Xena had been on edge all morning, just waiting for a certain God of War to pop out from nowhere. She was hidden with the spell Aphrodite had created, true, but somehow Xena didn't entirely trust that Ares wouldn't find her.
It seemed only a matter of time.
They had left at dawn, wanting to put as much distance between themselves and Ares as possible. Argo bore both Xena and Gabrielle's weight because of this; with no leisure time neither woman took to walking while the other rode.
They left the village behind them, and passed by at least one more before finally settling on a larger one.
It was called Sella, Gabrielle told Xena as they entered a series of market places.
"It's named after the famous poet. See, they dedicated a statue to her honor."
Gabrielle pointed to the large stone structure which took the form of a woman; her hands held a grey scroll and she appeared as if about to recite the sonnet.
Xena brought her hand up to shield the sun from her eyes. She didn't remark on Gabrielle's comment, and instead lead Argo to a stable. Xena left the mare in charge with a young boy.
"Oh, Xena! Do you think we could go shopping? We have enough dinars for at least one loaf of nut-bread, don't you think?"
Gabrielle asked perkily. Xena ground her teeth together.
"Are you insane? This isn't some game Gabrielle. Ares is coming for us. You don't know him like I do, he won't stop until he has what he wants."
The smile on the blonde's face instantly disappeared.
"Are you sure you're not being paranoid about all of this? Sure, Ares might be a God, but he has no way of tracking us."
Xena fought the urge to scream at her friend. Gabrielle clearly didn't understand this was a life or death situation. Xena pulled her over to the side of the stables.
"Gabrielle, there's something you need to understand. It may not be today, it may not be a year from now, but one day, Ares will find us. He considers what I did an act of betrayal. He'll kill you and make me watch. Now, is that what you want to happen?"
Xena wasn't entirely sure Ares would kill Gabrielle if given the chance, but when he was angry, anything was possible. Gabrielle looked slightly phased, shocked even, but quickly nodded.
"Good. Then we need to be smart. We can outrun him. There are places his powers don't reach. Now, listen. We can board a ship to Chin, it's our best shot. It's the only way we'll be safe."
Gabrielle didn't hesitate to answer.
"Where you go, I go."
Xena smiled bitter-sweetly, and she and her friend decided to stay in an old barn beside the stables so they would have enough dinars to board passage to Chin.
"We'll have to lie low until we can board a ship."
Xena said, and explained that they should only leave the barn to find food.
"I understand, Xena."
The bard said, and Warrior Princess was convinced that now, she truly did.
Xena decided that when they went out to buy food she should also obtain a sword. If Ares showed, she would at least give him a good fight.
The day swelled, and sunlight heavily flowed down across the village. There was no wind to soothe the humidity, no fresh breeze to cool the heat.
Xena had asked Gabrielle to stay inside the barn while she went out into the market places. The first thing she did was purchase new clothes, the dirty looks she received a reminder of what she was wearing.
Xena bought a dark yellow dress for Gabrielle, not a battle-dress, but something she could easily fight in if need be, and a pale blue one for herself of a similar cut.
She then ordered a sword from the black-smith, but after learning it would take him several days to create a new weapon, bought instead a used sword he had in his shop.
Xena moved quickly about her business, not making eye contact with the villagers.
Anyone of them could be Ares, she thought, remembering the time when he had come to her in the appearance of her father. The thought made her shudder.
Even with her head bowed slightly, something caught the corner of Xena's eye. It was a parchment, posted to a wooden post.
"Wanted: Alive. Xena, the Warrior Princess."
It read, followed by,
"Reward for her capture: 100,000 dinars."
Xena audibly gasped. Not because she was wanted, it wasn't the first time someone wanted to capture or kill the Warrior Princess, but because of the heavy price on her head.
No one is worth that much, Xena reasoned, and finished reading the parchment.
"Any sighting is to be reported to Lord Ares, the God of War. If captured, bring her to His closest temple, and be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams."
Xena scoffed, tore the parchment from the post, and balled it up in a wad. She tossed it on the ground, only to see that there were more.
One placed in every tavern window and pushed under every door, and there were more men spreading the word, more of Ares' lackeys putting up "Wanted" sighns.
We have to get out of here, he's closer than I thought.
Xena rushed back to the barn, keeping her head down. If anyone recognized her, then she would only have more enemies.
"Gabrielle, we're leaving. C'mon!"
The bard had fallen asleep in the golden hay, and Xena's stern voice pulled her from her slumber.
She asked hazily.
"It's Ares. There's no time to explain. We need to go to the harbor; get on a ship to Chin now."
Xena packed their items in a brown satchel and fetched Argo from the stables.
They exited the back way through the barn, hoping to use the forest as cover.
"The docks should be down the eastern side of the village."
Xena said, based only on what she heard during her time in the market place.
She was a very good listener.
"Lets go, then."
Gabrielle replied, and the two took off down a hill, and into the thick of the woods.
The forest floors changed to sandy beds as Argo galloped farther down the banks. Eventually she found the beaches, and the loading docks.
Xena talked to several Captains, but none of them were headed towards Chin.
Many were just fishermen, and wouldn't leave Silla anytime soon.
Xena and Gabrielle stood on the docks, pondering their next move.
"We can't stay here."
Xena finally said, and as soon as she did, a slew of answers came from Gabrielle. None of them would work for one reason or another.
Though Xena didn't want to tell the bard, they were going to have to steal a ship, or at least force someone to sail their own to Chin.
Xena started, though something from behind her cut her off.
"Are you Xena, the Warrior Princess?"
A male voice asked, and Xena swiftly turned, drew her breast dagger, and held it to the man's throat.
She asked, raising a brow.
"I'm Khrafstar. I'm looking for the Warrior Princess."
The man said quickly, to which Xena replied,
"Well you can tell Ares I'm not going to go so easily. If it's the reward you're after, I can tell ya' now, you won't live long enough to get it."
Xena hissed, her tone ringing with a distinct "Destroyer of Nations" vibe.
She pressed the blade closer against his throat.
"No, please! I don't know anything about any reward, I swear! I came looking for the Warrior Princess because my people need her help."
Gabrielle cut into the conversation.
"Why do you need Xena's help?"
"It's Caesar. He's going to attempt to take over Gaul, my home land. We heard you were the only person who could stop him. You are Xena, aren't you?"
He asked nervously.
The Warrior Princess nodded and released the man, sheathing her dagger at the valley between her breasts.
The name Caesar struck something inside Xena that she hadn't felt for years. It was pure vengeance. Every time she thought of the Conquerer a flash of her legs being broken ran over and over in her mind.
Only Ares had been able to soothe the nightmares...
Xena's thoughts were interrupted by the man's voice.
"So, will you help us? We heard stories that only Xena, the mighty warrior, could put an end to his terror."
Xena hesitated. Gaul was within Ares' domain of power, and going there would do nothing to stop his assaults.
There was also an urge to go, however, not only because of the vengeance locked in her heart, but also for the greater good.
"We'll travel with you to Gaul, and end Caesar once and for all."
Xena told the man. She saw a flash of concern spread over Gabrielle's face.
"Good, I have a ship which we can book passage on, I'll meet you back here at sunset, when the vessel sets sail."
Xena nodded curtly, and the young man went off on his way with the promise of a ship come sunset.
"Xena, what about—"
The Warrior Princess cut her friend off.
"It's for the Greater Good, Gabrielle."
The bard smiled just a little.
"It always is."
She agreed before the two women went back with Argo to the beach.
The women stayed on the beach and kept one another company while they waited for the ship. They talked for an hour or two, not about Caesar or Ares or any other problem, only light-hearted conversation. They were laughing over a joke when a scream billowed out from the forest.
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a look before taking off, leaving Argo tied to a tree.
They ran up and into the forests, and another scream, equally loud and terrified, cried out. Xena realized they were loud enough to be heard from the beach, but were coming from the village.
She and Gabrielle emerged from the forest into the market places.
The bulidings were on fire; everything was falling apart. A wagon with only a horse and no cart ran wild and array to the flames. Villagers were fighting soldiers with only their fists, which were nothing compared to a battle sword.
The soldiers were dressed in black armor, with a red crest—the symbol of war.
Xena said to herself, drawling our his name in disgust.
There had to be at least fifty men, all tearing the peaceful village of Silla apart.
Xena drew her sword, and Gabrielle raised her staff. Before the Bard could make her next more, Xena stopped her.
"Gabrielle, I want you to listen to me. Run. Now."
"Xena, I can't leave you!"
The Bard cried.
"Please. It's the only way I can keep you safe. You need to leave—before it's too late."
Xena urged, praying that her friend would for once listen to her.
"Do this for me; that's all I ask."
Gabrielle's face was streaked with tears.
Was all Gabrielle said before taking off back into tbe forest, disappearing into the green lush. Xena knew she wasn't going to be able to make it back to the docks before sunset, but couldn't risk Ares being here with his men.
She charged and leaped into the air, her signature war cry escaping from her lips as she landed in front of a solider.
She stabbed him, and sent his body rolling at her feet.
She killed another; and another, cutting through them like flies. Suddenly, one man in particular called out,
"Men, secure the target! Lord Ares wants her alive! Take the Warrior Princess now!"
The men who were fighting villagers stopped doing so.
The men who were lighting houses and markets on fire stopped as well.
They all turned towards Xena.
The army approached quickly, storming her down. Xena, through sweat and blood, fought them off as well as she could.
It was only until she felt the cold, sharp, bite of a sword that she realized she couldn't hold them off forever.
She screeched out in pain, clutching her side. Crimson engulfed her abdomen, and her sword was knocked from her hand.
Xena crumbled as the next blow landed to her back, and hit the ground.
The sun was blocked out by the mass of soldiers who worked on pinning her down, who placed iron shackles around her ankles and wrists.
Xena writhed in pain.
"Lord Ares didn't say we couldn't rough her up a bit first; why don't we have a little fun with the wench?"
One man suggested, kicking Xena in the midsection with his boot.
The General, who had commanded her capture, replied with a scoff.
"This is Lord Ares' prized possession. He doesn't want your grimy fingers all over his trophy. Let's get her back to him before he finds out what you said about his Chosen."
That was the last thing Xena heard before slipping into darkness.
Sorry for the lack of Ares in these past two chapters. But don't worry, he'll be back!
Thanks as always for reading, you guys are the best!