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Disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA\Universal studios, no copyright infringement is intended.
There is mention and descriptions of violence and beating and a few lost souls. Nothing offending I hope.
As all bardies do, please gimme feedback on this story, good or bad (gulp), or if ya just wanna chat to a fellow Xenite:
Where Peace Doesn’t Exist
By Jessica Short
He stood above the rest of the warriors that gathered around him. They sneered at him, and for once he wished his foolish brother was with him. Drawing his sword would only be a provocation, he slowly turned to face each one of the men circling him. His dark raven hair blew in the breeze but was kept out of his face by the leather thong that circled his head, crossing his forehead. His face, though dirty, was still handsome with light stubble and an imminent goatie, his lean body stood just above six feet; the smooth ripples in his chest were revealed by the ripped waistcoat, stained with his own blood. His leather pants ran smoothly down his muscular legs, his boots were slightly ripped from running through the bushes. Blood trickled slowly down his forehead from a deep contucsion across his hairline and continued to flow until it settled into the hollow of his collarbone. His left shoulder had been ripped angrily from it's socket and dangled uselessly beside him, as if it were no longer a part of him. His chest was bruised, he recognised at least two broken ribs, out of which blood was slowly leaking unsettlingly down his chest.
In all the twenty three years of his life, he had never felt so helpless, so angry. The mercenaries surrounding him had done this too him. They had torched his village, killed his family, and now they stood before him, laughing. Maybe he shouldn't have run after them, after the murderers of his brother. He stepped forwards into a blinding pain that ripped through his body, as he realised the arrow that had been used to cripple his running still protruded from his right thigh and he somehow managed to think about why he hadn't yet lost consciousness. But he felt no pain, just numb, lament and shock that the killers of his own family stood before him and he could do nothing about it except let them torment him until he died, maybe dying was the easy way out, but he couldn't, he had to lay avenge his brother's death, it was an oath in the family to protect and avenge. If you couldn't do one, you had to do the other.
One man stepped forwards and smacked him across the face, he fell down to one knee but quickly regained his balance.
"Ooo we have a stubborn one here. I think we'll crucify this one, a sacrifice to the God Of War." He smiled as his men gathered around the villager and roughly strapped him to a wooden stake, the moment he resisted, the hilt of a sword was smacked against the base of his neck, his vision blurred but he refused to become the sacrifice, but then again, what could he do? His village was miles away from anywhere, it was reclused into the hills, few people travelled there.
The oath was hopeless.
"Come on Gabrielle." The warrior moaned as the young bard slowly climbed behind Xena onto Argo.
"I hate riding Argo, he hates me Xena."
"Nonsense Gabrielle, you just don't get along too well, it'll pass with time." The warrior sighed rolling her eyes and kicking Argo into a fast trot she felt Gabrielle squeeze tightly around her waist.
Although the peace was good for the both of them, the warrior secretly longed for a bit of action, she was a warrior, it was expected. They were on there way to a small village hidden up among the hills, the warrior inwardly sighed, there would almost certainly be no action there.
Argo stopped as Xena saw the black smoke rise from within the valley of hills.
"Gabrielle look." The half command was almost a gulp as a knot tied in Xena's stomach, she had wanted action not death.
"Let's go Xena." Gabrielle whispered, the warrior kicked Argo into a smooth gallop, much to the bard's dismay.
He hung painfully from the cross in the centre of the small road leading up to the village, hoping someone would come. His voice was rendered out of use as the mercenaries had beaten him while hanging there, his waistcoat had been ripped off and blood seemed to cover most of his bare skin. He groaned as the stench of burning bodies reached him, the mercenaries had left him there about an hour ago, he had passed out a few times, his shoulder painfully taking the weight of his body against the binds that bound him to the stake. Any chance of living had left him, the only consellation was that he would rejoin his brother, but the oath was a lost cause.
The attack was unexpected, like any attack was, the village had never had to deal with one before, they were so far away from anywhere that it seemed impossible that anybody would go out of there way to attack it, it was morning, he was barely awake, working on building his new house, when he saw and heard the attackers approaching, his scream to the villagers was so high and so loud that it had scared him, the picture of the attackers sweeping across the hills like a dark tsunami of death, a sight that had left lesser men paralysed with anixety. But he was not just any man. "Attack." he had called several times. But the village was asleep. He did his best to wake people, but the raiders had started a fire, and soon the houses were alight. The villagers stood no chance. Most never even woke up. He had drawn his sword to fight with a few of the other men, it was an obvious defeat but they had to try, the attempt resulted in his brother's death, right in front of him, he was knocked unconscious and only regained it after the raiders left, after they had left everybody dead. He had sat beside his brother and knew then that it was too late, that his life would be changed forever. He stood up, oblivious of his wounds and, subconsciously, began to run after the raiders. In athelete form he had been able to catch up with a small group and had dispatched them easily, not killed them.
And then he had fallen into their trap and ended up here; useless.
He heard hooves beating against the dust floor not far away and raised his head to try and see who it was, maybe the raiders had retured and to kill him. But no, it was a woman. She was dressed in leathers, maybe she was their leader. He was as good as dead if that were true.
Xena heard the bard gasp behind her as she saw the man on the cross, it shocked Xena too and she scrutinised for any sign of life, his head was moving. She dismounted Argo before he fully stopped and ran towards the man.
She used her breast and boot dagger to cut him down by throwing them with great precision at the ropes that tightly bound his wrists. He was in a bad way, and seemed frightened by the warrior's movements. The bard was beside her as she caught him, laying him carefully to the floor.
"Please." He whispered, Xena looked down at him. "Don't hurt me." His voice was crackly almost a beg, and she could see the fear in his eyes.
"I'm not going to hurt you, I'm here to help you, just relax, you're gonna be fine." The warrior explained with a great sense of serenity which actually managed to relax the man.
"No. My village needs your help, not me, please go and help them, help my brother. He's...my brother, they killed him." His eyes grew wide with fear as he faced the truth for the first time.
"It's okay, shh." Xena could tell he was in shock by his incoherent state.
"Gabrielle, stay with him, I'm going to go on and see the village." The warrior said, the bard nodded. "Stay by his side, talk to him, try and find out what happened, who did this, check to see how serious his wounds are." The warrior told her, the bard nodded, Xena mounted Argo and rode off.
The village seemed liked a grave yard. The smell of burned and decaying bodies filtered the air, she looked around in a hopeless attempt to find a living soul. After scouting around she found nothing but bodies and carnage of houses, she sighed leading Argo back to the wounded man, it seemed strange that he was the soul surviver. She took a different route back and saw the mercenaries the villager had managed to dispacth, kneeling beside one she put the pinch on him as he drifted into consciousness.
"I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain, you'll be dead in thirty seconds unless you tell me who did this to the village." She spoke impassively, disgusted at the man who lay before her.
"Kracus, the warlord..." He spluttered "....Undo whatever you did." He begged. Xena frose at the name.
"Give me a reason to." She muttered, sighing, she poked his neck, he fell to the floor, comatose.
She continued her walk back to the man, seeing Gabrielle nursing him she knew how lucky she was to have the bard by her side, if only she had the courage to tell her every so often.
"How is he?" The warrior asked, slightly shocking the bard.
"He passed out a few seconds ago. The village?" Gabrielle asked hopefully, but seeing the despair in the warrior's eyes she already knew the answer.
"Not..." She tried to control her rage. "Not a living soul."
"Xena who would do this?" The bard asked lightly.
"Kracus, a warlord, or at least he thinks he is."
"You know him?"
The warrior nodded reluctantly, not wanting reveal who he was. She sunk down beside Gabrielle and looked at his wounds.
"We need to set up a camp and clean his wounds before he loses too much blood, Gabrielle you find somewhere suitable, preferably next to a river. Start a fire, I'll build a small stretcher and carry him behind Argo." The warrior explained.
"Good idea." The bard agreed quickly getting up and wandering into the forest to find wood and a good place to rest.
Xena made herself busy chopping down branches to make a small stretcher, the man was in no fit position to be moved much.
After using her skills to create a stretcher made up of branches, tied together in a long rectangle and using her bedroll as a sheet, she slowly and carefully hauled the unconscious man onto it and attached it to Argo's saddle. While riding the horse to find Gabrielle's camp, she made sure not to go over any bumps taking the smoothest route possible. It was a painfully long journey for the warrior but it would be worth it if it meant the man would be able to move his arms and legs.
By the time she had reached the camp Gabrielle had managed to light a fire and catch two fish the way Xena had taught her, Xena smiled at her companion as she jumped from Argo.
"Will you help me get him next to the fire?" The warrior asked, the bard nodded and together they lifted the man to rest beside the fire. Gabrielle had chosen a recluse clear spot surrounded by trees with a river about twenty metres away.
"Good choice in camp, you should choose more often." The warrior stated looking around.
"Thank you." The bard smiled, enjoying the occasional compliment from Xena.
"Okay, we need to get the arrow out of his thigh and stitch the wound on his head first." The warrior observed.
"I'll do the head." The bard volunteered, not fancying the thought of pulling an arrow through flesh, she quickly went to get what she needed from Argo's saddle bags.
The warrior moved down to his thigh, the arrow had already pierced the other side of his leg, saved her having to do it, she carefully and skillfully snapped the arrowhead off and pulled the arrow out creating a small grating noise that made both the women grimace.
"How's the stitching?" Xena asked as she gently peeled the leather trousers off the man's legs after taking his boots off.
"It's going well, the blood's quite hard to get off but I had already boiled some water to put the fish in so I used that to do it." The bard explained.
"Good thinking, you're turning out to become a great healer." The warrior smiled.
"Thank you...Xena what are you doing? Why are you taking his trousers off?" The bard asked.
"I wanna properly bandage his wound, he's losing a lot of blood I didn't think it was fair to rip his trousers to shreds so I figured taking them off was an easier option."
The warrior took some bandages from her medical bag and began to wrap it around the wound.
"What do you think he's like?" The bard asked looking down at the man, almost sad that he had ended up like this.
"For all we know he could be an evil mercenary." Xena replied, concentrating on getting the bandage on properly, not too tight to block off the blood.
"The words 'please don't hurt me' spring to mind as evidence against that." The bard giggled pulling out the last stitch.
"S'pose so." The warrior muttered.
"Xena, pass me a bandage, I've finished the stitching." The bard told her friend, Xena looked up to scrutinise the stitching.
"Very efficient." She smiled handing the bard a bandage.
"What do you want me to do next?"
"Gabrielle, one thing at a time, concentrate on bandaging his head." The warrior supressed a laugh at the bard's enthusiasm. Finishing the bandaging she looked up at the awkward position of his shoulder and grimaced slightly.
"Gabrielle I'm gonna need some help with his shoulder when you're done." She said moving to it.
"Okay, I'm done." The bard nodded tucking in the end of the bandage.
"Right, hold is shoulder, when you feel the bone slip into place tell me okay?"
The warrior placed her boot into the man's armpit and pulled at his hand until there was a loud pop.
"It's in." Gabrielle nodded feeling around the shoulder.
"Good, now for the ribs." The warrior sighed.
"We'd better clean these wounds as well." Gabrielle told her regarding the man's battered chest, the warrior nodded.
"Let's get started, we have a village to put to rest." The warrior mumbled. She grabbed a long piece of cloth and carefully wrapped it around the broken ribs, and then, with no hesistation pulled it tight, satisfied with the crunch that followed, she had done this to herself many times and was glad the man was unconscious, the pain was overwhelming. She quickly tied the ends of the cloths together.
"That should do."
She watched Gabrielle carefully clean the wounds before turning around to check there were no more wounds, she found the small lump on the back of his neck but could do nothing for it.
"Looks like he's done." The bard sighed sitting backwards beside the fire, the warrior agreed covering his half naked body with a warm blanket.
"You okay Gabrielle, you seem a little pale." The warrior noted with concern.
"Yeah, I just thought we were gonna have a break y'know, and then all this happens." The bard sighed but was comforted by an arm placed confidently around her shoulder by the warrior.
"If you want to go back to the town we came from and rest I'll handle this." The warrior offered.
"No, I'm okay, we need to rest the villagers, find the man who did this, it's all for the greater good right?" She smiled.
"Right." The warrior replied.
"And besides, we're a team." The bard poked the warrior in the ribs.
"Yeah, come on, we'd better lay the villagers to rest before darkness, we should also tell the surrounding villagers, I'm not sure they'll have heard of the attack, we should warn them, Kracus could be heading for either one of them." The warrior cringed.
"How do you know Kracus?" The bard asked subtly hoping it would slide into the conversation.
"Not now Gabrielle, I'll explain tonight okay?"
It took at least five hours to bury all the bodies which was mostly done by the warrior as the bard struggled to come to terms with the violent deaths of these ordinary villagers, Xena had sung the burial song in front of the huge flames that sent many souls to the Elysian Fields, and finally, they returned to the camp to check on the man.
"I wonder what his name is." The bard muttered.
"Mmm." The warrior fed Argo. "It's nearly dark, we oughta get some rest soon, it's been a long day, but first I think it'd be wise if we both cleaned ourselves rid of the soot in the river." The warrior suggested.
"Well, I was gonna say something Xena, but I didn't wanna hurt your feelings." She laughed holding her nose, Xena gave her a 'warning' look which broke into a crooked smile as they made their way to the river stripping down to their sweat covered skin. The water was outrageously relaxing as they sunk into it both sighing as the weight of the day was lifted off them.
"We should do this every day." The bard sighed closing her eyes and sinking below the water. The warrior smiled, the bard resurfaced.
"You want me to wash your hair?" Xena offered.
"Yeah, would you?"
After spending another half an hour washing each other's hair they finally, reluctantly climbed out from the slow flowing river and got dressed, then returned to the camp to find the fire still roaring.
"How is he?" Gabrielle asked preparing the fish she had caught earlier.
"No change." The warrior sighed she sat opposite the bard.
The bard paused wondering whether to pursue their earlier conversation, she decided it was for the best.
"Xena, you said you'd tell me how you knew Kracus." The bard looked up at the warrior whose deep blue orbs reflected only pain and anger at the mention of the man's name, Gabrielle proceeded with cooking the fish.
"Yes I did." The warrior muttered uneasily trying to find a way to tell the bard. "He lived in Amphipolis."
The words shocked the bard, she was expecting Xena to say something like 'he was in my army', she looked at the warrior urging her to go on.
"He was older than me, quite fancied himself as a warrior, him and Lyceus were friends, I'd heard he had a crush on me, but I didn't believe it."The warrior smiled sadly. "He got on with everyone, but they could tell he was different. When...when Cortez attacked the village, he panicked, nobody blamed him at the time, everybody was scared, we just didn't really how scared he was, it was strange y'know, he knew about the attack too early to have seen the army coming, nobody noticed at the time though, not until it was too late not until the army came over the hills." The warrior sub-consciously shuddered at the recollection, but continued anyhow "They approached with...with their masks on ,Kracus ran out and whipped one of those terrible masks on, he shouted to us that he was sorry and he just attacked us, nobody knew what was happening until he started killing our own people, his blade just...killing his own, Lyceus and I just stood there in shock as Cortez men attacked, it seemed that he had wanted to prove himself as a warrior, in doing so Cortez made him turn against us, his_own_village, he killed his friends, my best friend Heran, it was...I hate him so much." The warrior shook her head, stabbing her breast dagger into the dirt beside her, she only realised that Gabrielle was beside her when she felt the bard wrap a comforting arm around her and pull her into a gentl embrace.
"I'm so sorry Xena, I didn't know." The bard whispered, wishing she'd never asked.
The warrior stood up and went over to Argo before the bard managed to see the tear threatening to fall from her eye.
Beside Gabrielle the man began to stir, both women were immediately by his side as he opened his eyes.
"I'm alive." He muttered almost disappointedly.
"You're very lucky to be too." The warrior added, the man turned to her, struck immediately by her piercing blue eyes.
"You, you saved me...thank you." He turned his head to the bard. "Thank you both." He smiled then tried to sit up.
"But I must find out who did this." He gritted his teeth.
"You're in no fit condition to go anywhere at the moment." The warrior explained gently pushing him back down, the man sighed closing his eyes as a wave of pain washed through his body. "I got it pretty bad huh?" He whispered.
"Looks that way, that's why you have to rest." The warrior said in a low calming tone.
"Gabrielle, is the fish ready?"
"Yep, I'll get him some."
"My name's Xena, this is Gabrielle." The warrior told him.
"Xena?" He repeated. "You're Lyceus' sister. The fighting one." He smiled, Gabrielle returned to his side and looked at the warrior who shrugged in confusion.
"It's Slade." He groaned.
"Slade? Heran's brother?" Xena asked.
"Yeah, the one that everyone picked on." He laughed.
"By the gods you've grown up!" Xena whispered. "I didn't recognise you, you look...different." The warrior shook her head as the man looked up at her.
"I could tell it was you, those piercing blue eyes, I'm pretty sure every boy in Amphipolis had a crush on you."
"I...I'm sure that's not true." The warrior blushed much to the bard's amusement.
"Yeah it was, I should know." He smiled again revealing those dimples that Xena remembered, the two of them had always stood out, the tallest boy and the tallest girl.
"You're still the beautiful girl you were, the one that nobody could lay a finger on in fear of getting smacked. Stubborn as Hades."
Gabrielle refused to supress her laughter as the warrior turned a deep crimson colour.
"Slade, what happened to your village?" Xena asked trying to change the subject.
"I don't know, there was no warning...half the village was asleep, we had no chance. Xena do you know who it was?" The mna asked seriously.
"I don't think you wanna know Slade, I don't think you're ready to know." The warrior smiled dipping one eyebrow.
"Xena please." The man begged.
"It was Kracus." the warrior immediately regretted the words as she saw the man's face turn from pleading to pain and anger, the same reaction Gabrielle had seen in Xena's eyes at the mention of his name.
"The double crossing son of a..." He attempted once again to sit up but was stopped by the pain in his ribs which slammed him back into position, he closed his eyes to control the anger.
"Slade I know how you feel, okay, but you can't do anything about it, not in this condition." The warrior sighed placing a hand into his.
"He killed Heran, I lost a sister in that battle."
"And I lost a brother Slade." The warrior muttered shallowly.
"I know, I'm sorry, but he's gone to far, first Heran and now Quaid. He won't get away with destroying my family."
"Quaid." The warrior muttered to herself, remembering the boy she had once known.
"Yeah Quaid, Kracus killed him." His voice had a bitter twist in it as he mentioned the warlord's name.
"We'll find him Slade, I promise." The warrior explained. "But you need to get your strength back and eat." The warrior looked to Gabrielle who had witnessed the reunion, she blinked then looked down at the fish she was holding.
"Oh, right." She smiled. "Can you sit up?" The bard asked, Slade nodded and began, slowly and painfully sitting up, the blanket fell from his chest and he flushed with embarrasment as he realised what little clothes he was wearing.
"It's okay Slade, it's nothing I haven't seen before." The warrior smiled.
Gabrielle placed the fish onto his lap and he gradually managed to eat it.
"That was good." He said lying back down. "You two are great healers, I was pretty banged up, but now I feel much better."
"No Slade." The warrior warned him.
"I remember how you used to do that, pretend you felt better just so you could join in our games when you were ill or wounded, it didn't work then and it won't work now."
The man sighed. "I never could fool you could I?"
"Nope." The warrior gave out a radiant smile, the one that few people had seen that would drop a million hearts into their ankles.
"Now you'd better rest." The warrior suggested, giving up, the man nodded and closed his eyes, Xena pulled the blanket back over his body. "Go to sleep." She whispered brushing the hair from his face, he nodded and closed his eyes.
Xena turned back to Gabrielle.
"You look tired." The warrior stated rubbing her friend's shoulder.
"I am." The bard sighed slumping back into her bedroll. "What're you going to do about a bedroll?" Gabrielle asked.
"I'll sleep on the floor, it's not too hard and I've done it many times before, I'm too tired to notice." She smiled.
"Come over here, share mine." The bard offered opening her blanket, the warrior, too tired to refuse, lazily crept in and lay her exhausted figure down almost immediately falling asleep, Gabrielle followed shortly.
Morning came, Xena was up at the crack of dawn as usual. She had just come back from a quick wash after weapon training when she saw Slade rouse. She knelt beside him with a cup of herbs in her hand.
"Slade?" She whispered as he opened his eyes, he looked at her and smiled.
"G'morning." He mumbled.
"Drink this, it'll make you feel better." She offered placing the cup to his mouth, though half of it dribbled down his chin, he managed to catch a couple of gulps of the sour tasting medicine.
"That was foul." He scrunched his nose, Xena smiled.
"How're you feeling?" The warrior asked.
"Better, I think the thing what hurts most is losing Quaid, my injuries'll heal. The loss never can." He sighed looking away.
"I know what you're going through Slade, just don't let it take over you, don't let your hatred for Kracus consume your soul like..."
"Yours did." He added, she stared at him, sadness reflecting in her face.
"I heard about the stories of you as a warlord Xena, but then I heard of what Hercules did to you and how you fought for the greater good, I knew that was the real you." He smiled covering her hand with his.
"When do you think I'll be able to get out of this bed?" He groaned. Xena smiled. "When you're ready, and only then, first I need to check on your wounds."
"Fine." He lay his head abck down onto the home-made pillow.
Xena gently unwrapped the bandage from his forehead and examined the stitches, they were good and held the cut together well, there was no sign of infection and she thgouht it best to leave the wound exposed to the cool air that enveloped the morning with the dew.
She looked at the man as he stared up into the sky.
"I'm gonne check your ribs now, I'll need you to sit up for this." She explained, he looked at ehr and sat up, gently easing his legs over the side of the beds. The blanket slipped from his perfect chest which creased as he sat up.
Xena gently moved cloer to the man, her arms carefully wrapping around his body to unwrap the bandage.
Their bodies touched, their cheeks almost rubbing one another's, Xena could feel his hot breath brush against her neck as she leaned in to undo the knot on his back., her breast plate rubbed against his muscular torso, she heard his sharp intake of breath as his smooth skin brushed the cold brass and gently pulled back, quietly apologising. Her hand felt the knot of the bandage and she began to undo it, her arms under his which were raised slightly to give the warrior better access. If he'd have seen her face, she would have seen the warrior princess blush.
"Why can't I undo this damn knot!" She mused in alarm. "My hands are shaking, I'm nervous." She took a few breaths to steady herself and her shaking body and felt she should say something.
"Sorry it's taking so long, must've tied the knot tighter than I thought." It was a whispher, any more than that and she would have scared the man with the intrusion of a voice from silence.
"S'okay, it worked." the man replied trying to turn to the warrior but instead softly brushing his cheek against hers.
"Sorry." He muttered turning away from her.
"I'm done." She smiled pulling away, her arms smoothly, accidentally, running along the sides of his naked chest as she pulled the bandage away.
"You should lie down so I can take a proper look at your ribs." She told him, he obliged, painfully sliding his wounded leg onto the bedroll, the warrior knelt over him gently prodding at his ribs and occasioanlly glancing at him to measure the amount of pain she was causing him.
"They're healing well." She concluded.
"Xena." Slade whispered, the warrior looked at him.
"What're you gonna do about Kracus?"
"I'm gonna go after him, and soon, I don't know when he'll attack next, but I wanna stop him before he does." The warrior muttered in disgust.
"Yes, alone. Kracus is a very dangerous man, you're hurt and I don't want Gabrielle anywhere near him." The warrior explained.
"You can't just leave me here." He protested.
The warrior continued to look at his wounds, all were healing, and providing he didn't try to do anything, they would heal quickly, the warrior turned to wake her companion.
"Gabrielle, it's time to get up now." She whispered as she gently shook the bard.
Not the end (he he), er I do intend to finish it soon
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