DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, and of course Argo, belong to MCA. This story is done for entertainment purposes only, without permission from MCA, and I'm not making any profits from it. (But I will take e-mail at email@example.com.)
Cabira was sitting in her tent trying to fall asleep, but her anger at her father was keeping it away. He knew that she hated the outdoors, but he had insisted that she perform her duties as a princess, and pay a visit to the ailing mother of King Mernamus. Now here she was, two days travel from home with only four servants and twelve guards.
I wonder how the people could expect me to live in conditions like this, the princess was thinking. Tossing the blanket aside she sat up on her cot, muttering as she reached for the goblet of water on the table nearby. But her attention was drawn by a raspy gurgling sound coming from the entrance of her tent.
Standing up with an annoyed look, she slipped her robe on over her bedclothes. She walked toward the noise. Reaching out to pull the flap of the tent aside, it flew open in her face.
Her first reaction was to scold the soldier for the abrupt manner that he had entered her quarters. Then she noticed that his sword was in his hand, covered in blood.
Pushing the princess aside the soldier entered her tent glancing around without a word. Cabira looked at the soldiers back with confusion on her face before she could stammer out, "Who are you, and how dare you come into my tent without my leave. My father will have you whipped for this...this invasion of my quarters."
"Your father has no power here princess." Turning at the voice, Cabira saw a tall man, wearing robes like her father's advisors, yet he held himself with a confidence more like her father.
Nodding to the soldier the robed man simply said, "Take her to our camp." Before the princess could say another word, the strange soldier grabbed her, forcing her outside.
There she could see bodies lying on the ground, her servants standing in a group guarded by two more soldiers. Turning to the robed man, she looked at him like he had lost his mind. "You dare lay hands on me. I'm the daughter of King Kardios. He'll hear of this!"
Grabbing the princess more roughly, the soldier dragged her into the woods despite her protest. Chuckling, the robed man reached into his pocket pulling out a piece of cloth. Kneeling down he looked at the dead guard in front of the tent, then placed the cloth in the lifeless hand.
"Oh he will, princess," he muttered to himself as he looked around at the now empty camp. "He will hear about it, and then he'll call for her."
Gabrielle continued to pace back and forth in front of the massive door. The two sentries in front were relaxed; the women had been there for over an hour.
Sitting in a very comfortable chair with her legs crossed, Xena did her best not to smile, "Gabrielle, sit down. Remember he is a king, and no doubt has other matters to attend to." Looking at Xena, the bard nodded; she walked over and sat in the chair next to the warrior.
But after ten seconds the bard stood back up continuing her pacing, talking in a fast, exasperated voice. "How can you sit there Xena, we're on our way to Athens when King Kardios' messenger rides up on a horse looking like he's about ready to die, screaming that the king needs us in Telar. We almost kill ourselves getting here, only to have some...guy in fluffy feathers telling us we will have to wait."
Xena held back the laugh that she knew would only set off the bard further. The warrior paused as the door open, and a page walked out bowing to Xena, saying, "The King will see you now," before turning back and reentering the room behind him.
Standing up, Xena gave Gabrielle 'the look'. Nodding with its meaning, the bard tried to calm herself down as she followed Xena into the room.
The throne room of the King of Telar was very simple. In the middle was a plain wooden chair that had been build over a hundred years ago for the first king. A few tapestries hung from the walls; along with torches lighting the room. Other than a couple tables and chairs, the rest of the room was bare but for a gray haired man, the page, and a red-haired woman.
Standing, King Kardios advanced towards them with a look of pain etched on his face. "Xena, I ask that you forgive me for having you wait. But my duties as a King sometimes, are higher than that of a father."
Bowing slightly, Xena eyes glanced at Gabrielle, who now seemed to be embarrassed for her outburst outside. "Kardios, there's nothing to forgive. We came as fast we could, what may we do for you?"
Glancing at Gabrielle, the king paused, before bowing to her. "Greetings, I heard that Xena now traveled with a bard. I'm honored to meet her companion."
The red-haired woman drew Xena's attention, as the she seemed to become more interested at the mention of Gabrielle. King Kardios looked at the woman, then back to Xena, "Allow me to introduce you to Tassin, one of my finest warriors and friend of my daughter Cabira."
Gabrielle smiled, as she looked Tassin over, happy for once to look someone in the eye without tilting her head upwards. She had fine fire red hair, thought the bard. And she liked the way it fell loosely about her shoulders. Her build was more like Xena's but right for her height.
Tassin looked at the King who seemed to go into a trance after saying his daughter's name. "Your Majesty," she said softly. Shuttering as he came out of the daze, he nodded, "Yes...Yes, Xena I called you not as a king, but as a father."
Xena, keeping her lips tight, returned the king's gaze. "Has something happened to Cabira?" Sighing, the king sat heavily onto the throne. "She was taken four nights ago, her guards killed. But the kidnappers spared the servants, sending them back with a message."
Taking a deep breath, he continued, "They want me to pull my troops out of the area around Auriga for five days; that's one of my kingdom's most wealthiest cities." Looking at Xena with dead eyes, his voice was trembling, "You know what they want Xena."
Nodding, Xena gazed at the bards bewildered look. "Gabrielle, once the garrison is gone, then there's nothing to stop a well equipped force from sacking the town. Five days looting a rich town would make them a fortune. Along with, more than likely, half the population either put to the sword, or carted off to slavery."
Kardios stared at the floor shaking his head, "You know I can't agree to that Xena. How can I obey the ransom demand, when hundreds will suffer for the life of one person. And if I send troops after them, they will kill her and vanish into the country side."
Clearing her throat, Gabrielle broke in, "Can't you make it look like you were withdrawing the garrison?" Tassin answered the bard in a clear gentle tone, "You really can't move a city garrison that size without alerting the people and causing panic. Unless you close the city, then spies would be able to see if they leave, or if all of a sullen there's a increase of strangers that more than likely would look and act like troops in disguise."
Nodding to Tassin, Xena turned to the King, "How long did they give you to make a decision?" Kardios stood, acting more in control of his emotions, "Twelve days...twelve days to start removing the garrison. Then I have two days once its moved to get it away from the city."
"Four days to get here, that leaves us eight," Replied Xena, "Ten if you start to move them but keep within striking distance." Smiling for the first time, Kardios looked to Xena, "Then you'll rescue my daughter?"
Xena nodded, concentrating, "Yes, we'll do what we can. Do you have any idea where they could be?"
King Kardios smiled nodding to Tassin, who motioned to a map on one of the tables. Walking over she started pointing out various places to Xena; "Here's Auriga, now I figure, it would take about two hundred men to sack the town if the garrison is removed."
Glancing to a nodding Xena, Tassin continued her report. "Since they gave that extra two days after the troops start leaving... that makes me think they would have to be within two days march of the town. Also before we lost the tracks, the princess' kidnappers were headed in that direction."
Pausing, Tassin looked over the map, "I know that area, and there's only four places that could water, feed, and hide a force that large. I sent out scouts, that I could trust not to talk, to those places."
Looking down at the map, Xena glanced at Tassin, "And?" Pointing to two of the spots on the map the woman smiled, "These two are clear, the other two are further away, and will take longer to get there. But the scouts did report that they saw signs of a large force moving through the area."
"So we wait here until the other scouts come back." Gabrielle asked, looking at Tassin. Shaking her head, the redhead looked up at Gabrielle, then Xena. "No, I had already arranged that we'll meet them on the way there."
Xena looked sharply at the soldier, arching an eyebrow, "We?"
King Kardios coughed, nodding, "Tassin, knows the area as well as the scouts. She'll help you save time and if you can rescue Cabira...." Pausing, he looked at Xena, with fear and guilt in his eyes.
"Cabira, is spoiled." He said slowly, "It's my fault, once her mother died, Cabira became my little girl."
Halting, Kardios sat back on the throne. "She's been my little girl that could do no wrong. I know that was a mistake, but I was her father, not a king."
Sighing, the king looked very tired as he stared at the floor. "She's not been exposed to much hardship, and after this time with those...people. Not knowing how they're treating her, I think that someone she knows and trusts should be with you when she's rescued."
Xena thought about how other warlords and bandits had treated their captives but said nothing. Gabrielle advanced, trying to console the King as Xena expected, but she turned her attention to Tassin. "When do we leave?"
Standing straighter, the red-haired soldier smiled, "I anticipated you saying yes, so I have ready two light packs. I think it would be better if we walked, three riders would draw more attention in this area."
Bowing slightly to Xena, King Kardios spoke in a quiet voice. "Bring her back to me Xena. After all the land, fame and riches I have fought for, I now find that seeing Cabira's face again is all that I desire."
Bending slightly at the waist, Xena only nodded as she turned to leave. Gabrielle and Tassin followed her out.
Once the page closed the door behind the three women, he turned to the King who dismissed him with a wave. Watching until he left room, Kardios buried his face in his hands and prayed.
Down in the stables, Xena adjusted the packs on a cross-looking Argo. "Calm down, they're not that heavy, and it will get lighter as we eat." Snorting, Argo shook her head vigorously and gave Xena a mournful look.
Tassin grinned watching the exchange, "She's beautiful, makes me sorry that I don't ride."
Gabrielle looked at Tassin and smiled, "Why don't you ride." Shrugging her shoulders, the soldier blushed, "They're just too high off the ground for me." The bard threw her head back, laughing and clapping her hands while looking at Xena. "See, I told you I'm not the only one who thinks that."
Xena rolled her eyes with a smirk, before patting Argo's mane. "Don't pay any attention to them, they just don't know any better."
Tassin watched the two as they got ready; mostly her eyes remained on Gabrielle. The bard was getting her staff, and becoming more self-conscious of being watched.
Finally, she had to turn to the redhead, and force a smile, "Excuse me, but is something wrong?" Startled at being so obvious, Tassin blushed as she did in the throne room, while she continued to observe Gabrielle.
"I'm sorry, but when the King said you were a bard. I wanted to meet you. I mean look you up later I...I..god, I'm making a mess of this. I wanted to be a bard, but really did not have the talent for it. So I ended up in the service of the king since I was better at fighting."
Standing up, Gabrielle walked to the door leading out into the courtyard, keeping her eyes on Tassin. "So do you still tell stories?"
Nodding her head, Tassin followed Gabrielle, "Yes, in fact I tell them to my men when we're out on patrol. So I try to keep my ears open for new material."
Finishing tucking Argo's saddle, Xena looked after the two chatting women exiting the stable. Taking the horses bridle she shook her head. "Well girl, looks like we have two bards on this trip." Looking a bit depressed, Argo followed her mistress.
The group walked out of the castle keeping to themselves, not wanting to alert any spies.
After they were out of sight of the castle walls, Xena mounted Argo and rode ahead, scouting as usual.
In about an hour she was back telling Gabrielle and Tassin that she could see no evidence that they were being followed. But the two just nodded, going back to their conversation.
Turning back in the saddle Xena, waited for the bard to start. She knew that after her scouting and getting into the day's journey, Gabrielle would begin talking, telling stories, or anything else that came to mind.
But as the morning wore on, all she could hear was an unintelligible muttering behind her. She resisted the urge to turn around for most of the morning. That is, until a laughter made her turn to look behind her. There Gabrielle and Tassin, were walking next to each other giggling.
Gabrielle didn't notice Xena's look, as her conversation was taking all her attention. Turning back around, Xena looked over the country they were passing through.
"Oh well," She thought, "At least I finally can ride in silence for once." Kicking Argo she rode ahead leaving the pair behind, thinking that since Gabrielle had someone to talk to, she could scout a little more.
Gabrielle paused in her story watching Xena as she rode away, thinking that there was no better view than Xena on Argo.
Tassin turned, also watching the departing Xena, "Does she do that often, riding off and leaving you behind?"
The bard laughed, "No, only in the morning when she feels that she needs to look around. After that, she will ask me to ride with her if we need to make time."
Shuttering, Tassin looked back at Gabrielle with a warm smile, "Then you're braver than me when it comes to horses."
With a chuckle Gabrielle turned her eyes back to Tassin, "Let me tell you about me and horses..." The bard started, as they continued down the road.
Later, further down the road, Xena was leaning against a tree waiting for the pair to catch-up. They were just in her sight; she could see that they were laughing, with Gabrielle giving Tassin a playful shove.
"Look at them." She thought, "Think they were long lost sisters." But another part seems to be telling her that she should be doing things like that. Not some hired soldier.
Looking around to the countryside, Xena's eyes darted to places she would set up an ambush, best defensive grounds. Rubbing Argo's breast as she watched the pair. "Good thing Gabrielle has the soldier to talk to, otherwise we would have to listen to her talking about how beautiful everything is."
Not sure how to take the mood she was feeling from her mistress, Argo just stood, enjoying the touch from Xena.
Gabrielle waved to Xena, but didn't get a reply. "Wonder if anything is wrong?" But Tassin broke her train of thought. "I like that story, I'll have to remember it. Not as good as the one I told you."
Shaking her head, she placed her arm around Tassin's shoulder, "Are you kidding, the way you told it. I'm surprised that you did not become a bard."
Beaming, Tassin looked at Gabrielle, "You really mean that?"
Xena lips tighten as she watched Gabrielle place her arm around Tassin. What is that girl doing, she thought as her mind raced from one idea to another? They only met this morning! Just say you're a bard, and she falls all over a person.
Jerking Argo's bridle, the warrior stepped back onto the road and waited with an emotionless look.
"About time you two got here," Xena said, looking only at Gabrielle. The bard taken back by the tone blinked at her friend. "I'm sorry Xena, I didn't realized that we had been walking that slow."
Nodding, Xena looked up at the suns position, "Well, I would like to cover more ground, but we will stop here so you two can rest."
Shrugging her shoulders, Gabrielle looked at the ground, " "I'm sorry Xena... we can keep going if you want. I'm not tired."
Already regretting her words, Xena sighed, "No that's all right Gabrielle. I guess I'm just a little inpatient."
Using this moment to speak up, Tassin excused herself, to go and take care of business, she said.
Sitting under the tree, Gabrielle thanked Xena as she handed her the waterskin. "So tell me, what did you two talk about?"
Looking awed, Gabrielle started her familiar, excited and fast way of speaking that Xena loved to hear. "XENA, she knows so many stories that I never heard of. I mean, everywhere she goes, she picks up new stories. She learned how to fight without weapons from some stranger that she saved as a child. She's from a village just like mine; it's incredible what she knows."
Pausing to catch her breath, "I mean Xena, she don't known as much as you. But still, did you know there's a land far east of us, where everyone has slanted eyes. And they built a wall that stretches across thousands of miles?"
Looking over and seeing Tassin returning, Xena nodded, "I've heard of the people, even seen a couple. I did not know about the wall. Sounds like you made a new friend."
"And you know what is best about her Xena," Gabrielle added with a shy wink as the warrior shook her head. "I don't have to break my neck trying to look up at her all the time."
Tassin sat next to Gabrielle and grabbed the waterskin, as she watched Xena smirk over something the bard had said. Rolling her head to ease out the cricks in her neck, she glanced at Xena.
"There's a good camping spot about fifteen miles further along the road. Rabbits seem to love the area, so we should be able to save our trail rations."
Turning her head to the bard, Tassin smiled, "Also it has a small pond, so you can take a bath if you wish."
Holding back a frown, Xena stared at the road ahead, thinking. "What? Is she trying to say that we smell? And Gabrielle, what is she so impressed about... finding someone that she can look into their eyes without looking up."
Xena was so deep in thought; it was on the third try of calling her name, before Tassin got her attention.
Nodding, the warrior asked what she wanted then tried to look relaxed in front of Gabrielle.
Sighing now that she had Xena's attention, Tassin reached into her pack. "One thing that was not brought up was a piece of cloth. It was found in the hands of one of Cabira's guards."
She tossed the cloth to Xena, and she slowly opened it. Revealing a emblem of a sword, crossing over a battle-axe. Nodding, she only whispered, "Barcia."
"Barcia's?" Gabrielle asked while looking at Xena. "I never heard you talk about him before."
Smirking, the warrior shook her head with a slight laugh. "That's because I never thought much of him. He imagined himself a warlord, and came to my camp wanting to join forces, when I was laying siege to a city."
Xena's eyes remained on her bard, as she always did when talking about her past. Watching the expression of disgust Tassin was showing, she knew if it ever came from Gabrielle, part of her would die inside.
"He showed up with over fifty good men," Xena continued. "But he was a coward, a thief and a liar."
"Excuse me," said Tassin, breaking into Xena's tale. "No offense, but were you not also a thief, Xena? Or did the villagers just give you their money and food."
Xena interrupted Gabrielle's defense of her, as she stared at Tassin. "Yes I was a thief. And Barcia was one that would have stole from the villagers, and me."
Gabrielle leaned forward blocking Xena's view of the soldier, knowing the look the warrior was giving Tassin. "Go on, what happened then?"
Please go on, the bard thought. Knowing Xena's temper, she already planned to keep them separated for the rest of the afternoon.
Giving Tassin one last 'look', Xena nodded to Gabrielle before continuing. "Not much to say, he was one who looked to take the easy way. I took his men and equipment into my army. Then had dogs run him out of my camp. That was the last I heard of him."
Pursing her lips, Tassin asked how Xena could be sure it was Barcia?
Lifting up the piece of cloth, Xena smiled, "because this is the same emblem that he used then. Only he would have so little imagination for something this simple."
Smirking, Tassin watched Xena, "I'm not surprised, always thought that warlords were a simple lot. More muscle than brains."
Laughing nervously, Gabrielle stood up, grabbing Tassin's arm, "Don't you think we best get going! I'm looking forward to that bath, aren't you Xena?"
Holding back what she intended to say Xena nodded as she stood looking at Argo. "Gabrielle, want to ride with me this afternoon?"
The bard's first impulse was to say yes, but remembering how tall the horse was, plus then they would ride next to Tassin for the rest of the day, she declined. Saying that she'll just walk with Tassin.
Xena's expression remained calm, but as she mounted Argo, she fought the burning that was threatening to burst forth, as she quickly rode ahead.
Sighing, Gabrielle watched Xena until the warrior slowed Argo to a slow trot. She turned to the soldier in annoyance. "LOOK..." the bard started, as she explained for the rest of the afternoon how Xena had changed.
Up ahead, Xena rode in silence, keeping far enough ahead so that she didn't have to hear the mumbling behind her.
The hours seem to drag on for the warrior. She could not remember when a simple ride could exhaust her.
If it had been just her and Gabrielle, she would have thought of an early camp, but that soldier! She already had Gabrielle excited about some rabbits and a bath.
Her musings were interrupted by a yell from behind. Pulling Argo to a halt, she waited for the pair to catch-up.
Pointing off the road, Tassin yelled for Xena to head to her left.
After they have gone a mile, Xena saw where they were heading, a small pond surrounded by a grove of trees. It was far enough from the road that only people who knew about the place would be there, but still close enough for fleeing brigands to avoid.
Nudging Argo to a gallop, she rode to the grove, feeling the wind in her face, as she tried to forget the day.
Finally slowing Argo down, the warrior sighted an old fire circle. Riding up, she dismounted and checked the area.
Xena had already unpacked Argo and was brushing her down when Gabrielle and Tassin arrived.
Tassin left after setting her pack down, saying that since she knew the area, she'd place traps for the evening's dinner.
Xena watched the soldier leave before going back to Argo.
Gabrielle hesitated, not sure of her friend's mood, but could not keep quiet for long. "I'm sorry that we didn't get to speak much today."
Working on getting a Burr out of Argo's tail, Xena shrugged, "That's fine Gabrielle, it was nice to have a quiet ride for once."
The silence made Xena turn. Gabrielle was replacing missing stones in the fire ring. But with a touch of guilt, the warrior knew she had hurt the bard's feelings.
Pulling out her dagger, she cut the stubborn burr, then turned her head slightly towards the bard's direction, "But I must admit, I did seem to miss your talking. Guess I must be getting sick."
Smiling again, Gabrielle looked up at Xena's back, her eyes traveling over the warriors black hair. "I'm about done Xena, think we can go for a dip?"
Xena's heart seem to freeze; she hoped the bard didn't catch the change in her voice, as she let Argo loose to graze. "Sure Gabrielle, I'll stand watch."
Sighing, Gabrielle finished stacking the firewood, and grabbed a soft rag that she found to help dry her off.
As she walked to the pond, she tried to think of what she did wrong. Xena had stopped bathing with her two full moons ago. And she could not understand why.
She remembered it well; she had jumped on Xena's back and reached around the front of her. They both fell forward, splashing, then Xena let go with the deepest most beautiful laugh she ever heard.
Then the expression on her face changed, she seem to almost run out of the water. When asked why, she only said that she heard something. But she never went near her sword.
Since that day, they never bathed together; Xena always stayed on the bank, standing watch. Yet Xena said that she didn't need her when she swam.
Stripping down, the bard dipped her foot into the water with a shiver. "It's not bad Xena, cool but not freezing."
The warrior walked around shaking her legs, and rubbing her back. Trying to ease the days ride out of her muscles.
But her eyes never left the bards form. She suppressed the smile that wanted to break out, as Gabrielle swam around the pond.
Until, that is, she heard the footsteps coming from their camp. She turned; knowing it was the soldier.
Tassin was already stripping and smiling at Xena, "Aren't you coming in?"
Keeping her tone neutral, Xena only replied that someone had to keep watch.
Laughing, Tassin dived in, swam over to Gabrielle and started splashing her.
Scowling, Xena turned around, watching the woods, while splashing and laughter echoed around the pond.
The Captain turned around when his lord entered the tent. With a bow he waved to the bloodied form on the floor.
"It took a while sir, but he says that he was to scout this area, then report to his captain a days ride south of here."
Nodding, the lord listened as the broken form on the floor repeated over and over, "Please".
The captain continued when his lord looked back to him. "He also said that another scout was to the west. I sent a squad after him, with instructions to kill anyone he talked to."
The man paused, thinking, "A squad?. Yes, if they ran into her, she'll easily beat them. Anyone else and they're dead." Looking at his captain, Barcia smiled.
"Increase the wide patrols; I want to know if anyone comes near us. Kardios has only half his time left, he'll either remove the garrison, or come after his daughter."
The captain bowed, and started to leave but stopped, pointing to the begging man on the floor. "And him sir?."
Barcia glanced at the floor and shrugged, "Give him what he wants."
The captain pulled his sword, and raised it high as his lord exited the tent.
She was in a sour mood, and she knew it. That soldier had spent the entire evening talking.
That was the time she loved listening to Gabrielle. That was the time the bard came up with her best stories, and those oh so beautiful poems.
But that Tassin, talked and talked. And Gabrielle actually listened!
It was going to be a cool night, so Gabrielle gathered more firewood, not like that soldier had helped much.
So what if Tassin's traps came up with three good size rabbits, she could have done something....else.
Then this morning when she woke up, and saw that soldier sleeping with Gabrielle. She could still remember how close that...woman was to her bard.
But she was nice, she did not break the arm wrapped around the sleeping bard.
She gently kicked Tassin's feet waking her up, though Tassin complained about a broken foot.
The rest of the morning had been quiet. Tassin only said that she woke up cold and saw Gabrielle shivering, so she only wanted to warm the two of them.
At least now Tassin, was doing something for once. Ahead, she guided them across land to where they were to meet her scouts.
What can Gabrielle see in that woman! Other than someone she can look in the eyes without looking up.
"Xena, are you alright?" Gabrielle asked, breaking the warrior's train of thought.
Seeing that she had the warrior's attention, the bard paused.
She knew for some reason Xena didn't care for Tassin, or maybe she was so dense that she just could not see the cause.
"Xena, have I done something to anger you?."
Smiling, Xena looked at Gabrielle, while shifting Argo's reins to her other hand. Reaching, over she gave the bard's shoulder a quick rub.
"Gabrielle, you can't anger me. Annoy, irritate, aggravate, exasperate, and drive me out of my mind, but never anger."
Rolling her eyes, the bard gave a quick laugh, "Thanks..I think."
Feeling her mood lightening, she didn't dare not to say anything to spoil her spirits. Xena walked on, listening to Gabrielle talk, realizing just how much she missed it the other day.
They continued on into the day, until both noticed that Tassin was waiting for them at the top of a hill.
Tassin's mind wandered as she waited for the pair to catch-up. "What does that girl see in Xena. Unless she likes rude women. Damn harpy almost broke my foot this morning. I wonder if they're.."
Gabrielle's voice intruded on her thoughts. "Is everything alright?."
Smiling at Gabrielle, Tassin nodded then turned expressionless when she glanced at Xena. "The rendezvous is at the base of this hill. That puts us almost right in the middle of the last two locations. Both about a days easy ride, or hard march."
"OK, which way then?" Xena asked, returning Tassin's expressionless gaze, who was now looking down the hill towards a growth of trees. "Well," Tassin said, "It's best that we wait. If we go in one direction we could loose a day we can't afford."
"Stay here, I would like to wait out of sight in that line of trees. But I want to make sure that no one's been through here. I'll go check for signs then signal you when it's clear."
Gabrielle took a few steps down the hill watching Tassin, wishing that the soldier and Xena could get along better.
Xena watched Gabrielle look after the soldier, once again feeling the irritation she felt this morning. Until she realized that the bard was tilting her head up, looking at her with a warm smile. Then Gabrielle turned around commenting on the view from the hill.
Before she knew what she was doing, Xena took a few steps down the hill.
Gabrielle was enjoying the view, it was like she could see the world from there. Turning to comment to Xena, she was momentary startled to see her gone. "Xena?" Turning around, she found she was looking the warrior in the eye.
"Oh there you are." Taking a few steps, she stood next to her friend glancing up. "I feel like I'm on top of the world here."
Hearing the cry of an eagle, the bard looked up, sighting the bird. "You know, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to fly like that."
Turning around she noticed once again she was looking Xena in the eyes. And again the warrior had moved a couple steps down the hill. This time she was wearing a strange expression on her face.
"Xena are you Ok?" Gabrielle's concern showed plainly on her face. When they both heard Tassin's yell for them to come on down.
Nodding, Xena walked back up the hill, "I'm fine Gabrielle, I'll get Argo." Walking past her friend, the warrior closed her eyes and wished there was someone to hit, for making her feel so foolish.
They met Tassin at the site she selected. The afternoon slowed to a crawl, as Gabrielle preceded to tell one story after the other. Then Xena and Tassin made camp for the night.
It was just about sundown when first Xena, then Tassin heard the horse fast approaching.
Gabrielle grabbed her staff, as Xena pulled her sword. Tassin on the other hand stepped out onto the road as the horse pulled up before her.
"CAPTAIN!" The horsemen shouted. Smiling, Tassin grabbed the bridle of the horse, stroking its mane, while Xena and Gabrielle relaxed and walked over.
"Greetings Mannius," Tassin smiled with an ease, now that she was with one of her men. "Rest your horse and tell us what you found."
Quickly glancing behind him, the scout shook his head, "Captain, there's a squad of ten men, no more than a mile behind me."
Releasing the bridle, Tassin stepped aside, looking down the road, then back to her scout. "Then the camp is to the west?" she asked.
Shaking his head, the scout talked fast, "No, the west camp site is clear. These men came from the north. And I've not seen Boggs."
Nodding, Tassin moved back from the rider, "Then go now! Inform the king that the camp is the north location. We will stop the pursuit."
Spurring on his horse, the scout rode away. Xena looked at Tassin with a grim face. "You know we can't let one of the pursuers escape, or take a chance on tying one up and escaping after we leave."
Her face looking as if set in stone, Tassin nodded, "If one does, then the princess is dead. I don't like this, but see no choice."
Taking a deep breath, Xena turned, looking at her bard, "Gabrielle, I want you to take Argo deeper into the woods and stay with him."
Gabrielle started to protest; Xena looked at her and shouted, "DO IT."
Surprised at Xena's tone, and not sure what they were planning, Gabrielle took Argo's bridle, and with a last look at Xena, headed into the woods.
Walking out into the road, Tassin nodded to Xena, "They'll more than likely stop when they see me."
Quickly climbing up the tree, Xena hid among the branches, hearing the hoof beats of the approaching horsemen.
The horsemen came to a halt when they saw Tassin standing in the middle of the road.
"I'm afraid that the man you were chasing already delivered his message," the soldier told the riders with a somber look.
With a quick jerk of his head, the lead rider looked at the horseman next to him. "If so missy, you will join his friend in Tartarus. Then we will ride him down."
The rider kicked his horse forward, drawing his sword. Leaning over, he swung at the small target.
Tassin, using her quickness to jump into the swing, grabbed the inside of the rider's sword arm, using her weight, she pulled the man from the saddle onto the ground. Twisting his arm around his back with a pop, her foot slammed the back of his neck with a sickening snap.
The Soldier's attack lasted only seconds, which stunned the other riders.
With a cry, Xena dropped onto the saddle behind another rider, sliding her sword blade across the man's neck, spraying blood on the horse's mane, then pushed the dying body off the horse and grabbed the bloody reins.
Tassin used the surprise of the warrior's attack, to run leaping at another shocked rider. Her hand flying, driving her fingers into his wind pipe. Dropping his sword, the rider clutched his throat trying to breathe before his world turned black.
Screaming her battle cry at the recovering riders, Xena spurred the horse forward, her swinging blade dropping another rider out of the saddle.
The riders' horses bucked at the smell of blood and fear thrust into their atmosphere. The riders shouted commands to each other, as the bloody pair drove into them.
A fifth and sixth body dropped dead to the ground. One stabbed through, the other's heart ruptured. Screaming, the leader gained control of his horse, driving his spurs deep. He turned the animal north.
With a quick look Xena saw Tassin drop another rider out of the saddle, leaving two. Jerking the horse's bridle hard, she rode after the leader.
Tassin knew Xena had left to go after the escaping rider. Leaping from one horse to the other she twisted the riders head, leaving only one to go.
Her hair flying, Xena squinted for the rider ahead. Though his horse was better bred, his heavy armor was tiring the animal. Looking behind him, the leader saw Xena was catching up.
Pulling the tired horse to a halt, he again dug in his spurs. Forcing the animal to a last full gallop toward the woman.
Xena, her eyes aflame saw the leader coming toward her. Dropping the reins she guided the animal with her legs. Gripping her sword with both hands she screamed, "Yiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi," as two swords slashed at each other in the setting sun.
Tassin looked up as the horse came closer, nodding to its rider. With a huff, she pulled on the last body, dumping it into a ditch along side the road.
Xena dismounted looking at the man Tassin had secured in rope. Closing her eyes, Xena took several deep breaths knowing what was to come.
Tassin walked over to Xena, her own eyes dark. Glancing at the soldier, Xena managed to say, "Gabrielle?."
Nodding, Tassin looked at the man, "She's fine; I told her to stay where she was. Only by saying that you were all right would she stay put."
Taking another breath Xena walked over to the rider and jabbed him in the neck. "I just cut the flow of blood to your brain," she forgot how many times she has said it. But she didn't think her tone was ever this lifeless. "You have thirdly seconds to tell us about your camp, leader, and the princess."
Stammering the man spoke, "It's a day's ride to the north, we have two hundred men. Barcia's is our leader..." pausing for breath his eyes started to fade.
Tassin looked at Xena, "We need more, release him." Xena nodded jabbing the man again, "Your blood is flowing again. But I would keep talking."
Nodding the man continued, "Barica's tent is in the middle of the camp. It's a big tent with banners around it next to that is another large tent. That has the princess. She's not been harmed."
Tassin spoke abruptly, "Guards?"
"Two" the man rasped, "only two, that is all I know. I swear it."
Tassin quickly reached up and twisted the man's head to the side, giving off a loud crack. Silently the body fell to the ground.
Looking at Xena, the soldier turned around and walked over to a tree; bending over, she started retching.
Xena turned, walking into the woods. The moon was up and almost full, making it easy to see.
"I'm over here." Gabrielle stepped out, leading Argo, looking at Xena. She noticed the blood splashed over her armor, but knew it was not hers.
"Xena..." Her was voice soft, not a hint of accusation in it. "Why did you want me to stay away from the fight?."
Closing her eyes, the warrior's voice trembled as she came off the battle's high, "We could not take prisoners Gabrielle, if you had knocked someone out. We would have to execute them. Killing a prisoner is different from killing in battle."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak, but only nodded.
Letting out a long breath, Xena looked at the moon, then gave her bard a slight smile. "Lets go...we're going to ride a bit tonight, neither Tassin or I want to sleep around here."
Walking back to the camp they had setup, the bard saw Tassin, coiling a rope while looking at a dead rider.
Glancing at the pair, the soldier started to head for the horse that Xena took from the riders, then paused. Reaching down, she grabbed the rider's sword and placed it in his hand.
Xena already mounted Argo and reached her hand down for Gabrielle. The bard looked at her friend and took her hand. "How far will we go tonight, Xena?."
The warrior looked at Tassin as she mounted the riders horse, then at the dead rider, "Not far enough Gabrielle...not far enough."
Without speaking, the trio rode on north toward the warlord's camp.
After several hours of riding, and avoiding their third patrol, they finally moved off the road and made camp. Tassin took the first watch as they bedded down for a much-needed rest.
It was already cool with no fire, but they all knew the risk of discovery would be too great for one.
Xena laid on the ground, resting her head against Argo's saddle, watching Gabrielle stroll over to the soldier. She could feel her cheeks burning, as the bard placed her hand on the woman's shoulder and leaned in close.
Closing her eyes, the warrior rolled over, pulling up her blanket, wishing she knew what was going on in Gabrielle's mind.
A soft gentle voice brought her back out of her musings. Smiling, Gabrielle kneaded beside her, "Huh..Xena, since it's going to be cold again. And since we don't have a fire, I thought..."
Hiding her smile, the warrior lifted her blanket. "Your right Gabrielle," she said, "Come on, we can share."
The bard threw her blanket on top of Xena's, then crawled in beside her. Facing away from the warrior, she pressed back.
Xena hesitated, then slowly moved her hand around Gabrielle's waist, pulling her closer. She was momentary frighten when she felt the bards hand cover hers, thinking that Gabrielle was going to pull her hand away.
But the bard's hand stayed holding hers. Then it sounded to the warrior like a sigh of pleasure came from Gabrielle as she said goodnight.
Feeling the warmth emulating from the bard, Xena took a deep breath. But all she could smell was Gabrielle's scent, closing her eyes she drifted off to a rare dreamless sleep.
Xena woke once, when Gabrielle left her embrace, but relaxed when a few minutes later, the body was back. Encircling her arm back around the waist, she felt a slight tension. But the body relaxed and soon she was fast asleep.
The warrior's eyes flew open when she felt someone tugging on her foot. Looking up, she saw Gabrielle smiling down at her. With a start, she almost jumped out of the blankets, realizing that she was holding Tassin.
Muttering, the soldier pulled the covers back over her and went back to sleep. Xena looked at the now giggling bard, as a flush crept over her features.
Doing her best to stop chuckling, Gabrielle kneaded next to the soldier. "Tassin said that she heard horses on her watch, but I didn't hear a thing on mine."
Recovering, Xena tried to look everywhere but at her bard, "I thought I had the second watch?"
Diving under the blankets, Gabrielle laid back to back against the soldier. Winking at Xena before closing her eyes, "You did Xena, but since I knew you would also take my watch too let me sleep. I told Tassin to wake me for the second."
Irritated that the bard was getting to know her so well, Xena turned away. She walked around the dark camp trying to stay warm.
Gabrielle opened her eyes after hearing her name for the fourth time. Shaking her head at the bard, Tassin looked at Xena, "Is she always like this when you try to wake her?"
Smirking, the warrior nodded, "And that's even when she's had a full night sleep." Standing up shivering, Gabrielle wrapped herself in the blankets and rolled her eyes, "Ha..Ha, what is this pick on your bard day?"
Smiling, the soldier handed Gabrielle some trail biscuits, "Grumpy too; no definitely not a morning person."
Munching on the biscuits, Gabrielle ignored the heathens, "So what's the plan for today. I mean, we must be close to the camp, with all these patrols. How do we get through an enemy camp of two hundred men, past the princess' guards, grab her then make our way out with the princess, pass the same two hundred men, and escape the pursuit?"
Glancing at Tassin, Xena remained expressionless, "I'm working on it. Gabrielle, you ride with me, we're staying off the roads from now on."
Swishing water around her mouth, Tassin capped the waterskin and spit out the water. "With last night's ride, and staying off the roads, I'm guessing that we'll hit there camp before sundown."
Finishing saddling the horses, Xena mounted, then extended a hand to Gabrielle. The bard took the offered hand, feeling herself being pulled up behind the warrior.
Watching Tassin smoothly mound her horse, Gabrielle looked over at her with a puzzled gaze. "I thought you said that you didn't like horses?"
Kicking her horse to a slow trot, the soldier smiled as she ducked a branch, "I said I don't like riding, never said that I didn't know how to ride."
The hours passed, as they slowly made their way north. They Halted a few times when the sounds of other horses came too near; not stopping, they ate quietly in the saddle.
Holding her hand up, Tassin pulled her horse to a stop. Standing in the stirrups, she turned her head as if listening, before turning the horse back toward Xena.
"The camp I'm guessing is only a mile ahead," The soldier whispered, "I think we should make our camp here, then you and I circle around and scout it."
Nodding, Xena turned to her friend, "Gabrielle, wait here. I'm going to scout up ahead." Frowning, the bard opened her mouth, but the warrior beat her to it, "This requires stealth and you're just not good enough; I'm sorry."
Scowling, Gabrielle slid off Argo, taking her staff. Grabbing a couple of the packs, the bard nodded, "Things will be ready when you two get back. I'll see if I can find some berries to go with the trail biscuits." Smiling, Xena turned Argo and followed Tassin.
Since it was going to be another cold camp, the bard had left right after the two warriors. Searching and collecting a batch of blueberries, she resisted eating them herself, that is except for the few bruised ones she found.
It had already been several hours since Xena left and she was starting to get worried. Then she hear the rustle in the bushes, calling out a bit annoyed, "Come on out, you can't sneak up on me that easy."
Pushing aside the last branches, four soldiers looked at the bard, "Well lookie here," said one missing his top front teeth. "We got a new game to hunt now."
Going a bit pale, Gabrielle quickly recovered grabbing her staff, "Alright I don't want to hurt you guys, just turn around and leave."
Advancing towards her, the one with no teeth, smiled wickedly. "Don't worry sweetie, we won't hurt you to much."
"DON'T!" The bard started as she swung her staff around, as expected the man ducked. "CALL!" Spinning with the staff she raised one end high, causing the man to look upwards. As the other end spun around slamming up between his legs. "ME!" Bending over grabbing his groin, the man started retching while Gabrielle slammed the staff in his face. "SWEETIE!".
Jumping forward and sweeping her staff low, the bard tripped up two more men, as another surprised man started reaching for his sword.
Catching the movement out of the corner of her eye, Gabrielle jabbed the end of the staff into the pit of the man's stomach. Bracing the stave against her body she spun around catching the man in the side of the head with the end, sending him into a flip, landing on his back and not moving.
Raising her staff high, she blocked the sword swinging at her head. Then using her full force, she drove the staff down, onto the mans foot. Screaming, he dropped his sword grabbing for his toe, commencing to hop up and down on one foot.
Quickly, Gabrielle swung upward, catching the staff under the man's chin knocking him out.
She turned around just in time to see the last man run away, yelling at the top of his lungs. Clenching her teeth, she started to follow when she heard more sounds coming from the west.
Spinning to meet the new threat, Xena and Tassin rode out of the trees. Looking at the bodies, then the hard breathing bard, the soldier cursed, "Did any get away.?"
Sighing Gabrielle nodding, "One ran, while I was busy with these."
Cursing, the soldier looked around, "What now? They know we're out here, or soon will."
Biting her lip, the bard nodded, then looked at the two, "Let them catch me. It was only me here, so they don't know about you two. They will take me prisoner and maybe put me with the princess."
"No Gabrielle," Xena said with a tightening of her stomach at the idea, "That is way to dangerous. Besides, they will more than likely just kill you, before even placing you with a princess."
Pausing, the bard nodded, before her face brightened. Reaching into her pouch, she pulled out a necklace and started to fasten it around her throat. "Now they have two princesses, Xena."
Shocked at the idea, Xena started to protest when they heard the sound of horses. Looking at her friend, Gabrielle rushed over, pushing Argo back. "You know it'll work Xena, Barcia will now have an Amazon princess in his hands. Now go!."
Xena looked at the soldier for help, but Tassin only nodded. "Gabrielle, we'll come tonight. Have the princess ready to go tonight."
Raising her voice, the bard almost shouted, "I'll have her ready NOW GO!."
Turning their horses, the pair rode until they came to a grove of trees. Guiding the horses in, they watched as riders came into the clearing.
Gabrielle immediately raised her hands in surrender. Watching, Xena knew there was nothing she could do as they tied Gabrielle's hands. She only wondered how they would get her and the princess out of the camp tonight?.
Tassin grabbed Xena's shoulder when one of the riders hit Gabrielle in the back of the head knocking her down. The warrior felt her blood raising; she wanted to ride Argo out and crush the man for striking her friend.
Afraid for Gabrielle and yet proud at the way she stood back up, her head straight looking every inch like a glorious Amazon princess, she only hoped that the riders would understand just what a prize they had, and take her directly to Barcia.
The rider who had secured Gabrielle's hands, tied the end of a rope once again around her wrists, then gave the other end to another horseman, then he and a companion took off. Pulling the bard behind them.
Soon, they were out of sight. Xena and Tassin glanced back at the squad, seeing that they were helping the men that had been on the receiving end of Gabrielle's attack.
Easing Argo along with Tassin behind, they slowly made their way along the line of trees. Keeping out of sight, the pair stayed in the woods, proceeding carefully toward the enemy camp.
At times, when there was a break in the trees, Xena would look for the riders. Far ahead she could just make them out, with Gabrielle still on her feet following behind.
Tassin looked at Xena in obvious distress about the bard, as they evaded another patrol, hoping that the warrior would hold herself together.
Gabrielle's hands were hurting; the rider back at the clearing knew he was tying the leather tight, and when she told him, he hit her. She had a moment of panic then, not just that she may be killed, but that she would hear Xena's battle cry, coming to run down the rider.
She knew not only would a true Amazon disregard the blow, but that Xena would relax if she dismissed it. Seems the rider was a friend of the man missing his top teeth. Well, actually, now he was missing his bottom teeth as well.
At least the pace wasn't too bad, and she had rode Argo the entire day, which her bottom was constantly reminding her of; smiling, she thought she now knew why Xena was so irritable during the day. And the rider in front had her staff, leading her right to the princess; all in all not a bad plan, she hoped.
Barcia was brooding, four days before the deadline and no signs of the garrison leaving, nor any sightings of her. He would have sworn that the king would at the most attempt a rescue of his daughter.
Pouring another glass of wine, he heard the guard to his tent asking to enter. Starting to shout, he checked himself, "No," he thought, "Must not lose control in front of the men." Carefully changing his tone, he told the man to enter.
Entering, the guard bowed low before looking at his lord, "Sir, we have captured an Amazon south of the camp. She had evaded our patrols and attacked some of the men foraging for fresh game."
Sipping his wine, Barcia glanced toward the tent entrance, "Bring her in, I wish to speak with her."
The guard turned and opened the tent flap; almost immediately Gabrielle, was shoved in. Barcia quickly took in the Amazon's appearance, short for one he first thought, but firm muscles, hands slowly turning blue from her bonds. But they were not the hands of a sword fighter.
Following behind Gabrielle, came another guard, this one carrying her Amazon staff. Shifting his eyes to the staff, Barcia smiled, then looked back to Gabrielle. "They tell me you attacked my men?."
Bracing her feet, the bard moved into a pose she seen Xena do many times. "No, your men attacked me; I was merely defending myself. Besides, I didn't hurt them that bad, they're alive."
Chuckling, Barcia moved closer, examining the necklace around his captive's throat. "These things happen when you have such a large force. You can't help but getting less than high caliber men all the time....Princess."
Gabrielle knew she was showing surprise on her face, how could he even know what she was?
Laughing at the expression on the Amazon's face, Barcia bowed, "Forgive me for laughing, but sometimes you Amazon's forget that some men know your markings. And that necklace says you're a princess from the line of Queen Melosa."
Stepping towards the guard, Barcia glanced over the Amazon staff, "Now unless you're a great fool, who would wear the necklace of a Amazon princess, and have the skill in wielding an Amazon staff, never knowing who you will meet....Please no lies."
Wishing that Xena had told her that the necklace showed her rank, the bard quickly nodded, "I'm not a fool, I was visiting Amazons that had set up a business in Auriga. When I left, I came across your signs and followed them,. not only curious, but in case your army was a threat to my people."
Barcia hesitated looking at Gabrielle, this time his eyebrows arching in surprise, "I know about Auriga, in fact the city interests me greatly. I know there are some shops owned by women, but I never heard of one owned by Amazons?"
Forcing down the panic, Gabrielle told herself that she's an Amazon, and not to ever show fear or panic when she wore the necklace. In fact, that was one of the reasons it stayed in her pouch, the responsibility of acting like a Amazon at all hours of the day.
"Huh....what ever your name is, since you know much about us, you should also know that many people would not buy from Amazons, so they don't advertise that the shop is owned and run by Amazons."
Pulling a dagger, Barcia advanced toward Gabrielle, smiling, "You're right princess, There are a lot of people that don't like Amazons."
Tassin wrapped her horse's reins around a limb before joining Xena; the tree branch offered an excellent view of the camp. The warrior already told her that Gabrielle was taken into a large tent surrounded by banners.
Quickly climbing the tree, she squatted next to Xena, eyes locked on a large tent by the one Gabrielle went into. "That must be where they have the princess," Tassin said as she nodded her head.
Xena closed her eyes, feeling sick. "My god," the warrior thought. "Is this how much she means to me, I feel so empty inside...as if part of me was gone."
"Xena?" Tassin looked at her, fear raising within. "Can I trust her," she was thinking. So much depended on the warrior, and the soldier was not sure she would make it.
Opening her eyes, Xena studied the camp, looking for a weakness. It was getting dark now, and the campfires looked inviting against another cold night.
Tassin shivered, her attention on the camp and on the tent. Guards were in front as she took it in. And tents were in the back... no cutting the side unless she wanted to put on a show for the rest of the camp, she thought.
Xena grabbed Tassin's arm sullenly, with a fierce whisper, "THERE....look see it?" The soldier turned her head, and after a few seconds shook her head, "See what, Xena.?"
Grinning for the first time since Gabrielle was taken prisoner, Xena chuckled, "Look...two tents from the edge of the camp, next to the camp fire."
Perplexed, the soldier looked over, shaking her head, "I see what your looking at, but I don.......," Then with a gasp she whispered, "No....no it can't be that easy!."
Gabrielle rubbed her wrists, watching Barcia putting his dagger back into its sheath, "Thank you . . .?"
Sipping his wine, he gave the Amazon a toothy grin, "My names is Barcia, and you're welcome, I'm honored to have you grace my tent."
Tilting her head, the bard slowly smiled, "I'm Tereus, but I take it I'm not free to go?" Silently, Gabrielle prayed that Tereus would forgive her for borrowing her name. But something told her not to use her real name, just in case Barcia had been keeping up with Xena's accomplishments.
Barcia bowed with a sweep of his hand, "I most humbly apologize, princess Tereus, but I'm involved in . . . matters that require the location of my army to remain, secret."
Bowing slightly, Gabrielle pasted on a smile, "And I'm sure that you would insist that I be your guest?"
Chuckling, Barcia took the Amazon staff from the guard, and placed it next to a broadsword. "Only for four days at the most; rest assured that I wish no conflict with the Amazons. And you will be released when I need to...deploy my forces, until then you'll keep company with another guest of mine."
Feigning surprise, the bard arched an eyebrow, "Who is that if I may ask?"
Opening the flap to his tent, Barcia indicated for the Amazon to proceed. "Let me introduce you to her."
Xena watched as Gabrielle was conducted out of the tent; she was followed by a man in robes, too far away to see his face, but she was sure it had to be Barcia. They walked right to the tent where they thought the princess was being held.
Tassin shifted in place; the soldier was getting agitated, waiting for the camp to turn in. Xena glanced at her, seeing Tassin nervous for the first time.
"Don't worry," Xena said, "We will rescue your princess." Scanning the area around them, Tassin dropped to the ground and waited for Xena to join her.
After Xena dropped down, they both made their way to the horses, getting the items they needed. The soldier was still nervous when she looked back to Xena, "Your plan can work, but only if everything goes right. Do you think that Gabrielle will be able to handle her part?"
Xena grabbed what she needed off Argo, then hesitated before answering, "Tassin, there are very few people that I would trust with my life, but only one that I would trust with my soul. Yes, Gabrielle can handle it."
Gabrielle studied Cabira, the princess looked about her age, a good five inches taller than the bard, and she had beautiful long blond hair. In fact, Gabrielle thought she looked liked a story scroll princess, must be how her father spoiled her, she thought.
Barcia glanced at the princess, a look of loathing flashed across his features, but caught by the bard, before he started in a false grand style. "Princess Tereus of the Amazons, please greet princess Cabira, daughter of King Kardios."
Turning his back to Cabira, Barcia bowed to Gabrielle, "Princess Tereus, please do not leave your tent. I have guards posted outside. Just a brief four day visit, then you will be on your way." Without saying another word, Barcia pushed the flaps aside and withdrew from the tent.
Cabira looked at the woman; standing up, she slightly bowed to Gabrielle, before sitting back down, "Please forgive me Princess Tereus, but I'm afraid that my manners are not what they should be."
"I've," Cabira continued, "Been held here for six days, they...they murdered my guards and took me prisoner." Running a hand over misting eyes, the princess stared at the ground, "There was one guard, I called him my keeper, he had been guarding me since I was born and they killed him. I've had six days to think of nothing, but that I never knew his name."
Surprised by the tone and the quick admission by the princess, Gabrielle huddled by Cabira, giving her a reassuring smile, "Have you had any one to talk to in this time?."
Shaking her head, Cabira looked up at the bard, "No, none of the guards are allowed to speak to me. So for six days I've had to just sit and think about the men they murdered, my father, and those that I love."
Catching her breath, Gabrielle listened to the sounds outside the tent. It was getting dark, and cold again, but she could not hear anyone close by.
"Cabira," Gabrielle started, "I'm here to rescue you; I have friends outside the camp, planning to get the two of us out of here tonight."
Gabrielle paused as the princess' eyes widened, "Don't say a word, let me finish; I'm not sure what time they will come, but you must be ready to run when I say the word. You must do what I say, understand?"
Speaking fast, Cabira was trying to remain calm, "Is it Tassin, did she come after me?"
Grinning with a nod, Gabrielle was pleased to see the energetic effect the rescue attempt was having on the princess, "Yes, it's Tassin, and a friend of mine, but from now on, you must be ready to follow my orders, no matter what it is." Nodding, the princess closed her eyes and prayed.
The woman by the fire circle glanced up as the two forms wrapped in blankets stopped by the fire to warm their hands. "Tis cold enough to even keep a drunkard home from a tavern tonight." Laughing, one of the forms nodded it's head, "Your right, though it does not say much for us, does it?"
Laughing back, the woman stood up, heading for a tent, "I'm turning in, if you're staying out here, keep the fire burning."
Tassin watched as the woman entered the tent, then glanced at Xena, "With everyone in blankets, or turning in early to warm covers, nobody knows who's who." Standing up from the fire, Xena looked around, "Yes, lucky for us, Barcia has women in his army."
Picking up a stick, Tassin stirred the fire sending up a spray of sparks, "How many you think we'll need, three?" Closing the blanket around her head, Xena stood glancing toward the center of the camp, "Four or five is best, wait until the moon moves another quarter."
Tassin watched Xena walk toward the center of the camp, pass fires that briefly illuminated the cloaked figure. Looking skyward, she waited for the moon to continue it travels, while stirring the fire's coals.
Barcia finished his walk around the camp; he was worried that the cold may make the guards more interested in seeking warmth, than keeping an alert watch.
Stopping outside his tent, he noticed that most of his army had already either turned in, or were in small groups around fire circles. Maybe he'll talk to his captains in the morning about the watch-standers. They will say that the wide patrols are keeping a good watch, but that Amazon did get within a mile.
Shivering, he decided that he will talk to the captains in the morning; with a glance at his guard, he entered his tent, and became aggravated that the fire in his tent was allowed to burn low. Muttering about having his servant's skin, he threw a couple logs into the pit.
His mind was back to the deadline, when he sensed someone behind him. Spinning around he drew his dagger, searching for who else was in his quarters.
Xena stepped out from a darken corner, as the flames from the fire pit flickered across her face. Abruptly, she stopped and stared at Barcia, then simultaneously they both said, "Who are you?"
Barcia looked the warrior over, intrigued. She was not an assassin or she would have already attacked him, nor just walk into the light. Keeping his hand on his dagger, he maintained the fire pit between the two of them, as he spoke.
"Who am I? You're the one in my tent, who do you think I am?"
Xena was baffled, trying to understand what was going on, "I came here to talk to Barcia, but your not Barcia. So tell me why you're using another man's name?"
Motioning toward the table, Barcia walked over, "Wine?" Seeing the warrior shake her head, he poured himself a glass. Keep her talking he thought, he would get more useful information talking over wine, than any torture would. "So your a...friend of Barcia's?"
Grinning, Xena's gave off a short laugh, "I would say that the real Barcia would not have been happy to see me."
Picking up the goblet, Barcia nodded, looking her over, "So you came here to kill Barcia; I'm sorry to tell you, but I already did that." Xena walked over to the fire and warmed her hands; she saw that her movement relaxed Barcia.
"Mind if I ask why you have gone to so much trouble to kill Barcia, take his name, and standard?" the warrior asked.
Pausing, Barcia shifted his gaze to the fire, wanting to talk after keeping it in so long. And he could always kill her afterwards, but she did sneak into the camp, and past his guards. Maybe she was worthy to be one of his captains.
Looking at Xena, Barcia smiled, "I killed your Barcia, about oh...just over a year ago. He was not a praiseworthy opponent, but I needed a new name, and not only did he provide a name, but also a past and emblem."
"Why did you need a new name? Were you being hunted?" Xena asked; she also wondered about the time; she had to keep Barcia occupied, and not rally his army once Tassin started her part of the plan.
Sipping the wine, Barcia smirked, "No, not hunted. I wanted someone to think my old self was dead. It caused her pain, and now I want to cause her more pain; I want her to see my face when I kill her lover."
Xena's eyes widened not believing what she was hearing. "What did she do?"
The anger that he kept hidden started to seep back up to the surface, "We were betrothed." furiously he stood, tossing the last of his wine into the fire pit, causing a brief fire ball. "I LOVED HER! and she tossed me aside because she said that she loved another."
The outside guard heard his lord shouting, and entered the tent to investigate. Enraged, Barcia screamed at the guard for interrupting him, "GET OUT, GET OUT OF HERE, GO BACK TO YOUR TENT BEFORE I HAVE YOU BURNED ALIVE."
Xena was bracing herself; she had seen this rage before, when a person looses control, and lets their emotions run wild. This was a time that the opposing leader wants, but also when they were most unpredictable and dangerous.
Throwing his goblet across the tent, Barcia continued his tirade; "After she told me, I left the city; within a few days, I ran into Barcia. We shared camp for a few days and he bragged about himself, how he was going to be a warlord once again."
Closing his eyes, Barcia worked on trying to calm himself, looking at Xena, to judge her reaction to his outburst. "I killed the oaf, and threw his body into the campfire. I left behind my possessions, and let people think it was me. I heard the bitch cried when she heard that I was dead."
Shaking his head vigorously, Barcia sneered, "But now I will be avenged, and I will kill her lover, and then I'll let her live, knowing what she caused me to do."
Xena eyes lingered on the fire, not wanting to increase the rage venting forth by staring at him, "What is this woman's name?"
Barcia stared at Xena, grinding his teeth, "TASSIN."
The Soldier looked around, then kneeled by the tent, placing the coals and kindling next to the woven cloth. She had to be careful...too much, and the fire would start to soon, to little, and the coals would die.
Her heart was in her throat, knowing she was so close to the princess, but so much could go wrong. If only Gabrielle knew what to do, and have Cabira ready when things start to heat up.
Gabrielle took a deep breath, then turned to Cabira, "All right, think you can do that?" Nodding, the princess shuttered, "Yes, I'm ready but it's so....disgusting."
The bard winced as she handed the chair to the princess, "I know, believe me, I would not suggest this if there was another way." Taking the chair from Gabrielle, Cabira started to scream at the bard.
Tyrus groaned, "I don't believe it, they're at it again!" He and Castor had came on watch over a quarter moon ago, and this was the fourth time those two had started screaming at each other.
Castor stomped the ground, his annoyance at the women increasing, "I'm getting tired of those two; we're out here freezing our asses off, and those two can only fight about whether Amazon's and Centaurs can ever get along."
Tyrus grinned, "Maybe they'll kill each other." Laughing, the guards paused, looking at each other, when a loud crash from inside the tent brought an abrupt end to the yelling.
"Oh, Zeus!" Castor said, "Think the Amazon killed the brat?"
The other guard looked at Castor sighing, "We're not that lucky, go and check."
"ME! why me?" Castor replied.
Looking bored, Tyrus pointed toward the tent, "Cause I went in the last time."
Cursing, the guard turned around and entered the tent. After a few minutes, Tyrus looked at the entrance yelling, "Castor, what's going on?"
Then a scream came from the tent; startled, Tyrus rushed in and saw the Amazon laying on the floor amidst the remains of a broken chair. Then he saw the princess struggling with the guard lying on top of her.
Moving quickly to the struggling pair, he reached down, grabbing the other guards collar with a snarl, "Castor you idiot, Barcia will have you staked out."
Pulling on the guard's shirt, he noticed that Castor came off the princess unmoving, then his head exploded in pain before all turned black.
Gabrielle smiled and dropped the chair leg, and offered a hand to the princess. "That worked out good... now we just wait for our friends."
Looking at the guards, Cabira moved toward the exit, "Can't we leave now, I mean the guards are taken care of."
Tearing off strips of the blanket, Gabrielle started to tie-up the unconscious guards, "No, I don't know where Xena and Tassin are, or how to get past the other men out there. We will just have to wait."
Xena stood looking at Barcia, "Now that I've heard your story, I have more respect for the man you killed, than the man who stole his name."
Coming out of his reverie, Barcia returned the gaze, flustered at the warrior.
Xena eyes darted over the warlord, "You murdered a man for his name, kidnapped Kardios's daughter, killed over a dozen of the princess' guards, and threaten to destroy a city. All because Tassin was truthful and said that she loved another."
With realization dawning, Barcia dashed over, drawing his broadsword, "SHE'S HERE!" ...and you're with her, she came to rescue her lover." With his eyes gleaming, Barcia advanced toward the warrior, waving his sword side to side, "I knew that she would come! And after I kill you, then it's the brat's turn."
Xena drew her sword, and slowly circled Barcia, "You're pathetic, over twenty men have died, all because your vanity has been offended."
"GUARD!" Barcia shouted, while following Xena, moving to keep the warrior in front of him.
Xena, smiled as her battle rage started raising, "You sent him away, remember?"
Screaming, Barcia swung the broadsword with all his might at the warrior, who after deflecting the blow with her sword, followed up with a kick to his face.
Xena, danced back as Barcia staggered, looking for another opening in his defense. Moving in quickly, she jabbed with her sword, but Barcia, parried the attack, spinning around and kicked high across her face.
Barcia laughed when he felt the kick hit, then hopped back out of the warrior's range. Circling, with his sword weaving back and forth, he leaped toward her arching the blade at the woman's neck.
Adjusting the blanket around her, Tassin looked back the way she came; she could already see thin wisps of smoke raising from three places to the west side of camp, but no flames, or cries of alarm yet.
Swiftly she turned around the corner, and saw that there were no guards in front of Barcia's or the princess's tent. Advancing cautiously to Cabira's tent, she pushed aside the flaps and peered in, seeing Gabrielle binding up the guards.
Stepping inside, she felt her legs give way, as a blow to her head made her world spin. Falling back on her rump, she looked up at Cabira standing over her with a club.
Dropping the club, Cabira looked at Tassin in dismay; falling to her knees, the princess grabbed the soldier, embracing her tight. "TASSIN, I'm sorry, I didn't know it was you!"
Fighting back the dizziness, Tassin returned the embrace, then pushed back the princess, gazing at her face, while her hands gently caressed her cheeks, "Are you hurt, Cabira?"
Laughing from relief, Cabira looked at Tassin, then carefully moved forward, bringing her lips to hers.
Gabrielle for once was speechless, she had been expecting Tassin, but not this. She could not help staring, she had never seen two women kiss with passion before.
Hating herself for intruding, the bard cleared her throat, which the two figures seem to ignore, so she tried again only louder, "Heh heh...ahhh excuse me...hello...excuse me?"
Breaking the kiss, Tassin smiled widely, while Cabira blushed and avoided looking at the bard. Helping the princess stand, the soldier turned to Gabrielle, "Thank you, thank you for what you did."
Now feeling her cheeks warming, Gabrielle shrugged, "This is what we all came for... where's Xena?"
Forcing back her happiness, Tassin looked around the tent, and walked over, picking up the two swords belonging to the guards, "Xena's, working on making sure that Barcia will not rally his men once the fires start."
Gabrielle looked at the soldier testing the weight of the swords in each hand, "How is she going to do that? And I thought you said that you did not use weapons?"
Smiling, Tassin worked on balancing the swords, "By keeping him in his tent once the fires start, we wait until the camp runs to the west side, and then we walk east. And I don't normally use weapons, but I have many skills."
Groaning, the bard looked at Tassin, "You're just like Xena sometimes."
Standing on her toes, Tassin gave Cabira a peck on the lips, then looked at Gabrielle, "Really? How much alike do you think?"
Blushing, Gabrielle wondered herself, when a yell outside the tent intruded on her thoughts.
Tassin walked to the flaps, listening, "Wrap yourselves up in blankets, the fires have been discovered."
The captain was running toward Barcia's tent, when he saw the guard was gone, "Must already be at one of the fires," He thought, looking at the camp.
Five fires were burning on the west side; which one was his lord at? Swearing, he ran toward the nearest fire, stopping briefly to check that the guards were still stationed in front of the princess's tent.
>From within her blanket, Tassin nodded to Gabrielle, after she watched the captain run off toward the burning tents.
Snarling, Xena thrust forward, head butting Barcia. Screaming in rage, he staggered back, blood streaming from his broken nose.
Laughing, Xena twirled her sword, "You should thank me Barcia, you look a lot better now." But then yelling from outside diverted her attention.
Using her lapse, Barcia turned and side kicked the warrior in the stomach. With a bloody smile, he watched the woman fall back from the blow; stepping forward he leaped up, swinging his leg, striking her under the chin with his foot.
Xena flew back from the force of the kick, landing on her backside; quickly she stood-up facing away from Barcia.
Raising his sword high, Barcia moved in for the kill.
Shaking her head, in an attempt to clear it, she heard the warlord rushing toward her. Twirling her sword, she shoved it under her arm behind her. The warrior felt the blade hesitate meeting some resistances, then continued onwards.
Barcia's arms felt weak, looking down, he saw the sword sticking in him, but his mind seemed very confused. He dropped his sword, since it was becoming to heavy to hold.
His vision was becoming blurred, until he made out the woman standing in front of him. Showing off bloody teeth, he smiled, "I still won," He croaked, "Be sure and tell her that you killed me."
Gripping her sword, Xena braced her foot on Barcia's body and pushed, pulling the sword free, and sending the body back, falling into the fire pit.
Xena, looked on as the clothes started to catch fire, then turned and grabbed the Amazon staff, before exiting the tent.
Tassin was pleased... not only did her fires all burn, but it was spreading; eight tents were aflame, and chaos was sweeping across the camp.
Gabrielle stepped forward, throwing off her blankets when she saw Xena come out of Barcia's tent. "Xena, here!"
Smiling now, seeing that Gabrielle was alright, the warrior tossed the staff to the bard, "Can we all leave now?"
Nodding, Tassin tossed off her blanket and pulled out her two swords; shoving the tent flaps aside she called for Cabira to come out.
Forming around the princess, the group started to walk east, Xena in the lead, Cabira behind, Gabrielle and Tassin on both sides.
Howling, a man ran at Tassin swinging a sword, blocking the blow, with one sword, she swung her other sword around, slicing him through the stomach. Turning back around she continued walking after the man dropped.
Gabrielle, swept upwards with her staff, as another came from around a tent, hitting the man in the temple; she then jabbed him in the middle, dropping him backwards into a tent.
Xena stopped another, slamming her sword hilt into his face, then pushed him out of the way as they made their way east.
Fighting without slowing down, and keeping the princess in the middle, they left a trail of bodies behind, until the group made it to the woods.
Looking back at the burning camp, Tassin smiled and looked at Xena, "What about Barcia, is he dead?"
Hesitating, then nodding, Xena looked at Cabira, then Tassin, "Yes...yes, Barcia is dead."
Gabrielle, leaded back against the tree, her eyes' half closed watching, Tassin and Cabira. They had not traveled far during the night, Xena had wanted to "Hide under their noses" as she said.
Now, her warrior was scouting, trying to pick up any evidence of pursuit. While, Tassin and Cabira, were reacquainting themselves, and that brought several images to mind when she dreamed.
And that bothered her, when she could grab the little snatches of sleep that came to her, she dreamed of the kiss the two lovers shared. But then a veil clouded the dream and, Xena's face appeared.
She knew she had to work these feelings out, before she could ever talk to Xena about them. She felt both excited and afraid, but she was not sure, what she was afraid of. Slowly her eyes closed the rest of the way, and she dreamed.
Tassin, held Cabira's hand, as they held each other close, the soldier been trying to keep the emotions she's been holding back from bursting forth.
"Tassin," Cabira, called her lover' name again before she looked at her, "Tassin, do you remember the guard that I called my keeper?"
Nodding, the soldier frowned, "Yes, I'm sorry that Possidente is dead, he was a good man." The princess, laid her head on Tassin's shoulder closing her eyes, whispering, "Possidente."
The soldier heard the horse first, jumping to her feet she pulled the two swords she took the night before. Gabrielle grabbed her staff, moving over to the pair, helping to protect the princess.
But they all relaxed as, Xena rode into the grove and dismounted, "There is no pursuit, Barcia's army is falling apart." Leaning against her staff, Gabrielle's smiled, "What happen Xena?"
"Barcia, was all that was holding them together, now two factions are fighting each other for control of the supplies. While the other men are running off in small bands to form their own little groups."
Tassin nodded with a smile, "There will be an increase in brigands, but with enforced patrols by the king's men, we can probably take care of it."
Xena, nodded then started to pack the rest of their supplies on Argo. She could feel Gabrielle watching her, she felt it last night after they got out of the camp. It was if the bard was looking her over for the first time, and some looks she received. Shaking her head she guessed she was just imagining what the looks meant.
Glancing at Tassin, Xena smiled, "We will escort you and the princess back to the king, then we must be on our way."
Nodding, Tassin walked over to the bard taking her by the shoulders, "Gabrielle, I don't know how to thank you, it was a great risk to surrender, and your protection of Cabira." Leaning over the soldier kissed the bard's cheek.
Flushing, Gabrielle stammered her thanks, while thinking how soft the woman's kiss was.
Across the camp, Cabira and Xena looked at the two, irritation on both of their faces, and both thinking that it will be a tough three-day ride back.
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