Kindred Spirit Lodge Presents

Heron's Fan Fiction

Dark Night of the Soul

____****____

DISCLAIMERS: Xena, Gabrielle, Manus, Ephiny, et. al. belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance. This is a not-for profit fan fiction. No copyright infringement is intended. The rest of the tale is mine with all copyrights thereto. This occurs in Season 3. LOVE/SEX WARNING: This story assumes a loving, sexual relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. EXTREMELY GRAPHIC VIOLENCE: This story depicts scenes of extreme violence and sexual violence and/or the aftermath. NC17. © 2001 P. Lord Feedback to: HeronW@aol.com

*****

Dark Night of the Soul

*****

Warrior and bard battle their deepest fears by sharing the same secret.

-------

"Mmmm..." A young woman bowed her head in pleasure as warm perfumed water from a jug was poured over her back. Her long hair was piled atop her head, glowing red gold in the light of dozens of thick yellow candles that illuminate the richly furnished room. Sprays of flowers were on nearly every table, colorful tapestries covered the floor and the walls held ornamental weapons.

"Ready my love?" A low masculine voice whispered. She nodded, smiling as the dark tufted beard tickled her ear. Gabrielle stepped up from the sunken marble tub, basking in the love of the man who held a white robe of Tyrolean silk. She turned as he helped her into the robe, his handsome face outlined by the firelight. She undid two long pins and let down her hair as he fastened the golden clasps of the robe at bodice and waist.

“I've got something for you." He clapped twice and soft music from flute, harp and bohdran gently filled the room. He went to a nearby table and opened an intricately carved wooden box, pulling out a three-tiered necklace of gold and rubies.

“You're spoiling me," Gabrielle protested gently as he hung it about her throat.

“But I want to." He bared her left shoulder and kissed her there.

“This could buy my village of Potidaea a hundred times over." She leaned back as his lips moved to her cheek and beneath to the hollow of her throat.

“I would pay the world in ransom for you." His finger traced a faint scar above her heart as she stood upright, looking into his eyes. “To think I could have lost you, never to have known you, loved you, made you my queen."

Sweeping her off her feet, he parted sheer curtains of deep marine blue with his elbow to one side and her feet at the other. He laid her on the great circular bed spread with the finest white furs.

"My Eros. I'd enjoy violets and apple blossoms just as well as your gold and jewels." Gabrielle stroked his cheek, he kissed her palm.

“My Psyche, my beloved. You would shine even if covered in hay and leaves." He reached over her head and came back with a handful of white and violet rose petals he let fall over her face and body. Their kiss was full of new yet familiar passion. They lay side by side, she on her right, he on his left. His hand moved leisurely up the line of her thigh. Slowly the silk robe fell away.

"I love you more each time I see you. Olympus could not hold this much joy." Her green eyes gaze into his dark eyes. “More than my life. More than my soul." Gabrielle's left hand felt his heart beat under the chestnut hair of his muscular chest.

“Yah!" A woman's voice cried in triumph as half a sword's bloody length protruded from his body. The tip sliced a shallow cut on Gabrielle's left forearm. The king's mouth was open in a silent scream. Standing behind him, a statuesque raven-haired woman clad in brown leather and armor twisted the cold steel in his flesh. Her beautiful face was a study in cruelty with fierce cobalt eyes absorbing the pain.

“No!" Gabrielle shrieked, her robe was white no longer, his blood had splashed crimson over her. The warrior woman withdrew the sword with a terrible sucking sound, raising it high for a second strike.

*********

"Xena! No!" Warm hands held the girl's shoulders in a firm grip as she thrashed around.

“Gabrielle! Wake up!" A soft voice urged. “It's just a bad dream." The bard opened her eyes to see Xena kneeling by her.

“Don't kill me--“ Gabrielle pulled away in horror, still caught up in another world. Her breath came in fast shallow gasps. The present midnight clearing came into focus as she pushed off the grey woolen blanket.

"Hey, it's me. Calm down." Xena saw blood on her friend's arm. “How did you cut yourself?" She turned to pull over a saddlebag and fished out a length of gauze. She took the younger woman's arm to bind the wound. Gabrielle began to jerk away then stopped herself.

“By your sword." Gabrielle took a deep breath. "You killed my husband as we lay in bed." She shifted on the blanket. “Ouch!"

"What?" Xena's eyes narrowed. The girl uncovered the lump she just sat on. A green pommel rested below the black leather grip of the warrior woman's one-of-a-kind sword. "How did my sword get here? Sleepwalking?"

“I don't know," Gabrielle shook her head, the night terrors still fresh in her mind. “I've never had nightmares. Not like this." She touched the bandage on her arm. Xena took back her blade and sheathing it, laid it by her own bed.

“I think you ate too much of that marzipan you bought back at Thermopolie. Try and get some sleep. We'll be going into the mountains tomorrow." She repacked the saddlebag and took a sidelong glance at the girl.

“It seemed so real," Gabrielle sat with her arms clasp about her knees.

"No more bad dreams tonight." Xena ordered as she took a drink from the water flask. She offered it to Gabrielle who shook her head no. The blonde looked especially vulnerable tonight, younger than her twenty years. She lay back and covered her eyes with her bandaged arm. Xena added wood to the fire, letting her hand rest on the sword grip. How Gabrielle got the sword without waking the light sleeping Xena was a question she didn't like. She stared into the flames as if to find the answer there.

************

Slow and measured drumbeats echo in a stone walled courtyard. A young woman's voice is heard silencing the drum in cold and angry tones. Her nightdress is stained with old blood. “--And you have been found guilty of a wanton brutal act of premeditated murder. The sentence of death will now be carried out."

Xena, wearing only a cream colored shift, was tied to a post. She seemed confused.

“You would have been more merciful if you had slain me as well. Archers! One--" The first shaft hit Xena on the left, mid thigh. She grimaced but didn't cry out.

"Two--“ perforated Xena's right biceps and pinned her arm to the post. “Three--“ drove in to her left hip. “Four--“ went deep into her stomach on the right side.

Gabrielle held out her hand and the fifth archer gave her his bow and shaft.

“I hope you carry this last sight of my husband's blood with you into Tartarus." Gabrielle let fly the arrow that penetrated Xena's heart. A small cry escaped her lips. She looked at the blonde then her head fell to her breast.

**********

Xena jerked upright on her blanket to one side of the low burning embers. Across the fire, she saw Gabrielle turning over in her sleep. Xena wiped off a tear and took a shuddering breath. Morning was still a couple hours away. She put a few more limbs on the coals and sat with her back to a tree. The stars were no comfort so far away. There will be no more sleep tonight, no more dreams. No more dreams. She shrugged the blanket closer around her shoulders. The chill was deep inside her.

***********

Breakfast was leftover rabbit and nutbread. Xena had found some fresh figs and a few ripe persimmons that were past the dry mouth stage so she added those to their meal. Gabrielle had dark smudges under her eyes; her normal loquacious manner was noticeably absent.

"It didn't seem like any other dream, Xena. It was too real, the smells, the feel of whoever he was. And I didn't take your sword." She took the small pot from the fire and poured the boiling water over the tealeaves in both their cups.

"You feel like traveling? Or we can stay here another night if you prefer." Xena picked up her cup and stared at the darkening water.

"I'd like to put as much space between me and here as we could. You know, a change is as good as a rest?" A quiet desperate tone was in the girl's voice.

"Onward it is," the warrior agreed, sipping her tea.

How do I fight a nightmare? Xena wondered as she checked the ties on the bedrolls and Argo's girth strap. Is it just a just a bad dream or something more? She swung up into the saddle then held out her hand for Gabrielle to hop up behind her.

They kept a good pace, stopping when the sun was high. Gabrielle rummaged in the saddlebag, "Cheese for lunch, and I saw some apples by the stream."

"Sounds good," Xena let Argo graze, ground-tethered. She looked about and saw some valerian, that and some mint should help the bard sleep better tonight.

***********

“Whoa!" Gabrielle jumped as Argo poked her nose into the girl's bare midriff. Xena shook her head and smiled.

"You shouldn't have given her that apple. Look at the poor horse. You've turned her into a beggar." The palomino whickered as Gabrielle danced out of reach, laughing.

“It's been a long time since I heard my little one laugh like that." A low masculine voice came from the shadows from the overhanging trees. Xena whipped out her sword as Gabrielle swung her staff to en-garde position. A man of late middle years sauntered out leading a black gelding. His battered hauberk bore mute witness to many battles. The aged leather was cracked and stained, as weathered and lined as his face.

“Do I know you?" Gabrielle stepped in front of the warrior woman. She lowered her staff slightly as the grizzled figure came closer.

"Don't you recognize me punkin? I know it's been a long time--“ The blonde's eyes widened.

“Uncle Mero!" Gabrielle ran into his open arms and hugged him tight. “Is it really you? After all these years…”

“You've grown into a beautiful woman, punkin."

“You've been gone so long we thought--" She hugged him again. “I've missed you so. Have you seen Mother?"

“I'm finally heading back to Potidaea to settle down. One war lead to another. There never seemed time to go home. I've missed you and your sister, Lila."

“She's taller than I am now." Gabrielle traced a deep scar that split one eyebrow, divided an eye sewn shut, the raised line skittered off to the side of his cheek below his ear. “How?"

Mero chuckled, “A thousand battles and some two bit whore carves me up because I ordered her thieving pimp hung."

“Gabrielle, step away." Xena drew her sword free of the sheath on her back and advanced. Light glinted off the deadly edge.

"This is my Uncle Mero--“ The girl held her uncle's hand. “She's my best friend. Xena, what are you doing?" Gabrielle was thoroughly confused.

“Xena..." Mero tilted his head to see her better with his good eye. “I remember you."

“I gave you that. My father came to you under a flag of truce and you butchered him." Xena's voice was deadly with intent. “I was younger than Gabrielle is now..."

“Uncle?” Gabrielle let go of his hand.

*********

“No! Father!" A young Xena in a blue colored knee-length tunic ran at a high ranking officer whose back was half turned. Her long dark hair spilled out behind her as she slashed at him. Mero cried out as blood erupted from half his face. He clapped a hand to it as three guards held the struggling girl. One bent back her wrist until she dropped the knife. Mero grabbed her chin digging his thumb underneath, smiling as tears of pain came to her eyes.

“Captain, let a few of your men play with her, in view of her-- father." He indicated the other side of the camp where a man hung high overhead in a stand of trees. Four saplings were bent, ropes connected to ankles and wrists. A fifth rope was taut ending clutched in the teeth of the scarred and beaten half-naked man.

“Let my father go, you bastard!" A heavy fist smashed Xena to the ground. She was pulled to her feet, blood tricking from her mouth. She spat at Mero. The captain raised his sword.

“Leave her alive or I'll have your head on a pike." Mero turned away for a moment. “Enjoy yourself, as my guest." He left laughing as seven more guards came over.

Xena was dragged kicking and twisting to the foot of the execution site. A leather club slammed into her back. A coarse hand ripped the fabric off her shoulder. Ugly laughter and groping hands surrounded her, trapping her. They pinched and prodded, grabbing at her as she staggered in the vicious circle. She fell struggling and was pinned beneath the tormented gaze of the man in the ropes. His face strained, teeth clenched as below him the girl's skirt was ripped, the sneering captain kneeled between her legs. She banged her head into his and was rewarded by a backhand that glazed her eyes. The man on the ropes saw her jerk as the brutal rape began.

“Xena!” Her name became a scream torn from his soul as the rope was released, and the trunks snapped back tearing him apart. Scarlet spattered over the soldiers grouped below, warm drops fell on the face of the girl pressed beneath the weight of a grunting man.

Blue rags clashed with purple bruises on the dark-haired girl huddled upon herself. A shaking hand wiped blood from her face as she pushed herself to a sifting position. She held back a cry at the pain inside and tried with futile strength to wipe the dried blood on her thighs. Something fell in front of her. The knife she had brought here.

“Cut that filth out of the trees before the crows come, will you?" Mero taunted her from the back of his horse. A bandage covered half his face. “We wouldn't want to ruin the view of the forest." His comrades laughed as they rode away, the camp was packed up in wagons behind them. Bitter laughter and crude jokes burned her ears.

***********

“So that was you," an older Mero nodded. “And now here you are in steel and a short leather skirt for easy access. Tell me girl, you still like it rough?" He laughed in a cold sound like pottery breaking. Gabrielle stepped back from him toward Xena who was rotating her sword in a lethal figure eight as she stood fifteen paces away.

“Leave me. And don't you dare go home." Gabrielle voice was bitter with the betrayal. 'I'll send word, I'll tell them everything."

“It was war." Mero shrugged her off. “I don't carry a sword any more," he said to Xena. “Would you attack a defenseless man? Again?"

“Get out of here," Xena sheathed her sword as she watched him turn away and mount his horse.

“I'm so sorry Xena." The blonde came a few steps closer. Her body blocked Xena's view of her treacherous uncle. Gabrielle heard a soft click and turned as Mero pulled a small crossbow from under a scrap of blanket. He aimed at Xena, pulled the trigger and driving his heels into the horse's ribs, he galloped off.

“No Mero!" Gabrielle lunged to push Xena away. The quarrel slammed into the girl's back throwing her into cold steel as Xena's chakrum flew to intercept the bolt. The razor edge sliced through her side and was stopped by a tree trunk. Gabrielle measured her length on the ground. She held her ribs as she felt a gush of warmth flow under her hand.

“Gabrielle--!" Xena ran to kneel by her fallen friend. “Don't you die on me!" She tore pieces from the girl's skirt to staunch the bleeding but there was too much damage. She watched helpless as the blood seeped from the gaping wound staining the sand of the road.

“I couldn't let…“ Blood bubbled at her lips as the arrowhead protruded from under Gabrielle's heart. It rose and fell with every shaking breath. Xena whistled for Argo.

“Don't say it--“ Xena's eyes filled with tears. “You're not going to die!"

“I love you,“ Gabrielle trembled and looked at the tear stained face of her best friend. The light went out of her sea green eyes.

**********

Xena's eyes snapped open, Gabrielle was mumbling softly in her sleep. The herbs had worked, she was sleeping just fine, now Xena herself was under attack. Her father was never captured, that whole fabric was just smoke and mirrors. Uncle Mero never had an army; Gabrielle told her he was a fisherman in Thrace.

But Gabrielle had fed Argo an apple as they walked that afternoon, then they encountered Uncle Mero and she died? It wasn't real, and somewhere Xena had lost half a day. A low fire still burned under two small haunches, boar from the scent of it. She didn't remember hunting it, or killing it… A muffled burp came from the sleeping girl, at least she had eaten well. Evidently she had drunk the sleeping herbs too; the warrior could smell the dregs left in the girl's cup.

She picked up her chakram; there was blood on it, long dried. Xena grimaced, that wasn't like her at all, and missing an enemy to hit Gabrielle? No, that too had been flawed in the dream. She got oil and a rag and began cleaning the chakram, she didn't particularly wanted to sleep any more this night.

**********

Manus' lip curled in a satisfied smile. The dream Priest leaned away from the altar and inhaled the last of the musk and myrrh incense. He dipped his forefinger into a golden cup and drew out a drop of dark liquid then spread it across his lips. The power was in the blood of the dream god, Morpheus. Those women would be driven mad, and he would once again lead the true worship of the Night God.

**********

Most of the trek into the mountain was by walking and leading Argo. The trails were better suited to the flacatti sheep that bounced about the higher ledges as if they were dancing across the Apian way, not tiptoeing across half a sword's edge worth of rock ledge.

"Xena? Do they have to mock us like that?" Gabrielle watched the longhaired flock that stared down at the careful slow humans. She touched the rope about her waist that passed back to the warrior. She looked over the edge and pulled her head back. "Then again anything that can look over the edge without getting woozy can feel superior to me…"

A small snort and whuff came from behind her. She turned and saw the pale horse and dark woman looking nonchalantly over the edge. A grey shrew skittered past her and scrabbled over the side, tiny paws sure in the vertical cracks.

"Xena! Argo? Oh great, and a rodent? Thank you! I'm sure there's a horizontal surface somewhere that would appreciate me."

"Actually there is," Xena had a wry smile. "There's an abandoned temple about a half a mile further on. This is the narrowest part, unless there's been a rockslide or--"

"Be careful what you wish for Xena," Gabrielle shook her finger and stopped, still shaking. "Xena!"

Rocks tumbled past her head; Argo whinnied shrilly and reared. The palomino tried to turn, slipped, screamed, tumbled, and hit the sides with a sickly thudding. Xena cried out, pushed Gabrielle back, and was suddenly silent as boulders crushed her.

Gabrielle shrieked as the world fell atop her.

**********

"I just asked if you wanted seconds, you didn't have to say no quite so loud." Xena took a chunk of boar meat from the pot.

"The--the rocks crushed you and you're eating?" Gabrielle heard Argo whicker as the mare grazed on the grass growing plentifully between the broken marble paving of the temple courtyard.

The roof still held good in most places, their bedrolls were laid out in the atrium and the free-standing columns stretched up quietly as if to hold up the night. A big stack of firewood was out of the way in a sheltered corner as well.

"We've been here for several hours Gabrielle, you picked some wild scallions for the soup and then made up an entire history for this place that was totally absurd. We were laughing so hard you rolled off the hunk of marble you were sitting on and hurt your butt. That was the only thing that's fallen around here."

"Then I was dreaming wide awake? It was so real and terrifying. And suddenly I'm sitting here… I've lost track of hours but I've been here all along? What's going on Xena?"

Xena ate the last piece of meat off her knife and wiped her mouth, "It happened to me last night. I lost time from when you fed Argo that apple after lunch 'til early morning. I 'dreamed' we met your Uncle Mero and there was a fight, you were caught in the middle and died. I thought I was going crazy. This is an attack on both of us, preying on our darkest fears. I believe I know who's behind this, but I don't know how to stop him."

"Manus is doing this, he trying to drive us mad or kill us for real because we defeated him." Gabrielle was composed and earnest, "Xena…I've been wanting something, he hasn't tapped into it yet…"

Xena made herself stay calm, this was what she feared would happen, but to save the bard who owned her heart, it must be borne. Part ways and she would be safe, free from the vengeance that followed the warrior princess and the evil acts she had done.

Gabrielle got up and knelt by Xena, she looked into the dark woman's cerulean eyes and took a deep breath, "I followed you as a child, seeking an escape from something I wanted no part in; but there was more. I love you Xena, more than a sister and much more than a friend. I can't fight; I'm just a girl from a small town, nothing special or exotic. Sometimes I tell stories in taverns. One I tell myself every night is of a warrior princess who kisses me, touches me, loves me. I wanted to let you know, not to take pity on me, but from one woman to another."

This was the truth, Xena knew it, and it humbled her. She wiped the knife off and put it aside. "Gabrielle, I saw a hope in you that I dared not keep for my own. My great fear--is losing you." She started again, stopped, shook her head, "My greatest fear is that I'd never be able to love you, I'm not a very good person."

"Xena, you made a choice to change, to help the world despite everything, that is the choice of a good person ." Gabrielle brushed her lips over those of the warlord. "I may be naive about much, but not about this."

"For me, love was numbers," the dark woman tried to explain. " How many for this battle, that raid. How many losers to take the front line, how many half-decent core retainers to keep loyal. How much was needed to keep the campaign going, how many slaves sold would keep us in supplies, how many--"

"Xena, love is…" Gabrielle kissed the warrior's lips again, her small hands holding Xena's tanned face. She wasn't going to let the dark woman get away, not now. Past the armor and the leather, that was easy, past the inner shields would take a bit more, soften them, show Xena how she was wanted only for herself.

The warrior let her hands move slowly over the blonde woman's body, knowing that Gabrielle was new to this; she didn't know what she wanted. The warmth of her skin, the press of her flesh into Xena's fingers, yes she did want the warrior's touch. She demanded equal rights with the dark woman's lips. She pulled clothing away and Xena let herself respond in kind.

Marveling at flesh glowing in firelight, kiss then pull away to see if this was acceptable. Fingertips found newness and wonder.

"He may get into our dreams, but not into our souls," the pale bard whispered to Xena, finding the touch of a dusky nipple against the palm of her hand amazing and full of magic. "I love you Xena."

"You are my life, Gabrielle," Xena replied finding wetness and a tight but yielding barrier just below her thumb. The bard arched at the touch, trying to get more from this building sensation that radiated through her entire body.

*********

A madwoman had stolen the gloves of Haephestus. The warlord Xena wielded power and terror in equal amounts from the fortress at Medoc. Only those who knew the power of Haephestus' work could stop Xena, the cruel conqueror from using their full power.

Gabrielle was alone in a snug room above a tavern, an hour's walk from Medoc.

The petite blonde brooded over a plate of dark bread, roast lamb, white cheese, and green olives. The Amazons' training had developed her fighting skills with the staff but she hated being left the last to fight. She was bored and restless. What if she snuck into the fortress, stole the gloves and left before the others arrived? Ephiny would be so proud of her and the warlord Xena would be livid and helpless with rage. The more she thought of this plan the better she liked it. A familiar mischievous grin came to her lips as she packed up her satchel with the leftovers, grabbed her staff, and left the inn.

The keep was old. Xena was but one of a long line of occupying invaders. Years ago the Amazons had liberated their captive sisters from the place after defeating a warlord. Solaris had familiarized Gabrielle with the layout, before the Amazon bard snuck away thinking one thief would be less visible than several. The thatch on much of the roof was in dire need of repair, perfect for an entrance. She climbed over a crumbling retaining wall and crept inside. Cobwebs and rust met her gaze. She was in the old armory. The main hall would be off to the left close to the more intact part of the keep; probably Xena's quarters would be there as well. She glanced around and sniffed: the smoky burnt metallic smell was to her right. The forge would be there.

“Hey!" A guard went for his sword as Gabrielle swung her staff in an arc cracking on the man's jaw. A second blow knocked him senseless against a wall. He slid quietly to the floor. So far so good. No more guards. Down one dim hallway, a soft rustling and Gabrielle was pinned to the floor by a heavy net.

“What have we here?" The soldiers parted for their warrior princess, Xena. Two men dragged the blonde to her feet. The stunning, storm-eyed warlord took the battle staff from a third guard.

“Let go of me!"

“I was expecting someone a bit--taller, to try and take the gloves.”

The third guard peered at the blonde, “My Lord--“

“What is it?”

“I recognize this one. She travels with the Amazons, she's their Princess."

“Are you?" Xena asked slyly. Gabrielle was silent. The warlord turned away, “Bring her to the forge."

To one side from a waist-high stone pit was a smoldering bed of coals, white hot in the center. Gabrielle was shackled hand and foot between two pillars. She watched as Xena picked up a pair of golden gloves made of incredibly tiny scales. She put them on, lovingly caressing one with the other.

“Now you can tell me in relative comfort or in pain-- Where is the rest of your party, and where is your village?" Gabrielle jerked at the chains in a futile gesture as Xena laughed. The dark woman plunged her hands into the very center of the coals for a few seconds then pulled them out. They glowed as Xena walked towards the girl. In passing, Xena picked up a metal rod and squeezed. It fell in two at the warlord's feet. Xena raised one finger to just above Gabrielle's cheek. She shuddered, turning away what little she could. Her flesh began to turn red.

“Where are they? What are their plans? Who is leading them? Besides you of course." Xena laughed as her gaze moved slowly up the girl's body.

“I don't know," Gabrielle's usual eloquence failed her. She felt as if she had been covered in harpy filth. Xena lifted up the edge of the sleeve of the girl's top. The material parted as smoldering ash, baring her left shoulder. Gabrielle began to shake. She was terrified. No one knew she was here so soon. No, she'll make it, the others will come for her-- A hand slammed down on her.

Doves flew in all directions startled by a piercing scream that shattered the still air. The guards tried to look anywhere else but at the girl at the hands of her torturer. The chains jangled helplessly as she trembled in agony.

“Tell me." Xena whispered in her ear like a lover as one hand stroked the inside of Gabrielle’s right thigh. She couldn't stop screaming as she twisted, trapped in the chains.

**********

Shaking, Gabrielle was holding on to her love and looking into cerulean eyes. The only thing real was Xena's loving touch, her lips pressing and kissing her, her hands taking her to places she didn't know existed. The wind picked up stoking their campfire, flogging the orange flames into elongated shapes that clawed at the night.

**********

Xena came back from her usual after dinner rounds, making sure they were safe from unfriendly intruders. She had done quite a bit of climbing, irritated a dozing ram, and avoided a small avalanche a quarter a mile away.

Gabrielle passed a water flask to her and Xena took it gratefully and drank deeply. The mountain water was so sharp here like the wind was captured in the liquid. The warrior turned to Gabrielle to ask about dinner and felt the world collapse.

Xena came to, chained and stripped, hanging in a corner of the temple. Gabrielle had a table of coins and a stone trough filled with glowing coals and iron rods. Xena's gear was dumped unceremoniously on the floor, then the bard wiped her hands on a rag.

"It's taken two years of my life to get you here. Letters from a hundred villages you destroyed, countless lives. It's not much of a payback in recompense for the Destroyer of Nations, but it's all they could afford. The poorest of your victims, the relatives and friends, all that were left after the blood and ashes cooled." Gabrielle eyes the orange rippling colors then added more coal from a sack. "Each village sent me fifty dinars for a piece of the Warrior Princess, and that's just what they'll get."

"Gabrielle, why would you do this?" Xena pulled at her chains, get free, get away. She didn't know why Gabrielle had suddenly turned on her; this wasn't like her at all. "You know I've been trying to makeup for all I've done; I've never asked for forgiveness. Do you think that branding me will do more good than my stopping other warlords and seeking justice for those I used to prey on?"

"You left your mark on so many helpless, it's only fair they have the same opportunity. A hundred names on your flesh. Potidaea could have been just another ruin, rubble and broken bodies. I calculated the size each sign could cover; after all, you are a canvas of limited size, Xena. Ten per arm, sixteen each leg, twenty-two on the front, twenty-six on the back."

Xena held back a shudder, the mental picture of her body mutilated like that, it would probably take three days.

"You're going to wear the sigil of each of the towns on your flesh, then we'll go through Athens and Corinth, and a few other cities. You should last that long. After all, brands don't kill. Although I'm afraid once we start going back to the scene of your crimes and leave part of you with the village named as a memorial... well, I don't how long you will survive the flaying. One name, one town. At each village, each branded area will be cut from you then framed and displayed as a warning to other warlords."

Something wasn't right, thought Xena; this was a nightmare, wasn't it? "Gabrielle, I know you couldn't have brought all this up here yourself. Who's going to help you get me off this mountain afterwards?"

She watched Gabrielle wrap a wide leather strap about her hand as protection before the bard picked up a white-hot iron, "Sunam will help me, he's got the wagon set up below. I hear him coming with the stretcher now."

There was a shuffling from the next room; Xena saw a tall robed figure enter, smiling in triumph. His sneering glance raked her nude body. He stood a couple of paces away from the petite blonde.

Gabrielle squinted from the smoke and brought the brand close to Xena's bare skin, over her heart. "Glad you're here to witness this Sunam. Remember Cirra, Xena?"

Searing agony and Xena screamed, her strength rushing back. "MANUS!" The chain snapped free from the left wall and Gabrielle ducked as the rusty length snaked about the man's throat. The Warrior Princess recoiled with her other arm newly free, pulling him to her and choking him, strangling the dream priest as he coughed and struggled.

"You remember for me, you bastard," Xena snarled, hearing his neck snap. She spun his body out and he fell atop the bed of coals and hot irons, his flesh charring.

**********

The warrior held the bard, both gasping, cold from the sweat suddenly chilling on their bare bodies. The fire sputtered about a prone figure, his priest's robe smoldering, his head at an unnatural angle facing them.

“Manus, he’s been behind this all along.” Gabrielle shuddered. “All those dreams of suffering, of hurting you…”

Xena pulled the sleeping fur about her love as she rose from their embrace. She picked up her sword and a rope, and pushed the foul-smelling body off their fire. She looped a coil about the priest’s boots and dragged him to the nearest edge. A sneer of disgust, and mighty swung sent his head off into darkness, a little effort and his body followed.

“I knew you could never do those things, and I would die before raising a hand against you.” Xena knelt by her love, letting the flames cleanse the blade before she put the sword down.

Gabrielle pulled Xena to her, “All that hate couldn’t stand against our love. Not now, not ever.” The fire crackled quietly in agreement as the lovers embraced.

____****____


The End - 'Dark Night of the Soul' - by Heron

Heron's Fan Fiction Index

KSL Library

Lodge Entrance