A Queen's Sacrifice
By B L Miller
Disclaimer 1: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and most of the others are owned by MCA/Universal. I only borrowed them for a little while for my own warped purposes. No copyright infringement is meant. I promise to return them unharmed as soon as I'm finished with them.
Disclaimer 2: ***SEXUAL VIOLENCE WARNING*** This story contains scenes of rape, specifically of Gabrielle. If this upsets or bothers you, please do not read this story. While not graphically explicit, it is detailed enough to make some people uncomfortable. This story was written before the events of the third season.
Disclaimer 3: This story contains scenes of love between two women. If this bothers you, or you are under the age of 18, then don't read it. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the story.
Author's Note: I would like to thank the many people who have taken the time to write to me about these stories. Certain character's names are my way of thanking some of these kind people. Comments are always welcome. Direct them to IQ139@aol.com
The hot summer day did nothing to improve either woman's mood. The dust from the road stuck to Gabrielle's skin, mixing with the sweat to form a gritty film on her body. Although she handled the heat better than her young companion, Xena was still wishing for a cool river to jump into. Her leathers were stuck to her body, chafing her bronzed skin. Drips of sweat rolled down her face, neck, under her breasts, between her legs, and the points where her thighs pressed against the saddle. The uncomfortablness only served to add to the bickering between them. Despite Gabrielle's protests, Xena had insisted on moving on instead of staying in a village until the heat wave passed.
"I'm so soaked, you could wring out my shirt." The bard grumbled. Xena said nothing. Gabrielle's anger got the best of her. "You know, Xena, the least you can do is acknowledge my existence."
"I know you're there, Gabrielle." Xena kept her eyes on the road ahead, trying hard not to snap back a biting comment. There had been too many of them exchanged lately.
"Well, thank you, warrior of few words." Gabrielle's words dripped with biting sarcasm.
"What the hades do you want me to do, Gabrielle?" Xena snapped. "I can't do anything about the heat."
"I never asked you to!" She stopped walking, forcing Xena to pull back on Argo's reins. "I just made a comment about the heat, that's all. I didn't ask you to do anything!"
"Gabrielle, if there was a way I could make you more comfortable, I would." Xena ran her fingers through her dark hair, hoping that this wasn't going to lead to yet another argument. It was just too hot to fight.
"I know that, Xena!" Gabrielle started walking again, this time with anger in her steps. "It wouldn't kill you to show me a little consideration, that's all."
"I don't want to hear it, Xena. Not now. I'm sick of begging for attention from you." She didn't mean to let the last part out, but there it was, sitting in the air around them like a mist. There was no way to take it back now. "Let's just get to where we're going." Her strides became longer and more deliberate. Xena looked at the angry amazon for a moment before nudging Argo to continue. These fights were happening way too often to just be about the weather or her normal lack of conversation. Something was bothering Gabrielle, Xena was sure of it. What she wasn't sure of was how to talk to her friend without starting another argument. Both women were lost in their thoughts as they walked along the lonely road.
"I'm going to take care of Argo and get something for dinner." Xena said as she removed the bedrolls and saddlebags. "Get a fire going."
"Don't I always?" There was no playfulness in Gabrielle's voice. Xena tried to remember the last time the bard had teased her or joked around. It had been so long now. She walked Argo over to a small area and began to brush her down.
"Why can't I talk to her, Argo?" Xena carried on a one-sided conversation as she gave the horse attention. "Everything I say sets her off. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was her time of the moon." Her mind went back to the last few words they had said to each other, candlemarks ago on the road. "What does she mean, beg for attention? I give her attention, don't I?" She set the brush down and gave the horse a gentle pat. "I don't know what to do, Argo. Something's bothering her, I know that. I just don't know what." Realizing that there was nothing to be gained from this, Xena set off to catch dinner.
As their dinners were for the last four days, Gabrielle ate quickly, then settled into her scrolls, barely saying two words to Xena. She looked up from time to time, noting that Xena also said nothing. The warrior was busy polishing her armor and sharpening her sword. A sudden anger filled Gabrielle. She crumpled the piece of parchment she had been working on and threw it into the fire. Xena stopped her movements with the whetstone and looked at the bard. "I'm going for a walk." Gabrielle mumbled as she grabbed her staff and stormed away. She didn't see the hurt in Xena's blue eyes.
Xena was almost ready to go looking for the missing bard when Gabrielle finally returned to the campsite. A candlemark of beating up trees did nothing to ease the frustration she was feeling. Without saying a word, she climbed into her bedroll and stared at the night sky.
"What." The tone conveyed anger and something else that Xena couldn't identify.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"There's nothing to talk about, Xena. It's just something that I have to work out myself." It was true. She had to learn a way to hide her feelings.
"Why can't I help? Gabrielle, we've always been able to work things out together before."
"It isn't something that you and I can work out, Xena. I have to do this on my own. I'm not as good at hiding my feelings as you are. Give me some time, I'll work it out." She said the words, not believing them for a moment. The feelings she had been struggling with threatened to overflow everytime she was near Xena. How could she tell her that everytime Xena touched her that it sent a thrill through her? How could she tell her that night after night she dreamed of making love to the warrior princess? No, these were not thoughts or feelings to be shared. She'd have to learn to live with them.
Xena watched the sleeping bard, wondering what was upsetting her so. She tried to think back to when the strange moods began. There didn't seem to be any trigger for Gabrielle's outbursts, anything Xena said or did seemed to cause an explosion. Was Gabrielle tired of traveling? Did she want to leave? Xena shook her head, trying to remove the thought. She couldn't imagine not having Gabrielle in her life. She missed the stories, the endless chatter, the gentle touches that comforted. Watching her now, Xena thought about how long it had been since Gabrielle touched her, hugged her, even sat near her. Gabrielle was keeping a physical distance between them, she realized. A sense of sadness and hurt came over the normally stoic warrior as she realized that Gabrielle was doing it by choice. The only person in Xena's life that she trusted and cared about more than anything was pulling away from her.
The next day was worse. The humidity was unbearable in the morning, then a heavy hot rain came down on them in the afternoon. Finding a small cave, they ran in to escape the downpour. "We're stuck here until the rain lets up." Xena announced. "Unless you want to keep going, Gabrielle." It was more of a question than a statement. At this point, Xena didn't know what Gabrielle wanted.
"It's fine." The bard replied as she pulled off the saddlebags and set to unpacking them. 'Great, just great.' She thought to herself. 'I can't be within ten staff-lengths of her without thinking about touching her and now I'm stuck in this small cave with her. What the hades am I going to do?' Pulling her bedroll from the pile, she looked for the most out-of-the-way place to set it down, preferably somewhere far from where Xena would set hers up.
'She doesn't even want to be near me anymore.' Xena thought dejectedly. "I'm going to get some firewood." Gabrielle didn't answer, she simply fussed around with her already perfectly positioned bedroll. "Fine." Xena was unable to hide the hurt tone in her voice as she stormed out into the rain. Gabrielle watched her retreating figure as fresh tears rolled down her face. This was getting too much to bear. She was going to lose Xena, either through her own fear or by the warrior discovering what her true feelings were.
A disturbingly quiet evening led to another disturbingly quiet night. The only sound between them was the scraping of Xena's whetstone against the sword. Finally, Xena spoke up, partly in anger over the change between them and partly in fear of the thoughts going through the bard's head. "Gabrielle, can you tell me what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, Xena. Go back to your sharpening." Gabrielle concentrated her attention at a small spot on the roof of the cave. Xena put the whetstone and sword down and stared at the fire.
"Gabrielle, are you going to leave me?" The words were said so softly that Gabrielle barely heard them. There was a tone to Xena's voice that she hadn't heard in a long time, fear. She propped herself on her elbows and looked across the fire. Xena's head was down, her hands idle in her lap.
"Do you want me to leave, Xena?"
"Then why did you ask? There has to be a reason."
"I don't want you to leave, Gabrielle."
"Okay." She leaned back down on the bedroll. Several moments passed before Xena spoke again.
"Did I do something to upset you? I mean, have I done anything or said anything to make you feel...uncomfortable around me?" Words were not easy for the strong woman, especially words that caused her to reveal her own emotions. Gabrielle let out a low chuckle at the absurdity of the situation.
"You didn't do anything, Xena." She rolled over and closed her eyes, hoping to end the conversation. Xena noticed the movement and remained quiet, trying to gather the courage to ask the question that had been plaguing her. This couldn't be done across a campfire. Rising to her feet in one fluid motion, Xena walked over and sat down next to Gabrielle, who noticeably stiffened at the nearness.
"If I didn't do anything, Gabrielle, then why do you work so hard to stay away from me?"
"I can't talk about it, Xena. Let it go."
"No. We need to talk about what's been going on, Gabrielle. It can't continue like this, all the hostility and anger. You don't talk to me, you don't share your feelings, hades, you won't even touch me and when you do, you act like it hurts. Gabrielle, if I've said or done anything to upset you, please, you have to let me know."
"It's not you, Xena, it's me. It's something that I have to work out myself." She buried her head into the bedroll, trying to avoid any more conversation. Xena sat there for a moment, deciding what to do. She didn't understand why Gabrielle wouldn't turn to her for help with whatever problem was eating away at her. They'd always been so close. But Gabrielle kept insisting that she'd done nothing wrong, so why wouldn't the bard let her in? Knowing she wouldn't get any answers that evening, Xena moved over to her side of the fire.
Gabrielle looked at the sleeping form still in the cave. It's better this way, she thought to herself. Being very careful to maintain silence, she quietly crept out of sight. She knew better than to be around when Xena woke up and found her note.
Xena woke up with a sense of something amiss. A quick look around revealed a dead fire, Argo, and her weapons. Gabrielle was missing, but her bedroll was still there. Xena noticed the beige piece of parchment folded neatly on the bedroll. With trembling hands, she read the note.
I wish there was a way to tell you how I feel, but there isn't. I realized long ago that I love you more than anyone else in the world. You are the first thing I see when I wake up and the last I see before I close my eyes. I don't know when my feelings for you changed, I just know that they did. I can no longer sleep, knowing you are only a short distance away from me. It might as well be leagues for the pain it causes me. I want you, body and soul, and knowing that you don't feel the same breaks my heart. Please always know that I love you and always will.
Xena read the note over and over, the words striking chords deep within her soul. That's what she was struggling with, Xena thought. Gabrielle is in love with me and didn't think I felt the same. If only she had the strength to talk to me about it, then again, why would she? While Xena herself had struggled with the same thoughts and feelings, she had never expressed them to the bard. Cursing herself for once again hiding her feelings from the one person she wished to share them with, Xena quickly set about to pack up their stuff and go after the woman she loved.
A quick check told her that Gabrielle had left everything behind except her staff. She had not even taken so much as a morsel of food or a waterskin. Mounting Argo, Xena headed toward the Amazon village, the most likely place for the young queen to go.
Gabrielle was hot, hungry, tired, and thirsty by the time she decided to stop for the night. She found a tree with good sturdy branches and climbed up. Without flint, she would be unable to start a fire. Xena could do it just by rubbing sticks together, but unfortunately, that was one of the lessons that Gabrielle didn't pay attention to. The safest place for her was up here, deep within the trees. Positioning herself so she didn't fall in her sleep, Gabrielle settled down for an uneasy rest, her dreams filled with the tall warrior's electric blue eyes.
Once awake, Gabrielle found she had little energy for fishing. She made do with the meager amounts of berries and nuts she found on the nearby trees and the handfuls of water she took from a close stream. She tried hard not to think about what Xena was doing, not knowing that the warrior was only a few candlemarks behind her.
Argo threw a shoe and split her hoof less than an candlemark after they left the cave. Cursing profusely, Xena hopped off and walked the war-horse to the next village. After paying for a new shoe, she went to the stable to inquire about space for Argo. With a split hoof, there was no way the horse would be able to help her find Gabrielle. She paid for a quarter-moon's worth of lodging for Argo and headed back out of the village. She had been severely delayed by the sudden change of events. Without Argo to speed things along, Xena would have to continue on foot, making her chances of catching Gabrielle before they reached the amazon village impossible.
Erika, Jors, and Rikki walked along the road, heading back to their beloved village after a trip to Athens to visit the temples. Erika led the group, her short blond hair gleaming in the sunlight, long sword strapped to her back. Jors and Rikki each carried staffs and daggers. Despite their youth, most persons chose to stay far away from the three armed amazons. Erika looked every bit the sixteen summers of her age, tall but still growing, her face full of life. Jors was a head smaller than Erika, her dark curly hair hung loosely about her shoulders, framing her face of fifteen summers. Rikki was the youngest, only eleven, with long blond hair pulled back into the typical amazon braid. All three were excited about the sights they had seen on their trip and were anxious to share their tales with the other girls in the village. Turning a corner, Erika came to a sudden stop, almost being knocked over by Jors. Four large men were standing there near a wagon, the smell of unwashed bodies wafting through the air. Each man was well armed. Rikki moved to stand next to Erika, no fear showing in her young face. The largest man, a huge mass of muscles and bulk, took a step toward them. "Well, well, what do we have here?"
"Looks like some fine amazon flesh, Gronos." The man next to him said. "I bet they'd fetch a real good price."
"We don't want any trouble." Erika said as she unsheathed her sword. She knew she was proficient with it, she had proven that several times in practice. This would be her first true battle.
"Well, little girl, if you don't want trouble then I suggest you put that little sword down." Gronos sneered. Turning toward the man who made the comment, he said "Tynuis, get them."
The sound of a nearby fight gave life to Gabrielle's tired feet. Peeking through the bushes, she saw a young amazon desperately trying to fight off a man easily three times her size while two younger looking girls were swinging their staffs in vicious arcs, keeping the men at bay. The smallest, a girl near Gabrielle's height, swung at one attacker, not noticing the man moving behind her. Quickly Gabrielle left her hiding place in the bushes and joined her amazons. In the heat of the battle, the amazons didn't notice Tynuis slipping into the bushes to get behind them. Only when Gabrielle landed a strong blow to the back of Gronos' head did she look around for the missing man. She didn't have to look far. His smell gave him away as his hand slid around her throat, dagger pressing against the smooth skin. "Don't move." He growled, pressing the knife harder against her throat. A groggy Gronos scrambled to his feet and glared at her. Erika gripped her sword tighter, looking for the opportunity to rescue her queen. Gronos saw her and laughed.
"Drop your weapon, little girl, or I'll run my sword right through her." He took a menacing step toward the queen. In fear, Rikki dropped her staff, followed by Jors. Reluctantly, Erika lowered the point of her sword and let it fall to the ground. He walked over and wrenched the staff out of Gabrielle's hands before striking her in the head with the hilt of his sword. She fell to the ground bonelessly.
Looking around, Gronos noticed one of the men lying face down on the ground, dead from Erika's sword. "Leave him." He growled. "Get them tied up and on the wagon."
Four amazon warriors were sent to look for the missing trio when they were four candlemarks past their designated return time. Ephiny wasn't thrilled with the idea of sending the young women to Athens alone, and had only done so because of her confidence in Erika's swordsmanship. Now that they were overdue, she questioned her decision.
Xena took a shortcut through the forest, not stopping to rest until she came upon the outskirts of the area patrolled by amazons. Her route had taken her away from the road, where the dead body and fallen staffs lay as evidence to the battle. A bird call rang out, which she answered. A short silence followed before she felt the presence of four warriors surrounding her. Keeping her hands open and away from her body, Xena showed the women that she meant them no harm. Eponin moved through the bushes and appeared before her. "Xena, what are you doing here? Where's Gabrielle?"
"Isn't she here?" Xena knew the tracks she found the day before were Gabrielle's, and she knew they were headed in this direction.
"There hasn't been any sign of her. Perhaps the search party came across her."
"We had three young girls who failed to return from Athens. Ephiny sent a search party out to look for them. Perhaps Gabrielle found them."
"Perhaps." Xena said quietly.
"Come on, Ephiny will want to know that you're here." Eponin led the warrior through the forest and into the village.
Three candlemarks later, a grim-faced search party returned, carrying three staffs and a sword. Draped across one of the horses backs was a dead man. Xena, Ephiny, and Eponin met them at the gate.
"We found him in the road. The staffs and sword were lying nearby." The amazon said as she handed Ephiny the weapons. Xena reached out and grabbed the familiar staff.
"Gabrielle." She whispered. The markings of the staff that designated the queen were unmistakable. Xena looked up at the warrior. "Where was this found?"
"About two candlemarks from here on the main road. There are wagon tracks leading away from the scene. Two of our finest trackers are following it now."
"Whoever took the girls also has our queen." Ephiny said. "Gather as many warriors as we can spare, we have to find them."
Gabrielle kept her eyes closed, pretending to still be unconscious. Xena had taught her that trick. She felt the motion of the wagon making its way down the dusty road. Fighting the pain in her head, she slowly remembered what had happened. Opening her eyes, she gazed at three very frightened girls. "My Queen." Rikki said, trying to move closer to the wounded bard.
"Shh." Gabrielle whispered. Her hands were tied behind her in an unfamiliar knot. She felt another rope around her elbows, preventing any thought of escape. Looking at the amazons again, she noticed that they too were tied in the same fashion. She looked around the wagon. There were several bales of hay, the girls were sitting on some of them. The wagon was covered, making it easy for them to be kept hidden from passers by. She focused her attention on the youngest girl. "What's your name?"
"R-Rikki. This is Jors and that's Erika." She said, pointing to the other trapped girls. "We were heading home from Athens."
"It's all right now, just try to relax. By now the amazons have discovered that you're missing and no doubt have sent someone to look for you. It's only a matter of time before we're rescued." The throbbing in her head was worsening. "Rikki, how bad is my head?"
"I can't tell, there's too much blood." The girl's lip quivered. "I'm sorry."
"Shh." Gabrielle put on her best comforting look. "Everything is going to be fine. I'm here with you and the other amazons are on their way. Let's just not do anything to upset our hosts until help arrives, okay?" She turned to look at the tallest of the trio. "You're Erika, right?" The girl nodded. "That was pretty good work with the sword. Your mother must be proud of you." The amazon beamed at the compliment from her queen.
"I did what I could, my queen. I think I killed one of them." Something inside the bard winced at the thought of someone so young being forced to take a life.
"Is that your first time?" The amazon nodded. "Erika, listen to me. I know that you did what you had to do to protect yourself and your amazon sisters. You may not feel it now, but at some point the feelings of taking another person's life are going to hit you. When that happens, don't fight it. If you need to cry, it's okay." She spoke as if she read the thoughts of the young girl.
"My Queen, have you ever taken a life?"
"No, I haven't, but I've seen life taken. It's not a glorious sight, no matter what the reason. You may end up with nightmares from this. If you do, please, for your sanity, find someone you trust to sit and talk about it with. Expressing your feelings will help to ease the pain." The wagon pulled to an abrupt halt. "Listen, everyone stay quiet and let me do the talking. No matter what happens, remember that help is on the way and don't try to be a hero." She directed the last comment at Erika.
Gronos moved from the front of the wagon to the rear. Pulling back the cover, he glared at the four amazons. "You'd better learn to keep your mouths shut or I'll shut them for you!" Gabrielle nodded and hung her head. The other amazons followed suit. She knew it was better to do what he said for now rather than risking an injury to herself or one of the other girls. He growled something about mouthy bitches before pulling down the cover again and returning to the front of the wagon.
With fresh horses, Xena and Eponin joined the group of warriors assembled at the north gate. The trackers had sent back a report that the wagon was heading east, toward the seacoast. The missing girls mothers were standing at the gate, frantic with worry. They weren't the only ones. Xena had literally made herself sick with worry over Gabrielle. She knew that wagons filled with young women heading for the coast only meant one thing, slavers. As much as Ephiny wanted to accompany them on the rescue mission, her duties as acting queen required her to remain in the village. "Eponin, we have to get to them before they make it to the coast." The amazon nodded. "Hiyah." Xena nudged the horse forward, starting the journey, the amazons right behind her. As the ranking amazon, Eponin was supposed to be in charge. However, after seeing the look in Xena's eye when Gabrielle's staff was found, the amazon decided to let the warrior lead. She knew that Xena was an excellent tracker and would not rest until Gabrielle and the other girls were found.
The slavers made camp shortly before sunset. Gronos pulled the cover back and roughly grabbed Rikki, causing the young girl to cry out from the pain. Gabrielle reacted without thinking. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size, you big bully!" She snarled. "Can't you see you're hurting her?" He growled and pushed Rikki aside, sending the young girl sprawling against the far side of the wagon.
"Perhaps someone like you?" He leered. His stale breath washed over Gabrielle, making her glad that she hadn't eaten much that day. He looked at the other two girls, his eyes moving up and down their bodies, appraising them. "Look big enough for me. Maybe I'll have a little fun before I sell you four, hmm?" He leaned in to reach for Jors. The dark haired girl pulled back from him, fearful of her chastity.
"Don't." Gabrielle pleaded. She had to think quickly. "I mean, if we're not virgins, you can't get as much for us, now can you?" He seemed to think about that for a moment, then a lecherous smile crossed his lips.
"Maybe I don't need quite so much money. I'd rather feast on some fine young flesh than have a few extra dinars." He continued to eye Jors, who was unable to stop a tear from trailing down her terrified face. Gabrielle's mind was racing as she tried to figure out a solution.
"Please, they're too young. What if it was your little sister?"
"I guess it was a good thing I didn't have a little sister, hmm? I would have taken her too." He loosened his belt. He reached out and grabbed Jors, who yelped and tried to get away.
"Let her go!" Gabrielle cried, struggling against her bonds. With a grunt, he shoved the amazon away and turned his attention to the mouthy woman who was keeping him from having his fun.
"Perhaps you would like to take her place?" Gronos threatened. Intense personal fear gripped Gabrielle as she watched his eyes focus on her breasts. Looking into the doe eyes of the young girl across from her, the Queen of the Amazons knew what she had to do.
'I am their Queen.' She thought to herself. 'I have to protect them, no matter what the cost. This is what I must do.' She took a deep breath. "If it means that you'll leave her alone." Erika and Jors looked at her fearfully. Both were old enough to understand what was about to happen. Gronos looked over at Jors again, trying to decide which was the better choice. He decided that he wouldn't get much for the older one anyway, too much mouth. He returned his leer to Gabrielle.
"You're a feisty little one, aren't you? I bet you'd feel real nice squirming underneath me." He chuckled wickedly as he stared at her thighs. "Yeah, I bet you'd feel real good." He stressed the word 'real'. He put his leg up and grabbed the edge of the wagon with his arm to get in.
"Wait!" Gabrielle said with panic in her voice. She couldn't let the girls see this. "Please, take me outside, away from them."
"Sure, there's more room out here anyways." He reached out and grabbed at her bound arm. She quickly looked at the girls.
"Listen to me. Whatever you hear, don't come out of the wagon. I'll be all right. Stay here in the wagon." She wanted to say more, but Gronos roughly hauled her out.
He dragged her by the hair, forcing her to walk quickly. Finding a flat spot near the fire, he roughly threw her down, face first. With her hands tied so awkwardly behind her back, Gabrielle was unable to break her fall. The impact knocked the wind out of her. Gronos pulled out his dagger and sliced the ropes off, keeping a fistful of her hair. "Now, you're not going to try anything stupid, are you bitch?" He tugged on her hair until she yelped.
"'Course not, 'cause if you do, I'll just have to go back to the wagon and find me another one to play with."
"I won't try anything, I swear." She made a quick prayer to Artemis to protect the girls from him.
"Good." He rolled her over and pinned her arms with his, straddling her. He lifted his head and yelled to his buddies, who were busy polishing off a wineskin. "Hey, look at what I got us for entertainment tonight." Tynuis and Largas looked over and laughed.
"Serves her right, little bitch!" Largas spat. "I still got a lump the size of an egg from where she done smacked me with that there stick of hers." He rubbed the large lump on the back of his head. He yelled over at her. "Hey bitch! Maybe I oughts to git you twice for whut you done to me!" Tynuis laughed and slapped his buddy on the back.
"Ya, maybe I'll do her a few myself." Tynuis rubbed himself through the fabric of his filthy trousers.
It was well past dark when they finished with Gabrielle. Tynuis grunted, stiffened, then collapsed on top of her. Gabrielle was beyond screaming, her voice wore out long ago and was now so hoarse she could barely speak. He slowly regained his drunken senses and stood up, giving her a good smack in the face with the flat of his hand. "That'll teach ya to hit me with a stick, bitch!" He tucked himself in and went to join his buddies who still had the wineskin. They had both passed out, leaving the rest to his greedy lips. It wasn't long before he too was unconscious.
Gabrielle rolled over, burying her face in her arms. She didn't think she had any more tears to give. She cried at the pain between her legs, on both of her breasts, in the bottom of her soul. It was a full candlemark before she was able to focus.
Xena and Eponin were in the lead with three amazon warriors behind them, taking turns doing dove calls and waiting to hear a response. Eponin worried about Xena. Not one word had passed between them in candlemarks.
"Xena, you know we'll find her."
"I know." Xena's voice was flat, betraying no emotions. Inside, her thoughts were spinning. 'Where are you, my little bard? Are you hurt? Please hang on, Gabrielle. Please hang on until we get there.'
"We should have brought more food." Eponin tried to engage Xena in conversation, knowing it would probably fail. She was all too familiar with the warrior princess and her stoic nature. Xena didn't acknowledge the statement. Her thoughts were on one thing, Gabrielle.
Gabrielle straightened out her clothes as best she could, then crawled until she reached the wagon. Erika and Jors reached out and helped her up. "Here, let us help." Erika said. Once inside, they laid her down on the floorboards. Erika looked over at Rikki. "Rikki, don't look." The young girl turned around, tears streaming down her face, her queen's screams playing again and again in her mind. Jors checked the queen's head wound for any sign of it reopening. The dried and caked blood had indeed been reopened. Fresh crimson trickled down the side of her head. Tearing a piece of cloth from her skirt, Erika pressed it against Gabrielle's wound. "It'll stop bleeding in a minute. It didn't open up much." She lied. It obviously needed several stitches, but fortunately most of the wound stayed closed by dry blood, keeping the loss to a minimum.
"Thanks." Gabrielle said hoarsely. She looked at Jors, who was trying to decide if she should look for more injuries. "It's all right, Jors. There's nothing you can do." The young amazon nodded sadly. She was old enough to understand the meaning of the screams. "Help me up." She gasped. The memory of being on her back was too painful. The older girls helped her sit on the hay pile. "They're all passed out. If you run, you can get to the road."
"My Queen, we can't leave you here and you can't run." The oldest one protested. "You know what they would do to you if they woke up and we were gone."
"You have to. If they wake up..." She left the thought. "You just have to." Erika fully understood the implication. Jors was busy trying to calm down a hysterical Rikki.
"Jors and I can carry...wait, what's that?" She heard a dove call. "My Queen, it's a dove." Before Gabrielle could reach out to stop her, she moved to the back of the wagon, stuck her head out, and returned a nightingale call. It was returned, acknowledging the call. "Gabrielle, they've found us." The bard tried to straighten up. There wouldn't be much time before they arrived.
"Erika, Jors, come here." She rasped. The two amazons moved closer. "When the amazons get here, be careful. Too many noises are going to alert those men. Make sure Rikki gets out first, then you two. I'll come out once I'm sure you girls are safe." Gabrielle knew she wouldn't be able to walk for any kind of distance, if at all. Another dove call. Erika answered it with the 'help' bird call. Gabrielle pulled her back. Looking at her and Jors intensely, she spoke again. "You two know what happened out there." Both girls lowered their eyes and nodded sadly. "I'm not asking you to lie, but I am asking you to respect my privacy. If you need to tell someone, then do it, but ask them to respect me too."
"Yes, My Queen." They answered in unison. Gabrielle nodded.
"Make sure you help her." The bard said, pointing at the young girl in the corner, crying softly. As much as Gabrielle wanted to be strong and help Rikki, she couldn't. Another bird call, another answer.
Xena and Eponin scouted the perimeter of the camp. The amazon motioned for the others to circle around to the wagon. That's where the bird calls came from. Xena and Eponin waited until the amazons were in position to give the signal. There were no sounds from the men except snores.
Erika motioned for Rikki to come closer to her. The young girl was trembling now with fear and still blubbering. The older girl leaned down and whispered in Rikki's ear. "You see that woman over there?" She pointed at the amazon who was barely visible in the trees. Rikki nodded. "I want you to go run to her. She'll take you out of here and get you somewhere safe. We'll be right behind you." The little girl cried again.
"I can't. I'm scared." She wailed. Erika put her hand over the girl's mouth, afraid her cries would be heard by the men.
"You're going to have to carry her. Wait for the warrior to give the signal, then go as fast as you can." Gabrielle whispered. Erika nodded. Jors moved closer to the edge of the wagon. "Get ready to run." She croaked. "Don't stop until you're safely away."
Xena and Eponin watched as a tall girl carried a small one in her arms, running into the trees and disappearing. Two down, two to go. A moment later, they saw a dark haired girl run out. That left only Gabrielle.
Gabrielle moved as best she could to the edge of the wagon and eased herself down. She felt her legs buckle. She tried to grab the wagon, but missed. The pain between her legs made the bard unable to stifle a scream of pain. The amazons leapt forward from their hiding places in the trees and rushed forward to rescue their queen. The sound had awakened at least one of the men, who yelled and kicked the others awake. With Gabrielle in their arms, the amazons were defenseless.
Xena and Eponin entered the campsite, the amazon running in with sword raised and yelling, drawing attention away from the others. Xena somersaulted into the fray, yelling her familiar battle cry.
"Xena!" Tynuis said, fear evident in his voice.
"Well, I'm glad you heard of me." She hissed as she swung her sword at him. The battle was on. Being still drunk and slightly groggy, it only took a few swings for him to fall. Gronos and Largas were busy with Eponin. Xena moved in and engaged Gronos.
"This isn't your fight, warlord." Gronos hissed.
"You hurt my friend, that makes it my fight." Xena growled back, launching into a low foot sweep. She connected with force, taking his leg out from under him. Gronos rolled quickly, swinging out with his sword, putting himself off balance. In seconds it was over. Xena wiped her sword on the dead man before putting it back in her scabbard. She looked over to see Eponin doing the same thing, Largas lying lifelessly on the ground below.
The amazons carried Gabrielle into the woods, setting her down gently on the ground. The bard heard the ayiyiyi cry of Xena. Her thoughts passed between being ecstatic that Xena had come for her and scared that Xena would find out what happened. She struggled to get to her feet, failing miserably.
Xena and Eponin bolted over to the other amazons. Gabrielle was lying against a tree, doing her best not to cry. Xena saw the honey hair marred with dried blood and dirt. She ran over to the bard and started to check for other injuries. "Are you hurt anywhere else?" Xena asked as she ran her hands over the bard's arms and legs. Gabrielle reached out and stopped the warrior's hands.
"I'm fine, just hit my head a little." She said hoarsely. The bard tried to get up, but Xena's strong hands gently pressed her down.
"Let me, Gabrielle." She cradled the queen in her arms and easily stood up.
"Thanks. I guess I'm just worn out." She allowed Xena to carry her, nestling her head against the warrior's strong shoulder. Xena walked carefully, aware that every movement seemed to hurt Gabrielle. The bard's body was flinching with each step. Xena did her best to maintain an even gait, worrying that the head injury was worse than it seemed.
Xena handed the bard over to Eponin, then vaulted up onto the horse. Not being Argo, it wasn't trained to sit down on command. She leaned down and picked up the queen. She started to separate Gabrielle's legs to put her into position in front of her on the saddle.
"No!" Gabrielle panicked. "Uh...I'm afraid of falling. I feel a little dizzy." Xena tightened her grip on the bard.
"I won't let you fall, Gabrielle." She said softly, not understanding the bard's worry.
"Xena, could you please just hold me?" She croaked. Gabrielle tightened her hold on Xena's neck. The warrior said nothing, but cradled the bard in her arms and released the reins. Eponin moved her horse over and took the loose reins, leading Xena's horse back to the village. The others went ahead, no reason for them to keep the girls away from home any longer.
Gabrielle did her best not to cry out in pain, trying to focus her thoughts on the strong body holding her, keeping her safe, protecting her from any more harm. Unknown to Gabrielle, every time she did gasp in pain, the warrior felt every muscle clench in the bard's body. Xena did her best to keep Gabrielle still, a very hard task indeed while riding on a horse.
By the time they reached the village, the girls had arrived, been hugged and squeezed several times by relieved mothers and aunts, seen by Saras the healer, and sent home to eat and get some rest. Two amazons were standing by with a litter, ready to carry their wounded queen to the healer's hut. All they had been told was that the young queen was hurt. Once inside the gate, Xena swung her foot around and slid down gracefully with the storyteller in her arms. The amazons moved over with the litter but a look from Xena moved them back. She carried Gabrielle all the way to the healer's hut in the center of the village.
Using a wet cloth to gently rub away the blood, Xena expertly stitched up the gash on Gabrielle's head. "You're all set." Xena said as she put the needle away. Saras had tried to treat Gabrielle, but Xena insisted that the bard would only be taken care of by her. That led to a rather heated discussion between the women in which Xena made colorful comments and suggestions about the healer's parentage and Saras threatened to have the non-amazon locked up for interfering with her attempts to treat the queen of the amazons. In the end, Ephiny relented to the warrior, causing a string a remarks to be hurled her way by Saras. "Gabrielle, are you sure you're not hurt anywhere else?"
"Just a sore throat, that's all. Probably just need to get some rest."
"Do you want to sleep here?"
"No. Xena, would you help me to the palace? I want a hot bath and a soft bed." She still felt the slime of the men on her. Xena smiled at the small request for comfort.
"I bet you'd like some food too." She teased, rewarded with a small smile from the bard.
"Maybe a little." What she really wanted was several strong glasses of wine to numb her mind and body.
Xena carried her to the palace while a large number of amazons watched on, cheering their heroic queen for saving their children. Xena leaned in and gently whispered into the queen's ear. "You hear that, Gabrielle? That's for you, my little bard. You're a hero to them...and to me. You kept those girls safe until help could arrive. Them and yourself."
"I did what I had to do." Gabrielle said softly, her ragged voice too low for Xena to fully understand the tone.
Once in her room, Xena put her down on the bed. "I'll ask the guard to get someone to prepare a bath for you."
"Already been taken care of, Xena." Ephiny appeared in the doorway and looked over at the bard. "I've ordered food for you as well as the bath. Xena, do you want to join me in the food hut? They're preparing a small feast for all the rescuers of the children. They understand that Gabrielle can't come. Erika told them that she had been hit in the head and was very weak." Seeing Xena's confusion of the name, she added. "She's one of the girls that Gabrielle protected." The warrior nodded with understanding.
"I'll come back and check on you later, unless you want me to stay?"
"No, you go ahead. Besides, it is in your honor, at least partially."
"You sure?" Xena asked. She had hoped that they could sit down and talk about what happened in the cave. Apparently the bard wasn't ready to talk about it yet. The warrior turned to Ephiny. "I don't want to be pushed into speeches, you understand?"
"Uh yeah, Xena, I understand." Ephiny said. Xena reached for the door.
"Don't be too long, okay?" The was a touch of fear in her voice. Xena had listened to that voice speak to her long enough to know the emotions associated with the tone of voice. She turned to Ephiny.
"You know what, I'm really kinda beat from the long ride. I'm going to stay here and just relax with the queen. Extend my apologies and thanks, will you?"
"Sure, Xena. I'll have more food sent in. Knowing our queen, it won't go to waste." She left. Gabrielle was sitting on the edge of the bed, impatiently waiting for the bath to be ready.
Xena remained quiet, unsure of what the bard wanted to talk about. This wasn't the right time to mention the note, or was it? She hated having to start a conversation. "Gabrielle, how are you feeling?" She asked, hoping that the bard would guide the discussion.
"Tired, hungry, dirty." The last word was said in a slightly lower voice.
"Well, the food and bath are coming. Do you want to lay down until they get here?"
"Will you stay here? Promise not to leave?" Realizing that her voice betrayed her fear, she quickly tried to correct herself. "I mean, I don't want to sleep through dinner." She forced herself to smile.
"Don't worry, Gabrielle, I'm not going anywhere." Xena pulled a chair up next to the bed and sat down.
Gabrielle rolled over, facing away from Xena. She didn't want to lay on her back. Closing her eyes, she tried to rest. Images came to her mind, burning through her closed eyelids. Gronos holding her down, forcing his way in...
She quickly opened her eyes and rolled over to make sure Xena was still there. She was, looking at the bard with concern in her eyes. "Gabrielle, are you all right?"
"Uh yeah, I'm fine, Xena. I guess my mind isn't ready to settle down after all the excitement, that's all." She laid back down, but this time facing Xena. She half closed her eyes, keeping Xena's body within her gaze, focusing on the strong hands that have protected her so many times before. Within a few moments Gabrielle was dozing.
Xena watched over her, watching the bard's body rise and fall with each breath, her eyes twitching under the closed lids. Brushing some wayward hair off of Gabrielle's face, Xena wondered what kind of dreams she was having. The eyes were moving rapidly, her lips moving softly. Her body twitched, then stilled. There was a soft knock on the door.
Xena let the serving girl in and quietly motioned for her to put the food on the table. Once alone again, she gently shook Gabrielle's shoulder. "Sleepyhead, it's time to eat." Gabrielle jumped and let out a short cry, her eyes wild with fear. "Gabrielle!"
Xena's voice snapped her out of her nightmare. Xena's eyes held concern and worry. "Sorry," she mumbled, "I guess I'm just restless tonight."
"Well, just relax. I'll bring the food over to you." Xena went to collect the food tray. Gabrielle tried to sit up straight, but it was too uncomfortable. She stuffed the pillows behind her back and slouched against the headboard. It wasn't as painful, although it still ached. She shifted her legs and winced slightly. Xena was walking back over with the food and noticed. "Gabrielle, are you sure you aren't hurt anywhere else?"
"No." Gabrielle responded a little too forcefully. "I'm fine, Xena. Just tired. You know, it's not every day that I get kidnapped." She tried to make a joke of it, but the warrior wasn't in a laughing mood. She was too concerned about the bard's spirits.
"Well, here's dinner." Xena said, trying to change the subject. Gabrielle nodded and moved to a chair by the small table. They ate in quiet silence, Gabrielle too preoccupied to carry on a conversation and Xena never certain of what to say.
After dinner, the bath was brought in and filled. Nervously, Gabrielle realized that Xena wasn't leaving. "Xena, I can handle the bath myself. You go on and relax."
"Are you sure, Gabrielle? I can wait if you need me."
"No, I'm fine. Go on, I'll see you in the morning." She put a more pleasant tone to her voice, trying not to arouse suspicion.
"All right, my little bard, I'll go." Xena moved over to the doorway. "Gabrielle, when you're ready to talk about the note, I'll be here." Gabrielle had forgotten about the note with everything that had happened. All she could do was nod.
Gabrielle gingerly lowered herself into the bath, breathing sharp intakes of air as the warm water touched her most painful area. Soaking for a while, she thought about the implications of Xena being here. She came back for me, she read the note and still wants me around. Gabrielle's heart sang slightly at the implications, but was quickly dashed. Before the rape, she would have given anything to make love to the strong warrior and have Xena return that love. Now she was certain that there would be no physical love for her anymore. No one could ever touch her that way again. She let the tears fall down her face, dropping and blending with the cooling water. She scrubbed her skin thoroughly, trying to remove the feeling of the men. Washing between her legs was not only the most physically painful part, it was also the most emotionally painful. She was completely worn out by the time she lifted herself out of the now cool water. She donned a clean pair of breeches and a shift, then settled back into bed, letting her tears and exhaustion carry her over into an uneasy slumber. She prayed to Artemis that the nightmares that she was sure to have wouldn't wake anyone else up, especially the six foot warrior in the next room.
The entire village was abuzz with stories of the heroic rescue of the girls. It took almost a full candlemark for Xena and Gabrielle to reach the food hut. Everyone they passed wanted to congratulate them or praise them. Gabrielle forced a smile onto her face and used her best storyteller voice to relay the rescue tale to those that wished to hear it first hand. Xena noticed that the story was very short, leaving out everything that happened between the attack in the road and the rescue. She decided that she would ask Gabrielle about that later. It was very unusual for the talented bard to omit any part of a story. The queen ate little at breakfast, but enough for Xena not to make an issue of it. Again she didn't try for conversation with the warrior, able to hide it with the continued interruption of their meal by well-wishers.
They were walking back to the palace when a woman came running over to them. "My Queen, please wait." The woman yelled as she ran closer. Gabrielle and Xena stopped to wait for her. "My name is Mikki, my queen. I am Jors' mother. I wanted to thank you personally for saving my daughter's life."
"I didn't do much, Mikki. It was the amazons and Xena that rescued us. I just tried to keep them calm until the real help arrived." Gabrielle held her hand out to shake the grateful mother's. Xena listened to the exchange. It was always like the bard not to take credit for her own heroism.
"I know what you did to protect my daughter, Queen Gabrielle." Mikki's voice took a slightly lower and much more serious tone. Gabrielle tensed, hoping the woman wouldn't reveal her secret.
"I did what I had to do, Mikki. Let's leave it at that." She said the words gently, but refused to make eye contact. Mikki reached out and lightly touched the bard's cheek.
"You are a very brave woman, Gabrielle. I will forever be in your debt, as will Jors." The amazon sighed as she looked into the eyes of her youthful queen. "You're so young, not much older than my Jors. Artemis bless you." Mikki stepped back and looked at Xena. "Thank you, Xena. I am also in your debt."
"Thank you." The stoic warrior replied. It was always hard for her to accept compliments. Mikki gave Gabrielle a serious look before nodding and moving on to her daily tasks. Gabrielle started walking again. The long soak last night helped to ease the aching and although the pain was still uncomfortable, she was able to hide it from Xena. Her voice was stronger, although still a little raspy and sore.
"Gabrielle, what was that all about?" Xena asked as they entered the palace.
"All what?" She replied, although she knew exactly what Xena was talking about.
"About what you did for the girl. Gabrielle, you still haven't told me how you found them or what happened while you were captive."
"There isn't much to tell, Xena." They neared the throne room. "I have some parchmentwork to catch up on. You'll excuse me, won't you?" She moved over and put her hand on the door latch.
"Sure, Gabrielle. I'll go see about someone retrieving Argo and then I think I'm going down to the training grounds. I'm sure someone will spar with me."
"Just don't put too many of my amazons in the healer's hut." Gabrielle teased, forcing a lopsided grin from her companion.
Xena spent the day exercising with the amazons and listening to people talk about the improvements they've made over the moons to the village. Gabrielle spent the day in her throne room, alternating between sobbing and vomiting. Once she had closed the door and left orders not to be disturbed, the events of the past days came rushing to her, destroying all her defenses like a wave destroying a small raft. Closed eyes saw the men on top of her, taunting her, hurting her. Open eyes couldn't see through the river of tears.
Three days passed with Gabrielle avoiding serious conversation with Xena except to say that she wasn't ready to leave the village yet and only the barest of details revealed about the kidnapping. As restless as Xena was to be in one place for so long, she knew she couldn't leave without her Gabrielle. She also noted grimly that the bard made no offers to tell her stories, something in which the amazons were always a willing and enthusiastic audience. It only added to her growing concern over the storyteller. Each night, as Xena lay in bed, thinking about the note and Gabrielle, she had heard whimpers and small cries coming from the room next door. As much as she wanted to go and comfort her little bard, something seemed to hold her in bed. Gabrielle made no mention of nightmares and Xena didn't push it, although she knew she should. It was only through Gabrielle's constant pushing of her to tell her own nightmares that the warrior had found a tentative peace with her demons. Xena also noted grimly that the young woman had not written any stories or prose, something that was normally a nightly ritual.
Argo had been brought in the previous day, a little larger for the good food and lack of exercise. Xena decided to go over to the stable and give her war-horse a good rub down and some quality time. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop on the conversation between two amazons who were outside the stable, but at the mention of the queen's name, the warrior put her brush down and walked closer to the door to listen.
"I've been up half the night with Rikki. The nightmares just don't seem to be ending."
"I know what you mean. Jors is a strong girl, but even she is waking up screaming for help." Mikki replied.
"It's just so hard. Rikki is only eleven summers old. She doesn't understand. She keeps asking me why Queen Gabrielle was screaming so much. What am I supposed to tell her?"
"She's too young for the truth, Maris. Jors is only a few summers younger than the queen. I don't think I could bear the thought of that happening to my daughter."
"How many were there?"
Continued - Part 2