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Disclaimer: Xena Warrior Princess and its characters belong to MCA/Universal. This story is not intended to infringe on any copyright.
This story contains mild violence and death.
Life is only what you make of it,
Death is only what you've made,
Gabrielle sat, small and insignificant, in the seemingly vast Poteidaian village hall. She was huddled up against a cold wooden wall, feeling the chilling night draught curling its icy fingers through the gaps and clawing at her bare arms and shoeless toes. Her knees were drawn up close to her neck in a futile attempt to stop the shivering of her body and the numbing of her soul. She had to keep faith, had to keep hope alive...use it to fight the fear and hatred raging throughout her innermost being.
The silence was deafening. The room was crowded with over half the village and yet not a sound echoed through the still air. Mothers clasped young children, looks of grief and despair plaguing their faces as they wondered what future lay in front of them. Newly wedded women sat motionless, with glazed eyes as they pictured their beloved husbands with vain desire. Shattered families gathered together to draw support from those left, their closeness, simply the knowing of each others presence, bonding them stronger than any words.
And Gabrielle remained, detached and isolated, alone and separated, from those she knew and yet didn't recognise. She longed for her family, for the touch of her mother, friendly innocence of her younger sister and encouraging smile of her father.
A tear trickled down the solitary child's cheek as she saw his face burn in the flickering candle in front of her, her dreams and happiness rising up and evaporating into nothingness with the swirling wisps of smoke.
He would return to them, like the others who had decided to fight, he would return, Gabrielle reminded herself sternly as she repeated her mothers words in her mind. Yet still, she couldn't escape the feeling of unparalleled sorrow and sheer desolation which wrapped itself round her in a crushing python- like grip.
Suddenly her body tensed.
In her eyes the torch flames danced to the almost unheard, distant rumble. People huddled tighter together, a flock of sheep cornered by a pack of growling wolves. To her left a younger child whimpered, and was quickly silenced by its sibling. Beyond them an elderly priest knelt, murmuring prayers of mercy to the oblivious gods.
Gabrielle shrank back from the unnatural thunder, forcing her back harder up against the wall, willing her body to merge into the dark shadows. She buried her head in her knees and imagined her family returning from the distant horizon to find her battered body amidst the ruins of their home. Where was her guardian now? Where was he, as her heart began to pound in rhythm to the drum of hooves drawing ever-nearer towards them...?
The first battle-cry ripped through the air as fire burst up the far wall and started licking it's forked tongue at the thatch roof. Screams of fear within the hall combined with the shrieks of evil laughter from the blackness outside. The blaze engulfed all it touched, swallowing the end of room and forcing the villagers further back towards the door. Gabrielle moved with them, trying to find safety in the core of the herd, but instead found herself beaten to the ground as fire fell in torrents from the sky of smoke above.
She balled her body up on the cold floor in a futile attempt to protect herself from the onslaught of desperate, trampling feet.
But something outside had changed. The laughter had stopped to be replaced with cries of alarm as new swords were drawn.
Gabrielle's heart was suddenly released from its shroud and she gathered all her remaining strength to pull herself free of the chains of hopelessness. She rose from the ground as the villagers wrenched the door open and streamed out to risk their chances in the fight.
Out there were the missing members of the weeping families, the brave husbands of the silent brides, the hope which had been absent from so many minds.
Out there was her father.
Gabrielle stumbled out of death's howling jaws, only to face the snarling wolf pack of untamed warriors. They were, however, not interested in the shuddering young child who stood, fear-stricken yet awed, in the background.
Blades clashed as the men of the village used their hastily-acquired battle skills to defend their homes and families, revenge coursing through their blood like incurable poison. Gabrielle let out a gasp, half of horror, half of relief, as she realised her dad was one of them.
He parried and dodged as one of the enemy tried to gain an advantage, then blocked as his opponent thrust forward. The Raider twisted his wrist, knocking the sword from his rival and then grinned as he swung his blade across his foe in one sharp motion.
"NOOOO!" she screamed, but her voice was lost in the roar of the battle as he fell.
She rushed towards him through the smoky darkness, yet in doing so her foot caught an unseen object as she neared him, sending her crashing to the ground. Her arm seared with pain as it was thrown full-force on the unclaimed blade of a dagger. The blood poured from the deep gash and ran down her finger-tips, but still she kept going, kept dragging herself forwards.
She reached his side and collapsed. Her lungs burned with smoke, screaming for fresh air, and her eyes began to lose focus through blood-loss. Every muscle had been strained to its limit in her persistence, and now they blazed with furious pain.
With all her remaining effort she raised her head, her vision blurring with tears as she realised that hope had just been a mirage.
"Father..." she wept as she concealed her face in his shoulder, the blood from her wound mixing with his.
Above her the struggle continued.
The leading Raider, Jaygon, was still on his horse, using it with precision skill to manoeuvre while he fought. A break in the fighting gave him the chance to survey the situation. Fire was still burning where it could, but most of the buildings were now no more than smouldering ashes, and the sheer numbers of fighting villagers had cut down the gang of raiders to less than a dozen. As he watched, a small group of them dragged one of his closest friends off his mount; his last, agonised shrieks of pain echoed in the leader's ears.
He knew when a battle had been lost. He spurred his horse and cantered towards the village gates, "Retreat! Retreat to the forest!" he yelled. But his order was heard by few...
Gabrielle felt a hand touch her shoulder as she shook with sobs. She turned to see one of her father's comrades standing over her.
"You're safe now, Gabby. The Raiders have been defeated...we've won."
Gabrielle looked up into the man's eyes, but didn't reply.
"Your father died for a noble cause." he continued softly, "You need to be strong...he's in a much better place now..."
The man's word's were of little comfort. She turned away.
He left her to her sorrows, and a moment later she glanced back to see him greeted enthusiastically by his wife and three sons.
She was alone once more. The young child of seven knelt beside her dead father through the long night of misery and remained there, unmoving, as new dawn began to rise. It's weak light stirred life in the distance, where the villagers had grouped together through the dark hours. Their cheers and songs of victory drifted to Gabrielle's ears, where they were denied the joy they should have brought, and instead only served to anger her further.
The man's words repeated over and over in her head.
She gazed around at the ruins of her home, and the death-tolls of both sides which lay strewn around them. She failed to see how anything had been won. As she looked at the spiritless bodies of the enemy, she no longer saw the savage killers she imagined while sitting in the hall the previous night. Instead, she saw men. Men with hopes, dreams and families, just like the ones in her village. She knew that Jaygon was the brother of a Poteidaian, and didn't understand how two brothers' hatred for each other could shatter the lives of so many.
'One day,' she vowed to herself, 'one day people will learn the truth about death on the battlefield.'
She held her injured arm firmly against her ribs in an attempt to stop it quivering and looked up at the unreachable horizon.
Her father's gentle words washed over her in a warm tide as she stared at the lightening sky. His memories were all that tied her to him now, but she would keep them safe, keep them for the future and whatever it held. The poem he had told her so often returned, and she whispered it to him one last time;
'So the seas of distant words, Swirl with mists and steams. And in those vast, wishful tides, Sinks the ship of dreams.
Above the land of frozen hearts, The cold-stone moon still gleams. Yet on the frosted ice beneath, Reflect defiant dreams.
If every dove brings peace and love, If life's not what it seems. Then why not let us live in hope, Of everlasting dreams. '
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