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CHAPTER SIXTEEN:

 

THE JOURNEY

 

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.

Extra special disclaimer for this chapter and all that will follow. Up until now, I've been known strictly as a "General Fan Fiction" author. Well kids, that's about to change. For reasons that are pretty much my own, I've decided that this story will have a decidedly alt. ending. So from here on out, this story will depict two people, who just happen to be of the same sex, who love each other deeply. As for how explicit this story gets, only the muses know right now. As for this particular chapter, nothing all that overt at all. Heck, Xena's just now figuring it out. (Big dumb warriors, you know how dense they can be sometimes. ;) But it is on the way. =)
And to my beta readers out there, just trying to keep you on your toes! I didn't know I was going to redo the chapter until I did it! =)

As always feedback is most appreciated. You may email me at: jengaf@netins.net

Thank you for reading and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Tyber, the High Priest of the Arimon, paced his small tent relentlessly, his steps hard and forceful. How could this have happened?! he raged inwardly. Word had just been delivered by shaking, nervous priests that the Chosen One was not in her assigned quarters and her guards had been found dead. His carefully laid plans, his skillful manipulation of the Greek woman, were for nothing. All his efforts had been wasted and now the Chosen One was gone, stolen from him.

The reports had been sketchy at best, and there was little known about those who had spirited the Chosen One away from the camp. The only real piece of evidence found was a dagger left in the throat of one guard. He had been told it was of Amazonian design. There had been rumors floating around the camp that Amazons and Centaurs had been sighted on the walls of the Greek city, but they had been dismissed as false ramblings of overtired men. The Amazons and Centaurs were bitter, age-old enemies and neither group had ever shown any allegiance to the Greek City states. But the discovery of the Amazon dagger seemed to substantiate those rumors.

Telmark needed to be informed of all that Tyber knew now. It was a meeting that the High Priest did not relish. The Chosen One had been his sect's secret to gaining the power they all desired and now that leverage was stripped from them. To make matters worse, the Chosen One was now likely back in the hands of the Greeks, a powerful negative omen that would not escape the Supreme Commander. His dislike of the Priests of Arimon was well known. The followers of Kempoch, the God of War, rarely had any respect for the worshippers of Arimon. But the Chosen One had changed all of that, and Tyber's time to seize power for himself and his sect had come. All of that had crumbled at his feet.

Now was a time for damage control. He needed to save as much face as possible with the Commander and, at the same time, do whatever was necessary to recover the Chosen One. She had truly been his salvation. The power of the young Greek woman's mind had astounded him. There was nothing the two of them together would not have been able to accomplish.

All of this cycled through Tyber's mind as he made his way past the campfires and tents of the men on his way to Telmark's command tent. The High Priest paused just outside the entrance, carefully framing his thoughts. He needed to tread lightly here; one misstep would cost him his life. There was a delicate balance to be maintained between accepting blame, and ultimate death, and accepting that the unthinkable had occurred. But all that had happened could still be reversed. Slowly a feral smile crossed the High Priest's face as his plan coalesced in his mind. He knew what he needed to do. Gathering his courage, he nodded once to the attending guards and passed deliberately through the tent flap and into the dimly lit chamber beyond.

Telmark was seated at the far end of the room as his officers relayed their battle reports to him. Tyber knew his place and waited quietly as each man delivered his report and then stood aside. The High Priest listened carefully, as he was never one to pass up what could later prove to be useful information. It appeared from what he could gather that the battle had not gone well for the Horde warriors. A small band of Greeks had managed somehow to infiltrate the Horde defenses and gain access to the heart of the encampment. Tyber took in the information, filing it away for possible future use.

Telmark was angry. What had infuriated him the most was the report that the Greeks had escaped with no losses. The Supreme Commander had railed at his troops demanding an explanation as to how such a small patrol had been able to breach their defenses in the first place, and how they had managed to escape back to their city without a single loss. Tradition demanded that at least one man, normally the highest ranking soldier on duty, be made to pay for the failures of his men. But Telmark had more to deal with than tradition; he had a war to wage and could ill afford to sacrifice one of his normally trusted soldiers on the eve of yet another battle.

"Cephalin, you have dishonored yourself and your men by your failure this night. You know the punishment for such failure," Telmark said, his voice low and calculating. "But these are not normal times, and we have need of your skill on the battlefield more than your blood spilled tonight. Your sentence of death is hereby commuted. Fail me again and I'll kill you where you stand."

Cephalin's eyes widened in amazement. Never before had a life been spared, no matter the circumstances. But he now stood alive, when by all rights he should have been dead. The soldier wisely chose to simply count his blessings and stay alive, even if it were only for one more day. He stiffened to attention, delivered a crisp salute, and strode out of the tent, followed closely by the other officers. No one had yet been put to death, and they all thought it best not to press their good fortune.

Telmark's eyes followed them from the room before coming to rest on Tyber. He had noted the priest's arrival earlier, but chose to ignore him until the reports from his commanders had been delivered and his orders given. The High Priest now stepped forward from the shadows to address the Commander.

"Great Telmark, I have news which needs to be heard."

The Commander's eyebrows rose slightly. It was rare indeed that a Priest of Arimon would report anything to him, so he decided to hear him out.

"Go on, Priest."

Tyber cleared his throat slightly before continuing, he would need to speak carefully here. Now was the time that he would either emerge in better position than before or die within this room. "Great Telmark, it was reported this night that the Greeks attacked the camp. I believe I know why. The Chosen One was abducted from her chambers, both her guards killed."

Telmark surged to his feet, rage coloring his features. "Tyber, you impudent fool! How dare you walk in here and simply make such an announcement!"

Tyber merely stood his ground, to show fear now would be his death. "Sir, please, if you'll allow me..."

"No! I'll allow nothing of the kind! I know the Chosen One was taken, Priest. Nothing that happens in or out of this camp happens without my knowledge."

The High Priest was clearly stunned, but attempted to hide his surprise. This wasn't the reaction he had anticipated, and that could have deadly repercussions.

"So what is it that you want, Priest? Before I have your head as a trophy for my wall? I have no need of your kind in the battle to come. You I will not spare."

Here it was; Tyber's one shot. If he blew this, he'd be dead in minutes.

"Great Telmark, that is true, I am no soldier, but I do have one valuable skill. And there is still a chance that the Chosen One could be made to serve the Horde good."

Now the Commander's curiosity was peaked. He couldn't possibly conceive what this "skill" that Tyber hinted at was, but if it was a means to winning the coming battle and possibly this war, then so be it.

Tyber took Telmark's silence as leave to continue, "As you know, Sir, the Chosen One, according to the prophecies, is endowed with great mental and physical strength. That part of the prophecy is completely truth. I have sensed within her a great power."

"Power that is now in the hands of the Greeks!" Telmark boomed his patience for this Priest growing thin.

"Yes Sir, it would seem that way, but there is still a chance. It is true that the Chosen One would now appear to be in the hands of the Greeks and would be theirs to wield against us. But I believe otherwise. We can still use her and her power only now from inside the Greeks' own fortress."

Telmark's brow furrowed in thought, "Exactly what are you implying, Tyber. Speak clearly, and you may as yet spare your miserable life."

The High Priest brought up his chin, now facing the Commander, his shoulders square, his eyes without fear. "I can control her, Sir," he said simply. "She could as yet be our ultimate weapon of destruction, striking at them from where they least expect it; from within."

Telmark lowered his head in thought briefly before looking at the priest squarely. "And you are able to do this? Control her? You have no doubts?"

"None, Sir," Tyber replied confidently.

Telmark nodded once before resuming his seat, deep in thought. This could work, if the High Priest could deliver as he promised. If he didn't have a plan of action ready to implement once the camp discovered the Chosen One's absence, then all would surely be lost. He knew it as well as did Tyber. If either man expected to survive the coming day, then they had to proceed with this or face being struck down by their own men and followers.

Ever since he had learned of the Chosen One's abduction from the camp Telmark had feared the reaction of the men. He would be killed without question as would the Priests of Arimon, and a new Commander would rise to power. But now Tyber had handed him a chance, and he was no fool. He intended to seize upon it.

"Fail, Tyber, and you know the consequences. You won't have to worry about me killing you. You'll be dead long before I get to you."

Tyber nodded solemnly. It wasn't as if he had a choice. He had to succeed or die.

 

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The afternoon slowly wore on toward evening's chill, and still the warrioress refused to leave the bard's side. Ephiny had been gently trying to coax the warrior to get some sleep, rest herself while she could, but to no avail. Xena was determined to continue her vigil at Gabrielle's side, and nothing would move her.

She had seen to Gabrielle's physical wounds candlemarks earlier, which thankfully were relatively minor. The warrioress had removed the Horde garment in which the bard was dressed and replaced it with a soft shirt loaned to her by one of the Amazons. Word had traveled quickly among the Amazon warriors that the Queen had been found alive and was once again in Corinth, and several had gone out of their way to stop by the Queen's quarters to express their gratitude at her return.

Several candlemarks later, the Amazon Queen showed no signs of waking. The utter relief that Xena had felt at finding Gabrielle alive was now tempered with an uneasy feeling that had settled in the pit of her stomach.

What did those Horde bastards do to her? She wasn't injured badly that I could see; she should've awakened long before now. Xena's mind raced. She was a skilled healer, but this was something beyond her experience, and she knew it.

The emotions coursing through the warrioress' heart were nearly overwhelming. To say that she was relieved would be a horrible understatement. The sight of the bard alive in that calm forest clearing had nearly been enough to undo her famed cool, calculating demeanor. The only thing that had held her back was the fact that she swore not to break down and cry in relief in front of Eponin and Jana. She had succumbed to enough emotional displays over the last several days, and this wasn't going to be another of them.

But that decision couldn't stop what she was experiencing. Xena had felt the friendship between she and the bard deepening; knew that the bard had felt it too. By unspoken mutual consent, the subject had been taboo between the companions, felt but never voiced. When Xena knew she had lost Gabrielle forever, the regret that she had never pushed past her own fears and verbalized her feelings was almost more than she could bear.

Now all of that had changed. Gabrielle was alive, returned to her seemingly by the grace of the gods. But the bard had not been unharmed, the damage inflicted not upon her body, but on her mind. She had Gabrielle back, but would she ever be the same? It doesn't matter. She's here, alive, and whatever it takes I'm going to see her through this. I have to. But no more silence between us. At that moment all the fears and doubts fell away, and the warrioress knew unequivocally what she had denied until now. The love that she had felt for Gabrielle went much deeper than she had ever conceived before.

The bard had insinuated herself deep within the Warrior Princess' heart and soul; her presence there lighting the path through her life that otherwise was devoid of hope and love. If it were the last act she ever performed on this earth, she would speak what had been buried in her heart for nearly three years.

Xena sighed, nervous energy coursing through her veins. Now that her decision had been made, it seemed that she could scarcely sit still and felt the need to stand and pace every few minutes. Her constant motion had driven everyone else from the room long ago, and, frankly, the warrioress had been glad to see them go. Ephiny's constant harping on her to eat and rest was beginning to grate on her overstressed nerves. Xena felt completely on edge, but knew that there was little she could do to alleviate the tension she was experiencing.

There's got to be something I can try. Something I can do. I can't just sit here! Not while she... Xena's thoughts were interrupted as Gabrielle gasped slightly, her brow wrinkled as though she may be in pain. Xena dropped swiftly down to one knee at the bard's side, concern etching her features when she noticed a light sheen of sweat beading on the fair woman's skin. The warrior retrieved a cloth from a shallow cup and gently bathed the bard's face in cool water.

"Gabrielle? It's Xena, I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere," Xena's voice soothed, conveying more calm than she felt at the moment as she absently stroked the bard's red-gold hair. Gabrielle quieted almost immediately at the sound of the warrior's voice, relaxing once again into a deep sleep. The warrior set aside the cloth and took Gabrielle's small hand into her own.

"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. So sorry," she began quietly, "You depended on me to protect you, and I've failed you...again." The guilt seemed to weigh the warrior down as her shoulders slumped wearily. "I don't know how to help you...but I'm not giving up, okay? So don't you give up either. Hang in there for me, Gabrielle."

Xena was heartened to see that Gabrielle seemed then to rest easier, her breathing deep and even. She had come to a decision. The warrioress knew she couldn't help Gabrielle alone. She needed help, and for that she needed a healer. Her many skills were more in the realm of battlefield injuries. For this she needed someone skilled in healing the injuries of the mind and spirit. A more spiritual people could not be found than the Centaurs. Their rituals and healers were often times centered more on the soul and spirit than the body.

Xena knew what needed to be done. Even after her defense of Kaliepus' village from the power of the Ixion Stone, there was still open hostility toward her from many of the Centaur warriors who remembered her campaign against them all those winters ago. The question was would they help the Destroyer of Nations?

To be continued......