In The Heart Of The Siege: Part 2
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.
As Turpin was riding across the moor
He saw a lawyer riding on before
Riding up to him said, "are ye not afraid
To meet Dick Turpin, that mischievous blade"
Says Turpin to the lawyer for to be cute:
"I hid my money into my boot"
says the lawyer to Turpin "He cant find mine
For I hid in the cape of my coat behind
Turpin robbed the lawyer of all his store
He told him to go home and he would get more
"And the very first town you do come in
You can tell them you was robbed by Dick Turpin"
Day 39: Past Midnight
Gabrielle spared a glance towards the moonless skies, while in front of her Rukcal stood facing the wind and continued to address the men in the pens below. She could not tell what were animals and which were men, and her nose crinkled as the scent of feces was carried up to them.
"Each of you has committed crimes that have led you here, and death in the morning is your punishment. But I can offer three of you the opportunity to clear your name, and remove the stain you have attached to your family. Should you by some chance succeed and survive this mission, you will be allowed to leave this territory alive and as free men. So Death? Or honour? Are any if you interested?
A sleepy voice called from the back: "But is the pay any good?"
Rukcal frowned and looked over to Gabrielle, "That would be the spy, of course." He called over to the guards and ordered, "pull out his tongue."
Gabrielle shyly touched the Generals shoulder. "Please...Wait. A spy?"
The General closed his eyes, clearly regretting the chance to remove this particular tongue, and motioned to the jailer to bring the prisoner forward. He was a tall lean figure who somehow seemed to saunter even as he was hauled forward.
"A spy in the pay of King Polybus," Rukcal said by way of an introduction.
The man demurred with a slight smirk. "Not a spy. A thief. The King of Thieves in fact. At your service, my lady."
Despite her anxiety, Gabrielle found a smile on her lips. She wiped it away and responded imperiously. "That remains to be seen." She glanced up at the burly general. "What was his crime?"
"He was caught attempting to see the plans mapping the distribution of my forces."
Gabrielle frowned "He cant be very good if he was caught." She touched her tongue. " Oh, go ahead."
Before the guards could take him, the thief managed to say, "Actually they were expecting me. A bit unfair I thought."
The General grumbled "Of course we knew. We have spies, Polybus has spies, Agathes has spies."
The Thief waved his palm in frustration. "You can see why I insist on the honourable profession of a thief. Spies are so common."
"Hes tall enough for the part. Perhaps... Let me talk to him." Gabrielle took the Generals silence as acquiescence and grabbed Autolycus arm and began to pull him down the hill. With the leg irons there was some stumbling before they were out of earshot.
In a low and heated voice Autolycus demanded, "Gabrielle? Tell me that Xena being captured is part of her plan?"
Gabrielle looked down. "Actually..."
The thief shoulders slumped. "Then youre in charge? This is going to be one of your Xena" plans? Please. Put me back in the pen, its safer."
Her face chilled before his eyes. "Fine. If thats your choice." She called up the hill. "Guards!"
Autolycus blanched in surprise. He lowered his mouth to her ear. "Is it my imagination, or do you seem to have lost your sense of humour? You wouldnt really send me back, would you?"
The voice that answered him was cool and measured. "Autolycus. Everyone else is playing a game and were supposed to be pawns. Im not playing a game anymore, do you understand?"
There was an uncertain nod and as he was gauging the girl, Rukcal came down to speak to them.
"So is this wretch going to go with you?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Im going to give him some of the details of...your plan. And well see if he knows which prisoners can help."
2)Peace Good Judge, sweet Lord Judge
Peace for just a while
I think I see my father coming
Riding by the stile
A little of your gold, Papa
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 39: Noon
"Men. I want you to imagine you are soaring above this piece of earth as though you were Hermes. This," and the long dowel in the hands of King Polybus touched the model of the city in the basin of the miniature valley, "is the city of Namea. The walls as you can see are extremely wide, and there are others surrounding the interior courtyard at the main gate. There are towers with upper and lower lookouts most of which are manned by skilled archers. They guard every side entrance and all approaches to the city.
"Within its walls is a certain silver mine, and its miners. Who have over the years raised their price and the walls of their city to create one of the most heavily garrisoned places on the earth. They have been in a state of siege for over thirty-eight days now and they are, of course, starving. They have all the money in the world, but no food, and little fresh water. There are over one thousand men, women, and children but only few hundred effective fighters penned in by..." The pointer began to circumscribe a large circle around the model city. "...mercenaries led by a General Rukcal, formerly of the Athenian guards.
"His men have razed all homes outside the walls of the city, torched the fields and seized all of the livestock. His deployment of almost one thousand soldiers in this area we know with some, but not enough, accuracy. We can be assured that they have dug in and are well prepared to withstand any half hearted attack on the outer ring. More bad news as you can see, they also have the high ground. We will be sending scouts ahead to try to ascertain the positioning of the main encampments within the cordon. Simply breaking through the circle would find us caught in this..." the pointer indicated the area in the bowl "...desert they have created. We cannot expect support from the city, and we would be surrounded, trapped and fired upon from three sides. The situation is clear. We will be forced to attack Rukcal from the outside, draw all of his forces into the fight, and completely crush his group in order to free the city."
If the thought of the slaughter that this might entail worried the generals, they gave no sign of it.
"I would like to avoid destroying the animal pens here and here, and the tossing of too many bodies into the river, which will be the supply of food and drink for our own men as well as the survivors."
The rest of the exposition dwelt on other trivialities. It was short work to make the assignments, and a few sealed orders were handed out discreetly. As soon as they had left, Ismene rose from the cushions she had been observing from and amusedly pointed to the complex miniature at their feet. "I sometimes wonder if you make these models to make better war, or you make war in order to have better models."
Polybus chuckled and took his wifes hand and kissed it gently. He raised his head to find her solemn gaze upon him. "Do you think they believe that you truly intend to attack Rukcal in this manner?" she asked.
"What matters is if the spies among them believe it." Polybus smiled.
She laughed, and passed him some of the cherries she had been enjoying throughout the strategy session. "Spies in the pay of the merchants, or the opposition?"
Polybus sighed. "Our damned merchants are almost as bad as the opposing armies. If they hadnt been so afraid to allow us to leave this city without a full guard all this year, you know I could have eliminated Rukcal before he became strong enough in the countryside to attempt this play. Or I could have marched into Namea and demanded they cut their ridiculous prices in half long ago. No, I almost have to thank Rukcal. It took this game of his to get our citizens support for this little foray."
"Are you certain the army can actually be in place in under three days and not four?"
"Its one of the few things I am certain of. But the timing must be exact. As long as there is a hope of Agathes surrender, Rukcal will delay his push until just before he believes we will arrive. He should attack on that third day, in the hope of being safely sheltered in the fortress on the fourth. With the information the scouts bring us, we should be on site after his army has begun their assault on the walls. Rukcal will be out of position, with no defense to our army at his back. With the help of the Gods we will time the attack after both sides have lost half of their men, and we will take both his army and the city by the days end. Then we shall..." he grinned, "negotiate... a new price for silver with the grateful survivors, and return to the thanks of our citizens and those damned merchants."
"So tidy. And yet you were willing to welcome Xena, Gabrielle and their friend and give them the chance to make peace despite the advantages of this plan. Your patience is admirable, my Liege. But why would Rukcal and Agathes not have anticipated this?" Ismene asked.
"You know I believe that peace should always be attempted. I am not a crude wolf like Rukcal or Agathes," Polybus said as he towered over the facsimile. "They arent capable of seeing the big picture." As he spoke, a small piece of fruit fell from his hand, and struck the walls of the city, peculiarly shocking them both as it burst, then slid down the sides leaving a glistening trail behind it. It terminated its descent in ragged pieces and rested, the skin a gleaming crimson against the pale sand.
Carefully Polybus used his pointer to press it into the ground, and then fastidiously brushed the sand to cover it over.
3)Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
And gather it all in a bunch of heather
And then she'll be a true love of mine
Day 39: Moonrise
Ikaros tugged restlessly at the ill-fitting armour hed been given. Being plucked from the condemned pens in the midst of making peace with his Gods before a certain death at sunrise had left him in a state of shock bordering on traumatic. The compact runner had tried, but still couldnt bring himself to eat the food that he had been given, and he attempted to divert his fear by taking in his surroundings. Around him, officers were pacing about readying for Rukcals nightly feint on the gates of the city.
The other prisoner selected by Autolycus was a brawny giant named Salmakis, whose total absorption with the food they had been given added to the nausea Ikaros was feeling. Across from them, Autolycus and the young girl, Gabrielle, were talking in muted voices, ignoring the commotion around them. In frustration Ikaros interrupted them.
"Do you think any of these guys really believes that this is the real assault?" he asked no one in particular. "I mean, whos going to be fooled? They do this every night!" Salmakis shrugged and continued to chew on the first meal hed had in days. Ikaros persisted nonetheless. "Whats the point?"
Gabrielle decided to answer. "Because one night it will be for real."
"But everybody knows that. Whats going to change?"
The girl seemed to be reciting. "Any advantage, no matter how small, is an advantage." She looked around towards the fires and machines of war being readied. "On the night the real assault takes place, there might be one sentry who delays passing the word, one soldier who takes a minute longer to get out of his bunk. It could make the difference in a battle."
Gods. Not more wisdom from the mighty Xena? thought Ikaros, but kept his mouth shut. Instead he temporized. "I guess its lucky that we have it as a cover. Why arent you coming in with us?"
"I have my own invitation. Someone is waiting for me by another route. Itll only work if we meet inside. Once youre in position Autolycus will explain the next steps." Worriedly, Gabrielle looked over to Autolycus and muttered to him, "Youre sure he can run fast enough to do it?"
The thief smirked. "From what I was told, it took two men on horseback to nab Ikaros when he was trying to desert during the first attempt on the city."
Gabrielle blinked. "Desert?" Her voice rose. "He deserted... during an assault? Auto, PLEASE dont tell me you chose a deserter as the lead man!"
Autolycus casually brushed some imaginary flecks from the corner of his mouth and moustache. "Gabrielle. It was a group of condemned prisoners. You know I really wanted to pick men who were under a sentence of death for wearing the wrong colour leggings after Harvest time, but they were all out."
Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment and began to massage her temples. "Okay, I can handle this." She shook her shoulders and advanced towards the giant, who, even though he was seated cross legged, was still at the same height as she was. "Do I want to know why he was in the pens?" she asked, pointing. Salmakis looked to Autolycus with a wry expression, which further incensed the Bard. Using that anger, she tried her best authoritative voice. "Look at me when Im talking to you, not him. Im in command here. What was your crime?"
Salmakis put down the pigs haunch he had been chewing and said without any inflection. "I killed my commanding officer."
Again the Bards eyes closed, but she didnt back down, each of the men noted. When she opened them again, there was almost a smile on her face. "Okay. Maybe we could start again?" She thrust out a hand to the small runner. "Im Gabrielle. Youre.. Ikaros? Ikaros, do you have a family?"
There was a quick nervous nod.
"One, a boy."
"So if you had died a deserter....?"
"They would have been abandoned by my village."
"So youre willing to do this for them." Gabrielle stated firmly.
The giant nodded slowly.
"I dont want anyone to die on this mission, but I also dont want anyone to take any unnecessary risks. If we work together we can all get through this alive. Can you do your part?"
"Can we shake on that?" and she put out her hand. Stifling a chuckle, Salmakis accepted the gesture, and she reached out and also grabbed the smaller mans hand with her free one, who held it back and asked "This nobody dying thing. Does that include Xena?"
As Gabrielle hesitated, the Giant spoke. "Kid? If you wanus to work with you, we gotta know whats what."
Autolycus noted the same shuttered look in the girls eyes as before. "If killing Xena means that all this bloodshed can be averted," she told them," then I know what I have to do. But I also know that shes gotten out of tougher spots than this. If ... when, we get to her, I know she can come up with a plan."
Ikaros snorted nervously. "She can figure out how to get these greedhead miners to surrender? Or get General Rukcal to call off an attack that has a thousand men dreaming of wearing silver plated shoes? And then theres the whole Corinthian army thats gonna show up soon and wholl wanta crush the lot of them. Were talking miracle worker now. "
"Shes done harder stuff before." she insisted. " I tell you, that if we can get to Xena, all this will be straightened out." She looked at the two skeptical faces.
"Maybe I should tell you about some of the times she did that? Came up with a solution when it seemed like no one could?"
Without waiting for an answer, she pulled a stump from the firewood and sat down and raised her hands dramatically. "Have you heard of the Lost Mariner? Of Poseidon who cursed him in his anger over the loss of the wager to Athena, and of the Warrior Princess who saved one, and defeated the other without raising her sword?" The sounds of the preparing army were soon unnoticed by Ikaros as the bard drew them into her tale.
"He spake, and round about him called the clouds and roused the ocean, wielding in his hand the trident! He summoned the hurricanes... all of the winds, and covered earth and sky with mists. While from above, the night fell suddenly...."
When she was finished to their appreciative applause and not a few blushes, Autolycus produced a flask of some evil mixture that soon had them laughing and exchanging stories. Ikaros at first ignored the strange looks they were getting from the soldiers readying about them. The sight of three men and a young girl laughing as a battle was prepared, clearly attracted attention, and Ikaros cringed automatically as one burly hoplite came over to demand: "Who the hell are you and what unit do you belong to? And whats that kid doin here?"
To Ikaros surprise found himself almost to his feet in her defense when Autolycus beat him to it and responded. "Shes the brains."
The thief pulled the man aside and spoke confidentially. "This is the Elite Missions Force, fella. Black Ops. For your own health, I dont think you want to ask any more questions. Just be thankful were here to do your dirty work when the real fighting starts."
The soldier stared at the motley group . Ikaros tried to look tough and inscrutable, and he felt his chest swell slightly. Salmakis growled, and the girl stared him down with a look that froze his heart. The soldier backed away muttering, "Okay... I was just..." before he vanished into the hubbub.
There was a nervous laugh from all four. "Black Ops?" Gabrielle sputtered. "What in Tartarus does that mean?"
Autolycus grinned. "It sounded good though, didnt it?"
At that moment they all heard the trumpeting from the command area, and the fields around them suddenly subsided into the silence of anticipation.
The thief suddenly recalled that something had been missed from the plan, so he asked, "Gabrielle? When we meet up with Xena, shes going to want a few weapons, you know. You didnt put any time in the schedule for me to get them."
Gabrielle didnt say anything, but stood up and went to a bag under her bedroll. With a reverence Ikaros might have felt was almost comic, she withdrew a sword and a metal ring, and even from his place by the fire he could feel the menace of the bejeweled weapons.
She looked up to see the thief looking at her with open admiration. She grinned. "They werent locked up very well..." Then the smile was lost. "I wont be able to take them back in with me, so I guess youre nominated." She seemed not to want to hand them over, but as she did, even the usually talkative Auto was silent for a moment.
"You know Ill take care of them like..."
Salmakis grunted. "So, this Xena. Shes really that good?"
"No," Auto looked up and smirked. "Shes really that bad."
There was a cough from behind them, and Gabrielle looked at her team and asked "Are we ready?"
There were nods and then they moved together to the front lines to take their positions.
Shes so pretty and neat
Shes so sweet and complete
Shes sung captain and sailors to sleep sleep sleep,
Shes sung Captain and sailors to sleep.
Then she robbed them of silver
She robbed them of gold
She robbed them of costly wares-o
Then took his broadsword instead of an oar
And paddled her way to the shore, shore, shore
And paddled her way to the shore...
-Maiden Alone on the Shore
Day 40: Before sunrise, City Lookout
Bulogus would often say that he was not just a watchman. He was a highly specialized mercenary, hired for one specific task as part of the security purchased by the miners of Namea. He was a skilled archer, formidable at hand to hand combat, and had been fired upon more times than he could remember. Even so, the sight of two full sized catapults being moved into position and aimed directly at his station on the city walls was causing a serious intestinal problem.
Though not an experienced tactician, he was still capable of trying to figure out what this meant other than his own probable death. Why attack this rear section of the walls while the main force was off assaulting the front gates?
His post was heavily fortified, with little wood for the catapults cargo to burn. There was only a small entry directly beneath him which was covered by the bow of his partner Astus in another alcove below and to his left. The iron door was locked, and it was completely barricaded on the side opening onto the city. Anyone foolish enough to try to crash through it would attract the arrows of Astus. Even if they were able to smash their way through alive, they would be caught inside the walls at the base of a small winding stair where they would be picked off one at a time by an alerted Bulogus firing from above. What by Ares sword were they up to?
The first flame ball passed over him by a good series of lengths and he still had the presence of mind to yell to Astus, "Look smart, theyre up to some..." but his cry was covered by the explosion of fire behind him. He could hear the reserves being awakened from their exhaustion as the fire brigades headed for the tainted water supplies used to dowse the flames from this unexpected rear attack.
He had time to look to see if Astus was still in place when the second catapult fired at that location, before seeing to his horror that adjustments were being made to the first catapult to head the next canister directly at him. His eyes widened and he flung himself down to the ground behind the stone walls, so he was not able to see the small runner burst from the lines towards the other guard post. Nor the other three that made the shorter dash to the walls on the near side.
Ikaros had almost made his run the moment he had seen the first shot fired, but the guard had stayed at his post. He was trembling, his eyes focused on his objective as it received a near direct hit from the second catapult. He readied for his run, "Imagine its your wife there" Gabrielle had advised. So with that thought, he sprinted the moment Bulogus dropped from sight, covering the open ground and leaping over the low fortification before the smaller man inside could recover from the blast. It only took a quick blow to the head, and he was able to tear the helmet off the unconscious mercenary and place it on his own. As if on cue, the guard at the high tower was up and Ikaros waved an okay signal to him. No longer covered by his position, Gabrielle, Autolycus, and Salmakis crept along the walls to the small iron door beneath the watchtower.
For some reason Ikaros wished that he could tell the girl that the guard was alive, that it hadnt been necessary to use his knife, but any movement like that would have been suspicious. He kept his head low, and waited to see if the upper guards sounded an alarm. Minutes passed and he realised with almost fainting relief that he had been quick enough.
Meanwhile, Bulogus heard sounds in the corridor approaching his location. He was turning, reaching for the alarm bell, when he collided into a solid wall of man. He had time to look up into the eyes of the giant holding him and see the tocsin already being placed carefully back in its alcove. He couldn't see the second figure, but before stars filled his vision he heard him comment slyly, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it ain't for us." And then he was unconscious.
Have her wash it in yonder dry well
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
where water ne'er sprung nor drop of rain fell
And then she'll be a true love of mine
Day 40: Sunrise
As soon as it was clear that Autolycus and Salmakis were going to get through the gate, Gabrielle slipped her way along the walls to her rendezvous. The large wicker basket was exactly where it was supposed to be, but it was still with great trepidation she climbed gingerly aboard. She was just pulling her staff inside when the ropes tautened and it lurched upwards.
Gabrielle clutched the ropes that supported the basket, and tried not to look upwards along the walls of the fort.
Oh Gods, looking down is worse she swallowed as the ground swayed around her. I knew I didnt like this part of the plan. She wanted to check to see that the rest of the team had accomplished their objectives, but it seemed easier to keep her eyes closed as the basket continued to move upward in a series of jerks and pauses. She was just wondering how high up am I now? when the wind caught the basket and she began to sway so far from side to side having to grip the brim to remain in it. XENA! she called out inwardly. Im coming for you! She focused on that thought until the basket settled and it began to rise again.
She knew they were finally reaching the top when the rate of ascent slowed and she could hear the grunts of the men hauling on the ropes. The baskets rim caught on the top of the walls and tipped over. Shed anticipated that and with staff firmly in hand pushed herself out, trying to land gracefully.
She looked up to find herself surrounded by soldiers led by a slightly built man dressed in silken clothes.
Agathes was bubbling over with smugness.
"Welcome, Bard. Im so very happy you made it here. I think you may be just the key to a certain lock that Ive been looking for."
Gabrielle was able to get the satisfaction of seeing three of the soldiers fall before they overwhelmed her.