In The Heart Of The Siege: Part 4
Disclaimer: 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.
Have her find me an acre of land
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Between the sea foam and over the sand
And then she'll be a true love of mine
Day 41: Sunset
On a corner of the shadowed edges of the tented multitude, in what had been the main square, Gabrielle sat by herself, trying to hate Xena.
She was disguised as an old woman, in a row of others segregated by their age and a sense of uselessness in the present circumstances, who each watched the hardships around them with cloudy and helpless eyes.
Starving seems to affect different people different ways, Gabrielle thought morosely.
Nearby a woman with two hollow eyed children had apparently sold her body for a promise of a chicken. Now with the promise not fulfilled, she stood screaming at a leering man, and enduring the taunts of his friends while the children watched as well. It was only one in a series of disputes she had witnessed as civilizations veneer crumbled before fear and hunger.
Gabrielle watched the exchange helplessly, knowing that everything depended on her not attracting any attention. Guilt ridden, she thought of the food that they had in the tent just behind her. Sharing it would draw attention. Helping out in the hospice would draw attention. Writing down her thoughts of this moment was also out.... all because Xena would count on it and have people watching for her.
Damn her! Damn it! I risked my life and these mens lives. I was willing to do anything. I was ready to break every principle, every tenet and belief to keep our pact of partnership. When I think of all those times I stayed still with a knife at my throat, trusting in what I saw in her eyes..
Even now she was afraid to raise her own to the tower where she knew Xena was plotting. In case somehow the warrior would sense her through her disguise. The thought of her warrior, yes HER warrior, scheming away... Was she listening to her bards voice now? Or only Ares?
She withstood torture and a living death, Gabrielle. She finally broke in order to save you.
Damn her ten times!
Fine. She couldnt fight her feelings for Xena, her responsibility and conscience at the same time. She would solve this riddle. She had to. For each of the people around her and for Xena in spite of it all.
"Bread? Any bread for work?"
A beggars cry broke into her thoughts and she glanced upwards cautiously to meet the smile of Autolycus. He moved to sit beside her, his eyes darting about the masses.
"So hows the big guy doing.?"
She tried not to look towards the canvass awning where the giant was hidden. "Hes fine, just a little tent fever. Wheres Ikaros?" Since Xena had no doubt given out descriptions of Auto and Gabrielle, and as Salmakis was just too large to not be noticed, only Ikaros could move freely. "Have you got everything?"
Autolycus went through the list of items. "We have the binding twine, the paints and stains and I think this latest batch of soap will make a foam thatll last for more than long enough."
"Are you sure we need the foam? It hardly fits the symptoms."
"Gabrielle, its all about show. And you did ask for our contributions."
"Are you okay?"
She recognised the concern even as she rejected it. "Im ready, and thats all that counts. You picked out the volunteers?"
"Just waiting for the change of guard. With a little help from Salmakis, I think we can press gang a few helpers. So, can I go tell him the good news? Itll be dark soon, and I think hed like to be out and bopping a few heads."
"Make sure theyre capable of walking afterwards."
"We dont want any unnecessary deaths either, Gabrielle."
"Theyll be more effective if they can move. Thats all," she muttered.
There was that bite in her voice, even as she kept the tone quiet. "Dont patronize me, Auto. Well all do what we have to do."
"Gabrielle... dont..." the thief found himself at a loss for once.
Auto hesitated, but completed the thought. "Dont lose whats most precious to you ."
Gabrielle was silent for a moment before answering quietly, "What if I already have?"
Id rather be in some dark holler
Where the sun refused to shine
Then to see you, as another mans darling
And to know you never can be mine
Day 41: Evening
Gabrielle would have recognized the signs. The unusual, rare, and very hard to detect mark of a nervous Warrior Princess. She also might have found pleasure in the reasons for it.
No word or action from Gabrielle for one day and night.
Xena was not one for agonizing over opponents or details normally. But never before had she had to face an opponent as unpredictable as this one, or one that knew her as well
Better than anyone in fact.
Then toss in that Gabrielle might be hurt, that Ares might interfere, that Gabrielle might actually decide that my death was the only solution... and would she be wrong?
NO! Ive got to stop this. Its not like I dont have enough to keep me busy. Compartmentalize. Sort, review and then wait. Why cant I do that this time?
Anyway. Maybe Im overreacting. Overestimating Gabrielle just as I underestimated her before. Perhaps shes just waiting for me, trying to find a way to contact me to help her?< /P>
The answer came as all Tartarus broke loose outside.
She almost leaped over one of the soldiers she had promoted to her assistant as she charged down the stairway.
"Andronicus, whats going on?" she called as she passed him.
The young man tried to keep up with his commander. "I dont know, but someones yelling about plague!"
When they burst into the barracks, there was tumult. She was shocked to see that several guards had left their stations and panic was in evidence on everyones face.
She grabbed the first man she knew was supposed to be on duty and demanded "Why arent you at your post?"
Shaking his head, afraid of the one thing that he feared more than this woman, he babbled, " Plague! Men came at us. like zombies like... Like him! Look!"
He pointed at a figure staggering towards them. It was a soldier; his face covered with red blotches. A foam flecked mouth opened and closed as though he was without reason.
Xena snarled. "You idiots! Plague? And rabid at the same time? I dont think so."
To the amazement of the cowering men she strode directly over to the soldier and wiped away the foam, to uncover twine strapped about his mouth. She hung her head, but her mind was racing. She turned to address the regiment. "They were walking funny because theyve been trussed up to walk that way, and they were foaming and grunting because they have this bit across their mouths and soapsuds painted on." She shouted to the watchman. "Quick! Get up to your post and see what you werent supposed to see."
She snapped the cord and demanded of the man, "Who?"
"Two men, maybe three, but it was a witch in charge, in the shape of a girl," he gasped out. "She said to tell you... she sent you a message...."
"She said she would make you pay."
The warrior closed her eyes, but a something she recognised as faith made her ask: "Did she say make me pay, or that there would be paybacks?"
The soldier blinked in confusion. "Paybacks. Why?"
Relief. Blessed relief flowed through her and her strained muscles sagged in release. "It makes a difference." All the difference in the world.
A shout from the top of the walls distracted them all. "I can see... four people, headed for Rukcals headquarters! Out of our bowmans range now."
All turned to see how their commander was taking this, but she simply turned and walked back to her tower. They might have been surprised at her thoughts though.
"Gods speed, Gabrielle. But you will be back, wont you? For me?"
"I hae seven ships upon the sea
The eighth brought me to land
With four and twenty bold mariners
and music on every hand..."
-The Demon Lover
Day 42: After Midnight
The moon was momentarily obscured by clouds and the resonance of the usual night sounds fell silent in the woods outside Rukcals main encampment. Gabrielle quickly moved into her defensive stance, gripping the staff. The rustling sound had come from behind her, and not from the direction she was expecting her visitor. She straightened as Autolycus form emerged from the bush.
"Auto?" she hissed in anger. "Get back to the camp! Im supposed to be meeting Rukcal alone."
"I checked, and hes nowhere near. So I thought Id see how you were doing."
Still agitated, she nervously released a puff of air that lifted her bangs for a moment. "I 146;m fine."
"You keep saying that, but I dont think so."
"Auto," she cried in exasperation
He shrugged and squatted his frame on a stump. "Okay. Youre great. But I thought you might like to hear what the guys are saying about you. Come on. Youve got time. Pull up a log."
Taking a glance about her, she nodded and sat down beside him.
"I think youll like this. Salmakis just said that Xena couldnt be such a great leader, because part of the leader skills package is that they should be able to evaluate the people closest to them. Well, he didnt say evaluate, but anyway, he said that by giving up on you, she obviously didnt do a very good job. He said hed follow you ahead of Xena any day. And Ikaros agreed. Id say you have your own private army now."
He wore a strange grin that Gabrielle didnt find familiar, and she uneasily responded, "I just did what Xena taught me to do."
"Uh huh. The pupil beat the teacher, Gabrielle. And come on. You have to admit, you would have loved to have seen her face when she figured out the plague scam. Admit it."
Gabrielle stared at the man beside her before rising and gripping the staff, even though she knew it was useless. With a suddenly dry mouth, she said, "Youre not Autolycus."
The form in front of her seemed to melt somehow into a slightly different shape, burlier, with different leathers. Ares smiled and said, "No, but is that really a bad thing?"
Fighting the fear that she felt, and all that his presence here might mean, she managed to ask, "What do you want?"
"Oh Gabrielle. Im here to show you something. Im here to stop you from taking steps on a path I know youll regret someday."
And then the woods were gone.
She was standing in a large dusty cavern, with thousands of skeins and threads crowding around her. More then she had seen in the largest shops in Athens. The God of War waited for her first question.
"Where is this place?"
"I would have thought a bard would recognise it immediately."
Recognition dawned. "The Fates..."
"Good. I hate when I have to run through the basics with mortals. Now Im going to do you that favour, Gabrielle. Show you something few mortals ever see. And Im going to give you a chance to change your fate."
He directed her eyes to his side. "See this strand? This is yours and this is Xenas. Notice the purity of this one... and how it contrasts so much with the dark one? But as they become more entwined, the white will grow dirtier, dimmer until..." Ares waved his hand and a kind of mirror appeared before them both. Gabrielle would have fallen backwards if his arm had not been prepared for that move. She felt no comfort reposing in that strong restraint, but there was something that prickled her senses.
The pictures she was looking at consisted of a series of montages, of herself but not herself. A deadlier, stronger woman, who was tearing through a line of soldiers using some form of small sword. She watched in mute fascination as several spurts of blood stained her arms and legs, and yet this Gabrielle did not blink or hesitate. Just moved on in lethal brilliancy. Ares whispered into her ear. "Tell me if this is what you had planned for yourself."
"No. Thats not me, not..." she stuttered.
"Who you are? Oh yes, it is."
She desperately tried to get her reeling mind to work. What had Xena told her about Ares? He never lied but... "I can change this, cant I?"
Another wave and the vision was gone. "Only if you leave Xena. Only if you leave her path as it slowly, inevitably darkens your own thread."
She had to think. He never lies, but... what? He... he avoids the truth! That was it. What is he not saying...?
"Xena," she declared.
Ares shook his head at her non sequitor. "What?"
Swallowing, she said, "Where is Xenas future?"
There. The God was slightly off balance. "This isnt about her. This is about you."
Now she spoke with confidence. "No. It isnt. You dont give a damn about me. This is all about Xena. She changes as well, doesnt she? We change each other. Thats what youre frightened of."
Taken by surprise Ares took a moment before moving aggressively towards her. "Are you willing to give up your soul for the chance of her becoming a bit... more mellow?"
Gabrielle didnt move an inch from where she stood. "If thats all it was, you wouldnt be talking to me now. A Xena fighting for the greater good can change the world. Save thousands of lives. And that, " and to his astonishment the girl pointed a steady finger at him, "and anything else that upsets the God of War is GREAT in my scroll."
Trying to be casual, Ares threw up his arms and pronounced, "Fine. I was just trying to be helpful."
Anger was still blazing from the green eyes. "You were doing what you always do. Helping yourself. Well, Xenas not yours. Not anymore."
"And whose is she? Yours?" he laughed.
"Shes who she is. Her own, and so am I."
Now he stared directly into her eyes. "I could crush you. Like that. " He moved to snap his fingers, but stopped. "... and no one would know."
Somehow she didnt flinch. "Then why havent you?"
Grinning again, he backed away spreading his hands. "Because that would be too easy. Or you might be useful. But I may get lazy, so dont press me, little girl."
Suddenly she was back standing in the woods, and alone except for a whisper that came from no specific direction. "You are so very young, Gabrielle. With so many things to learn..."
She remained where she was for a moment, listening to the pounding of her heart, when her knees crumpled beneath her. Her breathing and her hands began to shake and the tremors began to spread to the rest of her body.
How does Xena face him? How do you face down a God? And what will he do? I cant beat him, I cant....
Yes. I can. Xena can. I will. I have to. Somehow. There is always a way.