RETURN OF THE WARRIOR
Part 4 in the Ares' Gift Series
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Lilla, Toris, Cyrene and Argo do not belong to me. However Arielle and little Lycea do. Please refrain from plagiarizing.
I will receive no financial gain in writing this story only artistic fulfillment. All other pertinent disclaimers can be found on previous parts of Ares' Gift.
For those of you just joining us, Ares has had Xena impregnated with his sperm. Our girls fixed it with Artemis, that Ares can have no claim upon the child, Arielle. They are settled down on a farm they share with Toris, Lilla and their four year old daughter, Lycea. Arielle is now four months old.
"You know I hate standing in one place for so long. Can't you work any faster?"
"Xena, I have to take in your maternity trousers and tunic. You can't keep walking around holding your pants on with a rope. Now just a few more moments and I'll have this one done and I'll just use it as a pattern to take in your other ones."
Xena blew her hot breath through pursed lips in irritation. She knew she should appreciate the effort Gabrielle was making to alter her clothes, she'd lost all of the weight she'd gained during her pregnancy and then some, but she had things to do.
"There, done. Now take these off gently. Don't pull out the needles. You'll have to make do with tying your pants on until your Mom and I can take all this stuff in."
"Don't take the tops in too much. I need to be able to whip myself out to feed Arielle. You know." Xena struggled to free herself of her confines with out drawing blood.
"I know. You get irritable as a wet hen when you can't free yourself upon demand." Gabrielle giggled.
"I do not get irritable. I just have a lot of work to do in the fields and I don't have time to dawdle. Anyway, shouldn't she be starting on more solid foods and less of me."
"Xena, she's only four months old. She'll grow up soon enough and you'll be the first one to complain about it when she does. So let's enjoy her now while we can. Ok?"
"Easy for you to say. She's not using your nipple as a teething ring." The warrior mother couldn't hide the affectionate grin curling the edges of her lips. "When are Arielle and Lycea coming home?" Xena asked as she slipped on her oversized clothes with a sigh of relief.
"Lilla and Toris are going to bring the girls back before dark. They had some supplies to pick up at the market after their visit with Cyrene." Gabrielle had immediately sat at the dining table and began the alterations on her partner's clothing. I'm going to bring what I can't finish today over to your Mom's with me tomorrow. Between the two of us, we should have you dressed like a grown up in no time."
"Very funny." Xena kissed the top of her wife's golden head on her way out to assess the winter's damage to their fields.
'By the gods, it feels good to have our lives back to normal. Well, almost normal. It's been an adjustment, having a baby in the house. But it's been well worth it. Xena's had to make the most difficult adjustments. That's putting it mildly. She's acclimated better than I expected to the feedings and the lack of sleep and the loss of the last vestiges of her freedom to just pack up and leave whenever the mood strikes her.
Lilla pitches in with Arielle's care, allowing my Consort and I some much needed time to ourselves.'
'Xena's personality is pretty much back to her old stoic self. No more emotional outbursts or insecurities. It's good to not have to walk on egg shells all the time.'
'My beautiful warrior is back to training the Amphipolis militia and working out with her sword drills, just to keep in shape. Spring is nearly hear so Xena and Toris are very busy tilling the soil for planting the crops that will be harvested late in the summer. We'll get to try out that irrigation system they put in late last summer.'
'To be continued. There will be an hearty appetite in here shortly.' Gotta do my part. G.
"Gabrielle, didn't you say that Lilla and Toris would have the girls home before dark? It's getting late. I hope that old wagon didn't lose a wheel or something. Maybe I should take Argo and check the road." Xena was pacing back and forth in front of the hearth fire.
"It is getting late. I'll come with you." Gabrielle reached for her cloak and staff and was out of the door with Xena right behind her, only her boot dagger for a weapon.
The warrior and her bard hadn't gotten far down the road to Amphipolis when they spied a horseman galloping for all he was worth in their direction.
"Xena!?! Xena, is that you?" The rider was quite out of breath with panic.
"Jason? Jason, what's wrong? Where is my daughter and Lycea?" Xena felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Gabrielle's hold around Xena's waist tightened painfully.
"Raiders. The militia are holding them back, but we need your help."
"Follow me back to the farm. You can fill us in on the way."
"Xena, let me down here. I'll start off on foot. You can pick me up on your way. My weight will just slow Argo down." Gabrielle slid off the large horse's back. "Now, go!"
Xena nodded to her wife and galloped back to their farm as fast as Argo could carry her.
"How many are there?" Xena yelled through the wind.
"Hard to say, maybe 40 or 50 men on horseback with swords and maces. I don't think they have crossbows, at least I didn't see any. I got out of there pretty fast to find you."
"We should be able to handle that. I'm going to put on my armor and retrieve my weapons." Xena returned in only a few moments in full regalia.
"Do you know if the armory is protected?" Xena asked as she galloped back the way they came.
"I'm sorry, Xena, I just don't know." Jason sounded downhearted. He wished he could be of more help.
They pushed their mounts, only slowing a bit as Xena reached down and swooped the Amazon Queen behind her and continued full speed toward Amphipolis.
"It will be alright my little love. Your mother will be here soon and she'll make everything alright." Cyrene held her whining grandchild against her ample bosom, offering comfort to both the baby and herself.
The root cellar was cold and musty smelling. Jason had told them to hide among the large flour sacks until Xena returned for them. Lilla was terribly frightened but tried to remain calm so not to frighten Lycea, who was restless and bored in the dark crowded space.
The raiders were better armed than first surmised by the militiamen. But the militia were well trained and nearly 35 in number. Some were old and some very young but all new how to use the sword and the staff and shoot a cross bow, if not with accuracy. Unfortunately, they had been surprised by the warning horns and had taken some time to pull themselves together and collect their weapons, allowing the raiders time to wound several of their number and to begin looting their storage sheds.
The armory was safe. Xena had drilled into their brains to meet there upon hearing the warning horns and guard their weapons. All the women and children were to meet in Cyrene's Inn with five militiamen chosen in advance to guard them.
The village men fought bravely, but their eyes constantly searched for any sign of their leader. She had always been there. They were not so confident without her fierce presence.
The raiders pushed the villagers back, some of whom escaped into their homes for shelter. They pushed and pushed until a few of them gained access to Cyrene's Inn, delighted to find it full of women just ripe for the taking. They also found five angry militiamen ready to do battle to protect them.
"Oh, my gods, they are above us. What shall we do?" Lilla was terrified as she heard the women's screams.
"We mustn't panic. Xena will be here soon. Just try to stay calm." Cyrene tried to be reassuring but in her heart she was praying to every god she could think of. 'It couldn't hurt.'
Xena pushed the aging war horse as hard as she could. The weight of both women was slowing her down so Gabrielle insisted Xena leave her to walk the rest of the way.
"Please, my love, don't argue with me. Our family is in danger. Please help them. Go! I'll catch up."
Xena reached down to her soul mate and touched her face gently. She let her blue eyes express all the love and devotion in her heart. "I'll save our daughter. I promise." The war horse galloped away.
Xena repeated her war cry several times as she entered Amphipolis on Argo, informing the militia of their leader's arrival and to warn the raiders of their imminent demise.
She rode with all speed toward her mother's Inn, until she had to dismount to join the fray. Her sword sliced through the raiders, leaving a bloody trail in it's wake. Anyone foolish enough to face the dark warrior, her face twisted into a feral mask , would not live to regret it. The militiamen still standing followed her lead and attacked the raiders who were threatening their families.
Xena heard orders shouted in the distance but could not quite make out what they were, but was certain she wouldn't like it. She continued to slice through the raiders, blocking each blow or twisting away when sensing the approach of a mace. She heard, rather than saw, the arrows leave the crossbows. Turning toward the sound she raised her sword to deflect the threat. The door to the Inn and relative safety was a mere meter away.
"Cyrus, Janus, get those bowman." Xena yelled the order to her best archers. She was confident they could handle the situation without her.
She didn't hear it coming. She certainly didn't see it. But, she felt it. A red hot burning pain in her chest. She didn't look down. There was no time for that. She had to keep fighting her way to her family.
Continuing to swipe with her sword, she pulled her boot dagger to use on anyone approaching her rear. The militiamen now surrounded their leader, offering her the opportunity to slip through the Inn's door to safety.
"Where's my mother?" Xena yelled to the inhabitants as she leaned against the closed door for support.
"Oh, gods, Xena you're hurt." One of her neighbors exclaimed as she pointed to the small dagger protruding from the middle of the warriors now pale chest, just above the protection of her armor.
Xena reached with both hands and pulled the blade from her breast bone and panted til her vision cleared. "My Mother, she was in the root cellar." Xena looked up at the astounded faces.
"Then she's still there." Her neighbor answered unable to take her eyes off of the crimson ribbon running down the warriors armor and leathers.
"Thanks." Xena half stumbled half ran to the root cellar and pulled open the trap door. "Mother, are you in there?"
"We're here, daughter. Is it safe to come out?"
"Yes. Arielle, is she alright?" Xena yelled into the dark.
"She's fine daughter." Cyrene yelled back as Lilla helped her up the steep stairs into the light of the Inn.
Xena grabbed her baby from her Mother's arms and kissed her soft head as the tears streamed down her cheeks. She heard the familiar sound of her lover's staff cracking heads and she turned towards the door to find her.
Gabrielle ran into the Inn, having pummeled the remainder of the raiders soundly. Seeing her daughter in Xena's arms, she heaved a huge sigh of relief as her tears joined her soul mates. She quickly joined her family and wrapped her arms protectively around her Consort and their child.
"Take her." Xena whispered in her wife's ear. Gabrielle took Arielle into her arms as her soul mate's body crumpled to the floor.
Gabrielle handed the now wailing infant to her grandmother as she knelt at her stricken soul mate's side. She saw the copious amount of blood pooling on her chest and immediately ripped a piece of her skirt away and pressed it very hard against the wound.
"Get Alena! Someone get the healer, NOW!..... Xena, you're gonna be alright. I've sent for Alena. She'll know what to do..... Did anyone see what happened?" Gabrielle yelled out into the gaping crowd of reunited and grieving families.
"I did. It was a dagger. A small one. I think she dropped it over there." Their neighbor pointed.
Someone presented Gabrielle with the weapon, which she found she could not bring herself to touch.
"Let me through, you fool. Where is she? I am here Gabrielle." The healer rushed to her friend's side and looked at the dagger and the wound in her sternum. "Cyrene, hot water and towels." She looked into the terrified bard's eyes. "I think she'll be Ok. If she hasn't lost too much blood. That bone is very thick and this dagger is pretty short. If it didn't pierce one of those big vessels underneath....."
Alena told Gabrielle to apply pressure against the wound while she opened her kit and retrieved her fine bone needle and cat gut. "Get away from her. All of you. There are other wounded outside that need help. Go fetch them. Go on. Shows over."
Lilla and Toris helped to clear the area and provide the fallen warrior with some privacy as Alena and Gabrielle removed her armor and leathers and bathed her chest before suturing the wound shut.
"Toris, can you carry your sister to a room where Gabrielle can keep an eye on her for the next few candle marks?" Alena wearily asked. "I have a rather heavy patient load tonight." The healer stated as she looked at the wounded being assisted into the Inn.
"Of course." Said Toris. Lilla draped a sheet over her sister-in-law and friend, as her husband transferred her limp body to the nearest empty bed.
"Gabrielle, as soon as she awakens, we need to get as much water down her as we can. Cyrene, do you have some goat's milk and cereal? You'll need to feed Arielle until her mother awakens."
Cyrene nodded her assent and took her grandchildren off to the kitchen.
"Lilla and Toris, I'll need your help out there with the wounded." Alena turned on her heel and dove into her work.
After everyone left them alone, Gabrielle crawled on to the bed and wrapped herself around the body of the woman she loved and cherished above all others.
"I'm here, Xena. Can you feel me near you, my love? I've got you. You did it. You saved our family. You're still my warrior, my hero. You always will be."
Gabrielle kissed the pale shoulder of her lover as she draped her right arm across a naked waist. She gazed upon the face she loved, willing her to awaken, until Morpheus took her.
Xena awoke to the familiar feel of her lover's golden head upon her shoulder. Something wasn't right. The scents in their room were different. 'Where the hades are we?' Xena asked herself. She tried to open her eyes to get a good look at their surroundings and was taken aback by the extreme effort it took. 'Everything's blurry. I can't quite focus. What happened to me?' The wounded warrior lifted a trembling hand to the throbbing pain in her chest when it all came back to her. 'Raiders. They were trying to take the Inn and Arielle!' With that memory Xena tried to waken her soul mate to ask about their daughter.
The weakened woman tried taking a deeper breath to speak, but the pain was sharp and took the breath away with a groan.
Gabrielle heard her lover groan in pain and looked up into worry filled blue eyes. "Xena, don't try to talk, my love. You took a dagger in your chest. There was a great deal of blood. Alena says you'll be alright if we can get lots of fluids in you and you stay in bed a few days." Gabrielle jumped off their pallet and filled a cup with the cool water she had waiting.
Xena needed to know if their daughter was safe. She stopped the hands feeding her the delicious liquid and looked into the green eyes she loved in desperation. Gabrielle figured out quickly that Xena had no memory of what happened just before she lost consciousness.
"She's fine, Xena. Arielle, Lycea, Lilla and Mom. They're all fine. You saved them. Just like you said you would. Now drink up so you can get your strength back."
Xena felt like the weight of the world was taken from her shoulders and smiled as she sipped from the proffered cup. Having finished off most of its contents, Xena felt her eyelids just too heavy for her to hold open any longer and slipped off into the arms of Morpheus once again.
Gabrielle, certain that her soul mate would sleep, slipped out of bed and went to offer her services to the wounded.
Gabrielle checked on her patient about every quarter candle mark, anxious to be there when she awoke again. She felt her energy dwindling as the last of the wounded was attended to. She washed the blood and grime off as best she could before joining her soul mate in bed.
"How many?" Xena managed to whisper.
Gabrielle looked into the eyes of the warrior. "6 dead, thirteen wounded. It could have been worse. Those cross bows did most of the damage. Thank the gods for Cyrus and Janus. You trained them well."
Xena just nodded and closed her eyes to hide the pain of regret she felt that she hadn't been here in time to save more lives.
"Arielle." Xena's words were barely audible.
"She's fine, Xena. I told you that. Remember? " Gabrielle stroked her lover's arm.
"No..... Want Arielle." Xena's eyes brimmed with tears and understanding sparked in green.
"I'll get her." Gabrielle ran from the room to retrieve their daughter.
Gabrielle knocked on her mother-in-law's chamber door. "Mom?..... Sorry to wake you, but Xena's asking for the baby."
"She's going to be alright?" Cyrene asked, hopefully.
"Yeah. She's hurting and is very weak, but she'll be Ok. Right now the best medicine for her is lying in this crib." The little woman reached down to pick up her child and kiss her sweet head. "We'll keep her the rest of the night. I'll let you know when Xena is strong enough to see you." With that Gabrielle left with her precious bundle asleep in her arms.
Gabrielle sat on the bed and lay the whining infant at her mother's breast. The feel of her daughter's suckling brought a peaceful smile to the warrior's face and a tear down her cheek.
"Are you alright? Is it too painful." Gabrielle was concerned for her mate.
"No." Xena whispered weakly. "Thanks, love." Xena sighed. That familiar feeling of bliss washing over her. "This is what it's all about. Isn't it? It's not how many battles won or worlds conquered. What truly gives life meaning, what's really worth it all, is love. My love for you and our daughter..... It's just that simple." Another tear rolled down a pale cheek as the warrior smiled into her soul mate's eyes.
Gabrielle leaned over and gently kissed her child's head then reached further to kiss her soul mates damp cheek. She whispered into Xena's ear. "Yes, my love, it's just that simple."
Tell me what you think, Lena.
March 29th, 2000
Happy Birthday, Lucy
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