Convert this page to Pilot DOC Format"Legacy of Chin"
The characters, names and storylines which have appeared in the syndicated television show Xena: Warrior Princess are copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters in this story and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be used or sold for profit in any way. This story has been written solely for the reading enjoyment of Xena: Warrior Princess fans of the Internet.
This story takes place between the fifth season Xena episodes "Animal Attraction" and "Purity".
A light breeze moved through the tree branches, creating a faint rustling sound of leaves. The sound could be heard for some distance, passing through the trees like a gentle wave. Distant sounds of leaves flowed from the West until they finally reached the lonely tavern in this area of the forest.
A few leaves blew against the tavern door, falling back to the dirt entrance and swirling around each other before coming to a rest. A thin strip of light passed over them from the bottom of the door. The light flickered slightly and created mild shadows as the candle flames moved.
The tavern was of medium size. It was designed to serve as a supply source for distant travelers as well as a place for food and rest. There was a dining and drinking area facing the South. Four tables set in the center of the room and about the same number in chairs were up against the bar. The bar and storage room were in the center of the tavern with a small hallway that led to the rooms in the back. Six rooms each with a single bed, dresser and hooks for coats or packs were cleaned every day. Fin always made sure of that.
Fin took his towel and brushed the top of the bar with it. He collected some of the smashed nut shells in his hand and placed them in the trash. One of the two men at the bar made a gesture with his hand for more. Fin gladly responded and brought up a bag of nuts from under the counter. He also placed a full mug of ale near one of the men who was finishing off his drink.
The tavern was seeing a fair amount of business this evening. A couple of traders from a nearby province were sleeping off their journey in the rooms in back. The men at the bar were regular customers that Fin had known for some time. One was a fur trader just outside of Hanuk and the other was a farmer from the same village. The other guest for the evening was from a village a few miles away near the Eastman River. He was a tavern owner as well in fact. A man by the name of Reyn.
Fin poured a couple of mugs of light ale and excused himself from the bar. He walked around the side to join his guest. This man Reyn was looking for a more quiet place to settle, an easier business to run and he had interests in buying the tavern. Fin was all right with that as he had interests of his own. Interests which included going back to his adventuring days, though he didn't plan on anything too risky.
He walked over to the table and put both mugs of ale down. Reyn nodded a greeting to him as he sat down. "Well, it certainly seems nice enough. And next to a main road as well. Its not often you see that this far into a forest."
"That's true. Yes," Fin smiled to his guest. "There are a few smaller paths here and there as you might expect, but they're generally for horses. This is the only road large enough for wagons and large groups to travel by."
The two of them continued with their conversation for some time. Reyn seemed sold on the idea of purchasing this place. Fin was feeling rather generous and had quoted the man a reasonable price for this area of the country. That had certainly helped in the bargain talk. A slight scratching sound against the side wall was all that the man had noticed. Fin assured him that it was just a tree branch against the tavern. One of those small chores he had yet to finish.
Outside, the gentle breeze continued. The leaves swirled around each other from time to time depending upon the uncertain path of the wind. A soft white moonlight shined down on the forest this evening, lighting the forest rather well for this time of the year. Not light enough however for a clear look at a soft crunching noise of feet against the fallen leaves however.
Most would have mistaken the sound for a deer or perhaps an elk as they had been seen in this region sometimes, but closer attention would reveal that there were only two feet passing over the fallen leaves. It was early in the fall season, but the leaves had enough of a crisp edge to them that a crunching sound could be heard.
Something flew up into the air and caught itself around the tree branch that hung out over the roof of the tavern. It had shined against the reflected moonlight as it passed high above. A short sound announced that the object had found it's target. The hook had managed to catch onto the branch securely. A few acorns had been knocked loose from the tree and they fell to the roof. The sound of walking stopped for a few minutes as the person waited for any response from within the tavern. There was none. The mysterious person walked around to the base of the tree which stood behind the tavern.
Inside the tavern, Fin explained the sound with a slight shrug. It was another advantage to the tavern. There were several acorn trees in the area. They could be collected and sold in the tavern or to passing travelers. Fin reached for the bowel of nuts on the table and took a few to eat as an example. Reyn nodded his head approvingly and took another drink of his ale.
Outside of the tavern, soft black shoes braced themselves against a slim tree trunk. They helped the shadowy figure gain momentum as the climb up the tree continued. Once the main branch had been reached, one which passed over the roof of the tavern, the person's feet dropped away from the tree. Hands passed over each other as the mysterious person hung in midair climbing out to the end of the branch.
A single strong arm held the person in place as the other reached down to feel for the line of thin rope. The line was allowed to drop down to the roof. It was thin enough that when it touched the roof there was no more noise made than that of the leaves which blew against the tavern walls.
The mysterious person who remained hanging in midair by one hand threw the rope around the branch with their other hand and quickly tied a simple knot. A second knot was tied against the tree branch a few inches back so that a single length of line of about eight inches rested between the two knots.
A careful release of the branch was followed by both hands grasping different ends of the line. The left hand took hold of the line in between the two knots as the right hand took hold of the line that hung down to the tavern roof. With careful practice, body weight was applied more to the left hand and the person slowly began to descend to the roof.
Soft padded shoes reached the main support beam and balanced themselves there. The shadowy figure pulled on the line with their right hand until it was tight once more. The careful walk over to the center of the roof was easy as the beam was wide.
As patrons of the tavern continued with their idle conversations the person on the roof jumped up into the air and flipped around to land on the ground in front of the door. Nothing had been said or heard from the action. There was the slightest sound of heavy breathing but that was all.
Inside the tavern, Fin and Reyn were continuing with their chat of the tavern. Fin was about to offer a short tour of the back area when he heard the door open. He turned in his chair slightly and was surprised to see a person dressed in formfitting black. The person pulled off a black mask and revealed the face of a young Asian woman.
Fin stood up to greet the attractive woman. The others in the dining area looked toward her. She reached to a pouch at her side and looked up to Fin. As she spoke, she threw something in the air. "A gift from Chin."
A sharp pain hit Fin in the chest and he fell back to the floor. Reyn and the others looked down to him and saw a small metal object stuck into his chest. While they were distracted the woman quickly threw two more small metal objects at the roped chandelier above. It came down with a crash against a table and sent the three men ducking for cover.
The woman stepped out and shut the door. She reached up to grab the frame of the door and kicked up and back to flip in the air and land on the roof once more. She quickly ran up to the main beam once again and reached for the line that was up in the branch. She took hold of it and quickly climbed up.
It took her only minutes to unhook the rope, coil it and place it at her side. As she did so, the woman stayed as silent as possible. She could hear noise and confusion from those in the tavern. One of them opened the door and looked around. He could see nothing in the moonlit night. Nothing but a single gem made of green jade which was on the ground. The calling card of the Green Dragon.
"So you've known this man for some time?" Gabrielle asked as she continued along the forest road.
Her friend walked beside her glancing around to the thick line of trees that surrounded them. They were the only two people on the trail as far as she could tell although the thickness of the trees kept her from being absolutely certain. Xena looked over to her right and responded. "I knew him some time ago. When Borias and I were together."
Gabrielle nodded her head lightly. She remembered their lasts talks of Borias and of his passing. She hadn't heard any sadness in her voice so she asked another question. "Was he in your army or his?"
Xena remained silent for several seconds. She was thinking of those times. There had been a time when the army had been one. It had been strong and focused. A power to be reckoned with. Borias and her interests had gradually differed though and that had ultimately led to the breakdown of their union. She had only realized his loyalty to her again on that fateful night when she had been led away on the wagon holding their son.
She frowned slightly at the thought but then realized her response had taken a little too long. "Mine."
The trip remained uneventful for the rest of the way. Xena assumed her friend had kept the rest of her curiosity to herself. She was grateful for that. Gabrielle always seemed to know when to continue with a conversation and when that conversation started to become uncomfortable. Bards were like that. There were hidden depths to them that you had to study closely in order to appreciate their skills.
The path became more winding up ahead and that prompted Xena to look out into the forest once again. She was always one to prepare for bad outcomes because they generally came true. At least in her experience. She brushed her hand across the new chakram lightly and seemed to relax. Its improved powers had made it even more useful though she tried to play down her appreciation for Ares help as best she could.
Gabrielle's voice brought her thoughts into focus. Her friend had mentioned seeing a tavern up ahead. She looked forward and could now see the tavern. It was average sized by her standards. She expected no more than that considering the distance they were from a village. There were a few tools scattered around the tavern and a large pile of wood rested between two trees. A single wagon with two horses was tied to a post near the door.
Xena led the way up to the door and open it. She walked in and was quickly followed by Gabrielle. There were three other's in the tavern. Two customers and the owner of the business. Xena looked to them all. The tavern owner seemed preoccupied so she walked over toward a table where she and Gabrielle sat.
"Nice place." Gabrielle commented to her friend.
Xena nodded quietly. She looked from side to side to check out the place before looking over to the two customers. One had been looking at her briefly but turned away at her gaze. He only seemed curious by the the way he looked toward her. The other man was telling of some tale he had been on. Xena could just make out his end of the conversation.
The tavern owner finished his cleaning and turned to serve the new customers. He looked to them and blinked with surprise. "Can I... get you anything?"
Xena noticed the response. She looked at him intently. "A couple of cider's will do fine."
The man nodded his head and walked behind the bar. Xena couldn't quite place him but he seemed familiar somehow. He was past middle age and slightly balding. She sighed, sometimes she got that feeling. The memory would come back to her in time.
The man came back from around the bar and walked to her table. He placed both mugs of cider on the table. "I do hope you enjoy your stay."
"I'm sure we will." Gabrielle responded with a light smile. "This really is a well kept tavern by the look of it."
The man nodded almost grateful as he answered. "Boarding room as well. Just past the storage area."
Xena noticed the man giving Gabrielle a slightly peculiar look. It looked like a mix between surprise and happiness. She reminded herself to speak to him about that later, but not in front of her friend. She didn't want to bother Gabrielle with it. The man probably had just taken a liking to her.
Xena spoke up to get his attention. "So tell me. Have you had a man come by here lately, say the past few weeks or so, by the name of Finnigan? He was a tall man, had a tan and short, dark hair."
The tavern owner looked at her as though lost in thought. "Finnigan... Finnigan..."
"He was something of a conversationalist." Xena continued. "Not unlike a certain bard I know."
Gabrielle smiled at that comment. "Not that that's a bad thing."
"Oh, of course not." Xena returned her friend's smile with one of her own. She looked back up and could see the man was could not recognized the person she was talking about, so she offered more. "Finnigan. He thought of himself as a business man. Went by Fin sometimes."
The tavern owner nearly dropped his towel at the mention of the name. The response had been obvious and both Xena and Gabrielle had noticed. Xena raised a curious eyebrow to the man.
"Fin?" The man began. "Fin. Why certainly. I um I remember him well." He nodded his head.
Xena's eyes narrowed slightly at his hesitant response. "Something the matter?"
The tavern owner shook his head. "No. Not at all. Fin um he uh owned this tavern at one time. Not long ago in fact."
Gabrielle was becoming curious as well. She leaned forward in her chair slightly. "How long?"
"Oh, I'd say about seven or eight days." The man replied. He reached down to pick up his towel.
"Why all the concern?" Xena asked him. She was curious as to his behavior. "He leave a high tab or something like that?" She knew he had had a slight reputation for that in his more lawless days. She wouldn't have expected it of him as a businessman though.
"Oh, well uh, he passed away last week." The man's comment drew surprised looks from both of the women. Xena had received a message from Fin saying that he wanted to meet up with her again soon for old times. She and Gabrielle had nothing better to do at the time so the two of them had come here.
"Well that certainly puts a problem into a reunion." Xena commented dryly.
The man nodded politely. "It was rather sudden. That's for sure. And mysterious at that."
"How so?" Gabrielle asked. Xena looked over to her friend. She could tell that bard-like curiosity was starting to take over.
"Well it was rather uneventful enough that night. Moderate business and all." The man explained. "We were talking about the place. About my purchasing it that is and someone suddenly came into the tavern. A woman dressed in all black. She was a foreigner by the look of her."
"A foreigner you say?" Xena's thoughts were going over any possible people she had heard about from the past. She didn't like the direction this conversation was going.
The man continued. "Yes. Asian I think. She came in for just a few seconds and threw something at him and it hit him in the chest. Something small and metal. Then she left. After a few minutes a couple of us went outside to look around but we didn't see her anymore. She just vanished." He shrugged.
Gabrielle was thinking quietly to herself about that as was Xena. Thoughts of Finnigan and this Asian woman brought back old memories for her. Memories of her time in the land of the Chin Dynasty.....
.....which was a vast untamed territory that stretched out before them as far as the eye could see. Xena adjusted her armored helmet as she looked around. In the distance, the mountains of East Chin gathered together as a loyal collection of family. They made the entry into the Asian land near impossible for any outsiders. But Xena had found a way into this land with the help of Borias.
Caertes and Finnigan followed behind her at a slow pace followed by half a dozen rangers and hunters for the trip. They had ridden the horses pretty hard the past two days and now was a time of rest. They would make their way into the foothills of the Eastern Chin lands of Tae Ruen by the next day. Once there they would establish trading privileges as Borias had suggested. If all went well and they earned Tae Ruen's trust, they might be able to pull this plan off.....
.....Xena looked up to notice that Gabrielle was trying to bargain with the tavern owner for a couple of rooms for the evening. She had grown skilled with that in the past few years. Another advantage of being gifted with words. Xena reached for her cider and took a small drink. She waited for Gabrielle finished with the owner before speaking.
"I suppose we should be going then." Xena reached for what few things she normally carried with her. "We'll need a good nights sleep if we're to head out again."
Gabrielle looked to her. "You don't want to pay some last respects then?" When it became clear that Xena had missed some part of the conversation she continued. "Finnigan asked to be buried behind the tavern. The owner said that had been his wishes."
"That sounded like him. He once said he would like to own a reputable business one day." Xena allowed herself to show a brief, sad smile. "We had fun with that." She was referring to the good natured campfire chats her armies had had on occasional nights.
Gabrielle nodded her head and excused herself to go to the rooms. They would have rooms next to each other at the far end of the hall. Xena watched her leave and then stood up. She walked out of the tavern entrance and around the side of the tavern. There was a great deal of leaves and brown pine needles on the ground. She looked around the area until she saw a piece of wood sticking up out of the ground. Another piece of wood was lashed crossways to it with writing.
Xena knelt down and looked to the writing. It gave Finnigan's name and date of birth. There was also a short saying under it. 'A friend to all.' Xena was pleased to see that. He had always been one of the more lively soldiers she had commanded. Most within her army responded out of fear or out of a desire to gain favor from her. It was that way with most soldiers, but Finnigan had a calmness to him all his own.
She stood up once more and looked to the writing before looking to the forest. With the fall months continuing as they were, most of the leaves were beginning to fall. Xena could see for some distance and yet she had this feeling that there was something else she couldn't quite place in her thoughts. It wasn't a serious concern but it still bothered her. She turned and walked back to the tavern.
Xena met with the tavern owner briefly to discuss the charge for the evening. She was mildly surprised to hear that the owner was only charging them six dinars for the rooms and the drinks. Gabrielle was turning out to be a better barterer than she had thought. She paid him and started toward the back area when he asked a question. He was curious if Gabrielle was involved with anyone. Xena told him that she wasn't and went to the rooms.
Gabrielle was already there taking out a few things from her pack. She laid out an extra top on the bed and quickly folded it back up before setting in on a nearby table. "Everything alright?"
Xena nodded her head and watched her unpack her things. "Yes. It was simple and well done just as he would have liked it." She thought about the tavern owner for a few seconds. "You know you have an admirer."
"I know." Gabrielle shook her head lightly as she turned to face Xena. "I could tell the entire time we were talking in there. Having an admirer isn't so bad."
"I'm sure you'll manage somehow." Xena smiled.
Gabrielle returned her smile. She reached down to her boot and took out one of her sais placing it under the pillow. Xena watched her. She held some regret in seeing that. Gabrielle had reminded her more than once that it had been her decision. That the path of friendship had become more important to her than peace. Xena understood of course and was growing accustomed to seeing her friend using the short swords when they were needed. Still, she couldn't help but remember that young village girl who had asked to travel with her not so long ago.
"I'm going to get some sleep." Xena said. "Its going to be dark soon and I'd like to get a head start back early if we're going to go pick up Argo." She had left Argo in a small village stable just outside the forest. She had told Gabrielle a couple of hours' walks would do the both of them some good.
Gabrielle said that she would probably do the same. Xena excused herself and walked to her room. It looked very much like Gabrielle's room. There was a bed and table with a few hooks on the wall and that was it. She tossed her pack on the floor and dropped down on the bed. She felt too exhausted to bother with taking off some of her armor.
Xena closed her eyes and tried to relax. Her thoughts drifted to Finnigan and his tavern and eventually to their days shared in the land of Chin.....
.....the land of Tae Ruen to be precise though the plan was to stay along his borders when the trade was done. The plan was simple enough. Borias had mentioned the mountain pass away from these lands was nearby. Xena and some of the men were to scout around the area and look for their means of escape while Borias continued to smooth talk Ruen into an unexpected tour of the outer lands.
Simple kidnappings weren't Xena's style. She preferred some action that involved a sword or dagger, but Borias' plans seemed to work more times than not so she held her place as she had promised. She encouraged her horse forward toward a small winding stream that came from the mountains. Caertes and two others were filling the waterskins as they all waited.
The sound of a fast gallop caught Xena's attention and she looked over her shoulder to see Finnigan approaching. He slowed down as he approached Xena with news. "I spotted them just as you asked. Borias and four horses are headed this way."
"And the prize?" Xena smirked at her choice of words. That was what the woman would be afterall.
"She's seemed well enough. Rather well indeed." Finnigan's smile was cut short with a cold look from Xena. He changed the subject. "The path is found? Borias will want to know."
Xena nodded. "We found it but we had a little difficulty."
"How's that?" Finnigan asked curiously. He had been the lookout stationed in between both groups so he hadn't seen much action this time around.
"Caertes had to deal with one of the trackers." She smiled. "He had this crazy idea of backing out at the last second." She reached for her sword handle and pushed it forward and back slightly. "He got the point."
Finnigan frowned. Xena liked that about the man. As cheerful natured as he was, he also had his weak points. He was honest and dependable and able to see war without hesitation but he was as easy to read as the wind. Xena could tell that he had been holding a grudge against Caertes for some time. No doubt it was over Saisha. She had caught both of their eyes on occasion, but Xena made sure to keep that kind of thing to a minimum. She couldn't have her troops distracted with love and romance. This was business and a cutthroat business at that.
Borias and the group with him passed around a low lying hill to approach them. Xena shook her head slightly. She could tell it was a royal escort by the excessive red and gold dressing on the horses. These royal types advertised themselves too much. They would learn that mistake soon enough.
"Good evening Xena." Borias deep voice welcomed her. "Always good to see you once again."
Xena nodded her head slightly and responded with a slow pleasing voice. "Borias. The pleasures all mine."
"This is the Emperor's daughter Min Ruen and her royal guards." Borias continued with the introductions. This was part of the plan. He appeared as a simple businessman hiring Xena for her talents in transporting treasures through uncertain lands.
Xena bowed her head slightly as Borias taught her. She still thought it looked stupid. Why should she bow her head to someone that they just kidnapped. Borias wanted to wait to ambush the guards while they were in the mountain pass. Hopefully to rid themselves of one or with luck two do to a rockslide so the odds would be better to finish the others. The narrow paths would make it a one on one fight most likely and the royal guards were skilled fighters. Xena had other plans though.
"So when do we start our journey?" Borias smiled to the Emperor's daughter politely. A little too politely for Xena's interests. She had noticed that about Borias on occasion and didn't like it. He always claimed his charm as necessary for their goals but it was really weakening her own interests in him lately. She responded for the Emperor's daughter.
"Now!" Xena said it with force in her voice that seemed slightly out of place. Borias looked up questionably and saw sudden movement to his right and left. One of Xena's soldiers struck his sword out and took down one of the royal guards. The other two turned their horses to face there attackers. Min Ruen tried to turn her horse around as well but Borias held onto the bridal. He claimed interest in her safety. Xena frowned at his half obvious interest in the woman. He knew how to make her angry sometimes.
One of the royal guards managed to dismount and ran up to a soldier. His royal sword made a few quick slashes at the soldier before the man fell. The other royal guard on the horse was quickly surrounded by three of Xena's men. He managed to kick one of them hard in the face, but while he did so another one snuck up behind him and ran a sword through his back. The royal guard fell to the ground and his horse bolted to the side.
The remaining royal guard took down another of Xena's men before Finnigan approached him. He ran forward with his own sword raised and the two men fought with renewed effort. Each defended the other's attacks and almost immediately returned with attacks of their own. Finnigan was slightly quicker though and he found his opening. The royal guard swung too high on his last attack and Finnigan drove his sword straight and forward through the man's chest. The guard fell to the ground.
All during that time Min Ruen looked on with shock and pain.....
.....pain that she had not expected. Xena blinked and opened her eyes. She was in the tavern room and it was night. Something had woke her up from a dream and she realized it was cold, sharp and pressed against her throat. She started to raise her head but the flat of the blade pressed against her neck to discourage her. Someone had a dagger at Xena's throat.
Xena could feel the breath of the person that knelt down beside her holding a dagger to her throat. The sound of the person's breath gave her away as a young woman. Her voice identified her as Asian. The dagger tightened up against her throat slightly. "In my land, for one to sleep so deeply would prove fatal."
Her hand never faltered. Xena gave the woman that much credit. She seemed to be experienced with combat to some extent. Xena moved her eyes slowly in the direction the voice had come from. She couldn't see anything in the shadows.
The woman continued to speak in a soft whisper. "How fortunate that you should come to the same place as the other man. That makes it all the easier."
"The other man..." Xena's whisper of defiance was cut short as the dagger pressed against her neck. There were a few seconds of silence before she whispered again. "The man's name was Finnigan. He was a friend."
"It is good to know I did not slit the wrong throat. Yes?" The woman responded.
Xena frowned. "So. Get it over with already."
"No. Not just yet. There is one more and then perhaps... if you are fortunate I shall do so in your sleep." With that said the dagger quickly disappeared and the weight of the woman could be felt in the way the bed shifted. The woman reached out to the matress and jumped over it heading toward the door.
Xena's right hand reached out into the darkness of the room and took hold of her chakram. She turned around in bed and leapt up to her feet. The sound of the woman was unmistakable as she ran through the narrow hallway. Xena raised her hand and threw it forward. It was then that she heard another noise that caused her to turn her fingers at the last second.
One of the doors from another room started to open. Xena had less than a second to change the direction of her weapon. She released it and it flew into the door frame of her room. The chakram's blade dug into the aged wood until it was buried almost two inches deep. The man in the hall let out a short sound and stumbled back into his room.
The front door of the tavern opened and shut. Xena could hear the woman's footsteps fall across the leaves. She quickly walked over to the window and looked out. There was nothing outside other than the bluish-white glow of a full moon. A faint sound of leaves could be heard in the distance but it was growing fainter.
Xena closed her eyes and sighed. She hadn't been expecting that. When she opened her eyes again she could hear people in the hall walking toward her room. Gabrielle and a couple of men were there. Each of them carefully looked in as though expecting to be attacked. When that didn't happen, they entered the room.
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked as she looked around. "Are you alright?"
Xena reached out and closed the wooden frames on the window. "I'm fine. Just got a message. That's all."
"What did she say?" Gabrielle walked closer to her side of the room.
"She's coming for me, Gabrielle." Xena looked to her friend. "It's just a matter of time."
Everyone had returned to bed but nobody seemed to sleep well. Xena didn't blame them. The woman who had killed the previous tavern owner had just entered and left less than two weeks later without any of them being aware of it. Xena blamed herself. Her thoughts of Chin kept her up most of the night. She didn't sleep very well.
As she packed her belongings the next morning, Xena continued to silently punish herself for her lack of attention. She should have been more alert to her surroundings. She had half expected something like this to happen, but for some reason she had been careless. Maybe it was the child. Ever since she had learned she was expecting a child, she could tell her instincts were less than they should be. Thankfully, Gabrielle was there to help her when trouble arose.
Gabrielle approached the entrance to her room and stood there running her finger over the notch where the chakram had hit. The chakram was at Xena's side. Xena glanced over to the door and gave her friend a weak smile. Gabrielle wasn't fooled by the smile but she returned her smile to ease her concerns.
"We need to get moving." Xena took her pack and slung it over her shoulder. "Saisha can't be far from here."
Gabrielle moved into the room and stepped to the side so Xena could walk through the hall. "Saisha. Someone from your past?"
Xena nodded her head as she made her way into the main tavern area. She ordered a quick juice and the still shaken owner poured a small glass for her. Xena thanked him and paid him. "You could say that. We had past dealings." Xena drank the juice and set the glass down.
Gabrielle followed her to the door. "Something you want to talk about?"
"Once we're on the road." Xena explained.
They were about to leave when the tavern owner spoke. "Don't get me wrong or anything, but that woman-- she won't be returning will she?"
"Relax." Xena told him as she opened the door. "As soon as we're gone, so is your problem. She won't be coming back." Xena noticed the man breath a sigh of relief as she walked outside. Gabrielle was right behind her. "We'll have to make it on foot. Argo's too far away in the opposite direction."
"Xena. If that woman is committed as she seems, she'll get to your friend before we do." Gabrielle walked along the trail next to her.
"You're right." Xena looked to the trees that surrounded them as they walked. "Something tells me she'll wait around though. Give us a sporting chance."
They continued along the path walking further into the forest. Gabrielle looked back a few times to see the tavern. No one was following them, at least nobody that she could see. She glanced over to Xena and then around again. Her right hand rested gently over the handle of her short sword. If she had to use her sais, she was ready. It wouldn't be the first time she had used them and she knew that it probably wouldn't be the last time either.
Xena looked to her friend and noticed the troubled expression on her face. "Dinar for your thoughts."
"I was just looking around." Gabrielle replied. "How are you?"
"I'm fine." Xena smiled. "A little winded since I'm walking for two, but I'll be alright."
"Do you want to stop and rest?" Gabrielle asked with a concerned sound to her voice.
Xena shook her head. "No. Trust me Gabrielle. We don't have the time."
The truth was that Xena did want to rest. The past few days of hiking through a forest together with a sleepless night and a nighttime attack made her feel tired but she pushed herself on. She wouldn't allow carrying a child to slow her down. She had met with other challenges in the past and saw pregnancy as no reason to hold back on what she needed to do.
Thoughts of the child she was carrying now caused her to think about Solan. She still felt a certain sadness in the lifetime denied to her with him. Whether it was her own lack of focus with Borias or Alti's curse or even Hope and Callisto's working together to kill her child she didn't know. All that she did know was that she had wanted to be a part of Solan's life but fate had set a different path for her at that time. She was going to make amends for that with this new child.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, sunlight passed through the trees as several men in an overnight camp packed up their belongings. Two of them were taking down tents while the rest packed up their gear and tied them up to their horses. The man in charge of the camp was named Maeler and it was his duty to see that everyone was ready and on the road by the time Saisha returned. She ran a tight operation and didn't care much for slackers.
Maeler looked around to the south side of the camp where Saisha had left. She had mentioned scouting out the area just ahead before returning to camp. Maeler had received his instructions for taking up camp and then heading up the trail as they had discussed it. She would meet him on the way. He was just about to signal the men to get ready to leave the clearing when he heard one of the men yell out.
The man fell to the ground holding his side. The sound had attracted the attention of the others in the camp and they all looked to their friend. There were seven of them in all. The man closest to the fallen one walked over toward him but stopped short of reaching him. He let out a yell as well and his hand reached up to his chest. As the second man spun around and fell down Maeler could see he was holding something that had hit him. Maeler looked in the opposite direction but didn't see anything.
"Take cover!" Maeler yelled.
The remaining five quickly ran behind some trees or horses or whatever they could find. Maeler frowned at his luck. The trees in this area of the forest were not very wide. A man off to his right side just found that out. He cried out as something hit him and he slumped down to the ground.
Maeler had seen it that time. Something flew through the air and struck the man in the chest. Something small by the looks of it. Maeler looked to the other three. One of the men was stuck in a tent. He had been packing a few things for the trip. The other two men were standing behind trees. Maeler ducked his head back quickly as something flew out at him. He turned his head and saw something made of metal hit into the tree.
He wasn't in the position to reach out for the metal weapon but he could see it was smaller than his hand. It looked like it had sharp edges to it like a dagger would except the blade was much thinner. Just then Maeler heard a horse cry out in pain. He looked back to the encampment and saw one of the men stepping quickly away from the wounded horse. It was one of the men hidden behind a tree. He had tried to get to his horse and make a quick getaway but the unseen attacker had ruined that plan.
There was a sudden noise in the air. Maeler looked up to see something large and dark flying in the air. It was a person. The person landed in the center of the clearing and looked to both sides quickly before raising a sword. The man in the tent ran toward the horses as did one of the men standing behind the trees. The other man behind the tree took his sword and ran toward the attacker.
He swung his sword out at the attacker but the person in black had already moved back. A second swing of the sword missed as well. The attacker ducked and rolled to the side. The person in black quickly stood up and brought their sword across the soldier's back. The man fell to the ground.
Maeler came out from behind the tree and swung his sword at the attacker's side. He smiled as his sword cut through the black clothing slightly. Maeler could tell by the person's movements that his sword had struck its target. The two of them faced off against each other with their swords held up in the air. Maeler could see behind the attacker. The other two men had made their escape with enough of the supplies that they would be alright. He was thankful for that at least.
The attacker lunged forward with their sword and Maeler moved to the right. He swung his sword out in return but it missed. A few more quick attacks had him moving off to the right once more. He was too busy fighting off sword attacks to notice a series of tree roots sticking out of the ground. On the next attack he backed away and fell back to the ground. Before he could get up the attacker's sword found its target.
Maeler cried out at the sharp pain in his chest. He was on his back and could see the attacker knelt down at his side. Another sharp pain caused him to yell again as the sword struck into his chest. His last closing thoughts before unconsciousness overtook him were of the attacker. The person in black took off their mask. It was the face of an Asian woman.
Not far from the clearing, Xena and Gabrielle were continuing along the path when they both heard the sudden fast gallop of horses. Gabrielle reached out to take Xena's hand and direct her to a safe place off the path. Xena refused. She wanted to be out in the open in case they were attacked. Gabrielle saw Xena reached for her sword and pull it out. She drew out her sais as the horses neared them.
Two men approached on horseback. Both of them looked worried and both Xena and Gabrielle could tell they were in a hurry. The two men slowed their horses as they approached the women. Xena could tell by the way they were dressed that they were most likely mercenaries or warriors. They usually dressed the same way.
One of the men spoke. "You women had better turn back now. There's an assassin back that way."
The other man nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah. They killed five of our friends back there in no time at all. We had to get out of there while we could."
"Let me guess. Someone dressed in black." Xena looked behind the men on horses and further down the trail. The first man said that she was right.
"Listen lady. Didn't you hear us? That person's an assassin or something. I aint seen nobody move that quick before."
Before Xena could respond she heard a woman's voice from behind her. "I don't think you'll see Xena backing off from the challenge. She's drawn to trouble like a horse is to water."
Xena turned in surprise. She hadn't expected someone to sneak up on her and Gabrielle so easily. She recognized the woman as soon as she saw her. Gabrielle looked to the woman as though she might be a new threat to consider. Xena narrowed her eyes and responded with a slight frown. "Saisha."
"Good to see you again though I wish the circumstances were better." Saisha responded. Her words sounded like those of a friend, but the blank tone in her voice suggested any friendship they might have shared had been some time ago.
Gabrielle was careful to keep her back away from the men on the horses and from this new woman named Saisha. She was dressed mainly in deerskins by the look of her. A leather headband held her shoulder length brunette hair out of her face. She carried a sword with her but it was still secured at her side.
"One man did all this?" Saisha used a scolding tone on the two men on horseback. Neither of them could quite make themselves look her in the eye. She muttered something to herself that couldn't be heard.
"Not a man. Its a woman." Xena corrected her.
"A woman?" Saisha responded with surprise. "I had a group of seven men with me. That should be enough to deal with a single woman."
"Not this woman." Xena slowly placed her sword back into its scabbard. She studied Saisha's face as she explained further. "Its Min Ruen. You remember?"
Saisha appeared surprised when she heard the name. The expression on her face showed that she remembered, but a calm look on her face came back again. "How could I forget. All of us would have died had it not been for some quick thinking on somebody's part." She gave a cold look to Xena.
.....there was a great deal of sand in this area. Xena frowned slightly and kicked her boot at the ground. Sand was thrown out directly in front of her, but none of it got in the campfire. Not that she cared, but Borias seemed to worry about those kind of things. He always did.
Xena and the rest of her army were in the narrow passage between the mountains. She shrugged in thought, Borias and her army at any rate. They would have to go through this area to finally be clear of Tae Ruen's lands. The area was made up of a series of hills closely grouped together along the Ruen borders. There would be open land unclaimed by anyone beyond it. There were a few other territories to cross before they could leave the Asian lands altogether, but they were in no hurry. She and Borias had both discussed a few schemes to play out before they left these lands altogether.
In the immediate area around her, Xena could see four members of her army. One was sitting down while another was working on a broken saddle. The other two were keeping watch on both ends of the path. They were all in an enclosed area here with a large hill to one side and several rocks overgrown with weeds and moss to the other side. And right across from Xena on the other side of the campfire sat the Imperial daughter, Min Ruen.
The open scowl on the woman's face told Xena she wasn't pleased at all with the situation. Xena laughed out loud to herself slightly as she cut into an apple that had been with the prisoner's supplies. The laughter seemed to make the captive woman unsettled and that pleased Xena to no end. She gave the prisoner a lingering smile for effect as she bit into a piece of apple.
"A sharp blade can cut deep if unattended." The young woman said calmly.
Xena looked to her in an unimpressed way. "Yeah, well I wouldn't worry about that." She twirled the blade around in front of her slightly. "Cause the only one whose gonna get cut around here is you if you get my message."
Xena smirked at the woman and bit into another sliced piece. "Nice apples."
The woman reached down quickly and threw a burning piece of log at Xena. Xena blinked and fell back to avoid the log. Burning orange and yellow ash flew up into the air and the piece of wood stuck into the sand. Xena rolled to her side, keeping a close eye on the prisoner. The woman was already standing and waving another piece of wood at one of the guards.
By now all four of the soldiers in the camp were focused on the prisoner. Xena quickly ordered two of them back to where they were. She could handle the situation. The sound of metal pulling against a scabbard could be heard as Xena drew her sword. The other two guards looked uncertainly toward the two women but backed away. They knew Xena could handle herself in a fight.
Sounds of people running came from the path behind Xena. The guards grew tense for a few seconds before Caerdes and Borias arrived. Xena looked to him and smiled. "Don't worry Borias. I can handle it."
"No!" Borias yelled out and quickly walked to her side. He started to reach for her hand but the look in her eyes made him think otherwise. "We have an arrangement. Horses and gold for the woman. We can't trade her back if she's dead."
"She started it." Xena knew that sounded weak but she didn't care. She looked back at the woman and saw that two of the soldiers were standing on either side of her. She wouldn't be going anywhere. Xena frowned at her as the woman smiled slightly for a brief second.
"We need to focus on other things right now." Borias spoke to her calmly. He reached up and put his hand on her shoulder. Xena gave him a questioning look as he spoke to her quietly so only they could here. "Save it for later. They'll be enough time for that soon enough." He looked to her sword.
She followed his gaze and smiled slightly. The trade-off wasn't intended to work as easily as it had been promised. That had also been part of their plan. She reached over and kissed him and then stepped back. "You're right. Later."
Xena walked away from the campfire and rested against one of the moss covered rocks. The others seemed to calm down and they returned to their duties. Xena closed her eyes for a few minutes and opened them later. She was surprised to see Borias sitting beside the prisoner and talking to her. Xena frowned. Was that a small smile she saw on the woman's face?
Xena growled. Only she could hear it however. Borias was always one for too much pleasantries. Off to the right she could see Caerdes standing there. He had been one of the four guards in the camp, one of Borias' men originally. He'd probably ran out to get Borias like a good little dog. Xena looked away from him in disgust. It was no great surprise why he volunteered for campsite duties. Saisha would be back soon and Xena's best tracker Finnigan always seemed to be sent on patrol. She'd have to do something about that.....
.....they continued down the path toward Saisha's camp. Everyone was quiet and the two men led their horses along the path quietly. Saisha did the same. She had gone back into the woods to retrieve her horse as well. Xena and Gabrielle followed right behind them on foot. Both of them had their weapons in their hands. Gabrielle was only carrying one of her sais at the moment. She reasoned she could always reach for the other one quickly enough.
"I imagine you've been keeping busy." Saisha remarked.
"You could say that." Xena gave a short response as she looked out to the trees surrounding them. There was no movement to be seen but she knew that could be deceiving.
Saisha continued to look to Xena now and then as they walked along the path. "Interesting."
"What's that?" Xena asked, still looking to their surroundings as Gabrielle was also doing.
Saisha shrugged. "Given your apparent...condition, I would not have thought you to be here."
Xena took no great offense from the comment. She knew that as time continued her pregnancy would be more obvious. She still had her skills. That was something that could never be lost. "I can manage well enough."
"I don't doubt it." Saisha nodded and then looked to one of her men on horseback.
The soldier to the right side of the path held up his hand slowly to indicate that the camp was not far ahead. Everyone became more alert as they carefully looked to the ground and trees all around them. Saisha herself turned completely around as they walked forward. She wanted to see that no one had moved to an unexpected position behind them.
The soldier on the right side dismounted and drew his sword slowly. He muttered something to himself, perhaps a prayer of some kind, and began to walk away from the others. The clearing was only thirty or more feet from the path and he carefully stayed on the path so as not to walk through leaves. By the time he stood within the camp once more, the rest of them were just entering the clearing.
Gabrielle shook her head lightly as she looked to the fallen soldiers in the camp. Some of them lay outside of the clearing near trees. They had looked for protection in the forest and had not found any. Two men were lying dead in the camp. One was stretched out on the ground on his stomach. He was near a tent which had been knocked over. The second man was lying on his back with one arm on his chest and the other to his side. He had been reaching for his sword but was several feet too far away from it.
Saisha approached the man and looked around the camp one last time before lowering to one knee. She held her head down for a few seconds and put her hand on his chest. Gabrielle imagined he must have meant something to her. After a few seconds she stood up again and ordered the two men to come over to her. She gave them some instructions and then walked over to Xena and Gabrielle.
"Maeler." Saisha explained. "He ran the camp in my absence. A good man that knew how to get his orders across to the men. He'll be hard to replace."
"We'll need to find a place for the night." Xena responded. "Preferably out of sight."
"I can have the men salvage what they can." Saisha turned to give them another command.
Xena reached out and touched her shoulder. "We don't want to make too much noise. We should stay here but sleep outside of the camp. In the leaves."
Gabrielle watched as the two men began to take whatever weapons and valuables they could find from the dead men. It wasn't something she cared for herself but the men would not have any further need for their possessions and she reminded herself that they were dealing with thieves and mercenaries afterall. This was probably normal behavior for them.
"And another thing." Xena continued. "No fire. I don't want to give her the advantage of seeing us when we can't see her."
Saisha left to help the men with the supplies in the camp. As she did so Xena walked over to Gabrielle and noticed the concern on her friends face. "We'll deal with the situation as best we can."
Gabrielle nodded her head slightly. She had come to expect reassuring comments like that from Xena whenever they faced trouble. It did quite alot to calm her nerves.
"Min Ruen is good but she's not without her faults. We just have to keep with a reasonable plan and not let the tension get to us." Xena looked around the camp at a few of the men that had died earlier. "I'm guessing they panicked and let themselves fall out of play. Min did the rest."
Xena walked over to a large rock that was off to the side of the camp and half-leaned, half-sat against it. She let out a deep breath and slowly reached for her new chakram. Gabrielle watched her as she slowly began to practice with a few close range moves she was trying to perfect.
"So we just relax for now Xena?" Gabrielle looked to her for an answer. "If she's as thorough as you say, isn't there something more to do."
"Nope." Xena responded simply bringing the chakram down in a quick sudden movement. She twirled it around her fingers, using the center handle to make it spin slightly. "Daylight's no challenge for her and besides she'll want to catch us off guard at night. We'll have to sleep and that...'is a statement of fact.' "
Gabrielle noticed the almost sad smile on Xena's face when she made that last comment. Something about that made her think of a story that Xena told her years ago. A story of Lao Mau and Ming Tzu. She looked to the ground in front of them. "I hope you're right."
Xena looked over to her and smiled slightly. "So do I."
As the hours continued, all of them made their best efforts to pass the time quietly enough. Saisha's men had taken all that was valuable in the camp and evenly distributed it between the two of them. Saisha did not want to be burdened with such things at the moment. She needed to concentrate on the hours ahead.
Xena and Gabrielle sat by themselves still near the rock that Xena had leaned against earlier. Gabrielle looked to the darkening blue sky as sunset began. "It'll be night soon."
Xena nodded her head quietly. "We should get some sleep now. Any sleep is better than none at all."
Gabrielle glanced over to her. The two of them were sitting side by side. "You never mentioned what happened after the kidnapping."
"Will it make you go to sleep?" Xena's voice sounded slightly amused as she smiled.
"Maybe." Gabrielle responded and rested her head against a tree.
"Alright." Xena began. "Our plan was to make it past the enclosed pass and then.....
.....reach another area clear of the mountains. Xena led the men to a grassland clearing not far from a river. It was the same river that passed through Tae Ruen's lands and a few other provinces in the area. That was fine by her. She instructed two of the men to fill up the waterskins and another two men to keep a close eye on their prisoner.
Xena looked back at the woman who seemed entirely too pleased with herself after her talks with Borias. Xena doubted they did anything. They hadn't had any time for that but the woman had a relaxed smile on her face anyway and that made Xena mad.
"Her's as well." One of the soldiers asked.
Xena looked to Min Ruen and then to the soldier with a sneer. Her voice was slightly dramatic. "Oh no. Not for our precious guest." Her voice became quick and annoyed. "Let her suffer."
The soldier left to the river as the rest of them circled their horses around in a loose circle. They would make camp here just on the other side of the mountain pass so that Borias, Caerdes and the others would have time to reach them.
Borias had gone back to report on the sudden ambush of the treacherous Xena. She laughed out loud to herself thinking about that. Min Ruen looked to her briefly and Xena rewarded her with a dirty look. Borias was spinning tales once again. By making her out to be the bad one, he could return and ask for assistance and regretfully tell the demands given by the evil Xena. She shook her head in amusement at his scheming ways. She knew there was a reason she liked him.
It didn't take long for the men on guard duty to report Borias' return. He could be seen in the distance on the same side of the mountains as they were positioned. Xena frowned slightly at that as it meant there had been another mountain pass further along the range that her men had missed. She instructed one of her men to go back up the path they had come from and bring back the two men who stayed back as lookouts.
Borias and Caerdes were accompanied by a procession of four ceremonial horses decorated with all manners of gold and royal red silks. Each horse carries one of the four supports for the royal carriage which Tae Ruen rode within. It was suspended in the air between the horses.
The group slowly made its way up to Xena and her group. At her command, one of the men guarding Min Ruen rode forward slightly to a position between the woman and her father. Xena smiled at the sight of so much gold. It would make a fine addition to the long haul they stood to make out of all this. She could see by the brief gleam in Borias' eye things were going smoothly.
The silk curtain's on the side of the carriage parted slowly and an elderly Asian man dressed in royal gowns stepped out and onto the ground. Tae Ruen was elderly but powerful. While his lands were smaller than several others around him he had the distinct advantage of being in control of the river which branched out into three separate directions. Irrigation of farmlands was of great importance and he had just enough of a loyal well-trained army to hold his position for some time now. Tributes paid to him by grateful neighboring lands were evident in the way he flaunted his wealth. Dumb idea as far as Xena was concerned. That meant he was that much more of a sucker for them to take advantage of.
"Might I see my daughter to ensure her safety." Tae Ruen asked. He was very soft spoken.
Xena gave an uninterested response. "She's here. That's good enough."
Tae Ruen bowed his head slightly in agreement. Xena frowned slightly. The guy was stupid like she thought. All of them in this land were like that. Politeness was for the weak or the out-classed. She watched as he spoke to one of his royal servants sitting on the horse nearest to him. Unlike Borias, she didn't trust the man. Maybe it was her confrontation with his daughter the night before at the campfire but she didn't like their secretive ways.
Borias and Caerdes made sure to face directly toward Xena's group. They did not speak to one another or even look in each other's directions. It was important that their deception work properly. Min Ruen had been instructed earlier to know her place and remain silent. It had been more of a threat really as Xena had held a dagger up to the young woman's throat slightly.
Tae Ruen turned back to face Xena. "It is agreed then. Ten horses and twenty bags of gold."
"Better make that thirty. See we ahh need a little extra to get by on until we get out of these lands." She smiled slightly as Tae Ruen's eyes widened slightly.
"Xena...the honorable Ruen has dealt fairly in this." Borias gave a slight sense of warning though they both knew it wasn't sincere.
"Shut up Borias and keep your eyes off the goods." A dark grin played across Xena's face as she caught Borias speechless. That last bit on her part had been intentional, to get back at him for the previous night. He frowned slightly but said nothing. He was predictable like that.
"Begging your pardon but twenty was the accepted amount. It is all that I have." Tae Ruen explained.
Xena looked over to the four horses and the carriage that they carried. She waved her hand at them. "That thing over there looks like its worth something. And those horses too." She leaned forward on her saddle. "Can't have you running back for soldiers too soon now can we."
Borias' slow drawn out voice held a warning. "You are going too far Xena. This was never part of the agreement." He held his head up high with the self-assured appearance of nobility.
"Oh come off it Borias and get over here. Enough with the show already." Xena smirked.
Tae Ruen looked to Borias with little surprise. Borias started to say something to Xena for her departing from the plan but as it had already been done he shrugged and looked to Tae Ruen with a light smile. Borias, Caerdes and the other man who had rode with them slowly walked their horses over to the same side as Xena's army.
"Wasn't expecting that one was you Rueny." Xena laughed as she often did when bragging of tales in local taverns.
Tae Ruen for his part seem unmoved by the sudden betrayal. He spoke with calm, thoughtful words. "Appearances are like the rocks along the mountain pass. One can never tell what lies underneath until one reaches out to pick them up."
Xena made a low moan at the old man's poor proverb. That was another thing these people in Chin liked to do. They talked too much. She thought about his words for a second though and then of his message in general. As she looked quickly up to the mountain pass near them, she could hear the battle excited yells of several men dressed in black and red. Eight or nine men by the look of them. All of the people in her army were looking to the men on the mountain now.
"It's a trap." One of her soldiers said. He quickly dismounted as another couple of men did.
All three of them ran toward the mountain before Xena could order them back. "Get back here you fools. We're stronger as a team than separate."
Xena heard a sudden sound behind her and the guard behind Min Ruen was thrown off his saddle to the ground. The man guarding her from the front turned back and fell forward against his horse. Min Ruen's foot kicked him hard in the face. The guard's horse rushed past Xena and caused her own warhorse to bolt to the side slightly.
By now all of Xena's men had their swords out and ready to attack. The four who had carried the royal carriage had dropped the carriage to the ground. All four of their horses drew down on Xena's group. Borias and Caerdes fought off two of them while the other's tried to rescue Min Ruen. One of the two guards slashed his sword through a man's chest and the man fell to the ground.
"Oh no you don't. She's mine." Xena kicked her foot into the side of her horse and turned around. She brought her sword up just in time to defend herself against the attack. It took about five swings of the sword but she finally brought the guard down with a deep cut to his arm.
All around her Xena could hear the sounds of battle, of horses straining against the sudden moves required of them, of the sounds of metal striking metal and of men crying out in the distance. She was grimly aware that more of the voices crying out sounded familiar to her than Asian. She cursed her bad fortune and struck another of the royal guards in the back. The man fell backwards off his horse and hit the ground near her.
"They came through! They came through!" Finnigan's horse raced through the pass and stopped abruptly. Xena had sent him back to retrieve their look-outs but judging by the what he had just said, she knew they were already dead.
She looked around and to her added frustration Xena could see that Min Ruen had escaped. Her horse was over by her father and both were caught in a short embrace. She didn't have time to look for long though as one of the Ruen soldiers hidden on the mountainside brought his sword across the back of her horses leg. Xena felt herself suddenly pitch backward as her horse let out a deafening wail. She pulled her feet up and rolled backwards onto the ground in a backwards somersault. When she stood back up, the soldier that had wounded her horse swung his sword at her stomach. She backed away and swung out at him on her own. Thankfully one of Finnigan's throwing daggers sunk into the man's back and he fell to the ground.
The battle was not going good for them they were loosing too many men and more hidden Royal guards were coming from the mountain. She could see another of her dismounted soldiers cry out as a sword cut him in the legs. She cursed this stupid plan and looked over to the royal carriage.
Tae Ruen and his daughter were helping a few royal guards out of the carriage. Xena growled. The old man had hidden some soldiers in the carriage with him. "Double dealing scum!"
Xena reached down and drew Finnigan's dagger out of the dead guard's back. She kicked the dead man in the side out of frustration. Then she turned to the carriage and threw the dagger. "Ruen!"
Tae Ruen and his daughter turned to look at Xena. As soon as they did, Tae Ruen fell backward as the dagger hit his chest. Min Ruen tried to slow his fall but it was too late. The throw had been fatal, a small skill Xena had learned from Finnigan. Min Ruen screamed out to the open land and then looked to Xena with pure hatred. She picked up the nearest weapon she could find and started to run toward her.
Xena's eyes narrowed but her concentration broke when she was pulled to the side. Borias' hand gripped her shoulder roughly from his mount. "Come on Xena. We have to go now. It's now or never!"
She looked up to him and jumped up behind him, wrapping her arms around his chest. She could see several of the others in their group doing the same. It was a lost cause to stay here and fight with more royal soldiers arriving by the minute. Xena glanced over to some of her men and saw several bags of gold which had been taken in the confusion. They were still more than enough to make this little effort worth it.
Borias led the army toward the river. He mentioned something of their needing to follow it until they were safe into Mongolian lands. Xena wasn't paying attention to him. She held onto him tightly as they raced along the prairie, glancing back to the carriage and to the ever distancing face of pure hatred held by Min Ruen.....
.....Xena glanced over to Gabrielle and smiled to herself. Her friend was sound asleep. The story had been exciting enough to her as far as she was concerned. Maybe she just lacked that bard skill. It was something she would have to work on.
The moonlight from the evening wasn't showing that clear as the sky was partly cloudy. That worked in their favor. Xena saw one of Saisha's men lying not far from them. He was on his side fast asleep but thankfully he had his weapon near him for quick use. Xena had to compliment Saisha on that at least, she knew how to train her men well.
Xena could hear the wind pass through the leaves not too far away. The animals were making some noises as well tonight. That's when the thought struck her that she could hear a little too much for her own good. Xena looked around quickly and was almost immediately rewarded with the sound of a man yelling out in pain. She recognized him as one of Saisha's two guards. He was off to the left some distance.
Xena looked over to Gabrielle who was stirring from her sleep and then up to a shadow that had passed right above them. A figure in black stood there with its sword raised. "And now I finish the job." Min Ruen's sword swung down at them both.
Before Xena could react, Gabrielle's leg swept out and caught Min Ruen unprepared. The sudden kick to the side of the attacker's leg sent her off balance and she had to take a few steps back. It was all the time Xena and Gabrielle needed to ready themselves. Xena reached up for her chakram about the same time that Gabrielle took hold of both of her sais.
Min Ruen looked around quickly. The sound of Saisha and the other guard moving to the side caused her to backflip away from Xena. She reached back and returned her sword to its hold and shook her hands out in front of her. Metal spikes flew out to the palm of Min Ruen's hands and reached out for the nearest tree.
Gabrielle advanced on the woman before Xena could give her a warning. She swung one of the sais in the air and cut through the attacker's black outfit just below the waist. Min Ruen sent a sharp kick to Gabrielle's side that sent her to the ground. She hesitated for a few seconds decide if finishing off the young blond was worth it, but he others were drawing closer. Min Ruen dug her spikes into the tree and started to climb up the side of the tree quickly. Her feet never touched the tree as she raced up in the tree tops.
Xena raced over to Gabrielle's side and held her chakram in her left hand. She used her other hand to help Gabrielle up as Saisha and her soldier approached them. "You alright?"
Gabrielle nodded her head and reached for her side. "Nothing serious, but it was fast."
"Where is she?" Saisha held her sword up in the air. She appeared wild-eyed and ready to fight.
"She's gone already." Xena looked up to the trees and around. She could see nothing. "That was just a small promise of what's to come."
Eventually they started to relax after several minutes. The other soldier wanted to go check on his friend but Saisha told him not to. She didn't want them splitting up anymore until their attacker was dealt with. Xena agreed with her old friend. She said they should stay up for the night so the attack wouldn't repeat itself. No one was in much of a mood for sleep anyway.
Xena sat there off to herself. She told Gabrielle to stay near Saisha. The woman was a skilled fighter and the two of them together could hold off Min Ruen. Gabrielle questioned her own safety but Xena shrugged off a response. She would manage.
As the nighttime hours continued Xena thought back to her escape along the river with Borias. Tae Ruen's soldiers had pursued them and even caught up to them on one occasion, but they had managed to drive them into a retreat. Not without the loss of Caertes however. Xena was sure Saisha still felt some resentment for that. She could see it in the woman's eyes briefly when they glanced at one another.
Daylight finally arrived and the four of them began to pack up their things. Each of them stopped from time to time and looked around the camp. No signs of the Asian woman could be seen. It was as though she had disappeared into thin air. Xena reasoned that she had probably taken the opportunity to get some sleep up in the trees. That would make her more awake and alert for the day.
Xena led the group out of the camp once they were ready and they made their way further down the path. Saisha and her soldier were exchanging words with one another when Xena heard something fly through the air. It sounded like it was large and moving fast. "Get down!"
Xena saw that Gabrielle lowed down quickly and reached for her sais. Xena turned around and saw a huge log flying through the air. Before she could react, Saisha was hit by the log and sent flying into the air. Her soldier stepped back quickly and was missed by inches as the log swung all the way out from its vine. It started to swing back and as it did a dark black shape flew through the air.
Min Ruen landed on her feet in a crouched position. She stood up and drew her sword. Saisha's soldier yelled at her and charged toward her with his own sword. Xena drew out her chakram as he did so. She gave the horse a quick slap to the side to force it off the path and to the side.
Xena and Gabrielle ran toward Min Ruen as her sword clashed with the soldier's sword. Gabrielle advanced on the Asian woman just as her foot kicked out at the soldier. He flew back into the air and fell to the ground. Gabrielle struck out at Min Ruen's sword repeatedly. The woman deflected each of her attacks and was backing away from Xena. She reached her foot forward and wrapped it around Gabrielle's ankle. When Gabrielle reached forward again with her sai, Min Ruen used the move against her and forced Gabrielle to fall onto the ground.
Min Ruen's sword was brought up into the air and facing down in one quick move. She started to swing down at Gabrielle when the sound of something flying across the trees caught her attention. Min Ruen stopped and backflipped several times down the path as the chakram raced through the air where she had been standing. It would have caught her in the side had she still been standing there.
Xena watched with disappointment as the chakram struck into the tree. She ran over to the tree, barely noticing as the soldier and Gabrielle both stood up to advance on Min Ruen's position once again. The soldier attacked and then Gabrielle attacked. Min Ruen was somehow able to deflect both attacks at the same time. She grabbed Gabrielle's arm and threw her to the side.
The soldier's sword struck out at the woman and missed. Min Ruen had sidestepped the attack and quickly thrust her sword behind her. The soldier coughed with a painful sound to his voice as he fell down. Min Ruen's sword had found its target. The Asian woman swung her sword forward once more and started to advance on Gabrielle once more. A sudden sound off to the right caught her attention.
"A gift from Caertes!" Saisha yelled out as best she could. She was dazed from being struck and was leaning against a nearby tree. She still managed to hold a sword out slightly.
Something flew through the air and Min Ruen flipped over to the side. A silver piece of metal struck into the ground near her. Before she had time to consider the odd shape of the weapon the other half of Xena's chakram struck Min Ruen in the back. Min Ruen stumbled forward slightly and fell to the ground.
Gabrielle was the first to advance on her. She kicked the Asian woman's sword into the forest and held both sias down toward her. Saisha approached them as Xena retrieved the half of her chakram that had struck into the path. She looked over to Gabrielle who nodded her head showing that she was alright.
Xena reached out for the half of her chakram that was in Min Ruen's back and saw that the woman was still alive. Xena, Gabrielle and Saisha backed away slightly as Min Ruen's hand reached out to the dirt path. She tried her best to pull herself away from the others, but only her hand was moving. It was a futile gesture.
All three of them watched quietly as the woman's hand stretched out slowly toward the east. After a few seconds her fingers grew still and she moved no more. Saisha walked toward her and took Xena's weapon from her back. She gave it to Xena and hurried over to her fallen soldier. Gabrielle walked up to her and put her hand on Xena's shoulder lightly to comfort her. She gave Xena a sad smile and went to help Saisha. Xena just stood there for a few seconds, recognizing Min Ruen's last efforts to reach out in the direction of her lands, towards her home.
Chapter 6: Conclusion.
Xena looked over to the tavern full of people. She was seated at the same table she and Gabrielle had been sitting at when they had entered the place the day before. It was dark outside and despite her sullen mood, Xena smiled as she looked into the fireplace. Her thoughts were interrupted as Gabrielle returned to the table with two mugs of cider. Xena wasn't drinking ale as she usually did. She couldn't afford to now that she was drinking for two.
"Are you alright?" Gabrielle asked as she took the seat next to her friend. She had been with Xena enough to know that something was bothering her, but Xena would take her own time before she mentioned it.
Xena looked over to her and responded with a simple comment. "Just thinking."
Gabrielle nodded and glanced over to Saisha who was seated with another couple of men. The men were smiling and one held up his mug in a toast to the woman as they traded stories of adventure. Gabrielle imagined Saisha was probably adding the battle with Min Ruen to her list of stories. The men seemed captured by her tale as the offered to buy the wounded woman an extra mug of ale. Gabrielle had set the bandages for her but Saisha assured her that as for a serious bruise and soreness she would be alright.
She looked to her side once again and noticed Xena glancing back at the fireplace. "It's Min Ruen isn't it?" She studied her friend for a few seconds.
Xena looked to her and nodded her head slowly. "She was trying to go back home Gabrielle. In those last few seconds. I could see it." Xena took a slow long drink of her cider.
Gabrielle reached over and leaned against Xena, giving her a supportive hug. They continued to sit there for the rest of the night, Gabrielle looking to her friend occasionally and Xena remembering her days in Chin.
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