An Awakening - Part 18


by Hunter Ash


Ownership: Repeat after me: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, etc. I'm borrowing them for entertainment purposes, please don't bother to sue me, you wouldn't even get court costs.

Violence: about a normal television episode.

Subtext/Alt Sex: the story assumes a loving and sexual relationship between people of the same gender and of the opposite sex. If this offends you or is illegal for you then please leave. Come back when you are older, have an open mind, moved, or changed your laws.

Feedback: always welcome and responded to!

Storyline: A runaway slave and his mystic brother ask Xena and Gabrielle's help in stopping their local war god, Kal, from obtaining the Chakram of Light.

The story can stand on it's own but it is part of a series and you might want to catch some of the earlier parts to know exactly who is whom.

A Visit Home, an Awakening 1
Gabrielle's Awakening 1a- from Gabrielle's Point of View
An Awakening, Discovery, 2
Gabrielle's Discovery 2a- Gabrielle's POV
Amazon Bonding, Awakening 3
Gabrielle, Amazon Bonding 3a - Gabrielle's POV
Healing, Awakening 4
Trial of a Roman, Awakening 5
Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother; Awakening 6
Reunited, Awakening 7
Ides of March, Awakening 8
Children of Gods, Awakening 9
Even with Ares, Awakening 10
Settling with Brutus, Awakening 11
Darkness Awakening, Awakening 12
Amazons North, Awakening 13
Amazon Darkness, Awakening 14
The Wild Hunt, Awakening 15
Bard Scrolls, Awakening 16
A God's Twilight, Awakening 17

Xena stopped outside Sasha's room and listened for a moment.

“Why do we tell people that my father's name is Aramus and that he's a soldier somewhere?” Xena heard Sasha's voice asking.

“Well, you know how some people pray to Ares for help in battles and stuff?” Gabrielle began answering and Xena leaned against the wall, curious.

“Uh huh,” Sasha answered and Xena could almost imagine the child nodding her head to her Mum.

“Well, if people knew you were the daughter of a god they wouldn't know how to act around you or how to treat you. People sometimes treat other people bad when they get confused or scared. Most people haven't seen anyone who is the son or daughter of a god,” Gabrielle continued.

“What about Uncle Hercules?”

“He gets treated differently and sometimes it hurts him,” Gabrielle answered gently.

“Why didn't you and Mom want Ares to be my father?”

“We knew that he wouldn't be a good father.”

“Why?” Sasha persisted.

“Well, a long time ago,” Gabrielle began her answer to her adopted child and Xena smiled at the sound of Gabrielle slipping into her bard voice. “Long before you were born, your Mom learned how to be a warrior. Ares, the God of War, helped teach her how to be a warrior and encouraged her to do wrong things.”

“Mom did wrong things?” Sasha asked and Xena felt her jaw tighten and was very glad that her mate was handling this and not her.

Xena could face an entire army by herself but facing a 7 year old's questions was frightening.

“Yes, she did. Sometimes people either choose to do bad things, like the Roman bandits who took you when you were little, or they make bad choices and end up doing bad things and fall away from the right path,” Gabrielle tried to explain. “Your mom did both and Ares encouraged it and wanted her to continue to do bad things.”

“Why does he want to do bad things?” Sasha asked.

Gabrielle sighed, wondering that herself.

“I don't know,” she admitted, “there are things about some of the gods that I don't understand. He is the God of War and I don't understand the need for war. Your mom was very good at war and Ares wanted her to keep doing that.”

“She didn't keep doing bad things, though,”

“No, she didn't. She realized what she was doing was bad and felt terrible about it. Your mom began changing and began doing good things for people. That's when I met her. Ares, your father, was really, really angry at your mom and me and he's done a lot of bad things to us because he wants your mom to go back to war,” Gabrielle explained.

“I've heard you and Mom talking sometimes, Ares sent those bandits after you that made you a slave before I was born, right?”

Xena closed her eyes with the pain of that memory, Gabrielle had been taken as a slave, sold into a gladiator school and had been forced to endure rape, beatings, floggings, and was forced to kill to survive. All because of Ares.

Gabrielle smiled a sad smile. “Yes, it was because of Ares. That's why we didn't want him to have any contact with you until you were older. He wants you to become a warrior and do bad things, like your mom did a long time ago.”

“Being a warrior isn't a bad thing,” Sasha frowned.

“No, not at all. There are many good warriors, like your mom. Joxer is a good warrior and Hercules too.”

“And you,” Sasha grinned and suddenly hugged the bard. “Love you, Mum.”

Before Gabrielle could respond the precocious child was up off the bed and heading out the door.

“Hi, mom, bye, Mom!” she yelled as she ran down the hall.

Xena grinned at her disappearing offspring and turned to enter the child's bedroom and frowned when she saw the serious and meditative look on the bard's face.

“Hey, what is it, little one?” the warrior asked as Gabrielle began folding Sasha's freshly washed clothes.

“Just thinking,” the bard muttered. “Even Sasha thinks I'm a warrior.”

“Is that a problem, my bard?”

“Yeah, I think it is,” Gabrielle answered. “Was that my path? I didn't want that.”

“I know you didn't want to kill or be a warrior but, even without Ares, we don't know that you wouldn't have ended up here,” Xena responded as she sat down on Sasha's bed, watching her bard.

Gabrielle frowned. “You think I would have ended up killing?”

“I don't know but I know it was likely to happen eventually if you stayed with me and you know it.”

The bard sat down on the bed beside her mate. “Yes, I probably would have killed eventually but would I have become a warrior with all these deaths?”

“No, I don't believe so. You certainly wouldn't have picked becoming a gladiator,” Xena agreed. “What you are is a talented bard, a wonderful mom and someone who can take care of themselves and protect others if needed.”

The bard smiled. “I'll take those descriptions,” Gabrielle said as she hugged her mate.

Xena frowned as she approached the small home on the edge of the town, her warrior instincts kicking into high gear. Her incredible hearing noted the lack of noise coming from the surrounding woods and no sounds coming from the barnyard either.

The warrior drew her sword from her hip and adjusted her gauntlets as she approached the barn cautiously. She could see movement through the boards.

Xena knew that Gabrielle wasn't due home for another couple of candle-marks yet. Xena's son, Solan, wife Reija and newborn son Kiryk were off visiting Gabrielle's mother in Poteidia and had taken Sasha, Xena's daughter with them.

The warrior was not in a mood to deal with anything. It had been a long day working in the blacksmith shop, the inn had been packed at lunchtime and Gabrielle hadn't had a chance to spend any time with Xena and the warrior was grumpy. Now someone was in the barn.

The only things that should be in the barn were Argo, Xena's prized horse, and two cows.

        Xena stopped and listened, sword at ready.

        “No, I say we go back to Judea and organize some of the men and go after the chakram. We don't need the help of a woman.”

        “I know it goes against your grain, Asher, but Caleb suggested her and I've heard of Xena,” another male voice responded.

        “It's against the nature of God!” the first voice protested.

        “So is Kal! If she's our best shot at stopping him, then I say we ask for her help. I know you haven't been out of Palestine before but you have got to start adapting a little bit,” the second voice urged.

        “What does that mean, Eli?”

        “Not everyone that you're going to meet is evil just because they don't believe the way you do. There are good people among other religions, cultures and countries.”

        “Have you lost your mind?” the first voice, Asher, demanded. “God says that any who do not believe in him are heretics and worthy of death!”

        “Would you destroy half the known world?” the second voice, Eli, countered.

“If they turn from the word and glory of God, yes.”

Xena could almost see the second man shaking his head.        

“Asher, not everyone is your enemy just because they don't believe in our God,” Eli's voice sounded tired.

“Yes they are!” Asher insisted.

“Asher, either you get some tolerance and work with me or go back to Palestine because you're attitude is just going to cause problems,” Eli insisted.

“You've been out among the heathens too long, brother,” Asher's voice dropped a notch in anger and Xena's eyes narrowed.

“Maybe, but I've learned a lot from those heathens, things that will help our people. If you insist on coming with me then keep quiet and observe, you'll learn more that way.”

“I don't see why we need help in doing it!”

“Because I'm not a warrior and we're going up against a War God!”

Xena opened the barn door and stood in the entrance, knowing that the sun behind her was framing her body in silhouette and with the light reflecting off the sword she was presenting a formidable image.

One man, dressed in the more traditional clothing of the Mid-East, fell off the end of a hay bale and the second man jumped to his feet, a sword in his hand as well.

The second man was dressed in similar clothing to the first but the main difference was the sword and the fact that he knew how to hold it. His body stance told the experienced warrior that he knew how to handle it as well.

“Asher, no!” the first man cried out but the second man ignored him and glared at the warrior.

“You're in my barn, friend,” Xena growled softly. “Drop the sword and explain why you're here or leave.”

“Heathen country,” the man with the sword spat. “Women owning property.”

“Oh, it gets worse,” the warrior grinned. “I own the property and I'm not married to a man, either.”

“Asher, drop the sword,” the first man insisted as he gained his feet. Asher finally seemed to listen to the first man and lowered his sword and Xena lowered hers but entered the barn cautiously.

The first man, whom Xena took to be Eli, moved in front of his brother and held out his hands showing he was unarmed.

The warrior looked into his blue eyes and lowered her sword further.

“I apologize for my brother, he hasn't traveled much and hasn't been among people of different religions and cultures,” Eli stammered.

“Except Romans!” Asher hissed behind his brother.

“I'm not overly fond of the Romans, myself,” Xena muttered.

“I've heard that and that's one of the reasons a friend of mine thought you might be able to help us.”

“Who are you and why didn't you wait outside instead of hiding in the barn?” Xena demanded.

“My name is Eli and this is my brother Asher Ben-Mishael,” Eli moved aside and pulled his brother to stand next to him. Xena could see the family resemblance and then her sharp eyes took in the slave collar and the broken manacles on the brother's wrists.

Eli nodded, taking in her glance.

“My brother is an escaped slave. I know this could cause lots of problems for you and if you don't want to help us, it's okay. I would ask that you give us a candle-mark head start though before you turn him in,” Eli said quickly.

“I don't like Romans and I despise slavery. I'm Xena, come into the house but pull up his hood so his collar doesn't show,” the warrior instructed, motioning them towards the door, careful not to turn her back on Asher and his sword.

“Thank you, very much!” Eli said gratefully and practically threw his brother through the door of the barn and headed towards the main house.

Gabrielle was surprised to find two men sitting at the table with her mate when she entered the small house. Xena looked tense but not on alert and the bard let her guard relax after quickly glancing around the room.

The warrior bard quickly placed the men from the desert regions but the blue eyes led her to believe that they probably weren't Arabic. Gabrielle noted the one man armed with a sword but the second one only had an eating knife at his belt.

“Hey,” Xena said in greeting as the bard walked in slowly.

Gabrielle walked behind Xena and placed a hand on her mate's shoulder. “Hi,” she responded and nodded to the two men. “What's up?”

“Our company here is Asher and Eli from Palestine, they've come to ask our help with something,” Xena answered easily, resisting the urge to wrap her arm around Gabrielle's waist.

The bard sensed Xena's stiffness and moved to the empty chair and sat down, keeping her eyes on the men.

“She's too small to be of use against a god!” the shorter of the two men protested.

Gabrielle grinned as Xena frowned.

“You'd be surprised,” the bard responded.

“This is Gabrielle and she is experienced in fighting,” Xena responded.

“What's this about a god? Ares is still out of our lives, isn't he?” Gabrielle asked her mate with a frown.

“Yes, I think one of the Olympians or Hercules would have warned us if Ares managed to start roaming the country again.”

Gabrielle's face reflected her puzzlement when the shorter of the two men began muttering under his breath, his face an angry red.

“What?” she demanded and the taller one began blushing out of embarrassment.

“I'm Eli, this is Asher,” he began explaining. “He's not accustomed to people who have had personal dealings with gods.”

“I wish I hadn't either, at times,” Gabrielle grinned, trying to get the young man to relax but that just seemed to make him even angrier.

“Never mind him right now,” Xena growled and Eli put a restraining hand on his brother's arm to keep Asher quiet. “Tell Gabrielle what brings you to us.”

“A scholar friend of mine, Caleb, lives in a town between here and Palestine. He sent a messenger to me that the local God of War, Kal, is trying to get his hands on the Chakram of Light,” Eli said.

“Chakram of Light?” Gabrielle questioned, looking at Xena.

The warrior shrugged. “Chakrams are common in the east, like in India. What isn't common is that they return to you and can cut through any metal, like mine did.”

“Did? You don't have the chakram any longer?” Eli asked, his voice suddenly intense.

“No,” Xena answered simply.

“Where is it? How can we get it back?” the young man suddenly demanded.

“We can't, it's lost forever,” the warrior replied. “Why? What is the Chakram of Light and how is it different than a regular chakram?”

“Your chakram was the Chakram of Darkness, only someone totally immersed in the darker side of human nature; war, violence, power, could touch it.”

Both Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other. “Ares,” they both muttered.

Eli looked puzzled.

“Ares gave me the chakram when I became his Chosen Warlord,” Xena stated.

“That explains it, he stole it from Kal, the God of War, and gave it to you,” Eli said thoughtfully.

“It also explains how a human could touch it, a female is inherently evil,” Asher responded and Eli hit him on the arm.

Both Gabrielle and Xena felt growls rising in their throats.

“That attitude doesn't help us, Asher,” Eli scolded.

“Why can't Kal just take the chakram,” Gabrielle asked.

“No one who has been touched by violence or the baser nature of things can touch it, only a saint could retrieve it,” Eli answered.

“Why would Kal want it then?” Xena asked.

“Once it's off the altar, then anyone can touch it and use it. The Chakram of Light has the power to kill gods, the deities themselves.”

“Whoa!” Gabrielle found herself muttering and Eli nodded.

“They should all be destroyed anyway!” Asher muttered.

“Have they done something personal to you or are you just naturally ill-tempered?” Gabrielle finally demanded.

Asher began blushing a bright red and glared at the bard.

“There is only one true God in the universe and the existence of these lesser gods is an affront to Him!”

“Which god is that?” Gabrielle asked with a puzzled look.

“Yahweh, the God of Abraham, the god of my people,” Asher responded.

“We've dealt with the Children of Abraham before,” Gabrielle commented, “They weren't this intolerant.”

Eli quickly placed his hand back on his brother's arm and glared at him. Asher gritted his teeth.

“My brother is a Zealot, he believes there is only one true religion and one true god for the world,” Eli quickly explained.

“And you, Eli?” Xena asked softly and wasn't surprised when the young man blushed himself and refused to meet the eyes of either Xena or Asher.

“I've seen many things in my travels and I've meet some good people. I believe that the God of my people is my true god but I'm not sure he's the god for everyone,” the young scholar admitted.

Asher surprised Gabrielle and Eli by jumping to his feet but Xena seemed ready for it as she also jumped to her feet and reached over the table to grab the young man by his robe and arm. She pulled the young zealot off balance and onto the table, face down, his body pinning his arm beneath him as he reached for his sword. The warrior hit two pressure points at the back of his neck and Asher yelled with the sudden realization that he couldn't move.

“Shut up!” Xena ordered and glanced over at Eli and Gabrielle, on their feet a second later than the brother or the warrior. “You are a guest in my home and you are not allowed to kill or hurt your brother or anyone else in here.”

“Please don't hurt him!” Eli begged.

“He says blasphemy!” Asher shouted. “Thou shalt have no other God before me for I am the Lord thy God and I am a jealous God,” the young man quoted.

“Asher, calm down! God is still my God! I haven't turned from him!” Eli protested.

“If you accept that there are any other gods then you do! Just accepting other gods is blasphemy!” Asher growled.

“Asher, other gods exist and they exist for other people,” Eli grumbled. “Who do you think we're going up against?”

“They work for Shaitan, the enemy of God!”

“Eli, send him home, he's just going to get in the way and possibly mess up whatever you're trying to do,” Xena advised.

“He can't go home, as a runaway slave he's being hunted,” Eli sighed heavily, sitting back down.

“Slave?” Gabrielle questioned, her own face going pale. She quickly looked and found the slave collar and manacles on the young man laying on her table.

“He's an escaped slave,” Xena stated and watched as Gabrielle touched her own neck, the bard remembering her own collar.

“He'll be killed if he's captured,” Eli stated.

“He can go to Palestine and hide in the caves like the rest of the Zealots, criminals and rebels,” Xena muttered.

“He'd never make it back,” Eli countered. “You've heard him, he can't keep his mouth shut for ten minutes.”

“How did he end up a slave anyway, given his attitude?” Xena asked.

“The heavy taxation by King Herod left my family with nothing and my two younger brothers were sold into slavery to pay the taxes. Asher escaped from the Roman family he had been sold to when he saw me in the market in Desyme.”

Xena released the pinch holds and Asher fell back into his chair, rubbing his neck.

“All right,” she warned. “You behave until your brother finishes telling us why you're both here.”

Asher muttered under his breath but nodded in agreement.

“So Kal, a minor God of War, wants to get his hands on this Chakram and kill Zeus and any other god that gets in his way in become the Supreme ruler of Olympia. You want to stop him somehow and you need Xena's chakram to do it?” Gabrielle stated and grinned when both Eli and Xena stared at her, amazed looks on their faces. “The pieces fit,” she responded to their unspoken question. Xena turned to Eli.

“She's got it,” he grinned.

“How does my chakram fit into this?” Xena asked.

“By combining both chakrams together causes the power to destroy the gods to be neutralized and Kal won't care about it then,” the scholar responded.

“But we can't get to it,” Gabrielle complained.

“Why not?” he asked.

“It's trapped in a cave with Ares and we don't know where. Hopefully, for all eternity,” Xena answered.

“Then the rumors of Ares disappearing are true,” Eli muttered.

“Yes, my chakram was broken and embedded in the cave walls during the fight,” Xena answered. “Useless to anyone.”

“And you don't know where the cave is?” Eli questioned.

“No, I don't,” Xena growled.

“Then we have to find another way to neutralize the chakram,” Eli muttered, his eyes thoughtful and unfocused.

“Why not leave it where it is?” Gabrielle asked. “It doesn't sound like Kal or anybody else can get it.”

“Kal will eventually find someone who can get it for him and then he'll terrorize the world,” Eli said simply.

“Who hasn't been touched by violence or the baser parts of human natures?” Gabrielle asked thoughtfully.

“Maybe a child or someone simple minded,” Xena suggested and Eli began to turn pale.

“Oh God, I pray that Kal hasn't thought of either of those!”

“Amen,” Asher responded.

“So your plans are?” Xena questioned Eli.

“Get the chakram before Kal does, neutralize it and possibly destroy it.”

“Sounds simple, as usual. That means it's going to be complicated,” Gabrielle complained and then smiled at her mate. “What is it with you and war gods?”

Xena blushed and growled.

Asher, watching the two women interact, almost turned purple but decided to look at his feet.

Gabrielle found Asher staring into the fire of the small house in the middle of the night. She smiled when he noticed her and started to get to his feet, blushing.

“No, don't get up, Asher,” she said simply and sat down in a chair across from him, wrapping her blanket around her.

“I couldn't sleep,” he muttered and went back to staring at the flames.

“I understand that, neither could I,” the bard responded easily.

“What is keeping you awake?” he asked.

“Something that was said earlier,” Gabrielle answered, also watching the fire.

“About taking on the gods? Most people would be scared,” Asher commented.

“No, I've dealt with gods and goddesses before, both good and bad. It was about you being a slave.”

The young Hebrew blushed bright red in the firelight and unconsciously pulled at the manacle on his left wrist.

“You're worried about the Romans finding out you harbored a runaway slave?” he asked, his eyes bright with anger.

“No, not at all,” the bard answered. “My memories were just keeping me awake.”

“You were a slave?”

“Yes, to a Roman,” Gabrielle stated, letting Asher lead the conversation. The bard knew that the young Zealot wasn't happy being in a home owned by two women, in a heathen country, or especially asking for help from heathens and wanted him to get more comfortable around her and Xena.

“Did Xena buy you from the Roman?”

“No, I was sold illegally into slavery. I was gone from my family and Xena for almost two years.”

“You couldn't appeal for justice?” Asher was frowning.

“No, Caesar was hoping to find me and use me against Xena. He knew that she cherished our friendship and would risk her life to save me. I couldn't let anyone know who I was,” Gabrielle explained.

“Were you mistreated?”

Gabrielle felt her jaw muscles tightening and looked over and found the young man watching her. “Yes,” she finally responded. “I was abused from the first moment that renegade Roman soldiers captured me and the abuse didn't stop until I won my freedom.”

“I was whipped for not obeying my master or his harlot or his wife,” Asher said simply and returned his eyes to the fire.

“I was flogged for not responding fast enough or refusing to go to the bed of the school owner,” Gabrielle said softly, letting the young man absorb the common ground they shared.

“School? What kind of school?” Asher looked up, obviously curious.

“Gladiator, I was taught to fight and I was taught to kill,” Gabrielle answered.

“I wish someone had taught me, I'm not the best with a sword,” Asher complained.

“Why take it up at all?”

“To fight for the Lord, to rid my land of the Romans and make the Earth ready for the Kingdom of God,” he answered sincerely.

“Kingdom of God? I'm afraid I don't know that ideal.”

“When the god Yahweh returns to the Earth,” Asher began with a smile. “When the Jews return to their moral ways and honor Yahweh, He will return to Earth and return our land to paradise. All the nations of the world will bow before him and we shall be raised back to our rightful place as his Chosen children.”

“How is fighting with a sword going to help bring your god back to Earth and his people back to him?”

“The reason our land is desolate and we are under the yoke of slavery to the Romans is that the Children of Abraham fell out of favor with the one true god by accepting the ways and customs of the heathens around us. Once we clear the heathens out and those that accept Roman rule and Roman gods, then Yahweh will turn His favor to us again,” Asher answered intensely.

“And to do that you need a sword?”

“I know you've fought Romans, it's the only way to sweep them out of my land,” Asher frowned.

“Very likely it's suicide, I moved my Amazon tribe out of the Empire and they were still slaughtered by Romans,” Gabrielle shook her head with the painful memories.

“You're an Amazon? One of those women who turn from the rightful rule of men?!” Asher demanded.

“Asher, I have a feeling we're about to head down the way to a long argument that neither of us could win and will only make things worse. Drop it, okay?” Gabrielle urged. “I know most of your fellow Zealots and rebels end up dead, is that what you want for yourself and Eli?”

“I'm not afraid to die, I will sit at the right hand of Yahweh a hero!”

Gabrielle, feeling her years of experience compared to the young man in front of her, sighed heavily and lowered her eyes.

“You'll still be dead, your parents will be without their sons and the Romans won't even remember you after a few days.”

Gabrielle noted the Zealot's clenched jaw and flashing eyes and held up her arms out from under the blanket. She didn't wear her normal bracers or bracelets to bed and Asher could see the massive scarring on the inside of the young woman's wrists in front of him and then he turned pale when she turned her arms and showed the scars on the other side.

“I was crucified by the Romans,” she explained. “My tribe is still dead, my family was told that I had died a criminal on a cross and my best friend watched me almost die.”

“You regret trying to save your people?”

“No, not for a minute and I would do it again but I'd also try and find another way other than violence,” Gabrielle said softly.

“I'm not afraid to die,” Asher insisted.

“You would be if it's crucifixion,” Gabrielle muttered. “Violence isn't always the answer, Asher.”

“That's what Eli always says,” Asher muttered. “It's the only thing that the Romans understand.”

“Then maybe someone should teach them something new?” Gabrielle suggested with a smile.

“You're a warrior and preaching the Way of Love like my brother?”

“The Way of Love?” the bard questioned.

“It's what my brother believes,” Asher said with a frustrated smile. “He believes that violence is never the answer, no matter what. My brother Eli would let someone run him through with a sword before lifting a hand to defend himself!”

“He's stronger than I am, then,” Gabrielle muttered.

“He won't defend himself at all,” Asher complained.

“Maybe it takes more strength not to pick up a sword than to use one sometimes, you might think about that and give him a break,” Gabrielle suggested.

“You became a warrior,” Asher countered.

“Because I had more to live for than to die for, I guess,” Gabrielle said thoughtfully. “Your brother has a principle, a way of life that he's willing to die for, just like you do.”

The young Hebrew looked thoughtful and Gabrielle stood up with the blanket wrapped around her.

“I never wanted to be a warrior, Asher,” Gabrielle said softly. “I did it to save my life. Don't try and force your brother into something he's not, you could destroy more than his physical life.”

Gabrielle smiled and walked outside of the home and sat down on the bench outside, leaving the young man to his thoughts.

The bard didn't look surprised when a figure stepped out of the shadows around the corner of the house and sat down next to her.

“I overheard your conversation,” Eli began.

“I heard you in the hall,” Gabrielle responded.

“Thank you for talking to him,” Eli said simply.

“Not a problem,” Gabrielle grinned at the taller man and he smiled back.

“You have the most gentle energy,” he commented and then began blushing as Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in question. “No, that's not a statement to flatter you. It's what I sense about you.”

“You haven't seen me in a fight,” Gabrielle smiled a sad smile.

“I have a feeling you only do what is necessary. The Way of Love isn't for everyone. It's very difficult and not meant for everyone. I fail a lot, myself,” he grinned.

        “Really?” Gabrielle grinned.

“Yes, I'm not sure I'm strong enough most of the time. Asher is part of a large movement in Palestine, they desire to overthrow the Romans and the corrupt rich and royal Jews.”

“What do you want, Eli?” the bard asked.

“Me? I don't know. I haven't found what God has called me to do yet.”

“Who is Caleb?”

“Part of the Order that I've studied with, learning the Way of Love as well as the other Ways. He is the most scholarly among us and most serious, if he called for help then the trouble is real,” Eli explained.

“We'd better get some rest, we'll get everything together for the journey tomorrow. Xena will take Asher to her work and get those manacles and that collar off of him.”

“Thank you for everything and I'm sorry.”

“For what?” the bard asked with a puzzled face.

“For whatever my brother says in the future,” Eli grinned and Gabrielle found herself joining in his smile.

“You will have to keep him quiet whenever we're around Romans or nobility,” Gabrielle agreed.

“You mean around most anyone!”

Gabrielle laughed and Eli joined her but they both knew the words were true. It was going to be difficult to keep Asher's rebellious nature in check.

"I hate ships," Gabrielle muttered as the group stood on the dock of Eion.

Sasha looked up at her Gabby Mum and smiled and the bard couldn't help but smile back.

It had been a hectic day, getting the basic travel stuff together and then Solan, Reija, Sasha and the new baby had come home and Sasha had insisted on going with them.

That had led to a huge argument with Asher firmly on one side and Gabrielle on the other. Both Eli and Xena tried to stay out of it, mostly. Asher had been against taking a small female child into possible danger and Gabrielle knew he was right, if Sasha had been any other child but the child had whispered to Xena and Gabrielle that Sasha just "knew" she had to go with them. It was one of those feeling things she got.

Gabrielle and Xena had the difficult task of convincing the young men that Sasha could come along without revealing that she had special gifts, gifts she had received by being the child of Ares and Xena. Ares, the God of War and Xena the daughter of Zeus, Hecate and Cyrene.

Knowing Asher's hatred of any god but his, both the bard and warrior wanted to keep Sasha's birthright quiet. That made convincing him that the small child could come along with them to fight a God of War extremely difficult.

The argument had finally ended when Eli had squatted down and looked Sasha deeply in the eyes. Neither man nor child spoke but everyone could sense something passing between them. At last Eli had stood up and turned to his brother and announced that Sasha was going with them and if Asher didn't agree then he could stay behind and dodge Romans as a runaway slave.

Asher had turned bright red and stormed out of the house but didn't say anything when they left for the coastal town with Sasha riding behind Gabrielle.

"I thought you were from Poteidia," Eli commented as he stood beside the bard while Asher sat on a pylon sulking and Xena haggled their fare across the Mediterranean to Judea.

"I am," the bard responded with a smile.

"Isn't it a coastal town?" the scholar questioned.

"Yes, that doesn't mean that I ever went out on the boats," she said grimly.

"Ah, seasickness?" he smiled gently.

"Major," Gabrielle muttered, her face already going pale at the thought of getting on a ship.

"My stomach doesn't like it but I don't get too sick," he commented.

"I do," she grimaced again and then turned to Eli with a thoughtful look. "Why did you agree to Sasha coming?" she asked as Sasha broke away from them and ran to her Xena mom, who was coming down a gangplank from the ship.

"Her eyes told me that she's going to be needed during our journey. Like most students of the Ways, I have a little bit of a gift and sometimes just know things. So does Sasha, I could see it in her and knew that she has received a little bit more knowledge than we have."

"But she doesn't know what she knows, she says it's just a feeling."

"You trust that feeling though," he stated.

"Yes, she's been right before and she's special."

"She's part god, isn't she?"

Gabrielle felt her body tense.

"No offense," he quickly stammered, seeing the bard's eyes narrow and the body shift slightly. "I sense divinity around her, that's all. I don't mean to pry."

"Are you an oracle?" Gabrielle frowned; trying to figure out the two men she was traveling with. One a religious zealot and the other a scholar and possible mystic?

"No, I have some healing gifts and some insight. A lot of us do, especially those who believe in the Kingdom of God. It's something that God touches us with to help us do his work," the young man answered.

"Like being the Chosen of Ares will make you a better fighter and more likely to have victory in battle," Gabrielle said.

"Yes, God gifts some of his children with ability to do miracles and predict the future and sometimes with a touch of madness, I think."

"Xena's calling us to the ship.” Gabrielle said as Xena waved to them. “Oh Gods, grant a smooth sailing," the bard muttered under her breath as they began walking towards the gangplank.

"Amen," Eli muttered next to her.

Xena walked up behind Gabrielle on the deck of the small ship later that evening as the bard hung over the railing. The warrior waited with a pained expression of sympathy until Gabrielle could stand upright again and placed an arm around her mate's shoulders.

"I'm sorry, little one, it's the quickest and safest way to Syria," Xena said softly.

"I know, I know, just put me out my misery, okay?"

Xena smiled down at her mate and knew the bard's frustration. There was nothing anyone could do. Eating small bits of ashes helped settle the stomach and Xena could always use some pressure points, only then Gabrielle would be faced with losing all sense of taste and would always be hungry. Once the pressure points were released she was usually sick with whatever she had eaten on board the ship.

Gabrielle had decided to suffer with the sickness.

"You know where we're going they frown on our type of relationship," Xena began cautiously.

"I know, it's punishable by death in most of the countries on that side of the sea," Gabrielle nodded. "And with Asher's hot temper you think it's a good idea if we not share the same bedroll on this trip."

Xena sighed with relief; she hadn't quite known how to approach her mate with this suggestion. Normally the warrior didn't care what anyone thought but she didn't want to have the added hassle when they weren't really sure what they were walking into.

"Yeah, I guess so," she agreed.

"Probably for the best," Gabrielle agreed and sighed herself. "Won't be easy, you know," she continued with a gleam in her eyes and was pleased when Xena's eyebrows went up in playful questioning.

"Really?" the warrior whispered, pulling the bard into her arms.

"Nope," Gabrielle whispered back, "You're irresistible," the bard said as she leaned up for a kiss and then surprised her mate by backing out of Xena's arms with a grin. "I guess we shouldn't be doing that, someone might see us."

"Gabrielle," Xena growled and Gabrielle smiled her impish grin before her face changed when another high wave rocked the ship and hung onto and over the railing as the battle with her stomach interrupted the couple's playfulness.

Xena grimaced, as Gabrielle was sick once again.

Once on solid land the bard was back to her friendly self and Asher found himself loosening up in spite of himself as they rode along the dry land of the Syrian coast.

"Your people think that your god has turned away from you because your people stopped following his laws?" the bard questioned as they rode behind Xena and Eli.

"Yes, the Torah says: If you follow My laws and are careful to keep My commandments, I will provide rain at the right time, so that the land will bear its crops and the trees of the field will provide fruit," he quoted. "Then Yahweh also promises that we will have so much that the threshing season of wheat will last until time to harvest the grapes and we will have our fill of food."

"What else?" Gabrielle questioned.

"That we will sleep without fear, that Yahweh will chase away all our enemies. He says that five of us will be able to chase away a 100 and a 100 of us will be able to defeat ten thousand."

"Wow," the bard commented, processing the information, "What happened to change that?"

"The people turned away and began breaking the covenant with God and He turned from us. The Torah says: Thus, I will be a God to you and you will be a nation dedicated to Me. If you come to denigrate My decrees, and grow tired of My laws, you will have broken My covenant. I will then do the same to you. It's said that God will direct His anger against us and we will be defeated by our foes and that God will send the plague against us and give us to our enemies. The land will became barren and we will be scattered among the nations and remain desolate and our cities in ruin with every sword turned against us."

The bard frowned in thought. "So if you rid your land of the Romans and those Hebrews that break your covenant with your God what will happen?”

"Then He will turn His favor once more to us and restore our land and make the nations of the world bow down to us under Him," Asher smiled, his eyes shining brightly.

"And the Zealots are willing to use force to achieve this?" Gabrielle could see Xena and Eli listening in on the conversation as well.

"Yes, we are soldiers for God and have His blessing and protection. King Herod spends riches on buildings and we pay for it in taxes that leaves us with nothing. He prefers the Roman life to that of a good Jew," Asher answered simply.

"How can you fight against the Romans?"

"We take our example from the great David and the Maccabees, we hide in the caves of the mountains and strike on Roman army units and harass and destroy the property of rich Jews and heathens. We encourage the people not to pay their taxes to Rome and Herod."

“So why are you traveling with Eli to neutralize the Chakram of Light?” the bard questioned.

“I saw Eli and just escaped, he was already looking for you and Xena, and I'm along for the ride. After he settles the chakram thing then we'll return to Palestine and I'll join the other Zealots hiding out from the Romans and corrupt officials,” Asher answered.

“Mum?” Sasha's voice interrupted the question the bard was about to ask the young religious fanatic. Gabrielle glanced over her shoulder to the child holding on behind her.

“Yes, Sasha?”

“Trouble,” the youngster said simply.

“Xena!” Gabrielle called just as Xena reigned in her horse and was motioning for Eli to stop.

Fifteen riders appeared at the top of a grassy ridge ahead of the travelers. Both groups took in each other. Xena and the others dressed much alike in flowing shirts and billowing trousers, the second group was dressed in armor and carried the curved swords that were popular among the desert people. The armor reminded Xena of the Persians.

The lead soldier drew his sword and sounded out a desert war cry and pushed his horse forward in a charge down the hill with the rest of the soldiers following behind.

“Let me guess,” Xena growled, “Soldier priests of Kal?”

“Good guess,” Eli agreed.

“Let's ride, where to?” Xena hated being in unfamiliar territory, especially a foreign land. Canyons could lead to dead-ends, locals could be hostile, and the terrain could turn against you in a moment.

Eli turned his horse to the right and began riding as fast as his horse could be encouraged to run. The small band of travelers right behind him with Xena holding back to take up the rear.

“At least they don't have archers!” Gabrielle shouted to Asher.

“Thank God! Eli, hurry!”

“Gabrielle, make sure everyone is safe!” Xena called.

“What are you doing?” her mate demanded.

“I'm going to delay them, leave trail signs if you can!”

“I'm not leaving you!” Gabrielle protested as they rode.

“Keep Sasha safe!” Xena insisted and the bard growled but nodded her head in agreement.

Xena pulled her horse up to a stop and growled when Asher rode up beside her.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“I'm a soldier, unlike my brother,” he responded, drawing his sword.

“Alright, just do exactly as I say,” the warrior growled. Seeing the flash of anger in his eyes, Xena hesitated. “I mean it, Asher. I'm a lot more experienced at fighting than you are.”

“Alright, I agree.”

“Then when I say, ride as fast as you can in the middle of them with your sword and keep low. Make only one pass and then wait for my next move!” Xena ordered.

Xena drew her sword and waited for a moment and then shouted her war cry and spurred her horse into action with Asher a moment behind.

“Eli, where are we going?” Gabrielle shouted as she rode beside him with Sasha clinging to her Gabby Mum.

“It's a longer way to Caleb's house,” he responded.

Gabrielle hated leaving Xena behind and swore under her breath, cursing any and all War Gods. “Hang on, Sasha!”

Xena turned her horse and Asher moved his horse around to be next to hers as they faced the soldier priests, who were also turning their horses. Xena had managed to take two priests out with her sword and one with her dagger and Asher had also killed two priest soldiers.

“They're tougher and more skilled than most priests,” Xena muttered. “When I give the word we go back through. I really hate this but take out the horses.”

“What?” Asher asked with a frown.

“They can't follow if they don't have horses, as much as I hate to hurt the horses,” Xena explained.

“I don't care about the horses, why not kill the men if we have the chance?”

“We've a better chance with the horses, just do it! We don't have time to argue!”

Xena spurred her horse into action as the soldier priests drew closer, trying to shut off her mind to what she was about to do. Asher, grumbling, was right behind her.

The warrior steeled herself and headed straight for the riders coming at them. She tried to close her ears and mind to the screams of horses and the yells of their riders as they fell. Xena ducked several swords and broke through the group and had started to break for the trail Gabrielle, Eli and Sasha had taken when she realized that Asher wasn't with her. Xena stopped her horse with a curse and turned to see Asher fighting two priests on the edge of the group. The rest of the group was beginning to divide between following her and heading towards Asher.

Xena swore a general curse and threw her dagger and moved her horse back towards the warrior priests. The dagger buried deep in the eye of one soldier about to stab Asher and Xena reached down and grabbed the war axe she used as backup to her sword since losing her original chakram and sent it flying. It cut the throat of the other priest the young Jew was fighting.

Xena forced her horse through the center of the soldier priests again, flaying with her sword in all directions and caught the shaft of the war axe and yanked it out of the throat of the priest with her left hand in time to strike out with it and cut the throat of another priest.

“Move!” she yelled at Asher and then swore again as his horse went down. Xena flipped off her horse and landed next to the young religious warrior, parrying a sword strike from one of the priests. She grabbed the dying soldier and yanked him off his horse and grabbed the reins of his horse.

Xena reached down and pulled Asher to his feet and handed him the reins. “Go!” she shouted and turned to take on four soldier priests on horseback crowding close to her. Throwing the war axe and following through with a series of sword strikes, Xena cleared a little space and Asher was able to mount the horse.

Xena slashed at the horses nearest her and then grabbed another priest off his horse and mounted it in his place. With a shout the warrior followed a fleeing Asher, continuing to slash at the horses in her way.

“Sasha, is your Mom okay?” Gabrielle called to the child behind her.

“Yes, for now but she's angry at Asher,” the young voice reached the bard.

“Figures,” the bard muttered, following behind Eli through a forest.

“What?” Eli asked over his shoulder, slowing his horse down in the forest terrain.

“Sasha says that Xena and Asher are alright but Xena's upset with your brother,” Gabrielle grinned as she slowed her horse as well.

“Why am I not surprised?” Eli's blue eyes danced in amusement. He glanced around the forest.

“Caleb's place is about two miles from here, the trail branches off in three different directions. Can you mark the trail for Xena to follow but hide it from the soldiers of Kal?” the scholar asked.

“Yes, she knows to look for Amazon signs,” Gabrielle answered.

“That's right, I heard you tell Asher that you are an Amazon. Good thing you cut that conversation off!” Eli grinned as they moved along the path. “He has a particular dislike for women warriors, especially the Amazons and gladiators.”

“Terrific, I fit that on all accounts,” the bard complained.

“I know but he does realize that you didn't become a gladiator of your choice. Xena told me a little bit about that on the ship.”

“You mean while I was heaving up my guts?”

“Yeah, something like that,” Eli smiled.

They continued on until they reached the end of the forest and faced three different paths. Eli pointed to the left path and Gabrielle nodded and dismounted, leaving Sasha on the horse.

The Amazon Queen moved to the woods next to the left trail and broke several branches and turned and found Eli watching her with a puzzled look. The bard grinned and walked back to the horses.

“Xena will know the pattern. Now, let's move down the middle trail for a bit and then backtrack,” she suggested.

“Mum!” Sasha screamed and Gabrielle instinctively ducked.

Both warrior bard and scholar mystic were surprised by the energy bolt that cut down a tree just behind the bard. Eli dived off his horse while Gabrielle grabbed Sasha as the child leaped from the horse she shared with the bard.

The three began to run for the trees as energy bolts exploded around them.

They had almost reached the trees when Gabrielle was thrown forward into a tree by a blast hitting her square in the back.

Xena and Asher moved as fast as their horses would carry them, the warrior cursing the blood covering her hands and legs from the horses and men she had slain, especially the horses.

“Why didn't you listen? You could have been killed!” she yelled at the young Zealot.

“I don't take orders from a female!” he snapped.

“Then your mother must have had her hands full in raising you!” the warrior growled back and wanted to backhand the Zealot as he glared at her.

“I was doing fine!” he yelled.

“Right! One against ten on horseback, I don't think so.”

“They don't seem to be following, why?” Asher asked, glancing backwards.

Xena checked as well and frowned. “I don't know, those with horses should be all over us. Unless…”


“Sasha!” Xena spurred her horse to an even faster speed. “They were a diversion, meant to split us up!” she yelled as Asher struggled to catch up.


“Kal is after Sasha, Gabrielle or Eli,” the warrior growled.

Xena was off her horse before it had completely stopped when they reached the crossroads and she saw Gabrielle sitting by a tree, her head between her knees and Eli kneeling next to the bard, dabbing at Gabrielle's back with a cloth.

Gabrielle looked up at the sound of the horses and dropped her head again.

“Where's Sasha?” Xena demanded as Asher finally stopped his horse behind hers and dismounted.

“He took her,” Eli said simply, his eyes filling with tears.


“He didn't introduce himself but I'm guessing it was Kal,” Gabrielle muttered.

Xena squatted in front of Gabrielle and gently raised the bard's head up and frowned at the sight of the blood trickling from her mate's mouth, cut cheek and hollow eyes. The warrior then raised up and took in the sight of the bard's burned back. Something had burned a hand's width wound in Gabrielle's back.

“Where is she, Gabrielle?” Xena asked softly, her blue eyes intense.

“I don't know. Fire bolts came out of nowhere and we were running for the trees. Next thing I know someone has me by the neck and holding me off the ground,” Gabrielle stated. “I kicked and fought back and got thrown into a tree.”

“Before she could get up he backhanded her and then kicked her. He drew his sword and was aimed at her neck,” Eli said. “Sasha and I stopped running and Sasha agreed to go with him if he spared Gabrielle. Sasha walked over to him and they disappeared and Gabrielle passed out.”

“You didn't try to protect her?” Xena frowned.

“I'm not a fighter, Xena, I cannot raise my hand in violence,” the young man answered.

“I can understand sacrificing your own life for a principle but you didn't fight for a child?” the warrior demanded.

“I understand your anger and I will do anything I can to get Sasha back except fight or do violence,” Eli said simply as he lowered Gabrielle's tunic down. The bard hissed with pain and gritted her teeth.

Xena frowned but stood up and helped Gabrielle to her feet.

“Can you ride?” the warrior asked briskly.

“Yes,” the bard answered and then frowned as Xena turned and started towards the horses.

“Xena?” Gabrielle called softly but the warrior kept walking. The bard's eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement, she knew Xena had heard her.

“You can ride behind me and Eli behind Asher,” Xena stated, quickly mounting the horse she had taken from the priest of Kal.

“Xena? What is it?” Gabrielle questioned.

“Let's move,” Xena ordered.

“Where?” Eli asked, coming up behind Gabrielle.

“Wherever the chakram is, that's where Kal will be with Sasha,” Xena answered.

“He's going to use Sasha to get the chakram?” Asher questioned.

“She's a child and he's counting on her being innocent enough to get it,” Gabrielle responded.

“Xena?” Eli questioned.

“Sasha has seen a lot, including her older brother being blinded by Roman soldiers, I don't know if she's innocent enough for whatever demented god made those damned things!” Xena snapped.

“I think we should go to Caleb's first, we need to know how to neutralize the chakram first,” Eli suggested.

“If Sasha can get the chakram then he won't need her anymore and he'll probably kill her,” Xena growled and reached out an arm to help Gabrielle onto the horse and then frowned even deeper when Gabrielle didn't respond right away.

“What is it?” Gabrielle demanded.

“Can we talk about this later?” Xena snapped.

“You're blaming me?” the bard demanded.

“How could you turn your back once the fire bolts started? We can hurt Greek gods; odds are that we can hurt this one too. You could have had a chance to fight him if you hadn't been taken from behind,” Xena said in a low voice.

“I was trying to get Sasha and Eli to cover,” Gabrielle whispered, surprised at the anger in her mate's eyes.

“Bad call,” Xena muttered.

“What about you, warrior?” Asher demanded and Xena turned to glare at him as Eli mounted behind his brother.

“What do you mean?” Xena snapped.

“You didn't figure out the soldiers were a diversion until we got away from them,” he snapped in return.

“I expected Gabrielle to be able to protect Sasha!” Xena snapped back.

“This isn't helping us!” Eli yelled. “If anyone's to blame, it's Kal!”

“Eli's right,” Gabrielle growled, her green eyes flashing at Xena and her jaw taking on that stubborn set that the warrior knew very well. “Let's finish this and we'll talk about this later!”

The bard reached up and accepted her mate's arm and help in mounting the horse behind Xena and placed her arms around the warrior but Xena could feel the anger radiating from her mate.

“Gabrielle?” she said softly.

“No,” Gabrielle snapped. “Just ride, the left trail.”

“I'm just worried about Sasha,” Xena began but Gabrielle cut her off.

“You don't think I am? You don't think I'd die for her?” the bard snapped.

Xena felt her own jaw tighten as she yelled and kicked the horse into action.

They found the decapitated body of Caleb in the middle of the living area of his simple stone house. The mystic and scholar hadn't been dead long.

Eli knelt beside the body and head of his friend in a state of disbelief.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and fought back angry tears and Asher stormed outside, the others presumed to break something.

“Eli, I'm sorry about your friend,” Xena said softly, feeling some of her anger melting away in the face of another death.

“Why would Kal kill him?” Eli muttered. “Caleb was the most simple living of our group, he rarely would even eat meat. He was so gentle and no threat to anyone.”

“Either as a warning to us or Caleb wouldn't give Kal something he wanted,” Xena ventured.

Gabrielle walked over to the simple single bed and removed the wool blanket and gently covered the body and head while Eli stood up.

“Then something here can help us,” he stated and began looking about the small living space. Both Xena and Gabrielle also looked around and frowned.

“Eli, there are scrolls and books everywhere,” Gabrielle protested. “How do we know what we're looking for?”

“You probably won't and you probably don't read Hebrew,” he smiled a slight smile.

“Oh, why can't everyone stick to Latin?” the bard complained.

The scholar shrugged. “You get Xena to take a look at that burn and cuts, there's salve on the shelves near the water basin. I'll look quickly through the scrolls and books.”

“Alright,” Xena agreed and waited to see if Gabrielle would. The bard's green eyes flashed for a moment and then she sighed and nodded.

The warrior crossed the room and rummaged through the bottles and jars until she recognized some of the salves and herbs. She turned to her mate and found Gabrielle sitting on the edge of the bed, her back to Eli, without her shirt on.

Xena sat down beside the bard and began to slowly apply some of the salve as Gabrielle gritted her teeth.

“Gabrielle,” Xena said softly.

“Not right now, okay?” the bard responded. “I hurt everywhere, I feel guilty about Sasha being taken, I'm worried sick and I'm upset with you.”

Before either of them could speak they both looked up at Asher walking in the door. Gabrielle nonchalantly pulled her tunic up to cover her breast while Xena continued to dress her wounded back. The young Zealot suddenly had trouble swallowing and blushed furiously. He quickly blinked and then frowned as his eyes took in the sight of the lash scars and the long scars from the bear claw, not knowing that the claw marks were from Gabrielle's Amazon ritual initiation into the Northern Amazons. He moved over to the blanket and pulled it aside.

Eli glanced up and bit back tears as Asher moved the body of his friend onto the blanket, followed by the head of the older scholar.

“I'll build a stone grave,” Asher said simply as Eli walked over and handed the young man a needle and some thread. The Zealot began sewing the blanket closed over Caleb.

“Thank you, Asher,” Eli said softly and returned to the scrolls.

“Are your ribs injured?” Xena asked the bard.

“No, just bruised,” Gabrielle answered as she slowly pulled the tunic back on with a grimace.

“Turn around and let me see those cuts on your face and arms,” Xena instructed her mate softly.

“I can do those.”

“Please,” the warrior asked softly and she felt Gabrielle's muscles relax a little and the bard turned, her green eyes still flashing though.

The warrior thought her bedroll would be empty that night if she and Gabrielle weren't sleeping separately already.

After nearly thirteen seasons together the couple had seen a fair share of disagreements and arguments but nothing that wasn't usually settled by the end of the day. Xena wasn't sure Gabrielle would be willing to let this go by evening and she knew the bard was right.

It just wasn't easy for Xena to admit she was wrong, especially outloud.

The evening found Eli still pouring over the scrolls and books and rubbing his tired eyes in the lamplight, Asher washing up from the hard work of building a stone cairn grave for Caleb, Xena sharpening her sword and Gabrielle finishing dinner.

Asher, frowning, walked over to where Gabrielle was stirring a pot cooking over the fire.

“What are you cooking?” he asked.

“I know that you can't eat pig or hare so we're having a chicken from the stock pens Xena killed earlier. Roasted chicken with vegetables and in the pot is some herbs for my back,” she answered.

“How do you know that we can't eat pig nor rabbit?” he asked, kneeling down beside her.

“We have Hebrew visitors coming through occasionally at the inn, sometimes they're even Roman soldiers.”

Asher scowled, “Traitors,” he muttered.

“What else can't you eat?” she asked, curious.

“Anything that swims without fins and scales, camel, ravens, snails, mice, other stuff.”

“Eels are out then?”

“Yes, they are unclean to us.”

“Seems a harsh religion at times,” she commented.

“Yes, very. The laws can be difficult to follow when outside influences encourage us to turn away from the face of God, that's why many have turned from the true way,” he agreed.

“Have you ever seen your god?” Gabrielle asked, checking on the chicken and vegetables.

Asher looked stunned. “No, no one has ever seen the face of God, not even the mighty Moses! He appeared to the great leader as a burning bush because no one is worthy to look upon Him.”

“A burning bush?” Gabrielle tried not to look amused.

Asher blushed and reached to help pull the grape leaf wrapped chicken from the coals with the bard.

“That's what the Torah says,” he muttered.

“I understand that, the legends say that Zeus appeared as a golden ray of sunshine once,” Gabrielle smiled.

“I have it!” Eli shouted, startling everyone else in the room causing Xena to drop her whetstone, Gabrielle to drop a cooked carrot and Asher to almost drop the hot chicken he was putting on a platter.

“Eli!” Xena snapped.

“Sorry,” he shrugged and pointed to a scroll. “I found it, the answer! How to neutralize the Chakram of Light!” he said excitedly.

“Okay, how does it work?” Xena asked, getting to her feet and looking over Eli's shoulder and then frowned, still unable to read Hebrew.

“Well,” Eli began stammering, “We need to find a stone, a magical stone. If you take the chakram and cut the stone in half with it then the powers of the stone are released and the chakram is neutralized.”

“What is the stone, where is it and what does it do?” Xena demanded.

Gabrielle and Asher, both listening closely, finished putting the food on the table.

“It's called the Stone of Bacchus….”

Everyone turned at the sound of a goblet crashing to the stone floor and saw Gabrielle suddenly blinking and her breathing quickened.

“Bacchus?” she whispered.

“What's wrong?” Asher demanded.

“We've dealt with Bacchus before, we both almost died and became his,” Xena quickly explained. “What does this stone do?”

“Bacchus and Kal got into a fight decades ago about the worshippers in these parts and Kal won, stealing the stone from Bacchus. It's rumored that the stone can turn an innocent into a full bacchae or free a bacchae from the curse of Bacchus,” Eli answered.

“How?” Gabrielle demanded while Asher continued filling the goblets with wine.

“If the affected person breaks the stone then Bacchus no longer controls them,” Eli said after reading the scroll further. “To change someone into a bacchae it has to be slipped under their pillow while they're sleeping and they awaken as a vampire.”

“What does this have to do with us?” Asher demanded, not seeing the looks passing between Xena and Gabrielle.

“So a weird scenario would be a bacchae taking the Chakram of Light, cutting the Bacchus Stone and being cured of being a bacchae and neutralizing the chakram at the same time?” Xena asked, watching Gabrielle's green eyes flash with yellow tinges.

“Well, that would make an interesting situation,” Eli agreed with a grin. “Since we don't know any bacchae, I suppose that means any of us can grab the chakram from Kal and slice the stone.”

The small group sat down to dinner with Gabrielle being more quiet than usual. Xena wasn't surprised but the men were but all attempts by Eli and Asher to draw the bard out failed.

“I suggest that Asher and I take on Kal, he's going to expect me to go for the chakram. While Asher and I take him on Eli grabs Sasha and Gabrielle goes for the chakram and shatters the stone,” Xena suggested over dinner.

“Any idea where the damned stone is and how I'm supposed to get a chakram off a very defensive War God?” Gabrielle asked in general.

“The scroll says that Kal treasures the Bacchus stone as a war prize and has it displayed on his altar,” Eli answered part of the question.

“We'll just have to convince him to let go of the chakram,” Xena grinned.

“Or better yet, we hope Sasha has held off getting it for him,” Eli commented.

“That would be perfect,” Xena agreed, carefully watching her thoughtful bard.

Without a word Gabrielle got up from the table and went outside. Xena was surprised when Eli motioned the warrior to remain sitting and got up.

“I'd like to talk with her for a bit, Xena,” the young scholar said simply.

Xena frowned but nodded and began helping Asher clear the table.

Eli found the bard sitting on the stone fence holding the two cows Caleb had kept for milk. Gabrielle was twirling one of her sais in between her hands with an intense look on her face.

“Do you want to talk?” Eli asked softly.

“About what? Xena and I have argued before, we'll get through it,” the bard answered.

“No, why you have to be the one to smash the stone.”

“Seems like a good plan,” the bard suggested.

“There's something about you, Gabrielle and I have a feeling it has to do with Bacchus and that stone.”

Eli wasn't sure if the bard was going to fall off the stones in surprise. He could see her jaw muscles tensing with an effort to control her emotions and surprise. The scholar sat down next to her and waited.

“What do you mean, Eli?”

“Asher didn't notice the looks you and Xena gave each other when I described the Bacchus stone and its' powers but I did. He also didn't notice that your eyes are trying to change from green to yellow. Add in Xena's idea of you smashing the stone and that I sense something around you, I logically figured that you didn't get totally away from Bacchus.”

“Damn, I can't control the eyes sometimes,” the bard muttered.

“Tell me,” he encouraged and then listened patiently and without questions as Gabrielle found herself pouring out the history of her involvement with Bacchus, God of Wine and Bacchae.

Gabrielle told Eli about being turned into a partial bacchae and turning Xena and how they managed to defeat Bacchus and return to normal. She could see him flinch when the bard described her crucifixion at the hands of Caesar and how she had died. Eli's eyes widened as Gabrielle described Apollo bringing her soul back into her body but at a price; the unknown taint of Bacchus would now come to the surface.

“How does it affect you?” Eli asked softly, noticing the tears in Gabrielle's eyes.

“I crave blood. No, that's not right, I need blood,” she answered, not looking into Eli's blue eyes. “I've almost died a couple of times when I couldn't get it. It hits around the full moon and I can reduce the need with rare meat and animal blood but I occasionally have to have human blood.”

Eli waited patiently.

“I've learned to control it mostly but that stone could be my answer.”

“Have you ever killed because of it?” Eli questioned softly.

“No, never. When it gets bad, Xena….”

“Xena is your blood source and your mate,” Eli finished for his friend.

“You knew, of course,” Gabrielle nodded. “You're more observant than your brother.”

“Just more traveled and not as narrow-minded. It tends to cloud his observations at times. He suspects but he wouldn't want to deal with that so he pretends he doesn't notice,” Eli smiled.

“It's against your laws isn't it?”

“Which? The blood or your relationship with Xena?” he asked with a grin, “Both are stoning offenses in our customs. I wouldn't mention either to Asher,” he recommended.

“I don't think I will,” Gabrielle agreed, able to smile slightly for the first time in hours.

“How long have you been fighting this?”

“I was bitten and tasted Bacchus' blood twelve years ago but the blood lust hit four years ago.”

“And right now?”

“The craving is there,” she admitted.

“And you and Xena aren't talking,” Eli smiled.

“What are you, Eli? You're more than a scholar,” Gabrielle asked.

“I'm a seeker. Asher would say that I'm one of the Chosen, gifted with miracles from Yahweh and that I should be leading the fight against the corruption of Judea.”


“When I was thirteen, my father's best friend collapsed. He had chronic convulsions, and I was left with him while my father went for help and all I could do was stand there, helpless. As I reached out, trying to calm him, I guess, I felt this kind of white hot surge go through me, and when I touched him it stopped. Whatever or whoever gripped him let go. He never convulsed again.”

“And you've been searching for what, Eli?”

“What I am supposed to do with these gifts. There are many in the Kingdom of God movement that posseses such giftings, it's almost a requirement to be able to perform miracles to be a leader but I don't feel my path is violence,” the young man said.

“I never believed my path was to be a warrior either,” Gabrielle said thoughtfully.

“Then maybe my truth is yours,” Eli suggested.

“What is that?”

“It's life; that we must revere it whenever we find it. To bring peace to this world, I think my path is to teach mankind a reverence for life.”

“So, if someone were to walk up to you and knock you down?” she questioned.

“Then I'd get back up.”

“But if they knocked you down again?”

“Then I'd get up again if I could. Under no circumstances would I fight back. If I did, I would simply be perpetuating the cycle of violence that has ravaged the Earth for centuries. That cycle has to be broken. My truth is that this can only be done through nonviolence.”

Gabrielle frowned with thought.

“It's not for everyone, Gabrielle, few can do it. You have the instincts of a warrior now and the strength of love for others before yourself. Could you stand by and watch someone kill Xena or one of your family?” he questioned gently.

Gabrielle shook her head readily. “No, never.”

“Just like Xena's Way is that of the Warrior, your must find your middle ground and what Way is yours. It is better to die following your own way than to live following someone else's,” Eli advised.

“My path is with Xena, we were blood bound before the damned blood lust,” Gabrielle stated.

“Then you Way is that of Friendship and Family. Have you ever wondered what to do with your skills in overcoming the blood lust?” he questioned.

“What skills?”

“You have overcome the madness of the lust. It still calls and you answer it but it no longer overtakes you totally, does it?”

“How do you know that?” Gabrielle questioned.

“Your mate would answer that I have many skills,” he grinned and Gabrielle gave him an exasperated look. “Do you realize that there other types of vampires out there other than bacchae?”

“I've heard some of the legends but we haven't run into any,” the bard answered.

“Maybe you could teach some of them to control their blood lust and not kill innocents,” Eli suggested.

Gabrielle was stunned and sat pondering. It was something she had never considered.

“Maybe your curse can be used to help others.”

“Turning a weakness into a strength?” she said with a smile. “But if I smash the stone then I won't have the blood lust any longer.”

“Then that won't be your path, will it?” Eli asked with a grin as he stood up.

Gabrielle twirled the sai in her hand, deep in thought as the young man went back into the stone building.

Gabrielle turned and saw Xena closing the door of the house behind her. The warrior seemed to hesitate for a moment and then approached her mate slowly.

“Still mad at me?” the warrior asked softly as she sat down next to the bard.

“No,” Gabrielle answered simply.

“I'm sorry, I was wrong.”

“It's over, lover. Let's just get her back,” Gabrielle smiled and laid her head on her mate's shoulder, letting what was left of her anger fade away.

“I will do everything possible to get that stone in your hands, Gabrielle,” Xena promised.

“I know, just don't endanger the ultimate goal of taking that chakram away from Kal and neutralizing it,” the bard stated.

“Let's go to the barn,” Xena suggested softly.

“I thought we weren't going to risk intimacy with Asher and Eli around,” Gabrielle countered.

“I saw your eyes, I don't want you weak with cravings when we leave before dawn,” Xena said simply.

“Eli knows, he saw my eyes too and sensed the blood. He won't admit it but he's a mystic.”

“Is he okay with it? Jews aren't too fond of blood issues,” Xena frowned.

“Yes, he's a little more tolerant than his fanatical brother,” the bard smiled and wrapped her arm around Xena's waist in a familiar and comforting movement.

“Do you need the blood or can you fight it for a day?” Xena questioned.

“I'll fight it, lover.”

The sun wasn't even turning the sky purple when Xena's sharp eyes took in the temple interior from the high window above the altar.

The inside of the temple was lit by a few torches in brackets on the walls, two on each wall and one by the door, making the place fairly well lit. The design was very basic as far as temples went, the warrior reflected.

Seats for worshippers just inside the door, aisle down the center, stone altar stained heavily with blood, banners showing battles scenes decorating the walls along with various weapons, and a chair on a dais behind the altar.

On the secondary altar, behind and higher than the sacrificial one, was a large reddish-purple stone sitting in an eagle's claw. A huge golden sword and a golden goblet also sat on the altar.

In the chair was someone that Xena presumed to be Kal. The War God was sitting with his leg thrown over the wooden and elaborately decorated chair, in the same manner that Ares did. This god of war had long hair pulled back in a braided ponytail and was clean shaven. His skin was well tanned and Xena wasn't sure if he looked more Arabic than Greek or Egyptian. Also like Ares, Kal wore all leather with his arms bare, showing off his well-developed arms.

Xena's eyes narrowed at the sight of a chakram hanging on his belt.

At his feet, curled up in a blanket, was a sleeping Sasha.

Xena bounced lightly on her feet on the windowsill and waited, dagger in her hand.

It was only moments before the door to the temple crashed inward and three shouting and screaming figures ran in and separated, each taking a side and one up the center aisle.

Kal, startled awake, started to rush down from his throne but Xena grinned with delight when Sasha reached out an arm and tripped the War God, sending him flying to the stone floor next to the altars.

As Kal raised up to his knees he grabbed the chakram at his belt and drew back to launch it. The War God appeared surprised when he stopped and looked at his hand as the chakram hit the floor. A dagger was sticking through his hand and it was bleeding.

Xena laughed and flipped forward out of the window and landed on Kal's throne.

The God of War swore under his breath and pulled the knife out and threw it at the warrior but with a grin Xena merely caught it before it hit her face. Kal drew his sword and slashed out as Asher reached him and struck at the god with his sword.

The God of War growled and motioned with his left hand and the young Zealot went flying across the room to land heavily among the benches.

As Kal turned to take on Xena, Sasha crawled out from behind the altar.

“Sasha!” Eli called from the far side of the room. “Here!”

The child quickly ran to him and the scholar turned, putting his body between Sasha and the angry god of War. Gabrielle screamed as Eli and Sasha were thrown into the wall by an energy burst.

Kal parried a series of sword strikes from Xena as she flipped over and landed in front of him. With cat-like quickness he pulled a second sword and slashed at Gabrielle, attempting to scurry past the fighters and grab the chakram. The bard fell back behind Xena holding a slashed arm.

Both Xena and Gabrielle pressed forward again, Xena with her sword and Gabrielle with her sais. Kal parried their strikes, taking a few cuts on his arms and body but nothing serious. Gabrielle fell back from a sword hilt connecting with her jaw and lay in front of the first set of benches shaking her head.

As the bard picked up a sai she had dropped she spotted Eli trying to get to his feet dazed and an unharmed Sasha crawling out from under him. Gabrielle glanced back and saw Asher pulling himself up from the stone floor among the over-turned benches with a scowl, blood flowing down the right side of his face from a cut scalp.

Asher grabbed up his sword and rushed past the bard just as Kal got through Xena's defenses and managed to hit her in the stomach several times with the pommel of the sword but before he could turn the sword to strike, Asher tackled the War God.

Gabrielle scrambled to her feet and rushed up beside Xena.

“Grab the chakram,” Xena yelled.

As the bard started past the altars she found herself falling into the altars with Asher on top of her. With a curse the bard moved the unconscious body of the Zealot off of her and saw Xena and Kal fighting once again, swords flashing faster than the bard's eyes could follow.

Gabrielle started to get to her feet and fell back against the altar with a cry and grabbed her leg, realizing with horror that it was twisted and it felt like lightning striking through her lower back and leg and the bard realized that the leg was broken in the fall.

“Damnit!” she shouted.

She watched as Xena and Kal spread their fight to the rest of the temple, leaping on top of benches and trading sword blows, somersaulting over benches and rebounding off the stone walls to land behind each other, trading fist blows to each other's faces and bodies, Xena flipping over Kal's head and Kal spinning out kicks faster than even the warrior could counter.

Sasha knelt beside Gabrielle while Eli was still trying to clear his head.

“Sasha, grab the chakram and wait behind the high altar, okay?” Gabrielle instructed the child and smiled as Sasha nodded, the child's blue eyes flashing as they watched Xena fighting the War God.

The daughter of Xena disappeared behind the altar.

Gabrielle began shaking Asher.

“Asher, come on!” she shouted. “Wake up, I need to get to that altar!”

Receiving no response the bard turned toward Eli. “Eli, snap out of it! I need help!” she yelled and shouted in rage as the young man attempted to stand and fell back against the wall and slid down to the floor, his eyes unable to focus.

Xena glanced over to see Gabrielle and Asher by the altar. “Gabrielle, grab the chakram!” she shouted.

“My leg!” the bard shouted back.

Xena swore under her breath seeing both Asher and Eli unable to help and Sasha nowhere in sight.

The warrior knew she had to somehow get away from Kal and help Gabrielle to the higher altar to grab the chakram and break the stone. The problem was that Kal was just as skilled as Ares and even more deadly. Unlike Ares, Kal didn't care for Xena and therefore wasn't holding back.

Xena could feel a couple of broken ribs, a loose tooth and various cuts and slashes on her arms and legs. The warrior reflected that the War God wasn't in much better shape, however, and that gave her some hope.

With a war cry the warrior somersaulted over the War God and thrust her sword backwards and spun around as the sword went through Kal's back, near his right side. The War God cursed and spun rapidly and managed to kick Xena in the stomach before she could follow through with another sword strike. Both warriors recovered and met in front of the altars, almost within kicking reach of Gabrielle.

Kal surprised the warrior by dropping his sword, parrying her sword strike with his arm gauntlet and grabbing Xena by the throat. Before the warrior could counter the movement it felt like white hot fire was ripping through her body and she could feel her body jerking as Kal lifted her off of the stone floor, choking her.

“Xena!” Gabrielle screamed as she could see energy bolts shooting through her mate. “No!”

The bard tried once again to get to her knees and screamed in pain and rage. Xena was shaking in Kal's hands, her eyes rolled back in her head and Gabrielle felt a chill sweep over her body as blood began to trickle from Xena's nose and her arms went limp, no longer clawing at Kal's hands and arms.

“Sasha!” Gabrielle screamed, pulling herself up on the lower altar as upright as she could. The child's head appeared above the higher altar, her eyes wide at the sight of her Mom dying in the War God's hands. “Take the chakram and smash that stone in front of you! Do it now!”

Kal's head snapped around as the child raised the silver weapon above her head with both hands and the energy bolts stopped as he started to turn.

“NO!” he screamed, dropping Xena as the chakram went crashing down onto the Stone of Bacchus.

Xena's eyes cleared and the warrior growled.

The War God Kal glared at the small child he held by her tunic high above his head, his eyes blazing with intense fury.

“You've ruined the chakram!” he shouted.

He prepared to throw the child into the stone wall when he hesitated, feeling cold steel at his neck.

“Put my child down or die, Kal,” a harsh voice instructed.

“You can't kill me, Xena,” the War God smirked.

“Oh yeah? What's that you're doing, bleeding, isn't it?”

Gabrielle could see the War God frowning as he looked down at his body, especially the wound in his side.

“We have the power to kill gods, Kal. I'm willing to let you live right now if you put my child down gently and give me your word that we all walk out of here unharmed,” Xena hissed in his ear.

The War God looked at the child in his fists, the chakram having separated into two distinct pieces, one in each of the child's hands. He glanced back down at the altar and the shattered stone and glared back at Sasha.

The child's eyes were wide with fear but she matched his glare.

“I give you my word that I won't harm any of you for the space of three days. Get out of my territory, Xena, and take your brat with you,” Kal snapped and lowered Sasha to the ground. In a flash, the War God was gone.

Xena looked down at Gabrielle's yellow eyes and realized what had happened.

“Oh gods, little one,” she whispered.

Eli patiently followed the candle flame with his eyes as Xena passed it in front of his face later that day.

“The eyes are both equal now, you've had a pretty good hit to the head but I think you'll be okay,” the warrior and occasional healer announced with a smile.

“That's good because I can't seem to heal myself,” he matched her smile and then frowned. “How is Gabrielle?” he asked softly, glancing over at his brother who was fixing lunch.

“She'll be okay, I can help her if you keep Asher busy,” Xena said softly.

“Her leg?”

“It'll be mostly healed by tonight and she can get around on crutches tomorrow.”

Xena shrugged her shoulders at his obvious surprise.

“We've been blessed by the gods with rapid healing,” she explained, also keeping an eye on Asher, not wanting the young Zealot to get upset with Xena and Gabrielle's dealings with the gods. Anything dealing with the gods could set the angry young man off.

She wondered what he would think if he knew the true parentage of Xena, Gabrielle and Sasha. The warrior decided that she didn't want to find out.

“The other?”

“We failed, it wasn't Gabrielle who broke the stone, it was Sasha,” Xena answered.

“Then she's still cursed by Bacchus,” Eli lost his smile.

“Yes, that's why she's been in the barn since we got back. She doesn't want Asher to see her eyes and fangs right now. Being near the stone set her bacchae side off.”

“Then go to her, I'll keep Asher busy.”

The warrior found Gabrielle resting on a pile of hay with Sasha playing in the hayloft above, playfully dropping hay onto her bard Mum. The child grinned at the sight of her Mom entering the barn and nearly gave Xena a heart attack when Sasha launched herself from the loft and landed in a large hay pile next to the warrior.

“Sasha!” Xena squeaked as the laughing youngster dug her way out from under the hay.

“Now I know how my mom felt when I pulled that same stunt,” the warrior complained as her daughter hugged her.

Gabrielle managed a small smile at her mate and child.

“Sasha, why don't you go help Asher with our early dinner, okay?” Xena suggested.

“You need alone time?” the impish child asked.

“Yup, think I can get it with your Mum?” the warrior asked.

“I guess so, see you later!”

Xena looked down at Gabrielle and wasn't surprised when the bard lost her smile, her yellow eyes looking up at Xena's blue ones. The warrior settled next to Gabrielle and pulled the bard to lean into her, wrapping an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders.

“How's the leg?”

“It's okay. Hurt like Tartarus for awhile,” the bard answered and reached down and carefully removed the chakram from Xena's belt and began looking at it.

This chakram was different than the warrior's original one in that it could separate into two pieces. The pieces looking very similar to a Yin Yang design Xena had come to know from her travels in Chin.

“Can you throw the individual pieces?” Gabrielle asked.

“Yes, one at a time or both at the same time or as one large piece,” the warrior answered.

“Then it's even more deadly than your original one,” the bard remarked.

“Yeah,” Xena agreed.

“I'm still bacchae,” Gabrielle said simply.

“I know, I saw the eyes and your fangs. You could have crawled to the chakram while Kal and I were fighting.”

“You were dying, by the time I reached it you would have been dead. It was either distract him with the chakram or sacrifice you. I chose you, my love,” Gabrielle answered softly, leaning into Xena's shoulder.


“No, it's okay. I've lived with it for awhile now and it won't be any different,” Gabrielle said.

“No, it won't be the same. You had a ray of hope and sacrificed it.”

“For us, Xena, I'd sacrifice my life for us or the kids.”

Xena wiped a tear away from Gabrielle's face.

“I know, little one. I'm sorry about yesterday, about blaming you, I was wrong.”

“It's over and seems like forever now,” Gabrielle whispered. “Xena, I can't let Asher see me like this.”

“I know,” Xena said softly and took the chakram from her bard's hand and put it in her left hand. “What say we break this in?”

With a rapid movement the warrior had sliced a cut into her forearm and held the arm around for Gabrielle.

Gabrielle felt a whimper escape from her throat as she gently reached out and pulled Xena's arm to her lips. She could feel her head pounding with the rushing blood through her own veins, sensing Xena's blood as well moving through the warrior's body and her senses were overwhelmed with the scent of the fresh blood and the bard's canines extended even further.

The first taste of willing blood always sent a jolt through both Gabrielle and Xena and the bard felt Xena pull her even closer with her other arm that was wrapped around the bard. Both felt their bodies jerk and the warrior began to nuzzle Gabrielle's neck while the bard lost herself in the blood flowing into her mouth and the eroticism flowing through her body.

“Xena….” A voice broke Xena's concentration but the bard was lost in the feeding and responded slowly to the barn door being opened.

Asher stood in the doorway and the Zealot's eyes grew wide as he took in the sight of Gabrielle's yellow eyes, fangs and bloody mouth and Xena's loving position holding the bard.

“Spawn of Lilith!” he screamed and drew his sword.

Gabrielle, reacting slowly in her blood-hazed mind, flinched back into Xena and reached for her sai as the sword came straight for her head.

The bard breathed a sigh of relief as the chakram switched from one hand to the other and her warrior blocked the sword with the new weapon. Gabrielle rolled out of the way as Xena sprang to her feet and kicked Asher in the chest, sending him back several feet.

She parried another sword strike from him and kicked the sword out of his hand and backhanded the young man as he charged her with his fists.

“Asher, no!” Eli shouted as he ran into the barn and grabbed his brother before Asher could get up from the floor of the barn. Xena held the chakram at the Zealot's neck.

Asher glared at her, his eyes blazing with madness.

“She's a demon!” he shouted, pointing at Gabrielle.

Eli looked over and saw the bard blushing bright red as she wiped her mouth and refused to meet his eyes. The young scholar quickly figured out what Asher had walked in on. It was worse than if his younger brother had walked in on Xena and Gabrielle having sex. That the young Zealot could curse and dismiss as foreign and heathen influences.

Blood was a serious matter to Jews.

“She is not a demon, she was tainted by Bacchus and requires blood occasionally,” Eli tried to explain.

Xena pulled back slightly as Eli held Asher tightly. She kept her new chakram ready and her body was tense, ready to spring into action.

“You knew!?” Asher screamed. “She's unclean! Both of them!”

“Yes, I knew. I also know that they aren't Hebrew, Asher. They aren't required to follow our rules, they don't even live in Palestine!”

“They've been cursed by their own gods and you accepted their help?” Asher demanded.

“Asher, stop it!” Eli begged, “they risked their lives to stop Kal, to help us.”

“No! If you accept their friendship then you are cursed!”

“Asher, Gabrielle needed to be the one to smash that stone to cure herself. She sacrificed that chance to ensure Kal didn't defeat all of us. Both of them have died before to save their friends and families and even strangers, I will not turn away from them,” Eli declared.

“Then you are forsaken!” Asher yelled and struggled out of his brother's arms. As he stood up he glared at all three of them, his fists clenched. He looked like he was going to approach Gabrielle for a moment until he saw Xena's eyes narrow and she raised the chakram.

“Eli's brother or not, you take one step towards her and you're dead,” the warrior warned.

“You mate with her, don't you? Not only blood cursed but perverted!” Asher sneered.

“Eli, get your brother out of here before I lose my temper,” Xena growled.

“No! He is not my brother!” Asher yelled. “He is my enemy if consorts with the likes of you!”

“Asher, use your head!” Eli begged. “All fall short of the glory of God and these two have done more good for humanity than all of your Kingdom of God Zealots. Make peace with them and we'll leave and go back to Judea.”

“No,” Asher hissed.

“Asher, don't turn away from your brother,” Xena urged. She quickly motioned Sasha back outside when she spotted the child peeking in the barn door. “Learn to use your brain, you're as intelligent as Eli, prove it!”

“What do you mean?” he demanded.

“Asher, I've learned a lot from people who weren't the same culture or who didn't believe the same as I do. We aren't your enemies and we aren't demons,” Xena said gently.

The young man continued to glare, especially at Gabrielle.

“Ash, what would you do if Roman soldiers demanded that you make sacrifices to their gods to prove your loyalty to the Empire?” Gabrielle asked.

The young man frowned and blushed angrily.

“He would refuse and be arrested and flogged or draw his sword and be killed,” Eli answered.

“Yes, the Roman soldiers would celebrate that night and forget you by the next day,” Xena said harshly.

“My brothers would remember me and hold me up as a martyr,” Asher insisted.

“And what good would that do?” Xena countered. “How many would follow you in death? I'm saying learn to pick your battles, like your Maccabees, they struck when they knew they could win and used their heads. Learn who your enemies are and where to find allies.”

“Like you?” he sneered.

“You saw Gabrielle's scars. You didn't see the brand that the bear claws destroyed. She was raped, beaten, flogged and crucified by the Romans. They destroyed our Amazons, blinded my son, kidnapped our daughter and almost killed several of our friends. Who do you think we'd rather have as a friend?” Xena stated.

“Instead of being a tree that will snap in a windstorm or can be cut down, learn to be a willow, brother,” Eli suggested. “Bend with the wind and avoid the axe that would cut you down before your roots can take hold.”

“I'm a warrior, not a leader,” Asher shook his head.

“And your brother is the leader and not a warrior, he'll need someone to protect him,” Gabrielle suggested.

“Me? A leader?” Eli stammered.

“Isn't that the role you've been fighting against?” the bard countered.

“Asher, the time of the warriors will pass and Eli and his students will be the ones to follow, like water. A friend taught me that water is gentle and soft but no one can stand against a raging river,” Xena insisted.

“Warriors always come along and conquer the farmers,” Asher insisted.

“And then they fall aside again, it's a cycle,” Gabrielle responded.

The young man looked troubled and thoughtful.

“Asher, don't turn away, please,” Eli asked simply.

“I can't travel with them,” the young man said in a stubborn voice.

Eli dropped his head in defeat and sadness as Asher turned back to Xena and Gabrielle.

“I can't accept your relationship and the blood, I will think about what you said though.”

“Thank you, Asher. We'll stay in the barn tonight,” Xena said.

“I'll have Eli bring your food and things out here,” Asher said and picked up his sword, Xena's narrow eyes watching his every move as he sheathed the sword. Then, she finally put her new chakram on her belt.

The young Zealot left the barn without another word.

“I'm sorry, Xena, Gabrielle – I didn't realize he was coming out here until he was already out of the house,” Eli apologized. “He's right about one thing, we do walk different paths. What he doesn't see is that we're wanting to get to the same place but he wants to do with a sword and I want to do it with love,” the young mystic complained.

“I'll take your way over his when we can,” Gabrielle smiled, her eyes once again bright green and no sign of fangs.

The bard yelped when Xena threw herself onto the hay next to her mate.


“We can make for the coast in the morning,” Xena said simply as Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her mate's neck.

Xena turned to look at Eli.

“What about you, Eli? Going back to Palestine right away?” she invited.

“No, I'm going to stay here for a bit and study Caleb's scrolls and books, there's much to be learned here,” he said simply. “Asher can use the time as well, tending the animals and such.”

“Sounds dull,” Xena grinned.

“Everything is dull without you two around,” he grinned back. “Besides, someone has to take care of the animals until I find a buyer for the livestock and the property. The money will go to a hospice near here.”

“Sounds like what Caleb would want,” Gabrielle agreed.

Sasha peeked her head back in the door and then made a running leap for her Mom as Gabrielle rolled out of the way, protecting her injured leg.

“Humph!” the warrior cried out as the child hit her and they both began a tickle fight. After a moment they settled into a hug with Sasha between Gabrielle and Xena.

“Tomorrow we go home?” Sasha asked.

“Yup, your Mum with a sprained leg and sea-sick. Should be a fun trip,” Xena grinned evilly.

“Oh, I'll get you for those thoughts!” Gabrielle threatened.

Eli grinned at his Greek friends. “Maybe someday Asher can see the love and not the rules,” he muttered to himself as he headed out of the barn.

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