She rolled over, her head throbbing and the pain in her side excruciating. A wavy blade stabbed the earth next to her, and she somersaulted away again, rolling to a stop near the archer who had been impaled by the chakram.
"No!" she heard one of them roar, and she dove for the chakram, landing heavily on the archer. Blood gushed from the wound as she pulled the chakram out, and she rolled over on her good side and tossed it; the knife-wielder tried to duck, but the chakram was too fast and it sank into his shoulder. he cried out, a high pitched wail of pain, and fell, trying feebly to pull the heavy disc from his arm as blood started to seep down the limb.
Xena looked up to see a mountain of a man coming at her with a huge sword. She tried to get up, but the pain in her side was too intense; all she could manage was a hunched stance, bent over toward her right side. Her head still ached as if she had been hit by a mace; looking at the big manís hands as he approached, she realized that wasnít too far off the mark. He approached her warily, his sword in a defensive posture.
Xena glanced down-- the archer had carried a sword, and she kicked it out of its sheath. She stooped to pick it up, but he was already on her, one huge fist slamming her again in the head. Xena crumpled to the ground, the breath knocked out of her, and the edge of her vision started to blur. Who the hell is this guy? Hercules?
Before she could move, she felt a biting stab in her side-- the same side she had been kicked in-- and she looked down to see his sword sticking in her. Blue eyes gazed up at him in pain, and fury; Xena twisted suddenly, rolling, ignoring the agony as her body protested the move. He was caught off guard, and she wrenched the sword from his grasp. Standing was out of the question for her; she grasped the blade of the sword and pulled it out, grimacing with the terrible pain. The big man advanced on her, his huge fists balled up and ready to pound her again. Somehow she managed to raise herself into a crouch, glaring up at him.
Alric saw her on the ground-- curled into a ball, nearly defeated, badly wounded. They had done it. They had killed Xena, the warrior princess, and he would be the one, he would be the one who took her life. He raised his fist, drawing it back to land one final blow that would render her unconscious.
She let out a shrill yell, surprising him, and before he could hit her she had leapt up on him, slamming into his chest full force. Xena was wounded, however, and Alric was strong. She had barely moved him, barely made an impact, and he saw her fall to the ground, her icy blue eyes glaring at him in hatred, in anger-- and in satisfaction.
His legs began to wobble, and the awful realization came to him that he couldnít feel them-- or his arms-- and he couldnít breathe. His dark eyes went from triumph to fear, and he gave Xena a pleading look as he sank to his knees.
Xena held one hand to the wound in her side as she stood slowly, stiffly, standing over him. The big man had somehow managed to point to his throat, but Xena nodded her head. "You die slow," she said as she bent over gingerly to retrieve her sword. She moved to the other wounded figures on the ground and gutted them, one by one, to make sure there were no survivors of this attack. Then she returned to the big man, who was on the ground, gasping for air.
His thick fingers clawed at the dirt as his life drained away, and Xena sat down with a grunt and watched him, her lip curled in a sneer as he gasped at the air. One hand, trembling, reached out and touched her knee; dark eyes met hers, the fear of death fully in them. Xena shook her head, her eyes gazing into his; at that moment, he went limp, his head sinking to the earth.
Xena closed her eyes and took a deep breath, the stench of death already on this place. She sat for a while, gathering her strength in the cool morning, until she felt well enough to stand. She gathered up her chakram and her cape and made her way to the horse, who was still hitched to the tree. Slowly, haltingly, she climbed up into the saddle, her side jarring her with stabs of agony as she settled in on the horse. Gently, she nudged the horseís flank, and he started on a slow trot away from the area.
Unnoticed by Xena, the small, lean, hooded figure watched her ride off, dark eyes narrowed, small hands clenched into fists. For a long time the figure stayed there, simmering with rage that the plan had failed. All that time and all that planning-- for nothing. Nothing! Xena is still alive!
The eyes closed as the lean figure threw back the hood, revealing a mane of long, unkempt blonde hair. Brown eyes shot open, the hatred plainly visible within them. "If I want this to get done right," she hissed, "Iím going to have to learn how to do it myself."
She patted the fat money purse at her slim hip and headed off, south, her mind consumed with thoughts of revenge.
* * *
Petricles helped her down off the horse, his brown eyes clearly full of concern.
"Iíll be alright," Xena murmured as he took her in his arms and helped her move toward the tent.
"I donít know what I was thinking," he said softly as he opened the flap and guided her inside. "I should never have let you go alone."
Xena winced as she sat down on the low bed. "You didnít have a choice."
Petricles sat next to her and undid the lacing on her armor. "This is the last time I donít have a choice," he told her in a low voice as he pulled the laces from the leather armor. "Iím never letting you go anywhere alone again." With great care, he removed the blood-caked armor, revealing the dark gash in her side. She had cleaned it in a river, so it was not swollen or discolored; but it still bothered him to see it, and the bruises that marked her elsewhere. "Itís too risky," he said, removing the last pieces of her armor and setting them on the floor. Gently he slid a soft silken blanket around her to keep her warm.
She looked up at him.
"I love you too much to let this happen to you again," he said, his eyes meeting hers.
Xena closed her eyes, the toll of the last few days, the fight, the ride back to camp with her wounds bothering her, all of it piling up on her. She leaned forward, pressing her head against his shoulder, and sighed, relieved at last to be in her own tent, on her own bed, with someone who cared about her.
Tired blue eyes opened again, gazing at him.
"Then marry me," she whispered, kissing him on the forehead, "and make sure your wife is never alone again."
Petricles started to speak, but Xena had already fallen asleep on his shoulder, her nose pressed against the small of his neck.
My wife... he thought, the idea causing his heart to race. You will never be alone again...I swear it...