The Joining
by Kamouraskan

Part 3

18

It was a pathetic sight as the litter and casualties made their way through the village to the hospice. Saras had already examined James and after getting her whispered instructions from him, had put him prominently on display while waiting for the rest. It didn't take long before there was a crowd of Amazons staring dumbfounded as the injured continued to be brought in. Several older Amazons began to work their way among the crowd of watchers, whispering and commenting. Finally the Queen arrived, untouched and unhurt, for she had refused to join the charade. She stood, staff in hand, waiting. Finally, she called "Raza, come out."

James had positioned himself behind the crowd, and he could see that Gabrielle was as

angry as he had ever seen her. Gone was the gentle bard, this was a furious Queen. He wasn't

surprised when the pompous Amazon who had nearly barred their entry stepped forward with

shocked look pasted on her face.

"Are you here to take responsibility for what you have brought the Amazons to?" The big warrior

accused.

"And what do you claim I have done?" Gabrielle answered coldly.

"You have remade a nation of warriors into submissive fools, you have allowed men to wander at will on our sacred grounds, and you are not entitled to the mask you wear."

James was hoping that Gabrielle would know to interrupt before the challenge was

properly issued, and looked about for Xena. But the little Queen had had enough of this and cut

in on the speech.

"Interestingly, the only injury to my forces was a male who attempted to save the life of

one of my trainees."

"The only injury, what do you call these?" Raza pointed at the bloody bodies around

them.

"I call them the mercenaries hired by your dinars," Gabrielle’s voice carried across the crowd of onlookers. " I call them the traitors who were banished for following the murderess Valasca", and she reached into one of the pallets and pulled up one of the renegades who obligingly babbled "She promised us we could return to the nation, she promised us..."

The rest of the pallets were turned over revealing men wrapped and immobilized by their

supposed bandages. Gabrielle continued mercilessly "Those soft troops you just criticized took

less than ten minutes to find, defeat and capture without an injury, all of the forces you put under

command. Troops that you hired to fire upon your own SISTERS. But even in treachery, you were

incompetent. Amazons, do you wish to support THIS woman as Queen?"

Raza was now standing almost entirely alone, as slowly her supporters had drifted off.

She stood quietly still, as the small woman in front of her tore apart her dream at the moment

she thought it had been accomplished. She needed almost no provocation, and Gabrielle knew it. She gripped her familiar staff.

"So Raza, you wanted to challenge your Queen?"

Gabrielle quickly made her evaluation of her opponent. About a foot taller and almost

twice her weight, all of it muscle. Left handed.

Raza had never sparred with her, and she knew that the renegade's plan had centred around gaining her own choice of weapons, not wanting to face her staff. Was she now in a way granting the bigger woman her wish?

Was the bard prepared to take on this mountain with only her staff against one of the villages best swords, and those vicious throwing knives she was so skilled with? Had she already palmed one?

Yes, she could see that the fingers of her right hand were fully extended, hiding the blade. Gabrielle took a moment to check the crowd, and found her lover immediately. Xena gave her a quick nod, the picture of confidence in the skills of her bard, but Gabrielle saw the pain in the eyes of a small Amazon standing in front of the warrior, and realized that Xena was unconsciously gripping the poor warrior.

Xena was a mixture of outer stoicism and inner turmoil. One part quietly

evaluating both combatants stances and positioning, the other screaming silently, "the knife...in

her right hand...she's going to throw it and go for your right shoulder with the sword...'She knows

that', she told herself. 'You know, she knows that...'

Her bard's voice, beautiful to her even when laced with sarcasm, called out "Are you

going to fight, or have you hired someone to do that for you as well?"

With a cry, Raza rushed her. Gabrielle batted away the thrown knife and dropped her

right side, using her staff to pivot away from the sword. She had no chance to strike, but was

just grateful she had survived the first rush. As she turned and prepared for the next attack she

once again looked to her warrior.

"Xena you're hurting her..." she called to her. The warrior didn't understand, until she

looked down at her hands and saw they were gripped like talons into the shoulders of the

Amazon in front of her, that the girl would have fallen to her knees in pain if the warrior hadn't

been holding her up. She quickly released her grasp, and the small Amazon looked up with

relief and gratitude. Xena returned it with embarrassment and mute apology. 'How did she do

that?' Xena thought. ' How did she take a moment in a fight for her life to stop me from hurting

someone?' And not for the first time thought, ''But that's who she is....'

Gabrielle felt the force of the second of the two upper blows her ears throbbing from the crack of sword against staff, knowing that the larger woman was forcing her into a crouch, but managed to get both legs up in time as the blade swept across along the ground. Knowing that Raza had thrown all her weight to the move she was able to give a hard strike along the renegades outer thigh and use the momentum of the blow to move away from her. Even in her pain, Raza moved to palm another of her knives, and Gabrielle knew that she had to knock that dangerous right hand out of commission.

'Damn me to Tarterus. This is my fault.'' Xena thought. Flashes of Gabrielle as she had

first seen her. The innocent, soon to be farmers wife. 'She has been brought to this exact

moment because of me. Forced to fight, to kill, because of a crown and mask she never asked

for. And even if she wins, she will never wash off the blood and I will have stood here and done

nothing. Nothing but watch like she was an animal in a ring.'

Raza was already panting heavily, Gabrielle noted, and concentrated on her own breathing, knowing that her seeming calm would further enrage the other warrior. 'And the Queen mustn’t sweat', she told herself, not enjoying the irony. 'But all the Queen wants, is to be so far from all of this, beside a flowing stream in the arms of her lover. But,' she reminded herself, 'you won't have that chance if you don't focus.' She forced herself not to look to where the knife was, remembering to watch the eyes...

'The eyes, Gabrielle, the eyes will tell,' Xena thought. 'She won't try the same

thing twice, this time the sword will be first..."

Raza looked to the apparently calmly waiting woman across from her, and knew she had to rattle her if her plan was to work. She called to her, "this isn't a practice, QUEEN," she

sneered, "It's kill or be killed, can you do that?"

Gabrielle gave no sign that she heard the taunt, she stood silently, her weight ready to

shift the moment she could read the attack. But in her mind she knew the effect those words

would have on her love, and she spared a quick glance at her warrior, knowing that those

around Xena only saw her mask. ‘God’s, she must be frantic', and she willed her green eyes to

meet blue and say through them, 'it will be all right, love, everything will be all right,'

Now she turned and forced her anger to rise. She looked at Raza not just as the attempted murderer of HER Amazons, but as the thing that was hurting her lover, an obstacle to them being together.

Xena had felt Gabrielle's gaze like a caress, and her heart rate begin to return to

normal. 'She WILL be all right,' she thought, She is the Queen, she is the woman I am proud

chose me; she will be fine.' She watched as Gabrielle's eyes darkened, and instead of fearing

that expression, cheered her on. 'Get her...'

As Gabrielle had anticipated, the sword came first, but instead of evading it as Raza

expected, she left herself open, and in her greed and eagerness the renegade tried to switch

plans in mid attack and arrived, prepared for neither. As she pulled back her throwing arm, she

gave the Bard the second she needed and moving faster than Raza could have thought, made a

light thrust to the sword arm, and knocked it out of position. A quick shift of her hands let her put

the whole of her strength into a blow to the right elbow. There was an audible crack, and the

knife fell from the useless fingers. Raza withdrew, only her eyes indicating her fear and pain.

'Damn this woman, Damn her to Tarterus', and swinging wildly, she rushed again.

There was no fire in Gabrielle's eyes, but the chin showed her determination as she

turned her defense into a systematic attack, striking the larger woman almost at will. In her mind

she calculated the centre of gravity, and when Raza attempted to swing at her in the midst of a

pivot, Gabrielle saw her chance and swept her feet from under her. Ignoring the cheers, she

placed her foot on the renegade's stomach, and the end of her staff at her throat.

"Yield." She demanded.

The panting Amazon shook her head. "You can't end it this easily. Kill me, or let me

stand to fight."

Gabrielle looked into her eyes, and knew that the warrior would not yield, not yet. She

still had no more options than when she had begun this joust. She could call for her guards, and

Raza would be arrested and dragged away, to sit for days and be executed. In her name, in cold

blood; banishment had never been an option for this dangerous traitor. She could force her to

fight her champion, but that was just another form of execution. She had defended her throne,

as a true Amazon, wasn't it enough? But kill her in battle? Could she? And wouldn't that give Raza a victory as well?

James and Xena were right. She and what she stood for had to be crushed.

Better she died now. She stepped back.

'Gabrielle NO!' Xena moaned as Gabrielle released the renegade to the murmurs of the

crowd. 'Why wouldn't you leave her to me?' Every thought that had flashed through the Queen's

mind might have been shouted aloud, the warrior knew her so well.

Raza slowly stood, and this time began her attack cautiously, but the bard began to give a demonstration of how to blow by blow, limb by limb, immobilize your opponent. Dazed, jeered at by the crowd, the renegade could feel the humiliation. Once again she was knocked down and the Queen

stood above her fallen opponent, seemingly untouched, grim faced. Raza lay in pain,

bleeding and bruised and watched in shock as the woman she despised for weakness and peacemaking began to slowly grind the heel of her boot into the soft bones of her hand.

"Yield." she demanded again and Raza screamed in pain, "Yes!, I Yield!"

This was it. She kept her face expressionless, but her mind was racing. Is this only an

excuse, to let others kill her so that I can convince myself that my hands are clean? Yes, it is,

but it will be up to Raza, she will have the choice...'

She turned her back on the Amazon, hearing the surreptitious scrabbling of

the weakened hand for the last knife. She continued to walk, not moving her head as her

opponent tried to stand. She willed her back muscles not to tense, and then she heard the

sound of the chakrum and almost simultaneously the release of the arrows. ‘What would be first

to strike' she thought and closed her eyes, and then there was the clash of metal striking metal as the throwing blade was knocked from the air a foot from her unprotected back by Xena's weapon, then

arrows from several archers struck a human body. The blade clattered to the dirt, a body fell

limply right after, and the crowd released it's breath.

Arms were around her, and she raised her weary eyes to her lover, who said, "You gave

her a choice, love,"

"But, I knew what she would choose..."

"Yes, but you still gave her that choice."

And it was hard to see who was holding whom as they moved into the crowd.

19

Not concerned about the outcome of the fight, James had left the scene and found himself drawn towards the Communal baths. There was definitely something still wrong. He noticed that he seemed to walking along a set of drag marks that led to the doors of the springs. Stepping inside, he looked down at an unconscious Hercules and a bound Solari being held at knife point by a wild looking Amazon Warrior.

"Oh hi," said Solari casually. " James, have you met Raza's big sister Andrea?"

Clearly surprised, Solari's huge captor flashed crazed eyes towards James and her eyes lit up

with a feral grin.

"Both sons of Ares have been delivered into my hands and our lands will be cleansed!"

she chanted." Praise Artemis!"

Solari said " Andrea doesn't seem to like men very much..."

"I could always come back..."

Andrea tugged the smaller Amazon forward. "Don't move, or this bitch will be smiling

with her throat."

Solari struggled with her bonds to look up at the broadly built Amazon. "Don't you think

it's kinda ironic that you're using the fear of you killing another woman, to capture these men?"

"Silence. They will die, and these lands will be purified again. It doesn't matter the

method." She beckoned to James.

"Solari, weren't you supposed to be...?" They were both ignoring her capture.

Solari was embarrassed. "Hercules' knife at the throat? Didn't know it was supposed to

be a job description. Now I know how Gabrielle feels." She raised her throat to reveal a series of

cuts, some weeping blood. "She forced Herc to drink some of that stuff they gave the Centaurs. I

think we both hoped it wouldn't have any effect on him, but..." She indicated the unconscious

demi-god at their feet.

James tried to evaluate the threat. Andrea was big, all over. To overpower Solari and

drag Hercules all this way... Calling for help would only result in Solari`s death, he definitely

needed an edge, or at least an equalizer. Shrugging his shoulders, he gave Solari a look that was returned when his eyes flickered towards the mineral springs.

Andrea smiled as he slowly approached, and when the hand holding the knife moved

slightly, Solari clamped down with her teeth. James jumped forward, using his head as a

battering ram, and managed to knock her away from Solari and they both plunged into the

spring. Almost blacking out with shock of the water hitting his injury, he forced his body to drop into the depths of the pool, hoping that the greater floatation of the mad woman would keep her near the surface. His panicking mind saw vivid images of a knife slicing his flesh to bloody ribbons.

He touched bottom, and saw a shadow pass above him, knowing Andrea was fighting her buoyancy, slowly descending feet first. He braced himself against the floor and sides of the pool and kicking forward as hard as he could, pushed the feet of his attacker, launching her against the rocky sides of the spring. Her size and the mineral content in the water propelled her like a cork. Reaching the surface, gasping for air, he scrambled to pull himself out, when Solari called over to him.

"I don't think there's any rush now..."

He followed her eyes. Andrea was floating lifelessly on the surface, blood flowing

profusely from her dented skull. Noticing James' expression, Solari said, "It's not like she wasn't

already cracked, you know..."

Seeing that her attempt at humour had not succeeded, she hopped over to where he clung, panting, to the side of the pool.

"Hey, you did really good, you had no choice."

He looked up at Solari, his mind racing through the tribal regulations. "A male, has just

killed an Amazon, on Amazon tribal grounds."

Realization struck Solari. "Oh, shit."
 
 

"Hi, "said James to Robin, waggling his chains to indicate she should sit.

She continued standing. "I can't believe Gabrielle had you put in chains. What am I

saying? I can't believe she arrested you at all!"

James was relaxed. "I know, I miss our little bed at the hut now."

"These are your friends..."

"OUR friends..."

"You're in chains!" She shouted in exasperation.

"Gabrielle is hoping that if she follows protocol leading up to the trial, there won't be so

much resentment if she conducts the defense."

"Trial? You were defending yourself and two of her best friends!"

"It doesn't matter. A male, on Amazon lands, killed an Amazon."

"She was a traitor to the Queen!"

"At the time of her death, still a member of the Nation. The law is clear. I shouldn't even

be getting a trial."

"What kind of trial, who is the judge?"

"I shouldn't call it a trial. It's more of an encounter session with the whole tribe.

Personally, I think it's just a delaying tactic until you and I can be sent back by Aphrodite."

"Then let's go! Now!"

"Gabrielle has to ask Artemis to allow Aphrodite on site, and she can't, if it's to let me escape Amazon Justice."

"Andrea wasn't declared non-amazon, Gabrielle can't call on Artemis... are they going to

let you be executed because of technicalities? You saved two lives! They should be having a

feast in your honour!"

"I'm putting my life in the hands of two of the smartest people I know. I've done stupider

things."

There was a commanding voice at the door, some banging of locks, and the cell door

opened and Gabrielle and Xena came in.

"James," began Gabrielle apologetically, ignoring the look that Robin was giving her.

"It's OK, 'Ri, I've just been explaining everything to Robin, I know you're trying everything

you can."

Xena grinned. "I've been offered three different escape plans just walking over here.

Solari has over a dozen volunteers for her tunnel alone."

"See Robin, they want to dig me a tunnel. Isn't that much nicer than a feast?"

"Yeah," Robin said as she paced. "Very thoughtful."

Xena squatted comfortably against the far wall, and said "Gabrielle's been spending all

her time in the library..."

James interrupted "I have the library in my head and I can't find anything..."

"You're not the Amazon Queen. "Xena observed.

"People keep telling me that." He looked towards Gabrielle.

She smiled and began hesitantly, "I think I've got something, but..."

"I like it. Whatever it is." James said immediately.

"Good." Xena smiled, using all of her teeth. "she was worried you might have a small

objection."

James began to worry as he obsorbed her smile. "Why would I object?"

"Well," Xena continued to enjoy herself as she explained. "The law is clear. Any male

who kills an Amazon on tribal ground is to be put to death. Andrea was clearly an Amazon, and

you certainly killed her. For a moment she thought we could claim it wasn't on land..."

Gabrielle interrupted now, "but the tribal lands are defined by the boundaries..."

"So, " Xena continued, "that only left...."

All three woman stared at James. He smiled wanly.

"This doesn't involve surgery, does it?"

Xena crossed her arms comfortably. "Would it matter?"

"Ah, not lately, but I had hopes, you know...."

Well, we'll see what we can do."

20

The tribe was gathered around the main ceremonial campfire. All were in full regalia.

Gabrielle was resplendent in her Queen's leathers, but James was not ogling her. He had eyes

only for Robin, who had been convinced by Gabrielle that as an Amazon trainee she should

show proper respect for her new status. She complained that she felt like Peter Pan in a

bondage movie, but James had been too tongue tied to comment. Ephiny dragged him away

from watching her. "The trial? Your life is on the line? Remember?"

"Oh, right."

"This is how it works. There are sixty of these peat stones. Each burns for a short time.

The law is read, the accusation is listed. You or your defender gets to distribute each of the

stones, and one by one they are tossed into the fire. Then each person can speak for only as

long as they burn."

"How long is that?"

The Regent was silent for a minute. "That long."

She held up the bag of stones.

"Give them all to Gabrielle." he said confidently.

"Smart man."

"For how much longer?"

Ephiny grinned again and carried the bag over to Gabrielle.

Part 4


Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse