A fan fiction story by Melpomene based on the characters and backstory of "Xena: Warrior Princess" and composed without permission. No copyright infringement is intended and no monies have been earned.
In the realm of the Xenaverse this piece would fall somewhere early on in the second season, maybe even the third but I can’t quite place episodes with their correct seasons… it’s pre-Dahak, pre-rift, pre-just about everything but after Gabrielle gets her “little stick”. I just got really confused with the whole ‘Dahak--is Gab dead or not--let’s go to India--kill ‘em both--wow, we’ve been asleep for 25 years’ routine.
The title is taken from a line in a favorite poem of my childhood: “The Two Pictures”
The little village was quiet, too quiet, deadly quiet. Despite two days of pushing Argo to her limit, two evenings of racing on until the moonless darkness grew so thick around her that she couldn’t see her hand in front of her eyes much less the trail beneath Argo’s hooves, she had arrived too late.
They were gone, all of them, every able bodied man, woman, and child had been ripped from their homes and rounded up like so much cattle only to be thrust on board a pair of slave ships bound for gods knew where. The ships too were gone, all trace of what must have been a brutal and bloody melee had been washed away by the violent thunderstorm of the previous night.
There was no one left living to tell her what had happened, to recount for her how Eteocles had brought such vicious atrocity down on the peaceful fishing community. The elderly and disabled lay lifelessly in the road, sprawled across thresholds, crumpled against the community fountain in the muddy lane; they had become nothing more than feasts for the thickly swarming flies. Of these aging grandparents, these friends and neighbors, not one had been left untouched; decapitated, mutilated, or simply run through by some unknown mercenary’s sword, they all shared the same end, a better fate undoubtedly than those who had survived the attack.
It had been a very long while since she had witnessed the results of such total disregard for humanity, since she had seen with her own eyes the atrocities one mortal was capable of doing to another. Battlegrounds were always thick with blood and butchery but it was the complete and systematic destruction of a peaceable village that now turned her stomach, as well as the knowledge that her past was not exactly free of such blatant acts of savagery.
A chill ran down her spine as she forced herself to study her surroundings. No one deserved such a tragic fate as these innocents had suffered. Suppressing the emotions that tried to make their way to the fore, she turned to the main road, the lane that would most likely lead her to the wharf, her eyes hard and her mouth firmly set but with the memories of the past few days still dancing through her thoughts to torment her.
She had set out as soon as word of the impending attack had reached her ears. The serving woman at the inn found nothing more than a few dinars and an empty chair when she returned with the requested bowl of hearty lamb stew. Shaking her head over the perplexity, she had collected the payment and scanned the room. In the far dim corner sat Isha, the town vagrant. He had lost his family and farm and all he could lay claim to in the last attack of his nearby village by a raiding warlord and the grief had broken his mind, robbing him of the will to live. She crossed the room and placed the bowl on the table in front of him, adding to the meal a plate of crusty rolls. “It’s paid for Isha, you may as well have it. There’s a room paid up too that looks like it’ll be empty tonight. Might as well sleep in a warm bed rather than out on the street or in the stables.”
And too late, Xena stood with Argo in the center of what looked to have been the market place. The heavy rains had left nothing but thick clumps of clinging mud and dark puddles in its wake. There wasn’t a single clue left as to how Eteocles had carried out the assault. Resting heavily on her conscious now, because she had convinced Gabrielle to go on ahead of her so that she’d be safe from harm, was the fact that she’d sent her best friend directly into harm’s way to be abducted and sold into slavery. Looking at the scene that surrounded her as she waded through the putrid morass, she was suddenly assaulted by the memory of another life shown her at a far distant temple; a life where Lyceus was alive and well and Gabrielle’s sweet personality was utterly destroyed by the brutality of slavery.
Remembering too the last she had seen her companion she recalled how surprised she had been by the ease with which the young bard had given into her demands. She hadn’t argued or complained, just smiled and made Xena promise to hurry and be careful. Gabrielle had practically skipped along the road, humming softly and horribly off key. Xena had continued to watch her progress, just to make sure she didn’t try to get any crazy ideas into her head about hiding in the woods and following her, until she disappeared from sight around a curve in the road and was hidden from view by the trees and underbrush. Satisfied the little minx was going to be true to her word for once, Xena turned back along the road toward Thrace and the king who had requested her help with a ‘paltry warlord inconvenience’.
She never made it to Thrace. Having traveled to within a half-day’s ride of the city she stopped for the night at an inn and secured a room. Gabrielle was rubbing off on her, she decided humorously. Good food she didn’t have to catch and prepare herself and the idea of a warm bed wouldn’t have been such a temptation before she’d gained the talkative storyteller as a traveling companion. While she sat at a deeply scarred table in the inn’s common room, trying to bring as little attention to herself as possible, she’d heard a group of soldiers deep in discussion nearby.
“Eteocles has been scouring the whole shore, there’s hardly a village or town that hasn’t fallen to his slavers.” A grizzled man spoke. He wiped blearily at his cider-dowsed chin with a meaty hand.
“They say he has Ares’ support, it’s no wonder he’s become so invincible. Even King Laius has pulled his forces back. I heard some of the men saying that as long as he leaves the interior of the kingdom alone, the king will let Eteocles have that little fishing village he’s set his sights set on as well as any of the other little seaside settlements. What’s the name of that place? Salaman… Satyram… Stami…”
“Salamis.” Xena startled the men when she spoke. She stunned them even more when they turned around on their stools to find the once highly feared warrior standing directly behind them.
Trying desperately to remember that she had given up her own days as a warlord and was supposedly working to rid Greece of the warlords that now terrorized it, the men attempted to quiet their ragged breathing and pounding pulses. “Yes, you’re right. Salamis.” The second soldier stammered. She had left the inn before he had even finished agreeing with her.
There was still a little bit of light left in the sky by the time she hurriedly led Argo from the stable. Mounting the palomino, she gave the horse her head and plunged headlong into the deepening forest murmuring, “Hang on, Gabrielle, I’m on my way.”
The hulking ship tossed to and fro in the frothy, roiling sea, heaving its living cargo mercilessly in the dank hold. In a dark corner of the cavernous space, clinging to a heavy coil of thick rope, Gabrielle sat hunched and silent. For the first time in months, she was glad to have an empty stomach. She had been so violently seasick that although dry heaves still wracked her body and left her breathless and weak, she’d ceased to bring up even bile. She knew her skin must be an interesting shade of green given the feelings in her stomach and was grateful the lack of sufficient light. Her first bout with the seasickness had guaranteed her solitude and the rest of the villagers had kept as far from her as they were able in their crowded confine.
The sounds of terror and suffering that reverberated off the hold’s walls filled her ears until she thought she would scream from the sheer inability to cope with it all. The slaver’s attack on the little village had come late on a moonless night long after everyone had taken to their beds; the townsfolk had stood no chance against the men and could do little more than cry out in desperation as those they loved were either cruelly struck down or shackled to be taken on board the ships. Even Gabrielle’s skill with her staff had proved ineffectual; she had been too greatly outnumbered but had refused to allow herself to be taken captive without a fight.
Trying not to give into abject despair but failing miserably, Gabrielle worked to wrap one end of the rope more tightly around her arm in an attempt to make her rocking body more secure. She crouched even further down into the rope, tucking her body into a ball, her legs drawn up to her chin, and felt the terrified tears that had threatened to fall ever since her failed escape attempt stream down her raw cheeks unchecked. She was too weak and too disheartened to share with her fellow hostages her distant hope that they would be freed from their desperate predicament. On some level within herself, a level that wasn’t wracked with pain and misery, she knew that Xena wouldn’t give up looking for her once she discovered what had happened. She just prayed to whatever gods were listening that she would find her before it was too late.
Her attempt to flee her captors’ imprisonment was almost laughable in its futility and her face, back, and abdomen bore the confirmation of their displeasure. Knowing that the consequence might be her own death had not stayed her effort to escape and find help. Cold, sick, and despondent, she still lived but perhaps that was not necessarily a good thing knowing the fate her subjugators were determined to force on her.
Trying not to think about a possible future spent as a slave, Gabrielle shut her eyes and prayed for a miracle.
It had taken half a day for Xena to reach Colchis and board a ship bound for the Persian island of Zelphyron. Word had spread rapidly in the bustling port city that Eteocles’ slave auction was taking place on the distant island and the response was so great that ships leaving port had hardly enough room for their crews to work, they held so many eager passengers. The paltry detail that there was no available room on any of the vessels failed to halt Xena’s journey; she smiled sadly at the thought that Gabrielle would have been pleased, not only at the restraint she maintained with the grubby stalwart ticket seller, but also with the fact that rather than cause bodily harm to someone who had managed to obtain passage she won the fare from him in an almost fair hand of cards.
Standing at the deck railing, she watched the Greek shoreline withdraw from view. She had been trying to work on a plan to extract Gabrielle from the slavers but found it somewhat difficult even with the information she’d received. Unwilling to even admit that her friend might not still be alive, she resolutely focused her thoughts to what she’d been able to find out about Eteocles and his past slave auctions during her two days on board the vessel.
Any consideration that she might have held about buying Gabrielle outright, even as a last resort, was abandoned upon questioning one of Eteocles’ returning customers. She and Gabrielle had few enough dinars to begin with and the man spoke of prices that could buy a king’s ransom. She would never be able to raise enough coins before the ship reached Zelphyron. No, she would have to find some other way.
The man had also described how the slaves were sequestered during the auction. Eteocles had a succession of small cages that were kept behind the stage of the auction house. He thought there might be as many as fifty cages but couldn’t be sure about the count due to his soaring level of inebriation the night he had gone to collect his purchase. Each cage was carried to the stage for the bidding and the slaves weren’t released from their prisons until payment had been made. Eteocles was very rigid about not letting his human stock loose, thereby threatening his money pouch by possibly escaping and depriving him of the price they would have brought.
The mere thought of Gabrielle in a cage made her blood boil. With any luck at all, she would be able to slip in and out without rousing too much attention, but she was determined to get her friend out no matter how many people were aware of her presence. Gabrielle would not be sold into slavery. She couldn’t make the same promise about the rest of the captive village. Already hopelessly outnumbered, she was just hoping the two of them would make it to safety.
The ship’s captain expected them to reach Zelphyron by noon that day, leaving plenty of time to make the auction that was scheduled for the following morning. Xena was a little uncomfortable with the hasty timetable since it gave her less than a full day to free her traveling companion. It would have to be long enough she surmised.
Retreating from the boisterous crowd of passengers, she found a quiet, lonely spot among the crates in the cargo hold. She had listened to all she could manage of the anxious passengers’ plans for their anticipated purchases without running some of the obnoxious people through then and there. Apparently Eteocles was advertising a better group than he had ever before had the chance to sell, and one particular item that was the prize of the lot: a feisty little blond who would be ‘a joy to break’.
Trying to keep her anger in check, Xena at least now knew that Gabrielle had survived the attack. If her friend could just manage to stay alive long enough for her to find her, she’d certainly owe a favor to someone on Mount Olympus.
The rocking of the ship lessened and Gabrielle wondered if they had at last reached their destination, wherever that might be. By the pounding of footsteps above their heads, she supposed they had. A collective groan swept through the hold as the deck-side trap was raised, allowing bright sunlight to flood through, blinding the eyes of the villagers who hadn’t seen daylight in at least two very long days. Time was a lost concept in the dark hold and Gabrielle couldn’t be sure how long their voyage had taken, knowing only that it had been much too long.
Men poured in through the door, snatching up the shackled hands of their captives and attaching them to a long length of chain so that they could be paraded through the market on their way to the auction house. The absence of food or water during the voyage had made the villagers weak and submissive, no match for their well-fed antagonists. They had timed their arrival so that the ship docked at the port the afternoon before the sale. Time enough to settle the goods into their cages and spend a few hours in the local brothel before having to return the next morning for the auction.
Even in her weakened condition Gabrielle tried to fight off the hands of the man who loomed over her. She proved to be no match for him and was hoisted to her feet. If it hadn’t been for the heavy metal collar he set around her neck and held her by, her shaking legs would have given way and sent her sprawling to the floor.
“Come now, pet, don’t tell me you’ve given up too,” he taunted as he forced her up the steps and through the door. “Eteocles will be most displeased, and you don’t want to displease him. You’re being advertised as the cream of the crop, so to speak.”
The combination of the bright sunlight and lack of food caused Gabrielle’s head to pound and she found that she didn’t care if she was displeasing to anyone, much less the man who intended to sell her into slavery. She tried to make her legs cooperate as she was shoved down the gangplank but the attempt almost sent her toppling over the edge and into the deep waters of the port. She couldn’t dredge up much emotion about that even, except the fleeting thought that the waters looked cool, soft, and inviting.
Xena stood among the crowd that had gathered along the market road. She had heard that Eteocles liked to display his goods before the sale and she hoped to catch a glimpse of Gabrielle. It wasn’t long before she did just that.
Being drug along by the manacle that enclosed her neck, Gabrielle led the procession of soon to be slaves. Her eyes were lowered and her hands were bound behind her back. It seemed to Xena that the act of staying upright was taking all of her concentration. Tamping down her rising anger, she followed the procession in hopes of being seen by her friend should she raise her head. She was surprised to see the slight tug of war that went on between Gabrielle and the man who held her chains. Even in her condition, the young woman was refusing to go down without a fight.
Gabrielle never raised her head except to throw a single glare at the man who held her prisoner. Xena was saddened and angered by her friend’s condition.