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EXTREME VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of extreme violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
CHAPTER 1 Pericles, the Chief Strategist of the Board of Ten Generals couldn't believe his great fortune! "Athena has truly smiled upon us this day" he told the assembly. "We must immediately make tribute to 'Our Lady' at once"!
The discovery of this new vein of silver was indeed wonderful news and would most likely get the Assembly off of his back for a time. Recently, there'd been some grumbling among some of the Assemblymen about the lack of increased revenues. They all had projects that they wanted to begin or complete, and were putting pressure on him to somehow provide those revenues. There was the Athenian military machine to consider as well! New garrisons were being built in Hellesport, the Navy was in dire need of replacement triremes which had sunk during the last skirmishes with the Persians.. 'Ah well', he thought. 'Ask and you will receive'.
He returned to his stateroom and sat at his desk to consider his plans. A knock came on the door followed by a voice from outside. "M'lord"?
Pericles studied the maps on the table. "Enter"!
The door opened and in walked General Baruch; a large, battle-scarred brutish looking man with full dark beard. Baruch sported an eyepatch over one eye, a casualty of his battles during the Persian conflicts.
"Ah...Baruch"! Pericles grinned. "Come to claim your share of the new revenues, my friend"? "Not yet" the old warrior chuckled. "But I do need to talk with you about a few things regarding the matter.
Pericles nodded and Baruch pointed to the large map of Greece. "The mine is located here, in the disputed territory between Attica and Corinth. King Milos of Corinth has pretty much ignored our presence there, mainly due to the fact that going to war over such a small section of land really hasn't been worth the effort".
Pericles poured a drink. "Yeah, I know".
Baruch continued. "Yes, well if word leaks out about our little discovery, then Milos might decide that the disputed land is worth fighting over after all! He could very well move his troops into the region and seize the mine"!
Pericles hadn't thought of this! His mind raced! "That area is pretty easily defended too isn't it"?
Baruch nodded "Yes M'lord. And if he gains control of it, we might never see those revenues without an all-out assault of the mountain pass"!
"You speak the truth old friend. But what are we to do? If we move troops into the region around the mine, Milos can claim that we are massing troops on his border in preparation for an invasion of Corinth! He'll use it as an excuse to declare war and Sparta would probably ally themselves with Corinth"!
"They most certainly would"! mused the old general. "And that would be a catastrophe"!
Pericles paced the stateroom for several minutes. He'd already told the Assembly about a mine, but he didn't say where it was located, though they'd want to know. Perhaps he could stall them.
"Our best bet", Baruch offered "would be to clamp a lid on this tightly. At least until we can get a better handle on the operation".
"Yeah". Pericles considered his options for a moment and then said "Ok. Take a brigade of hoplite soldiers to the quarry, round up everyone there and move them out"!
"Yes, M'lord" Baruch said. "What should we do with them"?
"Reassign them elsewhere. Send them to the far reaches of the empire". Pericles stood up. "We can get hand-picked men to run the operation from now on".
General Baruch saluted his commander and left swiftly to carry out the order. By dawn the quarry would be occupied entirely by new people; a tribute to Athenian efficiency!
As Pericles put away the maps and left for his own villa, he failed to see the dark figure hiding in the shadows just outside his stateroom window. Or the dead hoplite soldier that lay on the ground at his feet.
"Yes, your majesty" said the trembling man as he stood before King Gilos of Corinth.
Gilos, his mind racing, looked at the man quivering before him. "You're sure about this? The Athenians have a silver mine in the disputed territory"?
"It is as I've said Sire. My agents have reported that a huge vein has been discovered in the mountains above the village of Mylea, in Attica".
Gilos' eyes gleamed at the prospect. With the mine in the disputed territory, it would be an easy matter to make a series of swift raids and seize the ore. Unfortunately that would mean a war with Athens that he could never hope to win. Not without help.
He briefly considered asking Sparta for aid, but quickly rejected the idea. The Spartans would not commit troops without good cause. He needed a way to force Pericles to move his troops into the area first! Then, he could claim Athens intended to invade Corinth and enlist the aid of Sparta. Those fools will do anything to war with Athens!
He scratched his head. But how to do that?
Then he had an idea! One which hit him with the force of a bright light, shattering the darkness.
"Get me Antemas" he barked.
The trembling man balked. "Antemas? The Warlord"?
"You heard me" the king replied coolly.
Antemas would solve his problems. He would pay the Warlord to seize the quarry for him! Then, just to make sure it looked good, he'd get Antemas to sweep down and raid a few of his own villages! He could claim that the Athenians made the raids, Sparta would come to the aid of Corinth and Gilos would have his mine!
He laughed at the simple brilliance of it all!
"Xena, I know the Athenians are snooty, but couldn't we just spend a couple of days there"? Gabrielle said breathlessly as she chased after her friend. "The Festival of Dionysus is being held this week and I'd like to be there".
Xena rolled her eyes at the prospect of the crowded city streets. "I suppose we can spend a day or so there.... If we must".
She hated Athens. She felt much more at home out in the open countryside, rather than packed in like rats, behind walls with thousands of other people. Everyday there featured another fine example of man's inhumanity to man. Still, seeing Gabrielle brighten at the thought of visiting Athens made her own discomfort fade.
"Really! We can go"? Gabrielle pranced around Argo and began to hum. Xena smiled inwardly. "Yes, but only for a couple of days, then we're leaving. Got it"?
Gabby never heard her. She couldn't wait to go to the Agora and see all the the wares from exotic foreign countries. "Maybe I can find a new scroll case from Egypt! I've always wanted one"!
Xena laughed. "Yeah. You know, you could use a bath too"!
Gabrielle feigned offense. "Me? What about you"? she grabbed Xena's hand. "Just look at your nails! A manicure wouldn't hurt you one bit".
The two laughed and chatted as they walked, Gabrielle playfully teasing her friend about her dirty nails and Xena , patiently enduring it all.
The afternoon shadows were growing long as the two descended into the valley and through a small stand of trees. Gabrielle was still talking about the bazaar and the price of eggs in Carthage, but at this point, it was little more than a faint buzzing in Xena's ear.
Suddenly Xena stopped short, holding out a hand to silence her companion. Something wasn't right.
"What's wrong Xena"? Gabrielle readied her battlestaff. "Listen", whispered the warrior. "Do you hear anything"?
Gabrielle listened hard. She quieted her breathing, like Xena had taught her, and scanned the area. There were no birds singing, so there was a good chance something had startled them. Of course, it could be that she and Xena had been the ones to startle the birds. She was just about to tell her when she heard it! Faint conversation and scattered laughter coming from up ahead on the road!
Before she could speak, Xena had thrust Argo's reigns into her hand and raced on ahead! Gliding along with the speed and grace of a panther, Xena closed the distance between herself and her prey. She had already decided trouble was brewing, for she could hear the faint sounds of steel being slid into or out of a scabbard. Also, there was the labored breathing, the tell-tale death-rattle of the dying! She knew this without having seen anything.
Rounding the bend, Xena slowed and crept silently forward. She clearly hear the laughter now and the death-rattle had silenced. Peeking around a tree, she saw five warrior, mercenaries by the look of them, picking through the remains of a couple of wagons. Quickly scanning the area, she took note that all of the drivers and guards had been slain. The five bandits seemed oblivious to her presence. That was good. She had them just where she wanted them!
Xena knew she should probably wait for Gabrielle to help her, but she could finish this more quickly and easily without her. Not that the girl was a liability. Far from it! Gabrielle had become a fine warrior in her own right! But Gabby always gave her "that look" when Xena really punished her opponent.
"Jeeze, why does she do that" she wondered. It really forced her to adopt a completely different, and less lethal, fighting style, thus it was much like fighting with one hand tied behind her back.
'Oh well' she thought. 'Maybe I can finish this before Gabrielle gets here'.
The brigands didn't see the grim-faced warrioress stalking them. By the time they did....it was too late. She was upon them!
"Hello boys". She smiled as her blade screamed and arced neatly through the first man's torso! He dropped without a sound. The others, startled at the sight of this snarling, slashing warrior that had appeared from nowhere, were slow to react. It would cost them dearly.
Xena's first slash had sent her body into a left to right revolving motion, so she followed through with a spinning round house kick. She felt the second man's teeth and the cartilage in his nose break and crunch as she drove her heel into his face! She smiled with satisfaction as he sank like a stone.
The remaining three men, sensing the death that was about to befall them, finally went into action. Weapons drawn, they charged the she-demon. Xena kicked the ground hard, launching herself above the brigands. Letting her momentum carry her into a mid air tumble, she lashed out in a downward motion with her sword. The tip bit neatly through the helm of the man in the middle, splitting his skull and killing him before he hit the ground!
Xena landed and immediately sprang backwards into another tumble. The two brigands had recovered and were just turning to ace her when Xena's heels smashed into both of them! She felt the jaw of one snap and come unhinged as her foot smashed into his mouth, snapping his neck!
The other man was more fortunate. Her aim was a bit off and her boot struck him in the chest, sending him flying backward. He managed to lash out with his sword and gash open her thigh before hitting the ground.
Gabrielle arrived in time to see the man regain his feet and run. Xena calmly reached for her Chakram and sent it flying. It screamed through the air and imbedded itself into the man's left leg, causing him to shriek in agony! Xena raised an eyebrow at the sight. It had very nearly severed the fool's leg!
"Xena"! Gabrielle's shout froze Xena in her tracks.
Gabby surveyed the carnage before her. Five men lie on the ground. One with his entrails spilling out, his left arm twitching. Another, his face a bloody mess, lie moaning by the wagon. The third, his helm split as well as his skull. The fourth lie motionless with his jaw agape and neck twisted at an odd angle. The fifth lie shrieking several feet away tugging frantically at the chakram. There were also the overturned carts and the families and guards to whom the carts belonged.
"Why didn't ya just kill these two as well"! Gabrielle said as she went to the man by the wagon.
"Stay away from him"! barked the Warrioress as she tied a rag around her thigh to stem the flow of blood. "He's still dangerous".
"I'd say all he wants now is to go home". Gabrielle sighed. "I swear Xena! Sometimes I think you enjoy punishing these brigands"!
Xena rolled her eyes and mumbled "oh boy! Here we go again".
Gabrielle wasn't finished though. "You know, if you are going to be this ruthless, why not kill them all! How many puppies did you kick on your way here this morning"?
"A couple" replied Xena as she walked toward the man still tugging at her chakram. "Besides, I needed answers from one of these guys".
"You would have me show mercy to those who would show no mercy themselves"? she indicated the dead families. "I don't think so".
Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena, someone's got to stop the cycle of killing".
'Ah nuts'! Xena said to herself. 'There she goes with that 'Cycle' thing again'.
She walked up to the man, grasped the chakram and placed a boot on his bleeding leg. He looked at her and whimpered. Xena looked him in the eyes, smiled and tugged!
Hot waves of intense agony swept over the screaming man as the chakram came free. "Thank...you"! Xena said, putting the emphasis on the 'you'. The man passed out cold.
"Rats"! She exclaimed. "I didn't even get to ask him anything.
Xena walked over to the other man by the wagon. He was sitting up with his face in his hands and moaning softly. Xena snatched him up and slammed him into a tree.
"Listen worm"! she snapped. "If you think you're in pain now, you better think again! You haven't seen anything yet"!
She got right in his face, mixing her sweat with is. Her steel blue eyes cut into him like hot daggers. "I've got a thousand different ways to inflict excruciating pain on you, each one worse than the previous! So you better spill you guts before I rip 'em out with my hands and feed them to the crows"!
The terrified man's eyes grew wide and he began to shake uncontrollable.
"Good" replied Xena and she smiled . "I've got your attention".
Gabrielle watched as she tied a bandage on the leg of the other man. She hated this part of the job! She was glad Xena was so good at putting the fear of the gods into people because usually it meant that they talked without her having to rough them up more or put the pinch on them.
Xena continued. "Now... who's behind this little party you decided to have? Draco"?
"No"! the man stammered. "Not Draco".
"Who then! And mind you, if you lie to me..."
The terrified man, figuring death was upon him anyway spilled it his guts. "It was Antemas! We were paid to hit the villages and farms around here"!
"Antemas"! The mere name sent chills up Xena's spine!
The man nodded and began to cough up blood. Xena let him down. "Where is Antemas now"?
Xena took Argo's reigns and mounted once again. "Come on Gabrielle! We've got to hurry"!
Gabby was startled. "Where are we going"? "To Mylea". replied the warrioress. "Hurry up"!
"Why, what's in Mylea"?
"An old friend" said Xena, as she pulled Gabrielle up behind her and raced through the forest.