by Joseph Anderson

Xena, Gabrielle and all characters from the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan fiction which may not be sold, may be copied for personal use only, and must contain all notices of copyright.

Warning: Gabrielle bashing. This is just a short thing that occurred to me. I don't consider it part of my larger storyline. I just felt mean, I guess.

Their great shattered army lay all around them and birds wheeled overhead. The Athenians braced for the final assault along their extended line, knowing they could not withstand it. They had come to throw back the Horde and end their threat for all time. But it had not worked out that way. There were just too many. It would have been over before now, all knew, if not for the Warrior Princess who had reluctantly agreed to lead the expedition.

At first the general had disappointed the men, sending ambassadors to the barbarians, trying to treat with them, trying to reason with them. But when the company she had sent under a flag of truce with a goodwill gift of medicine was sent back in neat packets of boiled flesh it was said she very nearly killed the advisor who had insisted on making the peaceful attempt.

"Look at 'em, Gabrielle! Look at 'em! Are you satisfied? This is my fault for listening to you when I knew better! You'd think Chin and then Solon would've taught me my lesson!"

Xena had to post a guard over her advisor. The men would've killed her otherwise. They all knew it had been her idea. She had gone throughout the army telling them not to look at the Horde as animals, telling them they could be reasoned with, that they were men just like them. It lowered morale and most of the men just thought her a well meaning fool. But the 130 men who had been boiled alive and cut to pieces had listened to her and volunteered for her noble mission and she'd sent them off with a teary smile, as the Warrior Princess looked nervously on. Now whenever she was seen the men spat on the ground at the sight of her. The general merely told them not to waste their spit. The advisor had tried to return to treating the wounded but they made it clear they'd rather die than be touched by her. The guards on her had simple instructions: keep her safe and keep her away from the general.

Xena was with her surviving lieutenants and studying the enemy forces. "We'll take as many with us as we can. We have to weaken them as much as possible. Maybe Sparta will be able to stop them."

Egreus growled, "The cowards should be here now! If we had them it wouldn't have come to this."

Xena said, "You know that's not true, Egreus. It was a command decision, by me and others, that Sparta remain in reserve." She added ironically, "The Spartans were almost ready to go to war over that. Being left out of a fight isn't their style. And if they were with us it wouldn't have changed anything. We underestimated the Horde's strength too badly."

Her lieutenant looked away, knowing everything she said was true. Egreus was just letting off steam.

Vigeranes on Xena's other side said, "Here they come..."

Xena began shouting orders when a yell went up from the men on the right flank by the ocean. She looked and saw sails, a lot of them, coming into view. Xena and her lieutenants caught each other's eyes. "This isn't over yet," she said.

In moments the air was alive with Greek Fire hurling into the Horde forces from the ships' catapults. Xena grinned and looked at the ships again and her smile faded as she recognized their design. As the bombardment continued other ships were landing soldiers: Spartan hoplites....and Roman infantry. More ships were coming into view, and more behind them. It was a huge army come to save civilization. It was Caesar.

The exhausted Athenian soldiers on the front line, surrounded by the bodies of their companions and preparing to die fighting, looked up at the fresh men pounding past them toward the advancing Horde. Smiling with relief at the Spartans, bizarre as that seemed, then just looking with disbelief at the Romans with their arrogant faces and perfect discipline.

The Warrior Princess was reforming a decimated phalanx when Democles, the Spartan commander, found her and gruffly congratulated her on holding out. With his fresh troops they began driving the savages back. The Romans under their own officers had landed in three spots and were not only attacking the Horde army from the front with the Greeks, but from the flank and also from behind, where the retreating warriors ran directly into the interlocking shields of crack Roman legionnaires. More troops were still being landed.

Gabrielle found herself free of her guards for the first time in weeks. They had told her contemptuously they were going to help with the fighting and she would be safe. Everyone was fighting so there was no one to kill her as she deserved, though she should stay away from the wounded. Some might have the strength to try and avenge their butchered comrades.

She hadn't responded to the insults. The bard never did anymore. She tried calling back her old self assurance that she knew what was right, but she kept seeing what was left of the men she'd talked into going to their deaths. Xena's words had seared themselves in her brain.

Now the bard was wandering around the empty camp as she had been for hours, wondering what was happening in the battle. She went to check on the wounded but they still despised her as much as everyone else, and she left amid their curses. Only Xena didn't hate her; just considered her judgment as less than worthless, actually dangerous, in fact. That was why she kept her away: so she wouldn't be tempted to take her advice again. Her love for her clouded her judgment, the warrior had decided, and she couldn't allow that in this situation. It wasn't even a rift this time. Xena assured her they were still friends and had apologized for what she had said. But she couldn't risk her men by listening to her.

Gabrielle heard cheers and yelling from the front and wondered what could be happening as her spirits rose. Though no one had been willing to give her news for weeks, she had understood how desperate their situation was from overhearing her guards.

"What have we here?"

Gabrielle whirled around, her staff ready.

"You...what are you doing here?" she said in horror.

Julius Caesar smiled at her. "Saving the day..what else? How can I rule the world if jabbering monkeys have fouled half of it? I mean I can rule it, but the property values will be so much lower."

Gabrielle said, "They aren't monkeys. They're men."

"Ah yes...I heard about your little experiment in nobility. Awfully brave with other peoples' lives aren't you? Of course, I knew that anyway after the way you killed Crassus." He was smiling arrogantly down at her. Gabrielle felt his magnetism working on her against her will.

"You killed Crassus. You killed your own ally." Gabrielle spat at him.

Caesar laughed softly. "I did some investigating after that daring rescue of Vercinex by the magnificent Warrior Princess. You kept his imperial ring so he would be unable to identify himself. You knew what I would do...I'm sure both Xena and Crassus himself told you I would execute him in Vercinex's place." He paused and said, "You just decided he should die."

Gabrielle gripped her staff with white knuckles and didn't answer for a moment. Then she said, "Crassus deserved to die for Cardenas."

The handsome Roman aristocrat ducked down to look in her eyes. "He wasn't at Cardenas. He didn't order the village crucified. In fact, Crassus had the men responsible crucified themselves."

"That's a lie! Vercinex was told by his own niece, up on the cross, that it was Crassus himself!" Gabrielle said furiously.

Caesar shook his head pityingly. "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, how would a young girl know it was Crassus? The man commanding claimed to be Crassus, that's all; or more likely said it was being done in the name of Crassus and the girl misunderstood. I just wanted you to know. One should always have their facts straight. Really, though they were just following orders. My orders."

"Ah, gods!" Gabrielle cried and fell to her knees.

"That's enough," a low voice said.

The handsome Roman general turned. "There you are, Xena! Come to give me thanks? Kiss my imperial ring, perhaps?"

The camp was beginning to fill with grinning soldiers, Roman, Athenian and Spartan. Xena looked around and brushed past Caesar to kneel next to Gabrielle and lift her to her feet. She looked back up at that handsome arrogant face. "You did it for your own reasons. That doesn't deserve thanks."

Caesar looked at her smiling slightly. "Ingratitude doesn't become you, Xena. Ah, well." Brutus approached and Caesar walked off with him.

"It's over, Gabrielle. The Horde army is broken; this one anyway. We need to get out of here."

"Can we just leave? I'd like that," the shaken bard said gratefully. But then she said, "Wait a minute. You're still in command, Xena. You can't simply leave." Horrified as she was by what she had just learned from Caesar, she sensed something Xena wasn't telling her.

Xena brusquely said, "They can get by without me now. Democles can take over the Greek forces. I want to leave immediately."

Gabrielle said, "Well, all right, but I still..." then she stopped. Xena followed her gaze. The top of a cross was visible, a Horde warrior hanging from it. The bard looked at Xena, who looked away. "Stop him, Xena. You have to stop him. There are thousands of them!"

"I can't stop him, Gabrielle; this is Caesar's victory." Xena's voice suddenly became harsh, "and I wouldn't stop him if I could. They're animals who only understand one thing!"

Gabrielle whispered, "Please, Xena...oh please! Don't feel that way. Remember the outpost. Remember Kaltaka." She looked up at Xena's cold blue eyes.

The Warrior Princess said, "That's what I remembered when I sent 130 men to be cooked and cut to pieces. Why don't you remember that, Gabrielle? You are right though, I do have duties here. Just stay in your tent if you can't stand it. I'll repost your guards. It'll take days for all the crosses to go up."

"Xena, oh gods, please stop it!" the bard said tearfully.

The warrior continued and almost seemed to be talking to herself. "I need to discuss all of this with Caesar and Democles. Maybe we can follow up and crush the Horde where they come from, the bitches and cubs too. Kill 'em all in their stinking mud huts!" Xena strode away leaving the little bard looking after her, pale and shaking.