Xena had been doing some last-minute checks with the second line of fighters who were positioned in the market place. This was the group made up completely of volunteers and they were unsurprisingly nervous about what lay ahead. They were also fired up and well-armed for a rag tag army of traders, wood turners, blacksmith's and farmers.
Her and Gabrielle would be stood in the first line of fighters. This group was made up of the part time warrior women and half of the full-time warriors. The others were positioned on the rocks surrounding the town and in the trees. Most had been in place since first light. The cooks had been up early and prepared bread, fruit and oat porridge which the fighters had collected and taken to their post to eat.
When Xena returned to her post she found Gabrielle handing out cups of water around the women. Antonia was also meant to be at this post but Xena could immediately locate the red-haired warrior as she was stood on the archway talking to the town leader, Meda.
Once Gabrielle had finished handing the water out to the women she brought Xena a cup over. The brunette warrior took it gratefully and drank it down in two big gulps.
"You okay?" Xena asked the blonde.
Xena knew exactly how the blonde felt. They had both fought many battles whilst together and apart but this one felt different. It wasn't like Chin, when there had been an ominous feeling hanging in the air throughout, even on the journey over. This battle felt significant too, but the warrior couldn't put her finger on why.
There was the faint sound of a cantering horse and through the archway Xena could see one of the outlying scouts approaching on a bay horse. They came to a halt in front of the archway, engaging in conversation with Meda and Antonia. Every woman stood with them went silent as they waited for news.
After a brief conversation the rider dismounted and began to lead her horse into the town. Meda stood tall on the archway and held her hand up in a fist. She opened it fully, spreading all five fingers, and waved it so those at
"Yes" the bard replied steadily. "I just wish we weren't going into battle straight away again after I only just got you back."
the nearest post in the trees and the women in the market could see.
"Five minutes" Gabrielle stated.
Xena glanced around at the warriors they were stood with. They had all been at ease and stood in groups conversing, but they now began to spread out and begin stretching in preparation. The warrior gestured for Gabrielle to follow her by flicking her eyes in the direction of the town leader.
They walked the short distance to the South entrance next to each other, arms brushing as they went. When they reached the archway Xena grasped the blonde's hand to halt her. Gabrielle turned and looked up into the brunette's eyes.
"I love you" Xena said with a smile.
"And I you" Gabrielle responded.
The bard reached up with her right hand and cupped Xena's face, tugging her forward into a soft closed mouth kiss. They both smiled when they parted before turning their attention back to the situation at hand.
The two of them climbed up the rocks at the side of the arch. Xena stood at the top next to Antonia and Meda but Gabrielle remained lower down on the next highest step of the rocks just to the side of the warriors.
"Do we have a clearer idea of numbers?" Xena asked the leader of the town.
There previous estimates had been guessing work from rumours emanating from surrounding villages. Tarbus had been conscripting men from villages and towns he controlled in greater numbers than he had ever done before.
"From their camp site last night our scouts estimate between 900 and 1000 men" Meda informed the brunette warrior.
It was the upper end of what they had estimated but Xena wasn't surprised. Other places the warlord had targeted didn't have a standing army of highly trained warriors. The Thracians would not be overpowered or surrender easily. This Tarbus would know he had to come with a great enough force to annihilate them.
The faint sound of the army marching began to echo through the trees. Xena glanced along the line of the archers. The women stood rock tall, waiting for the warlordâ€™s men to come into sight, showing no signs of fear. The two best aims, women called Liara and Dianne, were stood on either side of the archway next to the torches. They would be the ones to shoot first and set off the fire pits.
Xena estimated from the sound that the army was marching under the outer defensive positions now but before she could say anything Meda turned towards Antonia and fixed her stare upon her.
"Remember what we discussed?" the leader of the town asked the red head.
Antonia looked frustrated by the question but nodded her head in agreement. Meda seemed satisfied with the minimal response. Xena watched the two with curiosity but remained as silent as the red-haired warrior.
"You should go" Meda instructed.
Xena, Gabrielle and Antonia climbed down from the arch together. All the while they could hear the army getting ever closer. Xena was sure they would be in sight within the minute and glanced back through the arch as they walked towards the women they would fight with.
"You look annoyed" Gabrielle stated towards the red head; "what has Meda asked you to do?"
Xena smiled at the bard's directness. When they had first met the warrior had found her curiosity and directness charming although at times it could be a little alarming. Antonia halted them just out of ear shot of the other warrior's, turning her back on them so no one could lip read her either.
"Should the battle be going badly I am to abandon defending the town and take the two of you to the ravine" the red head growled.
Xena had suspected that this was the topic the two women had discussed. Antonia was the town leaders second and her most trusted warrior, she was the obvious choice to carry out the task. Yet the red-haired woman was also the kind of person who would fight to the death to protect her home and Meda was asking her to go against that nature for the greater good.
They continued walking back to the other women and took their position in the centre and slightly in front of them. It gave them a clear view through the arch at the road and the army that now came in to view.
Seconds passed by as the front of the army got closer and closer to the wall. Then, finally, there was the sound of arrows in flight, followed by a roar of flames and the shouts of the startled men. The archers on the rocks began to fire as rapidly as possible and the familiar screams of battle rang out.
"And so it begins" Antonia muttered.