August 27th, 2018
A SHADOW OF STRENGTH
"Gabrielle," said Xena as she watched her companion sharpen one of her sais, "are you feeling alright? You look unwell."
"I'm fine, Xena." Gabrielle snapped, but then softened, "I'm sorry. Thank you for your concern. For worrying about me."
"I'll always be here for you, Gabrielle." Xena said. Her warrior senses suddenly kicked in and she looked past Gabrielle at the vast desert, "Do you hear that?"
"Hooves." Gabrielle nodded, "Sounds like a small army. Maybe six or seven men."
Xena smiled, proud of her companion's skills.
She was right; soon six men on horseback approached, laughing and snarling and belching. They made Gabrielle sick.
"Don't worry," Gabrielle said, "you stay here. I can handle this."
"Hey girlie," said one of the men, "why don't you let us have your gold? And maybe a piece of you while you're at it?"
"If you were smart," Gabrielle warned, "you'd shut up and be on your way." She stood before the men, ready to draw her sais at a moment's notice.
"We should leave her be." Another man said, but not out of fear. It seemed out of pity, which made Gabrielle irrationally angry, "Did you see her? She was speaking to the wind. She isn't right in the mind. I'm sure she has nothing to give us, and she would be impossible to sell as a slave, babbling to plants and things."
The first man laughed, "Yes, who were you talking to, little girl? Is it spirits? The sands beneath our feet? Pharaohs of the past, or the Gods?"
Gabrielle's skin was an unhealthy pale even having spent days wandering in the Egyptian sun. Rings hung below bloodshot eyes, which she briefly squeezed shut as though to force away some intruder among her own thoughts. She twitched at the man's mockery.
"Shut up!" She said, "Surely you've heard of Xena, the Warrior Princess?"
"I have." Said the man, "I have heard that she is dead. You are talking to a ghost, girl."
Giving into her most animalistic instincts, Gabrielle quickly drew her sais, taking down each man with general ease. The men were unused to fighting formidable warriors of Gabrielle's comparatively short stature, and so she had the advantage. After savagely killing four of the men, she turned to the one who had defended her. He seemed shocked, and Gabrielle was enraged that she still found pity in his eyes.
She hesitated, though, a part of her remembering a time not long ago when she erred on the side of mercy.
Suddenly, white hot pain flashed before her eyes as a blade entered her left shoulder from behind. She immediately slit the throat of the man in front of her and turned to her attacker, the one who had mocked her so.
"Look at you," he said as she stumbled, "so young but so ill. Travelling alone in this place, too. I cannot help but wonder what happened to make you this way. Is your husband dead?"
Yes, something from deep within Gabrielle's consciousness spoke. Perdicus, of course. Her husband, Perdicus, who had died so shortly after they had wed.
But she knew, somewhere, that it was Xena, her soulmate, who her own mind had meant.
"Xena," Gabrielle moaned as she choked on the blood building in her throat, "help me…"
"You can do it, Gabrielle." Xena said, suddenly beside her again, "You have so much strength inside you."
Gabrielle fell to the ground, and the man smiled victoriously. But Gabrielle had fallen on purpose, and as her body was turned away from his gaze she unlatched Xena's chakram from her belt. As the man approached, readying his sword for the final blow, she tossed the weapon and it lodged itself firmly in his chest. His face frozen in shock, he died instantly, and Gabrielle sighed contently as she noted the lack of any pity in his expression.
"Thank you, Xena," Gabrielle breathed, recovering the chakram and investigating the red splatters that coated her face in her reflection on its equally bloodied surface.
"Gabrielle, you need to find shelter and take care of your wound. You are growing weak."
"What about all the strength inside of me, Xena?" Gabrielle chuckled, a wooziness starting to get to her.
"Gabrielle, I mean it. You need to treat your wound. You are losing too much blood."
"I know you'll take care of me… You always do..." Gabrielle's speech began to slur, "I love you, Xena…"
And there she lay, sprawled out in the Egyptian sand, alone and bleeding.
To be continued...
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