The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Argo from the TV show 'Xena Warrior Princess' belong to Studio USA/Renaissance Pictures/Universal or whoever actually owns them now. No infringement on their rights is intended. All other characters are created by myself, and belong to me.
This is an action-adventure story that depicts a few scenes of violence and/or the aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a loving relationship between consenting adult women. If that kind of story scares you, click on the X in the top-right corner and find something else to read.
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR:
Yorksbard (Ianic): Thank you very much for your help :)
Written: February 2011.
Timeline: Season 2, but I'm not following the canon religiously so there's no Solan, no Perdicus and no Callisto.
Description: In a small village they're just passing through, Xena and Gabrielle meet a friendly magistrate with a big problem: he has arrested two of Abraxus The Brutal's brothers and, predictably, the feared warlord isn't particularly happy about it. Xena and Gabrielle quickly decide to help the magistrate - but when the situation escalates, they find themselves Under Siege.
This story can easily be read on its own but is actually a continuation of the storyline I started in 'It Happened On Winter Solstice Night' and continued in 'A Weekend With Aphrodite'. If you're interested in finding out what happened to 'my' Xena and Gabrielle prior to this story, go ahead and read the other two.
As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D
CHAPTER 1 - NOON
Three travelers - a tall, golden mare and two women - were walking along the dirt road to Elinaius, a small village five leagues south of Lissos on the west coast of Greece. The two women couldn't be more different; one was tall with long, raven black hair, wearing a dark brown battle dress with a bronze breastplate, and the other was short, fair-haired, and wearing a rust brown skirt and a pea green top.
Their weapons proved that they weren't strangers to fighting: the taller of the two women had a circular blade on her hip and a sword in a scabbard on her back, and the shorter was holding - and occasionally twirling - an Amazon fighting staff.
"Hmmm... warrior or healer...?" the shorter woman said, twirling the staff yet again.
"Both. But mostly warrior."
"Xena, you're not helping much," Gabrielle said, shooting Xena a dark, annoyed look.
"I'm not supposed to. The game won't be fun if it's too easy."
"But it's not fair... you know so many people..."
"You're learning all the time. And besides, you know the person I'm thinking of," Xena said and gently bumped shoulders with Gabrielle.
"Yeah, but... is it General Marmax? You know, the soldier we met in the temple when Ephiny gave birth?"
"I give up."
"Come on, you can't give up already, Gabrielle. We've only just started playing."
"How is Argo?" Gabrielle said, trying her damnedest to ignore the puppy-dog look Xena sent her.
"Her hoof is better now, but we still need to find a blacksmith for that cracked shoe."
"There's smoke on the horizon. Looks like we're coming up to a village. Maybe we can find some help there," Gabrielle said, pointing ahead.
"Hopefully. Some years ago, Elinaius was a bustling sheep town, but then a disease struck and people started moving out."
"Oh... but there should be a blacksmith. And an inn... I'm really, really hoping they have an inn. My back is still sore from sleeping on those rocks last night," Gabrielle said and pressed her hand against the lower part of her back.
"Well, if you had spent two candledrips clearing the ground, you wouldn't have had to, you know."
"I was tired," Gabrielle said with a shrug.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You snored all night."
"I don't snore."
"Right. Of course not," Xena said, giving Gabrielle a blinding smile.
"Don't you get too cheeky with me, Warrior Princess... we still have those separate bedrolls and I could..."
The easily recognizable sounds of a fight suddenly reached their ears and Xena stopped dead in her tracks and drew her sword.
"Somebody's getting a beating," Gabrielle said matter-of-factly.
"Yep. Just around the corner. Stay here. I'll check it out," Xena said and started running towards the village.
"Like Hades I will!" Gabrielle said and bounded after the warrior. Behind them, Argo whinnied and wandered off to the side of the dirt road, having found herself a patch of juicy grass.
As Xena entered the village at full speed, it didn't take her but a few seconds to assess the situation: two young punks were attacking an elderly man who was already lying on the ground, trying to protect his head with his hands. This exposed his chest and stomach and the two punks took full advantage of that by kicking him there.
At once, Xena reached for her Chakram, but the two attackers were surrounded by several villagers so she couldn't get a clear line of fire. She cursed inwardly when she noticed that the villagers didn't appear to be helping the elderly man.
"HEY!" she yelled, making the villagers spin around and look in her direction. The moment they saw the heavily armed warrior come running towards them, they scattered like rats.
The two attackers were so busy pummeling the elderly man that they didn't pay any attention to what was going on around them. The closest man's first clue was when he was hit across the chest by Xena's size ten boots. The hard impact sent him flying several yards up the dirt road and he ended up face-down in the gravel, completely unaware of what had hit him.
Panting, Gabrielle ran up to stand at Xena's side. At once, she raised her staff and went to work on the other punk, clobbering his knees, his crotch, his gut and finally bonking him on the head, sending him sprawling onto the road.
Xena looked around, thoroughly checking the road and the surrounding houses for further threats, but the danger seemed to be over.
"Gabrielle, take a look at the elderly man. I'm going to make sure those two punks won't try again," Xena said and put her sword in its scabbard.
"All right," Gabrielle said and ran over to where the man was still lying. She quickly put down the staff and knelt down next to him.
"Are you all right?" she said and began to check the back of the man's head for blood. His hair and scraggly beard were white and he appeared to be in his mid-fifties or possibly even older. His face was flushed from the exertion, but other than that, he didn't seem too badly injured.
"Yeah... I'm fine. I'm fine," the elderly man said and coughed a few times. With a groan, he motioned to sit up and Gabrielle took him by the arms and helped him up.
"I'm Gabrielle of Potaideia and this is my friend, Xena of Amphipolis. What happened here?"
"Xena of Amphipolis...?" the man said quizzically, looking at Gabrielle. His pale gray eyes suddenly became sharp and focused, revealing that he was thinking hard about something.
"No, I'm Gabrielle. That's Xena," Gabrielle said, pointing at the warrior who was busy hog-tying the two punks using some rope she had found hanging on the side of a building.
"Hmmm. Anyway, I'm pleased to meet ya. My name is Parsius, formerly of Mount Ida... but now I'm the magistrate of Elinaius."
"Oh!" Gabrielle said and took a better look at the building they were in front of. Now that she had time to study it, she could see at once that it was a jail house - the building was made up of very thick logs held together by rope, sturdy bars were covering the two windows, and the door in the center of the facade had been reinforced by metal beams.
The village itself was different from most of the other small towns she and Xena had visited over the course of their travels. Instead of individual low huts with thatched roofs, the houses were all two-story structures made of wood and they were all connected by a covered sidewalk that ran on both sides of the street.
Some of the houses had been built together, but most had narrow alleys between them, creating plenty of opportunities for punks to stay well out of sight if that's what they wanted.
Parsius started hacking and coughing again and suddenly he leaned over to the side and spat out some blood.
"Oh, it looks like you've hurt a rib. You need help."
"Nah, I'm fine. I can breathe freely so it can't be a busted rib. Forget it."
"Do you have a healer here?"
"We do, but he's out on business."
"Oh... well, I'm sure Xena wouldn't mind taking a look. Right?" Gabrielle said, looking up at Xena who was walking towards them holding both the thugs at the scruff of their necks.
Without much remorse, Xena let go of the two dazed thugs who promptly fell down on the ground with a bump. Dusting off her hands, she squatted down next to the injured man.
"Sure," Xena said and adjusted one of her gauntlets that had been turned slightly in the brief fight. "Hello, I'm Xena," she continued, offering the man her arm.
"I know. Your friend told me. I'm Parsius, the magistrate," Parsius said and clasped hands with the warrior.
"Glad to meet you, Parsius. I'm just going to dump these two inside the jail, okay?"
"Sure. The cells are down the back. Just slam the bars shut."
Xena nodded, picked up the two thugs and dragged them inside, ignoring their loud protests as their knees banged repeatedly against the steps.
"Uh... which reminds me... does your village have a blacksmith? Our horse has thrown a shoe," Gabrielle said and took Parsius' arm to help him get up.
The elderly man groaned a few times as he got to his feet, but after a little effort, he was finally able to stand up straight.
"Yeah... yeah. Down the other end of Main Street. Next to the livery stable."
"All right. Come on, let's get you inside," Gabrielle said and helped Parsius up the three steps leading to the sidewalk in front of building. She looked over her shoulder at the empty street and felt a surge of anger inside her. None of the villagers who had watched the magistrate getting a beating had even bothered to peek out of their homes since.
"They're in the cells and the doors have been firmly locked. Were they trying to escape?" Xena said as she held the heavy door open.
"Yeah, they were trying to escape. Hades, they actually did escape. I was... oh, I don't know what the Hades happened. I locked the cells, I'm sure of it. I had to go on a little errand and when I came back they were waiting for me. Well, you know the rest."
After Xena and Gabrielle had settled Parsius down on a chair behind a wooden desk, the first thing he did was to open the bottom drawer, take out a bottle and uncork it.
"Drink?" he said, holding up the bottle. The strong smell emanating from the bottle gave away that it was some kind of strong liquor.
"Uh, no thanks," Gabrielle said, scratching her cheek.
"Suit yourself. Here's to you," Parsius said and took a long swig. Aaah'ing, he jammed the cork back in the bottle and put it on the table.
"Parsius, why didn't the villagers help you?" Xena said, leaning against a window sill at the other side of the room.
"'Cos they're scared shitless, pardon my language. They don't want to get involved."
"Involved?" Gabrielle said, looking at a billboard that held several wanted posters.
"You're strangers here, you wouldn't understand."
"Try us," Xena said and crossed her arms over her chest.
"The two punks you took out are Abraxus' two younger brothers. They're just a couple of thugs and their bark is worse than their bite, but their older brother is a mean basta... uh, scoundrel."
"Abraxus The Brutal?" Xena said, suddenly interested.
"The very same. I bet ya wish ya hadn't come this way, huh?" Parsius said, taking another long swig of the bottle.
"The bigger they are, the harder they'll fall," Gabrielle said vehemently.
"Why were his brothers in jail in the first place?" Xena asked.
"Well, they started a fight over in the inn last night. If they hadn't been drunk off their feet, I'd never have been able to get them over here. I guess they sobered up quicker than I thought they would."
"So there's an inn here?" Gabrielle said.
"Yep. Well, what's left of it. The bar room was messed up pretty badly last night. I think they'll open for business, though."
"Good, because we're planning on spending the night there."
"Mmmm, well, it's run by the widow Alchios and she usually won't allow female company of the unmarried kind in the rooms... but I guess since you're both women, there shouldn't be a problem," Parsius said and put the bottle back down in the drawer.
Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak but one look at the crooked grin on Xena's face convinced her not to.
Once the rather stern-looking Alchios had given them the key for their room on the second floor of the inn, Xena and Gabrielle walked up the stairs holding their sparse belongings.
Gabrielle folded back the hood of her cloak and looked over her shoulder in a very conspiratorial fashion. She took a deep breath and leaned in towards Xena.
"For a moment there, I thought she wasn't going to buy the 'Hestian virgin on her first trip outside the convent'-story we cooked up," she whispered.
"No. Good thing we had that cloak in the saddlebags. Without it, we'd be sleeping in the stables," Xena whispered back, hoisting up the aforementioned saddlebags. "You could take one of them, you know," she continued.
"A Hestian virgin shouldn't do such trivial chores."
"I'll remember that the next time you want me to wash your hair," Xena said, turning right into a narrow hallway that led to the room they had rented for the night.
Choosing not to hear Xena's comment, Gabrielle held the key ready and put it into the lock as they reached the door.
"Let's see what we've got," she said, turning the key. The door creaked open, revealing a room that looked to be of fairly good quality. The room was equipped with two chairs, two separate beds and a small table between them that had a wash basin on top of it. A small window with heavy curtains adorned the wall behind the two separate beds.
Xena dumped the two pairs of saddlebags on one of the beds and looked around.
"The beds are bolted to the floor. I guess we have to sleep separately tonight."
"We can manage one night apart, can't we?" Xena said, adding a sly wink.
"Well... looks like we'll have to," Gabrielle said and took off the cloak and put it on the bed. With a snort, she sat down next to the discarded clothing item, wearing a frown on her face dark enough to make Xena chuckle.
Several candlemarks later, the ground started shaking from the hoofbeats of a large group of horses approaching from the east. The group soon made an appearance at the outskirts of the village, causing the villagers to scatter and run inside, grabbing their children and loose pets on the way.
There were seven men in total, all ugly, brawny and dressed in combat fatigues made of black leather and chain mail. Their leader - even uglier and brawnier than his men - dismounted his horse and walked across the road to stand in front of the jail.
Drawing both polished blades he was carrying in two scabbards on his back, he started twirling them to show off his skills.
Once he was done, he put one of the blades back in its scabbard but kept the other one ready in his hand.
"Parsius! We know you're in there! Let Kaleus and Natrius go, or else!" the man roared in a gruff, commanding voice that suited his exterior. The sound of his voice sent the last remaining villagers scurrying into their homes.
"Did ya hear me, Parsius? We're gonna get a few mugs o' ale down at the inn now, an' when we come back, Kaleus and Natrius better be waitin' for us!"
In the jail, one of the windows next to the reinforced door slowly creaked open. Moments later, a blob of spit flew through the air and then the window was slammed shut again.
The act of defiance caused the ugly ruffian to start grinding his jaw. With a grunt, he spun around and headed back to his horse. After mounting it, he leaned towards his right-hand man.
"Danaeus, prepare a few torches. Even if the old man gives us what we want, we'll send him straight to Hades."
"As you wish, Midicas."
Alchios, the innkeeper, had been standing in the doorway watching everything, and as soon as Midicas and the other thugs started riding towards her inn, she went into a hysterical fit and started howling and running around aimlessly.
Already on high alert after the sound of the many hoofbeats, Xena and Gabrielle bounded down the stairs to help the hysterical woman. While Gabrielle tried to get Alchios to calm down, Xena went over to the door and peeked outside.
"Seven riders, all uglier than Charon," Xena said, sending Alchios into a new fit.
"Abraxus?" Gabrielle said, repeatedly patting Alchios on the back.
"Well, they're his thugs... but he isn't here himself. The group is led by a man I'm not familiar with."
"What's the plan, Xena?"
"Ultimately, the plan is to defeat them. But one thing at a time. They're on their way. Gabrielle, get Alchios out of here. I'm the new bartender, you're the servant girl."
"Oh, why do I always have to be..."
"No time to argue, Gabrielle. They're almost here," Xena said and bounded up the stairs to get the cloak Gabrielle had used a few hours earlier.
Emerging fully dressed moments later, Xena slithered behind the bar, took a rag and began to wipe down the less-than-shiny counter like she had seen Cyrene do countless times.
Before long, the swinging doors were kicked open and the seven ruffians filed into the bar room, led by Midicas.
"Oy, you're new here," he said the second he spotted Xena. The men all sat down at the tables and talked loudly amongst themselves.
"Just in from Athens," Xena said in a voice half an octave higher than her natural one. Reaching underneath the counter, she found a mug that she began to wipe off.
"You're a damn sight finer than that old crone Alchios."
"Why, thank you, Sir."
"We want ale. Let's get some of the good stuff on the table. An' I said the good stuff. If I catch ya watering it down like Alchios does, you'll taste my whip!"
"Oh, I wouldn't do that, Sir. Maid!" Xena barked the last word, looking expectantly at the door to the back room.
Moments later, Gabrielle came out into the bar room, just finishing wrapping a well-worn apron around herself to hide her bare midriff. Tucking a few loose strands of her strawberry-blonde hair up underneath a dirt-brown bonnet, she picked up a tray and shot Xena a look of annoyance.
Xena shrugged and found seven mugs that she proceeded to fill up with ale from the keg. Once a mug was full, she put it on the counter and Gabrielle picked it up and placed it carefully on the tray.
"Hey, maid, once you've done that, how do ya fancy earnin' yourself a few extra dinars, huh?" one of the ruffians said, making his cohorts laugh.
Still turned towards Xena, Gabrielle rolled her eyes repeatedly. Suddenly, the proverbial tallow candle was ignited above her head and she made her jaw slack and let her tongue slip halfway out of her mouth. Squinting with one eye, she let the other roll around freely and then turned around to face the ruffian who had spoken to her.
"Yeahhhh...? Huh, huh, huh... sounds good to me, bad boy... huh, huh, huh," Gabrielle said with a lisp in the most in-bred voice she could come up with.
The look on the ruffian's face turned into one of barely hidden disgust and he leaned back in his chair to avoid being touched by the bar maid as she put down the mugs of ale.
The other thugs laughed at their unfortunate colleague's expense but they fell silent when Midicas raised his hand.
"You're new, too. Where did ya come from?" he said to Gabrielle.
"Uhh... dunno. Ask my... ask my mother," Gabrielle lisped, pointing at Xena.
"Your mother? Let me guess, your father is also your uncle, right?" Midicas said, setting off a new round of laughs.
"Unfortunately, yes. I was lonely and it was a cold winter night," Xena said, trying very hard to keep a straight face.
"I'm surprised you didn't wring her neck once she popped out... I mean, with that face an' all."
"Well, I'm glad I didn't. If I had, she wouldn't be able to keep me warm on the cold winter nights," Xena said, wondering if she had overstepped the line.
"Awwww, mommy," Gabrielle lisped affectionately.
Midicas' lips parted in a disgusted sneer and he yanked his mug off Gabrielle's tray.
"By Ares' balls, this village should be burned to the ground!" he said and took a long gulp from the mug.
CHAPTER 2 - DUSK
CHAPTER 2 - DUSK
A candlemark and a half later, Midicas slammed his mug into the table and got up.
"Time to kill a magistrate," he said loudly, wiping his mouth clean of the last foam.
Xena and Gabrielle briefly looked at each other. Silently, Xena communicated to Gabrielle that she should warn Parsius, and the bard slipped quietly out of the back door and ran over to the jail.
"Come on! You heard me!" Midicas said and thumped one the thugs hard on the shoulder. The ruffians groaned and began to get up from the chairs. One of them was a bit unsteady on his feet, but the others seemed to be holding their ale well.
Xena studied them closely. She was wiping down one of the mugs they had used, but she was ready to pounce at any moment in case they turned on her.
"Come on, you worthless turkey," Midicas said and kicked out at the inebriated thug who was swaying left and right like a leaf caught in a strong wind. The drunken man ended up on his behind in the middle of the bar room, immediately earning himself a round of scornful laughter from the others.
"Barkeep, take care of him. I can't waste any time on drunken fools," Midicas said and left the bar, pushing his way through the swinging doors. Behind him, the remaining five cutthroats followed their leader out onto the street.
"Oh, I will, Sir. Trust me," Xena said loudly, but Midicas had already left.
Putting down the mug, she took off the cape and drew her Chakram. She walked over to the drunken man and held the circular blade at his throat.
"Xena, no! Let's turn him over to Parsius instead," Gabrielle said, standing in the doorway. She quickly unwrapped the apron and took off the hideous bonnet and threw both of the items onto the floor.
"All right," Xena said and put the Chakram back on its hook.
"Sheena?" the drunken man said, looking up at the vast expanses of thighs and leather in front of him.
"That's right... and good night," Xena said and thumped the man on the back of his head with the butt of her sword.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said and put her hand on Xena's arm.
"You're welcome. Did you warn Parsius?"
"Yes. He's ready for them. Well, as ready as he can be. He's only got a couple of crossbows and a slingshot in there."
"Hmmm. And he's got us on the outside. Come on, Gabrielle, it's time to bash in some ruffian heads."
By the time Xena and Gabrielle had snuck up to the jail, Midicas and his remaining thugs had lined up in a crescent in front of the building. The two men standing at either end of the crescent held lit torches in their hands.
"Parsius! Now's the time! Let Kaleus and Natrius go or we'll storm the jail!"
"You'll die tryin', ya cockroaches!" Parsius said through a narrow breach next to one of the windows. Moments later, he thrust a crossbow through an arrow slit and fired off a dart that flew right past Midicas' ear.
"Damn fool! Don't say we didn't give you a chance!" Midicas said and raised his sword.
A split second later, the Chakram came screaming through the air and cut off the tip of the blade. Instinctively, Midicas ducked his head down between his shoulders and spun around to see where the shot had come from.
Xena and Gabrielle emerged from the shadows, immediately setting off in a fast run that would make them reach the ruffians in a matter of seconds.
"I knew those two weren't who they appeared to be! Get 'em," Midicas roared, throwing down the stump of his own sword and grabbing a working one from the man next to him.
Two of the ruffians engaged Xena but only one went for Gabrielle, thinking that the petite-looking young woman would be an easy victim.
While Xena easily flipped over her two opponents - kicking them in the neck on her way past them - Gabrielle held the staff ready and began to jab at her attacker.
"Hey, little girl, remember me? I'm your bad boy. Knew ya couldn't be that butt-ugly. Can't wait to see how the rest of ya looks," the thug said, grinning evilly.
Gabrielle responded by swinging the staff at the man, but he evaded it easily by jumping back. When he discovered that he was able to stay out of range of her swings and jabs, he turned cocky and began to taunt Gabrielle. Unfortunately for him, she was just waiting for an opportunity to strike.
The moment came when Gabrielle sold him a dummy and he fell for it. With lightning speed, she went in deep and began to thrust the butt and the side of the staff into the man's body. After pummeling him mercilessly, she eventually decided to show some compassion and swung the staff at his head, whacking him across the jaw. The thug spun around in mid-air and landed with a heavy thud, out cold.
Xena didn't have any problems with her two attackers. The first was disposed of quickly with a swift kick to the gut that made all the air rush out of him - in both directions. The other mistakenly believed that he was a master swordsman. Raising his blade high in the air, he let out an impressive roar and charged at Xena, but she simply stepped aside and slapped his behind with the flat of her sword. When he came back for a second pass, she elbowed him in the face, causing him to fall down like a sack of turnips.
"Aw, that's pathetic... you really need to do better than that," Xena said, staring directly at Midicas and the remaining two ruffians. She started circling Midicas, slowly twirling her sword as she walked around the three thugs.
Gabrielle ran up the short flight of stairs and stood in front of the door to the jail to act like the last line of defense. Behind her, the door creaked open and Parsius peeked out.
"Stand aside, lassie. I have a crossbow dart with Midicas' name on it," the magistrate said and held the weapon up to his shoulder.
At the very last moment, Midicas noticed that he was in the line of fire, and he hunched over and ran away from the fight. Once he was out of any immediate danger, he grabbed his horse and hurriedly galloped out of the village.
The two remaining men looked nervously at each other and then threw down their torches.
"Oh, that was clever of you. You've seen what's happened to your comrades... do you want some of the same medicine?" Xena said to the two of them.
Both men shook their heads.
"All right. Then you both get a free pass to a nice, warm, comfortable jail cell. No, no... don't complain. A jail cell always beats a funeral pyre, don't'cha think?" Xena said off the inevitable groans.
The men groaned again and raised their arms high in the air. Sighing deeply, they began to walk towards the jail.
As Parsius opened the metal door to the cells, Kaleus and Natrius began to shout obscenities at him, but he just shrugged it off. He pushed the two new thugs into the next cell and locked the door behind them.
"Bad language won't get ya out of here sooner, ya know. Have a nice evenin', guys. Supper will be served at... nah, scratch that. I didn't have time to buy groceries so ya won't get any supper today. Oh, well," Parsius said and closed the heavy metal door behind him.
As he came back into the front office, he hung the keys on a nail on the wall and took off his hat.
"Is everything all right back there?" Xena said, leaning against the window will.
"Yep. Listen, you don't have to stay here. This isn't really a place for women," Parsius said and sat down on his favorite chair.
After suppressing a chuckle, Gabrielle walked over to the pot-bellied stove in the corner of the room to get a fire going. She scooped up an armful of kindle wood and began to break it into smaller pieces so it would fit.
"Oh, I think we'll manage," Xena said, wearing a smirk.
"Besides, we can't go back to Alchios' place, anyway. Her last words to me when I left her in the back room were 'get out, you heinous denizen of Tartarus!'," Gabrielle said, kneeling in front of the stove.
"Oh... well, like I said, the widow Alchios is a peculiar woman."
"Mmmm. Gabrielle, I'm going to sneak back for our saddle bags. We need our bedrolls and our travel rations."
"All right. I'll... uh, I'll make room for the bedrolls," Gabrielle said, frowning when she looked at the filthy floor. Dusting off her hands, she rose to her feet and began looking around for a broom.
"Now, you just wait a darn candledrip..." Parsius said, but Xena was already out of the door.
"Parsius, do you have a broom?"
"A broom? Lassie, you're not plannin' on sleepin' here, are ya?"
"Yes, we are."
"Aw, Hades..." Parsius said and scratched his hair.
"Well... how's that going to work...?"
"What do you mean? Xena's gone for our bedrolls, so we'll just put them down on the floor and sleep there."
"Yeah, but... you're women. I'm a guy."
Now it was Gabrielle's turn to scratch her hair. She scrunched up her face and put her hands on her hips.
"So?" she said, puzzled.
"But... I sleep in here... on my bunk," Parsius said and pointed at a low bunk placed behind the desk.
"Parsius, I'm not following you at all. You'll be sleeping over there, we'll be over here. Where's the problem?"
"It... it wouldn't be appropriate. I might have to get up for a pee, or... or, uh, fart, or whatever, and... it just wouldn't be appropriate. No, I'm sleeping down at the stables."
"Look, Parsius... it's all right. Xena and I have experienced much, much worse in our travels together."
"Oh, we absolutely have. It's a rough world out there, you know."
"Well, sure, but..."
The awkward conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door, and Parsius and Gabrielle quickly moved over to the windows.
"Gabrielle, it's me," Xena said in a muffled voice.
Parsius opened his window a fraction and peeked out to check if the warrior was alone. When he saw that she indeed was, he closed the window and moved over to the door.
"Thanks," Xena said as she dumped their saddlebags and their bedrolls on the floor.
Parsius chanced a quick peek out of the door before locking it. "Did ya see anything suspicious while you were away?"
"Nope. Well, not if you leave out the widow Alchios holding a rolling pin ready while I collected our stuff," Xena said and gave Gabrielle a little squeeze.
Gabrielle chuckled and wrapped her arm around Xena's waist to respond to the squeeze.
Parsius noticed but chose not to make a comment. Instead, he went back to his desk and got himself comfortable in his chair. A few moments later, he put his boots up on the table top.
"All right, here's the deal... this is one of those good news, bad news situations. The good news is that the county magistrate will arrive with a cavalry troop tomorrow morning at dawn," he said.
"And the bad?" Xena said.
"Well, the bad news is that you can bet your belly button that Abraxus won't take this well. It was bad enough that we locked up his brothers... but now we've humiliated his right hand man, Midicas The Hunter, as well."
"Midicas the Big Chicken," Gabrielle grumbled under her breath, still remembering how the ruffian had deserted his comrades when the going got tough.
"So all we have to do is to hold the jail until the cavalry arrives?" Xena said, cocking her head.
"'All right?' Listen, I know you're tough an' all, but Abraxus has at least fifty thugs working for him."
"Then we'll just have to take them down one at a time, won't we?"
A candlemark later, the floor had been swept clean and the two bedrolls had been laid out next to each other on the side of the office furthest away from Parsius' bunk.
"I don't know... I'm still not that hot on this situation," Parsius said and scratched his stubble.
"It can't be the first time you've shared a room with a couple of women," Xena said, sitting on her bedroll and sharpening her sword.
"Uh... no. I had two older sisters... but they weren't women, they were my sisters. This... this is different." The magistrate's cheeks colored in a fashion that looked suspiciously like he was blushing.
"Oh! I have an idea," Parsius suddenly said and got up from the chair. He started rummaging around in the drawers until he found a large piece of white cloth. "Gotcha."
"What's that?" Gabrielle said, momentarily looking up from the diary she was updating.
"It used to be a shroud... and now it's a privacy curtain."
Some time later, Xena began to get antsy; feeling that old tell-tale tingle in her bones that meant they would soon be called into action. She got up from the bedroll and walked over to stand at one of the windows, opening it an inch so she could smell the outside air.
Behind her, Parsius and Gabrielle were locked in a fierce competition to see who could snore the loudest - Parsius was winning, though not by much.
Turning back to the window, Xena suddenly noticed something moving in the shadows on the other side of the street. She drew her sword at once and gently nudged Gabrielle's leg with her boot.
"Uhmmh, I'm awake... I'm awake," Gabrielle slurred, wiping her eyes as she sat up in her bedroll.
"We've got trouble coming," Xena whispered.
"Do you want me to wake up Parsius?"
"Not yet. Let's see what's out there first."
The question was answered almost at once when a dark figure ran across the street and up the short flight of stairs.
"Parsius! Parsius! You gotta open! They're coming! Abraxus is coming!" the unknown man said, pounding his fists repeatedly against the reinforced door.
At once, Xena unbolted the locks and opened the door. Reaching out with both hands, she yanked the shouting man inside so she could shut him up by clamping a hand across his mouth.
The man began to howl underneath Xena's firm grip but she shushed him by pressing her hand even harder down on his mouth. While that was going on, Gabrielle stepped out onto the sidewalk, anxiously looking up and down the street to see if riders were approaching. For now, the street was empty and everything was quiet. With a shudder, she closed the door and bolted all the locks.
"Hera's tits! What in Tartarus is goin' on here?!" Parsius growled, lighting a candle so he could see what was happening.
"Mmmmpf-Parsi-mmmfpfp..." the man Xena was holding said, gesticulating wildly.
"It's all right, Xena, this is one of the villagers. It's Aktionos, the baker."
"Mmmpf... by the Gods, Parsius, who are these people?" Aktionos said angrily once Xena had released him. He straightened his headgear and his plain gray robe and hurried over to stand next to Parsius.
"They're friendly, Aktionos."
"Are you sure? Never mind all that now... Abraxus is coming straight for us. Well, straight for you. He's leading a column of cutthroats a hundred yards long just outside of town!"
"And you know this... how?" Xena said.
"I passed them on my way here. I live down in the dale but my shop is here."
"And they just gave you a friendly little wave as you rode past them, huh?" Gabrielle said, leaning against her staff.
"No, they didn't, young lady! By the good grace of Athena, I was able to slip by them unsighted," Aktionos huffed.
"Mmmm. Thank you for alerting us. We appreciate it," Xena said and took the baker by the arm.
"You needn't drag me out because ten wild horses couldn't keep me here. I don't want to be anywhere near here once Abraxus strikes."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and went back to the door. Working all the locks, she opened the door and pointed out of it with her staff.
"Goodbye, Parsius. It was nice knowing you," Aktionos said and briefly tipped his headgear before he hurried through the opened door and out of the office.
"So, now we know Abraxus is coming," Parsius said, looking at his friend running away.
"Well, we knew that already. Gabrielle?"
"I know, I know. Act, don't react. Right?" Gabrielle said and secured all the locks.
Not quite a quarter-candlemark later, a fearsome looking man astride a tall, pale warhorse entered the street. The man was followed by what appeared to be at least twenty heavily-armed marauders.
Xena peeked through one of the windows and she whistled appreciatively when she saw the state of the marauders' uniforms and weapons.
"Well, they're not elite mercenaries but they don't look like barbarians, either. Fairly clean uniforms, pretty straight ranks, okay discipline. They could be a problem," she said as she closed the window.
"I can't believe you're admirin' their appearance at a time like this!" Parsius said.
"Actually, Xena is just working out the best way to beat them. Uhhh... aren't you...?" Gabrielle said. A niggling fear had begun to fester in her stomach, and even though she had cleared her throat before she spoke, her voice held a faint tremble.
"Yes, I am. And this one won't be easy."
Outside the jail, the warlord had arrived, steering his horse to stand in front of the fortified building. His band of marauders fanned out on either side of him, ready to pounce.
Xena peeked through the window again to study their opponent. Abraxus The Brutal was in his late forties or early fifties, with bronzed skin and hard-edged features, a hawk-like nose and a neatly trimmed mustache with a matching goatee. He was wearing heavy armor made of leather and chainmail, and a metal helmet with a visor that almost covered his eyes.
To his right, the slightly forlorn figure of Midicas The Hunter sat atop a horse that was a good three hands shorter than the warlord's. The flickering orange light from the many torches the marauders were carrying made it hard to tell, but Xena thought she could see a fresh black eye on Midicas' face.
"You know why I'm here, Parsius! Let my brothers go and we'll leave in peace!" Abraxus roared in a hoarse, raspy voice that suited his appearance perfectly.
Inside, Parsius scratched his stubble and sighed deeply. He started reaching for the locks, but Xena intercepted his hand at once.
"Parsius, you know better than that. Once that door is open, they'll storm the jail in no time," she said, keeping a tight grip on the magistrate's hand.
"They'll storm us no matter what. You and your companion... it's been a hoot, but now's the time for you to leave. Get out through the back door. I'll stall Abraxus for as long as I can."
"You have a back door? Why haven't you said so sooner?" Gabrielle said, picking up her staff.
"It's down in the cellar. You need to go through a trap door in the floor to get down there. And... and it's too heavy for me to lift on my own. And with you being women, I didn't think you could either..."
"Yes, well... let's see about that. Parsius, where's that trap door?" Xena said.
"Underneath my bunk."
"Gabrielle, go down into the cellar and see if the coast is clear. I just got an idea."
CHAPTER 3 - MIDNIGHT
CHAPTER 3 - MIDNIGHT
"Parsius! Did you hear me? I'm feeling generous today. You have five candledrips to release my brothers!" Abraxus roared from outside the jail.
Gabrielle didn't even need to put her back into it to raise the hatch, but when she got a whiff of the stale, moldy air in the cellar, she found herself wishing that it had been jammed shut.
Opening it up fully, she got down on her knees and stuck her head down the black hole, holding a candlestick to get a better view. Once she was sure no one was waiting for her, she put the candlestick down next to the side of the hole, placed her hands on the filthy floor on either side of the gap and hoisted herself down into it.
Surprised to find that the cellar was only five feet deep, she snorted and picked up the candlestick.
"Heh, I guess it's a good thing I didn't do a swan dive into it. There's a tunnel going off to the left," she said to Xena, able to peek over the edge of the hatch even though she was standing flat on the dirt floor of the cellar.
"All right. Now go through it and see if there's anyone waiting at the other end," Xena said and handed Gabrielle her staff.
"I'm on it. I'll be right back," Gabrielle said and disappeared into the tunnel.
"Parsius, where does it end up?" Xena asked, walking back to the windows. Looking out, she could see that the warlord and all his men were still waiting for the magistrate to make a move.
"Three houses down. Next to Aktionos' shop."
"All right. Do Abraxus or Midicas know about the tunnel?"
"Doubt it. It's all clear for you to escape, Xena."
"Escape? We're not going to escape. We're going to use it to attack them."
Behind them, a muffled sneeze heralded Gabrielle's return and she soon popped her head out of the hatch with cobwebs draping her hair and shoulders.
"So?" Xena said.
"All clear. It's dusty as Hades, though, and I think I saw about four different species of spiders."
Gabrielle put her hands on the sides of the hole to pull herself up, but Xena held up her hand.
"Don't bother. We're springing into action at once."
"Hit and run?"
"Exactly. Parsius has just told me that the tunnel ends at the baker's shop three houses down. That means we'll be able to get behind them and create some trouble for the flank guards."
"Ooh, the baker's shop... we haven't eaten since... since lunch!" Gabrielle said - moments later, her stomach growled its displeasure.
"First fighting, then eating," Xena said and shooed Gabrielle back down the hatch.
A few candledrips later, Xena and Gabrielle emerged from the dusty tunnel, finding themselves at the rear of a medium-sized building.
"Boy, the bakers start early here. He's already working," Gabrielle said as she noticed the light from the bakery.
"It's still a sheep town. They've always started early."
A delicious smell of freshly baked bread drifted through the air from an open window, sending Gabrielle's stomach into another growling frenzy.
"I'm sorry, Xena... I'll get it to shut up. I promise," Gabrielle said and leaned in to give Xena a quick peck on the cheek.
"Uh-huh? Come on, let's get out on the main street."
"Right behind you," Gabrielle said and followed Xena closely as they moved through the dark alley, headed for the street.
"Stop. Two marauders are waiting in front of the baker's. They're more or less out of sight of the main group," Xena whispered, crouching down so she and Gabrielle could fit into a shadow at the foot of a wall.
"Let's take 'em. I'm hungry."
"Hold your horses. I'll go in first and numb their voice boxes so they can't alert the others," Xena said, just managing to grab hold of Gabrielle's skirt as the bard went past her.
"Oh... good thinking. They're all yours."
"Thank you. You'll know when to come out," Xena said. With a grin, she leaned in and stole a kiss that caught Gabrielle completely by surprise.
Silently, Xena slipped into the darkness, and it was only because Gabrielle knew what to look for that she could see the Warrior Princess at all. The shadowy figure went the long way around the two marauders, waiting for the right moment to strike.
When it happened, it was over so quickly that Gabrielle missed it because she had to blink. One moment, both marauders were standing up, leaning against the posts that held the roof of the sidewalk in place - the next, they were staggering about, clutching their numb throats.
Gabrielle took that as her cue and ran out of the shadow. Before she had made it to the two marauders, Xena had already knocked them out and was busy dragging one of them in between the houses.
"What kept ya?" Xena said, adding a sly grin.
Gabrielle answered by grumbling and then she took the arm of the other marauder and dragged him away, too.
"Your bread is ready... Oh!" Aktionos said, standing in the doorway of the shop holding a reed basket full of bread. He stared wide-eyed at the two female warriors that had replaced the two ruffians that had ordered him to start his oven.
"Is that bread? Warm bread? Warm, freshly baked bread?" Gabrielle said, inching ever closer to the basket.
"No, it's my prize turkey. Well, of course it's bread!"
"How much for the whole basket?"
"I don't think so, young lady. Eight."
"Seven and you have a deal."
"You don't even have seven... oh..." Aktionos said, staring at the money pouch Gabrielle had fished out of her cleavage.
"Seven dinars, here ya go. Now gimme," Gabrielle said and yanked the reed basket out of the baker's hands.
"Can we go back? I'm sure Parsius thinks we've been drawn and quartered by now," Xena said, putting her hands on her hips.
"Yeah, yeah," Gabrielle said, moving the basket up to her nose so she could sniff it. "Nutbread!" she suddenly exclaimed, earning herself a frantic 'Shush!' by Xena.
"By all the Gods on Mount Olympus, the kids these days..." Aktionos said despondently and walked back into his bakery.
While Xena and Gabrielle were standing in front of the bakery trying to work out what to do next, Abraxus loudly ordered two of his men to attack the jail. The two women looked at each other and decided on the spot that they better return to help the magistrate.
In the jail, Parsius opened one of the arrow slits, stuck a crossbow through it and quickly released a dart at the nearest of the two men. The solid metal arrow grazed the side of the thug's neck and he howled and clutched the injured piece of flesh.
"Cowards! Do you want me to do it myself?" Abraxus said, sitting comfortably atop his warhorse, far enough removed from the action to be out of harms' way.
Parsius quickly reloaded the crossbow and took careful aim at the other man who was still trying to get through the door. At that distance, there was no way the magistrate could miss, and the dart buried itself into the thug's upper chest.
Groaning loudly, the attacker staggered back to his fellow marauders, leaving a trail of blood in the dirt.
Just as Parsius reloaded again, a scraping sound behind him made him spin around and hold the crossbow ready.
"Parsius, it's us. It's Xena and Gabrielle," Xena said, holding her hands above the hatch so Parsius could see it wasn't a trap.
"By the Gods, I thought you were long gone by now."
"No. Like I said before, escape isn't in our plans."
"It should be. Anyway, I managed to nick two of 'em," Parsius said and turned back to the arrow slit.
"And we got two more," Gabrielle said as she climbed out of the hole. She put the reed basket on the floor and began to remove a few cobwebs from the bread.
"What's that? Smells just like bread," Parsius said, sniffing the air.
"It is. We bought a basket of bread from Aktionos."
"Really? What did ya have to pay for it? Even though we've been friends for decades, he still charges me the full price."
"A full basket for seven dinars. He wanted ten."
"I usually pay twelve! Aphrodite's tits, I need to learn how to haggle," Parsius grumbled under his breath.
"Hey, don't take Aphrodite's name in vain. She's a friend of ours," Gabrielle said, pointing a loaf of bread at Parsius.
"Beg' pardon? The Goddess of Love is a friend of yours?"
"Sure she is. It wasn't that long ago we had a little adventure with her... not that kind of adventure!" Gabrielle said off Parsius' shocked look.
"I shouldn't be surprised at anything these days... " Parsius mumbled.
"Here they come again!" Xena shouted and took one of the crossbows. She aimed carefully and sent a dart into the shoulder of a man who was trying to sneak up the flight of stairs.
"There's another one," Parsius said and fired his own crossbow. "Hades, I missed!" he continued.
"I have him," Xena said calmly and squeezed the trigger. The dart screamed through the air and embedded itself into the neck of the attacker. He cried out and fell down the stairs.
"Thanks. He won't make it. That went in too deep," Parsius said, nodding.
Gabrielle stopped what she was doing and looked pensively at Xena. The warrior turned around and offered Gabrielle a faint smile.
"I know. It's them or us," Gabrielle said.
"Gabrielle, if you want to do something, it would be a great help if you could reload and prepare the crossbows...?"
"I'm on it, Xena. You can count on me."
A quarter of a candlemark later, three more marauders had been stung by darts from the two crossbows, and Abraxus seemed to be pulling his men back as a result.
"I think they'll regroup now. They'll be back," Xena said and put her empty crossbow down on the floor.
"Time for some tea and nutbread," Gabrielle said and got up from the chair at the desk, leaving four crossbows and a small pile of darts behind on the table top.
"I don't think I have any leaves," Parsius said and wiped some sweat off his brow.
"Don't worry, we have plenty. We found a couple of healthy bushes the other week," Gabrielle said, opened the saddlebags and took out a leather pouch full of dried leaves. "Strong tea and fresh nutbread is the best cure for all ailments. Parsius, where's your well?" she continued.
"Outside. Next to the outhouse."
"I'll get some water, Gabrielle," Xena said, gently clawing Gabrielle's neck.
A little while later, Gabrielle poured the tea into three mugs and distributed the bread among them. She discovered to her great pleasure that Parsius didn't care much for nutbread - which of course meant that there would be more for her.
"I'm sorry, Parsius, we don't have any honey. We, uh... used it all a few days ago," Gabrielle said, blushing slightly as she locked eyes with Xena. The warrior replied by winking and grinning cheekily.
"Oh, that's all right, Gabrielle. Too much sweetener is bad for the digestion, anyway."
"Is the tea strong enough?"
"Yes, it's very nice. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Gabrielle said and took her mug of tea in one hand and a thick slice of nutbread in the other. She walked over to her bedroll and sat down on it cross-legged. She seemed to ponder something for a few moments, but then a broad smile spread out across her face. "To keep our spirits high, how about a little story?" she continued.
"That'd be nice, Gabrielle," Xena said, taking a long swig from her tea. When Parsius nodded in agreement, Gabrielle cleared her throat and took a deep breath.
"Once upon a time not so terribly long ago, two people met in the unlikeliest of circumstances... a skirmish in a small clearing just outside a village a great distance away from here. Well, from the moment their eyes met, the two people knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
Now, you have to understand that these two people were in a precarious situation. One of them was being held by slave traders and the other was trying to defeat the scoundrels so the hostages could escape. Helping each other, they were able to create enough confusion so the..."
"Hey, I think I've heard this one before. Ain't it the story of how Hercules met his wife, the lovely Deianeira?" Parsius said, grinning broadly.
"Ummm... no. Definitely not, no," Gabrielle said, looking first at Parsius and then at Xena who was trying hard not to laugh out loud.
"Oh... okay. Beg pardon. Go on."
Gabrielle scrunched up her face, trying to remember where she had left off. After a few moments, she remembered and took another deep breath. "Where were we... right... working together, the two people were able to create enough..." she continued.
Several candlemarks later, Gabrielle's loud snoring filled the jail once more. Unlike the last time, Parsius was too tense to sleep so he had decided to do some paperwork instead.
Opening the drawer, he picked up a stack of wanted-posters and started to leaf through them.
"It's weird. I can't understand why Abraxus hasn't tried again. This isn't like him," Parsius said, thinking aloud.
"Tell me more about him," Xena said, holding a crossbow ready at one of the arrow slits,
"Well, he arrived in the area, oh... twenty winters ago while Elinaius was still booming. At first, he only did small time stuff like extortion, skimming the profits from the inn... things like that," Parsius said and waved his hand.
"From the widow Alchios?"
"She wasn't a widow then, if ya catch my drift."
"Yeah. Go on."
"Then the disease came. Even Abraxus couldn't stop it from infecting and killing our sheep, so after a while, he got tired of the meager profits he was able to get here and moved on."
Parsius continued to leaf through the posters but soon lost interest. With a sigh, he put the stack of papers back in the drawer and found the bottle instead.
"Abraxus came back, unfortunately. Older, wiser, harder. And even more brutal than he had been before. Rumor has it that he and his brothers fought in a battle somewhere far away from here. Liguria. Ever heard of it?" he said and took a swig from the bottle.
"He lost two brothers there, killed by a warrior called Meleager."
"Gabrielle and I know Meleager. We met him eight moons ago," Xena said, looking at Parsius.
"Why am I not surprised?"
Xena chuckled and turned her attention back to the arrow slit.
"Anyway, that's Abraxus' story... more or less," Parsius continued and put the cork back in the bottle.
"More or less? What did you leave out?"
"Well... only that I used to be one of his thugs. Does that shock you?"
"No. But I do find it hard to believe."
"Looking at me now, you mean?" Parsius said, running a hand through his white hair and scraggly beard.
Xena grinned but didn't make a comment beyond that.
"It's true, though. I was one of the bad boys twenty winters ago... I did some bad things. But when Abraxus brutally killed a shepherd in front of the man's family, I'd had enough and I switched sides. I was older than most of the other thugs, anyway. I didn't fit in."
Half a candlemark later, Xena went over to Gabrielle's bedroll and knelt down next to it. Reaching down, she gently shook the bard awake, prepared for the inevitable response.
"Mmmmpf... just five more candledrips..."
"No, Gabrielle, there's no time for that."
"Oh, darn," Gabrielle said and sat up in the bedroll. After a yawn that was so wide that Xena was worried her jaw might fall off, she scratched her long hair and her neck.
"So? What's up?" Gabrielle asked, stifling another yawn.
"Now we go out and create a diversion."
"How? And where?"
"I'll tell you once we're there. Come on," Xena said and pulled Gabrielle to her feet.
"What about Parsius?"
"Oh, he'll be all right. We've loaded all the crossbows in case Abraxus decides to make another attempt at storming the jail."
"So it's been quiet while I was sleeping?" Gabrielle said and reached for her staff.
"Gabrielle, I know you sleep soundly and I know you've slept through fights before, but trust me when I say you would've heard this one."
"I trust you. Hey, when did I ever sleep through a fight?" Gabrielle said, putting her hands on her hips. Xena didn't answer as she was already on her way over to the hatch that would take them to the cellar.
"Dawn is coming," Xena said, looking up at the Eastern skies.
"Mmmm. Good. With it comes the cavalry."
"Yes, but we still need to be cautious. All right, here's what I want us to do. First, we find out where Abraxus' has set up his camp. Considering how often we've pummeled his men in fights and with the crossbows, he must have a healer somewhere. That usually means a tent... and that's always a good way to eavesdrop on opponents."
"I have many skills," Xena said, adding a little wink.
"Oh, I know."
"I need you to locate where they keep the warhorse and the other beasts. Once I've gathered enough information, I'll give you a signal. Then I want you to set the horses free or at least scare them so they'll stampede. I'll slip out of the camp in the confusion."
"Sounds easy enough."
"It is. By the way, please remember never to go behind the warhorse. If its training is anything like Argo's, it'll kick out if it senses someone behind it."
"Oh... good point. Thank you," Gabrielle said and ran her fingers up and down Xena's arm.
"You're welcome. Let's go," Xena said, but Gabrielle held onto the warrior's arm.
"You forgot the kiss for good luck," Gabrielle said and stood up on tip-toes so she could place a loving kiss on Xena's lips.
Finding the camp proved to be an easy affair as Abraxus had simply set up all his tents in a square behind the buildings on Main Street. Xena and Gabrielle gave each other a brief squeeze and then Xena slipped out into the darkness.
Gabrielle sighed deeply and ran further along the row of tents. For every third tent, a marauder was standing guard, but they were typically so drunk that they were swaying in the non-existent wind. As Gabrielle continued onwards, she could hear drunken voices and equally drunken singing from the center of the square, and she shook her head repeatedly.
Finally arriving at the corner of the square, she hid behind the nearest tent and peeked around it.
'A-ha!' she thought as she spotted eight horses tied to a low board between two vertical posts. A solitary marauder was on guard duty and he seemed to be more alert than the others.
'Hmmm...' Gabrielle thought as she worked hard to come up with a suitable plan. Briefly looking over her shoulder, she was pleased to see that none of the other guards had spotted her yet.
Nodding to herself, she made herself as small a target as possible by crawling close to the edge of the tent. Once she was there, she took a deep breath and resigned herself to wait for Xena to make a move.
CHAPTER 4 - DAWN
CHAPTER 4 - DAWN
Using a tent for cover, Xena silently slid forward until she was only a few yards away from a campfire. Three men were sitting on logs on the edge of the fire: Abraxus, Midicas and a younger man Xena hadn't seen before, but who looked as merciless as the other two.
Unhooking her Chakram so she could respond quickly in case she was attacked, she hunkered down in between the tent and the tall grass and concentrated on listening in on what the men were saying.
"Abraxus, why can't we just torch that damn jail?" Midicas said, sitting at his master's right hand side.
"With my brothers still in there? Fool!"
"We'd get them out in time."
"Frankly, Midicas, with all the cock-ups you've produced tonight, I doubt you could," Abraxus said and gulped down a mug of ale. As soon as it was empty, he held it out and waited for a servant to refill it.
Xena noted that Midicas didn't have a mug in his hands. 'He's probably still in the doghouse,' she thought, chuckling inwardly.
"Parsius is old and frail. He wouldn't last more than three candledrips if we made a concentrated attack on that jail," the third man said in a voice as coarse as Abraxus'.
Xena watched the third man intently and soon came to the conclusion that it was Abraxus' son. She made a mental note of that, thinking that they would have to stop him as well, or else the campaign of terror would continue even if Abraxus was captured or killed.
"He's old and frail, yes, but he's got help in there. I'm sure it's the two warrior women from before," Midicas said surly.
"The barkeep and the in-bred degenerate?" Abraxus said, laughing at his right hand man's expense.
"That was only a disguise," Midicas grumbled.
"Well, it certainly fooled you. Who are they?" the third man said.
"I don't know, Ximenos. One is short and blonde and the other is tall and raven-haired. They're fightin' like a whole pack of harpies."
"Let me guess... the tall one has sky blue eyes, a brown battle dress with a bronze breastplate and she carries a circular weapon on her hip?" Ximenos said.
"Why... yes," Midicas said, looking up in surprise.
"That's Xena. Formerly the Destroyer of Nations but now a Protector of the Meek and Wimpy."
"You've never heard of her?"
"She's all the rage back east," Ximenos said, emptying his mug of ale.
"All this talk won't bring us any nearer to rescuing my brothers. Midicas, I want you to make another attempt at storming that jail. Take all the men you need. Move!" Abraxus said and slammed his fist into the palm of his hand.
"It shall we done, Abraxus," Midicas said and got up from the log he'd been sitting on. As he hurried past Xena, his heavy boots only missed stepping on her fingers by an inch.
Xena could see from the activity in the camp that the marauders would soon be getting to their horses, so she got up on her knees and took a deep breath.
After belting out her warcry at the top of her lungs, hoping that it had been loud enough for Gabrielle to hear, she jumped up and threw the Chakram at the guy ropes of the two nearest tents. Without any means of support, the tents fluttered to the ground in unruly heaps, covering the men inside who all cried out in surprise.
At the campfire, Abraxus and Ximenos jumped up and drew their swords, but the semi-darkness meant that they were unable to see their attacker.
"I'll bet ya a thousand dinars that's Xena," Ximenos said.
"Excellent. I can't wait to skewer her!" Abraxus shouted, twirling his sword.
The moment Gabrielle heard Xena's warcry, she jumped up from her hiding place and ran over to the horses to set them free.
Just to be on the safe side, she held her staff ready in case the guard hadn't left his post, and it was a good thing she did, because as soon as she reached the low board the horses' reins were tied to, the guard jumped her.
He immediately tried to force Gabrielle onto the ground by slamming one hand down on her shoulder and the other on her staff, but she was able to get herself free of him by performing a sideways roll that took her away from the thug. Upon completing the roll, she got down on one knee and thrust the staff upward, aiming at the thug's gut or crotch.
The thug's next move took Gabrielle by surprise - instead of sidestepping the thrust like she had expected him to, he jumped up and landed on the staff, ripping it out of Gabrielle's grip.
The thug laughed coldly and picked up the staff. As he went through a few impressive maneuvers to show off his skills, Gabrielle knew at once that he wasn't a mindless ruffian like the others and she started biting her lip.
Trying to remember what Xena had taught her about acting instead of reacting, Gabrielle slowly moved backwards, headed for the horses. Predictably, the guard followed her, holding the staff in an offensive position.
As they turned the corner to go behind the horses, Xena's words about the warhorse suddenly entered Gabrielle's mind. Spinning around, she set off running past the horses, hoping that the thug would follow her - a quick look over her shoulder proved that he had.
The moment Gabrielle went past Abraxus' warhorse, she gave it a rough shove on its hind quarters, startling it and making it kick out viciously. A split second later, the thug was hit by both rear hooves and he was thrown through the air, landing with a hard thud several yards away.
Gabrielle quickly picked up her staff and ran over to the guard. When she could see that he was out cold, she rubbed her brow and breathed a sigh of relief.
Remembering why she was there, she began to shout and howl to get the horses to bolt, and before long, all eight beasts had torn themselves loose from the board they were tied to.
In the mean time, Xena had disarmed two guards and was presently fighting a third. She made quick work of the drunken man; his uncoordinated swings were no match at all for Xena's skills and proficiency.
She started looking around for Abraxus, Midicas and the third man, but they were nowhere to be found. Realizing that she shouldn't outstay her welcome, she moved back to the shadows to watch the chaos she had created.
Abraxus' warhorse suddenly came trotting into the camp, knocking down thugs left and right on its way around the fire pit. As she watched the carnage, Xena grinned evilly and made a mental note to give Gabrielle a thank-you kiss later.
Behind her, a rider came thundering into the camp, waving his free arm in the air and shouting loudly:
"Abraxus! Abraxus! The King's Cavalry is approaching from the east! Abraxus!"
"And that's my cue," Xena said out loud to no one in particular. Grinning again, she moved silently into the shadows.
"Gabrielle? Where are you?" Xena whispered the moment she returned to the mouth of the tunnel near the bakery.
"Right here. You didn't see me, did you? Ha, great!" Gabrielle said, strutting out of the shadows.
"No, but I sensed your presence. Excellent work on the horses."
"Thank you. Yeah, that went welmmmphhf!" Gabrielle started to say, but she lost the ability to speak when Xena's lips melted into her own. For a magical moment in time, the only thing that existed in the world was the two of them. Alas, the moment was all too brief.
"Oh..." Gabrielle breathed once they separated. She brushed some hair out of her face and stared wide-eyed at Xena, wondering where that unusual and unexpected display of emotions had come from.
Xena just winked and then took Gabrielle's hand, leading her into the mouth of the tunnel.
A scant two candledrips later, they were back in the jail, looking out onto the street through the arrow slit.
"It must've gone well... all Hades broke loose here a couple a' candledrips ago," Parsius said with a low, rumbling chuckle.
"Yes, it did. Just as I left the camp, a rider arrived alerting Abraxus of the county magistrate's cavalry," Xena said and picked up a loaded crossbow. After checking the tautness of its string, she walked over to one of the windows.
"Good. Then it won't be too long before we can get out of this damn mess."
"Gabrielle and I managed to create some confusion but we might have some trouble coming. Abraxus ordered Midicas to make a last-ditch attempt at storming the jail. I have a nagging feeling that they'll still try, cavalry or no cavalry."
"Well, if they come, we'll be ready for 'em. Won't we, Gabrielle?"
"Oh, you better believe it, Parsius," Gabrielle said, loading another crossbow.
Suddenly Xena's bones started tingling, a sensation she knew meant that enemies were near. She tried to listen for any sounds that would give the attackers away, but it was in fact her sensitive nose that confirmed their presence.
"Unwashed men approaching," she whispered, holding the crossbow ready.
"That's probably just me," Parsius said. Following Xena's lead, he crouched down slightly so he had a better view out of the arrow slit.
"On your left!" Xena suddenly shouted, firing her crossbow at two men who were carrying a hunting bow and a set of burning arrows. Xena's dart hit the first man in the chest, but the second man had time to release the arrow and it screamed through the air and embedded itself deeply into the wall above Parsius' arrow slit.
"Damn!" Parsius said as burning embers began to rain down in front of his position, making it difficult for him to see what was going on outside. In quick succession, three other burning arrows were released, all landing in roughly the same spot.
Xena immediately took out the second archer with a crossbow dart to the neck, but she could smell that the fire had already caused a lot of damage.
"Gabrielle, you better get ready to jump down into the cellar. We may have to leave in a hurry," Xena said, taking one of the loaded crossbows.
"Just say the word, Xena."
"Good. I don't think it'll be..."
Just then, a full volley of arrows rattled loudly against the front of the jail, sending wood chips flying everywhere and shaking dust loose from the logs and the roof.
"Boy, they're really trying now!" Gabrielle said shakily, most of all wanting to hide under the table.
"Yeah, they're nothing if not persistent. Parsius, can you see if... Parsius!"
When she heard the alarm in Xena's voice, Gabrielle turned her head to look at the elderly magistrate who had been standing right behind her. It only took her a moment to realize that an arrow had completely pierced his right arm.
"By the Gods, Parsius...!" she said and grabbed his healthy arm. As she was holding him, he slowly fell down to his knees, clutching his injured limb with a pained groan.
"Xena...?" Gabrielle said frantically.
"I see it. Help him to the hatch if you can. We're leaving!" Xena said while she was taking careful aim. After squeezing the trigger, she watched the dart fly through the air and embed itself deeply into a marauder's throat.
"All right... I'll try," Gabrielle said and hoisted up in the injured magistrate. The way to the hatch seemed to be twice as long as usual and Parsius let out a constant wailing moan the entire way there that made Gabrielle's nape hairs stand on edge.
When they finally reached the hatch, Gabrielle put Parsius down next to the hole in the floor.
"Parsius, I need you to do it yourself. I... I can't get you down there, you need to do it yourself. Do you understand?" Gabrielle said, still holding onto the magistrate's good arm.
Parsius nodded and jumped into the hole in a slightly labored fashion.
"A-all right. Xena, we're ready!"
"Good. Go through the tunnel. Whistle once you reach the other end," Xena said calmly.
"Y-yes. Come on, Parsius."
After watching Gabrielle and Parsius disappear into the tunnel, Xena went back to the arrow slit and fired two more darts at the marauders. A few moments later, she could hear Gabrielle whistle in the distance, and she threw down the crossbow and ran over to the tunnel.
Balancing on the edge of the hole, she unhooked her Chakram and sent it hurtling towards the reinforced door. When it hit the door, it went from one lock to the next, releasing all of them with a series of metallic clangs.
As the door creaked open and the marauders outside started cheering loudly, she jumped down into the hole and closed the hatch behind her. At the very last moment before the hatch slammed shut, the Chakram came zinging back and she caught it in mid-air and hooked it onto her belt.
A split second later, Midicas The Hunter and all four of his remaining men stormed into the jail, roaring loudly and waving axes and swords in the air - but when they saw that the office was empty, they stopped dead in their tracks and looked around in confusion.
After Xena had brushed the cobwebs out of her hair, she put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and pulled her close.
"Gabrielle, this isn't over yet. First of all, we need to get Parsius down to the baker's so he's out of the firing line, but then we need to aid the soldiers. Midicas must have let Abraxus' brothers out by now," Xena said quietly, constantly scanning the street.
"I... I understand. I'll get Parsius to the baker's."
"No, we stay together."
"Oh, but Xena, I can..."
"We stay together, Gabrielle. End of discussion," Xena said vehemently. As a reply, Gabrielle put her hand on top of Xena's and nodded in agreement.
"All right. But we better get a move on. Those shouts are coming closer," Gabrielle said, referring to the ruckus out on the street.
"Yes. Come on, Parsius. You get to sit out the rest of the battle."
"Oh, damn!" the magistrate growled, earning himself a chuckle from the two warriors.
"No sign of the cavalry. What the Hades is keeping them?" Gabrielle whispered angrily. She and Xena were leaning against the side of a building, out of sight of the thugs but close to enough to strike when the time was right.
"Maybe Abraxus had another group of marauders we weren't aware of, who knows. No matter, we need to stop these people before they start killing innocents. Hades, this is Cortese all over again," Xena said, shaking her head slowly.
"Is that why we've stayed when we could've left? Because this reminds you of Cortese?"
"Well, yes and no."
"And nothing, Gabrielle."
"Xena, this isn't the best time to get enigmatic. I greatly prefer it when you give me straight answers," Gabrielle said and ran her hand up Xena's upper arm.
"Oh, I know you do."
"It's time to fight. Let's move," Xena said and left the safe area. A few seconds later, Gabrielle snorted in defeat and followed the leather-clad warrior into the middle of the street.
"Hey, boys... are you looking for us?" Xena said loudly to a small group of marauders. Almost at once, the men drew their swords and started to run towards Xena and Gabrielle.
When the men were ten feet away from them, Xena jumped up and performed a mid-air split. Kicking out left and right at the same time, she managed to strike two of the three thugs in a single maneuver that sent them sprawling onto the ground.
The third and final thug in the small group never knew what hit him, either - as he was staring dumbstruck at Xena hovering in the air above him, he completely missed the fact that Gabrielle was holding the butt of the staff at crotch-height right in front of him.
The impact was hard enough to shove Gabrielle back nearly two feet, but the thug was in worse shape, wheezing and moaning and rocking back and forth in a fetal position on the ground.
"Uuuuuuhhh," Xena and Gabrielle said as one, wincing in sympathy.
"He's down for the count. Let's move on. We have bigger fish to gut," Xena said and put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder.
Up at the jail house, Abraxus dismounted his warhorse and ran up the short flight of stairs. Barging through two guards standing at the door, he rushed into the jail to look for his brothers.
"Hey, bro! Good to see ya," Kaleus said. The younger brother was sitting at Parsius' desk and drinking from the magistrate's special bottle.
"Kaleus, you sorry excuse for a man! How in Tartarus could you and your nitwit brother let yourself be captured by two women and a decrepit old clown?"
"Aw, that was easy. We was kinda drunk... and they was pretty good, actually."
"Incompetent fool! Where's Natrius?"
"Out back somewhere, lookin' for somethin' to eat. We didn't get supper last night."
"You don't deserve to get supper ever again, you morons!" Abraxus roared and spun around on his heel. "Midicas!" Abraxus shouted the moment he stepped out onto the sidewalk.
"Time to teach these peasants a lesson. Torch the village... every last house. It has to be now, before the cavalry gets through Ximenos and his men."
"Uh... yes, master," Midicas said with a gulp.
"And when you've done that, bring me all the... wait... what's that sound?" Abraxus suddenly said, looking over his shoulder.
A split second later, the Chakram came whistling out of the darkness and bounced off the warlord's helmet, throwing him backwards with a loud 'Ooomph!' and making him flail his arms madly in the air. As the Chakram ricocheted off the helmet, it changed course and cut through Midicas' armor, leaving him with his pants around his ankles.
The Hunter hurriedly pulled up his breeches and dove for cover, forgetting all about his master until he realized that the warlord was lying dazed and confused on the hard, dirty ground.
At the exact same time, a bugle call was heard at the other end of the village, signaling the arrival of the cavalry troop.
"Dammit all to Hades!" Midicas shouted and got up. Unfortunately, he was only able to take one step before his pants fell down around his ankles again, making him stumble and nearly lose his balance.
After pulling his breeches back up, Midicas ran over to Abraxus to help him on his feet, but he had only made it halfway there when Xena and Gabrielle caught up with him.
In one, fluid motion, Midicas' legs were swept out from under him - courtesy of a double-handed swing by Gabrielle - and he landed on his back with a heavy thud. Moments later, Xena put her boot hard down on his chest and placed the tip of her sword at his throat.
"Midicas, order your men to withdraw! Now!"
"Do it now or I'll pierce your throat. Do you doubt that I would?" Xena hissed.
"Then do it!"
"You won't get me without a fight, Xena!" Abraxus shouted and threw a handful of dirt at Xena's face. Moving with remarkable speed, the warlord jumped to his feet and thrust his sword forward, hoping to skewer Xena while her eyes were closed.
Unfortunately for him, Gabrielle hadn't been hit by the gravel and she slammed her staff down on Abraxus' arm. The blow was strong enough to make the warlord drop the sword, and he howled in pain and took several steps back.
"I'll gut you for this, woman!" Abraxus shouted and tried to grab hold of Gabrielle with his good hand, but Xena deftly stepped between them and caught his arm before he could reach Gabrielle.
Wearing a fierce scowl, Xena flipped around and held Abraxus' arm tightly against her body, twisting his wrist until the bones started creaking.
"A word of advice, Abraxus. Only go after my friend if you're ready to pay the price," she hissed.
Abraxus roared and continued to resist, but when Xena applied even more pressure to his wrist, he finally gave up. Once Xena felt the warlord go limp, she flipped him over her hip and watched with glee as he flew through the air and onto the ground.
Moments later, they were surrounded by the cavalry troop who quickly dismounted and apprehended the warlord and his henchman.
Half a candlemark later - after explaining to the cavalry Lieutenant and the county magistrate that they were merely passing through and not a part of Abraxus' gang despite Xena's armor and her weapons - Xena and Gabrielle walked back into the scorched jail house to collect their belongings.
"Xena! Gabrielle! I'm glad to see you're all right," Parsius said and got up from a chair. His arm had been properly bandaged by the cavalry's healer but he was still a bit unsteady on his feet.
"Thank you. Likewise, Parsius. Hey, what are you doing back here, anyway? You were supposed to be resting," Gabrielle said and gave the magistrate a little hug.
"And miss that? Never!" Parsius said, nodding in the direction of the four men sitting on the floor. Abraxus, Kaleus, Natrius and Midicas were sitting with their backs against each other in the middle of the floor, all hog-tied and gagged.
"That's a good point," Gabrielle said with a laugh.
"Where's the last one?" Xena suddenly said.
"All four are right there...?"
"No, I saw a younger man with Abraxus and Midicas. I suspect he's Abraxus' son," Xena said and put her hands on her hips.
"He hasn't been here. The cavalry met some resistance outside of town, but it only slowed them down a little bit. Perhaps he was killed out there. I don't know..." Parsius said with a shrug.
"Hmmm. Perhaps he was. Well, there's nothing we can do about that right now."
"Xena, I have something I want to show you," Parsius said, winking conspiratorially.
"Oh? I'll be right there. Gabrielle, would you mind packing our stuff? I think it's time for us to leave."
"No problem," Gabrielle said and gave Parsius' good arm a little pat.
Once Gabrielle had gone over to the other side of the jail to roll up their sleeping furs, Parsius pulled out a piece of parchment from his tunic and gave it to Xena.
"Look what I found. Not a very good likeness, but the message is loud and clear," he said quietly, leaning in towards Xena.
Xena unfolded the parchment and found herself looking at a wanted-poster.
'WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE for unspeakable crimes against the citizens of Corinth. Xena of Amphipolis, aka the Destroyer Of Nations. Issued by King Cladianus of Corinth and Crown Princess Aurelia of Corinth. Reward: Twenty-five thousand Dinars.'
"Hmmm..." Xena said, looking at Parsius.
"I thought I recognized you when you arrived yesterday, but I wasn't sure until I found the poster. Looks like we've followed a similar path in life, huh?"
"So what do we do now?"
"Well, even though it was issued ten winters ago, it's still legally valid. Xena, I owe you my life. I'd be a fool to follow up on this... but the county magistrate is another fella altogether. He's a real stickler for the law. That's why I took the poster."
"Yeah. It's really too damn bad that the wanted poster was lost in the fire. Ain't it?"
Xena chuckled and rolled up the poster.
"Yeah. Yeah, it is," she said, opened the little hatch on the pot-bellied stove and put the poster inside. The parchment soon began to smolder, and within seconds, it had caught fire and was burning merrily. "Thanks," she continued, putting out her arm.
"Anytime, Xena. Take good care of your lassie there. She's a good little girl," Parsius said, looking at Gabrielle who was just closing the saddlebags.
"I will. You have my word," Xena said and clasped arms with the magistrate.
After Argo's cracked shoe had finally been fixed by the blacksmith, Xena pulled Gabrielle up onto the horse so she could slot in behind the warrior. With a last look at Elinaius, they began to trot eastward into the rising sun.
"Where do you want to go now, Gabrielle?"
"Somewhere nice. How about taking a few days off? We could find a cave somewhere and have a little quality time, just you and me... oooh, maybe we could find a cave with a hot spring...?" Gabrielle said and gave Xena's waist a squeeze.
"Errr... just like that? No complaints, no..."
"Nope. In fact, I'm looking forward to it already," Xena said warmly.
"Oh! Excellent. Let's go, then... wait a minute, we never finished our game from yesterday. I know who you were thinking of!"
"Is that a fact?"
"Yep!" Gabrielle said and thumped her hand down on Xena's shoulderpad.
"And who was it, then?"
"That's... well, how can I put it...? Wrong."
"You give up?"
"Never! Hey-ho, Argo!" Gabrielle said, wrapping her strong arms tightly around Xena's stomach and scooting up to sit very close behind the leather-clad Warrior Princess.