The Amazons' Boy
by Day

Part 7
 

CHAPTER XXIX
 
 

Two days later, a messenger from King Kassander arrived. The message was short and clear: Surrender or die. Their reply was just as short and straight forward: We´ll die before we surrender. The fifth day, Kassander´s army came into view below them. Immediately all troops were put into alert and the soldiers hurried to get their horses from the stables or meet up with their commanding officer for further instructions. However, those instructions were long underway because the people instructing the officers, once again had difficulties reaching an agreement..

"It can´t be done, it´s never been done before!"

"Just because it hasn´t been done before doesn´t mean it´s impossible." Xena´s fingers gently caressed the hard form of her chakram, "Besides the Amazons are used to warfare like that, their experience will help us."

"But nobody´s done it before, not with a large battle like this. It´s…it´s not right!"

The warrior looked sceptically at the red-headed General.

"I wasn´t aware there was a right way and a wrong way fighting a battle." She leaned back in the chair, "It´s the result that counts, nothing else."

"But attacking them at night!" Nicanot tried again, knowing he was fighting a losing battle. "Nobody´s ever attacked anybody at night before. At dawn yes, but not at night not with-."

"-With an army as large as ours." Xena interrupted, "I know, General, you´ve told me already." She looked curiously at him, "I´m aware, you´ve your head full of ideals and traditions of how to fight. Two armies meeting on a plain in broad daylight, during the summer of course, no fighting during harvest season, fighting man to man, honourably and skilfully, until one of them is either defeated or surrenders, but…" The warrior´s tone hardened, "This is not the time for heroics, this is the time for survival and don´t you lose sight of that, Nicanor. We don´t have the luxury of choice in this matter. The darkness gives us an advantage, hopefully both of surprise and speed, and I´ll be damned if we´re not gonna take it." She cast a glance at Alexias, who nodded slowly.

"I think she´s right. It may be unconventional and probably not the way my father would want to do it," he smiled sadly, "but to me it sounds like a good plan, the plan most likely to give us a fair chance of defeating them."

"We´ll have to do it tomorrow night or the night after at the latest, that is if Kassander hasn´t attacked us by then."

Xena nodded. "Lykeas is right. Kassander won´t attack today and most likely not tomorrow either. He´ll have to rest his troops after the long march and, if I´m not quite mistaken, do some rearranging as well. I´m pretty sure, he must have lost soldiers crossing the river."

"What makes you think he crossed the river?" Zelei inquired.

"He´s here, that´s why. It´s the fastest way. If he hadn´t, he´d still be at least a day´s or two days´ march away."

Expecting further questions, the warrior kept her gaze on the Amazon, but to her surprise, the Captain only crossed her arms and leaned back, as if indicating she was finished.

"I assume the warriors are familiar with fighting in the dark?" Xena asked, turning to look at Callias. The blonde Amazon nodded, "Yes, they are."

"I´ll appreciate it if you and the other warriors would go through some techniques of communication and orientation when fighting nights with the soldiers. They´ll need it."

"Of course," the Captain replied, "but we´re only forty and there isn´t much time."

"I know, just do your best and Lykeas will work with his part of the infantry." She glanced at the dark man, "He´s familiar with the techniques already."

The dark warrior looked at her briefly, then stared back at the table.

"Any questions?" Xena waited a few seconds, but nobody reacted, "Good, then let´s get out of here, there´s much to do."
 


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"They´re fantastic!"

"Yes, I know," Gabrielle replied with pride in her voice, "even the most well-trained soldier will have to fear them."

"I never knew…" Alexias trailed off and watched with amazement as one of his father´s soldiers was easily defeated by an Amazon warrior.

"Not a lot do," the Queen answered, also looking intensely at the practice. "Men tend to underestimate the Amazons," she smiled as Erinya forced another swordsman to his knees. "Not for long though."

The Prince turned to look at her, "Have you often been attacked by outsiders?"

Gabrielle shrugged lightly, not wanting to think about the last time they´d been attacked. "It happens, but usually it´s not that serious. The occasional warlord or groups of thugs thinking we´re an easy target."

"But you´re not?"

The Queen smiled again, "No."

They continued to watch the training, both marvelling at the skills the Amazon warriors and some of the soldiers showed.

"King Simmias´ men fight extremely well," Alexias said. "If I didn´t know better, I´d say they have started to fight like Amazons."

Gabrielle laughed quietly. "Maybe you´re right, Lykeas did train them after all and he´d know what to show them."

The young man looked away from the men and women fighting, a puzzled expression in his eyes.

"What do you mean, he´d know what to show them? I´ve never seen Lykeas spend much time with any of your Amazons."

"Well," the Queen began, "it´s a long story that I won´t tell you now, all I´ll say is that Lykeas was raised in an Amazon village and learned to fight there."

"Oh…" Alexias said softly, letting his eyes run over the camp, trying to catch a glimpse of the dark warrior, "I see."

He looked at Gabrielle again, "I take it his childhood wasn´t much…fun?"

The Queen hesitated, not sure what or how much she wanted to say. During her last months in the village, she´d learned that the subject of Lemea was still something most Amazons avoided, and aside from her short conversation with Ephiny about it, nobody else had seemed willing to talk. The young Prince had no trouble understanding Gabrielle´s silence.

"Found a sore spot, did I?" He asked in an inquiring, but friendly voice.

The Queen nodded, "Yeah, you could say that."

Alexias eyes searched the camp again, "I guess that explains a lot."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh nothing," he shook his head. "Just thinking."

Gabrielle watched him curiously, experiencing a strange sense of deja vú, but before she could speak, she saw Xena coming out from the stables, squinting a few times against the fading light of the sun, before noticing the green eyes watching her. A smile appeared on the warrior´s face and she began to make her way towards them, but halfway there, the smile abruptly disappeared. Gabrielle looked in bewilderment as Xena´s gaze suddenly darted away and her face turned from friendly and affectionate into an expression of uncertainty and turmoil. It took her only a second to realize what it was the warrior had seen. Overlooking the enemy camp below him was Lykeas, a cold and calculating expression clearly showing in the black eyes. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword as he turned to speak a few words to the group of soldiers standing beside him. The men eagerly saluted and then hurried away to carry out whatever it was they had been ordered to do. The dark warrior looked towards the horizon for a few moments more, before he turned away again and in the split second his gaze met Gabrielle´s, she could swear she saw a longing in his eyes, a longing that was more powerful and more real than any other emotion she´d ever seen on his face. Then he noticed Xena and instantly the expression was gone. Alexias and Gabrielle saw the two warriors slowly close the distance between them, coming to a halt only inches away from each other. It was impossible to hear the few words exchanged and only the bard´s intimate knowledge of Xena´s silent way of communicating with looks and almost imperceptible movements, told her that whatever it was that was discussed, it was of a great importance to them both. Suddenly Lykeas reached out and put his hand under Xena´s chin, forcing her to look him directly into the eyes. His next words to the warrior caused her demeanour to change from hunter to hunted and her entire body stiffened, but she didn´t pull away. They stood like this for a long time, then Lykeas released her, his hand brushing her face gently in the process. He began to walk away and Gabrielle assumed the confrontation was over, but a couple of yards away he turned around to face the warrior again, whose eyes hadn´t left him for a second. The dark man smiled sadly, apparently unaware of all the eyes now watching him.

"Things may turn out entirely different, Xena. I know what you fear, but have you considered the fact you might not have a reason to feel that way at all?"

He didn´t expect an answer and started to walk away again.

"But you can´t promise me, Lykeas, can you?"

Xena´s surprisingly strained voice didn´t stop him as he continued towards the centre of the camp.
 


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The bard wasn´t surprised to see Xena pacing back and forth in her tent when she arrived later that evening after having had a short meeting with her Captains. The warrior acknowledged her presence with a nod and stopped to sit down in the chair, only to jump up seconds later and resume her pacing. Gabrielle sighed inaudibly and sat down on the pallet, drawing her knees up to rest her chin upon them.

"Are you gonna tell me what´s bothering you?"

Xena answered with an unintelligible grunt and raised her hands dismissively.

"Is something wrong with Lykeas? Did you have a fight?"

The warrior paused to look at the bard for a moment, but Gabrielle had an uncanny feeling that she was looking right through her.

"No."

The blond woman sighed and raised a tired hand to rub her left temple where a headache was starting to form.

"What is it then?"

Xena sat down in the chair again, but still wasn´t able to remain seated and quickly got back on her feet.

"It´s just…" She paused, angrily biting her lip, "It´s just something Lykeas and I have to work out, it´s no big deal."

Gabrielle could see that the warrior was about to begin pacing again and quickly stood up to take her hand. She gently, but determined led the agitated, but willing woman back to the pallet and they both sat down, facing each other.

"No big deal, you say…"

Xena shrugged, "I´m probably…" She sighed and looked down at her hands in her lap, "It´s just… I´d wish, I wouldn´t have to face this now." She looked up again, a bittersweet smile flickering across her face, "The timing´s lousy, but then again, Lykeas and I were never good at that."

The bard was beginning to feel frustrated, but managed to make her voice sound neutral.

"Xena, what are you talking about? What is it you have to face and what do you mean by the timing being lousy? I don´t understand a word of what you´re saying."

The warrior reached out and took one of Gabrielle´s hands into her own, mindlessly drawing small patterns in the bard´s palm.

"Don´t worry about it, Gabrielle. I´ll find a way to work it all out."

Abruptly the bard pulled her hand away and Xena looked up in surprise.

"What?"

"You´re doing it again!"

"What?!"

"Keeping things from me! I thought, we´d come to an understanding about that. You don´t keep anything important from me and I don´t keep anything important from you. Didn´t we agree upon that?"

The warrior squirmed uncomfortably under Gabrielle´s angry stare.

"Well yes, but this…this is…different."

She looked at the bard as if that explained everything.

"In what way, Xena? In what way is this different?"

Xena broke eye contact and looked down at her hands again, muttering something Gabrielle couldn´t make out.

"Look at me, please."

The warrior reluctantly raised her head.

"Xena, I know that whatever it is there´s going on with you and Lykeas it´s something you´re very concerned about, and I really want to help you, but I can´t… Not if you won´t tell me about it."

The warrior grimaced uncertainly, the blue eyes full of doubt.

"Don´t you trust me enough to tell me?"

"Of course I do!" Xena hurried to answer, claiming the bard´s hand again to squeeze it reassuringly. "It´s just… it´s just, I don´t know if there´s anything to tell at all, maybe I´m just overreacting or something, but…"

"But what," Gabrielle asked softly.

"But I know him so well."

She smiled sadly and lifted the blond woman´s hand briefly to her lips. "I´d like to tell you what´s worrying me, but I can´t…not now. I´d feel like…like I was betraying his trust or something like that. Please don´t ask me to do that."

Gabrielle was silent for a long time, trying to piece all the fragments of information she´d received together in her head, then she gave the hand holding hers a gentle squeeze.

"I´d never ask you to do anything like that… I just hate seeing you like this, it makes me feel so helpless…useless."

"You´re never useless," the warrior said vehemently. "Never."

"But when-."

Xena raised her hand, silencing the bard and then stood up.

"I have to go now, there´s still much to do before the attack tomorrow night."

She saw Gabrielle´s crestfallen expression and pulled the bard up and into her arms.

"I will tell you. Soon. But until then, I´ll have to ask you to trust me. I´m dealing with this the only way I can. I owe him that."

"I do trust you," the bard whispered, "but I don´t understand… Do I…do I have reason to be afraid?"

"Not about me," the warrior replied just as quietly, before kissing Gabrielle softly on the mouth. "Not about me."
 


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"I´m looking for Arichoros, do you know where I can find him?"

The soldiers´ quiet chatter faded and they looked up from the fire to see their commanding officer standing in the dancing shadows created by the flames.

"Lykeas!" One of the soldiers, a young bearded man exclaimed, "Why don´t you join us? We were just discussing the upcoming battle."

"Yeah," another man continued, "we have both food and wine," he gestured at the items to emphasize his point. "After all the work you´ve done with us, you deserve a break."

Several of the other soldiers nodded in agreement, most of them looking at the dark warrior with open admiration in their eyes.

"Yes," the young man who had spoken first continued, "please join us, it´ll be fun."

Lykeas smiled briefly, but shook his head, "I´m sorry, I can´t, not tonight anyway."

His eyes went from one soldier´s face to the next, imprinting every detail, then he looked back at the bearded man.

"Lyssander, I´m looking for Arichoros, where do you think he is?"

The soldier beamed at the use of his name and pointed towards the stables. "I think, he went in there… To find a bit of privacy, if you know what I mean…" Lyssander trailed off suddenly as he noticed the expression on Lykeas´ face harden.

"Yeah, I know… Don´t drink too much, if I come back I find any of you drunk, you´ll all be punished."

The men nodded eagerly and he turned and started to walk away.

"What´s with him?" One of the soldiers mumbled to his friend, who only shrugged.

"He´s probably got a lot on his mind."

The soldiers looked at each other, then continued their earlier conversation, all making sure that nobody drank too much.

Lykeas entered the stable quietly and paused to listen. A loud snoring filled the air, mingling with the muffled sounds of the horses breathing and hooves shifting. He had no problems locating the sleeping man, who was lying spread-eagled in the last stall in the back of the stable. He was only half dressed, his shirt, weapons and boots lying discarded all over the straw covered ground. It was obvious that the soldier hadn´t entered the stable alone, but whoever had been with him was gone now and Lykeas doubted that much had taken place. Even from where he was standing the smell of alcohol was strong and unpleasant. He stepped closer till he was standing directly above the almost unconscious man, wrinkling his nose at the stale smell emanating from Arichoros´ body. Then he stepped back slightly and kicked the man forcefully in the ribs. A deep groan followed the low thud where Lykeas´ boot connected with the soldier´s body, but the drunken man didn´t wake up. The dark warrior tilted his head and studied the slumped form below him and then he smiled. In a few long strides he was out of the stable and at the watering trough outside. He filled the bucket standing beside it and went back inside.

"Phefff… What the fuck is…" Arichoros angrily wiped his face and spat a few times. "What in Tartarus do you think you´re doing? You´re gonna fucking pay for this!"

"Really?"

The soldier stiffened as he recognized the voice and began frantically to rub his eyes. "Sir? Lykeas? Is that you?"

He looked up at the shadow looming over him and his heart sank when he saw the piercing black eyes. He tried to get to his feet, but fell back down on one knee, still feeling the after effects of all the wine he´d consumed earlier. Sitting on both knees, he looked up again, trying to keep the nervousness out of his voice.

"I´m sorry, sir. I know, I shouldn´t have drunk that much."

He winced and touched his left side gingerly, confused by the agonizing pain in his ribs.

"I promise, it´ll never happen again."

Lykeas let out a deep breath as if he was being burdened with an unpleasant, but necessary task.

"That´s not the problem, Arichoros." He spoke softly, "Not this time."

The soldier smiled with relief and was about to try another attempt at getting up, when the warrior´s voice stopped him.

"It´s much worse than that."

Arichoros sank back down, trying to avoid the contemplating gaze.

"Sir…?"

"I thought, I´d made myself perfectly clear on this matter."

He raised a hand and absently traced an eyebrow with his finger. "But as I learned earlier tonight, apparently not clear enough."

The soldier swallowed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand.

"What do you mean, sir? I said, I was sorry about the drinking. I´ll take whatever punishment you find appropriate."

Lykeas smiled and the man on the ground suddenly felt cold.

"I took a tour of the camp tonight."

The soldier didn´t know if he was supposed to respond and decided to remain silent. Whatever it was the warrior was displeased with, he was sure they´d get there soon enough.

"I even went as far as the followers´ camp. You know, the place where all the craftsmen, healers and whores hang out."

Arichoros nodded slowly, his confused brain trying to guess where his officer was heading.

"And I heard an interesting rumour."

"Yes…?" He asked hesitantly, getting the distinct feeling he wasn´t going to like the next part of the story.

"It was about a woman, a prostitute to be exact."

His knees were starting to hurt and Arichoros desperately wished that the warrior would hurry up and finish, but he didn´t dare rush him. He´d learned soon enough during the long practice sessions back in Simmias´ castle that nobody rushed Lykeas.

"She´d been raped."

The soldier paled instantly.

"By a man who didn´t even bother to pay her afterwards."

He studied the man below him, the black eyes eerily distanced. "And the funny thing is, she claimed he came from my part of the infantry."

He leaned down to stare into Arichoros´ wide open eyes.

"But you know… That can´t really be, can it? Because I distinctly remember forbidding all the men under my command to even think the thought of taking advantage of any woman or man they might encounter."

He leaned back again.

"So she must be lying, mustn´t she, Arichoros?"

As the soldier looked into the cold, black eyes, the thought of denying it all quickly left his mind. When Lykeas didn´t get an answer he continued, his voice maintaining it´s calm, clinical tone.

"So of course, I didn´t believe her, but…" He shook his head as if being very disappointed by the actions of a naughty child. "But she even claimed to know his name, and she also claimed that he had a leaf shaped scar on his left shoulder."

The dark warrior leaned down again.

"Well, what do you know… It looks like you have a scar like that, what a coincidence."

Arichoros felt his knees weaken and his eyes darted nervously from Lykeas´ face to the stable door and back.

"She was just a whore, a slut," he whispered, pressing his sweaty palms against his still aching ribs. "She wasn´t important."

Lykeas didn´t answer.

"Everybody does it! It happens all the time, it´s war for crying out loud!" The soldier´s voice was both defiant and defensive. "I know what you said, but why do you have to get so upset about this? There´s really no reason to, it´s no big deal."

Arichoros screamed as a boot kicked him squarely in the ribs and he tumbled backwards, his head hitting the ground hard. Another kick followed and the soldier tried to curl up to protect his ribs, only accomplishing the next kick to be in his head.

"How dare you defy my orders?" A voice suddenly whispered into his ear.

"I´ll never do it again! Never, I swear-." Arichoros cried out, his last words cut short by a fist slamming into his mouth.

As the punches kept coming, the soldier closed his eyes tightly to lock out the image of the dark man and the disinterested and blank expression on his face.

"Please, I won´t… Never..." He whimpered almost inaudibly and just before everything went black he heard a voice, seemingly coming from far, far away.

"I know."
 


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CHAPTER XXX
 
 
 
 

Together with a faint grey light, the early dawn brought the cold. A dry, but chilling wind swept across the landscape driving away the last traces of the morning mist, and the Amazon guards shivered and pulled their coats tighter around them. They were posted at the far end of the plain, directly overlooking the hundreds of enemy tents further below. Erinya shuddered again as the wind managed to find a way under her coat and lightly brush her numb body, she had been on guard for the last five hours and was looking forward to be relieved. She heard soft footsteps behind her and saw Zelei approach, trying to stifle a yawn.

"You look like Tartarus."

"Well, thank you," Zelei replied sarcastically, "that damn wind´s howling kept me awake all night."

She shook her head and blinked a few times, "Anything interesting to report?"

"Nah," the weapons master answered, rubbing her palms together to bring a bit of warm back to her hands. "Everything´s been peaceful except for a few drunken Persians who wanted to come straight up here and fight last night. Fortunately their more sober friends managed to restrain them."

"Fortunately." Zelei repeated.

"Yeah, fortunately."

The two Amazons looked at each other and then they exclaimed at the same time, "For them!"

"What´s so funny?"

Slowly they managed to get their laughing under control and turned to meet the inquiring gaze of their Queen.

"Oh nothing, Your Majesty." Zelei began before a coughing fit interrupted her words.

"Nothing important," Erinya continued and smiled at the blond woman, "but what are you doing here, my Queen, it´s still early. You should be sleeping while there´s still time."

Gabrielle shrugged, "I know, but the wind´s keeping me awake and after Xena left to check on Argo, it was too cold to remain still."

Unreadable green eyes darted to the Captain´s face and the black eye patch, before returning to the weapons master.

"So I thought, I might as well see how my tough warriors were doing. Any cold feet?" The last remark was accompanied by a warm smile and both Amazons smiled in return.

"You´ve no idea," Erinya replied, looking down at her boots, "I think, I stopped feeling my feet two hours ago."

"Well, your shift is over now, isn´t it? So why don´t you get out of here and heat up some water for your feet, we´re gonna need all of you for the attack tonight."

"I think, I might just do that." The weapons master looked at Zelei. "Okay, you´re in charge now, have fun."

"Hahaha," the Captain answered and gave the Amazon a friendly slap on the butt. "Get out of here before I change my mind."

Erinya started to walk away and an awkward silence settled between the two remaining women. Gabrielle shifted her weight from one foot to the other, searching her mind for something to say.

"I´ll be right back, Your Majesty," Zelei then said before the Queen had the change to open her mouth. "I´ll just make sure the fire doesn´t die."

Gabrielle nodded and watched as the Amazon walked the short distance to the glowing embers that was all there was left of the night´s fire. Zelei put her axe on the ground and began to blow on the embers while adding a couple of the branches lying nearby. Suddenly a faint sound made her look up and past the Queen. Her eye narrowed and Gabrielle turned in confusion to see what it was the Captain had noticed. A single horseman was thundering up towards them. The bard´s eyes were drawn to the single rider and she saw his ruddy face contort into a savage grin as he stood up in the saddle, and pulled an arrow from the quiver attached to his back. Angry shouts sounded from the enemy camp below and Zelei realized that whatever it was the soldier intended to do, it was something he´d thought of himself. As the horse sped up, she saw the man almost lose his balance and only with a firm grip on the reins, did he manage to stay in the saddle.

Aha, he´s drunk. Must be one of them Erinya mentioned earlier.

He was close now and Gabrielle could feel the ground shake under her feet. Feeling strangely detached, she watched the soldier place the arrow on the bow, raise it and aim. She looked down at the staff in her hands and saw to her surprise that her knuckles were white from gripping it so tightly. She looked back up and focused on the Persian´s bloodshot eyes, hardly hearing the frantic shouts from the weapons master as the Amazon stormed back towards them, while trying to prepare her own bow. Zelei´s eye went from the approaching Amazon to the even faster approaching soldier. She looked at the staff in the Queen´s hands and then back at the man who was now close enough to shoot.

"Gabrielle!" Erinya shouted desperately, "Get down!"

The Captain grabbed her axe and got up from her kneeling position by the fire.

She won´t make it. He´s too close. You´re not fast enough, Erinya.

Gabrielle widened her stance, hoping against hope she´d somehow be able to deflect the arrow.

"Zelei!"

The Amazon heard the weapons master shout her name and turned briefly to meet her eyes, then in one fluid motion she threw her axe a few feet up in the air, caught it again and hurled it past the Queen. Gabrielle shrank back as she heard the whistling sound and saw the axe embed itself deeply into the Persian´s chest, instantly spraying his face with blood. He fell forwards, down the horse, but his right foot got caught in the stirrup and he was dragged behind the panicking horse, who reared before running back down the slope.

"Oh thank Gods!" Erinya managed to squeeze out between wheezing breaths when she finally reached her Queen. "That could have been…" She stopped, drawing another deep breath.

Gabrielle touched the Amazon´s shoulder reassuringly, but her eyes were on the Captain, standing with her back to them, still looking in the direction of the soldier.

"Zelei?"

The brown-haired woman turned around, an annoyed expression on her face.

"He´s got my axe. The bastard stole my axe!"

The Queen had to smile at the Amazon´s words. "Well, he might not see it that way." She stepped closer and hesitated only briefly before offering her hand.

"Thank you, Zelei."

The Captain barely took her hand before releasing it again, "No problem."

She looked down at the enemy camp again and sighed.

"I´d just wish, I still had my axe. It was my favourite."
 


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Xena forcefully pushed her way through the crowd, not caring about the angry protests from the warriors she nearly knocked over.

"Gabrielle! Are you all right?"

Without waiting for an answer, the warrior put her hands on the bard´s shoulders and worried blue eyes subjected the slender body to a thorough study. Gabrielle blushed faintly as she saw the friendly, but amused smiles from the Amazons around them. She gently put her own hands on the warrior´s.

"Xena, I´m fine. I wasn´t hurt."

The tall woman leaned back a bit, searching Gabrielle´s body one more time for any sign of injury, before slowly releasing her grip on the bard´s shoulders.

"You sure?"

Gabrielle nodded, "Yes, he never got a chance. Zelei took care of that."

"Zelei?" The warrior grimaced. "She killed him?"

"Yes," the bard nodded again, a smile appearing on her face, "and lost a damn good axe in the process."

Xena stepped back slightly, "Oh…"

She suddenly became aware of all the eyes resting upon them and looked around.

"Don´t you got anywhere to be?"

To her annoyance she heard several chuckles from the warriors that didn´t seem to be the least bit intimidated by her menacing glare, but at least they all went and left them alone. Gently, but firmly she took the bard by the arm and led her into the nearest tent.

"Xena," Gabrielle protested, "this is not-."

Her words were cut short by a warm, demanding mouth and she willingly let all her protests slide. After all, there were more important matters to attend to. Long minutes later, Xena finally released the bard´s lips, but continued to hold the young woman in her arms. Gabrielle moved a hand away from the warrior´s neck and affectionately brushed a few dark strands away.

"Feeling better now?"

Xena´s eyes widened in surprise, "You´re asking me?"

"Yes."

"I wasn´t the one who was nearly killed."

The bard smiled, "I know, but I´m still asking."

The warrior opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it again and was silent for a few moments. Then a warm smile slowly drove the worry from her face.

"You´re amazing, you know that?"

Gabrielle laughed quietly and leaned in to rest her head against Xena´s chest, wrapping her arms around the warrior´s waist.

"Only with you, love. Only with you."

She felt Xena´s arms tighten around her and sighed contentedly. If it were up to her, she´d be happy to stay in the warrior´s arms for the rest of her life.

"Oh, sorry… I didn´t know there was anybody in here."

They both looked up and saw Alexias stand in the opening of the tent, looking totally embarrassed.

Gabrielle smiled at the young man, "Is it your tent?"

"Err…yes, but you´re welcome to use it… That is, I mean..if…what I´m saying is…you…"

The bard could feel silent laughter rumble in the warrior´s chest and fought to remain serious, there was no reason to make the Prince more uncomfortable than he already was.

"Is okay, Alexias. We were…we were just leaving."

She slipped out of Xena´s arms and patted him on the shoulder, "I´ll see you later."

She lifted the tent flap and disappeared and the warrior started to follow, but was stopped by the young man´s voice.

"Uh…Xena?"

She turned around, "Yes?"

The Prince swallowed nervously, "I was wondering…"

"Yes?" She said again, trying not to sound too impatient.

Alexias steeled himself, "I was wondering if you had any advice to give me."

"Advice?"

"Yes, about the attack tonight. You know, I´m going to lead my father´s part of the cavalry instead of the infantry, and I thought that maybe you could give me a few hints or something…" He faltered, before starting again. "I know this must seem tedious to you, but I really want to do a good job, my father…my father is counting on me. If my brothers were still alive it wouldn´t have been a problem, but since they´re not I have to…I have to…" He smiled sadly, "I musn´t fail."

Xena studied the young man in front of her, considering her options. She knew that what he needed the most was experience and that wasn´t something she could help him with, but she also knew that he was in need of some kind of reassurance otherwise he wouldn´t have come to her. She crossed her arms and looked at him sternly.

"Do your men respect you?"

"Yes, they do, but what-."

"Do they know what to do?"

He nodded.

"Do you feel capable of leading them?"

He was silent for a few moments, "Yes, yes I think so."

"You think so…?"

He raised his head and met her eyes, "I know, I am."

He was surprised by a sudden smile from the warrior.

"Well in that case, what do you have to worry about?"

Alexias looked away briefly, then back at Xena, a smile of his own showing on the beautiful face.

"When you put it like that, nothing I guess…"

"You always have to see things in the right perspective," the warrior said, feeling surprisingly good about herself. "I´m sure you´ll do both your brothers and your father honour, in fact… I know you will."

Deciding that was enough moral support for one day, Xena started to walk towards the tent flap again.

"Thanks."

She raised her hand half-heartedly, "Don´t mention it."

The Prince stood alone in the tent for a couple of minutes, then his eyes fell on the object he´d come for, he grabbed the axe and went outside.
 


***************


 






"Have you seen, Zelei?"

Lykeas took the water skin from his lips and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"No."

Then he took another sip.

"Oh…" Alexias looked around, "I wanted to give her my spare axe, I heard, she´s lost hers."

"Try the forest, that´s usually a good place to start when looking for Amazons."

"That one?" The Prince asked, pointing in the direction of the dark forest they had been travelling through a couple of days ago.

"Uh huh, "Lykeas replied disinterestedly, his eyes lingering on the axe in the young man´s hand. "That´s a nice piece you got there."

Alexias nodded, "It was Polyidos´ axe."

The dark warrior´s brow furrowed, "He was your brother, right?"

The Prince nodded again.

"You sure, you want to give it to her?" Lykeas continued, still eyeing the obviously very valuable weapon. "You might not get it back again."

"Oh well," the young man shrugged, "I´m sure, I´ll manage somehow."

"Okay," the warrior said and gave the axe one last appreciative look before heading back to the camp.

Alexias walked the few miles to the forest, glad to be away from the noise and the smell of hundreds of men living close together. As he entered the forest, he started to wonder if he shouldn´t have asked one of the Amazons about Zelei´s whereabouts instead of Lykeas, but as he inhaled the fresh, earthy scent of the trees around him, he didn´t care. Even if he didn´t find the Amazon Captain, he was happy just to be in the forest and take a break from war councils, arguments and the tense atmosphere that continuously lingered in the air, refusing to leave the area. He moved in and out between the trees, not caring about the branches scratching his arms and legs. After about an hour´s walk, he came across a huge oak tree and leaned against it, closing his eyes. For no reason at all, he smiled as all the sounds of the forest washed over him. He took a deep breath and listened to the birds in the trees above him and to the small animals in the underbrush, either hunting or being hunted themselves. Then suddenly, through the rattling of leaves, carried with the wind, he heard the sound of quiet voices talking together.

What the…

He opened his eyes and listened intensely. The voices seemed to come from behind a thick scrub further inside the forest, and he stealthily stepped closer, careful not to make a sound. Thorns tore his close and branches got caught in his hair as he pushed himself through the green wall, but the Prince didn´t stop. A couple of feet inside, he reached out and pushed a few branches aside, peering carefully out at the clearing on the other side. His breath caught in his throat and his heart began to pound furiously as he saw the owners of the two voices. Out there in the clearing, only a couple of yards away, was Zelei talking to a huge, muscular man with piercing grey eyes. Alexias´ brain refused to believe what his eyes were telling him, but when the man opened his mouth and started to speak again, all doubt left his mind.

Kassander! Zelei´s talking to Kassander! But… But why, it doesn´t make sense, I don´t understand…

"And what do you have to gain from this?"

The King´s deep voice penetrated the Prince´s disbelieving mind, and he shivered involuntarily as he saw a malicious grin appear on the Captain´s face.

"I get to see the Queen dead."

Kassander let a single finger run through his grey beard, "If that´s all you want, why didn´t you just let my man kill her this morning. There was no reason for you to intervene."

"Arh," Zelei shrugged, "I would if I could have gotten away with it, but as it was, there were too many people around and questions would have been asked if I hadn´t tried to protect her, questions I can´t afford."

"Oh…?" The King arched an eyebrow, "Why´s that."

"Because I want to be the next queen and that´ll be impossible if people suspect I had something to do with her death."

The pale brown eye blazed with a wild fire.

"I can´t kill her myself and with that bodyguard of hers, it´s too dangerous to arrange an accident."

"So that´s why you want me to do it?"

"Yes," the Amazon´s voice was eager now. "In exchange for our battle plans, you make sure the Queen dies on the battlefield and in case she isn´t there, you´ll have to enter our camp and finish the job there. When you know our tactics, your victory will be painless and quick and the only thing you have to promise is that afterwards, when you take on the rest of Greece, you leave the Amazon Nation alone. I don´t give a damn about what you do with the rest of the country, but the Nation has to be safe."

The King took his bottom lip between thumb and index finger and pulled at it thoughtfully.

"In case I agree, I´m not saying I´m going to, but just in case… What makes you think, I´ll keep my promise to you afterwards?"

Zelei smiled, "You´ve lost to us twice already and although I know that in the end, we won´t be able to hinder you take our lands, I also know that we´ll be able to give you more trouble than those couple of trees and fields are worth."

Her smile grew even sweeter.

"The Amazons will be able to delay and complicate your conquest of Greece to the extend that the High King of Persia might change his mind about the whole thing, and withdraw his troops and what then Kassander? You know, you´re not capable of defeating the entire country alone. You´d have to go back home, that is, if you still have one, and all those years of planning and preparing would´ve been for nothing. Is that what you want?"

Kassander´s grey eyes narrowed, but his body didn´t break the relaxed pose.

"You sure know how to build your case."

The Captain dismissed the compliment with a quick shrug.

"So what do you say? Do we have a deal?"

Alexias slowly eased himself back out of the scrub, he´d heard enough. His entire body shook with rage and he had to resist the urge to rush back and strangle the Amazon with his bare hands. As fast and quietly as possible, he began to walk back the way he´d come, not daring to break into a run before he was further away. He almost jumped when a fox suddenly ran past him and he felt a cold sweat break out on his forehead. He nervously looked around, but didn´t see or hear anything. Subconsciously he picked up a faster pace, trying to ignore the feeling of eyes watching him from behind. Soon he couldn´t take it any longer and he started to run, only to feel his legs forcefully being pulled away from underneath him. He fell down on the soft, leaf covered earth, the impact knocking all air from his lungs.

"Well, well, well. What do we have here?"

Alexias twisted his body around and stared directly into a single cold brown eye.

"If it isn´t the young Prince out for a stroll."

A sinister smile showed on Zelei´s face.

"Don´t you know it can be dangerous for little boys to run around alone…very dangerous."
 


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CHAPTER XXXI
 
 
 
 

"I know it´s a risk, but it´s a risk we have to take. The infantry has to come before the cavalry, there´s no way to silence the horses enough not to be discovered the moment we get close. Only when the infantry´s taken care of the first part, then we´ll set in the cavalry."

"And what if the infantry´s discovered before they reach King Kassander´s camp?"

Xena shrugged and blue emotionless eyes looked directly at Nicanor.

"Then I´d say, we have a problem."

"That´s all you got to say?" The General asked in disbelief.

"Yes."

The red-headed man let out a low curse and briskly walked away, leaving Xena and Lykeas alone outside the tent used for council meetings.

Lykeas scratched the back of his head and turned to look at Xena, "I´m not sure, I like Nicanor´s attitude." A grin crossed his face, "He has no faith."

"No, I´m surprised he´s lasted as long as he had," she returned his grin, but then turned serious again. "Has everything been prepared? Is the infantry ready?"

The warrior nodded, "Yeah, both my part and Nicanor´s are ready to head out, and so are the Amazons if I´m not quite mistaken, but what about you?"

Xena cringed and looked away briefly. "Well, they´re ready, but I´m still not sure it´s a good idea."

"Ah, come on, Xena." Lykeas began, putting his hand on her shoulder. " Since Alexias is going to lead the cavalry, somebody else has to lead the part of the infantry that´s under his command, and we both know there´s nobody better qualified than you."

"And that´s supposed to be a compliment?" Xena smiled wryly.

"Yes, in my opinion, absolutely." He looked at her seriously, black eyes searching her face. "It´d be like the old days, before everything went.-"

"No!" She interrupted with more force than she´d intended, causing him to remove his hand from her shoulder. "It´ll not be like before, Lykeas! Nothing will ever be like that again. Is that clear?"

His eyes narrowed and his face darkened briefly, before it was replaced by a look of indifference.

"Sure, Xena, I know that. I didn´t mean anything by it."

She eyed him sceptically, but decided to let it go.

"Okay, I´m sorry I jumped on you like that, must be nerves."

To her relief, he smiled.

"Nerves? Xena, you really are getting old."

"Watch it! Or I´ll have to show you just how old I am, and trust me, I´ll take great delight in doing so."

She rested her hand casually on the chakram and Lykeas raised his hands in mock surrender.

"That won´t be necessary… I know how good you are."

For a while a loaded, but not awkward silence hung between them, then Xena reached out and brushed his cheek with her finger.

"You be careful tonight, okay?"

He nodded, "You too."

Then they abruptly turned and headed off in different directions, neither looking back.

"Lykeas!"

Lost in thought, the dark warrior didn´t respond immediately.

"Lykeas! Wait up!"

He stopped and looked up to see Gabrielle run towards him.

"Hey, Gabrielle. Something wrong?"

The bard came to a halt in front of him and took a few breaths before speaking.

"Well, yes or maybe not. It might not mean anything."

"Yes…?" He urged her on, wishing she´d come to the point.

"Well, apparently Alexias has gone missing."

"Missing?" Lykeas frowned. "What do you mean, missing?"

"They can´t find him," Gabrielle gestured in direction of the stables. "He was supposed to meet with his officers an hour ago and he hasn´t showed up yet."

"Hmm, that´s not like him." The warrior bit the inside of his cheek, "That´s gonna complicate matters."

The bard looked at him incredulously.

"Complicate matters? Gee, Lykeas! Is that all you have to say?"

"We don´t have much time to rearrange the cavalry, it´ll be dark in two hours and then everything has to be ready." Lykeas speculated out loud, not paying any attention to Gabrielle.

"This is highly inconvenient."

"Inconvenient!" The bard spluttered. "Have you considered that something might have happened to him, that maybe he´s hurt or in trouble."

"Or maybe, he´s just chickened out, " the dark warrior´s face was hard and merciless. "Maybe he decided, he wasn´t up to the challenge after all, maybe he woke up this morning and decided to run all the way back to daddy… Although…"

The cruel expression changed into one of puzzlement.

"What?" Gabrielle inquired more calmly, noticing the warrior´s change of moods.

"Nothing, it´s just…" He shook his head. "It doesn´t matter… When was he last seen?"

"Uhh, this morning, I believe it was. Callias mentioned she saw him talking to you."

"That´s right, but that´s hours ago," his brow furrowed. "Strange…"

"What are we going to do?"

"What can we do?" Lykeas replied, looking slightly bewildered.

"There´s no time to go out searching for him now, no matter how much we´d like to. We´re less than three hours away from an all-important battle. We can´t go out looking for lost princes now."

"But…but something might have happened to him." The bard said imploringly, "He´s such a nice young man, by Zeus, he´s practically a boy!"

For some reason, Lykeas thought the last remark very sweet coming from Gabrielle and he had to hide a smile.

"Okay, I´ll get some of the people from the followers´ camp to go look for him, but that´s all I can do right now. If he truly is missing and stays that way, then we´ll have to find somebody else to lead the cavalry."

His eyes took on a distant expression, "Someone capable."

The bard saw he was lost to the world again, shook her head and went back to the stable to convey Lykeas´ words to Alexias´ officers.
 


***************


 






Frustrated the bard tried to tied the laces at the back of her skirt again, but no matter how much she craned her neck, she couldn´t see enough to do it properly. She then tried to turn the skirt around to tied it in front of her, but then it proved impossible to moved the fabric back in place again.

There´s no way, I´m going outside with a skirt turned the wrong way round.

She sighed and began to untie the knots once again. She really liked wearing most of her Amazon gear, but sometimes it was more trouble getting into than it was worth. She stepped over to the tent flap and lifted it a little to peak outside, perhaps one of her subjects where nearby, ready to aide her Queen in this serious matter. She had to smile at the thought, but as long as the Amazons insisted that their Queen wore her sometimes less than practical outfits, then the least they could do was to help her get into them without getting injured in the process.

Maybe Xena´s somewhere nearby…

Green eyes searched the area outside the tent, but as she had suspected neither the warrior or any of the Amazons were around. They had been busy all day, preparing for battle and Gabrielle doubted they would return anytime soon. Just as she was about to give up the idea of wearing any clean clothes that day, she saw a slender figure come running from the direction of the main camp and enter the area that was reserved for the Amazons. The blond woman ran resolutely to a tent a couple of yards away from the Queen´s and entered. Gabrielle bit her lip, she could get help with her skirt now if she wanted, but… In that same instant, the tent flap was roughly pushed aside and the Amazon appeared again, this time carrying a bow and a quiver under her right arm. Gabrielle took a quick decision.

"Callias!"

The Captain, who´d already started to run back towards the main camp, stopped dead in her tracks and turned around.

"Yes…?"

The Queen smiled sheepishly, "Could you help me for a moment?"

Callias looked in the direction of the other camp and then back at Gabrielle.

"Well, is it important? I don´t really have the time right now, they´re expecting me."

"It won´t take long." The bard replied and disappeared into her tent and after a moment of hesitation, the Captain followed.

"It´s a bit embarrassing, but I can´t tie the laces on my skirt, so if you´d be so kind…" She paused, her smile slightly nervous. "I´d really appreciate it."

The blond Amazon looked at her in confusion, "Your skirt?"

Gabrielle smiled again and turned around so Callias would get the idea, "Yes, my skirt."

"Uh, sure…"

She knelt down behind the Queen and quickly tied the appropriate knots and bows before getting back up.

"Okay, that´s been taken care of, anything else?"

Gabrielle turned around to face the Amazon, "No that´s all and thanks, those knots can be a real pain."

A faint, almost mischievous smile showed on the Captain´s face, "I know, but in my experience, I think they´re more difficult to untie than the other way round"

The Queen blushed slightly and cleared her throat, "Well…yes, you may have a point there."

Callias started to laugh quietly and soon Gabrielle joined her, both feeling the tension between them disappear. When they´d calmed down again, the bard sat down on her pallet, gesturing to the Amazon to take the chair.

"I really don´t have much time, Your Majesty. I should go."

"I know, but I´m sure they´ll be able to do without you for five more minutes, I want to talk to you." She pointed sternly at the chair again, a warm smile belying the formal nature of her gesture. "And It´s still Gabrielle, not Your Majesty."

The Captain hesitated only briefly before sitting down, placing the bow and quiver beside her on the ground.

"I wasn´t sure if…"

"What?" The Queen asked earnestly, "You wasn´t sure if…?"

Callias looked decidedly uncomfortable.

"I wasn´t sure if you still wanted me to call you by your first name, I…I wasn´t sure it was all right."

"It´ll always be all right, Callias. Nothing can ever change that." Gabrielle said, feeling a sudden ache inside her. "What do you take me for?"

The Amazon shrugged, avoiding her eyes. "I´m sorry…I don´t… I guess…" She faltered and they both felt how the previous tension between them returned.

Gabrielle felt like kicking herself, hard. If anybody had anything to apologize for it was her and not Callias.

"I´m sorry."

The Captain looked up abruptly.

"What?"

"I´m sorry about…about…"

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn´t find the right words to express her feelings. To her surprise the blue eyes watching her turned almost hostile.

"What? What are you sorry about? That you got involved with me in the first place or that you dumped me the moment you saw your change to get back with Xena?"

The Queen´s face turned pale, but her voice remained calm.

"I´m sorry, Callias. I should never have…" She trailed off again, then almost whispered, "I´m sorry for hurting you. I never meant to, I just…"

She couldn´t hold the Amazon´s gaze and looked down at the ground.

"I know, you must think that I used you, that it didn´t matter to me, that you didn´t matter to me, but it´s not true. It wasn´t…it wasn´t like that. I don´t know why I…" She took a deep breath and looked up again. "I care about you a lot, Callias. I really do, you must believe me."

"But you don´t love me."

Gabrielle looked into resigned, but calm blue eyes.

"I don`t know what-."

Callias raised her hand, "You don´t have to say anything, Gabrielle. I´m a big girl," she smiled sadly, "and you don´t have to apologize. I knew exactly what I was in for when I first followed you that night. It´s just as much my responsibility as it´s yours. We both knew it wasn´t going to last forever."

"I don´t want you to think it didn´t mean anything to me."

The Captain sighed and removed a few blond strands from her eyes, "I know it meant something…maybe not as much as I´d have liked it to, but I know it did, and I´m sorry about what I said before, you didn´t dump me. If anything, I dumped you."

A pained smile showed on the Queen´s face, "I…I really don´t know what to say. I´d wish…I´d wish…"

"I know," Callias replied quietly and rose from the chair. She bent down to pick up the bow and quiver and then, without hesitation, she leaned forward and kissed Gabrielle gently on the cheek before walking out of the tent.
 


***************


 






Lykeas found Gabrielle sitting alone at a campfire, absently poking the flames with a stick. She didn´t notice him right away and he hesitated for a moment, unsure of what he wanted to do, before he sat down beside her. She looked up and gave him a small smile then continued to stare into the fire.

"You all right?"

She took a deep breath and nodded, "Yeah, just thinking." Then suddenly remembering, she looked back at him, "Have you found Alexias?"

He shook his head, "They haven´t returned yet, so I don´t think so… There isn´t much time left."

They both looked toward the setting sun, bathing their faces in a dark red glow and making Gabrielle´s hair seem more red than blond whereas Lykeas´ hair just seemed to absorb the light and quench it.

"Beautiful."

He nodded, "Yes."

The bard looked at him in surprise, but didn´t say anything. Suddenly the sound of several horses thundering by only a short distance away caused them both to turn their heads.

"Xena´s preparing the cavalry."

"Yes," Gabrielle looked back to the fire. "I know."

Lykeas chuckled quietly, "She´s not too happy about it, though."

The bard began poking the fire again, "Do you think she´s afraid that she´ll…that she´ll lose control?"

He looked at her, but she didn´t meet his eyes.

"No, I don´t think so. I think she might be afraid that she´ll enjoy herself too much, but not that she´ll lose control."

Gabrielle nodded to herself, then after a short pause spoke again, "And what about you, Lykeas? Are you going to enjoy yourself?"

"If we win." He tried to make light out of the question, but didn´t quite succeed and they both knew it.

Gabrielle looked into the dark eyes, ignoring the guarded expression she saw there.

"Why are you here?"

The warrior smiled, "It seems to me you´ve asked me that once already."

"I know," she returned his smile briefly, "and you didn´t answer me then either… What is it you want? What are you hoping to achieve?"

He scratched his chin for a moment before answering, "I want to win, I want to defeat Kassander and the Persians."

The bard began to tap her fingers against the ground, "You know that´s not what I mean. There´s no obvious reason why you should choose to fight this battle. Why do you care?"

"Maybe I just want to make a name for myself," he grinned disarmingly. "Maybe I just want to be remembered."

Gabrielle smiled, letting go of her frustration with the warrior for now.

"Trust me, Lykeas. I´ll never forget you."

"Well, mission accomplished, then." His tone was light, but his eyes were serious as he looked away. "That´s nice to hear," he continued quietly.

The bard looked at him in confusion, trying to understand what had just happened, if anything.

"Everybody deserves to be remembered," she began tentatively, fully expecting him to lash out at her or get up and leave at any second, but the dark-haired man remained where he was.

"Maybe." He fidgeted with his sword, still not looking at her. "When…when I was younger, I used to picture my own funeral and…and all those people would be there, talking about me, remembering me…crying."

He raised his head and looked at her embarrassed, "Pretty silly, huh?"

Gabrielle´s mind was working overtime, desperately trying to deal with this sudden revelation and the warrior´s unexpected openness. The last thing she wanted now was to say something that would make him jump back into his shell, where he very likely would never emerge from again.

"I´ll cry for you, Lykeas."

She instantly slapped herself mentally, that was not the understanding, mature and wise thing, she´d wanted to say, but to her surprise he didn´t laugh.

"Well, then…what more could I ask for…. Thank you."

She searched his face, looking for signs that he was making fun of her, but didn´t find any. The silence stretched between them for a long time, then simultaneously they both got to their feet.

"We should get ready."

"Yes," the bard agreed, but neither made a move to walk away.

"Gabrielle…?"

"Yes?"

"I was wondering… Have you decided whether you´re going to stay here or lead the Amazons into battle?"

She gave him a pale smile, "I think, we both know the answer to that."

He nodded to himself, "I´m glad to hear that… I don´t want you to get hurt."

And then he turned and practically ran towards his tent.
 


***************


 






"Hey…" Xena spoke softly without turning around, continuing to tighten the straps on Argo´s saddle.

Gabrielle had long ago stopped being surprised by the warrior´s never failing ability to recognize her steps from anybody else´s and just smiled to herself, coming to a halt just behind Xena.

"Hi."

Finishing her task, Xena gave Argo an affectionate pat on the rump, before turning around to face the bard.

"Thank you."

"For what?" Gabrielle asked curiously.

"For staying in the camp…Lykeas told me."

"Oh…" The bard reached out and tentatively stroked Argo a few times, "I didn´t know that, I was going to tell you now."

The warrior followed the movements of Gabrielle´s hand for a brief moment, then looked back at the blond woman.

"I wouldn´t have stopped you, you know. I wouldn´t have liked it, but if you´d really decided to lead them, I wouldn´t have stopped you."

"I know," the bard said quietly and looked directly into beautiful blue eyes. "Thank you."

Xena shrugged and smiled a little, "No problem."

Suddenly at a loss for words, Gabrielle absently let her eyes roam the stable, noticing that Argo was the only horse left.

"The cavalry is ready?"

"Yeah, I´m the only one left," the warrior paused, "we´re leaving soon."

Instead of saying anything, the bard moved forward and wrapped her arms around the taller woman´s waist, burying her head in her shoulder. Slightly startled, Xena put her arms around Gabrielle, feeling the bard tighten her embrace in return.

"Are you all right?"

She felt Gabrielle nod against her chest, but a light tremor betrayed the bard´s feelings and the warrior gently raised the young woman´s chin to look into moist green eyes.

"Hey…what´s wrong?"

The bard just shook her head and smiled through tears, before resting her head on Xena´s shoulder. Confused and worried, the warrior pulled Gabrielle tighter and gently kissed the blond hair, feeling how the bard slowly began to relax against her. After a few more moments, Xena leaned back a little and hesitantly waited for Gabrielle to look up. With one finger, she carefully wiped the tears away.

"What was all that about?"

The bard shook her head, "I…I don´t know. I just…" She looked like she was about to cry again, "I just never want to be without you again."

The warrior felt a lump in her throat and swallowed, "I don´t want to be without you either."

Xena desperately wanted to hold the young woman even tighter, to have her as close as possible, but knew that if she did that, Gabrielle would be crushed, so she settled for a kiss instead. Slowly and almost searching their lips moved against each other, communicating more than words ever could. Reluctantly they broke apart, but the moment their eyes met, they leaned forward to kiss again, this time with greater force and urgency.

"We have to leave now."

It took them a second to realize that somebody had spoken and they both looked up to see Lykeas stand in the stable door, looking at them with an almost apologetic expression. He smiled briefly at Gabrielle, then looked at Xena.

"I´ll see you outside."

They watched him leave, but neither loosened the embrace or attempted to move away.

"You have to go."

The warrior could think of a millions reason why she should stay, but sighed quietly instead, "Yes."

However, she still didn´t move, so the bard gently, but firmly eased herself away and leaned against Argo´s stall.

"They´re waiting."

Xena studied her for a second, then smiled and grabbed Argo´s reins. She gave Gabrielle a quick kiss, before leading the horse towards the door, stopping just in front of it as she heard the bard speak quietly.

"Make sure you come back to me."

The warrior didn´t trust her voice and waited a moment before looking back, "I will."

As if cold, the blond woman hugged herself, a rueful smile on her lips, "I´ll be waiting."

Xena bit her lip, then left the stable.
 


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TO BE CONTINUED…


Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse