DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, and the other canon-characters belong to Renpics. Shana, Mer, Lena, and everything pertaining to the world of Legandia, on the other hand, DO belong to me – they’re from my novel Dragon’s Shadow, which I plan to publish as soon as possible. *fingers crossed* There will be specific song disclaimers later on when said songs are posted.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a crossover of sorts with one of my own novels. Characters and situations of Legandia belong to me - any relationship to persons live or dead isn't intended, etc.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Lions and Dragons
By Rune Traverse
"Xena, do you have any idea where we are?"
Brushing a thick lock of dark hair from her forehead, the warrior glanced over her shoulder, hiding a smirk. "In the forest?" She deadpanned. "At least, I think that's what the trees and the rocks and the wild animal noises mean. Or did you mean 'on a road?' Honestly, Gabrielle, I thought you knew how to pay attention to these things by now."
"Oh, very funny." Striding a few paces behind, Gabrielle rolled her eyes, fixing her partner with a look. "Careful, people might start mistaking you for the bard."
"My singing would be an improvement." Xena playfully shot back, one hand lifting to catch the pebble her bard had scooped up and flung at her head. Sapphire eyes sparkled as she dropped the missile to the side of the path. Sometimes Gabrielle was too easy to tease. "But I think we're about a day and a half outside of Torus this trail cut about a full day off our travel time, and we got through the pass early."
"So tomorrow . . . a warm bath?" Gabrielle sounded hopeful. Not that she would dream about complaining she hadn't done that for quite a while, and certainly wasn't going to start again now but Xena knew her beloved sometimes missed the creature comforts. As much as the warrior tried to make and keep things comfortable on the road, foraging for food and washing in cold streams weren't easy for even the hardiest of souls. Xena fell back a few steps until they were side by side once more, then nodded, grinning as Gabrielle's face lit up. Oh, how she loved making her bard smile.
Of course, you'd love to see her do more than smile The smug mental voice came with its own alluring visual of Gabrielle's head thrown back in the firelight, sweat shimmering across fair, smooth skin, eyes screwed shut and full lips parted on a pant of pure ecstasy. Xena almost stumbled, heat jolting straight to her loins at the image. Gods, not again. She cursed to herself. Why did this have to keep happening now, of all times?
Not that she hadn't had these kind of thoughts before. In all honesty, she'd finally realized she was in love with Gabrielle more than a year ago, after losing her to Dahok and that miserable bitch Hope. Before that, she'd loved the little blonde, cared for her with loyalty and affection beyond any other person in the world, but she'd stubbornly resisted examining the depth of her feelings. It had taken watching her best friend fall into the fiery pit to bring everything into focus. The naïve village girl that had wormed her way into the heart of a washed-up old warlord had matured to become a strong, confident young woman, with the courage and tenacity to stand up for what she believed in and an innate, charming goodness that could warm the soul. It was a package that Xena had fallen hopelessly in love with. As if anyone could have resisted her.
But the same part of the warrior's heart that had bowed to the inevitable and admitted her love had also ruthlessly, insistently pointed out that it would be a cold day in Tartarus before the bard ever felt the same way. And that even if by some Gods'-granted miracle she did, it wasn't fair for her to be put in such danger just for a redemption that probably wouldn't happen anyway. Look at what had happened in Britannia and Rome! No, she would not lose the one pure thing in her life like that.
Shaking off that depressing thought, Xena glanced at the young woman at her side, realizing her friend had launched into a cheerful description of the market they'd heard about in Torus and all the things she planned on bargining for. It had been quite a while since Gabrielle rambled on like this, but in all honesty, the tall brunette was forced to admit she'd missed it. Of all that the younger woman had lost and given up for her newfound maturity, this light-hearted prattling had been one of the most treasured.
"Hey, Xena, did you hear that?"
Xena nodded, frowning slightly. After a long conversation about new supplies and how nice it would be to see Ephiny again, the bard had launched into a rendition of one of Xena's favorite old stories to pass the time. That had been almost two hours ago. They'd been on this particular road since the pass, and aside from a rabbit that had hopped across their trail and nearly into Argo's hooves, it had been utterly quiet. At least, until now.
Gabrielle tilted her head, brow furrowed. "It sounds like metal jingling. And men laughing?"
"It's coming from up there." The warrior motioned toward a downward slope up ahead, where the hard-packed earth beneath their feet dipped down to join the lower path before both continued on in the direction of the town. "Let's go see what's up."
It didn't take long to see the cause of the racket. A few yards from where the paths joined, a band of rough-looking men stood blocking the roadway, their unkempt appearance and menacing air fairly typical of most bandits. None looked like they'd seen a barber or a wash basin in any number of months; the weapons belted at their waists were scratched and dirty, while their body odor and stained leather clothing combined to create a truly disgusting stench noticeable even from where Xena and Gabrielle stood. There were a round dozen of the smelly brutes, all in all, nothing about them out of the ordinary.
What was out of the ordinary was their erstwhile victim. Several feet in front of the thugs between them and the newly-arrived pair was a young woman hardly older than twenty, a thick mane of long, incredibly dark red locks falling in shimmering waves down her back. Tall for her age, lean and well-muscled, her skin appeared to have been naturally fair at one point, though it had been tanned golden-brown by long exposure to the sun. Dressed in a deep brown version of warrior's leathers and travel-dusted boots, she had a well-worn rucksack resting in the dirt at her feet. Even stranger, in spite of their numbers and the fact that most of them topped her by more than a foot, she seemed completely unafraid.
"You're kiddin' me, girl." A massive ogre of a man standing in front of the group hawked and spit to the side, ignoring the scattering of ribald chuckles from his friends while he scratched at the scattered stubble across his chin. He was obviously the leader. "You really think you could beat all'o us?"
"Think?" The girl's voice, ever so slightly accented, almost dripped with sarcasm. "Bet that's a word you don't have to hear often. Did you come up with that question all on your own?"
The man frowned, apparently trying to puzzle out her insult with mixed results. One of his buddies glanced up and noticed Xena and Gabrielle coming from the top of the rise, poking his 'leader' hard in the shoulder. "Hey, Thaddeus! Look, more meat!"
All attention immediately turned to the arriving newcomers. Ignoring the greedy, lustful gazes of the bandits, Xena focused on the young woman, who glanced back over her shoulder in surprise and a flash of what seemed almost like alarm. The oval-shaped face that met the warrior's inspection was really quite pretty; full lips, delicate cheekbones, a thin nose, curved reddish eyebrows and long-lashed eyes of the purest green Xena had ever seen outside of Gabrielle's. Those eyes looked over the Warrior Princess and her bard, noting the weapons and toned muscles beneath their fighters' gear before flicking up to their faces. A moment later, the alarm she'd shown had vanished, replaced by a slow, quirking smile. Whoever she was, she liked what she saw.
Thaddeus, meanwhile, had begun leering widely, showing off several gaps between his crooked, yellowing teeth. "Well well, lookie what we got here, boys. Not just one, but three pretty ladies, and a horse!"
"Bet they've got some good money on them, Thad." Piped up another of the thugs.
The young woman rolled her eyes, glancing over at Xena and Gabrielle. "Anyone else surprised they can count that high?" She asked, tone utterly casual. Gabrielle snickered half under her breath, eyes sparkling while Xena smirked. "It is a rare trick." The warrior agreed, just as calm and amused. All three women shared a silent moment of complete understanding. The redhead didn't have to ask for help, and Xena and Gabrielle didn't have to offer; in the space of a fighter's instant, they had become allies against these idiots.
Apparently oblivious to the fact that they were being mocked, the soon-to-be-pounded creeps preened and shifted, a half-circle of unwashed blades and bully-strong muscle. Thaddeus hooked his thumbs in his belt, chuckling darkly. "We'll take the horse, your purses, your weapons . . . and that pretty little toy on your waist, sweet thing."
Her chakram, a toy? This was a whole new level of stupidity. Xena's eyebrow rose almost to her hairline, and her bard choked on a burst of helpless laughter. The young redhead smirked, shaking her head. "If that's the best you can do, Thad, you've got a long way before you even rate average."
Now that the ridicule was obvious, the band of thugs frowned, ugly faces contorted further into glowering menace. "Maybe you di'n't hear me." Thaddeus growled. "We ain't gonna give you a choice."
The young woman's own eyebrow lifted, an expression of mock-disbelief on her face. "No choice? Oh, how cruel!" She snorted derisively. "You guys were outclassed before. Your odds really haven't improved in the last few minutes, in case you're stupid and blind."
"Outclassed?" The bandit who'd mentioned money sounded smug. "There's twelve of us, and only three of you."
Gabrielle's lean frame twitched with laughter, flashing that adorable smirk that always made Xena want to grin and kiss her senseless. "Isn't twelve of nothing still nothing?" The blonde whispered to her partner. Xena chuckled, one of those sensual sounds that made Gabrielle's stomach flip. Oh, how she loved making Xena laugh.
"I said outclassed, not outnumbered." With a pause, the redhead glanced back, giving the two women behind her a brief but thorough look-over before turning back to the thugs. "I'm pretty sure one of us is worth at least four of you, easy."
Thaddeus' face turned an absolutely fascinating shade of purple. "What?!?!?!?" He practically howled. Xena's gaze sharpened, Gabrielle's battle-honed muscles tensing minutely as both caught the signs. This was going to get physical fast
In front of them, only the faintest shift in the young woman's stance showed she felt the same. Reddish brows quirked upward, lips curled with a smirk of amused satisfaction. "Stupid, blind, and deaf. What a combination."
"Bitch!" With a roar, the massive man lunged forward, drawing the nicked and scratched blade from his belt. For a split-second, everything seemed to freeze. Then the redhead dodged swiftly to one side, arm rising as little more than a flash of motion, and the heel of her palm slammed hard into the thug's nose. Xena winced internally, knowing how badly that particular move hurt. The sharp rasp of cartilage popping broke the stalemate; the rest of the bandits charged their 'victims' and both bard and warrior leapt to the redhead's defense, prompting instant bedlam.
Stiff-arming the first fool that reached for her, Xena sent him spinning off into one of his friends, then ducked a whistling blade that missed her head by a hair and kicked the owner of the weapon face-first into the dirt. One of the slightly-smarter thugs rushed her, trying for a flying tackle around her midsection. Unfortunately for him, she wasn't anywhere close to a normal opponent; flipping into the air, she landed neatly behind the hapless lug, taking him out with hardly a pause. A snapping uppercut flattened the next loser, and she chanced a glance at her two companions.
Gabrielle, of course, was holding her own, just finishing up a front split-kick that knocked her opponent out cold. Sai twirling between her fingers, she laid out another bandit with a blow from the hilt and flashed a dazzling grin in Xena's direction. Lightning sparked in the warrior's veins at the heat of that expression, even in the middle of a fight. Unable to help herself, Xena grinned back. As much as the young bard had lost in her maturity, it was nice to know Gabrielle could take care of herself. And watching her in action is certainly a treat.
Turning her attention back to the redheaded girl, Xena blinked, surprise washing over her for a moment before her grin widened. The young woman moved like a master fighter, toned muscles rippling along her lean frame as she teased and taunted her enemies. A pair of arm-length daggers flashed in her hands; Xena remembered seeing the hilts sticking from the sides of her boots, sheathed just as Gabrielle's sais were. Although she'd obviously taken out the three bandits littering the ground at her feet, she appeared to be more intent on luring Thaddeus and one of the other idiots farther from the main battle. It was a rather odd choice
Or maybe not so odd at all, Xena realized, as she noticed the double-bladed spear the second thug wielded with a fair amount of skill. That particular weapon had quite a decent reach, and the redhead had no way to know that both her allies could defend themselves against it with their shorter weapons. By drawing him away from the others, she was making certain her new 'friends' had a chance to finish off their own opponents without getting tagged. Thaddeus was following because his manly pride had been thrashed when she'd pulped his nose. A nice thought, and an intelligent choice. I like this girl.
Dodging another wild swing of more brute strength than smarts, the Warrior Princess focused back on the remaining idiots still trying valiantly to claim their 'spoils.' A sharp twist extended the dirty arm, boot heel planted firmly in bandit gut before she flung him aside. He collided with a thrown foe from Gabrielle, both going down in a smelly, unconscious heap. The blonde rolled her eyes. "These guys are losers."
Xena nodded, grinning again in spite of herself. Making quick work of the last few men, both bard and warrior turned to watch their new ally. The spear-wielding thug was already down, dazed and writhing weakly on the forest floor. Only Thaddeus was left . . . though to look at the bruises blooming spectacularly across his ugly mug, how he was still standing was an utter mystery. Wavering on wobbly legs, the massive man got his feet back under him and steadied himself a few feet from the young redhead. Growling deep in his chest like a wounded bear, the bandit charged forward, blade whistling in lethal arches through the air in front of him.
The girl ducked and wove through the attacks with fluid grace, blocking the closest with swift flicks of her own daggers. For the moment, she seemed to be holding her own quite well. Then Thaddeus' face contorted into a bloody grimace of a smile, beady black eyes shining with maniac fury. The sudden reversed motion of his beefy arm was shocking in its speed and violence, a mighty sweep that threatened to take the young woman's head from her shoulders. Most other fighters wouldn't have had time to even register the motion; but in a flash, the redhead's muscular legs coiled, and her lanky frame launched straight up. Both booted feet landed briefly on the heavy blade with a muted thunk, slamming the tip into the ground as she bounced off the metal and over his head.
Enraged, the bandit leader released his stuck blade and spun around directly into the range of a punishing roundhouse kick. The meaty pulping noise of his cheek splitting was enough to make Gabrielle wince. Blood and spittle sprayed from cracked lips, at least one tooth flying as the force of the blow snapped the man's head up and to one side. His feet left the ground an instant later, and with a loud thud, the massive thug landed flat on his back, out cold.
There were a few moments of utter silence before Xena stepped forward, facing the few men that had managed to haul themselves upright again. "Anybody else interested in our toys?" She asked, a savagely dazzling smile curling her lips. Gabrielle couldn't help but smirk, secretly loving that dark look just as much as she always had. And the shocked, terrified expressions of the bandits made it even more irresistible.
The thugs, apparently, were smart enough to finally realize they'd been whipped. Every one took off as though Cerberus himself were on their heels, those that were still unconscious being hauled by anyone else able to limp away. Xena was amused to note that it took three of them to drag off Thaddeus, his head bobbing to thunk against the ground at every other step. In seconds, they had vanished entirely, leaving the road clear save Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and their new companion.
The young redhead rubbed the back of her neck and glanced up with a laughing expression in her eyes. "Well, that was fun." She commented, expertly sheathing her blades before turning back to bard and warrior. "Thanks for the help."
Gabrielle grinned, face open and cheerful, though Xena answered first. "We'd have run into them ourselves soon enough." The Warrior Princess waved away the thanks, smiling. "Besides, they were good practice." Sword sheathed, she offered her arm. "Name's Xena."
With an answering smile and nod, the girl joined her own arm in a warrior's clasp. "I'm Mer." She pronounced it 'mare.' "Nice to meet you."
"Gabrielle." The bard traded clasps with the young woman in turn, friendly as always. "Hey, Xe think those were the guys Etronus mentioned back in Lauven? The ones that were robbing merchants?"
Xena nodded casually, though sapphire eyes lit with pride at the fact that her blonde partner remembered. "Probably. We can send a few men back for them when we get to Torus they're not going to be up for much of a fight for a while." She glanced back to Mer. "So where were you headed?"
"Actually, to Torus, at least for a little while." Mer's quirky grin turned amused and a tad embarrassed. "Noticed those idiots by the side of the road and figured I could stop their little ambush before anybody got hurt. Didn't realize anyone would be coming down this way."
"I'd say you did pretty good." Gabrielle laughed. "I mean, that was a great trick with that spear-user."
So she saw the spear too. Xena felt her pride grow all over again at the knowledge. With a small smile to her bard, the warrior continued out loud, "Where'd you learn to fight like that?"
Mer hesitated for just a moment, then seemed to mentally shrug. "From my parents and tribe, mostly. I'm an Amazon." She touched the small silver pendant that hung around her neck, inlaid with the fang from some kind of beast. Then, seeing their surprised faces, she tilted her head curiously to one side. "Something I said?"
Gabrielle shook her head, eyes wide. "I'm an Amazon, too!"
"Really?" Mer's eyebrows leapt for her hairline. "Both of you?" Her expression said it would explain a lot. Gabrielle jumped back in hastily. "Well, technically, only me, but Xena well, Xena might as well be."
Oh really? Xena smirked, mouthing 'A featherhead? Me?' at Gabrielle. The bard elbowed her, and they both grinned briefly. The young redhead, meanwhile, was looking thoughtful as she frowned a bit. "Xena and Gabrielle an Amazon wait a minute." Her gaze sparkled. "You wouldn't be the Warrior Princess and the Battling Bard, would you? Xena and Queen Gabrielle?"
Xena nodded, wondering where and what the girl had heard about them. As usual, Gabrielle asked first. "They tell stories about us even in your tribe?" She seemed utterly amazed at the idea that her 'simple scrolls' had spread so widely.
Mer laughed. "Not at home, sadly though I've heard your stories travel as far as Rome, Chin and Britannia. I was listening to the bard that performed in Illas a few days back." This time, the grin was definitely amused. "My tribe is roughly five moons of travel back that way." She motioned in a direction perpendicular to the road beneath them.
Both warrior and bard recognized the town as one they'd passed through just before Lauven; the villagers had been cleaning up the last of the damage from a massive rockslide. "You're a long way from home." Xena commented. Mer shrugged, mouth twisting ruefully. "My choice to travel. Wouldn't be so bad, but I got caught in a landslide just half a league from Illas, and I lost most of my supplies. Lucky I didn't lose my life."
Gabrielle's eyes lit, fingers snapping. "You're the girl they mentioned!" She turned to her taller partner. "You remember, Xena they were telling us all about the girl that came from the forest just in time." Her beaming gaze turned back to Mer. "They were calling you a hero, you know. They said you saved those little shepherd kids, and their dog."
"I was just there." Mer ducked her head just a bit, looking faintly embarrassed. She seemed to be fighting the urge to shuffle her feet, like a child caught doing something they shouldn't. "I'd been up near the ridge, and I could see they weren't getting out of the way fast enough. It wasn't like I could just stand around and watch."
That hangdog, sheepish expression Gabrielle couldn't help but smile. For a moment, Mer looked exactly the way Xena had when they first started traveling together. Anytime someone praised her good deeds, or she'd gone out of her way to do something nice for the bard, Xena always wore that same expression. Frankly, Gabrielle found it absolutely adorable on her Warrior Princess.
And it was fairly cute on the redhead, too. Gabrielle's eyes sparkled. Now she'll point out that she lost her supplies because of it, so she was stupid.
"Besides, I left more than half my stuff up on the ridge, and it got torn to pieces when the rocks went. Only things I ended up with were in my rucksack - not exactly my smartest choice."
Warriors. The bard managed not to laugh, but it was a near thing. Oblivious to her partner's amusement, Xena nodded, both brunette and redhead commiserating for a few seconds on the loss of equipment. After a bit, the Warrior Princess gestured toward the road. "We can keep moving while we talk. Those idiots might decide to come back for another round once they're done licking their wounds."
With a nod, Mer lifted her pack from the dirt, settling it easily on her shoulders as Gabrielle caught up her own bag and Xena gathered Argo's reins. In true warhorse form, the mare hadn't budged hardly an inch in spite of the fighting around her, though Xena had noticed a few hoofprint-shaped marks on the fools that tried to come up behind her and Gabrielle. That's my girl.
All three women fell into an easy pace, and the quiet turned quickly to more questions. "So what's an Amazon doing five moons from home, headed for a backwater village in the middle of nowhere?"
Mer laughed. "Looking for a map and directions, mostly." She admitted. "Not that the one I had was worth the parchment it was inked on. I wanted to meet with other tribes . . . learn new traditions, histories, methods, you know?" Both Gabrielle and Xena nodded, and the redhead went on, "Then when I got here, I found out the map I bought sent me off in the wrong direction entirely. I was hoping I could get a better fix on where to head at the market in Torus."
"So you're really headed for Amazon territory." Gabrielle glanced over at Xena, gazes locking in a moment of silent conversation. The faint softening of sapphire eyes and a quirking smile showed the warrior agreed with her partner.
"Yep." Mer looked sad for a few seconds missing someone back home, Gabrielle guessed before shaking it off and smiling upward. "But where are you guys headed? Something special in Torus for you?"
Xena grinned, not missing a beat. "Actually, we're headed back to Amazon territory ourselves. Torus is on the way we were traveling by the coast." She nodded toward Gabrielle teasingly. "There's supposed to be trouble brewing, and her majesty here wanted to head back to check it out."
"Oh, like you didn't worry about them too." The blonde bumped Xena's shoulder, not quite giggling as the Warrior Princess smirked back. Smiling at Mer over Argo's flank, Gabrielle added, "You're welcome to join us. It's at least half a moon to the borders, and going alone is no fun."
Now it was Xena's turn to bite back a laugh. Only Gabrielle could say something like 'fun' in that sentence and still sound anywhere near serious. Not that Mer noticed; her fantastic eyes widened, and her wide grin threatened to split her face. "Wha really? That's great!" She sighed happily, shifting her bag slightly across her shoulders. "I figured I'd be wandering around like an idiot for at least another week."
"Nah." Xena waved a hand dismissively, the ghost of a teasing glint in her gaze. "Only half a week. You're better trained then Gab was. And you probably don't snore."
"Hey!" Gabrielle yelped. Mer burst out laughing as the blonde backhanded her partner in the stomach. The warrior smiled, and Gabrielle couldn't help but grin back. She adored these bursts of playfulness, though she'd never told Xena so. "So where to now, o mighty Warrior Princess?"
Head tilting to one side, Xena ruffled the blonde bangs affectionately, unable to help herself. "There's a nice lake maybe a league or so down the road." She offered. "I'm thinking we'll camp there for the night, and get a fresh start in the morning."
Gabrielle nodded. "Sounds good to me." Mer agreed cheerfully. "But there is one important question."
Xena raised an eyebrow, and Gabrielle twisted around to stare puzzledly at the redhead. "What's that?" She asked, surprised.
Mer grinned brightly. "Can either of you cook? 'cause my food sucks."
The Warrior Princess threw back her head and laughed. Maybe it would be good for them to travel with another person again, at least for a while. The dreams hadn't started until after Amarice and Joxer left, after all. And for a kid, Mer seemed nice enough. Kind of like Gabrielle when I first met her, with a bit of Amarice thrown in.
Turning her attention to her companions, she watched the two of them chatter like old friends, Gabrielle spinning a story of Xena's horrible culinary skills that had the redhead chuckling. Nodding to herself, Xena smiled. No, this wouldn't be so bad at all.
To Be Continued
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To Be Continued
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