In The Heart Of The Siege: Part 1
The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Autolycus are owned by Renpics apparently, and not only that, Im not going to make any money from this! Is that justice I ask you?
Timeline: Around the second season
Sex: Just two people in love with each other, who are also women. If thats a problem according to age or locale, move, or move on.
Thanks to: BlindzonElyzon, Cath, Claudia, JLynn, Leslie Ann Miller, especially Mary Morgan, MyWarrior, Nancy, Power Chakram, Stacia, Temora and all the members of the Tavern Wall and the Bardic Circle. Two places I can still be proud to call home.
Inspired by the far better writings of Melissa Good, DJWP, and by the woman I love.
Disclaimers in Part I
For a hundred generations the news of the outside world was primarily carried from town to town by the Bards, the jongleurs, the shapers and the troubadours. Their songs usually reflected the interests of the common person. They were often about outlaws or what we would consider tabloid stories; incest, infanticide and other forms of murder. Of course Love has always been a common subject, and there is a whole variety known as song riddles consisting of impossible tasks which can only be solved by a true lover.
Like all myths, even when cloaked in magic or corrupted by time, they represent a kernel of actual historical fact and pertinent observations on human character.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Remember me to one who lives there,
For once she was a true love of mine.
Day 38 of the Siege of Namea: Morning
The General motioned to the guardsmen at the door. "Let her in." There was a sideways glance to his lieutenant. "This should be amusing."
The tent flap was opened and a young girl was brought in. She was dressed in fairly revealing clothes, and seemed to be in her teens. Although her long reddish blonde hair was tousled and tangled, she appeared fairly clean, at least compared to the camp followers most of his soldiers were used to. Somehow shed managed to protect whatever there was of her virtue in the two days that shed been in the camp petitioning for an audience with him. Mainly due to her skill with the Amazon staff she now had firmly in hand. That and her claim to be the bard that accompanied Xena had led to this meeting. As she was brought forward, he saw her face was set and free of fear; something else which intrigued him. General Rukcal leaned back in his chair.
"You wished to speak with me?"
The only sign of any nervousness was a deep breath before she spoke in a clear voice. "I am the Bard for the Warrior Princess."
"So youve claimed."
"You can ask your cook, Palacius. He can vouch that Ive traveled with her for the past two years."
Rukcal shrugged as though the confirmation were unimportant. "Say that is true. Why would you interest me?"
"I can solve your problem."
The warlord smiled. "And what problem is that? I have over one thousand well fed and heavily armed men, waiting about for a small garrison of starving wretches to eventually surrender."
This response was obviously expected, and her reply was recited in an assured voice for all in the tent. "Because what was supposed to be a short siege of this city has been stalled by the capture of the Warrior Princess. Because it was a morale booster for a countryside she once devastated with her own army and because you are running out of time. Because you now have to wonder if she might even join the forces who are resisting you. Because Xena is in that city and you dont know what she will do."
The general mockingly applauded her performance. "Well spoken. But what do you propose to do to solve this problem?"
"The siege has made it impossible for me to enter the city by myself. But I believe with just a few of your men, I can get to her."
Rukcal snorted derisively. "And why would I want to help rescue Xena?"
"My plan doesnt involve rescuing her." Gabrielles face was grim. "I plan on killing her."
1)Peace Good Judge, sweet Lord Judge
Peace for just a while
I think I see my mother coming
Riding by the stile
A little of your gold, ma mere
And likewise of your fee
To save my body from yonder grave
and my neck from the hangmans tree
"None of my gold now shall you have
Nor likewise of my fee
For I am come to see you hanging
And hanged you shall be"
-A Maid Saved From Hanging
Day 38: Noon
Polybus, the King of Corinth sank deeper into the bath. Not quite hot enough, he thought and he motioned to a slave to fetch more water. The attendants froze for a moment as they heard the approach of a messenger outside the baths, and they looked to the king to see if permission to enter would be granted. The was a negligent wave of a hand, and when the door was opened, a young soldier entered. He removed his helmet, bowed and waited for the King to speak first.
"If this has to do with the Warrior Princess and her friends, report to my Consort. It was her idea."
He watched in amusement as the young guardsman attempted to keep his eyes downcast as his wife, Ismene, drew herself part way out of the mist and water. Originally only a marriage of convenience designed to provide him with an heir, she had soon involved herself in all aspects of ruling the City State. But in this latest plan she had clearly erred, and her increasing status was once again questioned in the halls of the palace.
Ignoring her nudity and her husband, she demanded, "What news have you?"
"My lady." There was a glance to both rulers to ascertain if the address was correct. Both rulers ignored the question, so with a swallow he continued. "Agathes does not intend to execute the Warrior Princess. They have announced that they have some sort of poison that destroys the mind while the body lives. It is felt that this would be a more appropriate revenge upon the Destroyer of Nations."
There was a shudder from his Consort, and Polybus spoke quickly. "This is none of your fault, my dear. We made our opinion clear while she and her friends were staying here. The fool woman believed against all advice she could ride into a town that her army had devastated, without any repercussions. She was the one who took the word of that slippery leader of the mine owners. She thought they would actually want her help in peace negotiations." He shook his head ruefully. "She rode in there thinking that they would see her as some kind of hero, and not the butcher of their husbands and sons. Hardly your fault." He redirected his attention to the messenger. "When will this... whatever, take place?"
"Your majesty... ties," the messenger hesitantly added. "Agathes intends to delay it as long as possible, to extend the morale boost her capture seems to have given his garrison. Perhaps four days. It is said that he believes she might choose to fight with them."
At this the king laughed. "And meanwhile Rukcal is expected to wait patiently outside the gates with his army? I dont think so." He turned to his wife. "You certainly are going to owe me the dinars on our bet, Dear. Not only didnt she succeed, but she seems to have extended the suffering of those inside the cordon."
Ismene ignored the jibe. "The other, is he still..." she extended hopefully.
"Still imprisoned by General Rukcal. He is to be executed as a spy tomorrow... Maam."
This drew another chuckle from the King. "Admit it, dear. It appears that some of our Corinthian blood must needs be shed in order to solve this annoyance. It has gone on far too long, and we have been far too patient. Prices have begun to escalate already, thanks to the shortage of silver from the Namean mine for coins. The generals have made it known that it will take four days to assemble the men necessary to march on Namea, break through that Rukcals cordon and then take Agathes city and the mine. We will begin to organize tonight."
"There is still Gabrielle," his wife noted.
The King snorted. "The story teller? Now you are grasping at straws, my love. The dinars of the bet are mine, you must admit it."
His wife smiled. "Xena seemed to feel that she was worthy of respect. She certainly didnt take kindly to your assumption that the bard was a body slave. And as long as she is free, there are cards in play."
The King gestured to the waiting slaves and the heated water was poured next to where he lazed. "A wild card. Just because Xena doesnt seem to show the proper appreciation for a good body slave..." and at this he caressed the arm of the girl pouring, " ...is hardly a recommendation."
"Nonetheless, " Ismene demurred, "Xena seemed to have confidence in her."
"Fine. Fine. You need not pay me now. But I will order the army readied. If nothing else, word of the mustering will be carried to both those fools and well see if it raises the stakes of their little game." Another languorous gesture, and the messenger was dismissed.
There was silence for a moment as both enjoyed the addition of more hot water. The Queen mused. "Do you think that they...?"
"They may not have physical love, but..."
"Xena and the little storyteller? No!"
"There seemed to be some sort of...."
Impatiently, the King interrupted. "What would either see in each other? No. Xena has a bard, and the girl, a protector. Perhaps there is some odd sort of hero worship. But nothing that would interest an animal like Xena. No matter how much she might have reformed."
A smile played about the Queens face. "Would you be willing to bet on that?"
This drew another laugh. "Always."
"How will we substantiate their relationship?"
"It must come from the lips of one of them. If neither survive, the bet is off."
"Agreed..." and both rulers closed their eyes and luxuriated in the warmth.
All men all false says my mother
Theyll tell you wicked loving lies
Theyre like the stars on a summers morning
Theyll first appear, and then theyre gone
-Come all ye Fair and Tender Maidens
Day 38: Sunset
Agathes hated the mine. Even with his attendants and the torches they carried, he had to fight off the shiver that the cold walls and normally complete darkness created. He knew nothing of the expertise that its construction had required, or even the composition of rock the silver vein was chiseled from.. He only knew that this place was impenetrable, and made the perfect cell for his prisoner.
His prisoner. His plan.
He had seized the opportunity for power when the old men of the council had panicked with Rukcal at the gates. It was his plan that had brought the warrior here. His word that had drawn her in. His oath that had been given to her and broken.
But none of that would matter if he could break her.
The warrior had ridden in proudly, and watched without any signs of anxiety as the gates were closed. Then she had been surrounded by the miners and townspeople. Agathes had chosen the most bitter and weakest of his supporters, and as he had assumed, she refused to fight the starved wretches as they shouted the names of their dead, her victims. She hadnt even defended herself. The great warrior had seemed paralyzed; it had been that easy.
Upon reaching the gate to the cell, he first inspected the bars drilled a full cubit into the solid rock, and then grasped the metal pole leaning next to the door. In the flickering light he could see her chained to the wall, but he took the long pole and struck the fetters that secured her wrists and ankles to ensure they had not been tampered with. Though it must have hurt the chafed skin, there was no sound from the warrior. There had been no words from her at all since she had grasped his deception. Not a word since she had been taken prisoner.
He motioned for a torch to be brought closer, and he confirmed that her hands were still bound by the mail gloves they had fashioned for her. Once the inspection was complete, he began to undo the locks on the door. He could see the pale eyes following his actions, but there was no expression on the handsome face.
"Weve brought you some company, " Agathes said as they pushed a figure forward. "Not so much company, as an object lesson. This is Menon."
A stocky figure in rags was thrust forward, and after a spasmodic twist, fell to the floor of the cell, and the door was immediately relocked.
"He has no sense of balance at all. Coordinations all gone." The figure on the ground turned its face to Xena and in the torchlight she saw the dull eyes begin to gleam as they gawked at her body stretched out against the wall. She returned her stare to Agathes, ignoring the wretch even as he began to crawl along the floor towards her.
"See, Menon figured that since the fumes of the smelter made people get a little drunk, that drinking it would have quite the punch. And he was right. He mixed it with some pure alcohol...and... " The politician gestured to the floor. "We hoped at first that part of his mind was trapped in there." Xenas muscles tightened as the first grimy hand grasped her ankle. "But if theres anything left, its buried, watching the animal he is now." Another hand grazed her thigh and Agathes saw the lips compress, but there was no other reaction. Frustrated he slammed his fist into the bars.
"Dammit Xena. We will do this to you. We will drag you into the town square and force it down your throat. AND LEAVE YOU LIKE THIS!" he shouted.
There was a slobbering giggle from the creature at her feet.
"Look at him, Xena. Hes an animal, with an animals need. Hes functional, but with no coordination, hes not very effective." The soldiers behind him snorted. Agathes voice became harsher. "But that wouldnt matter with a woman would it? I doubt wed have much time to play with you before Rukcal smashes his way in here, but we could leave you for him. Drooling, naked, maybe with a ribbon tied around you?" His voice rose. "Do you want that? Just give me your word of honour. Just swear that youll fight with us and defeat him, if I release you. Thats all it will take.
"Look around you Xena. You are forty feet underground. With only one entrance which opens onto a square guarded by a dozen men, surrounded by the best archers money could buy. This jail was created for you. No one here underestimates your skills. There is no possibility of escape or rescue. Unless you agree to help us.
"You came here from Polybus to negotiate a peace. This will accomplish that. He must be sending troops from Corinth and with you in command of our soldiers we can delay for the time we need until he arrives." Now there was a quiet seductive tone. "I broke my word for these people, Xena. Please help us. I have gambled everything to save my people. Please." There was no word from the warrior, but he could see that she had averted her face as the wretch began to pull himself up her body.
"My people demand that you die for the crimes you committed here. They nearly stoned a bard who tried to tell stories of you as a hero..." For a second Agathes thought he had imagined it, but there had been something... He continued watching her face. There seemed to be only the slightest physical movement from the prisoner, but Menon was suddenly flung across the room, smashing against the wall, landing unconscious. Agathes smiled and continued as though nothing had happened. "Yes, this bard was smart though, and switched to ballads of Hercules and Perseus...." No response now, but he knew he had seen a shift in that stone face for the briefest moment. "Everyone in the city has money, but nothing to buy. So by the end of the evening she had a fortune in useless dinars. Perhaps shell use them to bribe her way through the cordon and out of this mess." Yes, there was a subtle relaxation in the warriors stance.
He stepped back from the bars. "I know that youve reason not to believe me, Xena, but I am in my way an honorable man. I only want to save lives. I had hoped that was your concern as well."
He nodded to his guards and they marched off; towering above his small frame. Two in front, one in back. When they came out into the waning daylight, they returned to their station guarding the entrance and he signaled the soldiers to close the mine again. He turned to his aids and ordered. "Find that Bard. I dont care where she is. Even if shes in the heart of Rukcals camp, I want her. I think I would like to see how Xena would react if it was that girl that we held down and forced the cup to her lips."
"And if Xena still holds out?" His assistant asked.
"Then Menon will have a playmate and Xena can watch them rut in front of her eyes."
1)There was a young Captain who sailed the salt sea
Let the winds blow high and blow low
I will die I will die the young Captain did cry
If I dont have that maid on the shore, shore shore
If I dont have that maid on the shore.
They replaced her away in his cabin below
Let the wind blow high and blow low
Shes so pretty and neat
Shes so sweet and complete
She sung Captain and sailors to sleep, sleep sleep
She sung Captain and sailors to sleep...
Maiden Alone on the Shore
Day 38: Moonrise
Gabrielle stared out across the plains towards the walls of the far off city at the base of the valley. To where my heart lies. she thought. My heart? What would Xena think if she heard that? Probably smile condescendingly and pat her on the head. The bards face tightened. Not this time, Xena. This time youll have to see who Ive become.
The wind whined about her and she pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders. Only desolation between her and Xena. The valley below had had been cleared , the crops and the fields burned. The great siege engines and catapults were all that stood on the barren no-mans-land. All cattle and farm animals confiscated and penned in the same corral as the prisoners she was about to interview for the suicide mission she was supposed to lead.
Can I do this Xena? I cant...
You can convince people of anything, Gabrielle.
"A lovers spat?" General Rukcal had asked smirking. She had cast her eyes down to the floor, hoping he would draw his own conclusions. Revenge he might understand better than the truth.
She had spoken softly but with conviction. "No. I do this for the Greater Good. That city was built to resist attack. You could lose up to five hundred men in the assault and all in the city could die. Men... women... children. The only reason theyre still resisting after over a moon of starvation rations is because of the capture of Xena. Theyre waiting for her execution, and Agathes is delaying that for as long as he can." She had raised her eyes to look directly at the General at that point. "But your time has run out. You need to be inside that fortress before King Polybus and the Corinthian army arrive. To be caught out here would mean hundreds more deaths and your defeat. But if Xena was to die tomorrow, none of that would happen, would it? What is the death of one woman compared to that slaughter?"
"Then why you?"
"Because I have contacts with people inside. I know Xena. She trusts me. And I have a plan."
And your plan is?" He had asked skeptically.
So the hook had been nibbled on. And she had played him well. Showing him all the advantages, but not selling them. Letting him see them at his own speed. Letting some resentment against Xena show, and appear to be the behavior of a jealous lover. Still impressing him with the overall intelligence of the plan. Watching his mind find the advantages for him while discounting her own intellect. And now she stood above the pens for the prisoners.
What would you tell me to do right now, Xena? she asked herself, and answered Go home? Take my bags of dinars and go home? I cant, Xena. I have to do this. I cant leave you there. Its like a force inside me is drawing me to you and I cant, I wont fight it. Whatever I have to do, Ill do. Now tell me, give me your advice because Ive never needed it more.
She closed her eyes and listened to her memories.
Planning requires flexibility, Gabrielle. Plenty of time to react and a mind that is capable of adapting to the changed conditions.
Can I do that, Xena? Please, let me have thought this out carefully. Gabrielle felt her heart being squeezed at the thought of those blue eyes devoid of spark or intelligence. She stood back as the general unctuously addressed the condemned men below.
"Gentlemen. I have an announcement you may be interested in. This young lady has asked for your assistance, and I have decided to grant it."
If I had known before I courted,
That love was such a killing thing,
I'd a-locked my heart in a chest of iron,
And tied it down so it couldn't take wing.
But no, I'm not a little sparrow,
I have no wings with which to fly
So I sit here in grief and sorrow,
Just moanin' away while time goes by
-Come All Ye Fair and Tender Maidens.
Day 38: Midnight
Xena was struggling in a miasmic confusion, sluggishly conscious of death all around her. She opened her eyes to find herself lying amongst a heap of bodies, with hundreds more scattered on the ground as far as her vision would reach. She turned her head and found herself staring upon Gabrielle, and for one terrifying moment believed that her bard was dead as well. It was only when she was able to find a feeble heartbeat that she looked up to see Hades standing above her, and she realised that she was the one who was not alive.
There was no show of emotion in her voice or face as she began to stand, saying, "Im ready," but as she stood, one of Gabrielles hands rose with her, clutching at her bracer.
Hades laughed. "No, youre not."
Xena protested. "She wont let me go."
Again the King of the Underworld laughed. "Really?"
Even as Hades spoke, Xena became aware that her hands were just as entangled about the bard, and gripping her just as tenaciously.
Xena awoke in the darkness.
A dream. Didnt mean anything.
It was the lack of anything to do that was getting to her. She did a cursory check of her condition. The concussion was mainly gone and her mind was clear. Muscles stiff and sore, but that was a given in her business.
Xena focused again on the opposite end of her cell. Measuring the space that wasnt hers to use. Five steps. Two strides. One flip. She shook the chains again in frustration, forgetting for a moment the wounded flesh on her wrists. Focus. Think of the anger. Frustration. The betrayal. Anything other than the Bard.
Think of being sentenced to the nightmare of a mindless existence. Think of her present situation. Dying of thirst, chained and humiliated.
All it took was a moment of closed eyes, and she saw that face, felt her warmth as though she was in the room. This is insane she told herself. When did this happen? When did the little girl become necessary to her? Where did this yearning, this ache begin? All for a girl she had never even kissed. Not really. But then she was back in the dreamscape, feeling those lips so softly yielding under her own. Realizing that she was unconsciously pursing her mouth, she shook her head furiously. NO! Its something that they are feeding you. Some kind of drug. To break you. Youve had a hundred lovers, you cant become like a kid with a crush after all this time. Not now. Not when....
Shell move on. You want her to. She has her family and the Amazons. But then there was pain. Even imagining the loss induced an ache so fierce and sudden that she was only able to suppress it with the focus of her will. Its whats best. You know that.
It was with gratitude that she heard the approach of the bodyguards and the familiar footsteps. Made by those fine expensive boots. "Hasnt had to eat them yet, I suppose." The thought of the deprivations the siege had created brought a twisted smile to her parched lips. What little water there was, was not wasted on a prisoner, even this one. "Poor Agathes. Were all prisoners, I just have a smaller cell." Her smile grew larger.
In the flickering torchlight his bright silken raiment contrasted with the dull grays and browns of the squalid cell. It was with a sinking heart that she saw the smile on his face.
He held out a single piece of parchment and brought a torch to it. Even at this distance Xena recognized the familiar handwriting.
"That bard I told you of, seems to be still around. Shes been asking around for the details of your confinement. Of course Ive written back to arrange a meeting. I can hardly wait."