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A Yard of Justice

Part Two

by Tim Boothby

Note: All disclaimers and credits from Part One still apply!


Ares appeared in his temple, his priests pointed wildly at a man seated in the tall chair that overlooked his altar. His chair, the old bastard was sitting in his chair. Ares roared incoherently in his rage and pulled his sword. Garen rose slowly from the throne and cast aside his cloak. He was again clad in his full armor, he drew his own blade.

"You've been looking for me," Garen commented. "Any particular reason why?" He walked down the stairs and stood, waiting, thirty feet from the enraged immortal.

"You will pay, old man."

"For what?" Garen asked intently.

"You have mocked me, old man. No one does that."

Garen laughed quietly. 'Xena, it has begun,' he called with his thoughts.

'Where are you' Her voice called out to him.

'I am in his temple,' He answered.

'That's not good,' Gabrielle interrupted. 'Get out of there.'

'No,' Garen rejected the idea. 'The die has been cast, and I must see this through.'

'I'm coming,' Xena's thought was firm.

'We're coming,' Gabrielle's thought was like iron.

'It is too dangerous,' Garen objected.

'Then bring us,' Gabrielle's demanded.

'Very well,' Garen surrendered. 'You have a few moments to prepare.'

'We're ready now,' Xena assured him.

Ares didn't notice their appearance. "Well, old man," He taunted. "Are you ready to face a god?"

"If that's what it takes," Garen walked toward him. "If that is what you want, then lay on, old boy. I'm right here."

"And I'm right here," Xena's voice was harsh.

Ares turned and saw her standing behind him. He stood in the middle, Garen in front of him, the Warrior and the Bard to his rear. "Wait your turn," He snapped at them, and advanced upon Garen.

Garen watched him carefully, suddenly the god leapt, a spinning flip that took him directly over his head. Garen's blade flicked up and deflected a blow aimed directly at his head. "Energetic," He smiled at his dark clad opponent.

"You will kneel before me, old man." Ares taunted him. "First I will beat you down, then I will break you."

"You are mistaken," Garen smiled grimly. "I pay homage to ideals, not men."

"I told you, I'm not a man..."

"Oh yes," Garen interrupted him. "I'd forgotten that, no you could never be a man."

Ares charged directly at his opponent, they exchanged a long series of blows. The strength and speed of Ares matched by the experience of the armored knight. They separated a bit and circled each other. Ares sword began a series of blazing movements. Garen ignored the blade, his eyes bored deeply into those of his opponent. "Why this fascination," Garen's voice was probing. "First with Xena, and then with me. Why do you interfere in lives that want no part of you."

"Xena is mine," He shouted. "I decide when it is over."

"No," Gabrielle shouted. "Her life is hers to decide, and she decided to leave you."

"Xena is mine, she gave herself to me and I will have her back," Ares hissed.

"I served you, Ares." Xena's voice was low and full of loathing. "But I was never yours, you can't own a person."

"I do as I will," He proclaimed. "I am Ares, God of War. What are you to that?"

"I am Xena of Amphipolis," She answered. "And I belong to no one, man or god."

"Your turn will come," He warned her and unleashed another series of blows at his opponent. Garen deftly turned them aside ending with a ringing blow that smashed aside the sword of Ares.

"You have some talent," Garen acknowledged. "But I don't think that you have the strength to win."

"You are mad," Ares laughed.

"In order to win you must be willing to lose, you must be willing to die." Garen's voice was steady and confident. "I have wagered my life on this contest, are you willing to do the same?"

"I cannot die," Ares sneered.

"Then this will be a painful lesson for you," Garen smiled. His blade lashed out with incredible speed, and step by step he forced the god back toward his altar. Garen's blade tore the leather from the shoulder of the god of war. Ares countered, his sword punched through the armor at Garen's hip. Blood flowed down his leg, but he still pressed forward. Ares' eyes were wild, the skin gaped raggedly open at his left shoulder, and blood poured from the wound.

"Impossible," His voice was wild.

"No," Garen disagreed. "Before you have always healed as soon as the bow was struck. This wound will not heal, except with time. How does it feel, then? Do you feel the mortality that I have shown you? Exhilarating isn't it?"

Behind him he could hear Aeneas and his mercenaries pour into the temple. Xena and Gabrielle turned to face them. Garen pressed his advantage, Ares was unused to physical pain and was devastated by the sight of his own blood. The knight slapped aside the next blow, his sword plunged into the god, straight through the middle, and below the heart. The sword fell from Ares' grasp and Garen forced him through the ground.

Xena saw her opponents freeze in horror. She turned and saw Ares pinned to the ground by the sword of Garen. She recovered quickly and waded through the demoralized Persians. They scattered before her until she stood before Ares' Spartan. He attacked savagely, but she was in no mood for swordplay, her bright blade bore down upon him with such speed that it appeared to leave a trail of flame. Aeneas raised his sword to parry, but it shattered, his last sight was a fiery comet of death. Her stroke tore through her opponent, splitting his skull and his body nearly to the waist.

"Run while you can," She screamed at the band of mercenaries. They recoiled in horror from the warrior standing before them, Aeneas' blood dripped from her sword, her armor and her face. The stories of a Warrior Princess that drank the blood of her enemies appeared to have come true, before their eyes. They cast aside their weapons and fled. A slayer of gods and a Warrior Princess were too terrifying to contemplate together.

Xena turned her attention back toward Garen. Ares lay on the ground, staring in amazement at the weapon that emerged from his body. Blood poured from his mouth, will and raw power sustained him, he waited for the old man to finish it. A simple twist of the sword would tear his heart and end his life. Then she heard a now familiar noise that she'd first detected in her camp. Strife appeared behind Garen with a long, ugly knife in his hand.

She threw herself into action, launching herself in a long twisting leap that placed her between Strife and Garen's broad, unprotected back. Her sword flashed, leaving a long thin line across the leather over the belly of the lesser god. His eyes grew wide, he dropped the knife and grabbed at his abdomen with both hands. Blood trickled from between his clenched fingers, and he faded from view. Escaping from the blood streaked warrior that caused him such harm. She stood back-to back with Garen, ready for whatever came next.

"HOLD!" A huge voice called from the doorway. Garen glanced back and saw the robed figure of a man, even older in appearance than he, standing in the door. He could also feel great power emanating from him.

"Zeus," Xena greeted him neutrally.

"Xena," He returned her greeting. "What have you done now?"

"What have I..."

"She has done nothing," Garen interrupted. "What has been done here has been by my hand."

"And you are?"

"Here I am called Garen."

"Withdraw your blade, Garen. Your point is well made."

Gabrielle watched with mixed emotions as Garen's bloody blade was withdrawn from the defeated god of war. "I did not wish for it to go this far," Garen told the wounded figure. "I warned you, time and again and you continued to press the issue."

Zeus stared at his fallen son. "I warned you as well, leave Xena alone, she will be your ruin. Witness now the price of your folly." He passed a hand over him, and Ares faded from view. Only his blood remained upon the rough stones of the floor.

"Xena had no part in this," Garen defended his friend. "What happened here was between your son and myself. My association with Xena was at first happenstance, and then friendship."

"Yes," Zeus agreed. "I have witnessed this." Zeus walked to a low bench and seated himself. "You too bear a wound," He noted.

"It is of no moment," Garen disregarded his bloody side. "I have suffered worse, and will do so again."

"You are a strange man," Zeus examined him carefully.

"So I've been told," Garen smiled.

"You have great power."

"It has been mentioned before," Garen admitted modestly.

"You are a soldier?"

"Yes," Garen answered.

"You take orders from... mortals?"

"Yes," Garen admitted. "And issue them to those that serve under my command."

"With your power, you could rule over them," Zeus said carefully. "Have you not considered the good that you could do, with all of your people bound to your will. Your ideals would be embraced by all."

"I have been offered the throne," Garen stated. "I refused it. The authority of a throne in the hands of a person with power and longevity is a formula for tyranny. Slavery and tyranny are the bane of my existence, I will strike down either where I may find it."

"Half of Olympus calls for me to strike you down," Zeus stared at him intently. "End your threat here and now."

"Perhaps, you could," Garen conceded. "But how many of your children would die with me. I am willing to kill and die for what I stand for, are they willing to do the same."

"What are your plans?" Zeus ignored the implied threat.

"I wish to rest for a few days, and then return to my homeland." Garen regarded the king of the gods. "I find Greece to be an interesting place, but it is not my home."

"If you depart, will you ever return?"

"Only if I were asked to by a friend," Garen glanced at Xena and Gabrielle. "There is little that I would not do for a friend."

"Then Garen," He extended a hand toward the soldier. "I bid you rest and recuperate, and then I bid you a good journey."

Garen accepted the hand and clasped it warmly. "I hope that your son recovers, and learns from this."

"He should recover, in time, but I hold out no hope that he'll learn." Zeus shook his head in exasperation. "Have you any children?"

"Sixty-three," Garen admitted. "But only four are still with me, the others passed long ago."

"Then, perhaps, you know the difficulties of a father with headstrong children," Zeus nodded and faded from view.

"By thunder," Garen released a tense breath. "There is one that I wouldn't like to trifle with." He regarded the Warrior and Bard fondly. Xena wiped distastefully at the blood that covered her from head to toe. Gabrielle, again wearing the chain that he had presented her, was pale. She was horrified by what she had witnessed, and for what she had wished. "Come," He said gently. "To the baths with us all."

They used the large bathhouse behind the inn, screens had been placed to allow all three to enjoy the tubs at the same time. Garen sat in the smaller tub, he let the steaming water clean the deep gash at his hip. Xena and Gabrielle enjoyed the large tub, reciting the details of the battle. "Gabrielle," He interrupted her. "If we traded that many blows to the body I would be in bed for a week."

They shared a laugh together, then the room grew silent. For several long moments the room remained still, Gabrielle finally broke the quiet. "Garen?" She asked tentatively.

"Something bothers you Gabrielle?"

"You had him, he was down and helpless and you could have killed him, but you didn't."

"No," Garen admitted. "I didn't." He thought for a moment, searching for the right words. "This is not my world, and I feel a responsibility not to alter the fundamentals that is the basis of your society. You, as a people, still feel that you need these gods. For me to kill one of them could cause irreparable harm to your development as a people. I could not avoid him, I knew that he would start taking action to force me out to face him, so I chose the ground for that meeting. I wasn't able to reason with him, I suppose that I really didn't try. He was determined to finish me in a fight, he forgot that I had some say in the matter. I finished the fight, but unless he forced me I had no need to kill him."

"But would have killing him have been so wrong?"

"Only if that was the only way for me to defend myself," Garen's voice was firm. "There used to be a saying, where I'm from, that there are two kinds of justice: The justice of truth, and justice by the yard. The first is the just trial for crimes, meeting one's accuser and guilt or innocence decided fairly. The second is when the bounds of justice are exceeded. The only trial given then would be by the yard. A yard of steel, from the sword of those that felt wronged. It could also be a yard of knots, the scourge held in the hand of one that imposed his will upon another. Even more common was a yard of shaft, an arrow placed from a distance by those that felt that they couldn't win by any other means. If my life could be spared only by taking his, I would have done so. But, to finish him when he was helpless, who am I to give a yard of justice?"

"Xena was right bout one thing," Gabrielle sighed.

"Only one?" Xena teased her.

"You know what I mean," Gabrielle said defensively.

"What was that 'one thing'?" Garen prompted her.

"Our lives aren't as complicated as we thought, you really do have problems that we are better off without."

"Gabrielle," Xena said thoughtfully. "You were asleep when I said that, or you were supposed to be."

"Oh," The Bard smiled weakly. "Was I, are you sure about that? After all so much..."

Her comment was interrupted, seconds later Garen heard splashing and sputtering. "Done rinsing your hair?" He asked innocently. He and Xena shared a laugh at her expense.

He soon missed the warmth of the bath. The table that he lay upon was cold and rough. Two large bathing sheets gave him the illusion of modesty, it didn't change the fact that his hind quarters were bare and facing two ladies. Again he felt the sting. "Ouch," He winced in pain.

"Oh, quit whining," Xena scolded him.

"That damned well hurts."

"Swords don't bother you, but needles do?" Xena laughed.

"Yes! The needle comes after the fight, during the fight I don't really notice the sword."

"Battle rage?" Gabrielle asked.

"Idiocy," He corrected. "Ow, damnation! I hope that you are enjoying this."

"Oh, yeah, the sight of your hairy butt, really does me in," Xena teased him. She poured a small amount of Asinius' elixir over the area.

"Ow, no, that feels better," Garen sighed in relief.

"Yeah, it numbs the area," Xena covered it in a compress and sat him up to wrap a bandage around his hips to hold it securely in place.

"You couldn't have used it first?"

"I thought that a big strong man like you could take an itty-bitty needle," Xena smiled.

"It didn't feel all that itty-bitty when it was harpooning my arse!" Garen protested.

"Hip," Xena corrected.

Garen stared at her with affectionate irritation. "This explains why you are a warrior," He grumbled.

"Why is that?" She smiled sweetly.

"Because your bed-side manner is atrocious."

"Poor baby," She rubbed his cheek softly. She and Gabrielle left the room giggling wickedly at his surliness.

Xena woke the next morning to the sound of movement in the hall. She entangled herself from the sleeping Bard and cracked open the door. Two heavily laden lugged Garen's gear toward the stairs. She returned to the bed and shook Gabrielle gently. "Wake up," She shook her again gently. "I think that Garen is leaving."

Gabrielle scurried from under the blankets. They changed out of their sleeping attire quickly and left the room. Garen stood, dressed for travel, in the center of his room. He was speaking quietly to the innkeeper and slipped him several coins. He saw their arrival and smiled warmly. "Are you up to a very short trip?"

Xena looked at Gabrielle, both nodded and went to pack.

"Excellent," He smiled again and turned to the innkeeper. "If you could see to their things as well?"

They rode through the streets of Athens. Garen paid close attention to his route, finally stopping at the gate of a small house. It was small but beautifully situated in a grove of trees at the city's edge. It was surrounded by a low ivy covered wall and beautiful gardens. He dismounted and walked to the door and opened it, standing in the entrance.

"I've rented it from the innkeeper for a month," He explained as they examined the interior. "Stay for as long as you can stand to be still, but if you leave early get the rest of the money from the innkeeper for travel funds." He rubbed his hand along the door frame. "Or tell him that it is a down-payment, and you may buy this place as a refuge."

"Why are you doing this," Xena asked.

"I would do far more for a friend, perhaps I am not doing enough." Garen met her gaze. "Pardon my presumption, but I believe that this is what you need. A few weeks of rest, and peace." He pushed the door fully open. "Gabrielle, why don't you look it over."

The small blond saw the look in his eye, she smiled as she entered the house. Garen opened a pouch at his belt. He removed a smooth crystal orb and presented it to Xena. "Use this with one that you trust. Not necessarily today, or this week or even this year. Use it if you cannot bring yourself to reveal your life to her." He glanced into the house. "She is stronger than you think, she has the mettle to see what you were and knows what you are now. You seek redemption, but it you will not find it alone. You have the strength necessary for war, now you must discover that you have the strength to find peace."

"This will open up my past?"

"Yes, it will allow you both to see your past, and share your thoughts. It may be used one time only, I suggest that you make the most of that time."

"And the sword?" Xena asked. "What can it do?"

"As I said," Garen answered. "It draws its abilities from you, it is a battle-partner more than a weapon. You may have need of these abilities."

"You trust someone with my past with a weapon like that?"

"No," Garen disagreed. "I trust a weapon like this to someone with your future."

"And if I am not that person, yet?"

"Then you may want to keep it somewhere safe, until you feel that you are ready." Garen smiled slightly.

"Does it really have the power to kill a god?"

"No," He answered thoughtfully. "But, judging by the cut that you marked Ares' sycophant with, you do."

"Ares," She sighed. "I'll see more of him after this."

"Yes, and for that I am sorry. Would it have been easier if I'd killed him?"

"No, better one god after me then all of them after all people everywhere." She considered it for a moment. "Besides, he's madder at you than me."

"Pity that he won't get a rematch." Garen smiled. "But, you will see him again, he's convinced that you present him with three possibilities: You'll come back to him, you'll overthrow him, or you'll be killed. One possibility thrills him, the second terrifies him and the third saddens him."

"You saw that?"

"And more," He admitted. "It's amazing how a yard of steel standing from one's chest can disrupt any attempts to shield thoughts."

"Is it easy for you to read people's thoughts?"

"Sometimes it's too easy," He admitted. "I don't really like to do it, but sometimes I find it necessary."

"Like you did when we first met?"

"Yes," He muttered. He looked at her, conflict waged in his eyes. Finally he opened a window between them. She was surprised to learn that she was seeing into his mind. First and foremost she could see that he was definitely a soldier. His very being was tightly wrapped in his sense of duty. His thoughts showed her the armies that he'd commanded, the sovereigns that he'd served, and the men and women that he'd served with. She was relieved to see the women in armor and uniforms like those that she'd glimpsed him wearing. She admitted to herself that she had doubted this part of his story. She could hear Garen laughing.

'You can't really blame me,' She thought defensively.

'No,' He admitted. 'You are a product of your world, and here women are viewed as lesser people. My homeland is not perfect, and there are those that think like the men that you know, but they are an ever shrinking minority.'

Then he showed her the battle that he'd served, most as a commander. She marveled at the vast size of the armies involved, hundreds of thousands strove for dominance upon many fields of battle. She witnessed the injustices that drove him, felt his rage over them, felt his exultation in battle as his enemies were defeated. Battles, literally by the hundreds, yet he still maintained his sense of compassion and justice. There were glimpses of fury finally uncaged, and the slaughter of enemies upon the field. His guilt and sorrow that he felt for the losses of both sides. He was a complex man. He strongly desired peace, but served under arms for twelve centuries. He had strong physical urges, but never found a love to rival that for a wife that lost to him for centuries past. She found, with amusement that he had been strongly attracted to Gabrielle and herself at first sight, but these feelings were pushed aside by affection and respect.

He was not a man that accepted or gave friendship, but he had found much in both that he admired. She was fascinated that he viewed them almost as a single entity. In her he saw gentleness and compassion wrapped in, and hidden by strength. In Gabrielle he saw the exact opposite. Fair and soft on the outside, but there was surprising strength beneath the surface. She could not find any instance where he saw them as separate people. She was surprised to find that he could not imagine them apart. She could feel his humor as she sorted her own thoughts.

She resumed her exploration of the man that she found so much like her, yet so different. Always in his thoughts was the one love of his life. Gone for so long, yet she held his thoughts and love despite the passage of time. In his mind he had been unfaithful to her many times, these relationships were spread far apart, always short lived, and always raised guilt.

Then she saw his dark side. The battle with his father, a self-proclaimed god and emperor. They battled savagely with both magic and physical forces. She felt his triumph, anguish and even the physical sensation of his sword shattered his father's helmet. These feelings rose again centuries later as he felled the twin brother that had claimed the titles of their father.

He was a man of great heart and compassion, but a man capable of incredible violence. She saw the battles that he'd waged against those that he called 'slave-lords'. Bandits, slavers, and tyrants, he opposed all with bloody savagery. 'A gentle barbarian,' She teased him, but there was also respect in that thought. Slowly he untangled their mingled thoughts, separating each into their respective identities.

"Thank-you," She breathed heavily as she emerged.

"You are most welcome."

She looked at him with new eyes. "I'm not sure why you did that," She admitted.

"Perhaps, over time you will understand," He regarded her fondly. "There are other reasons, but first and foremost among them is that there is little that I won't do for a friend."

She contemplated his words, and the memories that they had shared. "Garen," She asked slowly. "What if you had met me as a warlord."

"You know the answer to that," Garen evaded.

"Garen," She looked at him sternly.

"Xena, if we had met in your past," He chose his words carefully. "I am sworn to oppose tyrants. I have no polite term for what you were. Yes, I've seen what you were in your mind. But, more importantly, I see what you are now, in your soul."

Xena's face was troubled, but she mastered her uncertainty as Gabrielle returned to the common room. "It's perfect!" She told Xena.

Garen nodded and smiled. "I'm happy that you like it." He looked to his restive horses. "I'm not comfortable with good-byes, so lets just have done with it," His voice was thick. He extended a hand toward Xena, she brushed it aside and hugged him fiercely. He returned the embrace, they were both reluctant to break from each other. She kissed him gently. "I can't thank you enough," She said simply.

"You already have," He sighed.

Gabrielle stepped between them and she too was reluctant to release the old soldier. "Two kisses in one morning," He joked weakly. "Perhaps leave-taking isn't as horrible as I remember.

He swung easily into the saddle and waved to them, with a grand flourish he reared his mount as they faded from view.

"Good-bye, Garen," Xena sighed as she turned toward the small house, still bearing the small orb.

He was weary as he rode through the gates of the capitol. He returned the salutes of the soldiers guarding the city gate with the ease of long years of practice. He nodded heavily as he rode through the city, finally jolting to full consciousness as he realized that his horse had brought him home.

"Welcome home, My Lord," A saddler sergeant greeted him. "You've been gone long, we've missed you."

"Sergeant Coraman," Garen greeted him fondly. "How is your family?"

"Very well, My Lord," He smiled, obviously cheered by the attention of such a person. "Your rooms await you, and of course you are invited to the company mess."

"Perhaps after some sleep," Garen groaned as he dismounted.

"Of course, My Lord," Coraman smiled. "I'll see to your mounts."

"Thank-you, Sergeant," He yawned. "Grain them well, they've earned it this trip."

"You've been far then?"

"Perhaps the longest trip of my life," He staggered into the huge palace that formed the headquarters of his order. He was home.

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