DISCLAIMER: Xena and Gabrielle are greedily kept by Renaissance Pictures, Universal, MCA, and whoever else who has rights to the show. They are not mine and never will be, much to my disappointment.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my first Xena fic. I thought I could never write one myself because I practically worship the show, but I was blackmailed and forced into it by that horrible Ralst! I mean, gently encouraged to branch out and write about our lovely ladies by that wonderful and inspirational Ralst. Seriously though, I had a bit of trouble writing it, but I'm glad I did. Plus, it actually got me writing again. Thanks Ralst. Oh, and thanks to my mum for beta-reading it for me.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Dead of Winter ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Sharp Prong Thingies
"Hey Gabby, since when do you fight with um sharp, prong, thingies ?" Joxer stammered, losing confidence with each word.
"They're called Sai daggers, Joxer, not 'sharp prong thingies'." Gabrielle chided him.
Joxer nodded, "Of course, I knew that, I was just seeing if you did."
Giving him a sideways glance as they made their way through the dense forest, she wished desperately that Xena was with them. It had been 3 hours since a villager stumble upon their campsite begging for help, and long 3 hours since she had seen Xena.
Gabrielle felt a hand rest on her shoulder and she opened her eyes sleepily to look up at Xena. She had that look on her face; someone was near. They both stood up, reaching for their weapons.
Whoever was out there wasn't making any effort to be quiet. They were breaking branches, scuffing leaves, cursing when falling, and they were headed straight for their camp. It was surprising that Joxer hadn't woken up yet, but not surprising that Xena hadn't woken him. He was always loud when he woke up.
Another branch broke, and finally a figure could be seen. He stumbled into the small clearing, tripping over a stray root. He fell at Xena's feet and nearly tackled her when he got up to continue running. She grabbed his shirt and held him tight.
"Help me!" He cried. "Please, I need someone to help me!"
"What happened?" Gabrielle asked gently.
"M my my daughter she was taken!" He was sobbing uncontrollably now, obviously distraught.
"Who took her?" Xena said.
"Is he a warlord?" Gabrielle frowned.
The man gasped at her. "You don't know of Palmer?"
"No, we don't. You need to tell us everything if we are going to help you." Xena replied.
"He he is a vicious man. He runs this area as if he was king, he works them men to exhaustion, and rapes the women." He shivered with disgust. "But now several villages have had daughters disappear, and mine was taken during the night. It is Palmer! He must be trying to trade them! ...Or worse ."
The man broke down at the heinous thoughts. He collapsed onto the ground and cried helplessly.
Xena had promised to help him. He told us his name was Abram and where to find Palmer and his cronies. Xena had set off with him to his village to ask more questions, and Gabrielle had been ordered to babysit Joxer. Ok, so it wasn't exactly said like that, but as far as Gabrielle was concerned, 'scoping out the roads and surrounding areas with Joxer' seemed an awful lot like babysitting duty.
She wished Virgil was here too. At least he knew how to handle the older Joxer. Unfortunately he was on a Bardic tour over towards Chin, and she and Xena were graced with Joxer's company. And if anyone were listening to her thoughts, she wished they noted the heavy sarcasm on the word 'graced'.
At the moment they were making their way through a forest between two roads. The road they were headed to is supposed to be the one the warlord's cronies used to travel on. Xena told her to find a trail, but not to follow it until she returned from Abram's village.
As the forest started to ease up, Gabrielle could make out the dirt track. She couldn't hear anyone close by so they made their way onto the relatively smooth road. She knelt down and felt the dirt. She looked for any markings that could indicate recent use. There were signs, small and almost unrecognizable for most, but there they were; 3 boot tracks, 1 heavier than the other 2.
"There were 3 men. 1 was carrying something." Gabrielle said, mostly to herself.
Joxer leant on his cane and he tried to get a closer look. "When?"
"Well, obviously last night when Abram's daughter was taken!" Gabrielle snapped back at him.
"Sorry " He mumbled sadly.
Gabrielle stood up and touched his arm. "I'm sorry Joxer. I didn't mean it like that."
Gabrielle would have said more but she heard a horse approaching. She pulled Joxer behind the tree-line with her, crouching down low. When the rider came into view, she immediately recognized it as Xena and Argo, with Abram seated behind her. The two emerged from the forest to greet them.
Abram climbed down and went to greet Gabrielle and Joxer as Xena jumped down after him, who patted Argo in thanks. She then came to stand next to Gabrielle.
"3 men came along this road in the last day, one of them carrying something." Gabrielle informed her companion.
"My daughter!" Abram exclaimed.
"Most likely." Xena commented. "Gabrielle, take Joxer with you up this path, see what you can find. Abram and I will go straight to Palmer's stronghold and find a way in. This road will lead there eventually, so when you get there follow my markings in if we don't find you before then."
Gabrielle nodded. Although she wanted to argue, to say that she wanted to go with her, that they worked better as a team, she knew it wouldn't work. Great, more babysitting, she thought to herself.
"Are you sure they shouldn't wait in the forest? Those prong thingies don't look too threatening " Abram suggested.
Gabrielle shot him a glare, "They're called Sai daggers. And they are very dangerous, thank you very much." She grabbed Joxer by the arm as she started to stalk down the road. She didn't even bother to say a word of goodbye to Xena. Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed, she thought to herself and she stormed away.
Even the usually oblivious Joxer wasn't brave enough to disturb Gabrielle's string of mumbled curses as they made their way down the road. It had been over an hour since they left Xena and Abram, and the verbal rambling had not relented in the slightest. Only when a spear whizzed past Gabrielle's head did she become silent.
Gabrielle grabbed Joxer and literally dragged him behind a tree. She peered around the trunk to find the owner of the spear, but saw nothing. The spear was sticking out of the tree they were hiding behind, so she reached around the trunk and tried to pull it out.
She got fed up with trying to be careful, so she came out from the safety of the tree and yanked hard, causing the spear to come clear, and herself to fall to the ground from the sudden release from resistance.
Gabrielle scampered back next to Joxer when she heard a twig snap in the forest on the other side of the road. She peeked around the tree again and saw two leather clad men cautiously step out of the tree-cover. They were both wielding swords, which must have been cleaned recently, as they glistened in the midday sun.
One signaled to the other and they split up, positioning themselves to flank Gabrielle and Joxer on either side. Gabrielle motioned to Joxer to stay put, then she got up and made a very loud and obvious run for it. The thugs took the bait and went after her.
She sprinted over the road and into the forest on the other side, using the spear to make a trail. Just when she thought about stopping the trail and doubling back for Joxer, she almost plundered into a deep pool of water. She had been so concerned with listening to the thugs follow her that she hadn't noticed the soft trickle of a small waterfall.
Caught in a dead end, with little chance of getting past the thugs, Gabrielle thought hard for a solution. What would Xena do? She asked herself. Unfortunately the thugs knew about the waterfall, and were grinning wickedly as they entered the small clearing. She faced them, holding the spear up as if it was her trusty staff weapon.
They looked her over and started to chuckle. One was laughing harder than the other, and Gabrielle looked at them quizzically. She was pretty sure she had nothing coming out of her nose
"Hey little girl!" The one who recovered from his bout of laughter first called. "Aren't you lucky you have our spear? Those little prong thingies look like a child's toy!"
Gabrielle growled, "They're called Sai daggers "
The thugs looked at each other and started laughing again. Gabrielle was getting really tired of the misconception surrounding her recent weapon change. She knew she was going to snap soon.
One of the thugs opened his mouth to speak but didn't have a chance since Joxer and slugged him on the back of the head with his cane. Gabrielle didn't waste any time; she ran forward and hit the other one in the nose with the blunt end of the spear.
They both regained their composure quickly. The thug Joxer hit, who Gabrielle nick-named Red because of his stringy red hair, spun around and glared at Joxer. He was going to have a nasty lump on the back of his head in the near future, and his expression said that he knew it. Joxer gulped and backed up, holding his cane in front of him for defense.
Scruffy, the other thug, pulled his sword from its sheath and lunged at Gabrielle. She blocked it with the spear and swung the end up and connected with his throat. He fell to his knees gasping for air. Gabrielle took advantage of his weakened state and battered Scruffy over the head with the spear, effectively breaking it in two.
Gabrielle looked up to see Red gripping his sword tightly and stepping towards Joxer. Joxer was too scared to noticed Gabrielle sneak up behind Red; he was more concerned with the deadly sharp sword pointed in his direction, when he only had an old man's cane to protect himself with. And Red didn't notice either, because he was too angry because of the throbbing pain in his head.
As he lifted his sword to strike at Joxer, Gabrielle jabbed the blunt end of the half spear into Red's ribs. He curled around the point of connection as he spun around to face a grumpy Gabrielle. All she had wanted to do was walk along the road, hand in hand with Xena, as they made their way through Greece. But fate had intervened, and this thug was going to pay for it.
Gabrielle stomped forward as Red stepped backwards. He was scared now. He saw his partner lying unconscious on the ground, and he recognized the look in Gabrielle's eyes. Anger, no, not anger Fury. He gulped as he saw her hand grip the broken spear tighter. This is going to hurt, he thought ominously.
Gabrielle grinned wickedly as Red's back collided with a tree. She knocked the sword out of his hand, hitting his fingers in the process. She snarled menacingly as she swung the spear and whacked the side of his head with a crack. He slumped to the ground in a heap of pained groans.
Gabrielle kicked him in the stomach for good measure, and then stormed back towards the road, grabbing and dragging Joxer along with her. They traveled along in silence, stopping occasionally for Joxer to rest and for Gabrielle to check the trail.
Soon enough, they reached Palmer's stronghold. There were guards stationed at almost equal intervals along the perimeter, but Gabrielle quickly found a way in. She assumed it was the same Xena used, as there were faint markings on the ground.
They followed the markings into a sitting chamber of some kind. Gabrielle looked over the room with a wary glance. It hadn't been occupied recently, but that didn't mean someone couldn't walk in at any time. She heard a noise from the corridor and pulled Joxer into an alcove with her. She held a hand over his mouth to make sure he was constantly reminded to stay silent while she listened to the shuffle of feet in the sitting room.
"I didn't even know Xena was in the area until she jumped Palmer." Gabrielle heard a young male voice say.
"Luckily we were due to have the meeting otherwise we wouldn't have caught her and that farmer." An older gruff voice said in response.
"I've heard a lot about her. Do you think the cell will hold her?" The young one spoke again.
The gruff voice huffed. "Hardly. It may for a short time, but she'll get out eventually. That's why Palmer has half of the men waiting in a room nearby."
"What are we supposed to do then?"
"We're meant to go out looking for that little friend of hers."
"So how come we're still here?"
"Her friend will come looking for her eventually."
"But shouldn't we do what Palmer ordered us to?"
"Jeez, do you ever shut up?" growled the older man. "Fine. We'll go look around the area. But I'm telling ya; she'll come to us."
Gabrielle heard more shuffling, and waited until the noises grew distant. She peeked her head out of the alcove and saw that the room was once again empty. She stepped out and waited for Joxer to follow her.
"What are we going to do?" He asked nervously.
"We need to find a way to trap the men in that room, and then we have to free Xena and Abram." Gabrielle paused. "She'll probably want to go after Palmer again."
"But the guy said that only half the men were in that room. Where is the other half?"
"Probably guarding Palmer." Gabrielle answered distractedly. "Come on, let's go."
Gabrielle glanced into the corridor and then stepped into it once seeing it was empty. She cautiously walked down the passageway, listening to each door as she went. When she finally came to some stairs leading downwards she grinned. Here we go, she thought to herself. She led the way down, helping Joxer occasionally.
When they reached the bottom she could see a door a little way down to the right. She crept up to it and pressed her ear to the wooden surface. She could hear muffled voices and a clang or two of boots on boots. Gabrielle frowned and thought there must be quite a few men in there. She bit her lip nervously. What could she use to block the door? She looked around her, and her eyes lit up when they saw what Joxer was leaning on.
She held out her hand and smiled apologetically to Joxer. He looked scared as he handed over his cane and watched as Gabrielle gently slid it through the handle and squeezed it against the wall to hold it in place. She sighed in relief, glad that the door opened inwards and that the cane would hold them back for a bit. Although she was hoping she could get Xena out quietly so they wouldn't have to fight them.
She motioned to Joxer to follow her again and held her hand out to help him. They made their way further down the stone-walled passageway. When they finally reached another door she helped Joxer lean against the wall and then she pressed her ear to the new door. She could hear Xena talking quietly with Abram, but couldn't make out what she was saying, nor if there was anyone else in the room.
She cracked the door open a little and peered in. As she opened in further, and took in more of the room, she could see that there were only cells in the room, and none of Palmer's men. She grabbed Joxer's arm and helped him into the room. He stood watch at the door as Gabrielle crept further in.
Xena grinned as she heard soft footsteps, and she turned to see Gabrielle. She had known that Gabrielle would find them, not that she was particularly worried. It was just annoying fighting all those men on her own, and she knew that Gabrielle would want to her share some of the fun.
"Why haven't you escaped yet?" Gabrielle whispered.
Xena got a small dagger from her boot. "I was waiting for you."
Xena stuck the tip of the dagger into the lock and fiddled a bit until it gave way and the lock opened. She grabbed it and placed it on the ground silently, and then helped Abram out of the cell. They stood in a small circle as Xena gave out the new orders.
"Abram, you're going to take Joxer out of here, while Gabrielle and I go after Palmer. After we deal with him we'll go after your daughter."
"I want to help!" Abram protested.
"Taking Joxer out of here is helping." Xena growled. She hated when people argued with her.
Abram was about to protest again but Xena held up her hand. "This is how it will be. If you want your daughter back you'll do what I say. Now go!"
Abram's expression could only be described as sulking as he went over to Joxer and whispered the plan. Xena and Gabrielle followed and gave them the signal to move out quietly.
As Joxer and Abram made their way towards the exit they had to hide from patrolling men several times, nearly getting caught twice. Xena and Gabrielle followed them silently until they knew they were close enough to the back way out, then they made their own way towards Palmer's chambers.
Gabrielle had told Xena about what she overheard, and Xena had said she was expecting that. They took out a few men along the way, trying to stay as quiet and undetected as possible. When they finally reached their destination they could hear Palmer talking with a few of his men through the door. Xena motioned some directions to Gabrielle, who nodded in understanding, and then burst into the room, weapons drawn.
" and then " Palmer gasped. "Xena!"
"Surprised to see me?" Xena sniggered evilly.
"Not at all." Palmer tried to look calm, but could feel his heart pumping in his chest. He just hoped Xena couldn't. "In fact I was just telling my men that they should come get you."
Gabrielle chuckled. "I've heard that one before."
"Oh really?" He snarled from his throne-like chair. "I bet they were just quivering in their boots when you pointed those prong thingies at them."
Xena saw Gabrielle's eye twitch.
"SAI DAGGERS!" Gabrielle screamed at the giant brute.
Everyone but Xena froze in shock as Gabrielle ran at Palmer. When he regained his composure she was nearly at him. He lifted his sword and blocked Gabrielle's lunge with effort. Xena noticed the men come to and took it as her cue to take them out.
Once Xena was finished she looked up to see Gabrielle still beating on Palmer. She was playing with him. She could have beaten him a dozen times over, but took pleasure in the look of despair on his face every time she thwarted his attempts to escape or attack her. Xena watched with amusement as Palmer made another stab at Gabrielle with his sword.
Gabrielle grinned wickedly as she side-stepped and jabbed the handle of her Sai daggers into his ribs. He doubled over to hold his stomach as he whimpered in pain. She swept her leg around and knocked his out from under him. He landed on the floor with a thud and she pushed him down with her boot. She kicked the sword out of his hand and stood over him menacingly.
"What do you want?" he whimpered pathetically.
"What are these called?" Gabrielle held the tip of a Sai dagger to his throat.
"S Sai daggers," he panted.
"That's better," Gabrielle growled and walked away from him. She sat in his chair and watched as Xena stood over him.
"Where are the girls?"
"I I don't know what you're talking about." He tried in vain.
Xena pressed her boot against the side of his face and growled, "Answer me or I'll let her at you again!"
He cried as her answer, "In a small fort to the west."
"How many men are guarding them?"
"How many?!" She pushed down harder.
"Six! Just six!" He wept.
"Good," Xena purred. "Ready Gabrielle?"
"Can I kick him before we go?" Gabrielle glared at Palmer.
"Be my guest." Xena replied as she stepped away, knocking one of the guards on the head who was regaining consciousness.
Gabrielle kicked Palmer in the ribs and hoped she broke some as she made her way to the door where Xena was waiting. They made their way to the fort, stopping only to order the hiding Abram and Joxer back to the village, and saved all the kidnapped girls.
They were welcomed by all the townsfolk as they returned with the girls, and were offered the two spare rooms at the tavern in Abrams village for saving the day. Joxer was given his own room, as Xena and Gabrielle were used to sharing. After a nice hot meal, and some tasty mead, they headed off to bed. After all, it was quite a long and exhausting day.
Xena stretched out on her bed and watched as Gabrielle put her Sai daggers on the small table beside the bed. She grinned mischievously.
"You know Gab; you were kind of hot with those sharp prong thingies today."
Gabrielle shot her a glare and growled, "They are called SAI daggers!"
Xena laughed at Gabrielle's expression as she realized that Xena had called her hot. "Oh, is that what they're called?" She mocked.
Gabrielle smirked, and then she leapt onto the bed and started to tickle and poke Xena in the ribs. Xena squirmed in kind, but let the Bard have her revenge. At least until she decided it was her turn to do the tickling.
Gabrielle yawned and stretched. She felt fully rested, yet still had no intention of getting out of bed. She was comfortable and warm, especially with her soft Xena pillow. Xena ran her fingers through Gabrielle's hair when she felt her resettle against her side.
"Ready to save another village today?" Xena purred.
"You know what? I don't think I am." Gabrielle smiled and snuggled closer. "Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed other days you just don't want to."
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