The Xena Scrolls: Volume #3: Scroll #49: Destiny

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Podedia

Scrolls #49:  Destiny

September, 47 B.C.

3 months and 21 days since visiting Syra Callisto’s home.  3 months 13 days since Xena died at Mount Nestus.

We spend our lives trying to understand what our own true destinies will be.  Wading through the waters of the unknown we find ourselves often confused and drained within our spirits.  Though we do not consciously know our destinies there is always a part of us that holds the deepest truths within.  This confusion of destiny and of what direction the warrior princess was to travel had haunted her.  One day as she had found herself with Gabrielle near the place where Callisto was born.  She had taken Gabrielle with her to the valley where the village of Syra had once existed.  It was there that she had taken so many lives and tainted the spirit of one young girl.  The bard could read her friend well.  She could see how guilty Xena felt about the wrongs that had born upon Callisto’s most tragic loss of her family.

Gabrielle tried to comfort Xena.  She explained that though Xena had been the cause to Callisto’s own destiny Xena had changed.  Once a warrior of evil and of darkness, but now it was clear that Xena had turned toward light.  Gabrielle was proud of her friend and to see the ongoing growth that had been taking place within her friend’s spirit since their first day of meeting.  The bard was philosophical explaining that once Syra had been the location of great death and of awful destruction.  But on this day it had healed and it now held vibrant beautiful life once again.  Gabrielle knew that Xena’s soul could go through that same transformation for it had already begun on its journey.  Two winters had gone by since Xena and Gabrielle had begun their travels together.  Gabrielle was certain that they would share many more that way.

Then Xena spoke of how she needed to go down into the valley once more to confront the horrors of her past.  She hoped that there she would find the answers she seeked about her own destiny.  Gabrielle stood over the valley watching Xena disappear into the tranquility.  She waited patiently  for the warrior princess to return.  Gabrielle hoped that Xena would find the answers that she so desperately seeked.  The bard’s wait seemed endless.  And then after many moments had passed Gabrielle found herself kidnapped by a group of strange men.  They were almost not human and they did not speak the same language.  These people were of strange custom for they took Gabrielle to a sight not far from the valley into the woods.  There Gabrielle was tied to a relic which hung between two trees.  She was tied  alongside several young children.

The barbaric men prepared for a ceremony.  It seemed to be one of a sacrifice.  To whom they were sacrificing was not clear.  Maybe it was Hades for their relics surrounding the camp were of skeleton remains hanging from all of the trees about the camp.  In the center was a pile of wood, and rock.  There it seemed that they  would  place their fire.  As Gabrielle thought of how her situation would progress the warrior princess came storming into camp upon her trusty steed Argo.  She flipped off of her horse in style and was holding Gabrielle’s staff which had been robbed from her earlier.  Gabrielle watched as the warrior princess gracefully worked with the staff flipping it behind and over her shoulder then back around.  Xena used the staff long and swiped it across the two barbarians which stood between her and the victims.  Then she suddenly reached for her chakram and threw it cutting down every hanging relic and freeing all who were being held captive.  It was amazing the way that the chakram had sailed in a circular path across the site and then returned after one throw to the hand of the warrior princess.

Xena then called out to Gabrielle and instructed the bard to catch her weapon.  The warrior princess threw it across the battle to her sidekick.  Gabrielle used her most familiar and effective move.  She thrust the staff across grasping it firmly with both hands.  It moved forward and knocked down one of the enemies in front of her.  Then she used her favorite cross over move to rob the enemy of his balance.  Quickly the battling bard acted and took the other victims rushing them away from the heart of the battle and onto safety.  Xena stayed behind and continued on.  There were at least ten more barbarians to deal with and to disable.  She decided after fighting a handful of them that it would be better to finish the battle within a second location away from their relics.

She rejoined Gabrielle and the group only to urge the bard to keep moving.  And so the bard ran further down the path and just out of reach of the battle.  There she stopped to watch Xena finish the battle ready to step in just incase Xena needed her help.  Xena fought without her weapons.  She did her favorite running up the enemy’s chest move flipping and then kicking him to the face.  Xena quickly flipped into a tree above and then back down to surprise three more of the barbarians.  The warrior princess then finished off the rest of the group fighting in the center of a battle circle spinning quickly with agility as she punched and kicked through the lines.

As the battle neared its end one of the children from the group had stayed behind to watch Xena fight up close.  The blue-eyed boy could not resist the power of the warrior princess.  He emerged thinking that it was safe to rejoin his new found hero, but there was still a live barbarian ready to attack.  The barbarian took his knife and cut a rope hanging from a tree.  This released something deadly.  It was a large log swinging down out of the trees toward the helpless child.  Xena quickly acted and jumped in front of the young boy pushing him out of harm’s way.  But then it was too late.  The warrior princess was violently hit by the oncoming log which had gained momentum.  It slammed into her body and pushed her across the woods into a tree where she was crushed between the trunk and the log.

The remaining barbarians quickly approached their victim and Gabrielle knew that it was now that Xena needed her help.  Gabrielle entered into the battle slamming one of the barbarians from behind with her staff.  The blow had knocked him unconscious.  A second barbarian swung around behind the bard and jabbed her in the outer right thigh with his knife.  The blow sunk into the muscle quickly bringing sharp pain and cramping.  Gabrielle then took her staff and jabbed back as her leg gave out and she fell upon the injured warrior princess.  The battle had finally ended, but Xena was in terrible shape.  Gabrielle looked to her friend hoping that the damage had not been serious.  Yet it was obvious with blood running out of her ears, nose, and mouth that Xena was on the verge of being taken by death.

Gabrielle touched Xena’s face trying to revive her friend.  She called out to Xena whose eyes struggled to open.  Xena was aware that Gabrielle was there by her side as she struggled to instruct her friend where she must go.  Gabrielle was told that Xena had to be taken to Mount Nestus.  As Gabrielle tried to remember the way she was certain that it was too far to be reached in time.  With her injured leg Gabrielle knew that it would be nearly impossible to get her friend to Mount Nestus.  But Xena insisted barely within consciousness.  Gabrielle realized that she had to find a way to get Xena there.  No matter the pain or the danger Gabrielle had to take her friend to that far away place.  The bard whistled for Argo and then prepared a contraption using the relics and rubble from the barbarian camp.  Gabrielle and Argo then began their journey to save Xena’s life.

Xena had also begun a journey of her own.  It was a journey that would answer the question that she had been asking just before the battle against the barbarians.  It had all begun back in Amphipolis with Cortese’s brutal attack upon Xena’s village.  That day was one of many events that would shape Xena’s true destiny.  After losing her brother and many friends within that battle Xena made conquest her goal.  Yet it was conquest to protect her home rather than to conquer.  Though the young warrior princess had known early that in conquering one would more effectively protect her home.  The warrior princess had stolen and looted many villages along the way.  Syra had been one of them and sadly Xena’s army had burned it to the ground within its passion for conquests.  Certainly there were many riches to be gained, but there were also many enemies out there waiting to rob the young conqueror of her power.

After the events of Amphipolis and of Syra there was another day that connected Xena toward her destiny.  It was the day that her army had sacked the village of Nexous.  There they had obtained many riches yet they had also captured a soldier.  At the time he was of no identity yet he was dressed  well.  His armor was flashy and his defiance was hardly possible to overlook.  Xena’s soldier known as Tallus badgered the new captive for he felt the disrespect of the flashy soldier.  The captive did not submit to the fear which Tallis tried to overpower him with.  Instead the young soldier held onto defiance.  His confidence was amazing and intriguing.  He proclaimed to Tallus  that his capture was merely a barbarian.  This implied that Tallis was of less intelligence.  Tallis found himself offended and rose his sword after a beating did not faze the captive.  Just before he was to strike the captive Xena stepped in and saved the life of this most intriguing man.

He was of a different breed.  She had never seen someone so confident and so sure of who he was.  When asked why he did not even fear death the solider replied that he did not fear death for he knew what his true destiny would be.  Xena was taken by this answer and so she asked him what his certain destiny was.  And then the man revealed in a very forward manner that his destiny was to conquer the world.  The young warrior princess found herself slightly amused by this answer.   Then Xena explained to Tallus that they should not kill this soldier for he was a Roman nobleman and they could gain wealth from his capture.  She was certain that this man would fetch at least 20,000 dinars.  Suddenly the soldier intervened declaring that the Roman nobles would never believe that she had him within captivity if she asked for so little.  This bold ego driven soldier suggested a price of at least five times more than what Xena had suggested.  The warrior princess was again amused and sent Tallus off to be sure that the message sent would demand 100,000 dinars for this soldier’s release.  Though she was still intrigued and asked of a name from the self-proclaimed conqueror.  He then proudly spoke that his name was Caesar.  Julius Caesar he repeated with more conviction this time.  Xena shouted out to her comrades the name of the captive for the message.

Upon the next morning as she and her army set sail upon the seas.  They began to go through the riches which they had obtained the day before upon attacking Nexous.  One of Xena’s men opened a beautiful large chest and something emerged from it.  It was not gold, or diamonds.  This was a living person.  It was a skilled warrior.  The warrior was cloaked in disguise as he moved swiftly to take out his enemies.  He did not carry a single weapon only the power to disable.  His technique was to use pressure points.  No one could stop his wrath as he took down fifteen of Xena’s men.  He moved with speed, accuracy, and grace.  Xena had even fallen victim when she tried to take out this magnificent warrior.  The warrior princess was struck in the leg and unable to continue combat.

She watched as the warrior scaled to the top of the crow’s nest and just as the warrior swung onto the sails of the ship Xena threw two knives slicing through the fabric taking down the skilled warrior.  Her men quickly took control of the warrior as Xena rose from resting her paralyzed leg.  The warrior was then revealed to be a young woman.  She was beautiful and not of Greek heritage.  Caesar himself had been intrigued, but not impressed with her performance.  Just as Xena’s men were about to take the young girl’s life Xena halted her execution.  The girl pleaded for her life within her own language.  Caesar spoke to her presuming that Xena’s heart would spare the life of the lighting speed warrior.

Xena was again impressed by the nobleman.  He was highly intelligent and most definitely a future threat to her and her conquests.  This man was more educated, but had yet to prove that his skills matched those of the warrior princess.  She could see that both of these new captives could match her in a different way.  Each had skills that Xena seeked to obtain for herself.  The young Xena knew that she must learn from each of them their strengths.  And so she asked Caesar to tell the girl that her life would be spared if she would in exchange teach the warrior princess how to use the pressure points in battle.  Smoothly he spoke to the slave girl and then the girl spoke back agreeing to exchange her warrior skills for her life.

The girl was then escorted down into Xena’s cabin below awaiting a visit from the warrior princess.  As the crowd of men dispersed from the deck Xena again spoke with Caesar for she was still very intrigued with his certainty of knowing his destiny.  As they conversed he spoke to Xena with more knowledge.  He gave her more insight explaining how he had figured out the origins of the young warrior girl.  Caesar said that she was from the provinces of western Gaul.  He declared that there were three provinces in Gaul and that she spoke the Gaelic from the western province.  Caesar also revealed that the girl had probably originally been a stowaway from the land of the pharaohs for her light brown complexion gave away her birth place.  Rome was known for capturing people from the northern lands of Egypt to sell into slavery back in his own land.

Xena realized that indeed this Caesar had his entire life laid out before him.  Every detail had been mapped out within his intricate mind.  She was slightly jealous that someone could have that kind of greatness and power despite being a captive.  It was in that moment that Xena decided that she would get involved with Caesar.  Slyly she proclaimed that his next destiny of the moment would be to dine with her in her cabin later in the evening.  It was a lustful invitation as Caesar was freed from his binds.  And then she left him to contemplate her sinful beauty for it was clear that the young Xena enjoyed the sport of playing with a man’s heart.  It was a new challenge and a new conquest different from the ones she had always engaged in before.

Xena then went down to her cabin to learn from the warrior girl.  When she entered into her cabin Xena noticed that the girl was working to free herself and escape the chains of captivity.  It was obvious that she had done this many times before.  The girl had escaped slavery and been running from it her entire life.  Xena walked in so that the girl could see that she was present and watching the girl’s every move.  This slave girl expected punishment for all slaves were punished for attempting to escape.  But Xena was different.  She could see that the young girl was much more valuable as an ally fighting alongside her rather than in slavery.  Xena approached her fearful subject and then asked her softly to show her how to kill using the pressure points.  The girl showed Xena in silence, but spoke within her eyes.  She did not really want to show the warrior princess the power of pressure points.  Xena demanded that she show her upon her own neck for it was that point that could kill the enemy.  The pressure points in the legs and arms could only disable.  Xena wanted to bring fear into her enemies for they would be less likely to challenge someone they feared.  She had learned that from Cortese.

And so the slave girl did as she had been asked.  Reluctantly she quickly put the move of death upon Xena.  Xena was upset for her subject had done the move much too fast and she could not learn it if she could not truly see and feel it.  The young warrior princess asked her subject to take the move off and do it slower so that she could learn.  As Xena suffered her subject watched her suffer and did not move to release her.  It was as if the slave girl was irritated that Xena had wanted to kill rather than to defend.  Xena could see as her pain within grew that this girl contemplated taking her life for her decision.  Yet in the last moment the young girl took off the pressure and released Xena from death’s grip.

The warrior princess breathed heavily clutching her throat with relief.  She was disgusted with her subject for her clever joke.  And so Xena asked the subject to show her again, but this time on herself.  The young girl took Xena’s hand’s and placed her fingers upon the veins that would be shut down.  Quickly she pushed Xena’s fingers into the grooves of the neck and turned the pressure onto herself.  The feeling was a strange one yet Xena immediately felt the rush of power that it gave her.  She backed away from her subject and watched gleefully as the slave girl suffered and her fear rose.  Xena then contemplated allowing this girl to die for she had played such a cruel joke moments before.  Yet at the last moment Xena too decided that she would have mercy upon her subject.  She released the slave girl from death and declared that she too could play jokes.  That moment led to a most wonderful and loyal friendship between two young women though Xena had never known what the slave’s true name had been.  Xena had given her slave freedom, and her slave had given Xena the power to deliver fear.  It was an ironic twist.

Later that night Caesar finally came down into Xena’s cabin to exchange lustful excitement and passions with a young warrior princess.  He was intrigued by her looks for she was beautiful yet barbaric.  Xena was just the kind of person that Caesar felt he could never ally with.  Barbarians were the uncivilized beasts that he had to control and to conquer.  He had to add their lands to his own in order to build the ultimate empire for Rome.  Yet Caesar complemented Xena for the red dress she had stolen from another raid during her many conquests.  He realized that it was the only way that a barbarian would be able to obtain any kind of wealth or power.  It was unfortunate, but Caesar was not sympathetic.     xena_s2_destiny_dArc_653

Then Xena knew for certain that she wanted to ally with Caesar.  She offered him the opportunity to be a part of her army.  Xena dreamed of a conquest with Caesar for if she were united with his intelligence, charisma, and charm she and the people of Amphipolis would always be safe.  Caesar found her reasons for conquest interesting at best.  Her passions came from within her heart and all that she had done was to protect those that she loved with a few laughs along the way.  It was a reckless existence he thought, but then he was asked of his driving force.  Caesar then explained to Xena his desire to be great.  When Xena asked him what made a person great he explained that it was only achieved by a chosen few.  He knew for certain that he was to be great for it was part of his destiny.

Caesar’s confidence was dangerous, but it was what attracted the young warrior princess to him most.  The two shared in a passionate affair together for several months while Xena and her sailing army awaited payment from Rome for Caesar’s return.  And then one day their passions were separated for Rome came to retrieve its prize general.  As Caesar bade his farewells to Xena she asked him to promise that he would return to her.  Caesar promised his lover that he would indeed return to her in time.  As Xena watched her love leave her behind her heart-felt the pangs of separation.  Just as Ceasar left the shores to return to Rome he saluted his loving partner with an honorable Roman salute.  And then the warrior princess was certain that she would indeed see her friend again.     xena_s2_destiny_dArc_727

Many seasons went by as the ebb and flow of life for the warrior princess and her army continued on.  They continued their lustful conquests conquering Syra along the way and many other helpless villages.  And after each conquest she and her army would return to sea sailing within the tranquility of Poseidson’s ocean.  And then the day finally came when Xena’s separation was no more for her love had returned to her as promised.  The young warrior princess’s heart leapt with joy for she would be with Caesar once again.  Her aimless life of conquering others was seemingly over for she would be a part of something that would build an empire.  It was in the night that Caesar returned.  Xena and her young warrior friend stood upon the bow of the ship as Xena watched him returning to her.  Her excitement clouded her mind as her friend warned her of Caesar’s true intentions.  Yet Xena was certain that Caesar would never go against her for they were in love.

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     Finally Caesar’s great ship docked with Xena’s and the two found themselves face to face once again.  The moment was silent and long for neither moved toward the other.  There was almost a slight tension in the air as one of Xena’s men drew his sword.  But Xena insisted that Caesar was indeed their friend.  Then slowly the two approached one another as all watched their reunion.  Xena’s heart felt a powerful love within it.  She had so much to give and so much to do for her lover.  There was total admiration and she was prepared to sacrifice for him.  When they finally approached they looked into each other’s eyes and prepared to share in a passionate kiss.  Caesar gently moved for his lover and then as their lips were about to touch he drew his dagger and took Xena into his custody.  He ordered his men to fire upon Xena’s army and to  kill them all.  This battle of betrayal ended quickly for without Xena’s leadership her army was helpless against the powerful Romans.

As Caesar prepared to take Xena and her army away he had not been able to find the young slave girl.  When he asked Xena of her loyal friend she declared that her friend had betrayed her and she had been killed.  It was a punishment fit for the crime and Xena’s heart was now broken for she had been betrayed by her passionate lover.  Caesar did admit that he indeed had feelings for the warrior princess during their affair before, but his feelings were stronger for Rome.  His love for Rome outweighed his lust for the warrior princess.

As Xena’s dreams revisited her earliest past Gabrielle and Argo had finally reached the Strymon river, but Gabrielle did not know where to go beyond there.  She was uncertain if Mount Nestus was north or south of the Strymon.  The bard desperately tried to bring her friend to consciousness long enough to find out which direction they must travel.  It was clear that Xena was delirious.  Gabrielle was also finding herself tired and weary for her injured leg was slowing them down.  Despite the pain and the exhaustion Gabrielle finally continued on north of the Strymon with Argo leading the way.

Of course Xena’s dream had not ended.  On the morning following Xena’s capture she and her army were taken to the same beaches where she and Caesar had parted before.  Caesar had prepared 135 crosses to kill every last man within Xena’s army.  They were all tied and ready to be escorted to their deaths.  As Caesar admired his work alongside his officer Brutus he explained to him that in order to defeat a woman such as Xena one had to divide her passions from her senses.  He called this technique divide and conquer.  He had taken Xena’s heart and separated it from her mind leaving the young warrior princess helpless against his wrath.

Then he approached Xena as she was strung up to her cross and sent into the air to suffer.  She suffered inside and now he was going to kill her.  So wounded now Xena wanted to die for if love wasn’t real then life wasn’t worth living.  Caesar then gave the order to break her legs for it would be the fate of all who had conquered alongside Xena.  The Roman soldiers sent the mallet crashing into Xena’s legs disabling then forever and robbing her of all that she had ever been given in life.  Her pain was so great that her soul became numb.  And once each man’s legs were broken Caesar and his men left them all to die.

Yet there was a force of goodness left for late into the night Xena’ s loyal friend broke into camp and took out the few Roman guards left behind by Caesar’s army.  She did not kill them for her power was never used in that way.  The young girl then freed Xena from her binds and certain death for a second time and took the weakened warrior princess to the top of Mount Nestus.  There Xena was greeted with kindness by a healer named Niklio.  Nicklio quickly went to work on the injured woman for her legs had been shattered.  The skilled healer reset the broken bone fragments as he spoke the name of the slave girl upon his lips.  For the first time Xena knew who her loving friend was.  Her name was M’Lila and though Xena was torn apart inside her hope was restored for a moment.  Her loyal friend had been the truth of love while Ceasar had been the betraying love.  For several days Xena was cared for by Nicklio and M’Lila as Caesar’s men searched for the escape barbarian.

Nicklio found himself impressed by Xena’s ability to heal for her body was gaining strength faster than he had anticipated.  His healing techniques were in using special needles to bring the feeling back to the damaged limbs and feet.  As Xena’s body was healing so too was her heart for M’Lila was there to love the broken warrior.  M’Lila stayed by Xena’ s side as the warrior princess recuperated and though they did not speak the same language their loyalty and love for one another held their souls together.  Yet even love alone could not defeat the darkness of conquest for it came back to haunt the warrior princess.

Just before she was to return to full strength Caesar’s Roman guard had found her.  They burst into the home of Nicklio and began their wrath of destruction.  Nicklio was knocked unconscious as the Roman’s prepared to take Xena’s life.  One of them held a small cross-bow and aimed for the warrior princess.  But M’Lila’s loyalty was so great for her friend that she sacrificed her own life for that of the warrior princess.  Xena held her friend in her arms as M’Lila passed onto the world beyond leaving Xena behind.  Upon the death of goodness came the birth of hatred.

Xena the warrior princess then fought with vengeance against the intruding Roman soldiers.  She killed them all without mercy and gave the last man a signature death using the moves taught to her by the deceased M’Lila.  As the last Roman solider perished within his last 30 seconds Xena declared the birth of her own darkness with a new purpose in life.  It’s purpose would be the total destruction of the world for it held nothing, but darkness.

Finally, Gabrielle and Argo had reached the top of Mount Nestus.  It was late in the night and cold.  Snow fell upon the ground softly as the bard collapsed with exhaustion and physical pain.  She could barely move when Argo continued on pulling the body of the warrior princess forward toward the healing house.  Gabrielle rose from her anguish and continued forward finally reaching Nicklio’s door.  She desperately knocked hoping that someone would answer her cries for help.

The door finally opened and it was Nicklio.  He recognized the warrior princess and knelt down to observe her state of health.  Gabrielle could only beg and plead with him for it was obvious that Xena was indeed in bad shape.  The bard knew that her friend was close to death despite her own hypothermic illness.  Nicklio quickly brought the body of the warrior princess inside who was barely breathing.  Gabrielle continued to plead with Nicklio to do something for her friend.  But Nicklio refused to do anything for Xena for it was only Gabrielle that he could tend to now.  And as Nicklio aided the bard in repairing her injured leg and restoring her body temperature to normal Gabrielle watched her friend.  Her nerves would not allow her to sit still and her heart could not stop feeling the need to help Xena.

Finally Gabrielle was able to return to Xena’s side.  Nicklio knew that Xena was going to die, but Gabrielle had not yet accepted this fate for her friend.  She could not accept that Xena would leave her behind alone.  Gabrielle for the first time was feeling very lost inside.  A part of her was seemingly separating itself.  As the desperate bard tried to revive her friend she begged for Xena to wake up again, but the lifeless warrior princess was now gone.  She demanded that Nicklio do something, but he looked to the bard regretfully unable to rescue her from her pain.  Gabrielle sobbed uncontrollably unable to regain composure.  She cried on by Xena’s side for hours waiting, but Xena had already gone.

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The Xena Scrolls: Volume #3: Scroll #46: The Price

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Podedia

Scroll #46 :  The Price

June, 46 B.C.

     Their day began in the calm quiet comfort of the rural wild where no one lived and no villages existed.  Deep into Gaul territory they traveled to find what Xena had hoped would be the best fishing conditions for the season.  It seemed that the warrior princess had a pattern to her madness.  Not only did she know where to migrate, but she knew exactly when to find the best catches during every season in every part of the known world.  Gabrielle was not quite as fond of fishing as her best friend, but she decided that on this day she would make it a point to learn the fine art of fishing.  At first she began slow unable to land a bite at the end of her fishing stick.  Xena was a natural, but Gabrielle already knew this considering she could catch a slimy eel with her bare hands without breaking a sweat.  There was something extremely unappealing about that thought as the bard stood on the banks of this rural river and tried patiently to wait it out for at least a sign of life at the end of her pole. 

     After several hours had gone by the bard was about to throw in the staff once more in this battle of man verses fish, but Xena would not allow it.  She was determined to succeed at proving that even a farm girl could learn her warrior crafts and techniques.  Soon after the sun had hit over head the fish began to bite with a vengance.  Of course for the warrior princess it was easy and she had been landing catches along the banks all day.  For Gabrielle the moment of truth finally came as she struggled to reel in the big one.  Xena instructed the bard coaching her through every move.  To move with the fish was to be the fish as Xena called out that the fish was moving in from the left as he tried to escape to the right.  The bard’s muscles were tensing with excitement as she could see his giant head popping in and out of the rough river waters.  He was a strong one she had to admit, but the determination was strong and so the battle raged on between woman and fish until finally the adrenaline pushed its limits allowing Gabrielle to hoist the giant fish into the air over her head and onto the bank.

      The fish flopped violently about having to accept his defeat as Xena was pleased with her pupil for the effort and accomplishment.  As Gabrielle dashed off behind her she knelt down to free her victim from the line.  The battling bard felt a great deal of new confidence and for the first time she felt that fishing was a true adventure.  Then she declared to her fish friend that though her defeat was sweet it was meant without harmful intensions.  Xena just scoffed at the bard’s philosophical side basking in its own triumph.  The warrior princess asked that she not talk to her food and then Xena moved onto the next moment as she threw her own line back in.  Gabrielle had finally freed her new friend reminding him that he would be going to the elysian fields in her stomach later on, but that it would be a far better place than here on the violent earth. 

       With that the bard threw down her lunch and ran back to the edge of the water for more excitement and adventure as she cheered herself on.  Suddenly all was great and well as Gabrielle complemented Xena for her choice in fishing venues.  The fish certainly were biting better than ever here.  Gabrielle wondered if maybe it was because they were the first people on earth to ever fish in this spot.  Xena’s admiration for her friend could be felt in the air as she explained that the fish felt that way.  In fact Xena went as far as to say that the fish seemed to be jumping willingly out of the water.  Gabrielle pressed her advantage allowing herself to interject some philosophy into Xena’s life.  Yet as Xena threw another fish onto the bank she grabbed it by the line and shook it in the bard’s face reminding Gabrielle of the day that Xena would not stop throwing fish into her face.  Cold, wet, and slimy were not the words that Gabrielle was about to use to be  philosphical.              

     Instead she chose to ignore Xena’s interruption.  Then she expressed her vision of how she felt that everyone came from the oceans just like the fish.  She felt that the fish were people in their own way just waiting to reach out for that magic moment to touch their human family.  Just before Gabrielle could finish her statement she found herself struggling with yet another of her brothers in the water as she was reeling him in reaching out to grab him until suddenly someone grabbed back. 

     The bard was shocked by the sudden burst from within the water.  It was not a fish, but a man whom had grabbed her.  He was badly injured as Xena reached in alongside Gabrielle to help bring him to dry land.  The man would not let go of Gabrielle’s arm as he held it with a death grip.  Gabrielle was terrified at what she saw protruding from within his chest.  A large metal ax was lodged deep into his chest.  The man wheezed to grasp a breath as he tried to speak.  He spoke of a garrison.  His words were broken as he struggled to get out an important warning.  The man said he had been seeking help.  His final words were desparate within his eyes as he struggled to speak within his last breath.  He spoke of the horde.  Gabrielle watched as the man died right there before her.  Death had never seemed so fearless.  His death grip released Gabrielle’s arm as his body fell limp onto the bank. 

      Gabrielle was still terrified and shocked.  Her mind and heart were full of confusion.  She had never heard of horde.  She did not know what it was.  Gabrielle looked desparately to her friend for the answer.  Xena’s only words were a command for the bard to get her things.  Gabrielle wanted an answer to her question for fear of the unknown was spreading through her mind quickly.  Xena snapped for Gabrielle to move and to obey the command for there was an urgency to vacate quickly.  The bard ceased her arguement and ran for her staff and her leather scroll bag hanging from the trees just behind them.  As Gabrielle looked back over the water she saw something worse than she could have imagined.  There was not just one dead man with an ax in his chest, but hundreds.  The dead men floated like a school of fish down the waters of the river from the north.  Gabrielle’s mind could not process the horror fast enough.  She felt stunned and barely able to move for a moment.  The only comfort she could find within was the thought of Xena nearby.  She whispered Xena’s name as Xena approached Gabrielle’s position to survey the situation.  It was more grim than the warrior princess could have hoped.  Gabrielle found the courage to move her legs, and to move closer to Xena.  It felt safer somehow.  Xena’s lips released a bit of unexpected panic.  Quietly Xena was anquishing over the dead as if somehow she had been responsible for them.  Gabrielle hoped to receive information from the warrior princess.  Her heart fluttered hoping that they could be helped, but Xena confirmed cyrptically that they were beyond help.  Xena continued by explaining that the dead men were of the Athenian infantry.  Xena surmised that they must have been surrounded. 

     Gabrielle waited patiently, but with great fear and anxiety for Xena to continue her short quick explanation.  The bard wondered how it was that Xena was certain that she had already known their fate.  Xena suddenly revealed that they worked in this way.  Who they were was still a giant mystery to the concerned bard.  The warrior princess stated that they too were surrounded now.  Gabrielle was desparate to know what it was that they were surrounded by so that she could survey the landscape for it.  She desparately needed to know what her eyes searched for.  The answer soon came just off the banks and to the right.  Gabrielle reacted to the sounds of boats knocking up against the shore.  She saw what looked like giant ape warriors.  Yet they were men.  Their heads were full of dark thick hair yet their chests and legs were carefully maintained.  The ape men were painted all over with white, black, and red body art.  Their clothes were finely crafted out of thick animal furs, and some of their clothes were decorated with human bones.  The canoe boats they rode in were built sturdy out of nature’s best trees.  Upon the stern and the bow were human skulls screaming of danger.  Some of the ape men had primitave jewlrey painfully pierced through their noses.  Their eyes were raging with fire, but it wasn’t hate and it wasn’t vegence.  It was the fire of primal survival and of fear.  The bard’s reaction was to call Xena to action with her sword, but Xena stated that her sword would do nothing to stop the advance of the horde men.  Xena’s next command was out of fear which was something Gabrielle had never felt from the warrior princess before.  It was obvious to the bard that for the first time she had ever known Xena to be afraid for her own survival.  Xena’s command was to run and then she pushed Gabrielle into action.

     Gabrielle’s feet carried her quickly back toward the forrest as Xena followed quickly behind.  The bard found her legs leaping and bounding like never before.  Her heart raced quickly for she barely noticed a single breath from within.  She felt like the prey hunted by the beast.  Just behind the first line of trees there was a small clearing within the foilage.  Gabrielle’s feet stopped abruptly beneath her when her eyes caught sight of the largest horde of them all.  The only one to be decorated in full red body art he appeared mercilessly out of control.  It was as if the red paint possessed him to lust for the kill.  He wore the most elaborate of nose ornaments.  It was the bone of a large beast.  Gabrielle’s eyes met his, but there was no understanding to be found.  It was like two souls with different languages unable to connect with sensabilities only fear.  Gabrielle called out to Xena unable to decide what to do next.  Xena approached from behind only to find her worst fears to be true.  Indeed the two friends were surrounded by the wrath of the horde.  Suddenly it was time to fight for Xena was without her sword.  The warrior princess’s survival instincts kicked in as she grabbed a large heavy branch from the ground using it as a staff while Gabrielle fearfully tried to hold back the group in front of them.  Xena quickly defeated the three which had followed in from the river grabbing Gabrielle and commanding her to return to the river. 

      The Warrior Princess and the Battling Bard returned to the banks steeling one of the two vessels which had brought the enemy to them.  Leaping into the large canoe boat Xena shouted out another command to dig in hard.  Gabrielle did not argue knowing that Xena had the command.  These creatures were something even Xena did not understand.  The horde sloshed through the water on foot in their leather skin boots while some of them followed in pursuit on the second boat.  Xena’s voice was desparate as she commanded Gabrielle to pull harder.  Gabrielle pulled every bit of strength she could from within the rush of adrenaline that flowed through her arms hoping to get away from the beasts as their voices raged of foreign frieghtful sounds.  Their language was seemingly nothing more than a series of ugly harsh grunts.  Each sounded more threatening even if it may have been otherwise.  Gabrielle kept pulling harder each time Xena shouted out the command.  The bard could not resist looking back to see if they were gaining any distance between them.  

     Suddenly Xena pulled her chackram hoping to slow the advance of the horde as she deflected it off of a rock upon the bank and then off of a tree back into the canoe boat in pursuit of them.  The chackram thankfully returned to the warrior princess who had succeeded in slowing the advance by damaging the enemy’s boat.  Gabrielle watched as it sank while the men within it scrambled to abandon ship.  Suddenly from in front of them Gabrielle’s ears caught the sounds of defeat as the one with the red face screamed out echoing through the land.  He did not like defeat as he swung his strange moon shaped weapons upon their chains threatening death upon the warrior princess and her companion.  Gabrielle called out to Xena hoping the warrior princess would have a solution to the danger just ahead.

      For the moment it seemed that both Xena and Gabrielle had escaped the grasp of the horde.  Xena ushered them onto a hidden place along the river bank where they could pull off and rest.  Gabrielle hoped that Xena could tell her more about the horde and about how to deal with them.  As they sat in the eerie quiet of the afternoon the air was thick with humidity and heat.  Everything around them seemed stale.  Even Xena’s mind was affected by it.  As the two pulled out of the river they carried the canoe to a large fallen tree hoping to conceal their current position until they could gain some kind of advantage.  While Xena’s mind worked on the solution her heart told the tale of her first run in with the horde.  The first time she had ever taken her army to the west she had met up with them.  She had sent a scouting party out ahead to look for a mountain pass.  Her scouting party had been trapped in the ravine below when the horde made their move down upon them.  All Xena was able to do was watch from above helplessly as the massive army of beasts reigned down upon her men.  Xena watched as her men desparately tried to fight them off, but could not match strengths against them. 

       The warrior princess was as cryptic as ever as she told her tale of death and ultimate survival.  Gabrielle could sense the regret in Xena’s voice as if had only been in the day before that Xena had encountered the enemy.  She spoke of the ugly voices of the horde and the agonizing screams of her men.  Xena had spent the entire day trying desparately to reach her men with the rest of her army, but by the time they had massed within the ravine the horde had disappeared into the shadows of the evening.  The only thing left of her scouting party were bones.  Their flesh and muscles had been torn from them and taken by the horde.  They were tortured alive until they had been skinned to death and to nothing.  Gabrielle’s fears began to rise as she imagined these pictures in her mind.  They were almost impossible for her to comprehend.  She hoped to understand what the horde were for men did not do these horrible things.  Men killed, and men destroyed, but they never tortured other men in this way.  Gabrielle hoped Xena could give her a comforting explaination to all of this, but the truth was that Xena could not.  Xena was scarred by her past experiences with the horde and it was obvious that their presence now was nerve wracking for the seasoned warrior. 

      Xena struggled to stay focased as she explained that fighting one or two alone would indeed be difficult, but to fight a large party of them would be suicide.  It was written all over Xena’s face and Gabrielle knew it.  She knew that she would have to find her own strength somewhere in order to cope with this unpleasant ordeal.  The bard only hoped that they would find a way out together alive.  There had never been a moment more grim than this.  Even Callisto was nothing compared to the savage beasts that lurked about out there.  Gabrielle thought there had to be more to these creatures.  They seemingly had souls although even the bard’s heart could not connect.  She suspected that they wanted something, but that was a deeper mystery than even Xena could master.  It was clear that the warrior princess was in complete survival mode out of fear and necessity.  The warrior princess was seemingly no longer talking to Gabrielle, but to herself outloud.  Xena was plotting their next move.  Her memory told her that the horde hunted like a pack of dogs only they were equipped with the capabilities of man surrounding their prey until they would make their move to attack.

      Xena’s horrific memories were strong with angry emotion.  Her old frustrations were simmering to a boil as she rose from the resting place and threw the ax weapon she held tightly into a tree.  This weapon she had taken as they had escaped was seemingly Xena’s only comfort despite Gabrielle’s presence.  Xena’s frustrated grunt said it all.  At this point the bard had decided that Xena’s fears and frustrations were clouding the warrior’s mind.  It would be Gabrielle who would have to ground them this time.  The bard was up for the challenge if it meant saving their lives.  Xena suddenly moved toward the banks deciding that they had to move within the moment.  When Gabrielle thought for a moment she decided that the quickest way would most likely be the river.  Xena rejected the idea immediately reminding Gabrielle that it was indeed true that the river led somewhere, but where the horde would be waiting they were unaware.  Gabrielle realized that Xena was right, but she was not so confident that Xena knew how to get them out by the end of the night.  Xena’s next words were grim as she told Gabrielle that things would get worse for her plans to escape would require something Gabrielle could not expect.  The bard moved her eyes about hoping to see whatever it was that Xena saw, but to no avail.  She would just have to follow blindly until Xena could get them to the next safe place.

     Back into the boat they went following the river as Gabrielle had hoped they would do.  The only sounds that could be heard were the uneasy silence between the friends, the waves of the water crashing up against the side of the boat, the oars pushing softly through the water, and the secadas surrounding them on all sides.  The senses had to be heightened in this way in order to catch the sounds of the horde if they were still out there.  Gabrielle hoped that the river would soon save them from certain torture and death, but she knew deep down that they were still out there.  She could hear their breaths under the sounds of the water and soon the sounds of the suffering followed.  Just to the left bank over the water there were more men from the Athenian army.  The six men were barely alive still suffering greatly as they cried weakly for the goddess Athena to have mercy upon them.  They were bound to crucifix type contraptions in the shape of diagonal crosses.  They suffered greatly and Gabrielle could not bare to hear their cries any longer.  Her impulse was to save them before there was nothing left to save, but Xena snapped back rejecting the idea.  Gabrielle argued that they were crying out for the goddess Athena.  They could not ignore Athena’s wishes.  Xena again rejected Gabrielle not believing that Athena had dispatched the fates sending them to help the suffering men.  Gabrielle did not care about fear for she believed the fates were wise as was Athena.  Xena snapped back again reminding Gabrielle that there were too many to save for they would not be able to save themselves.  The fates had already decided death would come to those men. 

     Gabrielle’s arguement had led to their reveal.  The horde had been waiting for them and suddenly they appeared all around them.  Hidden from beneath the water the horde popped out and hidden in the dark evening forrest they came.  Their axes began to hurl through the air.  One nearly took Gabrielle’s life almost lodging itself through the side of her head.  Xena’s reflexes blocked death’s intension for the bard as she used her oar to stop its path.  Suddenly more axes came flying as Xena urged Gabrielle to paddle faster.  Yet the bard soon found herself robbed of even her paddle by one of the axes which struck it at the base.  Gabrielle was desaparately freightened now as she paddled with her hands helplessly. 

       The sounds of a battle beyond control were raging about as the voice of a man could be heard from across the water.  One of the Athenians was trying to make his escape as he dove into the water and swam toward the canoe carrying Xena and Gabrielle.   Gabrielle looked up hoping that he would make it.  She could see that he still had strength left to swim halfway out and so she urged Xena once again to try to save a man in distress.  Xena finally caved in begrudgingly to the bard’s heartfelt desires despite the risks they were now incurring to rescue this man.  Gabrielle reached out as Xena steered the canoe toward him.  The bard grabbed hold of the man whose weight quickly slowed them down.  Soon the enemy could be heard just behind them in another canoe with their voices raging ready to strike their slow prey.  Gabrielle shouted out to Xena that they enemy was closing in fast.  The man then urged them to let him go for they would capture them all.  He knew that he was to die.  Yet Xena would not let him accept his death now. 

      All that could be heard was the suffering moans of the man they had now rescued and the angry voices of the horde on all sides of them.  Xena then warned of a new problem.  Just ahead they were approaching a dead end.  It was a giant waterfall that the river had led them to.  Now they would have face the horde.  Xena called out to Gabrielle commanding her to jump at the edge of the shore where the waterfall met.  The warrior princess hoped to spare Gabrielle a treacherous death by the horde.  Yet Gabrielle would not accept this command from Xena.  She would not leave her friend only to be saved by the gods to travel alone.  Gabrielle could not bare to think of the regret that would follow knowing the terrible fate of Xena the Warrior Princess.  If Xena was to die a torturous death then she too would follow her friend until the end.  Gabrielle’s loyalty would not faulter despite the risks and the agony that was certain to follow.  The bard looked about to see that the horde were clammoring to get at them.  It was certain.  Gabrielle prepared her mind for the pain and the suffering she would soon have to endure.  If this was what Athena and the fates had planned she would face it all with courage.

     Xena argued with Gabrielle, but Gabrielle’s mind was made up.  The warrior princess tried to argue that she would be unable to fight the horde worrying about Gabrielle.  Yet Gabrielle did not care for she was going to fight alongside the warrior princess.  She would not allow Xena this fight alone.  As all hope was dwindling away Xena paddled up toward the shore preparing for the terrible end.  Yet from beneath the ground upon the banks more Athenian men popped up from their positions ready to fight against the hunters.  There was a sense of relief which swept over both the warrior princess and the bard as they dragged their Athenian victim to the safety of healthy infantry.  The infrantry shielded them with a counter attack upon the horde who were unsuspecting of the Athenians’ ability to regroup.  As the three pulled up to the bank Gabrielle shouted out to the Athenian men for their assistance with the injured man.  She helped them remove the man from the side of the boat while Xena jumped into the battle to assist the Athenians.  The horde were out numbered now that the Athenians had shown up and Gabrielle felt more confident in her safety.  Upon letting her guard down she ran back toward the boat to grab her staff and her leather scroll bag.  As she turned back toward the battle Xena was just steps in front of her shouting out to duck.  Gabrielle acted without a second thought as Xena used her whip hurling an ax into the chest of the enemy approaching from behind out of the water.  The horde man fell into the lap of his comrade in the boat and then they retreated.  Gabrielle’s heart stopped for a moment knowing that her mistake was in letting down for a moment.

     Twenty-four Athenians had come to fight against twelve horde.  It seemed to the bard that the power of two men were needed to fight one horde man.  The horde had only retreated because they found that they were out numbered.  These creatures had strategic intellengence.  It was impressive yet scary for it meant that the danger was extremely serious.  Gabrielle was only begining to understand Xena’s deepest fears.  The Athenians formed around their injured and the strangers they had rescued in their own ambush against the hoard.  There was a bit of comfort in this until they reached the outer walls of the Athenian fortress.  As the leader Mercer warned for all to watch for a counter ambush Gabrielle saw that the battle field surrounding the fortress was littered with  dead hoard men.  Death on the field here was fresh and unkind.  Yet there was not a single dead Athenian left behind.  The bard hoped it was because the army was strong, but once they entered passage through the gates Xena and Gabrielle found the remnants of what used to be an army.

      Mercer quickly ushered his men into the fortress and immediately commanded them to get back to manning the battlements in preparation for another attack.  There was seemingly no time for rest for the obviously weary men.  The man they had saved was dying upon the ground as he called out to the soldier Mercer.  Gabrielle leaned down hoping to comfort the fallen man who was now barely able to speak.  He struggled for breaths in the way that the first man had whom had died.  Mercer whom had led the ambush upon the hoard approached suddenly hoping to comfort his dying soldier.  The now dying man pleaded for Mercer’s promise to stop the wrath of the dangerous hoard.  Soon the man’s last breath escaped from his body and he fell into death’s arms as did his comrades before.  Mercer appeared staunch yet touched by the death of yet another soldier.  There was a sense of defeat and of frustration within his pale blue eyes.  It was as if he was on his last crutch of hope.  With another man to die before him his inner strength as a leader was diminishing.  Yet he quickly closed the door upon his own humanity and gave another shallow command.  He asked that this body be thrown to the pit with the hundreds of others that had already been collected.

      Gabrielle looked to Xena for hope for Mercer had none left.  None of his men held onto hope either for as Mercer gave another hollow command to get back to the walls another man approached defiant of him.  It was an older experienced soldier whose hair was silver with battle memories.  The man’s head was weakly bandaged as if his temple wound was as fresh as the dead man on his way to the pit.  An old soldier who had no more strength spoke with more conviction against another fight and another battle than to hope for life beyond the walls of the broken fortress.  Mercer pushed the hobbling man to the ground out of anger yet desparation to regain control of his men.  The man begged again fearful for a his slow torturous death that he was certain would come for him yet Mercer ignored the fearful unreasonable pleas.  He only barked out the same command as before to get back to the wall.  Then Mercer walked away standing as tall and strong as he could despite the weak foundations within. 

     Suddenly it seemed hopeless to the bard that even these men could be any help in aiding a desparate escape from the clutches of the barbaric enemy.  Gabrielle looked to Xena for hope wishing that Xena would be able to comfort her with warrior confidence.  Yet even Xena could not offer this.  Xena’s next statement was factual and firm at best.  She explained calmly yet harshly that the men within the fortress were just as dead as the men outside on the river banks.  Gabrielle could see it within the eyes of her friend that there was still little hope despite their having escaped the hoard for the moment.  And then Xena left Gabrielle’s side as if entranced by the serious challenge that faced her and the bard.  There was more of a chance within the walls to put together a survival plan with more force and more men to fight, but getting them to fight another day was going to be the issue for they had already given up.

     Gabrielle decided that she herself needed to survey the situation in her own way.  She followed one of the men to his battlement and sat along the wall hoping to get a glimpse of the souls within the men who were of a different language.  After squatting along the wall peeking over into the scene of death below the bard could not get the visions out of her head.  She kept hearing the hoard men below screaming out for “caltucca.”  It sounded important, but what it meant she did not know.  Some of the men below were not dead, but still suffering from the pain and anguish brought upon them in their defeats in battle.  Those were the men Gabrielle’s heart felt for.  She wished deep down that she could help them, but it was seemingly too risky to try for no one seemed to understand them.  Not only that, but Gabrielle found herself listening for the sounds of danger as her ears caught the danger of a large ax weapon flying toward her face.  She looked to her right to see the blade just moments away from its target.  The bard slid down behind the fortress walls avoiding the close call.  The constant threat of danger and of death interrupted any thought of reason that may have been invested over the hoard. 

     Gabrielle’s chest rose and fell violently out of adrenaline, confusion, fear, and relief.  It was all so difficult to grasp.  The man next to her did not offer any comfort for all he could do was remind the bard of how the hoard could not be seen for their stealth.  When they would strike no one knew.  They were just out there shouting out “caltucca.”  Gabrielle’s mind was brought back into focas with that word caltucca.  What did it mean?  She was desparate to know for it could hold the key to the entire mess.  The man’s answer was a typical soldier’s reaction.  He was certain that it was the name of their god of war whom they were calling for.  Then he kept repeating it as if he were engulfed in it and his own insanity.  At that moment Gabrielle decided that she could not stand his company any longer.  As she rose from her position on the walls she caught sight of the warrior princess who had obviously scouted out the entire fortress by now searching for the solution to their current problem.  Gabrielle was pretty confident that the warrior princess had most likely already formulated some kind of plan, but the bard was not so certain that these men would be contributing much. 

      The bard explained to Xena that the men seemed prepared for death.  It was as if they did not care anymore.  All had given up and without hope there would be no chance for life.  Xena confirmed the bard’s fears yet she was not going to lie down and die for the hoard.  She assured Gabrielle that she would die a warrior with a sword in her hand fighting until her last breath.  The bard did not doubt this which was some what comforting, but it meant that even Xena had resigned herself to death in some way.

     Gabrielle followed Xena who led her right back to the wall where the insane man still slouched and pelted the wall with small pebbles.  He was beyond saving yet Xena’s approach was unexpected.  She suddenly barked out a question to him.  She wanted to know if he was taking a break.  His response was candid and defiant.  The soldier stated that he was breaking from reality where he chose not to live now.  Xena’ s next question was obvious.  She wanted to know if he would be ready to grab his sword in the event of an attack over the walls of the fortress.  The man looked to her as if she were joking rather than being serious.  He paused from his pebble throwing for a moment to explain what was obvious to him, but not to the warrior princess.  The soldier explained that there were not enough men, food, or water to put up a decent defense or an escape against the hoard.  His skin was seemingly crawling with fear as he shuttered at the thoughts of emminant torture the bard could see running through his mind.  The man was right in saying that they were surrounded, but to allow an easy kill for the enemy was not an option for the warrior princess.

      Xena tipped her boot kicking up the soldiers sword grabbing it with her left hand using her right hand to yank him to his feet by the shirt.  The man seemed stunned that a woman could be so strong and so persuasive.  She began barking out commands as if she were the one in charge.  Then Xena explained to him why it was impairative for him to do his job.  She was certain that dying at the hands of the hoard would be more horrific than any other way of meeting death’s hand.  Xena was determined not to see another man skinned and tortured alive the way her scouting party had been taken from her so long ago.  The scars were deep and the emotional wounds fresh.  These were the forces that were driving her within.  They were forces just as out of control as these men and their own hopeless insanity.  Suddenly other men on the wall began to attack the warrior princess, but they were no match for her quick and agile moves.  She threw one of her attackers over the wall and knocked one behind her onto his back.  Another hoard ax came flying through the air at its target the warrior princess.  Casually she caught it with her bear hand and then looked to the man she still held up by the shirt.  He was shocked and stunned yet impressed at the same time.  Suddenly he was convinced of something, but what he did not know.

      He was entranced by the warrior princess desparate to know who this tall dark warrior woman was.  She spoke her name as it escaped across the fortress into the ears of every man who looked on.  It whispered of hope, fury, and of rage.  The man’s eyes lit up asking if she was Xena of the battle of Corinth.  He wanted to know if this was the Xena of Calmeye whom had defeated Callisto.  Xena’s answer was calm, calculated, and bearly audible.  She was milking the mystery and yet there was a certain fame to all of her deeds.  Most of them were the bad ones, but her defeat of Callisto had proven her good intensions.  She was not to be feared, but reveared.  The man’s attention was firmly in the grasp of the clever warrior princess as he suddenly looked to her for more commands.  As she released his shirt from her firm grasp she gave him the obvious answer and advised him to put his weapons in a place that he could quickly get at them.  It was amazing for not only had she grasped the attention of one soldier, but every soldier within the walls was now looking to the warrior princess for a command.  Xena quickly seized the moment realizing that now was the only chance she would have to grasp what was left within every man on the wall. 

     She continued commanding them louder and with more conviction.  The warrior princess told all to stand at the wall rather than behind it or under it.  She wanted them to show their determination and wills within their eyes.  There had to be a way to convince the enemy that there were too many of them to bust down the fortress successfully.  The enemy had been waiting for the perfect moment to demoralize them.  Xena wanted to take this moment away from them and to gain the advantage.  Her last command was to kill anything that moved between the fortress and the dense forrest beyond.  Gabrielle’s heart sank when she heard these careless words escape the warrior princess.  She interjected that friends should not be killed.  Xena’s answer to the debate was to snuff it out firmly stating that there were no friends left out there.  The words were as harsh as a slap in the face.  Gabrielle could not accept this and found herself upset by this sudden fury within the warrior princess.  There were no hints of possible remorse for these violent choices.  Then Xena walked across the walls down into the center of the fortress as another man asked Xena what they were going to do next.  She began a verbal campaign to encourage the men to revive their own confidence.  The warrior princess declared that the elite of the Athenian army would not be defeated.  These men now entranced responded strongly to the chants.  Then the warrior princess declared that the plan was to kill every hoard man out there.  The cheers from the crowd of infantry men were powerful.  Gabrielle could feel the dirty blood lust and the taste in her soul was thick.  It made the soul heavy with sadness and personal defeat. 

      Every man began to wave his sword in the air while Xena called them to lustful action.  Gabrielle could not stand to watch these horrors unfold.  The warrior princess had lost her own wits and could no longer think with a clear mind.  Without Xena’s heart Gabrielle’s soul was alone to face certain death.  It was like a bad dream and the bard could not wake up.  Reality could no longer be escaped.  Gabrielle had to act on her heart’s desire.  If she could not win Xena’s heart or her life from the hoard she would choose to die her own way.  Gabrielle soon found herself in the infirmary where the injured and the dying men were being held.  There was an eerie silence in this place that could no longer be found out upon the walls.  In fact there were no doctors tending to these men.  When the bard approached one of them she inquired about the doctors, but he answered that they had lost every last one of them during the first attack.  There was not a single soul to tend to the wounded.  The man even joked cryptically that only the goddess of mercy resided there to offer her help.  When Gabrielle thought of his tone she realized he had created his own goddess hoping to ease the pain and the suffering that could be eased no where else.  Not one man within these walls had a grasp on reality anymore.  Even Xena was gone now.

     Gabrielle’s mind was made up.  She was reminded of her days in Thessaly during their violent war against the Mitoians.  There at the temple of Esclipias she learned the arts of battle medicine.  She realized that these skills would now have to be called to action.  Gabrielle suddenly decided that she would die tending to the wounded and the dying.  Her soul could accept this fate.  As she walked about the infirmary she began to seek out the walking wounded knowing that she could not accomplish this task alone.  She would teach them how to help their suffering comrades.  With any help from the fates they would be able to help everyone survive this aweful tragedy.  The bard began to bark out orders as if she were the commander of medicine.  Men began to rise to their feet for there was a sense of relief in knowing that someone still had hope and someone still cared.

     After grabbing one of the men to fetch fire wood, and several others helping to clean up the dirty bandages Gabrielle felt confident that she could accomplish the impossible.  She had now separated the serious cases from those who were not so dire.  She was certain that no one here was going to die if they were well-cared for.  All of these men could make a recovery.  Though the apron she now wore was soon full of blood stains from her dilligent work.  Her heart felt strong and hopeful for she now had healing blood on her hands.  Soon she caught sight of the warrior princess returning from the battlements.  Gabrielle hoped to show Xena another way out.  With all of these men healthy and strong she was certain that there would be enough to bust through the hoard forces to escape if they had to.  Xena wanted to know how many more of them were on their way to death.  Gabrielle was certain that she could rescue them all.  She explained to the warrior princess with pride how she had come to organize the troops.  Xena seemed uninterested.  She felt that if the walking wounded could be nurses to the wounded then they were capable of holding a sword at the wall.  Suddenly all of Gabrielle’s work was being torn down and away from her.  Xena asked that Gabrielle choose which men were going to live and which would die for she needed all of the living at the wall now.

     Gabrielle did not want to make that choice.  It was not fair for her own heart could see that every man in the room had a chance to survive.  Xena harshly explained that there weren’t enough supplies to finish what Gabrielle had started.  The suffering and the dying would have to starve in order for the living to survive.  Xena had specific orders for Gabrielle.  She wanted all of the dead men to be brought to the south wall to portray the illusion that there were more men within the fortress.  Her goal was to fool the enemy into thinking they would be in for a battle that they could not win.  Yet Gabrielle was not so certain that the hoard men were the enemy.  It seemed to the bard that the true enemy was misunderstanding and its cycle of violence.  Xena ordered that all of the walking wounded were to be given swords.  All food and supplies would be rationed to the fighting men.

     And then Xena was gone.  Gabrielle was left to tend to the wounded without a choice.  They would have to die by a command.  The bard realized now that her only choice was in hospice.  She would only be able to comfort the dying with soft words and a gentle touch.  Prayers to the gods if any man still believed would accompany them to their deaths.  It was the only care she could offer now that Xena had forced these harsh seemingly unncessary choices upon Gabrielle. 

     Not long after Xena had left Gabrielle could hear the sounds of the fortress gates opening.  She was curious to know what was going on out there.  If danger was indeed there no one would be opening the gates.  She hoped that Xena had finally come to her senses.  Yet the sounds of battle began to rage just outside the gates between the Athenians and the hoard.  Twelve Athenians went out and only seven men returned followed by the hoard men who had been fooled into entering the fortress walls.  Suddenly they found themselves trapped and surrounded as Xena gave a command from the wall above the gate.  Archers emerged from hiding within the empty supply barrels bringing their wrath of arrows down upon the seven victims within the fortress.  The hoard men screamed as they fell in battle.  To the bard it seemed an unfair fight as she watched the horrors unfold.  Standing in the infirmary doorway she observed the warrior princess who took hold of the action grabbing a bow from one of the archers using it as a weapon against the approaching hoard men.  They were trapped like animals beaten down and demoralized.  There was no fairness in this fight when they were clearly out numbered within the walls.  The seven brave hoard men desparately tried to regain their dignity as they fell into death one by one.  As the gates began to close to seal them off one of the seven men escaped.  The warrior princess grabbed a hoard ax and ran to the wall ready to strike down the one who had escaped the trap. 

      Gabrielle had never seen Xena fight dirty, but this time she held no inhabitions.  She hurled the ax into the back of her enemy.  He did not have a chance against the skilled warrior woman.  When Xena turned to face the men there was no pain to be seen.  Only excitement and blood lusting becomming thirsty for more.  She was grasped by the hand of evil and seemingly had no desire to fight against it.  Gabrielle was disgusted for Xena had thrown away all that the bard had ever taught her about love.  The bard did not know this Xena who stood before the men as they chanted her name victoriously.  They won a small battle, but had lost everything they may have had to live for.  Gabrielle’s eyes could no longer take the sights they witnessed.  She returned inside the infirmary and looked for someone in need of comfort.  Another man was being brought in suffering on the brink of death.  This was a young one not more than seventeen.  Gabrielle imagined that he was probably once a farm boy like Perdicas had been.  The glory and adventure of war had probably lied to him telling him stories that were untrue.  Today he had learned the truth and it had cost him his life. 

      Even before he could die more men came to take him from her.  She had decided that she would defy the warrior princess.  Gabrielle would not allow him to take his last breath within the pile of decaying bodies that were now ridiculously propped upon the south wall.  There was no comfort in that.  As she took his cold hand in hers she soon realized that he was already gone.  She looked into his blank staring eyes and gingerly reached out to close them.  There was little time to mourn now.  Frustrations were building for Gabrielle’s choices had been robbed from her one by one.  It was all because of the fear and determination of Xena’s darkness.  Soon Xena appeared in the doorway, but Gabrielle could no longer face her.  This was not the friend that she knew.  The bard was alone, but hardly afraid of the warrior princess.  She would defy her till the end.  Her heart would not bend.  Gabrielle retreated to the supply room hoping to gain solace there.

     Solace did not last long for the warrior princess had found Gabrielle there only to scold her for not rationing the food to only the men outside.  Gabrielle could only counter by scolding the warrior princess for her own wreckless choices.  Xena defended herself quickly reminding the bard that the hoard outside would kill every man inside the fortress.  Gabrielle did not care about that.  She raised her voice to Xena angry that the warrior princess had used dirty tactics axing a man in the back.  The warrior princess fumbled to defend her actions.  It seemed that there was a slight crack in her story for her only defense was that the man had seen the Athenian defenses.  Xena was certain that he had to die in order to protect the Athenian position.  Gabrielle would not accept that answer.  She was begining to find Xena’s presence freightening.  It was even more freigtening that Callisto’s presence.  The bard’s nightmare was growing into a vortex of darkness.  Xena sensed her loss of control over the defiant bard and she grabbed hold of her soldier’s shoulders.  Then she wanted to know what Gabrielle had expected of her.  Xena declared that what they were experiencing was what war was truely about.  It wasn’t glamourous or adventurous.  It wasn’t glorious or heroic. 

     Gabrielle struggled to walk away from Xena’s grasp.  Without love she could see no reason to be a warrior.  Hope without good intensions was not hope, but evil.  Xena spoke of the unthinkable.  She declared that there were no good choices that could be made within this situation.  There were only lesser degrees of evil that could be embraced.  Yet embracing evil would never be a choice for the bard.  To embrace evil would be to embrace the darkness that she would fight against.  Gabrielle did not embrace darkness when Perdicas died at the end of Callisto’s sword.  She would not embrace it now even if it meant saving her own life.  Life was not worth living within darkness.

     Gabrielle countered Xena’s arguement with her own desparately trying to win back the warrior princess’s heart from the evil which had now consumed it.  She wondered how Xena could be so convinced that there was nothing to understand about the hoard.  Gabrielle was not so certain that the hoard were so different than people.  There were good souls inside of them just like there was a good soul inside of Xena.  It was the effort it would take to find the goodness that would be harder than dying within the never ending pointless violence.  Xena’s darkness would not let go of the warrior princess.  It refused Gabrielle’s hopeful notions of the hoard men.  The commander ended the debate abruptly reminding Gabrielle of how it began.  All rations were to go to the men on the wall.  All others were to suffer and to die.  With that the warrior princess forced the bard out of her way as she barrel back through the wooden doors and into the darkness once more.

     The bard was now faced with a choice.  It was a new choice.  She could surrender to Xena’s darkness and to bloodlust or she could take Xena back from the darkness within.  Gabrielle decided to follow Xena hoping to understand these strange choices that her friend was making.  The bard followed her to the command hut where she listened from just beyond its shallow walls.  There inside Xena spoke with Mercer and his second in command. Gabrielle had to know what Xena was plotting.  She heard the second in command inquire of a new device that Xena had suggested that they prepare.  The warrior princess indeed had a plan despite her out of control rage within.  It seemed that embracing her rage had somehow cleared her thoughts.  This made little sense to the bard as she continued to listen.  Xena had planned for the weapon to be used a smoke screen.  She was preparing the leave the fortress under the cover of smoke so that she could rally for reinforcements.  There was a new courage and confidence in Xena’s voice.  It was caring for she was willing to risk her own life out there alone in order to bring the help that all within the fortress so desparately needed.

     Gabrielle’s mind tried to wrap itself around the necessity of Xena’s darkness, but there was still great distrust of it.  The second in command argued against Xena’s leaving the fortress stating that without Xena the men would be unable to sustain their confidence and their defenses.  Xena agreed with him without question.  She quickly volunteered Mercer without a second thought.  It was as if she had planned the conversation between them before it ever happen.  As if Xena had known what would be said.

      The bard moved her position as the three commanders moved to the outside of the hut.  She roamed about the fortress investigating Xena’s intensions.  Gabrielle was preparing her own strategy against the warrior princess hoping to regain the light from the darkness.  The bard watched as the men prepared the smoke weapons.  Soon Mercer was prepared as Gabrielle spotted him down by the south wall alongside Xena and the other commander.  Xena had originally planned to follow the river down the the cliffs to reach reinforcements.  Yet she had decided that Mercer should take the long route away from detection by the horde.  She was certain that the river was swarming with them.  Mercer was convinced that it would take too long if he were to go away from the river. Xena handed him a weapon telling him to go north and double back south on the other side of the forrest.  Mercer took the weapon looking ragged and weak.  He wore no armor.  Gabrielle sensed the danger that Mercer would face.  She watched intently as Xena called the men to be ready for action.  The second commander followed up the command to the men who prepared the smoke screens.  Soon Mercer would disappear.  The bard knew it was not likely that he would return.  She was watching another man walking into his own suicide at the hands of the warrior princess. 

      Suddenly the command was given and the men began to throw their smoke screens over the walls.  The cloud of smoke thickened quickly.  Its intensity made visibility difficult.  Part of the bard was relieved that Xena had chosen to stay despite all of her actions of the day.  The smoke caused great fires just outside the walls as Xena commanded that the gates be opened.  Gabrielle watched Mercer dash out into the smoke and disappear into the abyss of a battle which began to rage on.  Horde men stormed the walls moments after the gates opened.  The Athenians were tough and confident now.  This small battle was just another diversion that would last a short time.  As horde men spilled over the walls they were greeted with certain death. 

     Soon the small battle was ending as the horde found themselves overwhelmed a second time.  It all came down to which army of men had the stronger will.  In this battle and in the previous two before it the Athenians had somehow been able to hold that advantage.  It had been out of the charisma of Xena’s darkness.  Gabrielle found this to be a stunning revelation.  Suddenly the second commander shouted out a command to cease fire.  He commanded the men to save their arrows.  Gabrielle found this odd for she did not hear Xena make those commands before him.  Her eyes searched frantically about the fortress unable to locate the warrior princes.  Just as the men were begining to celebrate again Gabrielle shouted out a command of her own.  She cut through the cheers with concern.  Gabrielle wanted to know where Xena was.  This quickly hushed the chanting and the cheering.  The bard ran to the gates to look out.  She saw Xena sneaking about the field of dead horde men.  It was as if she were checking for the men who were still alive.  The bard was yet again confused by Xena’s actions.  None of her decisions made any sense.  Then the commander shouted for the gates to be opened again as Xena entered through them with one of the horde men.  She had disarmed him throwing his weapon to one of the soldiers as he stood by the commader.

       Xena called out for assitance from the men.  Men quickly responded taking the horde man from the warrior princess as she commanded that he be taken to the hut.  She reminded her men that it would be dark soon.  The warrior princess demanded that double guards be posted there and that the torches stay lit through the night.  Then Xena moved on as if there were little time to stop and rest.  Gabrielle followed the warrior princess who appeared exhausted yet unshaken.  She wanted to know why Xena had suddenly shifted her choices from killing men to saving them.  This horde man that Xena had saved was not badly injured at all.  Xena looked to Gabrielle with frustration.  She suggested that this man was not being saved.  He was a prisnor being held for questioning.  This made even less sense to the bard for Xena had previously stated to her back in the supply room that there was nothing that she wanted to know or nothing that should be known about the horde.  Suddenly she was going to try to question one of them.  She didn’t even speak there language.  In fact, no man within the fortress walls could.

     Gabrielle followed Xena to the hut where she was to attempt to question the horde man.  Xena spoke to the man with attempting bit of respect.  He did not understand.  The horde man was alone in a place full of strange unkind men.  He had no one to defend him.  Gabrielle decided that she would stand up for his rights.  Xena brought out a map hoping to find out where his people were hiding.  She pointed to the map and then pointed to herself hoping that he would understand.  The horde man seemingly understood this as he shook his head.  Then Xena touched his shoulder softly and made a gesture back to the map.  It was as if she were treating him with kindness.  No one standing in the room believed that this horde man would be capable of answering back with kindness.  It seemed to Gabrielle he did not wish to answer the question though he understood it very well.  She could feel that he was concerned for his fellow horde men.  The horde man hesitated as he thought of the consequences.  Yet just as he was seemingly about to return the respectful gesture given to him the Xena the second in command pulled his sword lunging forward hoping to take command of the situation.  He was lusting to kill the prisnor before the prisnor was given a chance to communicate. 

      This action broke any trust that could have been gained between Xena and the prisnor.  Xena did hold back the commander yet she was afraid of losing control.  Gabrielle could sense this.  She soon shifted back to the darkness desparately trying to regain control.  The horde man struggled out of anger for the savagery of the commander’s actions.  Xena’s frustrations were mounting quickly.  She commanded Gabrielle to go outside.  Gabrielle refused the command.  She was not just another soldier.  The bard was Xena’s friend and she was the only friend that the horde man had within the walls of the fortress.  She would stay no matter the consequences.  Xena did not argue any more.  She was aware of the instability of the current moment.  Losing Gabrielle’s loyalty seemed trival to her now.  Her next move was cold.  Xena used her pinch of death upon the prisnor forcing him to suffer an unkind torture.  Gabrielle objected openly to this use of unfair and disrespectful tactics.  The commander was unaware of Xena’s technique as she had to explain it to him.  She was calm and calculated as she told of its horrific deeds to men. 

     Gabrielle watched as the horde man suffered.  His eyes were full of fear and lonlieness.  The bard could see that Xena was not going to release him from the clutches of death.  She was just going to make an example of him to prove some kind of commanding presence to the commander whom had just defied her.  Xena was desparately trying to assert her power in front of everyone.  Gabrielle could not allow this behavior from the warrior princess.  She knew that although Xena was giving into her darkness she was not unaware of it.  Xena could control it.  She was chosing not to.  Gabrielle pleaded with Xena, but the anger was building.  Gabrielle reminded Xena that she was becoming a murderer again.  Xena snapped back at the bard commanding her to go to the hut.  Gabrielle defied the warrior princess’s command.  She knew that if she continued to obey these commands as the men did that it would only feed the darkness more.  Gabrielle was now struggling to starve the darkness within the warrior princess.  She wanted to make it suffer if it meant relief to those who suffered because of it. 

      The bard continued to defy Xena openly in front of the men that did not belong to her.  She reminded Xena that she would not go back to the infirmary to play Celesta chosing death for some, but not for others.  Gabrielle would not be a murderer because darkness commanded it.  She would lash out against it.  The struggle of evil Xena verses the goodness within soon ended.  Xena’s good conscience seemingly won out as she released the horde man from death’s grasp.  It was clear that she was emotionally drained and weakened mentally.  Frustrated and tired the warrior princess commanded the men to take the prisnor to the supply room and chain him up.  The commander’s rage chimed in certain that Xena wanted the horde man to be executed.  Xena snapped back at him again stating that the man was to be chained up.  The conversation ended as the commander took the prisinor with the other soldier to the supply room.

     Gabrielle found herself to be relieved for the moment.  She reached out to the warrior princess and thanked her for saving the horde man’s life.  The pressures that she faced within as well as from the commander had been taxing for her.  Gabrielle knew it.  She hoped to comfort the warrior princess somehow, but was uncertain of how to accomplish this.  Xena did not accept the thanks from the bard.  She lashed out with anger that the bard had embarressed her and defied her openly in front of the men.  Xena then reminded the bard that she would kill the prisnor if it would save her troops from death.  This was about survival and nothing more.  Gabrielle had been right in her observations of the warrior princess.  Her heart was torn by its past and the suffering of the men she could not save.  There was something phsycotic about the warrior princess now that Gabrielle could not understand. 

       Xena continued as Gabrielle’s thoughts began to escape her lips.  The warrior princess’s mind was now focased on the battle and of the blood that would come with it.  She reminded Gabrielle that none of them had asked for this war.  It just was.  This would most certainly be a fight to the death.  Xena wanted to know what part of war Gabrielle could not understand.  Gabrielle realized that it was Xena who did not understand.  She did not understand herself.  The bard understood war, but she did not understand the out of control darkness that now relentlessly consumed her friend.  Gabrielle’s heart was broken by these thoughts of Xena’s darkness.  They went to a place that she could not travel to.  It was too much for the bard.  She was desparate to reach her friend.  Gabrielle cried out softly for the good Xena who was always wise and with good intensions.  The dark warrior princess turned to the bard and explained that only her darkness could help them now.  There would be no revival of goodness for it could not live in this reality of war.  Xena was willing to let her soul die in order to save every man within the walls of the fortress.  She left explaining coldly that the darkess was a part of her she had not realized she would ever need to call upon again.  With that the conversation ended as the warrior princess left Gabrielle’s heart to fend for itself once again.

      Gabrielle knew that she was losing the battle for Xena’s soul and Xena’s heart.  It was almost too much the bear.  The death and war outside seemingly did not matter to her anymore.  She went to the supply room where the horde man was being held knowing that he felt just as alone in this as she did.  Gabrielle could relate to him in a way that no one else could.  Yet she could not speak of this with him or understand him.  The bard decided that her only chance to save her own soul was to face the danger alone.  She would leave the warrior princess here with the darkness that consumed her.  Gabrielle was ready to die outside the walls in an attempt to escape darkness.  She began to gather water for her leather water bag.  As she grabbed a laddle off of the wall she began to fill it only to hear the prisnor struggle to speak.  He kept saying that word again.  The man cried out “caltucca” as he reached for the bard.  She looked to him soon realizing that he was desparate for a drink of water.  Caltucca was water and not a god of war.  It was life.  Gabrielle approached the man with water as he drank it thankfully.  The dying men wanted water and nothing more.  The magnitude of this misunderstanding between men and other men had spun out of control.  It was all over a lack of communication and willingness to try.  It was all over a lust for violence out of control.  It was about Xena’s lust for violence. 

      Gabrielle’s heart reached out realizing that this was the price.  The price was in losing one’s humanity when it came to the drums of war.  No matter what people were willing to lose themselves and for nothing more than a ridiculous war.  The horde man had finihsed his drink as Gabrielle had knelt down beside him to take the ladle for more.  She wanted to touch him and to let him know that it did not have to be about war.  Yet he was just as mezmorized by it as was Xena.  Xena had been right about only one thing.  If all were going to die there was only one choice left to make.  Gabrielle would die her way.  She prepared for her death without a weapon.  The bard would go onto the battlefield to save lives until hers was taken from her by the hand of the fates.  She soon filled her water bottle and then went outside back to the wall.  Gabrielle spoke to the gatekeeper telling him it was Xena’s command was to send her out to tend to the wounded men.

      The gatekeeper did not give it a second thought.  Xena’s commands were like gold to him.  That was the key to Gabrielle’s chosen fate.  She quietly went from one man to the next looking for those who still had breath.  Gabrielle shared the precious caltucca with her distant brothers as they lay suffering, thirsting, and dying on the battle field.  It was not long before Xena had realized that Gabrielle had been let out.  The warrior princess was enraged that she was defied yet again.  Her control over the bard’s fate and the fate of her men had been lost.  As the sounds of battle preparations from behind the walls began Gabrielle found herself facing death.  There surrounding her as she shared water with another one of the suffering men were his comrades waiting for the kill.  Gabrielle was surrounded just the way Xena had described it to be.  She looked up into the eyes of the men who raised their weapons, but did not strike.  Instead the began to gather their friends who lied dying on the ground.  The wounded horde men were taken back with their friends as Gabrielle rose from the ground carefully watching with amazement.

     No one was trying to kill anyone.  There was love and care in the air.  For the first time in a day it seemed that this battle could end and be fair.  Gabrielle then continued to share the water with every man there.  More horde men came to retrieve more of their dead and wounded as the Atheninans finally found the courage to venture out to retrieve theirs.  As Gabrielle continued carefully across the battlefield Xena came charging out of the gates after her.  Xena pushed her to the ground commanding her to get down.  She was extremely against the choice the Gabrielle had made.  Gabrielle did not care what the evil warrior princess wanted.  That was not the friend she had traveled into this mess with.  Then Gabrielle’s eyes caught Mercer struggling across the field.  Mercer struggling to move.  Gabrielle ran to him calling out.  He struggled to call back.  Mercer was lying on the battlefield wounded.  Xena followed Gabrielle to the wounded commander.  Mercer had not taken Xena’s advice.  He explained how he had tried to go the shorter route.  His attempts to rally reinforcements had failed.  It had been for nothing.  Gabrielle comforted Mercer with a drink from her leather water bag as Mercer lied there upon her lap.  Xena muttered under her breath that it was time to get back inside the fortress for she did not know how long this sudden truce would last.  Gabrielle looked to the dangerous warrior princess confirming to Xena that she had most certainly gotten what she had wanted.  Her war to the death.  It was now certain for all that hope was lost.  Without Mercer’s reinforcements no one would get out of the fortress alive.

     Gabrielle soon returned to the infirmary with Mercer and the other wounded.  She prepared the fire, and more clean bandages alone as she began to mourn the loss of the soul of her friend.  Gabrielle had fought hard to hold onto Xena, but she could not win.  The darkness was just too much for her to purge it of its sin.  In the darkness of the night she worked to ease Mercer’s suffering wrapping his head in the new bandages that she had prepared.  As she continued her work three men entered the infirmary.  They were not injured like the rest.  One of them spoke to Gabrielle explaining that Xena had commanded them to take order from Gabrielle.  The bard could not believe it.  She was insulted for a moment sarcastically reminding the men that Xena desparately needed at them the wall.  The man pleaded for a command from Gabrielle explaining that the basket of food that he held had been rationed by Xena for the men in the infirmary.

      Gabrielle’s heart found a bit of hope in this gesture.  Her soul felt relief realizing that her battle against Xena’s darkness had finally broken through.  Gabrielle began to ask the men distribute the rations to the suffering hungry men surrounding them.  She asked for more bandages as well.  Then Gabrielle continued her work deciding that her heart still loved Xena despite all that had transpired.  The bard mended wounds through the night and through the early morning when all was silent.  While the soldiers slept Xena finally found the courage to speak to her friend again.  Gabrielle was glad that Xena was by her side again.  Xena spoke with hope once more praising Gabrielle for discovering the key to the misunderstanding.  Knowing that caltucca was only water had led to the temporary truce between the two armies of men.  Xena spoke of how Gabrielle’s kind gestures to the strangers had made them think there was peace.  The warrior princess was disappointed in herself knowing that the peace was not her own.  She had let her fear and hatred blind her and she was regretful of it. 

     Gabrielle had already understood this.  She had spent the entire day and night trying to figure it out.  It all made sense to her when the war cries had finally settled down.  Gabrielle tried to comfort Xena and to apologize for her own actions against the warrior princess.  She had pushed her friend hard yet with little understanding until now.  Yet Xena would not accept Gabrielle’s apology to her.  Xena wanted to accept full responsiblity for her actions and wreckless choices.  She did not blame the bard for any of it.  The warrior princess wanted to express her admiration for Gabrielle.  Xena knew that Gabrielle understood hatred, but she had always fought against it.  Gabrielle would never step across that line despite being aware of it within herself.  This was what Xena wished to share with her friend.  The understanding of hatred and Gabrielle’s passionate fight against it.  This was how the rest of the peaceful night played out.  Forgiveness and a sharing of peace between two friends who could finally come to that understanding of each other.  Their differences within one another were to be loved just as much as the things that made them so much alike.  Gabrielle’s heart was warmed by Xena’s gestures of admiration.  It was more than she had ever expected from the warrior princess.   

      As personal issues were being resolved and peace embraced for all within the walls the sun rose without remorse.  It brought upon all the time to hold their resolve for there was a new challenge.  As Xena approached the gates Gabrielle followed desparate for a solution beyond a sacrfice.  Xena had declared on the night before through her prisnor’s release that she would fight only their leader and that would settle the fight for all.  Gabrielle pleaded with Xena hoping that there would be some other way.  Maybe they could talk to the otherside, but Xena knew this possibility was nothing more than a flaw.  It was not logical for peace to have come overnight, but indeed it had.  There was still a great divide between the two sides as misunderstanding still thrived.  The only two things that both knew was that caltucca was water and that a warrior code must always be honored.  This was Xena’s statement to Gabrielle as she prepared to do battle against the horde leader.  She had tried to encourage a duel against the prisnor the night before, but he refused her sword.  He would only accept that of the men who stood behind Xena.  This was the solution that Xena had seeked to release all from this impossible situation. 

      In the warrior code of the hord she had discovered that only a leader could fight another leader.  It was their law.  Xena would fight within the confines of their law hoping that in defeating their leader she would gain a permanant truce and a binding peace.  Soon Xena turned to her friend pleading that Gabrielle leave and go to the river in the event that Xena’s attempt at fighting for peace did not end in triumph.  Gabrielle again refused Xena’s request that she leave to go on without her.  The bard reminded Xena that they had traveled into this place together which meant that they must leave together.  Gabrielle would accept no other code between friends.  It seemed that for Xena there was some comfort in this loyalty that the bard had expressed.  She took the bard’s determination as she walked into battle.

     The gates opened slowly as all was quiet about the field.  There were only the sounds of the horde leader as he stood alone on the battlefield to await his challenger.  He appeared tall, strong, and intimidating as he prepared his moon shaped metal weapons for battle.  The horde leader swung his chains about him preparing to do battle.  Xena approached him calmly and without a single sound.  She did not try to intimidate him with her battle cry for she was fearful deep down inside.  Only the bard could see this and she was glad for if anyone else could have seen or known Xena’s fears then her chances of survival would dwindle.  Xena was brave as she made her final steps stopping before the enemy with a smirk and a slight smile.  There was a certain delight for the battle and she could see her enemy’s strategy.  For the first time the warrior princess knew that the enemy was just as afraid of her as she had been of him for so many years.  This empowered the warrior princess with strong confidence as she slowly reached back behind her to draw her sword.  She did not do it quickly for it was clear that the enemy would no strike until his challenger’s weapon was ready for battle.  In the moment that Xena would flash her weapon he would strike.  He was ready and poised, but the warrior princess refused to hand him his obvious advantage. 

      There was a slight admiration for the brave horde leader who stood before her.  Gabrielle could sense that the warrior princess admired his strict adherance to his own code.  He suddenly looked to the warrior princess making a loud grunting growl urging the warrior princess to begin the battle.  Xena did not delay as she grabbed for her weapon.  It slid smoothly and stealthfully out of its shealth upon her back.  There was barely a moment between the sound of Xena’s weapon emerging from its fortress to the sudden clashing advances of the enemy upon it.  Xena immediately went into a defensive battle stance.  It fooled the enemy into thinking that he could over power her quickly as he charged forward with his own weapons.  The enemy was powerful yet slow while Xena was quick and agile dodging each strike he attempted to make.  Xena held her sword steady as she successfully blocked every move the horde leader made.  She gave him some ground leading him into her trap.  He was begining to spin around moving forward with certain victory on his warrior mind.

      Suddenly there was an unexpected shift in the battle.  Xena had discovered another part of his code.  The horde man would not fight with his weapon if Xena would not charge with hers.  Gabrielle could see this in Xena’s eyes.  She could see that Xena was searching the eyes of her enemy for his intensions.  He began kicking with force as Xena dodged defensively.  His legs were poweful muscles driving forward.  His voice made sounds of frustration and irritation for he had come out for the kill and now he had to fight to obtain the blessings of his people.  He was not allowed to kill the enemy if the enemy did not go in for the kill.  This threw the enemy off balance.  He had been unprepared for this strategy. 

     Xena had to regain control of his mind’s focas as he powered toward her out of control.  His furious kicks began to connect with her face.  Her chest rose and fell with the rush of warrior adrenaline as she blocked an advance from behind her back with her sword.  She had to regain some ground from the enemy in order to win this battle.  She began to reflect his movements as if she were learning a new method of fighting.  It was amazing to see all of this unfold.  Xena could adjust to any situation so quickly.  She suddenly shouted out a warrior cry swinging her sword in front of the enemy to threaten him convincing him to give up ground.  As he lepted backward Xena was expecting his next attack.  He drove both of his sharp weapons down upon her as she readied her weapon long across her shoulders above her head.  Xena spun around throwing a hard elbow across his jaw.  She threw him back ward driving her thick leather booth into his abdomen grabbing back more ground from him.  Xena used her sword making contact across both of his weapons shaking his balance from beneath him.  The horde leader fell across Xena’s boot upon his back.  He did not stay there long as he popped himself back up onto his feet.  Xena countered for more ground as she used a jumping spinning back kick across the enemy’s face.  He lost more ground and did not recover as quickly from this move against him. 

      For a moment he appeared disoriented, but Xena’s advantage did not last long.  The horde warrior reached from within his inner warrior strength to gather the energy to attack.  There was anger and frustration behind his warrior emotions as Xena’s emotions were steady and focased.  Every time Xena would take ground in the battle she would do it defensively.  He could not compete against this strategy though it was clear to the bard that this warrior was equipped with much more physical power and strength that the warrior princess.  It appeared that Xena’s strategy of following his warrior code rules was working.  She was wearing down the enemy and his mental focas was weakening.  It was soon to be realized that his next move would lead to a violation of his own code. 

     Suddenly the enemy jumped forward charging with great force and awesome power.  Xena was seemingly prepared to lose what she had gained as she dodged his strike yet again.  His weapons drove down upon her only to miss their target and connect with a war wagon which had littered the field.  For a moment the battle was a stalemate as the horde leader cried out in frustration.  It was clear that he was tiring of Xena’s mental games.  Xena moved quickly to try to take the offensive knowing that this might be her only moment of offensive advantage.  She spun her sword in her had swinging her arm around for a power move against him, but he had been ready to defend.  Using one had to free one of his weapons from the wagon and the other to block Xena’s sword.  He was successful at stopping Xena holding her sword by its blade as blood dripped down his hand.  The horde warrior gripped the sword tightly and fearlessly with strength.  Xena was now at the disadvantage.  She had not expected him to move quickly. 

     Gabrielle could see Xena’s eyes trying to focas and search for a way out as the horde leader freed one of his weapons with his other hand.  Before the horde warrior could act on his advantage Xena took hold of his surprise as she grabbed his offensive arm releasing her grip upon her own weapon.  She ran up the front of his chest with he boots launching herself into a backwards flip sounding out a confident battle cry.  By the time she had landed upon her feet she had regained the advantage slyly swiping the enemy’s oww weapon.  Gabrielle watched the warrior princess’s own surprise realizing that Xena had not expected that she would come out of that moment alive.  Xena had impressed herself and built upon that momentum as she looked at her new weapon.  The warrior princessed smiled with delight for she throughly enjoyed the challenge of a battle with new weapons.  She was a natural at learning new warrior arts and using new weapons. 

      Quickly the enemy made his move with her sword.  He went in for the kill swinging the small weapon in his had wildly forward.  The horde warrior was unable to control the weapon for he did not know how to balance his moves with it.  Xena dodged his advances gracefully as he fell forward slumping over in his stance.  The warrior princess used his fatigue to her advantage grabbing him on one of his spin around moves using her new weapon to disarm him of her sword.  She now had his arm pinned and his own weapon to his neck.  There was a struggle of wills, but it was clear that Xena had the larger will.  She held the enemy steady as he continued to wear himself down trying to escape her grasp.  Xena attempted to use her forearm to drain the life and strength from within her enemy as he continued to struggle to escape weakening with every passing moment.  Just when it seemed that he would lose conscieneness due to lack of oxygen Xena freed him from her grasp throwing him to the ground releasing him from death.  She threw down his weapon next to the defeated leader picking up her own and walking away back toward the gates of the fortress. 

     All was silent for a moment except for the sound of Xena’s warrior boots making crunching their way across the dirt upon the battle field.  Gabrielle cried out for Xena to watch out.  The horde tribe stood just beyond the woods as they had watched their leader be defeated, but not to the death.  Soon their leader rose from the ground and shouted out in agony over his defeat.  It seemed that he was calling for his men to attack and the warrior princess paused prepared, but then she realized what he was doing.  He was trying to intimidate her into allowing him to save his own honor.  The horde leader wanted his battle to the death.  Xena refused it knowing that she had already won the honor and the blessing of those men that he had led into battle.

      As the defeated leader cried out his men raised their weapons and aimed them not at Xena, but at their unworthy leader.  Gabrielle watched as their axes flew across the battlefield and into the back of the defeated leader.  He fell to the ground defeated by his own code and his own society.  There was a lonely feeling which swept the battlefield in that moment as a great leader had perished alone.  All of the men whom had once followed him then retreated back into the trees.  It was clear that for now the war was over.  It all made little sense to the bard.  As little as the word caltucca.  When Gabrielle approached the triumphant warrior princess Xena explained that she did indeed understand that one leader had to die.  Then Xena looked to the Athenian commander and suggested that this was the time to send out a patrol to fight them if war was meant to continue.  The commander rejected this idea.  His only want now was to abandon the fortress and be certain that he could get his surviving men back home to safety.  With that statement he walked away.  There was little time to talk about all that had transpired.  It would be only a few hours or so before the horde had chosen their new leader who would most certainly return to fight the Athenians another day if they had chosen to stay. 

       When Gabrielle asked Xena if they would return Xena only cofirmed that it may be longer than hours.  She surmised that in a few years the horde would rebuild and return to fight again.  Gabrielle wondered if their rampage could be stopped somehow.  Xena explained that it would not be by warriors.  She was certain that it would be by someone who seeked peace.  The warrior princess grabbed Gabrielle’s shoulder squeezing expressing her admiration for the bard once more.  She explained that it would be someone like Gabrielle that would put a stop to the endless bloody misunderstanding between humans and horde.  Xena only hoped that the horde people had a Gabrielle within their tribe for that was what she felt it would take to be certain that peace would be obtained.  For now the price for war would continue to be losing one’s humanity to the cycle of misunderstanding.