Violence Warning/Disclaimers: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story. This is a survival story.
Love/Sex Warning/Disclaimers: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Comments: This is a story of saving the Amazon nation. Love and war sometimes make a tough meal but the have been known to sustain life. Please feel free to comment on the story. email@example.com
The night gives way to many unseen sounds that draw unimaginable pictures in our minds. The scampering of a single ground squirrel across dry leaves makes us believe that Bigfoot walks among us or the wind maneuvering through the trees lends way to have us visualize the ancient ghosts of forgotten time haunting the forest. So sat an impressionable young Amazon on her first night watch. It was her duty to guard the road on the border and let the Amazons know if any movement that was not of their nations people took place. The bushes and small trees across the road made one of those sounds that put you on edge. The young Amazon drew her bow back and waited. "Thwack!" And she lay unconscious with three of the enemy standing behind her as another three move out of the brush, across the road.
It was invisible but there, as it crept up the staircase and into the bedroom of the two sleeping women. It moved to within a hand's width of their noses and then it was too late. "Sniff??.Sniff??Sniff!" Sniffed the Bard. The smell of fresh baked apple pies drifted upstairs and caressed the nostrils of Gabrielle and Xena. It only took a brief moment to realize what the Bard smelled and she was up and out of bed. Cyrene was in the kitchen and that always meant good things came to those who ate!
Without running Gabrielle dressed quickly, slipping out the door and down the stairs leaving Xena behind still, in a yawning state of affairs. When she entered the kitchen she was surprised to see two Amazon messengers. Cyrene explained that they had just arrived and she made her farewells so they might converse with their Queen.
"My Queen, there is a problem. We have lost eleven Amazons by the sword to a renegade Queen from the far north that goes by the name of Red Star. Ephiny sent us to get you and to bring you back with us. We shall wait at our camp for you." The very young and dignified dark haired Amazon concluded.
"You will stay right here and get some food. You both look like you rode all night." Gabrielle replied to them.
The Bard called Cyrene and told her what had transpired and she took the two Amazons under her wing, while Gabrielle went to wake Xena. When she returned to the bedroom Xena was out of bed and dressed. All that was left to do was pull on her boots.
"There are two Amazon horses outside, what's going on?"
"There's trouble in the territory. A Queen by her own making has killed eleven Amazons. I need to go back with the two that are down in the kitchen and find out everything that has happened.." Gabrielle told her confidant.
"I'll get Argo ready. Hades! I thought I smelled apple pie and it turned out to be trouble." Xena mumbled out the door as she left.
Gabrielle followed behind her and rejoined the two Amazons in the kitchen who were just finishing a piece of pie out of respect for Xena's mother. Normally, being on a mission they would have remained outside waiting for the Queen but they had been to Cyrene's before so it wasn't hard to sway Amazon tradition and allow them this indulgence.
"Was it good? I tried a different recipe." Cyrene asked curiously.
"It was delicious." The taller of the two whom delivered the message said, while the other one winked.
Xena came in the front door, went into the kitchen and put together a few things that Gabrielle had not all ready taken care of. They kissed mom goodbye and they were out the door quicker than a flash of lighting. Gabrielle rode double with Xena on Argo, while the two Amazons rode several horse lengths ahead of the Warrior and the Bard. They followed the Strimonas River northwest toward the Amazon territory knowing that it was much too late in the day to try to push through. They would camp for the night when they started to run out of daylight and enter the village in the morning.
Xena hoped to get as far as Kala Dendra before nightfall but she had to take into consideration the added weight on Argo. There was no reason to injure the horse by being hasty. As the twilight settled over the land, they had almost traveled as far as Xena anticipated they would get. The made camp along the river where fish were plentiful and there was an advantage to the strategic positioning of the party. They all knew what part of their responsibility lied with the camp set up and the four of them moved with precision. After things were finished and a fire had been established, Liae, one of the two Amazons scouted the area to make sure things were safe for their Queen. It was a privilege to be chosen and sent as a messenger to the Queen, then to accompany her back to the Amazon territory was an added responsibility. This was not taken lightly by these two who had been picked. Xena was aware of this and stayed put near the fire allowing these young Amazon's the right to prove their worth.
Gabrielle offered to catch the fish for dinner, so Xena gave her and Eleaque, the other Amazon, a half of candlemark before she headed toward the river in a rescue attempt. To the Warrior's surprise, the Queen and her bodyguard had finished fishing and were on their way back with eight fish on the rawhide line.
The smell of the fire and the cooked meal sitting comfortably within their stomachs put a satisfying look on everyone's face. Gabrielle had tea brewing on the fire and when it was ready they all enjoyed a cup. Eleaque and Liae got to their feet after the warm drink and went on short walks around the parameter to secure the area once again. They rotated at two-hour intervals keeping a watch throughout the night. Although Xena had a look of indifference, she still slept with one eye open and her ability to listen was in tune this particular night.
The four of them broke camp at daybreak and headed almost due west to the village. As they reached the border and entered into Amazon territory, the presence of the Amazons was known. They would make themselves visible for brief periods of time, in an effort to let their Queen know that they were sharp and ready for any intruder. Six additional warriors took to the rear of the Queen and her party as added protection while making way to the village. There was no celebration as they entered the compound on this occasion. Rather, there were fires burning for Amazon souls that were lost in battle. There also was funeral pyres set up and waiting for the Queen's return. Eleven of them spaced across the area usually reserved for celebrations. This was a terribly sad time in the lives of the Amazons for this was not life lost in battle but an evil that had sought to destroy people in a devious way.
Queen Gabrielle and Xena, along with the two Amazons that had come to Cyrene's Inn to find them, stopped in front of the main lodge, dismounted, and tied their horses to the hitching posts. Ephiny was waiting and shared a warm hug with the Queen and her Warrior.
Gabrielle asked, "Where's Eponin?"
Ephiny looked a little worried when she answered, "She and Thia went out to scout the area to the northwest yesterday morning but they haven't been seen or heard from yet."
Xena didn't like the sound of that. She gave her lover a look of concern and suggested a quick plan. "My Queen, I will go out to search?.with your permission, of course."
"Xena! Take these two along or I will worry too much about you." Gabrielle said to her as she pointed to Eleaque and Liae.
The two Amazon warriors gave the sign of obedience by closing a fist and striking their arm across their chest. They took their horses for water and to get some supplies for the scouting expedition. Xena told Ephiny and Gabrielle that their two friends were the best at what they did and that everyone, including herself had worry on their minds too soon. They would most likely return while Xena, Eleaque and Liae were scouring the hillsides and the forest for them.
"Have faith my Bard, I'll return intact." The Warrior comforted her lover.
She was known in the Northwest Territories as the Red Star. This designation was given to her because of a seven-point birthmark that was just below her right cheek near the back of her jawbone. Besides being quite vicious, she was also said to have some dark mystical powers. She counted on a Shaman for support in this area by the name of Exevae. Based on what Xena had heard, this being was second to Callisto in deeds and morals. Pleasure was hers through the misery of others. She had left a path of destruction several miles wide and many miles long. Her army cut through the countryside like a plague of locusts, devouring everything that was good or had value. Now she was not too far from Amazon territory and felt the urge to continue on or be annihilated herself.
"I have a desperate urge to kill another Amazon today. Send a scouting party out and see if they have replaced their losses from the other day. If so, kill who you find and put her head on a pole. Place it on the main trail in and out of the Amazon village. This will let them know that I have not gone away." The Red Star said.
"Yes, my leader. It will be done as you say." The warrior answered without making eye contact.
He backed out of the tent and gathered eight warriors, told them what was taking place and they mounted up on horseback and rode out of the camp. They were about a candlemark from the Amazon border.
Red Star sat alone in her tent and talked to herself, "When I get done with the Amazons, the people of this land will not remember the name of Gabrielle or that strong arm of hers, Xena, the Warrior Princess."
"Shaman! Where are you? I have need of your services." Red Star screamed.
"You called for me, Monapka? How may I serve you?" The Shaman asked with a touch of indifference.
"You can serve me by being here when I call for you! I need something for this terrible pain in my head. It shoots through my left eye. Make me that special drink and perhaps if I am feeling better later on we might have some fun. But for now?.."
"Here you are, Monapka."
"Mmmm! It all ready begins to fade after just one sip." Red Star told the Shaman.
Red Star had an army of two hundred followers. Most of them were quite ruthless and were mostly thieves and murderers. There were a few that got caught up in the flow of the debris and ended up in camp as a hesitant follower. The ranks were evenly divided between women and men, some more ruthless than others were but it was not uncommon to see someone's throat slit over an extra helping of roasted chicken. This was a place where you watched your own back even when you felt you had someone in camp that you could trust. One thing for certain, there was no trust here.
Evening was approaching and there would be a fight to the death in the Pit of No Return as the survivors came to affectionately call it. The Red Star still had one captive left from the listening post that was captured earlier that morning before sunrise. She was a very pretty Amazon with dark hair and dark skin but young and inexperienced in the art of war and concealment. Now, she was as good as dead and she knew it. All that was left was to prepare herself spiritually and fight proudly to the death.
The pit was twenty paces across and was round. Its depth was just far enough down so that the tallest man could not jump up and pull himself out. This was a hole that was dug by the army of the Red Star for entertainment at this camp and where ever the army moved to.
They had the young Amazon in a cage until it was time for the event. In order to make it somewhat fair, they picked several warriors who matched her build and height. The eventual winner was a scar-faced woman who was a couple of winters older. She only had one ear and the scar ran down to the middle of her neck. She wore nothing but a loincloth and lower arm protectors. Her boots were the high type to the knee. She appeared to be crazy in the head. Her eyes were glassy and she kept making strange sounds in her throat. They brought her over to the cage so she could take a look at her opponent.
"I'm going to kill you!" She said with a smile that was attached to a blank stare and then she told the young Amazon, "I'll be the last face you see before you die. Think about that! It will help you stay awake!"
Her fellow warriors had to drag her away from the cage as the young Amazon stood her ground. You could see the fear in her eyes but she never allowed this lower form of life the satisfaction of watching her whimper. A candlemark later, they came to get the condemned Amazon. They dragged her to the edge of the pit and as she looked down, her adversary was all ready in there waiting for her. She was given a knife the length of her forearm and a shield that was only two hands in diameter. There were warriors all around the top of the pit screaming and shouting for death. The Red Star came out of her tent and walked to the throne that was placed at the edge of the pit for her to have an unobstructed view. When she was seated across from where the Amazon stood, she dropped her arm and they pushed her in the gaping cavity.
She was well trained even though she was young and green. The Amazon was smart enough to roll when she hit the bottom and avoided breaking any limbs. She had no armor just her deerskin outfit and that was it. The lunatic, her name was Surla, moved in quickly and sliced the Amazon across the cheek. The Amazon refrained from reaching up and touching it but instead side flipped and ducked the next thrust of the knife just missing Surla's waist with her own thrust. The match was uneven at the level of knowledge although physically they were paired evenly. The smiling Surla threw her shield away and rubbed her breast in a suggestive motion, then attacked the Amazon cutting her across the back of the knee, slicing a tendon and crippling the young woman.
The Amazon dropped to one knee and as the crazed warrior moved in for the kill, the young woman plunged her knife into Surla's thigh. The one-eared demon on the edge of insanity, stabbed the Amazon twice in the stomach to the cheers of her comrades. She enjoyed the moment, raising her arms in victory, then with the knife still sticking out of her thigh; she sat down cradling the dying Amazon. She looked up at the hysterical crowd with a weird smile on her face, and then leaning over, she licked her victim's cheek and kissed the Amazon full on the lips. Looking into the dying woman's eyes, she slipped her tongue in the Amazons mouth, mocking her.
All of the sudden Surla jumped back and screamed holding her face. The young Amazon with her last breath bit the warriors tongue off. Surla lunged at the woman stabbing her repeatedly but she had succumbed to the other side and the lunatic was too late for her revenge.
The Red Star stood up and took the crossbow from the warrior next to her, firing a shot directly to Surla's head. There was no smile on her face just a blank look of disbelief as she dropped dead. Handing the crossbow back to its owner she said, "There wasn't enough to salvage, so I put her out of her misery. It aims a little high, I was going for the throat!"
They all cheered and continued their party late into the night.
Although they could not see what was happening, Thia and Eponin realized they had lost a sister Amazon to this army of animals led by Monapka, the Red Star. They both knew that there would be three dead Amazons if they would have tried to help her. By the time they had gotten close, the action in the pit had started and Red Star's warriors surrounded it. The young Amazon who had just lost her life, Thia believed, was Nestra sister to Liae. These two had no idea that Xena was leading a scouting party to locate the two of them and in that party was Liae. Right at this time their main concern was getting away undetected. It was imperative for one of them to get back to the village and tell all that they had seen and where the army was located.
Thia and Eponin had left the horses a quarter of a candlemark back from where the camp was situated and moved slowly up to their current position. It was now time to retrace those steps and slip out of where they were with the silence of a shadow traveling across the ground. Moving through a grove of wild olive trees, they faded into the night. Before they got back to the mounts, Thia signed to Eponin that she would swing wide around the horses to make sure there were no surprises waiting for the two of them. When she was close she understood that Eponin would decoy by walking into the area. As Eponin made her ploy, a bead was being drawn on her with a bow. The arrow never released as Thia downed the second sniper with her knife. The first lay a ways behind her with his throat cut.
The sandy blonde walked up to Eponin and gave her a quick kiss, then the shock hit her that both horses were dead. The Amazons were not sure if anyone else knew that they were there but they weren't going to hang around and find out. They broke for the river and when they got to the banks they faked going across and worked their way down stream remaining on the same side of the river that they started on. Moving parallel with the river they proceeded toward Amazon territory. Eponin stopped Thia and they listened but heard nothing. That's what bothered Eponin, that there was no sound of an owl or any night creatures. She gave the signal to move further away from the river. They were getting very close to the border but they tried not to be too anxious, pacing themselves, watching each step in order not to crack a branch or trip in their haste.
The wooded area started to thin out and there was a clearing that would have to be crossed. Thia chose to go first and she was about three-quarters of the way when four warriors from Red Star's army broke into the opening. The first warrior missed with the crossbow and then her partner tried throwing a spear at Thia's back, when from out of nowhere, Xena caught the spear in her left hand. Liae shot back with her bow and dropped the furthest one away with a shot to the chest. Xena threw the chakram and took out the crossbow. Eponin pulled her sword and battled briefly with the other male warrior, taking him down without a lot of trouble. The warrior that had the crossbow ran for the woods and shortly after she entered them, she ran directly into Eleaque, who kept her from returning to her camp and telling all she had seen. The warrior that threw the spear, pulled a sword and knife, screamed a mighty war cry and running at full speed, attacked Xena. Thia pulled both of her knives and threw, putting the forth and final warrior down.
Xena gave the sign to keep moving so they would not be surprised by a further attack. They continued in Amazon fashion by sending two ahead for a short distance, then the remaining three would work there way further beyond the first two, establishing a new front. In this manner they would rotate the lead, eventually returning to the horses in this case. Thia and Eponin doubled up with the other two Amazons on their horses and Xena rode trail to alert the other four of any rear ambush coming their way. Within two candlemarks they were back in the Amazon village. Once they had put up the horses, Eponin related all that Thia and her had observed while they were on patrol to everyone at the council fire.
Sharing her thoughts, Eponin said, "There were thirty campfires, with maybe seven warriors in each camp. I would figure that half of her army had horses. This one is dangerous Xena. She's dangerous because she is unpredictable and ruthless. Red Star reminds me of?.."
"Me!" Xena finished the thought for Eponin.
"That's not what I was going to say Xena!" The Amazon said in her defense.
"Hey! No offense taken but understand that I was similar in style, hunger to kill and to rule." The Warrior commented.
"I think she's as dangerous as anything could be and she needs to be destroyed." Gabrielle said to all that were at the council fire.
Thia nodded in agreement, as did the rest as they looked around at each other.
The council disbanded after they discussed a plan of action. Eponin sought out Liae and walked with her a ways. There was a scream and then heavy sobbing as Xena realized that Eponin took on the task of letting Liae know that there was a very strong chance that Nestra, her sister, was killed just moments before Thia and Eponin arrived on the hill to observe. Gabrielle grabbed Xena's forearm and their eyes locked as Xena said, "There was nothing anyone could do to stop what had happened. There were too few against too many."
Gabrielle sent twenty Amazons out beyond the village perimeter to stand watch with the other twenty that were all ready positioned. These would space themselves halfway between the listening posts and the village as an added buffer against attack.
Outside the Queens hut was a small fire where Xena and Gabrielle sat quietly. Everyone including the two of them were too worked up with the loss of so many good Amazons. This would have to come to a vicious end. There did not seem to be away around it.
"Gabrielle, if I could get this Red Star away from the protection of her camp, I'm sure I could beat her." Xena explained.
"No heroics Xena. This is the one place I get to make the call and I don't want you sneaking around out there. I couldn't take losing you." The Queen told her.
Xena gave her that look that said I'll take what you just shared into consideration but don't bet on me doing it.
This was not going to be a night of intimacy. This would be a night of worry and planning. Xena was working on something in her mind but she hadn't quite figured out what to do yet. She wanted to take about eight warriors and hit Red Star's army in the wee hours of the night. Hit and run, is what her mind told her. Gabrielle had fallen asleep in front of the fire and these thoughts came to the Warrior as she dozed awhile herself. In the past, Xena would have gone off on her own but she promised the Bard that she would not try anything crazy.
"Gabrielle? Wake up, I have an idea!"
"Wha..What? What is it Xena?"
"I think I have a way that we might be able to cripple Monapka and her army. I want your permission to take two separate groups of eight warriors. I'll take one group and ask Eponin to lead the other group. We would hit them in the real late night hours while they sleep. When they regroup and try to get to us, the other group will hit from the opposite side. We will then disperse, regrouping in a designated spot. Then we will set up an attack position near the Amazon village because they will be coming with a vengeance but they will be driven by anger and not wisdom. Anger does nothing but makes one act irresponsible."
"I like it Xena. It scares me but I like it. Go get Eponin and see what her thoughts are on your plan." Gabrielle told her.
"You are the Warrior not me. I know that. I also know that I was chosen to be Queen and I need to lead my Amazons. But remember that without you, I have nothing. I don't want anyone coming back to tell me that you fell. I love you Xena!" The Bard said with teary eyes.
Xena went to Eponin's hut and woke her. They talked for a quarter of a candlemark and the two warriors went in different directions, waking the necessary Amazon's along the way. Eponin went directly to Thia's hut. They had discussed living together but decided to move slowly with the relationship and this way they could formally date within the confines of the Amazon village, being a good example to the younger women. In the village however, it was understood that Thia was Eponin's lover and should be treated with the utmost respect.
In a half candlemark, everyone was assembled and knew exactly what was about to happen. Horses were mounted; the Queen gave her blessing and Xena shared a big hug with Gabrielle. Ephiny was needed to support the Amazons left behind to protect the village. Her expertise would make the difference of hold off an attack or crumbling under pressure.
The sixteen warriors road out quietly but ready to give their lives if need be and within a candlemark and a half, it brought them to a place where the horses needed to be left behind. They would go on foot from this point and move to their prospective attack areas. Eponin's group moved to the high side of the enemy's camp while Xena took her group down along a stream that worked its way through the area. No signals were given, just the knowledge that when Xena and her warriors hit the camp, Eponin would follow after a mentally timed interval. It seemed too long a time span that nothing had happened and the Amazons were getting impatient.
Eponin sat quietly with Thia, giving the sign to hold to the remainder of the warriors in her party. They stayed low and behind a group of small hills but heard nothing but the sound of a lone coyote. Thia looked at Eponin and hand signed to her that perhaps she should take a look and see if all was still OK or if there was a problem. Eponin agreed, telling the sandy blonde to move very carefully through the area. Thia worked her way around the camp, staying wide and out of sight. She was heading in the direction of Xena's group and figured that she was halfway there. Stepping very carefully she continued on, moving as if she was part cat.
A short time later, Xena arrived at the place were Eponin was waiting with her warriors. After giving the signal, Xena and her group joined Eponin.
"They're all gone! Vanished! The entire place is deserted." Xena explained to Eponin and the rest of the warriors.
"What do you think, Xena?" Eponin replied.
"They're gone! It's like they vaporized. Their campfires are there and some are still burning but all signs of life or anyone being in the area is gone! Monapka has a Shaman with her correct? Possibly, she had something to do with this. Maybe she had a sense of us ??"
"Where's Thia, Xena?" Eponin said with panic in her eyes. "I sent her to your area, to see what was going on."
Xena looked hard into Eponin's dark brown eyes and said, "She never made it to us, my friend."
Eponin reacted quickly as she jumped to her feet and set out to track her lover's steps. Xena followed with two warriors; the rest split into two groups and staggered their approach behind the scouting party. After Eponin got about halfway to where Xena was originally waiting with her people, she dropped to one knee and checked the ground.
"Blood!" She said with a warrior's sense of being. "It looks like she struggled, cut one, maybe two of her attackers and then was overcome by several Monapka's warriors."
"She's not dead." Xena said.
"Not yet." Eponin replied with a slight look of worry breaking through that warrior persona that she wore so well. This was deeply personal to the warrior. This was someone Eponin loved and she was shaken at the thought that Thia could be harmed or worse, end up dead.
"Xena???." The great Amazon warrior started.
"I know, my friend, I know." As their eyes met, there was an understanding that things were not good.
Exevae had a vision of Xena's plan and moved the entire army to a new location. The Shaman had unusual powers of the third eye and a dark source that she tapped for more dramatic applications of her twisted leaders will. They were now further southwest of where their encampment was before the move.
Several of those warriors who were left behind to see if the Warrior came with her attack force caught Thia as she was maneuvering around positions in order to hook up with Xena's group. The Amazon put up a gallant fight, wounding two of her attackers but eventually succumbing to the overpowering of those attackers as they rendered her helpless. Thia was taken to the new camp and thrown into the cage. She would stay here until the time came for some camp entertainment.
They knocked her around a little but she could hold her own. Thia used her own psychology with her captors and when they tried to torment her, she smiled at them as if she knew something they did not. Internally, she was scared but believed that if she was strong and kept her wits, Eponin would save her. If it were her time to die, she would die like an Amazon.
Exevae walked up to the cage and looked into Thia's eyes, Monapka standing right behind her. "You will be a good kill. You are very dear to one mighty Amazon. We will enjoy watching you suffer." The Shaman said.
Monapka looked at Thia and laughed as the Amazon smiled back. "You keep smiling Amazon. I have just the people to wipe that ridiculous grin off of your face."
The Red Star and the Shaman walked slowly away, laughing to each other about how they would give her a nice send off.
Xena and Eponin needed to go after Thia but they knew that the rest of the Amazon's that were with them would be important in the rescue. They talked to the entire group of warrior's, making sure that they were in agreement and would assist in the rescue.
Eponin began by saying, "She is not mine, yet I would have her be mine but more so, she is Amazon. There is a good chance some of us will die if we try to save her. But if we do not, then she will surely die."
Committed all of the way, they would stand with Eponin and Xena. The Warrior sent out three scouts in three directions, then she and Eponin scouted as well. By the end of the morning, they had a fair idea where the army was, based on some telltale signs.
Monapka was setting up a plan of her own in order to strike the Amazon village while Xena was honing in on their where a bouts. She would have her troops attack and destroy the village while Xena and her Amazons were running around the countryside looking for the Red Star and her army. She figured that by the time they found the new location, her army would have destroyed the Amazon village.
But now it was almost time to celebrate and have some fun. Within several candlemarks it would be dark and then the entertainment would begin. The new pit was finished and everyone wanted to be in on the first kill. They also knew that this was someone that would cause great pain to many by her death. Monapka wanted three warriors in the pit, fighting the Amazon. She knew by the description of the fight when Thia was captured that she would be a tough kill, so three warriors would balance it out.
Tovaz would be the male and there would be two female warriors. His ax would be an interesting kill and would draw great cheers from those who watched the fight. Then Monapka selected a small, dark skinned
warrior that was a little higher on the intelligence level. She was a great fighter and hated women in general, so she would try her best to get the kill. Her name was Weclea and she was told not to kill the other female who was fighting on her side. The third warrior would be a tall slender woman that was good with a knife and sword. They were all told to keep the fight going awhile and try not to go for vital spots that would finish the Amazon quickly.
The Shaman walked in on the Red Star as she was having sex with a warrior. She stood up leaving the fool and his erection; walked over to the Shaman and slapped her across the face.
"Don't you ever walk in on me unannounced. I'll put you in the pit and let them tear you apart." Monapka threatened the Shaman.
"Yes Monapka." The Shaman said obediently and left the tent. As she moved outside, the Shaman made a motion with her hand and said some words. She smiled to herself and walked away.
Inside the tent, the Red Star turned back to her partner, smiled with the intentions of continuing, then doubled over with stomach pains.
"I'm gonna kill that witch." Monapka cursed as she collapsed on the floor of the tent.
Xena led the Amazons to where the scouts felt the new location of the army had been established. Eponin was riding right along side of the Warrior with a much worried look. Xena could only imagine what was going through her friend's mind. She knew that if it were Gabrielle out there, she would sacrifice her own life to save that of her lovers.
The fifteen remaining Amazons split into three groups of five with Eponin, Xena and Liae leading the fighters. Circling the area, all three groups were to come in from approximately the same side of the camp. As they neared Red Stars encampment, the leader was all ready in the process of bringing Thia to the pit. Sick to her stomach from whatever the Shaman cursed her with, Monapka still knew that her troops needed something to get fired up with for the late night attack that she had planned.
They had Thia's hands tied and pushed her along toward the pit with a periodic kick or punch to remind her that this was a one way trip. The Amazon tried desperately to keep her wits about her. As they reached the edge of the pit, they cut her bonds but held her tightly. The Red Star rose from her makeshift throne and said, "Before you is one of their best! We shall see, as three of our average warriors will challenge this Amazon. What do you have to say for yourself Amazon?"
Thia remained silent.
"I don't think this one has a tongue. A shame?..I would have liked to cut it out after she lost. Ha, ha, ha! Throw her in!" Monapka screamed.
They shoved Thia into the pit and tossed her twin daggers in behind her. She rolled when she hit, then flipped to the left, as the tall warrior missed with her sword. Picking up her daggers, she swung both arms in an effort to left the three of them understand that she was now armed. Thia sidestepped a sword thrust that stuck into the dirt wall of the pit. She rolled forward just missing an ax swing by Tovaz. He slammed his ax head into the ground. Running quickly, Thia bounded off of the wall but not before taking a cut across her back from the little warrior, Weclea. It was becoming impossible to fight and be evasive at the same time. The spectators jeered and screamed, "Death to the Amazon." Their focus was so centered that they did not notice the three scouting parties moving in for some major damage. One Amazon in each group was to start as many fires as possible for a diversion. Tents burst into flames all over the camp, which started to draw attention away from the pit.
Thia was getting very close to being overcome by the three adversaries. She had taken several cuts from the fighter known as Weclea but managed to stay clear of the slow moving, ax wielding Tovaz. Aser had struck one glancing blow to Thia's hip but it was minor and cost the tall warrior a knife cut across her midriff.
Riding in at a full gallop was a face that Xena had seen before but in the midst of all that was happening, did not have time to ponder on. She was dressed in brown and green leathers with light armor, a sword with sheath on her back and twin daggers. The rider forward flipped from the horse and slammed into two of the army that were watching from the edge of the pit. She knocked them into the hole as well as herself. By the time the two spectators regained their feet, one looked down to find a sword protruding from his middle, the other was pushed into the path of Tovaz's ax and was dropped to the pit floor, bleeding to death.
During the confusion Eponin fought her way through four or five foes, reaching the pit and flinging herself at the huge warrior Tovaz. She drove her sword into his chest as she landed and the ax fell to the ground behind him. Above the pit there was total chaos, with the fires burning, Xena and the Amazons causing enough of a diversion to help get Thia back.
The noble warrior took out the tall Aser with a quick move and a knife to the throat, she then turned toward Eponin who had just finished off the small but lethal Weclea. She bowed to Thia and Eponin without saying a word then jumped up, grabbing the edge of the pit and pulled herself out. She put one aggressive foe up above, out of her misery then reached down to the pair of Amazons in the pit, extending a helping hand. After she got Eponin and Thia out, she smiled, disappearing into the action.
Xena gave the call and the Amazon's retreated back to the woods. Xena tried to get to Monapka but she was too well defended and managed to elude the Warrior most likely with the help of her Shaman who needed to redeem herself anyway.
Eponin stole a horse and rode out of the enemy's camp with Thia and herself on it. Thia was a bit for wear and would need some stitches but she was alive. Getting them far enough away from the action, Eponin pulled up on the horse's reins and stopped. She turned toward Thia and ran her hand over the sandy blondes cheek, kissed her briefly then started the horse on its way again. They moved deliberately through the trees to a designated meeting place away from the enemy's camp.
It took the better part of a candlemark but everyone returned in one piece. Xena was the last to get to the meeting place and got off of Argo, walking directly over to Thia. "Are you all right my friend?" As her eyes went to Eponin's to get an assessment. Thia gave Xena a nod and explained with her hands that the wounds were minor and that she would survive.
Eponin walked away with Xena for a moment or two. The strong willed elusive Eponin turned to Xena and said, "I was so scared for her. I thought, if I lose her I'd kill everything that had anything to do with it. Is that how it is with you and Gabrielle, Xena? Does it hurt so badly sometimes when you love and are loved? I am not used to these feelings. I have always stood alone and now?..I love her, Xena."
"Go tell her Eponin. Let her know how you feel or you might regret it someday." The Warrior told her friend. "And yes, it hurts real bad sometimes."
Xena knew that they needed to get back to the Amazon village to help support their comrades. The attack would be fierce because of the surprise that they had just delivered to the Red Star and her murderous army. She would not take that attack lightly and needed to show her troops something or they would lose faith and bolt.
Xena's other concern was with the stranger that materialized, rescuing Thia from a certain death. Xena wondered, who was that warrior and why does she look so familiar to me? Where ever did she come from and why would she risk her life under such extreme odds to help? A noble gesture?..that's it! She is the noble warrior that offered Gabrielle and me water a while back when we were fighting Callisto and Dahok over Poseidon's captivity.
After taking a physical check of everyone, the sixteen Amazon's headed toward the Amazon village. Xena's plan was not to enter the village but to set up a listening post so when the attack came, they would be able to surprise the Red Star again. Eponin wanted to take Thia back to the village but she knew it would not be worth the argument that she would get from the sandy blonde.
They did send a scout back to the village to let Gabrielle and Ephiny know that everyone was all right and what the plan was that Xena had in place. They split into two groups of eight, working their way around the Amazon village from two different areas of advantage. One group led by Eponin took to the high side of a wooded area where they could use bows to shoot downward at the enemy, while Xena's seven warriors took to the low land side, where no one would expect them. She placed four warriors in the trees and the rest scattered in the bush.
All that was left to do now was wait. The waiting was always the hardest part. One could almost hear the candle melting as time crawled along.
Eponin took care to stitch Thia's wounds while there was time. They were protected with a temporary poultice that was wrapped and tied over each open wound to slow the bleeding. Thia had three wounds that would need to be sewn up. The one on her back would take four to six stitches, and then there was a deep slice across her left forearm. This was of the most concern as Thia was left-handed and Eponin thought that the wound might be deep enough to cut a tendon. But after careful examination by another Amazon, who was actually being taught healing by Thia, everyone felt that it would be fine. Six stitches were needed to close that wound and three for a minor cut to the right shoulder.
The seasoned Eponin, who had been in more battles than all of the other seven Amazon's together, got to her feet when they were finished doctoring Thia and walked several paces away. Thia gave her a moment then went over to Eponin. She came around the tree that the Amazon was leaning on and looked into her eyes saying, "Ah yu o ka?" Thia was far enough away from the rest of the Amazon's or she would not have been verbal but rather used her sign method. No one knew that she was beginning to try to talk. That was Eponin's and her secret.
Eponin looked up at the sandy blonde and with a tear running down her cheek, she said, "I thought I was going to lose you." And she quickly wrapped her arms around Thia so her love for the woman would not show so openly, making her feel weak in the eyes of the others. There were too many tears to blame on something in the eye.
"Ah luv yu" Thia told this woman who was untouchable by so many.
Eponin looked up into Thia's eyes then grabbed her by the hair on both sides of her head, more as a symbol of control than anything else, saying, "I love you, Thia!" Releasing her grip and running her fingers through sandy blonde's hair ever so gently. Then, as the clouds separated and the moon shown down upon the lovers, never was a kiss so tender or more deserved between two wonderful people than that kiss that passed between them at that instant.
There was a half moon on this particular night. Xena listened carefully for anything that gave the slightest inclination that Monapka was moving her army into position to strike. So far there was nothing but an occasional coyote howling or the movement of a nocturnal creature moving around the woods for food.
The border scouts gave the signal as they moved into where Xena and her group were waiting. A young dark skinned Amazon named Olpaa worked her way up to where Xena was positioned and said, "They are coming Xena! Fifty, maybe more." And the sighting visibly shook her.
Xena told her to take up a position near one of the more seasoned warriors and to relax. There would be plenty of time to get worked up.
Xena thought, It's not fair. They are too young to have to deal with this. I hope Gabrielle has them all ready and willing to fight hard. This Monapka is unpredictable but she also has one flaw. She acts like I used to act. So she can be anticipated.
The Warrior told Liae to keep everyone on their toes. She was going to sneak up ahead and try to create some chaos. Taking to the trees, the Warrior worked her way to an advantageous place where she watched as the small army passed. When Xena was sure that there were only two riders covering the rear, she worked her way lower in the trees ands dropped down onto the one rider while she terminated the other with a direct hit in the neck with the chakram. Striking the first rider in the pressure points on either side of his throat, she knocked him to the ground.
"Where are the rest of Monapka's army?" Xena whispered to this enemy of the Amazons.
Gasping, he said, "T..They?..have gone..to..ward the hills so?..they can c..come in from be?.hind to attack?the vil?lage, while?we cre..ate a diver?sion."
When she released him, he took a moment clearing his throat then pulled a knife on the Warrior. She returned it, point first! Picking up the chakram, she moved on.
On foot with the agility of a deer on the run, she caught up with the last warrior in the group and removed her from the rider's horse with a rear takedown, snapping the neck on the way to the ground. This was war and it wasn't pretty but the survival of the Amazons was an important debt that Xena would always have the need to pay and repay over time. Her ties from seasons past were deep, with the massacre of Cyane and the other Amazon leaders. And now with the woman she loved so deeply given the right of caste and more so, being able to fill the role of leader to this Amazon nation, Xena had to be willing to die to protect that heritage. So she continued on, eliminating fighters from the ranks until the remainder of Monapka's troops entered the area where the ambush was going to be sprung.
Xena took out about ten warriors and ended up being discovered when the last enemy let out a muffled scream. By that time it was too late for the remainder of the Red Stars troops, as the arrows filled the air with many of them finding their mark. The riders broke in several directions with the majority of them running straight into Eponin's seven warriors and herself. When it was all finished, six, maybe eight escaped out of the fifty that had been the diversionary force.
Ephiny had the Amazons set up into three defensive attack forces. Her thinking was to have two lines of defense on the outside of the village perimeter, third within the confines of the compound. Gabrielle took command of one of the attack forces that would be stationed outside the parameter of the village and Ephiny the other. Although Ephiny tried to talk the Queen out of such a risky position to put herself in, she also knew when to stop pushing the issue. The inside perimeter forces were to be guided by Praela.
Everyone was in position and eyes glanced back and forth between each of the warriors anticipating the worst. All that was left to do was to wait and listen. One could hear their own heartbeat, the labored breathing from the strain and tension of the moment. A bead of sweat formed on Ephiny's forehead then broke from gravity's pull and ran down the side of her face. This took place as she held her position, never moving an external muscle.
Gabrielle had told them to keep the fires at a normal height so it did not appear that the village was prepared for any altercation. Amazons were dressed in full war attire and armed with the maximum amount of arrows they could carry, along with spears, staffs and chobos. Because this was a night defense, there were no headdresses worn for better maneuverability.
Still was the night without breeze, without sound, then faintly Ephiny heard something. She dropped to the ground and placed her ear against the soil holding her hand in the air for silence. She stood and gave the signal that they were about to have company. Everyone took a new stance in order to loosen their muscles from waiting in position for so long. They wanted to be crisp in their attack. There had to be fifty Amazons in the trees waiting for the Red Stars army to move in to range.
"It's a trap!" One Amazon echoed over the night air as twenty horses without riders approached. The woods burst into battle cries and the air was filled with projectiles from every direction. Tartarus was in full bloom! There was action everywhere! Spears sailing through the air, with many finding their mark. Warriors dropping as arrows married to their flesh. Swords crashing against each other. Screaming and wailing was heard throughout the forest. As Monapka's army turned to retreat they were met by another wave of Amazons led by the Queen herself.
"For our sisters who have fallen!" The green eyed Amazon Queen screamed the command and the retreating army was again plummeted from another direction. This turned the Red Stars army a third and final direction. They moved quite easily out of harms way but directly into Eponin and Xena's attack force. Within a candlemark and a half the major fighting was over. There were those who were trying to evade their destiny but soon they were taken down.
Monapka and Exevae the Shaman stood off on a knoll watching the battle. "I love the smell of death." The Red Star said to her mystic lover.
"Yes, my Monapka but it is your army that are dying!" The Shaman told her.
Her eyes began to take on an eerie cold metallic look and she turned to Exevae, slipped a knife into her ribs and kissed her.
"Goodbye witch! I don't need you around to tell me it's raining." The Red Star said as her partner hit the ground. Making her way to her horse she did not see Xena moving up the backside of the knoll. As she placed her foot in the stirrup, she saw the figure standing in front of her and with a failed attempt to reach for her sword, she felt the cold steel slide between her armor plates. Her eyes became wide and she only said one word, "You!"
Monapka reached out toward her eliminator, paused and slumped to the ground, never removing her blank stare of disbelief.
Making the top of the knoll, Xena looked on, seeing what had happened and walked within six paces of this mysterious figure that had crossed her path a number of times. The noble warrior held her hand up in friendship and as a signal to hold. Feeling that she had gotten close enough, Xena stopped and asked, "Just who are you!"
At which, the tastefully dressed warrior said only, "Sometime but not now." Then bowed elegantly and backed away from the Warrior, fading into the night with much the same effect on Xena as when one sees a shooting star for an instant and then it is gone. Xena thought about following her for a moment then decided she would respect her wishes, and changed direction, heading back toward where she assumed Gabrielle would be.
By Artemis' strength, I hope she was not hurt in battle. Just the thought of leading and defending without killing was an immense test for Gabrielle's inner strength not to mention the responsibility to her fellow Amazons. These were the thoughts that poured through Xena's mind as she moved quickly through the forest.
It was only a quarter candlemark to where the Warrior expected to find the Queen but instead she found Eponin with a slight gash to her upper arm. That wasn't what concerned Xena though, it was more the look Eponin had on her face.
"Thia?" Xena questioned.
"No! She's back at the village being tended to."
"Gabrielle?" The blue eyed Warrior yelled.
"She's hurt but not too bad, Xena. She took an arrow in the back right shoulder. I came to find you my friend." Eponin finished and they broke off into a run, returning to the village. A short time later, the two warriors came through the front entrance of the compound and ran directly to the medical hut that had been temporarily enlarged for the possibility of casualties. Upon entering, each warrior ran to her perspective partner.
"Xena." The blonde cried as she reached for the woman she loved.
"Oh Gabrielle, what am I to do with you? You worry me so, trying to do everything." The Warrior carried on not really knowing what to say but ever so concerned that this young woman before her might leave her through no fault of her own but by the fates. Nothing alive could keep them apart and as Xena had told her Bard, 'Even in death I will never leave you Gabrielle.' Xena bent down close to her soulmate and kissed her on the cheek and ran her fingers through her hair, moving it away from her eyes.
This was too close and had the arrow hit a half of hand in any direction, it might have been the Queen's death. Fortunately the arrow hit her in the back but up in the meaty part of the shoulder. The muscle would be damaged but it would heal quickly.
In a tired and somewhat raspy voice Gabrielle told the Warrior, "They were coming at us from everywhere but all Amazons fought bravely and we drove them?back. They tried?.again, with another surge?but we ?.drove them back?..again." She closed her eyes from fatigue and slept for the remainder of the night with Xena sitting along side of her, making sure that her condition did not worsen or an infection set in. She had been taken care of quickly; the arrow was removed clean and without poison from what they could tell. Gabrielle took six stitches on the entrance wound and eight on the exit wound. The Warrior thought about all of the times that something could have destroyed what the two of them had. Sometimes it could have been just being in the wrong place at the wrong time but worse were the times that they clashed and wrestled spiritually with each other, because each knew they had made the right decision or call and disaster would come close to ending it all.
Thia was lying on her back looking up at the ceiling when Eponin came to her. As the magnificent warrior stood over her love looking down into her brown eyes, she could not hold the tears back for this soul had touched her deeply like no other. Eponin knew that if they had attacked just a little bit later than they did, Thia would not be looking back at her right now.
"It hurts to see you like this, all torn up and in pain. I would take this from you if I had the power to do so Thia."
Thia just looked at her lover and nodded her head. There were too many around and she still hadn't attempted to speak in public yet. I would take time and hard work. She knew this and was ready to undertake the challenge soon but now it was time to heal. Here was the beginnings' of love, beyond the first buds of spring when the tree comes alive and its growth starts to unfold but not quite into full magnificence.
Eponin and Xena went outside to sit on a bench for a spell and warm themselves by the fire. It had been a tough time mentally and physically on everyone concerned. There was also the clean up of the dead on both sides. Pestilence could be devastating, so the bodies had to be burned or buried. This would take another day of hard work but the Amazons had come victorious over a pestilence of a different kind. A rot that would have grown unless stopped, a disease that would have wiped out the Amazon nation, had they not been ready to defend what was theirs.
The next half of moon would be spent repairing the village and each other. Mending bodies, hearts and spirits alike. Gabrielle was in a deep sleep, dreaming?.dreaming of apple pie. Here was one that had begun the healing process, as she smiled lightly to herself.