Justice In Walsas
Part 1 | Part 2 | Index
The access to the castle was not as easy the second time around. Finding the Queen missing had put the castle on full alert. The town and the castle walls were teeming with many more guards.
"Looks like we are going to have to find another way in." Xena noted. Gabrielle's mind raced through her dream clues for an answer.
"Cave..." Gabrielle uttered.
"What?" Xena asked, not sure if she had heard her friend right.
"I remember a cave with a pond..." Gabrielle looked right through Xena as she recalled the vision of a cave.
"You never mentioned a cave dream...." Xena thought Gabrielle had told her everything. What else was she withholding from her, she wondered. Gabrielle got up and looked around.
"That way. Come on."
"Gabrielle" Xena spoke after having followed her unusually quiet friend for a mile. Gabrielle turned, annoyed.
"You don't think I know what I'm doing do you?" Xena was surprised at her friend's tone.
"I never said - I just thought it would nice if you let me in on what you were doing." Xena snapped back. Why would she expect Gabrielle to confide in her now, Xena thought.
"I am LOOKING for the way into the Castle." Gabrielle responded with a grating tone.
"By going far AWAY from the Castle?" Xena shot back.
"Yes! If you want to go back that's fine with me...." Gabrielle was getting tired of Xena's apparent criticism of her abilities even though she knew she was a burden. She started back on her quest for an entrance. Xena was shocked at Gabrielle's comment.
"Oh no, I'm too interested in your Cave." Xena responded with sarcasm.
"There it is." Gabrielle found the entrance to the cave. It was as she remembered. A murky, natural looking pool drew Gabrielle towards it.
"Nice cave. Now what?" Xena asked with sarcasm, looking around. Gabrielle took a breath and jumped into the pool and felt around for the passage. "What are you doing?" Gabrielle was now waist deep in the murky water.
"There is a passage from this pool to the Castle. Here." After locating that passage, Gabrielle tied her hair back.
"You can't be serious. The castle is very far away. You have to breathe Gabrielle." Xena walked over to the side of the pool.
At first Gabrielle was upset by her comments, taking them as lack of confidence in her. Looking at Xena's worried face, Gabrielle's feelings made no sense to her. Trying to allay Xena's concerns Gabrielle explained.
"There are spots of air along the way...and the passage is not underwater the entire way"
Xena eyed her thinking that this sounded like something the designers of the Castle would create. "OK, let's go," the warrior remarked. Gabrielle stopped her.
"No. I should go first...to make sure the way is clear. There are a few obstacles that I remember from my dreams." Gabrielle informed her then remembered something, "Oh yeah."
Obstacles? The warrior did not like the sound of that.
Gabrielle got out of the pool to get her bag. She pulled out a dagger. "Don't want to forget this. A little big to pick a lock for my tastes but it'll work." Gabrielle put the bag with the dagger over her head and shoulder.
"Wait a minute, what lock?" Xena kept her from entering the pool.
"About half-way there is a locked gate. Not a problem with the right tools..." Gabrielle patted her bag.
Xena knew there was no way to change Gabrielle's mind. The only thing she could think to do, she did with reluctance.
"Wait." Xena ordered her. Gabrielle turned, angry at Xena's interference until she saw Xena remove her breast dagger and hold it out.
"Is this a better size?" Xena asked.
Her emotions a jumble, Gabrielle nodded. As Gabrielle reached for it, Xena took her hand and squeezed it. "Promise me you will be careful." Xena's request was not fulfilled.
"If I was going to be really careful, I wouldn't be doing this," Gabrielle joked.
Xena held onto her hand and eyed her.
"Promising won't take the risk away Xena. But I will be careful." Gabrielle responded.
She had to prove herself to Xena. She also had to do this for Sarah and the people of Walsas. Even with Xena's skill, Gabrielle had insight Xena didn't have. Gabrielle knew she was the right person to go.
As Gabrielle entered the pool the second time, she spoke to Xena with an aura of maturity and confidence that was both attractive and disturbing. Where would she fit in Gabrielle's life once this was all over, Xena pondered. Xena's doubt that there was any place for her weighed heavy as she watched Gabrielle.
"You should wait about twenty minutes before following," Gabrielle informed the uneasy warrior.
Back in town, Lila and Sarah finished speaking to another small group of loyalists. "There are so many loyalists." Lila smiled.
"They are friends." Sarah corrected. The group started to express concern about taking on the soldiers in the Castle, as had every other group. However, this group had the most vocal opposition.
"We will just get killed," the blacksmith blurted.
"I can not guarantee your safety or anyone's safety. You must believe in the cause and go with your heart," Sarah spoke looking directly into the Blacksmith's eyes. This quieted the blacksmith but not the group. Some friends, Lila thought.
"We are not warriors" The baker spoke.
Others spoke up as the crowd was not convinced their efforts would be successful.
"Neither am I," Lila spoke in a firm yet soft voice which got everyone's attention.
The crowd had an interest in what this young girl by their Queen's side had to say. "And I don't live here. Yet, I am willing to fight for what is right. Grickas is not the ruler who will support or protect you - he will exploit you until he can exploit you no more. Then he will kill you - remember what happened to your king. You may die trying to get the kingdom back. But as Cumae said, you are already dying - just slowly."
The group was impressed with this young woman but not as impressed as Sarah.
Xena swam for a long time wondering if there really were places to breathe along the long underwater passage. She came across the first stop surprised at how difficult the swimming was and wondered how Gabrielle was faring. She continued her underwater trek and finally reached the halfway point - the gate. The door was wide open, evidence of Gabrielle's lock picking skill. It appeared Gabrielle was doing very well indeed.
Swimming through to the next air pocket, Xena came upon the end of the watery passage and into a dead end. She swam back to the previous breathing spot.
"Gabrielle, you didn't mention a dead end" Xena muttered contemplating her options.
Gabrielle was thrown into a cell with a thud.
"Hey!" She yelled back at them, still soaking from the watery passage.
"Gabrielle?" A familiar voice came from the other side of the cage.
"Meleager?" Gabrielle turned and saw her friend emerge from the darkness.
"In the flesh..." He responded and received a big hug from the bard.
"I was worried about you when Lila..." she blurted. He stopped her in mid sentence.
"Is she OK? And you? You are OK?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Yes we are both fine. Lila is with Sarah. And I am...a prisoner." Gabrielle said flatly, looking around and realizing this might not be a good definition of fine.
Meleager smirked. "Rather informal with the Queen's name aren't we?"
Gabrielle smiled. "She's why we were brought here, she's my sister." Meleager blinked his eyes.
"Hun? You mean Lila thought ...you...but ...your sister Sarah?"
"Yes. It will make a good story - for another time. We have to get out of here." Gabrielle didn't want Xena to have to bail her out yet again. She wouldn't have to with Meleager's help, Gabrielle thought. Meleager eyed her dripping clothes.
"I won't have to wait to find out why you are all wet, will I?"
Grickas was dining on a wild boar with four slave women tending to his every need. His overthrow of Enerall was sweeter than expected. His lieutenant interrupted his evening of pleasure with disturbing news.
"Sir we caught a young woman coming out of the water in the southern corridor." He looked him in the eye with interest.
"What? Was she alone?" He asked feeling a rebellion coming.
"Yes, but we've posted guards and will send someone to secure the gate." Grickas, momentarily relieved, stood up and paced.
"Who is this girl?"
"We...didn't ask," the lieutenant admitted with embarrassment, averting the angry glare of the new king.
"What? Someone, a woman, is found getting past our defenses and you didn't bother to ask her name when you caught her?" Grickas was truly amazed at the stupidity.
"I guess we should have..." The lieutenant scratched his head. Grickas smiled and patted the lieutenant on the back as he leaned towards the man in confidence.
"Yes I think that would have been appropriate." He said with great restraint.
"So, I guess I should go get that information from her?" The lieutenant asked.
"Oh, no, no don't bother yourself." Grickas patted him on his back in a friendly gesture just before he thrust a dagger into the lieutenant's abdomen. "I'll get someone else do it." Grickas says nonchalantly as the body falls on the floor.
"Oh, corporal…?" The king called into the hallway.
"It will never work." Meleager spoke.
"Quiet." Gabrielle instructed wondering why Xena was taking so long.
"I'm cold." Meleager whined.
"Me too. Shhh." She responded. "I hear him coming." Gabrielle announced.
The guard came to the cell with some food for them. He looked in the cell to find the warriors clothes on the ground and Meleager under the covers apparently in the throes of passion. The guard smirked and placed the food in the cell, noticing a dinar just out of reach of the cell bars. The guard saw no threat from a couple going at it, so he opened the cell door to retrieve the gold. Gabrielle jumped down from a dark corner and knocked the guard out cold with the cell door.
"See." Gabrielle looked over at an impressed, but chilly Meleager.
Xena finally came upon the cell and her friend after the excitement was over.
"What took you so long?" Gabrielle asked with a smile, having everything in hand.
Xena looked over to Meleager putting on his clothes.
"Do you mind?" He barked.
"I shouldn't ask should I?" Xena looks back at her friend.
"Well, we've solved the Meleager Mystery." Gabrielle takes the keys off the guard.
"You didn't tell me about the dead end..." Xena mentioned, a bit annoyed.
"What dead end?" Gabrielle asked, genuinely surprised.
"Never mind..." Xena remarked noticing Meleager coming forward, now dressed.
"Don't tell me we could have just waited for Xena to come," he asked, eyeing Gabrielle who grinned and changed the subject.
"We've got work to do." Gabrielle led the way towards the armory.
"That wasn't funny" Meleager remarked.
"Does she do this to you?" He asked Xena.
"Do - what - exactly?" Xena glanced over to where Meleager had dressed.
"Sound the alarm, the prisoners have escaped," the corporal ordered, finding a guard unconscious in the prison cell. Upon further inspection of the area there was no sign of the woman he was to interrogate.
"So much for my promotion," the corporal gulped, thinking of his fate.
A dull gong rang through the kingdom, which signaled to the loyalists to rush the castle.
"May the gods be with us," the blacksmith spoke to Lila.
"They are," she spoke confidently.
Sarah prayed her sister was right -there was no turning back now.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other in the armory, hearing a premature gong.
"Seems they've noticed you've escaped." Xena relayed and started for the door with Meleager.
Gabrielle stayed behind.
"Gabrielle!" Xena called out with impatience.
"We are not done yet." Gabrielle said with panic, seeing that about half of the weapons had not been destroyed. There remained too many spears and arrows, Gabrielle thought as she assessed the inventory with concern.
"Gabrielle, we have to make sure the gate is open for the loyalist attack." Xena reminded her. Gabrielle thought a moment.
"You two go on, I'll finish here," Gabrielle informed her.
Xena grabbed her arm. "NO! The guards will be here any second."
Gabrielle looked into her eyes with anger that Xena had never seen before.
"Too late, they are already here." Meleager called out, tripping two guards and killing them instantly. Four more came quickly after them.
"You've got to get the front gate open! I'll do my best to hold them off" Meleager yelled.
Gabrielle reluctantly followed his instructions.
Gabrielle and Xena fought what seemed like an endless number of soldiers along the way to the front gate. Gabrielle was exhausted but continued on with Xena leading the way.
"By the gods, doesn't she ever tire?" Gabrielle questioned but was thankful Xena was as strong as ever. Xena thrived on the challenge of the fight against overwhelming odds.
Gabrielle just wanted to get to the front gate.
They were within sight of their objective. All they had to do was cross a large open courtyard, deal with a dozen soldiers, move the large deadbolt and open the gate. Piece of cake, the bard sighed wearily. However, the close proximity of the gate gave Gabrielle her second wind. She skillfully blocked and parried three soldier's sword blows with renewed vigor.
With a big grin, Xena somersaulted over the amazed guards. After Gabrielle and Xena took care of most of the guards, Xena attempted to slide the door's incredibly heavy and complex looking gate bolt. It was more difficult to free than she expected. Gabrielle, finishing up with two soldiers came over to lend a hand.
"On the count of three," Xena instructed her, determined to open the bolt by brute strength.
"Wait," Gabrielle called out, spying something - a small metal nail. She pulled it out and the large complex gate bolt fell apart.
"Hmmmm," Xena stared at the bolt pieces on the ground.
"I'm sure you loosened it up." Gabrielle offered.
Xena's attention was diverted to the two arrows that were coming directly at them. Xena caught one that was aimed for Gabrielle's heart and let the other fly past her head. Gabrielle didn't even know they were coming.
"Gods, she must get tired of having to protect me all the time." Gabrielle thought to herself.
"I've got a couple of archers to take care of..." Xena left in pursuit of the roof top danger as more soldiers appeared from the castle interior.
Gabrielle opened the gate.
The Loyalists' charge in allowed her a small moment of relief during this conflict. That relief was replaced with a new anxiety as she saw her older sister Sarah ride in with a dozen horsemen and her younger sister Lila rush in on foot with the rest of the Loyalists.
Her sisters were now in the midst of the battle and danger.
Grickas spied the events unfolding from his castle window. The number of loyalists surprised him. He saw a young, familiar looking woman with red hair fighting well. Yet she was not Sarah.
"It looks like Sarah has friends AND family I will need to deal with," he stroked his chin grinning at the prospect. "But at another time. This battle is theirs...."
He turned to his advisor. "Quickly, distribute the rest of the drugged water. We will have our final victory soon." Grickas stroked his pendant, containing a small vial of concentrated forgus, the last of his supply. He might have to actually work to conquer his enemies once the forgus was gone, he mused. He decided to worry about that when the time came.
The fighting seemed to go on for an eternity as Gabrielle watched her sisters out the corner of her eye. When Meleager appeared, Gabrielle's hope grew that this signaled that the fighting would soon be over. The soldiers realized they were defeated and started to flee.
"We should stop them!" Meleager spoke, meeting up with Gabrielle and her sisters. There were no more soldiers standing on the field of fierce fighting.
"No, we have fought enough today," Sarah declared, on horseback.
The loyalists cheered their Queen.
"Secure the castle," She announced to the group. As she dismounted her horse, Lila asked with enthusiasm.
"Have we won?"
Gabrielle felt uneasy still not seeing Xena.
"Victory is ours." Sarah spoke with a smile.
"What about Grickas?" Lila asked realizing the unfinished business.
"There will be justice, Lila, but not today." Sarah spoke placing a hand on Lila's shoulder.
Two archers on the castle's tower quickly fired their first and second round of arrows towards the unsuspecting party.
"Gabrielle! Archers!" Xena could only yell a warning. She was delayed, busy fighting with three guards as she ascended to neutralize the archers.
With a sweep of her staff, Gabrielle stopped only two of the arrows, preventing Lila from getting hit.
However, two arrows hit their targets. Meleager and Sarah fell to the ground.
Xena had arrived at the two archer's location stopping anymore rounds by delivering swift justice with her sharp sword.
Lila was in shock as Gabrielle looked over the wounds of Sarah and Meleager.
"Xena!" Gabrielle called for her friend with a chilling urgency.
The injured were taken within the Castle. Lila assured Xena and Gabrielle space as she directed the concerned loyalists away from the newly designated hospital area. Xena looked over the injuries.
"Meleager needs attention first." Xena looked Gabrielle in the eye wondering if she would argue. Xena wasn't sure of what to expect from Gabrielle's these days -remembering her odd responses in the cave and armory.
"What can I do?" Gabrielle asked which reassured Xena there wouldn't be a conflict over this at least.
"A hot sword to cauterize the wound." Gabrielle nodded and retrieved what Xena needed.
Meleager gritted his teeth and tried not to yell out as Xena pushed the head of the arrow through. He moaned then passed out from the pain. Xena was glad because the cauterization would hurt more - in addition to smelling really disgusting.
Without words, Gabrielle understood Xena and held down Meleager just in case he awoke.
Unflinchingly, Xena, with more experience with this treatment than she cared to recall, placed the hot sword against Meleager's wound. The stench caused Gabrielle to cough.
"Are you OK?" Xena asked. Gabrielle had heard that question so many times from Xena.
Am I OK? Gabrielle asked herself. Having been captured and causing the alarm to sound prematurely, having been too slow to catch the arrows that hit her sister and good friend, Gabrielle would have to say no.
"What's wrong?" Xena asked seeing an odd look on Gabrielle's face. Now was not the time to breakdown and add more proof that she was truly a burden, Gabrielle decided.
"Are you guys going to treat Sarah?" Lila asked impatiently seeing them stare at each other and apparently finished with Meleager.
Sarah was in pain but good spirits. Xena and Gabrielle moved to Sarah's cot. "Any time" Sarah looked Xena in the eye.
The arrow was already through her shoulder. Xena snapped off its head and removed the arrow shaft.
"So far so good." Sarah breathed heavy.
Xena looked at her and explained what she was going to do next. "I can block the pain for the cauterization but it must be temporary. You will then have great pain until I can get you herbs." Sarah nodded.
Xena pressed the appropriate nerve points causing numbness in Sarah's body.
"I can't move." Sarah said with alarm.
"That's expected." Xena remarked.
"Oh. " Sarah looked at Gabrielle who nodded in confirmation.
The wound was quickly sealed with no pain. Gabrielle took the sword from Xena. From Xena's expression, Sarah realized she was sorry to have to return the feeling and pain.
"I know, this will hurt me more than it will hurt you. I'm ready - I think." She spoke with a dignity and humor that gained Xena's respect. Tears filled Sarah's eyes as she silently endured the pain until she passed out.
"Thank you." Gabrielle spoke to Xena as if she was a stranger. Gabrielle turned and walked out of the room. Xena called out her name but Lila stopped her from following.
"Xena, Gabrielle needs to be alone." Xena's eyes disclosed annoyance with Lila's interference.
"She feels this is her fault..." Lila looks to the unconscious patients Meleager and Sarah "....for not stopping all the arrows." Xena responded, questioning Lila's advice.
"And you think we should leave her alone thinking that?" Lila nodded, remembering it was easier to talk some sense into a calmer Gabrielle vice one still emotionally distraught.
"She's not in a listening mood right now," Lila added.
Xena thought a moment, her emotions a jumble. She had wanted to help Gabrielle through this but Lila must know better. She was her sister after all. Xena's thoughts crept back to where she would fit in Gabrielle's life and the answer kept coming back - nowhere.
After seeing that her patients were resting well, Xena went for a walk in the castle. She hoped to distract herself from her constant thoughts of Gabrielle. As she made her way down to the soldier's post at the entrance to the labyrinth, a rat crossed her path. She smiled, remembering Gabrielle's reaction to those creatures.
While this detour was interesting, it was not going to distract her enough to push away thoughts of Gabrielle. She decided to return to the makeshift hospital but not before getting a drink of water from a water barrel. The excitement of the day had worked up her thirst.
She noted that the guards must have been thirsty as well, spotting the half dozen or so empty barrels. After getting her fill, she turned to find Gabrielle coming from the labyrinth. Xena thought of Lila's advice and decided it best to take it. After all, what could she do for Gabrielle?
"Not so bad when you know its secrets," Gabrielle pointed to behind her having gotten through the death traps alive.
Xena quickly mentioned she had to go back to tend to the patients.
Gabrielle knew that was an excuse to get away from her.
"Oh." Gabrielle spoke hiding a deep hurt. She must have no respect for me, Gabrielle thought. It doesn't matter how many labyrinths I get through, Gabrielle thought, the bottom line was that she was a burden that Xena was tired of bearing.
That evening, while tending to others, Xena watched Gabrielle with Sarah and Meleager. Gabrielle had picked up so many skills in their time together, including medical skills. This made Xena both proud and sad - the result of this was the disintegration of their friendship. Meleager awoke from his herb-aided sleep.
"Gods I hate archers." He grumbled evoking a smile from Gabrielle.
"I know what you mean." Sarah spoke as well, now up.
"This may not be the time for this but....I am in need for a Captain of the Guard and I understand from a VERY good source that you would be perfect." Sarah smiled.
Meleager looked over to Gabrielle with a raised eyebrow.
"Great idea - but don't look at me," Gabrielle relayed, denying any involvement.
Sarah laughed then coughed. "It was my other spy, ah, sister. And Gabrielle, I have the perfect job for you..." Sarah's eyes twinkled. "Minister of Cultural Development."
Gabrielle smiled recalling the origin of that job many years ago in Poteidaia.
"Yes! I accept!" Gabrielle jumped at the offer, laughing.
Xena couldn't believe her ears. Gabrielle had decided to stay. She was staying. She was not going to be by her side. A dejected Xena left.
Xena, as usual, prepared her pack for her morning departure. There wasn't much to pack and Xena had packed for travel thousands of times. She could easily do that chore in the morning but Xena needed something to do.
Purposeful and loud footsteps coming towards her room drew Xena's attention away from her packing. Part of her hoped it was Gabrielle, to tell her she changed her mind about staying. Yet another part of her hoped it wasn't, because Xena was convinced Gabrielle was staying.
Exhaling, Xena prepared to face Gabrielle.
"All right, what's the idea of planning to travel tomorrow and not telling me? Thanks to Lila, I found out. You don't really give me a lot of time to prepare" Gabrielle barged in the room without knocking.
"You knew this time was coming." Xena said solemnly.
"Yes, but you know I hate good-byes. You must be really anxious to get back on the road." Gabrielle remarked trying to understand her friend's sudden desire to leave. The comment surprised Xena. Gabrielle couldn't possibly think this was easy for her.
"You didn't even mention leaving tomorrow until, come to think of it - you haven't even told me yet!" Gabrielle was annoyed again.
Xena raised her eyebrow. "And when were you going to tell me of your new position?" Xena was hurt that Gabrielle didn't discuss that with her.
"What?" Gabrielle remembered the "position" but did not understand what that had to do with anything. "My position?" Gabrielle asked, confused.
Xena didn't want to fight. Especially not on their last night. "Look, I want you to know I understand why you took the position and I fully support your decision." Xena was trying to be big about this.
"Thanks" Gabrielle said flatly, still confused.
"Thanks?" Xena repeated. "Thanks?" She repeated again, not believing how cold Gabrielle was.
"What do you want me to say?" Gabrielle shrugged.
Xena stood there amazed. As she did when she was a warlord, Xena buried her emotions deep and quietly looked at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle was not in the mood for guessing games with Xena. She was tired and would talk to her in the morning.
"Good night...." Gabrielle sighed and rolled her eyes as she left.
In the morning, Gabrielle rose later than she expected. Her late-night good-byes and the plush castle bedding made it impossible to get up.
"Boy, if Xena was in a bad mood last night, she'll really be annoyed that I'm so late." Gabrielle reflected with mild panic as she rushed ungracefully around the room getting dressed and gathering her things.
She almost tripped as she sprinted to the garden. Lila was waiting for her. The look on her face made Gabrielle apologize.
"OK, OK, I know I'm late. I couldn't ..." Gabrielle didn't see Xena.
"Where's Xena? She's really mad isn't she?"
Lila smirked. "I'll say. Xena left Gabrielle. The stablemen said she took Argo at dawn."
The words were heard but Gabrielle looked around still. "She's gone?" Gabrielle repeated, her fears realized. Lila nodded.
"Why would she leave without you?" Lila asked.
The next day, Gabrielle went to say her second goodbye to Sarah who was regaining her strength quickly. Lila gave them some time alone.
"Oh Gabrielle. You don't need to go," Sarah said brushing her sister's hair from her face in a familiar, motherly way.
"I do," Gabrielle responded and looked at her sister with great love. Sarah nodded. Gabrielle would somehow prove to Xena she could do better and would not be a burden. Maybe there was hope. Gabrielle started to tear up but stopped.
Sarah accepted her decision. "I am anxious to hear what you find out there on the great …dangerous road my Minister of Cultural Development. You wouldn't happen to want one of my guards to escort..." Sarah offered then added quickly. "Uh, of course not...Sorry."
Gabrielle responded with a restrained hug due to Sarah's injuries "Don't ever apologize for caring." Gabrielle added.
"I hope you can reconcile your differences with your friend." Sarah changed the subject.
Although only having observed the two in a short time, Sarah knew they were too close to give up on their friendship so easily. There was a reason for Xena's departure but Sarah knew it wasn't her place to pursue the details.
Gabrielle picked up her staff.
"I'm not so sure it will happen." Gabrielle looked very depressed.
"They say time heals all wounds Gabrielle," Sarah touched her sad sister's cheek.
After hugging her sister goodbye, Gabrielle started off into the world alone, unsure of where she was going.
There was a time when she would never have actually gone out on her own, despite her youthful fantasies of being a Minister of Cultural Development. She had told her family that she would one day be the Minister of Cultural Development for a powerful and just ruler, sent on a mission to learn about other cultures and bring back enlightenment to her kingdom.
Now, while preferring to be along side of Xena, she could go it alone if she had to, she was pretty sure. At least she wasn't being a burden to anyone, Gabrielle reflected.
The roads were dangerous though, and she had lost her share of fights only to have Xena come to her rescue. Pushing the insidious doubts from her mind, Gabrielle looked down the fork in the road.
Right would take her to Athens, Left to her sister Amazons.
"Hmm," Gabrielle pondered the significance of being given that choice just when she was contemplating the need for more education in fighting and self defense.
Chapter 9 - More Sisters
"It's Gabrielle!" An Amazon lookout called out enthusiastically as their princess was spotted arriving.
Queen Melosa came from her tent with a big smile. The smile faded as she observed she was alone.
"Where is Xena?" Melosa asked.
"I wish I knew." Gabrielle responded shaking her head. Melosa, sensing trouble, immediately offered help.
"We will help you find her" Melosa started to gather up a scouting party.
"Wait," Gabrielle blurted, stopping the Queen. "Xena left to be on her own," Gabrielle offered no other information.
Melosa eyed her deciding it was best to discuss this delicate matter in private.
"I have a request Queen Melosa, I wish to train."
Melosa smiled broadly. "Be careful of what you wish for around here PRINCESS Gabrielle, you'll get it." Melosa enjoyed toying with Gabrielle.
"I need to be trained..." Gabrielle's tone now sounded more like a plea which caught Melosa off guard. Gabrielle's request was rooted in her problems with Xena, Melosa guessed, nodding to Gabrielle.
"We will have a feast tonight to celebrate your return to us." Melosa announced.
The Amazons cheered.
"But first" Melosa was quick to follow up. "…to help you work up your appetite, you will start your training - immediately."
Gabrielle got what she wished for.
Melosa entrusted Gabrielle with her two finest teachers, Trayla and Sustra. Trayla had helped Gabrielle with the staff before. After starting with the staff to see how much Gabrielle retained from her previous training, Trayla's backside was introduced to the hard ground with a thump.
Sustra's laughing didn't help Trayla's bruised ego.
As Trayla brushed herself off, Gabrielle saw the irritation build up and performed some innate casualty control.
"If it were not for your training in the basics, I could have never improved. I still have so much more to learn from you." Gabrielle's words were sincere and respectful.
Trayla nodded taking some solace in Gabrielle's words and skill.
"I think you have less to learn about the staff than you say." Gabrielle shook her head no but Trayla continued. "There are other skills you need to learn, isn't that right Sustra?"
It was Sustra's turn. "Sword? Crossbow? Wrestling?" the Amazon offered.
Gabrielle thought a moment.
"I would like to know how to defend myself if I loose my staff in a fight. Not that that has or would ever happen." Gabrielle's humor was welcome to Sustra who liked to laugh. Trayla was much more serious.
"Very wise my princess. Sustra is the best in-close fighter." Trayla spoke fact.
Gabrielle could believe it, looking at the woman's tall and muscular body. Immediately, Gabrielle found Sustra excellent at explaining the principles behind the techniques in addition to telling good battle stories where each technique was useful. This helped Gabrielle learn more than Sustra realized.
"OK, you've learned enough to throw me - do it." Sustra challenged.
"How can I throw someone as large...ah.. muscular as you? I'm too small, I just want to learn how to get out of a bind." Gabrielle's comments disappointed Sustra.
"Haven't you been ...whoa!" Sustra was caught off guard by her student but quickly countered.
"Ack!" Gabrielle was caught in a choke-hold.
"Good attempt with your diversion, what next?" Sustra coached her captive. Gabrielle's response was muffled by Sustra's strong arm around her neck.
"What?" Sustra asked then relaxed the grip somewhat to hear her response.
"Offer money?" Gabrielle spurted.
On Trayla's normally stoic face, a slight smile appeared.
"Think!" Sustra ordered.
Gabrielle applied her fingers to the pressure points of Sustra's hand and pulled it away from her neck. The next move was more of a roll vice a throw but the result was that Gabrielle successfully got Sustra on her back with a thud. Trayla was grinning wider now.
"You still need to work on speed," a dusty Sustra spoke from the ground.
The next hours were the most fatiguing few hours Gabrielle could recall in her life.
Melosa came to the practice field to see about Gabrielle's progress. Trayla and Gabrielle were back with the staff to teach her about fighting on unstable surfaces. This time however, Trayla did not underestimate her opponent.
"My Queen." Sustra came over as the two continued.
"How goes the training?" Melosa asked Sustra, seeing a more confident Gabrielle than the last time the bard trained with the Amazons.
"Better than I had hoped. She is a quick study and has grown much stronger since her last visit."
Melosa was pleased. "Good."
A worried look on Sustra's face caused Melosa to ask what was the matter.
"Gabrielle would do just as well with a sword yet she has no interest in it." Sustra informed her Queen.
Melosa explained, "Gabrielle considers the sword a symbol of death."
Sustra shrugged. "So?"
Melosa looked over to Gabrielle with an understanding. "She hasn't killed anyone and has vowed never to do so. I respect that vow and so should you. Do not push the sword. If she wants to learn those skills, she will ask." The usually stern queen then quipped. "Our princess is not shy you know."
The feast was one of their best. This time, Gabrielle was able to sit out the dancing as rank has its privileges. After telling the story of finding her long lost sister to the appreciative group, she sat next to Melosa at the royal table and ate like two Amazons.
"I see your story telling skills and appetite are in good shape. How is your training going?" Melosa asked, sitting comfortably in the Queen's spot at the royal table.
"Sustra and Trayla are teaching me so much, but I am afraid I am not quick enough." Gabrielle sighed then yawned and quickly apologized. Melosa nodded.
"Speed will come with practice. You know that from your staff work, which I am very pleased with," Melosa informed her. Gabrielle shrugged.
"I have improved, but I have lost so many fights and had to be saved by Xena..." The mention of her name saddens Gabrielle.
"Probably due to a lack of confidence Gabrielle - not skill." Melosa remarked sipping her wine.
Considering they have sufficient privacy, Melosa asks what happened. "You said Xena left you at your sister's castle?" Gabrielle nodded, not ready to admit why Xena left. Gabrielle's perception was still affected by the drug. Interpreting the silence incorrectly, Melosa offered solace. "There must be a reason Gabrielle. Xena cares deeply for you. When you do see her, remember that. Go get some rest now. Tomorrow will come early and Sustra and Trayla will not handle you so gingerly as they did today," Melosa noted as Sustra and Trayla looked at each other with wide grins.
"And I'm supposed to have a good night's sleep now?" Gabrielle remarked to an amused Melosa.
Gabrielle had no trouble sleeping and the morning did come early. Sustra and Trayla came in her tent. With a soft, melodic voice, Sustra called for Gabrielle.
"Princess, wake up." Gabrielle stirred very little. Then, Sustra's tone and volume changed. "It is time for TRAINING," Sustra boomed.
Trayla turned over the bed of the disoriented bard.
"I am so glad you two enjoy your jobs." Gabrielle looked up from the ground.
For the next few days, Gabrielle was put through many tests and drills and sported many bruises. The most annoying training was in the beginning of the day, which came earlier and earlier each morning to keep Gabrielle off balance, which worked well.
Gabrielle found herself in the forest alone.
Trayla and Sustra were hiding. The hair on the back of Gabrielle's neck rose. They were close. While never having so many bruises in her life, Gabrielle had never felt so clear minded and alive.
A noise in the bushes made Gabrielle smile with recognition. The sound was a stone, a diversion. Gabrielle turned towards where she anticipated the attacker to be. Unfortunately, she was wrong. Sustra leaped out of the trees and tackled Gabrielle.
"Ooofph" The wind was knocked out of her.
"Remember UP Gabrielle." She picked up the crumpled bard.
"UP" Gabrielle repeated still gasping for air with great effort.
She silently scolded herself for missing that attack position. Xena commonly used the trees. The two walked a while with no sign of Trayla.
While crossing a stream on a felled tree, Gabrielle had the feeling an attack was pending. Gabrielle uttered "Down" as Trayla came out of the water and grabbed for Gabrielle's leg.
Gabrielle avoided the grab with a flip, but landed in the water with a stupendous splash.
The Amazon trainers looked at each other.
"Better." They spoke in unison.
"I'll miss this," Trayla said quietly to her partner in chaos prior to the morning exercise.
Sustra and Trayla stealthily entered the tent from underneath. Trayla and Sustra looked at each other, amused Gabrielle hadn't stirred yet. They stood up ready to attack.
Trayla gave a war scream and jabbed the blob in the bed, which evoked no movement from the lump.
Sustra uttered an "ugh oh," the tent collapsed on the two attackers.
Laughter erupted in the Amazon camp as the two teachers scrambled to get out from the tent. They quickly joined in the laughter, realizing their Princess had learned very well.
At a private dinner, Queen Melosa had relayed her experience with Grickas to an attentive Gabrielle.
"He was a weak man. Not a true warrior." Melosa despised him and was happy he had met his end.
"Why not a true warrior, he was very successful in battle wasn't he?" Gabrielle asked.
Melosa shook her head no. "He wasn't. Only his tricks and drugs made him win. As I said, not a true warrior."
Gabrielle was still confused.
"Drugs? What kind of drugs?" Gabrielle asked. Melosa spoke with incredible disgust.
"Forgus, a drug whose effects can be insidious. It amplifies a persons fears and doubts. If taken in its purest form, the transformation is permanent but too quick and obvious to ensure a victorious takeover. However, Grickas dilutes this drug and slowly conquers his unsuspecting enemy. Victims never find out that the reason for their defeat was themselves." Melosa sighs.
"Themselves?" Gabrielle questions.
"Yes. Normally rational people struggling with those doubts and fears act irrationally. Yet they don't even realize how irrational they have become. The affected are unable to adequately defend themselves from the likes of Grickas. A small band of Grickas' men could overtake a seemingly unconquerable army - with the help of forgus. It sounds like that was the cause of King Enerall's defeat."
Gabrielle then asked a question that spoke volumes to Melosa. "Does this Forgus happen to taste sweet?"
With this information, it was time for Gabrielle to leave her Amazon sisters and go back to Walsas. So many good-byes in such a short time was draining on Gabrielle. She was so close to her family and had so many good friends, it was always hard to leave.
Melosa expressed concern for Gabrielle's intended trip. "If Grickas is still loose, he will try to regroup to conquer Walsas. If you want my help, Gabrielle, just say the word." The significance of Melosa's offer was not lost on Gabrielle.
"Your training is not done yet Gabrielle," Melosa remarked with authority.
"Training never really stops, does it?" Gabrielle asked.
"If it does, your dead." Melosa answered. "We still have a few things to teach you." Melosa added, her stare relaying no emotion.
Gabrielle rubbed her bruised arm. "I think my training is best done in short spurts - so I can recover. Besides, I am looking forward to a good night's sleep." Gabrielle's joke about the morning exercises concerned Melosa, who's expression turned grave.
"Gabrielle, sleep will be a necessity not a luxury. You must always sleep lightly, and at the ready. Attackers will not be as kind as Trayla and Sustra." Gabrielle nodded, a little disturbed, yet understood Melosa's warning.
"Don't worry, you have learned much." Melosa added.
Gabrielle wondered how true that was.
"Remember, you most powerful weapon is your mind and, of course, your gift of Gab, Gabrielle" Melosa smiled.
"Thanks..." Gabrielle blurted flatly, with mock annoyance.
Gabrielle started down the path, once again - alone.
Approaching Walsas, Gabrielle felt it wise to not use the main road - just in case.
"I'm probably being paranoid", she thought to herself. "Paranoid is good..." she concluded, finding the kingdom reoccupied by Grickas' soldiers. Her mind raced with thoughts of what fate had befallen her sisters.
"Focus and calm down." She told herself. She needed to find out what was going on. The tavern was closest.
The soldiers paid no attention to the cloaked woman who limped into the Tavern. Farr the barkeep was hopeful for a paying customer finally.
"May I.." he asked, his eyes widened as he recognized the face of the woman under the hood. He nervously backed away into the storeroom.
"You shouldn't be here!" He whispered loudly.
The incredible difference in the man before her now and the same man days ago confirmed her suspicions that Grickas had once again drugged the people of Walsas with Forgus.
"They will kill me for talking to you!" He looked around nervously. "You must go now." He shook.
"I will go...just tell me...are Sarah and Lila OK?" She braced herself for the worse.
"I don't know, I don't know" He backed up, knocking over a jug of wine, which crashed on the floor.
"Hey!" A soldier enters the storeroom to see what caused the commotion. Seeing the wine spilled on the floor, he sneers.
"Be more careful of this stuff." Farr's nervousness made the filthy soldier feel dominant. He walked around inspecting the area to increase the barkeep's panic and his enjoyment. It worked. Farr cringed at every corner and space the soldier would inspect.
"You've got thirsty soldiers out there to serve. Go on!" Farr left the storeroom wondering what happened to the young woman.
Gathering information was not an easy task, Gabrielle thought as she approached the Inn. There were guards close to the front door so she tried the back door. She could have tried to pick the lock to the back door but saw that there was a window open on the second floor. The path of least resistance worked for her.
"I gave you all the money I have" Cumae spoke to a young soldier she could have physically taken on in her younger days. Cumae's eyes glanced over to the stairs where she saw Gabrielle poking her head out from the stairwell. Gabrielle motioned to Cumae she was going to the hidden basement. Their silent communication went unnoticed by the greedy boy.
Making her way to the room, Gabrielle thought of her experiences with the Amazons. All things being equal, Gabrielle preferred infiltrating the kingdom to head-on confrontations. While she recognized the value of being proficient with fighting skills, she considered it took more skill to avoid conflict and obtain her objective. It was also more satisfying to win a mental contest than a physical one.
Gabrielle easily entered the sanctuary of the hidden room, undetected by soldiers. A single candle burned with insufficient light for Gabrielle's adjusting eyes to see anything. However, she felt a quiet presence in the room. The presence was a familiar one.
"Xena" She called out softly, certain her feelings were correct.
"Good eyes." Xena commented without correction from Gabrielle.
"I'm glad you're here. I was afraid I'd have to save the kingdom alone," Gabrielle remarked with a smile that eased Xena's apprehension about facing Gabrielle.
"I'm thinking clearer now." Xena stared at her awkwardly, wanting to say more.
"But the kingdom isn't. Grickas is at it again. Did you know Grickas always uses Forgas on his enemies?" Gabrielle relayed.
"Not until the drug wore off." Xena answered with regret.
"Xena, there was no way you could have known you...we... were affected." Gabrielle casually commented as she lit more candles. "There, much better." The room was much brighter to Gabrielle's satisfaction.
"What happened to you?" Xena asked with concern. With the added light, Xena now saw the large number of bruises Gabrielle sported.
"A few ...educational experiences" Gabrielle rubbed a bruised elbow.
"Gabrielle..." Xena started to say something when Cumae, finally finished with the young soldier, came into the room. She was also affected by the water but not as afraid as Farr about helping them.
"They are still alive." Cumae spoke immediately to Gabrielle upon entering the room.
Gabrielle's armor of good humor revealed a sizable dent as she closed her eyes and thanked the gods upon that news. This experience was draining on Gabrielle, Xena observed, now grateful for Cumae's interruption. There was only so much Gabrielle should have to deal with at one time.
Collecting herself, Gabrielle quickly recovered her good humor
"But?" Gabrielle asked. "There's always a but." She added looking at Xena.
"Grickas plans another execution for Sarah when she recovers enough from her wounds." Cumae informed.
"How considerate." Xena remarked.
Cumae left to tend to the Inn not wanting to be found missing from the front desk too long.
"It's always something isn't it?" Gabrielle sighed, sitting down at the table. Reaching for a water skin, she stopped herself before drinking.
"I brought that, it's OK." Xena remarked. Gabrielle looked at her.
"Good, don't want to go through THAT again." She took a sip. The comment made Xena wonder what she went through, what doubts and fears had plagued her. Xena stared at Gabrielle, wanting to apologize for leaving, wanting to say how much she missed her. Yet she didn't.
Noting Xena was trying to tell her something then stopped when Cumae entered the room, Gabrielle thought of a way to help.
"Did you know that the Yersians were a people that had very few wars or even disputes?" Gabrielle's comment surprised Xena, who wondered where Gabrielle was going to go with this.
"No." Xena answered cautiously sitting across from Gabrielle at the table and taking a sip of water herself.
"If two families ...or people...had a problem that seemed insurmountable they would gather the troubled parties in a sacred room, the Great Room of Truths." Gabrielle nibbled on some bread.
"Oh?" Xena responded.
"Yes. In this Great Room, the troubled people were sworn to abide by the Rules of Questions. Once agreed to, each party was allowed to ask one question of each other. The person asking the question was not allowed to speak until the person answering was finished. The person answering was required to be direct and truthful, even if the truth was painful. After the first questions were asked, they went home to think about what they had heard and consider their next questions. The next day they would gather in the same place and ask a second set of questions. Then after that, a third set of questions, asked on the third day, would be asked. By the end of the third day the problem was solved."
"How did they know if the answers given were the truth?" Xena asked a practical question.
"They knew." Gabrielle answered looking her in the eye.
Xena could believe that Gabrielle would be able to tell.
Cumae returned, having put in her appearance at the front desk. Annoyed and disappointed by Cumae's poor timing, Gabrielle muttered under her breath. "If it isn't Cumae, the interrupter."
Xena refrained from grinning. She owed Cumae another one.
"So much for being considerate" Gabrielle remarked.
Grickas was too impatient for Sarah's full recovery so he decided to push up the execution to the next day.
Xena led the way to the Castle.
"They probably have the entrances we used before guarded," Gabrielle remarked trying to figure out what her friend had in mind as they walked through the trees.
"Well, I agree your underwater passage is out." Xena remarked coming to a boulder.
"Good. I've had enough swimming." Gabrielle sat on the boulder, rechecking her bag to make sure everything was there. "And the side entrance?" Gabrielle asked.
"Out." Xena remarked.
"ok" Gabrielle accepted that.
Xena kept standing in front of her as if she was waiting for something. "I give up...How will we get in? What entrance will we use?" Xena smiled getting what she wanted out of Gabrielle.
"You're sitting on it."
Gabrielle got up looking at the boulder and pointed at it. "This?" Xena nodded then leaned over and started to move the boulder. To Gabrielle's amazement, Xena exposed a passage with a staircase.
"How did you know about this?" Gabrielle peered down the entrance.
"I stumbled across it when I had to find another way into the castle. That was after I ran into that dead end you never told me about," Xena explained passing by Gabrielle to descend the steps.
"What dead end?"
"Never mind." Xena sighed.
They came upon the soldier's dining hall, which they had to cross to get to access to the holding cell. The dining hall was bustling with feeding soldiers.
"It would probably be impolite to disturb their dinner." Xena remarked as they retreated unnoticed to the next room. They needed to remain undetected for the plan to succeed.
Gabrielle observed a much more relaxed Xena before her than when they met at the Inn.
The room they were now in was a sitting room with beautiful woven tapestries hanging from the walls. Gabrielle took a moment to admire them.
"Look at the detail," the bard remarked with amazement.
The noise of soldiers moving towards their position caused Xena and Gabrielle to look at each other with concern. After scanning the room for hiding options, Xena found Gabrielle had already found a place to hide, since she was gone.
Xena found the ledge outside the window the closest place to hide, although she would have preferred the rafters. A soldier came in, having a little too much to drink, Xena observed.
He stumbled around and was getting close to the tapestry where Gabrielle was last seen standing. Xena's heart jumped when she thought Gabrielle's hiding place would be exposed. Her hand clenched her Chakrum as he stumbled into that tapestry.
However, Gabrielle was not there as Xena expected. Xena eased her grip on her Chakrum as she smiled to herself. Her eyes found where the nervous bard was hiding, in the rafters.
Other soldiers came in and found their comrade in bad shape. "Come on. You don't want King Grickas to find you like this." One soldier spoke. The title of King made Gabrielle angry. Sarah had stated that justice would be served another day. Today was that day, Gabrielle thought.
After the soldiers left, Gabrielle lowered herself from the rafters on to a table as Xena emerged from the window.
"I'm glad you didn't choose the tapestry." Xena remarked quietly.
"Me too. Whoa." Gabrielle said and lost her balance, kicking one large candleholder off the table while heading for a noisy fall.
Xena caught the candle in one hand and grabbed Gabrielle's arm with the other, steadying her.
A relieved Gabrielle steps down to the floor.
Xena stared at the candle in her hand then at Gabrielle with a raised eyebrow.
"I know, improve." Gabrielle joked.
"I didn't say anything." Xena remarked with a smirk.
"Maybe not, but you wanted to." Gabrielle countered.
"So you've learned to read minds?" Xena put the candle down.
"You'd be surprised." Gabrielle looked at her.
"Really? What am I thinking now." Xena asked with a sly grin.
"That we shouldn't waste any more time in getting to the holding cell." Gabrielle headed towards the soldiers' dining room.
The smile on Xena's face faded after that correct answer.
"Xena" Gabrielle quietly called back to her realizing she wasn't moving.
"Nah..." Xena thought to herself, shaking her head.
They arrived at the holding cell, which boasted better accommodations than the dungeon cells. Grickas wanted to ensure his injured prisoner didn't rob him of the execution he looked forward to by dying on her own.
As they expected, Sarah was alone.
Gabrielle hoped they were right about Lila and Meleager being held in the main dungeon.
Xena distracted a guard further and further away from the cell with a string of noises, allowing Gabrielle to approach her sister.
"Sarah" Gabrielle spoke waking her sister.
"Gabrielle!" She was shocked and concerned.
"Grickas has won," Sarah moaned, her head falling in defeat.
Gabrielle knew it had to be the forgus talking.
"Not yet Sarah. Justice will be served." Sarah embraced her sister with a need to believe that. "Where are Lila and Meleager?" Gabrielle asked.
"They are below in the dungeon." Gabrielle nodded. "Are you strong enough to leave?"
As Xena took Sarah down to the dungeon, Sarah protested the plan.
"Xena, I can't leave her there." She started.
"It's Gabrielle's choice," Xena coolly responded.
Sarah made many similar comments of concern all along the way, which Xena chose to ignore. Xena tried not to get too irritated as she knew the forgus was making Sarah more fearful.
They made it to the soldier's post at the entrance of the Labyrinth which they had to go through.
Sarah kept pushing Xena about Gabrielle. "She could be killed. Why didn't you try to talk her out of this? Don't you care?"
Surprising Sarah with her speed, Xena put her hand on the Queen's mouth and shoved her into the shadows.
"Stay quiet or you will be killed." Xena spoke deliberately.
Sarah wasn't sure if Xena meant by the soldiers or her own hands.
The soldiers didn't know what hit them as Xena jumped from the darkness and attacked with her sword swiftly and accurately. She killed all four of them, regretting the necessity. If they woke at an inopportune time, they would foil the rescue and further endanger Gabrielle's life. She was grateful though that Gabrielle did not have to witness her killing again. Gabrielle knew there were times when it could be justified, Xena thought to herself as she pulled the bodies out of view. However, Xena knew it still disturbed Gabrielle even if she never spoke of it.
Finished covering up signs of the attack, Xena looked up at Sarah who was silently staring at her. There was a familiar look of sadness in Xena's eyes which Sarah remembered seeing in Enerall when he killed in front of her.
Gabrielle lay on the cot with her face to the wall. She wore a white dress like Sarah's to complete the deception. The guard came by to confirm his red headed prisoner was where she should be. Satisfied, he left to patrol the area.
Waiting was the difficult part, Gabrielle thought. Her nervous energy was used for pacing around the cell. She wondered how far along Xena was in the rescue of Sarah, Lila and Meleager. She then reconsidered that her task of waiting was much easier than Xena's task of rescuing two injured and one green young Poteidaian all probably heavily affected by forgus.
Hearing more footsteps, she jumped onto the cot and faced the wall. Why was he back so soon, Gabrielle wondered. The steps were of a different man.
"My Queen Sarah. It is almost time. You will soon meet the same fate as your husband Enerall." Gabrielle moved slightly.
"Ah, you are still fighting fate." Grickas observed.
The noise of a key entering the cell door lock made Gabrielle's heart race. He would find out soon. Now she had to deal with an opponent without her staff. When he entered the cell, she spoke softly. "Why?"
Grickas laughed. "Why not?" He sat down on the cot next to her touching the familiar red hair.
Her urge to punch him was overcome by a calm. Not yet, she thought. Gabrielle could hear and feel he only had on a dagger. Appropriate for a man who was not a true warrior.
"I guess I could blame it on a difficult childhood but I actually enjoyed my childhood." He mused. "Why..." He repeated. "Because I can." He answered truthfully. "What?" He gasped, realizing the red hair belonged to someone other than Sarah.
Gabrielle turned pushing him onto the ground and bolted for the cell door. He grabbed her foot causing her to fall. She kicked free of his grip and the two were quickly on their feet facing each other in the small cell.
"I should know your name at least, before I kill you" He asked pulling his dagger out.
"Does that mean you won't kill me if I don't tell you?" Gabrielle remarked making Grickas smile.
"No, it's just more ... polite." He lunged towards her unsuccessfully. "You have to be her sister, but I didn't know she had any." Grickas was still more amused than worried, believing the forgus would prevent Sarah from getting far. Gabrielle was grateful for that advantage.
"Gee, how'd you figure that out?" Gabrielle commented as she looked for an opportunity to escape the small confines of the cell. He lunges again getting close enough to lightly cut her arm but allowing her to hit the him solidly in the face, breaking his nose.
"Ahhh" He held his face and fell to his knees. Gabrielle once again tried to escape but Grickas would not allow that as he overcame his pain and tackled her into the bars.
Somehow she broke herself free from this man and escaped the cell. Scanning her surroundings in the empty dining hall, she found the guard running towards her with his sword drawn. Hard to keep a fight quiet, she realized.
One guard in front and one closing in at her back, Gabrielle assessed her situation. She spied a staff on the other side of the room. The only obstacle was the bigger, meaner looking guard. She dove on top of the long table towards her objective, missing a deadly blow by the guard. She jumped with more energy than she realized, unable to stop herself from sliding completely across the table and onto the floor with a thud. She quickly recovered, adjusting her dress, which was ill-suited for fighting and grabbed the staff.
With the familiar feel of the staff in her hand, Gabrielle breathed deeply feeling more comfortable. That was until three more soldiers rushed in to inform Grickas of their news.
"The prisoners have escaped from the dungeon. And we are missing many soldiers." One blurted to Grickas, who blew his usual cool.
"NO! NO! NO!" He screamed, realizing all his mistakes.
Gabrielle was relieved at the soldier's news. All she had to worry about was herself. As the soldiers that surrounded her closed in, she thought that was still enough to worry about. She successfully prevented them from getting too close with swift and accurate staff work. However, she knew she would tire soon which would be the end.
"Some warrior you are Grickas." Gabrielle taunted him.
He looked at her still upset with himself. "Using drugs to conquer your enemy. When you can't rely on the drugs, you lose to a mere woman in hand to hand combat." The soldiers slowed their attacks listening to this woman's accusations. Grickas pushes a soldier aside, grabbing his sword. Gabrielle smiles.
"And by the way, my name is Gabrielle, the woman who defeated you."
The soldiers froze as they watched Grickas lung towards the woman. Gabrielle easily avoids his angry and sloppy moves, much more comfortable with the staff than hand-to-hand.
Hit in the chest with great force, he landed on the floor. The force broke open the vial on his neck. He gasped, pulling his pendant off him throwing it to the floor. The vapors of the pure forgus were strong.
Gabrielle stepped back realizing what had happened. She watched with the soldiers as Grickas huddles over shaking and sobbing uncontrollably.
"Here is your GREAT warrior Grickas." She spoke to the soldiers, tired of fighting. "Leave now and never bother this kingdom again." She looked each of them in the eye.
The soldiers debated what to do.
Xena entered the room not quite sure of what to do seeing the standoff before her.
Gabrielle looked at her motioning her to not attack, and looked back at the soldiers. "It's your choice." Gabrielle added.
They quickly left the two women and their leader huddled on the floor.
Xena looked over at Grickas.
"Careful Xena, he splashed pure forgus on himself," Gabrielle warned, looking down at the sorry sight. "I wonder if this will be permanent," she added with some feeling of remorse.
Xena put a comforting hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "I don't know." Seeing the bard disturbed by the outcome, she added. "It's not like you killed him Gabrielle."
Gabrielle nodded. "I know. But I wonder if this isn't worse."
Gabrielle stared down at Grickas not sure what to feel. Xena, greatly disturbed by Gabrielle's comment, reached out her hand, gently turning Gabrielle's head away from Grickas. Looking directly in her friend's sad eyes, Xena spoke from the heart.
"If there is any blame Gabrielle, it lies with Grickas. He didn't just kill people - he abused people with that drug. Now he is suffering for that abuse. I hope you can see that." Xena waited for a response.
Gabrielle nodded and embraced her friend tightly. "Thank you," she spoke softly.
"There you are!" Cumae came in.
Gabrielle stepped back and looked over to the woman then back at Xena. "Cumae, of course." Gabrielle spoke under her breath.
After the celebration dinner, Gabrielle sat in the garden alone with some sadness that she would be leaving soon.
"I thought you would be asleep by now." Xena sat next to her enjoying the peaceful evening air.
There were so many sides to her friend, Gabrielle noted now seeing the relaxed and happy Xena. Gabrielle was pleased Xena really enjoyed herself the past couple of days around her family and even during the celebration this evening.
"What?" Xena asked uncomfortably noticing Gabrielle's stare.
"Just counting the minutes before Cumae shows up..." Gabrielle said with a slight grin.
"She just left...I think." Xena responded quickly looking around, making Gabrielle laugh. Xena never tired of hearing Gabrielle laugh.
Gabrielle looked up at the night sky and sighed contentedly. "So where are we going next?"
Xena thought a moment. "We could visit the Amazons."
Gabrielle cringed. "Perhaps after I fully recover from my last visit."
Xena was surprised, but that did explain all her bruises. "So that is where you went after I ...left." Xena said, still regretting her actions even though Gabrielle knew they were forgus induced.
"Yes. I was convinced, or rather the forgus convinced me, that you left because you were tired of me being such a burden. I thought if I trained and learned more I would prove ....well, you get the picture." Gabrielle shrugged.
"You did that for me?" Xena asked, once again deeply touched by this bard's actions.
"Nope" Gabrielle's answer surprised her. "I did it for entirely selfish reasons." Gabrielle responded. "I wasn't going to give up our friendship without a fight. It means too much to me."
Knowing how uncomfortable Xena got when they discussed their feelings, Gabrielle tried to lighten things up. "Although, had I known what Trayla and Sustra would put me through...I might have reconsidered." Gabrielle smiled at the memories of the experience.
"I'm kidding, you know," Gabrielle responded, seeing her friend's dark mood.
"I didn't fight, I just left." Xena said hollowly, looking at the ground. Gabrielle realized how much guilt Xena still carried around.
"Why did you?" Gabrielle asked softly. Xena glanced uncomfortably at her friend then back down to the ground. When Gabrielle thought Xena was having too much difficulty to respond, she let her off the hook. "You don't have to say anything Xena. I know we both weren't acting like ourselves." Gabrielle patted her hand.
"It's getting late...We should both get some sleep." Gabrielle starts getting up but Xena, not yet done, gently grabs and pulls on her arm, sitting her back down.
"Or we could talk." Gabrielle responded.
Xena revealed her doubts and fears. "You have become a skilled fighter and...you have two sisters that are very close to you."
Gabrielle listened quietly. Xena still stared at the ground
"When you didn't confide in me about your dreams I kept wondering why."
Gabrielle successfully fought the urge to interrupt, knowing this wasn't easy for Xena.
"Then you agreed to take that position from your sister - I thought you were staying without discussing it with me. All those things - with the forgus - added up. I thought there was no room in your life for me." Xena finally looked up at Gabrielle who smiled warmly, happy to finally hear Xena confide in her.
"You are not my friend because you can protect me Xena." Gabrielle informed her, looking into her eyes. "And you are not my best friend because I NEED anymore sisters." Gabrielle responded with a grin.
"I know" Xena softly laughed. Gabrielle took a breath, ready to admit something. Xena noted, with some apprehension, the subtle shift in Gabrielle's mood.
"I guess I owe you an apology for not telling you about those dreams sooner." Gabrielle felt a little embarrassed. "There was this woman in Poteidaia, who said she had vivid dreams of prophecy all the time. None of her warnings came true. She was "crazy Sybil". She drove away her family and all her friends." Gabrielle laughed nervously.
"You can always talk to me Gabrielle" Xena responded with great feeling. Gabrielle nodded, thanking the gods for having such a good friend. "And you can start by telling me about this job of Minister of Cultural Development.." Xena still had a few questions for the bard.
After finishing with her explanation of the Minister of Cultural Development, Gabrielle yawned. The excitement and emotion of the evening was catching up to her. "It really is getting late. We both should get some sleep." She repeated her goodnight to Xena.
As she got up, Xena, with a playful grin, pulled on her arm sitting her back down.
"Or we could ... keep talking." Xena remarked.
Gabrielle laughed and shook her head. "Melosa said be careful of what you wish for."
The next morning came too early for Gabrielle, but she was determined not to be late for the planned early morning departure. To her surprise, she was in the garden before Xena. She didn't realize how early it was until Cumae came by before she opened the Inn.
"Gabrielle, I just wanted to wish you good traveling before you and Xena go. Where is she?" Cumae looked around.
"She's probably taking advantage of the last few minutes in a comfortable bed before we head out. She kept us up pretty late last night talking" Gabrielle remarked yawning. Cumae eyed her skeptically.
"Right - talking." Cumae said as she reached into her bag. "There IS something I wanted to ask of you and Xena." Cumae smiled.
Gabrielle had already brought Argo from the stables and packed her up with everything. She continued to wait for Xena when Lila, Sarah and Meleager emerged from the castle.
"By the Gods it is early, why does anyone start traveling at this time of day?" Lila rubbed her eyes and yawned.
"Lila, I've explained that to you already." Meleager remarked.
"I know but..." Lila's reply was interrupted by Gabrielle's hug.
"Thank you Lila." Gabrielle's eyes watered up.
"Hey, stop that. It's contagious." Lila wiped Gabrielle eyes then her own.
Gabrielle hugged Meleager next, who felt a little embarrassed at the affection in public.
"We always seem to have an interesting time together" Meleager joked.
"I'm glad you will be here for my sister - Meleager the Mighty." She looked at him with affection and respect. That meant the world to him.
Xena finally emerged from the castle unapologetic for being late. She wasn't much for long good-byes. She did look particularly well rested, Gabrielle noted.
"I owe you all so much." Sarah spoke to the group.
"It's a shame I can't convince you two to stay here with us." Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other.
"There are places to go and people to help." Gabrielle responded for the both of them. Xena nodded.
"I somehow expected that answer." Sarah looked at the two.
"Take care of her." Sarah yelled to them as they started their journey. "I will," they both responded. Gabrielle and Xena, with Argo in tow, walked through the front gate of the Castle that had seen so much fighting days before. Gabrielle appreciated the calm and prayed it would last.
"Gabrielle." Xena stopped Argo.
"Yes?" Gabrielle responded, still walking and looking around the beautiful landscape, enjoying the sun and air.
"What's this?" Xena asked, looking in Argo's saddlebag.
Gabrielle returned to Xena's side to see what she was talking about.
"A package." Gabrielle answers innocently.
"A package?" Xena repeated.
"Just something I promised Cumae we would ...deliver," Gabrielle realized she did it again.
"Gabrielle" Xena spoke sternly.
"It's a BIRTHDAY present Xena," Gabrielle quickly countered.
Xena started walking with Argo, silently.
It was the right thing to do even if Xena didn't agree yet, Gabrielle thought.
"It's for her nephew and after all that she's done for us, I thought it was a...." Gabrielle tried to explain but was interrupted.
"Stop." Xena spoke in a commanding tone. "It's ok" Xena added, her tone softer.
"It's ok?" Gabrielle repeated.
"Yes." Xena answered.
"Yes?" Gabrielle repeated.
"Gabrielle - don't push it." Xena replied sternly.
Gabrielle looked at her and stayed quiet, but sported a contented smile.
After a few minutes, Xena broke the silence.
"So where is this nephew we need to deliver this GIFT to..." Xena asked a very good question.
Gabrielle's smiled faded as she gulped, wondering just how understanding Xena would be.
Part 1| Part 2 | Index
The next story - In a Man's World