Render Unto Xena

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and all the other Xenaverse characters
belong to MCA and company, I'm just playing in their sandbox.

*Takes place between Chakram and Succession
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A low hum filled the small tavern as customers filed in and out at a
steady pace. Seated at a corner table, a young warrior wanna-be and
his red-haired companion kept close watch on the doorway. Finally, a
familiar face presented itself.

The petite blond paused at the entrance allowing her eyes to adjust to
the tavern's dim light. Cautiously, her eyes swept over the room. As
she spied the couple at the corner table, a hint of a smile crossed
her features. Making her way across the room, she slipped into an
empty chair beside the man.

"Where have you been? asked Joxer with a hint of irritation in his
voice.

"Getting some supplies," answered Gabrielle looking over the crowd
once more. "Where's Xena?"

"We thought she was with you," replied Americe.

"Last time I saw her she was looking for a tanner and a weapons shop,"
said the bard with shrug.

"Still?" Americe sighed in disbelief. "How hard can it be to find a
set of leathers and a sword? "

"Yeah," added Joxer. "She didn't take this long when she was picking
out a dress."

Gabrielle shrugged again. "You know how Xena is when it comes to armor
and weapons."

"Yeah, well, I wish she'd hurry up," groaned Joxer. "I'm starving."

"Well," began Gabrielle, "I guess we could go ahead and order
something..."

"There she is," said Americe pointing toward the doorway.

The lanky warrior was already striding toward them as the others
turned to look. A stunned silence fell over the table as the friends
watched Xena navigate the crowded floor. With each step the black knee
length coat she wore swung open revealing bluish, black leather and a
well-polished silver breastplate. Side stepping a tavern girl who was
weighed down by a tray full of drinks, the warrior tightened her grip
on the bundle safely tucked under one arm. Clear of the crowd, she
smiled broadly at her waiting friends.

"That's your new armor?" asked Joxer as she reached the table.

Xena stopped and held out her free arm. "Yeah, you like it?"

"Not your usual style," answered Gabrielle, eyeing her with a slight
frown.

"Well, it will have to do till we get back to Greece," replied Xena.
Dropping the package onto the table, she slipped into the vacant seat
between Gabrielle and Americe.

"I like it," announced Americe. "Black looks good on you. But why
pants?"

"It was the best set in the shop that fit me," replied the warrior.
"The tanner offered to make me a set, but it would take a couple of
weeks and frankly, I don't feel like waiting around that long."

"Yeah," said Joxer. "It would be nice to get back to Greece."

"Yes, it would," agreed Gabrielle with a distant look in her eyes.

"True, besides we're still too close to Roman territory for my
liking," said Xena. "How's the food in this place? I'm starving."

"We were just about to find out," answered Gabrielle turning she waved
to the tavern girl.

Quickly, the girl made her way to the table and took their order. As
she moved away, Gabrielle turned to Xena. "So, what's in the package?"

A smile played at the corners of the warrior's lips as she pushed the
bundle towards her friend. "Why don't you open it and find out?"

"Okay," answered Gabrielle slowly reaching for the package. She eyed
the bundle suspiciously for a moment before tugging at the strings
securing it.

"Hurry up," chided Joxer.

"I am," growled Gabrielle giving him a hard look. Pulling back the
parchment, she gasped. "Xena..."

"Well...what is it?" demanded Americe.

Slowly, Gabrielle pulled a long tan and white leather coat from the
parchment. Her jaw hung in stunned silence as she held the coat up
inspection.

"So..." prompted Xena. "You like it?"

"I...yes I do. But how did you know...?"

Xena smiled broadly. "I saw you trying it on in the shop and it looked
like a good fit."

"Yes, it is," answered the bard. "But how did you pay for it? You
didn't have enough dinars for this."

"Sure I did," replied Xena.

"But I thought you only had enough money left to buy leathers and a
sword." The bard leaned back in her chair as the realization hit her.
"You used your sword money to buy it, didn't you?"

"You needed a coat," answered Xena.

"And you need a sword. I can't keep this," said Gabrielle as she began
to re-wrap the garment. "You'll have to take it back and..."

"No," said the warrior firmly. "We'll be passing through the mountains
soon and it's going to get cold. You'll need a good coat."

"And 'you' need a sword to protect yourself," insisted the bard.

"I've got my chakram, besides I haven't found a sword I like yet."

"You're kidding!" squealed Americe. "You've checked every weapon shop
between here and Rome. How hard can it be to find a sword?"

Xena arched an eyebrow at the young woman. "I just haven't found one
as good as my old one."

Gabrielle groaned softly. "Xena, out of all those swords there must be
at least one you liked."

"Yeah," answered the warrior. "Mine. It takes time to find the right
sword. My old one was custom made to just the right length and weight.
You can't replace something like that overnight."

"I suppose," agreed Gabrielle as she tried to hide a grin.

"What?" demanded Xena.

"Nothing," replied Gabrielle innocently. "Thanks for the coat." She
offered a sincere smile with the thank you.

"You're welcome." Xena grinned as she watched her friend stand and
slip into the coat.

"So what do you think?" asked the bard as she pivoted on her heels.

"It looks great," answered Joxer grinning stupidly at the young woman.

"Yes, it does," agreed a broadly smiling Xena.

A few minutes later, the tavern girl returned with their food and
drink. The four friends ate and chatted quietly about their plans for
the next few days. They were nearly finished when Xena's body tensed
as she glared at the doorway.

"What?" prompted Gabrielle as she sensed Xena's change in mood.

"We've got company," answered Xena without taking her eyes from the
entrance.

Gabrielle and the others turned to find three Roman soldiers heading
for the bar. The bard turned back quickly.

"What do we do now?" asked Americe nervously.

"Nothing," answered Xena, taking a bite of bread.

"Nothing?" repeated Joxer. "But, what if they...?

"They're just here for a drink," said the warrior cutting him off.
"All we have to do is sit back and stay quiet. They'll never even know
we're here." Keeping an eye on the soldiers, Xena continued to eat her
meal. Exchanging wary looks, her friends tried to relax and do the
same.

Before the men had finished ordering their first round of drinks, Xena
had sized them up. The shorter of the three also appeared to be the
youngest, which explained his swaggering stride as he led the way for
the others. It was obvious that the young man held a rather high
opinion of himself. She noticed that he kept touching the hilt of the
well-polished sword, which hung at his side. While he seemed proud of
it, she doubted he had ever pulled the weapon for more than practice
drills.

Beside him stood a mountain of a man whom Xena figured would easily
tower over her by several inches. While the giant flaunted nearly as
many muscles as Hercules, he lacked the demi-god's charming looks. A
brown tunic strained across his broad, muscular shoulders. Though he
appeared to be older than the shorter man, it was clear who was in
charge of making the decisions between the two. 'All brawn and no
brains.' silently scorned the warrior. She had little patience for
idiots who allowed themselves to be lead by fools. Xena held little
doubt the large man could easily snap a smaller opponent in half and
would if ordered to do so. 'Course he'd have to catch them first.'
smiling to herself at the thought. Having watched him stomp across the
tavern floor she felt certain he would be about as graceful as an ox
in a fight.

The last of the three actually seemed to pose the most threat, though
not much of one. Clearly the last man was the oldest of the three.
Streaks of gray shown heavily in his short black hair, while winkles
and a faint scar marked his weary face. Of the three he had actually
paused a moment to look at the crowd before making his way to the bar.
He had the look of a man who had seen battle and wasn't eager to see
it again.

Alone none of the men offered a challenge and Xena was skeptical they
would be much of one as a group. Satisfied the three were no serious
threat, the warrior relaxed a bit to enjoy the rest of her meal.

After a few drinks, the soldiers' laughter became louder. The smallest
of the bunch was quickly becoming the loudest. "Innkeeper!" he howled.
"Another round for me and my friends. We need to celebrate."

Behind the bar a middle-aged man moved quickly to fill their cups,
hoping to keep them happy.

"What are you celebrating?" asked the man forcing a smile.

The two younger men laughed at his question. "Haven't you heard?"
demanded the loud mouth.

"Rome's greatest enemy is dead."

"And who would that be?" asked the innkeeper.

"Why you backwoods fool it is none other than Xena the Warrior
Princess," bellowed the soldier as he turned to raise his cup to the
small crowd.

At the mention of the warrior's name, a tense silence fell over the
crowd and Xena's hand paused inches from her mouth.

"She and her little peace loving friend are probably halfway to Hades
by now," jeered the small soldier.

The warrior and bard exchanged weary looks.

"Xena is dead?" asked the innkeeper as the color quickly drained from
his face.

"She was when we left her hanging from a prison cross," answered the
larger soldier with a sneer.

Xena's eyes narrowed as she stared at the soldiers, trying to place
their faces. Americe reached for her sword but Xena stayed her hand.
"Let it go," she said as the younger woman met her gaze. Reluctantly,
the red head forced herself to relax.

"Yeah, " bellowed the little braggart. "The mighty Xena had to be
dragged to her own execution. You should have heard her little blond
friend scream as I drove a spike through her hand."

Gabrielle paled at the memory. She felt a protective hand wrap around
hers and looked up to find sympathetic blue eyes staring back. She
smiled weakly at the warrior.

Across the table Xena noticed that Joxer's knuckles had turned white
from the death grip on his helmet. She could tell from the set of his
jaw that he was aching for a chance to silence the bragging soldier.
'Hopefully he won't do anything stupid.' thought Xena. Catching his
gaze she held it firmly until he nodded in understanding.

"Hey, old man!" called the loud mouthed soldier. "Look at this." He
took a bag, which had been strapped to his back and quickly pulled
something from it.

Xena's eyes grew deadly cold at the sight of the item.

"Do you know what this is, old man?" asked the soldier, then continued
before the man could answer. "This is the Warrior Princess's sword."
He held it up for all to see. "I took it from her after beating her
down," he lied.

Xena rose slowly from her chair.

"Where are you going?" asked Gabrielle

"To get my sword," growled the warrior.

"Xena," hissed Gabrielle. "Xena come back." But her pleas fell on deaf
ears the warrior was already halfway to the bar.

She stopped behind the loud-mouthed soldier and tapped him on the
shoulder. "Excuse me, but I believe you have something that belongs to
me."

"What?" growled the soldier. Dropping the sword on the bar, he slowly
turned to face her. His anger quickly faded as his eyes swept up and
down the length of the leather-clad woman. As his eyes slowly made
their way to her face he had the odd feeling he'd seen those striking
blue eyes somewhere before. "Well, hello there."

Xena felt her stomach turn at his slimy smile.

"What can I do for you?" asked the soldier.

"You can start by giving me back my sword." answered the warrior.

"Your sword?" scoffed the little braggart. " I suppose next you'll be
telling me you're Xena."

"I am Xena," she replied calmly.

"Yeah, right and I'm Caesar," replied the soldier as he turned back to
the bar.

"Be glad you're not," said Xena. "Because then I'd have to kill you."

"You need a lesson in manners, woman," hissed the young man, reaching
for his sword as he turned back toward her.

With lighting speed, Xena grabbed the front of his tunic and pulled
him into a brutal headbutt. Snatching the soldier's half drawn sword,
she tossed it across the room as he fell in a heap at the base of the
bar. "Maybe. But you're not the one to teach me," she growled.

"Why you insolent wench!" snarled the largest of the men. "You just
bought yourself a ticket to a Roman prison."

"No thanks," answered Xena as her foot lashed out snapping the large
man's knee. "Been there, done that." Screaming in agony, the man fell
onto his back clutching the shattered joint. Dropping onto the man's
chest with one knee, Xena thrust two hardened fingers into the side of
his neck and twisted sharply. With a slight gasp, the large man's
unconscious form sprawled back onto the floor.

Stunned by his companion's sudden demise, the last man stared at them
in disbelief. Watching the woman warrior slowly raise to her feet, the
man turned ghostly white. "By the Gods...it is you." Swallowing hard,
he took a step away from the bar and drew his sword.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," warned a female voice.

"What...?" Spinning to face the voice, the man nearly dropped his
sword. "You...you're dead," he gasped through dry lips.

"Don't believe everything you hear," scoffed Gabrielle, driving the
blunt end of her weapon into the man's solar plexus. As he pitched
forward, she delivered an elbow to the base of his neck. With a faint
groan, the man dropped to the ground unconscious.

"Thanks," said the warrior, grinning. The petite blond smiled in
reply.

Movement near the bar caught Xena's attention. Having pulled himself
to a standing position, the loud mouthed soldier's hand was slowly
edging toward Xena's sword, which still lay on the bar. In one smooth
motion, the warrior drew a dagger from her boot and drove it through
the man's hand pinning it to the bar. Howling in pain, the man
clutched at the injured hand.

"Hurt's like Hades, don't it?" Xena taunted.

"You...you..bitcchhh." hissed the soldier through clenched teeth.

Xena raised an eyebrow in mock surprise. "Does your mother know you
talk like that?"

"I'll cut..your heart...out."

"Not with that hand you won't," teased the warrior. Retrieving the
sword, she leaned against the bar to examine it. "So tell me, how
exactly did you get my sword?"

Sweat began to bead on the soldier's face as he clutched at the wrist
of his impaled hand. "I...I took it...during the fight..."

Without taking a step Xena backhanded the young man, nearly knocking
him across the bar. "Wrong answer," she growled. "Where you even in
the courtyard during the fight?"

Tears welled up in the man's eyes. "No," he whispered softly.

Xena leaned toward him raising a hand to her ear. "What... what was
that? Speak up I didn't hear you."

"No!" cried the soldier. "I wasn't in the courtyard during the fight."

"I thought so," sneered Xena leaning back against the bar. "So how did
you really get it?"

"I...I won it...playing lots," answered the man.

"Lucky you," mocked the warrior. "Where you even at the garrison?"

"Yes," snapped the man. "I arrived just before... the execution."

"Really?" She leaned in close to the soldier. "Now I have one more
question for you and I strongly suggest you answer it right the first
time."

"Wh...what is it?" stammered the soldier.

Xena lowered her voice so only Gabrielle and the solider could hear.
"Did you help nail my friend to that cross?"

The soldier swallowed hard and his eyes darted from Xena to Gabrielle
and back again. Gabrielle noted he was growing paler by the minute and
she wondered if he would faint before answering the question.

"Don't lie," warned Xena. "Because I'll know if you're lying."

Licking his lips the soldier's eyes dropped. "Yes...I helped."

Xena leaned back, the look of pure hate she offered the soldier caused
even Gabrielle to pause for a moment.

"Xena," she called softly, waiting for the warrior to meet her gaze
before continuing. "Let it go."

Chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully, Xena rose to her full height,
still gripping the sword. "Not just yet. You," leveling a finger at
the soldier's nose as she spoke. "--owe my friend an apology."

"What?" asked the stunned soldier.

"Xena..." began Gabrielle.

Xena held up a hand to silence her. "I know it's pretty lame
considering what you've been through, but it's the least he can do.
Don't you agree?" she asked pinning the man with an icy stare.

The man's lips curled back in a sneer. "Roman soldier's don't
apol....argh!"

Xena placed an open hand atop the wobbling dagger handle and applied a
small amount of pressure to elicit a scream of pain from the man.
Momentarily, she eased up on the handle. "You were saying."

Tears streamed down the man's ashen face, swaying unsteadily he tried
to look Gabrielle in the eye but was unable to face her. "I'm..."
Swallowing hard he took a deep breath. "I'm sorry..."

Gabrielle nodded.

"Good," said Xena leaning one arm against the bar she offered the
soldier a smile. The young man felt his blood run cold at the sight.
"Lucky for you my friend is a forgiving person." The smile slipped
away and her voice dropped to a deadly tone. "'Cause I'm not. As much
as I would like to, I'm not going to kill you. Instead, I'm going to
let you live with the memory of this moment. And every time you look
at that hand you'll remember the pain you caused my friend."

He opened his mouth to say something but Xena grabbed the dagger and
quickly pulled it free. Screaming the young man pulled the bleeding
hand to his chest and stumbled back a step. Xena quickly closed the
distance between them, and punched him squarely in the face. The blow
sent the man crashing through a nearby table.

When the man made no effort to rise, Xena started to leave, but
something caught her attention. Without kneeling, she snatched a coin
purse from the loud mouth soldier's belt. Weighing it in her hand she
smiled and tossed it to the innkeeper. "Sorry about the mess." Not
waiting for a reply she turned and headed for the door, with her
friends in close pursuit.

"I thought we were going to keep a low profile," said Gabrielle as she
finally matched the warrior's stride.

"I changed my mind," answered Xena without slowing down. Americe and
Joxer fell in beside them

Gabrielle grinned. "I see you've got your sword back."

"Yep." Xena smiled and held the blade up for inspection. When they
reached Argo, she strapped the weapon to the pommel, then in one
smooth motion pulled herself into the saddle.

"So are you happy now?" asked Gabrielle.

"Very," replied Xena before turning the large horse toward the road.

As the warrior started to ride away, Gabrielle adjusted her coat and
smiled. "Good. As long as you're happy." Still smiling at the
warrior's back, she trotted forward to fall in beside Joxer and
Americe. Light hearted chatter spread among the four friends as they
made their way out of town.

The end
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Onora

Hope you enjoyed the journey.

As always reviews are welcome and greatly appreciated.