by Becky Lutzke (deanlu)
An icy north wind whipped down over the ramparts of the castle, biting into the many men and women standing guard duty. The dark clouds of a distant storm lighting the late evening sky in a chaotic dance of electricity. One figure stared down from the ramparts, the black cowl pulled tightly about her in an effort to hold back the chilling cold. A ray of light broke through the clouds and alighted on the army in the distance as if to say these were the Gods chosen. A lone rider descended the hill, stopping her horse in the middle of the battle field to stare up at the figure on the ramparts. An archer notched her arrow, and made ready to let loose her deadly messenger. The figure in the black cowl nodded, and the archer fired. Her shaft flew true and buried itself only a foot from the riders horse.
"I will not back down, Gabrielle. Give up now, before I have to stop you in battle." Xena yelled from atop Argo. She reached down, grabbed up the arrow and effortlessly snapped the shaft in half. Then she held up the arrow and threw it to the ground in defiance. Argo shuffled below Xena, feeling the nervous energy that flowed through her Mistress.
The cowl fell back on the figure to reveal a visage of beauty. Gabrielle, red hair blazing even in the late evening cloud cover; her face set in a scowl.
"Gabrielle?" Joxer's soft voice called as his form slipped into view. Gabrielle glanced over, and then looked back to the battle field below.
"Yes Joxer?" Joxer slid up close to Gabrielle, placing a hand on her shoulder. He took a moment to choose his words carefully.
"Are you sure this is right? Are you sure this is what you want..."
"I told you, it's the only way!" She angrily turned, shrugged off his hand on her shoulder, the bite in her words hitting him like a cold slap. Joxer retreated a step, then drew a deep breath.
"She's your friend Gabrielle." Joxer retorted. "She has given up everything for you. Why can't you do this one thing?"
"Don't you think I know that? Don't you think that if...." Gabrielle turned away suddenly, and struck the stone in front of her furiously with her hand. 'No, I won't do this to him. He's my one last contact with what is..was.' Finally gaining a hold on her anger, she turned back to regard the man in front of her. 'Yes, a man. Just a few months ago I still saw him as a boy, but after that night.' She motioned to the archer to approach. "Joxer, no more. Please. The choice has been made, it's too late now." Gabrielle sighed wearily, feeling like the ages had collapsed upon her shoulders. "Has Rage completed the tactics briefing to the new recruits?"
"Yes." Joxer nodded as Talia, the archer moved up next to him.
"Good, you may go." Gabrielle turned back to watch a formation of amazons change their position on the hill below. Xena was definitely done trying, now there was no going back. She watched as Ephiny and Meleagur approached Xena on horseback. Xena turned her horse when Gabrielle didn't give her an answer, and headed toward them.
"Gabrielle, Xena says it's never too late to turn back." Joxer's voice echoed on the wind then he disappeared quickly, leaving the archer standing before a fuming Gabrielle. Gabrielle clenched her hands and threw her head back. She screamed at the heavens allowing the angusih and frustration to rise upward. Xena turned Argo quickly, watching her friends torment rise as if to echo off Olympus. Ephiny and Meleagur drew close, pointing and arguing with Xena. But Xena waved them off furiously, and stared solemnly at the rampart. Gabrielle turned aiming her full anger at the Archer.
"Talia, make sure all the archers are supplied. I want no mistakes when we have our little game start. Understood!" Talia nodded and headed off down the rampart after a quick salute over her heart to Gabrielle. Gabrielle watched the northern flank of Xena's army move in the waning light and made a note to reenforce her troops on that end.
"You do look so lovely this morning my dear." Ares deep voice asked as he slid his warm muscular arms under Gabrielle's arms and around her waist. Gabrielle didn't even jump. She was too use to his appearance in and out of her life. "Not having second thoughts are we?" He ran slow hot kisses down the side of her neck, then spun her deftly around capturing her moist lips in a deep passionate kiss. Gabrielle felt a shiver run straight through her, and she relaxed into his embrace.
"No, my love." Ares smiled a devilish grin and took a slight step back from the embrace.
"Good! I wouldn't want my wife betraying me on her coming out day." Gabrielle shuddered at the words 'coming out'.
"No, I'm looking forward to this my love." Ares smiled at the lust that had dripped from the bards last words. 'Who would've known?' Ares bent down, gently kissing the bard. Gabrielle had other plans though, and soon the kiss had turned so sultry; it had the God of War panting when they parted.
"Tomorrow our army will race down into the valley like white death, destroying everything in it's path. Xena will become a name of the past; to be spit upon by children, and made fun of by old men. Her army will be nothing but dust." Gabrielle nodded, her face hiding the deepening turmoil below. Ares tweaked her bottom and disappeared in Godlike fashion leaving only his words on the wind for her. "I'll see you tonight my Warrior Bard." The icy wind replaced the warmth of the God of War causing Gabrielle to pull the cowl tighter around her. She took one glance at the field below and saw Xena's retreating form. Then she headed down the rampart toward her room.