For disclaimers see Betrayal. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Howís it going?" Eponin asked.
"Itís going," Gabrielle said mustering a grin. "She ready?" Gabrielle asked nodding over to August who sat nervously on a bench.
Eponin grinned, "Yeah sheís got butterflies but sheíll be fine."
"Butterflies?" Gabrielle said skeptically. She looks borderline terrified.
"Okay so she threw up twice," Eponin confessed, "but sheíll be okay."
"Maybe you should take her out of town," Gabrielle suggested.
"Is that an order commander?" Eponin asked with a smirk as she used the title that some of the villagers had bestowed upon Gabrielle.
"No," Gabrielle answered returning the grin. "Just looking for an opinion."
"Then I think she should stay," Eponin remarked. "I think it would do her good. Let her get her feet wet a little. Let her see what life outside her village can be like. She handled the staff well today and like before Iíll stand by her."
Gabrielle gave a confident nod. "Okay, Iím gonna talk to her. Iíll be back in a few," Gabrielle answered, giving Eponinís arm a light squeeze before she left.
August darted to her feet when she saw Gabrielle approaching but said nothing.
"How ya doing sweetie?" Gabrielle asked.
"Iíll be okay. I just hope I donít disappoint you," August replied. Gabrielle could hear the shake in the girlís voice.
"Stick by Eponin okay? Sheíll take care of you. And if something happens to her make sure you come to me, okay? Iíll be right there in the square of town holding that position. Iíll either be walking away once the army is defeated or carried away to a funeral pyre. But know that I wonít be leaving that spot. And if Iím gone then go to Xena. Sheíll get you to Athens."
"You said to run when you get outnumbered. I donít understand," August countered.
"Yes I did," Gabrielle replied. "And thatís the best course of action if itís just you and you alone. War is different. If my line falls, then the army will take the village for sure. Theyíll reap the bounty and burn it to the ground. Hopefully Xenaís line with the archers will take out most of them. Do you understand? My line has to stand or the village falls."
August took a deep breath as she nodded. "Yes I understand. And Iíll do as you say. I promise."
"Then thatís all I can ask," Gabrielle grinned, giving the young lady a chuck on the shoulder. "Remember - Eponin, me, Xena. Okay?"
August didnít reply vocal. She just nodded.
"Youíll do fine," Gabrielle said confidently. She was going to continue but she heard Xenaís voice boom out.
"Fire! Next line. . . Fire. Next line. . .Fire! Next line!" Xenaís voice repeated over and over. Gabrielle couldnít see what was happening because of the darkness but she was well aware. Xena had three rows of archers firing one at a time so the army was met with a continuous onslaught of arrows.
Next Gabrielle heard Xena call out to their daughter. "Eve! Go north! Go North!!"
North?! Oh no! The north was too rocky so we didnít guard it as heavy. Gabrielle pushed past her men to stand front and center. She watched Eve and her Ďtroopsí dash across the courtyard and scurry up the ladder to defend it from the attackers. As she and her troops arrived, the army began to come over the wall. If Eveís forces had moved just a few minutes slower the army could have overtaken the city. But as it stood now, Eve and her men went toe to toe with the attackers, hoisting them back over the wall and into their comradeís path.
"I need some archers now!!" Eve called out from across the square to her mother.
A man from Gabrielleís unit stepped up to her. "We should go help her," he insisted.
"No!" Gabrielle snapped much harder then she intended and she softened her voice. "No we stay here."
"But why?" he argued. "What good is just standing here when my brother over there needs help on the wall?"
Gabrielle watched as Xena sent a line of her archers down the ladder and over to Eve for reinforcement. As she turned back she looked eastward toward Gabrielle.
Great lord above! More of them?! When Xena looked westward she gave a sigh to see that no one else was coming. At least thatís one good sign. Xena pointed toward the back of the town. "To the east!" she shouted to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle turned around but she couldnít see anything coming . . . at least not yet.
"Thatís why," Gabrielle smirked to the man. "Come on!" the bard shouted as the villagers followed her lead as she went through town.
"I though you were going to stay in the square no matter what!" August shouted from the water brigade as Gabrielle raced by her
"Change of plans. Gotta be flexible. Comes with the job," Gabrielle retorted as she raced along.
Gabrielle came to a stop when saw about 20 men on horseback, riding hard toward them carrying torches. Trip the horses. Cause a back up.
"Jacob, Joseph! Get a rope! Wrap it around the hitching posts so itís in the riderís path. When I say pull, raise the rope and trip the horses! Go! Now!" Gabrielle yelled.
The men dashed inside the corral and returned seconds later. Jacob wrapped it around once and ran across the street to the other post and wrapped it once as well. Both men picked up their ends and looked to Gabrielle who was watching the army.
"Okay, you six on one side, you six on the other," she called to the rest of her men. They too obeyed and formed what looked like a wide tunnel as Gabrielle stood at the end. Closer the horse came, their hooves sounding like thunder as they tore up the earth behind them.
They were almost within the city when Gabrielle called out.
Both men heaved with all their might and they watched as the rope got as taunt as a bowstring, tripping the horses and sending their riders headfirst into the dirt. The men directly behind them got tripped up in the mass of human and horses scattered about. When the next wave came inside, they managed to by pass the commotion, going right into the Ďtunnelí of Gabrielleís men where they were dragged from their steeds and pummeled.
As the invasion from the east began to subside, Gabrielle looked to Eve who now had her archers in place and doing a good job of defending that side. Xenaís team however didnít seem to be fairing as well. And Xena herself seemed to struggle as more men managed to climb the ladders and the wall. She was wearing down; getting tired and Gabrielle knew why. It was the arm. Her stance was off and what she was lacking in skill she had to compensate with harder blows. Blows that began to take their toll on Xena now as the warrior moved slower and slower.
Gabrielle knew she couldnít leave her men so she prayed. She prayed hard. Keep her safe. If anyone is listening please donít let me lose her. Not now. Give her strength. Gabrielle squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, almost as if she were straining to give Xena whatever strength she had within herself.
One more to go . . . One more to go . . . Xenaís mind chanted as she faced each man, taking them one at a time in her imagination. She didnít feel quite as tired with this approach. She wasnít as susceptible to give into her exhaustion if she examined the battle in such a Ďsingularí fashion, keeping that as her mindset.
Gabrielle watched Xena stumble against an attacker who, in all likelihood, was not that much of a warrior. Thatís it! Iíve gotta get up there. Gabrielle took two steps when she felt a light hand on her shoulder.
"Let me," a voice told her.
Gabrielle watched as Aphrodite disappeared from behind her to instantly appear at Xenaís side. Dite blew something in the attackers face and Xena watched as the man got a sappy look on his face and stumbled a bit. Dite released a giggle and took three strides to push the man off the wall with a poke of her index finger.
"Letís see that arm," Dite said returning to Xena. She placed a light grasp on it and Xena could feel the throb that got worse from the battle melt away. "Good as new," Dite said with a wink, making the split and sling disappear.
"Arenít you worried about the Olympian order holding that against you?" Xena asked with a smirk.
Dite grinned bitter-sweetly. "There is no Olympian order anymore Xena," the goddess retorted. "All I have now are my friends," she added, as her head nodded toward Gabrielle. "Least I can do is answer their prayers."
"Look Aphrodite," Xena began. "I didnít want to harm Hephesteus, or anyone, but they didnít give me much choice. I hope you realize that," Xena offered.
"Yeah . . . men," Dite grinned as she began to tear up. "I told him not to go . . . but he didnít listen. I told Artemis too. And Athena. None of them listened." Xena watched Diteís mind going elsewhere but she came back with a shake as if clearing her thoughts. "Did this conversation turn into a real bummer or what?" she said trying to grin. "Anyway sweet cheeks, do right by the bardly one, okay? Thatís all I ask."
"You got a deal," Xena agreed with a smile.
Without another word the goddess vanished and Xena found herself face to face with a solider charging her as he screamed a battle cry. With two quick swipes of her sword, Xenaís attacker fell to the ground below quiet and lifeless. Xena gave a brilliant warcry and Gabrielle gave a sigh of relief as she watched the warrior do a double summersault before landing in the thick of the battle.
Eveís troops gave a cheer but the victory of the North end didnít last long. The army at Xenaís line had worked its way deep into town and as Gabrielle suspected they fired flaming arrows to the rooftops in the hope of burning the village. The bucket brigade of woman and older children began to extinguish the fire while Eponin and her team kept guard over them. A few soldiers managed to make their way toward them but the villagers took them out fairly quick.
Eponin beamed with pride as August gracefully kept her own against the intruders. She never left the young womanís side and unlike the battle earlier that day, she didnít once have to go in for the save. With the remained of the army inside the village, now was the perfect time to lay siege. All four women Ė Eponin, Gabrielle, Eve and Xena all looked at each other, all of them knowing the same thing. If they all converged at once there would be no escape, the army would be surrounded.
The army noticed this as well when they realized their numbers were dwindling instead of growing now that they were inside the city. Siscerus, their leader, looked around and saw the deviation this Ďlittle towní had done to his troops and he started to scream his retreat.
"Fall back! Fall back!" he yelled from atop his war-horse.
"Fall back?" Xena taunted him as she menaced closer toward him. "Well, if you insist." With that Xena leaped up into the air, knocking him backward off the mare he rode. "Howís that for falling back?" she smirked.
He scooted along on his butt, trying to move away from her. Cat and mouse, Gabrielle thought as she took in the sight. I have to admit I love watching her play cat and mouse. Men from the army began to rush past her trying to leave town. She could have stopped them but since they posed no real threat anymore she let them go without harm. Besides watching Xena work was too interesting to look away.
As Eponin congratulated August on a job well done she turned to see Gabrielle studying the warrior intensely. Her eyes then focused to Xena and then back to Gabrielle. Iíll never be able to compete with that, Eponin considered as she watched how captivated Gabrielle looked. Never.
Siscerus began to plead to the warrior.
"Donít kill me! Donít kill me," he answered in a timid voice. "Iím begging you. Donít kill me."
"Why not?" Xena taunted. "You were ready to kill these people in this village."
"Iím sorry. Iím sorry. I just-."
"Just what? Thought it would be easy pickings? Thought you could take what you wanted although it wasnít yours? . . . Oh donít worry," Xena grinned. "I wonít kill you. Thatís up to the people of this village to decide."
With that, Xena pulled the man to his feet and a group of villagers began to disarm him of any weapons and tie him up. Some townsfolk began to chant for his immediate death but it didnít go on very long until the village leader stepped up.
The mayor approached with a battle-ax in his hand to calm the crowd. "Everyone please listen," he began. "This man will not be harmed until heís stood trial for his crimes tomorrow. He will be handled within the laws of this town. Justice will be served . . Is that understood?"
A few of the villagers screamed for a hanging. A few others for a decapitation. The majority however agreed peacefully.
"We have no time to argue tonight. This warlord will go to the village jail. We have to attend to our wounded so I urge anyone who is not injured to please escort those who are to the tavern so we can give them the care they need," he offered instead.
Those words hit home and the protesters quickly went to work on finding people that needed care as Siscerus was taken to the village holding cell.
August and Eponin approached Gabrielle. "You should have seen it!" August said proudly, "I put one warrior right on his backside. It was great! He never saw it coming," she added.
Gabrielle grinned. I remember the first time I did that. Xena looked so proud of me for being able to defend myself that I was in heaven . . . At least until the next battle when she had to save my ass, Gabrielle chuckled at the memory as she congratulated August, "Well done. Iím glad youíre both in one piece," she smiled warmly.
"I have to admit though," August replied. "It was exciting but Iím glad itís over."
Gabrielleís smile began to slip away. "Sorry sweetie but itís not over yet. Weíve got to make choices now. Difficult choices of who needs the greatest help," Gabrielle answered as she nodded toward two men who were carrying a third into the tavern. "In fact, the hard part is just beginning."
CONTINUED IN PART XIX: CHOICES