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Disclaimer: The characters that appear on the show Xena Warrior Princess (Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Salmoneus, & others made mention of from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Hercules, Iolaus & Autolycus) are the copyright of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The other characters and the original story idea, are my own and I reserve the rights to them. If you like some of my original characters and would like to use them in one of your stories, that would be great, but please do not do so without my permission. This story was written for the sheer joy of creating a story that everyone could enjoy and because I am a big fan of Xena Warrior Princess, but mostly it was written for my sister, Sam, who is an even bigger fan than I am.
Content: Could be classified as a Hurt/Comfort story. Moderate language. The story centers around a war/battle and does contain what some may consider extreme violence (PG-13), but it is not described in graphic detail. There is a level of subtext in this story, but I’ve tried to be as faithful to the series as possible, so there is no more subtext than what you would see on the show.
Spoiler Warning: Takes place between "The Debt I & II" and "Maternal Instincts" episodes of Xena Warrior Princess. You may want to watch the "The Deliverer," "Gabrielle’s Hope" and "The Debt I & II" episodes if you have not already seen them, since several aspects of these episodes are directly dealt with.
Acknowledgements: This story would never have been possible without the help of my sister, Sam, whose thankless job (at least, that’s what she thinks) it was to advise me in the ways of the Xenaverse. Since I am not as well scripted as she in all those simple little quirks of Xena and Gabrielle’s, she chose to stick her nose in and nit-pick my entire story. But, if truth be told, if Ididn’t have her to nit-pick my story, to urge me on and to be there when I call late at night just to ask: "Sam, does this sound right?" "Sam, do you think Xena would do this?", I wouldn’t have a story to begin with. So, I need to take a moment here just to say: "Thanks, Sam." I would also like to thank my Dad, who is an excellent writer in his own right, for his great editing work and ideas that really pulled my story together and made it work.
I would love to hear from all Xena fans out there and am willing to take a little objective criticism, but please take into consideration that I am quite fragile and could crack under pressure. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 5(cont'd)|
By Jennifer Lawson
Part I: Xena Warrior PrincessSoulmates
i’m going hunting
i’m the hunter
i’ll bring back the goods
-- "Hunter", Bjork
Meeting The Magistrates
Minion led them into a large building that could only have been their courts. Five older men sat at a long table and wore robes that assigned them some sort of position. The man seated in the middle stood and looked them over curiously. He was tall and heavy set, bald and heavily bearded. He said, "I am High Magistrate Nallos. Which one of you is Xena, The Warrior Princess?"
"I am, High Magistrate," Xena said, stepping forward. . "I’m sorry if I’ve interrupted your celebration…"
"Yes, you have interrupted our celebration," Nallos retorted. "My family and I were just about to sit down and have our Harvest supper when Minion came to me with this threat of yours…"
"It wasn’t a threat, High Magistrate," Xena said, struggling to maintain her composure. The pompous attitude of people in power was a source of irritation to her. "It was a warning," she went on. "I have reason to believe a very deadly army may soon attack your village. Just this morning, my friend and I came across a large clearing about a half days ride south of here riddled with dead bodies that were victims of this army."
"You must be referring to the nomads. Every year around this time, they settle down in that area. The soil is rich there. They plant, they harvest and they move on."
"Well, they won’t be moving on this year."
"What do you mean?"
Gabrielle spoke up. "Everyone there was killed, Sir. Man, woman…and child. Even their livestock was slaughtered."
Nallos stared at her wide eyedwide-eyed, contemplating her statement, then sat back down, his face twisted in concern. The other Magistrates whispered amongst themselves.
Xena’s frustration had waned some but her eyes widened in disbelief when he said, "I can’t believe this. Who could do such a thing?" " Obviously the man was still not listening seriously. . Had the concern she saw in his eyes been more for his celebration than for the danger?
With a sigh, Xena answered, "We don’t know who did it, but there were unmistakable tracks left by a war chariot and the ground was littered with hoof prints. It was a large and deadly army."
"By the gods. And on Harvest Eve." Nallos shook his head in sad disgust. "So, you think an army of warriors did this?"
"The dead were all over the place. The men could have possibly held their own if it had been a small band. All the evidence points to a large and ruthless army of merciless killers."
Skeptically Nallos asked, "But, why those people? They’ve never harmed anybodyne. What could they possibly have gained by killing nomads?"
"An army like this is in the killing business. I don’t think it mattered to them who the people were. They were there, in their path. Nothing else mattered. An army that will kill women and children do not concern themselves with identity. They just kill. And from the direction they were traveling, I believe your village could be the next one in their path."
Sitting up and leaning forward, Nallos faced Xena squarely and asked, "How can you know for sure that they’re coming here?"
"I can’t, not positively. But are you willing to bet your life and the lives of the people in this village on the possibility that I could be wrong?"
Unfortunately, Xena was dealing with an office and a title. Her frustration was making her aggressive and the man’s pride was being offended. Gabrielle could see where this was heading so she spoke up saying, "High Magistrate Nallos, I’ve been traveling with Xena for several years now and I know when to trust her instincts. She wouldn’t come to you now if she didn’t think the lives of your people were in danger."
"I realize that, and I appreciate your concern. But, did you not see how well fortified the village of Phestia is? We have been through battle after battle and always our gate and our walls have kept us safe."
"I’m sure they have," Xena said, frustration showing in her face. This man just did not seem willing to take her seriously. "But just to be on the safe side you should evacuate some of your citizens, at least the women, children and the elderly to safety."
"Evacuate them to where may I ask?"
"Into the woods. I know of some caves near here."
"Caves!" Nallos said, incredulously. "By the gods, woman! Have you lost your mind? My people would not agree to spending any time in caves just because you think we might be attacked!"
"Oh, I see," Xena said, her upper lip curling in angry frustration. "I guess they’d be more agreeable to being six feet under the dirt than spending a couple of days in a cave. You and your family included!"
"Now, look here!" Nallos said, standing back up in anger and staring with hooded eyes.
Xena met his stance with a cold stare, walked up to the long table and slammed her palms down with a bang. "NO! You look here! I didn’t come all this way just to here you say thanks but no thanks! I came back here to save your miserable life and the lives of the people in your village."
"We are quite capable of taking care of ourselves," Nallos said, leaning across the table. "We have our own soldiers, our own weapons and our own strength! We do not need yours! Now, in case you have forgotten, we are holding our annual Harvest Festival. People come from all over the land every year. Imagine what would happen if I canceled the festival over one woman’s claims."
"They are not claims, they are fact! Those people are dead, just like you and your village will bemay soon be if you do not take action to protect yourselves! You are placing this ridiculous festival over the lives of your people!"
Nallos stared down at Xena in haughty disregard. "This festival is not only a celebration of the harvest time, but it is a festival to the gods for all the bounty they’ve brought us. I fear a worse fate would befall us if we did not continue the festival. The gods will protect us."
"You pathetic old fool, the gods don’t care about you. All they care about is their own interest. When are you people gonna wise up?"
"How dare you speak to me that way!"
Gabrielle could see that things were getting out of hand, so she walked up and gently tugged at Xena’s arm. In her anger, Xena had not seen Gabrielle approaching and whipped around defensively, but calminged quickly onwhen she recognizeding who it was.
"Let’s go," Gabrielle said, tugging at her arm again. "There’s no point in arguing. They’re not going to believe you."
"That’s right!" Nallos said angrily. "Go. Leave Phestia and do not dare to return."
Xena shrugged Gabrielle’s hand off her arm and leaned across the table herself meeting Nallos angry stare. In a threatening tone she said, "Either you’re going to call off this ridiculous festival and warn your people, or I will!"
"You will do nothing of the kind. Guards!"
Two guards standing at the entrance of the building came quickly to the long table. "Arrest this woman!" Nallos demanded.
"No! Wait! You can’t do this!" Gabrielle said in indignation. The two guards grabbed Xena, and Gabrielle readied herself to join the battle, but Xena did not resist. In any normal situation, Xena would have fought and easily freed herself of just two guards. She had something in mind, Gabrielle was sure, a plan of some sort. This situation, however, did not seem to be lending to a successful mission.
"Stop this!" she demanded as the guards began to take Xena away. "You have no right to do this!"
"I have every right as High Magistrate! I accuse her of ‘Inciting violence’ and ‘Disturbing the peace’."
"That’s crazy! She was trying to help you!"
"Do you wish to join her?" he warned.
Gabrielle could again see where this was going, so she said nothing. . Both of them in jail could not serve any useful purpose. She silently backed away and scolded the Magistrate with her piercing stare.
"That’s what I thought. Now, if you behave yourself, I will allow you to stay in Phestia until her trial is over. You might get a chance to enjoy the festival tomorrow. Minion, show her out."
"Yes, High Magistrate." Minion obeyed, attempting to take Gabrielle by the arm.
Snatching her arm away she said angrily, "Get your hands off me! I can find my own way out." With that, she stormed from the building, fuming.
Salmoneus, now having dusted most of the flour from his clothing, had been waiting for them outside the building. . He was mildly surprised when Gabrielle came storming out all by herself. When he called out to her she met him with an angry stare.
"Whoa, what’s wrong with you?" he said defensively. "And where’s Xena?"
"Those idiots in there arrested her!"
"Arrested her? What for?"
"Come on," Gabrielle said, grabbing Salmoneus’ arm. "I’ll explain it to you on the way."
"On the way to where?"
"I have to get in the jail to see her. I’ve got to talk to her."
On the way, Gabrielle told Salmoneus about the nomad settlement and the possible threat. Knowing Xena as he did, he did not, like Nallos, shrug off her wisdom in matters such as these. However, being a man of limited fighting ability himself, this posed a serious threat to him, so he asked in a worried tone, "When are they supposed to attack?"
"I don’t know. But, I do know that Xena wanted to start evacuating the village as soon as possible. Nallos just wouldn’t listen. His festival is more important."
Salmoneus groaned and wiped sweat from his brow. "Why is it every time I get around you guys or Hercules and Iolaus something bad always happens?" Gabrielle did not grace that question with an answer. "Oh," Salmoneus moaned, picturing himself cut and bleeding. . "I knew I should have listened to Xena when she told me to get lost. . But, no, I had to be curious."
"Don’t even think about leaving, Salmoneus," Gabrielle demanded. "I’m going to need your help."
"How did I know you were going to say that?" he said with a pained expression.
At the jailhouse, Gabrielle banged loudly, and long enough on the door to get a guard’s attention. "I need to see Xena," she demanded when he stepped out.
Inside, Xena sat in her cell, devising a plan in her mind. When she heard the familiar sound of Gabrielle’s voice, she quickly stood up and walked to the metal bars that caged her.
"Sorry, but you’ll have to come back in the morning," the guard said to the blonde-haired girl disinterestedly. "Visiting hours are over."
"No, I need to see her tonight. It’s very important."
"Yeah? Well, so is my supper. Now, come back in the morning!"
"Look, you big … oaf!" Gabrielle said, making ready her staff.
Laughing nervously, Salmoneus took her by the shoulders, restraining her forward advance and in an attempt to calm things said, "Now, now, darling. Let’s not make the big man upset. You’ll have to forgive her. She’s got quite a temper. In fact, she’s been known to cause serious injuries in some instances when she doesn’t get what she wants."
Gabrielle recognized Salmoneus’ tactic and her face took on a darker, more deadly look. "I want to see Xena!" she growled.
An open window on the far side of the cell house drew Xena’s attention and she listened closely. Xena smiled, picturing the look on Gabrielle’s face as she began this crazy woman act.
"Well, you have to get through me little girl," the guard said in a show of superiority.
Salmoneus, laying it on thick, stood in front of Gabrielle as though holding her back and said to the guard, "Oh, no. Don’t say that. The last time somebody told her that…she went clean through him."
These tactics were taking her acting ability to a bit of an extreme and she wished she could tell him to calm it down some but, she clenched her teeth and growled like a crazed woman to make the claims more believable. "Let me at him!" she demanded straining to reach past Salmoneus. "I’ll rip him to pieces! I’ll rip off his head and spit down his neck!"
Xena’s stomach was in stitches, trying to hold back from laughing out loud.
"Please, let her see Xena!" Salmoneus pleaded. "I don’t want to be held responsible for another massacre."
The guard observed this display of insanity with growing concern and took note of the word, "Massacre?"
His nervous expression enhanced Gabrielle’s determination. . Screeching like a banshee she reached past Salmoneus saying, "I want to see Xena! ! Xena, Xena! Do you hear me! I want to see her NOW!"
By this time, Xena was in tears and so weak with laughter she had to hold onto the bars of her cell to support herself. Outside, p
People were starting to stick their heads out of doors, some stopping on the street to see what all the commotion was about.
Disruptions in and about the jail when he was on duty could result in serious repercussions from the Magistrates. So, to keep from causing a scene, the guard gave in. "All right! All right! Just make it quick," he said, moving back to let them in.
"May the gods bless you. You won’t regret this. I promise," Salmoneus said smiling. Gabrielle growled and barked at the guard as they passed, a couple of times yelping Xena’s name. The guard stuck his head out and checked up and down the street, hoping the spectacle would be quickly forgotten, then shut the door behind them. . Since Gabrielle was still faking threat of injury, he decided not to go in with them, but rather instructed Salmoneus, "Let me know if you need help."
"Oh, don’t worry about me. I can handle her. Just keep that door closed. You don’t want her getting loose."
"Okay, right!" he said apprehensively, and quickly closed and locked the door. Gabrielle dropped the dog act as the door closed and began searching the cells for Xena. All the cells where empty except for one.
"Gabrielle," Xena said looking out from behind the bars and smiling. As Gabrielle drew near, Xena shook her head and laughed. "Nice dog act."
"Salmoneus’ idea," Gabrielle said, rolling her eyes.
As he watched the door, Salmoneus said, "She was pretty good, huh?"
"Oh, it was a work of art," Xena smirked. "I knew "I didn’t think it wouldn’t take you long to work your way in here. Are you okay?"
Gabrielle, though, was serious as she reached just beyond the bars and took Xena’s hand. "I’m not the one in jail, Xena." She said, marveling at the depth of her friend’s love. Most other people would have been worried about themselves. "Xena, wWhy did you let them do this?" she asked with tender scolding.
"It wasn’t my original plan, but getting kicked out of the city won’t help these people. We won’t be any good to theseCan’t warn people from outside of the village."
"But, Xena, what good are you going to do locked up in here?"
"Staying in jail isn’t part of the plan, Gabrielle," Xena smiled.
"What about staying in Phestia?" Salmoneus asked concerned. "If this army is going to attack like you say, shouldn’t we just get out of here?"
"We can’t abandon these people, Salmoneus. Not yet."
"I knew you were going to say that," Salmoneus said, his expression drooping.
"I need a favor of the two of you."
"A favor," Salmoneus said. "Why does that make me feel very uneasy?"
"Anything," Gabrielle spoke up, ignoring Salmoneus. "Just name it."
"Stay in Phestia."
Breaking into a sweat, Salmoneus answered his own question. "Oh, that’s why.," Salmoneus said, breaking into a sweat. " Stay in Phestia?! ! Xena, are you crazy?"
They both gave Salmoneus a look of annoyance, then turned back to each other. "You want us to stay here in the village?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes. You need to let the people know that their lives are in danger. Tell as many people as you can, but do it discreetly. You don’t want the Magistrates to get wind of it. If they do they’ll either lock you up or throw you out of town."
Gabrielle could sense what direction this was heading. With concern in her eyes, she broke in, "Wait a minute. Are you leaving?"
"Gabrielle, I have to. If that army is camped somewhere out there waiting to strike, I have to find them and try to stop them."
"Then, let me come with you. You can’t face an entire army on your own. You could get killed."
"I need you here, Gabrielle. If I can at least slow them up, that will give you and Salmoneus more time to get people out of here."
"We’re supposed to stick together, remember?"
"I remember. But this is the only way."
"Xena," Gabrielle moaned, recognizing Xena’s strategy. "What if you don’t come back?" The guard called through the little trap in the door warning them that their time was almost up.
Xena glanced at the door, but her eyes quickly returned to Gabrielle. "If they attack before I come back, don’t stay here... Take who you can and bring them to safety. Don’t spend time on someone who resists you. If we can save a handful, we’ll be doing good." Xena could see the worry in Gabrielle’s eyes and wished there was some way to reassure her, but she was going to have to trust GabrielleXena’s instincts on this one.
"All right. I don’t like it, but I’ll do it," Gabrielle said reluctantly.
Xena brushed her knuckles across Gabrielle’s cheek and gave her a smile. "Be brave."
"I will be. You just make sure you come back."
Xena generally considered her chances better than average when in battle, but this time she had a lower expectation for obvious reasons. Gabrielle could read that in her eyes, and it served to deepen the feeling of foreboding she had been having since this all began. She glanced at Salmoneus as he called for the guard, then whispered to Xena, "Be careful." " They looked at each for a long moment, and then Gabrielle slowly turned away.
Xena’s eyes trailed after Gabrielle as she followed Salmoneus back outside. Gabrielle flashed one more glance at Xena before she went through the doorway and Xena tried to smile encouragingly for her sake. But, Xena’s smiled disappeared along with Gabrielle. "Goodbye, Gabrielle," Xena said in an undertone, knowing it was a distinct possibility.
As Gabrielle and Salmoneus exited the jailhouse, Gabrielle hugged herself against the chilled night air. The bright and beautiful day she had felt so moved to brag about was not only gone but had turned ominous. . Xena was only trying to protect her and Gabrielle knew it, but that didn’t still her irritation. She hated being left behind, not to mention that she was worried near to tears. She didn’t doubt Xena’s ability to take care of herself, of course. . That had been demonstrated too many times. However, this time, sheXena would be one against an army.
"So, what do we do now?" Salmoneus asked.
"We do just what Xena told us to do. We start warning the people."
"Gabrielle, you know, that sounds real nice, but how are the two of us going to warn a village of hundreds and still go unnoticed by the Magistrates?"
"Well, we definitely can’t shout it from the roof tops. But, if we can convince enough people of the danger and then get them to help, the word can be spread easily."
Salmoneus’ expression became thoughtful as a smile spread across his face. Taking Gabrielle by the arm he said with a confident smile, "And I know just the person to talk to. Come on." Working their way through the merriment in the darkening street as the evening became twilight, Salmoneus lead Gabrielle to another tavern. It seemed somewhat more secluded and less bustling than had the other one. Here, the men seemed to be more intent in their interest toward the women and the women were much more scantly clad. It took only a moment for Gabrielle to realize she was in a brothel.
"Salmoneus!" she said uncomfortably. "This is a…a…by the gods! ! What are we doing here?!"
"You said you needed someone who could persuade the people to listen, didn’t you?"
"Yeah, but not here!
"The person you’re looking for works here. Trust me, Gabrielle. I know what I’m doing."
"That remains to be seen," she said, noticing a drunk man stumbling toward them, eyeing Gabrielle with unconcealed lust. Only the gods knew how long it had been since this wretched man’s last bath, if in fact he had ever had one. Reeking of liquor, sweat and other indignities, he was glaring at Gabrielle with a toothless grin.
Speaking to Salmoneus the drunk man asked, "Is she yours or are ya sharin’? I’ll pay whatever you’re askin’."
"She’s not for sale," Salmoneus said, standing between them.
This walking heap of garbage, obviously not terribly appalled by his own filth, reached to touch her blonde hair with his dirty fingers only to experience her wrath. In repulsion, Gabrielle hissed, "Keep your disgusting hands off me!" She whacked him to the ground with one swing of her staff. Always ready to enjoy a good fight, this drew the attention of the crowd, but the incident iwas already over.
From within the crowd a woman stood up and eyed them with surprise. She was an older, but still attractive woman with curly red hair and a big smile, though showing the ware and tare of a hard life.
"Sal, honey!" she called out, running toward them.
"’Honey’?" Gabrielle teased.
With a slight blush, Salmoneus said, "We’re good friends."
"I bet you are."
"Salea, how are you?" Salmoneus said with a smile, as she hugged and kissed him.
"Oh, it’s so good to see you," she said, the delight showing in her eyes. "How long has it been?"
"A long time," Salmoneus answered.
"And who’s this pretty young lady with you? She’s not your girlfriend, is she, Sal?" Salea said, a bit of mischief in her tone.
"No," he answered, with a nervous laugh.
"Not hardly," Gabrielle said, tolerantly. "We’re just friends. I’m Gabrielle." She extended her hand to Salea, thinking this was a good-natured woman she couldn’t help but like. She possessed a personality that could challenge Gabrielle’s wit and humor. It was an anticipation Gabrielle relished.
"Well, it’s just a pleasure to meet you, Gabrielle. Any friend of Sal’s is a friend of mine."
"Actually, Salea," Salmoneus said. "We came to talk to you. We need your help."
"You need my help? Whatever for?"
"If we could talk someplace a little more private," Gabrielle said, gesturing toward the crowd. "I’d be more than happy to explain it to you."
"Oh, sure. Let’s get out of this rotten old place." Salea led them from the bustling pub out into the equally bustling city streets, through the crowds and into the shadows of the night. Soon they were in one of the more secluded areas of Phestia, standing before a temple dedicated to Ares, the god of war.
As they entered, Salmoneus was eyedeing the surroundings, his eyes wide with foreboding. . "My, what a great place to hold a private meeting," he said with a nervous smile.
"Well, you wanted to talk privately," Salea said. "This is the one place in Phestia were people don’t come. The Magistrates have actually been talking of tearing it down."
"They want to tear down a temple to Ares? That’s not good," Gabrielle said allowing her eyes to survey the area. From past experience she half expected to see Ares flicker into existence before them.
Actually he did, but not visibly. He was more interested in eavesdropping. "No, it’s not good," he spoke in a determined voice though they couldn’t hear him.
"I guess they figure they don’t need him much anymore," Salea said in a matter of fact tone.
"Oh, they don’t?" Ares said, his brows had drawn together in a scowl. . "They’re gonna wish they did."
"The Magistrates are all idiots anyway," Salea chuckled. "Between the five of them they share a brain the size of a pea."
Ares chuckled with her. This was an opinion he heartily shared.
Salea sat on the edge of a large pedestal long devoid of any statue and asked, "So what did you want to talk to me about?"
"The Magistrates are what I want to talk to you about," Gabrielle said. "I come to you with a message from Xena…"
"Xena?" Salea exclaimed with widening eyes. . "You mean Xena, the Warrior Princess?"
"Yes," Gabrielle and Ares both answered tolerantly.
"Oh my gods, I’ve always wanted to meet her. I aspire to be like her."
"Really," Gabrielle said surprised. "I’m sure she’d be glad to hear that."
"Oh my gods, is she here somewhere? Is she in Phestia?"
"Well, sort of," Gabrielle answered with a sheepish smile.
Not thinking, Salmoneus blurted out, "She’s in jail."
Ares and Salea both exclaimed, "She’s in jail!"
"Let me explain," Gabrielle said, gesturing for silence with both hands. ‘Why does it feel so crowded in here?’, she thought to herself, then went on. "This morning Xena and I came across a settlement that had been completely devastated. It was awful. An unknown army raided the settlement and killed every man, woman and child."
Ares makes a curious face as if this were news to him. In fact, it is. For the god of war to not know that a war was being waged was not good news. He was suddenly very interested in this army and its purpose, not to mention angry at having been kept in the dark about it all.
"According to High Magistrate Nallos," Gabrielle continued, "they were nomads."
Salea’s eyes widened in horror. . "I know those people," she whispered. Her fingertips covered her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. "I had friends among them. Were there any left at all?"
Gabrielle shook her head in dismay and said, "I’m sorry." She rested a sympathetic hand on Salea’s shoulder.
"Move on, Gabrielle," Ares said impatiently.
"Anyway, it appeared to Xena from the way this army was moving eastward that Phestia may be their next target."
"Phestia? They’re coming here?" Salea said, her face paling.
"That’s what Xena believes," Gabrielle continued. "We came here to warn your people, but the Magistrates refused to listen to us."
Salmoneus spoke up saying, "They are more worried about their festival going off without a hitch and raking in the dinars. They think the gods will protect them."
"Well, they better think again," Ares said with a serious look in his eyes.
"The only reason Xena allowed herself to be taken to jail," Gabrielle interjected, "is because the Magistrates threatened to throw us out of the village. She knew we would not be able to help any of you like that. So, she sent Salmoneus and I to try to find someone who would listen and help us."
"But, what about Xena?" Salea questioned with worry. "What’s she going to do?"
Gabrielle was heartsick when she said, "Xena plans on breaking out tonight. She’s going to find this army and try to stop them."
"All by herself? Is she crazy?"
"That’s my Xena," a proud Ares said with a look of reminisencereminiscence.
"I tried to convince her that it wasn’t a good idea," Gabrielle said with a hopeless shrug, "but she had already made up her mind. When Xena’s made up her mind, you can’t change it."
"Well, what do you need from me?" Salea asked.
"Help us to warn your people. If we can convince enough people that their lives and the lives of their families are in danger, we can get a lot of people out of here before they attack."
Grimacing uncomfortably, Salea slowly responded with a shake of her head, "That’s not going to be easy."
"Why not?" Salmoneus asked.
"Because, most of the people here think just like their Magistrates. You’ll be hard pressed to convince these people that they’re not safe right here in these walls." Salea watched Gabrielle face change as it took on a look of deep concentration. She could almost see the wheels of thought turning inside her head.
Gabrielle’s eyes searched the floor for something that wasn’t there, her finger tapping absentmindedly at her lower lip. "There has to be something we can do," she said with a sigh, an irritation growing inside her. Pride, apathy and ignorance were threatening these people by preventing them from acting rationally. . There had to be a way. She did not relish the idea of seeing more people slaughtered. "How many people are there like you, Salea? People who don’t put their entire trust in the magistrates?"
"I can think of a lot of people, but I can guarantee you that the middle and upper class won’t put much trust in them."
"Why do you say that?" Gabrielle asked curiously.
"Because, they are lower class just like me," Salea responded sadly. "Do you really think an upper class person would listen to what a prostitute has to say? Believe me, our considerations come last."
Gabrielle looked at Salea for a moment as her words began to sink in. "I’m sorry," she shooakes her head, frowning. "I forget sometimes that not everybody thinks the way I do." Gabrielle always saw people as equals. Just because one person had more knowledge or money than another didn’t make them any better or worse in her mind. So, the thought of class distinctions didn’t even cross her mind. Gabrielle paced the room for a minute, thinking. By the Gods, she could be walking in blood up to her ankles soon if something wasn’t done, and fast. . Turning back to Salea and Salmoneus after a moment she said, "Go to these people and bring them back here to the temple. Tell them that their families’ lives depend upon them being here tonight. Even if you can only get a handful of people. We’ll start small and work our way from there. We may only have until dawn. We have to spread the word tonight and deal with the consequences tomorrow."
Salea nodded, but she didn’t seem in a hurry. Actually, her mind seemed to be on something else. "You know, Gabrielle, there is someone who might be willing to listen to what you have to say. It’s hard to say exactly how he’d react to all this, because sometimes he can be a real ass. But, he’s a good man. He might be of some use to you."
"Who?" Gabrielle asked curiously, hope in her eyes.
"’Who’ is the problem. He’s the General of Phestia’s army. The bad thing is he takes his orders directly from the Magistrates."
Gabrielle’s hopes were quickly dashed. She shook her head and said, "As much as I’d like the help, Salea, I don’t think we should deal with anyone that close to the Magistrates. Xena said we should do this discreetly. If just one whiff of this were to get out…"
Salea nodded in understanding and said, "I know, honey. Don’t worry.
"We’ll do our best,." said Salea. Turning to Salmoneus, she grabbed his arm and said, "Come on, Sal. Let’s get to work." Salmoneus followed reluctantly.
Gabrielle stood in the doorway watching their shadowy figures disappear into the night. There was a determination on her face. How many times had Xena bragged that Gabrielle never gave up on anything.? Yet, beneath it all she felt fearful. What would happen if she failed? How could she live with herself?
Ares stepped up to her and looked with interest at her sober expression. It wasn’t hard to read. An evil smile crossed his face. He was enjoying her pain, a reaction born of a cold heart. Like most of the gods, he was petty and cruel. "Not scared, are you, Gabrielle?" he said with a wicked grin, though he knew she couldn’t hear himheard it not. . "You’re taking on a big responsibility…without help from Xena. She just throws you into this and expects you to handle it. How does that make you feel?"
Though she didn’t realize it, the thoughts were transmitting into her mind. It was a huge responsibility, having the lives of an entire village placed on her shoulders. An anger unbecoming of her shown in Gabrielle’s eyes and Ares could see the she was trembling. Suddenly she stamped her staff down on the stone floor in frustration. Ares smiled wickedly at her reaction. However, his own pettiness made him fail to realize Gabrielle’s strong willed dedication to her principles. Taking a deep breath and gesturing a command that she should calm down, she walked away from the anger, tucking it away for later.
Ares watched as Gabrielle walked away from him, an amused smile crossing his face. . "I think I’m going to stick around for a while. This ought to be interesting."
Xena, in the meantime, was busy picking the cell door lock with the pick they had found on the road. She wiggled it in the lock until she heard a click. Once she heard it, she opened the door a notch just to be sure,; a sly smile spreading across her face as she pulled it closed again. She then returned the pick behind her breastplate and called to the guard. From the other room, the guard, bored senseless by his monotonous job, snapsped to attention from a near slumber at the sound of her voice. He’d been having nightmares about a blonde-haired girl who barksed and droolsed like a dog just before she ripsped off your head off and spiats down your neck. Standing, he stretched, yawned and wiped his eyes as he leansed into the door.
"What do you want in there?" he barked, trying to sound dangerous.
Xena called out, "Hey! I need some help. There’s a big rat in here! Could you come and kill it before it gets into my cell!"
The guard began to laugh as the entered the room. "So, the great Warrior Princess is afraid of rats, huh?"
Looking meek and embarrassed, Xena blushed and said, "Yeah, I’m sacred to death of’em. I hate’em."
Approaching the cell, he eyed Xena and surveyed the cell with a teasing smirk. "They’re more afraid of you than you are of them, believe me. Besides, I don’t see any rat."
"I guess he must have run off when he saw you coming?" Xena said with a mesmerizing look in her eyes.
The guard looked Xena up and down lustfully, allowing his stare to linger on her cleavage. . "What else are you afraid of?" he asked, not attempting to conceal the roving of his eyes.
"I’m ... sometimes .... afraid of myself ... when I’m around big, strong men, like you. . Makes me shiver," she said in childish yet seductive tone.
Off course, he knew she was not afraid of him. Stories of the Warrior Princess were not in short demand. But, he was thinking there might be an invitation in this little game aimed at getting him to help her escape. He moved a little closer to the cell door and met her eyes. "I have been know to make a few ladies shiver," he said suggestively. . He would, of course, never allow her to escape but was more than would be willing to take what he could get from her if she tried it if she thought so.
Putting on her best set of bedroom eyes she said seductively, "I’m not surprised." Her grip on the bars of the cell door were more to hold it closed rather than cling to it as it seemed. She watched him fumble to remove the keys from his belt and begin searching for the right one. ‘Wait for the right moment, then make your move,’ she thought to herself. The guard found his key and reached to insert it into the lock. "So," he said, thinking of Gabrielle’s visit. "What did dog-girl have to say?"
With a snearsneer, Xena’s voice lowered to a menacing tone. "Woof," was the answer he heard just before the door slammed into his face crashing him against the cell across the hall where he crumbled to the floor unconscious. Stepping out she lifted the guard by his collar and locked him in the cell. Moving quickly down the hall and into the other room, she locked that door behind her, as well and retrieved her sword and chakram. As she turned to leave the unconscious guard’s relief stepped into the jailhouse office. Instinctively suspicious, he drew his sword and demanded, "What do you think you’re doing? Where’s Philipi?"
"He’s taking a nap," Xena said with a meanacingmenacing smile, her sword drawn and ready. With a snarl and a growl, the guard attacked, angrily wielding his sword. Xena met his sword blow for blow, the clang of the metal ringing until she flung his weapon from his hand and over his shoulder. Though surprised, the guard was not stupid enough to turn his back on any one with a sword just to regain his own. The only defense he now had werewas his own two hands. So, the guard balled up his fists and danced about like a boxer in a ring.
"What’s the matter warrior princess?" he asked, leering. "Afraid to fight without your weapons?"
Frustrated and already behind in her escape, Xena returned her sword to it’s sheath and her chakram at her belt, rolling her eyes at the ‘dancing’ guard. ‘I don’t have time for this,’ she thought. With a cry, Xena back flipped, her foot making contact with the guard’s face. He stumbled back, hitting the wall. As Xena’s feet touched the ground, the angry guard rebounded off the wall and came at Xena again. He’s a lot tougher than he looks, she thought. With all her strength, Xena growled and threw a right punch too quickly for the guard to react. The punch knocked him over the officer’s desk, to the other side in a heap. Xena shook her right hand in a effort to shake off the pain from her contact with the guard’s skull, then with a sigh, she moved to the back of the desk and grabbed at the guard’s lapels.
So, it didn’t take Xena very long to take him down a coulpe of punches and a kick after that. Not wanting him to alert the city of her escape, she druagged him down the hall and locked him in the cell with his buddy. . Cautiously, she exited the jailhouse watching for signs of any other guards.
Avoiding the crowds at the front gate, she used her chakram and her whip to get herself over the high wall where she did one of her famous big flips to the other side, only without the usual war cry. On the ground she searched the darkness with cat- like eyes and attentive ears. . The adrenaline pumped fiercely through her veins as she ran off into the night, leaving the sound of the harvest celebrations behind her.
Later that evening, once most of the celebrating had begun to die down and most people were in bed, Gabrielle, Salea and Salmoneus were convening a meeting with fifteen men and women of the city. The warning that had summoned them had them mumbling and questioning each other. Salea was known, if not respected, among them, but they were wondering about the young woman and the ominous news she claimed to have. . Gabrielle could well understand the uncertainty and fear in the people’s eyes. They were, of course, interested in protecting their families, if indeed, a real threat existed.
"Okay, everybody, listen up," Salea called out, quieting the mumbling. "This is the young woman I told you about. Her name is Gabrielle."
"What is this all about?" one man said, stepping forward from the crowd. "You said we are in danger. In danger of what?"
"Yeah." "That’s right, what?" the crowd demanded. It was apparent that the crowd had a tendency to be hostile about having their festival interrupted.
Gabrielle began her oration with an apprehensive sigh. "I’ve asked you all here tonight to warn you. There is a very deadly army encamped somewhere outside the your village. We have reason to believe that they could be planning to attack Phestia."
"Army? What army?" werearmy?" was among the murmurs that came from among the crowd as their uneasiness intensified. The gentlemanman who had spoken first and who seemed to be a leader or at lease be a spokesman for the people asked, "How do you know this? Have you seen them?"
"No, not the army themselves, but I have seen what they do," Gabrielle said deploying her best bard talents. . This brought the crowd to silence. Just what had she seen? She had called this a ‘deadly army’. Just what were they facing?
"You’re familiar with the nomads that come to your providence during the harvest each year?" Gabrielle said gesturing toward the south. A numberSeveral of the people present nodded, their attention becoming more riveted on Gabrielle’s words. "Well, we came upon their settlement this morning. Every man, woman and child were dead …..., mercilessly slaughtered." Alarm began to show in the faces of the crowd. If this was true it definitely posed a serious threat. Yet, they still seemed skeptical. . It’s strange how people seem to think ignoring something will make it go away. . Gabrielle didn’t want this to happen so she spoke with greater urgency. "This is a real army. They seem to have come from the west and left the clearing heading east. . If they circle the forest, your village will be directly in their path. You must not brush this off! There is a very good chance that they will attack you!"
"Why didn’t you go to the Magistrates with this news?" asked the first gentleman.
"They did!" Salmoneus spoke up. "That’s why we’ve called you here! The Magistrates will not listen."
An older woman with graying hair and peasant garb spoke up and asked, "What do you mean ‘they won’t listen’? They would not be so foolish." A mumble of agreement rose from the crowd.
Gabrielle raised her hands to quiet them saying, "Xena and I came here directly from the nomad camp and went to the magistrates about this." " This draews more murmuring. She could hear them repeating Xena’s name. The reputation of the warrior princess was something many people had reason to fear. Going on, Gabrielle said, "Xena told them everything that I’ve told you here. That the nomads were slaughtered like animals and their killers are very likely headed in this direction. If they attack Phestia it will be to do the same thing to you and your families. But your High Magistrate Nallos refused to take any action to warn you or to prepare the village for an attack."
"Why?" "Why would he do that?" "Does he not care?" were the irritated questions she received.
"I’m sure he does care and has your best interest at heart, but he is blinded by the large walls and the heavy gate that enclose your village. He has not seen first hand what devastation this army is capable of. He didn’t see the many hoof prints on the ground or smell the burning huts or see the dead children lying in the streets like garbage." The horror of what she was saying, as well as the anger and anguish in her voice brought the crowd to silence as an intense sadness overshadowed the entire room. Salmoneus could not recall ever seeing Gabrielle this way, so intense, so bold, so much in command.
"These bastards are determined to destroy everything in their path. They won’t care if you are a man, a woman, a child or a dog. Xena and I are committed to helping you as much as we can but I hope we are not still inside these walls if and when they attack. I don’t believe the walls and gates will stop them."
Genuine fear began to show in the faces of the crowd. The spokesmanleader spoke up over the murmuring and asked, "You said you were with Xena. Where is she? Is she going to help us?"
"Xena has gone to try to stop the army from ever reaching Phestia. If anyone can do it she can and I know she’ll. She will be back," she said, trying more to convince herself than the audience.
"And what are we supposed to do in the meantime?" another man said. "Wait around to be slaughtered as well?"
The crown roared, "Yeah!" "What will we do?" "What about our children?"
"Xena is doing the best she can but we can’t wait for her to come back. We have to prepare ourselves now."
The spokesmanleader spoke again, "And how do you expect us to do that? The bunch of us are gonna take on a whole army?"
"Marcus, where’s your brains?" Salea said, hands on her hips. . "Did you leave’em at home?" " There was nervous laughter in the crowd though they really didn’t have a lot to laugh about. . "Of course, we’re not going to take on the whole army. What we have to do is start walkin’ and talkin’. We’ve gotta take on a whole city and make them understand what’s going to be happening here real soon."
"We have to spread the message," Gabrielle said. "Go to everyone you know, everyone you think will listen to you and warn them. Make sure they all hear it. Not just the adults, but the children as well. Their safety is the most important of anyone’s."
Salea spoke again saying, "We have to get the town stirred up before the Magistrates hear of it or they may try to stop us. They’re thinking profits from the festival and closing their eyes."
"And we start evacuating tonight," Gabrielle said in a commanding tone.
"Evacuating?" Marcus exclaimed.
"Yes, as many people as we can, but mostly the women, children and the elderly. I can already tell that most of you don’t like the idea, but we have no other choice. If you stay in Phestia, tomorrow’s daylight may be the last you’ll ever see. We have to tell this to everyone. Convince them any way you can that they must evacuate their families if they want them to live."
"Evacuate to where?" another woman asked.
"There are some caves several miles from here. I’ll lead the first group out and from then on Salmoneus will take charge of the evacuation."
"I will?" he said, his expression questioning her, but the look on her face said she wanted no arguments. "I will," he agreed with a weak smile.
Marcus asked, "When do we start doing this?"
"Right now," Gabrielle forcefully responded. "We don’t have a moment to loose. They may strike at dawn. How many of you are with us on this?" The people look from one to the other. They obviously want to, but are reasonably afraid.
Salea stood up on a chair and stared out over the crowd. "Hey!" she said in a determined voice. "How long have we lived in this village together? Don’t we take care of one another here? Come on, let’s see some hands out there." One timid hand after another rioses until each of the villagers hasd their hands raised their hands.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said with an appreciative smile.
One man stepsped forward, his expression determined and said, "My name is Zantus. I’m a simple farmer, not a warrior like Xena, but I’m not hiding in any caves. I’m gonna fight. I’ve lived in this village my whole life and won’t see it destroyed in one day. I’ll do what you ask, Gabrielle. . I’ll warn everyone I can but I’m also gonna find those who want to stay and fight to defend our village."
Gabrielle didn’t know this man very well, but she immediately liked him. His brave heart and determination reminded her of her now deceaceddeceased husband, Perdicus. Moved with compassion for him and for the ones she knoews willould join his effort, Gabrielle drew back her shoulders and spoke as determined as he had. . "Then you’ve just found your first recruit, Zantus," and held out her staff in both hands to the people. "I stay and fight with the people of Phestia." Xena’s words rang in her ears: ‘Don’t Stay’, but as usual she followed her heart rather than her head.
Zantus grabbed Gabrielle’s staff as if sealing an agreement between the two of them. The rest of the people hesitate for just a moment, eyeing each other, then together with Salea, reach out to grab the staff. . Salmoneus was a bit more reluctant than the others were, but then even he felt compelled to join the effort. Once all that needed to be evacuated were safe they would defend this village to the last man.
His boots crunched in grass that was fast collecting dew. It was late, but he did not feel tired. His mind was on the conquest ahead of him and on his master plan so intricately formulated in his head. He felt unstoppable. He felt like a god. No, he knew he was a god. Not like the fanciful gods that these Greeks had created in their heads. He was more than that a. And when his plans had come to fruition, he would be more powerful than all gods put together. No one would be able to stop him then.
But for now, he would have to make do with the powers he had. The powers that made even his bravest warriors cower in fear of him—the ability to peer into a person’s mind and read their thoughts, to see their memories, and manipulate their mind. His senses were so attuned to the people around him, that he could sense every waking thought and sleeping dream of his warriors. It is this very power that caused him to pause in his reverie. He felt a chill work its way down his spine. He could sense someone—someone other than his warriors. It was a woman. She was so close he could almost feel her.
He continued walking as though unaware but he could feel that the woman was very close. She was watching from above. . She could see him walking. There was an intense hatred in her. He found the feeling exhilarating, like absorbing a drug, and smiled wickedly. He sensed her vision of his handiwork as she watched him. . She was here to stop him and she was a formidable foe. . Who was she? He tuned his mind to hers. Xena, yes, that was her name. "Xena," he said aloud, just to get a feel for it. He could not wait to meet her.
Xena crouched on the tree branch peering into the army’s encampment. There was not much to see. It was a small open area housing about a hundred men and their horses. Two tents had been erected in the center of the clearing. A war chariot stood near it. There were guards posted here and there, mostly by the tents. But, most of the men were asleep. Except for one man who was walking calmly through the grass, his hands clasped behind his back. Something about his stance and demeanor told Xena that he had to be the leader. He was the monster ordering the death of innocent children. He was the one she had to kill in order to stop the forward progress of this killer army. . She could take his head from here with her chakram but, no, that would be too easy. She flipped off the tree and onto the ground without a sound. Never had her army had been so terrible as to do the things this one was doing. She was going to have to come up with a plan . that would deal a blow to more than just one man since his subordinates could easily pick up the endeavor in his wake.
He walked slowly back to the tent. He was in no rush, because he knew Xena’s plan and he already had his own in the working. He walked up to one of the guards by the tent and said to him as if making conversation: "We have an intruder."
"Sir?" the guard asked, not changing his position.
"You heard me," he said in threatening tone.
"Yes, Lord Gaelen. We have an intruder. Do you want me to take care of him?"
"No. You stay right where you are. Don’t worry, she’ll be coming soon enough."
"Yes, Xena. Perhaps you’ve heard of her."
"Yes, sir," the guard said daring to shoot a worried look in his superior officer’s direction. "Everyone knows who Xena is."
"I don’t," Gaelen said smiling. "But, I will."
Xena had quietly made the circle around the encampment, her adrenaline pumping faster and faster keeping her senses keen and her mind alert. Sneaking in through the back of the encampment the horses were at first startled by her presence, but soothing horses was among her many skills. . The smell of horseflesh madekes her wish she had not left Argo behind with Gabrielle. They didn’t really get along very well.
Just beyond the horses was a field full of sleeping soldiers, but she is not intimidated. . Walking quietly between them, and she reached the two tents unscathed. . Her mission was to kill the leader. If she killed him, the men may not be so willing to continue oncontinue with this senseless killing. In which tent though might he be found? The one on her right seemed to draw her so she decided to check it out first.
Slipping underneath the tent wall into the pitch-black interior, she hesitated a moment to allow her eyes a chance to adjust to the dark. Crouching just inside the tent, Xena gradually made out a figure lying on a cot. The person’s legs were crossed and his hands were behind his head. Unsheathing her sword, she stood and crossed the distance to the cot in three big steps. . Not even sure of who she was about to kill, she raised her sword high into the air. It did not matter who died. After what they had done, they all deserved to die.
"I wouldn’t do that if I were you," came a voice from behind.
Surprised by the voice, Xena halted the descent of her sword. Instantly, her chakram was in hand and was directed towards the sound behind her. . It was not her intention for it to come back. She had delivered a killing blow. True to her desire the chakram did not return …, but the voice doesid. In the darkness, Xena could hear him laughing. There was a flash of light as the man lit a lantern to brighten the small tent. A tall, thin stranger met her stare with dark, forbidding eyes. Instinct tellolds her that thise was the evil behind this killing spree. . A scar wound its way down his face from just above his right eyebrow. His hair was cropped close to his scalp and a goatee framed his mouth. In his right hand, he held Xena’s chakram.
"Interesting weapon you have.," the man said, regarding the chakram closely. He looked back up at Xena. "I’ve never seen it’s kind before."
Xena stared at him in disbelieving awe. The only other person that ever caught her chakram in motion was Callisto, but that had been outside in the sunlight. This man had caught it in the pitch-blackness of the tent and at close range. She was awed and frightened of him at the same time.
"You came all this way to kill," Gaelen said amused. "Are you not even slightly interested to know who you were going to murder?"
Turning back to the cot, Xena looksed down on a frail-looking teenage girl bound with her legs crossed and her hands behind her head. She was gagged and her eyes, held wide open in fear, were flowing with fresh tears. Xena felt complete horror for what she had been about to do. She knew in that instant that she had been set up. Somehow, he knew she was coming and had planned all this.
"Go ahead, Xena," Gaelen said nonchalantly, testing the sharpness of her chakram with his thumb. . "Bring your sword down upon her. Pierce her heart. Feel the lifeblood pour from her young body. . With all the blood on your hands what difference would it make? Do it now before she has the chance to grow up and become just like you."
Xena turned from the poor girl, seething with anger and hatred, facing this man who seemed to somehow peer into her soul. She screamed with rage and moved to attack him, her sword ready to pierce his heart. But, the man did not move from where his was standing. He simply reached his hand out. Xena’s sword suddenly leapt from her hand as if it had a life of its own and flew into his own.
"I’ll take that, thank you," he said, grinning wickedly with Xena’s sword and chakram in his hands. Though openly surprised, Xena quickly responded by clenching her hands into tight fists and backhanding him with all her power. Strangely however, he again did not move. He actually allowed her to hit him square in the jaw. Judging from what he had done with her sword and chakram, Xena half expected her blows to pass through him, but he stumbled back and looked up at Xena with a split bloody lip. . The lack of surprise or concern in his expression was a mite unnerving, but Xena was not yet finished with him. She did a roundhouse and slammed her foot into the side of his face, this time sending him to the ground in a heap.
With that, Xena thought she had him beaten, but then she heard his insanely arrogant laughing again. . A bruise was beginning to set in around his eye where her foot had connected, but it did not seem to be bothering him. The cut on his lip splitting even wider as he laughed.
Spitting blood to the ground, he regained his feet and said, "You’re good. You’re very good." HBut holding up her weapons he added, "But, you don’t have these." Xena had to duck one swing of her own sword and jump over another, but as she leaped she kicked out and connected with his chin. . He again stumbled back falling to the ground, only now there was some irritation to read in his expression. . "Okay, now you’re pissing me off," he said yellinged. "GUARDS!" Five armored men with swords came rushing in. "Attack her, but don’t kill her! I want her alive!"
His face was full of arrogant confidence, but of course, Gaelen was underestimating Xena by expecting only five men to best her. Xena’s open palm rammed up against the nose of the first attacker sending him to the ground writhing in pain. . The sword of the next assailant was caught in mid-air between her hands and before he could even think to react, she kicked him in the stomach, snatched the sword from his hand and used the blunt end on top of his head. She then hurled the sword at Gaelen, in effect telling him that she did not need a weapon to fight. With her attention diverted by the other attackers, she failed to see the anger that crossed his face or his movement.
Another soldier came at Xena, but she kicked him out of her way. The last two charge at once. Xena did a flip into the air sounding her war cry, and delivered a foot to the face of each, sending them both to the ground unconscious. The one she had kicked out of her way was attempting to charge her from behind, but a fist in the face over her shoulder put him down for the count once again.
"Xena!" Gaelen called in a teasing yet menacing voice. She spun around to find him standing at the other side of the tent holding the girl in front of him by the hair with Xena‘s chakram at her throat. . She was still bound and gagged, but strangely the tears were starting to dry from her eyes. She stared off blankly into space as if oblivious to the danger she was in.
"No! Don’t hurt her," Xena" Xena said, gesturing with both hands.
"Ah, she speaks," Gaelen said, sarcastically. "I was beginning to wonder if you could."
"Let her go. It’s me you want, not her. She’s just a child."
"Yes, she is. But, you all die the same. I can kill her as easily as I killed her mother and father…and her little brother."
"What do you want?" she asked, straining to conceal the intense hatred she was feeling.
"You," Gaelen said, matter- of- factly. "Surrender yourself to me unconditionally and I’ll spare the child’s life."
Xena was not unaccustomed to lusty stares or roving eyes despite her reputation as a warrior and the many tales told of her conquest in battle. Surrender yourself unconditionally generally would mean one thing coming from most men. She didn’t necessarily see that in this man but still she had to question his motives. "Surrender?" she asked, her eyes examining his.
Gaelen rolled his eyes and sighed tolerantly. . "You’re a beautiful woman, Xena, but I have no such need of you. There are other things I have in mind for you. That, however, is a subject for another time. For now, what do you say? Should I slit her throat … or not?"
Xena had no doubt that he would kill that poor girl if she defied him. She couldn’t let that happen. Besides, whatever he had in mind for her, perhaps could be used to her advantage. She must find a way to stall his plans for Phestia and give her a chance to somehow severely damage his army and free herself, and this girl. She could only hope that Gabrielle was readying the people.
Her defiant expression was thus no longer serving her purpose. It was time for a little diplomacy to be employed, so she allowed her eyes to slowly downshift into a seeming expression of defeat. . Smiling smugly, Gaelen released the girl only to have her fall onto the ground because her legs were still bound. Looking at the girl, Xena noticed, that through all of this, the girl showed no emotion at all.
Gaelen, triumph in his expression, stepped up to and circled around her as if inspecting merchandise. From behind, he kicked the back of her knee, forcing her to kneel, then moved to face her without breaking his stride. Lacing his fingers together he looked her over with lifted brows, seeming curious as though awaiting a reaction, but she deliberately avoided his eyes. She wanted him to believe he had her under his full control. Of course, she did not realize that he could sense everything she was thinking. Though he knew what kind of control he had over Xena for the moment, he also knew what she was capable of, and yet, she did nothing. From his way of thinking that seemed unbelievable. That she would now sacrifice herself for this scrawny child, who only minutes ago she was ready to kill without a second thought, was a challenge to his reasoning. Making her regret this decision would, however, be a source of great satisfaction. She wanted to make him think he had control.? Well she would soon know just how much control he actually had. Placing two fingers beneath Xena’s chin, he lifted her face to him. Only then did Xena look into his eyes. Like the girl, she showed no emotion.
"This is only a taste of what you have to look forward to," he said, delivering a vicious backhand to her cheek in retaliation. She had twice kicked him in the face so he spun around and returned that favor alsofavor before kneeling to be at eye level with her. "How does that feel?" he asked, his eyes as cold as death.
Xena wiped the blood from her lip and eyed him tolerantlymenacingly. "Is that all you’ve got?" she said through clenched teeth.
"Oh? ? You want more?" he asked, his mouth curling into a sneer. "Here, feel this." And he snapped two fingers to either side of her temples until his fingers practically dug into her head. Xena’s head was suddenly racked with the most excruciating pain she had ever felt. Her head felt like it was going to explode. The last time she had felt pain like this was when M’Lila had put the pinch on her. Her screams of anguish only served Gaelen’s delight, relishing the pain he was causing her. Xena could sense that this had nothing to do with revenge or even anger. This horrendous man simply enjoyed torturing people.
When she could take no more, Xena drew up enough strength to knock his arms away and rammed the heel of her palm into his face. He fell backwards, but so did Xena from exhaustion. Whatever he had done to her had completely wiped her out. Her head was still in pain and she could not raise herself.
Gaelen rose to his feet and begin delivering a barrage of kicks to Xena’s stomach, back,back and finally her head, knocking her unconscious. Breathing heavily, he looked down on her with a disgusted smile, again relishing the mess he had made of Xena, the mighty warrior princess.
Turning his attention back to the girl watching from her place on the ground, he motioned toward the battered figure lying before him and said, "She’s fascinating, isn’t she? There’s so much hate in her I can taste it. Yet, she won’t fight me. And it’s all for you, someone she doesn’t even know. I should kill you now, just to see her reaction when she wakes up to see it was all for nothing." It seemed at first an intriguing idea, as he paced and deliberated it, but then he said, "No, I won’t do that. At least, not now. There are other things I want to do first."
The soldiers Xena had vanquished were still unconscious, so Gaelen began kicking them awake, shouting, "Wake up, you idiots!"
As they stumbled to their feet, the soldiers attempted to shake off their dizziness and attain some semblance of dignity as they stand weakly at attention. . Gaelen points at the seemingly lifeless body of Xena on the ground before them.
"Look at the mighty Xena. Take a good look. I did this to her. I finished what the five of you could not even start! I should execute every single one of you, but unfortunately you’re more valuable alive. However, I will leave you with this warning…" he said, reaching out a hand to one of the soldiers without actually touching him. Gaelen slowly began to clench his hand into a fist. As he did, the other soldiers watched as their fellow soldier began to choke. He clawed at his neck and fell to his knees. Blood began to flow from his mouth and nose. His eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the ground dead. Without the slightest remorse, Gaelen scanned the eyes of the others and said, "I hope I’ve made myself clear."
"Yes, sir!" they answered in unison, obviously terrified of this mad man.
"Now, get rid of his worthless body and take Xena and the girl into the other tent. Make sure you chain them both extremely well. If either one of them escapes all four of you will suffer deaths worse than his." Needless to say, the soldiers carry out the order promptly, leaving Gaelen alone in his tent.
Close to dawn, Barleus, Gaelen’s second in command, stood at the entrance of Gaelen’s tent requesting permission to enter. Gaelen was bent over a worktable, going over their plan of attack on Phestia.
"Lord Gaelen," Barleus said, standing at full attention. . "It’s almost dawn. Should I assemble the men?"
"But, sir, I thought we were to attack…"
"We will, but not this morning. It will have to wait." Turning from his work he met Barleus’ eyes accusingly. "Last night, we had an intruder."
"Yes, Xena, the warrior princess. You’ve heard of her?"
The look in Gaelen’s eyes sent a cold chill down Barleus’ spine. He knew his commander to be an exacting and demanding man. An intruder managing to enter the camp would fall mainly on his shoulders. With a deep sigh of apprehension he said, "Yes, Ssir, I’ve heard of Xena?. Her ability to break and enter is legendary, Sir. I had no idea she was in the area, Ssir, or I would have…"
"Enough! ! It’s not your fault. I allowed her to intrude and now she’s my captive."
"You captured Xena?" he asked, incredulously.
Gaelen lifted anone eyebrow tolerantly and said, "If you don’t believe me, go into the next tent. You’ll see what the real warrior princess is made of…nothing."
"Begging your pardon, Lord Gaelen," Barleus stammered. "I didn’t mean to imply …"imply…"
"Enough, I said. Go tell the men that we attack tonight just after sunset. And send a small brigade—about fifty men—to camp just outside the walls. I want the people of Phestia to know that they are all getting ready to die."
"Yes, sir," he answered and turned to leave.
"And Barleus …, when you return, I’ll give you the honor of assisting me in Xena’s torture."
"Thank you, sir. I would appreciate that," Barleus said, his chest swelling in pride. Even a share in killing the warrior princess would mean fame. As he took his leave, Gaelen smiled and returned to his plans.
He didn’t see the flicker of light that flashed behind him as Ares, god of war appeared, his arms crossed over his chest. Curiously, he sized up the man at the table, who seemed to have no need of the god of war, just like the people of Phestia. Well this would have to be dealt with also, but before making any decisions on Gaelen’s fate, Ares wanted to know just what he was up to.
"So, you’ve captured the mighty Xena?" Ares said, startling Gaelen.
There was another presence in the room but heGaelen had not sensed it. There were no thoughts to read. It was as if he were not even there. He spun around to face a tall man dressed in black warrior’s garb. His hair was shoulder length and his sideburns met his goatee in thin strips. He had full lips that smilinged arrogantly, light-brown eyes that seemed unimpressed with the power he obviously knew Gaelen propossessedcessed.
"What’s the matter, Gaelen?" Ares taunted. . "Can’t read my mind? Well…" Ares said, opening his hand. A gold coin suddenly appeared in his hand, which he tossed at Gaelen with a chuckle. "Here’s a dinar for your thoughts, anyway."
Gaelen recoiled, fearing to even touch it and let it fall at his feet. "Who are you and how did you get in here?" Gaelen demanded, wary of this strange man who seemed not at all wary of him.
"I am Ares, god of war. I guess I should have known better than to expect you to know who I am. How do you expect to wage war without the god of war?"
Gaelen’s wariness became impudence as he stood and eyed his rival with disdain. "Oh, please. I’m supposed to believe you are the god of war?"
"Such arrogance,." Ares chuckled laughed for a moment before allowing his face to become serious. "I usually like that in my warriors. But with you it just irritates me."
Gaelen’s irritation was more appparentapparent on his face when he said, "I have no intentions of standing here arguing with an idiot. If you won’t leave of your own accord, I’ll just have to dispose of you." Gaelen reached out a hand as he had toward his soldier and Ares found himself in a choke holdchokehold. He began clawing at his neck. This man was possessed of an unusual power. As Gaelen’s hand tightened into a fist, Ares grabbed at the power or essence that was choking him, as if pulling fingers from his neck. Gaelen watched his hand begin to open on its own and put more force into it, but to no avail. . This strange man who claimed to be a god was over powering him. He could scarcely believe it. Not only was he being over powered, but when finally the man succeeded in releasing Gaelen’s power from him it felt as though his own arm had been ripped from his body and he screamed out in pain.
With hatred burning in Ares’ eyes, he took the power in his hands and rolled it into a ball of fire, turning Gaelen’s power into his own.
"I don’t know where you got this power of yours," he said, rubbing his throat, "but unless you want to feel the force of it combined with my own, I suggest you start talking."
Gaelen still hadid not intentionsd toof takinge orders from this so-called god, but Ares’ had incapacitated him in a most humiliating and painful way, so he called for his guards in desperation despite knowing his power was greater than theirs. As he suspected, Ares turned from Gaelen momentarily and held out an open palm towards the tent door. Two guards came running, but when they reached the tent door it was as if they hit a brick wall. They bounced back and hit the ground. The other guards approached much more cautiously.
With Ares attention diverted, Gaelen reached behind him, and carefully picked up a dagger from the table and in front of him, hurlinged it at the big, leather-clad man standing before him. The dagger found its mark and buried itself into Ares’ stomach, doubling him up, but he doesid not let go of the fireball.
Gaelen stared in awe when Ares straightened himself and pulled the dagger from his stomach, the only look on his face being one of annoyance. He looked at the dagger and threw it down on the ground at Gaelen’s feet along with the coin. "You forgot the Hind’s blood," Ares said.
"What are you?"
"I though we discussed this already. I am the god of war."
"I don’t believe in any god, especially the Greek gods. They come from the imagination of weak minds. But, if the ‘god of war’ is what you insist upon calling yourself, then I’d like to know what makes you think you can walk into my encampment and question me?"
"It makes no difference to me whether you believe in the existence of the gods or not, but war is my domain and you just stepped in it. You want to wage war,; you talk to me first. Otherwise, you don’t wage a thing."
"I don’t need you or any of you so-called gods to fight my battles.," Gaelen said in derision, regaining his strength, working his arm free of the pain there.
"Really? Then why do you need Xena? I watched the entire scene last night. You’re setting her up for something and I want to know what it is."
Gaelen realized that this man could not actually read his mind or he would have the answers he was requesting. He seemed to have some sort of visual contact and knew much of what was going on. However, his inability to read this intruder’s mind (‘If he has one,’ Gaelen thought) was really upsetting. It placed him at a disadvantage to which he was not accustomed. The element of fore knowledge was a boon he did not enjoy being without.
"I have my own purpose, my own plans for the warrior princess. I don’t have to tell you anything."
Ares looked down at the fireball in his hand, then eyed Gaelen from under his brows. "No, you don’t," he said confidently. "You’re a free mortal on this earth. You don’t have to say a thing." With that, he allowed his expression to harden before saying, "Unless I make you."
Gaelen was not used to feeling threatened. He was usually the one doing the threatening. However, the prospect of having that fireball, containing his own power and the power of a man who calls himself the god of war, thrown at him did little to enhance his confidence.
"Let me put it this way," Ares said, bouncing the fireball in his hand. "Either I fight with you … or I fight against you. Now, that’s entirely your decision to make. But, if I were you, I’d think hard about the consequences of going against me."
Gaelen gave himself several seconds to mill the offer over in his mind, though knowing, much to his distaste, that he was being forced to accept. However, if this ‘god of war’ wanted to swap wits, so be it. At least, for the time being he would fake compliance and tell him only what was necessary, offering nothing voluntarily. Perhaps the combination of powers could prove to be an advantage. If Ares turned out to be a nuisance, he would have time to discover a way to discard him as easily as he would discard one of his soldiers.
"Very well, ‘war god’. I want Xena as part of my army. I could use her skill as a fighter, and a killer. I find everything about her fascinating."
Ares smiled. He took Gaelen’s words to mean that not only was he attracted to the warrior side of Xena, but the woman as well. In this instance, he was wrong. Gaelen’s only interest in Xena is her warrior side. He was not moved sexually to any degree.
Ares smiled and closed his hand over the fireball, making it disappear. "Yes, she is fascinating, isn’t she?" he asked lustfully. "Of course, she is what I made her. She wouldn’t be who she is today if not for me."
"Even the part of her that wants to help people?"
"I molded the warrior…not the do-gooder," Ares said, offended. "That was my brother’s fault."
"Yes, what ridiculous ideals they both share. Especially when Xena is capable of so much more. You did an excellent job. I’ll give you that. But, like you said, you only made the warrior. I intend to make the monster."
"Monster?" Ares repeated, curious but not sure if he was going to like the idea.
"Yes. I’m going to take what’s good in her and make her hate it. Her memories…and her emotions will become her bitter enemies. I will twist her mind so that she doesn’t even remember what it was like to be good. She will remember only the hate, the anger. When I’m through with her, she will kill anyone who stands in my way. Be it family, friend or child."
"You’re forgetting one thing, Gaelen."
"And what might that be?"
"Xena is mine. I created her. She belongs to me. And I can take her from you at any time."
"What are you saying?" Gaelen asked suspiciously.
"I’m saying I have a vested interest in Xena. I don’t intend to interfere, if that’s what you’re thinking. But nothing is to be done to Xena without first consulting with me."
"What are you? Her father?"
Ares viewed Gaelen with a glint in his eye that evoked considerable curiosity, and was a mite hesitant before saying, "What I am to Xena is not your concern. Just don’t you forget what I said. And one final warning. I’ll be watching you at all times. If you come within even a hairsbreadth of trying to kill her, I’ll drop you so quick you won’t even know it happened."
"Your threats don’t frighten me," Gaelen said, trying to seem indifferent as he turned back to the plans strewn over his table.
"No?" Ares said, causing the fireball to reappear in his hand. "But I know this does. I’ll keep this in hand, just in case you ever try to cross me."
"I’ll try to remember that. I hope this means you’re going to leave now. I’m tiring of this conversation."
"Oh no. I’m not finished with you. I still haven’t heard why you’re here."
"What exactly do you want to know?" Gaelen asked tolerantly civilly, playing along.
"Everything. From beginning to end. And if you keep anything from me, don’t think for a minute that I won’t find out."
Gaelen turned his back, fingering his chin and considered this request for a moment. "Everything, huh? Well…prepare yourself."
The Next Morning
Xena’s eyes suddenly snapped open only to find that she was chained and practically hanging from two metal posts. The pain in her wrists was agonizing. Her legs touched the ground where she knelt, but the rest of her hung from the posts. All of her armor had been removed including her boots, leaving her only in her leathers. . Her face and her body still hurt from when the man, whose name she didn’t even know, had kicked her. But, she had gotten in a few good licks herself and hopefully he was suffering some discomfort as well. Adding to her agony, her stomach growled for food. She hadn’t eaten since the morning before. She ignored it, though. It wasn’t the first time she’d gone without food and she was sure that this wouldn’t be the last.
Across from her in the dimly lit tent was the girl, her hands and feet still bound, lying on the cold ground. Her eyes were unblinking, connected with nothing. She seemed to be somewhere else in her mind, perhaps somewhere safe. Xena longed to reach out to her and comfort her, but her chains would not permit it. Maybe if she spoke to her in Gabrielle’s soothing manner she might be able to draw her from her shell.
"Hey, what’s your name?" she asked in just more than a whisper. The girl did not answer or indicated that she had even heard. "My name’s Xena. We’re kind’a in the same mess, huh?" Xena said, trying to sound encouraging. "Oh, what do I say, Gabrielle?!," she cried out in her mind. Sweet Gabrielle, so unaware of just how powerful she was in cases like this. What would she say to the girl if she were here?
"I know you must be really scared. Who can blame you.? That monster told me about your mother and father…and your little brother. I know how alone you must feel without them. But I promise you I won’t let him hurt you again." She remembered the child that was Callisto and wondered what kind of person she might have been had Xena not been responsible for the death of her parents. By the same token, what kind of person would this child turn out to be? Would she become a monster like Callisto because of the horrible things that she witnessed and experienced? A tear worked its way down Xena’s cheek as she looked at the girl. Her heart went out to this young person. How could she comfort her? How could she ease the pain?
"I knew a girl like you once," Xena said softly. "She was just about your age. Her family was killed by a vicious warlord, too." Xena paused and swallowed a lump in her throat, vivid memories flooding her mind. Several seconds passed by before she was finally able to say, "…Me. My army raided her village and her family was killed in a fire. She lost her soul that day and all she gained was hatred, hatred for me, because of what I did to her family. She became a monster worse than I was because of the hate in her. It was the only thing she could feel, because she never allowed herself to feel anything else. She locked up the pain, the anguish, the heartbreak,heartbreak and the sadness and let the hate overtake her. Then, no one’s life mattered to her anymore, not even her own. I’m telling you this because I don’t want to see you end up the same way. It’s okay to cry. . It’s okay to feel the pain and anger screaming inside you. Don’t hold those feelings in. Let them out or they’ll destroy you."
Xena was almost pleading with her, when she noticed the girl’s bottom lip begin to quiver and a tear of her own began to work its way down her cheek. It wasn’t much, but at least it appeared she’d gotten through to her. It had been some time since Xena had felt such deep emotion for someone she didn’t even know, even a child like this. "That’s it. Don’t hold back. I promise you, you’ll get through this no matter what happens. We both will."
As she sat watching the girl react to the moment, the hair on the back of her neck began to tingle. There was a very familiar presence in the room. Drawing a deep tolerant breath, Xena sighed heavily and she said, "You can come out now, Ares. I know you’re there."
Flashing into visibility, Ares clapped his hands. "That was just beautiful, Xena," he said with a wicked smile. "I’m sure Callisto would have appreciated it…if she were here."
"Callisto is where she belongs and you know it."
"That may very well be," he laughedsaid. L looking her over curiously, Ares laughed. "You know, I like you in this position. Kneeling before a god, like you should be."
"What do you want, Ares? If all you came here for was to gloat, you can leave."
"Gloat? Oh no, Xena. I only wish I could take the credit for this one."
"Why not? ? Are you losing control of your warriors," she said accusingly.
Ares expression changed from one of amusement to anger and irritation as he squarely met Xena’s stare.
"That’s where you’re wrong, Xena. Gaelen is no loyal subject of mine," he said hotly, offering no explanation of his cryptic comment.
To Xena it posed a troubling thought, however. She had assumed the man was working for Ares. Ares was no prize by any means, but in his own twisted way she knew he cared about her, and for this reason she had a measure of control over him. But, if Ares had no control over this dangerous man, then there was no telling what she could expect.
"That’s why I’m here Xena," he said, kneeling on one knee before her and lifting his hand onto hers. "In a few minutes, Gaelen will come walking through that door, and what he has planned for you, no normal human being could live through. You’ve felt the kind of pain he can inflict." It was a rare expression of tenderness and feeling that Xena was seeing in his eyes, the odd affection that made him vulnerable. For the most part he kept it well hidden, but she knew it was there and now it was showing. With intensity in his eyes he said, "He wants to turn you into a monster, Xena, a killing machine with no conscience and no feeling, killing anything in your sight. I don’t want to see that happen because that isn’t you, Xena. That isn’t the warrior that I created."
Xena eyed him from beneath her brows, the hint of a smile on her lips. "You don’t want to see that happen because you’re afraid I’ll come and kill you, too."
Ares sat back on his haunches and questioned her with his eyes. This was no ordinary woman. She had lethal fighting skills and had no need to make idle threats. The only man that had ever bested her was his do-gooder brother and even he had not found her to be an easy conquest. Being on her list of victims was not an envious place to be. Fingering the hair on his chin he asked, "Meaning?"
"You know that if I were to become cold and heartless enough, I wouldn’t hesitate to kill you the same as anyone else. I want you to get one thing straight, Ares. You don’t own me! Neither you or that sorry excuse for a man you call … what was it? ? … … Gaelen? I refuse to be either one of your creations. I am what I’ve made of myself and what good people like Hercules and Gabrielle have helped me to become. I am very much in control of my own life. So, if I choose to face my own torture, then I will. And if this Gaelen thinks he can make me into a monster, he is free to try. But, I will not be beaten into whatever shape either of you want. So, whatever it is you came to say, Ares, save it and get lost. I can do this on my own."
Ares was left speechless by Xena’s ‘I-am-woman-hear-me-roar’ speechoration. Nothing he could ever do would humble her even slightly. He stood, stared angrily at her for a moment, then disappeared just as Gaelen entered the tent. The bright morning sunlight jumped through the open flap of the tent and met Xena’s eyes like a slap in the face, making her have to squint as it pierced the darkness. It dilated the lenses of her eyes enough that it took a few moments to see that another man was with him wearing the armor of a soldier.
"Have a pleasant evening?" Gaelen asked, sarcastically.
"I have nothing to say to you," she said, her lip curled in disgust.
"That’s a pity. Ares gets a lecture, but I don’t," he laughed, his companion joining in. This surprised her. He knew that she had been speaking to Ares, yet he had not been in the tent. There was something beyond the norm about this man.
"How did you know?" she said, fishing for an explanation.
"I am aware of many things that would surprise you. . For instance, I know you saw what I left of the nomads’ little settlement and I also know that you left someone behind in Phestia to warn the people of my arrival. What was her name again? Ah yes, Gabrielle. Your best friend."
Xena’s stomach turned at the mention of Gabrielle’s name, but he was correct about one thing, he had surprised her. How did he know about Gabrielle? Had he sent spies into the village? Was Gabrielle not being as cautious as she should be? With the experienced of a warrior, Xena kept the fear from showing on her face, only allowing the anger and hatred to surface. And she didn’t give him the satisfaction of responding to his obvious threat to Gabrielle.
"How do you think she will react when she sees me with your sword and chakram? Perhaps she’ll think I killed you. I’ll bet you’re imagining, right now, the look of horror on her pretty face, knowing her as you do. It would be like ramming a knife right through her heart, or maybe your sword would be better. Actually, that’s a good idea. Your sword right through her heart. Don’t you think so, Barleus?"
Gaelen paced slowly before Xena, saying as he walked, "When I attack Phestia tonight, I’ll find your precious Gabrielle and kill her with your sword. What an honor that should be for her, to be killed by the sword of her best friend. Yes, I like it. I’ll run your sword through her heart. Of course, I hate to think of you losing your friend completely, so to keep you from being all alone after she’s dead, I’ll bring you her head." Kneeling on one knee and drawing his face close to hers, he gestured behind him and said, "I’ll sit it right across from you on the ground, and each time you open your eyes you’ll be able to see her."
Every fiber of Xena’s being was straining to maintain control. The mental visions she saw from his description ripped at her heart like the claws of a lion. A scream of rage was just inside her lips, but thisat would please this savage person and she willould not give him that. She had not yet comprehended that he was aware of her feelings and thoughts, or that the anger and hatred emitting from her were enough for him. He drank in her emotions and fed off ofoff them like a blood-sucking insect. Standing before her again, he smiled wickedly and said, "You know, Xena, it’s amazing how much alike the two of us are. We are both relentless in the pursuit of what we want. Neither of us would allow anything to stand in our way, not even a life. Yes, you’re a cold-blooded killer just like me."
"I am nothing like you," Xena said through clenched teeth.
"Oh but you are, Xena. That’s why I like you so much. Your skills as a fighter and a killer are like none I’ve ever seen before. Why would you want to fight against me, Xena, when you could fight with me? Your so-called god of war has decided to fight with me, why not you? Then you would not have to suffer this way, and your friend would not have to die. You could lead my army to victory with your friend at your side…"
Barleus, hearing that Xena could possibly take his position if she accepted this offer dared to say, "Lead, sir?"
"Did I ask you to speak?" Gaelen looked up and asked in a menacing tone.
"No, sir," the injured officer answered impassively. Yet when Gaelen turned back to Xena, Barleus eyed Xena with an intense hatred and a heart full of jealousy. ‘No damn woman, even if she is a warrior princess, is going to lead this army’, Barleus thought. ‘I have no intentions of leaving her well enough to lead any army to victory.’
Gaelen, of course, was aware of Barleus’ feelings, but he was also aware that Xena would refuse him, so he felt no concern. Still kneeling before her he asked, "So, what do you say, Xena? Lead my army, save your friend and save yourself a lot of pain."
Xena’s reaction was one of repulsion and disgust. Unable to conceal what she felt for this man she inhaled deeply and spat directly in his face. It was a sudden, instinctive reaction requiring almost no thought, so Gaelen didn’t expect it. Not only had he been caught completely off guard, he had been assaulted in a most disgusting manner. Stumbling backward, he stared at her in shock for a moment as the rage exploded within him. . "You bitch!" he shouted, slammingdriving his foot into the side of her faceforehead with all his power. Wiping the spit from his face as he regained his feet, he said seething, "You’ve made your choice, so I hope you’re prepared to accept the consequences." Xena was still reeling from the blow to her head when he stepped forward and kicked her in the stomach, forcing all the wind from her lungs. Yet still she eyed him with loathing and hatred.
Gaelen stepped back and, with a gesture, offered Barleus the pleasure of joining in the fun, which he readily accepted. Xena shifted her eyes to the soldier, as he approached, readying his hammering fist. She braced herself for a very long and painful day, but gave the soldier an evil look that promised him a future taste of her revenge. The last good thing that passed through Xena’s mind was Gabrielle, hoping that she was safe as Barleus crushing blow enshrouded her in darkness.
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