Gabrielle nodded, appreciating the way the well fitted armor outlined her lover’s form.
She got up and started untying her own belt, then yelped as she jostled her arm. Xena paused in the act of tying her dark hair back. “Stop that.” She eased her consorts fingers off her belt and untied it herself, laying it over her shoulder and gently easing the gown off Gabrielle’s shoulders. “Okay, we’ll set this search in motion then we have to make an appearance in the banquet hall.” Gabrielle nodded, glad to be free of the gown. “Better for us to be dressed like this anyway.
Everyone knows something’s going on.” Xena remarked. “Got your pigsticker?” Her consort drew her belt knife from it’s sheath in the small of her back and displayed it.
It was supposed to be just a table knife, for cutting her bread or the occasional tough chop served, but a closer look revealed a razor sharp double sided blade, with an indented channel in the center. She occasionally used it to cut slices of apple up and really hoped she was never called on to use it for anything more martial since she knew the chances were she’d cut her own thumb off with it before she’d hurt anyone else. “Good.” Xena adjusted a strap on her own armor.
Then she turned and headed for the wooden workspace the soldiers had set up, which was now covered in age darkened scraped cowskin, which had inked lines running all over it. A rough outline of the stronghold.
Xena put her hands on the workspace and leaned over it, studying the tracings.
To either side of the table, men were armoring up, donning well worn leathers and half armor, and seating swords and maces into holders. Everyone had leather pants on, and high collared jerkins, and they were wearing light helms that protected the back of their heads. Xena went back to the diagram.
It wasn’t that detailed, but it showed the outline of the buildings, and thin, dark tracings that were the tunnels underneath and the dungeons she tried very hard to keep empty. There were pits down there, and cages, all lying in dusty disuse since she’d taken control.
Even the Persian soldiers were being held not in the dungeons themselves, but in the guard barracks that had once been used to keep control from, warm and comfortable billets that befit their status as honorable hostages. They’d asked to join her army, after the war.
Xena had seriously considered it, but something in her gut had kept her from trusting them and she’d settled on a compromise.
She’d told them if their king never answered her offer, she’d eventually give them a choice. In the meantime, they trained with the army, sparring with wooden weapons and keeping themselves fit and suddenly, Xena wondered if they had seen or heard anything unusual and if they would tell her? Brendan came over. “All secure, Mistress.” He said, quietly. “N’more of them traps anywhere.
I had the gates locked at t’other end.” “Brendan, go get me that Persian captain.” She said. “Bring him here.” She indicated a set of lines on the diagram. “Their quarters are here… see where all these underground passages are? Where the old dungeons are?” Brendan nodded. “Aye.” “Let’s see if they heard anything.” Xena glanced up at him. “Let’s see if their mood’s changed any recently.” Her captain nodded in understanding. “Were disappointed, when you kept em under lock.” He commented. “Could maybe protect this brigand, whoever it is.” “Could.” Xena agreed. “Could be I’m an idiot keeping an enemy inside my gates.” She studied the lines as Gabrielle came up next to her. “Maybe it’s even one of them.” “One of what?” Gabrielle asked. ‘The Persians.” Xena glanced at her. “Though they’ve had the opportunity to put a knife in my heart for a month apparently and haven’t.” Gabrielle looked up at her, seeing the furrowed crease in Xena’s brow. “Damn.” The queen sighed. “I wish I could be sure about any gods be damned thing at all.” She paused. “Other than you.” Gabrielle felt a chill travel up her spine. The man she’d sent for their boots came back, holding those items under one arm, but carefully carrying a box with both hands. “Mistress.” He came over and set it down. “Found this in your rooms.
Looked a bit like the ones we saw in there.” He indicated the tunnel. “Didn’t look in it.” Xena regarded the box. “Definitely wasn’t there when we left.” She said. “Wonder what little surprise it has in it.”
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