Please read the Disclaimer in Part One!
Please also reread my earlier statement about not being an expert on war, strategy or the depiction thereof.
Xenite Disclaimer for Part Fourteen: No mere mortals were unnecessarily exalted during the production of this fanfic.
The battle continued in similar vein for an hour or two. As the sun rose and drove its treacherous rays against the wet wall, the renegades renewed their climbing attempts. The efforts with the battering ram paused, then resumed, and the tension mounted inside the walls of Balacia.
Gabrielle was in the leader's cabin, pacing nervously back and forth while Cassa updated her on the situation. As far as the bard could tell, the situation was pretty much under control.
"If we're as well defended as you make it sound," she said at last, "why are they even bothering to attack us? Surely they must know they can't win, not here. What drives them?"
"From what I can see, they're driven by anger," Cassa said, measuring Gabrielle with her gaze.
"Anger stems from something else. Pain," Gabrielle mused, still pacing. "Something hurt these women so badly they felt the need to tear away from the Amazon Nation. To pull themselves out of the community that loved and supported them. It must have been terrible."
"Trying to understand them?" Xena said, entering with Ephiny in tow. Cassa turned to look at them.
"Don't tell us it's pointless," the leader said almost defensively. Xena raised her eyebrows.
"I wasn't going to," she replied mildly. "Gabrielle's taught me better than that." Gabrielle grinned in astonishment.
"Good," Ephiny interjected. "Maybe Gabrielle can teach us all something, and help us avoid too much bloodshed."
"I'm all for that," said Anaira, entering as well. The others looked at her in some surprise.
"They've given up with the battering ram again, for the moment," she reported, "and the water trick seems to be working, but we can't keep it up much longer without risking the town's drinking supply. I left things in charge of Surya and Cassa's second. Do we have a new strategy?"
"They've given up?" Gabrielle repeated uneasily. "That soon?"
"Oh, certainly not," Ephiny said. "They're just slowing down for the moment, taking a break."
"Waiting for us to let down our guard?"
"Close," Xena said. "Waiting for us to change our guard. What I'd really like to do is take a force out there and root them out." Ephiny winced and protested immediately.
"Xena, no. It's too dangerous. As soon as we opened the door they'd be on you."
"Something has to give," Xena said reasonably. "We can stay in here waiting for them all day, and they can keep trying to scale the wall all day." Everyone looked grim and thoughtful.
"Gabrielle, tell us what you're thinking," Ephiny urged. Gabrielle frowned slightly.
"I don't know. I need to think about it some more."
"I'm concerned that they haven't attacked the lesser doors yet," Xena said, turning to Ephiny. Gabrielle turned away, half-listening to the conversation as she picked up her thread of thought.
"Yes," Anaira agreed, "they certainly know those doors are there, and they'd seem an obvious target. Why aren't they going for it?"
"Xena!" came a frantic voice from outside. A scout burst into the cabin, panting and wild-eyed. "My Queens!"
"What is it?" Cassa demanded. The scout gulped air.
"They set fire to the lesser door on the eastern side and burned their way in!"
"Well, that answers that," Xena said grimly to Anaira.
"So they're in. How many?" Ephiny demanded of the scout, who shrugged helplessly.
"Galia told me to run as soon as she realized what was happening. I didn't see-"
"All right. Come on!" Ephiny said, and she and the scout were out the door, with Anaira and Cassa close behind. Xena paused to look at Gabrielle.
"Xena, go ahead. I'll stay here," the bard replied. "Go."
Reluctantly, Xena turned and dashed after the others.
The Amazons fought well, but once the first door was breached it wasn't long before the other small door fell as well, and despite the forces guarding the inside, the renegades soon made their way into the village and the battle was joined in earnest. Xena kept a watchful eye on Lirin, who remained with the forces atop the wall, but the youth seemed cowed by her earlier error and caused no trouble. Xena, Anaira and Ephiny led the Amazons in their defense, plowing determinedly through the waves of renegades as they poured, or trickled, through the two lesser doors.
Finally, as she whirled and kicked and thrust her way through the crowds, Xena found herself up against a masked renegade whose body language she recognized. Like lightning, her sword flickered out and whisked the mask away, revealing Korain, whose expression made her face still a mask of hatred.
"I swore I'd take you down, and here's my chance," the renegade snarled sarcastically. Xena narrowed her eyes.
"Don't count on it." She parried Korain's sword thrust, and they went at it in earnest, grunts and sword clashings mingling with the other battle noises that filled the village square. Korain's fighting, like her manner of speaking, was angry and fierce but not disciplined. In a minute Xena had found her weaknesses, and in another she had exploited them, knocking the renegade's sword out of her hand and knocking the woman to the ground, Xena's sword at her throat.
But as the two of them froze in a hushed, breathless tableau, a voice rang out across the space, saying "STOP!" and bringing the entire battle to a halt.
Every head in the village turned to the source of the shout, which came from the top of the battlement. There, to Xena's dismay, stood Gabrielle, leaning against the railing to look down on the fighting, completely exposed at all sides to attack. Behind her Xena could see Lirin, wide-eyed, and Surya, looking sick with apprehension.
Gabrielle looked down and saw one renegade tentatively lifting her arrow-strung bow to her shoulder. "You," the bard said, making the renegade flinch in shock. "Will you kill me? I am your sister and your Queen. Will you shed my blood?"
Confused, uncertain, the renegade lowered her bow and looked around her. Gabrielle lifted her eyes and swept her gaze across the entire village, raising her voice to project.
"All those of you who left the Nation to become renegades did so for a reason. Think about that now. What was that reason? Can you remember?" She paused for a moment; the silence was utter. "Let me help. You left because you were confused, and afraid, and angry. Bitter, maybe. You saw that the Amazon Nation is no longer the powerful force it once was, ruling over the land with a mighty presence, commanding respect from men and women everywhere. You feared that Artemis had deserted us, and when someone told you that it was because the Amazons had become weak, you were eager to believe."
As Gabrielle paused again, one renegade did let fly an arrow. Several dozen throats gave out gasps of dismay as the missile soared toward its mark. Gabrielle smiled serenely and leaned to one side, letting the arrow sail past her and hit the wall with a thunk that seemed to echo forever. Another thunk and a grunt followed as an Amazon delivered a silencing blow to the offending archer.
"I understand your fears," Gabrielle went on, picking up her speech as if nothing had happened. "I understand your pain and your anger. You cover your faces to hide the pain, but I see it. I've felt it myself, trying to understand the fate of the Amazons and how we've come to where we are now. But I'm here to tell you that there is a reason. There is an answer."
Xena blinked, then blinked again and stared up at her lover. The glow which she had thought she was imagining from Gabrielle's skin was intensifying. The bard seemed to give off a gentle golden light, and around the square there were gasps and murmurs as others noticed it as well.
"The Amazons are not fighters," Gabrielle continued. "We have been in the business of war for so long we've forgotten our true purpose. Artemis is not a murdering god. She is a wise god, a huntress, a sportswoman. Our business should not be war. Our worth should not be measured in how much land we control. What matters is what we're teaching our daughters. How many of us have children?" Xena winced painfully, feeling her throat constrict as she thought of how close a child had come to tearing her and Gabrielle apart; but above her, the bard's face held no reprimand. "How many of us would like our daughters to grow up to something like this?" Gabrielle was asking, sweeping her hand around to indicate the battle scene. "How many funeral pyres do you want your daughters to see? Wouldn't you rather they grew up strong and proud in their abilities? To use their strength and their wisdom for maintaining peace, rather than for killing and conquering?"
"It's madness," called Korain angrily from Xena's feet. "Are we going to let this interloper tell us what the aim of the Amazon Nation is? She wasn't even born one of us!"
"She bears the sign of Artemis!" another renegade called in protest, pointing. Glowing golden on Gabrielle's forehead the labrys could clearly be seen, and several renegades cried out and dropped their weapons.
"Listen to me," Gabrielle beseeched, ducking another arrow. Tears ran down her cheeks as she stretched out her hands in supplication to the women below. "We all know how this battle is going to end. Dozens of us will die, and those who remain will be torn apart by grief. It doesn't matter who we call the winner. The truth is we're all losers. The cycle of pain and anger and vengeance will continue. More of us will die. We're still all sisters. Do you really want that to happen?"
"Justice demands-" Korain began furiously, but another voice overrode her.
"Justice has no place in your heart, Korain! You know only hatred and retribution!" Another renegade stood out from the crowd, facing down her compatriot. "If we bring down this village, and the next, where will it end? Gabrielle is right. The killing is not our way. If you could only see past your pain you'd know it!"
There were murmurs of agreement from the other renegades, and Xena sensed that the speaker was one of their more temperate leaders. Now confusion took over as Amazons looked from one to another, uncertain of what was to come next.
"All those of you who wish to lay down your weapons and join us in peace," Gabrielle said from above, "we will welcome you among us as sisters once again. Together we can mend this rift in our Nation." She watched with a beatific smile as the renegades one by one began putting down their weapons and pulling off their masks.
"Fools!" shouted Korain in desperate anger, surging to her feet so quickly that Xena was caught off guard. The renegade lunged and disappeared into the darkness of the wall.
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