Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto and Joxer belong to Renaissance Pictures and King Features. All other characters belong to the author. No copyright infringement is intended and this story may not be sold.
This story contains bad language, explicit descriptions of male/female sexual relations, bdsm, potentially non-consensual sex and graphic violence. NC-17.
The action of this story takes place within my big obsessive Kimberly/Jilly storyline that began with History Lesson. It would follow Dropout and Jilly and precede Family Affair. I don't think it's absolutely necessary to know them, but if it's confusing, that's why.
You can find more work by Joseph at Joe Anderson's Creative Stuff
Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Joseph Anderson
I looked at the scroll in my hand and up at the big man....no the huge man standing in front of me with a long drooping red moustache and two long braids hanging down. His arms were crossed over the ornate breastplate he wore.
"I have a message to deliver to Captain Jilly." I tried to sound sure of myself. Just saying that had gotten me this far.
"From who?" He had a far northern accent. They told me there was a big Celt I might meet.
"I can't say," I said though my knees felt weak. I was told to say that.
He studied me with these cold gray eyes and then said gruffly, "Jilly."
From the tent behind him out stepped this blonde girl in black leather that barely covered her. She walked up to me and held her hand out. I put the scroll in it and she broke the seal and opened it up.
"Who is it this time?" the big man asked.
"Ascalanus." The girl smiled a little. She looked at me. She had these beautiful brown eyes. "It's dangerous sending messages to warlords. And it's even more dangerous sending messages to the lieutenants of warlords."
My face started getting red but I didn't say anything. The girl said, "The Sword of Ares might kill you and send you back to Ascalanus just on principle. Or she might think I want this. I ought to take her your head to prove my loyalty.'
"I'm just a messenger."
She smiled. "I know. And that's what you'd be. My message to Kimberly that I'm loyal." She looked up at the Celt. "What do ya think, Weldon?"
I wet my lips and tried not to shake. Then the girl smiled at me and so did the big man. The girl said, "Most warlords are like that but Kimberly's not. She'll want to see you though. Come on."
They led me through the camp, that so-called invincible army all around us. There was a large tent the girl went inside while me and the big foreigner waited. Then Jilly called "Come on in." I didn't move at first and Weldon gave me a shove and followed me inside.
Oil lamps lighted the tent and there was a rich rug on the ground and weapons on display. The blonde girl was standing beside a woman sitting at a table with a map in front of her. She also wore leather though it didn't show as much skin.
"Xena!" I'd seen statues.
The woman looked disgusted. "No."
I fell to my knees. Jilly giggled a little and looked at the warlord.
"Get up. I'm not gonna kill you." The woman's voice was reassuring and exasperated at the same time. She poured a bowl of wine from a small vase and drank it down and poured another. Jilly frowned and just handed her the scroll. The woman read it over and glanced up at Jilly. "Pretty fucking obvious."
"It's not the most subtle thing I've ever seen," Jilly agreed.
The warlord looked at me. "And you. What are you? Eighteen? Nineteen?"
"Twenty," I said.
"Oh, twenty. That makes all the difference. You've had a full life." She drank down that second bowl of wine. "This is nothing but a stupid attempt to turn me against Jilly or, more likely, underestimate Ascalanus. Now, where do you think your life fits in all this?"
My face got red but I didn't answer.
"What's your name?"
"How'd you join him?"
I answered as clear as I could, "I was out in the fields. An army was passing and I ran after them."
"A farm boy," Jilly said.
"When was that?" the warlord asked.
"A week ago," I answered.
"What a motherfucker," Kimberly said. She looked at the big man behind me and raised her eyebrows.
The Celt said, "He'll use him again."
"Send him home," Jilly said and shrugged.
Kimberly said, "Ascalanus hangs deserters."
"So what?" Jilly sounded perplexed.
The warlord got up. The Celt walked over and she took his hand. She looked irritated. "I'm not a goddamn social worker."
The girl's gorgeous brown eyes were wide. "Don't worry about it, Kimberly. Let me handle it."
The warlord looked at her. "How?"
"I'll send Ascalanus his head."
My legs got wobbly. The big woman grimaced and looked at me. She put a hand on my shoulder. "I don't think so, Jilly." She said to me, "You're in my army now, Imbrios. Lemme guess; you've never even been in a fight with weapons."
"I've killed ten men!" I was scared she'd change her mind and let the girl cut my head off.
She groaned, "Oh God. Jilly, teach him how to fight at least a little."
Jilly looked stunned. "Me? Just have one of the men do it."
"It'll be good for you. Joxer can help."
The girl's eyes weren't so pretty now. They had this funny look and she bared her teeth a little. Kimberly looked at her mildly and the girl looked away. "Okay, Kimberly." The woman nodded.
So that's how Jilly became my teacher.
Jilly hated being stuck with me. What could she do though? That's funny sounding isn't it? What could Jilly do? Kill the Sword of Ares and take the army. But she didn't want to kill Kimberly. And if she didn't want to kill the warlord she was stuck with me.
Anyway, it started right away. Weldon and Kimberly were trading looks while I was still there. The Sword of Ares glanced at Jilly. "Why don't you take Imbrios and start now, Jilly." She looked back at Weldon and got this little smile.
"But...." Jilly started to say then stopped as she saw Kimberly playfully grab hold of the Celt's braids and the big man chuckled. Jilly's face got red and she yanked me out of there. "Don't get any ideas of heading back to Ascalanus. I'll track you down, understand?"
"You're better off. Ascalanus would've sent you to somebody else who probably wouldn't be as soft hearted as Kimberly. Ascalanus is nothing compared to the Sword of Ares. You're useless but Kimberly wants to protect your worthless hide. So that's that." She hated being stuck with me. Jilly growled. "Let's find Joxer."
I didn't say anything. But she said, "What? You think since Kimberly told me to train you that means I have to spend every minute with you? Think again!"
"Whatever you say," I said nervously. She nodded and started walking and I followed her. She was looking for Joxer, asking where he was. No one seemed scared of her. Well...they were a little, but nobody was quaking in their sandals or anything. She had this way about her that kept you on your toes though.
Anyway, we finally found Joxer. He was a skinny guy with a long nose over by the cooking tent. He wore a big apron and was stirring a pot but was wearing this stupid helmet too. As Jilly and me came walking up, Joxer smiled and set his hand on the hot pot.
Jilly sighed and looked at his hand, and then found something to put on it. She didn't think he was too smart, that was for sure. But you could see she liked him. He was a big dumb friendly dog to her. I hate to say that but, well, I think that's how she thought of him.
Jilly talked a little to Joxer. Then he waved a slave over to keep stirring the pot and we went to find an open space.
Jilly said, "Lemme see your sword." I handed it to her. She was surprised. "This is a decent weapon. Where'd you get it?"
"A sergeant gave it to me."
"What else did he say?"
"Well, he tried to send me away. But an officer said I was just what Ascalanus was looking for. The sergeant gave me the sword and said he hoped he got a chance to teach me to use it."
The blonde girl tossed the sword up spinning and caught it. "A weakling."
Joxer said, "He sounds like nice guy!"
Jilly rolled her eyes and handed the sword back to me. "Okay, Imbrios, try to hit me."
I hesitated and she said, "Do it!" So I swung at her and missed and swung and missed. She sneered, "Try harder." So I did and still missed and she snorted. That got me mad and I swung again and then dropped down and tried bringing it back real fast at her legs. She danced out of my way. "Okay," she said. She looked at Joxer and said, "Take him by the paymaster and put him in a tent." Then she walked off. I tried not to look at her round behind in that tight leather. I could think of safer things to do with my eyes. Joxer smirked at me. Then he put his arm around my shoulder.
"You did fantastic!"
"I never got near her."
Joxer shook his head grinning. "You weren't a joke to her."
Joxer said like I was an idiot, "So she's only the greatest swordsman in the world! Hello!"
Jilly had the prettiest smile I've ever seen but it could change fast into something scary and her eyes were the same. That's one of the ways she kills: she's nice as you please and then...WHAM! Lord Bigdick is all of a sudden missing his head. I saw it myself once. This warrior joined the army but he was really an assassin here to murder Kimberly. It all came out later. I just happened to be looking at Jilly....well, I was looking at her chest. They were talking, he said something wrong, I saw her eyes get wide and that smile, and...WHAM! But she looked exactly the same with me plenty of times and I'm still here.
Jilly didn't kill people for no reason. A lot of the stories about Jilly are nonsense. I think it's because of Callisto. I guess she really did kill people for no reason and everybody said Jilly looked like her and had even ridden with her. Other people said Jilly was Callisto...that a god made Callisto young and she took a new name. So they would tell Callisto stories but make it about Jilly instead. That's what I think.
She was younger than me. I didn't mention that before. She couldn't have been more than seventeen summers. Everybody knew she'd have her own army someday, probably the Sword of Ares' army. No one understood why one or the other wasn't dead yet. Some people said Jilly was really the warlord's daughter and that was why. I never asked either Kimberly or Jilly. I was dumb, but not that dumb.
It was a few weeks after I'd joined them and Jilly was showing me how to use a spear. I was actually pretty good at that since I'd done boar hunting. Spear fighting was different but close. Jilly didn't seem as disgusted as she was about my swordsmanship. Joxer said not to worry about it and I was fine. Anyway, like I said I was with her and we saw eight or nine horses coming toward us. The Sword of Ares and Ascalanus and both had men with them.
Ascalanus looked at me and over at Kimberly. "I thought you killed him."
Kimberly was wearing her famous helmet with the chain mail veil. "He's mine now, Ascalanus." Her voice had this low hiss like she hated his guts. I couldn't believe it! Over me!
"Keep him. I don't care. I thought you wanted to talk." Ascalanus looked like I musta looked when Jilly planned to cut my head off!
"Glad you see it my way. That's what I wanted to talk about. Don't use farm boys like that, Ascalanus. I hear about you doing it again and I'm gonna shove my sword up your ass till it comes out your mouth. You understand me?"
The thing is, Ascalanus had men with him. They were looking at him to see what'd he do. Not caring about me was one thing. If he didn't fight her now he'd be lucky to only run the gauntlet.
Jilly said in this singsong voice. "I'd watch my back if I were you." She wasn't talking to Ascalanus but to his men. They knew what she meant.
Ascalanus growled at Kimberly, "I won't forget this." He turned his horse around and rode off in a different direction than they'd come.
His men watched with these chilly eyes then they walked their horses off and talked a little. The Sword of Ares was waiting like she expected it.
One that had this nasty scar on his face said, "We want you to be our warlord."
So her army doubled in size just like that. Ascalanus got murdered in Crete. He was trying to raise a new army but they'd heard about what happened. I wish I'd killed him and said so. Jilly grinned and punched me in the arm but the warlord looked sad and just drank a bowl of wine. I didn't understand her. Like, after Ascalanus rode off she said I could go home. But I didn't want to go home. Jilly piped in and said I would be gutting people in no time. I couldn't believe it! Kimberly looked sad then too. Then something happened and I understood Kimberly better. I'll get to that in a moment. I tried to find the sergeant who had given me the sword but they said he was dead. He tried to spare some villagers and Ascalanus killed him as a weakling.
Maybe you don't believe me about talking to the Sword of Ares. I was just a common soldier and she was a great warlord. It was because of Jilly. See, she was training me and it was handier for her if I was close by. When she wasn't teaching me to fight she used me as a messenger and for errands. I wasn't a servant though. I didn't give her baths or anything....I WISH! Kimberly and Weldon started to use me as a messenger too. I saw the Sword of Ares a couple times a day at least.
After six weeks Jilly said I was as good or better than most of the men but did I want her to REALLY train me? What was I supposed to say? No? And after she cut my head off, then what? So I said, "Yes please, Captain Jilly." She got that crazy smile and her pretty brown eyes went blank. In a voice that didn't even sound like her she said, "No one will be able to hurt you ever again. There'll be plenty of food." Her face was twitchy, and then she looked around like she didn't know where she was. She actually seemed embarrassed but just said, "We'll start tomorrow," and left.
They'd send me to other warlords and to towns and cities. It wasn't like with Ascalanus. No one was going to harm an envoy from the Sword of Ares. I didn't just deliver scrolls. They'd give me verbal messages too and I was supposed to watch how so and so reacted and use my judgment and say this or that. I must have been good at it because it was important stuff.
It was three months since I had joined the Sword of Ares' army and I'd seen some real fighting by this time. Joxer was gone visiting a harlot he loved named Meg. It was a joke to the entire army, most of whom had screwed her. There were two valuable shipments coming in, one of Arabian horses, the other of weapons and armor from Chin. I heard the two lieutenants deciding which would stay behind with Kimberly and whom they could find to go and so on. The warlord also heard and said "Don't you think I can be left alone? Who's friggin army is this?" So that was that. But Weldon looked at me before they left and said in that heavy accent, "Be a good lad and take care of her."
Boy, I didn't know what to make of that. But I said I would and he nodded at me and climbed on that big gelding he rode. Jilly patted my shoulder too and glanced at Kimberly before they rode out.
Anyway, I remembered what Weldon said so that night I stopped outside the warlord's tent. "Do you need anything, your ladyship?"
"Yeah, come on in."
So I did and Kimberly was sitting there and she was drunk. I mean really drunk. She smiled at me and fell out of her chair. I ran over to her and picked her back up and then ran to the tent flap and tied it shut. Sweet Athena! If any of her enemies saw her like that or any of her other captains....Zeus!
"Nothing, your ladyship! Maybe you should go to bed now. Get a good night's sleep."
She looked at me with these bleary eyes and kinda grinned at me. "Bedtime....Good idea!" Then she grabbed my face and kissed me with this big sloppy kiss! Sweet Athena! She stood up and started to take her leathers off. She had her top halfway down when she lost her balance and would've fallen but I caught her. She smiled at me. "You're nice, you know that, Imbrios? Not a bad looker either. What you got, huh?" She just reached in my trousers! I pulled her hand out and she looked at me with this pouty expression.
"Your ladyship! No! What about Weldon?" I was speaking firmly to her. Gods. I was talking like that to the Sword of Ares!
"While the cat's away..." she said and just grabbed my butt and pulled me against her. We lost our balance and fell on the floor. I managed to stand back up.
"No! Bad warlord! Bad!"
Her face fell and her lower lip began quivering. "Don't you think I'm pretty? I thought you liked me."
"Like you? I worship you. You saved my life. You're the greatest warlord in Greece! Gods, you're the Sword of Ares!"
She smiled in this lopsided way. "I am pretty friggin great, aren't I? I bet I could outgeneral Xena. I bet I could take her mano a mano, too. I'm not as good as Jilly but I'm still pretty fucking goddamn great!"
"I know you're great. That's what you're called. Great Kimberly, the Sword of Ares."
"I am? I didn't think anybody even knew my real name."
"Everyone knows you, Kimberly. All of Greece admires you."
She seemed to calm down and patted the place next to her on the rug so I sat down there. She looked over at me. "Sorry. Shouldna jumped ya thaway. You a sweekid." She put her arm around me but it was just friendly this time. She looked down at herself. Her breasts were hanging out of her leathers. "Oops." But she didn't try to cover up. Instead she smiled at me and her head dropped on my shoulder and she was asleep. Sweet Athena!
I pulled her over to her bed and looked at her trying to decide what to do. "Undress me." She opened one blue eye and started laughing, spraying me with spit.
"I don't think I should, your ladyship."
"If you undress me I'll be good and go to sleep."
"Do you promise?"
She made her eyes big and touched her pursed lips with a finger and nodded. So I took her boots off, and her arm bracers. The armored shoulder and chest pieces were tangled but I finally got 'em off and I undid the rest of the ties on her leathers and peeled them off her. She had silk underpants on. She looked at me and wiggled her hips. I shook my head. Her face got teary. "I save you from that bastard Ascalanus and you won't do one little thing for me!" So I sighed and knelt down and pulled her underpants off. She said, "THANKS!" grabbed my ears and pulled my face between her legs!
"mmupphH....No!" I scrambled away and pulled some hair out of my mouth. "You said you'd be good!"
"And you believed me? I'm a warlord. Jeez Louise!" Then she rolled onto her bed and pulled the covers over herself.
I stood there watching her. I didn't trust her. But she started snoring and then I believed she really was asleep. I thought of how bad it would be if any of her enemies saw her like this. There could be spies in the camp. So I just found a fur and lay down by the tent opening. I figured anybody sneaking in would trip over me and that would warn Kimberly.
I opened my eyes. Kimberly was standing over me dressed in a rich brocaded robe. It was morning. Her eyes looked bloodshot.
"Hello, your ladyship."
She made a sour face. "Yeah, a real lady, that's me. My grandmother would be rolling in her grave except she won't be born for 2900 years."
She reached a hand down and helped me up. She looked at me and where I was sleeping, putting it together in her head. "You really are a sweet kid. What do you want to be a warrior for? You oughta have a farm, a nice little wife and a buncha kids. Hell, Imbrios, you could have that easy. I'd kill for that but you're throwing it away."
"Have you ever lived on a farm?"
I shrugged. She laughed. "Yeah. Easy for me to extol the simple life when I'm not the one shoveling manure." She looked in my eyes. "Did I do anything stupid last night?"
"You fell asleep. That's all."
She studied me and reached a hand out and picked something off my face. I saw a curly short dark hair. Her face got a little red but she only said, "Come on. Let's get some tea."
Nothing like that happened again while Joxer, Weldon and Jilly were away. The warlord kept me close by for any messages she might need to send. She just liked having me around. Kimberly heard about a famous lyre player. She sent men to bring him so he could perform for her but she let me stay too. He was scared but she put him at ease and afterwards gave him a golden tripod. I thought his eyes would pop out of his head. Princes gave tripods to one another. The warlord was still drinking all the time but it didn't seem to affect her much. I found myself frowning like Jilly whenever she'd drink a bowl down fast and pour another.
When Weldon and Jilly returned the Sword of Ares gave me this really fine Arabian horse and an inlaid saddle from Chin. She gave me a breastplate, greaves and a helmet too. I already had a good sword. When Jilly saw me on the horse and wearing the armor she whistled admiringly and said, "What did you have to do for that?" Weldon was with her. He didn't say anything but just looked at me with those cold gray eyes of his for a moment. He left and I watched him, feeling nervous.
Jilly was looking after him too and then back up at me on the horse. She said, "Weldon's nobody you wanna piss off. What I've been showing you doesn't change that."
"I didn't do anything!"
"You did something for that stuff."
"I kept her company like you and Weldon wanted me too!"
"Uh huh. Well there's company and there's company. Hope it was worth it. Weldon can be one mean mother. Hate to think I wasted all that time on you." She smiled at me and patted my leg, then walked off with a bouncy step. I thought of Weldon and his broadsword. I saw him cut a charging horse in half once. Sweet Athena!
"I didn't do anything!" I called after Jilly. She turned and smiled at me and held her hands out in a not-my-problem gesture.
When Joxer finally returned he brought his whore with him. I'd heard she looked like Kimberly. That meant she also looked like Xena. There were a couple of high born women who looked like that as well, a princess and a Hestian high priestess A man was making jokes and I asked him about her. Joxer's harlot had costumes for all of them. She also had a cheap copy of the Sword of Ares' helmet. The warlord came walking up at just that moment wearing it.
"Don't you have something you should be doing?"
The man turned white and he excused himself.
Kimberly watched him hurry away and then laughed and said, "Meg told me a lotta my men like her to wear the helmet when they're giving it to her. Beats having 'em wanna kill me, I guess." She took it off and shook her long black hair out. "I'm gonna tell you something I shouldn't. Xena and Princess Diana have both pretended to be Meg. I've thought of it myself. Just go and screw my brains out with nobody the wiser. If Weldon ever got wind of it though....you saw him cut that horse in half, right? I'd have to kill him probably."
Why was she telling me this? I didn't want to know these things. Kimberly saw my face and blushed. "There's just something about you. Sorry, Imbrios." She patted my arm and kissed my cheek and walked off putting her helmet back on. When I turned around I saw Weldon had been watching us. Sweet Athena!
Anyway, that evening Joxer came to my tent and he had the harlot with him. "This is Meg," he said smiling.
Meg grinned at me and said, "You must have to beat 'em off with a stick." Then she playfully grabbed at my crotch and I stepped back. She and Joxer both laughed. I'd been feeling bad for Joxer, thinking he didn't know what Meg was. But he knew exactly what she was.
Joxer said, "I hear Kimberly likes you a lot. That's good to know. Me and Meg are getting married and I'm settling down." He saw my face and said, "Something happened didn't it? You saw how she gets." I nodded and Joxer looked at Meg. She scowled at him. He said, "Well, I can't stay with her. I have to live my own life. I want a family and I can't have that watching her terrorize the countryside."
"She doesn't terrorize the countryside," I said.
"Yeah, I know; just other warlords. She needs somebody to remind her that's all she does." His harlot reached over and wapped him in the side of his head. "Oww! I know, I know, Meg. I'll tell her I'm leaving." He looked at me. "Maybe you can do it. Don't let her forget she's not just another warlord."
I nodded. But really I didn't understand what he meant. Anyway, I didn't give her advice. Joxer helped with her drinking but I hoped she did stop being so soft. Kimberly passed up lots of good opportunities. But I didn't say that and Joxer looked relieved and patted my shoulder.
Meg said, "See, Jox. It'll be okay."
"I sure hope so. You've never seen her go off on somebody."
"Don't worry so much," she said. "Imbrios will keep her from going over the edge. Won't you?" Meg looked at me. I nodded to keep 'em happy. I didn't know what they were talking about.
The Sword of Ares only hunted other warlords, but that didn't mean she was popular. Most cities and villages didn't believe it; or they couldn't risk it anyway. Xena's treachery was legendary. There were also rivalries between cities where helping one made an enemy of another. Relatives of men she killed wanted vengeance too and that wasn't always in the open. She never knew if some king might have an advisor who was her mortal enemy. Naturally, warlords wanted to kill her for their own protection. Assassins were a fact of life for Kimberly.
Soon after Joxer and his harlot arrived we got word about a town under siege by a bandit. His name was Simoeisios and Jilly and Weldon didn't think he was worth bothering with. Kimberly found out he had a reputation for cruelty though. I was there as she questioned a woman whose husband was whipped to death. Joxer was nervous. Weldon and Jilly caught each other's eyes.
I was sent as a scout. Simoeisios was vicious when it came to farmers and villagers all right. The town was ringed in but they had a simple wall and some old soldiers and even that was too much for Simoeisios so far. Kimberly told me to use my judgment so I rode into Simoeisios's camp. The men looked enviously at my horse and nervously at my armor.
"Take me to Simoeisios. I'm from the Sword of Ares."
That got attention and it wasn't long before I was looking down at the great man himself. Simoeisios came out of his tent in rich robes that were dirty and stained. He squinted up at me.
"Sword of Ares, huh? There's not enough to share."
He was so ignorant he didn't know to be frightened. "Great Kimberly, the Sword of Ares and Light of Mycenae sends you greetings."
"Kimberly? The Sword of Ares is a bitch?"
"Shall I take that message back to her? That she's a bitch and there's not enough to share?"
"No, no, don't say that! I didn't mean that. Maybe we can make a deal."
"The Sword of Ares is always anxious to meet other warlords. Are you a warlord?"
Simoeisios looked around at his men and puffed up. "Damned right I am! Yeah, tell her that. Tell her exactly that! I'm a warlord and I expect to be treated that way!"
I saw a crying young woman come stumbling out of the tent behind him. She was naked and holding a torn rough dress in front of herself. Simoeisios and his men laughed. He looked back at me. "Want a go at her?"
"I'll deliver your message." I turned and cantered my horse away. There were some farmers being flogged. Maybe they tried to hide their wives and daughters.
Kimberly was very interested in everything I had to say. "You got him to say he wants to be treated like a warlord, huh? Remind me not to piss you off."
"Me, your ladyship?" I said innocently.
Someone must have finally told him that the Sword of Ares hunted warlords because Simoeisios sent his "army" out to fight us. He tried to escape himself, disguised as a peddler. His men didn't want to fight the Sword of Ares any more than he did and scattered as soon as we appeared. They ran into pincer columns of Weldon's infantry who had orders not to take prisoners. These men were known for rape, torture and murder. Kimberly had strong feelings about all three. We didn't lose a single man. We outnumbered them four to one but it wouldn't have mattered if it was reversed.
Kimberly wanted Simoeisios alive. Jilly and one of her horsemen came riding up with the great warlord hanging between their saddles and begging like a slave. Joxer opened his mouth but Kimberly snapped, "Go keep Meg company." Kimberly told Jilly to get him ready and left.
I held Simoeisios's hands as Jilly cut the thongs that tied him to the saddles. "Let me help." It was hard to talk over the begging, which got even louder when he recognized me, so Jilly kneed him in the groin and put a gag in his mouth.
"No, Imbrios. Keep up the innocent act."
"I'm not putting on an act." Simoeisios tried to get up so I kicked him and he collapsed again. Jilly beckoned some men over and they started stripping him.
"Well, it's time you started then. Go find Joxer and Meg and think about it."
Simoeisios had a big emerald ring she took and tossed to the rider who brought him in with her. As I left I saw her take his penis and say, "Do you like that?" She rubbed him, making Simoeisios hard. Jilly was so funny sometimes!
Joxer and his whore were on the other side of the camp. As I came walking up the screams began. Kimberly had taken the gag out.
Meg turned pale and so did Joxer. I liked them but they didn't belong here if a few screams did this to 'em.
Meg took my hand. "If you get nightmares talk about it. That helps a lot, don't it, Jox?"
He came over. There was another scream and he winced. He put his arm around Meg. "Yeah, don't keep it inside or it'll eat at you."
I understood what Jilly wanted. "If it gives me nightmares I'll tell you."
We took everything Simoeisios had, which was nothing by Kimberly's standards. The army wasn't happy but the Sword of Ares said she'd make it up to them. I was sent to the town to reassure them but also let them know the Sword of Ares expected some gratitude for her and her men. They got the message and sent wagons of wine and food out for a feast. They also sent every whore in town. Meg looked like she felt left out but I saw Joxer give her a look. Even Joxer had limits.
The town sent Kimberly fine olive oil and figs in vases decorated with pictures celebrating the Sword of Ares. An especially clever one represented Kimberly as Apollo flaying Simoeisios as Marsyas. She loved that and sent word that their town was under her protection from now on. Then their trade rival put a price on her head. How could they threaten a real warlord that way? Maybe they believed Simoeisios's lies and thought that was a warlord. Jilly and Weldon wanted to sack them. You could see Kimberly wanted to, but she looked over at Joxer like she ate something that didn't agree with her and said no.
Jilly was disgusted and Joxer gave me a "see, this is how it's done" look. Maybe after he left we could come back and teach that town some respect. I said that to Jilly and she giggled and slapped me on the butt and said yeah but not to spread it around. I especially shouldn't say that to Joxer. I nodded. I'd figured that out myself.
The day finally came when Joxer and Meg left. The Sword of Ares was crying. The heavy eye makeup she sometimes wore was running down her cheeks.
"Be good, Kimberly. Promise me you'll be good," Joxer said. She nodded like a little girl with her father and hugged him and then Meg. Weldon patted Joxer on the shoulder, which was a lot for him. Jilly hugged them and her face was red. I don't think she was acting. Jilly wanted him to go but she liked him a lot. She was a great cook and it was Joxer that taught her. I guess he was more than a big dog to her. She didn't cry though. Jilly claimed crying was dangerous and weak. That was something she learned from Callisto.
They climbed on this wagon that Kimberly had loaded down with gifts. I was nervous about how the wagon looked. Joxer called, "I'll name my first daughter after you."
Kimberly looked at Meg and she nodded and the Sword of Ares really started bawling then. She was a little drunk already. As the wagon rolled away Kimberly and Weldon said something to Jilly and then went into their tent.
Jilly strode over to me and some other men. "Imbrios, make sure they get home all right but don't let them see you."
Joxer and Meg were almost robbed twice. That wagon was a rolling target. Both times we killed all but one of the robbers so they could tell people. One I blinded and the other I castrated. Jilly heard about it and told Kimberly, who said I did a good job.
Things got back to normal after that. If Jilly thought Kimberly was going to just start attacking cities she was wrong. They stopped using me as a messenger unless it was something very important. Instead I joined Jilly's light cavalry. She said I should get some use out of that Arabian horse. In Kimberly's tactics, Jilly and her fast moving horsemen were always critical. We had some riders from Eastern Gaul who called it "lightning war" or "blitzkrieg" in their tongue. I started hanging scalps off my bridle but Jilly told me to take them off. She liked it but said Kimberly hated that kind of thing.
The Sword of Ares got pregnant. I knew because she started throwing up all the time and I remembered my mother and my older sisters when they were with child. I had two younger sisters, a younger brother, and five nieces and nephews. Kimberly told me to keep it quiet for now. She stopped drinking! I don't know why. Jilly and Weldon didn't either. Kimberly said she wished she didn't know so much and screw the Surgeon General. I had no idea what that meant. It was hard on her, really hard but she didn't have a drop of wine that whole time. I thought she would start drinking after her son was born but she didn't. She said she couldn't because she was breastfeeding. I've known drinkers. She really loved that baby, that's all I can say.
Weldon named him Cuchulain. Kimberly just came out one night and said she was going to hand the army over to Jilly in a few months. I could see it was news to Jilly and Weldon. They both looked at me. Why was she saying this with me there? I didn't know either. I was good with Cuchulain. Maybe that was it. I'd been around lots of babies with my family. Jilly knew a little but Kimberly didn't know anything. When I saw that I showed them how to take care of him. It meant a lot to Kimberly. Weldon looked at me like I was a eunuch. Where he came from...well here too. I begged Kimberly not to tell anybody. She cooed at her baby, smiled at me and said no one would ever know I was a sensitive 90s guy and I could go back to crushing Pabst Blue Ribbon cans on my head. She was always saying things like that I didn't understand.
Kimberly planned to hand the army over to Jilly but Weldon was torn. What would he do? Kimberly was as rich as Midas, but was Weldon just supposed to lie around? He was a warrior. There was some tension about him staying with the army as Jilly's lieutenant as well. He'd known her since she was a child, had helped train her, and now he was supposed to answer to her? She could kill him but was she a better general? A better leader? He didn't want the army. He'd never wanted that because warlords had such short life spans usually; but obey Jilly?
Jilly said she'd need somebody but it was up to me. It made me almost dizzy. She wanted me as her lieutenant. There were a lot of officers ahead of me. She grinned and said there wasn't a warrior in the army who could face me except Weldon. She hoped I remembered that. Weldon was irritable because of the army and my acting unmanly disgusted him. Once I began fighting duels and moving up ranks he would have a good excuse to challenge me. If Weldon decided he wanted to fight me....she shrugged her shoulders. Sweet Athena!
"He'll kill me, Captain."
"Not necessarily. When you reach the rung under him just wait. If he stays with me, fine, that's your rank. If he stays with Kimberly like I expect, then I'll promote you. But he might feel like fighting you even if he plans to stay with Kimberly. If he calls you out don't force him to kill you."
"Then he'll kill me as a coward."
Jilly scratched her head. "Maybe, but he's smart. He'll know why you're holding back. You're good enough to make him kill you. Fight him full out and he'll cut you in half like that warhorse. You saw that right? That Weldon!" She was smiling as she thought how formidable her friend was. In place of her speed and agility Weldon had size and strength. His appearance alone was frightening. A seven-foot Celt with a broadsword wasn't something most warriors wanted to face. I didn't either.
"What if I just stay where I am?"
Jilly's eyes widened. "I said I want you as my lieutenant. I won't be disrespected!"
"Of course not!" I agreed and she nodded. I tried again, "Captain, what if I left? If Weldon stays with Kimberly I'll come back."
Jilly's eyes went blank and she started to bare her teeth. "That's how a slave thinks."
"I really had you there! I'd never do that! Act like slave....me?"
Her face was twitchy and her eyes were sorta rolling around. Then she started laughing hard, so hard she actually held onto me and let her head sink into my lap....Zeus! I'd imagined that enough times! She raised her head.
"You're a funny bastard," she said weakly. "I almost cut your nose and ears off. Gods, I've gotta tell Kimberly..." She walked off chuckling. When I got to my feet I was shaky.
That night I stopped by the warlord's tent to see Cuchulain. "Your ladyship," I said from outside.
"Come on in."
She was feeding Cuchulain when I came inside. "Have a seat." She looked at me. "Jilly told me something funny today. I'll bet it wasn't so funny to you."
"No, your ladyship. It wasn't."
She took her left nipple from his mouth and switched him to her right breast. "I'd make this go away for you if I could. But I can't."
I put my face in my hands. "I know, your ladyship."
"If Weldon was somebody I could order not to fight you I wouldn't want him as the father of my children. And Jilly...well, I can make her leave you alone for now. But she'd take it out on you later. She'll hunt you down."
"So what do I do?"
"Jilly's decided you're her boy. Do what she wants. That's all I can tell you. You're a victim of your own talent. After that first day when you tried to hack at her legs she couldn't stop talking about you."
Kimberly nodded. "If you disappoint her, Imbrios, she'll hate you for it. After what her father...never mind. Stick with her. Do what she says. Weldon's gonna stay with me. He won't leave his son for months at a time. I know it even if he doesn't yet."
"Thank you, your ladyship."
She nodded and rose to put Cuchulain in his crib. She came back over as she buttoned her rich robe and sat beside me. "You know, you might have a shot with Jilly."
"I'm too scared of her."
Kimberly sighed, "Yeah, I know. Poor Jilly."
I looked at her. "I really have a chance?"
She looked at her hands then back at me. "Yeah, I think you do. But she's barely under control as it is. What that might do to her....what she might do to you without even meaning to....if you could fight her it would be different."
"Thank you, your ladyship."
So the next day I rode up to my sergeant. "It's nothing personal." I said and drew my sword. He nodded and tied the chinstrap of his helmet and drew his own sword. It didn't take long. He was lying on the ground and I was walking my horse around looking at the other riders in our group. "I'm sergeant now." They didn't say anything. Just went about their business and I went to move my possessions into my new tent. The next day my immediate superior came walking up smiling and tried to stick a knife in my gut. I took it away from him and was holding him with his hands behind his back.
"Wait!" he began to say and then gurgled as I cut his throat. I stood watching him die, his blood soaking into the dark ground.
I heard a grunt and turned. Weldon had stopped to see what was happening. He looked down at me from his big gray gelding. "Calixerxes is over by the mess tent if you want to challenge him." Then he rode away. I thought about it but just went to take possession of my new belongings. I had some slaves now so moving this time was much faster. I thought of the man I killed. If he had succeeded in murdering me that way Kimberly would probably bury him alive. He just panicked. That's all I can think.
Calixerxes disappeared but I didn't take his possessions. He was around somewhere waiting for me to move up again. Then he'd come back. It was understood. He might have to fight someone else though since it didn't do a lot for your reputation. I heard that's what Weldon had done with both Kimberly and her predecessor Fredo, but it was different. They fought up to his level, he disappeared, they killed the warlord and Weldon came back. Weldon would let someone who wanted to be warlord pass him since he never wanted it. He could have killed Fredo, but why? He defended his position eight times. Either they wanted his rank permanently or he didn't judge them worthy to be warlord. Fredo got the job done so Weldon protected him. When Kimberly came along he stepped aside. I was afraid I was gonna be number nine.
I put off the next challenge hoping he would step aside. I also thought it was funny to let Calixerxes sweat. After a week Jilly came riding up to me furious.
"Stop sitting on your ass! I want my officers in place before Kimberly hands the army over. I'm not saying that again!"
I started to say something but Jilly wheeled her horse around and rode off. Maybe she didn't trust herself. So I said a prayer to Athena and went to find Friedrich, one of the Gauls. He had crafty blue eyes that reminded me a little of Kimberly. Friedrich thought he could beat me. He seemed more surprised than anything else when I stabbed him through the heart. Four more to go before Weldon. Jilly had faith in me but I'm not sure I did. Friedrich's superior was another Gaul, his brother Oscar in fact. I wasn't sure I could beat Oscar at all. I didn't have a choice, of course. If I stopped Jilly would disembowel me for making her look bad. Everybody knew I was her boy now.
The army itself wasn't doing much of anything. There weren't many big warlords left to hunt down. More and more were like Simoeisios and not worth the effort, but Kimberly still wouldn't attack cities or hold nobles for ransom. Things couldn't stay like this. Men talked about moving on. What was Draco doing? It was just talk though. The men weren't stupid...well some were but they all knew about the baby and that something was going on. I was part of that since I was Jilly's pet and fighting my way up. The question was Weldon.
I wasn't the only one who expected Weldon to kill me. There was a pool on whether Weldon would kill me, Jilly would kill Weldon, Weldon would kill Jilly, Kimberly would kill Jilly, or Jilly would finally kill Kimberly as everybody had been expecting for years. I put a bet down that Jilly would kill Weldon to avenge me. If I won it would be sent to my sisters. I hear Jilly had money down that Kimberly would kill her to avenge Weldon after she killed Weldon for me. I think that was Jilly's idea of a joke though. Kimberly didn't bet. Whatever happened she was the loser.
A slave was kneeling, tying my greaves on when Oscar pushed the tent flap aside and stepped in. The slave boy ran from the tent and I reached for where my sword lay. Oscar held his hand up.
"Not here to fighting you."
"What do you want?" I stayed within grasping distance of my blade.
Oscar was middle height like me with blonde hair and a blonde beard. He sounded a lot like Friedrich with the same accent and stiff way of speaking, as if they thought in another language. "You killing my brother and I am watching. You are better only a little. With me not at all."
I agreed but I was careful, not sure where this was going. "It's up to you." I added, "I had nothing against your brother."
Oscar smiled showing bad teeth. "Weldon watches you. Perhaps the baby looks like you. This I have seen."
Sweet Athena! Zeus! Holy Demeter and Dread Persephone!
That's what I was thinking but what I said was, "Why don't you ask Weldon?"
Oscar smiled wider. "Kimberly's lover, I do not think. Jilly's lover. You will be if not yet. Young love. Is sweet, no?"
"Jilly will kill me if I kill you. She will find a way."
"It's up to you," I repeated.
"I am not afraid of you. Telling you that brings me here."
"All right, I understand."
Oscar nodded at me. "I come back in two days. We fight if you have my rank."
"I'll move up before then."
Oscar said, "You can defeat Tolemus. Rostenio, too. Anchises, though, he is a fast one." He scratched his beard. "Weldon is sharpening his long sword. Weldon cuts horses in two pieces." Oscar smiled again with those yellow teeth. "Someday maybe I avenge Friedrich. But I hope most Jilly kills you. Young girls in love...strong feelings. Jilly good at torture, no?"
"That's how a slave thinks!" I hoped he'd do something stupid so I could kill him now but he showed those bad teeth again.
"Jilly said that to you, eh? Who knows? I come back you may all be dead and Kimberly needing a lieutenant." He backed out of the tent.
The slave came slinking back in, surprised I was alive. As the boy tied my breastplate on I thought of what Oscar said about Weldon. If Weldon really thought Cuchulain wasn't his, I was dead. I thought of my place in the army. I could never be like Jilly or Kimberly and even if I got his position with Jilly I'd never be like Weldon...not really. I thought of what Oscar said about Anchises and Jilly. She liked me so much that she overrated me. Anchises would kill me before Weldon got a chance to cut me in two pieces like a horse.
Rostenio and Tolemus were waiting for me the next day. They worked together and were friends, although Tolemus was really Rostenio's superior.
"Just leave for a week or so. Visit some whores."
Tolemus said, "I'm no coward, Imbrios!"
I understood why Oscar hadn't killed them. They were good officers but neither was an outstanding fighter personally. Tolemus and Rostenio held such high ranks by being in the right place at the right time in a battle about the time I joined the army. They had never been challenged because no one had gotten past Oscar and he liked them. I liked them.
"I don't want to hurt you. Just go away so I can challenge Anchises."
Rostenio said, "Oh, you don't want to hurt us. You're the coward!" He said it loudly so my men heard. Jilly and Weldon came riding up.
I pulled my sword and spurred away and Rostenio did the same. I saw Jilly grinning. Weldon was stone faced. We charged each other and I ducked his swing and kicked him off his horse. I dismounted and kicked him in the face before he could get up. He swung his sword at my legs and I avoided him just like Jilly had me.
"Surrender Rostenio." That was unheard of, but I felt like I was murdering a child. He couldn't begin to fight me. Instead he cursed and charged and I tripped him. As he sprawled on the ground I looked around and saw Jilly's eyes had gotten wide and she was staring at me.
"Rostenio..." I tried again. He came at me careful this time. I glanced at Jilly again. She was starting to bare her teeth. I hoped Hades would be merciful to Rostenio because Jilly wouldn't be to me. I blocked a blow and then cut his sword arm off. Before he even realized that, I beheaded him. I heard Jilly laugh. I wiped his blood from my face and looked at Rostenio's head. I'd heard him talking about his children more than once. I stared up at Tolemus. He was pale as he dismounted and drew his sword.
"Tolemus, don't make me kill you!"
"I'm no coward!"
"You're as far from a coward as I've ever seen."
I heard Jilly make a snorting sound. She'd chew me out later for acting like a eunuch.
Then something happened no one expected. Weldon got off his big gelding. Tolemus turned to look at him surprised. Weldon picked Tolemus up with one hand and started shaking him, then dropped him and the man lay on the ground, half-conscious. Weldon looked at me. "You have his position now. He has Rostenio's position."
"What do you think you're doing?" It was Jilly. She was outraged.
"You heard me," Weldon said.
Every warrior there sucked his or her breath in. Everybody thought of Weldon and Jilly as equals. Jilly's cavalry was practically an independent army. But really there could only be one second in command to the warlord and Weldon was it. Jilly spurred her horse over and stared at the big Celt looking calmly at her. Her face was twitching and her brown eyes didn't even look human. She jumped off her horse and her sword snaked into her hand. Weldon pulled his long broadsword that was taller than Jilly. I ran in between them.
"Get the fuck out of the way, Imbrios!" Jilly snarled.
"Move away, lad," Weldon said.
My heart was pounding but I gestured at them both with my bloody sword. "This isn't serving the Sword of Ares." It was all I could think of. Kimberly saved my life. Maybe I could do something for her. I looked in Jilly's mad eyes. "He's her baby's father, Captain." I looked at Weldon. "She loves Jilly like a daughter."
Jilly was breathing hard and her face had this tight look. She stared at me and then at Weldon. That's the last I remember.
I woke up in my tent with the slave boy washing my face. "What happened?"
"Master, Captain Jilly hit you."
"What about Weldon?" I was sure Jilly killed him.
I heard another voice. "He's all right." I craned my neck around and it was Jilly. She jerked her chin at the tent flap and the boy left. "Kimberly's handing me the army, not Weldon. I shouldn't be a hard ass about Tolemus."
Jilly sat beside me, her pretty little girl face surrounded by wild blonde hair. Her black fighting leathers barely covered her woman's body. She saw me looking and smiled at me, reached behind her and took the top off, freeing her breasts. She took my hands and put them on her chest.
Later I looked at her beside me on the furs. "Anchises will kill me if I challenge him."
She sat up and glanced at me, "Huh? Oh that....yeah. Lemme think about that." Jilly stroked my face. "You're my first man." I wasn't sure what to say. Obviously I wasn't. She knew what I was thinking. "I never had a choice before."
"It's okay. Me and Callisto skinned him alive later...and other stuff. My father, I mean. Some of the others too."
She smiled and snuggled against me as she pulled a fur up over us. "Hope I never have to do that to you."
Kimberly came to see me later that evening. She glanced at Jilly asleep in my tent and indicated for me to come outside with her.
"Thank you, Imbrios."
She put her hands on my shoulders. "You could've let Jilly kill Weldon. It would've simplified your life. This won't make him like you any better. He thinks you interfered."
I was embarrassed and didn't know what to say. She hugged me and I went back inside to lie down next to Jilly.
I was successful, respected (in the warlord's army anyway), and had a beautiful lover. What could go wrong? Well, Anchises would probably gut me any day now for one thing. If I somehow survived that there was still Weldon who was more irritated with me than ever. I finally decided he couldn't believe I was the baby's father. Maybe when she first gave me the fine gifts he was suspicious but that was long ago and I could see how he felt about Cuchulain. Even though he knew I wasn't her lover some of the army thought I was. Where Weldon came from that would be reason enough to cut me in two pieces like a horse as Oscar said. But Weldon had just demonstrated a merciful side no one had even suspected with Tolemus. Fatherhood was making him soft so maybe he wouldn't kill me even though he should.
No, say I survived all of that and actually became Jilly's lieutenant. She told me she heard voices and had people living inside her. They were all named Jilly. Most of them liked me. Don't worry. The ones who wanted to put me on a spit and saw my toes off were tied up in a backroom. They said I was a man just like her father. The other's thought they could stop 'em if they escaped. Jilly said that to me while she was on top. When we were making love her face looked just like it did when she was killing people. What could go wrong? Gee, I dunno. Once when she was coming she grabbed her chakram up and sent it bouncing around the room. It cut a lock of my hair off. Afterwards she told me she'd treasure it. Gods....
Anchises was a Macedonian. He had been a cavalry officer in a city's army but he killed a man over a gambling debt and had to flee. The man he killed was an aristocrat and thought he wouldn't have to pay up. Anchises didn't see it that way. He was just under Jilly in her light cavalry. He was a great horseman and an even better fighter. He and Jilly had been working closely together for years now. That didn't mean anything to either one of 'em. If Anchises could kill Jilly he'd have done it. She wanted me as her lieutenant and that meant I had to kill Anchises. She had no problem with that and I'm sure Anchises understood perfectly. He wasn't going anywhere. He'd defend his position and stay on as Jilly's lieutenant. It's not like he could step aside and come back. It was his position as Jilly's number two I wanted. Would a man like Anchises accept a demotion? Not likely.
But what about Jilly? Oscar didn't fight me because he said Jilly would kill him if he defeated me. I don't think Anchises was as smart as Oscar. Hades, I wasn't as smart as Oscar and Jilly sure wasn't. It's not like I could warn Anchises. He would think I was acting like a slave and Jilly might disembowel me for embarrassing her. That would help Anchises but wasn't good from my standpoint.
I was thinking about all this when a messenger summoned me to the warlord's tent. Anchises and Jilly were standing outside in the torchlight. Oscar and Tolemus and some of Weldon's subordinates were there as well. I felt something hollow in my stomach. Anchises nodded at me and touched Jilly's arm. She looked up and noticed me.
"Cuchulain is dead."
I asked slowly, "How?"
Jilly looked down at the ground. "He had a fever last night. Then he started vomiting and had diarrhea. I wasn't here but Kimberly told me." Jilly looked up at me and Anchises. She seemed about to say something but turned and walked off into the darkness. I would have followed her but the tent opened and Weldon beckoned me inside. He seemed gaunt.
Kimberly sat wearing a white robe that made her tangled dark hair stand out. I noticed a few gray strands. Even in battle she never looked anything but perfect before. Weldon went to stand beside her and she took his hand. Her face seemed twenty years older. She was sitting next to the crib.
"I'm so sorry, your ladyship."
She said, "Imbrios, I wanted to thank you for being so good to him while he was here." She stood up and leaned against Weldon. "That's all."
The big Celt said, "I thank you as well."
I bowed my head and left stepping back out into the flickering torchlight. I thought I heard the warlord weeping.
Anchises was watching me. Oscar was watching both of us. Anchises said, "You're Jilly's lover?"
He said, "She might be by the horse corral. She goes there to think sometimes."
"I won't challenge you unless she still wants me to."
I went looking for Jilly and found her by the horses like Anchises predicted. She looked eerie in the moonlight, her blonde hair silvery. Jilly was leaning on the corral and glanced at me. "It's my fault, Imbrios. I could have saved him."
"No, you couldn't."
She shook her head. "You don't understand."
I went next to her and put my arm around her armored shoulders. She stiffened and pushed me away, walked off a few steps and then whirled back to look at me. "I could have asked Ares to protect him. But I didn't. I was too fucking caught up in my own plans!"
I wasn't expecting that. I never knew she was religious. "Jilly, children die and their parents' sacrifices don't save them. Besides, Ares is the God of War."
Jilly made a slashing movement with her hand. "You don't understand! If I asked Ares he'd have traded something with Apollo or whoever. But I didn't ask! I wasn't here when he got sick either. I still coulda asked Ares to save him. Instead I had to pull a surprise inspection while Cuchulain was dying!" Her face was red and her voice was getting louder. Jilly was weaving and even stumbled a little. She came back over to me and looked in my eyes. "You don't believe me. You think I'm crazy. Crazy Jilly. Just like that crazy bitch Callisto. That's what they all say. I know it. Deny it and I'll kill you!"
I didn't answer and she bared her teeth. Then her face softened. "I'm sorry. I wouldn't kill anybody over something like that. I really wouldn't."
"I know," I said and took her hands.
"Do you believe me about Ares?"
Jilly nodded and twined her arms around my neck. "Are you afraid of me?"
"Yes, Jilly. I am."
"Because I'm crazy?"
I didn't answer and she repeated, "Because I'm crazy?"
She sighed and rested her head on my shoulder. "I am crazy, Imbrios. But I really do talk to Ares. He gave me back my tongue after my father cut it out."
I hugged her and stroked her blonde hair. I heard her sigh again. "All I had to do was ask. Other gods wanna steal me from Ares like warlords are always trying to get me away from Kimberly. I could've asked any of them. But all I could think of was my plans for the army."
"What are they?" I asked softly.
"Well, first I'm going to kill Xena. That's first. For Callisto and what Kimberly has been through because of her. After that I'll take Corinth and do what Xena couldn't. Kimberly created the finest army that's ever existed but she's wasting it on toads like that Simoeisios. I want a fleet too. The army will have to get bigger, a lot bigger for my plans."
"Then what?" She was mad.
Jilly heard something in my voice and pulled away to look at me. "After Corinth is the rest of Greece. Then I'll conquer Rome or Persia. I haven't made my mind up yet. I'm gonna give Ares what he always wanted from Xena. Well, except I'm more like his daughter. He's all hot for Xena. I'll have to kill Hercules." Jilly's voice had gotten excited as she spoke but then all the energy seemed to go out of her. "But that was before. If Kimberly keeps the army Ares will want me to kill her. But I won't. I'll never fight Kimberly. Never!"
The fighting is over. The Russes are dead on the ice like the Polacks before them. Lasting it cannot. I should leaving be. Why do I not? Blitzkrieg! Wondrous adventuring! Glad I am Friedrich is not here. He would call me a fool. He fight the boy never if how good knowing. Blame Imbrios, I should not. I like to prick his simple mind. If avenging Friedrich I can, yes, but die for it, no. Jilly's pet. Not liking those odds! Think we die together. Great Kimberly leading to certain doom. Gotterdamerung. Friedrich would call me stupid fool. Dumb head. "Oscar, those children's stories are."
When Cuchulain died Great Kimberly summoned builders. "I want a fine tomb for my son." Part of her die with little baby. Weak part. "We're going east."
Crossing land of Pharaoh, sweeping into India like a tiger! Why? They are barbarians. Not civilized Greeks. Pharaoh's people? Civilized when Greeks in mud huts me thinking but not saying. What about Weldon? What about Gauls? I kill everyone the same: no problem. Great Kimberly always drinking but not like this. Flatterers flock to her. Is minting coins to be remembered. Thinking she need not worry. Widows and orphans long memories having.
Tolemus was killed on the ice. A Russe pike...FFFFTTT! Finally having his rank am I. Friedrich said I stupid there was too. I liking Rostenio and Tolemus. Good men. Good officers. Bad fighters. Dumb head, Friedrich said. He killing them but have to me firstly. I smile at him. Missing Friedrich I am. The boy is my superior. Is funny. He is good officer. Good fighter. Taking scalps! Nice boy, eh? But trying to spare Rostenio. Loved little Cuchulain and crying was. Funny boy. Farm boy. Maybe it comes from eating dirt. Killing a man like killing a hog. Nice boy, eh? Probably making man sausages if not watched. Farmers! We fight someday I am not knowing who dies. Probably we die together anyway. Does Imbrios know? Thinking I am yessing. Poor boy to die so young. Poor me too.
Anchises says, "Oscar, we're going to Chin when we finish with the Russes. Too fucking cold!" We laugh. Sending our looting back to Greek land. Great long caravans of slaves and horses, camels and wagons. Elephants! One wagon could buy a kingdom. Getting there? Not likely. But I say that to no one. Weldon knows. Anchises I think knows. Jilly? Crazy bitch...mystery to me what's in that head. The boy? Perhaps. Lucky boy lying between those white strong thighs until she kill you. Sour grapes, Oscar! Friedrich would swat my head like when we are kinder. Dying with Great Kimberly in Chin, thinking that I am. Or not. But somewhere. Arrogance. Hubris the Greeks calling it. Great Kimberly reeking is. A mountain collapsing and taking all with it. "Don't be a fool, Oscar." I can hear my brother. Worse ways to die than with a hero.
I turn my horse and see a man with three Russes right behind him. I pull a spear out of a body on the ground and knock one of the Russes off his ragged pony and throw my sword into another. The third veers away and heads elsewhere on the battlefield.
"Where's your captain?" I'm reaching down from my horse to retrieve my sword.
"Our unit was broken up! I don't know where Captain Imbrios is. He was fighting the last I saw him."
"All right. Stay with me for now."
"Sir, I..." He never finishes because there's an arrow point coming out his throat.
The archer is stringing another arrow as I ride him down. Then I jump off my mount and pin him to the ground as he screams his Russe gibberish at me. Kimberly's right. They aren't like us.
More horsemen are coming toward me and one is his captain. I know what he's going to say.
"Anchises, the day is won!" His face hardens as he spots his dead soldier.
"Take any good scalps?"
Imbrios looks at me warily. "No, Anchises, I've been fighting. What do you think?"
I shouldn't dislike him so much, but hanging scalps off his bridle--that's like something those Horde monkeys do. The Sword of Ares never used to allow such things.
"Bad joke. Where is Jilly?"
He looks at me with that innocent face of his. Vicious bastard. "The commander is regrouping. We were badly scattered." I hear something in his voice. He was following my orders. Of course I was following Jilly's orders but that's different.
"Well, you should get back before she wants you to service her in some way, shouldn't you?"
He stiffens. Go on, I think. Challenge me. But he just nods and rides off with his men. I need to rejoin Jilly. I was separated as well. It happens with these tactics of Kimberly. We're moving so fast half the time we don't know where our own men are. The Gauls love it, their precious blitzkrieg. Jilly's light cavalry hits the enemy fast disorienting them, killing officers, then Kimberly herself with the heavy cavalry and Weldon's infantry comes in for the bloody work. By that time we're somewhere else. We never stand and fight but are constantly moving. With our light armor we'd be cut to pieces by some of these barbarians in their heavy plate. I've seen how Jilly fights. Maybe that's where Kimberly got the idea. Use an entire force like that.
Other horsemen fall in behind me. The main battlefield looks like a slaughterhouse. If it weren't so fucking cold there would be birds overhead. Men are going over the Russes looking for nobles to strip and yell greetings to me. This was another great victory. Kimberly crushed a force twice our size. Three cities lie naked before us. Kimberly takes cities now that we aren't in Greece anymore. She also holds princes and such for ransom and exacts tribute. I yell back at them to leave some for us. We'll all be rich as kings when we get back home.
Heads on spears. Was that Jilly or Imbrios? He'll be a warlord someday, if I don't kill him and he survives the campaign. Not like Kimberly, but no one is. She sees him as her angel. Maybe she feels like she's his mother a little. I know she does with Jilly. Kimberly likes seeing them together and wouldn't mind if he got my post. If Imbrios murdered me for it she'd bury him alive. She's still Great Kimberly.
Oscar says Jilly will kill me if I spit her pet. Would she? I won't step aside for him. Jilly was the reason Oscar stepped aside and he killed a man who didn't understand that. Oscar is too smart for his own honor. But I'm touched. He doesn't want Jilly to kill me even though he would advance. Imbrios also killed his brother Friedrich. Oscar should want us both dead but instead he warns me, thinking I'm not so subtle as him. I'm glad I'm not.
The fire is flickering like my soul. I'm staring into it and can almost hear screams...begging... I used to stare at burning villages like this....don't think of that. The food was all right. Simple. Sometimes I miss real food. Having slaves to cook for me...bathe me...don't think of that. It's my choice.
"Xena, what's bothering you about this warlord?"
Her blonde hair is glowing in the firelight and her skin seems red. I don't like being so easy to read, even with her. "His tactics, Gabrielle."
She looks a question.
"It reminds me of Kimberly."
Gabrielle tenses up. "It can't be her. Can it?"
I grimace. "No, it's not Kimberly. He's not that good. One of her lieutenants, I'd say."
She scratches her head. "I thought Weldon and Jilly were her lieutenants. They're dead."
I explain the obvious. No, I shouldn't think that. "The Sword of Ares had a huge army. Jilly and Weldon were just at the top. I think I know who this is though."
"That's why it bothers you? You know him?"
"I've heard of him. He was Jilly's lover. Kimberly liked him a lot, too. I've hurt them too much already."
"Xena....By the gods, he's scalping people! You have to stop him!"
Stop nagging, I think, but looking back in the fire I only say, "I know, Gabrielle."
I watch him step into his tent and take his sword and sheath off. Instead of hanging it up he whirls sending the sheath flying and stands alert, his eyes scanning the interior of the tent. His sleeves are fringed with human hair. Nice guy.
He turns again at my voice, sword ready.
I wince inside but keep my warlord face on. "Guess again."
"The Warrior Princess. The third greatest fighter in the world....mortal...Hercules shouldn't be counted since he's a demigod."
He's making it easy. Good. "Third, huh? Who're the top two? You and who else?"
"Not me. Jilly and Great Kimberly."
Dammit. I want him to act like scum. "Jilly maybe. Glad you know your place."
He keeps watching me but lowers his sword. "What do you want? Here to stop me doing what you used to do?" He's getting right to the point. Knows how to get to me, too.
"I never took scalps."
"You took heads."
"I didn't hang 'em off my horse."
He shrugs, "You know how important fear is."
"Kimberly never did that."
He smiles at me. "You weren't with her in Chin."
"You're taking up where she left off, huh?"
"I'd never compare myself to Great Kimberly."
I'm uncomfortable. His eyes remind me of Solon. He looks like every mother wants their son to. I don't want to like him but he keeps saying the right things. There are rumors he makes prisoners into sausage.
"I'm gonna give you a chance you don't deserve. Find another line of work."
He shakes his head and smiles even wider and it's hard for me not to return it. "Come on, Xena. You know I won't do that. Without my army I'd be the one getting scalped."
He's right but I say, "You have a chance that way. You have no chance with me." That's true too.
"I rode with Great Kimberly to the edge of the world. I was at the Last Stand of the Sword of Ares. You have nothing to threaten me with." There's something in his voice. He thinks I'm second rate. ME!
"Oh yeah?" I say and put the pinch on him. His eyes start bugging out and he falls to his knees, dropping his sword.
"I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You'll be dead in 30 seconds. Are you going to be a good boy now?"
Come on...come on. At 29 seconds I release him. He called my bluff just like Palaemon but this is different. Palaemon's a better fighter but if he crossed this guy he'd end up in a sausage casing.
"You're nothing compared to Kimberly."
I stop myself somehow from ripping his face off and just stick my finger in it. "You've been warned!" Then I hit some more pressure points that'll knock him out for a while. Sneaking back out of the tent I notice heads just like I used to take. I never hung scalps off my bridle though. Well, hardly ever.
I've got'em right where I want'em and I start my big finish. I look around catching as many eyes as I can. "And her plan worked! As the Warrior Princess taunted Gareth she attached her flying parchment to the back of his armor. She led the terrible giant in a chase through a boneyard of other giants. But Zeus's stormclouds were gathering overhead and then......ZAP BOOM!!!! A bolt of the King of God's lighting struck the metal key hanging from the flying parchment. And Gareth, the biggest, meanest giant who ever walked the earth met his well-deserved end! So Xena saved the village and also avenged her friend Goliath."
My audience applauds and hoots and starts putting coins in the basket. I smile graciously as befits a bard of my fine accomplishments. Oh, Gabrielle, you are SO good! And humble, did I mention humble? And don't forget my firm breasts and nice round ass. I need to wear less clothes when I'm barding. My tips are better that way, especially if my story lets me jump up and down.
The last man to come up with a coin smiles at me. I smile back although his teeth make me want to cringe. He looks like a merchant.
"Telling a good story. Very much."
I recognize the accent. "You're from Gaul."
"Yes. Speaking Greekish not well even after years. Dumb head."
I laugh and reach out to squeeze his right arm under his cloak. To my horror the sleeve turns out to be empty. My face gets red but he laughs.
"Not to worry. Better my arm in the cold ground than my head. Lucky I am to be alive!"
"Well, that's a good attitude to have," I say but I'm still embarrassed. I notice a scar on his neck and another on the hand he does have. He was a warrior. I can tell now. A warrior who was smart enough to get out while he was still nearly in one piece.
He sees what I'm looking at and my face gets even redder but he just laughs. "Letting me buy you a drink, eh? For the fine barding, eh?"
"Sure." I like him.
"Knowing are you the Sword of Ares?
"Yes, but.... I have uh...I don't tell Kimberly stories."
He nods and seems like he's reliving something in his head.
"Did she do that to you?" I indicate his arm.
"Yessing and noing. My choice it was."
"Fighting her?" I think he was in an army for a city. Kimberly didn't attack cities but sometimes they came after her.
He smiles at me with those god's awful teeth again. Aside from that he's not a bad looking man in a hairy blonde Gaul way. "Fighting Great Kimberly? Wrong idea you having, sweet bard."
"You were in her army?" I think of who Xena went to see. But this man isn't even a soldier anymore let alone a vicious warlord.
"Yes, name me Oscar. Jilly's horsemen one I was. Excusing me, silly man I am to get so girlish."
His eyes are teary. Thinking of the good old days slaughtering people, I suppose. There's a rustle and excited murmur in the room and then Xena joins us with a cup of wine. Oscar has this look. Xena probably thinks he's one of her fans. She gets that and hate, one or the other, all the time. But this time it's because she looks like Kimberly.
"This is Oscar." Uh oh.
Xena takes a drink and says, "You Gauls loved lightning war."
"Yes, much so. Not so good when nowhere to ride. We escaping the Polacks into a trap! Not Jilly's fault. Assyrians boxed us....heavy armor, war chariots. Not so good to be light cavalry there!"
My mouth drops open. He was at the Last Stand of the Sword of Ares. Kimberly was returning to Greece when a combined force caught her in Persia: Soldiers of a thousand kingdoms and cities from Egypt to Russland to India to Chin; just to kill one warlord.
Xena looks thoughtful and purses her lips. "You with him?"
"The boy? Nein. Nice boy, eh? Farm boy. Phew!"
Xena mutters, "Yeah, farmers..." and takes a drink. I can tell she's having one of her moments where she kinda slips back into her old attitudes.
I interrupt. "What's wrong with farmers?"
Xena looks embarrassed. Oscar smiles like I'm a little girl. It's obvious what's wrong with farmers.
He says to Xena, "Getting away together we did. Hiding under bodies, piling high. Suffocating almost. At night creeping past Chinmen, Russes, Sikhs, many, many more. Days it took. Everywhere they were. Cutting my arm off, the boy had to. Stinking it was! Easy to leave me but did not. Caring for me like Cuchulain."
"Who?" I say.
Xena answers, "Kimberly's son, Gabrielle."
"Oh." I keep saying the wrong things.
"Nice boy, even if farmer. Xena, fighting you I must if boy's enemy. Too smart for my own honor, Anchises said. No more."
I'm afraid Xena is going to punch him out right there. Instead she puts her hand on his shoulder. "I know, Oscar. What happened to Anchises?"
"Assyrian spearmen....FFFTTT!.....FFFTTT! Thinking I am he kill one but not sure. Busy myself." He touches the scar on his neck.
Xena nods. She says to me, "Come on, Gabrielle." I follow her but look back. Oscar smiles and waves at me.
"Xena, what if Oscar tries to fight you?"
"I respect him so I'll kill him."
She looks at me and then away. I know that look. I just don't get it. I'm hardly better than a farmer.
I look up. Oscar! I wave the guards away. One of them sneers, thinks he's just some merchant. "Come back here!"
He looks nervously at me.
Oscar starts to say something but I hold my hand up. "What was that look? This is my friend."
The guard is sweating now. "I didn't mean nothing."
I stare at him, getting angrier. He embarrassed me in front of Oscar. A moment later he's down on the ground moaning and I'm holding something bloody. His ear. I look at the other guard. He's pale. As he drags the dog out I drop the ear in a vase of oil with others.
Oscar is looking at me. "He was rude to my guest," I say.
He smiles at me and shakes his head. "Still a farm boy." I laugh and hug him. He says, "Imbrios, Xena is here. Stopping you she is wanting."
"I know. She came to see me."
Oscar sighs and scratches his blonde beard. He looks at me and I say, "She's a weakling."
"Many things Xena is but that I think not one. Perhaps you listen to her."
I can't believe this. "Oscar! What, you too?"
"You cannot fight her. This you knowing, Imbrios."
"Sorry you feel that way, Oscar."
"Nothing you don't know."
I walk over and pour two bowls of wine. As I hand one to him I say, "I don't have to. Maybe she'll try to pit me against somebody like she did with Zagreas. Let her."
Oscar shakes his head. He's thinking how dumb I am. Which one of us is a warlord? "Stay with me, Oscar. I know you're smarter than me. Xena will try something. You can spot it."
He smiles at me. "Like Joxer and Great Kimberly."
I laugh so hard I spill my wine. Sweet Athena. "Yeah, Oscar. You're like Joxer and I'm like the Sword of Ares. No difference at all."
He smiles and laughs too. "I thinking about it."
"Oscar, there's something I always wanted to ask you?"
"Did Weldon really ever suspect I was Cuchulain's father?"
Oscar shakes his head. "Sleeping badly you were?"
He shrugs. I hope he stays with me. Compared to Oscar I'm a dumb head.
"What is it, Xena?" We've been going around talking to people, finding out everything we can. She's glowering.
"Oscar is with him now."
"Why is that so bad?"
Xena swings up on Argo and says, "This guy's tough with good instincts but he's somebody I could trick no problem. Not Oscar."
"Oh." Seems obvious now.
"Gabrielle, don't worry about it. There's no reason for you to think that way. I'm glad you don't." Her voice has softened.
I'm walking along in front of her thinking a while. "Xena, you said he worships Kimberly's memory, right?"
"Yep. I'm a cheap copy of Great Kimberly, Sword of Ares and Light of Mycenae."
I look up at her. "Xena, Kimberly hunted warlords like he is now, especially cruel ones. Maybe he's never even thought of that."
She stops Argo and I can't read her expression. Then she says, "He's not the only one who's not that smart."
Me and my big mouth. Xena agreed Kimberly's memory was the way to deal with this warlord. So she's gone to get Joxer and I'm stuck in this one goat village cooling my heels. I've told stories two nights running now in the tavern. Not exactly Athenian aesthetes if you know what I mean. Everything but squirting blood and fart jokes are over their heads. No, no, Gabrielle. Don't be like that. They're good, hardworking....salt of the earth....smelly....stupid...countryfolk.
Hold on....WHO IS THAT? Now that is a nice looking guy. What's he doing here? He's looking at me....giving me the old once over...oops I dropped my scroll...guess I just have to SLOWLY bend over....yeah...there we go... And he's even coming over to help me pick it...OOPS I dropped it AGAIN! I have to bend WAY OVER this time....
"I'm just so clumsy!"
"Here let me help you with those."
"Why thank you ever so much!"
He's dressed too nice for this place. And those eyes! We go to his table and the waitress brings another cup of wine for me but spills a little.
"Are you the bard?"
"Why yes, as a matter of fact I am." I bat my eyelashes and he gives me this killer smile.
"I hope I get a chance to hear you."
"I'll be right here telling stories tonight."
He sidles a little closer on his chair. "I was thinking maybe I could get a private performance."
I bite my lip a little bit...and run my tongue over my teeth. He looks in my eyes again....oooo....Xena...where are you, Xena? I smile at him. "I don't think that's completely out of the question." Slut! Who me? It's Xena's fault! She's a bad influence! And she wasn't here either! Yeah...get your excuses straight, Gabrielle.
"Don't you think I'm just a tad old for you?"
He bites. "You aren't any older than me. You can't be."
I lean in close and give him a smile: the impish one that's also sexy.
He grins and says, "Wanna go for a walk?"
Ooooo...Gabrielle...where are you, Xena? "Sure, I'd love to." He goes over and pays the bar while I get my staff. When he glances at her the waitress drops a plate she's holding. Hope I'm not that obvious! She is really too clumsy to be working in food services, I must say. Is she waving at me?
We walk out together. There are some ugly warrior types on the street who leer at me and move in front of us. Great! Fat chance of me getting any after I flatten five guys. Just thinking of that makes me even madder and I get ready to lay into 'em with my staff. That'll be the only lay I get.
"What are you looking at?"
It's my fella! His heart's in the right place but his tone makes me nervous. He's got a little knife on his belt like you'd peel an apple with but that's it. These are big smelly warrior guys. Three are snickering but two of 'em seem to have forgotten something important and hurry away.
This big one with long black hair says, "I'm looking at this bitch, punk. Got a problem with that?" I can't see anything! But I hear some grunts. I wipe away what's in my eyes and look at my hands. There's blood on them!
Those jerks are on the ground and my fella is looking at me. "You all right?" he says.
It's not my blood at least or his either. I walk over to look at 'em. "GODS!" That big one is missing his nose and making these awful sucking sounds. The other two are crumpled up and I can't see their faces.
"Who did that? Where'd they go? We have to find a healer!" Maybe it was those two warriors who left before.
"It was me. Don't worry about it."
Yeah, right. I'm disappointed. He's like Joxer. If he thinks I'm that gullible he's sadly mistaken. Then I notice his hands. "Oh," he says and tosses a nose on the ground. He wipes his hands off on one of the crumpled men. "Let's go. I'm ready for my private show."
I swing my staff at him and he ducks, takes it away from me and gives me that killer smile. I manage to backhand him so he roughly ties my hands and throws me over a horse. I get a look at his eyes again. Hitting him wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done. At least I didn't scare him off.
"Sweet bard! How you being?"
"Oh, I'm just peachy, Oscar."
"Good is that to hear."
"I was being sarcastic."
He frowns and looks concerned. I'm sitting on a pile of furs in a tent. I reach over with a fork and spear another piece of sausage. I remember my manners and hold the plate for him.
"Thanking you, but no." He looks kind of green. I hope he's not getting sick.
"Oscar, help me get away. That's the best thing you can do for him. When Xena gets here she's gonna be mad. You don't want Xena mad."
"Knowing I am."
"So what am I doing here?"
"Eating too much sausage. Not good for you, I thinking." Oscar acts like he's gonna take it away so I move it closer to me. He gets the message and stops trying to steal my sausage.
"Answer me, Oscar."
"Like to your scrolls is not?'
"Just like one of my scrolls, Oscar. Xena always wins. ALWAYS."
He scratches his beard. "Imbrios knows. I am knowing."
"Then what?" I hold my hands out. "What's your plan?"
Oscar sighs and says, "Not me. Surprised I was. The boy is telling me the Bard of Poteidaia is here. You did not abduct her, please. Nein, I did, Oscar." He puts his head in his one hand.
I reach over and lay a hand on his shoulder. "You really care for him don't you?"
"Yessing. I should not. He killed my brother, Friedrich, dueling. Nice boy."
"Oscar, he's not a nice boy. He cut a man's nose off. He sacks towns." I don't say that the nose he cut off was on an asshole. Stick to the main point. That's the first thing they teach you in bard class.
"They are deserving. Like with Great Kimberly." He sees my face. "Imbrios is thinking so. Changes nothing. You dying for Xena I am thinking."
"Yeah, Oscar. I would."
He shrugs. Oscar is between a rock and a hard place. What if Xena turned bad again? I pop another piece of sausage in.
The tent opens and there he is in fringed leathers. He's gleaming. Kimberly was always immaculate. That face...how can somebody who looks so sweet....? Is he evil? He does evil things. That makes him evil...right?
"How do you like the sausage? It's my own recipe."
"Delicious." It's true. At least he's got other interests.
"Not so goodly, I have to saying." It's Oscar.
"No, it's good," I interject.
"They deserved it."
I stop chewing. My fella is smiling at me with a twinkle in his eye. I remember Jilly: Lemme give you a hand. Ha ha.
I rush out the tent and some guards bust a gut as I puke. They've been waiting. He comes out and squats down. "Now we're even for you hitting me." He holds a cup of wine toward me. I look at it and back at him. "It's just wine. What you do think I am? No, don't answer that!" Don't smile back at him. I rinse my mouth and spit it out. Then I take a nice big swallow and we go back in the tent. He tosses the sausage out the tent where dogs snap it up.
"Not so funny." It's Oscar. But he really does think it's funny and is trying to keep from smiling. That's his job here. Be a stick-in-the-mud grownup.
"I want my story."
"I told you that in town."
"Because I say so." There's this glittery look to his eyes.
"Listen, you really don't want to be keeping me prisoner this way."
"Yes, I do. Start talking."
I try another approach. "You should be friends with Xena. She could give you some warlord pointers, I bet. Come on, doesn't that sound better than doing something to tick her off? Hmmm?"
He knows I'm trying to con him. Gabrielle, you just made a big honking mistake.
"Leave us alone, Oscar."
The Gaul says, "Not a goodly idea is that. Xena's friend is. Warrior Princess no Kimberly but still no one to...."
"Oscar. Leave. Us. Alone."
The Gaul glances at me and looks worried. I am now too. Oscar leaves closing the tent flap after him.
"Um...what story did you have in mind?" I'm trying to be little Miss Cooperation so I can catch him off guard.
"I don't care. Presentation's important though. Take your clothes off."
"I am not..." I don't even see the slap coming. So much for me taking him by surprise. I'm groggy as he pulls my clothes off like I'm a doll bending me every which way. Then he saunters over to sit down. I'm standing there naked.
"Now tell me a story."
Learning what happens if I argue is something I can do without so I start talking about Xena and me tricking the gamblers who beat up Joxer. He interrupts me.
"Don't try to cover yourself."
His eyes are on me as I lower my hands. It's not cold but I'm getting goose bumps. I hope Xena doesn't question me too close about all this. I'd hate to admit how turned on I am.
Joxer and me go by the tavern and Gabrielle isn't there. "Have you seen my friend? A bard? Blonde, talks a lot, eats a lot."
"The warlord took her!" It's the waitress.
"Somebody took Gabby!" Joxer's his usual excitable self.
"Which warlord?" I know so many.
"That young one! He came in wearing regular clothes. He charmed your friend out the door. I tried to warn her but she practically jumped him on the table."
Joxer puffs up. "Now, wait one minute there, Missy..." He stops when I give him a look.
"They left together. I heard there was a fight and he rode out with her over his horse!"
"Take it easy, Joxer. What kind of fight?"
"He killed three men. That's all I know."
Son of a bacchae! I run to get Argo from the stable and Joxer stumbles along after me. What does this guy think he's doing? He knows he can't fight me. Is this some devious plan of Oscar's? And who were these men he killed? I'm thinking that as I ride where his army was camped. Joxer is in back of me holding on.
"Watch the hands, idiot."
"Sorry, Xena. Hey! The name is Joxer!"
Joxer is freaking out. We've been talking to people and he understands how bad this guy is. He says it's not who I think.
"Xena, I knew him, remember? I was there that first day Jilly started teaching him to fight. He wouldn't do these things!"
I look at him and wonder. Could it be somebody else from Kimberly's army? It's not that rare a name. Maybe it's another Imbrios. I'll probably kill whoever it is anyway.
Oh yeah...this guy's dead. I hold my hand over Joxer's mouth though I know how he feels. We're looking into camp. She's not hurt as far as I can see. But he's got her on a leash and she doesn't have any clothes on. He's just going around doing camp stuff and she's like his dog...even wagging a tail she's wearing. She's sniffing the ground, sees something and starts to chase it but is pulled back by the leash. This guy is dead. I keep my hand over Joxer's mouth until we get further away.
"We have to save her!"
"I know Joxer. We will. What about Imbrios?"
"It's him but I don't get it. He was a sweet kid, Xena! Remember Simoeisios? When Kimberly flayed him he was with Meg and me. He was just as sick as we were."
I do remember Simoeisios. Way to go, Kimberly. Glad you got him and not me. Maybe something happened to change Imbrios. I've seen that enough times. Or maybe he was always like this and Joxer missed it. Doesn't matter. He's dead either way.
Gabby! Oh, Zeus! What's he done to you? And Imbrios? What happened to him?
Xena's pissed. I know that look. What would Gabby say to her? "Xena, maybe Imbrios can be reformed." Uh oh, she looks like she's ready to bite my head off.
"Yeah, Joxer, maybe. I have to talk to Gabrielle. See what happened."
Now, I'm confused. "He's making her do this. Maybe she's under a spell!"
She looks away like she can't meet my eyes. "Yeah, Joxer, that must be it."
Xena tells me to stay here. She gives me this really hard look. "I mean it, Joxer. Stay here. Don't come following after me. You'll just get in my way."
"You might need help, Xena!"
"I won't. Stay here."
"Okay. Whatever you say, Xena." She nods at me and disappears into the darkness.
Just get in the way, huh? Me? Excuse me, Xena. Aren't we forgetting Callisto here? Bacchus? Name ring a bell? Stay out of trouble, Joxer. Don't do anything stupid, Joxer.
Hope? Dahak? I didn't get in the way there did I, Xena?
I eat some bread and think of Gabby prancing around all pink and cute and naked. Wow! But that was really awful! But WOW! What if Xena gets in trouble? They could need my help and I wouldn't be there....
Joxer, just once do what you're told. Please. What's the use? I know he'll come blundering in at exactly the wrong time and I'll have to save him too. Why do I even bother? Xena: Warrior Optimist.
I've only had to knock out three guards. The tent slash is still there from before. There's a sound behind me.
"Oscar. I bet you had nothing to do with this. Gauls aren't much into suicide."
"Indeeding, Xena. Abducting sweet bard is bad news to me. What you doing? When Xena comes she be making you into sausage! This I say to Imbrios. Farmers. Phew!"
"He really makes sausage?"
"Yessing. Joke. Giving to people. If here Jilly be loving it."
I used to ask people if they needed a hand but I never offered 'em sausage. That is pretty funny.
"I'm gonna kill him. You know that, Oscar."
He pulls a dagger. I'm expecting it and take it away from him. I could do it without hurting him but I don't.
"He not be making her do it, Xena. Not really. Bard be liking it. Thinking I am you knowing that." He smiles with those crappy yellow teeth of his. "You wanting it but never have testicles to asking for it. That I am thinking."
I punch him out a little harder than I need to. Fucking Oscar. Fucking Imbrios. Fucking Gabrielle.
My bowl has food in it. My master takes good care of his puppy. I go over and put my face in it with my ass up in the air. Then I lap up some water. I wag my tail and crawl over to him and nuzzle his hand. He scratches behind my ear and smiles at me. I am one lucky puppy!
"Want a treat, Gabby Girl?"
I get on my haunches with my paws in front of me. I'm panting fast with my tongue out. It's easy to move since puppies don't wear clothes!
He holds a little bit of sausage (pork sausage) and moves it from side to side. I follow it with my eyes. Then he tosses it in the air I catch it with a snap!
He laughs and pats my head. I roll on my back and he rubs my tummy. "I thought Xena would be here by now, girl. Where is she?"
I shake my head. Puppies can't talk!
"I'm right here."
Xena! I jump up. "Thank the gods!"
She looks at me. "Uh huh." I don't like that tone. Xena looks around and picks my clothes up and tosses them to me. He's watching us.
"Is Oscar alive?"
Xena looks at him. I can't read her eyes. "Yeah, Imbrios, he's all right. You're smarter than we all thought aren't you?"
He smiles. Gods, he is just so....OWW! Xena hit my ass. Hmm....
"Why did you do this?" Xena sounds really curious.
I start wagging my tail but Xena swats it again!
"No. There's more than that, Imbrios. You wouldn't give your life for that."
I feel guilty now. "Xena, he didn't really..."
"Just don't say a word, Gabrielle."
Before he can answer there's a clanking sound. We all look resigned at the tent opening. There he is. Two guards are holding him completely off the ground.
"Let him go. Leave us."
Joxer falls on his face and Imbrios goes over to help him up but Joxer pulls away.
"Good to see you, Joxer."
My rescuer takes a swing at him. My stomach lurches, afraid of what he'll do but he just avoids it and pushes Joxer at Xena who holds him. "Cut it out, Joxer," Xena says.
"He didn't hurt her. It's all right." My face gets red. She gives me another disappointed look. She's the one who's hurt. If she kills him she'll feel worse. Oh shit. Oh shit.
I look at his eyes. He knows what I'm thinking. I look at Xena. Of course she's got it figured out. I look back at him and he's got a smirk.
"Why? Why did you do this to us?" I say. My insides are starting to curdle with shame. Not the sexy fun kind of shame. Oh shit.
He gives me that killer smile. "I was minding my own business and Xena came around threatening me. I didn't want to wind up in your scrolls as another Zagreas. But more than that, it's for Jilly and Great Kimberly."
Xena glowers but doesn't say anything. "What about them?" I demand.
"Jilly planned to kill Xena for Callisto and her ladyship. I can't kill Xena for her."
"You fucker!!!" I throw myself at him. He grins and catches my hands.
"Bow wow wow, Gabby."
He's making sure Xena can see he's not hurting me. If she takes him apart or kills him it'll because she's jealous. That's all she needs on top of everything else. If she does nothing it will eat at her like Caesar. If she kills him it will be worse. Imbrios wins either way. Being willing to die has advantages.
Joxer seems dazed. "You were never like this before."
"I was always like this, Joxer."
"How did you know?" I feel sick. Xena keeps a tight grip on me. She can tell I wanna throttle him. I see myself on my hands and knees barking. He's behind me.... inside me....pulling back on my dog collar. He's throwing a stick for me to fetch in front of his men...naked.....AAAARRRGGGHH!! I kept waiting for Xena to just ask. She's seeing it too. "How did you know?"
Imbrios looks at me with that innocent face. "I was gonna flay you like Simoeisios. But I could see what you liked and talked it over with Oscar. This is better. Jilly liked you. No one is hurt. You had the best time of your entire life. I'll always remember you licking yourself."
Joxer goes crazy and runs at him. He looks bored and before Joxer knows it his hands are tied. I feel Xena trembling. She wanted an excuse to rip him apart.
"Give my love to your whore, Joxer." Then he pushes him toward us and I catch him.
"Working out finely it is doing." Oscar has come in the tent. Xena grabs him by the throat.
"Xena!" I say. If she hurts Oscar over this it'd be even worse. He saved me.
Oscar rubs his neck and smiles at me. "Sweet bard! Thanking you. Nothing personal, you knowing. Helping my friend just like you in scrolls. Always tricking, making fools. Where I get idea. Glad you not flayed. Not wanting to see that! Another way I finding."
"Fuck you, Oscar."
He looks hurt but then grins with those twisted Gaul teeth and goes over by the young warlord. They are standing beside a tall vase, the one Imbrios drops ears in. It's decorated with heroic figures dramatically standing out from the black ground: The Sword of Ares in her veiled helmet, arm poised to signal a charge; Weldon with his broadsword towering beside her, the Celtic knot on his breastplate strangely foreign; on a rearing horse a slight figure wearing a chakram on her hip and with wild eyes and wild blond hair. There's a minor character off to the side, nobody important, a spear-carrier.
Imbrios says, "Anything else? Not gonna kill me, Xena? Keep the collar as a souvenir, Gabby Girl."
Xena's eyes are blazing. She has to get out of here before she does something she'll regret. She has me by one hand and Joxer by the other and yanks us out of the tent where we go through a gauntlet of laughing men.