The Amazons' Boy
by Day

Part 9

CHAPTER XXXVI
 

"You wouldn´t dare!"

"Oh… Are you sure you wanna find out?"

"Gabrielle would never forgive you if you did!"

"Who says she´ll ever know."

The two women stared at each other in silence. Zelei´s single pale eye shone with a fury that nonetheless didn´t quite manage to hide the uncertainty she was feeling. Xena crossed her arms and casually let her eyes run over the cramped area, before returning to the Amazon who was tied to a chair in the middle of the tent.

"So, what will it be? Are you gonna answer my questions or do I have to become more…persuasive?"

The Captain blinked a few times. "I´m an Amazon, if anybody is going to judge me then it´s the Queen and not some brute who gets a kick out of hurting people!"

A smile sweet as honey appeared on the warrior´s face and she leaned closer, her lips practically touching Zelei´s ear.

"Have you stopped to consider why you´re still alive?"

She leaned back again and watched the conflicting emotions on the Amazon´s face.

"After all, you´re very much in demand, Zelei. There´s isn´t a single soldier out there who wouldn´t risk a disciplinary punishment to get his hands on you, since there´s isn´t one of them who wasn´t lost a friend or a brother in the fire. Also we have all the soldiers loyal to Alexias, they want to avenge his death. Speaking of which, King Polyidos is on his way here and I´m sure he´d like to have a word with you as well, and last but not least, let´s not forget the Amazons. Do you really think they´ll forgive you your betrayal? Nineteen of your sisters died on the battlefield and it wasn´t combat, but flames that killed them and one or two are still critical, and although you saved Gabrielle´s life a few days ago, your hatred for the Queen isn´t exactly a secret."

Xena´s eyes became cold and her expression hardened.

"And then of course there´s me."

"You?"

"Yes… You see, one of the prisoners told me an interesting tale today, but since I´m not much of a storyteller, I´ll just tell you the most fascinating bits. It was about a king meeting a warrior, an Amazon warrior to be exact and they agreed that in exchange for the warrior supplying the king with information, the king would make sure that a certain blond queen was killed, so the before mentioned warrior could seize the throne. Does any of this ring a bell?"

Zelei just stared and blue eyes turned even colder.

"I want you to know one thing, Zelei. If this little tale turns out to be true, the soldiers outside and your Amazon friends will be the least of your worries."

"Are you threatening me?"

"No, I´m predicting your future."

For a moment it looked like the Captain was about to speak, but nothing came. The warrior sighed and pulled out a dagger, a feral smile showing on her lips as she saw the Amazon pale. She let the tip of the dagger gently run down Zelei´s throat and further down her chest before she stopped and pulled the blade away. The Captain let out a deep breath, only to see Xena raise the dagger again and step behind her.

"What are you gonna do!"

"This."

The Amazon closed her eye, preparing for the inevitable and then she felt the warrior cut through the ropes, freeing first her hands and then her entire body from the chair.

"W-what are you doing?"

Xena stepped back to stand in front of Zelei, putting her dagger away in the process.

"I´m letting you go."

"What!"

"I am…" The warrior said, pronouncing every syllable, "Let-ting you go. You are free to go, Zelei. Free."

The Captain looked at her in disbelief, "Why? I mean you think I´m guilty, why are you doing this?"

"Oh well," Xena replied disinterestedly, studying her fingernails, "I don´t see a reason for you stay here till Polyidos arrives, you might as well go outside and make yourself useful."

"But…but I can´t go outside!"

"Oh…and why not?"

"You said it yourself! They´ll kill me! The moment I step outside this tent, I´ll be fair game to them, I´ll be hunted down."

"You don´t say." The warrior gave the Amazon an innocent look and Zelei shook her head.

"I´m not going outside."

"Oh yes, you are." Xena´s entire demeanour changed and the Captain took a few steps back. "Even if I have to carry you, you´re coming outside with me."

"I´ll run."

The warrior licked her lips. "Try."

"Okay." Zelei sat back down on the chair, a defeated look on her face. "What do I have to do to stay inside the tent?"

"Well… You could always try to…confess. Then I might consider having some guards posted here and you can stay inside until the King arrives."

"This is blackmail!"

Xena´s face remained emotionless. "It´s your choice."

"Is this your usual `talk or you´ll die´ routine, Xena?" The Amazon spat out. "Is this some leftover from your glorious past? I´m pretty sure our little Queen doesn´t know about this, does she? If she did, she would be very disappointed, wouldn´t she? You might fool her and you might fool the rest of the world, Warrior Princess, but you don´t fool me…"

She focused one brown eye on Xena´s face.

"And come to think of it, I don´t think you fool yourself either, do you? You haven´t changed all that much, the wrapping might have changed, but the content is the same. You know it and I know, the questions is, does Gabrielle know it, too?"

The warrior´s expression didn´t change as she picked up the pieces of rope from the ground, and tied Zelei to the chair again before walking out of the tent.

"Don´t worry, Xena! Your little secret´s safe with me! For now!"

The Captain´s word didn´t seem to make an impact on the warrior as she strode away, ignoring the questioning looks from the soldiers around her.
 


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"Wanna come for a walk?"

"Oh, Xena, you startled me."

"Sorry, didn´t mean to." The warrior raised the tent flap as Gabrielle put her scrolls away and stepped out of the tent, claiming Xena´s hand with her own.

"Where to?"

The warrior shrugged, "Just away from here. I don´t care."

"The forest?"

Xena shrugged again, "Sure."

Hand in hand they walked through the camp staying clear of the most populated areas, and soon the sounds and smells of people and horses were behind them and they entered the quiet forest. Gabrielle shivered as the chill air engulfed her body and Xena put her arm around the bard´s shoulder and drew her closer.

"The sun will be gone soon, perhaps we should go back."

"No," Gabrielle shook her head. "Not yet, the cold doesn´t really bother me, and truth be told, I think I need to get away from it all, if only for a while, just as much as you do."

The warrior nodded and they continued to walk through the forest in silence, both enjoying the feeling of closeness and peace they always experienced when travelling together alone. Gabrielle could feel the body next to hers begin to relax and smiled inwardly as she heard Xena let out a deep sigh.

"Feeling better?"

"Oh yeah."

They walked for a few more moments in silence before they came to a huge oak tree, where the warrior sat down with her back against the trunk and beckoned the young woman to join her. With a small satisfied sigh, Gabrielle settled herself between Xena´s legs and leaned back against the warrior´s chest, who immediately wrapped her arms around the bard´s waist.

"Ah, this is nice…"

"Hmm," Xena replied absently, leaning her head against the trunk and looked up at the many coloured leaves above her, swaying gently in the small breeze.

"So…did Zelei confess?"

Instantly, she felt the tension return to the warrior´s body, but when Xena spoke her voice was calm and controlled.

"Yes, yes she did."

"What´s going to happen to her?"

"It depends," Xena began to relax again. "I know your Amazons probably want to try her for treason, but I think King Polyidos would like to be the one, who decides her fate. After all, she did kill his only child."

Gabrielle shuddered and covered the warrior´s hands around her waist with her own.

"Yes, he should be the one to judge her, it´s his right," she paused for a moment before continuing. "I only hope he´ll give her a fair trial and not let his sorrow and anger overwhelm him."

The tall woman behind her was quiet for a long time, then she spoke quietly. "I hope so too, Gabrielle. I really do, but sometimes when the pain is too much, when it´s too powerful then you do-."

"Shh," the bard turned her head and planted a soft kiss on the warrior´s collarbone. "I know."

"I know you do, Gabrielle," Xena continued seriously. "I just don´t want you to think anything less of…Polyidos…if he…if he isn´t capable of dealing with the lost rationally. I don´t want you to lose faith in him if one day…if one day you find out that he isn´t perfect, if he doesn´t turn out to be the person you think he is."

The blond woman shifted so she came face to face with the warrior, the green eyes shining with such love that Xena felt her throat constrict.

"I could never, never lose faith in…Polyidos." She smiled briefly and reached out to caress a smooth bronze cheek with her thumb. "And as to perfection… I don´t want that. I want flaws and shortcomings, I want insecurities and…" Her smiled broadened, "A bad attitude, stubbornness, a foul temper and a fiercely overprotective nature that´ll drive me crazy from time to time, but…"

She paused for a second as she watched an elegant eyebrow arch dramatically.

"But most of all I want to be loved by someone who loves me as much as I love her."

Before Gabrielle had the chance to continue she found herself in a fierce embrace, her body pressed tight against the warrior´s.

"You have all that, Gabrielle," a hoarse voice whispered in the bard´s ear. "All that and more."

The young woman managed to lean back a little so she could she Xena´s face, "So much more, Xena."

Their eyes locked for a long moment before the warrior gently lowered the woman in her arms down to the ground, abandoning all further conversation and letting their bodies communicate the love in their hearts instead.
 


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Four days later, King Polyidos arrived in the company of Queen Phillinna and ten guards, the small escort showing only too clearly how few soldiers there were left to guard the two kingdoms. After a short meeting where the King and the Queen were brought up to date, Polyidos excused himself and left for the tent where his son´s body was on display. Queen Phillinna sighed quietly and tired green eyes took in the sight of the warrior and bard on the other side of the table.

"I don´t think he spoke more than ten sentences on the way here, I´m worried about him."

"Perhaps it´ll get better once Alexias has been buried and he´s had the time to say goodbye," Gabrielle spoke softly. "Right now, the feelings are still too raw, too fresh."

"Maybe," Phillinna answered. "I hope so, but I don´t know… When Polyidos and Natolemos, his two eldest sons, were killed, the only thing that kept him from losing it all was Alexias. For almost a year he didn´t go out of the castle, he hardly ate and hardly spoke to anybody."

The Queen shuddered by the memory of the haunted face and blank stare, she had witnessed on the day of the princes´ funerals.

"It´s my opinion that Alexias kept him sane, that he was the only person who managed to bring Polyidos back to the world of the living, and now with Alexias gone as well…"

Phillinna shook her head sadly, "I fear for the subjects of his kingdom…"

"Do you think he´ll do anything…inappropriate, something rash," Xena asked delicately, not wanting to offend the Queen, but Phillinna only shook her head again.

"No, he won´t hurt them or punish them in anyway. He just won´t be there anymore. I…" She faltered then continued. "I was with him when they brought him the message, I saw the light go out in his eyes and I don´t know if I´ll ever see it return."

The three women fell silent, two of them not knowing what to say and the other lost in memories. Then suddenly it looked like the Queen reached some kind of decision and she straightened up in the chair.

"When will I be able to return home with my soldiers? I don´t want to leave the castle and Simmias unguarded for any longer that I have to."

Gabrielle looked at Xena who chewed on her lip for a minute before answering.

"Soon. Kassander´s dead and it doesn´t seem like Persia is up for another try at conquering Greece. At least not for the time being," she smiled bitterly. "As soon as I know what´s going on in Kassander´s castle and that everything´s under control, and we have figured out what to do with his lands, then I don´t see why we shouldn´t discharge the army and all head home."

The last remark was followed by a glance at the bard who smiled slightly in return.

"And when will you know that?"

The warrior returned her gaze to the slender Queen.

"As soon as I receive words from Lykeas."

"Oh, I see… He´s away, securing the castle?"

"Yes," Xena replied tersely, not quite liking Phillinna´s tone of voice.

"And how long has he been away?"

"Ten days or so."

"It takes that long to secure a practically abandoned castle?"

The warrior crossed her arms and Gabrielle felt how the temperature in the tent dropped by several degrees.

"What exactly are you implying?"

The Queen raised her hands and gave Xena an apologetic smile. "Nothing, nothing at all. I was just curious." She stood up and gave them both a small nod, "Will you excuse me? I will go see Polyidos."

The bard watched Phillinna disappear out of the tent before she returned her gaze to the warrior who was staring down at the table.

"What was all that about?"

"Nothing," Xena answered without raising her head, her voice sounding both tired and resigned.

"You´re worried too, aren´t you?"

For a moment, Gabrielle thought she wouldn´t get an answer, but then the warrior finally raised her head to meet the bard´s eyes.

"He should´ve been back by now."

"Do you think something has happened to him?"

The blue eyes became distant and the bard saw Xena´s facial expression change ever so slightly as long gone memories washed over her, her right hand absently drawing small circles on the hard wooden table.

"I think," she then spoke softly, almost too low for Gabrielle to hear. "I think he´s finally decided not to wait any more."

"Wait? Wait for what?"

"Me."

The warrior broke eye contact and stared down at the restless hand on the table without really seeing it.

"I think he´s stopped waiting for the Warrior Princess to return."

Then without another word, she abruptly stood up and left the tent. The bard remained in her chair for a few minutes, rubbing her aching temples before she slowly got up and followed Xena out of the tent.
 


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CHAPTER XXXVII
 
 
 
 

A cold clear day gave way to a chilly clear night as Xena slowly dismounted Argo, her stiff muscles crying out in protest after the long ride. She remained still for a moment, listening intensely, but heard nothing that didn´t belong to the usual sounds of the night and gradually her body started to relax. She considered for a moment whether to remove Argo´s saddle or not, but decided against it. She wasn´t planning on staying long. Quickly she gathered some wood and soon a small fire was burning and the warrior dragged a log close and sat down, reaching her open palms out toward the flames. As the warmth slowly spread in her body, she looked around studying her surroundings. A few trees and bushes were scattered around the land, but otherwise the area was clear, leaving an open view of the dark castle below her.

Suddenly, her keen ears picked up the sound she´d been waiting for, the sound of quiet footsteps coming her way. She wrapped her arms around herself, stared into the fire and waited. The steps came closer and closer, then they stopped and for awhile everything was quiet.

"I´ve been expecting you."

Xena didn´t look up, "I know."

She didn´t hear the footsteps again, but as she finally raised her head, she looked up to see Lykeas standing on the opposite side of the fire. Something resembling a smile crossed his face and he sat down on the ground, crossing his legs

"It´s cold."

"Yes."

For almost half an hour neither of them spoke as they both looked into the fire, carefully avoiding each other´s eyes. Then Xena exhaled slowly and looked up. A calm black gaze met hers and for the first time in a very long time, she didn´t see the usual guarded and distanced expression in his eyes.

"I want you to come back with me to the camp."

"I can´t."

Lykeas´ voice was quiet and serene and the dark woman swallowed hard before looking away.

"Xena…?"

Almost reluctantly, she returned her gaze to the warrior before her.

"Why don´t you stay here?"

"I can´t do that." Xena´s voice was devoid any emotion, but as she saw the expression on his face change, she knew she wasn´t fooling him.

"The men are loyal to me now, Xena."

The tone of Lykeas´ voice had become more urgent, more seductive and she closed her eyes against it.

"They´ll follow me wherever I go…wherever we go. They are all excellent soldiers and they are disciplined and strong. There isn´t a thing we can´t do with them behind us, nobody will be able to stand in our way. It could be like we always wanted it to be, the way we always dreamt it would be."

Xena opened her eyes, "It´s not my dream any more, Lykeas, and it hasn´t been for a very long time."

His eyes narrowed, but he didn´t speak and the warrior smiled sadly.

"You don´t believe me, do you? Just like you didn´t believe me back then."

She stood up, feeling a sudden chill invade her body.

"I meant every single thing I said and still do, even more so. I´ve found another purpose of life, another way and I´m not going back, I won´t…I can´t."

For a moment the controlled mask that was Lykeas´ face cracked and she saw a brief glimpse of pain in his eyes, then it was gone.

"But, Xena…"

The words were almost pleading as he stood up and walked over to stand before her.

"Don´t you see, it won´t be like it was back then. It´s different now, we don´t have to raid or plunder any villages, we don´t have to kill innocent people or take away their livelihood, that´s not what I want. I´m not interested in that. What I want is Thessaly and Epiros, Attica and Thrace, that´s want I want, Xena. We can get Phillinna and Polyidos to join forces with us and then we´ll go after those petty kingdoms where the monarch is hardly more than a thief and a murderer. We´ll offer the soldiers their lives if they´ll pledge their loyalty to us."

His eyes were blazing with a fire, Xena recognized all too well.

"Nobody will be able to stop us once we´ve taken control of Northern Greece and once Corinth and Thebes have fallen, Athens will as well. And then…"

He put his hands on the warrior´s shoulders.

"And then, Xena. Then we´ll unite the country, create a solidarity that this miserable country has never seen before. We´ll watch Greece grow in strength and numbers until nobody and nothing will be able to stand in our way. Not even Persia! Not even Caesar!"

Xena knew he saw it coming by the way his jaw clenched, but whether he intended to block it or not didn´t matter as he simply didn´t have the time. She backhanded him hard across the right cheek and almost shouted, "Snap out of it, Lykeas! What in Tartarus do you think you´re doing! Have you lost your mind?!"

He stepped back, anger mingled with disbelief written all over his face as he gingerly touched his flushing cheek. They were both breathing hard and small clouds of steam appeared and disappeared rapidly before their faces. Piercing blue eyes stared into black without blinking and Xena took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down.

"Listen very carefully to what I´m gonna say now, Lykeas. I will never take up arms like that again! I will never ride out to conquer and kill again! I renounced that part of my life almost five years ago, and I´ve have no intention of ever, ever returning to the person I once was! Do you understand, Lykeas!" She closed the distance between them till their bodies were almost touching. "Do you understand!"

The look exchanged between the two warriors was almost painful, but then the fire in the dark eyes disappeared and left nothing in its wake.
 


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Lykeas´ right hand was absently playing with a small knife while his left tossed another piece of wood on the fire. Xena slid down from the log to the ground to lean her back against it, silently watching the dark man before her. She let her gaze slowly drift over the beautiful, but haunted face and further down to rest on the hand clenching and unclenching the knife. She sensed him looking at her and she raised her head to meet eerily calm and resigned black eyes. She tried a smile and he returned it wanly before staring back at the flames.

"Why don´t you come back with me, Lykeas? You don´t have…" She took a deep breath and then continued. "There´s no reason for you to stay here, it´s over. We can all go home now."

He looked up and again she saw pain in his eyes only this time it didn´t disappear.

"I can´t, Xena. I… I have to try."

"But Lykeas-."

He raised his hand to silence her and for a moment nobody spoke.

"It´s all I´ve left, Xena," he then said softly. "There´s nothing else for me."

"Lykeas-."

"No, Xena." His calm voice stopped her protests. "It´s what I´ve always wanted, if I don´t…if I don´t try then… What else is there for me?"

"Don´t say that!" She rose and stepped over to sit down beside him. "I know, you think that it´s something you have to do, but…but…"

She bit her lip in frustration about not being able to find the right words and suddenly she felt a warm hand cover her own. She looked up and he smiled briefly and although her heart was aching, she returned it.

"I´m not like you, Xena. I can´t change the way you have. I…I won´t be able to find a purpose with my life like that and…and…" He looked away. "I´m tired of just…just going on. When I thought there was a chance you might chance your mind and come back it was okay. I knew it was small, but I was willing to wait." Black eyes sought out blue again. "I was willing to wait as long as it would take, months, years, it didn´t matter…but now…"

The knife slipped from motionless fingers, but he didn´t seem to notice.

"I know you´re not coming back now. I guess I knew it all along. I just hoped that maybe..." He reached out and gently brushed her cheek with his thumb. "I´m happy for you and I´m happy that you´ve found this new way of living and with someone who loves you, but… It´s not for me… I don´t know how to live a life like that…I never have."

"Lykeas…"

He smiled, but shook his head and moved away a little, looking back into the fire.

"Lykeas please… If I can so can you."

"No," he whispered quietly. "It´s not for me, it never was."

"It´s that all you have to say?"

They both heard the pain and resignation in her voice and Lykeas nodded slowly.

"Yes."

Xena stood up and took a few steps back.

"You know I can´t let you do it. If you raise an army and…" She faltered and exhaled slowly. "I will try to stop you…no matter what it takes."

"I know."

She looked down at the dark man on the ground and swallowed. His head was turned away, hidden in shadows and she couldn´t see his face.

"I take it the soldiers won´t come if I tell them to?"

"No," he spoke so softly she almost didn´t hear him. "They´re loyal to me now."

For a while she didn´t move, but just looked at him, her calm appearance hiding the turmoil inside her. Then she slowly turned away and walked over to Argo. She mounted and shifted slightly in the saddle before looking at him again. He turned his head and their eyes met and for a long moment they only looked at each other in silence. A pale, almost invisible smile showed on his lips and Xena closed her eyes briefly.

"I want you to know that whatever happens…you´ve…you´ve alway been very important to me, Lykeas."

A slightly more genuine smile appeared on his face then it disappeared.

"You don´t have to tell me that."

She searched his face, trying to determine if her words had been understood.

"You were there for me when I needed it…you… I could always count on you…you…" She bit her lip again. "I trusted you with my life... I still do."

"But not with your soul…"

He stood up and looked at her one last time before turning to walk back to the castle. She stared at his retreating back for a few moments then looked away only to see a brief flash of light coming from the ground near the dying fire. She dismounted and slowly reached down to pick up the shiny object. It was Lykeas´ knife. She looked in the direction where the dark warrior had disappeared.

"Lykeas…?"

There was no real force in her voice and nobody but herself her the word. She held the knife away from her body as if afraid of touching it, and stared at it for a few seconds, then she walked back to Argo and slipped the knife into her saddlebag.
 


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A sharp, piercing pain caused Zelei´s eye to snap open and she stared directly into the face of man whose features were contorted by grief. As the last traces of sleep left her, she realized that she was bleeding from a shallow, but long cut just below her chin. She blinked a few times and tried to touch the wound only to be reminded that she was still tied to a chair. Angrily she turned her attention back to the black-haired man.

"Who the fuck are you? And what in Tartarus do you think you´re doing!?"

The man didn´t answer, but just reached out and let the blade of the knife he was holding slide down the Amazon´s right arm, drawing a thin line of blood from shoulder to wrist. The Captain tried to moved away, but the ropes kept her firmly in place.

"What are you doing!? Get away from me you bastard!"

When her angry words didn´t seem to make an impact on the silent man, a small, but insistent feeling entered Zelei´s mind; fear.

"Guards! Guards! Come in here and get this psycho away from me! Guards!"

"They won´t come."

The man´s soft, strangely detached words startled the Amazon and her gaze flew away from the tent flap and back to the man´s face.

"Who are you?"

Brown eyes filled with anguish stared back at her.

"I´m Alexias´ father."

The Captain´s mouth opened then closed.

"They won´t come." The King continued as if he hadn´t noticed her reaction. "The Guards. They loved my son just as much as I did." A pained expression showed on Polyidos´ face. "No, not as I did. I won´t speak in past tense about Alexias. I still love him, I always will. He and his brothers were all I had and now…now I have nothing."

The eyes who had become distant with memories returned to the present and focused on Zelei again.

"You took him away from me." The last sentence was both a statement and an accusation and the Amazon swallowed nervously.

"Guards!"

"I told you," the King leaned down, "they won´t come. I sent them away." He looked down at the bloody knife in his hand as if seeing it for the first time. "You´re all mine now."

He raised his arm and stared at the blade in the orange glow of the oil lamp standing on the ground a few feet away, then he returned his gaze to the Captain.

"Did you make him suffer or did you take mercy on him and make it quick? Did he beg for his life?" Polyidos carefully pressed the blade against the soft skin just below the Amazon´s ear. "Did he fight?" He made a swift, causal movement with his wrist and Zelei felt a single drop of blood run down her throat. "Was he afraid or did he curse you, telling you to go to Tartarus?"

During the entire session, the King´s voice had been insistent, but calm and the Captain craned her neck, trying to see the man who had moved to stand behind her.

"You can´t do this!"

She felt the pressure of the knife ease slightly, but it didn´t move away.

"Oh? And why not?"

"Because…because… It… It´d be murder! I´m defenceless, tied to a chair! If you kill me it´ll be murder."

"Well, you didn´t seem to have had a problem with murder before." She felt the pressure against her throat increase. "But then again, I suppose it´s different when you´re on the receiving end or am I wrong?"

She didn´t realize she was expected to answer until a sharp pain made her eye water.

"Or am I wrong!"

The knife moved again and a steady stream of blood began to flow down her throat.

"Am I wrong, Amazon! Tell me if I´m wrong!"

"No!" Zelei cried out. "You´re not wrong!"

"Polyidos! Get away from her!"

Two heads turned abruptly to see Gabrielle stand in the entrance of the tent, her jaw set and green eyes determined.

"Step away from her, Polyidos," she spoke in a low, but commanding voice. "This is not the way to do it."

"But she killed my son!"

"I know," the bard stepped closer, reaching out for the knife. "And she will get her punishment, but not this way, not like this."

"She deserves to die," the King spoke slowly as he watched a small hand gently pry the knife from his cold fingers. "She took him away from me… I don´t have anything left."

"I know, I know," Gabrielle spoke softly as if soothing a frightened child. "But killing Zelei won´t bring Alexias back and it won´t make you feel better either."

She gently, but firmly put her arm around the man´s slumped shoulders and started to lead him out of the tent. Just before they exited, she threw one look over her shoulder at the Captain who looked at her with with obvious confusion written all over her face.

"Why did you do that? Why did you stop him?" A look of disdain and contempt appeared on Zelei´s face. "Is this some kind of mercy act to show how good you are? Am I supposed to be grateful and thank you?"

The bard shook her head and something resembling pity briefly showed in the green eyes.

"No, Zelei."

"Well, then… Why did you do it?"

Gabrielle looked directly into a single brown eye. "We´re even now, Zelei. You saved my life, now I´ve saved yours…at least for the time being. I don´t owe you any more."

"So you saved me only so you won´t feel guilty when they condemn me to dead?" The Amazon said flatly, shooting the bard an ominous glare.

"Something like that:"

Gabrielle turned and followed the King out of the tent.
 


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CHAPTER XXXVIII
 
 
 
 

A few miles away from the camp, Xena dismounted and started to walk, leading Argo behind her. She wasn´t in the mood to return to the crowded camp just yet. After a couple of minutes walking through the dark gloom of dusk, she just dropped Argo´s reins and sat down on a rock close to a small stream. Argo looked questionably at her mistress for a moment or two before moving away a little and started to graze. Xena stared at the stream without blinking and let her thoughts flow with the water.

It finally happened…like I knew it would, one day…I always hoped that maybe, just maybe he would find something for himself, something that would make him happy, but I guess… It probably wasn´t meant to be.

She raised her head a threw a quick glance at Argo before looking back at the stream.

Damn you, Lykeas… Why does it have to be this way? Why can´t you just…just…

Xena sighed and closed her eyes, feeling the increasingly cold air wash over her body.

I don´t want to hurt you…

She abruptly stood up and whistled for Argo to return to her.

But you leave me no choice, do you?

She mounted and rode the last miles to the camp. When she arrived at the outskirts of the camp, the last red traces of the sun had disappeared and night had taken over. She nodded briefly to the guards posted nearby and then made her way to the stables, taking her time to care for her horse and saddle before starting to walk in the direction of her tent. She considered for a moment whether to go see Gabrielle, but decided against it. She didn´t really feel like having company tonight and with the mood she was in, she was sure to drive the bard crazy within minutes of her arrival, so she might as well save them both the trouble and go straight to bed. As she approached her tent, she noticed to her annoyance a faint light shinning through the canvass and she exhaled slowly, stealing herself while trying to mobilize what was left of her social skills. Apparently, it looked like she was going to have company tonight whether she wanted to or not.

"Your Majesty?" Xena exclaimed in surprised as she entered the tent. "What are you doing here?"

Queen Phillinna rose from the chair and turned to look at the warrior, a small smile playing on her lips.

"I was waiting for you. I was told you had returned."

"Yeah, about an hour ago."

Xena took off the heavy coat she´d been wearing and threw it carelessly on the pallet before sitting down herself.

"What can I do for you, Your Majesty?" She spoke in a tired voice, clearly indicating that all she really wanted was to be left alone and go to sleep.

The Queen smiled and was obviously aware of the warrior´s unspoken wish, but nonetheless turned the chair around to face her and sat down again.

"I just wanted to know if your journey went well and you accomplished what you set out to do? Considering the hurry in which you left a couple of days ago it must have been something very urgent."

Xena just shrugged and started to pull off her boots, muttering something under her breath that wasn´t really supposed to mean anything. She continued with her ministrations until a direct question from Phillinna caused her to stop and look up.

"What?"

"I asked, if we should expect more trouble?"

The warrior looked around before throwing the boots down beside the pallet, "The Persians have left and Kassander´s dead." She returned her gaze to the woman in front of her. "Everything´s been taken care of as far as I can see."

Phillinna raised an eyebrow in a way Xena found most irritating and she crossed her arms.

"Do you have anything specific on your mind?"

"I was just wondering," the Queen spoke in a surprisingly gentle voice, "if Lykeas had returned with you?"

For a few minutes, the warrior just looked at Phillinna, then she sighed quietly, "You know he hasn´t."

The Queen nodded to herself, green eyes searching Xena´s face.

"I haven´t failed to notice that almost a hundred of my most trusted soldiers together with a few of Polyidos´ haven´t returned as well. I take it there is a connection there?"

"Do you really need me to answer that?"

The hostility in the warrior´s voice wasn´t lost on Phillinna who smiled sadly.

"No, I guess not."

She stood up and returned the chair to its original position then moved to the exit of the tent where she paused and turned around.

"Xena?"

Their eyes met.

"Yes?"

"What are you going to do?"

For a moment the warrior´s expression became guarded then the walls fell away and pain mixed with frustration showed in the blue eyes.

"I don´t know, but I´ll think of something…I always do."

Silence lingered between them for a few minutes before the Queen spoke again, "I´m sorry, Xena."

"So am I."

She looked away, unable to hold Phillinna´s gaze.

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Undo a life of hurt and indifference, violence and pain?" When the Queen didn´t speak, Xena continued bitterly, "I didn´t think so."

"Who exactly are we talking about here?" Phillinna asked softly.

The warrior looked up again and stared directly into warm green eyes.

"Does it matter?"
 


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


 






Zelei looked up as the two Amazons stepped into the tent.

"It´s time," Callias spoke tonelessly and stepped behind the chair to untie the ropes. "We´re going to escort you to the council."

"What´s going to happen there?" Zelei asked, trying to make eye contact with Erinya whose eyes were darting around the tent, obviously uncomfortable.

"You will get the chance to speak for yourself and then your future fate will be decided," Callias continued from behind the Amazon´s back. "The Queen and King Polyidos will listen to what you have to say and then make their decision."

"What!?" The Captain craned her neck trying to see her colleague. "What does King Polyidos have to do with this? I´m an Amazon, I demand to be judged by Amazons and nobody else. No fucking man is going to decide whether I should live or die!"

"You´re no Amazon," Erinya spoke for the first time since they had entered the tent. She tightened the grip around her bow. "An Amazon doesn´t betray her sisters or try to assassinate her Queen. She doesn´t endanger the lives or her allies and friends or murder innocent children."

"But…" The colour had started to drain from Zelei´s face. "Don´t you understand? I did it all for you! For us! Gabrielle is no good as Queen, she´s been holding us back, she doesn´t belong in the Nation. If she wasn´t Queen, we could return to our all-time greatness, we could take back all the land we´ve lost and again be a force people would have to reckon with. Nobody would ever dare to laugh at the Amazons again."

"With Amazons like you people are more likely to feel pity than amusement," Callias commented flatly and walked over to stand beside the weapons master.

"Let´s go, they´re waiting."

Erinya nodded and looked at Zelei, "I trust you not to try to do anything foolish on the way, or we´ll have no scruples blindfolding you and tying your hands."

The Captain rose slowly from the chair and gazed at her former friends.

"I just have one question…"

"Yes?" Callias asked impatiently, disgust and contempt evident on her face.

"Will there…" The Amazon cleared her throat and tried to sound casually. "Will there… Is anybody going to…speak on my behalf?"

The two women exchanged a quick glance before returning their attention to their captive.

"Nobody has expressed a wish to speak on your behalf…except…."

"Except whom?" Zelei asked with growing trepidation.

"The Queen," the weapons master answered dryly, "she´s offered to speak on your behalf."

"You´re lying!"

The two Amazons didn´t bother to answer and Callias stepped over and grabbed the Captain´s elbow.

"Let´s go."

Zelei hesitated for a moment, "What´s going to happen to me?"

"Why?" Erinya asked mockingly. "Are you afraid?"

"No," the Captain spoke seriously. "I just want to know what´s going to happen."

Callias shrugged and started to pull Zelei out of the tent, "Who knows? The King most likely want you dead and so does everybody else. I doubt banishment will be an issue at all."

"Everybody?"

The Amazon stopped, ignoring the impatient glares from her captors.

"Even you…?"

She let her eyes search the faces in front of her.

"My sisters… They want me dead too…"

They didn´t answer and the Captain looked away, staring at the camp around her.

Callias and Erinya looked at each other for a few seconds, then the blond Amazon reached out to take Zelei´s elbow again, but just before her hand made contact, the Captain turned her head and looked directly into the blue eyes. Callias frowned, not sure how she should read the expression in the pale brown eye staring intensely at her.

"Zelei is there somethi-."

Before she could finish the sentence, Zelie turned on her heels and started to sprint away.

"Oh, Gods be dammed!" Erinya cursed and immediately place an arrow on her bow.

"Stop!" Callias cried out as she rushed after the fugitive. "Zelei, don´t be silly! There´s nowhere for you to run!"

All over the camp heads turned, alarmed by the sudden shouting, but nobody stepped in or tried to block the Amazon´s way, most simply being too stunned or caught up in the chase to respond.

"Zelei!" The weapons master called out, "I´m warning you! If you don´t stop immediately, I´ll shoot."

The Captain didn´t even slow down.

"Zelei!" Erinya shouted again. "I´m serious! Don´t make me do this!"

Xena stepped out of the tent just in time to see the Captain fall to the ground, an arrow sticking out of her back. She vaguely heard Gabrielle inhale sharply behind her as she started to run to the bleeding Amazon. She reached Zelei just a second before Callias caught up with her and together they kneeled down beside the Captain. With more gentleness than the soldier had thought possible, Xena rolled the Amazon onto her side, careful not to touch the arrow still sticking out of Zelei´s back. One look into the brown eye told the warrior all she needed to know and she looked up at Gabrielle who´d come to stand beside them.

"Do you want me to call for the healer?"

"No," Xena shook her head, "that won´t be necessary."

A few bloody bubbles clung to the Captain´s lips and she opened her mouth as if trying to speak. The warrior leaned down and brought her ear close to Zelei´s mouth who seemed to whisper a few words, instantly followed by a hollow wheezing, her eye rolled back and the body on the ground went limp. Xena sighed quietly and stood up again, emotionless blue eyes studying the dead Amazon. She felt a warm hand on her arm and turned to see the bard´s pale face. Without a word she put her arm around Gabrielle´s shoulder and started to lead her away.

"Xena, wait!"

They turned and Erinya who´d arrived at the scene just in time to witness the Captain´s death stepped a few steps forward.

"What did she say?"

The warrior looked at the weapons master for a long time, then spoke slowly, "She said that nobody executes an Amazon, Amazons control their own fate...even in death."

She threw one last glance at the body on the ground then turned around and walked away, her arm still protectively placed around the bard´s shoulder.
 


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


 






The soldier rode through the camp as fast as possible, barely giving the people who were in his way time enough to throw themselves out of his path. Outside the council tent, he forcefully pulled on the reins and the horse came to an abrupt halt, almost throwing the man of in the attempt to stop. The soldier jumped out of the saddle and made his way into the tent, shoving the tent flap aside.

"Your Majesty?" His eyes searched out Queen Phillinna who was sitting at the table together with King Polyidos. "An army is approaching."

He stopped to take a few deep breaths, confusion showing on his face.

"Its…it´s our army, I mean… At least I thought it was, but…"

"It didn´t behave like it was ours, did it?"

The soldier jumped at the sudden voice coming from somewhere behind him. He turned and came face to face with Xena. The man swallowed at the sight of the imposing figure and involuntarily took a step back to put some distance between.

"No, they acted like…like…"

"Like you were the enemy?"

It was hardly a question, but the soldier felt compelled to answer nonetheless.

"Yes, I mean…they didn´t attack us or anything, they just seemed really…" He paused, searching for the word. "Hostile…determined. They told me to bring you this message."

He reached into the back hanging from his shoulder, pulled out a scroll and after a quick glance at the warrior decided to give it to her instead of his Queen. As Xena unrolled the scroll and started to read, the man gave his sovereign a bewildered look.

"I don´t understand it, Your Majesty. Some of the men are my friends, I´ve served with them as long as I can remember. Why would they change like this? What´s happened?"

Phillinna rose from her chair and gave the soldier a reassuring smile before walking over to stand beside the warrior.

"What does it say?" She paused, then continued. "What does…he say?"

Without a word, Xena handed the scroll to the Queen and turned to look at the messenger again.

"How far away are they?"

"About…" The soldier spoke thoughtfully. "About two days away from here. We should be able to see them tomorrow night."

"Who was leading them?" The warrior asked quietly, clearly already knowing the answer.

"It was…" The man´s eyes narrowed. "It was your friend, Lykeas. Lykeas was leading them."

He turned to his Queen who´d just finished reading the scroll.

"Your Majesty, what´s going on? Do I need to alert the men?"

Phillinna´s eyes searched Xena´s face and after a few seconds the warrior nodded almost imperceptibly.

"Yes," the Queen looked back at the soldier, "alert the troops and tell them to prepare for battle."

The messenger´s mouth opened then it closed again slowly as disbelief spread all over his face. Then he gave her a deep bow and disappeared out of the tent.

"What´s going on?" King Polyidos rose from the chair, his brown eyes tired and his face haggard. "Are the Persians returning?"

"No, the Persian´s haven´t returned," Phillinna spoke gently. "It´s a bit more…complicated than that."

As she finished her sentence her eyes went back to Xena who hadn´t spoken since the soldier left the tent.

"Xena…" The Queen put her hand carefully on the warrior´s arm, not continuing until blue eyes focused on her. "What are you going to do. What are we going to do?"

"He has to be stopped," the warrior spoke emotionlessly. "Even though the message says he won´t attack us, we can´t allow him to pass so he can attack some other kingdom somewhere else…"

She stared directly into Phillinna´s eyes.

"I can´t let him pass."

She turned on her heals and walked out of the tent leaving Polyidos and Phillinna alone. The King looked at the blond woman beside him.

"Is this Lykeas, we´re talking about? The man who rescued my son?"

The Queen nodded slowly, "Yes, the very same."

"But…but why would he turn against us? Has he lost his mind or something? It makes no sense!"

Phillinna smiled sadly at Polyidos and gave his arm gentle squeeze before leaving the tent as well.
 


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CHAPTER XXXIX
 
 
 
 

Restless blue eyes searched the scorched plain below her. Even in the dark she could still see the huge burnt area and the grumbled trees and bushes looking like torn and twisted figures reaching toward the sky. She had been outside for almost an hour…waiting. Almost before she saw it, she felt it and stared through the night, trying to make out the other side of the plain. Slowly men and horses appeared, all moving quietly and controlled. She saw them begin to erect some makeshift tents and soon afterwards a few campfires were lit. Xena´s gaze went from one end of the camp to the other, categorizing and labelling every moving shadow. They seemed to be slightly more than a hundred and fifty men, apparently some of Kassander´s men had decided to join them or maybe it was farmers or fortune hunters. The warrior frowned slightly, it wasn´t like Lykeas to use unprofessionals in an army.

What are you up to? What are your plans, what´s going on inside that dark head of yours?

"Xena?"

She turned around to look at one of Polyidos´ men.

"Inform the men and the Amazons that they´ve arrived."

The soldier saluted and hurried away once again leaving the warrior alone in the darkness. She turned her head and looked back at the plain. A cold wind swept from behind her down the slope, making her hair fly around her face and she knew the men down there had to be freezing.

Are you cold too, Lykeas?

Suddenly her eyes were drawn to a single rider that was slowly moving away from the camp up towards her. Even though the distance made it impossible to determine for sure, Xena knew without a doubt it was Lykeas. She could feel it. Her hand instinctively reached for chakram then just as naturally it fell back down, her cold fingers twitching lightly. As if sensing her emotions the rider paused for a second before urging his horse on again. Slowly the distance between them became smaller and smaller, but just before Lykeas reached the slope leading to the camp above him he stopped and brought Rarjan to a halt. He raised his head and in spite of the distance, in spite of the dark night and the dancing shadows racing over the ground, black eyes stared directly into blue. Not once did either Xena´s nor Lykeas´ gaze waver as they looked into each other´s eyes, oblivious to everything around them. She could see his slow, steady breathing leave small clouds of steam in front of his face before they dissolved and disappeared. He tilted his head just a little and the warrior, who recognized the familiar questioning gesture, raised a questioning eyebrow in return, fully aware that he wouldn´t be able to see it, but knowing Lykeas knew she did it just the same. He looked away, back to the camp behind him and for a moment it was as if the silent communication between them ceased, and Xena had to stop herself from taking a step forward. Then the black eyes returned to her face and she shook her head slowly, knowing that this time he could see the movement. The warrior saw him straighten up in the saddle and could almost believe that she heard him let out a quiet sigh, before he slowly raised his hand. Xena´s eyes darted from the raised hand to Lykeas´ face and back again. She could feel his gaze upon her, could feel how he was willing her to look at him again. Hesitantly, but unable not to, she made eye contact with the dark man. A small smile flickered across his face and the warrior felt her lips curl up ever so slightly as she returned the smile. Then she raised her hand in a quiet, unspoken greeting and she could see Lykeas nod slowly, lowering his own hand before he abruptly turned Rarjan around and galloped away. Xena stared after him and continued to do so even long after he had disappeared out of her sight. The nagging, sickening feeling she´d been having in her stomach for the last couple of days eased, and instead she felt a lump in her throat, causing the warrior to swallow hard, but it didn´t disappear.

You´ve given me the answer, Lykeas. I know what to do now.

"Do you want me to post more guards here?"

The soldier who had run to deliver her message had returned.

"No," Xena spoke quietly still facing away from the guard, "nothing will happen tonight."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes… Nothing´s gonna happen tonight… He told me."

"Who?" The soldier asked in bewilderment as he watched the dark woman leave, but the warrior didn´t answer.
 


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


 






It was midday when the two armies approached each other. Without any discussion, Xena had taken control over the soldiers and the remaining Amazons, and had briskly told them to be ready when she needed them. Gabrielle had tried to talk to her about what was going on, but the warrior had just shaken her head and left without saying anything except from goodbye. It was with more than a little trepidation and anxiety, the bard watched the two armies below her close the distance between them. She´d been surprised when she´d realized that Xena didn´t intend to use the advantage of attacking downhill, but in stead insisted on meeting Lykeas on the flat plain. When she´d questioned her, the warrior had only replied that, "it was better that way."

"It doesn´t seem real, does it?"

Gabrielle turned her head and looked at Phillinna whose white dress was fluttering violently in the wind.

"No," the bard replied as she for the hundredth time had to remove her hair from her eyes. "No, it doesn´t."

They were standing alone, apart from the rest of the onlookers, at the edge of the slope leading down to the plain. In spite of it being in the middle of the day, the sky above them was dark-grey and a chilling wind caused everybody from soldiers to craftsmen to shiver and pull their clothes tighter around them.

"I don´t understand why they´re doing this," Gabrielle spoke quietly, just loud enough for the woman beside her to hear. "I mean, I understand that Xena can´t allow Lykeas to pass and all…but…" She let out a frustrated sigh. "I thought they were friends."

Phillinna smiled equivocally, her eyes never leaving the scene below her.

"They are friends, Gabrielle." She looked like she was going to continue, but in stead raised her arm and pointed, "Look."

The bard´s brow furrowed as she took in the sight of the two armies. They were less than two miles apart now, but in stead of getting closer, they seemed to slow down before completely coming to a halt before each other. Gabrielle´s eyes searched for the warrior and finally spotted her at the front seemingly arguing about something with Callias and the commanding officer from Polyidos´ army. She could tell from Xena´s squared shoulders and crossed arms that whatever it was she´d set her heart on, the Amazon and the soldier wouldn´t have any luck in talking her out of it, and for the first time in a very long time, a small smile appeared on the blond woman´s lips, then it faded.

"What is she doing!"

Phillinna leaned forward, narrowing her eyes. "It looks like she´s going out to meet them."

"Alone!?" The bard asked exasperated, not quite believing what she saw. "Is she crazy? She can´t take them on all at once. She can´t meet them alone!"

She started to move forward, but a surprisingly strong hand held her back.

"Not them…just him. Look."

Too stunned to offer an reply, Gabrielle watched as a single figure detached itself from the enemy army and made its way across the plain.

"What are they doing…?" The bard whispered to herself, her gaze riveted to the two warriors slowly approaching each other. With less than a yard separating them Lykeas and Xena stopped and although Gabrielle knew it was useless, she couldn´t help herself from straining to hear what was being said. Of course she couldn´t make out the words or even hear their voices, and had to settle for waiting in silence together with the two impatiently waiting armies and the even more impatient onlookers.

"So you agree to my terms?"

Lykeas nodded slowly.

"Yes."

Xena looked into the black eyes, knowing the answer already.

"Why?"

"It´s better that way," he spoke finally after a long pause.

"Will your men agree to it?"

"They won´t be given a choice."

Trying one last time, Xena searched the calm face before her.

"Lykeas… I think-."

He shook his head.

"No, Xena."

He gave her a weak smile, "See you tonight?"

"I´ll be here."

They remained like this, standing in front of each other in silence for a long time, neither wanting to be the first to turn away. Then Lykeas shifted slightly, his gaze darting to the ground.

"Goodbye, Xena."

She waited till he looked up again, "For now."

Another pale smile. "Yeah, for now."

She turned and walked away, conscious of all the eyes upon her, but not caring.

"Xena…"

She stopped, but didn´t turn around.

"Yes."

"Say...say hello to Gabrielle for me."

For the briefest of seconds, the warrior´s facade cracked and a deep sadness showed in the blue eyes, then she nodded.

"I will."
 


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


 






"A what?"

"A duel," the warrior repeated painstakingly, already having repeated that particular phrase one too may times. "Lykeas and I are going to meet at sunset to fight. If he loses he´ll dissolve the army without any conditions, and if I lose then he´ll be granted passage through Polyidos´ and Simmias´ kingdoms without interference. It´s a simple as that."

She started to rise, but the bard stepped closer and firmly pushed Xena back down in the chair.

"There´s nothing simple about that. It´s absolutely crazy!"

"Isn´t it better than fighting a battle, killing even more soldiers? This way, we´ll save us all a lot of bloodshed."

"If you win, yes! But have you considered the fact that you might lose? That we´ll have to stand by passively and watch Lykeas attack some helpless kingdom or village."

"He won´t do that!" The warrior interjected with more force than she´d intended and smiled apologetically as Gabrielle shrank away from her. "I´m sorry." She rose and took the bard´s hands into her own. "I didn´t mean to sound so harsh, it´s just… He won´t do that… I know he won´t."

Concerned and worried green eyes looked into blue and Xena felt a tired smile appear on her face.

"He won´t attack a village, Gabrielle. He won´t. He´ll only go for the kingdoms, the major city states. He won´t have any interest in villages…he never really had."

"You don´t know that for sure," the bard whispered softly.

The warrior sighed quietly and walked over to the pallet drawing Gabrielle down to sit beside her.

"I have to do it this way, Gabrielle. It´s the only way to do this. I don´t want another battle like the one we just had, we don´t need that…nobody does."

She smiled and kissed the bard´s forehead before resting her own against the blond hair.

"Don´t you think we´ve experienced enough battles these last couple of months to last us a lifetime?"

The young woman didn´t answer right away and when she did the question threw Xena slightly off balance.

"Why can´t he just let it go? Why does he have to do this?" She leaned back so she could see the warrior´s face. "You changed, why can´t he?"

Xena cringed at the betrayal and hurt she detected in Gabrielle´s voice and raised her hands helplessly.

"I…I don´t know what to say. I´ve tried, believe me I have, but…but it´s like…" She faltered, exhaling slowly.

"Yes?"

"It´s like he doesn´t want to…like he doesn´t care what happens or… I can´t reach him any more, he´s not listening to me… He just…"

She clenched her fists in frustration and the bard reached out to carefully pry the fingers apart before leaning back again.

"He doesn´t care any more." The warrior finished impotently.

"He cares about you…"

Xena shrugged, "Maybe."

"He does, otherwise I don´t understand why he should agree to do this, the duel and all."

Pale blue eyes looked up, "Don´t you see it´s so much easier this way…for both of us?"

"What do you mean?" Gabrielle inquired gently, "In what way?"

"We…we get to decide things ourselves this way. It´s the way we´ve always done it."

The bard was silent for awhile, not certain she´d understood everything, but knowing she´d pushed the warrior to her limits already and decided to back down a little.

"So… You´ll meet at sunset?"

The dark head nodded.

"Do you think you´ll win?" She tried to make light out of the question and as Xena´s eyes found hers continued cheerfully, "I mean, I´ll need to know the odds if I´m going to bet. It´ll be a great way to earn some dinars, won´t it?"

"I didn´t know you were a betting woman, Gabrielle." The warrior spoke, arching an eyebrow.

"I´m with you, aren´t I? So I have to be…" She saw the light in the blue eyes fade and hurried to say, "I didn´t mean it like that, Xena. I just-."

"I know." The warrior´s voice was weary, but warm. "Don´t worry, I know how you meant it."

She could still she the doubt in the blond woman´s eyes and leaned closer, bringing their lips together. She gently tasted the bard´s mouth for a few moments before pulling back and they exchanged a quiet smile.

"I´ll say the odds are in my favour, but don´t bet too much, there´s no need to challenge fate…or the Gods for that matter."

Gabrielle was still smiling, but her eyes had turned serious.

"Xena… What if you don´t win… What if-."

Again, the warrior leaned forward and cut off the words with her mouth. She kissed the bard more thoroughly this time before working her way over to the young woman´s ear.

"I´m not gonna lose, Gabrielle," she whispered huskily and felt the bard shiver. "I´m better than he is."

She started to suck the earlobe into her mouth, but sighed dejectedly when she felt small hands on her chest, pushing her gently, but firmly away.

"What makes you so sure you´ll defeat him?"

Xena sighed again, "I always do, that´s why."

"He kicked your arse during staff practice back in the village, what makes you think he won´t do that again."

"Gabrielle…" The warrior spoke more seriously, "That was staff practice. We were sparring and that´s a whole lot different from fighting for real, besides we won´t be using staffs, but swords and I´m better with a sword than he is. I know it and he knows it."

"If he knows he´s going to lose…why did he agree to this duel?"

Xena opened her mouth, but nothing came out. The bard rose from the pallet and placed a kiss on the dark hair.

"Get some rest, you´ll need all your strength later."

Then she left the warrior alone to struggle with her own thoughts.
 


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TO BE CONTINUED…

Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse