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A Past Remembered
By Anita Louise
Gabrielle stared at Xena, her face now filled with alarm. Reaching out her left hand, she placed it on the warrior's shoulder and asked, "Xena, what do you think happened to them?"
Xena snapped the arrow in two as she said, "I don't know, but we have to find out and the sooner the better. Let's make it up to the caves and see if anyone made it up there to safety."
Gabrielle turned to look at the horse and Xena said, "Unless you're feeling extra strong today, leave it. If it is there when we return then I'll take care of it. For now, we need to find out what has happened." Gabrielle ran to catch up with the woman who was already heading up the mountain path. The bard marveled at Xena's long legs and the way she could cover such great distance in a matter of seconds. She said to herself, "I'm getting better, one day I may actually walk beside you."
Xena's low voice barked down at her, "Hurry up, we need to get to the top before nightfall."
Gabrielle shook her head as she answered, "I'm right behind you but you could slow up a little." She had not been looking where she was going and suddenly found herself running into Xena.
The warrior was standing still, looking down at her grinning. Gabrielle stammered, "You need to get a sign or something that tells a person about your quick stops, maybe I would quit running into you."
Xena smiled as she said, "If you didn't run into me at least once a day I would feel something was wrong."
Gabrielle dug the end of her staff into the soft dirt as she said, "Wouldn't want that now would we. Did you bring any food? The warrior shook her head and the bard continued, "How about water?"
Xena answered, "No, I left that up to you. I take it you didn't remember either. Oh well there is a spring up there and we can drink from it. About the food, well you'll just have to wait and see if there is anyone there or not and if there isn't, then we'll eat when we get back down. Won't hurt us to miss a meal."
Gabrielle sighed, "Speak for yourself, my stomach is already sending me signals."
Xena withdrew her breast dagger as she struck out at a large thorny, plant. Within seconds she had removed all the thorns, turning she handed it to Gabrielle and said, "Chew on this, it will give you nourishment and maybe fool your stomach for a bit." She reached out cutting a piece off for herself, turned and started up the path. Gabrielle tasted it as she nodded, "It's not bad, what is it Xena?"
Xena ignored her question as she raised her left hand into the air and crouched down. Gabrielle followed as she crept up along side her she asked, "Did you hear something?" Xena motioned for Gabrielle to circle to the left and she would go right. Gabrielle nodded as she crept off. Xena watched her move away and then she stealthily headed for a large crop of rocks looming in front of her. She had seen a reflection of light coming from behind them it was only for a second but it honed her senses. Whatever she had seen she wanted to be prepared for it. Xena tossed the piece of plant she had been eating. She took out her dagger and held in readiness, slowly edging her way to the crop of rocks. She heard Gabrielle's voice before she spotted her, "I come in peace. What is going on here?" Xena peeked over a rock to see Gabrielle standing in the middle of a group of Amazons and they didn't look too friendly.
"Stop! That is Princess Gabrielle." The women turned to see a tall woman walking toward them.
The one who had been closest to Gabrielle said, "I've heard of the princess but surely this could not be her."
Gabrielle's eyes shot sparks as she said, "And just what is wrong with me?"
The woman ignored her as she said, "If this is the princess then she would know about Amazon law and I challenge her." They all turned to stare at Gabrielle who had been biting her lip. She dropped her staff and said, "I did not come here to fight. I came with a friend and we are here to see Queen Melosa and Ephiny."
The woman glared at Gabrielle and said, "As I thought, you are no Amazon Princess."
A deep voice echoed out to them, "Oh but she is and if you have a problem with it, take it up with me." They turned to see the statuesque woman walking toward them. The Amazon began to twirl her sword in her hand. The whirring sound it sent seemed to bounce off the rocks. Xena approached cautiously, turning her back to the woman she walked up to Gabrielle and asked, "You all right?" The bard nodded, her eyes taking in the tall woman's stance. She knew exactly what Xena was up to as the woman kicked back with her right leg sending it solidly into the Amazon's stomach. Xena leaped and whirled as her left leg kicked the sword from the woman's hand and in an instant Xena was straddling the fallen woman, her dagger to the Amazon's throat.
The woman looked up into Xena's cool eyes, still attempting to struggle. She yelled at the other women who were staring in amazement. "Get her, what are you waiting for?" Gabrielle had picked up her staff and was standing by Xena glancing at the others, waiting for any movement toward Xena. She was ready to block their path to the warrior. Xena growled softly, "I wouldn't advise it and I don't want to kill you, so settle down. We are here to see Queen Melosa and Ephiny and want to know what has happened?" The woman spat up at Xena and then Xena raised her fist slamming it onto the side of the Amazon's face knocking her out.
Xena rose to her feet and asked, "Anyone else want any of this?" They all shook their heads and backed away. The one who had said Gabrielle was the Amazon princess stepped forward extending her hand. "Eponin, it is good to see you again Xena." The two clasped arms in friendship. Eponin turned to face Gabrielle as she bowed her head she said, "It is good to see you Princess, you come at a time we are in need of guidance."
Gabrielle replied, "Don't bow to me, I'm just Gabrielle. Eponin, what has happened?"
She gave orders for the others to pick up the unconscious woman as she said, "Follow us, we will take you to the Queen's cave and I'm sure all your questions will be answered." They followed the women up the path, neither saying anything, but as they reached the top Gabrielle grabbed Xena's left hand and said, "Thank you, for stepping in."
Xena smiled and said, "I will always be there for you. There was no need for a challenge. I felt it was not the right time. And before you say anything, yes, I'm sure you could have handled it yourself, it's just, someone like her does not always play by the rules and we both know I'm very good at that. Let's find out what has happened."
Gabrielle walked over to Eponin and asked, "Is the Queen all right?"
The woman looked serious as she replied, "She's alive and that's something after what happened."
Xena had not seen anymore guards posted and wondered where they were. Entering the camp Eponin gave orders to the other Amazons and walked over to Xena and said, "The Queen is not well but she will be happy to see you, follow me."
Entering the torch lit room Gabrielle spied the woman laying on a bed of lion furs. She was so still, there was a woman chanting over her. Xena walked up to the woman and brushed her aside as she kneeled down by the Queen. She reached out her hand and touched her damp forehead. "Melosa, can you hear me?"
The woman began to stir and her eyes opened slowly as she uttered, "Xena, thank the Gods."
Xena managed a smile as she said, "You heard I was coming and you decided to get sick. Well nothing will deter me." Gabrielle had knelt down by Xena, she could see the woman's eyes light up at seeing her. Melosa reached out her right hand as she said, "Gabrielle, you, you are alive..."
Gabrielle said, "Yes."
Xena glanced at her friend and said, "She's to ornery the Gods wouldn't have her. Their loss is our gain."
Gabrielle crinkled up her nose at the warrior and said, "Actually, Xena, missed me, and I knew she couldn't get along with out my assistance."
Queen Melosa managed a smile as she said, "You and Xena are most welcome. Whatever the reason I am grateful you have found the path back to one another and to us."
Gabrielle took her hand in hers and asked, "What has happened? Where is Ephiny and the others?"
The woman coughed as she said, "It happened so suddenly, we didn't have a chance." Xena had glanced down at the woman's stomach and she could see the red that was seeping through the bandages as she asked, "Who did this?"
Melosa said, "We were preparing for the festival and everyone was excited. We had let our guard down. We had heard what had happened at Trachis with Callisto and Draco. We all thought that you were dead Gabrielle. It was probably a shock for some to see you. Last we heard Xena, you were roaming the countryside with no care for yourself or anyone else."
Gabrielle said, "Ephiny knew we were coming. Where is she?"
Melosa replied, "We knew someone she cared a great deal about was coming here but she said it would be more exciting for us all to find out who it was at the time they showed up."
Xena felt a chill as she asked, "Forgive me Melosa, but, I have to know what happened to Ephiny. Is she near camp?" The Queen coughed and Xena picked up a water skin as she held it to the woman's mouth and said, "Take a few sips." Gabrielle had been trying to take in the Queen's words and she was beginning to get an uneasy feeling as she asked, "Ephiny is all right isn't she?"
Xena set the water skin down and she reached over taking Gabrielle's right hand in her left one as she said, "We need to know."
Melosa studied them and then she said, "As I said, we were getting ready for the celebration and Ephiny was preparing something special for the two of you. It was during the time we were all relaxed and had finished our preparations that they attacked. Many were killed and those who weren't were taken captive. I was able to escape with the women you have seen here. We are all that are left."
Xena gripped Gabrielle's hand tighter as she asked, "Ephiny, did she...?"
Melosa said, "No, she fought with the best. They kept them busy while I escaped. She was not among the dead and I fear for her. She was captured. I have prayed to Apollo for her safety."
Xena's eyes became frigid as she growled, "Who did this?"
The woman said, "It was Krispies and he had the slaver Santos with him." She coughed and passed out.
Gabrielle said, "Krispies, he is one mean warlord and with Santos, Gods help us."
Xena stared up at Eponin and asked, "What is wrong with her?" The woman told Xena and Gabrielle how the Queen had been hit with one of Krispies' arrows. She told them that they had taken some of the shaft off but couldn't remove the rest for fear of killing the woman.
Xena stood up as she said, "Eponin, get me some hot water, a sharp knife and a hot poker."
Gabrielle got to her feet as she said, "Are you sure you want to do this? It sounds serious and if something happens to Melosa they will kill you."
Xena answered, "If I don't she will die. We have to have faith Gabrielle. Ephiny and the others that were taken will need our help. I should have killed the bastard when I had the chance."
Gabrielle replied, "Krispies or Santos?" Xena walked over to a pitcher of water, pouring some of it into a pan. She began washing her hands and replied, "Actually both of them. But I really owe Santos." Eponin had returned with what she had requested, Xena noticed the other women who had entered the room. They had drawn their bows and Gabrielle walked over to them and said, "There will be no need for that. Wait outside."
They looked at her skeptically and Eponin said, "In our Queen's illness Gabrielle is the Queen. You will do as she says." They bowed and left the room.
Eponin walked over to Xena and asked, "How can I help?" Xena had began to remove the bloody bandages. She looked at Eponin and said, "Hold her down." Turning her gaze toward the bard she said, "Gabrielle, help her. I don't want her to move while I am doing this."
Eponin watched the woman in amazement. Gabrielle smiled reassuringly all the while knowing that if anyone would be able to remove the arrow it would be Xena. She had seen Xena do wonders on the battle field and knew she was capable. Xena surveyed the reddened area as she began to wipe the blood away. Finding the arrow entrance and part of the shaft she closed her eyes as if in her own silent prayer. Picking up the knife she began to cut back skin. Finally able to grasp the shaft she said, "Turn her onto her left side and hold on tight." Grasping the shaft Xena gave one strong push sending the arrow through the skin on Melosa's back.
She brushed back the perspiration that was falling toward her eyes. Grabbing a thick rag she grasped the poker sending it deep into the wound. Gabrielle and Eponin turned their head trying to get away from the smell of burning flesh. Melosa had moaned but never woke up and for this Xena was thankful. The pain the woman would have felt would not have been pleasant as she had gone though that a long time ago, when that one stray arrow had found its mark in her abdomen. She grabbed a flask of ale and began to pour it into the wound. "Eponin, you can bandage her up now and make sure she stays still. I've done all I can." She picked up the arrowhead, staring at it. Gabrielle wrapped her right arm around the woman's waist as she said, "Brings back bad memories?"
Xena laid the arrowhead down as she turned and gazed into her concerned friends eyes, "A time I would soon forget. The only memory I was having, I had wished you had been there to see me through it."
Gabrielle replied, "Me too." The two turned and left the room. Walking past the two women guards, Gabrielle shook her head as she said, "I will never get used to this Princess bit. I don't think anyone needs to bow to anyone, do you? We are all equals only some more so."
Xena poked Gabrielle in the side as she said, "I believe you just answered your own question..."
Gabrielle ran after her saying, "What? Now you've become an Oracle?" Eponin found them setting outside talking to several of the other Amazons. She walked over to them and said, "A room has been prepared for the two of you in the Queens cave. Please feel free to retire there and I have sent water for you to bath in and food to eat." As Eponin walked away Gabrielle turned to Xena and said, "Why did she give me that look when she mentioned the food? You eat too."
Xena laughed as she said, "I don't know about you, but I am tired and I need to clean up and something to eat sounds heavenly. Let's go."
Gabrielle scrambled to her feet as she called out after the woman, "Wait up, your right it all sounds scrumptious. Xena..."
After she had refreshed herself, Gabrielle was laying on a bed of lush fur going over the day's activities. Xena listened to her friend intently as the bard tried to find reason with everything that had happened. Gabrielle sat up as she said, "I wonder if they have a piece of parchment here? I need to write out a plan."
Xena raised an eyebrow as she asked, "A plan? What are you talking about?"
Gabrielle answered, "You know like I always do with the pros and cons and what we are going to do first." Xena had been drying her hands as she tossed the towel at Gabrielle and said, "And do I ever listen to you?"
Gabrielle caught the towel and tossed it back at Xena, she thought for a second then said, "Sometimes...You listened to me about the mirrors."
Xena plopped down by Gabrielle as she said, "Seems we argued a bit over that one and it was just easier to let you have your way. If you remember we couldn't use them." Gabrielle had found a bowl of fruit and was consuming the cherries as she said, "Must have had these for the festival. They are very hard to get your know."
Xena had found a chicken leg and was eating it as she said, "Go easy on those. Too much can cause problems."
Gabrielle replied, "Something this good, could not cause problems."
Xena smiled, "Don't say I didn't warn you." I've been thinking Gabrielle, we don't need to devise a plan, The only thing we need to do is get Ephiny and the others back without harm coming to them."
The bard looked at her and asked, "And how are we going to do that, without a plan?"
Xena poured a chalice of port and after taking a long drink she said, "The plan is for you to stay here, someone has to help Queen Melosa and the others. While she is unable to rule they will be looking to you for guidance."
Gabrielle jumped to her feet towering over Xena she said, "Oh no! I will not be left behind. Eponin can handle the guidance just fine. There is nothing more we can do for Queen Melosa and you may need me." Xena looked up at the fire spiting from the bard's, blue green eyes as she thought back to a time when Gabrielle had entered her camp at night. She was alone and frightened but even then the bard would not admit it. Defiant, yes! When she had told her she was going back home she had actually stood up to Xena, telling her, 'If she sent her back, she wouldn't stay.'
Xena had even sensed that Argo was enjoying the fact that the young woman was handling the warrior like a piece of clay in her hands. Molding her in her own way and Xena seemed to be loving every minute of it. What a change from cold, callused Warlord, to the person she had become and she knew she owed most of it to the delightful woman who was enjoying standing above her dictating to the warrior.
Xena continued to chew on the leg and when she finished she laid the remains down and said, "Point well taken. Not only do the Amazons need you, so do I, and I will not take a chance at losing you to the likes of Krispies and Santos."
Gabrielle fumed and stammered, "I don't believe it is your choice. If I wish to go, then it is mine, and besides, we both know we are an unstoppable team."
Xena reached up with her right hand and said, "Take my hand, and come back down here with me. We need to be on an even plane."
Gabrielle obliged and as she sat down she said, "This is not fair Xena, I was feeling pretty confident up there with you down here."
Xena stared into her friends eyes as she said, "Try to understand, if I should lose you again I couldn't stand the dark that would follow. They have been here already, Krispies and Santos odds of them coming back are almost none. You would be safer here."
Gabrielle gripped Xena's hand tighter as she replied, "I can't live that way, with you always afraid something will happen to me. We are equals... Well in most things and you will need a back up. Don't even try to argue Xena, it won't do you any good. Now enough said, I am turning in, good night." Xena had the look on her face, she had experienced many times, when the bard had thrown her a curve. It was a look of wonder and amazement at how well the bard was telling her just how it was going to be.
She smiled down at Gabrielle and replied, "Good night, get a good night's sleep, we will be leaving at first light."
Gabrielle was laying on her left side as her lips curled up into a very satisfied smile.
Continued in Chapter Three