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Disclaimers and such: Of course, the characters of Xena WP and Gabrielle belong to Universal. The character of Lena the Viking is mine.
©Copyright M.E.Romeo, Feb. 11, 1997
Golden rays of sunlight trickled down through the thick growth of trees to speckle the path below with tiny circles of light. The Warrior Princess rode leisurely along on her Palomino while Gabrielle trotted along beside, animated as ever, laughing at her own joke. Xena gave her a look like, if I have to hear one more corny joke, I'll scream. Then her expression softened and her friend was relieved.
They entered a small village along the road to Thessaloniki. The villagers only gave them cold stares as they passed. They both felt uneasy, but the warrior would not admit it. Women shut their windows as they passed and a carpenter called from his shop, "We don't want you here."
"This isn't a very friendly town," the young Gabrielle finally voiced. "Have you been here before?"
Xena thought hard, but she couldn't actually recall ever being in that village before. "I don't think so, but I suppose it's possible." She dismounted her horse and tied the reins to a post in front of the tavern.
"I hope they'll at least let us buy food; I'm starving," said Gabrielle. As the two walked into the tavern, Xena eyed everyone suspiciously. It looked like a typical Greek village tavern and the patrons poor and middle class villagers. Conversations hushed and all eyes turned to the Warrior Princes and her companion. When they walked up to the bar, the tender tried to ignore them as he wiped glasses with a towel and busied himself arranging bottles. Xena was becoming annoyed with this whole town and her voice broke the silence like thunder. "Hey, you," she demanded. "We would like something to eat over here."
The mousy little man looked at her in fear and slowly walked toward her. "Oh, but of course," he stammered. "Right away, then," and he left for the kitchen.
A big, burley man stood beside Xena at the bar. He gulped down the last of his drink and slammed the glass on the wooden surface of the bar. "Well," he snorted, not even looking at her. "If it isn't Xena, the Warrior Princess. And what do you want here?"
"Only a meal and place to spend the night."
"Woman, you're a freak, and we don't need a freak in our town." Then the big, hairy man finally looked at Xena, waiting for her response. She stood silently for a moment, not knowing how to answer such a statement. "Am I a freak?" she thought. Maybe I should just clobber him and let that be my answer. But then a smaller, red haired man caught her attention. He was coming on to Gabrielle and putting his hands on her. "Come on, pretty lady," he smirked like a lust filled man who had too much to drink. "My room is very nice."
Gabrielle shook loose from him and replied impatiently, "You really don't want me to have to hurt you."
The man laughed and started to grab her again. This time Xena stepped in. "Hey, creep. Keep your hands off - she's with me."
The red haired man stopped abruptly and looked up at the mighty stature of the woman warrior dressed in her leather armor with sword and weapons. He lifted his hands in submission. "My apologies. I didn't realize that you two were . . . together." A mischievous gleam rose in his eyes and his voice was full of accusation and innuendo. Xena's expression turned to stone as her blood pumped hard with anger. How dare he, this little nobody, speak to her that way. Even worse, how dare he say or do anything to offend or injure her dearest friend. Xena's right hand instinctively reached for her sword hilt, but Gabrielle stopped her.
"No, Xena, just ignore him. It's nothing." Despite Gabrielle's claim that it was nothing, the tension in the air was so strong you could slice it with a broad sword.
"I think I need some fresh air," Xena said coldly and pushed her way past the red haired man.
"I'll get us a room," Gabrielle volunteered. Xena nodded to her just before leaving the tavern.
"Go on, get out of here!" one patron shouted. "We don't need a freak woman warrior around here."
Then the bartender returned with the meals and Gabrielle asked him, "Why do the people here hate Xena?"
"I think they are afraid of her," he answered timidly.
"Because she used to be a warlord?" she asked. "She's not like that anymore. She isn't going to hurt anyone."
"That's partly it," explained the bartender. "And partly because she is different, broken with tradition. What if other women began to take charge? I think they are mostly afraid of what she represents - a woman who can rule a man."
Gabrielle laughed lightly. "Then it's a town full of chauvinists."
"You could say that.'
Xena rode hard until she was far away from the village. Then she pulled her mount to a halt and slid off. She took her sword and swung it with all her might at a small tree. The blow chopped the tree in half, the top falling to the ground. She panted heavily after her flight and walked slowly over to sit down on the felled tree trunk. Her sword stuck in the ground between her feet, her hands gripping the hilt; she rested her head against her hands and sword handle with questions flooding her mind. "Am I a freak?" she thought. "Can I be a woman and a warrior?" She began to think of the life she had given up, her son, good strong men she knew and admired, her husband who had died. Could she be content to sit and keep house? Never. But were the years beginning to catch up with her? After the death of her enemy ___?___, was she the only one of her kind in the whole world? "Is there a place for me?" she thought.
While Xena struggled with her strongest and most formidable adversary - herself - she was unaware of events occurring back at the village. The roving warlord, Creon, and his gang rode in suddenly and began looting and pillaging. From the back of his big, black stallion, the bearded warlord barked his commands. "Take everything of value; kill those who resist you. Save the best for the slave market." Fire, smoke, and confusion filled the village. Gabrielle rushed out with her quarter staff in her hands. At once she started to battle two of Creon's gang men and was holding her own quite nicely. Crean spotted her and was impressed with what he beheld. "And take her," he pointed, "unharmed." Immediately, she was set upon by four more fighters, disarmed, and carried off, her hands securely tied.
She looked up into Creon's face defiantly as the men brought her by him. "You don't want to do this," warned. "I have powerful friends."
Creon was amused. "Such as?"
"Such as Autolycus, Hercules, and Xena."
The warlord laughed and replied, "A thief, a god, and a legend. I don't think we will have much to fear from them. Before anyone notices you are gone, I will have sold you and the others to the slave traders I am meeting in Thessaloniki. Unless I decide to keep you for myself," he smiled wickedly, then kicked his horse to a trot through the ransacked village.
"Xena, where are you?" called a frightened voice through the woods. "Xena!" Awakened from her thoughts, the warrior heard the distant sound of her name being called. She moved cautiously toward the voice, leading her horse behind her. There, along the path she had taken, stood the little bartender sill wearing his white apron. His hands were cupped to his mouth as he half yelled, half whispered her name. His head was continually turning from side to side and behind him as he nervously stepped down the path. Suddenly, she stood right in front of him.
"What do you want?"
"You must come quickly; we need you," he urged. "The village is being attacked by Creon, the warlord."
Xena smirked at him, shaking her head. "I thought you people didn't want or need a freak woman warrior."
"But they took you friend, the little blond girl, and many of the villagers for slaves," he explained.
Immediately, Xena's expression changed to one of active concern. "Gabrielle!" Her eyes searched his for confirmation. The bartender nodded and Xena leapt onto the back of her horse. "Yah!" She kicked him to a canter back to the village.
When she arrived, Creon and his gang were gone leaving havoc in their wake. Old people tended the wounded and children cried for their parents. She saw the red haired man from the tavern pitifully clutching his bleeding left arm which had almost been completely severed by a raider's sword. "Which way did they go?" she asked him solemnly.
He looked up at her. Pain, anguish, and regret were in his eyes. He knew if she had been there, then perhaps - well, it was too late for that now. "I heard him say something about the port at Thessaloniki. That way," he pointed with a bloody hand.
With a look of fearless resignation, she stared down the road ahead and gathering her reins, clicked to her horse and galloped out of town.
The Warrior Princess rode hard and fast out of the forest into the open, rocky hills nearing the coast. The wind blew back her long, black hair. Her mind was racing with thoughts of what she would do to Creon when she caught up with him, and wondering if the dear friend she loved more than life was unharmed or not.
She could hear a commotion as she neared the port city. In the harbor, she spied several ships, including one of strange design. The bow and stern were curved and pointed as if it could sail in either direction. It had a shallow draught for rivers as well as sea. The large main sail was tied up as the strange ship rested at port. But she had no time for that; she must find Creon and free Gabrielle.
A fight was already raging near the docks, with gangmen, city militia, and some men in strange clothes all going at each other with swords, quarter staffs, and bows. One tall blond in blue wool and furs wearing a horned helmet, wielded a massive battle ax. He swung with a shout and disemboweled a Greek warrior. It was all very confusing. Who was Xena supposed to fight?
She leapt down from her horse, sword drawn. She parried with the first ruffian she faced, steel sparking against steel. As he lunged off balance, she punched him in the face, breaking his nose. As the blood rushed forward, Xena grabbed his wrist and disarmed him. She pushed the cold steel of his blade to his throat and demanded, "Who are you with?"
"Creon," he answered fearfully.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know, I swear!" Xena sneered at him hatefully, angry with his answer, and pushed him to the ground. Her sharp eye caught sight of two enemies, one approaching her from either side. She drew in the swords, one in each hand, crossing her arms in front of her. Then, with a burst of power, she lunged the blades out into the bellies of her attackers. With a groan, the righteous warrior pulled her sword from the body of the man on her right and jumped to ready position.
Xena clashed swords with a couple more men, then spun around to find herself face to face with a woman warrior. Her feet were clad with brown suede boots that laced up to her knees. Her tan chamois garment was belted and had a darker, heavier skirting about her thighs. A red, woolen cloak hung from her shoulders nearly to the ground and her long, wavy brown hair shone with red highlights in the sun. Their swords clashed with skillful blows as the two opponents eyed each other in amazement. This Viking, as Xena reconded her to be, was every inch as big as she was, and from the feel of her blows, every bit as strong.
Xena would not be outdone by this foreigner and decided to defeat her with a bit of acrobatics. With a shrill battle cry, the Warrior Princess leapt into the air, turned a flip, and intended to land on the shoulders of her adversary, but the Viking had rolled under her and sprang to her feet safely in the spot where Xena had just been standing. Xena spun about, amazed, and quickly flung a throwing dagger toward the lady Viking. But this skilled swordswoman deflected the blade with her sword and it fell harmlessly to the ground. Xena was even more amazed by the playful look of enjoyment on her opponent's face.
"Look, who ever you are," the lady Viking spoke in Xena's language. "I'd love to stay and play, but you must step aside. Creon is getting away." She raised her sword to deflect Xena's blow and suddenly the Warrior Princess lowered her sword. "You mean you aren't with Creon?" she asked.
"He is my sworn enemy and I must ride to catch him before he gets away." Seeing that the danger now had passed, she resheathed her sword and began to walk past Xena.
"I'm after him, too," she replied.
The Viking grabbed the reins of the nearest horse and threw its rider to the ground. "Come along if you like," she said as she swung herself into the saddle. "Only don't slow me down."
Xena smiled and shook her head with astonishment and delight. "Slow you down?" she thought. "She obviously doesn't know me."
Soon the two were galloping down the road out of town, following the trail of the warlord. "Who are you?" Xena asked.
"I'm Lena, of the Northland. And you?"
"Ah," she smiled glancing over at her newly made partner. "I've heard of you. What do you want with that son of a jackal?"
"He took some villagers prisoner; one is a good friend of mine and I mean to get her back safely. What'd he do to you?" Xena glanced over at Lena. She was about her age - mature, yet in her prime. She was surprised that a sailor would look so natural on horseback and even more dumbfounded to meet another woman warrior. Just the idea that she was not alone, not the only woman fighter in the world, made Xena feel really good inside.
"About a year ago," Lena began the story as they rode. "We were in port with our old merchant ship to trade furs. It was really my husband's business and ship, but we were like partners. Then," her expression hardened. "The warlord, Creon, and his gang of raiders sacked the docks. They took everything, killed Oslen, my husband, our crew, and burned the ship. By the time I saw the smoke from the market square, it was too late. My husband was unarmed - that coward murdered him. I saw him eye to eye and I promised that I would track him down and kill him for what he did. He just laughed in my face and rode off with our money and furs, my ship burning in the bay."
Xena could readily relate to Lena's story, but she still wondered one thing. "So, how'd you learn to handle a sword like that?"
Lena smiled as she recalled, "From my brother. He is a warrior. When we were kids, he was the only boy and insisted that I, being a big sister, practice with him. Finally, I started beating him; he didn't want to play anymore after that." They both laughed, Xena remembering her own brother.
"But Lena, it isn't a game this time - it's real. I know how you feel, but vengeance is a poor companion. I know; that's how I started on this road and it has taken me years to see anything good in life. So what happens after you kill Creon?"
"Then I go home," she replied.
"As easy as that?" Xena asked.
"I was content with a normal life," Lena explained. "I didn't become this fighter because I wanted to or because I enjoy it - it was because I had to. Someone has to stop Creon."
"And after him?" Xena probed. "What about the next vicious warlord who kills an innocent man?"
Lena looked at Xena and grinned with a twinkle in her brown eyes. "That's your destiny!"
It was twilight when they reached the warlord's camp in a clearing near a cave. The tents had been set up and armed guards stood in front of the cave. Some men were cooking on little fires around the camp. The horses were tied along a rope and guarded. "There looks to be about thirty of them," Xena whispered to Lena as they spied from behind some under brush.
"Thirty of them, two of us - seems like the odds are about even." Xena continued to marvel at her new found Viking. "We even think alike," she thought to herself. Strong and skillful as Lena was, she still lacked the experience that Xena had acquired and she felt the need for something more subtle than a frontal assault.
"Hold on," the Warrior Princess cautioned. "Let's devise a plan here. I can't take a chance that anything could happen to Gabrielle."
About that time, the tall, blond Viking warrior with the battle ax crept up beside his employer. "Lady Lena," he whispered. "I thought we'd never catch up, but the men and I are here. We only lost two in the city."
"That's two too many," Lena stated. "See that their families are compensated with Creon's gold. Now wait, and I will give you instructions soon." The youth nodded and left them.
"How many men do you have?"
"Ten, now," she answered.
"Then we have them," Xena smiled, her blue eyes sparkling with anticipation. "Here's the plan."
It was dark now in Creon's camp. The warlord stepped inside the cave, once his great belly was filled, to take a look at his hostages. It was a cave that he often used and had been equipped with iron bars and locking doors especially for captives. Gabrielle stood to the front, her hands around the bars as she glared at her captor. As he passed, some of the villagers backed away in fear and others stood up around the brave young girl with strawberry blond hair. "Well, slaves, it looks like that crazy Viking woman has spoiled our plans. And since I didn't get to sell you, I'm not sure what to do with you." He took delight in evoking terror in his prisoners; it gave him a sense of power over their souls as well as their bodies. "Perhaps I will kill you, or simply leave you here to kill each other or starve," he mused, pacing back and forth in front of them. "Ah, you," he said, stopping in front of Gabrielle. "Your friends have hot come yet."
"They will," she said with determination.
"Then maybe I should keep you close to me," he said, leaning up to where she could feel his hot, liquored breath in her face. "Guard," he called. "Bring this one to the main tent. "She will entertain us tonight." The dirty guard handled the lovely captive roughly as he shoved her out of the cage and dragged her out through the camp.
"Stop, already!" she yelled. "I'm coming," she smirked, and he pushed her again.
"Maybe I'll buy you," he suggested.
"I'd rather be left to starve."
"You don't have a choice," he replied and shoved her into Creon's tent. A group of select officers were gathered around reclining on pillows and drinking wine.
"Alright! Yeah!" they called as she was brought in.
"What do you do, wench?" Creon asked. "Dance, sing, be nice?"
She gave him a sarcastic look at his last choice. "I am an actress; I tell stories and act them out. I also recite poems." "Act out the part of a belly dancer," laughed one lieutenant. She just put her hands on her hips and stared at him.
"Suppose I tell you the story of Oedipus the King," she offered.
"Suppose you dance for us," Creon replied.
"I could dance for you," came a deep, sultry voice from the doorway of the large tent. A tall, dark haired woman stood there covered in blue and purple veils. Her face was veiled as well. There were tiny bells on her bare toes that jingled softly when she walked in. They were all too stunned by her to notice Gabrielle's eyes light up.
"Fine, then," Creon heartily agreed. "Musician, play," he directed to a man with an old mandolin. Xena began to work a magic on her audience that she hoped would throw them completely off guard.
Meanwhile, Lena had crept up to the entrance of the cave. She tapped the remaining guard on the shoulder, and as he turned around, she punched him, knocking him out cold. She then took the keys and unlocked the iron barred door. "Shh," she whispered. "Quietly. This way to the woods."
One of the women stopped to speak. "They took Gabrielle to the big tent."
"Thanks," she replied.
As Xena danced about the warlord and his guests, the men would grab veils from her out fit. Suddenly, one of them pulled off the veil from her face and recognized her. "It's Xena!" he cried. Almost instantaneously, the Warrior Princess pulled her sword from its scabbard which was hidden underneath her costume. But the warlord thought quickly as well and grabbed Gabrielle, raising a dagger to her throat. They took center stage, standing near the main support pole of the tall tent.
"Put it down," he demanded of Xena. "Unless, of course, you wish to see this lovely, young throat slashed right before your eyes."
"No," came her swift reply. She held up her hands and threw the blade to the ground. "Look, I'm unarmed now; do with me as you wish. There's no need to keep that dagger on her."
Creon gleamed with twisted pleasure. "Perhaps I will cut you to pieces in front of her eyes.
Xena's eyes flashed with rage as her friend cried out, "No! You wanted me for a slave and now you have me.
"No, Gabrielle, this is what he wants," Xena replied. "Go on, Creon, strike down an unarmed victim like the coward you are!" All eyes in the room focused on the two as they studied one another, waiting breathlessly for the next move. That is when it happened. As if from nowhere, Lena leaped down from the top of the tent post directly onto Creon. Her sword was buried in his body, going in through the back of the neck, into his heart, and plunged up to its hilt. He was killed instantly, the threatening dagger dropping to the floor. Gabrielle jumped aside, as the two tumbled to the ground.
No one had noticed the Viking climbing a tree outside in the dark. All attention inside had been focused on Xena and no one saw her cut a whole in the tent roof or slide inside to the top of the center pole. And now she had to pry her bloody sword from the body of the warlord with her foot pushing against his shoulder. Xena took one frontwards roll across the floor and sprang up with her sword in hand. Gabrielle stared in marvel at the Viking who raised a ram's horn to her lips and blew. Viking warriors descended on the camp out side, as back to back, the two women warriors fought with those inside.
Gabrielle, still not sure if she was dreaming or not, grabbed a tall, iron candle holder and defended herself with it as if it were her staff. It didn't take much to send the warlord's gang fleeing, now that their leader was dead. The tall, blond Viking entered the tent to tell them that the grounds had been secured. Tense muscles relaxed for a moment, and Gabrielle sighed in relief. She and Xena embraced each other warmly, glad to have each other alive. Lena stood gazing down on the lifeless body of Creon and at the blood on her sword. Then she looked into Xena's eyes questioningly as if to say, "Is this how it really is?" Xena's eyes gazed back at hers, understanding what it was like to make that first kill. Her nonverbal response was affirmative.
Gabrielle interrupted the moment to say, "Xena, I knew that you would come for me, but who are all these strange people?"
Xena smiled and walked with her compatriot towards the lady Viking. "Gabrielle, this is Lena, the Lady Viking warrior from the Northland. We sort of bumped into each other today."
"Well, I'm certainly glad you decided to drop in."
Lena could not help but laugh at the cleaver pun. "Well, I had to pay back a debt to an old enemy."
"Thank you," the young girl said kindly, touching Lena's arm, "for saving my life." Xena looked on approvingly, and smiled at a woman whom she admired.
The next morning in Thessaloniki, the three women prepared to part ways. Lena's crew was preparing the ship to sail as Xena and Gabrielle walked with her to the dock. "What will you do now," the young woman asked, brushing her long blond hair from her eyes. "Go back home?"
Lena sighed. "I wish I could, but I don't really have a home anymore - just an empty house filled with memories of things that will never be again. I don't know, perhaps we will trade up and down the coasts, an honest living," she said more brightly.
"Lena, there's something I've got to tell you," Xena said in one of those few moments when she would reveal her feelings. "Before I met you, I was beginning to think that I was all alone in this world, like the last unicorn or a freak of nature. But knowing you, I don't feel quite so out of place."
They stopped walking, having reached the dock, and Lena looked seriously into Xena's eyes. "Xena, you are not alone in this world, and haven't been for some time. You've got a friend here," she explained almost enviously, "to walk beside you, understand you, encourage you. I mean, you two were ready to die for each other last night. That is so special and so rare. You are never alone in this world when you have a friend like that. Me, on the other hand," she sighed. "I'm truly alone because I have no one."
Xena, still looking the Viking in the eye, responded without hesitation. "Now you do; you have me." She extended her hand which Lena heartily clasped.
"My ship and my sword are yours when ever you need them. Just give the word and I will be at your side," she pledged.
"The same goes for me." Xena had a perfect compliment in Gabrielle, but now she had found another woman who was like her, who broke with tradition to do what others could not or were afraid to do. While she could never imagine a life without her beloved Gabrielle in it, she felt her life was even more complete for knowing Lena, the Viking warrior.
Gabrielle gave Lena a hug as they departed, thanking her again for saving her life. "A life worth saving," was her cheerful response.
As Xena and her companion walked down the road out of town leading the Palomino behind, Gabrielle asked, "Xena, who do you think would have won that fight between you and Lena?" She looked up at her friend with a pesky grin, knowing the nature of her question.
Xena's first thought was, "Me, of course," but prudence bade her not to wager. "I don't think I ever want to find out," was her response.
"Do you think we'll ever see her again?"
Xena put her arm around her friend's shoulder and peered into those misty images of days yet to come. "I don't know," she mused, "but I kind of have a feeling that we will."
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