DISCLAIMER: Ok, some rather dry stuff here, these characters, at least the ones you recognize, are property of MCA/Universal and the author intends no copyright infringement in the writing of this story.
The title of this story is "The Holy War" for a reason, and since wars don't tend to be very nice, there is quite a little bit of violence, blood, and death in this story. If that sort of thing offends you, please stop reading now.
As always feedback is most appreciated. You may email me at: email@example.com
Thank you for reading and enjoy.
The sounds of battle filtered through his subconscious mind to invade his sleep and suddenly Telmark was wide awake, listening intently to the sounds of the battle cries of his soldiers outside his tent. As he swung his legs over the side of his cot and pulled on his tunic, one of his aides rushed into the chamber, his breathing ragged, his weapon drawn.
"Commander! We are under attack!"
"Calm yourself. How many are attacking? From which direction?"
"We are unsure how many, sir, but they appear to be attacking from the west."
"I need more information. Find out exactly what's going on out there, we need to know how many are out there to mount an adequate defense. Return to me when you have better informed yourself."
The aide mere stood, sweating and panting in the center of the room.
At his commander's bark, the soldier flinched visibly, then saluted sharply and hastened from the tent.
The dare! That Greek scum dare to invade my camp...my camp! They shall pay, all of them. They shall pay dearly for this. No more waiting. No more holding back my men who hunger for Greek blood. Ready or not, the Chosen One shall lead us into battle with the coming of the dawn. And nothing can stop us now. Nothing.
The Horde Supreme Commander hurriedly donned his battle dress and retrieved his weapons from their place next to his bedside. Tonight they would route this raiding party and slaughter them to a man, and then tomorrow they would mount their heads on pikes at the gates of the Greek city as testament to all who would dare to stand against the Horde or their Chosen One.
Eponin approached the raging fight at a dead run, her only aim, to reach the Warrior Princess before she did something they all would regret. As she rounded the last of the trees blocking her view of the battle, the ghostly light cast by the flames of several tents that had been set ablaze gave the entire scene a surreal look, an almost otherworldly feel. Then she came into sight. The Warrior Princess, as the stories had always depicted her. Her blade dripping with the blood of Zeus only knew how many Horde warriors, sweat matted her hair, her chakram flashed in her hand, ready to take to the air in another deadly flight.
Eponin found herself in awe. Here, here was a warrior that legends were written about. A warrior that all Amazons aspired to be, and knew would always fall short from becoming. A warrior in every sense of the word. And a warrior consumed with battle lust.
Eponin shook herself and charged into the fray, her sword drawn and ready, Therates right on her heels. The pair was soon surrounded by Horde warriors and found themselves in a fight for their very lives as they worked their way closer to the warrioress.
Amazingly, Xena seemed to be holding her own against the nearly overwhelming onslaught of Horde warriors pressing in upon her from every direction. Her blade flashed in the pale moonlight, sent on another deadly arc that stole life from even more Horde soldiers. A whine filled the air, a sound unlike any other, and Xena's famed chakram, deadly in it's intent, took down yet another phalanx of warriors.
Eponin reached her side just as Xena brought her blade to bear on the Amazon. The weapon's master froze, her weapon pointed away, unwilling to threaten the Warrior Princess.
"Xena! Hold! It's Eponin!" The Amazon shouted above the din. The sound was deafening; Horde battle cries mixed with the moans and howls of the dead, it was enough to overwhelm the most hardened soldier.
The warrioress paused only for a moment in her attack as she realized who now faced her. "I thought I told you to see that they all got out! Leave me, Eponin! Go back to Corinth!"
"I'll not leave you here, Xena! You must return with me!" Eponin called as she parried a blow headed toward her head, then struck, disarming the warrior with one clean stroke. In moments he lay dead at her feet.
Xena turned her back to the Amazon, her intent focused once more on the battle before her. For several minutes both women were too engrossed in the fight before them to argue, but then a reprieve, as the Horde warriors pulled back slightly to regroup and charge again. It was then that Eponin saw her only chance. It was convince Xena to return with her to Corinth now, or she'd be carrying back word of the death of the Warrior Princess to her Queen.
Therates, to his credit only injured slightly while holding off the last wave of warriors, stood at the Amazon's back, panting heavily, sweat pouring from his brow. His face grim, the Metoan was determined not to leave this proud warrioress to die here; not now, not like this.
Eponin lowered her weapon as she watched the warriors retreat, then turned to face Xena. She was astonished at what she saw in the Warrior Princess' eyes. Battle lust to be sure, a fire that burned bright and with more intensity than the weapon's master had ever seen in all her years as an Amazon. But there was something else, hidden deep, but there nonetheless. And it was something Eponin never thought to see reflected in the eyes of the Warrior Princess, defeat. She had already given up her life, she was simply determined to take as many of the Horde with her as possible before she herself surrendered her life.
"Xena, please. You must listen to me, something has happened. We found..." Here Eponin paused. How to explain whom they had found without sounding as though her only intention was to lure Xena back to Corinth alive.
"You found what Eponin?" Xena shook her head in frustration. "I don't have time for the Ep, they'll be back at any moment." She growled, her eyes scanning the area immediately surrounding their position, knowing the attack would renew itself at any moment.
"Xena, please, you must believe me when I tell you. For, on the grave of my mother's mother, it's the truth." Eponin paused, waiting to see that she had the warrioress' undivided attention. When Xena turned to look at her expectantly, she drew a deep breath to continue.
"We found Gabrielle." She said simply.
Xena's brow drew together in consternation for a brief moment before contracting in anger and rage. "Gabrielle is dead." She spat. "And these bastards will pay for her death."
"Xena, I know what you saw, but I tell you Gabrielle lives. I have seen her this night. She is with Jana and Domacles as we speak, on her way back to Corinth."
The warrioress, for one all too brief moment, seemed to want to believe, against all that her rational mind was telling her, that Gabrielle could possibly be alive. But just as quickly as the hope entered her heart, her mind thrust it aside, cursing her weakness to see her chosen path through to its end.
"No! You lie Eponin, and for that I should cut out your heart." Xena threatened, lifting the tip of her sword menacingly.
"Xena, you know me to be an honorable warrior. I speak the truth. Come to Corinth, see for yourself. If I lie, I will forfeit my life to you, and you will have lost nothing. You can still die a hero's death, just on the walls of the city, rather than in this stinking camp."
The Amazon's words cut straight to Xena's heart and she was stunned to have been read so easily. She hesitated, unsure of herself. Oh gods, how can I not go? If she lives, then I will have everything returned to me. And if not, then... Xena let the thought trail off. If not, then I will still join you Gabrielle, in the next life.
Eponin could see Xena struggling and pressed her advantage while she still had time. "Xena, time is short, they'll be returning at any moment. Come with us, now."
The warrioress lowered her sword in defeat, nodding in silent ascent. She suddenly felt wearier than she had in days, her emotions in chaos, her purpose no longer clear. She allowed Eponin and Therates to lead the way away from the Horde camp, casting furtive glances over her shoulder. They would pursue them, of that there was no doubt. But perhaps they had given them enough of a sting that they would think twice about giving any quick chase.
Eponin in the lead, the three made their way out and away from the camp, praying that the Horde patrols in this area had already been called into action inside the camp perimeter and were not lying in wait, ready to cut them off from their escape route to Corinth. After several minutes of steady running through the trees and underbrush, Eponin called a halt, motioning to Therates and Xena.
"It doesn't look like they're going to come after us right away, we may have just borrowed the luck of the gods tonight." The weapon's master breathed, her voice strained from the exertion of the night.
Xena shook her head. "Maybe, but we need to keep moving, they could still have patrols out here just waiting for us. It's not likely in all that confusion back at camp they knew exactly how many warriors we had with us. For all they know, we were intended as bait to draw them out here where a larger force is just waiting to destroy them. They lost quite a few warriors back there, they're not likely to risk many more on an unknown force."
Eponin nodded. "You could be right, Xena. Ok, we keep moving then and hope we don't run into any of those patrols. Jana and Domacles should be about half way back to Corinth with Gabrielle by now. Maybe we can catch up to them before they make it all the way there."
At the mention of the bard's name, Xena's face became an unreadable mask as she buried her hope down deep. To lose Gabrielle once had been devastating enough, but to lose her again just as she was beginning to foster some hope the bard was still alive would be more than the warrioress could bear. Xena forced her feelings to the recesses of her mind, knowing that the pain of eventual disappointment was going to be unendurable. Squaring her shoulders, the Warrior Princess strode to the head of the small column, now leading the way back to Corinth, and whatever her fate had in store for her there.