DISCLAIMER : The characters Xena/Gabrielle/Argo are copyright of MCA/Universal/Renaissance.
No infringement intended. Warning: This story contains Violence, that may offend some people. It also contains Love, which may also offend some people. You have been warned. As ever, any comments are most welcome at Rab@xgrd.freeserve.co.uk
The Strongest Thread
by Rab Donald
There was something disquieting about peace and tranquillity. Perhaps the most unsettling thing of all, Xena had discovered, was that she liked it.
For three days they had travelled in warm sunshine, amidst the most spectacular scenery, and the warrior had not raised her sword in anger once. Gabrielle had entertained her with stories, tales from since time began. For her part, Xena had delighted the bard by acceding to requests for her to sing.
Huddled by the flickering flames of a dying campfire, both slightly flushed from sharing a canteen of wine, Gabrielle took the warriors hand.
"Friends are forever joined by an invisible thread. No matter they are hundreds of miles apart, the thread keeps them united"
"Is that to be your latest scroll?" asked the warrior, looking admiringly at her companion.
"No" smiled the younger woman "It was a bard called Therabster who told me that. It just sprang into my head." Gabrielle hesitated, then continued
"You know, Xena, the Elysian Fields themselves cannot be better than this.
I cannot remember ever being this happy" And she tilted her head up to kiss the warrior, softly, chastely, on the lips.
Xena smiled "I know just what you mean. My friend"
Their idyll would be shattered the next day.
The attack came swiftly, and too early in the day. For Gabrielle at least.
The previous days of serenity seemed to have dulled her instincts in battle, she looked confused and disorientated as she scrambled to find her fighting-staff. There were five men, and unusually, one woman in the marauding group. A small-time warlord called Siskene, taking his chances as he unexpectedly happened across the legendary warrior, urged his six cohorts into the attack, as he watched from a safe distance.
Xena was all action. A blur of swirling sword, kicking feet. She downed two of the men very quickly, but became alarmed as she looked over to see her friend struggling to fend off another man and the single female attacker.
"Gabrielle! Look out!" she screamed as the woman wielded a heavy club.
Time seemed to freeze, the bard looked startled, unsure. The club was arcing down in a path that would end on Gabrielles skull. The man was kicking out, he knocked the staff from the bards hand.
Xena had no choice.
The chakram sliced the womans fingers, causing her to drop the heavy club, which fell harmlessly to the ground. Rebounding from a tree, the circular weapon smashed into the shoulder of the man, the sheer power knocking him to the ground, where he remained. It returned to the warriors hand less than two seconds after its release.
But Xena took a vital split second extra time, watching her friend, checking if she was alright. A large rock, unleashed from a catapult held by Siskene crashed off her shoulder-armour, then ricocheted up, thudding into the side of her head. A further stone hit her skull directly. The warrior crumpled.
As she got groggily to her feet, Xena saw with slightly blurred vision, the two remaining warriors marching swiftly towards her, swords drawn. Furthermore, the woman, holding aloft her crippled hand was screaming oaths and reaching to pick up the sword of her fallen colleague. To Xenas mind, Gabrielle had never looked so vulnerable.
The warrior let go all pretence of restraint. She leapt forward slamming the hilt of her sword furiously into one mans face while stabbing the other with her dagger. She then turned and somersaulted in one motion, ending up face to face with the attacking woman. She saw not fear, but madness in her eyes. Xena pulled back her sword and ran it through the hapless female. She spun round, ready, waiting for the next assault.
It did not come.
As Siskene continued to shout instructions from a distance, his battered warriors retreated, they were in no mood for further combat. They stumbled and staggered away, clutching their wounds. Three bodies remained. Xena was aware that she had killed two of them, as a warrior she knew a fatal blow when she delivered it, the third body was the man she had butted with her sword hilt.
Dont know my own strength she mused as she kneeled down to comfort a strangely silent Gabrielle.
"Another time!" Siskene called down with triumph in his voice. Three dead colleagues seemed of no import to him, his personal injury-free survival, clearly all that he cared about.
The warrior stood up. "Ill remember this, Siskene! Im going to hunt you down, then rip you apart, limb from limb. Slowly"
Siskene rode off, a sense of utter dread replacing his earlier feeling of elation.
Xenas head was pounding. The warm glowing feeling that she had experienced at the camp-fire only yesterday, was now a memory.
She felt despondent, desolate, alone. It had been such a stupid argument,
Gabrielle accusing the warrior of being too savage.
"I saw you kill that woman, she didnt stand a chance"
And in turn, Xena venting her anger at the bard.
"If you hadnt been so damned useless! Joxer would have been more help to me than you were!"
And then the young man had come along on his wagon. And before Xena quite knew what was happening, Gabrielle had gone.
"If thats how you want it Gabrielle" she had called out "If you really think he can look after you, protect you like I do. Look at him! He isnt even a man, just a boy! a lovesick boy with puppy dog eyes!" But the bard was well out of hearing range.
Bathing her aching head, Xena knew that the bard had not seen her being hit by the rocks, was not aware of just how much danger they had been in. She also knew what another part of the problem for herself, was. It was something she had known for a long time. She was in love with Gabrielle.
Truly, madly, deeply in love with her. Lying snuggled close at nights had been both wonderful and frustrating. How she longed to make love with the bard, show her what a glorious thing physical love could be. But she had not dared. Risking losing your best ever friend simply seemed too big a chance to take. And Gabrielle had never really indicated that she shared the warriors deepest feelings and desires.
Yet it seemed now that the friendship was gone too. That invisible thread that Gabrielle had mentioned, so easily snapped. As she honed her sword, Xena was very aware of her feelings of jealousy. Jealous of the boy who her bard had so readily gone off with. He was so typical of a variety of men that they had encountered. Young, fresh-faced, eyes glowing with optimism. Just like Gabrielle herself, and the bard always seemed to take a shine to them.
Xena thought of an old friend of her own, Princess Alexia. She had been the warriors first ever female lover. It had taken Xena greatly by surprise the night Alexia had seduced her.
"But youve had boyfriends!" Xena had exclaimed as the princess covered her body with kisses and caresses.
"Ive also eaten rabbit stew, but I dont call it a sumptuous feast" was how Alexia had responded. And in the morning, after a long night of almost impossible pleasures, the warrior had agreed.
"Rabbit stew is off my menu from now on!"
The memory stirred suppressed feelings, Xena wondered if the thread of Alexias friendship remained. She had an overwhelming desire to visit her.
His name was Josh, and Gabrielle was aware that he had been chatting to her almost constantly as they journeyed along. Barely a single word had registered. All she could thing of was Xena. The Warrior Princess.
Her Warrior. Her Princess.
Tears had welled in her eyes from the moment she had climbed up on to the wagon. They remained there still. The bard was berating herself, harshly.
How dare you call Xena, savage she scolded in her head. That woman who took you under her wing, cared for you, protected you, loved you
A single tear escaped, rolled slowly down her cheek. yes, loved you the bard repeated the thought, asking for nothing in return
Josh continued his ramblings, he seemed oblivious to Gabrielles despair.
She wondered for a moment just where they were headed. She considered asking Josh to stop, let her off. What would be the point? Better stay put until the next village. Then just wait. Would she ever see her warrior again?
Suddenly, the tears began to flow freely.
"Im so sorry, Im so sorry" the bard sobbed "Ive broken the thread!"
"What?" asked a totally bemused young man.
Xena remained by the stream, resting while her horse Argo took a long, leisurely drink. It seemed she had three options. Firstly, she could head straight for Thrace, call in on her old friend Alexia. She could also of course head off in the direction that the wagon had taken. Leaving Gabrielle alone always concerned her, but he did seem quite a harmless soul. Besides, it seemed that perhaps the bard was in no mood to see her right now.
Her third choice, given her present mood, was the most appealing.
Track that scum Siskene and give him what he deserved.
Argo whinnied, indicating her readiness to leave. The warrior climbed up on her faithful mare. "You choose" she said to the horse.
Even Argo seemed unsettled by recent events, she wheeled around several times before setting off on a definite course.
Josh had taken them to the centre of a small town. He jumped down from the wagon, then offered his hand to assist Gabrielle.
"I am going to buy you lunch at the very best tavern in town" he announced with some excitement in his voice. The bard could scarcely raise a smile.
With little hope she scanned the streets, it was by no means impossible that Xena had taken a different route and reached this town before them.
It was the same when they entered the tavern, green eyes surveyed the room, hoping against hope for a glimpse of that familiar leather bodice.
Josh led her to a table then went to the bar.
"I love you Xena" said Gabrielle. She just needed to say it out loud.
If there was ever a smarter horse than Argo, Xena had never heard of it.
Siskene was sitting with the rest of his men, he was chastising them for failing to kill the warrior princess. He was drinking gulps of wine from a pigskin canteen, not offering it around. As she watched, the warrior could only wonder why these fools stayed loyal to him.
She was in no mood for games. Drawing her sword she simply marched straight in to their makeshift camp.
Siskene spluttered on his drink, his eyes bulging with fear. He screeched a frantic order "Kill her!"
Xena raised an arm. "I have no quibbles with you men, but I suggest you leave now before I can think of any. Siskene is the one I want. We have unfinished business"
The three wounded men scrambled to their feet and fled. Siskene stood up, all colour had drained from his face. He almost half-heartedly drew his sword.
"One chance Xena, please! Give me one chance. I will never bother you again" The warrior smiled. "You got that right" she said dryly
Not so very long ago, the warrior would have fulfilled her previous threat, and tore him limb from limb. But a certain woman still carried influence with her. She could see the terror in his eyes.
"I am doing this for a friend, not for your sake" she said before leaping forward and severing his head with a single blow. "He didnt suffer" she whispered to a woman who was nowhere to be seen.
It was the strangest thing. As she remounted her horse, Xena could swear she heard a voice, somewhere. "I love you, Xena" it said.
"Come on Argo, I think its time we went looking for Gabrielle"
The horse snorted her approval.
The bard noticed that young Josh was making frequent trips to the bar to refill his ale mug. He was generally acting like a nervous teenager on his first date.
Gabrielle ate slowly, smiled at his weak jokes, and all the time wondered just where Xena might be now. And what would happen if she did not show up in this town. It was a very unpleasant thought. Her mind wandered back, there was something bothering her.
"Friends are forever joined by an invisible thread" that was the quote she had told Xena. But there had been more.
"But threads can be broken so easily" she now remembered what she had said to Therabster, those many years ago. She could still picture him, the travelling bard with the long, straggly blonde hair.
But he had answered that. What had been his response?
Josh suddenly grabbed her hand. "I love you" he slurred, giving her a salacious look.
As Xena cantered along, a cold shiver ran down her spine. Just like the previous voice, it seemed to come out of nowhere. It left her feeling very uneasy. She gave her horse a gentle squeeze with her heels.
"Come on girl, I think Gabrielle may be in danger"
Argo immediately broke into a gallop.
"Come on! Stay for one more drink" Josh was now plainly drunk.
He had tried to paw her several times, and though she had managed to avoid his groping hands, his temper seemed to be rising. The problem for Gabrielle was that even though many people in the bar could clearly see what was going on, none seemed at all willing to intervene. Even the women seemed to be laughing, enjoying the distraction of the side show. Josh was clearly known to them, one or two were even encouraging him. The bard had noticed that her route to the door was being blocked, possibly, deliberately.
"OK, one more, then I really must leave. Im meeting my friend, Xena. You may have heard of her, the Warrior Princess"
This merely invoked laughter amongst the crowd, it seemed that everyone in the bar was now involved, watching them.
"The tall broad wearing the leather? Last time I saw, she was heading off in the opposite direction!" Josh was now giggling.
Gabrielles heart sank. She hadnt dared look back when they drove off in the wagon. But Josh had. And Xena had apparently ridden off the other way.
Threads really are easily broken she mused.
She no longer felt scared.
She felt almost nothing. Later, she knew she would be distraught, depressed, heart-broken. But for the moment she felt nothing. Then quite out of the blue, just as Josh had returned with her final drink, something happened.
She did not know what, it was just something. A feeling, a sensation, almost an unspoken message.
Suddenly, Gabrielle could not keep the smile from her face.
For someone so intoxicated, Josh had moved remarkably quickly. He was also much stronger than he appeared. In the space of a few seconds, the youth had pulled Gabrielle from her seat, lifted her, and carried her over to the far wall. She remained there, pinned against it, with his hands pressing hard on her shoulders. The crowd had actually cheered.
Xena strode in, a hush descended.
"Let her go, NOW!" she barked.
"Trust Xena to spoil our fun" a voice spoke, just too loudly.
"Ill have fun" said Xena barely containing her outrage "I like fun!" She then pulled her sword from its scabbard, pointing it at the bar in general.
"Now, which of you was it wanted to have fun?" her eyes burned with fury.
Josh had sobered up in double-quick time. He lamely let go of Gabrielles shoulders, before making a mad dash for the door. Xena knocked him out cold with a single punch. With Gabrielle clinging to her, she backed out of the tavern.
Talking was difficult at first. Gabrielle had apologised over and over, it seemed to be the only thing she could think to say. Xena had just hugged and kissed her, softly on the top of her head. "That thread thing, it must be true. I swear I could hear you" the warrior finally broke a prolonged silence. The bard looked doubtful.
"But I forgot to tell you. I challenged Therabster, I explained to him how easily threads were broken" she said wishing she hadnt recalled her argument.
They headed down the road, Xena choosing to walk beside her friend.
Suddenly, the bards face lit up. "I remember, I remember!" she almost danced.
"What?" smiled an intrigued warrior.
"When I told Therabster that threads are so easily broken, he countered my argument, Ive just remembered what he said"
Xena just smiled, waiting.
"He said some threads can NEVER be broken. The strongest thread is more powerful, more enduring that the mightiest of ropes or even chains"
Gabrielle gazed at her warrior with adoring eyes. "The strongest thread of all, is love"