." Illictrates commented. Xena looked at him quizzically. "War Queen of the Black Sea Amazons!" Illictrates answered.
"A very scary bitch indeed. Its said her father was Ares."
Xena's eyes went wide at that bit of intelligence.
"I wonder what they are here for? They came in peace." Xena asked.
"I can't say Little One, but I'm sure that we'll find out in time."
Just before sunset, the five warrior women emerged from the front door of the big house with Epictitus with them. Xena watched them carefully and from the behavior of the party, the meeting clearly wasn't hostile, but yet it didn't look particularly friendly either. Within minutes, Polyxenus came pounding up the ladder to the rampart and accosted Illictrates.
"That was Penthesilea!" The young Lieutenant exclaimed.
"We figured that Boss." Xena answered.
"What was the meeting about L.T.?" Illictrates asked, with several of his squad peering over his shoulder.
"Its a Non-Aggression agreement!" Polyxenus continued. "Penthesilea is the sister of the wife of the King of Troy. She was informed about Agamemnon's negotiations with Priam and took this opportunity to return to her tribe's ancestral hunting grounds. Out of respect for the new treaty, she has pledged to not become involved in any conflicts Amphipolis might get involved in if we allowed her women to hunt here on a yearly basis and then move on. Epictitus had to
agree. If we didn't she was sure to take us on."
Xena chimed in: "Can she be trusted? How many warriors does she have?"
"I think so Xena. She was forthright. She said that she had a thousand warriors with her. It wouldn't make sense for generals on a campaign to give out their order of battle."
"She could be lying." Illictrates said.
"I doubt it. We knew she had arrived. A reconnaissance party went out two days ago and they confirm the number."
A soldier near the back asked while pointing to the north: "Who's fires are those over there?"
"The fires on the bluffs east of the river are Penthesilea's. I can't tell you about those on the west. There is a strong cavalry picket in that direction. We can't tell whose horsemen they are or how many.
The cavalry is keeping our scouts from getting anywhere near the camps on the western bluffs. Penthesilea denied having anything to do with them. Its those unknown men that are keeping us on alert." Polyxenus looked worried. Then he added. "If Penthesilea is telling the truth she outnumbers us at least two to one. I took a close look at her weapons too. Everything was the finest. The swords were made out of the shiniest metal I had ever seen. I don't..."
Illictrates interrupted Polyxenus and grabbed him by the shoulder. "Sir, could you come with me for a moment? I'd like a word." Both of the men went down the ladder to the courtyard. Xena followed them discreetly after ordering the squad to stay at their posts. Xena heard her father lecturing his commander briskly.
"Sir, you can bust me if you like, but you CAN NOT talk that way in front of the men! Do you want their spirits to break? Never, EVER talk about your fears in front of the troops! You'll get us all killed if this situation blows up..."
Xena heard the whole thing and never forgot it. Her father was willing to lose everything to teach the young commander this lesson. She turned and went back up the ladder hoping that the gods would be there for Amphipolis.
"GOD'S DEATH!" Laertes ejaculated. "I have heard of the First Battle of Amphipolis before, but this is the first second hand account that I have heard. Your friend was in a hell of scrape!"
"Hang on Laertes!" the Bard admonished, "You ain't heard nothin' yet! It gets a LOT worse."
* * * *
"The warlord's name was Pylorus." Gabrielle continued, "and a more ruthless, ambitious, greedy slimeball never existed." Pylorus had been the enemy of Amphipolis for nearly twenty years. However, he was rational. Pyloris knew that If he had ever hit the town in the preceding years that he would have been killed and his army destroyed even if he had initially conquered. He knew that within a few months a huge army would have arrived from Athens and crushed him. Now he suspected that he had a chance. His cavalry had seen the arrival and departure of Agamemnon's ships, and he had intelligence sources inside the walls of Amphipolis. He knew that his old foe Epictitus was in serious trouble. The reasons were both his position surrounding the city on 2 sides, and he had nearly two thousand men in his army, half of them mounted. He had the great Stryman road to the north under his control as well as the coast road to the west. He was sure that the Amazon bitches to his east wouldn't be a problem. All he needed to do was buy Penthesilea once he had taken the town.
Pylorus was sure that the town would fall to him like an overripe olive. His strategy was excellent. Keep the troops in the stockade awake with disruptive raids, and drive the population off the surrounding farms into the stockade to eat up the food. A chicken couldn't live on the beach should his archers open on it. His primary need now was continued good intelligence and he was getting it from the man who was running an agent inside the town. As the warlord sat ruminating on his inevitable conquest, his Chief of Staff came into his tent and announced:
"Sir! Your intelligence officer is here and begs an audience!"
"Good! Send him in!"
Pylorus stood and walked over to the entrance of his tent and welcomed his subordinate warmly: "Ah, Turamon! How are things in Epictitus' house?"
* * * *
Laertes shook his head. He had heard Gabrielle's account of the hunting trip and remembered. "That Turamon was the bastard that nearly killed Xena earlier wasn't it?" he asked.
"Yup!" Gabrielle said nodding. "When he was run out of Amphipolis Turamon had gone north and joined on with Pylorus' army. Anyway..."
"The pressure began on Amphipolis by a series of small, brutal raids on the women farming outside the walls. Women were abducted, their tools stolen and anything that they had harvested confiscated. They were then raped, brutalized and dropped off where they were kidnapped. Epictitus knew exactly why. Pylorus was trying to lure him into making a cavalry sally from the fortress to run down the criminals so that the sally might be destroyed. Epictitus knew that any such idea was impossible. They only had one hundred trained cavalrymen and no really clear idea what lay towards the Stryman pass. All that could be done was to pray that a message to Agamemnon could catch him not far out to sea. The night of the first raid on the surrounding fields a volunteer left in a small fishing boat to try to find Agamemnon's small fleet. It failed. The man's body was found on the beach about five miles east of the mouth of the Hebris. There was only one thing that could be done: Move everyone into the fort.
At first, an attempt was made to have the agricultural work continue under guard. This seemed to work at first. The small raids stopped, but, this was replaced by Pylorus sending in cavalry raids of at least a troop, one hundred men. Epictitus could not afford to risk what he had in cavalry against heavy odds. That meant that the entire population of Amphipolis, five thousand souls, had to be squeezed into the fort. Most were left to live on the great common. Agamemnon didn't take any of the emergency food stocks so there was about 5 months food for all of them in the underground storage cellars. It was going to be really rough but the only thing that could be done was to try to go on with life, and continue to try to get someone to Troy and Athens.
Several deputations were sent to see Penthesilea to see if she would provide any assistance, but the emissaries came back empty handed. It seemed that along with the non-aggression agreement that Penthesilea had also signed a statement that she would stay neutral in any disputes between Greeks or anyone else. Besides she was interested in peaceful hunting, nothing else.
* * * *
Xena walked her post on the north rampart of the fortress like anyone else in Amphipolis' army. Day after day, the men in Illictrates squad watched the men on the bluffs move their camp in ever closer to the walls. Everyone had confidence in the strength of the fort. The walls were made out of two lines of whole cedar trees standing upright. The space between the two walls was filled with densely packed sand and rubbleso that if the outer wall was ever put alight it would eventually hit the fill and burn itself out. There were large cauldrons that could be filled with either oil or water and heated so that their contents could be dumped on anyone trying to scale the wall.
The fortress stood on the highest part of the highest bluff in the whole district. Three of the walls stood on top of steep slopes which had whatever trees and brush cleared away so that archers could have clear lines of fire. The fourth wall, the western, lay on the top of a sixty foot scarp. The wall itself was forty feet tall. Epictitus and most thought that this was the side of the fort that was the strongest and they never bothered to clear the woods to the little tributary of the Hebris that lay below the scarp. The far bank of the little creek could be seen but not what lay immediately below the walls.
Xena hated that section of the wall. She thought that they had made a big mistake in not clearing out the trees. Xena knew that the hardest way to attack is often the best way to attack, because of the very reason of its difficulty. Defenders might not take the possibility of attack seriously and leave it unguarded. Illictrates agreed with her and tried strenuously to convince Polyxenus to try to get this situation changed and failed.
Night after night the routine never altered, and the families became more worried and the troop's morale began to suffer. Epictitus sent out 2 deputations to see Pylorus but the four elders in each were soon found outside the main gate beheaded with their eyes plucked out. Pylorus was not interested in talking. Bitterness against the Amazons became incredibly intense, and this attitude affected Xena as well. After a while, the constant necessity of standing watch over the walls began to deny the defenders sleep. Soon all in the fortress were achingly tired and depressed. This depression was made worse by the fact that those camps of Pylorus that were visible seemed to be growing. That meant reinforcements, and still Penthesilea did nothing.
* * * *
Xena was really peeved to be on night picket on the north wall. It was a totally miserable night in January and on that night the thirteen year old girl didn't want to be a soldier. It was raining like Hades, you see, and she was soaked to the skin. However, she had only been on watch with her brother Pollux for only two hours, that left two more hours of agony watching the men in Pylorus' nearest camp suffer too. Xena could see some fires in the night but, they were obviously small and flickering. She was amazed that they were able to keep the fires lit at all in this weather. Xena and Pollux had to walk their post by feel. It was impossible to keep a torch lit.
Pollux walked up to his taller, younger sister with a pained look on his face. The cold rain was dripping off his nose, the water was running off his cloak in sheets. Teeth chattering he asked: "What in Hades was the damn password again, Sis?"
Xena stared at her "big" brother with ill disguised contempt, her eyes flashing blue lightning. "Haven't you learned anything from the old man? Pay attention to your job and maybe we can get out of this damn rain still alive! The password's Philoctites! Now remember it!" Xena then cuffed her brother on the ear---hard.
"OWW! Geez Sis! I know you're my corporal but take it easy will ya?"
"Lookit Pollux," said Xena putting her hand on her brother's shoulder, "I am still your sister and I love you, but we are on duty and I demand you act like a soldier! So keep quiet and walk your post!"
Pollux looked hurt. "Yes Sir!" Pollux answered, and turning his back Pollux tramped back to his position nearer to the western wall. Xena hissed to his back as he receded into the gloom: "Don't call me sir! I WORK for a living!" Just then she heard a clumping behind her. Startled she turned and saw her father coming up the ladder.
"Report!" the little sergeant demanded in a whisper.
"All quiet Sergeant!" Xena replied adding: "Wall duty sucks."
"Good report Corp!" Illictrates snarled sarcastically. Then his heart softened. It was hard to be tough with Xena, despite the fact that she had become the toughest member of his squad by far. Fathers and daughters. "Do you need early relief Xena?"
"No sergeant, I love this kind of weather!" Xena griped while grinning at the same time. "Seriously, Dad I'm fine. I don't know about Pollux though. He looks like he's chilled through."
As Xena talked steam came from her mouth and water poured off her heavy, hooded oilskin cloak.
Illictrates grinned, then Xena had a familiar feeling down the back of her neck. She started to say Dad when a commotion broke out by the main gate. Illictrates heard it and told his daughter to ease closer but to keep in touch with her brother. Then he clattered over to the the ladder as the first rays of the sun rose over the western woods.
On his arrival at the gate, Illictrates heard the sentries challenging what was a very loud knock at the gate.
"Who goes there?" Was the challenge.
"Terberus!" was the muffled reply.
Xena touched her father on the back to get his attention then gave him a questioning look.
"That was the head of a deputation to Penthesilea. They left last night." Illictrates grabbed his daughter by the shoulder and they both scurried along the rampart to the top of the eastern wall, tripping over several sentries along the way. Peering over they could see three men. The men had a feeble torch and there was a large wagon drawn by four draft horses too.
Illictrates noted: "They had no wagon when they left!" They had to filter through the lines!" Something's fishy here.
"What's the password?" another challenge rang out.
"Philoctites!" Came the answer. "And hurry with the gates! We have great news! Penthesilea has sent us weapons and food! The great gate began to be swung open.
The hair on the back of Xena's neck stood up and her eyes opened wide.
"I know that voice!" she hissed. "Its TURAMON!" The Warrior Princess turned and ran back to the north wall as fast as she could.
"God's Death!" Bellowed Illictrates who lept onto the ladder, his feet gripping the side rails. He slid down to the ground, screaming CLOSE THE GATE!! CLOSE THE GATE!! ALARM!! ALARM!!
At that second a loud shout came from the men outside the gate and the sound of a whip could be heard. The four horses charged the open gate just as the gate crew began to close it. A ram's horn began to blare the alarm as a great bronze tocsin began to sound. The charging horses and wagon knocked the gates aside and scattered the crew like they were ninepins.Illictrates began running to the barracks in the buildings along the south wall screaming like a demon. His call was picked up by voices all along the walls. Hollering men, screaming women, and wailing children erupted from their tents, causing mass confusion to reign. Turning, the sergeant, to his horror, saw at least forty armed men tumble out of the wagon and begin a pitched struggle over the possession of the gate. Flights of arrows started to rain from the walls onto the common. All over the grounds near the gate the terrible sound of clanging steel merged with the screams and gurgles of wounded people.
Troops from every part of the wall began to run towards the sound of the battle. As she ran towards her post on the western part of the north wall Xena rasped her sword out of its scabbard on her back and began yelling like a harpy: "GET BACK! GET BACK! BACK TO YOUR POSTS!! WATCH THE WALLS!! The big Thracian girl was terrified but she was more afraid of failing her father than she was of the possibility of death.
To enforce her order she began slapping the troops she passed with the flat of her blade. Some of them began to come to their senses and follow her back. Finally she ran into Pollux who was headed towards the action at the gate.
"What the hell are you doing Pollux! Get back to your post! Where are the rest of the men?---Dammit!" The Thracian exclaimed. As the sun started turning the wet gloom of night into the damp gray of morning, Xena saw something that she just couldn't believe could be, a shooting star on a rainy dawn. She stood shocked as a huge ball of fire appeared from the woods
in front of the west wall and flew onto the roof of the big house. Whatever it was hissed and popped as the rain hit it. The whole city compound was now bathed in an eerie, yellow green, glow. As Xena stood there transfixed, another fireball arched over the wall, this time landing on a tent in the compound; she heard a child scream. The screaming child broke her shock and a sick feeling hit her stomach like a blow. "Catapults! CATAPULTS!" she screeched. "WEST WALL!! WEST WALL!! COME, ON FOLLOW ME!!" She started running, tripping and swearing towards the west wall kicking what men she ran into ahead of her.
Once Xena had to duck. She had gotten a good look at what had nearly taken her head off as it whizzed by. It was a ten gallon wooden barrel on fire whose smoke stunk of pine. The fireballs were only burning pine tar, not some fearful apparition from Ares or any other God. She saw the barrel, which had come down shorter than the others that had gone over the wall earlier, land on top the northern wall, and split open starting the cedar logs of the INSIDE wall of the stockade burning. Xena cursed the design of the fort altogether. The walls were designed to stop fire arrows, not barrels of burning tar thrown by catapults! Nobody had considered the possibility that someone would bring a Gods Damned siege engine!
The men on the wall started screaming FIRE! FIRE!! and rushed to the fire, but Xena had no time to stop, for she was now certain that the western wall was going to be assaulted. She finally ran into Polyxenus and she yelled at him, "WEST WALL!! THE WEST WALL IS GOING TO GET HIT!!" Polyxenus was confused, stunned, like a duck hit on the head. Xena didn't waste time, she grabbed her commanding officer by the scruff of the neck and threw him bodily towards the western wall. Her boss was just going to get up and yell at her when Xena and all close to her heard a loud twanging sound. Pollux, who had gathered a few men and finally had gotten to the corner of the northern and western walls, heard the odd sound, and he and a few other troops stuck their heads out over the wall to look.
Pollux and the other men on the corner of the wall saw but did not understand that their deaths had arrived in the shape of ten iron grappling hooks. The hooks, fired by ballistae, large wheeled crossbows on an elevating mount, had lines of stout hemp rope attached. Pollux stood on the western wall and watched a grappling hook transfixed in shock, as if the iron impliment was
the talon of some kind of monstrous bird of prey. Pollux then realized what it was and had began to shout, but in all the excitement, he forgot to duck and the hook caught him a solid blow on the head. As he fell, dazed but not unconscious, Pollux turned his back to the wall as the twenty men at the base of the scarp began to haul in the line with all their strength as quickly as they could. One of the four sharpened flukes of the hook caught Pollux under the chin and drove upwards under his jaw as the tension came on the line. Finally the top of Pollux's head hit the inside of the outside wall of the fort, and the strength of the hauling pulled the fluke all the way through the man's skull killing him. The fluke then successfully buried itself in a stout cedar log. Pollux lay there flopping around as if he were a fish on a stringer.
Once the lines, evenly spaced down the entire length of the wall, had been set, the twenty men began to climb the ropes hand over hand. The first two men in each group, all huge, strong warriors, carried a long rope ladder strapped to his back. In the interim, more men started the long climb. When the twenty men got to the top of the wall they found it nearly deserted except for the knot of confused people at the corner of the north wall. Fighting her way through the knot Xena tried to get some kind of order from the chaos. Finally, getting through the demoralized crowd she looked towards the corner and saw Pollux, bathed in the eerie, greenish yellow light of another fireball, pinioned to the wall.
"NOOOOOO!! POLLLLUX!" Xena wailed, tears exploding from her eyes. Losing control of herself, she dropped her sword and began throwing the men, many from her father's squad, and all of them her friends, bodily off the rampart to get through. Her strength grew to impossible proportions; several of the men flew twenty feet through the air. The last man she reached was Polyxenus who was terrified by the awful grimace on his subordinate's face and by the horrible glitter in his subordinates electric blue eyes.
Somehow Polyxenus collected the wherewithal to yell at Xena as the big woman began to hurl him off the rampart:
"XENA! HE'S DEAD! THERE'S NOTHING TO BE DONE!" He shouted. Xena's eyes clouded
and she dropped him. Turning towards the wall on his belly, Polyxenus looked where Xena now looked with dread on her face, and to Polyxenus's absolute horror there were at least fifty armed men on the rampart and more were scrambling up the ropes and ladders by the second. The ten men on the western wall had been overwhelmed in minutes. The force on the northern wall was going to be outnumbered very soon and it was already outflanked. Arrows from the storming enemy already began falling among the confused garrison. One of the arrows struck Polyxenus in
the eye killing him instantly.
A great muffled moan erupted from Epictitus' warriors, if they could be called warriors, along the northern wall and their morale utterly collapsed. Shock and fear traveled from man to man as if it were a contageous disease, and Xena, the erstwhile Warrior Princess was effected too. All of them began to run or jump off the rampart so that their lives might be saved. The walls of Amphipolis had been taken without a fight. The city's fall was inevitable.
Xena was caught in the stampede along the rampart, she saw some of the faces of the men in her squad, men she had known since she was a baby, utterly terrified. She heard the screams of the dying behind her and in front of her as many men were trampled in the panic. Xena was panicked too, her breath rasped out of her in hard wheezes. Desperate, she jumped the thirty feet down to the common below. She disovered that the common was an abbatoir. Desperate battle raged all around her. The forty men that the wagon at the gate carried had secured the door while killing the entire gate crew and anyone that had tried to interfere. The open gate admitted hundreds of Pylorus' warriors whose swords, spears, and arrows cut down women, children, old men and defenders with equal gusto. Those refugees that survived crowded around the other exits to the fortress in panic---desperate to get away.
Xena almost could not bear what she was seeing and hearing. Screams of wounded men, dying horses, and crying children all assaulted her ears. The coppery smell of blood tore at her, its former arousing effect now forgotten in her panic. The only thought she had was to find her family. She searched for a familiar face ducking flying arrows and spears but could find no one she knew or cared about. Cyrene her mother, and her little brother Illictrates were nowhere to
be found. Somehow, Xena had not been noticed dispite being dressed in leather and armor. Then she saw a sight that restored her hope, it was her dad, Illictrates with her brother Castor, and the chief of Amphipolis Epictitus the Younger standing back to back under the great oak tree on a small rise in the center of the compound, killing anyone that came near to them. The yellow glare of the burning fortress walls made the entire scene seem completely unreal to the erstwhile "Warrior Princess".
"DAD!" Xena yelled and she tried to fight her way through to him hand to hand, her sword forgotten and lost somewhere on the compound. Throughout her body a great divine rage began to build; all of the skills that her father had taught her, the skills that she had lost in the shock of seeing Pollux's death and the panic that followed, came back in a flood. As her rage mounted she became inhumanly quick, her hands and feet moving in a blur. Enemy warriors, shocked that they were being assaulted by a lone, albeit big, girl, flew like the debris of an explosion as the invisible hands and feet, whirred through the air. Xena screamed and ululated. Each blow that she threw was capable of dropping a bullock. But there was too many of the enemy; they slowed her down. Over the din, Xena's hearing, which was greatly sharpened by the adrenaline storm she was experiencing, heard a familliar, disgusting voice---Turamon.
Illictrates was swinging the two handed broadsword that he loved like the master that he was. Turamon was his opponent. Epicititus and Castor were far too busy trying to save themselves to intervene. The battle was close, but Illictrates was tired. The point of the big sword hit the ground often.
Turamon turned and waved off any assistance calling: "This little bastard is MINE!"
Illictrates faced his greatest enemy with silent contempt, and the battle was joined again.
Xena saw it all as she slammed her way through the interference. Her fighting became more desperate. Somehow she kept her attention on the fight under the tree. The men she knocked down regained their senses and ran terrified away from the yelling demon. Xena was too late. Both Epictitus and Castor were hit by the same flight of arrows and went down. Turamon parried a tired swing.
Xena thought that she had puked her guts out. The stench of burning bodies, smoke, pine tar, sweat and fear poured into her body, clearing the cobwebs from her mind. Fear had disappeared. What was left was glittering rage, an anger so great that if a nyone else but Xena had experienced it, they would have died of a burst heart. That rage formed itself into an inexorable purpose: Xena would find her family. Xena would find and gut Pylorus, and she would never allow her town to be wrecked again.
But right now all the bastards around her had to pay, and pay with their lives, for what they had done to her, her family, her town, and her life. Her tears dry now and her stomach icily calm she picked up her father's two handed sword and went over to his body. She knelt in front of the body and tenderly kissed it on its bloody forehead.
She then stood and stared into the face of chaos once again. All around the knoll and the strange hurricane's eye Xena had created there, blades of all types rose. She pulled him to his feet with his arm cranked up way up behind the back of his neck. Shewhispered into his now terrified ear: "You just couldn't wait to have a taste. Could you?" She raised her father's heavy sword up over her head with her right arm and brought it down hitting the man on his right shoulder. The blow cut the man in half.
Xena bent down and looked at the girl. She was still alive, but barely. There was nothing Xena could do but to go back to do what she was trained to do---kill. With a fearful scream she launched herself into a knot of men who were looting the tents of the town's families.
The people that watched what happened couldn't believe what they saw. One big woman took on fifteen men and left all them bleeding on the ground, several of them in pieces. Xena wielded the sword with such power that nobody could stop her.
Xena now saw that a knot of refugees had gathered in front of a small sally port in the south wall where they tried to lift the heavy wooden bar to the door. Many of the people were women and young children. If she had tried to fight her way trough th e crowd of the enemy that was now pitching into the refugees mercilessly, they would all have been killed before she had finished. Xena saw a chance.
There was a part of the rampart over the port that wasn't on fire. She put the long sword into her scabbard; screaming, she ran towards the burning wall and leaped. She found one of the supporting cross timbers that ran through the wall about 10 feet above the ground and pushed off with her hands, beginning a back flip that left her standing on the rampart thirty feet in the air! Several of the men charging the sally port saw what had happened and fled. Not seeing this feat was a great misfortune. Her father's sword broken, she lashed out with a foot and kicked a man away from the wall so hard that his sword flew from his hands. Xena grabbed it out of the air and began to flail at those who remained. Finally, Xena's inexperience began to show. One of the men was very skilled and he parried several of Xena's powerful but clumsy thrusts. Xena was plenty quick enough to deflect any of the sword blows that the man threw at her, but she left her left side open and the man finally scored with a blow. The other men had had enough and fled.
"Get out of my way!" Xena roared and she pushed her way through the milling crowd of refugees and reached the door. Two men were grunting to lift the heavy oak bar out of its slot, but they were not doing very well at it. Xena crouched and put her sh oulder down under the timber, and with a loud grunt she stood and the timber finally moved out of its slot. The weight of the crowd pushed the door open and the frightened mob shot by the door nearly trampling Xena as they ran.
The Warrior Princess ran back into the compound, screaming for her mother and brother as loud as she could, but the only civilians that she saw were lying dead---many in grotesque positions. Then, off in the distance, near to where her father lay slai n she saw a group of multicolored banners and flags, some of them swallowtails, held by a small number of mounted men, all richly accoutered in gold and brass. In the center of these men was a slimy looking man leading a gorgeous black horse who was look Xena no longer cared about the tragedy that had just occurred to her. She no longer cared that her family was destroyed---her mother and brother missing. Death meant nothing to her, indeed death would be a welcome relief. The big girls soul was awash with undrainable rage. Xena was fixated only on one thing. The death of the man leading the black horse. She started walking towards the group, slaughtering whoever stood in her way in a numbly efficient and ruthless manner.
The gods are horribly fickle at times. When Xena closed to within a few yards of Pylorus, one of the burning tar barrels, which had been flying through the air during the whole engagement, overshot its target on the northern wall and flew into the cou rtyard. It struck Xena squarely on the left shoulder, knocking her to the ground---unconscious. Unbroken, the missile hit the ground and rolled down the knoll where it hit a body, jumped into the air, and fell into a water trough putting its own fire out.
"That was the story of the Sacking of Amphipolis." Gabrielle said. "Xena told me she remembered some of what happened in the battle but a lot of the story was told to her years later by her brother Illictrates who had seen all of it. Cyrene and he w ere still in the compound hiding when the barrel hit her. Both were utterly convinced that Xena was dead, but Cyrene, who has a cool head, kept her mouth shut and escaped through the open sally port.
"What a hell of a way to start a life!" Laertes sighed. "I can see why Xena is in so much pain, and the rest of her career will add to it." Also I am now convinced more than ever that Ares and Athena are both at work in her. Its amazing!"
Just then there was a commotion outside the inn and everyone inside, Laertes and Gabrielle included, went outside to see what the racket was. It was Xena and her ades. The old plow horse Heraclea was hitched to a four wheel wagon on which three men we re shackled together back to back to back. Following the wagon there were at least fifteen horses all harnessed together and hitched to the wagon. Xena and the rest of her party rode as flankers. All of the women looked very pleased with themselves.
"So much for that!" Xena said to Gabrielle laconically. "We caught the guys this loser here was selling the horses to as well. We'll have to go to the surrounding villages to find out what people had been ripped off so that we can return the horses."
"Well," Gabrielle said in mock bitterness. "At least you had some fun today. I've been so bored..."
Xena just smiled, nodded and led her prisoners off to the dungeon.
It was very hot and beautiful the next day, so the town of Aegeanopolis was really quiet. The men of course had all gone out to sea, after all they did have a living to earn, but those dependents who had little to do had gone down to the beautiful beach to try cool off. This included most of the staff of the budding Aegeanopolis police force, except for Hebe who was stuck in the office.
"Y'know Gabrielle," Xena said to the Bard, when both of the adventurers were up to their necks in the surf. "There is a lot to be said about a steady job! I haven't been so worry free in months!"
Gabrielle wasn't really paying attention. She was making a kind of strange cooing sound and was ducking back under the water at odd intervals. The Warrior Princess looked at her quizzically when Gabrielle chirped and ducked under the water again. In a second the Bard shot back up out of the water hanging onto a fish with everything she had. Xena's eyes bugged out and she began to laugh deeply and very loudly.
"I got to stay in practice Xena! Looks like the guys missed one!"
Both turned their heads shoreward suddenly, for they had heard a call from the beach.
"Gabrielle, you're just in time! Laertes got a fire started!" It was Phoebe bellowing like an elephant. "I dug clams too!"
Xena cocked her head towards her deputy and Gabrielle nodded vigorously in agreement, so they both went in. Phoebe cleaned the fish while Laertes, who had arrived not a moment too soon for a free feed, arrived with bread and some wine. Orestia had set up a small tent with open sides so that all could sit out of the sun. They all sat around enjoying themselves and the food when Phoebe piped up and asked Xena:
"You were a warlord for ten years Xena?"
"Yeah Phoebe, why do you ask?"
"Well, you're still a young woman. How did you get to know so much about the military business. It seems you know enough for three people your own age. Not only that, you're a woman and, well, you know how men are with their egos!"
Laertes just stared at Phoebe with a mildly amused look on his face.
"So you had to have taken over an army by 18! I'm 17 and I don't know anything about what the warrior's life is like. You must have been nearly as good as you are now by my age."
"Believe me Phoebe, I had my reasons." Xena replied. "You're damn lucky you've seen only peace."
Laertes jumped in: "Didn't you tell me that you had been with Penthesilea after Amphipolis had been sacked?'
"She saved my life! I ended up spending three years with her band of Amazons. It was exactly what I needed to do what I had to."
Gabrielle added: "Find your mother and brother?"
"And kill Pylorus!" Xena concluded with a hooded look to her face. Phoebe looked both curious and grave. "I suppose you guys aren't gonna let me alone until I tell you?"
Gabrielle's face lit up and she teased: "We will, in about twenty years!"
Phoebe nodded vigorously.
Xena sighed. "Well, when Amphipolis had been destroyed, I was knocked down and out by a flying barrel..." Xena then reconstructed the world of her experience which looked like this:
Xena didn't know how long she was out, but when she groggily came to, she noted with some disgust that she was half buried in bodies, and her left shoulder hurt unbelievably badly. The rain had stopped and a bright sun shown which made the burnt out fo rtress stink terribly of decay. Through her clouded mind she seemed to notice voices, feminine voices, nearby and noises of things being stacked and thrown about. Xena groaned and tried to push her way out of the bodies but couldn't. Her shoulder hurt.
"Hey I think there's a live one under here!" Xena heard. It was a woman's voice in heavily accented Turkic, the language of Troy. "Are you all right?" the voice asked. The question was repeated in Greek. Xena looked in the direction of the voice and tried to focus. Finally a face, a woman's face began to swim into clarity.
The voice said again, "Hippolyta! Hippolyta! This girl is wearing armor! I have never seen her before!" A more distant, deep silky voice replied. "You have got to be kidding!"
The sound of rapid footfalls followed. "Hang on there girl we almost have you out!" The nearby voice said. Finally, the last body was pulled off Xena's back and the young woman tried to turn Xena over, but Xena yelped in pain. Apologizing, the young woman, a rather pretty girl with mouse colored hair and a peeling sunburn, let her fall back onto her belly. Xena finally answered in a strained hiss, "I think I have a broken shoulder." The girl called "She's wounded!!"
Finally the feet causing the footfalls gathered around Xena who tried to get up on her right arm. Groaning, Xena succeeded. She looked up straight into the face of the woman she had seen ride in yesterday morning. Penthesilea! Xena's eyes went wide and she hissed "Bitch! You let my town die!" The effort was too much and Xena fell back to her face.
"Don't worry about that now girl. I'm trying to save your life.!" The Amazon War Queen replied.
Xena felt several taps on her back and on the side of her neck and suddenly the pain in the shoulder was gone! Indeed she couldn't feel her left arm and shoulder at all. Another voice joined in. "I've just blocked off the nerves to your shoulder. We can move you now. I need to examine you."
The young girl with the sunburn turned Xena over onto her back and helped her to stand up. Xena's left arm was limp. It just hung there. Xena looked around and finally saw the tall, wiry woman with the freckles, ginger hair and helmet on the back of her head and glared as another, somewhat stocky woman with black hair poked and prodded her shoulder.
"Nothing serious girl, your shoulder is just slightly dislocated, hang on." The sunburned girl grabbed onto Xena's right arm as the square woman moved her left. Finally, a loud grinding pop was heard. followed by the rapid taps again. The shoulder wa s very sore but the pain wasn't unmanageable. Xena could move it too. "OK the dislocation is corrected. You should be fine in a few days. Are you hurt anywhere else?" the stocky woman asked. Xena stood, and the Amazons all looked at each other. None of them had seen such a tall girl before. Xena was almost half a head taller than Penthesilea. Off in the background Xena heard a woman comment: "Boy they sure grow'em big around here!" Xen a turned and glared at the woman who looked sheepish. Xena then turned to the stocky woman and said: "What did you say?" The healer repeated her question.
"Just some small cuts and bruises I think." Xena answered. Then she added in a vicious tone. "I should kill you all!
"Now take it easy there girl!" Penthesilea admonished, "Agamemnon negotiated the agreement with Priam in good faith, and since I am his wife's sister I was bound by my honor not to intervene. However that snake Pylorus violated a truce between us and used my camp as a staging area to start his attack and used my name in the ruse that opened the gates. I just found that out from one of the refugees. So I must bring him to Amazon justice."
"Why didn't you attack him then!" Xena screeched.
"I have 1500 warriors. Pylorus has 5000 and the higher ground. Only the river saved my tribe from being attacked. Believe me girl, I have no love for Pylorus." Penthesilea said matter of factly.
Xena was shocked. "Five Thousand!!" Our scouts said he had only 2000!" Xena's rage against the Amazon queen deflated. Xena was a trained soldier. She knew that those odds were impossible.
"They were inaccurate. There was only 2000 in the camp north of here. Three thousand more were a days ride west of here. Your scouts saw only what Pylorus wanted them to see."
"TUROMON!!" Xena yelled. "His man inside must have been giving Epictitus false advice!"
Xena continued: "Refugees? Did you find a woman named Cyrene and her son Illictrates? They are all that remains of my family!"
"No girl, most of the refugees went west. I am sorry." Penthesilea showed genuine regret on her sharp face. "Do you have a name girl? And why are you in armor?"
"My name is Xena. I am, or was, a corporal in the defense forces of Amphipolis."
"Interesting! Greeks normally don't allow women to fight. You must be very special Xena. Well then, you are an enemy of Pylorus in his territory. You have a decision to make. Become a refugee and risk being captured and enslaved by Pylorus or possi bly killed. Or come with us. I can always use a trained woman, Amazon or not. Besides you still would like a piece of Pylorus wouldn't you?"
On Penthesilea's offer Xena looked up her eyes flashing her voice white hot. "Yes!" then she added. "I want a piece of you too for not helping the town, but now that I understand why you didn't help you needn't fear me trying to kill you."
"Don't worry Xena, rather sister, you'll get your chance, every one of my warriors gets a crack at me!" A big crooked smile spread across the craggy face of the Amazon War Queen. "Do you need anything more?
"Yes," Xena said, "Help me bury my father and brothers and the rest of my townsmen. Two of them are over there leaning against that tree." Xena pointed with a look of terrible sadness on her face. "My other brother is," Xena choked. "Was, on the west battlement." The battlement was gone, burnt to the ground. All that was left of all of the walls was a rectangular rubble birm. Penthesilea nodded to Xena and looked at the carnage surrounding the Amazon party with a look of deep disgust.
The rain had stopped and the day grew to be clear and cold. Xena with her shoulder biting her at every movement, worked silently. She did not complain. The Amazons looked at her in admiration and sadness. Xena was bearing her terrible loss with dign ity, a dignity that was far in advance of what a 13 year old girl would normally show. The warrior women saw too that the big girl's eyes were glowing, glowing a glittering blue so brilliant that they found it difficult to look Xena in the face.
Soon all of the dead were buried. Pylorus dead were buried in a dishonorable mass grave in the hope that they would soon be forgotten. Xena did what she could do to identify the bodies so that family members could be buried together and marked. Sadly all that could be found of Pollux was his helmet and the grappling hook that impaled him. Xena took these items and took them to the lot behind the remains of the burnt down inn and laid them in the grave with her father and Castor.
The last thing that the women warriors did was to hold a ceremony for all the dead, but for Xena's benefit it was held next to the graves of Xena's family. Xanthippe, the chief Amazon Priestess of Artemis said a few words and Xena though a little bit o f dirt on the bodies of her family then stood and sang with a powerful voice the song that she had always heard at funerals. She then turned her back and walked over to the great oak tree that she had climbed thousands of times in her young life, and sat down.
Penthesilea and her retainers walked over to Xena where Penthesilea asked: "What have you decided Xena?"
"Are you going to make war on Pylorus?" Xena asked.
"Yes, but not now. We are too weak! Perhaps next season." The Queen said. "But have no fear. We will get him!"
"Then I would like to go with you." Xena said. " Teach me everything you know about war, for I intend to take Pylorus' army from him and kill him with it!"
Penthesilea looked at Xena shocked, but thought that an argument now would just create trouble and perhaps make the big girl do something stupid. "OK you may join us, but you will have to follow our ways and learn our methods of doing things. That mea ns you will obey my orders and those of my subordinates. Clear?"
"Yes, Penthesilea. I will obey, but I must learn as much as I can, as fast as I can, and I intend to be the best."
Penthesilea looked at Xena's expression of implacable resolve and said: "I don't doubt it at all."