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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A Warlord's Legacy
Agridon gripped his sword tightly and scanned the men around him; they were all waiting for the attack. He was the leader for this small band; it was only for his great size that he was picked, not any fighting knowledge he held.
It had been years since the last serious attack on the village, though it was more of a town now. Tsaia had grown in wealth, and some in power, they were now a place almost on the verge of becoming a great city.
Then this trash came; they had been under siege in the village for a week, and each day they had lost men; their commander was smart, he'd grant that.
The traps, surprises, and ambushes he sprung on the villagers not only exhausted their strength, but had also sapped many of their hopes.
Now the dust was moving; of the four scouts sent out, only one returned, saying that the trash was moving in for an attack from the north. It made sense, that was open ground, plenty of room for riders, and easy access into the village.
But this commander was smart, Agridon knew that, he'll come in from the south; he'll risk ambush coming over the riverbank. The embankment would slow them down long enough for the archers to fill them with arrows. But it was also the most lightly defended side; once past his group the village would be wide open.
Shouting from the north drew his attention, they were yelling that the attack had started. Soon runners came telling him to send half his group and all the archers to the northern side of the village.
He refused the first two runners, but the third was an elder, telling him to send his men, or the village would be lost.
Spewing forth his best profanity, he sent the men, knowing in his heart the village was lost already, there were just too many of the trash and too few of them.
Then a cry went up as a lookout spied a band of thirty men breaking from the trees. A rider was leading them forward with a type of battle cry he had never heard before.
They could only wait for them to come; all his archers were gone; he had sent a runner to bring them back, but it was already too late.
The attacking army hit his group head on; within seconds most of his men were down; if he had to die, at least he was going to take the rider with him. He killed two of the brigands as he worked his way toward the rider; he could now see that it was a raven-haired woman; her battle cry sent a tingle up his back.
She noticed him fighting his way to her, so any hope of catching her by surprised was gone. Turning her horse to him, she swung her sword, and only by the smallest of luck was he able to block it. Then one of the trash, stumbled into him; surprised, he turned his head toward the rider, just in time for her blade to strike his face.
He woke up later still on the ground; one of the village women was nursing him where he fell. He tried to look around but all he saw was blackness...but he could hear voices shouting repeatedly, "XENA! XENA! XENA!" then he let the blackness wash over him again.
The woman was starting to get exasperated; she was searching through their last pouch, and she still had not found one. This was her skill, this was when she always came out successful.
Then with a cheer, Gabrielle pulled out the object and triumphantly held it up between two fingers, "See Xena, I told you I could find another dinar."
Nodding, Xena watched as her friend dropped the coin on the blanket containing the others, and counted them over. Looking toward the campfire, she remained silent as her mind wandered, "Is this what I've brought you to Gabrielle, we're so poor that finding a single dinar brings a look of joy to your face?"
The bard shook her head with a sigh, then turned to her warrior, "All right, with some good haggling we can get Argo's oats, seven days worth of trail biscuits, a new sharpening stone, dried beef and a wine skin."
Nodding, Xena glanced at the woman, "What about new scrolls, your writing materials, and cloth for a new top?" The warrior looked at her friend, the green top she wore was the most ugly thing she ever saw. But they never had the money to buy new materials to make another.
Using a sharp piece of charcoal to scratch markings off her list, the bard shrugged, "Blank scrolls, and writing materials are too expensive, we would loose half the items on the list. As for new cloth, I can keep wearing this, I would rather have food than a new top."
Looking the list over, the bard nodded, "Yes," she thought, "they would get along nicely with these items." Then after glancing at their money, she turned to her friend, "Xena, we need to stop over at the next good size town, after two, maybe three days of performing, we'll have more than enough dinars for the rest of the list."
Nodding, Xena poured the last cup of soup in the bard's bowl, "I had my fill, take the rest, in four days we should get to Ursa."
Gabrielle looked up confused "But there is a village just a half day in front of us Xena, we need to stop there. We're out of oats, biscuits, and wine."
Standing up, the warrior walked over, checking the almost empty pack, and turning toward the bard she saw her drinking down the last of the watery soup. "I wanted to avoid that village, but your right, I'll circle and wait for you on the other side."
Licking her lips, Gabrielle used her fingers to gather the few slices of onions still in the bowl, before glancing at her friend, "Why meet me on the other side?"
Sighing, Xena looked up at the cloudy sky, "Because I would not be welcomed, this was the first village that I attacked after I became a warlord. When you go in, it would be best not to mention my name, or that you know me."
"All right." Was all she could say aloud, but silently, the bard cursed herself, "All right, is that all you could think to say, she knows that you've never seen a village that she once attacked."
Observing the warrior as she walked around the camp, Gabrielle's mind continued to reprimand her, "She worried about how you feel, all you need to do is hold her, tell her that you still love her."
Pausing in shock, the bard knew just how much she loved her warrior, but could never really tell her.
Laying down on her blanket, the warrior closed her eyes, "Gabrielle, what do you think of me, this is my quest to cleanse my past. Yet without you telling me your stories and poems, you keeping my belly full, your belief in me, I would have failed long ago."
Xena felt ashamed as her thoughts continued, "I can hear your belly growling Gabrielle, for three days my traps have come up empty. All we had to eat in that time is the wild onion soup you could make, why do you stay with me?"
After dropping their money into a pouch, Gabrielle looked over at her friend and froze. She had seen this often before, that look on the warrior's face, the image of self-pity that at times took her over.
The first few times she tried to comfort her, only to be rebuffed by the proud warrior. She could not remember the last time she tried, it had been too long since she last tried, she knew that now.
Xena's eyes open when she felt the caress on her cheek, sitting over her, the bard looked at her with such tenderness. "Oh gods, Gabrielle, do you know how it feels inside me when I look at you?" But the warrior only shook her head, not wanting to show that she needed comfort.
"Xena, please don't lock me out," The bard thought, as she withdrew her hand and laid down next to the warrior. She reached her arm around her goddess, and pulling her close as she laid her head upon Xena's breast, closing her eyes.
The warrior hesitated, then placed her arm around the bards shoulders, They started sleeping curled up together only a few moons ago, when they were saving a princess. The nights had been cold, and they slept together for warmth, but it continued long afterwards, neither of them, it seemed wanted to pull apart for the nights anymore.
"Xena?." Gabrielle voice brought her back out of her despair, her arm instinctively pulling the bard closer as she tried to smile, "Yes Gabrielle?"
The bard opened her eyes, staring at nothing, "What is the name of the village?"
Letting out a slow breath, the warrior tried to push back the memories trying to flood over her, "Tsaia, its name is Tsaia."
Gabrielle observed the village as she walked closer, trailing Argo behind her. It used to be larger, she could see the squared outlines where buildings used to stand, now overgrown with grass and weeds.
She had already passed five of the outlines, and the remaining, huts... she could not consider them buildings... were in need of mending. Was Xena's attack so devastating, that even years later this village still had not recovered, the bard thought?
She saw few people at first, her mind comparing them to her home village of Potadia; some of them looked back, wary of the young woman leading a warhorse.
Sighting the inn, she turned toward it, oblivious to the growing stares. Maybe this was not a good idea after all, her mind was thinking; why are they this suspicious?
Wrapping Argo's reins to a post, she grabbed her staff from where it had been secured to the saddle; using it like a walking stick, she glanced at the people staring at her before walking in.
The inside was very familiar; several tables lined the room, the bar itself was a large board, laying on top of a couple barrels. A man came from around the bar toward her; he was huge, a chest as big as the barrels holding up the bar, a scar ran down the right side of his face, from his forehead to his chin, an eye patch covered his right eye.
Agridon looked over the woman, "What can I do for you, Miss?" he asked, keeping his eye on the staff.
The bard pulled out her list and handed it to the huge man, feeling smaller as she looked upwards, "I'm looking for the items on this list, I wonder if you could tell me who I need to talk to."
Taking the list, he looked it over, then at the slip of a woman standing before him, "I can get all these things for you, but only three days of biscuits. We're a poor village, and don't normally have much to sell to travelers."
Turning his head, Agridon called out. "IXDOUS!" A yell answered him, as a boy about ten years old, and about as tall as Gabrielle's shoulders, with brown shaggy hair came running from the back room, "Yes father," he called back.
Smiling, Agridon handed the list to the boy, "Get these items together for the young miss here." Nodding in seriousness, the boy smiled saying, "Yes sir," and ran out the front.
Walking to the door, Agridon looked at Argo, his eye inspecting the horse, "Where are you heading for Miss?"
Her own eyes examining the inn before she turned back to the huge man, she smiled, "Answer me a question first, why is everyone so interested in me?"
Agridon gave Argo one final scrutiny before turning back to the bard, "Cause we're frequently attacked by robbers Miss, so often that we can never fully recover, and before they attack, they send in spies. You're here, with a warhorse, and you don't have the looks of a warrior."
Baffled, the bard had to ask another question, one that she already thought she knew the answer, "Why are you attacked so often?"
Chuckling, the innkeeper seemed to go in a trance, as he spoke, "Several years ago we were attacked, not the first time it had happened, but it was the first time we were sacked. Ever hear of Xena, the Warrior Princess?"
Continuing without waiting to hear a reply, "We lost a good many folk that day, besides my eye. After that, we were so weak that...that filth, kept attacking and robbing us of our harvest after harvest, so much that we could never recover."
Closing his eye, Agridon finally turned back to the bard, "So what about you Miss. Why does someone whose not a warrior, ride a warhorse?"
Gabrielle hated lying, and even more when she liked the person she was lying to. But she could not be sure of his reaction, knowing she was the Warrior Princess' best friend, "Cause I'm an Amazon, I was heading back to our land, but I ran short of supplies and stopped here to restock."
Furling his brow, Agridon gazed at Gabrielle, "Aren't you a little short for an Amazon?"
Her ear's turning red, the Amazon princess advanced toward the huge man, exasperated "I'm sick and tired of people saying that I'm too short to be an Amazon; since when does size have anything have to do with what a person should be like..."
Agridon backed up, surprised as the small woman advanced upon him, until he tripped, falling heavily on a bench, with the young woman continuing to yell at him.
Xena had come across the signs just an hour after she left Gabrielle. At least forty to sixty men she would guess, moving around the village, not sure of the defenses.
She followed them for a bit, trying to gather more information, but she was not sure if she knew the band, or their weapons. Shaking her head, she finally decided to head for the area she was to meet Gabrielle, the safety of her bard was the first thing on her mind right now.
Agridon held up his hands in surrender, "Please Miss. I'm sorry, I humbly beg you're forgiveness and will never think that shortness has anything to do with not being an Amazon."
Pausing, the bard sat back surprised and smiled, "Really! Thank you, I can tell you I know a few Amazon's that are my size, and it really irritates them also, why everyone thinks they have to be giants.."
Agridon groaned, he was already sorry, not only that he brought it up, but she had kept at it.
Both of their attentions were captured by a commotion from outside the inn; pausing, Gabrielle looked at the innkeeper, then both went to see what was the reason behind it.
Outside a woman was screaming, as other villagers rushed around with bundles, "What is going on?" was all she could get out before she was knocked aside.
Shaking his head, Agridon grabbed a villager with a glance at her, "Raiders," Then pulling the man her grabbed closed, he said something that Gabrielle could not make out, then motioned for her to head back into the inn.
The bard looked over the villagers as they crowded into the inn, she realized that though Agridon was not an elder, he seemed to hold influence over many of the people.
They were now discussing what to do, or more like arguing; it seemed that some wanted to just turn over their crops, while others wanted to fight.
One woman in particular was passionate in her argument to fight, while another stood up to try and shout her down. That seemed to start it all over again, one side against the other.
Clearing her throat didn't get her any attention, "Maybe that is for the best, cause Xena would surely kill her." She thought.
But knowing more than ever she was taking a risk, she shouted, "QUIET!"
Sullenly smiling at the silence, she looked around knowing what she was going to say next may not go over very well, "Huh...I'm not sure how to say this, but I know someone that could probably help."
Since she had the room's attention she continued, not pausing when she heard the gasps from the crowd.
Xena was getting anxious; she should have never allowed the bard to go in that village. There had been more than enough time to get the supplies and meet her; the tracks she seen made her even more nervous.
The signs showed about seven to nine riders scouting around the village, and she would guess another forty to fifty further behind. And Gabrielle was late; should she wait longer, wait until dark and steal into the village, or walk straight into the village square, demanding the bard? Jabbing a stick into the ground, she would wait another quarter sun, and then she would head toward the village.
She was just about to leave, when she saw a form in the distance leading a horse. Breathing a sigh a relief for her bard, then as her face came into view, her relief slowly turned to dread when she spotted bloodstains on the bard's top.
Striding fast to meet her, she saw the right side of Gabrielle's lower lip was cut and swollen. "What happen?," Xena asked, while fighting back the anger that was raising within.
The bard tried to smile, so to ease the troubled look on the warrior's face, but it only made her grimace, "Great," she was thinking, "darn cut is going to hurt every time I smile now."
"Xena," The bard started, "You have to help, raiders are on their way to attack Tsaia; we have to help them."
Dismissing what she already knew, Xena shook her head, "I know about the raiders, I saw their scouts' signs. But Tsaia would never accept my help; now tell me what happened; who hit you?"
Keeping from smiling so not to show pain, and to keep the cut from bleeding again, Gabrielle took a breath, and started speaking in smooth gentle tones.
"Xena, they need help. Since your assault years ago, there have been regular attacks. Each time the raiders took food, weapons and...women that could not hide in time."
Seeing that she now had the warriors attention, she switched her tone to a soft caress, hating herself for what she was doing, "They need someone to show them how to defend themselves again; they need someone to give them their confidence back; they need someone that thinks like a warlord."
Now speaking almost at a whisper, Gabrielle looked into Xena's eyes, capturing them like a lion taking a lamb, "Xena, they need you."
Held almost in a trance, Xena reached up, running a finger over the cut, "You told them about me? You told them that you were my friend, and they hurt you for it?"
The bard closed her eyes at the touch of her friend, yet felt sick at how she was using her bardic gift, "I told them about you, and how you changed; they also heard stories about your change. But many of them still hate you; some want you dead, others, said it takes a demon to fight demons and would take your help."
Opening her eyes she reached up to take Xena's hand, "A fight broke out, villager against villager; others tried to stop it; I tried to help and got hit; I don't know who hit me Xena."
Smiling, but hiding the pain, Gabrielle felt the cut break open again, slowly leaking droplets of blood. Keeping her tone soft and low, "Xena, they want you to help them; they want you to show them how not to be afraid any more. Xena, you can't refuse them, this is a trial, you have to rebuild what you tore down."
The warrior watched as the droplets stained her finger; closing her eyes, she nodded, "I'm sorry Gabrielle, I'm so sorry...I...I'll help."
Mounting Argo, Xena held her hand to her bard. Gabrielle looked at the offered hand, and clasped it, feeling herself be pulled behind Xena. Wrapping her hands around the warrior's waist, her head held tight against the warrior's shoulder as they headed back to Tsaia. Unseen by Xena, a tear slowly crept it's way down the bard's cheek.
Both could sense eyes staring at them as they rode into the village; Gabrielle could again feel the torrent of hatred directed not only at Xena, but at her, for being the warrior's friend, she also knew that the warrior could feel it also.
She tried to look over Xena's shoulder to see her expression; what little she saw was a face rigidly looking ahead. The warrior steered Argo toward the inn the bard had told her to go to, a huge barrel chest man, stood in front, watching her, with his arms crossed.
Xena dismounted after helping Gabrielle to the ground, before observing the scar on the man's face, wondering if it was her attack, or another later assault he received it. Her mind was already working on how to defend the village, she was shocked at how small Tsaia had become since her attack.
Nodding to the pair, Agridon called inside the inn for Ixdous; running out, the boy saw his father motioning to Argo, "Xena, my son will stable your horse, and make sure it is bedded down."
The warrior nodded, speaking softly into Argo's ear, then handing the reins to the boy, "Her name is Argo, and she will go with you; just don't make any sudden moves around her." Wide eyed, the boy nodded, and leads the warhorse around to the stables.
Agridon looked at the gathering crowd, throwing a few scowls at the villagers standing around, "Go home, we'll let you all know what to do, go home, and be ready to work."
Turning back to Xena, he nodded, "I'm Agridon, the boy that took your horse is my son, Ixdous; he'll take care of her," pausing, he looked the warrior over, "You don't remember me, do you?"
Xena looked his face over carefully, but she could only shake her head, "No...no I don't, did you loose your eye in my attack?"
Chuckling, Agridon fingered his scar, "I was hoping that you would remember; I met your charge on the south end, killed two of your men... it was you that struck me down. I boasted often that I fought you, but you only saw me for a few seconds in the middle of a battle; guess there would be no reason for you to remember."
Sighing in disappointment, the innkeeper nodded to the door, "They're waiting for us inside." Xena, wanted to say that she remembered that she half-blinded him, but in trying to remember, all she saw in her mind was a blur of faces that she had injured, or killed.
The inn was empty, but for a table seating three people, two looked at her trying to cloak their contempt, the third did not bother hiding her hatred.
Agridon, glanced at the woman as if warning her, then turned back to the warrior, "Xena, These are our village elders, Mira, Zackerous, and Dalvenjah, we huh..I think that, elder Zackerous should explain."
Gabrielle, watched as an older man stood with a fearful glance at Xena, his hair was white, as well as his beard, trying to smile he began, "Greetings..greeting, I'm uh...I'm uh..."
"How many men do you have that can fight; what weapons do you have; how many days of grain, if there is a siege?" Xena asked, her face expressionless as she interrupted the elder.
Looking at the warrior, Zackerous shook his head, "We have about forty men that can fight; as for weapons, just pitchforks, and a couple swords, is that about right, Agridon?" Gabrielle glanced at him, as he nodded.
A cough from the other man the bard guessed was Dalvenjah, took her attention. He looked middle aged, with a black goatee, "The harvest is now over, so we have grain for the winter, if it is taken, we will starve."
Xena, seemed as if she were staring at nothing, so much that the two elders started to shift in their chairs, "You have axes?" her sudden voice startled the two elders, who could only nod.
"Then get your people together, and we'll go into the woods, there are trees to be cut down for spears, and barriers. I'll show your people the type we'll need for each." Xena Paused, looking at the elders for some type of reaction.
Then, Agridon spoke up, "It will be done, but...there are some that will not obey your orders." He paused long enough to give Mira an irritated look, as she snorted, "We decided, that I will accompany you, and relay your commands to the villagers, will that be satisfactory, Xena?"
Knowing that it would only slow things down, but little she could do about it, Xena conceded to the request. Gabrielle's mind started to wonder as the talk turned to the defense of the village, something she and Xena had done often before, and she knew what would happen.
She spends the time observing Mira; the bard knew she was the person that had struck her, the grin on the woman's face when she fell from the blow. The hate was easy to see on her face, "I'll have to ask Agridon about it later," Gabrielle thought.
She was brought back to the discussion when the elders stood-up with Zackerous speaking, "I understand what wood you're looking for; please stay here and eat, forgive me for speaking, but the less our people see of you, the better."
Gabrielle started to protest, but was cut-off by Xena, "I understand, but after the wood is gathered I'll have to show them just how to cut it."
Dalvenjah nodded with a puzzled expression, "But can we really, beat off these men, with only a couple swords and wooden spears?"
Smiling, the warrior stood joining the elders, "They will not be expecting resistance, and if you bloody their noses good enough, they will head off to another village; you have to remember, they will not fight to the last man, just till they decide to go for easier game."
Full of rage, Mira spoke out for the first time, "GAME! is this all it is to you, a game?" the woman started to advance toward Xena, but was caught by Agridon, "You killed my husband, your men raped my daughter....this is not a game to us."
Coming to the aid of her friend, Gabrielle looked at the elders, "NO! Xena was not like that! Yes, she attacked and looted for a time, but she never let her men rape women."
Seeing the disbelieving looks she got in return, Gabrielle turned to Xena, wanting her to tell them that she didn't allow what was being said. But soon she felt sick in her stomach, after realizing that her warrior, would not return her look of anguish.
Xena nibbled at the piece of bread in her hand; inside she felt like retching. Gabrielle had not said a word to her since she asked that question. And the look on the bards face; she had hurt Gabrielle more than any blow ever could have.
The bard was across from her, barely eating from her plate, a woman that could eat more than the gods, and yet it was almost untouched. Xena glanced at Agridon, he seemed confused himself, the warrior thought she knew men, but could he befriend the woman that scared his face?
She had nothing to lose now, the warrior thought; she could tell the bard the truth after so long, otherwise she would lose her.
"Gabrielle?" Her voice was soft, but she saw the bard look up at her. Xena quickly fought back the ache she felt in her heart when the bard looked at her. The pain was etched on her face, plain for all to see.
"Gabrielle," Xena said again, "I always told my troops, that I would not stand for the defiling of women, girls, or boys. But I could only do something if I knew about it, and had proof."
Seeing that she held the bard's attention, she quickly continued, "If I knew about it I took action, such action that there would be no mistake about my feelings. But I also knew that some thought it was a right of war, and many, including a few of my captains refused to inform me of such actions."
Xena saw that the bard started to speak, but the warrior held up her hand, "I'm not blameless in this; they were my troops, and I lead them, I'm responsible...I can't undo it, though I wish I could."
Agridon's cough drew her attention from the bard, with an arched brow, "What," he began, "What did you do with the one's that you caught?"
Xena looked him in the eyes, her face carved in stone, "I staked them out naked in the middle of the village, the day I left with my army."
The shudder from the huge man did not escape her; she had heard that once a village had kept a man alive for ten days. But he had disobeyed her commands, and he paid for it.
Her attention and only source for pleasure since the sun went down, spoke up. Ixdous reminded Xena of her own son, he was happy, and obviously idolized his father. But the warrior neither saw nor heard talk of his mother; is that another crime of hers, she wondered?
She was glad that Agridon sent him to check on Argo, she had to know, "Where's Ixdous's mother?" was all she asked, and immediately knew the answer from the look on the man's face.
She heard Gabrielle speak in a low whisper, "Was it Xena's attack?"
Agridon looked at the two women, first at Xena, then her small bard before he nodded; he saw the look of pain in the small woman's eyes as she looked at the warrior. "Arrows shot into a village, don't care where they fall, girl; there is nothing that tells them to only strike soldiers."
He watched as the bard got up quickly and headed for the door, talking about getting fresh air. He looked at the warrior; he should hate her, his wife was dead, his eye gone and face scared.
But he could not feel it inside him; maybe watching hate grow in Mira showed him the danger of it, but then he could never be sure. But he did see the warrior in front of him was not the warrior that took his eye.
"You know what is wrong with her?" He wondered why he bothered... yes she was not the same person, but he should hate. His musings came to a still, as he looked in the warrior's eyes, the pain he saw, was the pain he felt when his wife died.
Nodding in coming to his decision, he held Xena's gaze unflinching, "Her perfect hero died today, in this inn; now you're just another woman, that can be good or bad, but you have to help her find which one."
Standing, he headed to the back, "I looked after the cutting, it's going well, and I have a rested group working though the night. We will be ready to start training the others in the morning."
Gabrielle, breathed in deep, there was a slight chill in the air, and it made the cut on her lip hurt as the air passed over. Her mind was a jumble of thoughts; all the things she believed about the women she loved.
Stunned, she shook her head, trying to drive the last thought out, but it refused to go away. She could never leave Xena, she knew that now more than ever; she was no longer a goddess, but a touchable woman.
Leaning her head against the one of the inn's wooden posts, she started to cry, letting go the last of her pain for her lost goddess, unaware that the warrior was watching her from the window.
Xena opened her eyes; dawn was coming, she could feel it; looking down from the bed, she saw Gabrielle's huddled form on the floor. She had been waiting last night in the small room that Agridon had given them, waiting for the bard to finish crying, then come to bed.
Then Gabrielle came into the room, and watched her pretending to be asleep; she didn't know how long the bard stared at her. But she wanted to cry when she realized that Gabrielle had laid blankets on the floor and went to sleep.
She had lost her; after this was over the bard would leave her, she knew that now. Hearing stories about her past was different; now Gabrielle saw the people whose lives she had destroyed.
Sitting up in the bed, she looked at the sleeping bard, wondering how much she had hurt her. Standing up, she took a few steps and knelt by Gabrielle. It was still early, and the bard never woke up this early; smiling, she knew that waking her would be like raising the dead.
Then her eyes settled on the bard's lip, it had oozed more redness during the night. Xena reached down caressing the cut, smearing blood over her finger, "How much have I hurt you Gabrielle?," the warrior thought, "First they hurt you, trying to still the voice that has given me and others so much pleasure, now I have hurt you."
Leaning close, she kissed the bard, tasting the blood from her cut lip, then with a final caress she stood, "I don't know what I will do without you Gabrielle," the warrior wondered as she walked out the door.
On the floor, Gabrielle opened her eyes when she heard the door close, staring at nothing. She knew that sleeping on the floor was a mistake now; she should have held her friend close, not try to give her a night's rest from her tossing and turning.
Yet her thoughts swirled, as she touched the spot where the warrior kissed her, wondering what it meant, and what she would do about it.
Mira came out of her hut; she could hear the murderer telling the men around her how to use the wooden spears over the barricade. They expected the raiders to arrive around the noon sun, and the barriers were in place, sharp pointed poles wrapped together to form an X, then braced and staked into the ground.
All they had to do was hurt them, hurt them enough for the trash to go after easier pickings. If they were lucky there would be only one attack, maybe if even more luck was with them, Xena would be killed.
Smiling, Mira thought about what punishment the warrior would receive in Tartarus. Then she saw the warrior's slut come out of the inn; the woman's lip was more swollen, she had got in a good hit yesterday, she thought with pride.
But her smile fated as the women started to walk towards her, preparing for an attack; she waited.
Gabrielle nodded to the woman, "Hello Mira, I may call you that?..I just wanted to say there are no hard feelings about yesterday."
Keeping a watchful eye on the bard, Mira smiled but her voice was hard and hateful, "You may have no hard feelings, but I do; that woman you spread your legs for, killed all that I loved, and I hope she dies today."
Gabrielle jerked in surprised, a flush of indignation colored her cheeks; she had heard others speak that she and Xena were more than friends. But until a month ago when she met the warrior Tassin, and her lover Cabira, she really didn't fully understand how women could love each other; but Mira's words and tone, made it seem like that love was obscene.
Calming her own voice, Gabrielle looked at Mira, "But Xena has changed; she knows and regrets what she did in the past. She has helped many villages, saved kingdoms, destroyed slavers and warlords."
Mira advanced on the small woman, the rage of her face evident, "She regrets!, tell that to my husband his head nearly cut off; tell that to Agridon's wife pierced through the throat with an arrow. Tell that to the other's who lost sons and daughters from not only her attack, but from the others she paved the way for. Open your eyes to the men, women, and children missing limbs and loved ones and tell me why I should care that she changed!"
Trembling with fury, Mira stared at the astonished bard, shaking her head, "I hope she dies, I hope that it's slow and painful, and I hope that you spend eternity in Tartarus with that bitch, sharing her punishment."
Gabrielle backed from Mira, too overwhelmed to think of something to say, when a shout rose up from the barricade.
Mira stepped back from the bard looking around, "They're here."
The bard turned to race for her spot on the barricade, but halted too stunned to move, looking at the figure standing only five feet from her, Gabrielle wondered how much she had heard.
Xena looked after the departing Mira, then turned to Gabrielle, her emotions hidden from view, "You best get to your position."
"Xena, I..." Gabrielle started, but stopped as the warrior turned, running into a crowd of villagers. Searching for the warrior she could see nothing but fearful faces, sighing in resignation she ran to the barricades.
Xena stood next to Zackerous; they could both see the raiders, in truth all the villagers could. The marauders were trying to get into some formation in the fields, about two hundred yards from her.
The nervous elder gripped his wooden spear, eyes transfixed on the small army in front of him, "Why aren't they attacking us?" he asked full of fear.
The warrior barely heard the question, she had counted fifteen horseback riders, about thirty footmen, and no archers, for that she was truly thankful. She glanced at the elder when he repeated the question, "They are surprised, they didn't expect resistance, and had no plans if they did, that is fortunate for us."
Smiling, Xena looked at the barricade, the wooden stakes stretched, across the road, from hut to hut, the points four feet off the ground. Some men were weary, but the hard work in getting it ready would save them. The footmen would have to hack at the wood, or try to pull them out of the way, leaving themselves open to the village spearmen.
"Zackerous, bring up our surprise." Nodding, the elder turned calling out; soon, seven men came running up, carrying thick twelve foot poles sharpen to a point. Spreading out along the fence, they laid them across the top, and jabbed the blunt end into the ground, the points raised seven feet off the ground.
Xena looked at the poles, then back to the raiders, already she was guessing the horsemen dismissed any thoughts of jumping the barriers.
Then some villagers started cheering, half the footmen had turned and ran into the woods, the others backed up, forming into a square. Frowning, Xena looked around calling out, "Zackerous!"
Grinning from ear to ear, the elder ran up pointing to the field, "Their deserting, we won!"
The warrior gripped him roughly by the shoulder, forcing the elder's smile into an expression of fear, as the warrior spoke, "They're getting ready to attack, they will be coming in a square, send a runner to Agridon, tell him that about fifteen footmen broke off, and are circling to the south."
Giving the man a shove, Xena turned back to the field; the raiders were advancing slowly, with the riders split on either side. The cheering of the villagers died, as the troops advanced; the warrior wished she had just a few archers herself.
Turning her gaze south, she thought of her bard helping to defend the south entrance. The riverbank made it hard for horses, but with no archers, there will be fighting across the barricade.
She was worried about her; she had learned long ago how to shut off her emotions, but Gabrielle could never be like that; now she was feeling the hatred people felt at hearing Xena's name. When Gabrielle told her this would be a trial, the bard didn't realize then it would be a trial for the both of them.
Agridon gripped his sword and waited; it was happening again as it did years ago, when he failed and allowed Xena's men into the village.
Tearing his eyes away from the woods, he looked over the bard beside him, and had to smile. She only came up pass his waist, she was the smallest in his group, but she showed no fear, only bracing herself, and twirling her staff to relax her fingers.
Shouting from the north drew his attention, they were yelling that the attack had started. Soon runners came telling him to send half his group to the northern side of the village.
He refused the first two runners, but the third was Zackerous, telling him to send his men, or the village would be lost.
Spewing forth his best profanity, he sent the men, knowing in his heart the village was lost.
Then a cry went up as a lookout spied a band of twenty men breaking from the trees. A rider was leading them forward with a battle cry.
He waited along side the bard for the footmen to reach the barrier, and when the first one grabbed the stakes to pull it out of the way, he called for the spearmen.
Stabbing across the barricade, three of the raiders fell, with the eight remaining villagers keeping the rest back. He called out encouragement, until a raider climbed over and hacked down a villager.
Rushing in, Agridon knocked the man down and finished him off, but the damage had been done. The other men had backed off, allowing a footman to grab the wooden post and jerk it aside, opening a small gap, through which more started to pour in.
The huge man was almost in despair, he had failed again, then a shout pierced the air. Looking over in surprise, he saw the bard had ran forward into the gap, swinging her staff so fiercely that the raiders were falling before her.
Gabrielle, knew she had done rash things before, but this had to be the worst one ever, she thought, as her staff came around to hit a man in the knee, causing him to collapse onto the pile in front of her.
The dead and injured bodies were making it difficult for the raiders to get close. Also, she never knew when she ever used her staff like this; the fear that she kept hidden, pushed her Adrenalin to limits she never dreamed of.
She could hear the blood rushing through her veins, her ears were pounding, as her staff continued to weave in front of her, keeping the marauders back. Until one slipped past her guard, hitting her on the side of the face.
She dropped to the ground instantly, her eyes unable to focus, expecting another blow to finish her off. Then a blurry form jumped over her, swinging a sword, screaming for the villagers to attack. Footman after footman fell to the savage attack, while the bard tried to pick herself back up.
Agridon stood over the woman, protecting her, and refusing to fail again. The raiders started to back away from the assault, the village spearmen were back and the gap was fast becoming a trap, when the horseback rider spurred forward swinging his sword, which the innkeeper only managed to block.
Using the distraction cause by the rider, a marauder reached in, stabbing his sword into Agridon's breast, then another sliced him crossed the arm. The rider raised his arm, calling out to his remaining men, urging them forward.
His face red with rage, the huge man roared, as he was pierced again; reaching up, he grabbed the rider and pulled him from the horse, his hand twisting the man's neck until it snapped. Then grasping another, he pulled the sword from the man's hand and waded into the remaining raiders, who quickly broke and ran.
He finally paused when he realized that he was alone, his legs were tired so he decided to sit and rest. Then he felt arms around him, dazed he glanced up and saw his wife looking down at him, tears were in her eyes.
"Jivka," he was surprised that his voice sounded weak, "don't cry Jivka, we won; I beat the rider." Reaching his hand up to caress the tear stained cheeks, he smiled, "I missed you Jivka, please hold me."
Gabrielle held him tight, as she felt the life leave his body, her tears flowing freely, not hearing the cheers raising from the north.
Xena had found Gabrielle, still holding Agridon's body; the fight on the south barricade had been bloody. The village lost seven men in the attack, of the eight villagers defending the south, four including the innkeeper had been killed.
They had extracted a more deadly toll on the raiders, sixteen killed, another five captured, and at least the escaping wounded equaling the dead. That band would never come back, and maybe dissolve; the warrior never saw anyone she guessed to be the leader, maybe he was dead; but after a defeat like this, he was through.
Xena watched as Gabrielle came around the inn, leading Argo' both of them wanted to leave, although there was only a few hours of daylight left. Her mind thought back; it had only been a day since they arrived, but she felt exhausted.
The toll on Gabrielle looked worse, her swollen lip, red eyes, and exhaustion were evident; Xena only wondered when the bard would tell her that she was leaving. She could only hope she would not break down in front of her, having Gabrielle stay with her out of pity would devastate the both of them.
The warrior's attention was diverted, as the three elders came walking toward her; Dalvenjah and Zackerous had wide smiles on their faces; Mira's face still had the same scowl since they first met.
Gabrielle stood beside Xena, the death of Agridon grieved her; he was the only one in the village who showed them kindness, though he had lost so much; and hearing that his son Ixdous, would now be taken care of by Mira, the bard pondered what the boy would be like in a year, but there was nothing to be said; they would not listen to any suggestions from her or Xena concerning the boy.
Dalvenjah reached out, clasping Xena's hand, "Thank you, now that we have the raider's weapons, and armor, we have more of a chance the next time."
Nodding, Xena released the hand quickly, "Yes, and I would look at hiring a good warrior who can show you how to use them, once word passes around on what happened today, other raiders will avoid your village."
Gabrielle smiled as the exchange continued, but her eyes followed Mira as she approached Xena; the bard speculated what the woman would say? But her speculation promptly changed to shock when the woman spat in Xena's face.
Pandemonium immediately broke out, as several villagers grabbed the screaming Mira, dragging her away; Dalvenjah and Zackerous both fell to their knees, hands clasped in front of them, begging Xena to spare the woman.
Gabrielle stood rooted to the spot, watching as the scene unfurled in front of her; the elders fearful and pleading, the screaming Mira being carry into the inn, while Xena faced them expressionless, until she looked down at the pleading men, and wiped her face, then without a word, she mounted Argo and looked at her.
Gabrielle glanced around the village, nothing Xena had done in the last day had changed anything, not her counseling, fighting, none of her anguish would ever change the villagers minds. She turned her eyes to the woman they believe would never change, and did not see the warlord who rode in years ago, but only her friend extending an hand to her.
The bard reached up and clasped the warriors offered arm and felt herself being lifted up behind her. With a final glance at the still pleading elders, Argo slowly made her way out of the village.
Gabrielle held Xena tight around the waist, neither one had spoke since they had left the village, now just a few miles behind. The bard tried to think what to say, all they had been though in the past day, wore heavily on the both of them.
Xena, seemed to be hardly breathing; the bard tried to think of something to say, but no story, poem, or words came to mind; maybe, she thought, it was time for something other than one of her tales.
"Xena?" The bard felt the warrior stiffen in her arms, replying with only a brisk, "Yes, Gabrielle?"
The bard closed her eyes, and laid her head on the armored shoulder in front of her, hoping this was the right thing, "Xena...I..I love you."
Then panic seized her, when the warrior sagged in her arms, releasing a loud gasp; alarmed she cried out, "XENA!...are you alright..what's wrong?"
Her alarm increased, as she felt the woman in front of her, shaking; was she crying, the bard thought? Releasing her grip on the warrior's waist, she raised her hand toward Xena's face, only to have it caught in a strong hold.
The bard listened, thinking that it sounded like Xena's voice was quivering, "Gabrielle, just hold me...please."
Wrapping her arms back around the strong figure in front of her, Gabrielle squeezed tight, pressing her cheek into the warrior's back, as they rode on.
"Gabrielle...I love you."
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